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Hoi An to Hue

...Vietnam continued....

So if anyone read the last post, our next journey was the overnight train from Nha Trang to Danang. Now this train was slightly worse then the previous train and no where near as clean. Unfortunately we were not given another complimentary upgrade. We had to walk to the next carriage to find a useable loo and there were a few cockroaches that were enjoying our cabin with us - not too many though, thank goodness!
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Claire, an Australian who was on the Intrepid trip with us had just turned ??...... um anyway it was her birthday so our guide had organised a lovely cake for her and we had a little party. At around midnight, I ( Ken ) went to my top bunk. All was going so well until around 3am when I woke up with a pain I don't ever recall having in my short life so far. It felt as if someone had put a branding iron into my guts, man oh man I knew I was in trouble. I sat bolt upright scrambled off the top bunk,careful not to wake anyone and found my flip flops (very necessary for where I was off to). Running the risk of dirtying my shorts and a dribble down my legs, I sort of walked to the closest toilet. Imagine walking quickly on your tiptoes with a book between your legs? That was me. Oddly enough the state of the toilet didn't bug me anymore. Needless to say, the rest of my night was spent wearing a track on the carpet between our cabin and the dodgy loo. Eventually at around 6h30 everyone started to wake up and I got pills from Lou.

Enough dirty stories, now back to our travels. Once off our train we bussed it to Hoi An. It was very interesting to see all the big resorts being built around Danang. Big golf estates and hotels. All the usual course designers. In a few years this place will be a 5* strip of beach resorts a bit like in Cancun, Mexico. When we got to the hotel we got our room straight away, which was great because Louise was still ill and meant she could climb into bed. Our guide took us on a walking tour of the town and we had lunch at 'Mermaids', the first restaurant in the town. I refrained from eating and had a black Lipton tea. Ok so Hoi An- A UNESCO world heritage site- is a magical old town and it is like stepping back in time or on to a film set, Its simply stunning. We spent the afternoon walking around ancient temples, historical houses and the markets. I managed to get Lou a birthday pressie and myself a hammock. There are hundreds of tailors and shoe shops here and it's quite unbelievable what they can make in a couple of hours.
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Still not feeling on top form, I wandered back to the hotel to check on Lou and have some rest. The evening consisted of me heading into town for a wander and a cuppa tea and Lou staying in bed. I hated the fact that she was sick because she would love this place. After a good night sleep I was up early and we went down to the beach via a few villages on bicycles. About half an hour of body surfing in the rain was a great way to wake up. Lou was feeling better, but not well enough to cycle. When I got back she was AWOL. I found her down the road from the hotel having breakfast with Gordon and Kaye. I must admit, I was so happy to see her up and looking better.The rest of the day was spent being tour guide to Lou and absorbing the charming little town, taking in the sights, sounds and smells together. Wonderful. It's a very overpowering place and easy to fall in love with. So it was full moon and a lantern festival awaited us that evening. On the festival night, streets are decorated with colorful traditional lanterns lighting the whole town while soulful folk and opera music and lyrical poetry chanting wafting from every corner. The centre of town is closed to traffic and all the lights aRE turned off. This is one of a few exotic festivals around the world which does not require a season to visit. It happens on the 14th day of the lunar month.
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Usually on this night, tourists leave their hotels and flood the street walking the peaceful street, lit by hundreds of colorful lanterns, listening to the music floating in the air and enjoying an enchanting moment back in ancient time. For us it wasn't as romantic and dreamy as portrayed. It was wet, overcrowded and the rain basically put a damper on a good night. We walked the street dodging people and dancing dragons until we were soaked through, then we called it a night.

When we woke up I wished Louise a HAPPY BIRTHDAY- The big 30, and I handed her present wrapped in newspaper. She wasn't expecting anything as we had said no pressies this year because of this trip. It was a carved box, with chopsticks inside. We went and had a birthday breakfast upstairs at a restaurant overlooking the river and then found a tailor to get a skirt made for her to wear on her birthday night. It didn't stop there, next was a cobbler to get custom sandals made to go with the skirt. I did say Lou would love this place! We hired some bikes and rode around and then went for coffee and cake at the Cargo Club. Lou spent the rest of the afternoon getting her nails done while I buggered off towards the beach to fish with the locals for about an hour. Caught nothing!
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Then began the rush. Get to the tailor for a fitting of the skirt at 17h00, too big so it needed adjusting. They promised to deliver it to our hotel by 18h30 after I paid for it in full. Racing against the light we headed back to return our bikes (which are only US$1/day) and to pick up Louise's new shoes. She also wanted to get her hair washed and straightened before we met everyone at 19h00 for a group dinner to celebrate the birthday. I showered and got dressed and waited and waited and waited............... Eventually Lou got back at 18h40, frantically did her make up, chucked on her new gear and we went off for dinner. Wow she looked good! Lou got given a lovely bunch of flowers and a cake by the group. It was a good day.
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The weather over the last few days had been really crap, but today, 1st October, was the worst, it was dumping down in Hoi An. This was not a problem as we were moving on to our next destination, Hue. The best part about Hue is the road that takes you there and not too much else. The road to Hue is a must do drive in Vietnam. The views are breathtaking. We stopped at China beach and watched fishermen pulling in their nets, then headed through the port town of Danang, across a lagoon and started climbing the pass. The drive is stunning and anyone who saw Top Gear Vietnam special will know what I mean. After 4 hours we arrived in Hue.
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"Hue- The intelectual,spiritual and cultural heart of Vietnam. Palaces and pagodas, tombs and temples, culture and cuisine, history and heartbreak- There's no shortage of poetic pairings to descrtibe Hue" One of our guide books.
"Just another dirty Vietnamese city, with lots of the unnecessary tourist traps" - Ken Erler, 2012

Our time in Hue was spent writing our Cambodia blog, chilling and checking out the Imperial Citadel - which is very fascinating. It was constructed on the Northern bank of the perfume river, started in 1804, as the royal residence for kings of Vietnam. During the Indochina and American wars many of the buildings were destroyed. But most have been or are in the process of being restored. We did spend a lovely time exploring this amazing place. Also worth a mention is the Mandarin Cafe. The owner is a Vietnam war veteran, also a photographer. The staff are welcoming and very friendly. The food is mouthwateringly great and time will pass you by as you immerse yourself in the albums of photographs the owner has taken over the years. He sells postcards of his work and also gives each customer a free one. Time spent here is time well spent.
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After 2 nights in Hue we headed to the train station for our last sleeper train to Hanoi........

Posted by louslabbert 22:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged mountains temples fishing beach train river vietnam pagodas funny hanoi ancient hue hoi_an overnight mandarin_cafe Comments (1)

Land of the head hunters...Borneo!

Kuching, Borneo - First stop on our whirlwind tour of South East Asia.

The reason Kuching was on our itinerary was because Ken gave me a list of a few of the things he wanted to see and do during our trip. One of them was to see the Orangutans and so we decided on Semonggoh National Park, with Kuching being the place to stay closest to the park.

The Semenggoh Wildlife Centre was established in 1975 to care for wild animals which have either been found injured in the forest, orphaned, or were previously kept as illegal pets. The centre is situated within the boundaries of the Semenggoh Nature Reserve, approximately 24 km from Kuching. When established, the three main aims of the Centre were to rehabilitate wild animals who have been injured, orphaned in the wild or handicapped by prolonged captivity, with the objective of subsequently releasing them back to the wild, to conduct research on wildlife and captive breeding programmes for endangered species and to educate visitors and the general public about the importance of conservation. As a result of its success, Semenggoh’s role has changed and it is nowadays a centre for the study of orangutan biology and behaviour, as well as a safe and natural haven for dozens of semi-wild orangutan, graduates of the rehabilitation programme. It is also home to numerous baby orangutan, born in the wild to rehabilitated mothers, a further testament to the success of the programme.

After hearing lots of feedback and stories on the number of orangutans which had been seen by other travellers, we were excited about our trip to see them. With two hourly feeding times, 9am and 3am, we opted for the morning slot. We got up early on Monday morning, made our way to the bus station and caught the bus just before 7am, getting us to the park very early. After buying our entry ticket we walked 20 minutes through the jungle to get to the rehab centre. At 9am, along with a large crowd of visitors, we were led to the feeding area. We waited, and waited and waited....and waited. Well, unfortunately for us, the orangutans were not hungry that morning and so did not grace us with their presence. Very disappointing! Good for the park, as it means that they are finding their own food, however sad for us, as we had really been looking forward to seeing them. So heavy hearted, we made our way by bus back to Kuching, where we recuperated in the aircon'd room for a while before a trip to the Sarawak Museum. It was a great insight into the local Iban life and the history of Malaysian Borneo.

The highlight of the day / night was dinner - we treated ourselves to dinner at a place called James Brookes Bistro, on the waterfront. Ken had the yummiest butter chicken and I chose the fish curry - amazing! Definitely a treat as we blew our budget that day!

Another early start on Tuesday and another early bus trip. This time is was to Bako National Park. An hour on the bus got us to the park office, where we had to buy day permits to the park. We joined up with a couple from Canada, and bought return boat tickets to the park, as they were also going for the day and so it worked out much cheaper to share the journey. The park is 27 square kilometers, with secluded beaches, mangrove swamps, cliffs, lowland forest and heath forest. After a 20 minute boat ride through the croc infested estuary, we signed in. There are 17 hiking trails in Bako - we opted for a 5.8 km loop, which was estimated to take 3.5 hours. So off we set on our hike in 36 degree Celsius heat, at around 95 % humidity. Well, were we in for a shock. My idea of a hike was on a straight/level/flat surface. Withing 5 minutes of starting we were literally climbing vertically out of the valley. The hike was tough, up and down using tree roots as steps and vines as ropes. But I survived :-) The jungle was alive with lots of noises, but we didn't see too many animals except for the bearded pigs, fiddler crabs and mudskippers at the start of the hike. We also managed to see the macaque monkeys and the famous proboscis monkeys. Ken was in his element in the jungle!

Once back in Kuching, as knackered as we were, we headed to Top Spot for dinner, which was highly rated in all the guide books/online as the place to eat. Top Spot is a food court on top of a multi story car park. Seafood city!! You walk around, checking out the fresh seafood, deciding what to go for. You choose what you want - they cook it for you and bring it to the table. We had huge prawns, cooked in garlic, chilli and spring onions. Yum yum yum! it was an awesome meal - a fitting end to a great few days in Kuching.

While on the plane from Kuching to Penang, just before take off, Ken realised that our camera had grown legs and walked! Yup, our lovely new camera was missing, along with all of the photos from our day at Bako NP. Talk about putting a damper on the day. We were absolutely gutted. After liaising with airport staff and lost property, the camera was never found. Sob sob sob :-)

Bye Bye Borneo...next stop, Penang......

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Posted by louslabbert 03:05 Archived in Malaysia Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains buildings trees animals birds sky boats temples food markets fishing beach travel monkey river malaysia roads city pagodas borneo funny sights ancient bbq pig deer vendors stalls sounds proboscis_monkey hornbill orangutang shop_houses kutching Comments (2)

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