May 31, 2011

Culture Shock: Our First 24hrs in the Philippines

Jim and I have traveled to many countries all over the world and after 4 months spent traveling in South East Asia on this trip with the kids, we’ve become fairly accustomed to the general ‘Asian’ way of things—the smells of local markets, squat toilets, hectic traffic and pollution, religious overtones, and general cultural elements that are similar and yet differ between them.  However, none of this prepared us for what we encountered in our first 24hrs in the Philippines.

May 29, 2011

'Typical' Travel Day: Hanoi to Melaka

Changing countries has become synonymous for us with long traveling days, filled with unexpected outcomes.  The day we left Hanoi and Vietnam was no exception.  Fourteen hours later after passing through 3 countries, 2 sets of immigration entry and exit formalities, 2 taxi rides, 2 planes, 2 buses, 1 train and 1 time zone change, we arrived in Melaka in south Malaysia.  And we were in for a bit of a shock to our pocketbook.

May 26, 2011

A Final Word On Vietnam

Having both never been to Vietnam, we were extremely surprised by the country’s diversity in landscape and topography--no two places were even remotely alike.  And the variety of activities on offer, especially for a family with young children, kept everyone busy and entertained yet was extremely light on the wallet.  As with all of our other destinations so far on this trip, we’ve enjoyed ourselves in Vietnam, although some aspects more than others.  Here’s our recap of our likes and dislikes from our 29 days there:

May 24, 2011

How We Moved Our Family From Point A To B In Vietnam

The logistics of traveling with a family are very different to when you are travelling on your own or with other able-bodied adults.  Young kids in particular can have attention span issues, motion sickness issues, and mobility issues.  It wasn’t until about 2 weeks before we were to arrive in Vietnam did we realise how BIG a country it actually is.  Apparently it is a similar size to Italy and has 3451km of coastline!  After we identified the ‘where’ part of our itinerary for Vietnam, we had to address the ‘how’-- as we had only allowed for a maximum of 30 days there, we were going to have some serious ground to cover in terms of getting between destinations as well as maximizing our time once we got there.

May 22, 2011

Saved the Best (and Worst) For Last: Halong Bay

It was hard to imagine at first whether it could live up to the hype.  We included it in our itinerary as it was simply ‘THE’ must-do while in Vietnam and hoped for the best.  We are happy to report that it did not disappoint.  The 4 days/3 nights that we spent in Halong Bay was simply our best experience in all of our time in Vietnam -- we managed to have saved the best for last.  

May 21, 2011

Things To Do in Hanoi

Our second last stop in Vietnam was the northern city of Hanoi.  We stayed in the "old quarter" where it was much more historic and chaotic than some of the other 'districts', but also where most of the budget accommodation was located.  We spent nearly 4 days in Hanoi, doing a bit of exploring but also quite a bit of 'administrative' stuff, like organising our upcoming trip to Halong Bay (=1 day), some shopping (=half day), packing and shipping off a box of stuff home (=half day), and going to the police station (=half-day--more on that later!).  The girls were also both sick with colds on our first day there too, so they mostly stayed in bed that day too.  While we discovered that Hanoi had quite a bit to do, especially for families unfortunately we didn't get a chance to do many of them--but it did look promising though!  Here's some of what was on offer and what we did do:

May 19, 2011

Row, Row, Row Your Boat....To Tam Coc

We read about Tam Coc in our Lonely Planet guide—it described it as “Halong Bay on the rice paddies...(it) gives Halong Bay a run for its money”.  With a description like that, we just had to put it in our itinerary!  And it didn’t disappoint—we found it simply breath-taking and it epitomised Vietnam as we’d envisioned it.

May 17, 2011

Of Ancient Palaces and Eternal Resting Places: Hue

The 5th stop on our journey northward was Hue.  An easy 4.5hr bus ride from Hoi An, it’s located inland on the banks of the Perfume River in the Central Vietnam, just south of the former border between North and South Vietnam prior to unification.  We were tempted to give Hue a miss on our busy itinerary, but after our 2.5 days here we’re glad we didn’t.

May 14, 2011

Mountains of Marble, Silk Lanterns and China Beach: Hoi An

Rolling into Hoi An just after dawn, the small city of approximately 122,000 people was already awake with activity.  Noticeably the traffic was lighter, the streets smaller but also the architecture, for which Hoi An is renowned, was distinct from elsewhere in Vietnam that we’ve experienced thus far.  We emerged from our 12hr overnight bus from Nha Trang around 7am the next morning, had a quick tour of the old city while riding on the back of a couple of moto drivers looking for accommodation, then after a relaxing morning by the pool and an afternoon nap to catch up on a patchy night’s sleep, we set out to explore the city.


May 10, 2011

Doing the Funky Monkey in Nha Trang

Our friends from Melbourne, Phil and Ron, said that when we are in Nha Trang, we must take one of the ‘Four Island Tours’, so on one of our 3 days there we did just that.  It turned out to be great advice and we had a really fun day out on the water.  And it salvaged our otherwise less than impressed opinion of Nha Trang.

May 8, 2011

Fresh Mountain Air in Dalat

City of Dalat
In the short time that we've been in Vietnam, we are really encountering a variety of landscapes and topographies.  'Variety' is actually putting it mildly.  From the sand dunes in Mui Ne, we headed for Dalat, approximately 4hrs drive away in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It is a very popular place for the 'cityfolk' of HCMC to escape to to take in the cooler temps as it's set at an elevation of 1450m above sea level.  It was about 22 degrees by day and 20 degrees at night--we actually had to pull the light jackets and long pants out.  It was a very refreshing change and once again, had lots on offer to do.

May 2, 2011

Riding Sand Dunes and Ostriches in Mui Ne

Our first stop on our 'Open Tour' ticket was Mui Ne, about 200km and a 5hr journey northeast of HCMC on the South China Sea.  The Lonely Planet's review of it said that it was 'arguably the best all-around beach in Vietnam'.  Yet the few people we met who had visited Mui Ne said that it was only a worthwhile stop if you were into windsurfing as it is always windy there.  In any case, with a write-up like that and given how much we love beaches we had to see for ourselves.  And were we ever glad we did.