January 25, 2005
Landed to Irish weather in Christchurch - raining cats & dogs. Same as Auckland. Got booked into a hostel and tried to go for a walk but the rain was torrential so used the Irish solution - went for a beer.
Had rang a number of companies trying to hire a campervan but to to avail. One company had said they may be able to put one together - sounds good? So rang the next day and yes they had one for hire at 1PM. got picked up and collected the Nissan Homy from the airport depot. The guys were hilarious and seemd more interested in having the crack than hiring a van.
Drove that night to Hamner Springs and while there were still a few showers the weather had improved. It was an area of hot springs and a major river with jet boating etc available.
With the weather stil uncertain drove through the Lewis Pass to Westport that night and parked near the beach. Went for a long walk down the beach to views of the setting sun and rainbows in the distance.
Scenery that day was quite specular along the Buller River and went back the next day for a run up river on a jet boat. This was a 10 seater boat based on a jet ski principle and went about 70 MPH. The route took us 22KM upstream and the driver told a lot about the history and deails about the area. Floods are common withriver levels rising up to 10m. Ater that it was wet and wild. From 70MPH to 0 in about 2 seconds with a spin. This went on as we went down the river and i ended up with bruised ribs as the spins wnet on and on. We all ended up soaked to the skin despite wet gear but the experience was brilliant.
Drove on that afternoon through Greymouth and on to franz Joseph near the glaciers. Still raining at times but had a super drive through some brilliant scenery.
parked out along the river and got a flat wheel - thats when trouble started . No spare wheel and everywhere closed that night. Got a bottle of repair kit and managed to get to a garage the following morning but had to drive to Fox for a repair (20Km) As we were there then went on a few walks up to Fox glacier and drove back to Franz Joseph that night.
Next day a six hour walk to the glacier proved to be a fantastic experience as the route went up over rocks and narrow paths to a lookout over the glacier. Tiered but in good form the drive to Haast was easy since after an hour or so we were in flat farming countryside most of the route.
went to bistrofor supper and as usual ate to much as it was a buffet.
Landed to Irish weather in Auckland - ie raining cats 7 dogs. It cleared up later and went for a walk but even the TV tower was shroude in clouds/mist. Decided to hire a car and go to the South Island but tried the next day to count up costs of ferries etc and decided to fly to Christchurch that day.
January 21, 2005
Due to the late night Xmas day started late with packing and getting ready for a sleeper train that night. We got on board around 11 pm and went immediately to bed.
Up early to the train noise and off in Hue at 11am.Went to see the Forbidden City which was destroyed by the various wars but still interesting.
Very much a french influence in all the buildings and character in Vietnam which is quite pleasant.
The following day we went for a cruise or trip up river to see Pagodas and temples. Very ornate and ineresting to see that the last one was created in 1930.
Sampans were dredging the river by hand and transporting sand back down to local discharge points on the river banks - would guess they were carrying 10 tonnes each and traveling low down in the water.
Back to Hue in a bus to catch a bus the following day to HueAn.
Around a five hour trip travelling through a horrific bendy road and pass to an area where Americams used to use for R &R. Then marble Mountain to see and area of underground temples and Buddhas. It was an area of natural as well as man made beauty and we spent some time there.
Hue An is a small town based on making clothes for tourists. Some 300 tailors work in the town making made to measure clothes inside a day. Food was also super and meals were an occasion.
Went to the fish market at 5 30 am the next day and what chaos. I tried to walk through it and nearly got knocked to bits with women selling and carrying fish baskets.
Back for breakfast and then a bicycle ride for a dip in the South China Sea.
Rest on days were spent relaxing , playing pool and eating.
Left the next day on a seated train to Na Trang. Nightmare journey and while it was good to see some countryside the journey was long just to end up in a hotel for a night. We has supper in the Sailing club and then transferred on a bus the following morning to Whale Island.
Bus took about 2 hours followed by a 15 min boat trip tp Whale Island. Small island off shore and only about accomodation for 40 people. Nothing to do but eat, relax, swim etc for a couple of days.
As it was New Years Eve there was a party organised . Sea food meal and champagne after. It was quite a night with New Year being celebrated from Western Samoa to OZ to late in the night. Singsongs were the order of the day with a few good singers there to people like me.
Rest of time on Whale Island was spent relaxing, walking or snorkelling. Diving was cancelled due to rough weather and swells.
Then it was time to leave for a train to Saigon. Went for a tour of the the underground tunnels used by the Vietcong during the war which was amazing plus shooting an AK 47. Ears were ringing for hours.
The following two days we went to homestays on the Mekong Delta. Massive river with a fascinating opportunities for locals and how they make pottery and items now sold in UK everywhere.
Back to Saigon and left there on flight for New Zealand via Signapore.
Breakfast and onto a bus for a three hour journey to Hulong Bay. This is an area similar to Yangshou in China with huge limestone karsts jutting majesticially out of the sea.
We got a overnight boat and left the jetty which was bustling with tourists and similar types of boats.
Boat was about `100 ft long with a top deck for sunbathing, lunch and sitting mid deck and cabins underneath. Comfortable layout.
After a superb sea food lunch it was kayak time when we paddled through tunnels in the karsts and generally had a brilliant time getting wet.
It was time later for supper and games of cards and beer before bed.
The following day we had time for more kayaking before having to leave around lunchtime for another three hour trip to Hanoi.
As it was Xmas eve we had dinner booked in a good resteraunt in Hanoi. Set Xmas menu with drinks included so after a shower the whole party landed there around 8PM. It was run by an Australian and the crack was good so we all eventually left the celebrations late on Xmas day.
Day three and breakfast before getting on the move around 8 am. There were quite a few homemade suspension bridges in this area which probably would not pass some H&S requirements.After a few more hours walk up and down dirt roads and tracks our party were picked up by the bus and driven on to Mychaw village for lunch. Then a three hour drive back to Hanoi and a welcome shower, a good meal and a soft bed.
Early start to cockerals again with breakfast outside this time. After collecting our kit (not a lot as we were travelling light) and more water plus loads of goodbyes we set off down a small path out of the village towards the hills.
Mist lay over the hilltops for an hour or so and eventually we came to the edge a massive escarpment and started to descend down a track which at times seemed to be made for goats. Overall we descended around 1500 ft down into another valley and after about five hours got into flattish ground and more dirt roads winding through small villages.
Lunch was pot noodles and a drink of tea and then it was back on the road walking past thatched houses where kids were always were shouting hello and goodbye - sometimes not in the correct order but that did not matter.
Ocassionally some sights were unwelcome like a huge live pig being carried on the back of a motorbike squealing horribly.
Around 5pm we stopped in Van village where we were staying the night. It was a house on stilts with living accomodation upstairs and the ground used for storage etc. Again facilities were similar but by this time we were all used to each other.
A few days after arriving in hanoi it was time to go on a three day trek to see hll tribes in the jungle west of Hanoi. There are over 53 different tribes in Vietnam with different dialects spread over different areas the length and breadth of Vietnam. The first we were going to see were the flower people named after the clother they wore which were highly decorated and all hand made in the villages.
After a three hour bus journey firstly through Hanoi early morning motorbike traffic jams (100m of bikes queueing for traffic lights and maybe 20 wide) and then out onto a single lane highway which wound its way higher into the mountains. Lunch was in a small village (Mychaw)and we were then dropped off at a path end with loads of water and a guide.
We walked for around three hours up rough tracks and dirt roads through a very hilly and mountainous region untill we came across a small village nestling in a steep sided valley. This was the one of the flower people villages where we were to spend the night. Accomodation was basic in a large dorm type room with 13 beds and a fire in the middle. It was a thatched cottage really with smoke disappearing through the roof somewhere. Food was good and plentiful with everyone eating their fill. Toilets were basic and showers non existant but we had been warned of this.
Before dark we went for a walk through the village which was basic with even the rice being ground with granite wheels for cooking etc.
We then had a good night playing cards and getting a carryout from the local store. Nick and me went down through the village to what seemd a local house and bought a few beer for after dinner. This was after a few glasses of rice wine. Anyone who had drank Poteen will know what its like.
Sleep came quickly.
Landing in a new country and city I was interested to see the differences between these two asian cultures.
The first difference was the immense number of motorbikes in Hanoi. The streets in the old quarter where i was staying were quite narrow and this coupled with the footpaths being used to park motorbikes made the first journeys seem a nightmare. The street were basically wall to wall motorbikes travelling and honking at the same time. Cars were a minority and buses were few and far between since it was nearly impossible to travel down the street. The method we found was to walk slowly and methodicially with no sudden starts or stops and the motorbikes flowed around you as you walked or crossed the street. Quite unerving at the start however. There are say 5M people who live in Hanoi and there are 3M motorbikes on the roads.
That evening we went for a meal which was similar to Chinese food but not as spicy with both vegetables and meat mixed together whereas in China they were nearly always seperate. After this we had a few local beer sitting on a street corner pub. Stools 200mm hign and beer served out of a keg on the floor. At 10 p a pint who could complain.
The first morning was an early rise due to a cockeral who started to crow around 5am and just did not stop. Breakfast was basic and then it was out sightseeing around the city. Hordes of taxi bikers were offering rides to any of the attractions but walking though the bikes was much more preferable.
The revolutionary museum was interesting and illustrated how this country has had a successive numbers of colonial rulers over the previous centuries and also also the horrors of various wars. All slightly biased but nevertheless a diary of years of occupation.
Stalls selling everything under the sun plied their wares with the rule of thumb being bargain for everything.
Over the next day or so we went around the city which we found to be fascinating and well worthwhile to visit.
End of China and many regrets because there is so much more to see.
Hongkong was bustling and hot. Hordes of people and the streets colourful with signs and shop fronts.We went down to the main streets and pushed our way down to the Star Ferry as we were to meet later at Victoria Peak. The sun was setting as we boarded the peak tram which seemd to be travelling vertical at times.
The skyline was out of this world as darkness fell and lights sprang up all over the city. We ate in the Movenpick resteraunt at the peak which cost a fortune in comparison to most of our meals in China and on the whole not as nice or tasty.
As i was leaving the next day for Vietnam and most of the rest were leaving later that day we arranged to meet for beakfast the following morning.
Around 9am i went down to see the electronic shops area but the offers were too good to make quick decisions. Probably will regret that. Late morning and a bus to the new airport, The drive out was amazing with new construction everywhere and different new bridges and roads holding the skyline. The airport itself was clean, slick and impressive compared to the old one which i remember form a number of years ago.
En route to Hanoi.
January 14, 2005
This is really a bit of a tourist and westernised area. Accessible from Hongkong it is well know for hte scenery provided by the huge limestone karsts protuding up into the skyline from the flat rice paddy fields.
Also the first time we had bacon and eggs in three weeks.
Small town which was briallint to walk around and bargain for presents etc.
Bikes were hired and off on a six hour trip through the town first and then out into the paddy fields. After a half hour it was off the tarmac and up small tracks among the rice paddies and karsts. Very pleasant after the incessant honking and chaos of the town. We ended up at half Moon Karst which we climbed (500m) and is known for the cavern through the area at the top. Bit hairy at times but no mishaps.
Then lunch in a local farm and back into town for suppertime.
The atmosphere in the town was very relaxed with the people very friendly and possibly more used to westerners but still very little english spoken.
After supper we went to the night market about 12 30 AM and had what must be the most spicy fish ive ever eaten. It was cooked on a charcoal brazier by us just in front of us and eaten off the hot plate with chopsticks. Followed by rice wine it was delicious.
It was soo good that more of us went out the next night again and had dumplings for five people for about one pound sterling for all of us.
New game for Ireland - six dice played with wild ones and you have to guess or bluff the total number in everyones hands.
After a relaxing time in yangshou it was time for and overnight sleeper train to Guilin to meet the hydrofoil for Hongkong. As it was the train was two hours late, they had to ring the hydrofoil to wait and we just made it by a minute.
The a three hour journey to Hongkong and checkin to a bustling anglo asian metropolis.