We are relaxing and recharging on the sleepy Isle of Wight at the moment. We have our hands on our trusty laptop and are putting the finishing touches to our portfolios ready to enter the brave new world of paid employment! Excessive pints at the yacht club last night limited our productivity today but we are tearing through the work now.
We have also managed to download the rest of our photos and so I will be updating posts with some images back as far as Saigon. Will also try and get some onto Flickr but as we are too tight to pay for the full version it may take a while.
We are currently ensconced in Bethnal Green, London. Flight from KL was eneventful though long (allowing me to catch up on more than my required fill of trashy movies) and after a requisite breakdown on the tube we were pretty tired by the time we arrived at our friends place.
We are sorting out a few administrative tasks and generally relaxing and exclaiming about excessive prices for a while, before putting nose to grindstone. We will be heading to my uncle’s house on the Isle of Wight for some focused work on our portfolio later in the week. At this stage it looks like we will head for Scotland mid next week, subject to our productivity!
Thankfully(???) our arrival has signalled the end of any warm weather so the cold up north shouldn’t be too much of a shock. Apparently according to family connections a hockey team even awaits me – no rest for the wicked!
We enjoyed the feel of Hanoi quite a lot, if not the sales tactics of the locals. As aficionados of alleyways Hanoi was our paradise, with little streets teeming with life fronted by tall skinny houses, french villas, intriguing passageways leading to courtyards and other mysterious spaces. Shops and restaurants occupied the most minute spaces – including corridor wide spaces that barely left any space to walk through, and street vendors and motos filled any remaining free space.
After two months however, the constant harrassment by touts, shopkeepers and motorbike drivers had taken its toll and we reached our limit of ‘you buy, you buy, you buy from me’ about half a day before we left. We are now chilling out in Kuala Lumpur before our final leg into London tomorrow.
Halong Bay was quite spectacular, though not quite as beautiful or isolated as ‘Indochine‘ had led us to believe. That may have had to do with the fact we were on a boat with 14 other people (the bay can only be visited with organised tours) and that there were about 50 other ‘same, same, but different’ three storey floating gin palaces most places we visited. It is the sort of place that would be absolutely magical to explore by kayak or small boat but it was not to be.
At the very least we had a great group of people to hang out with, which made life quite fun. The days were spent kayaking into hidden grottos, exploring caves and swimming in the milky green water (via the 3 storey roof of our boat), but it was after dark that things got a little bit crazy, possibly due the consumption by the rest of our group of cheap vodka peddled from little coracles that swarmed the boat whenever we stopped. It started off with a spot of nightswimming (still from 3 storeys up mind you), branched into pirate raids on neighbouring boats, took a strangely bizarre turn when we were visited by a bunch of naked americans (who joined us jumping off the roof – much to Chhay’s amusement) and finally decended into chaos as people hijacked a group of visiting night kayakers (who later staged a retaliatory raid).
Despite being herded like cattle for much of the trip, it was actually quite enjoyable and we met a few interesting people that we will be able to catch up with later in the UK.
Nursing a sore backside, we are currently nestled away in Hanoi’s Old Quater with a million other tourists. Makes quite a change from our previous locale of Sam Neua, in the wilds of Laos where there were a grand total of six foreigners (and that was a busy day apparently).
Having survived a 10 hour night bus (picture a 70’s style school bus – vinyl upright seats – no head or arm rests and a windy road through the clouds at breakneck speed), and had a couple of hours sleep we explored the caves where the Pathet Lao elites sheltered in style while the rest of the country was bombed to pieces. They were quite interesting little spots tucked away in grottos with airtight safety rooms, living quaters, garages, connecting tunnels (power cut while we were there so we crawled through in the pitch black!) and even a giant performance space for inspiring the comrades. Not to forget the Chinese embassy which had its own cave!
We approached our epic bus ride yesterday with much trepidation, – unsure of what connecting transport lay over the border – if any. In the end the trip was quite easy though long asour bus continued over the border to a major Vietnamese city. After a 6 am start, a morning of breath taking scenery and a windiness factor that blitzed all previous records, by about 2 o’clock I was ready to arrive. Unfortunately we still had 6 hours and a couple of transport changes to go!! We made it in the end and thankfully have put the last of our extensive bus travel behind us.
A couple of days in Hanoi and a boat trip to Halong Bay are all that remain before we are on our way to London!
We are currently engaged in mental and physical preparation for a night bus trip through the back woods of Laos – lots of meditation to block out Lao pop at full volume and yoga to fit into the most miniscule seats imaginable and try to sleep… and those couple of Beer Laos for internal fortitude won’t go astray either.
We have spent most of today investigating several sites in the Plain of Jars – lots of enigmatic stone pots scattered around on hillsides. It is all quite interesting and a little spooky. The surrounding countryside is very different to the rest of Laos – in many ways it reminds me of Australia. Lots of bare roling hills and even stands of eucalypts. Of course the Australian landscape generally doesn’t have rice paddies on any flat sections and certainly is missing bomb craters from the American (Vietnam) War dotting every hill and unexploded ordinance littering the place.
The bus ride into this region was quite interesting, very high on the windiness scale again and with lots of quite poor Hill Tribe villages clinging precariously to the sides of hills along the road. They were full of dirty children and beligerent blokes nursing guns staring at us – and this time unlike our previous Lao bus trips we didn’t have our own gun toting chap in the back seat.
Luang Prabang was a bit of a wash-out – very enjoyable but we didn’t get to as much stuff as we had planned because of the weather. Now – back to that yoga…
This post is coming to you from the war zone that is Luang Prabang! It’s the end of Buddist Lent and there are firecrackers and rockets going off all around us. It is all in good fun, with boats being set alight and floated down the river and garlands of orange flowers bedecking everything. We have had a few close calls and the bangers certainly aren’t helping my headache but it isn’t quite as wild as the Diwali celebratiosn we experienced in Delhi.
There isn’t much else to tell you yet about this town – we only arrived at sunset today. It is World Heritage listed and in our limited wandering tonight seems to have lots of interesting French Colonial buildings for us to explore.
We spent yesterday in the backpacker Mecca of Vang Vieng, a town in an amazing setting – fantastic mountains wreathed in clouds bursting out of brilliant green paddy fields – spoilt by lots of louty tourists. We squirmed and swam our way through several caves in the morning before I pretended I was 21 again and cruised down the local river on a tractor inner tube, jumping off some crazy 4 m high swings on the way.
Our bus ride today was absolutely breathtaking – by far the windiest and most scenic that we have experienced. I can only hope that they continue to be as good as today as we have about 30 hours of bus travel ahead of us in the next week!
Currently parked in Vientiane awaiting our exhorbitant Vietnamese visa. Luckily there is an end-of-monsoon festival happening at the moment so there is plenty going on (although the monsoon seems not to have realised that it has ended – it rained all morning). I think we will miss the dragon boat racing that is the culmination of the festival, but we saw them out training at sunset today – they are incredibly long – about 40 paddlers by my estimate with at least 5 freeloaders standing up throughout the boat.
Luckily for us we haven’t missed the Lao pop blasting from the riverside discos nor the various barbequed delights on offer – crickets, duck embryos and various other unidentifiable treats!!!
Vientiane is a very chilled out place – lots of cafes and bars, and barely any traffic to speak of (a little like Adelaide perhaps??). It is quite a pleasant space to hang out in although we weren’t anticipating staying as long as we now have to because of our visa.
Tomorrow we are hiring a motorbike and heading out into the surrounding countryside on a bit of an epic trip – hopefully we will be able to reach the places we are aiming for although several local’s have expressed their skepticism.
We have finally made it in to Laos, after being delayed for a day by a typhoon – our hotel had no power for most of the day, the street outside was completely flooded and it was raining continuously so we resorted to devouring the dreadful collection of chick lit and airport thrillers in the hotel’s book collection. Things were so grim our hotel even ran out of rice!
The bus trip today was a relatively uneventful 9 hour cruise on a rusting death trap. In addition to about 10 passengers we also carried a wide variety of foodstuff (none live thankfully), some steel pipes that rolled around in the passageway of the bus with every turn and what seemed to be about half a tractor.
Most of the countryside was under water for the first part of the journey – the typhoon caused a fair bit of damage. Once we reached the mountain passes into Laos the views were spectacular with crazy torrents rushing through all the valleys and misty mountains on all sides.
We are bunking down in Savannakhet in southern Laos for the evening – it is full of interesting French Colonial buildings which we are planning to explore tommorrow before heading on to Laos’ capital Vientiane.