Monday, 12 August 2013

Farewell to Vietnam :(

Farewell to Vietnam :( 

I had an interesting introduction to Saigon in the south of Vietnam. It started with a walk through the busy bustling streets and side street stores, along with a lovely dinner alone and then a beer with a nice english couple sat next to me. And then I nearly became a Ho Chi Minh street robbery statistic.  I had literally walked two blocks from my hostel for dinner and it wasn't too late at night and there were people everywhere on the streets! I was in total shock :( As I walked back to my hostel I saw an old man give a nod to a young man sat next to him, and they both got up and the young one started to quickly walk behind me even though he knew I could see him. I even turned around and stared him out in the hope he would stop (stupid I realise now...). I ran for my life into a fancy hotel with security and pointed the man out. I waited a while and then they said to me the coast is clear, but I was too freaked out to walk the 100m to my hostel so they called me a taxi and bless the man he held my hand as he walked me to the hostel door to make sure that I was ok.  As we drove along, we saw the guy sitting on the street waiting a little further down with 4 other guys. Thank goodness I didn't carry on walking. 

So sad, because it really scared me and made me want to leave the city immediately and I had hoped to spend a few days exploring.  After giving it some thought I decided to do an organised tour to see the Cu Chi Tunnels and then make my way towards Cambodia instead.  

The tour was a long day. They picked us up at 8am and we drove for hours to get to a Cathedral called Coa Dai Temple. It was a beautiful building and inside there was a prayer ceremony going on which meant that we could watch the service and take photos from the floor above.  I took the opportunity to do my daily handstand outside the building. From here we drove a little further and stopped for lunch, before traveling on to the Cu Chi Tunnels. At lunch I sat with two lovely people who were both from Brazil and traveling together, they had both been living in Australia prior to their trip. Such nice conversation. They told me that they had managed to see the main temples that they were interested in, in Cambodia, in just 2 days so I could definitely fit the main ones into a 3-4 day trip - which was how many days that I had left.  That just about sealed the deal for me, in terms of moving on from Vietnam and making sure I saw Cambodia. Especially after the near robbery, and also the idea of doing handstand photos with the backdrop of the temples was very exciting for me ;) 

The tunnels of Cu Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi district of Saigon and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. They were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War.  The tunnels were used by Viet Cong as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for many Northern Vietnamese fighters. The tunnels were of great importance in the Vietnamese resistance to American forces, and evidently there is a great deal of pride in what is believed to be what helped them to achieve ultimate military success. 

The rain arrived as we got to the tunnels so we had a bit of a rushed tour, which was fine as we all felt quite exhausted from the long journey to get there. It was a really long day for just 45 minutes walking around the tunnels :(   I found the video of the history of the tunnels fascinating and seeing just how small they are made me feel claustrophobic just thinking about them. I can't believe that people actually spent large portions of their lives down there! Amazing.  We were shown the entrances to the tunnels and they are exactly as I imagined...teeny, tiny holes that probably would hurt my hips to try and drop down into. Insanely small. We also had the opportunity to climb inside a small series of tunnels, with the option of getting out of each one after every 20m. I went to go inside the first entrance and freaked out...then managed to get convinced into it and went last of everyone. WOAH was that scary for someone who is as apparently claustrophobic as me.... The guys in front of me stopped every couple of metres to take photos and I thought I would go into full blown hyperventilating panic attack :( It was horrible, I had to ask them to keep moving to keep my head together. Thank god for yoga breaths lol... I jumped out as soon as I could and met everyone a bit further down. Such a chicken. I can run and jump off a mountain with a paraglide attached to my back floating through the sky with eagles for an hour, but I can't crawl 20m through a small tunnel. Interesting huh! 

Later that evening once back in the city I had such a nice evening. Clare and Anne, who I had met in the hostel that morning at breakfast, knocked on my door to make dinner plans. At the same time Candice and Tori, who I had met in Mui Ne backpackers, also got in touch to meet for dinner. So we all went together to a place that is well known for its' Pho soup. So nice, everyone got along well and it was lovely to see Candice and Tori again before they start their exciting travel adventures through Vietnam and Cambodia.  Clare and Anne helped me book my escaping Saigon bus ticket to Siem Reap, Cambodia for the next morning. 12 hour journey on a non sleeper, non VIP bus...which should be interesting. Then we chilled out in the hostel communal area chatting away. Very relaxed and nice :) 

It's been a beautiful whirlwind of an experience.  I saw Vietnam for 18 fun filled days and still I feel like I only scratched at the surface. I will without a doubt be back to see more of this stunning country. Hanoi I love your smooth and co-ordinated shops, the lake, the views, the smiles, the colourful artwork, the friendly people, the amazing food - especially Pho and Bun Cha Han Oi :) The Temple of Literature mesmerized me with its immense sense of calmness, and I took a little piece of that away with me as I re-entered the chaos of Hanoi city centre outside.  Halong Bay - your beauty amazed me and I am so grateful that we finally met after looking at photos of you forever dreaming of seeing you one day! Hue - I enjoyed your coffee shops, and the opportunity to unwind and do nothing at all. Hoi An - the love of my trip. amazing, amazing, amazing. Such history, culture, people, buildings, lanterns, colours, temples, pagodas, artwork. The food at Morning Glory - wow! The cooking course that I adored, and Dingo Deli what an amazing cafe :) The new clothes from various tailors, the dress for the wedding - in LOVE! I will be back to do photography with Entienne for sure! Nha Trang - your brashness, the cool weather that allowed me to do my first run in months since India and Nepal. A beach to lie on and watch the ocean, a different landscape (one which makes my heart beat faster), and the opportunity to chill on a lounger at the fancy Sailing Club. Mui Ne - your amazing calmness from the moment that I arrived, my favourite dorm room so far and amazing inspiration for my handstand collection from the awesome people that I met that day. The sand dunes in torrential rain, the handstand photo with the runaway bride.  And Saigon - a lesson learnt not to walk alone in a new city, to keep your wits about you and never ever let your guard down. Also the chance to learn more still about your history and culture. And most of all the friendships that I have made along the way. Who knew I would be so lucky to meet so many wonderful people from around the World. Literally around the World! So many inspiring people, and the opportunity to learn so much more about myself as I travelled alone through the country for the first time really on my adventure so far :) 

Now to cross the border and see the fabulous temples of Cambodia!!!!! 


Sunday, 11 August 2013

Vietnam - Life's a Beach :)

Vietnam - Life is a Beach :) 

Nha Trang

After an overnight bus from my beloved Hoi An to Nha Trang, I think I almost instantly decided that I didn't like Nha Trang. Compared to Hoi An it was brash, loud, dirty and much more of a bustling city than I had imagined. Everything about it screamed that it was trying to be an Asian version of Miami, and failing at it...

I didn't really give it much of a chance, something with hindsight I probably should have done. But in the moment I went with my instinct, and my instinct was very much get me out of here.  I took myself off for a run to explore the beach. The weather in Hoi An had not really allowed any beach time which is a tragedy as photos of the beaches there on a sunny day looked stunning - again another reason to return again one day :) The strip of beach at Nha Trang was nice and long but built alongside a really busy road, with heavy traffic at most times of the day. The beach was full of people, even early in the morning but the ocean was nice and flat which meant you could swim easily.  I did my first run in possibly 8 weeks... My legs and glutes did not thank me as I encouraged them to run faster each mile that we went. But it was done and I have the movement back in my legs once again, and my lungs didn't collapse - phew!! I miss running, I miss the adrenaline kick that comes racing through your body, and the instant energy that you get as you run harder and faster. I spoke to Coach after about how slow that run had been and how hard it was to push myself. He reminded me I am supposed to be on a break and resting, and to take each run while I am on this journey to simply explore a new place. Not think about my garmin and how fast or slow I am going, just enjoy the journey itself. He's a wise man my Coach :) He also taught me to follow my instinct, so shortly after my run I took myself to the bus station and changed my ticket to leave Nha Trang the next morning instead of two days later that I had previously planned.

One thing that I really enjoyed about Nha Trang was that there was really nothing else interesting to do there except sit on sun loungers at the fancy Sailing Club on the beach. A good friend Claire, and school friend Tanya had introduced me to the idea about the Sailing Clubs in Nha Trang and Mui Ne. Very nice settings and very accessible, even to the backpacker. I sat right on the beach and ordered a large beer :) I noticed that all of the backpackers from my various bus journeys this last week were there too. All drinking the cheapest form of alcohol on the menu! Haha! Seeing them all there makes me feel slightly better about stretching my budget for the day sitting there. It was my piece of sanity in the crazy concrete jungle of Nha Trang. During my day here I met a couple of girls who helped me out with a handstand photo on the beach and we swapped stories as we do as backpackers. I also chatted to friends who had been in Vietnam previously and made my plans to move to Mui Ne the next day. It was funny hearing everyones views on the beaches - some people thought if I wanted beach time I should stay in Nha Trang which has a calmer beach, some people thought if I wanted rustic i needed to move to Mui Ne. I took the decision to move on the more rustic lifestyle which I felt was much more me than the concrete city. 

Mui Ne 

I woke up early in Nha Trang and waited for my bus to take me to Mui Ne. I learned that the hostel offered a breakfast so I ran across the road to collect it and explained I was taking a bus and bless them they made me an on the road breakfast. The french stick was so amazingly fresh and warm, and they had packed jam and butter for me, and had poured a boiling hot black coffee into a plastic container for me with a lid and straw lol! It worked perfectly for me :)

I knew as soon as I arrived in Mui Ne I would enjoy myself! It had that beach bum calm settled feeling, which I knew I would settle into very easily. I quickly found my hostel - Mui Ne Backpackers, which was more expensive than the others but had such great reviews that I really wanted to stay there. 

As soon as I arrived I realised that there was an organised tour about to leave to see the white and red sand dunes in Mui Ne. I couldn't remember if people had recommended them or not but the afternoon only cost $7 so I literally dropped my bags and jumped into the jeep with 4 very friendly chinese girls. I had mixed feelings about going to the sand dunes in Mui Ne. as I had had such a wonderful experience in the Sahara with Frenchie in March 2011 that I didn't want to risk ruining my memories. As fate would have it I really didn't have to worry about this at all as the rain followed us and as soon as we arrived at the dunes the heavens opened. Weather aside, as much as the dunes were fun and quite pretty they didn't even slightly compare to those in Morocco where we had spend many a day walking for hours and seeing nothing but sand, not to mention the hours we had spent running up and down the peaks of the sand and breaking up the clean tips with our wonderful footprints. Ah such special memories of our time in Morocco :)

I spent my first night sleeping in a 6 bed dorm room, and immediately made friends with a guy from Germany and a girl who had been backpacking for 22 months so far! We made dinner plans, and during our evening we went to a very cool local restaurant next to the backpackers where I ate rice and chili prawns for absolutely no expense at all! During dinner two english girls who had helped me earlier to find the backpackers joined us, and it was lovely because we all clicked and got on so well. The two girls were on medical training for their medical degrees in Ho Chi Minh and were taking a brief break from the city in Mui Ne. Alex had invited his friend Fabien from Switzerland also and he was really well traveled also. The evening was really fun, and so much positive energy amongst the group. We found a bar which offered free drinks for the girls, and cheap drinks for the guys then settled back into the bar next to the backpackers and gossiped our way through the evening. We followed the exact same pattern the next morning also! 

I had told everyone about my handstand 365 challenge and everyone was so excited for me, giving me tips on opening up a twitter account, how to get my handstands more widely recognised and all wanted to stay in touch to follow me! Let's face it, the group of friends had all been involved in so many of my handstands during our time together! Before bed that first night we had taken photos of me by the pool in the dark. During our time waiting for everyones' buses the next day (everyone left me the very next day - sad times), we saw a random girl wandering around the backpackers in a wedding dress... As soon as we saw this girl, Candice and I just smiled at each other and said that's a handstand photo right there! So I asked the girl if I could have a photo and she said yes and looked very, very confused when I jumped onto my hands into a handstand. As soon as I posted the photo all of my friends confessed their love for the image! So funny, such good memories from Mui Ne.  I am sure I will keep in touch with many of the friends I made here, and hope to see Candice and Tori in Ho Chi Minh later in the trip for dinner. 

Mui Ne was a wonderful 48 hour adventure filled with meeting awesome people, swapping travel stories, planning the future of 365 handstand challenge, doing lots of kick ass original handstands, watching kite surfers, surfers and windsurfers and spending time super close to the ocean which is such good energy for me :) I had hoped to rent a stand up paddle board to do some yoga on but the weather became quickly quite vicious which is a shame. The weather prevented us being able to head to the beach at all, and contributed to my decision to head to Ho Chi Minh a day earlier than originally planned. Not a whole lot of point being in a beach town when the weather is a raging storm every second of every day lol!

Life is a Beach - even more so when the sun shines ;) 


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Vietnam - Adorable Hoi An :)

Adorable Hoi An (via Hue) - love love love :) :)

After spending 13 hours on an overnight sleeper bus from Hanoi to Hue, I finally arrived. I had booked my accommodation in advance, and sadly made the mistake of being quite a walk from the backpacker area. This meant a "5 minute walk" as someone told me...however I quickly learnt that a 5 minute walk with a 23kg backpack, day pack and yoga mat is a very long and hot 5 minute walk.  I was exhausted by the time I got settled, and after umming and ahhing how to spend my 24 hours in Hue decided that actually it was ok if I decided not to play tourist in every city I arrived in.

So instead, I decided to let Hue be a non cultural affair. I spent the day sitting in a cafe doing what I do best - drinking iced coffee, reading, writing my blog and journal, and totally chilling out whilst hiding from the sun. Hue is the hottest place I have been to in Vietnam so far. Absolutely nowhere had AC either which was hard work trying to regulate the body temperature!! Lots of people went cycling past me on rental bicycles which would have been a lovely way to see Hue had I the energy to do so.  I did walk to the park which was very pretty along the waterfront, it is filled with beautiful statues, and has lovely view of the water and the Citadel. I quickly did my handstand and then retired to my cafe where I spent the entire day. Later in the evening I met the english couple I had met in Hanoi for happy hour drinks and some food, always nice to see familiar faces as you backpack along the well worn path of North to South Vietnam.

The next day I took a day bus to Hoi An - the place I have been most excited so far about getting to. Everyone who has been to Vietnam has always raved about Hoi An and told me how much I will love it :) Everything about being in Hoi An makes me want to be a flash packer, not a backpacker for a few days. I booked a hostel which was slightly above my budget but still amazingly lovely and what would be extremely cheap for the western world. My hostel had a swimming pool and I had a balcony room over looking the pool! I made good use of that swimming pool, it was so nice to spend the days exploring Hoi An and then retire to my beautiful AC filled room and take a dip in the pool when everyone else was out for dinner or had gone to bed. Pure luxury! Also managed to make my lazy body feel a bit like I was getting some exercise.  The hostel was just lovely. The staff were fantastic, so kind and helpful.

I spent a very lazy evening in my room chilling out to Prison Break and unpacking initially. I decided at the very last moment to sign up for a cookery class, and it turned out to be the best decision I have ever made as I met some lovely people, had a fabulous day and made a very good friend as a result of it! They collected me nice and early the next morning and we all drove to the local market where we were handed a plastic shopping basket and told it was to carry all of the ingredients that we needed for our cooking class! So cool! We visited a huge local market and totally got the local experience as we wandered through the narrow aisles full of colourful fruit, vegetables, herbs and so much more! There were stalls selling fish, spices, eggs, various types of noodles, meat etc. Some tables had baskets filled with fresh chillies, fresh and live maggots - gross. There were also plenty of pig heads lying out on the tables also, just in case you were wondering which meat you were eating :( I swear I felt like I would be sick on the spot.

Anyway all of that aside, it was a fantastic experience. We were totally spoilt with the cooking class! After collecting our fresh ingredients we went by boat to the village where the class would be held, which in itself was a great way to see the local area. So peaceful and calming for my soul, I just love the water. Every time I am somewhere with water I smile :) Then we were transferred to a canoe style boat and were given Vietnamese style hats to wear while we slowly made our way to the venue. The room was fantastic, each of us had our own table with all the equipment and ingredients laid out, and we were constantly having our glass refilled with fresh pomegranate juice - delicious! The cooking class came highly recommended by Trip Advisor and I can totally see why. Two of the people in our group were vegetarian and myself and one other were meat eaters, and both were accommodated.

We made so many amazing dishes:

-Vietnamese salad rolls (goi cuon) with peanut sauce (nuoc Leo)
- Sizzling Vietnamese crepes (banh xeo)
- southern style beef vermicelli (bun bo nam bo)
- Noodle soup with beef (pho ba ha noi)

I was so proud of my artwork - because let's face it, that is what vietnamese food is after all - decoration! The food is out of this world amazing because of the freshness of the ingredients, and the attention to detail in preparing a plate for presentation impact.

I made such a lovely friend that day - Amarjeet! I haven't met many people my own age while traveling, which hasn't been a problem at all but reminded me just how lovely it can be to spend quality time with someone lovely who is on the same wave length as you! We clicked easily, and made plans to go to Cham Island the next day together on a snorkeling and beach and hammock adventure! Something that had also been on my Hoi An Bucket List lol! I was particularly excited about the hammock part ;) Sadly I woke up the next morning to the news that the dive shop had cancelled the trip due to high winds :(

Funny really because the night before I had kind of deep inside hoped for a rainy day soon so that I would be forced again to sit still and appreciate the moment, and not feel the need to always fit quite so much into my day! My backpacker adventure has been non stop so far :) Which is totally fantastic but bizarrely exhausting at times. I guess the message here is to be careful what you wish for ;) After speaking to Amarjeet we decided we would meet up anyway, find a fabulous coffee shop and hang out for a while. You can see why I clicked with this girl right?! ;) COFFEE and CAFE addicitions!!

Amarjeet told me about a cafe where they had illy coffee, and just the most amazing little deli counter with real life fresh olives, fresh bread, fresh salamis, fresh cheeses. I should add all western imported specialty items which the average backpacker who is away from home for a while just misses like crazy. I fell in love with this cafe from the moment I walked in! The owner came up and introduced me as I must have looked a little dazed as I slowly walked along each small aisle smiling and touching the products and saying wow... They even had my favorite flavour kettle chips! Ok so they were nearly $7 a packet but honestly it didn't matter in that very moment.  I gave her a hug and told her she was wonderful and how the cafe had totally made my day, my week in fact and she told me they had opened it 8 years previously for that very reason - for people just like me! LOVE :)

We ended up spending the best part of the day there really. I ordered a salad with fresh leaves, chicken, mango, avocado and fresh tomatoes in it. I also had a BIG glass of wine to celebrate my new find. Things got even better though when we took a quick walk around to the back garden and found a trampoline!! I used to have trampolining lessons when I was younger and when I was fearless. I used to be able to throw myself around like a gymnast in series after series of somersaults, back and front drops and spins galore. Instead I found myself at 34 years old jumping up and down with a 5 year old called Mary who introduced me to her best friend, and her school friends who also joined us. Later she introduced me to her teacher also! Hilarious way to spend an afternoon in Vietnam ;) Such fun memories. It was also Amarjeet's first time on a trampoline and that girl had a big smile on her face by the end of our little playtime. The teacher probably thought we were crazy as we joined the girls playing on the climbing frame and swings too haha! After an hour or so we realised for our reputation sake we should maybe go and do some grown up stuff, so we went shopping!

We shopped well, I found a store who was willing to make me a beautiful dress for MP and Bevis' wedding in South Africa later this year. This dress is very special, because my wonderful life saving friend Danielle who I met in India designed it for me! She is a New Yorker and a fashion designer by background, and fellow yogi. We spent many a coffee date together in Rishikesh going over our design ideas!! Discussing every small minute detail about the beautiful dress. I originally stopped in Hue and asked a tailor there to make the dress for me, and despite having heaps of enthusiasm as a dress maker and about our design I was disappointed with the quality of the dress itself. So I was besides myself with excitement when I found a tailor who totally understood what I wanted, and was as equally in love with the fabric that I chose for the various parts of the dress. I would post a photo here but it is a surprise for the wedding so I promise to post one later in the year from the wedding itself :) She did an out of this world amazing job and I just love, love, love it!!

I spent a lot of time in tailor shops during my time with Amarjeet lol! We went a bit crazy and ended up buying me practically a new wardrobe for my backpack! Dresses, shorts, tee shirts, tank tops, skirts...even two pairs of sandals all personally made for me. Very exciting after 5 months of living in the same clothes, it felt so nice to have new clothes to choose between.

I was very sad to see my friend leave ahead of me to Cambodia :( But we have agreed to meet in Singapore later in the year, so I am confident that we will keep in touch and our paths will cross again.

I was quite surprised while in Hoi An to learn that facebook is banned, or certainly restricted access, in Vietnam. A lovely yogi friend sent me a link to a URL which would help me to temporarily access my account while traveling through the country. You all know how much I use facebook for keeping in touch so that was a huge relief to me :)

While I was in Hoi An the Tokio Triathlon took place in Bermuda, once again taking me back to happy memories and good times! This time last year I woke up the morning after a wedding in St George's and got onto my bicycle, which had only been ridden 4 times previously, and cycled along Harbour Road to town. I signed up for my first "try a tri" and met the wonderful Nathalie! I recognised the fear in Nat's eyes and instantly felt a connection to this lovely energetic girl as we shared how incredibly nervous we both were! I really didn't want to drown or make a fool of myself lol.

SO glad that I did that triathlon, and was brave enough to not care what anyone on the street thought of me that day. It led me to the most incredible summer of experiences, training sessions and new friendships for my final summer in Bermuda during 2012. It really shaped the direction of my year and helped me through some incredibly testing personal times. So much fun, I wasn't the last out of the water, or the last off the bicycle and definitely wasn't last across the finish line after my run!I thoroughly enjoyed being introduced to try a tri's and had I had more time in Bermuda I would have definitely found myself more involved in this sport! I achieved fitness records that I really didn't expect to ever achieve that summer, and my coach was eternally grateful to my taking time out of marathon training and trying out new sports! It motivated me to try new race events and find my speed in short races!! If only I had listened to him earlier in my training days in Bermuda... I will just have to go back and train again one year and show him what I am capable of! Everyone did so well this year, very proud of everyone :)

I spent a lot of time eating out in nice places in Hoi An. I found through my Lonely Planet the most amazing little restaurant called "Morning Glory" lol! I found the most amazing food there, some of which came highly recommended to me by Hilda who is a big fan of Vietnamese food. Such a luxury eating here, such a lovely setting and delicious food. I tried many evenings to get a seat but it was always so full! It wasn't until the day I decided to eat at 6pm that I managed to get a seat. My favourite dishes were:

- White Rose Dumplings
- Roll It - barbecued pork with rice paper

I even ate in one restaurant where I really didn't enjoy the meal as it was chewy pieces of meat and just tasted disgusting. They were so concerned that I handed back a nearly full plate that they gave me my cheesecake and wine for free to make sure that I left the restaurant having had a great experience. So nice!

On my last few days I spent a lot of time pottering wandering around the Old Town streets, the parts where no traffic is allowed. It is such a nice idea to restrict access to certain areas for pedestrians only. The old town is just as it sounds, beautiful and oldy worldy and just so calm and peaceful. It is recognised as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999. Hoi An ancient town is an expectionally well preserved example of a South East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to 19th century. Its buildings and streets reflect the influences both local and foreign that have combined to produce this unique heritage site. It's beautiful and an extremely calming place.

On my final morning I went for a discovery walk with my Nikon and found some amazing places, once again through getting lost as always in true Caroline fashion ;) I went looking for a small temple, and opposite what I presume was the small temple I found the most amazingly beautiful temple! It would have been the perfect handstand opportunity had I had a photographer or my self timer canon with me. I took so many photos, and then continued my journey. A lady pointed at an alley way to me so of course being inquisitive I went down there and found a bustling street market full of locals buying their fruit and vegetables, and at the very end of the alley a stunning buddhist temple with a number of monks in there working. They invited me in to explore and take photos. Just lovely.  I took the long way back to the hostel and found a different entrance into the Old Town and walked for an hour through the streets just taking everything in around me and feeling enormous amounts of gratitude for being lucky enough to have found Hoi An. Such a special place for me on my travels. The lanterns, the colours, the friendliness of the people. Just wonderful. I stopped at a temple called Cam Pho Temple and a local man showed me around. He offered to take a photo of me in front of the temple, so of course I made him laugh by jumping onto my hands into handstand for the photo. He quickly got into it and made me take several attempts at it in order to have the perfect photo! Such a kind man :)

Later on my final day I booked a series of treatments at the spa just around the corner called ****. Such a good find, it was beyond western standards in cleanliness and such good prices. The first thing that they make you do is remove you shoes and soak your feet in a bucket of water with limes, and flower petals in. The smell is wonderful. Then they get to work :) Over the course of 4 hours I had a massage, a pedicure, and something which I forget strangely enough, all for the small price of $40 including tip. Incredible. I felt like a million dollars by the end of my pampering session.

I went to visit the Japanese bridge, and although it was very striking I wasn't overwhelmed by it. I had assumed it would be much larger than it was but given how quaint Hoi An really is I shouldn't have shouldn't have been surprised.

Sadly iPhoto decided to delete all of the photos I had taken with my Nikon of Hoi An, so I am limited in photos to show people. Such a shame as I really had collected some beautiful photos of the windy streets, the lanterns, the temples, artwork and people :( I will just have to make sure I go back again :)

I also received some sad news during my days in Hoi An. Mum received a call from Bermuda to say that my kitty cat Ellen had been hit by a car in the UK, and that a lovely man had picked her up and helped her. Upon taking her to the vet they discovered she had broken her pelvis, poor baby :( So brave to cry for help like she did. The man is an absolute angel and has offered to keep her at his house until she makes a full recovery so that she can rest properly away from the puppy at Helen's and the young boys! Makes me feel so far away when one of my kitties get sick :( Sending her get well kisses and hugs from Vietnam xox

Hoi An makes you imagine having been transported back many centuries as you wander through the narrow streets and along the river. It is the perfect blend of old and new and I just adore it. Ah Hoi An is it yet another love affair. Everything about being here makes me calm and happy.

In a good friends words - "Peace & Smiles"

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Halong Bay - The place of dreams :)

HALONG BAY!!!! The place of dreams :)

I love Halong Bay :) 

What an awesome place, and looks just like the pictures I have been looking at for years to come! Beautifully stunning setting. Shame about all of the tourists though, sadly this has become a bit of a tourist trap. You can understand why people want to come here though as it is so peaceful and calming looking at those enormous pinnacles reaching out of super calm luxurious velvety waters.

Halong Bay literally translates to "descending dragon bay".  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes. The Halong Bay has an area of around 1,533km squared!! It's huge, and beautiful :) 

The last two days have made me realize just how happy a person I am by the ocean, or when I see and hear the ocean every single day :) :)  Yay to smiles, good times, Halong Bay and the ocean.

It was such a nice trip. I went along with the English couple I met after a long bus ride arrived for our boat crossing to the centre of Halong Bay.  It didn’t feel as though we actually went out too far to be honest, and only so far as to the point where we could no longer see the shoreline.  The boat was full of really, really young people. So young that a popular question was how old are you? I must have shocked the 19 -23 year olds with my answer haha! Luckily there was a couple of English guys who were quick to join forces with me and another couple of English girls.

Funny how small the universe is - Ben had actually spent september of last year working in Bermuda at the yacht club for a sailing event, so probably met quite a few people I know! Always amazes me just how small the world is. Just like in the middle of the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal when I met a guy who works on Lanta and I have dive friends in common with! Bermuda relationships rule the World :) Anyway, we all stuck together and became evening drinking partners, and during the days we lazed on the sun deck chairs trying to catch some colour. 

We spent the afternoon exploring some caves and taking kayaks out around the water, we found a few little caves to paddle into and then found ourselves inside a huge limescale area with enormous pinnacles all the way around us which was awesome and so peaceful and quiet inside.  We had some fun throwing our voices around and then totally lazing in the kayak and enjoying the peace and quiet.

We also met a couple of young Dutch boys, who had traveled through Vietnam on motorbikes! They had taken all the back roads and explored small villages that most people would be likely to steer clear of due to lack of westernized facilities. They were only 19 years old having just finished school if I remember rightly, and both had such amazing smiles, and wonderful stories of their adventures on the bikes.  When you meet people like this I always catch their enthusiasm for life, and I love that. I would ordinarily in another world have taken a quick look at them and thought to myself well they are so young, no need or point to go and talk to them. I am so glad I have grown and developed from that place, because now I can share the pleasure it was to meet them and hear their story. So brave. I reflected on others who are that age and not brave enough to take on such adventures, and felt very happy for them.

We also met a lovely Irish couple who were such calm and positive energy people. I really enjoyed having them there, and we swapped contact information at the end of the trip as I am really excited to see where their journey takes them.

We stayed on board the Monkey Island Cruise boat for our first night, which was lovely. We cruised around the islands and as the sun started to set we all jumped off the top of the boat into the water and hung out in the water swimming and drinking G&T’s!! Very fun, and totally reminded me of Cup Match weekend in Bermuda, which is fast approaching. That was such a funny weekend of fun spent with my lovely friend Lindsay who came all the way from Chicago to celebrate in bikinis with me :) Good times!!

The crew seemed determined that we would join in on karaoke which was a bit much to be honest, all of us just wanted to chill out on the water and enjoy being on a lovely boat in the middle of the most stunning landscape around South East Asia. Sadly not to be, but we did manage to escape to the roof of the boat in between rain showers and drink our G&T’s in peace eventually. That night we had the most torrential rain storm ever! Not ideal when sleeping on an old boat, as I discovered at about 2am when the rain started pouring heavily through several holes above my bed. I had to spend the night curled up like a baby to avoid the thoroughly soaked through patches on my mattress. I was sharing the room with a lovely girl from Korea called Toko who was making a big brave move to try and find work in Brazil later this year. Toko was also my kayak buddy earlier in the day. Very exciting! I love that about backpacking – meeting people with a journey, an adventure, a story to tell. My kind of people :) 

Our second night was spent at Monkey Island. Shortly after arriving we took a hike up the steep trail to see the view from the top of the national park area. Stunning...or at least it would have been even more so had it been a lovely clear sky. Nonetheless it was pretty spectacular.  The hike itself was hilarious...we were advised to not walk up in flip flops, but honestly it was so hot none of us wanted to put sneakers on so up we went in flipflops... As soon as we reached the top, having virtually climbed on our hands and knees as it was so wet and slippy in the mud, we immediately panicked about how an earth we would get down lol!! It was 'interesting'.  We went super, super slowly and literally sat on our bums and slid down at parts. We braved spiders, bugs and other horrid things before finally reaching the ground and changing into bikinis and slowing down our pace to lazing on sunbeds on the beach all afternoon :) Ah happy days.  It's impossible not to smile when the ocean is in front of you :) 

We spent a very relaxed afternoon and evening at the beach on Monkey Island, it was so nice to relax and read on a sun bed. Of course I couldn't sit still for too long so enjoyed a nice long swim at sunset and some yoga, along with handstand practice ;)

During the course of my stay in Halong Bay I decided that trying to fit Sapa Valley into this trip was just too much. I still hadn't fully recovered from the cold, and as much as everyone tells me how wonderful an experience it is I still felt exhausted at the idea of hiking so shortly after Nepal.  So when I got back to Hanoi I cancelled the trip, instead opting to spend another 24 hours in Hanoi fully recovering. Vietnam is teaching me that I need to slow down my pace and enjoy the moment, also that I have the power to make my trip and my day exactly as I please :) Just for me :) Yay!! 

Upon returning to Hanoi I stayed with Hanoi Hostel again. They gave me a room which was different to my original room. I very quickly discovered bed bugs :( I was so sad, they were everywhere. As quickly as I squashed one, I found another, and another and another. Endless fight. There were 3 beds in my room and each bed had bed bugs :( I discovered them in the middle of the night so couldn't change rooms, I ended up sleeping on my yoga mat on the floor inside my sleeping bag liner. They still managed to bite me and I woke up the next morning (after a maximum of 2 hours sleep as I had spent the night googling what to do if they ended up in my backpack also....) with lines of distinct bed bug bites everywhere. Not cool.  I told the hostel and they were extremely apologetic and gave me an almost full refund. I would still stay here was caused by some backpackers who had been hiking and had borrowed the room earlier in the day. They had it seemed brought the bed bugs with them in their backpacks :( I just really hope that the bugs didn't get inside my backpack and don't follow me to Hue...

Ah Vietnam, it's a love affair! I needed this kind of adventure right now, I really did. So many beautiful places that I want to explore. I have never been so excited to explore a new country before. Vietnam has such a nice feeling, such good energy. Now I move further south towards Hue, and slowly slowly to Hoi An and the beaches in the south. Trying also to decide if I can find time to squeeze in a few days in Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and some other temples again. Ah smiles. I love my life. Anything is possible in the next few weeks!! 

Watch this space :)