The Perfume Pagoda

So we got up early this morning and got a 7:30am taxi to the bus station that serves the region where the Perfume Pagoda is found. The Perfume Pagoda is the tourist name for a large number of Buddhist temples located near the town of Chua Huang 60km southwest of Hanoi. When we arrived at the bus station we were hassled before the taxi even stopped with the doors being opened for us by touts keen to sell us trips to anywhere in the region. I was expecting this but didn’t know how bad it would be but I think it came as a little shock to Craig who is still new to this. Although the touts were pretty aggressive once you said no enough times and walked off they eventually started to leave us alone but I have to say I haven’t experienced anything as bad since I was in Africa and certainly nothing approaching this in Vietnam. We eventually managed to get directions to the correct bus from the one kind soul who you usually find in these places who sees you as more than a walking dollar sign and speaks a few words of English. This guy even told us how much the bus would cost (about 60p for 60km!) so we wouldn’t be overcharged! Once we boarded the correct bus we got seats and waited. The bus left pretty quickly but moved at a speed of about 10-15mph. We prayed that this wouldn’t be the top speed of this bus but as we slowly trundeled through the suburbs of Hanoi with people literally hopping on and off we got slightly worried. Luckily as the bus reached the outskirts of the city it picked up speed. Just over an hour and a half and a lot of people later the ticket man signalled that we had reached our stop and we got off in the middle of nowhere. Of course this being Vietnam we were immediately approached by motorbike drivers keen to drive us into the town about 5km away. Since we didn’t have the time to walk we were pretty much a captive audience and so took a very expensive 5km ride into the town (possibly called Chua Huong though we can’t remember). On the plus side we rode down peaceful country lanes surrounded by hills making for a beautiful trip! When we got into town we were met by a young woman who rowed the sampan boats required to get to the perfume pagoda. We were also met by the local ticket tout who had seen us coming into town and followed us to the boats. The ticket tout didn’t speak any English but the boat woman did. She explained in English that we had to buy tickets for the perfume pagoda from him. She told us that he would ask for a lot of money but that we could haggle down to $6.5 between us for the trip. In return for this the woman explained that the tout would pay her very little money for rowing us around for the day and made it clear that she expected us to pay her the extra directly. Since the boat woman was the person we’d be spending the day with and she’d told us how to save money we haggled with the ticket tout down to the price we’s been given which was actually less than quoted in the lonely planet. We bought the tickets from the tout and saw that we’d actually paid less than the face value of the tickets.

Since we were short on time we opted for a short tour of the temples so we boarded a boat along with our boat woman and her friend and they started rowing us up the river. We all wanted a turn at rowing so Craig volunteered first. The boats are small flat metal boats with two very home made wooden oars that are fixed to the boat by some twisted material. The oars are at the back of the boat and you row facing forward. This is actually very hard Craig gave it a go but, going forward was unable to make any progress much to our amusement. Craig then turned the boat around and started to row facing backwards. This was a little more successful but we still didn’t really head in the right direction so I took over. I decided to just row like you would in England and face the back as Craig had had more success this way. Rowing was very hard as the oars were uneven so you had to constantly correct the direction. It took me a couple fo minutes but I managed to establish a slow zigzagged route in the right direction. Since I was actually making some progress they let me continue and we slowly made our way upriver. Because of the way that the oars are attached to the boat I had to stop every couple of minutes to level the oars. After 5-10 minutes I let Tom take over, he was possibly the worst of the three of us and we span around and hit the bank a few times. I started shouting directions since I was facing the direction that we were travelling and Tom able to slowly start heading upstream. After a few minutes the girls decided we better hurry up as another boat passed us so one of them took ones of the oars from Tom and together they rowed us upstream. On the way we talked to the girls and established that they were both 22 year old children of local farmers who didn’t want to farm and rowed the boats to earn money for school. They both spoke quite good English and were fascinated by our phrase book.

Eventually we arrived at the end of our boat journey where there was a shop which sold us some water and some noodles. A very old man was hanging around the shop who seemed very interested in me. He told me that I’d live to 91 and make lots of money. He also told me that I was interested in sports and music. Everyone said he was a little mad and to ignore his ramblings! On the boat the girls had also studied all our palms. They told me that I’d have a long life and would succeed at anything I wanted to. They told both Tom and Craig that they would have a career change and some illness but live long successful lives with plenty of education. We’re not convinced but now its written down at least we can check it in 50 years time!

After some food the girls took us for a walk to the temples. We went to 3 temples in all each of which was very different. Two of the temples were inside caves and we were shown how to make a buddhist prayer and to leave joss sticks. The third temple was the biggest and was filled with carvings of buddha. We were given plates of fake money and sweets to leave as offerings at certain places around the last temple. To get to the temples we had a walk over hills along a path that has been used for centuries by monks visiting the temples. The view was stunning and I’ll upload some photos when I get the time. Once we had finished the walk we went back to the boat. The girls told us we could save money by getting a bus straight from the town and therefore avoid the expensive motorbike ride back to the bus stop but the bus left at 3:30 so we couldn’t hang around. The girls rowed us back to the boat dock where we were picked up by motorbikes that were directed to take us to the bus stop in town (a mere 30,000 dong together rather than 120,000). Before we got to the boat dock the girls stopped the boat to negotiate payment. They said because they knew we were students they only wanted one months school fees for each of them ($80 between us) we explained that we couldn’t pay this as we weren’t rich and eventually agreed to pay them about $10 dollars for each of them. While this was probably still a bit high we knew the money was going to them not a tout and we’d had a much better day that if we’d gone on an organised tour. They also saved us a few dollars by telling us how far we could haggle down the tout and by saving us an expensive motorbike journey out of town.

We got on the bus and paid an even cheaper 15,000 dong (less than 50p) and headed back to Hanoi. I was very tired and fell asleep. Tom and Craig started playing chinese chess which got them some interest from the locals. I awoke as we were arriving in Hanoi. The bus made lots of stops coming into Hanoi and about 3 stops (but still a significant way) from the bus station the bus stopped everyone got off and we were expected to aswell. We had no idea where were we are we were off the central Hanoi map in the guide and we were surrounded by guys offering us motorbike rides. Not keen to take a motorbike on a long trip through the city we walked out of the small bus station/stop to try and get our bearings. Luckily after about 5 minutes of wandering around we were able to flag down a taxi to take us back to the Hanoi guesthouse on Bat Su (luckily a really easy street name to pronounce).

After arriving home (or as close to a home as we have here) we headed out for some food at Sago cafe near the Hoan Kiem lake we we have been a few times for the cheap food, cheaper beer and good service. By around 9pm Tom and Craig were shattered so we headed back for an early night and while they went to bed I went on the Internet and wrote my previous post.

Anyway I’m writing this at 7:00am (I started at 5:30am) we’ve just got back from Sa Pa after an interesting but enjoyable experience and where, for the first time we were actually ripped off (but only by GBP3 each so its not the end of the world) I will write about that in a few days time while I wait in Hanoi for Alex to arrive (I’m very excited) but for now I’m very tired (falling asleep in front of the computer in fact) and we are heading out to Ninh Binh today so I better go and repack my bag!

Back in Hanoi

Well I think for once this may be actually be relatively short though I’m sure I’ll find plenty to fill it. Well the last couple of days have fun though not as action packed as previously, I’ll pick up where I left! After writing my last post we went out to the Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi. This was originally built by the French to house rebels and political prisoners. It is situated not too far from our guesthouse so we walked down there. When were arrived we realised that only one side of the triangular complex remains as the remainder was demolished in 1993 to “further the cultural development of Hanoi”. In actual fact what was knocked down was replaced by a high rise concrete hotel and business centre! What remains of the prison has been well converted into an interesting museum showing the conditions the prisoners had to endure, the “comrades” incarcerated there and the daring and often successful escapes made by the political prisoners. The prison was later used to house criminals and during the Vietnam war, American POWs from airbourne divisions that were shot down nearby. The rooms, cells and solitary confinement areas were augmented by gray realistic models of prisoners shackled as they would have been. The whole experience tried to really make you feel what it was like for the prisoners incarcerated there and achieved this while not going over the top. The remaining section of prison also acts as a memorial for those that died there either from disease of by being sentenced to death by guillotine. For the entrance price it was a well thought out museum unfortunately disadvantage by only being a third of the original prison.

After this it was time for lunch, Tom wanting a change from Vietnamese suggested a Tapas place around the corner recommended by the guidebook. On the way to “La Salsa” we saw a gallery dedicated to Vietnamese propaganda posters which we had a look in and eventually all ended up buying a print of our favourite posters. I had been feeling a little off all day with a headache that felt much like a sinus headache and had dosed up on pain killers before leaving home. By the time we left the gallery my headache was returning with a vengeance and I was starting to feel very short on energy in the slightly dizzy “not sure I want to walk very far” kind of way. Luckily the Tapas place was around the corner so we settled in for some food and a soft drink.  The Tapas was expensive and obviously came in small portions but was delicious and for the first time in a more expensive restaurat I felt it was actually worth the premium. As I said to Tom and Craig I imagine the items that were stored in oil and herbs and/or garlic were probably imported and therefore more expensive anyway. Regardless we all enjoyed the food and it was still very cheap by western standards. After some food I also felt a lot better. In the afternoon we wandered around the area as it was one that we hadn’t previously been to and stopped at an upmarket bar during happy hour for ‘buy one get one free’ beers. This made the beers the same price as we were used to (less than 50p each) rather than, shock horror, almost a pound each! We only stopped for a few beers (they’re all pretty weak over here anyway) but I still had less as I wasn’t feeling 100%. For our evening meal we decided to go to an upmarket collection of street kitchens where you can sample the food that you see on the streets with (almost) none of the upset stomach worries. Unfortunately the vegetarian selection was poor but I went more out of interest and because Craig and Tom were keen on some fish. The place was very nicely done out, wasn’t filled with tourists (only half filled) and I did manage to get an acceptable if not particularly exciting meal. It’s a shame there wasn’t more of a vegetarian selection as the staff were great the food I got was good quality and Tom and Craig were both very pleased with their selecton of mackerel with chili and salt for Tom and blood cockles for Craig. Having never had cockles before we didn’t have a clue what to do with them but I had a guess which I’m pleased to say was confirmed to be correct!

After food we headed back closer to home for a beer and a game of cards but I quickly realised that I wasn’t feeling good at all so at the early time of 20:30 I headed home leaving Tom and Craig at the bar. I got back to the guesthouse to find that our key wasn’t there as we’d forgotten to give it in and I didn’t have it but luckily they used another key to let me in. In the end I didn’t get to sleep until pushing 23:00 as even at the best of times I’ve found it pretty hard to get to sleep out here. I awoke to 00:45 and realised that the light was still on and Tom and Craig were nowhere to be seen. Upon realising this I was pretty worried as we had planned an early night due to a 6:00am start the next morning. I went downstairs to find that the night receptionist was locking up and going to bed in reception so I headed back up to the room to consider my options. I eventually decided that since nowhere stays open later than about 1:00am (officially there is a midnight curfew on bars) I may as well wait up for them as I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to get in and I didn’t fancy the idea of them (no matter how remote) of them having nowhere to sleep. I headed out to the balcony and watched the street waiting for the sound of English voices. It was actually pretty interesting watching the late night last traffic go by and sure enough 20 minutes later Tom and Craig wandered around the corner looking for the guesthouse. They looked pretty worried when they saw the lights off (we had never been back quite as late before) but I shouted down that I’d make sure they could get in if they couldn’t wake up our receptionist and sure enough being used to letting in people who stayed out late he came and opened up for them as soon as they knocked on the door. I was only really worried due to the next morning’s early start as for a normal night they weren’t really that late but more than anything I was glad that they were okay. It’s funny how your mind tends to prepare itself for the worst in these situations considering the worst things that could happen and what to do in each case, not pleasant but I blame an overactive imagination! It turned out that the guys had found a late opening bar with a pool table, met an American guy to play a few games with and lost track of time. Had I been there I would probably have done the same!

Unfortunately while Tom and Craig fell straight to sleep (probably aided by a couple of beers) I, having already had two hours sleep couldn’t sleep for a good hour so by 6:00am was feeling a lot better though pretty sleep deprived. Alarms were set for 6:00am as we had decided to take a trip to the Perfume Pagoda, a 60km trip out of town. While this may not seem far we opted to do the entire trip by public transport rather than taking a tour. We did this more for the adventure than anything else, while I have had my fair share of less developed public transport systems due to my time in Botswana, Tom and Craig hadn’t and wanted to rough it with the Vietnamese people. Anyway since its pretty late I’m going to publish this now and then start the story of the Perfume Pagoda in a new entry to finish off tomorrow when I can take my time over it!


Ha Long Bay

We have just spent the last three days in Ha Long bay in Northern Vietnam. Ha Long bay is a massive bay filled with over 2000 small rocky islands which stick out of the water. The islands are mostly uninhabitable as most are very tall with cliffs around all sides. Unfortunately the only way to see Ha Long bay is through an organised tour, luckily our guesthouse offers tours at very cheap prices, we paid only $45 for the 3 days and two nights each which included all food and a night on a junk. Believe it or not we could actually have saved $10 if we had gone “economy” although I imagine this might have involved riding up to Ha Long bay on the back of a moped and sleeping on an inflatable lilo on the sea! We left Hanoi on our second morning and travelled on a new, air conditioned but very cramped minibus along with 10 other people and our guide, a young guy who we later found out had just finished University. Upon arrival in Ha Long city we were greeted by a massive fleet of wooden, diesel powered junks of which ours was pretty large. We were pleased to see upon boarding that we were the only group travelling on our boat. The boat had three decks with the top one being a sun deck, the second being a restaurant/bar and the lower deck having cabins all accessible from the outside of the boat. Since we knew in advance that each cabin had only two beds one of us would have to share with someone else. We rock-paper-scissored to decide who had to share and I lost. We were assigned cabins after boarding and luckily I got a cabin to myself. This turned out to be a major bonus as the cabins were small with two fans and the temperature outside must have been 30C plus and the humidity was as high or higher than I’d ever experienced. Anyway in the afternoon we went to an island with an extensive network of caves along with a million other boats who all seemed to turn up at the same time. While I am generally pretty upbeat about most things the masses of tourists on the huge number of boats was a bit of a disappointment, while I loved seeing Ha Long bay and staying on the boat it seemed that every group of tourists on every boat was following a similar schedule which made the whole thing feel a bit like we were a bunch of cattle being herded to market! Later in the afternoon we were herded on to the next island which atypically had a beach. We used this opportunity to go for a swim, purely to cool down and stop sweating. Craig had never swam in the sea before so was pretty excited and even managed to swim out to a boay which we reckoned was about 50 metres away and well out of his depth. It was a perfect place to start as the surrounding islands prevented any waves from getting to the beach.

Our boat contained 14 people of which nine had opted for a two day and five for the three day tour. The five people there for the entire three days were the three of us plus two Polish girls. We quickly got to know the Polish girls after we were seated opposite them for our first meal. The girls were twins named Maria and Zuzanna and were Polish twins who lived and studied in Germany. They were the same age as us and had taken a mid University gap year to travel the world. They’d been going for 7 months already and were almost finished in their travels. Anyway we got to know them and spent the evening playing cards and talking about travelling. Later on there was a thunderstorm so we went out to the roof of the boat to watch the lightning. I even managed to get a couple of videos of it which I’ll have to edit when I get home. We all aranged to get up for sunrise and got an early(ish) night. Being on my own in my cabn meant that I had two fans to myself but even so I only managed 4-5 hours sleep and I think Tom got even less, Craig has an amazing ability to fall into a deep sleep anywhere at any time! I woke for sunrise and got Tom and Craig up, unfortunately it was cloudy but was still fun. We have been a little confused several times about the time as only Tom wears a watch and it has a button which seems to result in the time changing itself on a regular basis. After going back to bed for another hours sleep I got up and after a shower had a knock on my door from Tom asking what the time was. Tom’s watch said it was almost 10am and he thought they missed breakfast and the first activity of the day. In actual fact it was almost 8am and I had been getting up for breakfast!

The second day was much for enjoyable than the first. In the morning the five of us had to “check out” of our cabins to transfer to another boat to be taken kayaking. After an hours transfer on a much smaller boat where Tom, Craig and I all sat on the prow went all went kayaking on Monkey island. Monkey island has a low arch on the side of it where you can kayak into the water filled interior of the island. As the kayaks were two man we had rock-paper-scissored for who got a kayak to themselves. Tom won although being on his own meant that he ended up with the guide as there were six of us in total. The kayaking was the first time that we really felt alone and detached form the tourist throng and partly for that reason we all loved it, especially Craig who had never kayaked before. Halfway round Monkey island it started raining very heavily with plenty of lightning. While this may sound like a bad thing Tom and Craig and I loved it as for the first time in a week we stopped sweating and actually felt something approximating cool.

The view from Cat Ba Island
The view from Cat Ba Island

After kayaking we boarded our little boat and headed to Cat Ba island where we were to spend the second night. We arrived, checked into our Hotel and I headed out to an Internet cafe along with the girls to start writing the last post on this blog. I only had a short amount of time and the internet took 4-5 mins to load each page so unfortunately I was unable to finish it. We were due back at the Hotel just after 2pm to embark on a 2 hour trek up the island into the national park. We were pick up by bus and driven to a nearby village where we met our guide. Our guide was a 71 year old called Chau (pronounced similarly to Joe) who spoke very little English with a very strong accent. Chau also had a notepad and a pen and, whenever he wanted to talk to us he would try saying the word he wanted to communicate with us first, then upon failing to get our understanding he would write down the word for us in perfectly spelled English. We though he only knew the odd word but as the trek progressed he even wrote down a few full sentences despite not being able to say them. Chau took us directly up a very steep hill at a pace that was almost running. Bearing in mind that we were already dripping with sweat before we started after about five minutes of this we were shattered but did our best and just about managed to keep up. It didn’t help that the path was more of a narrow mud track where the vegetation had been cut and worn back by constant use. It was as hard to find our footing as it was to keep up with Chau’s swift pace. Chau let us stop for a one or two minute rest a couple of times as he could see we were tired and the girls were taking a slightly more relaxed pace than us. We reached the top in about 30 minutes which must have been 200-300 metres up, anyway from the top there was an amazing view which you can see in the picture below. Once we got to the summit Chau took us on a walk along the top and showed us some of the trees and how they were used by the locals. We then decended at a breakneck pace and had a rest at the bottom of the hill. Chau took us to a circle of stones he had erected by a house for a break and an opportunity to buy a cold drink. By the time we got to the bottom all three of us were soaking wet with sweat. Tom and Craig were both wearing wife beaters (sleeveless vests often worn by Stella drinking louts) and I was wearing a t-shirt. All three of us had not a single dry patch of shirt remaining to the extent where you would have thought we had soaked our shirts in water and then put them back on without wringing them out. I could even wring out my ponytail! Tom was particularly embarrassed as his thin, white vest had become completely see through and was pretty stained, luckily for him we were all in the same boat.

After a break Chau took us into an undeground network of caves that had been used by the North Vietnamese to hide from the Americans and the bombing raids during the Vietnam war. The caves had basic electric lighting installed but had to be unlocked by Chau so we could enter. The five minute walk through the caves was very interesting as we were the only ones there and they were full of bats! We walked through the caves and out the other side back to the mini bus for our trip back to our hotel. When we got back Tom and Craig went for a quick walk to the beach however after the walk I had a headache and was feeling really dehydrated so I went back to the hotel for a break and a long drink of water.

We were served dinner at the hotel which was pretty basic and this time we were joined by plenty of other tourists at other tables. The food throughout the three days was not appalling and generally okay for me to eat but varied very little between meals and was not of the best quality. The other four said the fish was particularly bad and it generally went leargely uneaten. After dinner Tom and Craig wanted to go to a floating seafood restaurant for a little more food but, still feeling rough and being very behind with this blog I opted to go and use the Internet where I finished and published my previous post. Before we parted ways we all (including the girls) arranged to meet at a bar that looked interesting in the Lonely Planet at 21:15 with the contigency that if one group couldn’t find it we would meet back at the Hotel at 21:30. I found the bar on the way to use the internet it was 50-100m further down the main street than the guide indicated but large and I thought easy to find. I finished on the net just before 21:00 and headed back to the hotel to pick up the cards and head back out to the bar. I decided to make a very quick call the Alex to discuss an issue with the return of our deposit on our flat (a very large sum) and unfortunately my intended 5 minute call lasted for 13 minutes. I finished the call just after 21:20 and realising I was late rushed down to the bar (a 2 minute walk) thinking they would be annoyed that I was late. I bumped into the girls just before I got to the bar and we went in and ordered a drink and started chatting. We talked for a while looking over the balcony for Tom and Craig to turn up but when they were late I assumed that they had taken longer at the restaurant or Tom’s watch was wrong again. I didn’t want to leave the girls as I felt bad leaving them as we had invited them out for drinks that they couldn’t really afford. Finally when Tom and Craig still hadn’t arrived and it was approaching 10pm I ran back to the Hotel only to be told that they had been back and left. I gave our guide approximate directions to the bar and headed back hoping that they would find the bar (the town only had four roads) and failing that text me as they knew I had my phone with me. I got back to the bar and stopped worrying as by now there was nothing I could do. I spent the evening chatting to the girls about the politics of the EU (it was nice to get a non English perspective), the English perceptions of Polish immigrants and the pros and cons of capitalist verses socialist government. We actually had pretty good fun but since Tom and Craig still hadn’t arrived by 23:00 we headed back to the hotel to look for them. When I got back Tom Craig were back but the guide hadn’t seen them so hadn’t passed on my message and for some reason they had been unable to find the bar as it turned out it was marked wrongly in the lonely planet (they took the lonely planet with them) I had managed to find the bar easily as when I couldn’t find it where we thought it was I assumed we’d misread the map and kept walking down the road. Tom and Craig had reread the map realised the bar was definately not where the map said and assumed it had closed down (as has already happened to us once so far). We came as close as we’ve come to a major disagreement with Tom and Craig being pissed off that I’d not been back at 21:30 and me being pissed off that they hadn’t tried harder to find the place in such a tiny town. We also had a disagreement as by mine and Tom’s timekeeping we both thought were were back at the hotel from 21:00 to 21:20. Anyway luckily we’re very good friends and have got over much greater disagreements in the past so it was all okay. After failing to find us they’d found a bar and had a good time anyway so all was okay!

We got up early the next day to get the boat back to Ha Long city where we had a very average lunch joined by many other tourists and then got another very cramped but cool bus back to Hanoi and the Hanoi guesthouse. We said goodbye to our three day travelling partners Maria and Zuzanna on the bus and exchanged e-mail and web addresses.

We decided to have a night out so went out for a meal which was nice but nothing special for the higher than average price. We then went on a mini bar crawl of Hanoi stopping at quite a few bars two of which sell their home brewed beer, one of which is actually a microbrewery complete with big copper brewing equipment behind the bar. The home brewed beer was a nice attempt at approximating Belgian beer but lacked the depth of a truly good beer despite being highly drinkable. We probably spent about four or five hours heatedly debating capital punishment and the prison system, benefits for the jobless and unwilling but able, the political statements of the movie “Three Kings”, the legal system in general, the new anti-smoking law, the punishment of drug addicts and the drug laws in general and a whole host of other interesting topics. To be perfectly honest we all share similar views on most of these issues but none of us likes to back down and we often disagree greatly on the finer details. While the arguments were often very heated I think we all enjoyed it thoroughly.  

We finished the night with some ultra cheap Bia Hoi at our favourite local outdoor drinking spot complete with tiny plastic chairs and tables. Nine beers (three rounds) cost us just over 50p but to be fair for the amount we’d drunk we were surprisingly sober so the freshly brewed stuff can’t be too strong.

For the first time I am now pretty much up to date we had a pretty late start today and have taken it as a day to catch up on much needed rest so not much to report. I’m going to try to upload a bunch of photos now but yet again I have typed way to much and still have plenty to say! I hope you are all well I have heard some feedback from Alex, Mum and Tom’s parents that they are enjoying reading this but if it does get a little long winded also remember that this, as well as a way to keep in touch also serves as my own personal, unedited diary so feel free to skip the boring bits!


Well we have now arrived in Vietnam. Our flight here was delayed by three hours so, by the time we got to our hostel everywhere to eat and drink was closed as almost everywhere in Hanoi closes up by midnight. We are staying at the Hanoi guesthouse as recommended by a guy in STA travel. It seems pretty nice although our room consists of one single and one very large double bed. As a result Tom and I have been getting a little closer than we’d like but I guess sacrifices must be made. I seem to have given my cold to both Tom and Craig unfortunately. Craig seems to have shaken it off quickly but Tom has had a couple of days of feeling rough. On our first full day we decided to walk around Hanoi taking in lots of the sights and experiencing a little of the local culture. We sampled some of the local beer and went to a performance of Vietnamese water puppetry! We bought the tickets in the afternoon but when we came to go to the performance despite the fact that we had walked past the place several times we got completely lost (hard when its nearby next to a huge lake). In desperation we all hopped on the back the local motorbike/moped taxis and got there in about 2 minutes. This is something I would not consider in any other country and requires a little background explanation. Hanoi’s traffic is like no other countries, for a start there are almost no cars on the roads, everyone rides mopeds or motorbikes all of which are small and low powered. The traffic system is completely chaotic with people driving in all directions with no respect to lanes or sides of the road. While this may sound incredibly dangerous it actually works in your favour safety wise, due to the chaos it is pretty rare to exceed 20mph with the average speed being about 10-15mph. As it happens the speed limit for towns is only 40km/hour and still only 60km/h for the highways! To prevent accidents, indicators, flashing your lights and the horn seem to be used almost constantly to signal resulting in an ordered chaos that appears to be safer than anywhere else. This ordered chaos also requires a new system of crossing the road. Instead of waiting for no traffic (there’s are always a multitude of bikes passing) you just make sure there are no cars then step into teh road and walk slowly across in a horizontal line presenting the smallest face to the traffic. As long as you walk slowly the bikes part around you and you walk straight across the road. This was understandably terrifying the first few times but because everyone does this drivers are expecting pedestrains (and are already travelling very slowly) and it appears to actually be quite safe!

Anyway I have been distracted by the description of the traffic system so back to the maroinettes. I have to admit the actual puppet show was a little odd but since it is a tradition that goes back to the 11th century we thought we couldn’t miss it.

For dinner we went to an all vegetarian mock meat restaurant as mock meat is a speciality of Vietnam. The menu specifically said that everything was vegetarian and they listed sections of checken, pork, beef and shrimp. We ended up ordering about 10 dishes as they were quite small and we wanted to try a variety.  The food was actually pretty good, I liked the chicken, pork and beef but the shrimps I wasn’t so keen on. As it happens Craig reckoned the shrimp tasted just like the real thing but a bit less fishy, he liked the others but could tell easily that they weren’t meat. It looks like I have made the right choice being a vegetarian! (not that I was in doubt).

In the evening we sampled the local Bia Hoi, very cheap beer (15 for a pound) which is very fresh and really quite good. we also bought a few very well copied books at very cheap prices including the new lonely planet that has only just been released. This seems like a pretty good way to meet the locals and we ended up getting a inpromptu Vietnamese lesson. Since we could stay more than two nights at our guesthouse we opted to go on a tour to Ha long bay. 

As I write this we have almost finished in Ha long bay and my blog is now 3 days out of date, as once again what I’m seeing is so new and exciting that I have written way to much and am almost out of time. I still want to write about what I’ve seen of the Vietnamese (very friendly) and my experience of the culture but time is almost out so I’ll use my last few mines to start writing my next post and hopefully publish it soon, that is of course if I can find the time! Before I go please excuse the horrible spelling and grammar so far, the keyboards here are beyond terrible (I’ve thrown away better ones) and I barely have time to write, never mind proof read as I sit here sweating buckets (literally).

A Thai Night Out

On the second day Tom took me to a cheap mall called MBK. It is huge and has a great food court you can buy almost any food and where Tom and I ate random Thai food from a vegetarian stall. After food we met Craig along with Bow, a Thai medical student that that Craig is friends with. Bow speaks pretty good English and led us on a tour through what seemed to be 3 connecting malls starting with MBK (the cheap one) and ending with Siam Paragon (the biggest and most expensive in Thailand). To put this into perspective Siam Paragon is like a six storey version of the Bullring in Birmingham. Bow seemed very nice and was more than happy to lead us around and answer all our questions. One thing that I learned that surprised me is that Thai students have to be back in their accommodation by 9pm and aren’t allowed any guests at all. Tom and Craig luckily didn’t have to respect the curfew but they did have to plead with house keeping so that I could be allowed in to see their room. It’s too bad and has basic air conditioning plus its pretty cheap to stay in and has an ensuite. In fact if you overlook the dated decor its pretty reasonable. I took some interesting night shots from the balcony which I have also uploaded.

For my second night in Thailand the guys decided to take me on a typical Thai night out. Not the tourist kind but a night out as experienced by the locals. We started off with Thai food at Ana’s garden which as a restaurant that has been built around the trees and plants that were already there giving it a relaxed disorganised feel. The food was excellent and we all split 5 Thai vegi dishes so that we got to taste a good selection. Craig has been very good at putting up with eating vegetarian so that I can try more which means I must have tried 15 or so dishes so far. Anyway after food (and beer) we went to a club called Ice bar to experience Thai student clubbing. Ice bar was unlike any club you would ever see in England. Firstly when you arrive you are escorted to a table by several staff. This is necessary as it is incredibly dark. In fact all the staff carry torches so that you can read the menus. Another unique thing about Thai clubs is that there are no dance floors, Everyone just dances and tries to avoid hitting the tables. Drinks wise you are meant to order a bottle of Whisky and then order mixers when required. We opted for the smallest (700ml) bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label and cola and soda water to mix. The staff bring your drinks to the table and pour you a drink with your required mixer. Everything is done to maximise your comfort and minimise the effort that you have to put in. When you glass is empty it is instantly refilled. Not being used to this system it can be a little uncomfortable to have a staff member standing by you all night but we made sure they got a reasonable tip and they all seemed very appreciative. The music was mostly live and played by what can only be described as a Thai rock with punk influences band. the music was actually pretty reasonable if a little generic, though I imagine that not knowing the language probably didn’t help. Tom and Craig said that it was pretty good that night normally the music is more Thai pop which from what I’ve heard seems pretty poor. The night was actually pretty good fun and it was nice to be in a club where we didn’t see a single other westerner!

Okay well I was going to stop here but since I have a few minutes left I may as well use them! So the third day was pretty relaxed, we all felt pretty wrecked from the previous night so went for the greasiest 2pm breakfast food we could find. This turned out to be a pleasant little restaurant 30 seconds from where we are staying where we got a fried English breakfast adapted for Thailand. Not something I’d want too often but interesting and very good for a hangover I also had a banana smoothy which was delicious! Craig had stuff to do after breakfast so Tom and I took a water taxi to Kho San road (not the correct spelling, just a guess) which is a hub for backpackers (here backpacker and tourist seem to be entirely interchangeable). It was an interesting place but really just too touristy, and on the bright side this time the sex trade was absent. As we were about to leave I experienced my first torrential Thai rain which flooded the street and pavement and left us stranded in a bar for an hour (I guess it could have been a lot worse!) Our evening was pretty low key, Thai food was good, Tom was a little down as he had plans cancelled with his girlfriend and we were all pretty tired. We went to a posh looking bar and Craig and I discussed morals, politics, the state of the UK and communism at length.

While Bangkok is an amazing city unlike anywhere else I have been before  has also left me feeling troubled. The gap between rich and poor seems to be so much wider here than anywhere else I have been to. I would love to talk more about this but I am out of time. We fly to Vietnam tonight so expect an update either very soon or not for quite a while, depending on the availability of internet access. Also after having no mosquito bites so far one of the little bastards just got me 6 times on the leg, I did manage to kill it though!

Thailand at last!

Well here I am in Thailand! I got onto my plane with no problems in Manchester and headed to Doha. I have never been to the Middle East before so landing in Doha was quite an experience. Coming down to land I could just see a massive expanse of flat white desert surrounding a city of ordered white boxes. Upon landing I could see that the white boxes were in fact decorated with arabic writing and Middle eastern architectural features. The flight to Doha was about 6 and a 1/2 hours and unfortunately I got almost no sleep despite my best efforts. Doha airport was new, very clean and had lots of seats but only being there for 1 and a 1/2 hours I did very little exploring. The flight to Bangkok was another 6 and a 1/2 hours and this time I did mange a whole hours sleep admittedly split into 10 minute chunks. Qatar Airways were fantastic, the staff were courteous the vegi food was actually surprisingly good and the entertainment system had almost 100 on demand movies plus TV shows and music all on demand and pausable. I have to say I barely took advantage of this though as i was trying to sleep.

Upon landing in Bangkok I got my bag and got though immigration really quickly and met Tom and Craig. We then took a taxi to the hostel to check my stuff into our triple room. The taxi driver seemed to take great delight in pointing out the lady boys shouting “lady man, lady man” and honking his horn when we passed one. Once we had checked in we walked into the room Tom looked for the light switch but before he found it I could just make out one very large bed in the dark. Tom turned on the light and confirmed my suspicion. Luckily seconds later as I was just about to initiate the “who sleeps in the middle” conversation the girl who checked us in ran into the room behind us to say she had given us the wrong key! What a relief that was! Our new room has 3 beds! Last night after warning the guys that I was pretty tired we went out for a beer to a local bar and then went on to the sky bar. The sky bar is an open air bar on the roof of the 64 floor state tower. A beer was about GBP5 so we only had one but it was worth it just to look out over Bangkok. Probably the scariest part of this is that the barrier stopping you from falling off was (very think) glass. But the fact that you are aware that you could easily jump over was enough to make me feel pretty uneasy. Hopefully I can upload some photos that I took up there.

After the sky bar we went to a tourist area where we hoped we could find a restaurant still open. On he way we walked through a market where I was warned we’d get hassled by the local sex trade. Sure enough we were greeted by lots of locals waving menus in front of us and inviting us to watch a local specialty that I assume wasn’t a stimulating table tennis match. Actually the hassling wasn’t too bad, a polite no thank you usually did the trick.

We found a restaurant and had a light meal of very fresh superbly spiced Thai vegetable dishes which I can’t describe but was very tasty. By this time it was after midnight but I was surprisingly awake (I guess it was early evening English time). The guys decided to finish the evening by taking me for a reflexology foot massage. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive but they took me to a place that they’d been before where a foot massage really would mean a foot massage. Actually it was an hour long and included a quick shoulder and neck massage but was really very nice and very professional. Anyway by the time we got out of there it was pushing 3am so we headed home to bed.

This ends the story of my first night in Bangkok. I don’t intend to write nearly as much or as detailed again but since this is all new to me it pretty exciting. I’m about out of time now so I’m going to have a quick go at uploading some photos of the sky bar and where we are staying.

Lowlands 2007

So last weekend I went to a festival called Lowlands situated just outside Amsterdam in the Netherlands. It is advertised as a cross between Glastonbury and Goa and, as well as loads of live music there is a seemingly endless list of things to do when you are not watching your favourite bands. What surprised me most of all was how well organised the whole thing is yet it still feels like spending a weekend in the middle of nowhere with 55,000 hippies. Although I haven’t actually been to one of the British festivals (my ticket for Leeds 2005 had to be sold when I got a job in Amsterdam) they sound like a lot of muddy, pissed up people causing chaos made fun by some fantastic live music. Lowlands felt altogether more civilised, clean toilets, paved paths, good food and friendly security along with random art both static and performance. Oh one more thing all the of music is in the biggest tents I have ever seen, so even if it rains you don’t have to stand 6″ deep in mud to watch the Editors (or any one of the 100 odd bands playing). Anyway over the weekend we saw some amazing acts, notable were Interpol, The Editors, The Rifles (a somewhat unknown London band with an excellent album out), Mad Caddies. Kings of Leon played a fabulous set and even the Kaiser Chiefs who I’m no real fan of put on a great live performance. I could go on and list at least another 10 bands who I really like but I won’t, for the line-up visit

So once the live music is finished for the day most of the tents turn into dance floors with a large variety of music or, if your feet are slowly trying to kill you by this point they also show at least one new movie on a massive outdoor screen every night.

So okay it may not be the most hardcore festival experience but ask me if I’d rather wake up to an overflowing/flaming toilet or freshly squeezed orange juice and cheese and syrup pancakes and you shouldn’t have too much trouble guessing what my answer is. Oh did I mention that you can get right to the front of the crowd and watch all the music up close without getting crushed or having to crowd surf?

Welcome to

Welcome to this site serves as my own personal homepage. I’ve just finished my BSc in Computing for Business and am taking the summer off before looking for work. At the end of August I’m flying to Thailand for a six week holiday backpacking around Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia with four friends, two of whom will be already there. I intend to use this blog to post about my travel experiences as I travel and upon return I may sometimes post about things that I’m currently interested in or projects that I’m working on.