An ode to Vietnam (so far)

This is a little poem I wrote on our 17 hour bus ride whilst traveling to Hue from Hanoi…..

 

Wham bahm thank you mam for sending us to Vietnam.
Rice paddy fields generate the economies yield of tasty grub.
Thailand is where you’ll find deep fried bugs.
Street food is tasty and cheap,
servings of duck, noodles, dog, tongue, pig,…but regrettably no sheep.
Scooters pack the street and almost every parking space is took.
Be very careful when crossing the road and don’t forget to look.
Especially walk slow, making sure that poppa Rex is in tow.
It’s safer to walk in the road as all the pavements are covered and overgrown,
with scooters, bikes, cycles, and the people of old.
They’re usually smoking on a pipe of bamboo too.
On every corner there is a young boy who’ll shine your shoes.

Vietnam is much cleaner than India by far with loads more scooters than cars,
they clog the roads to an almost halt, shops selling whiskey with a vintage malt.
Everyone goes about their daily lives not getting upset or making each other cry.
All the girls are beautiful and small who ride their bikes but barely can touch the floor.
The city air is dirty and moggy, the sky is foggy, the humidity makes Rex’s shirts all soggy.
Karaoke here is a big thing, unfortunately they can not sign.
Ordering a starter is a difficult task,
arriving after the main even if you ask.
The beer is cheap at 15 pence a glass,
Be warned……you could end up on your arse.

by Andy Shaw 2010

Ho Ho Halong Bay and Happy New Hoi An

There were so many people this year that didn’t get where they needed to be for Christmas; we were really lucky to be together, safe and relatively warm in Vietnam. So where better to spend a couple of days that in the awesome natural splendour of Halong Bay in North Vietnam?

After hooking up with Poppa Rex, we embarked on a gorgeous trip to Sapa to meet the hilltribes, who live in the unspoilt mountains of rice paddies with their beautiful personalities. Our night train was a veritable treat after the horrors of Indian sleeper class… we had a lockable door and free water and warm duvets! Sapa was a lovely misty place with loads of log fires (yes its really cold there) and hundreds of shops selling knock off North Face gear, which is largely manufactured in Vietnam. We did some great misty trekking and met the tribeswomen who followed us for hours making us decorations out of ferns and showing us their tiny babies strapped to their backs… magical!

The Hill Tribe Ladies in Sapa

So our Christmas escape from Hanoi was made good after a few days soaking up the culture, street duck and fresh fish of Hanoi. Boarding our junk boat at the harbour, we knew we were in for a great time… lovely boat with friendly staff and a huge christmas tree! we had a delicious lunch of fresh prawns, crab and fish… and started on the wine and beer!

Mmm Fishy

(well it was Christmas Eve!). Next up was a bit of slightly sozzled kayaking around the bay… surrounding by huge karst formations and the silent still ocean. We managed to find a spot with no other boats, despite expecting a crammed waterway… it was actually calm and the landscape astonishing.  Andy’s first experience of kayaking was great… so we celebrated with a dip in the sea – complete with Santa hats!

Our boat is the one on the right

Christmas Eve Vietnam style was a delicious and boozy affair, topped off with secret santa and some terrible karaoke… ranging from Black Sabbath (Andy), to Groovy Kind of Love (Rex), to Abba (everyone)… but the only person with a hangover on Christmas Day (as per usual) was Rachel!

Karaoke... painfully good!

Back in Hanoi, we took in some Vietnamese culture in the form of water puppetry… we will have to get some videos loaded up as this is so unique it’s hard to explain!

Water Puppetry... pretty blummin cool

Next stop was the imperial city of Hue where we  explore the royal tombs and had a delicious seafood hotpot… reward for the 17 hour bus ride that we took to get there! Now you may remember our blogs on the sleeper buses in India and their horrors… this was a total turnaround. We had comfortable beds, a toilet on board and 2 stops for food which was INCLUDED in the price! Amazing!

Now we are in the gorgeous town of Hoi An, all winding streets, gourmet restaurants, amazing tailors and bicycles. Staying in a truly lovely and distinctly non-backpackery hotel and munching on delicious noodles and soup. Today we took a trip to a UNESCO heritage site in the mountains called My Son… the most unatmospheric set of temples we have seen on the trip… to be fair they did have the sh#t bombed out of them during the Vietnam War… but with about 500 tourists swarming over them they really failed to ignite the imagination.

So we head into New Year’s Eve and we have tickets for a gala dinner, vietnamese cultural evening and rock concert… sounds ecelectic hey?!?.. we’ll let you know how it goes. Happy New Year to everyone… here’s to an amazing 2011.

Photos to follow when we get to a better computer.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Merry Christmas from Vietnam… where surprisingly… there are alot of christmas trinkets and decorations lining the streets of Hanoi… plus some very impressive trees!

Love and best wishes to all our friends and family… wherever you may be… MERRY CHRISTMAS from Rach and Andy and a bit of BAH HUMBUG from Rex!

Tigers…Thai-Style

Have you ever wondered what a Tiger looks like close up?…….oooo they look lovely! and they feel just like a kitten!

Big Kitty

A very surreal experience was had today at the Tiger Temple, just outside Bangkok. Built as a meditation centre in 1994; the temple now welcomes tourists to cuddle, bathe, feed and dote on the biggest collection of softies going! There are some rumors that the cats are drugged to keep them calm… so we were a bit apprehensive… but couldn’t resist the pull of the tiger balm… since we missed out on the big cats in India.

As we are only in Bangkok for 2 days, we needed to get there in a hurry, which meant taking a tour… sadly, we had to enter ‘the tourist dimension’ before getting to the Tigers. Visiting the ancient floating markets of Bangkok… was about as far away from traditional Thai culture as possible… unless Thai people are interested in fans that also double up as hats… and lamps made from shit coconuts… check out the gridlock on the photo!

Total Gridlock Mon

We then headed to the Bridge on the River Kwai… at this point in the day having spent more time in the van driving or waiting than actually doing anything. Again we hit tourist-okyo… but this time, there was an amazing museum to see also… which was worse than the one in India with nailed in artefacts… it was impossible to see through the glass cases for dust and the wwII photos had been bleached almost into oblivion by the sun! Not the best tourism experience. We did see a massive lizard though!

So by the time we arrived at the Tiger Temple, our expectations were low…the trip was very quickly recovered when we saw how close we could get to the tigers… and when we found out that we were not going to be stung for extra money to have photos taken! Unless we wanted to “hold the head of the big tiger”… something neither of us was too keen on!

Tatty Travel Tips – 10 for India

So at the end of our 3 months in India, we would still describe it as amazing and infuriating. Get ready for a culture shock like no other. Having said that… we are in Singapore in wonderment of the clean toilets, flat roads and to be honest… missing wading through the crap of India!

Doing a kit check in India...

So, if you are planning in visiting the land of a thousand curries/car-horns/cows/temples… these tips might help!

  1. Don’t be a slave to the guidebook, but familiarise yourself with each place before you arrive… how to get around, how much things should cost… to avoid being misled. Some of the scams of  very inventive! (see our earlier blogs for examples!)
  2. India’s great, but always late! So prepare to be flexible… trains, buses, rickshaws, allow time to get to them.
  3. If travelling all over, you will inevitably end up in some big  cities… use these to refresh. Stock up on non-tourist priced supplies, drink a cheap beer, watch a movie, then hit the trail again.
  4. Booking transport in India can be INFURIATING! Everyone is out to make money off you. So ask around about prices and try and use public transport. The trains are so cheap and efficient but tickets get booked up fast! Tourist quota and emergency tickets are available from agents, but you can book in advance on the amazing website www.cleartrip.com for very small commission and if you don’t use the tickets, you can get a refund.
  5. There is a perpetual lack of change in India from stalls, drivers and restaurants… so try and get change when you can. Indians are also adept at confusing the situation and will add up bills wrong, or ask for an extra 50 rupees note and then give you incorrect money back… so get used to some fast maths!
  6. One’s mans trash is another man’s treasure… take others’ advice with a pinch of salt… just because they thought Varanasi was smelly and horrible… doesn’t mean you won’t feel spiritual and chilled out there!
  7. Illuminate yourself… torches are essential… there are lots of powercuts and dark streets.
  8. Get your haggling powers up to speed… hardly ever pay the price first mentioned… not even for hotel rooms… there is always room for a better price.
  9. Snaps! See a group of Indian Tourists coming your way… be prepared to have a snap with them… then the next group and the next group and the next… or run away and hide if you are feeling sweaty and less than glamorous!
  10. Choose your footwear carefully. Yes India is hot and flip flops or sandals are great… but we were really thankful for our walking boots when in the very dirty and sludgy cities.

Essential items to pack: padlock and chain for bags on the trains and buses, neck pillow for comfortable travelling, earplugs (not for sale in India), Buff or scarf for sun protection and covering your mouth in the big cities, wet wipes (just don’t look at the colour they are when you clean your face after a city stint) and finally sharp elbows … or you won’t get anywhere!

Andy with his kit

Kit... check... footwear... removed!

Time for a cuppa in Munnar

Waterfalls aint free

After a short stay in Fort Cochin we decided that it was time for a tasty cuppa up in the hills of Munnar. A touch further inland from Kochin and at a slightly higher altitude of 2500 meters is Munnar, the land of tea…… It took approximately 5 hours on the local deaf ride called a bus, but we managed to arrive in one piece. We were greeted with a typical new-arrivals welcome from the tuc-tuc drivers as per usual and we headed up to our pre-arranged accommodation with a sleazy tout in toe. A few words later we’d free ourselves and settled into our new home for the next couple of nights. A friendly owner with a weirdness about him who liked to sign all the time (high and girl like) and also kept animal skulls under our bed….these weren’t discovered until our last night)…..

The View over the Munnar Tea Plantations

The scenery made up for the accommodation. Beautiful green hills, clouds lapping around the tea fields with a thirst for a brew, and lovely fresh air…… the town however had beeps and fumes but luckily for us we were staying a little out-of-town. Our first mission was to get hold a cuppa….we were parched….

What I like best about arriving in a new place is discovering the shops and restaurants and laughing at the really crap stuff on sale…..(almost every shop in India is identical),

…….this time we found an excellent place to eat. It was called Rapsy Restaurant and situated in an Indian equivalent of an Arndale Centre. The owner/ waiter was the most friendliest guy we have met in India and he liked to show us his coin collection and also fill out his visitor book……we haven’t eaten yet, I said……..after though we both filled it in and said how nice the food was. After gathering up enough information about the tea plantations and waterfalls it was sleep time…..

Our Road Hog

We headed out to find ourselves a scooter and set off to find the hill station which is one of the tourist highlights. Approximately 2 hours away. On the way we passed many tea works in the fields along with road repairers and general maintenance operatives. This area of India is truly beautiful…… we finally made it to the top on our 110cc Honda scooter that barely got up the hills. We stopped for a brew…..it was hard work…….2 teas please…..the waiter brings 2 coffees……..HARD WORK.

After soaking in as much scenery and air as we could we then set off in search of a Lukkom waterfall. It was a good 2 hours on the scooter. We finally made it and was surprised to find that there were no walks around it, you can’t touch it, you also have to pay 5 rupees for the pleasure of looking at it, and also have to pay to use the toilet that you’d just paid to get into.  India really doesn’t want you to see anything for free.

After a minute or two we then set off back on our long scooter ride back up the many hills and valleys back to Munnar for some tasty curry and tea at our new found friends restaurant……