Slow Train from the City of Angels to the Southern Border

Our train ready to leave Bangkok Train Station
Getting ready to leave Hua Lamphon (Bangkok Train Station)

Bangkok Train Station to Hat Yai

After our stay in HCMC we flew to Bangkok. The other captain and I hadn’t been to Thailand in a while. I’d forgotten how exotic and friendly the Thais are. And how much I love their green curries. The other captain’s brother, an overseas travel virgin, was beginning to get the hang of SE Asian travel.

The plan was to check out the great city then take the overnight train from Bangkok to the southern border town of Hat Yai.

The city of angels

Bangkok is just the name people who don’t come from Thailand call this gritty city. Bangkok translates as “village of wild plums”. Not exactly sexy. Whereas Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ), as the Thais call it, means “city of angels”. The full name translates as:

The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.

I didn’t see any angels in the happy city. But I had fun chatting with some beautiful girls on Soi Cowboy when the other captain’s brother asked us to show him the bright lights.

Waterfront homes with gardens floating past
Waterfront homes with gardens floating past

River Cruise

One of the highlights of our stay was a river cruise. With a 150 baht ticket (about six Aussie dollars) you can get off and on Chao Phraya Tourist Boat  as often as you like at the eight piers along the route. You can stop to check out cathedrals, temples, museums, markets and the Grand Palace.

z-bangkok-temple

Along the river five star hotels stand next to falling apart local dwellings. Longtail boats fly past. Barges laden down to their water level lumber by. Islands of plants float past.

Along Bangkok's Chao Phraya River five star hotels stand next to falling apart local dwellings. Click To Tweet

Skytrain

We stayed in Sukhumvit, right on the Skytrain (Bangkok Mass Transit System or BTS) route, making it easy (and cheap) to get around. Our stop was On Nut, which was simple enough to remember. Our first destination was often Asok, which sounds like asshole when announced over the train PA system. Just so you know.

Slow train from Bangkok to Hat Yai

The slow train from Bangkok central to Hat Yai is a 16 hour trip, leaving at around 2pm.  A sleeper ticket is 1300 baht (1100 for the top bunk). It’s no secret I love train travel. We had no trouble getting our ticket at Bangkok Train Station for the next day. In fact our train was about 70% empty. Our party of three had a pair of two-berth cabins with a connecting door, and one empty berth.

The cabins are clean, simple and comfortable. You can have a delicious dinner set for 170 baht. I had the green chicken curry with jasmine rice, tom yum soup, fruit juice and fresh fruit platter. Yum!

I took this trip by myself when we first bought Yana de Lys.  I’d been to Pattaya to meet the previous owners and collect some boat stuff they were storing. I shared my cabin with a mountain of gear, including a brand new sail belonging to Yana.

Before the train even left Bangkok Train Station the steward had asked me if I fancy a beer for the trip. At the time I thought, “Sure a couple of cans of Chang might be nice for sunset”. Next thing I knew my basin was filled with ice and two king browns. Did I look like I was dying of thirst?

Bangkok Train Station encourages you to leave you booze here.
Bangkok Train Station encourages you to leave you booze here. So why are the bottles empty?

Well it’s different now. Technically you’re not supposed to drink on the train, but we were subtle about it and the staff didn’t seem to care anyway. (There are no smoking signs but the conductors have a puff at the end of the train.)

So if you fancy a beer for the journey it’s a good idea to stock up before you leave. And if you like em cold you can buy some ice from the convenience store at the train station.

Hat Yai

Around 6:00 the next morning we arrived in the… er exciting town of Hat Yai. I’ll tell you about it in my next blog. When I get around to it. (Slow travel = slow blog writing.)

Top Tips for Travellers

  1. Taxis can be very exxy in Bangkok, especially if you get stuck in the endless and frequent traffic jams. Take the Skytrain if you can.
  2. You can only buy alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores from 1100-1400 and 1700-2400. It seems like a weird law, and some smaller shops may not enforce the rules. Try just acting like a dumb farang if you get the times wrong and you might be okay.
  3. If you’re planning on visiting any temples make sure you wear (or bring) clothes that cover your shoulders and knees and ideally your ankles too.

Related

35 Hours on a Train

Farangs in Phuket

Bangkok Fun And Unusual Stories

Seven Days in Saigon, Vietnam

Veterans of Saigon Vietnam

I fell in love with the Nam the first time I was there.

For our second visit to Saigon, Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) we’d been given the use of our friend Mr Lee’s apartment and driver. As it turned out, our driver didn’t speak English but came with an interpreter, the delightful sales manager from our generous friend’s business.

We were travelling with the other captain’s brother, a veteran of the war (sort of, I’ll explain later).

The splendid roof top garden at our borrowed apartment, Saigon Vietnam
The splendid roof top garden at our borrowed apartment

The apartment

Waiting for our driver, Saigon Vietnam
Waiting for our driver

The apartment was a mansion. Twenty rooms, four storeys, a lift. Designed to be a hotel originally. Complete with a live in houseman to open the Fort Knox gates.

We only spent a few hours in our splendid apartment before we were whisked off on an adventure. Our driver and intrepid interpreter took us to a meeting at Long An  University, where we met up with Mr Lee’s brother and friends for a road trip.

Road trip Day 1

Heading for Ban Tre we had a few stops. For food and drink of course.

First, a feast of lẩu nấm (I think), the Viet version of steamboat, by the side of the road. It’s no secret local food ordered by locals is better.

Is too much coconut water bad for you in Saigon Vietnam
Is too much coconut water bad for you?

Next a leisurely stop over at one of our road trip team’s family coconut farm. As I was offered and guzzled freshly opened coconut after freshly opened coconut to drink, I wondered if too much can be bad for you?

On Day 2 we set off for a day of exploring. Well we were actually just visiting one of our road trip team’s parents.

Three fat pigs, two lively goats

We trundled down the skinniest road with lush jungle on either side. Occasionally having to pull over so motorbikes could get past. One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on board. The biggest load I saw was a motorbike towing a trailer carrying enough reinforced steel to build a small house.

One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on… Click To Tweet

End of the road

Ferry barge, Saigon Vietnam
Ferry barge

The road ended at a Mekong river tributary.  A small barge ferry, big enough for motorbikes, people and small livestock, arrived shortly after we’d parked at the impasse.

We walked through tiny local markets, and tall shady trees on streets only wide enough for motos and pedestrians. To our friend’s parents place deep in the jungle.

Jungle hideout deep in the burbs

Cooking lesson Saigon Vietnam
Cooking lesson

Over the long lazy afternoon we had a karaoke session (I watched), drank more fresh coconut water (I had stopped worrying about the dangers of overdosing), cooked (mum let me cook two banh xeo pancakes), and ate the most delicious spread of local dishes. Over fascinating conversations.

Stories of the war

The locals call it the American War. The other captain’s brother was in despatch in the Australian army as a teenager, flying over Vietnam but never landing. (So not technically a vet.)

The more I learn about the Vietnam War (the one going on when I was growing up in Australia), the more I feel it was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up. Yet I have never felt Vietnamese people I’ve encountered to be resentful.

The Vietnam War was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up Click To Tweet

One of my road trip friends told us how he fled his village with seven on the moto, including his mum and dad, sister and kids. Ten years later when interviewing locals with an American journalist, the journo remarked he was surprised the people who’d been locked up in prison in appalling conditions were so happy. The reason: they were simply happy to be free.

Saigon Vietnam take 3?

Backstreets pho, Saigon Vietnam
Backstreets pho. Yum

At the end of Day 2 we were deposited safely back at our borrowed apartment in Saigon Vietnam.  We spent a week wandering around dodging the legendary motorbike traffic and taste testing the backstreets Pho.

I wonder if I’ll get a third chance to visit HCMC? I’d love to sail there one day…

Related

Good Morning Vietnam

35 Hours on a Train

Taken for a Ride by a Taxi Driver in Hanoi

A Lament for Vietnam

5 Days in Siem Reap

Remember the Dead Kennedy’s song Holiday in Cambodia?
When I was a teenager, the idea of taking holidays in Cambodia was a joke. Back then, under Pol Pot’s regime, the combined effects of executions, strenuous working conditions, malnutrition and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population.

Holidays in Cambodia are full of surprises

Now it’s totally different.
Siem Reap is gritty, it’s dusty, it’s charismatic, it’s cosmopolitan. It’s dirt cheap. It’s hedonistic, spiritual and surprising.
As the other captain remarked,

“This town’s got grit.”

True. I even had to wipe the dust off the bank machine screen so I could see how many $US I was withdrawing.

The hotel we’d paid for was a construction site

Holidays in Cambodia highlights: Fancy Boutique Hotel construction site
We had paid for our stay at the Fancy Boutique Hotel, but it was still being built

Day 1. We arrived at Siem Reap around 8 am after an obscenely early start. Our hotel transfer driver was at the airport holding up a card with my name. Yay, great start to my holiday in Cambodia!
The confusion began when our tuk tuk stopped outside a hotel we’d never heard of and the driver proceeded to unload our bags.
When we pointed to the name of the Fancy Boutique Hotel on the printed booking voucher, our driver said the Fancy was all booked out so we’d been moved and asked if we’d like to see for ourselves.
Hey why not? Sure enough. The Fancy Hotel was under construction. So we stayed at the Dinata Angkor instead. Nothing wrong with the Dinata. Once the dust had settled on our confusion. It was comfortable, clean and the staff were fantastically friendly and helpful.

Temple Golf

Holidays in Cambodia highlights: mini golf at Angkor Wat Putt
Mini golf at Angkor Wat Putt

Day 2. If you’re looking for a kooky spiritual experience check out Angkor Wat Putt, a miniature golf course with nine crumbling, accurate scale miniatures of the famous Angkor Temples.
We hired bicycles and rode the dusty hot roads past it in convoy. It was easy enough to miss.
How much fun can you have in the heat? Beers are a buck (US$1). There’s even a butler button so you don’t have to interrupt your game if you get thirsty. And a cool soundtrack. Early eighties Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Doors.

You get a free beer for a hole in one. What’s not to love?

You get a free beer for a hole in one. What’s not to love? Click To Tweet

Angkor Wat

Holidays in Cambodia highlights: Phnom Bok temple
We climbed 635 steps to the crumbling, peaceful Phnom Bok temple. The panoramic views were spectacular

Day 3. Sunrise at Angkor Wat is awesome and sublime. Even if it was another obscenely early morning.
The Angkor Wat Archaeological Park covers 400 square kms. I’m going to dedicate a separate blog to our visit. Suffice to say it was worth climbing the 635 steps to see the spectacular crumbling ruins of Phnon Bok. Without the crowds.

Electric bike tour of the back streets

Holidays in Cambodia highlights: electric bike tour of the back street burbs of Siem Reap
We stopped for a (warm) beer during our electric bike tour of the back street burbs of Siem Reap

Day 4. I’d never been on an electric bike before. So quiet, so cool.
Our convoy of E-bikes followed the river, further and further out of town to the burbs where the locals live.
Kids were having fun swimming in the river.
We slowed down to let a grubby, naked toddler carrying a mobile phone get off the road.
Chickens and roosters crossed our path.
We finished the day eating tapas at Bugs Cafe… My brother in law and I were violently ill that night.

A night at the circus

I spent Day 5 recovering and regretting eating that tarantula.

Okay. I wasn’t feeling 100%. But I wouldn’t have missed our night at the Cambodian circus for the world. My brother in law wasn’t up to it so we offered his ticket to our tuk tuk driver. You should have seen the surprise and happiness on the tuk tuk driver’s face.

“Oh my God? Really?”

He obviously loved the circus as much as we did, jokingly pretending to be my missing brother in law throughout the evening.
The circus is run by Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS). PPS provides arts education for young people from the streets and orphanages who come to learn, express and heal themselves through the arts.
“Influence”, the show we saw, mixes drama and circus to explore struggles for power and survival. Impressive, moving and powerful. Some of the mime reminded me of the live video of the Dead Kennedys Holiday in Cambodia on Rage…

I’d love to spend more time visiting Cambodia. If I won lotto I’d be planning lots more holidays in Cambodia. In fact I’d like to sail there sometime…

Related

Exploring the Funny Side of Angkor Wat

Good morning Vietnam (Holidays in Vietnam Part 1)

Revealing a hidden temple in the jungle

36 Hours in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Prawn Fishing in Permas Jaya

Captain Rod with his rod, indoor pond fishing in Permas Jaya
Captain Rod with his rod

Indoor pond fishing

Prawn fishing in Permas Jaya, in Malaysia’s Johor state, is an indoor pond fishing sport. Very popular with the locals. Hilarious for someone who grew up in coastal south western Australia, where all forms of fishing are done in the wild.

 The other captain told me he’d seen the new prawn fishing shop in Permas Jaya. I’d seen the fish fishing ponds. They’re outdoors. But the prawn fishing shop?

Sure enough it’s in one of the Permas Jaya side street shop houses. There’s a fishing pond inside, a rack of rods and an attendant.

We checked it out. Asked some people who were prawn fishing at the time how it works. One of them was a self-proclaimed fish whisperer. We pumped her for all the information she could give us and decided to give it a go.

A quirky, fun thing to do in Permas Jaya

Prawn fishing pond shop front in Permas Jaya
Prawn fishing pond shop front in Permas Jaya
This is how it works. You pay RM45. You get bait, an ash tray, a fishing rod with one meter of fishing line and a float attached, and an hour of fishing for your investment. Plus you get to take your catch home.

 

Squirmy worms

Pond fishing for prawns in Permas Jaya is not for the faint hearted
Not for the faint hearted

The bait comes in a small round takeaway food container full of little lumps of mud.

At first I thought the pooh shaped bits of mud were the bait LOL. The attendant didn’t exactly crack up when he showed me the squirmy worms hiding under the mud. But he took pity on me and my ignorance and demonstrated how to bait up.

First he cut off a piece of wriggling worm with the rusty pocket knife provided. Then threaded it, writhing, on to the hook. Tricky. It took me a few goes to get the hang of it.

Delicious

Result! I caught a prawn I caught a prawn in the indoor fishing pond, Permas Jaya
Result! I caught a prawn I caught a prawn

Between us the other captain and I caught eight prawns. A local also gave us his catch of four. We ate them back on Yana de Lys.  Footie snacks watching our team win their Australian Football League game.  Yum.

I couldn’t help thinking about the times we went king prawn fishing under the Fremantle bridge in the Swan River with our friend Rover.  Man that was an entirely different fishing experience.

Have you ever been prawn fishing?  Indoor pond fishing? What was it like?  BTW I would love you to Google+ and share my blog!

Related

Johor Who? Three things I love about this dirty old town

100 miles of Solitude in the Aussie Outback

It’s a wide open road

Driving in a straight line for an hour and a half without seeing another vehicle. Is this the great Aussie outback? Nah. Just a normal part of the road trip from Perth to Esperance WA (Western Australia).

I grew up in Esperance. 750 km south east of Perth, Western Australia. My roots are there. And my mum. And my little brother. Who is way taller than me by the way. But likes drinking wine as much as I do. So the night we arrived we did a bit of wine tasting, as you do.

Whale watching in the Aussie outback

The next morning I was seriously thinking about getting up, but frankly my body wasn’t responding, when we got the call. Whales. Cavorting just off the beach.

Erghh. My niece and I groaned and put on some warmth over our PJs and headed for the beach.

Worth it! The last time I saw whales was when I was doing the boat handling unit of my Yachtmasters course, off Fremantle, before my sailing adventures really began. It was my turn at the wheel driving the TAFE catamaran. Distracted by the whales spouting I almost failed the ongoing assessment.

The first time I saw whales was when I was in primary school. At the whale factory in Albany Whaling Station on a primary school excursion. But that’s a another story.

The whales off Castletown beach seemed to be resting, perhaps just waking up like my niece and I. It looked like a mother and baby closest to the beach. Felt like 30 metres away.

At first glance they just looked like rocky outcrops. Really. Then when I looked closer I could see the mini islands moving. And spouting water. Amazing. When I’m sailing I reckon any day with dolphins is a perfect day already. Any day with whale sightings is perfectly excellent.

Frenchmans Peak, Esperance WA

Gerard Depardieu's nose (Frenchman Peak) in the Aussie outback near Esperance WA
Does this remind you of Gerard Depardieu’s nose or is it just me?

The next day we decided to climb Frenchman Peak. (We all call this Esperance WA icon Frenchmans Peak.) We climbed it as kids. It’s just a tiny bit scary as an (um older) adult. But sooo satisfying. I never admitted to being fit, just up for it. And the view from the top is, of course, spectacular!

Three things you have to do

Esperance WA beaches are as isolated as the Aussie outback
Are they gigantic whales or islands in the distance?

When you visit Esperance WA there are three things you always have to do. Climbing Frenchmans Peak is optional. But:

  • You have to go to at least one Op Shop. I can’t get enough natural fibre white or light shirts for sun protection when I’m sailing. I scored big time with a linen and a cotton number at $5 for both. Bargain.
  • Coffee at the Taylor Street Tea Rooms. Going by different names these days it’s still right there on the beach next to the port. The coffee is still good, and it’s still one of the best spots to have it.
  • Drive around the beaches. I traveled all the way to north Queensland as a teenager before I realised Esperance has some of the most spectacular coastline in Australia. And in my personal sailing adventures it still rates as totally magnificent next to Thailand’s Phang Na Bay. Esperance just has the isolation advantage. It’s not crowded or full of trash. We’re talking about Southern Ocean water coming from Antarctica. Clean, achingly blue and cold.

A little bit spooky

So…driving back. (You gotta love a two way road trip.)

My niece had remarked Esperance looked like it had been flushed with money, now down on its luck.

In fact Esperance and the next town  Ravensthorpe (only 185 km away, but not in a straight line. Not counting Munglinup – Google it) had the same feel. The last mining construction boom has run its course. The big nickle mine there was built at the height of the cycle. The massive cost overruns, partly due to the skills and supply shortages of the boom, linked with falling commodity prices chimed the death knoll on the mega project.

Then Newdegate. Like a town with no people. Seriously. We drove through in the middle of the day and didn’t see a living soul. Didn’t help having a particularly creepy bit of War of the Worlds as the soundtrack. Something about taking blood from the living… shiver.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but my take on the Aussie outback is like in the remote desert. But the world is getting smaller, so maybe my road trip to Esperance was a bit Aussie outbacky after all?

Hey and BTW did I tell you sharing is sexy?  Feel free to share this story if you like it…

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Urban legends from the Aussie outback

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Whales delight beach goers in Esperance

Urban Legends from the Aussie Outback

 

Man and dog canoeing on Lake Serene at Boshack in the Australian outback, sort of
Man and dog canoeing on Lake Serene

I did some reverse travel a while ago.  Back in Australia visiting family and friends.

One family member works at Boshack Outback, ninety minutes from Perth, Western Australia.  A fascinating and hauntingly beautiful spot near Toodyay. People come from all over the world to experience the Australian outback, just 100 kms from Perth.

Kitchen makeover in the Australian outback

We visited the Boshack Outback farm for business and pleasure.  There was a kitchen makeover involved, as well as a barbecue and lots of witty chat.

The new ceiling going up for the Australian outback kitchen makeover
The new ceiling going up
The other captain was there to help his brother with a small construction project.  While the boys and resident backpackers built the ceiling, my sister and I wandered around the lake, soaking up the serene scenery.  After lunch the owner Deryck, gave us an express tour of the highlights.

Meditation Centre

The paperbark trees are said to be 200 years old. They've been meditating in the Australian outback for a while.
The paperbark trees are said to be 200 years old. They’ve been meditating a while.

The path through huge wise old paperbark trees is soggy and silent.  Until you get to the itty bitty waterfall.  Then the ground is soggy with a gentle falling water soundtrack.

My brother in law refers to this sublime spot as the Meditation Centre.  Deryck, calls it the Reflection Area.

It’s peaceful alright.  Even groups of schoolkids can stay still and quiet here for a minute and twenty seconds, according to Deryck.

Chasing sheep is the number one most popular activity

Who would have thought chasing sheep would be such a hit?   I’m guessing that statistic is from the children’s feedback.   My sister and I decided to give this exciting activity a miss.  We got enough of it when we were kids.
I understand eating live, raw witchety grubs comes a close second in popularity.

It’s a small world…

… when you can visit the Australian outback an hour and a half drive from Perth. I used to think of the outback as the remote, arid interior of Australia.

But the people who come from Singapore or England or wherever probably think they’re in the Never Never already when they get off the Great Eastern Highway.

The air is soooo clean compared to Senibong Cove back in Malaysia.  And the silence is almost deafening.  You can’t get phone or Internet connections.  I guess that’s why the Boshack website invites you to Rid Yourself of Nature Deficit disorder.

Nothing wrong with the nature cure I say.

A sneak peak inside the Australian outback tent accommodation
A sneak peak inside the tent accommodation

Where do you think the Australian outback is?

Related

Victim of a Crime in Johor Bahru Malaysia

This is the spot where I was a victim of crime
The scene of the crime

My bag was snatched.  It happened in an instant. I was a victim of crime.

How I became a victim of crime

The other captain and I were riding our motorbike on Jalan Harimau, not far from KSL. 

I was the passenger. 

We were about to park and I had taken my backpack off to check the time on my phone.  I was holding the bag in my lap.

There were two people on the crime bike too.  One was the snatcher, the other the getaway driver. 

We followed them for a while in the hope of getting their number plate, but they were too fast and there was too much traffic.  And it had started raining.

We had just given up the pursuit when we realised we were in front of a police guard station.  One of the cops immediately said “follow me” to the central police station in town.  At 100 kmph in the pouring rain.  But we didn’t lose him.

 

At the Polis Diraja Malaysia ( Royal Malaysia Police ) in Johor Bahru city, my report was taken by a kind young cop.  It seemed to take forever as his English skills were only slightly better than my uber basic Malay.   And his hunt and peck typing skills were even more rudimentary than his English.

Fortunately my cheap phone, limited cash and Aussie driver’s license were the only items of value.  And more importantly at least we weren’t hurt! 

No crime in Singapore

Apparently it’s a totally different story over the causeway.

There is a lot of talk about the prevalence of crime in Johor Bahru Especially in Singapore! 

On my last visit, a taxi driver told me proudly told me Singapore is the safest city in the world. Then proceeded to go through a litany of recent JB crime:

  • Victim of crime #1. An Iraqi guy had $US3000 stolen from his hotel room safe. “Obviously an inside job. A staff syndicate.”
  • Victim of crime #2. A group of ten of his friends were playing golf when they were held up at gunpoint for all their cash. “Mostly they had credit cards on them though.”
  • Victim of crime #3. A couple of his family were shopping in JB when they had their bags snatched at knifepoint. “They were so frightened they didn’t go shopping in JB again.”

My taxi driver could probably have continued all day if we hadn’t arrived at my destination.

 When I visited an art gallery, and the attendant there told me “Malaysia is like America’s south to us.”

Police procedure

After a couple of weeks one of the inspectors from the JB central police station called me.  He reported they had set up a police block for a kilometer  around the scene of the crime. 

But they hadn’t caught the perps or found my bag. No surprises there but I was truly grateful to feel they cared enough to get back to me.

I am interested in hearing about your experience of crime in Johor Bahru in Malaysia and Singapore.  Is Singapore as crime free as the locals tell me?  Is Johor Bahru as dangerous as some people claim?

Related

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Taken for a Ride by a Taxi Driver in Hanoi

Johor Bahru Is Fourth Most Dangerous City In The World

Taken for a Ride by a Taxi Driver in Hanoi

Our holiday in Vietnam instantly picked up speed

We were ecstatic but mildly disoriented when we got off the train in Hanoi at the end of our epic 35 hour journey.  Our holiday in Vietnam instantly picked up speed.

Holiday in Vietnam: View from the balcony at the Posh Hotel
View from the balcony at the Posh Hotel

Taxi driver on yaba

A taxi driver asked which hotel we wanted, took our bags and rushed off.

Convinced he was speeding off his face on yaba (amphetamines), we raced to catch up with him, tried to take our luggage back and asked what the fare would be.

He was only stationery because of the tug of war going on with the baggage.

We finally managed to haggle him down to just under half the exorbitant fee he quoted and raced after him to his taxi which took off at breakneck speed before we had even closed the doors.

We were unceremoniously dropped off in Hang Giay street, the address I had for the Posh Hotel. Unfortunately it was the wrong Hang Giay St. I had written the address down without thinking about including the diacritics (accents).

Lost in Hanoi

The night market in the old quarter was going nuts. We traipsed through the crowded foot traffic and and asked for directions and traipsed and asked and ran over people’s feet with our luggage. Until we finally found our hotel about an hour later.  Yay!

What no balcony? A recurring theme on our holiday in Vietnam

We’d paid extra for a room with a balcony. Yes it was a comfortable stylish room. But no an opening window isn’t a balcony.

This was a recurring theme throughout our holiday in Vietnam. The “balcony” at one place in Saigon was actually a fire escape. Fortunately we were moved to a room with a balcony with great views the next day. Posh.

Hanoi is very different to Ho Chi Minh City Saigon. The food is just as fabulous, maybe better. People wear funky, trendy clothes suitable for a snowstorm. It is colder by far, with a palpable police presence and aggressive scammers everywhere.

Hanoi Highlights

Wandering the streets of the Old Quarter. When the streets were closed off to foot traffic in the evenings the Mini Me rickshaws come out with little kids taking their parents, little siblings and friends for a ride. Hilarious.

Than Long Water Puppet Theatre accompanied by a traditional orchestra. I was totally enchanted by the sound of the dan bau or monochord. Ethereal.

The Temple of Literature. This “historical and cultural vestige” dedicated to sages and Confucian scholars was built in 1070. Utterly sublime.

Holiday in Vietnam: Contemplating Confucius
Contemplating Confucius

Halong Bay

We interspersed our stay with a few days in Halong Bay, as you do.

We hadn’t hired a scooter in HCMC or Hanoi because we were too busy getting lost slowly on foot. However we decided we could manage the navigation here.

It was great fun exploring this stunning area but freezing cold.

Meanwhile back in Hanoi

We returned to Hanoi for a few days before we were due to head back to our yacht in Senibong Cove Marina in Johor Bahru.

We’d booked a room with a balcony at the Mai Hotel this time. Of course we weren’t in the least surprised to discover no balcony.

But when we mentioned this and they upgraded us to the palatial Silver Room suite we could hardly believe our eyes. It included a fabulous sauna, a bath the size of a small swimming pool and the most amazing fake retro kitsch decor. It was too cold to enjoy a balcony anyway.

Holiday in Vietnam: Stylish golden tiled bath. Shame the hot water system couldn't supply a hot bath.
Stylish golden tiled bath. Shame the hot water system couldn’t supply a hot bath.

Holiday in Vietnam: King size bed fit for a queen.
King size bed fit for a queen.

Holiday in Vietnam: Who needs a balcony with furnishings like this?
Who needs a balcony with furnishings like this?

Have you been to Hanoi or Halong Bay? Been scammed in Vietnam? I would love your comments.

 

Related

35 Hours on a Train

 

Our Vietnam holiday just gets better

I think my husband (the other captain) has developed a new allergy: trains.
His aversion for buses is already legendary. I honestly don’t know how I talked him in to taking the 1726 km train trip from HCMC to Hanoi but despite trembling with terrible terrible train angst leading up to it we boarded on New Years Day for the next leg of our Vietnam holiday.

Our four berth soft sleeper was also occupied by three locals. (Yes I know that adds up to five inmates but I mentioned in my last post they do tourism differently in Vietnam).

Boredom sets in

We made friends with the kid who shared a berth with his granny. His eyes lit up whenever one of our electronic devices appeared.

We helped relieve his boredom by letting him wedge himself between us to watch a movie and later to play Angry Birds on a laptop. His victory dance when he scored was sensational.

Vietnam holiday part 2: our cabin mate was even more bored than the other captain
Our cabin mate was even more bored than the other captain

Vietnam holiday part 2: ...until we let him play Angry Birds
…Until we let him play Angry Birds

This leg of our Vietnam holiday really was slow travel in slow motion. Through the dirty train windows, to a clacketty clack soundtrack during the 35 hour journey we saw endless jungle; paddy fields; sheep; goats; water buffaloes; many many cemeteries; rivers; a glimpse of the sea.

Vietnam holiday through the train window: paddy fields
Through the train window: paddy fields
Vietnam holiday through the train window: train lines and timber
Through the train window: train lines and timber
Vietnam Holiday train scenery: buffaloes
Through the train window: buffaloes
Vietnam Holiday train scenery: banana trees
Through the train window: banana trees
Vietnam Holiday train scenery: sheep
Through the train window: sheep
Vietnam holiday train scenery: a glimpse of the sea
Through the train window: a glimpse of the sea

A meal of Bia 33 and boiled eggs

Our ten carriage train carried a live rooster. In cattle class there were babies sleeping comfortably on the floor and a local family having a meal of Bia 33 and boiled eggs.

During the night they did a sneaky trick and moved the canteen carriage from the front to rear. My first thought as I woke up was that we were going backwards, slow travel in reverse.

Finally we arrived in Hanoi. And were quickly scammed by a taxi driver on yaba. I’ll tell you about the Hanoi part of our Vietnam holiday in my next blog.

Good Morning Vietnam

Three weeks. Three cities. Thirty five hours on a train. Man I love the Nam. Here’s how our holidays in Vietnam started…

The best holidays in Vietnam begin in Saigon

From the moment we landed at the Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) it felt totally chaotic. Despite having everything in order for our visa on arrival it still took nearly two hours to get through customs and immigration. The currency has a million zeroes to contend with. They drive on the wrong side of the road. Crossing the road is an adventure.

Holidays in Vietnam: The motorbike traffic is legendary in Ho Chi Min City AKA Saigon
The motorbike traffic is legendary

There’s no point in waiting for a break in the traffic. Just walk slowly, hold your nerve and the motorbikes and scooters weave around you. Not so scary after the first time. Except when the motorbike driver is sending a text message and not looking at pedestrians on the road.

We stayed in Ho Chi Min City’s District 5 for the first five days. Very local. Not a western franchise in sight.

Holidays in Vietnam: Beer is less than a buck in Ho Chi Min City AKA Saigon.
Street level drinking. Beer is less than a buck. What’s not to love?

The slap

I thought we were blending in until one morning I was just walking along the street and felt a slap on my bum. Looked round to see where it came from. Got a snarling grumpy glare from a local woman.

I still have no idea what it was about… They don’t do tourism in Vietnam in the same way as the other countries I’ve visited.

Traditional roast turkey Christmas holidays in Vietnam style

The other captain had his heart set on roast turkey etc on Christmas day so we signed up for the hotel’s buffet lunch. Free flow champagne (I really don’t think it came from that district in France) and beer plus an endless array of delicious food for about $25 a head. Including – well sort of  – traditional roast turkey.

I asked for a slice off the traditionally roasted turkey’s leg.  The server proceeded to chop at it with a cleaver, right through the bone. All to the soundtrack of Silent Night and Edelweiss on strict rotation. Christmas the Viet way.

The heart of Ho Chi Minh City

We moved in to the heart of Ho Chi Minh City for a few days after that. We checked out:

… and generally wandered around soaking up the atmosphere.  Then we booked our tickets for the train to Hanoi.

Holidays in Vietnam: Good morning Saigon
View from my balcony. Good morning Saigon.

Holidays in Vietnam are awesome.

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