Hoi An

P1050315 2

Greetings from the 6 1/2 floor.

As anticipated, there was stoush when we checked out.  I refused to pay $16 each for a tour that everyone else paid $7 for.  Refused.  I also refused to pay another $25 for the room, and they quickly settled on another $15 (which meant that we paid $20 per night, which was more than the hotel was worth, but I was saving my energy for “The Battle of The City Tour”.  The front desk staff tried to placate the cross tourist, but it quickly became clear that the cross tourist wasn’t going to budge, and Mrs. Hotel was summoned from sleep.  The situation was explained, the tour leaflet was shown to her, and I pointed to $7 pp.  She said that because we had lunch on the tour, we had to pay $9 extra.  I calmly pointed out that everybody had lunch, and that although she had charged me $16 each, the leaflet that she had shown us prior to booking clearly showed that lunch was included, and the lunch had not been worth $9.  A lot of shaking of heads ensued, and I was a little concerned that she might call the police on us.  Doing a runner wasn’t an option, as the hotel keeps your passport until you pay your bill.  It’s a police requirement all over Vietnam  apparently.

She backed down and glared over her shoulder at me in disgust as she stormed off, and I was left a shivering wreck, unable to enjoy my breakfast.  I was left feeling like a cow, that perhaps the $18 US that we were arguing about was worth so much more to her than to us, and that it was churlish of me to kick up a stink.  But then by the same token, if it becomes the norm for hotels to rip people off like that, Vietnam won’t be such a lovely place to visit.  Some Aussies in the lobby that witnessed the incident came up and thanked me for sticking up for what was right.  That $18 is nearly enough to pay for the next two nights accomodation in Hoi An.

The bus picked us up “at 8 o’clock”, which was actually more like 8.45, and we were off again.  Hue has some lovely places to visit, but with the never ending drizzle, we weren’t inclined to stay and wait out the weather.  We tried to get a trip to Hoi An via Bach Ma National Park, but were told that it was “impossible” to go in the wet.  I suspect that impossible = not pleasant, and we can handle not pleasant, but apparently Bach Ma is a relatively unusual spot for tourists to go, and no-one wanted to take responsibility for us whinging about the rain.

The bus drove through a really long tunnel just north of Da Nang, and the rain seemed to go away.  It still wasn’t beach weather, but it was an improvement.  we stopped so the bus could change tyres (or so the tourists were stranded at a place which served food and drink), and then we were on our way again.  On reaching Hoi An, the bus stopped at two “recommended” hotels, but most of us had accommodation already booked.  We had arranged with a guy from the place we had dinner with the night before to go to his hotel – The Grasslands.  The map looked like it was close to town, it was $10 a night, and they offered to meet us at the bus, so we figured we didn’t have much to lose.

The Grasslands is a nice hotel.  TV, air conditioning, a pool in the foyer, and free internet (not WIFI).  And free bicycle hire, in case you want to go into town, and don’t fancy the 15min walk.  And the $10 rooms were all full – so we got a $15 room.  We decided to find a hotel closer to the action for our second night in Hoi An. 


We found a hotel that had been recommended by a couple from the Central Coast, and checked it out.  We looked at a few other places, but ended up at the Huy Hoang I Hotel, in a $10 room.  It’s very ordinary, and smells of mould.  I’ll see how my lungs handle it, but we may find ourselves back at the Grasslands before we leave Hoi An.  We stopped for a pancake like thing at a stall in the markets – no idea what it was called, but we asked the chef to make ours without shrimp – delicious!


They come out of the pan burning hot, and are placed on a piece of rice paper – you add salad and green banana slices, and then dip into a mysterious sauce with chilli added.  I decided it was best not to ask about the sauce, but it didn’t taste fishy, and was delicious.


A bit hard to see in this picture, but the roof of this building is typical of Hoi An – the tiles are concave and convex, and fit together like yin and yang.  During winter it is common for moss to grow on the roofs.

After lunch we did some more wandering the streets, and were dragged in to a tailors shop.  I ordered a pair of jeans (the jeans I have are on their last legs, and one more hike will surely kill them), and Mark ordered a lairy shirt.  $25 US for both – we can pick the up this afternoon and see wether we got good value.

More wandering, and we found a fabulous local “cocktail”.  Rum, coconut cream and pineapple in a blender.  15,000d (about $1.20 Aus), so we had a couple with some veggie spring rolls for dinner.  Not exactly health food, but we were having a day off the diet.  We walked back to the hotel past the most garish dress shop I have seen in my life.  Andrew, this one’s for you.




We arrived and were met by a woman from the Sports Hotel (a recommendation from the guy at the Sunny), but there was a bit of kerfuffle about actually finding a cab.  When a cab was found, it only had seats for five people, but there were six of us (including the driver and the woman from the hotel).  A squishy ride later, we arrived and were taken up to our room – 602, and the lift stops at the 5th floor.  Up another flight of stairs, my legs screaming every step, and then up over a platform in a corridor and down again.  Very weird, like the 6 1/2th floor in “Being John Malkovich”.  The room is pretty ordinary, a good view out the tiny (barred) window, but hardly worth the $25 we paid (because there wasn’t a cheaper room available).  I spoke to Mrs. Hotel, who said that the room would be “cheaper”.  I expect a bit of stoush when we check out tomorrow – especially since the tour we took today was waaay overpriced, the remote for the TV doesn’t work (and neither does the air-con), and there doesn’t seem to be enough hot water for both of us to have a hot shower.  I’m going first next time.  Oh, and the roof leaks.  Mark just got dripped on.

After stashing our stuff, putting the gadgets on charge, and scrubbing up a bit, we wandered out to find the Buddhist Veg restaurant that was recommended in the “Let’s Go” guidebook.  They recommended a bike ride, but my thighs weren’t up for it, and the weather wasn’t conducive either.  We found a friendly cab driver to take us, but it had been closed for many months.  He took us to another veg place which was just around the corner from the hotel, and we had a pleasant lunch.

Wandering around in the rain had limited charms, and we were both feeling wrecked from the train journey, so we hauled ass back to the hotel for a mid afternoon nap.  It was difficult to get up, but we had to arrange activities for the next day, so at 6pm we wandered down to the lobby to book the “Hue City Tour”.  Wandering around aimlessly in the rain is bad enough for one afternoon, we thought it might be better to do some guided wandering if the weather stayed bad.

Back to bed to watch some “Heroes” on the laptop, and then more sleep.  I thought I had slept OK on the train, but apparently not.  Or maybe we were catching up on jet lag. Still not feeling refreshed and wonderful, we had breakfast in the lobby (bread and egg), and played on the ancient PC’s that supplied internet at a snails pace until the bus arrived to take us on our tour.


First stop, the Imperial City.  I don’t have words to describe this ancient city, and my pictures in the rain won’t do it justice, but I am very glad we saw this, even in the rain.


We’re both wet through, and there were points in the day when I thought I couldn’t take another step, but we saw some of the important parts of the city, despite the weather being miserable, and our wet weather gear being inadequate.  I also had a moment of profound joy amongst the hustle and bustle of the tour, between fighting on and off the bus, and evil tourists dropping rubbish (which I compulsively had to pick up).  At the Thien Mu Pagoda, the rear of the pagoda area was boarded up for renovations, but behind the renovations is an important relic from Vietnamese buddhist history.  In 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a buddhist monk drove to Saigon and set himself on fire to protest the treatment of buddhists in Vietnam.  His car was taken to Hue, and can be seen at the Pagoda.  We skirted the renovations to see if we could find the car, but couldn’t.  We did find a temple, with a monk outside asking tourists to remove their shoes and raincoats before entering the sanctuary.  I could see a harried and annoyed look on his face, and judging by the way I had seen a lot of the tourists behaving, I felt rather sorry for him.  I took off my shoes and poncho, and turned to him with a smile and did my best imitation of a respectful prayer bow.  I have no clue about buddhist rituals, but I have a great respect for buddhists, and after having read about this extreme sacrifice, I was in quite a contemplative mood.  I don’t pray, and I certainly don’t pray to religions I don’t believe in, but when the monk smiled and ushered me in to the inner sanctum, and showed me how to kneel at the altar, I felt it was only right to do so.  I knelt, with hands clasped, and my forehead touching the altar, while the monk struck a bell that reverberated through the wooden altar, and also right through my head and chest.  I gave thanks for peaceful times in this beautiful country, and felt very blessed to have been welcomed here.


We boarded a Dragon Boat on the Perfume River back to Hue, and then bought our bus tickets to Hoi An for tomorrow morning.  Apparently it’s too wet to go to Bach Ma National Park, which is a great pity.  Dinner at a little Veg place with great spring rolls, booked a hotel in Hoi An (and forgot to get change for dinner, so it cost about double what it should).  Back to the hotel to try to dry off for tomorrows adventures.

Hanoi to Hue


My morning coffee on the train.  I swear the coffee cups are getting smaller.  This was prepared with a dash of sweetened condensed milk, some coffee syrup, and then a dash of hot water.  Tasted like heaven after sleeping on the train.  Mark and I paid the extra $3 US for a “soft sleeper”, which means you get a mattress and a pillow instead of a hard bench, and I am glad we did.  It was hardly luxury, but we did sleep.  We were met at the train station and taken to our hotel, which we have no idea about, other than it was recommended by the guys at the Sunny in Hanoi.

Yesterday we had a quick breakfast at the hotel on Cat Ba, then on to the boat for the trip back to the dock at Ha Long Bay.  Then into a bus for the long journey back to Hanoi.  Two stops, one at a workshop for handicapped children, where I bought a cotton headscarf (the first cotton I have seen so far), and then lunch at a restaurant that seems to be owned by the tour company. 

We were dropped at the Sunny (where the wireless internet had inexplicably stopped working), booked the hotel for Hue, checked our email, and stowed our bags.  We went to the night markets for dinner, and boldly went to try our Vietnamese language skills again.  I had been feeling pretty dismal about it, crushed by my inability to master the tonal language thing.  But I tried again, AND I WAS UNDERSTOOD!  the lady seemed really happy that we were vegetarian, and told all of the other patrons in the stall.  We were asked if we liked chilli, but that was the last decision we were allowed for ourselves – they took care of everything.  THey gave us a burner with a big pot of soupy stuff in it (we think it was actually vegetable stock, it certainly wasn’t fish, chicken or beef), and then they added veggies and noodles and tofu, and served it up to us.  It was delicious, and we were both left feeling very glad to have found a good dinner, but also to have been understood finally. 


Back to the hotel to catch a cab to the train station, and then off to Hue at 11pm.  The train cost us $35 each, and saved us a night in a hotel.  If you’re thinking of taking the train, ask for lower berths, that would have been a lot more comfortable than being up top – especially with my whole body still aching from hiking the day before. 

Help Please?

I lost my sock pattern, and was wondering if anyone has the Patons Patoyle accessories pattern book, could you please email me the instructions for the Ladies anklet (the one with 14cm of ribbing to start). I own the book, so it’s not copyright infringement (in my mind), and it would really help me out. Thanks !

My travelling email addy is rhubarbandcustard AT mac DOT com

Cat Ba Island 04.01.07



Woke up anchored in the middle of a floating village, mist surrounding the people as they started their day.  Straight after breakfast we transferred to a smaller boat and left the rest of the 2 day tour people, just the two American girls and us. 


It was a little sad to say goodbye – the people on the boat had been great fun, especially Jin, the Malaysian girl who was on her way home from an “Ultimate Frisbee” Tournament.

Sea Kayaking first up, so I changed into shorts, and a positive attitude.  I am not your “sporty” type, and the thought of having to paddle around to look at things, and then risking not having the strength to get back to the boat was a little scary.  But we’d been paddling a few weeks before for Kerry’s birthday, so I knew I wasn’t a complete wuss, and decided to push myself a little bit.  It was worth it.  Being out on the water was a magical experience, and though I pushed myself to exhaustion, and my arms burn when I move, I am so glad I didn’t pike out.  We paddled through a rock archway into a protected inlet that was called the “Light and Dark Cave”.


Back to the beach where the boat was anchored for lunch served on the beach.  Another great meal, with dragonfruit for desert.  Mark went off looking for things to photograph with his underwater camera, and found starfish, crabs, hermit crabs, some kind of sea slug thingy, and possibly a nudibranch.


the starfish tried to eat him.  I’ve never seen the underside of a live starfish before, it is a fascinating little beastie.

The boat then took us to Monkey Island, where we followed the painted rocks up the mountain to find monkeys.  The trail started badly, with jagged rocks tumbling over each other and a rope hanging down for purchase.  The picture doesn’t adequately portray the steep angle, but it was almost vertical at this point.


The guidebook doesn’t mention a treacherous path, so I just assumed that the rest of the trail would be better, and that I’d be fine in my crocs and skirt (shorts got wet in the kayak, so I had changed to a skirt for lunch).  But no.  The trail got scarier, and scarier, and eventually I realised that I had to decide to be brave and press on, because going back was going to be just as scary, but I’d be alone and scared.  My shoes were filled with soft sand, which meant that my foot slid around inside the shoe with each step, and I had to worry about shifting my considerable weight from foot to foot. 


Many of the rocks were not stable, I stood on one rock that was almost the size of a small car, only to feel it roll gently on its axis.  I almost asked Mark to take a little movie of this, but self preservation got the better of me.  Add to this the fact that my skirt kept getting caught on the sharp rocks, and that my arms (that I relied on for climbing) were burning from the adventures of the morning, and I was not a happy camper.  Mark went on ahead looking for monkeys, and I struggled on alone, feeling quite sorry for myself, and more than a little scared that I would injure myself horribly.  I did stumble a few times, but there wasn’t too much blood, and the promise of monkeys kept me going.

After about 30 minutes of this, I reached our destination.  Mark, Katy and Debra were already there, but the monkeys were absent.  Bastards.

I licked some of my wounds, and steeled myself for the return journey.  There were monkeys at the other end, and I was very proud of myself for pushing on.  Through my illness last year, I became a bit of a pansy – shying away from activities that might make me uncomfortable, or cause pain, or be too much effort.  I know that you only get out of life what you put in, and I feel like I really proved that to myself yesterday.  Without the hike, I still would have seen the monkeys, but I wouldn’t have felt the same sense of achievement.  I worked hard for those monkeys.


German was winning at cards against the other tour guides, so we had to hang around on the beach for a while while he fleeced them before getting back on the boat.  Off to Cat Ba Island to check in to a very posh hotel (another motor bike ride, this time in a skirt).  Had a well deserved bath, then up to the rooftop terrace for a cocktail looking over Cat Ba town.  Very romantic, and I wore my dress – felt just like a proper honeymoon, except for the pain in all my limbs.  Dinner was pretty good, and then German took us for “a short walk around the town, and then singing”.  Apparently it is customary for most Vietnamese to take a 2-3km walk each day, either in the morning or the evening, to catch up with friends and take in the air.  A lovely custom, except when you have a very poor level of fitness, an aching shoulder, burning arms, and thighs that are by turns rigid with pain and weak and jelly-like.  And the island is not flat.  Our little walk took us all around the town, up to the heights, and then back down to a karaoke bar which was about 100m from the front door of the hotel.  I could have choked him.

German sang, Mark sang, Katy sang, we drank beer, and a very silly time was had by all.  Bed was very welcome.


Ha Long Bay


Our last night in Hanoi, Bia Hoi corner.  This picture doesn’t really do it justice, but you get the general idea of how close the traffic is.


The Sunny Hotel from across the street.


We were picked up by “German” (apparently westerners murder his real name, and he won’t tell us what it is), and hauled off in a mini bus for the 3 hour drive to Ha Long Bay.  The bay is crowded with boats like this (I saw at least 6 different boats with the same name).


We had to climb over three other boats to get out to our boat.  Luckily I had spent a lot of time while working on Water Rats doing this sort of crazy stuff while carrying a lot of heavy gear, so I wasn’t phased by it as I might have been before the water rats experience.


Our boat.


Our cabin.  We paid $110 US for a three day tour.  Similar tours were going for about $235 per person, so I have to wonder what we are missing out on.  We’re pretty happy so far, and the vegetarian food has been much better than anything we had in Hanoi.  There are a couple of other freaks on board, and we get herded together for meals.  Last night they gave us fake prawns which were much better than the ones we get in Sydney, but still pretty horrible. 



We stopped at a floating fish shop, and I was greatly saddened to see these magnificent creatures patiently waiting to die.  One of them was scooped up in a net, and then dumped down again, his body started pulsating rapidly, and his companions all matched the rhythms.  Obviously social animals, with advanced communication skills.  But tasty, so the brains don’t matter.



We sailed past a lot of rocks.  This is a place of such majestic beauty, everywhere you look is another postcard picture.

P1040853 2

We were in excellent “hands” as we cruised to our first stop, an island with amazing caves.



The view down to the bay from the top.


Another knitter.  Actually she was crocheting, but I was happy to see her anyway.

This was another amazing day.  The day trippers went for a night kayak paddle last night, and apparently we’ll get to go today.  Mark and I are having a much better time than we thought possible with all the stresses of the past few months, and though it is sad to see the passing of each day, we look forward so much to the next adventure.

6am, last day in Hanoi


Cut vegetables in the food market.

Last night we found the night markets (pretty much accidentally, we were wandering around looking for the Barbie shop that Mark had found earlier in the day) and we saw a few signs that had the word “chay” on them.  Chay with an accent over the a sloping in the right direction means vegetarian, sloping the other way means fish.  We think.  After my second fruitless attempt to get a decent veg pho, this was very promising, and we’re seriously debating wether to go here for our last meal in Hanoi (between returning from Ha Long Bay on Thursday afternoon, and catching the train to Hue at 11pm), or going to KOTO, the restaurant run by an Aussie to teach hospitality skills to Vietnamese streetkids.

Mark is snoring gently, and my body clock is stubbornly refusing to switch from Sydney time.I can hear the city starting to come to life, but it is still dark outside.  We are being picked up at the hotel at 8am for our 3 day trip to Ha Long Bay.  The tour company is “ET-Pumpkin“.  I would have picked it just for the whacky name, but Mark did some research and found that other travelers have been very happy  with the company.  We are doing this trip, and apparently they cater for vegetarians.  Still tossing up whether or not to sneak out of the hotel for a quick pho before Mark wakes up.

I should also mention that The Sunny Hotel has wireless in the room – not fast, but it’s an amazing luxury to be able to blog from bed in a city with open sewers.


Woman selling flowers – there are fresh roses everywhere, and yesterday I saw some stems with each rose individually wrapped in damp newspaper to preserve them.


Tourist shot of my darling at Hoan Kiem Lake.


Incense burner outside the temple on the lake.


Tourists at the temple.


Marble gravestones.


Made with an angle grinder on the footpath/workshop/restaurant/motocross track.

Bombs in Bangkok


We were in Siam Square yesterday, watching the teen idols rehearse for the New Years show.  I don’t know where the bombings were in relation to this, but it was on the same train line.  The first bombings must have happened just after we took off from the airport, and we were blissfully unaware of it until tonight when we sat down at the Bia Hoi (“fresh beer”) cafe/intersection/death trap.  We met some more Aussie tourists who told us about the bombings – they had just flown in from Ho Chi Minh city. 

Tonight we went to the third vegetarian restaurant that is mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide book, and I am at a loss to understand why these places had a recommendation.  Either a) the places have changed a lot, or b) the Lonely Planet writers were born without tastebuds.

I fully expected that we were going to have to eat some things that weren’t utterly kosher while we were traveling.  But I never expected to be wanting to tear the legs off passing cows just to get some bloody flavour in my food after 24hours in Vietnam.  The bulk of my experience with Vietnamese food was pre-crazy bunnyhugging animal rights veganism, so I know a good pho when I smell one.  And I’ve smelled a lot of them.  I’ve also had smells of fabulous steamboats waft across my path, and dried squid (why do such tasty animals also have to be so intelligent looking?  I can’t eat one of these!), and all manner of offal is starting to look strangely attractive.

Is it worse to buy silk and murder 1000 silkworms, or eat one squid ?

What about the merest shaving of cow ?

Hanoi has yarn !


It’s all crappy acrylic and novelty yarn, but here is a picture of Mark buying some to make me a scarf.  30,000D for the hank, about $3.  I got some needles that seem to be hollow aluminium, and we also bought some rainbow coloured rayon stuff – couldn’t resist the colour.  Note the blue bag – returned this morning when we checked in to the Sunny Hotel.  All contents inside, nothing mising. We love these guys ! 

2006 has had it’s last fart at us, and 2007 is shaping up beautifully.

I had seen a woman knitting at a museum this morning, and asked her for directions to the yarn store she bought from, it turns out there is a knitting district, with about 4 shops all selling the same stuff.

We’ve booked the tour to Ha Long Bay, leaving tomorrow morning, for 3 days, and then a train to Hue overnight on the day we return to Hanoi.  I’m feeling crappy and have taken to my bed at the hotel, while Mark is out looking for my lost sock (a little bag with needles, yarn and a sock pattern) that I seem ot have left in a cafe today.  He’s also checking the dates for our travels so that we can pre book a hotel for our arrival in Hue.


This is the square where the concert was on last night, the ground is littered with bits of glitter, but its back to being a full time motorcycle car park.  This young  couple seem to be paying rather more attention than most people to the oncoming traffic – they must be tourists.  The wy most people cross a road is just to wander on to it without checking what is coming at them in either direction.  Apparently the cars, busses and bikes just flow around the pedestrians.  There seems to be no real philosophical distinction between “road” and “footpath” and “carpark” and “outdoor dining area” or even “playground”.  Just walk with a firm step, and have faith that today is not your day to die.

PS.  I am sorry mum.  I promised I wouldn’t get on a motorbike, but when the “taxi” arrived to take us to the Sunny Hotel from the Prince this morning,  it was two guys on mopeds.  I went white and started mumbling, but when the guys sad “OK?”, Mark said “OK”.  I kept mumbling “you said OK?!?”, but while I tried to think of a way out, the guy had my bag in front of him and motioned for me to get on.  We survived, and I wasn’t nearly as terrified as I might have been.  But I won’t be seeking out another ride. 

Prince Hotel, Hanoi. 2007 begins….


Yesterday we wandered from over the top shopping malls past beggars with suppurating wounds. It seemed like the city was only half alive, a slow sunday waiting for New Years Eve. We had lunch at Cabbages and Condoms, a restaurant that does AIDS outreach and family planning in Bangkok, the idea is to make condoms as easy to get at the market as a cabbage.

Back to the hotel to pick up our bags, and a quick stickybeak at the rooftop garden, where I saw possibly the saddest bird I have ever seen. The birds where in cages not much larger than a refrigerator, with no mental stimulation. There was an African Grey Parrot (very smart birds, about the same mental ability as a human toddler) with one blind eye, clearly showing signs on insanity.

The hotel found us a cab to get the airport, we drove past more and more huge billboard tributes to the king, and testaments to his good works. Earlier at the posh department stores we had seen the special Edition “Kings iPod”, which has his symbol engraved on the back, and on a special case. We ate mangosteens from the market just before customs (my favourite fruit in the known universe, and almost impossible to get in Sydney), and had an uneventful flight to Hanoi.

The first thing we saw as we stepped off the plane into the corridor was an immigration official in the dark green of a cartoon communist, complete with hat, and epaulettes with stars on them. I’ve not travelled in a communist country before, and didn’t know what to expect, but certainly not this. More dark green at the immigration counter and customs, and then out to meet the driver from the hotel.

Who wasn’t there. No guy with a sign with my name on it. I pulled out my laptop to check the reservation, in which Mr Trung says “we will see you on the 31st”, but not explicitly “we will see you at the airport”, so I figure we’ll just get a cab to the city, and find the hotel. I changed some money into Dong, and chatted up a lovely Irish backpacker at the currency exchange counter, who agreed to share a taxi with us to the city. He was going to a hotel in the Old Quarter, and I couldn’t find the address of our hotel so we just went to his, and figured we’d find the Sunny Hotel when we got to the Old Quarter.

We said goodbye to Paul (a law student living in Melbourne for a year), and set off to find an internet cafe to get the address of the Sunny Hotel, when Mark discovered that he had left his man bag in the taxi. Including his iPod, my noise canceling headphones, and new camera. Mercifully his wallet and credit cards were in his pocket, but it was a rude start.

We went in to Paul’s hotel, and spoke to the very helpful guy at the desk. He allowed us to use the lobby internet to get the address, gave us a map to get to the Sunny, and suggested we ask them to call the taxi company. He seemed to have this strange idea that the cab driver would return the bag.

At this point I should mention that Hanoi traffic is absolutely insane. We were on a narrow lane, with barely room for three people to walk abreast on the street, and there are cars, and motorbikes, all with horns blaring, and people sitting eating and drinking on footpaths, kids playing in the street, chaos. We only had to go about 700 meters, but with heavy bags, overtired, and a little bit dazed and confused, it was a little more harrowing than I would have liked.

We made it to the Sunny, and the guys behind the counter gave me a blank look when I claimed to have a reservation. I showed them the email, but apparently Mr Trung doesn’t work there, and they had no rooms left. It was at this point that my equanimity was severely tested. Thank god for Mark, who took the opportunity to DEAL WITH IT, while I got out my knitting, and started muttering to myself that I was NOT going to have a holiday from hell, this was just a hiccup, and it would all be sorted out shortly so we could enjoy watching the clock ticking over past midnight into a bright new year.

And it did.

The guys at the Sunny were wonderful. They called all three taxi companies (after Mark drew a picture of the taxi we were in), and found us a hotel. While we were waiting for a cab to take us to the hotel, the call came in that the bag had been found, and could be collected from the Sunny in the morning.

We went around the lake to get from the top of the lake to the top of the lake, and I strongly suspected that the taxi driver was ripping us off, but I was so happy to be going to a hotel (any hotel), and the promise of a door to lock my bag behind was more than my bad mood could take, and when we drove past the lake and saw the Jade Mountain Temple in the middle, all lit up, I was positively beaming.

The Prince Hotel is a little shabby, with a spiral staircase up two flights to a high ceilinged, marble floored room and french doors leading out to a little balcony overlooking the (very noisy) street. We dumped our bags and headed out for beer. Found an intersection with a Beer Hoi shop on each of four corners – tiny plastic stools creeping out into the traffic, and freshly brewed beer in a clear glass for about 16c each.

At 11:40pm, they stopped serving beer, and started chasing customers away. We were bemused, but not alarmed until about six green uniform guys piled out of a van, mostly with bright red and white stripped truncheons, but one with an electric stun gun thing. I know it was a stun gun because it was charged, and sparks were flying off it as he waved it about.

Tourists stood about taking pictures and even having their pictures taken with the goombas, and my day had reached a new height of surreality. Remember if you will that at this point I’ve slept approximately 4-5 hours in the last 48. My appetite for challenges is pretty high, and my ability to adapt and thrive in a challenging situation is something I’m quite proud of. But the stun gun did freak me out a little bit.

We wandered off to the lake for the “big event”. There were ballerinas, there were pop groups, there were fireworks, streamers and glitter, and even a hard rock version of Auld Lang Syne.

Happy New Year Hanoi.