Ninh Binh with the Turner’s

With Christmas passed we had the excitement of family visiting throughout January into early February. It was pretty amusing actually that both sets of parents decided Jan/Feb was a good time to visit. So we ended up having Jonny’s parents visit for 2 weeks, then my parents arrived on the day that Jonny’s were leaving. Jonny’s parents visited on weeks when we were still working, however we met up with them each weekend and enjoyed exploring new places.

On Friday 18th January we flew up to Hanoi to meet Carol and Carl there. They had been in Cambodia the few days prior exploring Siem Reap and Ankgor Wat temples, so they had lots of exciting stories to tell us when we reunited. We arrived late into Hanoi, checked into our hotel then Jonny went to walk the nearby streets of Hanoi with Carl before hitting the hay for good nights sleep.

The next morning we were catching a train to Ninh Binh from Hanoi. We ate breakfast at the hotel and took a taxi to the train station. The train comprised of different class sections, we took the cheapest option of the soft seats (much like train seats in UK). However there were second and first class sleeper cabins which we could see as we walked along the train and peeped in through the windows. The train ride was pretty smooth, all running on time and only stopping the once before we arrived at Ninh Binh two hours later. The scenery was mainly small villages, road networks and some areas of paddy fields, I was surprised at the lack of countryside we saw. We were met in Ninh Binh by a driver who drove us to our nearby homestay, which we loved. What a find on Air Bnb! The place was more like a small B&B hotel than a homestay, however it was ran by a very friendly and accommodating Vietnamese family who helped us to organise transport and gave advice on trips in the area. That afternoon we decided to hire mopeds and drive to a nearby bird park. Driving to the bird park we really got a feel for what Ninh Binh was like. A network of rivers connecting together with limestone peaks emerging from the water. Ninh Binh was a very flat area so these limestone peaks really stood out looking magnificent. The bird park was where we spent our afternoon wandering around the park, exploring caves and using Carl’s binoculars to spy on hundred of birds (mainly storks and egrets). Carl was in his element here and I enjoyed listening to his knowledge on the birds we were seeing.

That evening we decided to try a nearby Indian restaurant which ranked highly on Trip advisor. We’d eaten plenty of Vietnamese food so it was time for a change. Nearby the restaurant were plenty of souvenir shops where you could try your best haggling skills for a cheap deal. Here Jonny and I picked up a fake North Face coat each for a grand total of about £20 for 2 coats! We were really feeling the cold in Ninh Binh so were desperate for some warmth. The temperature change from Saigon to the North was a drop of about 10-15 degrees, we were not prepared for this at all as we stood there in our shorts and thin jumpers.

After eating we returned back to our homestay for some pre-bed card games. Carol and Carl taught us a new game called Hearts. This was a confusing game and took a while for us to get our heads around. But after a few rounds of playing and hints and tips from the Turner’s we finally caught on.

The next morning we were up early for breakfast at the homestay, the menu was Vietnamese breakfast choices. We fuelled up for our day out on bread, jam and omelettes. We also enjoyed unlimited sweet honey tea and strong Vietnamese coffee served by the family. We were then met by our guide for the day whose name was ‘Hi’ (probably not spelt like that). As she introduced herself to us she handed us some authentic rice hats which we enjoyed wearing throughout the tour. We were going to do a full day tour exploring Ninh Binh in all its glory. Our first stop was the Trang An Grottos. The morning was misty and cool which made this experience a whole lot better. The whole place was magical and etherial as we boarded a small rowing boat with a small Vietnamese lady at the back wearing her rice hat and rowing us along. We travelled through caves and along the network of lakes in the misty cool conditions. We helped the lady row the boat with our seperate ores, I must admit I was a bit lazy and too busy enjoying the scenery and snapping photos than rowing the boat. I hope these photos do it justice!

We stopped at a small island surrounded by these beautiful caves and limestone peaks, which was called King Kong island. This is because King Kong the movie was partly filmed there. There were some very grand concrete steps leading up to an archway which took you onto another part of the island. There were some small tepees together with acting locals dressed up for photos with the tourists. After a few photos here we continued in our wooden rowing boat back to where we would be reunited with Hi.

We then headed off for a bike ride around the quiet roads in the tranquil setting of Ninh Binh. A lovely way to blow off the cobwebs and do some exercise, although the bikes were pretty rickety and I’m almost certain my breaks didn’t work – it was still great!

We enjoyed a huge spread of Vietnamese food which was included in our tour before heading to Hoa Lu, Vietnam’s ancient capital. This was where our tour guide came into her own, enthusiastically telling us stories about the King’s that ruled there and the different dynasties. We enjoyed walking around the ancient temples and hearing the rich history about the place. There was some sort of youth gathering at the ancient city that day and as we were leaving I was mobbed by young Vietnamese girls for a photo (very cute!). 175cad6d-a9a3-490f-a495-ee0c96455732

Our last stop with Hi was the dragon mountain which got us climbing up hundreds of steps to a dragon monument at the top. The views of Ninh Binh from up there were incredible and would have been even better without all the mist, but this was what made Ninh Binh so magical. My legs shook at the top as I tried to manoeuvre myself onto the dragon for a photo. I remember Jonny and Carl showing off their climbing skills by scaling along it a little, I don’t know how they did it!

Exhausted from the day we enjoyed staying at the homestay for dinner where they put out a large spread of Vietnamese food. We enjoyed meeting other travellers staying at the homestay with Vietnam playing football on the TV in the background. The whole family intensely watching and cheering at any moment, I specifically remember the little girl of the family cheering ‘Go Linh Vietnam’ which translates as ‘keep fighting Vietnam’ – very cute.

The next day we were taking the train back to Hanoi in the afternoon. That morning we took a trip to Vietnams largest pagoda – Bai Dinh pagoda. Luckily we all wore our rain jackets as it rained the whole time we were there. This took us around 2 hours to walk around all the different sections of the pagoda which were joined up with networks of stairways and corridors. We enjoyed admiring all the traditional architecture and buddha statues. Although it was a rainy day it didn’t dampen our spirits. We felt like we had seen all the main sights of Ninh Binh and got a good sense of what this northern Vietnamese province was really like. IMG_3642

 

Next blog will be about when my parents visit, can’t wait x

Philippines – The Finale

Hold onto your seatbelts its going to be a long final Philippines blog.

With Christmas over we had the New year celebrations to look forward to. We took a boat to Siquijor (pronounced Sick-ee-hore), another island well known for its lush beaches and island adventures. One of the main reasons we wanted to go there was to take a boat trip over to Apo Island, also known as turtle island.

The day we arrived on Siquijor we spent chilling out and wandering around near our b&b we had booked. Nearby was a 5* resort, so most of the afternoon was spent on their beach chilling out for a change and snorkelling in the shallows. That evening we found a lovely restaurant on trip advisor called Luca Loko which served breakfast, lunch and dinner – soon to be our favourite breakfast haunt.

The next day was December 31st and we booked onto the Apo Island tour for the next day. Strangely, only one hotel on the whole island sold tours over to Apo island, but luckily enough it was the 5* resort just over the road from where we were staying. The rest of NYE was spent exploring Siquijor, once again by moped (our favourite way to explore). We found a lovely secluded bay area to swim and snorkel with minimal others around. Unfortunately, this is where we had to say bye bye to Jonnys old iPhone 5 (thank god) as he went swimming for 15 minutes without noticing it was in his pocket. Even a night in rice couldn’t save that old thing! With spirits still high and some exploring to do, we went to an old ancient tree with a fresh water pool at the bottom filled with fish which fed off human skin. As we arrived we could see plenty of people sat with their feet in the water, screaming at the tickling touch of the fish on their toes. There were huge fish which looked like they would take your toes off, right down to small finger length ones which nipped in between your toes.

The evening of the 31st was spent glamping and what an experience that was! Our tent was right at the front of all the tents in the site, and we had prime viewing of the beach and sunset later that evening. Our tent was decked out with a double bed, lamps, fan, and our own decking and chairs out front. We loved chilling on the deck of our tent and going for dips in the water, which was surprisingly very hot as it was so shallow. We managed to watch the last sunset of 2018 on the beach outside our tent, with lots of other tourists and locals coming down to take a shot of the scene. We headed out for dinner nearby before crashing into bed around 10.30pm, we had planned to get up and watch the fireworks on the beach.. but when midnight struck there was no chance we were getting up! With an early start to Apo Island the next day, a cosy nights sleep in our tent was had.

The Apo Island tour started early and we had to meet the rest of the tour group around 7.30am. There were around 40 people on the tour who were all escorted down the road to the docking station where we saw the boat we would be taking to Apo. A gorgeous small yacht-like boat with seats inside a bit like an aeroplane and huge windows to look out of. It took about an hour to get to Apo, but the staff on board gave us endless banana and carrot cake to keep us going.

The day consisted of a morning guided turtle swim, free time on Apo with buffet lunch, and another guided turtle swim in the afternoon. The morning swim wasn’t overly successful on the turtle front, only seeing the one turtle. However the fun came when we had free time, where Jonny and I decided to have our own snorkel around after lunch. We separated and enjoyed swimming around in the cool water amongst the corals. To my surprise I spotted a turtle right next to me, immediately fascinated I followed it for a few minutes. Not wanting to leave Jonny out I frantically tried to shout him, but without much success.. I still had my snorkel pipe in and discovered that shouting with this in wasn’t very effective and just sound like Darth Vader! I managed to get over to Jonny and bring him to see the turtle I’d found. We swam alongside it for a while and managed to get a video or two before we swam off to the other side of the cove. Here we spotted yet another turtle. I was starting to think any man and his dog could be a turtle guide, me included! But in all fairness the afternoon guided swim was amazing and we saw over 15 turtles!! They were everywhere we looked and all varying in size which was amazing to see. The boat journey back was a bumpy one so Jonny and I decided to sit outside on the edge of the top deck. Here we enjoyed the ocean breeze and warm sunshine as we watched the sun start to set in the distance. All in all a great day out.

However, the evening did not end up so great as I turned into a sick-ee-hore with food poisoning. I think it was from the seafood pasta I had eaten the night before. Most of my night was spent back and forth to the toilet with very minimal sleep.

The next day we were travelling to Cebu and to our last stop in Moalboal. I was very uncertain about travelling that day as I was still feeling rough and extremely nauseous. The idea of staying in Siquijor an extra night crossed our minds as my body was incredibly achey and my stomach still churning. But I decided we should just make the trip and I’d have to deal with the consequences. The day would consist of two ferry journeys and a 2 hour car journey… dread filled my mind. The taxi from our hotel to the ferry port was my first chunder spot. We had only been in the car 10 minutes when I had to tell him to pull over so I could empty the waffle I had just tried to keep down from breakfast.

Onto the first boat, this journey was set to take around 45 minutes. I could do this, I thought… The ocean that day was incredibly rough which didn’t help matters. We were allocated seats inside the boat which I swiftly declined and immediately moved outdoors where I sat next to the edge of the boat in case of more puke episodes. On this journey we encountered two episodes where I gracefully spewed out over the side of the boat. My worst memory was when the crew were trying to dock the boat, but the ocean was so rough that it took over 15 minuets to get us docked. In the meantime the boat was stationary and bouncing up and down on the waves which aided the onset of a third puke episode. I can remember as soon as my feet touched solid ground I sat on the nearest step I could find and gathered my breath. I had made it through the first boat journey alive! Even Jonny said he was starting to feel sick towards the end with all the bouncing up and down on the waves… no fun at all.

Luckily the second boat journey was only 15 minutes, and with my focus on breathing  deeply and looking straight ahead we made it without any more episodes. Off the second boat and into a car transfer where I was beginning to feel more human again. The taxi driver was chatting away to us the whole time and got on with Jonny really well. He subsequently invited us over to his house to meet his family the next night! We made it to Moalboal as it was turning dark and I finally knew I was feeling better. I crashed into bed for a nap and the air Bnb staff made me some toast and butter (as requested) to settle my stomach before bed.

The next day we had booked a canyoneering experience which was another one of our best days!! The day was spend swimming, climbing, sliding down and jumping off waterfalls. The experience lasted around 3/4 hours but time flew as it was such a hoot. Adrenaline rush at its very best. We also met another British couple in our group who were similar age to us and ended up getting on with really well. They kindly offered to film us with their Go Pro and send us the footage afterwards so we could relive some of the moments again. That afternoon was spent down at the beach snorkelling with the famous sardine run. Easy enough to do by yourself, we just followed the other people snorkelling to where the crowds of sardines could be seen.

Later that evening we dropped in on the taxi drivers house to meet his filipino family, who were all extremely thrilled to have us in their house. We stayed for an hour or so before saying our goodbyes and heading off for dinner. IMG_3390

The next day we had to take a 3 hour transfer back to the airport. Some would say good timing because it had been raining since we woke up and continued to rain until we got on the plane!

IMG_3385

 

 

 

Wow oh wow, Philippines you were amazing. We will definitely back. One thing I will say is that Filipino people are probably the friendliest and most accommodating people you will ever meet.

Philippines – Part 2

So it’s been a while. My excuse being we’ve had our families visiting so we had a super busy Jan/Feb. So finally, here is the next episode of the Philippines adventure diaries from back in December.

After leaving Camiguin Island on Boxing Day we travelled back to the larger island of Bohol. On the boat journey we sat and booked our next air BnB – nothing like a bit of spontaneity! We decided we wanted to stay somewhere in close proximity to the Chocolate hills and other nearby tourist spots. We took a car from the ferry port to our newly booked air BnB. What a find! Off the beaten track and up a hill was a lovely large house with an annex which was used for air BnB guests. We were surrounded by goats and other farm life, but we had the best of both worlds with the green around us and a great view down to the ocean from the accommodation. That night we decided to stay local, but with not much in the immediate vicinity we chose to dine at a nearby hotel we had spotted the sign for earlier that day. We checked it out on Trip Advisor and the appeal of a nice boutique hotel with reasonably priced food lured us in. This ended up being super posh and we felt terribly underdressed but nevertheless we treated ourselves to some lovely food in the classy ambience around us.

The next day we knew was going to be busy as we wanted to have a day out on the bike exploring the Chocolate Hills. These were around an hour’s drive from where we were staying but the drive was one to enjoy with winding roads and beautiful forest surroundings. The Chocolate Hills are small hills which cover the landscape for miles. They are called the Chocolate Hills because in the dry season the grass and shrubs covering them dry out and turn brown, so from a distance all the small hills look like lumps of chocolate. This wasn’t the case when we were there as everything was pretty green, but still a great view to be had. IMG_3064

On the route back to our accommodation we stopped off at a few other tourist attractions  including a tarsier sanctuary, wildlife centre and a bamboo bridge – all of which made for a fun afternoon being tourists and taking silly pics! IMG_3124

 

 

 

Our last stop was at Loboc Ecotourism Park where we had heard there was an incredible zip lining experience! As daredevils this was an experience not to be missed. We enjoyed lying on our tummies strapped into a sling-like harness and flying through trees and over the valley/river below. This was one of my favourite experiences in the Philippines, even though you can do things like this everywhere, the fact we were doing it in the Philippines with amazing weather and scenery really made it special. It also allowed Jonny and I to release our inner children as we screamed and giggled the whole way!

That evening we booked onto a local tour to see the fireflies. It was only a short tour on a small boat, but boy was it worth it! The small boat with around eight tourists sailed along the river with a local guide who held a huge beaming torch and shone it into the trees that lined the river. There were two spots that must have been known for fireflies as we stopped underneath two over hanging trees. When the boat turned off its lights we were plunged into darkness but then the magic around us was shown. Thousands of fireflies dancing in the trees, they literally looked like little star lights moving around in the sky. The guide told us that if we made noise they would shine brighter, so obviously everyone on the boat began clapping loudly to see the fireflies brighten up before our eyes. They were fascinating and a magical experience to see before bed.

Staying on Bohol Island, we decided to move to a different part which had been recommended for the beaches and boat trips. We moved accommodation to the Bohol Bee Farm. This was an actual functioning bee farm supplying their own honey and other organic products made on the farm. They also served their own homemade ice cream on site which we of course indulged in! The Bee Farm was situated by the sea set up on stilts which made for gorgeous views of the calm ocean from the hotel restaurant. It was also just 10 minutes drive from Alona Beach (a white sandy beach with many hotels, bars, restaurants and nightlife). We went down to Alona Beach at night to check out the area and dine in one of its many restaurants. Here we also booked a snorkelling day trip for my birthday the next day.

The snorkelling trip left at 7am in the morning which was when all the boat trips seemed to be leaving. We set off towards an island called Balacasag (good for snorkelling) in search of dolphins en route. Surreal enough being in a hot country on a boat trip for my birthday, we were also lucky enough to see wild dolphins up close and personal as they swam right next to our boat. An excellent start to the day was topped off when we got off the boat to snorkel and saw a turtle! We also got off the boat to paddle in an area with hundreds of starfish – I have never seen starfish so big and beautiful!

That evening we had planned to eat at the 5* Hotel at Alona Beach. Unfortunately the beach restaurant was fully booked so we had to dine indoors in the all you can eat part. Not complaining as we had a great evening stuffing our faces, and the couple on the table next to us heard it was my birthday and told the waiters who shortly after appeared in numbers to sing me ‘Happy Birthday‘. Cringing inside but I loved it really and it topped off the whole day! IMG_3226

The next day we took the boat to Siquijor Island pronounced Sick-ee-hore, where we would spend New Year’s Eve and Day!

Philippines ~ Part 1

I thought I’d break this blog down into a few parts. The reason being, we did so much that it would be an overwhelmingly long blog. Due to living in Vietnam we had decided that we needed to spend a Christmas away from home and experience a new place we’d always wanted to go. We were weighing up between Australia and the Philippines, however Philippines won us over when we knew our friends living in Oz weren’t going to be around. We booked flights and started planning back in October, however our original plan and route we had decided to take took a different turn a couple of weeks before we were due to fly. We did some more research and figured out our route wasn’t going to work, so we cancelled and rebooked a lot of the trip.

We travelled to Cebu via Manila through the night of Friday 21st December. We had a nervous moment where we almost missed our connecting flight. It took our plane over an our to be parked once we had landed in Manila – pretty ridiculous. But luckily with our speedy legs we ran through Manila airport with only 20 minutes to spare and made the connection to Cebu.

On arrival we bought SIM cards (highly recommended) which allowed us to have data and access to the internet, quite necessary with the amount of travelling and moving around we were going to do over the course of the next 2 weeks. We had our first night booked in Bohol on Panglao Island at an air Bnb. But to get from Cebu to Bohol we needed to take a ferry. Weary eyed and with hardly any sleep we took a taxi to the ferry port at around 6.30am, to try and get the earliest ferry possible. We had been warned about the ferries and their inconsistency and likelihood to sell out fast. The earliest ferry we could take was 9.20am, so knowing we had over 2 hours to kill and with a sign for a nearby McDonalds looming we had no choice but to indulge in a greasy sausage and egg McMuffin to kill the time. The boat to Bohol was smooth and our tired bodies forced us to sleep most of the 2 hour trip. That night we spent time exploring nearby Alona Beach (a tourist hub on Panglao Island) full of restaurants and bars, budding divers and families from across the globe. Our air Bnb host had offered us some recommendations of where to eat which we pursued before heading to bed for an early night.

The next day we needed to travel across to Camiguin island, otherwise known as ‘The Island Born of Fire’ for its inactive volcano. This was where we were going to spending the next 3 nights and Christmas Day. We had been told that there was only one boat crossing there everyday so we knew we had to make it down to the port early to get a ticket. We arrived at the small town of Jagna port 3 hours before the boat was due to leave, however we were greeted with the news that the boat was already fully booked. Oh no! Stranded on the spot and over an hours drive away from where we had just come from we knew we had to get across there today! Jonny went in search of other potential boat companies that might be running across there and we also thought we might offer to pay over the odds to get a seat on the boat. Nervous looking on the side of the road with our travel bags, a Filipino lady stood next to me approached. She told me that her and her Mother and 3 small children were in the same position and had spoken to a local fisherman who had agreed to take them over in a ‘small vessel’. She was very kind and genuine and said we could join her if we were willing to share the cost. Without hesitation and knowing we had to get across that day we agreed to go with her.

We were driven about a mile along the coast to where the fisherman’s boat was. My initial reaction was excitement about the adventure we were going to have on this small boat and laughter about the scenario that was unfolding. Jonny was a little more apprehensive about this small wooden boat taking us across but I was surprisingly calm about the whole situation. That day the ocean was completely calm, without a wave in sight and Camiguin Island was clear to see in the distance, so how bad could it be? The fishermen arranged our bags in the bottom of the boat and assembled wooden planks for us to sit on top. With the family behind us, we sat up front with stunning and ethereal views of calm ocean that spread to the horizon ahead. The weather was overcast light cloud, so it wasn’t too hot, making for a comfortable trip apart from that numb bum feeling towards the end. Along our journey we were fortunate enough to see hundreds of flying fish taking off as our boat disturbed them. We also saw 3 or 4 pods of dolphins which was incredible and made the whole experience even more worthwhile!

As we landed on Camiguin island relieved to have made it safely, we were picked up by our next air Bnb hosts. They came for us on motorbikes and took us through the forest roads up to their house on the hillside. Our air Bnb host was a British guy called Oliver who was living there with his Filipino wife and had done for many years. He greeted us into his home which he’d built himself – a huge mansion with 2 sides, one for air Bnb guests and the other where they slept. An amazing place with high ceilings and views of the hillside all the way down to the sea. What a find! Oliver sat us down with some coffee as we talked for over an hour about his life and ours. Wow that guy has some stories to tell about his exciting life abroad, we could have talked for hours. He gave us plenty of recommendations of what to do on the island which he lived and one of his friends soon dropped off a bike for us to use during our stay. That night we went to a restaurant (Casa de Rocca) which Oliver recommended, owned by a Canadian guy who was one of Oliver’s friends. We loved the place so much we ended up eating there every night on Camiguin!

The 24th of December was the day that the Filipinos celebrate Christmas. Strange but quite nice for us to be able to celebrate for 2 days. This day our air bnb hosts told us they were having a hog roast which we were welcome to join them and their local friends. Free food… I’m there! This day we decided to explore some of the island on our motorbike. We took a trip across to a small sand island called ‘White Island’, around a 10 minute boat ride from the main land. This was very picturesque and was just a small sand strip in the middle of the sea. Jonny and I got our first taste of some snorkelling in the crystal sea, seeing plenty of starfish and beautiful coral.

Back on the mainland we also visited a hot spring where we swam for a while with plenty of locals enjoying their festivities. We decided that evening it would be great to catch the sunset at the sunken cemetery. This place was incredible, once a real cemetery for the island but after a huge landslide had been forced out to sea and was now underwater. All that could be seen was a huge white crucifix still protruding from the water. We sat on the rocks watching the sun go down across the water before heading out for dinner at our favourite restaurant once again, Casa de Rocca.

Christmas Day didn’t really feel like Christmas, a weird feeling and one that I did miss a little bit. Not waking up surrounded by family and the excitement of Father Christmas visiting from my Mother was strange. But Jonny and I exchanged small gifts to each other as a memento before a day of exploring which we thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless.  Jonny brought us both Mariah Carey t-shirts with the quote ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ which we endeavoured to wear all day! ce2dd738-1c71-43f0-b31e-02a8517f797fWe had decided we wanted to visit Mantigue island, another small island a short boat journey from the main land. Here we did some more snorkelling, seeing plenty of tropical fish, corals and more starfish. It took around 10 minutes to walk about the island which was inhabited by a few people all living very simply in their hand build wooden huts. That afternoon we enjoyed driving around Camiguin where all the locals were very friendly. Waving at us as we whizzed by and shouting Merry Christmas! We visited a waterfall which was beautiful and had some locals swimming in the pool below. We considered getting in to cool off, but after dipping our toes into the freezing cold water we soon decided we’d better not!

Our Christmas night and last night on Camiguin was rounded off by another night at Casa de Rocca. We sat under the stars and enjoyed delicious cocktails and some hearty food. Our closest to Christmas at home was a glass of Baileys on the rocks after our meal, perfect! As we sat chatting the night away and devouring some lovely food, the island had a power cut for around 5 minutes. An incredible moment where the stars were clearer than we’ve ever seen before and a really magical moment and one that I won’t forget.

Later that night we facetimed our families and enjoyed telling them all about our day as their Christmas Day was just starting. Time difference is a very strange thing! Content from a lovely day out and speaking to our families put us to sleep in a great mood and ready to travel onto our next island the next morning.

I look forward to sharing part 2 with you all in a few days. Much love xxx

Cat Tien National Park – A weekend in the jungle

With the lead up to Christmas approaching Jonny and I wanted just one more weekend away from the  city until we jet off to the Philippines. On the weekend of the 1st-2nd December Jonny and I were meant to be joining our friends Tara and Danny in Cambodia for the Angkor Wat 10km run around the historic temples. However, we left booking too late and missed entry to the race. We could have still gone to watch and explore the temples, but with crowds of runners everywhere and increased fees for accommodation and transport, we decided we will do it again ourselves another time.

Instead we decided to have a weekend with a slightly different setting to our usual beach trip. We headed to Cat Tien National Park on the evening of Friday 30th November. Again we took the sleeper bus from Saigon centre after work which took around 3.5 hours to reach the park. Jonny and I have become fans of the sleeper buses, they really aren’t as bad as people make out. You get a fully reclining chair, blanket and pillow so its like your own little bed in a chair. We always make sure our phones are fully charged to listen to music or stream videos, and the journey normally passes by quickly.

We were dropped off on the side of the road (as we were a halfway stop), the bus we had taken was continuing on to Da Lat which was another 3 hours north. Fortunately the workers from our lodge were there to pick us up and drove us another 10/15 minutes to our accommodation. It was dark and with no street lights we couldn’t see what was around us until the next day. We arrived at the lodge and the lady showed us in, our accommodation was a wooden cabin with a balcony on stilts overlooking the Dong Nai river (the longest river in Vietnam). Again, it was dark so the view the next morning was breathtaking to wake up to. IMG_2541 We settled into the lodge with a couple of tiger beers. The staff at the accommodation cooked us some food, even though the restaurant was closed. We could see them in the kitchen chopping the vegetables from scratch… bless! We knew we wanted to do some exploring that weekend and the lodge offered many tours, so we spent some time planning the next day over a delicious homemade Vietnamese dinner. We returned to our cabin for bed and enjoyed sitting on our balcony for a while. With it being Carol’s birthday, Jonny took the opportunity to FaceTime his mum and wish her a happy birthday! We hit the sack around 11pm, crawling into our bamboo double bed with a mosquito net canopy.

We woke early the next day as we had booked jungle trekking at 7.30am. We joined a group of 4 others all staying at our lodge and our guide Tai for a morning walk in the National Park. We were given long wader type socks to wear because of the leeches! We thought this was just precautionary, but it turns out there were hundreds of leeches in the jungle. Tai lead us through the jungle, stopping to look at some extraordinary trees. IMG_2567 Huge, hollowed out and even ones with two trees twisting into one. He also had a keen ear for animals. We were hoping to see some wild monkeys or hornbills but unfortunately we didn’t see any. However, the walk was thoroughly enjoyable and a good way to wake up and take in the surroundings.

That afternoon we booked on to go to a sanctuary which specialised in gibbon monkeys and pygmy loris’. We had to take a small boat over to a different island which was home to the sanctuary. We had to walk around 1 kilometre up a concrete track through the forest to get to the sanctuary.IMG_2590 It was very quiet and peaceful with only Jonny and I in site. We assumed we would just show ourselves around the sanctuary and then be on our way. But as we approached, a British lady approached us and welcomed us to the sanctuary. It turned out she had set up the sanctuary as part of her research for her PHD over 10 years ago. She gave us a full insight into why the sanctuary was set up. To help gibbons and pygmy loris who had been poached or bought and mistreated as pets living in the wrong conditions. Their aim was to train the animals to lead a normal life and eventually be released back into the wild. There were some heart retching stories about the monkeys being kept in apartments blocks as pets, used for tourism, Chinese medicine, kept caged and fed incorrectly. We were glad to see the gibbons doing so well and the success stories that the sanctuary had in getting the animals back into the wild. We left the sanctuary feeling sick of some humans in this world who think mistreating animals in right. But we also felt warm and happy that there are projects out their to help them and that our money was going towards the sanctuary and its bright future.

That evening we had booked a sunset wildlife boat trip. It turned out it was just going to be Jonny and me on the boat, which was so fun and romantic. We took a couple of tiger beers on board to enjoy whilst we watched the sunset.

Our driver was a cute Vietnamese guy who had a beady eye for nature. He stopped the boat whenever he saw something and would enthusiastically point it out to us. We saw so many kingfishers, herons and other river birds. We were also lucky enough to see wild monkeys in the trees and managed to get quite close to some of them. The river was peaceful, only seeing a couple of other small boats on our trip. It was a perfect evening and one of those ‘wow, this is my life’ type moments, I was feeling very happy and grateful. That evening we settled in at the lodge, enjoying more local Vietnamese cuisine and playing cards on our balcony overlooking the river.

The next morning we visited another sanctuary, but this time it was a bear sanctuary which had the same method as the gibbon sanctuary. They rescued bears from bear farms or bears that had been poached and caged then rehabilitated them back into the wild. Again, it was frightening that some people think it is normal to capture these animals and keep them caged and treat them so poorly. I think it comes down to brain washing and being uneducated in animal welfare. Again the guide was very knowledgeable and humble and you could tell he truly cared for the bears, he was positive in his outlook for their future. At this sanctuary they also had a few gibbons they cared for. Whilst we were there we were lucky enough to encounter some wild gibbons who paid us a visit.

The guide said they were brought up at the sanctuary but were released into the wild. They remained living close to the sanctuary and often came in to seek shelter and find food. The gibbons were not scared of us humans and one came so close to us, swinging from branch to branch and nearly hitting Jonny on the head with it’s swinging legs!

Back at our lodge before departing back to Ho Chi Minh city we enjoyed playing with the litter of puppies who lived under one of the bamboo cabins.IMG_2705 There were quite a few dogs that lived at the accommodation and these were obviously a result of that! I always find having dogs around very homely and comforting so the puppies made the weekend even better. I must admit it was very difficult not to snatch one into my backpack and bring it home to Ho Chi Minh!

 

 

 

On our return to the city on Sunday afternoon we decided it was time we started getting excited for Christmas. Our landlord left us a Christmas tree and decorations in a box, so obviously we began blasting the Christmas tunes in our apartment and assembled the tree! What a lovely relaxing and outdoorsy weekend with Jonny, I will not forget it! B563CFC5-39EB-4C98-8C61-FA9DF1131393

Diary blog – Control.

Over the last few days, I’ve settled on the fact that many aspects of life (and what happens in it) are really out of my control. From having a steady job with good satisfaction and an everyday routine of fitness and healthy eating, you could say my life was ‘under control’. However, since moving to Vietnam I’ve had to let go of this ‘control’ concept and learn to just roll with the punches. Although some aspects of my life I am still in control, like my gym routine, my weekend plans and my who I choose to socialise with. On the other hand, I’ve had to let go of knowing where exactly I’m heading in life.

In a way I’ve found it a bit unsettling not knowing what I am going to be doing next year. Thoughts I’ve experienced are: Am I still going to teach? Shall I move back home and become a personal trainer? Where am I going to be living next year? Will my next job bring me more satisfaction? When will I move home and really settle down? The answers to all of these questions are still totally unclear, but the fact of the matter is…. it doesn’t matter.

Life has a funny way of panning out just the way its supposed to. I’ve come to terms with the fact that its out of my control and thats the exciting thing about it. I am a great believer in fate and wherever my next job is will be the right one at the time. I’m definitely setting my sites high on whats to come. My whole life so far has seemed to fall into place pretty easily, and I’ve been lucky enough not to have much hardship. I think thats why I’m finding this slightly rocky path in Vietnam challenging at times. I went to a great school, got good grades to go to university, came out of Uni and moved straight onto a teacher training course, and from that I landed a job at a high class school teaching sport.

Since moving to Vietnam and working at VAS, I have recently had thoughts of doubt with my job. Maybe these big moves and life changes are what make you realise what is really important in life. For me, job satisfaction is a big one and with VAS having a low value towards sport and PE, the satisfaction element of my job has taken a hit. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to teach anymore necessarily. It has made me realise that being in a school where sport is highly valued and facilitated makes the job a hell of a lot more satisfying. So thats what I’m striving for next!

Living in Vietnam can’t be faulted when it comes to lifestyle and I’ve gained a lot more time to work on myself. I have plenty of time to go to the gym each night (yey) and still socialise when I want. But it’s also got me thinking this is my time to do more with my life. I’ve recently completed a Personal Training course, so now is the time to get using it. I am looking into building a business whilst I am here, working with clients in the local vicinity and also coaching clients online. Because… why not?

If I can’t get much satisfaction from my current school, its time to create my own. Keep looking out for my new business ideas coming up. If you are interested in starting a fitness journey, whether it be losing weight, gaining muscle or generally just getting healthier – let me know!

Motto of this blog – focus on solving problems that are within your control. Also think balanced thoughts about what is within your control and what isn’t. (Ideas taken from the book ’13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do’ by Amy Morin.) Highly recommend!

IMG_2396

Vietnam so far… The good, the bad and the ugly

So, since arriving in early August my impressions and emotions of living in Ho Chi Minh city have taken some ups and downs.

Lets start with impressions of the city so far… its pretty busy and polluted, but at the same time there is so much to do. When it comes to food and necessities the city offers everything you will ever find in the UK. However we have struggled with dairy free products for Jonny and some skincare creams and lotions for my horrendously dry eczema prone skin. In terms of food, its got it all. You can find anything here from Vietnamese to Mexican, Steaks and Italian cuisine. The other night Jonny and I even found a proper English chippy where we demolished a greasy plate of fish and chips with mushy peas and gravy, winner! We have really been enjoying finding new places to eat, but I must say when in Vietnam the local cuisine is really something special, and pretty healthy really. In Vietnam, locals usually sit together and (like we would do with a Chinese in the UK) share all the dishes. Small plates of meat and fish and big bowls of rice, noodles and vegetables are what is normally on the menu. The Vietnamese cannot be faulted for their use of spices and herbs for flavouring, there is usually either a garlic, ginger or lemongrass taste to most dishes. It’s fairly sociable though and tables are normally left pretty empty including lots of empty cans of tiger beer. When it comes to Vietnam and the price of eating out, it is amazing. Most places I have been to eat I have spent no more than £6-£10 on my dinner and drinks… pretty cheap right?

When it comes to the surroundings and the people, I have mixed opinions. Ho Chi Minh isn’t really a sight seeing city, there are a few things to see and do in the centre to do with the war and French colonial times but other than that it’s just your average busy city. Nothing is overly cared for here. I always notice walking along the street how all the pavements are cracked and concrete slabs sticking up. It’s pretty dirty in places too because there isn’t such thing as a road sweeper here and you don’t find many litter bins around the streets. So you can guess what happens to it… But you learn to look past it and embrace it. No one ever died from being a little bit unkempt did they…?

One thing everyone does notice about HCMC and its surroundings are the masses of bikes. Mopeds, pedal bikes and motorbikes crowd the streets with horns beeping, sometimes for no apparent reason. On the road in Vietnam, anything goes. You can drive on the wrong side of the road – no one cares. You can undertake people – no one cares. You can cut someone up – no one cares. You can make a U-turn into on coming traffic – no one cares. It is literally is a free for all. You should see the roundabouts! Just imagine mopeds and cars on a roundabout all at the same time, no right of way, just everyone together. The phrase everyone uses here is ‘spot the gap and get into it’. Its very true. All these things would send people into an upward spiral road rage in the UK or you’d probably end up with a speed awareness course.

The people in general here are friendly. White westerners are still stared at and seen as rich people in well earned jobs. Although we are highly respected by most, some Vietnamese see wealth as an opportunity to make money. In Vietnam, as bad as it sounds, there is a price for westerners. By this I mean the people of Vietnam will often increase prices (especially at local shops and markets) when they are serving a westerner, just to make a few extra bucks. After living in Vietnam for only a few months and having a solid base of how much things cost, we now know when someone is overcharging. Tourists and travellers who aren’t to know the difference are the ones who get targeted the most.

An example of this happened to Jonny only last week. We had parked in the local supermarket car park and whilst going through the barrier picked up a token which we would later use to pay with. Jonny left this token in the front pocket his bike, easily accessible to anyone walking past. But who would want a parking token? We returned to the bikes with our shopping and low and behold Jonnys token was gone. He said he knew that one of the security guards had taken it, as an extra 100,000VND (£3) could be made off a lost token. They were hovering around his bike when he parked and their sheepish manner was suspicious. Luckily Jonny stood his ground and accused the guards as he was adamant he wasn’t going to be ripped off. He threatened getting the police over before they eventually got bored and allowed him through the barrier. Let’s be honest, anyone would have spotted that trick!

The lifestyle in Vietnam is something that I will always love. Its very laid back and relaxed. Also the Vietnamese love to sleep, definitely after my own heart. But by sleep, I mean sleep…. anywhere! On their motorbikes, the side of the road, under bridges, up trees and on deck chairs on the side of busy highways. When lunchtime hits the hours after this are for napping. Even the Vietnamese staff at work nap. The kids get time to sleep in their lunch break at school and some of the staff see this as a chance to get their heads down too. Desks are pushed aside in the classrooms and cushions (like ones off sunbeds) as delivered to each classroom door for a comfy nap time. A very weird concept at first, but now its totally understandable. Because of the climate and heat, it makes you tired very easily. Often when I get back from work I am totally knackered and require a good half hour nap to pick me back up for the rest of the evening. Something I never did in the UK unless I was ill or hungover!

Adapting to everything out here is taking some time. With our school routines being different every day with start and end times varying, its been hard to find a proper routine. Routine is something I crave so I’ve been finding it difficult to be a little more spontaneous. The gym is my favourite hobby away from school however even that has been a bit unstructured – only going when I have enough energy after work. Just trying to hit 4 or 5 sessions a week to keep me ticking over. But I guess priorities have changed. Back home gym and work were my life. Where as now work and gym are less important as settling in, meeting new people and discovering new places. Don’t get me wrong losing my routine does get me down sometimes, but I guess thats one thing that a new beginning throws up in the air. I wouldn’t say I’m homesick but some things about my new life do make me miss home and my family mainly. But Jonny is the best when I have my little meltdowns and knows exactly how to set me straight again!

So much support out here though, its like a little community of people all going through the same thing. I’ve been told time and time again that the first few months are the rollercoaster for the emotions and after 6 months or so you really start to settle. But I can’t say I’m not embracing and enjoying every minute I can. Lots of exciting plans in November coming up which I will share with you all on here.

Lots of love xxx