Thursday, 29 March 2012

Not so awesome Hue

We reached Hue at 10 in the morning. I met a lovely girl from Sydney and we decided to explore the city together after freshening up and checking in.
Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam in the old days. The town has still retained its olden touch. There are beautiful citadels and tombs all over the town. This is the thing: When you see the first tomb you are super excited, you see & appreciate every detail in the construction, you are curious about how the king fought the war and you take great interest in the history behind the architecture.  But when you have seen about 3-4 tombs/citadels, you cant be bothered with the details of where the king pee-d or what his favorite food was or how many concubines he had. Its all the same story. 

Anyway, we walked through the whole city and saw all major tombs and citadels. While it was nice and peaceful, the city dint have much vibe. The roads in Hue are very french like and it was way too romantic for two girls backpacking Vietnam!

We came back to our hostel at 8. There, out of nowhere I met an Indian German girl I saw in my room in HCMC with her german friends. We both were delighted to meet again in Hue and she introduced me to her friends and we decided to go together for dinner. 
The German girls have to be the coolest girls I've met on the trip. Yes, we all know the Germans are bloody brave travelers and they are the second most common thing you see in Vietnam, the first being motorbikes :P Geez, they're everywhere! I had a great time chatting & joking around with the girls.
My bus to Hoi An was at 12 next morning, so checked out did all the formalities and was ready to leave. Got on the bus and met a Brazilian couple - the usual, we start sharing our stories.
Its funny how travel changes a person. If you were having a coffee in Melbourne or Sydney sitting alone and if someone comes and strikes up a conversation, we'd all think what a weirdo/loser the other person is. But when you are traveling, you see a someone sitting alone, you go straight to them and have a conversation like you already know them. It is not that difficult meeting people at all ....unless you really ARE a weirdo!
Surprise surprise, our bus breaks down - every one is frustrated but the driver is fixes it soon - Ok in 45 minutes which is supposed to be quick as per Vietnamese standards.  We reach Hoi An. I dint have a booking for Hoi An and was hoping to just rock up there since that is what most backpackers seem to be doing. I did the same thing but my luck, no vacancies. Luckily, my Swiss friends from Hanoi had given me their hotel card so I went to hotel. I meet the sweetest receptionist.  Meeting her turned out to be the highlight of my trip in Vietnam! 
More about Hoi An in tomorrow's post.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Booze Cruise - Halong Bay - Days 5&6

I woke up next morning and got on the bus for Halong bay - The four hour journey is nothing like driving on the scenic Great ocean road in Melbourne. The road is full of bumps and potholes. So we get off our buses near the harbour and get the first glimpse of Halong bay - the view i Uh-mah-zing! Absolutely gorgeous!

We sat on a small boat to be taken to our cruise ship. I sit there with a big smile on face with a sense of accomplishment! A feeling of finally doing/seeing something that I've been wanting to do/see for months! The photos just don't do justice for the amazing place that Halong bay is.

Limestone formations on Halong Bay

A house on one of the Lime stones

We are told the rules of the cruise - No drinking with right hand - if you are caught, you have to slam the whole drink in one go - imagine drinking water from a 1 litre bottle! Second rule is not to utter the words "mine" and "ten" - or you have to do ten push ups. We have our lunch and our kayak boats are ready. I team up with my Swiss friend and we kayak around the bay and through some cool caves. Its pretty damn amazing (minus the random nappies floating around on the bay)
Our Kayaks

View from the cave
Kayaking through the caves

We come back for dinner and the real fun begins - drinking games on board! 2 packs of cards are scattered all around and you are required to pick a card and do what's told on the card. Some of the crazy activities include drinking with straight hand (i.e. no bending elbow), doing belly shots, mixing all drinks and slamming them one go- ( = vomit), and a whole bunch of other games. To make the most of the happy hour, I bought 2 cans of Coke and got dirty looks from everyone for free :( I sat there praying the whole time hoping I don't pick cards that require me to do silly dares - I have'nt prayed that hard even for my Year 10/12 scores! Nervously, praying to every god I could remember, I drew my first card - It was a 7 of hearts - which meant I had to be the troll - i.e sit under the table and do nothing until someone pulls out another troll card. Phew! not that bad. I sat for nearly 30 mins. As I got up, our table was almost empty. Most of them had left. Damn! My other cards included shouting "F%^& you" at every one and daring someone to do something. All in all it was fun but it was way too much drinking my little liver could take - so we girls came back to our rooms and talked for a bit and fell asleep. Next morning we got ready to head back to Hanoi. We met some cool people on the bus, reached Hanoi at 5 and I had a bus to Hue at 5.30. So I quickly said my byes to my new friends and actually felt pretty sad leaving them.

I got on the famous Vietnamese sleeper bus for my 14 hour journey to Hue. I thought I had experienced the worst bus/train journeys having traveled 2nd class on Indian trains - boy was I wrong! The Vietnamese sleeper buses are mother of 2nd Class Indian trains.

Sleeper buses in Vietnam

The seats are so narrow that there is barely any space to even keep my bag on the side - I wear my eye mask and go to sleep. At about 1 am the bus stops and I remove my eye mask and I m greeted by a smiling toothless Vietnamese man sleeping literally next to me, except on the floor! WTH - when did he come and how the hell he find the space to sleep! Geez!

Again not complaining for the price I paid to travel the whole country but its not quite what you expect especially when the travel agent shows pictures of a spacious bus with comfy leather seats. 

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Uber cool hostel - Hanoi - Day 4

I take a flight to Hanoi from Saigon and reach at 7am and ta da - my airport pick up has not arrived yet. I should really learn my lesson that things don't always go as per plan...rather nothing ever goes as planned when overseas. Half an hour later, still no sign and I am on the brink of not really. I just want to smack them when I see them. I then get on my taxi to my hostel. O-M-G. The hanoi backpackers hostel is the mother of all backpacker hostels. (Maybe there other cool hostels around the world, but for the unseasoned traveler that I am, I've never seen anything like this before). I walk in and it looks like I've walked in to Facebook's head office - its so funky and all cool people are hanging around. Oh god I am starting to feel uncool already. I do all check in formalities and head to my 10 bed dorm room.  I meet & greet my roomie who is from England and then the receptionist enters our room looking for Sara. Now, we don't know who Sara is but by then another roomie enters and says Sara is out. The receptionist leaves and asks us to tell Sara to meet them at the reception. Apparantly, the roomie says, the night before there was someone topless in the room. She rubbed her eyes again to see if it was a girl and turns out Sara was with a guy last night...and she then says casually, "Oh, its pretty common here. I don't think she is in trouble because of that". WHAT! Ummm where the F&*% am I!

I head to shower get ready and my new English roomie asks if I want to join her in going around the city. I happily join - we meet two other swiss girls and a german guy. We head out and take a break to
eat something. Everyone is casually chatting and sharing their travel experiences -
The german guy goes "zis one time when I was in Turkey I did bla bla bla",
The swiss girls" des one time when I was in South America, I......."
Another one "this one time when I was in (insert some cool place) I did (insert some cool thing). Faaaaar out! These guys are only my age and have traveled most of the world already!

Now its my turn. All I have to tell them is "This one time when I was at home sitting and watching Oprah, I burnt my 2 minute noodles in the microwave" Is that a cool story? Do I fit in? Oh god I m so uncool :(

We walk through the streets take pics, talk..the usual. I am not liking Hanoi - it just does'nt have the same vibe as Saigon. And the people in Saigon, Oh, they were super friendly and kept telling I look pretty - (O.K they were all trying to sell me something)  Yeah I am gullible :(

Dog Meat maybe???

Roof Top bar - literally!

We come back to the hostel and its Happy Hour! and the craziness begins. I m busy booking tickets for rest of the trip and doing a bunch of other ad hoc admin stuff to organize my trip while others are busy getting wasted. Its too noisy and we have to wake up early tomorrow for our halong bay cruise so we go to bed.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Grindr - Day 3

Turns out I was destined to talk to the cute Asian. He wakes up, looks half asleep (that's how they look anyways :P - Totally racist I know! ;) He introduces himself as a Korean American. We chat a little and I am off to stuff my face with the free breakfast at the hostel.
My plan for the day is to go around the city and see the rest of the attractions. I eat my breakfast and he comes down and sits next to me. He starts talking again. We have our breakfasts, turns out we have a lot in common. He asks me what my plan was for the day, and he asks if we could do it together. You mean like A date??? "Hmmm ok" I say casually and then say to myself, "Only because you are insisting". We first go to the War Remnants Museum.
The War museum is one of those attractions that leaves a lasting impression on anyone that visits the museum. It has displays depicting the horrors of the Vietnam War. It is terrifying and harrowing to see pictures of deformed babies and the men and women tortured during the war. I only took one picture of the way men were executed and it says its all:

We leave the war museum while chatting along the whole way going to our next stop. He tells his story, background, the usual and then, we reach our pinnacle of friendship - i.e. we become Facebook friends. Great - Now I can stalk him! :P
We get something to eat. I order the Vegetarian egg (Egg white made from tofu and the yolk from minced carrot - Yummmmmmmm!) and Veg pork from an Vegan restaurant:
He says he needs to rest since he has'nt slept well the whole night and asks plans for the night. Apparently there is a great nightclub in Saigon and we're both keen. So we decide to meet again at 9pm. We say our byes and I head off on my own adventure.
A motorbike tour guide approaches me. I am not keen, - motorbike tour with an unknown guy? hmmm..but he is persistent, quotes a fair price and I agree. I sit on the bike and he starts firing away the usual questions - Am I traveling alone, single?, ready to mingle? no, not the last one but the usual questions and makes it clear that he is single. Hmmm won't ever take up that offer!
We go to District 5 - explore china town and a some Chinese temples. 
China Town - District 5

 As I come out of the temple, he asks me, "So, what you pray?"
Me: "Ummm, that you don't charge me more when we get back"
He laughs. So I ask what he prayed for,
He says, "I pray same same girlfriend like you".
Oh oh, creepy - Now I actually close my eyes and pray that he takes me back to my hostel safely!
On our way back, he tells me I can ride his motorbike in a quite area. So we get to the quite area and he hands me over the bike. It is a geared bike - I have never rode a geared one so I am quite nervous. I start the bike he instructs me on how to drive and i start driving - wow! I am good at this. Hell Yeah!!!  I feel like a man! I wave to the locals and show off my driving skills. I drive for nearly 5-6 kms. He is very impressed and tells I am a good driver. I tap on his knee and tell him in his style "Is ok...relas" We are nearing my drop off point and he asks what my plans are for the night. Sensing his eagerness I quickly say I am meeting a bunch of friends. He says "oh, I thought I take you to Karoke bar, we have few drinks and you sing" 
I think to myself "Just work for what I pay for dude, don't give me all this extra service". His heart is broken. I get off the bike and do some more solo exploring. Its about time for dinner so I have my dinner and I head back to the hostel and pack things as I have an early flight to Hanoi next morning. Its about time to go out clubbing and the guy waits downstairs- this is where the fun begins...
We take a cab and go to the club - not many tourists and no one is dancing. We are having a major discussion if it is worth spending $1 on beer and 50cents on a bottle of water and we finally buy them. We go to a table finish our respective drinks and then hit the dance floor. He says he can dance - well.  Now every guy likes to brag so I just shrug and start walking towards the dance floor. I can dance too - horribly.
So as we hit the dance floor I pull off my sexiest move - the step touch. He starts dancing, Yeah... he is O.K.....5 mins later, oh... he is good. 20 mins later, F*&#!! he is too good! And I am still doing my step touch. Oh god, I need to something cool. Maybe I should do some thing with my hands.... WTF do I do with my hands...O.K. let me throw them in the air. hmmm... I m the only one doing it. Its not the move for the song. He teaches me the body roll - his roll is a perfect wave, and mine, a perfect zig zag. Oh god,  I am embarrassed. A few local girls half clothed are dancing and grinding every man on the floor. All eyes are on them....UNTIL one of them comes and starts grinding ME! WTF. Oh god, I've never had anyone grind me - ever. I am so nervous that I close my eyes... freeze. Awkward turtle Vidya! The girl is all over me and everyone seems to be enjoying it - except me. Hey the last time I was so close to a girl was when I was at my dentist 1.5 years ago and I dint really like it. 
So now i think "O.K, do something cool Vidya and try to get out of it". So I do my sexy move, the  step touch again backwards to go back.  O.K. Great! now she starts grinding me from behind. Oh god! Another girl sees me and says "relas....have fun" I m too scared and all I can think is don't do anything more or I m going to punch you on your face. 
She points me to the Korean guy and says go have fun - meaning go and grind him. Ummm... NO!!  a) I don't know how to grind and b) I m not grinding some random cute great dancing Korean guy I met in the morning. So any way she pushes me to him and I still do my step touch. She still follows me and grinds me, hugs me. dances with/on me. O.K. seriously now go back.  He is tired and I cant wait to leave.
I am so glad we are out. We say our byes and go to our respective hostels.
I come back lie on my bed and think "F*$@!  I need to watch more of the - "how to dance in a night club videos on youtube - Damn it!"

PS: Korean guy, if you reading this, I dont stalk people. I mean, not every day, may be once a week....Nuh, seriously I dont :P

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The best things in life are always simple things that are cheap - Day 2 - Mekong Delta

Hostels are cheap for a reason - i.e. you cant expect to sleep when you pay $6 per night. Not complaining for that price, but hey, why do the beds have to so damn noisy! Every time Scott tosses and turns it squeaks. Oh and if you want to have an afternoon nap, well you'll have to go somewhere else - they don't turn on the airconditioning until 9 in the night.
Anyway I wake up to get ready to go on a day trip to Mekong Delta, HCMC's country side. I have breakfast and at the table I meet an Australian couple - we instantly bond. They tell me their plans and I tell mine and my bus is ready to pick me up.
I sit in the bus and a Korean tourist unwillingly sits next to me. He then puts his earphones on - Ummm dude, I was NOT going to talk to you! While the tour guide talks and tells a bit of history, the Korean is too engrossed passing level 9 in Fruit Ninja. The guide also warns us that the place is nothing like what you see on the postcards. Damn it! Why dint you tell me before booking! We reach the Delta and get on our boats. It's nothing like the floating markets in Thailand but its quite nice in its own way. We are taken to the Coconut candy making factory, rice paper making factory. We then get on a country style rowing boat. Its quite a nice trip except the 12'oclock heat. Calm river, birds chirping in the background, sound of the ripples as the ladies row the boat - I am enjoying this! We then go to a restaurant where are given home cooked meals. I meet a couple of melbourne girls. We get talking and they tell me how careful they are to not get food poisoning - they only eat bread and rice - plain....I want to throw up there but I just gulp and carry on.
They give strange looks at every thing they see - jackfruit, OMG what is that?, Peanut Candy, OMG that looks gross, Spring rolls - OMG they look dodgy. I say to myself, "OMG I want to run". I am all for trying to be cautious with food when overseas, but why expect a local experience if all you want to eat is Pizza and KFC! Anyway, to each their own. 
After lunch we are given the option of riding a bike around the country side or resting on the hammock. Riding the bike in at 1pm and 36 degree does'nt sound good terribly exciting to me so I choose the hammock. They girls follow suit. We go there and rest. 

Under the shade, cool breeze sitting on a hammock and doing nothing - now this is what I call a holiday! Yes, best things in life are always simple things that are cheap.
We rest for abt 2 hours and then we head back to our hotel and after about 3 hours, we are dropped off at HCMC. Everyone is tired. The girls ask what my plans are for the night  - although I m dying to see the city at night,  I don't fancy going out with them. So I say I am having a quite night and we part ways. I go grab something to eat and hit the sack at 8.30. I really am having a quite night! Scott is still doing some random internet surfing - god knows what! I am too exhausted to fill him on how my day was. I am fast asleep - then at around 3.30am someone enters the room. I open my eyes and spot a cute asian guy (Yes I can still spot someone cute even if I m half asleep :P). So I go back to sleep again, look at the guy and say to myself, Ahhhh, if we are destined to meet, we will...
Unfortunately day 2 dint have any racy bits like day 1 - BUT, day 3 took care of it! :P
Stay tuned....

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A man's touch - Day 1 - Saigon

With barely 2 hours of sleep in Singapore, we reached Saigon at 9am. 
World over you hear that the people in Vietnam and HCMC specifically are the sweetest and the friendliest..right? WRONG! Well, not everyone.
After delayed flights and finally reaching HCMC I came to my guesthouse which is hidden in a small alley way.
A lot of reviews abt this place were about how friendly the host is. So I worked my way through the maze of alleys and came to my guesthouse expecting to see my friendly host. She looks at me and goes "Why you no say you will be late". 
Me: "Ummm, I emailed you that my flight was late. 
Her: "Yeah you email 2 hours late" 
Me: Well, I dont have internet on the plane" 
Her: "My driver wait for you 1hour in airport".
I am already loosing it and dont want to stay here. But I am in no mood to look for another accomodation after an exhausting flight. Anyway after patching up with her, she tells me to wait and use the internet while she does all the check in formalities. So I waited and waited and waited and after an hour I go up to her to ask if all the formalities are done and she says, check in time is 2pm and it was 10 am. WTF, she wont let me check in!
Since sleeping or having a shower was'nt an option, I said I was going to sight see and will be back by 2. She looks at me and says, "You so tired". So lady, you know I m tired and still wont check me in. EVIL!
Anyway, i took the necessary things and left to explore the city. I met my melbourne friends (the guys who were also going to Vietnam) who were having a beer, Saigon style, sitting in small chairs while I have a coffee. We then start exploring the streets and 100 meters later they take a break for a beer. I have another Vietnamese coffee. We start again, 200 meters, another beer stop, another coffee, again another beer stop 200 meters later. 2 hours and all I saw was bars after bars. Apparantly, that is what you are supposed to do in your holidays they tell me. I smile and politely say I want to actually see places. So I leave on my own - Ahhh it feels so good being alone and stopping where I want to stop! My first stop was the Hindu temple in they city. I met the caretaker Mr Laxmanan. An Indian man, with a Wietnamese accent who lives in France -yeah, weird. Absolutely sweet man. He tells me a bit of history about the temple, his father who was there 60 years ago and some amazing things about Saigon. He then tells me the names of places to get the best massage, best clothes, best Indian food and the best nightclubs in Saigon. He even writes a note to the massage lady and the clothes shop lady saying I am his friend and that they take good care of me! Oh, how sweet! He asks me to meet his mum who is the head priest at 7 in the night. I take down all the notes and head to see the sights - Ben than market, (had a lovely Pho for 50cents, hell yeah! I love Vietnam!) Reunification Palace, Notredam Catherdral and Post office. Great structures and amazing history behind each building. (I wont bore you with the history of Vietnam or the war, you can google it yourself if you would like to know the history). 

The Massage:

Its already 5 and i think its time for a massage after walking for 6 hours in 37 degree heat and 100% humidity. I take a taxi and bargain with the taxi driver - taxi fare $2, he laughs at my aggressive bargaining skills - Damn right, I am an Indian woman and there is nothing sweet as getting a bargain! So he drops me off at the massage place. I show them the note, and lady there goes, "Sorry I dont know your friend so I cant give you that price". F&*%!  Man, can anything not be straight forward! I still want a massage so I say ok, the expensive price is $10 anyways. So she guides me to a room and gives me change of clothes. I get changed and head to my bed. Then ta-da, a young man introduces himself and says he will be doing my massage. I think "Ummm should I say I need a lady or will they think I am lesbian :P" I smile at the guy giving my consent. He massages my head and asks me the usual questions, where I am from, how long I m there for, what I do and am I single.

He starts massaging my foot and throws flirty glances. With every stroke, he gives even more flirtatious looks - I m freaking out. So I decide its best to close my eyes and not look at him - smart me ;) He taps on my foot to ask if the pressure is ok - Dude, I am clearly trying to avoid eye contact! He then asks me to turn over to massage my back. I turn face down and a 30 mintues later,  no warning, he takes my clothes off! WTF. I turn at him, he smiles and sensing my tension, he says "is ok...relas ma'am". OMG

I am too nervous. He starts massaging my back. mmm.... he is good :P I m secretly enjoying the massage. Vietnamese massage is totally different to Thai massage. He decides to climb on my back and walk! Umm hello, dude, why don't you walk on the floor.  He puts my clothes back on serves me tea after the 1.5 hour massage. I say thanks to him hoping he wont remember my face and tip him 100,000 dong - yeah i m a generous b!tch :P
I head to the temple to meet Mr. laxmanan's mum. He sees me and tells me his mum is doing a special Puja (prayer) for me and has made special Prashad (blessed food). How sweet! I take pics with his mum and he introduces me to his wife, we talk for a bit and invites me to dinner the next day. Awww such sweet people. I say bye to them and come to my guesthouse. Finally,  I check in!
I go to my room and meet my shirtless roommate Scott - Not quite the sight I look forward to as I enter my dorm room. Scott is a 50 something american going through a mid life crisis holidaying in VN for 3 months. Then another roommate comes in. Lydia, zest a leetal quite French girl. We say hi and head off to bed.
I try to sleep while still thinking about my day - the strangers I met, the places I went, the food I ate and how I can forget, the massage I had :P...hmmm good day me thinks!