A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: jimmy3987

Vietnam

sunny 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.

Posted by jimmy3987 04:55 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

China

Beijing, Xi'an, Three Gorges, Chongqing, Guilin, Yangshuo

overcast 32 °C

After a mind numbingly boring ferry ride across the Chinese Sea we arrived in Tianjin. The port was empty with very little around. We had no Chinese money and no idea where to go. After walking out of the terminal and being propositioned by some locals offering taxis we found a bus station. There was no cash machine nearby though so we reluctantly got in a cab. After an ATM stop the cabbie dropped us at the train station for a measly sum, much to our delight. We then boarded the fastest train in the world that got us to Beijing in 30minutes travelling at 205mph!

Beijing was a complete contrast to anything in Japan. It was vastly overcrowded and we had to cram ourselves onto the subway with our bulging backpacks and rucksacks taking up more space than your average Chinaman. The tube was 20p to ride no matter how far you wanted to go or where to, a cheeky bonus. Foolishly we hadn't booked any accommodation, so after wandering around for a good few hours in the sweltering heat with out heaving bags and it getting late we decided to just opt for the nearest hotel. The rates weren't too bad and our street was riddled with restaurants. We went to the nearest one and dined at the same place for the proceeding 3nights eating a range of food, duck hearts being the strangest.

The sights in Beijing were very average. The Forbidden City sounds better than it is. Firstly it's not ''forbidden'' and secondly if square after square of tall walls with pictures of some old bloke pasted on them are impressive then your clearly a bit of a simpleton, or on something, strong. Tiananmen Square just outside was also rather tame. The Great Wall more than made up for these two though, The spectacular scenery and never ending, winding layers of ancient brickwork dissecting China and Mongolia more than justified it's label as one of the 7 world wonders. We even ziplined off of it at the end.

The day after we departed heading towards Xi'an hoping to rediscover the impressive array of cuisine but leave behind the rude, spitting inhabitants of China's capital. That didn't happen. Everyone in China pushes and shoves and has no respect or manners for other their fellow people and they all spit not before making a large pronounced gurgle in their throats. The 12 hour hard seated train to Xi'an was the worst travelling stint of my life, wedged in a row of 6people with no air-con, people smoking and a hole in the floor for toilet time. I just accepted this as part of the traveling experience and dragged my numb limbs and full bladder off the train at the other end at 6am content knowing that I hadn't got too pissed off with the whole ordeal.

Xi'an was a more historic city than Beijing. The first day we rented a tandem bike and cycled around the city walls half asleep from the deprivation of last night. The fact that we didn't fall off or hit anything was more impressive than the mundane nature of the continual ancient grey wall that protected the neon clad city below. That night we cooked our own food on the street, it tasted very poor so we made some purchases haggling down a persistent girl at one of the market stalls for two ''no fake'' Lacoste polo shirts.

The next day we ventured out of town to see the Terricota Warriors. The army, built to protect an emperor of some description in the afterlife, was impressive in it's magnitude and scale. Although after reading in the Lonely Planet how many people died in their construction to protect some guy who was scared of death I couldn't help but feel sort of disgusted by the whole thing. The fact that some coward thought he had a God given right to exploit so many people to uphold his own belief made the exhibit seem like a tribute to stupidity and hierarchical ruler ship over others rather than an example of the perseverance, graft and architectural splendor that should have been the ideology behind the Warriors.
That night we had a beer tower in our hostel and a few other drinks... It made me a tad unwell, which I think was down to some form of heat stroke. Nevertheless we got back on it and ordered another one the next day, if only England could have shown such commitment as they drew a passionless game 1-1 with the U.S.

After another long (15hour) train journey we arrived in Yichang, a stop over before we boarded the Yangzi river cruise liner. Yichang was a small rural town with only one very basic hostel. We spent the night there and grabbed a more rustic, authentic lunch to that of the Beijing cuisine. Around 5pm we boarded the boat at the port to embark on our 4day leisurely cruise down the river. (Proper roughing it, old skool travel style!)

The boat was full of 60% Chinese aged 30+ and 38% Germans aged 40+ and 2% disillusioned Englishmen who looked more like 28 with beards that belied their youth. There were 100 passengers aboard the boat. We had only each other for company on the confined vessel for 4days. We thought the excursions might make up for it, but they were very tame. Looking at a dam is not an excursion, especially when most of it's done from the boat. I don't care if it is the biggest dam in the world it's still a lump of concrete that when constructed cause flooding and a high number of deaths and annihilation of villages. Again, nice one China, glorifying your emerging ''economic strength'' whilst trampling over the less fortunate people of the country. Bloody commies. Whilst waiting to pass through the 5gates of this 'extrodinary'(ly shite) dam another cruise liner pulled up alongside our balcony. This boat was full of Brits and we got chatting to a couple of couples from Bolton and London. We later found out that was the boat we should have been on had we not changed our minds at the last minute. Our two boats moored up alongside each other a few times on the trip, which was the best part as well as getting tipsy on the balcony on the old Tsingtao. One excursion a local tribe rowed us down the river on a canoe, which was mildly entertaining and the Ghost City day offered a heap load of temples, some of which weren't to shabby to look at. We finished our cruise with Karaoke and a talent show. The Chinese sang, The krauts did some dance/song/play thing about days of the week (wankers) and the 2 Englishmen had some beers, criticised the lot and went to bed.

We got off in Chongqing to mixed weather. Our hostel was very conveniently located in the Old Town. There was one reason to be in Chongqing. Hotpot. A local delicacy that could apparently compete with any curry. We wandered the Old Town looking through the souvenir shops then went in search of a good place to get this fiery delight. We found somewhere fairly soon and wandered in and managed to order what we though was a hotpot on a Chinese language menu. 15minutes later a cauldron of veg. meat and a dark broth was sat on our table. We hesitantly picked out a piece of the unidentified meat each. It was hot and spicy and very tasty duck. The more we ate the more addictive it became. We got through 2 660ml beers each in about 5minutes as the heat engulfed our mouths. The waitresses and even the chef came out at some points through our struggle to giggle and whisper in one another's ears. We finally conquered the bad boy 45 minutes later to much satisfaction. My mouth was on fire and I was sweating buckets, but the hotpot comes thoroughly recommended from this traveller.

Later that night we had a few drinks and just about stayed up till 2.30am to watch the shambles that is the English national football team draw hopelessly 0-0 with Algeria.

Next we headed to Guilin on a 17hour train ride. It was billed as a paradise town that if you mentioned that you were going to any Chinaman they'd be instantly jealous. It was distinctly not paradise. It rained and the landscape was uninspiring. We rented bikes on the first day to see if this paradise awaited further afield. It did not. We didn't do a lot in Guilin apart from decide that venturing over to Hong Kong would be too much of an effort, especially to go from into Vietnam. Instead we were going to Yangshuo.

A short bus journey to Yangshuo and our decision to sack off Hong Kong was immediately verified. The touristy little town was situated beneath looming gorges with a river dissecting through the far side. The cobbled streets, lively atmosphere and our hostel with spectacular rooftop views meant Yangshao was the highlight of China. We firstly rummaged through market stores picking up a few trinkets and a 'Patek Phillipe' watch for 8quid and Dave's brand new Rotex. After that we listened to some Swedish guy rabble on about his mildly interesting and prejudice adventures in India before getting some beers in and watching England beat Slovakia 1-0. We went out that night to a local bar/club that closed at 1am and was full of locals doing shots of beer, cus they're hardcore. We joined in faining drunkenness at the measly measures and playing 3hours of rock, paper, scissors as a drinking game.......

The next day we went to the mud cave on a mini tour with some Americans. Firstly we boarded a small boat and went under a huge gorge. Nearly hitting out heads on the jagged ends of the hanging rocks we meandered deep into the caves. We disembarked further in and wandered through the eiry caves surrounded by pools of water and ominous dark corners. The tour guide described rock formations as baring familiarity to things that were so far off it was laughable. 'This one look like bird, this one look like crocodile, this one look like two lovers' 'Yea and this one looks like Mel Gibson!' someone humorously remarked. There were a number of bats lurking deep in the ceilings and a waterfall at the end of the walk. Then we got to go in the mud pool. It was quite shallow, but once you came out your body was brown from the think, sloppy mud. We got some browned up photos and then moved on to the hot springs where I almost fell asleep chilling in the warm little pools of water, like bath tubs carved underground.

The day after we watched a few DVD's and I had a Skype call with my lovely girl back home. That night we headed to Nanning for no other reason than to get the four our bus to the Vietnamese boarder.

Posted by jimmy3987 04:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

Kobe

Our last destination in Japan was the port side city of Kobe. It seemed a shame that we were only there for one night as it appeared to be an interesting city, covered in historical richness. It contrasted Osaka opposing with the affluence that coursed through every street and avenue. The weather was perfect too, a combination of warm sunshine with a refreshing breeze from the coast meant that strolling around was a pleasant doddle. We went down to the port and grabbed a drink before unsuccessfully trying to determine where our ferry fro China might depart from. The outskirts of the museum down by the harbour had a display that we viewed informing you of the earthquake the city suffered and the devastating effects, some of which could still be seen. We then sat in the park with yet another drink as the heat sweltered around us.

Once it had cooled down we headed over to the Chinatown area for a prerequisite before out Chinese leg of the tour. After a quick peek and feeling rather hungry we decided to sample one of the culinary delights and dangers from each stall along the road. We chose the food individually for which we both had to sample. For the most part it was a fun, pleasant experience apart from one piece of food that was spherical in shape with a bready outer layer. innocuous enough, until you got to the purple mush beneath that resembled some kind of mutant bodily fluid and tasted what I'd presume to be similar! After that there was only one solution, a solution which with our alcoholic dispositions, had amazingly escaped our needs within the first few days of landing in Japan. It was time to sample the Sake.

We found a local bar that seemed dingy enough to do cheap booze yet prominently located enough to escape glances with enquiry. Sat down we ordered a small sample each, which was more of a big sample containing 5shots worth of Sake each. We drank and considered it's tequila like taste, and also why the waiter had brought a plate of old lettuce to the side of our table. Odd. After the first sampling we got some more, with extra beer on the side. Despite our later urge to continue what we originally designated as cultural 'sampling' but that had evolved into a plausible excuse, in our semi inebriated minds, to get 'on it' we decided not to continue drinking due to the 50 hour ferry that would await the wrong side of a heavy night out. We called it quits and headed back to our hostel for a good nights rest before embarking at 11am across the Chinese sea to Beijing.

Posted by jimmy3987 23:27 Comments (0)

Osaka

overcast 24 °C

The train journey to Osaka took a brief 30minutes and we arrived amongst the Skyscrapers to bewilderment as we tried to locate our ominous hotel. We soon realised that not only did we have shoddy directions, but also that Japan was only full of such polite people and beautiful landscapes because they dumped all the crap in this district of Osaka. The streets were full of, not tramps, but people who looked like they'd been wearing the same clothes for a while. The residents carried worn miscellaneous household trinkets that epitomized their tired gazes of defeat and resignation of their dilapidated lifestyles from impoverishment. We finally found our hotel amongst the dreary streets to be pleasantly surprised. The lobby was fresh and modern with 4 plasma computer screens and free Internet. Thinking that our rooms would probably not continue the trend we got to the top floor of the building (the 9th) and were pleasantly surprised to find a bathroom, toilet, comfortable bedding etc and not so pleasantly surprised to come across the most anti-social American I've ever met.

The next day we sat downstairs in the lobby on the internet all day as the gray clouds drew in overhead. We did venture out down an alleyway to a cheap supermarket to get rabble supplies in the evening, but that was all. It was not a productive day.

The next day however the weather perked up and so did our attitudes towards heading out of our comfortable hotel and onto the streets of Osaka. We got the subway to the center of the city which was more pleasant than our rundown corner. After wandering aimlessly for a while we headed up a skyscraper shaped like a huge Arc de Triomphe to take in some of the views. Osaka looked a bit better from the top, but was no Tokyo by any stretch of the imagination. We took some photos and headed back down to find some grub. Situated near the station we found ourselves eating italian for lunch and making banter with the owner who eloquently informed us he used to reside in such wonderful area of London such as Dartford, Brixton and Clapham, all of which for some reason sounded even more shite in his peculiar italian accent.

Later, using the limited resources Osaka had for tourism, we decided to head to the 'castle' it had situated in the middle of it's park. It was not a good 'castle' more of a glamorized house on top of a mound. Roaming the grounds of the city park and watching some youngsters play baseball was enough entertainment for the day though. We headed back for our third night to find the American in the room, which he hadn't left for the past 48hours still playing on his laptop and watching TV, an odd fellow. We grabbed some beers from our favourite supermarket and breached the fire escape onto the roof. The distant lights of the Osaka skyline and stillness upon the building roof seemed to forget the deprivation that lay on the streets below. Content with this we took some night time photos before seeing off our cans and going to sleep.

Posted by jimmy3987 23:03 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Nara

sunny 25 °C

We decided to only spend one day in Nara and then head over to Osaka for the night. Nara was the most quaint, rustic Japanese city we visited, although it resembled more of a town with it's small streets and little alleyways. The main attraction in Nara is the huge park with numerous temples and wildlife. We headed that way and soon found ourselves taking snaps of some turtles that were perched on various rocks located in the middle of a picturesque lake. This was a good taster for what lay ahead. Round the corner were the deer that Nara is infamously renowned for. They roam the park nonchalantly going about their own business as tourists and locals rightfully stare affectionately in admiration for these stunning creatures. We spent ages taking photographs with them. Walking right up, stroking them and sitting beside them as they ate and lazed in the sun. It was a great experience to interact with such docile magnificent animals in a way that is extremely rare back home or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

Further into the park was the temple of the giant Buddha. After paying the entry fee we wandered up the immaculate gardens toward the temple amongst herds of school children, a few of which would shout 'hello' and wave as they practiced their limited English skills. We humoured them as we walked inside. The giant Buddha, the biggest metal Buddha in the world, loomed over us imposingly ans the subsequent continual flashing of cameras by tourists and Japanese nationals alike told you that this was a site appreciated by all no matter what their origins. The rest of the temple was largely plain so we wandered the park a bit more, basking in the sun and relaxed atmosphere that has escaped us in the bigger cities before heading back to get the train to Osaka.

Posted by jimmy3987 22:34 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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