From Laos to Vietnam.
30.05.2011 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...
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!
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.
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...
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!
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!