A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: simon.steph

Big thank you!

semi-overcast 10 °C

Just wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who read our blog!

We have been back home in sunny Clevedon for the last few days, it's cold but it's good to be home.

Planning the next trip....

Love from Steph & Si

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Posted by simon.steph 11:57 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Hidden beaches and Banh Mi

35 °C

Hello All

Well it's coming to the evening of our trip, due to fly home soon.

We have been in Hoi An, mid Vietnam for the last two weeks and absolutely love the area and friends we have made.

The beaches are just stunning and the town of Hoi An is beautiful , if a little touristy, dare I say. We have stayed In two home stays with Vietnamese families and have been treated like royalty in both. We have made friends in Nhut, Hung and Mango, been given presents of fresh watermelon, home grown bananas and local corn. The Vietnamese are lovely, friendly and laugh such a lot! Especially at Westerners. They talk loads and are always willing to sit down and chat your head off or laugh at you! Mind you, they would sell their grandmas for a fair price too!

Hoi An is a delightful and atmospheric well preserved ancient port town full of Chinese shophouses, Japanese merchant houses, temples, tea warehouses and French colonial buildings. Quite unlike anywhere else in Vietnam. Hoi An was a major international port until the 17th century when the river silted up. It is now a world UNESCO site.

For the first week we stayed in Tra Que, a village on the outskirts of Hoi An where farming, in particular rice growing in paddyfields and home grown vegetables are the main source of income. It felt like going back in time to when crops were tended by hand by Vietnamese women in Non La's - conical hats made with palm leaves and buffaloe used to plough fields ready for for rice planting.

We hired a couple of push bikes and have explored the countryside lanes, receiving lots of Xin Chao's (hellos) from the locals. The main roads, however, are the usual manic state and one is always happy to get through the day in one piece.

One thing to remember in Vietnam is to always expect the unexpected and you can't go wrong. The roads are prime example, Vietnamese drive on the right but bikes and even cars ignore this little rule and drive towards you on the wrong side of the road - it's up to you to get out of the way. No one gives way at junctions, work it out when you get there. Red lights and one way signs completely ignored, why do they have them? The only road rule is if it's bigger than you, give way to it!

You order food and get something completely different, just go with it. You get whatever they decide you are going to have. We haven't drunk a lot of wine in Vietnam because frankly it's not nice, but on the one occasion we decided to have a bottle, I asked for 'white', okay I got white wine and an apology as it was warm. I said no, not good, can I have red wine then. Yes no problem, the red wine arrived as an alternative and yes you guessed it - chilled! Best to just go with it!!

We have eaten some meals in tiny local places run by families, usually shacks covered in palm leaves with a few tables and chairs. The food is very fresh. Often picked from a garden while you are waiting and then cooked by the matriarch. She then stands over you for some time checking you like the food and making sure you eat it, you have to seriously make appreciative noises to keep her happy! It is so cheap and delicious though, you cannot go wrong.

A few strange things. In the countryside loud speakers broadcast messages of how to live life to the full, local announcements and music, very reminiscent of communist Vietnam of old. Da Nang airport, our arrival airport, close to Hoi An was an American airbase during the war used to store Agent Orange. This was sprayed to kill forests and crops during the war leaving thousands of Vietnamese maimed and generations to be born with birth defects afterwards. The process of decontamination was only just completed last year! It is also possible to visit the 75 mile long tunnels in Cu Chi, a village of the same name in South Vietnam. The tunnels were used by the Vietcong during the war to surprise the American enemy, they have been widened for tourists but it is still necessary to crouch and crawl along them in the dark.

Fabulous local food include dishes such as Com Ga (chicken and rice), Cau Lau (pork or beef with crackling, noodles and a lot of green stuff), Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich), Mi Quang (noodles, shrimp, beef and quails eggs, with a lot of green stuff!). We have also had banana leaves folded into parcels. Inside is a sticky clear substance filled with something dark green or orange. Looks a bit like a chrysalis actually. On asking what it was, the answer was 'meat' or 'shrimp', ' very sweet' 'you like'. Well whatever, we ate the contents and yes they were nice but we still couldn't figure out what it was. Ignorance is bliss.

Local beer is Larue or 333, pronounced ba ba ba. (Ba is number 3). In Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) the local Beer is Saigon Green (seriously cheap and gassy) and Saigon Red (slightly better and stronger, still cheap), as Matt says it's easy to get very drunk for £5.00!

The market in Hoi An is an incredible experience. The produce, smells, noise, it's a sensual whirlwind. A lot of local businesses buy their produce here, fresh ginger, chillies, coriander, coconut, fruit and fish by the bucket load. Live chickens are running around if you fancy a roast. A serious amount of tourist tat and tailor shops too, the hawkers are in abundance and unless you want to buy and haggle, best not to look and don't make eye contact!

Si needed to buy a book, not too many books available in Hoi An, but a small walk through the dusty streets of the outskirts brought us to 'Randys' Book Store. Shoes off and entry though a shuttered door into a dark, odd smelling cavern lined with old books. An ageing, virtually bed bound American called out and told us to help ourselves. We did and paid him for the books, whilst being regaled with stories of leg wounds. Another bizarre experience, you never know what each day will bring!

The beaches are stunning and very under developed, quite different to Thailand. Give it ten years and Vietnam will be a mass of beachside hotel resorts. We have a favourite 'Hidden Beach' we cycle to. White sand, blue-green sea, lots of serious wave action, fisherman's coracle boats litter the beach, paradise. A few palm leave covered shacks provide food such as mango salad with shrimp and banana shakes served in jars. Our favourite is run by Lien and her family, they are all there every day and have got to know us pretty well!

So our homeward flight is booked on a China Airlines flight through some unknown agent, via Beijing and through Mongolia. We may be back but who knows? We will be sad to leave Hoi An, and there is such a lot of Vietnam we have yet to discover - but we wanted to leave something for the next visit....🙂

Watch this space!

Lots of love

Steph & Si

Posted by simon.steph 07:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Good morning Vietnam

sunny 36 °C

Hello All

We have spent the last 7 days in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) in the south of Vietnam and are flying to the beautiful ancient town of Hoi An, a coastal town in central Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh city is vibrant, chaotic, exciting and simply buzzing with energy with 21st century sky scrapers alongside narrow, authentic streets filled with street food stalls and live chickens! It was extra special for me as we spent time with my son Matt who lives and works in the city. It was good to go to some of his favourite haunts, including a fabulous sky bar, BBQ meats sat in the street in Bui Vien whilst having your shoes cleaned, a river cruise on the Saigon River and a traditional Vietnamese lunch in a hole in the wall, amongst fighting cockerels in cages and bike parts! His lovely girlfriend Yori showed us how to cook and eat 'Lau', a traditional regional Vietnamese dish where boiling spicy broth is placed in centre of the table on a gas ring and noodles, meat, seafood, beansprouts and a plethora of green herbs are added and gradually cooked then eaten with chopsticks from little bowls. Delicious.

We visited the Mekong Delta, passing through the 'rice bowl' of Vietnam, paddy fields surrounded by palm tree groves where several different varieties of rice are grown. A boat brought us to Coconut Island, where coconuts are grown and harvested to make everything from candy to baskets. A tuk tuk ride through the island ducking to avoid palm branches and wires and a sampan boat through the water groves gave us a small taste of this part of rural Vietnam.

The traffic in Ho Chi Minh city is manic, especially the scooters and bikes. There are hundreds of bikes and rush hour is a sight to behold. To cross the road as a pedestrian is an art that has to be learnt and quickly! Yes, you literally step out in front of the bikes and walk steadily to the other side of the road, no hesitation and they stream around you like a shoal of fish. Unnerving to say the least.

We have loved our time in Ho Chi Minh City and experienced such a lot. Looking forward to the next, hopefully quieter few days!

Love from Si & Steph xxx

Posted by simon.steph 05:53 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Bali & Hong Kong

overcast 15 °C

Hi everyone

Since Australia we have been to Bali and Hong Kong. Moving on to Vietnam today.

We spent a few days in Nusa Dua, Bali, chilling out before the next leg. Bit of luxury after quite a lot of pretty basic accommodation. Can't tell you much about Bali as we saw very little of it, we wished we had stayed longer as what we did see was beautiful. Weather scorching 30 something and very humid so most of our time spent in shade, sea or pool.

Balinese coffee was the best we ever tasted, nutty and velvety but the beer not so good - Bintang Beer available everywhere which is actually Heineken! People were lovely, very happy, they like cracking jokes. Crazy taxi ride to the Airport, we closed our eyes most of the time; even after mad Thailand traffic, a Balinese taxi ride is hair raising!

We arrived in Hong Kong three nights ago after spending a night in Kuala Lumpur Airport, so pretty hanging when we got here. We are actually staying on the Kowloon side and take the ferry across to Hong Kong. Temp here around 15 degrees! Freezing! Had to buy some trousers being the only one wondering around in shorts and flip flops when everyone was in winter clothes.

We thought that having spent a month in Thailand we were prepared for anything - not so! Nothing prepares you for the crowds of people and the massive queues. Hong Kong is chaotic and confusing, but also exotic, bursting with Chinese heritage.

Jaw dropping is the only way to describe the sight of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon at night across the bustling Victoria Harbour. State of the art skyscrapers put on a magnificent light show, the mountains behind form the backdrop and light reflections dance over the water - just stunning.

During the first day we took the historical Peak Tram, a funicular railway tram running since 1888 to the peak for a spectacular perspective of the city at 1800ft above sea level. Even on a cloudy day the view over Hong Kong, Kowloon and surrounding islands was incredible.

Yesterday we started with a breakfast of wontons, noodles and soup, finished off with a yuan yang coffee - mix of coffee and tea with sweet condensed milk, lush! We took a bus to the quaint fishing village of Stanley on the Southern end of Hong Kong Island. Pretty beaches, a harbour and lovely market selling oriental knick-knacks. We sat watching birds of prey skimming the water for fish, in fact these huge majestic birds are everywhere in Hong Kong circling the sky scrapers. They are Black Kites with a wingspan of 4.5 feet. They have been known to pinch food from people and clothes items off high rise washing lines for their nests, usually white things!

Temple Street Market and the Jade Market were also on our list. Jade is everywhere in Hong Kong, it is associated with long life and good health in Chinese culture.

Temple Street Night Market is a warren of narrow paths filled with stalls selling just about everything and haggling is the game. Street entertainers and street food stalls are plentiful. We ate here the first ‪night sat‬ on plastic stools armed with chopsticks, a bowl and a large bottle of Tsingtao beer with eyes like saucers!

We started our last night with a couple of beers in a local jazz bar, we ate in a food hall in the basement of a Chinese mall, a lot of the locals eat in these and the food is delicious, authentic and cheap. Beef cooked on a hot plate on our table, rice and garlic soy followed by Taro Sago, a pudding of tapioca pearls, coconut milk and a purple root vegetable called taro, surprisingly delicious!

We fly to Ho Chi Min, Vietnam later today.

Love Steph & Si

XXX

Posted by simon.steph 21:00 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

G'Day

sunny 35 °C

Hello All

We have left Perth and arrived in Nusa Dua, Bali.

We spent time in both Perth, the capital of Western Australia and the smaller port city of Fremantle located on the Swan River, Western Australia. Perth and Fremantle were founded by the British in 1829, the population remaining small until the gold rush of the late 1800's and subsequent convict transportation.

Fremantle hasn't changed very much since the 1800's. it is like stepping back in time to an eclectic mix of artisan cafes and bars, handcrafted beers, quirky boutiques, street entertainment and art galleries. The architecture is straight from a film set, a mix of old colonial meets American Midwest! Fremantle market, with its indigenous crafts and fabulous selection of fresh local produce, unique food such as kangaroo paste and creamed honey was a real highlight.

The beaches at Fremantle are stunning, white sand and a light green Indian Ocean, very cold water though which was a surprise considering the mid 30's temperatures. The light here is the brightest we have ever seen, you cannot go outside without sunglasses and the sun has to be avoided during midday, an absolute scorcher!

Perth city is approx 30 minutes inland from Fremantle on the Swan River. It contains one of the largest public parks in the world called Kings Park on Mt. Eliza, approx 4km sq. It is stunning, the most beautiful and manicured parkland and botanical garden with sweeping views over the bay. We were lucky to see a Kookaburra here too.

We were also lucky enough to see and get very close to wild Kangaroos on Heirisson Island, a small island located next to Perth on the Swan River. We had heard kangaroos were on the island but they took some finding. We eventually found them in amongst some trees next to a mosquito swamp in a snake infested area! What a treat though, they are used to people and let you touch them, their fur is surprisingly soft.

Of course no trip to Perth would be complete without locating the Waca Cricket Stadium. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to see the ground itself. In true tourist style we tried to get a photo of the ground with the selfie stick fully extended over the wall but to no avail, they have that one covered too😐

After a month in Asia, a good old fashioned Australian Steak was definitely on the cards and where else but at the Hogs Breath Cafe - fabulous.

Perth is spotlessly clean, bright, friendly, proud of its heritage and has so much to offer. If we had longer here then a car would be essential as so much is several hundreds of kilometres away, although locals still consider that the outskirts of Perth!

Speak soon

Love Steph & Si xxxx

Posted by simon.steph 04:08 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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