Our Valentines getaway… ;)

Hanny hanny fanny, oi, oi, oi…

Welcome to the bustling metropolis that is the capital of Vietnam… Having heard the great tales of this city and how soo many people loved it, we had high expectations which were VERY quickly driven over by the 20+ hour bus journey (supposed to be 12 hours) from Hue; the cold and rain and not to mention being ripped off by the taxi drivers on arrival…. Aaahh, what was not to love?!

We had a full five days to spend in Hanoi, thinking that we would be doing a 3 day tour to Halong Bay, but judging by the weather, I sure as hell wasn’t going to spend my nights stranded at sea while being offered additional options of kayaking, swimming in the freezing seas and the ultimate activity for the vegetarian, fishing!

So, the first couple of days we wandered around the Old Quarter, which is full of little shops selling anything from souvenirs to light bulbs. As Valentines was coming, many of the shops had been taken over by an abundance of heart shaped biscuits and chocolate boxes and others were brimming with humongous teddies … Wonder what I was gonna get for Valentines?

Anyways…The real hip and happening places were the street food stalls… On our first night there; a Saturday night, the street food vendors were packed out with girls dressed up in pretty dresses and heels and obviously accompanied by the boys! These were the places to be and be seen at!!

We also found a lovely little hotel/travel agent/ foreign exchange company/ launderette which would clean our clothes for just over a $1 per kg! Sweet! (This is pretty typical pricing in SE Asia)… I’m sure they had many more services to offer but we didn’t dare to ask! … Rishi had already been offered his fair share of beer, cigarettes and marijuana during this trip.. (Excuse the pun).

Valentines day came and my God, the roads had been taken over with flower stalls now. Big bouquets of flowers EVERYWHERE you looked! .. Yes ladies, Rish did offer to buy me flowers but I really didn’t have the energy to haggle with the flower sellers for my own roses!

We did however visit a really cool restaurant for lunch called Qoan An Ngon. It’s like a food court or market but very aesthetically pleasing and you sit in the middle on long tables with other people (kind of like Wagamamas) and order from a super long menu. Rishi and I had the choice of about 4 items from the full selection which included way more than 100 dishes, but still it was sooo good. We tried papaya salad, noodles with veggies, garlic rice and a tofu dish… Washed down with fresh watermelon juice all for the grand total of $7.50. It tasted incredible. A MUST visit in Hanoi.

Nearby was the Temple of Literature, which is a univeristy and temple dedicated to Confuscius. A cute little place to see. It was interesting to see the locals praying to a statue of Confuscius who was a man made famous for his high morals and high regard for education. Not a God by any means, but certainly extremely respected. The Temple has tortoise statues which have big tablets on their back with names of the graduates who went through gruelling exams to achieve this status. Apparently if you rub the head of the tortoise, you will have good luck in your studies. I made sure Rishi rubbed the tortoise head for a good 5 mins!

It was enough with the museums for Valentines day, so we went to visit West Lake for a romantic afternoon of tea and cakes… Let’s just say it didn’t quite go to plan, although we did venture into a 5* hotel, which was gorgeous except for the tons of mosquitoes and ridiculously priced food, so we had to do a runner. 🙁

We ended the day with a cyclo ride around the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake…(Another MUST do!)

Followed up by a slap up meal at a classy indian restaurant.. Ok it wasn’t classy, but after 3 weeks, we’ve already started to loose our concern of what kind of establishment we eat in… Think our regular phrase of ‘it does the job’ sums it up!

After such a wonderful day in Hanoi… We really started loving Hanoi and understood why others like it too… we strolled back to our hotel and on the way decided to pick up our laundry…. But ta ta ta, the a**h***s had lost the two of my most favourite and expensive items I’d handed in!! We sat there for an hour while the guy laughed and IM’d on facebook… Nice… As I sat there pissed off and upset, I couldn’t help wonder… how he was accessing Facebook?! cos it’s banned in Vietnam. I’ve sure got my priorities sorted ei?.. Don’t worry guys, I did manage to get my stuff back the next day..

That was 2 days ago, yesterday we did a fab day tour to Halong Bay. (Separate post)….

hmm got too lazy for separate post… but yes we went to halong bay in the fog … hurrah, not quite what the pictures you see online show you but hey ho… we also got to see some awesome caves, so cant complain tooooo much!!!…

Today, we checked out the French Quarter, went back to the market style restaurant, where we tried a Vietnamese pancake… Again SO good and ventured over to the 7p ice cream as Mit keeps calling it (it costs 7,000 Dong now – about 25p) …

As we licked our lollies, dressed in full winter clothing we came to a busy crossing. Most crossings in Vietnam are an opportunity to contemplate suicide or test your skills at dodge ball but with motorbikes.. (I did get hit on my arm by a passing car the other day!!) We must have looked pretty stumped at this crossing as an old Vietnamese lady came beside us, smiled and through her gestures told us to walk with her across the road. She grabbed my arm, took us across, smiled again and walked off… Now, if you’ve been to any Vietnamese cities you’ll have noticed that the people aren’t particularly friendly (not all, but A LOT) especially as they are too busy trying to rip you off. But this gesture by the lady totally blew me away.. Definitely made me re-evaluate my perception of the Vietnamese people. You’ve got to consider how many tourists even bother to learn how to say hello or thank you here in the Vietnamese language.. I’d guess not many by the reaction we get when we say thank you in Vietnamese.. Hmm…

All of that however, did not even compare to our next stop. The water puppet show… YES that’s what we do! We spend our time watching puppets. Not sure if that means we are very youthful or becoming old fogies?…

Despite my reservations, the show was actually quite good. The music reminded us a little of indian bhajans, and the water puppets were quite impressive. The horsey puppet jumped through fire!!! How cool is that? To be fair at $3 each for an hour’s show, you really can’t go wrong!

After all that excitement, we are now sitting in Highlands coffee overlooking the Hoan Kiem lake, having eaten a scrumptious brownie and the best sandwich ever.. We started in Vietnam at Highlands Coffee and ending it there… Perfect end to a varied and interesting couple of weeks.

Harley Davidson… Eat your heart out!!

“Get the motor running, ta da ta da, running on the high way… (okay god knows the rest, so I’m gonna skip to the chorus )…Born to be willlllldddddd!”

Okay enough with embarrassing myself…(Coz that’s so unlike me Anj is saying in the background)

Well before we get given the title of old foggies, it was time for some serious adventure…

It started with our first ever sleeper bus to Hoi An. Now a lot has been written about how uncomfortable these buses are, especially for tall people like me…but to be honest they aren’t that bad…okay they’re not 5 star, and agreed, you may get whiplash as you’re thrown up and down off the bed as the bus speeds over bumps…but you’re asleep for most of the journey…so another tick off the daring list for me and Anj!

Hoi An, if you don’t know is the clothes making capital of Vietnam, where you can get shoes, boots, suits, dresses…in fact even if you wanted a gorilla outfit they probably would have made that too…

However as cheap as it’s meant to be, its not really! Well for men’s suits anyway. In London, you can now get a tailor-made suit for under 100 quid, while Hoi An prices were around 50-70 and the material was not necessarily what they said it was. Hmm. Plus, with the reviews we had read about fitting, we decided it was better to stick to London where we can return it if it isn’t right!

After seeing the small number of sights and the main town (which only took half a day), have to say it truly is a beautiful, quaint little place. Absolutely loved the atmosphere.

Okay doesn’t sound too adventurous so far, I admit, but here’s where it gets fun…

During our bus journey to Hoi An, two girls we met from Germany told us about some wacky “easy rider trip” they took and told us we should take it too…

Now let me explain what easy rider is, and this will also explain my little intro song (as i sing it to myself again!)…

Easy rider is where you jump on the back of one of those random biker dude’s Harleys (okay…Honda) and they take you out on the open road..

You commit to staying in a random hostel chosen by them (god knows how bad that would be), eat where they eat (remember we’re veggies), do what they do, go where they go and literally give these strangers your lives in their hands…as they speed around remote places with you holding on to them for dear life…

…Well guess what we decided to do? Yep we booked it and not only for one measly day, but 2 days and 1 night… They would take us from Hoi An to Hue (another massive city in vietnam)…But instead of the normal, safe, city roads, they would take us through the mountains and villages so that we could see Vietnam in a completely different light (via the Ho Chi Minn trail)!

Those 2 days were the best part of Vietnam so far, without a doubt. Apart from just the pure adrenalin rush (and butt pains) you get from sitting on those bikes (head out of gutter again people…come on! :)); the views were spectacular and the things we experienced amazing.

We had the opportunity to see some breathtaking temples (including the hindu “My Son” temples), a few surrounded by beautiful serene lakes and wonderful forestry, that included pineapple trees, and other plants which close just from your touch.

We also crossed a lake on a motorbike ferry, met a cute family who make fresh rice paper like crepes….(mmm boy was that tasty), ate real cinnamon leaves, saw waterfalls, met 2 snakes and stopped at boiling hot water springs which are used by the locals to drink, shower and just have pure fun messing around in! Absolutely zero tourists, just real Vietnam life!

In fact, we also went to one village where the spice girls wouldn’t be too popular. In this village, after the men get married its apparently tradition that they do nothing but chill… the wife works and brings in the money, cooks, cleans, raises the children and does everything… so I did what every caring husband would do..I asked Anj if she wanted to move there… Don’t think I can repeat what she said here 🙂

…And how about the food…well it was proper street food, surprisingly tasty and didn’t make us ill…

Another surprise was the guest house, it was a lot cleaner then we expected too! What a relief, can’t imagine how Princess Sparkle would have dealt with it otherwise… Actually let me rephrase that, what she would have made me do otherwise! 🙂

But in all seriousness, one of the key things that truly hit us was the difference in the people we met…

Everywhere outside the city, people welcomed us with open arms, expected no money and even waved at us with a smile when we zoomed past. Stark contrast to many of the city people we had come across!

And getting to know our easy riders; Uncle 9 and Mr Trong was great. They were loads of fun, and they gave us some insight into really how people live in Vietnam, what they think and believe in. Was great!

If I could make one suggestion in vietnam…do Easy Rider, but make sure the drivers have a valid easy rider id!

(For those that want to know, here’s the people we used:

Truong Van Trong’s tour
Email: trongn59@yahoo.com
Tel: +84903597971)

Our easy rider trip ended in Hue, where they showed us some stunning pagodas and the massive citadel.

Here one tourist from China decided to run at me and hand me their baby and asked if they could take a picture! RANDOM (even though for some reason i did kinda feel chuffed :)).

Well after our previous few days adventures, Hue has provided a day of rest…especially before we hit the next sleeper bus to, the capital of vietnam, Hanoi in a couple of hours! Can’t wait…NOT!