A Travellerspoint blog

The Quickest Way to Become a Millionaire

By Jon

This is it, the dream’s finally come true, we’re now officially millionaires! Unfortunately we’re only millionaires in Vietnam where 1,000,000VND is a little under £30 but when you can buy beer for 20pence and a meal, including drinks, for four people, for around £6, it’s easy to make your money go far. So with our newfound millionaire status we decided to do what other rich people do – book a cruise.

Our three day cruise took us around the UNESCO World heritage site, Ha Long bay, an area of 1,553 square kilometres where a dense cluster of 1,600 limestone pinnacles, topped with vegetation and peppered with caves and arches, rise spectacularly from the ocean.

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The name Hạ Long means "descending dragon" and the mythology of the place goes like this:

According to local legend, when Vietnam had just started to develop into a country, they had to fight against invaders. To assist the Vietnamese in defending their country, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade (as mystical dragons tend to do). These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. Numerous rock mountains abruptly appeared on the sea, ahead of invaders' ships and the ships struck the rocks and each other. After winning the battle, the dragons decided to live in the bay. The place where the mother dragon descended was named Hạ Long and the place where the dragon's children resided was called Bái Tử Long island.

This is the more fanciful way of saying ‘sea erosion did it’, just going to show that spin doctors were alive and well and doing their stuff many hundreds of years ago.

Getting back to the cruise, what made the trip even more enjoyable were the group of people we shared the boat with. The others already knew each other and their quintet included 3 Canadians (although one was part Filipino), an Argentinian (who lived in Canada) and a Frenchman (whose Moroccan side somehow removed the natural arrogance you’d expect to find).

Now I’ve always thought of Canadians as being a bit like New Zealanders, a kind of polite, peaceful version of their brash Australian / American neighbours. That was until I met Rose. Perhaps it was the Filipino influence but she seemed to want to mount a one-woman assault on any group of tourists who joined our boat (the tour company rotated parties daily so there were always two sets of tourists on board at the same time with their itinerary one day apart). As she plotted to repel the other passengers as they returned from their kayaking session, or practised her evil-eye stare, we felt privileged to have been allowed into her inner sanctum of friends. If Rose were an email provider she would automatically send all messages straight to junk.

In the end the limit of her war on the other passengers was shushing five Vietnamese tourists as they noisily made their way along the boat’s corridor at 10.30pm. Ironically, the loudest thing I heard from my room that night was the sound of someone shushing five Vietnamese tourists.

Anyway, her antagonistic nature, larger than life personality (especially for someone so small) and her friendly nature (to us anyway) made the trip more enjoyable and it was a pleasure to meet them all so we plan to meet up with them again for dinner tomorrow night in Hue.

The rest of our cruise consisted of several hours worth of kayaking, one beautiful sunset, fishing for squid and a visit to one of the local floating villages.

During the first afternoon we went kayaking for an hour and a half around the bay but as Sara stayed in our cabin I had to paddle the two-person kayak by myself. I would say that the three hour kayak journey the following day was made easier with Sara helping too, but she did seem to stop for rests a lot, particularly near the end. My arms and shoulders are still feeling the effects.

In the evening (after a fantastic 5-course meal of fish, shrimp, calamari and prawns – it was always fish, shrimp, calamari and prawns, though sometimes served in a different order and always cooked differently) Omar, our non-arrogant Frenchman, became an expert at the squid fishing. He was so good that on one occasion he didn’t even need to hook the squid, with the creature leaping out of the water and into the boat all by itself.

No visit to Ha Long bay would be complete without a visit to one of the floating villages in the area. Here the inhabitants are born in their floating huts, live and work on the sea and finally die, without ever stepping foot on the mainland. It’s an incredible way of life although I suspect someone from the village must have learned a few tricks of commercialization from the mainland because there’s a fully functioning pearl farm in operation and quite a well set out jewellery shop happily accepting Mastercard. As you can guess, Sara is now the owner of a few pearls.

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Posted by JonAndSara 03:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam ha_long_bay Comments (0)

Culture Shock Revisited

By Sara

After spending 3 weeks in China I can say with confidence that culture shock well and truly is alive and kicking!! I was 100% affected by it. To the extent that I was questioning my whole trip away. I will explain....

It kicked in on my first day in China when, as I mentioned in previous post, a Chinese man spat by my foot on the tube! Ewwww yuk!! I really struggled to cope with the Chinese in crowds, I hated the fact that they hocked up and spat everywhere, I hated that they pushed and tugged you to get past, I hated that they spat their food out onto the table! And I won't even mention the squat toilets! But most of all, and this was the biggest thing for me, I hated that when I smiled at them, they never ever smiled back. How unpolite I thought! Then I decided to make a game out of it and smile at everyone to see if I could get anyone to smile back. Nope! Grumpy so and so's! Well, I thought, at least I am flying the flag for Britain! That we are smiley, happy and polite people! 1 - nil to us! In your face China!!

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate the Chinese, I just hated them in crowds. I need to make this very clear because over my time there, every Chinese person I had the pleasure to meet was lovely, kind, fun, helpful and a joy to get to know. There are some characters that I will never forget.

This put me in a very weird place as I loved them and hated the situation at the same time. They got me so worked up at times but on the other hand gave me life long fond memories.

After sharing my thoughts on the crowds with a local American Girl, it turns out that Chinese people are lovely and kind to their friends and family but don't give a s**t about anyone else. That explains a lot! Come on China, let's share the love!

Luckily the culture shock died down a bit the further south we travelled, but it was still there, under my skin, bubbling away, affecting my mood and motivation. I just couldn't seem to shake it.

I did love my final destination, Yangshou, but I think it was a little bit ruined by the after affects of the previous weeks. I think that if I had started my China adventure there, things may have been different. Maybe it would have eased me into China rather than being thrown in at the deep end in Beijing.

Even though my travel in China was affected by this culture shock, I'm still glad I went there as I saw and had some truly wonderful experiences. The Shanghai skyline, the Chinese board games in the bar, the dinosaur mountains, to name a few.

Now I am in Vietnam, the culture shock has gone and I'm back on top travelling form. Phew! This might have something to do with the fact that we are staying with the most lovely friends of the family who are spoiling us with wonderful company, great Coll stories from the 90's, G&T's and lots of fabulous local food and beer! Thanks Steve and Hoa! We owe you big time! The drinks are on us next time you are on Coll!

So there you go, I was sceptic, but Culture Shock is a real thing. Be aware!!.

Posted by JonAndSara 05:34 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Best Moment of the Trip So Far

By Jon

Arsenal 3 – 2 Hull (aet)

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Ok, so there were a few teething problems to start with (and I’m not even talking about the fact Arsenal were two down within eight minutes). Finding a place to watch the FA Cup Final in a strange new country and city can be challenging, fortunately we were staying with Steve, a friend of Sara’s, and his local knowledge of Hanoi was priceless.

I had already spoken to Arsenal’s official Vietnamese Supporters group on Twitter but they were meeting quite a distance from where we were staying (not ideal for a match that would end at two in the morning) so Steve kindly phoned round a few bars to see where was showing it. The initial response was a bit worrying, the most promising places only said they hoped to show it but they weren’t sure due to licencing problems.

We decided to rely on two bars in the end, one close to Steve’s home and one further into town which eventually said they would show the match. Ensuring we had enough time to check out both places if need be we headed to the closest bar first. Good news - it had the match on and the build-up was well under way. Bad news - there was hardly anyone there. There was still half an hour before kick-off so we thought it best to try the bar in town, which according to Steve would definitely be busier. We jumped in a taxi and headed into town with the taxi driver sensing our urgency as he flashed other vehicles to get out of the way.

The second bar certainly had more atmosphere, unfortunately that was because the local rugby club were there getting boozed up and watching their own stupid sport. The manager (a fat Australian who seemed drunker than the rugby boys and had all the charm and customer service skills of a charging rhinoceros) told the Brits to stop moaning and reassured us the game would be shown. Indeed shortly after a selection of the television screens changed to ITV’s coverage (beggars can’t be choosers). Kick off time came (11pm here) and Adrian Chiles was still talking to Andy Townsend in an empty Wembley stadium. This seems a little odd, I thought, perhaps they recorded this earlier. I started to get agitated and spoke to some of the other confused Englishmen who then checked their phones to learn the match kicked off three minutes ago.

It turns out the footage in this bar was on a thirty minute delay! We hopped back into another taxi and sped back to the first bar. No atmosphere was better than having that horrible feeling that you’re half an hour behind the rest of the world when such an important event was unfolding.

We arrived at the first bar again and good news - it had filled up. Bad news though - Arsenal were two goals down. Disaster, surely we can’t chuck our chance of glory away again. We grabbed a couple of stools and after watching for a couple of minutes I didn’t feel too worried, Arsenal looked like they were playing with purpose, and I had my lucky pants on!

Then, bam, a wonderfully hit free kick from Santi Cazorla and it’s back on. I felt a 4-2 victory was on the cards.

Ok, it took a while longer than I hoped to get the win, I thought we’d get it wrapped up in normal time (I should never be that confident with Arsenal) but eventually the equaliser from Koscielny came and we headed into extra time. I dreaded the nerve-wracking torture of penalties but didn’t have to worry as the ball fell at the feet of our player of the season and Welsh wizard, Aaron Ramsey. A perfectly aimed shot guided into the near corner of the goal caused the bar to erupt and the relief flow out.
The power of the lucky pants worked again! (You can all thank me later – after all, we only went two down because I wasn't watching).

As I watched us lift our first trophy in 9 years, overwhelming joy coursed through my body and placed a smile on my face that didn’t fade until I fell asleep. And now no one can take this away - Arsenal FC – FA Cup winners 2014

Posted by JonAndSara 04:08 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi arsenal fa_cup Comments (0)

China Budget

By Sara

Surprisingly we were bang on budget for China! Even after the cocktail bars and shopping in Shanghai!

I'm hoping we will be well below budget here in Vietnam. Unless I decide to live like a princess! :-)

To be continued..,,

Posted by JonAndSara 20:36 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The night from Hell

By Sara

Three nights ago we ended up at Guangzhou airport with me about to pack in my years trip around the world, one month in, for a plane ticket straight back to London! And here's why...

Everything was going smoothly in Yangshou when we decided to purchase 2 over night sleeper coach tickets to Guangzhou. This worked out to be the most time saving and economic way of travelling to our next destination. We were informed that the sleeper coach would leave at 9pm and arrive at 6am, just in time to catch the first tube to our hostel in Guangzhou.

We were to arrive at the travel agent at 8.30pm and they would take us to the coach. All was going fine, we got on the coach, found 2 spare beds (I got lucky with a double bed at the back, had to share with a small Chinese guy, but that was fine). And settled in for the night. The bouncing of the bus was quite soothing as I lay there contemplating, listening to Nora Jones and dozing. Quite pleasant actually.

BUT THEN..... At 2am, I am startled by the bus driver making his way down the bus shouting GUANGZHOU GUANGZHOU at us. We didn't understand what was going on as we weren't due into Guangzhou until 6am... Or so we thought. After the bus driver woke everyone up, he found an English speaker on the bus to come and explain to us that we were at our destination! WTF!! It's 2am, it's pitch dark, and it's in the middle of nowhere! And nobody else was getting off the bus!!

Next thing we knew we were standing on this dodgy dark street with our bags by our feet and our coach driving into the horizon! Well you can imagine what was going through my head! This is it! I'm going to be kidnapped, and sold for slavery!! Oh god! Oh god! Oh my f***ing GOD!!

We were near a toll station and I saw a woman working there so we headed for her. I though that would be the safest option. Of course she didn't speak any English, why would she. As we speak to one other in English and Chinese, getting nowhere, along comes a male toll worker. He seems nice so I trust him. He didn't speak any English either, why would he! But we managed to get him to understand that we wanted a hotel. (All those charades finally came in handy!) He points us in the direction of a very dark alley surrounded by a pack of very scary looking men! I walked about 20 meters and said to Jon 'there is no way in hell I'm going down THAT ally way!' I will just sit here at the toll station until daylight. It's only 4 hours or so. On concrete!! 'At least it is relatively safe here'. OR until a car comes through the toll with a nice looking white family with 2.4 children.

So we head back to the toll station, by this point I am in a right state! I drop my bags to the concrete floor and plonk myself down whilst crying my eyes out. The two Chinese toll workers must have thought, what have we got here!! And are we lumbered with these two for the night?!

There was me preparing for a long hard night when a taxi driver sees his opportunity to make an easy buck, comes up to us, sees the state of me, and speaks to Jon. Now from past experiences we know that taxi drivers in China have no idea where any location is, so trying to get him to take us to our hostel would be nigh on impossible. Then I had a brainwave! Because at that very moment I was wishing I was on a plane back to the UK, THE AIRPORT I blurted out! He has GOT to know where that is! And we know that airports are always open and safe places to be. 180 Yen he said it would cost us. That's about £18. I wasn't having that, I wasn't going to get ripped off just because I was a foreigner, who couldn't speak the language, in a place I don't know, in the middle if the night.... Anyway, we managed to get him down to 100 yen. Jon and I have this great little way of getting taxi prices down and it always works! Jon haggles and then tells me the price, I say and abrupt NO, the driver sees that I'm not one to be messed with and then we agree on a reasonable price.

In hindsight, in the situation we were in, I was probably not really in a position to haggle! (I told you I was crazy!)

Anyway we get in the cab and about half an hour later we reach the airport. Not before I tell the taxi driver to turn down his ridiculous music. FACT: the Chinese can not sing!!
For a half hour taxi ride at half two in the morning, I think £10 is a very good deal! Maybe 180 Yen was appropriate after all!

As soon as I get into the airport I head straight to the 5 star airport hotel to get a room and use the wifi to book the next flight home! After the hotel quoting me over £100 for the night, I decide against the room and set up camp on the sofa with the cleaners and made a b-line for Skype. Grandads on line, thank god!!! I call him up, I'm in a right state! 'What am I doing here? What have I got myself into? How did you manage to get through 81 years of LIFE!! I wish I was eating cheese and drinking wine on your couch right now. Blah blah blah.

Grandad knows exactly what to say to make me feel better and he put everything into perspective when he reminded me that he grew up in the war hiding in bomb shelters for dear life! And then he proceeded to take the mick out if me as he always does!

Thanks Grandad, you're the best!

So instead of booking the first flight back home, I caught up on some BBC Iplayer and waited in the hotel lobby until the underground opened and looked for a very large bottle of brandy!

Posted by JonAndSara 09:46 Archived in China Comments (0)

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