Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

Milonga in Vietnam

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Back in Hanoi after Ha Long bay I had to decide where to go next. Plan A was rejoin Hannah in Bangkok on May 28th. I think we rushed Cambodia and I really liked what I saw of it so plan B was go back there for a while. Plan C was bump up the country count and go to Malaysia for a while. Plans B and C both include going back to Thailand for a couple of weeks to get in a diving course and some beach time in the islands before the next leg on my round the world ticket.

I spent a couple of days in Hanoi seeing the city and deciding that Plan B was the one to go for. There are direct flights from Hanoi to Siem Reap but they’re very expensive. Flights to Phnom Penh are indirect via Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh and are a bit less expensive. Another two days on buses was the cheapest way to get to Cambodia. For this time rich, money constrained traveller the best price/performance compromise was to fly to Ho Chi Minh and take a bus back to Phnom Penh. Factoring in the taxi fares and a night in a hostel in Ho Chi Minh the journey cost about US$100.

I tried to get a Chinese visa in Hanoi. According to the embassy website it is possible to get a same day visa but when I arrived at the embassy on Wednesday morning they said the earliest I could collect it would be Thursday. Oh, and I needed to provide additional documentation, not listed on the website or on the application form. So I went off and collected the additional paperwork they wanted and got back to the embassy at a couple of minutes past 11am to find it closed. The sign on on the door says it’s open Monday-Friday from 8am-11:30am for applications and from 4:30pm-5:00pm for collection only. Grrrr.

On Thursday I flew to Ho Chi Minh with Jetstar. The flight was delayed seven hours, which I didn’t discover until I tried to check in at Hanoi airport. Luckily they managed to transfer me onto an earlier flight which was also delayed. So I got to Ho Chi Minh pretty close to the advertised time of my original flight. Second time around Ho Chi Minh seemed slightly less chaotic. Google told me about a possible milonga on Friday night. That would be worth an extra night in town. An email to Tony, the organiser, confirmed it was on.  Ta.Tango organise a weekly class and milonga on Friday nights at Press Cafe – 14 Alexandre De Rhodes, District 1 – walking distance from my hotel. I spent some time in the afternoon trying to find a shoe shop with something more appropriate for dancing than flip flops. My search was unsuccessful. By the time I had showered and eaten dinner it was too late to get there for the class.  When I arrived at the venue the milonga was just starting and I found a mixture of about twenty locals and foreigners, regulars and visitors. Numbers were fairly well balanced. The music was traditional, arranged in tandas with cortinas. Refreshments were provided and everyone was really friendly. My trainers were too sticky on the floor so I danced in my socks. I felt rather rusty having not danced tango since early March but didn’t do too badly. The evening passed far too quickly and I was sad to say goodbye to everyone at the end of the milonga. If I’m in Ho Chi Minh again I’ll be sure to visit again. If you’re passing through the city and want to tango you should too.

Next morning I was up early for the bus to Phnom Penh.

Vietnam gets better

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Vietnam did not create a good first impression. Immigration at Moc Bai was a complete shambles. It was tempting to go to the airport in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon and get on the first plane to anywhere else.

The temptation wasn’t eased by the chaos that is the Ho Chi Minh traffic. In a city of 10 million people there are about 6 million motorbikes, only 90% of them are on the road. The rest are all over the pavements (sidewalks for the Americans); being driven on them or parked on them. Walking down the road often means literally doing that because the pavements are impassable on foot.

Next day we visited the Cu Chi tunnels used by the Vietcong and local resistance fighters in the guerrilla war with the American army. The “information” film about the heroic locals fighting off the evil American aggressors was hugely amusing – hardly biased at all. OK, it was hardcore propaganda. In the interests of balance I’d have to say the traps they used to maim the American soldiers were every bit as evil. On the way back to Ho Chi Minh we visited the War Remnants museum covering the physical, social and human effects of the Vietnam war. The human cost of the Agent Orange defoliant used by the American forces was truly horrific.

Hannah was keen to get back to Bangkok to do another massage course so we went our separate ways; she to Hanoi by plane and me to Hoi An by bus. Twenty four hours and two buses later I reached the pretty little seaside town. It’s the ideal location for anyone in the market for a new suit or seafood dinners. A much nicer place than Ho Chi Minh. I spent a day here but could have easily stayed two or three more and just chilled out.

Another two buses and nineteen hours later I reached Hanoi. As they say in SE Asia “same same but different” – smaller than Ho Chi Minh and with slightly less manic traffic. There were still motorbikes everywhere and billboards covered in propaganda posters for the elections held on 22 May. I arrived on a Friday and pretty much all the museums and tourist attractions were closed. It was grey and raining too so not a great day for sightseeing. All the tour booking offices were open though so I booked a three day two night trip to Ha Long bay leaving the next morning.

Cruising around Ha Long bay on a junk was lovely, the cave visit and kayaking not bad either. Overnight on the junk was nice and Cat Ba island was good too. The trekking was rather hazardous but no-one broke any bones on the slippery and uneven path or the jagged limestone and fortunately it wasn’t a stupidly hot day. The view from the hill we trekked up wasn’t really worth the effort and it was no better from the top of the precarious looking rusty iron tower which occupied the summit. Cat Ba town is another seaside town full of hotels and restaurants and a seafood aficionados delight. Outside all of the restaurants tanks of fish, crabs and shrimps waited for pointing fingers and “I’ll have that one” to condemn them to the cooking pot. In the harbour floating restaurants serviced by the waterborne equivalents of tuk-tuks looked rather sad during the day time. At night they were brilliantly lit and easily won the competition with the neon signs on the land based restaurants. It reminded me a lot of Blackpool.

In Vietnam the constant barrage of “tuk-tuk sir?” calls while walking around has been replaced by “motorbike sir?”. Polite, but every bit as irritating after the first few dozen  (ie: about two minutes) refusals. Despite this, after a few days the place is growing on me.

Here’s the plan

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Lots of people are asking me what the itinerary for my imminent round-the-world trip is. I launch into an enthusiastic spiel and one of two things happens:

  • their eyes glaze over and they stop listening about half way through.
  • they get excited and ask more questions and after a while I reach the point of shrugging my shoulders and saying “… and then I’ll see.”

Hopefully you’re in the second group.

I have an itinerary because I booked a OneWorld Explorer ticket and I had to name airports and dates. I have an itinerary because I had a rough idea of the places I wanted to go and approximately how long I might want to spend in each place. The itinerary is flexible and likely to change once the travelling starts. The ticket is good for upto one year. There are very few details filled in yet between the flights. There are some highlights and must-see/must-do things and lots of vague arm-waving inbetween.

Date changes are freebies, changing my mind on the routing will cost me money – about £100 per change. Sadly there is no reciprocity between the airlines and me in this respect. They have changed two of my flights already and did not pay me £200.

So the plan at the moment is:

  • London-Delhi, Delhi-Kathmandu for a two week Everest base camp trek. This is organised by Above the Himalayas Trekking and I booked directly with them, cutting out a UK agent and saving some money in the process.
  • Kathmandu-Delhi, Delhi-Bangkok for a ten week tour around SE Asia with my friend, Hannah, who will be blogging about the trip from her perspective at travelpod. We have an approximate route worked out for this, based on information we found at travelfish. Briefly it’s a week in Bangkok including a Thai massage course at Wat Po, a few days in Koh Chang for Thai New Year, north through Thailand, south through Laos and Cambodia, north through Vietnam, topped off with 2 weeks lazing on a beach somewhere in Southern Thailand.
  • Two more weeks in Thailand by myself. I have various ideas for how to fill this time. We’ll see…
  • Bangkok-Beijing for three weeks in China. I have a very rough idea of how to get from Beijing to Shanghai involving Qi’An, Chengdu and half a dozen other cities. Probably this will be a challenge. A friend who knows much more about China than me says this will be hard outside of Beijing and Shanghai because of the language. It will probably involve lots of train journeys. We’ll see…
  • Shanghai-Melbourne for a couple of nights in Australia. Why only a couple of nights? Because I’ve been before and didn’t plan to stop in Oz at all on this trip. However, I couldn’t get from China to New Zealand in one day and will have to spend at least one night in Australia. So I’ve routed via Melbourne and will have a couple of nights there. Hopefully this will give me a chance to catch up with a tanguera friend I met last year in Buenos Aires, and maybe get to a milonga or two.
  • Melbourne-Queenstown for three weeks in New Zealand. How I get from Queenstown to Auckland is completely unknown right now. I’ll work it out much nearer the time. I have another tanguera friend to visit in Auckland and again, hopefully get to at least one milonga.
  • Auckland-Santiago de Chile. Not looking forward to this one; it is a LONG flight. I’ve got a few nights in Santiago and then double back westwards to Easter Island for a five night stay. Then it’s back to Santiago for another night. This extra night is courtesy of one of those airline imposed changes; they changed one of the flight times making it impossible to get from Easter Island to Lima in a single day.  Well, it would have still been possible but only by reducing my stay on Easter Island to two days, or by extending it to nine days.
  • Santiago de Chile-Lima for 3 weeks in Peru. I’ll go to Cusco and then Machu Picchu of course, but whether by train/bus or by trekking the Inca Trail is still to be determined. Yes, I’ll have to decide very soon – if it’s not already too late – because I’ll have to book the Inca Trail. That would pin me down to specific dates. I’m already tied down pretty tight with Easter Island so it could be argued that fixing another date for the Inca Trail would be no extra hardship. But that is approximately five months into the future and I don’t really want to be that constrained.
  • Then there’s a bit more uncertainty; I may go to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands or I may not. Money will be a big factor in that decision. All the flights up to this point except Delhi-Kathmandu-Delhi are on the round-the-world ticket. Getting from Lima to the Galapagos would be a separate trip. I had thought I’d book a LAN airpass for the intra-South America flights, but found I couldn’t because I didn’t book it at the same time as the RTW ticket. Opinion on the web is divided about whether or not this should be possible. Anyway, if I’m under budget by enough when I’ve done what I want in Peru then I might manage a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
  • Finally sometime around the middle to end of September I’ll return to Buenos Aires. Ah, proper tango, at last! A couple of months of milogas and much more learning/improving my Spanish than last time. After that travel all around Argentina until about the middle of February and then return to Buenos Aires for another month. The travelling will include Ushuaia and if I’m really really lucky an Antarctic cruise. I’ll decide in that “final” month whether to use the final Buenos Aires-London sector of my RTW ticket to come home. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Perhaps I’ll stay in Buenos Aires or perhaps by then I’ll have decided there’s somewhere else that would suit me better. We’ll see…

Great, you were in the second group!

That’s the plan so far. I have just a few more days in the UK and then the tenants move into my house and I hop on a plane to Delhi. My transit visa for India arrived today, the Nepal visa is already stuck in my passport, I’ve had jabs against just about everything and I’ve sold or otherwise gotten rid of most of my stuff. Just another dozen or so boxes to go :-)

I’ve got three more nights of tango to look forward to, one of jive and maybe one of West Coast Swing. And then several months of probably no dancing of any sort that I’m used to. Withdrawal symptoms here I come.

Have you done a trip like this or been to any of these countries? Are there any must-see places or must-do things you would recommend in the countries I’m visiting?