BootsnAll Travel Network



Nanning – “Nothing to see here, move along”

March 11th, 2007

The journey to Nanning, my first stop in China, was a long one that began with a very wobbly moped ride in Hanoi – its difficult to stay on a motorbike when turning with a heavy rucksack on your back.

Next i had to get a bus from Hanoi to the border, where i said goodbye to Vietnam. The country is a fascinating place, developing rapidly. On the outskirts of Hanoi i spotted a typically socialist poster complete with industrial and agricultural iconography, smiling families, and the ever present hammer and sickle. A few metres later stood a billboard advertising a new, modern and luxurious private village. Contemporary Vietnam with its many contradictions was encapsulated in those two juxtaposed posters.

I was surprised by the speed and efficiency with which Chinese immigration stamped me into the country. China is still a politically repressive state, the Communist Party retains its monopoly on power and a strict control over many aspects of society. Indeed the Lonely Planet warns that other travellers coming from Vietnam had their China guidebooks confiscated by border officials due to sensitivity over maps of China not including Taiwan. Thankfully mine stayed safely in my bag.

From the border i caught another coach to Nanning. Originally my plans were to avoid this route and head straight from Vietnam to Kunming, but recently the train linking the two cities was put permanently out of service by a large landslide. Always have a Plan B when backpacking.

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China – A World In Itself

March 11th, 2007

China, country six of my journey, is constantly in the news. The third largest country on earth, with a fifth of the world’s population there is much to talk about in this colossus of a country. But academics and the media are only mesmerised by the epic transformation underway, and the seismic shifts sent through its society, foreign countries, and the international system more broadly.

China is on everyones lips.

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Hanoi – Farewell Ruth and Vietnamese Road Rules

March 11th, 2007

It was back to Hanoi for a few days after Halong Bay. ruth and I spent our last days together shopping for xmas items for my family which she was to take home, recording a small xmas day video message for my family, and exploring the bars and clubs on offer and having a last few nights.

And then it was time for me to leave for China and say goodbye to southeast asia after a brilliant six months, and goodbye to Ruth who was the best travel partner i could have wished for (who else would stroke my arm to get me off to sleep when i asked?!) and was jetting off to Thailand for a little taste of the south islands before heading home.

On a side note – Vietnamese drivers are possibly the worst i had yet encountered. The horn is used very strictly in Vietnam, only for the following situations:

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Halong Bay – Karsts, Kayaking and Karaoke

March 11th, 2007

Halong Bay was our last stop in Vietnam, and yet another UNESCO world heritage centre, this time natural rather than cultural or historic.

A tour bus took us the 165km from Hanoi to the bay. Halong is one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations and a natural wonder of the world – often touted as the eight wonder by proud Vietnamese.

The bay is situated in the Gulf Of Tonkin and consists of a dense cluster of nearly 2000 limestone monoliths, pillars, islands and tiny islets, which rise spectacularly from the ocean and are topped with lush, verdant jungle vegetation.

It is a stunning seascape, providing one of the locales for the James Bond film ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. The limestone formations are range from the bizarre to the awesome. Many have corroded bases and appear to float on thin air. Others are unsually shaped, resembling animals, people or structures, such as Choi Islet (fighting cock), Voi Islet (elephant) and Mai Nha Islet (roof).

We were booked onto a three day, two night tour.

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Hanoi – Exhausted in Vietnam

March 11th, 2007

It’s hard to sleep with people treading on your head. Granted i should not have slept down the aisle, but it’s far comfier than the squashed seats. Ever since Laos I had been kipping down on the floor, but the bus to Hanoi was the only time when i was constantly woken by an ill placed shoe or sandal. I spent most of the night awake. So at around three in the morning, when we stopped at a roadside cafe busy with Vietnamese slurping down large bowls of Pho, i decided to stretch my legs and ordered some congee – rice soup. The Vietnamese are clearly very passionate about their food. So passionate that a women approached me to show me how to eat my meal. In spite of any particular taste preference i may have had, the only way to eat this dish was to add lashings of sugar, soy, spices and chives. No arguing. This was the second time this has happened to me, it’s almost as if they take pity on foreigners who are deemed too stupid to eat it the correct way.

I don’t remember arriving in Hanoi, most probably because i was only half awake. Thankfully we found a fantastic hotel for just 8 dollars a night. Ocean Star – I highly recommend it.

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Hue – Vietnamese History Before The War

March 11th, 2007

From Hoi An we travelled by bus to our next stop, Hue. It was short enough for a daytime journey which allowed us to appreciate the scenery, including a spectacular seven-tiered pagoda perched high on a limestone karst.

On route we stopped at a small beachside hotel for a disappointing lunch. After the delectable meals and snacks in Hoi An perhaps our expectations were just too high. Either that or the food was plain crap. Ruth ordered a cheese and tomato salad and received a plate of sliced tomatoes with a triangle of dairylea in the middle. Raymond fared even worse with his Potato Salad – a plate of sliced, boiled spuds. This michelin-starred meal was made worse by the small fortune it cost.

By mid afternoon we had arrived in Hue, a quiet city that is firmly established on the tourist trail thanks to its close proximity to the nearby Demilitarized Zone, and its wealth of historical monuments. At this point in our trip we were in a slight rush to reach Hanoi so i could arrive in Beijing for Xmas. So we dumped our stuff in a hotel in the main backpacker area (a few guesthouses and cafes down a small side alley) and decided to make use of the day.

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Hoi An – Cooking School and Clothes

March 11th, 2007

Food was an important part of our experience in Hoi An.

Everything we ate was delicious; the cakes and sweets in the cosy french cafes, the fried spring rolls cooked freshly in front of us at a tiny stall in the old wooden quayside market, the Hoi An specialities of shrimp stuffed dumplings (called White Roses) and fried wanton soup.

Even the stall food was exceptional. As I’ve said before the culinary heart of Asia is found on the streets. In Hoi An it proved a little unorthodox. One evening Ruth and i sat on the side of a road tucking into a particularly tasty bowl of noodles, mint and sauce topped with a tender barbequed meat. I asked what the meat was – “Meat” the woman replied unhelpfully. I imitated a cow – it certainly wasn’t pork or chicken – the woman just laughed. Turns out the animal in question was dog, a fact verified to us by the cafe down the road which included on its menu, Beef, Chicken, Pork and Meat. I should add that it was one of the nicest things i have ever tasted on this gastonomic journey.

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Hoi An – Good Morning…Vietnam?

March 11th, 2007

Were we really still in Vietnam? No karaoke bars, no motorbike hordes, no tall and ugly hotels. It felt like Laos – no wonder we took an instant liking to Hoi An, even though it was only six o’clock in the morning.

Note to self: Stop getting buses or trains that arrive at some ungodly morning hour. Night transport is great to save money on accomodation, but even if you are lucky enough to sleep the whole way (and Diazepam helps believe me), you arrive at your destination with a cloudy head, black rings around your eyes, feeling like you haven’t slept a wink, and then having to contend with badgering touts trying to rip you off.

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Nahtrang – Sun, Sea, Sand / Pimps, Prostitutes and Pickpockets

March 11th, 2007

I was warned about Nha-trang by a girl i met in the Perhentian Islands, so long ago in Malaysia. Why did i not listen to her?!

Nha-trang is a coastal city; the main resort in Vietnam.
With its wide beach and warm climate it attracts many backpackers on the South East Asian circuit. I was disappointed. The beach, though wide, long and palm fringed was average, with coarse sand and murky water. The town is developing rapidly and lacks character. Hotels, bars and restaurants are all spaced out and largely empty giving Nhatrang a feel that it has hit on hard times. It’s only redeeming feature was the broad promenade interspersed with tree lined parks and modern art (which the Vietnamese love – you find it everywhere) that bordered the beach.

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Ho Chi Minh – Bush Blows

March 11th, 2007

The rest of Ho Chi Minh was spent in a leisurely fashion, eating delicious local food, relaxing, and then spending a particularly good night out dancing in a nearby bar and club (in spite of a curfew on their opening hours when George Bush came to town – does he have to ruin everything?!). This ended with a waterfight in our room when Ruth turned the shower hose on me whilst in bed. After a very wet nights sleep we decided to leave on a overnight bus to Nahtrang.

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