AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Goodbye Vietnam, Hello Cambodia


Posted on Dec 20, 2013

It is 7 weeks since we left the UK and  today we left Vietnam exactly three weeks to the day since we entered. We have reached Cambodia and country number 10. Vietnam was a huge surprise. When we entered in the north it was cold and wet and didn’t feel much different to the UK. They have four seasons and could only grow one crop of rice per year. By the south of the country (over 2000km if you follow the curve of the country) the weather had changed to a tropical two season climate consisting of a wet season and a dry season and they achieve three crops of rice per year. The temperatures in the south hit a low of 21 and a high of 30 in December. Vietnam was far more developed than we had expected and far busier with Westerners too. In China (once outside Beijing) seeing a westerner (or someone who spoke good English) was a rare event so Vietnam where everyone spoke English and hoards of American and Australian tourists on every street and bus was a surprise. Restaurants serving heaps of meat, western dishes and western drinks were suddenly everywhere. Today we left Vietnam on the Mekong Express. We left Saigon only 20 minutes late, at 7:20 and arrived in Phnom Penh around 2pm. This bus was slightly cheaper at $14 each than the Giant Ibis which was $18 each and we got what we paid for. The bus was not the new one on all the pictures, it was quite a bit older and our window had a huge crack in it which had been taped over, so we had almost no view out of the window. The highlight of the ride was crossing the Mekong River, there are very few bridges in Cambodia crossing the Mekong and none on the route between Saigon and Phnom Penh (although one is supposed to open in mid 2014). Instead the road ends and descends down the river bank and onto a car ferry. The water was flowing fast but the ferry had no issue against the current and we crossed the river in a few minutes. Yet again we are in the tourist area. The hotel is very western (if we didn’t know better this could be anywhere in Europe) and the streets around here are packed with western restaurants and bars. We ate at the Aroma Chef which had among its many western dishes a full Sunday lunch! All prices are in American dollars, in fact that is the main currency here in Cambodia. This is known as Dollarization. Luckily the cash...

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Hoi An: Hai Van Pass

Hoi An: Hai Van Pass


Posted on Dec 15, 2013

Today was a real highlight in the trip and something I had looked forward to for the last week or so. We hired a motorbike (moped really) and rode to Hai Van Pass the highest road in the area. This was the first time I had ever ridden a motorbike of any type and Vietnam isn’t the most forgiving country towards novices. As a pedestrian it’s easy (ish), you step into the road and the bikes will somehow avoid you (although the high fatality rate shows that isn’t always true), but now as a rider myself I would be expected to have to make the evasive maneuvers myself and I have no idea how so many bikes, so close together can move en-masse without hitting each other. The bike cost 80,000 Dong (£2.30/$4) for the whole day. I took it round the block myself first, just to work out how to start and stop and keep my balance. Within a minute I was back and ready for Annemarie to hop on the back. First task was fuel, £2.60 filled the tank, and we were away. We took the coast route because the road was almost empty and it’s slightly more scenic. A nice gentle introduction. After about 50 mins we pulled over, on the edge of Da Nang. Annemarie hadn’t been feeling very well earlier and now was feeling pretty rough. I walked to a small stall and bought some snacks. After just a few mouthfuls she asked where she could be sick, with no time to answer splash all over the edge of the street; in front of someone’s small cafe. After a quick swill of water off we went. On the way to the pass we rode over Thuận Phước Bridge the longest suspension bridge in Vietnam (just over a mile long). The view over the bay was pretty good but by then the wind had picked up and the temperature was dropping. When we finally reached the pass the top of the mountain had a layer of cloud stubbornly lingering over the summit. But we headed up anyway. About halfway up on the face towards to sea a huge cloud was blowing down the side of the mountain at a fantastic pace. When we hit it visibility dropped about 10 degrees and the wind picked up. After a few bends we were at the top. The top of the pass was covered in thick cloud and it was bloody cold (Annemarie had told me to wear more than a T-shirt and I had ignored her). I considered getting a coffee or tea to rest and warmup...

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Hue: Day Three


Posted on Dec 12, 2013

We both had high hopes for this day. We booked a full day tour, starting at 7am from our hotel and ending at about 7pm. We knew it involved plenty of driving, but we were heading north to visit the DMZ around the border between what was North and South Vietnam during the middle of the 20th century. The tour started with a three hour drive to see a bridge crossing a river. On the way we were shown The Rockpile from the road; A high hill which the Americans controlled and have them a view of the surrounding area. The bridge (not far from the Laos border, but miles from our hotel) was on the Ho Chi Minh Tail, a vital supply route between the north and south to supply arms, food and people to fight the Americans. The bridge was re-built in 1999 but we did get some history about the trail. Not that great after 3 hours in a cramped mini bus. We then drove to what was an American airbase named Ca Lu. There were American planes and helicopters and a few tanks, but nothing else to show that this had been a huge American base. The runway was gone and apart from the planes a few trenches remained around the site. Treasure hunters with metal detectors had surveyed the area and found coins, zippo lighters and as few other personal trinkets. They now run around the site chasing tourists asking them to buy American coins or dog tags. We then had an hour drive back to a hotel for lunch. After lunch we had a one hour drive to the Ving Moc tunnels. This was the highlight of the trip. We saw where up to 500 people had lived for 6 years and depths of up to 20m below the ground. While families had cramped little rooms to live in. There was one toilet and one kitchen, a maternity unit delivered 17 children underground, it must have been quite a tough life under there. It was quite hot and humid and the walls were dripping with condensation (I can only imagine what that was like in the summer heat). Then about an hour out so later we reached a cemetery for the dead Viet Cong soliders. Then a two hour drive back to Hue. It turned out to be a very long day, not seeing a lot, with huge amounts of driving between sites and ultimately not that good. We both wished we’d picked something else to see and do. Posted from Quang Tri province,...

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Halong Bay


Posted on Dec 9, 2013

We booked a tour online to visit Halong Bay and this has been the highlight of the trip so far. The bay is huge and has almost 2000 islands, very sharp cliffs of limestone rising a fair height out of the water and usually covered in trees. We found some huge differences in prices between one company and another. Our hotel was offering two days one night for $150, some websites offered this for well under $100. Annemarie went hunting and found a pretty good and cheap looking company. All the tours pick you up from Hanoi and the transfer time is around 4 hours. Pickup is around 8am from the hotel in Hanoi, meaning midday arrival. The sun sets at not long after 5pm here. The second day had a visit to a cave then food then drive back to Hanoi, giving only about 5 hours on the boat. So, we decided it was better to do three days two nights on the boat, otherwise we’d spend almost as long on the bus as we would daylight hours on the boat. This turned out to be a very good decision, but quite rare. Out of about 24 we went with only six of us did two nights. In the second group of about 20 no-one did the two nights. So all the cruise ships (most only have about 10-15 cabins) sit just out of the harbour waiting for the new arrivals. Here we are approaching the ship: Watch this video on YouTube The first activity was to visit a floating village. All the buildings in the village are on rafts and float in the calm water of a quiet part of the bay. They make their living from fishing. Watch this video on YouTube We had a choice to kayak or sit in a boat and be rowed around the village. Us and a two other couples chose the kayak, everyone else opted for the boring option. The rest of the day was taken up with relaxing on the boat, drinking and meeting other people. That was a decent evening. The next day a small boat came and took us off the main ship (it had to go to port and swap the passengers). The first excursion was to a pearl farm. We saw how pearls are formed and saw the workers cleaning the shells. The shop at the end was obviously filled with pearls but they were a little out of our price range (or would’ve brought the trip to an abrupt end). We then had a great hour or so kayaking into a bay which can...

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Hanoi: Helpful Hotel?


Posted on Dec 3, 2013

As soon as Annemarie had booked this hotel she emailed to enquire about picking us up from the train station (we expected to arrive in Hanoi at 5:15am). They emailed stating they couldn’t but told us what taxi company to look for and how much it should cost. Quite helpful we thought. Upon arrival (the train was 2 hours late) it was still before 8 am, but we were given a room (not made up) for us to drop our bags, quick shower and get changed. We were also OK to have the breakfast (normal hotels would’ve charged). The breakfast was good and filling. By the time we had eaten our room had been made up. In addition, the guy at reception had asked what we were doing in Hanoi and afterwards, and we said about Halong Bay. The hotel also organises tours, but charged a fair bit more than we had paid. He was very surprised at how little we had paid and asked if he could take our details and ring the ship to confirm our booking was genuine and we hasn’t been scammed. I was skeptical as to his motives, wondering if he was going to tell us it was a fake and we should cancel, get a refund and book with him. Well, he contacted us not long after and told is we were booked, it was genuine and we had got a very good deal. At this point we were very happy with the hotel. We handed a bag of laundry to be washed. The charge is per kilo and it was weighed at just under 4kg. More than expected. This evening whilst talking to another person behind reception we mentioned it weighing more than expected, he checked and it weighed just under 3kg. The weight the lady had used in the morning was defective he told us, and showed it with no weight and already at 1kg. They had found the scale was defective and had ordered a new scale that day. Was he been helpful (we were on the verge of booking a day tour with him) or was he genuine? We have three days in Hanoi, but could skip a few less interesting bits and do it in two. With that in mind we looking at tours offered by the hotel. One in particular looked good, to Tam Coc. $45 (each) plus drinks and a few tips. Pushing our budget so we said we’d go and think about it. Later, after considering it we decided no, if we keep spending and doing so many tours we’ll run out of money before...

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