Wednesday, December 3rd, 2003 – Day 288 to Thursday, December 4th, 2003 – Day 289

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2003 – Day 288

While the bus did not come to collect me, they send a moto driver instead. We left Hanoi at 7.45am. I was in with a nice bunch of people. All five had French (Belgiums, French, Suwizs). They were all nice though and had good English.

It took three gours to get there and a free luch was ncluded. it was filling as there was only 3 of us at our table so I ate for three.

Hoa Lu

From A.D. 968 to 1010, Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam under the Dinh Dynasty and the first part of the Le Dynasty. It is located in a valley surrounded by awesome limestone formations, and is known as the inland Halong Bay. It is a similarly picturesque sight and much easier to reach. Most of what remains of the kingdom are ruins, but there are still temples in the valley, renovated in the 17th century.

Bich Dong Pagoda is located 11 km from Ninh Binh in Ninh Binh province and can be reached by either boat or car. Bich Dong Pagoda, built on Ngu Nhac Mountain, is divided into three levels: Ha Pagoda (lower pagoda), Trung Pagoda (middle pagoda), and Thuong Pagoda (upper pagoda). On the mountain peak stands the statue of a scholar Mandarin looking at the horizon in hope of viewing the spectacular landscapes of Hoa Lu.

From the upper pagoda, one has the most magnificent view of Bich Dong, which is romantically charming in terms of architecture and history. The location for this pagoda was chosen in 1428 after two monks were charmed by the view of the river and the mountains. Later, King Le Canh Hung wrote a poem in honour of the beautiful pagoda and landscape. He was the one who said that Bich Dong Pagoda was the second nicest pagoda in Vietnam, after the Huong Pagoda, also called Perfume Pagoda, in Ha Tay province.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Teddy Bears not having a Picnic. (03-12-2003)

The temples were fine. It was nice to ahve few tourists in the area. There was only one other small group. I was surprised they were not more. One cannot visit Bich Dong Pagoda without visiting Tam Coc Cave, located approximately 2 km from the pagoda.

Tam Coc is an awesome site of giant limestone karst formations jutting out of the rice paddies that surround the Ngo Dong River about 9km southwest of Ninh Binh, North Vietnam. It is often labelled “The Halong Bay of the rice paddies,” in reference to similiar karst formations that rise out of the South China Sea at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay. The name Tam Coc means “Three Caves.” As you are rowed down the Ngo Dong River by the famous leg rowers of Tam Coc, you pass through three enormous caves that provide a brief respite from the intense summer sun. It takes approximately three hours to go up and down the river and along the way, you witness local fisherfolk, village life along the river and, of course, the striking limestone karst formations that Tam Coc is famous for. You can buy snacks and drinks from the local vendors who row their boats up to yours but if you are prepared (as we were), you can easily bring a couple of liters of Bia Hoi along with you for the journey.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

This was nice. Hundreds of paddle boats were avaialble. It is the main source of income for women in this area. Two tourists and two paddlers (one to paddle each leg of the trip) can fit on the boat. They get 10,000 Dong per tourist but because so many women do it, they only get a chance to row for tourists TWICE a month. therefore they try and sell lace and tablecloth to yo on the trip. They also try for tips and food sales. It was about 40 minutes rowing each way. It was good. The rowers were good craic and the weather was good. We rowed into some caves which was nice. A far better experience than Halong Bay.

We arrived back in Hanoi at 5.15pm.

I see Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra vowed Wednesday to keep up what he calls his successful war on drugs. Thaksin, denies accusations his government condoned the killings of more than 2,000 suspected traffickers and peddlers. It is calimed most were killed by Police.

Wednesday, December 4th, 2003 – Day 289

Very little done today. I watched Snatch on the TV last night. Grat Movie. I got up at 1.o0am and walked to the Railway Station to buy a ticket to Sapa for tomorrow night. A hard sleeper Bunk was 109,000 Dong. I collect my Visa for China tomorrow. its a three month Double Entry visa. It will cost 45 USD. I was really lazy today but I really need to catch up on information and routes regarding China. So far, I am clueless.

Watched Indonesia play Vietnam in the SEA games tonight. There is great excitment around the city. They are Soccer crazy. Vietnam won 1-0. Thousands were out celebrating on there motor bikes. They fly all over town wearing headbands while the bike passengers wave massive flags. Its like the World Cup here at the moment. I was the cause of a small accident around 10.00pm. As usual they dont give a damn about red lights at traffic stops, so I was crossing the road while green but still had Honda zooming past me. One guy doing about 30 miles an hour braked (it wasa red light) and two motor bikes from behind crashed into him. Little damage was done butI could hear some heated words while I walked on. There was no point in getting involved.

I had a few beers on the road side. A beer from a stall (one large glass) will cost about 1500-3000 Dong. Nice stuff too. I watched a bit of Rambo 3 (dont ask) before heading to bed.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Sign at a Pagoda (04-12-2003)

Trouble readjusting to life back home after spending time travelling?

Here’s a few handy hints that should help you settle back in:

1) Replace your bed with two or more bunk beds, and every night invite random people in to sleep there. This will make things seem more hostel like, and will also boost your karma. Ensure at least once a week a couple gets drunk and shags on one of the top bunks all night. Remove beds one by one as symptoms improve.

2) Sleep in your sleeping bag, and forget to wash it for months.

3) Sleep in a different room each day, varying it by setting the air conditioning either too hot or too cold. Sleep behind a pot plant for that jungle effect. Cats also double as pumas with a little imagination. Put up a mosquito net, ensuring that there are plenty of holes, and it falls down at least twice during the night.

4) Enlist help of a family member to set your radio alarm randomly to go off at some time during the night, filling your room with loud talking. Works best if you can find a radio station in Hebrew.

5) Slowly remove items of clothing etc from your backpack, until you are completely using your wardrobe instead. Maybe only one item a day, but remember its one step at a time kids, one step at a time. Don’t forget to smell your clothes before wearing them, and re-introduce the use of the iron SLOWLY.

6) Buy your favourite foodstuffs, and despite living at home, write your name and when you might next be leaving the house on them. This should be the backpackers staple diet of mainly pasta,potatoes and beer.

7) Ask family member to every now or again steal one of the above foodstuffs, preferably the one you’ve most been looking forward to, or the most expensive.

8) Keep at least one item of food far too long or in a bag out in the sun, so you have to spend at least 24 hours within sprinting distance of the toilet.

9) Even if it’s a Sunday, make sure you’re out of the house by 10am, and then stand on the corner looking lost. Ask first passer-by of similar ethnic background if they’ve found anywhere good to go yet.

10) Once decided to possibly get a job, take a fully packed rucksack to work with you every day. Although it’s perfectly safe next to the coffee machine, watch it like a hawk.

11) Buy your bus, train ticket or order a taxi in a foreign language. The fact the person behind the counter won’t understand you simply adds to the authenticity. Remember to barter for everything, if the bus driver says 70p, offer 30p.

12) When sitting on public transport (the tube in London is the best) introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you, say which stop you got on, where your going to, how long you have been travelling and what university you went to. If they say they are going to Morden, say you met a guy on the central line who said it was terrible, you’ve heard Parsons Green is better, and cheaper.

13) When possible travel everywhere at break neck speeds on a moped carrying as much luggage as possible, without protection

14) Shower infrequently, ensuring that you continue to apply Deet for that true travel aroma.

These simple but effective instructions should help you fall back into normal society with the minimum of effort. Good luck!

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2003 – Day 287

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2003 – Day 287

I was awoken at 7.00am by some construction work next store. No wonder the place is so cheap. I meant to get up early any way. I walked 20 minutes to a bank to get a cash advance. I needed some USD for my Chinese trip. It takes time, paper work etc. You need a passport. it took nealy 25 mnutes and I signed a half dozen forms. I also had to pay 3% commission. Bastards. You also pay 20,000 Dog commission when using an ATM to withdraw Dong. Anyway when he was giving me the cah, I think he tried to pull a fast one. He gave me the USD and waved me away with thanks. I stayed and counted the cash. There was only 40% of what I had withsrawn. He was ALL apologies for trying to keep 60%. I dont know if it was a mistake or atempted theft.

I took a moto taxi to the Chinese Embassy. I am always afraid of embassy and border officials. Anyway it was straight forward. I wanted a 3 month double entry Visa as I would be leaving China in early January but re-entering in late January via Hong Kong. I flled out one form and I had a passport photo. It was 45 USD. The hotel wanted me to give it to them to do, but they were charging 52 USD. I saved 7 USD there. Anyway it would be ready to collect friday, the 5th. It a day longer than I expected but I have time. I could have gotten it tomorrow if I paid a 20 USD express fee.

It was only 9.15am so i walked to the now opened Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. I had to walk ito the complex in a round about way, but the ques were moving fast. Its free in but they expect foreigners to buy a leaflet for 4000 Dong. Its optional. I had to give my bag into a counter and off we went. We went through metal detectors and anybody though to have a concealed camera was searched. A guy in front of me was searched three times as he a bulge (his book) in his pocket.

It was weird as we went in. It was like a funeral parlour. There was a big open casket coffin with glass over it. There he was inside looking exactly like his pictures. There were four guards stationed around him and a big hammer and sickle and the red star of Vietnam on the wall behind. There wasnt a sound. There were lots of old army guys visiting. It was good.

Next I visited:

Ho Chi Minh’s Museum

English-language explanations help to piece together the fragments of Ho’s life and cause here, and there are personal items, photos, and documents detailing the rise of the nation’s communist revolution. The rhetoric is laid on a bit thick, but all in all it’s an interesting and informative display. Completely unique to Vietnam are the conceptual displays symbolizing freedom, reunification, and social progress through flowers, fruit, and mirrors. Have a look.

and:

Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)

For sheer gruesome atmosphere alone, this ranks near the top of the must-see list. It was constructed by the French in 1896 mainly to house political prisoners, and the Vietnamese took it over in 1954. It was subsequently used to house prisoners of war. From 1964 to 1973, it was a major POW detention facility. U.S. senator John McCain was a particularly famous inmate, as was Pete Peterson, the ambassador to Vietnam, and Lieut. Everett Alvarez, officially the first American pilot to be shot down over Vietnam. Their stories are told from the Vietnamese perspective in photographs and writings grouped in one small room. To the west is the guillotine room, still with its original equipment, and the female and Vietnamese political prisoners’ quarters. The courtyard linking the two has parts of original tunnels once used by a hundred intrepid Vietnamese revolutionaries to escape in 1945. Only part of the original complex is left; the rest of the original site was razed and is ironically occupied by a tall, gleaming office complex popular with foreign investors. There are basic English explanations, but this is a good spot to have a guide who is certain to be armed with a tale or two.

It was only 5,000 Dong in and it was excellent. Alot dealt with the time, the prison was used by the French to house revolutionary Vietnamese. Still there were was a A vietnam war section and it had lots of pictures of Americans in the Jail including the first USA Ambassador to Vietnam (which happened only in 1997) , Pete Peterson. He spent six years there.

There was also pictures of John McCain, who went for president of the USA a few years ago. They even had the jumpsuit he was captured in on exhibit. He was in Jail here for five and a half years. They take POW seriously.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Teddy Bears not having a Picnic. (02-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – The Hanoi Hilton. (02-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – The Hanoi Hilton. (02-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – The Hanoi Hilton. (02-12-2003)

One semi-scam I should mention that happens all over Vietnam are the coin collectors. You often get kids asking where are you from. If you say Europe, they ask how much is the Euro worth. you might say 15,000 Dong. They then produce 2-6 Euro in coins asking you to exchange telling you that you can use them when you get back. You cant argue with his. I often tell them I work in Singapore as there is too many of them. If you are not from Euope they may ask for a souvenior from your country. Often you get asked for coins from these budding coin colelctors. It seems innocent enought, and I have seen lots of people who would not normally give to beggars, give coins to these kids. They then sell them back to other people of the same nationality.

I called into a travel agent to took a tour to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc tomorrow for 11 USD. it leaves at 7.00am and should be back at 5.00pm. I see on the NET that landmines still cause headaches for Vietnamese. Many are maimed and killed each year.

I called into a restaurant and decided to have roast pigeon tonight. Something different. It was a bit stringy and had too much tendons/musles. I didnt like the fact they also roasted the head and had it in my olate as well. I made no attempt to eat it.

Monday, December 1st, 2003 – Day 286

Monday, December 1st, 2003 – Day 286

I was up at 6.45am and I checked out. I left my bags there to collect later. The Sinh Cafe bus collected me at 7.15am. It was a small group of 5 Japanese with no English and 2 Chinese tourists. The other companies charge less but you may have 50 people with you. No pretty.

It was a 3 hour journey to halong city where we had a free lunch. It was included and I ate for 5 people. The weather was bad. It was wet and misty and foggy but not raining. Still I was not impressed. We stopped twice in the sea. The first time we took a speed boat under some caves and into lagoons. We also called to two massive caves. We also stopped at a sea fish and crap farm. It is here where the Japs went mad.

Halong Bay, a natural wonder, is 3,000 islands of varying sizes in the Gulf of Tonkin, many housing spectacular limestone grottos. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bay itself is a 4-hour drive from Hanoi among often almost unbearably bad roads, and usually includes at least one overnight stay. Given the logistics, the trip is best done via an agent or with a group. When you book a tour with an overnight stay, you’ll probably cruise on a junk for 4 to 6 hours along the bay, stopping to explore two grottos. You might pause for a swim as well. If you’re really pressed for time, the tourist cafes do a daily trip for US$24 per person, departing Hanoi at 7am and getting you back by midnight. But that’s really pushing it. Overnight trips can cost anywhere from US$16 to upward of US$150 for one overnight. It depends on whether you hire a bus or a private driver, where you stay, and what you eat. Sinh Cafe does a fine job on the low end, and Ann’s Tourist is a good choice for the higher end.

Back to the Japs. When they saw the Shrimp, the crabs etc. out came the wads of cash. It was like peer pressure. One guy wanted one and then they all wanted one. When one bought a shrimp, the rest wanted two each. The fisherman could not believe his eyes and they never bargained once. Whatever he asked for he got. They had no English or idea of money. They could not distinguish between the notes. The guide had to take the money from there wallets. They paid nealy 100 USD for fish food. Yeah, 100 USD.

A lady on the boat brought them in and chucked all the crabs and fish into a big pot. It was unusual to see. She cracked their noses (the crabs) and they were frailing away and it was a bit sad as they tried to climb out of a the pot of boiling water. The japs were in full swing at this stage nd were knocking back the beer. They must have been here on business as they were in their 50’s and 60’s.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Halong Bay – Caves. (01-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Halong Bay. (01-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Halong Bay. (01-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Halong Bay – Boats Selling Fruit etc. (01-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Halong Bay – Boats Selling Fruit etc. (01-12-2003)

Anyway we left shore at 12.45am this morning and we were back at 4.00pm. We were back in Hanoi by 7.00pm. We stopped once where the Japs brough boxes of Green bean cake. If one bought one box, the next guy purchased 2 boxes and so on. They were totally broke after the day.

Once I got back in, I checked out some more hotels and decided on one for 6 USD. Same price as Lotus but I get TV, hot ensuite shower etc. I got them to send a moto bike for my bags. I was in bed by 11.45pm ater geting a bite to eat. I also went on the NET.

I see an Irish tourist was saved by passers-by in Buenos Aires

An Irish tourist was rescued by passers-by as she was being punched and kicked by a bag thief in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital. Melanie Pratt, a 32-year-old engineer, was attacked as she was taking photos in the Palermo neighbourhood of the city. She was saved by a young couple, and a personal trainer, who heard her cry for help. They caught the thief and held him until police arrived. Argentinean Ernesto Gomez, aged 27, was arrested. Ms Pratt had minor injuries to her knees and hip.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Halong Bay – The famous bridge in the old Quarter linking the land to the temple. Hoan Kiem is considered the center of the city. It is also known as the Lake of the Recovered Sword. In the mid-15th century, the gods gave emperor Le Thai To a magical sword to defeat Chinese invaders. (01-12-2003)