Contiki Day 8: Hoi An to Hue

This morning was one of the only coach transfer we had between cities, as we made our way from Hoi An to Hue. We are staying at the Asia Hotel, in the centre of the town with restaurants and bars galore around us. After checking in and welcome juices, we had some free time. Katie and I grabbed something to eat from the hotel restaurant (very average pasta) and hung out at the pool a bit with some of the others. We had a nap in our room, although Katie’s pillow apparently smelled like an old man’s armpit (I think it was at this hotel), and then we made our way downstairs for our cyclo tour (another inclusion – thanks Contiki!)

The Cyclo tour, which is essentially an adult pram powered by a grown Vietnamese man on a bicycle, took us on a pleasant 20 minute trip to the Imperial City. My cyclo cyclist (or whatever their official term is) pointed out things along the way such as the markets, the cinema, and certain bridges. Quick tip: the cyclo tour is already paid for. You can tip if you want but you don’t have to – I took a 10 000 VND out before we left so that I could just give it to him. Some of the others were “harassed” (for want of a better word) for a higher tip.

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We had our group photo in front of the giant flag. Lee asked us to do some yoga poses as this was her last one (for a while, I have a feeling she’ll be back haha). The floor was so hot! Our local guide Singh took us through the Imperial City, and taught us more about the history. Apparently the king who was living there had loads of wives! We had a chance to go in to one of the temples, which is always interesting. The various histories of the various Kings were all detailed inside.

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After some time, we made our way back to the bus and on to the Lady Buddha Pagoda. By this point I was tired and hot and I’d be lying if I tried to tell you anything of significance about the Pagoda. There was a beautiful view of the lake though, as well as a really cool bonsai garden. I even saw some trainee monks!

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Just before dinner there was a local group who did a performance outside the hotel in the street, complete with dragons and drums. We watched that for a bit which was cool.

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For dinner tonight we went to a place down the road from the hotel called Le’s Garden. They had cocktail happy hour, and another extensive menu to choose from. I had caramelised shrimp which was tasty, but a really small portion, especially considering the mojitos… We were given Jenga to play (Brian was a stickler for the rules in our one so we never got very far). It was a really fun dinner of socialising with everyone. Then we went off to a (very dodgy, DropZone-like) bar club thing called Brown Eyes. Don’t waste your money buying cocktails there – they were terrible. The music was pretty cool, but I must say I struggled with the extreme ignoring of personal space by the groups there, and the smell which was your typical drunk hot club smell. Gross. Anyway, that sort of thing isn’t really my scene anymore anyway, so I decided to go home while the night was still good. Sam and I made our way back to the hotel, which was a really funny walk where we discussed how much he was going to irritate his girlfriend when he got back to the room (SORRY SHAYLA!) and I made my way back for a nice shower before bed. Had a huge giggle with Katie when she got back (as per usual) as it turns out she went on a bit of a roundabout route coming back. Sleep time, and then in the morning off to Hanoi and our final few days!

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Contiki Day 7: Hoi An

Hoi An free day and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TASHA!

While it felt like every other person in the hotel was still sleeping, Katie and I woke up early to make our way to Bien Bac – the jeweller Lee had recommended to us. We had decided on a lotus design that we wanted to get made into necklaces, which we would both get as a reminder of our trip. I could have spent all the money in the world in this shop – they had loads of beautiful ring designs, pendants, earrings and all sorts of other amazing jewellery. The gentleman in charge is so friendly and helpful. We showed him our design and he mentioned he already had a template for a lotus which he showed us and we loved! So we decided to get that. I also got a stunning knotted ring, and one with a feather design, as well as a pair of Vietnamese hat earrings for my sister. All in all, my portion came to 120 USD – every item is weighed and priced accordingly. I got my feather ring and earrings straight away but they would resize my other ring and we could fetch it and our necklaces in the evening.

It was a shopping day for us today, so we went around the market and the various stalls, and then stopped in at the cooking class restaurant to have some ice cream (passion sorbet and lemongrass for me, and coconut and green tea for Katie). We got souvenirs, scarves, tshirts, and all sorts of things, and then to escape the heat, decided to go back to the hotel for some swimming and relaxing. Katie got her dress on the way back, and it fitted! Yay!

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Once back at the hotel, we had a chat with Mark and learned that he, Shane and Sam were planning to go to the beach, so we decided to join (after a nap, obviously). The five of us got a taxi (you could bike ride but it was so hot…) and went off to the beach. Now, if you want to sit on the loungers on the sand, you have to pay. Or you can agree to eat at one of the restaurants, and they let you sit for free, so that is what we did. We spent a wonderful few hours just relaxing on loungers, people watching, and learning more about each others countries.

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It was time to head back so that Katie and I could fetch our jewellery, and we could freshen up before family dinner for Tasha’s birthday. Katie bought a beautiful skirt from one the tailors which fit her absolutely perfectly! We went for drinks at the green mango, dinner at another place, and then to another chilled bar for some drinks. I headed home early (on the back of Lee’s bicycle – thanks Lee) and caught up with some people from home, before going to sleep. I was feeling a bit homesick today I think, even though everything was so beautiful and I am having a wonderful time. But it comes with having people you love at home, but also loving what you’re doing at the moment I guess…

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Contiki Day 6: Nha Trang to Hoi An

Super duper early wake up this morning to leave by 4am for the airport and our flight to Hoi An. Because brekkie is included today, but we were obviously up too early for it, we were given take-away breakfast packs. We checked in at the airport and just hung out waiting for the flight which was another quick one. Once we had landed, we got on our bus, and then had to take it to a transfer station to get a smaller shuttle, because the roads are too small in Hoi An for a big bus. Those who didn’t want to come to the temple changed to the shuttle and went to the hotel, while those of us who had signed up for the My Son temple, stayed on the bus and went there.

I wish it hadn’t been so hot (it got to about 42 degrees that day) because I do feel like it sort of impacted everyone’s (mine included) experience of the temples, but they were still fascinating. Built way back when, using a method still not fully known, many of them were bombed during the war so some are gone, some are half standing, and there are bomb craters all over the place. A few are still intact, which is amazing. The attention to detail in the design was really cool to see, and there are so many of them it’s quite interesting to see. Having said that, if you are not interested in history or temples, rather choose not to do it.

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After My Son, it was back onto the bus (aircon, yay!) and to the transfer stop, to make our way to the hotel. The hotel is awesome and we got a pool side room, with a massive super king bed, and a 3/4 bed. Lucky me got the big bed! We had a bit of time to kill before meeting up for the bike ride, so we hung out at the pool, and then went to the convenience store across the way to get waters. Our new local guide, How (sorry I’m not sure of his spelling…) was so kind, and bought those of us with him ice cold cokes to welcome us to Vietnam and thank us for coming. Some of the others had ordered food which was taking forever, so we split into two and agreed to meet at the Banh Mi shop (apparently highly rated by some travel guy as the best sandwiches in Vietnam). We went and got our bikes, and then made our way over there. Now cycling here was slightly different to in the Mekong as it is much busier, but I survived! I had a pulled pork sandwich and oh my soul it was amazing. Everyone was standing around eating their sandwiches with these loving looks in their eyes.

Once the rest of the group had joined and made their way into sandwich heaven, our bike ride took us into the Old Town. It’s so beautiful in the Old Town, and the best part is that during certain times in the day it gets closed to cars and scooters and becomes a walking/cycling town. There’s a lot of Chinese, Japanese and French influence in the town, which makes each section quite unique. We saw some of the old bridges, and then stopped at the old house where we had tea and learnt more about life in Hoi An. As the town is right on the river, it floods sometimes, and the locals have to move all their belongings onto the top floors of their houses for some time. We learnt a bit more about the Chinese Zodiac signs, and our birth years (I am year of the monkey) and what they mean.

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We continued on through the town, to the place everyone was probably looking most forward to – Yaly. This is a dream, and I wish I had thought more (and budgeted more) so that I could have had something made. Basically Yaly is a tailor, with an insane amount of incredibly talented people working there, to get your custom clothing made for you in less than 24 hours. Every person who got something done there was so super impressed with it, and with the service, and I can’t wait to see the pics of them wearing some of their new clothes. 

It was so hot, so Katie and I decided to go back to the hotel and hang out at the pool, and then do our shopping and everything the next day. It was a great plan. We dropped our bikes off, and then stopped to look in at the clothing store owned by the lady who also runs the spa at the hotel. Probably one of the funniest shopping experiences ever, she offered to alter a dress to fit Katie, and showed us just how un-embarrassed the Vietnamese shop owners are at having westerners basically strip down in their store to try stuff on. It was a good laugh.

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We had the ME Time cooking class tonight – also highly recommended! We learnt to make Hoi An pancakes, special spring rolls, BBQ chicken skewers, and papaya salad. It’s the first cooking class I’ve ever done, and it was really fun. We got to eat all the food, and also got the recipes – bonus, because I really want to try make some of it at home.

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Katie and I realised that we had forgotten to go to the silver shop earlier (they make custom jewellery, and this is what we were so excited for and I can’t believe we forgot) so we left dinner to run over there and check if they were still open. They weren’t but we decided to go first thing in the morning – Lee spoke to him so he would be expecting us.

We wandered back to the Old Town to have a look at the night market and take some photos (so so beautiful at night!), and then headed back to the hotel for the night, and a good sleep.

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Contiki Day 5: Nha Trang

HAPPY BIRTHDAY PHOEBE!

Another buffet breakfast (how will I go back to normal boring breakfasts after this??) and this one is by the pool. Today is our ME time optional boat cruise with snorkeling – and if you do no other optionals on this trip, you must do this (okay, you must actually do all of them). Our day was spent on board the Funky Monkey boat, with the best crew ever. Funky Monkey himself is hilarious, and they look after you so well they whole day (although my parents might argue that beer at 9am isn’t looking after us…)

There would be three stops today on the boat. Water and lunch is included, but beers and soft drinks are extra. Good times guaranteed.

So it wouldn’t make sense to start a boat cruise without blaring Lonely Island’s “I’m on a boat” and that is exactly what they did. Followed the rest of the day by a super cool and up-to-date playlist. Our first island stop was our snorkeling stop. You’re allowed to jump off the top of the boat (which I did but I wish someone had a picture of it) and then we were given snorkels and goggles, and could spend our time looking at the fish, the reef, and the Chinese people who were scuba diving with a chaperone underneath us. Once you got tired of snorkeling (or more accurately, of trying to breath through the snorkel) you could request a tube, and even a cold beer, and just float around in the water.

Our next stop was for lunch and entertainment. We had the most massive spread of food to eat, including soup, noodles, rice, spring rolls, and bread (so much leftover) and then the entertainment by the greatest boy band ever to exist began. We were stopped next to two other boats who also joined in for the entertainment section of the day. The Funky Monkey band, complete with bikini-wearing gorilla, sang us a few songs, and then gave each country who was represented a chance to introduce themselves through song. There was Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, UK, USA, Russia (one of my personal favourite performances), China, Vietnam, and us obviously. We had to sing Waka Waka. I would have to give the award for best performance from our group to the USA, mostly as a result of Marks epic Backstreet Boys rendition.

After performance excitement had calmed down, it was happy hour time. But this happy hour is special, because it’s on a floating bar. So basically, everyone grabs a tube, gets in the water, and attempts to hook their feet onto the bar. If you can’t, you hook onto whoever is closest to you. And then they give you petrol (at least, I imagine thats what petrol tastes like). The star phrases of the day came from our barman, who liked to chant things like “up the bum, don’t tell mum”, and the groups favourite “up the bum, no babies”. I will take this moment to say that I have absolutely no idea why this was a thing, or why it was so funny (possibly as a result of the petrol) but either way, a floating bar is something everyone should experience at some point.

Then it was time for our final stop. By now the weather was cooling down a bit, so only some of us braved the water, before heading back up to the deck to chill.

Once back, a few of us went swimming in the hotel pool. Katie and I had a nap (yay, naps!) and then off to the Sailing Club for dinner again. I mean, why mess with a good thing? I had prawn and bacon pasta because, I hate to admit this, I needed a break from Vietnamese food. Then some of us took our chocolate fondants for dessert down to the bean bags, where we enjoyed them because they were really good (and missed our boyfriends because the couple in front of us was too cute). Took a stroll through the market on the way back to the hotel, and then it was an early night for us. Tomorrow morning we are up at 4 to leave for the airport….

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PS: I have no photos from the boat now, but once the others have their photos up I will update (thanks family, by the way).

Contiki Day 4: Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang

After another fantastic buffet breakfast (I ate my body weight in pancakes), we all met in the foyer to head off on the city tour, and then to the airport. But before we left the foyer, we were witness to our first traffic accident in Vietnam when someone on a scooter drove into the trolley that had been used to get our bags across the road (does that make us partly responsible?) Luckily the guy seemed to be okay, and then we were off.

Our first stop was the Reunification Palace. We didn’t go inside, but just had a chance to take some photos from outside the gates. We then had a stroll to the post office and the Notre Dame Cathedral, with a bit of time to go inside, take photos, and buy some souvenirs. I got magnets and postcards, and Katie and I both got fans, as the heat was not letting up at all.

Following this, we headed to the War Museum. This was something that was really eye opening for me, and where I really started to understand how badly the war affected the country and the people (although you can never fully understand this I think). It’s a really well designed museum, so take your time going through it. There’s lots of photographs to look at which are beautifully put together into a display. It was quite an emotional walk through for many of the group. It is important to remember that there are three sides to every story though, and this shows just one side of that.

It was now time to leave bustling and chaotic Ho Chi Minh City, and head to Nha Trang. We flew with Vietnam Airlines, and it was a flight of under and hour. To kill some time we had lunch at the airport – I had terriyaki chicken with noodles. Katie has an interesting experience with ordering chicken noodles, but instead getting seafood, which the waitress didn’t believe even when she saw a mussel haha.

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After landing, we had a short bus ride to the hotel. Quick change into clothes for the mud baths and then off we went again. The pool complex is really cool – we went in the hot mineral pool first, because it closed earlier than everything else. After spending an hour in amazing steamy water, it was time for mud! So basically you and a couple of others climb into an empty jacuzzi type structure, and they start pouring cool (as in temperature) mud in through a pipe. It fills up almost completely, and then you just chill in the mud, covering yourself with it and generally just thinking how strange it is that you’re lying in mud… They take a group photo afterwards which can be bought separately (I did get it) and then you can go rinse off in the showers. Following this, you walk though some really fun warm water sprays, and then hop into a really warm smaller pool (think jacuzzi, minus the bubbles). We had a bit of a laugh in the pool, trying to teach Brooke, Shayla, Sam, and Shane to say “ja” instead of yeah. It was pretty successful. Both Katie and I had started to notice our accents getting a bit weird after spending too much time with Australians (although I love them anyway).

The spa was starting to close, so we packed up, got dressed, and headed back onto the bus to go back to the hotel. Family dinner will be at the Sailing Club tonight. This was probably my favourite restaurant the whole trip because its right on the beach (which is my happy place, as if I wasn’t happy enough already). We had a long table on the sand. There is vodka jam jar happy hour. There were sangria jam jars (soooo yummy). I had seafood fried rice for dinner and it was divine. All the food looked so good. It’s a lovely venue with swings around, a bar on the beach, pretty lights, and then the best part – bean bags on the beach, and a bonfire. There was also a dance floor which opened up (go Gabby ;)) and that was really fun! It became Phoebe’s birthday while on the dance floor, and tomorrow we have our boat cruise.

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Contiki Day 3: Mekong Delta to Ho Chi Minh

Waking up this morning was a bit tough after too much fun last night, but we got omelettes and fresh French loaf (with Melrose cheese) for brekkie. Once everyone was packed up and assembled, we had a quick walk back to the boat, which took is back to the bus. We stopped at the same rest stop as yesterday, and Katie and I got hot dogs to snack on.

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Our next stop of the day was the Cu Chi tunnels. This was one of the major underground tunnels during the Vietnam/American War (read more at
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%E1%BB%A7_Chi_tunnels) and we were fortunate enough to be able to go on a tour. Luan took us around, and gave us some insight into the tunnel system and how the people lived there during the war. There was a chance to go into one of the tunnels (with an entrance already slightly widened) and crawl through the tunnels – I got in the entrance, but didn’t crawl all the way through that one. The entrance was super small and so dark; I can’t imagine having to live in that. We saw some of the booby traps that they used to use, as well as some of the bomb craters. There was a chance to shoot at the shooting range if we wanted – I chose to fire 10 rounds of the AK47, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t recommend my shooting skills if a target actually needs to be hit… One of the next tunnels had actually been enlarged more so that they are a bit easier to crouch through for Western people (we tend to be much taller and broader than the Vietnamese) and I did that with a bunch of the others. There are a few exit options along the way, but we did the full length. While it is enlarged, it certainly gave me a feel of how it must have been to be down in the tunnels.
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It was then back on the bus, and back to the hotel in Ho Chi Minh City where we would meet the last members of our family – Gabby, Z, Brittany and Jenna:) We also to the ABC Bakery down the road from the hotel – Katie tried her first Vietnamese coffee, and we got some pastries.

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We went for family dinner at a restaurant called Nebs. I had the Nebs house cocktail – a yummy blend of vodka, soda and lemongrass, and seafood spring rolls and seafood noodles to eat.

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After a very satisfying dinner, most of the group went to the Chill sky bar – the top floor of the building Katie and I went to the other day. So just a note here, you need to be a bit dressed up for Chill – no slops, and no vests. If they do not think you are dressed appropriately, they will not let you in. You can, however, hire a lot of things there to make your outfit more suitable.

The view from up there was breathtaking before, but even more so at night. I had a Bellini because champagne on top of a skyscraper is always the best idea. The drinks are not cheap at all, but the view makes it all worth it. They have a DJ, and the atmosphere is electric. There was dancing, and mingling, and lots of photo taking, before eventually making the decision to go back home to bed.

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Contiki Vietnam: Day 2 Ho Chi Minh to Mekong Delta #mekongswag

This morning we all woke up in time for our included buffet breakfast (more pancakes, yum) and then waited outside for our bus. Despite the chaos of the streets, there actually seem to be really strict rules in place in terms of buses stopping etc, so we basically have to be waiting out in the street for our bus to just quickly jump on. One of the advantages of being a smaller group, but having an actual size bus, is that most of us got 2 seats each which makes the bus trip soooo much more comfortable. We met our local guide for the next few days – Luan- and she seems very sweet and very knowledgeable. It wasn’t a very long bus ride to the boat we had to catch, and we stopped at a rest stop on the way. The rest stop has a really pretty garden inside, and you can get snacks and fresh smoothies and juices and other things. It was a lovely drive (probably one of the few I mostly stayed awake for – thanks Europe Contiki for that habit) and we saw water buffalo and rice paddies; all very green and pretty.
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Our bus dropped us off at the boat, where we all quickly got our traditional Vietnamese conical hats (obviously). This is one of the things Katie and I were most excited about – wearing our hats. They cost 20 000 VND each. We got on our boat, which Luan called our “temporary home” and off we went cruising the Mekong River. It’s fascinating to see all the houses along the river, and the people selling their things.

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We had two stops on the boat before we got to our homestay. The first stop was for a tea party and a family business, where they make all sorts of products from rice and other things. We went on a bit of a tour, and saw how they make puffed rice (like rice crispies) and got a taste of a “rice crispie” Strawberry flavoured bar. We also tried snake whisky (awful stuff) and the freshly made toffee. Our tea party included green tea, various brittles, puffed rice, rice pops, and coconut candies. After a chance to shop a bit, we headed back to the boat for more cruising.
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Our next stop was for lunch. You can only get there by boat if the water level is high enough, and it wasn’t, so off we got for a short walk to the old house for lunch. We had a combination of dishes including fresh fish. After lunch, back on the boat (I see why Luan said we should see it as our home haha).
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Once closer to the homestay, we got into groups of three, and climbed onto the saipans where we got fresh coconuts to drink from too, and a strong little Vietnamese lady to row us to our homestay. Our rower was really sweet, she kept singing to us and pointing out different fruits along the river. We also all had a turn to help out with some extra paddling. It was such a peaceful journey, with some sections of the river being completely quiet aside from the sound of the water lapping against the boat as we moved through it.

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We had a short walk to the homestay where we were greeted by the wonderful family, and there two super cute dogs. Next thing, the son opened a cage and brought out the biggest python I’ve ever seen in my life. It was crazy. She was absolutely beautiful, but so big it took at least three of us to hold her, but four to hold her comfortably.
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Once settled into our rooms (there are two houses, and Katie and I got our own room) we went and picked a bicycle for our bike ride. This was such fun. I’m not the most confident bike rider, having last done it in Amsterdam, but aside from the occasional road crossing, it was a really easy cycle, and I really felt like I was finally in the Vietnam that I had pictured (Ho Chi Minh is just madness). Advantage was that Luan and one of the family members followed us on a scooter so even if we cycled slower, we didn’t have to worry about getting lost.

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Once back from the cycle (about 30-45 minutes depending on your speed haha) we had a couple of minutes to cool down and then change into something we didn’t mind getting dirty *cue dramatic music and drum roll* because we were going mud fishing! After dividing into two teams (mud fishing obvs needs to be a competition) we were given instructions on what to do, and the first group jumped (or rather, slid and ended up waist deep) into the mud and the fun began. There is supposedly a technique to doing this correctly, but none of us could seem to grasp it. After the red team’s time was up and they hadn’t caught any fish, it was our turn. We went in with more of a strategy and after a while, Dan had caught a fish and put it in the net. I got really excited because I technically caught one, but when I tried to grab it to get it into the net it jumped up (slippery little thing that) and fish slapped me in my face. It was hilarious. Katie almost got up close and personal with a fish that tried to get up her shorts, and there was a lot of squealing that followed in those next moments, as the whole group attempted to find the fish. We had a few more decent attempts, but with the fish getting away at the last minute, before the others jumped back in. I think we ended up getting three fish in total (not enough for dinner in case you were wondering).

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Desperately in need of a shower the family obliged by rinsing us off with a high power hose. Still not clean, we took to the showers, where attempting to get clean involved a bucket and a jug and some awkward angles. We had some time to chill out in the hammocks, and then it was dinner time.

We were treated to a show first – some local entertainment, in the form of stories told through song. The performances were very emotional and interesting to watch. Tonight we had the opportunity to try rat and we could also try snake soup. I opted to try both just for just, but can safely say that I will not be ordering either again. The rat basically tasted like teeny tiny pieces of chicken, but the snake was full of bones, and looked like snake which was a bit strange for me, although technically it didn’t taste as bad as I was expecting. Other dinner dishes included meat and veggies (soooo much food!)

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Once dinner was completed, it was time for get-to-know-the-group games (read: drinking games). Lee and Luan made jungle juice for us, and we all sat around a giant table, and the fun began. We started with the mandatory “xin cháo. My name is x and I come from x. I am most looking forward to x”. Most of the group was most looking forward to Halong Bay (me too!). We then played twenty one, and then Kings, and then the games stopped, the music started and the chaos began haha. It was a really fun night with a good chance to meet the group so far, get to know each other a bit and dance a lot. After a long and busy and wonderful day, it was very nice to be able to fall asleep in a comfortable double bed (complete with mosquito net and fan).

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