Day 169 to 174 Kuala Lumpur and Vietnam part 1

unedited due to time pressures

Sept 20th
Day 169
Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur has a lot to offer even if you’re on a budget. We visited the National Museum which contained lots of interesting information and artefacts and provided us with a history of Malaysia. There was a free exhibition on next to the National Museum showing insects and wildlife, we did g in but didn’t stay long, the last thing we needed to think about when we’re on our bikes or camping is the dangerous bites you can get from spiders and snakes. The exhibition contained some very graphic photos and stories which on another occasion may have been interesting but definitely was not for me.

We had lunch in the railway station this was not a planned stop, we had gone in to get out of the rain but decided to have some lunch whilst we were there. It was an indian style buffet lunch and cost £1.50 for both of us. As we were eating another western couple walked in and asked us if the food was ok, I don’t think they’d have come in had they not seen some other westerners eating. I can see how it could have felt very intimidating to anyone not used to that type of environment.

On the way back to the hotel we walked through several gardens including the Orchid Garden, which was beautiful and very tranquil. We had hoped to go into the National Mosque but it was closed to foreigners due to prayer sessions.

In the evening we caught a train to see the twin towers (Petronas) and the water show it was really cheap and easy to get across town and well worth it to see the towers lit up. The water show was ok but we have seen better on our travels.

In the evening we had a simple pizza in the Reggie Cafe and talked to two girls who were passing through Kuala Lumper, they were travelling independently and had been paired up in the evening by the hosts at the hotel they were staying in. I have been impressed with the number of people we’ve met that are travelling on their own, but I’m not sure I’d like to do it for more than a week.

Sept 21st
Day 170
Kuala Lumpur

We took a walk to the Menara Tower with a view to going to the top of it, but it was quite expensive and we were not sure we would see much as it was very smoggy. There was a lot of air pollution in Kuala Lumper, lots of people are wearing face masks and we’ve heard announcements informing people to take extra care and not to over expert themselves.

In the afternoon we took a train to the Batu Caves, which contain a number o Hindu temples, the lower caves were free to visit but were rather run down and had graffiti and poo every where. There were a lot of tacky tourist stands on the way up to the caves and a few food stalls and numerologists touting for business.

On the way up to the caves there is a huge Hindu god statue which is quite impressive and alongside this are 272 steps leading to the caves. As with most tourist attractions in South East Asia there were a number of monkeys loitering around the stairs waiting to see what goodies they could get their hands on.

The caves themselves were lovely to look at the light shining through gave an eery feel to the place, you could easily see why Hindus used them for religious ceremonies.

In the evening we met up with the newly wed Mr and Mrs Carling at their very posh and luxurious hotel (The Majestic). We had a lovely evening, it is a shame we didn’t have longer. They kindly showed us their junior suite in exchange for us showing them our abode for the evening. We had a pleasant walk over to China town where our ‘hotel’ was located, on the way up to hotel we were able to show them the local drunks and homeless people, the building works, the cockroaches and even a rat. We did offer to exchange rooms with them but not surprisingly they refused. We have to admit the hotel was one of the worse we’d stayed in but surprisingly we slept really well there.

Sept 22nd
Day 171
Vietnam – Hanoi

Another early flight, the alarm went off at 3.15am (we’d only gone to bed at 12.30pm) some how we managed to crawl out of bed, get dressed and take the bags and boxes down the two flights of stairs to the taxi which was waiting for us outside.

The checking in process was fairly stress free, we did have a trainee member of staff which slowed the process down but we still had plenty of time for breakfast before we boarded.

Hanoi is an hour behind Kuala Lumpur which meant we landed at 8.50am, we were both tired and we were grateful we had booked a taxi from the hotel, that is until we got into a long protracted discussion re the fee. The taxi driver didn’t think he could fit our luggage into a seven seater vehicle so had arrived with a van, we had already agreed a fee for the 7 seater, the driver didn’t speak English which meant we had to try and negotiate a fee by phone with the reception staff at the hotel which was not easy as the lady I spoke to didn’t speak very clear English. Once we arrived at the hotel we were able to show her that it was possible to fit the boxes into a standard car as we fortunately still had photos from a previous trip.

The journey to the Old Quarter (where our hotel was located) was uneventful, the roads were fairly quiet and the landscape and scenery reminded me of Java. There was a mixture of old run down derelict buildings and buildings that were still occupied. I wasn’t overly impressed but I was tired and it was another city.

Our hotel was in a fantastic location, right in the middle of the Old Quarter and a big improvement on our previous digs. As were tired we went back to bed for an hour before venturing out into the city.

We had lunch in a little cafe, neither of our meals looked like the picture on the menu but were quite tasty noodle dishes, we had a beer to wash the food down and the bill came to £3.50. The food is a similar price to other areas we have visited but the alcohol is much cheaper. Apparently in an evening you can buy a local rice beer for less that 15p!

We spent the day finding our bearings and walking around the city, there was a real mish mash of french colonial and ancient vietnamese architecture, lots of shops and noisy traffic. It is not as chaotic as some of the Indian Cities we visited but people drive in a very similar way, using their horns and taking no notice of lanes or traffic lights or road markings.

On our jaunt around Hanoi we noticed the following although; there are pavement these are mainly used to park motorbikes which means pedestrians are forced to walk on the roads; many areas of the city smell of sewage works, some hotels offer an hourly rate (need we say more); the traffic is a little more aggressive than other areas – pedestrians are definitely at the bottom of the pecking order and unless you’re very confident and assertive cars will not stop for you; people are not as friendly as other areas in Asia although this could be a reflection of the fact it is a city and the westerners also seem very rude; lots of Vietnamese wear western clothes including very short, shorts and dresses; they also wear pyjamas and flowery two piece cotton trouser and top sets; we have seen a number of women openly checking each others hair for head lice and adults being aggressive and overly affectionate with children (both statements based on Western norms) all of which is interesting and disturbing and that the same time

We visited the local jail and the lake before stopping for a couple of beers in a local bar, we were exhausted my feet were swollen and were really glad of the break. We had only planned on stopping for one but we got talking to an Australian called Gary who had been living in Hanoi for 3 years. Over the course of several more beers (Gary was on the lemon juice) we learnt a handful of useful phrases including,
hello – Xin Chou,
thank you – xin cam un,
no – khong,
yes – Vang,
excuse me – Xin loi, and
can I have the bill please – Xin tinh tien

Whilst we were enjoying Gary’s company a couple of local women starting having a right ding dong of an argument, Gary explained it was about money. Apparently the average salary is about 200 – 400 USD a month but the street food sellers probably earned in the region of 150 USD a month.

From where we sat we could see a number of restaurants and it was interesting to note that most of them had tables and stools very low to the ground, getting down would have been OK but after a big meal and a drink it would have been difficult for most westerners to have got back up but the Vietnamese did it with so much ease which was not surprising as many crouch to simply pass the day with each other.

It was clear to see Ozzy Gary was getting drunk, he had mentioned he had a bit of a problem with drink so we made our excuses and went in search of some food.

We chose a restaurant close to our hotel and we had not been sat down for more than a couple of minutes when we were joined by another Australian male. He was waiting for his wife to have a massage and sat with us whilst we had dinner. When our meal first arrived we were a little concerned because it was covered in fried insects, I was hungry but not that hungry, fortunately the waitress quickly realised her mistake and took it away.

We were surprised we stayed awake until 9.00pm and in the hope of watching some rugby we went back to the room, but unfortunately couldn’t tune in either on the TV or online. It looks like this year we will have to make do with listening/reading the scores on line.

day 172
23rd August
Hanoi
We both slept really well probably due to sleep deprivation the previous day. We had a good buffet style breakfast before going our separate ways, Gary put the bikes together whilst I unpacked the bags into the panniers, washed our smelly clothes, uploaded some photos and updated the diaries.

We had lunch in a local restaurant, Gary indulged in the buffet lunch whilst I had a simple dish of cabbage, rice and potatoes. I am not a cat lover but it was rather distressing to watch a kitten chained up whilst we were eating. I am sure it was done with the best of intentions, it would not have lasted 5 minutes in the traffic without its mother but it did look and sounded distressed. The owner did place some rice down for it but I don’t suppose this is a natural diet for cats and it ignored the food for at least 20 minutes and then gave up mewing to tuck in

Although it had rained in the morning it was still very humid outside so we spent the rest of the afternoon agreeing and plotting our route Laos.

After a couple of hours on the computer we agreed we needed some fresh air and headed for a market, but unfortunately we couldn’t find it, we were not too fussed and headed for a bar instead.
As we sat in the bar we could see tourists arriving on buses and taxis the majority were backpackers and they looked like snails with their rucksacks on their backs trying to finding their bearings. The sensible ones stopped in a local bar for a beer before setting off for their hotels.

After about an hour we decided to go in search of food and we stumbled across an outside market selling really tacky toys and glittery jewellery and head wear. It was fascinating to walk down a street where all vendors seemed to be selling the same if not vey similar goods, there was a real party atmosphere which we enjoyed. We stopped off at a cafe for dinner but were disappointed with the portions and still hungry so went in search of more food. We ended up at a cafe we had had lunch in and ordered a sandwich, I loved mine but Gary’s got the better of him, in fairness he had visited the breakfast cart several times, had a large lunch and had a snack and several beers.

We are going to have to be so careful ordering food over here, in the last two days we have seen tortoise, eels, frogs and raw chicken on the menu. We know that dog features on a number of menus but haven’t seen this yet. I am so glad that I’ve stopped eating meat just the thought of eating a dog turns my tummy. On the upside the local beer is cheaper than water, tea and coffee.

We headed back to the hotel early so that we could finish writing our diaries and download maps etc.
Day 173
24th August
Hanoi to Hoa Binh

Had a broken nights sleep for some strange reason I had a shooting pain in my foot, very bizarre but annoying.

We had another excellent and filling breakfast before checking out and setting off on our bikes.

I’d like to say it felt good to be back on the bike but I was very nervous for the first ten to fifteen minutes. The traffic was heavy and very chaotic within minutes of leaving the hotel we had to cross a junction, which in England would not be a problem but in Hanoi there are no rules, so no giving way, traffic coming both ways at you and lots of horn blowing. I took a deep breathe and edged my way out and joined Gary on the other side of the road. Fortunately I had put some relaxing music on my iPod so I tuned in and tuned out the chaos around me. Gary on the other hand had the challenge of navigating out of the city without the Garmin, as it was taking a long time to find satallites.

Much to our surprise we exited the city quite easily and within the first hour of leaving the hotel phew!! We were soon following a motorway on a smaller road used mainly by motorbikes and bikes. We received a number of admiring looks on this road especially when we over took people on their bikes.

Gary; We are now driving on the right, 1st time since Turkey.
With the Garmin struggling to find satellites (this happens often when we switch country by flight) we had to navigate out of the city by general direction only, the Garmin started working after about 4 miles.
The City cycling wasn’t too bad it looks far worse from the side of the road (We have had a fair bit of practice now including Mumbai) At traffic lights everyone jumps the red light and also everyone pre-empts the green lights so hence at any junction you are faced with traffic coming at your from 2 sides.. it all seems to just blend as everyone dodge and weave their way across the junction, after all no one wants to crash.
The biggest problem that nearly catches me out is that traffic coming from the side streets just pulls straight out to join the flow (unless they are trying to go across the road) so this is a very alien concept and one that I have to concentrate on, after all they’re not looking so I need to.

Ginette;
We stopped for a drink just after the ten mile mark, i was initially pleased to see they had a lemon juice and some ice but I’m sure my face was a picture when I took the first swig, I hadn’t realised that it was a salted lemon juice yuckkk. I made do with the water in my bottle, the lemon juice reminded me of drinks they give you after you’ve been sick.

We had an early lunch but failed to explain to the lady that I was a vegetarian, so when Gary’s meal came he kindly shared his noodles (Gary; I didn’t eat all my Pork as it tasted a bit off, Dog anyone?). Dinner and three sprites came to £2. Whilst we were eating a young girl came up to me to express her concern that I did not have my arms covered from the sun, but I couldn’t envisage cycling with a jacket or cardigan which is what the local Vietnamese ladies do. I was wet through in my vest top, she looked on with amusement as I applied sun cream.

We think it will take awhile to get used to hearing Vietnamese people talking, it is quite aggressive and loud. When they speak English it is almost a command, ‘sit down’, ‘what you want’.

As the afternoon wore on I started to struggle with the heat, Gary’s garmin read 38c but it felt hotter
I called for an early afternoon break as I was feeling a little queazy and light headed. We sat in the shade and had some ice cold water.

Gary; The afternoon treated us to some great scenery, the hills in the distance and then later surrounding us we saw some sharp and odd shapes, like huge Monoliths. At one point we passed a well groomed golf course with one of these huge Monoliths as its back drop, Our golfing crazy mates would have loved it.
The temperature today kept rising, 40 degrees c in the shade, 44 degrees C in the open, its a very hot heat (I know that sounds daft) even the fresh air that blows brings hot air with it.

Just before we reached the hotel we crossed a river which had house boats on it and some fantastic views of the mountains.

It was Gary’s turn to feel a little weak just 2 miles outside of our hotel, we hadn’t really eaten enough and the sun made a flat day hard work. We stopped for a snack but only managed to order a drink, for the 15 minutes we were there a baby about 18 months old stared at me none stop, I tried smiling and even playing peek a boo but to no avail. Tomorrow we will ensure we have some snacks because although it was easy to find drinks very few places seemed to sell food, although I am sure once our Vietnamese improves we will be able to overcome this.

An observation from the day, along our travels we’ve seen some amazing butterflies in all colours and sizes full of life in contrast today we saw lots of butterflies in the process of dying on the road, we are not sure if this is because we are at the end of the wet season, we did look this up on line but couldn’t find any reason why we would see so many dying or dead butterflies at this time of year.

Another observation OMG they have flying cockroaches in Vietnam, I am not kidding you, big black, ugly, scary cockroaches.

We arrived at our hotel at about 3.30pm, unpacked, showered and headed to the bar to do our diaries and have a much earned beer.

Dinner was in a local restaurant and as we expected ordering was quite a challenge but with the help of some pictures and some phrases we’d downloaded we managed to order enough to feed six people. The food was surprisingly good, Gary had a plate of fried chicken which included most parts of the chicken including the claws yuk and some very sticky rice, whilst I had a noodle dish with lots of vegetables including mushrooms. We couldn’t eat it all, far too much for two people, the bill came to £9 which wasn’t bad considering the quantity and quality of food, 3 beers and 2 bottles of water, but we could have definitely eaten cheaper from one of the street cafes.

Day 174
43 miles
Hoa Binh to Mai Chau
climbed 3674 ft

Slept well but had a rubbish breakfast of watery noodles and green herbs, a meal that wouldn’t provide us with enough energy to fuel us to sit on our arses all day let alone climb mountains, but as that was all that was on offer and we needed food to take our anti malarial drugs we ate it.

We made an early start it was hot from the moment we got on the bikes and the day just got hotter and hotter. At one point we were cycling up a mountain and the garmin registered 49c! It is hard to describe how hot it is but you would be dripping with sweat if you just sat still and did nothing.

Before setting off on our planned route Gary wanted to cycle to a local dam it was only a mile up the road. It was huge I think he’d hoped to see the lake on the other side but it was not to be.
Gary; I could sense Ginette’s reluctance to add this extra hill so we made our way back over the road bridge.

The roads were fairly busy but in good condition, we had our first major climb not long after leaving Hoa Binh, which went up to 750ft it had long stretches of 8% gradient. The climbing was fine but the heat was exhausting so we stopped whenever a cold drink and some shade was available.
Gary; after this climb we cycled approx 10 miles along a higher valley, we were surrounded by amazing scenary, the monolithic type hills all around us.

As we had only had a very light breakfast we stopped for some lunch at 10.30am. Very few people in the rural areas speak any English so we had to mime the fact that we were hungry and needed food. The lady who served us soon caught on and offered us a packet of noodles and pointed to the hob. We obviously looked clueless and she kindly took them off of us and proceeded to make them for us. We must have looked really naive in worldly travels because when she served the noodles she insisted we tried them before adding the herbs and then proceeded to show us how to squeeze the lime over them. She was really sweet but I can imagine her telling her friends about the ‘The silly Westerners that cycled a mountain in the heat of the day; couldn’t speak Vietnamese or cook a packet of noodles’ on the up side we smiled lots and could at least say thank you and ask for the bill in Vietnamese.

We had a gentle stretch before climbing a mountain up to 2600ft, we stopped lots just to take on fluids. At one of the stops we met two dutch people who had stopped to take some photos of the views and of the market stalls on the way up the mountain. This was a welcome break for us and we had warm eggs with salt and some freshly cooked corn on the cob.

The views were spectacular, amazing rolling hills, rice paddies and mountains as far as the eye could see. We have read in tourist write ups for the area that this area hasn’t changed for centuries and it is the Vietnam that people imagine from watching films. It is simply stunning and our photos do not do it justice.
Gary; the climb was from 900ft to 2700ft with gradients of 6 to 10%, normally this would not be that hard to do but the heat was sapping, the occasional cloud cover offered little help. At 900ft it was 49 degrees, at the top it was 36 degrees.

On our descent from the mountain we stopped for some further photos and bumped into some Austrians and Germans who were on a motorbike tour for 4 days. They were really friendly and seemed genuinely interested in our adventure.

Once we reached the village we were staying in we were pleasantly surprised to see them again and stopped for a couple of beers. It was a lovely way to end the ride. The landlady/host of the bar kindly rang our homestay so that they could come and meet us and guide us to our accommodation. As is often the case the map locations were incorrect and we were 1km away from where we should have been.

In the evening we cycled with some other guests from our homestay to a local restaurant. We were given some very old rickety bikes which made our bikes feel like Rolls Royces in comparison. We had a very relaxing evening with our other guests who were from Australia (one family of 3 and a single female). The conversation was punctuated with the results from a soccer match which was taking place in Australia the two groups supporting opposite teams.

Once we’d eaten our meals we were entertained by some local villagers who put on a dancing and singing show, it was like watching a high school performance but very entertaining. We were spared the bike ride home and instead walked back to our cabins.

The cabins (described on line as cottages) were very basic, the doors and windows didn’t fit or lock, leaving huge gaps big enough to see outside. There was no air conditioner but fortunately there was a mosquito net and hot water. When we returned from the restaurant the rooms were really hot and humid and I was a little concerned I would struggle to sleep, but as often the case I was out like a light and even missed the thunder storm in the middle of the night.