Friday, 28 May 2010

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

The first thing you notice in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the traffic, its the busiest I've seen anywhere. The roads are clogged all day long with thousands of scooters buzzing around the streets like swarms of angry insects. The Vietnamese love to honk their horns at any given opportunity so it is very noisy too. Once our bus got within the city limits it look at least another 2 hours for us to reach the drop off point as it was so busy. Thankfully our hotel was just across the street so we didn't have to venture far with our luggage through the busy streets. Aside from the manic traffic and constant hawkers offering anything from motor bike rentals to drugs we really enjoyed HCMC and stayed there for about 5 nights.

One afternoon we visited the local water park which was a good laugh, it had some slides that I never even knew existed as well as zip lines and other things that health and safety would never pass in the UK! One of the best ones was a really fast straight tube which shot you into a bowl which you span round until you lost momentum and were spat out the hole at the bottom into the pool below!

 The crazy bowl slide on the left

Some of the restaurants we ate at were excellent, in particular one called Zan-Z-Bar which was one of the best meals me and Alba had ever eaten!

We took an excursion to the Cu Chi Tunnels which are a network of underground tunnels that facilitated the Viet Cong during the 1960's during the Vietnam War. From the surface they were undetectable to the American ground troops and they helped save a lot of Vietnamese lives. Some of the traps they made were pretty gruesome with trapdoors leading to pits full of sharpened bamboo spikes- ayaz!

 one of the entrances to the tunnels... tight


Our tour guide. Notice he has put his snout in the dummy's hand, what a joker!

One night when we were leaving a restaurant near to our hotel we saw a crowd forming on the street outside. A couple of scooters were on their sides in the middle of the street so we thought there must have been a crash until we saw glass bottles flying through the air and a group of young lads starting going for it trying to glass each other. This lasted for a good few minutes until the Police showed up batons swinging. Never a dull moment in HCMC!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Vietnam- Hoi An, Nha Trang & Mui Ne

Hoi An

Since Johnny and Lowy had left a day before us from Da Nang they had already sorted a nice hotel with a pool in the centre of Hoi An. We met them there mid morning after being dropped off by the Easy Riders. Our hotel room number was 204 for the third hotel room in a row- weird.
Hoi An is a beautiful town with narrow streets packed with excellent restaurants, an assortment of textile shops and plenty of tailors. Alba and Johnny both had footwear made for the equivalent of 7 quid a pair.
On the second day we all hired bikes and pedalled the short distance to the beach and spent the full day there relaxing, playing frisbee and swimming in the sea. The waves were pretty big and the rip was strong- I got flipped upside down by a wave much to the amusement of the locals!

After a few nights in Hoi An we decided to move on further south down the coast to Nha Trang, another beach resort which took an over night bus ride to get to. The sleeper bus was OK albeit slightly cramped; we shared the back bunks with 3 Russians to personal space was minimal to say the least!

Nha Trang

When we arrived at the beach side city of Nha Trang just before 6am it looked as if most of the city's inhabitants were already on the beach either running, swimming, doing Tai Chi or even playing happy sack. When the sun comes up and gets hotter the Vietnamese and most of the people in South East Asia avoid the sun at all costs and it is quite common to see people covered head to toe even when its high summer. People ride motorbikes with an umbrella held over their faces to avoid the suns rays. Shower gel and other cosmetics even contain whitening skin agents. Ironic really how people who are naturally tanned want to be white and pale skinned people do anything to do the opposite.
We took a boat trip around the bays of the nearby islands to do some snorkeling around the reef. It was a good day and we also had a blast on a banana boat just before lunch. It was much more difficult than I thought it would be to hang on when it flipped- it actually knacked! Good fun though.

Mui Ne

Mui Ne is another of Vietnam's premier beach resorts with huge complexes dotted along the 8km or so stretch of white sand. The stretch of beach we were staying on was clean and we had a bungalow right on the beach and ate at a very swanky restaurant next door every night for cheap. The weather was so hot it was impossible to stay out in the sun too long and the sea was warm so jumping in gave you no rest bite from the heat.
One of the local attractions were the huge sand dunes just outside of the town and after reading you could sledge down them it sounded like a fun thing to do. We hired scooters for the day and off we went along the coast with the yellow dunes in the distance. We parked up at a cafe across the road from the dunes and hired some shady looking sledges off some shadier looking street kids who led us up to the top of the dunes. It was midday and was around 40 degrees and the sand was the hottest thing that has ever touched my feet! We winced in pain as we hobbled slowly up to the summit. The street urchins were seemingly unperturbed by the searing  heat as their feet looked like well worn leather.

After what seemed like forever we reached the top of the dunes out of breath with burning feet. I decided to go down first and it was really crap, a total anti climax. Climbing back up was worse as the sand was finer and covered my feet up to my shins with every step. Needless to say I didn't bother going down again!
We left the dunes and drove to the nearby Lotus Lake. It really was something else, a deep blue lake fringed by a desert of pure white sand- I'd never seen anything like it. Swimming proved difficult with thorny weeds clogging the shoreline but it was still great to cool off after the relentless heat of the dunes as Alba's face was still pink an hour later and Johnny had mild sunstroke!

Johnny and Lowy left Mui Ne early as Lowy had to go back home as the cost of his knackered boiler forced him to cut his trip short. We had a great time with you mate and you are missed! We ate at Sankara's again and said our goodbyes.

The local

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Its open

North Shields skatepark is officially open and I've heard from a few people that its really good.. check it out. Its located at the Parks Sport centre not far from the Tyne Tunnel. The skatepark is on that patch of tarmac to the right of the centre:

View Larger Map

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Thailand and Vietnam street spots

Since being out here I've lost count of all the amazing spots I've seen, most of them being untouched with not many riders or skaters to speak of. Marble ledges a plenty, no skate stoppers and a shit load of ditches. Its killed me not having my bike to ride them! Here are a handful that I've passed while I had my camera. If I get the chance to come again my bike is definitley coming with me!

The above 3 are in Bangkok's shopping district near Siam Square. They have probably been taken to bits and used as weapons in the riots by the Red Shirts by now though!

Above- All in Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand..

Above- The riverside in Da Nang, Vietnam

Saigon, Vietnam

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Vietnam - Da Nang

The bus trip to Vietnam was set to take 24 hours and it was to be aboard a bog standard bus with normal seats, no air con and no toilet! None of us were really loving this idea but we had little choice as the flights from Laos to Vietnam were astronomical for the distance.
Arriving at Vientiane Bus Station was much akin to what I imagine a wild west market would be like. Shifty characters carted goods and animals onto already heavily laden coaches while others stooped low and mumbled to one another. Once we found the 5.30pm overnight bus we werent even given the option of putting our luggage in the hold of the vehicle like you normally would as this was already full of boxes of whiskey, vegetables and God knows what else! It became clear that carrying passengers across the border was a mere afterthought compared to the seemingly lucrative haulage trade.

If our bus was half as good as this one things would have been sweet!

We made ourselves as comfortable as possible and settled in for the journey ahead. No sooner had we been on the road for 5 minutes that we made a stop in a dodgy looking waste ground to pick up more contraband and what could only be described as a pinata!

 Some guy making use of the various boxes on the bus

The Pinata in question!

We slept until we reached the border at around 5am and were rudely awoken by an invasion of Lao women getting on the bus to offer us crap exchange rates for our currency. Johnny thought we were under attack!   Once across the border it was plain sailing thankfully to our first destination in Vietnam, Da Nang.
The first thing we did after finding our hotel and getting showered was to go and find a proper Vietnamese Restaurant. Although we had been spoiled in Thailand with flavorsome food it was the Vietnamese cuisine that we were all looking forward to! Simialr in many ways to Thai food but with a lot more too it with Japanese, Chinese and French influences. The first meal was outstanding and set the bar very high for meals to come!

Johnny and Lowy decided to go straight to Hoi An the next morning but we decided to stay an extra day to explore the city. We hired 2 motorcycle tour guides from Da Nang Easyriders for the day and it turned out to be one of the best days yet! The first thing they did was take us to meet local fishermen and also acted as translators.

 "look at my squid"

From there we visited 'Monkey Mountain' to see the huge Buddha statue and various temple that were perched on a hillside overlooking the bay and the city.

It was great cruising around on the back of the bikes and being taken to see things that we wouldn't have found ourselves.
In the afternoon they took us to Marble Mountain to the south of the city where more temples and shrines have been carved out of the jagged cliffs hundreds of years ago. It was one of the best temples we have visited on the whole trip and had a certain eeriness to it.

 Our first impressions of Vietnam were certainly very high! A brilliant day.