Nth India to Central Vietnam - 40 days of backpacking
Hội An, Vietnam
Its been so long since our last blog update in Amritsar up in northern India. We have travelled such a long way, so many trains, buses, boats, bikes etc, but I will do my best to undo my laziness with the blog updates and try and keep it to a minimum so as not to put you all to sleep.
So after our couple of nights in Amritsar's busy pilgrim filled city, we hopped on a train at 5am bound for Delhi only to connect to another train bound for the city of Udaipur - 'the city of love' - and it truly was a beautiful place. Set on a large lake which has 2 major islands - both with 5 star hotels on them - we stayed only a couple of minute walk from the water in a guesthouse which was only 18 months old and really a good find. We explored the citys narrow streets - filled with markets selling everything from car parts to Indian spice, we wondered around the city palace, took a boat across the lake to one of the 5 star hotels and we did a cooking course - knocking up an absolute feast! Udaipur was a real haven for us, we stayed here for 4 days, but over a 10 day period from when we left Amritsar, we were constantly on the move. After Udaipur it was a night train to Ahmedabad with a 17 hour stop over - what a s*** hole! - followed by another night train to Mumbai. As we weren't really fussed with the big city's, Mumbai was a one night stand for us. Staying in Colaba, we literally had a cell to stay in - a 3x3M room with a fan and a mirror, and it was one of the most expensive rooms we have had on our trip to date! Tara was a bit crook whilst here, and on a boat ride to Elephants Island to visit the holy Hindu caves she had a little power spew off the boat, needless to say we didn't get to the caves. But our next destination - after a 14 hour bus ride - was Hampi, and what an absolutely amazing place it was! A really small town, stone paved streets lined with colourful shops and guesthouses, and set alongside a river, with a few palm trees and banana plantations thrown in, and amongst ruined stone cities from over a thousand years ago - well im not exactly sure how old they were but you get the idea, old! Our arrival in an auto rickshaw involved us almost cleaning up a local dog, and then having an argument with the driver about the price of the trip. But we found a gold mine at one of the restaurants, vegemite was on the menu, as well as real coffee, so we got the guesthouse next door. Tara was still feeling average for the first couple of days so we spent our time close to a toilet… mainly cruising from restaurant to café to rooftop, grazing on the local produce and making headway through whatever we were reading at the time. The following days although consisted of us riding around the town checking out the temples and ruined cities that were literally scattered everywhere around Hampi and its boulder strewn countryside. We rode a motorbike a few km's out of town to the Monkey Temple - high on a hill, with really not enough monkeys to make it a monkey temple - but really a beautiful view and a nice place to jump around on the boulders and relax in the shade.
We had debated whether to go to Goa or not- India's party capital, India's Gold Coast - but as it turned out we did catch a bus there, arriving at 6am only to depart at 8am. It was not really a place we wanted to be, so we immediately bit the bullet and spent the following 7 hours transferring between 5 local buses to get to Gokarna - and when we arrived we were instantly happy with our decision. Basically Gokarna is the town - a busy Hindu temple strewn, pilgrim filled town with a few bazaars, a beach filled with Indian tourists, cows and rubbish, but charming in its own ways - the real beauty happens further along the coast. It's a real untouched paradise, a series of protected coves, each with their own beach and a collection of basic thatched roof bungalows to reside in. We arrived on Om Beach late in the afternoon, and with some luck managed to get a really nice - basic - bungalow right at the quiet end of the beach. Our introduction included sitting in our restaurant on the sand, catching an amazing sunset and watching the dolphins play in the cove. The following 8 days proceeded to impress us just as much. Our days consisted of laying on the beach, swimming, Frisbee, cheap beer and seafood, the occasional walk to the surrounding beaches and hanging out with our new mates - Dan, Eddie, Toby and Elle. We had Christmas on Om Beach, and to celebrate we spent our day the same as every other day, because every day was Christmas in Gokarna.
It was sad to leave Gokarna, but we had another 15 hour train to add to our resume, with the destination of Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala in tropical South India. But we didn't stick around here, arriving at 5am, we were on the first local train out of here, arriving at Varkala beach at around 7.30am on the 30th December. We had come to Varkala Beach for New Years, and to catch up with our mate Logan from Canada, who luckily for us - and much appreciate also - had organised us a really nice hotel to stay in, our first room with its own balcony and a hammock! Varkala was a lot more touristy than the likes of Gokarna, a popular holiday spot with a plethora of restaurants, resorts, hotels and guesthouses strung out along the cliff top that overlooked the beach. But our days didn't consist of much more than that of Gokarna, beach, swimming, Frisbee and grazing around the cafes and restaurants. New Years was really nice, dinner with Logan, indulging on the biggest prawns I've ever seen, few beers, bit of a dance and fireworks everywhere around midnight. An enjoyable night spent with our new Dutch mates - Marie and Neils - and Logan, we were in bed not long after 2am and awoke on new years day hang over free for the first time in many years.
The 2nd of January saw us on our way once more, parting ways with Logan on the train heading north, then parting again after we got off first at the wrong stop. We were bound for Kerala's major draw card, the backwaters, of which we had planned to take an overnight house boat. We got off at the major backwaters hub of Alleppey, where our house boat dreams were soiled after finding out the price. We organised a room - which looked a bit like a houseboat - and proceeded to take a 4 hour cruise through the complex water ways surrounding Alleppey. This is where the rivers are the highways, the narrow canals are the streets and laneways, the lakes are the parking spaces, and everywhere you go the banks are lined with houses, and life goes on. It was a really pleasant cruise, where we got a slight taste of the life in the backwaters, and a tasty lunch to go with it.
We only needed one night in Alleppey, with the next day we left this busy Indian town on an open air local bus, arriving 4 hours later in sleepy Fort Cochin. A really beautiful place, European architecture lined the narrow streets, and the streets, unlike 99% of Indian towns, were very uncongested and a pleasure to wonder through without worrying about being hit by a car, motorbike or a cow. It had a very Fitzroy feel, with many small art galleries, cafes and book shops, a really nice way to spend a few days. I was particularly interested in the Chinese fishing nets that lined the shore of the harbour. These primitive cantilevered timbered structures took about 6 or 7 men to operate, but to me the catch seemed hardly worth the effort. We had a string of 'weird' electrical incidents in Fort Cochin, where one night we awoke in the early hours to what seemed to be an electrical storm coming from our ceiling fan, only for us to brush it off and go back to sleep, being reawaken an hour or so later with the same lightning bolts flying over our heads, then back to sleep. One night sitting on the street eating dinner there was an enormous display of fireworks…coming from the electrical transformer across the street, followed by the power going out and candles being placed on all of the tables. We visited a suburb surrounding Fort Cochin called Jew Town… yes that was the name, and it was here that we took a ferry across the harbour to Ernakalum, for where we hopped on our last train in India, a sleeper to Bangalore.
Our India trip was drawing to a close, after roughly 4 months travelling north, east, west and south across India and Nepal, we were at our final destination of Bangalore, where we spent our last night enjoying our last Indian thali - curry, rice and chapatti - and consuming a hand full of local beers. We were both very excited to fly to South East Asia, as it felt like we were about to head off on another holiday. We spent all but our last Indian rupees at Bangalore airport before leaving the country, our last meal being pizza hut.
We arrived safe and sound in Kuala Lumpur at midnight on the 9th of January, stepping out onto the tarmac, wading through the soupy humid air into the international terminal where we were to spend the next 6 hours before flying out to Vietnam. It was tough work with nowhere to sleep. We perched ourselves at a table in the McDonalds, where after 4 months of being in countries where cows are sacred, I indulged in a Big Mac. The next few hours flew by, until by the time we got on the plane we nearly had to check in the bags that had formed under our eyes. Needless to say, sleep was on the agenda, and we both had 3 hours of Z's under our belts by the time the plane touched down in Hanoi, Vietnams capital in the north of the country. If we weren't already awake when we got off the plane, the temperature certainly woke us up, with Hanoi in the grip of winter, and the locals donning their 'stylish' puffer jackets. We took a shuttle bus to the city, and made our way through the busy motorcycle infested streets, stopping off at a restaurant for breakfast, which I somehow managed to tip into my lap, proceeding to offend the Vietnamese in the restaurant by lifting my egg and bacon covered thong up onto the table and pour the remains onto my plate. Soon enough we arrived at our hotel destination of 'Kangaroo Hotel', where we spent most of the day catching up on sleep and complaining about the cold weather.
We spent a couple of days in the capital, but wasted no time in booking a bus bus boat bus ticket to Cat Ba island, which is located amongst the natural wonder of Halong Bay. The commute wasn't as complicated as it sounded, and in comparison to India overland travel you can move a fair distance in a shorter amount of time. I can imagine that Cat Ba and Halong really is a spectacular place, and perhaps one day we will revisit this area, but the weather was terrible at this time, hence we had views of fog and cloud, rain and cool humid unpleasant temperatures. It was on Cat Ba island that we decided to make a B-line for south Vietnam where the weather is good and the beaches are beautiful. So we took an 18 hour sleeper bus south to Hue on the central coast, explored the ruined city for a couple of days, then proceeded south for a few more hours along the beautiful coastline to Hoi An, where we arrived yesterday afternoon.
So here we are now in Hoi An, after our first group tour today for our trip so far, to the ruined temple city of My Son, where our tour guide was border line racist towards anyone from America for bombing the temples, we are here sitting in a nice restaurant drinking 450ml Saigon beer stubbies for 50 cents each, and about to go play another game of pool. Tomorrow night we hop on another sleeper bus, heading south for 12 hours to Nha Trang, a beachside town, where hopefully we can score some decent weather.
It's been 4 months now since we left Australia, roughly the halfway mark for our trip, we are under budget, and eagerly awaiting some nice weather and the beach. Cambodia and Laos are on the horizon and the rest of our trip after that is a complete mystery to us, for we are still debating whether to travel to the Philippines or Indonesia to spend roughly the last month of our trip. Life's tough when you can't decide which paradise to visit next. To all at home and those still travelling, Happy New Year, big love to you all, and we look forward to hearing from you. Much love, Brent and Tara xoxox