Overall, Sydney is a jolly pleasant place to live. And I’m not just talking about the beaches and the weather...
Koh Samui - island of broken dreams. Time to sit and ponder a paradise lost? Or time to down a bottle of vodka, get sunburnt in the shape of your vest, throw a few chairs around and eat chips for breakfast? Oi Oi!
The getting lost guide to Hue
After the madness of Hanoi, we were looking for some peace and quiet – so we took a boat trip to Ha Long Bay, one of Vietnam’s most famous tourist sites. About three hours drive east of Hanoi, Harlong Bay is an aquatic mountain range, with hundreds of eeire looking rocks jutting out of the water. My GSCE geography let me down as to how these may have actually been formed (Glaciers? Erosion? Volcanic desposits?), so I just stuck with the local legend – that they were created by dragons.
Although Ha Long Bay is impressive, the experience of being hoarded onto a tourist bus, being charged double the price for a tube of Pringles at the harbour, and just generally fighting attempts to rip us off for the next 24 hours left us a bit cold. So it was with this is mind, that when we arrived in Hue we decided to do things differently. Hue apparantly has many historic sites of note – and I’m delighted to say we didn’t see any of them. Instead, we decided to leave the guide book at home, hire a moped and set off with a map that was worse than useless and a vague idea that there was a beach somewhere about 15km away.
It took us over two hours to find the beach, as on the way we got hopelessly lost in a cluster of tiny little fishing villages on the outskirts on Hue. We rode through paddy fields filled with cattle that looked more like water buffalo, bathing nose deep in the water; ramshackle but happy looking houses in every shade of the rainbow; men toiling in the fields in the hot afternoon sun; tiny women in traditional pointy hats with kilos of fruit perfectly balanced on each shoulder, looking as if one orange misplaced could send them toppling over.
It was like we’d stepped into another magical world. Every other house seemed to have a small temple next door to it, and every single person smiled and said hello as we rode past; we felt as much a tourist attraction to them as they were to us. The children in particular seemed to find us hilarious. I’m not sure what it was about the bearded Turk and the English with fluffy blonde hair that made them erupt into giggles every time we passed, but something clearly tickled them
When we reluctantly wound our way out of this lush, green secret garden, we eventually found our beach. A long stretch of windswept sand, with just a scattering of Vietnamese schoolchildren to keep us company. The sea was as warm as a neglected cup of tea, and shallow with boisterous waves that – if you caught them at the right moment – would rush you towards the shore spluttering for air, but coming up with the gleeful grin of a five year old who’s just been handed the bowl of cake mixture to finish.
On the way home we stopped off at the side of the road for some hot bowls of spicy rice with fresh herbs and prawns, for 5,000d each (about 30 pence!). We’d started to feel like this was the Vietnam we had come to see.
The next day, the heavens opened. Somehow, in all our excitement of going away, we’d neglected to discover that November is rainy season in North and Central Vietnam. Undeterred, we purchased the obligatory rain macs and joined the army of colourful plastic ghosts weaving through the raindrops on Hue’s roads.
We headed to the ouskirts of the city, and gave ourselves up to the winding alleyways and inviting lanes, surrounded by watery fields you could almost drink and rivers alive with greenery. We stopped to burn our mouths on sticky sweet sesame balls fresh from the fryer, wandered around Dong Ba market haggling for hats and squelching through the mud in our flip flops. When we arrived back at the hotel five hours later we were soaked to the skin but had heads buzzing with new sights and lasting memories.
We could have stayed longer – but after all, what are travellers supposed to do but travel? Plus we had the promise of an even more beautiful beach ahead.
Pics by Timur & Roz