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Early Retirement Travels - Week 13 Goodbye Thailand, Hello Vietnam

Sapa, Vietnam

Perhaps you’ve seen the television show “An Idiot Abroad”? A shame to say that I did a good impression of being the idiot this week.

We were supposed to leave Thailand for Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam on Monday. I’m certain I’d checked the visa requirements but, even if I did, I’d made a complete hash of it. We need a visa for visits over 15 days, we would be there for 17 and, you've guessed it, I hadn’t got the visas. Doh!

It was too late to do anything other than reduce our Vietnam trip by a few days. The downsides being that I felt stupid and the new flights cost an extra £190 ($268). I’m not sure which hurts most.

On the plus side, the unexpected extra days in Thailand gave us the chance to go to Railay Beach, Krabi, something that we should have done first time around. It’s only accessible by boat, which adds a little extra spice. Railay Beach is a place to relax by the pool or on the beach, which is what we did. Sally also spent a long time watching the monkeys. We’re glad we went.

On Wednesday, we said goodbye to Thailand. We’d had a great three weeks, seeing the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, the northern city of Chiang Mai and then the beaches of Phuket and Krabi in the south. Quite a variety. Half the time we did things, with the other half unashamedly reserved for relaxation.

Flight time from Krabi to Hanoi is around two and half hours, but with our, post visa fiasco, new flight we had a 6 hour stopover in Bangkok, which stretched to 8 hours with a delay. In fact, the whole trip was a transportation experience, with a new record for different types of vehicles. From door to door, we travelled by golf cart, tractor, boat, tuk-tuk, minibus, plane and taxi. Phew!

The original plan for Vietnam was to arrive in Ho Chi Minh and travel up to Hanoi. With the slightly reduced timeframe, we changed this to fly in and out of Hanoi and save Ho Chi Minh for another time. We’re slowly learning not to try to pack too much into the time.

We stayed in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, and first impressions are that it’s crazily busy, a cacophony of noise as motorbikes whizz here, there and everywhere, constantly tooting their horns. The sidewalks seem to be for motorbikes to park and cafes to use, with walking being done mainly in the road amongst the traffic.

Talking of roads, crossing is an adventure. You basically just walk into the road and rely on the traffic not hitting you. Being confident, and a little foolhardy seems to be the key. Somehow it works, but I’ve no idea how.

We visited the Ho Chi Minh complex, including the museum, which was OK, if not too exciting. The Hoa Lo Prison, aka the Hanoi Hilton, was interesting, although the story telling should be more balanced – French bad, Americans bad, Vietnamese fantastic seemed to be the theme. I’m sure that some aspects are correct, but it seemed that the propaganda machine was still at work.

The next day I sampled Vietnamese egg coffee, which is actually nice and not at all weird tasting. Sally had an Americano – she’s so daring😂. While drinking our coffee we chatted to a French couple and ended up spending the day with them. It’s fun to meet new people, and we had a good day with them in the French Quarter, the Woman’s Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake and cooking our own hotpot lunch while sitting, where else, in the middle of the sidewalk.

To end the week we headed north to Sapa, for two days trekking in the hills and rice paddies. The tour base cost of $45 per person included return coach trip (6 hours each way), accommodation, meals and a trekking guide. A bargain, even though we added an extra $10 to this to switch the journey up from coach to sleeper train.

The organization, or lack of it, at the start and end of the trip left a lot to be desired. I guess you get what you pay for. However, our guide, Cheng, was lovely, the homestay accommodation was simple but good, and the others in our group were interesting and chatty. Unfortunately the weather matched the organization, and the rain and mist rarely left us, making some of the tracks very muddy and slippery. I had a great time, and thought it was quite an adventure. Sally on the other hand, well, if looks could kill, then I wouldn’t be writing this now! Haha, I’m she’ll look back at it fondly one day🤣

By the way, the sleeper train is an experience. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it seems somewhat misnamed - the bumpy ride didn’t allow much sleep, but I’ve ticked Vietnamese train journey off my list. The bunks aren’t designed for 190cm tall people either, but neither were the seats on the coach on our return trip. But as I would say to Sally, “it’s an adventure”!

Daily diary and costs

I'm including a list of what we did during our week and the approximate costs - I'm using this part of my blog as a mini diary for myself, but feel free to read if you're interested.

Week 13 - what we've done:

Monday – Railay Beach, Krabi, Thailand. Pool, beach and relaxing.

Tuesday – Railay Beach, Krabi, Thailand. Pool, beach and relaxing.

Wednesday – Travel day from Krabi to Hanoi. Left at 7am, arrived at 11pm.

Thursday – Hanoi, Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh Complex & Museum, Hoa Lo Prison

Friday – Hanoi, Vietnam. Hoan Kiem Lake, Women’s museum, French Quarter. Night train to Sapa.

Saturday – Sapa, Vietnam. Day 1 of trekking trip.

Sunday – Sapa, Vietnam. Day 2 of trekking trip, then bus back to Hanoi.

Week 13 - we spent a total of £648 / $914 for 2 people on:

Accommodation £153 / $216

Meals/Coffee/Snacks £139 / $196

Transport £214 / $301 90% of this is because of my visa mess up, Grrrr!

Souvenirs £17 / $24

Trips/Entrance Fees £103 / $145 2 day Sapa trekking trip, plus Museum entries in Hanoi

Laundry £7 / $10

Toiletries £9 / $13

Other £6 / $9


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