A Travellerspoint blog

November 2013

Hoi An and My Son

The best $75 dollar spend of my life!

rain 28 °C

We were dropped off at the bus station, where the taxi drivers did not want to take you to your hotel for some unknown reason. They kept suggesting we take an xe om (motorbike 'taxi') who were prepared to do the 1.5km journey for £2 each. How good of them! Baffled as to why the taxis would not take us, we set off on foot before managing to find a taxi who would do it on the meter for a £1.

We walked into town and took a boat ride along the river in a traditional boat. Considering the number of tourists in Hoi An, there was nobody else on the river, so it was lovely and peaceful. Afterwards, we wandered around the old quarter which is pedestrianised (other than a lot of push bikes), admiring the yellow traditional buildings, which had a rustic feel to them with peeling paint. In Hoi An, Vietnamese law states that all properties must hang lanterns out the front, which make the streets very pretty and even more colourful by night. I am quite a fan of this law.

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Hoi An Lantern shop

Hoi An is reknown for its tailoring and also its cusine, often being referred to as the food capital of Vietnam. We looked around a few shops before finding a shoe shop who would custom make knee high boots for $65. My beloved 3 year old boots have been reheeled and resoled that many times that they are now beyond repair. An hour or so later I'd chosen my heel from a basket of hundreds, the leather colour from a massive bundle of swatches and designed them using various parts off different boots in a catalogue. They measured me up, before suggesting I needed to pay an extra $20 as my legs were so long. We got them down to 75 as although normally they make them 36-38cm and I needed 45cm, I doubt the extra leather cost them much more than a dollar. Still, $75 is incredibly good value for knee high boots!

We spent the evening taking night shots of all the lights and the young children selling paper lanterns with candles in to float along the river. Unfortunately these collected along the edge, rather than floating romantically in the middle.

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My Son

We took a boat back to Hoi An and I went to try on my boots. Unfortunately they hadn't started them as the colours I had chosen were out of stock. I was taken to the leather shop where instead of the relatively conservative maroon and deep red pink I had originally chosen, I opted for a purpley pink with dark purple. The boots were to be made in 5 hours.

When we went back, they were there and they were gorgeous! But far too narrow for my chunky duck feet. They were so painful to put on. As it was 7pm, they could not be altered until the morning. I was apprehensive as they had drawn around my foot and measured it, so I couldn't understasnd why there was such a narrow sole on them in the first place. To my surprise, the following morning by 10am they were almost right. I'd have bought them in a shop like that, but seeing as these were made to measure, I had one final alteration and now they have become the best $75 I have ever spent.

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My made-to-measure, custom designed boots!

Today we visited the tourists sites of Hoi An which naturally included a few temples, along with an interesting communal house and former family chapel. There is a beautiful Japanese bridge, with a covered pale pink bridge with a temple on it.

In Vietnam, they seem to be into their community projects, with various cafés up and down the country set up to rehabilitate and educate street children. There is one in Hoi An called Streets, and once again the service was impeccable and the food was full of flavour.

There is also a tea room called Reaching Out, which was founded to allow the enjoyment of tea in silence, and is run by deaf and speech impaired staff. This café is located down one of the quieter streets and all you can hear is the birds singing (and the occasional loud tourist walking past). There is a really nice atmosphere and the whole place is decorated with traditional Vietnamese wood carvings and tea sets. To communicate with the staff, they have a tick sheet to go alongside their menu and cute little wooden blocks with key words written on them in English. They also had a selection of wooden blocks and would use them to serve you your drinks. They serve a variety of local teas coffees and cookies. You could get a cookie tasting selection, which had 10 different varieties of biscuit, with only a couple resembling what we would recognise to be a biscuit. Two of them looked like beige and green tagliatelle pasta. The hot drinks were served in traditional coffee and teaware. If you're in Hoi An, this place is a must as it is our favourite coffee shop by far on the whole of our trip.

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Cookie tasting in the middle of our coffee and tea

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Reaching Out Tearoom

For dinner, we people watched outside morning glory café where the food was once again delicious. We saw a couple be offered a cyclo for 150,000 for just 15 minutes and accept with no negotiation. This is equivalent to about $7.50! We paid $5 for an hour in Hanoi, as recommended in the guidebook, where everything has doubled in price. The cyclo man then called to his friend working in our cafe with a massive grin on his face, gesturing to his pocket, clearly saying to the guy you won't believe how much they paid.

That evening, we returned to our hotel to await our bus to Kon Tum. We had booked a sleeper bus, and weren't sure this would be doing the rounds for the pick ups, as the full sized coach did the other day. Shortly after 6pm, two motorbikes arrived to take us to the bus station and we had our first ride as pillions. It was actually alright, but I was glad when we got there. We knew that Kon Tum is rarely visited by tourists and had been surprised that there was a direct sleeper bus to Kon Tum. Turns out there isn't. We were taken 10 minutes up the road and dropped off at a roadside shop which might have been a bus stop or was a café. We were then told that we needed to go to this man's house as the bus didn't stop there and his wife was on her way to collect us. I was far from happy about this and a bit anxious, but we were currently in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere so didn't have too much choice. We started 100m or so up the road on bikes before the man started saying their was a problem with the woman's bike which I was riding on. It was suggested the man took Chris before returning for me a few minutes later, but I was really not happy about that and refused to be separated. It turned out we were heading back into town and had less than a mile to go and so we walked. We were taken to sit out the front of his shop and waited about an hour for the bus, chatting to the guy about life in Vietnam which was interesting.

We had read that westerners for some reason are sent to the back of the bus so were not surprised to find these were our seats. They seemed comfortable enough and Chris' was good because you have to but your feet under the seat in front, and the gap was not even big enough for my feet but Chris was in the middle and so his feet could stick up nicely. We were the only foreigners on the bus and there were at least 2 pukers. Perhaps you can't get a bus in South East Asia without someone being sick? My seat had a nice half inch perfectly round hole in the window which we had to stuff with a biscuit packet as it let in the rain quite badly. Ah the joys of travelling!

We arrived in Pleiku at 6.30am where the bus terminated for everyone else but we were told ton stay on. After about 10 minutes, the bus took us to a random side street where there was a minibus about to leave for Kon Tum. We found our seats, moved because there was a pile of sick on the floor in the corner (obviously) and were very surprised to arrive in Kon Tum an hour later. We were amazed that all the connections had worked and that we had managed to pay for it all upfront without paying too much commission to have this journey organised for us. It was a little too easy in the end!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 23:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged temples lanterns rain unesco cyclo my_son boots tailors Comments (1)

Stopover In Danang, En Route To Hué

Travelling from Danang to Hué on the Reunification Express along the Hai Van Pass

rain

There's not too much to do in Danang, so the majority of travellers only pass through here in order to get the bus south to Hoi An, which has no airport and is not on the train line. We were just stopping for the night as the flight was the same price as the 16 hour train from Hanoi. With hindsight, we could have easily got to Hué on the train that evening, but actually Danang looks pretty good by night.

There is a new bridge across the river called the dragon bridge, which by day is a golden dragon winding its way across the bridge and by night is completely lit up, with about 5 different colour sequences, which change by travelling from the dragon's head, slowly along the length of its body. In the opposite direction, there is a brightly lit up hotel with a rainbow pattern down the side. Just next to this there is another bridge which is constantly changing colour and even has a rainbow phase.

The following day we took the lunchtime train 3 hours north to Hué. This train was just over halfway through its 40 hour journey travelling from Saigon to Hanoi. There were only sleeper berths, so Chris and I had a cabin to ourselves with 4 fairly comfortable beds. It was a lot nicer than the Thai sleeper train and tickets are generally cheaper too. This was probably our most comfortable journey to date, all for £4.

About half an hour after leaving Danang, you arrive at a section of the track known as the Hai Van Pass, which is a viewpoint across the bays between the mountains. For about 15 minutes, you were travelling along the most picturesque stretch of railway I have seen in my life. Even the locals were out of their cabins to look out the windows on the other side of the carriage. It was definitely worth a night in Danang to see this stretch by day as the bus back down to Hoi An took the tunnel instead.

Once again on arriving to Hué we were offered the 150,000 tourist taxi but finally got one to do it on the metre. Even at his attempt to take us round the block (I soon set him straight, it was clearly an accident.....) The metre stopped at 42k.

Hué is a historical town, with its walled Imperial City. We spent the morning here wandering around looking at the various temples and decorative gates into the different sections of the walled city. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is still undergoing a lot of its restorations, so a lot of it still looked quite neglected.

Afterwards, we tried to get lunch in a really quirky coffee shop called 'his and her'. It was set up to look like a 1950s living room. We asked if they did food and they brought over a menu only in Vietnamese. We questioned the two sections, coffees and yoghurts, and the guy asked if we understood Chinese as they had the menu in Chinese. We wondered how often western people actually respond that they do because clearly it's unlikely we would. We ordered a coffee with milk and a cappucino. Both were disgusting, Chris' was made with condensed milk and mine was cold. Attempt number two at lunch (which made Chris' trip) was KFC to avoid the pouring rain.

KFC's slogan is 'finger lickin' good', which is slapped all over their burger boxes and is written on their plates. Being a linguist, I like when slogans don't work in other countries and this is one of the best I have seen to date. In Vietnam it is inredibly rude and dirty to lick your fingers while or after eating and is compared to 'eating like a cat or dog' therefore it is just not done.

In the afternoon, we visited Minh Mang and Tu Duc's mausoleums in the pouring rain. Both mausoleums were next to beautiful lake settings and included various different temples en route to whoever was buried there. At the second one, we were soaked through our raincoats the rain was that bad.

We dried off in our hotel before going for a very nice meal at a restaurant called 'Zucca', where you get a free beer, bruschetta and fruit. The main courses were also delicious, sizeable and cheap.

The following day we took the bus south to Hoi An.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:52 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay Junk Boat Cruise

Our 3 day trip with Ethnic Travel

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While sitting for our bus to pick us up, a couple of shoeshiners came over and started trying to mend the holes in Chris' Vans. Seeing as they were beginning to look a bit desperate, he decided to let them and before you knew it, they had lent him a pair of flip flops for him to wear while they were fixed and they were busy with the glue and the thread. They did a pretty good job, apart from they used brown thread on his blue Vans. They also re-soled the heel for him. They scrubbed them clean before suggesting this work should have costed £12 but didn't seem too fussed when we only have them £3. Clearly we still overpaid, but a shoeshine alone is supposed to be £1. Let's see if it makes them last!

Our 4 hour journey to Halong Bay involved a pukey Christopher who had had a bit of a funny tummy since yesterday and our driver being pulled over by the police and fined for infringing goodness knows which one of their nonexistent traffic laws. According to our guide it was for crossing the white line, which everyone had to do to pass us while we were stopped. He was fined 500k, which is about £15, which is a lot of money in Vietnam!

We boarded our very nice junk boat with 11 other people in our group and began our journey through the gorgeous limestone towers, which make up the stunning scenery. We travelled for about 2 hours before reaching a floating village where we got onto a 4 man rowing boat and were given a tour around, during which, it was a little chilly and Chris announced that he'd forgotten what it felt like to be cold, even though it was not as cold as the day we spent in england at the end of October. After that, we travelled for another hour before stopping for the night.

The following day, we rose at 7am and headed out straight away on the kayaks and spent an hour exploring the caves and the rocks around where we had spent the night. Before breakfast, we returned to the boat and took a quick swim, jumping off of the boat. The air was quite cold, but the water was warm. As we ate breakfast, the boat headed back towards Halong Bay, where we took a minibus through various towns for 90 minutes in order to board a boat to Bai Tu Long Bay. As we got closer to the dock in Halong Bay, there were so many more boats than we had seen on the whole of our trip.

Bai Tu Long Bay is a lesser visited bay, which is very similar to Halong Bay. As we headed out, some of the clouds began to break and the sun shone through onto the rocks, making it even more stunning than it already was. We stopped en route for 40 minutes to explore the rocks on the kayaks again before continuing on to Quan Lan island where we spent the night.

We stayed in a guesthouse and helped prepare and make the spring rolls for dinner.

The following morning, Chris and I got up at 5.30am to go to the fish market at the top of our street. The boats had not long arrived and were unloading their fish. Some of the locals were desperate to show us their catch and one really wanted us to take pictures of what he'd caught, which was really sweet. Although they get groups of tourists staying in their island every night, they probably don't get too many head down to the market at dawn.

After breakfast, there was the option of a bike ride in the mud and rain or a tuk tuk ride along the same route. With the memories of our bike ride last week in the mud and rain in Laos still clear in our minds, we opted for the tuk tuk ride to the beach. The beach was a gorgeous white sand beach which I would imagine on a hot sunny day would be like paradise.

At 11, we started sailing back to Bai Tu Long Bay, in order to take the minibus to Hanoi. We arrived back on shore at 1.30pm and had a long 6 hour drive back to Hanoi through quite along stretch of roadworks.

If you get the chance to go to Halong Bay, I would completely recommend Ethnic Travel for a mid-range budget trip as they travel further out of the bay, so there were no other boats around us at night. They also own their junk boats, so you will get what you pay for. Just take a cushion as the bench seats get a bit numb! That's my one critiscm of Ethnic Travel.

The following day, we visited Hao Lo prison, which was used for both political prisoners and American POWs during the 20th century. Naturally it looked pretty grim, but there were some images used for the media by the Vietnamese which portrayed prison life as being a very pleasant and enjoyable experience.

At midday we took a taxi to the airport in order to catch a flight to Danang. We knew it should have been about $15-18, so approximately 350,000 VND. Our metre was showing 352k when we arrived, but for some unknown reason, our taxi driver only charged us 300k. We had to keep checking the 200k note we'd received as change to make sure we hadn't miscounted the zeros and it was in fact only 20k. It's strange being in a country where as a tourist, you are there to be ripped off and then have a taxi driver voluntarily under charge you!

The other end in Danang, the 50k taxi was not available for less than 150k. Eventually we managed to get one for 40k from outside the airport. There must have been nearly 100 taxis hidden round the corner waiting for their tourist....

Posted by Roaming Rolts 02:23 Archived in Vietnam Tagged boat cruise bay halong junk taxis bai Comments (0)

Hanoi, Vietnam

Learning how to cross the road all over again!

overcast 25 °C

We realised that our flight from Vientiane to Hanoi was the first time we had taken a flight on this trip and for it to have been just one flight with no connections. It was really nice to only be travelling for an hour. Our flight WS so efficient that it started heading to the runway before everyone was in their seats! There must have been a good 20 people in the aisles still looking for their seats.

We had a transferred to our hotel in Hanoi, which took about 45 minutes. On the motorway, their had been an accident, in which the driver of a moped had been killed and was laying covered at the roadside. As we went past, our driver asked me to drop some money out of the window. He didn't speak English, so I wasn't sure if I was supposed to hand it to the police as I had yet to see the body so assumed it could have been some sort of pay off. It turns out you drop the money for luck.

We arrived at our hotel, where our bags were carried in for us. We were not used to this! We checked in, found our very nice room and then a few minutes later our bags were brought up to the room. I could definitely get used to this!

The following day, we wandered around the old quarter before heading to lake Hoan Kiem in the centre and visiting the temple in the middle. Afterwards, we went for a coffee overlooking the fountain and a pretty major junction. We sat mesmerised by all the scooters weaving in and out of each other, avoiding the odd pedestrian and car.

We decided to brave the roads and took a cyclo tour around the old quarter. A cyclo is a bike with a sort of seat carriage on the front. We were very low down in this and it was quite unnerving having car bonnets coming right at you. After lunch, we did a little more exploring, went to see the oper hour and meandered our way through the French quarter.

We stopped for another drink on the terrace overlooking the square and fountain and this time watched the rush hour traffic. Never have we seen so many scooters!

In the evening, we had tickets for the water puppet show, which was definitely different and a little strange. It was entertaining to watch and very clever how much they moved the puppets. Some of the sketches were quite comical and some included fireworks.

The following day, we took a taxi across town to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Mihn. Our taxi dropped us off on the opposite side to the entrance in front of the mausoleum, and so we followed the signs along what felt like a never ending trip right around the back, past a couple of different entrances before finally finding the real entrance, where everybody else's taxis were dropping them off. You're escorted around the area where the queues would be on a busier day (weekends and holidays) by very well dressed guards. Once at the entrance to the mausoleum, there are more guards making sure you are silent to pay your respects to uncle Ho. Inside, it is very eerier. Ho Chi Minh is in centre, raised up to eye level in a glass tank. Having died over 40 years ago in 1969, he looks more like a wax work. As we walked round, single file, without stopping, the lady in front began sobbing, which by the halfway point had become hysterical crying.

In the afternoon, we visted the temple of literature, the historical education centre of Vietnam, and the military museum which showed Vietnam's 20th century history and included quite an impressive collection of war planes and helicoptors.

In the evening, we tried out one of the corner street bars where the beer was 10 thousand dong for about 350ml, so bout 30p. Seven drinks later, we'd racked up a whopping tab of 70k, less than £2.50.

We ventured back to our hotel and packed ready for our trip to Halong Bay the following morning.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 08:06 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Vientiane, Laos

Final few days in Laos, in the capital city.

Vientiane is the capital of Laos; however it once again feels like a relatively small town rather than a capital as we would know it. It sits on the Mekong overlooking Thailand. We had initially got our hopes up that there could be some decent shopping as there were two malls marked on the map. It turns out that a mall in Laos is actually just an indoor market.

Our bus journey from Vang Vieng to Vientiane was a little eventful. After driving our of town for 10 minutes, we suddenly turned round and started heading back the way we came, we were almost back at the bus station when the bus turned around again, stopping to pick up a few Lao families from the side of the road. Who knows what had gone on there!?

Second attempt to go lasted a whole 30 minutes before half the Loatian people needed to get off at the side of the road for the toilet, and another half an hour after that before two of them started to be sick all down themselves. When we made an official toilet stop an hour later, we were genuinely wondering how long this 3 hour journey would end up lasting, and were pleasantly surprised it went without incident and took only 3½ hours.

Chris' Guest Curry Review

On arrival, we were pretty hungry so went for our first Indian since leaving the UK. We were initially sceptical judging by the plastic chairs and tables but it turned out to be one of the best curries we've ever had. The onion pakoras we had to start came with an unidentified but delicious sauce (green but not minty). For main, my Rogan Josh was perfect. Slightly sweeter than England but not to its detriment. Enjoyed with a slightly buttery and slightly crisp garlic naan. Zoë went for a Korma but it wasn't coconutty enough. That'll teach her to read the menu. All washed down with a Beer Lao. If you ever find yourself in Vientiane, check out Taj Mahal, you won't be disappointed.

After lunch, we wandered around town, questioning how we would manage to fill two days here. The following day, we visited Lao's history museum, which included some interesting modern technology pictures, which looked really dated by our standards. We spent the afternoon planning our trip to Australia and people watching in a very nice coffee shop.

The following day, we had a flight booked to Hanoi in the evening. We visited the morning market first thing before walking up to the Vientiane equivalent of the Champs Elysees to their version of the Arc de Triomphe. Afterwards, we took a tuk tuk up to That Luang, a stunning golden temple which reflects the sun. I would imagine that normally this is a pretty impressive temple; however today is the first day of the Lunar festival, which basically meant a 100 metre stretch of road in front of the temple was closed off for stalls, who were all playing loud music and/or using a microphone to shout goodness knows what over the top. The whole place was littered with rubbish, and it actually felt more like a desperate fair ground on its final day than a calming Buddhist festival.

With our ears still ringing, we had another coffee before taking a tuk tuk to the airport.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 08:55 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vang Vieng, Laos

Tubing capital: hopefully the wettest place we will visit!

rain 35 °C

We arrived in Vang Vieng after a long 7 hour bus ride through the mountains, which we were told would take 5, 6 at most hours. It was an incredibly uncomfortable, hot bus.

Vang Vieng used to be very much a party town for backpackers stopping off en route to the capital Vientiane. It is famous for its tubing down the river, which over the last decade has become increasingly more alcohol fueled, with bars lining the entire stretch of the river offering free shots to anyone who stops for a drink. (Everyone.) With this, there were various slides, zip lines and jump ropes into too shallow water. Mixed with all the alcohol and a lot of drugs, unsurprisingly there were 32 deaths last year by October. The president, tired of getting calls from various embassies headed down to the river with the army and ripped the whole lot down, leaving only 3 bars along the river. This has meant a lot of backpackers do not even bother stopping here, and no longer do 1000 travellers pass through the town daily.

On the river it was really peaceful and relaxing, sitting in a rubber ring as we floated down the river. The first bar is within metres of the start point and didn't look that appealing. We think we could have been the only people to have not stopped. The second bar was half an hour down the river and we stopped here for a couple of beers. We were some of the first to make it to this bar, and most arrived about an hour later. Here, there was a rock to jump off which did go into very deep water, and the guy in charge of helping the people on rings stop was more than happy to demonstrate his moves. After about 5 minutes of jumping in, one of the other workers said a something to him in Lao and he went off and put his lifejacket on - safety first!

Chris and I left this bar after a couple of hours and enjoyed the 2½ hour float back to Vang Vieng. It was a lovely hot day, which is apparently unseasonal for this time of year, which made it very pleasant floating along the river in our wet clothes. Mum, you would absolutely love this as it's just sit in a ring and float down the river, admiring the spectacular scenery.

Following a recommendation by another couple at our guesthouse, we went out for dinner at 'Whopping Burger', where we had the best burgers ever. You had 2 homemade patties cooked either plain or with teriyaki sauce. There was a bit of salad in the biggest bap ever and no need or any sauce as the burger was so delicious.

The following day we hired mountain bikes and cycled 13 km out of town to visit some caves. The sign for the first cave was a homemade sign stating Tham Pha Thao, big and nice. You pay your 85p entrance fee, handed a torch and left to venture the cave alone. Inside, there are absolutely no signs of it being a tourist attraction. There is no lighting of any description, not even to guide you to the exit. The cave is split onto various different levels, with sections of low ceiling so if your torch did die on you, you would have absolutely no chance of getting out and just have to wait and hope someone else came. In the half hour we were there, no one else joined us, but 2 girls asked us the way after we came out.

The second cave, Tham Kiao was just a kilometre up the river through a village. As soon as you went into this one, you could hear the running water. About 50m in, you had to walk up the water, which came up to our knees. As we continued, the water level varied from ankle deep to waist deep. For one section, you couldn't walk down the middle and it was up to our chests at the edge. We carried on for about 500 metres, going through various different chambers until we made it to one chamber, which had a really big rock glistening in our torchlight in the middle of the cave. We decided to turn back as there was now the occasional bat flying around, and we were worried the torches might run out of battery. Also we had heard another group come into the cave but think they may have stopped at the beginning of the water. This cave carries on for 2km.

Our shoes were very sandy on the inside and so we decided to do as the locals do and washed our shoes and socks I'm the river. We did get a few strange looked from the villagers!

We set off on our bikes and cycled about 7 km back towards town before turning off to see some waterfalls. This next dirt road was quite hilly and took quite a while as neither of our bikes was particularly good; my gears didn't work properly and Chris once again had a slight puncture. He always picks the one with a puncture, or is it just he's too heavy for these poor bikes? As we were leaving the caves, it had begun to spit, which we had thought would be nice and refreshing and would keep us cool; however as we headed towards the mountains, this turned into a torrential downpour, and the road into a mud bath. After about 5 minutes, we found a tree to take shelter, although we were already soaked through, again. After about 10 minutes of huddling under the tree, jealous of the herd of cows with the better tree next to us, we decided to carry on as it showed no signs of passing and we were as wet as we could be.

The rain did ease off and about 45 minutes later we were at the turn off for the waterfalls, with our bikes and legs caked in mud. On the final 100m to the entrance, the heavens opened (if they can in a Buddhist country?) and we were once again dripping wet. We sat under a shelter for 10 minutes before thinking what's the point and heading up to the waterfalls.

There were a couple of average waterfalls with pools for swimming in. If it was still a hot and sunny day, then we think they would have been really nice. We spent about 10 minutes there before heading back to the entrance to pick up our very muddy bikes.

The ride back to town was a lot flatter and we stopped off on the way and washed our bikes in a lake. We probably got fewer strange looked for this than we did earlier for rinsing our socks and shoes! In total, we cycled 25 miles with well over half of that on dirt roads.

We topped Chris' bike up with air to disguise the puncture before returning the bikes and taking a lovely hot shower.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 22:22 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Luang Prabang, Laos

What a funny name!

sunny 40 °C

We set about exploring Luang Prabang the following day. Luang Prabang sort of reminds me of San Pedro de Atacama, as all of the signs are wooden and use the same yellow letters to name the place, all made out of wood. I like places which aren't overridden with advertising.

En route to breakfast we stopped off at a temple which was holding a morning service, with monks sat around in front of the Buddha shrine. This seemed to be quite an informal service, with a few of the locals joining in.

For breakfast, we ended up at a French café, where I had the most delicious savoury pancake, filled with smoked salmon, cream and lime.

Afterwards we wandered down to the river just in time to see a group of monks washing on the opposite bank. There was also a man fishing out of his long boat, throwing a whole net into the water and seeing what he managed to catch.

We walked along the river, stopping off at Laos' most spectacular temple Wat Xieng Thong. This temple had black walls inside with intricate gold leaf drawings covering the walls from floor to ceiling. In the middle was a lovely golden Buddha .

Afterwards we took a boat across the river to Chompett district, which is a more authentic example of a traditional Laos town. Here the main road was a dirt track and the buildings were more like huts,with no glass in the window frames, not that you need it. We walked along one of the main residential streets which was narrow with deep moats running along the side for drainage. All around there were various cockerels and the odd stray dog roaming freely.

Back on mainland Luang Prabang, we headed up the hill to a temple called Phousi, which overlooked the city and Mekong. The views over Laos were magnificent with vast forests covering the mountains. In the distance amongst all the trees stood a golden temple, glistening in the setting sun. We had hoped to watch the sunset up here but it was so ridiculously busy, we decided to head down to the water's edge, where we arrived with about 10 minutes to spare. As we watched the sun go down, there were a couple of men in the water up their necks washing out their fishing nets.

For dinner, we took a little rowing boat across the Mekong to this bamboo hut restaurant, hidden on the hill behind the bamboo trees. It was a beautiful setting, with scatter cushions on the floor and low level tables. There were pretty little romantic red and white paper lamps on the tables and the whole restaurant was on various different levels along the hill. We had a really delicious meal here; Chris had an interesting woody buffalo stew and I had a whole fish of some variety in lemon sauce.

After this , we headed back across the river and walked back to our guesthouse through the night market.

Tomorrow morning we are taking the bus to Vang Vieng.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 03:15 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Slow Boat Along the Mekong

Travelling across the Thai border down to Luang Prabang, Laos on a 2 daddy slow boat along the Mekong

semi-overcast 30 °C

We took a mini bus to the Thai border town of Chiang Khong, stopping off in Chiang Rai to visit the truly stunning White Temple. Over the last few weeks and in Japan, we have seen a lot of different types and style of temple, but neither of us was expecting this temple. We had both imagined a plain temple, which had been rendered and its beauty would be in its simplicity. It turned out that the White Temple was one of the most intricately decorated we have yet to see. Its neutral bright white made it stand out with its intricate plaster work and glass tiles for decoration.

After spending the night at the border, we set off on Saturday morning at 8.30am to travel across the river to Laos. We then booked our tickets for the slow boat to Luang Prabang. We boarded the boat and were surprised by how comfortable the boat was as we had heard some pretty uncomfortable stories of people sitting along the wooden deck of the boat. We were on mini bus seats which had been placed on the deck.

The scenery along the Mekong was gorgeous and travelling outdoors on a boat rather than couped up in some air tight bus was lovely. We travelled for 6 hours on the first day, before stopping for the night at Pakbeng.

On arriving at Pakbeng, Chris and I split up as we'd heard stories of people sleeping in a freezing cold barn when they'd run out of accommodation. I looked around 5 pretty awful rooms before managing to find a clean one that didn't look too horrible. As it turned out, the electric went off during the night and in the morning. Plus there was no cold water so the toiled didn't flush, and the shower was scalding hot. At least we had water as others in the guesthouse did not!

The second day was a lot longer, with more stops for the locals during the 8 hour journey. Again the scenery was stunning, with luscious green forests, water buffalo grazing at the water's edge and the occasional waterfall.

We arrived at the port at about 4.30pm and took a tuk tuk into town with a man who according to Chris sounds like Brains from Thunderbirds. He updates maps online and includes bus and train timetables, trying to keep the information up-to-date. His website is www.hobomaps.com and he gave us maps for our stay in Laos. They're very detailed maps, showing all the accommodation for each town.

For dinner, we went to a barbecue buffet place where every table has their own little barbecue and you go up to the buffet table to get your raw meat. There were plenty of different types of meat and fish and a good variety of salads, rice and noodle dishes to go with it. We'll only have ourselves to blame if we're ill tomorrow, unless the meat was off!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:58 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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