April 2010

  • Cover Page
  • Map of Trip-2006.
  • Map of Trip-2008.
  • Map of Trip-2009.
  • Map of Trip-2010.

  • Bungle Bungles with water
    Welcome to yet another busy month. As always we have taken on far too much and really had our skates on this month. The beginning of April was Easter, and by chance we had the long weekend off call. Now any normal family would have stayed at home and packed and cleaned as the day after Easter we were off to Darwin and then Vietnam for a month. Well as you know we are not normal and always try and fit in too much. We had really wanted to revisit the Bungle Bungles again while we were living at Warmun as it is only 50 kms up the highway. We also wanted to get in as soon as they opened the gates, hoping to see it with some water still flowing. Well we got half our wish. We did get in the day they opened it, in fact we were the fourth car to drive in for the season. As for the water there was some but only a very small amount.
    Now the drive into the National Park was very tame compared to when we last visited in 2006. Back then we visited in July and had to negotiate 11 water crossings and a very rough track. This year we have had a very miserable wet season across almost the entire Kimberleys and the difference was amazing. This year there was only 2 pathetic puddles that you could get through in a Datsun 120Y. The road was still rough and the 50 kms into the Park from the highway still took a bit over 1 1/2 hours.

    Finding a camp site was easy and we did manage to find one with a little shade. Shade was important as it was still bloody hot. In fact it was too hot and really a little too hot for camper trailer camping. Never-the-less we completed all the walks and pretty much had the entire place to ourselves. Cathedral Gorge, one of the highlights of the Bungles was totally deserted. It was so deserted we did a Billy Connelly and ran around the gorge naked. Plenty of photos were taken but we will spare you and not put them on the webpage. We completed all the walks at both ends of the park and the only challenge that we still have outstanding is the 30 + km walk up Picaninny Gorge that requires an overnight hike. Our excuse is that we are not set up for overnighters, and we are sticking to that story. We did end up driving back to Warmun late on Easter Sunday, as we had finished all the walks and the heat was unpleasant. The lure of the airconditioners was too great, arriving back in Warmun just on dusk. It was a good call as we then had all day on Easter Monday to get sorted, house cleaned and the final packing completed.

    Bungle Bungles Small water crossing Bungle Bungles Bungle Bungles Bungle Bungles Doing a Billy Connelly Golden Guitar Valley of the Palms
    Bungle Bungles- Kimberleys WA

    Tuesday morning, car packed, we headed towards Darwin making it as far as Katherine. As we were booking into the caravan park a huge storm was brewing, complete with thunder and lightning. Now this was our predicament. While we were happy to camp right up to leaving we had to be sure the canvas on the camper did not get wet. Storing the camper for a month with wet canvas would be a bit of a disaster. Plan one was to stay in a cabin at Katherine and see what the weather was going to be like in Darwin. It was a good move as it did rain. Then we checked out the weather forecast for Darwin, rain and more rain. Plan 2- Book some accommodation for our 3 nights in Darwin.

    Sky City Casino
    Sky City Casino - Darwin

    We had been told about a place called Parap Village Apartments so looked them up on the net. To my surprise we could get a large 2 bedroom deluxe apartment for $140-00 a night, which was cheaper than a cabin in a caravan park. It was very nice, great location close to town and even had a couple of pools. Mum had arranged for us to store the camper trailer at a good friend of hers in Darwin. Lorraine was great and even had a place for us to put it undercover. Now that's service. We were leaving the car at some friend's, the Murphys who have just moved back from Yulara to Darwin. It worked out well for both parties as they had a carport we could leave it in and they had a car to use until theirs arrived on the transport. For our 3 days in Darwin we did a few last minute jobs, got travelers cheques and exchanged some money, and then socialised. Murphys were staying at Sky City Casino so we spent the afternoon living it up hanging around the newly renovated pools and bar. On the Friday I spent a few hours helping the Murphs move back into their house. What a job. There really is no joy in moving.

    Saturday afternoon the 8th April came around very quickly. Chris had us at the airport 3 hours earlier than our departure as she was worried about the plane being overbooked and us getting bumped. The time went really quickly and before long we were seated on the only 1/2 full plane. Glad we got there early!!!!
    We flew Jetstar for the grand total of $1600-00 in total return for all four of us. The plane, an Airbus A320 was new, clean and the staff were very good. The in-flight entertainment was cheap ($10-00 for the entire flight) and the food was actually good and well priced. Overall we were very happy with Jetstar's service and will definitely be flying with them again. The 4 1/2 hour flight seemed to be over before it started with us arriving in Ho Chi Minh City at around 10-00pm Vietnam time. We had arranged our visas online which they say is the cheapest and easiest way to arrange your Visa. We had the paper work in hand that they email to you and fronted at the counter for the 15 minute process to take place. Lesson No. 1: Nothing in Vietnam happens in a hurry - 50 minutes later after I hassled them we finally had our visas. We had a car picking us up and we were a little worried that he would not wait. Getting through immigration was quick and easy as was customs. Basically our bags got scanned and we walked straight through and waiting out the front amongst 600 other people was our driver with a little sign "Brett Parfitt". It was now nearly midnight their time and he had been waiting for 2 hours. Bless his little heart. We arrived at our guest house well after midnight and the staff were sitting there patiently waiting for us.

    River in Saigon River Toilet Bikes and more bikes My beer being delivered Street Scape Street Scape
    Saigon River and District 1- Saigon City

    Welcome to Vietnam. Words that pop into your head after a month in Vietnam are heaps of people, motorbikes and horns. This is a country with an immense amount of natural beauty and very much a place on the move. Progress has really taken hold here and is evident by all the massive building in varying stages of completion, most of which look totally out of place. Friends who have lived here for 4 years say the changes in the past few years have been amazing. If you plan to visit this country I suggest you get here sooner rather than later if you want to see it in its current state as the place is changing all too rapidly.
    Anyway back to the story. We booked into our 4 bed room that was on the 5th floor. Oops, no lift. We went up to our room to find the airconditioner on, as was the TV on the Australian channel with the AFL playing. As we were still a little hyped up we stayed up and watched the game. After a small sleep-in we were up and ready for our next adventure.

    We booked this guest house through HostelWorld before leaving Australia. It was a great find and has received over 93% customer satisfaction on HostelWorld feedback. It is a family owned and operated establishment in District 1 which is in the centre of Saigon, in the heart of the tourist district, down a small lane about 100 metres off one of the main roads. While there would be thousands of similar hotels scattered through Saigon, we were really happy we had found this one.

    Our Hotel Our room The alley outside our hotel The alley our hotel was on
    Our guest house and the little alley it was in - very little road noise down here!

    Now let me explain the Saigon thing. This city was called Saigon when Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam. In 1975, during the reunification it was decided the name had to be changed. It then became Ho Chi Minh City after their great leader. Still today most of the locals call it Saigon, and so will I as it is much easier to type.
    Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam with 8 million people(although not the capital which is Ha Noi) . Vietnam has a total of 86 million people. Saigon has 5 million motorbikes, one for every square metre of land in the city. The city covers an area of 2,095 square kms. That is a big city. You have never seen traffic like it unless you have been here. There seems to be no road rules with people doing as they like. They ignore the traffic lights, they drive the wrong way down the roads and drive on the footpaths. It is chaos. Surprisingly they only have about 40 serious accidents a day with 3.5 people a day on average being killed from road accidents. While those stats are horrible, when you consider the numbers on the roads and how they drive, it's surprisingly good. Wearing motorbike helmets is compulsory but a lot of people don't wear them as they are not cool. The younger Vietnamese see themselves as very cool. That reluctance to wear helmets would add dramatically to the deaths on the roads.

    Traveling by taxi is really cheap (if you use a reputable company) with most trips costing around $2-00. We absolutely loved driving around watching how they drive. Imagine this. You are driving towards a T junction. The road in front of you is packed with hundreds and hundreds of motorbikes and cars. You want to turn left. There is no slowing down. You just drive straight into the traffic cutting straight across both lanes and somehow the traffic just parts, the car goes through and the traffic just goes back to the way it was. It is truly amazing to see. If interested I have hours of video footage of it. I found it so amazing, I couldn't put the video camera down.

    So let me try and explain what we did to fill in our time. Let me start by saying a month was a good length of time. By the end we were glad to be going home, but sad to be leaving. You will not get to see everything in a month as this is a big country, but if you keep moving like we did, you will get to see a fair bit.

    We had planned to only have a few days in Saigon before flying north to Hanoi and then slowly making our way back south to Saigon again. Day one (Sunday) saw us exploring Saigon on foot, attempting to cross the roads without coming to grief, sampling some traditional Vietnamese cuisine, visiting the Ben Thanh markets (large indoor markets that sell everything from live fish to watches) and a boat cruise up the canals of the Saigon River to see how 'the other half' lived. One of Harry's classmates from Distance Ed lives in Saigon and has for the past 4 years, originally coming from Brisbane (Tina was actually born in Vietnam but grew up in Aust.). Chris had been in contact with them since planning our trip and we arranged to meet up. They have just recently started an English Language School which is keeping them very busy. We arranged to meet Brad and Tina and India and Jake (India is in Harry's class) on Sunday night.

    Out to Dinner The dinner Team Kids hanging around The kids having fun

    We met them at their school and were guest visitors for their adult students. We spent an hour chatting to the students and answering their questions about Australia. We then went to a local seafood restaurant with a few expat friends of theirs. We had the best night with endless seafood and beers. Let me tell you Vietnam is not the place for recovering alcoholics to visit. Tiger beer, Saigon, BGI, 333 or numerous other beers cost around 80 cents for a 450ml stubby. When you go to a restaurant they put an empty beer crate under your table and you put all your empties in it. At the end of the night they count your bottles and you pay the bill. What a system. They also drink beer here with ice. I believe there are two reasons. The first is that the beers are not really cold and the other is that the locals say you need the ice to keep you hydrated because it is so hot. It's a bit strange having a huge block of ice hanging out of your glass, but it does keep your beer cold. I am not sure it will take off in Australia but you do get used to it.
    Anyway back to our evening. The food was amazing, the company sensational and the beer too plentiful. I must say I was somewhat unstable on my feet and all that was left was to pay the bill. At 80 cents a beer it doesn't end up being much, believe me. The food is also very good value in Vietnam with the average evening  meal costing between $20-00 to $30-00 including desert and drinks for us all and that's at a flash restaurant. It was quite a late night with the kids running amok (apparently the norm here), but while we were still drinking beers the restaurant remained open, although they were packing up around us!!

    Monday 12th we all woke a little later than usual after our late night out. The hotel locks the doors at 12-00 MN and we did have to bang on it to be let in. Luckily some of the staff sleep on the floor in the foyer for this very reason. Today was for a bit of local sightseeing so we caught a cab to the War Remanants Museum. Vietnam has a very interesting past (which would take ages to fully get your head around) and has been fighting and been getting invaded for thousands of years. The Chinese, the French and then of course the American involvement in more recent times. China again tried to invade North Vietnam in the 1970's.

    That classic photo War Museum War Museum War Museum
    War Museum

    The museum seems to only focus on the more recent wars and has a very anti-American slant to it. None of the other countries involved in that war including Australia even get a mention. We then visited the Reunification Palace which is where the North Vietnamese tanks busted through the front gates of the Palace that signified the end of the war and finally the beginning of a peaceful existence. Independence Day is one of the most important days on the Vietnamese calendar, and rightfully so. (And we happened to be there for it - April 30)
    The Reunification Palace (the palace where four presidents lived) is still used today for important diplomatic meetings but its main purpose is for tourism. A short walk and we next visited the French Notre Dame Cathedral. This very impressive church is enormous and really needs to be seen in person to fully appreciate it.

    Reunification Palace Tank that broke down the gate in 1975 that ended the war. The gate View to the gate
    Reunification Palace

    Tuesday 13th we packed our bags and caught a taxi to the airport to catch a Jetstar Asia flight to Hanoi. Our flight was delayed by an hour which had us arriving late in the afternoon. Luckily I had done a little research on HostelWorld and had earmarked a few possible hotels. This was the first (and the last time) we had nothing booked as we had found an Australian owned cafe in Hanoi that made great promises about helping us out. Well of course in reality the great Kangaroo Cafe was useless. They were about as useful as a one legged man in an arse kicking contest.

    Boarding the plane Ready for take off Our room Beer corner

    We did leave our bags there and headed off on foot to find somewhere to lay our heads. By this stage the sun was getting very low and darkness was starting to decend upon us. We had no idea where we were going, could not read the street signs, were lost, and not very happy. You should try asking instructions from someone who does not understand one single thing you are saying. Just as I was starting to get a little stressed we stumbled upon one of the hotels we had researched. Luckily for us it was cheap, they had a four bed room available and it was actually very nice in a good location. The next challenge was to find our way back through the maze of streets to collect our bags and then find our way back to the hotel. At Christmas we had researched what type of bags we would take on this trip and after listening to what seasoned travelers had said settled on backpacks (including full harness) with wheels and a retractable handle. We have one 75 litre and a 95 litre. While heavy when on your back they have proven to be in invaluable. We do use the wheels most of the time but when you need to take your bags up 5 flights of steps or over rough terrain, the harness was great.
    So we set off bags in tow, those little wheels banging along the road and did eventually find our way back to the hotel. A quick shower and off we went to check out the town and have some dinner. While up north we planned to spend some time in Halong Bay and also up in the mountains at Sapa. I had planned to book our tours through the great Kangaroo Cafe but when they turned out to be less than helpful we resorted to plan B.

    Beer corner
    Beer Corner- 20 cents a glass
    Chris had done some research and found some good feedback on a turnout called Ocean Tours. Well, we looked up their address and it turned out being 200 metres from our hotel. What a professional turnout. English speaking staff, juice, cakes and fruit and excellent service. We booked a 2 night, 3 day trip to Halong Bay and a 4 night trip to Sapa and beyond. More of that later.

    Wednesday 14th. We woke to a little rain and a lot of mist. We spent the day exploring Hanoi, mainly around the Old Quarter, which is where we were staying. This is the guts of town and we believe the best area to stay.

    We walked around Hoan Kiem Lake and even found an ANZ ATM. The Australian ATM's are the best to use as you can get more money out at a time. Hanoi is in some ways similar to Saigon, lots of bikes, horns and people everywhere. It is older and seems a bit grubbier and the people don't seem as friendly but still great. We jumped on a Cyclo (a pushbike with a 2 person seat on the front) for an hour trip around the area, which is a great way to get an overview of the area without having to worry about watching the traffic.

    Hoan Kiem Lake Temple Red bridge Temple Alter
                                                  Hoan Kiem Lake and Temple - The Old Quarter - Hanoi

    Not sure thats right
    Why can't I see!!

    Thursday 15th. Another day sightseeing. First up was off to the Mausoleum to pay our respects to Ho Chi Minh who is housed here in a big glass display. This is considered the holiest place in Vietnam and the place that every Vietnamese wants to visit at least once in their lifetime. It is open 5 days a week in the morning only and you need to be there early to get in. The line up was amazing, about a km long. You had to go through scanners and security and then wait. It only took about 40 minutes to actually get into the building. There are no hats, no bags, no talking, no photos and no stopping. You basically walk around 3 sides of his glass box with the big fella laying there covered with his face and arms exposed. Every year in October he goes off to Russia for 3 months for a restoration session.
    We then visited the museum which is in the same complex. The museum is totally dedicated to Ho Chi Minh. To read the story of his life was amazing and there is no doubt he was an exceptional person with a vision that is hard to comprehend. It is easy to see why he is held in such high regard by all Vietnamese.It was then back to the hotel to pack ready for the Halong Bay trip the next morning.

    Mausoleum The queue Meseum Temple 
    Holding his hand The Man Temple
    HO Chi Minh The big fella
    The Mausoleum and the Ho Chi Minh Museum - Hanoi.

    Friday 16th. Up bright and early and down the road we walked to the Ocean Tours office to get on the bus to Halong Bay. It is a four hour bus trip that finally had us at the docks in the small (ha!) seaside town of Halong City. I have never seen so many Junks in whole life (in fact I am not sure I have ever seen a junk before). There are literally thousands of them. Some big, some small, some flash, some not so flash. There are two different types of junks, day junks and night or live-aboard junks. Our plan for the next few days was to spend time on a day junk, cruise to our private island where we would be staying in a bamboo hut on the beach, then the next night would be spent on a live-aboard junk before heading back to Halong Bay and Hanoi.

    junks in Halong Bay Halong Bay Hard at it Figure Head Kayaking Kayaking Halong Bay Kayaking
    Halong Bay.

    So we did get on our day junk and started to motor through the Heritage Listed bay, passing some of the 1 969 karsts (lumps of limestone rock) that protrude from the ocean. We had a seafood lunch that consisted of 9 dinner plates of seafood for the four of us. The amount of food was outrageous and the quality of the food sensational. We had payed a little more than the average for this tour and it was starting to become very obvious what the difference was between the cheap and the more expensive tours. We had spoken to backpackers who had hamburgers for nearly every meal. Well not here, believe me. We had prawns, calamari, crab, whole fish and more. It was beautiful, and enough to feed a small army.
    After lunch it was into some kayaks and off to explore some large caves that had been carved into the limestone karsts. We paddled for ages through some beautiful areas that were unfortunately spoilt by a mountain of rubbish floating around the ocean. You name it, you will see it in the water, foam, plastic, fluro tubes, lounge suites and much, much more floating around this otherwise pristine area. It really is a shame and something they will need to address. Our guide told us that most of it comes from the floating villages and that they have been throwing their rubbish into the ocean for hundreds of years. That may well be the case but hundreds of years ago it would not have been all the plastics and modern day rubbish we see today.

    Our little island Our little island Our little island Our little island Our little island Our little island Tough life Our little island
    Our little private hideaway - Gilligans Island (That's what we called it)

    Next it was back on the boat and we then headed to our little island. The weather this day has not been the sunny day we had hoped for, most of the day being overcast and drizzly. It was also very misty that did add a bit of magic to the area. We arrived at the island that looks over the bay towards Cat Ba Island. There were 6 bungalows made of bamboo poles and palm leaf walls and roof. Inside they were very well decorated complete with their own bathrooms. Due to the drizzly weather everything inside was damp so on went the electric blankets to dry the place out a bit. The resort had a nice bar and restaurant (complete with pool table) that overlooked the beach and across the bay to Cat Ba Island, that looked great at night all lit up. There was a fun bunch on the island that night and we had a great night. After another huge meal and a few cheap beers it was time to stagger back to our 'Gilligan's Island hut' as we had named it.

    Saturday 17th. Awoke to find a sunny day. Finally. I had a sleep on the beach while Harry played in the sand, while Chris and Alex caught up on their journals. We seemed to just finish a big breakfast and then it was lunchtime, and another huge 7 course meal. All this eating and not much exercise is not going to be good for the waistline! After lunch we were picked up by another boat and taken back to where we went kayaking the previous day. We then met up with our sleeping boat and moved in. There were about 8 other people on board for the night. We sat up on the top deck, having a drink as we slowly motored through the karsts to the bay where we would be spending the night, moored with about 100 other boats. It was very pretty and a great way to end the day. Even with the rubbish, this is a very pretty place and one that you must visit when in Vietnam. Yet another 8 course seafood meal before heading to our huge cabin on the top floor with large windows and a million dollar view. This is living.

    Our sleeping boat Our room Boys room Dining room Mooring for the night Up on deck Up on deck Nice boat
    Our sleeping boat - luxury on the high seas


    Amazing Cave Amazing Cave Amazing Cave Harry and Ting- Our guide
    Amazing Cave - Photos just don't do it justice.

    Sunday 18th. Up nice and early for yet more food. Bacon, eggs and anything else you wanted. Stop feeding me!!! Next stop after a short cruise was to the Amazing Cave. This is a series of huge dry caves that have some very good formations. It was quite a hike up to the top to the cave entrance and the view back down to the bay below was amazing in itself. The walk took us a few hours and then it was back to our boat for lunch (I'm going to explode) as we slowly cruised back to Halong Bay harbour, to catch our bus back to Hanoi. (We were particularly impressed with the Ocean Tours operation and especially our guide Tinh, who had fantastic English and really looked after the boys.) We arrived back in Hanoi around 6-00pm, had a shower at the Ocean Tours office, went out for a very light snack for dinner (as if we hadn't eaten enough lately) and then caught a taxi to the train station, for the overnight trip to Sapa, in the mountains, for our next 4 day trip, trekking through the mountains. There was only one other person on our trip, a young lady called Selene who was traveling on her own as her friend who was flying out from England to meet her was unable to make it due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland that disrupted all the flights in Europe. She was really nice and she was glad there was someone else on the tour. We were at the station around 9-00pm and finally boarded our 'soft sleeper, air-conditioned' cabin. The trains in Vietnam are actually not too bad, but I think the soft sleeper part is not exactly accurate. I believe what they actually call a mattress is a frame that has been filled with concrete, and not even trowled smooth. I thought the mattress was hard until I felt the pillow. What is that thing!??!! We actually slept well until at some ungodly hour a bloke came past banging on our door to get up. We were almost there.

                                                                                       A view of the stepped rice fields - Sapa

    Our soft sleeper train
    Our cabin

    Monday 19th. Off the train and onto yet another bus to take us the 1 hour drive up the hill to the town of Sapa. We were taken to our hotel for a shower and some breakfast before being picked up by our tour guide. The plan for the next few days was to hike 14 kms this day, the next day 8 kms and 6 kms the last day. We set off around 9-00am for what was a leisurely and very enjoyable walk through rice paddies and through small villages inhabited by the minority tribal people. There are many villages in this area where these minority tribes live, and they each have their own distinctive style of dress. Late in the afternoon we arrived at our home stay in the small village of Ta Van. While we were told we were going to stay in a villager's hut, this place was rather flash and looked a little out of place. It slept 12 people, had a new tiled bathroom and flushing toilet. We later found out that all the 'homestays' are owned by a company and employ a local to live in them and cook the food, telling the tourists they will be having an authentic experience. The truth is, you would not want to stay in a peasant villager's house as you would be sleeping in the dirt, little food and certainly no flushing toilet. We met a nice Aussie couple while walking who were on another tour. Shane and Sharlene from Melbourne. It would turn out that we would see a lot of these guys and spend a fair bit of time with them right up until we left Vietnam.
    We walked around the village and I went to inquire about a massage at a place in the village that our host told me about. As it turned out, it was not quite the massage I was talking about!!!! Must have looked funny me turning up with my wife and kids. That would account for the funny look I got from the ladies who worked there. Maybe I could slip back, after everyone was asleep.

    Sapa Sapa Sapa Sapa Sapa Sapa Tribal women Sapa Sapa Hard at it. Bed time in the home stay Celine and Sung our guide

    Tuesday 20th. Up bright and early for a big pancake breakfast. Over here it is either pancakes or fried eggs, every morning. We embarked on the final 8 kms for this part of the trip, which saw us walking through some magnificent countryside. One minute we were in a bamboo jungle stepping over the top of waterfalls and next looking down over rice fields with workers and their buffalo working the ground getting prepared for the wet season. This is a humble way of living, a hard way but I imagine a pleasant way to spend your life. Working to grow food to feed your family. It doesn't get much more basic than that. We passed some ingenious devices like rice husk removers that operate using the running water as its energy source. They simply divert the water from a creek that operates a large hammer-like implement that knocks the husks off the rice. The rice is then sieved and the nice clean rice is left to be eaten when needed. We finally made it to another village where we were picked up by a bus and taken back to Sapa and to our hotel. A bit of a walk around, a nice hot shower and then off to dinner with a nice German couple we first met in Halong Bay. Sebastian is a lawyer and worked for 6 months recently in Sydney along with his girlfriend Freddie.These guys really got out and about and had many interesting stories to tell. I loved one of their Australian stories when they were traveling north on a Greyhound bus (not a tour bus!!). In the middle of the night they arrived in Tully. Sebastian thought the bus driver said 'toilet' so got off and went to one. When he came out he saw the back of the bus driving off down the road, with Freddie telling the bus driver to stop, which he wouldn't do. Sebastian had no idea what to do, so flagged down a passing police car who was sympathetic to his story and with lights flashing chased the bus and made them stop. We were wetting ourselves laughing. I bet he wasn't at the time.

    Wednesday 21st. Guess what?? Pancakes for breakfast. Hooray. Then at 9-00am we were again picked up by our guide Sung, for the 6 km walk to Cat Cat Village. This village is actually her home so that made it a little more interesting. We had a look through her mum's house and met her husband and baby son. Cat Cat itself is very close to Sapa and is therefore somewhat commercialised. Plenty of stalls selling all sorts of stuff we certainly could live without. At the very bottom of the town is a very impressive sight where three rivers and one waterfall all joined and flowed into one. There is in fact so much water here that they have their own small hydro-electricity plant that provides some of the power for the village. Around Sapa that is important as the electricity for this entire area comes from China. Unfortunately China seems to be suffering from a lack of water and is unable to produce enough electricity to go around. The upshot of that is that Sapa is without power for a large percentage of the day/or night, every day of the week. We also got to watch a small performance put on for the tourists which told a story (not really sure what the story was) and showed some of the local traditional dancing. They came down and dragged Alex onto the stage where he showed off some of his inherited talents 'tripping the light fantastic'. He is so fortunate to have been blessed with such talented genes!!

    Cat Cat Village Cat Cat Village Cat Cat Village Cat Cat Village
    Cat Cat Village- Sapa

    When we had seen all Cat Cat had to offer we said goodbye to our Guide of the last few days and slowly (and painfully) made our way to the top of the hill. Where is a taxi when you need one???
    We were picked up at the hotel just on sunset and driven the hour down the hill to catch the train back to Hanoi. This time we struck out and were put on the oldest, crappiest carriage in the whole of Vietnam. It was noisy, smelly and the bed was, was, I don't know what it was but a bed it wasn't. I am not sure that we actually slept much at all and then along came the cheery little man banging on the door at yet another ungodly hour to get us up as we were about to arrive back in Hanoi. The time 04-30am.

    Thursday 22nd. The sun was just starting to show its nose over the horizon as we went in search of a reputable taxi. It was then back to the same hotel we had stayed in prior to heading off to Halong Bay. Not only was it early, not only were we tired, but then it started to rain. We walked down the small lane to our hotel to find the door locked and the staff asleep in the foyer. Not wanting to wake them we sat on the step, in the rain staring through the glass just wishing that was us, rolled up on the floor, fast asleep. We sat there for about an hour when a lady walked past, saw us waiting and started banging on the door yelling at the sleeping souls. They woke and let us in, kindly giving us room to have a snooze.

    It was a bit of a lazy day with our only important event being a visit to see the Water Puppet Show. Now this water puppet show is a very traditional art form that goes back thousands of years. It originally was performed by the rice farmers. It is basically a puppet show performed in the water. The puppets are controlled by people behind a curtain with the puppets on the end of long bamboo poles. It was very colourful and fast moving accompanied by some very horrible singing that sounded a bit like a cat being attacked with a chainsaw. This show plays about 5 times a day / 7 days a week and you need to book your tickets weeks in advance to get in. Who would believe it!! A bit more shopping and then off to a sensational Italian restaurant where we got a reprieve from rice and noodles and had pizza. What a great night until Harry stood up, ran off and spewed. Great. He is a tough little sucker and sat there while we ate and then walked all the way home. The next day we were off on a tour for the entire day so it looked like one of us may have to stay home with him.

    Friday 23rd. Awake early. Harry leaps out of bed, as right as rain. I love the way kids recover. Today we were off to see the Perfume Pergoda which is on the Perfume River. We had no idea what it was or what to expect. We were picked up and then spent 2 hours on the bus. We arrived at the Perfume River and boarded a small metal canoe that was propelled by two ladies with big oars. These boats were everywhere. There are actually 4,000 of these boats right where we were. They are all identical and all Government owned. Each boat held about 20 people. Now what we were not aware of was that this is a Buddhist turnout and every year, right now is the big Buddhist Festival. What that means is that the entire 86 million Vietnamese population, minus a few that are not Buddhist or peasants try to visit this pergoda over the festival's 3 month period. I kid you not. On our day there was believed to be 40,000 visitors - all Vietnamese. Normally, out of festival time, only a few hundred a day, all tourists.

    Anyway we got on our boat, which was a bit upmarket as we had uncomfortable plastic seats compared to all the other boats that had uncomfortable metal bars to sit on. It took us an hour to make our way along the river to the base of the Pergoda walk.

    Boat trip along the Perfume River Boat trip along the Perfume River Boat trip along the Perfume River Boat trip along the Perfume River What is that?? And That Up to the Pergoda The opening to the pergoda The Pergoda Stalls Cable car Boat back
    Perfume River and the Perfume Pergoda

    From here you have two options. Walk the 4 km up hill or catch the cable car. As Harry was still a bit under the weather we did the cable car. Unfortunately due to the sheer numbers and the huge line up I think it would have been quicker to actually walk up the hill as we had to stand in line for 50 minutes. We made it to the top and made our way to the pergoda. Now this was not what we expected. It was in fact a huge cave, actually bloody huge with a very large alter almost completely covered with offerings brought in by all the worshippers. The number of people was out of control and it was a struggle to get within 50 meters of the thing. After we had finished paying our respects we prepared to walk the 4 kms back down, but again decided on the 30 second cable car as this time there was no queue = no waiting. Harry was still unwell remember. Thanks for the excuse mate. Next it was off to have lunch. We were all a little apprehensive about where we were going to be having our lunch. The reason for our concern was that as we arrived earlier in the day we walked past a number of places to eat. Hanging outside each of these were numerous different types of animals all in varying states of dismemberment (see photos above). There were squirrels, what looked like big cats and other things that looked like nothing we had seen before but what we were told were deer. Oh dear alright. These things looked seriously disgusting. As we walked past again in the afternoon they were still there, just with a few more bits hacked off. Thankfully where we ate had no afore mentioned decorations on display so we felt vaguely safe eating the food.

    As we were about to board our luxurious tin boat with plastic seats for the return journey it absolutely started to pour. There were people going in all directions. 'Never let a chance go by, Oh Lord', I am sure is the National Anthem of Vietnam, for as soon as the first drop fell, out came the raincoats for sale. You have to give it to them. We got back to Hanoi and after a quick freshen up we hit the night markets. They were huge and went for blocks with the streets closed off. The stuff was all the 'Same Same, but Different' which became our new catch cry. As we were walking through the markets enjoying the experience Chris suddenly got a pained and distraught look on her face, and announced 'I need a toilet-NOW'. I knew exactly what she meant (having been in the same predicament myself many times over the past few weeks), and we didn't have long. We just happened to be standing outside one of the flashest hotels in Hanoi, so in we went and while I kept the reception staff busy looking for a room for us for a week!!!!!!, Chris ducked in to the loo. What a plan and how well executed. As soon as the disaster was averted, I thanked them and told them we would get straight back to them. At $600-00 a night for a room, I don't think so, but I believe the toilets are very nice. We then went back to the same pizza restaurant (from last night where Harry upchucked) so Harry could enjoy his pizza and hopefully keep it down this time.

    The Cyclo

    Saturday 24th.Today was our last day in Hanoi. Later tonight we will be getting on another train and heading to Hue. Another night trying to sleep on a concrete mattress is something to really get you excited. We packed and got organised and then hit town. We decided finally to have a go on a cyclo after weeks of being harassed by these guys. You will see from the picture that it's a three wheeled bike with the passenger sitting at the front and the driver behind. It is a relaxing way to check out the place, be it slightly dangerous. We enjoyed our hour tour and got to see heaps without having to worry about crossing roads. We went out to dinner at an English restaurant called Le Pub, and boy it was nice to have something that was not based on noodles. Off to the train. Hue, here we come. It is on the coast of Vietnam, almost halfway to Saigon. We should be there around 10-00am. We actually scored a fairly modern carriage this trip but the mattress, well it had not improved. It is funny though. We are rapidly getting used to sleeping on concrete. We do adapt very quickly to changing circumstances. Thankfully.

    Sunday 25th. We woke to discover we were running 2 hours late and would not be in Hue until 12-00 midday. The fact that we woke at all was a surprise as we thought we would not be sleeping a wink. The scenery was nice as we snaked our way south, so we sat back and enjoyed the passing parade. When we arrived at Hue we were greeted by our driver with that little sign "Brett Parfitt". While it is a little more expensive being picked up it certainly is the stress-free way to go. As it turned out this collection was free from the hotel we were staying at. Free collection from the plane or train is worth checking out when you book your accommodation online. Again we picked a very nice hotel with a great room and a lift. That's a bit flash! We hit the streets and found a lovely area only 10 minutes walk from our hotel. It had places by the dozen to eat so we settled on one and settled in, so to speak. Just as we finished and had stood up to leave Shane and Sharlene wandered past, so down we sat again for a few more drinks. We then grabbed some more cyclos and had a trip around Hue, over the river and across to the Citadel (more of that later). We then went back to the hotel, cleaned up and out for dinner, just for something completely different.

    Off on a Cyclo Alex has found a new job Watch out for the traffic A well earned drink
    The Cyclo ride. Sit back and relax

    Monday 26th. Today we were off on one of those nightmare 'herd you on and herd you off' tours. We really hate them but sometimes it is just the easiest way to go. The plan was to visit the tombs of  three past kings, visit the Citadel and then a Buddhist temple. The first tomb was of the 4th King known as 'the Smallpox King' because he was sterile. The next was the 12th King who was homosexual and the third King we visited was the second king of Vietnam and was known as the 'Sexy King' as he had 142 children. These temples/tombs were extremely flash and cost an absolute fortune. Pretty smart in a country full of peasants and starving people. They start to build these temples while they are still alive and still the king so they can oversee the progress. The homosexual King's temple is so flash and ornate, with imported ceramic everywhere, that he had to increase the taxes throughout the entire country by 300% to pay for his little resting place. See, politicians were just the same back then. Bloody amazing. We then visited the Forbidden City/ Imperial Palace and the Citadel which are all in the same complex. This is where the (reigning) Royal Family lived with their servants, concubines and eunichs (no balls). Now the purpose of the 'no balls' eunich's was to to deliver the messages (I want you tonight) from the king to the concubines with the king feeling confident that the young concubines would not be tampered with before he got to them. That's true. This place is huge, like a small town and over the past hundreds of years over 90% of the structures had been damaged by war and the weather. They are now painstakingly restoring the whole place. They expect it will take about 80 years, but what they have done so far is amazing.

    Homosexual temple Forbidden city restoration What detail Buddists praying
    Temple and Forbidden City- Hue

    We then visited a Buddhist Pergoda on top of a hill with great views down the Perfume River (this bit of real estate would make the Catholics jealous) where we saw the monks praying and singing. It was then on a dragon boat for the short trip back to town. With the tour over we then walked across the town bridge and visited the large Hue supermarket. It was very like a Coles or Woolies except for the language with very similar foods and meat that was actually refrigerated. Amazing. After a walk around the 'traditional' market next door, we caught a cab back to the hotel.  Dinner at a very nice Indian Restaurant and then to the DMZ (De Militarised Zone) pub for desert and a few bedtime drinks. An early night was needed as we had to be up bright and early in the morning as we will be catching a day train to Danang and then driving to Hoi An.

    A bit wet Heading off Stowaway A bit of sunshine
    Train trip from Hue to Danang. Great weather!!

    Tuesday 27th. Off to the train station for a 10-00am train that was running a tad late. This is said to be one of the most spectacular train trips in Vietnam. Shame it was foggy and raining. Even so it was very spectacular. Other than the scenery the highlight was watching the hitch-hikers jumping on the train and hanging off underneath the train for the journey. As I was looking out the door of the train at these women they were smiling and waving at me. What a classic. We arrived at Danang at 1-30pm, with you guessed it, a driver with the 'Brett Parfitt' sign. It was about a 40 minute drive from Danang to Hoi An. We were excited to get to Hoi An as this place has a reputation for being very beautiful, especially the Ancient Town. We booked into our hotel that receives mixed reviews. It was cheap, had a pool, was a bit gawdy but very clean with big rooms.

    Our driver shane and Sharlene Lantern Bridge Ancient Town Lanterns everywhere Shane and me on the boat Chris and Sharlene Ancient Town Ancient Town Ancient Town Ancient Town Ancient Town
    The Ancient Town - Hoi An

    We ventured out for a look around and walked towards the Ancient Town. We had received a text from Shane and Sharlene a few hours earlier telling us which hotel they were staying in. Well bugger me, we walked straight past their hotel, 300 metres from ours. We dropped in, collected them, then all walked to the Ancient Town together. Now let's back peddle a second. While we were on the train an Aussie couple were chatting to us and asked if we were heading to Hoi An for the 'Lunar Lantern Festival' that was on tonight. We had never heard of it, but we will be there.
     Let me start by saying that Hoi An is beautiful and a place you must stay when in Vietnam. The Lunar Lantern Festival is on each month for a few months each year. Let me attempt to set the scene. The Ancient Town is on a river and  is a town of very old buildings with narrow cobble stone type roads. Lanterns are an important part of this place with them hanging everywhere. Restaurants are everywhere serving very good quality food. It is charming, it is old, it has character and it's a place we really loved. It is our most favorite town in Vietnam. We discovered this is the playground of the rich and famous in Vietnam and we were here on a long weekend. There were many more people here that what is the norm, according to the locals. So just for tonight, festival night, at sunset, the power to the town is turned off and hundreds of lanterns are lit. The river and town became a kaleidoscope of colour with hundreds of lanterns in all the restaurants and floating candles floating in the river, creating a magnificent sight.

    Our favorite drinking hole in Hoian
    Our Favorite drinking hole.
    We found a great little cafe/restaurant just over the Lantern Bridge that sells 20 cent 'fresh' beers and cheap bottled beers. We had a lovely meal, sitting on the footpath watching the passing parade. After dinner we ( with Shane and Sharlene) all got on a small boat and went for a ride around the river amongst all the floating candles. We all bought candles and let them go. This is done to remember the spirits of deceased family members.

    After our boat ride we found a small cafe and had desert and a night cap before walking back to the hotel.

    Wednesday 28th. We had a very lazy start to the day, having a well deserved sleep in. It was then back to the Ancient Town for brekky and some more exploring. This is a big place and you could walk around for days and not see it all. We bought some lanterns and a few other bits and pieces. We then found a great shop that sells hand made timber replicas of famous old boats. They were amazing with incredible detail and workmanship. We loved the Endeavour, one of which was just under a metre long. We would visit this shop many times over the next few days. It was then back to the hotel mid-afternoon for a well deserved swim, diary writing and a snooze.
    It was then back to the Ancient Town for dinner with Shane, Sharlene and some Americans they had met while in Vietnam. We found a lovely spot to eat and were just about to tuck into our food when Alex spewed all over the restaurant floor. He ran outside and let go again in the street in front of the rest of the people dining in the restaurant. The staff were amazing - cleaned it all up, then took Alex out the back and cleaned him up as well, while we sat there eating our food, making out we didn't know him. (Not the Ed of course!!) He has never been looked after so well in his whole life. They rubbed Tiger Balm on his cheeks and tummy, massaged his stomach while rubbing his back as well. I felt like vomiting myself, just to get some of the attention. You would not get service like that anywhere else in the world, believe me. Alex perked up a little and we continued on but did catch a taxi home, to spare him the walk. (Aren't we good parents?)

    Thursday 29th. Alex was feeling OK in the morning so we hired some push bikes and headed down to the beach, which was an easy 15 minute ride. I had Harry sitting on the back of my bike, and he thought it was great, sitting there like Lord Muck, while I peddled my guts out. The beaches here are very nice and the beach is lined with places to eat, as well as sun shelters and banana lounges, that you are welcome to use, for a small fee of course. We then rode along the esplanade and found our way to a small fishing village that we rode through. There are some seriously flash and very expensive hotels along this stretch, all on the beach. For such a poor country, there are some with a lot of money, as these places are generally full of Vietnamese on holidays. It was a great few hours. It was then back to the hotel for a swim before heading out for dinner.

    The beach Having lunch Riding through the village Having a drink
    A bike ride to the beach and the local fishing village.

    Friday 30th. Now this may sound a bit monotonous but we slept in and then made our way back down to the Ancient Town. This is a place that would take a long time to get sick of, there is just so much to see and do. While we were walking along the river looking for somewhere to have brunch, one of the boat drivers came over to get us on his boat for a trip. We told him we wanted brunch first and he recommended a cafe not far from his boat. We took his advice and had a great meal. When we were finished we found our boat driver/Captain and took him up on his offer of a 1 hour trip to the fishing villages. We had looked at a tour that went to the same fishing villages for 4 hours for $40-00US each. This guy charged us 100,000 dong ($6-60 Aus) for us all. We ended up extending our trip to 3 hours for 300,000 (Less than $20-00Aus) which meant we were about $160-00 Aus ahead, and we had a personalised tour. Captain Sao was excellent and for most of the trip he had Harry driving the boat. We stopped at the fishing village and had a walk around and he took us ashore again to a boat building village. It was amazing seeing up close and personal the ancient art of building timber boats. They had big planks of timber staked to the ground on their edge with a fire burning close to one side of the timber to dry it out to be able to curve the timber to the shape of the hull. What a great science lesson. We walked through the village and saw some amazing shops selling local wood carvings. I bought a carved wooden Buddha which is also an incense burner. You lift up his body, place an incense cone inside and light it and the smoke comes out his mouth. Captain Harry and Captain Sao got us safely back after a very enjoyable 3 hours. We then visited the model boat shop again and ended up buying the Endeavor that will be freighted back to Australia for us, with the money we saved from going on our own private tour. For what we paid for this boat when you look at the number of days it would take to build this thing, it was a bargain. It will look great in the house, when we eventually get to live in one again.

    Back to the hotel for another swim and then back to our favourite watering hole near the Lantern Bridge for pre-dinner drinks and to say goodbye as we were leaving the next day. We had been in Hoi An for 4 days and had visited this place every day. We then found another spot for dinner, had a lovely meal and then headed back to retire for the evening.

    The boat we went on. Captain Harry Basket Boat Captain Sao and Captain Harry Captain Alex Boat Building Boat building Bending timber for the hull

    So that is it for April. That's 3 weeks down and only 1 week left of our trip to Vietnam. It has been busy, and boy it's been fun.The next week will be really busy. We will catch up again with Tina and Brad and the kids, Shane and Sharlene and will be getting down to see the Mekong Delta. Plenty more to do yet. Stay tuned next month for the remainder of our trip and some tips if you plan to visit Vietnam.

    Until then.

    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain