A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

Sun, Sea, Sand and Shopping in Hoi An!!!!

sunny 38 °C
View Karl & Paula's Adventure (so far...) on karlnpaula's travel map.

When leaving Hanoi we took the enormous bus journey to Hoi An. This was my first experience with a 24 hour bus journey and I have to say I found it to be rather enjoyable. The first crazy thing about the overnight buses is that they all have bunk-beds in them. As we departed Hanoi bound for Hoi Ann, we felt slightly like we were prisoners in straight-jackets being transported to the local high security prison. This was due to the fact that all passengers need to lie horizontally as the bus sped down the highway while everyone was strapped in holding onto the bunk-bed for dear life. The good news was that bed itself was very comfortable and after several diazepams (Valium) it was clear you were going to get a good night sleep. The only other concern was in the middle of the night, the bus as expected broke down. But the driver then reassured us by fixing the problem with some black tape and wire that he found on the street. Thankfully the diazepam pills made us feel we were in safe hands. We then arrived safely in Hoi An albeit 30 hours later and it instantly felt refreshing to escape the chaotic bus ride and the craziness of Hanoi.

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As soon as the bus dropped us off we checked into the nearest hotel for convenience. This turned out to be a great choice so we continued to stay there for our whole visit as it was only $12 USD per night. I do not know what I expected from Hoi An but on our first day I instantly fell in love with the place. Hoi An is located in the South Central Coast of Vietnam and the beaches are just beautiful. It is also another UNESCO world heritage site and it is easy to see why. The architecture is distinctly French and Spanish where there are lovely coffee shops and picturesque balconies and buildings in an array of different styles and colours. But the main reason why tourists flock to Hoi An is for the tailors. Here you can pretty much get anything you want from shoes to bags, to dresses, to suits and you can even have your designs and styles copied from your most favourite garments. I was immersed in sun, sea, sand and shopping and quite simply, I was in heaven.

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On the first day we got to business in kitting ourselves out with new wardrobes. When choosing a tailor it is very important that you do your homework. There are literally hundreds of tailors and they all tell you the same thing that they use good quality fabric and that they are different from the rest. The first thing I would recommend is for anyone who visits Hoi An they should allocate as much time as possible. Believe it or not, tailor shopping can be stressful and it is not so fun in the baking heat. So my best advice is to do all you’re shopping in the evening and spend the day on the beach. We bumped into so many people slugging around in the midday heat looking very stressed and most likely making bad decisions due to the pushy shop assistants.

Our strategy was then to start at the most expensive tailors and then work our way down the price line. Yaley and A Dong Silk are the most prestigious tailors in the town but we personally felt they were overpriced and overrated. Instead we read many reviews on this tailor called Mr Xe and decided to check him out. As soon as we walked into his slightly primitive showroom, Mr Xe turned out to be a short flamboyant Vietnamese man who greeted us with a shining smile and had his daughters’ rap fabrics around us while making us feel at home. Karl then worked his haggling magic and purchased a tailor made cashmere woollen three piece suit for only £100 and I ended up buying 2 skirts based on my favourite skirt along with a cocktail dress for only £40. The next day we went back for a fitting and my cocktail dress looked like a bridal wedding dress. Mr Xe was not happy about this and then demanded that I come with him while in this white dress and insisted that I jump on the back of his motorbike. With trepidation, I jumped on the back of his bike and I think every Vietnamese person thought Mr Xe had stolen the blonde Scottish bride as we jetted down the busy cramped streets. He then took me to his workshop where he began telling off the dressmakers how badly they got it wrong. The next day we then returned and both Karl’s suit and my dress and skirts looked great. Mr Xe then insisted that we join him for a special lunch as it was public religious holiday. He then forced us to eat food that looked unpronounceable and I hid the half of the food underneath the table in a napkin and thankfully he never caught me out. The thought still counted though and we were very happy with all our purchases.

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Our other experience was with a tailor called Nhi Nhi on 64 Le Loi St and she is just superb for casual wear. Here I bought a jacket and a dress while Karl outshopped me buying 5 casual shirts, 2 business shirts and 2 jackets. One of the most difficult things about tailoring in Hoi An especially for females is to design something that is fashionable and will have a good fit. Therefore my recommendations are to go with a tailor that understands contemporary fashion as a lot of the examples are ill-fitting and outdated. Karl’s haggling was even fiercer here where he managed to use all his charm to get us a wonderful deal where we paid £130 for all of this clothing. When we went to collect the clothes everything was perfect first time and no alternations were needed. We were extremely happy with the service she provided. So if you are going to Hoi An for clothes make sure you visit Mr Xe and Nhi Nhi, you wont be disappointed and no we aren’t on commission.

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For the remainder of our time, we cycled to the beach everyday which was an exciting journey every time. As I dodged the motorbikes, cyclists, cars, trucks, buses and animals on my bike I realised how much I loved it here and how Hoi An really is the perfect holiday destination. You have everything here you could need and want such as sun, sea, sand and shopping and it was the perfect way to end our 2 week trip in Vietnam. To be honest, at this point I really didn’t want to leave. Tomorrow we fly to Hong Kong the final destination our trip. Scotland is now beginning to feel very close indeed.

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Much love,

Paula

Hoi An, Vietnam

Posted by karlnpaula 10:47 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Trekking Sapa

semi-overcast 25 °C
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After surviving the bus journey back to Hanoi we then had to directly take the overnight train to Sapa which is in Vietnam's North West. Sapa is one of Vietnam’s few mountain ranges and this is where the majority of the country's rice is produced. This was our first occurrence of a train ride in South East Asia and this was an experience in itself. Our berth had 6 beds in it so it was very tight and we later discovered we had bed bugs as we all felt the nips in the night.

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In the morning we woke bitten but alive and we finally arrived at The Summit Hotel and managed to get settled in to some form of luxury. I was really impressed with our hotel, it was clean and the best part was that all the food was inclusive in our tour. After a wonderful breakfast, we then started our tour where we were introduced to our guide “Shom”. She was 16 year old girl who could speak 4 languages and she was just amazing. She was from one of the Hmong tribal villages which is an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Her job was to take us on an trek around Sapa's mountain range, showing us the ways of the various tribal villages, explaining the difference in cultural beliefs while providing a guided tour of the rice paddy fields. Funnily enough at the start of our tour, we were introduced to most of her tribe who followed us around asking questions and being really friendly. I thought these young girls were cute and harmless until they turned on us at the end of the walk producing tons of hand made items for sale out of thin air. It was quite incredible how they managed to hide this stuff and the way they would hassle you and make you feel guilty if you refused to buy. The only thing is once you buy from one they expect you to buy from everyone and these handmade items are not cheap. At the end of the tour you are then free to explore Sapa town but we decided to spend the rest our day relaxing in our hotel trying to recover from the midnight express, the bedbugs and Halong Bay.

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As we woke on the second day bright and early, it was time to start the long trek around the tribal villages and rice paddies. The weather in Northern Vietnam can be quite cool and rainy but we were lucky to have sunny warm weather, which was great as the walk is very muddy and slippery. I could not imagine doing this tour in the rain as it would be slightly dangerous and unpleasant. As we trekked though mountainous region it was really interesting to meet the people from the villages and hearing about their ways of life and cultures. In the afternoon, we stopped off for a meal before the end of the trek then took a mini bus back to the hotel. We said our goodbyes to our amazing tour guide Shom and thanked her by rewarding her with a rather generous tip of £9. This would have been a massive tip for her and she literally ran out the hotel then skipped down the road, so I think we made her weekend. On the way back to Hanoi we then decided to upgrade on the night train and wow what a difference a 4 bed deluxe berth makes. It was cleaner, more modern and happy to report no strange men (apart from Karl) was in our berth! Overall, I must say this was one of the best things I have ever done since travelling and it was the perfect way to end our Northern Vietnam trip.

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Paula

Sapa, Vietnam

Posted by karlnpaula 10:04 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Sailing around Halong Bay

sunny 35 °C
View Karl & Paula's Adventure (so far...) on karlnpaula's travel map.

For this part of our trip we decided to take an easy approach by visiting Northern Vietnam’s highlights through guided tours. We (Karl, Ian and me) did a tiny bit of research and managed to book the tours for really cheap but we later found that cheapness comes at a rather different price.

On our first tour we visited Halong Bay which is located in North Eastern Vietnam and it literally borders Mainland China. In 1994, the core zone of Halong Bay was listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site and once you see the bay it is easy to see why. In the morning when the mini bus picked us up from our hotel we were feeling a little uneasy as the bus was an hour late and no other tourists were in sight. But this uneasy feeling was soon replaced by an anxiety as we sped down the road overtaking anything that got in our way – obviously the driver had to make up lost time. During the bus ride we witnessed a near fatality where two motorcyclists crashed into one another and as we dodged to avoid them we nearly hit an 'innocent' cyclist riding down the wrong side of the motorway. In Vietnam, road accidents are a daily part of driving life and thankfully we were able to avoid being part of one. When we arrived at the boat dock our passports were then taken from us as my uneasy feeling returned as I watched my most valuable possession being put in a plastic carrier bag! The apparent reason for this was that since we would be sailing so close to the Chinese border, there was a chance that customs could demand to see our passports and it was also prevent us from abandoning ship and swimming to China. We later found out this was a load of nonsense and the reason why they took our passports was in the event that we would do a runner and not pay for the bar-tab. I think they know backpackers way too well.

The cruise was a 2 day and 1 night tour which meant we got to sleep on the boat. We started off the day by getting to know our boat buddies over a rather plain meal of rice, green leaves and one fish between six people and this is one of the main reasons why you should pay a little extra for the tour. As we sailed around the beautiful waters of Halong bay we passed through some of the 3000 amazing limestone islands. These islands are thousands of years old and considered as one of Vietnam’s most spectacular sights and it really is a stunning sight to behold. On our first stop we arrived at a massive underwater cave called the Thien Chung grotto which was just amazing. It literally took 40 minutes to walk around the cave and when you reach the light at the end of the tunnel you encounter panoramic views of limestone islands sitting like statues peacefully on the clear turquoise water.

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This was the last time we would be on solid land as the remainder of the tour was spent sailing. During this time you sail around stunning floating villages where all the fishermen and their families live even with their dogs! After a hard day’s sailing it is then time to settle down for the night and anchor up where you are free to do what you want. We then spent the early evening jumping off the top deck into the warm water, swimming, playing drinking games and having to suffer another dreadful meal that was apparently beef but I had my suspicions that it was mostly likely dog or a combination of both. I have to say though, even though the cabin crew and the food weren’t the nicest, I really had a fantastic day and we were very lucky to have a great bunch of people on our boat who really made the trip.

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In the morning we then woke to incredible views and as I chilled on the top-deck soaking up the rays we made our way back slowly to the mainland. For the best part of the day, we went kayaking around the limestone islands which was great fun but tiring on the old arms so I ensured that Karl was doing most of the hard-work. Iain was also unfortunate to be the last person in the queue and he had to then kayak all by himself. When we arrived back at dock in the afternoon we were then taken to a restaurant for a meal which was tasty and by this point I was very relieved to eat after literally feeling starved. Overall, Halong Bay is a must see for anyone who is visits Vietnam, but it really is worthwhile to pay a little extra and there is no reason why your tour will not be perfect.

Paula xxx

Hanoi, Vietnam

Posted by karlnpaula 10:04 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam is Braw

sunny 35 °C
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Hello avid readers of Karla and Paula’s South East Asia Travel blog. My dear friends and co-authors Karl and Paula have kindly given me the privilege to contribute my thoughts. Firstly, introductions are a necessity. My name is Iain Logan and I was part of the Scottish contingent that boarded the flight from Glasgow to Dubai nearly a year ago to the day. Previous to Karl’s blog called ‘Goodbye Beautiful Brisbane’ I will begin by giving a brief outline of my thoughts on Brisbane and Australia. Karl is truly in love with Brisbane. He bravely took the leap from the comfort of Glasgow University and studied his junior honours year at the University of Queensland. Upon his arrival back in Glasgow we moved into a flat along with another friend Stephen. Karl would simply not shut up about Brisbane. Every time we were having a wee bevy (a mix of cheap Scottish alcohol and banter) in the flat he would load up the old Dell computer, dim the lights and the slide show of Australia would commence. Suffice to say his enthusiasm was contagious and a year in the Sunshine State was firmly planted in my immediate plans. However, as regards to Brisbane as a city I simply do not share the same level of love that the Karl possesses for her. Yes Brisbane is a fantastic City in terms of location and climate. To the north is the majestic Sunshine Coast with hidden gems like Coolum Beach and the French Riveriaesque style Noosa. To the South you have the fun and games of the Gold Coast where all your dreams can become reality if you have the required capital. Yes the climate is subtropical and for any Scotsman simply luxurious. However, Brisbane lacks one key ingredient – an edge. For me this is why Brisbane simply cannot compete on a City level to the diverse, cosmopolitan and bohemian Melbourne. If any readers have visited Glasgow before you will understand what I mean by a City having an Edge. Not in dangerous way but a place of excitement and energy. For me Brisbane did not have this. However, Brisbane is currently entering an economic and population boom period so it will be extremely interesting to visit in 10 years to see if it’s inherited this edge that Melbourne currently possess.

Moving onto Asia, the rough plan was to meet Karl and Paula in Hanoi Backpackers situated in the Old Quarter in the Social Republic of Vietnam. I was on a marathon journey from the small holiday resort of Krabi in South Thailand while Karl and Paula were on crazy 24 hour bus journey/flight from KL. Basically, we were arriving in Vietnam airport at approximately the same time after horrendous journeys. To be honest I was fairly anxious and nervous about entering Vietnam customs as I had heard so many horror stories from various backpackers. At customs I was filling in the necessary forms and suddenly my ears prickled with the unmistakable dulsic tones of a broad Kirkcaldy accent. I spotted Karl and Paula and to their detriment they didn’t notice me. Always one for a practical joke I decided to sneak up behind Karl, grab his right arm with considerable force and drag him off his feet while simultaneously shouting a concoction of made up Asian gibberish. As soon as I played this prank I felt guilty as his tanned face drained of all blood and turned a strange shade of yellow. He absolutely shat himself!!! Like I said I instantly felt guilty but could also not stop laughing at the success of the prank. So... welcome to Vietnam folks.

We managed to befriend a fellow Scot in Hanoi Airport and share a taxi to Hanoi City Centre. Wow... the most unforgettable driving experience of my life. For any Mothers or loved ones of Karl and Paula reading this I think it is best to omit certain finer details. So Hanoi... Stop. Close your eyes. Smell the petrol fumes of thousands of motorbikes. Hear the constant din of over revved engines. Open your eyes and welcome to what can only be depicted as organised chaos. I instantly fell in love with the place. If you want a City that has edge - come to Hanoi. If you have ever worked with a ‘jobsworth’ who loves rules and regulations transport them to Hanoi and watch their eyes bulge while their veins on their neck pump with blood as the physically breakdown and weep at the madness. The French have visually left their stamp of imperialism on Hanoi. This ranges from the beautiful architecture of the quaint cafes serving coffee so strong it would be illegal in any other country to the best French baguettes outside Paris. After checking into our spotless hotel with ensuite, mini-bar (which got destroyed) and satellite TV we ventured out onto the paved jungle of the Old Quarter. After 100 yards of walking like stupid sleep deprived western tourists amongst the chaos, Karl and I nearly got pick pocketed. Not for the first time in our adventure in Vietnam, Paula saved the day by scaring the pick-pocket away with a forceful slap. Fore his sake, he luckily managed to escape!

I simply cannot emphasise how beautiful Vietnam is. After a day of recovery and finding our bearings in Hanoi we booked a boat tour to the famed Halong Bay and a 3 night/2 day trekking adventure to Sapa (North Vietnam). Paula will cover these days in more detail so I will finish my post with a brief view on our current location in Ha Noi. If anybody reading this post dreams of paradise beaches with palm trees, literally servants to fulfil all your desires beach side and the cheapest tailored made clothes in the world, then cancel all your current holiday destinations and come to Vietnam. With one hundred percent certainty you will not be disappointed. From my perspective it is only backpackers that venture to Vietnam and this should not be the case. Yes it is technically a communist government and perhaps this distracts Westerns from visiting Vietnam. However, I believe this is to Vietnams’ benefit as it retains its unique culture, heritage and charm. Thailand on the other hand is like a Disney Land version of Asia compared to Vietnam. This is mainly due to Thai Government freely welcoming all Western tourists and making it extremely easy for any Western to holiday in Thailand. My advice is to be gallaus and book a flight to Hanoi and explore this wonderful country before the rest of the Western world discovers this gem with the detrimental result of driving up prices and in the worst case Vietnam becoming a replica of Thailand.

Iain

Hanoi, Vietnam.

Posted by karlnpaula 08:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

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