China II: Week 19 + Vietnam

1/08/2011: Day 22

Night train journeys are always the best because you wake up in a location far from where you were when you put your head down. That kind of thing freaks me out.

Anyway, both me and James woke in good spirits a few minutes before our arrival in Nanning.
were now in a location new to us both, so the real adventure was about to begin.

Thankfully, and in keeping with the luck that has followed me throughout my time in China, our hostel was only a stones throw from the train station. This meant that we only needed to use our limited notes written the day before to find it. When we did it seemed like a nice enough had beds and a shower. However, since we arrived quite early we were required to wait for our beds to be cleaned. We used this opportunity to shower (both of us were dirty and smelly).

During this time we were approached by an American girl named Emily. She asked us where we were from and we were surprised to hear that she knew Torquay. In fact, she had even visited Torquay a few Christmas’ ago…a very small world. It turned out that she actually enjoyed her stay in Torquay despite the exotic and exciting places that she had visited on the rest of her travels.

Given that all of our resources indicated that Nanning is little more than a gate-way city to Vietnam we decided to avoid the limited attractions within the city and explore the outskirts. After observing a map of the province, Guangxi, we decided on a destination; Baise.

Once checked in and showered myself, James and Emily walked to the bus station in the hope of finding a cheap bus. Emily had an additional weapon: Chinese. She put my Chinese to shame but made me even more determined to learn more. Given her experience over 2 years I have now come to the conclusion that Beijing is the place to learn and will consider a long stay there on my next visit.

Anyway once in the bus station we were approached by a nutty looking woman with a brolly. Usually I avoid these people like the plague but on this occasion she told us that we can go to Baise. Thinking that she may be offering a good deal we decided to go with her. In hindsight she was trying to rip us off…shock. The woman made us jump onto a public bus and got of in the middle of nowhere. Here we waited for our hired bus whilst the old lady sat on the curb muttering to herself. Just as we were preparing our excuses to leave the bus turned up and the woman took our money. From the look of everyone else on the bus it definitely seemed as though we paid over the odds..we later found this to be true.

The bus journey was not that exciting but my highlight was offering James pieces of mango. Apparently this is offensive to him. I am beginning to find out that James can be wound up by very trivial things but accept the abnormal things that happen as quite normal. Different people, different needs.

Despite not quite reaching Baise (in fact still about 2 hours away) we decided to get off the bus in the middle of nowhere. It turned out to be a fantastic decision. For a few minutes we considered what we could do in the middle of nowhere. Then we decided to head towards the mountains we could see far in the distance. As there only seemed to be one road we decided to walk across the fields. i.e. off the beaten track…perfect. We walked across dozens of fields featuring everything from corn to bananas to massive anonymous fruits. Naturally, we avoided stepping on any of the crops that lay in our way. This meant we took our time in getting across the fields and often out ourselves in dangerous situations. This was highlighted when Emily fell over when jumping off a mud heap. She wasn’t too embarrassed or hurt though. We saw very few people as we passed over the farm lands. This was possibly because the farmers are wiser than us and avoid going out in the heat of the day. However, the few people who we did see did not seem to welcome us with open arms. The first was a man burning his own crops, who seemed like a bit of a nutter. The second was an old woman who told her cow off for looking at us and the third was a man who turned off his hose so that we couldn’t coll ourselves down with it. They were all quite suspicious of us, and understandably so considering there was no reason for foreigners to be crossing these fields. We were loving it though, it was defiatly the right choice from exploring another city.

After a couple of hours of trekking in the heat we came to what looked like a small village. Our guess was that the farmers from the fields had their family homes there. Initially there didn’t seem to be many people around but as we began to walk through the village more and more people can out to look at the foreigners. We then managed to obtain a group of children who followed us through the village on bicycles, picking up their friends en-route. Everytime we looked behind there seemed to be a new child shouting ‘hello’ at us. We then came across a group of girls who already had their camera phones ready to film us as if word had got around of our presence before we even arrived. This was certainly a nice experience.

We only walked a little further through the village until we came to the railway track. Here a very bored man asked James to take a photo of him and if he could send it by post. The man posed on his stretch of railway like the proudest man in the world and then gave James his address (in Chinese) to ask for th e photo posted. It might be true that this was the first photo the man had taken of him (except for the one on his id card).

Reluctant to walk much further since we found a bus that passed through the village on its way to Nanning we sat at a cafe and drank some local beer. This was not only refreshing but very rewarding. Today had already been successful.

We each had a couple of beers before the next bus arrived. Since there was no toilet in the cafe or on the bus we all had a very awkward journey back praying for our bladders to hold up. Eventually we did arrive back where we were able to have a quick shower before picking up some food at a chinese restaurant. More Chinese food! I still can’t get enough of it!

After dinner we went back to the hostel to relax where we were joined by 6 dutch students who were touring China. We joined them for a game of ring or fire until the early hours of the morning. The consequence of which promises to make tomorrow a very interesting day, especially as we have an early start.

02/08/2011: Day 23

Perhaps as a result of the late night the evening before I was uncharacteristically still asleep at the time of our alarm: 7am. Our bus left from the bus station to the waterfall at 7:40 and we still had to get ready, get there, get sufficient water, buy our tickets and board. Once again we made it and it didn’t seem that much of a rush. At he station we met the dutch boys from the night before. They, like us, looked like they had a rough night, indicated by there glazed eyes.

Since we wer promised a 4 hour journey we saw this as adequate time to catch up on our missed sleep. However, as the time slowly progress (time moves slower on a bus) 11:40 was soon gone and we were approaching 1pm. This would not normally be a problem but our return coach to Nanning left the waterfall at 3pm. Everyone was a little concerned that we may have to turn back as son as we arrived. Everyone except the driver. Instead of picking up on his passengers desire to reach the fall he decided to stop for a half hour lunch break. Naturally all of us were a little puzzled by this, but we got the opportunity to fill our empty tummys…every cloud.

Even with the break we were able to reach the fall by 2pm, with 3.15 as our scheduled departure. We then found out hat entry would cost us £7…a huge dent in our budget. Myself, Emily and James seeked an alternative entrance through a deroliced house and a steep hill. Once again Emily hurt herself climbing, but she’s a tough cookie. We had to admit defeat soon after though as there seemed no free way in and we already had limited time.

So once we were in it was just a short walk before we saw the splendid view of the waterfall (Detian Pubu). What was also fascinating was that it appeared to be unspoilt by tourism and there were no queues of people or people pestering us to buy things. We had an hour to spend in paradise with just a f ew dutch lads and a couple of Chinese families….how is this place not on everyone’s radar? At this moment we were so thankful of the waterfalls lack of publicity.

We walked closer and closer to the base of the water fall, which actually acts as a border between China and Vietnam. Despite the numerous signs telling us not to swim in the water the beauty of the fall and the heat of the sun made it far to appealing and any danger was soon forgotten. We stripped to our undies and began swimming in the open water at the bottom of the majestic waterfall, of course not getting close enough to die. As we swam so peacefully through the water we each had dragonflies perched on our heads who were also enjoying the ride. Perhaps the waterfall had already killed us and we were now in heaven? I would have believed it. This is what it’s all about :P. For a while we swam around the different parts of the waterfall and even tried to swim close to one of the smaller falls…the current prevented me from reaching it. Despite only having an hour to swim and observe it we were more than satisfied with traveling such a distance. The waterfall has to be experienced to be believed as no photos can do it justice. And swimming so close to it uninterrupted by anything other than the friendly dragonflies made complete contrast to most other places in China.

We were so happy with our day out now that they journey back seems like a blur (probably because I slept through most of it). However, we were then back by about 9pm as oppose to the 6pm advertised. Perhaps the bus driver knew that no one would complain about the journey after seeing the waterfalls.

As we arrived we remembered that one of the hostel staff wanted to have dinner with us in the evening (although we suspected he only really wanted to eat with Emily). When we got back to the hostel he was still waiting for us but we made sure we showered first. He then told us he and his friends had booked a restaurant for us about 10 minutes away by taxi. We had to tell him that we did not want a late night and we could not afford the restaurant he wanted us to go. As if to confirm our suspicions he then told Emily that he will visit her on her travels soon. He was a little strange but she just nodded accepting.

So our last big meal in China came from the muslim noodles in Nanning Although not the most exciting of chinese foods it does some up most of the qualities of it. tasty, cheap, interesting, fresh and filling. I am going to miss Chinese food so much. I get the impression James will too.

It was then time to pack out bags for the morning and relax before our morning bus to Hanoi, Vietnam. Another goodbye to China was just hours away.

03/08/2011: Day 24

Today we left China and arrived in Vietnam. I left feeling that I have not quite finished with China. Perhaps this is a good indication that I will return one day. But now is the time for a new country, a new culture, with different food and people: Vietnam.

Initially we left Nanning at 8am for a short journey to the Chinese-Vietman border. Once we arrived I expected to have a simply passport check at customs and be in Vietnam in no time. What an idiot I am! Have I not experienced anything of China in a year? Instead we were dropped off some 500m from the ‘departure’ section of customs. Here we had to wait for a golf caddie to take us to the entrance where we queued for permition to exit the country. Once this was complete we had to walk another 2 hundred metres though a car park (neither of us knew which country we were now in) towards the arrival section of Vietnam. As if the two buildings were hundreds of miles apart everything appeared to be different; the uniforms, the people and the language. As we queued for permission to enter Vietnam one of the Vietnamese mobile phones rang: Blue: One Love. James’ response was instantly ‘brilliant, I’ve travelled half way around the world to listen to Britains 2011 Euro Vision song contest entrants’. I sympathised.

Once we were out we then had to get on another caddie to take us to the bus. I got the idea that the two caddies were not that necessary as the buses had the ability to drive and the customs could e done much quicker. If only I was in charge of Chino-Viet customs. I am not, so I got over it. James did not get over Blue.

When we eventually arrived in Hanoi we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. It was here that we got our first lesson in Vietnamese people. We bargained with a taxi driver to get to our hostel for 115,000 dong (about £3.50). At this point we had no idea what a good deal was but a woman on the coach suggested 150,000 is the most we should pay. The driver agreed and put our bags in his car. He put my bag in the front seat, which, despite being slightly odd, did not make us suspect anything. He even had a cute little horn that echoed.

We had a map in hand and by spotting street names we realised that he was taking a very obscure route around the old city. I offered him a bit of mango to sweeten him up, in return he gave us a card of what looked like a prostitute but he advertised as ‘a very good massage’. Eventually we arrived at our destination and the driver then moved m bag to reveal the meter indicating 560,000 dong (£15). ooohhh that’s why he put my big bag in the front!. Initially we laughed this off and reminded him that he had confirmed 115,000 before we entered the cap. We then started shouting and threatening to drive off (but we didn’t know where he intended to take us). Despite his rage and reluctance to let us out the cab we had one thing on our side; the fact that we only had 130,000 dong anyway. We should him this and he then collapsed onto his steering wheel as if to cry, quite pathetically. He then demanded Chinese yuan that he saw in my wallet. I refused. Eventually, and with no knife in his dashboard he gave up trying to rob us and took the money we agreed. We both decided we had won that battle. It was quite a welcome to Vietnam. However, I think it was a worthwhile experience as we now know that the Vietnamese may not need a second invitation to get one over on us. It was definitely one fo the strangest taxi journeys I have ever had.

We used the rest of the day to explore the old town and meet the people in our hostel. The hostel even-handed out free home-brewed beer between 5 and 6pm to all guests which allowed us to meet several new people. Then myself and James began to explore the city in search of the famous Bia Hoi…13p beers. As we walked around I was so shocked to see so many Western people. I have not seen so many foreigners in one place since I was in England. I still questioned why so many people neglect China when planning their trips. Although from some of the people we have met I am quite glad I didn’t meet them in China.

However, we sat for a couple of hours drinking the local beer. We were served by a crazy lady called Rainbow who both shouted at you and flirted with you at the same time. I was more scared of her than the taxi driver.

Then, as if by chance, we saw Emily walk passed. We were then joined by David, a dutch nazi from our hostel, and two Danish girls. This was our gang for the rest of the night. We enjoyed the local beer and drank in a couple of local bars. It turned into quite a late night. But a nice relaxing welcome to Hanoi (by contrast to the taxi journey). I could already tell Vietnam is going to be a different experience to China. But I can also tell I am going to enjoy it. What have you got to offer us Vietnam?

04/08/2011: Day 25

Our second day in Hanoi, and indeed Vietnam, was used as an acclimatization day in the city. And both of us needed acclimatising to this crazy city. Everywhere we turn in Hanoi there are people trying to sell us things that no one in their right mind would by,. e.g. wooden dragonflies that balance on your finger. If it’s not these people hassling us its the thousands of people on motorbikes who honk their horns more often than they look at the road. For a newcomer Hanoi looks like a city in chaos. In this respect there is no shortage of entertainment.

Once we were up and about we headed towards the centrepiece of the old town; the lake. Despite not being overwhelmingly beautiful it did look slightly out-of-place as a peaceful area in the middle of Bedlam. We walked around the large lake and stopped in shade as an escape from the intense heat. It was here that I started to draw comparisons between the Vietnamese and the Chinese…of which there seems to be very few comparisons despite their close proximity. I enjoy people watching; On the bench opposite were a young Vietnamese couple hugging and kissing which initially got my attention as public displays of affection are rarely seen in China. On top of this we were able to look at the behaviour of the people. Despite the fact that they don’t seem to be too subtle about trying to rip us off I have yet to see anyone spit on the floor or sneeze in someone elses face. Perhaps I have entered civilisation…is that a good thing? However, probably the most striking difference has been the women of Hanoi. Vietnamese women appear to be extremely beautiful…but why? We discussed a few possibilities; 1. the way they dress. Many are dressed with fashionable clothes rarely seen on Chinese women 2. the light touch of makeup. It appears that a little bit of make-up indicates that she may have shaved her armpits. 3. and most influentially, the food portions are minimal. The Vietnamese women are tiny, and never seem to be fat. We have put this down to eating one bowl of sticky rice as a meal, when I could easily put away 5.

Anyway, enough of the people watching. Once we had finished with the lake we made a long journey towards the ‘Temple of Literature’. The lonely planet indicates that this is the 16th best thing to do in Vietnam…how could we miss it? Despite what the map suggested the temple was quite a walk from the lake. But at this point we have all the time in the world and there was no rush (except preventing the sun from evaporating our skin). James had not seen a temple in China so seeing one in Vietnam was a must. When we eventually arrived at the temple, and still unfamiliar with the currency, te cashier woman ripped me off by giving the wrong change….even the people working in temples are dishonest here, We still hope it’s not a sign of things to come. It was only James’ eager eye that pointed out that we had the wrong change. The woman had the correct change waiting on a pile at her desk just in case we realised. Although it could have been an honest mistake :P. Once in the temple we didn’t see anything terribly spectacular (except an awesome statue os Confucius and 4 of his disciples). But the familiar smell of incense and an old woman performing her prayer rituals made the experience worthwhile, even if we were a long way from the old quarter now.

Being fit young men, and slightly scared about getting in another taxi, we headed back to the dorm on foot. The map labelled a market on route and I wanted to see if it was a meat market and if the Vietnamese have the same interesting approach to food that the Chinese have. As it turned out most of the market was clothes. However, as we got nearer the exit we smelt fish. We stumbled across a few stalls selling fresh fish and crabs. Naturally a couple were selling caged cats and terrapins as well. Other than a few fish guts we didn’t really see any bizarre or disgusting sights, not like we have a blood lust or support animal cruelty….just curiousity.

Given that the day was hot and sticky I decided to take a shower before the arrival of the free beer at the hostel. During this shower I had the worst headache I have ever felt. I thought my head was about to explode. For some reason I found some solace bending over and putting my head between my knees. As I was naked and in the shower I am very glad that no stranger walked in to see me as a madman. I put it down to the malaria tablets I have been taking and now look at them as some kind of round pink demon. After I while the swelling of my brain seemed to decrease but the pounding put me in no mood for beer. I tried some anyway. Water went down a lot easier.

Once again we met up with Emily, as planned the night previous, and also met with Catherine (a Danish girl). James got to play badminton with some local kids.We got ripped off for some sugar-water after ordering tea, but didn’t complain. We had a quite night with a few beers before going to bed shortly after the local beer hoi finished. I woke at around 4am to hear James talking with the other people in the dorm (1 more english and 3 dutch) about a hypothetical war that was happening in the dorm Holland vs Britain). One of the dutch nominated himself as William of Orange….I went back to sleep.

05/08/2011: Day 26

Today was the day we began our trip on one of the most exciting places in Vietnam. To Halong Bay. We were picked up around 8am from our hostel. It appeared that we were one of the last pick up points as the hostel was largely full and the only remaining seats were beside a very angry-looking asian man…a bit miffed that he had no place to put his day bag.

Our initial concerns about him were eased as soon as he started talking…because he told us he was Malaysian. Not only do we intend on visiting Malaysia in a couple of weeks, but Jangers (a friend from Torquay) is half Malaysian. The man was definitely a bit of a character and immediately told us not to visit Malaysia because there are not enough Laplanders. He then revealed, as if we had been friends for years, that he visits Thailand at least twice a year for the ‘very cheap women’. Every question we asked him seemed to have an answer that related to Thailand or Thai women. He then reveled that he will be voting for Malaysias opposition party at the next election because they are ‘more open-minded about lapdancing clubs.

The company of him and his friends certainly made the 3 hour journey to Halong bay a lot more interesting. When we did eventually arrive we were made to wait in the heat for around half an hour by the tour guide that everyone could sense was going to be a nightmare. In fact, it became even more apparent when he told our spanish companions that they could not stay on the boat overnight as there were not enough people who wanted to stay on the boat. We had previously been told that we could not stay on the boat as there were already to many people who had paid to sleep on it. As if this excuse for not hiring a boat for his guests (as advertised) was not contradictory enough he later told others that no boat could be hired because they are too dangerous to sleep on and even went as far as telling people that 25 boats had crashed into each other the day before so no boats were available. So far the vietnamese people have not blown me away with their hospitality. Thankfully we were all light-hearted enough to laugh him off.

When we were eventually off and away the views of the bay were amazing. In Halong Bay there are thousands of Limestone peaks that appear from the surrounding waters. Its almost like stepping into a science fiction movie (maybe I permanently am in one. or perhaps science fiction is not fiction at all). The clear blue sky made for picture perfect scenery from the boats deck. Here we could gaawp at the surrounding views whilst lying on a sunbed on the top deck of a Vietnamese boat. Heaven.

After a while we arrived at one of the islands in Halong bay to see a cave. I think I hae written here before that caves don’t really excite me too much. But I don’t know why. Caves have everything one needs from an experience: history, mystery, scariness, science and bats. I have decided to see caves with fresh enthusiasm. However, the Vietnamese, like the Chinese always do, seemed to look at this cave with too much imagination (rich?). The see monkeys, dragons and even humans in the stones that clearly could represent. Whatever makes people happy though. One of the Malaysian lads was not shy in presenting his own opinion.

After the cave and after a about another hour on the boat we approached a village on the sea (or so it was described). Here featured the real drama of the day. We all went from our large boat and entered a tiny local fishing boat armed only with a car battery. There were some big blokes in our party, especially James, and the driver (or sailer or fisherman or local) expressed his concerns about the weight of the boat. As if money rules the universe we proceeded to sail towards one of the peaks anyway. We eventually came to a peak that had a naturally formed cave (the kind of cave that gets me interested) which we were able to pass through given our low height. After about 20 metres we came into what looked like a lake. The limestone peak was hollow in the middle so had created a wonderful circular area of sea that just looked incredible. Despite being very eager to enjoy the splendid view we then came across an issue…. the boat was flooding. it appeared that the incredible weight of the boat had caused water to enter from underneath (I’m clearly not a boat expert). Without panic the sailor took the wooden planks from our feet and revealed the extent of the damage. Which created panic amongst everyone else. At this point I was not sure if this happens to every group and part of me assumed it was an act to give us a bit of a fright. It wasn’t. Soon the man was using half a bottle to scoop out all of the excess water whilst passengers with empty bottles were joining the effort. The local man was shouting to try to attract other boats who were able to get to out boat and evacuate people from it….women, children and french first of course. Eventually, and to the relief of everyone remaining on the boat the boat man decided the boat was empty enough to continue our mission. We left through the cave and once again entered the open water. Here he indicated that we could swim if we wanted. Both myself and James were never going to miss the opportunity to enter the water whilst surrounded by another natural beauty…as if it is becoming habit. We both stripped off and jumped into the water with some spanish and Malaysians. Whilst we were enjoying it I two german girls (this was a very global group of people) asked if anyone had any spare shorts they could borrow, of course i did. But there were two girls and not wanting to disappoint one of them (and slightly over excited about being in the sea) I removed the shorts I was wearing and passed them to the one remaining girl. Free in every sense of the word.

Once that episode was over we dried off on the sun beds on our way to our destination; Cat Ba Island. Here we were escorted by our favourite tour guide to our destination for dinner, and eventually to our hostel. Despite our tiredness, and Hachiko on tv, we went to explore the harbourside in Cat Ba. It was swarming with people apparently because of a celebration of an anniversary of Ho Chi Minh’s visit to the island. After a relaxing evening at the harbourside we reported in for bedtime.

06/08/2011: Day 27

We woke up at around 6:50 when we were due to meet for breakfast at 7am. In a rush I had a quick shower and packed up my stuff. I think James was a little more organised. We only arrived a few minutes late to find that there was actually no rush and we would have to wait around anyway. The breakfast included a fresh baguette and jam….complete novelties to me.

After breakfast we joined the rest of our group, including the brilliant Malaysians, on our short return trip to our boat. When we did arrive at the port a monsoon storm started. Out of nowhere women appeared selling ponchos….and sold oodles of them to our fellow tourists. James, being the more sensible of the two of us, owns a coat. I decided to brave the rain in neither coat nor poncho in the hope I would dry quickly after the storm passes.

The short delay caused by the rain was more exciting than a hinderance and we were soon back on the water. This time with a friendly tour guide. Smiles all around from our comrades. after a short while on the water we came to a small cove where we were given the opportunity to explore Halong bay by kayak. Initially James thought he was too tall for a kayak, but sometimes he needs to be told he is still human and kayaks are built for humans. One of the passengers told the tour guide that his life jacket was broken, the response ‘if you can swim it doesn’t matter’…exactly! We were soon off and away, James obviously being the more adept at kayaking as my coordination seems to be non existant. In fact, when in a large cove I decided I was better off in the water than sitting in what is essentially a plastic tube. I jumped from the kayak and into the sea. James, being a good friend, used this opportunity to row away. It then became apparent that I am not as confident in the sea when I do not have companions to take my mind off what may lurk below. If I am honest, I have never been so releaved to see James’ little smurk when he eventually returned. I got back into the kayak without any shark bites or jelly fish stings.

following this we were then allowed to have some relaxing time on the boat whilst enjoying the natural wonder and bathing in the sun. Both me and the swedish guy on our boat were on the top deck trying to dry out our boxer shorts. Perhaps something you can only get away with when on a boat in he middle of the ocean. It was not long before we were back in Halong city and having a beer with our Malaysian friends. Thankfully, for us very hungry fellows, we were then taken to lunch. I have yet to find a fault with Vietnamese food, except for the quantity. The Malaysians summed this up: ‘In Malaysia our tummy always full, In Vietnam out tummy always empty’. Taste sensation though.

When eventually back in Hanoi we had one more night to have fun before our scheduled trip to Ninh Binh tomorrow. We used this opportunity to find a new Bia Hoi stall away from the rather annoying Brits that seemed to cohabit the city with us. Perhaps I am so used to being the only one that having loads of foreigners around annoys me a little. Selfish boy I am. Myself, James and Raaj (a Brighton Uni graduate) found a nice little stall featuring local Vietnamese people. Here we stayed until the owner was sold out of her special brew. After that we bumped into Emily once more (didn’t really bump into her as we knew where she was). He boyfriend had arrived the evening previous and we were eager to meet him given the character reference she had created over the last few days. So the 5 of us headed to a bar named Half Man, Half Noodle. Where we spent a couple of hours. Here we were joined at our table by two interesting people…one of them will live forever in the memory as Buzz Lightyear.

Buzz Lightyear was an american from Chicago. And he was a stereotype. Given our joyful mood the stereotype american became more of an object of humour than an annoyance. This was helped by the fact he looked and sounded identical to Buzz Lightyear. Once we began talking he was quick to quirp that he had been to Laos and performed the tubing bar cruel. In typical American fashion, and not to be outdone by others that have been there, he then explained how his experience was a little different. Normally people swing from bar to bar in an inflatable tube with no problems. Buzz Lightyear apparently decided to do a ‘triple backflip into the water (pronounced warder)’…i.e. falling with style. During this courageous performance Buzz managed to cut his shin. Any one other than Buzz Lightyear would have seeked medical attention. However, this Space Ranger had a mission to complete. He continued by telling us that he then purchased a bottle of vodka and poured it into his wound. As if this wasn’t brave enough he then removed all debris with his handy penknife. We all sat in silence waiting for the punch line…it didn’t come. We later chuckled to ourselves. Thankfully the awkwardness that is often caused by arrogance or lies was broken when Buzz told Emily’s boyfriend that Laos beer is better than Belgian beer. As Emily had previously told us, her boyfriend doesn’t take kindly to people with a different opinion to him.

We later went to another bar, with everyone finding Buzz the main source of entertainment, even if he didn’t know himself. We had noticed that he now could only talk out of the side of his mouth. The man was an idiot, but a fantastic idiot. When in the next bar Buzz sat with his sister and James. James gorped in amazement as Mr Lightyear attempted to impress Vietnamese women. This, in typical Buzz/American manner was by kissing his biceps and lifting unsuspecting victims above his head. Needless to say, he left unsuccessful and even mourned as he walked around the lake alone for an hour. Everyone loves a character.

Aside from Buzz, who will never be forgotten, we had a pretty good night. I, for some unknown reason, woke up on the hotel roof whereas James came in from the abyss at 7am. Hanoi may be crazy, but it’s certainly entertaining. Thats what 13p a beer does…to infinity and beyond!

07/08/2011: Day 28

A slightly sombre day i comparison to the last few. But it was our last day to really experience Hanoi.

Naturally the noises of the dorm room and the light from the sun woke us despite our requirements for sleep. But this wasn’t too much of an issue. The previous day we had decided to risk our dashing good looks on a street barber. we were on a tight budget and saw it as part of the cultural experience.

We walked around for a while trying to find the best deal on a haircut. It appeared that we were not going to get a better deal that £1.50, but we wanted it cheaper. As a result we continued to look before coming across a tattoo Vietnamese man with a large cigarette hanging from his mouth. Vietnamese equilivant of Dad? It turns out he is not quite as professional as my old man though. I was first up and a little afraid of what this scary man was going to do to me. He strapped me to his chair and began to sheer my locks. He might as well have had his eyes closed. In fact, if it wasn’t for the cigarette ash dangling from his mouth I think he probably would have. I was quite lucky to escape with some hair remaining and no burn But in truth the haircut wasn’t bad for a pound.

James was next up and looked as though he was being put to the electric chair. He was terrified. Not even posing for photographs could mask his fear. In reality the barber just cut as much hair off as possible and didn’t care much for styling. He did, however, put random and unwanted lines in James’ designer stubble. Much to my amusement and James’ confusion. The street barber, in full view of the passing public, was certainly an experience but perhaps one that we will not partake in again….unless our hair grows.

We decided to enjoy the Hanoi speciality food, Pho, once more before we were to board our afternoon bus. We have eaten so much Pho in the last few days and it has already made James a close acquaintance with any toilet he passes. However it tastes good. Pho is basically noodle soup with meat. Nice.

We then boarded our bus to Ninh Binh. Initially it seemed as though we were to be packed onto a tiny bus with no air con for 4 hours. But this was just to transport bus to te depot. He we were transferred to a sleeper bus (not needed but a nice luxury). We arrived within 4 hours and were quite fortunately dropped right outside the hotel that we had booked ourselves into earlier in the day.

When we entered the hotel we soon discovered that there were cheaper dorm beds available for $3 a night. We jumped at the chance to sleep in a dorm and were lucky enough to discover that we had the dorm room to ourselves with a TV that showed the Community Shield in English. After a brief look around the quint town it began to get dark so we decided to call it a night with the football and a mattress.

I think James had a sleepless night because of his irrational fear of lizards.

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