Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Bangkok, Change of Plan February 29th 2012

Changing the plan..

Kingfisher Airlines are in financial trouble, one step from disappearing into a financial abyss according to all the press speculation last week. Seems they have a lifeline for the time being but it's really a fine line and there's that uneasy feeling that the whole company might be wound up at anytime soon. I mean, stranded in Mumbai, having to fork out even more money for another ticket, and again at kochi, is not a prospect I want to consider. The whole India arrangement part of this trip has been  has been fraught with problems, from inflexibility with the visa, no refund on a replacement visa, and now the airline issue.

The plan now then is to stay in Bangkok for a while exploring the whys and wherefores of onward travel. The backpacker trail seems to head south towards Malaysia and onto Singapore via some of the Thai islands, and that inevitably means beach time - sounds good.

A frustrating day so far, trying to change my flight ticket. It's the flight to Mumbai next Wednesday, with Jet Airways but contacting them has so far been fruitless. The staff at the airport yesterday were uninterested and told me to call the Bangkok office. 2 calls, answer phone each time. Next an email to them with the change details, as yet no response. an email to the booking agents in Norwich, 8am might be a little early to expect a reply though. So far then I've spent about £5 in phone calls, Internet cafes, and coffees with free wifi attached all to no avail yet!

Thammasatt  university was the best place to eat at last time, it is this time. Typical Asian food with most dishes priced at 25 bht, just 55p, a reasonable portion too. It's a good atmosphere to as the vast canteen fills with students, lecturers and even the police turn up for a snack or two. Quite obviously this place isn't in the lonely Planet guide book although I have seen one or two tourists wander through. Thankfully the sandbags surrounding the place have disappeared so it's back to normal, until the next rainy season, not that faraway.

A new home for now anyway. It's couple of pounds cheaper, but in similar condition - monsoon damage as is evident with most of the older buildings around here. But the place has a room for £3.50, occupied at the moment but I'm the next to have it, or so they say.Good news in that the booking office have replied and offered to sort things out free of charge, so now its off for a shower and, well, who knows - this is Bangkok after all!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

In Bangkok 28th February 2012

Bangkok take 2

5.15, cool and dark as I step out of the Hotel one last time. Web checked-in, boarding pass printed and bills paid all the evening before so all I have to do is turn up at the airport, in one piece and on time! They even stuck to the agreed rate of 11 $ per night, well since I made them write it down there wasn't a great deal to argue about. Laundry bill came to 2 $ and 37p for the use of their printer for my boarding pass.

A brisk 15 minute walk upto the bus station at Long Bien as Hanoi was waking up. Hanoi old quarter is as busy at 5.30am as Norwich is at 8am. Quite a few locals there, I'm the only tourist. Other transport options to the airport are available. A shuttle bus, from somewhere near the lake for 2 $, taxi for considerably more or of course hitch a ride on the back of a motorbike, and yes, they are happy to accommodate a rather large back pack, no problem! The bus duly rolls in at 5.50 and is soon on the bridge headed towards the airport,  handing over 5000 vnd to the stony faced money collector.

Fewer people around this time of the morning which means the bus is making fewer stops therefore theory go's that I will be at the Airport in good time. All is going to plan as the bus pulls up across from the terminal, it's taken just about 55 minutes. Flight is at 9 so a little time to use up a few thousand in loose change and get a coffee. And that's it, my last and final purchase with this monopoly money. Physiologically  it can be depressing having to depart with thousands in cash on a daily basis!

One good thing about Hanoi is the Airport. Apart from being the quickest way out it's neat, compact and well laid out. Small enough so that check-in, immigration and aircraft is just the shortest of walks. All the tarmac action can easily be viewed and even the air force facility opposite can be photographed at will without any attention from the authorities.

On board this Air Asia Airbus to Bangkok then and they depart 5 minutes early! It's 2 hours until I hit the tropics again as the plane climbs up through the misty overcast and breaks into clear blue sky, something i haven't seen much of lately.

Queues at Bangkok airport immigration are considerably longer this time but seem to be moving slightly faster. About 1 hour to get to the passport control point, and again I'm let in without any need for interrogation. Through the green channel in the customs hall, and a big  wide grin...I'm back! As before it's the train to phaya Thai station, but the price has risen by 100%. It's now 90 b, about £2 for the 15 minute ride. Bus 59 is the one that stops close to Khao San road, according to the transport information desk, but conflicting advice as to where it actually picks up as the bus stop outside the Phaya Thai Station is now a taxi bay. A local shop keeper directs me and another tourist to the road opposite, accessed by an overpass which actually forms part of the Sky Train system. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we wait and wait and wait along with a few other tourists. They need  the 503 which also stops by Khao San, but eventually we all end up on the number 72 which stops about 1/2 a mile short, and costs 66.6666p.

£6.50 gets an OK room with air con, water and TV. It'll do until I find something closer to the action at Khao San. A wander around some familiar little streets, the smells, sights and sounds of Bangkok have finally returned. It's a yellow curry for tea, £1.77 but it's a big plateful  and delicious.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Last Day in Vietnam 27th February 2012

Last day in Hanoi, last day in Vietnam.

Has turned cold again after a few warm days. People wrapped up in scarfs under a gloomy overcast sky. It's the last day for me and thankfully feeling much better, after a day of zero energy yesterday.  Don't plan on any heavy street pounding, although might go and have a look at uncle Ho's resting place (Ho Chi Minh mausoleum), but really not that bothered about it.

Headlines from the Vietnam news today: 'Four die, 13 hurt in Lao bus plunge'. A bus carrying 94 passengers looses brakes and hits a cliff. It was a local bus, with a capacity of 54. 'City plans end to hospital overload'. Hospitals in Saigon are hopelessly overloaded and the government are urging the Saigon people's committee to build more. Bird flu is a hot topic over here with statistics and figures emerging on a daily basis. 'Rabid dogs killed seven people last year'. 'Danes provide aid for Dak Lak'. Denmark is pumping 1.9 million us$ into the northern Vietnam economy to develop agriculture. In the same vane, Australians are giving 904,000 us$ over 3 years to develop eye-care across 11 provinces. 'Viettel to produce its own iPads this year for 200us$'.

Bangkok tomorrow, flight at 9am, hope there's a bus at 6. Should be since I was able to get a bus at 5am from across the river last week. Vietnam is more expensive than the average tourist perceives. There seems to be a systemic culture of 'get the gullible tourist', and several tourists have learned that, the hard way. I have come across cases of 100% price hikes with hotels being the worst culprits and tour desks a close second. Personally, in the 4 weeks in Vietnam I had to pay 4 $ for the thimble of coffee, 110,000 vnd for a 330 ml can of tiger larger and 47,000 vnd for water. There is however good value to be found among the locals, after a bit of searching, and a liking for noodles, rice and soup. There isn't much in the way of sweet and sour prawn balls or any of those things available from the local Chinese takeaway back in Britain. If they are found then its in a restaurant, where the price ends up quite close to what is paid back home. Vietnam overall rates 50% satisfaction, saved by the scenery of Sapa and Halong. If I return, it'll be to Saigon!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Hanoi 26th February 2012

Not feeling well, just out of energy after trotting to the loo every few seconds this morning. Thought I was off to Bangkok tomorrow morning, its actually Tuesday. Nipped out to get some water and a couple of bananas, which was enough exercise for me for today.

Normal dialogue tomorrow hopefully.



Halong Bay Take 2 February 25th 2012

Halong Bay take 2

It's a 30 minute walk from the hotel to the bus station at Leung yun, south of the old quarter, I checked that out yesterday. In the absence of any kind of time table, it's probably a fair assumption there will be a bus on the hour, or thereabouts. Scoffing down eggs and coffee at lightning speed, I should be able to make the station a bit before 8 - time to get a ticket and find the bus  hopefully.

7.45 and the bus for Halong City is the first in the line up, and the engine is running. Ticket is purchased on board the desk staff tell me, and the price is 90,000 about 4 1/2 dollars. Finally get going at 9.15 after about 45 minutes of pickups. Soon evident that the bus is at capacity, and still more passengers are picked up. 3 to a seat for 2 in some cases and stools all the way along the isle to the front door. Just when there couldn't be room for anymore, the bus stops and on jumps a few more locals.

A pit stop as usual, and convinced my seat might be hijacked I kept a watchful eye on the comings and goings whilst others were having their noodles. Back on the bus and in my original seat. Another 2 hours and should be in Halong. The weather is overcast, misty but not as bad as the first attempt. It's warm at least and there is a breeze so I'm more hopeful of a successful trip around the bay, with better visibility this time.

Bus drops opposite a station just approaching the main town. 3 of us disembark and are quizzed by taxi drivers. We all are heading to the tourist quay so agree to share a taxi. 10 minutes and the trip costs 38,000, about £1.65. The place is busy, full of tourists mostly groups on organised tours. Boats are constantly loading and unloading passengers. From last experience here, I know that a 4$ ticket is required before anything else. I'm told this is an entrance ticket which gets access onto the quayside and also into a cave. Next, a boat ticket and soon I'm approached by a few touts as I'm obviously looking lost! According to a price guide on the office wall, a boat should cost $15 per hour, upto 4 hours. 1 settle on 15 us$, but not before a chap tried to sell me a ticket for 39 us$!

The boat is quite decent, better than last time with cushions for added comfort. Only five of us tourists on board as the boat sets sail, just after 1.10pm. Me and a Korean family settle down and wait for some scenery to appear through the mist. Scenery did emerge, and quite spectacularly as a shadowy outline soon became a mountainous island. We're getting off here, 40 minutes to explore and clamber up the hillside. Actually there are steps leading to what can only be described as something amazing. A huge cave, takes about 20 minutes to get around taking in the awesome structure.

Back on the boat and it's 3 hours of sailing in between giant rocks protruding vertically, island mountains and various smaller structures. It's a sight to behold, as the boat meanders around Halong bay.

Back on land at 4pm. Before getting transport to the out of town bus station, might be worth asking if any buses are going from here. Yes, there is a seat on a tour bus for 6 us$ getting back directly to the old quarter.  It's a long day as the bus pulls up at the lake 9pm, but well worth the effort.

Pictures will tell a better story, so as soon as I have strong enough wifi, I will upload a few to this blog. Or if you cant wait, Google Halong bay and see others photos.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Hanoi 24th February 2012

Getting run over...And the US ambassadors House..

After yesterday's mammoth effort and physiological scarring, today is going to be less strenuous. A trip to the bus station to find out about local buses over to Halong city on Saturday. Plenty, just turn up and pay on the day I am told. Walking back up to the lake and the sun shines on Hanoi. First time in nearly 2 weeks! Quite warm too, just shirts today.

Spotted a sign in gold, advertising the fact that this is the residence of the United States ambassador. Good for a quick snap but before I can press the button a guard rushes towards me, scowling and shouting no photo! He looked really upset as I walk off half expecting to be bundled into a police van at gun point any moment. No further incident though, and I continue being Joe tourist pounding the Hanoi streets. A few smart buildings shining in the sunlight. The Hanoi Hilton, and just along from there, the opera house - a must see for fans of colonial architecture.

Coffee at Kangaroo, then an early afternoon feed since breakfast was a while ago now. A bowl of noodle soup, sprinkled with pork scratchings among other things. Very tasty and best value food so far in Hanoi at about 25p, assuming I survive the night of course.

Back to base and I'm run over by a bicycle. Not really injured, shaken a bit, but we all proceed on our merry way.

At least I lived to tell this tale also!

Lost on Halong Bay 23rd February 2012

Halong bay...Lost

9am and finally get going after a roundup of passengers from nearby hotels. The guide rambles on as the mini bus trundles over the red river towards Halong, somewhere South of Hanoi. Something about going up a mountain, and a mountain descending into the bay. I think he was trying to explain the origins of the name, Halong. Anyway, a quick history lesson, and time for a nap  - looks like most are already taking a nap. Over the Vietnamese version of Spaghetti junction and traffic heading for Hanoi is tailing back someway.

The scene is of industrial zones and giant factory complexes with housing blocks attached. Plenty of electronics, garments, instant noodles and steel factories. Weather is misty, quite poor visibility at times, dampness in the air, but at least it's not freezing cold. Pit stop is at a giant warehouse of expensive crafts. They offer free shipping to any country. Have to smile, imagining scenes of frantically trying track down missing goods.

Total journey time should be 3 1/2 hours according to the guide, so another 2 hours from here. It's a rural scene, rice fields below hills and mountains on the left that are just shadows in the gloom.

Halong city is situated compactly at the base of some hills. About Half a dozen expensive looking hotels are on the road approaching the tourist quay in an area that is obviously a tourist development. Tourist boats are queueing up to load and unload passengers from the quayside, with about a hundred or so anchored in the harbour. Halong 17 is our boat for the next few hours, sailing In between the thousands of islands and rock formations that draw millions of tourists here each year.  Weather is still over cast, and misty as the boat sets sail along with all the others.

10 minutes of sailing and thick fog has descended. Hailong 17 continues sailing gradually loosing sight of the other vessels. The boat slows, eventually stops, engines off, all is quiet. An eery silence for a few moments then, "We are lost"', announces the tour guide. The idea is to stay here and have lunch hoping the fog might clear later. An hour later and its obvious the boat isn't going anywhere, and the fog is even thicker. A mutiny erupts among the passengers as it transpires the boat has no navigation aids, radar or Gps, not on these boats. Add to this a rather mediocre lunch with drinks costing extra and there are a few unhappy passengers. Consensus of opinion right now is that the boat operators are stringing out the tour to justify a no refund policy - deal with that issue later!

Boats can heard close by, as the Hailong 17 flounders in still waters, not a breath of wind. A boat is spotted, another tourist boat. Engine bursts into life and follows it, only problem is the boat ahead is to fast. Eventually we all loose sight of our only hope of getting back, engines off, an eery silence once again and dismay from the passengers. A light hearted moment as British chap produces a compass, purchased in Poundland as suggests this should be given to the captain.

45 minutes and another boat passes, rather close to the stern actually, but they seem more sympathetic to our plight and slow enough to remain in sight back to the quayside. Fog clears as the boat approaches land, can put the life jackets away now. Another 3 1/2 hours back to Hanoi via the pit stop.

Given that the Vietnamese attitude towards tourists is somewhat less than the standards experienced elsewhere in the world, no one holds much hope of any refund, but going to try anyway. At least the tour guide returned our receipts, after considerable pressure from everyone, I hasten to add. Discussing the situation, transpires others paid considerably more for the same trip. Two Aussie ladies were charged 39 us$ each, whilst others averaged 20-25 us $. So, for my 16 $ I saw plenty of countryside, a few hundred tourist boats and went for a little ride on the ocean!

Back in Hanoi and straight to the ticket desk. After much heated discussion, ending with a threat to contact the ministry of tourism, a small refund was given - $3 take it or leave it, so I took it. At least I lived to tell the tale and have another go later - after all, that's really the main reason why people come to Hanoi, Halong bay is an awesome sight supposedly.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Hanoi Bus 17 February 22nd 2012

Bus number 17

I need to book a tour to Halong bay for tomorrow. The hotel tour desk are charging $24 for a 1 day trip, but I've spotted the same for $16 just along the next street. That's where I shall book my ticket, first thing after breakfast. After that, I'll probably take a local bus to somewhere.

Turn right out of the hotel, along the now familiar main street. A lot of locals occupying pavement space drinking green tea, or something similar, tea without milk anyway, and munching on sunflower seeds. Next right, along the road that go's more or less straight to the lake. The friendly tour desk is about half way down on the right, and yes, still $16. Tour booked, now to the bus station.

Closest bus station to the old quarter is Long Bien, to the north and just beyond the second bridge that crosses the red river. I have in mind to take bus 17, the airport bus according to an article on Wiki travel, and since I'll need to be there in a few days time, a trial run might be a good idea. A modern complex with electronic information boards at each stand. The stand for bus 17 is easy to spot, but no indication that this, or any bus is going to the airport. The last stop is called Noi Boi which rings a bell for having some connection with the Airport.

On the bus then, handing over 5000 vnd, about 17p, as it rattles over the bridge. Heading in a northerly direction, through Gia Lam, stopping, starting but surprisingly not crowded. Soon into rural Vietnam passing rice paddies, vegetable patches and buffaloes. An hour and still no sign of an airport, but hopeful that it will pop up sooner or later. 10 more minutes and a sign for Vietnam Airlines maintenance, then the airport cargo complex and a sign for the passenger terminal - mission accomplished. Straight forward and inexpensive airport transport - no taxi thank you.

I like aeroplanes, so a couple of hours here watching, snapping a few native airlines without any hindrance from the authorities. A collection of locals are there watching the action, so I just mingle in, smiling occasionally and trying to look inconspicuous. Coffee in the airport is 40-45,000 vnd, not too bad actually. Coffee just across from the bus stand and taxi park is just 18,000 vnd. I had 10 minutes before the next bus, but forgot that any coffee in Vietnam takes about 15 minutes of drip feed. Bus's pulls away without me, oh well.

Another bus 17 pulls in, so hop on that one back to Long Bien. Rush hour so this trip is taking a little longer, but still it's not an over crowded bus by any means. Quite a nice journey - 2 hours 40 minutes total for 35p through some nice rural scenes.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Night Bus to Hanoi 21st February 2012

Hanoi Again...and confusion.


The bus is only three quarters full - an Italian, a few English, two Indians and seven Israelis. The rest are Vietnamese. Clear sky at sunset as the bus rolls out of town and down into those clouds hanging around in the valleys. It's a good bus, quite new and for once I seem to have the best seat - it can recline completely flat, much better for sleeping. Plenty of room to stow away bags, although as always, passport and money is kept at close quarters.

A stop at the border town for about 15 minutes, a toilet opportunity since none is provided on this bus. The Israeli contingent seems rather excited, perhaps slightly inebriated as the journey to Hanoi begins proper, about 10 hours from now. Driver number 2 has to put a damper on the exhuberance at the back, lights out as we all settle in for a long night. Quite a comfortable ride, actually the best so far on these open tour sleeper busses. A pit stop at midnight, just as I had nodded off into a deep sleep!

Hanoi at 4.45am and confusion. Some had been told the bus stops in the old quarter and quite clearly this hasn't been the case. Infact the bus has stopped at Gia Lam bus compound, just next to the public bus station. Since this is where the bus started from, it's was a fair assumption beforehand that ending up there again was a high probability. Bus driver says take a taxi to old quarter. Taxi drivers say it's 200,000 vnd to the old quarter, and I say no thanks, walking off as they beckon to negotiate. I only take taxis as a last resort and I'm defiantly not going to pay anything like 200,000vnd, about £7 for a 10 minute journey. Another traveller has the same philosophy as we discuss the situation at 5am. Thankfully, having studied the Hanoi bus map at length, and a little web research, there is a bus, the number 34 stops on the highway, opposite the old quarter, about halfway between the two bridges. A short walk towards the public buses,  to the taxi drivers obvious dismay.

Bus 34 is there, waiting. 3000 vnd, about 15p and 10 minutes later we are right outside the old quarter. I don't know what happened our Israeli friends, last I saw they were huddled, on the road outside the bus station looking somewhat confused. They didn't like the taxi idea either then!

Night bus recovery for a few hours, after tucking into eggs and coffee of course..

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Snaps of Sapa Vietnam

Terraced fields Sapa Vietnam

Clouds Rolling over Sapa Vietnam

Local Sapa Vietnam

A View of Lion Mountain Sapa Vietnam
Lion Mountain - spot the Lion

Terraced fields, Sapa Vietnam

Locals add colour in Sapa Vietnam
Sapa Vietnam Clouds in the Valley




Sapa the last day 20th February 2012

What a difference a day makes...

It's a struggle to leave the warm duvet, knowing in all probability the weather hasn't changed from yesterday. Still pretty cold in the hotel, but needs must, biological if nothing else and eventually stumble down into reception. Sunshine, yes it's the sun and there's a mountain peak. Rush for the camera just since this might be a short lived glimpse of Sapa scenery. And it is as the place is enveloped once again in thick fog. It's the last day in Sapa, at least I've seen a mountain! Oh look, it's clearing again - sunshine, warm sunshine too.

Looks like the weather has broken into scattered clouds, those fair weather clouds seen in a British summer sky, not too often but has been known. Better get something to eat before making that search for the famous Sapa scenery that draws tourists from every continent. A vegetable curry, the best meal I've had in all Vietnam. so much, I can hardly finish it, good value for 30,000 vnd.

The only way is up, an it's easy to see which roads head that way. About 30 minutes hiking  reveals some rather nice rural scenes on one side, and towering mountains on the other. Great panoramic vistas at last! Mountains are still shrouded in mist but just enough light to make a good photograph, actually several hundred probably. Those white clouds roll up the valley, envelop the town then roll back down the valley again. This continues and is fascinating to watch the cycle of warming and cooling air currents. A couple of hours hiking from Sapa reveals stunning scenery, following a sign post to the Silver Waterfalls. It's warm, I need to loosen some layers the closer to the sun I get.  No waterfalls yet and really need to head back, don't want to miss the bus. It's quiet, no traffic except the odd motorbike.

Birds are tweeting, trees in blossom and it's warm. Heading down towards the town, looking out for refreshments. There is a market on varying levels accessed by steps. Quite an uphill hike from one end to the other. It's my first clear view of Sapa, mountains on all sides and loads of the ethnic hill tribes people adding a splash of colour, trying to sell their trinkets. Numerous hotels around, heating arrangements by negotiation as I discover from a couple of tourists paying $20 for their room. One street here seems to be dedicated to tourists as far as eating is concerned - it's same pricing as Hanoi, with plenty of Western cuisine on offer for around £4-5 a meal.

Bus go's at 6, better stock up with snacks, fresh from a local street bakery - 2 pasties content of which I couldn't figure out, and coconut bread, 75p the lot.

Within a couple of weeks I should be in a position to upload photos to accompany this report, so please look back for some stunning images.

Sapa Day 2 19th February 2012

Still foggy, wet and cold..

Still foggy, wet and freezing cold. Fog isn't as thick, but the drizzle comes and go's . In search of sustenance and eventually find a place serving up soup. It's a locals place, only costs 30,000 vnd for a good bowl of piping hot chicken soup, crammed with noodles. No attempt to keep in the heat, or rather the cold out though.Hardy people, these locals. Further along, opposite the park is a coffee shop where the staff are huddled over some hot charcoals. I join them whilst waiting for my thimble of coffee. They are happy to give me more water and a bigger glass which also served as a ploy to stay huddled over the heat and making the drink last as long as possible.

There isn't much to see, even as the fog thins out a little, no panoramic vistas. The folkes at the hotel suggest going to cat cat, a village of ethnic minorities. Drizzle lets up a bit so might as well. It's a 2km hike according to the sign post. Picked up a type of pasty, coconut bread and a kind of vegetable spring roll on the way all for 20,000 vnd. Quite tasty munching these along the way. It's muddy, wet and cold, but the hiking seems to have at least warmed my toes a bit, should have bought some hiking boots though, hope my thin little trainers last out!

Entrance to cat cat village costs 30,000 vnd, about £1 for tourists. A tourist set up obviously, but at least it's a glimpse into an ethnic hill tribe community. Heading down a hillside on a shallow path and numerous bamboo stalls selling exactly the same products as their neighbour. The dialogue is also exactly the same as each tourist passes the displays of leather wallets, bracelets, t-shirts etc. Some local leaf art is on display along with farming artefacts from times past.

About a dozen dwellings constructed mostly of timber, some bamboo and tarpaulin shacks all with corrugated asbestos roofing. The descent continues through terraced fields, muddy and waterlogged, with any prospect of panoramic views obscured by the miserable weather. The path steepens and heads down into a valley. Over a swaying bridge at the bottom crossing what looks like to be a river, except it's just a trickle between some large rocks. Further along and there is quite a nice waterfall, not victoria falls but still worthy of a photo. The drizzle turns into steady rain so I duck I to rather large timber hall. It's a theatre of sorts, with half a dozen people dancing. Presumably, a traditional dance by locals, quite lively and for free. Actually, a good 20 minutes of Vietnamese tradition according to an audio playing between each of the routines.

Stepping out of the theatre and grounds for optimism. The rain has stopped with clouds lifting enough to see the top of the valley. Looks like Sapa is sitting just into the base of a stratus cloud layer, and descending into the valley a few hundred feet also means the cloud generally stays above. Some nice contrasts for photographers with lush greenery, a sparkling waterfall with some obscured distant scenery.

Climbing back up the valley and soon into the dense, damp grey cloud layer that has dogged this visit so far. Back up the path, towards the town, passing the same bamboo stalls, selling the same stuff and again the same dialogue from stall holders as just about an hour ago. An interesting couple of hours, shame about the weather, and since it's winter I don't suppose much farming would have been going on anyway. Spotted a few chickens running around and a couple of buffaloes grazing, and of course numerous dogs about the place - pets or food, I have to wonder! Food is a good idea, then hotel and that nice thick duvet.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sapa, Miserable 18th February 2012

Even thicker fog, just miserable.

2.30pm and time to explore the locality. Already dressed up to the neck, nothing more to put on and I'm still cold. The fog is even thicker, can only just make out the opposite side of the street now. Priority is a hot drink and as luck would have it spotted a little cafe advertising a log fire with the coffee. A couple of hours here, and I have assumed the role of chief fire stoker since no one else is paying any attention. Obviously there isn't any point sight seeing, there's nothing to see. Working on the blog then and musing over the situation with a couple of coffees, I don't care about the price, just want to sit by the fire!

This thick fog has an isolating effect - feels like being cut off from civilisation. Doesn't look like heating is on any priority list around here as most cafes have  doors wide open to the street! Unbelievably they do, the coffee shop earlier had wide open doors, freezing cold as was the noodle soup place.

Back to the hotel and some improvisation is in order. Take 1 travel kettle, fill with water and  boil. Wedge the on/off switch so the kettle keeps boiling. Just enough heat is generated to take the edge of the cold room. Obviously nodding off with this going on isn't wise!

Nothing much more to say since there isn't anything to see. It's miserable, and I really am in two minds to get on the bus back to Hanoi. I'll tough it out, see what tomorrow brings, but the forecast isn't any better according to the folks at the hotel.

Feedback..

Apart from my family members and a few friends,.who else is reading this. Do I need to spice things up a bit :)

Please drop me a comment in the relevant section, or send an email to paulholmes100@gmail.com

Thank you.

Sapa February 18th 2012

Sapa, it's foggy, it's miserable

Bus is overloaded with locals occupying space in the isles. They have good mats to sleep on this time so hopefully an uneventful night. Bus pulls in at Lao Cai railway station where the locals disembark leaving just six of us tourists for onward to Sapa. Lao Cai a town on the border with China and the last  station from Hanoi. Train passengers going to Sapa have to find onward transport.

It's 7am as the bus starts an ascent towards the mountain town of Sapa. Should be there by 8am, an hour late. According to another tourist, the bus broke down for an hour. I didn't really notice thinking its another stop for the locals as I was drifting in and out of sleep at the time. Valleys and ravines on the left, thankfully separated from the bus by crash barriers. Quite a scenic but shrouded in mist as the bus gains altitude and heads towards those clouds. Terraced rice fields can just be seen, although no rice since its winter here. The bus is enveloped by thick fog, we're in the clouds!

8.15 as the bus grinds to a halt, somewhere in the middle of Sapa. A man pops up as all six of us disembark, touting hotel rooms. It's cold, very cold, wet and thoroughly miserable. The room is only $6 so I didn't argue with that. I quickly find the catch - no heating. But there is hot water, Internet etc.

I need to eat and get a hot drink. I'm glad I bought a jumper, anticipating a rather cooler environment, but not this cool, must be only about 5 deg c. A few steps and there is cafe overflowing with locals, so must be OK. Noodle soup, just right for a day like this. No heating here either as everyone, even staff are wrapped up in winter clothing. A coffee across the road, as usual is an expensive thimble full, so I get them to fill the glass with more hot water.

The scene is, well, foggy. Thick fog obscures any scenery there might be, can't even see down the road as a drizzle sets in. Back to the hotel for a night bus recovery period.At least I have a thick duvet to wrap up in, and with wearing 2 pairs of socks, 2 t-shirts, jumper, jeans and a coat, should have a reasonably warm few hours kip.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

To Sapa 17th February 2012

Going to Sapa..

Making the most of this free breakfast since its the last for a couple of days, the last free one I mean. Off to Sapa tonight on the night bus. Sapa is a town in the mountains and tourists travel here for an alternative view of Vietnamese life among the most scenic of backdrops that Vietnam has to offer. Unfortunately, the cold, cloudy conditions over Hanoi extend all the way to the North Pole, so there might not be much to see at high altitude in Sapa.

Check out is 12, bus leaves 6.30 so some time to fill. The room bill is settled at the agreed price of $11 per night, then off to the Kangaroo cafe for a coffee and some work on the blog, that should fill a couple of hours. A slow wander back to the hotel via the lake. A boy approaches, wants to practise his English apparently. As my pockets are pinned, and bag is secure, I don't see any harm in going along with it. About 30 minutes of fractured conversation ensues, his English though was much better than my Vietnamese. Quat is his name, quite sincere actually, didn't ask for money, no sick relatives needing hospitalisation or any of the other scams I was expecting.

Back to the Hotel via a noodle soup stand, and hanging around, and around. The transfer bus eventually turns up at 7.10. The sleeper bus leaves from a compound across the river, north east of the city, on the road for the Airport. It's a smart bus, quite new with drop town video screens. Leaves at 7.45 and Sapa around 6.30 hopefully.

Red River, Hanoi 16th February 2012

Almost total solitude...

Wondering what I should do today as I tuck into fried egg baguettes and coffee. Take a local bus to some random location or go and take a look at the red river and discover the Hanoi river life. Map is indicating a ferry service within walking distance, and I like local ferries. Somehow they always reveal another facet to city life, wherever that city is.

The ferry, according to this map should be directly opposite the old quarter, but first the highway separating the two areas needs negotiating! Surprisingly easier than I had anticipated as there are gaps in the traffic flow, just long enough to get across in one piece. On into a less inviting neighbourhood then, with no indication of a ferry service that I can see. Dark narrow alleyways formed out of densely packed Concrete blocks, in various stages of decay. Through more alleyways towards the Red river, perhaps I might stumble across the ferry then or at least spot it along the banks at some stage.

A concrete slipway down towards a platform as such, a floating structure as once was, but the river is actually quite a distance away from here. Wet mud and dry sand between the slipway and the waters edge, with a few ramshackle old boats dotted here and there. Some with washing lines tied the length, others look like fishing vessels. Walking out onto the sand bank towards the river,  and a feeling of complete solitude takes over. A strong breeze develops blowing sand around, the nearest person is about 1/2 a mile away, the nearest car, bus or motorbike, about 3 miles into the distance. No horns, fumes, Chinese cackling, just the occasional squeal as a few kids jump off one of the boats to play at the waters edge. Cloud has lifted a bit allowing a skyline view of the City. Three bridges span the river, one or two skyscrapers on the horizon, but it's nothing particularly memorable or inspiring.

The distant drone of an airplane engine, oscillates between loud and soft. Sounds as though something is getting ready to go. There is an airbase close by, just across the river. It's an airforce facility according to an earlier google, since I had spotted this on the map sometime ago.To be honest, part of coming here was that I might get a rare glimpse of a Vietnamese airforce plane, even a photo. I did, and got the photo too!

No ferry, although there is evidence where one might have been. The concrete slipway, large parking areas either side and a landing spot directly opposite, in the process of being excavated.

Alleyway, street, alleyways then the highway. Turning right along the street and eventually I should arrive adjacent the part of the old quarter I am staying in. Despite the intimidating surroundings this is turning into quite a pleasant walk. I'm getting an insight into real local Vietnamese life, away from the tourists driven, or tourist inspired communities of the old quarter. Actually, I haven't seen a tourist for hours and no tourists clutching their Lonely Planet guide books around here either. I don't have a Lonely Planet guide book by the way, I like to discover things on my own. People are smiling, happy to see a tourist I suspect, but generally I get a feeling of community spirit here. I get a banana pancake from a street vendor for 5,000 vnd, about 16p, its 10,000 across the highway. All the facilities to service a local community at local prices. It's not busy, certainly not the same bustle as across the road, but relaxed, more informal. Bird cages line the street with chirping birds. Don't know if these are for sale or just pets, or dinner! I've seen dog meat on a menu and a few other dubious ingredients.

A message to Lonely Planet.. nothing to really see here, rundown, grotty river etc... No need to put this street in your guide book. The best day in Hanoi so far!

Hanoi 15th February 2012

Wednesday, Not doing much..

Nothing planned, just start out by turning left and left again, ending up wherever the road takes me. It's late morning, misty and drizzly, been like this all the time I've been here in Hanoi, but getting slightly warmer. French influence is evident throughout the area, very artisan and sometimes quaint, and of course pricy.  Many art shops selling an interesting mix of contemporary and fine pieces. Occasionally some way out paintings and plenty of propaganda posters in between. Several art cafes here, also a fine arts museum, so art lovers are well catered for in Hanoi.

A quick look at the nearby market, just on the northern boundary of the old quarter. An indoor market on 3 floors. Fabrics and textile products occupy vast areas, practically the entire 2nd foor. 15 or so minutes is enough here, especially since toilet smells emanate across the place, pooh!

Some streets  seem dedicated to a specific product. I've seen this frequently whilst pounding the Hanoi streets. Jewellery centrerd around a few streets whilst textiles span across several more streets and shoes, millions of them, can be found a few more streets away, and so it go's on.  Kangaroo cafe again, time to rest over their fab coffee and catch up with local news. 


The Vietnam news is published in English, providing full national coverage. A few stories over the last couple of days: More British tourists are expected to visit Vietnam, is the headline, and is according to a report published by the UK Post Office. This is based on a significant increase in enquiries in 2011 and the opening of a direct non-stop flight from London to Saigon. Other headlines, Meekong countries discuss strategies to stop human trafficking, Police nab gang of motorbike thieves in Saigon and several stories relating to the fraud problem, namely over charging and not listing prices correctly. Hanoi gets tough on pavement parking. There is a concerted  effort from the authorities to clear some pavements, and I have seen this in action. A small pick up with a bout six police officers will occasionally stop and raid an area, giving out stern warnings and tickets in some cases

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Hanoi, Tuesday 14th February 2012

Air force museum, Hanoi

A tip off that the Vietnamese Air force have a museum in Hanoi and research via Google locates the place, all I need now is to figure out which of the city buses stop there. After an unlimited supply of eggs and coffee it's more research, this time on the Hanoi bus website. Luckily they have a bus map and it's in English, now all I have to do is match this with the tourist map. After an hour of deliberation, bus number 19 is the one that stops closest to the museum, leaving from the bus stand located on the southern edge of the old quarter, right beside the main highway.

Don't really need to follow the map since following the main north south highway should in theory be enough to find the bus stand, but I have it anyway, crossing off intersections on the way. Of note, there is a museum dedicated to history according to the map, just about 25 minutes walking from the hotel. Five more minutes and a rough patch of ground with several buses parked up. Bus 19 is there waiting for passengers, of which I am the first. No English is spoken, so I have to point at the map, and the man beckons. The ticket is just 3000 vnd, about 10p. Map in hand checking off streets and intersections as the journey progresses. The bus soon fills up, and more! Tightly packed, like sardines and getting off could be challenging.

Travelling through relatively light lunchtime traffic, it's a good opportunity to see neighbourhoods away from the old quarter, and it's clear the old quarter isn't such a bad place to be. Densely packed buildings like building blocks line the roads. Its impossible to see anything beyond the mass of concrete, 3 or sometimes 4 floors high. The bus stops opposite what looks like a rather large military complex, numerous guards are hanging around the gates. It's defiantly a fight to get off, but I make it just as the bus starts to pull away again.

The museum is located on the far right of the complex. Plenty of military hardware laid out in neat rows, but it's a 10 minute Wait before I can wander around the outside at least. The outside area opens at 1 pm but the main building opens at 2 pm! A good selection of Soviet cold war fighter jets, a few light planes and a huge helicopter, again from the soviet cold war era. A few guns, tanks and a selection of captured American planes in various states of repair, including the complete wreck of a U.S. Navy phantom. Inside, and there are comprehensive displays giving visitors a complete history of the Vietnam Air force and of course a detailed display of artifacts from the American war. 3 hours to see the whole thing, costing 25,000 vnd, about 80p. A good afternoon out for aviation and military history enthusiasts. No cafe or tea stall inside though, so stocking up beforehand isn't a bad idea!

The bus stand heading back is virtually outside the gate. Two buses approaching, 16 then 19, good. The bus is full to bursting but there is just room enough for a few more - good job I' m only a small person. Another 3000 vnd is handed over and firmly grabbing on to the straps as the bus pulls away. The road is busy approaching rush hour, which is 4-6pm in Hanoi. Hundreds of motorbikes, cycles, carts and people fighting for space. Bus driver continually on the horn as he pushes through the mayhem. It is total mayhem, but amazingly, no one is knocked over - some interesting video footage when I get back to the UK, just remind me.

Back at the starting point 35 minutes later. A walk back to the hotel, avoiding getting knocked down a few times as I'm forced to walk in the road. Difficult to maintain sanity at at times as the pavements are taken over by informal dining set ups and also become parking lots for motorbikes. Back at base in one piece, collapse into a pile on the bed...

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Hanoi Day 2 13th February 2012

Kangaroo Cafe again...


Studying a tourist map over breakfast and there appears to be a few museums dotted around - revolution, Vietnam history, arts, army. No Chi Minh, or Uncle Ho, has his own museum and close to that is his mausoleum. Looks as though the old quarter is the City central area having most of the tourist attractions clustered around the lake. Hanoi also has a good splattering of ancient religious architecture. I don't have a burning desire to visit museums, and I've seen enough pagodas and temples to last a me a life time, but if I do get really bored I know where to head for.

No agenda as such, but I would like to end up at the Kangaroo cafe again this afternoon, that's if I can remember where it was! Just wandering around in the general direction of the lake (Hoan Kiem), absorbing the Hanoi sights and sounds of what is a fairly relaxed atmosphere. Not as manic as Saigon and doesn't have the same vibe as Bangkok.

The lake is a murky green. In the middle is a temple, a small structure costing $1 to go and look around. Just 1 or 2 skyscrapers on the skyline, clearly not as developed as Saigon although plenty of building upwards is underway. A misty, murky day again but at least it's warming up a bit. The railway station isn't far away, I want to call in and get the price to Sapa, the town in the north western mountains that tourists flock to. Station looks rundown, very few people around. $60 is the return price on a sleeper train, but that's just to the nearest station. Sapa is still an hour from there by bus, but it's something to consider.

I know the kangaroo place is just north of the lake, somewhere around here. Found it eventually and ordered the coffee, same as yesterday. Looking through the menu again feeling a bit peckish, a portion of chips will cost £1.67, no thanks. Pastry and bread products are widely sold by shops and street hawkers. A pizza type bread is 50p and quite tasty, good value portion to. Street food vendors are around daytime, but things really liven up at night. The locals flock to these, and there seems to be a good variety of food on offer, although for street food it is pricey, almost as much as eating in a cafe in some instances!

Back to base and a few minutes at the hotel's tour desk. I can get a sleeper bus to Sapa town for $35 return on Friday - booked.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Hanoi the first day 12 February 2011

Sunday Morning in Hanoi..

 A cold, misty dawn with a light drizzle as the bus pulls to the side of a boulevard.  The usual collection of taxi drivers surround the bus as bleary eyed tourists stumble off. Unfortunately, the bus hasn't stopped in the old quarter - that's the area of Hanoi which has the biggest concentration of hotels and guesthouses and is in all the guide books as the first port of call on arrival.  At the ticket office in Hue, I had arranged my Hanoi accommodation for $11 per night at the Elizabeth hotel, and a taxi was waiting. Others getting off this bus are forced to take a taxi to the old quarter, since no hotels are evident around here. Obscure transactions between taxi and bus drivers could be a reason for this!

 About 10 minutes and the taxi pulls up outside the hotel. I have to wait a while for the room to become vacant, a side effect of early morning arrivals. It's called the old quarter, and old it is. A chance to look around briefly reveals a rather shabby street scene - buildings that clearly could do with a lick of paint here and there. Perhaps further exploration will reveal a place with  vibrancy  and character, we'll see but for now, as always after a trip on the night bus, a period of recovery for the next few hours. But not before digging into the free breakfast, with coffee. Eggs, ham, rice, noodles, bread, jam and banana. No, I didn't eat all that, just a couple of fried eggs in a baguette.

 Mid afternoon and it's time to take a look at What this place has to offer. The old quarter revolves around a lake and being a Sunday looks like the place locals come to hangout. Add In several hundred tourists and the place is a hive of activity. As in the rest of Vietnam offers of a motorbike ride to somewhere is continuous , on every street corner, intersection and bus stand. No rickshaws but instead there are cyclos, a bike with some kind of Seating arrangement ahead of the rider, these are also available on a continuous basis. People milling around, sitting beside the lake eating ice cream even though it's cold and damp. With a map, the streets are easy to navigate but actually using them can be challenging since they are also serve as platforms for shop extensions, informal dining and motorbike parking. Often little choice but to walk in the street amongst the traffic! Lots of little streets, big streets but not that many alleyways in Hanoi.  Numerous cafes on most streets and I pick on the kangaroo cafe. They offer real Vietnamese coffee, in a mug with real milk for only 30,000 vnd, about £1. Makes a pleasant change from the usual thimble full for £1.60! I need to eat and order a round of spring rolls. 5 pieces arrive, quite Small about a mouthful I suppose - not such good value. Looking around and comparing prices on this short initial expedition, eating here looks to be more expensive than in Saigon generally and I would imagine portions to be just as small. I'll try it out and let you know! In the meantime the search is on to find some good, not overpriced eating. Back to base, I'm knackered!

 Top tip on Hanoi accommodation. Its a good idea to check and double check the price - get someone to write it down, in US dollars if possible. Over charging, scams and dishonesty is rife between Saigon and Hanoi, visitors need to be one step ahead all the time wherever possible.

Monday, 13 February 2012

To Hanoi 11th February 2012

On the Night Bus Again..


A bus pulls out, another is waiting to go. I get on that one, then get off again, having just settled in - Over booked says the man, another bus soon. 3rd bus rolls up nearly full, but space at the back. Good and bad - good because space behind couches for bags, bottles, shoes, and its a bit more secure as well, bad because it means getting cosy with strangers! The bus is New, so new there is still that factory finish smell. Fresh, clean and bright, couple of TV screens showing some Chinese chat and entertainment show, not surprising since majority of passengers are Vietnamese, or Chinese, hard to tell. Bus is over booked again, and a stop further along sees more passengers hopping on. They are given mats stretched along the floor. Looks like a long night for them! A stop after just 2 hours and another feeding opportunity. Soon on the road again, thankfully there is a toilet on the bus since I don't think there will be anymore stops. 

So far so good...Hanoi at 6 tomorrow morning then.


Top tip on using open tour buses at weekends. Confirm your seat as far in advance as you can. The 24 hour confirmation stipulation is just the minimum and is fine for travel weekdays. Weekend buses are fully booked way ahead of time. I was lucky, but others arriving at the office to confirm their travel on Sunday were out of luck.

Hue 11th February 2012

Along the Perfume River..


A host of tours are available from a full day visiting bunkers and tunnels associated with the American war, to a gentle ride along the river in a dragon boat for a few hours and for $7 I'm talked into it by the hotel desk, eager to make some commission. They call it the perfume river, I don't know why - doesn't smell of anything special.

Strangely, a minibus picks up at the hotel and drives to an office just around the corner, where there is a gathering of passengers for this trip. A mix of nationalities - Malay, Vietnamese, Canadian, British and Aussies. Tickets handed in, a head count and off we go precariously crossing the road to get to the boat station opposite and just a few yards along. A long line of boats, twin and single hulls, brightly painted and of course dragon heads fixed to each of the bows,  somewhat lacking in authenticity. Looks like the last boat is ours. Imagine a square conservatory fixed on to two rather large canoes, that's the set up here. Plastic garden chairs are set out in rows,  staff bring over green tea, as if's complimentary, actually is 10,000 vnd or 50 cents a few minutes later.

Getting going at last after some precarious manoeuvring between the other boats. It's a ride upstream, stopping off to look at various ancient religious architecture. The weather is grey, overcast with a mist on the horizon, but at least it's warm. An interesting view of river life as boats in various states of repair pass on by, carrying mud, bricks and various other goods. The banks are fertile with a mix of delicate leaf crops, herb patches being tendered to by workers in conical hats. The water is blue, quite clean and not at all murky, but doesn't smell of perfume! First stop is an old house that belonged to an important religious figurehead from ancient times. It's costs just over a dollar to look around here and get a few snaps. The guide rambles on with dates and names, we all pretend to look interested.

Clambering down the muddy bank to get back on the boat, and head off to the next ancient building. The mist clears a little and the scenery changes as the river meanders towards mountainous terrain making for some very photogenic scenes. The guide rambles on - 3 temples and a tomb are on the agenda ahead and wants to collect entrance fees now to save time later. I opt out since I've had more than enough of ancient temples, pagodas and tombs. It's  about £1.75 to look around each site, but I'm really on the trip for the boat ride and to take in the scenery. Lunch is included according to the sales blurb. A menu is passed around with items that can be ordered at extra cost. Anything to drink is also extra. What actually is included is the rice, noodles and tofu, so it's rather a bland lunch for most of us.

The boat ride ends at 2pm and the trip continues on a bus, heading back to the city via more ancient architecture, but through some very scenic countryside. Whilst wandering around, a rustle in the grass. It's a snake, my second wild snake sighting, but before I can get my camera it slithers away. Sort of a dark green colour, with a reddish area behind the head, about 3/4 meter long.

Not a bad trip as it happens, better than I thought and some nice scenic photos. Not a place to stop for any length of time from what I can see, although there maybe a good reason lurking somewhere for someone. The weather is defiantly cooling off northbound. Not too cold in Hanoi I hope.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Hue, February 10th 2012

Hue, just about three quarters of the way to Hanoi...


Doesn't look an inspiring place to stay and if it wasn't for the fact that Hoi an to Hanoi was a 15 hour ride then I wouldn't have stopped at Hue, pronounced Hwee. Bus pulls into a side street opposite another $10 room hotel. It's in reasonable condition and I'm not feeling tip top so don't want to pound the streets for the sake  of a couple of dollars.  As always an abundance of hotels and guest houses, cafes,  restaurants and a host of informal dining. Lunch is a banana pancake and as usual in Vietnam's formal eateries the portion is small. Anyone with a healthy appetite is unlikely to be satisfied with a single order. A potion of Spaghetti bolognaise for example could be picked up in 1 hand and anything of Italian origin is usually up to 3 x more expensive, adding to the disappointment. I mean, I don't mind paying if the portion is fair. A 3 course meal generally is going to cost around £5-7.

Downside to busing around Vietnam with a bunch  of Europeans is sooner or later a cold virus will claim another victim. Just a sniffel today, so I'm going to sleep it out. Tomorrow is a dragon boat ride on the perfume river, Hue.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Hoi An 10th february 2012

Bicycle ride in Hoi An...

 The beach is a little to much hiking in my opinion, so I'm going to hire a push bike. The land around here is flat, the climate is cool, much cooler of late,  ideal for a bike ride. Just under £1 gets a reasonable cycle, good tyres and with fairly good brakes, but no puncture repair kit! Surprisingly, food the the hotel is the cheapest I've seen in Vietnam , so it's the good old fruit salad and yogurt, with a coffee here before heading off beach bound and vying for road space.

Out of town towards the village of Cua Dai, a 4 kilometre ride according to the map. Between the town and the village is an expanse of farmland, rice fields mainly with figures and conical hats dotted in the far distance. About 30 minutes to the beach, typically palms, cafes and loungers on the sand. Not many people around, a handful of tourists and a few locals. The sea is rough here, waves breaking quite away out and again crashing onto the shore. Mountainous islands loom on the horizon, but shrouded in haze and mist. Beach is clean, no garbage anywhere and probably to breezy for the flies, haven't  see any at all. A good spot to spend a couple of hours and not unreasonable prices either. Quite cold by 3pm so back on the bike and into the old town for another look around. Loads of tourists on bikes, queuing for boat rides and generally milling about.

Early night, early bus in the morning. Eating at a place for locals, couple of doors from the hotel. No signs indicating its a cafe, just that I noticed an open door and some Chinese cackling. Good noodle soup for 18,000 vnd. Hoi An is good for a couple of days stopover.   A few tours are available basically a bike ride down some lanes or walking tours around the town centred on the Japanese bridge. Further afield there is marble mountain to look at.

Hoi An February 9th 2012

The road to Hoi An

Bus rolls out of Nha Trang just after 7pm, but not before all the confusion is sorted out. The ticket count has issued seat numbers to some, but not everyone. I'l claim the middle seat, slightly less restrictive in leg room since I can dangle both sides if necessary. It's a sleeper bus so the lounger seats should recline in theory - some more than others, some not at all. Oh well, mines not too bad and with my inflatable pillow for added comfort I should be able to snatch a little sleep here and there. Should be in Hoi An by 6.30 next morning according to the ticket.  Couple of stops to exchange cargo and pick up locals.

The road to Hoi An is rough, the driver is in a hurry and likes to use the horn frequently. A full moon on the left provides enough light to see an outline of the mountainous terrain on the right that this road is snaking through. Some colourful language from the back as the driver continues to speed along the narrow bumpy road with ravines either side. An hour or so, and the terrain changes into lowlands and the road widens, but is still bumpy - it's bumpy all the way, not much sleep for anyone! A stop for refreshments and toilet at 11pm, but given my previous experiences on sleepers I have an empty bottle on standby.

Bus rolls into the Hoi An bus stand at dawn. It appears to be out of the main town area hence a collection of taxis and bikes milling around the entrance. A rather nice young lady touts a hotel room for $10, even has a taxi ready to take perspective customers to go and take a look - sounds good. It's quite a bit cooler here, cloudy too, but still warm enough to wear a tee shirt. Queuing up to get this room, going to have to wait until the current occupants check out. I can have a free coffee, then they bring me some tea, and I can tap away on the Internet whilst waiting.

A quick poke around the locality whilst waiting for the room. There is quite a charm about the place, as though time has passed it by.  Characterised by Chinese lanterns adorned on every door, lamp post and across the streets. narrow alleyways and no traffic, except the odd moped. This is the old town, small, quaint, quiet and preserved. It's part of the tourist trail on the way to Hanoi - the halfway stopover. A bustling market area fronts the river, mainly produce, a few ducks, chickens and lots of locals, alive and kicking. Ferry boats, engined and row variety ply the waterways, with makeshift landing areas by the market.

 This is clearly a tourist trap with tourist prices as far as eating is concerned. Quite expensive (from a Vietnamese perspective), close to Saigon prices and portions are just as small. Local, as opposed to tourist eating, seems limited in Hoi An but I did find a cafe that had coffee at 18000 dong, the average being 28,000 dong around this part of town. Quite a selection of street food heading away from old town but only being used by a few locals, risky for the tourist since most of that food would have been hanging around for a few hours. Top tip on eating street food - eat it only if you have to wait for a seat. Hoi An is famed for it,s textiles with many small Shops offering garments made to measure and within 24 hours. Prices are said to be reasonable too. The town has a couple of beaches, one for locals and one for tourists, that's an exploration for tomorrow, but right now I need to catch up on sleep.

Top tips on using open tour buses. A ride in a top lounger will be slightly less bumpy and closer to the air conditioning system.  The lounger just before the middle door, row 10, reclines the most since there is no restriction. People larger than 5 foot 8 would be better In a middle lounger since there can be space both sides for those big legs. Gents may like to take an empty bottle since the middle stairwell is ample space to do your business, especially at night. Ear plugs and an inflatable cushion will help with comfort on overnight trips. Getting off the bus at any point, take your stuff, that's just good practise anyway. Rows A to C run from right to left getting on at the front door.This applies to T. M. Brothers coaches, although I would imagine most of the others will be similar in operation.