Hué to Hoi An

The goodbye at breakfast was more difficult than I thought. We were leaving Veronica and Jo behind in Hué while Beth and I would go on to Hoi An. It was even more difficult since Jo kept on sleeping and only Veronica showed up. So the three of us went for breakfast and while Beth and I tried the Bun Bo Hué, Veronica had some rambutan.

  

While in the bathroom of the small restaurant I found this statement. If there was some deeper meaning behind it, I couldn’t find it.

And then it was really time to say goodbye, we waved for a bit but then were already out of the city.

Shortly after we stopped at a lagoon to hydrate and watch the local fishers.

            

Fishing happened only at night we were told, probably because of the heat during the day. In my protective gear of jeans and long-sleeved shirt I was sweating already early in the morning.

We were driving on Highway 1 which was under construction. And construction here meant real business. Not just one sector, no all along the road houses had been torn down to broaden the road. And dust was everywhere.

            So I was glad when we left the big highway and were driving on smaller roads again. We were on the way to the Elephant Springs, which were beautiful and refreshing, and had lots of locals in swim vests. Here we stayed for at least an hour with Phuoc guarding the luggage on the motor bikes and Chung guarding us. On the trail to the springs were a lot of food stalls where all kinds of living things were sold (and could all be made into a little snack). Next to the springs were small huts with large wooden boards in front where we left our stuff and later changed into our bike gear again.

                Of course I had to try some food on the way back to the bike. After the Chung told me that the banana leaf package was a local specialty, I just had to. It was rice paste with one shrimp (including the shell which gave it a slight crunch) and a small piece of pork steamed in said banana leaf.

Super yummy and I liked the crunch especially. From Beth I learned that I can eat the shell without a problem which I did right after when we went for lunch (you just need to get used to the idea).

      

Even though the place didn’t look like much it was one of the best lunches I had. Alone for the choice of fresh fish, shellfish and seafood it was worth going there. Since Beth was allergic to shellfish we shared squid, prawns and had a crab each. It was pure bliss!

                

On the way out we saw some fruit that we didn’t know, tried it and bought some.

Next we had to climb up to the Pha Din Pass where we could see beaches on both sides. But not only is it a good view-point it also has a long history.

          

Chung told us that near Da Nang the French tried to land the first time (I should look that up and check) but were repelled by the locals. Later they came back and tried around Saigon.

The view from up there was great and invited us to try all kind of antics.

        It must have been the coffee before which gave me so much energy. When we left the pass we were going down to Da Nang, a well know beach resort town. Here the bushes that lined the main street were cut in all kinds of shapes and the bridge was shaped like a dragon (I have learned here that the four most important animals in Vietnam were dragon, phoenix, unicorn and turtle).

          

We made a quick stop at the beach to admire the sea and the fine sandy beach before we were on the road again to visit the Marble Mountains. Phuoc gave us the tickets for the entrance and the elevator on top and off we went. First we visited the little Pagoda on top and then Beth astonished me with her cave experience. Not only did we crawl through a tiny hole, she went first to make sure there was even a way through. I couldn’t have wished for a better companion on top of the Marble Mountains.

           

And with the visit to this underground Buddhist temple our Easy rider experience was basically over. We slowly made our way down the mountain and after another 20km bike ride we got dropped off at our hotels. I am so grateful to have said yes to this unforgettable experience, I really had the best of times with Phuoc and his team as well as Veronica, Beth and Jo. Yours, Pollybert

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Driving to Hué

We met for breakfast at 7:30 on the top floor and upon Phuoc’s recommendation I ordered the eggs (sunny side up in tomato sauce). This guy really knew what I liked.

Today we started with a museum visit and I heard Beth grumbling about it, because it was hot and who wanted to go to a museum in this weather. But the museum was so much more than just a building. It was a history lesson for me because what do I know about the Vietnam War (the Vietnamese call it the American War)? Veronica and Beth knew a lot about it since Australia was also involved in it.

                

The mother of Veronica’s daughter in law had fought here and an American marine who had stayed at the Farmstay as well. And these two who had been on opposing sites met with an interpreter and Veronica. So to hear Veronica talk about the thoughts of these people while we were on site was amazing. History came alive!

From there we went further south to get to our lunch stop. But until then there was still a long time to once again enjoy the scenery.

      

But also to get a glimpse on how the locals lived.

Suddenly dark clouds loomed on the horizon and I was sure we would need to change into rain gear again. But we drove through the first rain drops and made it to the lunch place just seconds before the big rain. Click here to see.

Lunch was delicious again. Phuoc really knew where to take us. So while the rain was pounding on the roof we enjoyed our food.

  When the rain had stopped and we had finished our meal we were off again to get to Hué. But until then there was still a long way to go. Dark clouds were rolling in again, so somewhere along the way we had to put our rain gear on again.

      

When we stopped for coffee it had also stopped raining and we used the time for a swim at a nearby waterfall. Coffee in a hammock, then swimming with an inbuilt spa (while sitting on a rock little fish were nibbling on my hard soles).

But it was really time to go and get a move on Hué. Phuoc wanted to arrive before the dark and we made it easily.

                

It was our last evening together and we celebrated in style. We went for dinner at “Le Jardin de la Carambole” and shared some sparkling wine along with an excellent meal. And with Jo entertaining us with some hilarious stories, time flew. Rather soon it was time to say goodnight with a promise to meet for one more time at breakfast. Yours, Pollybert

    

Cruising around Ha Long Bay

A wonderful sunny morning greeted me when I took my shower. Imagine waking up to such a view every morning…

Most people onboard had booked the two-day – one night tour in Ha Long Bay. Since I had time and wanted to relax I had booked the 3 day tour. An Australian couple and I were the only ones who stayed on board after everyone else left for the morning program. While waiting for our day ship to pick us up, I went on the observatory deck and took some pictures.

      

The day ship would be our “home” until the late afternoon. We met our lovely guide and started with an excursion to a pearl farm. She showed us the different types of oysters used for farming with the Akoya being the smallest and the most common.

 Since they die when the pearl is removed they also breed them.

From the breeding station we walked to the “operating room” where they implant a small ball made from mother-of-pearl with a piece of membrane into the oyster. After five weeks the oysters get checked if they survived the operation. The success rate lies by 70%.

    

Before going into the customary shop she opened one oyster ready to be harvested and voilà:

The pearls can develop different colors depending on the mother-of-pearl inside the oyster.

The rest of the day was spent with relaxing. We went to one cove for swimming in the morning then spent the time until lunch reading or sleeping. Lunch was wonderful again and after that more sleeping, reading, swimming.

Mid afternoon we went kayaking where I noticed that I have no hand for it. I shared the kayak with the guide and she was definitely drenched by the time we returned. Nonetheless she abode with me and we went through a cave to an inlet where we saw lots of jellyfish. They just stayed in the inlet and didn’t go out in the ocean. I touched a couple and they felt very slippery. Also when you took them out of the water they dropped their long tentacles. But when you put them back into the water they could still swim. So no harm done.

On the way back to day boat we saw monkeys climbing overhead and jumping from tree to tree. I felt a bit like in a documentary. Such near contact to wildlife is usually not part of my daily life.

Upon our return to the cruise ship we found it empty. All the newcomers must be swimming at the beach. At dinner that evening I shared the table with the Australian couple but later I couldn’t be bothered with squid fishing. I already knew it would not be successful.

The next morning I woke early and got ready. We had a cave visit on our program at around 8am. The Surprise Cave was just a short boat ride away.

  Since most cruise ships were stopping here before heading back it was slow going to the cave entrance. But the view remedied it.

  

Once inside the cave I couldn’t stop taking pictures. It was divided into three chambers with the first one being the smallest one, getting ever bigger along the walk. The cave was set up for a one way visit with another view over the bay waiting at the end. Also a very clever thing with the amount of visitors here daily.

              

  

Back on board of our ship we had to check out of the room and get ready for a cooking class of fried spring rolls. The ones we were doing were filled with minced pork, onions, spring onions, coriander and a bit of chilies (probably more ingredients went in, but I can’t remember anymore). The chef was mixing the filling and we had to roll them tight, glueing the end with egg white to fix the paper in place.

While waiting for the chef to finish lunch I took my last pictures of the bay.

      

Shortly afterwards we had lunch and then we were back in the harbor, getting on mini bus that was packed to the last seat (here some of the smaller buses have an aisle in the middle which can be closed in case of necessity with an extra seat).

We had another stop at a shop with a bathroom on the way back to Hanoi where I saw this fruit vendor in the back. They sliced the fruits freshly in front of you and you got them in a small bag with a large wooden pick to eat.

Finally we were back in Hanoi on the way to the hotel.

I had time to re-pack my small backpack and look for some dinner. I decided on noodles with beef and herbs.

  

For dessert I had a plum lemon tea which had some jelly at the bottom.

I had just enough time left to take a shower, update the blog a bit and was then already on the way to the train station. Tonight I was going to Sa Pa. Yours, Pollybert

Going to Ha Long Bay

On my first day I had booked tours for Ha Long Bay and Sapa. So Ha Long Bay was where I was going today. Pickup was again at 8:30 and with one bathroom stop at a store/workshop that sold products made by handicapped people (who sat inside and worked) we arrived at our destination. You know I always wondered how these “workshops” financed the bathrooms etc. But there are an amazing number of people who buy overpriced and mostly ugly stuff there. Later on my trip I met a couple who bought a very expensive jewelry painting at one of these stops.

At around 12:30 we boarded a small boat to get shipped to the cruise boat the Legend.

    

After a short intervention from my side I got eventually settled in a cabin on the upper deck (my first one was on the lower deck next to the machines; what up with this treatment of single travelers as second class customers?) and a few minutes later we all went to lunch.

Our first stop on the cruise was a floating village (now almost abandoned) to which we could either kayak or get rowed. I decided on the latter which was a wise decision as I would see the next day.

                

Next up was a swim stop at a beach with a small pagoda on top and while going there we had lots to see again.

  

Vendors could even be found at sea. With the long fishnet she would pass her goods up for inspection and if you wanted to buy something you put your money in for her to take it down.

Again with the little boat (always wearing life jackets!) we went to the small island and first up I headed on top of the pagoda to get it done and then enjoy a swim after. We were lucky with the weather, the view was quite alright.

   As always there were steps and more steps to reach the top.

 But the halfway point made it already worthwhile.

    

And then the view from the top was breathtaking.

      

The swim after this short excursion was refreshing and well deserved. This was actually my first swim on the trip so far. You can imagine how much I loved it.

With the little boat we went back to our cruise ship where already drinks and fruits awaited us.

      

Dinner on the cruise was an excellent affair and I am sorry to say that I took only one picture. So here we go, please enjoy the shrimps.

After dinner we tried our hands at squid fishing but with no luck. The season for them was about  months earlier or so. Still it was fun to be on deck, sipping a cool drink and talking to other guests. Sometime later I went to my cabin to get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow we would be off early again. Yours, Pollybert

A slow start, but a start nonetheless

Since coming back from Moscow I have started with the training for the sprint triathlon in earnest. The exhaustion I felt when we were fast-walking to catch the train really got me thinking. Now I am trying to do something three to four times a week.
I already posted my first two running experiences, in the meantime I went another three times. Last Saturday I passed the 5km mark and when I cam home I was so exhausted that I needed almost one litre of water to get going again. What was also interesting that my time got worse the longer the distance.

20130501-122434.jpgThis was last Tuesday

20130501-122628.jpgand this was Saturday.

As you can see my km time got worse. So today I tried again and wanted to do at least 5km again. Then when I passed the mark from Saturday decided I would go a bit further and make a round. On the way back I noticed that the balls of m feet felt almost swollen and I had to walk for one minute, started again and then walked one more minute. This is the result.

20130501-123101.jpg
Isn’t it amazing? Even though I walked for two minutes all in all, my time is way better and I also ran more than 5km. Plus I am only at my second glass of water and less exhausted than on Saturday although today was warmer. I don’t really understand how this working, but maybe my training starts to pay off a bit.
I went swimming yesterday with one of my friend’s. I was the one telling her that she should go, that it would be good for her and that I will join her since I need to swim at the sprint triathlon as well. But every time we go now, I am not in the mood at all and she is the one who is insisting that we go. Yesterday was the third time, I did 40 laps à 25m in 40 minutes without taking a break. This is not a great time but it is a start since I am still swimming breaststroke. I know that I have to do it in freestyle otherwise I will be the last out of the water. Anyway, I will get there. At the moment I am glad that there is a small light at the end of the tunnel.

Also went to the gym last week to go cycling. Of course I went on the bike with the back first since it is very comfortable to read on it. But after 30 minutes switched to the real deal and did another 15 minutes. I know it is not comparable with cycling outside, but as I said I am only starting. Still have 6 weeks to go!
Yours, Pollybert