A year ago today we left home aboard a one way flight to Bangkok. Since then we’ve travelled through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Australia. It has been without a doubt, the most incredible, exciting, eye-opening and completely insane year of our lives.
Here’s our year in numbers:
1. Total stamps in passports (together): 31
2. Wonders of the world seen: 3
3. Properties stayed in: 72
Christmas 2012, a month before take off. All ready for the year ahead!
4. Skydives: 1 (each)
Vietnam almost broke us. Disastrous overnight journeys, lost possessions and bouts of serious illnesses robbed us of not only a lot of money, but also a lot of our optimism. So when it came to booking the last part of our journey, a cruise around Halong Bay, we were looking for a bargain and praying for the best – especially as the sunsets here are supposed to rival the best across the world.
Our hotel offered a two day, one night trip including food for $45, which seemed great and despite the saleswoman looking dubious and describing it as ‘not the worst, not the best’ cruise, we were feeling excited!
Needless to say, it rained. A lot.
But the boat was clean and modern, there was a wide range of food choices, the drinks were reasonably priced and we made some hilarious friends. Continue reading
Smoothies by day, mojitos by night. It sounds so glamorous until you note the children’s stools spilling onto the busy roads to provide seating for the bar’s guests. But what’s life without a little risk?!
The Green Pepper Bar, The Old town, Hanoi
Charlotte & Sarah x
As travellers who frequently find themselves lost with no idea how this came to be, we can speak with absolute certainty that some of the best finds come about this way. Although we can’t give specific directions to Chillout (Hanoi), we can advise a Google search or a wander of your own – these were the best smoothies we had in the whole of Asia and the bohemian vibe of the cafe made us feel ultra arty and cool in the process (a rare treat!).
Hanoi has some unique cultural highlights – French cathedrals, surprisingly speedy rickshaws and an impressive plume of moped smoke, but the Water Puppet Theatre has to be one of the most entertaining Vietnamese things we’d seen so far. With traditional music and costumes, puppets are made to ‘dance’ across the water, depicting some of the country’s native stories and legends.
In spite of the seats being built to Vietnamese proportions (even shorty Charlotte had some leg room issues!) and sometimes getting slightly confused over the plot of a story, we loved it. Continue reading
Finally what we’d been waiting for – the Vietnam that comes to mind when you’re dreaming of the legendary beaches, quaint streets and characterful buildings. Still a town for the tourist, but without compromising on its beauty.
With its narrow criss-crossed streets and rickety city bicycles for rent on nearly every corner, there was only one way we wanted to explore Hoi An.
We handed over our one dollar each and immediately took the straight road out to the beach.
We sunbathed for a while and tried out the amazing noodle soups in the local restaurants along the beach front, before heading back to explore the old town. Continue reading
After a night indulging in Nha Trang’s nightlife, the best cure has to be one their many mud baths. All the hostels and hotels arrange cheap tours to and from the nearest mud spa and it’s completely worth the $10. After just three hours of splashing around in mud, exfoliating under the vigorous waterfalls and floating in a mineral-filled tub, we’d never felt more radiant!
Charlotte and Ellen helping Sarah get the most from the experience…
Charlotte and Sarah x
After months of Thai cuisine and sweet bread, the French influence and baguettes on the Vietnamese food scene sent the two of us foodies into overdrive. It’s hard to find a single street not adorned with pâté stands and you can suss out the best and the freshest by the longest queues. Their traditional pâté baguette also encompasses sliced meats, Asian vegetables, soy sauce and mayonnaise (but you can mix and match to suit your palette!). Don’t be put off by the meats in the window, these are usually just for show and when it comes to making your order, the chef will produce fresh, cooled ingredients.
‘Bánh mì’ – Vietnamese for ‘bread’
At under $1 each the staff soon new our order by heart, slightly embarrassing…
Charlotte & Sarah
Having studied the Vietnam War at school and being a couple of geeks in general, we were extremely excited to see the Vietcong tunnels – though having been so disturbed by the Killing Fields in Cambodia, we were slightly more hesitant than we might otherwise have been to learn more about the aftermaths of war and the impact on the countries involved.
Very hot and sweaty in a ‘larger’ replica of the Vietcong tunnels
As the Vietcong were living in their enemy’s territory, they had to live underground and built an entire and extensive underground community – some people living down there for as long as 27 years. There were kitchens, bedrooms and even maternity wards.
Our tour guide (nicknamed ‘Jackie Chan’ years ago by the Americans) had been a translator for the Americans and so after the war, the opposing side winning with the Fall of Saigon, he was arrested and spent two years in prison, where he had to collect up and dispose of mines which the Americans had dropped but which had failed to detonate. Apparently Vietnam won’t be clear of all the mines for 100 years after the war ended.
Jackie showing us the entrance to a genuine Vietcong tunnel
If there’s one thing we’ve learnt in the last six months, it’s this: we hate travelling by bus. However, backpacking on a budget in SE Asia rarely leaves us with a wide variety of transport options, and three weeks of travelling through Cambodia and Vietnam saw us on four ‘sleeper’ buses, and a total of 41 very, very uncomfortable hours.
Nothing is more nerve wracking than the wait for the bus (usually a couple of hours on the edge of a road by some bins), and the same questions circle our minds every time: will we be sitting near each other? Will the air con work? Will my neighbour be a vomiter? What time will we arrive – 4am? 1pm? (Both equally possible.) Why do they demand punctuality from us when it’s so hard to achieve themselves? Will they have toilets on board, or should I go to the toilet just one more time? And lastly, why do I still have some hope that it won’t be that bad? It will be.