A Travellerspoint blog

Ha Long Bay

THe next morning we were up bright and early and packed up. Our main back packs were staying behind and we were just taking day bags with us, we climbed onto the mini bus and were joined by some austrailians who had actually been on the slow boat in to Laos with us. 4 hours later and one stop at a giant pot/sculpture/marble/silk embroidery place we were in Ha Long bay and surrounded by Junk boats. Our tour was a 'VIP' tour... and it really was. The boat we were on was like something out of our dreams, huge made from dark wood with private rooms, sun longers on the top deck, a small set of weights if we felt so inclinded, dining room etc. We were greated with drinks of orange squash and made our way upstairs to the sun deck.
We set sail for the caves which are a unesco world heritage site so Nha our tourgide gave us a walking tour through it, but given our guide book reading and previous cave visiting we shortly overtook her and just gazed around us through this huge cave chain. Next up was kyaking and i know what has been said before about Leanne and I kyaking... and while this time it went better her doubts about the amount of work i did were fairly loud though i have to say the steering went much better with me in charge!

Back onto the boat and we sailed to a spot where we were going to be mored for the night and could swim so into the water we went. a lot. Then settled down to the gin we had arrived with on the top deck with some music till our dinner was prepared. We had been forewarned there would be kareoke so someof us topped up on dutch courage while the australians just continued as it appears they normally do. We chose songs and threw them into a basket so you didnt know what you were going to get. I have to say a personal high was Nate singing like a virgin in his boxers with Mr Dragon (yes that was his name) helping him out. After all the singing exercise we decided at 11pm it really would be best to jump in again. Some of us from the top deck, some of us from the normal level... ok so everyone but me from the top deck!

The next day we had to be up unnecessarily early given how late we had gone to bed and were taken off our lovely large boat onto a smaller one to sail to Cat ba island to do a cycle tour to a local 'tourist' village... as in a village built and populated specially for visitors. We set off and enjoyed the windy flat road in the sunshine then hit a hill... then found out we couldn't change geers.. then found out my chain fell off every 2 mintues and was almost unfixable. Some very oily hands later (not mine... i have to admit i just stood and advised!) a man with a scooter zipped past and i jumped on. Eventually we reached the others in the village. Despite my scootering we had been very delayed by the chain problems. They were not best pleased to see me on a scooter while they had been cycling in the boiling heat! Oh well, poor them...

We saw the village and then cycled (scootered) back to the boat and were off for some swimming and another amazing sea food lunch. I didnt mention it before because i was too full from dinner but allt he food ont he baot was caught that day and bought about 10 mins before dinner from floating fish shops that dont have tanks just nets into the sea from boards. The boards are on floating barrells and used as walkways, quite strange but good food. I tried crab which ... tastes like crab sticks surprisingly ... but is not worth the effort put into getting the flesh i think, squid - never again!

So after lunch and some more swimming in the clear water and over to a beach nearby (i towed the small irish member of our party who ownded up to being a poor swimmer despite jumping of the top deck of the boat the night before) we set sail again for the port and town in Cat Ba island. Dinner and another messy night in which the Austrailians taught us a new game. It involves pretending to do front crawl accross the floor and then a turn at the end and back to see who wins the race... it is not clean given its played ont he floor, and equally can cause bruising but hysterical to watch! We went to the local discoteque to boogy away after being in a bar we semi took over.

The next day it was up at 7:30 for breakfast and then the boat back to the port of ha long and into the bus and home... to sleep, wash, lie down and eat a pizza!

That evening half of the team left for Hue and we stayed and went to a traditional water puppet show. I was particularly looking foward to the act called man playing hte flute ona waterbuffalo, very dissapoined by unicorns playing with a ball (their unicorns are dragons) but enjoyed something involving catching a fox who lookedl ike a leopard and zipped up a tree! then i fell into bed as i was almost to tired to stand any more.

The next day we were up early again to go and see the body of Ho Chi Minh which, like Lenin, is kept preserved for people to view. It was a very unsetteling expierience i have to say. Even if he does manage to get a 3 month holiday to Russia every year to be 'touched up', filling into a silent room to see a body that has been dead for 33 years and while you are watched by silent unmoving guards is just plain wierd.
Next up was the Museum which is really more like a modern art gallery and also made me uncomfortable as having done no modern history i couldnt quite come to grips with socialism, communism, the difference and why it would appear to be a good idea and also the spin on all the displays. With my head hurting we headed back towards our hostel. I decided it would be a good time to go shoe shopping after some good tofu free vegitarian food ..and so i did! we then headed over to the post office to finally try to post some stuff home as really our bags were too heavy and we had too much stuff.
Mission accomplished we showered and prepared for a night bus to Hue on our 5 stop bus ticket to Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) in the south.

Posted by eralc 07:46 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)


a 24 hour bus ride

So we climbed into a mini van to get to the bus station for our bus, already in the mini bus was a ridiculously tall man (from my point of view, he is 6"6 so thats a good foot and two inches taller than me) called Nate and a girl from Holland called Michelle. Nate had already done the journey to Vietnam once, however as he didn't have a visa he was kicked out at the border and had to get a mini bus for 11 with 22 people and 2 pigs back. With this great experience under his belt he was able to tell us all the joys of 24 hour bus ride... in the middle of his story we got on to the bus and he sufficiently scared some girls sat in front of us so they "went to get some food" and were never seen again... They obviously took their bags off and decided to fly! The bus itself was not the worst we've been on but that doesn't say a lot. I was in the corner at the back due to my lack of stature Leanne next so she could get her legs near the central isle, Nate in the middle with his legs straight out in front and michelle with two seats. In front of us was an Irish girl who got a double seat after the other girls ran away... The rest of the bus was locals. The bus drove through the night to the boarder. However we arrived just before the boarder at 4 and it didnt open till 7 so we pulled up at a guest house that opened its doors for the driver and then closed them... we were all left to sleep on the crampt warm bus. Eventually Leanne gave up and went outside to read giving me two seats!

We got to the boarder and were the second coach but it still took forever to get through. Armed with our tall knowledgeable guide whose arms could reach above crowds to the windows we were able to leave laos very speedily, then a 10 minute walk up a hill in the drizzle to Vietnam. Once there we joined the foreign que to find out we had to fill in a form first and then que again and hand all our passports over and were not given them back till we gave in $1. Luckily we had $4 in one dollar bills so were able to help out Michelle and Nate who had no US. We then got our bags off the coach passed through an x-ray walked around a scary Alsatian with a muzzel on and back to our coach and that small journey took us 2 hours till the bus left again and we were in Vietnam.

They obviously saved one of the drivers for this section of the journey as driving in Vietnam bears no relation to driving anywhere else in the world. While in Laos they didn't drive on any one side particularly, in Vietnam they drive all over the road over take on corners with on coming traffic and honestly don't use their eyes or wing mirrors ... instead they use the horn. for example you should use the horn when:
about to over take
when overtaking
having just over taken
if you are being over taken
if you need to speed up or slow down
if you pass a pedestrian
if you pass a scooter
if you pass a bicycle
if you are turning a corner
if you are passing a train
if a train is passing you
or if you feel like it and none of the above apply!

So there was no sleeping on the rest of the journey at all but it was still funny given our various states of lack of sleep.

Nate had some friends waiting for him at a hostel from his first boarder trip so we knew we wanted to get a taxi there as they said it was a good place to sleep, while waiting in the biggest traffic jam to reach the bus station a woman zipped up on her scooter and climbed aboard, she asked us if we had somewhere to stay and had a piece of paper with Nates name on. The travellers ahead of us had mentioned Nate was arriving today and so she had come to the bus station to collect him! That sold us on what a lovely person she was so we all decided to stay there.

Once we arrived we met Sarah, Gene (pronounced jeneee but there are no accent keys here and i would hate for her to be called Gene as in Kelly as she gets that a lot!), and Martin. They said they were headed straight out for dinner so we joined them and had a huge boiling pot that we threw beg and meat and seafood and noodles in, very very exciting! They told us about a tour they were doing the next day to Ha Long bay on a Junk boat and so we decided to join them on that as well.

I have to go and wake Leanne up for breakfast now so will have to write about that later today hopefully... I'm trying to catch up on how behind i am and how much we've done since then.

Posted by eralc 17:59 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientianne

oh no... its been too long again... it feels like homework!


Arriving in Luang Prabang we set off with some of the people we'd been on the boat with and found a hostel right next to the best book shop and some of the bars. We showerd and changed and headed out for a drink in happy hour then on to another bar for dinner. Again happy hour on Lao Lao drinks so after dinner and the bar kicked us out we wondered where next to go.
Laos has a curfew of 11:30 so that you can be home by 12. However, it appears that in Luang Prabang a small bowling alley outside town has gotten around this and you can stay out till 3 AM!! We duly found out this was the only option and not being ready for bed jumped in a shared taxi with two english guys. They warned us to make our expectations as low as possible and we might still be dissapointed... they were right... THe bowling alley was an interesting place. 6 alleys and a bar and then some plastic tables and chairs and that is literally it. But never mind, there was beer or a wine cooler (awful - we didnt even try it but someone else did) and then eventually after getting bored of the bowling alley we headed home.. where the taxi was double strangely!

I woke up at about 8 then slept again till 9. Leanne was out cold so i showered and set off for some wondering about down the beautiful wide streets. EVentually i caved and went and sat in the book shop for a cold lemon juice. At this point i think i should introduce you all to my favourite discovery (number 2 is noodle soup from a street stall with lots of chili!) Lemon juice here is a bit like lemonade in england yet so so so much better. Maybe its the small green lemons (not to be confused with limes, though how you tell them apart i have no idea) they have a much stronger taste that is some how sharper and i dont know how the sweeten it but they do and it is just fantastic, not too sweet because there is still the strong sharp taste of the lemons. Poured over a glass of ice, its just the best thing in world (well except in bangkok where i got someone to put a bit of vodka in on the night before my birthday)

So there i sat with my lemon juice and slowley the rest of the group from the night before arrived and we decided to set off to the waterfall. Leanne had also surfaced so we grabed another shared taxi thing and off we went, it was truely one of the most amazing things i've seen so far on our trip. You walk through a park with a bear section and a tiger section that contain animals rescued from illegal trading and trapping and then head up to the first of the pools of blue blue water pouring over rocks, a few more up each increasing in size and you come to the top most one that is giant! With a due amount of posing for photos and climbing we returned to our favourite pool and plunged in, me from the sides, leanne off the top of the waterfall at that section (about 9 feet we think)

We arrived back in the town as the night market was setting up and strolled through that vowing to come back. AFter some restoring cake we headed back to our guest house only to be distracted by booking ourselves in for a massage and reflexology the next day. After dinner we found the night market shutting at 9:30 so just headed back to grab a drink while we read by candle light before bed. The next day we climbed the giant hill that luang prabang is built around to the temple at the top and the buddah's foot print there. As well as seeing some caves with a shrine in and a figure of a man painted in flesh colour that was just erie after all the golden buddahs.

We hit the night market after our relaxing treatments and picked up some paintings of the monks and a duvet cover set because we could.. We had missed the start of the film in the book shop so just read again intending to have an early night to get up at 5 to see the monks process through the town and give alms. however the alarm clock decided to chose this day to get tempramental so we missed the monks and morning market but were still up intime for our mini bus to Vang Vieng. A bit dissapointed but at least we were up for our bus!

Vang vieng is a resort dedicated to tubing and friends re runs on dvd, definitely high up on the list of fun activities. We settled in and strolled through town on our first afternoon decided to tube the next day. We were up and out and hired our tubes and got the tuk tuk to the start of the 4k run back to town (there is a hard core 10 k route but not many people do it) You arrive at the first bar and can stop for a drink before you even get in but we decided that some water sports were necessary so floated down the river inside a giant tractor tyre inner tube to the next bar where we scrambled up a scree slope to discover that the bar workers will throw out a line and bamboo pole to drag you in to the steps.. doh! Not being ready for the free shots of lao lao wiskey or a bucket (like a pitcher of cocktail) we just shared a beer. AT this bar there is the first jump, its also the biggest, 10m i think i read somewhere. Anyway off leanne goes to climb it and gets to the top and grabs the rope... and bends her knees... and stays there... and backs away... and tries again. Meanwhile i'm safely on the ground with the camera not even able to get up the ladder. She tries again but long story short she decided the ladder was the better way down so we floated onto the next bar where the jumps were lower. This time i decided i was going to try as it was less high so i got three steps up the ladder, took a look down, a look up, a look down and scrambled off the ladder asap! However my effort spurred Leanne in to action not to be outdone by me she took off this time and landed with a satisfying plop into the water below.
And on it went at all the future bars with her confidence growing and mine staying with me on the ground... eventually later in the afternoon near the end i decided now or never as if i didn't do one jump while we were there i knew i'd regret it. So grabbing the arm of pam, a canadian equally scared of heights, i set off up the ladder (her first)... At the top she goes so i have to.. but i'm wussing out big time, and shaking and sweating and shallow breathing and not even sure i can hold on the handle of the rope swing... so turning to the chivalrous gentleman behind me i requested a push. He offered to count me down first to see if i could do it and then promptly pushed me off the edge at 2 instead of 1! So i swung and screamed and shut my eyes... and didnt let go! so kept swinging on the end of the rope until i calmed down to hear them yelling to let go from the ground below so i did and dropped in to the water where i stayed for a good 10 minutes till i calmed down. The guy behind me followed into the water
"wasn't that the best thing ever, you enjoy it? gonna do it again now right?"
" no it was not the best thing ever, yes i enjoyed fearing for my life and no i will never do it again!"

Back into the tubes and off we floated, at this point we had bumped into the two women who had helped pick up Leanne in Bangkok when she became over heated so we floated on down the river with them in a big group at sunset knowing we would arriving in darkness as there was still another 45 mins to go. However in a group this didnt seem like a problem. Untill Leanne decided she had had enough and let go of us and set off on her own, i lost sight of her but wasnt too worried as we also knew the people ahead of us. Eventually we got out scrambled accross some reeds and got back to the tube return point. However leanne was not there waiting for me, nor had she turned in her tube but the people ahead had... There were still people coming in though so i figured she might have stopped off at another bar or something... Eventually while i'm imagining the worst and having to get a boat out to find her, she walks up from the wrong direction. She had floated 30 minutes walk down stream too far and had eventually got out because of the bugs and found a tuk tuk driver who directed her back for her 30 minute walk back into town... A hot shower and some restoring food later we were calmed down and metup with the canadians we had spent the day with.

The next day every muscle we owned ached from swimming, hanging, screaming, lying in tubes etc so we just watched the friends re runs during lunch and the morning and then sorted out our mini bus to vientianne before getting in some hammocks to watch the sun set and the tubers come in along the river.

We left on the morning of a power cut which made filling up with petrol intersting for the first section of the journey. Leanne was sat on the fold down seat so had a completely numb bum meanwhile at the back i'm getting rained on, all in all the best journey we've ever had! Arriving in Vientianne went smoothly in that we arrived not to a bus station but the centre of town so we grabbed a nice - ish, clean -ish but not cheap guest house before sorting out some washing from our delightful river'd clothes. As it turns out there really is not a lot to do in Vientianne and its really pretty dull... Luang Prabang had stolen our hearts and this newer capital didnt have a lot to say from its self, we managed to do the museum (great descriptions on the exhibits from the 1980s more communist era) the concrete version of the arc de triomph to those who died during the wars, never finished and just.. ugly, and the oldest temple that wasnt sacked during hte many invasions. And still had mornings and afternoons wondering around doing nothing till our bus was organised to get us to Vietnam and that is a whole other story in itself so given the time it will have to wait.. but its a goodun!

(we are now in Hue having been through ha long bay, hanoi and are on a sleeper bus open ticket south via hoi an, nah trang and ho chi min city - or saigon)

Posted by eralc 01:34 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Chiang Mai II to Luang Prabang

trecking, elephants, slow boats, numb bums and bugs...

-17 °C

So back to the trecking, well we set off at 9 am with our bags packed and a truck full of happy people, if the two of us were a bit subdued. After a stop at the tourist police station so they could take copies of our passports to know who was entering the hills we were on our way.
First off was elephant riding, and i have to say, they have an interesting approach to near vertical hills... we were also on the greedy elephant who not content with just bananas from us would hurry to catch up to the people in front to steal theirs as well! But its still one of those once in a life time, must be done activities. Though obviously afterwards you meet someone who volunteered at a sanctuary and learn that elephants actually have weak backs and having humans ride on them is bad for them etc etc and get lots of guilt. But never mind, what is done is done and while we did it it was fun!
After that it was a 3 hour hike up hill through the forests to where we were staying. This was not easy, firstly the heat and secondly the fact i'd not got a whole lot of food inside me for energy as i was still not eating. But i made it (just) and collapsed onto the bench at the end. Our guides were fantastic, they didnt rush us but also didnt let us sit down for hours as well as being practical jokers. To any question they didnt know the answer it was always "tiger"
Q: "so whats that animal over there"
A: "Tiger oh my buddah!"
Oh my buddah is possibly my favorite phrase ever now! AFter the walk and a bit of a chill out they took us up to the village we were staying near. The boys could play football ( Joe and Tarzan the guides said they one 3 1 and that joe scored 7 goals... yeah, work that out... the boys on the treck with us said it was a draw but they didnt know the score exactly... we conclude they lost) and we could wonder through the village looking at the views accross the hills and at the local way of living. Both our guides were locals from the hill tribes, but not the one we stayed near. One of them (tarzan) was in fact rushing home to reject a marriage proposal. In their villages it is the tradition for the woman (aged about 16) to ask the man aged about 20 ish... 25 is considered old), but he felt he wasn't old enough though his mum had other ideas (he was 23)! Tarzan had previously had 16 marriage proposals and used to be a lady boy in bangkok but couldn't take putting the make up on every night... it was a fun trip to be sure!
After a walk through the village we had dinner and all crashed out to be up early and were up with the sun/cockerel the next morning ... ok so didnt actually get up till about 8!
Then we had a walk down hill that was more taxing than expected because it was exceptionally steep. We stopped half way for a break at a waterfall we could swim at and walk behind. Freezing cold but good in the heat! Finishing our walk we next had bamboo rafting down a shallow river... This was fantastic, our group had two rafts so there was some competition and tipping that may have gone on.. We were also allowed to steer it for a while. Leanne started and unable to avoid rocks she would say loudly "uh oh" sit down, and wait for us to crash!
Next it was my turn, and again some of the rocks were intent on getting in the way, however i only had one crash. admittedly it was a big one, i didnt sit down so when we hit went flying into face down rock hugging position that left everyone sure i'd lost all my teeth. Actually i came out of it with one tiny bruise on my elbow!
I decided that was enough for me and settled to just watch as we slid down the rest of the route.

A lift home, a shower, dinner and the next day we were off on our journey to Loas

A 5 hour bus ride to the border town of Houy Xai, we stayed there for a night, got up early and went to get our visas for Loas and a ferry across the river boarder. It turned out we had overstayed our Thai visa for one day so had to pay a fine that was just under a tenner each and were on our way. We then got on the long boat or slow boat down the river. Its crowded, small seats and long. Luckily for us it was full so we sat on the floor which was actually more comfortable and settled in to watch as we sailed down the Mekong. Another one night stay and then the next day another longer (10 hour) boat ride.
THat night in Laos we stayed in a nice looking hostel, fan etc etc... the power there goes off at 10 as they run it from a generator which was interesting.. more interesting was the bug swarm that happened. At dinner Leanne sampled the Laos Laos.. a local spirit that is mind blowingly strong... so much so i couldn't have mine as the smell nearly did me in! So she polished off mine and then slipped into deep deep sleep. Meanwhile i'm awake with bugs flying all over our room... hundreds. like flying ants that lost their wings but slightly bigger wings, smaller beetle like bodies. wierd. anyway, i put the bathroom light on and they stayed near there swarming all over... then the power went out and it was a bug free for all.. unable to sleep with them crawling all over my skin i got up and put my hoody on - hood up - and stood in the middle of the room hugging a torch. eventually the crawling woke Leanne up who looked over to find me stood still in the middle of the room fully clothed... unable to bear it, we went and sat out side on a step in the dark where they had more space to mill about and not hit us untill it died down. and it did later... The next day the bus was full of stories, everyone had had the same problem and we have photos of it too...
Finally we arrived in Luang Prabang and got a hostel with two people we met on the boat and got a stiff drink, or two, it was two for one. There is a local curfew here of 12 so everywhere shuts at 11:30. As we left the bar the tuk tuks were lined up all saying "bowling alley? bowling alley?" to which our response was "what?!"
Just outside town is a bowling alley that can stay open till 3 so never ones to miss out off we went, it was an interesting sight to be sure!
Todays day has involved a slow get up, book shop for me, and then trip to a waterfall here that is truely breathtaking. We walked all the bits we could and swam where we could and Leanne jumped off one fall into the pool (of which she is very proud, i did not, i took photos)... One of the best days yet just amazing and now our hour is up and we are off shopping at the night market! yay for shopping! mum watch out for parcels coming home!

Posted by eralc 06:25 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Chaing Mai

two night busses later

From Phuket, we decided in our infinate wisdom to get a night bus to Bangkok, to then wait a day and get the next night bus to Chaing Mai...

the first night bus convinced Leanne we were going to die, but as i pointed out at the time
a) the drivers do the route all the time, they know the roads and how to drive a bus
b) if we were going to die the coach we were following would have an accident first so we wouldnt actually die, just be maimed in the pile up afterwards
c) given that she gets motion sickeness and was still able to read, we realy cant have been doing all that much swerving and bobbing around on the roads...

As we are clearly still alive, all my points stand

Then in Bangkok we arrived at 6 am.. after refusing taxies for 400 bhat we got a metered one as we wanted for 120 bhat. perseverance and the belief everyone is out to fool you makes for a good traveller in bangkok. We grabbed some breakfast in the centre of bangkok and waited for an internet cafe to open up to check the Vietnamese embassey, while wating we met a woman who advised us to go to her ' cousins' travel agents and sort out our bus tickets while waiting. She then sorted out a tuk tuk for us leading strongly to the belief she would be getting commission from this, but as we did infact need a travel agent, we didnt really mind too much and we got ourselves a cheap lift there. As it turns out it was a saturday (as you may know from the last blog i was a bit confused as to the date and time and day. I swear april has 31 days but the calanders are proving me wrong repeatedly... i have checked many!) and the embassey was shut, he offered to sort out our visa's for us. Now again this could well be a lie but given the fact it had just been labour day and every where we went we were told it was shut for a bank holiday we decided to go with the flow. He got us sorted out for the bus that night and we could leave our bags there... which was our plan for the start once we had been online. Given the news about the embassey being shut we had a free day and so decided to wonder around the mbk shopping centre which is really more made up of stalls...

It also turns out to have been the MBK's second birthday so there was a bizzare - we - assume - Japanese - themed concert with lots of children running around looking like they were out of Manga and lots of lip syncing. Very Very surreal when you've not had a lot of sleep.. Anyway we shuffeled on to get our next night bus where we had the front seats so more leg room and a bigger bus/coach so Leanne felt more reassured we weren't going to die. though i still had the window seat so she couldn't see us passing vehicles as clearly! wuss!

We arrived at Chaing Mai at 4 am and were picked up by the hostel we had booked into when we got the bus tickets. They let us check in early so we had a 6 hour nap and headed out to see the city. We were due to go trecking the next day but as there weren't enough people we were postponed till the day after.
With our free day i signed us up for a cooking course, Leanne would like me to point out that this was not of her choice! Anyway, I was very excited and really enjoyed it, we saw the market, got to choose our own dishes to cook and got to taste seasonal fruits as well.

Having finished at two we pottered about, swapped our books and generally didnt do much in the afternoon apart from our pre trek meeting. After this it all started to go a bit wrong for me. A stroll through town to pic up the stuff we needed generated a bit more appetite so we stopped again to eat. However as we were both engrossed in our thrillers we picked them up straight after and I absentmindedly sipped not at my sprite but at the glass of water on our table. Newcastle were playing Chelsey so we headed back so Leanne could watch and I went to bed with my book.
The problems started around 2 am. 6 hours later it became clear i would not be treking that day at all.. one trip to the clinic, an injection in the bum, 4 pills and some electrolyte solution later i was sent home to sleep off the sedative i'd taken... Dinner time rolled around and I forced down some rice before falling back asleep to wake up completely restored! Not hungry but ready to go, so we agreed to go on the 2 day trek in stead of the original 3 day as they said it wasn't too hard.

News on that will have to follow later as i am now starving and must go and charge my phone to call mum and let her know i'm not sick and am in fact alive!

Posted by eralc 22:29 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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