A Travellerspoint blog

'Top Gear' Time

Riding a tiny scooter from Hue to Hoi An

sunny 34 °C
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The journey down from Hanoi to Hue was fairly painless thanks to my new knowledge of Valium, which made a long, twelve hour, bus journey a lot shorter as I could actually sleep in my tiny bed. (This is one of my biggest travelling tips - if you cannot sleep on trains, buses etc get hold of Valium my travel buddies and me had the best journeys because of the stuff). Anyway, as I said the journey was one of the best so far, on arrival in Hue the ancient capital of Vietnam there was a car waiting to pick me, Henry, Mark and Anderson up and take us to the Hostel.

Hue Backpackers had a very similar feel to Hanoi Backpackers, it being owned by the same people but smaller and more relaxed which was good. My plan for the Next day was to hit the road (well hopefully not ‘hit’) on a scooter and ride down to Hoi An “Top Gear” style, so I spent most of the day just planning how to do the journey. While planning a guy came up to me asking if I wanted to go for a drink as between 5 and 7 the hostel supplied free local beer, now obviously I took him up on the offer not wanting to turn anything free down, turns out he is another Mark but with a ‘c’. In the bar Marc and me ran into Henry, Mark and Anderson and, over a game of darts and some beers, it turns out they are riding to Hoi An the following day too, now after a couple more beers we persuade Marc to join us and well that is enough said to be honest about that night. Next morning we all woke up at not quite the crack of dawn and ate a good breakfast then waited our steeds to be delivered. When they were finally delivered, a lot, later than we had thought we chose which ones we wanted and then took off on our 5 stallions to Hoi An. First thing was to get fuel, as obviously we weren’t supplied with enough to make it much further than the petrol station (good old SE Asia). After filling up we headed out of town to the coast road but, after about 10 minutes riding I realised the group was two short so me, Henry and Marc turned around and headed back along the road to find out what was wrong and after riding all the way back and some quick phone calls it turns out Anderson and Mark had, had bike problems when we rolled out. Now after sorting out these problems we all headed out of town to the coast road and the start of out little road trip.

The start of the ride was just along the outskirts of town with nice roads heading towards the coast, after a while we hit the real coast road and cruised along it until it we had the choice to go along the highway or head through the villages along the coast. Choosing the rural route, through the villages, was a great choice; even though the roads weren’t great, watching the local’s faces as we rode past was amusing and also passing kids who wanted high fives made it a lot more interesting. We rode through the villages and back roads for about an hour if not more and then came out onto a huge bridge (later realising it is featured in Top Gear’s Vietnam special) here we stopped for a drink to check the view and see how everything was going on the bikes comparing each others. On this stop we realised Marc was the only one with a working fuel gauge and speedometer which was amusing for all of us but annoying as we had no idea how any of us were doing on fuel as we all had different bikes. Whilst on the bridge Mark and Anderson decide it was a perfect place to practise their wheelies so we let them have there fun and I just stretched out as scooter’s aren’t the best vehicle for tall people, surprise surprise. Riding on, after passing over the bridge we started climbing into the hills on some amazing roads winding and twisting their way up through this beautiful landscape of jungle covered hills with views below, of the coast and the villages we had been riding through, this mountain pass took the group a long time to get through purely for the fact we had to keep stopping to admire the views all around. As the road continued to wind its way over and round the hills the only thought passing through most our minds were “I wish we had better bikes not little scooters”, as fun as they were they just didn’t give you the same feeling of the road and the ride but never the less with the surroundings we couldn’t complain too much. Passing over the top and starting the decent of the central hill we pulled over out of the sun into a Service station well Vietnamese version of one. A huge canopy covering kids plastic chairs and tables with fridges, display shelves, the smell of good food and most importantly ice creams, as it was boiling hot riding and even hotter now we had stopped. In this little haven away from road we had ourselves a banquet of sorts. Now we hadn’t intended on this but nobody in this place spoke English, the first time I had experienced this in Vietnam, so we ended up pointing at things randomly and well the consequence of this was “the banquet” rice and noodles coming out of our ears, a curried whole chicken, a huge bowl of soup, plates of vegetables plus another dish we had no idea what it was, never the less it was good but, wow, it totally cleared our sinuses. Once we had forced as much of this food down us, and I might add we did a good job of it, we headed back out to the scooters and the road now surrounded on both sides by jungle with just sky ahead of us after every turn. The road continued, heading up the third and final assent of these hills now this part of road was a lot busier and we had some hairy moments with huge trucks coming towards us on both sides of the road and going around corners on our side of the road plus cars and bikes doing the same thing. When we made it to the top we found a road side shop and thought it best to stop for a drink and get or nerves back before attempting the decent especially if we would have to tackle more trucks and traffic like the stuff on the way up.

This stop looked all peaceful, wooden hut style roadside stop with just an old lady serving drinks. But when four white guys and a big black guy appear on scooters something magical happens all these locals appear out of every nook and cranny trying to sell you everything from bracelets and necklaces to Puppies now obviously we ignored the bracelets and went straight for the puppies, until we realised we had nowhere on the scooters to put them and I personally didn’t want it making a mess in my bag! Once we realised we couldn’t buy a puppy for $10 we turned our attention back to the Bracelets, what a mistake that was. As soon as we showed any sort of interest the old ladies and their “pimp” (as this bloke who was speaking all the English and hageling prices) jumped on us fanning us putting shade over our heads, massaging and generally poking Anderson (obviously unsure why he was so dirty! not PC but they tried to wash him...) and offering us every drink that Vietnam had to offer. This was all fine and a bit of a laugh until after fifteen minutes when we tried to leave, I'm pretty sure the “pimp” was going to pull out a machete and hack us to bits for not buying more stuff. Anyway we escaped and hit the road for the last bit of the mountain road heading to the highway and the sprint to Da Nang, before getting to hoi An. This run down from the mountain pass was every bit as spectacular as the run up and around. As soon as we joined the highway we started to gun it, but within 15 minutes we had lost mark so we pulled into a petrol station and waited but after all of filling up and getting a drink there was still no sign of mark so Henry headed off to find him, 20 minutes later we hear the scream of a tiny scooter engine gunning along the highway and, once Henry had pulled in and switched off his engine, him laughing and reporting back that Mark had run out of fuel literally as soon as we had joined the highway. So we filled up a water bottle and sent Henry back with it to fill up Marks scooter. Now to add to the trouble currently occurring we noticed that Marc had been sitting on a flat tyre the whole time we had been waiting for mark to turn up so we had to send off for an old man on a Minsk to come and fix it for him. As the old man fixed the puncture mark showed up and started filling up his scooter after he had a drink and a smoke away we went again.

Finally back together, after a long break, we shot off along the highway which was boring like most motorways. After a short ride everything got a whole lot more exciting as we entered Da Nang and me and marc had our first experience of Vietnamese Traffic from a bike point of view and the only word I can think to use for it is ‘madness’. I have described the traffic in Vietnam before as a pedestrian but as a road user it is totally different but abiding by the same rule any space you can see is fair game, the same as a pedestrian crossing the road along with, if you see pedestrians you go around them, a rule pedestrians rely on to cross the road. As well as those basic rules, traffic lights are optional to bikes, one way streets are ignored and pavements are an added lane to roads if you cant’ find space on the road. Riding through this city, just inland from Hoi An, was intense with us weaving between trucks and cars going around roundabouts the wrong way (as they drive on the wrong side of the road). After the excitement of the city we came out in one piece and burned through another section of highway straight to our final destination Hoi An. Arriving in Hoi An was a lot less exciting than Da Nang but a lot more beautiful with a Brighton beach feel to it just a lot hotter and with much bluer water. Finally, we pulled into the hotel we were picking up our luggage from, dropped off our scooters and walked down the road to a hotel we had passed that was much cheaper, had a pool and had some of mine and Marc’s friends staying next door.

Another leg of the journey down, next step is too compete with the Top Gear teams suits now im in the land of Tailors...

Posted by Nick.t 23:03 Archived in Vietnam Tagged motorcycle Comments (0)

Hanoi

Time with Abi

overcast 19 °C
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Getting off the bus tired and exhausted I was engulfed by the usual throng of taxi drivers, usually associated with the Asian bus/train stations, with the people I had met on the bus. On leaving Vientiane a guy from the hostel I was planning on staying at, had been handing out flyers and had booked me a pick up from the station, so I was now looking out for him. Unfortunately he was nowhere to be seen, after 10-15mins of drivers grabbing and trying to take us away our pick up “Michael” arrived, on a bike which as you can imagine isn’t enough to carry 9 people and luggage on so after me and an English girl talking to him for 10 Minutes and haggling with 20 different taxis we piled into 2 teeny tiny taxis bags stacked on top of each other and followed Michael on his bike weaving in and out of traffic with us trying to keep up. After a short cramped drive we turned into a small back road and saw the sign for “The Drift”, finally we had made it to a bed.

Ok Hanoi I was meeting Abigail but not staying in a hostel so I had a few missions to complete before she arrived in a couple of days while avoiding seeing the sights as I wouldn’t want to do them twice, obviously. Number one was to make sure the reservation I had made two months previously, at the hotel we had agreed on, was actually there and still had our reservation. After much studying of a free map from the hostel I worked out where is was and headed out to find it not knowing the map wasn’t even slightly to scale and on the other side of the city. So I entered the world of Vietnamese traffic. Now after meeting people previously on my travels I had warning that it was crazy, but what a place, red lights are an optional extra and those good old zebra crossings we paint over every road in the UK do not exist, so taking the advice of a past travel companion I stepped out into the traffic moving like white water rapids and was immediately forced back onto the kerb by hundreds of scooters and the odd car. So attempt two, deep breath in and go, I stepped out again looking straight at the flow of traffic and walked, step by step and the bikes just drove either side of me without a care as if I wasn’t there so the rest of the walk was just taking in the city for what it was. A strange mix of French renaissance type buildings modern western city buildings and plain run of the mill housing with street vendors all over the place on every corner selling almost anything you can think of from all sorts of food to sun glasses, clothes, jewellery and many, many other things. Eventually I came out of the side and backstreets onto the Lake at the city centre “Hoem Kiem Lake” which is beautiful, the lake is surrounded by a busy ring road with nonstop flow of bike traffic circling it like sharks. As I walked along the lake there were people running, doing Thai chi type exercises, along with badminton and people just sitting chatting on marble benches. The lake itself is huge with two islands at either end one a small circular mini tower in white and then the other an island with a small temple/monastery on it linked to the side of the lake by a red wooden bridge, a site beautiful by day and even more spectacular in the twilight and evening. After taking in this sight I worked my way into the old town of Hanoi Where the hotel was and after a bit of confusion I found it an odd sight, a brand new glass fronted building with a fancy sign reading “Rendezvous hotel” back lit the works surrounded by dingy dark buildings. Shocked but glad the place really existed I walked up the steps and had the door opened for me. Now walking into such an establishment wearing cut off track pants a singlet and “Fosters” beer branded thongs (flip flops) I felt a little out of place, as I’m sure you can imagine but never the less I was greeted with big smiles and Hello’s and after a bit of searching the manager an Australian came out and sorted the whole scenario and mission one was complete.

Mission two, was to try and get my camera fixed as it had broken in Vang Vieng this was to prove, at first, to be easy as on my first walk around I had seen an Olympus shop so on my way back I headed into the shop to find that it wasn’t going to be as easy as I had envisioned it instead was going to be a nightmare, so left it for the time being and tried other places. Long story short though I sent it home and am seeing what can be done back in the civilised world where people actually try and help and things can be explained without shouting a lot of arm waving and pointing.

Mission three was to arrange Abi’s airport pickup and get me there to actually meet her and after a lot of hassle with the hostel and taxi companies I went back to The Rendezvous hotel and had it all arranged within minutes. Now except for scouting out places and getting myself orientated plus practising my road crossing technique I didn’t do much for the following couple of days.

Finally arrival day came so I packed up from The Drift, which had been a great place keeping me entertained and meeting people etc I headed back up to Rendezvous again having the door opened for me this time looking more like a bum than I had the first time still in my torn off tracksuit bottoms a dirty white t-shirt and still my fosters thongs and sweating like a pig. But again I was greeted with smiles and taken to my room which was amazing especially compared to the places I had been staying in for the last few months with an en-suite, TV, AC, supplied towels the works. After my usual bag emptying I chilled out, in luxury, until having to head to the airport.

The Journey out to the Airport took about an hour with the taxi driver trying to scam me at a toll booth indicating I had to pay the parking fee but as this guy wasn’t taking me back and because the hotel told me I didn’t have to pay as I had paid them for the Pickup so with a few choice words he got moving and dropped me off. Once in the airport I found where Abi would be arriving through and set up camp and eventually she made it through and it was great to get a hug and see a familiar face especially hers anyway after plenty of talking and a drive that seemed a lot shorter on the way back I moved her into her room.

For the next few days me and Abi relaxed in Hanoi exploring the streets which were really interesting each street selling different wares from kids toys down one road, handmade metal ware in the next, to fruit shakes all the way down the next street. While walking around we visited the lake and experienced all sorts of food me eating better than I had my whole trip and found, to Abi’s surprise, that my appetite was a lot smaller than it had been when I had left and Abi often ate more than me. While on the topic of food we also went out for our belated one year anniversary meal... erm now let me think what else had my travelling caused us to create belated celebrations of? Oh yeah! New Year, Christmas day, Easter, Valentines and I think that was it but lots of celebrations and nice meals in a short space of time and on the end I suppose a congratulation/ thank you meal for Abi’s first solo flight(half way around the world) and coming all that way to see me.

Anyway Ha Long Bay was the next destination for us to visit and due to talks with travel buddies I knew the place with the best suited tour for us was the one that ran out of “Hanoi backpackers”, a place I would stay at after Abi left, and well we booked on spent the night before in dorms so Abi could experience the life of the ‘Backpacker’ (inverted comas intentional) minus the backpack as she had her delightful pink suitcase. Then early the next morning a group formed outside the reception with us included, roll call was –well called – and we were off piled into two buses and told what was going to happen. So long story short we drove a while stopped for a bit as all Asian busses do at their arranged places to suck money from these strange groups of apparent walking ATM’s then moved back on got stuck in traffic, arrived at Ha Long Bay harbour (which was misty) and Taxied out to our boat for the night.

The boat was impressive, a huge 3 floored junk type thing hard to explain but I will let pictures show you later, and we were taken to the top deck to look out into the mist of the bay just making out the occasional silhouette of a huge rock stabbing out of the water and to be given the keys to our rooms. After an amazing lunch we were taken out kayaking around the Bay weaving through the maze of (I think) limestone, giants, to some caves that were beautiful like well the rest of the entire place. After kayaking back we had some down time before dinner before the drinking began but this night we sat out and only had a couple chatting to group of people who didn’t want to be hung over for the small boat over to Castaway beach early the next morning so after seeing the party move around the boat with guys in dresses the works (missed out I know) but had a nice night with Abi floating in Ha Long Bay under the stars.

So morning came early for me, let alone the rest of the boat who hit breakfast in drips and drabs as you tend to after a heavy night of drinking games. We boarded our taxi boat to the island (the next part of the trip), shortly after eating, the island being about 45 minutes away was something most of the people climbing on didn’t want to hear and 20 minutes into the journey when we hit waves the sight was not too attractive. The journey however bad was improved 100 fold when approaching the beautiful Castaway beach. A small stretch of white sand surrounded by dense jungle on all sides climbing up to the top of the surrounding cliffs, with little bamboo cabanas on the edge of the jungle and beach looking just as imagined, beautiful and like a castaway beach should look. Well until you get onto it and there are showers (hot and cold) flushing toilets music system etc so not totally castaway but a type of castaway I can appreciate especially the bar with weekly beer deliveries, Paradise some might say, Instead of castaway? We were welcomed as soon as the boat hit the beach by Anderson, a rep from Hanoi backpackers and wakeboard instructor and later to become a travel buddy as I Travelled south, who explained what little rules there were on the island mainly involving things like; enjoy yours self, drink as much as you want, do what you want, with the one No of not ringing the dinner/emergency gong unless you were willing to buy a round of beers for every one there, simple things to do and abide by.

As we arrived so early in the day we had a whole day in this paradise beach so after choosing our bunks in our open sided bamboo shelters me and Abi went swimming around the bay climbing into and looking in caves in the surrounding cliffs. Anyway we spent the day playing on beach playing volleyball badminton with “high quality equipment”, rackets were the shuttle cock would pass straight through and if going for a smash shot the head and arm would fly off at your opponent leaving you with standing there holding just the grip and making sure your opposition wasn’t dead, this produced some impressive matrix impressions while people avoided broken rackets flying towards their heads, good times. In the afternoon we had the option to wakeboard, so of course I jumped on the chance, what great fun it is. Abi went first and made it up first time, briefly, coming up to the surface smiling she kept trying, until her time was up, clearly happy with her ride. I went next and it took me a couple of attempts to get up but once I was up it was just like snowboarding fresh powder my only problem was getting to cocky and heading out of the wake and when it came to crossing back except for on one occasion I face planted and had to start again but still got some god long runs out of it which were awesome but after that I lost it being too tired to get back up so switched out to the next guy, Ben. Now Ben, a fellow Brit, was annoying as he has his own board and knew what he was doing so was up straight away jumping the wake doing butter slides and spins riding one handed and also making sure his boardies and hair were neat, all annoying but impressive to watch from the boat. Now after this Chris, Ben, Jonnie, Abi and I (British, British, Canadian respectively) decided it was beer o’clock so went to the bar for a few cans and swam out to a pontoon floating out in the middle of the bay. Now four lads (and a lady but she stands adamant she has nothing to do with this) Plus beers usually creates immaturity and mischief and sitting on a pontoon in a bay in Ha Long Bay was no exception and out of nowhere we decided trying to flip the Pontoon would be a Great idea, it wasn’t. it was an easy a task and quite fun all of us rocking it and then leaning it to one side until it flipped (Now this is why is wasn’t a great idea), once flipped the great idea became a really bad idea and a 30 minute mission to flip the pontoon back and fix it, as the barrels on the thing had fallen out and kept floating away but eventually with a lot of team work, drowning of each other avoiding really sharp barnacles and way too much laughing for something not, that, funny we lashed it all back together and left quickly back to the beach knowing we had done a better job than the original builder but still getting away from the crime scene as soon as and decided after all that hard work we needed, More Beer! and well that commenced the rest of the night more drinking, games, arsing around and well a big blur...(along with all this I apparently pissed off girl by not letting her use my torch but don’t remember that and I will come back to this later).

Ok waking up the next morning sucked especially realising it was last day of the Ha Long trip and would be all travelling, not to mention the HUGE hangover. Today was something Nobody wanted to do so, the taxi boat back to the big boat, Sucked, the big boat back to the harbour, Sucked, the standing at the harbour waiting for our bus without shade or seats, Sucked, the bus from Ha Long to the same stop as we went to on the journey out, Sucked, the stop, Sucked, the bus from there to Hanoi, Sucked, arriving back at the backpackers, Sucked, climbing 4 double flights of narrow steps to our room, again, Sucked, then the door to our room not being able to open, also Sucked, then going back down and carrying our bags back up, majorly Sucked, but then Abi being an Angel went to get Pizza (the best I had had since leaving home by a long way even good by home standards) while I laid not moving still being hung over then I slept very happy due Abs. (Now I bet your thinks how many time did I say ‘sucked’ in that paragraph well I said it 11 times just thought you should know).

So back to Hanoi Abi now only had a about a week till leaving and so it was time to shop and do the tourist sites Abi having done her research more than me as it’s something I don’t really do we went off to see the sites the Temple of Literature (a must, Abi being a librarian), the local church (St James’ I think?), the Hanoi Hilton (not the hotel, the pilot POW prison), Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The temple of literature was an impressive site no doubt their which stunning oriental gardens with pools/ponds (with turtles in them) huge twisted ancient trees and obviously the ancient temple itself which ok for was yet another temple but this one still had something extra that was interesting with works of literature carved into huge stone Tortoises with what looked like tomb stones upright on their shells where the writing was actually carved lined up in rows going back from the central courtyards pool. Again like all temples there are the tourist traps commonly known as shops and shows where you are extorted for every dong you have but hey what do you expect?

Next we went to (well I don’t remember if it was next but it’s what I’m going to say was next), the Hanoi Hilton. What an eye opener for a start I didn’t realise it was originally used way back when the French had control of Vietnam and was used for some sick, sick torture methods of locals. This was until the French left and the Vietnamese took it back over until the Vietnam war kicked off when the communists took control and used it as a place that well was quite ‘nice’ to all intense purposes compared to other POW camps/prisons and the Pilots who were sent there weren’t treated all that bad, well, after the Americans had realised what was going on. That is because before they intervened conditions weren’t too great and men were used to extract information that only Pilots as officers would know. But later as the name states they had all sorts of luxuries as long as they, the prisoners, stuck to the rules.

Ok, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was an impressive site but that is all I can say about it to be honest as it was closed when we arrived so we took some photos sat and starred from the kerb and then got some lunch and ice cream. But on the way back we did see the Hanoi war memorial and the flag pole thing, again I'm not entirely sure what was so special about it as we saw it through a fence as the entry fee was ridiculous. Now on the other hand the church near to where we were staying was very impressive and something not expected in the middle of the old town of Hanoi but walking around that was pretty spectacular almost similar to St Albans abbey but smaller but yet beautiful none the less with amazing stained glass and font area including a huge organ with pipes popping out everywhere.
Like I said the rest of the week was chilling and shopping we visited the night market which was along a closed road just off the lake and went on for ages it took about 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other and that was without stopping to look at what was being sold which included almost everything from phone covers to traditional gifts and clothes of all styles traditional or modern, obviously few things in my size but we still looked.
Anyway the end of Abi’s time came up far too quickly and it wasn’t before long I was arranging to get us to the airport and pick me back up and plan the next stage of my solo trip to Hue. So after packing up and moving myself back into Dorms *sigh* I was getting used to comfy beds, en suites and TV, but all good things must come to an end and that night they did we got into the cab in the evening with just Abi’s bags which now included a new one for her expanding collection similar to mums Shoe Collection. We had a nice ride out but getting to the airport we were told that flights back to Europe weren’t happening due to a volcano. Now I had been told about this but I did my research and as of 4 hours before heading to the airport and literally just before leaving for the airport all flights were still a go. But anyway this volcano, mainly its ash, meant Abi could get stuck for weeks in Korea or would have to stay in Vietnam until it cleared up equally a long time and not really viable with my visa running out and having booked my next part of my solo travel for the next evening. Thankfully we ran into a fellow Brit doing the same journey and got chatting and there is where my part in Abi’s story ends she got onto the plane with lots of difficult “goodbyes” and “good lucks”.

Well that is Hanoi for you to conclude and finish off Abi made it safely home without too many problems sneaking onto a plane ahead of hundreds of others after only a few days at Seoul airport so bad yes for a first time solo journey but she made it. I the next afternoon ran into Anderson, from castaway beach, and it turned out we were both plus two others, Mark and Henry, from the backpackers had finished their work there and where heading south too so would be on the same bus as me to Hue and there we go. We jumped on the bus selected out bunks and hit the road to Hue stop number Two in Vietnam.

Posted by Nick.t 06:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Yunnan and Laos

just chilling and tubing in Laos

semi-overcast 20 °C
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In Lijiang I had booked up my bus to my next stop, Dali, before going on my trek to Tiger Leaping Gorge this meant I could chill out the day after I got back. The journey to Dali was only 5-6 hours, one of my shortest in China, because of this I took a late morning bus as taking it overnight would have been pointless not saving or gaining me anything. On the bus I had managed to get a seat right at the front on my own meaning no people sleeping on me, loads of leg room plus I was next to the water dispenser (bonus) and thanks to all this the trip flew by. There was only one heart stopping moment when the driver braked so hard behind another bus it Fishtailed and for a couple of seconds I was looking out of my side window down the highway, not something I want to do again!!! When I arrived in Dali, just outside the old town, the usual welcome party was waiting for me to take me everywhere I didn’t want to go, but after a bit of haggling I got myself a ride to the Hostel.

To get to where I was staying the driver took me through the old town which looked pretty interesting and out the other side to the door of “the Jade Emu”. I’m not going to lie while here I checked out the town once with some guys who were teaching there and the rest of the time I took it easy with guys from the hostel shooting pool playing darts and generally doing very little so yeah pretty boring. After a couple of days I packed up and got on another short journey From Dali to Kunming where I was literally spending one night arriving late to just fly out the next morning (this is mainly because I had one day left on my visa and had to get out of the country, so couldn’t do anything).

The next morning I was up early ready to leave the hostel to go the Airport and after my last Chinese “rollercoaster” Taxi ride I was happy to be leaving China. That isn’t to say I didn’t like china it was just a lot of hard work especially on my own but I would still recommend it to people, but will warn them of what to expect before they go. I passed through the airport with no hassle and was on my plane, a little dual propeller fold out steps kind of thing, to Laos in no time.

The flight was fairly smooth and it was great watching the land change beneath me as we were flying, a lot lower than normal commercial flights. Had an interesting lunch/snack served but it hit the spot as I hadn’t eaten that morning. The Landing in Laos was far from smooth with a bit of bouncing down the runway but thankfully it made it. Once it stopped we were walked out into the heat and across the Runway to the single terminal building. Inside, me and the only other westerners on the plane went to sort out our visa’s. Here I came into a hitch in the form of Laos not taking RMB and only taking US dollar for their Visa’s thankfully the other guys had some spare dollars and I managed to get into the country. After customs we exchanged some money up and I paid them back before all jumping into a Taxi to The city.

Ok, Laos I didn’t know what to expect from anything and was so happy when everyone spoke English making me like it more than China within the first day, especially as my trip just got a whole lot easier. In Vientiane (the capital of Laos) I spent two nights which to be honest was too long, you only need a day in the city, but in a very nice hotel so I did spend a bit of time chilling and organising in there getting free room service and English TV. After the two days of walking around doing very little but enjoying a new part of Asia I jumped on a bus and headed north up to Vang Vieng for a bit of partying.

Now Vang Vieng really wouldn’t exist as more than a lonely little village in the middle of nowhere if someone hadn’t decided to build an “Adult Water park” along a dirty river alongside this I’m sure once sleepy town. I use Water park loosely but it is the best way to describe the; rope swings, zip lines, high platforms, slides, Mud volleyball (wrestling) court and bars standing on stilts into the river along a long stretch of the river, serving buckets of unbelievably strong dirt cheap cocktails and named this glorious experience “Tubing”. Tubing again is justified by the fact you can rent inner tubes to float down the river from bar to bar but on the whole that cost about the price of two drinks so most people me included just jump in, via a huge rope swing or zip line, and swim between the different bars (you can walk between most of them but that’s no fun.

My time in Vang Vieng extended longer than my initial intended stay due to the great group of people staying at the hostel called “spicy Laos” which was like a little paradise with bamboo tree house style dorms and open plan common “hut” room with hammocks etc on the edge of the jungle overlooking part of the river. The stay also extended generally to having a good time and generally not wanting to move on. Eventually after over a week of injuries, just a twisted ankle cuts and grazes on my feet knee and elbow, drinking too much swimming in the dirty river I handed my resignation into “spicy” and headed off to Vietnam by bus.

I think the journey from Vientiane to Hanoi could almost over take my worst journey so far, but due to the lack of little children vomiting the whole way, it comes in a very close second. Kicking off very hung over at 8 am for the bus south to Vientiane wasn’t too bad except for the hangover in full swing over the bumpy twisty roads of Laos. 5 hours later we arrived and waited to change to a sleeper bus to do the long 27 hour push direct to Hanoi. Now that sounds long but is even longer when the beds on these buses are designed for these little people who live in SE Asia NOT big westerners, like Myself, which means sleep is very difficult and the time passes so much slower. Anyway the first part of the drive was ok chatting to people around me then the lights went off and the hint to sleep was enforced after a few hours more with the odd few minutes of sleep we stopped and didn’t start moving again till morning. Eventually at 6 am we arrived at the border, after a short drive, and what a Circus that was 20 busses all queuing to pass through and the bus full of westerners all having to walk through the office and fill out paper work with reps from all the other buses climbing over each other and us to get to the front of those nonexistent Asian queues. After the first border, leaving Laos, we (the westerners) had to walk a couple km over a bridge in the early morning mist surrounded by jungle to the Vietnamese border and then fill out more paperwork and show our visas. After farting around the border for an hour having to carry our bags through for some reason we got back onto the bus we stopped once for food and arrived in Hanoi at about 8pm after another 10 or so hours without sleep. Now the next challenge began Vietnam...

Posted by Nick.t 20:15 Archived in Laos Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge

An Awesome town plus an Amazing trek

sunny 21 °C

So after settling into another dorm room just off a beautiful courtyard in the Panba Guesthouse I went for a walk around town... Before I start here is a bit of background info on Lijiang. Firstly it is split into two areas the old town and the new city. The old town as you can imagine is the original settled area by the Naxi (pronounced Nashi) people a minority group like a lot of the SW of China. The new town/city is where the city has grown out over the years with new buildings with no traditional value just urban growth with modern western life taking over. The old town has been made into a huge tourist town with bits being restored to their original beauty and having no modern building inside the town walls bar the odd few on the border to the new city. Inside the new town are restaurants of all prices and styles from traditional Naxi food (involving a lot of yak) served by street vendors to more common Chinese meals all the way to fine French cuisine and Indian Restaurants, the works. Along with all this food is stall after stall, shop after shop, of Gifts and souvenirs plus all the normal shops selling whatever. The last little bit is Lijiang makes the best Tea in China and is sold everywhere.

Anyway, like I was saying; settled in, beautiful courtyard I went for a walk around town... I walked for a few minutes before entering the old town through the rear gate as the hostel was just outside the main walls of the old town but still in the old town residential area. I passed along the cobbled streets passing all sorts of different shops and stalls, for the first time not being shouted at to buy things(later finding the shop workers are not allowed to as a rule for the town, it was bliss), soaking up the sun which I hadn’t seen or felt in almost 3 months of travelling. The only downside was the huge packs or Chinese tourists all wearing their tour hats, taking photos of absolutely everything, following the waving flag up ahead of them held by their tour leader shouting all sorts of information, which I’m sure is interesting, but in Chinese. Still, I was in an amazing old town surrounded by ancient buildings with a small river/ stream weaving all the way through it full of coi carp with little stone and wood bridges crossing to all sorts of shops and restaurants a really beautiful place that even with the hustle and bustle of tourism was peaceful and really enjoyable. Until, the sun goes down...

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Where, vampires start to roam the streets hunting for blood... Nah I’m just messing I just thought it sounded like a movie sequence (I’m sorry it just did). Anyway back to the point when the sun does go down the town transforms. The river is lit up which casts golden rippling light on the walls of the surrounding building, red lanterns are lit up every street and the houses that over look the main square up the hill are illuminated and the town looks even more beautiful.

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Back to my walk around town I saw a sign that said to “lion mountain view point” it sounded interesting so followed it up through some back streets that slowly climbed up, the shops started to fade out to homes and little local restaurants away from the main hub until it opened up out of the houses to a path overlooking the new city. With the old town wall on my left I followed the path up higher and came to a little kiosk to pay entry, which was about £1.50 (from what I remember) and kept on up the path now walking between trees. After a few minutes a huge 5 floored temple came into view. I went through its main gate into the grounds and was met by a Monk who led me to one side (speaking no English) to a massive bell and indicated to hit it, but with my knowledge of china, I refused knowing my wallet would get lighter if I did. The monk then led me into a chamber on one side with Buddha statues in it and started waving incense over me (at this point if it was reading this in a book I would have noted the inevitability that money would soon be passing my hands to the Monk but it didn’t click, not just yet) then indicated me to pray and bow which I did. Now, he ushered me over to a silk covered desk with a richly painted box next to it, with a slit in the top, and proceeded to indicate me to sit opposite him (CLICK!!!!!!) out came some fancy red beads that were placed in my open hand (CLICK!!!) then my other hand was closed around them and the monk bowed my head and started chanting (CLICK!, CLICK!, CLICK!, GULP!!) he then but the beads on my wrist and started writing something in Chinese which he handed to me and the only part I could read where three small numbers (that makes one, a lot bigger) 1...0...0... Yes, 100 Yuan. After trying to play the ignorant westerner my wallet became lighter, A WHOLE DAYS BUDGET!!!!! I will give him credit but now I don’t like or trust those, apparently, non materialistic nice kind peaceful people know as Monks. After that I wandered around the temples grounds, slightly annoyed and wary of more monks wanting me to buy incense etc, and into the tower which gave an amazing view across the whole new city and old town.

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Evil Buddhist Monk

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The next day I did a bit more exploring around town and generally chilling and planning my trip to Tiger leaping Gorge as Lijiang is the easiest town to access the trek. In the afternoon another guy moved into the dorm and was asking about town and what there was to do. I told him about the Buddhist temple on the hill and warned him about the Monks so he went to check that out with only enough money to pay for entry. Later after just chilling and spending my money on a train ticket and plane ticket to Dali and Laos respectively he returned bead free but hungry so we headed out for food and impressed with my use of the Chinese i have picked up to order food at a little side street restaurant which was good then headed out to see what else the town had to offer. Which turned out to be all sorts of crazy bars with sort of generation game style shows, karaoke, live music, dancing plus all sorts of Britain’s got talent style acts all playing loud music and everyone banging tables(neither of us worked out why everyone was banging them in every bar). But we went into one to see what was happening and paid ridiculous money for 6 beers (as we could only buy in bulk) and watched all this mayhem unfold on the stage from our seats upstairs.

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The next day involved planning the Tiger leaping Gorge trek which was due to be fantastic while planning, a Japanese girl Akiyo arrived and we decided to go together as it made sense saving money and hassle. So during the day we shared notes with people at the Hostel and booked up our transport to the start of the trail. The following morning was an early start involving a big breakfast and climbing into a minivan to drop us off at the trek. Getting into the Minivan a third person joined me and Akiyo, Philippe a French guy, so we were off and away we went up and through the mountains.

Halfway Point
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Half way we stopped off at ‘a photo’ (as the diver put it) which turned out to be a Buddhist temple on the edge of the gorge surrounded by the mountains, at this point we realised the trek was going to have some fantastic views. Arriving at the village our driver passed us on to another minivan for a huge 5 minute journey closer to the start of the trek he then dumped us and pointed us in the right direction, so we headed off. We found the painted arrows that we had been told to look for and started up the trail, at this point a man on a horse started following us and try as we might to ditch him and tell him to leave we couldn’t so left him to follow. Here at the beginning the trail was not very steep until we ran into the gate (again we had been warned about this and told not to pay as the government has wavered the fee to do the trek due to building work on the road below the trail, so passed by it waving our hands saying “Mayo”=no over and over to the unscrupulous locals who had set up shop) as the morning went on it got steeper and we met up with and passed other people doing the trek. Stopping to take photos and admire the view we marched on. The walk did get harder and harder winding steeper and higher into the hills until we reached a little shop offering to sell everything from fresh fruit and water to Marijuana. We chilled here, with our own Water and trusty snickers, before the part of the trek we had been dreading ‘the 28 turns’, the steepest, windiest and narrowest part of the trek. Right I’m not going to bore you too much the walk went on with great views and tough climbing for another 4 hours or so with us having a few breaks and chilling to enjoy the view a few times. As the day went one the signs to where we were hoping to stay started to appear but after following them they wouldn’t give us the room we wanted instead trying to charge us about £10 each, way too much for a bed especially as there was another place less than an hour away so we went on, with the weather turning against us up ahead*gulp*. With this stage of the walk being downhill we flew down and made it to “Tina’s Guesthouse” (the next one on the path) in about 40 minutes and got a room ate and then crashed after watching the sunset behind the mountains.

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The next day we woke up ate and headed out to head down to the river at the bottom of the Gorge, where the Tiger apparently leaped, we had to pay money this time to use the path, which was legit but slightly annoying, me and Philippe on getting to the bottom went climbing over the huge boulders and into sealed off areas to see what the reason was (there wasn’t one) and generally chilled. After chilling and playing around for a bit we started back up to “Tina’s” which i found very hard in the Heat, touching the 30’s. We made it after a few hours and chilled again that night at “Tina’s”.

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The next morning we tried to arrange transport along the road to the village but wasn’t looking cheap so we hit the road on foot and agreed on hitchhiking if the opportunity arose, which it did after a mere 10 minutes. This ride only took us to a landslide (again we had been told about this) but wouldn’t take us any further so she got paid some small change as she had promised a lift to the village and hadn’t taking us even a third of the way.

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After meeting a small tour group of Aussies, waiting at the Slide also heading to the village, we discovered we had to wait till they had finished the work at the top before crossing which, happened after about 20 minutes so after being waved across the rockslide by the supervisor we briskly moved across it and headed on down to the Next landslide which had been created that morning. After walking with these guys and speaking to their tour guide I managed to get us some cheap transport to the village and then onto Lijiang, after we had crossed the new rock slide. This slide was more interesting and after being waved across we had to scramble and climb across, some pretty big rocks, just getting over as more rocks started to fall. Safe, on the other side we climbed into the minivan arranged for us by the groups tour guide and rode it back to the village. Back in the Village we went to get food and played a bit of pool in a local market while the bus got ready. Here Akiyo and me left Philippe as he was heading to Shangri-la and boarded the bus back to Lijiang...

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Posted by Nick.t 02:32 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Chengdu

Pandas a massive buddha and a journey form hell

semi-overcast 15 °C
View Round the World 2010 on Nick.t's travel map.

I headed over to the floating sign not able to see the little lady holding it, first catching sight of a western guy next to it then the little lady. She asks if I was “Nic-oo-laarss” and a nod of the head from me saw her turn into the crowd sign held high. And a nod and a shrug exchanged between me and the other guy was enough to say I guess we follow her. As we followed I introduced myself to the other guy, Bruce, and kept eyes open for the floating sign, eventually we caught up at the queue to the Taxi’s and waited to be ushered into a cab by the guard (a first time for china ‘Queue Management’). The drive to Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel (Guesthouse) was the same as all taxi rides so far in China a white knuckle ride of horns blaring, screeching tyres and sharp turns throwing me and Bruce around in the back seats, interesting as always.

Upon walking through the gate of Sim’s, the journey there was pushed aside, a mini paradise presented itself in front of me full of palms, pools and hidden little seating areas, an amazing little place hidden behind a gateway (like Narnia) in amongst a busy polluted city. After checking in and paying I was taken up to my room which lived up to the “Cozy” part of the hostels name with warm wood beds each sheltered by light curtains, with private storage plugs and reading lights, and on suite bathroom. After dropping off my stuff and making myself at home as has been my tendency I went down to the bar to met up with Bruce for food and a long deserved beer after a lot of hours travelling.

Ok so my 3 days in Chengdu ware spent doing 2 major things seeing the Pandas and visiting the Leshan Buddha Both absolutely amazing things and so glad I did them. So I will start off with the panda’s I booked up the tour early of my first morning, for the next day, as the night before I had been chatting to Bruce about doing it and also to an American, Chuck, who wanted to see them. For the rest of that day I just relaxed in the city seeing what there was and how it all worked and personally found it an intriguing city full of so much culture and containing a great mix of modern and ancient life that I felt China should have and what the bigger cities are losing fast.

The next morning I was up with the rise of the sun (yes, I know a very strange thing for me) to let myself relax in the early morning chill amongst the palms and running water of the garden at the hostel before heading to the pandas. At about 830 Chuck, Bruce and a Japanese girl (I don’t remember her name) worked their way down to the courtyard and readied for the day ahead. We then piled into a minivan and drove just out of town to the panda reserve. We pulled up in an empty car bark and walked behind our silent guide to the front gate of the reserve. We were pointed and guided still in silence to the first Panda area. There laid a panda sitting back on a pile of bamboo relaxed without a care in the world slowly chewing and sifting through the throne of cane. 15 minutes of intrigue, photo taking and standing in awe of the animal so delicate in its lifestyle choice we are directed on to the next enclosure. Here we run into a group of Chinese tourists shouting filming and all in all creating havoc around a group of young pandas who unfortunately and at the same time thankfully didn’t take any notice of the rabble. We watched these pandas but only for a short time so we could get away from the huge tourist group and headed on this time to a group of lively feisty red pandas. Now what a different animal they were running around up and down trees chasing each other eating as they pleased on fruit and bamboo. This was until the tour group caught up with us and immediately the pandas scattered which in my opinion is a good sign they haven’t totally succumbed to reserve life and with the cacophony of Chinese growing we moved on to the final area with some baby giant pandas playing amongst trees and water plus a couple of fully grown giant pandas wading through piles of bamboo and chilling out on platforms. After watching a movie about the running and details of the Site we avoided a colossal group of school kids as best we could with a minimal amount of hellos and photos and headed back to Sims.

The next day Bruce and I set off on a little adventure to the Leshan great Buddha. This task was harder than we thought as there were no details anywhere on how to do it but after a bit of bussing and guesswork we made it and forked out the money (the most I’ve spent on a single thing except travel my whole trip) at almost a day’s budget but well worth the money even though we had already spent a lot on getting there. You walk up a set of winding steps inside the grounds before entering the area with the Buddha itself on entering I was shocked at not being able to see the Buddha as it is supposed to be huge and great, until, a small group of tourists moved and revealed the Buddha... well his head. At that point it really lived up to its name, great Buddha indeed. We went down the mountain path winding back and forth along the cliff side moving at the speed of the queue admiring the sheer size of the statue until we reached the bottom of the path and looked up. Wow is the word that comes to mind it was absolutely gigantic and so impressive. Returning to Sims we found a BBQ party in full swing and joined in for some good food and cheap beer.

With what I wanted to do done I relaxed and made some plans for the next few weeks and finally worked out what I was going to do. Finally checking out I headed for the train station to begin my journey to Lijiang this was due to be a nightmare 30 hour journey by train with a 10 hour bus ride after that. Anyway after being on the train for less than 13 hours along comes the train attendant waking me up and telling me there is less than half an hour left, result, Especially as I had spent the Journey between a family (grandparents all the way down to baby grandchildren, babies in china don’t wear nappies by the way just have a slit in their trousers and don’t wipe) shouting, screaming, singing and climbing all around me and sitting these bare assed babies on my bed. After a short agitating few minutes the train slowed into the station and I got off with just a few other people and exited. Here I jumped into a cab to the bus station. There I had to wait 2 hours for the place to actually open but after getting a bit of shut eye on my bag the place opened and I joined the queue to buy my ticket, finally buying the ticket I had less than 10 minutes to find the bus and get on which was managed as it was the only bus at that time of the morning so I got on and got stuck on the back row crammed between a pushed back chair a fat smelly guy and a 15 year old girl who insisted on sleeping on my shoulder which on those bumpy roads I don’t know if it hurt my shoulder or her head more. The bus ride was more or less ...what’s the word...Disgusting I had more babies toileting in buckets and vomiting and then the rest of the people on the bus spitting and some vomiting nonstop as well, all in all I was very happy to get to Lijiang and get some fresh air.

At the bus station I jumped into a waiting cab to my hostel but once again china struck and the cabby wouldn’t take me all the way(of course that is another cabby who didn’t get paid) and I had to walk for 15 minutes following some very rough directions through the old town from the tourist info booth but i got to the hostel and settled in again to another dorm room...

Posted by Nick.t 09:59 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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