Archive for the ‘Vietnam’ Category

WP_20131025_002I am on my way to the Mentawai Islands which are off the west coast of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. There was no chance of getting there via a direct flight from Hanoi so I have got to make a couple of stopovers to break up the journey. The first of these is today in Singapore.

I am only going to be in Singapore for eighteen hours between the flight in from Vietnam and the flight out to Jakarta tomorrow. I will also be returning here for a few days later on my travels.

Consequently I have checked into the hotel at the airport itself to minimise on transit grief, and allow myself a day off everything apart from the ever present administrative backlog.

WP_20131025_005My hotel is so close to Changi airport that it is possible for the air traffic controllers to watch me doing the back stroke in the pool on the roof.

However in the interests of public safety it is probably best that they keep focused on the the job at hand.

I should say at this point in all fairness to them arriving at the airport is probably the most pain free landing, immigration and customs process of my entire trip.

From walking through the doors of the plane, to checking into my room at the hotel took less than twenty minutes. I can’t fault Changi airport at all to be honest the service and standard of the place is amazing.

Worlds-Tallest-Slide-in-Singapore-AirportSaying that though, any airport that decides to build the world’s largest helter skelter slide inside it is always going to get my approval.

The biggest slide is four stories high and buying enough duty free entitles you to a free go, which I am hoping to take advantage of later today. Wheeeeeee!!!!!

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RamboIn John Rambo style I am breaking out from behind Vietnamese lines today, but without the aid of a compound bow or any RPGs. To do this I was originally going to buy a moped in the north and then try and get it across Laos, Thailand and possibly Myanmar all the while heading down towards Singapore.

Whilst that journey might have been a wee bit challenging with an eight foot board attached to the side of my wheels it wouldn’t have been impossible. However the stresses of that, or the warnings I have been given about the number of ne’er do wells in that area which is known as the golden triangle, who might want to try and take advantage of a surfer on his own, were not what put me off attempting the journey.

Area mapIt was more as a result of getting a bit burned by my Central American road trip earlier in the year. I looked at the map and wondered realistically how long it might take to complete the journey. I would have had enough time originally but shuffled my flights into that spare time to ensure I was at Tom and Lily’s wedding, and was a bit glad when my hand was forced on the matter

There would undoubtedly have been some fun stuff to report on including some potential for surf on the west coast of Thailand as I worked my way down. There is still an outside chance that I may still get to surf there, but it just depends on how I juggle the days remaining on this trip.

As a consequence of all the above I wisely opted for a taxi to the airport where I am getting on a flight down to Singapore, instead of the Top Gear Scooter Surf Special.

Singapore-flagIt all went well today apart from at Hanoi’s airport, which must be the most inefficient one I have experienced on my travels thus far. I almost missed my flight because their check in system is as well administered as their highway code.

I have two hours of utter chaos before scraping through by the skin of my teeth as usual. The look on the check in clerk’s face when he realised he would personally have to run my 8’0″ surfboard through the airport to ensure it got on my flight was priceless.

I will not dare open my board bag until I get to the next beach in fear of what might have happened to the contents due to the knocks I am sure it has experienced along the way today! 

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ho_chi_minhHo Chi Minh, who I have discovered used to work in the kitchens on the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry route between the United Kingdom and France, was the leader of the revolution in Vietnam to free the country of foreign rulers.

A western backed resistance fighter in the second world war, he went on to lead the nation into the struggles which freed his country to follow its current communist ideology. He died before the end of the Vietnam War but when tanks from the North Vietnamese army rolled into Saigon many bore the slogan ‘Uncle Ho still marches with us’ on the side.

WP_20131024_017His embalmed body is currently on display in this mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi. The embalming was done despite his will requesting that he be cremated. As a consequence I don’t much feel like going to peer at his pickled corpse.

I have also been having too much fun on the scooter to head inside just yet. I am glad to be mobile so do a bit more sightseeing.

WP_20131024_019A few hundred metres down the road is Vietnam’s Presidential Palace. I nearly got myself in a bit of bother taking this photo. They were not too fond of me passing my camera through the railings so I could get a shot without iron bars in it, and I got told to be on my way. I was then watched suspiciously all the way back to my moped, where they looked more than a little concerned by my helmet camera contraption.

I didn’t stick around for long thinking it best I get away sharply from the situation, but then had so much fun riding through the rush hour traffic as you will have seen from the videos. I pulled up outside the Moose and Roo bar once more and then had a great conversation and a few drinks with an Australian couple, Tony and Trudy, who hail from the western end of The Great Ocean Road.

What a thoroughly enjoyable day.

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Broken SpeedoI have managed to get my Hanoi moped video uploaded thanks to a great data connection in Singapore. Viewing them may put you off getting on the back of a motorbike with me, but I can live with that. Bikes are generally more fun on your own anyway.

You will have to judge speeds for yourselves. I have no idea because my speedometer was broken. Enjoy the randomness of it all.

Both are quite long – you have been warned:

Hanoi Rush Hour & The Road To The Pub

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WP_20131024_004I have clearly been watching far too much of the Sons of Anarchy DVD box sets I recently bought, because the urge to get out on two wheels has got the better of me. It was also only $5 to hire these wheels of steel for the day in Hanoi, so I simply couldn’t resist.

However my large head once again caused a few problems because the rental company did not have a skid-lid big enough for it.

Rob The Mobile TripodJokingly I suggested that I could wear my surfing helmet if they did not have anything in my size which was immediately seized upon. Plenty of people don’t bother with anything at all here in Hanoi so it seemed like a very workable option for all concerned, albeit falling some way short of the normal British kite mark safety standards that I would look for if riding a more powerful machine.

The added bonus is that I can finally test the helmet mount for my GoPro camera, so I have spent the day riding around looking like the cyborg you see here. I got more than a few double takes on my way around the city, but managed to get hundreds of photographs and some great video of the mayhem I have been tangling with. Sadly most of the files of me tearing up rush hour traffic would have taken nearly two weeks to upload due to the size of the files and the speed of my current data connection, so for now you will have to make do with this taster clip of me terrorising pedestrians next to the Temple of Literature.

pony_tail_helmetWhilst riding one of the first things you notice on the roads here are the ponytail helmets that are worn by many of the local ladies, which have a groove cut out of the back to minimise disruption to their hairstyles. However this further exposes the brain from what little protection is offered by the baseball cap design that is used almost universally here.

The things you ladies due in the pursuit of appearance never cease to amaze me.

I saw so many bizarre thing on the road today but these pictures will give you a flavour if nothing more:

bags

  Beer

bog roll

Coke

Ducks

 

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WP_20131023_013I am late for far too many things and have stumbled through the doors of churches before now, midway through the wedding ceremonies of family and friends.

As a consequence I made a particular effort to be on time today, so much so that I actually arrived at the venue for the festivities about an hour before anybody else!

WP_20131023_017It did allow me time to explore the venue before the other guests arrived and I was particularly impressed with the melon sculptures you see here.

The function was on an island in the middle of a lake in the north of Hanoi and moored to it was a boat largely consisting of a swimming pool on which this floating decoration was installed.

WP_20131023_033In Vietnamese culture the function is far more important than the ceremony itself and as a consequence I was staggered when all the local guests attending the function just disappeared halfway through the ceremony and speeches because the food was being served.

This leaves Tom, his brother Patrick who was acting as his best man and his father having their speeches interpreted to people who are largely more interested in the wonderful food which had been prepared for everybody. This was only mildly interrupted by the gentle ribbing from Patrick about his brother during his speech, which caused some degree of alarm to Tom’s new Vietnamese family about the caliber of man they are allowing into their family. What is normal in western weddings would have the locals reeling in horror.

It is a great experience though and as somebody who is not always a fan of weddings I have to say how much I enjoyed the one for Thomas Edward Wallace Bulfin and his beautiful new wife Lily.

As with all things in Vietnam everybody starts early goes hard and then disappears around ten o’clock. I enjoyed a few more beers with the Bulfin family and their friends before getting a cab back to the old quarter.

I couldn’t resist a gin and tonic or two before turning in at the Moose & Roo bar just down the road from my hotel, which has become a second home for me during my stay in Hanoi. It is a North American Aussie hybrid bat that serves great food, and as usual I was warmly received there having a great chat with the owner and his staff.

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Baler_mapVietnam and much of the South China Sea are largely sheltered by the Philippines, Borneo and Brunei.

It was for that reason (and I’m sure a degree of hostility to all things from the USA so soon after the war) that Colonel Kilgore’s quote of “Charlie don’t surf son” in Apocalypse Now was actually filmed in Baler in the Philippenes.

Charlie's BreakThe surfing scene in the movie is entirely down to John Milius the screen writer who went on to write and direct the legendary surf movie Big Wednesday.

A surfer himself he could not resist adding some larking about in the water into the screenplay.

Vietnamese SurfingIf I had my own squadron of Huey helicopters I would be up for making a dash down to Da Nang to the sounds of Flight of the Valkeries by Wagner, but sadly I don’t.

They do get good waves there as you can see, but it will take me at least a day to reach whatever is available, along with all the associated expense and grief and then the same for the return journey so I am going to pass on the opportunity.

It is a shame but I will shortly be in the Indian Ocean again and can gorge myself on the waves available there to make up for it. Charlie might surf in Vietnam, but Rob doesn’t look like he will on this trip.

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StagWeekendsAs soon as I returned to Ha Noi I had to get changed before heading straight out to join the stag night drinks one of my surfing buddies Tom. Before I go any further I will state that the stag in this picture is not Tom, and in fact looks nothing like him, but I wanted to give you some flavour of the sort of mischief which the groom’s friends can get up to.

Tom’s brother and several of his friends from back home on the Surf Highway in New Zealand have flown in for the festivities and it isn’t long before the beer is flowing and the tone of the chat between the Kiwis and myself is heading towards the gutter.

Early newborn Lambs herald SpringI didn’t take any pictures of the night’s events and even if I had I wouldn’t display them here in line with the code expected from a stag do. However I can at least recount one of the nights event involving myself which at least will not incriminate anybody else.

At one stage I had perhaps taken the concept of trying to pick up women too far and a bit like the farmer you see here carrying two new born lambs, I had scooped up a diminutive local girl under each of my arms. I then proceeded to dance around the bar with them dangling down. Safe to say they were not impressed, even if I and the rest of the chaps found it very funny.

Hanoi NightIt was not long afterwards that we decided to wind up the proceedings. Most of the others opted for a taxi back but I decided I would go on a magical mystery tour to see if I could find my hotel on foot. As soon as their cab disappeared I wondered if this might be a mistake, but armed for the trek with pockets full of the beer bottles I had sensibly stocked myself with in our last venue I staggered on with the bottles clanking together.

Hanoi is normally an endless racket of moped horns, music and all kind of madness in every direction so it was quite creepy to be wondering around the place so deserted at 4am. I thought if ever there was somewhere I would get myself into more mischief than I bargained for then this was it, but managed to find my way back unscathed.

locked-doorThen having managed to find my way home I was somewhat disappointed to discover the door to my hotel was chained shut when I got there, and that a message had been placed on the window saying that I should have been back before 3am.

After failing to get a response with the doorbell I could have taken the option to sleep on the doorstep until somebody woke up. However I decided correctly that kicking the door very hard and making as much noise as humanly possible might result in a more comfortable time in the land of nod. The person who let me in didn’t look too impressed but there haven’t been any repercussions since then, so I think I am allowed to continue my stay here.

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WP_20131021_005Despite all the time I have spent at sea on this adventure I realised that this was the first time I had actually slept at sea.

Waking bleary eyed the following morning I was delighted to see this sight out of my cabin’s window. The silence is only broken by the wailing of the old ladies trying to sell you packets of Pringles and sweets from the row boats that they are moving from ship to ship. It could be worse!

WP_20131020_124Our fierce tour guide takes us all of to see a pearl farming operation in one of the secluded coves after breakfast. (Having exhausted all the possible variations of pearl double entendres in Tahiti I wont repeat them again here.)

The floating operation was not that impressive but it was interesting to see them implanting the impurity into the oysters to start the process which results in a pearl. I did ask Louisa if she wanted a pearl necklace while we checked out the jewellery in the shop but think the joke was wasted on her.

WP_20131021_055After the pearl farm all there was left to enjoy was the slow cruise for a couple of hours to get us back to the port. The scenery really is staggeringly pretty here and I have loads of pictures, none of which will do it justice.

I watch a few DVDs on my laptop to break up the journey back to Ha Noi. Traffic is a bit of an issue once we arrive and our tour guide Hao practically throws us out of the door at each drop off point to avoid creating a traffic jam. This means that everything is a bit manic and all the goodbyes to new friends made on the trip are somewhat rushed, which was a shame.

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WP_20131020_021I have a few days spare before I have anything planned so I decide to take advantage of the opportunity to go out to Ha Long Bay where Top Gear’s Vietnam special ended up.

The three hour journey on a cramped bus is only broken up by being sent into a tourist shopping centre for twenty minutes. Although why they thought I might want to pick up some five foot high marble statues is beyond me. I also suspect they might use up more than a fraction of my weight allowance on the remaining flights I have before returning home.

WP_20131020_048When we arrive at Ha Long City I am a tad dismayed to see how many boats are going to be heading out to the bay. There are hundreds of them so the chances of getting a secluded spot to ourselves are rather slim.

While we are ferried over to our ship by its launch, I enjoyed all the sea eagles which were in the sky and diving down to pick out some lunch from the South China Sea. There was a cosmopolitan bunch of tourists on my boat from the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Germany and the UK.

WP_20131020_065I am staggered by the quality of the room I have been allocated once we get to the boat. It is better than most of the hotels I have stayed in world wide.

there isn’t time to enjoy its luxury for long though because we are fed a banquet for lunch and I gorge myself on the vegetables on offer. All too frequently I have to make do with junk food because it is easy to source on this trip so the chance to stock up the vitamin bank is too good to miss.

WP_20131020_113The only other single person on the boat is Louisa who you see here ejoying the view of some of the two thousand islands that we are cruising eastward through on our first day.

We had sat next to one another on the bus to Ha Long City and I discovered that she hails from Sao Paulo in Brazil. The two of us got on well and spent most of the next couple of days together.

WP_20131020_174The first stop for our cruise is the Surprise Caves on one of the islands, which are huge.

Our tour guide is quite a fierce local lady and Louisa and I are quick to ditch her and the rest of the group so we can explore the caves on our own without being ranted at.

DCIM100GOPROImmediately after leaving the caves we are transferred by the launch to one of the floating villages in the bay so we can be let loose on a kayak.

Despite an inexplicable tendency to veer towards the right, Louisa and I had a lot of fun finding a little beach with it’s own cave to explore. I am not fond of sitting in enclosed kayaks as a rule but really enjoyed the hour of meandering around the limestone rock formations.

DCIM100GOPRO

Our launch collected everybody and took us to another beach towards the end of the afternoon. Not having been in the water since Japan I couldn’t resist taking a swim in the bay there.

The sun went down while I swam and I was able to get a few pictures with my GoPro all the while paying attention to the eagles circling overhead in case one of them got ambitious and though they might try and drag me out!

WP_20131020_266We were picked up and then ferried back to our boat to enjoy drinks on the top deck before another feast for dinner.

The number of boats here wasn’t a problem in the end, and as I downed a few beers I got this picture of all of their reflections at night time, shimmering in the still water. A fantastic day

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