20 - 29th December 08
20.12.2008 - 29.12.2008
Arriving into Hanoi at a 'bus stop' outside the city centre, we were forced to jump in a taxi - which then proceeded to take us on the 'tourist' route to our hotel. Once we had him going the right way he then decided to go nice and slowly so that the meter further racked up the Dong. The golden rule - never trust anyone with a dodgy eye or a very hairy mole (in this case the latter). Walking out that evening into the Old Town quarter of Hanoi was quite a different experience.....motorbikes everywhere!! Unfortunately they tend to either set up restaurants or park their bikes on the pavements so we were stuck dodging bikes in the narrow roads. Welcome to Vietnam!
Then it was a frenzied day of culture! First stop was Uncle Ho...who's corpse was illuminated by a strange orange light but all in all...suprisingly small Communist leader. Then on to the Army Museum to pose with the military hardware outside. We both really enjoyed the main exhibition though which helped us understand recent Vietnamese history but also left us wanting to understand a slightly more balanced picture - ie without the vietnamese propaganda.
Upset with the hotel as they tried to kick us out that night so they could accept a booking from a large group. We stood our ground but were too scared to go out for long for dinner and ended up pacsafing our luggage to the room in the event that they tried to get rid of us whilst we were gone! Ended up watching a Vietnam - Singapore football match (ASEAN Cup semi-final for those interested) which the Vietnamese won - party time in the streets!
And then we were off on our Christmas holiday trip to Cat Ba Island and on to the Ocean Beach resort on it's own private island. Cat Ba Island is in the spectacular, if a little misty, Halong Bay....
However, arriving onto Cat Ba Island we made a major mistake and didn't get the shuttle bus to Cat Ba town as we thought we were in the right place for our pick up to the island. Spent an age trying to negotiate a decent moto rate to the other side of the island from the greedy locals who seem to love seeing a foreinger in a pickle. Bryn insisted we stand our ground and start to walk the 40 km in midday sun to the correct collection point. Eventually after we'd walked about 5km through the middle of nowhere with our full packs we stopped in a restaurant and, the angels must have been looking down on us, as we ran into a tour guide from Ocean Tours who'd been asked to look out for 2 lost Westerners on the island.
We finally arrived at Ocean Beach and were met with welcome drinks and escorted to our beach bungalow - woohooo! The holiday had finally begun!! The slight disappointment was that it wasn't sunny and despite meticulous planning on Bryn's spreadsheet we'd failed to spot that North Vietnam would be experiencing their rainy season whilst we were there!
Christmas Eve was spent taking a quick dip in the sea and heading off round our island on kayaks. Due to low tide, we weren't able to make it directly round our island and ended up going round quite a few islands and navigating through a narrow channel of churning water!
In the evening we headed to the restaurant and joined the BBQ party set up on the beach. When we headed up after dinner to the bar we were amazed to discover the staff had transformed the bar and were all ready for a big party!
The fact that we were celebrating on the wrong day didn't perturb us overly. And despite us having eaten our fill at the BBQ we managed to find room for all the goodies they'd laid out for us all. Steered clear of the karaoke after our experiences in China and made sure we made use of the free beer keg they'd laid on.
Unsurprisingly Christmas Day was a very quiet affair for us and we settled for a fresh seafood spread for lunch
Begrudglingly we had to abandon Ocean Beach... and headed over to Cat Ba Island for our trip to the National Park. We hired two motorbikes and after Fi's initial kangaroo bucks we were off across the island! First stop was Hospital Cave, which was an impressive feat of wartime engineering - it was built so that it was safe from the US bombs. Not quite certain about all the rooms....there seemed to be more swimming pools, cinemas, games rooms than places for sick people.
Second stop was the national park where we had a very quick 8km march to reach Frog Pond through Jurassic Park terrain. A shallow stagnant pond home to many mosquitoes and not many frogs as far as we could see.
We beat a hasty retreat through the jungle underneath the ever darkening canopy in an effort to get back before dark.
Ten minutes in and Fi was distraught to turn a corner and find that Bryn had skidded his bike and was examining both himself and the bike for injuries at the side of the road. It would appear that Bryn had found the only bit of gravel, on a road, on a corner on Cat Ba Island. Bryn suffered a bruised hip, grazed elbow and knee, sore ribs and a yanked thumb. The bike suffered extensive scratching, cracked body work and a bent gear lever. It was the gear lever that was to cause us most grief on the way back to town....eventually the bike got stuck in 1st gear which is not the ideal one to be in at all. We stopped and scratched our heads...no traffic passed....and then a friendly farmer appeared on the horizon and managed to bend the gear lever, enough for the bike to function, with his massive machete. It was a very slow 20km back into town particularly as we lost the daylight and had to go even slower so as to not compound the situation. Back in town we psyched ourselves up to take the bikes back to their owner wondering what our strategy was in a situation where we didn't have a signed rental agreement. It turns out that he really didn't expect anything...he realised he had no right to demand anything so Bryn agreed to pay $30 which the chap seemed relatively happy with. Fi procured a big block of ice from the hotel to treat Bryn's injuries and we went out for some Western comfort food and an early night.
Back in Hanoi we had a few days waiting round to get our passports back from the Cambodian embassy and we perhaps fell off the backpacker boat a little and for some reason ended up treating ourselves to an all you can eat buffet in a French colonial house . BBQ'd prawns, seafood, steak etc
Street party time again as VietNam beat Thailand in the final of ASEAN cup, in Hanoi - tickets for the game were 200 quid on the black market - which is a lot for these folks. Street food and street party commenced......all through the night.
Monday involved finding a clinic to see Bryn's thumb which had swelled up somewhat, was clicking and didn't seem to want to move that much. Big palava trying to contact our insurance company who seemed to think they required a police report of the incident for us to be covered, despite that fact that Bryn was the only person involved! A big learning for us though on insurance companies. However, in the event the clinic forgot to charge for the X-rays which thankfully came back with no breaks. Phew!
Decided to take the relaxing sleeper train 12 hours south to Hue. Arrived in enough time to be first into our cabin and find good spots for our giant bags and continued our strategy of taking the top two bunks in a cabin of 6 so that Fi didn't have strange men looking at her in her sleep. Train left and we all settled down to sleep.