Flooding and War history

The middle parts of Vietnam were seen in a more or less rainy weather. It was still warm, but the different shades of grey made us choose a quicker route to Saigon. From Hoi An we took a night bus to coastal Nha Trang, which we left for a mountain town Da Lat a few days later. With better weather we would have stayed longer in both places, but the rain restricts a lot of the main activities such as renting motorbikes or water sports, so through them we went! However, we saw enough to realise the potential for another great Vietnam holiday. Without typhoons next time eh?

Rainy weather is the perfect time to try one of the local massages. However, it's good to keep in mind that in this particular field there are several entrepreneurs out there, offering some "extra services". Professional masseuse might mean something else than an unattractive physiotherapist in ergonomic sandals and tracksuit, talking medical jibberish. So be warned! The good news is that there are some warning signs: If the place is decorated with blinking christmas lights, if you can see the underwear of the receptionist or if you are the only female customer among European middle-aged men, take it as a sign of choosing again.

Once we reached Saigon, the weather got very hot and humid. The city seems somehow wealthier than the capital Hanoi, neon lights and brands occupying the view. But then again, communism has had a firmer and longer grip on the Northern capital than on this Southern metropol.

We also visited some war history sights. We took a bus to underground tunnels of Cu Chi which Vietkong utilized as supply tunnels, hiding places, hospitals etc during the Vietnam War. The purpose of the tunnels seems almost impossible once you see the width and hight of them. I could hardly fit in, let alone Libor - not a chance.

We also visited the War history museum, twice actually. This place was quite disturbing, and I claim that it is impossible to leave the place unmoved in some way. Vietnam war was at its time very well documented and televized, and a lot of the picture material has been put into this museum. Pictures speak so much louder than words - if you were not frowning, you were outside the building getting some air to prevent nausea. And here is the most disturbing part: The texts and the justifications remind you of the rhetorics used today in connection with the Iraq war. How sad to realise how little we have learned.

3 suits later (Hoi An)

Now we have finally managed to catch up with the blog posts to our current position which is a small city in the middle of Vietnam, called Hoi An. This small old town is known for its plentiful tailor shops amongst other things. They seriously are everywhere, probably close to 100 in a town of 75,000 people. Obviously, we have not withstoond the pressure to purchase a made to fit clothes for quite cheap, so with the objective of buying a shirt or a suit, two days later we came out with 3 suits, 3 shirts, skirt, t-shirt, bikini and a tie. (Probably around 300 euro, so not too bad for custom made stuff). Definitely a worth while experience.

One day we decided to rent a small motorbike for one of the days we spent here and go north of Hoi An. After a few kilometers, we found out that honking at bikes/people we were passing was a must as they usually do not look into their rearview mirrors (so after enduring endless hours in buses that were constantly blarring their horns on passing vehicles, we finally experienced it first hand). Neverhtless, we survived and returned the motorbike in prestine condition :). A few km north of Hoi An is a bigger city called Danang where a famous China beach is present. Currently, the beach is not for swimming as the floods torturing the area during this time of the year are quite bad, so water is murky with a lot of debris everywhere. So instead of a dip, we managed to find a small hostel/pub near the beach where we stopped for a quick drink. The owner (Hoa), short, dark skinned fella, seemed to be an interesting character at a first site. After a lemonade and a tea, we have agreed that Hoa's place would be a wonderful site for a short holiday in the summer (he does rent out surfboards :)).

We actually had a good luck with the weather when visiting Hoi An. The rain here seemed to come as quickly as it left and usually only in the evenings. Neverthless, the water has risen a few more inches since we have gotten here, so it is time to move on. Hopefully, the rainy season will spare the locals as much as possible as I cannot even imagine how difficult flooding after flooding could be.

Today, we are waiting for an overnight bus (only seats) to our next destination Nha Trang.

Halong Bay

From Hanoi we did a 3 day trip to Halong Bay, which is recognized as a world heritage site with its 1969 islands and incredible scenery. As the Yangtze river cruise was still fresh in our mind, we expected the experience to be some kind of a mixture of smelly feet and a rubber boat. But it was amazing. I sound like a travel brochure but guys, this trip was pure superlatives all the way.

After a 4 hour bus ride to Halong City, we got on a cruise boat to Halong Bay with 8 other people. The weather was gorgeous! We ate well, saw a stalactite cave, went swimming and kayaking, we even had a chance to sing some vietnamese karaoke (maybe next time, need to work on the pronounciation still)! The first night we spent on the boat and the second night on Cat Ba island where we also did some trekking in one of Vietnam's national parks.

I still cannot believe that we got all this for 40 euros. All we needed to pay for ourselves were the drinks, otherwise it was all inclusive.

So far we have really enjoyed Vietnam. People are friendly, everything is cheap and - if you want to tickle your tastebuds, this is the perfect destination - the food is just incredible and you are likely to pay peanuts for your meal. I eat most of my Vietnamese meals smiling in silence, in a heavenly state of mind. By the way, we still have no clue why people told us that we would lose a lot of weight during this trip - seems like it's the other way around:)

After getting back to Hanoi, we discovered that the city is completely packed with tourists. And by 'packed' I mean that couples slept in one bed to give beds to other people and some people were sleeping in luggage rooms. This is due to the bad floods that are affecting the middle parts of the country - most tourists are waiting for better weather either in Hanoi or Saigon. Also some days ago some roads were blocked. Flooding is a common problem this time of year but the magnitude has been more serious than expected. However, tomorrow we'll try to get down south to Hoi An, the city of tailors. If it looks very bad, we try to get to Saigon as soon as possible.

The Russian Hainan

After our stint in Hongkong where English is the standard, we had to return back to the mainland, however, not for long as our destination happened to be city Sanya in Hainan, the most southern island in China. After 14 hour ride in a train (from a couple of hours is spent on a ferry locked in the train) we arrived to the sunny Sanya full of beaches and of course stalking taxi drivers who want you to catch a ride with them no matter what :).

To our surprise, it is tough to imagine that Sanya is part of China as all the shops and restaurants have signs in Russian. After a bit of investigation we found out that there is a direct flight from Moscow to Sanya and one major Russian travel agency has their office in Sanya. If you ask me, this is a hell of a marketing campaign to turn a Chinese city into Russian holiday destination. In any way, it was advantageous to us as Libor can read some Russian, so we knew what was around us. However, as it turned out, perhaps it is good there are majority of Russian tourists there as the English is not up to par yet :).

The idea here was to take it easy and rest up on the beach before we head to Vietnam. We did just that, so nothing much exciting going on. Just the usual skinny Russian wives and their chubby husbands :).

The trip to Vietnam had turned out to be a bit more hassle than we have bargained for, but on the other hand it went quite smoothly.

First, bus to Haikou (4 hrs), then overnight ferry to Beihai (12 hrs), after that bus to Nanning (4 hrs), after a night in a hotel, bus to Hanoi, Vietnam (10 hrs) with about 1.5 hrs at the border. Overall, it took us about 48 hrs to make it to Hanoi from Sanya, so if you are ever there and don't have this time, you should fly :). However, if you have time, the journey was not bad as far as the connections, so it is doable without major hassles.

Canton and Hong Kong

It was time to say goodbye to long underwear so we started to head down south to Canton. After another night on the train we said hello to brilliant sunshine and English signs in Canton.

It's actually quite funny how we have stopped assuming that people around us would speak English. Most of the time they don't so we have just stopped asking. This means that when we need to get something sorted with locals, we both start waving around like idiots using all the body language we can think of (and occasionally, the phrasebook). However, in Canton people watched our monkey-waving for a while and then asked in perfect English whether we need help. So life in Canton was nice and easy, we chilled out for a few days and forgot about the disappointment in Yangtze River.

From Canton (or Guangzhou, as it should be properly referred to) we also did a 2-day trip to Hong Kong. After almost 100 years of Great Britain rule, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. And one can really see this historical effect - Hong Kong is a completely different world from the China we have seen, a fascinating mixture of West and East. Mix Wallstreet, Earl Grey and traditional chinese culture and there you have it! A very good place to chill out for a day or two. We climbed to Victoria Peak, ate in Soho and wandered around in the streets of Kowloon. And suprisingly, there is quite a bit of trekking one can do in the surrounding islands of Hong Kong. Overall this place was more diverse than I expected, previously I had seen it as a business center, the promised land of suits, ties and stress medicine. Pleasantly surprised.

Next stop: Beach-life in Hainan island.

Cruising the Yangtze River

Despite all the magnificent stories we had heard about Yunnan county in South-West China, we decided to head to River Yangtze. We paid a handsome sum to the hostel for arranging a luxurious cruise in first class and I started to dream about a nice massage on the boat. I was all ready to be treated like a queen.

The morning started with a 5-hour bus-journey with smoking, spitting, farting and burping chinese men. During the break I went to pee in a hole in the ground. In our destination in Chongquing we waited for our turn at the ticket office and the woman in front of us exercised for a while, did some interesting stretching movements and then started to fart very loudly. After we got our tickets we came out in the street and a bunch of rats were running around in the street. This was the moment I started to realise that this cruise will probably not be what we thought it would be...

Ok, so no male servants feeding me grapes. Our cabin was a cold storage room underneath the Chinese karaoke-bar (wow these ladies can sing high!) and it was raining pretty much the whole time. But the biggest problem was the language barrier since nobody in the staff spoke English, unlike what was promised when the trip was booked. So we missed announcements such as "we are now passing the 3rd gorge, might be a good idea to come outside and take a look" and "this stop is NOT the famous temple, please don't leave the boat".

Luckily the scenery during our 4 day cruise was amazing, luckily we found other westerners to share a beer and a laugh about the whole ordeal, luckily we had packed long underwear with us!