Mar 22 11

Mekong Delta

by Emily Benjamin

The Mekong Delta needs to be seen to be believed. In my mind, it was a quiet stretch of river, used by locals to buy and sell small portions of fruits and vegetables for their weekly groceries. In reality, it is a huge expanse of rivers and tributaries, home to thousands of people, and the portions of fruit and vegies aren’t small. Twenty kilograms are the standards, as we were advised, and I love apples, but I didn’t need that many! Besides the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables, the delta is where most of the rice in Vietnam is grown. And given that Vietnam is the biggest exporter of rice for two years running, that’s a lot more than a cup or two of rice for dinner!IMG 8882IMG 8918OutputIMG 8990OutputIMG 8931OutputIMG 9019Output

Filed Under → Travel
Mar 18 11

Mui Ne

by Emily Benjamin

Mui Ne was another nice surprise. When we arrived, my immediate question to Jamie was ‘Why would anyone pay top dollar for Fiji, Vanuatu or another island resort when you can stay here, for a tenth of the price?’ For the thrill seeker, there is surfing of all different varieties – kite and wind included – or sand dunes to take yourself away to another land at sunrise. Hire a scooter and navigate the windy roads down the jagged Vietnam coastline, dodging locals and livestock alike. Or just stop, relax, and enjoy the sublime water, the warm breeze, the sun lounges, palm trees and cool cocktails. No matter what, two nights will not be enough. Make more time for Mui Ne.IMG 8652IMG 8712IMG 8764OutputIMG 8793OutputIMG 8606

Filed Under → Travel
Mar 18 11

Some more photos from Mui Ne…

by Emily Benjamin

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Filed Under → Words
Mar 18 11

My, My, Mui Ne!

by Emily Benjamin

Have you ever heard of Mui Ne? I hadn’t. But it seemed to keep coming up with fellow travellers as they discussed where they’ve been, and where they wanted to go. And from what we were told, it was quickly added to our list of destinations, as well.

We arrived in Mui Ne after a 15 hour overnight train from Hoi An. Mui Ne is a few hours south of Na Trang, a popular beach destination in Vietnam, and about 4 hours north of Saigon (by the way, I’ve started calling Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, because 1) it’s easier, and 2) no one seems to mind). The train wasn’t too bad this time, and I got about 7 hours sleep – although I felt like I’d had a free chiropractic session thrown in there, because the train rocked back and forth so much! Arriving in Mui Ne just after lunch time, we walked into our resort and found a slice of paradise similar to what you’d find in Fiji – palm trees, sun lounges, open air dining – except with a sample of the world’s kite surfing fanatics.

It seems Mui Ne is kite surfing and wind surfing paradise, with superb winds offering the chance to enjoy the sports for hours and hours on end, in the right conditions. Along the stretch of beach where we’re staying, I could count almost 50 kite surfers out there that afternoon, and I’m sure there were more further down the beach. But on the days that the winds drop off, like today, it’s a quiet little spot, with no high rise buildings, no long walks to get your own secluded spot, and some of the warmest ocean water I’ve ever felt. Absolutely sublime! Note to self: stop typing soon and go swimming!¬†We’d booked 3 nights in Mui Ne but within an hour we were asking for a fourth – the accommodation is the most we’ve paid so far (only $55, mind you – take that, Surfers Paradise, or Fiji!) – so we could settle in to Sunshine Beach Resort for a relaxing few days.

We haven’t done much here, besides a bone-shaking scooter adventure, a short day trip yesterday and a lot of reading, sleeping and eating. The resort here has an excellent breakfast spread, including bacon and eggs, toasted sandwiches, and pikelets! Often, we’ve eaten so many pikelets that we skip lunch and just wait for dinner – more delicious vietnamese dishes, or like last night, a splurge at a gorgeous beachside lounge bar for red wine and beef fillet with potato bake. SO GOOD! Mind you, Jamie skipped the wine in favour of an Oreo and banana milkshake. Such a child! :)

The day trips we’ve done have been only ok, and awesome. The scooter trip to the lighthouse was a little painful – very bumpy roads, a bit too much sunshine, and enough wind to feel like the bike might be wiped out from under us. It can’t help either that when we arrived at the lighthouse and paid to get a boat across to it, the lighthouse was locked and we couldn’t go up. As I told Jamie, lighthouses are best viewed from below and afar (much like waterfalls!) and in this case, I was right. The next day we did a small group tour to the sand dunes though, which was fantastic. Up at 4.30am and whisked away in the dark to see Mui Ne’s famous white sand dunes and a few other local sights for just $8 for 5 hours. We made it to the white sand dunes in time for sunrise and wow. Really, WOW. A little piece of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ right here on the coast of Vietnam. Words will never do it justice, so enjoy the pics below and back on the main page instead. Absolutely surreal. After an hour of photo taking and enjoying the spectacular view, we stopped by the red canyon, yellow sand dunes, a fishing village and the fairy stream. Along the way we got to meet a few local kids acting as guides in the few hours before school. I hope that idea doesn’t pick up at home!

Now, on day 3, we’re relaxing some more and making plans for our upcoming trip to Saigon tomorrow, and our plans for another beach getaway after that. The final spot in Vietnam will be three nights on Phu Quoc Island before our Vietnam visas run out and we cross the border into Cambodia. White sandy beaches, near-horizontal palm trees and cocktails in hammocks. Ok, if I must!

– Em :)

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Filed Under → Words
Mar 14 11

Two perfect days in Hoi An

by Emily Benjamin

When we left Nong Khiaw for Luang Prabang (both in Laos), the very quiet mountains were quickly replaced by the gentle hum of traffic and life in the ‘city’. Then, Hanoi was a real shock – louder, busier and less organised than even Bangkok! So when we read that Hoi An, half way down the coast of Vietnam, was a tourist trap, we were a little worried. I was craving sunshine, but didn’t want to pay top dollar for a room near the beach in a tourist strip. But I needn’t have worried, because Hoi An is relaxed, friendly and gorgeous, both by night and day.

It didn’t start well though – we arrived at 3pm on a Friday to receive an email telling us that the hotel we had booked was full, despite them having taken our money immediately for the booking. The money, we’re told, will return to us immediately (still waiting 3 days later…).

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Mar 14 11

Hoi An

by Emily Benjamin

Hoi An was a pleasant surprise. Travel blogs and books describe it as a magnet for tourists, most shopping for tailor made suits and dresses, the others enjoying beaches better than home. I found it to be a near-perfect balance of relaxation, history, culture and couture – with welcoming locals, delicious food, and fabulous weather. I should also mention that Hoi An has been the subject of some of my favourite photos of the trip so far. Would I recommend Hoi An to anyone visiting Vietnam? Absolutely. Will I be back to get more clothes made someday? Almost certainly.IMG 9851OutputIMG 9995OutputIMG 9955IMG 9905OutputIMG 9929

Filed Under → Travel
Mar 11 11

Halong Bay

by Emily Benjamin

I’ve seen a lot of postcards of Halong Bay but none of them do it justice. Hundreds, maybe thousands of huge limestone rocks, no two the same, popping up out of the clear green water for kilometres. Unfortunately, in the fog and mist that’s typical for this area, you can only see a few hundred metres in front of you – which is just enough to avoid kayaking straight into one.IMG 9609OutputIMG 9398OutputIMG 9580

Filed Under → Travel
Mar 11 11

Hanoi

by Emily Benjamin

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Filed Under → Travel
Mar 11 11

Artificial Insemination

by Emily Benjamin

Today we spent a full day in Halong Bay, out cruising in kayaks, visiting more caves and visiting a pearl farm. The moment we arrived in Halong Bay we knew we were glad to have booked the two night, 3 day cruise, rather than anything shorter – because without the second night, you only get two or three hours on two successive days to see anything, as the rest of our group was experiencing. With the extra day, we had a lot more time to relax and see the bay, and truly enjoyed the time off the boat.

In our group we were the only people to be spending an extra night at sea, so we were taken by a separate day boat out into a quieter part of the bay. There, we met another couple from a different junk that were doing the same thing. Unfortunately for them, but lucky for us, they weren’t interested in kayaking, so Jamie and I had a private kayak tour of the fishing villages, caves and bay with our lovely guide, Kiew. We spent about 2 hours on the water in the morning, paddling through the surreal, peacful waters of the bay, away from the crowded junks. We visited villages of over 300 people living out there on floating houses in the quiet areas of the bay – men shaving, girls gossiping, fishermen, and kids in school – imagine that, saying ‘I went to Halong Bay Floating Village Primary School!’. There were even local dogs, living on the water – mainly to protect the oyster/pearl farms set up. I asked our guide where they get their supplies – there are not backyards, no shops, just mountains of unfarmable limestone and cool, grey clouds covering the sky. It turns out that daily, the villages were brought foods, supplies and anything else they need from the markets. And they have electricity, phones, and satellite television, too! It was beautiful, but I’m not sure I could cope with living on a tiny floating house in Halong Bay for any longer than a week. Very quiet!

Kiaw took us through a ‘young persons adventure cave’ – which was a tiny opening in one of the limetone mountains that you couldn’t see through to the other side. At first we were a little concerned, because Kiaw couldn’t even locate the cave for a while! But he found it, handed us our head-torches, and we slowly, surely and quietly paddled our way through the pitch-black cave, about 75 metres through to the other side. And wow – we were in a private lagoon, all to ourselves. The water in there was even calmer than outside, and there was absolute silence. A huge, huge area, but unless you were paddling into it, or flying over it, you would have no idea the lagoon existed within the huge mountains.

After lunch back on the boat, we had a rest before taking off on our own adventure, just Jamie and I. We paddled for another 45 minutes and found a few caves for ourselves, and another pristine lagoon that was empty. Very calming and very quiet, and it was really nice to get some time to ourselves rather than being shipped around with 20 other people all day. We made our way back to the boat soon after for our trip to the pearl farm, on the way back to the main boat.

The pearl farm was, well, a real pearl of a time! I have never been interested in pearls as a stone/gem/jewellery option. But we got to see this entire section of Halong Bay dedicated to making some of the finest pearls in the world, and see how it’s done! Here’s some fun facts for you – the average pearl cultivation takes at least 4 years. Two years for the oyster to grow naturally, then the ‘pearl seed’ is placed within the oyster and grown for a further 18 months or more, depending on the size or type of pearl you are after. If you wait for a pearl to grow ‘naturally’ without the insemination of the pearl seed, then you will be waiting for a shocking 150 years! So four years doesn’t seem like much after you hear that! Depending on the oyster, you can sometimes implant more than one pearl seed and get more bang for your buck I guess. However, statistically only 30% of the oysters will end up making the pearl, and then only 10% of that group will create pearls considered suitable for jewellery. So it’s a lot of hard work for very little reward – unless you really like pearls, I guess!

Eventually we were on our way back to the boat, and we were knackered. It had been a while since either of us had kayaked, so that’s our exercise for the month! Back to the cruise to have dinner and drinks with the rest of the passengers on board, before an early night. Tomorrow, we’re back to Hanoi and straight onto an overnight train to Hoi An. Halong Bay was beautiful, but really rather cold. A chilly 15 degrees or less, I think. So bring on the sunshine as we head south down the coast of Vietnam!

– Em :)

Filed Under → Words
Mar 9 11

Funnymoon

by Emily Benjamin

Before anyone gets any ideas, this was NOT our plan. It was an honest mistake, assuming that we were honeymooners. Maybe we should have corrected them sooner, but it all got too complicated.

Jamie did all the organising and booking of Halong Bay for my birthday, and as the staff of our hotel rushed to get us onto a good boat, they got the details a bit wrong. The switched the word ‘birthday’ for ‘honeymoon’ and before Jamie could correct them, the phone had been hung up and we were given our tickets and transport details. Maybe he was too polite, or we can blame the language differences, but we figured it was a small mistake and nothing would come from it.

The next day though, we were collected by our helpful guide Kiew and taken to Halong Bay, to board the beautiful Phoenix Cruiser with 18 others for a couple of nights on the water. And all of a sudden, we were being welcomed onto the boat as the celebrated newlyweds. Jamie had warned me in advance of the phone call and although we hoped it wouldn’t come up again, we decided to just make sure our facts were straight. We decided just to keep our mouths shut, smile and nod.

Everything was going smoothly until Kiew came over to the table where we were having a drink with another couple. In his broken english, he offered us his congratulations and let us know he was very happy for us. As he walked away, the other couple looked confused and so we decided to let them in on the secret. They thought it was hysterical!

We thought we were through the worst of it but then, for dessert, they dimmed the lights and presented us with a cake, complete with ‘Honeymoon’ decorated into the icing. There was applause, some laughter (from the couple that knew, plus a few others that had caught on to the charade) and so we got up, made a show of cutting the cake together, and then hid our laughter as best as we could.

You would think the lesson in this is clear – to tell the truth otherwise you’ll be caught in a lie for almost three days. But the other lesson is this – fake honeymoons get you cake and freebies!

– Em :)

Filed Under → Words
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