Trip Start Nov 14, 2008
Trip End Mar 10, 2009

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Really not sure what to expect from Vietnam; I have met other travellers who have told me its touristy, others who say they harass you constantly to buy off them, others who say watch the traffic - its mad, mental, dangerous. Of these comments only the last is true; so far! True there are places that cater to the tourist, but there is no way that the old quarter in Hanoi is set up just to please some Americans in elasticated waisted jeans! Hoi-An caters a lot more to the fast growing tourist tailoring business, but again the roads are still dusty, the traffic still is mad, rubbish is still swept into the gutter; scraggy dogs (allbeit with nice leather collars & loose T-shirts) either sunbathe,bark or run littlest hobbo style at the side of the road and rats/cockroaches scarper about unpestered; I think that Scabby View in Dunfy is more touristy! Maybe half the problem is that backpackers are entering Vietnam from Laos & I guess in comparison it will certainly seem like they have hit Benidorm - but get some perspective! So far no-one has harassed me. I've had plenty of Vietnamese try to sell me something from books, fruit, motorbike rides etc etc, once you smile & say no thanks most have left me alone, only a couple have followed me more than 3 meters & even then they have given up. It is the run up to Tet here so I don't know if we have hit the country at a chilled out be kind to tourists time, but so far I've found the people here to be really friendly and oddly super efficient.

We arrived inot Hanoi late on Sunday the 18th & true to word the taxi man organised by the hotel was waiting for us. Very polite he introduced himself with a shake of the hand. On the way into the city he explained a few sites & told us a little bit about Vietnam. As soon as you hit the outskirts of Hanoi you can see the influence the French have had on this place. There are loads of old French buildings complete with balconies and if straight from a film set the balconies are stuffed full of all sorts of rubbish. Even though is is nearing midnight the streets are still alive with mopeds & life. We pass a massive flower market, Orange trees are very popular it seems. Loads of people of all ages are sitting on the pavements either on really tiny plastic seats or perched like crows. Foods being cooked/eaten, drinks are being handed out - this place is very much alive! Having come from Japan quite possibly the most orderly, polite civilised country in the world to only a hint so far of madness is quite a switch! We get to the Little Hanoi Hostel which is right in the middle of the Old Quarter. The first thing the staff do is offer us Tea or Coffee, something to eat. As its late we just check in & got to bed. Our room is 404 right at the top of the stairs. We've got 3 beds, a plasma TV & en suite. Not bad for just over £10 a night total!

We are woken up the next day by anyone of a million noises; it could be the beeping mopeds, it could be the banging of building works or it could be the cockerel - although its 8.45am , does it not realise the time keeping responsibility it might have?!- why is the old bird crawing so late? People might not have gotten into work on time due to its tardyness!
We wander downstairs & find that brekkie is free in the hotel - bonus. Its a very simple affair; you have a choice of baguette with jam, cheese,butter or egg. Tea/coffee. The baguettes are freshly baked & really light; they are lacking in flavour & for this reason the jam & cheese is probably the best option. Get my first taste of Vietnamese coffee; its thick & sweetened with condensed milk - within 2 slurps I'm addicted! Before Brekkie I asked the lady at reception a few questions regarding trains/Halong Bay trip etc etc. Before my brekkie arrived she had booked the train journey & confirmed the Halong Bay details - she's efficient!
Time had arrived to leave the hotel & brave the world beyond the glass doors. We needed first & foremost to find an ATM as we had zero local currency (Dong). Our hotel had given us a map wit the main areas of interest marked on. We couldn't find the first ATM marked out so aimed for the next closest. Problemo no.1 was we needed to cross a road at a crossroads, were there any lights - no! Aside from the zero lights the whole area was the maddest traffic I'd ever seen; mostly moped/motorbike based the traffic flowed quite smoothly in ALL directions - someone recently described it as shoals of fish who all can move quite hecticly without banging into each other, this was what we were viewing in front of us except it was real live people sitting on dangerous machines! The orange trees we had seen yesterday at the night market now appeared on the back of a fair number of bikes, there of course were millions of other things being carried & I might need to keep a look out for the wackiest item on a bike! What also makes this whole situation worse is that you have to walk on the roads as the pavements are covered in parked mopeds, people sitting on small stools, people squatting like birds, people cooking stuff surrounded by vast piles of ingredients and goods for sale. With this latter point it depends where in the old town you are as to what items are blocking the pavement; they seem to keep their shopping all separated, so there is bag corner, shoe corner, silk street, paint street, duvet & bedding street, clothes street, beer street etc etc I was quite glad of my long trousers as I became more aware of mopeds driving within millimetres of my legs - those exhaust pipes are very hot!
So back to the crossing of the cross-roads road! Having stood on the corner for a good few minutes just amazed at the chaos in front of us we decided to make a go of it. Linking arms we felt was a good idea & then simply shuffling out into the road; it really isn't a natural feeling walking out in front of traffic! We tried not to stop during this first road crossing venture & it quite clearly worked otherwise I may be writing this from a hospital bed using a pen in my mouth! I wasn't scared at all during any of this - the traffic i find quite exciting & you do get a bit of an adrenaline buzz from the whole experience. We do manage to find an ATM; obviously my bank card doesn't work (working now btw as after email smile to ask what the feck is going on they let me know my card can be used & thanks for letting them know I'm in a foreign country - so what exactly was the conversation I had regarding my rtw trip 5 months ago then - idiots!) Jackie gets us some Dong & I'm quite surprised to see its the exact same style as the Aussie & Kiwi$ - the really sensible plastic money. No idea why the Euro didn't go down that route; Pete would be most pleased that the notes would fit in his Aussie wallet as well!!

We take a walk through the streets taking all the mayhem in & eventually get the calmness of the Lake. Jack spots a nice looking restaurant quite clearly geared up to wealthy tourists. The place has a nice spec right on the lake & after our very short first time exposure to SE Asian traffic its a nice place for some respite! As suspected this is tourist central & everyone sitting around us is middle aged plus European. We order some drinks & then decide on some food. Menu has a wide range including some stir fried snakes heads - nice! I opt for some Nem which are Vietnamese spring rolls. They are really nice - there are loads of them though( I think around 25) so there is no way I can finish them. Really nice but could have done with some Chili sauce.
Soon its time to get back into he madness & off we head. We decide to walk round the lake & pop into what is on our map as "large market" but actually turns out to be a huge department store complex; it was quite bizarre walking in from the craziness outside into a western posh store. Having gotten a bit used to the traffic I start get a bit annoyed when the traffic doesn't do what its supposed to do; ie I find myself glaring at a motorbike & putting my hand out towards it as it drives straight towards me! At this junction there are actually traffic lights complete with red/green pedestrian me; green man = walk??!! The traffic is still coming towards you at this point so I'm not sure how that sign works!
Back to the hotel & its amazing how quickly we have got used to the traffic, we are both quite happy to wander out into the road & slowly weave our way across the silly streets. What you cant get used to is the fumes; the old town especially seems to be really bad & I think the narrow streets, highish building & millions of bikes seems to make the situation worse. I would love to know what my CO reading was in Hanoi!
Have got mixed up with the timings as we got in late on the first night; keep thinking that we have another full day in Hanoi & then we are off on our Halong bay trip the day after; wrong! Jackie settles in for a night of HBO - I think she managed something like 5 films on the trot! I go downstairs to upload Jacks video of the Hanoi madness & do some emailing. I give her a wee call from reception to see if she wants some dinner, but the Western comfort of HBO is too much of a pull in scary SE Asia! My dinner is really nice & costs all of £1.10 for a chicken curry - no wonder the backpackers like it here!

Halong Bay day! There are certain parts to this trip that I've been imagining being on for months & this is one of them. Unfortunately its raining & really misty- great! The cheeky owner chap had told us to get up at 7.15am, come down for brekkie at around 7.45am & then the bus would come for us at 8am. We did follow his instructions, however due to all the trips leaving at 8am the breakfast room was chokka full and we had to make do with 2 seats at reception. Whilst checking my emails on the main computer the brother of the owners asked me to pay for everything. He didn't want to take my visa despite the owners saying this was fine. Eventually he put the card through & it kept beeping - not working. I tried another card - same issue. Jackie then tried her card & it went through fine. I have now discovered that the issue was at the beep the machine was saying English to insert the card & the Vietnamese cant understand this; someone needs to sort out the language on the credit card machines for them! 7.55am & breakfast still hasn't arrived and the various guides are starting to turn up. I go & sit beside some American girl who is over on holiday with her sisters, they are just going for the day trip to Halong bay as they want to get clothes made in Hoi-An and have little time left. A guide arrives & obviously it our one - still no breakfast. In the morning mayhem they forgot about us, so a mad rush ensues to get our baguettes ready for takeaway. Coffee is brought out & gulped down (stuff still is great!). At 8.20am we finally get on the bus, our poor guide is a bit stressed as he has had to send the bus round the block a few times as despite the apparent lawless traffic there are traffic laws prohibiting any lengthy stopping! Only one other chap on the bus who is tucked away in the back right hand corner; we say morning and apologies for his morning excursion starting with a repetitive tour of our block. Only one more stop to pick up 3 Russian girls and a brand new wirelss Karyoke mic set & we're off! Tam is our guide and although appears to struggle a wee bit with his English he has a great sense of humour and cracks a few witty one liners. He explains that although its only 165Km to Halong the traffic & roads dictate that this will be a 3.5hour journey. He also tells us a bit about the trip we are going on & tells us that in the evening after dinner there will be time for Singy & drinky!
We are basically caught up in Hanoi rush hour - no different from any other city with the exception that towards the suburbs the traffic includes many dogs & a fair few cows! Funny how I am now totally used to being driven with vehicles of all sizes driving straight towards you, the "motorway" has no central reservation or marked lanes so it really is every vehicle for itself, everyone wants to stay away from the sides as they are the most potholed so thus it is that everyone wants to drive in the center of the road as it is the smoothest bit - only there isn't room for everyone in the center of the road! I am looking forward to the peace in Halong as my ears are ringing from the traffic & constant horn blaring. Its a really nice journey passing the Vietnamese going about their business. Most of the journey is though farmland with rice paddies and vegetable fields filled with cabbage & other UK looking veg. I hope I manage to get some pictures of these scenes as I didn't think I would ever see People and Ox pulling ploughs through fields, at one point a lone man/woman with the classic pointy Vietnamese hat is in a huge field with one single hoe thing picking away. These people would be blown away if they were to be taken to a field in Aberdeenshire with all the mega machinery used in modern western farming. It really quite fascinating to watch. Although mostly farmland there is a lot of building going on & placards announcing huge new building sites. On the way from the airport there are brand new mega factories for Canon, Toyota, Yamaha so in a few years time who know what the landscape here will look like. Any residential buildings seem at least to be going up in traditional French style complete with some quite wild colour schemes! We stop approx half way at a tourist factory. In here are some really decent toilets - all western & clean. So far in Vietnam its been Western style all the way which I didnt expect! This factory has a huge warehouse floor selling everything from the smallest ornaments to the largest vases that you could hide a family in. There were actually some quite nice laminate bowl sets that would have gone well with my own crockery but really I don't want to cart that kind of stuff around. In the gardens they have huge marble statues - most are animal based, but to cater for the old Catholic tourist they have a life sized Mary as well! The place also has a wee café selling drinks & food so of course its time for a $1 cup of Vietnamese coffee; I really must be careful I could get addicted to this stuff; before I know it I'm going to be wandering around with a tube of condensed milk around Glasgow & ordering double Espressos to put the stuff in!
Back in the bus & within a couple of hours we are at the port at Halong. Its not as large & touristy as I expected it to be. We dont stop there which is a bit confusing but instead take a left up a hill towards a big touristy 4* Hotel. Our driver manages to reverse too far back & cracks the bumper - not clever! We are here to pick up a couple of Americans called Casey & Jerry. So on they get & off we go back towards the dock. Our passprts are taken off us as they are required by law to register all foreigh guests. All the boats look the same; I'm guessing they are all pretty new copies of original Vietnamese fishing boats. Although there are loads of these boats there is something nice about the fact they are all built in the traditional style rather than the classic white/grey metal modern tourist boat style. We eventually find our boat & our bemused to see the very steep uneven steps leading down towards a plank which is being set up between said uneven steep steps & the middle deck of our boat. Add in the fact they cant get it horizontally flat so it sits on a squint slanting off to the right. Our guide jumps up and down on the plank & declares it safe! How on earth am I first in the line to get on the boat?! I decide on a quick walk across this potential accident site and make it across. At least we only have day packs having left the main bags back in Hanoi; the Americans have big suitcases!! We are seated in the spacious main cabin whilst the crew busy themselves with sorting out lunch. One by one we are taken down to our rooms. I'm really surprised at the quality. We have a nice big twin room complete with Ensuite & shower! There are 6 rooms on board so the boat will never seem that crowded. For $59 I think that's a great deal. Back on deck and we all sit down at a rather posh looking table. Shawn the Canadian even takes off his baseball hat staing that his mum would want him to be polite at such a grand looking affair! lunch is served, and served, and served! They kept coming out with more & more dishes. Lunch is really nice & consists of beef dishes, chicken dishes, veggie dishes, shellfish, fish, fruit.... Unfortunalty the Russian girls have no English so cant really join in the conversation. It turns out the Americans are actually pilots for Vietnamese air & have a 48hour stopover in Hanoi from Saigon. They normally work in the states for a US airline Fronteir , but there is a possibly of bankruptcy so the airline have been very supportive of them taking this secondment out in Vietnam. Its interesting talking to them about what they do when they get a bit bored - like aiming for the lone cloud in the sky for instance!! Casey & Jerry got married in Banff on top of a mountain; at first I thought they had got hitched at the top of Sulphur Mountain at the Gondola station (bit naff that!) that was until they were telling us the story of being up in a Helicopter to go Heli hiking when a storm was brewing; their pilot them told them if they wanted to get married onto of a mountain it had to be now as the storm could last days. So they looked for a break in the clouds, landed on a random mountain, got married & then flew off - mad! I was talking about my Banff bear fears to which Shawn told us the best bear story. He had been working in Whistler & was staying in staff accom with another 20 odd people. His room was beside the kitchen. It was coming to the end of the season & so a staff party needed to be prepared for. Lets just say a lot of cakes were being baked that had an extra ingredient often found in the coffee shops of Amsterdam! One night Shawn was in his room & he heard a lot of clattering coming from the kitchen. It was common for the staff to come down for a night-time snack but they were being noisy. He went out to find out what was going on & found the place in darkness. Still half asleep he shouted out into the kitchen "would it not have been easier if you'd switched the light on - you're making a racket!" At that moment a pan dropped over in the darkness. A split second later he found the light switch, turned it on & looked down to see a Bear drooling on his shin! A split second later he was back in his room shouting "bear, bear, there's a bear in our kitchen!" Eventually Shawn went out to see if the bear was still there (unarmed despite lots of sports-could-be weapons in his room like hockey sticks!) Bear was gone. Time to inspect the damage (after rinsing off bear drool)! The bear had basically been in at everything, the "special" cakes had huge big bear chunks out of the middle of them so what state the bear was in who knows! The staff then took to cutting around the bear drool bite marks in the cakes & salvaged what they could!

After our lunch we all went up onto the top deck to watch the fabulous Halong Bay drift by. The top deck had nice comfy padded sun loungers on which again I didn't expect. Could get used to this cruising life! The sun had come out and it was really quite pleasant - no where near warm enough to swim unfortunately. There are over 300 Islands in the bay & the site is UNESCO protected. At present they are campaigning to have it as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. We stopped at an Island that apparently has a vast cave network. The bay was beautiful that we stopped in and although there were at least another 20 odd boats wanting to dock their copied old style merely added to the overall scene. It was like being back in a 17th century port (if you ignore the clothing on the tourists that is!). Adding to this mix are a number of traditional rowing boats captained by Vietnamese women & filled with loads of stuff from water & beer to Oreo cookies; its a wonder these don't sink!
We climb up some well made stairs & enter the first cave. The place is reminding me of Gibraltar caves but not quite as big. Tam talks about some of the shapes he sees in the stalagmites; one being a chicken "not a real one of course!" Up some more stairs to an even bigger cave. The best is left until last & we are led through into a vast cavernous space. This place must have been used in films & if it hasn't it really should be. It looks like a classic underground baddie factory in James Bond where the workers are all in uniform & mining carriages transport uranium and other such baddie goodies around! More shapes are pointed out; we have a Buddha favourite in the tortoise; its rock is so smooth due to people rubbing it for good fortune, we also have something that looks very very like a praying Mary; over here they think she looks like something else but if this was in Europe a whole tourist industry would be set up around this a la Lourdes or Knock! Its an interesting detour & I still cant get over the size of the cave - vast. Back out into the sunshine & yet again a top view slaps you in the face the minute you walk out. We are up quite high & in front of us is a bay with limestone cliffs stretching upwards, various tourist boats are manoeuvring themselves around as well.

Whilst we wait for the rest of our group to catch up, another guide points out a stone out to the side of us; it looks like some childs legs dangling over the edge - some prehistoric stone kid sent to the naughty ledge!

Back on the boat & next stop is the floating platform where we have free use of the sea kayaks. Life jackets all handed out for those of us wanting to go for a paddle we jump down to get into our kayaks. I'm given my paddle which is essentially a goalpost with 2 paddles strapped on the end. The paddles are straight as well - helpful. After only a few strokes my arms are knackered as the paddle weighs a tonne! Due to fact the paddles are straight we seem to keep making for the left. We have a pleasant hour or so looking around the coast around us & even get into a lagoon via a low tunnel. On the way back I'm trying to video thus not paddling; Jackie doest realise so isn't paying attention to direction - so we are directed straight into the tunnel wall! Back to the boat & we notice quite a few of the young lads hanging off the top of the platform looking into the sea. At one point one of them strips down to his pants & gets in - no idea what is happening here!

We go up onto the top deck for a wee beer & sunbathe. Jerry & Casey are already up there complete with a beer each. They had had a good afternoon until the point where Casey when getting out of the kayak at the platform drops her camera right into the sea; so thats what all the boys were looking for. Everyone else comes up to join us & within minutes Shawn has decided he wants to jump into the sea, so the top is off and after everyone has got their cameras ready hes off. As soon as he splashes into the water 2 rowing boats quickly paddle from behind the boat with them shouting at him "you want anything off the boat" - classic! Where exactly is he supposed to have kept his money?? I really wish I'd kept the video camera running a bit longer to have captured that. Speaking to him later he never even noticed them!

Dinner was fabulous with the same format as lunchtime. We settle down with some more beers and to be honest I've real recollection of what we talked about except the general consensus was that I should have a show on the road & that Casey would come & produce! Shawn kept giggling to himself & said he must get a tape of us talking as our rubbish could keep him amused on long bus journeys when he was bored!

Tam told us he was off for a Tet party on the floating platform & that if we took anything just make a note of it. Part way through the evening they came back & emptied half the fridge of its beer to take to their Tet party - better be enough left for us! At one point Jackie noticed that slowly but surely more and more people were coming in and sitting around us - quite clearly desperate to get the karaoke started. Then suddenly one of them got brave grabbed the mic, turned on the system full blast & started to sing away some Vietnamese song - forget about us paying guests sitting here like!! It was highly amusing but after 4 or 5 songs on the bounce that we didn't know & all at full volume we decided to go outside - booted out from our own lounge - ridiculous! I have to say I found this quite amusing but Jerry the American was less than amused. They were taking their karaoke very seriously. Shawn went off to the platform to see if he could join in the game of poker the rest of the party were playing - he was back within the minute so I'm guessing that was a no! At one point the electricity went off and came back on again - it so happened this occurred at a time when Jerry wasn't with us - he'd only gone & reset the generator hoping it would switch of the TV! Didn't work. They then decided they would take back the TV room by storm, we disappeared off to the toilets & came back to find the Vietnamese sulking on he sofa, Greenday on the TV at normal volume & all our group back sat where they were to start with! Casey & Jerry told us some stories about the old Vietnamese favourite Dog on spit, Although they hadn't seen the actual dog on a spit they had seen on 2 separate occasions deep fried dog on the back of a moped. Jerry had also seen some old lady mown over by a bus near Hanoi airport a few weeks earlier - squashed deid - not a nice thing to witness. One of their American Pilot friends had also been in an accident recently. He was on the back of a Sam (illegal motorbike taxi) when they were "T-boned" . Their friend fell off hit his head & was knocked out. What is scary is that the Sam just left him there by the side of the road & drove off. No-one helped him at all & he woke up in the gutter feeling none too good. He managed to stagger & get a real taxi to take him to the hospital where he is recovering just now. As its illegal I dread to think what kind of trouble in Vietnam the Sams or witnesses would get into with the police/authorities. Certainly the 2 accidents I saw that were just someone losing balance on their bikes & losing the cargo of fruit had loads of people around stopping & helping.

I was looking to some peace & quiet after Hanoi to sleep to. What kind of stupid idea was that?? Firstly the generator was beside our bedroom so that in itself was noisy. Next Jackie started coughing away, however it was the dog that wouldn't stop barking that broke the camels back! As I went looking for my earplugs I was muttering something about deep frying the bloody dog myself! Apparently Jerry got up to check around the boat when the dog was barking as normally they only do that to warn people of something & he got it into his head that the boat was on fire!!

For some reason breakfast was at 7.30am - none of us looked too fresh! Jackie went downstairs for a wee snooze. I stayed att he front of the boat & chatted to Casey/Jerry. I commented to Jerry that it was nice to see a Pilot with a Pilots bag rather than a sales rep & did he actually have anything in there. Mostly paperwork but also a place to hold the Captains hat. How exciting both of them had their captains hats with them - what a great photo. They thought a better photo would be with me in the Captains hat. Even better than that I wanted to sit where our boat captain was & pretend to steer; he only gave me the whole seat, big wooden steering wheel and all - for 30 seconds I was in charge of the boat!
Both Shawn & I gave Casey our cameras to go & take some picture as she was feeling lost without her own camera. Its kind of the reason there are so many picture of Halong Bay!
Coming into land at the main port (after picking up some folks from Catba Island) I was amused to watch our captain try & squeeze his boat into a space that wasn't there. In the end we had to disembark via another boat; this was an amusing matter trying to climb over one boat into another with a rucksack wanting to pull you back into the original boat! I mentioned this to Jackie & then asked where her bag was - no real answer only the dust she left flying behind her as she raced back to the boat to recovered her bag that she had left on deck - doh!
We had to wait around half an hour for the bus to come & pick us up. In the meantime the Vietnamese women beside us in the shop started to look through each others hair grooming for beasties. I'm pretty sure this was done just to freak out us Western tourists - but you never know!!
Bus was crowded on the way back, there wasn't any seats for one of the guides so he sat on the floor. Back in Hanoi we said goodbye to Casey & Jerry. They had kindly offered us a room in Saigon if we ever passed through there. They had also been really helpful in giving us some great info regarding Jetstar Pacific - the Ryan air of Vietnam.
Off for an early night & whilst catching upon emails the local cat decided to pop through the widow & fall asleep on my lap! Managed to Skype Boyley & thankfully George never noticed this betrayal! Took Theresa outside on the Skype so she could see a bit of Hanoi. It was late the traffic was quiet - it was amusing however to watch the Vietnamese kids staring at the laptop pointed towards the traffic!
Wanted to have a look around Hanoi at some silk shops to get an idea of how much the Silk would cost. Jackie also wanted to look at bag corner as she had noticed a Kippling factory on the way out to Halong. Managed to pick up a huge silk sleeping bag liner for $8 & also got myself a North Face 40litre Rucksack for $15. According to the locals these are 90% authentic as they have either been QA rejects & fallen off the back of a lorry or have been made in someones house after hours with the same materials & same machinists. I was also very tempted with a Kippling holdall bag which they were selling for $20ish - these retail at way over £100 at home.
Before going back to the hotel we have lunch back at the original spot on the lake. We then decided on a beer & thought lets try the Irish bar. Sure enough there is an Irish bar in Hanoi - complete with allegiances to Man Utd, Liverpool, Spurs & Arsenal! Didn't spot any Celtic stuff which is a first. In the toilet they had a photo of Eileen Donan castle in Scotland - most surreal! We opted for a local pint coming in very cheaply at 8,000dong a pint due to happy hour (that's around 30p) It was actually very nice & pretty strong - I would bet that many a happy backpacker has ended up in here! Back to the Hotel for the prearranged time of 6Pm & we are greeted by 2 very anxious looking owners. Apparently Taxis wont come into the Old Quarter after 6pm as the traffic is really bad so were going to have to go on her bike - now. As I said - I'm quite happy to do that but I know for definite that Jackie wont. She then get her brother to walk us to outside the old quarter catch us a taxi & we arrived at the train station in plenty of time!
Onto the train & into our cabin. I have encountered skank train before so the set-up wasn't a surprise to me. Indeed I have seen far far worse! I think at this point though Jackie was questioning why she had wanted to come travelling with me! Our cabin was for 4 people & shortly in came 2 Germans. The girl wasn't feeling well & obviously had no idea what state the train was going to be in so wrapped her head up in her hoodie & her own blanket and lay down on her bed looking quite disgusted - oh what a fun night this could be! At this point 2 Aussie girls came running onto the train hoping they were on the right one. They had got to their hotel at 6.30pm & same issue as us no taxis in the old quarter. They had opted for the mototaxi & were dropped on on the wrong side of the station so had to walk across the tracks - bit stressed they were! Once they settled down they came back down to see us. By this time the train had set off and I cant believe how close to people houses & the pavement this train got as it made its way through Hanoi - You would have to tell you kids not to step out of the front door when the train was coming other wise they would me mince! Talking of mince 5 minutes into the journey our train suddenly jumped & screeched to a halt. What was worse was the train started to reverse. A strange feeling of excitement and utter nauseousness took over at the thought we had run someone over. In my head this person was squashed to a pulp & quite dead - no slight dent in someone's bumper was I imagining. Jackie also thought that perhaps a cow had got it. As it happens someone had merely thrown a stone at the drivers window so excitement over!
There was potential for a fun trip with the majority of passengers being on-board Westerners however it never really turned out that way which is a shame. I guess it didn't help that we hadn't brought anything with us like food, water or beer!
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ma-and-pa on

Every man - woman - for themselves!!
Mayhem? oh yes - unfortunately there don't seem to be any 'religious' to stop the traffic! It's amazing what you can carry on a two wheeled vehicle - shown on TV in some Arab country the other week was a cow sitting on the back seat of a car with its head out of the window. It seems like wearing shorts could be quite hazardous - unless heat stripes are in! Definitely strange what some people do fo kicks - remember though 'traffic' tends to be bigger than you. The street photos are very illuminating - madness.

You seem to be doing ok on the accommodation front and you are obviously not going to starve. Jackie will be happy she can now abandon her enforced diet - some of the choices are a bit... you are in a place where anything and everything are eaten. we note that Blendy has been superceded - how fickle.

Halong Bay looks beautiful but Captain Tanya.... very fetching! See health & safety police haven't made it there - -obviously you have to use your wits when negotiating entry/exit of boats - still they seemed to feed you well. Liked the bear story - could just imagine it, but how grosse eating what was left. The weather seems to have been very kind to you - unlike us who seem to have secended into what seems like another ice age. Still managed to find a window in the snow to see 'Queen Magic'; very good it was too - cold though at -4C. Next day it snowed again then melted - back to the cold. Snow is now the main item of news (such a noelty!!) - 99% stories from down south - they just can't cope. They talk about 5 inches, Cairgorms gets 2 feet and relishing all the skiers. Still it keeps the polititians off the news.

With George's eyesight - -of course she will have noticed!!! - there WILL be reckoning.

ma-and-pa on

Every man - woman - for themselves!!
Mayhem? oh yes - unfortunately there don't seem to be any 'religious' to stop the traffic! It's amazing what you can carry on a two wheeled vehicle - shown on TV in some Arab country the other week was a cow sitting on the back seat of a car with its head out of the window. It seems like wearing shorts could be quite hazardous - unless heat stripes are in! Definitely strange what some people do fo kicks - remember though 'traffic' tends to be bigger than you. The street photos are very illuminating - madness.

You seem to be doing ok on the accommodation front and you are obviously not going to starve. Jackie will be happy she can now abandon her enforced diet - some of the choices are a bit... you are in a place where anything and everything are eaten. we note that Blendy has been superceded - how fickle.

Halong Bay looks beautiful but Captain Tanya.... very fetching! See health & safety police haven't made it there - -obviously you have to use your wits when negotiating entry/exit of boats - still they seemed to feed you well. Liked the bear story - could just imagine it, but how grosse eating what was left. The weather seems to have been very kind to you - unlike us who seem to have decended into what seems like another ice age. Still managed to find a window in the snow to see 'Queen Magic'; very good it was too - cold though at -4C. Next day it snowed again then melted - back to the cold. Snow is now the main item of news (such a noelty!!) - 99% stories from down south - they just can't cope. They talk about 5 inches, Cairgorms gets 2 feet and relishing all the skiers. Still it keeps the polititians off the news.

With George's eyesight - -of course she will have noticed!!! - there WILL be reckoning.

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