A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

Cone-hats, pushbikes and stir-fried dog!!

sunny 31 °C

After saying farewell to Glenn at Phuket boat harbour, I got a ride into Phuket itself and found a hotel for the night then got up early the next morning for the short flight back to Bangkok. My flight to Hanoi the next morning was very early and I left the hotel room I was sharing with a girl I met on the airport transfer bus at about 3am. I snuck out of the room and waited on the street for yet another airport shuttle bus. The lady-boys were out in full force and appeared to have no shortage of clientele.

The plane arrived fairly early and I transferred into Hanoi. The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of people riding pushbikes. And, yes, they do wear cone-shaped hats!! The streets were full of people selling everything imaginable. In the afternoon I took a trip to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum but was disappointed to find that 'Uncle Ho' was away on his annual pilgrimmage to Russia for a spot of taxidermi-ing. After a disappointingly 'western' dinner, I met up with my tour group and we went off to see a water puppett show (picture Punch and Judy in a swimming pool!!). Most entertaining.

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Street markets in Hanoi

The next evening we took an overnight train south to Hue where we spent two days exploring the palaces and narrow streets. We had dinner one night at a restaurant run by a man whose children are all deaf. All the children work in the restaurant and it made for an interesting night. One or two of his children are quite accomplished artists and we bought quite a few of their paintings at ridiculously low prices.

We then left for Hoi An, another overnight train trip. The trains were less comfortable than the trains in Thailand, but the beverage carriages seemed always to be in fine form!!

Arriving in Hoi An, we wasted no time in legging it to the best reputed tailor in town and putting in our order for clothes. The whole process of having clothes made is incredibly quick. I had two suits,a jacket, a dress and a skirt made in less than a day. You simply point at a picture in any of the magazines in the store, they measure you up ( I steadfastly refused to make the same soul-destroying mistake I made in Thailand and declined to hazard a guess at my size), then tell you to come back in two hours at which point they have a pinned-together version of your soon-to-be clothes. They then re-measure you and tell you to go away and come back in three hours, and when you return all your clothes are ready and waiting in a suit bag. The only problem being that you have to carry around the suit bag for the next month!!

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With my tailors in Hoi An

From Hoi An we went to Ngah Tranh and then across to Whale Island for three days of uninterrupted swimming, reading, volleyballing, scuba diving bliss. My volleyball skills were never anything to write home about and my arms paid the price for about three days afterwards. The scuba diving was brilliant and ironically the guy who took me was a friend of a friend from Brisbane so I think I scored a longer mates-rates dive. Brilliant coral and fish.

From Ngah Tranh again we took another overnight train further south to Ho Chi Minh City and then further on south for three days on the Mekong Delta. The Delta communities are amazing in how they conduct all their business from their boats. Each boat sells one type of item (eg pineapples) and attached to the front of the boat is a really tall pole with a pineapple attached to the top of it so that people can see from a way away that the boat sells pineapples.

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Markets on the Mekong

The people live in huts and lodges on the banks of the Mekong and we spent two nights in homestays with the local people. The second homestay had an enormously fat snake in a tank that they treated like a pet. I freaked out when they put it around my neck and I thought I might have to perform CPR on myself. Am not a snake person. Or a spider person. Or a praying mantis person.

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Bec and a very big snake

On returning to Ho Chi Minh City, I had a week to myself before having to head back to Australia. I spent a day out at the Cu Chi tunnels (the tunnels used to hide during the vietnam War). The tunnels are incredibly narrow and are pitch black. Someone I had met previously had told me to take my headtorch and admittedly I felt like a bit of a git (and was paid out accordingly by the people in my tunnel group) but 10 metres into the dark, winding tunnels I was soon everybody's new best friend.

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In the Cu Chi tunnels

For $1US it's possible to buy a bullet and then choose which gun you want to shoot it with. Initially I wanted to use the semi-automatic but the gun guard wasn't convinced that I would remain standing afterwards so I lost my gun-firing virginity to an AK47 and a pair of shoddy ear muffs, most likely lifted from an airplane in the late eighties. I was unilaterally deaf for almost a week afterwards.

I spent a day trawling through the massive Ben Tanh market in central Ho Chi Minh City and bought so many wooden women, placemats, chopsticks, Ralph/Polo/Rolex/Cartier/CK rip-offs that I needed to but another bag (Polo rip-off carry-on size suitcase on wheels for 150000 dong/ 7 quid/ $17Aus) to get it all home in. Pho 2000 (famous for having been visited by Bill Clinton) was good for yummy noodles.

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Hat weaver at Ben Tanh markets.

I spent another day museum and zoo hopping and found the War Remnants Museum to be quite disturbing. I had my hair cut and my nails done and had the best and longest scalp and head massage I've ever had.

The people of Vietnam are smiley, happy people. A hundred year old lady (or thereabouts) walked out and stopped an entire street of traffic so that I could cross a busy road. Boiled snake has the same texture as the insides of grapes but tastes repulsive. Dog tastes like stringy beef (sorry dog lovers, I didn't do it on purpose. It was cleverly disguised in a stirfry). There is an enormous market for bootleg books (photocopies of actual books) and I bought about thirty bootleg CDs, all of which work. Locally made beer is incredibly cheap and is served in plastic jugs and drunk while sitting on child size plastic chairs at child size plastic tables on the side of the street. The cyclo riders know the town like the back of their hands and will wait an entire day just to take you back to your hotel. Life in Vietnam appears simple, yet complicated at the same time.

Posted by TDL 02:01 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Krabi and Phi Phi

.......definately the place to be!!!!!!!

sunny 26 °C

Thursday 7/10/04

Packed up early and headed by minibus to the beachside town of Krabi. The place is stunning with its clean, white beaches and karst formations climbing randomly out of the ocean and there are so many restaurants preched on the side of the ocean taking advantage of the view. Clearly, we spent quite a bit of time in said restaurants. We stocked up on dodgy CDs and Glenn had a suit made by one of the many tailors along the frontage.

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Island hopping in a longtail boat.

We took a trip to Rai Leh island where we were wet from the word go. Wet from the longboat trip over, wet from the tropical rain and wet because we figured we couldn't get any wetter and got in the ocean for a swim. There is an interesting cave at the end of the East Beach which is actually a shrine to fertility and is, in fact, full of wooden carved penises of all shapes and sizes. The true definition of the 'foot long schlong'!!!

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Rai Ley Island

Glenn went to a Thai boxing match back on the mainland which he describes as a cross between a tribal dance and the latest nightclub moves.

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Thai boxing match

We took a tuk-tuk taxi to the township of Krabi itself where we had a look around and did a bit of shopping before again being dumped on by monsoonal rains. Our tuk-tuk driver was nearby so we started our trip back to the beach but didn't end up getting to far before we had to get out of the tuk-tuk and wait for the water to subside. We were up to our knees (hips if you're short like me) in water and couldn't go any further. Eventually we made it through, with a bit of encouragement to our driver, to the beach side of town.

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Road block!!

That night we had (quite) a few drinks with a few people we'd met along the way and had a fairly comprehensive tour of the Ao Nang night life.

Needless to say and due to an overly generous and overly intoxicated Irish guy (love the Irish), cheap Thai spirits and eighties beatbox music, neither of us were feeling too flash the following morning. The ferry boat to Phi Phi Island was made more unpleasant by Glenn's inability to retain food. Glenn was left on the beach under the premise of minding the bags while Bec took off with the first tout she could find to secure the nearest airconditioned room. Glenn spent the afternoon in various stages of consciousness while Bec delighted in the fact that 14 out of her 14 dodgy CDs actually worked in her 10 quid Brick Lane discman!!

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Approaching Phi Phi Island

The next morning we were up quite early and were successful in our quest to find some slightly more authentic beach front accommodation in the form of ocean front cabins (open door, step onto beach). We were quite pleased to see our buddies Helen and Steve and Gavin had the same idea about coming to Phi Phi Island. Did some snorkelling, watched the sunset then off to a seafood restaurant for dinner with Helen and Steve and Gavin.

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The view from our front door on Phi Phi Island

Hired a longtail boat and it's driver and went out the next day on a snorkelling trip around the islands. Plenty of bright fish and movie-scene scenery (The Beach, Leo De Caprio). Saw a few monkeys swinging through the trees on the way back in. Dinner again with the usual suspects then spent the night sitting in our deck chairs under the stars.

Got up at the crack of dawn (ok, not really) on our last day on Phi Phi Island and hiked up the mountain at the end of the island to the viewpoint which overlooks the whole of Phi Phi Island. The walk was almost vertical (ok, not really again, but it felt like it) and fairly exhausting in the humidity but the view from the top was worth every minute of it. We had a cup of tea in a very small but perfectly positioned cafe on top of the mountain and then slowly made our way back down again.

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The view from the hilltop on Phi Phi Island. And one equally as knackered cat.

  • It was never my intention to highlight the fact that a lot of this has been blogged retrospectively, but I can't write about this part of our trip without mentioning the tsunami. We were on Phi Phi Island two months before the tsunami consumed most of the island and its surrounding areas. The people of the island are beautiful people and helped make our time there brilliant. It broke my heart to see the island and its people so badly devastated and I hope that one day we can go back to Phi Phi and its people.*

Posted by TDL 20:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Thailand's Lakes, Islands and Beaches

Bridges and big cats, beaches and bats.

sunny

Time to reward those aching hill-tribe-trek muscles with a relaxing Thai massage. Or not. There's nothing relaxing about having one leg sat on and the other forced over your head!! Headed for the train station again for an overnight train to Bangkok.

We arrived in Bangkok early int he morning and were met by a driver for a trip to Kanchanaburi via Damnoen floating markets.. The market was alive with color and sound as the women sold their fruit and veges from their boats to eager shop keepers.

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Damnoan floating markets

Off then to Kanchanaburi, to the bridge over the river Kwai. There was a good museum centered around the 'Death Railway', a lot of which was really confronting. The railway is still used today, though generally only for tourism purposes. We walked across the bridge but had to run along it to avoid an on-coming train. It would seem that workplace OH&S hasn't made it to Kanchanaburi yet.

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The bridge over the river Kwai

Headed back to Bangkok then with a trip to a tiger sanctuary on the way. The tiger sanctuary is run by a bunch of monks who rehabilitate the tigers to the point where they can return to their natural jungle environment, although they very seldom do. We took advantage of the photo opportunity which was pretty unnerving. It was pretty hard not to make any sudden moves when the natural reaction to a tiger moving towards you is to panic and run away!!

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Big cat!!

Made it back to Bangkok in time to take in a bit of Thai culture in the form of a lady-boy show. It was a very well choreographed cabaret-style show performed by men, most of whom have had the first stage of a sex-change operation. Their make-up was exquisite and some of them looked incredibly feminine, however there was also a lot of five o'clock shadow. We declined the opportunity to take in a ping pong show in Pat Pong which, by all accounts, was quite rote-learnt and featured a mind-boggling assortment of ping pong balls, darts and footballs.

The following day we boated and song thaewed around Bangkok before getting on an overnight train to Khao Sok lake district. We took a local bus to the treehouses which were quite a novelty- a double bed with a mossie net, toilet, shower and two chairs perched 15metres up a tree and accessed by a ridiculously steep ladder. Spent the afternoon riding down the nearby river in tyre tubes before a nice dinner and a table tennis competition where Glenn's left-handed, one-eye-closed, hopping handicap was more of a laugh than a hinderance but he was soon annihilated by one of the locals.

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Lakeside raft houses

We spent the next two days relaxing at rafthouses on the side of the lake. The place is post-card beautiful and we swam (in bat caves!!), floated, canoed, slept and ate for two days.

Posted by TDL 22:43 Archived in Thailand Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

The Hill Tribes of Thailand

Mud, pigs, elephant snot and corn fields!!

all seasons in one day 28 °C

Tuesday was the first day of a three-day hike through the hill tribe areas north of Chiang Mai. The weather was incredibly muggy and oppressive and the walking was made harder because of the thickness of the mud! We walked through rolling fields of corn set against a back drop of limestone mountains. The jungle was thick and we made a couple of river crossings using bamboo poles as bridges. The first night we stayed in a village rampant with chickens and piglets and we had a good meal by candlelight in a thatched hut illuminated by a near full moon.

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River crossing while hill trekking

We were woken early the next morning by a bunch of roosters and set off again through the rolling corn fields on our way to a small village where we road the next couple of hours on the back of an elephant. Our guide sat us on a little (unstable) platform on the back of a massive elephant and we took off through the jungle. While it was a brilliant experience, it was also pretty gross. Because it's so hot, the elephants suck up water from the ground into their trunks and then spray it back over their heads, covering us in elephant snot in the process. The first thing we did when we reached the next village was to de-elephant and jump in the river for a wash!!

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An elephant ride!!

After another afternoon traipsing through the jungle (poncho on, ponch off due to monsoon), we reached our stop for the night and again, jumped in the river for a bit of a bath. Some of the local village women had set up their craft stalls and Glenn and some other guys ended up playing soccer with some of the (very competitive) village kids. After dinner the village women and girls put on a traditional song and dance around the fire. Along the way we had bought a pig as a gift for the village for hosting us and the villagers were very grateful.

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Soccer with the village kids

On Thursday morning we left the village and headed past the village school. The buildings were very basic but the kids seemed very happy, although it must be difficult to concentrate if you're always a tourist attraction!! Across a few more fields and we reached the take off point for our bamboo rafts and were soon floating along to a backdrop of reeds and distant hills. Nothing too scary, but we did hit a rock in the water and our guide fell off the raft but was soon retrieved. We reached Chiang Mai late in the afternoon, just in time for a bit more market haggling.

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Village school kids

Posted by TDL 02:03 Archived in Thailand Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Thailand

Land of smiles.........and tuk-tuks

all seasons in one day 28 °C

Saturday saw us together again after Glenn's biking trip through Switzerland and Bec's gourmet trip through India. We met at the (not so)New World Hotel which, with its blue tiled bathroom and single-channel TV, was strangely comfortable.

We set off to walk through Wat Pho to try and get a massage but couldn't find the place we were looking for and ended up visiting the enormous reclining Buddha. The Buddha is huge and it's impossible to get it all in a photo given the closeness of the walls around it.

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The reclining Buddha

Sunday saw us in a tuk-tuk heading to Chatachuk markets for some hard core shopping. We drew plenty of giggles from the locals when, due to lack of change-rooms, Glenn had to try on the fake Levi's in the middle of the market stall. His boxer shorts were a hit. Not to be outdone in the embarrassment stakes, the following conversation relates to Bec trying to buy a skirt in the same market:
Bec: Can I try this skirt on please?
Shop lady: What size you?
Bec: Uh, small, I think.
Shop lady: (giggles and looks pointedly at Bec's hips)You try on extra large.
Bec: (cough, splutter) What about medium?
Shop lady: No, you extra large.
Bec tries on the medium and the extra large and scurries off with her tail between her legs after purchasing the XL size. Thai women are very tiny.

We took another tuk-tuk back to the hotel but were forced to throw some money at the driver and get out when we realised we were on our way to visit another gem shop. Got back to the hotel just in time to get a taxi to the train station for the overnight train to Chiang Mai.

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Monks in a tuk-tuk

Monday morning we awoke on the train just outside of Chiang Mai. The night was fairly comfortable and we then transferred via song thaew to our hotel and then set out on foot to see some of the temples of Chiang Mai. Most of the temples were fairly modern and we bought a painting from one of the market stalls there. We had intended being on time to have a chat with the novice monks about their life and religion but it didn't work out time wise. Every day the monks make themselves available to talk to tourists as a way of helping them to learn English and helping the tourists to understand Buddhism.

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Temples of Chiang Mai

We then took another song thaew out to the more rural area of Chiang Mai to an orphanage for disadvantaged kids. The fellow who owns the orphanage is a chap called Stanley and he built the orphanage and it surrounding gardens from scratch and tells how some of his kids have gone on to do really great things. One little girl even won a competition for best hand-writing in Chiang Mai!!

Chiang Mai has the most unreal market shopping and after dinner we were into it with much enthusiasm and bargaining relentlessly!! Lesson: if you can't get it at a 'special price', then you need to try harder.

Posted by TDL 23:44 Archived in Thailand Tagged ecotourism Comments (1)

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