Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sapa, Vietnam - 12May07

Fading Love Market

The initial plan was to go trekking. However it rained. So Laksmi and me just sat at our huge balcony and chit chatting.

When the rained wasn't as heavy later, we went to the market again. i really wanted to eat some street food if i could. The market here was equally lively as any other in Vietname. Tonight, there would be a Love Market in front of the church. Last time, this Love Market used to be a place where tribal girl and boy meet their partner. But nowadays, it becomes another night market for handicraft shopping.However due to the market tonight, we saw nmore tribal people today, with their different but equally colorful costumes.

Then we trekked to the radio station. The scenery was good on the top of the hilll. We could saw the lake and Fansipan Mountain too. But later we met Janjaque again. He went to the trekking trip and he said the rain stopped there. So i was kind of dissapointed not making to the trip.

Today, we got a beautiful sunset from our balcony. The rain stopped completely in the late evening and many people came out from their room to take the picture of the sunset.

Lakshmi's left at 6.30pm and we bid farewell. i then went to a tour company to book a market trip cum village visit for tomorrow. At least this would make up for me not able to do the trekking.

The eatery in the market.
Lakshmi took some noodle but nothing for me.
No vegetarian food. :(

We took a short trek to Sapa radio tower.
Supposingly, we should be able to see the Vietnam's highest peak, Fansipan, at 3143m.
However the fog was too thick to see the background clearly.

The views of the valley from the radio tower.

It used to be the "Love Market" at Saturday night , where the tribe people meet in front of the old church, to find their life partner. Eventually it becomes merely the business ground for tribe people to sell handcrafts to the tourists.

1.)Food: 64000D
2.)Sights: 30000D + USD 10
3.)Accommodation: USD 5
4.) Others: 12000 D

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sapa, Vietnam - 11May07

Beautiful Valley

i met Lakshmi in the train and we ended up traveled together then (i lost her email address also. i lost my small note pad in Hanoi later). She is an American Indian on a two months assignment for an NGO in Hanoi. She speaks a bit of Vietnamese and she is really too good in bargaining. Learnt a bit of her haggling technique then. :) i am glad to have someone i could talk in 'normal' to travel with. Most Vietnamese i met don't speak fluent English so the topics of conversation is limited.

We did a trekking to Cat Cat Village. It was scenic but the return way was a up hill and quite tiring. We met two Vietnamese students at the village. They approached us to ask for donation for disabled people in Vietnam. At this stage of my trip, i kind of know that, 8 out of 10 times when people approached you, they must have some kind of 'agenda'. :)i made a small donation. i remember Laskshmi said, the merely two months in Vietnam was making her to lose confident to people. Everyone here kind of up to something when they approached you and would always want to charge you as high as possible because you are a 'rich' tourist.

The tribe people selling sourvenir were very persistant and they would follow us all the way just to sell us something. Most of the time are things they we really no need. Lakshmi bought from one old lady and she ended up been surrounded by many other. All asked her to buy something.

Again, i met Janjaque at the trek. So we decided to have dinner together. Meeting some old same faces and some new friends in the trip have became the 'ritual' of my journey.

Train cabin, reclining seat.
Most tourists get a sleeper instead.

The tribe people and the hill.

Cat Cat Village, 3km south of Sapa. It is a steep and very beautiful hike down. Well, the hike back up was quite a difficult task.

The tribe people were trying to sell some kind of handmade belt to Lakshmi.

Sunset from the balcony of our guest house.

1.)Accommodation: 40000 D
2.)Food: 78000 D
3.)Others: 90000 D
4.)Sights: Cat-Cat Village Entrance - 5000D

Halong Bay-Hanoi, Vietnam: 10May07

This was merely a day for transportation from Halong Bay backed to Hanoi. i would catch a night train to Sapa in the night time. All people in our group who were going to Sapa as well took a package with tour agent. i am the only one who bought my own train ticket and would arrange my own tour.

i sat beside of Sarah in the van and we talked quite a bit then. She was a very cheerful lady at the same age as me. She and Jason are from Wales, England. They already traveled for 3 months and they would travel around Asia and Asia Pacific for one year! Well, UK pound is a very useful currency in terms of to travel. :) She said they saved for 3 years for this one year trip. They were the second person/couple i met who is doing something like this. Save and travel.

For the long train trip at the night, i rewarded myself with a dinner at a nice vegetarian restaurant. It was expensive in Vietnam standard and the food was so sos. But the ambient was good. Half way eating, then i suddenly realised that just now, i paid the ten times price for the one hour internet. Instead of paying 3500 D , i paid 35000 D. No wonder the shop keeper looked kind of blur a bit when i paid him. Anyway, this was just around SGD 4, so not a bit deal. i would be more careful next time.

The most annoying event of the day was, when i was at the train station, someone just grabbed my train ticket and 'forced' me to use his service. Basically he guided me to the platform and my seat in the train. This was something that i didn't need at all and i didn't ask for! He demanded 10000 D, i gave him 8000 D then. A lesson learnt when i go to India later. Always remember my platform and coach number so that i do not need to hold my ticket in hand.

Transfering from small boat to big sailing boat.
There are boatman selling fruits and titbits.

Good bye, Halong Bay.
Sailing back to the main land.

Hanoi Old Quarter at night.

1.) Food: 91000 D
2.) Transportation: 15000 D
3.) Others: 73000 D

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam: 9May07

Trekking, Cat Ba National Park

This was a day for exercise. We got a difficult trekking at Cat Ba National Park in the morning and in the afternoon, we did kayaking. The trek up to the peak was interesting but there was a school trip at the same time. So the peak was crowded and we ended up did not go the the tower at the peak.

i paired up with Janjaque (don't remember how to write his name already and i lost his email address later..) from Quebec, Canada, for the kayaking. It was nice to kayak through the limestone islands, but i did not want to be his parasite, so worked really hard to peddle the canoe.If not of this, i would enjoy the scenery more.

Towards this second day, everyone of us on boat were kind of friend now, may be except the 4 korean. 2 pairs of middle age couple. They looked very clean and don't speak very much English. Everyone in our group kind of like had consensus to 'take care' of them. Eg, save the more comfortable seats in the van for them.

i shared room with Pauline from New Zealand. She came with an Australian young couple. They were working colleague in UK last time. She is 30, so we were at the same age range and kind of easy to talk to her.

The group went to bar after dinner and i opt out. The next day i found out that, i missed the fun of them singing karaoke too. :)

On our sailing boat. The top of the boat is a good place for sun tan and just having drinks and read book.

That is the viewing point that we trekked all the way to.

"Janjaque" and me under the viewpoint. The viewpoint allowed only 15 people to be there at one time, but obviously there were around 30 people up there! So it ended up that we didn't go up.

This cave was said to be a hospital during American War. An old veteran soldier is still 'guarding' the place, more to for tourism purposes, such as admission fees and explanations. He made us to stand in line and salute to him like a soldier. Then he sang a "Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh", patriotism song to us and want us to sing along with him.

A Vietnamese girl in the trip is obviously the strong supporter of the veteran soldier. :)

We kayak to a 'lake' surrounded by the limestone 'islands'. Some of them just jumped to swim! Due to the closed compound, we got echo whenever we made sounds.

1.) Food: 22000 D
2.) Sights: 30000 D]
3.) Others: Shopping - 40000 D

Halong Bay, Vietnam: 8May07

Limestone, cruise, serenity... This is my vacation

The Halong Bay tour was a very relaxing one. The junk sailed across or passed by the limestone islands. There were 13 of us on board and we just chit chatting, read book or simply lied on the void deck to enjoy the scenery and serenity. It was really the feeling of "i am on holiday!" i felt extremely relaxed as i don't have to rush for bus, no hassle or bargain and no checking on map.

There was group of 4 students just finished their University from Singapore. 2 Singaporean guys and 2 Chinese gals. i chit chatted for quite a while with one of the guy and surprisingly he is one of the rare young Singaporean to care about his nation and others. Someone not only looking for himself.

The boat docked near to a lime stone cave and we went in. The cave looks very much the same as what i saw at Mulu National Park, Sarawak, years ago. Basically people introduced name to the stones because of their shapes look like something. may be animals or others. The lights shooting on the stones make a very good ambient though. Constract with the hot weather, the cave was very cooling.

So the boat also docke at some kind of fish farm. i felt very much uncomfortable there. The korean group in the boat started to buy fresh seafood and so as some other people. i hope those animals eaten up by them would have a better rebirth.

The jetty at Halong City. Almost all boats sail from here.

The boat docked at one of the Island for us to visit to some caves. The visit to the caves requires a hike up steps to reach.

One of the chamber in the cave. The cave has been lit up with colorful lights.

The magnificent Halong Bay is one of the natural wonders of Vietnam.

Fish farm (kelong).

A tube worm attached to the net.

The beautiful sunset by Halong Bay.

1.) Food: 42000 D
2.) Transportation: Small boat to the lagoon - 30000 D

Monday, May 7, 2007

Hanoi, Vietnam - 7May07

A Day with Hanoi Kids

The train wasn't as bad then. i actually really slept and woke up at 5am then. My knees were kind of clamped but got ok after a while. The good things are at least one got to go to toilet as need/want and i could at least washed my face and brushed my teeth.

The train arrived on time at Hanoi. i am not sure whether i got down at the wrong train station or what, but the road name that i expected did not appear. So i took a taxi to go to the guest house i wanted to stay. Again, they did not have a room, so i just simply choose one with a price that i am willing to pay.

The famous sinh Cafe is every where in Hanoi. i went to the genuine one and booked two of my trips. i wouldn't want to take any chances for any trips involved with travel agent.

The highlight of the day should be the tour with Hanoi Kids. Two young girls, one 19 and one 20. They guided tour was basically so so, nothing inspiring. But i enjoyed the interaction with the local people, especially got to know the local university life. Too bad that HCM Mauseleum was not open, so i got to find another time to go there later.

The water puppet was really a master piece of art. It was lively and intersting. i was sitting in front of some chinese tourists. The aunties were so enchanted with the show that they were giving their own inerprestation and were laughing most of the time. So i ended up enjoying the show as they do. Well, this time, i used my camera without paying the 15000 D fees.

This is one of the Vietnamese girls who shared the very clamped sit with me. She doesn't speak English but her kindness will always in my mind.
When i travel, it is always those kind people that remains in my mind.

The train arrived at Hanoi Ga (Station).

Temple of Literature. The tortise has the names of those who were succeed in their examination (金榜题名).
The temple was founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius in order to hornour scholars and men of literature accomplishment. It is a rare example of well-preserved traditionsl Veitnamese architechture.

One Pillar Pagoda, built of wood on a single stone pillar 1.25m in diameter, is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow.

Ho Tay (West Lake). One of the legends: Ho Tay was created when the Dragon King drowned an evil nine-tailed fox in his lair, which was in a forest on this site.
We had hightea in a lovely small restaurant by the lake.

Dong Xuan market. There are hundreds of stalls in this 3-storey building, employing around 3000 people.

Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword), right in the heart of Hanoi.
There is a Ngoc Son Temple sits on an island near the northern end of the lake.

The fantastic water puppets show.

1.) Accommodation: 140000 D]
2.) Food: 69000 D
3.) Transport: 44000 D (taxi from rain station to hotel) + Sapa soft seat train (135000 D)
4.) Sights: 1050000 D
- Tam Coc + Hao Lu Day trip: 256000 D (USD 16)
- Halong 3D2N: 784000 D( USD 49)
- Temples/Pagodas: 10000 D
- Water Puppet: 20000 D

[Withdrew ATM 2000000 D. Local bank charged 20000D]

Hue-Hanoi, Vietnam: 6May07

Eyes opening train ride!

Today was a transportation day. The train was in the afternoon so i got the whole morning to shop around. But it happened that i met a Spainish guy while having breakfast, so i ended up did not have time to shop. We talked for hours!

By the way, i like the pancake in Vietnam. It was so delicious and it just wasn't the kind of pancake we eat in Singapore or Malaysia. Every city in Vietnam cook it in a slightly different way, but it just tastes equally good!

Well, this Spainish guy planned for his round the world trip 2 years ago and saved for 3 years. He quited his job and started to travel around Asia. This was his 6.5 months already. The interesting thing about him (which was making our conversation lasted so long) was that, he does mediation. He stared with doing yoga and then read a bit about meditation and started to do it himself. He actually practising meditation every morning and night. He was kind of became my inspiration then. i should really continue with my daily mediation eventhough i am travelling. In the other way, if i really wanted to make it to Europe, then i really need to be more thrifty when i finished my 'great tour'. But the different between me and him is, he doesn't has a family to think of while no matter what, supporting or meeting the expectaions of family is kind of life my 'life time mission'.

During lunch, i saw a Chinese solo girl. i was about to leave the restaurant then. i basically just went to her table and said, "Hey, i guess you are traveling alone too." Then bla bla bla. The normal usual kind of questions. i found it really interesting in the sense that, i think female solo traveler tends to hook up to each other than male solo travelers. Traveling solo for woman is still kind of like not as easy or even common than solo male, or else, there won't be a branch or session for woamn solo in Lonely Planet. So women tend to encourage and sharing tips among each other.

i also started to realise that, English is really important to know new friends. Many folks especially those Japanese were very shy to talk to others because normally they don't have good command of English. In the other way, i don't feel arkward to talk to others because i speak relatively good English (despite my grammar errors, people do understand me well enough).

Well, about the train trip to Hanoi. The first moment i stepped into the coach, i thought "Oh, My God!" i knew why the ticket seller was so surprised when i told her that i wanted a hard seat ticket. Basically i saw people picnic in the coach! People were eating and attending to kids by sitting on the floor (with their own map). Some were even slept on the floor. i have never been to a train like this before, neither do i ever take an overnight train before. The hardseats were made from wood at a 90 Degree angle and they expected 3 people to sit on the bennch which is only probably 1 meter long!

Since i was there already, so there was nothing i could do. People in the coach spoke little or basically no English at all. We kind of used body language and sign language to communicate. They were just some common Vietnamese folks, kind and may be leading not as easy life. Interaction with the local (if there were any at all) was probably the only good point of taking this train. i swore that, i wouldn't take a hardseat for Sapa night train!

There were 5 of us to share this 2 rows of hard bench facing to each other. The Vietnamese people was really kind. 3 of them actually slept on the floor, so that the other guy and me got to sleep on the hard bench.

The other thing about the train was, everyone throw rubbish from the window of the train. Consider how many trains are working everyday, then the amount of rubbish was really huge. With the kind of toilet system as well, i think everyone of use contribute our waste to the railway too.

Vietnamese train, cabin. Probably a third class, hard seat!

Train toilet. Whatver one releases will go on to the track without process!

One of the many kinds of banana pancake. i prefer the banana pancake to have the banana cooked together with the pancake and not topped on the pancake.
Well, anyway, the kind of pancake in Vietnam is not the kind of pancake i took in Singapore.

1.) Transportation: 16000 D (From Hotel to Train Station)
2.) Food: 80000 D
3.) Others: Post card 6000 D + Stamp 8000 D

Hue (DMZ, Dong Ha), Vietnam - 5May07

DMZ= Demiliterized Zone during American (Vietnamese) War

The tour was 6am, so woke up really early for that. Like usual, the bus got a delayed of 40 minutes. i was seated beside of a Vietnamese old lady. Surprisingly, she spoke really good English (later the China guy i met said he over heard that, the lady was stayed in Australia for a few years). People in her generation normally speak French rather than English.

The old lady started to told me the story of one Vietnamese TV drama. i got quite sleepy then, but she would wake me up to listen to her story. So i kind of heard on/off. Basically the story worked like the Iranian awards winning movie, "Little Shoes". The Vietnamese version got the shoes changed to the school uniform.

Well, it was always me who started to talk first. So i paired up with this Shanghainese guy. He said it was the five one golden week in China, so many chinese are travling abroad. We talked some about traveling stories and even talked some about the political conditions of China and Taiwan. We had a dinner together too.

There was this Australian couple in the tour too. They have been marrief for 40 years. It was just kind of " Wow!" to me. i hope when i was sixty years old and married, my husband would travel together with me and hold my hand when we are crossing the road! i found many old western couples travling together were normally so fun loving and this really make me envious of them.

The DMZ tour had nothing much left to see. However it was very educational on the history of American War, of course, in regards on the stories that the Vietnamese government wanted people to know or believe. i met some travellers who told me the different version of stories. Instead of Viet Cong getting much supports from the tribe people, it was actually some tribes were trained by the American to fight Viet Cong. The North Vietnamese army actually killed many South Veitnamese people when they got to the South.

We went into this Vinh Muok Tunnel. As this was where people lived, so the size of tunnel was basically at least 4 tims bigger than Chu Chi Tunnel. Many big sized westerners were still saying that, this was small. i told them that, then don't even think of to go into Chu Chi Tunnel near Saigon then.

Inside Vinh Moc Tunnel. This 2.8km tunnels is by the sea and larger and taller than the tunnels at Cu Chi, Saigon.

Some 'momuments' inside the small memorial museum at Khe Sanh combat base.

Khe Sanh Combat Base sit silently on a barren plateau, surrounded by vegetation-covered hills that are often obscured by mist and fog.

War Monument at Dong Ha area, should be some where near Highway 1. Dong Ha served as a US Marine Corps command and logistics centre from 1968-69.

1.) Accommodation: USD 5
2.) Food: 79000 D

Hue, Vietnam - 4May07

Royal Tombs and Vietnamese Forbidden City

Bad planning. i ended up wil stay 4 days in Hue. So i kind of lost one day for Hanoi. Never mind, nothing during the trip was bad.

The good thing for the day was i met with Rachel. She is an exchange student at Hong Kong Baptist University, originally from USA. This was their study week before examination and she used her study week to travel! It was really good to have her as a companion. We (or I) dragging her to take photos at every sights. She is one of the rare American young girls that i think i kind of 'clicked' with.

At one of the royal tombs, we both refused to pay the 55000 D of entrance fees. Since the tour guide said the design was similar to the first one that we visited, so we just skipped it and caught a drink some where.

There was a Japanese guy in the tour too. So i tried to be friend with him too. i chatted a bit with a Shanghainese girl as well. I felt so good to speak in Mandarin after so long of not using this language! Too bad that she was only having a half day tour. We shared our funny barganing experiences.

The both tombs that i visited were magnificiant.Probably the scale of the tombs were not like those in China, but the design and geometrical art (feng shui) were the same concepts as those in China. The harmony of Yin and Yang, mountain and water. i especially like the tomb which the remain of the king was found to be 18meter below of his statue. The French tried to invade to the tomb last time but found that, any force in would destroyed the foundation of the whole tomb. So the ancient knowledge was really brilliant!

The Citideal (imperial palace) looked great in the model. but the actual compound for visit was very much smaller. The guide said, may structures were destroyed during the world and due to lack of conservation. The Vietnamese government has started to do something and it is likely to take 30 years for the whole restoration efforts. This place was the smaller version of China Purple Forbidden City. But it was still very hard to imagine that, for such a big area, the amount of resources needed to maintain it during the old good days.

The last tour was the temple and the river cruise. After Mekong and Hoi An, i seriously wouldn't get impress by any more river cruise. i basically slept during half of the cruise.

Tomb of Ming Manh. Renowned for its architechure, which harmoniously blends into the natural surroundings.

The Ming Manh Tomb was said to be designed in the way that, the lake, hill and others formed a human shape. It was brilliant!

Trung Minh Ho (Lake of Impeccable Clarity) near to Sung An Temple, which was dedicated to Minh Mang and his empress.

This is my favourite royal tomb, Tomb of Khai Dinh. The tomb is a synthesis of Vietnamese and European elements.

Khai Dinh was said to be burried 18m under his golden statue. The story goes by the French tried to open up his tomb but was found that, any force open would cause the whole tomb structure to collapse. That is the reason that the emperor's remains are left untouched!

The 37m-high flat tower of the Cititel.

Forbidden Purple City. It was the miniature of the version in China, so as in China, it was reserved solely for the personal use of the emperor and only eunuchs were allowed into this.

This looks a bit like some view in China. :) View from a temple on a hill, 灵姥寺.

1.) Accommodation: USD 5
2.) Food: 32000 D
3.) Sights: Citidel 55000 D + 2 Royal Tombs 110000 D + DMZ tour USD 10

[Cashed USD 50 into Dong. 1 USD = 16000 D]

Hoi An - Hue, Vietnam: 3May07

When i got to Hue, i was tired. i basically just went with the tout to the hotel that he mentioned even without bargaining of price. USD 5 would be one of the cheapest room i ever got in Vietnam. i went to train station to buy my train ticket to Hanoi then. It was 40 minutes and i did not know that it would be as far. Luckily i got my lunch on the way, so kind of regained a bit with my energy and sense.

i passed by Ho Chih Minh Museum by the street. So i just went inside. There was a group of student obviously with the teacher. i could tell that they were really curious about me, but none of them dared to talk to me first. i wasn't really in the right mood to make friend too, so i just acted cool and ignored them.

It has been almost 3 weeks for my trip. i am getting very tan now and besides from i am from Korea, Japan and China, people started to say i am a Thai or Vietnamese. Well, i hope they really thought i am a Vietnamese so that i would not need to pay for the double charge of foreigner rate!

i walked along Perfume River and got to the market. The river was called "perfume" because: Legend 1.) The source of river passed through some kind of very fragrance flowers and making the river smell good. Legend 2.) The people stay by the river liked the river so much that they actually 'showered' the river with flowers everyday. Of course, nowadays, the river is just another murky river of Vietnam.

I started to like the market in Veitnam. Cleanliness is an issue, but the market is really convenience that basically you could get everything you wanted over there. From REA: goldto hardware to clothes to any kind of good. For foreigner, bargaining at market is really tiring. But as long so you don't mind to pay a little bit more (foreigner rate is always 4 or 5 times higher), then it was really fun and convenience to shop in the market. Of course heat is a problem, but i have get used to it long ago.

Interesting. On the street, i met with the Italian and Finland girls i hang out with in Hoi An. Such a small world. Someone said, "If you are using Lonely Planet, then you would never get lonely!" Yes, everyone is using this small magic book.

i even met Viet Ha for the third time just on the street! She invited me to join her and the German couple (yes, they met on the street again!) to the bar at night. i told her that, if i was there, then i was there, or else, don't wait for me. i was tired, so it ended up that, i did not show up. i don't think they mind too. :)

Scenery from Hue to Hoi An.

Uncle Ho Musuem. On displays are photographs and documents related to his life and achievements.

This is actually a school. Historically, Hue has been the heartbeat of Vietnam, including a centre of educational excellence.

The city of Hue lies along either side of the Perfume River.

Hue street scene.

1.) Accommodation: USD 5
2.) Food: 99000 D
3.) Transport: 6000 D (Hoi An GH to Sinh Cafe) + Train to Hanoi 177000 D (slow train, hard seat)
4.) Sights: Museum 10000 D + Hoi An City Tour (including Royal Tombs) USD 7
5.) Others: Skirt - 50000 D (found the skirt to have no linen. So it basically see through under the sun. Need to do a double work on it when i got back then.)