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Hanoi (part 2), the overnight bus and onto Hoi An

Oh, and, unexpectedly, Hue. Stupid bus company.

semi-overcast 22 °C

The next day, after our return from Halong bay, we had a slice of leftover pizza for brekkie, before heading downstairs, where it transpired that we had breakfast included at our hotel. So, two breakfasts it was! Susie had a desert, by having a banana pancake, while John had an omelet.

We then set off, very full, on attempt 2 to see Uncle Ho! When we arrived this time, the presence of guards, scanners, hundreds of tour groups, etc, alerted us to the fact that HCM was available for viewing. Hurrah! After getting a little lost, and then being put through an airport style scanner, where you weren't allowed to take water through (more security than the land border we entered through, where a guard just had a little rifle around in our bags!), we had our camera taken off us, and then we joined a queue ready for our sighting! As we headed in in our line, past LOTS of armed security guards, we were told off for talking before we'd even entered the building! Then we thought we'd better be quiet! We were walked into the Mausoleum, where we walked past lots more security guards, in\\to the room where Uncle Ho himself is (except for the 3 months of the year when he goes to Russia for maintenance of course!). In the room there were 6 security guards around the sides where you can walk, and 4 more in the central bit, surrounding a glass coffin/case with the big man himself in. He is is lying down, and looks rather fake and waxworky really, but would do you expect when he's been dead for 40 years??? Apparently, so we found out later, his head looks big, because of how many times they've had to re-embalm it, but because he's dressed it's not all that obvious. It was the most surreal experience, but a definite must do for anyone in Hanoi!!!!
The Mausoleum

We headed out, past all the horrible gift shops that would have HCM turning in his grave, if he was in one, and then went to the 'Hanoi Hilton', an old prison that is now a Museum. It was built by the French, when Vietnam was under their control, and has since been used by the Japanese, and by the Vietnamese against the Americans (when it held mostly American pilots, including John McCain), when it gained the nickname it now holds.

The Museum was interesting, but most of the prison has been knocked down now, and the Museum was so biased that it made for irritating, if funny reading. Lots of talk of the horrible oppression of the French and Japanese (which, don't get us wrong, we're sure was awful), but only a little bit of information about it during the Vietnam war, and that was highly complementary to the Vietnamese. The exhibits actually said that it gained it's nickname because of the good conditions...apparently the Vietnamese don't get sarcasm!!
Some slightly scary models demonstrating conditions under French oppression

After that, we headed back to the city centre. We went to try and find somewhere to exchange the books that we had finished reading, but despite finding two places were unsuccessful - one didn't seem to exist (it turned out it has moved recently) and the other one sneered at our books, since one was a hardback and one a photocopy, and refused to give us any money off the books he had to sell, despite having about 1,000,000, and pricing them waaaaay too high (even an old, tatty copy of Rebecca was $3, and most were $5 or more for second hand books), so we gave up. We then went and had lunch at a little cafe, which was boring and average, and then chilled out for the rest of the afternoon, reading, using the internet and just chilling by the lake.

Finally, we set off at 5pm for our fistr overnight bus experience to Hoi An. We were picked up in a car, and taken to the bus. It was completely mental, and had 3 lines of bunk beds, and had about 8 rows of them. We were the first on the bus, and so had the pick of the beds...after trying about 10 each, we made the controversial choice of two of the ones at the top at the back. We made this choice because they were flat and had the only opening window on the bus! We waited for about 2 hours until everyone else made it to the bus, and then eventually set off at 7:30pm. We had the last of our leftover pizza for dinner en route, and then settled down for the night.

We're not going to lie, it wasn't the best nights sleep either of us have ever had. But we did both sleep (yes, even Susie who never sleeps on transport), and probably just about got our 8 hours, during the 11 hours or so we tried to sleep! It was very bumpy, but our seatbelts held us in, and the choice of beds proved worthy, as the bed being flat made a lot of difference!

We arrived in Hue at 9am, feeling a little dazed and sleepy but not too bad considering, expecting to catch a connecting bus straightaway (that was what we'd been told!), but it turned out we had a 4 hour stopover. Grrrrrr.

Oh well, we decided to make the most of it and to explore Hue. We had tasty noodle soup for breakfast, then wandered over to the Citadel, which is where the capital of Vietnam was for a long time (don't ask me when or for how long, I don't remember!). We had a tea, and then walked all the way around. It was really impressive, but we decided not to go inside.

Instead we wandered along the river to the local market, where we window shopped for a while, before going back to have lunch...a very Vietnamese caesar salad and chips. Yum!!

We then went back to get our bus...it turns out when you're told the bus will be there at 1, that's just accounting for Western stupidity, and so that actually means 2:10...Since we'd been there since 12:30, we were slightly annoyed, but we bought some oreos, and Susie made John play fun fun cards games (that he strangely didn't enjoy!), which kept us both entertained (if stressed on John's part) until the bus came.

Another four hour bus journey later (still on a sleeping bus...this is where we realised how good our choices had been - these beds only went down to a 45 degree angle, and we both struggled to sleep much. We arrived in Hoi An, finally, at 6pm, 25 hours after we started the journey. Pheeeeew!!!!

The hotel we were dropped off at wanted $18 a night...screw that, we started to walk down the street, when a lady on a moped called to us "you come to my uncles Hotel, only $10". Brilliant, we thought, only to have her drive off and leave us to guess the way, and keep driving past, shouting "England" at us. Very confusing, and then by chance we did end up in her Uncle's hotel! It was very nice, and they were all very friendly. The lady who'd taken us to the hotel (kind of) then came into our room and told us about her dress shop. We decided to go and see the next day, since Susie did want one dress. We then went and had a surprisingly tasty dinner at a restaurant a couple of doors down - Susie had very spicy but yummy chicken with chilli and lemongrass and John had some other chicken dish! It was the nicest Asian food we'd had since Cambodia! Hoi An was off to a good start! We then went and collapsed into bed, glad of a real bed!

NB - Sorry for the lack of photos at the minute, we'll upload them soon. We're having camera-computer connectivity issues at the moment!

Posted by Susiep539 04:19 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi hue hoi_an mausoleum citadel ho_chi_minh Comments (0)


The arrival to real life!

sunny 23 °C

So, there we were, somewhere in Hanoi, but luckily still alive despite the bus drivers best efforts. We walked into the bus station to try to find a map, or someone to ask. No go, it was all shut and dark. Fantastic. We decided to just start walking, and wandered around some fairly main, lit streets, but they were all very local, and there was no English anywhere. We walked past a couple of places that could’ve been hotels, but we weren’t sure and didn’t dare go in and ask! 10 minutes and lots more maybe hotels/maybe nots later, we braved it, and after one telling us they had no beds, and looking shocked at the very prospect of us checking in, another one scooped us up, and hurrah, we had a bed! Admittedly a rock solid bed, in what may or may not have been somewhere that people normally rent ‘by the hour’ (read, where to take your mistress/prostitute...), but we decided to ignore that possible fact, and just went to sleep!

The next morning, first task, find out where on earth we were, and how to get to the city centre. After a little walk around, which stressed Susie out because she had no idea where anywhere was in relation to our hotel etc (John did though so it was OK), we found a coffee house with wi-fi. We eventually worked out where we were – about 6km south of the city centre. We decided in our infinite wisdom to walk it, and after getting some money out, checking out (where the woman charged us $3 less than the man had said, which made up for the fact he charged us 5 times more than he should have done for water. Haha.

The walk was rather long, but straightforward, and we were both enjoying being somewhere with some life to it, after all of Laos (which although lovely is very quiet!). After about 90 minutes, we arrived at the hotel we’d planning to stay in, Liberty Hotel, where we were greeted by a lovely, yet completely insane lady who asked us about 10 questions in quick succession, and then finally took us to a really nice room. It had a HOT SHOWER, CABLE TELEVISION, SOFT PILLOWS, and various other luxuries unknown to us for weeks! It was an extravagance at $15 a night, but soooo worth it. Ahhhhh.

We went out and got our bearings (well, John did anyway, Susie seems to have a mental block knowing her way round Hanoi). After a little wander, we went and got a very locals lunch of Bun Cha (grilled pork mince meat balls, with a tasty soup with more pork in it, that is served with a massive plate of lettuce/other greens, loads of noodles, fish spring rolls and a beer), which was very tasty, but LOTS of food and far too much meat for people who’ve basically been eating vegetarian for 2 weeks!

We then went back to the room, and proceeded to have a VERY lazy afternoon, which was much needed after the busy last week or so we’d had! We spent almost the whole afternoon in our room, making the most of having cable tv in our room (first time since Siem Reap!), and watched ‘America’s Next Top Model’ for about 5 hours. Disgraceful, yes, but definitely some much needed trash! Our brains hadn’t chilled out that much for weeks!

After America’s Next Top Model finished, an episode of Masterchef USA gave us both a massive craving for ribs, so a short guide book flick later, we ended up at Al Fresco’s for dinner. This is a small Australian run chain that does ribs, burgers, etc. Upon arrival, we deliberated for a while about whether to get a whole rack each, but descided against it, mainly because it was $20! In the end we shared one, and we were so glad we did. It was huuuuuuge!! With that and an extra potato wedges, we were both struggling to finish it, and we were really hungry before! We did finish though, because they were quite possible the best ribs we’ve ever had - so meaty and delicious, and yummmmm!!!
What made the whole experience even better was the fact that there was paper over the table, and crayons, for drawing on. WIN! We had great fun, and Susie drew an awesome map of our route so far!

We staggered back along the edge of the Hoan Kiem Lake, which was surrounded by couples, cuddling up on the benches! We declined to join in, and instead went back and went to bed!
Did we mention that there's a LOT of motorbikes here???

The next day we woke up at 8am, which is fairly late for us, and set off with the intention to go and see Ho Chi Min’s (or Uncle Ho as the Vietnamese fondly call him) dead, embalmed body. However, when we got there it turns out that it’s shut on Mondays, we can only assume because he needs some down time! Undetered, we set off to find more about him, and went to see his house, a simple wooden building, and the palace next door, which was where the Royal family lived, and is supposed to contrast how wonderfully simply Uncle Ho lived his life!

We also went to the Ho Chi Min Museum, which tells you about his life and times in a stupidly abstract way!
THis tells you something about HCM, of course :s

We found it all rather amusing though, and the contrast between everything that Ho Chi Min and the Vietnamese communists stood for, compared to Vietnam today, and the stalls outside the museum selling tacky souvenirs, is funny but a little ridiculous and sad.

After that, we went to the Temple of Literature, a Confucian temple, which was very pretty and peaceful.

Our tummys finally started rumbling after last nights ribs, and so we headed to a little cafe. It provides jobs for locals from poor backgrounds, and so we felt very good about ourselves, both because our money was going to a good cause, and because we had yummy cakes and tea. Mmmm!

In the afternoon, we watched some more TV, and then went out to St. Joseph's Cathedral. This looks like a small version of the Notre Dame from the outside, and inside looked exactly like a church/cathedral would at home. Despite not being in the least religious, it was really comforting, just because of how British it felt!!

In the evening, we went to a vegetarian restaurant, which specialising in making dishes that look and taste like meat, while still being suitable for veggies. This is fairly common in Vietnam, as traditionally hosts wanted to make food for their Buddhist guests that was the same as their other guests. It was OK, but we caught them at a bad time, as they were very busy, and so it wasn’t as good as it could have been. It did look very like meat, and the taste was there, but the texture was missing!!

We then headed off to bed, ready for our early start to Halong Bay the next day.

Posted by Susiep539 00:31 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi bun_cha st_josephs_catherdral ho_chi_min liberty_hotel temple_of_literature Comments (0)

Sam Neua to Hanoi!


overcast 17 °C

After several more circles of the town centre, we eventually moved up the hill to the first bus station. There John was taken off the bus by the driver and escorted to the front of the ticket queue. Tickets to Hanoi were put in his hand at the price we had been quoted the day before, 300,000k each. Perfect! In a while the bus left and headed east. One the way at Vieng Xai we picked up two Swedish girls who wanted to go to Thanh Hoa, town in Vietnam which is on the route (but not the direct direction) from Laos to Vietnam. As they got on they were told the bus would go there and indeed the name was written on the front in big letters. Simple enough they thought. About an hour into the journey, the man who had assured them the bus would go there told them it now wouldn’t because no one on the bus wanted to go. He demanded more money and told them they had to go to Hanoi. He also very conveniently forgot he spoke English, despite responding to the question “do you speak English?” with “no I do not....” dubious! Anyway, they refused to pay and standoff ensued for the next 8 hours.
Meanwhile we were passing through some rather staggering and beautiful scenery. We had read that the border crossing was the least used and most arduous to approach but apparently this just means the route is even more beautiful (and of course bumpier) than usual!

After 4 hours or so we reached the border, which was really rather grand, with multi-storey buildings on both sides, as tall as any we’d seen in Laos. We didn’t even have to pay the customary $1 bribe to get our visas stamped. Both borders passed easily enough but the guards did insist on going through our dirty laundry, though not through any of the side pockets or other dubious boxes which had been loaded onto our bus, a smugglers dream!
Once we’d passed the check point we stopped in the border town for lunch for an hour and then headed off into Vietnam!

After another 8-9 hours we arrived in...Thanh Hoa. So much for not stopping there, and fortunately the girls still hadn’t paid. A potential scam to look out for! The whole scam was made all the more obvious and ridiculous because we were taken off the Lao bus in Thanh Hoa and would have to change buses, so we were always going to have to stop there. Grrr. Once we were off the bus we had some time to wait for the next one. Obviously at the moment the bus arrived John chose to go to the toilet. The bus didn’t seem very keen to wait for anyone and Susie was very worried he’d be left behind as we were all bundled onto the bus, which was already moving as John stepped onto it. We’d heard the Vietnamese were efficient but this was ridiculous! Later on the bus would pull away after dropping locals off before the conductor had even got back on, he had to run and prise the door open with his fingers to avoid being left behind! This journey, to put it in one word, was INSANE. Apparently in Vietnam every road (even those with one lane) has an invisible third lane, which you gain access to by flashing your lights and beeping your horn, regardless of the space on either side, oncoming traffic, self preservation or consideration for the sanctity of life.... Noone could sleep on journey where you spend as much time headed wildly towards the lorries in front of you as you do undertaking and cutting up everything in sight. All in a bus: clearly the most nimble of modes of transport!

Ah, well we survived and after another 4 hours we were yelled at. HANOI! We were then bundled off the bus (which was of course already moving away), presented with our bags (which had been dumped by the side of the road) and left to it. No map. No idea where in Hanoi we were (a city of 3.2 million people, whereas Vientiane, the capital of Laos only has 200,000!), very little Vietnamese money, and on the back of a 14 hour bus ride. The rest of the evening could prove to be an interesting night indeed!

Posted by John_713 06:56 Archived in Laos Tagged vietnam laos border_crossing hanoi border sam_neua nameo nam_xoi Comments (0)

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