Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Hue, Hoi Ann and the Russian.

Arrived in Hue in the pissing rain and set about meeting up with my Russian friend Ulgar, Ilse and her son Fabian at the backpackers hostel. This was my first encounter with the backpacker chain of hostels and apparently they’re pretty big in the travelling world. It was kind of like walkabout with beds upstairs, very trendy aussie style and lots of western food/drink available. Ulgar, bless her, was still feeling a bit ill (cold) so she just chilled with upstairs while I headed to the hostel bar to make some new friends. I bumped into Ramco and Eric, two ducth guys I was hanging around with in Goa 2 months prior who were also staying there and we cought up on some war stories and had a few beers.

The next day Ulgar, the family unit and I went for a wonder to see what Hue had to offer. The weather was still crap so it wasn’t as impressive as it might have been but was still a pretty cool city. Hue used to be the capital of Vietnam until the war and it has lots of war based history museums to appease the culture junkies. The highlight of the day was defo the KFC I indulged in. Had a pretty chilled night in playing card games and flirting with Ulgar then we headed to bed as we had a bus early doors the next day.

The next day me and the Russian headed to Hoi Ann to spend a couple of days. I didn’t really know much about the place before going but the LP recommended it as one of the best things to do in ‘nam and rightly so. It’s kind of like Bruges only a lot cheaper and with more backpackers. It’s absolutely gorgous, a really quant and romantic place, unfortunately Ulgar was STILL feeling a bit ill so spent most of the day in bed. To be fair I wasn’t complaining as we both spent most of the time in bed ;-). In the evening the hotel we were staying at had free cocktails between 6:30 and 7:30 so I smashed 5 of those and got chatting to two Canadian chicks and a French guy. Then the four of us went to a bar to play some pool before I headed back to bed to bring ulgar her diner (I was playing doctor!)

The next day Ulgar cought a bus back to Hanoi as she was heading to Thailand so I went for a wonder around the city to soak in the atmosphere and then spent a few hours updating my blog back at the hotel. Then in the evening I went back for the free cocktails, meet with the Canadians again and this Irish guy and his German travel GF. The five of us wondered up to Café 43 for 3000 dong (10p) beers and to book a cooking course for the next day. Needless to say at 10p a beer we drank a bucket load of beers and staggered back to the hotel.

The next day…..I can’t think of any other way to start these paragraphs….. the following day…. Nah that’s too similar…… why is this so difficult to come up with another way to start a paragraph….. errr….. fuck it, the next day I went off to the cooking course and met up with the Canadian girls there. The three of us joined forces with a new Zealand couple who were making slight different food so we figured we would all make something different and share out the food and recipes. The course itself cost $5 then you had to pay for whatever meal you ate (bargain!). Between us we cooked stuffed squid (amazing), chicken curry, chicken with fried veg and cashew nuts and about 4000 spring rolls! After the cooking course I wonderd around the town some more trying to get a traditional Chinese outfit made for tigger and eventually found a place that already had a baby sized outfit that they cut down to fit him for $5 all in J

Friday, 16 December 2011

Biking in 'Nam

Ok, so having biked from Lang Son to Halong bay and really enjoyed myself, the adventure turned into more of a struggle than I expected. I was trying to get to Hue by the 9th so as to meet up with the Russian Girl (Ulgar) I was chatting to on the halong bay boat trip. Obviously the roads in 'nam are pretty poor in terms of pot holes and nutty drivers, all of which I could have coped with had the weather been better. Basically I was concentrating so much on the road, the nut bar bus drivers who don't take any prisoners whilst being soaking wet from the rain and worrying about petrol, what gear I was in (the bike had neither gauges for each - which Suzi did have!) and which direction to be traveling.

On the first night I stayed at a fairly legitimate looking hotel just outside of a major city as it looked clean and safe. I got chatting to one of the hotel staff who spoke fairly good english who wanted to practise and for me to hang out with her and the other employee's. To her suprise, when she offered for me to come along to her friends 'party' even though I was shattered I thought I'd give it a whirl (carpe diem and all that). So like 20 odd employees of the hotel rode off in convoy to the 'party', of which I had no idea what I was going to. We arrived at this restaurant about 5k from the hotel and got some snails and chips to eat. The entire time I was being starred at like the elephant man by all the employees, but it was kinda cool being so interesting to them. The guys where trying to get me pissed on Vietnam Wine (40 odd percent) but I was being carefull as I didn't want to be hammered while riding in a foreign country (obviously!). After the meal we all went off in convoy to a karaoke place that didn't have any of my trusty songs that I usually call upon to nail so I ended up going with 'circle of life' from the lion king. Big mistake, that song is haaaaaard! Everytime I picked a song that I thought I would be able to do well it turned out to be by another artist (eg 'now and forever' I thought was going to be by Richard Marx which I know pretty well was actually the air supply version that I'd never heard of!). Anyway, I also did Gangster Paradise by Coolio which I did pretty well but the guys where ripping the piss out of my rapping most of the song by also freestyle rapping in Vietnamese!

The next day I managed to get one of the employees to fix my head light on my bike (did I mention that non of the electrics worked?!) so at least I was 'safer' riding at night. I was making pretty good time heading south until the road got really shitty then my chain fell off, fortunately just outside of a garage. The guy fixed it in about 20 minutes and charged me the whopping fee of one pound for his troubles! If that had happened in England they would have charged a shit load to fix that. Then about 2 hours later I was happily plodding through a village and a dog ran out in front of me, I couldn't brake quick enough and ended up hitting it and dropping the bike. Immediately I was in shock, the dog was whining and limped off to the side of the road, I got up and checked that I was OK (I wasn't wearing any protective gear other than a helmet so I was pretty lucky) and checked the bike which was ok except for the indicator (that didn't work anyway!) was smashed and the make shift luggage rack (two planks of wood held on my an empty bike tire) was bent. At this point I had a massive crowd of people around me and I was trying to get them to show me where the dog was to check it was ok, eventually found it standing up, a bit shacky, and had a minnor cut on it's head but was ok. I was trying to explain that I felt really bad for the dog (even though I wasn't doing anything 'wrong') but a guy was telling me that it;s a different culture here and basically that they don't care about dogs. Poor thing was probably their tea that night! So obviously that shook me up a fair bit and I rode for another hour before stopping in at a hotel and hitting the hay early.

The next day I rode for about 70k and when I arrived in Vinh I decided I'd had enough of biking so sold the bike for half what I paid for it 4 days prior. TBF I only lost out on 120 dollars (70 odd quid?) so fuck it. It was a great experience and I defo don't regret it but it's not something I'd do again in 'nam. At least not in the winter anyway. Apparently the roads south of Hue are much more enjoyable but the weather was shit the whole time (and has been since) so I'm glad I gave up. Got a bus to Hue from Vinh which took 8 hours and i was so happy to be in the warmth and comfort of a sleeper bus :-).

Ok, my hour on this internet cafe is almost up so tune in for my next installment when I'll be reporting on Hue, Hoy Anne and Nha Trang.


Monday, 12 December 2011

Halong Bay

Day one of the bike trip. I set off from the garage with my ruck sack securely strapped to my bike and my smaller bag on my back. The first roads I went on where an absolute dream, a fantastic mix of rugged gravel with sections of sweeping bends and little villages to pass this stage the roads where quite enough to listen to music while I was riding so I was really in my element on the first day. Also everywhere that I stopped in to get food was well off the tourist trail so not only was it really cheap and tasty but the people where also really friendly too. Now having said that it did take a lot longer to get to the Halong City.Having arrived pretty late I checked in at a hostel recommended by the Lonely Planet based on the idea that I'd be on a boat trip with other westerners and not a bunch of middle aged Asian's that I wouldn't be able to talk to. I also figured that as it was LP recommended that the tour would be a good standard and reasonably priced. I didn't do a whole lot of investigating afterwords to see how much other people had paid but I got the impression that for what I got it was a little pricey but I did speak to some people who paid more and got less so it's all good.

So the morning of the boat trip I did a little work on my blog then the rep picked me up and took me to the peer on the back of his scooter. I was bricking it as all the other westerns I spoke to at the peer where on different boats and I could see a lot of groups of Asians walking around. Then when it came to getting on the boat there was 4 russians, 2 spanish, 2 german, an iranian, a girl from korea and basically everyone on the boat spoke a different language to English as their main language! As it turned out it was ok as I met a really interesting girl (see my reflection chapter) who was great to talk to and on the first day we visited some cool caves, saw the fishing community's and did a bit of kayaking. Then we settled at the place we were staying for the night and the guide said you can swim in the sea if you like. At which point I said to him "can i jump in from the top?" to which he replied "yes" and without a seconds hesitation I threw my T-shirt off and jumped straight in from the top deck! Think that got me a bit of codos with the Russians and they where all jumping in straight after me and later that night they even called me "messiah"! Then I started drinking vodka with the Russians and got rather pissed before doing a couple of hours of Karaoke.

The next morning my brain felt several sizes too large for my head so I was straight on the Resolve to try and combat the hangover I'd earned. After a bit of hanging around and the boat breaking down for a bit we eventually made it to Cat Ba island for day 2 of the trip. At this stage I only had the two russians who couln't speak hardly any English and a German girl who was ok but the conversation was a little forced and not as flowing as with other people I'd met. Anyway, we walked around this nature reserve for about 3 hours and as the weather was shit and I was rocking the Jesus sandals I nearly fell over a fair few times. Eventually made it to the top and if it had been a clear day it would have been a magnificent view. Then we all went back to the hotel, had a bit of a snooze then went to the Lonely Planet recommended cafe on the island for some bloody amazing food and fried banana with ice cream and mango pancakes. That night we went out for a quite drink and I tried my best to chat up this Russian girl I'd met that day. It emerged that she was going the same way as me so we exchanged numbers and planned to meet in a few days...... I'll come back to that in the next entry ;-).

That was about it for the boat trip really, had it been a clear day it would have been an amazing experience but as it was a bit shitty it was a good job that the people on the boat where cool to carry the experience.

It's free cocktails between 6.30 and 7.30 at the hotel I'm staying at so I better head to the bar to get my drink on. Only about a week behind now on my blog so maybe I'll do some more tonight or tomorrow.



I realized while speaking to a really interesting girl on the halong Bay boat trip that this blog has mainly been about my experiences rather than my impressions or feelings. So I want to take a brief section of this blog for kind of a quarter time analysis of my travels so far.

In general I want to start of by saying what a fucking amazing experience this has been. Obviously there have been highs and lows but the positives have massively outweighed the negatives. The best part of this has been the people I've met along the way. I suppose I expected that the main thing I was wanting to get out of this was a bunch of new experiences and to cross off a few things from the old Bucket list but really the people I've met along the way have been the best part. Not just the fellow travelers either, I've been really lucky to have loads of authentic(ish) experiences with the locals rather than just doing the tourist shit all the time. The tourist trail is centered around all the main places on the tourist route so is completely geared up to cater for the needs (when in actuality it's the desires) of the tourists. So when you follow the 'lonely planet bus' from one place to the next you see all the same western products and tacky souvenirs on display. And that's great, don't get me wrong, but the most authentic experiences I've had have been off the beaten track and doing things on my own.

Ok, some gripes. These aren't major annoyances but just some general observations. The terms 'gap year' and 'find myself' are starting to get a bit cliche. Also everyone (including myself) seems to follow the lonely planet to the word and this tends to create two side effects, firstly if an establishment is mentioned in the LP they sometimes become complacent about their prices or level of service and take advantage of the name they've earned. Secondly it means that if you go to one of these places it often has been totally geared up to suit westerners and so loses it's character and charm. Sometimes by deliberately avoiding LP recommended places you can find real gems like the bar I found in Udaiper, the restaurant in Jaisalmere that had the best thali in the universe or the nightclub in Sanming that I had that incredible night in. 

Going back to the people, I want to talk about some of the most memorable people I've met along the way. Firstly Wade, my travel buddy in India is defo my favorite character so far. All the Aussie girls I met in India where great correctors and really nice people. The Group I met in Goa (including Log the welsh nutter!) where hilarious fun and utter piss heads. Also Billy the 60 year old dude from Goa was an absolute hero, I hope to stay in touch with him. Most of the people in the Kungfu camp where great, notably Pierre the nails Shaolin long term-er, Jackson the Aussie motorbiker who was genuinly a really stand up bloke, Dan my ever reliable and lovable room mate and Simon the Doctor who was really funny and easy to talk to. Also special mention to Jack and Samir who where inseparable and although they where only 18 where actually really interesting and mature despite having the roles of entertainers. Also I've been traveling with this Russian Girl called Ulgar and even though she hasn't been functioning at 100% as she's been ill she's still a great person who has a great attitude towards life despite some pretty big knock backs.

As for the Vietnam girl who inspired me to write this reflection chapter, she was probably the most deep and interesting person I've met in my travels. For the life of me I can't remember her name but she had done a shit load of traveling and had some really deep theories on the interconnections between people, the beauty of the world and the greatness of traveling. She really got me to open up about why I'm traveling, what I've experienced so far and what I want to do in the future. She had this theory that the world was one big 'intergalactic soup' and everyone's spirits are connected. She lost me a little bit towards the end but she had some really interesting thoughts on why people travel. I started to talk about my mates back home and how they're all settled into some sort of long term plan, be it career, marriage, mortgage, kids, whatever but they all had something tying them into not being able to travel. She believed (and arguably this is a bit arrogant and self indulgent) that anyone who travels is an eagle and "you can't fly with chickens". Now that may be a little strong but having met a dutch women in her 30's who was traveling with her 4 year old son and doing all the same things and staying in all the same backpacker hostels as us 'youngsters' I kind of think that sometimes the ties that keep people from traveling could be severed if they really went for it. But then again I'm going to return back to England with no money, no possessions and nothing material to show for 15 odd grand I've spent on this trip so maybe I'm the idiot.  

I suppose if I'm being completely honest with myself the main reason for traveling was impress and suit Hayley's plans. But the more time I spend traveling the more I can see myself doing this for a long time, maybe for a few years. The current thought is that after I've finished my round the world ticket I'll live and work in Australia for a year then apparently you can extend your visa by an extra year so long as you've done 3 months of agricultural work. Then I'll be 30 so maybe I'll go and work in the middle east for a couple of years to take advantage of the high income and no tax. Or maybe I'll try to get some sort of qualification and work as a scuba instructor in Thailand or teach English in China, who knows, but at the moment I'm not sure I can see myself going back England to spend the rest of my life now that I've tasted what the rest of the world has to offer.

I'm trying to think of things that I miss from back home, the things that immediately spring to mind are my family and friends. Big family get together's at Mum and Cathy's, Macmillan special occasions, weddings/birthdays etc. In terms of day to day things I defo miss Sunday night football at Crowthorne and house piss ups at challs, Rob+Nat's, hobbs house, Debbie+Steve's etc. I also really miss Rob and Lillerz and wish I could somehow magic them onto this adventure with me.

At this stage I love the fact that I have no specific plan but whatever happens I'll be back in October for a while to see everyone and save up enough money for the next adventure. I hope that this section doesn't offend anyone back home I know that everyone has their own drivers in life and traveling isn't everyone's bag. After all, if you'd asked me 3 years ago if I wanted to go traveling I'd probably have told you it was a waste of money and I'm too old for that sort of thing!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Guangzou to Vietnam – the long way round!

14 hour bus trip from Sanming to Guangzou and met up with pete and John. First of all we sorted out my journey to vietnam, or what we thought was the right journey! Turns out there are two places in China called “Pingxiang”, pretty much equidistant from Guangzou, and in pretty much the opposite direction! The only difference is the pronunciation (the most subtle of differences) and sure enough I went to the wrong one! So when I arrived in Pingxiang North and asked a taxi driver to take me to the border of Vietnam he was very confused, took me to the train station and it took a further hour and a few phone calls to Pete to work out the error. There was nothing else to do but laugh about the situation, no point in getting annoyed about it. So the helpful chinese rail staff, who I think felt really sorry for me made sure I got on the right train to Nanning (which was a 16 hour journey) then made sure I got on the right connecting train to the correct Pingxiang on the Vietnam border… for free J. On the train I got chatting to 3 sisters who couldn’t really speak any English but one of them had a train station app on their phone so we managed to get by. Then in Pinxiang I was told that it would take a further 2 days (no matter how much money I threw at it) to get my Vietnam Visa so had to spend two nights there! The first night I went to a KTV place and serenaded the bar staff with a few songs then headed to the only bar in town. On arrival at this place it was like something from a movie, everyone in the place was starring at me from the moment I walked in and didn't stop starring until I sat down with a beer in hand. And speaking of the beer, it was 2.50 a pint so I left after one as I wasn't prepared to pay that sort of money in Asia!

The following day was a complete waste of time, I tried getting a Vietnam map and a phrase book but failed with both of those missions. killed a few hours before heading to the hotel room armed with a cheap bottle of red wine. Turns out this cheap wine was actually really nice so I was chuffed with that. After watching Avatar on my ipod I decided I'd go back to the 2.50 pint place and nurse a couple of beers. As it happened 2.50 was all I needed as I almost immediately was invited over to drink with a group of chinese guys, then after they left I drank with another group of chinese guys and all the while they kept filling up my glass with their own beer rather than mine! Got a bit merry and did some podium dancing for a bit (not sure what possessed me to do that but fuck it!) then sent myself home pleased with a really cheap and fun night.

Next day I headed to the hotel to collect my Visa then grabbed a taxi to the border. It was really weird simply walking over a border (obviously passing through the various passport control stations) then suddenly being in a different country. Got a motorbike taxi to take me to the nearest town where I planned to buy a bike. I was told by a few people there (in a combination of broken English and make shift sign language that I needed to go to the next bigger town to buy a bike. So off I went to Lang Son and was dropped off at a new bike dealership. I was shown various 100cc peds and a couple of second hand bikes and decided on one that cost 400 dollars. So they went off to do the service on it and get it ready to go and meanwhile I sat down with the dealership owners and had lunch with them (for free). By this point about 3 hours had passed and I was getting a little itchy to head off only to be told something about the bike which took about half an hour for me to understand. They couldn't articulate that as it was a weekend they couldn't give me a reg plate until the monday so I'd they suggested that I ride to the next place (Halong Bay) and they would call me on monday and give me the reg plate for me to then somehow get one made in Halong bay. This sounded like it had disaster written all over it so told them that I'd just get a second hand bike instead. Anyway I decided on this 100cc honda bike (not a scooter) which was frankly falling apart and kept stalling when I took it for a test ride but as I'd been waiting for ages and it was only 220 dollars I figured I'd just take it. Besides, what it lacked in reliability it made up with in character :-). During the whole bike purchase process (by this time was like 4 hours) one of the workers had been flirting with me so I asked her out for a meal which I offered to pay for. 8pm came around and she picked me up from my shitty little hotel and took me down the road to this outside street market food place. All the chairs where made for 5 year olds and once again I was being starred at by all the locals. Every few minutes a different friend or family member of hers would show up on their bike and ask me if i liked her and wanted to marry her. This was funny and cute at first but became a bit irritating and awkward by the end. After the night finished she dropped me back to the hotel and off she went without even a friendly hug. She did pay for the meal though (I did offer but she wouldn't take my money) so I can't really complain. Next day I was to set off for Halong Bay but I want to start a new blog in case the internet goes down for some reason.

One EPIC weekend in China - Sanming


I was talked into doing one more training session with my old class of White crane which by this stage only had 2 other guys in the class (as so many people where leaving for the winter). Got taught the rest of the Kata I had been learning and got some tarty photo’s of me and posing. So me, Rob, Billy and Samir (guys from the Kungfu camp) headed off to Sanming to meet up with Dan, Ronnie and Jack who had left earlier that day. Having spent 2 hours in the post office trying to send home Christmas  presents for the family in Taining I eventually had to give up as we had a bus to catch. This was to be the first of many linguistic challenges I was going to face in the coming days! We arrived at Sanming, got settled in the hotel then had some pre-drinks before heading out to the only bar in Sanming (in china they don’t really do bar’s, they just have restaurants and KTV Kareoki places). As usual us westerners where a magnet for Chinese curiosity and where swamped with people offering us beer and dice based drinking games. We all got pretty drink and when the entertainment singer busted out ‘it’s my life’ by Bon Jovi I got up on stage and sang with him J. We then went off to KFC for a bit (5-1) and then bumped into one of the other entertainers from the bar who was as camp as a row of tents at the street market. He dragged us over and offered us yet more beer and kept asking me and Rob “are you happy” which we later thought may have been “are you gay” but he’d taken the literal translation. Rob managed to get a date with his sister so we kept him sweet and played along and played the good old language game, which is basically where you say the most vulgar string of crap and swear words to someone who can’t speak English and watch as they smile and nod as you tell them you have a whale up your arse and want to sleep with their mother!


The next day we nursed a rather large hangover over some western food and various Café’s (Rob is obsessed/addicted to coffee and constantly strives to find decent expresso’s and Late’s in the middle of China!) before heading out again that night. Once again we had some pre drinks at the hotel before heading to a nightclub next door to the hotel that Dan had said was rubbish…. It wasn’t! Oh, in the hotel lobby there was this fat Chinese dude who was hammered drink be carried out (presumably had got pissed at the restaurant on the 5th floor) and was vomiting all over the floor. Bloody hilarious, I wanted to take a photo of him passed out covered in sick but at this point I was on my own and didn’t want to get in a fight with his mates! So me, Samir and Rob went to this club and decided our mission for the night was to get the Chinese hammered and watch them drunk. They have this word called “gambey” which basically means cheers and if you say it you have to neck your beer. So the plan was to get these guys pissed by constantly shouting GAMBEY and then only drinking half the glass of beer but it massively backfired as me and Samir ended up obliterated (Rob doesn’t drink). We ended up in the adjacent KTV with like 30 Chinese guys who were buying us all beers and singing with us (and by us I really just mean me as once again I hogged the mic!). After singing and drinking for like 3 hours we then went back to the club by which time I couldn’t function at all. Apparently it massively kicked off in the club and there was a giant bar fight between what we think where two triad gangs and people where being bottled left right and centre. Now bear in mind that this massive fight was happening no more than 5 metres from me I didn’t see any of it and don’t remember any of it and was only told about it the next day! Not cool being that battered in a strange country so I’ll have to watch out for that in future.

After that we all pretty much headed to the hotel and the next day Rob and I where to head off to Guangzhou before I went to Vietnam…..