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Hanoi, Vietnam

Day 2

The hotel we were staying at didn't offer breakfast, so we walked around the city for a while trying to find somewhere open at 7:30 a.m. (which was surprisingly difficult). We spotted an eatery called the Kangaroo cafe, and the first thing I saw advertised was Vegemite. Of course we headed straight in - Danny would have fought tooth and nail to get his hands on Vegemite. When we read through the menu I also saw Weetbix, which I was more excited about than Vegemite. It was the best breakfast we had eaten in Asia. It is so rare to see cereal that I am actually craving it.

Today we joined a tour out to the Tam Coc cave system, a couple of hours from Hanoi. First stop was a citadel in Hoa Lu, which was the first capital of Vietnam about 1000 years ago. This was followed by a buffet lunch, where we stuffed ourselves full of Vietnamese food and made-to-order soup. Lastly, we jumped into tiny wooden boats and were rowed by a local woman for two hours along a river, through three short, uninspiring caves (Danny also helped to row the boat so we didn't feel so bad). Luckily the scenery was nice because the caves were a let down. It was cold, grey and misty all day, which sort of gave the place an eerie feeling. The landscape was green except for the towering rocks coming straight out of the ground all around us - it felt like a scene out of Lord of the Rings. The trip was pleasant until the last half hour, when our rower started asking us to buy her handmade crafts (every boat did this). She kept dozens of tablecloths and napkins in a huge chest and was keen to display all of them. Then she showed us photos of her mother and her four brothers and sisters sitting around the table making these napkins, trying to guilt us into buying something. We kept repeating that we were currently homeless, so we didn't need any tablecloths but I don't think she understood. She didn't let up the whole way back. We were warned against this but it was unbearable by the end. When we finally reached the end, we gave her a tip then quickly jumped out of the boat and sprinted towards the bus, hoping she didn't follow us. So that part of the tour was sort of a downer.

Our tour group was interesting. There were a couple of young guys from Singapore who were friendly, a hilarious middle aged couple of the UK, a man from Portugal who I thought might actually die on the tour as he had the worst cough I had ever heard, plus a Vietnamese family of four. This family were refugees during the Vietnam war and had been living in Canada ever since they fled their country. This was their first trip back to Vietnam. The older man had been in a labour camp for many years before he escaped. The older woman took her two children on the boat out of Vietnam, the youngest only one month old. She said three women on her boat delivered babies before they were intercepted by the British. It was an amazing story. Lastly, there was a middle aged American woman, who liked to talk. A lot. When I say a lot, I mean every thought that popped into her head had to be spoken aloud to the whole bus. I think I know her entire life story. And she liked to complain about everything. I was tempted to walk back to Hanoi just to escape it. Here is a real example of the sort of insightful wisdom she regaled us with: "This place is just like a place in China called ..." (I can't remember the name she gave.) "I've never been there, but I saw it in a movie once".

The name "Kim" is extremely popular in Vietnam. We can't walk down a street without seeing a hotel, shop or restaurant with my name in the title. Unfortunately, some of the Vietnamese words that follow aren't so flattering, such as "Kim phat" or "Kim dung".