Vietnam 2008

Exploring the citadel in Hue, Vietnam

We take a walk down to the train station and buy our tickets to Nha Trang for tomorrow. It is the end of the holidays in Vietnam, and the seats are all taken on the train. We buy soft sleeper beds which should give a comfortable ride. We have been keen to take a train ride in Vietnam, as we much prefer traveling by train.

From the train station we take a walk to the Citadel, probably the biggest sight in the Hue city area. Once inside the walls we walk around the various temples and royal rooms. It is an interesting place. We see an elephant, but after a look around can’t find anymore.

We take an interesting walk back through the city, across another bridge.

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Hue, Vietnam

Our overnight bus stops at the bus station in Hue. We’re both tired, but to our delight there is a friendly hotel tout at the bus station. He takes us to the hotel in his mini-bus. The hotel is very good, and in a quiet area. We rest for a while and take a walk around. Hue has a relaxed feel for such a big city. We like it here and think that we will stay for a few days.

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Tam Coc and onto Hue, Vietnam

We check out, rent a motorbike and ride out to Tam Coc. After parking and buying our tickets we are ushered onto a boat. We’re surprised by the amount of people here; it’s busy and touristy, mainly with Asian tourists. After a few minutes of rowing the crowds thin a bit and we get to some nicer scenery. We go through a few caves which are impressive. The rice paddies and the shrines scattered in them are a strange and beautiful backdrop to the region. We enjoy the trip, but we get the customary attempts for more money when we get off. It’s a shame this is so common in Vietnam, it easily leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

We head back to the guesthouse but decide not to spend anymore time riding on the bike. My license is not valid here (no foreign licenses are) and I do not fancy a run in with the police. If they try to extort money from me like everyone else here then I’ll be broke!

We spend the afternoon walking and sitting in strange places, trying to pass the time until 21:00, when we will catch the overnight bus to Hue. Many people complain about this bus, but our guesthouse owner has been spot on with everything else, and he says this bus is comfortable, so we’ve got to trust him. We’d love to have taken the train, but the only overnight train doesn’t have sleeper berths. This seems bizarre to me, and although the Vietnem Railways website suggests that the train does have sleeper berths, the guesthouse owner and the the railway staff says it doesn’t.

We try to take a look around the railway station, but get shown the exit. We also have a drink at a cafe which looks strangely like a brothel, but Vietnam cafe.

Eventually 21:00 comes, and the guesthouse guy personally shows us to the bus. Excellent service. The bus is exactly as it looks in the picture, a first on my travels. It is clean and comfortable.

Well, fairly comfortable, We choose two beds at the back, which don’t go completely flat. I have a bit of a lump in my bed, which doesn’t put me off too much. Our beds are inclined as we are so close to the engine cover. Ear plugs come to the rescue again.

I get a pretty good nights sleep, but Abs doesn’t. In the morning we are woken to the sounds of Boney M.

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Independence Day in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Today is Independence Day in Vietnam; the day North Vietnamese forces captured Saigon in 1975. I heard some loud singing early this morning, but by the time we go down for breakfast the little tent that was outside has gone and some bright confetti is on the road. There are Vietnamese flags lining the road, but no other indications that today is a holiday. It seems a regular day for most people.

We head out as we have a few jobs to do and a few things to get. We wander around, finding a few markets, finding a few of the things that we needed. We also managed to get a Vietnam flag for about 50p.

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Moving hotels in Ninh Bing, Vietnam

Just as I am finishing my shower in the morning there is a knock at the door. I say ‘hello’, and someone replies and then unlocks the door and tries to come into the room. Strange. I get dressed and unbolt the door. A guy says the TV is not working and that he wants to fix it. I say ‘don’t worry’ as I am not using the TV. He says that the other TV’s are not working and tries to walk in. Abby is still in bed, and I have to stop him with my hand and push him back out. Very strange.

We decide to check out and find another hotel. We intend to catch the train further south, and there is a recommended guesthouse near to the train station. We pack up and whilst checking out the receptionist asks where we are going. We have a small conversation about the man trying to enter our room, during which time he walks by and I point him out. The girl says he is the boss.

We leave and make the walk across town to the other hotel, eventually finding it in the warren of streets. This hotel (Queens) is much more friendly and the room is better. We inquire about trains to Hue. There are now only 2 trains stopping at Ninh Binh, and only 1 has sleeper berths, but arrives at 1.30 am. This is not ideal for us. We decide to take the overnight sleeper bus, something we have been keen to avoid as I had read it received so many complaints.

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Halong City to Ninh Binh, Vietnam

We check out and grab breakfast. We are a little apprehensive about our journey today. What is going to happen? We go to the hotel and the guy is there. After 10 minutes and a phone call he tells us that the bus cannot come into the town today, due to the carnival, which I think has already ended. We says they will take us to the edge of town on motorbikes.

We jump on. Abs rides with the guy, and I, loaded with luggage, jump on the back of what seems like his Dad’s bike. I can feel myself sliding off the seat as we ride along. But, we make it to the highway, driving the wrong way up a one way slip road as we get there. We jump off and wait. Lots of public buses like the one we travelled to Halong City in stop and try to tempt us on. After 20 minutes or so a public bus appears in the distance and the guy from the hotel flags it down. Our bags go in the back and we have a seat to ourselves near the front.

The journey turns out to be good fun. The driver is a maniac, but we get to Ninh Binh in good time. I think most of the people on the bus had never been close to a white person before, and some had trouble controlling their staring. The ticket guy on the bus was much more accustomed to westerners, even giving us chewing gum after the toilet break.

At Ninh Binh we jump off. We don’t have a map and I ask Taxi drivers for directions to a hotel. They naturally want to take us there, but I say no, I just want directions. They point down a road. Abby sees them laughing and thinks they are sending us the wrong way, but they weren’t. We see some westerners heading towards us and ask about their hotel. Not only do they recommend it but the hotel manager is with them. We follow him back and find a good value room.

We try to get to the train station in the evening to buy our onward tickets, but fatigue and hunger make us return to the guesthouse after only a quick walk, during which some people fall of their chairs when they see us, and we wait forever whilst some Vietnamese take forever in what seems like their first ever ATM transaction. They are probably still in the ATM booth now.

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Halong City, Vietnam

After a good rest we try and find somewhere selling something that we might call breakfast. As we walk past the night market sight we spot several restaurants with English writing outside. We go over and find they all have a small western breakfast, perfect. After our customary omelettes and pancakes we take a good look around. Besides from the hotels, Bai Chay is actually quite small and we don’t really find much on offer. More importantly we don’t find a single travel agent. The weather is still very misty today, so we decide not to try visiting the island, but instead to travel south to Ninh Binh. We walk a mile or so down to the tourist jetty, but everything seems shut. We are approached by a guy saying he can arrange bus tickets for us. He is constantly on his phone which is pretty annoying. Even though we haven’t agreed to anything he starts to write our tickets. This seems too dodgy to me – giving a stranger cash in a bus car park – and after asking him about an office he gives me a business card for his hotel.

We walk back to the town. I notice another office called a tourist jetty. I ask a guy in there, and he calls a friend. An English speaking chap arrives and tells us that there is a public bus to Ninh Binh, and he thinks that will be fine. We thank him and move on.

We stop at the hotel on the business card of the guy from the bus car park. Sure enough he is there. He shows us in, and he does seem to be associated with the hotel. We decide to buy out tickets.

We grab some dinner and chill out.

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Ripoff taxi drivers, rubbish bus rides and crazy hotel touts, Hanoi to Halong Bay, Veitnam

We get up early to try and see Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, but decide against it in the end. We grab breakfast, pack our things and get a taxi to the bus station. We find a taxi really easily and he agrees to use the meter straight away, which is a surprise. It is a small car, and I have to sit in the front as our luggage takes up some of the back seat. As we are driving along I notice that the fare is jumping up and our driver is being shifty. I notice his hand regularly going to the pocket in his door, where he seems to be pressing a button. Sure enough, when he presses his button, the meter jumps up. I don’t say anything, but when we arrive at the station we get the luggage out and I ask Ab’s to stand by the wall with all the bags. I open the Taxi drivers door and pull out a rag that is covering the button. I ask him what it is, he looks at the floor as stays quiet. I have a good rant at him, at high voice, about how he is a thief and that he rips off tourists. Another taxi driver approaches and they exchange words, I tell the other taxi driver that he probably has a special button as well. I give our taxi driver half the fare and we leave him laughing as he drives away.

Two guys come straight over asking where we are going. We say Halong Bay and they try to take our luggage. We say no, and sit down to have a cigarette. We attract a little crowd, with one guy trying to take my cigarette. Weird behaviour indeed.

Inside I ignore the touts and get ourselves two tickets. We get on the bus, which is small and cramped. Our luggage comes in with us. We take our seats and manage to put our luggage somewhere. Once the journey starts one of the touts, who are now on the bus, tell me, via sign language, that we have to pay 100,000Dong for each bag. Considering that a seat ticket is 60,000Dong I don’t understand his maths. A older German couple on the backseat say no, and put their luggage on their laps. We sit in the seats they have made available, and put our luggage on our laps too. The tout turns away and we all have a good laugh at the situation.

The bus driver drives very quickly, with the touts trying to pickup people along the way. At one point they jump out of the bus and are trying to drag a man into the bus. After a small struggle the guy turns and walks away. Very weird goings-on.

Eventually, after being flung everywhere we arrive at a junction near Halong Bay. The bus stops and we and our belongings are shown the door. Nice service! We try and find a taxi big enough for us and the German couple. Eventually, after fending off a hotel tout and motorbike taxis we get one. The German couple get dropped at their hotel, but all we see are big expensive hotels. We gesture to the non-English taxi driver to keep driving. Nothing looks too promising. We see the hotel tout on his motorbike and the taxi driver follows him. We reach the town and we start driving up through hills. We see some good looking hotels and ask the taxi driver to stop. The hotel tout stops too and says he has a hotel further along. I ask him how much it is, and he says thirty hundred Dong. Confused I ask him again, and he says ‘how much you spend?’. That’s enough for me, and we start walking away from him. He says the hotel in front is now his hotel – he is clearly just a tout. We walk away from him and find a lovely hotel for a great price. We later see him talking to the staff, but they seem to just ignore him.

The hotel is perhaps the nicest we have stayed in, and all for £5. After the weirdness of the day has settled we go out for a walk. It’s carnival time in Halong Bay, and it’s very lively. We find great Vietnamese food and stumble upon the night market. People are interested in saying hello to us, as we are just about the only westerners here. One girl even comes up and touches me and runs away laughing. The people here are much more friendly than in Hanoi.

We get back to the hotel and sit on the step, eating ice cream, watching a massive traffic jam trying to unfold in front of us.

What has been a very weird day ends very nicely.

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The Hanoi Hilton and Cambodia Visas, Hanoi, Vietnam

We take a walk down to the Cambodia embassy, to get our visas, but they are just about to shut for their long lunch break. We take a walk around a nearby lake and watch a bit of local life. We grab lunch and return to the embassy to be told that the consular is shut until Monday – or at least that we think is being said.

We decide to leave the visas and head over to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, better known as the Hanoi Hilton. It’s a good museum, which mainly concentrates on the French revolution, but has interesting exhibits from the America-Vietnam war.

In the evening we head to the Cyclo Restaurant, where we eat excellent French food sat in old cyclos that used to the ride the streets of Hanoi. A very nice place. We decide that tomorrow we will catch the bus to Halong Bay, as we have had our fix of Hanoi.

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Luang Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam

Abs is still not feeling well today, but we decide to try and make our flight. I reconfirm the flights and we spend the morning killing a bit of time. After taking a tuk tuk out to the airport we sit around waiting for check-in time.

The airport is one of the smallest we have seen, not too dissimilar to Newquay airport, back home.

Time passes quickly and we checkin and then board the small propeller aircraft.

The flight only has a few people on-board. We fly fairly low, giving good views, but it is turbulent at times. The views of the mountains are beautiful. As we near Hanoi it is obvious it has been raining here. The landing is fairly rough, reminding us that Laos Airways has a bad reputation. They don’t publish their safety record. At least we are on the ground safely.

We get inside and are quickly through immigration, an advantage to having to get the visa before arrival. We grab our bags and are surprised by the neat and tidy order of everything outside. However, the taxi touts are keen for our busy. We settle on a taxi and our driver drops us to our guesthouse.

Our chosen guesthouse is a lot more expensive than listed in the Lonely Planet. But, the room is lovely, and we take it for a bit of luxury whilst Abs gets back on her feet again.

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