Temperature – 31 degreesC
After the rains of central Vietnam we hit the burning heat of Sài Gòn – the largest city in Vietnam, with a population of around 7 million people. The place is growing rapidly though – since 1999 the city’s population has increased by almost a quarter of a million people per year!
Despite the wide elegant boulevards and historic French colonial buildings the traffic here is still a crazy mess. We are often almost run over on the pavement by motorcycles driving off road or even straight in or out of the shops. Still, it is wonderful to be in the warm weather (with a chance to go swimming!) in a plush hotel courtesy of Chloé’s generous brother, Sam!
The city prepares for Christmas, and we come across this performance on Sunday at 9am(?!) – paste this link in your browser to see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Noy8oK-hS0Y
Scooters seem to define Vietnam.
We go to the Vietnamese Institute for Blind People, where we are treated by blind masseurs.
Vietnamese fashion at its best.
Have you been wondering what's been missing from your life? It's Yoghurt Space! Grab a cup, take a spin around the special frozen yoghurt vending machines, put oreos on top and pay per 100g. What could be better?
In the quest to find the "real" Vietnam, we stumble across Saigon's answer to the drive-in. People drive their scooters up onto the pavement by the river, single people take a fishing rod, couples don't; everyone is there for a night of romance.
A much welcome break, as we have cocktails by the pool at our hotel. Thanks so much Sam!
We take a taxi to Da Nang, have a quick lunch and then board the train. Another overnight journey, another dirty train! We take the 18 hour ride from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City (also known as “Saigon”), leaving at 1:30pm in the afternoon and arriving at around 7am. Fortunately this should be our last Vietnamese train ride! Once in Saigon, we manage to find a bus into the city and walk the rest of the way to the hotel.
We decide our taxi driver has misunderstood the concept of a seatbelt
At lunch, before the train, we met Bettina. It took 24 hours to get rid of her, but we managed eventually.
One of the many rice paddies we saw out from the train window
The sheets haven't been washed, and neither have our Vietnamese cabin-mates. This is first class and we settle in for another sleepless night on the train.
We arrive into Saigon an hour late. Health and safety is yet to arrive in Vietnam, as the train delivers us onto the adjacent train track, complete with moving train charging forward.
We're the only tourists who have caught the bus instead of a taxi. With a cost saving of about 5000%, and a priceless saving in stressful negotiations with the ever-dishonest Vietnamese taxi drivers.
We leave Ha Noi to head South down Vietnam’s coast for Hoi An – easy to mix up. A single sleeper train takes us to Da Nang and then a car picks us up to the historic Hoi An.
It is so dirty on this train that we dont want to touch a thing
Some remote and beautiful houses hide beside the train tracks
Our French train-mates leave us on the train as they head for Hue
We see rice fields in the foreground and the South China sea behind
Cuisine sold on the train consists of rice and tofu with lettuce for 60 pence. Not bad!
We get off the train and get in a taxi to our hostel. The Central Vietnamese coast is being destroyed by resorts!
Temperature – 22 degreesC
Our first stop in Vietnam is Ha Noi – the capital of Vietnam and the country’s second largest city with a population of 6.5 million. 2010 travel guides describe it as one of the world’s “Top Destinations”, but is it?…
- We couldnt find the train station so we walked along the tracks
- Crossing any road at any time in any place is absolute chaos
- We sample street food – at local prices (50p a meal)
- Hoan Kiem Lake, meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” or “Lake of the Restored Sword” in the historical center of Hanoi
- Chloe in traditional Vietnamese dress
Chloe and Kangaroo catch the light in the Temple of Literature - constructed in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars
Chloe advertises a not-so-classic Vietnamese drink
Everyone in Vietnam is apparently employed - even this guy
The opening sale at a Ha Noi superstore consists of a stack of open shipping containers on the street
After leaving Hong Kong to re-enter China we take a sleeper train West to Nanning to catch a morning bus down to the Vietnamese border before heading to the Capital of Vietnam, Hanoi.
The border crossing is a bit of a holiday resort – though scary in different ways. Passport checks involve holding up your passport whilst being escorted by golf buggy, whilst a guard glances over from his cabin ten metres away to see if you are holding something passport-shaped…
Another enormous waiting room at Guangzhou East Station
Who on Earth designed this train interior? You have to like blue.
Traffic in Nanning is not so different to anywhere else in China. Madness.
The golf buggy through customs on the China-Vietnamese border
The North of Vietnam - rice fields, karste formations and traditional tribes
At a comfort stop in Vietnam Chloe trials traditional pork meat served in a leaf. She doesn't like it.
Temperature – 17 degreesC
We basically eat and go shopping with Stephen’s Aunt for two days!!
Our clothes have shrunk?....
A market trader measures out some almonds for us
After a wonderful stay in Hong Kong, we head back to China to check out Stephen’s aunt’s holiday home near Guangzhou. The journey involved two minibuses and three coaches mixed in with a couple or border checks… But actually it was really easy! Especially with Auntie Irene there to do the talking.
Minibus number 1
Coach number 1
Coach number 2
It's a proper holiday apartment - we must first turn on the water supply
Temperature: 14 to 23 degress C
Hong Kong!!! We are so happy to arrive in this “civilised” place. The signs which say “No spitting” are promising. It’s burning hot when we arrive, but gets rapidly colder after Chloe’s 27th birthday. Ominous!
We decide to stay a long time (12 days) and settle in to the family home in Choi Uk Tsuen.
Stephen gets up early for a spot of tofu with his aunt
Being sacreligious at Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple
Stephen manages to get in a big film
Daydreaming about architecture
Being silhouettes at sunset in Sai Kung
One of the many market streets
This one's for Natalie
Had to put at least one sparkly picture in! The view from the Peak on Chloe's birthday
Big Buddha on Lantau Island
Climbing the stairs to the Big Buddha
But he is hiding in a cloud
The Wisdom Path
Karaoke at Neway, with Karen and Batman!!! I especially enjoyed that tested favourite, "Chihuahua"