Welcome to Nam!

Jean Claude Van NAM baby!! What an amazing place so far! Absolutely love it here. Again, it’s fascinating to see the difference between the different countries..even though they seem so closely linked (and obviously next door to each other), they are all very different in so many ways. Someone actually asked me the other day ‘how does Cambodia differ to Thailand..’ I actually couldn’t answer. Yes they are different but it’s quite difficult to define why unless you are here. I guess it’s also all about the atmosphere and the ‘vibe’ of the places you are visiting. I sure have noticed a different vibe in each and every place we go and so far, Nha Trang and Hoi An are my favourite places, they are so beautiful and I think it would be rude NOT to go here if you’re passing hah!

So I may as well start from the top:

Tuesday 30th April

Really not much to enter here for Tuesday! Today was more about exploring Ho Chi Minh City and getting to know our surroundings. At 6pm we had a team meeting to welcome our newbie..In comes Morgan = my new roomie as of 1st May. Morgan is lovely, a Glaswegian girl of the same age and we click straight away as do the others in the group. I’m really pleased to have her in the group and welcome her as my new roomie!

Wednesday 1st May

Cu Chi Tunnels! This place is fascinating! Of course it’s all about the Vietnam War and how the Viet Kong hid in these tunnels under the ground. Our guide, Mr Hiy (pronounced High!) was fantastic! He was actually in the war so it was a great insight to have him tell us exactly how it was from his personal point of view! Mr Hiy was a translator for the Americans! The full details of the war is a little over my head to be honest but I get that the North and South went to war over communism – the south opposed and the Americans stepped in to help try and put a stop to it as they felt communism would spread throughout the world etc..The Russians stepped in to help the North so I think it became more of a ‘power’ battle over America and Russia but anyways..before I have any historians on my case haha…I shall continue on to the experience and try cover up my poor lack of historical knowledge on the matter haha! But as I said, Mr Hiy was amazing! We all loved hearing his side of the story and his experiences and listening to some of the sites he’d witnessed. I loved retracing Mr Hiy’s steps of where he and the other troops would search for the Viet Kong..we even ventured inside one of the tunnels! That was pretty scary though because for a short time, the tunnel began to narrow slightly and for a minute we all thought the tunnel would continue to get smaller to the point we’d all be crawling and pulling ourselves along with our elbows…no thank you! Apart from a few bangs to the head it was fine! Mr Hiy then showed us a load of booby traps put down by the Americans! Very simple but highy effective and altogether leathal looking traps! On the spiked variety of booby trap, the troops would lace the arrow tips with ‘poison’…..the poison being human poop hah! The poop would get into cuts and grazes and infect them giving the wounded very limited chance of survival…nasty!

So anyways, after tunnel exploration and staring at booby traps, we then reached the shooting range!! OMG or should I say ‘Hoy Choy Oi!’ (OMG in Vietnamese hah!) We got the chance to shot a gun of our choice (of course depending on your budget and even your sex actually)..It cost around 2 dollars per bullet, ouch! Really wanted to fire the AK47 but with the speed the bullets shot out, that would have been very costly hah. There was another gun I wanted to fire but I can’t remember the name of it…when I asked for it, the guy looked at me and said ‘You can’t, you woman..you will be blown backwards!’ So funny! In the end Jocelyn, Joey and I opted to share a round on a Carbine Rifle! So on we go to the shooting range..the firing of guns is getting louder and we’re all looking rather nervous but excited! The other 2 were ahead of me so they were already putting on their ear muffs. Jocelyn shouted “Put these on quick!!”…but before I could pull them over my bonce a shot went off ‘BAANNNG’ WOAH! My ears were buzzing for ages! Anyways, soldering on (see what I did there!), we moved over to our Carbine..there she was..pointing forwards to the target range in the distance! We were SO excited by this point. Well, I say excited..I really shouldn’t promote the use of guns of course but it’s a different excited feeling…almost a sort of ‘what the hell am I doing….but I kind of want to nervously and pointlessly fire this gun at the target’ Jocelyn and Joey went first (thought I’d observe and get pointers from them!)…Joey was cool as a cucumber as though he’d done this a hundred times over and Jocelyn with her cute and innocent demeanor looked ever so funny with a gun in her arms! Ok, so my turn! Chin down, finger on the trigger, one eye scrunched and the other peering down the aim…omg, my imagination was talking to me as usual…what if the gun bolts me back or bashes me in the head somehow leaving me with a black eye? What if the shell rebounds and pierces my leg or something…hmm, going home with a shrapnel war wound hah! Oh stop it Helen, it will be fine.. ok, so staring at the bulls eye, I go for it. It felt like my finger was on the trigger for ages before it finally went off…it was almost like finding the bite point on a car (same same but entirely different hah!)… ‘BOOM’  WOW! What a rush! I fired another 2 shots and wished I had another round! I was actually shaking when we were reunited with the group hah! Phew, I think a pint is in order!

Thursday 2nd May

Ok, so after a long and boring night train journey, we wake up in a beautiful town called Nha Trang. I highly recommend this place, the beach is just gorgeous! After the initial exploration, we then all decided to take a motorbike tour of Nha Trang! I’d never been on a motorbike before so naturally, I was bricking it haha!

Mrs Phoung pulls up outside our hotel with her crew of bikers and fits us all with helmets. Oh dear god, what the hell if I fall off…am I covered by my insurance…do I hold on to the back or literally cuddle the driver!? Finally snapping myself out from the ‘inner voice’ I nervously clamber onto the back of Mrs Phoungs bike (the guide was also my driver!). I told her to be gentle with me haha and then I asked her if I could hold on to her waist! With the rumble of motorbike engines, Mrs Phoung asks me if I’m ready so of course, I had no choice but to give her the thumbs up! Oh my Buddha, immediately I want to get off! With sweating palms, I clung tightly to the sides of Mrs Phoungs T-shirt for I couldn’t wait until we got to our first point! I clung on so tight that I popped one of her buttons haha oops!

Phew, finally reaching our first stop off, I quickly jump off and follow the crew! Dam, I know it’s hot but I feel extra sweaty from the adrenalin now pumping round my veins! We visited a place where they make terracotta pots. We watched them press out the clay and mould them all from scratch and then headed back to the bikes! Oh no…I’ve got to endure it all over again arggh! Clambering on (again, holding on for dear life), off we go! Stop 2 was pretty cool..we watched some of the locals making rugs and mats from scratch and they even let us each have a go. Stop 3 we visited a Buddhist temple and stop 4 we parked up and rested at a snake restaurant! This place was pretty odd! You could buy a live Cobra and have it killed in front of you! (which of course, we didn’t want!) The guide told us men are supposed to swallow the still beating heart as it promotes a healthy labido!! They actually showed us the cobra all coiled up in a plastic bag which all seemed a bit cruel to be honest..out the back they even had rabbits, chickens and a huge hairy pig lol! All probably going on the menu at some point 😦

Well well, halfway through I did in fact get used to the bike and began to love it…I was now holding onto the back of the bike and even encouraging her to race the others along the way! It was great fun and so nice to feel the breeze rushing through my heat damaged straw like hair haha! Back at the hotel again, we all tipped our drivers and then showered up and chilled for a while.

In the evening we all had dinner and then drank in a couple of bars on the beach. One bar actually provided bean bags so you could literally sip (or down!) a cocktail or 3 ON the beach! Of course we all had a fair bit to drink and found a place that offered good music and a very inviting dance floor to party on until the wee hours!

Saturday 4th May

Ok, so like before I’ve skipped a day. Friday was mostly spent recovering haha! We had a long and messy night but it was soo much fun! In the early eve of Friday, we caught another night train to reach our next point. Saturday morning we woke up in an even more beautiful town…the town of Hoi An!! This by far has been my (and our) ultimate favourite place. The vibe, atmos, scenery the people…it’s just magical and I strongly recommend you visit here should you ever swing by Nam! We spent 2 jam packed days here…and we didn’t want to leave!

The first day, we had a walk around exploring our surroundings and taking it all in! In the afternoon we went to one of the local famous tailor shops! Well, all I can say is..for someone who is incredibly indecisive, this place was a mind field for me hah! Everyone else knew what they wanted and decided in minutes what they were going to have created for them. I needed to decide on something fast as the tailors needed to get cracking with the design and build etc…hmm…all the girls had seen pictures of the dresses they wanted and even Joey knew what kind of jacket he wanted tailored. With their fabrics, shapes and styles all picked it was lunch time and yep…I still hadn’t decided hah! But on the way to the restaurant at lunch, I spotted a lovely looking dress on a mannequin! So, I cheekily took a photo and then popped back to the tailors after lunch which in hindsight, probably isn’t the best time to visit a tailors with a small food baby on the go haha! So back in the tailors…’This is the dress I’d like please’ Now came the hard bit..you chose the colour, the fabric the length and even the lining! Well, with the help of Morgan, my creation was down on paper and ready to be built for the morning! Unusually, I went for a sky blue over my normal shade of baby pinks! Well, I thought the blue brought out my slight tan! Later in the evening, we all did the usual bar hunting and hopping and danced the night away!

Sunday 5th May

It’s an early start on Sunday morning and we’ve hired bikes for half a day (of the push bike variety). Bodies glistening with bug sprays and suncreams, we meet our guide, Mr Tree outside the hotel. How cute, we’ve all got sit up and beg bikes…the kind of bike my Brother had always wanted! Measured up, it’s off we go! Wow, I hadn’t ridden a bike for a long time but that saying is definitely true, you never forget! This was one of our favourite tours. We rode through the countryside of Nam. It was lovely to see the natural  non touristic side of Nam…seeing farmers working in the paddy fields, children playing in their backyards and just the general hustle and bustle of locals doing local things! We made a few stop offs and the points of interest..including a place where they make incense sticks (and yep, we all got to have a go making one)…and another interesting stop…we got to ride the back of a Buffalo! Well, that was funny! You hop on it’s back and then farmer guided the buffalo around a small pond. Well, my buffalo started climbing up the bank but the farmer guided him back into the pond – I literally thought I was going to fall off! But I didn’t, phew! Back on the bikes and onwards on our cycle tour..Joey started singing the ‘Bicycle race’ tune by Queen and well, that was it, well and truly stuck in our heads! We then made another stop to have a go on a ‘water taxi’. We left the bikes by the side of the river and each hopped into a water taxi with our ‘drivers’. Joey and I had an older lady escorting us whereas everyone else had a younger more enthusiastic looking captain! It was fun though. The sun was belting down causing us all to become hot and sticky under our extra large life jackets!! We stopped during our ‘boat rides’ halfway seemingly in the middle of nowhere..we’d all spread out and latched onto the nearest tree overhanging the rivers for we were to have a go at crab fishing! Haha…how funny! You stick a bit of fish or chicken onto the end of the rods and dip it in and wait…and wait and wait…finally, a purple pincing crab would latch on for a munch so you have to gently pull it up and out of the water and into the bucket before it realised and released! Well, we only caught 2 and everyone else seemed to have literally caught a bucket load. apparently the locals were to eat our catch later that night, poor buggers hah!  Phew, then it was a bike ride back to the hotel.

Later on in the afternoon, and a few more trips back to the tailors..our dresses were ready! Wow! My dress fits like a glove (except, more like a dress haha) and I feel amazing in it! Will have to keep this one for special occasions…well, with my Birthday coming up on the 8th…..lol!

Monday 6th May

Today we’re up early to embark on a 4hr bus ride to Hue (pronounced Hway).

Arriving at lunch time, we booked straight onto another motorbike tour, afterall, I was now used to it right! So our team of drivers arrive to pick us all up and show us the city of Hue..Omg…they all look like old age pensioners hah! I was thinking, it’s probably safer for us all to ride them ourselves?! So, I hop on and hold on (to the back of the bike of course, not onto this old dude haha!) Our drivers fit us all with our helmets and then kick start the bikes…with the buzz of the engines, I give my OAP the thumbs up and we’re off! It’s a wobbly start but it’s ok until we get to the busy roads! We’re crossing over the middle and playing what feels like a game of chicken! At that moment I think I had my eyes shut but I remember thinking “hang on, the older you get, the less acute your senses are right!” Oh no, there goes ‘the voice of my imagination’ again! ‘What if he doesn’t hear that truck coming towards us?’ ‘What if he can’t see that other biker chopping us up’ haha! But it was fine. We made a few stops that day including; Imperial Citadel and seeing the Forbidden City so it was all good, bloody hot but good!

In the evening, we found a bar (of course!) with a happy hour on and cheap beers. The bar tenders got us to play Jenja, which I was surprisingly good at haha! Then at 9pm, the tables and chairs were folded up to make way for the dance floor and that was it….there was no getting me off! Jocelyn had to come over and take me by the hand and drag me out boooo!

Wednesday 8th May

Hmm today was a special day….oh yeh…my BIRTHDAY!! Haha.

Tuesday was pretty much a free day by the way. We had the day to do as we pleased because in the early evening we were to catch an overnight train (a 14hours overnight train journey to be precise arrgghh!) So Tuesday afternoon, we had a stroll around the shops and uh oh…another dress shop! The girls and I went in and explored but this time, we spotted dresses already made but you get tailored into them. Well, I spotted a beautiful red traditional Vietnamese silk dress that I liked so I tried it on. I was measured up and fell in love with it…I agreed a price of 10 english pounds and confirmed I’d pick it up later on before leaving for the train outta there! It was all a bit of a rush…we had to buy dinner and snacks for the train, pack up our things and rush back for our dresses! Well, just in the nick of time, we made it back to our hotel and hopped on the bus headed for the dreaded train journey!

Wednesday morning we wake up as the train is rolling into Hanoi..we weren’t stopping here just yet though, that was Thursday and Friday’s adventure but for today, we were headed to Halong Bay! A bus was waiting for us to drive us to our final stop..a further 4hrs of travelling and we’re finally there…Halong Bay and WOW…this place is a postcard beaut!

This place is stunning! Even our hotel is gorgeous! Morgan and I are lucky to have a balcony view overlooking the beach! So, we freshen up, have something to eat and then hop on another bus to head for the port to board our private junk boat! As soon as we got to the port, we’re shown the boat to board. Wow, this really is exclusive…just for us Gap Adventurers hah! The sun is shining and it’s the perfect day for a boat trip, oh and my birthday too 🙂 Well, I say that..I actually woke up a little grumpy but I guess this was for a number of reasons 1. I was tired from all the travelling and 2. My birthday just wasn’t the same this year. I felt really homesick when I woke up, I missed my friends, my Mum and Dad and of course my Brother and for those of you who don’t know, my Brother is very sadly no longer with us so of course, he was naturally on my mind all day long (which without question, he is everyday but today I wanted to see and speak to him more than ever). But moving on, I think my fellow travellers knew this would be hard being my birthday and being away from home so it was such a wonderful surprise when everyone presented me with a yummy birthday cake and then sung the happy birthday tune to me lol! I even had candles to blow out too..I loved it! We also had the most delicious seafood lunch! Fresh crabs and prawns…it was as though they’d just come out the ocean!

We pulled up to Halong Bay and were ‘set free’ to explore. We had a peep inside the caves and admired the funny shapes of the stalactites and mites and pointed out ‘oh this one looks like an elephant’ or ‘this one looks like an old lady’ etc…and then it was back on the boat. Before we re-boarded, Morgan got caught by a local radio crew and interviewed for VCN5 (I think)..it was so funny, we were all trying to distract her in the background but she was too professional and composed haha! Guessing that’ll be all over Youtube now!

So back on the boat, we noticed the clouds were beginning to turn an angry grey and the wind was starting to pick up too. It reminded me of the Similans storm and how much I DIDN’T want a repeat of that hah! We were hoping it would hold out as we were  now off to kayak! All seemed to be ok until the minute we climbed inside our kayaks and that was it….the heavens well and truly opened! Nevermind, we were still going to kayak! Jocelyn and I rowed as fast as we could to shelter under the nearest cave. Jocelyn made us all laugh though as she wanted to jump in! So huddling our Kayak’s together, she clambered out and plopped into the water! She was like a water baby splashing about..well, I say splashing about, she was more elegant than that of course, more dolphin like but she was loving it! Then she got back on (successfully I might add…I was worried I’d be taking a plunge with her at one point but nope, all was good!) and we kayaked back to the boat for our journey home to the hotel!

The evening was great fun too! We all went out for dinner and then onto a bar for a quick cocktail! We needed some dutch courage as we were hitting a Karaoke bar after!  That was SO much fun, we must have been singing away in there for well over 2hours! Good or bad singing, we didn’t care haha, we sung our hearts out and then had a beer at the hotel before hitting the hay.

Thursday 9th May

Thursday was an early start as we were back on the bus for another 4 hours but this time it was to head back to Hanoi. Our schedule brought us here for our last 2 nights in Vietnam before we were to depart for Laos.

First impressions…didn’t like it. For me, Hanoi was very busy (although not dissimilar to Ho Chi Minh City), it was smaller and more compact so it felt even busier. Roads were hell to cross and if you weren’t looking out for bikes to avoid it was people! A mix of locals and travellers, this place seemed to have something for everyone, well, apart from me as I didn’t like the place hah! I just couldn’t get my bearings at all, I felt so easily lost and was afraid to go out alone incase I couldn’t find my way back to the hotel card. I was prepared though and always carried a hotel card incase but still!

After we cheked into our hotels, we chilled for a bit and then joined our tour leader to explore and, well, try to gain our bearings. The others seemed to be able to remember their way around which I was very impressed by..it’s like my fellow travellers are fitted with automatic compasses or something hah!

We booked on to watch a water puppet show in the evening, something that was recommended to us and a more traditional attraction to see whilst in the city. But before this, we all took a walk round Ho Chi Minh’s Palace.

After the water show, it was dinner and then beers…hmm, the beer is incredibly cheap here..500ml bottles were 48p to be precise! But at 11pm, everyone started to pack up. “You go now, you go” A concerned bar manager was keen for us to drink up and go..well, I hadn’t even got half way down so I didn’t really just want to get up and go hah! The bar lady managed to explain in broken english…”The police want close now..” And there they were, the police were walking around shutting the bars down. We found out it’s because the police don’t allow drinking on the streets and if you are caught, they will tell you to go home and then shut everything around the place down to stop encouraging it. I think it was because there were some rowdy backpackers which drew attention! Anyways, I managed to down my drink and then Morgan, Joey, Jocelyn and I went in search for a late opener!

So, we end up in a bar called ‘Hair of the Dog’…we walk in and it’s all eyes on us! We were the only Westerners in there. Ok, so one cocktail later, the hunt is on for the next bar. We were approached by an English bar owner trying to entice us in to the Flow Bar but I had a bad feeling about him so I encouraged everyone to ‘loose’ him..successfully hiding from the over-keen barman, we then found we were at a loss ourselves..no other bars were open due to the police shutting everything down! But….we then spotted a huge group of backpackers who began walking in the same direction…where were they all going? “Lets follow them! They must know of somewhere!?” Morgan excitedly persuades us and before long, we’ve tagged onto the back of the line! We’re all marching along damp and dark lanes and alleys and all the while I’m wondering ‘where the hell are we going?’…”Has anyone seen the film Hostel…or Taken?!!” I cried, getting a nervous laugh from them all! But we carried on. We made conversation with the people nearest trying to find out if they knew where this mob was headed…”Nah, we’re just following you!” explained the half Italian / French guy.. Oh great! Finally, we can see a curly haired man at the front waving his long arm beckoning us all in….as we get nearer we can hear “Welcome, welcome my friends, come in”….he’s ushering us into what looked like a dark underground building..hmm..so we enter and the boom, the music starts and the bar is open! It was like a scene from the film Blade…Wesley Snipes enters the vampire club and the music starts (Operation Blade) and the doors are on lock down (for those of you who know this reference!)…but it was great fun! Travellers everywhere! It was actually a hostel!! There were rooms upstairs and this club was underneath. Outside you could see people hanging out of the windows smoking weed! Not one of the nicest places we ended up of course but it was what we made of it…great for dancing until the wee small hours once again! We called it the sweaty crack den with no name!

Friday 10th May

Ok so today, nursing hangovers, it’s more exploration as it’s our last day. We head for the Ho Chi Minh museum which to be honest, wasn’t all that great! I was so hungry when we got there (even though I had a brekkie) and the junk food cravings began…so we’re looking around but all I could think about was food! Uh Oh….there was a huge poster of Ho Chi Minh’s face on a red background…and it started morphing into Colonel Sanders face (the guy from KFC!)..thankfully we weren’t in there for long, yippee off for some icecream now….hmm, Fanny’s ice-cream! I won’t insert any jokes here haha…they’ve been done to death in our group but I’ll leave it with this…their strapline is ‘Taste the difference’ hehe! Then it’s back to the hotel to collect washing etc and chill.

Later in the evening, we all went for dinner at Gecko’s and met our new groupies for Joey, Jocelyn and Morgan were leaving us before we embarked on the Laos part of the tour. Enter Hollie, Abbey and Karin our new backpackers. Again, they’re all lovely and we welcome them with open arms. After dins we stayed up at the hotel chatting and playing cards.

Saturday 11th May

Today it’s check out day! Goodbye Nam and ‘Hello’ Laos! We caught an hours flight into Laos to start the next tour. As soon as the plane touches down…woah, the heat hits us for here it’s nearer 40 degrees, way hotter and way sunnier than Nam. This place is absolutely stunning and we are already in love with this place! Have a feeling we’ve saved the best til last so until the next time….Oh Pah Chow (omg in Laos!) I think this is going to be A-MAZING!!!!

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