It would appear that I got a little lazy with blogging on our journey though Vietnam. That, or just too preoccupied with the amount of fun in the sun we were having to find the time to sit and tell people about it. Our journey through this beautiful country has now come to an end and we have crossed the sea to Australia! For now, I’ll just let you know a few things that we got up to after we left heavenly Halong Bay.
After leaving the boat we made our way to the airport to take a plane to Da Nang. As any backpacker, money was on our mind, so despite the fact that our flight wasn’t until 6am we made our way to the airport with the free ride that had been offered to us and arrived there at 3pm! We soon found some wifi, some abandoned seats for a lay down and of course some massage chairs! Never before had I paid for this experience (as in England it costs a fortune for a turn), but I can assure you that 30mins for 50p was well worth it and killed the time in a beautiful way. After our odd electronic massage, we began to settle down for the night. This is where our money saving plan went out the window as a security guard turned up and told us we had to leave the airport as it was closing overnight! We begrudgingly packed up and went to “his friends motel” (dodgy). The place thankfully was fine, I mean I wouldn’t rate it as great on trip advisor but it had a bed and a shower so we were able to get some rest and a wash before our flight! And as he thought we had no money it cost us little to nothing too 🙂
I can’t say we did a lot in Da Nang but we did thoroughly enjoy our time there. James got to spend a day in his own version of Disneyland! We took a morning trip to the Da Nang Museum which had plenty on The Vietnam War. We then spent a few hours of our afternoon in an arcade that we found – and had a blast! Considering that at home you’d be close to bankruptcy after a few games, we paid the equivalent of just over £2 and got 40 coins – 1 coin per game. Lots of fun! Other than this day, we just chilled out, watched some tv, recooperated and spent some time strolling along the beach. And, before I forget (and then don’t hear the end of it) I had to let my knight in shining armour be someone else’s …. for a short time. James saved a small child from drowning in the ferocious waves on the beach. And in turn got told off by the lifeguard for swimming on his way out of the water with said child in his arms! (I literally went for a loo break and i come back to an edited blog.. wonder who did that? I’ll leave it there to keep him happy.
Our time in Da Nang was made particularly special by the girls we stayed with. Helen and Van were the same age as us and had previously been tour guides in Hoi An before moving up the coast to Da Nang. They had opened their homestay not many months before and were absolutely loving have foreigners stay in their home with them. They were very sweet and also helpful in planning the next leg of our adventure. On top of this, we spent one night cooking traditional Vietnamese cuisine with them (followed by eating it together!). This was a lot of fun, and all but one thing was scrummy. We had pancakes and spring rolls and noodles and chicken.. but we were also offered Balut; a Vietnamese traditional food that Helen found it quite amusing was pretty horrifying to foreigners. In simple terms, it was a baby duck still in its egg. You cracked the top off, drank the juices like a shot and then pulled the inside apart and ate it. She advised us not to peel it like the locals do else we would see it more.. but to be honest curiosity got the better of us and we had a look anyway. You could see feathers for sure. I was a little disappointed to begin with that I simply couldn’t stomach it. Having only just began to feel near normal after our sickness episode I wasn’t ready to risk it again, James however dived in! He did his shot and even ate some egg, until we spotted the feathers that is and he soon stopped too. I can say with ease, that it is definitely not a regret of mine to have not taken part in this dinner activity!
From Da Nang we took the short bus journey to Hoi An.
Initially we booked just one night at the guest house, but I think we made the owners week as we ended up staying three nights! Hoi An is best known for its tailor shops and leather making. I can honestly say that had we not been backpacking but holidaying instead we would have come back with arms full. You could walk into so many different shops and get measured up there and then to have personalised clothing made; suits, dresses, trousers, shirts – even coats if you could stand the heat whilst having it fitted! The leather shops smelt so good (sorry veggies!) and were brimming with sandals, boots, wallets and bags. And if they didn’t have the style you liked in the colour you wanted you just placed your order and picked it up freshly made within a day! The owners of these shops were immensely talented let alone hard working. Should we end up back in Hoi An before we return home, I will be certain to make a visit to one of these Fabric shops. Probably more than one if I’m honest.
My love for this town has definitely come from the lanterns that lace the streets. They’re all handmade from bamboo and covered in coloured fabric. Of a night the streets are a rainbow sea in which time was easily passed watching the world go by and wandering the markets trying to remember to look where you were going rather than at the lights hung above you. I also adored the stark contrast of two worlds separated by only a bridge into the main town. We took our bicycles and got lost (literally) in the village of Kim Bong. Only a 15 minute bicycle ride from the streets I’ve just depicted, it appeared we had travelled years in time. The village was home to many cows, women and children ploughing rice fields in the midday heat, and elderly men making boats to take on the river. We found ourselves in residential areas and completely in awe at some of the homes and these people’s way of life. On more than one occasion in fact we said the words out loud “People live here?!”.
A visit to Hoi An wouldn’t be complete without a day wasted at the beach swimming and surfing your way through the warm waves and drinking beer and/or coconut water. And, if you have the time, definitely make a visit to Jack’s Cat Cafe! We heard about the place after one of the guys from a Yangshuo told us he was doing some voluntary work there. I googled away and found it wasn’t far from where we were staying so we wandered down for some brunch on our last morning. The cafe was started by two expats who rescued just one cat, that turned into a cat with kittens, that turned into 60 current cats and hundreds being rescued and rehomed over their few years open. The cafe was like a sanctuary! It was so peaceful and colourful, and of course it was full of cats! And two chihuahuas actually. The owners work full time for organisations involved in protecting cats and dogs against theft for the meat trade and animal cruelty charities, therefore the cafe is only open for a few hours on certain days of the week and they rely heavily on volunteers to run the cafe and help clean up the house and garden after the kitties. We were blown away by these individuals caring nature and the commitment that goes into each of the rescues. They all get a vet check along with vaccinations and neauturing and at the time 4 kittens that had been pushed under the gate were being nursed in their spare room. A morning well spent, and money happily donated.
Ho Chi Minh City
Another journey took us to the former capital of the South, previously known as Saigon before the war. A walk around central Saigon showed us we were back in a bustling city where you take your life in your hands to cross the roads and pedestrian crossings and red lights mean nothing. The city was somewhat more picturesque than what we saw of Hanoi. Maybe partly because it was on the water, and we love water. The city was home to The War Remnants Museum which began as a trip that James had wanted to do since we got to a Vietnam, but actually turned into me having a good time too and not just accompanying him. I wasn’t quite as interested in the planes and tanks and guns on show, but found myself spending a lot of time in the area about Agent Orange looking at the effects the chemicals had on not only people in the war, but generations being born now. It was pretty nasty actually that some poor souls are still being affected in such terrible ways, but I think the medical part in me was interested in looking at the grim pictures and reading about how the chemicals had affected their genetics. Many of my work colleagues may find some interest in looking at the topic and it’s effects actually, because I guess us cancer warriors are a bit sick like that.
For our stay, we didn’t frequent a hotel or hostel, but an old school friend invited us to stay with him on the outskirts of the city. When we got in contact after realising he was living in HCMC now we had hoped to meet up for a drink or even dinner, but in no way expected free accommodation for a few days along with laughs, dinner, Christmas movies, home comforts, Vietnamese cuisine (more foetuses on offer), a school visit and fabulous company. The apartment was on the edge of district 7, so a way out of the city, but it was nice to be out of the manic streets that consisted mainly of nightclubs and fast food places from around the world! We got to chat to some great people who were working as teachers out in HCMC, and I was lucky enough to be able to go with Steve to one of his lessons. I can honestly say it was a real highlight of our trip to Vietnam. I can’t pretend we were great mates at school, it was more James who knew Steve, but it was such a pleasure to see a guy I knew from years back completely mesmerise a class of Vietnamese children with his lesson and have them laughing and giggling too. Steve, thank you so much, and hats off to you! I’m slightly jealous of the life you’ve created for yourself and have no trouble at all understanding why you don’t wanna head back to a England anytime soon. Your scooter driving was pretty nifty too!
Vietnam was full of laughs, beauty and beaches, dogs and sunshine, friendly faces, boats, food and sickness, beer, cats, new and old friends, scooters, happy times and most importantly memories. We’ve had an absolute blast in our 15 days (free visa time!!). I’m SO excited to be off the Australia now but come March when we are back in Asia, there’s a high possibility we will be back.