Thursday, January 31, 2008

No 4 Hoi An

After Christmas in Cambodia, we had to fly back into Saigon for a one night stop over. It was the worst night of the trip, and I was just about ready to come home. We flew to Denang the next morning (me in a very bad mood) and caught a taxi to a small town, Hoi An. The hotel was just far enough away from the main streets to be quiet but close enough to walk everywhere. Our lovely hotel room overlooked rice paddies, so peaceful that I relaxed and we all kicked back for a couple of days of just mooching around. Lots (and I mean lots) of tailor shops, which the town is renowned for, and very laid back sellers. No one followed us around demanding that we buy from them, just what I needed.
At night the town closes off its shopping streets to motorised traffic, so an evening stroll after tea was a great way to finish the day (although I was hit by an elderly drunken bike rider). They sell lots of beautiful fabric lanterns, and on nights of the full moon, turn off all electric lights and just have traditional lanterns lighting the streets.
On the last day we met a man who took us by boat to his fishing and pottery village. No tourists in sight and we got to see the way normal Vietnamese live. He took us fishing, had a go at some pottery and rode on motorbikes to have lunch at his house.
If I had to live in Vietnam, this is where I would go.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

No3 - Halong Bay

Halong Bay, a couple of hours east of Hanoi, is a UNESCO listed heritage region. It consists of thousands of limestone islands in this bay mostly uninhabited, except for floating fishing villages. Pirates and various Independence fighters have used this place as a hideaway over the years, esp as some of the islands have wonderful cave formations through them.
We stayed overnight on a junk, as most tourists do. the scene at the harbour was chaos. We had to climb over three boats before we could get onto ours. We had two rooms and Henry shared a bed with me (again). No rats that we could see, apparently this was a bonus. Food was awful (battered unpeeled, lukewarm prawns with cold chips,yum yum) but the views were magnificent, if a little misty.
We explored one of the islands with two cave systems, then stopped at another small island (recently seen on the Amazing Race) for swimming (in the middle of winter, I don't think it was even vaguely tempting).
Next morning we went kayaking around a fishing village and around one of the islands, good fun.
I think this is the only place on our trip that would have been better in spring or summer, when the skies were clear, but still well worth the excursion.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

No 2 Vietnam Favourites - Sapa

Sapa is in the hills (mountains to us) in the north of Vietnam very near the Chinese border. We took an overnight train there and back (too awful) and although the first day was misty, the second day was glorious. The hill tribes dress in their ethnic clothing, with the tribe named after colur of the clothes they favour. We mostly dealt with black Hmong, but other colour tribes come in on weekends to sell all their hand sewn stuff, would have liked to have seen that. It was always the women selling at the markets, or by the roads, never saw many men.
We went for a small hike on the first day, with our wonderful guide, Dao, down into a small village stopping off in to look in their houses and buying some of their creations.
The second day Geoff, matt and Meaghan went on a much longer hike down through the valley, through rice paddies and over rivers. Although they were tired and muddy they all loved it.
This was always going to be too hard for Henry so I stayed with him and with Dao again, climbed a nearby mountain - all steps but had me questioning whether this was indeed the easy hike! Luckily there were plenty of rest stops, a dance display, and plenty of rocks for Henry to climb on and the views were well worth the effort.

Basking in my brothers glory

It was announced that Michael, my eldest brother was awarded an Australia day award (Australian Police Medal) last Saturday. This is for distinguished service over the years.
We are of course very proud of him, and he and his family (including mum and Dad) get to go to Government house in Sydney to receive the award later in the year, I don't think I can can wangle an invite as well, so shall just have to admire from afar... shall hopefully get pictures though.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Top 5 - Shopping in Hanoi

OK - totally sick of looking at photo's, so a top 5 highlights of the trip in no particular order and then we can get back to real life again.
No 1 is shopping in Hanoi, mainly street sellers but also markets and souvenir shops, everything so very cheap (although converting Vietnamese dong into Dollars took some mental arithmetic ($1 = about 16000VD). Yummy colours, not so yummy smells, all great to experience.
All the little dolls are water puppets, we saw a show in HCM, prop ably Henry's favourite.

Friday, January 18, 2008


I had pre booked all hotels, except for one night in Ho Chi Minh, before we left. The absolute best site for travellers is called trip advisor, which has written reviews by travellers. All the hotels we stayed at were clean and they made up our rooms everyday (love that).
We managed to get their top hotel rated in Hanoi (the Rising dragon) , absolutely loved it. Right in the heart of the city, step out of the door and you could start shopping. Staff were great, booked a couple of side trips from there as well as flights. When we returned from one trip at 5:30am (!!!), the staff were asleep on two mattresses near the front desk (how I envied those mattresses). Don't see that here.
Views from our Sapa (near China) hotel were jaw dropping (as above).
places). Kids walked under the bungalow on there way to where ever very We had a bungalow out of town in Cambodia, All in one large room and lots of wood and mosquito nets. Like sleeping in a shearing shed. No where to sit though and must be deadly hot in summer as they only had one fan which we left on all night (middle of 'winter' there). Nice pool but of the 5 or six meals we had there they only got one order right (despite us ticking an official menu in the appropriate boxes). When the dogs around the countryside finally stopped barking , the roosters started - very, very predawn. Lots of frogs and lizards around which the kids loved.
Our first night in HCM meant booking a room at the airport, looked great in the brochure but in reality was nothing like the photos. lots of tour buses here (another reason I couldn't do tours if that was the best they could come up with) and we were overcharged, not to mention the karaoke like concert they had blaring across the road (must be getting old!).
My favourite hotel was in Hoi An, the Long Life Hotel, the picture with Meaghan and the swans is what we were greeted with after a very long night (our first in Ho chi Mihn), a great place to relax for a few days.
Also managed to crack a cheapish without being backpacker cheap hotel for our last stay in Ho Chi Minh (Indochine). Would absolutely stay there again. We could walk to all the major attractions (and there was a KFC a block away, a blessing by the end of the trip). All for less than $40 a room (and henry got his very own proper bed, a rarity).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ice Creams

Henry loves icy poles and they are a sure fire way to keep him happy but finding a suitable ice treat proved very tricky. The green icy pole Geoff is holding is apple flavour, smelt and by all accounts tasted like shampoo (mmm, tasty). Many varieties were tried by the way they looked on advertising which just about always bore little resemblance to what was presented and ingredients were never a known quantity as it was all in Vietnamese.
Eventually the kids discovered drumstick like creations (chocolate for the older two, strawberry for Henry) that were deemed acceptable.
Hanoi had an ice cream cafe called fanny's. Meaghan loved it but Henry's strawberry ice cream was a sorbet, more disappointment for the boy.
Cambodia had a few surprises. Around the temples we found one (and apparently one only) ice cream seller, who sold Callipo's, Henry's favourite. The high light restaurant for the entire trip was a place called the Blue Pumpkin (aka Heaven after along hot day) that served the best vanilla ice cream I have tasted anywhere. So very yummy.
With anticipation of something smilar, we ordered ice cream at our hotel but were to experience the other end of the ice cream spectrum due to the interesting addition of frozen corn, I can't even begin to guess what they were thinking. (Matt ate most of it...)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


After deciding the last post was too boring I am going to break the trip up into little things that stand out - traffic is the first experience you are exposed to after getting through customs.
We had a taxi meet us from the hotel in Hanoi and although it was our first trip and we weren't used to Vietnamese driving, I still think it was the wildest ride we went on (although Ho Chi Minh traffic was a step up in eye popping behaviour again).
Seat belts are rare, esp in the back and mostly the only cars on the roads are taxis/minibuses. taxis always have ornaments on the dashboard (this one had an assortment of nodding creatures - more likely are religious figures, all the help they can get I suppose). There are five lanes on any road, no matter how wide, the outside lanes are for the millions of motorbikes and pushbikes, the inner lanes for cars, trucks and buses and the white line lane for general travelling, overtaking and avoiding the people also using the white line coming the other way.
Overtaking is easy, come up behind the car/truck/bus in front, blow your horn, flash your lights and in extreme cases (as on the first trip) use your hazard lights and they will eventually move into the motorbike 'lane' (hooting at motor bikes as they push them out of the way). The bizarre thing is with all this noise and lights and so many bikes, we only saw one or two accidents (and then only low speed dings) and there was absolutely no road rage. If someone cut off any of our drivers, they would just shake their heads and give a wry smile. it actually works.
Crossing the road as a pedestrian can be heart stopping, as zebra crossings are on the road, but more as if Vietnamese had seen them on tele and thought they looked good, rather than any notion of what they mean. Unfortunately we didn't get any decent photos of this as we were hanging on to whatever we could grab most of the time.
Crossing the road tips, just avoid any four wheel vehicles and the motorbikes will generally go around you. easy, Geoff reckons this is the way I walk around malls (maybe..) so I had it down pat, Matt thougth about it too much and was left behind more than once.

Friday, January 11, 2008

24hrs in Kuala Lumpur

After overnighting at the Gold Coast (cheap Air Asia flights out of there and also the busiest airport we encountered on our trip - due to lack of organisation rather than volume handled), we flew to Malaysia for one nights stopover in KL. Just a side note, due to last minute booking we fluked extra long seats (ie business class seats without the service), a very nice way to get over the claustrophobia I had always associated with plane flights - but also the unfortunate effect of all other flights seeming very cramped,. Sigh, just a brief look at the good life only to be cruelly snatched back into reality...
We didn't fly into the main airport - another good thing about flying el cheapo, very quick to get through customs etc. Grabbed a taxi (with seat belts - a rare occurrence over the next weeks) and headed into town. It was really odd, brand new roads and hardly anyone using them, no-one on the streets, just lots of palm oil forests and heaps of building works. All a bit spooky.
Arrived at our hotel and it was great - probably the nicest we stayed in the whole trip. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, pool and walking distance to the twin towers (unfortunately they were closing it in the new year to turn into into a traditional hotel - ie small cramped rooms to make more money).
Henry was desperate for a swim but was not allowed as they were setting up a reception next to the pool - total devastation.
Went for a walk and found out everyone hung out at the park and mall at the bottom of the twin towers. We were offered money for Henry (not sure what for - don't really want to think about it) and shamefully had Hungry jacks for tea :(
Next morning, after very yummy brekky, Henry got his swim and made friends with a family from Singapore. It was here we discovered that Henry knew he was from Australia and he was aware that he was in another country. I'm not sure we had explained this to him at any stage, just we were going on a long plane ride.
We found one of the largest playgrounds I had seen in the middle of the city with a great kids water park, free for all, next to it. Hard to pry henry away.
We walked most of the way to the Menara Tower (4th tallest in the world) with a mini bus taking us up the last steep bit, thank goodness as it was very hot and something like 90% humidity - killer. Nice views, mostly of all the other tower blocks being constructed 24/7, not much more to it. Mad rush back to hotel, back to airport and fly on to Hanoi.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Back home

We are finally back from our overseas odyssey (well, family holiday actually). Everything went pretty much to plan and nobody got sick (a bonus!).
Henry was treated like the superstar we all know he is, with the rumours of blonde headed children being treated like royalty all true. Henry tolerated photos taken, cheeks tweaked and and many questions asked for the first couple of weeks and then went into 'Tom Cruise being chased by the paparazzi' mood.
I hope to put a few of our many, many photos up over the next few weeks starting with these few taken of Henry in the first couple of days, (the army man refused to be photographed unless Henry was in the picture with him) an indication of Henry's experience anyway.
By the way, the other 4 of us had a great time as well but just not quite the attention henry had (although if Matt was just a bit older we could have had a bride for him). We would all reccommend Vietnam and the temples of Ankor in Cambodia as a great place to visit, very cheap once your there and always something to do.
Glad to be back home though.