A Travellerspoint blog

Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

Tet (Vietnamese New Year) in Hue.

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Not wanting to get stuck in Hanoi due to Vietnamese New Year, a group of us decided to take a bus to Hue, heading further South through Vietnam. We arrive fairly early in the morning, and are ambushed by a guy trying to make us stay in his hotel. Tired and not in the mood to wander around comparing prices, we decide the hotel seems to be worth $5 each. Happy hour means free beer from 5-6pm. However this evening the hotel owner says we can join him for free beer all night as, unbeknown to us, we had arrived on the actual Vietnamese New Year's Eve.

Keen to get out and do some sight-seeing we visit the Imperial City. The impressive walled structure houses various buildings and temples, some reconstructed and some left to crumble. Although this construction does not compare in sophistication to the intricate refurbished Chinese temples, it's grey simplicity has it's own beauty and charm.

Back at the hotel we drink with the hotel owner, and get to have our first taste of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaf. Directly over the road from our hotel is Brown Eyes bar, supposedly one of the best and liveliest bars in Hue. Coinciding with the happy hour in Brown Eyes we are well watered, and provided with good music for dancing. Just before midnight we run into the streets, trying to find the best spot for the fireworks. Finding a decent view is difficult as the fireworks are blocked by trees and buildings. As we run around it begins to rain. We pass fires lit in the streets with Vietnamese people burning fake money, and calling out 'Chuc Mung Nam Moi'.

A group of young kids are performing a dragon dance in the street, outside a bar. There was certainly a buzz of excitement and friendliness around the streets. It felt like the Vietnamese people were happy that we were sharing this experience with them.

Vietnamese New Year's Day

The hotel owner convinces us to hire a car, and he will be our personal guide taking us to the Thien Ma Pagoda and out into the rural villages around Hue. Around the Pagoda many Vietnamese are visiting the temple for New Year, lighting incense and stroking the giant turtle for good luck.

We visit a small Farmer's Museum further out in the country-side. We learn about how the rice is farmed and turned into various produce for food.

The last stop is the family home of the hotel owner. We are introduced to his family and sit down to drink beer and eat more sticky rice. The atmosphere is a little awkward as none of them speak English, but they make us feel welcome with smiles and continual toasting to the New Year. As we drive back to Hue I notice how all of the houses have their doors wide open, the family's calling over to their neighbours or just sitting in their front rooms. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, and I am glad I have had the opportunity to experience this day of relaxation for the Vietnamese people.

DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)

On Tuesday I take a trip to the DMZ thanks to two guys I met on New Year's Eve who rented a car and driver for the day. This trip takes you to several museums, attractions and sights related to the former border between Northern and Southern Vietnam. The best part of the trip was the Vinh Moc tunnels, a intricate set of underground channels built to house an entire village of Vietnamese people during the war. Rooms were built, including a hospital area, toilets and bedrooms, to ensure the people could live underground for about 2 and a half years. 17 babies were born in the tunnels. The space was too small to stand up in, making it feel claustrophobic and eerie. I wondered how people could stay in such a cramped space for so long.

There were sections of the tunnels that tourists were not allowed to enter, as there was no lighting and you wouldn't know what animals were now living down there!

By this point in Hue I had started to get suspicious about the hotel owner. After befriending us, and offering us copious amounts of free beer he had started leaving us almost in charge of the hotel. It was as if he just wanted to find someone to look after it whilst he went out to do his own thing. A couple of times he would leave us with the keys. This seemed amusing at first. But later he would leave the hotel whilst we were out and lock it up. This meant we would often get back and be locked out. Luckily we discovered the main door was easy to unlock, if you just gave it a firm shake (although I no longer trusted that my belongings were safe in the hotel). It certainlywasn't called 'Funny Hotel' for nothing.

On Wednesday some of the group leave for Hoi An. I decide to find another place to stay, opting for a well-established hostel down the road. When I try to check out that morning, the hotel owner claims that I need to pay for a key he had to get cut to be able to get into the room the night before (I stayed out later at Brown Eyes, whilst Holly went back to the hotel and couldn't get back in the room as she did not think she had the key). The hotel owner accuses me of having the key, which I never did as Holly was the last to leave the room before we went out. Either way, I tell him as a hotel owner he should have a spare. But he claims for "guest privacy" he does not keep a spare. Tired of arguing I pay for the supposed new key and get out. When I meet Holly a day later in Hoi An she tells me the real story: the hotel owner had a spare key that he used to let her in to the room. In the morning she had found the key in her pocket. So there was no new key made, meaning he conned me out of money. On top of this he had also charged me for drinks that he claimed were free on New Year's Eve! The Funny Hotel was certainly no longer 'Fun' or 'Funny'!!

Posted by Melanie Kidd 03:09 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Beer and buckets in Hanoi

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On Tuesday 17 January, after exactly 2 months in China, I leave to try and discover a warmer climate in Vietnam. Leaving my coat, scarf and gloves behind in Nanning, my bag is lighter and my heart is hopeful for sun!

Arriving in Hanoi, I soon discover that the accounts of the chaotic traffic are true. Getting off the bus we attempt to cross 4 lanes of mopeds, racing past us. Eventually a Vietnamese guy takes pity on us and helps us across the road.
A few days later, on a trip to Halong Bay, I learn an interesting (and believable) fact:
About 6 million people live in Hanoi. At rush hour there are approximately 4.5 million mopeds on the streets of Hanoi!

I have barely stepped through the door on my hostel (Central Backpackers) when I am nudged into the bar for free beer at happy hour. The beer is from a suspicious looking keg on the floor, and is poured into my glass from a old plastic bottle...but it's free so I take advantage of the offer. The next few nights see plenty of cheap drinking, including taking part the 'upside-down margherita' tournament, and scoring a point for England (although we didn't need the point as we were very much in the lead). A messy night of vodka buckets and several games of 'Spoons' resulted in most people passing out before 11pm.

Aside from spending the evenings in the company of drunken travelers from all over the world, I was keen to do a bit of sight seeing. On Wednesday a group of us went to visit Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. It was a strange experience as we were marched through a heavily guarded room where the well preserved body of Ho Chi Minh lay in a glass coffin. Later on reading up on the mausoleum, I was surprised to learn that Ho Chi Minh had requested before he die to be cremated and scattered in Southern Vietnam. But against his wishes money was invested in building an elaborate tomb to display his body to mourning Vietnamese and tourists.

Wednesday afternoon me and Isabel (a German girl studying in Shanghai, who carried around a tortoise in a tupperwear container) visited the Ho Lo Prision, set up by the French and used imprison Vietnamese 'criminals' up to the 1930s. A simple museum with plenty of detail. A genuine guillotine used by the staff at the prison towers over other more simple instruments of torture. Life-like figures of inmates gave me a bit of a scare.

Halong Bay

Another 'tourist conveyor-belt' attraction, but well worth it for the spectacular scenery, and an escape from the city. Out on the water I feel at ease as we sail between small islands, the water littered with boats all heading in the same direction. The tour leads us to a set of caves.

Following this we are able to set off on our own (but only for 45 minutes), kayaking around the bays. As we get out of the kayak I see cuttlefish for the first time. About 8 or 9 of them, in a small netted area...probably caught for eating. I try not to think of the fate of the cuttlefish, and admire how beautiful and alien they are. Seeing them up close was unforgettable. The second day of the trip consisted of us slowly sailing back to shore.

Back on land we make the long journey back to Hanoi to be greeted with another happy hour (the bucket disaster). Later that evening three of us survive the buckets, and make it out to a club. As I sit down and consider how I am going to afford to buy a drink, Elliot kicks something under the table. Reaching down he pulls out a full, unopened, bottle of Grey Goose vodka. We order cans of Sprite and glasses, and have a very cheap night.

Posted by Melanie Kidd 03:08 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The Li River

An escape to the country-side

My first stop was Guilin for a few days rest at a comfortable friendly hostel, WADA Youth Hostel. The perfect place to chill out, meet people and have a few beers. Crowding around the warm stove, sharing stories and reading was the highlight of my time here. Guilin felt like a slightly unfriendly place, and there wasn't too much to do. But it was the gate way to the Li River, Yangshou and the beautiful rural villages.

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In every Chinese city one of the first things I do is find my breakfast 'local'. Being my favourite meal of the day I like to find something new in every place. Just down the road from the hostel I encounted the best vegetable dumplings I have tasted since being in China. Every morning (and a couple of evenings too) this was my food of choice.

Li River Cruise..==

Through the hostel I booked a half-day Li River Cruise, traveling down the 'best' part of the river and ending in Yangshou where I would stay for a few days. Lead by a Exuberant guide who spoke the best (and funniest) Ching-lish I had heard so far, I finally got to witness the 'real' China. Although the trip was sold as a 'bamboo boat trip' Yang-Yang (our guide, whose name meant goat-goat) quickly informed us the boat was actually made of plastic tubes, a modernised version of the traditional water vessel. However if we did want to experience a real bamboo boat we could pay extra to take part in an extended trip, which ventured further into the countryside. I decided to "hand over the money" as I had not done much over the last few days.

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The scenery was stunning (exactly as it was sold in the brochure). We passed various famous natural landmarks, including the 'Nine-horse Fresco Hill'. I only spotted two 'horses', which is less than Bill Clinton who spotted three. I'm not proud of this fact.

We also got to take pictures of the exact view that features on the 20 yuan note.

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Reaching Yangshou I had 40 minutes to find accommodation and food before meeting the rejoining the rest of the group where we got the chance to sail on real bamboo boats.

We go the chance to moor up on a marshy bit of land where farmers provided us with food to feed their water buffalo. These animals were surprsingly beautiful and peaceful. We also got the opportunity to watch cormorant fishing. Although I didn't completely agree with the practice of this type of fishing as it's pretty cruel for the birds, this was a traditional style of fishing that was been used for years and is impressive to watch.

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Yangshou..==

The town istelf totally catered to Westerners, as I had never seen so many English language menus! However the backdrop for the town consisted of beautiful mountains, not high rise buildings. The roads that provides access to the rural villages run through the flat valleys, along the rivers. This makes cycling the ideal way to travel around.

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On the Tuesday I set out on an epic 7 hour bike ride, attempting to cover as much ground as possible through the villages. With the aid of a tourist map which featured the most accessible roads and paths for cycling along I headed out on the main road,and then towards Dragon Village which provided access to the most beautiful parts of the countryside.

Reaching Dragon Village I encounted my first hurdle. Biking into the main square I hit a make-shirt checkpoint, as an old Chinese man walked into the road gesturing for me to "halt". To passP1060602

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through the village I would have to pay a fee! Refusing to pay I had to turn back and find another route. Back on the road a woman pulled up my the side of me on a moped, eager to practice her English. This was to my advantage, as after a friendly she informed me of another "off road" route that would take me the way I wanted to go. This route actually provided me with a much more adventurous bike ride.

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With no map to follow, just a vague memory of the directions the woman on the moped had given me, my route depended on guess work, and bu which trachk looked the most exciting. A couple of hours into my journey I was presented with another "no entry" by villagers. Which meant I had hit a possible dead end at a small dam. The small make shift bridge at the bottom of the dam was not sturdy enough for me to carry a bike over. Carrying the bike over the gusing water in the gap at the top of the dam also seemed a little daunting. I stopped for lunch and plucked up the courage to try and carry my bike over the top. As I approached the mini waterfall, I hear yelling in Chinese. A young boy on a bamboo boat approaches and calls out "20". Keen on bargaining I call back "10". He accepts the bargain and climbs up to help me. Wearing wellies he carries my bike through the top of the dam and places it on the other side of the river. He then comes back and indicates for me to get on his back. He certainly earned his 10 yuan as he carried me across to the other side. The two Chinese tourists traveling on the bamboo boat took plenty of pictures for their holiday album, and waved me off as I biked away.

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Not far down the path I soon realised I had yet another river to cross. After bargaining with a Chinese guy I paid another 10 yuan to be escorted over the river via banboo boat. He also earnt his money by helping me on and off the boat, and carrying my bike up on to the road for me.

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I continued along the path which got rockier and more hilly. Eventually I reached the main. By this time it was almost 3:30pm. Taking the sensible option I biked back along the main road, which was less exciting but gave my legs a rest. Keeping one ear on the road, and listening to music in the other ear I headed back to Yangshou looking forward to a big dinner!

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On Wednesday I headed to Xingping, a smaller village about 40 minutes bus ride from Yangshou. Unfortunately I had developed a cold so didn't feel well enough to do anymore biking. This Old Place Hostel provided a great place to relax, with a fantastic common room area and projection screen for movies.

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Posted by Melanie Kidd 02:58 Archived in China Comments (1)

NYE in Hong Kong!

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New Year's Eve began with a walk up Victoria Peak. The most attractive & easiest option for tourists is to take the famous tram, but the thought of having to wait nearly an hour and a half in a queue was less appealing. Although it wasn't the most scenic ascent up a mountain as the path is surrounded by busy roads, the views of Hong Kong got more impressive the higher we climbed.

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The top of the peak was far from a 'peak'. It was another commerical ploy to make you spend money on fast food and souvenirs. The viewing platform offered 360 degree views of Hong Kong, but at an extra cost. We decided the paupers viewing platform was good enough for us to get some good photos. After an hour walk up we felt we had earnt our tram ride down.

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The highlight of NYE in Hong Kong is supposedly the fireworks at midnight. With this in mind we got the ferry over to Kowloon is find the best spot. With a long 5 hour wait til the fireworks we got a little restless and kept on the move to new spots.

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Spotting a group of guys pushing through the crowd we followed behind hoping it would help us get to the front. Before we knew it we had crossed through the barrier that separated the crowd from the edge of the harbour, and were part of a queue on to a small cruiser boat. Not the type of person to ever crash a party, I stood back trying to look pretty whilst Will did all the talking. A tall blonde guy, wearing a tiny red bow tie, welcomed the guests on to the boat with a pretenious smile. Once at the front of the queue Will used his impressive blagging skills, claiming he knew one of the guests, to get us to the boat. Being a small party (in numbers of guests) it was obvious we would get found out...the question was, how long would it take for them to realise we were party crashers? The answer was about 40 minutes. After getting on to the boat we kept a low profile by sitting at the front away from the crowd, which provided the opportunity for some stunning photos...

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But once questions were asked about where we were from we quickly realised that everyone on the boat was Norwegian...and they quickly realised we were not. Some guests found it amusing. The organiser of the party & his friend (Mr red dicky bow) didn't. The decision was made, we were to leave the party and head back to the harbour. As we waved off the boat, much to the disgust of the 2 hosts, we realised we had killed about an hour and headed back into the crowd to continue our mission to find the best spot for the fireworks.

After a pretty, but fairly average, firework display we headed back on to Hong Kong island to join the party. The centre became a one-way pedestrian system regimented by organised, but friendly, Hong Kong police. Although we could not afford to drink in the expensive bars around Lan Kwai Fong, the people poured out on the streets so there were plenty of opportunity to socialise and dance. Purchasing more beer from the 'Seven Eleven bar' we continued to wander the streets.

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New Year's Day

After a lazy morning, we took a trip to the Avenue of the Stars. I was chuffed that I recognised three names: Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Bruce Lee.

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On Monday, having enough of the busy city, we took a bus to the South of the island in search of sea and sand. The beach was wonderful, and far removed from the chaos of central Hong Kong. The beach provided quiet and some amazing people watching opportunities.

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The rest of my stay in Hong Kong was occupied by Visa applications and general traveling admin. On the Wednesday I left Hong Kong and entered back into China. After queuing for over an hour at the ticket station, watching many Chinese people be told there were no train tickets to their intended destinations due to the impending Chinese New Year, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Guilin for that night.

The best things about Hong Kong:

  • They drive on the left-side, which meant there was no confusion of which way to look when crossing the road.
  • The supermarkets sold recognisable items, including proper bread, soya milk and french jam.
  • Falafel! Although it came at a price, it was worth every penny (or cent)!
  • Lychee juice (with real fruit pulp).
  • They sell other alochol in the shops aside from beer and Baijiu.

Posted by Melanie Kidd 02:53 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

I finally located the sun in China!

A couple of relaxing days in Xiamen

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Although the first day was cloudy, it was still warm enough not to have to wear a coat! After having a short wander around the busy and crowded (well it is China after all!) streets of Xiamen town centre, for a little bit of peace the ferry across to Gulangyu Island seemed like the best option.

Preparing our noodles

Preparing our noodles


Fruits ready for blitzing!

Fruits ready for blitzing!


View of the sea!

View of the sea!

Meandering through the main streets, towards the quieter parts of the island, I felt more and more like I was in a James Bond movie set.Charming Mediterranean-style villas stood cheerfully, each one different in shape, style and colour. Park areas with perfectly arranged tropical trees. Clear narrow winding streets with sharp corners (perfect for a motorbike chase scene). Lush semi-tropical greenery, pastel coloured villas...peaceful...quiet...this wasn't China!! Surely I have been transported to the Med?!

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Don't know whay I found this amusing??

Don't know whay I found this amusing??

European Style buildings

European Style buildings


The rush is on...

The rush is on...


...for dried meat!!

...for dried meat!!


Matching outfits!

Matching outfits!


Twins, sisters or best friends??

Twins, sisters or best friends??

The next day was warmer than the first, so a trip to the beach was first on the agenda. After walking for 10 minutes down the street I realised that for the first time on my trip it was too warm for trainers! Heading back to the hostel I dug down into the depths of my rucksack, rummaging around, eventually I pulled out...my sandals! Finally my feet could breathe.

Along Xiamen beach is a board-walk which stretches from the University for about the equivalent of a 3 hour (leisurely)stroll. It was still not warm enough for sun-bathing, but walking along part of the Chinese coast was just what I needed. The sea was luke warm, just enough to dip your toes in. The coastal wind was warm, the sounds of the sea were refreshing, the sun on my face was revitalizing.

Giant fish bones

Giant fish bones


It's amazing what can keep you amused on a beach!

It's amazing what can keep you amused on a beach!

Sea!

Sea!

Posted by Melanie Kidd 05:23 Archived in China Comments (0)

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