One More Month Until We Leave!

“We’ve loads of time, we still have 8 weeks left!”

Well that doesn’t ring true at all now! With just a little over a month left to leave Chengdu, we have realised we really need to get our things sorted before we go.

The weeks have just gone by so fast! Soon we’ll be saying goodbye to the country we have called home for 5 years, but hopefully we’ll call Mexico and Ireland home soon!

We have quite a lot of things to do before that though. We have a big trip coming up when we leave Chengdu. First we fly to Shanghai and we will spend a few days there. Next we head to Japan and will be there 2 weeks (we really can’t wait, my fiancé has been dying to visit it for a while now), then we head to Hong Kong for a week, where we fly direct to Dublin. We chose Hong Kong because it’s direct.

We will relax in Ireland for about 2 months, in during which time my fiancés family will visit, and will (finally) get to meet my own family. (That in itself is making me anxious!) Then from Ireland we will go to Madrid, and then FINALLY we’ll fly to Mexico. We’ll visit Cancun and a few other places of interest, and then from there we will fly to Cuernavaca where my fiancés Mum and Dad live. Then we’ll start our new chapter in our lives!

Phew!! I’m anxious just thinking about it all! But hopefully everything will go fine with our travels. We have been very lucky so far.

But today was a good day as we got our rail pass tickets for Japan. This is so when we go to Japan we can use our passes on a lot of trains. With this tickets we already pre-paid so we don’t need to pay for every single train that we use there. We thought we had to pay online and then wait for the documents to arrive. Then we have to go to the airport in Japan and get that exchanged for the real train pass ticket. But we went to an office in Chengdu and they simply printed the documents out for us. It was so convenient! So we were very happy with that. We just go and exchange them for the passes. Nothing is every straightforward in China. Especially with the language barrier.

So that’s one thing ticked off anyway. I still have to organise selling my bike, which I REALLY don’t want to do. I really love it, and I’d love to send it back home, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to. Plus here people don’t buy bikes anymore because there are tonnes of public bikes that people pay a small fee and are able to use it. So I think it’ll be a problem to sell it.

I’m really going to miss my apartment though. I will take some photos of it soon and post it here. It’s really quite amazing! And the size is unlike most you’ll find in China! It’s always in a constant mess though. It’s huge, but we’ve absolutely nowhere to put things, no shelves whatsoever. The only thing that is organised are our clothes that are in the wardrobe. Everything else is everywhere!

Our plan is to try and get something done each day! So….what’s next on our list to do??

Aisling

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Tam Coc Village

Tam Coc Village

After out time in Halong Bay, our next stop was Tam Coc! Tam Coc is a small village (literally one street long), but the village is certainly not why you come here! Here you will find natural scenery, beautiful mountains and winding rivers!

After our bus trip from Halong to Tam Coc, we arrived in the evening. It was getting dark so we found our hostel and we just had a walk around the village. (Which will take you about 10 minutes it’s that small) The morning after, we ventured over to the river to take a river boat ride. It was about 8:30am, and it was the perfect time to go! It wasn’t hot, nor where there many people on the river. By 10am onwards it gets pretty busy! So I recommend doing the river tours quite early.

The area where you take the boat is literally in the middle of the village, so you definitely won’t miss it. It was a great experience, and it was just so calm and peaceful. The man rowing the boat actually used his feet to row instead of his hands which was cool to see. At one point you are on the river and there were rice fields surrounding us on either sides. It was so pretty!

 

Next we decided to rent two bikes and cycled to our next location which was Bich Dong Pagoda. When we parked our bikes the lady told us to go a different way, so we ended up going the opposite direction an up over a small mountain to the other side. There we saw a small house and a small trail (that actually just led to a dead end). The area was really nice though! Then we back to the pagoda for a look around.

Be warned! We were scammed by the lady who looked after the bikes, so if I were you, make sure you ask how much the bikes are to park! We made sure we did that since that day! It wasn’t an extortionate amount of money but we learned our lesson from then on!

The day after, we cycled to another area where you can go on another boat down the river. This was is much busier with people but it’s much longer! There are 3 routes to take and we took the longest one, which is about 2/3 hours long! And the lady who was rowing had to row all that time, with 4 people on board! She took a few breaks to let us out and explore some areas, but I’m sure it’s tough nonetheless! With this one, we shared a boat with two French people, whereas with the first river boat we took, it was just the two of us.

During this boat tour, we went through about 9 caves, and we had to duck our heads as the ceilings was so low! If you are claustrophobic I think you would struggle going through these caves. It was very exciting though!

Finally we went to visit Hang Mua Temple. Your first sight of the climb up to the top is rather daunting, and of course it was very tough to climb up it because it was super hot, super humid, and no shade at all, but it’s completely worth it. The views are spectacular!

In Tam Coc it is very easy to cycle around as it’s very flat. We just loved the countryside and it’s just as you’d imagine Vietnam to be like. Here are some pictures of it while on busses and while cycle in Vietnam and Tam Coc.

Where we stayed:

Tam Coc Family Hotel

Good: We loved this homestay. It’s run by the whole family and they are just so so nice. They are genuinely lovely people and very welcoming. The hotel/ homestay is beautiful, one of the nicest places we have stayed in. The room was clean and there were no faults whatsoever. This place would be exactly what I would love to have if I had a hostel. It was beautiful and well kept!

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Bad: There was nothing to complain about! The only thing was that for breakfast, it took rather a long time to arrive! But I think it was because the family make the breakfast and maybe they don’t have enough people. So if you are in a hurry to get somewhere, definitely order it well in advance! But apart from that there was absolutely no problems whatsoever!

Would I recommend? 100% YES!

So our trip to Vietnam had ended. After our time in Tam Coc we returned to Hanoi for 2 nights and then headed back home. We absolutely loved Vietnam, and I’d love to go back again and travel to the south. There’s just so much to see! It really exceeded my expectations!

Aislng

Halong Bay, Vietnam: Our Excursions

Halong Bay, Vietnam: Our Excursions

So with having booked the 3 days and 2 night tour on the cruise (junk) boat, we were brought to more places than the others who just opted for the 1 night tour. I recommend the 2 night one.

First we were brought to some big caves, where the manager of our junk boat took us into the caves and told us about them. There are 3 caves altogether and the last one is huge!

 

The next day we went with another couple on our day excursion. The man who would be taking us for the day said that for previous day there were 16 people on the day excursion, so we were very lucky that we were accompanied by only another couple! They brought us to a smaller boat for the day, so it was great having the boat to ourselves and the other couple!

He took us to see some monkeys that live up on the mountains. While there we passed a few boats filled to the brim with Chinese tourists, thankful to be on our boat with just 5 people!

 

Then we went to visit the Fishing Villages, and it was really interesting! Unfortunately there is only one village left in Halong Bay, as in 2012 or 2014 (I’m not 100% sure) the government moved the people living there onto the mainland so they could have a better standard of living and their children could go to school. However some older generations weren’t happy as they had lived on the boats their whole lives. So now, the people living on the boats don’t live their permanently as they used to in the past.

 

I remember watching an episode of Top Gear (a show about cars) and they went to Vietnam and to one of these fishing villages, and I remember it was that episode that made me interested in visiting Vietnam.

After that we went to a Pearl Farm, where they farm pearls. I never realised it, but it’s actually a very long process, taking years for a pearl to grow. Then many of the shells won’t have a pearl at all. So a lot of it is all about luck. Also many pearls have small imperfections, so that is why they can be so expensive, as the ones that are 100% perfect are very rare!

 

The day after we were supposed to go to a small beach, but because there was a little drizzle outside, we decided to stay on the boat. We really didn’t mind having to spend longer on it at all! They also included Tai Chi in the mornings, so we went up one morning to the deck and (tried) to do some tai chi. It was a great experience.

Halong Bay wise, it was very enjoyable sailing through the karst islands. There are nearly 2,000 of them! There was a bit of rubbish in the sea when we went to visit the fishing village, so that was a shame. It’s a pity the government won’t enforce the dumping of rubbish, as it’s such a beautiful place. We went in the low season so there may be more rubbish in the sea during high season, but I’m not sure. We loved our experience and we would definitely recommend Indochina Sails if you want to go to Halong Bay. It’s only accessible by cruises, there’s no other way to visit these islands.

 

At night all the cruise boats park near each other in the middle of the islands so it’s lovely seeing the twinkling of all the lights from the boats at night time.

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All the boats at night

To find out about our cruise boat, click here: Cruising Down Halong Bay, Vietnam: Our Cruise Boat

Aisling

Cruising Down Halong Bay, Vietnam: Our Cruise Boat

Cruising Down Halong Bay, Vietnam: Our Cruise Boat

After our few days in Hanoi, we got our private bus for the 4 hour journey to Halong Bay. For this part of our trip, we found on the website Booking.com a cruise company called Indochina Sails Cruise. This was the most expensive part of our whole trip in Vietnam, but we had a bit of extra money at hand, and we decided to treat ourselves with going on this cruise. It was amazing!

We really aren’t used to being treated like royalty, and it was hard to get used to at first, but we now realise how the other richer half live! It was definitely an experience! I could certainly get used to it! Because it was quite expensive, we were the youngest couple on board, but we met two wonderful retired couples while on the cruise. A couple from Ireland (what a surprise that was!) and a couple from America. Both of them have been travelling around Asia for the past few weeks.

So for the cruise, we decided to go for the 3 day 2 night cruise and we really enjoyed it. The rooms on the boat were gorgeous, the food was delicious and the employees on board were very nice too.

For lunch there was a set menu, and it was really nice! Then for dinner there was a buffet, with lots of food on offer! Again for breakfast there was another buffet. We were welcomed after our expeditions with a drink, unlimited tea and coffee on board, and the bed was super comfy! The manager helped us with booking a bus for the next leg of the trip, and it was just a lovely experience having people looking after you all day! The wealthy people in the world are certainly pampered!

The only fault on board was that there was no wifi whatsoever. Now we really didn’t mind this at all, but we were worried in case our families were getting worried about us for not contacting them!

Aisling

Egg Coffee in Hanoi

Egg Coffee in Hanoi

While researching about Vietnam, I cam across a thing called Egg Coffee. I thought it sounded disgusting…. egg with coffee??? How can that work at all? But I was mad to try it and see what it was like. (I love trying different drinks)

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While we were in Hanoi, we found the place where this drink originated from, and we went on in and luckily found a table! It’s a very popular place! It was invented by a man in the 1940’s because at that time milk was scarce, so he decided to mix egg instead. And voila!

We see the menu and I gingerly order the hot egg coffee. My fiancé ordered a lemonade. So we wait until it arrives, and it comes in a little bowl with hot water and a small spoon. I realised I didn’t know how to drink it!? I was looking around at the other tables to see how the others were doing it, but of course they were all finished theirs. So I decided just to use the spoon and sort of eat the top.

I tried the eggy meringue thing, thinking it was going to taste like egg and be horrible, but in fact it was delicious! It didn’t taste like egg whatsoever. More like vanilla. My got my fiancé to try it and he loved it too. So I was really delighted that it was nice. I read online that one girl tried it and she thought it tasted like egg, but I’m guessing maybe she went to a bad place or something, because mine was delicious.

 

Of course then I was mad to try the iced egg coffee, so we called the waiter over and asked for one. He said ok but then to me he said “Mix!”

Mix? Oh! I was supposed to mix the top with the coffee at the bottom. So I did that and then it tasted a little more like coffee. My fiancé doesn’t like coffee at all, but he said he could carry on eating the top. Then our iced one came. This one is more of a dessert/ ice cream, and that was also delicious.

 

On the menu there were no prices, so we were pretty sure we were going to be ripped off because we were foreigners. We asked the price and they were 25,000 dong each. From what I read online, this is the standard price. So I’m glad we weren’t ripped off. The lemonade cost 40,000! So definitely order the egg coffee instead!

If you can only order one, I would suggest the hot one. I think the flavour is a little bit more intense than the iced one.

The place is a little tricky to find as it’s behind the main shops down a small hallway, but keep looking!

 

So it really made my day trying that. I was really surprised by how nice it was. So if you are in Hanoi, definitely check it out. If you don’t like it, well you at least tried it!

Aisling

Vietnam: Hanoi (Part 2)

We heard in Hanoi that there was a show called the Water Puppet Show that was supposed to be good, so we decided to find out where it was showing. We found a place opposite Hoan Kiem lake. And it was really worth it!

There are certain times that it’s on, so we decided to buy tickets for the 4:10 one. We went for a walk and a beer until the time came to go. We entered and we had tickets with the seat numbers. However then a lady working there said we couldn’t sit there (I don’t really understand why, maybe they doubled booked those seats) so we ended up right at the front row. So in the end we got perfect seats!

And you definitely cannot go to Hanoi and miss Hanoi Train Street. The train tracks run though the city, and you can wait for the train to pass you by. We were walking about and we just stumbled upon it! We then found out that the train would be coming in 10-15 minutes, so it was perfect timing! It was so exciting seeing the train coming ahead, and you really need to squish yourself to the wall, it’s very close!!

I really enjoyed it! I saw this on TV years ago but I never thought I’d experience it myself!

What else is great about Hanoi is just the different types of buildings that you see. Most people stay around the Old Quarter as it’s the main tourist area. I love the buildings and there’s so much culture about! It’s crazy busy, but I found the area really interesting!

Where we stayed:

The Daisy House Hanoi

Good: The bedroom was nice and the location was great. It was only about 1 minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake. There are food places nearby and things to do.

Bad: The owner spoke very little English, so sometimes it was hard to communicate to her. Also there’s no lobby area, as the lady owns a salon downstairs and rents rooms upstairs. The place is also a little difficult to find, we walked past it without realising.

Would I recommend? Yes

Nam Phuong Home

Good: The location was very good. Literally in the heart of Old Quarter. Very easy to get about! Also the shower pressure was unbelievable; it’ll definitely get the dirt out of your hair! We stayed in the Daisy Room (Economy Double Room)

Bad: It’s ‘Economy Double Room’ for a reason! The room itself is too small. If you are 5 feet 8 or over you’re going to be hitting your head off the ceiling. One wall wasn’t a wall at all, merely a plastic partition with a plastic door. So we really felt we weren’t safe at all. Plus the window in the bathroom faces windows the opposite way, so I constantly felt they could see me showering. As you can see, the stairs from outside are literally outside the partition, so we didn’t exactly enjoy it when people were walking upstairs to their own rooms.  Finally, to allow the others to carefully walk up to their rooms upstairs, a light was placed outside, so of course it was never dark. That picture below was how dark the room was at night.

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The ‘wall’ in question

Plus, it didn’t help when he brought us to the wrong room when we arrived…. entering a spacious two floor bedroom, with a seating area and everything! Upon realising his error, we were rather deflated to be brought to this room.

Would I recommend? Definitely not. The other rooms are much better, but the one we stayed in wasn’t very good. The room itself is clean and a nice looking room, it’s just there are too many problems with it. I’ve stayed in a few hostels, but this is the only one where I really didn’t want to come back to at the end of the day.

To find out about Part One; click here:  Vietnam: Hanoi (Part 1)

Aisling

Vietnam: Hanoi (Part 1)

I always thought that Chengdu was a busy city, with a population of 14 million, that’s quite a lot of people! But when I arrived in Hanoi, I realised that Hanoi is absolutely crazy! Motorbikes everywhere, people everywhere, cars everywhere…. noise everywhere! It was just crazy. I knew it was a bustling city, but both of us were not prepared for how busy Hanoi was. We were a bit overwhelmed at first, but then we sort of settled in and got to used to the madness of it all. I definitely couldn’t live there, but It was great to visit the city. So here are a few places in which we visited while there.

So because we arrived in the evening, we got to the city and it was dark. We arrived at our hostel and then took a stroll around the area. We found out we were situated very close to the famous Hoàn Kiếm Lake, and we took a walk around it at night.

The atmosphere was great because there were lots of people about, kids were playing games on the street, and it was just a really nice place to be. We really enjoyed walking around the lake and seeing what people were doing…. painting, skipping, dancing.

On our first day exploring, we visited Hỏa Lò Prison where John McCain was imprisoned. Unfortunately most of the prison was demolished, so only a little bit of it remains. But it’s very interesting and it’s worth a visit!

We also visited Quan Su Temple, a small temple in the heart of Hanoi. It’s quaint and very pretty!

Not knowing where we were going, we ended up at the Temple of Literature. It was quite busy but it was nice none the less!

To continue reading about my time in Hanoi, click here: Vietnam: Hanoi Part 2

Aisling