Monday, 31 October 2011

Da Lat, Waterfalls, and Silk

We've had a good couple of days in Da Lat so far. The weather has been gorgeous although it cools off at night, reminds me of mid September in Kelowna. There is some beautiful scenery and many waterfalls. Da Lat has some interesting architecture, it's still French Colonial for the most part but the colours are not what you would expect. Many houses are very brightly coloured, lime green, sky blue, hot pink. Some have sparkly pillars and clashing roofs. The other thing I have noticed is there are more large houses, typically Vietnamese houses are skinny, tall and long, these much wider. I think it has to go with Western influence, a couple of houses could have fit right in anywhere in North America. 

Oct 30 – Da Lat
We were up early since we were told to be at the bus stop for 6:30am. We had Pho for breakfast and by the time we finish our hotel reception had actually opened so we could check out. We trekked down to the bus stop and waited and waited. The bus showed up at 7:30am and then we picked up 2 other people and set off for Da Lat around 8am. It would have been nice to sleep a little more instead of waiting for an hour for the stupid bus. Also there were only 4 passengers on the bus! We are now wondering if the bus was actually full yesterday or else maybe it would have only been us on it. We slept a little on the ride up but as we neared Da Lat, it's 1500m above sea level, there was some incredible scenery. The clouds were lifting from the mountains so it looked almost like it was raining up. Very Cool! We arrived around 11am, much soon than we had expected thank goodness. We checked into the hotel we were dropped off at, it was clean and I was being lazy. We had my computer issue to take care of, the power adapter stopped working last night. We found a computer repair shop very easily (I was shocked how easy it was) and while we had lunch the guy replaced to cord for under $5. SWEET! We had a nice leisurely walk around Lake Xuan Huong, the man-made lake in the middle of Da Lat. It was quite hot in the sunshine but nothing compared to the coast. There's no humidity here. Near the end of the lake are the Da Lat flower gardens. They were quite pretty. Da Lat is apparently known for it's plants and produce. We saw many green houses during the drive up. To cool off we stopped for drink at a cafe and thought the fruit syrup drinks sounded interesting. Beau got lychee and I got apple, they were very sweet, surprise its syrup. Beau watered his down so he could drink it. We cooled off a little too much in the shade. The nice breeze which cooled me while walking now made me cold. We nipped back to the hotel to get some sleeves on before finding some dinner. Dinner was pretty good, chow mein noodles with squid, but we got talking to the guy at the table next to us, he was an Aussie. We had a nice chat with him and walked around the night market a bit. There were some hot drinks being served at some stalls, it was hot soy milk. We had one that was peanut flavoured, it was tasty and weird. It had a fuzzy texture to it but I liked it.

Lake Xuan Huong
Da Lat Gardens

Oct 31 – Elephant Waterfalls and Silk Center
One of the handy things about our hotel is free breakfast. We had “Egg Bread” and coffee; it was scrambled eggs and a baguette. While we ate the motorcycle Beau had rented for us the night before was dropped off. It was only $3 for the day, I guess we've be getting ripped off for $4-5. We knew we wanted to check out some falls and a silk center near Nam Bam village. We set off into the countryside. It was a lovely drive, very lush and scenic but quite a winding road. We stopped a few times for pictures, there were coffee plants growing everywhere and some other big shrubs that looked similar to poinsettias. We saw some easy rider bike pull into a house just outside of the village so we pulled over too. There was sign out front about rice wine/whiskey making and coffee. We tacked on to their little tour about how to make the rice alcohol. The guide poured a shot into a metal pan and lit it on fire. There was a huge flame and all the liquid burned off till the pan was dry again. Pretty potent stuff. In another area the guide showed us were the people kept weasels. They had quite a few of them. The reason for the weasels is because what they call Weasel Coffee is a delicacy. The weasels eat the coffee beans and poop them out. The beans are collected from the poop and then dried and roasted. The price of weasel coffee is about 5 times that of regular coffee. At this same place a couple that had been on our boat trip in Nha Trang came in. We got talking with them and their guide and the guide said we could follow there car to the silk center and Elephant Waterfall. We followed them to the Cuong Hoan Traditional Silk Center. It was so cool! There were all the silk worm cocoons and we could watch the process of making silk. They boil the cocoons, then spin them on to large wheels, the wheels are then spun to dry the threads, the wheels are then spun on to spools and the spools are used in the looms to make fabric. On the looms are these bamboo sheets which are the pattern for the fabric, they tell the loom, mechanically, how the fabric should be woven. I was in a little bit of heaven and they sold fabric... I bought myself some to make a dress. I couldn't resist but the fabric is beautiful and how often do you get to buy silk from the manufacturer which is a traditional silk center in Vietnam! While I was trying to pick fabric the other group had left but we got directions from one of the workers to Elephant Waterfall. Turns out it was just down the road. It's an awkward climb down to the bottom of the falls but the view was spectacular and worth the muddy hands and shoes. You could get quite up close to the falls but you got quite wet too. Beau got up close and wet while I didn't. It didn't take long for him to dry. We got some great photos. There was also a little restaurant at the top by the parking lot. We had some yummy Pho soup, it would have been even better if it was made with rice noodles not instant noodles, they use those a lot here. Next we continued along the road for a bit till we found another waterfall we had read about, Lien Khuong Falls. We stopped at a cafe that over looked the falls while we enjoyed a beer. There was yet another waterfall on Beau's list that was close to Da Lat, Datanla falls, so we decided to stop in there on our way back to the city. The falls were nice but there was this weird roller coaster type thing that could take you up and down through the trees to get to the falls. There were about 6 water falls in the area but only Datanla Falls was accessible by foot. Two others could be viewed from a cable car but we weren't willing to pay. Datanla was a nice looking waterfall, there was a couple there having wedding photos taken. We went back into the city and stopped at the Hang Nga Crazy House. It's this guest house built by some lady architect that is just totally bizarre. It has weird passageways, odd shaped rooms, caves, awkward bridges. It's described by Lonely Planet as Alice-in-Wonderland like. It was very odd and definitely crazy. We got some dinner at a place that advertised the vermicelli bowls I love. Unfortunately for Beau, they only had enough left for one serving, so he had some sort of rice dish with egg and pork. We got some of the hot soy beverage again, although this time we were told it was coco flavoured but tasted like the one last night. We picked up some dried fruit and nuts for a hiking snack for tomorrow. We are going to tackle Lang Bian Mountain, it's going to be a 4hr hike round trip. I think we are going to pick up something more for lunch in the morning.

Our Scenic drive from Da Lat to Nam Bam
Boiling the silk cocoons and spinning the silk treads

The Loom, the upper left is the fabric pattern
Elephant Waterfall

Beau getting wet next to the falls

At the bottom of the falls

Elephant Waterfall

Hang Nga Crazy House

Sunday, 30 October 2011

"Snorkeling" and around Nha Trang

Nha Trang is supposed to have good diving and snorkeling.  I'm guessing where they take boat tours isn't the best as the snorkeling was crap.  We spent a day wandering Nha Trang and have since arrived in Da Lat.  I had a paniced moment last night when I noticed my laptop although plugged in was not charging.  Fortunately we easily found a computer repair store in Da Lat (I was shocked at how easy it was) the guy replaced the cord on my power adapter and $5 later I was good to go! I felt so much better that it was fixed to easily.

Oct 28 – Boat Trip
We signed up to go on a snorkeling boat trip tour today. We were to be picked up at 8:30ish so we hit up the Pho restaurant down the street for breakfast. We were picked up and taken down to the pier. At the pier there was many boats waiting to take people out to the islands. Luckily our boat wasn't packed full of people, probably about 20 people compared to the 40 odd on other boats. Our first stop was Hon Mieu with Tri Nguyen Aquarium. The aquarium is used to breed species and study them. We saw some sea turtles, eels and lots of other fish. Afterwards we boated along to Hon Mot where we got to go snorkeling. Unfortunately the equipment provided sucked and we didn't see all that much fishwise. A bit of a disappointment. The current was quiet strong so it was easy to float away, the swim back to the boat was quite a work out. From this island we continued on to Hon Mun where we stopped for lunch. Lunch was also disappointing, we expected a sea food lunch but I don't think there was anything sea foody involved. There was some live music from the crew which also involved people on the boat singing. After that nonsense we all got in the water again and hungout at the floating bar, they were giving out free vodka fruit juice so we all got involved. The floating bar was a lot of fun. From this island we continued on to Hon Tam where we went ashore to chill on the beach. The sun had kind of gone in and the tide was high so there wasn't much beach to speak of. We played some cards with a nice Dutch couple we taught them asshole. We got back on the boat and were taken back to the harbour and the hotel. We made plans to meet up with the Dutch couple after dinner. Beau and I were craving burgers. We've been trying to eat Vietnamese as much as possible but we both were dying for a burger. We got a tasty, albeit thin, burger and some cheap beers for dinner. We met up with the Dutch couple, got some jars of alcohol and played some more asshole. It ended up being a good day and night even though the tour wasn't quite as expected.
The Aquarium

Me snorkeling
Our boat with Funky Monkey Tours

Oct 29 – Around Nha Trang
We were going to book our bus ticket to Da Lat for today but the bus was apparently full so we must wait till tomorrow. That did mean we got to sleep in! We weren't sure what to do with our day, Beau was talking about going to some waterfall but I preferred to check out Nha Trang city. It was probably a good thing we didn't rent another motorcycle because it rained on and off till late afternoon. We were undercover eating breakfast when the first down pour occurred. It was torrential. The rain stopped so we set off to pick up more sunscreen and shampoo. Don't worry Mom I'm wearing sunscreen everyday and making Beau too. After making our purchases we started walking along the beach.  It started raining lightly but we figured it would pour on us sooner or later. We back tracked to an ice cream parlour and no sooner had we sat down the heavens opened. We had some nice ice cream, I think it was technically gelato, and played some cards while waiting for the rain to stop. We set off down the beach again without any trouble this time. It was a cloudy day with a lot of wind so not idea for swimming. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll down the beach. We had to detour back to the hotel because Beau had some bites on his foot and his sandals were irritating them, so we went back for Afterbite which turned into a nap. After having a little snooze the weather had cleared to reveal some sun and blue skies. We continued our wander down the beach and then came back up through the city. We found our way to the restaurant area and after checking out several menus we settled on one. It had good prices on food and beer. I had fish in a clay pot, it was sooooo good. Beau had a burger again which was also good, much meater than the night before but apparently not as tasty. I think I had the longer stick on this one. We ate pretty early since we hadn't had lunch so we wandered some more. We found another restaurant with inexpensive beer (I think we all know what our priority is, but it's cheaper than anything else) and settled down for a couple. The bar across the street had a costume party going on. I keep forgetting it's almost Halloween, Beau wants to dress up though. We had some onion rings to go with our beers, I was majorly craving them. We went back to the hotel but not before picking up some bus snacks for tomorrow. Our bus picks us up at 7am and doesn't arrive till 2pm. Tomorrows going to be a bit of a wasted day :(
View from Nha Trang beach

View from Nha Trang beach

A little sand crab, actually one of the larger ones we saw

Saturday, 29 October 2011

My Son and Nha Trang

We've had a couple of early mornings and long days.  We got up before the sun to go to My Son just outside of Hoi An, got on an overnight bus to Nha Trang, sort of slept on the bus, arrived in Nha trang around 7am and explored the city.  It has definitely felt like more than two days have passed with all the stuff we did!

Oct 26 – My Son and bus
We were up before the sun to go on our My Son tour, pronounced Me Son. Part of the attempt to draw in tourists for this early morning tour was to see the sun rise at My Son. We didn't get there in time for the sun rise but fortunately breakfast wasn't too bad, eggs and a baguette. We arrived at My Son after the sun had risen but it was nice and quiet with just our group of 20 there. Our guide actually guided us around to the different sites explaining some things as she went. My Son was a Hindu place of worship, it was abandoned by it's Cham builders several hundred years ago. The Vietnamese people pushed the Cham's out of the area. My Son suffered much destruction during the American/Vietnam war. You can see bomb craters in the earth. It's very sad that some of history was destroyed during modern war. There has been some reconstruction of My Son, some before the war. Archeologists still do not know the recipe to remake the bricks or how the bricks were stuck together as no mortar was used. The difference between the bricks is striking. The new bricks are blacked with moss and are much rougher on the surface, while the old bricks have little moss growing on them and are still smooth. It's very cool to see ancient engineering besting modern engineering. We didn't spend too long at My Son but it was enough to see everything. We got back on the bus just in time, it started raining. The rain had stopped by the time we got back to the hotel. We had a little nap, checked out, and got some breakfast. We headed down to the Central Market, something we should have done sooner and checked out pearls, fruit, and food. I picked up my dress, it now fit properly and had the embroidery finished. We escaped the heat by getting some 3000d draft beers and some spring rolls. We wandered Hoi An some more and beaded back to the market for some very cheap food. We bumped into Christina and Mark on the way to the bus and said our good byes. Hopefully we'll get to see them again somewhere. The bus to Nha Trang wasn't too bad. We did have to stop for a bit to change a tire though. At least the bus had A/C when it was running and the windows opened.

My Son

My Son
My Son - New brick on left, old brick on right

Hoi An River Side

Oct 27 – Nha Trang
We arrived in Nha Trang this morning and surprisingly had actually been able to get some sleep on the bus. I did get to see the sun rise over the ocean. We found a hotel with little trouble, the bus dropped us off in front of it. We weren't all that sleepy so we set off to find breakfast. This was harder than we thought it would be. There are a ton of hotels around us but not too many restaurants. We found a little place selling rice and whatever you wanted on top. I got egg and Beau got squid. It wasn't bad and it was cheap. We rented a motorcycle, again, first we went the Long Son Pagoda behind which was a huge seated Buddha. It was super hot out. Afterwards we headed to the Po Nagar Cham towers. These were built by the same people as My Son but seemed in better condition. There had been 10 towers at one point but not only 4 remain, they were built between the seventh and twelfth century. I like My Son better, it had more character, especially being set out in the jungle, these are right in the city. The Cham towers were very busy with worshipers and tourists. It was only noon so we set off to find Bai Dai Beach, a nice beach 20km south of Nha Trang. We actually found it with only a little bit of driving around. It had beautiful white sandy beaches and minimal tourists. We went for a dip to cool down and then got some lunch. We had BBQ clams, crab and noodles. Yum! We hung out on the beach for a bit and then went swimming again. There were some good waves to play in, a few people were surfing. It was fun just bobbing around. We dried off and headed back into Nha Trang. We got cleaned up and headed out for some dinner. We had seafood hot pot. It was delicious. The staff seemed to think we didn't know what we were doing so they dumped all the food into the hot pot for us. We were going to cook stuff as we ate it but apparently that isn't right. It turned out very nice though.

Big Buddha

Cham Towers

Cham Towers
Bai Dai Beach
mmm Sea Food Hot Pot

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Hoi An - Great City

I think Hoi An is my favorite city so far! It so pretty at night with all the lights everywhere.  There's lots of good food and all the tailor shops have such beautiful colours.  It's really lovely.  I'm a little sad we'll be moving on tomorrow but I'm excited for the next stop, Nha Trang.  I would definitely come back to this city!

Oct 24 - Marble Mountains
Beau, the silly man that he is, woke up early to watch part of the Packers game, the third quarter started at 5am... Silly man. After going back to sleep for a bit we had breakfast at the hotel and rented a motorcycle from across the street. We decided to head towards Da Nang and go to the Marble Mountains. Typically, we missed the turn and drove for awhile in the not quite right direction. We were at least going north but on the wrong road. We did make it to the Marble Mountains after a guy stopped to help us lost looking tourists. We climbed all over the main mountain. There were all kinds of caves which are actually temples. There were Buddhas all over the mountain. We headed up one set of stairs and made it to the very top of the mountain. The view was pretty spectacular, with all different scenes depending on the way you looked. One way you could see the other mountains, another the city and another the sea. It was well worth the buckets of sweat it took to get up there. It was a hot one. We headed down from the mountains and went in search of lunch. We stopped at a road side seafood restaurant but it was much too expensive. We drove around a little and Beau followed his nose to a BBQ. We didn't know what to order as the menu didn't have anything recognizable on it. We ordered the little bird the guy was bbqing (might have been pigeon) and a chicken leg. It was delicious, seasoned really nicely. We were still hungry so Beau pointed to one of the cheaper things on the menu and order us that. We are pretty sure it was snails but again very tasty although a little spicy. It was an interesting lunch experience that turned out very good in the end. We headed back towards Hoi An and hit up the beach. While we were parking the bike the parking guy serenaded us with a song about Canada and the beach and swimming and looking after the bike. It was random and hilarious! We went for a nice swim in the ocean and then headed back to the hotel. We decided to keep the bike for tomorrow since it was only $4 a day. We got cleaned up and met up with Mark and Christina for dinner by the river. The food was quite good and we had strategically placed ourselves to watch the free local dance show that goes on every night at 7:30. It to entice people to come watch the full show. After dinner we headed to a tailors shop that had a bunch of recommendation from our hotel. Beau and I thought about having suits made up but it would be too much effort to send home. I did buy a green Asian style dress with embroidery down the front. It quite pretty, although after ordering I did see other dresses that I liked a lot too. We then had some cheap local beers at a riverside restaurant before heading to bed.
On Top of Marble Mountain

The view from the top, some of the other Marble Mountains.

Happy Buddha and temple

On the mountain.

Oct 25 - Lazy Beach Day
We woke up to another beautiful day! We set off to the beach again after having some breakfast. We arrived at a different beach from the one yesterday which had fewer tourists. We parked the bike and walked down. We were approached by several Vietnamese women who said we can use their beach loungers and should eat at their restaurant later. We said we might eat there later and thought we could use the chairs anyways... wrong. After sitting in the sun and going for a nice swim we wanted some lunch. We checked out the woman's menu but it was quite expensive compared to the other restaurants prices. We chose another and sat down only to have the woman from earlier hunt us down and demand we eat at her restaurant or else pay for the lounger. None of this was to our understanding and she was being quite rude so we decided to leave that area all together, without paying to use the lounger. We drove down the road near where we had been the day before and found a reasonably priced seafood restaurant. We ate some delicious clams and shrimp while standing under a patio umbrella because it had started to pour. The weather cleared up again so we were able to enjoy the beach for a bit. We went for a little cruise around on the bike and then headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up. I had to get my dress fitted, which was a little tight across the bust, surprising since it's not too big to start with.... We got a early morning tour booked for My Son tomorrow and our bus onwards to Nha Trang. We wandered around trying to find some deals on pearls and had to go back to the tailors for another fitting. It was still a little tight but they need to do the embroidery on it still anyways so it should be good tomorrow. We met up with Mark and Christina there and went to a restaurant that advertised cheap local food. It was quite good and had recently been opened by a younger guy that thought there should be one price for tourists and locals alike. Good Man! It had been pouring intermittently through out the evening, fortunately we were always under cover for the down pour. We went for some beer and dessert and parted ways for the evening. Beau and I have to be up early tomorrow.... Yuck

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Hue and Onwards

We were a little disappointed with our guided motorcycle tour.  The guy was more of a driver than a guide.  We had hoped to have him with us at the sites so we could get more information about each place but he just gave us a little spiel and sent us on our way.  We felt like we could have done a similar tour on our own so we'll probably stick to doing it ourselves. Since it wasn't a great experience we decided against motorcycling to Hoi An especially since we already had tickets.  I guess we know to ask more questions in the future so we can fully understand what we are paying for.

Oct 22 – Bike tour around Hue
We were picked up at the hotel at 8:30 this morning. The first stop on the tour was the Temple of Princess Huyen Tran and her father King Tran Nhan Tong. To get there we drove through a massive cemetery. It was quite beautiful and interesting to see the similarities and difference to the cemeteries back home. Some grave markers were quite colourful and ornate. We arrived at the temple and were told we had about 50min. Our guide just hung out while we went in, so he really wasn't much of a guide. It was a beautiful set of temples. We could have spent a bit longer there. There was a small mountain to climb and a bell at the top that Beau rang. There was next to no one there, possibly because it was fairly early. From there we went to a war memorial where there were many soldiers buried. We didn't spend very long here because we needed to get to a Buddhist temple to see their daily prayer ceremony. Three times a day the Buddhist monks prey with chanting and music, each time for about half an hour. We arrived in time to see the last 10 minutes of the prayer and it was quite interesting. We spent a little time looking around the temple and the were on our way again. We stopped at a roadside stand that was selling souvenir crap but we were shown how they make incense, which they burn everywhere, and the conical shaped bamboo hats, here they put poems in the hat so you can see them when you hold the hat to the light, so I guess it was okay. Next we went to a hill top that had some American bunkers on it. We did a little off roading to get up to the top. There was a pretty good view of the Perfume River, which wasn't the prettiest of colours. There wasn't all that much to see of the bunkers besides some cylindrical concrete sticking a couple of feet above the ground. Next we went to the Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. The tomb originally had 50 buildings but many of which have succumbed to the passage of time, although the tomb is only 100 years old. It was very nice in a mossy sort of way. Our guide asked us if we wanted to stop for lunch, there were a bunch of little restaurants outside of the tomb but they all sold the same thing at inflated prices. We told he we wanted local food so we hopped back on the bikes. Our next stop was an arena used to fight elephants and tigers. The elephants always won because the tigers were declawed and detoothed. The elephant represented the emperors power so obvious it had to win. We headed back into the city where we did get local food. The guide took us down an alley to a restaurant where there were a bunch of Vietnamese eating. I finally got my vermicelli bowl that I have been dying to have it's called Banh Thit Nurong we also had some delicious fresh spring rolls. Our last stop was the Thien Mu Pagoda. Another pretty site. We were a bit disappointed with our tour. We assumed that our guide would come into the sites with us and tell us about the places. Besides finding us really good food we probably would have been fine on our own. We did talk him into let us keep the bike for the rest of the day but we had to change bikes. We then went to into the citadel which is the old walled city and into the Forbidden Purple Palace, the former home of the emperor. The palace is slowly being restored so it was interesting to see the difference between how it did look and how it looks now. The grounds were beautiful as was the architecture. We cruised around Hoi An a bit then headed back to the hotel. We stopped off at the Backpackers hostel again for 2-4-1 beers and ran into a couple, Mark and Christina, who were our dorm mates in Hanoi. We had dinner with them at another restaurant our guide had suggested, also where we returned the bike. The food was quite good too. We were all on the bus to Hoi An (Beau and I decided against motorcycles since we already had the ticket and we weren't impressed with dude) so we decided to go out. We went to a bar that was handing out fliers for 2-4-1 drinks. Beau and Mark played some pool with some locals and Christina and I got to talking with a Vietnamese girl that works at the bar. We had a really fun night dancing and drinking.

Beau ringing the bell for good luck

The monks praying

The Perfume River
Emperor Tu Duc's Tomb

Thein Mu Pagoda
The Forbidden Purple Palace

Oct 23 – On to Hoi An
We were leaving for Hoi An today so we packed up our stuff and headed out for breakfast. After eating we went to the Backpackers hostel because that's where we got the bus from. We had about an hour or two to kill before the bus but I got to Skype with Elaine!! We got on our bus but it waited around for a bit before we left. It was about a 3 hour bus ride to Hoi An. Fairly scenic but I can't imagine doing it on a motorcycle now with how crazy the traffic is here! We arrived at the bus station and of course there were people saying come to my hotel. We caught a ride to a hotel which was supposedly in the city centre, it was more like the edge of the city centre. It was okay but we thought we'd keep looking. We found a reasonable and clean hotel and set off for dinner. The restaurant had reasonably priced meals and cheap draught beer. Some of the local food here is crispy wantons with meat and vegetables in a pineapple glaze. It's very good, like nachos but better. We walked around Hoi An. It very pretty at night with little paper boats with candles floating down the river. Most places are little up with colourful lanterns. So far I really like the feel of Hoi An. There are also tailor shops everywhere!! I'm definitely going to have to exercise some restraint!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Now for some Non-Adventure

The past two days have been pretty sedate/boring.  We did a lot of traveling and waiting around to travel.  The past 3 nights have not had us sleeping in a proper bed or with a nice hot shower.  One of the best things about arriving in Hue today was having a hot shower, granted the pressure sucked, and a comfy nap in the nice bed.  Tomorrow should be much more interesting with a motorcycle tour of the area around Hue.  We are also contemplating riding between Hue and Hoi An!

Oct 20 – Hanoi for the Day
We arrived back in Hanoi without incident around 5 or 6 am. We trekked to the Backpackers Hostel and borrowed their internet. We may have also borrowed breakfast too! We killed a few hours updating and eating. We left our bags with their luggage storage and set off for the military museum. Unfortunately it closes for lunch between 11:30 and 1:00 we decided we were not meant to see this museum. We wandered by where Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is, he's in Russia getting a face lift currently. We also checked out the One Pillar Pagoda which was quite pretty. We found some lunch and then wandered over to the lake. We had been told about this ice cream place called Fanny's near the lake and they make all their own ice cream. We split a sundae that had green tea, chocolate, and coconut ice cream as well as well as coconut, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. It was delicious. Today was also Vietnamese Women's day and the owner of the restaurant was handing out roses to all the women. We headed back to the hostel to kill time before we had to catch our bus. Finally 5:30 rolled around and we headed to the bus. We had never been on a sleeper bus before and were not sure what to expect. It didn't really live up to any expectations. It was similar to a double decker Greyhound but your feet are underneath the bed/seat in front of you. It was not comfortable and there was no bathroom on board. I definitely prefer the train but this is much cheap so c'est la vie!
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

One Pillar Pagoda

Oct 21 – Hue
We arrived in Hue around 7am. I did not sleep well, I don't think anyone did! We were dropped off in front of the Hue Backpackers Hostel, same as where we stayed in Hanoi, but we wanted to look around a little since a double bed in a dorm was $9. There were all sorts of guys outside the bus trying to get you to go with them to see their hotel. We started talking to one pair and set off with them to check out their hotel which was $10 for a private room, it was only a block away. We arrived but they didn't have a room available yet for us to see, so they took us to another place which we had to wait while they cleaned the room before viewing. The room was okay but we thought we would keep looking. We checked two more places, the last one said rooms were $15, $18 and $25 but we could have one for $10 just not to tell anyone. The room was very nice, had the best beds too I think, although the water pressure left something to be desired. We got clean and had a nap. After napping we felt human again and we went looking for somewhere to eat. We found somewhere that was reasonable. Turns out many restaurants are coupled with tourist agencies. We talked to a guy that runs his own motorcycle tours and were very interested in a Hue tour as well as possibly a Hue to Hoi An ride. We walked down to the river front to discuss our options and budget. While there we were approached by a man selling scenic Vietnam paintings that he apparently did himself so we bought one since they seemed quite reasonable (turns out we could have paid a little less but 25 cents isn't a big deal). We walked to the market and picked up some fruit. We enjoyed some two for one beers at the Backpackers Hostel, just because we aren't staying there doesn't mean we can't take advantage of their deals. While there we ran into two guys we met in Beijing, sadly they were about to hop on a bus to Hanoi so we only talked with them briefly. We went back to see the motorcycle tour guy and booked for a Hue day trip tomorrow. We had a nice meal and headed back to the hotel for an early bed time.
The Market

Mmmm garlic

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Sapa Trekking

Our Sapa trekking trip was awesome.  We saw some amazing sights, although the valley gets foggy and smokey.  The smoke is from the rice fields.  The rice harvest is almost over so they burn the left over stalks to help reseed and fertilize the land. Makes for smokey pictures :(  We tried rice wine, which is awful, and had a great night at our home stay.  It was definitely worth the extra money to start the trip further from the tourists!

Oct 18 - Trekking
Today we got to go trekking. The day started off with a motorbike ride from Sapa to the village of Ta Van. This is where the guy, Jorge, we were meeting had spent the night.  Most trekking trips go from Sapa and spend the night in Ta Van.  It was a little confusing when we arrived because they didn't realize we had been promised breakfast but we were fed pancakes (crepes) so it was all good. We set off on our walk with our guide Chi Li from the H'Mong (Mung) tribe.  It was a beautiful day. The sun came out and there was a bit of a breeze. It had been cold in Sapa since it has a much higher elevation, 1600m, so we had to shed all our layers. The walk was very nice but awkward at times. The trail zigzagged up and down the rice terraces. You had to watch your step a lot of the time because the trail was muddy and slippery. We went through a bamboo forest and stopped for a rest beside a beautiful water fall. We had lunch in the village of Xian Tao Cai.  Before we had lunch we were mobbed  by the locals trying to sell their wares. I somehow got away without buying anything.  Beau bought a belt/head band and some sort of whistle thing. We then continued on our journey. We got stuck behind a water buffalo for a little ways. There were marijuana plants growing along the side of the road. They make there clothing out of hemp. I hadn't noticed the plants before until our guide pointed them out.  We took another break in Su Pan and hooked up with two girls, Ester and Gena and their guide, Ly Sa.  We had a steep walk down the mountain to Ban Ho. This part of the walk wasn't all that scenic there was construction, big water pipe lines, and power lines. Across the valley one hillside was completely deforested and a road was being cut into the mountain side. Our guides said it was because of the Chinese. We made it to our home-stay and were happy to put our feet up. The home-stays are government regulated; they have to have a western toilet, electricity and a mattress for each person. Our beds were on the second floor, the family lived on the main floor with the kitchen and living area it was all open air. We got to eat dinner with our guides and our hosts. They prepared a ton of food. We were also served rice wine which tastes a little like vodka but thank goodness less potent but you do shoot it. Our host was really into it, we learned to cheers in Vietnamese Một hai ba, yo (1,2,3, yo). We drank about 3.5L of rice wine between 8 people. It was hilarious then our host started a dance party to some cheese 80's music video he had on the tv. We got some great stories out of our guide Ly Sa. She told us about her having an arranged marriage at 14 and how she kept telling him to "go away". She married this guy at 19 and now they have 4 children. Her husband has a girlfriend but Ly Sa says she's okay with it but the girlfriend can't marry her husband. If she wants to she has to come work for Ly Sa's family. We couldn't tell if it was common place or not to have multiple wives. She told some other stories many of which involved her saying "you crazy" and "go away" and "I kill you". It was a pretty awesome night.
The waterfall and our lunch spot

Our Home Stay
The beds

Dance party with our host

Oct 19 – Back to Sapa and Hanoi
There were roosters crowing every 30 min or less from about 5 am to when we got up. We had another delicious breakfast of crepes. We set off on another walk which was straight up hill. We arrived at Nan Ton village and looked around the school but we didn't see much else before we headed back down. It was very hot out but we got to go swimming in a river which was icy cold. We had some lunch and then the girls and their guide set off to meet their ride back to Sapa. We, unfortunately, had about an hour to kill before leaving. Mike played some cards with the hosts daughter and a little boy. It mostly consisted of throwing cards around. The ride back to Sapa was as uneventful as a minibus ride can get on a twisty turny 1.5 lane road can be. There was a room available to shower in at the hotel but there about 8 of us wanting to use it. So Beau and I went in search of some food. We found a market where the locals could buy meats, vegetables and fish. In the meat section you had to dodge little puddles of blood. There was a good little street food stall where we got some fried noodles for dinner. After eating we went back to the hotel for a nice cold shower. Hot would have been preferable. We took the shuttle back to Lao Cai and had a couple beers with Mike and an Aussie guy who was on our bus. We got on the train and settled in for our 9 hr train ride back to Hanoi. 

Our group minus Beau

The view

Where we went swimming brrrrr

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Road to Sapa

We arrived in Sapa this morning after a relatively comfortable train ride.  We cruised around on a motorcycle here and have seen some of the beautiful scenery.  We booked a trekking tour and get to do a home stay in an off the beaten track area! We are pretty excited for tomorrow and had a wonderful but exhausting day today.

Oct 16 – Hanoi & Train to Lao Cai
Well I didn't sleep in as much as I had hoped too but still slept better/more than I had in a few days. I spent the morning updating my blog and got to Skype Mom and Dad. We took full advantage of the hostels internet even though we had checked out. We were able to leave our bags in storage at the hostel while we headed out for the day. We grabbed some lunch and then went to the Temple of Literature. It was pretty although fairly overrun with tourists. There was quite a lot of noise from the traffic around the temple so it wasn't all that peaceful. We were going to check out the Army Museum but it was closing in about 30min so we'll go after our Sapa trip. We picked up “hop on, hop off” bus tickets so when we return from Sapa we can go directly to Hue. We had the brilliant idea to go directly to the bus station to check prices but we couldn't find the bus station. We settled for buying our tickets from the hostel. We bought a 6 stop ticket for about $50. By this time we were fairly foot sore so we were lazy and ate at the hostel. Luckily it was still 2-4-1 beer time. We lounged around a bit till it was time to go to the train station. We didn't feel like walking so we hired a motorcycle taxi. It was pretty cool. My bag was in front of the drive, I was between him and Beau with the little pack and Beau was on the back with his bag on. It was kind of thrilling weaving through the traffic. We had middle bunks on the train but the baggage storage was right at the foot of the top bunks. We were a little leery of that so we kept our bags on the bunks. The train wasn't as nice as the Chinese trains but we had more head room than we did on the top bunks.
Bell in Temple of Literature

Drum in Temple of Literature
Oct 17 – Sapa
Beau and I were under the assumption that our train arrived in Lao Cai around 6:15 so when the train stopped at that time we thought it was time to go. We had grabbed our stuff but the train started moving!! We raced to the door but it turns out we still had another 2hrs before we reached Lao Cai. I guess we could have had another 2hrs of sleep. I actually slept well on this train, maybe it was the rocking motion. We for real arrived in Lao Cai and were bombarded by guys trying to get us on their minibuses to Sapa. Of course the prices were outrageous. They wanted 100,000d per person, the books said it should be about 25,000d. We ended up paying 40,000d so $2. The road was very twisty, turny and steep. It was around an hour to Sapa. We arrived, looked at a couple of hotels and checked into one. We asked around at a few places about trekking and homestays. One looked particularly interesting, it followed a different route that not many tourist took. We would be meeting up with a guy already on the trek but it would cost $40 each, the easier tourist ones were only $25. We decided to think on it for the day. We rented a motorcycle to cruise around the area and check out some places. It was only $7 with gas. Sapa has some beautiful scenery. The mountains reminded me a little of home. It was pretty foggy though. We started by trying to find the village of Ta Phin but somehow missed the turn and were confused about where to go so we headed back to Sapa. We got better directions but instead set off to find Thac Bac, the Silver Waterfall, near the top of Tram Thom Pass. The water fall was very beautiful and impressive. The biking was a lot of fun. Fortunately the roads aren't too busy so we didn't have to do too much dodging. From there we headed back towards Sapa and on to Ta Phin. We found the village this time and were flagged down by some women from the H'Mong tribe. They took us to the one woman's house. It was pretty sad. Very much a shanty home, more like a barn. Her one son also had deformed hands and feet. They then tried to sell us purses and wall hangings. We bought a purse mostly because we felt sorry for the conditions they live in. We continued on for a little ways and then decided to head back to Sapa. Back at our hotel we ran into Beau's kayaking buddy for Halong Bay (not a surprise since we shared a mini bus with him to Sapa). We talked to him about the home stay which he was very interested in. We went to book the trek and with Mike with us it was only $32 per person. I'm sure it'll be well worth the extra $7!
Rice terraces around Sapa

Thac Bac, The Silver Waterfall

In front of Thac Bac