Mui Ne and the Sand Babies

•October 28, 2008 • 1 Comment

Mui Ne is a coastal city lined with beautiful beaches, and plenty of places to stay and eat. Unlike other Vietnam coastal cities, however, its has one unique attribute; sand dunes. Being that we’ve been experiencing the beaches for a couple weeks now, we were very interested to check out the sand dunes.

We rented a motorbike and headed for the hills. It’s rainy season here so many of the dunes were actually sprouting vegetation. As we were biking around we noticed many local children yelling for us to pull over near the big dunes. They wanted to be our tour guides. We’d heard that the children could be very aggressive, so we thought we’d be sneaky and find another area of entrance, though we knew it would only be a matter of time before they found us in the sand.

Within about 1 minute of entering a gang full of children ranging from 8-16 years old came running towards us with pieces of plastic for us to use for sliding down the dunes. The kids were cute, and let’s face it; of course we had to try sliding so we were sold. We had them bring us to the biggest hill out there. The sand babies (that’s what we call them) were all smiles, and laughter. So innocent. So adorable. We all slid down together. Note, it was fun, but we didn’t pick up nearly as much speed as we do on the snow back home. After we finished playing, the children were expecting money. We gave them all the small dongs (Vietnamese money) we had… approximately $2. They were not satisfied. They all crumbled onto the sand and gave us puppy eyes saying, “we don’t want to share. Give us 100 dong.” Note: 100 dong (~ $6) is what we paid to rent the motorbike for the day. We told them we couldn’t and the puppy eyes and pleas continued. They wouldn’t take our money unless we gave them more. Finally, we told them that if they didn’t want the dongs and we didn’t want the dongs then we’d just leave the money there for the dunes, and we set the dongs down. They still didn’t crack. They wouldn’t take the money. We said told them to take the money, said goodbye, and began to walk away.

Just then, one of the children yelled something that sounded like, “fuggoff.” Excuse me, but did that child just say the ‘F’ word? More little voices rang out, “fuk off!” “fuk you!” “go to hellll!!” Yep, they were definitely swearing at us, and at a very high pitch and volume I might add. They swore us all the way off the dunes. In answer to your questions.. Yes, they did throw our money back at us. Yes, we did walk at a fast pace thinking they might chase us or destroy our bike. Yes, we did laugh at the madness of the situation. Though in reality, this trained begging is extremely sad.

Thankfully, we got this shot with them before our Sand Babies flipped:

 (View from our hike down the Fairy Stream)

Nha Trang, Vietnam

•October 26, 2008 • 1 Comment

Nha Trang is known as the French Riviera of Vietnam; beautiful beaches and lots of tourism.  We were excited to visit it for the reasons above, as well as for the international cuisine.  We’ve been missing all the choices back home.  Our best meal in Vietnam we found here, and it wasn’t Vietnamese. It was french seafood.  Cockles, mussels, and scallops for appetizers; fillet of fish and seafood clay pot for entry; sticky rice with mango for dessert, as well as several beers. Total bill.. about $15.

 

The city is also very popular among backpackers for having a 1-day boat cruise.  Our cruise began with an easy ride out to one of the many islands where we snorkeled.  Next we boated around and had a seafood lunch.  After lunch our crew turned into a band and we had a dance party. Promptly followed by a “floating bar”, which was about 30 minutes floating in tubes drinking free mulberry wine. We then made our way back.  It was a great taste of the city…Total price per person for the cruise.. $8.

 

Not bad, eh?

Vince and His Haircut

•October 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

We took a 17 hour overnight bus ride from Hanoi to Hoi An.  We had booked our bus tickets through the alleged “Sinh Café”.   When we got off the bus we found that our bags were soaking wet.  It had been raining all night and apparently the puddles on the poorly kept roads creeped into our bags below.  Talk about putting salt into a wound. 

 

Anyways, Hoi An was a charming town, though very empty of people since it’s now their off season.  Vince and I rented bicycles and took our own tour of the city and beach.  At the beach we built a sandcastle.. well, kind of like a sand castle.  Below is a photo of our creation.  It was actually a giant pyramid, surrounded by a moat, with a dragon at the entrance.  The dragon’s spine is also the staircase to the entrance.

 

 

Vince needed a haircut so we stopped at a local shop. Check out the barber below.  Vince got the full package: haircut; beard, neck, and forehead shaved with a loose blade; and ears cleaned out with dentist like equipment.  The barber did a great job.  Vince had been getting pretty scraggily from all our traveling.  After he was finished I thought he looked like tarzan cleaned up after coming out of the jungle.

 

 

 

It was a great place to relax for a while before traveling on.

 

Halong Bay “Tour”

•October 22, 2008 • 1 Comment

We wanted to visit the world-renowned Halong Bay, and to do so we would need to go book a tour. The city is scattered with travel agencies, mostly Sinh Cafes so we had no problems finding a tour. We heard that many Sinh Cafes are fake, so we had the sales lady show us a stamped letter of authenticity. We thought we were in the clear. Clearly, by the picture I am painting we were not. The next day we left for a 3-day 2-night trip to Halong Bay.

 Our minivan picked us up early from our hotel. VP and I hadn’t eaten our breakfast or had our coffee yet- not good. That would be the last time they did anything early throughout our ‘tour’. We joined 18 other passengers in a van. We were the only 2 from the U.S. The rest were from Denmark, Iran, Germany, France, Malaysia, and Japan, quite an eclectic group of countries. English was the common language. Filled to max capacity, and then some, our van made the 4-hour trip to the Bay. No possibility of sleep for the drive was so bumpy it would be described as disturbing at best.

We waited at the port for about an hour for our ‘junk boat’, a long wooden boat that sleeps about 20 passengers. The boat sailed into the bay. The view was incredible; green hills jutting out of the blue ocean. We were surrounded by beauty. The boat floated through a fishing village. The village was composed of about 20 boats floating peacefully. Adults, children and dogs lived afloat. There was even a school boat for the children! The ladies and children from the village came out in little canoe-like boats to sell us fruit. Come to think of it, I’m not sure where they would have gotten their fruit from. It was unbelievable.

We visited enormous caves filled with neon lights, and then docked out on Cat Ba Island where we were to spend our first night.

 

We waited at the dock for about an hour to be picked up by a new tour guide and brought to our hotel. The island was nice and we spent our evening in a little bar listening to Jack Johnson on the stereo. The next day we were given a tiny breakfast, and then we waited over an hour for another tourguide to pick us up. Once picked up we had to back track for about an hour to pick up some more people to fill our tour to capacity. Once full we went to Cat Ba’s National Park where we hiked up a mountain. On top of the mountain was an entirely rusted out 75 ft tall watchtower. At first Vince wouldn’t climb it but when he turned around to go down he was blocked by people and he knew he was in for the long haul. It was beautiful from up there.

  

After the hike we were transported to the dock, where we had to wait for a couple hours for our boat to come back; all the while being attacked by ladies at the dock wanting to sell us their goods. “10,000 Dong for water. It is 20,000 on Cat Ba. 10,000 beer? It is cold. Cigarettes?”

After the bulk of the daylight sun had passed we boarded our boat. Peace at last. We watched the sun set over Halong’s backdrop. By sundown we anchored. Several of us jumped a good 20 feet into the dark waters below. Exhilarating.. and surprisingly painful. I’ve never jumped from so high up, and certainly never into such uncertain jellyfish filled night-waters. We ate our alleged ‘seafood by sunset’ dinner, which was more like fishcakes in darkness. Vince observed more than a few mice scamper across the floor. The workers didn’t seem the least bit surprised. For the night our boat shared a generator with another boat. The exhaust from the overworked generator filled the night sky-– so much for fresh air. Still, we had a wonderful evening conversing on the moonlit roof deck with our new friends

When the evening ended, VP and I went down to our sleeping quarters. Though the lights in our quarters below were dim, we were able to see mouse poo on our beds. Gross. I closed the curtains and saw one of the little critters scurry out and down the bed. “A mouse! A mouse!” I yelled and jumped on the bed. It was just like out of a cartoon. Personally, I thought I would’ve handled myself better, but I just freaked out. We had a hand-charging flashlight. When you squeeze it, it makes a clicking sound, and illuminates the bulb. Vince pulled it out and began clicking away, searching all crevices for mice. He didn’t find any, but we decided it would be safest to sleep with the lights on, just in case. So we’re stuffed in a tiny, dirty cabin. No aircon, and windows closed to keep mice out. It was stuffy, and musky, and we lay stiff staring at the ceiling trying to fall asleep, with the lights on. Eventually we did. At about 5 in the morning I woke up and turned out the lights. Not more than 10 seconds later I heard the clicking of Vince hand charging the flashlight..

 The next morning we woke up for a cold egg, some stale bread and a bit of jelly for breakfast. We went kayaking around the bay, which was great. As soon as we got back on the junk boat, dripping wet, our tour guide told us he needed our room key for immediate checkout. What he should’ve said is please take a shower, pack your things and checkout. Instead, when I refused to give him the room key before showering he just said to, “hurry up”. We irritably did, as our boat docked.

 Our tour guide had us gather all our bags and walk just out the port gates. He then informed us that we had an hour ‘free time’. Of course this was just more waiting with nothing to do. As he was finishing his sentence the unrelenting souvenir ladies squeezed their way into our group as began, “cigarettes, water, beer…” We waited. Our 4-hour ride back to Hanoi was bumpier than our ride in. Breathing irregularly, Vince was about to ask the driver to pull over so he could puke. Thankfully, we arrived. As we got out of the car the elder Iranian man was calling out, “Torture, torture!”

 It was a truly memorable tour. Though lesson learned- stay away from all Sinh City travel agencies, it’s just not worth trying to hunt out the real one (if a real one does even exist).

Chaotic Hanoi

•October 19, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Vince and I finished a 27-hour train ride from China and arrived in Hanoi. For some reason I had the expectation that Hanoi would be a small quaint ancient town.  No.  No, not at all.  This city is the absolute more touristed-out city we’ve been to yet (and we’ve been to some very touristy spots). 

 

The architecture of Hanoi (and much of Vietnam) is French. Tall slender colorful buildings and streets- run down at this point mind you- set between ocean and mountains.  It’s beautiful.  The streets are (relatively) clean, the spitting less (though still existed), and there was no smell of urine.  Unfortunately, the people are not as serene. Compared to Chinese people they’re aggressive, compared to Thai people they’re disgustingly aggressive. As we were to find out they’re also full of a bag full of lies. 

 

 

 

Everywhere we went in Hanoi was overcrowded with cars, bikes, and people.  We were squeezed on to narrow sidewalks that were also full of cars, bikes, and people. Everywhere you go you are squeezing around others, and everywhere you go there are locals trying to sell you their goods. Mind you the goods are the same in all the stores though the prices vary a great deal.  Most streets don’t have traffic lights and it’s amazing to watch people trying to cross the other streets.  Amazing, frightening, and fun.  Our most exciting time in Hanoi was actually spent crossing these busy streets as if we were playing the old video game ‘Frogger’.

 

 

Vietnam is still full of men and women wearing conical hats with bamboo sticks across their backs carrying vegetables for sale.  I was fighting off these ladies who were insisting on throwing their bamboo baggage on me to take a photo. Vince and I did manage to veer into some smaller side streets where we found some very fine thick, black Vietnamese coffee that kept me buzzing awake until wee hours of the morning.  Amongst all the hours of wandering the city we also managed to catch a century old water puppet show.

 

Hanoi was a crazy city, very different than what we had expected, and we needed to get out. It was time to move on.

Good Morning Vietnam!

•October 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Hi All, This ends our expedition through China.  Next stop… Vietnam!

Chongqing China – The Largest City in the World

•October 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Our last stop on our way out of China was to the great Chongqing.  Haven’t heard of it?  Neither had we, though it turns out that it’s the largest city in the entire world!  There are over 33 million people living in the city, compared to Tokyo at around 32million, and Seoul, Mexico City and New York City all right around 20 million. We asked someone who worked at our hostel where is her favorite area of the city.  She had no response.  The city is split into several quadrants, and most locals don’t leave their quadrant.  To us the city looked like it went on forever.  High rises as far as you could see. Some old homes were demolished; others were simply built over by the new ones. An ancient city area still remains and is thriving with Chinese tourists looking for treats and souvenirs.  There are no empty lots and no unused space. Clothes hang from the windows, children run in the streets, food vendors sell their foods, and people are relax in teahouses hidden throughout. The downtown is enormous, full of department stores (though even as sophisticated as this part of town is the bathrooms still are smelly holes in the floor).  It is unexpectedly well developed in most areas.  It was a great city to get lost in for a few days to experience a bit of the true modern day China.