Friday, 23 July 2010

The end of my amazing trip!

So my travels in South East Asia have come to an end- sob! Here is a re-cap of my final week-and-a-bit:

From Nha Trang we travelled to Hoi An; a quaint and beautiful city with an iconic Japanese bridge and a gorgeous beach only a short ride away. We even got to lie on actual sunbeds if we ate at the beachside restaurant- an absolute necessity with the scorching temperatures of the sand making it almost too hot to sprint across never mind sunbathe on!

Hoi An is famous for its many tailors- they can make absolutely anything you want overnight no problem and then make alterations in an hour or two if needed. I fell in love with the stunning silk in a tailors called Thi, and my seamstress Hui made me a colourful kaftan/robe with chinese buttons and a matching waist tie for only $12. I drew a slinky dress for my friend and she had it made in crushed nude silk, and some of my other friends had silk-lined jackets made exactly like the pictures they had printed off the internet. Some of them even had cute leather or suede shoes made to measure!

While in Hoi An I decided to try their delicious regional speciality dish; Cao Lau- noodles, beansprouts, tender strips of pork, deep-fried crispy rice paper and greens. We also splashed out on some exquisite deserts from one of the french-style patisseries near the Old Town that tasted as good as they looked, before another bus journey up to the historical city of Hue.

In Hue we went on a relaxing dragon boat trip up the Perfume River to see the oldest house in Hue and its fruit-yielding gardens, a floating fishing village and the Heavenly Lady Pagoda. We also got an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch, which resulted in sore stomachs all round! That evening we had a fablous night out, and the following day we visited the Citadel and explored the Old Town before getting our last sleeper bus up to Hanoi.

From Hanoi we were picked up and taken to Ha Long City, ready to depart on our beautiful old-fashioned boat to Ha Long Bay. We visited huge caves which were stunning but disappointingly unnatural due to the added mood lighting, music and guards playing on lap-tops. After that we jumped off the top deck of our boat and went swimming, careful to avoid the jellyfish, before kayaking around the stunning bay and soaking up the magical atmosphere.
The food on-board was wonderful and included whole fish, seafood noodles and vietnamese spring rolls, and as there were only 13 people on our boat we got to socialise with new people as we watched the sunset around the limestone islets rising out of the emerald water. Getting up early to catch the sunrise was definately worth it, but our trip had to be cut short due to an impending storm about to sweep the area.

Back in the capital of Hanoi we enjoyed a great night out playing pool in an Irish bar; Finnegans, with people we had bumped into earlier in our trip. A bowl of steaming pho bo (beef noodle soup; delicious and only abour 70p for a huge bowl) from a tiny street kitchen at 3am really hit the spot and began my obsession with the traditional dish, which I have been craving every morning since then! We wiled away the next 2 days exploring the city-centre Hoan Kiem Lake, including its Turtle Tower, Jade Mountain Temple and huge varnished giant turtle, and buying souvenirs at the atmospheric markets.

A flight to Bangkok gave us one last day before our flight home, so we did a pit-stop tour round the main temples, buddhas and pagodas (which turned out to be a bit of a scam!). Every day is 'Buddha Day' it seems, and when a friendly tuk-tuk driver told us that means free entrance to many attractions and he'd drive us round for only 10 Baht each (around 20p), we thought we'd go for it. I'd heard about scams to do with 'Buddha Day' before but we went with it, thinking our guy was genuine. It turns out he wasn't, and after making us go and pretend to be interested in a tailor's suits, he left us at the 3rd stop on our route, though as we hadn't paid him we don't really know what he got out of leaving us! We got another tuk-tuk who told us that the Grand Palace was free after 4pm, so we let him drive us to other attractions until then. On arrival at the Grand Palace we learnt that it closes at 3.30pm and we had been fooled again! Aside from missing this we had only paid 10 Baht and had seen a lot in a couple of hours, so we didn't feel too bad, and set off to find our other friends on Khao San Road.
After a couple of my friends got henna tattoos we went for a final thai curry, then spent all our left-over currency on cheap beer vests, ice-cream and souvenirs before running through the torrential rain back to our shack. I can't call it a hotel room; it was a shack with a bed in it.

Rising at 5am and picking up our friend from her (much swankier!) hotel, we flew the first leg of our flight home to Bahrain, where our 12-hour stop-over meant we were provided with a glorious hotel (with carpets and a marble bathroom that didn't smell of urine!) and fed with delicious Arabic food before our final flight to Heathrow.

Now back in England I am so thankful for having had such a wonderful time travelling. I would do it again in an instant and would urge anyone thinking about going to just book your flights now; South East Asia is such a fantastic area of the world filled with amazing sights, interesting cultures, delicious food, friendly (but not always honest!) people, and great experiences to be had.

The only thing I need to decide now is where to explore next...

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