we are actually twins
And so it was - Vietnam, the absolutely mind blowing city of Ho Chi Minh
, and Katie coming to visit! My darling twin sister had booked to come and see me for a mere 6 days (with a horrendous journey too!), so short but soooo good to see her, it had been a while. I was so excited, turning up at the airport with a hand-made welcome sign, flowers, my best outfit (backpacker's outfits are a little limited right...) and the biggest smile on my chops. Having got her into the taxi, moaned about the heat, commented on the tan/ lack of tan of each other and let Katie gawk at the incredible amount of scooteres in the city - we headed for the thick of it.
One thing I came to realise is how travelling can desensitise you to your surroundings - not in a nonchalant way, but seeing Katie getting so excited about the street vendors, the weird and wonderful foods on offer, over head cables, the heat and the amount of stray dogs there are - it made me open my eyes again and start SEEING again, it was wonderful and much needed I think.
i can take some design tips from here
It made the whole experience taht bit richer. We spent a day in the museums, walking the beautiful streets, dodging the thousands of bikes, dodging the thousands of markets sellers and drinking quite simply the best coffee I think I've ever had.
Given the short time we had together, we made the decision to hit the beach (it's what us Jones' do best) - and so Katie was to experience her very first sleeper train! Now, I'd say I've been on a fair few sleeper trains by now - and this was by FAR the best I'd been on - air con, bedding, cabins, thick mattress - lovely. Katie was a little less enthused (I don't think the cockroach on the lower bunk helped), but excited nonetheless. Come morning, we had arrived in Nha Trang Beach Resort Town extrodinaire. We chilled out and slept on the beach all day, drank palm sugar 'Mojitos' - not sure about them.
at the reunification palace
.., and quickly decided that we should move on as we didn't feel we were seeing Vietnam so much as Costa-del-Sol. It did, however, give us the smallest chairs and cheapest jugs of beer to date, so thank you Nha Trang for that.
A shrt bus ride away is Mui Ne
- we stayed in the quiet end of town, with an empty patch of white sand, beautiful pool and cute bungalow on the beach front.
We met some lovely people (Sophie, Alex and Erica from Cornwall, Harmony and Robin from Canada and Chris...), had great cocktails (can you see a theme forming here?), ate good local food, had massages and generally revelled in each others company. I had missed her so much. But, alas, no sooner had I said 'hello', I was back at the airport in Siagon saying 'goodbye' - teary, to say the least.
insane amount of scooters
We had shared some great experiences together and had a lovely time together - peas and carrots. See you again soon K x
The next day I found myself on the back of an old uni friend's (John Reeves, he's lived in HCMC
for near 6 years designing and making furniture.. I know, HOW cool) scrambler, heading 15 miles out of town to visit his studio and factories. It was so interesting to see the process (to me anyway) and I was so impressed to see how well he's done.
I arranged a one day Mekong Delta Tour the following morning to My Tho
and Ben Tre, the heart of the Delta, apparently... A typically rushed in-an-out, see this, taste that, listen to this type tourist roller coaster, but the Delta is quite a place.
katie and a white tiger - look how happy she is!
It's really unusual, life on the water is so important and interesting to see... and the coconut candy is very, very nice. As put on as this trip was, when you're merrily winding your way through the mass of overcrowded water channels on a paddle boat (being paddled by a slip of a woman) and wearing a ridiculous Vietnamese hat - you can't help but marvel at this alien landscape. Mangrove trees dwarf you either side, you can not see beyond the next bend or where you came from. You get a sense of how important these seemingly complex network of waterways are and how beautiful and mystifying they are at the same time. A long day, made even longer by a night train to Danang and onto the next stop - Hoi An.
A UNESCO site that I had heard great things about - namely the shopping... I was very excited, and it meant I could FINALLY get rid of my Dad's shirts that had been plaguing my backpack since Heathrow.
Hoi An is a picturesque, sleepy riverside town with stunning Indochine architecture, modern cafes, fairtrade stores, handmade jewellery shops and endless stretches of back to back tailors, how could I resist? It also turned out to be a meeting places for familiar faces, bumping into Marylene and Fabien from Varanasi back in February, Robin and Harmony from Mui Ne the week before, Sarah who was our roomie in Phnom Penh and Sophie and Alex from Mui Ne too - it's a small world it turns out! Lovely seeing all these wonderful people again - hearing where they've been and been up to. It's moments like these that make traveling so enjoyable. Hoi An proved to have alot to offer - the beach is very nice, the market is fun (especially the fish market), the night life, and the general atmosphere made this stop one to recommend.
I had found some new travel buddies in Sophie and Alex - a relationship that would last and blossom over the coming months. We took an interesting 18 hour night / sleep bus to Hanoi
- besides 2 cockroaches vying for my company, numerous horrendous toilet stops and a distinct lack of sleep, we arrived unscathed in the capital - it was chilly, drizzly and busy - we could have been back in London. We wandered the street and markets selling tat after tat but made up for with the greatest coffee surely to grace this earth. The following few days were sorted with a 3 day trip to the famous Halong Bay.
We caught the bus to Halong City, and a junk out to the bay and onto the tourist trail... There's no escaping or denying stunning and spectacular scenery of that place - everywhere you look is sheer beauty, each photo a postcard.
Katie's FIRST sleeper train - and only 1 cockroach!
We meandered through its islets of jungle and rock, I just struggled with the volume of people that were there too - everywhere were fellow boats full of people. We docked for the night after and afternoon of the cave and looked forward to a swim in the emerald waters. We decided it would be an good idea to fling ourselves off the top of the boat - I was among those and it WAS a good idea, right up until the point you jump and realise just how high these boats are! We jumped and swam until the sun set over the mountains around us, it was a good end to a good day. We were rudely awoken in the morning by an amazing storm that had closed in around the bay, rocking the junk chronically. Our main concern was the island trek was had planned that day and the decidedly wet soil that would be greeting us. Cat Ba Island, a scene from 'Lost', complete with a rickety viewing tower (totally health hazard), in the middle of nowhere.
Nha Trang beach
The rain had made it all a little... treacherous, mixed with rock climbing - we defied death a few times that day I'm sure. It was a great opportunity to see the raw beauty of the place, but I couldn't help but be put off by the sheer number of people there and the subsequent commercialism.
Next stop, back to Hanoi and sleeper train (right out of Agatha Christie) up to Sapa
- the mountain resort for some tribal culture and trekking. We arrived in Lao Cai
, a half hour bus journey outside Sapa itself, just in time for sunrise - winding through roads under skies of lilac, pink and orange, passing lush green paddy fields and ragged mountains.
Such a change of scenery and utterly gorgeous. Sapa is a little oasis of modern life amidst it all, with a little chapel, town square, banks, restaurants and cozy pubs. It was also the first time I had felt anything like cool in a LONG time. Sophie, Alex and I soon arranged a day trek around the local tribal villages. Our guide was 15 years old and put us all to shame - leaping effortless over streams and climbing claggy wet soil in jelly shoes... We had our work cut out - passing through paddy fields, up and down, over rivers and stream, across muddy fields, all the while the heaven's were open. Soaked to the bone and filthy, the whole experience was without doubt a highlight of Vietnam. We were joined the whole day by an entourage of 4 H'Mong tribal women, they were very entertaining, and they saved Alex's life when he started disappearing down a landslide, his Gandalf stick in hand.
a room with a view
..!! It was a great day, being able to see the countryside and the local people (not all of them friendly mind).
My time in Vietnam was coming to an end, I had to make my way to Laos in the next few days, I looked at the map and decided to take the northern most boarder crossing at Dien Bien Phu
... and thus begins a new adventure...
Thank you Vietnam for your clean toilets, good noodle soup, amazing coffee, great shopping and, at times, breathtaking scenery. I would have hoped a little more authentic travel and experience with real, local people other than being put with fellow tourists so much, but it was a fab few weeks nonetheless, did I mention how good the coffee is already?
Til next time