21.07.2010 38 °C
The first stop in Vietnam was Hanoi. As soon as we stepped off of the bus the heat hit us and we were sweating with in 30seconds. It was the most humid place I have ever been to, combined with the 40degree heat, it made for a very uncomfortable experience. We checked into our hostel and had a lethargic stroll around the Vietnamese capital. Although not as big as some cities it was certainly just as hectic with scooters flying around the place in massive heards. That night was the England Germany game so we decided to go back to the hostel and get ready for it. On our stroll we'd found a pub showing the game with 30p tiger beer so we headed over that way for the match. The result was disappointing, but the atmosphere was great. We met a couple of other English lads and a few hours later, at 2am we were drunk back at their hostel trying to book onto their junk boat tour for 8am that day. After a few rides around looking for ATMs on the back of some local's scooters we booked the tour and went to bed.
No time later we were crammed into the back of a sweaty mini bus headed for HaLong Bay. After some deliberation about what boat to get on we finally boarded one and were sat down for a buffet lunch. The boat set out of the harbor whilst we were ate and we went out on deck soon after to admire the view. On the trip we visited some caves that were light up like Disneyland in real tacky fashion and we also passed by a floating village and saw an array of fish in square nets on one of the man made fishing islands. Next we got a smaller boat that we were promised would take us somewhere that we could swim to cool down. It chugged along the sea until it came to a hole in the side of one of the limestone karsts. Through the other side was the hollowed out middle of the karst. It opened up to these circular mountain walls about 100feet tall all around. It was a spectacular sight that we sadly didn't take our cameras to. The water was bath tub warm and did little to cool us down, but the experience of swimming in the middle of this floating mountain was one never to be forgotten. Later on we had a buffet dinner and once the boat was stationary were permitted to jump from the top (about 20feet) into the water. It was fun for the first five goes until getting back on the boat and walking to the top became too much effort. There were also a number of ominous jelly-fish floating by so we decided to call that it for the day. As the sun came down the views across the bay were breathtaking and we snapped away whilst admiring the beauty of our idealic surroundings. That night was sweltering hot in the cabins. A small fan did little for any sort of relief so I tried to get the broken air con working. I literally tapped the thing and it feel off the wall brace. We told out tour guide who got the captain who then demanded $400 for it to be fixed, we said no and fell asleep on the upper deck of the boat.
The next day we canoed around the bay for a bit and then went back to the boat to be taken back to HaLong City. The captain had other ideas and wouldn't let Dave or I leave the boat until we paid up. He had our passports and thus we had no choice but to stay aboard. After arguing through a translator that all he need do is fix the air conditioner back on and then threatening to ring the British Embassy we finally caved and gave him 40quid to give our passports back and let us off. We sailed back to the city and booked into a hotel after a mixed trip out to the bay.
The next day we headed back to Hanoi for a connection down to Ninh Binh. A quiet town that most tourists bypassed, Ninh Binh became a hidden gem on our Vietnam trip. Whilst there we rented mopeds. After some hasty lessons from the hotel owner we sped out into the hectic main road to join the chaos that is biking on Vietnamese roads. After a few nervy turns and getting a tad lost we found our way to some of the tourist sites that we had hoped to visit. First we got a raft down the Tam Coc river. The scenery was spectacular again and the rowers used their feet to propel the boat by pushing the oars with them. We ventured through a number of caves and meandered leisurely through the mountainous landscape around and then back to our bikes. After a quick lunch we headed off again in search of a local temple. We never found it, but biking through the narrow streets and small villages on the journey amongst the beautiful backdrop of Ninh Binh was reward enough. That night we tried goat in a restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet, it was very chewy!
Next was Hue, only really used to break up the trip down to Hoi An. We mainly just relaxed here and regained some energy before heading down to Hoi An
As soon as we arrived in Hoi An we headed off to get our suits made up. There is one main street where all of the tailors are located and it was packed with tourists. We went for the first place reccomended to us by our hotel owner. By the time they'd took all our specifications it seemed too much effort to hunt around elsewhere to knock a few quid off so we went with them. We celebrated our purchases with a very very hot curry! and then went back to the hotel. The other 3nights in Hoi An were spent lazing in the Hotel or on the picturesque beach 2 hours walk from the hotel (we thought it would take 10minutes.) We spent the days between here and the tailors, refining our purchases to the perfect fit. On the forth day our shoes, blazers, trousers, 4ties and 8shirts were ready to be boxed up and sent back to the UK. The relaxed nature of Hoi An put us in good stead for what awaited in Nha Trang.
We went out all three nights in Nha Trang, due to the cheap beer prices in all the bars. Everyone ended up at Sailor's Club, located by the sea with the sandy beach as the beer garden. We met a lot of people including one Swedish guy who bought a motorbike to take up to Vietnam and got a job the first second day he was there despite only intending to stay in Nha Trang for four days! In the daytime we lazed on the beach. Dave had a go at wakeboarding that proved to be a bit more difficult than he first though and I had a go at parasailing. At night we had a few drinks at the buzzing red apple bar before heading on to Why Not Bar? (where the crazy Swede got his job!) and then onto Sailors to dance and crash on the beach. It wasn't a very cultural experience, apart from the Vietnamese haircut I got given, but Nha Trang is a must for anyone who likes to party.
The 7hour hungover bus trip to the mountainous Dalat was very unpleasant, The weaving, bumpy journey was not the best. Dalat has a cooler spring like climate than that of most of Vietnam so it was nice to get out of the heat. The first night we went for a meal with the hotel owner and listened to him tell us aout his Easy Rider tour that he does everyday from his hotel. We decided to book it for the day after the next. It cost $30 dollars but was well worth it. We got our own mopeds again and followed the guide up the mountains to various sites. First was a traditional Vietnamese market, full of all types of food and trinkets. Then a silk factory where we saw first hand how they crafted everything from socks to tablecloths. Afterward we went to a waterfall and scaled down the side into the caves beneath where the water sprayed up into your face as it collided with the surface bellow. Afterward we visited a tribal village and went in one of the huts of a lady from a Vietnamese minority tribe. It was great to learn how they live and their beliefs and values. In marriage the woman has all the power and keeps all the money. The man has to ask if he wants even the smallest amount to buy a drink or any other cheap items. We ate with the hotel owners family and the other tourists then headed back down the mountain visiting a mushroom tent on the way. The ride back was extremely treacherous. We followed the yellow blur of the tour guides raincoat speeding along the motorway at 80kph. The rain came down so heavily that it was almost impossible to see and with huge lorries speeding by our sides every few seconds I was glad to arrive back at the hotel safely later that evening.
The final stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We spent most of our time on a day trip to the Mekong Delta where we went to a local fudge factory firstly then held a huge python and watched the locals feed some very angry alligators. We sampled the local fruit and had honey tea with is popular amongst the natives of the area. A boat ride down a narrow stream surrounded by bamboo groves finalized a great little tour and fittingly ended our last day in Vietnam. That night we went in search of a litre of beer that could be purchased for 15p at a local bar. After finding it we sat down and had some of the watery beer before we got chatting to the guys on the table we were placed at. It turned out they were in Alex's year at school and both played for Valley under dad. It's a small world after all.