Good Morning Vietnam

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Latimer: What else could I call a blog post about Vietnam? It’s a phrase I overused so very much while in Vietnam. I said it basically every morning, and if I forgot, I’d say it mid-way through the day.

This post is a continuation of my trip around South East Asia, as it’s getting to the end of summer now; I find myself reminiscing more and more about my adventures in the past. They were so good; they make me consider what the next adventure will be!

But well, back to my South East Asian adventures! I had made it through Thailand and Laos, with lots of fond memories and exciting adventures, onward to Vietnam, a place that I was expecting to love, though I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting to love about it…

I was right about the loving part; it’s a gorgeous, bustling fun place, full of amazing places to see and history to learn about, all inter-spaced with yummy food, cool art and random livestock on bikes (the motorbike is everything in Vietnam!)

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Beer corner, Hanoi where local people sell beer and we all watch the crazy traffic go by, as we sit on the street and drink. Yup. I randomly met up with some of my China-travel buddies here too, so the world is a very small place guys!

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Bun Cha, Vietnamese delicacy, Hanoi

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Crash site of Senator John McCain’s plane, shot down by the Viet Con during the Vietnam war (it is still there in Hanoi where it fell)

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They are super happy about having shot down this plane, so it’s very well sign posted – I think it’s because Senator John McCain is a Senator now

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This is the Hilton Prison, Hanoi. Hilton was a nickname placed on the prison, by the prisoners, who were American POWs

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Motorbikes on the streets of Hanoi

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More yummy Vietnamese food!

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Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) propaganda artwork for sale in Hanoi

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Artwork, Hanoi

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Chinese monument in Hanoi – there is a heavy Chinese influence in Vietnam, as the country was part of/occupied by the Chinese during it’s history (Vietnam feels like it has more Chinese influence than, Laos, Thailand or Cambodia)

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Halong Bay

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Sunset, kite-flying off the back of our boat in Halong Bay

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Yes, that is a cow on the back of a motorbike… yeah

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Food wraps and kawaii fingers, Hue

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Vietnamese dragon and my Chinese Travelling Buddha, in the Vietnamese ‘forbidden city’, Hue

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Just on the road in Vietnam, amazing

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Blurry Buddha and me in an old American war bunker, on the road

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The Mighty Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City (kinda)

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Fresh coconuts on the Mekong Delta

Travelling Buddha gets around, here he's at the Chu-Chi Tunnels

Travelling Buddha gets around, here he’s at the Cu-Chi Tunnels

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Tofu, noodles and veggies, yum!

I saw a lot of amazing places, but my favourite had to be the laid-back beautiful Hoi An, I could have spent a long time there, it was a small, but very lovely town?

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Beautiful wedding couple. As in Chinese tradition, red is the colour for the bride in Vietnam, not white

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Laid back streets of Hoi An

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Hoi An streets

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A bridge across the river, Hoi An

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Lanterns, beautiful Vietnamese lanterns

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Sunsets on its way over Hoi An!

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A cool eatery Hoi Ah, though it looks very Spanish or something!

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Super fresh noodles and yummy avocado smoothie (delicious!), Hoi An

Lanterns and more lovely Lanterns, Hoi An

Lanterns and more lovely Lanterns, Hoi An

Hoi An has a lovely river running through it. I went on a boat ride during the sunset and cast some lanterns out on the water, sending my wishes with it!

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It’s where people get clothes made lots of the time, but it has some cool art shops also, and also, the best tea shop I have ever been in in my whole life. It’s called Reaching Out Teahouse and it’s run by deaf and mute staff, so everything is done by indicating via the menu and also these little notes where you can ask for a re-fill of water etc. It is a Fairtrade shop and it works with people with disabilities in the community to find employment and live an independent life, so it’s well worth supporting. They also sell these amazing crafts in the shop – and all the tea cups and cutlery (metal and ceramic) are made by the Reaching Out artisans.

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Used to communicate with staff

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Iced coffee, with coffee ice… haha

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Crafts from the shop

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Traditional seating

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The tea tasting menu (3 types) – soooo good, plus you get three interesting treats with it! Like, eg., a sweet potato swirl, or green tea biscuit

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A platter of very interesting treats!

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The famous Vietnamese coffee (iced) – three type tasting menu here! It was so good!

It was really serene and it was nice to sit in this traditional style teahouse and look out of the open shutters at the front at the people passing by in the street. Some Chinese tourists randomly stopped in front of the windows and took photos with us Westerns in the background, which was… well, hilarious and random, but I had noticed this happened a lot in China also, so I was kind of used to it, in a very weird way!

Vietnam was a brilliant place, I would definitely go back. Maybe one day I will, but from there it was onward to the place I had wanted to visit the most, Cambodia (and the stunning Angkor Wat… what)!

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Middle Kingdom Musings

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Latimer: I’m back! For reals, not from a place of scheduled posts! Yup, my epic trip around China has ended and I’m now suffering from a major case of ‘holiday hangover’. You know the feeling; ‘It hurts so bad! It’s over!’

I think the only cure is to go on holiday again… *cue sneaky smile* well, maybe you never know!

Basically this can be applied to holidays too o_O

Basically this can be applied to holidays too o_O

But for now let me rewind my memories – do you want to come with me on a trip to the Middle Kingdom? Sure you do! Let’s head back in the way-way-back machine! This will either be cathartic or depressing for me. If you look to your side at any point and see a smiling Latimer, good times, if she’s weeping, please take a moment to comfort her J

So, this trip was a reward for me finally finishing college. Yes, I was still in college; institutionalised possibly (definitely). Thankfully, the ending was a good one (i.e. piece of paper, awarded – just need to dot the i’s etc) and so, I was off I went to CHYY-NA (or ‘wild CHYY-NA’ as I kept calling it) with a travel group.

First the long-haul flight… okay so, I don’t sweat them much anymore, but they are still annoying. I’ve been on a lot of them, so I know my pattern pretty well at this stage; a) I can’t sleep very well and b) I can’t eat the plane food (can’t even stomach the smell of it). I literately recoil when the steward/ess trusts it under my nose – “no! No I don’t want it! Please don’t make me…”  

So, knowing this at the airport I’ll stock up on essentials (food and water), like someone planning for the zombie apocalypse (where we’ll only be able to get crap, ‘it’s bad for you but who cares there are zombies’, food). This time, in the wonderful Terminal 2 of Dublin Airport (this is our really fancy new (ish) terminal), I found a nice shop to buy sandwiches in, which may not sound like much, but when you are contemplating your fear of airplane food it does mean a lot!

Oh and by a nice sandwich, I mean, one that doesn’t contain mayonnaise (for some reason this type of sandwich is hard to find). In this shop I found a plain cheese sandwich (I almost wept for joy). Then I nipped around for some water, Hula Hoops crisps and a chocolate bar (these bad boys will pop up again in China). 

On the flight I stayed away from the plane food and scoffed down my sandwich and water. Then when I got to my layover in Dubai (that’s a new, semi-novel stop for me; what a nice airport it is), I got some food (a stir-fry, easing myself into the Chinese food) while I watched my gate for my Beijing connecting flight.

I gulped down my food getting a bit nervous about when my flight would start to board. Then I had to fight the rush of Chinese people trying to board the plane. It was a bit of a free-for-all; even though the airline was calling out the rows that would board first, it seemed like people were having none of that. I had to push my way up through the crowd to board (as my row had been called, not because I’d turned into the Hulk and just decided it was ‘my time’ to board, people be damned).

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After a bit of a wait, we were off to Beijing!

When we were close to landing, I started thinking about transportation from the airport (like I always do). I start to… not worry, but overthink it? This is the part of my holiday I research and research and print out very piece of information before I leave my house (unless Ridley is travelling with me, then I use her like a GPS and guidance system; she is basically a map that you can interact with and befriend, haha. Seriously though she knows she’s part map)!

So touching down in Beijing, without Ridley, I was armed with all the information and warnings internet could provide me on – a) fake Chinese money (and how to detect it; it’s all in your Mao’s ladies and gentlemen; run your nail over Mao’s hair, if it’s ridged your note be real, if not your note be fake and no Chinese person will take that bad boy off you – tip, always check your Mao’s!); and b) getting a taxi from the airport.

Ah, one thing about getting a taxi in China; don’t get the black taxis. These are fake and they’ll over charge you.

Okay, fair enough I thought, I’ll not fall into their trap, oh no, I am an informed Westerner!

“Stay in the queue for the taxi” – the internet warns you, “don’t let someone lead you out of the queue! Look at the locals!”.

So, what happens when I get to the top of the queue and the people directing Chinese people to their taxis carefully ignore me?

Oh yeah, some man comes up and takes my little piece of paper with the hotel’s name on it and reads it; “I can take you there!” he says in English with a smile, trying to lead me to his black car.

Oh hells no!

I smile, laugh, take back my paper; “No thanks, I’ll wait here” (inside growling Wolverine style: back off bub!)

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The thing is, the people directing people to the taxis, they backed off and let him try and lead me off; after he didn’t manage it they were still half-ignoring me. It was very strange. Basically they know what’s going on, but it’s like, “oh well let him have a go”. Not cool ladies.

Later I found out that one of our travel group did get one of the black taxis and ended up paying 100 USD for the trip that cost me 12 euro in my registered taxi (12 euro = approx. 16 USD – a BIG rip off!).

My first taste of a taxi ride in China was strange – my taxi driver hacked and spat out the window three times (as we were driving, amazing dexterity). I was staring, then cringing in amazement – where was I?!

Then I started to notice other odd things. He had an empty glass jar of coffee resting next to his gear stick (phrasing!). There was liquid the colour of pond water in the jar, and what looked like twigs and leaves gently tapping against the glass; like something you’d find in a science museum from the 1800s. Me staring stupefied at the jar as he gulped down the contents and zig-zagged through traffic (there are no rules of the road), kept me occupied for the whole trip. I’d come to see this empty glass jar and strange contents again and again and again over my trip (it’s tea, or something, but it looked really weird straight off the bat!).

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Another top tip from the internet was to always have your hotel address written in Chinese and also to have the phone number of the hotel. Thank you great and noble inter-web, you saved me there too!

My taxi driver had to call the hotel to find out where it was. And even though I don’t speak Chinese, I could tell he was saying; “Where the hell are you? I’m out here on the street and you’re not here – haha, what the hell? Where? Oh… hmm”

He ended up dropping me off on the side of the street, gesticulating and shouting in Chinese at some building hidden behind a row of other buildings. I stared at it.

“Yeah, I got yah.” I said nodding and pointing at the hidden building (my hotel’s name emblazoned on the very top of the building). The taxi driver watched me as I walked across the street; then started shouting at me in Chinese and pointing at the building again.

“I know!” I called back, nodding again and struggling to find a way through the row of buildings that blocked my hotel. Why was it hidden behind a fortress of other buildings? How did one get inside? Did I have to walk through the small convenience shop in front of it, was there a way through it or what the hell was going on? I felt like Pacman caught in a corner!

The taxi driver was driving away by now, slowly passing me as I walked up and down the street trying to figure out a way through the buildings to my hotel. Would I have to tunnel through, like Andy Dufresne from Shawshank?

The taxi driver starts shouting at me again and I just know by the tone and his actions what he’s saying – “Hey! Idiot, your hotel’s there! It’s right there you foolish girl!”

And I reply laughing (but frustrated); “I know! I know! Thanks!” Then I watch him shake his head and drive off. I stare at the guys outside the convenience shop (who are staring at me too). I make for the door, dragging my wheelie bag with me. They talk to me in Chinese and point down the street and make the universal ‘around the corner’ sign.

I nod. “Thanks lads!” and walk off towards a car park barrier. I stare down the lane; it looks like an office car park or something. Shrugging I walk down and turn the corner, finding my hotel nestled in an odd little courtyard, hidden from the rest of Beijing (and mankind).

The combination of jetlag and culture shock has me buzzing by this point. I meet up with my group and our Chinese tour guide (and I am only semi-conscious) and we go out for Peking duck. My mind is racing from lack of sleep at this point; “god it’s colder here than I thought; why is it called Peking duck… I really want to go to bed but I have to have a shower when I get back… plane rides make my hair greasy… I really want to go to bed!”

Yup, and so ended my first day in China! The adventure continues 🙂

Next post: Walking Along a Wall