Told you Part 2 would come in quick succession! Lots of long bus journeys in Laos means I have no excuse not to write up my blog entries. And Lizzy has hired an accomplice - Dad now mentions the next blog entry every time I talk to him. Sneaky.
We left Hoi An early in the morning and drove 3 hours to Hue - through another t
hunderstorm. If I wasn't so convinced of imminent death, I could probably appreciate that the lightning in these storms is seriously impressive. We stopped at the Marble Mountains but it was bloody hot so I left the others to it and went for a 'coffee' with Sepi. Except that they don't really do coffee. And Vietnamese tea doesn't quite cut it.
Hue wasn't amazing but we were only there a night, basically as a stop off on the way up the coast. We went on a dragon boat trip in the afternoon which took us down the river and stopped at one of the Buddhist temples.
Modelling new shorts!
We arrived in time to see the monks praying and chanting which was really interesting. Some of them were so young - pretty crazy level of discipline for such small boys.
The place was seriously serene, no thanks to the 16 of us and the other tourist groups who showed up whilst we were there. They had a car on display which a senior monk from that temple had used to drive into Hoi Chi Minh city, where he got out, sat down and burnt himself to death in protest against government policy.
Sepi, Becky, Heather and I managed to get completely and utterly lost on the way back to the hotel. No thanks to The Worst Map In The World supplied by the hotel. An hour of absolute trauma followed during which A RAT RAN OVER MY FOOT! Horrendous! And I got chased up the street by a rabid dog. Sepi helpfully shouting after me - 'it can smell your fear'. All very useful. After our spontaenous walking tour of the city, I was really very happy to see the hotel. After two big nights in Hoi An, we had a pretty quiet evening with a nice dinner and a few drinks at a bar. More rain followed - perhaps even more impressive than in Hoi An. Got drenched to the bone on the way home. Basically, Hue is NOT my favourite place in Nam!
The next morning we took a trip to the citadel where the Emperor used to live with his family. Pretty impressive place and Hue began to slightly redeem itself in my eyes!
That afternoon, we had to get on our longest night train - 3pm - 6am. Much less eventful than the last one and we had learnt by this stage to bring plenty of food so we basically spent 15 hours eating and drinking. No men in toilets. No loud tannoys. Most interesting was when someone threw themselves at our cabin window. Thankfully I had relocated to a neighbours cabin for a game of cards so missed that particular episode. Night trains seem to attract nutters basically.
The night train arrived on time in the capital - Hanoi, where we got on a bus and drove to Halong Bay. I thought it was a bit of a pain to drive up there, to turn and come back to the capital... How very wrong! Halong Bay was absolutely amazing. I knew nothing about it so it really snuck up on me - some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen.
We checked into our rather nice hotel - by this stage, Sepi and TJ almost brawl in the lobby when deciding who gets to have me for the night. May have to go back to court to try and organize a more amicable settlement I fear. Sepi won that round though. Hotel was lovely with big balconies etc. We had a couple of hours until our boat ride so Sepi, TJ and I hit the beach and lounged around on sun chairs and in the sea for a bit before meeting the others.
We had absolutely beautiful weather for our 6 hour boat trip through the 960 islands surrounding the mainland. After our seafood lunch, we lay on the upstairs deck and soaked up the rays for a bit. This was my default position for most of the day -
We all got off to go through a walk through one of the naturally occuring caves - looked like something out of a Harry Potter set. Experience would have been further enhanced if our really shite guide, 'Mr Friday', hadn't made us gallop through it at the speed of Laurent in search of a toilet. He was NOT a hit with the group. Bad Mr Friday basically.
After another bit of boating about, some of the others got kayaks and manouevered themselves into a cave to see some monkeys. Way too much like hard work for most of us... so we spent most of the afternoon diving off the boat. Some of the least graceful photos of me in existance resulted from this activity. Definitely not making the blog cut. Won't stop me putting a picture of the others up though...
We stayed on the boat to watch the sunset before sailing back to the mainland.
There are some really nice trips to do round Halong Bay, with 2 night cruises etc which would be amazing.... Have to see if I can organize a repeat performance at some stage, I'm sure Slaughters will give me so much holiday that I won't know what to do with it. Some chance.
After a rather heated discussion with the infamous Mr Friday about departure time the next day, we managed to wangle another morning/early afternoon out of him so that we could spend more time in Halong Bay rather than head up to the capital first thing the next morning. With that victory under our belts, we went for dinner and had some beers on the beach. (Yes, I'm learning to drink beer in SE Asia, all part of my gap yah experience).
On our borrowed day the next day we hired bikes and headed off to explore the mainland and Halong City (which, it turns out, is a bit of a dump). The roads/traffic were slightly different to my experience in sleepy Hoi An! Slightly concerned when we sailed through a toll bridge, onto a slip road and onto a rather main road across the bridge. Sepi was driving though and she took very good care of me - well impressed by her biking skills. Even if her frequent bursts of speed meant my helmet spent parts of its day hanging round my neck!
Slightly misleading shot - wisely, I spent very little time at the helm and choose instead to sit behind, shut my eyes and hang on for dear life!
Tj managed to be the first casualty of the day - falling on her arse when we were playing around on some dirt tracks - no drama, the girl seems to bounce pretty well. We biked about for about 4 and a half hours before returning the bikes to The Dodgiest Men in town and headed for some lunch before bus'ing it back to Hanoi.
We arrived in Hanoi around dinner time and quickly moved into our home for the next two days before heading for dinner. It was a Friday night and we were in the capital so ovo needed to head out on the tiles a bit. Headed to a couple of bars which kept closing on us - how inconsiderate. Found a better place though that was polite enough to keep us entertained until 3ish, when we jumped on a couple of motorbikes and headed back to the hotel. Managed to catch a cheeky bugger with his hand in my bag at one stage in the evening - which was round my neck btw! Thankfully I am blessed with the reflexes of a cat and am as agile as a fish so managed to stop him. That or I just got lucky - take your pick.
Our last day with the group took off at a fairly slow pace as we peeled ourselves out of bed around 11am. Went for some lunch on the lake but it was pissing out of the heavens so we quickly retreated to the hotel afterwards. After a bit of Ice Age, my conscience got the better of me and I went to meet some of the others who were out exploring. Hanoi's shopping area is split into sections so you get streets that only sell bags/umbrellas/silk etc - quite cool. Again, bag weight is a serious shopping disincentive. Really hoping Lizzy and Billy are gonna lighten my load a bit when they show up. Had some more Fanny ice cream on the way home - LOVE THIS STUFF.
We picked up a newbie who is just doing the Laos part of the trip and dollied ourselves up for our last night together. All very sad :-(. Had dinner in a great place and then followed a similar pub crawl to the night before but this time with the whole group. Had a really fantastic night out together - the rest of the group will be sorely missed as we are reduced from 16 to 6 for our last part of the tour. Bit of a photo bonanza on the last night.... Modelling one of my new dresses.
6.30 am came very early the next morning as the 6 of us headed off to the Laos border. We had such a fantastic group for this tour. I wasn't even supposed to be on it! My tour was supposed to leave the day after but no- one was signed up on it. Some things are meant to be I suppose! Think my original tour is now running the day behind us for this last section - Roam Laos - and consists of a Swiss couple and an Italian gal. Think my tales would have been very different! Had an absolute ball with everyone and lots of opportunities for London massif meet ups. We'll miss the Aussies/Kiwi tho!
Hope everyone at home is good - missing everyone as per usual. Prepare for some big nights on my return! LOVE TO ALL. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Oh, and a few stereotypical Vietnam shots to round off this two - part extravanaganza....