Get Malaria Smart!

Get Malaria Smart!

After being so STUPID and travelling to rural Vietnam without taking any malaria medication and spending 6 hours last night in hospital being tested for malaria, I seriously recommend checking the following NHS website that the area you are travelling to is not high risk!  I am used to travelling to built up places where malaria is not prominent. However, last month I went off he beaten track in the countryside of rural Vietnam. (The trip was fab!) however, I have had fever, flu like symptoms amongst others over the past few days and got myself in a panic that I had malaria. Thank the Lord it wasn’t, but the doctor said I may have dengue fever. This cannot be vaccinated against and is usually self limiting so fingers crossed I will be better soon.

  

http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/malaria.aspx

The Pilgrimage, Hue – the Perfect, Magical Escape

The Pilgrimage, Hue – the Perfect, Magical Escape

I spent 4 days / 3 nights at the Pilgrimage Resort in Hue. It is in a serene jungle setting that is impossibly beautiful. My visit was in the middle of a hectic trek across the length of Vietnam in a pretty short space of time. I was tired from pit stops and long train journeys and I was craving some much needed R&R. The Pilgramage Resort did not disappoint.

   
  
  
The resort is fairly large and the walk from reception through the lush trees and rooms tucked away is beautiful. The swim up bar in the pool is a great hang out spot for cocktails during the daily happy hour.

We checked into our honeymoon pool villa which was just stunning. It was modern, clean and very tastefully decorated. 

   
The sunken bath went down particularly well with me! 

  
  
I have always wanted to visit Hue and the famous perfume river, but it was much more touristy and built up than I had imagined. Hue city is fantastic, but I prefer staying somewhere a little quieter, which is why this property is so superb. It is located in a residential area which gives you the feeling of ‘real’ Vietnam. The walls back on to the village and homes. The hotel provides regular free shuttle buses to the centre which is really handy.

The resort runs free tai chi and yoga classes daily which I participated in. The tai chi takes place pool side, very early so as not to be disturbed and it was magical. The yoga was partly ashtanga and partly postures which was ideal and really got my blood flowing. Later that day my partner and I relaxed with a full body Vietnamese massage in the stunning spa. I am somewhat of a massage expert (having had one a month for the past 5 years) and this treatment was easily in the top 1%.

The good news is that you can book a room at this resort from around just 55 dollars a night which is insanely good value.

Bookings can be made direct on the hotels website:- 

http://www.pilgrimagevillage.com

I left this resort feeling energised and rejuvenated. I actually could have stayed for another week! Thank you, Pilgrimage hotel.

My Tam Coc Boat Trip Experience

My Tam Coc Boat Trip Experience

We cycled into the Tam Coc boat dock near Ninh Binh in North Vietnam, left our bikes near a group of Vietnamese people and purchased our tickets. It wasn’t overly touristy here but a guy from our hotel had recommended this place as a beautiful tourist attraction. The boats appeared little more than a thin sheet of curved steel, I hoped they were safe. A small Vietnamese lady was our guide / rowing peddler. I felt a little sorry for her as we (being Westerners) were considerably heavier than her (we tipped her after!). I had no idea what to expect, but honestly I was totally blown away. It was such an intimate experience –  getting up close and personal with the rocks. The boat tour actually travelled underneath caves and when you are floating through these tiny gaps of cave darkness, you can really appreciate the power of these mountains.

I don’t think words can really do justice on how beautiful this place is, so I hope some of my photographs do…

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Our boat was similar to this

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Some of the locals selling food and beer out on the lake
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Travelling through one of the low crooked caves

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One of my favourites. So many colours and the water looks beautiful.

When we were returning our boat to the dock, we noticed that one of the other boat guides had hit her head on one of the rocks in the caves. Once we were back on dry land I grabbed my bike and cycled to where she had docked her boat and tried to explain that I am a medic (I am in the ambulance service in London) and I wanted to have a look at her cut. She did show me and it was pretty deep and at risk of infection. She also had a haematoma (bruised swelling) on her forehead which needed looking at. I said ‘hospital’! She needed a stitch. I was doing hand demonstrations of a stitch, at which point one of her male friends was there too. They understood what I was saying but she refused to go to hospital and simply asked me for ‘dollar’ before jumping back in her boat and rowing away. This made me sad. It really highlights the abuse of our ambulance service here and when people abroad really need help but either do not have access to it or cannot afford it.

the Victoria, Phan Thiet – it’s the little things.

I was very fortunate to spend two, gorgeous nights at the Victoria hotel in Mui Ne, Phan Thiet in Vietnam.

On arrival we received our welcome drinks and were treated to a 5 minute shoulder massage! This was a real nice treat after lugging my heavy backpack around.

we checked into our room which was an Ocean Suite…. And WOW! It was one of the nicest rooms I have ever stayed in. Spacious, clean, quiet, comfy with our own large terrace overlooking the ocean and private sun loungers.

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We we had a huge bathtub (this is one of my crumple buttons, having a nice bath!) and a luxurious private outside shower.

The staff were so welcoming, friendly and professional. We travelled off season so it was fairly quiet here but that didn’t bother us. It was just 20km away from Binh Thuan train station which has a direct train to Saigon that takes 3.5 hours.

There were two fabulous swimming pools to choose from, one was a lavish and large infinity pool, the other was also large but more shapely and fun.

We had spa treatments and I have to honestly say, the Vietnamese massage here was one of the best massages I have ever experienced. It was strong but not painful, very professional and I laid listening to the sound of the waves – bliss!

One of my favourite things about this hotel was the attention to detail paid in every respect. Despite the fact that just my partner and I were eating in the restaurant one evening, I found this beautiful arrangement of fresh flowers in water in the ladies WC…
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The complex isn’t showy or boastful. It is just a relaxing and calming gem on the beach. I found that staying here for two days really cleared my mind and made me feel so balanced.

It was one of the more costly hotels I stayed in whilst in Vietnam, but so much cheaper than other destinations I have been and it really is so worth it. The food and drink is fairly priced whilst there and they have a free pool table in the bar area which also has a breathtaking view out to sea.

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Every evening when housekeeping came in to lower the mosquito net over the bed, they would leave a bed time story in the form of a scroll tied with a ribbon. The stories consisted of Vietnamese fairy tales and myths which were so adorable. We actually looked forward to receiving these at night.

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Thank you to the Victoria hotel in Phan Thiet! I had a wonderful visit and urge others to stop here if passing through.

Resevations can be made directly with the hotel on their website:-

http://www.victoriahotels.asia/en/overview-phanthiet

Booking and Enjoying Train Travel in Vietnam

Booking and Enjoying Train Travel in Vietnam

I have recently returned from a trip in Vietnam where I flew into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south and travelled purely by train / overland to Hanoi in the North for my return flight. Most people do choose to fly some sectors internally as the country is so vast, but we chose to travel purely overland by train / bus. Prior to my departure, my partner and I really struggled to find any accurate, current information on the internet regarding train travel in Vietnam, prices, schedules etc.

So…. I have decided to gather all the information I can so as that any future travellers can hopefully find this blog very useful in planning their own adventure.

The first thing to bear in mind is that train travel in Vietnam, despite how daunting it appears, is very simple and very safe. They run by diesel so you may need to cross over the tracks, but unlike India this is carried out in a civilized manner without huge platforms to jump to.

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Train approaching Binh Thuan station, for Phan Thiet

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Ready to board the train
The best thing to do is plan in advance the trains you would like to take (there is a current timetable below for your reference) maybe pick a couple of train time options for each date / route just incase the preferred choice is unavailable. Plan a few hours one day at the start of your trip to venture to one of the bigger train stations such as Saigon, Hanoi, Nha Trang, Danang etc, to book all of your tickets in one go. Do not go to one of the smaller stations as they will not understand you and from my experience, not be very helpful. You must take your passport with you to book the tickets, or at the very least a copy. There are four ‘classes’ or cabins to pick from:- hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper. I only travelled in soft seat and soft sleeper so am unable to comment on the others, although I did see the hard seat cabin and it looked pretty uncomfortable. The soft seat was more than suitable for our 4 hour train journey. For the longer journeys, we opted for soft sleeper which was not much more money.

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Taken in the soft seat cabin
The best bit of advice I can give you about train travel in Vietnam, is do NOT book your train tickets with a travel agent, or a website prior to departure. You will end up paying up to 5 x greater than the value of the train ticket. You are miles better off booking them yourself at a larger train station in Vietnam when you are there. There may be a bit of hassle with language barriers but it helps if you write down the dates and train numbers / time that you want when you get to the desk.

The train stations are quite large and have a big waiting area. When you arrive in the station, locate a small, unsigned white box that dispenses tickets. The number shown on there is the one you need to watch out on the screen and you approach the allocated desk when your number is called. In busier stations such as Saigon, the waiting time can be around an hour. If you linger near the desks with your ticket visible, they may call you forward sooner. Once you have finally got your tickets, please make sure that the passenger and passport details are correct. Also, try to make sure you have definitely booked the correct trains; we made two mistakes on our tickets, one with the date of travel and the other with cabin of travel. If this happens to you, don’t worry as you can amend your tickets at any of the big stations for 10,000 VND which is around 50 cents, plus any difference in fare. Just remember to take your original passports to make any changes to your ticket. Your tickets will be allocated a seat number.

There is basically one single train track that runs from Saigon to Hanoi that only multiplies at train stations to allow for passing trains. As a result, this does mean that trains are generally VERY reliable. It does mean however that if your train is delayed, you will be VERY delayed as it stacks to bottom priority in waiting for other, ‘on time’ trains to pass by. There are 5 trains running the track each day from north to south and south to north. There are also some other smaller train lines that run in and out of Hue and others that operate East to West from some of the smaller stations.

I noted before I departed that there was a lot of discrepancy online regarding how to travel from Saigon to Phan Thiet. There is a train station in Phan Thiet but this is not part of the mainline from Saigon. The main line train stops at Binh Thanh station which is approximately 25km away from Phan Thiet (depending on exactly where you are going) and a taxi costs around 15 dollars. This is what we did and found to be very simple. There are two trains daily that connect with the mainline train from Binh Thuan to run to Phan Thiet station itself, if you prefer a cheaper option. We did not choose this because the times were not great and felt that the taxi would be quicker and easier for us.

Now, the train journeys themselves… You really get to appreciate so much more of Vietnam by travelling by train. The views over the countryside are stunning. The train line is generally not fenced off so you do pass back gardens and villages, sometimes you travel directly next to a road and watch as the cars and buses overtake you (the trains are fairly slow). Here are some snaps I was lucky enough to grab on my journey;

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The train journeys are long; the longest one we experience was 16 hours from Nha Trang to Hue. I recommend doing these overnight in the soft sleeper cabin as it is quieter and you do get the chance to sleep as well as many daylight hours to appreciate the scenery. The staff do bring around food so if you are in the soft sleeper cabins, keep your ears and eyes peeled. The soft sleeper cabins are split into rooms of two bunk beds. I woke one morning to a lady climbing down from the bed above mine. I casually asked my partner where he thought she was going. His reply was “Maybe she went to find out which motherf***er brought a rooster on the train?!” This made me giggle for days. Be warned, chickens, cats, dogs…. they are all considered acceptable luggage on a train in Vietnam.

The trains can be noisy during the day, people do also smoke outside your door although they are supposed to stand by the window between carriages. The announcements in the south of Vietnam are mostly just in Vietnamese, but the further north we travelled, the more I noted English translation was used. The soft sleeper rooms have air conditioning, a powerpoint, a table and a bin. Each carriage has a western and an asian ‘squat’ toilet. I seriously recommend wearing trainers or some form of sustainable footwear other than flip flops unless you want ‘wet’ feet! Also, taking alcohol hand gel wouldn’t go a miss. Once you are allocated a seat number, you must sit in that seat. Remember, Vietnam is still a communist country, if someone else is booked in the seat you are now sitting in, they will kick you out even if you are snoring.

To briefly touch on taxis in Vietnam, I recommend using the ‘green’ taxis. These are everywhere all over the country and are the most reputable company over there. It helps to say when you get in “meter”. If they turn the meter on then the national guidelines currently are 12,000 VND per kilometer which is just over 50 cents, so it is fairly reasonable. If it is a longer journey i.e over an hour, you may need to agree a price before you travel.

To give you a guide on train times and prices, I will recap for you the trains we took, the cabins we travelled in and how much the tickets were;

Saigon to Binh Thuan (for Phan Thiet) – 3.5 hours / soft seat – 7 dollars

Binh Than to Nha Trang – 4 hours / soft sleeper – 11 dollars

Nha Trang to Hue – 16 hours (delayed from 14) / soft sleeper – 22 dollars

Hue to Ninh Binh – 12 hours – soft sleeper – 22 dollars.

Please note, if travelling in the North of Vietnam, you MUST book your tickets in advance as they are usually fully booked before the day of travel. If necessary, book them online using a reputable company. Even if you have to pay a bit more.

After Ninh Binh we travelled straight to Halong Bay. We did not want to get the train straight to Hanoi and a bus from there as it would take up too much time for us (this is an option if you have the time, Ninh Binh is a two hour train ride from Hanoi) so we paid 90 dollars for a private car to Halong Bay which took around 4 hours. Our cruise company provided a free shuttle bus to Hanoi at the end of our cruise.

There you have it, train travel in Vietnam, simples!

Train Timetable Schedules for Vietnam, as of September 2015. (Apologies that these are a little blurry, they were taken on a moving train!)

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Main line train timetable from south to north Vietnam

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Mainline train timetable from north to south Vietnam

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Saigon to Hue alternative train timetable (slow trains)

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Hue to Saigon alternative train timetable (slow trains)

Serious Motorike Humour!!!

Along my travels I have found it both inspiring and hilarious how people in different countries use their wheels for transportation. I have collected some of the funniest here;

Source: Serious Motorike Humour!!!

Serious Motorbike Humour!!!

Serious Motorbike Humour!!!

Along my travels I have found it both inspiring and hilarious how people in different countries use their wheels for transportation. I have collected some of the funniest here;

How is the bike staying upright??
How is the bike staying upright??
Egg delivery
Egg delivery
Motor...boat
Motor…boat
An entire coffee shop...
An entire coffee shop…
'What do you mean, no room?!'
‘What do you mean, no room?!’
Sewage workers shortcut to the manhole covers
Sewage workers shortcut to the manhole covers
3 Adults.... 1 Bike... You can see the fear in this tourist's eyes
3 Adults…. 1 Bike… You can see the fear in this tourist’s eyes
Her entire plant nursery
Her entire plant nursery
There are no words...
There are no words…
Who needs a pub when you can transport your own beer barrel?
Who needs a pub when you can transport your own beer barrel?
TIMBER!!!!
TIMBER!!!!
This is rather oinkcumfortable...
This is rather oinkcumfortable…
Parcelforce!
Parcelforce!
I shall leave this one to your imagination.
I shall leave this one to your imagination.
Cant decide who gets right of way? Sod it, everyone!
Cant decide who gets right of way? Sod it,    everyone!