Ipoh, George Town, Langkawi – back to KL

We met our host and she showed us up to our apartment on the 19th floor, a quick handover and she left us to it, a great view from the balcony of the town and the infinity pool below, perfect in this heat!

The town of Ipoh was founded on the back of the tin rush that began around the 1880s when large deposits were found in the area, situated on the highest navigable point on the Kintra River the town was well placed for the export of the ore, despite the decline  in mining the town has undergone a resurgence of late and is a bustling town with a thriving street art and food scene. Seven pieces of street art in Ipoh have been created by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, a name synonymous with the infamous works of George Town, Penang.  So we were keen to get out and explore…..

We started out exploring the old part of town, heading first down mural lane, where many walls and doorways are covered with all sorts of street art, great detailed paintings, all sorts of subjects, a lot of different people in various poses/situations, children playing, different scenes, some in better condition than others due to the harsh extremes of weather, some more detailed and brighter in colour than others, all very good we continued walking down to the train station, itself a landmark a combination of Moorish and Victorian architecture, framed by broad arches and capped with a broad white dome, used in the film ‘Anna & the King’. On from here we walked past the clock tower and came to the tourist info office, a respite from the heat outside where we picked up some useful maps, one for the art trail round town and the other for the temple caves.

Next stop was lunch so we popped into a Malaysian coffee house where Rich had Asam Laksa, a sour fish and tamarind noodle soup and I had Nasi Lemak, the national dish of Malaysia consisting of rice cooked in coconut milk, with cucumber, peanuts, a fried egg, dried anchovies  and sambal of which the sambal was very spicy, delicious though.

We continued walking round the art trail spotting the seven most well known of the art pieces, plus lots more art besides almost round every corner or on every doorway, really lovely.  We continued on down ‘Concubine Lane’ where wealthy merchants kept their mistresses, though pretty it is now full of stalls selling a lot of tourist ‘tat’.  After walking round a lot of the old town we wearily headed back to our apartment, it had been a very hot but interesting day.

We ventured out into the suburbs of Ipoh to visit several of the many cave temples, using our Grab app we called a taxi and just 7km out of town our first stop was to Kek look Tong  a craggy cave mouth beneath a towering cliff, the cave temple has three Sages which dominate the central cavern, along with many huge stalactites and stalagmites and as we walked towards the back of the enormous cave there was a golden Chinese Buddha of Future Happiness sitting beyond the main chamber, looking out onto beautiful landscaped gardens and lily pond, surrounded by forested cliffs.

It was cool walking through the huge caves and the beautiful gardens were lovely to walk around under the shade of trees and huge bamboos. There was a semi-circular arrangement of a series of miniature statues, depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha, which were very interesting as each was unique character with different poses and facial expressions.

From here we called another Grab taxi that took us down the road to Sam Poh Tong Temple to the right of the entrance was an ornamental garden with ceramic lions, miniature shrines and Buddha statues encircling a rock-studded pond packed with koi. The temple itself as we entered seemed quite small but as we followed the cave round it opened up into a tropical oasis with turtle pond fully enclosed by lushly forested and fern covered limestone cliffs. Nestled in the base of one of these sheer limestone walls was a breath-taking  bright red and yellow tiered pagoda, a real ‘secret’ garden, we spent some time in here just sitting under the shady palms with the sunlight streaming down it truly was magical.

The following day we headed in the opposite direction, again out into the suburbs of Ipoh, this time to visit Perak Tong Temple, established around 1926 by Chinese Buddhists Chong Sen Yee and his wife, this temple is popular for its mesmerising murals and panoramic views.

As we walked up the first staircase leading into the huge cave, the space was dominated by a majestic golden seated Buddha around 15m tall. Exploring the rest of the temple was a labyrinth of smaller caves with shrines, statues and many murals and paintings decorating the cave walls, near the back of the cave was a steep narrow staircase which led up through the cave, outside and still further up to a stone balcony, with another shrine and – after 450 steep steps views across Ipoh and the hills beyond. It was very hot and humidity was high, so the climb up kind of did us in, and we rested for a while at the top in the shade, before making our way back down on shaky legs.  Heading back to the apartment we had dinner, did some washing and packed up ready for catching the train on to George Town.

Leaving Ipoh we caught the train to Butterworth, a smooth journey on a timely, clean efficient train that took only an hour and forty-five minutes, as we arrived into Butterworth it absolutely poured down, luckily though the walkway to the ferry over to George Town was under cover and after buying our tickets for the ferry  RM 1.20 / 0.22p we only had 10 minutes or so before the next ferry.  It was a simple ferry, open sided with bench seats with room for cars, roll-on roll-off, we were soon underway and 20 minutes later docking into George Town.

We called a Grab taxi from the terminal and were soon heading over to our apartment.  After signing in and getting the keys we headed up to our apartment on the 18th floor, complete with balcony for sea and city views.  As per usual we settled in with a cup of tea and then headed out to pick up some groceries, we’d both been craving some Mexican fajitas, so with a good supermarket nearby (including Tesco) that’s what we cooked for dinner that night, delicious!

Bit of a late start the following morning, but we walked into town, already stifling hot, (no matter how long we’ve been away, the heat still gets to us!), we stopped en-route to try a Penang specialty at a restaurant called ‘Hot Bowl White Curry Mee’, we ordered a bowl each of the ‘original’ curry mee which was a steaming bowl of white coconut broth with vermicelli, regular egg noodles and beansprouts with pieces of congealed ducks blood (like soft jelly pieces) and we added ginger pork meatballs, a pot of fiery chilli paste was on the table for us to ‘add to taste’, it was very tasty and filling as neither of us were able to finish our bowls.  Leaving here we continued into town, stopping at the bus depot to pick up a unlimited bus pass each for the week for 30RM /£5.50 then onto the art trail.

IMG_20190426_142254

An artist mentioned earlier with the art in Ipoh  Lithuanian Ernest Zacharevic in 2012 sketched a series of mural installations for the George Town festival, since then Penang has taken off as one of Southeast Asia’s street art capitals, as well as Zacharevic’s pieces there are works by local and international artists all over the old town, as well as paintings there are a series of steel wire cartoons, some fifty of them commissioned in 2009 to mark out the UNESCO listed parts of the city.  We had a map and followed the trail of art, some really good and creative pieces all round town for several hours, having seen most of them we called it a day and caught a bus back to our apartment to cool off.

Collage 2019-05-10 17_41_55

Collage 2019-05-10 17_49_32

Collage 2019-05-10 18_13_50

Penang Island was ruled by the sultans of Kedah until the late eighteenth century but with increasing raiding parties from the Thai and Burmese, help was sought from British trader Francis Light looking for a regional trading base to counter the Dutch presence, so through the British East India Company a deal was struck, military aid in exchange for cash, Penang then became the first British settlement in the Malay Peninsula, declaring it a free port, its population thrived increased by Indian and Chinese traders George Town took its name from British King George III, gaining independence from Britain in 1957.

Before the new millennium George Town was like a lot of cities shabby, unloved and a  victim of inner city decay, until George Town and Melaka the other former British straits settlements became a single World Heritage Site in 2008, and the  regeneration started.

The next couple of days we caught the bus and headed into the historic heart of George Town, a mix of Colonial, Indian, Malay and Chinese heritage.  We wandered round the labyrinth of streets with sights including several houses formerly owned by Chinese merchants, brightly painted many with decorative wooden doors and carvings, the Goddess of Mercy temple, a Chinese Temple dating from 1801 with dragon carved pillars and wooden roof beams, blackened by incense smoke and Sri Mahamariamman Temple founded in 1833 sited in Little India, pale green and red with a tower of sculpted deities, a mass of colour.  We also viewed  the Kapitan Keling Mosque, the oldest and largest in Penang dating back to 1801 it’s Anglo-Moorish  style with dark ‘onion’ domes, arched portico and minarets an impressive sight.

Wandering down Armenian Street we passed the Mor Hun Club, a still used traditional social club, with colourful tilework and carved gilt doors, you could hear the clacking of tiles from games of Mahjong being played upstairs. We came to Yap Kongsi which consists of  Ciji Temple with amazing colourful carved dragons swirling across the roof and beautiful tile work and ceramics whilst next door is the green and white Yap Temple looking more like a European villa but holding the clan’s ancestral tablets.  We continued on to the waterfront down to the Chinese clan jetties, communities of stilt houses built over the water set up by Chinese immigrants in George Towns early days, connected by wooden boardwalks the narrow alleys are quite claustrophobic and crowded with trader stalls everywhere we didn’t linger long.

Back out in wider streets we walked along Padang Kota Lama a promenade along the waterfront, a slight breeze giving us respite from the heat, we had great views over the straits to the mainland and surrounding hills. This led us past Fort Cornwallis, named after Lord Charles Cornwallis, Governor-General of India, we walked past the Fort, cannons perched over the walls at regular intervals and a lighthouse till  we came to St George’s Church, one of Penang’s oldest buildings built in a Neoclassical style  in 1818 by the East India Company.  By this point in the day we were hot, tired and needing some refreshment, so into a coffee shop to cool down with an iced coffee, rest our feet then catch the next bus back to our apartment.

As F1 fans we have been lucky to catch every race wherever we have been, either through our Airbnb having a ‘sports package’ on their TV or a nearby sports bar, this weekend was no exception as it was the Azerbaijan race from Baku, for this we headed out to a nearby sports bar ‘Healy Macs’ where we enjoyed a pizza and cold jug of beer whilst watching the race.

Another site in George Town we visited was Penang Hill – Penang Hill was the first colonial hill station developed in Peninsular Malaysia discovered soon after British settlement; Francis Light commissioned the area to be cleared to grow strawberries.  Though it was never fully developed (it was difficult to carve out the forest area), it became a favourite expatriate refuge before the advent of air conditioning.

DSCN9970

Comprising Western Hill, Bukit Laksamana, Tiger Hill, Flagstaff Hill and Government Hill, it is located six km away from Georgetown. Set 821m above Penang’s capital, islanders call it Bukit Bendera and it is generally about five degrees cooler than George Town. It is the last patch of tropical rainforest in Penang so the flora and fauna here have been protected since 1960. Its oldest bungalow, Bel Retiro, is the holiday residence of the Governor of Penang. Today, the ridge on top of Penang Hill is known as Strawberry Hill.

We caught a Grab taxi to the base station, and after buying tickets for the return trip on the funicular we were soon heading up the hill, the funicular was opened in 1923 and the railway has a tunnel which measures 258 feet long and is the steepest tunnel in the world, with a maximum slope gradient of 52.9%, 27.9°, so pretty steep in places, though unbelievably it only takes just over five minutes to reach the top.  With several viewing platforms, we had fabulous panorama views over the cape of George Town, mountains, hills and across the straits to Butterworth and beyond.

We walked around the peak seeing the huge 2.75 tonnes cannon, one of the old funicular coaches used from 1923 to 1977 was on display and then continued up to Penang Hill mosque and Hindu Temple, the latter being restored and covered in plastic sheeting.  We walked further up to the Bel Retiro gate house, a prestigious property built in 1789 as mentioned earlier a colonial holiday residence for the governor of Penang.

We walked down the hill slightly to follow one of the numerous marked nature trails walking under 30m-high trees and with over 100 species of birdlife, ranging from ordinary garden species to exotic deep forest inhabitants calling this hillside home it was a cacophony of birdsong along with beautiful trees and flowers and spectacular views. One oddity was seeing a red post box, apparently one of the oldest in Penang, put up here during the reign of Queen Victoria.  Though indeed cooler up here it was still very hot with surprisingly little breeze so we made our way back to the funicular station and headed back down in the train.

Once at the base station we were not far from Kek Lok Si Temple, so we called a Grab taxi and made our way over there.  The Kek Lok Si Temple is a Buddhist temple and is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, the entire complex of temples was built over a period from 1890–1930, the main sight in the complex is the striking seven-storey Pagoda of Rama VI (Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas) with 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha, and the 36.57 metres (120.0 ft.) tall bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.

Collage 2019-05-10 19_12_02

We were dropped off at the temple complex, and we were amazed at the sheer size and number of different buildings, shrines, temples, steps and corridors linking it all together.  Built into the side of a hill, we started at the bottom and worked our way up, a glass funicular took us up to the very top of the complex where the enormous bronze statue of  the Goddess of Mercy was in an open sided pavilion whose columns were covered in carved dragons, truly an astonishing sight, with more panoramas of the city below we walked across to the white seven tiered ‘Ten Thousand Buddhas’ pagoda, resplendent in the bright sunshine and capped by a golden Burmese stupa. Making our way back down in the funicular and then walking  through the remaining complex we were starting to flag a bit so  called a Grab taxi and headed back to our apartment.

As avid film watchers we have managed to see many films as we have been travelling, and enjoyed luxurious cinemas at a fraction of UK prices, Malaysia being no exception.  As huge Marvel fans we had been waiting for ‘Avengers Endgame’ to be released, the culmination of a 22 film story arc, so we were pleased to see multiple screenings being shown at the cinema nearby to our apartment, where we went big, as in IMAX big.  We were definitely not disappointed, loved the film and at £10 for the both of us great value!!

After the epic three hour film we walked back to our apartment, but stopping on the way to see a couple of temples.  First was Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram a Thai Temple dating back to the 1900’s, it was a brightly painted affair with huge gilded pagoda and the main hall flanked by several huge serpents painted gold and bright green with shiny reflective tiles all over, very blingy!  The huge ‘hangar’ like hall housed a large  33 metre long reclining Buddha, surrounded by many statues and shrines, the air heavy with incense smoke.  The second the Burmese Temple was just across the road, guarded by two large white and gold lions, inside a large standing Buddha.  We wandered round the beautifully landscaped grounds full of flowering shrubs and flowers with several smaller temple buildings and statues before walking back to our apartment.

Collage 2019-05-10 19_27_20

Collage 2019-05-10 19_42_58

Later that afternoon we headed out by bus to Batu Ferringhi, a lovely stretch of beach fringed by palms for sunset, though with quite a bit of cloud cover the colours weren’t spectacular, still it was a nice walk along the beach.  Our week in George Town was nearly at and end, so it was soon time to do some washing, pack up and get ready to leave this time via ferry to our next stop, the island of Langkawi.


Langkawi – by Richard Gardner

Moving on from Georgetown, was simple as a Grab taxi to the Ferry port and then a three hour ferry crossing to Langkawi and then another Grab taxi to the hotel which was on the other side of the island, about forty minutes travel.

Collage 2019-05-11 12_23_43

Our room was at the back of the hotel, overlooking the pool, and the jungle covered hills behind along with quite a few monkeys wandering around. After unpacking a few things, relaxing for a bit, we headed down to a near by restaurant for dinner. The Cactus restaurant did a mix of local dishes and western foods, plus a few other items like curries. We enjoyed three meals here, I ate their Indian Noodle dish twice, and Julie really enjoyed their Beef Thai curry.

Collage 2019-05-11 12_46_56Weather on the island, and on this west side of the Malaysian peninsula was wet and stormy for the most part, so we did not get out to see too much of the island, opting to either stay by the pool, or walked the mile into the town centre and the main beach there, Julie got to swim at the beach once but this was often closed for swimming due to the high swells, rolling in all the time. However the beaches are clean for the most part and uncluttered with parasols and sun loungers.Collage 2019-05-11 12_34_42There was a very good, but small aquarium  in town, which we visited when it looked like the heavens were going to open up. They had a good range of local colourful species of fish, eels, crustaceans and jellyfish, along with living corals.Collage 2019-05-11 13_03_32.jpgOn the whole our time on the coast of Langkawi was one of relaxing and chilling, and looking at our options when we return to the UK, which is fast approaching.

Next stop we are back in KL for five nights, before our flight back to the UK. We love KL, a big, modern city with some great food options and some great Airbnb apartments to relax in.

Cameron Highlands…..and lots of tea!!

From Kuala Lumpur we headed out via coach, which was very spacious and loads of legroom for the 3 ½ hour journey to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, though it seemed like forever getting out of traffic choked Kuala Lumpur we were soon on the toll roads and quickly made progress, until we got onto the smaller roads heading up into the highlands, narrow, twisty and turning with sheer drops on one side, slowing progress down considerably, however we pulled into Tanah Rata on time and it was just a short walk to our apartment, which was over a shopping mall.  Once we’d picked up the key we settled in with a cuppa then went for a wander round town, picked up some groceries and had dinner, we had already pre-booked a tour of one of the tea plantation for the next day.

As any of you have read we are avid compulsive tea drinkers so jumped at the chance to see a plantation.  We went with a small eco-tour operator, based on reviews we had read, and we were not disappointed.  We met our tour guide/driver at 8am and we were in a small group of 6, loaded up into a Land rover we set off first to Mossy Forest, though the roads to get there were very narrow, steep, winding and seriously pot-holed, the necessity of the 4 x 4 soon became evident as the roads became little more than gravel, shale and sand.

At Mossy Forest our guide gave us a very detailed and informed talk about the various trees, mosses, flora, fauna and wildlife to be found in this whole area, it was so fascinating especially with the large carnivorous plants and medicinal plants and berries.  It was still quite early and the sun shining through the moss covered trees was really quite breath-taking and the birdsong chorus was so uplifting to hear.

Our guide pointed out various anomalies such as banana ‘plants’ that due to the altitude, there is not enough warmth/sunlight for them to bear fruit, the ferns that grew into twenty metre fern trees, various leaves that when crushed smelt like ‘Tiger Balm’, or citronella ‘leaves’ that were used as mossie repellent.  From Mossy forest we drove along more bumpy roads towards the Boh Tea plantation.

This is where we caught our first glimpses of the plantations covering every visible hillside, stopping at a viewpoint we got out to have a wander amongst the tea bushes though we had to be aware where we were walking due to scorpions and two types of venomous snakes present amongst the tea bushes.  It was a beautiful sight, tea bushes in neat lines curving over every contour of the hillsides, bright green of the new leaves ‘tips’ and the dark green of the older leaves near the ground.

The new shoots re-grow every 21 days after picking either by hand (very labour intensive), scissors or a 2 person held machine with a petrol motor and blades similar to a hedge trimmer that saws the young shoots  and they collect in a large sack attached to the machine, after some more photos and admiring the view we continued on into the tea plantation itself.

We were shown through the factory to see the process from field to tea bag which was very fascinating, Boh Tea is one of only a few producers in the world that plants, picks, processes, packs and markets it’s branded tea, easily ensuring quality standards are met throughout the entire process, the Boh plantation was planted in the 1920’s by an English family, descendants of which are still running it today, once planted a tea ‘bush’ takes 5 years to reach maturity for picking tea leaves, although the tea plant is most often referred to as being an evergreen shrub, when left in the wild undisturbed it grows into a tree with a bowl-shaped canopy.

DSCN9844

Needless to say after seeing all this glorious tea, we were itching to try it, first stop was the shop where we bought a few boxes of English Breakfast, the traditional blend, and a variety of fruit teas, then onto the café with a raised outdoor terrace which overlooks the plantation fields below for a pot of freshly brewed loose-leaf tea, and it did not disappoint, we had it nice and simple with no milk and it was delicious.

Laden with our booty of tea bags we headed back down to meet our guide and we headed back through the plantation and into town where we were dropped off near our apartment.  Cameron Highlands are famous not only for their tea but also strawberries which are grown everywhere you look(though a lot are under poly-tunnels), as well as honey, with bee farms all over the place, and generally as a rich vegetable growing area due to favourable climate.  The afore mentioned strawberries I had to try, this was in a hard to find café but had great reviews, in the form of a cream tea, homemade scones with local strawberry jam and cream, very tasty, Rich had another favourite apple pie and ice-cream, both of course with a cup of Boh tea!

We were only here a couple of days as we were here solely for the tea, and from Tanah Rata we caught a coach over the hills and onto Ipoh, though the journey there was full of twists and turns and narrow roads and we were both glad when the coach got onto the main highway into Ipoh as we both felt slightly queasy from the bumpy ride.  Our Airbnb apartment wasn’t quite ready for check-in so we killed some time in a coffee shop, then headed over to a shopping mall to pick up some groceries, by which time our apartment was ready and we headed over to meet our host.

mobiistar ZUMBO S2 Dual_20190419_110120

Kuala Lumpur and onwards….

Blurry eyed our alarm went off at 5am! Final check of our apartment and we were off to the airport using our trusty Grab app to call a driver. Only 20 minutes later we were checking our bags and heading through security, with some time to kill before our flight was called we wandered round the shops, ending up using our leftover Dong for a small bottle of Johnnie Walker Red label whisky, that will be nice later!  Our flight was uneventful, a little under three hours and we were soon at immigration, where the queues are fairly short but seem to take ages, forty-five minutes later we were through with another visa stamp for 90 days.

By this time our cases were on the carousel and quickly through customs into the airport arrivals and shopping mall.  After getting some cash from the ATM, we picked up a monthly data sim card and not forgetting Richards favourite snack, some Dan’s egg yolk crisps (they are the best crisps!), we called a Grab taxi and were soon being driven the 50 minute journey into the city, dropped off at our apartment, we checked in with security and got the key and lift card from the mailbox and made our way to the 7th floor.

Our apartment was lovely, very spacious, comfy sofa and full kitchen including an oven, floor to ceiling windows and a balcony, the other unique thing was it had a bathtub, complete with view of the Petronas towers, definitely be getting some use!  We also had access to the infinity pool and spa on the floor below, which would be welcome as it was pretty hot, and the view from the rooftop garden was pretty special too.

After a quick cuppa, we headed out for some groceries, namely replenishing our stock of tea bags and some bits for dinner and back at the apartment just chilled and enjoyed the view of the city from our balcony.  It was F1 weekend so we found a bar showing the grand prix on multiple big screens so that was good to see the 1000th race from Shanghai with a cold jug of beer each, followed by cooking a full roast dinner back at our apartment utilising the afore mentioned full kitchen, very tasty it was too!

Another reason we like Kuala Lumpur is that it is a vibrant busy city without being too overbearing but also easy to get around, we used the next few days to wander round visiting a nearby Urban food park with a variety of food trucks and see the city sights as well as some re-supply runs, namely more medication and new trainers for both of us as ours were well and truly knackered, third pair for each of us, mind you they’ve done some miles!

Whilst  here we had a great thunderstorm one night that rattled thunder round the building and forked lightning across the sky, amazing to watch but woke to bright sunshine the next morning as if nothing had happened.

The afternoons were spent cooling off in the pool with city views and enjoying a bubble bath with a glass of bubbly, it has been the only Airbnb since we left the UK with a bathtub.

From Kuala Lumpur we are heading north up into the Cameron Highlands and visiting a Tea plantation.

Birthday in Hanoi, leaving Vietnam

We left our apartment in Ha Long and booked a ‘luxury’ van for the trip back to Hanoi, in reality it was a 5 seater minivan with more comfort but the same price as a bus.  Despite leaving later than scheduled we arrived in Hanoi early afternoon as the driver didn’t hang around and we were glad to get out of the car as the roads in Vietnam aren’t the best! After being dropped off  on the outskirts of the old city we called a Grab taxi and were soon at our apartment being let in by the security guard.  We chose this apartment for location, near to the great delis, cafes and bars we have used previously and the fact it had an oven, a rare thing in Vietnam, as Rich wanted to cook a nice meal for my birthday, me wanting steak and chips if at all possible, pepper sauce would be the icing on the cake, maybe a tall ask we’ll see!!

So  after the usual cuppa to settle in, we headed out for some shopping, and we found a great grocery store, where amongst other things we found green pepper sauce and olives, now we havent had olives since Australia! Now just to find steak. The next day we headed out to a great new place literally at the end of the lane our apartment was situated on, for the most amazing burritos, Rich having ground beef, I had chicken but both with all the trimmings, lime white rice, sour cream, cheese, black beans, pineapple salsa, jalepenos, so tasty and so filling.

As this was our 3rd time in Hanoi this trip, we had already seen the sights so we headed to the cinema down the road to watch ‘Shazam’ which was a great film and we had ‘sweetbox’ seats which was a sofa for two at the back of the cinema and with only two other people in the cinema it felt like our own private showing.

Rich has already mentioned Joma cafe and bakery in the food blog, we went there again for my birthday breakfast which didn’t disappoint, and on the way back to our apartment we found a small butcher/deli and picked up a nice couple of T-bone steaks.  Rich then popped back out on his own and came back with two dozen beautiful red roses, two bottles of wine, and a birthday card, he is very resourceful!

Later that afternoon we walked down to The 100 beer garden for happy hour and pre-birthday dinner drinks, which Rich has covered in the food blog, but they were some great beers and I know I have mentioned this before but the Vietnamese craft beer scene is really thriving with so many brewers, styles, tastes and strengths to please any beer lover.

After three (quite strong) beers each, we walked back to our apaprtment, where Rich cooked a lovely meal of steak, chips and pepper sauce, of course with the obligatory ‘chip butty’, it was delicious and I had a fabulous birthday.

mobiistar ZUMBO S2 Dual_20190410_204427

Needless to say after the beers and a bottle of wine we did have slight headaches the next day, soon fixed after a hearty breakfast of cooked eggs.  It was pretty warm and high humidity the next few days in Hanoi, though we did get out and stretch our legs.

One of these was to walk down to a botanic garden by the river not far from our apartment, though after a 20 minute walk in 90% humidity we did wonder whether it would be worth it as we were melting!  There was hardly anyone there when we arrived, after buying a ticket we wandered amongst all the beautiful flowers currently blooming in full effect, fields of lillies, sunflowers, a cinderella carriage covered with roses, a windmill, lotus pond and thankfully some shady trees to sit under and cool down in the slight breeze, it was lovely even though the heat was oppressive.

Heading back to our apartment we stopped to get a lime slushie each to cool down and got instant ‘brain freeze’. The last couple of days were spent finalising onward travel and doing laundry ready for packing.

Our time in Hanoi and indeed our three wonderful months in Vietnam had come to an end and even though after nearly eleven months, packing up cases ready to move on doesn’t get any easier.  Packed, packing double checked, flight checked in, alarms set, ready for Malaysia, first stop Kuala Lumpur.

Vietnam – Yet more food and drink consumed.

From Hoi An we stayed at Hue again. We were here back in December. When looking at Airbnb to book lodgings, we saw the guy (Matthew), whose apartment we previously used, had another room available in the same building. On arriving and establishing we had stayed with him before, he was so ecstatic that he wanted a selfie with us for his wife, and offered to take us out for dinner that night, we agreed. So a little later we met Matthew outside and we walked across the bridge and headed past Dong Ba market, Matthew pointing out things as we went. After about a half hour walk we arrived at a small, basic restaurant, down a non descript street. We all sat on these kids sized stools they use here, and Matthew ordered a traditional noodle dish – Bun Bo Hue.

This is a local variation, it consists of a beef broth made with beef bones and beef shanks with lemongrass and seasoned with fermented shrimp paste and sugar to taste, and some chilli oil is added – a big pot of this was simmering at the front of the restaurant as we came in. Added to this broth is the noodles, big chunks of boiled beef shanks and oxtail, plus a pork ball, and a large cube of cows blood, which is firm like tofu, and is considered good for filtering the body of impurities by the Vietnamese – all I got from it was a tasty liver flavour. Supplied with bowl of Bun Bo Hue, a bowl of mixed coriander, green onions, banana blooms, mint, basil and beansprouts, which you can add to your Bun Bo.

The key ingredient we were told by Matthew was a squeeze of lime that you add to it all. Plus we both added some chillies. It was a really tasty meal, in a restaurant that we would normally bypass, because it only had locals in, and seating was on the most ridiculously small chairs and equally low tables, used all over Vietnam in small local restaurants.

Our second meal out in Hue, was breakfast and yes it was of the western variety, and yes we have had a few in recent weeks here in Vietnam. I often remember the quote by the Duke of Wellington “ Never, ever pass up the chance to urinate”, except I dont just apply this to peeing. So when there is something resembling a fry up on offer near by, well you have got to give it a try. So its was off to Nooks eatery for more of brunch than breakfast, by the time we left the apartment. A short walk and we were sitting upstairs in Nooks, its bright terrace space covered, and windowless, with plenty of fans. Perusing the menu, I opted not for the full English, but went for a breakfast burger, which consists of sausage, bacon, fried egg with caramelized onions and a side of fried potatoes. Julie went for the big breakfast and enjoyed the usuals of sausage, bacon, fried egg, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms and toast with a pot of jam. As with most of the foods we have tried it was very tasty.

The other meal of note in Hue, was the Hue tasting menu we had at Hanh’s. We visited here in December, and any visit or revisit has to include Hanh’s. Packed with locals and visitors it’s a busy, vibrant restaurant that goes in for functional tables and chairs and nothing really resembling décor, but you are there for good food and that’s what they deliver. I’ve covered the items before but i will still briefly list them.

Banh Beo – steamed rice cakes, with dried shrimp and crispy pork crackling.
Banh Khoal – crispy rice pancakes
Nem Lui – grilled pork on lemongrass skewers
Banh cuon thit noung – grilled beef spring rolls
Nem ran – fried spring rolls.

Our next stop after Hue, was Phong Nha. First sight of the town didn’t look great for food. So we were hopeful that the reviews of our hotel food had not been exaggerated. They weren’t, we only ate breakfast here, and for the most part it was Banh Mi (bread roll) a couple of fried eggs, cucumber and tomatoes. Put the whole lot in the banh mi, and shake over some tangy flavoured salt provided and it was so scrumptious. Really set us up for the day.

In Phong Nha itself we discovered two better than average restaurants which was a pleasant surprise, both of which we visited a couple of times. The first was Paradise Pizza. I stumbled on this on google maps, noted it was well reviewed and then spotted they served a bacon and blue cheese pizza. No argument come dinner we cycled straight there, sat down and ordered one and a pepperoni. We couldn’t pass up a blue cheese fix now could we. Our second visit was also for more bacon and blue cheese, plus some cheesy chips.

The other restaurant was The Bamboo Cafe. We ate three meals here. The first was a light lunch, I had a fried rice dish. With sausage, ham, cheese and egg, Julie went chicken and vegetable stir-fry.  Both tasty, cheap and reasonably sized portions.
The second meal was my favourite here. It was stewed pork and boiled marinated eggs, while Julie had chicken in a spicy sauce, both came with rice. Portion sizes were large. We both struggled to finish.

Our last meal, was something that had attracted me to the Bamboo Cafe, and that was a full English. So tasty, and a really big meal. The only thing missing, which is something we haven’t had since we left the UK, black pudding. However I did get to swap out my mushrooms for a hash brown that was massive. So good – comfort food par excellence.

Our next stop was Ninh Binh. Most people stay out side Ninh Binh in Tam Coc, which is packed with hotels, hostels and restaurants, but we opted for the quieter, less touristy Ninh Binh, because we could easily cycle to Tam Coc, which we did. So our food experience started locally to our hotel in a restaurant called Trung Tuyet. We visited three times while in Ninh Binh. The food was great, and the service was the proper mix of attentive, chatty and clear off to eat in peace. You get to pick a variety of sizes for most of the meals, but unless your ordering a dish to share or you are so hungry you could eat a horse, stick with small, as even this is difficult to finish. We ate here between us, the sweet and sour chicken, the roasted chicken with greens. The second visit I went for the sweet and sour chicken again, but Julie had the spicy beef and pineapple dish, all these we had with rice. Regards the beef and pineapple this is tasty but the meat to fruit ratio is off, too much fruit if you ask me, but it looks good.

Our third visit we went for Vietnam favourites Pho ga, chicken noodle soup. We ordered one small each. The portion was huge, we had also ordered fried spring rolls as an accompaniment. It was so much food, neither of us managed to finish our Pho, but you better damn believe we were not going to leave any spring rolls.

We ate in our hotel restaurant one night, it was highly reviewed, but it was never used when we were around, but we thought it would be rude not to. So we enjoyed a plate each of chicken fried noodles and a plate of fried meat spring rolls. It was very nice and the spring rolls were delish, some of the best we have ever had. The only odd thing was the raised shouting between owner and wife when we sat down and ordered. We couldn’t work out if it was just checking to see if they had the stuff, or if it was about who was going to do the cooking.

The third place we ate was Chookie’s both the one out at Tam Coc and the one in Ninh Binh. The former we visited twice, once just for a drink as they had craft beer on tap here, and from a Vietnamese brewer we had not tried yet – Turtle Lake brewing company, based in Hanoi. I enjoyed their Wheat Dream (6.3%) which has a hint of Kumquat. While Julie had on every visit the Mango Smoothie (7.2%), an IPA with mango pulp and vanilla pods added during brewing. At Tam Coc on our second visit we both went for their Aussie burger, filled with bacon, egg, cheese, salad and a juicy thick homemade style pattie, and supplied with chunky chips. It was good, really good. I had the turtle lake brewing company’s Double-edged Sword (8%) to accompany it, which is a new england style double IPA.

Our third visit to Chookie was its other location, in Ninh Binh. It had been a cool, wet overcast day, and we had been in our hotel room most of the day, so we headed across the river to Chookie’s, the big surprise here and a welcome relief were sofas set up near an open roaring log fire. Settling in we order a couple of beers, Julie going for the Mango smoothie, and I ordered the Slovenian Porter (6.1%) which is a robust vanilla and coconut porter, light on the coconut. We also ordered a meat feast pizza and a bowl of chips, which came with some mayonnaise, which is one of those every day food items, you dont realise you have missed, until you have it again. The food was good and chips dipped in mayo, well its close to heavenly.

Train up to Hanoi from Ninh Binh, had a few days here, just to break up the journey on wards to Sapa, but we packed in some tasty food here. We had picked our apartment location, due to its closeness to our favourite Vietnamese restuarant Pho Cuon 31, but more on that shortly. Our first bite of food back in Hanoi, came care of our security guard, when we were checking in. We had arrived while he was preparing his food. When he saw us he put the food down and quickly checked us in, but before we headed up to our apartment he offered us a couple of fried meat spring rolls, hot and tasty, better than we have eaten in most restaurants.

Our first full meal back in Hanoi, was a regular of ours when we can cook it (I use the term cooking loosely here). Instant noodles, a poached egg, cooked in with the noodles. With Kimchi added and some sliced cheese for good measure. We carry a few condiments with us, salt, pepper, chilli flakes and red pepper flakes, we use these to enhance the noddle broth. It’s so good, and I think its becoming a comfort food for us and will be regularly eaten when we get back home, we also enjoyed a bottle of Vietnamese red that evening, not a pricey bottle, just 85,000 dong, about £2.79 at time if writing.

We visited Pho Cuon 31 twice while in Hanoi this time, we both enjoyed the Pho Chien Phong, which basically consists of crispy puffed up noodles, made from spring roll wraps, cut into squares and deep fried to crisp them up. On top of a plate of these is poured a thick beef gravy pho, with tender strips of beef and greens. Its fantastic, so beefy a plate of this dish, can only bring you contentment. Our second visit Julie went with the pho chien phong again, but I had the version, with actual noodles fried and mixed with egg before being tipped with the beef pho. We have eaten here before Christmas, on our first visit to Vietnam, and we will eat here again before we leave Vietnam.

Round the corner from Pho cuon 31 is the Standing Bar – which has plenty of seating – has nineteen fun-filled taps, and an upstairs balcony, overlooking the lake. Here we had a couple of beers each. Julie went for a very unique beer first, Kim Jong Ale (5%), from Biacraft, a spicy kimchi sour beer. This followed by Golden Perch Chinook IPA (6.2%), by Golden Perch a Vietnamese nano brewery. I had Devil’s Lake IPA (6.5%) described as having a Jolly Rancher candy finish, by Turtle Lake. Followed by Thunderslap IPA (6.8%), by Fuzzy Logic.

While in Hanoi, Julie got to satisfy a hankering she’d had for a while. This was cheesecake. We stumbled across a Cheesecake factory and Julie had a slice of chocolate peanut “Snickers” cheesecake.
We also stopped by Giang cafe again (previous visit December) and sampled their egg coffees again.

Next stop Sapa, the northern cooler mountain region of Vietnam. We spent three nights in Sapa, such beautiful mountain scenery. Great restaurants here seem a bit sparse, but having said that we did have a couple of great meals in a restaurant called Good Morning Vietnam. For a starter we had fried pork spring rolls. For main Julie had sautéed chicken with lemongrass and chilli. I had coconut chicken curry, but instead of the coconut added to the curry it was more of a case the curry was added to the coconut, it was served in the coconut. Both came with rice. It was so good we went back again.

From Sapa to Cat Ba we stopped in Hanoi again for a few days. This time staying in the area called Quang An. This a busy expat area with French, American and Middle Eastern restaurants. While here we ate a Joma Bakery and enjoyed a Texan bagel, a cheddar and chilli bagel filled with egg and bacon and mayo. I had the double egger, two halves of a bagel loaded with ham, cheese and fried eggs. We also bought a bag of fresh cooked chilli pepper bagels to enjoy at the apartment.

The best meal we had was at a restaurant called the Fat Pig. We headed down there on a Sunday and had a Sunday roast, consisting of roast beef, chicken topped with horseradish cream, 2 large Yorkshire puds, roast potatoes and veg with a side of cauliflower cheese. It was great, the beef was pink, the roasts were crisp and fluffy. We also enjoyed a glass of C-brewmasters Hai Ba Trung Czech pilsner (4.5%) free with the meal.

We also visited Turtle Lake brewing company’s brewpub one evening and I enjoyed a glass of Helmet Boy saison (5.7%) a citrus, spice, orange peel, coriander and ginger flavoured farmhouse ale, and their Pills’n’er(6.5%) a american pilsner. Julie had the Gose with Grapes (5.3%) a sour brewed in cabernet barrels. Her other was the Red Lock (6%), an American amber ale.

Cat Ba island and Ha Long city were poor with regards to restaurants. We did eat out in Cat Ba but other than a couple of Bun Cha meals, one of which was barbeque flavoured, everything else was pretty unremarkable. In Ha Long we had great views of the bay from our 26th floor, but we were miles from any significant area with intresting eateries. So we cooked in.
After Ha Long city it was back to Hanoi, for a few days before leaving Vietnam. We did enjoy another visit to Joma’s bakery.  We also managed to find a deli selling T-bone steaks, another for peppercorn sauce and fries. I cooked steak and chips for Julie’s birthday, which went well.

We also popped to the the Furbrew’s 100 garden and had three beers each, during the four to six happy hour. First round was, Fresh Pineapple (5.4%) for Julie a sour beer and I had the Chubby Piglet (10.9%) a Belgian golden ale, made to celebrate the year of the pig.  These were followed by, Lime Leaf Wheat (5.3%) an American pale wheat ale with strong Kafir lime leaf taste for Julie, and I had Gold from Sapa (8.5%) a Belgian dubbel which uses fermented and sugared cat apples in its production. Our last round we had a Pomelo Flower IPA (8.2%) for Julie, Furbrew’s Chinook IPA but with pomelo flowers added when in season. I had a classic wheat beer, called pacific wheat (6.2%).

This brings us to the end of our three months in vietnam. We have enjoyed the food and the beer the length of this amazing country.

Side Note: Whilst out shopping we came across this great shop in Hanoi selling sustainable bamboo cutlery and straws, we picked up a great travel set each, no more single use plastic!

Cat Ba Island to Ha Long City

So we left our apartment and caught a Grab taxi into the old quarter of Hanoi where our bus company was, and after a short wait our bus pulled up and once aboard we were soon on our way, though there were the  customary stops at various hotels to pick up other passengers.  Once on the faster toll roads and after a brief toilet break we were soon at Got port where we disembarked the coach and our ‘speedboat’, which was more like a rusty, welded together cargo boat, which to board we had to make our way cross another boat, to our waiting one.

We were soon chugging along and 10 minutes later we were docking alongside  another boat, again carrying our luggage through this boat back onto firm ground.  We then boarded another coach which then drove us to Cat Ba town at the  end of the island, dropping people off at their hotels en-route.  We were one of the last to be dropped off, arriving at our hotel just after 2pm, quickly checked-in we were shown to our room on the 6th floor, large spacious and with the all important kettle!

We unpacked a few things, had a cuppa then wandered down into town for a late lunch/early dinner, at ‘Mona’ restaurant, a lovely open terrace on the 3rd floor with great views over the bay, we enjoyed a  large Hai Phong local beer and ‘Bun Cha Nem’ – crispy fried spring rolls, served with fresh noodles, lettuce and herb leaves and spicy sweet and sour dipping sauce. It was delicious and much needed, we stayed here a while enjoying the views with our beer before heading back to our hotel and crashing.

The next few days involved some chill time and generally relaxing, we were only a few minutes walk from the bay but far enough away for it to be nice and quiet, our hotel rate came with breakfast included so each morning we would enjoy tea, coffee, juices, fresh fruit and a hot breakfast cooked to order, options were various banh mi with omelette, fried eggs, scrambled, pancakes with various fruit or Pho.  We had banh mi a few times, always tasty but the ‘Pho Ga’ is a delicious choice for breakfast, piles of sliced cooked chicken in a bowl with fresh noodles and the most delicious chicken, herb broth, such a delicious traditional Vietnamese tasty breakfast, or at any time of the day! Definitely something we’ll be eating lot of once we get home.

To stretch our legs we would walk from our hotel into town and along the bay front to the beach ‘Cat Co 3’ a small but lovely sandy beach with next to no-one on it most of the time, at the far end of the beach were steps up to a path leading around the headland for spectacular views over the bays and many limestone peaks stretching far into the distance, the path continued on till we came to the imaginatively titled ‘Cat Co 1’ beach, again another small lovely secluded sandy beach, though as is the case all over Vietnam undergoing development into a resort. From here we looped round onto the main road which brought us back into town.

One café we went to several times was ‘Like Coffee’, they did the most amazing mango shakes and big fluffy apple pancakes, got to be one of my ‘5 a day’ right!

Cannon Fort, a disused fort and also the highest point on the island was just behind our hotel.  We walked up the steep road which zig-zagged up the hill, it was very warm and humid so it was quite hard going but the views were getting better and better the higher we walked.  There were quite a few wild goats wandering round up here, we gave them a wide birth as they stared at us, some had fierce looking horns, though to be fair they seemed more interested in eating everything and anything!

We eventually came to an entrance gate and bought our tickets, continued on a bit further before the path levelled out and into a wooded area which led us to the 1st cannon (very large) sited in a trench, then onto a sunset viewpoint which gave spectacular views over the town, bay and further islands that seemed to go on into infinity, there were so many.

We continued along the path which took us round in a loop to more viewpoints, the trenches, ammunition depot buildings, a u-tunnel, a café with another stunning viewpoint, the 2nd large cannon, some ammunition buildings/stores then through the site of a now disused military airport that was used for helicopters in the wars with the Americans and the French, and back to the entrance.  We made our way back down the hill and to our hotel to cool off before heading back out for an early dinner.

The week passed fairly quickly as we were mainly relaxing and enjoying the spectacular scenery but it was soon time to pack up and head back to the mainland, we were now heading to Ha Long city.

We checked out and the hotel called us a taxi, well a ‘friend’ with a car, who drove us to the far end of the island to the ferry terminal, we had about a ½ hour wait then the ferry arrived, a simple roll-on roll-off with a car deck and 3 decks either side of metal bench seating, once the cars and scooters were loaded it was a free for all getting on and we were quickly away.  We sailed through the world heritage area of Lan Ha bay, amongst the limestone peaks jutting out of the water and it was very scenic cheap 45 minute ferry ride, we docked at Tuan Chau harbour and the ferry was soon unloaded and ready for the return leg back to the island.

We found a taxi, agreed a price and were soon outside our apartment, our host was on her way so we grabbed a coffee at the café across the road, one strength of coffee in Vietnam, extra strong, you are given a hot glass of water to dilute it down if you need to, we are used to drinking Arabica beans whereas Vietnam uses the much stronger Robusta beans, takes a bit of getting used to!

Our host soon arrived and took us up to the 26th floor to our apartment, showed us round, took photos of our passports, gave us the key and access card for the lift and left us to it.  Our apartment was lovely, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a balcony with a stunning view over Ha Long Bay, first things first a cup of tea, we had a nice kitchen and dining area, then put some washing on and relax!

There was a grocery store at the ground floor of the apartment, Rich went and stocked up with supplies we settled into some more days of chilling, weather was very warm although quite humid so when we did go out for a wander along the bay front towards Ha Long city it was a sweaty affair, though the views across the bay made up for feeling a bit sticky!  We spent several days planning our onward journey as our time in Vietnam was coming to an end, our 3 month visa expires on the 13th April so our next hop will be back to Kuala Lumpur and then onwards exploring Malaysia, remarkably for us we have now booked our stays up to the first week of May.

Though back to this week we have enjoyed some downtime enjoying the stunning area around Ha Long bay and less busy but equally beautiful Lan Ha Bay, and Cat Ba Island. I would definitely recommend a visit to this unique world heritage area, easily arranged from Hanoi or multiple options to visit via Ha Long City and/or stay on Cat Ba.

PANO_20181204_064020.jpg

Well tomorrow we leave Ha Long for Hanoi for the last few days before flying on to Kuala Lumpur, though I am looking forward to celebrating my birthday in Hanoi, especially as our apartment there has a full kitchen (incl. oven) so looking forward to (hopefully) steak and chips with pepper sauce and a bottle of red – I am easily pleased.

Rice Terraces of Sapa

We checked out of our hotel in Ninh Binh, with a warm goodbye from the hotel owners and they called us a taxi to the station, once there we checked our train, it was due in on time so we headed out to the platform to wait. The train journey was very nice, comfy reclining seats with loads of leg room and plenty of space to put the cases above our seats on the luggage racks.  Settled in we were soon on our way and 2 ½ hours later pulling into Hanoi station. We called a Grab taxi and were soon at our Airbnb apartment, the security guard gave us our key and showed us up to the 7th floor, we had arrived during his lunch so he quickly left us to it, though he did give us a spring roll each on the way up in the lift!

Quickly settled in with the kettle on and a few things unpacked we checked the cinema times for ‘Captain Marvel’ as we had previously visited Hanoi, this was just a brief stopover.  We headed out to the cinema and opted for ‘Gold Class’ seats, reclining seats with just 20 or so seats in the whole screening, still a lot less than standard seats back home!  It was a great film and on the way back to the apartment we stopped to pick up some groceries and back at the apartment cooked some dinner, opened a bottle of Saigon Red (bargain @ 85k / £2.79) and chilled with some Netflix.  It was also the first race of the 2019 F1 season, but instead of trying to find a pub to watch it in, we discovered our host had the sports package for showing the race live so we watched live qualifying and the next day enjoyed the race live in the apartment with a cold beer.

The next day was mainly a wander out to stretch the legs and we ended up in C-Brewmaster tap room, another great craft brewery in Vietnam, wander round the old quarter before having an egg coffee, then on the way back to our apartment stopping for a delicious dinner in Pho Cuon 31, a place we’ve been back to several times, Rich will cover further in the next food blog.

Following morning packed up we left our apartment and headed back into the old quarter to catch our semi-sleeper bus to Sapa.  Once on the bus we had top-tier seats side by side and we settled in for the 8+ hour journey, thank goodness for my iPod and Kindle!  We stopped to pick up a few more people then it was onto mainly toll roads and dual carriageways there, stopping briefly for several much-needed loo breaks, then onto some bumpier and twistier roads up into the mountain town of Sapa.

We arrived around 7:45 in the evening and were immediately swarmed by tour agents and taxi drivers, refusing their offers until they offered a decent price.  We finally agreed a fare and were soon checking into our hotel, we had a mountain view room on the 3rd floor, the view we’d see in the morning as it was pitch black and foggy currently, first things first a cup of tea, then some food.  We walked a couple of hundred yards down the road to a restaurant called ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ which was delicious food and a cold beer, just what we needed after the 8 ½ hour journey here, walking back to our hotel it was really foggy or just low cloud, be nice to see the mountains in the morning, tired out we then crashed .

Next morning  was sunny and the view was gorgeous, low-lying clouds swathed much of the valley below us but the green mountains seemed to stretch on into infinity. Breakfast was a hot/cold buffet with loads of fresh tea/coffee and further fine views from the restaurant as we ate.  We headed out into the town which like much of Vietnam is undergoing massive construction and investment, so hotels, restaurants popping up literally everywhere, negotiating through the town traffic was like a slalom, pavements are almost non-existent so you have to play chicken with diggers, lorries, minibuses, taxis and the ubiquitous scooters on stony roads with lots of holes!

Through town we followed the main road, itself mainly mud and sand and dodging the construction lorries we reached a ticket office where you buy access to the area amongst the rice terraces and ethnic villages.  A lot of people arrange organised/guided walking tours but us being us wanted to do it independently which was pretty easy with Google maps.  Another kilometre or so and the road branched off onto thankfully a much quieter paved road and we continued on down.  Here we were rewarded with stunning views at every turn of the road as it meandered down to the valley floor.  Lush green rice terraces covered every slope in curved shapes following the contours of the hills, fascinating geometric shapes surrounded by forested mountains, split by waterfalls and streams.

We didn’t walk all the way to the bottom as the paved road gave way to sharp rocky paths and as it was a scorching 31° it was pretty hot so we took a break and plenty of photos, just enjoying the stunning view before slowly walking back up the way we came, stopping at a café near the top for a cold coke, sit down on the balcony overlooking the valley, thankful for the cool breeze.

Back into town we headed to our hotel for a freshen up, cup of tea then out for dinner, we went to a restaurant ‘Viet Emotion’ this time opting for pure comfort food of large pepperoni pizza and fries to share with a cold beer!

Next day as we were only here for two full days, after breakfast we walked down to Cat Cat Village, an old village of ethnic groups where you pay an entrance fee of 70k / £2.28 to wander past their shops  with traditional handicrafts, jewellery and beautiful beaded dresses for sale, down a lot of uneven stone steps to the heart of the village and the river.  Crossing a bamboo bridge, we were amongst various wood and bamboo huts with thatched roofs, bamboo water wheels and a weir that led down river to a beautiful waterfall surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colourful flowers and plants.

Following the path along through the rest of the village, past more huts with strings of hanging corn cobs drying and views of the rest of the valley, we crossed back across the river via a very wobbly suspension bridge, past a few more shops and taxis touting to take us back up the steep hill and then we walked, it was another sweltering day, but we continued on till halfway up, a convenient coffee shop with an outdoor shaded terrace caused us to stop for a cold drink and rest weary legs and admire the view of the valley and surrounding mountains.

We finally made it up to town and back to our hotel for a rest before walking up into the main part of town, one to pick up a new data sim for our MiFi, which all the staff in the phone shop seemed to find surprising or amusing not sure which that we had a Mobiistar brand phone, made in Vietnam and two to check where the bus office was for catching our bus back to Hanoi tomorrow, as it is a different location to where we got dropped off 2 days ago. That done, after picking up some bread in a local bakery as we have an early bus so will miss breakfast tomorrow, we stopped for fresh lime juice in a coffee shop to cool down, we thought it would be cooler heading north and into the mountains, but not so!  Then back to the hotel to pack up, then dinner back down at ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ then alarms set for 6am.

All went well to start with in the morning, up early, cases packed, checked out and hotel owner called us a cab just after 7am, here is where the problem started, as mentioned earlier the town is undergoing major construction, the road outside the hotel was gridlocked, doesn’t help that is supposed to be a one way road, but that doesn’t matter to Vietnamese drivers, all roads are 2 way regardless of signs if they need to get somewhere and it’s a quicker route! So our taxi is stuck up the road, we walk up to meet it, get in and all good as we are going against the traffic, round another way, then we hit roadblocks the other side of town, after numerous animated discussions with other passing taxi drivers, our driver decides to turn round and go back the way we came, this time it’s worse as we have not even made it back past our hotel our original starting point after 30 minutes!!

The meter is ticking and at 7:35am we are back outside our hotel, gridlock not moving and our bus leaves at 7:45, resigned to missing it, we pay the taxi and get out and I ask the owner of our hotel if he can phone and explain to the bus company, he does and luckily they will wait for us, so now on rough rocky roads we sprint, well fast walk with our cases up into the town which is gridlocked everywhere, literally nothing moving – except fingers on horns – and make our way to the bus office, panting and sweating we arrive just after 8am, are directed to a lady with a clipboard and walk down to see the coach waiting, phew!!  Cases stowed, shoes off we clamber aboard our bunks on the semi-sleeper bus back to Hanoi, a few more people turn up and by 8:30am we are on our way back to Hanoi, headphones on, music starts, heart rate returns to normal, this will be a relaxing 8 hours!

Arriving back in Hanoi at just after 1:30pm we’d made good time, so once off the bus we called a Grab taxi and were dropped off at our apartment for the next few days, the security guard gave us our key and showed us up to the 7th floor. Settled in with a cup of tea, we put some washing on, Rich popped down to the grocery store to pick up some supplies and we chilled for the rest of the afternoon/evening with a film and a cold beer.

The next couple of days were a bit of wandering round the local area, predominantly expat with some great bakeries and restaurants and several local taprooms that we had to try.  A new brewery that we tried was the Turtle Lake Brewing company whose taproom was a 20 minute walk down by one of the many lakes in Hanoi, Rich will be writing about the several tasty beers we tried in his next food blog.

Bats  flying over the lake and over our heads as we walked back from the Turtle Lake Taproom

One thing that we had missed was a Sunday roast, so being here we checked out our options and sure enough a local restaurant offered a roast, so Sunday being our last day in Hanoi before leaving for Cat Ba we headed down to ‘The Fat Pig’ where on a covered upstairs terrace overlooking the lake we enjoyed a roast, consisting of a delicious pile of tender roast beef and chicken accompanied by roast potatoes, horseradish cream, 2 Yorkshire puddings, carrots, green beans, gravy and a dish of cauliflower cheese on the side, the meal also came with a local beer each, we opted for the C-Brewmaster Pilsner@ 4.5%, needless to say it was delicious and very filling, we wandered back to the apartment after for a snooze on the sofa, watch a film then pack ready for leaving for Cat Ba Island in the morning.


Such a beautiful view of Sapa Rice Teracces

IMG_20190320_120648