By Jo McInnes:
OK, Now it's my turn to give this whole blog thing a go! Where do I start... To say Vietnam has been interesting is probably an understatement. I've been going through a whirlwind of emotions since the moment I stepped off the plane at Ho Chi Min City. These emotions nearly culminated in me removing someones head yesterday!
Not all of it has been bad, but for someone who has never even been "overseas" to Tasmania, it has certainly been an experience.
I decided to go the whole "Visa on Arrival" route where you apply for your Visa. You pay some money, print out the approval letter, fill out a form, and then do the rest when you arrive. It's pretty easy and straightforward on the computer but confusing, time consuming, and more than a little daunting at the other end. It was by sheer luck that I found the right counter.
Once there, they took our passports and forms and made us sit and wait while they went away and scrutinised everything. I sat for about 20 minutes stressing about whether I'd stuffed up by applying for the visa this way and whether they'd send us straight back home? Finally we were summoned to a window to pay some more money (which is legit and I knew I'd have to do so beforehand). The woman stamped our letter and off we went... only to realise we still had to go through customs.
By the time we got to the baggage carousel almost everyone else from the plane was long gone with only a few bags, including ours thankfully, sitting there on their lonesome. That probably isn't the safest thing in the world these days? If I come to Vietnam again I think I'll try the old fashioned route of getting a visa.
By this stage James and Em were more than a little fractious! Although still pretty good by most standards. They'd been cooped up in a plane for around nine hours and then as contained as possible while we were doing the visa stuff. Luckily we had panda and monkey - our loyal and hardworking backpack come child-restraints to assist us.
I'm sure it looked like the circus had come to town! Four crazed looking westerners - two with wild eyes (no make that four with wild eyes but only two attached to leads), wrestling two huge bags, two carry-on bags and a stroller and travel cot in a bag. No wonder they were laughing and pointing at us!
Thankfully I'd booked a car to meet us at the airport. A trip in a car here is also an experience. There are no such things as child seats and if you saw how people drive, it's enough to scare the life out of you!
The other thing I'm thankful about is that I booked a two-bedroom serviced apartment rather than a motel room. It at least gave us all a bit of space to get used to our new surroundings.
Ho Chi Min City scared me. Steve thought it was great, but I was too scared to set foot outside the apartment for a while. I found it very hard to deal with people pushing stuff on me and wanting to touch and cuddle my kids constantly. I felt like I couldn't trust anyone.
It's incredible how easily tourists get ripped off. One evening we caught a taxi to the markets. On the way there it cost 32,000 Dong (under $2) and on the way back - exactly the same distance, it cost 179,000 Dong (over $10). I was so mad!!
The same sort of thing happened in Hoi An and to a lesser extent in Hanoi - or maybe I'm just handling it better and more able to say "No". Now, instead of just getting in the taxi and hoping for the best I negotiate the price first!
We are still waiting for our flight to the UK- cancelled five days ago now. We've come to Ha Long Bay for a few days to get out of the city, which is where I write this from. It is also where my head was going to explode yesterday!
I don't think I'm a petulant tourist, but when I get to a so called resort and it takes over an hour to check in because I haven't been able to print a bit of paper off my computer I start to getting frustrated. I had the booking number and everything else they needed, but the Concierge wanted a print out - I even got the computer out to show him their email on my screen!
Finally we got to the room - mmmm, the musty aroma of mould! The beds were like concrete, the bath tap was broken and the shower head didn't go higher than your knee! And, to make matters worse, I ate dinner by myself in the restaurant last night because by the time my meal came Steve, James, and Em had eaten theirs and had to go back to the room to bed!
The only redeeming moment was when James sprayed himself in the face with the bidet hose - even though he had no idea what it was he was appropriately humiliated, disgusted and traumatised!
Anyway, we're out of there now - our four night booking turned into one and checked out early. I'm considering adding an unflattering review on the Trip Advisor Web site, but today though is a good day. I'm happy because we're in a far more comfortable hotel with a beautiful view of Ha long Bay.
I'm really not sure of how I feel about our trip so far? I think I'm still digesting it all. Overall, even with the scary sleeper train experience and the mouldy resort it's been pretty good - better even if I could control my children ! I must admit though, I'm keen for next stage in London!!