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Published: July 20th 2011
We made it! Our plan was to head east till we got to SE Asia and then just relax. Wander around from country to country for as long as visas would allow, just enjoying being on the road. With nothing particular to see we could enjoy being as a family with no work commitments keeping us apart.
Sadly our arrival into Vietnam wasn't quite as relaxing as we'd have hoped. Faye felt that something didn't seem right while we were in southern China, so once we crossed into Vietnam our first task was to find a clinic
with western standards of care to investigate what was wrong. From the clinic we were then referred to a specialist at The French Hospital
who could determine what was going on. Although not life threatening, the issue could rapidly deteriorate so there was really no other option. Two bouts of surgery later and Faye was on the mend.
Although clearly not on everyone's wish list of things to do in Hanoi or in anywhere in the developing world for that matter, we can't fault the hospital or any of the care that Faye received, it was comparable to anything we would of got at
home so no complaints in that respect. But... We paid for it. Coming from the UK it seems very strange receiving an itemised bill for everything that Faye received, every blood test and X-ray, even down to paracetamol. Events like this just remind me again of how proud I am to come from the UK. If this had happened at home the only thing we'd of had to pay for would have been getting to the hospital. Our free universal health care system (NHS) has its problems but I'm certainly glad we have it. Although we are of course insured I think this problem might be on the list of exclusions, we're still going to try though so fingers crossed we can claim some of it back.
Thousands of dollars out of pocket but thankful for good health, (something you can't really put a price on) we decided to go on a tour to Halong bay and Cat Ba island, giving Faye some time to recover and also see some amazing scenery while doing it. This was the second time we've been to Halong and again it didn't disappoint. The majestic limestone karsts bursting from the emerald green waters
are simply spectacular and you can never tire of looking at them as the boat slowly chugs around. The weather while on the boat was beautiful but it rained non-stop while on Cat Ba so we didn't get to enjoy that part of the trip as much, but as one of the main aims was to do nothing at all we can’t really complain. The boys enjoyed the boat for about 10 minutes until the novelty wore off. Rock formations are of no interest to sub 3 year olds whatsoever but thankfully they were quite content to play on the decks with their toys so I think they had a good time.
Once back in Hanoi we started our slow journey south, following the well trodden tourist route and also the reverse of the route we did last time we were in the country so nothing too unconventional. We booked an overnight sleeper bus to our first destination south, Hué. The journey wasn’t too bad as we had three ‘beds’ at the back of the bus which were all together, this meant we could just spread out amongst them, trying to make ourselves as comfortable as possible.
we arrived in Hué we checked into a pretty basic minihotel room with all the amenities for a measly $8 and then tried to sleep off some of the bus lag. It was really, really hot while we were in the city with the temperature reaching 38-39°C everyday so once we’d wandered around the crumbling UNESCO heritage listed citadel, the main attraction in the city, we spent most of our time eating ice cream and hugging the air conditioner in our room.
From Hué we caught a bus four hours south to Hoi An, a town that captivated us with its beauty on our previous visit to the country and a destination Faye was very excited about as last time we were here she got several tailored jackets made, something the town is very famous for. Thankfully the weather turned a bit cooler so we could enjoy wandering around the town’s historic architecture for the few days we were there. We also went to the nearby beach which actually surprised us with how nice it was, it was actually the first beach we’d been to on this trip and the first time Gabe had ever walked on a sandy
beach. It took him a little while to get used to it but once he did, he of course loved it, as any kid does.
From Hoi An we took another overnight bus to the beach resort of Nah Trang. This 12 hour journey was absolute hell. Although like before we had the back three beds, so we could make ourselves comfortable, the driver insisted at driving as fast as he could barely slowing down as he went round the numerous curves and bends in the road. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem as I’d rather get there sooner than later but when you’re lying down it just means that you end up being flung from one side of the bus to the other, and then back again every time there was a bend in the road. We spent the majority of the night trying to stop ourselves either rolling on top of the boys or stop them from rolling over us and into the isle. After 12 hours of this we were so glad to get off the bus that we checked into the first hotel we came to even though it was costing $15 a night but
we didn’t care, it was a really nice hotel but we just wanted to rest and forget about the journey we just had.
After we’d rested a while, we checked out the town trying to figure out where everything we needed was and also remembering where we went last time we were in the town. We even came across the pharmacy where we bought the first pregnancy test that told us that Nate was on the way, it just reminds us how hard it is to believe that last time we were here he was barely more than a ball of cells, they certainly grow up quick.
Also we found a hotel just around the corner from the one we were in which was only slightly less nice but managed to haggle them down to $10 a night so that’s some money saved for the rest of the time we were there. We pretty much spent a week in Nah Trang playing on the beach and eating streetfood baguettes. The beach is really nothing to write home about and the sea, especially after a night of rain, was seriously horrible with tons of rubbish especially plastic bags floating
around in it being washed ashore. Thankfully the boys were more than happy to play in the sand only dipping into the sea once in a while to cool down.
The only activity we did while in Nah Trang worth mentioning was visit Thap Ba Hot Springs centre, which we would thoroughly recommend to anyone. They have a range of options at the centre which involve mineral-rich mud baths and hot-spring baths. We opted for the cheapest option at 100,000 dong each which was a communal mud bath rather than a private one. The strange thing was that each group gets put into their own bath anyway, so I’m not sure what the extra money gets you. I can only assume a private mud bath is a tub housed in its own room so you can’t see anyone else. The communal tubs are all grouped together and of varying sizes to accommodate different group sizes, so we ended getting one all to ourselves, just as every other group did that turned up. The tubs are cleaned out after every use and then refilled with fresh mud, which was a nice surprise as I’d hate to think what it would
look like after several hundred people had passed through. We were worried that it would be too hot for the boys, but it wasn’t at all, and they had an absolute blast wading around in it and pouring it all over each other. The looks on their faces every now and then though suggested that it didn’t taste very nice.
After the mud bath we had a soak in a hot mineral water pool (again, we had one all to ourselves) and then after a shower where the water sprays out from all directions, we had unlimited time in the hot water swimming pools. It was a really enjoyable day and the boys absolutely loved it. It didn’t take long for them to peel off their swimmers and start charging round in their birthday suits, much to the delight of all the Vietnamese present, even the occasional rain shower didn’t put a dampener on things.
From Nah Trang we took another and our final overnight sleeper bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). For this journey we opted to use the widely recommended Sinh Café
(now called Sinh tourist due to all the copycats that sprung up), but to
be honest we didn’t really see any difference. There were no Vietnamese sleeping on the floor in the aisles, but that didn’t bother us with the others anyway, we were ‘asleep’, why would we need the aisles? Maybe we lucked out with the buses that were used by the other companies, getting the better ones in their fleet.
Once we arrived in Saigon at the awful time of 5.30am, I set Faye and the boys up at a café with breakfast while I went on the hunt for a hotel room. There are literally hundreds to choose from and after visiting about 20, we decided to pay a little more for a whole lot more. It was $18, but it was really nice, it was a triple so Faye and I could have a double to ourselves, it had a little balcony, all the furnishings were new and it even had a massive LCD TV so we could kill some of Nate’s brain cells with some cartoon network when he was getting too worked up.
We didn’t see any of the sights in Saigon… We spent a week here before (we were getting Indian visas processed), a week
Playing in the mud
Thap Ba hot springs
which resulted in Nate being conceived, so there was nothing new for us to see and also due to our visas our time in Vietnam was coming very rapidly to an end.
Here in Saigon, our overland streak came to an end. My parents were holidaying in Thailand and had just arrived in Bangkok. We’d led them to believe that we’d traverse Cambodia and meet up with them at Koh Chang in a few days time, but I made the mistake of looking at the AirAsia
website (as I often do). It obviously cost more to fly, but we’d save money and a passport page on a Cambodian visa we’d never use (when you have to get four, the cost really starts to add up), we’d get 30 days in Thailand rather than the 15 you get going overland and more importantly we’d get more time to spend with my folks. They didn’t know we were coming but we knew where they were staying so we were going to surprise them by sneaking up on them at their guesthouse.
I was a little disappointed that our overland journey was coming to an end; Berlin to Saigon without taking
a single flight is quite an achievement. It doesn’t seem much compared to the epic journeys I’ve read about, but I do have to keep reminding myself we’re doing it with very small children. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished but even more so I’m proud of Nate and Gabe; they take whatever we throw at them with a smile and a laugh and only rarely complain. Thank you little men for making what could have been a nightmare, an adventure to remember. Now onwards, let the journey continue!
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