A Travellerspoint blog

Ninh Binh we've bin

By Matt

View Turkey on Watson5's travel map.

The trip to Ninh Binh started at Hanoi's train station. We had booked the most expensive seats on the train which wasn't the flashest I've seen however for $7 each it was fair value. It started with us piling on to the train super organised an hour before we were due to leave. It was hot and had some extremely loud traditional music playing. I thought Rach was going to pack it all in at that point however after half an hour the music went off and the air-conditioning on. I sat opposite two elderly Vietnamese men, Holly and Toby sat together behind Rach and Bellie. We got more than a few strange looks especially me when a young girl came and sat next to me at one of the stops. Her seemingly anxious father stood outside peering in at me. I felt as though I may have been on a first date and was very uncomfortable at which point Rach was nearly in tears with laughter as this set of eyes kept popping up over the window edge. Throughout the trip the locals slowly warmed to us and by the time we got off even the elderly gentlemen were having a laugh at Bellie as she told them in Vietnamese how old she was. The 100km trip took 2 1/2 hours.
We got to our accommodation at the Legend hotel, a monstrosity in the middle of rice paddy fields. Our room though was brilliant. For the first time we had space and the hotel had a pool. A great base for the next 4 nights.

Our first excursion was to Tam Coc and a 2 hour row boat trip up the Ngo Dong River passing through three caves. The longest was 127m. With 5 of us we had to take 2 boats so Toby and Holly joined me while Rach and Bella had the guide who was with us. The trip through the rice paddy fields and limestone karsts that line the river was amazing. It is really quiet on the boats with only the oars splashing through the water making any noise. The time passed pretty quickly but with the heat two hours was long enough. At the end of the trip we walked to the 13th century Thai Vi pagoda and then it was back into the van and off to the Bich Dong pagodas a 20 min drive away. They are 3 pagodas at different levels on the hill. They were very impressive but with it getting to midday the heat had knocked us all over. The kids had done really well but with it being 35 degrees and the humity at 90% it was time to head back to the hotel.

Setting off on our journey - Bellie excited to be winning the race
The stunning scenary along the way
Rach - The boat rowers had this amazing ability to row the boat using there feet leaving their hands free. Our guide explained that the rowers were often women and needed to do other jobs so developed this technique so that they could peel the veges for the family dinner or do handicrafts (good old multitasking again girls!
Time to head home for the hot and bothered Watson5
We were straight in the pool back at the hotel with the kids in first. Unfortunately the hotel staff were quite alarmed at the Holly and Toby in the pool unaided and half a dozen came out of the adjoining restaurant looking concerned and asking if the kids could swim. We assured them that they are ok and within 5 minutes we had 10 or more staff out watching and giggling at the kids. There is a sign up at the pool telling guests that children under 12 must use the paddling pool with is 1 foot deep and fenced off!

The next day we went to Hang Mua. There is a cave there but we went for the walk to the top of the hill where there are amazing views back down to the river we had been on in our row boats the day before. On the top of the hill is a dragon and a altar to the Goddess of Mercy (Rach tee hee). The trek up there was energy sapping. Some of the steps were 50cm high. All our clothes were soaking by the time we reached the top. Rach had Bella in the backpack so did it worse than the rest of us. Standing at the top for 15 min the water just poured of of us but it was worth it. Rach - I was feeling like one of those crazy sprinklers you plug the hose in and the water comes out at crazy angles It's was an incredible view and the one that sold me on coming to Ninh Binh.
After we cautiously got down it was back to the hotel for more swimming and rest.

The bottom looking up to where we were heading
The stunning view from the top was well worth it
That afternoon we headed into town for a look and some tea. The wander around was interesting with no other westerners around and the kids sticking out like dogs you know what's. Everyone was in for a cheek pinch or kiss. Bella was picked up and passed around plenty much to her enjoyment. Fruit and yoghurt was offered to the kids with lots of smiles. The kids do react well and with their picking up the lingo the locals enjoy the hellos thank-you's and goodbyes in Vietnamese. The only issue we had was getting out of the taxi 2 men begging had there hand out asking for money. I said no but Bella seeing notes in their hands went to take some from them for herself. She wasn't happy when Rach pulled her away "but He was giving me some money and I have none" she said.

After a walk went to get tea. We didn't find many options so went to Huong Mai - one of only two restaurants listed in the lonely planet. With snails, eels and tortoise on the menu it didn't excite us to much.

The opulence of Huong Mai
Some fun at the Bia Hoi - the kids get excited as they seem like kindy seats
We ate what we could then headed to a Bia Hoi (fresh beer) and sat down on the tiny plastic stools to have a rest. The owner didn't speak English but you only go to a Bia Hoi for one thing. He bought out a plastic jug with a litre or so in it and a couple of glasses with coke for the kids. We also got some sesame crisp bread and peanuts which he offered. All up it was $6. The entertainment for the hour we were there was great. Another lightning storm no rain but plenty of flashes and thunder. Kids loved it this time which was a change from the tears we got in Halong Bay. Rach -When it was time to leave we paid our small bill and told the owner to keep the change (which was 10 000 Vientnamese Dong - 60 cents NZ) The owner however really wanted to give us our change so tried to pass it to Bella who was only to happy to put out her hand after feeling she had already missed out that day. I passed the note back to the lady only to get the fithiest stare and dressing down that only our 3 year old can give her Mum.

Bellie chillaxing

Posted by Watson5 07:24 Comments (7)

Halong happenings

After 3 nights at the hostel with not one backpacker even acknowledging us (think they were wondering what the hell we were doing). It was time to move on too our much anticipated two night cruise in Halong Bay in our own private traditional "Junk". Another interesting experience taking the four hour journey in a big 12 seater van. An experience of breath holding and nail biting as we weaved in and out of the traffic and at times being one of three cars stretched across the road two of whom were on the wrong side.

We were excited to arrive after a slow journey due to the poor condition of the roads and the ducking and swerving to avoid collision. It took 4 hours to drive 180km. At the terminal we met our tour guide Guyot - a nice young chap who spoke great english and would be with us for the entire 3 days. We made our way down to the dock and boarded a tender that took us out to our junk. These are gorgeous boats with lots of beaufiful wood and roomy cabins. We had booked a private boat mostly so that no other passengers had to be disturbed by 3 kids running around. The government here has recently made all owners paint their Junk white which means they have lost some of their character. Apparently no one fully understands why I suggested to the Guyot it was maybe for visibility he however explained that due to the misty fog that they frequently have in the area white was the worst colour. After our welcome drink we got to meet our captain. He spoke no english and it quickly became apparent that his conversation with our guide was not a positive one. As it transpired he was conveying the news that due to a forcast storm all overnight cruises had been cancelled. Bummer, that left us with a decision to make whether we canned the whole thing then and tried again tomorrow or whether we went out for the day today stayed on land overnight and then saw what the morning brought. After some discussion and negotiations as to price by Matt we agreed upon heading out for the day and our guide booked us a hotel for that night. We were pretty disappointed but Matt with his positive make the most of it attitude got us all back on track again.

Off we set and wow what stunning and different scenary thousands of limestone cast jutting from the sea bed to form the 1900 odd islands that make up Halong bay. We cruised while lounging in the heat of the sun while the kids amused themselves drawing. It wasn't long before we were served lunch. This was made up of 5 courses including fish, Prawns, crabs, clams, chicken salad, and tropical fruits. There was far more food than we could eat but the flavours were gorgeous, The kids only a tad disturbed by the giant crabs that came out. None of them particularly keen on trying them.

I don't even need to say what she was thinking

Our next stop was a beautiful beach and after a look through a lovely cool cave came a much deserved swim with the kids completely in their element. They had waited 4 long days with no pool so threw themselves in the water and started in the pursuit of catching tiny fish in their hands. Needless to say they caught none.

Inside Thien Canh Cave

Soon it was time to head back with the crew nervous about the impending storm. We had a light dinner on board back at dock and then headed still with our faithful guide to the hotel which he had booked us for the night. Once again there was the typical bed shortage (it seems all rooms are designed for families of 4). This time Matt set up a makeshift bed on the floor using the squabs from the lounge suite. He claimed to have had an awesome nights sleep until woken by the storm at around 1am. It was the full works with Matt counting 15 lightening flashes in a minute, torrential rain and not so much thunder. Bellie and I managed to continue to sleep till 3am when the real noise started. We felt very vindicated that there had been a storm as when we had left the boat it was a beautiful evening and we felt a little ripped off not to be settling down to a few drinks in the moonlight. Being on board during the storm with the kids however would have been horrid. So after a night of broken sleep we then needed to plan our next move. On discussion we decided that Holly in particular had been quite frightened during the storm so it was probably best just to head out for another day trip rather than have anxious kids sleeping on the boat especially as thunder storms are very regular at this time of the year. The other bonus being able to leave our gear in our hotel room rather than packing it all again for the 3rd day in a row.

So off we set at 9.30am after Matt had given them the ultimatum that we wanted to be on the water by 10 or we wouldn't bother going. We had visions of mucking around till midday and being charged the same rate. Again we headed to the same beach. Halong bay is a national park and to protect it tour boats are only allowed access to certain parts with our company "Indochina Junk" having acces to the biggest area. The beach where we swam was on an island owned by the company and today we were lucky enough to be the only ones on it becuase we had left before the usual 1pm start we had the whole place to ourselves. After a short kayak and another lovely swim we had a beautiful 5 course lunch on a table setup for us on the beach. A yummy bbq feast and then off we went back in the boat to head to the Cong Dam floating fishing village. We were told that a number of the inhabitants of fishing villages used to live in the caves but due to a limited understanding of their significance were doing a lot of damage so the government moved them out and set up floating villages. Most families had a small basic house 1 or at most 2 rooms and about 2 metres of decking in front. How they bring up their families in these villages is mind boggling but I guess the kids learn to respect the water pretty quickly and apparently are good swimmers from an early age. Our kids thought it would be so cool to be able to walk out your door and dive in for a swim until we pointed out there was no where to kick a ball around. The villagers survive on fishing for a living and swapping fish for supplies. They also ran a pretty basic mussel farm - the mussels around a third of the size of ours and a pearl farm. Not sure how successful the whole pearl operation was as there was a glitzy shop but when we asked about which ones were the locally produced pearls we got a bit on an evasive answer.

The school house was made up of two classes primary school age kids and some older maybe intermediate age ones. The teachers in floating villages iare there on a voluntary basis, our guide told us they get a very minimal wage from the government and are usually very young and newly qualified. We had taken some writing paper, and pens and a big tub of lollipops the later which caused quite a stir amongst the kids. The teacher handed them out and allowed them to stop for a short break to eat them. We tryed to encourage our kids to go over and join in the skipping games they were playing on the deck in front of the school house, but for what could be a first they decided to pull out the shy card and instead stood back, still I think dwelling on the fact that their parents had given a whole tub of lollipops to some other kids.

The school house
Anyway it was time to head back to the junk so we hopped in our little row boat rowed by one of the villagers and headed back to the boat. From there it was a slow relaxing trip back taking to Halong City watching the sun go down behind some pretty impressive looking thunder clouds.

Back at the dock we had a somewhat disappointing meal with some unidentifiable meat that was as tough as a gumboot. Matt joked in the taxi that it had maybe been D-O-G which he quietly spelt hoping the kids wouldn't hear (Our guide had explained that the people on the floating village are known as the only people who don't eat dog). Holly the animal lovers ears pricked up as she exclaimed "I know what that spelt" thankfully not too phased. While Toby in a moment Mrs Scott his teacher would have been proud of said - "I know too it spelt dodge". Matt left wondering if in future he might have to spell things backwards - though in this case that wouldn't have worked either but would have created an even more interesting discussion.

The next morning we had a wander down town - the kids got a little souvenir each. They have been really great and as tempting as all the toys look realise that we just can't cart them round, but they make do and get thoroughly engrossed in their make believe games. At 1pm we were picked up by our 15 seater van with great relief to find we had it all to ourselves again. And so it was back off to Hanoi for a three more nights.

We had a further 2 more days in Hanoi which we spent wandering in the Old Quarter. Our only excursion was to Hanoi's waterpark. The kids were rapt and had a great time. They had a good mix of little kids rides and stuff Holly and Toby could go on solo. The park was almost empty which was great. Food was non existent so we had to leave to feed the hungry kids.

Our last night was Friday so we got to go to the Friday night market. They cordoned off the streets to motorbikes so it was a bit more peaceful to have alook around though there were still plenty of motorbikes riding through.

We said our goodbyes to the hotel staff at Gia Bao who were fantastic and headed off to the train station for our first train journey of the trip.

Posted by Watson5 08:27 Comments (2)

Hanoi's heat and horns

View Turkey on Watson5's travel map.

Well here we are in the thick of it all. We arrived after a 3 1/2 hour flight with darling Miss B wound up like a spinning top. You see she had a wee friend in the row in front. At little 3 yr old indian girl coincidentally also called Bella and what we initially thought was great turned into a nightmare as they excitedly chatted and giggled and got louder and louder. This also didn't help when we were going through the visa on arrival ordeal with Bella shuffling her bum and singing "I'm sexy and I know it" with pouty lips. Its fair to say it is a rather formal process to be going thru with all the papers we had to fill out and areas to queue. The system actually works quiet well, so $125 US lighter we made it.

Our accommodation at the May De Ville backpackers is more like a small hotel despite the name. Very clean and tidy and we are getting two rooms for the same price we paid in Singapore for breakfast. We are in the the old quarter of Hanoi which is great fun and although it's 32 degrees with the humity is feels a lot worse.

Forgot to mention this unlocked door out of our shower only a shear 8 storey drop

Well the contrast to Singapore was huge. Hanoi is big, crowded, dirty, smelly, loud and teaming with motorcycles - have I sold it to you yet? Crossing the road is like a suicide mission - you just walk out there amongst it all with confidence and whatever you do don't stop. Road rules don't seem to exist its just a free for all with lots of tooting. The saving grace being most of the don't drive that fast so remarkably there doesn't seem to be many collisions. Families of four ride one motorbike with babies as young as 1 riding too. The majority of kids don't have helmets on but most of the Mums and Dads do. I had to laugh today seeing a toddler wearing sunglasses but still no helmet - priorities?? It has taken a few days but we are now enjoying Hanoi. Initially we felt very nervous taking the kids out walking with all the traffic but our confidence has grown. The frustrating thing is that everyone parks their motorbikes on the footpath so you have to walk on the road.

Look closely - family of 4 on board


A drink over looking the traffic on the first day

So our first few days were spent getting our bearings in this big city. This has been a little challenging at times. One time in particular we were heading back to our hostel and didn't realise the neon sign at the beginning of the alleyway was not working. We walked past it 3 times with Bellie absolutely nutting off at us that that was the alleyway and sure enought she was dead right. I am amazed at how quickly the kids adjust. I am positive that at there age I would have been completely overwhelmed. They just seem to get on with it. Bellie usually trotts along holding your hand humming some tune. She is a real magnet to the locals they all want to talk to this cute little white kid and touch her face. She is also the one that has talked the most about going home. We have realized not to say we are gong "back home now" when we are out. Rather referring to going back to the hostel or hotel having seen her wee face light up every time we used the word home. For the first few days she also spent a lot of time drawing pictures of her friends Evie, Greer, Arlia and baby James - bless. Just tonight we were having dinner and when we said we were leaving she asked "are we going to kindy now" - that kid is hard to work out sometimes.

No underground wires here!!

A shop displaying their beautiful silk lanterns

Eating has been fun with our kids starving themselves only for one meal and then realising by the next one that they better eat what was on offer. Holly got all excited and ordered Pumpkin soup one night - funny in this heat. And if I confess Matt and I took them back to the same restaurant tonight where we all had soup and garlic bread on the account of Matt and I having slightly dodgy guts. One night we sat on the tiny little stools of the street vendors and had deep fried crispy pork (was yum tasted like Kentucky fried coating) and chips that had sugar sprinkled on them - weird. Air conditioning has become one of the essentials we look for when picking somewhere to eat as this heat sure does suck the life out of the kids.

Our "street" meal

We had laundry done for $1.50 US per kg which was refreshing after the price in Singapore being $8.50 for one t-shirt (So I ended up handwashing in the bath). Only thing was we ended up with someone's else's bra - interesting returning that to reception. Tonight I had to laugh reading through the laundry charges in our current Hotel. There are separate prices for "Felt clothes" and "Wooden clothes" I assume the later is meant to be woollen. Funny what a difference a letter can make. there is no better feeling than having a pack full of clean clothes.

We are trying hard to learn a few Vietnamese words and as per usual the kids are poles ahead of us. Their memories and pronounciation are far superior to ours. We enjoyed the Water Puppet Show which was very traditional music as costume and very clever. The only downside being this tiny theatre where my knees wouldn't even fit in behind the chair in front of me. we also had a ride across town in a cyclo - kind of a pedal powered tuk tuk. I did feel a tad sorry for my guy who had me and two kids. While Matt and Toby's guy raced ahead even running a red light. All that for just $3.50 per driver.

Cyclo ride

The Water Puppet Theatre

As well as just wandering the streets we have managed to see a few spots around the town. There is the Hoam Kiem Lake a few minutes walk from our accommodation which has the Ngoc Son Temple on it. You get to it over a rather ornate bridge. Bella's highlight was been given a packet of biscuits by a woman after getting plenty of kisses.

My big purchase - 5 fans and yes Matt I did pay too much for them and are crap at haggling

We also got a taxi out to see Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum. It's an enormous concrete edifice with all the tradition of past communist leaders like Stalin and Lenin. We queued up with thousands of Vietnamese and entered the room which contains his body in a glass case. Guards stand quietly on each corner and you are ushered through at a brisk pace. The kids thankfully didn't mutter a word inside but once we got out they were full of questions. Mainly why was there a dead guy lying in a box! the reverence for Ho Chi Minh is pretty similar to Turkey with Kemal Attaturk so we made the connection there for the kids. On the way back we went to St Joseph's cathedral.


Posted by Watson5 09:08 Comments (4)

Hitting the road again

Hard to believe it is almost 2 years since Turkey but time for the watson5 to hit the road again. Of course we all know Matt would have us travelling full time with no fixed abode and little in the way of possessions but common sense prevails on that front. Anyway we're off to Vietnam and Cambodia - neither Matt nor I have been before. We had a trip booked 13 years ago but 2 days before we were due to leave Matt's Dad was diagnosed with cancer and we have just never quite got back there so add 3 kids to the mix and I'm sure we'll have a very different trip. It should be easier travelling with the kids that bit older. We don't need a portacot. We have no searching for goats milk and whilst Bellie is now bigger and louder she is also more able to communicate her needs. Hopefully not too many people will be offended when she stomps her foot and exclaims "this is yuk!!". Packing was easier, having remembered the Turkey lessons I haven't bothered with running shoes and have stuck to the 3 outfits each rule. The staff at Nelson airport were suitably impressed at how light we were travelling with only two backpacks for the 5 of us. In a bold move we have brought with us no toys other than the kids favourite soft toy for bed time. They have a daypack each sized correctly so they can actually carry them this time. These contain a book for writing and drawing and a pencil case each. We'll no doubt pick up the odd toy on the way but by in large they'll make thier own fun out of whatever is around, and for us it's less to loose. I'm already somewhat paranoid about losing Bellie's bunny after trying to ween her on to a more generic and replaceable bunny to no avail - it is the dearest thing to her in the world, apart from us of course - I had even thought about having it microchipped. 2 ipads are an addition to our packing this time. The advantages being they are lighter and easier to carry than the laptop, you can watch movies and read books on them and we felt they'd be useful for the kids to do some school work and learning apps. Though they are not without their frustrations as I am having difficulties uploading pics to this blog hence the delay in publishing it.


So anyway on to the flight. I'm afraid it's all a bit of a short tale this time. Nelson to Chch was a piece of cake and the 10hours to Singapore passed without incident. We got the usual "I hope they're not sitting by me" stares as we boarded followed by lots of compliments about our quiet, well behaved kids" as we hopped off. So Matt is saying he can't possibly write another book after such a mundane start to the travels.

Our three days in Singapore have been busy to say the least. We are staying on Santosa Island in a big resort hopefully an opportunity to adjust to the time change and get used to the temperatures before hitting the bustling sounds and smells of Hanoi. And hot it is - Holly and I are walking around with our usual beetroot red faces feeling as though we are leaving a trail of sweat behind us. I regularly catch Matt laughing at us. I'm looking at it like a sauna and imagining the kilos dropping from me. We've had a couple of nights with thunder storms - typical for this time of year. The other night we were eating at a little cafe on the beach and got caught in a huge downpour. Torrential rain and the biggest clap of thunder you have ever heard. Every person in the cafe jumped about two feet.

Our accomodation is very flash but not so roomy. We have interconnecting rooms which were to have a double and three single beds. We arrived to find 1 King and two king singles. So we've had a few different plans that have been tried and failed and have settled on Holly and Toby topping and tailing though Holly finds Toby somewhat "active" in the night. We've been enjoying the buffet breakfasts which really are something to be seen. The restaurant is arount 150 metres long and packed with so many choices. From fried rice, soup, freshly baked bread and pastries, every tropical fruit you can imagine (family consensus is Dragon fruit is yuk! though Toby loved the name) smoked salmon, a cheese selection, bacon, omlettes and eggs to order. We have never seen anything like the amount of food presented each morning so the idea is stock up at breakfast then head out for the day. The kids eat for free and ours certainly seem to get there fill with Toby appearing to devour a whole watermelon every morning. The hotel is also full of Korean's - mostly women apparently attending a leadership conference. They have been fascinated by the kids especially Bella - who with practise has now perfected her "humour me" smile and royal wave. Matt asked one of the staff who said the Koreans in particular just never see white kids - hence their interest. One even stopped and gave Bella 1000 Korean Won - sounds alot but I googled it and it works out to about $1.50.


So our days here have been taken up with lugeing, swimming, watersliding, and just having a good look around. A bit of a treat for the kids before we hit the "real travel" We had a fun day at Universal Studios which seemed to mostly consist of us going on rides which we were lead by the attendants to believe were "tame family fun" to twice find ourselves on rollercoasters with Matt and Toby petrified. Funnily enough Bellie seemed to take it all in her stride she just shrinks down and puts her hands over her eyes when it all gets too much. She was more peturbed by being sneezed on during the the 4D shrek movie (all part of the show that is). We also had a fun visit to Underwater World an awesome aquarium where the kids got to feed sharks with a bit of fish on a stick and Holly volunteered for and got picked to feed, pat and kiss a Dolphin. She had a ball and in true Holly fashion she hasn't stopped talking about it - wondering if she is the "first person to have ever done that". After 3 nights we all seem to be adjusting to the 6 hour time difference. Being asleep by 8pm and wide awake at 4am is not really a winner. Onward tomorrow to Hanoi, Vietnam - fun times ahead!!


Posted by Watson5 22:54 Archived in Singapore Tagged vietnam_cambodia_trip Comments (7)

Hot Sun and Scorpions-The Book

Well its finally done
I've finished writing my book about our intrepid journey.
Its taken a year but now its available for sale


If you would like to purchase a copy please email me at: watson5@xtra.co.nz
Its $30 NZ a copy plus postage.
$5 New Zealand
$10 Australia
$15 USA
$20 Europe
Can ship to other destinations and will check cost on enquiry

The book has had great reviews and in the first week I have orders from Belgium, England, Turkey, USA, Dubai and Australia.
Its a great read for anyone who loves to travel or even if you want to buy a book for an armchair traveller.

I hope you enjoy my story

Matt Watson
New Zealand

Posted by Watson5 17:10 Comments (2)

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