A Travellerspoint blog

Same same... but different.

From Laos to Vietnam.

overcast 30 °C

Well! We are now in Hanoi, Vietnam and a lot has happened since my last entry in Laos.

So Luang Prabang was just what the doctor ordered. It is a cute, lazy town right on the Mekong River. We spent 5 nights there and really enjoyed it. Not going to lie, we were pretty lazy most of the time but it was exactly what we were looking for! Our routine each morning consisted of sleeping a bit, having breakfast at the hostel (called Villa Merry Laos III - was AMAZING!), then deciding where we wanted to go that day. The plan rotated around meals (surprise, surprise) and in between we would walk to the river, check out a few temples, write postcards, nothing crazy! There was a big night market every evening which we went to a few times. It's so funny, I understand a lot of the cheaper items are made in Asia but wow there is so much STUFF here. It's like the dollar store x 1,000,000 everywhere! Tracy would be in heaven.

There is a temple on the top of a massive hill in Luang Prabang, it was right across the street from us and 400 steps up the hill later (I was a tad out of breath) we were lucky enough to catch the sunset over this spectacular place... it was amazing. There were a lot of people there doing the same thing we were but the air had a calmness to it, like everyone respected where we were and what we were witnessing...

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The next day, Derek and I decided to check out the Kouang Si waterfall tour about 30 minutes away so booked through our hostel (it's so incredibly easy to travel in S.E. Asia!). In the van, we met 4 girls from Ottawa who were all here for about a month between school and summer jobs and also another couple who were here from Ireland. We ended up at this park which also was a rescue/protection operation for bears so on our way through the park was a whole area of these adorable bears in hammocks, little ponds, in the trees, it was so cute!

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The waterfalls were spectacular... the water was a tropical blue color and you could walk further up to see the largest waterfall which gave way to all the mini-falls as you walked back down. You could also swim, go off the rope swing, jump off the bigger falls (which I didn't do, what a shock) but I was very content relaxing in the little ponds taking in the scenery.

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That night, we met up with the Ottawa girls for a few drinks at a nearby tapas bar for a disgusting cocktail called the 'Laos cocktail' which is made with their 'whiskey'. It tastes like a horrible tequila. Then we headed to the infamous 10 pin bowling alley for a few games. It was a blast at the bowling alley! And I have no idea why... but I managed to clean up at the game. I have some very strange knack for doing well in bowling, I have no idea where it comes from... probably from my superstar grandmother who is a superb bowler (I think she'll be reading this... haha).

At this point we only had one more night and then were catching a flight from Luang Prabang to Hanoi, Vietnam for the next leg of our trip. We lazed around our last day and that evening went to Lao Lao Garden (not to be confused with Lao Lao Food Garden across the street) for dinner. It was one of the best meals we've had to date. Think Korean BBQ style! We sat in the middle of these beautiful gardens with this rustic restaurant built right in the middle. There was a middle insert of the table that the waiter removed and replaced with what looked like the bottom of a tree trunk with hot embers burning in the hollowed out part, it had a handle which the waiter used to lift it and set into the middle of the table. Then he brought out chicken, noodles, lettuce, green onions, tomatoes, and a pail of broth - set a pan on top of the burning pit which had a raised section in the middle to cook the chicken. He spooned the broth around the edges and added the rest of the food to cook for about 20 minutes. Then he brought but a variety of spices and sauces and when it was finished cooking, we made our own soup! Delicious. I would recommend anyone go there! In total, it cost us about $10 total... definitely worth it!

Afterwards we met up with the girls from Ottawa for a drink at Oasis bar which is also in the middle of a big garden. Within 5 minutes, I was swarmed with mosquitoes and had about 10 HUGE welts all over my back. AH! So we left pretty quickly, went back to the room and was medicated with Benedryl and passed out in a half hour. Buy really strong bug spray when you're here.

The next day we took off on our flight to Vietnam - smooth sailing except for the 2 hour delay in our flight. The hostel we are staying at in Hanoi picked us up at the airport (would definitely recommend having a place to stay before coming here because people can really hassle you leave the airport) and have been incredible to us. Hanoi is an interesting and very overwhelming city... there are about 3.7 million people here and it shows. The streets are literally clogged with people on motorbikes and it gives us a lot of anxiety going out in the evening. The daytime is fine! But when people are off work, that's when it's crazy. It seems like there are no road rules here either... we were told by an American living here that just because the crosswalk sign turns green, it doesn't mean you are safe to cross - it only means you have a bit better chance at getting across versus when it's red. Today we felt a little more comfortable with the chaos and realize you cannot hesitate when crossing the street, just keep walking, people will dart around you! The American man also told us to only stop for buses. They can kill you. Ah!

Also, we've been struggling a bit with food in Hanoi... there are tons of little restaurants and cafes but they don't have English menus. If you want an English menu, you need to go to the bigger sit down restaurants but that's not as much fun! So we decided to venture out one evening to the 'food street' nearby and went to a random restaurant. The only word we recognized on the menu was 'Heineken'. Derek and I pointed at 2 different dishes on the menu and hoped for the best. We ended up getting a rice soup which was actually delicious. Reminded me of a Lebanese dish we make at home called smead and chicken with wheat. It had green onions, chicken and lettuce in it... that was dish #1. Dish #2 came out and was actually the same thing only with a different red meat... Derek took that one and we figured it was beef... only he found out soon enough it was no in fact beef. I asked him jokingly 'what if it's dog?' and his face turned white and he said 'maybe I'll just eat around the meat...'. Horribly enough at that moment, a little yappy dog started barking outside the restaurant and we lost our appetite soon after. We frantically typed in the menu item into google and found out it was a pork liver... upon further investigation we found out that you basically can only get dog/cat meat in very rural villages in Vietnam. Poor Garfield and Fido!

Regardless, this experience is something that is pushing us out of our comfort zone which is a very good thing. That's is a great way to grow as a person and why I see travel as something so beneficial to me, it puts you in situations you might not ever see yourself in. It's a bit like a test to how you would react if...

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Yesterday we went to Halong Bay on the day tour (I get very seasick so we opted for this instead of the 2-3 nights on the boat) - it's a 3 hour bus ride to the coast from Hanoi (we were lucky enough to have a screaming baby on our bus) and then about an hour boat ride (on big wooden ships) into the bay. It's an absolutely breathtaking sight but in my opinion, skip the day tour and just do the overnight trip... it is so foggy here because it's wet season and we didn't really get to see Halong Bay for what it really is... plus the day tour only takes you to the first set of islands and the water is littered with garbage which is a huge turn-off. Derek and I did some kayaking and got to explore some caves which were amazing but like I said... the garbage really takes away from what you are experiencing. Our second stop was to an island with a cave which was just discovered in 1993 - amazing, but it's so commercialized with fake lights inside, computer desks set up for photo printing, it reminded us of a fake cave at Disney Land. So. Like I said... do the overnight boat trip if you can!

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Tonight we are leaving on an overnight train to Sapa, in Northern Vietnam, for 4 nights total (night train to Sapa, hotel second night, homestay with a local family third night, night train back to Hanoi 4th night) and apparently this place is spectacular... it's in a much more rural area of Vietnam which we're excited for at this point, get away from the chaos of the city and check out how most of the Vietnamese live.

Unfortunately, we cannot access facebook in Vietnam. We found out it's due to the communist government... but I added a few to the blog so you can get a glimpse of what I'm talking about!

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 03:37 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

We're "from away..."

The continued adventures through Laos.

overcast 30 °C

Tubing in Vang Vieng... wow. What an experience.

Definitely not what you would call a cultural peak of our trip but something for a lot of westerners to do together while floating in a plastic inner tube together down a (very) murky brown river. You are taken by tuk-tuk about 3 kms up river where you jump in your tube and start floating down. Lining the banks are tons of bars which throw a rope with a bottle at the end to you to pull you into their bar for free shots and cheap drinks. So needless to say, we stopped at a few places, Derek went off a waterslide into the river (yes I got a picture!). We were late getting going on the river because we didn't get in until 2pm and it's advised to have your tube back by 6pm so you can a) get your deposit back and b) avoid having to manuever in the dark which seems a little scary! But it was a fun experience! We floated down the rest of the river and found out the majority of the bars are at the first of the trek so stopped at the last bar which had no one at it. What attracted Derek to it was the rope swing so we paddled our way over to the shore and after about 15 minutes of the poor guy taking his boat out to throw a rope with a bottle attached over and over to attempt to snag the rope was too much to watch! So we told him to stop and the three of us had a drink together. The owner is a local who just took over the bar about 5 months ago and was a really interesting guy. Then we jumped in our tubes and floated another 2 kms down until we hit this point where these little Laos kids, about 5-8 years old, were waiting to 'help' us get to the shore. Derek had 2 kids jump on his tube and and I got the 5 year old naked boy. Haha. We had read about this in our book and as soon as we hit shore, about 5 more kids formed a circle around us asking for money. So we gave the equivalent of $0.20 and took off.

It's really funny in this town, it's a totally western hub. On the TV's are re-runs of 'Friends' and 'Family Guy' in tons of restaurants... kind of weird but we took advantage of English TV and grabbed some dinner while watching a few episodes. Then (because we are getting old) had to take a nap before checking out the night life. We walked around the small town and found a bar that had lots of people, had our drinks and met a couple guys, one from France and one from Belgium who were great. The guy from Belgium had been travelling since December and had spent 3 months in India, was finishing up S.E. Asia in June and then heading to South America until this coming December! It's crazy to see how many travellers are on the road for 10 months, a year, 3 years! The bartender was from Switzerland and had been gone for 3 years already and didn't want to go back home. It just puts into perspective how some other people live their lives... amazing. Derek and I had a great night, sat around and got to know these guys and then headed back to our room after getting a banana/nutella pancake at one of the street vendors. DELICIOUS! Brought back memories from my last trip with Steve, Jaclyn, and Jamie!

Oh, I haven't even mentioned what our hostel was like! We paid a little more and stayed at a place called 'Popular View Guesthouse' which was incredible. The view was something we can't describe (but I took lots of pictures so will post when I can!). We're literally looking over the river to the backdrop of these unbelievable mountains covered in trees that seem to float in the sky with the clouds at the top... it was mystical! Waking up to that - no complaints!

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We booked a mini-bus ride (about $10 each) from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang which took about 7 hours to go 260 kms. Yep. It was a typical bus ride in S.E. Asia as many of you would know if you've been here. It was through the mountains and reminded me of going up the volcano with Joanne and M.C. in Costa Rica (only the Costa Rica trek was MUCH scarier!). I'm still sore for bracing myself against the constant jerking, slowing and accelerating of the bus! Derek wrenched his neck so is still struggling from it!

We got into Luang Prabang around 8:30pm and got a tuk-tuk to find our hostel. Turns out we lucked out again! Derek booked this hostel and wow, he did a great job. For $10 each/night, we have an amazing place. Our own room, own bathroom, air conditioning, fan, a TV, breakfast included, center of town... ahhh it's heaven! That's the thing about S.E. Asia, people have an idea of what a hostel is but it's definitely not the traditional dorm room at every place, you can stay in dorms and it will only cost you a few dollars a night but you can get smaller rooms for minimally more. Worth it in my books!

So apparently we are not from here. Which was extremely obvious yesterday when trying to head out in 39 degree weather to do some 'sight-seeing'. Listen to the locals... that's my advice. If they tell you that no one goes outside from 12-4pm, take it to heart. Otherwise you are walking through a ghost town, sweating uncontrollably and wishing you were back in your air conditioning! After grabbing a quick lunch, that's exactly what we did. The evening was really nice, Derek and I went across the street and had dinner, then back to the room to wait for a looming thunderstorm to pass. Then we headed to a really cool bar which is in the middle of these gorgeous gardens just around the corner - turns out that's where all the westerners gather. We sat on cushions around short tables, had a drink and talked about life... That's what travelling does to me, opens up a different way of thinking about things. It's a varied reality so I find you can get a clearer focus on things in your life at home. It's definitely a reason I love to travel!

Today we are going to check out more of the town and tonight head to the night market and do some late night bowling (open until 5am!).

I'm planning on uploading more pictures in the next couple of days so everyone can see if my descriptions actually match the picture. Haha.

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 21:53 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

It's a different kind of heat.

Hanging in Laos.

overcast 33 °C

Here we are. Sweating it out in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It's a gorgeous day and we are, yet again, taking a break from the very warm weather for some time in an air conditioned internet cafe. Derek is quickly realizing the surplus of t-shirts I tried to convince him not to bring, are unnecessary due to the heat. At least I convinced him to cut it down by half before we left home!

The overnight train from Bangkok to Non Khai (close to the Laos border) was interesting... we boarded the train and found our seats... then figured out the seats and the compartment above actually turn into bunk beds! Seems like a cool concept... until you go to sleep, or don't go to sleep, due to the shaking of the train from the rickety tracks. Derek was on the bottom bunk and definitely got the better end of the deal, he had a curtain across his space which made it nice and dark - while for me, I could only sleep on my back or on my right side as I was terrified I was going to fall off the bed into the middle aisle of the train. Just 2 loose straps (that I couldn't tighten) 'protecting' me and my demise. I ended up calling it quits at 6am to join Derek in his bunk, which I'm sure he loved losing the only foot of space he had left to sleep. Hey, that's what he gets for claiming the bottom bunk! The man in the bunk across the aisle from us was a business owner from Australia who, over 24 years ago, had come on exchange for high school, did one university degree in Bangkok, then went back to Australia to do another degree, and permanently moved to Bangkok to work as a project manager for about 20 years (he's worked on some of the biggest buildings in Bangkok but was incredibly modest and definitely did not seem comfortable indulging too much about his success). In the past few years, he started his own clothing company that outfits the Australian army, several national rugby teams, and other groups. Pretty cool!

From there we went through customs at the Thai border, then took a bus to customs at the Laos to get our entry visas which was incredibly easy - took about 10 minutes total and cost about $50 each (we learned it was much cheaper to pay in American dollars vs. Thai Baht). Next, we got dropped off at the Vietnamese embassy in Vietiane to get entry visas for Vietnam next week (took one day of processing and cost $50 American each) and headed to our hostel! That was yesterday - today we went to pick up our Vietnamese visas/passports at the embassy and have been checking out the city. You probably only need one night here as it's known as a stop off point to get to Vang Vieng (the tubing spot) and Luang Prabang. But it's a cool spot nonetheless, there are gorgeous temples, government buildings, a river separating Thailand and Laos (Thailand is really close!). One thing we do find is the price of food is WAY more expensive than in Thailand! About triple the price! I'm hoping it's not like this throughout Laos...

This post is definitely not the most exciting but just catches up to the present! More to come!

Laurie

P.S. you can check out our travel map to see our route so far at:

http://www.travellerspoint.com/member_map.cfm?user=lcmichael&tripid=258799

Hope the link works!

Posted by lcmichael 01:43 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

"Thai" one on.

The next leg.

overcast 35 °C

Well, here we are in Bangkok, Thailand. Derek and I have been here for a couple days and probably could have left yesterday. It's a great place culturally but it's a 'city' - smelly, dirty, LOTS of people. Plus we're pretty jet lagged and that combined with the heat does not leave us wanting to explore very much. After leaving Morocco, we spent 2 nights in Frankfurt-Hahn at a great hostel and jumped on the 10 hour flight to Bangkok.

So, I mentioned before about the heat in Morocco? Well, Morocco has nothing on South East Asia. I forgot how hot it really was here... so that whole matted hair thing? Now it's the hair + every body part + all clothing. Such an attractive sight. It's a good thing Derek and I have been together for so long because I don't think either of us would score any dates. We are sitting in an air conditioned internet cafe right now and I don't want to leave! Although, the food here makes it worth it. We have been eating like royalty for about $6 (total) per meal! Green curries, pad thai, spring rolls, Indian food... ahhh! Heaven!

The first day we were here we met a woman on the street who helped us grab a tuk-tuk and have a tour of a couple temples in Bangkok. The cost - 20 Baht which is the equivalent to $0.60. It's just crazy how cheap things are here... you get used to it really quickly. Like yesterday, Derek and I ate lunch and we were deciding how much to leave for a tip, I suggested 20 Baht and he said, "Don't you think that's a little much?". Well... the 10 Baht he wanted to leave is definitely justified since the meal was 120 Baht (about $4) but that tip equals about $0.30-$0.40. Doesn't seem like much does it?

Oh one funny experience was Derek's first Thai haircut and shave. It was quite the production! He went into this little barber shop and basically ended up with a military style haircut - buzzed on the sides and back, longer on the top. It actually looks really good! I was surprised! Then the barber laid him back in the chair and began putting shaving cream all over his face... including his forehead (good call on this Jamie!). He takes out this long blade and starts shaving him. I'm sure Derek was dying inside. He had his eyes closed the whole time, definitely out of fear he may slice his throat. But, a few minutes later, success! There's Derek with his new haircut, clean shaven face (and forehead haha!).

Other than that, we haven't been doing much. The first night was horrible, we both slept about 2 hours each and then fell back asleep later in the morning and woke up at 2pm. We've been sticking around our part of the city, checking out Khao San Road (probably the most popular street here, like a huge market with restaurants, inexpensive clothing, you name it!), basking in the many 7-11's and the fact that they are air conditioned, and eating. Really though... we don't have very much to complain about... we're doing the things that we've always wanted to do with no regrets. I still can't believe we're actually here. I should because we've been backpacking for about 3 weeks now - I guess because we've been to such a variety of places and done so much while we were there it's hard to let it settle in. One thing we know is that we don't want to rush this trip. Just enjoy every moment!

Today we were on our way to the bank and a Thai woman came up to me and told me I was beautiful because I was white, then she said she wasn't beautiful because she was 'tanned'. Western culture has a huge influence here, in the stores the skin creams and powders advertise they will make your skin 'whiter'. The people see being tanned as being poor because traditionally people who worked in the fields were poor and also tanned. 'White' people are seen as 'wealthy' and a symbol of success. I told her she was beautiful and a lot of people in North America try to be tanned! It's awful to hear someone have that opinion about themselves, if they only knew how beautiful they really were...

So yesterday we booked an overnight train tonight to head to Vientiane, Laos as our next stop. We have to stop in the border at Non Khai to get our entry visas for Laos and then we'll grab a bus to Vientiane where we're applying for our Vietnamese entry visa. We're hoping to stay there one night and then take a 4 hour bus to Vang Vieng where you rent an inner tube and float for 3 hours down the Nam Song river. Lining the banks are bars and you paddle your way over to each bar as you go! It definitely seems super touristy and Vang Vieng itself doesn't seem to be the most ideal place to go for Laos culture but it's something fun to do for a day! From there we're planning on making our way to Luang Prabang for a few days, from what I hear from friends and other travel sites, it's a really cool place so we may stay there longer if we can. We wanted to do the Gibbon Experience (you zip line through a forest, hike and sleep in tree top cabins) but unfortunately we don't have enough time to do everything and will have to save it until the next trip.

Well, we are going to grab some lunch and hang around until our train leaves at 8pm this evening!

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 22:28 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Then he said, "Ouch, mes bijoux!"

Final thoughts on Morocco

semi-overcast 14 °C

Well, Derek and I have left the comfort of Taoufik's home and are currently staying at a hostel in Frankfurt-Hahn (not to be confused with the city of Frankfurt which is about 120 km away) in preparation for the next part of our travels, leaving tomorrow afternoon for Bangkok!

I was looking back on our experience in Morocco and Derek and I wanted to summarize a few things we learned about this country:

1. For you boys, if you are planning a camel ride into the desert, expect extreme discomfort and pain for your "bijoux". Eek!
2. It is helpful to be with someone who can speak French or Arabic... If that wasn't the case for me, I wouldn't have made it out of the airport! Definitely an incentive to learn another language. French is on my list!
3. You will sweat. A lot. And I don't mean a nice "glow" but gross, matted hair type of sweat. Obviously this only increased my attractiveness here.
4. Learn to get the "cheek kissing" down for when you meet someone new. As Mary Catherine and Sophie are well aware, this was not my forte 5 years ago and apparently still isn't. Makes for awkward encounters and a lot of uneasy laughing when you linger too long on someone's cheek.
5. If someone is in the middle of praying, don't walk bye, wave and say hello (...Derek...cough cough).
6. Finally, expect incredible hospitality and a fantastic experience! Morocco is an amazing country and ranks as one of the most incredible countries I've visited! See the desert, canyons, cities and coastal towns! Try as much Moroccan food as possible - it's DELICIOUS.

Next stop, Bangkok!

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 11:05 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

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