Tuesday, 19 May 2009

An evening activity, 19th May 2009

I'm very excited right now. At 4pm I will be starting a cooking course. A Japanese Cooking Course.

Hold up! What's that? Yes, that's right, here I am in China and about to learn to cook a la Japan!

It caused quite a stir when we enquired about the Japanese cooking course. The owner of the guest house is Japanese and this afternoon will be the second time that she has taught the art of sushi (despite the fact that it is fairly prominent on the hostel flyer). I'm very excited and it also means that we will be eating sushi for dinner! Yumm! Something i miss from home.

I'll let you know how I get on.

x

My new addiction, 19th May 2009

So first I was addicted to Lychees. Then I weaned myself off the lychees. Then came Lijiang and the most amazing snack in the world...

Think the honey comb you get in the middle of a crunchie... well that sort of texture but with the flavour of ginger. It is amazing.

Ginger is my favourite of all the spices and this sweet and hot snack with amazing crunch is just divine.

If your in Chinatown at any point soon go have a look and see if you can find it, you won't be disappointed. It looks a bit like wood chips/bark in a bag.

Monday, 18 May 2009

China, I really like it, 19 May 2009

I really, really, really, really like China.

I love the shopping, the food, the countryside, the cities (albeit small so far) the people, the temples, the park, the sweets, the tacky/glitzy/shiny things... BUT...

I don't really feel any inspiration to write anything here! Good god, at last, the writing machine has finally met her match and run out of things to say. Well, I haven't but I haven't seen anyhting yet that has inspired me to write anything (well, except maybe the pandas, but i'm going to let the video do the talking on that subject). Maybe this will change when I reach the big cities - Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. But it is strange, I haven't been onlien for twelve days and I haven't felt the same need to write as I have in other places. Bizarre eh?

Life as a backpacker, 19 May 2009

So when I left home I was loaded with supplies. Here is a quick rundown (for what purpose I don't know) of how my supplies have depleted in the last 3 and a half months.

Shower Gel - a third of the way through my second bottle (amazing, seeing as showergel always lasted a really short time in communal bathrooms at uni!)

Shampoo - started with a full thing, still have over a third left (probably a sign of the fact that I wash my hair so infrequently)

Conditioner - used less than a third of what i started with

Toothpaste - still got about 2 weeks of teethbrushing left from my original tube

Razor blades - used 3 of 5

Hand cream - half a tube left

After sun - half a bottle left

Sun cream - this is the one thing that really gets used and that i always seem to need. must stock up in Australia as all the sun cream in Asia contains whitening agent - not good for the bronzed beauty look.

Another thing, which I hate to admitt is this... I still have clothes in my rucksack that I haven't yet worn!

Yes, that's right, I've been carrying around a fair amount of clothes that I just have not worn. I can hear my mum tutting now. I know, it's bad. But the clothes I haven't worn are the clothes I intend to wear (and leave) in Australia. They are just a bit cleaner and a bit less backpackery, and more suitable for polite society in Oz.

Backpacker bags, 19th May 2009

One of the things that I have noticed recently are the bags that I have acquired on this trip. Nope, not the devices used for carrying things, the bags under my eyes.

It seems to be an affliction that strikes every backpacker, after a while the bags set in. I think I need some anti wrinkle cream just in case. They don't bother me too much - everyone else has them.

Just remembered... 19th May 2009

I also bought a pair of sunglasses because the ones I bought in KL have practically died! They only cost 1.50.

24 hours lying down, 17/18 May 2009

We've done 24 hour journeys before, but always on a train, never on a bus. Everyone we spoke to was shocked that we were doing 24 hours on a bus. We didn't see a problem. We boarded the bus at 1pm and settled down in our sleeper bunks. It was comfy and there was plenty of head room to sit up when we wanted to. When night came we slept and it was all gravy. It would have been better to do 24 hours on a train, after all you have the space to move around more on a train, but for a bus journey it was a pretty pleasurable experience.

PANDAS: get jealous! 19th May 2009

I spent all morning today watching Pandas!

I love them.

They are just amazing.

I got to watch an amazing brawl between 3 brother pandas fighting over a swing, they kept pushing each other off and they all kept dropping. Very funny. And all on video.

We saw pandas of all different ages.

They really are the best animals ever. They just lie there eating the bamboo and rolling around with their big black eyes, I could have watched them for hours. Although I don't think Emma would have appreciated it.

I think it was the first time I saw pandas ever! They were cool. They had red pandas as well, which are nearly as cool as regular pandas, but all the female red pandas were pregnant so they were catching them all and caging them up so that they could be observed while giving birth (they eat their young if left to their own devices, not a good trait for an endangered species).

I LOVE PANDAS!

People in the People's Park, 18th May 2009

So we set off for the People's Park at about 3pm yesterday. We didn't get there until 7pm. There were too many shops distracting us on the walk there.

But arriving at 7pm was perfect. The park was alive.

Communal dances, tai chi, sword swailing, ballet-esque martial arts, and aerobic classes.

Wandering round was amazing. The people watching was fun.

It was so lovely to see old and young people dancing together as a social activity.

There was one guy who made me laugh, he ambled around looking for a partner to dance with, but one never came to dance with him. So instead he joined the aerobics class on the other side of the space. He was brilliantly unco-ordinated and performed every move 2 beats after everyone else. So funny.

There were loads of kids around too. They all wiggled about on two wheel skate boards (those snake board things that never caught on back home).

Another fascinating sight was the happy clappers. Some of the just stood clapping sporadically. Others clapped by slapping there hand on different parts of their bodies.

People should do this sort of thing back home more. It's really fun.

Tiger Leaping Gorge... in a dress, 15 May 2009

Trekking in a dress is the way forward. I'm sure Mrs Lynch would never approve, but it is definitely the way to go! Here's why...

It's hot when trekking up Tiger Leaping Gorge in May. You are in the sun all day. But there is a nice breeze. Now, when the breeze pciks up there is nothing nicer in the world than it blowing your dress up and letting the breeze get to your body.

So for anyone planning on a trek anytime soon, grab a dress and leggings and enjoy the breeze.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is pretty immense. It is absolutely beautiful, and isn't really a tough trek. The mountain ridges are amazing. There will be photos one day, but who knows when, and to be honest, my pictures will not be as good as seeing it first hand. Sorry 'bout that, but if your ever near by...

Lijiang and Dali, 11-17 May 2009

Lijiang and Dali, Dali and Lijiang, are two lovely little Chinese towns. The old parts of the towns are very traditional and have lovely little buildings which have been turned into shops. They are lovely little towns set in beautiful mountainous landscapes.

Bitten by the shopping bug

Both Emma and I have been good at resisting the temptations of shopping for the trip so far. But since China, this has definitely started to change.

Earrings - 3 pairs - 1 pound/pair
Bracelets - 2 - 1 pound/bracelet
Necklace - 1 - 1 pound
Jeans - 1 - 10 pounds - these are not just jeans, these are customised jeans decorated with chinese-style artwork
Watch - 1 - 20 pence - from a '2 Yuan Shop' - my other watch finally died a death, this new one is red and like a power rangers watch, it has a small Santa Claus on the face and says Merry Christmas.
Dresses - 2 - 2 for less than ten quid - really, really, really pretty! What I shame I'll be returning to autumn/winter in the UK.
Shirt - 1 - 3 pounds - the starting price on this was like 12 pounds, a fair price for the shirt but not what I was prepared to pay, as I walked away they offered me this ridiculous price, I should have said no, but couldn't!
Top - 1 - 3 pounds - i haven't seen another like it
Shoes - 1 pair - 2 pounds, beautiful and chinesey, i'm wearing them now.

God, when you write it all down in a list, there really is a lot. Yikes! My bag is getting heavy as I travel through China.

I heart Mama Naxi's, 13,14,16 May 2009

Mama Naxi's Guest House in Lijiang is recommended by the Lonely Planet. It's been a while since we took a Guest House recommended by Lonely Planet, but now that we are travelling in parts where Guest Houses and Hostels are spread all over cities (and not in condensed Backpack areas) it is proving to be quite helpful.

We were taken to our room first and we were impressed with the bunk beds! Shelves above our heads and cubby holes for your shoes, all topped off with a thick white duvet. Not bad at all.

We were recommended to take dinner there on our first night, and despite our reluctance to eat so early at 6pm, we were very glad when we did.

All the guests were sat around big tables and plates of food were brought out and refilled until everyone was full. You never had to ask for rice, it always refilled by magic, which is the same for the tea there too! The food was delicious and I could easily have eaten the plate of broccoli to myself. The meat was fantastic and it was all lovely. It was like being at home and having a big family meal.

Added to this lovely family feel is Mama Naxi herself. She keeps the guesthouse in check with her fast, shouting commands. At any given moment she is topping up tea, aiding three different travellers with travel advice, rearranging furniture, and dishing out bananas. One night at Mama Naxi's is something that should not be missed on a cultural tour of China.

I think I'm gunna go all out, and declare Mama Naxi's my favourite guesthouse yet.

A nice touch is the good luck charm you are given when you leave. It's a small bag of herbs on a string with bells attached. Sadly, I won't be taking this charm with me, only out of the fear that airport customs will find something illegal in this herbal mix.

The seventh biggest freshwater lake in China, 12 May 2009

I like lakes that are small, ones that you can see from edge to edge, ones that you can row around.

Lake Erhai in Dali is massive. It's nice, but it's massive. With mountains all around, it is beautiful scenery, but again, like in Sapa, it really made me appreciate the UK and all that we have back home. Anyone fancy a trip to the Lake District when I get back?

Pony Trekking, 11 May 2009

We never intended to go Pony Trekking in Dali. We had intended on climbing the mountain that overlooks Dali by cable car. However, we discovered we had walked the wrong way and the only option up was by foot or by horse. Two kiwis were dismounting the horses as we arrived and they recommended the trip highly.

The horse was the same price as the cable car, so we happily went along for a bit of horseriding. After a few minutes on the horse I remembered Harri's recent shoulder blade fracture in New Zealand. Ooops, why was I getting on a horse with the recent knowledge that my friend had done herself an injury while horseriding. Ten minutes on the horse the reality of Harri's incident struck me.

This was a mountain, a steep mountain. The path would have been difficult to climb on foot in boots and there were the horses stumbling and fumbling there way up. There were so many little stones that the horses kept slipping on, and we were guided up some of the narrowest trenches that were not built for horses. A few times the horses resisted and stopped, but most of the way they just kept battling on up hobbling over the stones. Visions of the horses slipping and sending me flying kept springing into mind.

We eventually reached the top and walked a few km to a nearby waterfall. It was such a beautiful waterfall and we climbed our way up trhough the levels. The water was crystal clear and so cold that it made your feet tingle. The pebbles at the bottom were in lovely colours and years of water flow smoothed and shaped the waterfall. It was a little bit like a Feng Shui water fountain that you would buy in habitat.

After we enjoyed the waterfall for a while we decided it was time to head back. The ride back down was going to be hairy!

It was a tense ride. My horse was tied to Emmas and all I could see the whole way down was Emma's horse doing some real fancy footwork as it scrabbled over the stones downhill. There was some definite slipping going on, and it scared me to think what my horse's feet were doing beneath me.

We finally made it to the bottom of the hill, alive and in one piece. Despite the terrain it had been a fun pony trek and well worth the views and the scenery at the top.

The forest of rocks, 10 May 2009

Shillin is a place that comes highly regarded from people who have visited Yunnan so we made the day trip there by bus.

It was a good two hour journey that was broken with a stop off point at a temple. It was a pretty temple and for our first temple in China it was a good 'un.

We arrived at Shillin and it was like Disney Land. Perfectly manicured lawns and lakes with little road trains that guide you around.

Wandering around the Forest of Rocks is pretty special. The rock formations are just incredible and they are pretty giant. From below you really feel as though you are in a forest, which is strange as there are no trees. And when you climb up to the top you feel as if you are on the top of the world. It's a bit like Halong Bay but on land. We should have some awesome pictures that will get added to this blog one day, maybe.

Kunming: No Comment, 9/10 May 2009

Literally, no comment.

We took the cheapest hostel we could find that was close to the bus/train station. We wandered no further down the bus/train station street than our hotel and literally sampled the offerings of this small area of the street. The street offered lots of restaurants and shops so although it was only a 400m street that we explored, it was a jam-packed 400m stretch. Apparently there are temples in Kunming, and a nice park. But there are temples and parks everywhere in China.

I don't feel like we missed out on anything in Kunming.

The Rice Terraces at Yuanyang, 6-9 May 2009

I've always been amazed by rice terraces. The way they are sculpted by hand into hillsides and mountainsides is incredible. Working the terraces is all done by hand also, and the work is just back-breaking.

But having stayed in Yuanyang for three days, I've had enough of them. Yes, they are beautiful. Yes, it is impressive to see how the local people farm the fields. And yes, you can have too much of them!

The reason for such a long stay in Yuanyang was because it took Emma such a long time to reach Yuanyang from the Laos border. I suppose there are worse places to be stuck in China, but after a few days you can't help but feel the old 'Same Same' mantra that haunts much of Asia.

The last twelve days in China (A brief overview)

8th May - Emma finally arrived at YuanYang and we walked to the village of Xincou (actually went into the village - although there wasn't much of interest going on). Dined for 30pence on noodles and a variety of things on skewers.

9th May - Caught the bus to Kunming. Spent the best part of the day on a bus. Checked in to a very posh hotel (well, it had a nice lobby but rubbish rooms) and filled our bladders with free tea. We then made our way to a lovely little restaurant.

10th May - Perused the tourist market by the train station in Kunming then headed to the Rock Forest at Shillin. Returned that evening and made several purchases at the tourist market by the Kunming train station. Got on a sleeper bus to Dali.

11th May - Arrived in Dali at 5am, after finding a hostel we wandered round the streets of Dali and probably spent too much money on things I don't really need! Trekked up the mountain on ponies and then walked on to my favourite waterfall yet! Came back down again on ponies.

12th May - Decided to walk to the seventh biggest freshwater lake in China (4km out of Dali). We ended up setting off at midday so decided to get the bus. Got on a bus that took us to a different part of the lake than we wanted to be. Ended up going round pretty much the entire lake by bus. Got dropped off, we enjoyed the lake and an ice cream and then headed back.

13th May - Took bus to Lijiang. After some skilful map reading and directions we fell across Mama Naxi's guesthouse. We settled in and then explored the surrounding area - which consisted of more shops! Had dinner at Mama Naxi's kitchen. Immense.

14th May - HEaded up to the lake in Lijiang and spent a few hours chillaxing in the beautful surroundings. Visited the park and a temple at the top of the hill. Went back to Mama Naxis for dinner. Yum.

15th May - Morning bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge. Started mini-trek at 2pm and walked until 7pm. Beautiful, beautiful scenery. Slightly tricky at the 28 bends - very steep climb - but not as bad as people made it out to be. Slept in some Chinese mountain lodge, think a swiss log cabin with a chinese twist.

16th May - Walked till 1pm - more beautiful scenery along an easier path. Then back to Lijiang.

17th May - Morning in the shops then on the bus to Chegdu at 1pm.

18th May - Arrive at Chengdu at 1pm (24 hour bus). Wander around the city then head to the park. People watching in the park!

19th May - Morning, get up and go the Panda Breeding Centre. PANDAS! Midday - blogging sesh. Evening - Learning to cook sushi.

So that is pretty much what Emma and I have been up to for the last few days.

Shopping has dominated more heavily in the last twelve days than it has it previous parts of the trip, but we have seen a lot of beautiful scenery and had lots of other fun too. Now that you haev had this overview I'm going to write some proper blog posts. Enjoy x

Kath Petty is a ledge!

So for the second time in China my blog has been blocked. So now I am about to try again via some website that Kath Petty recommends. Fingers crossed that this test post works, or else Gwilym will be posting everything for me again!

Monday, 11 May 2009

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Thursday, 7 May 2009

Panic in the internet cafe, 7 May 2009

So after my exhausting bike ride I decided to have a little bit of an
internet sesh. Here I am now! But this internet/blogging sesh has not
been the norm. I started writing my first post "There may be dragons",
it was all written and I went to publish the post. But the silly
internet wouldn't let me publish. I faffed and I tried to make it all
work, but no... in CHina i cannot publish my blog!

I'm sure avid fans can imagine my trauma! I was beside myself, what could I do?

So, in the interest of public information, the blog posts published
today have all been written by me in one big long email to Gwil, and
Gwil has kindly published the posts for me. Thank you Gwil, we all
appreciate it!

I'm not in Kansas any more, 7 May 2009

So last night we discovered that there was one shop in YuanYang where
you could rent bicycles. The Swiss dude decided that he would take a
bike and head up to some of the villages a little further out. When I
found out that Emma wouldn't be in YuanYang until the 8th I decided
that a day on a bike with the Swiss guy would be kinda cool.

From online forums I knew that the best way to get around the rice
paddies at YuanYang was buy 3-wheeler-taxi-type-mobiles, and these
were a little bit pricey to do alone so I decided to wait until Emma
arrived so that we could do them together.

So this morning we went to the only bike rental place in the town
(this place has next to no tourists and isn't geared up for bike
rentals yet). We collected two racing bikes (not moutain bikes) and we
were off.

Now, YuanYang is in the mountains. The paddy fields line the valley
sides. And getting anywhere in YuanYang involves an uphill journey.
But I didn't realise how steep these hills/mountains were. After ten
minutes i was ready to turn around an go back. I'm not used to riding
a bike on streets, and I'm definitely not used to riding bikes up
mountains.

I got off my bike and started pushing, the swiss guy pedalled slowly
next to me. When the incline levelled out I got back on my bike. The
swiss dude wanted to travel to a village 27km away. Now, if YuanYang
was flat this would not have been a problem for me, but YuanYang is
most definitely not flat! There was a village 6km away and I decided
that I would try and get 6km and see the village there, and save the
rest for Emma and a 3-wheeler-taxi-type-mobile.

I was on my bike, then i was pushing my bike, then i was back on my
bike and then i was pushing again! This was hard work! I ended up
telling the Swiss to go off on his own, I was just holding him up. I
eventually made it to Qingshou, it took over an hour!

It was a lovely villlage with beautiful rice terraces. I got off my
bike and read my book for two hours. It was nice to read a chapter
then look up and see such a beautiful scene in front of me. Pretty
idyllic.

After a couple of hours I decided to head back. Going back was easy,
it was ALL downhill. I made it back in thirty minutes. Ridiculous.

It was a nice bike ride but when Emma arrives we most definitely will
not be cycling around the villages. It's just too knackering.

Sunset at Longshuba, 6 May 2009

The bus arrived at YuanYang at about 4pm so after finding a hotel
myself and the Swiss guy decided to take the 4km walk to Longshuba to
watch the sunset.

The scenery on the walk was stunning. It was far more beautiful than
Sapa and with hardly any low clouds spoiling the view it was lovely.

Although there were no low clouds, there were still high clouds. High
clouds that smothered the whole sunset and ruined it.

Disappointed we went 4km back up the hill and got some dinner.

My name is Amy and I am an addict, 6 May 2009

No, I'm not addicted to anyhting bad or naughty, c'mon this is me! I'm
addicted to Lychees. They are everywehre and are super cheap!
Delicious and nutricious I can get through a massive bunch in minutes!

I remember the first time I ate a lychee, they were on the reduced
counter at tesco when i was bout 11 or 12 and I made mum buy them so I
could try them. I think we only got 8 lychees for a pound. So
expensive. I didn't really like them, they were a bit strange to eat.

I lvoe them now. And I can buy 40 lychees for 20pence. Life is good!

There is a nice new highway between Hekou and YuanYang, 6 May 2009

... but instead our bus driver went along the old road. The old road
is BUMPY and is pretty hellish, especially after six hours!

I didn't expect to find banana trees in China, 6 May 2009

I mean, who ever heard of a Chinese banana? But on the road from Hekou
to YuanYang, they were everywhere. When i first saw trees with banana
leaves on them I could not believe that these were actually banana
trees. It wasn't until we stopped near some trees and I could actually
see the bananas that I was convinced. Very suprising.

My first toilet in China, 6 May 2009

Before boarding the six hour bus journey to YuanYang i felt the toilet
was needed. I didn't really know what to expect from a Chinese toilet,
but this wasn't pleasant. It was like something they had in ancient
Rome. Literally the ladies consisted of a channel that you squatted
over. there were dividers that sort of split the space into cubicles
but with no doors there was no privacy at all. nice!

My First Taste of China, 6 May 2009

I love Chinese food. I have been so excited about the food in China
for such a long time. And guess what the first thing was that I ate...

... garibaldi biscuits! Oh yes!

I had just a few minutes to grab some supplies for the bus journey to
YuanYang and as I whizzed through a small supermarket I managed to
pick up Garibaldi biscuits disguised by chinese symbols.

They were really nice though!

And now I'm in China... 6 May 2009

China is a long way from home, so it feels really weird that getting
to China was so easy. For me, China should be a place that takes a
long flight to reach. Walking over a bridge from Vietnam just seems a
little too easy.

Immigration wasn't too bad. I had my body temperature measured and had
to detail all of the places I had been in the last 14 days - Swine
Flu. But other than that it was easy as pie.

So there I was in China, without a guide book, without a phrasebook
(Emma had both), all I knew was I had to find the bus station and an
ATM by 10am. I walked around and saw neither buses nor banks. I tried
to fumble through with some locals but failed miserably. Then I
bumped into a Swiss guy with a guidebook (a guide book that included a
glossary of words). We then bumped into the YuanYang bus driver and he
took us to the bus station. These really are well-worn roads that I am
travelling on!

Getting to the Chinese border, 6 May 2009

Sapa is just 38km (1 hour) from the Chinese border of Hekou. I found
out that there was a bus from Hekou to YuanYang (where I was meeting
Emma) at 10am, so I had to be in China for then, and given that China
is an hour ahead of Vietnam it was going to mean an early start.

There were regular buses from Sapa to Lao Cai (the border) that ran
all day, but I discovered that they didn't begin until 7.30am, and
they only set off for Lao Cai when they were full. The journey was
going to be an hour so after some calculations it was going to be a
big chance if I chose this option.

I looked into a taxi, but this was going to cost 300,000 dong
(16pounds!) Maybe not!

Steven suggested that we hire the bike again and he would take me on
the bike. He was happy to split the cost and this was a very welcome
option.

After we had spent the day on the bike I was quite confident that the
38km journey by bike would be ok.

I woke up at 5.30am this morning and looked out to see nothing but rain!

That was that, I was getting a taxi for sixteen pounds.

As much as I trusted Steven's motorbike skills, I didn't like the idea
of travelling on such wet roads. It had clearly been raining all
night, and let's face it 16pounds isn't much to pay for peace of mind.

I went to the hotel reception and the girl started ringing for a taxi.
I explained that I needed to get there pretty qyuickly in order to
make my connection. There were just a few taxis in the area, and none
of them were picking up their phones. The girl had an idea.

She went out into the street and a few minutes later came back with a
minibus for me.

The driver had agreed to take me to the border, he wouldn't wait for
any other customers he would take me there directly, for 300,000dong.
It was the same as I would have paid for a taxi so I jumped in and was
on my way to China in my very own mini bus. I'd chartered my own bus,
get me!

Driving to the border I was so releived that I hadn't gone on the
bike, it was pretty much a downhill journey but the roads were so very
wet it was treacherous. I would have hated to have been on a bike. And
I also realised at this point that I would hav got very wet on the
back of a bike - something I hadn't thought of before.

I arrived at the border at 7.50am (Vietnam time) and managed to make
it through Chinese immigration in time to make the 10am bus (Chinese
time). Phew!

What happens when you drop Amy in the middle of a moutain village? , 5 May 2009

I had to buy a new bag in Sapa, my bag from India had died and there
was no way to fix it. I know I'm not supposed to have luxuries such as
bags on this trip, but I like having a shoulder bag to carry round on
a daily basis as it's more convenient than a rucksack.

So when my Indian bag died I had no troubles finding a replacement in
Sapa. I really do think you could drop me in the wilderness and I'd
still come back with a nice new bag. The bag is in the style of the
Sapa Hill tribes, hand-woven and really bright and funky! I love it.

But that's not where the story ends. Oh no, because not only did I
fall across a lovely handbag in the wilderness, I also found a purse
to match it. Now I didn't really need the matching purse. In fact I
didn't need it at all. So I left it and tried to forget about. I
couldn't, I tried, I really tried, but I couldn't. I worked out how
much Dong I would need for the next day and had just enough spare to
buy the purse. It was meant to be! I know have a lovely matching bag
and purse. Love it!

Sapa, dare I say it...? 5 May 2009

Everyone I have met who has been to Sapa raves about it. So in light
of these rave reviews and the fact that it is the closest/nicest place
in Vietnam to the Chinese border, I decided to go there.

I spent two whole days in Sapa and I hate to say it, but it's a little
overrated! There, i said it. It's probably what loads of tourists and
travellers want to say but daren't.

The landscape is beautiful with all the paddy fields across the
valleys. It's fascinating to see the hill tribe communities tending to
the rice by hand in the same way that has been done for the last few
hundred years.

But Sapa as a town is just saturated with tourists with hefty wallets.
It is a big, fat tourist trap and unless you get out into the outlying
villages you don't really see any culture, just a lot of people trying
to sell you bags and earrings.

Unlike the vast majority of backpackers I met, I didn't lose my heart
in Sapa. But it did make me love the UK more. Ok, we don't have paddy
fields and hill tribes, but we do have some beautiful scenery that is
comparable with the landscape here.

There was one thing I promised mum I wouldn't do, 5 May 2009

Before I left home I promised mum that I wouldn't go riding any
motorbikes. Well, I haven't been able to keep that promise. Sometimes
a motortaxi has been the only way to get to a place in which case I
have had to take one, but I have never chosen to take a motorbike when
there has been another option. Until today.

The reason I promised not ride any motorbikes was because of Laura's
incident in Thailand - she got a nasty burn on her calf when the
exhaust of a bike fell on her. I have seen a fair few backpackers
travelling around with similar burns. I didn't want any burns.

So, Sapa... is a nice town, but to see anything you have to get out of
the town. Aside from the nearby villages in the surrounding valleys,
all the other points of interest are out of reach on foot. You can pay
outrageous prices for tours of the local sites, but myself and Steven
(the Belgian guy I met in Hanoi) decided to hire a motorbike to get
around and see the local highlights.

Now, if it were me and Emma alone in Sapa with no motorbike driving
experience I would not have got on a bike, but Steven is a big biker
back home, so I felt comfortable riding around with him.

In a day we travelled about 130km! It was awesome as we got to see so
much that we wouldn't normally see. We saw some amazing paddy fields
and some awesome views of Fansipan (Vietnam's biggest peak), we even
found a gorgeous waterfall. We traveeled to some of the villages that
were further away and it was interesting to see they where the rice
farmers live and work. It was a really good day and a really good way
to explore the area around Sapa.

The roads were pretty steep, and some parts weren't up to UK
standards, but Steven took it all slowly and carefully so that I
didn't feel too uncomfortable. I even got off and walked through some
parts that were particularly ridden with potholes.

Now, I'm not gunna lie... we did have a teeny tiny weeny accident. But
apart from a slight graze on my hand I was absolutely fine and Steven
just got a bump on his leg. So don't panic mum! We were coming back to
the hotel, which is on a really, really steep hill and the bike
stalled as it wasn't in a low enough gear. The bike conked out and we
took a tumble onto the road. My legs were on foot rests above the
exhaust so there were no burns, and my long trousers and rain coat
protected my arms and legs from any grazes. So I was ABSOLUTELY fine!

The day trip was really good, but after a day on a bike I was pretty
biked-out. My thighs were aching because they were tensed for most of
the journey, and my back was aching from the lack of seat. My ears
were ringing too from the constant noise of the wind in my ears.

SO that was that, my first proper bike experience. It was ok, but who
knows when I'll be on a bike again next.

An early morning jog, 5 May 2009

Well, it was hardly early, it was more like mid-morning.

And, to be fair, it was more of a sprint than a jog. A sprint for my life.

So, I'd gone to collect my laundry from a launderette around the
corner from my hotel at 9am. Steven (the Belgian guy I travelled to
Sapa with) and I had planned a day trip so I just had to collect my
laundry before we set off.

So I got to the laundrette and there was a bit of a faff looking for
my laundry, but they got there in the end and back I went to the
hotel.

As I was walking along I saw a couple of dogs playing in the street
and a bigger dog watching close by. As I got closer I heard the bark
of another dog. Then the barking dog appeared from a gateway. It was
big. Then the big barking dog started making its way towards me. It
was running towards me. It was going to kill/eat me.

I was running so fast and screaming so loud that my lungs hurt. The
dog was really close. I contemplated throwing my bag of laundry at it,
but then I realised that I would then have to go back and retrieve the
laundry. The dog got closer and closer and I couldn't see anyone
around for protection. Then I saw a side street, with people,
clutching my laundry I pelted up the side street and once I got close
to other people the dog stopped and went back.

It took a good few minutes to get my breath back. I was so relieved to
be alive. I couldn't believe it. If i'd tripped or stumbled I'd have
been dog food.

There may be dragons, 4 May 2009

I don't know what I'm quoting in the title of this post. It could be
something massively geeky to do with Dungeons and Dragons, but I'm not
sure, it's just something that is lodged deep at the back of my brain
that feels like a good title for this post.

Anyway...

When I was younger, I used to think that Hills and Mountains were
Dragons and Dinosaurs that had died and then grass had grown over.

I've just come back from a walk to Cat Cat Village. I walked down the
Valley, up the other side and then around the top of the Valley. On my
three hour walk I came to a sure conclusion: the moutains in Sapa were
definitely Dragons. In the landscape you can see the flared nostrils
and long snouts, the folded wings and the long ridge-like spines. And
with the low clouds these dragons are definitely the kind that breathe
fire and puff smoke.

I feel like I'm in a different world, not Vietnam. But standing on top
of all the paddie fields, surrounded dragon-mountains you can see
where all the Vietnamese legends began.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Can you believe it?

I can't believe that for once, I'm actually up to date with my blog. Ok there are still a couple of outstanding posts from Thailand, but generally I'm up to date. Woohoo! But don't get too excited because you know it won't last long.

Lots of love to everyone reading this.

x

And now... I'm in Sapa, 4 May 2009

I'm now Sapa a beautiful town in the North Western Highlands.

There are mountains all around, rice paddies everywhere, people dressed in hill tribe clothes. It is so lovely.

I'm actually wearing my hoodie becuase it is so cool, I feel like I can breathe again after all the heat and humidity of recent weeks.

I'm staying here until Wednesday, then I will head to China (about an hour away from here).

I'm going to go and have an exploration!

Twelve hours in the hard seats, 3 May 2009

As I walked along the platform I looked into one of the sleeper carriages. It was luxurious. It probably cost a fortune, but with the feather pillows and duvets, the people riding in those carriages would definitely be getting sleep tonight.

Down at carriage 10 we found the hard seats, and yes they were hard!

I stowed my ruck sack under the seat and took out my hoodie as a cushion. Rather annoyingly I had lost my cow-shaped neck pillow on the bus to Halong Bay!

As the train set off the bench across was empty so Steven jumped on to the opposite bench and we both had the equivalent of two seats each. This was nice and I managed to cwtch up and get some sleep.

A few hours later and the train stopped and Steven was psushed off his bench. So then I was sat upright, but I was so tired that I still managed to sleep by using my small rucksack as a head support. Awesome.

A few hours later again another bench became free and I was back to having two seats to myself again. woop!

It wasn't the most comfortable journey ever, but I got a fair amount of sleep maybe about eight hours. To say how much I was dreading it, I was really lucky that it worked out ok.

Two days in Hanoi, 2-3 May 2009

Saturday morning was a lazy one. I had to sleep until 10am to catch up on my tiredness from the previous day.

When I got up I met a Belgian guy called Steven in my dorm. He was on his way to the train station buy a train ticket to go to Sapa that evening. I needed to go the train station to buy my ticket to Sapa for Sunday night so I joined him.

When we got there we discovered there were no sleeper tickets to Sapa until Wednesday night! This bloody bank holiday was starting to annoy me! It was affecting everything I wanted to do.
Steven was gutted that he wasn't going to be getting to Sapa that evening. We discovered that they had hard seats left for the Sunday night train so booked it.

For four pounds it wasn't going to be the nicest journey ever, but at least it would get us to Sapa. With the tickets bought we went to explore the city.

Hanoi doesn't seem as busy as Ho Chi Minh City. It's still really nice with nice big lake, lots of markets, stores and lots of busy life going on everywhere. We found a peaceful spot in a pagoda in the middle of the lake.

In the evening we decided to go see a Water Puppet show. This was incredible. The music, the puppets, the innocence of it all! Truly magical with bright colours and amazing puppets. There were about 15 scenes acted out including the myth of the turtle in Hanoi lake. It was such a nice evening.

On Sunday morning I got up early and headed to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. This is where I get really confused, Ho Chi Minh City is in the South aka Saigon, and Ho Chi Minh's body is in the North in Hanoi. it really is too much confusion for my little mind.

He wasn't as scary as Lenin whose eyes are slightly open. And he's certainly looking good for his age!

Again, it was a toruist Sunday so everyone was out with full force. Oh my god I was getting so annoyed with the middle class Vietnamese families. One man kept stepping on my flip flop at every step and constantly pushe into me so I would move! Happy I was not, so I let him walk in front! Grrr!

I had a walk around Ho Chi Minh's former residences and the museum. The museum was ridiculously busy so I didn't get to read/learn a lot about his life. BUt the museum was a spectacle in itslef, it was one big piece of modern art and was amazing to admire.

In the afternoon Steven and I found another lake that was off the tourist track and so we sat people watching for the whole afternoon. It was fascinating!

We grabbed some dinner and then made our way to the train station for our twelve hour ride in the hard seats!

Halong Bay, 1 May 2009

Despite the stress and trauma of what to do and where to go, my four hour boat ride was lovely.

Halong Bay is absolutely spectacular.

From the bus you could see the individual islands out at sea, and when you reached them by boat it was stunning.

Halong Bay is probably the most beautiful natural wonder that I have seen on this trip so far. The limestone islands are so dramatic and evocative.

Given the crap, rainy weather that I have had in Vietnam I was surprised to have an aftrenoon of sunshine. It was a beautiful blue sky back drop to the magical scenery.

We even went in two the caves which were awesome. There were so many faces hiding in the stalagmites and stalagtites.

In the space of 4 hours, I took 225 photographs. Many of which HAVE to be deleted, but it was such a beautiful sight that I kept having to take photos to capture it all! So lovely! If you ever go to Vietnam and you miss Halong Bay, you have seriously missed out.

I'm not normally an indecisive person, 1 May 2009

I'm a bish, bash, bosh kinda girl, but as I boarded the bus from Hoi An to Hanoi on Thursday I really didn't know where I was going or what I intended to do.

I had a few options:

1. Get to Hanoi and spend a day/night in Hanoi before heading to Halong Bay on the Saturday
2. Get straight on another bus from Hanoi directly to Halong Bay
3. Get straight on another bus from Hanoi directly to Ninh Binh

As much as I loved the South of Vietnam, I definitely whizzed through it to give me the time to do what I wanted to do in the North (Ninh Binh/Ha Long Bay/Sapa).

All on the bus journey I was contemplating what I was do. I kept flicking through the pages of Lonely Plant unsure.

I knew I wanted to get to Halong Bay, and all I had heard was that it was a $70 trip from Hanoi. That was for two days with a night on a boat that included games and kareoke! I knew that I wasn't going to pay $70 so I would have to do it independently. The French guys in Hoi An had done it themselves and it had worked out better for them.

So as the bus pulled into Hanoi at 7.30am I still didn't know what I was doing. I faffed a bit and then decided on a whim to go straight to Halong Bay.

I figured I would go to Halong Bay stay the night there before heading to Ninh Binh then back to Hanoi.

Woohoo! I had a plan.

I jumped on a bus to Halong Bay and it was nice to be with all the locals trying to make conversation.

Three hours later I was in Halong City and I jumped on a taxi/bike to take me to the marina. We hit a load of traffic.

It was at this point I remembered that it was the Vietnamese National Holiday - Thursday to Sunday. Every Vietnamese person and his dog had come to Halong Bay today and getting to the Marina was impossible. The bike driver weaved through the cars and eventually we made it to the marina.

It was ridiculously busy with people.

I was offered 20 quid for a 4 hour boat ride. 20quid! No thank you! I walked away and asked some people with rucksacks how much they had paid. They were not in good spirits. They had arrived the afternoon before and got the last ferry to Cat Ba Island (in the middle of Ha Long Bay). The only problem was that there were no hotels with vacancies on the island, and because there were no ferries to the mainland till the next morning, they ended up sleeping in a door way! And they told me they weren't the only ones! I had contemplated getting the ferry to Cat Ba and spending the night there rather than in Halong City, but when I heard that I instantly decided that I would stay in Halong City. Then the same people told me that because of the public holiday all the hotels had put up there prices to minimum 30 dollars a night. And that was the cheap places as well!

I couldn't believe I'd picked the busiest day in the world to visit Halong Bay.

Not sure of where I would be spending the night I haggled a 4 hour boat tour down to 16quid and jumped on.

Please remember that trhough all of this I have my big back pack in tow as well!

I fancied a bite to eat, I had only had a bag of crisps, but there was no time for me to get food as I was pushed on to my boat.

I put my bag down nice and safe and got chatting to a Canadian guy who was on a day trip for $35. He affirmed everything I'd heard so far about ridiuclously priced hotels in Halong City. But he was going back to Hanoi that evening on the coach. This put another idea into my head, may be I should go back to Hanoi after the boat trip and try and stoway on his coach! Sorted, there was my plan!

But then I realised that If I went to Hanoi I would miss out on Ninh Binh. I asked the guide on the boat if there was a bus to Ninh Binh from Halong City, he said there was but he wasn't sure on times.

Ninh Binh isn't really a place that attracts locals so it was a good option as the hotels wouldn't be super expensive like they were in Halong City. Once again I had a plan. After my boat tour I would go to the bus station, jump on a bus to Ninh Binh, arrive there at about 10pm and then spend the following day there before going back to explore Hanoi. Sorted.

I tried to get some food on the boat, but because I hadn't prebooked there was no food for the taking. I 'satisfied'my rumbling tummy with a can of 7Up.

(I'll write another post about the boat trip separately!)

So the boat returned to the marina and I darted to the bus stop as quickly as a hungry person could. The kind lady told me that the last bus to Ninh Binh left 5 hours earlier! What! Waht sort of service is that. I panicked, I was stranded in Halong City with nothing but over priced rooms! Arggh! There were still buses in the bus station so I asked where they were going... Hanoi in two minutes! So, I jumped back on the bus to Hanoi without time to even grab something to eat! Three hours later I was back where I started 15 hours before!

I went into the city and found a bed for $3 and a packet of crisps for 5000 dong. I went straight to bed absolutely exhausted.

The moral of this story is "it doesn't pay to be indecsive in Vietnam on a bank holiday weekend when prices are hiked up!"

Nightbuses in Vietnam, 30 April 2009

My experience of nightbuses has not been so great on this trip so far. There was the night bus to Kathmandu where I didn't sleep a wink, the night bus from Jodhpur to Udaipur where I managed about twenty minutes of sleeping, and the night bus from Thailand to Laos where I got some sleep, but it was hardly restful.

The nightbuses in Vietnam are truly awesome. As I said before they practically recline all the way and despite the occasional bump in the road it is easy to get a good nights sleep.

Some seats are better than others, and I would say out of three over night buses, that I prefer to be in the middle on the lower berth - you feels the bumps less and you can stick your bum out into the aisle. I really like Vietnamese buses!

Auld Lang Syne, 30 April 2009

Part of the Mekong Delta day trip involved a little traditional music show. It was cute, a little painful on the eardrums in part, but lovely. As the singers and musicians sung out for the finale I was shocked at what I was hearing. This sounded just like Auld Lang Syne.

I was surrounded by Ozzies but managed to lean over to a Cornish guy and ask him if he was hearing the same thing. He shrugged his shoulders, "it sounds the same, but I'm not sure". It was a real 'same, same, but different' scenario. The tune was the same, but with the Vietnamese lyrics it was hard to definitely say that it was Auld Lang Syne.

When I was in Hoi An old town yesterday I watched another musical performance that ended with Auld Lang Syne again. This time I was sure of what I was hearing!

It is really bizarre and disorientating to hear a tune that is so familiar with home and New Year in the middle of Vietnam, really bizarre.

Threading, again, 30 April 2009

As I wandered around Hoi An on my final morning I was accosted in the Old Town by a woman who insulted me by telling my eyebrows were overgrown. I didn't think they were too bad actually. I hadn't touched them with tweezers since I had them threaded in India and I had been thinking that they could maybe do with a little tidy up.

We agreed 10,000 dong (less than 50p) and I was taken to her little stall for my eyebrows to be tidied.

Oh my god, did it hurt? Ouch! The lady in India was fast and pain free, the Vietnamese lady was slow and most definitely not pain free! It hurt loads, really loads! But my eyebrows looked good, so I wasn't complaining/

Once the eyebrows were done, she offered to thread my legs. Again her price was a reasonable four pounds, but after the pain of the eyebrows I wasn't sure if could sit through anymore. I looked at my legs closely and decided that they definitely needed something doing to them. I agreed.

I'm used to waxing my legs back home, i don't find it painful in the slightest, but having your legs threaded is an altogether different story.

Everytime i let out a yelp the little lady would repeat the mantra "No Pain, No Gain". Thorugh gritted teeth I repeated her mantra with my body squirming and writhing all over the place as she pulled every single hair from my leg.

It took thrity minutes to do the front of one leg. I had to catch my next bus in 45 minutes. There was no way she was going to finish. I reminded her of my bus and her response was this: "Worry not." She let out a whistle and two more women came along with their spools of thread.

As if the pain wasn't bad enough already, I now had the pain coming from three different parts of my legs and three different voices singing "no pain, no gain" to me! Arghhh!

After an hour and ten minutes of constant pain I had nice smooth legs! Lovely jubbly!

I took my money out to pay her, and at this point the cheeky mare tried it on. She insisted that we had agreed to 4pounds a leg, and so she wanted 8 pounds. I wasn't having any of it so gave her the agreed fee and walked away. She didn't bother to chase me, so it was clear she was trying it on. Hoenstly, the cheek!

Err... excuse me there's a rat/mouse in my room, 29 April 2009

As I mentioned before, my hotel in Hoi An has a really strange set up. I had it to myself the first night, but on the second night I had a Japanese roomy... and a rat/mouse!

When I came in this evening the room was empty. I saw a flash of a tail scutter under the bed which I assumed was a lizard. How weird that the lizard is on the floor, they normally cling to the walls!

So I got on with my bits and pieces and was pottering around. The Japanese guy came in and straight away showed me his biscuit box that he had left on his bed - gnaw marks all over it. He pointed and announced there was a rat!

I wasn't having it. No, no, no.

Yes, yes, yes. "I saw the rat" said the Japanese guy.

So I hadn't seen a lizard's tail, I'd seen a rat's tail. Oh joy!

I've already apologised to the dude in case I wake up in the night screaming!

Thirty minutes later.

I've just seen the rat. I think it's actually a mouse. It's too small to be a rat. Or maybe it's a baby rat. Yuk!

A new type of noodle, 29 April 2009

I have been in South East Asia for 42 days. And I can see, with great coinfidence, that I have eaten at least one meal of noodles every day for the last 42 days.

And, I'm not bored of them yet!

Noodles back home are essentially Sharwoods wheat noodles. Delicious, yes, but out here noodles come in all shapes and sizes.

Mama Noodles are essentially super noodles. Sometimes you get duped into a meal that is served with Mama Noodles and not proper noodles!

Thin rice noodles are yummy.

Fat rice noodles are so glutinous and chewy that they are just the best.

Standard wheat noodles have appeared in Vietnam.

Green noodlez are pretty good too.

We've only had one noodle incident so far, and that was in Siem Reap. We ordered Mama noodle with pork, expecting that Mama noodles were the fat rice noodles i.e. Big Fat Mama noodles. They weren't, they were super noodles. The word disappointed just didn't cut it.

So anyway, I've just discovered a new noodle at a little stall by the river in Old Hanoi. The dish is a local one called Cao Lau and the noodles were awesome, thick and juicy goodness. The best way for me to describe this is the the crisps "French Fries" but soft and noodly! YUMM! Served with gammon, green leaves, croutons and beansprouts. THis is my new fabourite Vietnamese dish!

Hoi An: More thant just a place for pretty dresses, 29 April 2009

Hoi An is also a really pretty town. The buildings are all old and have dark wooden shutters and yellow exteriors. There is a real culmination of Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese styles. It was really nice to walk around the old part and along the river. Really lovely. I'll add some pictures to here one day so you can see.

A fitting at the tailors: Heaven or Hell?, 29 April 2009

As I walked over to the tailors I was petrified. What were they going to give me? Jeans that were too short? Skinny jeans? A dress that looked nothing like the picture? A dress that looked nothing like my biro sketch?\

The jeans were ready and waiting for me and they fit perfectly. It was a delight to put them on and such a relief too. They even had a Dolce and Gabbanna button! At least if the dresses were crap I had a decent pair of jeans for sixty quid! Cringe!

I had to wait for the dresses. My nerves got worse as I sat chatting to the shop assistants. Thirty minutes later they appeared.

On with the Stella McCartney dress first. The fabric was lush and it was all on the cut. I pulled it on and I fell in love with it. Soooo pretty. I'm not been funny, but it was better than the one that Ms McCartney herself designed!

The second dress looked beautiful and as I put it on I was superhappy.

The experience was such a relief. There were just a few tiny alterations to be made to the dresses but all was good. I was back in heaven again.

The thought of wasting 60 quid on two dresses and jeans had been eating me alive for the past 24 hours. It was such a relief to have got the results that I wanted and two pretty-pretty dresses. Heaven!

Cooking the Vietnamese way, 28 April 2009

Starter:

Spring Rolls
Papaya Salad

Mains:

Vietnamese grilled fish
Hoi An style rice
Ancient style vegetables

Oh my god, it was amazing! And eating it all was an absolute delight! Just call me chef!

An afternoon on the beach, 28 April 2009

The last time I rode a bike was in Laos. There were tracks there and no cars or traffic. The time before that, the last time I rode a bike was probably around my quiet street when I was twelve. I'm not a big cyclist, and I don't think I've ever ridden on a main road.

Well, if I wanted to get to the beach I had to learn fast.

Hoi An is a very quiet place, but it still has a fair few bikes, scooters and cars on the road.

I was a little apprehensive at first and had a panic at the first traffic light, but it was all fine. I could have done with a little bell. But by the time I had reached the beach (4km away) I was a total pro, I was even overtaking the slow people.

Hoi An beach is lovely. Much nicer than Nha Trang. I sat of the golden sand in the sun updating my scrap book for a few hours.

I met two French guys on the beach who convinced me into taking a cooking class that evening (it didn't take a lot of convincing as it was only going to cost 6quid). We arranged a meeting point for later that evening and I stayed on the beach a little longer. It is really strange to be able to arrange meeting points with people without the use of a mobile! You agree a time and a place and you both turn up. It's so easy! Life without a mobile is simple!

IT got to time that I had to cycle back, so i picked up my bike from the bicycle shed and headed back. The rain was looming so I pedalled really fast. After a while I began to realise that I didn't recognise anything. Hmmm... maybe this was part of the outgoing journey where i was getting to grips with the bike and therefore i hadn't noticed where i was. I carried on a bit further. Then i realised there were no other tourists on bikes anymore. At this point I decided that I must have gone too far. Please note, the road from the town to the beach is one straight road with no turnings so I knew that I wasn't lost!

I pulled over and showed my map to a Vietnamese man. I was off the map by a long way. SO I turned my bike around and cycled back super fast now that the rain was starting to spit.

When I reached the main crossroads in Hoi An I couldn't understand how I had driven past it. It was so prominent. Then again, as I cycled along I was singing the tune of the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz, so I wasn't concentrating completely on the task in hand.

I dropped off my bike and made it to my rendez vous with the French guys and was only ten minutes late after my detour.

After all the stress of the cycling, the getting lost, and then the rush to meet the French guys, I had forgotten all about my worries with the tailor. Perfecto!

Hoi An: Heaven and Hell, 28 April 2009

After a second comfortable night on a sleeper bus I woke up in Hoi An.

I found a dorm room straight away, although it was not what I expected... It was a twin room that they used as a dorm. So when I rocked up at 6am there was one guy already in there asleep and an empty bed. I got straight in the empty bed and had a nap to prepare myself for the day ahead.

By 10am I was out on the streets of Hoi An. I was literally dazed and confused.

If you've not heard of Hoi An before (or didn't watch the Vietnam episode of Top Gear), Hoi An is the place to go for clothes. There are hundreds of tailors, millions of reams of fabric and a whole lotta sewing machinces raring to go.

Every other shop is a tailor and I was lost. How did I know which one to go for. A couple of people had given me recommendations but still, there were loads.

All of a sudden some lady came up to me in the street and asked if I would go to her shop. I wasn't getting anywhwere by wandering aimlessly so I agreed.

I jumped on the back of her pedal bike and she drove me to her shop.

There were two German girls in the shop trying on dresses that they had made. The dresses were beautiful. The girls gave a really nice recommendation for this store. They had bought stuff from a few other shops but they said this was their favourite.

So there I was, sitting down with folders filled with pictures from all the UK glossy magazines. I was like a kid in a candy store. I was given a deck of playing cards to use to bookmark the pages in the folder. There weren't many cards left once i had worked my way through all the folders.

Once I had been through the foledrs I decided to take a break away from the pretty dreesses and concentrate on what I really needed: jeans.

When I left home I only had one pair of jeans left in the world. All my others had disintergrated beyond recognition with holes and rips.

I don't think I have ever had a pair of jeans that fit properly, and here I was being measured up for a new pair of tailor made jeans! Woop! I wanted baggy jeans, in a thin material and in a light colour. Except they only had a dark denim. I found a shade that I liked and went with that. With the jeans settled it was time to head back to the dresses.

The first dress i bookemarked was a lovely little sequinned number. Oh yes, i may be slumming it with a back pack but i still can't resist the lure of sequins.

What happened next was probably a blessing. They didn't have any sequinned material. I was taken to a couple of material stores and there was litterally no sequins to be found! As I say this was probably a blessing, as 75% of the dresses that I had bookmarked contained sequins. This saved me a small fortune.

I was quite restrained, and when I looked at the dresses for a second time I was able to eliminate a fair few.

Inside the folder there was one dress that I really liked, and in the stunning fuschia satin that sat on the shelf it would be beautiful for a wedding. I don't know anyone who is getting married as yet, but hopefully by the time I get home there will be a wedding or some other occasion that the dress will be suitable for.

I only have one dress regret in my life. It was a stuning Stella McCartney dress in TK Maxx. It was origninally priced at 300pounds and was reduced to 100pounds. A few weeks later the price was down to fifty pounds. Out of greed I hoped it would drop further, but when i went back a week later it was gone. It was such a lovely dress.

So with a tailor ready and raring to make anything I wanted and hoards of beautful silk, I made my Stella McCartney Dress.

After three hours in the shop I left. Once every inch of my body had been measured I left the tailor with a description of the jeans I wanted, a picture of a dress cut from a magazine and a wobbly drawing of a dress I saw twice last year, oh and I also handed over the equivalent of forty quid! Ouch!

I needed a sit down. I was actually in a state of shock. What if the clothes didn't turn out how i wanted.? What if the styles i'd chosen didn't suit me? What if I've paid too much? What if? What if? What if?

Just a few hours before I had been in heaven, i could have any clothes i wanted, it's a girls dream! And there I was, in absolute hell with worry. What had I done?

I rented a bike and cycled down to the beach. I needed to escape the town and the tailors who kept tempting me to spend more money.

Twelve hours in Nha Trang, 27 April 2009

So I arrived in Nha Trang at 6am and my next sleeper bus was leaving at 6pm. I had twelve hours to explore.

Nha Trang is a bit of a party place. All the travellers go there for beach and booze. And to be honest, I didn't real fancy either of those things. Most people stay a few days or even week, not me, just a day!

I dumped my bag at the bus agents and left it there and I set off to admire the beach.\

At 6.30am the scene was brilliant, all the locals were doing there jogging, powerwalking, tai chi, yoga and other types of excercise along the beach front. With plugged in to ears it looked like a Vietnamese Venice Beach. (I've never been to Venice Beach but I imagine that's what it would be like.

The beach itself wasn't all that. There were a few islands off the coast and I imagine the beaches would be much nicer there.

After soaking up the atmosphere of the beach scene, I walked along the beach front to a "Rock Promonatory". The walk along the beach was lovely and I watched all the early morning fishing boats come into the harbour. When I reached the Rock Promonatory it was beautiful. Such amazing views of the whole beach and the islands. It was a really nice place for a sit and a relax. And as it was still really early, I had it all to myself.

From there I wandered to a little temple but on the way I was accosted by a group of locals who asked me to join them at the roadside for a coffee. How could I refuse? I don't really like coffee, but I figured that I should try Vietnamese coffee - it's famous y'know! And what better company than the locals to try the local coffee with. I didn't like it but I politely drank it as we chatted about the war and abuot Vietnam generally. When they went to top up the bitter coffee sweetened by condensed milk I had to decline. After about 30 minutes I was on my way again.

The temple was really pretty made of red stone, and by this point (around 9am) it was starting to get busy with tour groups.

Wandering round the city streets I happened upon a market. Fancy that! I was very restrained and only bought some flip flops (only because they had them in my size and my current flip flops are ready to break).

I took a lovely lunch by an awesome white buddha. Against the bright blue sky the white statue was beautiful. The views of the city from the top were great too.

And that was it, that was the city done. I wandered further thorugh some streets and found msyelf back at the beach.

There was a brilliant scene where a group of Vietnamese kids were throwing a dead fish at each other. It was hilarious and everyone on the beach was watching and laughing. But then the laughter turned to stifled giggles as one kid turned and through the dead fish at two Aussie girls sat close to them. Needless to say, the Aussies were not impressed.

It was nice to sit on the beach and there was hardly any hassle. But my relaxing beachy afternoon was cut short by the onset of a horrendous downpour.

So, I found the nearest internet cafe, and hid out there! I did some good blogging that afternoon until it was time to catch my bus!

It was a nice day in Nha Trang. Walking around, absorbing the scenes around me, chatting to locals. I already had a good vibe about Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang had affirmed that good vibe in just 12 hours.

Onwards from Ho Chi Minh City, 26 April 2009

With only 13 days to explore and enjoy Vietnam I needed to get a wriggle on, so, as soon as I was back from the Mekong Delta tour I was off on the sleeper bus to Nha Trang.

Two and a half days in Ho Chi Minh City wasn't really enough. But I got a great taste for the city in a really short space of time. Wandering around was mentally busy and every street had something new and exciting to see. I think I like busy cities, a lot.

The night bus was really impressive. The seats reclined almost the whole way! The Vietnamese guy across the aisle from me was keen to look after me and make sure I was comfortable. How sweet! And in the twelve hour journey I managed to get a good eight hours sleep. Get in!

At 6.30am on 27 April I woke up in Nha Trang.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A day on the Mekong Delta, 26 April 2009

Dad used to sing a song to me when I was little about the Mekong Delta. I knew I wouldn't have time to get to the Mekong Delta solo, so with a Mekong Delta day trip on offer I just had to do it. I mean I'd swum in the Mekong River (well tubed, actually), but this was the Mekong Delta... this is what Dad used to sing about.

I'd be lying if I was saying it was an amazing day. It was ok. I was expecting beautiful scenery along the river banks, but what I got was something very industrial and very built up with industrial fishermen at work. There weren't actually that many islands in the part of the Mekong that we visited either. We crossed to 4 different islands: Unicorn, Dragon, Tortoise and Phoenix Islands. I didn't see any Unicorns, Dragons, Tortoises or Phoenixes which, of course, was a disapointment. The islands themselves were very pretty. And we took a rowing boat through the rivers of one of the islands. That was probably the highlight of the day. The small rivers were banked with water coconut trees, big palm leaves and mangroves. There were kids swimming along, people fishing and a rustic island life was going along as normal. This is what I expected from the Mekong Delta. I guess I just expected it ALL to be like that. I was disappointed by the Mekong Delta, but at least I got a small flavour of what I expected.

What a difference a little bit of education makes, 25 April 2009

I learnt about the Vietnam war for my GCSEs. Admittedly, a lot of that history was buried deep inside a dusty part of my brain, but it all came flooding back when confronted with it at the War Remnants Museum.

The first area told all the facts. The statistics. The numbers and figures that I learnt at school. But the museum was so much more than a topic in a history book. Here, the basic history I learnt back then was made 'real' by the stories and images that I had never seen before.

Moveing round the msueum was fasincating. There was a brilliant photo exhibition with photos taken by photographers who died in the war. Some of the photos were brilliant. They captured the absolute trauma of war with pictures of soldiers, civilians and bomb blasts. These pictures were incredible. It was sad to read stories which explained how a few minutes after taking a certain photo, the photographer had died. So many photographers saw it as their duty to be there, to photograph the realities of war, and many even said that they were willing to die in order to show the rest of the world just how bad the war really was.

Another exhibition detailed the stories of the people who suffered during the war. Individual tales of sadness and despair.

The most moving was the Agent Orange area in the museum. Photos of the victims lined the walls. There was even a deformed foetus on display. Some of the photos were from the war, there were others that were more recent showing the effects that Agent Orange still has on the country. One fact stood out as being horrendous. It would take 1tsp of Agent Orange (Napalm) to devestate a city, the Americans used hundreds of thousands of gallons in the war. (Correct me if I'm wrong on this, but I can't find where I wrote this down and i think this is what i remember it to be).

With a day in the tunnels and the museum the history I learnt at school was really brought to life. I wasn't moved in the same way that I was in Cambodia, by having the facts in my mind already it was a lot easier to digest, and I found the personal stories really illuminated my understanding.

You don't have to wander far in Vietnam to see someone who is clearly a victim of Agent Orange or of a landmine. It is so sad that even after the war is over, even after the country is unified, independent and happy, that the horrors of the war still prevail and impact on the lives of the Vietnamese people.

Cu Chi Tunnels, 25 April 2009

We three girls booked on a tour so that we could explore the Cu Chi tunnels. It only cost $5 and most importantly included a tour guide who was worth his weight in gold!

The Cu Chi tunnels are about two hours outside Ho Chi Minh and are a network of tunnels which were used by the Viet Cong during the war. The Guerillas would hide from the American Forces and Southern Vietnamese army underground in the tunnels. The network of tunnels stretched for 200km towards the Cambodian border and provided an exceptional means for communication.

We got on our mini-bus and met our guide, Hai. He introduced himself as a Veteran of the Vietnamese war. Everyone on the bus was instantly enthralled by his words. This man had survived the Vietnam War and was telling us all about it, ALL about it.

On the back row of the bus were four scouse lads. And when I say lads, I mean lads. The word rowdy doesn't cut it! But they kept asking questions, and suprisingly, they were intelligent questions. Although some of their comments between themselves were a little off the mark, the things they were asking Hai were really poignant. And he was only too happy to tell all.

We learnt about his experiences with American soldiers, how he felt about fighting for the South Vietnamese army - then and now, his feelings about Communism, how he used to feign sickness to avoid the front line in tough times, how he was affected by the death of the man who was shot dead next to him while they were mid-conversation. He was a truly fascinating man to have as a guide and made the day truly amazing.

He took us round the tunnels. Obviously as he was with the South Vietnamese Army he did not hide out in the tunnels, but he still had a lot to tell about them. He showed us the traps that were set for the enemies which consisted of concealed deep pits with metal spikes at the bottom to impale enemies. The spikes would be covered in faeces to ensure a slow death made worse by poison.

He showed us the holes which the Viet Cong sat and hid in. The holes were tiny, I sat in one for about thirty seconds and found it stuffy and claustrophobic. I couldn't imagine having to hide out in one of these holes.

Hai guided us through one of the tunnel passages, this was insanely small and I was on my hands and knees for most of it. It would have been a horrible place back then when there would have been the noise of the constant bombing.

Underground was a proper living area. There were kitchens (the chimney was strategically positioned in undergrowth so that the smoke wouldn't draw attention from anyone above. There were parts for sleeping. The tunnels had three levels of depth and each level was used for different purposes.

We asked Hai how long the Viet Cong would spend inside these tunnels at a time. The answer... "Up to eight hours". It all depended on the length of the attack from above.

There were lots of craters around the sight that were left by bombs. And we were told that all the trees and shrubs were wiped out by the Napalm that was spread so liberally across the area.

Given that the Americans pumped so much money into munitions and poisons it was an absolute wonder that the Viet Cong won. But as we learnt more about the tunnel networks, the Guerilla tactics and most importantly the mutual trust amongst the Northern (and some Southern) Vietnamese people, it became clear that the Viet Cong really were a forced to be reckoned with.

All the way back to Ho Chi Minh questions were being hurled at Hai about his experiences and everyone, including the rowdy scousers, sat, listened and learned. It was such an interesting morning that Nina, Kirsty and wanted more, and so we went to the War Remnants Museum.

Sex and the Ho Chi Minh City, 24 April 2009

So I left Emma in Cambodia doing her volunteering and ventured further into Asia solo.

Except it wasn't really solo. I made friends with Nina and Kirsty on the bus and when we landed in Ho Chi Minh City we took a cab and went on the hunt for a hotel room together.

With a hotel room found we headed for lunch and didn't get much further. We had intended on going to the war museum that afternoon but we were all chatting too much over our leisurely lunch and we realised we wouldn't have long enough to explore the museum before it closed. So we did what girls do best... hit the shops! Or in the case of Ho Chi Minh City, the market!

Oh my god the market was amazing. It was full of beautiful, shiny, glittery things, and we three girls stuggled to restrain ourselves. I invested in a gorgeous little watch, some may call it garish, others may think it hideous, but, for me, it was love at first sight.

After a few hours in the market Nina, Kirsty and I were shopped out and in need of cocktails. But first, we had to get ready!

Donning the best outfits our backpacks held we made our way to the centre of Ho Chi Minh nightlife... Go Bar. This place matched the frenzy and chaos of the rest of the city. Outside were a million touts, and because each floor inside the bar was different, all of them were competing with each other! Literal chaos.

So with cocktails on a "Buy 2 get 1 Free" offer we went for all the Vietnamese cliches imaginable: "Good Morning Vietnam", "Miss Saigon"... ok there were only two cliche cocktails so we finished off with a Manhattan - they didn't know what a Cosmo was! Can you believe it!

Night time in Ho Chi Minh City was buzzy and great, it wasn't quite New Yoik City but it was a super fun night.

I've heard a lot of bad things about Vietnam, 25 April 2009

Now this is going to be the post that really tempts the fates...

Before coming to Vietnam I had heard so many things about bus drivers demanding more money, dodgy taxi drivers, fake train tickets. As I entered Vietnam I was on guard and waiting for all this to happen.*

I know I've only been in Ho Chi Minh a day, but I have met lovely people and feel safe and happy in the heart of this mental city. I realise that there is more to Vietnam than Ho Chi Minh, but if this is a sign of things to come, I just know I'm going to love it here.

* Don't worry I haven't let my guard down yet!

The best border crossing yet... Getting into Vietnam, 24 April 2009

Border crossings can sometimes be a bit of a hassle and faff. But the crossing from Cambodia into Vietnam was easy peasy. Probably aided by the fact that you had to have your visas in advance so there was none of that malarkey.

We all got off the bus and got back on as our name was read out. Then we had to take all our bags and put them through x-ray machines which was smmoth and hassle free. And then we had the joy of Duty Free. Admittedly it sold little more than toothpaste, but it was DUTY FREE toothpaste! Get in!

Then we were back on the bus and in Ho Chi Minh City in a matter of hours. Easy. I wish all border crossings were so easy.