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The rest of the world

a travel blog by Victoria & Robert

After leaving Canada and North America, we travelled to Europe via Iceland. After almost two months in Europe our trip is now continuing east towards Asia and Oceania... Exciting!
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Blog revived! Hong Kong here we come

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Yes, we are still alive after an almost two months break in blogging!

Lots of stuff have happened since we wrote last time which was right before we left Canada to go to Europe. This will give you a short synopsis of where we went after we departured Halifax:

Our first flight went to Iceland and Reykjavik. We stayed a week there and had a great time that included seeing the elusive northern lights, ride on Icelandic horses and getting slightly lost in the wilderness. We hope to be able to write a little more about our experiences on Iceland, so please check back soon as the entry will be added to the blog.

We left Iceland and flew straight to Sweden and Stockholm. Real winter weather greeted us and the two weeks we spent visiting Victoria's friends and relatives were quite cold and snowy. Christmas eve was celebrated Swedish style (complete with pickled herring, meatballs and Christmas ham) at Victoria's parents and the next morning we left for England just in time to make it to Christmas dinner at Robert's parents' house.

England was also quite chilly with some snow, so after a few weeks of travelling around the country to visit some of Robert's friends, we decided to spend a week in a warmer place. A week in Portugal in the Algarve region was warmer but a little rainy.

Back in England we soon left for another couple of weeks in Sweden before finalizing our travel plans for the Far East and Oceania. On Wednesday last week we left cold Europe for Asia as we boarded the plane destined for Asia. That takes us up to current time so here we go; blog is revived and we are in Hong Kong!

The thought of a 12 hour flight from London Heathrow is not really that exciting but we were off to a great start as we checked in and were told that Economy Plus, the class we had booked was full so they had to put us in Upper Class. Nice! White table cloths, three course dinner, and the best of all: comfy chairs that converted into flat beds! It is easy to understand why it's so hard to go back to economy after such a nice experience.

We landed in Hong Kong early evening and it was warm and humid. Around 25C which was a stark contrast to the -18C in Sweden. We made it safely to our hotel in Kowloon which is very nice. The whole city is decorated for Chinese New Year so lots of red lantens, flowers and red envelopes everywhere. Very pretty!

After a first sleepless night thanks to severe jetlag, we staggered out to explore the surroundings. There is a large flower market right outside the hotel and everybody is buying flowers for the New Year celebrations. It was a little of a clastrophobic experience to try to get through on the street. Robert was afraid he would lose Victoria in the sea of people. "Has anybody seen an Asian girl?" "She has black hair, brown eyes?" "No?"

We spent the day somewhat aimlessly wandering around. We had this idea of getting tourist visas for China since we thought we might want to pop over to the mainland. With New Year coming up the visa office would be close for almost a week so today was the only day we could get them in order to pick them up before the weekend. After realizing that getting the visas through a travel agency is a complete rip off, we headed to the actual visa office itself. We made it there with five minutes to spare and were told that the visas could be picked up the next day. Instead of paying over $4000 HKD at the travel agency, going straight to the source 'only' cost us $1100.

The next day was also a bit of a daze since we still had severe jetlag and woke up at 3am unable to sleep any longer. We went back to the visa office to pick up our visas and that was an adventure in itself. We had to be there by 5pm in order to get them before the office closed for the long weekend. If we didn't make it we would be without passports until Wednesday next week so it was crucial to get there in time. Of course everything that could go wrong went wrong..... We took the train and thought we had set off with plenty of time to spare but when we arrived at the right station we only had 25 minutes left. Fifteen minutes to five we got to the visa office where they told us that we could only pay for the visas with cash. So off in a hurry to an ATM only to realize that Robert's credit card had been blocked since we have travelled in so many different countries. We used Victoria's cell phone (cost a fortune) to phone Robert's bank in the U.K who didn't really see the seriousness in our demand to have the block lifted right away. After almost having a heart attack we were able to get the cash and sprinted back to the visa office. Two minutes to five we got there to find that the staff had started to lock up the place. Thank goodness they were kind enough to let us in. But we were told that if we had been one minute later we would have had to come back next week! Phew!!!!!!

In the evening we met up with a friend of Robert who was very kind and took us to a really nice dinner. A few hours later and completely stuffed on delicious duck, fish, shrimp and dumplings, we headed to the Peak to have a nice panoramic look of Hong Kong. The weather had overnight changed from a warm and balmy 25C to about 13C so it was felt freezing when the night was falling.

We spent the next day doing some more wandering around, visiting the zoo and a park in central Hong-Kong. The weather was still a bit chilly with a light misty rain.

Our last full day in Hong-Kong we slept in and then went to see all the fancy hotels such as the Peninsula, the Conrad, Sheraton etc. Hong-Kong is definitely a place for anybody with lots of money!!!! We splurged with afternoon tea at the Conrad and Victoria went for a record in eating the most. Two plates of food, one bowl of congee, two plates of dessert later and in complete food coma, we took a cab back to the hotel for a nap and digestion.

Since it was Chinese New Year we definitely didn't want to miss the New Year parade so we headed out later in the evening. The parade was spectacular. Very well organized and lots of fun! We took lots of pictures and since they haven't been downloaded from the camera yet, please check back later as they will be added.

We are now at the airport and waiting for our flight to Singapore where we will spend three days before heading to Thailand. More adventures await!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on February 13, 2010 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
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Singapore, Singapore

Our next stop in the Far East is Singapore. After all that stress with getting our Chinese visas we still decided to hold off on the China part of our travels. We had talked about possibly taking a train from Hong-Kong through southern China and then down in Vietnam, but after careful consideration and advice from better knowing people who told us the trains and hygiene standards in southern China and rural Vietnam are a little bit different from the western world, we decided to take the less adventurous and more comfortable route of travelling. We booked a flight to Singapore with Tiger Airways; south east Asia's version of Ryanair to a very reasonable price. We might still fly to Beijing on our way back to Europe when the weather is better, so hopefully we'll still get to use our visas and see a little bit of the big country.

The flight from Hong-Kong to Singapore was about three and a half hours and went smoothly. Once we landed we were greeting by hot and humid weather and about 33C. A taxi ride in to the center took us to the Fairmont hotel where we would spend the next three nights.

Singapore is very clean, well organized and there seems to be lots of enforcement in place in terms of regulations, laws and police. Taxis are strictly forbidden to stop on the main roads or they might have to pay a fairly heavy fine, and illegally parked vechicles are quickly fined and towed away. Victoria accidentally dropped her ice cream on the road one evening and feared she would be caught by the 'ice-cream police'.... :)

The first day we explored the city centre by foot and walked down to Chinatown. Large modern building are mixed with older, colonial ones and along the river a portion of the older houses have been kept. Along the river was a sculpture of a bird (?) which Robert promptly wanted to climb up on top of. Unfortunately, the bird was to big...

We explored the market in Chinatown and eventually got hungry and found the food stalls where you can get a delicious meal for almost nothing! $10-12 Singapore dollars (approx. 5-6 pounds or 50-60 SEK) would for sure leave you full and satisfied. At first the thought of eating food off these little stalls on the road felt a little uncertain but after seeing that they all seemed to properly prepare the food and they all had business licenses we decided to dig in. The food was great and if it wasn't for the size of our tummies we would still be there sampling the different kinds of dishes! We had noodle soup and satay skewers followed by beef stirfry, veggies and rice. Mmmmmmm!

With our happy full tummies we decided that walking would be too much work, so we went down to the Fullerton Hotel right by the harbour from which we took a little river cruise. It was quite nice to see the city from the river at night time with lots of lights.

The following day, we went on a day trip out to the zoo. Well worth a visit. It was hot and humid so we had to keep drinking lots and lots of water. Robert even found another plastic cow to climb!

The zoo is the home to a large range of animals; everything from exotic species such as monkeys (our favourite!) lions, tigers, zebras and elephants to animals a little less expected in such warm climate: penguins and polar bears! The polar bears looked a little hot even though they had a cool pool to swim in, and an enclosure with misty cooling steam, and you can't blame them!

That evening we stayed close to our hotel for dinner which unfortunately was over priced for what we got, and both of us missed the delicious inexpensive food we had eaten the night before. Sometimes it really is worth going out of the most touristy areas to eat more local and often better food.

As we were leaving Singapore the next day, but our flight didn't leave until early evening, we got a late check out and explored a little more around the hotel. There was a shopping centre right next to the Fairmont, and like Hong-Kong, there is no lack of shopping opportunities. On our map, the list of shopping areas was longer than the list of 'attractions to see', which confirms that! As our luggage allowance is somewhat restricted (by the airline cut offs AND Robert's dislike for shopping...), we (Victoria) didn't buy anything.

In the afternoon we were off to the airport for another Tiger Airways flight that would take us to Phuket, Thailand. We think we 'deserve' a beachy holiday.... Oh, the stress of travelling....... Life is hard! :)

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on February 18, 2010 from Singapore, Singapore
from the travel blog: The rest of the world
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The art of doing nothing...

Phuket, Thailand

Record levels of snow in Sweden and crummy weather in England feel VERY distant as we are writing this blog entry from our private villa in Thailand with palm trees and sunshine. Not that we are trying to make our friends and family in colder climate jealous.... it's just so difficult to imagine right now.....

Yes, we are in Thai paradise at a very nice resort just outside the airport in Phuket. We had originally planned on staying for three nights just to catch some sun and beach life, but after seeing how nice our hotel is and that the resort is located in one of the less busy and touristy areas of Phuket, we decided to stay another three nights.

Knowing that this is the peak season for sun thirsty Northern Europeans and that some areas will feel just like home with white pasty Swedes and Brits fighting for space on the beach, we were positively surprised that the resort is quiet and the beach is quite empty. No need to get up at 6am to sprint down to the beach and marking your territory by occupying a sun chair!

The nice thing is also that the hotel gave us a better room than we had booked. We got a private 'villa' with its own plunge pool and outdoor bathroom. It feels very nice to be able to walk straight out of bed and go for a quick dip in the morning. The food at the hotel is also excellent and even though we've been eating most of our meals at the local food merchants and restaurant, the breakfast is really good.

We did attend a BBQ buffet that the hotel organized one evening. It was very nice with lots of good food; shellfish and fish grilled to order and lots of different kinds of meats. The posters for this BBQ night had promised 'live violin and guitar music'. Not to disappoint, a little Thai man showed up with his violin. Unfortunately, it sounded suspiciously similar to a tortured cat so when he finished all the guests sighed out of relief and applauded him but were quite happy to see him leave. But surprise! Five minutes later he was back, this time with a guitar in his hand. A man of many talents! To his defense, the guitar playing was much better than his violin skills, but then he started singing. Not too bad, but it was quite cute to hear him sing 'Mrs Lobinson' on top of his lungs instead of 'Mrs Robinson'.

We both wanted to relax for a few days and try to do the 'beach thing'. Which essentially means 'to do nothing'. While the whole trip is vacation, we are often on the move and at most destinations it feels like we should go and see and do things. So here in Thailand we decided that complete laziness is ok. Which is easier said than done! None of us is really a big fan of sun bathing. Robert is of the whiter skin type and has to be careful in the sun. Victoria's skin can tolerate sun a bit better but still gets impatient and antsy from just laying flat on her back for more than an hour.

We tried several times to just lay in the sun and we did quite well! However, the sun is very strong so we stay in the shade of the parasols as much as possible. The sun still gets you in the shade though, which is something Robert learned the painful way! After a couple of hours on the beach with max five minutes exposure in the actual sun, he developed a very characteristic British pink hue all over his body. Ouch!!!!

We also wanted to try some Thai massages, so we found a nice, clean place in the little town next to the beach. Victoria went for the 'neck-back' option and was after 30 minutes more sore than from the 8,000 meter of swimming she's been doing over the past three days!!! Amazing how much power is in a little Thai lady! Robert went for the royal massage which included hot steaming cloths full of aromatic spices dabbed all over the body. When the massage was finished and we stepped out of the spa into the bright sunlight we discovered that Robert was...bright orange/yellow! So he was like a chameleon; going from white, to pink, to yellow. All in one day!

Tomorrow morning we are off to the airport to catch a flight to Bangkok where we will spend a few days. It was been a really nice six days here in Phuket and we think we are getting quite good at 'doing nothing'.

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on February 23, 2010 from Phuket, Thailand
from the travel blog: The rest of the world
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Learning the hard way....

Bangkok, Thailand

We have moved on and are right now in Bangkok after a short flight from Phuket. Well... we've already been in Bangkok for three days and if everything had gone to plan, we would be in Vietnam right now. However, due to a smaller mishap we are still in Thailand...

Not that Bangkok is a bad place to be; especially not when we have the luxury of staying at one of Robert's friend's house which is not a small little house but more like a mini palace. Large pool (Victoria was even tempted trying to do some more serious swimming in it, it must be at least 15 meters), fountain, nice garden and very spacious.

During the three days we've been here we have done a little bit of sightseeing including a tuk tuk ride on the streets of Bangkok. Only for the brave!!!!! No shock absorbers and going down the streets in at least 60-70 km/h!!!! The tour also included the 'mandatory' stops at the silk tailors and being strong and firm about not buying anything we didn't want from the merchants that the tuk tuk driver got paid to stop at.

We visited a couple of night markets too but didn't really buy anything. We also went to the more exclusive shopping centre and explored a little.

A dinner cruise on the river was one of the highlights. It was arranged by the hotel Shangri-la, so it was very fancy but an excellent way to see some of the city at night when it was cooler.

Unfortunately, we didn't really see everything we wanted as it is too hot to walk around and the taxi and tuk tuk drivers are really trying to scam the tourists, so after trying to find a taxi to take us around (at a price that was about 10 higher than it should have been), we decided to cut the seightseeing a little short. Perhaps that was wise anyways, as many of the major buildings and government sites were heavily guarded with armed police and riot squads in anticipation of unrest once the court ruling against the former prime minister was going to be announced. Not the most relaxed atmosphere to linger around in....

So after almost ten days in Thailand we decided that it was time to see something else. Victoria has been to Vietnam a few years ago and really liked it so we decided to go to Ho Chi Minh City. We got cheap tickets with Air France and prepared for departure today Saturday.

Everything went well until we came to the check-in desk at the airport. It turned out that British nationals need to obtain a tourist visa before going to Vietnam and Air France therefore denied Robert boarding unless he could show a letter that he was pre-approved for a visa on arrival. It didn't occur to us to check that as Victoria knew that as a Swedish citizen she didn't need a visa and we couldn't imagine that it would be different for other Western EU countries..... After some arguing with the staff at the desk, there was nothing else to do but to cancel the flight and head back to Bangkok.

As it was Saturday, the visa would take at least a few days to get so after a bit of flapping around, we decided to cancel our trip to Ho Chi Minh city for now. Yes, we did lose a little bit of money by cancelling the flight tickets and the hotel, but unfortunately we didn't have much of a choice. Victoria could have gone by herself to Vietnam, but that wasn't a very appealing option either....

We went back at Robert's friend's house, trying to recuperate and re-assess what to do next. Since we do have those tourist visas for China that we worked so hard for (see blog entry for Hong-Kong about that story) we were thinking going to China instead. To think our situation over we decided to go for some food first. As if a bad day couldn't get any worse, we are terribly ashamed to admit that we ended up at Pizza Hut and McDonald's. In the state of mind we were we just wanted something quick to eat and thought pizza would be ok. Unfortunately, we regretted our choice as soon as the food came. You would think Pizza Hut tastes the same anywhere in the world...well... WRONG! Somehow even the pizza has a distinct 'Thai flavour' to it. While thai food in itself is delicious, Meat Lover's pizza with a thai flare to it is not! To top it all off, the waitress tipped a whole milkshake over Robert's trousers. Accidentally of course, but still.....

So after a bad day that turned even worse, the best thing we could do was to go to bed and sleep it off. Hopefully some rest and a fresh start on the next day would give us a new prospective. Story to be continued...

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on February 27, 2010 from Bangkok, Thailand
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Exploring Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Yes! We are in Vietnam! After 24 hours of serious frustration and tests of patience we eventually made it here.

The day after we had first tried to go to Ho Chi Minh city and didn't go because Robert needed a visa for Vietnam, we woke up early to try sorting out what we would do instead. We checked flights to China, Australia and Malaysia, but nothing really worked out and made sense in terms of timing and cost. Quite frustrated we started looking into how long it would take to get the tourist visa for Vietnam. Several websites claimed that you could apply for a visa through them, but we were a bit hesitant since we felt that there was little guarantee that the promises were real. Who could issue a visa on a Sunday just because you paid them? What if it was just a big scam?

We found once site that 'looked' reliable, but still; perhaps having a fancy website is the way to make money from innocent tourists? But we emailed the company and they did get back to us right away and claimed they could issue the visa within an hour once we paid $125. It sounded suspicious and very expensive since the visa normally shouldn't cost more than $20, but after some discussions we decided to take the chance. After some problems making the payment go through and lo and behold; five minutes later we got the emailed letter that pre-approved the visa!

We now tried to re-book the same flight to Vietnam leaving in about three hours but since it was too close to departure we couldn't do it online and decided to head to the airport again. Back at the airport the same girl at the Air France desk who had cancelled our tickets yesterday was able to rebook us on the flight for today without a penalty!!! Robert got so happy he went to buy a box of chocolates for the girl who looked like it was the first time a customer actually did something nice for her.

Happily we boarded the flight towards Ho Chi Minh city! It is a short flight that only takes about an hour, so it provided a little bit of rest after a stressful morning. Upon landing in Ho Chi Minh City, we headed for the passport control and the desk where Robert was to pick up his visa with the pre-approved letter. We got a good taste of Vietnamese government organisation.... About 30 people were gathered around the desk and the confusion and frustration was very obvious. It turned out that the 'pre-approved letter' that Air France demanded from us wasn't actually necessary.... Robert could just have applied for the visa right then and there. Nevertheless, the processing of the visa took about two hours and was highly inefficient and unorganized so it became a very long impatient wait. Finally, we got it and could proceed to passport control!!!

We took a taxi in to our hotel and stared in amazement at the traffic. There is no good way of describing it besides 'complete, and utter chaos'. Buses, cars and a million mopeds are sharing the roads and at the first glance it looks like mayhem. However, there is still flow in traffic; it never comes to complete gridlock, and despite thinking every minute will be the last of your life, you very rarely see an accident. It is something that must be experienced though as no description can really make justice to it!

There are apparently four million mopeds in the city and the major means of transportation. You see whole families of four on one little moped and usually with a day's shopping, or perhaps a desk or a fridge as well! We saw one guy driving with at least six dozens of eggs skillfully balanced on the back of his moped, and another one transporting a car windshield!!!!

Our hotel was located in District 5, which is part of Chinatown. It was very large, quite modern and comfortable. The first night, we went to the hotel restaurant for some food and Victoria had traditional 'pho'; noodle soup. We both shared some traditional fried spring rolls as well as the ones in fresh rice paper stuffed with herbs, noodles and meat. Food in Vietnam is generally less spicy than Thai food, but is still similar to both Thai and Chinese.

Since we only had one full day in HCMC, we decided to go on a sightseeing tour the next day and booked a half day city tour. We ended up getting a guide for just the two of us and were driven around in a nice air conditioned car. The tour went to a Chinese temple, the War Remnants museum, the Reunification Palace, the Notre Dame cathedral, the Post Office and a factory that made traditional arts and crafts.

In the Chinese temple, the haze from the incense was thick as you could buy incense that was lit up and burned for up to a week. In the ceiling, large bee hive looking coils of incense were slowly burning with notes attached to them which had the wish of the person buying and lighting the incense written down.

The War Remnants museum is the most popular museum for Western tourists and a horrific reminder of the atrocities committed during the Vietnam war. As Victoria had already visited the museum last time she was in HCMC (and at that time unable to finish the museum tour), she opted for waiting outside. The museum is very 'one sided' but does not in any way take away from the reality of the terrible things that happened during the war; sadly often to innocent civilians and children.

The Reunification Palace is large and took most of our tour. We saw the banquet halls, reception halls, bunkers, helicopter pads and other 'necessities' of former presidents and authorities of a country with a long and troubled past.

Lastly, our tour included a stop in a factory for disabled Vietnamese that produces handicrafts decorated with crushed egg shells and mother of pearl. We were shown each step in the production process and of course ended up in the shop at the end.

In all, the tour was very good and probably the best way to see some of the key landmarks in a short period of time. Our guide was a young man who was very nice and knowledgeable.

That evening we took a taxi to District one which is where most large hotels and restaurants are located. We took a quick look at the market and bought some guidebooks off a street vendor. Very good copies of popular books can be bought to a fraction of the price the original would cost back in Europe or North Americas. The quality is quite good too! We bought Lonley Planets guide books for Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand in an attempt to be a little bit more prepared for our destinations to come!

After dinner which we ate in the roof top garden of Hotel Rex, we headed back to our hotel for one more night's sleep before we are off in the morning to go to Danang. Danang is located on the coast in about the middle of the long narrow country and is the closest airport to Hoi An, which is a UNESCO protected heritage site that we have been recommended to visit.

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 2, 2010 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
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Hoi An

Hoi An, Vietnam

A short flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Danang and a 45 minutes taxi ride brought us to Hoi An which is an old trading port of Vietnam. The city is since 1999 protected by UNESCO so the buildings in the old part of town are preserved and apparently look very much like they did hundred of years ago. Today, most people on the streets are Western tourists who browse the hundred of tailor shops that line the streets. It is easy to understand that without the tourists the town would perhaps not be as prosperous as it is. However, there could be a fine balance between preserving the atmosphere of the town and the danger of making into a tacky tourist attraction.

We both really liked Hoi An as it did still have a really good atmosphere and spirit. The majority of buisnesses are tailor shops and shoe makers who can tailor a dress, suit or any other kind of clothing very inexpensively and affordably. You can also get shoes made in any colour and size pretty much overnight once you have decided on a model.

People are very friendly and you don't feel pushed and forced to buy or look at things in the shops like you sometimes do at markets in Thailand and other countries. Yes, the store staff want to sell you things, but we never really feel hassled.

The hotel we stayed at was located about 10 minutes outside Hoi An next to the river. We got a really nice room overlooking the river with palm trees swaying in the wind. One morning when we came out on the balcony the palm tree was swaying not only from the wind but also because a little man working for the hotel had climbed up the tree and was cutting down the coconuts. It wasn't clear if it was done to prevent the coconuts from falling on the heads of the hotel guests or if it was just 'pruning time', but it was entertaining to watch!

We made our way into the old part of Hoi An in the evenings and found an excellent restaurant that served delicious food to a very good price. Three appertizers, two main courses, a couple of glasses of wine (for Robert), rice, mineral water and dessert was only about $25 in total. The best part was probably the 'money bags' which were deep fried 'bags' of rice paper filled with veggies, spices and prawns. So yummy!

The inexpensive meal was balanced out by a very expensive taxi ride back to the hotel. No, we didn't get scammed by the taxi driver (which happened once in Ho Chi Minh city); the fault was only ours.... The vietnamese dong is basically worth nothing, so the notes come in very high denominations like 10,000, 100,000, 5,000, 50,000 etc. One USD is around 18,000 dong so good skills in quick math is useful when figuring out how much things cost. A good eye for the right colour and number of zeros on the notes help to... Our taxi ride back to the hotel cost 52,000 VND and in the dark, Robert accidentally gave the taxi driver a 500,000 note instead of 50,000!!! We didn't notice the mistake until the next day but would explain why the taxi driver looked so confused. He must have thought Robert was either a very rich or very stupid Englishman....

The second day, we slept in a bit but wanted to go for some kind of tour or sightseeing in the countryside around Hoi An. Since we had already missed the organized day trips, we decided to go on our own. We rented bicycles to the price of 20,000 dong per day (a little more than a dollar) and set off. Thankfully traffic is less crazy than in Ho Chi Minh and it is actually possible to cycle without fearing for your life!

We cycled out on the rural roads that led us through rice paddies and vegetable fields. We made a stop for lunch at a restaurant built on the river before continuing our tour. We also made a few stops to see what the farmers were up to and Robert even offered to help with the work! The farmer however, probably thought we were completely crazy. He kept talking to Victoria in Vietnamese probably thinking that she would understand so that she could tell her crazy boyfriend to stay out of his fields, but in the end he was smiling!

An old woman was walking in the ditch of the rice fields looking for something which she put in a plastic bag. It turned out that the bag contained big, fat, yummy snails!

We also saw some buffalos grazing between the tombstones in a grave yard and several chickens, a few cows and lots of dogs. The funniest thing was when we met a guy with several cages on the trailer to his moped. Suddenly one cage fell off the trailer and out of the cage came a pig!!!! The guy had to stop and run after the pig which was not very keen on getting back into the cage. After some wrestling the pig lost and was put back in his prison.

Our last stop on our bicycle tour was at a little house that offered cold drinks. We stopped for a Coke and we were served by a woman and her 78 year old grandma. They spoke very little English but tried to teach Robert some Vietnamese. When we biked away from their house Robert practiced his new skills on every person we met on the road. Some of them seemed to think he was nuts, which could have something to do with his pronounciation which probably butchered the Vietnamese language!

In the evening, we headed back to old Hoi An and went to the same restaurant as the previous night. Since we enjoyed the food so much we didn't see why we shouldn't go back where we knew it was going to be good. It didn't disappoint! The food was again excellent and stuffed on money bags and other delicacies, we headed back to the hotel for one more night's sleep before we are off to Hanoi for two days.

In summary, Hoi An is very well worth a visit and one of our favourite destinations so far. And if you do go, don't miss dinner at the White Marble Restaurant & Wine Bar!!!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 3, 2010 from Hoi An, Vietnam
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Hanoi, Vietnam

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 5, 2010 from Hanoi, Vietnam
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Hanoi, Vietnam

We are on the move again and have left Hoi An. Our next stop was Hanoi in the northern part of Vietnam.

A short flight landed us in the smoggy, hot capital and after a nighmarish taxi ride from the airport, we got to the hotel. The traffic is kind of crazy also here, but at the same time different from Ho Chi Minh city. There are more cars, but still a zillion of mopeds. The traffic moved quite slowly and not even the air conditioned car could block out the exhaust fumes from all the vechicles.

As we only had one full day in Hanoi we had to make a decision on how to best spend the time. We picked between staying in the city and explore the Hanoi landmarks, or to take a day trip to Halong Bay. Since the traffic was so bad, and the pollution levels obviously quite high, we opted for the trip out of the city.

We could have taken an organized trip to Halong Bay but decided to do it 'our way' again. We hired a car and a driver and set out towards the coast on the east. The drive was three hours and not for the weak of heart. If traffic in the cities is crazy, at least it's slow moving. On the highways and country side roads some kind of rules that are foreign to Western travellers must apply which can make even the calmest person a neurotic back seat driver.... It took a while to figure out what it was the felt so unnerving and after a while we figured it out: the fact that there is a white dotted line in the middle road, separating traffic going in different directions simply doesn't mean a darn in Vietnam!!!

'Right hand side driving' only applies in the most rudimentary terms and most of the driving is done straddling the middle line and might involve slighly keeping to the right if there is oncoming traffic. Cars are trying to pass other cars or mopeds but the vechicles being passed just obliviously stay in the middle of the road, forcing the passing car to drive long stretches on the left hand side of the road.

Luckily we made it 'safely' to Halong Bay and jumped on the first tourist boat that was still going out that day. We had done some homework on the types of trips, but since we arrived quite late in the day, we didn't have much choice and ended up on a 'one star' boat (the two star boats are of better standard) with a group of Vietnamese tourists.

The tour would last three hours and take us to the UNESCO protected caves and a tour through the islands in the bay. At first we were a little worried we had been ripped off but the tour turned out to be pretty good. The first stop was to visit the caves, and the scenery was really amazing. The islands looked like 'jurassic park' island with tall rugged cliffs and lush vegetation. You almost expected a dinosaur to peek out through the trees!

Inside the caves, lighting made them look really spectacular and it was very nicely done.

The journey then continued in through the islands where little fishing markets were floating between the islands. We stopped at one of them and got to look at the different ponds in which different kinds of fish, shellfish and strange creatures were kept. The Vietnamese tour group on our boat picked up a giant snail and a big fish that they bought for dinner.

A little lady in a boat docked at the fish farm sold the spices and supplies needed to cook the fish.

We were lucky to see the sunset which was amazing! The sky turned orange and the sun became a big glowing globe. The temperature was comfortable and probably around 22-25C which was a nice break from the last weeks in 30-35C.

After three hours the boat turned towards the mainland again. The boat crew prepared the fish and the snail that the Vietnamese tour group had bought and we were even invited to have dinner with them. Unfortunately we had to decline since we were heading back to Hanoi but, we were very happy that we got a chance to see a little bit of Halong Bay even though with more time it would have been great to go on a longer overnight trip as there are cruiseships where you can spend one or more nights.

Our driver was waiting for us and another three hour heart stopping trip waited before we finally were back at the hotel in Hanoi. If the trip to Halong Bay had been scary in daylight, that was nothing compared to doing it when it was pitch dark....

So in summary, our short stay in Hanoi provided us with a very nice experience even though it would have been nice to have another day to actually see Hanoi. We were now off to Hong-Kong again, but Vietnam is definitely a place that both of us really enjoyed and would like to explore more!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 5, 2010 from Hanoi, Vietnam
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Hong Kong, Hong Kong

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 7, 2010 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
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Sunny Sydney

Sydney, Australia

A nine hour flight from Hong-Kong to Australia landed us in the early morning in Sydney. The flight was quite long but the time difference from Hong-Kong ‘only’ three hours. However, since we left Hong-Kong late in the evening and flew over night without much sleep, it really felt like we were severely jetlagged when we finally had cleared customs and immigration and staggered out in the sunshine.

Sydney greeted us with nice weather and the contrast was very pleasant as the air was less humid. The hotel let us check in early so at 10am we went to bed for a few hours sleep.

In fact, the first day was spent pretty much recovering and it wasn’t until later in the afternoon/early evening that we found the energy to venture out to and get something to eat. We walked through the Botanical Gardens and stared at the thousands of fruit bats that were hanging in the trees. They are quite large and they looked scary even though they are harmless…. We also saw the biggest spider web with a VERY LARGE spider on guard in the middle…..

We also walked past the famous Opera house and down to Circular Quay from which we took a taxi back to the hotel.

The next morning was also off to a slow start, but eventually we dragged ourselves out of bed and went for a swim in the pool in the Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, today was much greyer and quite cold with a slight drizzle. The swim was nice though and we also had some breakfast at the pool café overlooking the pool area and part of the harbor.

The last full day in Sydney, we met up with Victoria’s friend Malin who has lived in Sydney for four years. She took us on a nice tour with started with a ferry ride to Watson’s Bay and a delicious serving of fish and chips before going for a walk along the coastline. The views were spectacular but when we passed the Lady Bay beach where ‘clothing is optional’ we involuntarily saw some less spectacular naked men strolling down the beach….

The trip continued with a bus ride to Bondi Beach; another walk and a stop for a coffee at a little side café before we decided to head back to the hotel for an hour rest. The plan was to meet up with Malin and her boyfriend Marc for dinner later on, so we took the opportunity to rest our feet and eyes before heading out again for really yummy Indian meal in Rose Bay.

In all we had a very nice day and thanks Malin for being our guide. The only thing was that both of us forgot sunscreen so even just a walk left both of us red like two tomatoes in our faces!!! Ouch!!!!

The following morning we were once again packing our bags and heading to the airport to catch our flight to Kiwi country, aka New Zealand. Since we will be spending about seven weeks there with only vague plans so far, we had only bought the ticket there, not a return. Well, that proved to cause some issues as we weren’t allowed to check to our flight unless we could show a return ticket out of New Zealand. Apparently, they were afraid we were going to stay forever….. So with an hour to spare before check-in closed, we bought return tickets so that we could show that we intended to leave the country. A little stressful at first, but we made it with more than half an hour to spare before the desk would close!
Finally we boarded our flight that would take us to New Zealand and Christchurch!

permalink written by  Victoria & Robert on March 11, 2010 from Sydney, Australia
from the travel blog: The rest of the world
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Victoria & Robert Victoria & Robert
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This is the blog of a Brit and Korean looking Swedish-Canadian who met in Vancouver and decided to travel the world together.

We plan on traveling through Northern Canada to the Arctic Circle, then across the country to then continue over the Atlantic sea and resume our adventure in Europe...

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