The Amazing Cave, with a hangover

Hey Dad,

So yes last night became messy. I have no idea what time I went to bed, I can’t even remember going to bed. Only waking up this morning feeling like I had been hit by a truck. Jordan was not in much better shape. We made it though two bottles of rum between us. Big mistake. 

By 7:45 we were being loaded into a small feeder boat to be taken to ‘Amazing Cave’. Dad being hungover on a boat is the worst thing ever. Being hungover on a small feeder boat is excruciating. 

The cave really was amazing, the name does live up to itself. Walking round it was a struggle mind. The cave was huge, it made Marble Mountains look like a small Hill. 

We were then back on the feeder boat to our main boat. Getting back on a boat after being on dry land when it feels like there is a sledgehammer hitting your head was tough! The rest of the morning was spent on the sun deck. It was pretty overcast so the sun was non existent, but still the view (what I could see) was spectacular. 

Halong Bay is out of this world incredible. It doesn’t even look real. I am gutted the weather was bad, as the visibility poor. What I could see was something else, but it is like when the fog sets in at home. You know there is so much more behind it, but you know it will never clear enough to see it. 

Mum will want to shoot me, but this may be a place I have to come back and revisit. Just to see what else is behind the fog. Might have to save it for another trip.

This afternoon we were back on the bus to travel the four hours back to Hanoi. I slept most of the way, which was good as I felt much better afterwards. 

Now time to pack up again. Flying to New Zealand tomorrow, so everything needs to be packed up properly. Fortunately I have now become a packing ninja! 

Next stop, New Zealand!

Night dad x

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Halong Bay

Hey Dad,

When I eventually got picked up this morning (they were an hour late) I then spent four hours in a mini bus to get to Halong Bay. Definitely saw some sights along the way, real local Vietnamese towns, complete with buffalo on the side of the road!

The boat was dinky, it was quite cute really. I was the only single female traveller on the boat so I didn’t have to share a room; result. There was also a guy called Jordan who was travelling alone so I had a buddy for the evening. 

As the ship set sail we were all taken into the dining room for lunch. First thing I noticed was the music. They were playing ‘My heart will go on’ which is the theme song to Titanic. It was just about the most ironic thing to happen on this whole trip. Lunch was eight courses! Crazy amount of food! Drinks were however not included, and in vietnam terms cost a fortune! Looking through the drink options, they offered a combo package, which involved a bottle of rum, coke and bar snacks. Me and Jordan decided to go half’s. Somehow this was sort of lost in translation. We ordered the combos during happy hour, which was buy two get one free. Us sharing seemed to get lost and somehow between the two of us we ended up with three bottles of rum.

After we stopped laughing at the rum, we went kayaking around Halong Bay. We rowed to some temple thing, where the water became very shallow. This meant we could lean over the side and collect shells. We were told we had about 40 minutes. Neither of us had a watch. Needless to say we were so distracted by shells we had no idea how long we had been. We booked it back to the boat, to find there were now three boats – no idea which one was ours. We took a punt and fortunately we right. Turns out they were getting a little worried we had gotten lost and were about to send out a search party, whoops. 

Time for rum.

We sailed for an hour or so to a pearl farm, where we got to see how they ‘artificially’ grow pearls in oysters, and how they change the colour. After the pearls we were back on the boat for the night.

Time for rum.

After dinner we found out the entertainment was karaoke. Fortunately there was a German girl who could sing. Shame really the playlist was from like 1992. Truly awful songs. 

Someone decided ring of fire was a good idea. Ring of fire is never a good idea. 

One bottle down.

I have a horrible feeling this is going to get messy. 

Night dad x

Welcome to Hanoi….. oh it’s raining.

Hey Dad,

So I arrived in Hanoi after taking my first internal Vietnam flight that actually took off on time! 

Honestly, I had to pinch myself. You know when you get off a plane after a week in the sun, and the weather you have come home to hits you like a brick to the face? Yeah that. I really felt like I had arrived into Bristol Airport. It was grey, overcast, threatening to rain, and the ground was wet. The only thing that separated it from Bristol was the warmth, it was still in the early twenties, which I was pleased about, the shorts I left Hoian in would have struggled to keep me warm. 

After a 30 minute taxi ride I arrived at my hotel to be told my room was not ready. Well it was 11am and check in was not until 2pm so I kind of figured that. I left my main bag and took my very heavy backpack to go for a wander round. Got as far as round the corner, found a nice looking cafe, stopped for lunch. I then got very strange looks from people when I took off my back pack, put it on the chair beside me and clipped the waist belt around the back of the chair. This bag has my life in it, it was not going out of my sight! 

Once checked in, I went for a proper look around. My hotel is in the old town, right by a lake. The roads around the lake are pedestrian only.

This place is simply crazy! I can not believe I am still in the same country.

Hanoi seems to have its own energy. The western influence here seems to be much greater, even in the clothes they wear. The old town has very traditional architecture, with just one or two high rise buildings creeping into the skyline. 

Walking around the lake was a challenge with the amount of people bustling around. The place was packed. I can only assume it’s because it’s the weekend, but who knows. 

The whole area surrounding the lake has stalls, buskers, artists, you name it. This is the most diverse place I have been. I also saw things I didn’t realised I had missed. Like skateboards, first i have seen since arriving out here. Pets too, I only realised today that no one has any pets. Until this afternoon I have not seen anyone walking a dog. It did afterwards occur to me that ‘pets’ over here are probably classed as an evening meal, rathrr than an extended family member.

Anyway everywhere you turned there was something else going on, something to stop and watch. There was a group of people playing some form of game on the road, mapped out with chalk and stones. I stood and watched for ages, and I could not work it out! It was some traditional game they are trying to bring back. Then there was a group of people trying to solve puzzles, then a group of kids and guitars. They were not busking though, just having a jam session with whoever cared to join. Add to it then the families walking, kids on bikes and rollerblades, balloon animal makers, jugglers and the like, it was madness! 

Walking around the lake I then stumbled across a stall with a man trying to sell bits and pieces. ‘Cheap tourist tat’ as you would call it. Well as I got a little closer, I could see he was heckling people with a rubiks cube, challenging them to solve it. He picked on the wrong person. I held it for a while, as if to study it, and turned it a few times slowly. He was still heckling, and laughing at me. With that, in true ‘me’ fashion I solved it, fast as I could and placed it back on the table in front of him. Now the very small crowd around me was laughing. He looked a little shocked, but played it off cheering at me. So just then to wind him up, I picked up the cube, re-solved it into a checkboard pattern, (which takes three seconds) and handed it to him. I then smiled at him, turned and walked away. He was not cheering anymore. When I was back in the hustle of the crowd I looked back, he was still studying the cube. I probably came across like an arrogant brat, but you would have appreciated it. 

After Walking around the lake I headed out of the pedestrian only zone to walk around the streets. The streets are insanely busy. Just mopeds, rickshaws and people everywhere. I was even nearly involved in a hit and run! Some girl on a moped, she must have been parked somewhere she should have been because the police were chasing her. She kind of made a hair pin turn, and lost control. She came crashing down the pavement wobbling all over the place Straight towards me. This all happened in a split second. I jumped out on the way just in time, not sure how she missed me. Then the police offer almost ran straight into me, which really would have knocked me flying. He gave up the chase and just looked at me, as if to say oh well. Bringing to realise why their driving is so terrible, especially if nothing is enforced. 

After my ‘near death’ experience, and walking miles around Hanoi my feet were killing so I headed back to the hotel to chill out for a while. 

An hour later it was dark! Went back out in the search for dinner to find it was raining. Raining! Still warm, but that horrible close air when you need a thunder storm to clear it. That and the pollution here seems to be very high. I have been out of high pollution areas for a while now, and it is extremely noticeable. The air feels like that kind of stagnant air when you get on the London underground. Yuck. 

Well walking round to see the nightlife is off, and the once crazy busy street had  emptied. People were actually using their umbrellas for rain rather rather sun, that’s a first in Vietnam! 

Back to the hotel room for me to repack. Some idiot thought it would be a good idea to put their hoodie flat on the bottom of their case. D’oh.

I really hope this weather clears up tomorrow, Halong Bay is supposed to be one of the most impressive sights in the world. If it is as foggy as it has been today I will not be able to see a thing! 

Time will tell I guess. Now where are some warmer clothes. 

Night dad x

Not so much snorkeling, and lots of lanterns.

Hey Dad,

Well today marks the day of the 1st annual memorial fishing match in your honour. According to mum the uptake of people wanting to fish has been ridiculous. They’ve even had a shield made! I can remember you going off on memorial fishing days, never for one second did I think people would someday be doing the same for you, not this soon anyway. 

Well I can’t be there today, but the rest of the family are going down to watch. I decided as I can’t be there, and I can’t go fishing I would do the next best thing. I went snorkeling. Well sort of. I booked a trip out to Cham island, which was a 30 minute journey by speed boat. From there the tour guide walked us through the local fishing village. It was similar to Cambodia, with live fish in small dishes with barely enough water to keep them alive.

Well I thought it couldn’t get any worse watching fish suffer like that. It did. There was a barbecue, and they were taking live shrimp, and jamming them in a fish slice, they were squirming trying to break free. They then put the slice straight on the open flame. They were really squirming then. I looked away before they stopped squirming. I really struggled to see why they could not kill them quickly and as painlessly as possible, instead of cooking them to death. Yuck! 

After the fishing village tour we got back on the boat to go snorkeling. Well what a disappointment that was. First hilarity was the mask and snorkel. They were discusting. Black with mould, especially the mouth piece. They had never been cleaned, let alone sterilised. No way! The rest of the group looked in disbelief too. We told the guide we would like them cleaned. He picked them up, dipped them in the water over the boat and proceeded to hand them back. Nope. We all just looked at him, and showed him the black. Eventually he came back with different snorkels which were cleaner. Not clean, but cleaner. 

After I attacked the snorkel with a tissue and hand sanitiser I jumped into the water. Well the sea bed did not really live up to much. Grey coral and about five fish. There were however loads of jelly fish. After ten minutes and being stung for the third time I gave up and got back on the boat. Half the tour had already beaten me to it. We snorkeled for 10 minutes. A seven hour tour for 10 minutes of snorkeling. Oh well. The rest of the tour was spent on a relatively nice beach. A seafood lunch was included. After seeing the state of the snorkels, the table cloth and the plates, with the added trauma of watching live shrimp being cooked to death, I didn’t dare touch the food! I just lied and told them I was vegetarian. 

Back in the town, the place was gearing up for the lantern festival. Hoian was rammed with people who had come in on busses. As it got dark, the whole town turned off the electric, and all the outdoor lights. The only light came from the lanterns. 

After a few drinks with a group of English people at the hotel I set off just wandering around. The festival was just amazing. Local music, dancers, boats and of course lanterns. Thousands of lanterns were just sailing down the river, it was an incredible sight. 

After a walk, I took a boat out onto the river, I lit my lantern and placed it in the water. Then I sat and watched it sail away. As dozens of people were fishing a match for you, I was in a boat lighting a lantern. I know you were not one for grand gestures, and would probably turn your nose up at it, but I felt like I needed to do something. Lighting a lantern seemed to fit. It seemed even more fitting when watching it your lantern was the only one to go against the tide and go upstream! How is that even possible?! Always have to stand out and be difficult. 

You would have enjoyed the festival. You would have hated the people, but there are some very nice restaurants lining the river with balconies. I imagine you would have been very comfortable watching it all unfold from a distance away from the crowd. No doubt with a glass in hand. 

I can not believe I have to pack up again and move on. I wish I could stay longer here, this is by far my favourite place in Vietnam. Well off to Hanoi tomorrow. From an ancient town to basically the capital of the North. I was also told today it has been cold and stormy weather in Hanoi for the past few days. Hope that clears up. Although I expect their idea of cold is still mid twenties! 

Early flight again tomorrow, but not much point in trying to sleep with the party still going on. 

By the way, I am writing this while waiting for something to eat. As my hotel is on the water front I figured I would make life easy and grab something on the patio overlooking the festival. Well I have been here an hour. Ordered a burger, waitress came back, no burgers. Ordered a pizza, waitress came back, no pizza. Ordered a mojito, you can guess the next bit. So it’s been an hour and I have got as far as ordering a sandwich and some chips. Wonder if they will manage it? Considering the menu only had burgers and pizzas, and this is most likely the busiest night for trade you would think they would be more prepared. 

Should have gone to the Mr. Bean themed bar next door. Yes really, Mr. Bean. 

Night dad x

Exploring Hoian

Wow Dad,

What a place! For what Da Nang was lacking in character, Hoian makes up for it ten fold! I can not believe this place is only half an hour down the road. 

Anyways, the ‘transfer’ the hotel said they could organise was actually a taxi. Fortunately they accepted dollars or I would have been out of cash! 

My hotel is right on the water front in the old town. It could not be a more perfect location for this place. The road is also closed to cars, it is pedestrian and cycles only, which makes it very easy to walk around. 

I got to the hotel pretty early, but they let me check straight into a room. With a quick look of a map I started exploring. Hoian’s ancient town is just fascinating, the buildings, the narrow streets, the colours, it is amazing. I spent hours just walking around, every little road and corner unearthed a new gem. 

Walking around I came across what can only be described as a shoppers paradise. A massive tailoring shop, which would make you anything clothing based you wanted, in what ever fabric you wanted, in one day! It was insane to see all these hundreds of rows of fabric for every eventuality, from scarfs to suits and everything in between. Silly money too, even I could afford to have something custom made. Honestly dad I was very tempted. A dress for an upcoming wedding would have been perfect. If only I didn’t have to carry it for the next few months and stuff it in my case. Oh well.

I wandered all afternoon, until my feet hurt and I had cooked myself in the heat. So I decided to head for the hotel pool. The pool is squished into the courtyard, and does not get any sun. To be honest though, no sun was probably a good thing. A freezing cold swim and a sun lounger was an ideal way to spend an hour or two. 

I headed back out when it had cooled down slightly. The hotel is sort of on an island with two bridges linking it to the rest of the town. As I had been over one bridge a fair few times I decided to take the scenic route and head to the other bridge. After walking all the way round to the bridge and over it, I was greeted my a woman in a shirt and tie asking to see my ticket. What ticket? She explained to go into the town I needed to buy a ticket. I told her my hotel was in the town and I would like to get to it. She wanted proof so I showed her my hotel room key. The woman then ushered me back over the bridge. I was not impressed so I asked her how much a ticket was. It was about £6!! £6 to go somewhere I had spent all morning. No thanks! So I had to walk back over the bridge, along the river and over the bridge by the hotel. Bearing in mind there were no barriers, no turnstiles, she could easily have just let me through. But no. Needless to say I was not impressed. I basically went in a big square to get to the same point! Stupid. 

Anyway more wandering around led to a few discoveries, like a bottomless cocktail bar and self serve ice cream. I knew I already liked this place, but that sort of topped it. I also came across another huge market, where of course I was hounded and yelled at to come and see. I left the market pretty sharpish.
I was also asked constantly if I wanted to take a traditional cooking class. Now I don’t really cook much at home, and I have kind of been wary of vietnamese food since I was poisoned by nuns, so I turned down the cooking class at every opportunity. 

As it started getting dark, the street started lighting up in colourful lanterns. It is the lantern festival tomorrow, but the festival has sort of become a three day event, with this evening as a warm up day. Well I have no idea where all of these people came from, but the place was packed. Walking through the street I did wonder how many of them had tickets to get in…. stupid woman with her stupid tickets. 

Along the river bank, all of these small pop up stalls had opened. One was to learn how to do origami with coconut leaves. It cost £1 to try and make something. Game on. I say on this little bamboo mat with an old woman who spoke no English. I followed her step by step. Every so often she would take my leaves away from me and fix it. I was not impressed by this. It is mine, I will do it myself. Well she did it wrong! I could see her mistake instantly, I saw the error as she did it, so me being me I pointed it out to her. She shook her head as if to say ‘shut up it is fine’ and moved on to the next step. I could see what was going to happen, but being a good student I followed her. Well Shockingly enough, mine fell apart. So we had to start again. I think the old woman was loosing her patience by then. But anyway eventually we go to the end. I managed to make an origami coconut leaf fish! I wish I could say I did it all by myself, but that option was literally taken away from me. I don’t think my fish will survive the journey home, but hopefully I can remember how to make them and I can show the kids when I get back. 

After a day of walking I am shattered. The hotel may be in the perfect location, but there is one slight drawback I overlooked, the noise. The party is still going on outside, with no signs of slowing down. Think I will be sleeping with head phones in tonight! 

Hoian is definitely my favourite place in Vietnam so far! With the exception of the party outside the hotel room window I think you would have liked it too. 

Now to prepare for another action packed day tomorrow

Night dad x

Marble Mountains and the beach

Hey Dad,

Well I enjoyed a leisurely morning as I had no tour to get up for. Managed to get to 6:30 before I moved. 

Went to get breakfast which is included with the room price. That was an experience. Breakfast was basically 20 large plates laid out on a table, half with fruit and the other half with food like spring rolls and cold chips. No hot food or a toaster in sight. The fruit looked old and it had flies swarming around it. I picked up a plate, walked around the table, put down the plate and left. I didn’t even get a juice as the glasses didn’t look clean. Breakfast bar it is. Although the bars are so crumbled now I ate it in a mug with a tea spoon. 

I took a taxi over to the marble mountains. They were fascinating. First challenge was to get to the top of the mountain. I opted for the stairs instead of the lift. These stairs were almost to the height of my knees and all uneven. It was a bit of a workout. Still I made it. My knees were hurting, so yours would have no doubt been on fire. Actually no, you would have paid the extra and taken the lift. 

The mountains had a huge cave system going through them. The caves were incredible, but it kind of felt like I had gone to the Vietnam version of Wookey Hole, but with Buddha’s instead of witches. The slopes and steps were all made of marble so it was really slippery under foot. Daunting when if you fell it would be a long drop the whole way down to the bottom. No safe landing platform or hand rail in sight. 

Even more steps led me to the highest point of the mountain, which was exhausting. I was knackered by the time I climbed the stairs, and it was hot today. The view from the top was pretty cool, it over looked the whole of Da Nang.

I walked around for hours looking at the temples, statues and caves all around it. By lunchtime I was too hot, hungry, out of water and needing to give my knees a break. So I decided to go to the beach! 

The beach here is really nice, and goes on for miles. I walked along until I stumbled across a beach bar. You would have approved of the bar. Right on the beach, comfortable shade and fans and very few people around. Of course being one of only a handful of people didn’t last long when a group of about 30 Chinese tourists turned up. I just sat and watched them for a while. They all sat down after rearranging the entire outside area so they were on one long table all with shade, and then spent the next 20 minutes taking selfies. It was crazy, all of them with a stick taking photos of themselves at a bar. Eventually they put the sticks down, and started taking photos of each other! Noise level had picked up by then so it was time for me to go. 

I walked up the beach until I realised there were no tourists around and I was entering local territory.  I then turned around and walked back. There were even shells on the beach, which I sort of picked up along the way. The only thing that spoilt it was the rubbish. The waterline was covered in plastic bottles and wrappers, it was a real shame. 

When I got back to the hotel, the receptionist greeted me with an envelope with 1 million vietnamese Dong inside it. My refund from the cancelled tour. Well I checked the exchange rate. It equates to $43.89 US Dollars. So I have been short changed by just over a dollar. As I was amazed I even got a refund, and the language barrier is an issue at this hotel, I didn’t bother to complain about it. 

The sunset here tonight was really nice so I wandered down to the dragon bridge to take some photos. That bride is about the moat impressive thing in Da Nang. 

The jury is still out on this city. Walking round I just can’t help but feel it doesn’t have its own identity, like it is missing something. Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice city and I have enjoyed my time here, it’s just that the city seems kind of uninspiring, if that makes sense? You would understand me.

Well time to pack up again. Off to Hoian tomorrow. Fortunately it is only 30 minutes down the road. 

Speak to you in Hoian

Night dad x

Hai Van Pass and Da Nang

Before we get on to today’s events Dad, 

I need to fill you in on last night’s escapades. After writing last night, I noticed a strange rash form on my arm. Didn’t think much of it until 20 minutes later when I noticed it on my legs. After a through check, I was covered all over in some strange rash. The only parts spared were my face and neck. I had no idea what on earth it was. So I did what every sensible person would do. I had a Skype consultation with Dr. Mum. She was confused as well. The only thing different was the vegetarian meal cooked by nuns I had that lunchtime. After dosing myself on antihistamines and a Luke warm shower, the rash slowly started to go down. 

I have therefore decided I am allergic to vegetarianism! – or Tofu. One of the two. Tofu was the only food I remember eating that I have not eaten before. 

Anyway I woke up.this morning and it was as good as gone. I did wake up feeling lethargic though, and a bit out of sorts. 

But there was no time to worry about that, I had a bus to catch. I had booked a bus transfer to Da Nang which went via the Hai Van Pass. Well a 12 seater bus had 12 passengers, plus a guide, driver and 12 people’s luggage. To say it was cramped would be an understatement. I know you would not have dreamed of getting on a bus, but a car for one person was crazy money. I know you would have paid it, but I am on a bit of a budget here. 

We first stopped at a Tam Giang Lagoon for a quick photo and then onto Lang Co Beach for another photo. From.there we drove along the Hai Van Pass. It was breathtaking. However the weather started to change the higher up we got. It became far more over cast and dark. By the time we got to the peak, the cloud had rolled in, and we were in the centre of it. Taking photos was a futile task. It was disappointing to not have a clear view, but never mind. You would only say it was not as good as your view anyway I suppose. 

The bus dropped me off at my hotel, and I attempted to check in. The hotel.had no reference of my booking and asked to see the confirmation. I showed them. They were still confused. I then showed them an email. The manager scurried off. She came back eventually and said ok. I am guessing they gave up trying to find it. She then explained that they had no double rooms left, so I would have to have a twin room. Sigh. Whatever, as long as I have a bed, I’m only here for two nights. 

By the time we sorted all this out, I was hungry. It was well past lunchtime and I had been up since 6. I dumped my case in my room and ventured out. Only to be stopped at reception. I was told I had a phone call. Now I was the one confused. It was the hotel I had just checked out of. Now confusion turned to panic – what did I leave behind?! Turns out that the tour I booked for tomorrow has been cancelled. They did not realise I was a single traveller. How they missed it I don’t know! Now my next challenge, how do I get a refund on it. I had to pay for the tour in cash, they would not take card. The woman on the phone explained they would transfer the money to my current hotel, but I paid for it in USA dollars and they would have to refund me in vietnamese Dong. Wonderful. I have not checked the exchange rate, but I am placing bets the numbers do not fit exactly so one of us will be put of pocket. I am also guessing that person will be me. 

By now I was very hungry and annoyed. I soon established every bar around me served nothing but coffee, and the restaurants were crazy expensive for lunch. I would have to walk over the dragon bridge. It was not a long way, but hot, hungry and tired made it more tricky. After crossing the river i came across a cafe which served food. By now I didn’t care about the price and was starting to feel feint. As I sat someone opposite had a chocolate chip and oreo milkshake. Sold! 

As I was sitting there staring at the river, the waiter comes up to me and explains it is international Women’s day. He says compliments of the manager, he would like to offer me a rose. Flowers and a milkshake, my mood lifted pretty quickly, especially when they bought out my lunch. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Da Nang. At a pretty slow speed too, the milkshake weighed me down. 

Da Nang is a strange place, I am not sure what to make of it. It is a big city, with some modern high rises going up and billboards everywhere. But walking around it is missing something. It doesn’t have the ‘woah’ of Ho Chi Minh City’ or the ‘ooooh’ of Hue. Da Nang at the minute is more of a ‘hmmmm’. It may be that I am tired, or sluggish. I have another day of exploring tomorrow, especially now as I don’t have a tour, maybe I will get a better feel for the place. I do like the view from my hotel window though, i am overlooking the river.

Talk about a crazy day.

Night dad x