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Ha Long Bay - Happy Belated Birthday Kirby!

sunny 27 °C
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After a lazy day back in Hanoi it was off to Ha Long Bay for three days to celebrate Kirby’s (belated) birthday.

Ha Long Bay is absolutely amazing! Thousands of Islands (some not yet named) erupt from the turquoise ocean straight into the sky, creating an inspiring, looming, panorama that insists awe and admiration.

Our boat was called Calypso; it is a beautiful big junk with three levels.

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The first level was accommodation, our room was beautiful with dark stained wood furniture, a big ensuite (with a shower window that looks straight out into the stunning bay), and A/C. The best room we have stayed in all month haha.

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The second level contains the cocktail bar and restaurant.

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The third level is a sun deck with comfy deck-beds and a 360 degree view of the stunning bay.

The meals on board were excessive to say the least. Every night we would be treated with a 5 course culinary feast, some of the best food we have had all through Vietnam, and most definitely the best decorated – I had never seen a carrot turned into a flower before. We also did two fun cooking classes on board during the afternoon as the sun was setting.

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We were treated with a tour of Amazing Cave; a huge limestone cave that is responsible for many legends and tales and revered by the local people of the bay as a spiritual place. Some of the caves around the bay were used during the Vietnam War as Viet Cong hospitals, hidden deep within the Islands there was no way they would be discovered by the Americans.

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That afternoon we lounged up on the sun deck drinking delicious cocktails and watching the sun set deep into the turquoise waters, sometimes it’s hard to believe that you are actually experiencing this!

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The second day we left the main boat and took a smaller speed boat around to Lan Ha Bay just off Cat Ba Island. Here we swam, kayaked and admired the surrounding seascape. After a kayak tour we were left to do whatever we wanted. Some people decided to just sit at the bar and drink, while others tested their ‘backflipping’ abilities off the roof of the boat. Kirby and I decided to go exploring a bit more and headed off in our kayak in search of some adventure. We found a small uninhabited Island and explored the half-flooded cave for treasure, unfortunately after 10 meters it got too tight to continue and we never found any riches.

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The local people who inhabit Ha Long Bay live on floating houses and pontoons. They are sustained through fishing and aquaculture - clams in sand box farms. Most of the people (and their dogs) will never set foot on dry ground as they are born and die in their pontoon villages.

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During the night back on the Calypso we spent time fishing for squid, unfortunately there were only small ones around, but still fun :)!

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^^ Kirby squid fishing
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The next day we hung out on Titop Island – after a gruelling climb straight up to the top you can enjoy 360 degree views of the Bay.

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^^ View from Titop Island

After three relaxing days in Ha Long Bay we headed back to the mainland (after a quick stop at a pearl farm).
Our time in Ha Long Bay was amazing and Kirby enjoyed her birthday present. I would definitely recommend Calypso for anyone interested in visiting this incredible bay.
http://www.calypsohalongcruise.com

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 23:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam halong calypso ha_long_bay lan_ha_bay calypso_cruiser amazing_cave Comments (1)

Sapa - A Mountain Paradise!

sunny 25 °C

Sapa is a truly enchanting town. It is nestled 2000m above sea level on the steep slopes of north-western Vietnam. The town overlooks an impressive, deep valley filled with cascading bright green rice terraces. We found a beautiful room for $18 that overlooked the valley, although our room was only on the second floor we got a shock when we went out on our balcony and looked down at a 50m drop, apparently the hotel is hanging over the edge of a small cliff.

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^^ Sapa
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^^ The view from our room
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Our first day here we just relaxed and wandered around the quaint markets and sampled some of the local plum wine – delicious but potent, closer to plum ethanol than plum wine!

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^^ Fooling around at the market
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^^ This rooster had it's leg cocked ready to battle me
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^^ Piggy on his way from the market

Our second day in Sapa we set our sights to exploring the nearby mountains and hired a motorbike for $5 a day. After fuelling up we hit the mountain road west of town and found ourselves winding through the steep valleys and gorges, I had to focus on not crashing as the view was so breathtaking. The mist was rolling around the mountain and it made for an amazing ride as we cruised through the clouds on the quiet mountain pass.

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Eventually we started getting a bit chilly riding through the hills, so on the way back we stopped at Thac Bac (Silver Falls). The guard at the waterfall gave us the option of paying full price for a ticket or half price for no ticket, we decided to go along with the bribe and save a couple of dollars. It only took 15 minutes of walking through pristine mountain forest before we reached the stunning waterfall. After admiring the falls we headed off back to town for lunch.

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That afternoon we took the bike and rode south of town along the high ridge above the valleys edge to Ban Ho, a little farming town. The scenery along the way was unlike any other we have seen; children riding buffalo and playing in the fields, women dressed in colourful tribal clothes walking along the road to their villages with their babies strapped to their backs, small waterfalls between rice paddies as they cascade and feed each other with clean mountain water. So much beauty and not enough words to describe them!

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^^ Waiting for the local wildlife to pass
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^^ Beautiful rice paddies
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We had so much fun on our second day with the motorbike that we decided to hire it again and venture even further out of town with a day trip to Ta Phin village, where the Red Dzao people call home. The Red Dzao people originate from China but have been calling Vietnam home for hundreds of years. Before we left we purchased some candy and along the way to the village we handed it out to the children strolling along the road and also those that were helping their parents in the fields. As soon as we arrived in the village we were greeted by five women who were excited to show us around their village. So here we were, in the hills of Vietnam with five local tribal women dressed in their full tribal outfit guiding us around their home, a real treat! They took us to a cave just outside their village where we scrambled around inside as they took us deeper into the mountain and explained that they can use this cave to travel through the mountain, although it takes 3 nights and 4 days to get through to the other side! After 15 minutes we decided to turn back as it was getting fairly hairy, this was not a tourist cave with stairs or rails so we decided to avoid broken legs.

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^^ Red Dzao house
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^^ Exploring the cave

One of the ladies was telling us that her village was actually 3 hours walk from Ta Phin so in order to get her children to school each day they leave at 4am each morning to trek into Ta Phin, it makes you respect your easy education even more.
While we were wandering around the village and surrounding rice paddies I noticed that we weren’t seeing the usual buffalo that most people have around their farm land. When I asked her where all the buffalo were she informed me that there was a terrible winter two years ago and unfortunately all of the buffalo died, so until they save up enough money for new buffalo it is back to the back-breaking labour of hand ploughing the fields.

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After our visit of the village was complete we decided to purchase some hand-made items that the ladies were selling. They were very thankful for us supporting them and also gave us some small gifts for free which was really nice. We gave them the rest of our candy for their children that were currently in school and headed back into town.

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Our last day in Sapa we just cruised around the town on the bike admiring the stunning landscape and peoples that make Sapa such an amazing place. This is definitely one of our favourite places in Vietnam!

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 05:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam sapa red_dzao Comments (1)

Hue

sunny 40 °C

You won’t believe what happened!!
We were all set to catch the overnight sleeper bus from Hoi An to Hue. We were both snuggled up in our little bunks with the laptop between us ready to watch a movie before we tried to get some shut eye, and then we heard something. Kirby and I both looked at each other; we weren’t sure what we had heard. I could see from the stillness of Kirby that she was holding her breath to get a better listen, she wasn’t alone. I too had been frozen into non-respiration at what I thought I had heard…and then we heard it again. There was no mistaking it this time, a thick female German accent ushering the ‘babies’ onto the bus, and with that all thoughts of sleep vanished.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about read this blog entry. To make things worse they were sitting directly behind us. At one point during the movie one of the ‘babies’ ripped the ear phones from my ears, as if I couldn’t hear it’s tantrums loud enough.
Anyway I promised myself I wouldn’t dwell on another hellish overnight bus ride as it’s in the past and I’m sure we won’t see them again, lightning can’t strike 3 times…right?

So we made it to Hue and found a nice cheap hotel, although it turns out that the Sun had also arrived in Hue and brought along its friend Mr. 40 degrees. Thankfully we had air conditioning in the room and so did various bars and restaurants around town.

Hue was the national capital of Vietnam until 1945 after which the Imperial Emperor Bao Dai abdicated to a communist government that declared Hanoi the new capital. The city is home to a massive citadel that occupies a large area on the northern side of the Perfume River. The Citadel is surrounded by a wall 2 kilometres by 2 kilometres, which is then also surrounded by a moat. Inside the Citadel was the Forbidden City where the imperial family called home. Although….you know what’s coming right?.... In 1968 America bombed the shit out of it as a response to the communist takeover of the city. Consequently most of the Citadel’s inner buildings were flattened and what remains today is rubble and grass, however the Vietnamese government has plans to rebuild the Citadel to its former glory.

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^^ Citadel entrance
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^^ Temple inside the Citadel
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^^ Hungry goldfish in the moat
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^^ I was helping the lion do whatever it was doing
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^^ Remains of the Forbidden City
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^^ Horses now call the Forbidden City home

It has been stinking hot in Hue over the last couple of days so we are escaping on the sleeper bus to Hanoi.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 01:30 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam hue imperial citadel Comments (0)

My Son & Last Night in Hoi An

sunny 32 °C

The Kingdom of My Son is remnants of the ancient Cham civilisation that called this area of Vietnam home between the 2nd and 15th centuries. Although their ancient cities are now abandoned the descendants still live in Vietnam and we even met some of these friendly people during our time in the Mekong.

My Son was an establishment dedicated to intense religious study and was also the site where Cham Kings were crowned and buried. Monks were the only people allowed to permanently dwell in the actual city, although villagers from the nearby communities could visit freely.

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It feels pretty special, maybe even spiritual to be visiting a site with such a rich history and culture attached, unfortunately though that feeling is quickly extinguished when you are but one in a crowd of hundreds of tourists with their hungry cameras and sweaty bodies clambering around you to get a good position to hear the guide recite his daily facts that he so noticeably finds monotonous. Although maybe I’m just disappointed I couldn’t explore uncharted ruins like Indiana Jones. Apart from the sea of tourists it really is beautiful.

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^^ Crowded
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Unfortunately, like most things in Vietnam, it was also an adopted field-headquarters for the Viet Cong and consequently the Americans sent in the B52’s. About 90% of the ruins were turned into craters and those that remained are undergoing delicate restoration.

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^^ The rubble
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^^ Exploring!! :)
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I would still definitely recommend visiting My Son as the feeling of being inside an area that was once teeming with ancient culture is still very much in the air around you, albeit competing with the body-odour of the abundant tourists.

That afternoon we visited the market in Hoi An and just chilled out on the river front, hopping from bar to bar all evening.

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^^ Hoi An Market
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At one point a local woman selling various roasted nuts and banana approached us. She was full of complements; exclaiming how handsome I was, and how beautiful Kirby’s eyes were, suffice to say we ‘fell’ for her and ended up buying some of her banana, for which she was quite happy as it was her first sale for the night.
About half an hour later she returned with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. She had returned to thank us and shake our hands as apparently we were good luck for her and just down the road she sold 10 packets of peanuts, 5 bottles of tiger balm, and a few packets of bananas. She was so pleased with her sales and thankful for the luck we had bestowed upon her that she wrote down her address and invited us to her house for dinner tomorrow night with her family. A really kind gesture, unfortunately this was our last night in Hoi An before we head to Hue, so we couldn’t have dinner with her :(, fingers crossed she is still doing well!

Tomorrow we set our sights to conquering the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam, Hue.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 04:15 Archived in Vietnam Tagged ruins vietnam hoi_an my_son hoian myson b52 Comments (1)

Hoi An and the Crazy Woman on the Bus

sunny 30 °C

Last night we took the sleeping bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An. Believe me when I tell you it was the most horrendous experience we have had so far haha. Where do I even begin?

In theory the idea of a sleeping bus is great; a bus full of bunk-beds that travels during the night while you sleep and you wake up in a new city, awesome!

Where this theory breaks down is... when the air-con is not working and the bus has no windows, when the bus is so overcrowded that locals are sleeping on the floor (the lucky ones in hammocks hitched between two bunks), when the man sleeping on the floor keeps grabbing and touching you all night, when the toilet door latch is broken and slams every time the bus turns a right corner, when the driver beeps the horn every 10 seconds to warn the motorbikes to get out of the way or die, when a German woman brings her three kids under the age of seven on a 13 hour bus ride.

Before I continue let me just tell you about this German woman. She was travelling alone with her three children or ‘babies’ as she so whiningly called them. She had a clipper number 1 shaved head, along with her two little girls and boy. Her outfit consisted of loose hanging shrouds and sarongs, minus shoes and bra, of course. The children were wearing what looked like tea-towels that just hung off their bodies; the poor seven year old girl was struggling to keep her body covered as her dishtowels flopped around with a mind of their own, why isn’t she dressed properly and at school?
It was actually quite disturbing to see, and if this woman was in Australia I can guarantee she would be getting a knock on the door from child services, especially if they saw all the kids and her lining up and squatting next to the bus because the use of the toilet cost 20 cents. This isn’t even the worst, wait for it.
When we were hopping on the bus she told her kids to hold our hand and pretend that Kirby and I had two children, what the fuck??!
Apparently she hadn’t bought tickets for the kids because an adult can travel with 1 child for free if the child shares the bed. So here we were standing on the bus waiting to get to our bunk with a German woman’s ‘babies’ hanging onto us and her begging that we take one of her children each. Obviously we politely said ‘hell no’ and left her to the bus drivers mercy, or lack thereof. After a heated yelling match between her and the driver she had to pay an extra $20 for the kids to get a bed (our 8 open tickets from Saigon to Hanoi cost a combined $38). Who was she kidding though? Of course there wasn’t going to magically be two beds that weren’t occupied, especially when people are sleeping on the floor. So as predicted 5 minutes later two guys hopped on and politely kicked the kids out of their bed and she was left with 3 kids lying on top of her minus $20, and you can imagine what shenanigans went on when three kids are stuck in 1 bunk for 13 hours.
Suffice to say the bus ride was hellish and I wanted to scratch the word ‘sleeping’ from off the side of the bus when we finally made it to Hoi An.

On a lighter note, Hoi An is beautiful and I’m really glad we weren’t disappointed because I was ready to throttle the life out of the next street rooster that cock-a-doodle-doed.

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^^ Hoi An street

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^^ All the buildings in the old district are heritage listed

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^^ An old junk, nestled in the river that runs through the heart of Hoi An

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^^ Hanging out on the bridge

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^^ Playing with the camera

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^^ Looking across the river

When we hopped off the bus we wandered around for a while looking for an affordable guesthouse to stay at. That is when we met a nice lady who kindly guided us to a good cheap hotel ($10 a night) in the middle of the market/old district, where all the attractions are. Little did we know that she owned a tailor store that made custom suits, and her helping us was to ensure our custom later that day. Neither of us wanted anything made so that put us in a bit of a bind. We tried to avoid her but she hunted us down on the street and when we told her we didn’t want to buy anything from her she got fairly angry at us and was unreasonably rude, what she didn’t know was how rough our night had been and Kirby was most definitely not ready to take any shit, and with a selection of uncompromising words and matching body language Kirby put the woman back in her place, something she probably wasn’t used to after always dealing with timid travellers out of their comfort zones.

After a fairly eventful previous evening and day we were ready for some relaxing and thankfully Hoi An is the town famous for its 2.5 cent beers, yeah you read correct, two and a half cents for a beer! Not many bars in Australia give you change for 5 cents haha :).

Tomorrow we are off to My Son, the remains of an ancient Cham civilisation.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 08:10 Archived in Vietnam Tagged bus vietnam hoi_an hoian sleeping_bus crazy_lady Comments (3)

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