On The Road
Lily Gardens in Mirador Mansions 2 buildings up from ChungKing mansions is very good,
single HKD100,single/a window-HKD110,en-suit-HKD150 Beds are always double beds, rooms are clean and good furnishings.
Crossing the bay is ferry lower deck at HKD1.70, MTR costs HKD9.
China visa in 24 hours from CITS for HKD160, but
subsequently saw places offering them for HKD150 and HKD140 so shop around You must have a Hong Kong entry stamp to get the China visa, so don't try and change passports here.
Vietnam visa was easy to get, HKD300 and 4 days though. Need passport photos for both these.
Rugby Sevens festival was a serious party, HKD740 for the ticket, but worth it for the 3 days of atmosphere and good rugby. Best place to sit is the South Stand opposite the main gates, although it's hard to get
seating. Beer was HKD160 a jug (2 litres). Be prepared to get covered in beer if you're in the South Stand.
Jade Market was very good, worth a visit, although bargain hard, closing prices were typically less than a third of starting prices. Compared to 'real' shops though, it's very very cheap.
Good Coffee: Holiday Inn Golden Mile between Mirador and ChungKing Mansions does a bottomless cup of filter coffee, although it's not cheap to start with at HKD31. Good place for spending the afternoon drinking coffee and chatting though.
HK- Guangzhou- Whuzhou- Yangshou- Nanning- Vietnam
Y8 = USD1
Train from HK: KCR to Lo Wu was HKD32, customs is upstairs for foreigners. There's a place to change money in the customs hall. The train station is up the
bridge on the left hand side and further up the road once you come out, the bus station is on the right hand side of the bridge.
Train: the border to Guangzhou took 2 hours and cost Y41, but the other possibility was Y72 for 1 hour trip. You arrive at the Eastern Railway station in Guangzhou.
Guangzhou: Touts will tell you Shaiman Island is Y80 taxi ride away, which is bollocks, they want you to stay in their down town expensive hotels. Taxi cost Y36 dorm bed in Guangzhou Youth Hostel cost Y50 a night.
Island is very pretty, worth walking down to the park to see the chess players and the opera singers.
Transport from Guangzhou to Whuzhou
DON'T BOOK TICKETS THROUGH THE YOUTH HOSTEL!
I paid Y160 up front and was charged an extra Y12 at Whuzhou to get to Yangshou and it should only have cost Y107. I caught the slow ferry to Whuzhou(pronounced Wu - Jo) (should cost Y55), leaves at 14:30 from the Dashatou Pier (A sign above it, saying Ghuanzho Ferry Terminal).
The other option was the fast ferry, I got quoted Y150 from a different agency, leaves at 8:30 and around 14:30 and only takes 4 hours. Slow ferry arrives at Whuzhou at 10:00 the next day, you can buy some food on the boat, it gets brought around at about 18:00, but it's the quick and the hungry.
Whuzhou - Need to catch a local bus from the ferry terminal to long distance bus station.
Sleeper bus to Yangshou should cost Y52 and takes between 6 and 9 hrs depending on breakdowns!
BE CAREFUL ABOUT YOUR SHOES ON SLEEPER BUSSES:
I lost a very nice pair of hiking boots that had been with me for ages because I foolishly left them on the floor along with everyone else's shoes. Put them on the bed with you.
Hostels pretty much as per book, but slightly more expensive.
Youth Hostel was the cheapest place I found, dorm Y10.
I paid Y20 at the Zhuang Hotel. Lisa's was charging Y15 a night for 3 bedroom dorms. Decent room with en-suit, a/c, etc is around Y80 a night, but negotioable.
Moon Hill is worth while, but try and get to ride amongst the paddy fields if possible, it's even worth hiring a guide (normally comes with a meal thrown in too)
Caves: go to Water Caves with Chufa, book at Lisa's hotel. We had a group of 14, and it was a VERY good experience, great caves, good mud slide, and a whole day's entertainment. We paid Y60 each, and having left at 11:00, got back around 16:00, and it knocked spots of the 1 hour in Buddha Cave for Y40, which was pretty pathetic, it's been raped of most of it's good stuff.
Internet access: cheapest I found was Y1.3/min., and Y15 to send a message from the cultural exchange on the main road, but he's a bit of a slimly bastard, and started trying to charge me for copying onto disk and stuff like that.
The best pizza: Red Express does in town, so much so we ordered them a couple of times whilst drinking in
Don't order Peking Duck from Lisa's Cafe they have absolutely no clue how to make it, the duck was jointed not shredded, and the pancakes were normal pancakes with spring onions in the mix, suitable for sugar and lemon juice.
Shopping: Bargain all souvenirs down hard,again closing prices were less than a third of opening prices. Best we got were Y40 for a big scroll, Y18 for a T-Shirt, but even those were too high. If you take a photo of the Fruit Lady (Hello Banana!) she will expect either money or for you to buy something, and will argue
vociferously about it. She too, can be bargained with (it's good fun, cos she keeps grinning!) but the best we got her down to was Y1 off the starting price.
Didn't do any of the boat trips,but heard the cormorant fishing is very touristy, but the cycle back from XingPing is worthwhile.
- Sleeper bus to Nanning cost Y60 from a tout, but I think it's possible to get it for Y50 at the station. Left at 17:30, arrived at 5:00 (but shoeless!)
Hotel: Yingbin Hotel still takes guests, Y18 for a bed in 3 bed dorm, but I've got no companions (other rooms do though!) It's behind the round about from the train station, there's an english sign right on the very top of the building, but nothing on the facing. Look for a blue sign with white characters. There are two entrances, one pretty close to the China Construction Bank.
The Bank of China is not marked or mentioned in the LP, the only branch to change travellers cheques is opp the Main Post Office (marked on the LP map, China 5 edition) on Minzu Dadao. Opens at 8:30am.
Trains to Vietnam: 2 options, an international sleeper all the way to Hanoi, Tue/Sat dep20:10, soft sleeper only, at Y316. Or a train to PingXiang and tackle the border from there, leaves every morning at 8am, costs Y32, train #316, hard seat only. Takes 4 hrs.
Train arrives in Ping Xiang at 12:00, last stop on the line. From there, a minivan to the border, paid Y7 each for 3 of us, started at Y10.
Border crossing was relatively easy from the China side.
1 USD = 13 000 dong
Crossing from China: Border was closed for lunch when we first arrived. Took about 1 hr to process all our papers. You must have the right crossing entered on your Vietnam visa to get across, from China at that
point the thing to have is Huu Nghi. A german couple had been stuck there for 4 hrs because even though their visa application form had the right entry, their visas in their passports did not. I heard of a couple of people who solved the problem by paying 10USD fine.
the border to Dong Dang: Motorcycles, I paid US$1 as I had no dong. They started at $3. The walk is around 3km and fairly hilly, but not impossible. Locals I would think pay around 5000 dong.
Dong Dang to Lang Son: I got a minibus ,cost 11,000D. Again I paid in USD but was given change in dong.
Lang Son to Hanoi: Busses are running, not sure of the cost. I linked up with two locals and shared a taxi with them, 7 of us, for $4. Taxi broke down, and I was put onto a bus. Arrived at 22:00
Hotel: Lotus GH is still the cheapest place to say, dr $4, but full when I got there. I heard of some people who were taken to a ruin on the same street to prove it had burnt down before being taken to a more expensive place, so beware.
In general, $10 should get you a/c, en-suite bathroom, hot water, TV with CNN, telephone. $6-8 for a fan room, no aircon, outside toilet.
Cheapest place I found was Cafe 16, on 16 Luong Van Can for $5 a night for a huge room with 2 double beds and 2 fans. It's on the block between Hang Bo st and Hang Quat st, and is quite difficult to spot being a sign the width of an alleyway, and a long alleyway that leads off it. Very, very friendly people, run by a family, and I think it's being run without the government's permission. Tel 8-285-173.
Bicycles are the best way to see the city, best rate I got was 6000D/day, normally start at 10,000D from tourist cafes.
Visas for Laos: Cheapest way is to do it yourself, I got a month's visa for $50 direct from the embassy. Took 4 days.
Trivia: Australian Embassy has moved, no longer where it was in the Planet.
Eating: lots of good places to eat, the restaurant on the lake does good sandwiches and ice-cream, although it's a little pricey. Local noodle places are good, I found the food in Queen Cafe pretty bad, mostly
instant noodles, but if you book a tour through them, it gets cheaper.
Uncle Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is worth a visit, although be sure to catch it between the opening times. It says it closes at 11am, but in order to ensure Uncle Ho of his rest, they stop people going in from 10:30. Airforce museum was OK,planes outside were interesting. If you cycle there from Kham Thien St, don't try and take the "little" road on the left side as shown in the map in the Planet, we never worked out which one it was. Go straight and down the main road.
Tours: No matter where you go, you'll get offered tours. Beware, the price differences do not neccisarily reflect difference in standards. I paid $30.50 for a 3 day tour to Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island. On the
same bus, doing exactly the same thing, were people who'd paid $38 for the exact same thing. Looking back, I'd probably do it on my own rather than taking a tour, it's very easy to hook up with tours for boat trips
and stuff fairly cheaply and it'll be slightly cheaper, and much more real, than a tour. The up side of the tours are meeting different people.
Bus to Hue: $12, cheapest was from Old Darling Cafe
again on the same bus were US15 people. It was a little minibus, and non-aircon. A better option, and probably the same price, is the "Big Bus" from Singh Cafe. Make sure you get a Big Bus, these are proper a/c tourist busses, and will make the long and very bumpy trip
much more bearable.
Hue: We scored a 3 bed room for $9 from the hotel next door to the News Cafe. Across the road from the 2 Cafes is the Apocalypse Now bar, a cool place that with the right crowd, could be a good party. I'm told the cafe next door to the News Cafe has better food at cheaper prices, I didn't eat there.
Big bus to Hoi An: I got the Singh Cafe, a/c luxury
for $4. It takes 6 hrs, and make sure you wear a swimming costume and take a towel, great swimming on the way at the stops.
Hoi An: Stayed at Thuy Duong 1 Hotel close to the centre. Paid $10 for a 3 bed room. Not brilliant but ok. I was warned off the Thanh Binh Hotel, met a Danish couple who had stuff stolen out of their room from
there. Beach is cool, hired a bike and rode out there. 6,000D for the bike, 2,000D to park it at the beach, pineapples are around 3,000D. Chairs are free provided you buy a drink from the attendant shop. Food prices are all double priced, the local menu has the same dishes at half the price.
Eating: Mermaid restaurant- excellent stuffed squid and very good set menu. The restaurant next door to Treats Same Same Bar is very good, a small portion of spring rolls will feed a small army.
BIG TIP: Go to Treats Same Same Bar, on Tran Phu st. Great place, good music, good person, great vibe. Happy hour between 19:30 and 20:30 is excellent value at 4,000D for a beer. MUST DO!Back to Hue on a/c bus,
Hue to Dong Ha: a local bus, 20,000D, (locals 4,000D)
Dong Ha: stayed in Dong Ha Hotel, which was awful. $6 for a very poor room. Shop around, don't take the first place there, there seems to be a BIG difference in
the quality of rooms. Mine was noisy, hot, dirty and uncomfortable.
Options to get to Lao Bao: seemed to be a local bus leaving in the morning, or motor bike. Buses I think are around $3-5, I took a motor bike cos I was eager to leave Vietnam. This cost 10USD, and I left at 4:00 to get to the border at 7:00 for it's opening. Long and bumpy ride.
Other options for this stretch: There is a direct bus to Savanakhett from Danang-Hue-Dong Ha-Lao Bao.
Prices I got were $32 from Danang, $28 from Hue, $20 from Dong Ha and $10 from Lao Bao. I got across the border, and caught a local bus for 4,000 kip ($1.75!) so it's not worth it at all.
Other notes: Mama Haans boat trip in Na Thrang got rave reviews from everyone I spoke to. Cheap photostats of Lonely Planet guidebooks are available in Saigon (HCM City), I heard prices of around $2-3. As I crossed into Laos, I got offered a rate of US$=3000kip,which is way over the rate I got inside the country of $1=2500
Be careful, but it could be a great rate.
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