April 17th - We were picked up at our hotel at 8am in a minibus and taken to the office where we booked the trip so we could leave our big backpacks there. There was only us and two other girls in our minibus which seemed strange as the lady we had booked the trip with said it was full with 16 people booked on it. Our guide said we were meeting more people in the port when we got to Halong Bay. The minibus took 3 hours to Halong Bay with a quick 20 minute stop on the way. At the port we met 7 other people and boarded our boat which was very nice. It had an upper sun deck, a main deck with tables for dinner etc and then all the cabins were on the lower deck. We first had lunch, the food was very good and included in the price we had paid but the drinks were expensive.
We decided to share a bottle of wine with a couple of girls though! We then were given the keys to our cabin which was small and basic but seemed clean and had an ensuite toilet/shower room. The boat then sailed through Halong Bay which is beautiful, the scenery is amazing with limestone mountains all around. We sailed for a couple of hours before arriving at the 'Amazing Cave' which is the biggest in Halong Bay. The cave was great with three chambers that got progressively bigger. After the cave we got back on the boat and sailed over to a small floating village where we were given lifejackets and then went off kayaking in pairs. We kayaked for over an hour to a massive enclosed lagoon that we got to through a tunnel and it was so peaceful. Once we got back to the boat it sailed a little way before dropping anchor for the night, some people jumped off and swam but we didn't fancy it as the water looked very oliy! There were lots of wooden boats being rowed around by local women selling drinks and food to tourists on all the boats.
We chilled out for an hour or so and had a couple of drinks before dinner at about 7pm. Dinner was really good - we had fish, chicken, frog vegetables and rice. After dinner we had free time so we just ended up playing cards and having a few dinks with the others on the boat. We went to bed about midnight and went straight to sleep. We woke about half one and were horrified to hear scratching on the wood panels on the ceiling. From there it didn't stop the whole night, we had rats above our cabin, and they were so loud, we could hear them squeaking and scratching all night so neither of us got much sleep! To make it even worse there we a few small cockroaches on the loose in our room as well. Our cabin was the closest to the kitchen but we expected that everyone else to be saying the same in the morning but it was just our cabin with rats! The other had the cockroaches though.
We told our guide and filled in a very honest comments form!
April 18th - We were up at 7.30am for breakfast and then sailed back through Halong Bay to Cat Ba island and we arrived there about 9am. The group split there as some people were only on a one night trip. We were driven in a bus to the national park and given the choice of trekkinh up a mountain or going cycling. We chose the cycling and loved it, as the scenery was amazing and we rode off road for a while through rice fields. When we got back to meet up with everyone else, as most people had done the trekking we were glad as everyone was so sweaty and said it was tough! We were then back on the minibus and taken to a small port where we got on a small very old boat that nearly capsized when we all got on and taken over to Monkey Island.
There were about 12 of us in the group now. It was a very small resort that had been recently built on the beach with a big wooden sheltered restaurant area where we all then had lunch. We were then shown to our beachside bungalow that was basic and great with a very comfy bed. We had a sleep for a couple of hours before sitting on the beach for a while and Neil found a football so was happy. This resort had one monkey but we never saw him although some of the others did. There were some Vietnamese tourists in our group and they made a little bonfire in the corner of the beach and cooked sweet potatoes which were great. We showered before having dinner about 7pm which again was very good and included frog again! That evening we had a few drinks and played pool and cards with a canadian couple.
April 19th - We both slept much better under the mosquito net and were up for breakfast at 7.30am. The 'rocky' boat was back at 8am to take us back to Cat Ba island and then a minibus took us back to the main port. We boarded another boat to take us back to the port in Halong City. This boat was much nicer than the one we had been on and was the one we had been told we would be on when we booked the trip! When we booked the trip we were told that onboard we could get a free foot massage but this was never mentioned on our boat so Emma had hers then. Back in Halong City we had lunch before being driven back in a caoch to Hanoi. We went back to the office where we had booked the trip and told them about our experience, we both loved the trip but the rats were not good! We then walked and found a nice hotel for US$15 and booked in before going back to the office to get our backpacks.
That night we just chilled out.
April 20th - We had a bit of a lay in as the room and bed were really nice and just what we needed. We left the room about 11.30am and walked to the Hanoi Backpackers hostel and we wanted to go on one of their trips. We thought it left at 2pm but it was actually 7pm so we put our names down for that night. We had some lunch and then spent the afternoon walking around and seeing some of the city. We got in a cyclo and had a hour where the guy just drove us around the busy streets and it was brilliant people watching! We chilled out in the hotel before getting showered and changed and making our way back to the backpackers hostel about 6pm. The guy suggested we ate something before we left so we went up to their bar where they were having a BBQ.
At 7pm we were taken to a minibus and driven about half hour out of the city to Snake Village! There were 11 of us in the group. When we arrived a guy got out two Horse Snakes out of a cage that are harmless but quite long and we were able to hold them and have a photo done, Emma didn't fancy it as the snakes were agitated and moving a lot. The guy then got a Cobra out and was picking it up and then slapping it down and the snake was very agitated! It was only then that they told us that the snake still had its fangs and so was very dangerous. We stood back! We were then shown through a garden area and out the back was some tables set up under cover. A guy bought out a bag of snakes. We knew basically what was going to happen as other people had told us but it was a lot worse than we thought and neither could watch, it was awful.
Basically they slit the snake open while it was still alive and removed the heart and place it in a shot glass. The heart was still beating in the glass 10 minutes later. They then removed the snakes intestines and bile and blood. Some of our group decided they wanted to try the heart and so 5 of them slid the heart down their throat from the shot glass! The whole group including us then did a shot of bile (was disgusting!) and a shot of snakes blood that tasted a little like whisky. This is all very common practice to Vietnamese people. They say that eating snakes is better than other animals as nothing is wasted. Throughout the next hour or so we were served snake in 7 different ways - Snake in Grape leaves, Snake Spring Rolls, Sauteed Snake, Crushed Snake Ribs, Snake Ribs, Snake Gruel & Snake rice.
Some of it was better than others but none was that nice, we both think that once was enough! Throughout the meal we were all doing shots of snake wine and toasting all the different nationalities in our group so by the end we were all a bit drunk. The minibus took us back to Hanoi and we had a drink in a bar before going back to bed.
April 21st - We were up and got a taxi at 6.45am to Hanoi airport. Our first flight was 9.15am to Bankgok (our last time there of the trip!) and we arrived there about 11am. We got our bages and went to have some breakfast before then going and checking in for our next flight. We spent the next 3 hours passing the time as best we could by looking round shops etc. Our next flight was 3.15pm to Kuala Lumpur and took off bang on time, as with all our flights in Asia we flew with Air Asia which is a fantastic airline, very good service and so cheap.
Emma thinks its funny now as Neil loves them so much he tells everyone about them and should be a rep or something. We landed in KL at 6.15pm as they are one hour ahead. We bought two Sky Bus tickets on the flight to take us into the city. We got our bags and walked to find the bus that took about and hour and dropped us at the central station in the city. As we got into the City we quickly noticed how much more Westernised it is than most of the other parts of Asia we'd been to and we even noticed a bit of a culture shock. We then got the Monorail one stop and found our guesthouse easily enough. Our room was very clean. We went out for some street food for dinner which was good but quickly noticed the difference here in the price of beer than the rest of Asia we'd been to.
We were staying right next to Chinatown which was absolutely buzzing with life. There's a big market there night and day selling fake trainers, Tshirts, football shirts, belts, wallets, handbags etc but all the stuff is very good quality. We also quickly noticed the difference in KL that nearly everyone speaks English very well.
April 22nd - We were up and had our free breakfast in the guesthouse (toast and tea) and then went out. We first found a laundry to put our washing in and then off to do the 2 Walking tours from the Lonely Planet guide. We saw lots of the city and all the main sights - Central square, Library, Law Courts, Little India, Mosques, Temples etc. For lunch we stooped in Central Market and went to their Food Court, Emma didn't have anything but Neil had a large Vegetable Curry with rice for 60p! Also in Central market we found a small shop which had a 'big paddling pool' which was filled with hundreds of small fish and you paid about a pound for 10 minutes and put your feet in and the fish called Cute fish which have no teeth suck at the skin on your feet and toes and remove all the dead skin and increases circulation.
Neil had a go and said it was a very strange feeling and very ticklish at first and struggled to keep his feet in but got used to it and his feet have never felt so good and looked so clean. Emma then got some fruit from one of the many stalls in China Town near our guesthouse. In the afternoon we chilled out in the guesthouse before getting ready and leaving about 5.30pm. A guy that Emma knew at University had moved to Kuala Lumpur about a year ago and is living and working here so we arranged to meet him. We met him at a bar in the centre of town and had a good few drinks. We learnt quite a bit about KL and how very westernised it is from him. We had a good evening although quickly noticed the prices of alcohol compared to what we had got used to.
Can you believe we had to pay over 1.50 pounds for a beer!!! We then walked down with Steve to the food stalls and had some dinner. It was fantastic and we had some really good food. His girlfriend then came to met us and had dinner with us. We left them about 11.30pm and made our way back on the monorail back to our guesthouse going 4 stops in the wrong direction before realising and changing to the other side. Drunk!
April 23rd - We had a lay in as we both had a bit of a hangover so missed the free breakfast. We then walked to the bus station to book a bus ticket to Penang for the next day before going to the shopping centre and getting some needed toiletries.
We spent the afternoon at the guesthouse chilling out and using the internet and were chatting to a couple of blokes from Morden who were panicking as they were heading towards Thailand and the internet reports say to avoid it at all costs at the moment with all the riots going on. We went out for some good Chinese street food for dinner before chilling out in the hostel in the evening and watching a DVD.