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Published: February 28th 2008
We are in Hanoi. We arrived this afternoon -- what a shock after beautiful, quiet Laos. We had great weather in Laos -- just the last day was overcast and a bit cool -- but not like this -- we are freezing here in Hanoi. Evidently south-east Asia is having the coldest weather for over 40 years. I planned this trip like a military campaign -- weighing up the pros and cons of going in this month as opposed to the next month -- but you can't plan nature. Anyway we've been lucky so far but I think our luck just ran out. I really wanted to visit Sapa (in the mountains) but after reading a few recent travel journals, I think I will have to cross this off my list. I can finally write whatever I like -- Micha has fallen asleep and is not looking over my shoulder in his role of censor. Anyway, back to Laos -- I really loved the time we spent in Luang Prabang -- it is really laid back, the food is great, the atmosphere is magic and the scenery is breathtaking. Micha got a bit fed up with it because he was having trouble walking -- he had a pedicure and the girl scraped too much skin off his feet. We visited a beautiful water fall and the next day went up river to see the Budha Caves. We had to go up a lot of stairs to get to the top. While recovering at the top we watched the next group of elderly Japanese (or Koreans, probably Korean, not many Japanese here) struggle to the top. It was amazing -- these people were gasping for breath, some of them had walking sticks -- can't imagine why they wanted to do it but they seemed really triumphant on arrival and nobody actually keeled over and expired -- at least not while we were watching. It was a nice trip but I really don't like the organized tours that you have to take to get to different sites but it doesn't seem like there is a choice. So we decided to miss the elephant camp and spent the time walking around the town instead. The market was shopper's heaven but we can't buy much because then we have to carry it. To tell the truth, we can get practically all this stuff at home, at not much more in price. I don't know if it is because the dollar is so low but the prices for hotels and tours are much higher than in the guide books. According to the weather report, it is supposed to clear up tomorrow and then there is supposed to be good weather for about a week so we will take advantage of this and go to Halong Bay and a few other places I want to visit around Hanoi and then I think we will head further south. We had our first experience of a Hanoi scam immediately upon arrival. The taxi driver kept on taking us to different hotels and insisting that the hotel we wanted was full -- I had read about this. It is very confusing -- if a hotel or tour agency is successful then dozens more open with the same name. He finally gave up and dropped us off at the right destination and then insisted we give him double the official price -- I gave him exactly what I had seen written at the airport -- he wasn't very pleased. Our room is on a busy, noisy street -- it all seems to be busy, noisy streets -- lots of people, lots of traffic, lots of shops. We had a bit of a wonder around and started pricing trips -- so far very expensive. We will try and book something tomorrow. I have a computer in my room here but am a bit wary to use it (even though I am using it) because it keeps telling me that the computer is infected by spyware and viruses so I don't want to post any photos in case it screws up my camera -- I am also worried about my passwords being stolen -- we will get back and find that our bank account has been cleared out -- ha, ha, too late -- we already did that! Every street seems to sell only one thing, e.g. tombstone street, underwear street. Tombstone street was interesting. People here seem to eat continually. I don't feel so well today so am feeling slightly annoyed by all the food everywhere. Think I will concentrate on fruit -- fruit is great here. Micha got propositioned by a teenage rickshaw driver -- 5 dollars, 5 minutes. Sad really. Tomorrow we will go on a walking trip around the city -- I think everything will look better in the daylight -- this is supposed to be a very vibrant city -- it is just a real shock to the system after peaceful Laos. We have a television in the hotel room -- and plenty of hot water and heating -- we can only pick up Australian stations which is OK but they tend to have a lot of programs about Australia (I wonder why) -- at the moment there is yet another program about the founder of Australian aviation -- better than yet another program about a cricket hero. I learnt something interesting -- a flight to England from Australia involved about 50 stops along the way and a lot of them were crash landings and I assume most people never made it to their destination. It is midnight now -- it has suddenly become very quiet outside -- there is a curfew here -- 11:30 p.m. -- I heard some shouting over a loud speaker before. Also in Laos, we were a bit too late getting home one night and we saw a policeman going from shop to shop telling them to close up. The hotel staff was waiting up for us in their pyjamas and not too happy -- we never did get to see the monks receiving alms in the morning. Perhaps because we kept the staff up late the night before -- we got up really early and crept down the steps, reached the gate and it was locked! I have missed some fantastic photo opportunities here -- we saw a whole group of teenage monks crowded around computers in an internet cafe -- we had a quick debate of whether to take a photo or not but were too embarrassed. I wanted to take photos of monks -- they are very photogenic in their orange robes -- but I was never quick enough on the draw (getting the camera out of my bag) -- we never had the hutzpa to ask them to pose -- we saw plenty of other tourists that did. I bought a Panasonic Lumix in Bangkok for about $250. A photographer friend recommended the Canon G9 which retails at about $600. Although I am sure it takes great photos, I am glad that I didn't buy it -- the whole photography thing is completely out of hand, everywhere you go people are taking photos -- you can hardly take a photo without hordes of other people rushing over to take the same photo. I see people with professional cameras are always busy with their cameras, in pursuit of the perfect photo -- I think they hardly see anything of the countries they visit apart from what they see through the camera view finder. There are a lot of tourists everywhere. It sure is different from how it used to be. Everybody travels these days -- in Europe we travel in the spring and autumn but here there doesn't seem to be an off season. Thailand is very popular with Europeans and we saw a lot of big tour groups of elderly people in the most unlikely places -- but they have great conditions -- I saw one trip for "pensioners" advertised that seemed really very tempting. Almost looking forward to retirement -- seems you retire and then travel the world in comfort. Can't really complain because we too have been travelling in comfort -- but somehow I think this part of the trip is going to be more difficult -- hope I am mistaken -- I used to think that part of the experience was reaching the destination but now as I approach my 50th, I say to hell with the experience just give me the destination and as much luxury as possible. People change.
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