A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

Hue to Hanoi to Monkey Island and back to Hanoi

Celebrations in Hanoi for New Year

overcast 17 °C

We only spent a night in Hue as we were just stopping off on our way through to Hanoi. Hue is a large town with the Perfume river running through - again markets, shops, bars etc. We were tired and needed to get a good nights sleep so headed back to our hotel, which rated very high on trip advisor. Trip Advisor is my bible here and I am reluctant to stay in any place that hasn't got a good review score the problem is that many staff will put their own reviews on so the place will appear good on advisor but isn't so great. The hotel in Hue was ok but our room was damp although we were too tired to do anything about it and besides the staff were so nice I think if we had mentioned it they would have been mortified and I certainly didn't want to upset them - they were far to nice and would move the earth to make your stay comfortable.

We caught the train to Hanoi - yes we actually made it on time - but the train was late. We were on a sleeper train with a room to ourselves so we sat and watched Top Gear on the Ipad which was an hour well spent. I love Top Gear and despite what ive heard lately about Jeremy Clarkson - he is still brilliant in my eyes!

We arrived in Hanoi at 430am - and it was chilly. Immediately as ususal we are approached by about 20 taxi drivers all begging for your business to take you to a hotel. I had researched hard for this next bit of the trip but there was hardly any information on the internet to get us to Monkey Island which is a small Island off of Cat Ba Island within Ha Long Bay. I read up about getting the bus to Ha Long bay and then finding a boat to take us to the Island but it wasn't as simple as that. Having looked at everything the following happened at the bottom of this blog. (im putting it on here in hope that someone else might find it to make their trip easier).

As we walked through the back streets near the harbour we came across something I was hoping we wouldn't see, a meat market. There were live ducks sat on the ground feet bound together as were chickens. Live fish flapping on the pavement as they await to go onto the wooden block to be chopped with a hacking blade from the woman cutting them up. Being vegetarian I can't get my head round this, its just something I could never do, same as some meat eaters they couldn't do the killing but they can eat it. Each to their own though - but I can't change my mind on this im sure there must be a better way.

We got a taxi to the hydrofoil and then we were off cutting through the water as if we were a hot knife in butter. So far all had gone well, we caught the train on time, we woke up on time, we got off on the right stop, our taxi driver didn't con us, we got onto the ferry all was going so well - too well! CRASH!! "What the hell was that?" I shouted to Maggie who was sat up front with the biggest window infront of her. "We just went over a boat and there were people on it!!" I jumped out of my seat - wondering if to put on the life jacket - we were still moving - at the same speed. I was waiting for the boat to tip and wondering if Maggie had got it right or was kidding me. I heard a lot of shouting so I got up to go to the top deck where the staff were gathering "SIT DOWN" was shouted to me.

Going off on a tangent now - I watched a programme once about how people do what they are told when they dont particulary know anyone else or they follow what the general concensus is- they studied this when a large group of people were killed in a fire despite the alarms going off etc. The example they used was they tricked people into thinking they were applying for a role in a play (I think that was the scenario). They were all sat in a large room like a class room with chairs and desks. They started the fire alarm and the people began to talk amongst themselves but no one moved, then they put smoke under the door into the classroom. Bearing in mind no one knew in the classroom that this was a trick they still didn't move. One man began to panic and tell everyone that maybe they should get out and leave the room. There were conversations about no one coming in to get/warn them etc but only one man in the group left. They said the group may not have survived. Funny how people just sit there and wait for someone to tell them what they should do.

Did I sit down - no! I pushed past them to get to the top of the deck to see if I could see ANYTHING.....a broken boat...people in the water....a concerned captains face who has seen a big hole in his boat. Nothing - no boat, no people - but huge panic on the captains face. Lots of radios and mobile phone calls around me from the staff - "SIT DOWN LADY - SIT DOWN" I still wasnt comfortable with this so stayed up deck. I could see that we were now reversing this after a good five minutes after the crash. I still couldn't see anything, we hadn't sunk and I went downstairs to update everyone. We then went forward back on track of our journey - speaking to the staff didn't help - they either didn't understand the English or they didn't want to talk about it. I was told the week before how unimportant taking a life is in Vietnam and I couldn't quite fathom that - surely they wouldn't just sail over a boat with people in and leave them to drown? No Coastguard here though and from what I witnessed no one cared. It was horrible - and I still don't know if anyone died.

When we arrived at Monkey Island I spoke to the Manager, she spoke excellent English, she repeated to me about how low life is thought of and yes people may have died - it happens a lot she said. I thought about researching it on the internet - maybe it would be in their local paper - but then what could I do.

Monkey Island is a very small island which has been turned into a resort with Bungalow huts which are right on the beach - they are truely beautiful. There is a large area as a restaurant/bar and play area. Staying here though you are prime for high prices $5 for chips (small portion) $5 for this $5 for that .....very expensive with a small menu.

We had a stroke of luck when one of the employees took us out on his friends boat for 2 quid each from memory into part of Ha Long to kayak through the limestone peaks. This was fantastic and a time when you just stop paddling and sit back admiring the view. Looking at floating houses (tin huts) resting on large polystyrine blocks and bamboo paths. Dogs on the small housing blocks barking at the boats going by. The quietness of large rocks reaching out of the sea. "VICKY, VICKY, CKY, CKY, CKY, cky ky" I hear as my name is shouted out echoing out around the peaks. We all start shouting random things listening to where our voices reach. There are crab pots underneath the water as many as the sea bed and passing some of the floating houses the stench of fish is too much but this is their living here. We were invited to go into a cave which we jumped at, a small boat ride ducking under the stalag - tites? or mites? They invited us to look at their accommodation they were building for their cave. Build and they will come - I remember thinking. I wonder if they will come though - they have called it Bamboo Island. The paths are made of carved bamboo, the railings which protect you from falling into the sea and the rocky ground underneath are made out of plumbing pipes painted black!! So not save - but you soon learn that health and safety doesn't exist in South East Asia!! The beds are concrete with a thin bamboo layer with a blanket ontop. I won't be staying there anytime soon.

Our journey back to Hanoi went well but took quite some time apart from our taxi driver who gave us the meter price, he hid some of the money under his leg and told us we hadn't given him enough despite we needed change. Chloe was sat in the front of the car and told me she could see it sticking out from his leg. I leant over and saw the money - I was cross and pointed to the money and he put his hands up as if he did't know what I was talking about. I leant further pointing and saw the shame on his face - I was shouting at him at this point and smacked his hand as if he was a bad behaved child (can't believe I did that!) he gave me the money back that we could see but he was sat on more we think because he wouldn't budge from his seat. We got the bulk of it back luckily.

We had an enjoyable stay in Hanoi -- there was so much to see and not enough time. We walked around the lake which had been decorated on the banks with floral displays, some rather odd and some quite facinating.

New Year Eve we spent in the main square by the lake where they had erected a large platform stage where there was a man singing and ladies dancing. The crowds were going mad!! Jumping up and down to the music thrusting their arms in the air - they didn't sing to the songs though - all English Songs - then Chloe said "Thats Lemar" Now I vaguely remember the name and there is no way I can repeat what Maggie said incase anyone is offended! Turns out it was Lemar. What was he doing singing in Hanoi New Years Eve - how odd! The group around us were really friendly wanting to hold our English hands and hug us. They warned us of the pick pocketers around and pointed out a group or trendy looking lads with the latest hair cuts - bad lads - thieves thats how they afford their clothes etc.

Come 1230am all was over - they were leaving - so unlike UK - this is when the party would start. Not in Hanoi - it was all over - time to go home - good night!

It was a good night too - and the last one we spent with Maggie and Ellen. The next day we were up early and at the airport ready to wave them back to the UK and we were getting ready for our trip to China. Worried about the lack of warm clothing we had and the weather reports of us going to Beijing which was a shivering 2 degrees. Fashion had gone out of the window what with me and Chloe wearing our Ski socks and our Merrill sandles with leggins on top.

I wondered if I would have a seat grabber on the plane behind me - but no - a new annoyance - the man infront of me spent most of the journey (4hrs) rolling his head around - Chloe managaged to film some of it - it made you feel abit dizzy. Otherwise it was a good flight.

We got off the plane and it was freezing!

How to get to Monkey Island.

1. Hanoi to Haphong (bus or taxi) we took taxi for 850 vnd - 1 1/2 hr at the most.

2. Ben Binh harbour Haphong - Cat Ba by hydrofoil - 150 vnd - 45 mins

3. Contact staff at Monkey Island to get a free boat to them.

The return trip was really difficult.

1. Boat to Cat Ba

2. Bus to another port on Cat Ba

3. Hydrofoil from Cat Ba to Haphong Ben Binh

I think from doing this it would have been easier to purchase a trip at HaLong Bay for the two nights, we didn't do this due to costs.

Sod that I thought - sit in my seat and then wait to drown if we sink....nope!

Posted by Vicky Bailey 21:57 Archived in Vietnam Tagged ferry journey mother_daughter blog world_trip back_packing vietname monkey_island chloe_bailey flash_packing hue_to_hanoi ben_binh Comments (0)

Nha Trang - Do the boat trip!

Go with the flow!

sunny 27 °C

What a refreshing place Nha Trang is with its wide beach, up together properties, people that can communicate (yes I know its me thats the problem - I should learn the language). We were only staying here one night so we had to make the most of the time we have here. We went out for a meal in Guava - simply because on our bus journey from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City we met a guy sat behind us (Sam) who said to pop in and have a beer with him - so we did! What a great place and we bumped into Sam and his lovely girlfriend who gave us complimentary drinks. We had a fabulous meal which included a barbeque on our table, they take out one of the tiles on the table top and slot in a clay pot of coals and presto - barbeque! Being vegetarain this can be a pain when trying to find stuff to eat but not here - there was loads of stuff and all the sort of stuff we wanted after our nightmare journey that day - mozzerrella cheese sticks, bbq veggie platter, veggie pizza, veggie noodles - we had all of it as a big buffett and scoffed the lot down!!

We noticed here that they wanted dollars at shops etc and when we saw a boat trip for the following day for $6 each we thought why not - an all day thing - lets do it. We paid in vietnamese dong which meant it cost us 4 quid each for all day with lunch and transfers - BARGAIN!

We were collected at about 830 and Chloe said she was getting a headache so when I got on the bus I wondered what the big grin was on her face. It didn't take long to work out - there were god knows how many lads there - all very nice looking - from about 20 - 30 years and Chloe and Ellen were beeming!

These guys came from South Africa and what a brilliant bunch they were and such good senses of humour. We laughed all day, ate well and met loads of people, some from Australia and the South Africans. The entertainment was funny too, one of the guys dressed as a woman and sang - it just looked so odd. They had a band with drums made out of cooking pots! People got up onto the stage in the boat (it was a very smalll boat, they just turned the seats into a stage) and sang songs relative to their country. We swam in the sea and after the trip we all went out into the town. Everyone on the boat loved Maggie 'NANA" they shouted and they even tried to bargain with us for her to go travel with them in exchange for four of their guys! Ha ha - it was tempting. Our train was at midnight - yes we made it. It was a shame to leave as we really liked it here but it's a huge difference to the vietnam everywhere else.

The most unfortunate thing happened though is Ellen's camera went missing and we can only assume she was pickpocketed. We were told that you could be walking down the road and they can get your wallet out of your pocket - open it - take the money out - put it back in your pocket as quick as you thinking "did someone just take my wallett?" you check and it's there - minus the money but you think nothing has happened. These guys and girls are professional with it so it's the most likely scenario despite Ellen not knowing it happened. At least she is ok.

Posted by Vicky Bailey 04:37 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam journey mother_daughter blog world_trip nha_trang back_packing chloe_bailey flash_packing boat_trip_nha_trang Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang by train

Stay calm!

overcast 25 °C

So from memory on my last blog I told you we were going to Nha Trang on the 625am train and we had already booked the tickets with soft sleeper (which means we have a four bed compartment to ourselves for the journey that will arrive in Nha Trang at about 1330hrs. This method, in respect of the level of comfort is the best so I didn't mind so much having to get up at 5am for the journey as we had a bed each on the train to snooze and take in the views.

A regular saying with me is that you can't control what goes on around you and ....yet again.... no matter how well I have planned something - there is always the chance of it going wrong. I honestly think someone up there has a right old laugh with me because some of the things that happen - you wouldn't believe because it's nearly alll the time crazy stuff happens.

We went to bed at a reasonable time as we didn't really do very much in Ho Chi Minh aside from dodge traffic, get ripped off and eat. At about 2am we heard "clip, clop, clip, clop, clip, clop" on and on someone with high heeled shoes walking around above us then they came downstairs and that was the que for the major row to start. Im guessing it was husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend shouting at the top of their voices about god knows what it was just a muffled "rahh rahh rahh." The staff in the hotel did nothing and I later found the "one" member of staff who was sound asleep on the sofa in the lobby with the TV on.

This row was a row of all rows, even when the couple had finished the man took to phoning someone and was rowing with them about how HE hadn't had much sleep - crickey....it's because of him we didn't have much sleep!

I went downstairs at about 540am to check out and woke the member of staff up who spoke very little English. I wrote a list of the problems in the room.....toilet and sink leaks onto the bathroom floor, big hole in the bath, cobwebs on ceiling, kettle and cups but no where to plug kettle in, bed broken, shouting all night staff did nothing.....I gave him the list and realised he couldn't read it so asked him to pass it onto the manager.

NOW - I don't usually do that - write notes complaining but this place wasn't cheap in comparison to hotels in the city and it was a nightmare - no hotwater, noisy, breakfast was served but they only had 2 tables in the hotel so if wanted to eat you had to wait for someone else to finish. Whats that all about? Especially there are 30 rooms there - thats at most 60 people to feed between 7 and 9 - 2 hrs =120 minutes so my maths tell me that you have 2 minutes to sit down order, wait for the food, eat it and get the table cleared. What a joke! So I felt that they should realise this and wrote my note. Maybe it's a bit sad but I look at it as maybe helping them to improve.....famous last words!

The guy says to me "five nigh - you pay 100 dollar now" so we begin....we actually stayed two nights and from my book we owed about 50 and I told him this and he checked his books and I paid $50. By this time the taxi is outside and its nearly 6am and we are on track for the train. That was until we walked out the door and he came running after us "$50 more dollar!! $50 more dollar!" I asked him what for and he didn't understand me. I showed him by book and he couldn't read it. I went back into the hotel and he couldn't show me any papers but only repeat "pay more." By this time I was getting stressed if we miss the train - we've lost our money you see - you can't get on another one without a new ticket. He pointed me to go on the computer and I was guessing he wanted me to show him by booking confirmation. I tried but the computer was off and was taking ages to fire up. I told him "We are going to miss out train!!" "Yes" he said still looking half asleep. I though what the hell is going on here....I have paid....I don't owe any more...I don't need to stay here so I left and got in the cab on route to the station....we were too late - we missed the train because of the idiot at the hotel - 60 quid down. Next train in 4 hours taking an extra 2 hours to get there (10am to 1830) and worst to come HARD SEATS. Hard seats are like a slatted hard bench with a straight flat slatted back - really uncomfortable, not suitable for this journey. We sucked it in and pushed on waiting for the next train - yes we squabbled abit about why I tried to sort it out, why didn't I just get in the cab, why didn't the girls come down abit earlier etc ...bottom line is it happened.

We got on the train and it was FULL with no aircon only a few fans, we found out seat and I was sat next to Maggie with two local people opposite. One lady was crying as she waved her family off - lets call her Ann for this bit. Ann was sat with a huge mouth mask on. So many women wear them here covering their noses and mouths to combat inhaling pollution but they don't take them off. Ann is sat infront of me speaking to me in Vietnamese slowly like I would understand it slower - but all I see is the tears in her eyes and her family outside crying. I felt sorry for her and being tired didn't know how much crying I could watch without starting me off especially after that mornings escapades!

I thought the journey would be ok until Ann took a big sheet of plastic - smacked my ankles away to put the sheet under my feet. Like when you feed a baby - you put a mat down - this is the same thing. I wondered if it was so our feet stayed clean - how ignorant of me - it was so Ann could lay on the floor under my seat across to the other seat - she smacked my ankles again and i had to sit with my legs either over to one side of wide apart so she could have the room under my feet. Bloody typical! The longest journey and I can't even put my feet on the floor. Ann stayed like this the entire time even chatting on her phone - it was so odd but looking around the train - they were all doing it. It's a case of the floor is the best seat and sod you if you didn't get on it first.

When we arrived in Nha Trang it was already dark and we were bombarded by taxi drivers as we left the station. We arrived at our hotel and it was brilliant! Green Peace Hotel - really nice place a complete contrast to Sunny Hotel Ho Chi Ming City.

Posted by Vicky Bailey 04:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged journey mother_daughter blog ho_chi_minh_city world_trip back_packing chloe_bailey flash_packing nha_trang_train Comments (0)

Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Ming aka Saigon via overnight bus

Also getting Visa for Vietname from Phnom Penh

overcast 25 °C

You know what no matter how many times I can plan something that can make that 'thing' to be such a simple task something usually happens to put a spanner in the works. We found out we could get a night bus to Ho Chi Minh leaving at 1230am arriving at 6am so all we had to do now was get out Visa. I checked out the prices online and within the local hotels that arrange it so we had enought money. We got up early to do the visa one, now the Vietname Visa is an easy one to get and should be in and out with half an hour. We arrived at 845am dropped off by the tuk tuk about four minutes away the other end of the street. Got into the building and there was hardly anyone there - brilliant - shouldn't take too long I thought. I spoke to the official behind the desk who asked me when I wanted the visa and when I said today he grinned and said $15 dollar extra. Now my research was 45$ for express.....he pointed out a sign on the wall.....60$ he wanted and you do not argue with any government official so 120$ for me and Chloe which meant I was 10$ short. Thats ok, I thought - ATM should b here so off on my ATM mission.

After walking about a mile we had already tried two which did not have a connection - all told it took an hour and another tuk tuk ride to find an ATM. There are so many ATMs in Phnom Penh but none by the Embassy - typical.

The good news was that we got our visas and back in time for breakfast. We then spent the day wandering around the markets until 1230 am when it was time for the bus. By this time we were very tired indeed so we sat patiently on the squished bus where there is more leg room on a Ryanair flight. All our seats were taken by strangers so they weren't impressed when they were asked to move.

By 1am two drunken loud Lithuanian lads got on, we still hadnt left, and sat infront of me. Sometimes I feel like I have a radar on me when using any public transport. On flights - all screaming children sit infront of me and all the loud seat grabbers sit behind me. The guy infront then leant his chair right back banging my knees. Great! I thought - we hadn't even left and I was guessing that I wouldn't be getting any sleep. We actually left at 2am (1.5hr late) and they turned out the lights and the lads infront piped down.

The next thing that happened was the bus drivers associate turned on his walkman phone which not only played obscure music but also every ring tone and message notification tone. I couldn't take it any more and went down to speak with him. "Please can you turn your music off - people are trying to sleep" "No - music help people sleep". Bloody idiot - well he did turn it off - for five minutes then it was back on again with avengence.

The bus had a cracked front windscreen and side windows. Not the best of journeys especially when we arrived at 10am and our hotel wouldn't let us check in.

Today we took a cyclo which is a bike with a buggy on the front. We negotiated a price of 100 for 1 hour then half way round my driver slapped me across my shoulders and shouted "200 1 hour" we had another discussion about the first negotiation. After half hour we got off and gave him 100 which he put in his pocket and pulled out 10 and accussed us of not giving him enough. Getting a bit fed up of all the bartering and the scams people try to pull off here. You really have to be on your toes and be switched on all the time.

A positive note is the food is amazing, there are places to eat everywhere and it is cheap - really cheap and good. The people work really hard trying to get customers and they run across the street to get you to eat in their restaurat. When youre sat down you get approached from book sellers to jewellery sellers trying to earn a living.

One thing I have found most puzzling across Cambodia and Vietname is the amount of women that walk around in the day in their Pyjamas - they do- and it makes me chuckle.

Tomorrow we take the train to Nha Trang so an early morning 6am.

Posted by Vicky Bailey 03:03 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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