Saturday, 28 April 2012

The postcard from vietnam

So, this is to make up for the fact I'm so slack at writing postcards. And it will probably be as brief as a postcard too, as any minute now I shall need to find a toilet - not  necessarily an easy feat in Hanoi.

We just went to Halong Bay, apparently one of those places on the planet you're meant  to see before you die etc ec, and spent two days and a night on a boat. It was rather pleasant - particularly after coming from Hanoi which is humbug central- to have two days of travel,  meals, accommodation, activities organised for us.And Halong Bay is pretty  eery and spectacular- massive limestone peaks and monoliths just sticking out  of the very still (somewhat  polluted) water.

We visited an enormous, incredibly impressive cave (Pete wants to get a map of it and set a D&D game there), and climbed a painful number of steps on one of the islands (literally painful, my thighs are still cranky)- the veiw from the top was  breathtaking though.

On our boat were a few very lively Brazilians who somehow had us singing karaoke at night - something I'd promised myself   I'd never do. It took a fair few glasses of wine -  which we felt the next morning when we were up bright and early  to kayake around a floating fishing village hidden among the íslands...

We were a bit disturbed by the number of dead fish floating on the surface, and, well - let's face it - the pollution was so bad we didn't sê the sky for two days... But it was still a relaxing few days, nice hanging out on a boat.

Back in bustling Hanoi now, heading down to the central coast tomorrow. Today's mission: find a cinema playing the Avengers in English...

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Vietnam: random thoughts and experiences

Eating: Oh my god, the food. Mainly, our preferred method has been to look for a street stall where many locals are, hold up two fingers indicating we want two of whatever their main dish is, and then delight in whatever simple but exquisite dish they bring out. This worked well in HCMC. Doesn't work so well in the very untouristed town of Rach Gia where we are now- at least not when I forget to bring my fork (being embarrasingly chopstick-hopeless) and go hungry for much of the day....

Doing yoga on tiny spaces of floor in budget hotel rooms, squeezed between bed and door. Gives Pete an excuse to stay in bed an extra while as there is just not room for two of us moving about the rooms.

Vietnam vs India: here seems a lot less chaotic and traumatic than India?! (Not sure if Pete would believe that, having never been to India but having spent 3 days in Ho Chi Minh). How do things just keep ... working? And so smoothly? Is it the socialist/planned economy  influence? Wish I'd done  more political background reading before I came. What do you mean we can pay here for a boat/bus/as many stops as we like ticket to Ho Chi Minh and there'll be no 5-hour queuing and no missed buses and this  little bit of pink paper you're giving us will mean we've paid and nobody will ask  for money and someone will be  at the pier to show us onto the boat- isn't travel meant to be harder than that?

Spending 5 days de-stressing on Phu Quoc was a great start to the holiday, especially after all the work-related travel I had to do recently. The downsides of tropical paradise were also the upsides, I guess: it was very set up for tourists, very easy... but surprisingly difficult to find the simple, cheap local food  stalls we'd come to love in HCMC: instead we had to choose between Vietnames Italian, Vietnamese French, Vietnamese Mexican restaurants ... all playing the same music that I think of as "backpacker music"- I'm sure it's the same David Bowie/Bob Marley/etc  compilation CD they were playing in the touristy areas of the Sinai and Turkey when I was there 20 years ago. Here at  Rach Gia, we ate at a street cafe near the river and during the course of our  meal two separate buskers  turned up on cyclos, to which were strapped massive ghetto blasters, and sung in return for food/money/beer, while also distributing moist towlettes for donation. That's what I call fine dining...

The thing about spending one week lazing on the island is that we have two weeks left in which to fly to Hanoi then travel overland back to HCMC, and it was only yesterday we got our heads around the distances in this country... how could we have made such a mistake, coming from the rather large continent of Australia?! The prospect of overnight/all day trains or buses isn't as appealing as it was a decade of so ago... anyway now the marathon begins, as we attempt to see at least a few more parts of the country...

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Phu Quoc

We are in Vietnam.

There will, sadly, be no photos in this post because I can't find the right cord and the net cafe computer lacks an appropriate SD card slot. I will attempt therefore to create pictures using words, as difficult as that sounds.

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) early in the morning after a long night in the Changu airport in Singapore. They had couches that were okay for sleeping in, but that was about it that late at night. Everything was expensive and bright. Then plane to HCMC, which was the opposite. And that was great.

The dominant mode of travel is the cyclo - the tiny motocycle/vespa thing that everyone seems to own and is used for all purposes. We ate in a cafe were a house was being demolished and every brick and strut was brought in by cyclo, carried precariously on the back of the bike.

The traffic is unbelievable. The rules are non-existent. People indicate absolutely everything that they are going to do by honking. Overtake? Honk. Make a turn? Honk. Drive the wrong way up a street? Honk repeatedly.

And it all kinda works, in ways that make no sense to me.

The food is amazing. Pho and ban mi and everything you could ask for.

We have spent the last couple of days on the tropical island of Pho Quoc to the west of HCMC. We went on a cyclo tour of the south of the island, where we saw a pearl farm, an old penal colony converted to a museum and - the highlight - a fish sauce factory.

Our cyclo guides - Do and Tai - were really nice and helpful and never asked for a tip or any gratuity. But when we left the fish sauce factory it was made pretty clear that we were taking a bottle home as a souvenir. Now if we can just figure out how to get it on the plane...

Friday, 13 April 2012

Hello Changi

We made it to Singapore. Sadly not in the 747 I was so excited about, but that's budget travel for you.

Changi airport is massively larger than the entire city of Darwin, I'm sure... the transit lounge is a mega shrine to commercialism.There is free internet though!
So, do we book a hotel room for 6 hours sleep, curl up on the couches, or shop til we drop? I think negotiating Ho Chi Minh City in a state of sleep deprivation isn't the start to my holiday I was looking for...

Pete sleeping at Changi Airport, April 12 2012

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

And now to Vietnam...

I have been meaning to blog about the amazing second half of my two-week sojourn in Central Australia. I really have, it was quite an incredible and inspiring time.

It will have to wait though. I came back  utterly exhausted, treated myself  to a quick little  indulgence, 

helped with last-minute organising for the Good Friday rally for refugees: ,

spent the weekend drawing attention to the outrageous ongoing detention of refugees: , ,

and am now off to Vietnam for three weeks.

One day life will slow down long enough for us to  write about it... maybe after a week lazing on the beach at Phu Quoc...