Chu chi tunnels and a sad farewell to Vietnam.

Up at 7am we had a quick breakfast, checked out and sorted leaving our bags at the hotel and embarked on the one to two hour bus journey out of the city.

After the war museum yesterday it’ll be good to see how the Vietnamese fought back in the face of greater weaponry and money. The bus journey was nice and we saw more familiar Vietnamese countryside, Liam chatting away to an Australian couple.

Arriving to a horde of buses and tourist groups we knew what to expect. We did a group bus with around twenty or so other people and had a tour guide to take us round. Tickets were included so we walked through a large tunnel similar to an underpass at home and emerged into the jungle!

First up on the tour was a video explaining more about the war and why the communists lived and fought in this area. As we were watching we could hear shooting in the distance. Then we were taken to a hole in the ground where north Vietnamese would hide and ambush the enemy. We could get in the hole if we wanted and I jumped at the chance, hopping down into the hole it was pretty snug and I got to hold the wooden camouflage board and sink down till I was hidden in the cubby hole.

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It was fun and I couldn’t wait to get down into the tunnels for real. Our guide explained some maps to us and showed us a bamboo trap. Next stop on the tour was an old tank that the Vietnamese had damaged, so we got up on it and got a picture! As we walked through we saw more traps that they used, plus kitchens and living areas. The smoke from the kitchen went through a tunnel to come out far away from the base.

After this we stopped for 15 minutes so people could shoot different guns at a range, I’m not a big fan of guns and passed and the others did the same. Not many, if any of our group had a go, we got ice cream instead. Finally it was time for the tunnels, you basically queue up and go down into a larger area before heading down again into a small tunnel big enough for me to squat walk through. You could go through the tunnel for 20metres up to 100metres with various exits along the way.

I went in first with Liam behind me, I had gone about 5 paces when I heard Leia shout ‘I’m going back guys!” in a worried voice. Liam and I persevered to 20 metres where I was left alone as Liam exited. I could hear voices coming from further along so I continued round and soon caught up with another group, we dropped down lower and lower and I started to think maybe we were lost! It was hot and hard to breath but eventually after sliding down a slope on my belly and then crawling up a slope we emerged to the rest of the group. We were hot sweaty and dirty but everyone who made it the whole way through were pleased.

We got to have a quick freshen up in water and sat down for some food that the Viet Cong would have eaten. So we got a tea of some kind and tapioca with a crushed peanut dip. The tapioca was a little dry for my tastes it kinda sucked the moisture out of your mouth, but the dip was good and I liked the tea.

With that we went through a few more living and working areas, including one which showed how they attached stuff to the bottom of their sandals to throw the enemy off their trail.

We also learnt that they would put enemy clothing or chilli and pepper around air holes to prevent dogs from sniffing them out.

It was a fun day and I would definitely recommend it. It was like being cattle herded through but I didn’t find us waiting for long periods. After this adventure it was back on the bus, where the guide apologised as he had left two people behind at the film area! It was pretty hilarious but I felt a bit sorry for him, it’s busy and you need to keep an eye on your guide and the other people in your group.

Arriving back at the hotel we grabbed our bags and marched down to the sun tourist. I’m going to miss Vietnam, the people have been amazingly friendly, the food incredible, and the history sad but with a positive outlook. Though I think with our schedule and the weather forecast it’s the right move. I definitely think I’ll be back one day, It’s been my favourite country so far.

We were soon on a dodgy bus with bags and bags of something covering three quarters of the bus. The chairs were pretty comfy though and it was only $10 for the 6.5 hour bus journey over the border to Phnom Penh.

The journey was uneventful, immigration was simple with the bus guy taking our passports and dollars for the visa and sorting everything out while we waited at a restaurant and had some cheap rice and meat.

The only downside were the amount of mosquitos around but we just slathered the deet on when we got back on the bus.

Once in Cambodia we were driving along dark roads when the bus stopped and the driver and bus guy got off, started inspecting the rear wheel and quickly got the toolbox out. It wasn’t long before they fixed whatever the issue was and we were back on our way, a little more nervous when going over pot holes.

We arrived in Phnom Penh but the bus, heading in our hotels direction turned off away from the centre. Surprise surprise it dropped us off at a spot with about 6 tuk tuks. On principal we refused as it was only a 20 minute walk to the hotel.

Immediately we noticed how much dirtier Phnom Penh is compared to other places we had been, and it was pretty late, 10:30 pm so we quickened our pace to the hotel, down one particularly dodgy looking street with rubbish strewn everywhere.

In the end it wasn’t so bad finding the SLA boutique hotel and the room was huge. It was meant for 6-8 people but was only £50 for two nights which was within budget. It was nice to have our own beds and space, after the bus journey and the dodgy walk up it was 11:30 once we settled and we just passed out one by one, ready to see what awaited us I’m the daylight.

Ho Chi Minh and holding back the tears.

Due to being over budget on the hotel and the rain preventing us from utilising the facilities we booked in to a cheaper place for the next night, so after the usual breakfast, (10 minutes waiting for the pancakes to be replaced, every time someone came through with food we were like meerkats) we trekked in the heat to the hotel, bossing it and doing a 30 minute journey in 20! Dropped our stuff off, booked an excursion to Chu Chi tunnels the next day and got a city map. Today was sightseeing day.

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The reunification palace, where the communist north’s tanks smashed through the surrounding fences to take Saigon, was closest so we walked towards that first. The sun was beating down and glorious after the rain of the past few days. I think we got too excited, as the heavens opened and stupidly, I hadn’t brought a brolly or jacket. I got absolutely soaked through! The others got pretty wet too, but at least had some protection.

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After hiding in a coffee shop for 15 minutes, me dripping everywhere, the rain stopped!

Nearby was the Notre Dame church, not even slightly based on the famous French version but pretty in it’s own right. A few photos later and we popped over to see the old Saigon post office, a little less interesting but a sight to see in Ho Chi.

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After this we decided to head towards some botanical gardens unsure of whether you had to pay to see a horrendous zoo at the same time.

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On the way we saw a traditional banh mi cart and devoured the meat and salad stuffed baguettes for 30p. Unsure of the gardens (turns out we could have just seen them rather than go to the zoo) we decided to go to the war remnants museum and learn some Vietnamese history.

We arrived and got a quick drink just outside, 15,000 dong later we were surrounded by tanks, helicopters, and planes, all from the Vietnamese war. We took a few photos and headed inside. The bottom floor is pretty dull, more propaganda on Ho Chi Minh and some interesting communist poster. It was upstairs that got us.

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The first room was about the beginning of the war and the bombs and devastation caused by the Americans, this was prettty depressing but what followed was 10x worse.

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We entered the agent orange room, this was all about the chemical warfare that the U.S. rained down upon Vietnam. It was awful and it showed children who were severely disfigured due to the chemicals. The first picture we saw was two girls, one with dwarfism and one with learning difficulties who had become great friends. I could feel the tears welling up immediately.

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As we walked past picture after picture of children who have been affected by the war, even if they weren’t born yet, it just got sadder. Some of the pictures in the museum are horrific, one of a G.I. holding the charred remains of a Viet Cong fighter was particularly harrowing, others of the vast devastation napalm caused and finally the people that the chems had affected.

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I found myself becoming more teary eyed when there were stories of success for the children, as I think it shows that there is a kindness in humanity that places like this make you question.

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The final room was dedicated to journalists who risked their lives to bring reports and pictures out of Vietnam, and show the rest of the world just what was happening.

Feeling pretty sad after this we strolled through a lovely park nearby, watching all the people exercising and playing sports, it’s a scene not often witnessed in parks back at home and it was very peaceful. We stopped off at Sun Tourist shop to book our bus to Cambodia for the next day, and went back to the hotel. After wandering round the night before we had seen a few DIY bbq places so thought it would be good to try that.

As we went off into the night I realised we had walked a lot further than I thought the night before, as we didn’t want to stray too far from the hotel we ended up in a dodgy little street food restaurant. The guy in charge was a big fat man with slightly dirty clothes, he took our food order abruptly and then walked away, without time to order out drinks! It was hilarious and we’ve not come across attitude like that as everyone else is almost too friendly.

The food was average and I wasn’t satisfied, so while the other two went back to the hotel I went to get an ice cream cookie sandwich and milkshake from a nearby baskin robbins! Just what I needed, we’re up early tomorrow to get to the tunnels, something I’m really looking forward to.

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Ho Chi Minh and getting lost in district 3.

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The taxi was simple in the morning, and we were soon through security and left to wander the modern terminal waiting for our 12:25 flight to Saigon. (Or Ho Chi Minh). We got on the Ryanair type plane (Jetstar) and took off in bad weather, which meant a degree of turbulence. I fell asleep and woke to the pilot announcing we would soon begin our descent. Leia had not enjoyed the flight at all, thinking we were going to crash the whole way.

I think it was made worse by the recent Russian plane crashing, and in the last couple of years there have been a number of high profile disasters from the missing Malaysia air flight and one being shot down over Ukraine, to the pilot who sent the plane into a mountain on purpose. These things get into the back of your mind and every jolt or patch of turbulence sends your head spinning.

However, we made it to Ho Chi Minh! Swiftly through baggage claim and into a taxi after trying to find the best deal. We were then ripped off as the metered driver was more expensive than the supposedly expensive official companies.

It was only a pound or so difference and in awful weather we arrived at the Sunland hotel, an ironic name given the current weather. The room was lovely but we’ve had a couple now which have almost see through doors or windows which makes for awkward shower time.

There was an outdoor pool and rooftop bar but neither were tempting as the rain poured down, a shame as it would’ve been nice to have those facilities in better weather.

The rain subsided around four and Liam had found a district with bars and restaurants so we duly followed his lead. Hungry as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast we stopped at a tiny plastic chairs-and-tables-eatery and just nodded to whatever the lady said. The food we were served up was excellent, flavoured rice, two slabs of fried tofu, egg strips, shrimp, a weird grey slab that had a meaty flavour and rubbery texture and a few other bits. Soooo good and less than a quide each!

We carried on walking and started to notice the amount of bikes here was crazier than Hanoi! They even came up onto the pavement, speeding past us blaring their horns to give us scant warning.

By this point we were aces at crossing these busy, every man for himself roads and didn’t flinch as we walked across roads with bikes, cars and buses speeding either side of us. The secret is just go and don’t stop, just hope they’ll avoid you.

We’d walked for a while and made it to district 3, not seeing a bar we stopped off at a bbq place to have a beer and a rest. The bbq looked amazing and reminded me of Korean food, drinking up we went wandering to find the bars, after half an hour of not seeing any bars whatsoever we started to think something wasn’t quite right, an hour went past and we hadn’t seen any tourists just lots of Vietnamese restaurants. This was meant to be the area full of bars and nightlife, after asking in a phone shop we were sent down a st which didn’t look particularly promising, until we finally stumbled across a bar.

Inside we were taken to a table and e ordered 3 tiger beers for 30,000 Dong each. We got hand wipes and spicy coated peanuts and the waiters were never far away, even coming over to light Liam’s cigarette.

Connecting to the WiFi we searched for the hot spot of Saigon to be told it was 30 minutes walk back the way we came, Gutted! The next thing we know the bar has added the hand wipes and nuts to the bill, taking it from 90,000 to 166,000! I couldn’t be bothered to argue so we paid and left slightly frustrated.

Half an hour later we had made it! Bars spilt out before us and we were spoilt for choice, we ran to the first one and ordered 3 beers, sat down and relaxed.

There were a lot of beggars selling their wares, one offering us cigarettes, then marijuana, cocaine and finally ecstacy! Swiftly declining I suddenly found myself being massaged by an over exuberant man. Declining he continued till I gave a firm no.

Afterwards I wish I’d gone for it as it was only 50,000 (£1.50) and the preview had been pretty good.

We left this bar, but not before I uswed the bathroom and as I walked through to the door a cockroach fluttered down past my face to land a foot away. I just cannot get to grips with them and it still made me shudder as I stepped over it on the way back.

The next bar we hit had a live band on, they turned out to be pretty good, doing covers of Adele, Bill Withers and Red hot chillis. We sang along badly and they were very energetic. We headed out to see what the rest of the streets were like and ended up in a bar sat outside. It was great to watch the Saigon world go by and we noticed a rooftop bar just down the road that looked great from where we sat.

The next thing I know the massage man is back! This time I went for it and it was incredible albeit very hard, he worked my back and shoulders and even cracked my neck as I sat drinking a beer. It was so good I gave him 100,000 instead of 50,000 Dong. Liam went for it at the bargain price and enjoyed it, although found it a little too rough. Once he’d finished with Liam he came back for me and did the whole thing again for me. It felt great, I liked that he wanted to give me quality for my money as well.

Super chilled we went to explore the skybar, the views were amazing as you could see all over the city and the prices were the same as the streets below. It was maybe a bit too relaxing but after the four hours of walking we needed it.

Ready to face the walk back we kept a look out for street food but ended up in a McDonalds. I couldn’t bring myself to get one but the others scoffed theirs down. An hour later after getting a little lost again we made it to the hotel, tired from all the walking and knowing that tomorrow was sight seeing day, so more walking!

Hoi An, hungover and ready for culture.

Waking up feeling a bit worse for wear we managed to get to breakfast at the hotel, it had rained and rained all night and was still going as we got ready to head out.

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It’s unfortunate but the rain does put a dampener on things, if it was rain we were used to it wouldn’t be so bad, this is rain on another level.

Everyone I spoke to before the trip said that even if it does rain, it lasts for an hour or so then it’s glorious sunshine. Not in Vietnam! It rains and rains and rains, the only difference is the power of the rain.

We waited till it had eased off and went back down to the old town. Finding a small cafe type place to eat. As we were eating a particularly strong downpour came and flooded the whole street! It was about 3 inches high. It was crazy how much rain can fall in such a short time.

Once it had cleared a bit we bought a ticket for around £4 that allows access to five historical sites around Hoi An and went to the first, an assembly hall. It was very pretty with lots of carvings and murals but not very interesting.

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It felt like things we had seen a lot already, next up was the Japanese bridge, this was very nice and interesting two dog statues guarded one side and monkeys guarded the other.

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Deciding on the traditional house we walked in and were given a tour of the house which was basically going from one seller to another being asked to buy touristy gifts. There was however a great balcony overlooking the street and a trap door for when the house floods.

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We saw an uninspiring communal house, which was pretty but nothing much to see. It’s nicer just to wander round the streets and maybe sit and absorb the culture of the place that way. It was handy to be able to go inside when it’s raining and it’s pretty cheap really.

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It probably didn’t help that we were a bit tired and hungover, we crossed a bridge further along the river and made our way back stopping for a fresh donut for 30p and then ice cream. This place had 57 flavours! Loads of toppings but was a little pricey. It tasted great though. I had a peanut butter scoop and a banana toffee scoop.

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With one ticket left we went to a random museum but no one was there to take our ticket, we wandered round but it was a lot of clay pots and nothing more. Realising we were in the wrong museum we went along the river to the folk culture museum. This was probably the best one for me. It was a lot more interesting seeing how they lived, fished and hunted.

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Towards the end there was also a display on silk worms which I always find fascinating. A young girl came out and told us how the pupae is a delicacy and showed us the best way to test if something is 100% silk. Apparently you burn it! If it smells like hair being burnt it’s real silk, if it smells like paper or plastic it’s fake. We watched as she set fire to different materials and we smelt the difference.

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Ready to go test the silk we went to the market. Even though they’re often quite samey I never completely tire of a good market. The variety of fruits, veg, meat, and fish is always fantastic and watching these old women chopping pork joints up or scaling fish is always interesting.  The rain started up again with a vengeance so we evacuated the old town to take refuge in the hotel.
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We organised our next day, flying to Ho Chi Minh and an above budget hotel to have some luxury. I then found a good sounding restaurant for the evening, so we relaxed for a bit then once more went into the night. The place in question is Ba Le Well, it’s hidden down an alleyway on a main street on the edges of old town.

A man on the street shouted the name to us and gestured us down this small passageway. Coming to the restaurant we were sat outside under some umbrellas and within a minute the food was served! It was similar to Leia’s starter from the night before. Loads of bbq pork skewers, leafy salad, spring rolls and kimchi type cabbage. You wrapped it all up I’m rice paper and dipped it into a spicy satay type sauce.

A girl rolled our first ones then we were left to our own devices. Devouring the wraps they brought over the eggy pancakes I had the night before and we wrapped those up too! We were insatiable and before we knew it was all gone. Nice and full we chatted to a waitress called wing, Liam using his new found phrase oh choi oi to good effect she asked him to say it again and giggled.

She was lovely and wanted to improve her already decent English, so we talked for a bit, not always understanding each other but it was nice. I think this place is all you can eat but we only got extra rice paper. It cost around £3 each which is again pretty pricey but there’s some good novelty involved. It’s hard sometimes as £3 is nothing but when you know you can get the same for £1 it’s difficult not to judge.

Knowing we had a flight the next day we went for one more drink on the terrace overlooking the river and called it a night. Ready for the taxi to take us to Danang airport in the morning.

Hoi An, our first beach, and Meo

From Danang we got a taxi to Hoi An. It’s a 30ish minute drive and for 3 of us it worked out easier than one of the many buses that run between the two places.

As we neared the quaint little town we noticed a lot of westerners cycling around, a good idea after the sloth like day we had just had.

The hotel was incredible. £25 a night it had a central swimming pool overlooked by terraces running right the way round and each floor had a bridge crossing over.

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There was foliage hanging down off the walls and from the gap in the roof, pink flowers gently fluttered down to softly lie on the pool surface. It was beautiful.

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The staff were friendly as ever, got us checked in and we quickly got ready for a day at An Bang beach. A popular destination just out of town. On the street we rented bikes for the day for £1. I haven’t cycled since I was very young, possibly 11 or 12 years old so was a bit apprehensive, but this is what being away is about so pushing my fears down I got on, wobbled slightly and pushed off.

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Some how I ended up at the front, but I pushed against the pedals and we raced through the streets of Hoi An, avoiding traffic coming from all angles and breezed out into the countryside.

Passing rice fields with shouts of buffalo! buffalo! We shot on over a bridge as the landscape became sandier and more rugged. We spotted small gravestone type objects either side of us in the sand but we’re not sure what they were.

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As we arrived in An Bang beach we had 3 little old ladys gesturing wildly at us to park in their lot. We wheeled in, paid 5,000Dong each for the privilege (about 15p) and walked over a crest to view the beach.

Unfortunately November isn’t the best month to visit Vietnam and it was a slightly overcast day, still nice and warm, but the sea was very rough.

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We walked past the Vietnamese touting their sunbeds and snacks, finding a good spot on the sand. Setting up we relaxed for a bit, enjoying the cool breeze from the sea and watching people swim despite the big ‘no swimming’ sign.

Undettered by the sign we also hesitantly stepped into the cold water, with waves crashing down around us. Once in up to our waists the force of the current pulled us off to the side and out to sea slightly, with huge waves crashing over us pushing us back in. I think the deepest we got was around shoulder to head height, but we didn’t dare go further out.

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It was a lot of fun jumping over and into the waves, floating around and laughing. A few other people came in around us including a very exuberant guy from Danang who came racing into the sea cackling as he jumped into the waves, all the while his girlfriend filmed him from the beach. As we dried off it started to rain, so we saw this as an ideal time to get some food and maybe a drink.

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Wandering back to the touts one girl had stood out in particular and she was extremely happy to see that we had returned! We ordered 3 Larue, a Vietnamese beer that are around 60p and got to chatting with Meo, or Meow, like a cat.

She was exceptionally funny, had learnt lots of English phrases such as ‘no way jose’ ‘cheeky monkey’ and ‘lubbly jubbly’ but best of all was she knew Iechyd Da! The Welsh cheers, we were in hysterics and she was genuinely nice, wanting to improve her English but also helping us learn some Vietnamese. Liam learnt Oh Choi Oi (phonetic) which means oh my gosh, a sure fire recipe for disaster in the coming days.

We then discovered that they had Tamarind crab, something on our list to eat. It was a bit pricey at £3 a crab so we ordered two to share. However, Meo was enamoured with us and swung it with the boss to get us 3 for the price of two!

They arrived and they were as good as we hoped. I don’t think we were particularly good at getting all the meat out but what we did get was gooooood.

As we were eating the sun had come out so we paid up, including a tip for Meo and she arranged for us to have 3 sunbeds.

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Enjoying the hot weather we relaxed there till the sun had retreated behind some trees and cycled back to town. On the way there was a man sat on a water buffalo and we again got shouts of buffalo! buffalo!

Making it back in one piece we were pretty chuffed as we had managed to navigate the roads. Feeling a bit hot and sticky from the ride we jumped into the cold pool at the hotel. It was so nice and immediately freshened us up.

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Having the pink flowers twirl down into the pool was great and Liam and I stayed in the pool for a while. Once ready to get out we tackled the steps to our 3rd floor room and chilled out. Ready for splashing out on a top restaurant later in the evening.

The Icelandic family on the cruise had recommended Morning Glory to us and it was also in my lonely planet guide, it sounded a bit pricier than what we had become accustomed to but it’s good to splash out once in a while.

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Getting as dolled up as you can when travelling we went to the old town for the first time.

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The old town is hidden away from sight as you pass through alleyways lined with shops selling clothes and Chinese lanterns. Then you emerge to streets with lanterns EVERYWHERE. It’s hard to put into words how beautiful it is. Right on the river there are a few small streets filled with restaurants and bars, all lit up like it’s permanently Christmas.

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We enjoyed the scenery as we walked over to the restaurant, sat down and perused the menu. It was only slightly more expensive than previous places so Leia and Liam ordered cocktails while I stuck with beer. Starters arrived and they were huge. Liam had crispy wantons topped with all manner of salad and sauce. Leia went for DIY pork skewers where you added leafy greens and wrapped them up in rice paper. I went for Banh Xeo, shrimp and pork eggy pancakes with bean sprouts in the middle, again you got rice paper and leafy greens and you wrap these up into spring roll type things to.

It was all amazing and still only £1.50, big portions which I was particularly pleased with.

Clearing these our mains soon arrived, Leia and Liam plumped for spicy mango salad and papaya salad with beef respectively, I went for a noodle soup. Again the food was ace, I think I could’ve eaten and eaten there.

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The flavours and tastes were bold and so fresh, something we have really found in all Vietnamese food.

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Not satisfied we had to have pudding! Waffles and ice cream for Leia and I, Liam went for fruit with ice cream.

Again delicious, a three course meal with two alcoholic drinks each came to around £28 total. Expensive for Vietnam, cheap for the quality we had just experienced.
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We then walked round the old town trying to ease off the full stomachs we now had. A guy from a bar shouted to us that we could sit up on a balcony overlooking the river and we didn’t hesitate. The views were stunning as we tried to relax still feeling stuffed!

Realising we needed a change of scenery we walked down to cross the river. As we neared the bridge we were assaulted from all sides by people trying to offer us the best deal for drinks. After taking a few flyers we crossed the bridge, briefly chatting to an English speaking couple.

We decided on backpacker bar as it seemed the liveliest of a quiet bunch. Sat down and ordered 3 beers. Noticing something about free cocktails and buckets we questioned the staff and were rewarded with weird bubble gum rum and cokes. As we were receiving them the couple we briefly chatted to walked over, we got chatting more and we ended up sitting together. Claire and Dan were seasoned travellers, Claire was from New Zealand and Dan was Englush but now resided in NZ.

They were really friendly and the cheap beer as flowing as we discussed rugby, Vietnamese politics, and travelling. It was good to hear about their experiences and advice.

Although I enjoy hearing these things I always believe that you need to forge your own way and find what works best for you when heading to new places. At some point the bar filled up and we went inside to dance with the 18 year olds. It was a little awkward but we perservered before playing a quick round of pool where I managed to pot the black early, leaving Leia as the victor.

Dan and Claire headed off and we followed suit shortly after. Stopping for some Banh Mi baguettes, we continued up the street for 5/10 minutes before I noticed the street looked a lot different. There was no one about apart from a few rats and a guy on a motorbike offering us a ride.

Backtracking to the Banh Mi cart we realised the hotel was 20 paces away, we had to laugh. We were soon tucked up in bed fast asleep.

Danang, massages and the search for cake.

It’s pretty simple getting from Hue to Danang, on the Vietnam rail website it quotes $19 for the two and a half hour journey. Since the last train we got was loads cheaper getting the ticket at the station we risked missing out on a seat and did it again. Lo and behold we got our tickets for less than $4! The journey was great, rolling through mountains, along rough coastal tracks overlooking an angry looking sea and the ubiquitous water buffalo plodding around the rice fields.

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Arriving in Danang the hotel looked close to the station so we opted to walk. After 5 minutes I realised we were heading the wrong way, but a quick detour sent us in the right direction. We had splashed out on a £36 a night hotel and it was worth it.  Sanouva hotel was amazing. Towering over the neighbourhood we caught glimpses of the famous dragon bridge.

As we were waiting for our room we were given free 30 minute massage vouchers! A welcome touch and well needed after the trials and tribulations of the past two weeks.

The room was small but smart with a lovely shower. Liam experienced a phone drama due to a dodgy charger bought in Hue so had to go get it sorted at a nearby Apple store. Leia and I took the opportunity to chill out and watch crap tv.

Liam arrived back and we arranged our massages. It was the other guys first experience and we waited apprehensively to see what kind of massage we would be getting. Leia went for a leg massage whilst Liam and I went for back shoulders and head. Leia was taken away first shortly followed by us who went in the same room, tops off and told to lie face down.

Next thing we know two small Asian women are on all fours crawling up our legs! I had to stifle a laugh as hundreds of images from horror films such as the ring flickered through my mind. The problem with having an over active imagination. Pushing the laugh away and trying not to picture the others reaction to this I managed to relax as the masseuse started on my lower back and moved upwards. It was very hard but gentle, the girls chattered away in Vietnamese now and again gasping or giggling which was a little disconcerting. When we turned over they did our head, neck and upper chest. Then sat us up and scrubbed us down with rough, hot and moist towels. It was fantastic and we really enjoyed it.

At the end they said they really liked my tattoo which was what they were giggling about. They left us to put our tops back on and we headed up to the room.

Feeling lovely and relaxed we checked out top Vietnamese food to try in Danang and discovered this excellent video.

http://danangcuisine.com/reviews/video-pdf-map-danangs-top-10-dishes-top-10-mon-an-ngon-da-nang/

The food looked amazing and it got our stomachs rumbling. So list in hand we went out onto the streets of Danang on the prowl for food. After wandering towards the river a local guy came and chatted to us, we showed him our list and he told us to go to the market where we would find some of the dishes.

Near the river we went to look at the Dragon bridge. It is beautiful and such a good idea. After taking a couple of pictures we went in search of the market.

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Entering the market we were assailed from all sides by pungent shrimp sellers, snakewine and the heady scent of spice. Spotting a little food area we asked for Ban Xeo, a crispy pancake you wrap in rice paper with herbs etc, the old ladies working just laughed at this, but they pointed at Bun Ma and gestured for us to sit.

We were then served up a big bowl of noodles, sauce, beef and greens. Topped with a splash of stock. It was soooo good! Wolfing it down with chopsticks we noticed it was also only 20,000 Dong! Around 75p, we were amazed, back home you’d easily pay 8-10 pounds on it.

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Thanking the friendly lady we were satisfied but remembered some cake shops we had seen dotted about so we went in search of one. Just our luck we ambled about for half an hour or so before we stumbled upon a little bakery. After forcing ourselves not to buy a whole oreo topped cake we decided on three smaller cakes with funny decorations.

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On a side note in the bakery the girls working there used google translate to communicate with us and Liam typed in slice, which got us some worried looks as I think they thought we wanted to slice them! Next time we’ll remember to be more careful hah.

Cake in hand I fancied a nice milkshake or smoothie type drink so we found ourselves on the river again, this time night had fallen and the bridge was lit up! It looked even better at night and frequently changed colour.

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We got some drinks, milk chocolate with jelly,b blueberry tea with lychee pieces and jelly and cookies n cream flavour and with our treats we went back to the hotel. It felt like we had been out for ages but it was only half 6! A very early night back at the hotel, but it was quite nice and in keeping with our relaxing theme of the day.

The cakes were amazing with this thick light icing around a soft light sponge. Highly recommended. The drinks just as good.

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We watched American TV and Captain America as Leia nodded off around 9pm! Liam followed an hour later. Must’ve needed sleep! The thing we’ve found so far is that even relaxing days are spent travelling and seeing things and constantly changing places and accommodation can take it out of you.

With that in mind the next day we were heading to a Vietnamese highlight. The cute and quaint Hoi An.

Danang was nice and the bridge really good, but unless you want to do excursions out of the city there’s not much going on. If it wasn’t for the massage and food I’d have struggled to write a post for the day.

Hue and the neverending rain.

Arriving at Hue to a torrential down pour we were led to a $4 dollar taxi through the rain and from here to our hotel, the Hue Boutique Hotel. As we arrived at 9am they sat us down and focused on sorting us a room out. We’ve noticed the 2pm check ins mean little here as we’re usually given a room regardless of how many hours early we are.

They even offered us unlimited breakfast for a pound each while we waited. So we had eggs, fruit toast and pancakes! So good. Our room was ready so we traipsed up the old fashioned looking stairs and got to our spacious residence for the day.

Unfortunately the girls ar reception informed us it would be raining all day. Now we hadn’t realised this but I read in my lonely planet guide that this area of Vietnam has it’s own micro climate and we’re actually here in rainy season that runs from Oct to Nov. No idea why but we got our flip flops on ready for wading through the streets. Brollys up and faced down the rain. 

Motorbikes whizzed by with ponchos on and we sidestepped the larger puddles and streams that had formed and headed in the direction of Hue’s premier site, the Imperial Citadel. Crossing the huge river that cuts Hue in half we wandered through the streets and over a most before arriving at the Citadel. Only it was closed till one thirty. At this point the rain was only getting heavier so we briskly walked over to some small shacks across a field.

The owner urged us in, before we realised the whole family was in and eating their lunch. They motioned us to sit, and went about making us strong iced coffee with condensed milk, green tea and served us up some sesame Turkish delight type sweets. Everything was really good and we had entertainment in the form of four puppies and a weird Vietnamese quiz show on tv.

The time passed quickly so we paid up and went back to the Citadel. There was no one to pay so we hesitantly went in, found someone and paid 20,000 Dong when we were expecting 120,000. There were some tanks, planes and helicopters that the Vietnamese had acquired from the Americans in the war on the left, and a couple of buildings further on with museums about the war in them.

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As we looked around I read up on what we should be looking at in my book before a sense of confusion overtook me. The buildings here didn’t mirror the map, and the way in certainly didn’t ‘quicken the pulse’ as lonely planet put it. It was then I realised we weren’t in the Citadel. In fact where we were didn’t even warrant a mention in the guide. Sheepishly we walked out past the people we had paid and, seeing the actual gates of the Citadel 5 minutes further down the road, we walked over.

The Citadel itself was built in the 1800s but was heavily bombed by the U.S. in the war and is now undergoing extensive restoration works. The gate is fully formed and very impressive, a video just inside the next building showed us what it would’ve been like at the height of the empire. Elephants and Emperors entering through different gates. The rest of the buildings were a mish mash of interesting, dull and half built. It was nice to wander round and maybe if it was sunnier it would’ve been better, but it wasn’t that exciting. One day when it’s fully restored it will be beautiful though.

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It was around 4pm and we decided to go for a late lunch at a place recommended in my guide. The stop and go cafe. It was a quirky little place where people had written all over the walls which had a few pictures of local sights dotted around. We ordered 3 Hudas, the local beer, some fresh spring rolls and mains. I went for papaya salad, Leia had chicken noodles and Liam had sesame pork with sticky rice. It was all very tasty, lots of fresh flavours and big portions. It also amounted to around £4 each. Vietnam is so cheap for food and drinks, especially given the quality of the meals.

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We dried off a bit in the cafe but we’re still damp with sore feet so we went back to the hotel. As we walked through a random man screaming HEEELLLLOOOOOHHHH!! came bounding over to us trying to sell his works of art, he was hilarious and I would’ve got one for the pound price if I could carry it knowing it wouldn’t have been ruined over the next 4 weeks.
We moved on but Leia and Liam needed toiletries, while they sorted that I went back to the hotel. As I was walking along a man on a bike stopped beside me to tell me he had girls for sale at very low cost per hour. I declined in a stern manner but he continued to follow me up the street, this time letting me know the girls he had were nice and young! 

It was pretty shocking that he was shouting this out on the street and I think he saw the anger in my face so he pulled away sharpish. Again it brought up issues of the sex trade in Asia and how they perceive westerners (Due to the fact everywhere we go there are OAP westerners with young Asian girls).

Back in the hotel we relaxed for a bit watching films and then went into the night to DMZ bar, a favourite haunt of travellers and somewhere we knew would have the Everton game on.

We got there, ordered our 70p Huda beers and played some pool. I somehow managed to pot the black and white to give Liam the win before Leia disposed of Liam’s challenge. I then managed to beat Leia with a cheeky shot to pot the black. It was fun and I think knowing your not that great but just playing for a laugh is always good. The people working at the bar frequently laughing at our dodgy attempts.

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We sat back down and got chatting to a couple of guys travelling from New Zealand but heading the opposite way to us. Half chatting away and half watching Everton demolish Sunderland we somehow got to 10pm and knew we were up at 7am. I could’ve stayed for another couple of cheap beers especially when we got the bill and realised 14 beers had cost £8!!

We stopped off at a bakery for a late evening snack and went to bed. We were ready for the next stop on our whirlwind tour, Da Nang, a place we have been told conflicting reports about. Either there’s nothing there or loads to do. Either way, it’s the 5th largest city, has a bridge shaped like a Dragon and if the sun comes out, our first beach!

Boats, buses and sleeper trains.

6am came and I staggered up to the top deck for my first experience of Tai Chi, my Dad does this so I knew what to expect but it was still hard keeping up with the master! It was very chilled and I think I’ve learnt a couple of moves. It was nice to be up and about to see the view at that time.

Breakfast was at 7 where I had my first Pho, a traditional noodle soup eaten all times of the day. The others tucked into bacon and sausage butties and we all had lots of fruit. They even had watermelon juice that was sublime.

Breakfast finished with it was back into a smaller boat to explore the ‘Surprise caves’ they’re named this after two women found them in 1901 and were surprised they were there.

The caves were good but they weren’t as big as I was hoping and it was full of tourists from about 20 different boats so you got shephered along.

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The ‘finger formation’

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Our guide was good and pointed out some interesting points including one that he said was a finger pointing but it actually looked like something far ruder! We had a giggle like little kids and continued. Reaching the top of the caves there were great scenes of the bay, just a shame it’s full of boats.

 I guess you can’t resent the amount of tourists that are out in the bay, our guide works on the ships to improve his English so one day he can get a really good job. When I think of all the people who are involved with the tours and how many there are it must be keeping a lot of people in steady jobs.

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So back to the boat it was after seeing fisherwomen with their early morning catches and time to settle up with the bill. Once that was out of the way we had another massive lunch. Vegetable soup, weird doughy balls with egg yolk in the middle, noodles, fish and a big plate of squid! We even got a Swiss roll slice for pudding. It was now time to head back to land so we took this time to sit in the sun and I continued reading a great book. ‘The mechanical’ a sci-fi gem that was recommended this year.

Once off the boat we jumped onto the wrong bus, located the correct bus and dozed off on the three and a half hour journey back to Hanoi.

We got dropped off at the station as it was now time to head down the coast to Hue, where a Grand Palace awaited us.

We got our foreigner tickets for a 6 berth hard beds with air con for around £18 each. Then stocked up on food and treats for the thirteen hour journey. Including Banh Mi for around 60p!

The train soon arrived and there were already two guys on the bottom bunks, Leia and I had the middle bunks while Liam was on his own right at the top. They were hard but clean and we got duvets and a pillow. Once comfy with Liam above me creaking away and me fearing he was going to drop on me the train departed with us all snug and warm.

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This train was more basic than Bangkok to Nong Khai but I think I prefer it. I’ve had a better sleep even though as we departed the loudest music and announcements ever were made! We were in hysterics.

The train also rocks from side to side quite dramatically at times but it’s a good adventure! Next thing we know we’ll be in Hue, our 7th place in 12 days.

Ha long bay and the out of season squid.

Up early our transport soon arrived and we picked up a few more tourists around the city before entering the suburbs. The countryside followed, full of rice paddies containing ducks, goats,and water buffalo. Traffic was no no different out here than in the city with buses and trucks vying for pole position at the expense of on coming traffic.

The transfer to Ha Long Bay was included in the price and halfway through the three and a half hour bus journey we stopped for a break in a building clearly designed for tourists to spend their Dong.

After waiting for Kenny our bus guide we continued our journey into Ha Long and past an abandoned tourist attraction full of Disney characters.

Upon arriving me met Lei, which he quickly let us know meant ‘legend’ in Vietnamese. His enthusiasm was contagious and we were excited to get on the boat. We had gone for a mid range cruise called glory and once aboard with our welcome drink we were assigned cabins and given a (very quick) safety talk.

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The rooms were amazing and we ended up having the best showers since Sivatel in Bangkok.

We arrived at 12:30, the boat began it’s journey and lunch was served at 1:15. What a lunch it was too, pumpkin and coconut soup to start, followed by Vietnamese spring rolls wrapped in rice paper. Huge fresh prawns were next up with fish and vegetables in a soy sauce type concoction. Thinking this was all the food we lapped it up before being brought chicken and potatoes in a coconut sauce, rice with octopus and greens! It was more than the three of us could eat but we gave it a good go. We even managed to finish off the dragonfruit dessert.

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After stuffing ourselves on the best meal we’d had so far we had a couple of hours on the boat, topping up tans, relaxing and enjoying the spectacular views.

Legend has it that dragons defending the Vietnamese realm spewed out jade and emeralds causing the huge limestone karsts in the sea. Whatever the reason it’s extremely peaceful even with 30 other boats within viewing distance.

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There were even huge sea eagles soaring above us and out over the warm waters.

At 4pm we set off on a smaller boat to visit a traditional fishing village, on the way we found out that most of the villagers have left due to typhoon threats and the environment. The government now pay some of the fishermen to row tourists round the village so we got in the boat, said a big sin jow to the rower and headed round.

It’s incredible that up until year ago people were living on this floating village and it reminded me of waterworld. It was serene in the small bay like area and very peaceful. The views were still out of this world as the sun began to work it’s way down.

After this we headed back to the boat for some swimming. It was so much fun and I had googled ahead to confirm no sharks. The only worry was the currents that quickly dragged you away from the boat, but we had a lot of fun jumping in. Apart from Liam who clung onto the boat worried about being swept away.

The water was still really warm as the sun went down and an Icelandic family kayaked around the boat. After swimming for 45 minutes or so we got out to get ready for the evening meal.

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We tried our best to look fancy despite our travellers mentality and sat on the top deck enjoying a beer and the night time views of boats lit up all around the bay like fireflies.

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Then it was time to learn how to make Vietnamese spring rolls. We watched as the head chef and Lei mixed the ingredients together including some dodgy jokes about orange onion (carrot) and bat skin (mushroom). It was then our turn to roll and create. The men went first and our first go was brutally put down. All fails! Second time around I got a pass and so was dismissed with Liam taking my place, and he got it first time! Leia was up next and apparently hers were too long!

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They fried our attempts up and handed them round to everyone on the boat. None made the grade but they tasted great. Shortly after it was tea time!

This involved a fish soup which was lovely, prawn salad type thing. More spring rolls served on toothpicks stuck in a glowing pineapple. Possibly a nod to Halloween, followed by oysters, prawn and squid skewers all served on a plate with a cucumber boat!

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The main was fish with potatoes and veg which was also very tasty. It was a real treat and we even got banana sponge for pud. All in all the food was fantastic and so fresh. It made the day feel really special and worth the money. We booked through http://www.booking.com which was so easy compared to other sites.

With that it was over and the choices for the evening were squid fishing, a French love story on film or join the Brits and get pissed.

We opted for squid fishing even though we were told we wouldn’t catch anything and it wasn’t squid season by the Brits who were on the boat for 2 nights. The Icelandic family joined us along with a polish couple from Krakow. It was a really pleasant way to spend the evening, chatting away about our respective travels and the upcoming Euro championship.

This was my first time fishing and the Vietnamese crew told us it was all about patience as I slowly lifted and lowered the specialist squid hook. Even though the chances of catching a squid were slim we managed to see a variety of different fish who all came to see what the bright light was and even a crab! Some of the fish put on a show and jumped out of the water for us.

The Icelandic family were fishing pros but with two tired kids went to bed and Leia went off too. Myself, Liam and the polish couple were left chatting on the side of the boat when I spotted some dark shadows in the water around the hook.
We all craned our necks to see and were convinced the squid had arrived, almost an hour and a half into fishing. One squid went for the hook but didn’t get purchase before they disappeared again. Thinking all was lost my mind wandered to bed and sleeping but mid chat I felt a firm tug on the rod and next thing I know I’m lifting a squid up onto the boat! Beginner’s luck and I had caught a squid for the first time. The polish and Liam quickly took pictures of our catch before pangs of guilt took hold of me as we realised the squid had died.

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I do feel it was a little needless for it to die but after the thrill of catching it we took it to show the staff who were amazed we had managed to catch something. One guy quickly took it off me to cook as I showed the passengers up top who were rude to staff about the fishing and how it was a waste of time.

The squid arrived back prepared and cooked, it was a little chewy but probably the freshest thing I have ever eaten and there was a good chilli sauce with it.

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After giving the rest to the remaining people sat up just to rub my victory in it was bedtime. Ready for a 6:15 start to learn tai chi as the sun rose.

Ho chi, communism and the very unwelcome guests.

We woke up to resounding headaches all round. Although Leia seemed to be suffering the most. Not letting this hold us back we started getting ready.

My turn for the bathroom came so I went in, got undressed and utilised the toilet. As I was sat there a weird noise started up from the door. The next thing I know there’s a pretty big cockroache staring at me from the bottom of the door.

The noise it made was so loud! I jumped up as it scuttled towards me. Not wanting to worry the others I danced around it, still completely starkers avoiding it as it ran around desperate for darkness.

Eventually it made it’s way behind the bath tub that I was now going to use to shower. I gritted my teeth and tried to not worry about it. Safe to say the shower was a quick affair. I got my stuff and Leia quickly ran into the toilet. I told Liam what had just happened and best not to tell Leia as she would freak out.

Next thing we knew one came crawling from a shelf that went around the ceiling, this one was even bigger! It fluttered down the curtains and up the wall. I tried to name the one in the bathroom Carl to humanize it to no avail.

We squished this one but it didn’t stem the tide.

I think we just made the other roaches mad. We started hearing these scratching noises all around us on this shelf above our heads. Using our selfie stick and phone we ran it around the shelf looking for the noise when another one even bigger flew! down into the room onto my bed we all pretty much screamed and jumped about. That made three in the space of ten minutes so I went to the concierge to tell them.

Obviously for her it wasn’t so scary as they’re one of those things that you get used to. Being from Wrexham however we’re not used to seeing them and I think their association with dirtiness doesn’t help.

We were practically ready so we all waited in the lobby while she apologized profusely telling us they were doing something downstairs in the restaurant to get rid of them so they must be travelling upwards! The lady was very nice about it all and they said they’d have them gone once we went out so we left worrying about sleeping there with these things crawling all over us. The best part is that it definitely helped us forget about being hungover.

So we hit the streets of Hanoi and it was hot and crazy. Just like last night. We figure that the rules of the road are there are no rules. Just try not to hit other vehicles/bikes/people otherwise anything goes. Crossing roads felt like an achievement every time. A lady carrying a bamboo pole with fruit hanging off either end managed to place it on me, she tried to get the others to take a photo but I handed it back and kept moving knowing there would be a price to pay.

We arrived at Hoan Kiem lake and it was lovely. After getting cherry and passion fruit ice cream respectively we casually strolled around the edges of the lake, enjoying the cool breeze and shade afforded to us by the trees. Some of the trees seemed to grow horizontally out into the lake and lots of people were using this idyllic spot in the city to take pictures. One girl had even brought balloons to hold and was jumping in the air for each pose. We spotted a place to stop and sit down at the southern tip of the lake and had some refreshing drinks. I had a lemon iced drink and Liam had watermelon. Leia could only suffer a water at this point.

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Consulting the map we decided to head to Hao Lo prison where the French kept revolutionaries and later the revolutionaries kept American pilots.

It was really interesting and I noticed how it was definitely done in a way to build up the French and Americans as the ultimate evil, especially the ‘imperialistic U.S.A’ but made the northern Vietnamese out to be saints in comparison.

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I don’t really know enough about the fight for independence and later the Vietnamese war but I found learning about the horrific conditions the French kept their prisoners was quite upsetting. There was a lot of propaganda about how the captives kept up the communist cause even within these walls.

Later exhibitions showed the ‘luxury in comparison’ conditions that the pilots were held in. Where they played basketball, billiards and had Christmas dinner. A Dar cry from the shackled commumists being fed parasitic rice and old pork.

There was a corridor with newspaper cut outs of all the protests against the Vietnamese war, and the fight back by the northern Vietnamese.

After enjoying the cultural side we needed food, and found a lovely little place selling banh my, which is just bbq pork in bread. We got pulled pork with a slightly spicy sauce and it was so tasty. Just what we needed. Liam had freshly squeezed OJ, Leia had a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, and I had a peach and lemongrass tea. All were very yummy.

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We continued our walk through Hanoi, passing a statue of Lenin and posh looking embassies. Finally we made it to the Ho Chi Minh museum and one pillar pagoda, this particular pagoda was exactly what it said on the tin, a quick picture with it and we headed into the museum.

The first floor was full of newspaper articles, pictures and dedications to Ho Chi Minh. It definitely showed us just how important a figure he must be to many Vietnamese. A founding father of their nation. There was even a portrait done of him in the artists blood after he died, and another done by an artist who was blinded in the war which was pretty good for someone who can’t see.

It was nice to see how much Vietnam has developed out of what were dark times for the country in colonialism and the war.

The next floor was a strange art inspired dedication to ‘Uncle Ho’ there was an artistic impression of his childhood home. A volcano, a giant table with giant fruit on it, and the cave where he led the push for independence designed to look like a brain. It was enjoyable but you probably need a guide of some sort to get the full impact of the installations. I’m sure my arty mum would have enjoyed it.

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Thoroughly cultured up in Vietnamese history we walked past Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum which is closed till November so we couldn’t go in, but it was heavily guarded, you weren’t allowed within a certain amount of feet of it. Although some enthusiastic Chinese tourists attempted to get closer for a better picture but we’re soon moved on.

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I had looked at the map and read that another like in the north west of the city wasn’t far so, now feeling pretty tired, we staggered our way there.

Stopping off at a coffee shop converted from an old ferry we planned our trip to ha long bay, eventually booked a 1 night stay on a Chinese junk with meals and activities included. Knowing we would have to be up at 7 the following day we started back in the direction of the hopefully cockroache free hotel. 

We stopped off at a busy outdoor food place, perched on a tiny stool next to a Vietnamese man who was cooking for about 40 people with one helper and a cigarette never far from his lips. Leia had beef and chips with a baguette, Liam had deep fried prawns and I had a chicken wing. There were things on the menu I would’ve liked to try like eel, frog and pigeon which the locals were going for but being hungover I didn’t fancy being experimental. Looking back on it now I wish I had, and I want to start trying different things more often.

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We finished up and continued through tight streets avoiding mopeds and people all the way. Stopping off at another shack to eat spring rolls, rice and 4 tiny ribs. Satisfied we arrived back at the hotel, sat on our beds and listened to signs of life above us. Liam was super brave and checked the shelf with his phone. There were no cockroaches up there thank Buddha.

I think we all had a slightly restless nights sleep thinking about what could descend upon us at any time, Leia heard noises up there and saw the curtain moving, but we left the lights on to discourage them and didn’t see anything.

It was soon 7am and we were ready to hit Ha Long Bay, a supposedly must see sight in SE Asia.