20th - 27th September - (Mui Ne beach - Vietnam)
In Dien Bien Phu my money situation was starting to look a little low, with this in mind i managed to convince the hotel to change my 10 pound note into Dong for a les than favourable rate (they will only be able to change it in Hanoi). The bus driver from Dien Bien Phu to Sonla tried to charge me an extra 20,000d on top of my 55,000d ticket for my large rucksack - although this is about 70p, my funds are low and i have a suspicion that this is just a trumped up tourist charge so i stand my ground - the drivers assistant also tries but they give up when i go to get off saying i will ask at the ticket office - a small victory which i started regretting later when my bladder had got to the point where i had to ask them to stop the bus (usually they have stops every couple of hours). By this point i had made several local friends at the back of the bus as they all were fascinated by my mp3 player, i passed it around for them to hear Morrissey which they all seemed to enjoy. With these guys on my side the bus soon stopped much to my relief.
I arrived in Sonla in the early evening, checked in to a nice hotel and went out for some bia hoi (draught) at 2000d each i was soon a little tipsy, there were no food menus and my vietnamese efforts weren't working so i went hungry.
The next day was spent doing a lot of walking, using my nearly invisible photocopied lonely planet map to find an old french prison, virtually destroyed by wars, a war memorial garden and a very hot steep midday climb to a lookout tower.
Buildings here are usually 2-4 stories, very narrow and deep, usually with only the front painted - apparently there is some sort of tax based on house width. I went into the goat restaurant but with no English menu, decided not to risk it so ended up in a shabby cafe (also with no menu) drinking bottled beer (they didn't even have beer hoi!) and eating cold cuts of beef with rice. I was surrounded by friendly blokes who kept speaking to me in Vietnamese, undeterred by the fact i couldn't answer them, i didn't even have the lonely planet with me for some basic phrases!
My hotel didn't know the bus times so i decided to get to the station and wait. As my motorbike taxi got to the station the Hanoi bus was leaving so the timing was perfect. The bus was decent enough but the large briefcase under my feet made things a bit cramped. The bloke next to me spoke a little English, he also fell asleep and headbutted my shoulder on every bump and dribbled on me! I haggled a motorboke taxi from 40,000d to 30,000d to get from Hanoi bus station to the old quarter, the ride was scary and with nothing smaller i handed him 100,000d, he gave me some change and rode off quickly as i counted the bundle of notes, so i actually ended up paying 60,000 (great haggle!) I booked a decent 10 dollar room for the night, went out for bia hoi and some great food. I found my way to a bar with a pool table with the biggest roll i have ever seen where i lost a Baileys to the girl running the bar. I like the old quarter but it's a bit manic - the pavements are full of parked mopeds so there is nowhere to walk but the road where there are cars, mopeds, bicycles and people whizzing about - not good after a couple of drinks!
My mate Darren arrived on the 23rd so i moved across to the 45 dollar room he had booked on the internet (such decadence!) I spent some time watching premiership build up until Daz arrived at 15.00. The evening was spent with food and beers and watching Liverpool beat Spurs 3-0. I taught Daz a pool lesson and he pulled a New Zealand girl on his first night in town!
Here is a video of the Vietnamese electricity board...
Daz, jet lagged, slept until midday, then we went out to the Ho Chi Minh museum and the army museum. We spent some time admiring Hanoi women, who must be the fittest women in the world. Food drink and another pool lesson for Daz, a 03.30 finish and a 07.00 alarm for our bus trip to Halong bay. In the afternoon i phoned Carly who was making Sunday roast for the family - i could almost taste it!
On the bus to Halong city, Daz slept while i spoke to an aussie couple who ended up getting on to a different boat, but we saw them again several times over the next 2 weeks. On the boat we made friends with Declan and Edel from Dublin, about 27 years old, and we got on really well - there were only about 15 people on our big boat which had surprisingly spacious bedrooms with toilet and shower. Daz and i were next to the engine room which ran all night to provide electricity, my earplugs did the trick but Daz didn't sleep too well.
The weather was overcast and rainy but the views of the 1,969 limestone islands that surrounded us was impressive. We visited a massive cave with a ceiling worn smooth by water and large stalagmites/tites. The food on the boat was pretty good and as the weather prevented us from trekking or kayaking on the first day, Edel and i sampled some Vietnamese red wine which turned out to be good enough for a second bottle. Daz and Dec went for the beer.
The following day was again overcast with rain storms but we managed a little trekking as well as some kayaking and swimming while the sun was shining. Surprisingly, the 59 dollar tour 2 night tour included a very nice 3 star hotel on Cat ba island where Daz and I went for a 7 dollar massage with no happy ending which was a shame as the girl was cute! The massage was quite relaxing, followed by good food then we met with Dec and Edel for beer and wine and another excellent night.
The trip back to Hanoi seemed long. Our 19.00 train to Hue was now at 23.00 so we killed time by researching and booking a flight from Danang to Nha tran for Sunday for 48 dollars each - this flight was destined not to happen and we lost 12 dollars on the booking fee. Another pool lesson for Daz!