Hi guys last time we spoke we were just about to embark on a trek to the spectacular Sapa in northwestern Vietnam. We booked a 3 day trek, including one nights homestay in a local hilltribe village, so we had one day left in Hanoi before catching the overnight train to Lao Cao, an hour outside of Sapa. Jem and I spent the day wandering round the beautiful, and peaceful, Hoan Kiem Lake in the old quarter. We saw the tiny Thap Rua, Tortoise Tower, on an islet in the southern part of the lake, crossed the bridge in the northern part of the lake to visit the Ngoc Son Temple, Jade Mountain Temple, which contains embalmed remains of a gigantic tortoise of the species said to still inhabit the lake! We then bumped into a friend we'd met travelling called Senan and went for a fantastic lunch, at a street seller, of noodle soup, greens (fresh parsley and mint leaves), mince and the best spring rolls in the whole of Hanoi - all for the bargain price of a quid! After lunch we visited, Memorial House, a traditional chinese dwelling showing how the local merchants used to live and then walked to the Bach Ma Temple in chinatown which is the oldest temple in Hanoi. Myself, Jem, Tegan and Hen then caught the overnight train, or Hogwarts express as we called it due to our lovely little carriage with 2 bunk beds and a light in the window, which arrived in Lao Cai at 5.30am! Far to early to be carrying our rucksack around!
Sapa is a fabulous place with amazing views of misty mountains. Our two day, 12 km trek with the black hmong hilltribe families was hardcore but thoroughly enjoyable and the homestay in the village of Ban Ho was a great experience. We met people from the giay, tay and dzao hilltribes who all have their own language which the other tribes don't understand. We spent another night in Sapa, visited the love market, had delicious food from a local BBQ, saw Cat Cat waterfall, had a dip in a freezing river and then headed back to Hanoi, arriving on the overnight train at 4.30am to then go straight on another 3 day tour to Halong Bay.
Halong Bay has more than 3000 islands within the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and is truly magnificant. Our fab group of 16, sailed the waters on a junk boat, visited the caves, had great fun jumping off the boat, swimming, visited Monkey Island, which has monkeys roaming around, spent one night onboard the boat and then the second night was spent in a lovely hotel on Cat Ba island, the only populated island in Halong Bay. We were sad to say bye to our group but there's quite a few who are doing the same route as us so hopefully we'll bump into them soon!
Back in Hanoi we visited St Joseph's Cathedral, the central market, and went to see the water puppets which originated in North Vietnam over 1000yrs ago. Developed by rice farmers, the wooden puppets were manipulated by puppeteers using water flooded rice paddies as their stage.The performances are accompanied by music played on traditional instruments and are lots of fun!
From Hanoi we got an overnight bus, just seats so not the most comfortable ride, to Hue. We just missed the floods, where people had to get boats across the street, and spent a day on the back of a motorbike being shown the sights of Hue! We visited one of the royal tombs on the banks of the Song Huong river called Tu Duc Tomb, which is the most impressive, stopped at a conical hat and incense making village and had a looked at Thien Mu Pagoda, an octagonal pagoda, which is one of the most famous structures in Vietnam. It was a great experience driving through small villages, the countryside and seeing whole communities working together to restore their land after the horrific floods.
From Hue we caught the bus to Hoi An. Again this journey showed us how poor the country is, that the majority of people live in tiny huts, most of them now flooded, with hardly any possessions. The floods occur every year and nothing is ever done to help the people, they just have to get on with it! This year, I think, there are already 27 people who have died because of the floods!
Hoi An is a very quaint, pretty little town, if not just a bit wet after the floods! Again we had been very lucky and missed the worst of the floods because the guy in the room next to us at our hotel had been trapped in his room for the past 3 days with no water or electricity! He told us how he'd seen a family being rescued from their home, behind the hotel, by boat and that all of the roads were waist high with water. As soon as it stopped raining and the roads were clear he happily escaped!
We spent the next two days in Hoi An. It's great for shopping, if you want any clothes made then this is the place to go, has cool bars and lots of cheap, nice restaurants. We sampled the delicious local speciality dishes; Cao Lau, doughy flat noodles mixed with croutons, bean sprouts and greens, topped with pork slices and served in a savoury broth. The real thing can only be had in Hoi An, as the water for Cao Lau noodles must come from the Ba Le well. We also tried 'white rose'- a petite steamed dumpling stuffed with shrimps and fried wonton. We also had the best meal we've had in Vietnam so far which was at Ba Le Well, a street restaurant for the locals, we were the only westerners. We ate thit nuong, spiced, grilled rolls of pork and banh xeo, stuffed rice crepes that you wrap in lettuce and herbs and dip in fish sauce. The owners mum, a lovely lady, who took a shine to Jem, showed us how to eat the food. We had a great time! On the first day,I dragged Jem out on a bike to explore the area and the nearby Cua Dai beach (which was deserted!). We ended up getting drenched but it was lots of fun! The next day Jem shaved his beard, yes he's been growing it for the past month, and we had to cancel a tour we had booked to My Son, Cham ruins, because the rain was so heavy and the area was flooded. The tour company still carried on and took the group there and we later found out that everyone was waist high in water so I think we made the right choice! When the rain stopped we walked into Hoi An old town and down to the river front to discover that the Thu Bon River was overflowing onto the road! As we walked by we saw the lovely sight of a bloated dead dog floating by which was nice! We had a look at the Japanese Covered Bridge, which has a roof for shelter and a temple on one side then that night we got the overnight bus to Nha Trang, which is where we are now. The bus took longer because at 1am the driver had to wake up the local garage and get them to change a couple of the tyres! We hoped for sun, because this fishing town has a great beach, but oh no all we got was more rain!
Yesterday we spent the majority of the day dodging rain but managed to visit two fantastic local photographers galleries which was very interesting. Both of them try to capture the daily life of Vietnamese people of all ages and their work is excellent. Today the rain has stopped, for now, so we're going to try and see some of the sights and maybe get a mud bath if the rain holds off - fingers crossed hey! lots of love xxxx