Posts Tagged ‘Sleeper Bus’

Saigon – full circle

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

On Thursday Vietnam was celebrating a special day. It was the 35th anniversary of the Reunification, i.e. the end of the American War. We got on the bus in Hoi An at 6:30pm, and headed south. We spent a couple of hours on Friday morning in Nha Trang, from 6am to 8am, before continuing on to Saigon. As we stopped for lunch in Mui Ne, Gjerulf was the last person off the bus before it was locked, and Annikken was the first person back on after it was unlocked. In the mean time, someone had stolen her cell phone from the top of her day pack… We asked the bus drivers if they had let anyone in during the stop, but they didn’t understand the question. Eventually they called the office, to give us someone who spoke English, but even then all they could come up with was a shrug and a wagging of the right hand from side to side, which apparently means “Shit happens” or “Nothing we can do about it” or something of that sort.

We met some nice travellers on the second bus, who are living in Tokyo, teaching foreign languages; a German, Karoline,  teaching German, and two Americans, Bryan and Jake, teaching English… 😉 Jake had his camera and ipod stolen from his bag on the previous bus, so someone was definately making some extra money on that trip.

We went out for dinner with the three teachers last night, along with a Canadian guy from the bus, a Japanese girl that the teachers had met earlier in Vietnam, who just happened to be there, a Japanese guy who had studied with the girl in Australia a couple of months ago, and who also just happened to be walking by, and last but not least a Scottish guy whom the Canadian had met elsewhere in Vietnam, and who ALSO just happened to be there… When you’re a backpacker, these things tend to occur. The night ended early, however, as most of us had just gotten off the bus after a 25 hour bus ride…

Today we met up with Bryan for breakfast, and Karoline a bit later, and then the four of us spent the day walking around Saigon, buying stuff at a local market, and we even managed a tour of the Reunification Palace. The tour was very interesting, and we learned a lot about Vietnam. For example, they had four presidents in South Vietnam during the war, one who was president for three years before he was killed, but managed to start the building of the palace we visited. The second president was in power for eight years, and lived in the palace. The third president lasted about a week, and the fourth president lasted all of 43 hours in office…

Tomorrow is the last night before Annikken gets on the plane to go home, so this will be our last blog post together. To all of you who have been following Annikken, hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you back home soon.

Gjerulf will continue to travel, and continue to write. He might head into Cambodia with the three teachers we met, on the same day as Annikken goes home, but we’ll see. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Stunning scenery in Ninh Binh

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

We arrived in Ninh Binh last night at 9.30. We decided to take an early night, in order to get up early, and botched miserably as usual… After our usual breakfast pho, we headed off on a rented moped around 11am. The destination was Tam Coc, where there are karst formations of the same kind as in Ha Long Bay. The limestone has been thrust up from the old seabed and then been withered by wind and water in much the same way, but the difference is that here Rowing with feetthey are on land. A slow river meanders between the rice paddies, and curls around the jutting karst spires, except where the water has cut a hole straight through them. We hired a flat bottomed sampan, and were rowed up the river, and through three of the caves. The lady rowing, alternated between using her arms and using her legs to push the oars! We even put our strength to use with a paddle ourselves, when we got bored of just sitting and looking.

Our timing turned out to be as perfect as could be, since we had the river to ourselves almost all the way. Only at the very end did the next bus loads of day trippers from Hanoi start moving rank and file up the river, with only a few meters between each sampan. The best moment on our whole 2 hour boat trip, was when our rower stopped rowing in a narrow, uninhabited valley, and the silence was so intense we could hear our own breath… That’s a first in Vietnam, even for Annikken who has spent months here earlier!

After the boat trip, we headed further into the karst scenery on our moped, until the road ran out… There we were befriended by a deaf road construction worker, who insisted on showing Gjerulf a small, deserted valley over a low ridge. It was a short trip in dense jungle, but it was like entering a different world! With his communicative sign language, he explained that the valley was home to both monkeys and huge snakes. Meanwhile, Annikken helped a Vietnamese family build the foundation for a new house… She lifted heavy rocks, tried her hand at chiseling a rock, and helped apply the mortar. At first they were making fun, and pointed to a big rock they wanted to have carried over. Their faces changed rapidly when she just smiled, picked up the big rock, and asked where they wanted it… When she lifted her arms and flexed her muscles to show how strong a Norwegian woman is, they lauged happily at her antics.

After lunch, we just drove around for a while, until the sun set between the limestone towers. As we write this, we are waiting for the sleeper bus to come and take us to Hue and on to Hoi An.

Ha Long Bay

Monday, April 20th, 2009

On Wednesday we bought tickets to go to Ha Long Bay, and Thursday morning we were picked up outside our hotel by the travel agent. After a four hour drive, we arrived in Ha Long City, where we transferred to our boat. As we started out from the tourist pier, we were served lunch on the restaurant deck, and we soon reached an island where there were a couple of really nice caves. When we headed out to sea again, we checked into our cabin, and headed out on the sun deck on the third and top floor. The type of boats that take tourists out on the bay are called Junks, but it still looks a bit strange when a boat proudly displays “Paradise Junk” or “Junk Tours…”
Cruising around between the striking karst formations sticking out of the water, Pia, a danish woman who was travelling with her daughter, voiced a question of whether they could be called islands. They were certainly big enough, but they were basicly just huge rocks with vegetation clinging to the tops and sides. We never did find out what the definition of an island really is. 🙂

In the afternoon some of our group were dropped off at Cat Ba Island to go trekking and stay at a hotel, while we continued to where we’d stay the night, in the boat. We had a beautiful sunset, and Gjerulf had a little swim in the ocean once we stopped. The next morning we also started with a dip, before going kayakking. The islands or rocks or whatever are just as magnificent up close. The formations are beyond description, the way they just rise abruptly out of the water, with their sharp ridges and sheer walls flecked with clinging trees and bushes.

After kayakking we had breakfast, while waiting for a couple of vietnamese girls who’d lost track of time while kayakking. Our guide set out to look for them, but they got back from another direction immediately after he left, so then the whole Junk set out after the guide. 😛 The rest of the trip we spent on the sun deck. Annikken suggested Gjerulf should put on some sun screen. He thought it sounded like a good idea, and then immediately forgot about it. He now sports a fancy sunburn where the shorts and T-shirt didn’t cover him.

Yesterday we were invited to spend the day at a pool in a nice hotel, with Gautier, the Frenchman we met last Saturday. He’s been teaching English here in Hanoi for a year and a half, and has taken Annikken sightseeing on his moped, and shown us nice places to eat and to watch football. Gjerulf was particularly happy about Finnegan’s, the Irish pub where you could get a REAL Irish stew, and where Annikken got to watch footie both Saturday and Sunday nights. 🙂

Today we’ve checked out of our hotel, and we’re taking the bus back south to Hoi An. The plan is to stay where the weather is sunny, and a beach is within reach… 😉 The weather forecast says Thursday onwards is going to be rainy again, and we might head further south to look for better weather. Nothing’s for sure, though, we just go where we feel like, when we feel like it.

Hanoi – a city with two faces

Monday, April 13th, 2009

After 16 hours on the bus, we arrived in Hanoi the day before yesterday, at 6.30am. The bus was quite comfortable, and the trip wouldn’t have bothered us, if it hadn’t been for this one young man in the bunk behind Annikken. As he entered the bus we felt an odd aroma in the air, and when he climbed to his bed, we got a foreshadowing of what was to come. This man probably works in a Nuoc mam factory, producing the world famous Vietnamese fish sauce that stinks like rotting fish… He looked clean, but either he hadn’t washed after work, or the smell is impossible to wash out, because the reek was so strong, Annikken at one point thought she’d be sick from it, and actually considered getting off the bus to catch the next one, 24 hours later!

On arrival we spoke to a tour operator, who sent us in a taxi to a hotel he recommended. The problem was just that the taxi driver was so eager to get us in his car, that he didn’t catch which hotel we were going to, and just dropped us off at a random one. We were told we could get a room for 8 dollars, but we’d have to wait a few hours, until 12, to get it. In the mean time we were placed in a bigger room. At 1.30 we still hadn’t been moved to a different room, and when we asked, we were told we couldn’t stay there after all, but they’d fixed us a room in a different hotel, smaller room, lower standard and higher price… We said “forget it”, and walked out on the angry hotel keeper who wanted to charge us for a half day of waiting! After having trotted around half of the Old Quarter, we finally settled for a hotel, after several attempts where the staff more or less plainly tried to scam us. At one backpackers’ hostel they tried to make us pay 20000 dong for a 6000 dong can of 7Up. The first face of Hanoi was one of unfriendly people, constantly trying to rip us off.

In the evening we headed out for Indian food, and a visit to a local pub. We met up with a group of English teachers on their weekly night out, and they took us to their favorite after-hour haunt, where the cocktails were 90% booze and 10% mixers. (Which was why they liked it, appart from the fact that it’s one of the few clubs that pay the police enough money to be able to stay open after midnight) Annikken was especially glad to meet someone with whom she could discuss good wines, a Frenchman of course. An early morning was thus followed by a late night, and sleep came quickly when we finally turned in.

Yesterday we had plans of catching the early morning easter mass in St.Joseph’s Cathedral, but we were unable to get up at 4.30 in the morning to get to the 5am mass. Instead we got up rather late, started the day with a magnificent Pho Bo and Pho Ga, (Rice noodle soup with beef, and with chicken) at a street kitchen in an alley by the cathedral. Annikken’s father had recommended the Museum of Ethnology, and we had a few hours before the next mass, so we took a taxi out there. The Museum of Ethnology gives an introduction to all the major ethnic groups in Vietnam, and show everything in their every day lives, from arts and crafts to rituals and rites. In the garden they have built copies of houses in the architectural archetypes of the various etnicities. Annikken adopted a communal house as her own, with the steepest, tallest thatched roof we’ve ever seen, 19 meters from the ground up! We also saw a Water Puppet show in the museum garden while we were there, and one of the puppets brought out a rose that was given to Annikken. On our way back, the taxi had to break suddenly because of a crossing moped, with the result that another moped crashed into us from the rear. Seeing as an accident like that takes a million people and hours of arguing to settle, we just got out, and hailed another cab. Even though it was a bit of a drive out of the city centre, the visit was definately time and money well spent.

We returned to the Cathedral just in time for mass. The building is reminiscent of Notre Dame from the front, with the two square towers, but the inside is rather different from Western Catholic churches, with banners and decorations in bright colours in evidence everywhere. We stayed for a while into the mass, but the atonal chanting in Vietnamese eventually drove us back out into the bustling city.

This morning we went out to get a sandwich breakfast, which turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than expected, but we found a good place after a long walk. The places serving noodles and other traditional Vietnamese food are numerous, but getting a decent sandwich in the Old Quarter is actually quite difficult! About five hundred years ago, that part of Hanoi was divided into 36 areas, belonging to the different Artisans’ Guilds. Still today many of the streets are devoted to a particular type of merchandise. On the street where we were first dropped off, for example, all the shops were making and selling bamboo ladders, another sells diapers and towels, yet another sells sweets and cakes, but one that caught our attention was the street devoted solely to traditional medicine. Annikken went into a store, pointed at things that looked interesting or curious, and bought a bit of it. The shopkeepers didn’t speak a word of English, but they phoned for help from a shopkeeper nearby, who unfortunately was fluent in French and Vietnamese only, but spoke enough English to explain what the different things were, what ailments they target, and how to use them. So in case any of you need a cure for cancer, just contact Annikken when she gets home in May!

Since we were in the vicinity, we visited the Dong Xuan market, a massive three storey structure that covers an entire city block. The whole thing looks more than anything like a normal mall, but occupied by hordes of hawkers with their piles of goods in a blessed chaos all over the place.

The second face of Hanoi, is one of a relaxed atmosphere, friendly people, beautiful scenery and old traditions. If you ever go to Hanoi, be ready to fend off the people who want to trick you out of your money, but keep an open mind. Everything is not as it might seem!

PS:
As we’re sitting here on a bench after a nice stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake, (Breiavatnet i Hanoi, for dere Siddiser) we’re sending warm thoughts to all our readers living in colder climates, because today is the first day of summer in Hanoi, and the temperature just keeps rising. (Æda-bæda!)

Mui Ne – Tropical Paradise

Friday, March 27th, 2009

March 24

Yesterday we arrived in Mui Ne. The bus ride was a bit of a surprise, to say the least! We were expecting a normal, cramped bus, hopefully with A/C. What we found, was a sleeper bus, with beds instead of seats, comfortable, well airconditioned, with pillows and blankets for everyone. No doubt the most comfortable bus ride we’ve ever had, especially after a couple of too warm, sleepless nights, trying to adjust to the heat.

On arrival, we checked out a few hotels before deciding on Thai Hoa Beach Resort, with it’s own stretch of beach, and a lush, green garden with an outdoor restaurant. We had a bite to eat before we changed into swimwear, and literally raced each other into the waves. Gjerulf’s delight at finally seeing the sea again for the first time since November was only topped by the feeling of luke warm salt water on our poor over heated bodies. We are continuously grateful for the price level in Vietnam, as the room with en suite bathroom, TV and fan only sets us back 105000 Vietnamese Dong per person, approx 40 NOK.

Last night we finished off the day by dressing up and heading to a nice restaurant down town for a bit of a splurge… Garlic bread, thai coconut curry, BBQ Barracuda and fruit platter was the order of the night. After finishing the regime of medicine Gjerulf was finally able to have a refreshing beer again, and was introduced by Annikken to the wonders of TIGER beer!

Today we have done as little as possible, the day was solely dedicated to lying on the beach and playing in the surf. Despite SPF25 and only short periods in the sun, Annikken has changed hue on the front side, from a standard Norwegian Winter White, to a deep Lobster Red. Gjerulf hunted around shops and a pharmacy for some aloe vera gel, but it took a woman’s determination to achieve any results… Annikken headed out, despite the severe sunburn, and tried to ask around for it. The motorcycle driver misunderstood her intentions, and took her to a restaurant down town. After a quick stop at a travel agency to ask for more pharmacies, the return trip consisted of frequent stops along the road, with unfruitful attempts at conversation with well meaning Vietnamese with no knowledge of English. Eventually, Annikken spied a massage parlour with a picture of an aloe vera plant on the board. Communication was still difficult, and the manager assumed she wanted their special Aloe Vera and Honey massage. Finally they understood her needs, and brought her around to the back of the shop to where a big plot full of Aloe was growing! Two huge leaves were cut and given absolutely free of charge, as both driver and shopkeeper were happy when they had finally managed to put a big smile on the face of the resolute girl with a mission! Upon her triumphant return, Gjerulf voluntarily conceded that her stubbornness paid off, even though he was convinced there were no shops selling aloe vera gel in this town! Covered from head to toe in Aloe, Annikken is hoping fervently that the aforementioned bright colour will turn into a more pleasant sun-kissed brown by the morning, when we’re going dune-sledding!