A Travellerspoint blog

South East Asia Round Up!

Five Countries in Four Weeks

sunny 30 °C
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Our whistle-stop tour of South East Asia has been completed, and although we have seen an abundance of wat's, ate an abundance of rice, and enjoyed an abundance of tuk tuk rides we have yet barely touched upon the oodles of land left to discover. What a great excuse to return! So although we are exhausted from following the tourist trail we are excited about what awaits us... and we have got some fabulous memories to contend with. Here are our best and not-so-best bits:

Top Trumps:

- Exchanging the slums for slick, sophisticated, stylish Singapore. Shame we weren't best dressed for a night in Raffles.
- Finding our flippers again and getting down to the depths of the sea with the tropical fish
- Indulging in our greatest pastime: food glorious food! Fabulous fresh, healthy ingredients and getting to learn some Thai classics along the way.
- Mingling with the lady-boys at the Thai Boxing, while betting with Mr.Miagi, and loosing
- Biking the outback in Laos and Thailand and discovering deserted beaches and beautiful lagoons
- Chilling with a pint or two after a strenuous day.. a few choice beverages include: Chang, Hanoi, Beer Lao, Tiger
- Laughing along with the friendly, laid-back locals
- Getting lost kayaking amongst the 3,000 karsts in the fabulous Halong Bay

Below Par:

- As soon as we stepped into civilised shores we found our money just floated away
- Andrew's belly still not settling, which I blame on his ever-increasing beer consumption... see above
- Feeling like we were following the Lonely Planet coneyor belt, not so cool
- Crazy, Vietnamese tour operators not giving two hoots about customer service

Posted by AndyGem 23:37 Archived in Singapore Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Last Few Days of Freedom

Bus to Hanoi, then flight to Kuala Lumpur, then bus to Singapore, then flight to Melbourne... phew!

sunny 35 °C
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Travelling back to Hanoi on our scheduled 'tourist' transport was a rather tempestuous experience, making us thankful we avoided the full three-day's on a package tour and being treated like dumb sheep. Baaaa! The group organiser had a severe lack of organisational skills and couldn't fathom why some of the paying guests were slightly miffed to find there wasn't enough room for them on the bus, and that no other bus was planned to accomodate. Tempers raised further when lunch was unappetising, bags got lost and buses got mixed up. Customer service is obviously not a phrase the Vietnamese tour operators care about. I think our bus driver sympathized with our pains, or was just fed up himself, but after much kerfuffle and high-pitched confrontation he just closed the doors and zoomed off... it didn't matter I was stuck in the middle of the aisle, perched on bags, I was just gald to be heading towards our destination. Our escape didn't last long, and the leader was soon ringing to make us stop. They caught up with us on the higway to shovel and squeeze another two sheepish tourists onto our very 'mini' bus. You've gotta laugh really, thats all we could do.

Back at Moped Central I'd like to say we explored the sprawling city further...but we just relished in the comforts of the Old Quarter, ate some great noodles, and watched HBO in the air conditioned hotel room. Our travelling days were closing in and we had to mentally prepare for Phase Two of the trip - Aussie Life. We had three full days of travel ahead so we gathered up our goods and stocked up on snacks. We realised it was Easter at home, and with no chocolate oeufs in site we settled for a big bar of Cadbury's to satisfy our craving, it didn't quite taste the same unfortunately.

We caught a flight to Kuala Lumpur where we had a few hours to peruse the markets before catching a night bus to Singapore. With barely a bit of beauty sleep we were quite frazzelled by the time we got into the civilised city, although there was still enough energy left to hit the malls! With interviews and 'normal' society ahead we had to shed our smelly, trekker style and smarten up. Back to the real world as they say!

The Quantus flight to Melbourne gave me a chance to catch up on the latest movies I've missed over the last few months, and before we knew it we had landed in our new home..... whooooooo!

Posted by AndyGem 23:23 Archived in Singapore Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Cat Ba Island - No cats, but lots of bars

Kayaking on Cat Ba, then back to Hanoi

rain 28 °C
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We came to Cat Ba Island for a little relaxation after all our arduous travelling (no sympathy for us I know!), and to our slight dismay we found a beach-front reminiscent of Blackpool.. including the rain! It wasn't actually as busy or built up as the hen-night haven, but it did have the typical neon, flashing lights, tacky trinket sellers and an abundance of karaoke bars. So much for lounging around on the sand topping up our fading tans!

As we lunched by the pier a friendly English couple, (Another Andy and Nicola), told us about a boat trip around the island they wanted to go on, and the more people they enrolled the cheaper it would be! Perfect! We had already planned to do a tour of the islands and these two fellow travellers had done all the leg work for us. We met up later to seal the deal with some other keen parties and then went off to celebrate with dinner and a game of 'Extreme Uno'. It turned out that (new) Andy went to Loughborough Uni too, so we had a good old laugh about Echo's, Pulse, Far Pav, FND, The Purple Onion, Nasty, Faraday.. oh, sorry am I boring you? We did the same to Nicola who had no idea what we were talking about.

So, there was ten of us in total setting off on an adventure into the mysterious waterways, and what a wonderful sight! Hundreds of jagged, elongated rocks just randomly positioned, all odd shapes and sizes, almost like they were just perched on top of the water. We spotted a bunny-shaped one, a dog-shaped one, a sausage-shaped one, and even a giant dinasour one... but I was the only one to see that unfortunately! Away from all the tourist ships it was so serene and beautiful, we floated past quiet fishing villages where people have made homes on a few planks of wood. Most had a seafaring mutt to keep them company who would race up and down there limited playground, barking to keep us at bay.

We were allowed to use the kayaks all day and the captain stopped off at several interesting points to explore nearby caves and crevices. The water was relatively clear and shallow in places, rather disconcerting when you go through a dark cave and get stuck to a rock. Floating through these dim tunnels, not knowing when you are going to emerge caused raucous excitement, Andy and I nearly got our heads decapitated on a low lying, clam-encrysted, stalactite, and i'm pretty sure some naughty bats pooped on us!

Once the sunlight streamed through the cave we became aware of the bizarre yellowy-purpley-rocky-roof, space-like with its chinks and formations. We all followed each other through one small hole with a very tight turning curve, which led us into this secluded blue lagoon. As we marvelled at the surrounding landscape with soaring eagles above us we wondered which way the current was flowing, and then imagined being on 999 Rescue as the tide blocked us in this desolate place with birds feasting on us. I don't think they call 999 in Vietnam though! :) Trying to navigate back round that L-shaped bend in long banana boats as the water was gushing the other way was somewhat...hilarious. If those kayaks could bruise they'd have been scarred black and blue from all the rock collisions. Firstly everyone took it in turns to try, laughing at the attempts and presuming it can't be that hard! As time was ticking we just piled in like bumper cars and staged a survival of the fittest. The last two stuck had us as an audience chuckling and whooping... which didn't help at all. One of the guys couldn't quite grasp the steering and kept frantically paddling right which unfortunately led them into a lefterly direction, and straight into the rock. We decided to just leave them there to keep the eagles at bay! Only joking!

Some of us braved the jelly fish and took a dip in the cool waters, the jellies are huge here, much bigger than Andy's head, and probably containing more brains! ha! (Not really Andrew). We saw one fisherman scoop one up in his net and when we waved at him he put it up to his mouth to motion 'dinner'... eugh... jellyfish soup! They will certaintly eat anything here. Our arms soon turned to jelly aswell after a few hours of paddling, which wasn't helped by getting lost in the similar looking karsts. When we eventually found our boat again the crew tied us to the back and we were thankfully allowed to justle along behind and admire the view without doing a workout.

To round off our exciting and exhausting day we all met up later for a beer, and at 15p per pint of the local tipple were soon searching for a bit of karaoke.

Posted by AndyGem 15:26 Archived in Vietnam Tagged boating Comments (0)

Good morning Vietnam

Following in the footsteps of Top Gear to Halong Bay, famous for three thousand limestone karsts.

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Flying from Vientiene to Hanoi was a great idea as the prospect of spending 28 hours on a bus journey which would be plagued by scams at the border didn't appeal!
Soon after landing in Hanoi we negotiated a stupidly low price for a guy to take us into the city, 30km away, the alarm bells should have rung. After specifying several times where we wanted to go the driver appeared to take little notice! Sadly all wasn't well and instead of arriving in the vibrant old quarter of the city we arrived in a dark, dingy and empty side street. After a length and heated argument in which with their broken English they told us they didn't want Vietnamese currency but only dollars. This was quite exasperating as we didn't have any dollars, so pushed them aside and gave them some Thai money and walked off, annoyingly they followed us for a bit but soon found a legal taxi.
By this stage we were both a bit frazzled and desperately in need of the sanctuary of a good hotel room. After checking out a few places we stumbled upon a lovely hotel where we promptly locked ourselves away for a night of Sky tv and raiding of the mini bar!

In the morning we set out on the walking tour which is given in the lonely planet book, obviously nearly every other group of travellers had this book and also seemed to be walking the route but it did give us a great insight into the old quarter of Vietnam. The most striking thing was how shops organised themselves, one street would be full of jewellery shops, the next full of clothes shops etc. Along the way we explored several food markets which where amazing and we now firmly believe the saying that they eat anything in Vietnam! We saw turtles in cages waiting for boiling and half a dead dog.

After lunch we visited a theatre to watch a water puppet show. Basically the stage becomes a shallow pond of water and behind a screen puppeteers operate puppets that appear to be floating on the water. Several stories are narrated throughout the performance, none of which we understood but the performances are fantastic and now we have discovered the video function on the camera and short video will be uploaded soon!

It is fair to say that the majority of people who visit Hanoi go on a trip to Halong Bay, famous for 300 limestone rock formations protruding out of the sea and also for Top Gear! We decided against doing an organised tour after our debacle in the Nepal national park even though Lonely Planet’s recommends taking a tour. So we bought a ticket form our hotel to the island town of Cat Ba in Halong Bay thinking we would get there in half a day. Unfortunately it soon became obvious we were to be part of tour for the first day and after seeing how the guides treated the tourists we were glad to leave them at the end of the day. Whilst on the boat to Cat Ba we saw many of the famous limestone karsts and also our first floating village. The villagers now made a good living from taking tourists on small boats into remote caves. It is hard to say whether they are happy having so many tourists and their money or perhaps they would rather be left in peace to live off the sea.

In the town of Cat Ba we found decent accommodation, not a hard task as all the local men seemed to do apart from fish was to build more and more hotels, sadly opting for quantity over quality. The food here was good with fresh seafood available at every restaurant.

Posted by AndyGem 03:30 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Water Water Everywhere

Kayaking down to Vienitiane, then sight seeing in the Capital

storm 38 °C
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Andrew was still not feeling 100%, but despite his headache he was still up for a bit of water sports action. So we decided upon a kayak trip down to the capital city. As Laos is currently in the dry season the Nam Song river was not at its most menance, but we were promised a bit of boat-rocking in the rapids. With only six in our group we paddled in pairs through the steady current, marvelling at the surrounding jungle engulfed in mist. The waterways would have been perfectly peaceful if it wasn't for the deforestation noises in the distance, or so I thought. Later at lunch we heard the same chainsaw sounds again and realised it wasn't coming from a tree chopping machine, but it was in fact a very loud insect - a whole party of them humming away! We couldn't actually see the creatures but with its strange buzzing screech I wouldn't have been too keen to meet them anyway. Other riverside wildlife joined us for our BBQ lunch, such as hundreds of tiny frogs marching up from the rocks, or the hestitant butterflies attracted to our life jackets. Quite a few annoying flies came close for a nibble but thankfully the chainsaw bug didn't chop off our toes.

Back on board the boats we braced ourselves for the white water, being told to stay straight down the middle and avoid the rocky right and left, perfectly demonstrated by the guide. Andy controlled the steering from the back and I instructed from the front when we launched into the roaring rapids.. "RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, RIGHT RIGHT, AHHHHHHH!"... The rip showed no mercy and we were soon fish food. Flipped out with a splash Andy soon drifted off oarless while I somehow clung on like a clam and floated to his side. Once safetly back on we watched the others tumble on down just as spectacularly. Nothing like a bit of exhilaration to make you feel better!

Our next mission, if we chose to accept it, was to jump off a craggy, 10m rock into the river below, which didn't seem bad until we were faced with the looming height. The so-called brave gathered at the top peering over the edge, umming and arrhhing about whether its worth risking our lives, no one wanting to jump first. Until, a little, timid Japanese girl from the group appeared from knowhere and casually stepped off the side, plop! What had she eaten for lunch I wonder? A slightly camp Aussie guy hilariously whoop whooped his way down next before I took the stand for my final plunge to death. Weeeeeeeee! Easy! I'll post the video up as evidence.

We paddled a few more hours to our waiting minibus and then onto Vientiane - which is actually pronounced Viang Chan, not Venitian as we keep saying. The French are responsible for the modern transliteration and their influence is seen elsewhere such as the prominent Patuxai momument reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe, and the surrounding tree-lined boulevards are also described as the 'Champs Elysee's of the East'. Now, I won't lie to you, these comparisons are a little ambitious, and although the similarities include a stone arch and a few scrubs it's not a patch on gay Paris. However, this booming city does contain some great gems, such as its oldest surviving temple - Wat Si Saket built around 1820. After seeing several wats it can seem rather similar, but this wat in particular have several unique features. It all looked a bit eery when I stepped inside due to the grey thunderstormy clouds brewing, and as I peered around the courtyard 100's of beady eyes were starring at me from the shadows. Buddha statues of varying shapes, sizes and material completely cover these wat walls, small ones in niches and large ones seated on the floor. In total there are 10,000 Buddha's sitting serenly. Not sure how they know which one to pray to though.

I was a bit gutted to be leaving Laos so soon, especially as in a few days it would be Laos New Year where everyone has a massive water fight. But on our way to the airport a lady on the roadside was celebrating early and threw a huge bowl of the wet stuff all over our tuk tuk, drenching us through. Maybe its a good time to leave! :)

Posted by AndyGem 04:21 Archived in Laos Tagged boating Comments (2)

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