Chapter 1 - Confessions of a shopaholic

Trip Start Dec 09, 2010
Trip End May 08, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  , Quảng Nam,
Monday, April 18, 2011

After our week apart team Steph and Sarah were reunited and ready for the last month of our travels, starting with Vietnam. Treating ourselves to a flight from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh city rather than the grueling 26 hour bus journey was a great shout and we arrived ready to explore the unbelievably busy city. Starting with a shopping trip to a busy market which sold everything from coffee beans and flowers to fish heads and fake Abercrombie. With our bags fit to burst with our purchases we unfortunately couldn't stock up on the fish heads, but maybe next time.

The following day we set off to visit the iconic Reunification Palace. Not really having a clue what it was and in a land famous for ornate pagodas and temples, we were surprised by the strong 1970's architecture and terrible history. The Reunification Palace is where the war between the North and South of Vietnam came to its dramatic end. After the Americans had withdrawn from the fight with their tails between their legs the Northern Vietnamese communists descended upon the South and drove their tanks right through the gates of the palace. Destroying parts of the palace and killing anyone in their way they seized power and forced the Viet Cong into submission therefore "reuniting" Vietnam as one. Pretty gruesome stuff and the photos around the palace are to be viewed on a strong stomach.

The next stop of the day was a completely contrasting trip to Dam Sen Park: the Vietnamese version of Alton Towers mixed with a fairground. An incredibly bizarre place selling boiled fish and fried beef rather than junk food and candy floss, there's only one roller coaster but everyone is ecstatic to be there anyway. Although there was lots to see and do, the main attraction appeared to be us, the only Westerners in the entire park. We felt like Paris and Nicole as we got papped, followed and gawked at the entire time.

With limited funds we had to choose one activity to do. We avoided the circus (bears riding bikes and orangutang double acts seemed too cruel) and the rickety-looking ferris wheel and instead decided on the "Ice Room." Putting on huge blue coats like the ones you get in fancy ice clubs and looking like juicy caterpillars ready to build a cocoon we went into the exhibit not really knowing what to expect. We were met with huge ice statues of famous land marks including the Arc de Triumph, Leaning Tower of Pisa and the familiar faces of the Bayon in Cambodia. When our fingers felt like they were going to drop off after copious photo taking we practically ran out and into the warm afternoon heat.

After a couple of days of city life we decided to head to the beach. Unfortunately getting there meant spending 12 hours on a bus. Our first night bus experience was not a successful event, but like they say in Africa T.I.A (This is Africa) we have realised T.I.T This is Traveling, and stinky feet in your face and being slapped by the bus driver with your own flip flops just happens.

The journey was easily forgotten however when we reached the beautiful beach of Nha Trang. For the next few days we roasted in the sun (with suncream on mums and dads don't panic!)  paddled in the sea and ate the traditional Vietnamese food of Croque Monsieur and frites. We are such good travellers. A momentous day occurred in Nha Trang: Miss Royce-Greensill turned 24, meaning that now when people ask us how old we are we can say we are both 24! What better way to spend the big day than more sunbathing, steak and mash in a fancy restaurant and lots of free drinks from the bar manager.

A few days later it was with a heavy heart we left our little beach paradise and the sunbeds with our imprints on behind. Boarding yet another nightmare night bus (this time full of complaining middle aged South Africans... have they not heard of T.I.T??) we arrived in Hoi An early the next day.

Arriving at 6am there didn't seem to be anything to do in Hoi An, but as the sun got higher in the sky and the town woke up our slightly negative first impression vanished. What a beautiful town. Full of ancient architecture, each low rise yellow building had thick dark wooden frontages and the streets were all decorated with colorful silk lanterns. Dotted around were ornate temples, historic houses and the famous Japanese bridge. Running alongside the town was a slow river which at night came alive with street sellers and floating candles. One of the best bits was that practically every building was a shop selling the most beautiful trinkets. We wandered the streets in a happy daze. Pretty lanterns, beautiful scenery and endless shopping: we were in paradise! A few days later with shopper's guilt but the proud owners of many rice paper drawings, lanterns and other exciting gifts for lucky people back home we shipped off a huge box (fingers crossed it makes it back to Bristol), and boarded a bus to the city of Hue.

Coupe - Tummy as brown as well done toast; arms trying to catch up.
Royce - Browner than J-Lo.
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