Tuesday, February 22, 2005
What we've been up to so far...
We flew from Hanoi to Phuket on the 19th, got conned by the airport guy (really, we were foolish enough to believe that he could find us a cheap and nice place to stay - it wasn't so bad, but the money we paid, I was looking for a little more luxury than cockroach spotting in the pool), had a really hot noodle soup (the lady let us try the first two soups but didn't bother with the third - said it would be too hot for us. Was a little disappointed...but only until my lips, and stomach were burning from the second stuff she let us try). We also had our first taste of the thai local beer - Chang (we still have to try Singha).
A very exciting second day in Thailand as we were picking up my lovely friend, Eleanor, from the airport for two weeks on the beaches ;o)
Her first day? Pretty much spent travelling - a bus ride from Phuket to Surat Thani and then the night boat to Kho Phangan. We've been on night boats before...a nice big ferry in the Philippines where we had our own little private bed, there was a restaurant, bar and even a live band. The night boat to Kho Phangan?? There were thin mattresses put side by side (a kind of rolling bed, I guess) where numbers didn't correspond too well with pillows and people were given the same number. It was hot, sweaty and you had to be careful who might roll into your bit of the bed...luckily it was either Carly or a nice swedish guy who'd been showing us his pics earlier. On arrival, we took a taxi to a beach recommended to us which ended up being full (and also, to our dismay, at 7am, you could still hear the beat - if you can call it that - of techno music and, on the beach, our eyes were greeted to a naked man walking into the sea - which wouldn't have been so bad but he wasn't exactly Brad Pitt. So we shared a taxi with a drunk german and then ended up getting another boat to another part of the island to Hadd Tien and a place called the Sanctuary.
But before we got there...the shit scariest boat ride ever!! Waves so big, our boat would go over them pointing to the sky so that was all you could see was sky and, on the way down, getting soaked and holding on for our lives wondering where the life jackets might be. I did want to take pictures but figured it wasn't such a good idea to let go of the bench I was holding tightly too. Seriously, it was a rough sea. Poor Eleanor, she hadn't slept for nearly 72 hrs and now this. Strangely though, I felt more excited than scared but I did keep a look out for the shoreline so I knew roughly how far I'd need to swim. It helped a lot to look at the boat driver (looking kinda like a thai Jimmy Hendrix but with straight long hair, holding on to a bar attached to the boat's motor instead of an electric guitar) who was always grinning...though not so good to look at him when he was busy answering his mobile! Anyway, we made it - unbelievable but we did.
Safe and sound at the Sanctuary, we've spent most of our time on the beach...Eleanor's busy playing catch up tan wise and Carly's busy getting herself cleansed...on a 3 and a half day detox and regular colonic irrigations. I have absolutely no intention of joining her. First time in Thailand and I'm here to enjoy the food - also, quite frankly, I just don't fancy sitting in a room with a tiny tube up my bum so that the coffee and apple vinegar can help bring all that nasty stuff out. I'll just eat some brown rice... but not too often - I'm on holiday, remember!
After the cold temperatures of Sapa and Hanoi, am loving being in the sunshine again ;o) And it really is the lovliest thing to have a friend from home here with us. Thanks Eleanor. Really, I can't tell you how much it means to have you here!!
It's also meant we've been brought up on all the important goings on back home...
Charles and Camilla's wedding (Queen not too happy), Zoe pregnant with Dirty Den's kid in Eastenders, David Blunkett's resignation, Tony Blair not so popular - so what's new? Sienna Miller and Jude Law getting married and, to mine and Carly's amazement, Brad and Jen splitting up!! And - snow in London! Have heard from Joyous' email and reading Pirate Posey's journal that there's been lots of snow in London. I'm not at all jealous even if I do love snow. That's why I've highlighted the sun in the title of this blog.
Build a snowman for me ;o)
Saturday, February 19, 2005
After cruising along the Mekong river from Phnom Penh, this is how we spent it...
Ho Chi Minh City
But still referred to as Saigon by most of the locals, we enjoyed my bday celebrations, shopped, drank the local beer, ate our first pho bo - our lesson in adding lots of chilli had begun, met some new friends, got a bit claustrophobic in the cu chi tunnels and played ping pong.
Mui NeA sleepy little beach town where we relaxed on the beach, watched fishermen in their coracals, watched fisherman out of their corocals (lots of fisherman watching)...and sea watching (it's the nicest thing to spend an evening watching the sunset on your balcony as waves crash beneath you) - and, unfortunately, lots of dead animal spotting on the beach incluing the odd dead rat (big fat hairy ones too) and a giant jellyfish.
We ate great food, made some lovely friends, drank rice wine, got a painful massage, rode bicyles and visted some great sights including the white and red sand dunes, the fairy stream and the red canyon.
A moutain town, very pretty, lots of flowers and strawberries too! Very kitschy but with a great night market serving all sorts of shell fish, rice crackers smothered in chilli, hot soups, dried fruit and delicious strawberry and mulberry wine. Spent a day touring the vegetable terraces, wandering around the dragon pagoda, not slipping at the waterfall and steering clear of the vietnamese cowboys (they just looked a little mean)
Another beach town with added party madness. I stayed 3 days and after spending the first two not doing very well at finding the party (invite must have got lost in the post), we found it big time on the 3rd. Just unfortunate really that it was the night before I was due to catch a 5am train. There was vodka, dancing, more vodka, body shots, guys we met called Mick, Michael and Marco and Steve and Carly getting lost...apparently busy hugging trees and then having to be rescued by a random South African.
Probably one of the most beautiful towns in the whole of Viet Nam! Full of french colonial architecture and chinese assembly halls, I felt like I was in a chinese Havana, full of tailors who'll make anything you want - just give them a picture, shops selling beautiful art, beautiful lanterns and lots of beautiful other things (just had to keep thinking about having to put the beautiful stuff in my back pack and then put my back pack on my back). We got clothes made, enjoyed Hoi An specialties, went on a boat ride and watched the sun set over the river. And when the tailors would become a little overwhelming, an escape was only a bike ride away, past beautiful riverside scenery on the way to to the beach. Really though, I never tired of walking through those old streets just admiring the beauty of it all.
The former capital city. Did a a bike tour of Thu Duc's tomb, searched for the forbidden purple city (it was hard work - it's now just a big patch of grass), a pagoda, looked on as monks prayed, sang and played the drums, got my driver replaced by an aussie called Rory who only learnt to ride 3 days before (I thought our guide, Minh, was kidding when he first told me) - it wasn't so bad, a little jerky and a little more scary riding through the market, but Rory got us through! We saw beautiful countryside and enjoyed a beer at Thu's place while she set Howard's head on fire.
The former french capital of Viet Nam, we stayed in the old quarter where architecture was like that of Hoi An but grittier and more lived in. We spent our first few days watching the mad rush to prepare for Tet and then loved taking part in the celebrations and watching so many people having fun, keeping up with old traditions, the strange mix of fashion you'd find on the streets - berets, pvc ra-ra skirts, ao dais, england jackets and cowboy boots, hunting for pain au chocolat and early morning walks around the lake surrounded by vietnamese doing their exercises. My second stay in Hanoi (after Halong Bay), I visited Uncle Ho - it's pretty depressing, this massive structure he now lives him with tours of tourists come to visit him and he apparently wished to be cremated. He just looked old and fragile - and certainly not enjoying being gawped at by all these strangers.
As I found in Saigon while taking a break in the park, I'd find lots of vietnamese out doing their daily exercises - whole families in their PJs, playing badminton or kicking around a toy type thing, running, walking really fast, doing push ups, and little old ladies in woolley hats and quilted jackets doing tai chi (or something like it) with swords. Mostly though, I've discovered that the vietnamese are very good gyrators!! They'll gyrate their hips, their arms, their legs and even their knees! As for me, I walked around the lake a couple of times...occasionally taking a break to read or write what gyrating I'm seeing (it's ok, it's all U-rated). It would take me a whole 5 minutes to walk around that lake...and after I'd have a coffee with a croissant. I live a balanced lifestyle out here.
After a face off at the train station with about 8 of the staff over my lost train ticket (I slept on a hard sleeper, they wanted me to pay 3 times my ticket for a soft sleeper, they wouldn't budge, wouldn't even look at me, I asked for the regulations (erm, there was none) and in the end I put the amount I originally paid on the table. One of the staff (the most sympathetic) nodded towards the exit to let me go. I was free. Later, at the hotel, I found my stupid ass ticket.
And as for Sapa - it's a beautiful mountain town, famous for being up in the clouds. We spent our first two days freezing our tits off, surrounded by mist, walking around the market looking for woolley hats and scarves and walking around the food market looking for the best deal on sweet dumplings, barbequed yams, chestnuts, beef, sticky rice and even eggs! What made it really spectacular amidst the mist was meeting some of the friendliest people I've met in Viet Nam (and there have been lots). Various hill tribes are based around the mountains. They have a different lifestyle to the majority of vietnam, wear amazing outfits with the most amazing indigo blues, reds, greens and pinks, dressed up with big earings and bigger chains. Two H'mong girls we met - Ku and Zi, along with a few of their friends including Gi, looked after us, took us for a walk around the lake, made us crowns out of flowers and danced with us at the Bamboo bar (to my dismay, we danced to techno). We watched their traditional song and dance show and learnt lots about their tribe. On the third day, me and Julia went to Bac Ha, wandered around admiring the landscape feeling like we could be in Mongolia and drank some ridiculously strong corn whiskey with a few of the guys at the hotel. On the fourth day, I went back to Sapa - this time getting a motorbike all the way up the mountain through thick fog. I was worried from the beginning - the driver had given me a helmet! I must have been out of my fucking mind, I know I like excitement in my life, but I think I need to tone it down a little. Alive and safe up at Sapa, I spent most of the day cloud watching by the radio tower before my night train to Hanoi.
Halong Bay is beautiful, we sailed and stayed the night on a lovely boat which made me think of Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Carribean), admired the emerald green waters and many limestone kast formations, visited the surprising cave, played cards, kayaked in the mist, drank french wine and ate a hell of a lot of good food.
Best of all...we met some really fabulous people, travellers as well as the locals. Vietnam has amazing scenery and a fascinating people
Friday, February 18, 2005
Thursday, February 10, 2005
How we celebrated...
Arrived in Hanoi on NYE (8th Feb) to be greeted with the mad rush of vietnamese people buying their kumquat trees - mostly seeing these christmas tree size trees on backs of motorbikes, pink flower branches (yellow in the south) and food, sweets and toys to give away. It was exciting...everyone preparing for Tet, the biggest (and for lots of people here the only) holiday of the year. Walking around Hoan Kiem lake admiring the lights in the trees and people setting up giant roosters (along with santa claus and a couple of reindeer and orange trees decorated with fairy lights and tinsel) so people could have their pictures taken with them. Also noticed lots of old vietnamese guys in berets sat by the lake, reflecting on the year gone by, perhaps. And on either side of the lake - military police occupied a section surrounded by some fierce looking barbed wire to protect the canons for the fireworks (or protect the people from silly people trying to get to the canons for the fireworks) - I've never seen such well protected fireworks!
Celebrations really began around the lake in the old quarter where two big stages where set up and huge crowds of vietnamese (and the odd tourist) gathered around to watch acrobatics, comedy martial arts and very cheesy pop stars strut their stuff. We met a lovely vietnamese guy named Pearl who explained to us what was happening and drank beer (fast - someone told us we weren't actually allowed to drink it on the streets) to while shouting 'chuc mung nam moi' to people around us. And loads of teenagers on holiday from school on morotbikes with bleached spikey hair and England sports jackets on! It was so funny to watch, this new generation of vietnamese aren't interested in the beret, it's like some mad retro world, kinda mod amd kinda rebel without a cause.
By the end of the show, thousands of people must have been on the streets and around the lake. All trying to find the best position to see the most sky, eating pop corn, dried squid and watermelon amongst other things. And at midnight...the most spectacular fireworks lit up the sky! Everyone oohing and aahing at every bang. God, my neck ached...but it was worth it. They were beautiful!
On the walk back it was so sweet to see lots of people holding flowers and plants, lots holding hands and everyone happy. Kids still revving their motorbikes - they couldn't get very far, there were so many on the street! Also lots of people outside their homes burning offerings forthe new year...mostly coloured paper and money (photocopied dong and dollars)
Tet lasts for three days and the funniest (and lovliest) thing to see are all these vietnamese on their motorbikes and scooters - dressed in their best clothes, men in suits and berets and hats, women in ao dais, little boys in corduroy, denim or tweed suits and little girls either in an ao dai or - and we've seen lots of them in these - pvc ra-ra skirts and cowboy boots. How much do they rock?!! All of them out and about celebrating the holiday by seeing friends and family, eating ice cream and justhaving a good time!
Cam on!! Has been fab to share this new (lunar - I love it!) year with you ;o)