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Around the world in a daze

Northern Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

CAMBODIA | Tuesday, 23 June 2009 | Views [549]

The second month of our trip has been eventful. We've passed 2 borders, had 2 20 plus hour bus rides, seen a lifetimes worth of temples and are ready to hit Thailand.

We spent over a week in the north of Vietnam basing ourselves from Hanoi and heading off on trips to Halong Bay and Sapa. Halong Bay is one of the main tourist sights for foreigners and Vietnamese alike, and for good reason.

It is this amazing series of islands that jut out of the water. Only one island is inhabited – Cat Ba Island, a major place for locals to have boozy weekends away. Halong Bay is trying its hardest to become part of the new seven wonders of the world. We picked a 2 night trip. The first day was spent exploring caves around the islands - including James Bond Cave, where one of the films was made – by foot and kayak.

IN the evenign all tourist boats (and there are a lot of them!) anchor in the same spot and float around, bumping into each other slightly. Most are party boats but the wildest ours got was a game of Uno on the top deck!

In the morning those of us who were staying 2 nights were dumped on Cat Ba Island for a short walk up a mountain. There were two paths – adventure and normal, we thought we'd picked the normal one but realised when we were up to our knees in mud, it was actually the adventure track. Luckily we'd worn sensible shoes, not like the poms who were walking behind us who only had thongs. At the top of the moutain was a very high tower, unfortunately the top step was missing so you sort of had to leap onto the top and hope for the beest. All the photos i tried to take at the top are blurry thanks to my shaking hands due to the climb.

At the top of the climb - look at the fear in my eyes!

We stayed the night on the island in a pretty awful hostel before floating back to the harbour in the morning and getting the bus to Hanoi.

From there we booked a trip to Sapa, where there are many ethnic minority villages and great walking. As it is higher in sapa the weather is cooler, which is just as well as some walking was pretty steep.

The rice paddies in Sapa

Thankfully you are followed by a black H'Mong woman who holds your hadn on the slippery bits and even offers to cary bulkythings like bottles of water for you.

Of course they expect you to buy handicrafts from them when you stop.

After Sapa we had a few days in Hanoi before heading on our first 24 hour bus ride to our first border crossing at Laos. A lot of peopole had described the bus trip to us as the trip from hell, so we were a little worried. Especially when we looked at the bus. Before we even left they were fixing the engine. The back 3rd was filled with boxes and luggage and there was no room to store our packs except for the roof. We couldnt recline our chairs as there was too much luggage and they kept stopping to add even more. It turns out there is no real transport system for goods between China and Laos so it is all done by passenger buses. As it got later the aisles were filled with bits and pieces. Then the staff (there are always about 6 people working on a bus) decided it was time to sleep and pulled their hammocks across the aisle, so there were not only obstacles on the bottom but also the top. But sayign all this it wasn't too bad, we did manage to get some sleeep and it was a great way to get to know the others on the bus, many of whomm we ran into again and again in Laos.

We didn't spend much time in Vientiane the capital, just headed straight for Vang Vieng – the tubing capital of Laos. Tubing involves sitting in a tyre inner tube and floating down the river stopping at makeshift bars and drinkign too much free lao lao (whisky) and beer lao. The bars apparently washed away in the rain a week before we got there, and were rebuilt within a day. The shoddyness of the building was made perfectly clear to us on our second day on the river. We tried to walk down a set of stairs to the river bank, when it collapsed from under us. i was ok, just a bit bruised, but Louisa started spitting out blood and I started to think something terrible had happened. Luckily she had just got her teeth caught on her lip but it was still pretty nasty and we were put off tubing after that.

Sitting in a Vang Vieng cafe - one of hte few that wasn't playing friends or the simpsons

So we headed south to Four Thousand Islands – a collection of sand bed islands on the Mekong. There is not an awful lot to do there but relax in a hammock.

All the children on the island we stayed at seemed to do the work while the parents got drunk. We took a sunset cruise with a couple of Aussies, which was supposed to include swimming and a bbq. It became obvious -pretty early on that our guide was not all there and luckily his son had taken over driving the boat. They dumped us on an island for a walk, where the son would meet us at the other end and start the bbq. Halfway alogn the walk we realised our guide was no longer followign us and had to go back and look for him. we found him in a makeshift bar getting into the lao lao and left him be. the rest of the trip was “interesting” but we survived and the son cooked a great bbq chicken.

We moved onto Cambodia soon after and met up with Andy and Blake in Phnom Penh. It was great to catch up with them as they are going the opposite way to us around South East Asia so we could give each other tips. We spent a few days in the south at the beaches with them, swimming in the morning, playing poool and cards in the afternoon and having a bbq on the beach in the evening, blissful!

Beach bbq in Sihnoukville

They are now in Laos and we have made it to Siem Reap. We spent 3 days riding around the temples in the boiling heat and are thoroghly exhausted now.

Just a few more days in Cambodia before hitting the beaches of Thailand.

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