Team Nha Trang!

Let me start off by saying that I adored Thailand, so arriving in Nha Trang felt like that tropical warm location I had been craving so badly. We were skeptical when we first came across our accommodation online, but after reading through all the Tripadvisor reviews, we decided on Truong Giang. It was ridiculously cheap for a basic yet clean room with A/C. We were extremely happy with our choice. when we first arrived, the receptionist took us aside and handed us a map,explaining in detail her recommendations for restaurants etc. We were very close to all the action, and we spent every evening walking through markets, down the busy restaurant road, and getting pampered at the salons.

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Far East Rock Cafe

Our favorite restaurant to go to every day was the Far East Rock Cafe. It was just around the corner from our accommodation, and the 3 story restaurant is completed decorated in the Rock & Roll theme. Walls and ceilings are painted murals of  Rock stars and Pop stars (only the cool kind). The beers, cocktails and spirits were ridiculously cheap, as in cheaper than the 7 11. We spent about an hour or 2 there every evening, and then left for dinner somewhere else.

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Far East Rock Cafe burger.

 

 

We made the mistake of having dinner there the first night. The burgers were huge, and John enjoyed it, but the pizza was awful. I made a separate cheese tower on the plate to try make my pizza more edible. The other 4 nights in Nha Trang were spent at other restaurants. Our favorite 2 spots for food were the following:

  • Lanterns: We loved this place. It was beautifully decorated with hanging lanterns, and the Pha was amazing. Their prices were good, and they had a breakfast special which we went back for. I would definitely recommend it.
  • the Sailing Club: We had such a lovely evening with our dinner at the Sailing Club. It was situated on the beach front, with swaying palm trees and a beach bar. The food was wonderful, and after dinner we relaxed on one of the bed cabanas near the pool. It looked like they were going to do a bonfire on the beach later in the evening, but we didn’t stay that long.

Because we had booked 5 nights in Nha Trang, we were able to do all the things that we had put on our “Nha Trang bucket list”. Our activities were the following:

  • img_02101Thap Ba Hot Springs & Mud baths: We elected to do the private mud baths, although when we went it was quiet so a lot of people had the bigger communal mud pools to themselves. We were given clothes to wear over our costumes, and we then climbed into the mud baths. I was expecting a thick, gooey mud. Instead, the consistency was a little bit thicker than dirt water. I’m glad I can say that I’ve done it, but I wouldn’t do it again.
  • img_0207Vinpearl Park: We loved our time at Vinpearl. We took the cable car above the sea to reach the island, and enjoyed the peaceful journey with the lovely view. We did the toboggan ride first (I highly recommend this, as they had quite a few stops due to technical issues), and then enjoyed all the roller coasters and rides. They aren’t very big rides, but they are still a lot of fun. The best plan of action in our opinion is to do all the dry rides first before your spend the rest of your day in the water park. Once it was time to venture over to that side, we stood there with our jaws dropping. We don’t have any water rides quite like this at home, so the Sheer size of these slides and tubes were intimidating. We had such a blast on the water rides, it made us feel like we were kids on Christmas.
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    Nha Trang Diving

    Scuba Diving: We chose to do our diving through Vietnam Dive Company, and they didn’t disappoint. We were fortunate enough to have a dive guide to ourselves, a really lovely young Australian woman. We explained to her that this was our first time diving after our course was completed, and she patiently went through all the signals and safety guidelines again. We did 2 stops for diving, the first stop being far better. The water was warm, the visibility was good, and the fish came out to play! Highly recommend this company, we gave them a great review on Tripadvisor.

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    Relaxing at the brewery.

    Louisiana Brewery: We spent half a day relaxing at the beach enjoying beers and cocktails at the Louisiana Brewery. we were given sun loungers to use, and the service was great. We took our books here and just truly switched off and enjoyed the moment. This was our first experience of a beachfront brewery, so we were soaking up the experience.

 

Overall, we were very happy with our trip to Nha Trang. I can’t say there were any bad points, and I would definitely make my way back here if I ever came this way again. The food was cheap, the drinks were cheaper and the level of fun was at an all time high. I already long for the evenings of night market walking and vibrant street life, but the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh city were calling our names. til next time Nha Trang (and I really hope there will be a next time).

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Me, enjoying the warm waters.

xoxo

 

 

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Our “Squeezed for time” Ha Long Bay trip

During our 3 day trip to Hanoi, we booked a Ha Long Bay day trip through our hotel (Sans Souci IV hotel). We could have shopped around and booked a tour when we were in Hanoi, but because of our short time available, we didn’t want to risk not seeing the very place we came to Vietnam for. Our hotel booked us the day trip for $50 per person through Indochina Junk. This is how our day went:

We were picked up around 8am and were escorted to the large bus filled with tourists. We were given a bottle of water and a snack, and we started our long journey to Ha Long Bay. Our tour guide was a friendly, joke telling man. He may have had a few translation issues, but we understood his sense of humor. It is true what they say, the Vietnamese are very friendly. On our way there, we stopped at a restaurant/market/shop for refreshments and the usual tourist shopping (I generally avoid buying from these places, they are usually more expensive as they cater only for tourists, at exorbitant prices). After this stop we continued our journey onwards.

We eventually made it to Ha Long Bay after a 4-5 hour bus ride. The roads were fine, the driver was great, but it was still a very long trip to make, and due to time issues, we were going to repeat the journey in a couple of hours again. Our boat was called the Alova cruise. They sat us at tables on the boat with various other tourists, and we were given a spread of food to eat. I can’t really rave about the food, as the prawns and fish were ice cold. This wouldn’t have been as bad on a summer day, but it was cold and raining that day, which added to the unpleasantness. As they say, we learn lessons in life, this was my big tour lesson. From now on, I will only request vegetarian foods, as I don’t eat shellfish and that makes up a large portion of the food offerings.

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Take the kayak, and stay far behind everyone to enjoy the peace and beauty of the cliffs.

As we sat in the boat enjoying the journey, we were taught about how the legend refers to the cliffs as the sleeping dragon – all the cliffs making up the spine of the dragon. We all took our photos, and then we docked at a midwater jetty which had small boats and kayaks. everybody from our tour boat and surrounding boats chose to get in all the small boats operated by Vietnamese folk. John and I, and one other couple elected to rather get into the kayaks and risk getting wet for the sake of some space and peace. This was the best decision we made on our entire vacation. we paddled through to the section of the water enclosed by smooth, glassy water, and while we were all alone in this cove like area, we managed to spend a few minutes of absolute silence and peace.

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Inside on the the cliffs.

Eventually our kayak experience had to come to an end, and wet from rain, we climbed out and back into our junk boat. We then cruised onto the next stop, which was a cliff that we could walk through and view the stalactites and stalagmites. This was a very crowded stop on the tour, and we had to slowly explore the caves inside the cliffs. We didn’t really like how the caves were lit up in various colors, almost like a colorful light display. This created a fake illusion.

img_0137Once back on our junk boat, we started off again. We passed some cliffs that looked like chickens. The cliffs are apparently known as the fighting cocks, and you can see why by this picture inserted. You can also see how cold and dreary it was. We decided that we were happier that it was misty and grey, as it added to the eeriness of the day and the mystery of the dragon tale.

There were many boats in the water on this day trip, and although I feel like we have seen Ha Long Bay, I would definitely recommend staying a night or two on the junk boats, or even in town. The long 4-5 hour bus ride back to Hanoi isn’t an inviting thought. The seats were comfortable enough so we could take a nap, but it is still a long time to be seated for a day trip.

We got back to our hotel after 8pm, and we felt exhausted yet ecstatic that we had finally ticked Ha Long Bay off our bucket list. Would I recommend it for a visit? Hell yes! As mentioned before, just try not to rush it in one day, unless you really have no choice with timing.

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Look at the beauty and mystery.

 

 

 

 

Hello Hanoi!

I desperately need to catch up on my Vietnam blogging, so apologies for the newsfeed overload today!

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My first experience with the enormous amount of scooters on the road.

We took an evening flight into Hanoi, Vietnam. Neither of us had ever ventured here before, so the excitement was overflowing. Unfortunately the rain and darkness obstructed our first views from the car ride. We had arranged an airport transfer through our hotel so that we wouldn’t have to hassle with the usual negotiations and sneaky meter non compliance. After a generally peaceful drive, our driver pulled aside on a busy road, and pointed us to a tiny alleyway, not big enough for a car to fit through. We glanced skeptically around, and I was fully prepared for the eye rolling my boyfriend was about to give me for booking a seedy place. We were very pleasantly surprised when we came across our hotel, almost hidden in the alleyway. It was nicely lit up with a warm and cozy feeling.

The friendly man at reception helped us check in, and provided us with a map of the area so we could explore on foot. We were then taken up to our room with was spacious, clean and modern. The only issue we had was with the shower, but he quickly came back and fixed it for us. The hotel was called Sans Souci IV, and I would definitely recommend it.

We had a quick shower and set off to explore our dinner options. It was cold and rainy, so we didn’t spend too much time picking a restaurant – this was a mistake! We ended up at a double story Irish restaurant/pub which had bad pizza.unfortunately i don’t remember the name of the place, my subconscious was clearly trying to block it out! After dinner we went back to the hotel to relax before our long day trip to Ha Long bay the following day, which deserves a whole post to itself.(to follow)

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I bought this puffy jacket from one of the street vendors – I clearly didn’t prepare myself for Hanoi’s cold weather.(maybe it was just a bad patch of weather for the 3 days we were there)

When we arrived back from Ha Long bay, we were exhausted, hungry, and I was ready to explore a bit more of Hanoi by night. I’m sure John just smiled and went along, what a trooper! We found a great restaurant with served delicious Pha, and even better cashew nut chicken.

After dinner, we stopped and had a cup of Vietnamese coffee. I found the coffee to be very strong, but I really enjoyed how they served it with condensed milk instead of sugar and fresh milk. On our way back, we stopped at a a street vendor and bought a steamed bun. As John took a bite, we stopped to peer inside. to our surprise, we spotted a boiled egg with the pork. We must have turned as we were investigating the steamed bun, as we got lost getting back to the hotel. we retraced our steps and established that we had meddled with our orientation when dumbfounded with the egg scenario.

we spent our last full day in Hanoi walking around and getting to know the city. I stopped at a post office and sent my mom a postcard home. We walked around the lake with the building in the middle, and we tried some amazing chocolate and orange ice cream at a restaurant on the edge of the lake. It felt slightly reminiscent of a scene from the Sound of Music, with the beautiful backdrop to the Von Trapp house. We were fascinated with the tiny child plastic stools that many people sit on outside their pop up shops. I’m not sure if it is true, but a local told us it was so that the shop could quickly pack away the stools when the police came around (they weren’t allowed to be on the sidewalks). We never did verify that fact.

img_0140We stopped at a tiny restaurant right about 100m from our hotel for dinner. It was called Noodle & a roll. I had a plate of springrolls, some noodles, soup and a bottle for coke for the equivalent of just under $2. After dinner, we walked back to the lake and took endless photos. The rain had stopped, the air was calm, it was magnificent. Unfortunately my photo here was slightly slanted, but you get the idea.

We succumbed to the traditional tourist attraction – The water puppet show, and we were so glad we did! We had no idea what they were saying, but the music and the little puppet display was entertaining. they had fire breathing dragon puppets etc. After dinner, we went back to the hotel to pack for our flight to Nha Trang the following morning. I enjoyed Hanoi and I would definitely recommend it to people, but I definitely feel like we have seen it and have no need to go back. the one thing I noticed about t\where we stayed in Hanoi, was that at around midnight every night, somebody would go around with a megaphone selling rice or something along that line. It woke me up every time, but, as they say, when in Rome..

 

 

Hong Kong Day 3 – Ocean Park

As much as I loved my first Disney experience, the rides at Ocean Park were far more of an adrenaline rush. We needed to take the MTR as well as a bus to get there, and we were completely blown away by this park. There are trimmed hedges in various animal shapes all around the area, and such great attention to detail. There is an aquarium, animal section, cable car ride as well as the actual theme park.

In order to reach the theme park section, you need to take a cable car journey to the top of the park.

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Hair Raiser – It deserves its name!

The first ride we went on the the Hair Raiser coaster. It has a creepy clown face entrance, and the ride felt like it was on the edge of  the cliff. Poor John looked like he was going to be sick while he was still in the queue – so much for Mr big talker! This was a definite adrenaline rush, and by far the best coaster I had ever been on. We ended up doing this one three times as the queues weren’t too bad.

11066520_10153266445588968_7909187761078684393_nWe tried most of the various rides, but the other 2 that need special mention would be the tummy drop, which is when you go straight up to the top of the tower, and then you drop down fast. When you are at the top, there is such an amazing view but you are terrified of what is to come, so this ride needs to be done at least twice to enjoy the sights – if your stomach and heart can handle it! The second one was a ride that flipped us upside down over the tarmac. It was also a terrifying one for me, being suspended  with concrete below did not feel natural! We went on various other rides, but none of them came close to the same adrenaline rushes previously experienced. One of the rides needs a poncho! It is a water ride in a large tube, and as you go through the rapids, staff members stand of the bridges with a water gun to ensure you get wet.

In the afternoon there is a seal and dolphin show. We were lucky enough to get pulled down backstage, where we changed into wellie boots and walked out on stage to do various signals with the seal. It was so cool! When the seal act was done, we took our seats in the audience and watched the dolphins do various jumps and tricks. When the show was done, we took the cable car back down to the lower park, and spent time going through the aquarium and animal park. It was my first time seeing a panda in real life, and John was excited to discover a red panda.

10259784_10153266446068968_2166709709822698624_nAfter doing some shopping in the park, we eventually made our way home to freshen up. We hopped back on the hotel shuttle to ladies market, where we spent some of the evening walking around and bargaining. John was feeling particularly brave, so we ended up on the side of the market, eating from a street food restaurant. The kind where seafood is still alive in buckets on the pavement. I can honestly say that the spring rolls were delicious!

*just an add in, the superhero flash drive I bought worked once, and died a very quick death. The lady who sold it to me was nice enough to plug it into her laptop to show me that it worked, and it worked once after that.

Hong Kong Disneyland

On our second day in Hong Kong, I finally ticked off my major bucket list item – Disney! Even though I was suffering from some major jetlag, I was like a kid on Christmas morning. I set my alarm to wake up at 7am, and as soon as the buzzer went off, I shot out of bed like an arrow. I was ready in record time, and had to nag at John to get a move on. I know it was silly, but I had dreamed of visiting Disney since I was a child. This may not have been the Paris or Orlando one, but I was just as excited for it.

 

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On the train to Disneyland.

Although it is a very small theme park, it is still a lot better than the small parks we have in  South Africa. We took the MRT, and when we switched lines to the Disneyland line, we were transported into the world of Disney automatically. The train has wonderful decor, including mickey mouse shaped windows, mickey mouse hand grips, and beautiful little statues in glass casings. The seats were a rich velvety blue – a luxurious feeling compared to the plastic seats from the previous train. My excitement was bubbling over .

11024703_10153266446368968_5581969442346914001_nWe arrived half an hour before opening time, and wandered around the outside area. The magical music was playing from speakers, and there was a fountain with mickey on a surfboard, riding the water from a whale’s blow hole. That probably sounds very wrong, but it’s the only way I can describe it! We were very fortunate to get complimentary entrance, as our one friend is a Disney princess. She met us at the entrance (they allowed a water bottle), gave us our passes and off we went! Because it was a small park and we had all day, we didn’t stress too much about timing our rides. There are a few fast pass options, but we didn’t use them at all.

Sadly the Disney castle had some construction at the time, so my lovely castle view was a painted cardboard castle covering the construction. We were very fortunate to not have any queues that day – the longest being about 15 minutes. We had carefully gone through the list of rides before our trip, so we knew what we wanted to do beforehand. Here are my thoughts on the rides we went on (gave them a heart rating out of 5, 5 being the best in my opinion):

♥♥♥♥♥ – Big Grizzly mountain: We had no waiting at all for this ride, we ended up doing this one about 5 times in a row. The animatronics (I think that’s a word?) on this ride were awesome! Big grizzly bear, fake explosion, rollercoaster changing direction half way through, all in all an amazing coaster!

♥♥♥♥♥ – Mystic Manor: The lifelike effects of this ride were incredible! It looked so real that I found myself ducking from shooting arrows that were not real. We did this ride twice and I was in such amazement each time.

♥♥♥♥♥ – Space Mountain: This was the first ride that we did, and we ended up going back to this one another 2 times. It is indoor, and you find yourself spiralling through space.

♥♥♥♥ – The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh: Although this ride is aimed at kids, I loved it! It takes a fast pass, but we didn’t need it, the queue was just a 5 minute wait. We hopped into the honeypot and went through the story book.

♥♥♥♥ – Cinderella Carousel: This was my first time on a proper carousel, and it made me feel like I was sucked into a scene from Mary Poppins – I was in my element!

♥♥♥♥ – Jungle River Cruise: Some people might find this cruise a waste of time according to previous reviews I had read, but I loved this cruise! Our guide was trying very hard to make it an entertaining and funny trip, even though she struggled with English. The animals and tribesmen were realistic, we had a great time.

♥♥♥ – Dumbo the Flying Elephant: This ride takes you up in a circular motion, giving you a nice view of the park. It was sweet and light-hearted fun, but I wouldn’t wait in a 15 minute queue for it.

♥♥♥ – Slinky Dog Spin: This was a small rollercoaster in the Toy Story part of the park. It was cute, but very tame compared to the other coasters there.

♥♥♥ – Parachute drop: fun, but not terribly thrilling. More of a relaxed ride, unless you are deathly afraid of heights!

♥♥ -Buzz Lightyear laserquest: John had quite a bit of fun on this ride, but my laser gun wasn’t working the first time, so we had to do it again. I was still disappointed the 2nd time around.

♥♥ – Orbitron: I wasn’t very impressed with this one either, Dumbo was enough for me.

Unfortunately “It’s a small world” was closed for renovation, so I can’t rate that ride.

11081486_10153266447698968_8646559444355847901_nAs far as character meet and greets were concerned, I had the pleasure of taking pictures with the following characters:

  • Mickey Mouse
  • Minnie Mouse
  • Winnie the pooh
  • Jessie
  • Woody
  • Donald duck
  • Pluto

10984159_10153266448968968_7023223869851595786_nIn order to meet the Frozen princesses, you had to book the meet and greet in the morning, and they sold out quickly!

11053654_10153266448428968_158053075643379151_nWe didn’t take photos of our sleeping beauty friend, but we took a photo of her in the parade. There are lockers which we made use of, and refilled our water bottle as it was quite pricey. We made our way down to watch the 3pm parade, I was in awe! The music, characters and float made me feel like I was living in the Disney dream. Next up on my agenda was the shopping! I went a little bit crazy, buying souvenirs for everybody. I got myself lovely silver and rose color mickey mouse earrings, some mugs, ornaments for our Christmas tree, and a few other bits and bobs. John was a real trooper, I dragged him through each and every single store many times, going through all the merchandise carefully. I bought myself a light blue mug with a 3d Olaf, and a slogan than says “I like warm hugs” and “do you wanna build a snowman?”.

11071818_10153266448848968_4842878972719223199_nFinally it was time for me to take a breather, sit down and eat something. I had bought a takeaway turkey leg in between rides, but I had spotted a mickey mouse waffle that I was salivating over. We ordered one, and filled one ear of the plastic plate with syrup, and the other ear with chocolate sauce. I was in sugar heaven! The price for a waffle wasn’t too bad, I think it cost hk$45. I also indulged in cotton candy and a slushie 🙂

We ended up leaving at 5pm and missing the evening light show, as I still wanted to find the Charlie Brown Cafe in the city. I turned and had one last look at the disappointingly cardboard castle, and then left the park. Our hands were full of shopping packets, and my heart was full of happiness, the kind only Disney can bring. We hopped back on the trains to our hotel, and had a quick shower and freshen up.

11079571_10153266440108968_7719602917981903779_nAfter we had relaxed for a bit, we headed back to the subway and made our way towards the Charlie Brown cafe. I had an orange hot chocolate, which was delicious! The whole restaurant has a Charlie Brown theme to it. I had a snoopy pattern on my hot choc.

After walking around a few night market stalls, it was back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep!

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong Day 1!

We arrived in Hong Kong at 7am on a Saturday morning. The weather was chilly and the airport was buzzing. Our first mission was to buy an octopus card and load it with hk dollars. We used this card throughout our trip, and I would highly recommend using one of these to get about the subway system. We boarded the airport express to Kowloon station, where our hotel shuttle did hourly pick ups and drop offs. Unfortunately we got there just on the hour and didn’t know where to look for the shuttle, so we ended up taking a taxi to our hotel (journey cost about hk$55).

We had chosen to stay at the Dorsett Mongkok hotel because of good reviews and close proximity to the subway station (about 5 minutes walk). We were very happy with our choice. We fully prepared ourselves for a ridiculously tiny room (we had read about the small hotel rooms in Hong Kong), but we were very happy with this spot. Unfortunately we weren’t able to check-in until 2pm, but the hotel staff were nice enough to keep our luggage and allow us to freshen up in the lobby bathroom.

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25 minute cable car ride.

Once we had a fresh change of clothes and a quick clean of the face and teeth, we set off for our first stop, Ngong Ping cable car and village. Our main intention of going to visit the village was for the giant Buddha overlooking the village. The 5.7km cable car ride up into the mountains was magnificent, and considering we pay almost the same price for our 5 minute cable car journey up table mountain, we were happy with the hk$250 price tag. It was misty and overcast, which gave it a lonely, eerie feeling. When we eventually got to the top, we took a slow stroll through the misty village.

11080886_10153266438968968_7654122206238447142_nWe hadn’t realized that Chinese new year had recently been celebrated, so it was a lovely surprise to see all the decorations and red lanterns everywhere. We took a few photos before stopping for some side cart food. John was brave enough to try oily balls of fish meat on a stick, while I stuck to spring rolls. (He didn’t enjoy his snack as much as I enjoyed mine). There were lovely little shops all along the small village – mostly catering to tourists. The walk leading up to the monastery was lined with zodiac warrior statues, looking fierce and strong. The monastery was beautiful, there were mosaic details and stone carved statues everywhere. There were also a lot of people praying with large incense sticks. We peeked in a few of the temples, then set out to find what we had really come here for – the giant Buddha.

22601_10153266439743968_1416649548880653405_nIn order to reach the Buddha, you need to climb a few flights of stairs (all outdoors). We had read that you should only do this climb if you are fit, but I had to disagree. It wasn’t very difficult, and you could easily take it at a slow pace. Please don’t be scared off, it really is a beautiful sight. It also has a lovely view from the top. It was still misty when we reached the top, but as we descended back into the village, it had completely cleared up. We climbed back into the cable car and headed down into the city, catching a last glimpse of the giant Buddha sitting above the mountain trees. I would personally allow about 3 hours for this trip, cable car included, unless you are planning to eat lunch at the top. Once back in the city, we walked around a few different grocery stores to get an idea of prices, then bought ourselves some drinks and sweet snacks. Off we went, back to our hotel to finally check in.

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our hotel room view at night.

We were very happy with the view from our room – looking over tall skyscrapers and the city. Our room cost approx R1200.00 per night, which was extremely affordable for what we wanted – clean and close to the subway. We had a shower (bathroom was very small but perfectly fine for  3 nights), got changed into some clean clothes and then hopped on the hotel shuttle. This shuttle stopped at various places every hour (ladies market, kowloon station, the ferry etc). We walked around the ladies market and ended up buying quite a few things. I found myself a lovely peacock patterned silk dressing gown – I ended up buying 3 more as presents!

After walking around non stop through markets, we had worked up quite an appetite! We stopped at a small yet busy Chinese restaurant that spoke no English. After using an online translator, we settled on sweet and sour chicken, and a beefy vegetable dish. the food was amazing! Once we were done, we decided it was time to climb into bed. When we had arrived at the ladies market, we hadn’t payed too much attention to exactly where we were getting out of the bus, and we ended up walking in circles trying to figure out where that spot was to be collected from again. The street are overwhelmingly large, lit up and overcrowded. Eventually we admitted defeated and followed the signs to the nearest subway station – hopping on the train back to our hotel room for a full night of peaceful sleep 🙂

Back to the East! Hong Kong & Vietnam!

Being my usual travel obsessed self, I was desperate to travel again. I had to go back to the far east, after a taste of Europe I knew I needed to head back to the stifling humidity, cheap food and affordable day trips. My boyfriend (John) and I went through the map of Asia in great detail. He wanted Sri Lanka – I am not a surfer so I didn’t fancy spending everyday on the beach watching him catch “sick waves”. I wanted Koh Samui – he had been to Thailand twice before so he wasn’t jumping up and down at the idea of saving up his hard earned cash to go back again. He then told me about his desire to walk and camp along the Great wall of China. I was also quite interested until we realized that our holiday fell in a not-so-great hiking season in China. March was still too cold. We ended up agreeing on an awesome holiday in Hong Kong and Vietnam. Time was limited so our itinerary was as follows:

3 nights in Hong Kong, 3 nights in Hanoi, 5 nights in Nha Trang and finished off with 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh City.

I had everything planned down to the last activity, and our flights were booked through Cathay Pacific. I really enjoyed this airline – dessert was a Magnum ice cream – what is there not to love?

After a long, sleepless flight, we finally arrived in Hong Kong. John had fallen asleep quickly after take off – I had not! the Johannesburg to Hong Kong leg was a grueling 12 hour flight. We landed safe and sound, and I’ll detail my Hong Kong trip in the next post 🙂

Being a tourist in my own city Part 1: Seal Snorkeling

I was ecstatic when I heard the news that my high school best friend was coming back to Cape Town for a holiday. She had immigrated to England in 10th grade, and we hadn’t seen each other in 9 years. Facebook helps with the distance, but nothing quite beats having the person, in the flesh, on a fun filled holiday! She had asked me if she could share my place for the 2 weeks, and I jumped at the chance. I had one request though…a ridiculous amount of Galaxy chocolate!

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Fully geared up.

I spent time planning an itinerary, and managed to wrangle some leave from work. There is something magical about being a tourist in your own city. It is refreshing – like seeing the place for the first time through someone else’s eyes. Since she was in high school when she left, there were so many things she could now experience for the first time. First up on the list was seal snorkeling!The price was R600 per person, which included a very thick wetsuit, gloves and all necessary gear. We decided to pay the additional R150 to rent a GoPro to capture the experience.

We departed Hout Bay harbor in a rubber duck boat, and headed out to Seal Island. It is not an actual island, but rather very large boulder coming out of the sea where thousands of seals spend their time. The water is overloaded with pirouetting seals. the rocks make a circular area, with a large sea gap in the center. The boat was slowly guided into this opening, and we were given the thumbs up to hop in the ridiculously cold water. Thankfully our 5mm suits, booties, gloves and hoodies were sufficient enough in keeping us alive.

 

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Seals swimming all around us.

The moment I put my head under the water, I was in awe. I couldn’t believe I lived in Cape Town and had not tried this amazing experience before! We were lucky enough to enjoy this trip at the right time of year – Around March, when the water is full of pups. We snorkeled around the cove-style area for about an hour. The visibility wasn’t too bad, and the swell was quite high, which made for a wonderful floating feeling.

 

vlcsnap-2014-03-28-16h11m10s142An interesting fact we learnt was that a seal’s eyes go extremely large underwater. It gives the seals an almost cartoon-like appearance. The older seals swam around, minding their own business, but the pups were full of fun and overly inquisitive. They were doing spirals around us, and blowing bubbles in our faces. Their curiosity was very entertaining.

This was an experience of a lifetime, and I highly recommend to anybody coming to Cape Town, google this activity!

Our night in St Goar, Germany

We had heard that St Goar was the town of deadly folklore.According to legend, a beautiful female who, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracted sailors with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks. This was my kind of town! We booked a B&B online, 2 nights in the witch town. As we made our way through, we stopped at Boppard for a cup of hot chocolate. This really is a gorgeous town. We did some shopping at the Christmas market and listened to the marching band go by.

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Red nose from the cold!

We then walked to the Sesselbahn, which is an amazing chairlift to the top of a mountain. The weather change was dramatic. It was cold and misty at the top, so it was back to jerseys and beanies! The view at the top was amazing! We ate some pea soup at the restaurant, then made our way back down.

 

When we arrived in St Goar, we were happy with the location of our B&B. That is where the positive remarks stop. We should have got the first clue to escape when we walked in to find swords and rifles all over the walls. There were witch puppets hanging everywhere in a creepy-when-not-halloween kind of way. We hauled our panniers up the the 2nd floor, and each bedroom had a witch hanging outside the door. The floors were slanted, and my friend got bed bugs. We were booked for 2 nights, but when we awoke the next morning we decided to cut our St Goar trip short.

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It was my Birthday, and we decided to start the day by going to the Rheinfels castle. I was hoping that the castle was going to be more decorated as it was when in use, but it was just a ruin. The views were incredible. We took the little train from the town center up to the castle, and spent about an hour walking around the grounds. When we eventually came back down, we stopped at the cuckoo shop to have a quick peek at the master carvings. I am glad we spent just one night in St Goar, as I felt that we had seen everything that was important on our list.

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We headed off onwards towards Bacharach, cycling with my birthday banner attached to my panniers. The sun had some out and the jersey had come off. It was starting to feel like summer!

Day trip to Volendam

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Cycling on the dykes.

One of the nicest day trips out of Amsterdam was Volendam. We woke up early one morning, braving the freezing cold, to cycle our way to the fishing village. I donned cycling shorts, leggings, full tracksuit pants, 2 pairs of socks, a t-shirt, pullover fleece jersey, zip up fleece jersey, a windbreaker and a beanie. It.was.that.cold!

 

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Marken

We braced some biting cold wind and cloudy skies to make this journey, and I’m so glad we did! We cycled on the famous dykes, and found a clog factory along the way. It was fascinating to see how the clogs transformed from wood into delicately painted shoes. Again, I didn’t take the opportunity to buy the clog slippers when I should have. We cycled to a little harbor, and found refuge from the cold in a little pub style restaurant. The apple pie was delicious! After that, we paid the 8euro fee and boarded the ferry to Volendam. It was a pleasant surprise to find a fellow South African sitting next to us on the ferry. He was living in Belgium and recognized our accents straight away, mentioning how homesick he was. When we reached Volendam, I immediately paid 5euros for a proper fleece beanie, and set off around the little fishing village.

We enjoyed a cheese tour, learning all about the process of making cheese. We also indulged in some sweet poffertjies, which are a dutch style pancake. Eventually it was time to cycle back to our accommodation in Amsterdam. We took an alternate route which took us past farms and windmills. The sky had cleared up at that point, and the sun had come out to play. One thing I really loved about Holland was the farm life. There were many shetland ponies and farm animals roaming around on the luscious green fields. The warm weather was the turning point for the rest of our holiday. Sunshine and shorts all the way!