Ho chi, communism and the very unwelcome guests.

We woke up to resounding headaches all round. Although Leia seemed to be suffering the most. Not letting this hold us back we started getting ready.

My turn for the bathroom came so I went in, got undressed and utilised the toilet. As I was sat there a weird noise started up from the door. The next thing I know there’s a pretty big cockroache staring at me from the bottom of the door.

The noise it made was so loud! I jumped up as it scuttled towards me. Not wanting to worry the others I danced around it, still completely starkers avoiding it as it ran around desperate for darkness.

Eventually it made it’s way behind the bath tub that I was now going to use to shower. I gritted my teeth and tried to not worry about it. Safe to say the shower was a quick affair. I got my stuff and Leia quickly ran into the toilet. I told Liam what had just happened and best not to tell Leia as she would freak out.

Next thing we knew one came crawling from a shelf that went around the ceiling, this one was even bigger! It fluttered down the curtains and up the wall. I tried to name the one in the bathroom Carl to humanize it to no avail.

We squished this one but it didn’t stem the tide.

I think we just made the other roaches mad. We started hearing these scratching noises all around us on this shelf above our heads. Using our selfie stick and phone we ran it around the shelf looking for the noise when another one even bigger flew! down into the room onto my bed we all pretty much screamed and jumped about. That made three in the space of ten minutes so I went to the concierge to tell them.

Obviously for her it wasn’t so scary as they’re one of those things that you get used to. Being from Wrexham however we’re not used to seeing them and I think their association with dirtiness doesn’t help.

We were practically ready so we all waited in the lobby while she apologized profusely telling us they were doing something downstairs in the restaurant to get rid of them so they must be travelling upwards! The lady was very nice about it all and they said they’d have them gone once we went out so we left worrying about sleeping there with these things crawling all over us. The best part is that it definitely helped us forget about being hungover.

So we hit the streets of Hanoi and it was hot and crazy. Just like last night. We figure that the rules of the road are there are no rules. Just try not to hit other vehicles/bikes/people otherwise anything goes. Crossing roads felt like an achievement every time. A lady carrying a bamboo pole with fruit hanging off either end managed to place it on me, she tried to get the others to take a photo but I handed it back and kept moving knowing there would be a price to pay.

We arrived at Hoan Kiem lake and it was lovely. After getting cherry and passion fruit ice cream respectively we casually strolled around the edges of the lake, enjoying the cool breeze and shade afforded to us by the trees. Some of the trees seemed to grow horizontally out into the lake and lots of people were using this idyllic spot in the city to take pictures. One girl had even brought balloons to hold and was jumping in the air for each pose. We spotted a place to stop and sit down at the southern tip of the lake and had some refreshing drinks. I had a lemon iced drink and Liam had watermelon. Leia could only suffer a water at this point.

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Consulting the map we decided to head to Hao Lo prison where the French kept revolutionaries and later the revolutionaries kept American pilots.

It was really interesting and I noticed how it was definitely done in a way to build up the French and Americans as the ultimate evil, especially the ‘imperialistic U.S.A’ but made the northern Vietnamese out to be saints in comparison.

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I don’t really know enough about the fight for independence and later the Vietnamese war but I found learning about the horrific conditions the French kept their prisoners was quite upsetting. There was a lot of propaganda about how the captives kept up the communist cause even within these walls.

Later exhibitions showed the ‘luxury in comparison’ conditions that the pilots were held in. Where they played basketball, billiards and had Christmas dinner. A Dar cry from the shackled commumists being fed parasitic rice and old pork.

There was a corridor with newspaper cut outs of all the protests against the Vietnamese war, and the fight back by the northern Vietnamese.

After enjoying the cultural side we needed food, and found a lovely little place selling banh my, which is just bbq pork in bread. We got pulled pork with a slightly spicy sauce and it was so tasty. Just what we needed. Liam had freshly squeezed OJ, Leia had a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, and I had a peach and lemongrass tea. All were very yummy.

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We continued our walk through Hanoi, passing a statue of Lenin and posh looking embassies. Finally we made it to the Ho Chi Minh museum and one pillar pagoda, this particular pagoda was exactly what it said on the tin, a quick picture with it and we headed into the museum.

The first floor was full of newspaper articles, pictures and dedications to Ho Chi Minh. It definitely showed us just how important a figure he must be to many Vietnamese. A founding father of their nation. There was even a portrait done of him in the artists blood after he died, and another done by an artist who was blinded in the war which was pretty good for someone who can’t see.

It was nice to see how much Vietnam has developed out of what were dark times for the country in colonialism and the war.

The next floor was a strange art inspired dedication to ‘Uncle Ho’ there was an artistic impression of his childhood home. A volcano, a giant table with giant fruit on it, and the cave where he led the push for independence designed to look like a brain. It was enjoyable but you probably need a guide of some sort to get the full impact of the installations. I’m sure my arty mum would have enjoyed it.

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Thoroughly cultured up in Vietnamese history we walked past Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum which is closed till November so we couldn’t go in, but it was heavily guarded, you weren’t allowed within a certain amount of feet of it. Although some enthusiastic Chinese tourists attempted to get closer for a better picture but we’re soon moved on.

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I had looked at the map and read that another like in the north west of the city wasn’t far so, now feeling pretty tired, we staggered our way there.

Stopping off at a coffee shop converted from an old ferry we planned our trip to ha long bay, eventually booked a 1 night stay on a Chinese junk with meals and activities included. Knowing we would have to be up at 7 the following day we started back in the direction of the hopefully cockroache free hotel. 

We stopped off at a busy outdoor food place, perched on a tiny stool next to a Vietnamese man who was cooking for about 40 people with one helper and a cigarette never far from his lips. Leia had beef and chips with a baguette, Liam had deep fried prawns and I had a chicken wing. There were things on the menu I would’ve liked to try like eel, frog and pigeon which the locals were going for but being hungover I didn’t fancy being experimental. Looking back on it now I wish I had, and I want to start trying different things more often.

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We finished up and continued through tight streets avoiding mopeds and people all the way. Stopping off at another shack to eat spring rolls, rice and 4 tiny ribs. Satisfied we arrived back at the hotel, sat on our beds and listened to signs of life above us. Liam was super brave and checked the shelf with his phone. There were no cockroaches up there thank Buddha.

I think we all had a slightly restless nights sleep thinking about what could descend upon us at any time, Leia heard noises up there and saw the curtain moving, but we left the lights on to discourage them and didn’t see anything.

It was soon 7am and we were ready to hit Ha Long Bay, a supposedly must see sight in SE Asia.

Waterfalls, bears and finally finding Asian chaos.

Day two in Luang Prabang and I awoke to strange smoke filling the air from outside Leia and Liam didn’t notice when they awoke but it smelt like someone was bbqing right outside. We got up and went to book our trip to the waterfalls and national park, 45,000 kip each, around £3.50. After this we headed for the hotel breakfast.

There was a limited choice but everything on it sounded amazing. I went for banana pancake, Leia and Liam both chose toasted egg sandwich. All of it was really good. After relaxing for a bit we went down to the river to wait for our minibus and watched various boats go up and down the fast flowing Mekong. The minibus arrived and we joined a group of girls all heading for the waterfall.
We arrived and immediately went to the bear sanctuary. They’re so funny looking, but they seemed happy and their enclosures were huge. There was lots of information about why they needed to be in captivity and it was pretty sad. Poachers catch them then keep them in a cage so small they can hardly move. Then they get sold and are kept in these cages for around ten years just so people can extract their bile for medicinal purposes. The bears just die after this due to the trauma. It was really saddening and I dislike how animals are abused for medicine that doesn’t work. It’s all just superstition but I’ll leave the lecture for another day.
From the bear sanctuary it was a short walk to the first of the waterfalls and pools. I’ve swam in a similar limestone stream in Croatia which was beautiful but this was something else. The water glistened a light turquoise and the forest around it swarmed with huge butterflies and Dragon flys. One Dragon fly even ate a fly off of Liam!
There were more pools further ahead but this one only had two other people in it so we waded in.
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The water was cool and got very deep very quickly, I dipped down and couldn’t feel the floor so it’s was over six or seven feet at least. As we swam to the middle we realised how strong the current was sending us back away from the waterfalls.
The challenge now was to swim against the tide and make it to where the water crashed down in a spray of white. We failed several times and Liam decided to perch on a half submerged tree trunk so we joined him and basked in the sun like lizards. After deciding to sit on the edge of the waterfall from our pool and lazing in the sun with just a few people coming and going it felt like it was our private space. With this in mind Leia and I attempted to reach the waterfall again, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts we charged in from a different angle and made it!!
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Triumphant and with only an hour and a half to go we dried off and wandered up through the forest. It’s actually a national park and was really interesting, a sign told us you can see slow loris and mouse deer but I guess with how busy it is they were hiding. There were a few more pools with people diving in and lounging around before we reached the big one. A towering waterfall coming down the mountain. It was beautiful so we took a few selfies, enjoyed the moment and roamed back down the path to our waiting minivan.
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The drive back to town was uneventful apart from a couple of home made boats being pushed towards the centre. With an hour to kill before heading to the airport we sat by the river and watched everyone scurry about getting the last minute touches to their boats. It also turned out that from our vantage point above the river we had an excellent view of the sunset. It was glorious and you definitely didn’t need to be at the top of the hill to enjoy it. The sun reflecting down on the Mekong with boats sailing across it gave us another moment of beauty in Asia.
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After that there wasn’t much that could top it so we said goodbye to our lovely Vietnamese host and tuk tuk’d our way to the smallest airport ever.
Once checked in and through security we had a farewell beerlao and boarded the smallest plane I have ever been on. The turbines were like a big office fan without the cage and there were only 17 rows but it did the job.
We had a choice of a 24-30 hour bus journey for £25ish pounds or a flight that takes an hour for £70. After reading horror stories of the bus we knew there was only one option.
Landing in Hanoi we breezed through immigration and out to meet our hotel pickup. Only they weren’t there, they still weren’t there half an hour later so we jumped in a taxi with an American girl.
The traffic into Hanoi was what I expected in Bangkok but didn’t really see. Bikes everywhere and no real order but the chaos seemed to work. We got dropped off at the hotel and the girl went on to hers, only later did I discover she had given me 10000dong instead of a 100,000!! Robbing me of £3! I only hope it was a genuine mistake. The hotel staff were again really happy and friendly with one girl taking a shine to my tattoo. The room was simple but fine for the night.
Refreshing ourselves after the days activities we went out to explore Hanoi’s old quarter.
It was mayhem, cramped streets lined full of tiny stools and tables with food and beer of all sorts being served lay ahead of us. Motorbikes went whizzing past and cars slowly crept through the smallest of gaps in the road. We had been told before we left that most places would be closing by 12 and it was half ten already. We stopped at a small place sat down and stared at the menu. Bbq pork buns immediately grabbed my attention but they had none left! We ended up having the sweetest sweet potato fries, cinnamon tinged sausage and bbq’d octopus. All washed down with three of the cheapest beers ever. They were about 50p if that. Although a big cockroach did scuttle past us as we ate.
We watched the chaos unfold in front of us and headed to another bar. Sat on our tiny stools we were befriended by a twee, a 22 year old Vietnamese guy who lived my tattoos and encouraged us to try a bamboo shisha, a lemon drink and some seeds.
Everyone we met was really friendly and just laughed continuously at us. It was great fun though. We drank up and a guy in a t shirt with ‘Tom’s bar’ emblazoned across it shouted to us. It must have been fate! As he took us to this nearby bar he told me that the police were breaking up the outside bars and closing them all down. This happens every night so we were hurried into the bar, sat down and were told we were the djs and could put anything we wanted on. We ordered some beers (expensive at a 1.20) but unfortunately a group of French people had already got to the laptop and put classics like ‘Macarena’ and ‘Play that funky music’.
We soaked up the atmosphere instead until a couple of beers later when the music stopped and everyone was told to be quiet as the police were outside! This didn’t really work on a bunch of drunk foreigners who didn’t understand the repercussions the bar workers might face. After about ten minutes the music came back on albeit slightly quieter than before and the noise levels rose.
We had another beer then decided to leave. The only problem was the front door was no longer an option. Instead we were taken through the toilets into a back alley where a series of people shined there phones as beacons to reach before we emerged into the dead streets of the old quarter.
As we stumbled into the light a new bar guy waved us quickly to follow him and with the beer giving us new levels of bravery we followed him past some police down an alley opposite our last bar up some stairs and through a small door. As we descended from the second floor into the bar we realised this was another Tom’s bar,  exactly opposite the front of the last one.
We laughed at the genius of it and got more beer. There was only a couple of people in this one so Liam had full access to the dj laptop and used it well.
The guy who originally brought us to Tom’s bar came over and we taught him ‘Iechyd da’ which is cheers in Welsh. The guy found it hilarious and we found ourselves doing it every 2 to 3 minutes with him.
We were now tired and ready for bed so we said goodbye to the bar and went back to the hotel. Which we missed the first time as it had pulled it’s shutters almost to the floor.
A bit tipsy we made it into our room and crashed out for the night after experiencing the craziness of SE Asia properly for the first time.