Sunday, 26 April 2015

Para-sailing, banana-boating, island-hopping


You can't just skip the last Malaysia entry even if it is over two months late. 

So, I told about our Langkawi roadtrip two entries ago. After you redo that road trip on your own holiday, here are other things you must do if you find yourself on this stunning Malaysian island...
  • 'Island-hopping'- Sitting on a speedy ferry, stopping at various Langkawian islands.

Our driver was cool. 

We stopped at three different sightseeing spots where we spent about an hour each.

For example, we stoppd at an island where a calm yet confident monkey strolled up to me, grabbed my plastic bag with the remains of the weird spicy coconut pastry-ball I had bought, walked away, sat down on a rock, took the spicy coconut out of the plastic bag and voilà, om nom.

Luckily I had eaten most of them already
Spicy coconut monkey thief
It also included interesting-named sights. 

The Island of the Pregnant Maiden. You can see her outline.
It also included a big lake with "compulsory" yet non-compulsory lifejackets.

Strictly optional would be a better way of saying it
Our final stop was a gorgeous beach with sneaky monkey gangs behind the 'fences' (a long rope between trees) that seemed to be playing an eternal game of capture the flag – the beach and tourists being the opposing team, and all of the tourist possessions being the flag. Patricia caught a monkey rummaging through her bag just in time.

More monkey thieves

  • Para-sailing!

Get harnessed to a parachute thingy, have a random no-older-than-15-year-old-boy hanging without a harness behind you, get pulled up into air by motorboat. SO COOL and obviously in a country where safety regulations are not as rigid as in Europe, selfies were allowed!


  • The horrifying experience of banana-boating. A banana boat is a banana-shaped inflatable... thing which you sit on, and it's I'm sure very similar to riding a crazied out bull. You are being pulled by a motorboat and the boat is jumping on the waves and you think it'd be fun... Well, in a way it was, I was just the very clear casualty of the group, the one that kept falling in the water and having to be picked up. And even that wasn't that bad, it was just the increasing difficulty with which I had to pull myself up / be pulled up by the lads I was on the boat with. Sigh. An experience.
They make it look fun don't they... (pic courtesy of google) (ironically in the context of someone going into hospital after falling off one)

  • The best EVER Pina Coladas. Not that I'm a massive fan of Pina Coladas. But these one's were HEAVENLY. (Why do I not have a proper picture of them!?!? In any case, GO TO Bodo's on the beach...)
  • OUR BEACH at night <3 It's sad we discovered the proper beach cafés only on our last days. :(
Bruno Mars leaping over the sunset
Yellow beach café
Many photoshoots!
And that was the end of our Malaysian adventure. I love Malaysia as a country, KL is an awesome city, and Langkawi is a superfun (and beautiful!) island. 

And fastforward to today, the 26th of April, I arrived in Vietnam exactly six months ago actually! Crazy. Tomorrow I set off to the north, to explore central and northern Vietnam... 



And now we say goodbye to Langkawi...

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Bus to Vung Tau

My friend Jess wanted to go to the beach while visiting me, and I had never been to a beach in Vietnam despite being only (“only?”) two hours from it, so on our free day we decided to go to Vung Tau

"Seaside status makes Vung Tau a nearby paradise for Saigonners. However, for well-travelled foreigners, expect a bit less. The beach is not all too attractive with litter lining the coast, and most of the sandy eastern beach has signage about dangerous swimming", informs Wikitravel. Neither of us were really the most well-travelled beach-connoisseurs, so I wasn't too fussed about this description. A beach is a beach. 
And this is what it looks like according to google
 Two hours by bus from Saigon, two hours by bus from Bien Hoa. So we decided to leave from Bien Hoa. Which proved to be quite difficult from the start, since everything leaves from central Saigon but only bypasses Bien Hoa if that.

My super helpful Vietnamese friend Dung (also #9 in the Vietnam's Next Top Model TV-show... just sayin'...) got us info on how to get to Vung Tau from Bien Hoa – get a taxi to the Vung Tau intersection, then catch a bus to Vung Tau. It sounded exactly the kind of plan that would be easy in many countries, but maybe not so much in Vietnam... In any case, we did not hesitate to brave this new adventure.

We got ourselves some ice coffees to go, and easily enough found a taxi, which we were able to tell where we wanted to go (Miss Dung also had sent me a text to show the driver so there would be no confusions about our destination). After about twenty-five minutes we had arrived at our first destination. Well, destination and destination. I checked from my google maps that we were indeed at the junction we were meant to be at, but where to catch the bus...? It was your general Vietnamese scenery – dust, a few miss-matched stalls and houses on the side of the road, a few people. Where does The Vung Tau bus leave from?

“Hoa Mai,” said our taxi driver. I gave him my best friendly-smile-but-simultaneously-politely-raised-eyebrows-meaning-I-am-foreign-and-did-not-understand-you-and-apologise-for-that-could-you-please-say-it-again-look. “Hoa Mai, Hoa Mai,” he repeated many times. I repeated this slowly first in my mind, then out loud, and came to the conclusion there is no way I'd understand what he was saying, so I smiled and nodded politely in your typical ah-yes-I-understand-(no-I-don't-really) Vietnamese fashion.

'Luckily', we didn't have time to contemplate Hoa Mai too much, because just as we jumped out of the taxi to get our bearings about where we are, we saw a bus coming towards us on the road. The bus was small and pretty, er, traditional-looking (not the newest make) and, hurrah, it said 'Vung Tau'!
Our bus at a pit stop 
Empty iced coffee-cup in one hand, my open purse in the other one, back bag on back and hat somewhere, we ran towards the bus, managed to hail it down, jumped in, and, lo and behold, we were in this very authentic bus packed with locals heading to The Beach! We got the last two free seats which were right near the door, and after paying an excorbetant (how do you spell it) price for tickets and getting over them typical stares from everyone, started enjoying the ride. Who needs aircon in a bus when you have a wide open door right next to you!?
Happy happy!

We had put our empty iced coffee cups under our seats since we couldn't think of any better place to dump them for the time being. Until we got an extra passenger with two back bags. He was ushered in by the usherer-in-come-conductor, and after he'd awkwardly taken off his main back bag in the moving, packed bus, the conductor decided to make space for it by squatting down to our feet, grabbing our empty iced coffee cups from underneath our seats and chucking them out the window. “There go our iced coffees,” remarked Jess drily. Hoping there weren't too many vehicles driving behind us/next to us.....

So there we were, with a strangers bag underneath our seats, bobbing along on the road on our way to Vung Tau.

Our conductor flappy-arming bikes out of the way
After a while, when we were probably about 20km away, the bus stopped at a place where a few other buses had stopped, and we were told to get out. Vung Tau is that other bus over there, pointed our driver. Ok...? No one told us we needed to change, but luckily this second bus left, we didn't even have to pay, and we continued on our way to this Famous Beach Destination.

Finally we arrived. Got out of the bus, it was past midday, scorching heat, immediately surrounded by xeom- and taxi-drivers keen to take us places. Vaguely stressed about this long trip and my, once again, unpreparedness of sightseeing with my guest, I ignored them all and we walked off. Trying to search googlemaps where we should go. Which way is the beach? Is it worth it? We only have like four hours till we have to go back, we didn't wanna waste it...

In the end, from Jess's careful suggestion, we went back to the xeom-drivers and said “Beach?” Relatively straightforward – we both got a friendly xeom driver, and the price wasn't even too bad. The beach was about 4km away, so pretty happy we did get them xeoms.

Suddenly, we were near the beach. Lots of people around and we could see the sea – hooray! Finally, our ultimate destination, after about three hours of travel.

Our ultimate destination.


Ok, descriptions. It was crowded. No, wait, please take a moment and describe Finland as crowded. Then, compare Finland to Vietnam. (For your information, Finland is the 65th biggest country area-wise, while Vietnam is the 66th. Finland has a population of 5 million while Vietnam has a population of 90 million.) That is the comparison between the word crowded and the adjective to describe the amount of people on Vung Tau beach.
And not just people, but also litter. (yes, as predicted by wikitravel)

Pictures do not do it justice, I'm afraid.

If I used words like anti-climax, I would use it here. But luckily I don't. No, we put on a brave face and started to debate if we want to go swimming immediately, or, more pressingly – go swimming together and risk having possessions taken, go swimming one at a time, or potentially find a locker?

After a long time's deliberation, and a visit to a rather horrendous beach toilet, we left our stuff at a locker and went swimming.

And in all fairness, it was a lot of fun. The waves were big and exciting and it was fun jumping around in them. So, it was worth it. 

The rest of the day was wandering about in very sticky, wet and salty dresses (we did it the Vietnamese style and went swimming in our clothes. (There was literally not a single other female in what we'd call a 'normal' swimming costume let alone bikini)), eating relatively nice rice at a random local food place and counting westerners. (We walked past two, in addition to ourselves.)

We found the place to get the bus back relatively easily, luckily. We waited for ages for our minibus, which was called Hoa Mai. You remember earlier, the taxi driver repeating 'Hoa Mai' all the time? Well, he was telling us which company to use. The Hoa Mai minibuses, as opposed to the overpriced (for us) (literally, our way there cost over double our way back) authentic bus which didn't even go up to Vung Tau, which we had found ourselves on on our way there.
The famous Hoa Mai, as taken from our Authentic Bus
Do I recommend Vung Tau? That's debatable. Since I like to stay positive, I'll say I do recommend it. Except, don't make our mistake. DO NOT GO ON A SUNDAY. Or weekend in general. It's a lot, lot, lot emptier on weekdays...

And, in all fairness, it was quite haphazardly planned (read: not at all planned), and I know Vung Tau has quite a few sights apart from the beach - I'd definitely not say no to visiting it again. 

And maybe do an easy tour from Saigon. Not via Bien Hoa.

Toodle-pip 4 now munchkinzzz,