A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Joewhittaker

Singapore

The city of skyscrapers!!!!

sunny 40 °C

Arriving in Singapore was one of those experiences that you cannot prepare yourself for after travelling for so long in so much poverty. I have over my travels arrived in lots of new countries and cities and in their own way they have an impact on me. Weather it is a factor of the Architecture, Economics or the culture but none shocked me, surprised me or took me back as did entering Singapore for the first time after spending 5-6 months surrounded by poverty and history. I had just left Ho Chi Minh City a city in comparison to most all actually all of the rest of Vietnam is a modern metropolis but even that had nothing on the skyscraper clad horizon which is Singapore’s skyline. Buildings illuminated like giant Christmas trees, roads so wide they look like they belong in America, gardens looking fit for royal palaces. A country that has only existed for about 50 years and is the vision of one man and yet It is part of such a big and mainly poor continent, it was amazing.

As I drove down the empty motorways of the sleepy Singapore I star out the window like a child taking in all the sights and the glamour still trying to work out if this is all a dream and I will wake up back on the airplane with kids running around and shouted conversations between people next to each other. But I am not and I head for my hostel eager to awaken the next day and explore this New York of South East Asia. A strange night of sleeping on the sofa as my bed had been double book a rise and head out to see what there is in this city.

So because of a lost e-mail and arriving at 2am I end up sleeping on the sofa of the hostel next to the loudest snorer is history after he was kicked out of his room by the other 23 people in it. Lucky my ability to sleep through almost anything comes in handing and refreshed I arise and head out to explore this strange oasis of a city. My first impression in the day is the show of richness every car that passed me by was Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Jaguar, Austin Martin and so on. It is almost like a city built around a car show.

I head to China town to discover the hustle and bustle of any normal china town, stalls selling all the fake good you could need and hawkers markers selling food of interesting and colourful variety. Then all of a sudden my faith in the country is still part of the great continent of Asia as I turn the corner and am faced with the largest Buddha Temple I have seen hidden in the folds of a city, this temple like some many in the world believing that they hold a tooth of Buddha himself, I mean really how many teeth did this man have? I head in to work out that it is half temple with 100 Buddhas lining the wall and a dish at the foot of each, where prayers come and leave 10 cents in each bowl as they walk around the temple in prayer and when you are down giving all of your money away you can walk up to the peace garden on top and sit in peace –probably because you’ve just given your cinema money away. The other half is a interesting but very edited story -or to my knowledge- of Buddha and Buddhism.

The problem with this country is that this short walk around I am already spent because the heat and sun is so intense that it makes it impossible to explore and It is now that I understand the labyrinth, the rabbit warren which is the Singapore subway system. This is a ingeniously made set of air conditioned tunnels that means that you can cross –walking or train- across the entire city without seeing daylight. The only problem is that you have to direct knowing which shopping centre is nearest where you want to go, all fine but there are hundreds.
I would love to tell you like I normally do of the fine food, and stories of weird adventure that I encounter but if I have to have to say that nothing really happened and for the first time I was around western food so went mental on Burger King, deli sandwiches and a pizza (wow). I also relaxed and learned to get used to being back in the modern world before I arrive in New Zealand. Later that week I met up with Thomas the beloved Singaporean that I met in Hanoi on is first trip out of the country alone after finishing his national service, the night ended with him breaking his face on the floor and him losing half the money he had for his grand trip. We explored the delights of Singapore and then after melting outside ran and hide in the cinema to watch the awesomingly amazing Avengers films.

My time in Singapore was only meant to 3 days, enough to have a Singapore Sling in Raffles, goggle at the Mariners Bay Sands Hotel and get used to how expensive the Westernised world really is but instead because of a fuck up with STA travel and Emirates, I currently believe I hold the record for the longest backpacker stay in Singapore of the grand time of 10 days. Well I was only meant to be there for 3 nights but thanks to the people of STA Travel UK they booked me on a flight in September and sent me the paper work for May. But it turned out for the best and I have now seen and explored every bit of the fine city/country.

I think one of the main things that I can take away from this country is that it is not just a westernised modern country but it has taken on some of the traits and kindness of the rest of Asia from what I have seen. Even the ex-pats that I met welcomed me in with open arms. It almost seems to me that all the ex-pats out there act like backpackers and it actually made it a brilliant place to be but by the end it was time to move on, an expensive country where I would love to return with money to see the other side.

Posted by Joewhittaker 15:50 Archived in Singapore Tagged cool hot feelling Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City

and the adventure to the Reunionfication Palace

sunny 30 °C

What should I pack for a world trip? What are the important items? What will I need? These questions that I am sure most people go through when preparing for a big trip. These questioned were only answered for me while sitting at the bus stop in Dalat with Annie waiting for the bus wondering how to survive the journey ahead. The answer came to me light a cartoon light bulb over my head, I suddenly remembered what was sitting at the bottom of my bag wait patiently wait like a good friend waits in the wings. The item was a small bottle of Gin I bought in India and never drunk. The reason I bring this up is not because of some obscure backpack inventory but because it was the time that I created the ‘Travellers Emergency Survival Kit’. Like all good survival kit it is important to keep with you at all times and used only in an Emergency… or boredom. These items in this kit will help you through the stress and strain of the life on the road and these items are;

Emergency Gin
Emergency Biscuits*

To no surprise after a bottle of gin, cognitive functions are a little slowed. So when we arrive in Ho Chi Minh City at 3:30am about 5km away from the centre it took us a while to work out what the hell was happening and where we were –local buses don’t always drop the same place as tourist buses, remember that! The confusion was heightened when we arrived in the centre to find a city like none in Asia I have come across. It was 4.30am the city was still alive with people drinking in bars and on the street, food stores still seeing food, you have to remembering every other city I have been in Vietnam shut down by 11pm and now I am now in the city that never sleeps (well it’s more of a tourist street that never sleeps). The night gets more bizarre when Annie and I choose hostel at random and checked in to room to only find the people we had kept meeting and became friends with during our travels together. Josh, James, John, Burt and Buster.

Being in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) was a great thing because it was good to get back to being a normal tourist. After a needed sleep we headed out to explore the new city. We headed out for the reunification palace the place of the last stand of the American Army, the place that confirmed the independence of the country, so of course on Vietnamese Independence Day the place was of course closed for government ceremony… well done Joe. So instead we headed for St Joseph Cathedral. After that we decided to head for the War Remnants Musuem, formally called The Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression –which may give an idea to the sort of things I saw. I won’t go into the stuff I saw as I won’t do justice for a fantastic but horrific museum but I will describe my reaction afterwards. I walked out of the building and just collapsed on the stairs and for about 20 minutes just stared into the void. I am not sure who said it but someone turned a said “should we get drunk” the only thing that would get us out of this slump.

The next day start off with a bit of déjà vu as we headed for the Reunionification Palace to find out that today we were too late for the palace so once again to head off, disappointed very much like the Americans were all those years ago I can imagine. After this lost we head back to the Bui Vien (the street where we stayed) to regroup and work out what to do. Instead of heading back out we went for food and meet up with Marji and Annabelle, even more people and that night enjoyed the delights of the crazy lam cocktail and the night club Apocalypse Now that finished the night with the theme tune to the film, which in my mind was bad taste but I think that was the flash backs of the war museum. I say I went to the night club but spent most of the tie outside of the club in the street bar with Annie and then went into dance before heading out to drink more on the street.

The next day will decide not to try the Reunionfication Palace but instead headed out of the city for the Cu Chi Tunnels the war tunnels that befuddled American’s and made me see sides of Josh Lynn that not even his wife what’s to see. Let me explain, the original tunnels were so small that I struggled to fit my leg in but they expanded the tunnel for the fat western tourist to experience the feeling of the Viet Con so in tight, hot, sweaty conditions you like around to the drop that you just scaled down to see Josh in a interesting position and you wonder about all the strange situation that you have been in is this the strangest? And when the next situation will come? Well that was when we were cooling ourselves and get caught topless in the middle of a forest pouring water over ourselves by our guide and females who did not venture down the tunnels. This is also the place where after so much war you can still pay to shot a rifle, so the tunnels feelings is greatened by the sound of a AK-47 being fired somewhere in the distance… spookby the sound of a AK-47 being fired somewhere in the distance… spook as.

That night we as a group had our last drinks together a night of laughter and good times, one of the most memorial nights of Vietnam and the night where I paid for 45 beers with one note. 450,000dong about £16 about $24 for the foreigners out there. I wake up the next day so see off everyone and am left for the first time in a month and I feel lost without Annie on my side. But freedom has got on positive as I head to the Reunionfication Palace and at last make it in, yay I hear you say and head for the airport – destination Singapore!!!

But I would like to say how much I have loved and enjoyed Vietnam, the people so welcoming, the country so beautiful and the first country that I have visited that when learning about the history I don’t feel bad about being British and for that I thank America and France.

  • Items are exchangeable to personal preference!

Posted by Joewhittaker 02:52 Archived in Vietnam Tagged saigon Comments (0)

The great escape

Dalat and beyond

sunny 29 °C

So I have to admit that I have been very slack since I last updated this blog and I am going to regret it as I think I probably have lost some of my faithful follows –which these days there are a few- but it is at last time to stop partying here in Auckland, dust off the old diary, pull up the pictures and finish my time in Vietnam and Singapore. Thank you for staying with me and I will do my best at stay up to date for you my readers, I promise…hopefully!!!

So last time I left you I was in central Vietnam, in the lovely seaside town of Nha Trang with my good friend Annie McIntosh and my bad friend the hangover! As I believe I said before Nha Trang was wonderful and fun, but only for a couple of days. The thing with me is that there is only a limited amount of time that I can spend on a beach before the level of boredom grows so much that I have to leave before I start playing games like how long can I hope my head under water just to pass time, two days was that limit this time around –it changes- and there wasn’t much more to do here. Also it is said to admit but my visa is running out for Vietnam and if I am not careful Ho Chi Ming City (formally Saigon) will be missed.

The problem with the way that I have been travelling in Vietnam and most of my travelling before is that I have a plan on where to go next but I don’t book until I am ready to go, normally the day of travelling. This plan has never failed me, well until now! Annie and I went to the bus station to book are next bus later that day to find out that it was fully booked. Now one thing that I haven’t mentioned is that all the buses that I have booked have not been full, some fuller than others and it seemed strange but didn’t think about. After a couple more full buses we decided to book a car and driver to drive us to Dalat (about a 4-5 hour drive) and I admittedly it was a strange and rushed decision but it only cost $30 between us and it was time to leave before I had another night out like the first. So after a interesting car journey with a driver who didn’t talk, some of the worst fog I have ever seen and a CD collection that was selected out of the finest wedding DJ’s ‘cheesy’ selection we arrived in the hill top town of Dalat to find out the reason for the lack of transport to there was due to the Vietnamese Independent Day celebration that is swamped by all locals to get out of the cities. Now when I say Dalat was busy, I really mean busy like Notting Hill carnival is and it wasn’t so much a case of finding a cheap room, at one point I thought it was a case of finding a dry spot to sleep but eventually we found a room and when we were walking to the basement I thought it was the last room in town situation but it was lovely with two double beds and a floodable bathroom. That night we went for food and drinks and the strangest thing happened, at 10 o’clock like most of Vietnam the streets emptied even though they were on holiday.

The next morning we worked out that the chances of getting a second night in this town was slim to none and it was time to bail on Dalat and head for the safety for the city and booked are bus tickets out for there ASAP. The rest of the day -as you can probably guess- was spent an the back of a motorbike whizzing around hills of Dalat like most places in Vietnam. One of the best things we found, or at least entertained me the most, was a waterfall that when inside offered Zebra riding, and even though a little out the ordinary and against at least one international law was amazing to my little mind. But I went looking and I looked and I saw it appearing from the other side of the waterfall I saw a child on the back of a Zebra and I ran to it, I ran and you know what I saw? I’ll tell you I saw poor beautiful white horse with black paint. The best thing about this is when I found the retired horse which I believe helped EL James come up with the title for his best selling book as because of the rain was really a 50 shades of horrible grey.

Heading back to Dalat after our day we encounted the worst traffic ever and had to feed my way around bikes, cars, buses and lorries. Made worse by the screaming Annie on my back and the angry drivers behinds the wheels. How ever I survive and that night we boarded the bus with emergency gin, Pringles and a Ipod –the bus journey survival kit- and headed to Saigon at the back of the bus and let the singing and drinking begin and as I have always said emergency gin is the key to happy traveller.

Posted by Joewhittaker 16:31 Archived in Vietnam Tagged dalat Comments (0)

Nha Trang

sunny 42 °C

During my travels I would like to think that already I have delved myself into many aspects of the traveller’s life. I mean looking back on the trip I have done so much, I have climbed mountains and swim in seas, explored forts and found spirituality in temples, followed pilgrimages and watched a hundred splendid sunrises give birth to a hundred new days. But I am now in Nha Trang and a new aspect to the traveller’s is now starting on the horizon. Now I am by the sea and I have entered the party town of Vietnam. I think the way to describe the wonders of this town is to start with the lounge area of the backpackers, a military hospital for the soldiers of the drink, laying wounded from the previous nights battle recovering for another siege of the night life in the evening or ready to ship out to another town. The beach on the other hand is a long sandy beach with crystal clear water. On arrival we decide that the heat and travel has taken its toll and it is a day for book, sun and surf, so we put on a trunks and head for the beach ready for a hard day of R&R. A word of advise though, this is also the day that I gave ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ to Annie for her to read–a brilliant book that everyone should read. The only problem is that this well written book brought her to tears on several occasions and apparently girls will watch “the Notebook” and happy cry but not so happily on the beach, you have been warned!

The next day was when I got back on track to my travelling routine. After a fun night out with a group that seemed stupidly big for the fact that it only really started with three of us, I wake up and head out at 8am to go and see what this town this has offer except beach, bar crawls and road works (oh yeah forgot to say “man there are a lot of road works!”. I am surprised by how easy it is to get away from the westernised centre and before I know it I was standing next to a 26ft Buddha looking over Nha Trang taking in the splendor of the town and the tranquility of the area and all of this while struggling for air because it is 10.30am and it is already 42˚C and I have climbed what feels like a mountain. It is strange as I sat up there watching the prayers and the monks and I started wondering out of the hundreds of backpackers that come through this town, how many people come to this quiet point a short walk from the centre, but then again this town is for drinking for tourist and anyway I wouldn’t have my peaceful spot if it was overrun with people in vests and flip flops. I really enjoyed my day by myself and when I got back to the hostel about 4pm I felt less guilty when it meant going out that night.

My regular readers are probably asking the question by now “Joe you haven’t been on a motorbike for ages, is everything alright?” and the answer to that is yes I am perfectly fine actually great and today I am back in the saddle, with Annie on my back and we head to the hills. First stop Po Nagar Cham Towers a collection of the Buddhist temples, I would like to admit that the reason I went to this temple was to further my knowledge and education of the Buddhist religion or to experience the ritual of pray in a different part of the world, or to see the splendor of the temples, this is all true but sadly not the main reason. The main reason came the previous day when deciding what to do the next day and my good friend Josh turns to me and says I went to a temple that looks like a penis, done! Later that day in a small village about 5-6 miles outside of Nha Trang we come to another temple and go and have a look, next before we know it we are being attacked by the tiny dog and unsure what to do we turn and run. I ask the question, how do you stop and an attacking dog and when has a dog that small ever attacking anyone? So I can cross of the party town from the list of experiences and leave for Dalat happy in the knowledge that I had fun, made more friends, survived another animal attacking and saw a temple that looked like a penis in the childish minds of the travelling 20 somethings!

Posted by Joewhittaker 22:46 Archived in Vietnam Tagged nha trang Comments (0)

Hoi An

the town of Tailors

sunny 35 °C

So Hoi An, the town of tailors, you would have all seen it and heard of it from the Top Gear Vietnam special, the place famous for making Jeremy Clarkson look like a massive aubergine and proving once again James May is the most English man on TV. The place is funny because like a lot of the places that I have been in Vietnam it is got it normal amount of backpackers and other tourist but it is one of the few places where you can’t really tell, by looking as everyone is so smartly dressed unlike the normal tatty westerners you normally get. This is because everyone –and I mean everyone- buys suits and dresses in this town, so even though it is about 35 °C+ outside you still see people walking around in fine suits and dresses just because they can. You walk into a dorm and instead of being confronted by the normal scene of drying laundry, lonely planet guide books and the sleeping guy (which is a requirement for all hostel dorm rooms) you are confronted with suit bag, tailored shoes and of course laundry, lonely planets and sleeping guy. But even though it doesn’t work in my head it does not look weird as Hoi An. Hoi An is a beautiful town, it is one of the few reminders of the French presence in this country but with a strange twist of the Chinese mixed in, the streets are cobbled and you do feel like you are walking around in a town that has forgot that the 20 century happened and just started with the 21st. It is the sort of place that you feel you should make an effort in like going to Paris or Rome. You walk down the quaint little streets that seem to have not changed a years and then you almost get run over by a scooter or turn the corner and see a mobile phone store and your brought back to the modern day and it just looks wrong. But it is these strange differences that make me like it a little bit more. It has character where you so easily could have lost it.

So that is the town, as for what I got up to is a bit of a different matter, it is one of those quiet towns that is a bit of a void, I am not saying that there is nothing to do, completely the opposite but it has this air around it that makes you feel relaxed and not a get up and go feeling, but that maybe because of the heat! I am not the only victim of it, lots of people like me get there and stop. I walked around and poked around shops and in the evening had a few drinks, I know it is not much to write home about and the makes terrible reading but I can’t understate how nice it is to once in a while find a town where can just stop and you don’t feel bad for it. I did not fall prey when I was there to buying a suit, I wish I had but the amount of weight I have lost already this year and the amount I am planning on losing now, it would be pointless because by the time I get to wear it, it won’t fit me anyway but it does make me feel like I have missed out in a big part of the Vietnam experience so I do have to go back and finish of the experience. It was only on the last day, the day of leaving that I really got back in to the travelling, I booked a tour to the My Son (pronounced Me S-on), a set of ruins of Hindu inspired temples built by the Champas and destroyed by the Americans B-52 bombers because they believed that the Viet-cong where hiding there (they weren’t) and now it’s just a waste land with a story. This was some of the worst hit areas of that war and still has it scares today. It is so easy in this country to forget about how bad their history is and it is a credit to the nation and especially the people that after all they have gone through they still welcome the west with open arms and will do so much for you despite their painful past.

Next stop Nha Trang and the beach!

Posted by Joewhittaker 23:20 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hoi an Comments (0)

Da Nang

and the curious case of the old motorbike!

rain 25 °C

It is the time to move on from Hue and head south for new adventures. It is this morning that locked Annie and myself as travelling partners for the rest of our trip to Ho Chi Minh City (formally Saigon), going from people that are travelling in the same direction to people that are ‘travelling together’. There is a time when you start to think that a bus pass isn’t the worst idea in the world, this time happened to be at the same time for the two of us. So we ordered it at the same time which it meant that the receptionist believe that two people would be travelling on one ticket (one male and one female, easy mistake to make) and not a problem, we have the same time frame and what to go to the same places. It was only when we got on the bus and were leaving that we worked out the mistake and even though we were travelling together for the time being and Annie wasn’t my first spontaneous travelling partner I had, it still was a strange feeling when you realise you have been thrown together beyond your control.
Do it was a miserable day when we arrived in Da Nang, late afternoon. Now Da Nang is not one of those normal stops that everyone makes when they are travelling Vietnam but it did not stop us. After the win that we had from finding Ninh Binh we thought why not? But these decision are not made without the aid of the handy guide book, a tool of great power in the right hands can do so much good. We heard of this up and coming town of Da Nang. Where the night life and restaurant scene was the newest in Vietnam… well! But this is what I love about travelling, that when you are one of those people that head off and try new things. People that go away from the tourist areas and get conned by the clever travel talk, you will find if nothing else a new photo point, but it could be a hidden gem. What I am trying to say is that people will always tell you that sayings like ‘up and coming’ and ‘lively atmosphere’ in guide books are words to avoid. I tell you, no implore you to ignore them. Because Da Nang wasn’t want I expected but I wouldn’t have missed it now. The first night we ate in a place called ‘Pizza Hug’ –how sweet is that- and then lay on our double bed, because there was no hostel and sharing is cheaper and eat wrong taster cheetos and watched movies because the lively night scene shuts at 10:30. I know it doesn’t sound much but it was our adventure.
The next day was even better, it was one of the strangest days that I have had travelling. After a breakfast of Beef Pho we decided that it was time to rent a motorbike and head for Monkey Mountain. So we headed back to the hotel to ask where we could get on from and this was the funniest thing the women just gave us her keys and we borrowed helmets from a friend of hers, helmets that didn’t real fit and a bike that didn’t really go, but we took it anyway and headed off for another motorbike adventure. Now Monkey Mountain (named because from the sea looks like monkey ears, whatever they look like) and is as you expect a mountain, the trustworthy guide books says that you need a big engine bike to make it up, the problem was that we had a very old 50cc scooter with a basket on the front and questionable brakes. It also was too small for me and I struggled to change gear, so every change almost throw Annie off the back and at some points I believe we could have walked up quicker. I don’t know how but somehow we made in a mixture of screaming engine and laughing riders. When we did get to the top we came across a group of riders with their Harley Davison’s and other more suitable bike, the worst thing is that a guy walked out of the group and nodded at us. I felt like a biker and almost like I had achieved something getting this bike up this hill. But embarrassed I drove past and parked but Honda Wave II apart. I was at this point when we had gone for a walk that for the third time on this trip I got stopped with a man with a gun and left the area sharpish because apparently the old American radar systems are still currently the Vietnamese radar systems and men with guns don’t like white men with cameras walking near them… I wonder why?
That evening it when we went to leave we worked out that 4 and 5 on a phone in a Vietnamese accent sound the same, so we missed the bus. So we checked into a hotel and paid for another room, the funny thing about this hotel was the owner refused to give us a double room. Started saying that it had to be twin or separate rooms. The only hotel I have come across to date that believe unmarried people should not share a bed, it was the sweetest thing. That night we decided we should leave the hotel and enjoy the night life. We found this great restaurant and eat hotpot* and drunk beer. This was a great restaurant with a waitress who only smiled when she was with us and seemed to get as much joy from serving us as we did being served. I think it was the big genuine smile and open heart that won me over and because of this we were there for a good three and a half hours if not more. There is something to be said about being a tourist outside the normal places. I have had it all over the world and it makes me smile when I look back and think of the waiting staff and shop keepers who probably are talking about this strange white man from England and makes them laugh as much as I am telling you about them. That night we found a bar that was open and had some drinks and befriended a crazy local who liked to dance and then accidentally walked off without paying the bill. Basically what I am saying is I wouldn’t have had this night and these memories if I had gone with the group. Follow an unwritten path in your life and see where life takes you!!!

  • Not a Lancaster Hotpot but a Vietnamese dish that includes meat and fish in a pot in the middle of the table on a single hob. One of those meals that last for ages when you talking.

Posted by Joewhittaker 19:13 Archived in Vietnam Tagged da nang Comments (0)

Helpful advise to budding travellers!!!

There are always certain rules that you have to follow to survive any type of foreign travel. Some times these rules are general and count to everyone, some times they are gender or age specific and some times they are personal ones created from experience. These rules are for safety, health and sanity reasons. There is no book out there to places all these rules in one place (there are too many and most are common sense) and the fun of travelling is to make your own set of rules, especially when your travelling on your own. But for some reason I have rules and yes I keep ignoring them. Not serious ones but the main sanity rules and this point is close to my heart and has affected lots of travellers before me and will strike again, I am only trying to help. One of my personal rules is never give into food cravings as you always want western food! Don’t get me wrong I am not a preacher saying when in Asia only Asian food –these people just annoy me- but western food in Asia is never going to be as good as it is back home, because the people who make it don’t grow up western food so why would they know home to make it as well as a chef in England, they wouldn’t. ‘But why not give into your cravings?’ I hear you ask and that is were sanity comes in. It comes in here, so I wake up and to date I have been away for 107 days (I haven’t counted, I am keeping a journal (actually not sure what’s worse). That is 107 days with no real western food except for a slip up involving Ronald McDonald and a Chicken Mariaja mac –I felt dirty and it was awful- so I woke up this morning craving baked beans on toast, which they happen to do on the menu at the hostel, whoopee. It is here that my morning took a turn for the worst. As the waitress presents the food in front of me, like a contestant on Master Chef in front of the judges, I take my knife and fork into the sweet look breakfast of champions and then like a sledge hammer my depression hits me, the beans are rubbish and the toast is that sweet bread they have outside of the UK. My day and my happiness crumbles around me. But luckily I have my friends around to support me… HA!

So the moral of the story kids is this. Never get your hopes up at home food will travelling! I hope this little message can help some poor hungover smuck before we have another victim of ‘home food fever!’

Posted by Joewhittaker 22:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hue

sunny 35 °C

Hue, at long last this town is what travelling is all about. It is what every women, man and child who packs their backpacks and set off to a foreign country to find. I mean I have found a couple of places that has some of these characteristics but none even touch on the perfects that is Hue. I am not talking of the town or the activities that you can do but I am talking about the joys in the name. I mean it has got endless joke material for a name. I mean image the hours of fun I have had with where's Hue? It's a long Hue away from. Which Hue is it? and so one. It is perfect and I was very happy, it was a gift from the people of Vietnam.

There are sometimes of this travel that I look back on and feel like I am dreaming and there are some of those times that I have to pinch myself to check if I am dreaming. This is one of those times, as I awake I look outside of the window and my eyes full on one of those scenes that you only see in movies. I look out of my window and see a site that takes my breath away. The sun's rays turning the sky into a watercolour, the clouds bathed in pinks, yellows and reds and the light reveals a sea of green paddy fields with cow and buffalo looking up and welcoming the sun. I lay back on my bed and watch as the world drives past me and I smile and think about how luck I am... I just found the last Oreo and Annie is asleep and I don't have to be a gentleman and offer it, win!

I think I am going to stop tell you people about the constant fights to get off the bus I go through every time that I alight from every bus and just say this; Everyone warns you about touts in India, about how they won't leave you alone and will follow you down the street harassing you in every new town that you arrive at but I mean seriously give me Indian touts any day of the week. Vietnam touts and taxis are savage and persistent. The worst thing about it is that no one warns you about Vietnam, warn me about India why don't you, tell me to be careful in Bangkok about ladyboys and about dark alleys in New York but not even a mention for Vietnam. So I hear will be the first to stand up to the plate and say, be careful in Vietnam or you will be in a '5 star' hotel with a recently bought wife and coffee that has been digested by a weasal -but that's a story for another time! As another hint when you have taken on my information then travel with an inexperienced traveller to lose the more desperate touts... thanks Annie!

I loved Hue it was such a peaceful, beautiful town... on one side of the river. The other side was a manic mondern town with all the traffic and noise of the other side. the quiet side is a beautifully restore historical old city with a Imperial Palace, sadly destroyed the war of Independence from the French and The American War. But is slow being restored to its former glory.
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As normal I dropped off my bag and set out to explore the town. The one problem with this was that by the time I had explored a little bit of it I was ready to collapse in a pool -no lake of my own sweat! But one thing I have always worked out that where ever in the word you are when you are hot and sweaty there vis always a man with a beer, but not always peanuts!

That evening after more exploring Annie and I wondered to the bar to have some drinks to find out that it was 2-4-1 cocktail night in any place that is dangerous but when they are 25,000dong each (about 76pence or $1.19) some one should have at least a safety notice. Also another warning is to never turn a children's game and turn it into a drinking game! I did this with UNO and I quickly worked out several things while playing, 1) you can get a lot of people to play without even inviting them 2) it works really well and 3) never do it, it corrupts the game for ever and not even to mention the affect of alcohol! This was sadly followed by myself befriending Lucky a Vietnamese bar tout who likes to give flaming sambuca and at that point I called it a night and sent myself home.

The next day was a beach day, my first since Goa and a needed day. I tanned, read and eat Ice Cream. The joys about losing so much weight that you don't even feel bad about eating ice cream and it taste so much better. That night was a easier night and also was the night I met Josh Lynn, the only man that plays pool as bad as I do. But more about him later.

Posted by Joewhittaker 00:47 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hue Comments (1)

Ninh Binh

Tam Coc And Annie McIntosh

sunny 25 °C

I know I have talked about the joys of watching a Asian -in fact any city- come alive in the morning but I can't think of many places better to watch from than a road side cafe. When the sun grows in the streets fill with people. Motorbikes and scooters fill the streets and the once quiet peaceful streets are replaced by the beating heart of the city. The energy fills your senses and you feel a part of the city. I only tell you this because this feeling that I get is normally a exciting tingle I get, a catalyst to start exploring, but this day it did not. The energy was there but it was only then that I felt that even though I was going to miss this city, it was time to move on! But where to?

After we where kicked off at the road side of our destination and find a hotel, we head out for a couple of drinks and try and get a feel for the town. We find a bar and go in, this little waitress turns up with the biggest smile on her face which slowly turns to terror when we start to order in English. She was the sweetest thing but every time she came to our table the look of a rabbit caught in the headlights came over her face but she was so nice and tried so hard it has engrained her in my heart forever because of how sweet she was just by the look of terror from white people.

It was all the way up to mid morning until I decided where my next destination was going to be heading. Though it did take me a while to choose my destination it was no surprise to me that location. I was heading for Ninh Binh -pronounced Nin Bin- and not for any other reason but for the fact the name is some fun to say (say it ten times out loud and you'll see). Not only did I decide that I was going to Ninh Binh but so did Annie McIntosh decide to come with me, how this happened is a little unclear and has become a source of disagreement with Annie and I for sometime now -to give away a spoiler we travelled together for a while- and one that has never been solved. What happened was when I came up with the idea of going to Ninh Binh (have you said it out loud yet? Fun?) I turned to Annie and told her that she should come with me, but she swears blind that is was the other way round. Anyway after a day of drinking and farewells to Reid, Endaf and Carman we find ourselves at the bus stop heading for Ninh Binh. This was the most bizarre bus journeys ever, includung UNO, climbing around the top bunks like monkeys and oreos (but not all at once) as well as commentary on.

Before I get head of myself like always let me introduce Annie Georgina McIntosh;
Annie McIntosh

Annie McIntosh


vital information is she is 24 from Teddington, England. Studied drama at university and IS going to kill me for using this photo when I return to the UK.

In the morning we went for breakfast and it dawned on me after all these months of travelling that breakfasting in Asia is a strange business when it comes to what you eat (if you want to live like the locals). In one of my first entries that I will never get used to eating spice in the morning but I was wrong and now embrace having chillies and chilli sauce in the morning, seems like toothpaste and a burning mouth really do go hand in hand. Must be the equivalent of the western toothpaste and orange juice taste people get most breakfasts. But back to Ninh Binh that's where I was, how do I describe this place to you? Well it consists of a big road going straight through the centre and some buildings and lots of dust. When I first saw it that morning, I was wondering where the hell I had sent myself and brought someone to come with me. It was meant to be beautiful but except for the friendly locals that did not have much English (a couple I had better Vietnamese that they had English (which is saying something) it didn't have much going for it. But I have always travelled positively and try and find the diamonds hidden in the dirt, and I am so glad that I did. After a little research we worked out that it is mainly Vietnamese tourist and not foreign tourist that come to these parts, which explains how we are the only white people and the lack of accommodation. Also it seems that all of the sights, scenes and activities are outside of Ninh Binh in and even funnier place called Tam Coc. So I did -again- is to rent a motorbike and myself and Annie set of with a not very good map hand drawn map, a rough idea of where I am going, half a tank of petrol and a sense of adventure in my heart (and probably doubt in Annie's).

After a scenic route we find Tam Coc and the National Park, a collection of hills that are like the ones in Ha Long Bay but in land. After a couple of temples we take a ride on a boat where the women famously row with their feet and less famously don't believe that a guy and girl cannot be a couple. It was a lovely day and I am so glad I was wrong about my first impression it was one of those places that people never go to, completely off the tourist track and beautiful unruined by tourism and also another great day of riding around on a motorbike. I insist that anyone going to Vietnam stops of, even just for a day to view this amazing place. I would like to have stayed longer but it was time to move on to Hue.

Posted by Joewhittaker 19:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged ninh binh Comments (1)

Sapa

Mú?

sunny 25 °C

So where next in Vietnam? My next stop is Sapa a mountain town north of Hanoi! Sapa is little market town with villages from the local tribal villages in the hills mingling around in traditional dress and trying to sell you EVERYTHING, you are not even off the bus –at 6am I would like to point out- and they bombard you with question and bags and everything except for coffee and breakfast which is the only thing I actually want after that bus journey.

Endaf, Reid and myself get a hotel room and decide that we don’t have the energy to hike to day so instead we decide to explore in the only way that three guys know how! Before we know it we are kitted with three motorbikes, three helmets and the worst road map ever! Leaving Sapa behind we head to the hills west and have a days riding that even the most experienced riders would have loved, going through valleys and little villages with backdrops that make you stop and stare every 5 minutes. We can to a village and get flagged down by this women signaling food outside her restaurant –I say restaurant- and decide it was time for lunch. Remembering I have only been in the country for only a week and everywhere I have been has been full of English speakers. So when it came to ordering I could definitely see that the woman was unsure how we were going to order anything. To her surprise and to mine if I have to be honest when I turned and two noodle soups in Vietnamese and she understood, I smile spreads across her face and off she runs and returns minutes later with our order and a look of 'did I do good?' written over her face. One of the things I have got used to since being travelling is that I always go off the tourist trail and always attract a crowd wondering why a white person is there. So by the time it came to leaving we have an audience. A perfect time to almost drop my bike and then struggle to start it.

Through out the countries I have visited on this trip and on previous trips I have always managed to be invited into people homes and to my joy we are sat back in Sapa and start talking to a local tribal woman by the name of Mú who invites us the next day to come to her house, stay with her family and see how they live. Mú lives in the hills over looking a valley outside Sapa. The next morning we head off to the hills and our home for the night. We arrive to this little hut that over looks the families paddy fields and a grand sprawling valley below. After we eat lunch I like the person I am offer the three of us to come and help plough the paddy fields. Mú was not only putting us to shame but she was doing it was a baby tied to her back and it was only this point that we work out that she is also with child as well. I as gentlemen make her sit down and rest while we finish the work –not there was much left. At dinner last night we get to meet the husband and extended family who come and meet us and introduce us the local drink of happy water, homemade rice wine which does exactly what it says on the tin. We spend the laughing and chatting with everyone. The one problem is no one but Mú speaks English but that has never stopped me before!

We arrive back in the town we are greeted from the normal chorus of “you buy from me” that fills the streets of Sapa from dawn to dusk but it changes when you return to “why you not buy from me?” and you are swamped with everyone trying to sell us everything they have. We run off to the safety of the hotel and collapse on the bed.
On the way back from Mú’s we bump into Carman (Hong Kong) and Thomas (Singapore) to people we met on our travels and arrange to go for a drink with them that night, Carman brings along a friend of her’s called Annie (England) and we head out for a drink. One thing that always happens to me when I am travelling is I always end up in the strangest bars and this time is no exception as I slowly work out when I take the others into Why Not? Bar which is of course run by the Mafia. All I can say to that is it can only happen to me.

The next day it was the time that we (the rapidly growing group) decided it was time to actually explore Sapa itself. The problem with exploring Sapa itself is you see most of it walking from bar to bar, or even getting anywhere actually. So grabbing a tourist map we head for the Cat Cat waterfalls. After a short walk down to the water full, which included a lot of stairs –who ever thought there was so many stairs in Asia- we sat at the bottom with a look of well what now. Then out of the blue Reid stands up takes of his top and flip flop, climbs of the safety chain and jumps into the water, with a look of smugness mixed with a shock with the unexpected feel of cold water. We all follow suit and sit in the water have a group sing along of Total Eclipse of the Heart and enjoying the sun! When we eventually climb out and decided that it was time for lunch. So we turned to the stairs, there is nothing worse than the thought of climbing stair after sitting in a waterfall I can tell you that. But like a miracle three motorbike taxis appear and the six of us climbing on a head for lunch. I think this probably was the funniest bike journey to date, not only did we have get off and walk the first 30 metres because the bike couldn’t make it up, we then struggled up the hill probably breaking the gears.

It was time to leave Sapa and head south from this point on, like all of my best plans I am leaving one place with no really idea where I want to go yet so we board the sleeper bus again and head once again back to Hanoi. The bus journey was an interesting journey I think the best ways to describe the sleeper buses is to describe the bed. The beds are about 5ft 7” long and don’t lay flat but instead you sit at a strange 45 degree angle. But on this bus we worked out that we could sleep at the back of the bus and the two tallest Endaf and myself have the two aisle beds and we can all sleep comfortably until the guy that was sitting next to me turned up. I huge guy about 6ft 7 and weight to match who then slept on my shoulder for the whole 10 hours and for good measure snored in my ear for good measure. I have never been so happy to get off a bus in my life.

Posted by Joewhittaker 16:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged sapa Comments (0)

Ha Long Bay

rain 25 °C

So I think one of the things you work out when you have been travelling for three months is that you don't always need a tour to do the touristy things and you don't always have to have a plan to have a great time, among other things. So I take the lead and talk two guys (Endaf and Reid (a Canadian I picked up) and we board a boat to Ha Long Bay in search of a boat and a good time!

So we turn up to Ha Long Bay City to find it rain -first rain on my since leaving England- and quickly work out that there is a reason why people book tours to the bay and not come to the City. In the evening we go out for a beer and after about an hour of looking we come across -probably- the only bar. Even though there is a excess of Hotels and even more being built. When we awake in the morning we head out in search of tours and breakfast to find it is still raining. The problem is that we are finding tours but these are $300+ luxury tours so when we find a tour for more our budget we jump at it. That evening we head off in the different direction and after an even longer walk to turn back up to the bar from the night before and give in and stay there again.

So the next day we head for the harbour and the boat. I think I am going to get the moaning out of the way in one go. The tour was shocking, we were treated like cattle and only confirmed my dislike for packaged tours -Done! So the Islands themselves were so beautiful, I would even say breathtaking isn't over the top. This maze of mountains peaking out of the sea like a flooded mountain range. One of the activities at we did was to kayak, and a majestic time was spent padding around the Islands -beer in hand of course! The rest of the pleasant mix of drinking chatting and a completely out of character trait of sing karaoke!

So the next day -needless to say- I was a bit tender, must have been something I ate and we leave the boat to Cat Ba Island. First on the list is to climb a mountain. Myself being the high intelligent person I am in that time in the morning decided that flip flops are a suitable choice of foot wear and head up the hill. I arriving at the hope I can safely say that I was hating life at this time. and feel on a rock and sat there in a sweaty heap wondering at wont point us climbing the mountain was involved in our agreement to not climb the flaming thing. I can at least say that I was entertainment to all up there and can confirm that there is enough photos of me from strangers for you all to see one. One the way down it I removed my flip flops and walked down the hill in a better mood and reached the bottom muddy footed and ady some would say to face the world again. I left the Island with to things on my minds. One that I think I have seen some of the most beautiful scenery at see I will ever see and two I was right not to like tours!

Posted by Joewhittaker 23:46 Archived in Vietnam Tagged long ha Comments (0)

Hanoi

and the start of Vietnam.

sunny -30 °C

So one of the joys, the pleasures if you will with flying as cheaply as possible is that once in a while you have a long lay over on flights between destinations. I mean I have heard of nightmare 30 hours stuck in airports and no visa to go to the city luckily mine was not that bad. I had 7 hours in Bangkok airport, the joys of Thailand is that being British you get a free visa, you turn up and they let you in with no questions for 30 days. Which meant that my plans of to enter Bangkok and explore for a couple of hours and return for my flight with another city ticked off the list. The problem started with the fact that I can't sleep on planes, I don't understand how anyone in there right mind can sleep sitting up for when I turned up to Bangkok airport I had been awake for 24 hours and was in no mood to explore anything except the inside of my eyelids. So for 7 hours I sat in the Airport nodding off and jolting awake to terror of being robbed or kick out of the airport and not being allowed back in. I finish the remaining of the time sitting in the departure lounge drinking red wine and talking to a bored looking barman!

So after many hours of travelling, many years of planning and thinking about and the addition of a watched top gear episode I have arrived in Vietnam and from the very start it does not disappoint. From the moment I step out of the Terminal and walk towards the bus I am almost hit by a motorbike. When I arrive in the city centre it becomes even worse and when I go to cross the road I work out the the Green Cross Code goes completely out of the window in a country like this. The best bit advise I got was the best way to cross a road is to shut your eyes and walk at the same speed, not that I was willing to shut my just took a massive step and kept walking while the bikes flew around you like standing in a stampede! And before I knew it I was on the other kerb -sidewalk for the American's out there- unsure how I got through alive!

After a walk around the city I find a hostel, the Hanoi Central Backpackers to be exact, the one that happens to have an hour of free beer -a luck coincidence- and decide that it is probably time to get a little sleepy. But of course like all the best plans of mice and men it is ruined by the introduction of a Welshman called Endaf pronounced En-dav and an invite to beer. To no one surprise I fell a sleep after 42 hours of being awake fully clothes -including my shoes!

The next couple of days are spent exploring this new capital which I believe is either designed on a maze or is actually forever changing as I have never got so lost in my life. An endless supply of twisting alleyways and tight streets. All with a hundred motorbikes and shoppers. The colours and sounds are music that plays along with the movie which is everyday life. On every street corner people sit and drink iced coffee and smoke cigarettes or enjoy a beer. This city has a very Asian feeling to it and in it's own way creates peace from madness. The beer that I am talking about is a fresh beer called Bia Hoi and weighs in at around 3%, it is a daily brewed beer at cost from 10p-30p a glass. It is a light and refreshing beer, it is also a good why of chatting to the locals and watching the world go by.

I can safely say that I was very taken by the city of Hanoi and would recommend anyone to go there and experience it for themselves!

Posted by Joewhittaker 22:14 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi Comments (0)

Sri Lanka

"Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to Colombo airport,
thank you for flying Jet Airways. we hope that you had a pleasent flight.
The local time is 10pm and it is a cool 30 °C outside..." -What?

So country number three has begun and I believe that it is going to be a hot one. So I walk out of the airport to work out that I am a hours drive anyway from the city that the Airport is meant to be in. Lets just say the beginning of my trip wasn't as smooth as it should of been for someone that has been away for the past three months. So after the struggles of the night before with getting to the city and finding a room (thanks to the Barmy Army) and the lack of time I have in this country I decide that I will miss out this capital and go straight for the country. On the flight I started chatting to a guy called Ashraff a Sri Lankan nation who advised me to see Kandy. So first thing I boarded a bus and arrive fresh face and excited about a new adventure.

Kandy is a beautiful hill town in the centre of the country in The Hilly Country area. It has a beautiful lake in the centre and a temple containing a tooth of Buddha and nothing much else so I quickly run out of activities to entertain me. I remembered at this point that Ashraff had left me a number to call if I wanted to meet up, so bravely I called him and within 20 minutes he is taking me to a restaurant and before I know it I am at his house meeting his family and accepting a bed for the night and a free lift to the bus station in the morning.

The next morning I head for Adam's Peak believe to be the place where Adam stepped on the earth after being removed from The Garden of Eden -as there is a footprint in the rock on the peak- and also believe to be the place where butterflies go to death... aww! The reason I have come here is not cultural but to follow the Pilgrimage to the top at night to see the sun rise. At night for most of the year the path is illuminated and masses of people climb it every day. The climb is about 2½-4 hours and the other travellers in the hotel I was staying all agreed to meet and leave at 2am. So When I woke at 2.35am -as you can imagine- a lot of swearing fell out of my mouth and I leap out of bed. Not waiting to miss the sunrise which was meant to be about 6.15 I get out and off by 2.45. After about 45mins of walking I catch up with some of the other people I was meant to meet and I woke out that I have been pacing to much and decide to slow down the pace but still am pulling away from the others and before long I am off on my own. I eventual reach the top to see that I have arrived at 4.45 and am the first out of 6 of us to reach the top. I collapse and working out the I have climbed to hill in 2 hours. I wait for the others who all achieve it in 3 and work out that this new thin body is going to get some used to. I walk down with the others and eat breakfast.

The next day I wake up in Hikadawa on the beach and go to get up and my body does not work, Adam's peak as taken it's toll and I decide that for the next couple of days a beach holiday and a rest will do me good. The holiday was not a bad thing as the temperature soars to +40 °C and all my attempts to culture search and explore end up the same way with me laying on the bed under the fan after 2 showers and reading until it is cool enough to return to the outside world.

I decide that it is time to get moving, the cricket is over and the it is safe to move around again being an Englishman not being over changed because of my nationality. I head for Galle -a ex-dutch colony seaside town- and spend the day exploring and walking and refusing to go back to the room... which ends up with me laying on the bed and reading after 2 more showers.

I have to admit that I have rushed this blog entry and it is not because I am behind on my writing -which I am- and not because I was only in the country for 7 days but because after the magic and joys of the last to countries I was very unimpressed with Sri Lanka. Don't get me wrong there is nothing wrong with the country or the people. The people I met and befriend are some of the warmest people I met and I don't have a bad word to say about them. The country is a beautiful picturesque country with amazing beaches and rolling hills full of tea plantation. But the country has sold some of it sole in the name of tourism I believe. I never headed up north and that maybe different and I hope no one changes their mind on what I say but compared to India and Nepal it did not jump out at me and I happily left in knowledge that I have Vietnam ahead of me.

Posted by Joewhittaker 03:27 Comments (0)

Chennai (Madras)

and the end of India

sunny 40 °C

So alas my time in India has come to an end and I am faced with the sad truth that many people are confronted with after spending time in this nation and that is that I have run out of time. So my final stop on my passage through India is Chennai (formally Madras) and I alight from the train, the same train that I had been sitting on for 23 hours I am glad that like the rest of the India I am bombarded by the same salesman, toc-toc drivers and beggars. One of the main things to say about this city is from the moment you walk off the train you are hit my a wall of hit that follows you everywhere, unescapeable! Because of time I only have one night in this city and which I thought was a shame because how can you do a city in one day? So ignoring the heat I venture out to the streets to explore the city that will be my final memory of India.

I think there are only two things I can really say about my thoughts of my walking tour of Chennai, firstly the saying 'only mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun' really has meaning in a city like this as when I had walked for about an hour I was so sweaty that it looked like I have jumped in to the see fully dressed! The second is that I am sad that I finished my Indian experience in this city as it is a void of anything that in my heart I hold to be India. It seems to have no old culture and is a busy dusty city.

I think that finishing here does have my good quality in that it gave me time to reflect on the last two months. I say now that India was not just a adventure on the world tour but the changing of me. I am leaving this country, this different world a changed man. I look back on what I was when I crossed the border on the foggy morning from Nepal and what I am now, I have found the confidence that I have always had inside and I know it could of happened anywhere but it didn't it happen in India and for that it will always be held in my heart as one of the best times of my life. Also I see the people that I met and how good a time I had.

One of the main problems I am going to be faced with back in the western world though is I am in danger of becoming one of those travelers that talks none stop about my time in India, so to the people of the world if I turn into that guy please stop me!

So the next stop is Sri Lanka. Country number two done!!!

Posted by Joewhittaker 20:07 Archived in India Tagged the end Comments (0)

Goa

Aramabol, actually just Samantha's

sunny 32 °C

So I arrive in Goa with three new friend, Ina the German, Matt the harry potter look alike and Phil (Phillipa) his Liverpool girlfriend! I arrive in Arambol at midday a check into a beach hut. Arambol is a beautiful beach resort with a long beach, palm trees and more Russians than I have ever seen. Russian men, old Russian men walking around in thongs is not the sight you want to be greeted by but it happens. I meet Efe and he saves my life and proves to be the best friend that I have met on this trip. He lends me money so I can eat and survive until my replacement card shows up.

The day after arriving is Goa was the Hindu festival of Holli, the festival that celebrates the start of Spring. It is celebrated by the throwing of paint. Even though Goa is a Christian State it is still celebrate and everyone is a target. It is a big street party and people dance and hug on the street. I ended up looking like some piece of Modernist art but loved it. It is one of the funniest festivals I have been to in India (and I have been to a lot (365 festivals a year).

I don't really have much to say about Arambol, it is full of hippies and Russians. It has more bars than people (off season) and is a place that you can do nothing. For two weeks I read, swam, cooked (was in a house) and waited for my card to arrive. That is sadly it. One day we went to another beach and did the same but that is it. I could be found at Samantha's beach restaurant because they didn't charge us for sun loungers and had free backgammon. It is sad that so much of my time was wasted at this place but hey it is all part of the travelling experience.

But my card arrived and it was time to leave, but sadly I had mo time to explore more as I had a flight from Chennai to Sri Lanka and had a 22 hour train journey to do.

Posted by Joewhittaker 02:05 Archived in India Tagged goa Comments (0)

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