Monthly Archives: September 2014

Danang…

We arrived in Danang to find a section of the main road we needed closed. To go around would have meant about a 2km detour; through a city we didn’t know, plus we were pretty tired from our ride. A guy on a moped (and carrying a large guitar(?)) saw us and came over offering his help, he showed us a ‘locals short-cut’ through a series of alleyways. Before waving us on our way he gave us his email and invited us over to his house to meet his family and have some dinner. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to accept but we were both moved by his kindness. Its not often strangers stop to offer their help, but the more we travel through this country (especially once you step out of the really touristy areas) the more the kindness of the Vietnamese people shines through.

We really enjoyed Danang city, the atmosphere is very relaxed and you hardly get hassled. Walking along the Han riverfront you can see some impressive bridges (Dad, I’m sounding truly like your girl now! I couldn’t help thinking you’d like it!!)…

The Dragon bridge in the background

   The Dragon bridge in the background

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We wandered around the Han market… very interesting and again it was so refreshing not to get hasssled by the sellers.

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Motorbiking in Vietnam: the Hai Van Pass!!!!

In 1996 there were four million motorbikes in the whole of Vietnam. Today there are over four million motorbikes in Hanoi city alone. Firstly, you need to know that everything you hear about the roads and the driving in Vietnam is true… and worse! Secondly, you should know that I am a huge wuss and I’ve never ridden a moped on the road before- So..if I can do it then anyone can!

traffic in Danang

traffic in Danang

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We talked about getting panniers built onto the bikes to carry our luggage but in the end it wasnt necessary, we just bought 3 bungees each and wrapped up tight.

We left Hue at 9:15 in the morning to drive over the Hai Van Pass to Danang (its the road they did in Top Gear and part of our inspiration for this trip!!).  It was about 120 km in all. The scenery leaving Hue was pretty.

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We chose to hug the coast for the first part of our journey to minimise the time we’d have to spend on the dreaded Highway 1. Not the best decision as the road we chose way being laid as we rode it. We had loose gravel for about 30km. I found this pretty hard going, even Jamie (who is a much more expreienced rider than me admitted it took a lot of concentration). There were lots of work lorries and it was dusty, sweaty, bumpy and hot.

Just before Lang Co we stopped to look at a beach and to rest our sore bottoms for awhile!

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After Lang Co came the Hai Van pass which really was spectacular. The views were breathtaking and the road was so much fun to ride. With my palms sweaty and jaw set I was beginning to enjoy myself.

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Don’t get me wrong: riding in Vietnam still scares me, but it is doable. Despite all of my doubts I’m proving capable, and to my huge suprise I’m even beginning to love it! Behind my helmet and face-mask (I wear one of those because I’m precious about the dust), I’m grinning manically as my bike kitten-purrs its 110cc engine up to 60kph.  I’m overtaking locals and running red-lights– fitiing in quite nicely and feeling way cooler than I really am!!

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A Comment on The Rules of the Roads:

  1. You drive on the right… mostly, about 80% of traffic drives on the right, the other 20% is miscellaneous… just be aware of traffic travelling in all directions.
  2. Survival of the biggest… as far as I can tell, the bigger you are the more right of way you have: on a moped cyclists give way to me, I give way to cars, cars give way to lorrys and everything gets out of the way of buses.
  3. Green means go… stick to this one. Red means stop. I think red means stop… most things stop on red. Less things stop on red in cities.
  4. It is illegal to turn right on a red light… apparently. Still stick to this one.
  5. Its not rude to honk here… its just bloody annoying!!! The horn is used to say ‘I’m here! I’m here!’ However, I reckon that as long as you stay aware of what’s going on around you, you shouldn’t need to always drive on the horn.
    1. the way to approach a junction is to maintain your current spped and exit the junction with a continuous blast of the horn. Alternativley you could reduce your speed and check your road positioning but this is not the standard practice and may just get you stuck…. if you stop, you’re stuck. Keep moving, the smallest gap gets filled with traffic quicker than you’d think possible!
  6. Don’t panic, don’t hesitate… leave a gap and three people will fill it, you’ll never get anywhere.
  7. Take it steady… less space: less speed. The busier the traffic (and it gets crazy busy) the slower the flow. Don’t speed, don’t drive obnoxiously. Go slowly just look around! its beautiful out of the cities.
  8. Don’t get hit. Don’t hit anything.

What you need with your bike:

  1. A Helmet!! riding without one will get you stopped, plus its really really dum not to have have one!!
  2. The bike registration… in case you get stopped, and for if you want to sell it.
  3. A good road map… we bought an off-line apple app: it was £2.49 and has a picture of a suitcase with Vietnam written underneath.
  4. Licence.. there are very mixed reports on this, I know you cannot apply for Vietnamese driving licence unless you have a 90 day working visa. Some sources say that your regular license from home covers you up to a 50cc… a woman we met in Hanoi who is an english teacher and has lived there for 3 yrs said she’s been stopped several times and then let go with no further action taken. This is generally the message you hear.
  5. Insurance… you are supposed to have this but you can’t get it without a Vietnamese driving licence…. we’ve heard numerous stories that getting caught involves a small fine and you’re on your way….. I guess you make your own mind up about this xxx (our UK travel insurance covers us for the use of motor vehicles- check it in the small print)

Thanks for reading! x

 

‘Kim Thien’: the best mechanic in Hue…

Researching where and how to buy motorbikes in Hue the name ‘Kim Thien’ kept popping up in forums and posts, plus on our first night out on the town a guy from the backpackers hostel recommended him and gave us a card.

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So, slightly fragile from the night before we took a stroll over the causeway and found his shop. Feeling slightly awkward- the shop looks like its a mechanics, there aren’t any bikes out front for sale- we told him he’d been highly recommended as the place to come to buy a bike….

Kim made some phonecalls and the first bike arrived within half an hour. After a quick test drive he said he would change the back brakes. Once the work was done he said we could borrow the bike for a bit while he sourced another. The second bike (my bumblebee!!) turned up later in the afternoon; again Kim took it for a test drive. My bike needed quite a lot of work.

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Both bikes had a full service, new wingmirrors on both (important because a. it’ll save your life and b. the roads can be so bumpy if they’re loose they’re useless). He sent his son off to give them both a wash and his wife came to offer us a selection of helmets. We paid £270 all in (we had budgeted about £500 so we were more than happy). Kim is so nice as well, at no point did you feel like you were being taken for a ride (excuse the pun), so much work went into the bikes and we were so happy it had been so easy. Kim is a genuinley friendly guy, very welcoming, full of smile and laughs- plus just watching him work he clearly knows his stuff. The shop was busy the whole time we were there. A few of his customers, australians and kiwis told us with big smiles and thumbs up that we’d made the right choice coming here.

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Jamie’s is Black Betty, and mine is the Bumblebee xx We’ve got over 8 weeks and 800 miles to g… much more to follow xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The Sleeper Train to Hue…

The sleeper train to Hue (pronounced ‘whey’) was certainly an experience! We booked two ‘soft sleeper’ tickets for about £25 each. You can pay a tour operator over the odds to purchase the tickets for you, or you can just walk to the Ga Ha Noi station and buy them yourself. Turning up to catch the train was a little daunting; no one speaks english and its not overly clear what to do… but we struggled through. There’s normally someone there who will help you. The train is the SE3, and our cabin consisted of four beds (two bunks), and a small table. Note that if you book the bottom bunks (as we did), the standard practice is for everyone in the cabin to sit communally on the bottom bunks until bedtime. The people we were sharing with were nice so we didn’t mind, but I think it could be awkward if they weren’t so friendly. Also, if you’re travelling with someone else book early to make sure you get put in the same cabin. 14 hours later we got off the train……….

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After Hanoi, Hue is like a breath of fresh air. Its all very pretty, people are friendlier and we were very happy. Our hotel was just £11 per room per night (the Hong Thien). We got a free upgrade to a nicer room which meant we could just walk down some stairs directly to the pool. Bearing in mind we had been constantly on the go for over two weeks we loved having the time to re-charge our batteries and relax. We made up a game called pool-pong and played everyday after breakfast.

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The area of Hue that we stayed in was quite lively, the Hue Backpackers hostel did some ridiculously cheap deals on cocktails and beers! Its a great place to go, almost everytime we went we ended up chatting with people and later all stumbling along to Brown Eyes night club until silly o’clock in the morning. Well- we’re on holiday right?!

We did venture out a few days: one day we took our bikes for a spin along to Thuan An beach. There was a little cafe that ripped us off for a couple of cans of coke but the beach itself was pretty.

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We were going to visit the Citadel but it was expensive- over ten times the amount for most other attractions… plus the girl on the desk was unfriendly so we didn’t bother. Instead we went to the Tu Duc Tombs which were very impressive: beautiful gardens and buildings. We chose the hottest day go so getting home and jumping in the pool was a perfect way to end our day! x

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Beautiful Han La Bay…

Researching boat trips out of Cat Ba Island we were expecting to pay between 20-30 USD per person. Our hotel the ‘Duc Tuan’ offered a full day for 25 USD so to save the hassle we booked through them. I sometimes think its worth paying a little more, particularly when its a matter of a couple of quid. We saw some pretty tired looking old boats when we were out, but ours was lovely.

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If you read up on trips around Halong Bay you’ll find it has a reputation for being overcrowded and a little dirty. Halong City is apparently rife with pickpockets and scam artists. Whether or not this is true I can’t say because we decided to give the city a miss.

Han La Bay however, (Halong’s quieter neighbour) is truly beautiful. Calm emerald-green waters lap a maze of giant limestone karsts that scatter the bay. We passed floating villages, fish farms, and the occasional fisherman  out on a traditional little fishing boat.

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We stopped for some kayaking. First time for me… think I may have been doing it wrong because I got soaked! When Jamie would paddle we went so fast I couldn’t even dip my oar in- let alone match his stroke! I got the hang of it by the end. We explored hidden lagoons and caves; some full of bats and tiny little fish. Kayaking is tiring, especially if you start off super excited like I did and power around for the first half hour. We went back to the boat for lunch and some sunbathing. Bell and I dangled our feet over the prow and watched the world pass by. We even saw a couple of flying fish, at least I think they were flying fish: about 6 inches long and silvery. When they jumped they glided for about 20 feet.

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We stoppped at the Thien Cung Cave (Heavenly Palace Cave) for some exploring. What we didn’t know is quite how much of a scramble it would be: we were crawling, squeezing and scraping our way through some pretty tiny spaces. Almost everyone was still in flip-flops and several people fell over. There was a huge spider and we all came out a bit covered in clayish-cave-goo.

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Our boat anchored again and we jumped off for some snorkelling. Unless you’re shallow the water is too murky to see much. There are tiny little beaches spotted around, and close to them there was plenty to see. We even spotted a sea snake! It wasn’t too big, with brown and white stripes. I was a little scared to be honest, the water was shallow enough to have put your feet down. Lesson learned there!! Another thing to watch out for are the currents, we’re all strong swimmers but we all noticed the pull; its fine as long as you keep an eye on the boat and each other.

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Last stop on our trip was Monkey Island. A quick note here: I hate monkeys (I know its silly but I’m scared of them) and nothing will convince me otherwise! I was even considering not going to the island, but Jamie changed my mind. Dan, Bell and Jamie went to see the monkeys (they’re all wild but there were some on some trees right next to the beach and a crowd gathered to see them). While they did that I swam (I figured I’ve never seen a monkey in the sea before right? so I’m probably safe here). Bell joined me for a swim. I hate to say I told you so but we were watching some girls near the monkeys and one jumed on her back and bit her! It looked pretty bad but I think it scared her more than anything (poor girl, I felt so sorry for her, she was crying loads). So, if you go to monkey Island beware they will bite, but it seems you’ll be safe in the sea if youre a complete scaredy cat like me. Google ‘Monkey Island bites’ and see for yourself.

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This trip was brilliant, although we were all still rocking for hours after leaving the boat. We love Han La Bay xxx

 

Cat Ba Island…

On the 10th of September we finally left Hanoi. Jamie and I both were more than ready to leave the city and find a beach.

You can book your journey through a tour operator from Hanoi- so they look after everything for you: taxi to train station (or bus ride) to Hai Phong, and then the hydrofoil to Cat Ba, and there to your hotel. We decided to book it all on our own- its a fraction of the cost and easy enough to plan.

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Our hotel was right on the front of a very pretty harbour, there are palm trees and bars/restuarants all along the walk. We stayed at the Duc Tuan (about £10 per night per room), we had two double beds, loads of room and an wonderful view.

IMG_2241   We went out for a few cockatils at the Good Bar the first night and the next day we rented bikes and rode all around the island. This was my first time on a moped (I had an automatic Honda Airblade- 110cc). I can’t lie here, I was absolutely scared stiff- I always knew that our plan was to buy bikes in Hue and ride to Saigon, Cat Ba is relatively quiet so a perfect place to practice. Jamie, Dan and Bell are all experienced riders (and they’re all more confident than me!!). That morning I remember thinking to myself that I would give it a go and if I didn’t like it I’d just tell them straight that it wasn’t for me— This photo is me  (looking really worried) about to start off:

Aviary Photo_130554013923771210  However, twenty mintues later it was more like this!!:

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I loved it! Jamie says I’m like a Granny out on a Sunday drive but I felt like it was fast- my speedometer didn’t work so I’ll never know! We went to the hospital cave: a secret, bomb proof hospital, and a safe-house for Viet Cong leaders during the American war. The cave has three floors and about seventeen rooms; an operating theatre, quick escape routes that involved jumping a floor down into a plunge pool of water, training areas for soldiers and a huge natural cavern. We hired a local guide- for about £1 and well worth it. The cave is half way up a hill, and sits under 40m of rock.

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After the cave we rode around the island, the scenery was breathtaking. We stopped by a lake and decided to venture out onto a wobbly wooden bridge across the water- turns out that at the end is just someone’s house! Good fun though, it wobbled more when the boys were on it!

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We stopped off for a quick swim at the beach before going home, then went our for more cocktails and well earned dinner. My hands were bruised from gripping the bike so hard! Such good fun though, its made our minds up to definitely buy bikes in Hue and ride down xxx

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