Monday, 21 January 2013

Hanoi / The start of Vietnam

After our crazy adventures in China, I was looking forward to Vietnam, partly because I had heard how beautiful it was, and partly because I had started to look forward to going places a little more touristy, because we had not met many friends in 7 weeks!

We left China on a night train to Vietnam.  The border change over felt strange but was fairly straight forward, basically everyone had to get of the train in China, then get back on, go a bit further up and then get off the train in Vietnam, get your passport stamped and then your away!

We arrived into Hanoi at 5am and then luckily were allowed into our beds at the hostel straight away.

We had 4 days in Hanoi, and we were quite laid back about our time.  I think you only really need 3 days there in total.

My favorite bits of Hanoi were -

The people.  I loved the Vietnam people, who were so friendly and smiley,after all the country have been through you think they would be suspicious of foreigners, but they graciously accept you into their land.  The way the family's operate is lovely as you see them all gather at meal ties from their various jobs (they all work long hours) and sit on little plastic chairs and eat together, while all the kids laugh and run around.  The sellers are all so nice and friendly and will accept that you don't want something, if you say no.

The food.  I have never tried any sort of Vietnamese food before and I have to say Hanoi was a great place to start!  My favorite was pho and bun cha.  Pho is a rice noodle soup with meat in it, which is really tasty.


Bun cha is really different from everything i had ever tried before.  You were presented with pork, salad, noodles  spring rolls and a pineapple water thing and then you constructed your own meal! Really delicious. And one of my personal favorites the mobile kebab people.  This is not your usual kebab these are the most amazing sandwiches you will ever have!

The way the streets are laid out.  Hanoi is crazy, there idea of urban planing is put everything of the same shop on the same street.  Useful if you want to check several shops for the same thing, not so useful if you need something lets say a light and light street is really far away!  My personal favorite streets were Christmas street (where we were staying), disco light street, and the most terrifying street of all (and the stuff which night mares are made of) Mannequin street!

The water puppet show.  Like going into a crazy dream that's actual real life.  The water show is a mix of tradition  music, puppets, lights and water.   It starts by showing a dragon and fairy (who looks like a bird) falling in love and then giving birth to 100 sons who in turn become the people of Vietnam!  Really weird but really fun.

The traffic.  Its so crazy, you just have to start walking out into traffic slowly and let the motorbikes and scooters swerve around you (there used to it).  It takes abit of getting use to it, as you feel crazy at first, stepping out into such dense traffic!

The parks and lakes.  Really nice places to hang out, and see how the locals live.  And also see all the brides getting their wedding photos taken!  And try and see the last 2 remaining big turtles that live in the lake (we didn't see them!)

The more sobering aspects of Hanoi were visiting the "Hanoi Hilton"  (Ho Lo Prison) - which was a prison during the war for independence from the french and a prisoner of war camp during the american war.  Both of which paint a very real and horrible picture of being imprisoned.

Next stop Halong Bay!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Nanning / Chinese drinking culture

We had to get an overnight train to Nanning.  Luckily our friend Dominic can speak a little Chinese so had managed to get our tickets for us.

The train was fine, but the walk to the hostel was really long, but once we got there the hostel was amazing.  It was called the Green Forest Hostel and had some really lovely staff.

The first day we didn't do very much but went to the night market which was pretty cool.  Andy tried duck's blood soup which was pretty horrible, like a grey broth with lumps of congealed blood in it.  They also hd loads of live fish there to choose and we saw a dead dog hung up to be eaten, which was interesting, but not a nice sight, especially as I have a little dog at home!

The next day me and Andy went to the park which was really cool.  There was a path that was completely misty, which they did by spraying cold steam into the air.

They also had a flower competition on and had created a dragon and a bird out of flowers, which was amazing.

It also had a small amusement park in it, where we went on a terrifying roller coaster that felt like it might break any moment, and a funny ghost house (funny because it was so bad!)!

We then went for a night out which is one of the most epic nights out ever.  We met a British guy who said that all the Chinese people in the club will buy drinks for you because your foreign. We were fairly skeptical about this, but went anyway.  Me and Andy bought some drinks, and then suddenly I was pulled up to the VIP area by some 50 year old men, then they started dancing with me and getting me to drink. I called over Andy and Isaac but the business men didn't like it being a joint deal and started dancing with all 3, and at the last moment we realized they had danced us out of the VIP area (we realized afterwards they were probably part of the government!)!

 Another group of young guys then called us over, and effectively used us as pulling tools to get ladies over to dance with them.  We found out they say gambae in China it means down your drink, and if you down drink it all they will hold it to your lips until you do. Any other conversation aside from gambae is limited to hand gestures as no one speaks English!

Isaac, Andy and our new friends
We found all the people we danced with very generous.  As soon as your cup is empty it is filled up straight away.  The drinks consists of whiskey and green tea, which sounds horrible but is actually pretty nice, and quite sweet, and its very good quality whiskey. the culture in China is for everyone to sit around tables, and there isn't much dancing, and as you order drinks the bar staff bring trays of fruit over to you!  Its completely different from the UK.

The club itself was very modern and swanky, they had a couple of singers on, a burlesque show and at one point handed out balloons for everyone to wave.  We stayed with our new friends until they started throwing up over the table, and we decided not to out stay our welcome.  We walked around the club and some Japanese business men pulled me to their table, telling me I was very beautiful, they had one of the club promoters (Charles, I cant remember his Chinese name!) with them translating for them, who I got on really well with, who was friends with another table which had some younger people on it.  The ladies there were downing several drinks in the time it took me to finish one!  They wanted me to drink faster but I was fairly hammered by this point.  And we left soon afterwards. A little worse for wear!

Me and Charles

The next day we didn't do anything as we were so hung over!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


We left Hong Kong quite early in the morning, and then got the metro to the end of the line in Hong Kong.  The last stop is pretty much only a border crossing, as there was no way to leave the station except going over to China!  We walked up to the Hong Kong border patrol and they stamped our passports, and that was it, we were in no man’s land between China and Hong Kong.  We then had to walk a fair bit, over a river (which I’m guessing was the border between Hong Kong and China), and then we had to fill in arrival cards for China and cross the border.  That was the most tense bit, as if your refused entry your pretty much stuck in no man’s land, with no way to leave! 

Once we got over the border we were then in Shenzhen which felt really lacking in personality, and we just boarded our train to Guangzhou.  It was a really nice train, so different from the Indian trains!  When we arrived in Guangzhou we got the metro and then walked to our hostel through rain and cold!  I really hadn't felt cold for such a long time, it was actually quite nice.  That evening we literally just went across the street and got some fried noodles as we couldn't be bothered doing anything else.

The next morning we got up really late and then tried to go for Dim Sum, as Guangzhou is where Dim Sum was created.  We wondered around for ages trying to find anyone who spoke English, or had pictures with the Menu, but no luck!  We eventually just went into a nice looking restaurant, and sort of hoped for the best! 

We were given tea, and the Lady serving us showed us we were supposed to wash our chopsticks and bowls with the tea, and then presented us with a menu entirely in Chinese characters.  We decided on 3 things, based on what order we thought a menu would be in such as starters, mains, and desserts.  Some of the menu had a star and a thumbs up, so we chose 2 of those and one ordinary one too, for good measure.

The first thing that came out was some sweet buns, which were delicious; we then had some meat dumplings which were quite nice.  We started to get excited thinking we had sort of cracked the menu.  We waited ages for our last course and when it came we were very disappointed!  It looked a lot like a scented candle.  It was a clear jelly like substance containing beans.  It was sweet but really not nice.  We left most of it.  We then just wondered around a little in the evening.

The next day we met a new friend who is from Guangzhou called Choppy (his English name), and he took us out for some really good Dim Sum!  It was all delicious. 

He then showed us around the park, the market and a Buddhist temple.  The Buddhist temple was really cool as it had golden statues of all the monks who had gained enlightenment.  Each statue was very different and gave you a glimpse of them as people.

In the evening we went for food called hot pot which was a really interesting idea.  You basically get a pan of boiling flavored water (you choose the flavor) and then you cook your own meat and veg in it.  It’s a really social meal to have!

We then met our new friend Dominic in the evening (who you will hear about a lot), the next day we all decided to try and do some cultural things together.  The lady in the hostel said there was the Chen Clan Academy, which she insisted was something to do with Jackie Chan, which couldn't have been further from the truth.  It was a folk Art museum, and some interesting things in it.  We then walked down the river and saw the French colonial buildings, and that was about it for the day!

 On the way back Dominic introduced us to the Chinese supermarkets.  They are crazy.  They have everything you could ever want in them, e.g. meat sweets (which Andy bought).  We then bought some Chinese rice spirit baijui which was about 70p for big bottle, then went back to the hostel to drink with Andy, Dominic, and Choppy.

Me, Andy, Choppy, and Dominic
The next day we were all a bit worse for wear and we didn’t do anything until we had to leave to get to our next stop of Nanning!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The start of China / Hong Kong

 We arrived at Delhi Airport which was very modern.  The flight was a bit weird as it was at night time so everyone went to sleep but they kept waking us up every few hours for various food and drink!  I pretty much stayed up the whole flight as I just couldn't get comfortable!

We arrived in Hong Kong in the morning and then had to get a long bus journey to Causeway bay which is where we were staying.  When we got there we found that our hostel was an illegal hostel which was random, but it was very nice anyway.

Our first day was pretty much spent looking for a laptop which we managed to find, and navigating the metro system.  The computer stores in Hong Kong are really random as they are like lots of small market shops under one roof.  We managed to get an alright deal (same prices as UK) and now own a lovely net book.

In the evening we went to the Supermarket which was awesome, they have live fish there, a really good sushi section, and loads of interesting food!  We just got a little bit for tea and then stayed in the hostel for an early night.

The next day we met up with our wonderful friend Gloria who we had met in Varanasi in India.  She lives in Hong Kong so she showed us round!

 We went for amazing Dim Sum with her, which was really tasty.  The prawn ones were amazing!  We then got the tram up the "Peak".  Now the peak is a really steep mountain which when you get up it, your suppose to have this amazing vista of the whole of Hong Kong, unfortunately for us all we got to see was a massive cloud, as the weather was really against us!  We got to see a little on the way down, but the tram was still a fun experience.

We then headed to Mong Kok, which is really busy, full of shops and fluorescent lights!  We wandered around, and went into some pet shops where you could pet dogs (I really enjoyed this, but Andy and Gloria gave me crazy cat lady looks), we then wandered down some of the markets, had some bubble tea and street food.  We then went back to the hostel and drank there with some new friends we had made.

The 3rd day we got the cable car up to see the Big Buddha   The cable car was amazing   It was such a long que for it, but it was totally worth it.  You saw the airport really well as well as all the high rises in the city behind.  You also could see a little village nestled into the mountain side as you ascended the mountain. As we went past the Big Buddha in the cable car the statue was shrouded in mist.  But once we were at the top of the mountain we were greeted to a disneylandesqu shopping center, all with heavily inflated prices for food and souvenirs.

 I was abit disappointed as I had though the Big Buddha was an old statue, to find out it was only made in 1997 as a symbol of goodwill between China and Hong Kong, when China took Hong Kong back in 1997. On the statue it says 1997 - 2047, which I asked Gloria about.  Its suppose to mean that China can't change anything about Hong Kong for the first 50 years of it being integrated back into China, but apparently they are already changing things, to make it more Chinese, whilst Hong Kong is now striving for better democracy within its politics, even though they will have to become fully communist in 2047.  Its quite a strange idea.

The big Buddha was good, but the cable car was definitely better.  We then went back to get to the light show that is on every night on the water front in Hong Kong.  When we got there the view was stunning.  It was the most beautiful cityscape I have ever seen.  The light show started and it was really fun and an awesome atmosphere.  The clouds in the sky just made everything more dramatic.

We then went out clubbing, which was different   We managed to get caught up in the ex pats clubbing area, which meant everything was expensive and it was alot of rich older guys, trying to pull younger women.

On the last day we met up with Gloria again and had some amazing food in a tea shop (pork and wonton noddle soup - which I think is the best food I have had while traveling!) and saw the film life of Pi which was amazing!  Really enjoyed going to the cinema for abit of normality!  Me and Andy then wandered over to Time square and had some really tasty street food (I had friend Chicken which was the best chicken I have ever had).

We then relaxed ready for leaving Hong Kong!