A Travellerspoint blog

China

Kunming, Guilin, Yangzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Yichang, Chongqing, Chengdu, Xian, Beijing

overcast 20 °C

Day 200 of my travels!! It’s time to leave China, well actually not quite, Tibet next!

So what of China...along our travels we’d been warned that the Chinese are pretty disgusting and the food wasn’t that great, so we lowered our expectations. We arrived from Vietnam to Kumning, in south west China. Through the lack of English it took us 2hrs to get to our hostel. Previously on our travels we’d always seemed to find English speakers, or our hand gestures seemed to work, here was different. My impression of Chinese people (and obviously this is from my limited interactions at school and life to date) were that they were relatively quiet, peaceful, polite people, with a “good zen,” but secretly you knew they could take you down in a matter of minutes with their kung fu skills! HOWEVER...these people are soooo loud (sighing heavily when stretching, chatting intensely with each other everywhere – which often sounds like a full on argument but that’s just them having a catch up), they burp and fart in public (with those around not batting an eyelid), they have this unforgivable retching from the very back of their throat, all the way to their mouth (actually sound like they’re going to throw up their insides!) before scrapping it off their tongue with their teeth and spitting it on the floor (or into a bag when inside – there will be no more sleeping on train floors, or any floors for that matter, as i resorted to in indo!) Also I don’t know whether it’s because they have been brought up in this hectic load crazy environment, but they don’t seem to get annoyed at anything...people barge and push past you as if there is someone handing out money on the other side of the entrance gate or there’s a bomb about to go off behind them, when entering and exiting places, and then the KIDS! The kids scream at the top of their voices in a public sleeper train at 10pm and all the adults and parents are smiling and laughing at them, looking at them as though, arrrr aren’t they adorable!!?!? Whereas Lisa and I give a look at each other of “SHUT THE BLOODY HELL UP!! How is that in anyway acceptable behaviour!”...so this brings me to my new outlook...and im not by any way shape or form saying that im about to adopt their lifestyle and habits, however it does make you wonder if us westerners are a little...uptight? I still cant get over the retching phlemming everywhere, however is it us just being a little uptight? Would we be less stressed if we were to take a leaf out of china’s book and let a few burps and farts out when needed to, have a good old stretch and a sigh, so what if someone bumps into you...I have to say i do prefer the western way, nothing like a bit of chivalry, but in a way it suits china and makes it an experience and a way of life that differs to our travels so far...and I have to say China has been up there with my favourite countries...wanna hear why?

So Kumning...really we should have done a trip over to tiger leaping gorge (north west, which takes about 3/4 days and is the deepest gorge in the world), however lack of time and culture shock to china we took a stroll around Green Lake Park where taichi was in full swing and all the tea drinkers catching up nibbling on sunflower seeds, before heading to Bamboo temple. It was a nice half day excursion, nothing special. In the eve we went to see Shangrila-Dynamic Yunnan dance performance, which was great and an intro to the traditional singing and dancing! Next day we went to the western hills taking 2 public buses (so cheap, 1Y per ride – 10 pence) then a 10Y minibus to the top so we could walk through the hills to the cable car, and walked the rest back to the bus. It was a glorious day and nice to have a day of walking. Kumning is nothing special but a big town and a good intro to Chinese culture.

A 25hr hard sleeper train to Guilin. The sleeper trains are awesome! But you have to book tickets at the station so requires a bit more organisation! Guilin is a pretty big town too, but this time upon arrival there were people asking us in English if we needed any help!!?? Well that would be lovely! Guilin is well equipped for tourist and Backstreet YHA was great! Really helpful! Took the 11 Bus to Guilin Square, walked through the pedestrian areas to our hostel where there was a free dumpling making night! There were about 12 of us making pork and herb dumplings and there was enough mixture to feed about a hundred people. Another guy and i powered through the last 30 dumplings until we could no longer move! Sooo tasty though! Next morn we bused up to Chengyang Bridge. Took us longer than we expected leaving at 7.30am and arriving at 2pm due to a number of connections! Bus to longshen, bus to Sanjiang, tuk tuk to bus station, bus to the bridge! Long journey and the costs add up so prob better to just do a tour through the hostel. Once we were there though, there was a pretty interesting bridge. They make these almost building like structures as the bridge where people just hang out over the river. We carried on walking through the villages to Daizhai (main village) which was actually where we hoped to stay the night, but couldn’t find the hostel so went back towards teh bridge to stay at Ma’an village. We thought our next destination (Longji Rice terrace) was near, but chatting to an English and Chinese Australian couple, they informed us of our misunderstanding – turns out there are a lot o Daizhai’s! So had to hire a private vehicle for 400Y to take us 3hr to Back Bone Dragon Terraces, Longji. We could have done a bus back to longshen and then up to Longji, however as we’d thought it was close we had a leisurely breakfast and hence it would have taken us too long. Again, we arrived at 2pm. The journey to the rice terraces was stunning! Ragging river below the road, dense deciduous forest with an array of colours and textures, and then the rice terraces soaring above us. Not sure if it was worth the effort to go to the bridge, although it was nice to walk through the villages, but it was well worth going to the terraces! They were like Sapa in Vietnam, but far bigger and better! We walked up to the Golden Buddha Peak which had stunning views, walking past the place we’d tried to find in the other Daizhai :-p and picked up a family of dogs which accompanied us on our walk. Back to Guilin for a walk around the lakes at night to see it’s beautifully lit pagodas, bridges and taichi groups dotted throughout the park.

Down to Yangzhou the next day. We opted for the shorter trip (90Y), so we got to Yangzhou earlier. This was bamboo rafting down the Li River through the limestone karsts..again like Halong Bay in Vietnam, but higher and more impressive...actually more what i expected from Halong Bay, before an optional village tour to see how 80% of the population live, see how they use the condors for fishing, feed some local water buffalos and to see and find out about the Chinese wedding album!! The Chinese’s biggest cost of getting married are these photo albums they have made, where they get photographed in a number of scenic locations, in a number of dresses, in a variety of poses, all carried out in a short period of time...hence you’ll notice the girl wearing trainers under her wedding dress ha! Have yet to see a book, but would love to!

Yangzhou is touristy (asian), but it was nice to go out in a busy pedestrianised areas with lots of street food, shops and bars. We had a wonder around West Street before heading to The Impressions of the Third Sister, a performance on the water directed by the guy who directed the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. It was quite the experience. We arrived to a traffic jam, the bus pulled over and we were herded at speed to an area where a guy gave us our ticket, before being herded speedily to the gate, where upon we were crammed as close together as possible until the gate was opened and it was a rush to the next gate, to be crushed again before power walking, getting shoves from every direction by old biddies elbowing their way forward. Having made it to our seat the show started at exactly 9.05 as scheduled and it was an impressive opening! The limestone karsts surround Yangzhou and the body of water in front of us was lit up dramatically, and there were great effects with horizontal sheets of material separating little boats moving from side to side, with beams moving above them! It was quite the show! But 20 MINS before the end, you could tell it was drawing to a close, and almost as though predicting people would try and leave, the performers came through the doors to exit the stadium as part of their act, but still people were pushing either side of them trying to exit!?! By the time the lights went out we were the few people in the stand, quite funny, just as fast as they have entered, they have left! Lisa and i headed back to West Street and Amy went back to Guilin as we had a 21 HOUR HARD SEATER TRAIN to Hangzhou the next day. Hard seaters are vertical seats that you wouldn’t want to sit in or an hour, but due to a Chinese holiday (Labour day) all the sleepers were booked :-p

The train ride was interesting...everyone was so loud, chatty, looked as though everyone knew each other. We had a little table and then 3 seats facing each other. It was a LONG journey, but we got chatting to some Chinese students who gave us some good tips and gave us a bit of an insight to Chinese way! Luckily there were a few people who got off in the later part of the evening so were able to spread over a couple of seats, allowing us to kinda sleep. Arrived in Hangzhou – starting to think every town in china is pretty big. The lake was quite far away from our hostel and took us an hour and the taxi cost near to 100Y. It was in a great location and we spent the morning visiting the street food stalls – yummers before walking around West Lake. It’s a fair old distance and unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best, pretty overcast, but nice to get the legs working and it was sooooooooo busy, like walking out of a concert, but for 12km! Really lovely gardens all around the lake and nice to stop off for a coffee and mosey around the temples. We had a great time ordering our dinner from pictures and pointing at other peoples plates not knowing exactly what it was but it looked and tasted great!

Next morning, fast train to Shanghai...300kmph and there in 50mins! Awesome! Really modern nice clean toilets...WESTERN TOILETS! Well actually only one, but still!...im just going to have a moment for toilets, aka WC’s aka squatters:- WARNING THIS MAY BE A BIT GRAPHIC!
- Our first experience was actually a communal squatter. Now for a man using a communal urinal I think that’s ok as you cant just stand and do your thing relatively descreetly...FOR A GIRL! I don’t think this is right, your bum (front and back) are on full show!!! And also, this is probably too much info, but WHAT IF YOUR ON YOUR PERIOD!! So luckily it was pretty quiet so we stood guard and took it in turns!
- Next it was actually an upgrade to the squatter loos we’ve experience throughout this trip, it was a cubical (relief) and it has a flush ha - Rather than a bucket that you fill with water and chuck in to flush.
- We’ve generally found most have a flush and do have cubicals (phew), but there is rarely a western loo, actually they consider them unhygienic, so everyone can squat. Im not the most agile person but i know my mum and dad are certainly wouldn’t deal well in China ha!
So back to Shanghai...weather was still a bit gloomy, and by the time we made it along the bund we could see glimpses of the Pearl. Nice area, quite like South Bank in London. We took the Bund Tunnel – weird and a bit of a waste of money unless you use it to get to the Pearl for a cocktail and back, but as the weather was rubbish we gave the cocktail a miss, so returned for 60Y. Drinks in No. 18 along the bund overlooking the lit city, then over to the French Concession area for dinner. Had a great meal at Baoluo jiulou – amazing dumplings – do love them there’s no doubt!

Next day Lisa and I booked ourselves onto a Three Gorges tour down the Yangtze which was harder than we thought, think most tours go from Chongqing to Yichang rather than the otherway. Managed to book onto a soft sleeper train to Yichang (574Y) – only one left due to the holidays again – def need to be more organised in china, cant just rock up and book tickets on the day as we’ve found everywhere else! We had time to go check out the Shanghai Museum, which was a real insight to how far back Chinese history goes!! Pretty amazing civilisation!

Yichang we were collected by Roy (love their choice of English names), who took us to our bus for our all Asian tour of the Yangtze River (3rd largest river in the world). We’ve found that everyone in china thinks Lisa and i are sisters, if not twins – i guess tall, slim, curly brown haired, white people generally does the trick, and they found us carrying our big bags particularly amusing, whispering and giggling amongst themselves looking in our direction! We boarded our boat and the tour guide gave everyone instructions, via a little mic and portable speaker...all in Chinese, we became lambs for the next couple of days. “Mum and dad” an old Chinese couple took us under their wing, waking us up, directing us to our destinations...our charade skills are quickly improving! We had a night on the boat in a cute little cabin. We woke to green waters, steep rock faces in a wide gorge. Breakfast was very authentic...rice gruel, buns, peanuts and this pickles orange something ha! oh and a boiled egg, they love their eggs. This was consumed in around 15mins (a leisurely breakfast by their standards we still realised), then we were off in a small boat past Goddess Peak along Goddess River. When we first arrived in Yichang it was miserable, couldn’t see more than 100m and i did start to think it all the money spent and time spent organising it was going to be worth it, but as we cruised down this narrow stretch with the rocks either side almost vertical reaching height of 900m+ and the clouds hovering in the mountains with blue sky starting to emerge, it was definitely worth it! At the end of the stretch we were able to get out and stretch our legs, have a few photos...which ended up being a photo shoot with the whole boat, each of them taking it in turns to have a photo with us initially then everyone just bundled in, quite entertaining!

Back to the boat, where we were sung too by both out tour guide and boat driver - very traditional :-) and souvenirs such as dried leaves, these interesting looking orange monkey plastic ornaments on string and books were snapped up! Suckers for a purchase! Lunch wasnt much better than breakfast but at least we had veg. The Chinese also like to offer you food but when its dark brown with a gelatine texture in a oily brown liquid it’s difficult to receive it gratefully! Again lunch was devoured and then it was time to cruise along the gorges until we reached another smaller boat to change onto for our optional Little Three Gorges tour (an extra 200Y). This was a 5hr trip making our way through the tributaries with beautiful green waters, and steeper and steeper sided rock faces as we went further in. There were also coffins in the cliff, which was part of a ritual to the area. We were also informed by our only English speaking friend on the tour that the recently finished dam has displaced over 1 million people and made water levels higher. The tour guides have an amazing ability to talk innocently for 5hrs and obviously not being able to understanding we were intrigued what they were talking about. Our friend informed us they were pointing out shapes, usually of animals in the rocks, which we also experience down in the Li River, Yangzhou. It was gloriously hot, blue skied and a nice breeze on the boat and it was great people watching, this whole tour was a great insight into Chinese ways.
From the smaller boat we went on an even smaller long boat style boat which we were again sung to by the guide and the driver. After this tour we travelled further up the gorge before leaving the boat to walk up a mamouth set of stairs to reach our restaurant for dinner. This was our best meal but for some reason unbeknown to us everyone was desperate to get to the hotel asap, so Lisa and I were scoffing food as we left..I dont know what the rush was. The hotel was just up the road and we didn't have anything on. The hotel was nice, and by the next day we knew what to expect, so we ate quickly got all our belongings together ready to move see ;-) We visited the white emperors palace, quite nice and there are english captions much to Lisa and I;s delight. Another speed lunch then another temple and off to Chongqing for a spicy meal and a good night sleep.

2hr fast train to Chengdu to Dragon Town Backpackers YHA which was an awesome right in the heart of the alleyways, surrounded by cafes and scrummy street food which we optimised! At the hostel we were able to book ourselves onto a Tibet tr. Pretty expensive but we're only hear once, so 7220Y down and several hours due to the train being totally full meaning we had to pay an extra 150Y each for a ticket! Once that was sorted

Chinese observations:
- Men carry the girls bag and some even have their own man bags
- They enter and exit places at speed!
- They eat quickly and leave as soon as they are done
- They love to sing
- Very chatty and pretty load and LOVE kids, they can do no wrong – not sure if that has anything to do with the one child policy?
- Also they call their cousins their brothers and sisters as they have none.
- Spit and burp everywhere
- Seem to eat anything, dog, cat, snake blood, cocroaches, etc...
- A lot bigger than the rest of asia size wise, taller and most of them fatter

Once that was sorted it was time to explore Chengdu! We went for a walk up and down the alleys sampling the street food before committing to the place opposite our hostel for some spicy cheap food! Then we walked to peoples park, and to see the huge Moa statue, they love that dude  They also have a love for flashing, moving, bright lights making it great to walk around cities at night. Next morning was what we’d been waiting for...the Giant Pandas! We went to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre (108Y to go from the hostel, in and back). We arrived early and there weren’t that many people about. We headed to Panda House 2 where we saw a mum and 2 cubs rolling about like drunken big bundles of fluff! They were mesmerising, and we ended up watching them for about 40mins! Going around the rest of the park was great, its really well laid out, there are lots of pandas of all ages and there is a movie which is informative. They have managed to impregnate pandas and ensure the panda survival but they have yet to release any into the wild...

We got dropped at the train station and were bound for Xi’an, arriving at 6am. Stayed at the YHA near the southern entrance to the wall and the drum tower, so again another good location and hostel! We spent the day walking the wall, a 12m high 12km long wall enclosing the city. It is about 12m wide too, and after completing from the north to the south (half of it) we decided that was enough, it was a hot day and there was no shade, but you can cycle around it too, which might be better (40Y entry). We then went to find the Great Mosque and discovered the Muslim Quarter. We’re quickly discovering the food makes or breaks a place ha, and this was the best! Lisa and I tried most of the street venders, either the 1st time, or the 2nd time when we went back for dinner. The Great Mosque was difficult to find, its down an alley full of little stalls, but it is a nice mosque combining Chinese and Islamic architecture, very peaceful (25Y entry). As i said we went back for dinner and then to a street full of bars near the hostel, south of the drum tower for drinks and dice games (every bar has them, Chinese are big games players, suppose its my kinda place – majong, cards, dice, etc). Next day was another thing i’d really been looking forward to...the Terracotta warriors! The tour was a bit of a shambles and took us to jade, terracotta replicators, lacquer cabinet, etc shops and then there were too many guides then not enough guides and so we ended up getting a “professional” guide from the Terracotta Warriors Museum. Firstly i think ive been watching too much tomb raider and i had this vision of them being in this big cave or in a mountain or something, but no its a pretty new complex with a structure over the archaeological site. Then our guide didn’t really answer our questions and i didn’t really feel it was that informative. From my pre-reading the emperor who ordered this to be constructed was a tyrant, enslaving the population, killing millions! But created 2 of chinas greatest attractions – the warriors and the great wall! And there was very little information on him. Bit disappointing and the mausoleum next door was pointless, driving around a mound of earth with trees on. We didn’t get a chance to go to Emperor Jin something Tomb, but that is supposed to be good. We also visited Bambo, which is a village 6000 years old, again just felt a bit mmm well questionable? Anyway, we were dropped at the train station bound for Beijing...our last stop! And also to meet up with Amy, who had now met up with a friend from the US, Jackie.

Arrived in Beijing West train station, took the 623 bus to our hostel, Beijing Downtown Backpackers – again another cracker of a hostel, bit more expensive, 75Y, but included breakfast and in a great location on a buzzing Hutong (alley). We went to the Summer Palace (30Y), which is HUGE! And a nice half day activity, pretty busy though. In the evening we went to a Kung fu show at the Red Theatre. Extremely cheesy, and in English with Chinese subtitles haha! but pretty awesome moves, and these little ninja kids were doing these backflips using their head! We strolled down to the lake near our hostel for drinks – buzzing area too, but pretty pricey so went back to the hostel where we caught up with Amy and Jackie who’d got back from their Time Out magazine event.

Next day we went to Taniman Square – so many CCTV cameras, and security to get in, then the forbidden city (60Y). I have never been surrounded by so many people! Even more so than West Lake, Hangzhou! It was hilarious, at points i was carried by the crowds, especially to look into the palaces and also to get through this corridor next to a palace to touch a box, which they HAD to touch ha! 2.5hrs was enough, it’s an impressive site, huge like everything in China and as Amy think, why i like it so much ;-) but it gets a bit samey by the end. At the north exit you can enter the Jingshan Park which is 10Y and at the top you get a great view of the city! The Police museum is also supposed to be interesting to see propaganda. That evening we went for Peking duck! It is very good, but it’s not shredded like at home. It was sliced, but did come with pancakes, sauce, spring onion and cucumber, tasty goodness!!

Next day we went to the Temple of Heaven (15Y). One of the best parks. I love the way the Chinese use their public spaces, everyone congregates dancing, singing, stretching, working out! Most 80years olds put us to shame holding their leg high above their head stretching, and lifting and swinging themselves on the bars! Pretty impressive! Next door is the Pearl market which has everything! Electronics, clothes, bags, pearls, all fake, well apart from the pearls and silk i hope! We had some fun bartering, spent a fortune but concluded you have to walk away at least 2 or 3 times, and if you really were walking away then you would find out the real price..par example, a fake apple ipad started at 2500, by the time i walked away they called out to me 400Y!! After a show and tell session over lunch i really wanted to see the Olympic park so headed on the train to the Olympic Forest Park Station. Did an electric buggy around the forest for my landscape interest, again really well used! Was interesting comparing it to the remnants of the Olympics in Australia’s Homebush Park. This took a little longer than i hoped as i had to be back at 6.20 for an acrobatics show. I started walking through the park towards the birds nest, great structure! And nicely landscaped around, and being based in walking distance from the city (rather than a long train ride or drive, as in Australia) it felt better connected and accessible! I made the decision i could walk back, didn’t look that far...however everything on a map in Beijing doesn’t look that far, but it really is! So at 5.50pm i realised i wasn’t going to make it so i hailed a cab...they wouldn’t take me, hailed another...same! panic started to set in, eeekkl! Not gunna make it! I started running in the hostel direction, but i was still a way off. I saw a police car, rocked up hot and flustered, and asked them for directions, told a white lie that i was late for a bus to take me to the airport, and they told me to get in the car WOOP! Whizzed towards my hostel, dropped off at the top of the street, wiggled my way down the street full of ambling pedestrians and burst through the hostel doors panting and sweating at 6.33pm! It’d missed the bus!... Luckily for me they offered me a ride on the back of one of the guys electric scooters (so nice all the scooters are so quiet, although you have to be careful they come out of nowhere!). So i weaved through the traffic and made it in time for the show!! And thank goodness i did! It was incredible! These skeleton warriors doing flips and summersaults through rings the height of 2 small men, these double jointed flexi freaks, guys on bars, 12 girls on one bike, etc... very impressive! Def worth a look! (170Y tickets).

Next day, the ultimate highlight of the trip! The Great Wall! We were so lucky with the weather, and walking a section of the wall that was about 6km from Tin shan Ling to Simatai, with part restored and part original areas meant at times we had the wall to ourselves! 3hrs to get there, 3.5hrs walk and then 3hrs back! Its an incredible feat of human achievement, with it wiggling along the ridge of the mountains, built as a defence line to Mongolia and as a way to transport goods. There was a strong wind up there but it was a great walk and stunning views! We even did a pyramid on the wall hehe! Couldn’t resist! Looks amazing! Great Wall, Great day!

We have now left Amy (after 4 months of travelling together) she is bound for home (USA) and Lisa and I are continuing onto Tibet, where i am now in our cabin on this 48hr train ride, looking at stunning snow capped mountains, yellow arid grass lands with wild horse and i think black yacks? and shadows cast across the landscape as the sun goes down contrasting the blue blue skies! Only another day to go...

Posted by ljmackie 19:43 Archived in China Comments (0)

Vietnam

Mekong Delta, Saigon, Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi, Halong Bay & Sapa

sunny 33 °C

We were being collected at 10.30am from Kep to travel to Can Tho to join our Mekong Tour. At 10.10am I knocked on the window of a reversing Mekong tour minibus, which turned out to be ours and we nearly missed it AND there was only 1 seat available for 3 of us? Rearrange the bags, Lisa and I shared a seat to the border (which apparently you can get a visa there for $20 rather than doing a normal visa for $45 or an expressive for $55 in advance and you need $1 to exit Cambodia). Past the border we change onto another minibus to Chou Doc (where you normally stay a night and start the tour from here), next onto a minibus to the big bus and big bus to Can Tho arriving around 6pm...no one there to collect us...mmm ok. Manage to find someone to help, taxi to the homestay - Hungs homestay - brilliant! really friendly, sociable, nice rooms and they get you to help prep dinner which is true Vietnamese food! Next day a fab tour to the floating markets (not what I expected, more like a wholesale market where you had to buy a minimum quantity of the product they were selling, which was indicated by a stick with the product on the end sticking up out of the quite big boats). It was busy though, starting at 5.30am, we were there for 6am after breaky on the longtail boat, then worked our way through a network of tributaries of the Mekong, stopping off at rice factories, watermelon farms, nurseries along the river and glass noodle factories, all really interesting! makes such a difference having a good guide that you can ask questions to!!

Now from here, we thought we had made our way to the homestay where we joined the tour group...this apparently wasn’t the case! we ended up having to get a taxi to the hotel where our group was for lunch, then had to argue for our included lunch, put on a bus to My Toa where we were supposed to be staying in a homestay, which they finally sorted out, but this ended up us missing that afternoon and mornings activities, being fed breakfast at 10am, and lunch at 11am (clearly we were really hungry!?) then our group arrived at 1pm!...FOR LUNCH! anyway the rest of the arvo was good (apart from the fact we had to lug our backpacks around with us). Went to the coconut candy factory (really tasty warm coconut candy), held a python (as you do!), got serenaded by our tour guide down a small stream in a rowing boat surrounded by water coconut palms (very romantic), before tea to some traditional Vietnamese music and a bus back to Saigon (which we were made to swap buses, causing that bus to be delayed 30mins, and then our bus arrived before us in Ho Chi Ming City - HCMC!?! - FYI don’t book with Mekong Tours - double the price and useless!)

In HCMC, Justin (from Bali & Lombok) happened to be in town and stumbled in on us having dinner! awesome to exchange stories, and he definitely is taking the more relaxed approach to travelling vs. our whistle stop tour haha! Next day we had a stroll around town, visiting the Independence Palace (quite modern), then we went to the Museum and OH MY GOSH! most harrowing museum I’ve ever been too! the list of torture methods, THE PICTURES! no details spared! it was also interesting reading 1st - the way they talk about Americans, and 2nd - the camera men who captured these event! saying "hold it" (snap photo, walk away, bang bang pooowwah) just watching or hearing and seeing all this happen in front of them! I was exhausted coming out of there!

Next day, as if we hadn’t had enough history, we headed to the tunnels ($4 transport and guide, $4 entry). Again not what I expected, thought we would go down into the tunnels more but actually they have no reinforcement, they are tiny, even for Asians to fit in, let along white heffers! So instead we watched a video (made in about the 80's) before walking around the forest, which has now re-grown after the orange agent that was sprayed over the area. Tony (our guide), showed us camouflage entrances, booby traps, methods to avoid being discovered by the Americans, and informed us of a number of facts, e.g. only 20% of the bombs per drop went off, as the force from the 1st 10 would make the bombs land horizontally and wouldn’t detonate, so the Vietnamese would cut the bombs up and make mines against the US. All in all a great day!

Back to town, another stroll around, cocktails in Hotel Rex overlooking the bustling city, and then through the park which was a hive of activity, badminton in the paths (courts even marked out on the paving), hip hop dance routine choreography, this funny kicking disc thing that you rally with and people just hanging out! really nice vibe!! Then...guess what, another night bus! 11.45pm and this time it was actually a sleeper bus, but we were put in the back next to the horn (which they use incessantly), and you are right on top of each other, the other seat are separated by aisle!).

Arrive Dalat, 5am and by George! Its cold!! Now up in the mountains, there is relieve from the stifling heat we have been in for the last month! Find a hotel, sleep a couple of hours then we’re off! We grabbed a taxi and headed to elephant waterfall (500,000 VND return for 3 of us) where we were able to climb down to the waterfall and get some good pics, as well as get a little wet from the spray – woke us up nicely! When we returned I did actually see a cannoning tour, which looked appealing, so would prob try that instead if you’re heading there! We then walk the town. It’s a funny town, its quite built up and everywhere it is like a garden, a bit kitch, but surprisingly well maintained, and there seems to be a pretty massive museum being constructed atm which is all along the bank of the lake on one side!! After we headed to the crazy house – this alone would be a reason to go to Delat! Its this Alice in Wonderland style house, which you can stay the night in. Incredible forms and walkways health and safety standards would not permit access to the public haha! But stunning views out over the mountains!

Next day we bused to Nha Trang, Vietnams biggest beach town. Stunning bus ride, as much as the bus rides are a method of getting from A to B they also give you a great view and insight into the countryside and way of life! There were 200m plus cascades down the mountains rock façade and valleys that wove in and out of the undulating hills! Beautiful! Arrived by lunch time and straight to the beach! It was like the south of france, well maintained parkland strip before a nice wide long beach and cool waters! Next day went for a dive (supposed to be the best in Vietnam), wasn’t the best diving I’ve done, but for $40 you cant complain!! We were back by 1.30pm so we headed to the mud baths. It was 100,000 VND in, but well worth it! We went in this terrace of empty baths which they assign you one and turn a tap on which spills watery mud into the bath until half full. After a 15min soak its up to the bathing area to dry off. Feeling crisp and starting to crack we showered off, soaked in a clean bath, walked through a corridor of sprays blasting water at you, before dunked under a waterfall and finish in a hot swimming pool! Very relaxing! That night we were on a sleeper bus to Hoi An!

Unfortunately we had the very back! you're on top of each other, next to the horn and bumped all over the place! Hoi An is totally different, far more character, and more what I envisaged a Vietnamese town to be like! I’d heard you could get clothes made super cheap here! Well…I was hoping to get a couple of jackets and dresses made. As I was designing them, with help from a number of pictures, it all tended to add up. It is better 1st to have a look around a number of shops for ideas, then go to the market with a picture of exactly what you want to be made. They are better at copying than designing or advising! After an afternoon of picking materials, and discussing designs we sent off our orders! Another stroll around town – great place, got some really good cafes, 3000 VND beers (like 15c) and a really nice vibe with all its old buildings! We ended up doing another cooking class, an evening one which ended up being just the 3 of us! It was great! Another trip to the local market (that’s when we were shown the clothes making area in the market which is a lot cheaper! Doh!), then cycle ride into the countryside – amazing you only have to travel like 10mins before you’re on a dirt track surrounded by rice fields! Arrived at his school and we were shown the government land, which is immaculately hand farmed by the community, and where I was put to shame by a 70 year old lady who was watering the plant and offered me a go! Harder than it looks! There is a bar you rest on your shoulders then you fill up (one by one) watering cans, then rock them, sprinkling water over the rows of crops! Easier said than done! AND she does it 3 times a day every day..they are not light! We got shown how to present our food, making carrot and tomato flowers, slicing spring rolls and making it look pretty. Then we made a banana flower salad (delish!), these pancakes with bamboo shoots and wrapped in rice paper (AMMMMAAAZING!), spring rolls, and a chicken clay pot, all very tasty and was stuffed to the brim by the end of it!

Next morning we were off to My Son, similar to Angkor Wat, but more destroy by the war and not as big, but interesting! It was ridiculously hot that day though! We had lunch and a boat trip to some wood carving places but don’t bother, waste of time! Spend your time around the towns historic buildings! It’s a real walking town!

From Hoi An we’d decided to Easy Riders to Hue. It was only about 100km, but you are taken by locals on motorbikes, 1st to Marble Mountain – we went at the crack of dawn so got free entry and the place to ourselves and its an amazing place with huge caves and great viewpoints! 2nd stop was a mountain pass, meandering up and over the mountain, before a beach stop in Lang Co, before onto Elephant Waters (think it is called that), but basically a stunning series of pools in a mountain river which refreshing and crystal clear waters! Beautiful!! For lunch we were offered a chicken, which they showed us alive and were about to kill when we changed our order to the fish that was already being grilled on a charcoal BBQ. Best fish we’ve had!! Sore bottomed we arrived in Hue around 3pm. Great way to travel, and amazing the crazy scooter driving that goes on! Ridiculous number of scooters on the road!! And when you cross the road you just walk out when there is a bit of a gap and they will go around you! Funny also how quickly you get used to it too! Ha!

Hue, we timed perfectly! It was the penultimate night of the Hue festival, which occurs every other year. We had a walk around the city, found some live music, then headed into the Citadel for lots of music, dances, performances all in the ancient royal buildings! We were looking to stay for the closing ceremony but decided not to due to time restraints. Instead the next day we did another motorbike tour around the Royal tombs, pagodas, tiger and elephant fighting arenas, lunch from some lady monks, sat on a bridge where the locals hang out (as it provides natural AC to cool off), and a great viewpoint. We walked around the Citadel again (55,000 entry) before catching our night bus (this time requested not to be at the back and it was the best night bus we’ve had! Actually slept ha!) to Hanoi!

Hanoi is how I envisaged a Vietnamese city! Crazy busy, quite dirty/ disorganized but weirdly organized – with different areas selling different things – food, clothes, scooter parts, household products, electricals, etc.. Stayed in the old quarter, had a wonder around, as we arrived on Monday when all museums are shut. We sorted our visas for china, cheaper to do it here ($54 for UK, $148 for US!!), which took 5 days so we booked onto a halong bay 3 day 2 night tour. We cruised through the limestone karsts and the foggy mystical air to a couple of pretty impressive caves, one which had quite a colourful array of lights in the cave. Next it was onward to kayak around a couple of lagoons. It was surprisingly quiet, having left the port with a thousand other boats we were now on our own and had both lagoons to ourselves allowing Lisa to “sing” to me , vocals back by echoes ;-) we also past some HUGE beige torso sized jelly fish with 2m long tentacles!! Apparently the blue and green ones are lethal but the cream ones are fine! Night on the boat, then over to Cat Ba Island the next morning for a hike to the top of a hill, quite the hike for tourist in flip flops, recommend shoes, especially if it has been wet! We missed the shortcut (which, from what I heard is pretty intense but means you miss the slow going fat tourists, and can do a circular route, rather than a return!) but up at the top you get some great views, although there’s not a hell of a lot of room up there!

Back to Hanoi (long journey) then a night out around “beer corner” – great BBQ’s around there and lots of promo drinks. Next day city tour day! Over to the Hilton Prison (ok, nothing compared to the other museums we’ve been to harrowing wise, and actually the American pilots imprisoned hear are shown to have had a pretty decent time - playing badminton, football, getting haircuts from officers.. John McCain was imprisoned here for a bit! Walked the city going to the Ho Chi Ming morsaleum – which had more security than the current presidential palace (pretty) by the look of it. Botanical gardens pretty average and have to pay (2000 – 15p ha!) but ive never had to pay for a botanical garden (I don’t think?) Walk past a number of other city features before collecting our passport and hopping on the sleeper bus to sapa for our next tour ($45). The sleeper bus I was stuck next to a smell Russian and there were sooooooo many stops! Pretty slow going!

Arrive sapa, taken to Summit Hotel for shower (needed!) and buffet breakfast – result! Started our tour, which was supposed to be a 12km walk to a village to stay the night at a homestay then return to sapa the next day via villages and waterfalls…the walk started from sapa town and an army of very small traditionally dressed girls and women (it was a game guessing which was old and which was young – literally everyone was the same height and it was until they turned around that you realized old or young ha!) The bevy of ladies escorted us along our very pretty walk through the terraced slopes of sapa. There was a lovely breeze, the sun was shinning, the terraces were amazing and it was a downhill stroll to a village for lunch. Had about 2hr lunch, with the ladies trying to sell all there handcrafted goods (real guilt trip stuff, especially if you have accepted their plants that they have picked and folded into horses and hearts haha! – it’s a tough call, you try to accept to be grateful, but then you awkwardly have to carry this thing for the rest of the trip, then they guilt trip you to buy things, OR you say “no no it ok,” and they guilt trip you for not taking it, “your friend took it, I make for you, no money, gift.” Anyway, homestay was nice, and next to the river so we had a dip before some garlic and salt chips (yes you wouldn’t have thought very traditional but apparently so?), then a huge dinner cooked over a wooden fire, followed by some rice wine (not the biggest fan). Slept under mossi nets in a bit room on a hard mattress on the floor, to wake to pancake breakfast and a steeper more undulating walk through some more terraces with the buffalo cooling themselves in the terraces with water, towards a waterfall. More like a rock face with a stream flowing down it, but a nice walk. Lunch then back to sapa for a shower, a walk around Sapa – nice town, not much to see, great place for knock off outdoor clothing! Before a minibus to the Chinese border and onto our next Country!!

Vietnam has been great and it is definitely more developed than a lot of the other south east asian countries! My memories of Vietnam are the harrowing history, the crazy scooters dominating the countries roads, amazing spring rolls (fresh and fried), Bai Mein rolls, Mango, street eating – eggs with fetus’ in them, girls in silk tops that have a slit from the waist down over silk trousers, “singing”, clearing the throat pre spitting, the immaculately community farmed land, the laughing Buddha – def gunna get me one of these, big one at the bottom of my stairs, so that every day I walk down and it makes me laugh, great start to the day :-D

Posted by ljmackie 07:32 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Sihnoukville, Kampot & Kep

sunny 33 °C

Another long bus ride to Phnom Penh from Bangkok. Booked our killing fields tour and prison at our hostel (Sunday - nice hostel, but location would have been better nearer the water, bit busier). So 9am and we were off to the infamous killing fields. The roads are still crazy with scooters, tuk tuks, lorries, cars all driving in whatever direction they please, amazing how placid everyone is, no road rage, although bus journeys have a continual beeping going and rather erratic driving, best just to close your eyes and put the ipod on :-)

The killing fields were really well done. You get a set of headphones in english with the history, stories and music that really gives you an insight to what occurred on this site! You walk around these mass graves where up to 450 people were killed, and a tree that next to a mass grave full of just babies and women, where the tree was found with bits of brain and blood on where the soldiers smashed them against the tree to kill them. There are bones and clothes appearing on the surface, as the ground is weathered and there was a mass grave of headless bodies. This visit was then followed by a visit to the prison, S21, where a school was converted into a prison and a place of torture! Here there was still evidence of blood splattered on the ceiling, torture methods were described and pictures of all the prisoners were displayed in the rooms. Overall it was a pretty harrowing day, and rather puts your issues into perspective, as does the book "first they killed my father." A visit to the palace was aimed to lighten the day. The palace was beautiful, but the gardens, which take up a large area of the palace, were shut leaving not a lot more to see for an expensive (by Cambodian standards) $6.50. In the eve there are a number of charity restaurants, so we visited r.... for a starter (very nicely done, reasonably priced and great atmosphere) and Friends for our main (brighter, cheerier, but prob would have stayed at the first place retrospectively).

Next more off to Sihnoukville, on the south coast of Cambodia. Stayed at New Sea View Villa which was perfect location, cheap and nice room! The beach is nice, water is cool and all along the water front are cafes and bars. Having found a spot to lie down on the beach we had sooo many kids come up to us, trying to sell bracelets, begging and collecting plastic, quite sad really. They also had ladies coming around with lobster, this is a must! we got 10 lobsters for $4 plus 3 free extra the first day and 20 for $6 the next haha, and they are scrummy!! Covered in kampot black pepper and drizzles with lime they are divine! Sihnoukville is a lively town at night, with fire shows and cheap drink offers.

The next day we had booked a 3 island tour..our particular tour was terrible haha, our guide got off after about 10mins saying he'd forgotten his phone and would meet us there...never did, then we went snorkeling, which would imply swimming around with a mask and SNORKEL, but no the masks were so old and scratch that when you go under you see nothing then get them flooded with water, then there was no snorkel so you had to be good at holding your breath. There was no promised jungle walk, but the area is pretty nice so we were quite content actually just floating around in the water, chilling on the island and splashing in the clear waters. That eve i spend 2hrs!! Trying to sort our Mekong tour and a tour to Bokor National Park in Kampot.

DO NOT under any circumstance do the Bokor NP tour, this is no NP! its a development site in primary rainforest, where they have build a wooping casino on the top of this mountain, and are building a luxury town with golf courses! Its disgusting and i don’t even understand why a tour goes here, other than you try and advertise and sell property to tourist!?! Our guide was very informative about the history of Cambodia but the sights on this tour were dumb! At least the day finished with a sunset cruise, passing local country Cambodian life, lined with water coconuts, and enjoying a backdrop of rice paddy field, palm trees, mountains and a reddening sun. Need to research more the Bokor NP development, cant understand how this kind of development is allowed!?!

Kampot actually looked quite a nice town, would stay a night on the water if we had more time, but instead it was a tuktuk to Kep, a very small coastal town, but famous for its crab, which we tried and loved - get the peppered crab, make it a big or medium one too, easier to get the meat out. Its a $4 return tuk tuk from kep.

Next Country Vietnam..

Posted by ljmackie 01:16 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

South Thailand & Sydney Girlies in town

Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Siem Reap, Loas, Chang Mai & Bangkok

sunny 30 °C

Railay Beach, Krabi, South Thailand! what can i say! STUNNING! arrive with our Brazilian friends to these gorgeous white sandy beach with rocks soring 100m into the sky, undercut by the water making them appear to hover above the crystal clear waters surface! Sunsets are stunning, cheaper accommodation is on Railay East (the opp side you arrive from, if your coming from other islands) and there are some pretty epic fire shows including hurling these balls of fire across the audience to each other! It is renowned for it rock climbing, so to make the most of the water and the rock faces we decide to do cliff jumping...in hind sight i think rock climbing would have been better as for cliff jumping you have to be a pretty confident climber and it can be pretty daunting! anywhoooo cliff jumping it was and funnily enough we were on a boat full of a climbing group on tour...basically a boat of spidermen and women!! Cruise over by long boat to our destination and ascend a rope ladder..which is an achievement to ascend in itself..before climbing the past vertical rock face which is pretty slippy coz you have just come out of the water and the chalk that ppl use for grip when wet is almost impossible to get a good hold. With the water looming below you it is a nerve racking experience and any slip or miss of a handhold leads to you plummeting into the water...as well as looking rather pathetic to the spiderpeople!! Once you make it to the "platform" (a 20cm ledge) this is where you leap into the water from a mere 10m!! 10m may not sound much but trust me...its pretty bloody high! Having triumphed up the rock face the only way down is to jump...no backing out! If i didnt think this was hard and high enough the next spot was harder and higher and a smaller area to jump, as more rocks were around you. This time the rope ladder was about 3.5m high with a challenging functioning of the rope ladder to rock, and a jump of about 13m! Exhilarating to say the least!

Next day and before we set off i did a morning kayak (lovely, only need an hour – 200Baht) and final bit of exploring making my way towards Phangan Beach. On the way i see a sign to a viewpoint...oooo goodie! I look to where the sign is pointing and there is a rope and a muddy near vertical root covered mountain facade, i look again at the sign and then at the proposed route...as we are leaving i have left my luggage at the pick up place, but my rucksack i had with me. Note this rucksack has my paperwork, passport, laptop, books to read, ipod, headphones, phone, toiletries, glasses, purse, camera, yardayardayarrr, basically my worldly possessions weighing around 10kg! It was 9am and i wasn’t leaving until 1.30pm...what the hell, why not! So rope in hand, clinging flip flops i start the ascent! It was good thigh and tricep burner, but as it was still early there was no one about so could have some fun. Made it to the top and to the left is the viewpoint and to the right is a lagoon, ooo exciting! Viewpoint first. Dripping with sweat but feeling good for the workout, im standing overlooking east and west Railay, another cracking view. Back to the junction and off to hunt down the lagoon. Only 20m later im at the top of a slippery slope down, again with 2 ropes this time. I turn around grabbing the two ropes leaning back i kinda abseil down this slope, great fun! Im at a plateau in the journey to the lagoon with imposing jungle and jungle sounds all around me. I slip and slide my way to the next descent, this time no one is around and this is vertical climbing now, stepping down to the lagoon. My rational and irrational minds are battling it out..Laura, there is no one about, its slippery, you have your heavy rucksack and little climbing experience, what if you fall...ohhhh stop worrying, just leave your rucksack, no ones around, take your PPP (purse, passport and phone), if anything goes wrong you can just call for help, and its a tourist attraction, im sure ppl are still sleeping there will be people coming this way later! No dramas, get on with it!...ok, you’re right, great lets do it, Indian jones eat your heart out! So i abandon the rucksack and get a climb on! Its awwwweeesome! I feel like a tomb raider in action, what am i gunna discover! Lowering my body weight, again abseiling down these 5m high steps to the lagoon. I made it! The lagoon wasn’t actually that stunning, bit murky, and muddy around the edges but the rocks soared above and it was a real sense of achievement! Right now, about getting back up?

As you’ve gathered, i managed to climb back up, amazingly my flip flops survived, but i was red faced, sweaty as and caked head to toe in orange mud! I land on the path, with fresh clean people on their way to the beach looking at me a bit weirdly, understandable. I made my way to yet another stunning beach, passed a temple of penis’s (its a sign of power in Thailand) and walk straight into the water fully clothed! There were rocks and caves to explore on this beach too, just stunning the combo of rocks, sand and turquoise waters! Then it was onto Koh Phanang.

We wanted to go to Koh toa, but unfortunately, not knowing about the accommodation situation for the full moon party (as you have to book min 5 nights) we didn’t have time. The night boat we had booked actually got cancelled, so had to get the fast ferry the next day. Taxi to Power Beach Hotel (100 Baht), then motorbike (140 Baht) around to get a feel for the place. The full moon beach was awesome and we found some cheap accommodation you could not reserve and stay for however many nights you want AND it was right next to the famous Coral Bungalows with their pool party AND it was 10min walk from the beach, so Rainbow Bungalows is the place to stay FYI! I ended up booking my open water scuba dive course as i had 3 days before the Sydney crew arrived for the full moon party and our luxury hols. The padi course was easy, and the dive was cool at sail rock, visibility was a bit poor but the actual site and number of fish was amazing!

We went to the pool party...like no other haha, and then the crew arrived (odi, nez and lisa). That night we explored the full moon party beach which was actually surprisingly cheap for food and drink! The atmosphere was insane! I did fire skipping rope, musical chairs, arm wrestle, basically playing games all night, purrrfec! This was just the warm up to the full moon. Next day we went to the beach, actually a stunning beach, then took a longtail boat to Eden Bar a couple of beaches up for a chilled afternoon and a UV painting session, where i covered head to toe in hot pink UV paint, all very exciting. Back to base, change, and head to the party! It was like the night before but like, 5 times the number of people. It wasn’t overcrowded though, and this time there was a water slide too haha! We didn’t actually have accomodatino for this night as we were catching teh 7am ferry to koh samui as our luxury resort was actually booked for the night of the full moon, the 8th as the full moon was changed from the 7th due to a buddist holiday. Only disappointing part of the night was the lack of black light, my UV paint wasn’t visible for most the night...and turned out to be a NIGHTMARE to get off, don’t bother, or at least not head to toe, especially when going to a nice place the following morning!

Rock up to Beach Republic looking pretty mangy to say the least, but still giggerling and very excited for our ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET BREAKFAST! HA! Quick shower and change in our king size double bed, kitchen, western bathroom, balconied apartment to head down, looking semi normal to breakfast, WoW!! Thank you, oh thank you cudo (the co. I booked the deal through)...started with cereal, oh how i miss cereal, then onto fruit salad with muesli, yogurt and sultanas, then full English breakfast, with an omelette on the side, then croissants, pain au chocolat and muffins, then Mongolian noodles, and finished with a slice of toast with MARMITE! Couldn’t breathe, but most satisfied! This meal was repeated for the next 4 days, no need for lunch  We enjoyed cafe del mar style live music and bongo players, cocktails, went to Waterfall 2 with elephants and good walks to the top for swimming, nights out, and a day trip to angthong National Park. It was so nice having the girls around and enjoying the luxury after slumming it for so long!

Odi left us, back to Darwin (wah), and the rest of us continued to Siem Reap. Lisa and Nez did the sensible thing of coughing up the money and buying a flight so they could see Angkor Wat, amy and i (having already done Angkor Wat) endured an extremely long journey leaving koh samui on the 13th via 11.30am minibus to a boat to the mainland, bus to a bus, bus to Bangkok, taxi to bus, minibus to the boarder of Cambodia Thailand, walk over boarder, free transfer bus to a bus to siem reap arriving 7pm 14th to go for dinner then get up at 5am for a hot air balloon to view Angkor Wat (which is a balloon attached to a basket in a rope thing, basically just goes up and down and you can see Angkor Wat). It was good to see the sunrise and it was quite cool and only $15, so would recommend it! Then it was bus to Kompang Chum – a small town heading towards the loas camboida boarder so we could get to 4 thousand islands the next day. Not a bad place, on the Mekong, and had a good little restaurant which trains orphans to work there. Its a very local place and great to see Cambodian life in full swing, doing mass dance exercise classes on the pavement, street food, motorbikes criss crossing, markets, volley ball, etc..good insight. We struck gold with our tuk tuk driver who spoke exceptional English (coz no one else could!!) and he helped book our tickets to 4 thousand island in Loas.

8am and he picks us up, i pick up a local sim card for just encase situation, and we get shuffled onto a bus to Stung Treng at 9am. Arrive at 3pm, quickly put on a mini bus to the border, get kicked out and told to walk towards the border...in no mans land, between Cambodia an d loas having just paid $2 to leave Cambodia we are apprehensively wondering if we are gunna make it. There is no one else around, the border consists of a wooden hut for the camodian side, a stretch of unsealed road past a boom gate to another boom gate and another wooden hut for the loas visa (on arrival, one photo and $35 then $2 to arrive) and then a construction to site for the more impressive looking border gate, currently under construction, and a stretch of vacant unsealed road. We pass through and see no one....ring the agent and he says wait a minute i get someone there for you, ok...out of no where this taxi arrives as if by magic, wow, we might actually make it ha! The pressure of organising a trip for people is weighing on my shoulders, with nez being a working professional with limited holiday and wanting to make the most of her stay, any hiccups and i was jeopardising her hols. But it worked! Phew, one down many to go ha! Taxi to a boat, we actually bought our bus ticket to our next destination before boarding a long tail boat watching the sun go down over the Mekong to 4 thousand islands! Up some rickety stairs and we made it woop woop!

Next day we enjoy a full on day of kayaking...highly entertaining watching lisa and nez struggerling with their inflatable raft like canoe zig zagging across the Mekong ha! Did some rapids, went to a “small” waterfall – pretty big, then saw some dolphins, before lunch and the big waterfall – pretty impressive. Great day and good way to see the area, oh and there are no ATMs on the island so they even advertise as a site on the trip, trip to the ATM woooooo! Quite funny.

The tickets that we bought for our next trip actually became redundant as we organised a private trip from the islands to champasak for Wat Pu (a smaller more ruined loas version of Angkor wat) which was nice, then onto pasak for a night bus to Tha Khiet to go to the Kong Lo Caves. The Wat was nice actually and a lot of ppl cycle to it, but its a long, hot and unsealed route, so minivan is def better! The bus was a sleeper bus and very exciting we had the whole of the back of the bus, so 4 off us in this big bed bouncing around in the back, cool little den! 2am and we got off at the bus stop and as the bus to the caves was a 5.30am we decided to camp it out. The 5.30am bus decided not to come so 7am it was, and we didn’t actually know where it was going, the seats were tiny, so couldn’t sit in the chair straight and they put people in the middle of the aisle on plastic stools to fill the bus to MAXIMUM capacity. We got kicked off in a town unbeknown to us and searched around for some help. Loas is a bit basic like that. Your going to a tourist destination, yet no one, no one, understands or has heard of the caves?!? Ok so we decide to get this big tuk tuk thing. We thought we’d agreed a price and we were going straight to the caves..no. We drove up and down for about another 45 mins picking up more and more ppl until there were, and im not exaggerating we counted, and this is basically in a Ute, pick up truck thing with stools and a roof...30ppl and all there shopping, baggage, babies etc! PLUS they have a horrible habit of coughing up their insides and spitting it over your shoulder onto the ground outside the truck, eeeewwwa! Its a sound i’ll never get used to yet it is the morning chorus in the hostel showers and streets! Anyway, we make it to a town 2hrs later and we are still not there! Shifted onto another tuk tuk thing with another 30ppl and their worldly belongings and we make it to the caves at 2pm – worst journey to date. I had scheduled that we could do a day trip to the caves and catch a bus to vietenne, however by the time we made it there was a 4pm bus going, but it takes 3hrs to see the caves. The journey was a nightmare, and we were all tired but the caves were awesome! 105,000 kip each for a boat through 7.5km of tunnels whizzing through the dark to the other side, stopping off for a walk around the caves which are nicely lit and great formations, for a beer loas before returning. It was stunning and quite exhilarating, 2 to a boat you have to get out every now and then as the water is pretty shallow. Stayed the night at the booking office officers guesthouse, had a superb meal, watched a beautiful sunset over the surrounding mountains and farmed fields before a well earned bed and a 7am bus to vietenne.

No time for vientenne, but looked a cool city, instead minibus over a horrific bumpy, sealed and unsealed road to Vang Vieng, home of the famous tubing! We started the next morning with a trip to the caves and lagoon – awesome! Caves are vast and unguided so take a torch and you can go anywhere, and the lagoon, more like a stream has a tree with rope swing and ladders to climb up the tree to jump off it, from about 6m, again exhilarating stuff! We collected our tubes, got tuk tuked over to the starting point and was welcomed by a wave of booming music, a bridge over the river and bar no. 1. You get a shot and a bracelets and then buy a bucket to start your day. Tube in hand jump into the water and float downstream, lovely way to travel! Before being thrown a rope and pulled into bar 2 for volley ball, and a bit of competition...doing a worm (worming your body along the floor on your stomach)....for a free bag of popcorn. With the sound of competition, i was shoved may i add, towards the competition arena, to slip and land so loudly the music almost stopped and everyone pointed and laughed..but that wasn’t going to stop me, forward i go to perform a worm and, i think more out of sympathy, presented with a bag of popcorn...the things i do for a bit of competition?

Continuing on, this basically was my paradise, there was pumping tunes, lots of people, tubes down the river, swings, trapeze bars, zipplines....yes, i may have completed 3.5 rotations coming off the zipline about as gracefully as a seal moves on land, and the slide – a 20m long, 20m high slide that launches you into the river...just too much fun! We returned our tubes late, which is a 20,000 late fee (about $3) but well worth it! Sooo much fun, everything it was hyped up to be...then guess what, it was onto a bus ha! 9pm onto the bus bound for Luang Prabang.

Timed our arrival perfectly for the 6am buddist alms, where you give the monks food offerings – the people are supposed to support the monks physically and the monks support then spiritually. Find our hostel, then off we go for a city walk. Lovely city, interesting morning markets, lots of Wat’s (temples) and then cheap loas massages – 1hr $4. In the evening the main street gets closed off and filled with the market, off which is a awesome food market for dinner, have the whole fish and the pork kebab with the fill your plate for a dollar buffet! We were due to get a bus the next morning but it was full so we got to go the waterfall, which is very pretty and has a bear sanctuary which is interesting, before a 6.30pm night but to houxsai, arriving 7am for an 8am Gibbon Experience – the highlight and final activity for Nez’s trip!

The gibbon experience is expensive, but it is an ecologically successful project of ziplines through the jungle, sleeping in treehouses being woken to the sound of rare gibbon monkey’s. The ziplines were between 150m to 450m whizzing across valleys over primary jungle. You get fed a lot! No complaints here ;-) and we had a great crew in house number 7 which you sleep on mattresses under mosquito nets overlooking the jungle, showering below the main deck, in a completely open shower both below you and all in front of you..was quite conscious of onlookers at first, but quite a liberating experience! It was a sic 3 days 2 nights and well worth the money!

Next stop, chaing mai, Thailand, where nez flew back home via Bangkok and then there was three! Amy, lisa and I. We took a cooking class – awesome! Start in the market checking out all the exotic fruit and veg and different varieties of rice (who knew white rice could have so many differences!). Then it was a train ride to the countryside, bicycle along a stream, through the farmed fields to our cooking school. Our teacher made it, Benny, she was this 26 year old thai who basically made everything into a sexual innuendo and had the funniest deepest, loudest laugh ever! Plus, she laughed at all her jokes and you could help but laugh, highly entertaining! We whipped up a feast, each of us choosing different meals so we could sample a bit of everything! 3 types of soup, spring rolls, papaya salad, pad thai (obviously!), cashew chicken, holy basil chicken, 3 types of curry and then 3 desserts! So as you can imagine we were pretty full by the end of the day! Back into town and onto a night bus (400Baht – half the price of the sleeper train) to Bangkok. Bangkok i realised i left my prescriptive glasses on the bus, and amazingly got them back in the evening! Result!! We did a tour around town on the tuk tuks via a number of clothes, jewellery etc factories and after our penultimate stop the driver realised we weren’t buying anything and left us haha! So we made our own way back, had a shop around koh san road – where they have everything! Bit of a night out then a 7.30am minibus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia!!...

Posted by ljmackie 01:03 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Singapore to Thailand

Tweed enters onto the scene for City to Jungle to Islands!

sunny 29 °C

12th Feb and i touch down in Singapore in the wee hours of the morning. We’d used our bible (aka the lonely planet) to book a nights accommodation at the Prince of Wales Hostel. Initial we tried to book the one in Little India, which sounded a pretty fun and vibrant area to be based, however it was full...this worked out splendidly!! They suggested their other hostel in Boat Quay. It was ideal!! Perfectly located, right on the river in the heart of the city with a view of what i call the flying boat!! Its this ridiculous monstrosity, a boat on top of three rectangular towers! (bit like the Sydney opera house, i seemed to have accumulated rather a large number of photos in different lights, diff angles, a diff times of the day, yardayardayarrr...anyhowwww had arranged to meet Nina, a friend from Sydney who’d just moved out to Singapore! So awesome meeting people in these random locations around the world, so nice to catch up and see what they’re up to! We had lunch then drinks, thennnnn a rather beveraged Hils (hockey friend from uni, who’d also recently moved out to Singapore) arrived on the scene. She’d been to the famous Singapore “brunch” (an all inclusive affair). Had a entertaining catch up (lots of high pitched screaming and questions haha), before heading to china town for some scrummy cheap food!

Next day Amy and I walked the streets of Singapore, along the river to Robertson Quay, up to Orchard Road (shopping central!! To cross the road you have to cross the labyrinth of the underground malls, and inevitably get lost before finally surfacing!) Then up to Little India, good for cheap food and Arab Street and Habi Street are cool. This is where we saw the Prince of Wales hostel we originally tried to book and thought, Result!! Next it was back towards Marina Bay Sands via Raffles and a few parks, very nice walking route, to meet a slightly hanging Hils to discuss the possibility of her joining us on our next leg of travels!!! She’d recently got a job, an apartment and was due to move in and start around the 1st of March so had a week and a half at her disposal!! The plans were discussed and she was to join us in Kuala Lumpur (KL)!! Love it how things work out! Spontaneous rendezvous!! We left Hils to go meet Raspal (another Sydney friend, who’s from Singapore, hence knows all the good places to go!) for dinner! Nina also joined us and we had an awesome meal over in Dempsy at Samy’s Curry (which you eat food off banana leaves).

14th Feb...Valentine’s day...a romantic stroll through the botanical gardens, a western lunch (quite the luxury after a month of mie gorang (fried noodles)) and then a bus ride, which we only just made due to rush hour, lack of free taxi’s (apparently you have to call taxi’s in order to get one, not so easy to hail one on a Friday arvo of valentine’s day!). Missed the first bus, ran across to another company, they would only accept cash and as we were leaving the country and had been used to using our cards in Singapore (the only place on our travels so far it has been so easy to use!!) so a mad dash to the atm, we were able to make the bus! As Sods law would have it, my bank card (which had been swallow and block in indo and which mother dearest had very kindly sent out to Raspals place) had just arrived at Raspals...the day after i see her and when im about to board the bus, with no credit and no way of contacting her i had to wait and luckily with Hils joining us later, Raspal (legend!) and Marc (Hils very kind and lovely boyfriend) were able to meet up and arrange the delivery of my bank card!...the dramas and stresses of travelling, never as plain sailing as you think, well certainly in my case!

Arrive Malacca around midnight, taxi to Chinatown to stay in a historic building (Eastern Heritage). We only intended to stay in Malacca for that day and leave in the eve for KL, but having walked around and been told the food in Malacca was good so we decided to take the morning bus. It was Amy’s birthday the following day, so we went for drinks along the river, very nice, then went searching for the night markets. Massive fail, ended up eating this broth that you cook a plate of seafood in...noooo idea what i was eating?!

KL was cool! Hil’s flew in and joined the crew for some shopping and a few birthday bevies. Stayed in china town, which has an awesome market with knock off EVERYTHING! Bags, electrical, clothes, Absolute vodka which was more like rum! Had a walk around town, through Bintang area and past the Petronas Twin Towers, awesome! At the back of Petronas is a pond which has a water display, and when the lights come on, its a pretty impressive building! Didn’t get to go up, as you have to queue really early in the morning or book a min. 2 days in advance, so went up the KL Tower, which was good too! A guided walk around the jungle below was included in the ticket...dont bother, just do it yourself, got stuck with this crazy tour guide.

Up early for our Taman Negara tour...bus to a jetty, boat 3hrs to Taman Negara (the jungle). So nice cruising along the river, only about a foot above the waters surface. Arrive at this little floating village in time for dinner and a night safari. Hil’s who’s not done much travelling was definitely thrown in at the deep end. In the dark, walking around looking at Tapier’s, Scorpios, spiders, frogs, deers and the potential to see a tiger. No tigers and actually not as much wildlife as i thought, but still quite interesting walking around in the dark in the jungle. Just after we crossed the bridge she nearly flashed us all trying to get a moth off her, however by the end of the tour she was buzzing!

Next day we did a canopy tree top walk, 40m above the rainforest floor. Pretty wobberly, but awesome to be walking up in the canopy. Unfortunately there were so many people that all the wildlife in the area would have avoided this area at all costs ha! After a nice walk up to a view point, and a village tour with a lesson on how to light fire (would have been useful for “30 days has November”) and shoot using this blowing poison arrow thing, quite good fun. Next on the agenda was “River shooting” – the worst but funniest “rafting” experience i’ve ever been on...over little “rapids”, they spray you using an ore to fire water at you, and rock the boat from side to side (sit 3 rows from the front for ultimate soaking)! After dinner there was an abundance of cicads flying around, making a huge noise flying into the fans waking them towards us, making us eat bowed over our plates. After a slap round the face by one and one land landing on my back, which the guy behind was shining a torch on it, to which Hil’s was somehow already on the other side of the restaurant shouting, “Stay calm” to which her and I panicked..having decided to evacutate the restaurant we tried to go to the room. It was a bit like the movie “Entrapment” having to get through the lazers, where the lazers were replaced with cicads! But with a dive shriek and slam of the door, followed by a number of cicads hitting the wall (like daggers thrown in an Indian jones or james bond movie!) we made it to safety! All in all, it was an entertaining tour, but really a bit touristy and didn’t really see much wildlife.

We bypassed Cameron Highlands, travelling past the strawberry and tea plantations, stopping for tea and scones, dellish!! It was pouring there though, and actually we saw the next day there had been the worst floods this year, so good decision! Instead we arrived in Georgetown, Penang. It was a stunning drive through the mountains, long, but made it! Stayed at Banana Hostel and the next day, it was laundry (6RM), book boat tickets, sort out a 60 day Thai visa (140 RM which we only needed 20days, but as we were entering overland you only get 15days and it cost 1700 Baht to extend an extra 7 days), then did a pretty comprehensive tour of the historic town, really interesting! Walked for the whole day, going to temples, the largest mosque, the state museum...finishing with a batik (design, draw wax on material then paint) lesson! Soooooooo relaxing & only 35RM.

Fast boat to Langkawi (island off Malaysia), which we were icy cold in, but captivated by a robot film (yes i know??) called Real Steel ha! Arrived from Jungle, historic town to tropical paridise! Taxi to Geko (a cool looking place but expensive and full) so walked nearer to the beach and found Chaneng Guest Hosue which was right next to the beach and a cool regae bar called Babylon. Straight to the beach, so appreciated after so long since we’d seen beach (i know tough life, but really it was since Bali!!). Had a relaxed couple of days just enjoying the beach, books and a island tour. The island tour was great value (25RM) to whiz around on a longtail boat to a lagoon via some super aggressive monkey’s that we had to fight off a screaming French girls rucksack...Amy and I were at the forefront trying to rescue the bag which the monkeys were opening and taking everything out of (including purse and passport), whilst hils was having a blast as chief photographer...we all had a good old giggle after, but be warned, monkey’s in tourist spots are dangerous!! Onto some eagle feeding, then a beach for a swim and snorkel, lovely day out, and back in time for our usual spot on the beach for a beer and a sunset, all in a days work!

After Langkawi (Malaysia) we intended to island hop our way to Krabi (Thailand), however travelling between the islands worked out pretty pricey..so instead we went back to the mainland via Satun to cross the boarder, bus to Krabi then as it was a Friday we managed a quick sprint to the later ferry at 4.30pm to Koh Phi Phi! What a result!! Arrived Koh Phi Phi after a stunning afternoon cruise to arrive at crystal clear waters, pumping music, lively atmosphere and huge rocks protruding out of the waters. Found a couple of Brazilian guys, a Canadian girl and found some accommodation at Flower Bungalows. Great location and cheap for a nice little bungalow. Hils was horrified at first, but once in bed she woke to say she had the best night sleep! Even woke up waving her hands saying hello...hello! and giving me the thumbs up, before going back to sleep haha! Phi Phi is stunning by day, amazing coloured waters and really stunning beaches! The water is a bit gross actually coz it is a mudflat or something and there are bits of mud floating in the water at high tide, but the tide goes out really far at night time and early morning. Long beach is a good 15min walk, but well worth it and there are sharks up the north end where the rocks are (black tip) which i discovered whilst snorkelling alone one arvo :-s There’s also a view point, well worth climbing the mountain of steps and pay 20 Baht to what the sun go down over the tombolo! And we did a day trip (250 Baht) going around the islands, doing some snorkelling, seeing Maya Bay where the Beach was filmed, then back to watch the sunrise. By night it is a party island, with unreal fire shows (main beach is better), tourist kick boxing (highly entertaining, tourist fight tourist for a free bucket, very scrappy), neon paint, reggae bar (which included a didderly didderly player...as in an Irish violinist in the reggae, positively unique and really worked rather well!). Really liked Phi Phi for its mix of serenity and craziness, but sadly we had to say goodbye to Hils, who’d been a great asset to the team for comical quality and great chat and a fantastic first time traveller! A natural!! Next stop Railay (near Krabi, Thailand)...

Posted by ljmackie 02:48 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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