Helen & Nigel's Around The World trip 2013/14 travel blog

Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Helen in Singapore bird park

A Toucan in the park

Helen's favourite orchid - Botanical Gardens - Singapore

Nigel's favourite orchid - Botanical Gardens - Singapore

Singapore skyline at night

Nigel by the Singapore Flyer

The "Ironing board"

Raffles hotel - Singapore

Toasting the end of the South East Asia trip with Singapore Slings

On Sunday 2nd November at about 5pm we left Sapa in Northern Vietnam and had to descend the mountains to reach a train station about an hour away to catch our sleeper train to Hanoi

Mr Hung our guide introduced us to the minibus driver and we loaded our bags and climbed in. This transport is also used by the locals and it became evident that we were not heading down to the station until our minibus was FULL!

We started driving around the town picking up other passengers and then the driver stopped the van, jumped out, ran over to a taxi, opened the rear door and started to pull its occupants out. We thought this was a little extreme but later learnt that these would be passengers had arranged to be picked up and let our driver down. It took another 5 minutes to fill their places with two women who seemed quite reluctant but got in.

The journey down from the mountains could be compared to being inside a washing machine on a slow spin cycle. The van was thrown around hairpin bends and the two women we picked up were sick during the journey. The use of mobile phones while driving or riding seems to be mandatory and our driver was no exception, only his use of a mobile phone while overtaking on a hairpin bend was quite extraordinary.

We arrived at the train station with everyone feeling quite dizzy and found that our sleeper train was delayed. We piled into a nearby cafe to have our dinner and played cards until about 10pm by which time I think the staff at the cafe thought we had taken up residence.

We had an uneventful journey by train to Hanoi.

Monday was spent as a relaxing day recovering from stomach upsets, arranging laundry and watching TV.

In the evening we met up with Hung to say goodbye, have a drink and he took us to a nearby beer garden. We had being drinking bottled beer up until then,usually named after the city we were in and at about 20,000 dong a bottle ($1 - one US dollar).

Hung introduced us to "draught beer" and we all had 3 pints of a nameless beer that came in cracked glasses and tasted as good as the bottled alternative. This was apart from Nigel who was drinking water due to a minor stomach problem. At the end we decided to pick up the bill for all the beverages but not until we had already worked out the total bill came to just over £3 for 13 pints of beer and 2 bottles of water!

Tuesday. We said goodbye to Leslie, Scott and Richard as they headed to the airport for their flights to Kuala Lumpur and connection to London.

We decided to slow the pace down, had a quiet day and changed our hotel to one in the Old Quarter. This is the busier tourist area and we were lucky enough to get an upgrade on our room.

We had a stroll around the city lake and just chilled out recharging our batteries.

Wednesday - For our last full day in Hanoi we decided to visit the last few tourist attractions on our list. Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, his Museum and a nearby Pagoda.

After some searching, we eventually found the entrance but were denied entry as Helen was wearing shorts. A short shopping trip to a nearby market and we entered with Helen wearing a new pair of trousers. We had heard that Ho Chi Minh's body was in Russia for care and further embalming work and hadn't intended to visit the mausoleum so when we joined a queue we thought we were heading to the museum.

A short while later we realised that we were being escorted past a number of guards in full uniform and into the mausoleum. We had a slow walk past Ho's body that was in an amazing condition and lying in state. (Photo)

Then we headed to the museum which was a rather strange and disjointed but interesting and then the one pillar pagoda. We finished our sightseeing with lunch by the lake before chilling out for the afternoon.

Thursday was spent traveling. We checked out and were ushered into a waiting taxi by two over-enthusiastic porters. We were about to set off when the manager came running out explaining she had arranged a private car to the airport so we returned bags and all to the hotel.

We then joined our flight to Singapore where we transferred to our hotel on the outskirts of the city. It's a "good value for money" hotel, in a not too popular part of the city but close to an underground station.

Friday, our first full day in Singapore. We purchased tourist travel cards for the underground train system (MRT) which were a bargain and travelled into the city.

Having reviewed the weather forecast for the next 3 days we decided to try and complete the outdoor sights first thing. We got the first use of our travel cards and used the underground and a bus to get to Jurong Bird Park.

We both thought this was amazing and well worth the admission fee. We spent 3 hours looking around the birds some of which were kept in aviaries that were enormous and larger than the Eden project domes. We were reminded of scenes from the Jurassic Park films. (Photo's)

After a fast food lunch we travelled to the Botanical gardens which were also amazing. We found the National Orchid garden and the many-coloured collection of 1,000 orchid species and 2,000 hybrids. We found the orchids named after Princes Diana and the opera singer Andrea Bocelli amongst others. (Photo's)

We finished out first day of sight seeing with a visit to the Singapore flyer which is a larger version of the London eye observation wheel. When we arrived the ticket office had closed due to an expected thunder storm so we found a bit of dinner locally and on our return the weather had improved enough for us to get our ride above the city which by now was a mass of lights from the various sky scrapers and other buildings. (Photo).

We then returned to our hotel to prepare for day 2.

We watched the update of the Typhoon currently hitting the Phillapines and now heading for Vietnam, we really have been extremely lucky missing the worst of the weather.

Saturday. We started a bit later and went for breakfast in a food court which was situated within a mall in Orchard Street. We decided to try a Singaporean dish which is Kaya toast and soft boiled eggs. The toast was delicious with a coconut jam spread on it. Nigel tried the soft boiled eggs, managing one but they were incredibly runny. Helen didn't like the look of the eggs and declined.

Suitably refreshed we headed for the business district and a short self guided walk we found on the Internet. We started at a small quay where to our surprise we walked into the 31st annual dragon boat racing tournament. We watched the boats with their 20 or so paddlers and a drummer for a couple of races and then continued on to some spectacular views of the Singaporean skyline. (Photo).They have really embraced unusual architecture with one enormous building that resembles an ironing board, we also found the monument to Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles the recognised founder of Singapore in 1819.

We stopped at another food court for some lunch and then headed back to the hotel where we experienced a really violent thunderstorm, the type of storm where the thunder and lightening are simultaneous.The rain was falling like a waterfall but the locals were totally unfazed and carrying umbrellas with metal frames - a mistake you would only experience once? We decided to stay close to the hotel that evening and found a laundry as we were running out of clean clothes, what a way to spend a Saturday evening?

Sunday was devoted to celebrating the end of our South East Asia leg with a visit to the iconic Long bar at Raffles hotel. Assuming that there would be a dress code, we both donned the smartest clothes we had but in fact could have turned up in T shirt and shorts and still be served. We ate peanuts, threw the shells on the floor ( a tradition ) and toasted a successful conclusion to the first section of our travels with Singapore slings. (Photo's)

During the first section Nigel has managed to lose a pair of trousers and a baseball cap, had a shirt repaired and discovered that IPads don't bounce!

Helen has found out that Tilley hats are not indestructible and Vietnamese laundry's

should not be trusted with your favourite headwear.

Perth next where hopefully we can get the screen of the Ipad fixed and replace Helen's hat.

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