Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Chiang Rai

We had a real shock when we crossed into Thailand, after the slow pace and quiet life of Laos. Chiang Rai wasn't anything special but we did have some great food in the many bakeries dotted around. We were expecting it to be a small twon in the mountains, but it was a really mondern, quite big city.

Chiang Mai

Another city, but nicer than Chaing Rai, as the old quarter is quite quaint. We spent our first full day doing a cooking course. We were surprised by how easy and quick the dishes were to make. It was an all day affair, we cooked and ate 5 dishes and a curry paste, we were struggling to breath at the end, no word of a lie. One guy on the course obviously doesn't cook very often, we had quite a laugh later about his lack of ability to grate a carrot!

We hired a scooter today and drove up the mountain pass to the temple overlooking the city, the road up was pretty cool, well I can say that as i only had to sit on the back as we went around the hairpin bends. Rick loved weaving in and out of the traffic in the city (don't worry mike, he is still safe!).


Three hours north west of Chaing Mai and further into the mountains is laid back Pai. Sunshine, a swimming pool and endless cocktails... a little slice of heaven!

We did pull ourselves away from the pool one day to explore what Pai has to offer. We foolishly hired bikes in the heat, and (unsurprisingly) Rick was rather hung over. We visited Pai Canyon, no Grand Canyon but it was still pretty impressive, and rather scary walking across the narrow high up paths. We also cooled off at one of the nearby waterfalls and sampled the finest ice-cream with home made waffle cones, yummy!

We bizzarely bumped into the two cornish girls and two of their friends, who we had met at the very start of our trip, and spent a large part of our time in Pai with them, which was great.

Sadly headed south to Bangkok to catch our flight home. Four days and its hello South America....

Further North (Laos)

Nong Kiaw
A beautiful little town nestled between limestone mountains, on the river, minus loads of toursists. A trip highlight for us both. We meet the nicest Canadian couple, who we spent most of our time there with. We had landed ourselves in abit of financial shit, as we had forgotten to take money out in Luang Prabang, and there were no ATM's. Luckily we could randomly change some left over Thai Bhat we had, and with some strict spending we made it through. We visited caves that were used to hide out in during the sencond Indochina war. To celebrate Ben's birthday, the Canadian we met, we all had drinks and cake riverside.

The four of us did a long walk, in the scorching sun, following the river to several small villages. At one village a fisherman offered us a boat ride back to Nong Kiaw, after 3 hours of walking, we happily accepted. The boat was a hollowed out tree trunk. The views were breathtaking as we floated along, with our hands in the river to cool off! Words cannot describe. Photos, on the way, we promise....hopefully!

Luang Nam Tha

A gruelling bus journey got us here in the Northern mountains, the gateway to Nam Ha national park. At one point we had to wait at the roadside for an unlimited amount of time, as workers finished laying the road! None of the locals seemed fazed by the wait, which is apparently a common occurance, only in Laos!

We spent our first day with an English coupl that we had met on the bus. The four of us cycled (rather leisurely for our new fit standards! lol!) to a waterful and around the countryside out of town. To celebrate the start of my birthday we had dinner and drinks all together, we were also joined by five of their friends who arrived on the bus that afternoon. We drunk abit to much (rick mainly) without fully understanding the consequences for trekking the next day!

We embarked on a two day trek into the national park. We were a small group, only us and an American couple, who were sadly not that talkative (despite our best efforts at conversation!). Our guide was amazing though! We had opted for the trek that involved a mountain top homestay. As a result the first day was pretty much all uphill! Much to Ricks amusment, who was pretty green the whole way! For lunch the guide and the two villagers, from the village we started at who were there to help the main guide, prepared lunch on the jungle floor. They cut down bamboo and leaves to make a table, which we all sat around to eat together. At the village after the ascent, we became the new animals at the zoo. The village of about 100 people, don't see tourists very often, so they all came out to stare at us doing not alot. It was so cool to watch them go about there daily life. The view from our hut out across the mountains was amazing.

The second day we trekked across the top of the mountain range and descended to another village, where we swam in the river with the local children, who thought it was hilarious that westerners could swim. Our guide made us, with the massive knife he was carrying, bamboo cups, an awesomme souvenir. The whole trek was fantastic.

Saturday, 26 March 2011


The slow pace of life is infectious. Although Vientienne is the capital it doesn't even feel like a city; quiet, little traffic and no car horns! wooop! After too long without getting washing done, it was such a relief to have the time to get it sorted. You know its bad when its not whats clean, but what smells the least! The weather being hot and sunny is going to take some getting used to after cold Northern Vietnam. Rick prefers the heat, but not sure im a fan of the sweat and mosquito bites.
We discoverd the delights of The Scandinavian Bakery... so good! Our first afternoon felt like we were in Paris with a trip to Patuxai (Vientiennes Arc de Triomphe replica). It is sometimes refered to as the vertical runway, as it was built with US cement meant for a new city airport, brilliant! The view from the top over the city was pretty cool.

We hired bikes for the second day and cycled alongside the Mekong, passing local houses. At one corner where there was a wedding party. We were waved over to join, the music was blaring, the Laos dancing hilarious and there was alot of beer for late morning. We didn't stop as we would have been rather out of place! After spending the day aquiring a numb ass, we got jugs of beer Laos and watched the sunset over the Mekong. Across Laos there is an 11.30pm curfew, where all bars etc shut, a reminder the countries communist. Not yet used to it, we had to make a dash (unsure on how strict they are) back to our hostel. We had bumped into two girls we met in Vietnam, the time ran away when we were having drinks. Ooops!

Vang Vieng
As we didn't arrive of the bus till late afternoon we decided to leave tubing to the next day, and vistited a nearby cave instead. The town is nestled by a river, between limestone mountains, really very beautiful. We swam in clear water at the cave entrance. That night we slept on the hardest bed ever, but typical cheap skates we suffered another night rather than move to a more expensive guesthouse!

We woke to rain, we couldn't believe it! It would continue more or less continually for three days. Instead of tubing in the rain we decided to hire bikes and cycle out to a loop of  caves. The first we went in went back three kilometres! Our torches were rubbish, luckily there were some there that we could use, plus a village guide.The cave was quite narrow in parts, and ricks cheap shoes meant he was practically ice skating in parts! The cave got hotter and hotter, and seemed to go on forever, we did wonder whether we would end up in China?! It ended with an underwater river, which we were told we could swim in, but the pitch black (unsurprisingly) put us off! The secong cave was a water cave, which we accessed on tubes. We had to pull ourselves along with robes, which was great fun. We returned to town soaking wet and pretty cold, but it was totally worth it.

Luang Prabang
The continuos rain finalised our decision to push on to Luang Prabang. Determined not to waste our first full day in Luang Prabang due to the rain, we trapsed around in leaky raincoats regardless (requiring another complaint letter from rick to mountain warehouse, supposedly). Despite the rain, Luang Prabang is lovely, in was great to see the mix of Laos and  French architecture. We also visited (to ricks delight) different exhibitions for minority groups, fabrics and art work. I really needed a girl!

The rain has finally stopped. We were able to hire bikes for the day, with all the excitement of the sun we went mad and cycled a 64km round trip to see a waterfall. We were chuffed to later read in the travel guide that the cycle is described as 'only for the fit'! Yes, we now apparently fit into that catergory. It wasn't that bad, very up and down, but really momentum was our friend for the day! The waterfall was beautiful and if slightly warmer it would have been lush to swim in. A bonus was that there was a bear rescue centre near the entrance, with several Asiatic bears. They were chilling out in giant hammocks, which after the cycle we were rather jealous of!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Northern Vietnam

We have since found out that South Vietnam has two seasons, wet and dry, whereas North Vietnam has four. It is currently winter in North Vietnam! So the further north we go the colder it gets, to the point where we were huddled around an open fire drinking hot chocolate in the far north.

Halong Bay
We spent two days and one night on the water, in a junk boat. The bay was stunning, with the many limestone peaks. We kayaked off the boat, visited an extensive cave and nearly became dinner for several eagles. It would have been picture perfect minus the cold and cloud! It had rained in Hanoi the day before, the lady we booked with promised us the sun was due for our trip, when she told us of the sun deck on board the boat, we really laughed, and the scheduled swim time just took the biscuit! She was right though it didn't rain and the trip was well worth it, there were however some minor downsides; like all transport we seem to go on the boat broke down, and we established earplugs are essential when stuck on a boat for two days with a suicidal portuguese guy!

Small  mountain town in the far north, near the chinese boarder. We took the overnight train to get there, which unsurprisingly broke down! At the station in Hanoi we had to cross several train tracks to get to the correct, what? We loved the train though, it was like the train from Harry Potter, four birth cabins with a slide shut door, and a refreshment cart that comes around occasionally, sadly no funky jelly beans! Lucy also got to practise her french with the two french ladies in our cabin, and rick got to practise his confused face!

We did do some light trekking in zero visibility, but the main reason for going which the weather didn't spoil was to visit some of the minority villages in the mountains. The highlight was stopping at the side of the road to be led by women from one of the villages, down a sheer mud drop! We did hesitate at first as we thought they were taking the piss, but no! We had walked quite quickly, and caught up with some others and their guides so about ten of us descended. It was abit wierd at first having our hand held by women half our size to prevent us from slipping, but soon realised how essential it was! It was really nice to have a laugh with them, well really them have a laugh at us!

We visited four different villages, it was really interesting to see the different dress depending on the minority group they were from, all very colourful. Our guide taught us two Vietnamese card games, which rick can't wait to beat Jill and John at. The cold weather did mean hot drinks, open fires and the real treat of an electric blanket at the hostel.

The return to Hanoi for the third time (as it was our base point for the north) was slightly annoying after peaceful sapa. The car and bike horns, make you want to remove your ears!!! Only one night though before our flight to laos. Seems mad but due to limited time left, we fancied an hour flight, over more than 2 days on a bus!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Central Vietnam

Nha Trang
The idea of a few days on the beach to give our aching legs a rest seemed like a good idea, however the overcast weather and wind soon but a dampner on our plans! Nha Trang wasn't really anything special, we just ate good food, chilled out and visited a massive Buddha. The Buddha itself was pretty cool, and so was the view from the top of the mount it was on, bad time to forget the camera! oops!

Hoi An
We were expecting an overpriced busy city, but we loved Hoi An. The old city being a UNESCO world heritage site has been well preserved from when it was a busy trading port. Walking around the city, winding through the narrow cobbled streets and seeing the traditional buildings was the best. Well rick thought the 10p beer and the tailoured suit he had made was the best. It was pretty fun going into the tailors; choosing a cut, the fabric and getting measured. The suit was made in just seven hours, to a perfect fit. Impressive! Only trouble now is he thinks he will be a hit with the ladies!

On the second day we experienced our first rain for the trip. It did not matter too much as we went to My Son an ancient village, outside the city in a thick forested valley. It was really beautiful. The weather cleared enough for us to hire bikes and cycle to the beach in the afternoon, by the time we got there though, there was no sun in sight.

Got the bus in the morning, which gave us the whole afternoon. We visited the Citadel, an old Imperial City.
On the second day we hired bicycles and cycled to the Tomb of Tu Duc. Although the final resting place of the emperor, he had the site constructed whilst alive as a place of respite. There is a small lake, a cluster of buildings and gardens within the walls. We also cycled to Thien Mu Pagoda, a place of worship on the bank of the river. Although we feel we made the most of our time in Hue, we didn't really like the city that much.
The night bus to Hanoi was a nightmare for anyone with long legs, as the beds were that bit shorter, so lucy was unable to straighten her legs!