Thailand - Cambodia - Vietnam 27.10. - 17.11.2009
Posted at 02:15, 28 October 2009 in Asia
27. - 30.10.2009 Zurich - Bangkok (Thailand)
From Zurich flying directly to Bangkok and arriving at 6am - so an early start into my Birthday!
Thai Airways offers good service, so the flight was nice and smooth. I did not sleep thou, but had interesting people around me to chat. Funny enough, the men sitting right next to me also had his Birthday on the 28.10., coincidences in life :-)
In Bangkok then my organized transfer was not there, so I had to run around to get it all settled. Puh, with the humidity I was already sweating, and it was just 7am! The drive to the hotel then was Bangkok at its best, stinky busy traffic, cars, trucks, Tuk-Tuks and motorcycles everywhere... Fun to watch, but of course with that it took so long to get to the hotel. But finally arrived there and checked-in for a short snooze.
Then I started to discover the area - Chinatown. Well... not exactly the place to be I realized. But as it was not my first time in Bangkok (I have seen the Kings Temple twice and also done the Klong-Tours before), so I took it easy, taking in all the different smells, paces and funny things of another city in the World. I strolled throu the colourful Flower Market and watched all the little ladies cook their goodies on the little improvised kitchen-waggons. So interesting! Unfortunately on my way back to the hotel then I got lost... Took me almost 2 hours to find my way back, but a funny experience, as - typically for Asia - when you ask someone for help, they cannot just say "I dont know'', no... they just sent you into the totally direction as they have no clue what you are asking !
Well, the evening ended with a very nice meal on the 24th floor of the hotel - with a beautiful view all around Bangkok. I admit it was a little lonely to have my Birthday all by myself in such a huge city. But it was fun to receive all the Birthday wishes - THANKS everyone!
Next day then my roommate joined - Eleonor from Manchester UK. While she decided to catch up on sleep I did the mandatory Tuk-Tuk bargaining to go the more Touristy-Area for some Shopping. Uh... great city for that, to bad I am only starting the tour here, could not buy to much ;-)
I also went to the biggest Aquarium in Southeast Asia. Impressive to see sharks so close. Fun little distraction to calm down in this hectic city.
In the evening then we met with the whole Group (this time I am travelling with Intrepid). There will be 6 of us (1 couple from Australia, 1 couple from USA, Eleonor and myself with Jack, our Cambodian guide). We got all the information for the next 9 days. And after dinner again we enyojed a drink on the top bar.
Friday 30.10.09 we started early and had a very long drive. Along the way we saw huge Rice-Fields with Fishermen or all kind of funny little shops. Incredible what they are doing to sell things.
30.10. - 04.11.2009 CAMBODIA
The boarder crossing went very smooth and after another 3 hours drive we arrived in Siem Reap (former Angkor City) just in time for the local "Water Festival". We took a walk downtown, trying not to get run over by motorcycles or Tuk-Tuks - quite a challenge. It is incredible how many people they fit on such a motorcycle. The record we saw up to now is 5 people!
At the FCC bar (former Federal Communications Commission) we then sat and enjoyed Happy Hour drinks whilst watching the Dragonboat races in the river. Long boats with up to 20 people rowing. Very colourful festival and fun to watch. For dinner then we joined the crowd of partying people and had great Cambodian Food with Apsara Dancing, the typical local folklore dancing.
31.10.2009 Siem Reap Temples
Next day we started exploring the famous Cambodian Temples. First within Angkor Thom City we visited "Bayon", then "Baphoun" and "Phimeanakas" with the impressive Elephant terrasse. All temples have beautiful carvings in the sandstone. Surprisingly some of them are still in very good shape after all those years of weather erosion and wars going on. The war actually destroyed much of the temples, and especially all valuable temple contents were stolen (golden Buddhas, jewellery etc.).
The weather here is hot and veeeery humid. We are sweating like crazy, and climbing the big steps on the temples is not really helping to cool off ;-) But the local kids are very creative when it comes to sell hats, drinks, sunscreen and w****ver stuff you can imagine!!! And the kids are so funny, cute and not to pushy, but surely business oriented. And most of them even know all the capitals of the countries you name - amazing. We were told not to buy from them, as then their parents would not send them to school anymore, instead make them stay selling stuff even more. Not sure if that is true... - but a fresh cold drink at 40 degrees just sounded great...
After an excellent local Amok Curry (Cambodian specialty) we shortly hit the hotels pool before we then again took off to see more temples. First "Preah Khan", a small but very beautiful little temple with redish vulcanic rock (so not sandstone like the others).
For sunset the plan then was to go to "Pre Rup" temple, but somehow - so the guide said! - the sun did set earlier today than yesterday and so we missed it. Aha!?! Well, after some discussion we made the guide promise to take us here again tomorrow.. on time!
Today again the Festival was going on and we just enjoyed all the action around Pub Street whilst having dinner on a top floor just in time for the Fireworks. After dinner we explored the little market where they sell all kind of silk things, silver jewellery and handycrafts. It then all of a sudden started to rain - we actually still are in rainy season - so we rushed to a Tuk Tuk to take us back to the hotel. These drives are always funny, scary but funny. All the motorcycles squeezing through cars, overloaded vehicles and Tuk Tuks. Crazy traffic!
01.11.2009 Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm Temple
At 4.30 am we already were at Angkor Wat Temple, searching for a good sunrise spot. And it was worthwile getting up so early. The sun comes up exactly behind the temple, and the reflection in the little waterhole was just perfect. Beautiful way to start into another sightseeing day.
Angkor Wat itself I found a little disappointing - guess I expected it to be much bigger. But the sandstone carvings are beautiful, telling the story of how to get up the 37 steps to heaven - or 32 steps down to hell! At Angkor Wat's best times (when it was the under the powerful ancient Khmer Empire from 9th to 13th century) over 1 Mio people and 40'000 Elephants lived here. Today they are trying to re-construct what has been destroyed, e.g. the 3 main towers where you now could not go up.
We then did a short "up-in-the-air" excursion, seeing the site and the Siem Reap area from a Helium Balloon. It was nice to see all the green rice fields from above.
To escape the sun around lunchtime we choose to do a boat-tour on the Tonle Sap Lake and have a look at all the local Floating Villages. Amazing how they live here! Either on wooden floats with roofs, of boats or huts made out of reed. I suppose this is the poor people area, however, they seemed to have everyting. Floating shops full of goodies; floating schools including playgrounds; satellite TV's.... Very special to see!
After a short cooling off at the hotel pool we then went to see the Ta Prohm Temple, famous as it was the movie-site for "Tomb Raider" with Angelina Jolie. In comparison to all other temples this one is much more destroyed by nature, meaning the curtain fig trees that grew their roots around the temple rocks. But that gives it the special "looks", mystic and fascinating. I liked this temple the best because of this.
And then we were off to the Pre Rup Temple again for sunset. We arrived very early this time (guess the guide did not want to risk anything again ;-). So we had time to enjoy the quiet athmospere, read a little or catch up on diaries. More and more people joined and we had a decent sunset. Nice to see, but nothing to exciting...
Back in the hectic city we again strolled around, taking in all the noise, different smells, exotic colours etc.... Oh - the new record on a motorcycle now is 6 people! Scary how they sometimes just have their babies in one arm hanging down to the side!
02.11.2009 Drive to Phnom Phen
A long day of driving, however we needed that to catch-up on sleep and recover from the humid heat outside. Watching the scenery time went by very fast.
On the way we even had the chance to try some of the local specialties: fried crickets, fried little birds or - worst of all: fried tarantula. Well, well.... sure gives great pictures, but even with all my best intentions to be adventurous... NO WAY I would eat that!
Phnom Phen being the capital of Cambodia today, we on the bus learned a lot about Cambodia's rather sad history. But at moment here aswell the Water Festival was going on, so after checking in at the hotel we rushed to the Waterfront to again at the FCC enjoy Fireworks. On the Tomle Sap River (which joins the well-known Mekong River) there were boats with huge illuminated signs, absolutly georgeous to see. So another fun evening watching the partying crowd!
03.11.2009 Phnom Phen Killing Fields
Even thou it is an incredible sad and depressing thing to see, the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields almost are a must being a so important part of Cambodia's history. Under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime, from 17 April 1975 until 1979 about 2 Mio people all over Cambodia got killed. And this happened under an absolutly incredible brutal manner. They say that another 1 Mio people died afterwards due to starvation.
In the Tuol Sleng prison (today the Genocide Museum) and the Killing Fields 15km outside of Phnom Phen 17'000 people were killed. We visited the Museum, which originally was a school, later used as the prison. Very emotional place, seing all the awful pictures and even meeting one of the only 7 survivors here in Phnom Phen. He today is 79 years old and works at the Museum to tell "the story". We all were in tears...
The Killing Fields then show the site of where the people (even kids and babies!) were brought to and killed - again in incredible brutal manner to save bullets. There are still bones and teeth in the ground you walk on!!!
After that we all needed a strong drink! And shopping therapy ;-) at the local "Russian Market". I did not buy a lot even thou it is all so cheap. But walking through those narrow corridors, smelling all the local food mixed with sweat and I don't know what else!... Mhhh... just must love travelling ;-) So we certainly were ready for a refreshing shower back at the hotel before we now for the last time would join the Festival at the River.
But that then, wow!!! was a very special happening. It started to rain really hard, and within minutes the streets were flooded! We did wear our cute little plastic rain-poncho's, but after getting off the Tuk-Tuk we had to walk with the water up to our knees!!! Yaaaak! One never knows what is in that cloak! And my biggest fear was to stumble over something and take a dive into that water... The locals laughed and it felt as they appreciated that we Tourists just did things the same way as them - almost swim thru the streets of Phnom Phen. The motorcycles actually drowned as their exhaust was in the water.
Well... we after all managed, quite dry except of the of the lower body part. But in the FCC that dryed up fast as we again enjoyed Happy Hour Drinks and good food along with Fireworks and the illuminated boats on the Tomle Sap River.
And luckily, until we headed home again, it had stopped raining and the water in the streets was gone. But I took a little longer that night in the shower to hardly rub the potential illnesses off my feet!
04.11.2009 Phnom Phen to Chau Doc: border crossing to Vietnam
After a lazy morning (we actually managed to find some kind of a Starbucks Cafe) we boarded the wooden speed boat and took off for a special travel day. Starting on the Tomle Sap River and then joining to the famous Mekong River, we drove for almost 4 hours. It was great to see all the fishermen, the wooden huts along the river, the large wooden transportation boats and other funny looking vessels.
The border crossing went very smooth again, actually very easy. The Vietnam boarder people did all the work for us while we could enjoy a cold drink and buy souvenirs or exchange money. Wow, only changed 60 $ and it made me a millionaire!!! (in Vietnamese Dongs :-(
Leaving the Mekong we later followed the Bassec River up to Chau Doc. Getting off in the huts in the water it was amazing to see how these people live on and with the water here!
Our hotel was just a short walk up the street and the luggage got transported for us by old men on their cyclos (bycicles, where the passenger sits in the front). Before dinner we actually had time to watch the street life... Motorcycles, motorcycles, motorcycles! And we also realized, that Vietnam seems to have an environmental issue with all that garbage and dirt!
05.11.2009 Chau Doc to Ho Chin Minh City
Today again a long travel day, and this time on bumpy roads with crazy traffic. The horns just go all the time... Nevertheless it was fun to watch the scenery: rice fields again, but also all the rivers and water ways which make the Mekong Delta. And they are actually used, just as streets - all kind of vessels transporting something.
Along the streets as usual for us by now the thousands of little stands and shops. I was actually amazed - people here really wear that typical Vietnamese hat! Also interesting: once in a while there is a 3-story building, very narrow but colourful and almost "Art Deco" style. But no windows on the side, looks like the buildings to the left and right side disappeared :-)
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, in the late afternoon. Just in time for rush-hour, but actually it always looks crowded in the streets here. And it is FULL of motorcycles, they definitely are the main transportation method.
Our hotel was nothing special, no window! And the first look-around in this busy city did not impress us to much. Dirty place, really! But we still did check-out the "Ben Than" market, where one can buy copies of everything: Louis Vuitton bags up to Rolex watches up to CD/DVDs up to Lacoste T-Shirts and so on. "Make you good price...!" I again did not buy anything. Just do not need anything...
Tonight then we had to say good-bye to the Australian couple, as they will get on another tour. And so the guide took us to a Touristy restaurant where we then all felt comfortable with the food to have a nice farewell-dinner.
Crossing the roads by the way is a dangerous game here! No one - and I mean it! - stops for pedestrians!!! So it is all about being very brave and keep walking when crossing without hesitation. Puh... Russian Roulette one might call it ;-)
06.11.2009 Ho Chin Minh City (HCMC)
We all prepared for our free day today, meaning we did read our guide books to find out the MUST-sees. So off we went, strolling around taking in the terrible pollution, the dust and dirt on the streets, the incredible noise.... but also the beautiful French remains like the Notre Dame, the ancient Post Office, the Opera House and the Reunification Palace, where in April 1979 the US were just able to leave by helicopter when the communists tanks entered the gate (which ended the war).
The city area is quite easy to find your way around, and thanks to my favourite "Lonely Planet" guide book we managed to enjoy nice coffee/tea with pastry or ice cream in cute little french-style cafes. We also strolled along the nicer part of HCMC with fancy hotels and up-scale shopping.
In the evening then we had the group meeting with the new people joining this tour up to Hanoi. 4 Australians join, 2 girls from Adelaide and a couple from Melbourne. We are also getting a new guide, his name is Tuan. The meeting this time was long a almost a little painful, as the guide's English is not to good... So in the end no one felt like going for a group dinner anymore.
So I took the time to update this blog and make it an early night to catch up on sleep.
Oh - and I did get my laundry back - little happy event here to have fresh smelling cloth again :-)
You might have realized by now, reading this blog, that this trip up to now does not count to my TOP list ;-) I am not sure how to explain this actually. But I guess it is the poverty combined with pollution, dirt, traffic, noise and the constant fear of catching some kind of desease together with the very different culture. Most people we meet are actually very friendly and nice, however you do never really know if they mean it.
Most of you know that I travel very often and have been to many places in the world. I think I can say that I am open to all cultures and able to adapt and take it in. However, here it just has not really happened yet. So at moment honestly I do not feel like I would have to come back to Southeast Asia another time... Sad to say I know, but it is what it is.
But I still have 2 more weeks to go - so keep tuned for the updates... One never knows what could happen and change my mind :-)
07.11.2009 Chu Chin Tunnels & War Museum
Another terrible night in the hotel room with no windows, loud aircondition which blows in air from I dont know what dusty and smelly backyard!!!
But then on a mission to escape the white toast and artificial jam breakfast and we found a cute little French Bakery with yammee croissants and really nice Hot Chocolate. Now that is a good start into the day :-)
Then we drove out to Chu Chin to explore the Viet Cong's tunnel system they had built during the war with the US. Really smart system they had! The tunnels being 3 to 12 meters deep in the ground, with living areas, kitchen, weapon deposits, hospitals and even an escape route to the Saigon River. Amazing!
They had original entry holes and we could try to get in. Now... I got stopped of course with my beautiful figure, but even thinner people in our group were not able to get into these narrow little squares. These Viet Cong people must have been tiny and very slim! Especially as getting in is only the first step, I have no clue how they afterwards in the narrow corridor were able to turn and get into the direction they had to go to... Just incredible!
For the Tourists they then had an area where they enlarged the tunnels, so one could crawl through it. I only made it for a short part of it and then took the escape exit. Puh... no way I would have survived in there!!!
We were also presented and shown the terrible "Booby Traps": The Viet Congs dug wholes in the ground and placed sharpened bamboo sticks in the ground like spears. No chance for someone falling into that!
Or other horrifying traps where US soldiers would step into nails or get hit by nail-balls coming down from trees!
No wonder these soldiers needed psychological help after that war!!!
Back in HCMC we then went to the War Museum to see some more terrible witness-fotos of war journalists.
These brutal scenes and behaviours (here and in Phnom Phen) just bother me. Is killing someone not terrible enough? Why did they torture them in such an indescribable way???
After some "recovering" in a coffee shop we then had a more enjoyable tour: Cute old men came to pick us up with their cyclos. They drove us around the city's sights and we took it all in once again. Kind of funny, but also somehow I felt bad for that old men working so hard...
And once in a while you just had to close your eyes when they made their way throu the traffic :-)
This evening we again enjoyed a very good dinner at a nice restaurant and on the way home were amused by all the young people hanging out in the park. Dancing lessons, Tai Chi, smooching - on motorcycles of course... Really funny, they hang out together, but always sit on their motorcycles. Everything seems to happen on these...?!? This afternoon we watched a freshly married couple take their pictures - with a motorcycle!!!
I am going to have nightmares soon ;-)
08.11.2009 HCMC to Hoi An
I was not sorry this morning when we finally left HCMC per plane to Da Nang in Central Vietnam. Arriving there already changed our mood, nice scenery with BEACH!
A 40 minute drive along the coast gave us the impression of what this area will look like in 5-10 years. All major hotel brands have signs up along the coast to advertise the hotels, appartments and private villas that will be constructed soon. Well, guess that is the downside of tourism...
But it sure is beautiful here. We fell in love with Hoi An the moment we set foot into that cute UNESCO heritage village. All houses are remains of the times when chinese, japanese and vietnamese people used to live here and Hoi An was a major harbour village. Nowadays the river is used for wooden tourist boats to take you out to the beach.
The houses are all like little museums, containing shops now. And it is either a clothing or a shoe shop! The speciality here is tailormade things, and the large amount of shops who all offer the same is just overwhelming - almost to much to choose from ;-)
First we strolled around taking in all the beautiful little sights and taking time to talk to the locals. They are so curious. Of course they all want to get you into your shop, however they are not angry if you just say "kon com an" (no thank you). Some of our group then started getting their measures taken and ordered clothing. Others (like me :-) chose to enjoy a delicious patisserie in one of the wonderful restaurants with view to the river.
In the evening then the whole village lights up in colourful lanterns. So romantic!!! Ahhh, this now is much more up to my taste than HCMC.
We had a great dinner at a riverside restaurant (today I finally had a great steak, mhhhh) and just a good evening in the quiet old town - where NO MOTORCYCLES are allowed after 6pm! What a peace!
09.11.2009 Hoi An & Cua Dai Beach
Today my roommate and I were on a shopping mission. First some tailored pants with japanese linnen, then tailored shoes. It was so much fun to just be creative and design exactly what you want. We loved it.
And it seems that this place is a MUST by all tourists. During the whole trip I have not seen so many tourists in one place. I wonder what this will be like when all the construction along the Da Nang coast is finished....
After another peaceful lunch along the river we then took a taxi to the close-by white sandy beach of Cua Dai. Ahhhhhhh - I cannot describe how good it felt to just take in the peaceful sound of waves, have a almost cooling swim in the South China Sea and just relax on a comfortable sunbed. Now that! is a holiday ;-)
In the evening we then had to go back to the shops to fit the pants and shoes - all fine. Great stuff for such a little price. We see how long it lasts ;-)
Again we chose one of the cute restaurants and enjoyed the Vietnamese cuisine. And sleeping here then was a treat, nice and quiet...
10.11.2009 Hoi An to Hue
To soon that we had to leave Hoi An. Another day here would have just suited us right... But the tour must go on and so we boarded the little Intrepid bus and drove to Hue.
Starting off along the beach side we passed the Marble Mountains, famous as already the old emperors used this marble to build statues and decoration. Little villages along the mountains are specialized in carving the stone.
Later then the Highway Nr. 1 started to go uphill to the Hai Van Pass (496m), giving view to a beautiful panorama of the coast line. Very enjoyable.
We had lunch at a local hotel just on the beach. The heat and humidity however today again was very exhausting, and so we decided not to go for a swim (no shade here!), but drive to Hue directly instead. 1802 - 1945 Hue was the capital of Vietnam, and the line between North and South Vietnam is drawn here. So during the Vietnam war, there was a lot of fighting in this area.
At 3pm it then was time for a visit to the Citadelle from the 19th century, another UNESCO heritage. The remains of the emperors palace apparently looked like the Forbidden City in Beijing. I however decided to take a break. I know... travelling so far to then skip out on a probably very interesting site is not very cool, but I was just done! The heat (39 degrees celcius) and especially the humidity, plus being on the road for 2 weeks now - that just wore me out.
So I took a nice shower and just relaxed.
In the evening we walked around Hue and found a little restaurant with all kind of food. Early night then to catch some good sleep before the special night tomorrow.
11.11.2009 Hue and Night train to Ha Noi
It was a great night - having a comfortable duvet! NICE :-)
Today we drove up and down the Perfume River with a typical dragon boat. Again, very loud motor, but I guess I am deaf by now anyways ;-)
Along the way it was very interesting to see all the local wooden barks with which they did dig sand and gravel out of the river. There are three ways to do that:
1) very manual, working with hand and feet to turn the wheel on which a bucket is fixed that scratches the ground
2) with a hose, where they pump up the water and filter it throu some kind of a net-thing
3) with a dredge, so quite efficient
Was fun to watch - but again it was very hot today.
We then got off the boat and walked to one of the emperors tombs, well, more like a palace. Unfortunately distroyed during the war, but still impressive. And another stop then took us to a Pagodia, where orphans and other kids get "trained" to be monchs. Was funny how they did cut their hair depending on how far into their training they were.
Well, after a short lunch and a shower we then were off to board the Night Train to Hanoi. But - not really unexpected in such a country - the train was 3 hours late and so we sat around in the very hot waiting hall... Getting a cold beer was all about negotiation and sign-language, but we managed!
The train then finally arrived and within a few minutes all tourists and locals had to jump out or on, find the sleepers cabins, get the luggage out of the corridor and make sure nothing and no one was forgotten - VERY hectic, but very funny aswell. Exhausted we then first recovered in the cabin. 4 of us together in quite ok cabins. All you could do was sit on the lower beds, no space to move anywhere else. And oh my god - you just had to ignore the toilets... YACK!!! Guess you do not want any more details on that....!!!
We eat the sandwiches we brought along, prepared for us by one of the many special restaurants that organizations have put up in Vietnam to get homeless children or orphans off the street and train them to be waiters or cooks. As it was dark outside we did not get to see anything of the scenery, so we made our beds (good I did bring my personal little silk sleeping bag!!!) and then each of us read or wrote journals until at 9pm we tried to get some sleep. I actually managed to fall asleep in the rythm of the trains noise.
12.11.2009 Ha Noi
The good thing about the train being late was that we did not have to get out at 5am as planned. But as the train overnight has made up some time, we arrived in Ha Noi at 6.30am. It was again very hectic, as per loudspeaker they announced the arrival, and like 10 minutes later we were there and had to get out quickly. So here we all were, getting out only haf dressed or still in our pijamas :-) Really funny!
A 10 minute walk then to the so called "centrally located" hotel... We soon would find out it was not at all central, but again one of these no-window hotel rooms. Very charming :-(
At this point I must actually tell you, that I did change my flight to go home earlier!!! Never ever did that before on none of my travels, but here I am absolutely ready to go home!
Well, we all first burst to go to the toilet :-) and then took showers - not really helping as 1 minute being outside you are sweaty again... And then we got a very nice treat - ahhhhh: a wonderful buffet breakfast at KOTO, again a place where street kids are being trained for hotel jobs. And it was just great, fresh fruit, baked little goodies, warm (yes, finally warm!) eggs and so on. We all loved it and enjoyed that very much.
Freshly motivated now we were off to another cyclo-city-tour. Ha Noi however does not have much to see. Lots of museums, but not really a scenic place. Funny is how they name their streets: shoe street - and every shop sells shoes; medicine street - and all shops have chinese medicin or are pharmacies.. and so on. I also found it funny to see the people just sitting on the sidewalks as usual, having a coffee or eating their noodle soup for breakfast. And they are so creative, I guess if you have no real job then you just sit on the sidewalk with a little machine to copy keys, or clean shoes, or you sell fruit and veggies, or you cook out of cute little kitchens set-up on the sidewalk. Really interesting.
Of course none of this goes without the smell, the noise and the pollution of the traffic!!!
At the Hoam Kiem Lake the tour ended and we explored the streets on foot, some of us buying luggage, me buying a new daypack and some silk scarfs.
After that it was time to head back to the beautiful hotel to catch up on sleep before we later went out to KOTO again for a great dinner on the top terrasse. Mhhh, again enjoyed a nice steak! Asian food is good, but after all the time here I crave for dead meat :-)
13. - 14.11.2009 Ha Long Bay
This day I was actually looking forward to: heading north to Ha Long Bay, where the lime rocks head straight out of the ocean up to 220 meters! The movie "Indochine" was partly made here.
Surprisingly, the temperature overnight had dropped by 10 degrees, and so for the first time we were comfortable and not sweating. Funny enough, the locals now put on jackets, scarfs and woollen hats :-)
After a very bumpy 4-hour bus ride we boarded our own wooden hotel-boat. It was great!!! Just the 9 of us on the nice boat - ahhhh, what a nice surprise. The boat then took off out into the bay, and we were amazed by the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, exactly today it was totally overcast, which of course changed the way we saw everything... but it was still impressive.
We were served an excellent lunch - ahhh, what a feeling, now that is an enjoyable journey!
The boat took us to a little bay, where fishermen live on wooden barks and they also have oyster farms. And in another bay we then changed into Kayaks and explored the magic scenery by ourselves. Great, I loved it. Paddling in the quiet, taking advantage of the low tide to enter a cave and end up in another enclosed bay, or to squeeze between wholes in the limerocks - just amazing. A very very nice excursion and an incredible change to the noisy cities.
The cabins on the boat were the best accomodation we had on the whole trip! Yes, we just took it all in, sitting on the top deck, a glass of nice Australian Chardonnay in one hand, the camera in the other hand :-)
And again - dinner was superbe. Seafood for all except for me, I got my own little goodies!
The evening and night the boat stayed in a protected bay - with more than 30 other boats, and so there were lights everywhere. Neverheless it was great - we enjoyed good drinks, music and some fun dancing...
14.11.2009 Ha Long Bay - Ha Noi
Short night, and at 6am the boat started the motor to head back towards the mainland. So I got up and sat on the top deck to one more time enjoy the scenery.
It was still cool and overcast - to bad, with some sun this here would probably be paradise...
After a very nice breakfast we headed to one of the biggest caves in Ha Long Bay. And wow, back again to hectic and noise, this time with all these wooden tourist boats crashing into each other, blowing the horns!
The cave is huge and impressive. For my taste however all the coloured lights make it look to "kitschig"! And with all the tourists crawling around, it is actually quite annoying. But... one has to see this I guess.
With this the wonderful Ha Long Bay excursion was over - sniff - we all would have loved another day here. Think they should shorten HCMC and add a day here... The bus took us back again, and we all fell asleep despite the bumpy road.
Back in Ha Noi was back into the hotel with no windows, at least for some of us (my roommate and me)! Thank god I changed my flight to go home earlier...
We did not really know what else to do here in Ha Noi. The weather still cool and overcast, but here now that was fine. So we just strolled around the streets, had a coffee in the so called famous Cafe 252 where Catherine Deneuve apparently stopped during filming "Indochine".
In the evening then we had our group farewell dinner and enjoyed a last real Vietnamese style kitchen in the "Ancient Town" restaurant.
15. - 16.11.2009 Ha Noi
My roommate left at 6.30 am, so it was time to say good-bye...
At 8.30am then the rest of us met up and had breakfast. All of them changed to another hotel in Ha Noi after that, me being the only one here. But as I had already paid the additional nights I originally planned to be here, they now for the last night gave me a very nice room WITH WINDOWS!!! Finally ;-)
I was not at all in the mood to get around this city on my own - mainly because I did not know what to do. It seems Ha Noi is not really a sight-seeing city. And again the weather was cool and overcast (it even rained), so no sense in going into a park for sunbathing or so.
Therefore I took time for myself and also to update this blog.
And I enjoyed my rather nice and big room, watching TV, writing my diary, sleeping...
I also went back to the KOTO restaurant for lunch and dinner. Just a nice place to be with good food - and supporting a good cause.
Yes, this is how I spent my last two days in Ha Noi.
Not really unexpected, but again it happened: my transfer to the airport then did not come. Luckily the reception helped with phonecalls to Intrepid and so I in the end made it to the airport.
The flight was very comfortable - only half of the plane was full. I was very lucky to have a row of 4 seats for myself!!! Ah, great!
And so I arrived back in Zurich - well rested and... honestly.... happy to be back home :-)