A Travellerspoint blog

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Land of conical hats and crazy moto drivers!

sunny 31 °C
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When we arrived in Hanoi we decided to stay in the Old Quarter. This is a charming part of the city with a really old colonial feel. Its a maze of narrow streets full of crazy moto drivers, cyclos and women wearing conical hats laden with shoulder poles carrying baskets full of goods mostly selling fruit and veg. We were very lucky with our guest house in Hanoi. We stayed in a really nice place that included free breakfast and internet for only $10/night less than 4euro each! The girls at reception went out of their way to help us and we stayed there for 2 nights. We booked our boat trip with them and got upgraded to the deluxe trip for free! We felt like flashpackers instead of crusty backpackers! So for 3days and 2 nights we headed off on our trip to Halong Bay with 16 others. We were totally spoilt and had 6 staff to look after us on the boat. We met up with 2 lovely guys from Sligo and a couple from Dublin so we all stuck together for the next 3 days and had a fab time sponsored by Saigon Beer! The hangovers on the boat were tough but nothing like a dip in the ocean to kill the pain! Halong Bay is quite touristy but well worth all the hype. There is around 3000 limestone peaks dotted around the bay and the photo that I uploaded doesnt do it any justice! We went kayaking around the peaks and managed to visit some caves too. We stayed on our "deluxe boat" for one night and in a hotel on one of the islands the second night. Once the tour was finished we were dropped off at our guesthouse again back in Hanoi. After saying goodbye to Minh and Linh (the best receptionists in the world!) we made our way south to Hue.
Hue previous capital of Vietnam is pronounced Whey but looks like Hughie! We only stayed in Hue for 2 nights. It is a nice city but there isnt a whole lot to do so we booked a city tour to see all the local sights in one day. By the end of the day we were "tombed out of it". We met up with a nice guy from California called Avi. The only thing was you could hear him a mile away so my ears were bleeding after hanging around with him for the day!
After Hue we got a bus to Hoi An. Only took around 5 hours so we were nt bus lagged by the time we arrived. When we got off at the bus stop our guesthouse had promised us a free pickup! We had two motorbike taxis (known as xe-om in Vietnam) waiting to pick us up. We just about managed to squee on to the back of the bike with our big backpacks and daybags! After all the swerving and racing through red lights it was really good to arrive at our guesthouse alive. I wont be getting the "free pick up" again!
Strangely enough Avi checked into the same guesthouse as us! We stayed in Hoi An for around 5 days and had a fantastic time. Its a really charming old town with a small population. The country roads were safe enough so we decided to rent a motorbike for a few days. It was so nice to have a bit of independance and come and go as we pleased on the bike. We drove out to the Old Cham ruins of My Son which was interesting but the motorbike drive was the highlight! We passed so many paddy fields with farmers wearing conical hats using water buffaloes to plough the land. Hoi An is famous for its silk tailors so after looking around in a few places we decided to get a few clothes made.
Ben s tooth was hurting like hell and he bady needed a filling so we skipped Nha Thrang and caught a plane to Ho Chi Minh. Once we arrived Ben got his tooth sorted so that was a major relief for him.
Ho Chi Minh named after uncle Ho was formely known as Saigon until it was liberated after the Vietnam War in 1975. Ho Chi Minh was crazy compared to Hanoi. I dont think I have ever seen so many motorbikes in all my life. Thousands and thousands of bikes pack the streets with cyclo drivers and bicycles. Crossing the road is really dangerous. No such thing as a pedestrian crossing! You have to walk slowly and all the traffic justs weaves around you! One day it was really bad and I was kinda nervous about taking the risk so an old Vietnamese man took me by the arm and led me across! Some people say Vietnamese people are fiery and mad for dollars but we were really lucky with all the Vietnamese people we met. They were all very good to us. Apart form the crazy moto drivers we really enjoyed Ho Chi Minh. We visited the War Remnants Museum and learnt so much about the Vietnam war. We saw so many heart breaking pictures of people that were born with severe birth defects caused by the Americans use of a defoliant known as Agent Orange. We also did a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. These famous tunnels were where the Viet Cong hid during the war. They cover a distance of up to 200km. We only crawled through around 100m and that was enough for me way to claustrophobic! For a dollar a bullet you could pick from a number of guns and try taking a few shots. Ben decided on an AK-47 and I was terrifed but managed to look on while blocking my ears at the same time. I was going to take a shot but Ben was like a child in a sweet shop and feeling a little trigger happy so I let him off.
We travelled to Mui Ne (thanks again Carmel best advice ever!) by bus to visit the beach for a few days. Mui Ne is a really nice chilled out beach town with hugh sand dunes. We walked through the dunes and tried sand sledding. Ben gave a few dong to the local kids to use their sand boards. It was lovely to chill out by the sea and we ended up staying for 6 days. We hadnt seen a beach since India so it was nice to do nothing for a change. The sea was lovely with good waves and plenty of kite surfers. From Mui Ne it was back to Ho Chi Minh where we said goodbye to Vietnam and hopped on a bus to Cambodia.

Posted by rachelk27 20:15 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Laos (Lao P.D.R.)

A Green & Tropical Paradise!

sunny 38 °C
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The first thing that hit us when we arrived in Vientiane the capital of Laos was the heat. It was like stepping into a hot sticky sauna. Vientiane is like a small town more so than a capital city! Its a really chilled out place with very little traffic. We gave 2 days in Vientiane checking out the local sights. It reminded us of Thailand with a French twist. There were plenty of baguette sellers which made a nice change from all the sticky rice we had eaten! We went to a family restaurant by the Mekong river for dinner where we ate in the family s living room (which was the restaurant!). The family were all glued to some cheesy Thai soap so I was left holding the 3mth old baby!
From Vientiane we travelled by bus to Vang Vieng. It only took around 5 hrs so the journey was fine. Vang Vieng is nt the prettiest of towns, its full of little shacks but the location is beautiful. The town is surrounded by stunning limestone peaks and right beside the Nam Song river. So many travellers come here to try tubing! Basically, you just sit in a tractor tube and "tube" down the river with a beer Lao in one hand and paddle with the other! It was great craic and took us around 4 hrs to tube 3km down the river. Its a crazy place the river is lined with lots of bar shacks along the way. We parked our tubes and stopped at a bar where Ben did the flying fox around 30feet over the river and then jumped in! Id love to have done it but I was too chicken!
From Vang Vieng we hopped on another bus yet again. This journey was horrific!It took us nearly 8hrs to travel less than 200km. At least the scenery along the way was fab but we were so glad to get off the bus when we arrived in Luang Prabang. Travelling in Laos is unbelievably slow because of all the hills and winding roads.
Luang Prabang is a beautiful town set in a dream location. It is full of French colonial buildings, Buddhist wats and colourful markets. We gave around a week in LP chilling out and exploring the surrounding area. It was so hot when we were there so to cool down we shared a tuk tuk to Kuang Si waterfall with a few other travellers. The waterfall was fab full of turquoise pools with crystle clear water. I felt like I was in a Timotei shampoo add under the waterfall and Ben was like Tarzan swinging off a rope and jumping into the waterfall! We had a great day and it was the best way to cool down.
The following day we did a boat trip on the Mekong river where we visited Pak Ou caves. The caves are full of Buddha statues where many monks go to pray.
We had some great nights out in Luang Prabang and met some lovely people. One night we were out with a really sound Aussie couple and had the local Opium drug dealer hanging off us for the night. We just could nt get rid of him!
We were out til about 2am and I got up a few hrs later to watch the monks in the town recieve alms from the local people. At 6am around 300 monks passed our guesthouse all dressed in their saffron coloured robes. It was really cool to watch the monks and I was glad to jump back into bed for another few hrs after getting up so early.
From Luang Prabang we decided to save ourselves the 40hr bus journey to Hanoi so we got an a plane to the capital of Vietnam.

Posted by rachelk27 06:48 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Yunnan Province

A Magical Place!

sunny 23 °C
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Yunnan province is located in the south west of China and has so much to offer the first time visitor. Yunnan is home to around 50% of China s ethnic minorities. People look totally different to the people in some of the other parts of China we travelled through (ie Non-Han).
We stayed in Kumning the capital city of the Yunnan area for 2 nights to sort out our Laos and Vietnamese visas. Kumning is a typical Chinese city modern with big skyscrapers, high street shops and lots of fast food.
From Kumning, we travelled to Lijang by overnight sleeper bus which took around 10hrs. We watched a James Bond movie in Chinese (with Chinese subtitles too) that killled 2hrs off the journey. Poor Ben was far too tall for his bed and his shoulders were too wide so he was squashed into the metal barriers around his bed! Ben didnt have the most comfortable of journeys but I was snug as a bug and slept for a good bit of the journey. We arrived in Lijang at around 6.00am and got a taxi to the old town to try and find our guesthouse. The old town is a maze of cobbled streets and no cars are allowed in so the driver dropped us at the entrance to the old town. We walked around in the dark for around an hour trying to find the damn place! Every where was closed and anybody that we met hadnt a word of English. Eventually we passed a hotel that was open and asked the lady at the reception to give our place a bell. Luckily enough the owner came for us and brought us to the guesthouse!
We were so lucky that the owner found us. Usually we have the name of the place and the address in Chinese but the girls in our last hostel had no English and we forgot to ask somebody else (wont be making that mistake again!). The owner and his family were lovely and very good to us. Our room was fab and only 2euro each a night shame about the squat toilet though. They washed all our smelly manky clothes too for around a euro!
Lijang is a fabulous place to wonder around and soak up the atmosphere. Its full of old Chinese style houses, canals and its also home to the Naxi people. We gave around 2 days in Lijang and got a bus from ther to Shangri La. The bus journey was terrible especially for the first 2hrs and the battery in my iPod went to make matters worse!
At 3200m it was much colder in Shangri La and the air was noticably thinner but nothing like the thin air in Nepal.
Shangri La is home to a large Tibetan population, temples and wild scenery. It felt like the wild west so many people on horses and the men were right looking cowboys! We rented out bikes for the day and cycled around to see all the local sights which included a really old Tibetan temple home to around 600 monks but we only saw around 6 the rest of them must have been hiding out the back. Had a fab time in Shangri La it reminded us of Nepal with the snowy mountains and yaks!
From Shangri La we got a bus to Qiaotou to start the Tiger Leaping gorge trek. We started at around 11.30 and finished walking by around 5 that day. It was a brillant day and we walked through some jaw dropping look out points. The gorge is one of the deepest in the world and it sure did feel like it when we looked over the edge. Probably not the best place to be if you suffer from Vertigo! We stayed in a lovely guesthouse along the gorge trek. Frankie the owner had great time for us and we gave him some good catch phrases to lure more trekkers in so he fed us a few free beers! It was lovely to wake up the following morning overlooking the gorge. We had short walk that morning and made our way to the end point. We got a shared taxi with 2 other Irish girls and a Chinese guy back to the start point Qiaotou village. If ever I thought I was going to die it was in that bloody car. We were right on a cliff face around 2000ft above the gorge and the driver was an absolute lunatic, he was ripping it along the road. He had a serious death wish and I was shouting at him to slow down but he did nt understand me. Luckily enough the Chinese guy told him for me. I was never so terrified in all my life all I could do was close my eyes and hope for the best.
From Qiaotou we got a bus back to Lijang and stayed there for another 2 nights at the same guesthouse. We found it no problem this time around! From Lijang we got another sleeper bus back to Kumning. I had the worst bed on the bus! Bed number 31 never again! Right at the very back of the bus there were 5 beds and I was in the very middle. I had a Chinese guy with his elbow stuck in my head and Ben squashing me from the other side. It was so uncomfortable. We felt every bump on the road along the way. The other sleeper bus was lovely we were very unlucky to get stuck at the back of the bus. Must book the tickets early next time around! We were so happy to arrive in Kumning and get off the bus.
Our last night in China was a sad one :( We both really enjoyed China and all the Chinese people we met along the way were lovely and really friendly. We had some great laughs with them even if they didnt understand us half the time and vice versa!
From Kumning we got on a plane to Vientiane the capital of Loas!

Posted by rachelk27 19:39 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)


Paddy Fields & Limestone Peaks

semi-overcast 23 °C
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The flight to Guilin was fine but we arrived late and I was shattered after the Panda tour and then racing to the airport. We shared a taxi to our hostel with 2 Dutch girls and luckily enough it was in the best part of town.
Guilin is a beautiful city really green and full of parks. It felt tropical and much warmer than the other parts of China we visted. We gave 2 relaxing days in Guilin chiilling out and made a plan for our next trip. We hooked up with 2 German guys and shared a speed boat down the Li river to Yangshuo. The boat trip took around 3hrs and we passed through some amazing scenery huge limestone peaks, fishermen and paddy fields.
We stayed in a lovely guesthouse in Yangshou for around 3 days and Julie the owner made us feel right at home.
The following day we rented bikes from Julie and cycled around the countryside for the day. We made our way towards the paddy fields surrounded by karst limestone peaks. It really was breathtaking and saw what we expected to see from typical rural China. We saw farmers with conical hats using water buffalos as tractors ploughing the land and sowing rice. We got soaked and lost a few times but managed to find our way back to Yangshou. When we arrived back in Yangshou are backsides were in bits from the bumpy roads and we were starved after all the cycling so we headed to our local place for 2 plates of veg chowmein and a few beers to wash it all down!
From Yangshou we travelled around 3hrs by bus to Longsheng to view the Dragons Backbone rice terraces. They were very impressive but it was a very hazy day which made visibility quite poor. This area of the Guangxi province is also home to a colourful mix of Dong, Zhuang, Yao and Miao cultures. We met some of the Miao tribes women and they are serious hardcore sellers. They tried to flog us silver wear and postcards but we managed to fob them off. From the rice terraces we passed through a beautiful old wooden village on the main ridge of the dragons backbone and saw the Miao people go about their daily life. The women have really long hair down to their feet and tie it up in twists on their heads. We met a really sound guy called Barry from Douglas, Cork who knew Ben's face from the Douglas weekly! I never knew I was going out with somebody so famous so we had a good laugh at that and how small the world is getting!

Posted by rachelk27 04:53 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)


Xian and the surrounding area

rain 17 °C
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After a 12 hr train journey from Beijing we arrived in Xian at around 6.00am. The train was really comfortable and nothing like the dirty trains in India no beggars, lepers or dirty toliets. We even had pillows and clean linen sheets on our beds.
The driver from our hostel collected us and we got some much needed sleep. After a rest and some breakfast we strolled around Xian for the day and checked out the local sights which included a very interesting Muslim quarter. The cobbled lined streets were full of butcher shops, dried fruit shops and street vendors. The Chinese in Xian had very little English and trying to order something for dinner that didnt include some sort of animal extremity was very difficult. Ben was tempted to go for the sheeps endtrails or the fried dog but we ended up going somewhere safer for dinner and we were lucky enough to get the old reliable fried veg and steamed rice!
We booked a sight seeing trip to the Terracotta Warriors with our hostel which was a great day out. We were lucky enough to meet the farmer who made the discovery back in 1974 when he was drillling a well on his farmland. He is now employed by the government selling signed copies of his book on the Terracotta warriors.
There are 3 pits opened to the public and pit 1 is the best which includes around 6000 warriors and horses. Supposedly, no two soldiers faces are alike and I would well believe it. It really was mind boggling to see them all but we could only view them from a platform. We didnt exactly get upclose and personal but managed to get some good snaps. We met some lovely people on the tour and Jerry was our guide for the day. I got chatting to an Australian girl Jenny and we both decided to go on the Panda tour!
I couldnt sell the cute Panda bears to Ben so the following day I headed off with Jenny, a Dutch girl Kate and a Czech guy. We all got on really well and had some great laughs during the day.
It was a good 2hr drive from Xian so we left early before the Panda bears fell asleep for the day.
When we arrived at the Panda conservation park we met a number of Chinese vets who were in to do some AI business. Panda bears live such a solitary life and they are even to lazy to mate so the vets dropped by to lend a helping hand. We met an English guy who was working there as a volunteer and gave us some good information on the bears. Some of the bears had been brought in from the wild for rehab after accidents. We saw a cute 18mth old bear who had broken his leg in the wild and he was in for some treatment. They eat so many bamboo shoots and after about 10am they usually sleep for a good part of the day. The panda reserve was well maintained because of the interest from tourists and the government pay money towards its keep but attached to the Panda reserve was a "zoo" more like an institution for some other animals like monkeys, deer and black bears. Their living conditions were appalling no green grass only concrete yards and metal cages. I dont think the Chinese understand the whole concept of animal conservation. Animals are there to be eaten and thats about it.
When we returned to Xian Ben and I were off again. We were very lucky to get a discounted plane ticket to Guilin which was even cheaper than the train so we grabbed it as fast as we could and made our way to Guilin.

Posted by rachelk27 22:45 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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