A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

The journey to Luang Prabang, Laos

sunny 35 °C
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Sean and I got up early on Tuesday morning to catch a mini bus to Chiang Khong; possibly the scariest road journey so far, as our driver carelessly selected songs to play over the speakers on YouTube! In Chiang Khong we crossed the border into Laos, Huay Xai, where we boarded a large slow boat to take a 2-day boat to Luang Prabang.

The scenery on the boat was incredible the whole way, but the boat was a total tourist trap - however this did mean that we were able to meet lots of people and I made a lot of friends very quickly!
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After a long journey, which included 5 hours on the slow boat, we arrived in our stop over destination, Pak Beng. The pumpkin and buffalo curry that I had that night was probably the best Laos meal I had! But it arrived late since the town experiences power cuts frequently, and there were 2 that night!

The following day we had 8 hours on the slow boat, which was tiring, but luckily the scenery stayed beautiful.

Once in Luang Prabang, myself, Sean and some people we'd meet on the boat, headed to Khammany Inn, a very busy backpackers hostel. The night market of Luang Prabang was great, although the phrase 'same, same, but different' can be used to describe almost anything in Laos; menus, shops, tours, hostels... So a lot of the stalls sold similar things. Still, I did buy some generic 'traveller pants' hareem trousers in bright funky designed material! The food in Laos was odd... sort of Thai, but not as nice, not spicy, lots of baguettes and sandwiches (French influence) and at the night market there were a lot of buffet stalls! It was still tasty, but disappointing compared to Thai food.
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The next day the gang and I spent the day wandering around the town. We ate on the river front, but certainly paid for the views not the food!! We continued to the palace museum, former home of the Laos king, before climbing up Way Phu Si for some great views over the town and river.
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That evening we went drinking, but as there is an alcohol curfew in Laos at 11:30, all parties turn to the only place open after this, which in Luang Prabang was the bowling alley!! ... I won of course!
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Taking the piss out of the face I usually pull on photos!!
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The following day the gang headed to Kuang Si waterfall by tuk tuk, an in interesting journey to say the least... I only screamed a couple of times! The waterfall was the most beautiful so far, the water was an eerie green and the view from the top of the falls was well worth the 30 minute tough steep climb.
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The evening ended the same, food, drinks and bowling (which I won... again ;)

Our last day in Luang Prabang we spent exploring the local temple cave and chilling in the town and hostel. A slow boat over to the caves was beautiful and the caves were nice and cool although very small.
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Luang Prabang was very touristy... although you can see why, as it was a beautiful place, especially the waterfalls and river.

Posted by Libbytes 04:31 Archived in Laos Tagged waterfall luang_prabang Comments (0)

Fun in Vang Vieng

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From Luang Prabang, myself, Sean, Janine, Heather and Lody took a mini bus down to Vang Vieng... a very winding route through the mountains and valleys. The journey was tough for me since my seat wasn't properly secured to the ground and I left the floor every time we turned left!! I pinned myself in by pushing against the sides of the van, but it was totally worth it for the views along the way.
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The view from the hotel balcony;
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Evening meal, notice motRobike in the background!!
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The drive into Vang Vieng was spectacular, the road suddenly became flat, but everywhere you looked, limestone karsts covered in jungle rose from the ground.

Vang Vieng is famous for tubing along the river, and so the next day we hired tubes and drove up river to the starting point. There used to be 16 bars soon by the river, allowing people to do a bar crawl in between the tubing. However, there's now only 4 bars which we some how managed to spend all day in! We stayed so late in the final bar we had to drive back as it was too dark and dangerous to tube back!
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The second day here we hired bikes and cycled out to a blue lagoon where there was a tree and rope swings you could jump in off. The lagoon was cold, but in the heat, and especially after the journey there, it was heaven!
After chilling in the lagoon I eventually plucked up the courage to jump in off the highest branch. I climbed up the tree and stood scared on the branch for what seemed like nothing, but apparently was close to 20 minutes!! I started gathering a big crowd of people cheering me on and then... they started counting down from 10! About 30 people all watching, all counting... I had no choice, I had to jump! It was nowhere near as bad as I thought, and I was not very graceful as I watched the video back that Sean took... but the big cheer I got for doing it felt amazing, if not a little embarrassing that I took so long!
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After some food, we hiked up the mountain behind the lagoon to a nice cave. Although we didn't go far as we had no torch and were wearing flip flops!
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The night we went drinking in the local bars and to the only club open after 11:30, which was awful! But still, we stayed until late.

The next day we attempted to go tubing again. I took less money with me in an effort to drink less and hopefully do the full tubing route, and Sean and I left the final bar with enough time to return to the town in the light. Unfortunately (or luckily for her...) We ran in to a very distressed drunk girl who had gotten separated from her friends and was on the river by herself without any phone or money! We did all we could to calm her down and help her, but time was not on our side and it got dark very quickly as we stayed with her to help. The river was shallow enough to stand in comfortably, and mostly didn't rise above the knees and was slow moving, but the girl was very drunk and struggling a lot. We saw lights from the local fishermen and headed towards them. One of them took us to a place we could get back to the road and from there we flagged down a pick-up truck back to the town centre and walked the girl back to her hotel. Both Sean and I were very shaken by the incident. We think she must've had more than alcohol, she was crazy... I don't think she realised how lucky she was that we found her, as there's no way she would've made it back to town without our help...

We took it easy for the rest of the night...

So far travelling I haven't experienced any problems, thefts, danger or injuries (touch wood); I have been very lucky, but also very careful and measured. Seeing that girl made me realise how easy it is to put yourself in danger... I'd like to think that I'd never let myself be in a situation like that.

Posted by Libbytes 07:25 Archived in Laos Tagged tubing blue_lagoon vang_vieng Comments (0)

Being lazy in Vientiane

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Sean and I left for Vientiane by a lovely comfortable bus! A luxury in Laos!! We planned to arrive in Vientiane on Thursday afternoon and go straight to the Vietnam embassy to apply for next day visas. However, unknown to us, the embassy was closed for holidays Thursday-Sunday so we spent more time than we would've liked in the smallest capital city I've ever visited!

The first day we walked around the city, visited temples, monuments and markets, as well as playing a lot of pool! (Or hostel choice was based on the presence of a pool table!) We also stumbled across an amazing Mexican restaurant which sold burritos, quesadillas and... hummus!!!
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French influences were obvious all over Laos, but Vientiane in particular...
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That night we visited the night market along the river and played pool, drank rum, and eventually ended up in a Lao nightclub; where, if Sean hadn't been there, I'd have been the tallest by far!!

The weekend we spent chilling and playing a lot of pool, I don't think I lost a frame at this hostel! We also went back to the Mexican place too many times! I used my incredible research skills to find a local swimming pool at a hotel and we went and paid £1 for a private pool (nobody else was there), apart from the crowd we dragged along with us from the hostel!
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That evening we ate street food looking out over the river and watched the sun set.

On Monday we were finally able to apply for our Vietnamese visa! And we chilled as usual, played pool and walked through the local park to a monument and town hall.
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Our last day in Vientiane was topped off with one final Mexican and a trip to the embassy to pick up our visas. We arranged for an over night bus to take us directly from the embassy to Vietnam's capital, Hanoi. 26 hours..... :O

Laos was beautiful, but I spent all my time here in heavily tourists towns so a feel like I didn't see the real Laos. I plan to return to the south of Laos after Vietnam and Cambodia, so I will try to visit smaller villages then if I can.

Posted by Libbytes 07:06 Archived in Laos Tagged vientiane Comments (0)

Good morning Vietnam! Hanoi.

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The 26 hour journey from Vientiane to Hanoi was surprisingly fine! We were on a very local bus, with only myself, Sean and a Canadian couple; the rest Vietnamese. But everyone was very friendly and considerate, especially during one of the toilet stops where the only place for a lady to go was behind the coach! The border crossing from Laos to Vietnam was bizarre; the bus arrived at the border around 4am and we parked up and slept on the stationary bus until 8am when the border opened. We first had to get our exit stamps from Laos, then walk for around 20 minutes over a bridge and through the valley to the Vietnamese entry post, where our bags were x-rayed and our passports stamped again!

Back on th he bus, we arrive in Hanoi around 7pm, and after a great first food experience, had an early night. I checked into May De Ville hostel, which was beautiful, like a hotel, with great views from the 10th floor restaurant.
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The first day we walked to the lake in the old town to visit a Chinese style temple which was reportedly home to a very old tortoise! We also visited the museum of war, Vietnam has a very strong history of war, with many victories and defensive strategies which make the Vietnamese very proud. Unfortunately I didn't take many photos as my camera ran out of battery :(
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We ate a food called Bun Cha for lunch, which is possible now my favourite food! Pork meatballs and rice noodles and a sauce which is sweet and salty with thin slices of green papaya... delish! After a nap and a few frames of pool we went back out to eat at a 'cook your own' place where you get a paraffin fired hot plate, garlic marinated beef and courgette and onion to cook at your table, it was delicious! After dinner we headed out for drinks and ended up staying out late and spending too much money on alcohol!

The next day, with sore heads, we walked across town to see the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum.
On the way there were walked past a huge lake, in which a man was fishing using what seemed a very simple yet effective technique; on a small raft the man let out a long net following the shore of the lake, he then paddled around the late banging his raft and slapping the water with a bamboo pole. This scared the fish and forced them to swim into the net. We watched this for a while.
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We then saw some people on ladders collecting flowers and I asked what they were for. A man told me that this tree flowers for only one day a year and they pick the flowers to use as good luck tokens and scent as they smelled lovely. We started to press the flowers to keep, but I left mine with Sean!

Almost at the mausoleum we were accosted by a pair of street sellers seeing fruit, who, before we had a chance to argue, dressed us up in their gear and took a photo with our cameras! They then asked for $15 each! We got them down to $1 each, with some fruit thrown in and it was a deal!
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Finally, we reached the mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh is so revered in Vietnam, as the main figure in defence from China, liberation from France, reunification of north and south Vietnam, and both the first president and prime minister of a free Vietnam, it's not hard to see why. There are temples and monuments dedicated to him in every Vietnamese town, and Vietnamese people pilgrim to Hanoi to pay tribute to his embalmed body housed at the mausoleum. Unfortunately, the mausoleum closes in the afternoon before we arrived, which we didn't realise, and armed guards patrolled a wide perimeter around the mausoleum and grounds.

Some of the armed guards weren't too serious though and played with Sean an I by offering us a 'delicious fruit' which was so sour and bitter it was horrible... at least they found it funny! We also got winked at by some marching guards, before being told off for taking their photos!
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On the we back we discovered Bun Bo Nam Bo; similar to Bun Cha, but with beef and already put together in a bowl. Hanoi food had been the best so far I think!
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The next day we attempted to make our way to Cat Ba island, however we used the website's times for departures, which were wrong, and missed the bus by 10 minutes. So we spent the rest of the 40° day in our aircon dorm room watching films and chilling, before topping off Hanoi with another great dish; Luc Lac, basically steak and chips Vietnamese stylee!
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I bought a hello kitty watch at the night market before getting an early night ready to get the bus and boat top cat ba the following day!

Posted by Libbytes 09:42 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi Comments (0)

Cat Ba island and Lan Ha bay

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On our second attempt, we caught the bus safely to Hai Phong, where we changed to a boat out into Ha Long Bay. When we arrived at Cat Ba island we boarded another bus to take us across the island to the town. The views were incredible, especially since we took the road through the national park, but it was very bumpy!

We checked in to Nam Phuong hotel, and the views from the room out onto Cat Ba harbour were perfect. The rear of the hotel backed into the limestone cliff, which was left open as the rear wall!
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The harbour was very pretty, full of small fishing boats and live-aboards, with limestone karsts rising from the water behind.
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That night we went out to eat and found a cool bar with a pool table... as usual!
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Our first full day on Cat Ba, we hired a motorbike and drove to a small bay where we rented kayaks. We kayaked through the limestone karsts over to monkey island (but didn't see any monkeys!) And then to another beach we had to ourselves. The scenery was amazing, but the kayaking was tiring!
On the way back to the bay, we kayaked through a floating village and leisurely watched the local life. It was fascinating, such a picturesque place to live! (Hopefully photos to follow, being with Sean and his waterproof camera did have it's advantages!)

That evening we had a seafood tea, thanks to Sean's crab eating abilities... Followed by an undefeated doubles stint on the pool table!

The next day, we used the bike to drive along every road on Cat Ba island! The coastal road had stunning views over the bay and sea, and the inland road cut through valleys surrounded by limestone cliffs.
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We visited the national park at the centre of the island with the aim of climbing to a look out post over the bay, but the route was blocked by fallen rocks. Annoying that they didn't tell us before hand since the walk up was a fair hike and we were both exhausted and wet through by the time we got to the top...

We also visited a huge cave that was used by the Vietnamese as an underground hospital during the American war. It was immense inside!

We drove down to one of the beaches and swam until close to sunset, before racing up to an old cannon fort to watch the sun set.
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Posted by Libbytes 05:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged karst halong_bay cat_ba lan_ha_bay Comments (0)

Sapa homestay and scenery

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I finally broke the Sean-Libby team by leaving for Sapa. I had a great time travelling with someone for such a long time, especially someone that I could, and would, be close friends to back home. It makes conversations more interesting than "where have you been?" And "where are you going?". And it's nice to share memories with someone too. With Sean, it was also nice to have someone chauffeur me around everywhere on a motor bike ;) and it made some things cheaper as you could share the cost of private rooms where there are no dorms, like on Cat Ba island. But, travelling alone is the reason I came here, so I waved goodbye to Sean as he headed south to Hue and I went north west to Sapa.

I got an over night sleeper bus from Hanoi to sapa town, and quickly learned that the worst seats on the bus are those at the back, on a top bunk, against a window... which is what I had! The journey was awful, being thrown all over the place among winding roads and bumps, but I made a lot of friends which made up for it. Once the sun rose, the last hour of the journey became bearable as the view from the window was spectacular.

I arrived in Sapa early in the morning, I had booked a 2-day 1-night trek and Homestay, so I was picked up by motorbike and taken to a nearby hotel to shower and have breakfast ready for the trekking. I had made sure that I packed light, and so only had my small backpack with just the essentials and some shampoo. This made me realise how much unneeded items I have in my big backpack!

After breakfast, I was introduced to my tour guide, Sue, and the rest of my tour group, who we're all lovely. Sue, aged 27, was from Ta Van one of the local minority villages, and was dressed always in her traditional wear with her hair wrapped and tied with a comb. She spoke great English and had a wicked sense of humour, which a lot of the group didn't get!

We set off for our 6 hour trek, and were met instantly by tall mountains (the biggest in Vietnam, mt. Fansipan) and deep valleys covered in rice terraces being tended by the men and their domesticated water buffalo. It was immense, I hadn't expected the rice terraces to be literally everywhere!
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We stopped regularly for water and rests, since the terrain was steep and the sun was hot. We walked through bamboo forests and along the walls of rice paddies. The temperature was cool here, due to the position under the mountain, almost 10 degrees cooler than the rest of Vietnam, but the sun was relentless making it hot out of the shade.
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We walked through the villages of Lao Chai and Ta Van and saw how the women make hemp and fabrics (from huge marijuana fields...) and rice flour.
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We eventually reached out Homestay and the hosts cooked a delicious meal for us. After a few drinks we all slowly retired to put individual beds covered with mosquito nets. Unfortunately, when I woke in the middle of the night, I found that I was not alone in my net, and a well defined patterned black and white spider had built a web around me... I slowly and carefully moved all of my things out of the bed then slipped under the net. I tucked the net back under the bed and defeated, I went and slept in another bed (after a long check to make sure there were no spiders in that one too!).

The following day we were and had pancake breakfast before starting the trek to Ta Chai village. The morning was very foggy, more like we were inside a cloud, but it made for some awesome photos...
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We continued on up towards a tall waterfall, from where we could look out onto the terraces.
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We then crossed the river and entered the village, where a minibus took us back to Sapa town.
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I decided to extend my trip one more day and so stayed that night in a hotel in town and arranged to meet Sue again the following day (on the sly...) to join in the day visiting Cat Cat village.

Unfortunately, this village felt staged and fake, and the whole road/path down to the village was lined with tourist shops and hawkers. We swam in the waterfall that was in the village, and watched a traditional dance, before climbing back up the mountain to the town. However, Sue took us cross country to avoid the roads and take the quicker (but much steeper) route.
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Before the night bus back to Hanoi I treated myself to a full body massage, which was amazing and really helped after all the trekking.

The bus back to Hanoi, I slept the whole way... perhaps it had something to do with being at the front, on a bottom bunk, in the aisle! ...you live and learn... :)

When I arrived in Hanoi I repacked my bag and threw out a lot of things! Living for the last 4 days with my day pack really changed my attitude, although I still have my hairdryer and epilator! Hahaha

Posted by Libbytes 06:17 Archived in Vietnam Tagged sapa sa_pa Comments (0)

Ninh Binh lakes and boats

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I arrived back from sapa very early in the morning and had to walk across town back to my hostel where I had left my main bag. Walking with my small bag was so easy that I once again wished that my main bag was small. Although, I do enjoy having the luxury of my hairdryer! I decided from here to keep an eye out for a strong small bag to replace my current one.

I spent the day relaxing and sleeping in the hostel, they were very accommodating since I didn't pay for a room, they let me shower in a spare room and sleep in the common room until my next bus to ninh binh.

I arrived at Ninh Binh at around 8pm and checked into Thanh Thuy guesthouse. The following day I hired a motorbike taxi to drive me to some of the local sights. Ninh Binh itself is not a very interesting town, but the countryside around is spectacular. Limestone karsts like in Halong Bay, but on lakes and rivers and either sides of the roads. The first day in Ninh Binh I visited Hung Mua hill, a small temple atop one of the limestone karsts with stunning views over the valley of Tam Coc below.
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The cave here wasn't very exciting...
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And there was a hell of a lot of steps!
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The walk up the hill was strenuous, and the weather was so humid, after about 100 steps I was drenched with sweat! The stairs seemed never ending at some points, but I kept going for around 500 steps until I reached the top. It was worth it and the breeze at the top was heaven!
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After climbing back down we drove to Tam Coc, where I rented a boat to paddle along the river, through caves and I saw the hill that I had just climbed. Boats were for 2 people and so I went with a Dutch girl called Dee that was travelling as a group of 3 girls. Our 2 boats travelled side by side amongst many other boats, it was so touristy! Local people would pull up along side to try to sell you drinks or crafts, and try to convince you to buy drinks for your boat-lady, which was a scam as the people wouldn't drink the drink you bought, but instead give it back to the seller once you had left!
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Despite the hassle, there was no denying the scenery was beautiful.
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This is where I had climbed to... you can see the Dragon on top of the hill!
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My driver then took me to his friends' restaurant, something that you couldn't refuse, but as long as the food is nice and cheap, I don't mind. From here we drove to Bich Dong pagoda, where I once again had to climb a lot of stairs! At the top of the hill the stairs ended and instead there was a steep rock face with hand and foot holes in it. A sign said "please climb" and so I did for about 10 minutes until I decided I had no idea how I was going to get down if I went any further, so I turned around!
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That evening, exhausted, I ate in the hotel and got an early night.

The following day was very similar; I had the same motorbike taxi man take me to Hua Lu, an ancient Vietnamese city with temples devoted to the military leaders which fought the Chinese at that time.
We went from here to Bia Dinh temple and pagoda, a huge complex of covered pagodas climbing the hill, ending in a large temple with 3 huge gold plated Buddhas. The tall pagoda next door was unfinished but still impressive.
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Again I ate at his friend's restaurant, where the family was very interested in my relationship status, especially the son, who found it fascinating that we were the same age! I told them I was married and flashed my rings!! Haha I knew there was a reason I wore my rings!

From here we travelled to Trang An national park, a place similar to Tam Coc with limestone karsts and river caves. However, at this one I was the only tourist, apart from some Vietnamese tourists, who followed me around the whole park in their boats and constantly took photos of me! Trang An was much more impressive than Tam Coc, with many more river caves and places to get out of the boat and explore the islands.
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Ninh Binh was a beautiful place, with very few tourists, which was a blessing in some ways, but left me a little lonely since there was no body who spoke good English.

Posted by Libbytes 05:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged lake cave karst ninh_binh Comments (0)

Caving in Phong Nha

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The evening after Ninh Binh I caught an overnight bus to Dong Hoi, where I was met by a taxi pick up I had arranged through a hostel in Phong Nha national park. Phong Nha is home to the largest cave in the world, but entrance to that cave is only for scientists and 300 tourists per year and costs $3000! However, the national park is littered with caves and had beautiful scenery.
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The day I arrived I met some people who wanted to visit Phong Nha cave; the longest river cave discovered so far, which was within walking distance of the hostel. We got enough people to go so that the boat through the cave cost £2!
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The river from the cave was the most beautiful river I have ever seen, it was so blue, and crystal clear; the photos do not do it justice!
The boat travelled at a leisurely pace so that the trip into and back from the cave took 3 hours. Inside the cave, the rock formations; stalagtites and mites, were just immense, again, photos could never do it justice, but I tried!
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We all then went for food at a local restaurant and planned the rest of the day. A small group of us decided to explore the local villages and visit a restaurant where we had heard you could catch and kill your own chicken! Mukesh (London) had his own bike and so he chauffeured me around for the day, Marc (Dutch) took Mitsuho (Japanese), and a French couple joined us.
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Part of our journey through the village involved crossing the river at a low point. We also got quite a bit lost, and ended up at an 'eco-farm' (pretty sure all farms in this region were eco-farms!) Which was run by a family who didn't speak any English but still helped us find our way back to the road!
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We eventually found the chicken place, where we went tubing in possibly the worst part of the river! Mukesh killed our chickens (slit the throat and bleed out...) whilst we watched (I was the designated camera-woman for him), but unfortunately, the way it was cooked (bbq), combined with it's free-ranged-ness, meant it was so tough that we didn't appreciated it. Poor chicken!
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Can you spot the puppy hiding?
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Preparing the chicken.
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These chickens got to live another day!

That night I cancelled the tour I had booked with the hostel and decided to try and wing-it the following day considering how easy it had been to find people on bikes going to the nearby caves solo.

The gamble paid off, as the following morning at breakfast I met a group of people looking to visit the caves; Nielz (Germany), Danny (Santa Barbara) and Cameron (Seattle) had their own bikes and had just met. Myself, and a couple from London (Chris and Jenny) rode on the back of the bikes and the day was perfect. The people I was with really made the day a special day, and I think this day is possibly the best day I've had since starting my trip...
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Nielz was my chauffeur.

We rode first to the dark cave... I hadn't heard a lot about this cave, only that it was dark and required you to wear only your bikini! The drive to the cave took a good 2 hours along one of the most scenic roads I've ever been on. We followed the river, which was the most extreme blue. I wish I'd taken better photos, but instead I was mesmerized just looking at it and didn't want to waste time trying to capture it.
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A blurred photo, but you can still see the colour.
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We arrived at the ticket office for the cave and were told to put all our belongings in a locker and just wear swimwear... We were given a life jacket and a hard hat with a head torch. We walked down to the blue river and then kayaked towards the entrance of the cave. We left the kayak and entered the cave, which suddenly became very dark. With our head torches the cave looked massive. From walking on wooden walk ways we eventually started walking on the cave floor, and then in the river, before eventually swimming through the cave in pitch blackness. We eventually got out, took our life jackets off, and started walking through thick mud and muddy water... We became covered in mud, with no way to wash it off! In some places, the mud was so thick it squelched loudly and made us all laugh! And in others, the climb was so steep, we had to ascend on hands and knees! And what goes up, must come down... We slid on our bums down the slopes into giant mud baths below, splashing mud everywhere! I got so much mud in my eyes and mouth - the trick was to blink a lot to get it out, since our hands were covered with mud too there was no way to clean them. Cameron's waterproof camera suffered the same fate and had mud caked on the lens. However, he very 'cleverly' licked it to clean it...! The video of that is hilarious, especially when the sound afterwards is us all shouting "eugh!! Cameron!!!", and then a shot of his muddy face! On the way back, the guys, (mainly Chris!) decided it would be hilarious to continually hide behind rocks and jump out in the darkness to scare Jenny and I, but it became so predictable in the end that I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe! After the mud we eventually got back to the river deep in the cave and cleaned ourselves before making the journey back out to the kayaks and swimming in the blue river to clean off properly in the daylight.

The day still wasn't over though, and after drying off, we got back on the bikes and continued towards a cave known as paradise cave.
However, literally 100m from the cave, the chain on Nielz's Honda win snapped, leaving us potentially stranded at the cave! We called a mechanic and hoped it would be fixed by the time we had visited the cave. We ate at a restaurant outside the cave before beginning the strenuous climb up towards the cave entrance. The day was so hot and humid, and the walk up was tough that we were all drenched with sweat by the top. Upon entering the cave we all sighed with relief as it was so cool and dry inside - the reason why it's called paradise cave :)

The cave went 7km into the mountain, but only 1km was accessible to solo travellers, still we couldn't get over how massive it was... again photographs do not do it justice.
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The walk up.
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Danny, Nielz, Jenny and Chris.
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Outside the cave.

Unfortunately, Nielz's bike wasn't fixed when we got back, but we only had to wait a little while before we were back on our way.

The road back as the sun was setting was beautiful, and topped off a perfect day with wonderful people.
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We tried to have a few drinks that night, but ended up having early nights instead. I planned to leave for Hué the following day on the cheaper local bus, which left at 5 am, so an early night was perfect.

The following morning I woke by myself to find that it was 8 am! I had slept through my alarm, which had apparently woken everyone else in my dorm, but not me... why didn't they wake me?! Haha

I spent the day instead chilling and updating my blog before catching a train from Dong Hoi to Hué, where I entertained at the Vietnamese travellers by not being able to open a tube of squirty tofu which I was offered... perhaps I knew the inside wouldn't taste nice!

I was sad to leave phong nha, especially since the hostel had advertising for jobs available... perhaps I will return, or maybe it's best not to... and just to remember the amazing time I had there as I don't think it could ever live up to my memories if I returned...

Posted by Libbytes 08:44 Archived in Vietnam Tagged cave dark_cave phong_nha dong_hoi Comments (1)

Eating in Hué and Hoi An

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After my interesting train journey with the locals, I arrived late in Hué and went straight for food at a famous pho Hué stall. Pho is traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, which is supposed to be the best in Hué, and it was the best soup I had so far!
The following day I booked a half day motorbike tour of the town, the centre of which is an ancient citadel. It was a very hot day, but the town was very pretty on the perfume river and with the impressive citadel.
The citadel
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Awesome child posing in the citadel
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People could pay to dress up!
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The perfume river
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A beautiful pagoda outside the citadel, with some tv filming going on...
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The morning was tiring and I wished I had arranged to stay in Hué one more night as it was a lovely town, but I left that afternoon on a bus I had booked to Hoi An.

Hoi An is the food capital of Vietnam, and almost all my favourite dishes (apart from bun cha) originated from here. I checked into Sunflower hotel, which everyone raved about, but turned out to be full of 18 year olds just partying every night...

My first evening in Hoi An I explored the old town, which was so beautiful with hundreds of paper lanterns outside the shops and restaurants, and floating candles on the river.
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Hoi An is also famous for tailor made clothing, and so the following day I went between several of the tailors for quotes and ideas. I ended up getting measured for 2 dresses, 4 bras, 1 bikini, 3 t-shirts, 2 pairs of shorts and a pair of sandals. They took a few days to make, but I am very happy with them, especially the bras which were only $29 each!
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That night I went to a well rated restaurant and had a set taster menu, which was Cau Lau (pork and wheat noodle soup), fried vegetable topped wontons, spring rolls, chicken and prawn stir fry, and white rose (soft prawn filled dumplings). It was amazing! And I splashed out, the whole meal cost about £6!! :P
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Afterwards, I went to a local bar with a pool table and made some friends over a few frames!

The next day I met George at my hostel and we spent the day sight seeing in the town and eating more Cau Lau!
Cau Lau
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A very old bridge!
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In the evening I went to an horrific bar called 'why not bar', the drinks were all you can drink for a one off fee of about £3, so you can imagine how bad they were... I left early!

The following day I decided to check into a new hostel on the beach called 'under the coconut tree'. It was a stunning hostel, right on the beach, will all fittings and beds made from bamboo, probably my favourite hostel in terms of environment so far! I met Cameron here too (who I met in Phong Nha), and we chilled on the beach eating my new favourite fruit; mangosteen.
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My last day in Hoi An, all my clothes were finally ready, and Cameron took me on his bike to collect them, but only after we stopped at a little road side cafe for some Bahn Beo; what I think was a rice noodle cake, topped with peanut sauce and crispy onions, and then you add your own fish sauce and chilli jam.... they were amazing and we had about 8 each!!
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I left that afternoon on a night bus to Dalat, part of the southern Vietnamese highlands. I loved Hoi An, it was a beautiful town with all the lanterns etc, but it has become very touristy because of it. The beach I stayed on was a little further away from the town, and I had heard that the main beach at Hoi An was crowded and full of street sellers. Still, I need to remember that I am also a tourist, and touristy places aren't all that bad, they're usually touristy for a reason and good for the economy, but I hope tourists don't ruin this beautiful town...

Posted by Libbytes 06:21 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hue hoi_an under_the_coconut_tree Comments (0)

Adventuring in Dalat

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From Hoi An, I took an overnight bus to Dalat, which stopped briefly at Nha Trang in the morning; a beach resort which I had heard to steer clear from... a quick peak at the beach confirmed this, as it was this busy at only 7am!
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Upon arriving in Dalat I walked with a friend I had made on the bus to a hostel called Dalat Smile, which quickly became one of my favourite all time hostels! The 3 young Vietnamese guys who owned this recently opened hostel were great hosts. As soon as we arrived we were taught how to brew our own Vietnamese coffee and were invited to eat with them that evening. Although myself and Sarah were too hungry to wait and so we walked into town and ate at a cafe called New Art. The food here was incredible, but it wasn't just a restaurant, it was also an art gallery for a local celebrity artist. After our meal he offered to paint pictures for us using only his hands and watered-down ink. I still have the painting in my bag, ready to hang when I come home!
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The following day I went with Linh (one of the hostel owners) on an 'easy rider' motorbike tour around the area. We were joined by 2 Americans, Rob and Eric, who had their own bikes.
Dalat is famous for it's cool temperature and therefore perfect conditions for growing flowers, vegetables, fruit, coffee and tea. There were greenhouses and terraces covering the hillsides around the town.
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We went first to a coffee plantation where they also produce the famous Vietnamese weasel poo coffee! The weasels don't look too happy about it though, at least coffee tastes nice...
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We bought the cheapest, the most expensive, and a mid range coffee from the cafe upstairs and challenged each other to a blind taste test... We could all taste the differences between them, but blind, we all assumed the cheapest coffee was the weasel poo (and hence most expensive, supposedly nicer) one!! At least I can save some money travelling now!
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After this we visited a rice wine factory to sample wine straight from the distillery... I think I burned my nose hairs off when I smelled it... but the final adjusted wine was not too bad! Linh bought a bottle for us for that evening!
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We drove more through the mountains to a huge and powerful waterfall, I wish I had better photos as this fall was impressively powerful... We walked a trail that Linh knew of, right under the falls and we could hardly move under the wind it generated!
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We ate near the falls and then continued on to a silk factory. The worms were a bit creepy, but the factory was fascinating, especially when Linh told us how much the women get paid... :(
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We then started on our way back, which went through a minority race village. I laughed when I saw a traditional wooden house with a satellite dish on the side! We watched people for a bit, but I felt a little awkward just watching people in their village, they seemed a little bored of being watched, so we left after only a few minutes.
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At some point during the day it had rained, and I think we were inside at the time so hadn't noticed. But the still-in-construction road that we needed to take back had turned into a mud pool... it caused complete chaos in the outskirts of the village, with the local bus getting stuck and people falling off their bikes. I had to get off the back with Linh and walk most of the road... Eric ended up trying to push his bike and lost a flip flop in the process! And every few metres we all had to stop and clear the mud out of the wheels... it was a nightmare (but still an adventure)!
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We arrived back at the hostel cold and exhausted, but luckily we had a delicious dinner waiting for us, cooked by the other hostel guys Winh and Wei. We stayed up drinking and chatting with them.

The next day I did what I came to Dalat to do; Canyoning! I had never heard about this until travelling and meeting other people who recommended it to me. Canyoning is a combination of abseiling, hiking, hiking through rivers and abseiling down waterfalls. I had no idea what to expect, and was quite nervous, but it was incredibly fun!

First we learned how to abseil down a hill side, before getting straight into it and walking through the river, climbing up the hillside and abseiling down a dry cliff face landing in the river...
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This was fine! Then we trekked more to a higher dry abseil, which I had to go first on!
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Next we rode the smaller water falls, on our backs, head first... there were several like this that we walked between in the river.
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After a quick pit stop for lunch we then went to the main activity, the long abseil down a waterfall. I was last four this one, which didn't help with my nerves! We had to take our shoes off and go in just socks, slowly sliding our feet over the rocks. Then when we became horizontal, we took big steps, until around 5m from the water below, where the rock stopped and you had to push off the wall to land safely in the water! Being last, I was able to watch lots of people do this before me, some of which took a very long time, and some who fell over completely!!
Watching others from the top:
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Me doing it!
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And jump!
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From this one we walked to an 11m high platform where you could jump into a pool below, however at this point in the day it was really raining hard and the ground was slippery. To make the 11m jump you had to do a run-up and so most of us chose instead an 8m high platform that required no run-up!

From here we walked to our final abseil, known as 'the washing machine'. In this one you had to abseil a little before the rock fell away and you dangled, slowly lowering yourself into a waterfall. Eventually, the rope ran out and you fell into the waterfall and river, and was pushed under the water and fed along a narrow stream before popping up on the other side next to the waiting group! It was very fun!!

An apparently arty photo the guy took of my group...
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At the end of all this, we then had to walk a steep trail back to the minibus pick up, which took 20 minutes of constant uphill walking. By the end of the day my whole body was aching and I was so tired and drained... luckily for me, the adventure wasn't over...

Based on conversations the previous day, the guys had decided to cook us some traditional Vietnamese food for dinner... field frog, and dog meat!!!

Linh asked if I wanted to watch him prepare the frogs, and when I arrived in the kitchen I realised they were still alive. Linh skillfully prepared them using scissors and his hands and cooked them in a wok with garlic and lime. The dog meat was cooked elsewhere and brought just before eating.
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Dog meat in Vietnam has a bad reputation, but actually the meat is rare and a huge specialty which should only be eaten in a very specific way; rolled in lettuce and wasabi leaves and dipped in shrimp sauce. Actually, it was delicious... as was the frog, and the vegetable spring rolls that are traditionally wrapped in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce... delish!

Dalat was a real adventure for me. I surprised myself by doing Canyoning (which was very scary), and by eating dog meat. And the people that I met here; the artist and the hostel owners, showed me how genuinely friendly Vietnamese people are. I would visit Dalat again despite the crappy weather!

Posted by Libbytes 03:36 Archived in Vietnam Tagged dalat canyoning Comments (6)

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