A Travellerspoint blog

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Hanoi to Cat Ba: Phase 2


overcast 12 °C

I left the café after a man with brown teeth started talking to me 20cm from my face. He kept on saying the word, “Samsoong,” which I realized was a reference to this netbook. I took that as a cue to leave and head back to the “travel agent” that sits opposite an industrial scrap yard of sorts. A few panicked moments were beautifully dissolved into celebration when a group of similar travellers were deposited at the same spot.

Reassurance is the most underestimated feeling ever.

I was finally told to buy my ticket and we were all bussed off to somewhere on the other side of the shipping version of Mordor.


Our bus stopped next to a rusting pier and a few ancient, inadequate and largely suspicious-looking boats somehow moored to a lop-sided, rusted-through, self-conscious pier. Well, what were boats and what was a pier. My heart sank.


My fear of being sold into slavery subsided into vivid visions of a headline on page 6 of an inconspicuous local publication in Hai Phong: 17 Tourists Die in Ferry Accident. Sea Angry.


A slightly better looking Ferry arrived shortly after I contemplated what to say to God.


Don’t get me wrong.

This is no engineering feat or likely anything legally seaworthy. I’m just more comfortable with the idea of the sea than I am with slavery. Regardless, I have subsequently taken a seat right at the back closest to the exit above board.


With any luck, there will be Phase 3 to this day. Dear God, that would be kind.

Posted by JayneHol 02:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam backpacking ferry drown exploring Comments (0)

Hanoi to Cat Ba: Phase 3


semi-overcast 16 °C

It’s called Smug. DSC04209.jpg

It’s called a 4th floor Beer Ha Noi with a brilliant $6 view.


It’s called triumph.


The lesson I may have learned today: Chance can be equally kind.


Posted by JayneHol 02:56 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam happy beautiful bay arrival cat_ba_island alive ha_long Comments (1)

Ha Long Bay in Pictures

and a few tired and hungry words

sunny 20 °C

It's easier and more exciting to compile this entry in pictures. In a hungry nutshell, I went on boat trip around Long Ha and Ha Long Bays. This incorporated encountering fishing villages, chilling, sleeping, eating, Kayaking with a stranger who insisted on stopping to photograph every limestone rockface, one swim, finding a beach with some shells (soul food) and sending mental postcards to everyone I wished was with me.

Here goes:





Below would be Keith from Canada, the retired racing cyclist who photographed every limestone rock face.




And as every lone traveller should have, a series of self portraits to prove you were there. Out of a hundred sad attempts, three or four get selected (replicas of each other, really):



Then one without the flash...just in case:


Back to the scenery minus Jayne:






And just for good measure and to be precise:


I have more food pics to post from last night, but that can be an entry on its own. I'll do a comparative analysis. In colour. Likely mostly of spring rolls. Depending on my mood, I may even assign a rating.

Posted by JayneHol 04:16 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam happy sun lonely ha_long_bay cat_ba_island lan_ha_bay Comments (0)

Fine Line Between Half Full and Half Empty

Jayne's attempt at resourcefulness

semi-overcast 23 °C

My day was odd. I decided to have no plans and after a few glasses of self-indulgent French wine (still cheaper than 2 Oceans for those who tend towards judgement) and some bad dreams last night, this morning presented nothing other than no plans. I relented. I slept as late as two thin blankets would allow, insecurely checked my mail, drank some sickly sweet coffee at a family bakery down the road, and decided to go back to bed.

An intervention resulted in an offer to go touring with some other travellers, provided I was happy to watch rock climbing for half an hour. With a severe lack of my own imagination, I agreed. Stupidly.

I turned out to be the only non-climber. And, as with most addictions and self indulgence, one becomes many and many becomes infinite and then time doesn't matter. I lie. It goes backwards.

Except for me.

An hour or two or three or so later, I spotted a family fishing in a dam/pond of sorts. For the first time in the day, I felt remotely excited and meandered over to watch as the grandfather and daughter trawled the green, stinky, muddy pond. Grandmother would then pick up the catch. I saw this as a photo opportunity. They saw it as an intrusion. Fair enough. I dragged myself back to the rock face, at least 3 black marks against my name and burdened by a pathetic loser complex.

An hour or two or three or so later, after asking myself what I'd do if I had the full confidence I desire without crossing the border to arrogance, Linda and Jayne agreed that helping Grandmother pick up fish out of the mud and sand would be a liberating alternative to watching self indulgence.

And so, pick up fish we did.

For anybody that knows me, I'm plagued by irrational squeamishness. However, as the optimist I attempted to be, I soon realised that this mission achieved a number of things.

1) I had to pick up just-as-squeamish fish
2) I (arrogantly) got the Western climbers out of their culturally disparate comfort zone
3) I helped grandmother
4) I got a dirty, sticky and smelly hand. Just one. (I lean towards obsessive compulsive behaviour in this regard)
5) I made the family laugh
6) I made me laugh
7) I consoled fish in my head
8) I realised the power of calmness (for me and the sentenced fish)
9) I learned that some dogs and chickens would be eating fish tonight
10) I found something to do for an hour or two or three or so
11) I got the taste of local life I crave
12) I got over my inherent fear of charades

And with that, my day turned half full.

What subsequently filled it up was a Saturday. Kids like photos and so do I. So we clicked. We laughed. We wanted more. We clicked. We giggled as girls. We clicked. We jeered as boys.

I'm alive. I'm leaving tomorrow. Bus. Boat. Bus. Bus. One bus more complicated than the last trip. Naturally, I'm thrilled and anticipating at least two extra. But I'm absolutely reassured by Hung, who booked me my ticket. No, Hung wrote me my ticket. He crossed out a "Boat." I hope that isn't a prophecy.

Where should I put the pics? Perhaps a photo gallery is easier and less intrusive. Here was the full part of my day. I deleted photos of rock faces. Keith would be devastated. I am triumphant.

The kiddies (and one of me- the only reason I obliterated colour is because they are beautiful and I am pink. I hate being pink. Some call this vanity. I call it free will.):







Cat Ba Town:



Local market pics, which I am obviously obsessed with:



Fishing! Salvation. Fun. Reward. Triumph. Whatever you want to call it.




Apologies for the shift from portrait to landscapes. There is no easy way around this.



Me and a fish! An induction into living:



More market. For no reason other than I like the Caravaggio.



Posted by JayneHol 02:41 Archived in Vietnam Tagged children fishing travel vietnam life family milk triumph cat_ba_island Comments (0)


...or the whale

all seasons in one day 20 °C

Shit. I ordered fried rice with shrimp, but got it with squid.
In our country, this would be calamari. In this country, it’s squid. And tastes like squid. And chews like whale. It chews like bubblegum whale after 4 hours. And crunches like bark. I thought it was onion.


I was meant to indulge in lobster, but got too settled writing at my guesthouse and my lack of appetite asked me just to stay. Eat anything. Just not squid. Guess I’m just eating rice. Problem is there is not much room left for it.
I think it’s half raw. Or half cooked. Either way it’s half hearted. So is my tolerance. But not my politeness.
No dogs around. Crap.
Must get a photo. Die. Dead. Dodgy. Daring. Better than dog?
Not even rubber. More like plastic curtain hooks that defy mastication. Regardless of which teeth. Not even a carnivorous canine could get through the light purple that is limping in my rice.
4 pieces of silicone down, 17 to go. I’m ignoring at least 13 of them. I plan to tell them, “Sorry, I don’t understand.”
“I don’t speak Vietnamese.”

I smell a dentist in my future.

Enough. This is traumatic. At least they’re fresh. It’s fresh. It never got cooked. It never got old enough to learn the word soft. At least. So much for my shrimp.
It’s like eating bangers and mash when I was 5. Except this time there is no dog or serviette not to chew into.
I imagine this squid would survive an atomic bomb. Maybe both.
I got a tentacle. Ever eaten a chopstick?
Not one person I know would have food envy right now. They’d have spat theirs out laughing at mine. Not even willing to taste a shared experience. I feel cheated. Cheated on.
No, it’s too old to remember the word soft.
“Hi, I’m Jayne. Ever eaten raw great grandfather squid and dog disguised as sausage? Well, I have.”
It’s done. I ate the rice and those extra four pieces of great grandfather squid.
If I’d known the ants would eat it, I would have dropped more sooner.
Oh well. I now smell like mud fish and sea fish.

Good bye, Cat Ba. I'm watching you.

Posted by JayneHol 05:41 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Around Ninh Binh

Mit Jens

overcast 22 °C

I had slightly greater expectations of Ninh Binh, but I believe those expectations may have been tainted by previous travels, especially to China. First, all the towns essentially look the same here, so Ninh Binh made no first impression. It's big and noisy and dusty like the others and it's generally quite ugly. The reason to visit is to hire a bike or Motorbike and meander through the rice-paddy littered countryside outside the town.

The view from my room (not quite indicative of the town):


The countryside is somewhat tainted by Vietnamese ambition to make things bigger and better and more touristy. Lakes have been created, temples built and the karst hillsides have been blasted away to make better roads. I suspect that villages on the outskirts of Ninh Binh will soon disappear into the limestone cement shadows. Pity.

Nevertheless, a day meandering on a motorbike was pleasant enough, despite the weather being dodgy. The countryside dissolved into the greyness leaving it seeming despondent and relenting and rather unable to express itself as fully as it could. Loudspeakers blurting out what I assume to be propaganda in villages also altered any authenticity I had hoped for and left me feeling a tad uncomfortable.


Jens, a German traveller I met up with here, and I explored a little. We were advised to visit about 10 caves and many Pagodas (temples). We went to one- a Pagoda in a cave, had lunch and a beer, and then went for a long boat ride up what we hoped is a genuine river through the limestone hills.

Das ist Jens und ich (getting petrol):


I'd recommend it if you have extra time and if you find the Chinese too odd to bypass in an effort to get to somewhere exquisite like Yangshuo. Alternatively, it could be quite fun if you get stoned.

Here is the good part of the experience. Quality is compromised by the monotoned weather:

Another one on the bike:


My lunch and one of the flies in my beer:



Bich Dong Pagoda. We couldn't quite hear every detail from the other peoples' hired tour guide, but the Chinese had a significant influence here:





The river excursion:





Our rower, who likely didn't like us because we refused to buy anything, especially the undersized embroidered t-shirts that every other tourist seemed to fall for:




Jens and I laughing at the entire experience:


Posted by JayneHol 04:45 Archived in Vietnam Tagged boat vietnam countryside tourist backpacking motorbike ninh_binh Comments (0)

How to kill 12 hours in Ninh Binh

...on a rainy day

rain 21 °C

Jens and I are wasting time on a rainy day.





Phat Diem cathedral that Jens wanted to visit is closed (thank goodness) and the Floating Village at Kenh Ga that I wanted to see will be wetter than it normally is (devastating), so we ambled around a very uneventful town and have ended up at the Gallery Café for what seems like it’s going to be 100 cups of complimentary tea. Tea gets delivered roughly every ten minutes.


We did attempt to have tea at a local spot, but got shown mounds of noodles and what I’d guess was a chunk of beef and were refused tea, so we had to find a more accommodating alternative. We found complimentary tea in a courtyard filled with giant Bonsai trees and a Koi pond with motionless Koi. Okay, they’re not entirely motionless- two of them changed direction in the last hour. Now they are motionless.

DSC04638.jpg DSC04640.jpg


Jens was telling me about Vietnamese wedding photography. The aim is to pose dramatically- like an early Hollywood movie- and be ‘photoshopped’ into places you aren’t. Luckily, wedding shops are quite common, so this gives a vague idea of what he was explaining to me, although, apparently, these are quite conservative examples.


Another thing mildly interesting when one is bored is how words are translated between Vietnamese and English or French even. We combine syllables into one word e.g. Halong Bay instead of Ha Long Bay as it is written here. The opposite applies to English. From the bus the other day I spotted a sign for a Pho To Co Py Shop. This image of a hotel-to-be gives an idea:


We are due to take a sleeper bus to Hoi An tonight. One like China. Made for shorter people to sleep and longer people to lie uncomfortably. With any luck, the bus should have Kung Fu movies also and some karaoke. Jens will be delighted. So will I. I left my ear plugs in the drawer next to my bed at home.

We're now drinking Ha Noi wine for the third day in a row. What I really mean is that it is 3 days old. This is not recommended.

Posted by JayneHol 02:56 Archived in Vietnam Tagged bus town tea raining garden bored bonsai coffee ninh_binh Comments (0)

The Sleeper Bus

And 24 hours of waiting

sunny 32 °C

I may be too grouchy to write this. I took the sleeper bus, knowing full what to expect from Jen's and my experience in China. I could have insisted that we take the train, but it’s nice to have a break from making unmeaningful decisions for myself, and, the fact that the ticket seller for the train needed to be bribed to admit that there were soft sleepers available was enough incentive to agree to the cheaper bus option.

The bus obviously came from Hanoi, so was already full. I therefore found the only seat left. At the very back. Right next to the toilet.

On top of cursing so severely and offensively every time someone went to wee and seriously pondering whether I should make use of a present I bought for Mike, it was unpleasant. You need at least an extra 15cm in every direction for medium people, the back of the seat never goes down enough; and the air con is either too working or too broken. Last night, I sweated like a pig and I didn’t sleep until just before the scheduled stop at 2am- that kind time when I was just about to thank Buddha for finally making my eyes heavy and bum numb.

Toilets should be banned on buses. I suspect the driver felt the same because at some unholy hour in the morning, we stopped so he could shit outside and next to the bus. Next to my window (hence my knowledge of this).

Anyway, I’m being a tad dramatic and am alive. We arrived in Hue at about 9:30am, were ushered off the bus and told to wait for the next one at 2pm. Awesome.

For those who don't have an idea of what this bus is like, this is what to expect. The latter is what one looks like in the morning. hopefully, for me, not every morning:




The plus side is some early morning scenery:






Jens and I did a grumpy whirlwind walking tour around some of Hue, went to the market and ate local food at a café of sorts. Then we waited. Tried some local fruit. Spat it out. Waited. Got taxied to the travel agent. And waited. We’re now on another sleeper bus to Hoi An. Still waiting to get there and I’m pretending not to notice the cockroaches crawling across my window.








A slightly daring lunch:




With any luck, Hoi An still exists.

Random thought: I feel absolutely nothing for flying my way through the rest of Vietnam. In fact, I’m going to get taxis in between flights too.

After all my trauma and tolerance informed by lack of sleep and foul toilet smells, the view on the bus trip to Hoi An is breathtaking. If I did it again, I’d skip out Ninh Binh and meander along this highway over a few days instead.

Jens and me waiting:


The bus to Hoi An:



Posted by JayneHol 03:52 Archived in Vietnam Tagged bus vietnam backpacking hue ninh_binh trauma Comments (0)

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