Laos: Day 21 to 25th; 8th- 12th of February 2016

8th of February 2016:

As the bus pulled up at 5:30am to a bus station, we were all dazed, confused as to what is happening. All of a sudden two local men get up and get off. No one had told us where exactly we were. After 15 minutes the bus had only a few tourists left. The mass confusion with the language barrier left Nick and I to stay on the bus. Unfortunately after numerous attempts to say is this “Vientiane” and them resulting in either a blank face or a yes and no answer in the same sentence we found out it was Vientiane and we were supposed to get off at that station. Luckily the next stop was still in Vientiane just on the other side. As we got off and grabbed our bags we ran to the ticket machine to show them our ticket so we wouldn’t miss our next bus to Vang Vieng. Unfortunately this bus station is for the locals so he had never seen this ticket, however surprisingly he calls up the company and a man, fluent in English speaks to me. He tells us to stay where we are and they will send someone over. Finally a rush of relief calms me down. So we went outside and sat and waited…. And waited… Finally after nearly two hours, a man approached us saying “Vang Vieng”. It’s a miracle! We watched 100’s of locals get on and off buses, with babies and children wandering behind, even the sunrise was beautiful beaming through the old pillars. I started to feel so ill as we hopped on the mini bus. I felt nauseous and dizzy, but it was a result of lack of sleep for two nights, not eating and stress. After only a 5 minute drive we arrived at a office. The man said “go inside”. At this point my nerves creep up again, have we missed the bus and now have to reschedule? As we walked inside the same man said, “sit”. After 10 minutes of no one even looking at us, Nick approached a lady who spoke no word of English and just pointed to someone else. The man told us it leaves at 9:00am, perfect we can run and get some food in 30 minutes before it leaves. As we race out the door and turn left we spot only one place selling breakfast. A hotel had a buffet for $30,000 kip. I was in no mind to refuse it, even if it was a little more than we would normally spend. After 20 minutes I had engulfed spicy noodles, rice and 3 pieces of toast with strawberry jam. It looked like I hadn’t eaten in months! As we check the time we run out the door with 10 minutes to spare. As we arrive at the office, a man is saying to us, “Vang Vieng” as he’s standing in front of a mini bus. That was close, we jump on and I feel so much better, after a very dramatic morning we finally made it onto the right bus to go to our final destination for the day. As our bus slowly fills up we leave Vientiane. The journey took 5 hours and the entire time I was reading my book. As for some bizarre reason I felt less nauseous reading then when I looked outside.

As we arrived at Vang Vieng we were once again left at a bus station 1 km from the city. A man in a tuk tuk told us $30,000kip to the city. This was a joke! You should pay $2,000kip per km. Even the Korean family with wheelie bags left him and started walking down the “highway”. After a few 100 metres he returned saying $5,000kip. At this point we took it, we had, had enough for the day so paying $1 Aus seemed worth it. After a 5 minute drive we got out when two young Korean girls did as we had no accommodation organised. We tried four hostels/ guest houses till we settled for $80,000kip for 2 people per night. At this point it was 3:30pm and I just lied down on the bed ready to call it a day! Unfortunately I was starving! And food always out wins sleep. So I pulled myself out of bed and got sweet and sour chicken at a restaurant that showed the t.v show Friends non stop. After this, Nick wanted to explore, so we walked around the town and crossed a rickety bridge made out of wood and bamboo. At this point we realised how beautiful Vang Vieng is where people were kayaking below us and hot air balloons drifted around as the sun was setting.

 

Vang Vieng: Laos
 
  
9th of February 2016:

What an amazing sleep in, I felt like a different person when I awoke. So refreshed and ready for the day. We finally did our laundry today as it’s the first time this trip. It’s amazing how knowing you will receive clean clothes soon makes you feel good. We went and hired a bike to explore the town. We hired a mountain bike for $25,000kip and crossed the same rickety bridge that we walked across the night before. From here we cycled across a very bumpy paddock with the mountains surrounding us. It was just beautiful. After 3km we arrived at Lucky Cave. We paid $10,000 kip to enter and received a headlight. As we walked up yet another Bamboo ladder a huge black snake that was clearly sun baking on the rock got scared by my clearly ungraceful climbing and fell down the mountain. It was terrifying! I’ve seen more snakes in Laos then I have living in Australia! Normally I would get scared as I see it then kinda be fine. However, the snake was at the entrance of the dark cave, so all I could think about for the next 10 minutes was what if I step on a snake in here, I can’t see anything and the snake was black. So many scenarios were running through my head, but once we reached further and further into the cave I knew they couldn’t possibly live in here. The dark cave was both scary and exhilarating. The Laos people have very different safety standards to Australia. For example, when in some parts the floor gave way there was a little sign saying “danger” with ribbon. This is all good and well but it’s PITCH BLACK! So unless your torch shines it up, say goodbye! Also another scenario that crossed my mind is, what if it gives way underneath us. There were so many massive holes that looked very deep. At one point there was a huge hole as big as half a tennis court and the depth was so scary. However, you had to walk only a metre next to it because that’s all the cave would let you. In the cave was us, and a Korean couple who went ahead then seemed to turn around and then walk with us. It actually made me feel better that there was someone else there. As we reached the end of where we were allowed to go we realised it was a big river system. Thankfully it was dry season but I hear in the rainy season you can swim. Another safety concern that Laos do not seem to signify as important is there are no arrows as to how to get out! You just have to remember how you got there. Only 100 metres in was an ancient finger painting on the wall. I thought this was beautiful and so sacred until the Korean guy put his hand on the floor and made a hand mark. Kinda ruined it!
Our next plan was to see another cave, unfortunately this did not exactly go as planned. Nicks map on my phone was telling him there was a path, however I begged to differ as I was telling him clearly there was no path as we bike riding through sludge and a paddock, but his map told him so. Anyways this kinda ruined the day long story short and we went to get some lunch. We sat down at a bungalow on the water next to the bridge.

 

Vang Vieng: Laos
 
 It was so peaceful! The two English girls next to us told us they had been there for a week. We were astonished what can you do here for an entire week. I ordered beef fried rice, I hadn’t thought that was a difficult meal as I even pointed on the menu next to the picture. She brought out minced chicken and rice, we then told her what we ordered and she took it away. 10 minutes later she brought out the exact same meal. At this point after 45 minutes of waiting and it was already 3:00pm I was just going to eat it. However, with what? So I went up and was simply going to ask if I could have some chop sticks. Before I said anything she clearly knew she was wrong and then told me,  what I had originally ordered. So I showed her on the menu again. I don’t understand, if she knew what I ordered before I said anything why did she not just make it in the first place? Anyways another 15 minutes later I received my meal, and thankfully it was good. We then just stayed there till 6pm when we had to return our bikes. 

10th of February 2016:

We seemed to have slept in again, at 10am we went to the post office. Although we haven’t been travelling long we were already sick of how full our bags are getting. So we sent back all the unnecessary things we packed, back to Australia. I felt so sorry for the man, as everything he did was by hand, and even had to use the fax at one point. However after 30 minutes we were all done. We had no plans for the day, apart from find someone or somewhere to give the Vietnam and Burma lonely planet books to. As we were walking around I found a chemist that said they do passport photos. Once again the standards are very different. The lady pulled out a white blanket and put it behind the chair. Then whilst still holding her baby took a photo. After 10 minutes she came back with what I hope is plausible. She seemed to have done some Photoshopping and you can tell straight away some of my hair is cut out, but fingers crossed it works. As we were walking out a guy was talking about the Chin Lo balls, which Nick loves from Burma and offered them the books. They were so thankful. 

As we were walking back we walked past the tubing place. Only $55,000 for 2 hours of tubing. So we went back to the room to get changed and ready. Nick had assured me that girls were wearing just bikinis but I just didn’t feel comfortable, but I listened and walked down the street. It was horrible! The entire time you could just feel people looking at you. As we arrived I told Nick I didn’t feel comfortable and ran back to the room. I put on one of his t-shirts and felt much better. Unfortunately as I ran back we missed the Tuk Tuk full of people so we had to sit and wait till at least two more people would come. I had my doubts but after 5 minutes a Russian girl named Olga arrived. Then 10 minutes later a couple from Korea and as we were on the Tuk Tuk about to leave another couple. It was only a 5 minute drive to what we had never expected! As we approached a bar with 50 drunk people a girl told us to go have one drink. We knew she worked there so she didn’t really care but she gave us a friendship bracelet. We thought ok just one drink. Another factor we didn’t take into account was we didn’t bring much money! We got our free whiskey shot that was very watered down and bought a strawberry daiquiri which was very strong! Then watched drunk people play musical tubes. After 40 minutes we thought it was best if we go down the river to the next bar. We met two people travelling together, the girl Elanor-Rose from America and Espen from Norway. So as we drifted down I realised I am not very good at tubing and was always so far behind! As we reached the other bar the people would throw rope with a Sprite bottle on the end to pull you in. After 4 attempts the man reached me and pulled me in. As we walked up people were dancing, sitting down talking, playing basketball and volleyball. Nick decided to set up a beer pong. Olga had never played so he attempted to tell her the rules but she got confused and her and I waited to the next game. Now the thing about me is I cannot drink beer even if my life depended on it! But we were playing with beer so I tried to drink one of them but after 2 seconds I just wanted to gag and from then on Nick drank the rest. Thankfully, they didn’t get many in and we won. After an hour we thought it was best if we head back. The sun was already behind the mountain so it was going to be cold! After awhile I lost Nick and was trying to paddle by myself when the American and Norwegian guy arrived. I tagged along with them and he paddled for us. At this point it was 5:15pm and if you don’t return your tube before 6pm you have to pay. We arrived at a bank where the time was 5:50pm so we grabbed a Tuk Tuk and told him to hurry. We made it by 5:59pm. Unfortunately Nick was not with me so I had no idea where he was. 30 seconds later he turns up. We discuss with Elanor-Rose and Espen to meet up at the bar in 30 minutes. So we raced back had a warm shower and got changed. Espen is a person who knows how to drink and a lot of it! No one could keep up, and I don’t think any of us wanted to. At 8pm we walked into the Sakura bar where we sat and chatted next to the camp fire. As the night went on we went inside and I guess you could say we danced the night away. At 12pm the bar closed and I would say I had to walk nick home but that would have put it nicely. He stumbled over pulling me to the ground with him, then I enticed him on a Nutella and banana pancake. Unfortunately he ran away as I was waiting, so when I finally found him after walking up and down the little street twice, he finally followed me back to the guesthouse, only for the pancake. Today was surprisingly amazing, after having no plans by 1pm!

11th of February 2016:

Today was death! Last night was amazing and so today we had to pay for it to say the least! We didn’t leave the bed until 3pm, where it was a struggle to walk a few metres down the street to a couch to order pizza. Wow life is hard! As we were waiting a beautiful hot air balloon came soaring past us, it looked gorgeous as the sun was setting. I wish I could tell you more about today but the mere fact is we watched a movie (Slumdog Millionaire), two episodes of Hell Cats and slept. 


12th of February 2016:

Today we were suppose to leave to go to Luang Prabang but as we looked at accommodation online there was absolutely nothing left within our budget. So we worked out it would be cheaper to stay in Vang Vieng one more night and leave the next morning. Vang Vieng is like Lotus Eater, within the Greek mythology. It’s an addictive town that portrays a sense of belongingness and ease as you lay by the river eating copious delicious foods. Normally we stay at a place for 2 to 3 nights, but Vang Vieng captured us with it’s care free life and we stayed 5 nights. As we were walking through the now familiar streets the days turned into a blur, one after another not achieving much and yet feeling as though it was an amazing adventure. I would recommend Vang Vieng to anyone, and yet it’s not a town that I would normally be attracted to. It’s very touristy, you hardly see any of the real life of Laos people and yet this tourism business shows the glitz and glamour and it enchants even the sceptical people. 

 However we did actually do something today, surprise surprise! We hired a scooter to drive to the famous Blue Lagoon. The pictures looked so amazing and untouched, just a little lake that people swim in. Unfortunately not all photos show the true side. When we turned up we paid $10,000 kip and as I looked up I was astonished to see the untouched blue lagoon to be a water park. There were 100’s and I do mean 100’s of Asians (Koreans and Chinese) splashing about and jumping off the tree. It completely ruined the atmosphere, but we grabbed some grass and just sun baked. After 5 minutes Nick was already bored so he went in the water and for me only after 30 minutes, because I was dripping in sweat! As I walked over to the water I approached a concrete step that then led to a wooden ladder. I took one step on the concrete step and slid forward pounding my shin into the wooden ladder. A Asian man was concerned but I was like “yeh I’m totally fine”, this wasn’t a lie I thought I was. However after 4 minutes treading water I started feeling a throbbing pain on my shin. As I walked out, carefully this time I walked over to my towel where I noticed it was starting to swell. Unfortunately Nick wasn’t in the mood to hear me complain so I tried to act cool, but it was really hurting. Then we walked over to the cave, they were saying we needed torches but as you had to pay we just walked past. Lesson learnt, your phone is not that good of light in a huge pitch black cave. The steps, or rocks up to the cave was a workout in itself. At the three quarter mark I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make it my shin was throbbing at every step and my calves were just killing me from having to take steps half my body height! 

 

Tham Phu Kham Cave: Laos
 
The cave had a beautiful natural light beaming through to a Buddha which was breath taking, but as our phones were not efficient enough we just walked back down the hill. Before we left Nick wanted to jump off the tree, so I got the camera ready on the bridge.
 
Blue Lagoon: Laos
 
 The line took a little longer than normal because a kid about 9 years old just freaked out and froze on top! He just walked back down after 5 minutes. Then it was my turn to jump, I actually really didn’t think it was that high, but maybe this was due to the fact that I never looked down. As I jumped I felt exhilarated, and then half way I looked down and I thought to myself “Oh F#*CK this is actually quite high!” And then all of a sudden I was in the water. Unfortunately because of my panic my mouth was open so I swallowed way too much water and my ears became blocked for two days. So my life was fantastic at this point, I was limping, and couldn’t hear anything. 
After the Blue Lagoon we went to a waterfall just past the town. The road was once again bumpy. It was only a 10 minute walk to a opening of a cliff face with a little stream of water. I guess this is the dry season version of the waterfall. Not quite as spectacular as anyone would have hoped for. It was so little that it was laughable. So we turned back and went home. At least today was eventful and we made up for our “sloth” day yesterday!

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Laos: Day 17th to day 20th; 4th to 7th of February 2016

4th of February 2016:

Today was the day we would adventure to Laos. As we walked out of our room to grab some quick Pho before the 12 hour bus ride, we were hassled by taxi drivers wanting to drive us not understanding that Laos is very far away. The wonderful man from Tom’s cafe came to make sure we would get to the bus station safely. I started thinking this man was too good to be true, but indeed he was a wonderful man. In all honesty we would not have made it onto the bus without him, we got confused when we entered the station with him only a few metres behind. As the bus arrived surprisingly on time we climbed up to the second story and found a seat at the back. In only an hour we arrived at the Vietnam and Laos border. I knew this was going to be challenging, I mean Vietnam don’t make anything simple. As we were last off the bus we joined the que to get our passports stamped and fingers crossed we can venture to Laos. As I arrived at the front the man had no emotion, as if he had had enough dealing with us English speaking people. I handed him my passport and I thought that was it. Oh how I was so wrong. We walked across the border, into no mans land where a Laos person turned us around and said “need stamp go back”. So we went back and a Vietnamese and Laos person switched positions where he looked at my passport and pointed to another door. As we joined our third que I realised I either left my passport photos at home or have lost them on the way. Nicks photos were on the bus, however as the bus driver drove over to Laos he couldn’t reach them. I was trying to act cool, like nothing was bothering me but inside my heart was pounding so hard I’m surprised they couldn’t hear it. I didn’t want to be stuck at the border in Vietnam, that was the last place I wanted to be right now. As I reached the front I handed her my documents and she asked “Photo”. I tried to remain calm and say “No photo” but I’ve never had a good poker face. She remained neutral and reached out her phone where she took a photo of me… And that was it. There was no drama, no getting stuck in the border of Vietnam and I didn’t even have to pay extra. I was astonished! As I walked across the border I felt this sense of accomplishment, as if we finally made it into Laos with numerous days of drama. The rest of the bus ride was as boring as you may expect. After watching two movies we arrived in Savannahket. You would think after 12 hours on a bus you would be pretty happy to get off and explore, but we raced to the ticket machine and jumped on the bus to Pakse that was supposed to leave 10 minutes prior. It felt like we were in the Amazing race just running from one thing to another. Only after 5 minutes of driving the bus pulls over as the back was smoking. It smelt like rubber was burning, never a great sign! But, surprisingly after 10 minutes we were back on the road again, to stop 3 minutes later. A Canadian guy then told us the bus ride is 5 to 7 hours. Oh great so much for 2 hours! At this point it’s due to arrive in Pakse at 11 or midnight! Which would be fine but we didn’t organise accommodation before because we hadn’t had wifi for awhile so here’s to walking the streets trying to find a place to stay. As the bus came to a stop at what looked like a dusty paddock, was supposedly Pakse. We got off with the Canadian guy who hadn’t booked any accommodation as well, and decided to start walking the 1km to the city. A man on a tuk tuk reduced his price from $120,000kip to $20,000! So we hopped on and rode for 2 minutes, to accommodation. After asking two places, a room at $90,000kip was on offer for the two of us. As we were exhausted from the entire day’s adventures we spent a little more than usual and booked it for the night, or what was left of it. 

5th of February 2016:

 Today we deserved a sleep in. It was just such a long day yesterday it really takes a toll on you. So we crawled out of bed at 10am and checked out at 11am where we got lunch and used their wifi to find accommodation. We walked down the street for only 5 minutes where we tried for bungalows that were recommended by lonely planet. Unfortunately it was fully booked out so we walked into the the guest house a couple of metres closer to town. The man was French speaking and we took his last room for $70,000 for the night. We decided to rent a scooter to see the temples around Pakse. The lady in the store explained to us that we could do a 2 day one night drive around to see the waterfalls, and more rural villages. So we ceased the opportunity and decided to start tomorrow. However we hired the scooter for the rest of the day to see a old ancient temple. No one had told us it was a hour drive as we saw it was only 13km so you wouldn’t expect that to take long. Unfortunately when your on a scooter we were travelling at 40kms an hour! We stopped off at a gorgeous lookout where monks were living. The one thing Laos people need to learn is how to make stairs. Each step was a different length and if it wasn’t that they would be tilted up or down just to make your life that much harder and more exhausting to reach the top. The viewpoint over looked the Mekong river and 100’s of tiny little islands that would only be a few metres big. As we looked across the river a monk was sitting next to us singing.

When we reached the temple, it was so hot. We walked around the museum where it described their history and showed ancient sculptures etc. It was pretty amazing. Then we took a little golf buggy around a lake to the beginning of the walk to the ancient temple. We walked down a huge walk way with old broken pillars lining the pathway to the ancient temple. The Laos people are currently re-building one of the ancient temples which I can’t work out if that is a good thing or not. It’s nice that future visitors gets to see it but that’s just not its natural state now. At the end of the two temples crooked stairs led to the top of the mountain. Two gorgeous white trees with it’s roots tangled in between the stairs, and the flowers cascading down the steps, looked gorgeous as the sun started to set.

 

Vat Phou World Heritage Site- Laos
 
 Pass the two trees, are more stairs that are surprising that more people don’t trip over them, but I do love how they are the original steps. At the top of the mountain a Buddha sits in a ancient temple. It looks gorgeous a shimmering gold statue amongst old gray bricks.

 

Vat Phou World Heritage Site- Laos
 
 Nick and I started to walk around and found the sacred water, that was believed to have washed away your sins. 

 

Vat Phou World Heritage Site- Laos
 
The elephant temple was only a few metres so as we began to walk around a boulder, Nick steps on what he thought was a stick but was a white snake! This was fine for Nick, but the next thing I knew I see a tongue and beading eyes and all of a sudden a snake hissing at me. So naturally like a stereotypical Australian I swear and scream and just run away! Not the appropriate reaction in a Buddhist temple where the Snakes are believed to be protectors. So Nick keeps walking to Elephant temple and I’m stuck death glaring the snake, wondering what it’s next move is. Nick yells out there’s another path to take, so as I walk back I hear a rustle in the bushes and just start running again!! There was no other path, so I walk back to find the snake still in my way but Nick and an older couple from Germany are walking through the leaves to avoid the snake! 

 

Vat Phou World Heritage Site- Laos
 
Well that was enough adrenaline for me for one day so we start heading back, also the sun is setting so we wouldn’t want to drive in the dark with all the pot holes in the road! 

6th of February 2016:

We awoke early to start our two day journey to see rural villages and waterfalls. The first leg of the journey took us 3 hours, and by the end of it my bum was so sore from sitting on the back of the scooter for that long. I felt like I couldn’t walk properly! The town we stayed in was Tad Lo, and it is a absolutely breathtaking town that I wish it doesn’t become over populated of tourists in the future! Nick and I even thought to run a hotel and restaurant here it was so amazing! As we waited for our lunch we played with the local children. Nick taught them how to use the camera, and they thought it was so funny how it made the shutter noise! Then we started giving the two girls wizzys. This was incredible but made me feel so nauseous. 

 

Tad Lo- Laos
 
Thankfully our food came, as we sat in a little bamboo hut over looking the lake at that moment I knew that Laos was one of my favourite places. From here we walked to the waterfalls. It was a few metres high and we jumped from one rock to another on the top of it! 

  

Tad Lo- Laos
 
 The water was warmer than you may imagine, and the local village people were washing, swimming and playing in the water all afternoon. Nick decided he wanted to explore some more so we walked closer to the locals, up stream. At one point we walked in between two trees where I some how got prickles in my ear and all around it. I still have no idea how I managed this but it hurt! I lost count of how many I pulled out but I was praying it wasn’t something poisonous. After this dilemma we walked in land to where we found locals watering their veggie patches with a watering can. After a few minutes Nick remembered Laos was bombed every 8 minutes so decided it was probably a bad idea to go off the path. As we were heading back Nick decided to walk down a rickety bamboo ladder that apparently took us to the bottom of the waterfall. A cute dog was following us, and even walked down the so called ladder as well. Nick went swimming in the surprisingly deep water, with powerful cascading water falling on top of him. Some would say his crazy others adventurous I guess it depends what type of person you ask! 

 

Tad Lo- Laos
 
As we arrived at our guesthouse, the locals were cooking some sort of huge rodent. It was disgusting to say the least! We watched them take the spikes off it like a echidna, then skinned it and took out the intestines. It smelt revolting, it made me want to gag, whilst the water they were putting it in turned a deep red, full of blood. 

  
As we were watching this the locals gave us Buffalo skin and tiny tiny frogs as big as two finger nails. I tried the buffalo skin and wouldn’t wish it on anyone, it is impossible to chew. I honestly thought I was going to break my teeth! After 5 minutes of having it in my mouth and still not able to chew through it all I walked back to my room to “get changed” and spat it in the toilet. The taste stayed with me for an hour after. 

7th of February 2016:

After we awoke from a very restless sleep, we bought breakfast at a restaurant owned by a French man who moved to the small town in 2012. Then we headed off to our next big adventure, if only it wasn’t so cold. I was shaking from the cold wind from being on the scooter. After a 3 hour ride we found two waterfalls. The first one we went to was on the left, down a very bumpy road where I thought I was going to fall off. I spent more time in the air then on the seat, at least that’s what it felt like. 

 

Pakse- Laos
   
The cascading water free-falling into the private lagoon showed a sense of power in a quiet peaceful area. You could walk down a narrow muddy path to walk behind to hear the roaring noise and continuous spray in the air. The other waterfall was sadly not as interactive, but huge it was. It was a long drop that could only look like 100 metres but the thick forest blocked the bottom of the waterfall. As we were only 30km from Pakse we decided to drive back and see if we could possibly get on the overnight bus to Vietianne. Surprisingly there were seats available for us, so we grabbed it and was leaving in 2 hours time. So we took the scooter one last time to see the top of the hill across the bridge with a huge Buddha over looking the mountains and the Mekong River. The way to the Buddha and the top of the mountain was an adventure. The wooden stairs were falling down, some had a hole in the step, some were just missing. This would be fine apart from when 3 were missing and you had to adventure to the hill trying to climb up until the stairs were apparent again so you could step on the unstable rotting wood. At the top even Nick said; “yes we made it!” 

The sunset wasn’t as breathtaking as we had wished but we climbed back down before it got too dark.

Pakse- Laos
   
We jumped on the 12 hour bus to Vietianne, and I wish I could say it was a peaceful sleep, but the roads in Laos are of dirt, and 100’s of pot holes, so the entire night I was rolling around in the sleeper bed if I wasn’t doing that I was up in the air from hitting all the pot holes at full speed.

Vietnam: Day 12th- 16th; 31st of January to 3rd of February 2016

31st of January 2016:

My alarm went off at 6:45am, ready to catch the morning train to Dong Hoi. The receptionist told us it’s only a 20 minute walk, so we headed off down the street with a map he highlighted for us. A main skill I’ve realised I need to learn is how to read a map. The street signs didn’t seem to always correspond to what the map would tell us, so we had to ask a few locals and foreigners if they could possibly help us. All of a sudden Nick starts turning around telling me to go faster, hurry up. I’m so confused as to why, I know I’m a slow walker but what’s the hurry! As we arrived at the train station with 10 minutes before boarding closes we then had to navigate the maze of the station. As our ticket is in Vietnamese we have no idea what platform we are meant to go to. Miraculously we step foot in the correct train and carriage, we place our bags down of where we thought our seats were. One minute later, a Vietnamese man is standing at our door with a bellowing angry mother behind him, for what I gathered she was cursing at us for being in her seat. So we were happy to say we were wrong and realised we were in the next cabin along. As I pick up my bags and squeeze past the angry mother I take one step forward and realise we cannot go in that cabin as a old lady with a baby has literally the whole grocery store in garbage bins filling up the walk way in the cabin and the corridor. At this point I wished I knew Vietnamese as she was yelling at us, then the two cabins next to us helped us out, and she was yelling at them. After 5 minutes of me just standing there absolutely clueless as to how to solve the issue a man from the train station tries to help out. At this point the lady next to me pulls me to her softly, which i was thankful for because I’m pretty sure I would of got thrown some sort of vegetable at my head. This lady was yelling at the man, and from what I could gather she just didn’t want to move for us. After 10 minutes of me just standing listening to the huge debacle unraveling itself in front of me the man said we can go in there. I never want to make another Vietnamese person angry again! It was terrifying! After she took all her garbage bags out we sat down and just were in shock that we couldn’t help but laugh the situation off. 

I wish the rest of the day was as eventful, but unfortunately when your stuck on a train for 13 hours during the day, I’m pretty sure you go a little bit insane! Especially when your the last two people left on the train! 

As our train arrived at the station of Dong Hoi, I was so thankful to see the ground again. The train had been so rough that for the rest of the night I was still swaying, like the feeling you get being on a boat. 

A organised taxi from Easy Tiger picked us up and took us to our hostel. At this stage it’s 10pm and we were exhausted that all we did was order onion fries and go to bed.

1st of February 2016:

We arose bright and early at 7am to get ready before the 9am talk. We had breakfast at the hostel which was overpriced and not very nice. I just ordered bread and peanut butter with hash browns on the side. The hash brown came out as a Side-plate pizza shaped, that had little potato chips stuck together. At 9am we went to the campfire where the Irish guy from the hostel explains what you can do around here, and how to actually do it. It was so insightful, especially when he was explaining the different bombs, ammunition etc that is still left around here. In addition, he explained what they do, if you do find one as it has been reported it will still take 10,000 years to clear up the national park alone from any unexploded bombs and land mines. Another fascinating fact was Laos had more bombs dropped on it then anywhere else and it was a neutral country. They worked out a bomb would drop in Laos one every 8 minutes. That’s horrifying, for a country that is doing no wrong. 

We organised a group of 11 of us from Easy Tiger to catch a boat to Phu Ne cave. The boat ride only took 15 minutes and then you arrive at what looks like a opening of the mountain. The two drivers turn the motor off, take the roof off and start paddling. It was absolutely breathtaking. The whole boat just went silent for 30 minutes as an 80 year old local man rowed us through a forever changing cave at every corner. There are no words that can describe this amazing ordeal, but I will attempt it.

 

Phu Ne Cave, Vietnam
   
The smell of the cave engulfs your senses. The still turquoise water sits so naturally with the cave, as if the two and two are partners in this magnificent creation. The ceiling changes from a smooth red and white colour, representing no other than a reincarnation of Jupiter, to ragged, icicles hanging down in different shapes and lengths to represent the ever so changing past the cave has endured. 

After the boat ride we got to hop off and enjoy first hand what it feels like. This part of the cave was filled with sand and crevices hollowed out over centuries, to make the picturesque cave it is today. 
To reach the second cave you had to walk 490 steps. At first I didn’t think much about this but apparently the cold air told my body another story. By three quarters of the way my breaths were getting hard and faster. As we reached the top, we arrived to a huge opening with something jumping in between the caves crevices. At a closer look we realise there are black monkeys living within the opening of the cave. It was exciting and daunting having to walk under the monkeys when they were kicking rocks down but no one got hurt. The cave was huge, opening up to what seemed like a long way till the end. The path takes you through numerous turns and at some point you have to squeeze in between two rocks to continue through. As we reached the end, we lied down and just looked at the roof. It was amazing to feel so at peace and free from all the drama that continues to haunt you in the daily life. It was like the cave was your haven, it blocked all the noise and the people and allowed you to feel like you were living within the moment.

 

Phu Ne Cave, Vietnam
     


2nd of February 2016:

Today we slept in, which was peaceful and relaxing. Our plan was to buy the bus ticket to Laos, then go see Dark Cave and Paradise Cave. Simple, right! As the Vietnamese still haven’t figured out what simple plans are we had a bit of a nightmare day. The bus ticket that we had enquired about the day before has now sporadically just stopped going to Laos because of the New Year. So now the lady is telling us the next bus is on the 12th! That is so far away! We ran back to the hostel to see if they know of anything or can help us in anyway. The Irish guy laughed and was like of course there’s buses going to Laos, so he gave us a number of Tam from Dong Ha and we organised everything through him. Which in the end worked out to be the same price for both of us, compared to what the lady was quoting us for one person. 

 

Paradise Cave, Vietnam
 
However as a result of the hassle we only had time for one cave, so we choose the Paradise Cave, and I’m so glad we did. We hired two local men to take us to Paradise cave as we had been told, so many people have accidents because it’s very hilly and as a result of the rain very slippery. As we arrived at the entrance, we headed off down a path that felt like we were the only people there. No one had told us how long the walk was but the flat part was around 800m. Then it comes to a hill and as you look up and see a sign saying 500m this way to a ramp that wraps around the mountain so many times you can’t see the top you hope to yourself that the cave better be worth it.
Paradise Cave, Vietnam
 

After 15 minutes of walking up hill we reached a very tiny hole in the mountain, with stairs leading down. As you start to ascend the little opening, opens up to a massive chamber, the size of a football field. As you make your way to the bottom it’s breathtaking, but you wonder if this is it. Then the path seems to turn around a corner to more and more huge openings that one makes you wonder what the first person thought when they discovered this. We walked 1km within the cave, and not once was I disappointed it was continuously picturesque, every step you took. The cave is about 30km long and more people have gone to space then reached the end of this cave. 

3rd of February 2016:
This morning we checked out of Easy Tiger. We were very relaxed today so we had breakfast and spent the rest of the afternoon by the fire talking to a couple from London. Our bus to Dong Ha was due to arrive at 3pm, but as usual an hour later it arrived full of tourists. As we squeezed on, we headed off, when all of a sudden we had to make a U-Turn and head back because apparently we forgot two people. Thankfully we had only driven a couple of minutes so wasn’t so drastic, then like what I now expect of Vietnam, the people cancelled their tickets and the company never told them so we made another U-turn and headed back to Dong Ha. The drive was short only 2 and a half hours which was a pleasant change to what we are use to. As we get off the man from Tams cafe came and picked us up, well… He walked us 20 metres to the hotel then we paid him 900,000 for our ticket and went to our room. As Nick opened the door, the smell of mold engulfed your senses. It smelt like the room hadn’t been opened in months! Then we just watched four episodes of Hellcats and drifted to sleep. Was a very relaxing day, one that was well deserved!

Vietnam: Day 8-11, “27th- 30th of January 2016”

27th of January 2016: 

This morning we left at 10am to go to Cat Ba the biggest island in Halong Bay. Originally our plan was to get a bus to pick us up from our hotel to take us to the dock to then get another bus to take us to the city centre. It all sounded simple enough, unfortunately in Vietnam I don’t think they truly understand what simplicity is. The bus decided to not come to pick us up from our hotel so we got a 5 minute taxi ride to the bus depot, from there we were on a bus for about 2 hours where all of sudden we have to jump off on the side of the road and swap buses. From there the bus drove 15 minutes to the ferry dock. As we walked across a very uneasy rusted bridge to the boat, you could not see the ocean in it’s true natural state. Instead it is now covered in a combination of slick black oil and glistening petrol. The boat we hop on doesn’t come with enough seats so we get to sit on children’s plastic chairs. This wouldn’t seem to bad, except the wind chill from the boat and the light sprinkle from the rain makes the 15 minute journey incredibly bone chilling cold. As we arrive at the dock we were advised there would be a bus to pick us up from the dock to the city centre, except, there is no buses in eyesight and 100 stranded tourists confused as to what is happening!!! All of a sudden a mini bus arrives, a man tells people to hop on, and now we are left even more confused but feel a bit hopeful that at least buses exist on the island! 5 minutes later a big bus comes where all of a sudden it felt like we get swarmed by these Chinese people running towards it. So naturally we believe that this is for a tour so mustn’t be our bus. Thankfully Nick asks someone as it’s 100 Chinese people and us four Aussies and three Netherlands people who are just left standing with bags in our hands clueless to what is going on. “APPARENTLY”, we were suppose to actually get on that bus so we just run on with our big backpacks on board, and trying to squeeze between the isle without hitting everyone on the way! Cat Ba island is very hilly, so to get up the hill the bus has to turn the air conditioning off, which is a blessing because it’ only 15 degrees so no idea why we need the air conditioning on anyway! The drive was apparently very scenic but the windows were fogged up and it was of course raining outside. As we arrived at Full Moon Party Hotel it was pouring with rain, so we quickly ran to shelter. The room was nice but once again no heater, only air conditioning, so we just retreated to the warm blanket.
28th of January 2016:

 Today our plan was to visit Hospital Cave and then from there go to the Cat Ba National Park where we would trek for 4 hours. Unfortunately due to the monsoon rains all the guides cancelled the walk due to it being unsafe. Which sucked, but to be honest I can understand why it was absolutely pouring with rain and was only 15 degrees… And my rain jacket was a cheap plastic poncho which had a rip in it. So probably would have gotten hypothermia! So we sat in the breakfast area for 3 hours because there was nothing else to do, then we noticed the rain subsided so we ran out to do a hour climb to the Cannon Fort. It was 40,000 dong to enter and by far worth every cent! As you walk up a winding driveway to the top of the hill, you can see all the little islands surrounding Cat Ba. As you arrive to the top you see a big cement circle which they used for helicopters in the war. A few metres further is a massive old cannon which they used to fight off aircrafts. We then walked through a little narrow trench to come out to a opening where you can see the ocean and numerous islands coming in and out of the fog. The fog became so thick we couldn’t see the difference between the sky and the world around us. I liked the eerie feeling of it though. We continued through numerous trenches that became a big maze. Their tunnelling was impeccable in this day and age let alone all those years ago in their numerous wars. As we came to the end of the Cannon Fort it began to pour with rain again, we tried to let it subside for 10 minutes but unfortunately knew it wasn’t going to stop for long enough for us to get home. As we walked 100 metres from the top, all of a sudden I heard a siren that you would hear for something like a tsunami or war. This scared the shit out of me, because we had no idea what it was for. It could of been anything, but we kept walking down. Then, as we walk past a house the power turns off, if anyone has seen any movies this is not a good sign. We still have no idea what it was for, but we survived! That night after dinner at Green Mango, we went to “the good bar”, yes that is actually what it is called, and caught up with the 3 Netherlands and 2 Aussies and played Fussball.

29th of January 2016:

 Today sadly Bill and Charlie leaves us. Bill is going back home and Charlie is adventuring back down south to go diving. Nick and I booked a tour last night at 11:30pm to go around Ha Long Bay. The tour started at 8am and wouldn’t finish till 5pm. It was honestly breathtaking to say the least. We headed straight to Monkey island. Where we spent an hour, at first I was thinking what on earth can we do here for an hour BUT we were like oh let’s do the little walk up to the top that will be fun. Famous last words! No one said anything about bringing comfortable shoes or even rock climbing! The walk started easy just natural rocks made into stairs, then the rocks turn into sharp and pointy, and the path disappears and you just start having to wedge your foot into little cracks to pull yourself up. This is rock climbing I don’t care what people say! Do not do it in thongs!!! As stereotypical Aussies we made it to the top in thongs without any major injuries. Even though everyone else had hiking boots! This journey to the top would not have taken so long if there wasn’t so many people struggling and talking! If you thought going up was hard wait until you go back down! The rocks were still slippery from the 3 days of continuous rain! I was so thankful when we made it back down with only one scratch on my knee from kneeing the rock. Getting back on the boat we journeyed to our next point of destination where we would kayak around caves. This only took an hour and a half to get there as our boat was so slow I think my year 8 rowers could of rowed faster in their warm up! 

 Heads up, kayaking in jeans is probably not the most ideal attire! Thankfully Nick and I “looked” like we knew what we were doing and were the only pair to not get wet! I only had a few drips on me from the caves rather than my kayaking skills. This was by far my favourite thing we did at Cat Ba and one of my favourites so far in the trip! There’s nothing more amazing then kayaking on glass like water where the reflection of the surrounding green mountains is a perfect silhouette. The first cave we went through was so exhilarating, it was fairly dark so naturally Nick stops paddling so he can film and I’m left trying to steer the kayak from any rocks that I can’t see because he’s sitting in front of me. As the cave comes to a end the natural light starts beaming through and opens up into a big lake sheltered from the thick green forest on the mountains. Our guide takes us right, towards a dead end. All of a sudden we stop to see these gorgeous monkeys, but not just any monkey the rare Cat Ba Langur. On this island there are only 25 and 70 in total! We were fortunate to see 10 of these beautiful monkey’s. As it’s been raining for the past 3 days and today was the first clear day they came out of their caves to eat. When they are born they are bright orange as they get older they turn into a brown colour. We apparently are very lucky, when we got back all the locals were astonished at the photos. After 15 minutes we left the monkey’s to go through another cave. This cave was low and could only fit one canoe at a time. You would think by 30 minutes of kayaking you would of grasped some sort of idea of how to steer a kayak. Unfortunately this couple from Israel never mastered it! They ran into so many rocks that I lost count, and once they hit something or someone they would keep paddling forward rather than backwards. Unfortunately we were one of the people they hit in the one person cave. As a coxswain I straightened us perfectly into the cave unfortunately I did not see the Israel couple coming and they slammed straight into the back of us, shoving us into the rock. The cave came out to a little lagoon. I didn’t want to stop kayaking I loved paddling through all the little caves I would of done this 10 more times, at least! Lunch was provided on board, we had rice, spring rolls, tofu and fish. The cold spring rolls were quite tasty but my first experience with tofu wasn’t so pleasant it just tasted like a wet sponge. It would of made sense for the boat to drive to the beach whilst we were eating but instead it waited the hour that we ate and then took an hour to arrive at a point where I probably wouldn’t call it a beach. It was a little sand mound that you had to swim 50 metres in the freezing cold water to get to. Only four people swam including Nick of course. Comments from the water consisted of “f***k, it takes your breath away and I can’t breath”. So that sounds appealing! After only 30 minutes we headed back home. The day was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone! 

30th of January 2016:

 Today we head back to Hanoi, at 12:30pm, but first we hired a scooter to see the hospital cave that we missed out on the first day because of the rain. The cave was huge and the way they incorporated a combination of nature and concrete slab walls and ceiling’s to accommodate the injuries and ill from the war till 1975 was astonishing. The aura of the hospital made my hairs raise though. I felt like someone was continuously following me. You can feel the struggle and pain that would have filled those walls for years. As we headed back to Cat Ba city we stopped off at a market. The market sold everything from fresh produce to meat and seafood that I may label pretty fresh but not quite sanitary. We watched a lady try and decide on the live chicken she wanted by looking at it’s feet. The pigs hoofs and other meat’s that I’m not even sure what is were just laid out on a piece of plastic on the ground or if your lucky a table. We hopped on a bus back to Hanoi, another 5 hour journey for us lays ahead. As usual they don’t seem to tell you what is happening, they seem to just yell at you and push you in the direction they want you to go. Leaving you clueless and hopeful that your still heading to your destination. Organising a taxi to take us to our hostel was never going to be easy, especially when you know they are saying a ridiculous high price just because we are foreigners, but then again I would rather pay the $15 dollars than be stranded at a bus depot. 

 We stayed at the Happy backpackers hostel in a 6 dorm room. It was ok, apart from the door didn’t actually lock, we had no towels and the blanket was so thin that I was shaking in a ball to try and go to sleep before my mind woke me up to tell me I’m dying of hypothermia. The issue in Vietnam is, they have air conditioning, but no heating. I have no idea because every time it’s winter it’s cold, so surely they’ve learnt by now they need some sort of heater. 

As we had a wander around Hanoi, we came across a lit up red bridge reflecting off the glass water. It was so beautiful, to have something so peaceful in the middle of the fast paced city.