Nha Trang, Da Lat and Mui Ne

From Hoi An, we continue to head South along the Vietnamese coast by sleeper bus. Our next stop was Nha Trang, famous for its beaches. It was sunny for a few hours in the morning, long enough to lure us out of the hotel to head to the beach and pop into a beach-front bar for a drink. Then the rains came and we were trapped there for the next 6 hours. This happened two days running. We ended up having lunch and dinner at this place, waiting for the rain to ease off but it never did. By bed time the rain was still being ridiculous, but we had to head back to our hotel, wading through a foot of water on the way. So I can’t tell you much about Nha Trang, apart from the inside of the Louisiane Brewhouse (which is very nice – I recommended the shrimp in green rice).
The FLOOD

So we quickly moved on to our next destination, Da Lat, which is away from the coast and up in the highlands. It was very foggy and raining on the drive up, so we didn’t see much of the scenery. But we did see plenty of mini waterfalls spilling into the road, which we had to dodge along with the pot holes and stray cows.

A few years ago someone set up a successful business in Da Lat offering motorbike tours called “Easy Riders”. Now every Tom Dick And Harry with a bike calls himself an easy rider and touts mercilessly for tourists’ business. They spot us as soon as we get off the bus with our backpacks (fresh meat) and insist on escorting us to our hotel even though we try to decline, initially politely but then quite forcefully. We try to lose our entourage but ducking into a shop, but they are waiting for us when we come out. We get to our hotel, and one guy is still waiting for us an hour later when we come back out for dinner. It’s a bit sinister really and puts us off going for a bike tour.

Instead we go on a guided hike through the hills. The hiking place offers an easy hike, two moderate and one challenging. We’re debating whether to go easy or moderate, but because of the wet weather, those hikes are off due to slippery paths and leeches. So, challenging it is.

The hike takes us through coffee plantations and over some pretty dicey looking rope bridges. We cross the warily, holding on to the ropes on both sides, to the amusement of some locals, who then drive across on their motorbikes. We then climb a ridge for some great views and then pass by Tiger Waterfall.

Swinging bridge no 1

 

Hiking alongside coffee plantations

Mui Ne is another beach resort. More chilling out in hammocks, in the pool and on the beach, sharing fresh coconut with a dog and watching what seemed like the whole town turn out to haul in the daily catch.
Hammock time

Lol having a coconut

Group effort to bring in fishing nets

More photos of Dalat and Mui Ne are on Mr Beet’s flickr page.

parkrun on tour – 8 October 2011

Another Saturday, another beautiful Vietnamese beach to run on. It’s a hard life. Today we are in Mui Ne. We just arrived today so by the time we got in our run it was late afternoon and a storm was threatening the whole time, but the rain held off until the last couple of minutes. Photographic evidence to follow.

Lol parkrunning on Mui Ne beach

Col parkruns!

Greenwich parkrun on tour Mui Ne Beach

Vietnam – Where the Dregs of English Language Broadcasting Go to Die

In Vietnam there seem to be fairly few youth hostels, so we’ve been staying in hotels and guesthouses. Blowing the budget, but needs must. Anyway, this means that we have been getting some little luxuries like satellite tv. Usually there’s only a couple of English language channels, and the quality of the programming is not high. I have mainly been watching:

1. America’s Next Top Model – I used to watch this a few years ago when I had that channel, so this is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Miss J is no longer on the panel, having been replaced by what appears to be his dad. They let NotedFashionPhotographerMrNigelBarker do a lot more talking, which I think is a bad move.

2. Asian music channels – these are dominated by boy and girl bands, and each band seems to have 8, 10, 15 members. Sometimes you can go through a whole video trying to count them and at the end you can only be sure that it’s somewhere between 9 and 12.

3. Various cookery programmes featuring Gordon Ramsey swearing

4. English football – if Liverpool are playing, Mr Beet won’t let me change channel during half-time or post-match analysis, even though said analysis is in Vietnamese.

5. The Bachelorette – I guess “the Spinster” was a less catchy title, although it does have the advantage of being an actual word. A woman whittles down potential suitors. It is the most despicable programme I have ever seen, and I have watched and enjoyed Take Me Out with Paddy McGuinness. I think it may bs an Al-Qaeda recruitment video. It certainly makes me want to start a jihad against the immoral, decadent West.

6. Groomer Has It – essentially America’s Next Top Dog Groomer.

7. Mr Bean – actually makes me ashamed to be British.

Hoi An and My Son

So from typhoon-hit Hue (I’m being over-dramatic, it was actually sunny by the time we left) we got the bus South to Hoi An.  Even though it was just a 4 hour trip in the middle of the day, it was a stage in a longer journey and therefore it was on a sleeper bus.  We had the worse seats because people who had been on the bus since Hanoi had understandably cherry-picked the better ones.  We were right at the back, over the back wheels and there were 5 of us across the width of the bus.  Memories of our night spent 8-in-a-bed in the mountain hut on Fuji came flooding back.  Sitting up was not an option, and there was insufficient leg room even for me, so we spent the four hours on our backs, with our knees bent up, as if waiting for a smear test.

I was pretty sticky and dishevelled by the time we arrived, but the good people of Hoi An did their best to cheer me up by engaging me in conversation and telling me I was very beautiful.  You are never safe from this guerrilla flattery; I was even chatted up when I was on the back of a moped on the way to the hotel by a girl driving alongside.  This is one of two main techniques for winning tourist business for a particular tailors (there must be over 100 in little Hoi An).  The other technique involves bellowing “HelloBuySomething!!!!” at tourists from shop doorways.

I did consider having something made to measure, but quickly realised that this would involve lots of decisions about cut, fabric, hem lines, neck lines etc that I am simply not equipped to make.  It would be like a trip to the hairdresser (which I hate) where they ask me lots of questions that I don’t understand and I just have to mumble “umm, well whatever you think really” .  I settle for buying an off-the-peg vest top to supplement my travel wardrobe.  The sales assistant offers me a medium, which she holds up against me to check the size.  She scowls at my chest and goes to get a large.  She hold up the large, inspects my chest again, rolls her eyes and gets me an extra-large.  

The extra-largeness may have something to do with the amazing food in Hoi An.  The food in Vietnam has been delicious and especially so in Hoi An.  It’s based on a lot of seafood and peanuts, both of which I usually dislike but the food is so good here that now I love them!  Plus they have the French influence, so there’s great bread and pastries for breakfast.  The second thing that Hoi An is famous for, after tailors, is its restaurants and cookery schools.  Mr Beet and I enrol on a day course at the Lighthouse with Linh at the Lighthouse Restaurant. 

We start off our day with Linh taking us around the market.  We try some street food (meatballs in a ginger syrup – weird but nice) and learn a bit about the types of beans, rice, fruit and herbs that are used a lot in Vietnamese cooking.  We get to try some new fruits (jack fruit, logan fruit and custard apple).  They’re ok but there’s probably a good reason why some exotic fruits have made it to the UK and others haven’t.  We then head back to the restaurant to don our aprons and cook shrimp spring rolls (with tomato rose garnish), chicken in a clay pot, squid stuffed with pork in a caramel sauce (less bonkers than it sounds) and water spinach with garlic.  Then we get to eat it all!  Om nom nom…

Col goes to the top of the class for being able to identify turmeric root

Lol stuffing a squid
The fruits of our labour

As well as tailor’s shops and amazing restaurants, there are some well-preserved historical buildings in the form of shrines, meeting houses and private family homes in Hoi An’s old town.  The whole place floods regularly, but everything is in impressively good condition considering.  You can get a ticket that gets you access to five of the monuments, so we had a nose round the first five we stumbled across.  This included the Japanese Bridge, various shrines and the house of a wealthy merchant family, where Mr Beet got told off for not listening to the tour guide’s spiel. 

 Col on the Japanese Bridge

"Photo!  Photo!  You take photo with drum now!"

Family shrine in Tan Ky House

The main cultural attraction close to Hoi An is My Son, a collection of ruined holy buildings built by the Cham people, who were Hindu.  It’s like a mini Angkor Wat.  If you want good photos, it is recommended that you go at 5am so that you miss most of the tourists.  Well, screw that, if you want good photos you can always do a google image search.  The ruins have been damaged by American bombs and simply by being in the jungle for 1000 years, so the site was originally a lot more extensive.  But there’s still plenty left to see and some of the detail that has survived is incredible. 

 My Son

P1010742

There’s a nice beach close to Hoi An and apparently the local Vietnamese people go there en famille first thing in the morning around sunrise, when it’s not too hot and the tourists are in bed.  So we decide to join in and set our alarm for 4.30am.  At 2am we are woken up by enormous crashes of thunder and hammering rain.  Another typhoon is passing through the region and we are on the edges of it.  So we scrap the beach plan and switch off the alarm.  But then by morning it is a beautiful day, so we go after all but  instead of getting there for dawn we arrive at the more civilised hour of 11am.  Mr Beet joined me for a parkrun and then we spent the rest of the day on the sun loungers and paddling in the sea to recover.  
Col parkrunning on Cua Dai beach

More photos of Hoi An on Mr Beet’s Flickr page. 

Public Transport – China v Vietnam

Getting a taxi in Beijing

1.  Stand at street corner, waving at passing taxis. 

2.  Continue step 1 for 10 minutes.

3.  Begin to wonder what you can possibly have done to offend the taxi gods.

4.  Get hopes up when taxi driver clearly spots you, slows down, then decides he doesn’t need your money and drives off again. 

5.  Continue waiting with your hailing gestures becoming more and more exuberant. 

6.  Feel pathetically grateful when a taxi does eventually pick you up. 

Getting a taxi in Vietnam

1.  Step outside.

2.  Show no interest in passing taxis and bikes, and mke no effort to hail one. 

3.  You will be offered some form of transportation – Hello taxi! Hello motorbike! Hello cyclo! Hello bamboo boat! – at least once every 50 metres. 

4.  You will be offered transportation when:

4.1 you are just entering a building (no I don’t want a taxi, I’ve just got here);

4.2 you are just getting off the back off another motorbike (if I wanted a motorbike, I’d stay on this one); and

4.3 you are going for a run (to be fair, I probably did look like I could use a lift).

Getting a train ticket in China

1.  Find train station at least 3 days in advance of your departure date. 

2.  Find ticket office in enormous train station. 

3.  Be stared at by 500 Chinese people as the only Westerners in the building. 

4.  Pick your way over several sleeping Chinese people using rice sacks as pillows. 

5.  Join one of twenty queues to a ticket window. 

6.  Wait in line for 20 minutes.  Use this time to copy name of destination in Chinese characters from guidebook, in case the ticket person can’t decode your terrible pronounciation.   

7.  Try to make sense of departure board.  Write down date and time of your chosen train, plus a couple of second choices in case it is unavailable. 

8.  Reach the front of the line.  All the Chinese people in the queue will crowd round you, not to try to push in but just to have a nose at your transaction. 

9.  Try to correctly pronounce name of place you are going – pointing at your prepared written destination and train time if necessary.   

10.  Hand over your passport to the ticket seller.  If you have forgotten your passport, go away and try again tomorrow. 

11.  Ticket seller will tell you price by keying it into a calculator.  All the Chinese people around you will peer into your wallet as you take it out to pay.   

Getting a train ticket in Vietnam

1.  Ask hotel receptionist with excellent English to book you a train ticket. 

2.  Be told that this is no problem, the charge will be added to your bill when you check out and would you like them to arrange a taxi to the train station?