A Travellerspoint blog

Laos - Luang Prabang & Huay Xai

"Beerlao - very, very delicious!"

sunny 30 °C

After all the excitement of death defying tubing in Vang Vieng our next stop was Luang Prabang for some much needed R&R. Eric and Mel who we had been hanging out with in Vang Vieng were also heading that way so we all got the bus together.

Luang Prabang itself is really stunning, an incredible collection of Buddhist and French colonial architecture against a drop back of mountains. We found ourselves a really nice guesthouse on the banks of the Mekong River which was run by a very chilled out family. I was chatting to one of the son's about Laos and how I really liked it when he said he though the best thing about Laos was the beerlao which he declared "very, very delicious!" made me laugh - maybe you had to be there...

We visited the Royal Palace Museum which provides a real insight into the local history as this was the residence of King Sisavangvong and his family. The king died in 1959 and his son Savang Vattana inherited the throne, but shortly after the 1975 revolution he and his family were exiled to northern Laos and the palace was converted into a museum. So no-one can say I wasn't listening but I appreciate this must be abit boring for you guys so no more culture talk.

We also went to more waterfalls which to be fair weren't the most impressive waterfalls ever but you could swim in them and jump off the top into the water and there was also a rope swing thing you can swing on and then let go. So once we had done the usual teetering around the edge for 10 mins not wanting to go in because the water is cold we had lots of fun jumping and swinging off things.

There were alot of monks in Luang Prabang (presumably because there are a few temples) but these are cool monks who like to hang out man. They were at the night market, cash points and internet cafes looking all cool in their orange robes and shaved heads. I was doing a spot of emailing one day when a monk came in and started using the machine next to me to chat up some birds on MSN - I'm not sure Buddha would have approved it was getting pretty fizzy!

After 4 days in Luang Prabang it was time to move on, the fact you couldn't get a beer after 11pm didn't have anything to do with the decision. We were heading further north to Huay Xai as we plan to move onto northern Thailand and also because we had had a trip called "The Gibbon Experience" highly recommended by some mates we met in Vietnam. There are two ways of getting to Huay Xai, either by slow boat which takes 2 days or by speedboat which takes 6 hours. To save time we opted for the speed boat. Now I was expecting a James Bong style speed boat where I could lay in the roof working on my tan but then I remembered I was in Laos and that transport is always rather on the basic side.

When we arrived at harbor the following day we were both pretty shocked by this speed boat, not only was it tiny and apparently took 8 people but it also didn't look too sturdy. We were issued with a crash helmets and a lifejacket and took to our tiny seat (so small your knee's were round your ears) and off we sped. It was pretty scary at first as it was pretty nippy and you were sat about 3 inches above the water but we arrived safe and sound. There are some comedy photo's to follow.

Our next stop - The Gibbon Experience

Posted by greggers 06:06 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Laos - Vientiane & Vang Vieng

Chinese Mafia, Chicken Hearts & Tubing

all seasons in one day 32 °C

Sabadee Bloggers

So we are back in Laos and I can't believe Vientaine is the capital. It is so small and chilled out, a complete constrast to the hussle and bussle of Vietnam but I like it.

We met a nice British couple (Jim and Kate) on the flight over so we all shared a taxi into town in search of a guesthouse. We ended up in a $3 USD a night place, I am even impressing myself with my economising now adays. We all went for lunch and it turns out that Jim and Kate are also from Clapham - it really is a small world. We all spent the afternoon exploring Vientiane.

That evening we went out for beers with Jim (Kate was really knackered so she stayed in). The best thing about being back in Laos is Beerlao - probably the nicest beer in the world and Lao-lao the rice whiskey which is probably the most lethal drink in the world.

We were getting well stuck into the pitchers of Beerlao when a group of Chinese people on the next table asked us to jion them. There was one guy who spoke really good English and the others spoke limited English but they were keen to learn. They were a lively bunch and in Laos for a fortnights holiday so it wasn't long before the Lao-lao made an appearence. Then the camera came out and they all took photo's of us - it was abit nice but abit wierd. As we were all chatting it was apparent that there was one guy who seemed to be the ringleader of thier group, he was a really nice guy and when our bill came he insisted on paying for all our drinks. He then insisted on us going onto a club with them, paying for our entrance fee and even more drinks. We were all convinced he was some sort of chinese mafia boss - there was no way he would let you pay for anything all night.

The club was full of young Laos people so we had a great night dancing with them all. They have these funny dances they do so I picked up a few new moves, I can't wait to hit Inferno's with them when I get back. When the Chinese people left he was really thankful for us hanging out with them. We were just all relieved to wake up the following morning minus horses heads in our beds!

We left the club at 4am and were really hungry so we stopped off at a food stall on our way back home. We sat with more locals and ordered some sticky rice and what I thought were chicken schewers. The food was going down pretty well but the chicken was pretty chewing and it didn't really taste like chicken. I asked one of locals we were sat with and to my horror was told we were infact feasting on chicken hearts - nice! You need to be careful in Laos as apprently they eat anything that they believe has nutritional benefit.

Two days was long enough for Vientiane so we got a bus up to Vang Vieng. It's a tiny place and so laid back its unbelievable. There is only really one main road where all the restaurants and bars are but whats really wierd is that they all show Friends and Simpsons episodes all day long. However, now I'm sports expert we opted for the men's Wimbledon final and the World Cup final - I didn't get bored once!

The following day we went for a traditional Lao massage, I was pretty exhausted after watching all that sport to be honest. I swear to God I have never been in so much pain in my life. I mean massages are meant to be relaxing right? But I would never of thought such a tiny Lao person could inflict so much pain! I felt pretty beaten up by the end after having had my entire body pumelled, pulled, stretched, twisted and cracked. He even cracked my earlobes for god sake! He was laughing at me so much because I spent the entire hour wincing in pain.

Our last day in Vang Vieng was pretty active. We hired Mountain Bikes in the morning and set off to find these wicked caves. It was pretty short-lived, Mark lost the map after 5 minutes on the road so we just kind of cruised round decided to go Tubing instead.

Tubing is like Vang Viengs national sport. The concept is very simple, you are issued with an inflated tractor inner tube, dropped off a few km's up the road and you float back down the Nam Xong river to the tubing place.

It all started off well, we met another British guy at the start so we all floated merrily down the river chatting away. They have bars every 30 or so mins where a guy will pull you in and you can stop for a cold beer and jump off a massive rope swing into the river so we did that a few times. We were told at our last beer stop we only had 10 mins till the end of the route. Now my tube has been abit slow which had been an ongoing joke with Mark and Eric so I noticed the middle of the river had developed quite an impressive current so I decide to get myself in the middle of that.

The next minute I'm flying down the river past the others and as we turn the corner its the end of the route. Mark and Eric get pulled in by the guys no problem but I'm too far out still picking up speed. It's when I turn the next corner that I begin to panic. There is no-one else in the river as far as I can see. I decide the best thing to do is abort my tube and swim to the side. I fling myself into the river, prompted loose both my flip-flops (which I really liked) and frantically swim to the side dragging the bloody tube with me. I manage to get myself onto the bank feeling pretty relieved. There is however a big barbed wire fence running down the bank of the river. I have no option but to scale the barbed wire fence with my bare feet being very careful not to puncture my tube. I then limp shamefully and abit shaken back to the tubing place to meet the guys.

Tubing in Vang Vieng - good fun but its not a race!

Our next stop - Luang Prabang

Posted by greggers 06:02 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Vietnam - Hanoi

England losing, Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island

sunny 34 °C

Bloggers,

We faced another grueling journey from Hue to Hanoi (15 hours on the bus) so we decided to treat ourselves to the overnight sleeper train. It's a slightly longer journey by train (they aren't exactly lightning fast) but you do get a bed, a prospect I was pretty excited about. It worked out really well, there were very few westerners on the train but we were sharing with a Vietnamese guy and a French guy who both spoke excellent English. As soon as the first catering cart came round the Vietnamese guy ordered a load of beers for us all so we sat on our bunks drinking beer and bantering until 1am and then got some shut eye.

We arrived in Hanoi at 11am the next day and headed for a guesthouse which had been recommended by some Aussies we had met in Cambodia. The family who run the guesthouse are super friendly and helpful, we were hungry so they recommended a noodle place down the road. This restaurant only serves beef noodles so you don't have to place an order, you just sit down and they bring the food over for you. We have been back everyday since, you wouldn't believe how good beef noodles can be!

England were playing that evening so we went for dinner with our new French friend from the train and arranged to meet some friends who we originally met in Cambodia but happen to be staying in our guesthouse in a bar later to watch the match. Obviously, we were knocked out (just when I was getting into footie too) but it wasn't all doom and gloom, it was Canada day! So we drowned our sorrows and celebrated being Canadian with our Canadian friends - there was alot of Sambuca & beer.

We spent the following day nursing our hangovers and exploring Hanoi. We booked a 2 night trip to Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island. Halong Bay is one of those places you have to visit to really appreciate how stunning it is. It looks like something from Jurassic Park, a series of small islands covered in jungle and you cruise through it all on a boat. We went on to visit two massive caves, I took loads of photo's which I will add to my blog so you can check them out - it was pretty cool.

We were staying in a hotel on Cat Ba Island so we hit the beach in the late afternoon and spent the evening drinking with some Aussie's we met on the boat trip. The following day we did a Trek through the National Park. When we arrived the guide showed us the mountain we would be climbing and I thought he was joking! It wasn't too bad going at first as there were steps but they soon disappeared and we were off-roading through the jungle, climbing over rocks the full shabang. It was knackering (and very sweaty) but we made it to the top and I even ventured up to the top of the observation tower. I was happily taking a few snaps when someone pointed out how dodgy the planks we were all standing on looked, we all sh** ourselves and legged it back down.

The guide decided to take us down the "adventure route" on the way back. It was probably harder coming down the mountain then going up, it had rained over night so it was really slippery and some people did some spectacular falls in the mud. All in all it was a really good laugh although it was pretty hard going at times.

We have got one more day on our Vietnamese visa's before we make our move to Northern Laos. Again we have taken the wussy option of a 1 hour flight over a 24 hr bus ride.

Vietnam has been absolutely brilliant. I didn't really know what to expect but I have been constantly impressed with each of the different area's we have visited traveling up the country. It has so much to offer interms of history, culture & scenery. The food is amazing and the people make visiting their country a pleasure.

Our next stop - Vientiane

Posted by greggers 00:54 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Vietnam - Hoi An & Hue

Tailored linens, Monks & one-armed pool.

sunny 32 °C

Hi Bloggers,

Our amazing plan to get the night bus from Nah Trang to Hoi An didn't go exactly to plan. When the bus arrived to collect us from our guesthouse it was pretty much full apart from the back seat and two other seats midway own the bus. Being one of lifes natural risk-takers we decided to opt for the backseat over the other reclining seats on the basis that no more people who be getting on amd we could lay across the seats securing ourselves 12 quality hours of shut eye (it seemed like a wicked idea at the time - don't ask why). About 5 mins after we got on the bus stopped again and a load of locals boarded taking all the remaining avaialable seats leaving us sat bolt upright on non-recliners for the next 12 hours. To make matters worse the bus was really bouncy so I started to feel pretty sick after about 45 mins, the driver constantly beeped his horn at moto drivers, the battery on my MP3 player gave up the ghost after about 1 hour and girl sat next to me had a double jionted neck so whilst she slept like a baby for the entire journey she kept on swishing me in the face with her hair. It was pretty much the most painful 12 hours of my life and I was pretty relieved to arrive in Hoi An after a sleepless night.

On a positive note we soon discovered Hoi An is a beautiful little place. The architecture is a mixture of Chinese, Japanese and European culture with the old town (a Unesco World Heritage site) and marketplace being made up of quaint, narrow little lanes. The place just oozed charm. Made to order tailored clothes are the speciality of Hoi An with there being over 200 different shops. We managed to resist the being lured into anywhere for the first first few hours but eventually we caved and soon found ourselves sat down with a very nice lady who presented us the Spring/Summer 2004 edition of the Next Directory and told she could copy anything we liked in the colour and material of our choice. I ended up getting a few tops and some shorts bearing in mind I am essentially unemployed I figured a few tailored suits and shirts my be jumping the gun.

The following day we went to collect our garments with slight nervous anticipation, it was pretty hectic in the shop and I was concerned that my vital statisitics may have been lost in translation. My worries were completely unfounded, I am now the proud owner of the best fitting linen shorts in the world.

The following day we decided to do the cultural thing and check out the Cham ruins of My Son which date back to the 7th century. It was an early start and a baking hot day and to be honest they were abit of anticlimax, I appreciate that they are very old and a significant part of Vietmanese history. The first site was pretty good but the other three sites we visited were just looked like a pile of old brick which has fallen down. I think we were abit templed out so kind of lost interest. We got talking to two girls from Bradford who were even more unimpressed than us so we went and sat in the cafe for the last hour to share travelling stories.

That afternoon we headed for the beach so we hired the most knackered bicycles you have ever seen and off we went. Mine was knackered but masculine where as Mark's was very girly complete with a basket on the front, it was only missing some streamers off the handle bars and a set of hokey-spokey's. The beach was very chilled with only a few westerners using it but as soon as it hits 5pm and the sun goes in all the locals flock down. It's really cool as they bring chairs, tables and loads of food and whilst the kid's and Dad's play in the sea the Mum's cook up masses of food. Its a proper family affair and great to just sit back and watch. After 3 really good days in Hoi An it was time to move on.

The bus from Hoi An to Hue is only a measly 5 hours - a complete joy. We found ourselves a guesthouse and went out to grab some lunch. Whilst we were eating one of the guys who ran the motorbike tours came over. We had really enjoyed the "Easy Rider" tour we did in Dalat so we agreed to do a city tour that afternoon. An excellent decision, the guys showed us some stunning sights and all the drivers were really knowledgable of Hue and it's history. The highlights were going to look at an ancient bridge where all these really old guys and ladies were chilling there in thier P.J's. The guys were all smoking these massive cigars and the ladies getting giddy on betelnut. We also went to a monastery and the guide explained the routines and procedures of becoming a monk. We learnt that the amount of hair they have shaved off their head and the colour of their robes is reflective of how long the have been there. Some of the "novice" monks were as young as 12 years old, they are all really into football and one of the really young ones had made a replica world cup - it was really good. We were invited for a kick about, I still need abit of practice.

The following day we went for a cruise down the Perfume River, it didn't have pettles floating in it like I had imagined a perfume river would but it was very relaxing a good way to take in some more sights.

Last night was a pretty random night, we went for drinks with some friends and we got on abit of a roll so we agreed to go to a late bar. Some Vietnamese lads took us there on thier Cyclo's and we all started playing pool. We've been playing quite alot so I was on much better form than I was at the annual Seymour Pool Competition. We were each paired up with one of the Vietnamese lads, mine was called bullshit apparently, but he was a nice enough guy. Mark's partner had lost an arm in a motorbike accident but he was the best one armed pool player I had ever seen - really amazing. He did keep stroking Mark's leg throughout the night but he just shruged it off. We wrapped up at about 4am and all went for beef noodle soup, it was at this point that Mark's pool partner announced he was infact a lady-boy and wondered if he fancied heading back to his place! He politely declined and we headed home.

Our next stop - Hanoi

Posted by greggers 22:51 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Vietnam - Nha Trang

Mud Baths, Diving and Crazy Kim!

sunny 34 °C

Whats up Bloggers...?

A word of warning from the outset, I am attempting this blog entry with a raging hangover so I may be abit more dyslexic than usual!

My first impressions of Nha Trang weren't that great, you could be anywhere really. It's your typical beach resort, lots of bars with neon lighting, a complete contrast from Dalat but it has really grown on me and we have ended up having a great time!

The night we arrived was the England match night and with me being a born again football hooligan we were straight to a bar with the Canadians for pre-match drinks. We had seen alot of people wearing these "Crazy Kim" bar T-Shirts so we decided to check it out.

Crazy Kim is an absolute star. The whole child sex industry continues to be a major problem in SE Asian contries such as Cambodia and Vietnam so she has taken upon herself to launch what she calls a "one woman war on Paedophiles" via a school and bar. She provides an environment for children who wouldn't normally be able to attend school get an education and makes them aware of the potential dangers. This is funded largely through the sales of her "Hands off the kids" T-Shirts which also helps to increase awareness as well as a percentage of takings from the drinks and food in her bar. So we had a few beers, bought our T-Shirts and felt good knowing that we had done our bit for the kids.We later went to go and watch the football at the Sailing Club as they had a massive screen on the beach. It was almost abit short lived as a rather drunk Mark stumbled across the sand to jion in with the half time entertainment and literally pulled the plug on the game. The screen went as blank as his facial expression as four of the bar staff battled to get it sorted in time for the secand half. I was preparing to do a runner just in case...

We visited the mud baths a few days ago which was great fun. When you arrive you have a hot mineral shower and then you sit in a massive tub which fills with mineral mud, soak in there for half an hour, let the mud dry in the sun, have another hot mineral shower and then soak in a hot mineral pool. We felt pretty healthy and detoxed afterwards - just what the doctor ordered!

Our diving debut since graduating Scuba School went without a hitch, it was really good to be back in the water. We did two dives yesterday and saw some really decent stuff. There is alot more coral here than in Egypt and some very tropical looking fish and sea life. On our secand dive the divemaster found this octopus hiding behind some rocks so he poked it with his stick and it squirted ink everywhere before speeding off (you kind of had to be there but it was pretty cool) We also went through some caves which we hadn't some before which was also pretty exciting. There were a load of people on our boat we had met in Cambodia so we all went out last night for a few drinks hence the bad head today, it was a very good night!

Later today me and Mark move further up the coast to Hoi An, it's a 12 hour bus ride so we have decided to take a night bus so not to waste a day. In theory it's a good idea if we get some sleep. We have only got 11 days left on our Vietnamese Visa's and alot of ground to cover so the Canadian's and the guys we met in Cambodia are going to meet us there in the next few days.

Our next stop - Hoi An

Posted by greggers 01:29 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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