Overnight train + bus + boat, then european luxury, then back to reality with a bump (or several bumps)
Apologies for the delay, this is the first time we have had a decent internet connection..
March 31st - Hoi An ('It's a Man's World')
We had promised ourselves that we would have a serious look at the fabulous market before leaving the lovely Hoi An - so we all got up early and immersed ourselves in all the noise and the hustle and bustle again - this time with the whole family.
They say it's a man's world - and in Vietnam it certainly appears to be. The men get the good jobs and the women end up with the **** ones (sound familiar?!). Hoi An market is a good illustration of this. All women working. Buying, selling, cooking, jostling for the best fresh fish off the boats, chopping up their goods for sale, cooking for guests - a cacophony of sound.
Amidst all of this, Olivia stepped in a pool of fish 'yuck' and immediately an old lady jumped up and swilled a bucket of fresh water over her leg.
We bought some nik naks and persuaded the kids to join us in eating some authentic street food - Cau Lau and Bah Khai (noodles and crepe pancakes - both local specialities - delicious!
Then after breakfast, a fond farewell to Hoi An and a 9 hr train journey through countryside changing from rice fields in mid-growth to rice fields that were being harvested. Some beautiful scenery which we wouldn't have been able to see if we had flown from Da Nang in the north to Nha Trang further south.
This was followed by a seamless transfer onto a minibus and a mad 2 hr trip on a road which eventually turned into a bumpy track and just petered out and ended up at a sandy wharf from where we took a 20 minute boat trip to Whale Island, our tropical paradise.
It was very exciting arriving in the dark and being ushered to our bamboo beach hut in the middle of the night! Jackie thought that our non-english-speaking escorts were kidnapping us - but we survived.
Whale Island - April 1st to 4th
Swept aside our mosquito nets and opened the door of our new home to a bright blue sky, colourful and lush tropical shrubbery and palm lined beach - idyllic postcard tropical paradise.
After a delicious waitress-served breakfast, we took to the water with snorkelling kit - the children at first clinging to us as we swam nervously in crystal-clear water over coral, seeing miriads of tiny fish, a few larger ones and some huge blue starfish. The kids were freaked out by a big fat snake thing they spotted resting on the sea bed and we were slightly worried about some tiny jellyfish which gave nettle-like stings. We did see some real live clown fish though (AKA Nemo) Very very very hot in the afternoon, so we laid low, but were out in the sea again from 3.30 onwards, the kids getting used to the sea urchins etc.
It never ceases to amaze us how flexible the children are to change. They have really got the hang of sleeping anywhere, long journeys, eating strange things and putting up with the inevitable 'boring bits' as we have to spend a bit of time planning ahead or buying tickets etc.
We spent most of out time here on the water, either diving of the snorkelling boat into the clearest, bluest and warmest water we have ever seen, or kayaking to a secluded beach.
D and I introduced the children to the joys of skinny dipping but no pictures to accompany that!
Great excitement when David stepped on a sea urchin. Their spikes break off in the skin and are acutely painful for 10 mins or so. David says about 7/10 for pain! The treatment is to immerse the part in vinegar as this dissolves the spike. (Laura- sorry, cannot make it any more exciting
as it is not a lethal poison)
We are being spoiled here. Fantastic service, delicious food, massage on the beach...
Matthew was particularly fond of the stuffed squid which he spent most of the meal 'unstuffing' to get at the meat inside. The waitresses wander along the beach at 5.00pm with plates of banana cakes for the 'bebes' .
Last night on the Island and we had a visitor in our cabin - the geckos are quite friendly but this was quite a large one. Olivia saw a mini scorpion on her mosquito net - or so she says!. Fortunately we all survived the night and set off the next morning for our next leg of the journey- 'The Central Highlands'.
April 4th Nha Trang to Buon Ma Thout
This country is quite astonishing. On the face of it we had quite a complicated day ahead of us with a boat trip to a minibus taxi to a bus station for a 4 hour journey followed by another taxi to our new hotel. We are never really sure when we phone whether they have heard or understood us. Everything is done by hand with pen on paper, nothing is done by computer, there are no forms to fill in and no pre-payment has ever been asked for. Yet, everything goes like clockwork. We make all the connections and after a very interesting bus journey we arrive at our destination only half an hour late!
We had thought we were travelling by air conditioned tourist bus up to Buon Ma Thout (this town is right up in the central highlands, quite close to the Cambodian Border) but somehow we ended up on a local bus. It was old and pink! The speed limit here is unbearable slow (80kmph) and is strictly adhered to by everyone. Our bus didn't seem to have any air conditioning so we had the main door wide open all the way with the conductor sort of hanging out. If we slowed down, somebody would jump on with a basket of stuff-usually wrapped in banana leaves and try to sell it us.
She would then jump off when we next slowed again. People kept piling on, old ladies clambered over seats to get a seat at the front and then would slip off their shoes and squat the rest of the 3 or 4 hours. The children commented that they couldn't see Grandma doing that!
There's virtually no other 4 wheeled traffic on the road apart from the odd bus and a few lorries carrying sugar cane down from the hills as this picture through the front window shows.
We stopped once and everyone jumped off and bought bags of hot boiled sweetcorn from the roadside - a bit like the Watford Gap of Vietnam. We tried some but it was a bit soggy and chewy. All the rubbish gets chucked straight out of the window-plastic bags included.
We arrived hot and dusty in BMT - off exploring minority villages tomorrow and back here on the 6th.