Thankyou for all your wonderful messages, very much hoping we are keeping you appropriately amused/entertained!!
Ok, so it's day six here in beautiful Vietnam - We've made it as far as the ancient Imperial capital of Hue, having travelled some 600 miles via various means of transport, some more hair-raising than others!! Weather has still been kind and very much what we'd hoped for - searing temperatures by day and cooling slightly at dusk. We'll pick up the baton where we left off.....
Our second day in Hanoi was equally as kinetic as the first, though it was somewhat less of an early start! Jet-lag and beer ensured an entirely civilised 11.30am wake up! Most of the day was again spent trawling through the bazaars and side streets, becoming pleasantly lost on several occasions, only to stumble upon something amazing the very next second! One thing we've certainly admired is the warmth, dignity and honesty of the Vietnamese, not at all what we expected to find. Their genuine pride in their country is perfectly balanced by their cheerful ability to part hapless Western travellers with wads of local currency! Smiles follow us wherever we go and we must admit to being slightly smitten with what we see. With temperatures nearing 35 degrees and the humidity pushing 80%, we slipped back into the hostel for air conditioned goodness and a bottle or two of water. To round off our final evening in the city, we worked our way through the old quarter to find a particular restaurant, serving a famous dish of pan roasted fish, peanuts, fresh spinach and rice. Cooked upon a tiny burner on each table, it really was something to write home about! Definitely ordered some beers that never materialised though, perhaps they thought rowdy english folk better guests when sober.....! We jumped out of the restaurant straight into a street market and a charming rickshaw driver, who after several minutes of failed bartering by myself, agreed to give us a one hour tour of the city - Big mistake on his part!!! After struggling through the evening traffic pedalling furiously, he gave up, choosing instead to push us in and out of the buzzing streets!! Sweat covering the poor guy, we offered him water, to which he politely declined!! All was good up front through, as we were treated to a front row seat to some of the busiest (and presumably dangerous streets) in all of Asia! We parted company after an hour, the driver choosing not to extend the tour further!!! A cracking experience though!
Day three was an early start. We booked a three day, two night tour to Ha Long Bay, encompassing a one night stay on board a traditional junk ship and one night of two star luxury on Cat Ba island. A bus picked us up promptly at 8am from the ever accomodating hostel and we spent the next 30 mins visiting various hotels around Hanoi, picking up other guests for the tour. Temperatures were scortching, air conditioning was bliss! An interesting 4 hour journey to Ha Long city ensued, the bus speeding down barely paved highways, overtaking at will and rarely giving way to anything smaller than a tank! We flew past tiny villages, dotted with bemused locals, and enourmous electronics factories, producing all manner of the worlds white goods. Reaching a bustling Ha Long City by just gone noon, we decamped to the port area, along with what seemed like half of Europe, to await pick up by the boat. Classically, organised chaos reigned, with fistfulls of notes passing from crew to crew, until finally it was announced that our boat was ready! Waiting for us at the end of the staithe was a beautiful, if perhaps weather beaten, two deck junk cruiser! We managed to grab the 'last' double room after a brief spat with a large, robust looking Lithuanian couple (Joanna digging her heels in and coming up trumps!!!). After setting sail, we were quickly engulfed by perhaps one of the most spectacular natural sights I personally have ever witnessed - Ha Long Bay. Giant statue-esque limestone casts dominate the horizon, our small ship chugging in between them, like an enormous slalom. We stopped at a fantastically large cave, took plenty of photos (look forward to some long nights all of you!!) and docked at a small raft, where kayaks and life jackets were distributed and we were told to 'go explore for some time'! Joanna and I needed no invitation! With her at the front (no surprises there), off we paddled! Perhaps one of the most surreal, yet totally thought provoking experiences of my life, we paddled for nearly two hours, gliding around (I say gliding, read 'splashing wildly') some the islands, each totally unique and buzzing loudly with exotic birds and never seen before insects. We closed this most perfect of days with an evening swim with our new found friends on board (NOT the Lithuanians.....) and settled on the top deck until midnight, watching a starry blanket unfold above our eyes.
Day four brought with it storms and a glimpse of the monsoon rain the climate is famed for. We steamed on, through rain soaked islands and cloud covered beaches until we reached Cat-Ba, the largest of the Ha-Long islands and the only truly inhabited territory. Cue hastily bought spotted poncho's (fashionable just is not the word......sod it, we don't know anybody!)! Our ever enthusiastic guide, Tiuox, assured us that trekking in the National Park was perfectly possible, and, after picking up a couple of tubby, homosexual Austrailians, we pushed on, our tiny minibus screaming up wet mountain roads at speeds that were probably not that safe. Cat Ba national park greeted us with a break in the rain and the most remarkable Vietnamese guide, who, being around 50 and only 5ft tall, still managed to be more agile than all of us put together. Billed as a walk, we looked up at the challenge that awaited - 260 metres of sheer limestone mountain, accessed only by jungle trail. My flip-flops were immediately discarded (much to Joanna's amusment - the Adventure Sandles proving more than up to the job!) and local shoes were bargained for (badly!). The heat was really picking up as we started the ascent, our guide cheerfully fanning us as we climbed in her wake. The further we went, the steeper and sweatier it became - I think we must all have lost several pints of the stuff! We stopped to wonder for a moment just what we had done in past lives to deserve this! Massively worth it though - the view from the summit was nothing short of breathtaking, enhanced further by a climb up a crazy, rickety, signalling tower! Needless to say, few of the girls (and Australians) gave it a go! After a tricky and somewhat slippy decent, we jumped back into the minibus and headed for Cat Ba town, through stunnning rocky scenery. Our hotel was surprisingly good, and after lunch, we got busy exploring! Now, motorcycling/scootering is probably the last thing on any Western mind when visiting Vietnam. The sheer volume and ferocity of the traffic putting most people off. But it was decided (..perhaps by one of us....) that what was good for the locals, was good for us! Scooter rented, money handed over, the island became ours!! The freedom that those tiny two wheels gave us was incredible. The warm air rushing past our faces, the bright colours of the tiny villages we pottered through, the smell of a thousand different trees..... truly very special. We spent a glorious afternoon on Cat Co beach - Joanna turning super-environmentalist and clearing dozens of bags off of the sand, much to the delight of the sleepy beach staff!! Back to the hotel, excellent meal, heads down, sleep tight.
Day five was a day of constant motion. We said our goodbye's to the mythical Cat Ba and its wonderful scenery, getting the boat back to the bustle and chaos of Ha-Long City via the tranquil beauty of the bay. Bus back to Hanoi, four hours of relative discomfort (packed bus!) and return to the original hostel. Amusingly, one of the other passengers had negated to put his bag onto the bus as we boarded in Ha-Long, meaning he was one bag and 3000 US dollars down - not a good day for him. Even worse as he had to chase the bus through the street, arriving at its doors red faced and half expired!! No time to spare, bags were picked up, beers were quickly sank and we were moving, this time on the mysterious 'Night Bus', of Harry Potter fame! Imagine a coach, filled with ingeniously designed bunkbeds, three abreast, and you have some idea of what greeted us! Surprisingly comfortable, the bus sped us through the night. We each awoke at different moments, some beautiful, some eye-watering! At one point around 3am, I opened my eyes to find the bus stuck on a military style bridge, wedged between another bus and a huge logging truck, the flimsy structure groaning alarmingly at the combined weight of machinery! Close eyes quickly. A piercing and evocative sunlight wakes us briefly at around 5 as we pass through the former DMZ, scene of some the most bitter fighting during the Vietnam war. The landscape still bares scars from this most destructive of conflicts, yet retains an air of peaceful calm. I start to understand why the US never prevailed in this country. The land is too difficult, its people too resourceful, too proud.
This brings us bang up to date. Today has been spend touring the fabulous sights of imperial Hue, the majority of which were viewed from the comfort of yet another rickshaw. Its temples, tombs, pagodas and gardens are quite something to behold. More relaxed than Hanoi, but still busier than any street in London, the people are ever friendly, the weather ever warm! Bit of sunburn for Joey today, as well as a very red neck for me! Aftersun was well received!! Rented another scooter today (..I sense a trend..) as we picked our way through the early eveing rush hour, out into spectacular countryside to explore long lost royal tombs! Again, a sense of excitement, adventure and a warmth in our faces. Back to the DMZ tomorrow for some serious history lessons, hope its not too graphic!! Bus pick up at 6.30 am...........the adventure continues!
Our love to you all, enjoy the photos!! Very much wishing you could all be here to experience this with us!
Andy & Joey xxxxxxxxxxxx