A Travellerspoint blog

Wonderful Hội An

We spent two nights in Hội An in a lovely little boutique hotel and really enjoyed it. It was totally different to the places we had visited thusfar; a small pretty town with plenty of cute little eateries, delightful shops and old buildings on cobbled streets. It's actually a world heritage site too. It was, however, full of tourists. We hadn't heard of it as a famous tourist destination but it obviously was one, though it wasn't too overbearing. We had a mixture of group time and time to ourselves which was quite nice, though we still elected to meet up with others for meals and throughout the daytime.

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^A wander down the river.
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^The town's Japanese covered bridge from the 16th/17th century which led to the area inhabited by the Japanese at the time.
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^One of the many light displays

Hội An is well known for its tailoring and for many people in the group this was the highlight of the visit. We went off to a tailor's shop and were pretty amazed that you really could choose to have anything made, from any fabric, in any style, and it would fit you perfectly. They would make something from whatever you designed - a drawing, a photo, a Google search, or just a description. They also had a vast array of pictures you could browse. It was a shopper's heaven, especially for anyone who struggles to get clothes to fit. We didn't think we'd be that bothered about missing out on this but it turns out we were gutted! Unfortunately for us, we had one suitcase each and both were already totally rammed full. Due to the nature of our travels, we had to bring clothes and footwear for every type of weather imaginable (high humidity south-east Asia, cold winter in NZ, warmer weather in Oz, and the inevitable rain/wind/snow in NZ) and to last us at least six to twelve months. This meant we really had no space for any purchases. We were also money-conscious knowing we'd have to stretch out money for the longer term. Everyone else on the Vietnam trip was on holiday and therefore only had to pack for 10 days worth of (hot) travel. Consequently they all went a bit crazy and had loads of different clothes tailor made. We were insanely envious and promised ourselves we have to return to Vietnam to get a whole wardrobe made. Especially a tailor made suit for Tim, and some kind of fancy dress for me as the ones in the shops never fit! The only thing we were skeptical about was where these clothes were being made and under what conditions - as they were often made within 24 hours and then able to be adjusted again very quickly. Hundreds, if not thousands, of items were being made each day - sometimes pretty complicated suits with silk linings and so on.

It was so hard not to buy anything in Hội An. I gave in and bought two pendants as they were small enough to fit in my pockets! I got them from a lovely community shop which trained locals with disabilities, who wouldn't otherwise be able to find jobs, and employed them to make items for the shop (they were all whittling away in the workshop which formed part of the shop). Elsewhere we also bought two very nice cards with pop-out centres which we posted overseas, but fast forward a few months... and they never arrived which is really disappointing.

Night-time in Hội An was beautiful. They closed down the centre to vehicles after a certain time and lanterns were everywhere. Cafes and restaurants were open late and served a really nice array of cuisine. We visited a lovely cafe to get a fix of non-Vietnamese fare one evening - nothing wrong with Vietnamese food but the vegetarian options can be quite limited and therefore got repetitive for me (usually similar dishes in each place, and lots of tofu which I found quite bland). They served cakes to die for and we treated ourselves to one each.

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One of the things we haven't mentioned so far is the coffee. By far my favourite coffee I've ever had is Vietnamese. It's nutty and delicious. They serve it different ways and traditionally with condensed milk. You can see my cup in the photo above with the cake and despite the heat I tried to make the most of it as often as possible (so, in the evenings even though it was still mighty humid!). I'd return to Vietnam for the tailoring and coffee alone!

Still a few more days in left in Vietnam, but on reflection Hội An was a definite highlight for me.

Posted by TashandTim 22:16 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

By Road: To Hội An via Hải Vân

I intended on cutting short these blog posts to cover several places or perhaps condensing a week's travels in to one post, but unfortunately I've failed as there is just too much to mention! This one just covers a few scenic stops a day's journey...

We hopped aboard our tour coach in Huế to set off for our next destination, the small city of Hội An. Our bus took us out through rice paddies to the Hải Vân Pass which provided some great scenery up and on to the highest point. We took some photos from inside the bus (as we weren't sure if we were getting off at any point, plus we wanted to capture some of the great views from along the roadside) which explains what might look like strange colouration in this first photo:

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We had a refreshment and leg stretch break at a beach resort where of course we went straight for the beach to dip our toes! This was our first and only beach in Vietnam - we saw others but never set foot on them - so we were pleasantly surprised at the lovely sand and sea:

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At the bottom of the Hải Vân Pass we had another brilliantly blue seascape and dashed off the bus for a couple of photo opportunities. There were some locals asking for small coins in our own currency; we were told explicitly not to give them any by our guide but were told we could give them Vietnamese money if we wanted to help them out (even though they didn't ask for Vietnamese money). I meant to ask why this was but forgot about it entirely until I wrote this post, months later! It remains a mystery to me but presumably foreign currency that they were asking for wouldn't have 'helped out' in the right way. I can only assume it may have been taken from them by whoever was their boss, whereas they could pocket the Vietnamese stuff but it's just a guess.

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The pass climbs up a mountain of the Annamite Range and also represents a boundary between various old Vietnamese kingdoms as well as current day northern and southern Vietnamese climates. It's a fairly steep winding road as you would expect from a mountain pass, and also starred in the Top Gear Vietnamese special where it was mentioned as one of the world's best coast roads. It's also been called one of the most dangerous roads in Vietnam! There is a tunnel which avoids the pass for anyone who prefers to avoid it, which also saves some time on the journey as the twisting roads add on around an hour. Towards the top we had another break and spent some time at the second world war bunkers and much earlier Vietnamese guard tower with yet more spectacular views all around from this height.

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^Even at this height you can't escape the electrical wires/pylons! I think they make it in to most views!

A final beach scene (again from the bus!) as we descended down towards Danang:
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We didn't spend any time in Danang apart from driving through it (and later catching a flight from the airport) but we understood it was popular with tourists looking for a beach holiday in Vietnam. Apparently it has various large high-end hotels and all-inclusive resorts. I can't help feeling it's pretty far removed from 'the real Vietnam' - a phrase I generally detest! But it would probably be a nice place to relax if you were spending a long time in Vietnam. It wasn't too long before we reached Hội An which turned out to be one of my favourite places in Vietnam! More next time.

Posted by TashandTim 01:30 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam Continued: A Couple of Great Days in Huế

Edited 15th September: a few photos added at the bottom!

At some point I promised to come back to update this blog where we left it in Vietnam, which seems like forever ago now! It was indeed a few months ago. Writing from a motel in New Zealand, I'm glad I've got the itinerary and our wealth of photos to refer back to!

After our interesting overnight train journey, we clambered off at Huế station. Naively I just assumed there would be a platform... but instead you stepped off the train (from quite a height) on to grassy wasteland beside the tracks! Off we went in to the city of Huế where we stayed in quite a nice hotel. The city was noticeably quieter and less hectic than Hanoi - it was obviously a much much smaller city and this was quite a welcome change for me (Tim was a little keener on the Hanoi buzz!). After a group lunch we visited the Imperial Citadel, which once housed the ruling emperor's palace, and was badly damaged during the war. There were some lovely flowers and features amongst the damaged buildings, and the fact they hadn't been restored meant they were more authentic.

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That evening we met up with a friend of mine who was actually temporarily living in Huế. She had been there for about six months teaching English, and I had kept in touch with her and mentioned we may be able to meet up during our trip to Vietnam. As it happened she was at the very end of her teaching contract and about to leave, but we managed to meet up for a drink with her and her other teacher friends. It was one of the only nights we went out without our tour group after dinner, and we went to a roof bar in Huế which was surprisingly full of westerners (we had seen hardly any around before that point).

The next day was a real hoot. After breakfast we congregated outside the hotel where we were met by our guide and a group of motorbike drivers. We each took a set of motorbike keys at random and found the driver the bike belonged to. Then we hopped on the back and got driven around for the day by our individual drivers. Looking back towards the end of the trip, it was one of our favourite days in Vietnam. We laughed so much and had a really enjoyable day. It wasn't overly comfortable being on the back of a motorbike in trousers and a helmet in the stifling heat but that didn't matter. We were taken off through the city, down narrow side streets, through residential areas along a meandering river, out through rice paddies, and one of our stops was the local food markets.

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^ Rice paddies being seeded by hand; the farming was much more rudimental than we are used to with water buffalos and cows being used in place of tractors. We did see some machinery but it was often very old fashioned and required some form of pedal-power (no engines or motors).

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^ The local markets outside the city, where Vietnamese people shopped daily for food (not a single tourist in sight, just us). There was a vast array of products on sale, many of which we didn't photograph as some of them were a bit unpleasant to smell or look at! For example, meat and fish covered in what seemed like hundreds of flies. There were also some smaller live animals, such as buckets of toads, sold for meat. Our guide explained that the market stalls were run only by women; men stayed away!

Later we stopped at the Forbidden City. This was once home to the ruling Nguyễn emperors and their concubines. They would choose concubines from the normal population who would then be sent away from their families to essentially be imprisoned in the grounds. After a fun bumpy ride off-road through some pine forests, we stopped for photos by the perfume river and then went on to visit a 17th century Buddhist monastery.

True to form our internet is playing up so I can't upload any more photos tonight but I'll try again next time. Now done - see bottom.

We then took a boat trip down the perfume river, before being collected by our drivers again and driven to a wonderful 5-course vegetarian lunch freshly prepared at a nunnery. Finally we visited some tombs before our convoy weaved back through the city traffic to our hotel. Everyone had a great time!

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Posted by TashandTim 02:20 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Back in NZ

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We left Australia on 26th August and have returned to New Zealand. There's a huge chunk of this blog missing but we'll come back and sort that out at a later date! We've updated our Australia travel map to include our NZ trip so far.

Coming back to New Zealand was a little strange as we visited two of Australia's biggest cities beforehand (Melbourne and Sydney) and somehow adjusted to the busier pace of city life, rows of shops and cafes, and crowds of people. It meant that Auckland felt somewhat tiny and very quiet in comparison! Upon landing we faced terrible weather (wind, rain, and visibility heavily reduced by mist). Despite the flash floods in Sydney we left on a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and the ability to prance around in a t-shirt. However the weather in NZ has improved and we've had some sunshine and clear skies since.

We spent a couple of days in central Auckland before collecting our car and heading northwards. We're currently exploring the Northlands area - basically the most northern part of the mainland, a fairly narrow leg of land jutting north-west from Auckland. We are enjoying having the car back and look forward to exploring more of the country!

Posted by TashandTim 01:44 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Update

It's been ages since we were able to sit down and write a blog entry, mainly because of problems connecting to the internet (or having no internet at all a lot of the time). We still have to write about our time in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand! In the meantime we visited New Zealand to stay with friends for a couple of weeks, and are currently in Australia. Here's a map of our NZ/Australia travels so far, just showing the places we stayed/are staying (we've actually visited a lot more not shown on the map!). We'll return to fill in the blanks of south-east Asia!

Australia travel map

Posted by TashandTim 00:32 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

From Hanoi to Huế


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After we returned from Ha Long Bay, we spent another afternoon in Hanoi. This time we went to see a 'water puppet show' which was quite strange! It's a Vietnam special: a puppet show performed over a tank of (shallow) water in the ground. It was all in Vietnamese so we didn't really understand a lot of it but it featured puppets of farmers, fish, chickens, a tiger, and so on. After that little bit of culture with a couple of the group we headed to a rooftop bar overlooking the lake and had a drink and wandered around a bit.

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^ An example of a typical side street in Hanoi. It was hard to try and capture how busy/chaotic the city was in photos.

That evening we headed to the train station for an overnight trip to Huế. We weren't entirely sure what to expect. We ended up sharing a cabin with two girls from our group; our guide did some kind of swap so that some of the group got to share. When we later looked at our tickets we realised we were supposed to comprise 3 men and a Chinese person (complete with their dates of birth and passports). No wonder the guard gave us some funny looks! We were in the first class section of the train, which meant we got 4 bunk beds and a lockable door on our cabin. There was no other space inside so it was a matter of sitting on your neighbour's bed if you wanted to sit in the cabin. The next class down were six to a cabin (three vertical) which meant there was very little head room above each bunk. After that it turned to wooden benches either side of the central aisle (with no doors or separate cabins).

Our first class cabin was very basic but we did get a small bottle of water and a wet wipe each! We brought along our own food after the advice of our guide, though there was a small cart that went round selling bits and pieces (our guide warned us against it so we have no experience of that!). Tim went for a walk down the train to get a couple of drinks from the counter at the very back of the train, and reported seeing mice and people trying to stamp on them along the way. In our own cabin we found a few cockroaches running up and down the wall. This was disconcerting as they disappeared in to my bunk above and I had no way of finding them. We also discovered the train toilets were really very unpleasant. We had 13 hours to go and at some point we had to actually try and sleep. The two of us on the top bunks clambered up and tried not to think about cockroaches as we managed to drift off to sleep to the sound of the train rattling down the tracks.

The next morning we woke up early to the sound of traditional Vietnamese music blasting in to the cabin and announcements in Vietnamese. We discovered the speaker was just outside our cabin door and they were announcing one of the stops. It seemed that most of the interesting landscape had whizzed by during the dark night and we were passing flat fields and small towns without much of a view. We snacked on our pre-purchased pastries before we left the train at around 10.30am. We had arrived in Huế.

Posted by TashandTim 21:23 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ha Long Bay


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On 20th May we set off with our new group to Ha Long Bay, which took about four hours. On the way we stopped at a ceramic workship and saw the workers painting the pots by hand - they were pretty quick and skilled at doing it! I think they said it only took around half an hour to paint an entire pot.

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Once we got to Ha Long Bay we boarded our boat pretty quickly. We had a boat for just our group and were staying on it overnight. Our cabin was the first door near the steps on the lower deck, which had a window on the opposite side of the boat. It wasn't too bad for a room on a boat but we didn't spend any time in there. The bathroom was quite compact - a wet room with a shower head directly over the toilet... so not very practical!
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We cruised around Ha Long Bay for a while, with the strange shaped mounds stretching for a long way. Really quite a spectacular site! large_P1070380.jpg

The sea often appeared a green-ish colour and amidst the tourist boats there were people fishing and collecting things from the hillsides.
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That afternoon we cruised to some famous caves and it was worth going just for a higher view of the area which looked magnificent:
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As well as the inside of the caves which were quite impressive - and not too claustrophobic as the chambers were huge:
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The weather started to turn as we were leaving the caves, and a storm set in. So we had to get out of there fairly quickly and board our boat again for the evening. The rain set in for most of the evening so we had to stay inside the boat. The top deck was a large dining/seating space and we ate dinner in there. After dinner we played a few rounds of Uno with the group - our group leader joined in and it was quite good fun. Later on the rain stopped and we saw dusk fall over Ha Long Bay before we went to bed.

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The next morning we had an early wake up call to do a spot of kayaking before breakfast. Afterwards we had a demonstration from the boat chef as to how he created some of the items we had been presented with at dinner and lunch.

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After a bit more cruising around, we headed back to land where we drove back to Hanoi.

Posted by TashandTim 19:55 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Good Morning Vietnam


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We arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam, on a delayed flight and got a tiny uber (taxi) to the hotel that we had to squeeze everything in to. It felt like the wheels were coming off; we were crawling along and watching people still active (seemingly buying and selling at markets) at around 2am. It definitely felt like we were in another country; the houses were narrow and tall even when they were surrounded by fields. We got to the hotel and went straight to bed.

We had a couple of days in Hanoi to ourselves before we were due to join a group tour. Hanoi felt very busy and chaotic, and it was really difficult trying to cross the road! There appeared to be very few rules regarding traffic. Pavements, it seemed, were designed for motorbike parking, thus you had to walk in the road almost everywhere. Everything felt very crammed in and living conditions seemed cramped. Lots of people sat on tiny low plastic chairs on any spare piece of pavement or road, where there would be someone serving some kind of Vietnamese cooked meal (often just sat on the side of the street with a big steel cooking pot and a ladle). The streets were always busy with thousands of mopeds, no matter what time of day or night.

One of the central areas of Hanoi is the large lake (Hồ Hoàn Kiếm) which is a popular spot at night, especially for couples. We visited a couple of times, and we tried to see as much of the city as we could in the limited time we had there. We visited a few temples, Ba Đình Square (where Vietnam's independence was announced in 1945), and the citadel, amongst other things. Here are a few snaps from our wanderings:

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^Hồ Hoàn Kiếm: lake of the returned sword

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^Inside a temple

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^Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the former leader's body is kept

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^By the lake at night

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^Citadel, parts dating from the Ly Dynasty in 1010

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^St Joseph's Cathedral: the oldest church in Hanoi, completed in 1886 and sits in the middle of the bustling city

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^Trấn Quốc Pagoda: the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, from the sixth century sits on West Lake

It seemed to be a lot more overcast in Vietnam (eventually also for the rest of our time there) and slightly hazy, but it was still humid and we got really hot and tired walking round the citadel which was huge! I found Hanoi to be far too busy for my liking, but Tim quite liked it.

We checked out of our hotel as we had to move down the road to another hotel where the tour started and included one night's accommodation (we would have stayed in the same hotel beforehand but it was cheaper to stay just down the road - the hotel was the same standard so we're not sure why). On our last night in Hanoi we met up for the first time with our tour group. We were a group of ten in total, plus a Vietnamese tour guide. We were all English-speakers from different parts of the world which was funny - we had expected more non-British Europeans. People's backgrounds were quite interesting too...

One Australian policeman
One New Zealander living in Sydney, Australia
One South African hoping to move to the UK
One American originally from Tobago but now living in New York
One Canadian doctor living in Australia
Two English girls travelling together
One English girl travelling alone who worked for a travel agent and got lots of discounted trips!
...and us

We would spend the next 10 days with them travelling through Vietnam. We went out with a couple of other members of the group for a meal, but most people were jetlagged having just arrived in Vietnam that day. It wasn't a late night as we had an early start the next day to begin our first real day of the tour...

Posted by TashandTim 00:48 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

An eventful boat trip


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Whilst we were on Panglao we decided to book a day out at sea. This meant hiring a bangka boat with crew. Bangkas are the go-to boats for most things in The Philippines it seems. They are usually fitted with very noisy petrol engines and aren't really the most peaceful or comfortable mode of transport. We'd been on a few bangkas already and though we didn't really want to go on another, we didn't have much choice as the boat types aren't too varied.

First we got up for a 5.30am start and went off looking for dolphins. Everything looked really serene at that time in the morning:
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After a while there were loads of boats in the water all looking for dolphins, most of them noisy bangkas. They seemed to be following one another and were presumably trying to chase after pods of dolphins. But it started to feel like we were harassing any form of marine life - even though at this point we hadn't seen any dolphins - and I didn't feel it was the right way to go about it. So we were much happier when we gave up on the group hunt and started to head off towards another island on our own. Luckily we came across quite a lot of dolphins when it was just us:

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After that things didn't go quite to plan. Firstly, there was a huge fire on the boat. That was quite a shock. I just turned around as one of the crew started shouting and then I saw flames coming from the steering area. The boats aren't very big and it's not like there are any emergency supplies on board (no fire extinguisher, no radios, no fire blankets, no life boats of course, and the fire was in the area where the life jackets were stored... not that the life jackets in The Philippines were much cop generally... oh and the whole boat was made of glossed wood so hardly flame resistant). The crew were quite panicked and the only way to try and put the fire out was to use anything made of material, soak it in sea water, and throw it over the flames. A throw used in this manner then set on fire itself. We only had a towel each and our clothes that were made of material. The boatman's legs were even alight, and had to be doused in sea water. Then we saw that the petrol fuel cannister was on fire (huge flames licking up at roof height!). This was obviously a big danger sign and I think we started to realise we may have to jump off the boat, in the middle of the sea (nowhere near land), sacrifice all our belongings, and hope to firstly avoid being eaten and secondly to be rescued by someone. All whilst minus lifejackets with a non-English speaking crew.

Thankfully the fire eventually receded and the crew had thrown the fuel tank in to the sea. It was still smoking high in to the air for a long time afterwards - we could eventually see it a long distance away. It was quite a serious safety issue (pretty sure you'd get sued for that in the UK or similar) but this is The Philippines and there is no such thing as health and safety.

After the fire, miraculously the crew managed to restart the boat. I've no idea how. And then they carried on as if nothing had happened. Off we went snorkelling! We saw giant turtles swimming underneath us and lots of fish. By this point we had done quite a lot of snorkelling during our travels and we were a little bit jaded, but the giant turtles were definitely a high point.

Unfortunately I then got stung by a jellyfish whilst snorkelling. I felt a pain on my thigh and then, when we got back on the boat, saw marks over the front and back of my left thigh. There was no mobile medical treatment for this of course (it's The Philippines!). I assumed it would just get better but it actually felt a lot worse the next day, and the heat and sun aggravated it. It took a couple of weeks to die down properly.

We had a whole host of problems with the boat experience that I won't go in to. We saw some amazing things: giant turtles and dolphins, but the boat trip itself was probably the worst thing we've ever done. We complained of course, and it became a long dragged out and frustrating process for weeks afterwards.

After the boat experience and everything else, we were eventually glad to be leaving The Philippines. As our time came to an end the election results came in. Rodrigo Duterte had received the most votes. I couldn't believe it. They'd voted in someone with an atrocious human rights record and shocking - unacceptable - opinions on things. But he'd been seen as the saviour of the city in which he'd organised (or sanctioned) vigilante killings of hundreds of (petty) criminals. It had apparently become a very safe place after the mass murders. During his election campaign he promised to kill 100,000 more criminals in the first six months of being in power and dump them in Manila Bay. He seemed to find it hilarious, saying he would be able to excuse himself of mass murder. There are many more examples of pretty shocking things he's said and yet the country, which seems so corrupt and hopeless in many ways (to a westerner), voted him in. They perhaps believe he'll solve all the problems that others have failed to, and somehow that he'll be less corrupt...

We also found out that the 'transparent' elections had been a bit of a joke. For some reason the system prints a confirmation of your vote for you to take home once you exit the polling station. Why? Well one reason would be to prove which way you voted... and why would you need that? Because those running for president buy votes - offering impoverished people a small amount of money, or even food, in exchange for their vote. Obviously they'd need to have proof of the way they'd voted to claim what was offered. A small amount of money, or food, was worth a lot more than democracy to those in need. It was without doubt widespread practice, our guide confirmed this, and I'm not sure it stopped just at those in poverty (possibly the amounts offered just get larger depending how much money you have). No wonder there were huge lines of people by the side of every polling station.

I found the whole political situation really interesting and if Duterte seems to 'fix' the crime rate I wonder how he'll do at fixing the poverty and other problems... and how he'll be seen on an international level as essentially some kind of tyrant.

We returned to Manila, feeling defeated about the whole Philippines situation, for our next flight. Thankfully this time we didn't have to brave Manila itself; we just stayed in the airport. By this point we couldn't wait to leave, though as luck would have it our plane was delayed and it was already 11pm. Eventually we boarded our 11th flight of the trip: we were off to Vietnam!

Posted by TashandTim 06:45 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Panglao and Bohol


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Next we set off for the small island of Panglao, just off the south-west coast of a bigger island called Bohol, and a few islands east of Palawan where we had been staying. Our journey involved a flight to the island of Cebu, before taking a taxi to the port and then getting a 90 minute ferry across to the next island (Bohol). After that we had to get another taxi from Bohol port to Panglao (fortunately it's connected by road to Bohol). The journey felt quite long and we had a bit of a wait for the ferry from Cebu. Inside the ferry terminal was quite busy and bizarrely there seemed to be a lot of people travelling with chickens and cockerels. There was a lot of cock-a-doodle-doo-ing going on and people travelling with lots of boxes and parcels. Travelling with lots of large (sometimes battered) boxes, whether it be by ferry, air, or train, seems like quite a common thing in SE Asia.

Our hotel in Panglao was mainly a dive resort but we picked it as it was away from the beach area which was supposed to be noisy, and it was reasonable price-wise. If the weather had been any kind of normal we could have walked to/from the beach but as it was blisteringly hot and humid we took a tricycle - effectively a motorbike with a sidecar that we struggled to both squeeze in (we definitely have bigger hips than most Asians!).

Unexpectedly we found a Greek restaurant which we ate at twice, as well as an organic one that did vegetarian dishes and fresh salads. We found the food selection quite limited in The Philippines so we were surprised to find other cuisines on the small island of Panglao. There was also a long beach but it was fairly narrow and busy so we didn't really use it. Again there was a bit of a stray dog problem, and there were also local children begging for money. Seemed quite innocent at first as they would play a small battered ukulele and sing... but then when someone refused to give them money they would come out with lines like "I wish you will die".

Anyway we did a few trips whilst we were on Panglao. One day we hired a car and driver to take us round some sights on Bohol. It was wonderful having an air conditioned car and being driven around all day. We went off to see the strange chocolate hills - hundreds of natural conical mounds that turn brown in the dry season (hence 'chocolate'):

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Our second stop was at a forest that the driver seemed to think was wonderful (and so did others apparently as it was a popular tourist spot); it was nice to see some greenery but I think we had been spoilt with all the Bornean rainforest as we were a bit underwhelmed. But it was definitely a plus for The Philippines to be maintaining some green areas. Along the journey there were roadworks and our driver told us they were still rebuilding the road from the 2013 earthquake. You could see areas where the roads had been badly damaged and where landslides had occurred.

Next we visited a very rickety bridge made of bamboo spanning a river. It's hard to tell how flimsy it felt from the photos and to make things worse it was totally uneven and appeared to be held together by cable ties and some hosepipe casing. You walk across one bridge and then return on another. I'm fairly confident it wouldn't pass any kind of western safety standards but it was good fun and the locals had you stop to do all kinds of silly poses.

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We decided we'd then go zip-lining. After all we were in one of the worst countries for health and safety standards so it was the obvious thing to do! We drove to another point, high up above a river gorge, and got clipped in to half-a-sleeping-bag and then pushed off the edge and whizzed across the canyon at two different spots. It was lots of fun and the uncertainty of whether an unconvincing piece of rope would be enough to stop you when you reached the rocks just added to the experience!

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After that we did a more leisurely river cruise which included lunch (not the best, I survived on the watermelon). It was quite interesting as alongside the river locals were using rope in the trees to swing across the river and throw themselves in. We also stopped for a local dance performance on one of the riverside piers, and saw the zip lines that we went across earlier.

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We drove for a little while before stopping at one of the oldest churches (Baclayon, completed in 1727) which had been badly damaged in the 2013 earthquake and was still being rebuilt. The Spanish influence in The Philippines was interesting to note - everywhere, not just at the church.

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Before we got dropped off at home we visited the Sandugo (Blood Compact shrine). This is a monument depicting the Spanish-Filipino treaty of 1565 where a Spanish explorer arriving in Bohol, and the Chieftain of Bohol, drank a small amount of one another's blood mixed with wine to signify a bond of friendship. The Spanish colonised The Philippines until 1898, after which it became a US colony, and was then occupied by the Japanese during WW2.

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As this is quite a long blog post I'll return next time to tell the story of our other day trip which wasn't as plain sailing...

Posted by TashandTim 04:19 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

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