Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City ‘HCM’ (Saigon) after a very bumpy, smelly and all round sleepless ‘sleeper bus’!! Thankfully for us our hotel was just across the road from where we got dropped off, so we could start the day very, very early and get out and about in HCM. We had already done a lot of research on the Vietnam war and in Hanoi learned a lot about what had happened, from a North Vietnam point of view, therefore we were very keen to see how this differed in the South and headed straight for the ‘Remnants Museum’. We were greeted by a courtyard full of captured American weaponry and machinery, which like in the North, was a standard state of affairs with anything related to the Vietnam war, however the difference came when we stepped inside.
P1030580I was quite aware of the Napalm that the U.S used in the Vietnam and the vaguely knew about agent Orange, which was a chemical used (like Napalm) to eradicate foliage and anything else that happens to be hiding within! This was very vividly depicted inside the museum by a collection of photos taken during the war, which some are world famous now. Alongside pictures of U.S soldiers being very proud of their accomplishments, whether it be through the air borne attacks of chemicals or by their own personal hands. Some of the pictures depicted U.S soldiers holding corpses as if they were trophies, whether they were effects of a grenade they threw or partially alive from a shot they had made! It was a very disturbing collection of the power of man and how destructive we can be as a species. With the effects still harming many Vietnamese people to this day.

After taking in the destruction that occurred from the Vietnamese war and needing a bit of lighthearted fun, we decided to indulge in the age old tradition of beer drinking. This however is done very differently in HCM, as it is so in a lot of South East Asia. We headed down to infamous ‘beer street’ where the road is slowly replaced by plastic chairs as more and more people turn up to consume 20p bottles of beer. It was a great night and we managed to meet some great locals and tourists, whisly also enjoying the best beer HCM had to offer ‘Saigon’.

P1030602Unfortunately for us, we were not allowed to enjoy being hungover, which to be honest doesn’t really happen in 35degree heat anyway, but we had neglected that we had booked a Chu Chi tunnels visit for 8am the next day and knocking back cheap bottles of Saigon maybe wasn’t the wisest idea the night before! All in all the tunnel tour was a bit of a let down, as our guide was, how can i put this nicely ‘a f*cking tosser’, who was more concerned about selling us clips of AK-47 rounds than he was on telling us the history of the Chu Chi tunnels. Luckily for us two though, were stubborn bastards, so took ourselves on a self tour, whilst everyone else sat literally on the shooting range getting their ears blown out, while rich dickhead Americans (sorry but only stating a fact of what i seen on the day) shot the guns that slayed so many Vietnamese soldiers by the hands of the U.S! Yeah real tasteful. Of what we did get to see, it was really interesting and fascinating to see how essentially not only a army held off the U.S forces using the tunnels, but also created a civilisation within them. Just a pointer for anybody going to the tunnels, make sure your group size is below 50 and don’t go for the cheapest you find, as a group of ‘definitely 25 max’ will quickly turn into 55, when the ”other” tour guide doesn’t show…..yeah.

P1030617 P1030620 P1030628 P1030636After a rubbish tour of the tunnels, we headed over to the ‘Reunification Palace’ which had been through many hands since its creation (Vietnamese, French and American) and since the fall of Saigon to the North in 1975, all of the decor has been left the same. It was quite funny to walk around, as seeing the 1970’s decor just made me think, how many people in London now would kill for some of this furniture, the Vietnamese are sitting on a gold mine (furniture wise). We got a great free guide, which we luckily got put onto a tour and learned the final pieces of how the war ended and why it was left in the way it was, when the North drove a tank through the gate of the palace and stormed the palace.

P1030648 P1030645Once again we got persuaded to hit the bar street again, it becomes quite the norm when in HCM and not learning from the day before, booked a Mekong tour for 7am the next day! When will we learn. The Mekong delta tour was great compared to the tunnel tour (booked through different company of course PXN Travel, don’t ever use Tuan Travel). We started the day by taking a cruise across the Mekong delta and learning all about Turtle, Dragon, Unicorn and Phoenix islands. We then visited a Coconut candy factory and got to taste the little delights that they create. After some lunch and strange sight seeing on Phoenix island, we visited a honey farm which produced honey (obvs), as well as honey tea and honey wine….mmmmmmm. Obviously we got to taste all of them. Cheryl got to practice her Bee keeping skills and handle the honey comb, whilst i got to become friends with the local python, which was only a young one and was about 10kg!!

P1030747 P1030739 P1030741After getting honey’d up, we were shown onto small bamboo rowing boats (enough room for 4) and rowed down the mangroves through dense foliage and through a very narrow channel, which created great entertainment when another rowing boat came the opposite way! Our final stop of the day was a small village, where we were given some fruits, whilst having local music played by traditional Vietnamese instruments. It was a great round off to our Vietnam trip and a fantastic finishing trip for us to do, before we moved onto Cambodia.

All in all HCM was a fantastic adventure and apart from the constant berating of touts and hawkers every second of the day (not an exageration), that wear you down whilst you eat every meal of the day or enjoy a leisurely drink, it is a great example of Vietnam and its lovely people. There is a lot of skepticism of their nature and we were among those before we went there, however now we are total converts and can see why they hold some reserve compared to their tourist happy neighbor Thailand, after everything they have been through and when you meet genuine Vietnamese people, they are typical of any South East Asian and if anything, are some of the friendless and most straight forward.

—Stay Classy World—ACastling—



Travelling Highlight of The Week (w.b. 4th March)

This week our highlight has got to quite simply be…

Spending time among the ‘Bui Vien Rd’ drinking crowd. Since we have been in Vietnam, we have always said it would be great to sit near the road and watch the traffic fly by. On Bui Vien Rd, you sit on plastic chairs, literally on the road and traffic goes around you! If that wasn’t good enough, bottles of Saigon are 30p!!! The atmosphere here is great, if you imagine Friday night when everyone has finished work, but every night, then your there. Unlike its comparison Khao San Rd, the locals and tourists are 50/50 here and you can chat to some really interesting people. If your feeling unsociable, kick back and watch the traffic get worse as more and more people turn up, taking up more of the road.

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Great for all the pro people watchers out there.

—Stay Classy World—ACastling—

Nha Trang (Mini Moscow)

After Hoi An we jumped on another sleeper bus down to Nha Trang, which was one of the smelliest (we were next to the toilets) and bumpiest rides we have had so far. Although on the plus side i had loads of leg room, because we got the back seats, which are huge, more like beds.

We met a dutch couple in Dong Hoi, which we met again in Hoi An and planned to meet up in Nha Trang, so decided to stay at their hotel. After realising is was quite pricey, we set about hunting a cheap sleep and landed the mother load when we came across a 5 storey guesthouse which was more like a home stay than a hotel. The family spoke little english but were so friendly and welcoming, to put it in perspective the wife cooked us breakfast on our first day and we sat in her kitchen watching her prepare lunch. Above all else, the room had two beds ie big room, air con, TV, big private bathroom, spotless, small balcony and cost us £4, which the cheapest place we have managed to find so far!

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They really made our Nha Trang stay bearable and i say this because Nha Trang is a beach resort full of russian shops, cafes, restaurants and tourist. As well as many backpackers from all over the world, however we are very much outnumbered. It therefore creates an aggressive sales mentality among touts/hawkers who will literally pester you on the toilet if there was no door. As well as people including british people, flyering you every 5 yards and offering a cheap drink or food! We didn’t eat a single meal or sip a drink in peace. The beaches are nice, but again packed full of tourists and touts, who if u fall asleep, will kick you awake to look at their wears!! All in all not very relaxing.

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We therefore when in search of solace, by hiring a motorbike and getting the hell outta town. Once again (like in Hoi An) we found some absolute gems of peace and serenity that emphasised the beauty that Vietnam has locked away from Google and the Lonley Planet posse. We also found an alternative mud baths, as in town only one is touted and sold tours for. We therefore arranged with our Dutch friends to hire mopeds for the next day and ride out to the secluded mud baths. Which was a fun and relaxing way to get away from the constant mind rape of touts, whilst also experiencing something new.

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We also helped ourselves to some amazing sea food, which is what Nha Trang is very well known for, however every other restaurant sells the same thing and it takes some time and knowing about seafood, to see which ones are good, i would like to think we struck good with our choice, getting a seafood platter along with a full snapper for £10 isn’t bad going if you ask me.

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Nha Trang is a nice place, however the overhaul of russian tourists, touts, hawkers and generally littered beaches doesn’t lend itself well when comparing it to other beach destinations. I think without our fantastic choice of accommodation and Dutch company, we may have moved on much sooner.

—Stay Classy World—ACastling—

Travelling Highlight of The Week (w.b. 25th February)

As it would have been to easy to award ‘getting engaged’ as the highlight of the week, we skipped a week, as due to rubbish weather it turned out that was our only highlight really worth mentioning. Therefore the award this week goes to…….

Setting off lanterns in Hoi An under the full moon.

This sounds very tame and it is, but the scenery of a small town being lit ip by candles and paper lanterns was just magical and the river was full with the little lanterns, which are set a sail to bring good luck and to make a wish.

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—Stay Classy World—ACastling—

A sleepy town called Dong Hoi

From the train we jumped in a taxi to take us to a well known guesthouse, which was full so we took a walk around and found one on the main road overlooking the harbour and we managed to converse with the lady through a mix of gestures and numbers. We had a lovely large room with balcony for 300,00 dong (just under 10GBP)

All was going well until she wanted to keep our passports, and for us this is a big no-no. Your passport does not leave your sight. Unless you are in Vietnam it turns out. The lady tried to explain by pointing at the emblem on our Visa, but I still wasn’t too sure. I went back to the room, sans passport and Adam wasn’t happy. He went down to try and speak to the lady, and he returned 5 minutes later with a defeated look on his face, “She’s got mine too now.” I just laughed. The big macho man tries to fix the problem and just gets himself in deeper, it’s just funny!  As we couldn’t converse with the lady we went back to the full guesthouse and she explained that this was normal, that the police check them each night and they have to hold onto them. We felt slightly more relaxed about it.

For the rest of the day we mooched around Dong Hoi, getting lots of funny looks from locals, but mainly just big smiles, waves and hellos. That seems to be the beauty of the place, they do not get many tourists and when they do, everyone is just very pleased to see you. We were sat in a little outside cafe enjoying the famous Vietnamese ice coffee and a man purposely crossed the street with his young child, and stopped right in front of us, smiled at us, pointed and said something to his child. We waved, said hello,  child looked terrified and hid behind Dad. We all laughed. Then at other points in the day, large groups of children/people cycle past and shout big hellos at you. Its refreshing as in more touristy parts of Vietnam you seem to just get harassed to buy this or that, but here they just wanted to interact for the fun of it.

We never did find out what this was about!

We never did find out what this was about!

2 children just playing on a rice bowl boat, as you do

2 children just playing on a rice bowl boat, as you do

We visited the Paradise Caves in Dong Hoi, that’s its main attraction, and a very recent one at that only opening in 2011. And it’s beautiful. It goes underground for about 2km and is full of little streams and rivers and stalagmites and stalactites of varying shapes and sizes. It is very well designed as there are plenty of viewing platforms. We spent a few hours in there just mesmerized by every detail. Its a must-do if you’re ever in Vietnam…


Perfectly clear reflection in the underwater lake...can you see it?

Perfectly clear reflection in the underwater lake…can you see it?


—Love to all, Cheryl—

Our first sleeper train

After leaving Halong we headed back to Hanoi, which kindly before we left, our hotel said we could go use an empty room to shower, relax and get ourselves sorted for the train, which made us slightly nervous as to why we should ‘get ready’ for it! Also the man at reception said ‘it is not good for you to wait in the station’!! As we had planned to burn 5 hours just sat around playing cards until our train departed.

When we arrived at the station we immediately saw what the man meant, it was a sea of people clambering to get last minute tickets, accompanied with their baskets of food, clothes etc. We watched from a far and wondered how we would get through the monstrous crowd to our train! It turned out there was another entrance, which only by chance and wanting to find somewhere quiet to let the queue go down, did we find the pre-booked ticket entrance, which was quiet, empty and just one person checking tickets as your breezed through.

The station and train itself was so dated, but really cool in the same sense, like something out of a black and white movie. We found our carriage and our nests for the night. It turned out we struck lucky as we had 4 Vietnamese people in with us as well, where as the french guys next door had a family of 10 with drinks, stove and the kitchen sink. The cabins/rooms are no bigger than a standard garden shed which has 4 bunks, which not by our choice, houses 2 tourists on the top bunks and as many as 6 Vietnamese on the bottom, which we immediately felt very embarrassed about, although they probably paid a lot less than us, as this is a common scam in Vietnam to bump the prices up massively for tourists and making out that cheap tickets are not available, when they clearly are.

Our roomies for the night were a very friendly Vietnamese couple who spoke great English, their Grandfather another guy who ended up getting kicked out halfway by a tickets inspector and replaced by said ticket inspector who kicked him out!! It certainly wasn’t the most solid night sleep i have had, but i have certainly slept in a lot worse. About an hour or so out from our destination, the breakfast man came round, which luckily i had bought with the help of our friendly roomie, a ticket the night before whilst he was doing the rounds. A nice noodle soup to start the day right.

Fit much? Train cabins not made for long legged mack daddies...

Fit much? Train cabins not made for long legged mack daddies…

Before the A/C was turned on

Before the A/C was turned on

We arrived in Dong Hoi at a reasonable time (as some of the trains arrive 5/6am, not great for hotel hunting) and managed to find ourselves a bed from the choice of 5 hotels! All in all the sleeper train is a great experience and if we could afford it, is something we would do again and again, unfortunately when backpacking for a long time, it verges on the pricey side at $30 average per person! Especially when you can get a sleeper bus for under $5.

—Stay Classy World—ACastling—

A busy 3 days in Hanoi

There is so much to do in Hanoi, we carefully planned how we were going to fit it all into 3 days.

Day 1
Headed over to the Mausoleum which closes at 11am, so got a quick taxi over and joined the extremely organised queue. The queuing system shocked us as we haven’t come across such organisation in SE Asia yet, and for Brits like us, we see a queue and our faces light up, “yes! Structure and organisation, our favourite!” Anyways, the queue moved quickly round into the Mausoleum, and the mood turned very sombre as you get closer. The many guards make sure you are acting appropriately, Adam had to take his hands out of his pockets, and some people were talking, and they were told in no uncertain words to shut up. Then you walk in, it gets colder, children begin to cry and it feels very eery. You walk up some stairs, around the corner, and then you are in the room with Ho Chi Minhs body. Statue still guards are placed at each corner of his see through tomb and other guards roughly grab your arms to keep the traffic moving. Ho Chi Minh is cast in a yellow light which just adds to the whole effect. And then you are pushed out the door. All done.

Ironically, Ho Chi Minh wanted to be cremated, not immortalised. But his will was never fulfilled.

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We moved onto his Presidential Palace where the impressive “Disney-Land-esque” queueing continued and we saw where he was meant to live in the grand palace, and where Ho Chi Minh built his simple wooden house where he actually lived.

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We then moved onto his museum, which we were quite looking forward to seeing, hoping for it to explain a bit more about the man himself as we were both discussing over lunch that in our history lessons, we never really touched upon Vietnam and what we did learn was about the war with the U.S and our knowledge of that is very limited and one sided. His museum was interesting, but of course now we still only got one side of the story, and a glorified one at that. But at least we both began to understand a deeper history of the country.


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Our last stop was to the Military History Museum which has lots of old relics from the Japanese, French and U.S war. Again, we learnt things we didn’t know, we were both so surprised to find out just how turbulent Vietnams recent history was and how many countries tried to take over in a short space of time. French, Japan and the U.S all in 50 years.

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The relics were interesting and there were a lot to see, the bombed out aeroplane is almost a piece of art (picture above) with how it has been presented. It is just unfortunate that the old planes, helicopters and tanks haven’t been better look after. People are allowed to climb all over them, and some are quite rusty.

Day 2
It was raining 😦 Still warm-ish but with a very familiar drizzle which we haven’t missed. We made our way over to the Hoa Lo Prison, or better known as the Hanoi Hilton. Again, we thought this was built and used just during the war with the U.S but it turns out that the French built it to imprison revolutionary Vietnamese. It was a creepy place to walk around, especially through the death cells but very interesting, and of course we learnt about how badly the Vietnamese were treated by the French (which I do not doubt) but we also learnt about how well the U.S POW were treated (of which we are far more dubious.)

We then moved onto the Women’s museum which documents the strong role of women in Vietnamese society. Truly interesting. Girl power and all that.

We then went to Hoan Kiem Lake and the statue there. Pretty to walk around, you can buy popcorn, or sausages on a stick and watch the world float by. The water puppet theatre is right by here and we got our tickets ready for the next day. We then took a look around the streets, which thankfully began to look busy again. As due to Tet everything has pretty much been shut and we have been walking around suspiciously quiet streets, it just didn’t suit the city! Anyways, back to the busy streets, stuff is everywhere! People don’t just sell on the side of the road, but also in the middle…

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This lady cleverly created a T junction around herself! No one seemed too bothered.

Day 3
OK, perhaps our last full day wasn’t that busy, but we still got out and about. We took in the water puppet theatre, which was a first: stories told through puppets on/in the water (clue is in the title really) and if it wasn’t so warm in there I certainly wouldn’t have nearly nodded off…

After, we needed a coffee and found a great spot overlooking all the crazy traffic from a height. It was a great place to people watch too,and we wiled away a few hours doing just that!

The Hanoi Shuffle

Adjusting to the Vietnamese traffic has to be done quickly otherwise you are going to be standing in one spot for a very long time, particularly in Hanoi as the population has increased from a few hundred thousand (which the city streets were built to cope with) to over 8 million of which everyone, and I mean everyone owns a motorbike or car.

To paint the picture, there are motorbikes EVERYWHERE! They take up 95% of the traffic. They drive on the right hand side of the road…sometimes. This is not a definite. They are not aggressive drivers but they use their horns, ALL THE TIME. They have junctions but do not use them as such, they are seen as more of a corner. Traffic lights are more of a way of slowing them down slightly but not stopping them. There is no right of way, its more ‘who has the balls to go for for it’, frame of mind. There are roundabouts but they are pointless, people use them to park around.

We decided to take on the method of watch and learn from the pedestrians point of view, and it was an entertaining and scarily exhilarating view. It turns out traffic does not stop for you, it will kindly zip around your body with incredible closeness, but will not stop. Don’t bother with zebra crossings, they make no difference, just cross where you need to, look in both directions as they can come from anywhere, take a deep breath (maybe a quick prayer), step out onto the road, and slowly, slowly shuffle your way across the road.

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It turns out that the thing to look out for is cars, as I said, motorbikes will go around whilst cars will just head straight for you blearing their strange horn. After watching the traffic for a while, we figured this way of crossing the road kind of makes sense. As no one has to stop, everyone keeps moving and just moves out the way for each other. And for a city full of traffic, keeping it moving is important as it quickly builds up.

Unfortunately these photos do not do it justice, and uploading videos at the moment is not possible. But we will add it on when we can.

Goood Moooorning Vietnam! (An oldie but a goodie!)

We all know the saying and we all know how to say it, but boy, does it feel good saying it when you actually touch down in Vietnam!

We arrived on Wednesday 13th February via a quick one hour flight from Vientane, Laos after deciding against doing the 24 hour bus due to the consistent horrendous stories about said journey. Also, it being Tet (their new year) it would have been longer and slower and more expensive to be treated in whats sounds like a disgraceful manner by the bus companies. We heard the bus companies treat the western passengers like dogs, even though they have to pay more, they get the worst seats (infested with bugs, some of them), women are leered upon and during the border crossing you are ordered on and off the bus by angry shouting men in complete confusion. This after travelling for over 18hours. So I think you see our reasoning behind choosing the slightly more expensive, but indescribably easier option of an hour flight.

After landing we made our way to our guesthouse in Hanoi. And we were greeted by the crazy traffic of Vietnam.