India – lost in translation?

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Travel brings many trials and tribulations, many of which can be attributed to language barriers.

Hand gestures and pointing only goes so far… especially when it comes to finding a toilet… awkward.

What we found in India is how detrimental ‘lost in translation’ situations can be – specifically when it comes to Trip Advisor reviews.

When reading reviews before going to India I picked several spots based on glowing reviews from happy travellers. What I failed to take into account was who was writing reviews… and what they are trying to say versus reality.

So for your viewing pleasure I’ve picked some reviews about places I ended up visiting that weren’t quite what they were made out to be:


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Translation: This review is about a bridge in Mumbai. I mean it’s a nice bridge… but it’s a bridge. I wasn’t excited.


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Translation: If you find peace and happiness in being stalked by hawkers, threatened, attacked by flying animals (these things are too big to be described as bugs) and eyed up by disease carrying stray dogs, then sure… you will find a shit load of peace and happiness and happiness here.


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Translation: “Good natured but persistent” is truly the most diplomatic description I’ve ever heard. This person must be a politician. I watched the hawkers here bully tourists and literally jump on the back of a moving vehicle to try and sell their shit, scaring the bejesus out of visitors.


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Translation: “Great shopping experience”, “For Sale” and “great demo” are interesting perceptions of this marble shop. After watching very talented craftsmen make marble art, we were locked in a room and forced to buy before we could leave. Then were told the owner is a mean alcoholic who is horrible to his staff… So in this case Great shopping experience = forced purchase from slave labour.


So friends, when it comes to Trip Advisor buyer beware… top tips:

  1. Look at where the reviewer comes from – perception is everything and people from different regions of the world to you may have different perceptions.
  2. People are welcome to have their own opinions – even if they are shit and wrong. Don’t take everyones opinion as gospel.

Ok that’s all for now… More actual tales from our actual trip to come soon. For now, rant over, thanks for listening 🙂

30 by 30 – What a ride!

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Well folks, pop the bottles, get out the streamers – it’s official (ok it was official about six months ago) I’ve done it – I’ve travelled to 30 different countries before my 30th birthday!!

When I set the goal five years ago it was in part a pipe dream and in part a way to continually give myself a goal to work towards that was purely fun related, not health, not career – just fun.

And shit I’ve had so much fun achieving it along the way. From seeing great sites like the Taj Mahal or Eiffel tower to being extreme like paragliding in Austria and… and… ok who am I kidding I’m NOT extreme.

Anyway it’s been amazing, and it’s not over… not by a long shot.

So what’s next? What’s my next goal, my next plan? I’m taking suggestions. Seriously – I want you to help me decide what I should do next… Do I double it before I’m 40? Aim to see all countries in the world? I’m game.

Anyway as you ponder, scroll down for my final list of 30 countries in alphabetical order. Looking at each name brings back so many exceptional memories and I’m itching to make some more.

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(My world scratch map – the gold countries I haven’t been to… it’s on my wall and I look at it longingly everyday)

 

1 America 16 Lichtenstein
2 Australia 17 Malaysia
3 Austria 18 Mexico
4 Cambodia 19 Monaco
5 China 20 Montenegro
6 Croatia 21 Netherlands
7 England 22 Scotland
8 France 23 Singapore
9 Germany 24 Spain
10 Greece 25 Switzerland
11 India 26 Thailand
12 Ireland 27 Turkey
13 Italy 28 UAE (Dubai)
14 Fiji 29 Vatican
15 Japan 30 Vietnam

Pilgrim without a plan

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To say I’ve been M.I.A on the blog front is an understatement – it’s been months since I posted… not ok.

Why have I made you all suffer through my radio silence? Missing out on the brilliance that is my writing? I can put it down to one thing – lack of travel depression… LTD for short.

The LTD struggle has been real – worse than ever before. And the reason is this: I’m a pilgrim without a plan.

I landed back in NZ after achieving my 30 by 30 plan with nothing new on the horizon… just a mortgage to pay and a 9 to 5 job.

Not knowing what I’m doing next, where or when I’m going has been a beating to my soul… But let’s be honest, as far as problems go, this is as first world as it gets, so I’m packing away my LTD and getting back on the keyboard to give you guys more tips and tales from my pilgrimages. You’re welcome.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as I will have a celebratory article about reaching my initial 30 by 30 plan… I WILL come up with a new plan… maybe with your help and I have some crazy tales from Malaysia and India to share with you. There are terror threats, Malaysia Airlines flights and human poo. You want to read this stuff.

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(Oh and here’s a tease of some of the cool stuff I got to see in India – more about this soon)

Scooters, Skyscrapers & Shooting. Welcome to Ho Chi Minh

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As a wise man once said Vietnam is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

Ok I’m paraphrasing, but it’s true.

One of the true charms of Vietnam is the constant surprise factor. After weeks in Vietnam visiting the beautiful Hoi An, the bustling Hanoi and the serene Halong Bay I thought Vietnam couldn’t have any more surprises in store. Then we landed in Ho Chi Minh.

It is undoubtedly the most developed city in Vietnam, boasting a financial district fully equipped with skyscrapers and (wait for it)… TOP SHOP! Then you head out of the city and get to experience first hand a history lesson like no other at the Cu Chi Tunnels.

It truly is amazing and there’s plenty to see and do. We didn’t have nearly enough time but still managed to jam a lot in. Here are a couple of must-do’s, can’t wait to go back some day and add to the list.

Planning your pilgrimage:


Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels

Yes it’s touristy but it’s a must do when in Ho Chi Minh. Book a day trip through your hotel and head out to see just a small fraction of the kilometres of narrow tunnels that so many Vietnamese functioned and fought out of for years. This trip will teach you more about the war than any history class. And the first hand experience crawling through the tunnels is one that will stick with you.

OH yeah and you can shoot an AK47… I’ve read from some reviews that this is offensive to those who fought and died in the war, but you know what, shut up. If the Vietnamese want to capitalize off a really shit situation by letting me shoot a gun, then good on them.

(Side note: Yep I have no gun skills as seen in the pic)


 

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants

I can’t warn you enough about how disturbing this museum is, but it’s a must do. The museum has hundreds of photographs and exhibitions telling the story of the true affect of the war.

Now I have to tell you this includes fetuses’ in jars that were affected by agent orange. This is 100% as awful as it sounds, but you know what? Look at it. They’ve put it on display to show you how bad things were (and for some still are) so take it in. Please don’t take photos, I mean you can, there’s no rule against it but come on, have some respect. Rant over.

(As you can see by my snap the only photo I took was outside…)


 

Bitexco Financial Tower

TowerIt’s really easy in a place like Ho Chi Minh to not really grasp the sheer size of the place. Well head up the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh and see just how wide spread the city is, it also gives you an idea of how much development is going on.

It’s a little more expensive than other activities in Ho Chi Minh, but in reality it’s costing you $15 instead of $2 that everything else is, so the bank isn’t broken.


 

Shop

At the Cho Ben Thanh Market. It’s full of watches, clothes, shoes, souveneirs etc. all genuine fakes of course. But it’s lots of fun and just remember to haggle, haggle and haggle some more. Or as a friend taught me, offer to pay one very low price for the item and a tip for the seller as that means they actually get some money to take home rather than giving money to the stall owner.


 

Wander

Ho Chi Minh buildingsAs per usual I recommend taking a good walk around the city. Make sure you stroll past the Saigon Opera House, the Post office and Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral. All amazing buildings and a reminder of the various influences the city has had over the years.


Eat

Beer Ho Chi MinhFor the first time in my Vietnam rambles I will tell you to go to an actual restaurant. That restaurant is 4p’s pizza – it is (wait for it) an Asian, Italian fusion restaurant (think Teryaki chicken pizza) and wholly hell it’s delicious. It sounds so wrong when you are in Vietnam to not eat Vietnamese but it’s worth detracting from the spring rolls for just one night. Trust me.

(Sorry no photos of 4P’s so instead you get a pic of another meal we had in Ho Chi Minh… yep there wasn’t just beer, although there was a lot of beer)


 

Alright that’s my reminiscing of Vietnam done for now… But i’ll be back. Mark my words. Love you Nam.

It’s been too long between drinks world… but I’m coming for ya!

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It’s been over 12 months since I have done any meaningful travel… and for someone that lives to travel that’s a lifetime.

In fact it’s why I’ve been so quiet on the blog front, I was having a no-travel tantrum. I couldn’t bring myself to write about seeing the world when the world seemed so far away from my apartment in Auckland.

HOWEVER it is now with great pleasure that I can say that as I write this just over two weeks remain between me and a trip to new countries, new cuisines and new cultures. Oh yeah, it feels good.

So where am I off to?

Well what started as a flippant discussion with friends about meeting up in Singapore for Formula 1 has led to a 3.5 week pilgrimage back to South East Asia and beyond.

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We are starting in Singapore for the mighty F1 (fully equipped with Bon Jovi for entertainment… WHOOP), then heading on to Malaysia (two flights with Malaysia Airlines… hmm) and then on to India.

Yes in true Nic travel form we are seeing a lot in a little and yes that probably means not doing enough in each area. But at this stage I’m still in what I call ‘taste test mode’ with the world, seeing as many new places as possible then figuring out where we want to spend more time.

So for now I’m in full planning mode, organising visas, insurance and itineraries and it’s reminded me of a few top tips for planning travel. Here are a few:

  • Always check if you need Visa’s. We got so caught up in life that we almost forgot to get our visa for India. Fortunately their eVisas make is super easy but it was a little ‘oh shit’ moment.
  • Insurance: Always get travel insurance and don’t necessarily go for the cheapest option. Look at your policy covers and pays out, one I looked at didn’t cover natural disasters for example, and with mother nature rearing her head more often than not recently that wasn’t an option for me. Also check how much will they pay out if you loose your luggage etc.. I know it’s the dull part of travel but read up people.
  • Do an itinerary double check: Usually when booking a big trip you do a lot of planning months before then forget what you booked. Go through, check that your flight dates marry up to your accommodation dates and how much luggage you’re allowed on flights. Nothing like trying to get on a flight with all your recently purchased goods only to find you’re either not allowed that much weight or you have to pay through the nose for the privilege.

Ok that’s all for now, I shall try to resume more regular Pilgrim with a Plan blogging and if it ends up being excited rants about my trip well you know what… #soznotsoz

Happy days!

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Nha Trang – Take a moment from the madness

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Have you ever been to a really intense party and you’re having a great time but you just need a break? With people everywhere, a range of scents permeating your nostrils and so much to take in you just need a moment to yourself? Nha Trang is that moment at the party that is Vietnam.

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This beach side town is your quintessential resort town; the main road is littered with imposing hotels, every store is geared towards tourists and there is sweet bugger all to do except lie on the beach and drink cocktails.

Now that sounds great, and it is, but it’s not my kind of place. I find these sorts of places offensive as a traveller, I don’t know why but I do. Somewhat adding insult to my self imposed injury there are direct flights from Russia to Nha Trang (a throw back from some friendly communist agreement)… as such the place is littered with Russians. This isn’t at all a bad thing but the Vietnamese subsequently speak to you in Russian and all the signs are in Russian. For me this just detracted from the charms I’d come to know and love in Vietnam.

Anyway rant over, thanks for listening. Let’s move on. I shall tell you a little more about the things you can do here to keep yourself entertained should you get bored of sunning and drinking.

Planning your pilgrimage:


 Vinpearl Land

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I introduce you to the kingpin of theme parks… the godfather, the absolute master. Vinpearl land.

What makes Vinpearl Land so special? It’s a whole freaking island dedicated to amusement/entertainment. Not only that to get there you take the longest sea cable car in the world, so the party starts before you arrive.

On the island you’ll find an amusement park with a whole host of rides, a water park spreading over 50,000m2, an aquarium, shows, food and if you’re bored (???!) a shopping street.

I actually dislike ‘rides’ with a passion, the need to scare myself shitless left me many years ago, however this place must be seen to be believed.

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100 Egg Mud Bath

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This place is surprising, different and well… down right strange. But 100% worth a visit.

Basically it’s a spa resort. It has a range of pools at different temperatures and then these wacky egg shaped ‘pools’ spread across the hillside. You hire said egg, they fill it with mud and you soak in it. It was all shades of filthy gloriousness – super relaxing and supposedly good for the skin. Win-win.

We didn’t actually hang out there too long after our mud bath as we got there so late however the property is spread over 17 hectares and I assume it would be well worth exploring.


Louisiane Brew House

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Ok so you’ve cleaned the mud out of places that mud should never be and now you need a drink… head to the Louisiane Brewhouse.

It’s right on the beach (with loungers on the sand during the day), it serves a huge range of beers (obviously… brewhouse…) and food and is quite the bustling spot.

I like to be a little more at one with the locals so it’s not my first port of call for a bevvy, however I would suggest grabbing a beer and a snack (I do seem to remember some ridiculously huge deserts) there at least once during the course of your trip.


Drink cocktails on the beach

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Finally, and as mentioned at the start, the main thing to do in Nha Trang is sit on the beach and drink.

So I shall leave you with this photo. Could be you on that deck chair, with that cocktail. Think about it 🙂

A journey through Vietnam – One Building at a time

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I’m no architect, in fact I generally struggle putting together flat pack furniture… stupid instructions that do more harm than good. But for some reason I’m infatuated with buildings when I go travelling. I think it’s because they explain more about the history of a country than perhaps anything else.

So join me now as I take you on a journey through Vietnam one building at a time…


Hanoi

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Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Hoi An…

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Ho Chi Minh’s Residence 

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Run down building
These sort of sites aren’t uncommon in Nam

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Room with a view
These homes overlook an American bomber jet shot down and left in this lake

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Electricity, Nam Styles
Waiting for a power company to sort power to your house can take forever… why not just DIY power like they do in Nam?

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Shopping Centre
French Quarter Hanoi… Rather different from some of those earlier pics and pic below!

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Markets and multi-coloured building
I truly don’t know if it’s my photography or the building that is on the piss

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The signs of development
Hi-rise buildings are becoming a normal site in the north


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Japanese Bridge 

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The beautiful riverside

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Vibrant colours of Hoi An

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Traditional temple

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Incredible mix of cultures can be seen in the architecture of Hoi An

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Curb side supermarket – too easy!


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Like any resort town Nha Trang has a main strip littered with hotels

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Modern meets old world, check out the differences in buildings in this pic!

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My favourite building in Ho Chi Minh – the People’s Committee Building

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Followed closely by the Municipal Theatre

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Third world?? 

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The Independence Palace, the site where the war ended in 1975

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Notre-Dame Basilica

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The most boss post office around!

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And Ho Chi Minh from above


I hope you got something out of our little journey, if not, well I had a good time taking you on it, so at least I’m a winner!

Till next time pilgrims 🙂

Hoi An – A Pleasant Surprise

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Surprises – they can be good and bad.

You come home to find your house burgled… bad surprise. You come home to find a present from your loved one… good surprise.

Hoi An Street

Our arrival to Hoi An was more like the latter… a surprise gift given to us on our journey through Vietnam.

This UNESCO World Heritage site has managed to capture and embody the charming elements of Vietnam’s diverse history. It has been a trade port and home to Japanese, French, Chinese and many other cultures – as such it really is a mixed bag of beauty, from cobbled streets to wooden bridges and vibrant colours of lanterns.

Lanterns

Oh and yes Hoi An is the place where you can get custom made clothing quickly and cheaply. There are stalls upon stalls of tailors who will literally take your measurements one day and have a suit/dress/jacket (WHATEVER YOU WANT) ready for you by the next day.

Charming town and great shopping? You can see why it’s a great surprise…. Get there. Now.

Planning your pilgrimage:


Walk the River

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  • Running through the centre of town is the river. During the day it’s a hive of activity with fisherman, travellers and locals alike. At night it really comes alive. Local kids sell candles in little containers that you float down the river for luck. Lanterns light up the streets. It’s bustling and a great vibe.
  • Please remember too (a local reminded us of this on our trip) the tourist dollar is their way to live, so yes they may seem intense when trying to sell you something but they have lived in poverty for too long. Buy their candle and float it down the river. It’s their livelihood.

Jack Trans Eco Tour – BMW Buffalo Cart

Buffallo Tour1

 

  • This was by far the most interesting and fantastic thing we did in Vietnam
  • Jack Tran hires local guides, and uses local families to make his tours a true Vietnam experience.
  • As we rode along in a cart drawn by a buffalo, our tour host openly told us of how her family had gone from complete despair to a happy life with the help of the tourist dollar.
  • Bufalo tour 3The Buffalo took us to a farmers house – he had also struggled for years, not making enough money (or rice for that matter) to feed his family. To make matters worse while tending to his rice fields one day he stood on a live grenade which blew off his foot.
  • His daughter ran a day care out of his home, and the little Vietnamese kids were adorable. Our host told us that as a child she called white people ‘hello people’ as that’s what we say when we see them.
    Buffalo tour2
  • What stood out for me on this tour was not the ride on the buffalo (yep you get to ride that bad boy) or the delicious rice the farmer cooked for us, or the beautiful scenery of Hoi An’s farm land… it was witnessing first hand how resilient the Vietnamese are and how despite their trials and tribulations they are still welcoming, smiling and happy. I love them.

Eat at Bale Well

Bale Well

  • Have you ever had the food sweats? Or been so full that you thought you might explode? Well you will experience this at Bale Well and all for under $10.
  • Bale Well is the Vietnamese answer to a smorgasbord. You sit down and the friendly staff feed you, and feed you, and when you thought you couldn’t fit in anymore they feed you again.
  • Salad, spring rolls, rice pancakes, 1000 types of meat (slight exaggeration) oh yes and ice cream for desert.
  • It’s beyond insane and you must do it if you go to Hoi An.

Thuan Tinh Island Food Tour

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  • This is the number one rated activity on Trip Advisor for Hoi An and deservedly so.
  • The tour takes you through the entire meal creation process from purchasing your food at the market, to cooking, to eating. The recipes are simple enough, for those like me who have no idea what they’re doing, but the class teaches you about authentic Vietnamese ingredients, keeping those real foodies happy.
  • Above all that you get to take a little trip in a woven basket boat (see pic) and you get a small insight into local life on your walk from the river to the venue, stopping at local homes to learn about grinding rice.
    Food tour 1

Shopping 

  • Ok shopaholics, sorry it took me so long to get here… Shopping in Hoi An.
  • Tip one: Before you go take pictures of what clothes you want the tailor to make.
  • Tip two: Make this your FIRST activity in Hoi An so to give the tailors as much time as possible to make your clothes.
  • Tip three: Cheaper options are in the market, there are stalls upon stalls of tailors in here and it’s quite intense. You can shop around, and there are some who don’t know what they’re doing. We used ‘Cloth Shop Number Forty One’… they really were on point.
  • Tip four: Be prepared for it not to be perfect – they do pretty well, but there might be a few bits that aren’t 100%.

  • SO there you have it. Hoi An in all it’s glory. There are also beaches, incredible beaches nearby that we never made it to, so the entertainment possibilities are endless. Happy travels 🙂

South East Asia: Fun facts to know before you go

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Knowledge is power right? So to make you more powerfule below are some interesting, remarkable and down right wacky facts about South East Asia. You’re welcome…

Sou1. The name “Southeast Asia” came into popular use after World War II and the region has 10 independent countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. (map from imagekp.com)

2. In Thailand barbers are usually closed on Wednesday because Thais think it will bring bad luck to cut their hair that day of the week.

3. Some people in Malaysia wash their babies in beer to protect them from diseases.

4. Indonesia is the world’s biggest archipelago with over 17,000 islands.

Angkor Wat

5. Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, is the largest religious temple in the world. It is estimated it took 30 years to build!

6. Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee in the world. Only Brazil exports more coffee, by volume, than Vietnam. Most of Vietnam’s coffee is exported to the U.S.

7. Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Vietnam, other sports of interest include table tennis, volleyball, badminton, tennis, and martial arts.

8. The national anthem of Singapore is written in microtext on the back of the $1000 note.

9.Laos has been tagged as the “World’s Most Bombed Country.” Over two billion tons of bombs were dropped in Laos during the Vietnam War.

10. It is illegal to drink alcohol in public in Brunei.

11. The Philippines is the world’s leading producer of coconuts, having produced 19.5 million tons of the fruit in 2010 (Photocred: Internationalcoconut.com).

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Learn something? Me too!

If you have any other fun facts do get in touch. Happy travels.

 

Shocking and Spectacular – Visit Hanoi

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It’s hot, it kinda smells like burning and fish and there are bugs… lots of them.

To say Hanoi is a shock to the senses would be an understatement… but to say it’s one of the most intriguing and fantastic places I have ever visited would not do it justice.

Hanoi has a unique charm which really comes down to the fact that’s it’s the only place I’ve visited that travellers do as locals do. You sit next to a local for dinner, you buy goods from the same stores, you walk the same streets.

Adding to its appeal is the fact it’s the cheapest place I’ve ever visited. Beers are 20c and dinner is $5. You can live like a king on a backpackers budget.

So go on – embrace the madness.

Planning your Pilgrimage:


 Crossing the road

crossing the road

I covered this in my last article about Vietnam, but it’s worth mentioning again.

When crossing the road SLOW AND STEADY wins the race. Don’t run across the road, literally step out and walk calmly, the thousands of scooter riders will go around you, even if it doesn’t look like it.


Eat/Drink

Eamon eating

in the wall cooking

 

Eat and drink at side of the road establishments. Yep the places with kids stools, plastic tables and no roof.

Please do this.

Yes the hole in the wall oven looks ominous, sure you’re never 100% sure what it is you’re eating, but the flavours are a treat for your tastebuds and it’s such an awesome experience. Trust me, you’ll have your best meals at these places.

 

 


Bia Hoi

happy local

Bia hoiI’ve mentioned the price of beer, and yes it’s ridiculously cheap, but moreover drinking beer on the side of an intersection is the best way to spend an evening in Hanoi. It’s hugely entertaining as you watch locals weave around each other on scooters, narrowly avoiding collision.

There are tiny beer selling ‘establishments’ on nearly every corner – our favourite was a jewellery store by day, then by night they wheeled out the keg, set up the stools and wam bam thank you mam it became a bar!


Stay

In the Old Quarter.

Specifically I’d like to recommend the Cinnamon Hotel chain (they have hotels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh). A first class experience on a backpackers budget. Super cheap but offer beautiful rooms, amazing service and free massages!


Visit

Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum (where an embalmed Uncle Ho lays)

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√  Go super early in the morning as it gets really busy but in fairness the line moves quickly

√  Side notes:

  • He’s sent back to Russia to be tidied up for two months each year, so make sure it’s not when you’re there.
  • You have to cover up knees and shoulders to go in

Huu Tiep Lake and the Downed B-52

B52√  Huu Tiep Lake and the Downed B-52

  • OK this is a nightmare to find but well worth it once you do.
  • It’s an America bomber planed that was shot down during the war and now sits in a lake in a suburb of Vietnam basically.
  • They say the address is: Ngo 55, Hoang Hoa Tham, Hanoi, Vietnam, but try asking locals or getting a cab there…
  • It is walking distance from Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Explore the Old Quarter

me carrying goods

old town shopping√  Really take it all in. Get lost. Turn corners, take narrow side ally ways.

√  It’s a crazy place with loads going on, and each street is sectioned into a ‘theme’ so there’s home goods street, sunglasses street, children’s toys street and even party decorations street!


Walk around Hoàn Kiếm lake

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√  Located right by the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem is a great place to go for a walk for three reasons:

1) There’s a pedestrian only track so you aren’t afraid of being hit by a bike.

2) It’s very relaxing and calm, the polar opposite of the rest of Hanoi.

3) There are always cool things happening at the lake, brides getting wedding photos, Vietnamese practicing Tai Chi.


 

So there you have it – Hanoi in 800 words or less. It really does deserve your time and your tourist dollar – go get lost in the mayhem.