A Travellerspoint blog

Is this even the right bus?

Trains, buses and supermarkets

Our journey to Hoi An has been a bit of an epic to say the least. Luckily for the train from Hué to Đa Nang (the closest town with a train station) we picked the soft seat option for the three hour journey. We say luckily as we got a glimpse of the hard seats and if you can imagine rows of wooden park benches shoved into a railway carriage then you pretty much have it. Just take away the surrounding grass and shove in a couple of hundred Vietnamese and you’re there.

Upon our arrival in Đa Nang we eschewed the typical onward taxi to Hoi An instead favouring the cheaper local bus. We managed by some dint of luck (and Rach’s amazing navigation) to find our way to the bus station, which turned out to actually be a supermarket. So Alex went off on a mission to try and find out where to buy the bus tickets from and after having spoken to two security guards, five different members of staff, two random strangers, and a heavily pregnant cashier finally discovered that the bus to Hoi An was actually free with every 20,000 dong worth of goods purchased in the supermarket. Weirdly, in the store, there was “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” being played on repeat which was somewhat wishful thinking on the managements part being as how it was around 30 °C outside.

Meanwhile during Alex’s odyssey inside Rach was facing some battles of her own outside guarding the bags. We’re pretty used to people staring at us by now so she ignored the passers-by gawking at her. However what she was unprepared for was a large group of men sitting right opposite her and openly watching her and discussing her. She tried to carry on eating her sandwich but every time she looked up, they would say something to each other, something to her in Vietnamese and laugh. It’s pretty intimidating for a girl by herself to be surrounded by men, particularly when she doesn’t speak the language and she was even more startled when one appeared next to her side. She looked up and saw a camera pointed in her face and felt very uncomfortable so said no to a picture. That didn’t stop them though and they continued to persist until she had to put her hands over her face until they left her alone. You leave her alone for five minutes....

Finally Alex emerged flushed with success waving the receipts in the air which would be our tickets for the bus. And so we settled in to wait until three when the bus was due to leave. Come three we found ourselves once more asking a security guard where to catch the bus from. He grunted and pointed outside at a large, plush air-conditioned coach. The coach then pulled away showing us our actual bus. It was a tiny rattler of a bus that looked as though it was being held together by rubber bands similar to those which held the engine cover closed. There was no air-con and so sweating we settled into our seats.

The bus driver got on and almost kicked us off after seeing our massive bags but luckily we had some lovely women as our co-passengers and they leapt to our defence surrounding the hapless bus driver until he had no option but to retreat and slink around into the driver’s seat. He started the engine (on the third go) and we set off, with a huge metallic thunk accompanying us every hundred metres or so.

It was then that we realised, that aside from a grunt from a security guard with dubious English (and our Vietnamese being non-existent), we had no idea if it was the right bus. We frantically asked around but sadly struggle to communicate to our new friends what we wanted to ask, receiving only confused smiles in return. We decided to stick it out and enjoy the beautiful rice paddies and rivers as they sped by.

DSCN9079.jpg

Aside from the worry it was an amazing journey and we need not have trouble ourselves anyway as we did eventually pull up in Hoi An. When we say pull up we mean break down. Luckily for us we were only a short walk from our hotel and so we left the bus driver trying frantically to restart it with a long queue of tooting cars behind him.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Take a taxi from Da Nang to Hoi An if you want less fuss. If you do want to live a little the bus is a great way to get a local feel.
  • Don’t fret about asking, for the most part everyone is friendly and will try to help as much as possible.
  • Supermarkets are a little hard to come by so if you are craving a little grocery retail therapy go nuts when you get the chance.

Posted by rexontheroad 11:47 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hué’d believe it?

Imperial palaces, majestic temples and an elephants fifth (or sixth) leg

sunny

Our first overnight train to Hue proved to be quite pleasant compared to the Chinese trains although Rach did have a pretty traumatic experience with the toilets that decided to flush up instead of down! The Vietnamese also kept in line with the habit of getting up at early o’ clock so we had plenty of time to watch the beautiful scenery whizzing by.

Hué is the old capital of Vietnam and the capital of the ruling emperors. So the idea was to see as much of the old temples and the Imperial City as possible in our two days there. So after a quick recovery from our sweltering walk to the hotel we hit the mean streets of Hué in search of our first cultural hit of the day. We had formed a rough plan and it wasn’t long before we were staring up in awe at the beautiful seven tiered pagoda of the Tu Dam Temple. It rose up from the dust and noise of the street like a beacon of solitude and we quickly dived inside. It was truly peaceful and we had a great time looking around. The monks didn’t seem to mind us and left us to go as and where we wanted. It was great.

We then saw another temple, Bao Quoc, and this was even more stunning than the last with a beautiful front gate that was slowly being reclaimed by nature. We even got treated to a private showing of one of the temple rooms by a very eager monk! As it was getting late we decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel stopping by on one last sight the “Notre Dam” cathedral. It was stunning from the outside but once closer we could see the signs of decay such as the smashed windows and peeling paint.

DSCN8961.jpg

After a brilliant nights sleep, listening to the rain and praying that it wouldn’t continue through until the following day, we woke to a sky as clean as a whistle. The Imperial City beckoned and promised us a great time. And it delivered. For the price of 150,000dong ($7.50 US) we had a massive city (quite literally) to explore. There were temples, throne rooms, theatres, gardens, ruins, and much more. That it is in such a good state is due to the thoughtful (if controversial) restoration of many of the buildings that were obliterated during the various wars that ravaged the country. There was also an elephant randomly in the grounds that had the most enormous willy we’ve ever seen; it literally was dragging on the ground!

DSCN9044.jpg

On a side note during our time in Hué we noticed that there were a lot of tourist restaurants that offered “authentic” Vietnamese food. We ate out at a typical Vietnamese street side restaurant and with the help of a local had an amazing meal that cost less than a quarter of the price of the said restaurants.

On another side, side note Hué happens to have the dubious honour of being the first place in Asia that we have seen a traffic accident, something of a miracle considering the way they drive. Luckily it appeared to be nothing more than a bloodless knock on the head.

So our time in Hué has drawn to a close and we’re now headed on to Da Nang to get to the suit making centre that is Hoi An.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Don’t be scared to go a little more out of the way from the usual tourist temples. You never know, you might get a private viewing.
  • When eating out don’t be fooled into eating at a restaurant. Just sit down at a busy collection of plastic stools on a street corner, ask the price and eat like a king for less than a dollar!

Posted by rexontheroad 18:27 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Paying to see a dead body

Heroic women, Ho Chi Minh and a graduation

sunny

We have a bit of a secret to confess. We’ve fallen in love with Hanoi. Out of the Asian cities we’ve visited it is probably our favourite. It’s a perfect mix of real Vietnam with just a hint of fresh tourism. When we think about what we’ve actually done in Hanoi there’s not a great deal we can list. Instead we’ve enjoyed the people-watching, the wandering and stumbling across some fantastic things.

That isn’t to say we haven’t tried to go to the sights. Yesterday we planned to go to the Vietnam military history museum but again were caught out by the sudden increase of prices from our version of Lonely Planet. We ummmed and ahhhed and decided not to bother so we headed five minutes down the road to go to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Unfortunately Rach was scantily clad in her vest top and shorts so we were sent away with our heads bowed in shame. Time for plan C.

Rach had been perusing our map on the city when she came across the Women’s museum. Intrigued she checked the guidebook and discovered it was a collection of exhibits focusing purely of the women in Vietnam and the contributions they have made to its history. After a short march we discovered there were a lot more exhibitions then we first thought. Not only did they have sections on the women who had fought for their country either in a military sense or political but also areas dedicated to revealing a woman’s place in the current culture. It showed the different styles of Vietnamese weddings and how they would bring up their children. It was fantastic to see a museum dedicated to the gender that’s generally looked over in Vietnamese history.

DSCN8873.jpg

In the evening we drank as much of the free beer as we could and got involved in a game of arrogance with some of the other backpackers. We headed out for dinner back to our favourite street restaurant and as we’re so cool we attracted a few middle-aged westerners, like moths to a flame, who followed our example and pulled up a plastic chair.

The next day we marched determinedly back to the mausoleum, this time with Rach covered in a longer sleeved top. There was a bit of a queue to get in as they gather you in a large group and lead you through together. It’s like a race though and you have to power walk to get through. It’s incredibly strict and there are no cameras allowed, no dawdling and definitely no talking. We near sprinted around his glass coffin but we were astonished by what we saw. Ho Chi Minh didn’t look real; he actually looked sort of plastic. We have no idea how they are maintaining his body but it does look good, he just looks like he’s sleeping.

DSCN8881.jpg

Approximately thirty-nine seconds later we were back out into the grounds and spent a few hours relaxing and enjoying the sun. We decided on our way back to the hostel to drop in on one last sight; the Doan Mon Gate and accidently stumbled across a graduation prom for Vietnamese students. Three words; They. Looked. Sensational. Rach was actually a little ashamed of British prom dresses because the girls’ outfits here were stunning. We watched for a while as the graduates spelled out letters with their bodies and posed for photographs. It was a brilliant surprise to find.

DSCN8926.jpg

Now we’re about to get on the overnight train to Hué and we wonder what it’s going to be like. Will it be the same as the Chinese trains?

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Whilst Hanoi has a lot of sights you can pay to go and see, it’s a brilliant city just to walk around and watch the world go by.
  • Make sure you have your shoulders covered if you go to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum or you will be turned away.

Posted by rexontheroad 22:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

FREE BEER!

A prison, a bridge and lots of free beer.

sunny

So we arrived in Hanoi and it being pretty late went out and got some delicious food at a street vendors. We had been recommended to do this by some friends from our previous tour and they said that it would be amazing. Long story short after some pointing and broken attempts at Vietnamese we got what we wanted; some rice noodle soup with beef and squatted down to eat. Yep you heard right, squatted. All the outdoor street vendors very kindly provide tables and chairs, it's just that they happen to be tables and chairs for the vertically challenged. It was, however, a brilliant experience being sat on the street corner with all the mopeds flowing past, honking their horns, the sound, the noises and the smells. For the first time we felt full after a meal out and after we collapsed into our beds it wasn't long before we succumbed to the darkness of sleep.

DSCN8938.jpg

The following day we decided to go out and do some sightseeing (as you do when in a foreign country I guess) and headed straight for the lake Hò Guom. It was a lovely little place and after having seen no proper parks for so long it made a nice change. There was also a beautiful little temple called Ngoc Son off to one side of the lake. On checking it out Alex once again realized his celebrity when he was asked to pose with two young women. Whether it's his chiseled good looks or his body of steel we'll never know.

DSCN8772.jpg

After the comparative escape of the walk by the lake we reentered the fray and braved the roads to get around and explore the city. Crossing the road in Vietnam seems to be a matter of trust. All it takes is a simple step off the kerb and a determined, constant forward movement, trusting the mopeds not to hit you as they part like water around a stone. Surprisingly it feels quite safe and as long as you keep moving without making any sudden stops you greatly increase your chances of not being hit.

After having wandered around for a little while (which is pretty rewarding in itself) we came to the Hanoi Hilton (Hoà Lo Prison). It was an incredible place and much of the signage was in English so we got to find out a lot. It was used at various times as a prison by the French for Vietnamese communists and later during the war it was used by the Vietnamese to keep downed American pilots. There was a stark difference in how the different lives of the prisoners were portrayed. The communists had undergone a brave struggle surviving the brutal punishment of the harsh overlords, whilst the Americans had been treated with civility and respect and, for them, was a home away from home. So no political angle whatsoever.

DSCN8820.jpg

The rest of our time for the day was then taken up by several failed attempts to get into whatever was free. Sadly most of it was shut but luckily as we said before wandering is entertaining enough in itself. We took in markets, lakes, rickety train bridges, stalls, crazy traffic, street sellers and more! It was great. And then, even better, once we got back to the hostel that we’re staying in, it was happy hour. Happy hour at our hostel means unlimited free beer for one hour. Bring it on!

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • At $5 a night Central Backpackers isn’t bad, especially with free beer and breakfast too. Check out Rach’s review of the hostel and the Prison.
  • When crossing the road in Vietnam, wait till there are no cars coming (ignore the mopeds) and step out. Then just blindly carry on at a steady pace. Do not, we repeat, do not stop. That is when the accidents happen.

Posted by rexontheroad 21:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Alex breaks the loo

Sticky fingers, a change of scenery and a tough jigsaw

We had a bit of a problem with our water throne this morning. The toilet cistern lid managed to slip through Alex’s fingers and upon collision with the floor instead of deciding to remain in one piece tried to spread itself into as many different corners of the bathroom as possible. The situation arose because the toilet cistern wasn’t filling so Alex was having to use the shower to fill it. So really it was all the hotels fault. Obviously. However we doubted that the hotel would see it this way and so after a quick search and rescue mission we’d located the vast majority of the lid and piled it onto the bed. Alex then pulled out his ever trusty superglue and attempted the nigh on impossible task of emergency reconstructive surgery. Sadly there were none of the sterilising options available that are normally present in an operating theatre and so there was a lot of skin left behind on the toilet lid as the glue really did what it said on the label and actually dried quickly. This also meant that the moment of truth came around very soon and it wasn’t long before we were staring at the finished article complete with stylistic cracks. Our hearts trembled as we separated it from where it had attached itself to the bedspread , we hoped against hope that it would hold as we placed it back on the toilet. Luckily it did and now it just needed to hold until we came back at the end of the day to collect our bags. Erk!

We had most of the rest of the day to kill before our flights to Vietnam so we decided to head across from the mainland to the island. There is a ferry that takes you across for HK$2 which is really cheap. We had read somewhere that this is one of the top ten short boat rides in the world. This is not the case. The skyline was definitely interesting but unless there’s a giant rampaging lizard of some kind it is like every other big city skyline in the world.

large_DSCN8723.jpg

After disembarking we formed our plan of action and set off in the direction of the eight hundred metre long escalator that makes it way up the start of Victoria Peak. Once we’d gone up far enough we made a turn off and made for what was billed as the famous Man Mo Temple. After struggling to find it we had a brief look around. It really isn’t all that impressive as a temple but the history behind it runs very deep and as such it is often held in quite a high regard. However it definitely wasn’t a place to spend the entire day and so we meandered our way back through the streets trying to put from our minds the thought that our superglue ruse might have been uncovered. We eventually made it back to our hotel to pick up our bags. There was a tense moment when the receptionist came out to greet us and for a second both of our hearts dropped when he started talking as we were walking off, but he was only wishing us on our way. We had gotten away with it; as they say he who dares, wins!

DSCN8737.jpg

There was then a quick bus to the airport before a relatively pain free entrance onto the plane in readiness for Vietnam. We were originally planning to go overland via train but we hadn’t planned ahead and got the multiple entry visa for China. Flights was the stress free option as opposed to hanging around waiting for visas to come through and then two days of travelling. It was a little more expensive but actually in terms of timings will probably work out better for us. And so it was that we took one last look at the bright lights. Not too sure what to expect when we touch down but either way we’re sure it will be something to look back on.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • At this point we well amend one of the rules in The death of a comrade, super glue can also be used to fix toilets.
  • The Man Mo Temple is an important landmark and if you have time worth seeing but don’t bank on spending the whole day there.

Posted by rexontheroad 19:35 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 115) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »