Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Sapa to Halong to Hoi An to Nha Trang

So, the last place that I mentioned in my blog was Sapa. Being there was simply amazing. Just imagine huge mountains with terraced rice paddies and small wooden huts. From there we took an over night train back to Hanoi. The different classes on these trains need to be described.

First there is “Nice Class” (the one we stayed on the way back from Sapa and from Hanoi to Hoi An) It's basically a 'soft' sleeper bed. 4 beds per cabin. Actually quite nice.

Next there is “Chicken Class” (we were cheated onto this one on the way to Sapa – we payed for a Nice Class but they snuck us onto this... but that's another story) This is basically a 'hard' sleeper. 6 beds per cabin, small amounts of comfort.

Next is “Worm Class” - seats with a cushion.

Finally there is “Ant Class” - I wont even go into this one.
The prices obviously differ dramatically - our ticket in Nice Class from Hanoi to Hoi An (it wasn't an inflated tourist price) was $33 each! You could squirm in Ant Class for about a handful of rice and 3 chicken feet!

The train service itself is actually OK except that it is horrifically slow. Something that could be done in Europe in 2 hours takes 3 days and 7 different types of medication. Some of their railways stations are a sight to behold! The one in Hanoi is great. I'll quote Mel on this... “a train station that somehow strongly reminded me of a WW2 train station for people fleeing the towns, chaos over chaos” (later we found the tourist entrance :))

Next, we made one of our few mistakes on our trip. We went for the cheaper option on a 2 day, 1 night trip to Halong Bay. This is supposed to be one of the wonders of the world and is a world heritage site. It's basically a bay with hundreds of tiny limestone (I think) islands. I'm sure it would have been great except that it poured down for almost the whole trip, and we felt like sheep, no that sounds to comfortable, chickens being led to a slaughter house. In addition, we stayed in the worst 'hotel' that I have ever stayed in. The room had not been cleaned since the late seventies, the door was broken (you could see into our room!), and there wasn't even a window. I've stayed in crappy hostels before and places worse, but this place had the called itself a hotel! Oh yeah, all the food on the trip was crap too... I'm going to stop now... (I'm sure our whole experience would have been different if it stopped raining long enough for us to see enjoy the sights) This part of the trip only lasted 2 days and is possibly the only low point.

Halong Bay (It wasn't raining for about 10 minutes at this point)

Our next stop on our trip was a place that both Mel and I fell in love with. It's a small old twon called Hoi An about half way down the coast of Vietnam which is very famous for both clothes and shoes. (Anyone who knows me, now knows why I fell for this place. Mel did too, but she's a girl :)) As usual I decided to go low key and only got two suits, 4 shirts, 5 ties, 2 shoes... (ehhh, I think I'll stop now – I knew about this place before had so I traveled very light up until this point, about 10KG.) Mel of course couldn't help herself with a similar wardrobe purchased. Everything was tailored for you and some of the stuff I've already worn a lot and the quality seems grand. One of the mornings we got up early (I think the earliest ever for me at about 4:40am) for what they called a sun rise tour to My Son. My Son is basically the Cham cultures/dynasty religious head quarter. The place was amazing, however it was the one of the first major eye openers for the damage the American War did to Vietnam. There was 5 meter deep craters from B52 bombs next (and thus almost completely destroying) buildings that had stood for a thousand years. It was very sad from architectural point of view. Basically, most of the place was carpet bombed, poisoned, burned.... Still, the trip was amazing and defiantly worth getting up at that early hour for. There was something quite surreal about us walking around there with our guide and being the only people there.

Mel hard at work in Hoi An

Me outside one of the Cham buildings in My Son

Our next stop on our merry trip was Nha Trang. Do you know when you are on a roller coaster and you are heading straight for a huge rock (or something sturdy looking) and just at the last moment you pull up and it wizziz inches past you. This is our overnight trip from Hoi An to Nha Trang. These people are absolutely crazy (I haven't been to India yet but I hear they aren't that great either). Last year in Thailand, I thought that they were crazy. My feelings about the Thai are quite different now. In Thailand they only over take around a blind corner if they DON'T see someone coming. In Vietnam, you could be passing a truck on to the right around a corner and see two tour buses drag racing in the opposite direction one of them in your lane, the other on the truck that your passings lane on a two lane (one in each direction) road. Oh, and of course there is the family of 5 on a mopped nipping in between all of us. I didn't worry too much though... we had the obligatory flashing Budda at the front of our bus... That will save us :) (The Budda and the Buses horn are the only two safety features as far as I can see)

I have mixed feelings about Nha Trang – it is VERY touristy and the beach and surrounding islands don't match up to Thailand. There is massive development along the beach front and I'd say that in about 3 years it will look like Vegas. On the other hand, the night life was a lot of fun. As usual, myself and Mel found ourselves in an interesting situation. A club with about 1,000 people, thumping 80's dance music and two white people. It was great though, I think it was a local only type place and they were all great craic! It's a long time since I did the dancing train thing around a disco! Other nights we went out with Irish and Dutch people that we met on an excellent boat trip. If you are there, do the 4 island tour...

The view from our hotel in Nha Trang

Getting ready for a night on the town :)

Hmmm – this post is getting closer to an essay then a post, so I think I will stop here – spread in a few photos and call it a night :)

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