We arrived nice and early, completely shattered, but excited to explore Hoi Ann, a town we were recommended several times to visit. The first thing we did was have breakfast with a colony of dead ants inside the bread. Unintentionally of course, we didn’t order ants. After wandering around and checking a few old houses (one was 300 years old and lived in by the same family as had all those years ago), people asked where we were from. When we revealed we were from England, they said, ‘luvvly jubbly.’ I’m guessing they didn’t really know the context or meaning behind it, but every single one of them said it. Del Boy had infiltrated Hoi Ann.

Hoi Ann is known for its tailor shops. There were hundreds of them and most for reasonable prices. Ednora bought a traditional Vietnamese dress, called an Ao Dai, for £25, all tailored and fitted. We explored some more of these ancient houses. In one of them we were unfortunately cornered to buy something. Looking around at the crap some people make and expect you to buy made me realise that I will never need a turtle compass in my life. Imagine a situation where someone needs to know which way north is, ‘hang on a minute mate, just let me take out my turtle compass.’ When the person/huge factory is making this stuff, is there no one running the show who looks at the turtle compass and thinks, ‘actually, this is shit. Let’s stop making them’?

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A house over 300 years old, still with the same family living there generations later.

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I look like I’m drunk there, but I’m not. At least, I don’t think I was?

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Ednora getting her dress fitted.

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Look at her little excited face!

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The genius at work.

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We checked out the Hoi Ann museum, but didn’t really have any words, so difficult to learn stuff.

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View from the top of the museum.

That evening we took a stroll along the river and witnessed lots of people lighting lanterns and setting them off. The idea behind this was to make a wish, and then you send your wish downstream. I was wondering whether the geezer who had to fish out the cardboard at the end of the river also made a wish…for people to stop making wishes with the lanterns.

We stopped off at a restaurant where the owner was an eccentric old timer, all in leather. The first thing he showed us when we sat down was not the menu, but his feedback book from previous customers. One lady in the book said she wanted to marry him! This was the first review he showed us which he was extremely proud of. When our food came, he took our chopsticks from our hands and mixed it up for us in the bowls, and then fed corn to Ednora, one corn at a time, until finally ending his contribution by checking himself out in the mirror. Sexy bastard. After saying goodbye, and obviously contributing to the review book, we found a spot which sold beer for 16p. 16p. After spending £2, we were pretty drunk and found a bar playing Johnny Cash and the Beatles (covers, not actually Johnny Cash and The Beatles, as Johnny Cash and half The Beatles are dead). We met an Aussie bloke called Matt who said he’d never been outside Australia. Ednora and he danced the night away, dragging everyone else in the bar up with them. Matt did his best but struggled to keep up with our Ednora, but were both party-starters nonetheless.

Naturally, the next day we were hanging, but who would have known that the best way to get rid of a hangover was to do a cooking class! It started with some fishing, where we caught zero fish, and then headed to some bloke’s house where we cooked this incredible meal. We had shrimp and pork pancakes, papaya salad, roasted mackerel, pork and shrimp spring rolls, and much more. Our gluttony did us proud as we dined with new friends.

Catching fish in Hoi Ann, Vietnam.

Catching fish in Hoi Ann, Vietnam.

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Just Puds, Fishing. People on the boat look scared.

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Ednora’s go!

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Look at that fine specimen of a woman, catching her daily fish.

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We’re having such a laugh.

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Huge fishing nets which get dipped into the river and then reeled out after a few hours.

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Our mate who made Ednora a leafy ring.

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Attempting to fish with our mate who gave us an excellent summary of the Vietnamese War. He was a Vietnamese guy who lives in Canada, visiting the country on holiday.

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Let the cooking class commence!

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Having caught no fish, we still considered ourselves a roaring success.

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The lanterns and a wedding shoot combined.

We arrived in Hanoi at 5.30am after a 16 hour sleeper bus ride. Once the cramps had been stretched out, we made our way to the hostel. En-route were a group of ladies doing Zumba to house music, at 5.30am. Simply looking at them made us even more tired than we already were. After finding a bed in the hostel which wasn’t ours, and getting in a few hours sleep, we needed to get a bit of knowledge in, so headed to the Revolution Museum:

  • After the persecution of the French and Japanese from 1858-1945, Ho Chi Minh read out the declaration of Independence in Hanoi on 2nd September 1945, but they still had to fight for it. The French refused to leave, so this period was dubbed the Anti-French Resistance War.

  • In 1953 Richard Nixon, then Secretary of State, came to Vietnam to see how things were getting along.

  • The French brought over the guillotine and used it until 1945.

  • Puppet president Ngo Dinh Diem was made president by the US. He then asked the Americans to leave, which they didn’t like, so they killed him.

One of the incredible things about this country was understanding how suppressed they have been for so long in their recent history, yet are so well developed. Their infrastructure is great, and the people are welcoming. We considered how if they hadn’t have had this war-torn history, how even more developed Vietnam would have been. The next stop was the History of Vietnam Museum:

  • Vietnam is named after an emperor who ruled in 973AD. Although, it was tough to find more information on him…

  • The country was owned by the Indo-Chinese Sung dynasty, but after losing a battle against the natives, they jumped shipped and left, declaring Vietnam as an independent country.

We escaped the museum and headed to the notorious Hoa Lo Prison:

  • This prison is one of the biggest in Indo-China. It was built in 1896.

  • The town where the prison sits is originally called Hoa La village. Hoa La translates as portable stoves, which the Hoa La people were the masters at making. They had peaceful lives until the French came and colonised it. The French built the prison, a courthouse, and police headquarters all in this small town, destroying any hope of preserving the Hoa La heritage. One thing was a bit fishy though; the way they described how they treated the American PoWs. They harped on about how they shared gifts with them, gave them lovely meals, taught them the way of the Vietnamese culture etc.. To be perfectly honest, it all looked very much like propaganda. It seemed that they treated them so well, it was more like a holiday. It was so much so that I wanted to go to prison. Somehow, I thought this to not be true.

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Ho Chi Minh, declaring independence.

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Here he is again, writing stuff.

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Outside the museum.

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The entrance to Hoa Lo prison.

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A depiction of how the prisoners would be lined up.

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These were the cells you were kept in before being put to death. An eerie place to be.

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Just people chilling on a train track.

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The third museum we visited.

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Ednora cooking our meal on a gas stove!

The next day we took a rickety train to Hai Phong, the biggest town closest to the famous Ha Long Bay. The train up was pretty humiliating. A Vietnamese girl, no older than five, spent the entire train ride drawing pictures of me and Ednora. Ednora was depicted as a princess. Me? A long-legged, big footed, scraggly bearded ogre. Now, I understand that this is probably a very accurate description, but humiliating nonetheless. We met a couple of young whipper snappers on our boat ride to Hai Phong who we would hang out with over the next few days near Ha Long Bay.

We hired a kayak and made our way around the floating village and the stunning surroundings. There were mountainous peaks popping their head out of the water. Hundreds of them. Some came with caves, secluded beaches, and even eagles. We cruised around for hours and it was all so serene, secluded and fascinating to discover what each peak could offer. We had lunch on a floating restaurant, and then, you guessed it, back on the sleeper bus for 12 hours to Sa Pa.

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Our train to Hai Phong.

It doesn't matter where you go, as long as you are on the go.

It doesn’t matter where you go, as long as you are on the go.

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The girl who crushed my soul.

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We went for a Jane Fonda around the bay.

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We hired a kayak and explored the peaks.

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Entrance to the cove.

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Extremely shallow water.

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This beautiful bird of prey was flying above us.

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Approaching an isolated beach.

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View from the empty beach.

We arrived in Sa Pa at 4am and it was my birthday! The fog was so thick you could see absolutely nothing, but as it lifted, it revealed a stunning backdrop of fields and mountains which went on for acres. After finding our hostel, we booked a trek with one of the Sa Pa ladies who dressed in traditional North Vietnamese garb. They spent most of the morning, pre-trek, trying to sell us some bags – more tat for sale. The beginning of the trek required us to clean up an area of the hillside. So, there I was, at 9am, in the middle of a field, holding a huge plastic bag full of used nappies, which somebody had kindly thrown into the grassy knoll, which split, and so I had to more or less hug the shit to ensure nothing leaked onto the road…on my birthday.

Finally, we were rewarded with a six hour trek. The local lady took us to a few mountainous villages, including her own, where she explained that her people could afford so little, that not even electricity made its way up there. She said that to cook anything, it was always a wood fire, then her mobile rang…

She explained how marriage worked here too. Basically, if you were a bloke and you wanted to marry a girl, you would have to pay the mum and dad for her. Daughters are valued at around 45 million Dong (£1400). Our guide said she had three sons, and was absolutely gutted for it. Once girls got old (over 18), their value drops, and at around the mid-20s mark, they’re in the bargain bucket.

The guide took us to a rubbish restaurant where the waitress took around 20 orders and then realised there was no chef. This meant she had to call someone from the nearest village to cook the stuff. We left and went to another, far-better, chef-included restaurant a stone’s throw away. That evening we went out to dinner at the place most of our hiking buddies were, and we all got drunk on rice wine and had twenty people sing happy birthday to me. Magical.

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Me on my birthday, with the shit.

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Some puppies in the village.

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Rice paddies among the fog.

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Ednora got given a gift by the local guides.

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Me too!

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Ednora creepily touching a baby without its mother knowing.

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Chilling at the top of a waterfall.

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Puds on a bridge at the bottom of the waterfall.

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Believe it or not, Ednora is on that rock.

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We visited a school where kids were playing football and doing dancing in the classrooms.

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Vietnamese Classroom.

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This buffalo is in a spot of bother.

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Ednora fashioning hydro-power.

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A piglet we met on our trek.

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It only cost us £7 to ask her to look forlorn (only joking, it was £4).

Back in Hanoi, we visited the Old City where there were tons of jewellery shops. Apparently this particular road had traded jewellery for a thousand years. We then had a belated birthday dinner on a restaurant balcony, overlooking the Cathedral. Next up, we checked out a bit of Vietnamese Karaoke and the difference between Karaoke in England was vast:

Day of the week Karaoke is performed:

Vietnam = Any night, as fine tuning your voice is recommended in order to compete.

England = Usually Friday or/and Saturday, or a random midweek boozy sesh.

Song choice:

Vietnam = Any Vietnamese classic with a slow build and huge crescendo ending, with a dash of patriotism and Vietnamese pride.

England = For women: ABBA, Beyonce, RespectIt’s Raining Men. Men: Jon Bon Jovi, Hey Jude, Angels, My Way.

Beverages and food of choice:

Vietnam = watermelon and water, perhaps a buffet.

England = Bucket of vodka with a minimum of six straws, beers on the go, and a flutter with the cocktails menu. A kebab on the way home which you’ll wake up with still in your hand the next morning.

Standard of singing:

Vietnam = Everyone is a descendant of Celine Dion. Everyone.

England = Cats getting tortured sounds more eloquent, except for that one person in your group who sang on a cruise ship for six months.

As I sat, mesmerised by this flood of talent, Ednora was celebrity status as she fashioned the traditional Vietnamese dress she had got tailored in Hoi Ann. Everyone wanted a picture with her. Happy 30th Birthday, Michael.

Vietnam was a fantastic experience and with only 15 days, it was tiring, but well worth it. There is still unfinished business with Vietnam so we hope to return one day. Next stop, Thailand, where friends and family will reunite!

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Hanoi market street.

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The cathedral.

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Apparently the ice cream here is famous. It was pretty nice, to be fair.

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Outdressed, and outdone, yet outstanding from Ednora.