Category Archives: 2017 – Asia

Halong Bay, Vietnam

We arrived at Halong Bay which is a very busy tourist attraction.  There are a lot of tourist boats, so if you want to be alone, this is not the place to go.  However, Halong Bay is quite spectacular with approx 1600 limestone islands and is a place not to be missed.  My photos don’t really do it justice.

There are so many boats to choose from when booking this trip, it’s mind boggling but we eventually decided on Halong Fantasea Cruises.  We were taken by tender (small boat for you non yachties) to our boat for the next two days which had just eight cabins.  We gathered in the restaurant where we were given a welcome drink and allocated our cabin which was really quite nice.  We didn’t appreciate that everything was going to be to such a strict timetable.  We only had 20 mins then we had to be ready for lunch.  The food over the whole trip was varied and lots of it.  As we left the marina it was a long line of boats, mostly going in the same direction.   We had a sun deck and so we were able to take in the views as we sailed along.

IMG_2383 - Halong Bay, Cabin March 2017

We made our way to Sung Sot Cave and then transferred to the tender to take us ashore.  The Cave was enormous.  The cave was very busy as everywhere seemed to have been lately.  Our guide took us round the cave and gave a talk as we went round, which was quite amusing.

IMG_2393

Later in the day we were taken to the Luon Cave area where some of the guests did kayaking, we declined this.  We stayed anchored here for the night and there were only three other boats, the previous bay had about 30 or so anchored. After dinner Ian tried squid fishing.  It appears that in the last year only four people have actually caught one and yes you’ve guessed correctly Ian did not catch one!

 

 

 

So sailing around the bay is nice and relaxing, so let’s have breakfast at 7.00am, well there was no chance of Ian getting there for that, so off I went.  7.45 we are off to Ti Top Island, for a trek up the hillside.  This again even at this time of day was busy.

Back to the boat we had a final couple of hours before lunch at 11.30.  This was so we were ready to leave the boat when we arrived back at 12.30 to get the coach back to Hanoi.

From Hanoi we started our homeward journey.  We booked into a hotel near Hanoi airport as we had a flight to Kualar Lumpur the following morning.  Again we checked into a hotel near the airport, a bit of luxury this time, so we spent the last few hours enjoying the sun and the pool before our flight the following morning

Vietnam is a great place, very friendly people and we would definitely recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

 

March 2017

Hanoi, Vietnam

We arrived at our hotel in Hanoi smack bang in the middle of the old quarter at about 4.30pm.  Lovely welcome at the hotel showed us to our room which is where it went downhill it was just shy of a box with a window to a corridor. The room I booked should have had a balcony. The hotel tried to convince me I had the room I booked. In fact all the rooms they offered on the site had balconies. There was clearly a problem. So we checked out of there and went to a hotel around the corner. It appears the info was correct on one site but when it was transferred to a sister site it wasn’t. We gave them the benefit of the doubt as they were so apologetic and they walked our cases around to the other hotel.

So it doesn’t quite end there. The room at the new hotel was deluxe with balcony, their feature room. We arrive to be told it wasn’t available, even though it showed it available and we had booked it.   The next day it was still possible to book it.  They gave us a family suite, which just means it’s a room with four beds. So it was spacious but no balcony and noisy being on a lower floor.  So not a good start to Hanoi and it’s now getting on for 7 o’clock by the time we are finally in a room.  We had been spoilt by our hotel in Hue which was half the price.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum

Ho Chi Minh  led the Vietnamese nationalist movement for more than three decades, fighting first against the Japanese, then the French colonial power and then the US-backed South Vietnamese. He was President of North Vietnam from 1954 until his death. He was such an important part of the modern history of Vietnam that he is still revered throughout the country and our visit to his mausoleum reiterated this. He is known as “Uncle Ho”.  The Mausoleum is only open for three hours a day so we thought it would be busy.Well I’ve never seen anything like it. There were so many people queuing that we didn’t bother going into the Mausoleum itself. From the way the queue moved there was no stopping when you got there, it was a case of keep moving. So we viewed it from the outside. In the left hand picture the queue went further along the path but this can’t be seen here.

Also here was the Presidential Palace (this isn’t open to the public) which Ho Chi Minh refused to live in as he didn’t think it was suitable when there were poor and starving people in Vietnam.  He lived in House number 54, which was in the Palace grounds.  He lived here from 1954 until  1958.  In 1958 he moved to the house on stilts which was opposite House no.54.  The house has two floors. The ground floor was the meeting place, and upstairs there were a bed room, a study room and a bookshelf.  It was a simple house and one which suited Uncle Ho.  He lived here until his death in 1969.  Walking around this area again it was a long queue that kept moving.  There must have been a good few thousand people here including lots of school groups.

We also visited the Ho Chi Minh museum which covers his life.

Museum of History of Vietnamese Military

Vietnam spent a long period of time at war fighting for independence. The museum took us through this. Outside there is a selection of planes, field guns, bombs, trucks and tanks.

 

There is a tall structure that was put together out of the wreckage of a B-52, an F-111 and a French transport plane, all of which were shot down.

Beer Corner

In Hanoi there is a place called Beer Corner and yes you have guessed it, its full of bars, restaurants and clubs selling beer.  Now I mentioned earlier here about the numbers of people in one place well Beer Corner was no exception.  It was rammed and it was difficult to walk through.  This appears to be the place for the youngsters to party well into the night (OMG I sound old).

When we were in Bangkok we were amazed at the electric cables well the picture below shows the Vietnamese can give the Thais a run for their money.

We fitted a lot into our day in Hanoi, unfortunately we couldn’t spare any more time here as we are off to Halong Bay in the morning for a two day cruise.

20 – 21 March 2017

Hue, Vietnam

Letting the train take the strain

We left Tuy Hoa on the 6.56 train (although didn’t actually leave until 7.25 but this is Vietnam) for Hue which a 9.5 hour journey. We weren’t so organised with food this time but the previous train had food so we thought we would hope for the best. Ian tried the chicken soup for breakfast, which was rice and chicken in soup. He thought it was OK, but like porridge consistency which I don’t like so glad I didn’t have any. A little while later they came round selling more food which looked OK.  So I had pork skewers and chicken with bean sprouts, which was quite tasty.

So we’ve been carrying our PAC a Macs around and I’ve finally found a need to wear it, on the train because the air conditioning is too cold. Ironically it is raining outside! Spoke to soon as it rained in Hue as we going off out for dinner too, but not too much and not for too long.  Some of the views from the train around Danang was amazing. We zig zagged right along the coast so much so we could see the front of the train from our seats.

A Little Gem of a Hotel

The hotel we were staying at, the Hue Garden Village Hotel, offered a free transfer. We met the guy who promptly put us in a taxi and waved us off. It was only on arriving at our destination that the guy reappeared. Cars couldn’t go down the road the hotel was on so he carried our bags down and paid for the taxi!

Ian had chosen this hotel and I think amongst other things he liked the price which was $20 (£16.40) per night including breakfast. Now I was a bit sceptical imagining it’s not going to be much up from a hostel and hostels and me, never the twain shall meet. The photos looked OK and the old saying”the camera never lies” may have been the case in days gone by but not now we have Photoshop. Well what can I say I was truly amazed. We received a warm welcome with a drink and fruit. Our room was on the very top floor to the left which had the biggest balcony and caught the sun plus it had a pool which is a bonus in a city. All this for the price was amazing.

Imperial City

One of the main attractions in Hue is the Imperial City which is a fortress with a palace. Inside the City is the Forbidden City which was home to the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. The Forbidden City was only for the use of the Emperor and the royal family. The areas outside here were for various dignitaries and senior political people. The site is enormous being 10km in circumference and surrounded by a moat. It must have really been something in its day however a lot of it was bombed during the Vietnam War although there is a restoration project underway for a small part of the site.

On our second day here we decided to take advantage of the pool and the glorious weather and sit by the pool, although once Ian appeared just after 1 o’clock (he can’t do too much sun being a Ginger) it clouded over. We got chatting to an Aussie guy who asked me if I spoke English. He didn’t think I looked like a “Pommie”, those were his words not mine!

Ian’s Vietnamese hair cut

As some of you will know Ian’s hair grows at a very fast rate and once it gets to an inch or so he can start to look like a mad professor. So off we went in search of a barbers. Ian tried to communicate that he wanted a number 4 guard used on the clippers, it looked like it was a number 3, it could have been worse!  He got the full works, haircut, face, ears and eyebrow trim and then taken off to a room at the back to have his hair washed. He was gone for about 15 mins or so and every so often I could here what sounded like continuous slapping. It transpires she was massaging his head. This was 250VND about £9.25.

Perfume River

We took a tour on the Perfume River stopping off at the Thien Mu Pagoda which we organised through the hotel and for just under a tenner for the two of us. We arrived at the Dragon boat and it was only then we realised we had exclusive use of it.  It is called the Perfume River because in the autumn, flowers from orchards upriver from Hue fall into the water, giving the river a perfume-like aroma.

At the Pagoda there was a young monk who periodically rang a large bell over the day.  As with a lot of places there are always tour groups which can make it difficult to see things.  This was one of those occasions.

Our time in Hue has flown by. We are off to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam on Monday 20th March, but flying this time as it’s a long train journey and time is getting short.

16-20 March 2017

Huy Toa, Vietnam

We took the train from Ho Chi Minh to Tuy Hoa which was a nine hour journey. We decided we fancied a few days by the beach . Nah Trang is the usual destination but we knew this was quite busy and touristy so picked somewhere that the train stopped. There’s not much here apart from sun, sea and sand. Well that’s me sorted!

Vietnamese Trains

What looked like a grandmother and grandaughter boarded the train a stop after us. The grandmother initially was very loud, this is going to be fun we thought and oh they were. They both chatted to everyone around them, including us even though we couldn’t understand each other and shared their food. We discovered they were going to Hue, our next stop after this. By the time we got off they and the people around us were all waving and shouting bye to us. It was lovely.

We didn’t know what to expect with the trains so were pleasantly surprised when we got into exactly what was advertised soft seat and air conditioned. Food being sold was brought round by train staff. A very different experience to Myanmar.

Tuy Hao is the capital city of the Phu Yen area with a population of just over 200,000. It is much quieter and so doesn’t have so much hustle and bustle which was a welcome change. Driving from the train station to the Kaya Hotel everywhere was lit up. There is a lot of work going on to make nice pavements, park areas and there are tended areas by the side of the road along the river front. This could well be a tourist destination of the future.

The beach was a five minute walk and we had it all to ourselves. The sea was lovely and warm too.

IMAG0436 Tuy Hoa on beach 14th Marh 17

Celebrities again

We had to get our train tickets for our journey to Hue on Thursday 16th March so we took a taxi there and thought we would walk back via the river front. The locals are not used to seeing “Foreigners” and in fact we only saw one other during our stay here, so we got lots of stares and shouts of “hello” and frantic waving.

We walked along a main high street where shops with big TV’s were being sold, and then on the next road they are welding, (you can see this just on the left of the picture) of which they gladly posed for a photo.  Such extremes.

IMAG0444 Welding in Tuy Hoa

Workshop on the Pavement

We walked along the river front and stopped for a drink. There were various eating places with tables across the road by the river which is where we sat. The owner gave us our drinks and stated “foreign tourist”, which we are, as we are so unusual in this part of Vietnam.

We eventually decided on a place to eat, one that didn’t have small low plastic chairs (ones like the kids sit on). One guy remembered us from the night before where we had eaten at Bob’s American Cafe, where we had an enormous burger. His English was very good so had a bit of a chat with him about this restaurant but it was his first time there too. So we get the menu. Ah bit of an issue here. All menus we’ve looked at have had a picture of the food so we had some idea of what we might be getting. Not this time. We managed to ask for Chicken and Rice and Seafood and Rice. It was very nice. What was odd here was they didn’t give you a glass to drink out of but a bowl and ice is always offered as drinks are not always cold, which they need to be in this climate.  Now in Raffles they throw the shells from the monkey nuts on the floor here they did it with beer cans. They buy a box of beer and as they finish with the can they throw it on the floor.

IMG_2195 - Ian soaking his feet Tuy Hoa 15 March 2017

In this part of the world people carry all sorts of things on their motorbikes, walking back to the hotel,  the strangest one was large blocks of ice which looked about a half a meter wide and a meter tall, about half a ton.

We walked miles this evening so Ian soothed his feet in the hotel pool.

 

 

Chasing Pavements

This is something else you have to get used to in Asia there are pavements everywhere, very wide pavements, but half the time you can’t walk on them and have to walk in the road. The pavements are filled with motorbikes, people sitting on chairs, wares from shops so as in the song by Adele “Should I give up? Or should i just keep Chasing Pavements”.

If you want to chill and want somewhere a bit quieter then Tuy Hoa is worth a visit.

10th to 13th March 2017

Ho Chi Minh – 10th to 13th March 2017

We said goodbye to Singapore and took the short flight to Ho Chi Minh. We arrived at our hotel The Aragon Central, which was centrally placed in district 1. We are back to the chaos of traffic which is so different from Singapore.

IMG_2161 Traffic HCM March 17

Traffic coming in all directions!

 

Now this hotel, as quite a few do in this part of the world, have rooms with no windows. I specifically chose a room with a window. Now I didn’t think it would be the best view but wasn’t expecting the view we got which was the corridor outside the lift. Yes it did have a window but not an external one! Definitely not what you’d expect, and definitely not one to recommend.

We arrived around 7.30pm so dumped our bags and went in search of food. We found a Street food market which was similar to that in Singapore but much livelier with lots of different choices for food from, Vietnamese, Indian, Thai, BBQ, Mexican and even oysters. Nice and cheap at £6 for a meal and a beer each.

Thinking about our next stop we had booked some train tickets online for our journey on Monday 13th March so off we went in search of the train station to collect our tickets. Not far I’m told, 35 minutes later. Good exercise, we are getting plenty of that with all the walking.

We were having a quick 10 minute sit down at the train station before we ventured off to the Reunification Palace and were approached by three students. The young girl asked us if we were taking a train and where to. Now the pronounciation is not the same as it looks to us we realised so we showed her the ticket to Huy Tao. They had been given an assignment to travel on the train for 30 minutes with some foreigners to help with their English. They were disappointed that we weren’t travelling that day (Saturday 11th March). We had a chat with them and off they went. As we left the station, the students came running after us a they wanted a picture of us and a selfie which with our celebrity status (refer to previous blogs in Myanmar) we were happy to oblige.

Reunification Palace

We arrived at the Palace, at the wrong entrance, something that seems to be becoming a pattern, we did this is Mandalay.  We passed a guy carrying drinks and he thought Ian might like to carry it to show how heavy it was and that the guy was strong, he kept showing us his muscles.   I don’t think this will be his new career.

IMG_2072 Ians new job vietnam march 17

Ian’s new job

The Reunification Palace was previously the palace of the South Vietnamese President.  There was a group of people standing together near the entrance which we realised had a tour guide giving the history and in English, so we hung onto their tails. The Palace was host to meetings with various US officials during the Vietnam war.  The war finished when a tank was driven through the front gates in 1975.

Games in the Park

On our way back to the hotel we walked through the park which was a hive of activity.  There were several groups “Shuttlecock Kicking”.  They wear special shoes to kick with.  If you look closely at the photo below you can just see the shuttlecock.  Also saw a group performing Tai Chi, or something similar.

 War Museum

The museum was built around photos from war journalists.  Some of the photos are harrowing and a real reminder of the horrors of war.

 

 

 

Singapore, sloping in for a sling

We arrived in Singapore on 8th March and the first thing to do before leaving the airport was purchase a 3 day visitor train pass which for 20 Singapore dollars (about £12) each we can travel all over the city including transferring from the airport.

Our hotel, Robertson Quay, is just 15 min walk from the underground and overlooked the Singapore river. Our room was compact and reminded me of a caravan with lots of space saving things. The hotel does have a pool though which is a plus as it’s hot here although in the evening there’s a lovely breeze which reminds you of an exceptionally warm English summer evening (yeah yeah I know that’s not very often, I’ve got a good memory).

We were close by to Clark Quay which had rows and rows of bars and restaurants. There are large fans around even though it’s outside (I did say it was hot). Now for most of us we think London is expensive (or for some anywhere outside the Island Yacht Club) but Singapore is a world unto its own, as its really really expensive. A bottle of beer in Clark Quay was SD$17 (£10!). Most places had happy hours but even so it still made drinks expensive at £5 /£6 a bottle.

The following day we set off to explore the city. We went to Marine Bay Sands which is a hotel with three towers, a large shopping mall (very exclusive shops and boy do they like a shopping mall) and has a viewing gallery at the very top. The views of Singapore were amazing. It was surprising how many cargo ships were anchored up waiting for a load. Never seen so many in one place.

Singapore Slings at Raffles!

Well you can’t really expect to come to Singapore and not visit Raffles nor have a Singapore Sling. The Long Bar was under refurbishment so the Billiard Room bar was being used which Ian tells me was a much nicer room which was good as I was initially a bit disappointed. Raffles has a tradition of providing complimentary monkey nuts and the shells of which can either be put in small wooden boxes or they can just be thrown on the floor, which is ironic as littering is an offence in Singapore.  This is a real tourist trap but it had to be done and what a beautiful hotel.

Ian having been to Singapore previously (Grand Prix no less) wanted to give me an alternative dining experience for lunch. So off we go to one of the many malls at Orchard Place where there are street food places below. This is where the locals eat. There are half a dozen different cooking stations to choose from from and the seating is a shared area. For duck and rice and some blow your head of sauce it was about £5 for the two of us.

Chinatown, a much calmer experience

Having experienced the chaos and liveliness of Bangkok’s Chinatown we thought we’d venture to Singapore’s Chinatown. This was a very different experience. The food stalls were not stalls on the side of the road as in Bangkok but units with shared tables on a closed off road. It was very calm and organised. Everything closed down quite early here. The beer was cheaper here though.

We only had two nights here mainly because we have a lot to fit in during our trip.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 5-8 March 2017

Saturday 4th March 2017 and we have resumed our trip.  We are only going to be away for three weeks so have changed our itinerary slightly and flown off to Kuala Lumpur (KL) with a short stop over (90 mins to be exact) in Qatar (much cheaper than a direct flight) which pretty much broke the flight into two halves, so was OK.  On arrival in KL we took the KLIA Express Train (as Ian “we are on a budget” decided we should take the train, which to be fair was quicker and then took a taxi to our hotel from KL Sentral (main train station  in KL).

We arrived at about 11.30pm.  The view from our hotel room was something else (main picture above).   KL was brightly lit with views of the Petronas Towers and the KL Tower. The view made up for the Adhan, the calling to prayer, which was very loud even though we were no where near the mosque, particularly at six in the morning, we didn’t need an alarm clock.  Islam is the predominant religion in KL.

Now talking of time.  I bought a cheap watch (all of £3) in Bangkok for wearing while travelling.  I reset my watch to Qatar time , just to ensure we were on time for the connecting flight.  On arrival in KL I attempted to change it again however, the pin broke and so I’m set on Qatar time which is three hours ahead of GMT and five hours behind KL time.  So now each time I want to know the time I have to add five hours, but that’s better than being without a watch.

 

We attempted to go to the viewing platform in the Petronas Towers however, you have to either purchase tickets in advance or be there at 8.30am (yeah right that was going to happen) so we went to the observation platform on the KL Tower, which from research said this was a better view than of the city than from the Petronas Towers.  It was a cloudy day so views not so good as they perhaps could have been.

 

MEMORIES OF SPITTING IMAGE

(now where did that come from you ask) Well we were situated in the Chow Kit area opposite the market (the description of Chow Kit is an atmospheric, localised area of Kuala Lumpur city centre, filled with rows and rows of long-established retail outlets specialising in wholesale goods.  Further research when there we discovered that half of Chow Kit is home to the red light district – which we thankfully didn’t see) .  This is a wet market ie it sells food.  Strange what comes to mind, but for me it was Spitting Image.  Some of the chickens being sold were that yellow colour just like the one thrown around in the Chicken Song (yes you do remember it).  Yes I know this is very random.

BATU CAVES, Gombak, Selangor

KL has an extensive transport network so we took ourselves off on the train to the Batu Caves, which is just 13km north of KL and is a limestone hill with a series of caves (said to be around 400 million years old) and Hindu cave temples.  We went into one of the smaller caves (also there wasn’t lots of steps) which was quite splendid and had story of Rama, who is seventh avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu .

At the entrance to the Batu caves is the Murugan statue which stands at 140ft  and is the tallest statue of a Hindu deity in Malaysia and the second tallest statue of a Hindu deity in the world. Now you can see the steps which take you to the main cave, all 272 of them, well we didn’t go up these as Ian has dodgy knees (now some would say that’s not all that’s dodgy about him but we wont go there!)  KL is also very hot 35 degrees feels like 42 degrees (even for me or at least walking about it is).

IMG_1997 - - KL Batu caves statue Match 17

Time for Dinner

Food was beckoning us so we took a wander about and found a bistro. We were presented with two menus one with western food and the other local. We wanted to go local however the menu was in Malaysian so we didn’t really know what we were getting but made a choice and it was basically chicken curry with veg and rice which was very nic. We were asked if we would like a side of egg, which seems to a big part of the diet here (from the number of chickens they were selling in the market it’s understandable) so we said yes, although it was stone cold! Very nice with a cup of sweet tea (try as we might we couldn’t find anywhere in this area selling beer!). This came to the princely sum of 23RM which equates to £4.60. Wandering around near JL Central (main train hub) we did find a few bars the following day.

Getting about

While in KL we decided to buy a ‘Touchngo card’, which is the equivalent to the Oyster card. A case of tapping in and out in some places and it beeps twice when registering your journey. I obviously didn’t listen for enough beeps, should’ve be two, so got charged as though I hadn’t tapped out and managed to spend half of my credit on the card rather quickly so had to top up again. Now to get to the airport it’s 55RM, so we only have 26RM or so on our cards which yes is not enough but Ian was having one of his days (those of you who know him will know what I mean) so off we go tap in OK but we weren’t getting out the other end, surprise surprise. So we had to go to a counter to pay the  difference.  This is where the fun starts.  KL is a large city but debit/credit cards are not so widely accepted even at official places and we didn’t have quite enough cash to pay the extra fare and they only wanted cash. So after five minutes or so we paid the extra fare for Ian so he could then go through, get some cash to come back and pay to let me out. Oh how easy could it have been! In addition to a lot of places only wanting cash, it’s strange that to actually purchase the Touchngo card you can’t buy it from the official Touchngo place, no you have to go to  one of the few select places, i.e. Seven eleven but not all sell them.  We did go around the houses but we got a card eventually.

Next stop Singapore!