Vietnam: my new favourite country

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Asia » Vietnam
July 7th 2013
Published: September 9th 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

Dinner in paradise....Dinner in paradise....Dinner in paradise....

....on Koh Samed
Hello :-)

I’m posting this blog a little later than planned as I haven’t had much time to write it! I’m starting my ‘summer travel’ blogs with Vietnam (and a little bit of Thailand tacked onto the beginning) as this was our first port of call during our summer travels.

So we finished school on 28th June and about an hour after the kids had left, we were stood in the foyer with our luggage ready to go! The holiday started with some hilarity as Rachel’s suitcase got stuck on the escalator down to the subway, whilst she carried on downwards. This continued at the airport when we were too busy eating cheesey chips to notice that our flight was leaving in about half an hour and we hadn’t gone through security or started our journey to the gate on the shuttle train. We ran to the flight, which was at the most far away gate possible, and I remember screaming to Katharine down the gangway “If there was ever a time to run it’s now!” We then got on the flight and although Katharine and I had been assigned seats together, Rachel was miles away, which amused me even further. All in all, a good start to the travels! :-/

I then slept on the flight most of the way,;we booked a hotel whilst at Bangkok airport and had a few hours sleep in the ‘REX hotel’, close to the bus station where we needed to be the next day. The fun continued in the morning with the most grumpy waitress ever serving us our breakfast. We had no choice in the food we wanted, and when Katharine changed her mind and did want a cup of tea after saying she didn’t she got the filthiest look I’ve ever seen. We then went to the bus station to get our bus to Koh Samed and whilst waiting to board Katharine and Rachel went to the toilet where there was a cat dressed up in a dress doing tricks! Delightful!

So we got the bus and boat to Koh Samed, all quite seamlessly, checked into a room and then promptly fell asleep on the beach for a couple of hours. It was then that disaster struck – I realized I had left peeky owl in the REX hotel! I was gutted. I thought I would never see him again! I consoled myself with some amazing Thai food, a cocktail and an early night! Samed definitely cannot be classed as a ‘party island’ – much more for the relaxation and good food, which s just what we needed at the end of a long, long 12 week term!

The next day we slept in late, did some tat shopping and had a 7eleven cheese and ham toastie for breakfast. We slept on the beach, ate watermelon, a pancake with sugar and lemon, then an omelette with rice! We then went back to the beach, which ended up being a bad idea as when we later showered we realized we were horrendously sunburnt. Again, I consoled myself with food – amazing fish with a garlic-lemon dressing – and cocktails, before another early night!

We decided to leave earlier on the Monday than we had planned as we couldn’t really sunbathe anymore and Katharine felt a bit unwell! We got the boat back to the mainland and the bus to Bangkok, where I staged my ‘rescue plan’ to get peeky owl back! Luckily, the cleaners hadn’t seen him as a disgusting, slightly dirty piece of tat, they had
Amazing fishAmazing fishAmazing fish

I'm not normally a 'take pictures of food' kind of person, but wow! Really wow!
realized just how precious he was and kept him for me! The relief on Katharine and Rachel’s faces when I got back with him was hilarious! I think they were worried I would cry if he wasn’t there! We then got a taxi to Khao San Road – Katharine made friends with the driver whose name sounded like ‘Jester’ – had a great ‘street food’ pad thai and went to bed for a few hours before our early start to get to Vietnam.

We got up at 3.30am on the Tuesday morning, got a taxi to the airport, and then stood in a queue for about an hour and a half, which meant that we had to rush through security and run AGAIN to make our flight on time (this time not our fault but the ridiculous check in procedures of Air Asia!) When we landed in Hanoi we randomly met the sisters of Rachel’s friend from back home whilst getting our VISA into the country. Incidentally, this was quite an organised process, involving a pre-arranged VISA to pick up at the desk! We then had a debarcle at the cash machine as we realised the money involved more zero’s than we are used to, even living in South Korea! We ended up getting about 6,000,000 dong out each! A lovely lady at tourist information then booked us a taxi into Hanoi city, which was our first experience of driving in Vietnam – turns out you just press the horn every 2 seconds for a laugh!!

On arrival into the city our first job was to book a trip to Halong Bay for the next day. We went to a travel agents to book it, who then also pointed us in the right direction for somewhere to stay! ‘Dragon’ – the man in charge at the hotel showed us to our lovely room and when we came back down said that as we were ‘special guests’ we could have a free breakfast (as it was still only about 9am). We then went to look around Hanoi. We almost got run over by a billion motorcycles, looked at ‘the lake’, got caught in a hideous rain storm, which resulted in us being soaked (including underwear) and ate some delicious local food called Bun Cha for lunch! I described it as meatball and noodle stew with added fatty pork and leaves – my ideal meal! The early start then caught up with us and we all fell asleep in the hotel room before going for a bit of tat shopping, booking our train out of Hanoi for the following evening, and then me dragging Rachel and Katharine to the ‘water puppet show’ as I really wanted to know what it was! Turns out it’s a swimming pool in a theatre with puppets on long sticks dancing about. I was still enthusiastic about it at the end of the show, the other girls not so much! We then went for an amazing dinner, where I had my first pho of the holiday and a good local beer! My first impressions of Hanoi were: great food, ridiculous money and motorbikes! A city with a population of 8 million and 5 million motorcycles is definitely a sight to behold in rush hour!

On Wednesday we were up early again for our trip to Halong Bay. We found it hilarious when the bus pulled up and there were the girls we had met at the airport. Our tour guide was called Ahn and she was lovely. She spoke to us about how the Vietnamese people eat weird things, like cat and dog, but could we please forgive them as they were desperate during the war so ate anything, and now it has become habit. We all felt about guilty for laughing along when she had made a joke about it in the previous sentence. When we arrived at the boat we found that it was absolutely massive, just for the 6 of us! We ate a great seafood lunch, with morning glory (my new favourite vegetable side dish) and then took loads of pictures of our surroundings. We then entered the floating village, which is essentially houses built on plastic barrels, floating on the water. We went on a trip around the village on a boat, with one of the local women rowing us around and went into these little hidden coves, which were really beautiful. We then saw the ‘floating school’ and had a good nosey in the people’s houses, before heading back onto the boat. Apparently we were really lucky to go as the Vietnamese government has now decided that they cannot live in the floating village anymore and it is going to disappear over the next two years.

We then headed to some caves around the other side of the bay. Ahn gave us a tour, pointing out the different animals and other objects that people have ‘spotted’ in the rocks. Some of them were easier to work out than others….when she was pointing out ‘the penguin’ I spotted a rock that looked much more like a penguin than the one she was showing us. We then got the boat back to the bay and the bus back to Hanoi. From the bus we could see a storm brewing in the distance and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen, but impossible to photograph! The clouds were completely black but the flashes of lightning happened about every 5 seconds and lit them up completely. It was incredible to watch. We then ate a dinner of fresh spring rolls and pho noodles again, and I found a new love for spring onions – literally delicious! We then got changed in the toilets / dining room of the hotel we had stayed in, essentially getting ready for bed, then got a taxi to the train station with the help of a few lovely Vietnamese people. We got onto the train, with our teeth freshly brushed, faces washed and wearing our pyjamas to find a very scummy sight before us! The seats were gross and reclined far to far for you not to have squashed legs form the one in front. There were people who bought a cardboard box with them to flatten onto the floor so they could sleep at the feet of other people, and the air con made it ridiculously cold. This was the one and only time I used my towel in SE Asia – to keep myself warm in the middle of the night on a train! We did however receive a free blanket and water, so it wasn’t all bad. Oh, and the people watching was great! Basically, we slept through the experience and as we got off, made the unanimous decision that we would be flying from Danang (where we had just arrived) to Ho Chi Minh, NOT using the train again! My thoughts about Vietnam after the second day didn’t change much. I just added that the people are great – so welcoming and incredibly helpful – and the trains are pretty gross!

So we got to Hoi An, after confusing the hell out of a taxi driver as we had no idea where we wanted to go! Hoi An is probably one of the most beautiful places I have EVER been. The small streets, little cafes and beautiful river were just what we needed after that train journey. Well, I thought so, until we hit the tailors to get clothes made and it turned into my kind of living nightmare – being measured, hugged and poked are not my ideas of fun. Katharine and Rachel were in their element! My day was saved by a local dish for lunch called Cao Lau – a pork based meal famous in Hoi An. We then had to do the boring bit of booking our flight out of Danang to Ho Chi Minh (so we knew we wouldn’t have to get the train – such flash packers!) and had a cocktail before a fairly early night. The cockroaches that had taken residence in our room when we got back caused a little bit of commotion, but all in all it was a fairly relaxed evening (and what can you expect when you’re paying $6 a night for a room!

Excellent sign posting in HanoiExcellent sign posting in HanoiExcellent sign posting in Hanoi

So easy to follow a map!
was our full day in Hoi An and involved a great breakfast (mushroom omelette with baguette), more hours in the tailors and then an hour or two on the beach for some relaxation time! Dinner was a wonderful mixture of local food – Cao Lau again, white rose (also traditional in Hoi An) and some great fish. A further cockroach joined us at the dinner table and settled on Katharine’s chips whilst she was away from the table, which was a pure joy, and we then went out a for a few drinks until about 2am. We got back to the room to find the shutters down and we had to knock for security to let us in as the rest of Hoi An appeared to be asleep!

Saturday was an early start as guess what?! WE had to go to the tailors! This time to pick everything up. I’m sounding like I didn’t get anything - I did – but the girls got about 3 times as much as me each and it took 4 hours for us to collect everything! The best part of the experience for me was when we stopped and had a traditional Vietnamese
Bun ChaBun ChaBun Cha

The most delicious food ever!
baguette for lunch – it was AMAZING! The most amazing baguette I have ever had. Loads of random sauces went in as it was made, and I was a bit apprehensive, but they knew what they were doing – wow! All of our clothes arrived on the back of motorbikes to the different tailors, and after a few alterations here and there we were on our way to the airport. I think the woman at the travel agent had forgotten to book our taxi as it was late, so I went to ask her and then this random man in a random car turned up to pick us up. I think it was her boyfriend who she’d dragged in out of desperation! Anyway, we got there, I had some more delicious pho and we didn’t have to run to make the flight – success at last!

After a flight without reclining seats and the most bizarre stewardess uniform I’ve ever seen, we made it to Ho Chi Minh. We found a place to stay (with a really cool winch to lift our bags up to the 5th floor – there was no lift!) ate dinner of amazing fried rice and fresh spring rolls, then went to the travel agents to book a trip for the following day, and our bus to Cambodia! We had another early nigh tin anticipation of the next day….

Our last day in Vietnam and we went on a tour of the tunnels used in the Vietnamese war. As the minibus pulled up to pick us up our hearts sank as we realized we were going with a ‘lads on tour’ group from Australia., all of whom were over the age of 50! Turned out they had some good banter, though and the Dad of one of them grew up with Rolf Harris. We had a great conversation where we both proclaimed his innocence in those recent allegations! Tommy was our tour guide for the day and he was great! We stopped at a handicapped workshop on the way, where we could watch people make souvenirs and things with eggshell and mother of pearl. I bought Mum a small fish for her table J We then headed onto the tunnels, seeing some cool rubber trees on the way that were being tapped. When we arrived at our destination we were shown the traps that the Vietnamese set in the woods, which were lethal! We also went into the tunnels – one of the most claustrophobic experiences of my life – where they had to live and hide for years! We then ate some tapioca as it is all that they used to eat when they lived in the tunnels and watched a DVD about the war.

When we got back to the city we went to the war museum to complete our experience. I don’t think I’ve ever been to anywhere quite so upsetting in my life. It’s hard to believe that only happened a few years ago….

On the way back to our room some random students stopped us to practise their English (standard) and gave us a scarf each to say thank you! We then did some tat shopping, watched Wimbledon (Rachel’s request), ate our last Vietnamese meal, had some beer and went to bed ready for our 5am get up! My last memory of Vietnam was getting a cheese and ham toastie and a cup of tea to ‘take away’ as our bus was leaving slightly earlier than we had thought! The owner of the café in which I had bought it wouldn’t let me pay and not take it so gave me a plastic bag and plastic cup to take it on the bus – friendly up until the very last minute!

And then we headed into Cambodia….

Additional photos below
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My own little roomMy own little room
My own little room

My area of the room looked just like I had my own little bedroom!

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