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Leaving on a jet plane . . .

On to Laos

VIETNAM | Sunday, 4 January 2009 | Views [584]

Sunset off Phu Quoc Island

Sunset off Phu Quoc Island

Hello all,

I'm sitting in a Backpackers in Hanoi where I await a 24-30 hour seated bus nto Vientiane, Laos. We hear it's not a fun ride and I'm not looking forward to it, but it's $14, whereas the flight is $130, so we figured it might at least be an interesting adventure. After Saigon, we headed to Dalat, a village in the beautiful mountains of Vietnam. While there, we went on a one day trek to the summit of Luang Bang. Our guide, Paul, was of the Lat people and serenaded us with renditions from the artists such as the Eagles, Beatles, and Bob Marley. After the trek (which was very steep, but worth the hike), Paul took us back to his family's house where they were celebrating a "small" wedding that had ocurred that morning (apparently there is also a big one in a couple weeks). When we first walked in, I thought they were smoking out of a hookah, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a big clay pot full of rice wine. There was a long flexible tube that reached from the very bottom, extending out of the top from which you drank. They encouraged us to drink . . .and drink . . . and drink. It seemed as though they were trying to get us drunk. Finally we said our goodbyes and stumbled back to our van. Next the driver dropped us off at "Crazy House," a hotel with strange rooms situated in somewhat of a maze. We had no idea this was part of our tour and found it amusing that they had tube fed us rice wine and then dropped us off here. We also hopped on a cable car in Da Lat and had no idea where it led until we got there. It was a beautiful sort of Buddhist retreat overlooking a lake.

Dalat was beautiful, but dropped into the low 60's/high 50's at night and we wanted a hot Christmas on the beach. So we headed back to the coast to a place called Mui Ne. It's a good place to learn to kite surf, but at a stiff $300, we decided to pass for now and spent most of our time lounging in the hammocks and beach chairs. We had Christmas dinner with 35 "friends" and had a great night out afterward. We met lots of great people in Mui Ne, but we had stayed 5 nights and it was time to move on. Next we took an 18 hr journey to Hoi An (all on comfy sleeper buses). There's not much to do in Hoi An other than to get clothing Taylor-made. I hadn't planned on getting anything, but was so impressed with the things they could make, I ended up spending $52 on a pair of cargo pants, a bathing suit top, a summer dress, and a pretty shirt. It's addicting though and there were stores everywhere, so it was a good thing we were only staying for one day. While we were there the Vietnamese won a football (soccor) match against the Thais and the streets were packed full of people celebrating. It was madness! See the pictures. We left Hoi An for Hanoi with a 6 hour stopover in Hue (the old dividing line between the north and the south). The only thing to do in Hue is to tour the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), but we heard that was a 9 1/2 hr day with 9 of those hours spent on the bus, so we skipped it. I'm sure the town was nice along the river, but it was pouring rain and cold the whole time we were there, so we didn't explore much.

Our ride from Hue to Hanoi was 13 hours and on the most uncomfortable sleeping bus with very rude drivers. It wasn't fun. When we arrived in Hanoi, we had to negotiate a taxi into town and found one for 75,000 VND ($4). We shared the taxi with a Chinese girl, so it was 25,000 VND each. On the way, we decided we wanted to go to a location that was on the way to the one we had negotiated. The driver tried to charge us more money, but we refused. When we got to our destination, he wouldn't open the trunk until we paid him and we wouldn't pay him until he opened the trunk. So Lauren went to the driver's seat and popped the trunk. He immediately slammed it back down, so Lauren went to do it again. This time he followed her, so I flung the trunk open and put myself part of the way in so he couldn't close it again. The Chinese girl then helped pull our bags out, we paid him the 75,000 VND and were on our way.

We only spent a day in Hanoi and booked a 2 night/3 day cruise through Ha Long Bay for New Year's Eve. The trip was fun. It was nothing like we were told it would be and was extremely disorganized, but we had great company. No one seemed to have any idea what was on the itinerary, but we shad lunch when we got on the boat and then cruised to a cave and went through it. Then we cruised to Cat Ba Island where we spent NYE in a hotel. We had a good night though, starting out at a small bar near our hotel, drinling 36 cent pints of beer - not bad actually. Then about 13 of us headed for town and brought in the New Year at Sunrise Hotel. I spent the whole night trying to get the DJ to play "Rock the Casbah" (as in "Rock the Cat Ba) by the Clash to no avail. It was a really fun night. The next day we checked out the island, then cruised around the Bay, went kayaking and slept on the boat that night. The rooms were actually pretty nice, but we didn't sleep very well for some reason. The next day we cruised around some more and then had lunch in Ha Long city before heading back to Hanoi. We were late leaving Hanoi because an Australian family on the cruise was "cross" about the cruise because it was nothing like we were promised, so they found the guy who sold them the tour and took him to the police. They had also paid for the "Deluxe tour," but had the same exact tour as the rest of us who'd paid for the Standard tour. They were still at the police station when we left so we don't know what happened. We spent the last couple of days wandering around Hanoi and visiting the "Hanoi Hilton" where John McCain was kept as a POW during the war. And in about an hour, we hop on our bus to Laos. So I have to run and get some food. Wish me luck and I'll talk to you all soon. Here are the links to my most recent photos:






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