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Published: January 31st 2009
Well we arrived into Bangkok to start our journey. It is great to be back in this city. There is something about the atmosphere and people that is just electric. As per usual we check into the Atlanta hotel. For those unaccustomed to the Atlanta it looks like it is straight out of a Humphry Bogart movie. It was built in the 50's and hasnt changed a bit... please upgrade the bathrooms!
We stay for a few days and vist a few places such as the tourist trap of the floating markets. We have Christmas away from NZ which is always hard as usual however I now own a brand new tux courtesy of my Thai tailor.... Merry Xmas Vietnam
Am so starts the real travel. We fly into Hanoi on the 26nd of December along with the Thai soccer team. They are off to play Vietnam in Vietnam after already losing the first game of a two test series.
Upon reaching Hanoi the communist culture starts seeping out. There are military personel everywhere with a very much look at me, I rule the world attitude. I think if I ever go to Nth Korea this would
be what it would look like. After getting a bus into the city the chaos really begins. I dont think I have ever seen that many scooters in all my life in just the one hour trip into the city. There are no joking hundreds of thousands of these guys jamming the streets. All wearing burberry designed helmuts with Gucci seat trim (All authentic of course). A very official sign tells me that there have been 130 odd fatalities in the last year... Yeah Right! In Ho Chi Min the number is in the thousands, gotta get used to the propaganda I suppose.
Hanoi is every way like I imagined, the rain falls ceaselessly, the streets tiny and packed with people, scooters, sellers and oh my gosh tourists; thousands of them. The food is great however Elyse has developed a tummy bug and is imprisioned in the hotel. I take to the streets and visit the Ho Chi Min mussuleum. More communist garbage, cant go this way, go that way, stand up bag here, now pictures... by the way we are closed! So I dont see the big cheese but after the dramas I dont think I want too.
The mood does liven up when Vietnam beats Thailand to take the asean soccer cup, the streets are packed with supporters and the alcohol is a flowing.
We manage to pack in a couple of trips around Hanoi during our time there. We take a swiss cable car into the highlands to see a ancient pagoda and also get two old ladies to paddle us through a series of underground caves at Tam Coc. Halong Bay
The highlight of our trip here was Halong bay. Halong bay is the top ranked tourist site in the world and justifiably so. Out of the bay guts huge Karst cliffs that defy gravity engulfed in tropical forest. We cruise the shores aboard what is termed a 'junk' boat. It is like a floating teak houase complete with luxury rooms and 'only for show' sails. We sail the waters are kayak through caves to grottos and hidden bays, what a place.
** New Years
Well the way timing goes we were placed on a tropical island for the new years festivities at Halong Bay. We here greeted with a bbq dinner and then the festivities begun. Vietnamese worker became
friends tonight as we had karaoke and dance contest. Was an amazing time having fun with the locals getting down to upside down boatraces and a very interesting situyp boat race contest. Things took an interesting turn when one of the girls found a snake in her bathroom. Next thing I know they have killed it and drained its blood into shot glasses. Now I can say I have truly lived, the warm rush to the head that this causes is something I have never experienced (Fingers crossed never again too!). Anyway a great night was had and we managed to drain the bar. Good work boys!
From here me and Elyse make for the crossing into the remote border crossing into Lao. The crossing is that remote that it does not even deserve a line drawn on a map to it, and after going along the road I can see why. We start in Thang Hoa at about 4 in the morning and make our way to the bus station. Here is where the fun begins because as there is only one daily bus to the border all bets are off. With intense bargining we are forced to
pay the ridiculus sum of $30 US each for the 175km trip (Normally this would cost a local $2). The road is a real mess and in all it takes us almost 10 hours to do the 175 kms. Our $30 fee did include a meal at the drivers house and feeding me dodgy alcohol out of what looked like a petrol container and smoking tobacco out of a pipe that measured about a metre long. Lao
Lao what can I say... I love this country. As soon as we arrived the constant noise and competition disapates into the backdrop of mountains and bamboo huts. We arrive into the town of Vieng Xai which is a comunist stronghold. During the Vietnam war Lao comunists used to hide in the caves that are here. The caves are so big that they could house over 2000 soldiers. After visiting the caves they have a complex which features meeting rooms, barracks, kitchens, Russian oxygen machines in case of gas, anti aricraft guns and the place is filled with Che/Castro picts and Lenin Books. The Leaders used to all live in them with their families and recieve guest from Russia, China and
even Cuba. What a place and completely protected from the American bombing that took place here. The night we arrive we are drinking with one of the former soldiers that stayed in the caves and he recounts how he used to shoot down US aircrafts from the caves. (In all they shot down 7 bombers during this time). He also produces his own Lao whiskey called Lao Lao. This stuff is basically rice whiskey that they add herbs and sticks (they are still in there) which give it a halucinigenic effect. What was cool that he had it in Havana gold bottles that they got given during the war from Cuba.
Next stop is Phonphasan via the nth korean town of Sam Neua (personel joke). The road is known as the road of a million turns to locals and it lived up to its name. In Phonphasan we stay at the King Keo guest house and sit around a fire made out of a old bomb casing. The next day we travel to a heavilly bombed area of the village and learn about the American 'Secret' Bombings during Vietnam. When the Vietnam war was happening the US dropped more
bombs on Laos than the entire number that was dropped during WWII to try to stop the communists invading Lao. What happened was that tens of thousands remain unexploded in the countryside. Firstyly we got shown a place where there were up to 1000lb bombs were dropped. In this place The guide shows us multiple unexploded cluster bombs laying out in the open. Scary thought in Lao more than ten thousand people have bewen injured by these unexploded bombs. Next we see a village that they have made the fondations of their wood huts using 500-1000lb bomb casings. Lstly we see the plain of jars and see the thousands of stone jars that were created 2000 years ago for aparently an undiscovered reason.
** Vang Vieng
How to describe this place??? A party town exploding in the middle of nowhere.
We arrive here late and we cannot find a place. The solution... A restaurant takes us in for the night, weird! So me and El the next day head off for the #1 attraction here, tubing down the river. So we think that we are instore for rapids and parts of ultimate relaxation, how we were wrong.
We dont even make it to the river before we are sucked into a make shift river bar for Mohitos. We eventually make it into the water and make it 20metres down the river until we are pulled (Literally) into another makeshift bar. Here I take the flying fox which throws you meters into the air into the water. Three hours laterw we can still see the start. However as we round the next corner we spot a massive 30 metre high concrete waterslide which hurls you into the river. Man what a day, we decide with sun setting so start paddling our tubes back hard. We make it another 20metres downstream before we now have people wading through the water to give us shots of Lao Lao and bottles of beer for the last one hour of barless 'relaxation'. So we paddle hard and as the sun sets we get back to civilisation,. cold but very happy.
Vietinine the capital of Lao is a breeze and we spend the days eating french food and swimming. From here we sleeper bus down south. The bus actually has double beds in it, is a bit of a site but very
Tadlow is a sleepy mountain town that we motorbike around walking and viewing waterfalls. From here we head to Champasak to view the ancient Kymer ruins on the edge of the Mekong.
Our final stop in Lao are the 4000 islands in the very south. At this point in the Mekong it goes from a hundred metres wide to a few kilometres wide containing hundreds of islands in the middle. Here we get a beachfront (? We are on a river?) bungalow. Unfortunately EL is sick again and enjoys the day relaxing hammock style. I grab a bike and take to the dirt roads to see a waterfall. This perplexed me that although that it is definitely a river the fact that the waterfall is caused between islands in the Mekong it made it seem like an ocean dropping 40 metres. Anyway that is probably confusing and I am still lost for words to try to explain it. Later that afternoon Elyse joins me for a very bumpy ride across the island to go dolphin spotting. We board a longboat and go to the middle of the Mekong to see freshwater dolphins playing. Again confusing as this
is not an ocean however it looks so big that it could be. The dolphins are very rare and number only about 12 in the world. Apparently this was not helped by the khymer rouge lobbing grenades at the poor animals. We got to see them and am very happy as the chances of seeing them are very low. Even if we could only see them 100-200m away I think it still counts. Cambodia
Cambodia is a whirlwind. After paying off the border police we travel by a joke of a road to Ban Lung in a very remote part of Cambodia. EL is still sick so I spend the day travelling to a volcanic crater and swimming in the lake.
Phnom Penh: Arriving in the capital we head straight to a western restaurant for Mexican. Tastes good after weeks of noodles + rice.
Here we do two major sites. Firstly we go to the genocide museum called S21. S21 is the detention centre for the Kymer rouge. It is a really sombre place, seeing the pictures of the thousands of people perishing in the place as well as the pictures of torture were very hard
to take. One of the hardest things for someone of my generation is the question of how on earth this happened and continued to happen for over 4 years with no international reaction. Th ebasic pretense is that during the Vietnam war the Kymer rouge took the country by force. All cities were emptied, money was abolished and families seperated. There were only two classes city dwellers and rural farmers. Rural farmers were now given leading positions with the city folk demoted and anyone observed showing intelligence were exterminated. During this time 1.5 million were killed (close to 1/5 the population). I will leave this there as my feelings arew very strong on whaty happened to Cambodia during this period. From here we go to the killing fields to see the mass graves of 20000 people.
After the depression of Phnom Penh we head to the bright light of Cambodia that is Angkor Wat. We rent bikes for the day and ride around this amazing place. We watch the sunrise over the kingdom and ride around the temples for the entire day. SOme of the highlights include Bayon, Te Prohm (Tombraider was filmed here) and of course the spires
of Angkor Wat. We finish off a great day with a hot air balloon to watch the sunset and see the true grandeur that is this place.
After the amazing place that was Angkor we board a boat to take us to Battabang. The boatride takes you through little canals and through the real Cambodia. The poverty of some of these people was made very much apparent on this trip however they all look happy. After 9 hours we end up in Battabang, however this is not the end as we need to reach the border town of Palin tonight. So we board a shared taxi and take one of the worst roads I have ever seen to the border. In the taxi we meet a very nice Cambodian who describes that the road is currently being upgraded by the Chinese to stimulate trade with Thailand. Hmmm a little weird but in Cambodia politics and democracy are both as crooked as each other. Thailand
So we make it back to Thailand after close to 4 weeks on the road. What a feeling to be back to paved roads, english speakers, good food and seven elevens (Lame but
I missed them!). We head to the island of Ko Chang for some rest and relaxation. Ko Chang is probably the best island I have been to in Thailand, it is stunning with a very relaxing vibe. We spend the next few days drinking Coffee, eating bbq meat and soaking up the sun.
So after our inactivity period me and El decide to do a snorkling cruise. We choose the sunset bar cruise. This one is a little different from most as it includes free beer! The otyher difference is that the workers from Sunset bar use this weekly tour as their relaxation time. So we spend the day cruising postcard perfect beaches, snorkling through coral with unlimited visibility. And of course we partake in numerous singha beers with the Thai workers. We even have a boat race (which I was very average in!) to finish off an amazing day.
So we are back to where we started. as been an amazing month and have loved travelling with Elyse. She is so easy to travel with and have loved every minute (Well almost every minute😉). Unfortunately I have to say goodbye to her which is
From here I drag my sorry butt up to Chiang Rai, Chaing Mai to do some serious downhill MTB and then back to Bangkok to fly to my next destination: Burma.
Sorry this was so long but it was really easy to write! Below are the links to the pictures: Thailand Photos Vietnam Photos Laos Photos Cambodia Photos
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