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Love, Sweat and Tears in Hoi An

By on Sep 3, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. “Peter! Listen to me, I need a taxi!” my beloved wife said sternly to me. My Response: “I can’t find a taxi! It’s not my fault there are none around, don’t get narky with me”. Her Response: “I’m not getting narky; you’re bloody lost and can’t admit it”. My Response: “I’m not lost, I know where we are, and the map doesn’t lie” (Apparently it does). Her Response: “The man back there said we were lost and you told him he was wrong”. My Response: “What do you want me to do then?” Her Response: “Well, I’m going to ask the person over there to call a taxi!” My Response: “Nic, she doesn’t speak English and we don’t speak Vietnamese”. Her Response: “arhhhh you’re so frustrating” My Response: “you’re so frustrating”. My Response: “Nic don’t cry, it won’t help us” Yes my dear readers, Niki and I were having an expedition into our first marital argument whilst lost in the quiet suburbs of Hoi An. Today, Vietnam decided to throw everything as us and we fell to our knees. Rule No. 6 of being married – Don’t tell your wife not to cry, because it probably your fault that she is in the first place. Niki and I were feeling a little stressed this morning and for good reason, we had just spent 12 hours on an overnight train from Sapa arriving into Hanoi at 4am, before jumping onto a plane bound for Danang, then catching a taxi to the local bus station to jump on the most horned obsessed crazy local bus we have ever travelled on. After stopping and starting for over an hour, we then walked 3 kms into the remote suburbs, the complete opposite direction to our hotel all whilst swimming in 38 degree heat with our huge packs on. Needless to say, things were getting a little heated between us. Now being a man, I take full responsibility… and blame it on my guide book for not telling me there was a second bus stop, which incidentally is where we were dropped off. And due to this reason it was no way my fault for Niki and I being lost. Yes, I told the local man who was trying to help me he was wrong, but that’s the benefit of hindsight. So when I finally found our way, with Niki close to tears, sweat pouring off her from the ridiculously hot walk, me steaming that I was lost, Niki did the only normal thing to do upon entry to a hotel – she fainted! It was no little “Peter I don’t feel so good”, drop to the floor type of faint, it was a climbing up the steps to inspect our room type of faint. One of those moments when I get the chance to act out my Doctor fantasy’s and yell out “we need water here stat! And Nurse mop my brow”.  I’ve never seen so many hotel staff run around before and as she gained consciousness again, I quickly stuck my head in the room, said it looks great and hurried Niki onto the bed. For the next 4 days, everyone would  make sure Niki was treated like a Queen. The Phuoc An Hotel was one of the best budget hotel’s I stayed in in Vietnam, if not the best. The staff were genuinely friendly and all gave excellent service, the rooms were immaculate, the breakfast great and of course free bikes into the town was an added bonus. I would highly recommend you staying here. This was also about the time in our trip that my battle with Giardia finally stopped me in my tracks, I couldn’t move anymore without feeling sick, keeling over due to severe cramps and running to the toilet. It was to the point that I needed to get medication, admit myself to Hospital or take out my pocket knife and slice out my bowel – I preferred the medication option. So after Niki was feeling a bit better we hurried down to the local chemist to get some antibiotics to nuke my bowels. We needed Tinidazole and we knew we could get it over the counter, but not before a game of charades to explain my symptoms. With six people involved and a lot of hand gestures we finally got our message across with the help of a friendly lady who walked in off the street. Who then, with me obviously just explaining my severe problems and sense of urgency as I was holding on for dear life, said “do you want to come down to my Sister’s tailor shop”. Which I politely smiled and said “Umm not right now, I need to go back to bed”. Obviously not letting go that easy and here I thought I might get leniency as I was dying, she said “It won’t take long”.  Which I apologetically responded “Sorry, but it won’t take me long till I burst” and with that I run back to the hotel to sleep for the next 24 hours. The adventures into Hoi An would have to wait for another day and needless to say, things were just warming...

Trekking Sapa, Northern Vietnam

By on Aug 11, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. I was beaten, destroyed to the core and past the point of no return. I was exhausted, shattered, cracked, smashed, distort, deranged, confused, broken, in pain and ruined – and that’s just the travellers diarrhea! I haven’t even started to tell you about the way I felt after an obscenely long hike through Sapa’s remote wilderness. The day before, Nic and I had talked with the hostel manager and booked a day hike through remote villages and wilderness. Before his recommendation on which tour we should do, he simply asked “are you fit?” I strongly responded in my gladiator stance “I’m fit enough to carry a small ox”, he must of been in awe at my sheer adventure man attitude that he didn’t hear Niki say “no, not really, I just want a easy walk through some local villages and rice paddies”. 15kms into our intense 28km trek the next day, Niki flopped onto a rock, her eyes confirming that our marriage was being tested for the first time. I didn’t dare tell her that I just confirmed with our guide that with the exception of climbing Mt Fansipan, this is the hardest trek in the region. I was going to kill the hostel owner if I ever saw him again! Trekking, we started the morning meeting our Hmong guide, a young lady by the name of Xo.  After the introductions our motorbikes arrived and we jumped on and started our day’s tour. We weaved high up into the mountains on this chilly wet morning, the wind in our hair, cascading waterfalls in the distance and a happy wife, I felt  raw adventure pumping through my veins. This was what I wanted, no mass tours or well trodden paths, a real off the beaten experience. After 20mins we arrived into the mighty Tram Ton Pass, also known as Heavens Gate. Unfortunately though, heaven had blanketed the whole area with fog to keep the secret from us. So after a disappointing start we headed back down the pass to the Silver Waterfalls. With recent rains the waterfalls were flowing at full strength whilst falling from an incredible height. Getting a few romantic photographs in our wet weather gear, Nic then wandered off to find a bathroom – she would come back a changed women, never able to bring the strength to talk about her experience with the toilet, she has since developed a nervous twitch in her left eye when approaching an Asian bathroom. After the Silver Waterfalls we headed to the starting point of our hike – the local rubbish tip! Arriving here I was a little shocked, this wasn’t exactly the perfect picturesque start I thought of, the second thought was we were about to be murdered and our dead bodies dumped here. We jumped off our bikes and watched our riders ride off in the distance. We then watched our guide simply walk to the edge of the ridge we were on and simply disappear down a  very steep track leading down a rivine – game on! The first part of our trek was 2 hours straight down the side of the ridge. The track was slippery, muddy, incredibly steep and full of leaches. Climbing through prickly plants, over logs and fending of giant lost in time mosquitoes. As we hiked Xo explained the various plant varieties and what the Hmong traditionally used them for; from medicinal reasons to cooking. It was an amazing ecotourism experience. When the first leach of the day took hold of Xo’s ankle she gave a mighty squeal, even the strongest people have their weakness. This wouldn’t be last of the little blood suckers. We passed slowly down the mountainside, passing buffalo, livestock and local village children playing or working. At one point we came across six kids just sitting on buffalo and herding cows. At which point I turned to Xo and asked one of the dumbest questions I have ever asked anyone in my life – “What’s the difference between a cow and a buffalo?”  She gave me a look of are you kidding me and Niki adding to it “Peter, are you serious? Can’t you tell?” Xo simply said whilst laughing, “Horns”. Hmmm that wasn’t the best impression I could give her of Australians.   We stopped at a small waterfall for lunch at the bottom of the mountain. Niki was showing tiredness from the hard walk, however was still full of optimism. After we finished, Xo pointed to a long winding road up the side of a tall mountain in the distance, this was where we were heading. Niki gulped and then made the most fatal mistake of any trekker, she asked how much longer? When Xo responded “about 4 hours, with 3 hours going continually up “, I saw her optimism fall, it wasn’t til about 3 minutes later when she realised that she couldn’t turn back that I saw the last bit of hope leave her body. She was in it for the long haul and there was no going back, no matter how hard she tried to escape from the inevidable climb ahead. I could see in her eyes, this wasn’t want she expected when she said “I want an easy walk”. I could see in eyes that she was going to find away to...

Welcome to Sapa

By on Aug 8, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. Do you ever have those moments when you’re travelling when you just stop and think “why the hell am I putting myself through this? Why am I squashed in a mini bus like a sardine?  Why am I seeing my life flash before my eyes? Why did I catch a train for 12 hours and slept in a bed no bigger than a cot? Why did I not book a package holiday to Bali?”  Well these were the particular thoughts that entered my mind as I was in a minivan overtaking on a blind corner, with a scary looking ravine on my left, a slow bus on my right, a big bloody truck coming towards me and a Michael Schumacher want-a-be driver upfront chatting on his phone, whilst doing something similar to what I might call driving. Niki and I were on our way from Lao Cai to the mountain retreat of Sapa in Northern Vietnam. This particular incident was a the first of many and after about the tenth time, I was about ready to ask Shoooie to pull over so I could change my pants, luckily for all concerned we had just arrived into the perfectly back dropped Sapa. Nic and I had travelled all the way from Halong Bay the afternoon before, after a beautiful over night stay on a Junk we caught an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai. We had travelled in the Fransipan express cabin and it was great. Complimentary fruit, nuts and water, a comfortable cabin and pleasant staff. The only downside was my top level bunk bed. I have travelled on many trains through out my adventures over the years, however the only way I could explain the level of rocking  this bunk bed was experiencing is something similar to being strapped to a space shuttle on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Similar to the thoughts astronauts might have about whether or not they were going to make it alive into earth, I was thinking whether or not I was going to break loose of the small chains holding my bed to the ceiling and launch myself through the carriage at the speed of light. Arriving into Sapa is breathtaking and I’m not just talking about the high altitude. Set high up in the mountains, Sapa is perfectly nestled in-between a mountain range and everywhere you look there is a perfect photo moment. The architecture is distinctly, yet slightly out of place, French, with similarities to ski resorts in Europe. Sapa is also home to many ethnic groups including the Black Hmong, Red Dzao, Thai’s and the Flower Hmong. Dressed in their colourful hand woven clothing, draped with their local wares to sell, they pleasantly greet you and strike up a conservation whilst you walk to you hotel. The women were of all ages, with some carrying sleeping babies on their backs in slings, with others carrying large baskets of food and spices. The older ladies had the most amazing faces with hard lines etched into their skin to tell the story of the harshness of hard work and harsh environments. we arrived, these friendly Hmong women took an instant liking to Niki, with five of these lovely ladies deciding to latch on to her and ask her the routine questions “Hello, What’s your name? Where are you from? Melbourne or Sydney? Are you married?  How old are you? Do you have babies?” All this within two minutes of meeting us, they were just so charming that it was hard not to engage in conversation. At one point I lost Niki as these women surrounded her and talked her ear off. She was loosing the battle; Niki was surrounded and stuck in the middle, unable to push past as the Hmong were just too damn nice that Niki could show no rudeness. From where I stood, it looked similar to a lamb stuck in the middle of a pack of wolfs about to be overcome. When Niki dropped to her knees, I knew it was time to stop laughing and go to the rescue of her. That’s what  husbands do right?  Grabbing her hand whilst she was circled, it felt like a cliff-hanger moment. You know that part in the movie where Stallone holds his wife’s hand, looks her in the eyes and then drops her into the ravine? Well I could see the same “please don’t let me go” and “stop laughing you bastard” look in my new wife’s eyes. Rule No. 4 of being married – Dont laugh at your wife unless she’s  laughing. With these women following us all the way down the street, then back up the street after we realised we had missed the hotel, we were sure they were going to a find a way for us to part with our money, but they didn’t…or at least not then. They were just generally interested in practicing their English and having a chat. We were staying at the Pinocchio Hotel which has great staff and amazing views. The rooms were basic, clean and secure. The only slight downside was that if you’re a light sleeper, the traffic in the morning (namely the horns) can be a bit of problem due to the closeness of the road. Sapa had already captured my imagination and I’d only been here for two...

Opportunistic Hanoi

By on Jul 30, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam “Don’t run across the road Nic, it shows them fear and your more likely to get mowed down” I yelled from the other side of the road in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, where I had accidentally left my loving wife of 3 days behind. This would be become a bad habit of mine throughout Vietnam and particularly Hanoi, as I wrongly assumed she was always by my side. When in fact she was looking at the millions of bags and shoes that line the shop fronts. When this happened I would both cross back over the road and then lovingly bring her over in my hand or I would coax her to cross the road by herself. The problem with the second option is enviably she would get half way across, the traffic would increase in all directions and she would then stop dead in the middle of the road like a deer stuck in the headlights of an on coming vehicle – surely to meet a gruesome end. Eventually some Vietnamese driver would take pity and slowdown just enough for her scamper across the road. Then as my beloved wife had just crossed the road, her deep scorching glare would instantly burn into me reminding me never to do that again or my testicals would be cut off and would be used as fish balls at a local food stall. See, today didn’t start to well and her patience had worn thin; little did she know the rest of the day that followed would only push it past breaking point. I woke up to my alarm at about 7ish and I was eager to explore this legendary city and to get some yummy Vietnamese food in my tummy. The room was bright from the sun outside and the noise of the rooster waking the world was sounding. In hindsight this should have been a warning. I lay in for about 20mins then decided enough is enough and woke Niki up, “come on sleepy head lets get started early to beat the heat”. In the 24 hours we had been there, I d never been so hot in Asia before and the humidity was enough to shower in. So my logic was sound. It was about 7.30ish; my wife got up and dressed all ready for the day.  However just as I got dressed my delightful parasitic friend reminded me that I might escape him when I’m sleeping but when I was awake, my butt belonged to him. I curled over with cramps and unfortunately told Niki I had to go back to sleep, I don’t feel too good. She accepted that well, I only wanted an hour and hopefully we would then go out. Just as I was drifting back asleep, I heard Niki turn on her phone to check the time and her messages. It was quiet, too quiet. Something wasn’t right? The next thing I heard from a rather annoyed wife was- “OH MY GOD PETER, YOU IDIOT! Its only 5.30am, you’ve put your clock forward the wrong way, and I’m going to kill you!” My response, “ohhhhh that’s why the rooster was crowing, it seemed a little late in the day for it”. With that she got back into bed, tugged at the blanket forcefully and went back to sleep. Oh did I mention it was my birthday as well! Rule No. 2 of being married – Let your wife sleep in on her honeymoon We decided to spend the day walking around Hanoi and booking a few tours for the next few days. Our first stop was at the ornate Ngoc Son Temple, located on a small island on Hoan Kiem Lake. Costing 5000 dong, the small temple offered an insight into the spiritual heart of Hanoi. The embalmed remains of a gigantic tortoise, which apparently still live in the lake today, resides here and is well worth checking out. The tortoises represents a legendary story of how the Vietnamese fort of invading China from its land and how the mighty emperor’s sword who defeated the Chinese, was returned to the gods by a giant tortoise who lived within the lake. Fading due to the heat and lack of food, we made our way to Tamarind Cafe. Tamarind offers a great vegetarian menu with reasonable prices. The vibe of the place is chilled, the service not too bad by Hanoi standards, however I found some of the clientele were a little snotty – please and thank you’s go a long way! Niki had a beautiful clay pot whilst I had a delightful dish of handmade  nachos, you’ll have to go there to try it for yourself. Niki and I were hoping to head to Halong Bay the next day and we wanted to book a tour. We had seen Ocean Tours and ET-pumpkin online and they both looked great. We ended booking with ET pumpkin as they offered a boat that appealed to our budget more, however we could of easily have gone with either company and would recommend checking out both companies to see which one meets your needs. By mid afternoon we retreated to our hotel for a small siesta and along the way bought tickets to the 8pm water puppet show at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre, the 6pm was sold out....

Steady on Hanoi

By on Jul 27, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam   I’m sure when I said to Niki 7 months ago “lets go to Vietnam for our honeymoon”, she had no idea was she was signing up for. I think I’m hugely to blame for that. For instance before we arrived into Hanoi she would talk about lazily sleeping on the beach, sipping cocktails, eating fantastic gourmet Vietnamese food and perhaps even sipping delicious French influenced coffee. You could see in her eyes the blue waters lapping against the perfect white sands of the South China Sea, she had dreamt and imagined Vietnam into perfection – I never thought once to maybe suggest it wouldn’t be so relaxing. However the only thing I saw in her eyes as we stood at an intersection in central Hanoi on our second day was fear, absolute bone shaking fear, shadowed by trembling tears in the background and a deadly look  burning into me saying  “Peter where the hell is my relaxing honeymoon you bastard?!” Rule No. 1 of being married – Don’t take your new wife to Hanoi for her honeymoon. Niki and I arrived into Hanoi the capital of Vietnam after our two week long stay in Bali for our wedding in Ubud. We did the usual budget flights with Air Asia and arrived to a small airport surrounded by farmland. You know you’re in the sticks when you see a couple of cows grazing at the end of airstrip.  Our first introduction to Viet Nam and to the dodgy operators that we had read about would be a slow and steady local bus we took to the city centre. The main benefit of the bus was easily being that the cost was a mere $3 instead of the $30 the taxis were after. As we travelled towards Hanoi we gained a small glimpse into local life, with bikes carrying cages of pigs, cows grazing on the side of the road, big concrete flyovers merging into dirt tracks and slow boats working along the mighty Song Hong (Red River). I was watching our route on the map, a bit of annoying habit of mine, and I knew that we were getting close to our drop off point. However it was hard to keep track of which road was what with road names changing every hundred metres, so when we stopped earlier than I expected and a bunch of touts got on the bus to tell us the bus stopped here, it was game time. Niki was quick to get up and begin getting her stuff, however something wasn’t right. None of the locals were moving and I’m sure I read somewhere months ago that it stopped in town. The touts were yelling at us that we had to get off and they would take us on their bikes into town, they even tried to pick up Niki’s bag. When we said “we weren’t moving and that no one else was moving” they got even more demanding. The two other tourists on the bus were also being hounded. Eventually they got the point and jumped off – just for us to go 2 blocks over and be nicely dropped of outside the Opera House to more opportunistic touts! At least I knew where we were now and a 15 minute walk later we came upon the hotel we wanted to stay at, unfortunately though they must not have known we were coming as they had shut up shop months before (The Spring Hotel). Opting for plan B instead, we wandered over to the Especen Hotel located down a small alley near St Joseph Cathedral. This great little hotel had clean and spacious rooms starting at about $20us a night. So after two flights, a night in KL, a long slow bus trip, some heavy handed touts and one closed hotel, we were stretching out on a big double bed smiling that we finally made it to Vietnam. This is about the time the parasite known as Giardia kicked in and boy did it make its presence known.  I keeled over with cramps, my stomach made evacuation preparations and my brain started sending out emails to other parts of the body to bring them up to pace on a desperate situation. This happy little bug would haunt me for the next 2 weeks and would randomly make me run back to the hotel in need of a bathroom that I could camp out in. With this I make a heartfelt apology to any tourists or Vietnamese that I rudely barged passed on my great escape to the bathroom. With Giardia on the mind, we rarely ventured far from the hotel on this day, instead opting to wander the authentic alleyways full of local characters doing everything from cutting hair to stirring large pots of Pho, a local flavoursome broth of goodness. We ate at a local cafe for lunch and dinner know as La Place – yes an LP recommendation. The food was divine, with a selection of gourmet Vietnamese meals such as Chicken and Mango rice, pho, crepes and great fruit juices. The walls were covered in propaganda and 1940’s coffee posters. This is defiantly were the “cool” kids of Hanoi hung out, with writers typing away whilst slurping hot cups of Vietnamese coffee. Unfortunatelywhen we came back for dinner Niki found...

Top 10 Tips for Crossing the Road in Vietnam

By on Jan 20, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

After 3 weeks of traveling through Vietnam and with far too many near misses on the roads,  I have gathered the following list of tips to help you get across Vietnam’s notorious roads: Never look a driver in the eyes as your cross the road, it initiates an act of sudden death chicken – in this situation the pedestrian generally looses out. Don’t run across the road, it shows fear and you’re more likely to get mowed down. Feel free to use fellow tourists as human shields as they cross the road, all’s fair in love and Vietnam road war! Under no circumstances, never, never ever,  even if your life depends on it… turn back! It’s a sign of weakness. Always have a facial expression similar to Stallone’s – “If you mow me down bastard, I will peel myself of the ground an use your eyeballs to make my Pho tonight!” When crossing, sing to yourself “it’s a small world after all”, hey it might not prevent an accident but the driver may take pity on the obviously crazed person crossing the street. Never put your hand up at cars to tell them to slow or stop, it only acts like a red flag enticing a raging bull. Smile, because if your going to get run over, at least make the driver feel like your enjoying the situation. Standing in the middle of the road and trying to take a photo is never a good idea. Finally, if worse comes to worse and you’re stuck in the middle of the road, calmly sit down, put your head between your legs and kiss your arse goodbye. Have fun crossing the roads in...