Trip Start Nov 24, 2008
98Trip End Oct 21, 2009
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Where I stayed
Our last day in Bangkok we decided to take it easy and just do one thing. We debated for a while on whether to go to Jim Thompson's house or the Zoo. In the end we decided on Jim Thompson's house, mainly because it was a lot easier to get to being on the skytrain line and all that. The short story on who Jim Thompson is: He was a former U.S. military intelligence officer who served in World War 2 and then moved to Bangkok when it ended. He helped revive the Thai Silk industry and built his home there using materials from all around South East Asia. He mysteriously disappeared while going for a walk on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967 in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia.
Anyway so we got there and had to wait around for about 10 minutes for the tour to start. We were brought around the house that Jim Thompson himself built and got to see the beautiful teak interior and all of his interesting pieces of art. It was an nice way to spend a few hours. Afterwards we made our way back to the hostel. Took it fairly easy that night, just had a some dinner in the hostel and watched Masters of the Universe, brought back some great memories!
Next day woke up and realised my so far trustworthy phone(aka The Brick) had passed away peacefully in its sleep. It had been acting weird the previous few days so it wasn't completely out of the blue. We had a few hours to kill before we had to catch our flight to Hanoi so Rachel stayed in bed while I took a trip down to the local electronics market(There seems to be one in every major city in Southeast Asia?) to find a replacement. Most of the places selling phones in there looked pretty dodgey so I gave up and went back to the hostel. Rachel had already checked us out and was having a bit of lunch so I joined her. I decided I would have one more go at getting a new phone so we left the hostel and stopped at the MBK shopping center en route to the airport. This time I did find a new phone, the next version up from my old one in fact. I've dubbed it "Brick 2".
After quite a while trekking around Bangkok city center we eventually found the airport bus stop. We got talking to a friendly guy from New Zealand who had just come from Africa where he did a bit of traveling around the places were planning on going, sounds very interesting from what we heard. He was also very interested in our stories of the Philippines but we didnt really have enough time to tell him everything so we got his email address and he said to give him a shout when were in Auckland to meet up for a drink. This kind of occurrence is pretty regular for us actually, networking is the way to go when traveling!
At the airport we ended spending ages going through passport control, seems they don't like the fact that I have a beard in my passport photo but I don't anymore??? We were also starving so we had to get some food before we got on flight. By the time all this was done we were running very late. Once we got near the gate there was no one there but a panicked air hostess asking us if we were going to Hanoi. Turns out the flight was waiting for us, we ran the rest of the way. Good times. We were flying with The air asia which is basically the ryanair of south east asia but the flight was half empty so we had loads of legroom which is nice.
Hanoi is somewhere we had been a bit nervous about going to. According to our guide books its the scam capital of the world and reports from fellow backpackers werent. The first scam we had been warned of was taxis drivers taking you from the airport to the city center dropping you off at crappy hotels in order to get commision. Even if you have booked somewhere else they tell you anything to try and get you to stay at the place where they'll get commission. Also a lot of the hotels have similar names. We had booked a place recommended to us called the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel but apparently there is another dodgey place called the Backpackers Hostel Hanoi where taximen will try and drop you off, for commission of course. We didn't have any problems though. We got the airport bus which drops you off in the city center and then from there our hostel was only a 200 meter walk. The place is run by two very helpful Australian guys and all the tours, bus tickets etc they sell are legit so it really is the best place to stay.
After we got settled in we took a stroll down to the bar only to find it closed. It was around 11pm at this stage and as we learned from our guidebooks all pubs in Hanoi close at 11pm everynight of the week! The Australian guys told us our best bet was to try an Irish pub 10 minutes walk away as they sometimes have lock ins. We only wanted one drink after a long days traveling but we decided to take a stroll to the pub anyway. When we got there it was indeed open and serving beer. The guy behind the bar was actually Irish too, first time we've seen this in any Irish pub in Asia. We got chatting to him(Brendan) and it turns out he's from Mayo just outside Westport near to where my Dad is from. He explained that most pubs in Hanoi do close at 11pm but they usually serve until the cops call in which they do without fail every night. We had a few beers and at about 12:15 the cops came banging on the door. Everyone knew the routine though. The cops come in and walk around while everyone just finishes off their drinks and leaves.
The night wasn't over for us though, Brendan's been living in Hanoi for around 6 months and knows all the good spots! It turns out some pubs in the city have an 'agreement' with the cops whereby they open till whatever hour they want so we decided to tag along with him and some other Irish expats to a few of the better afterhours spots. To make a long story short 1 drink turned into many and we finished up eating Vietnamese beef noodle soup(Pho Bo) at a street restaurant at 6 in the morning. The locals were all there for their breakfast and just watched us with amused looks on their faces. They unplanned nights out are always the best!
I'll let Rachel take over from here!
We woke up well past free breakfast time the next day. We were too hungover to do anything so our main concern was food. We found a place around the corner from our hostel and got some greasy burgers. The cafe was pretty cool as it overlooked the 150 year old cathedral. We actually caught the end of a funeral. The person who died must have been pretty important as there were a lot of people and a brass band there to celebrate the persons's life. We went straight back to the hostel after lunch and since we were in no mood for sightseeing we decided to sort out our round the world flights. We had booked them with Trailfinders so long ago that all flights were in March so in theory we could have been home by the end of March. We rang up Quantas and re-booked the flights. For now we are due to fly home on 1st November but that will probably change. We just had to pick dates.
Alan spent the rest of the afternoon doing his favourite thing, surfing the Net, while I did my favourite thing, lying in bed watching tv. That evening we went back to the Irish bar as one of the lads was leaving and we were invited to come along for the session. We got some amazing dinner (Shephards Pie...awesome!) and played some pool. When the police arrived we grabbed some motorbike taxis outside and headed for the after hours bars. We were all pretty wrecked from the night before so we left reasonably early and were in bed by 3am.
The next day we had to leave our comfortable private room as it was already booked by someone else. We moved into a dorm room instead...no biggy, it's way cheaper! We ended up lying down for a while as we were both still kinda wrecked from the night before. All the partying is catching up on us and we're both coming down with colds. It's also freezing cold here so that's not helping. We've jackets and scarves and all out and it was apparently 13 degrees today! We're in serious trouble when we go home. Once we were a bit rested we went off out to get some food and see some sights. After a bit of soup and beans on toast we made for the lake. There is an island on the lake with a bridge or "pagoda" over to it. On the island is a temple and a stuffed giant turtle. Apparently the turtles guard the lake or something....all the sightseeing is starting to blur a bit for me. After that we went to the famous Water Puppet show. This is a Vietnamese tradition that goes back a long time. We got the cheap seats and just as well. We could see everything fine. The show was basically puppets in water dancing and singing to traditional Vietnamese music. It was about 40 minutes long and about 30 minutes too long. We both fell asleep watching it and were glad when it was over.
We'd had enough culture for one day so went back to our hostel and dumped our bags and went for some good old fashioned pizza. As we're both a bit under the weather we just chilled in the hostel for the evening taking advantage of the free tea and chatted to fellow travelers. We had an early night in the hope that we'd be a bit better the following day.
We were up and about early enough this morning with the hope of going to see Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum but during breakfast I started to feel a bit ropey so I went back to bed while Alan went to see the prison. AKA the Hanoi Hilton where up until 1956 it had been used by the French to imprison the Vietnamese who were against the French rule. After this it was used by the Vietnamese to hold American pilots shot down during the war, hence the term Hanoi Hilton. When he got back to the hostel I was starting to feel better so we wrapped up warm and headed out again. On today's agenda was the Vietnamese War museum. We arrived at about 2pm thinking that it closed at 4pm. We were wandering around when we noticed the staff turning off lights and locking doors. We realised that they must have been closing early as tomorrow is Tet Eve. This is the Vietnamese New Year.(more about this later). I didn't mind too much though as I foud the museum really boring anyway. There were some cool tanks and planes and stuff from Vietnamese, French and American Armies though. After the museum we went to get some traditional Hanoi beer "Bia Hoi". This is brewed fresh everyday and is really cheap. We got a cyclo (a bike that pushes a seat in front of it) to the place that sells it. See the video....the streets here are hilarious. Everyone just drives through the junctions without stopping and crazily we haven't seen one accident. Crossing the road is also quite fun. You basically just start walking from one side to the other slowly without stopping and the bikes just go around you. Scary stuff! We had our local beer on the road side with the locals and then got motorbike taxis home. (The best way to get around the city!).
We've just finished packing our bags for our overnight trip to Ha Long Bay tomorrow and are going to the Irish Bar in the hope that they'll be showing the Leinster v Edinburgh game. We're up early tomorrow though so it won't be a late one. You never know though. It's the nights you plan on just one or two beers that turn out to be the best all night sessions!
TET: Vietnamese New Year. It falls in January or February depending on the lunar cycle. This Year it's the 26th. The festival is celebrated for days and basically the whole country just shuts down. Backpackers are stranded everywhere so we'll be in Hanoi for a couple of days after we get back from Ha Long Bay.