A Travellerspoint blog

Laos

Set your watch to Laos time...

overcast 26 °C
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So it was off to Laos from Hanoi, a bus journey that I haven’t heard the best reports about. I paid the extra for a sleeper bus as it’s a pretty infamous journey and wanted some kind of luxury. I almost forgot to mention about Bonita my beloved motorbike that served me so well in Vietnam. I was going to give her to charity or sell her in Hanoi but in the end I gave it to a local Vietnamese guy that worked outside our hostel – his job was to park bikes outside and to keep an eye on them. We had been chatting to him over the past few days whilst hanging outside. He didn’t have a bike of his own and he did such a good job of looking after Bonita that I decided to give her to him. I knew I made the right decision – he was over the moon and was really thankful. I am glad someone will get use out of her and now he has his own transport to get to work. I d much rather give her tom someone that needed her.
Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang


That evening I went to get the bus to Vientiane and what an ordeal it was. We were dropped off by a mini bus that crammed about 22 people inside at the side of a road just off an industrial estate and told to wait there. After about an hour we were told to follow this guy where we eventually ended up at an old bus station to board our not so luxury bus. I have got used to having no leg room now but this was crazy. We drove about 6 hours to the border and had to wait on the bus for about 4 hours for the border to open – it was crazy, why they couldn’t just leave later and save us hours of waiting on the bus who knows. There were people crammed on the bus sleeping on the floor of the corridor which meant you couldn’t even get up to stretch your legs.
Visitig the Monks

Visitig the Monks


There was a group of us on the bus – about 10 in all which made the time pass a bit quicker. Although an English couple did start to grate on me somewhat. At immigration they started complaining about the cost of the visa to enter Laos and were refusing to pay – this held up our bus a good hour or so. There argument was that they were only in Laos for 3 days so should get a discount, ok I agree that $35 is a lot for a visa but where did they think it was going? So after having there passports taken off them they eventually agreed to pay the full amount and we could get going.
Elephant Ride

Elephant Ride


We arrived in Vientiane and checked in to a hostel – to my surprise it is expensive in Laos – a lot more then Vietnam, I was under the impression it would be the cheapest of the countries. I put it down to being a capital city and that it would get cheaper as soon as I get out of there. We arranged to meet for diner and booked on to a bus to go to Vang Vieng the next morning to go tubing. Dinner was not a good experience for two reasons – one I got food poisoning that night and had to delay going up north and spend 2 days in bed in Vientiane being violently sick. The next was the English couple yet again, the restaurant was late in bringing out some of the food – now we were all hungry after the bus ride but this is Laos after all. They kicked up a fuss and were refusing to pay – have they never heard to Laos time??
It was an embarrassment the owner was threatening to call the police and they were still refusing – having had enough of all the arguing a couple of us paid our bill and headed out for a few drinks. Vientiane is a strange city – not what I expected from a capital city, it is surprisingly laid back and tranquil. That said there is not much going on at all.
Village life

Village life


So after spending probably the worst 2 days of my trip in bed with severe food poisoning it was right to say I wasn’t feeling the love for Laos – I had lost a stone in weight and still couldn’t keep any food down. I dragged myself out of bed and got on a bus to Veng Vieng – I thought a change of scenery would do me good. Everyone raves about Vang Vieng being a party place and a real good laugh – I have to disagree. Ok I wasn’t feeling great so I wasn’t on form but I have to say it was on of the worst places I have visited on my trip so far (I can hear the gasps from people that love it). It has nothing going for it – it is identical to an 18 – 30’s holiday in Corfu. All the bars show Friends on repeat all day long and its just full of people getting drunk. God I sound old I know but I wanted something more from Laos so I headed up to Luang Prabang the following day and my opinion of Laos changed instantly – I fell in love with the place. The bus ride was an experience in itself, it wasn’t even that far but it was a good 7 hour journey as the road winds up and down the mountains – Laos is a beautiful country.
First time steering an elephant

First time steering an elephant


I met a Brazilian called Sasar on the bus so we went off to find a guest house and stumbled across probably the friendliest place I have ever stayed – it was a cute little guest house down an ally way and the owner was so nice, kind of like a surrogate mum. There is an amazing night market that sells all the local tribes items. It is a picturesque little town and I happily spent a few days there. I spent the first day looking around the town, visiting the temples, speaking to the local monks and having a few Beer Laos in between. The food was awesome – we went to the markets and bought fresh BBQ fish and chicken and took them back to the guest house.
The Mekong

The Mekong


The following day I did something that I had wanted to do all my trip – I rode and elephant – it was an awesome day, I did a one and a half hour elephant ride, followed by a visit to a waterfall and a two hour Kayak down the Mekong River. The elephant ride was awesome, the guide let me jump on the neck of the elephant and steer for the first hour of the ride. Wasn’t the most comfortable on my poor ass but what an experience. The Kayak was also great, now when I booked it I thought 2 hours wouldn’t be enough – was I wrong! 2 hours Kayaking almost killed me – I think I need to get back in to shape. It was great kayaking past all the locals though, you got to really see how they live.
I would have liked to have got the river boat up the Mekong to Chang Mai in Thailand but I have to be in Thailand on the 23rd to meet my mum and sister so it would have been a bit tight getting there, it’s a shame but maybe I will go back through Laos getting to China.
Local Village

Local Village


So it was a bus journey back to Vientaine then to Bangkok – simple, ohh no, lol. They said the bus would take 9 hours… 16 hours later we finally made it. The bus broke down after 2 hours and we were stuck waiting for 3 hours for a replacement. Luckily it broke down at a village full of the coolest kids. They all came to look and stare – I had bought one of the springy shuttle cocks – kind of like a hacky sac – that they are crazy about in Vietnam so me and Li this German girl started to play, we had quite the crowd watching us. The kids were actually really good at it so they joined in – I could not think of a better way to pass the time. I gave the shuttle cock/hacky sac to one of the kids as a gift as I left.
Laos Time

Laos Time


The bus ended up arriving after 17 hours – it was a mammoth journey and I am well an truly acquainted with the phrase ‘Lao time’ – I even bought a pretty cool watch that sums it up. So it was an overnight bus to Bangkok – I’m a little bit cautious of what to expect with Thailand – I’m thinking it will be really touristy – not that there is anything wrong with that but it will be an interesting experience I’m sure.

Posted by dezmondos 01:09 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vietnam Part 2

North Vietnam

sunny 30 °C
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Day 12 – Dong Ha – Vinh – 280km

I woke up feeling just as bad as the night before but there was no chance I was going to stay in Dong Ha, the plan was to get a guide around the DMZ but due to me feeling like shit I just wanted to find a nice hotel somewhere and wrap up. We stopped at a bridge that I cant remember the name of for the life of me but apparently its famous?!
This is where me and Magnus went our separate ways – he was heading on the train back down to HCMC and I was heading on to Hanoi. It was on my own from here on. The plan was to stop at Dong Hoi and just find a nice hotel to curl up in until I felt better. But once I got riding I started to feel better and managed to rack up 280km and found myself in Vinh – nothing of to much interest here but it was a good stop off with only 290km left to Hanoi.
Chilling in Halong Bay

Chilling in Halong Bay

Day 13 – Vinh - Hanoi
I was flying the next day, Bonita was running really well and I stuck to about 70kmh for the remaining ride which was all well until I got pulled over by the police for speeding – they were so happy when I pulled my helmet off to reveal a tourist – they must have seen dollar signs in their eyes. They tried to get 500,000vnd out of me but after about half an hour of negotiating with them threatening to take the bike off me we agreed on 200,000vnd (about 6 pounds). So I slowed down abit after that as it seemed that the police were out in force. I arrived in Hanoi covered in mud and dust from the ride but in one piece and booked into Hanoi backpackers for the night. After a couple of days recovering in Hanoi which I have to say isn’t that interesting I decided to try and get back on the road again. So I planned a route and set of on the way to Son La. I made it about half way and had to stop in a hotel – I was covered in mud head to toe, soaked right through and freezing. Whilst I was warming up in the hotel I decided that I wasn’t prepared enough to do this ride with the weather – I had no warm clothes and no waterproofs. I decided to head back to Hanoi the next day and ended up spending a few days there.
Cat Ba

Cat Ba


It was pretty cool, I met at English guy called Joe and Daniella a girl from Macadonia – so we just hung out. Now Hanoi backpacker have a famous tour of Halong Bay which everyone does but it was $129 – which is pretty much a booze cruise. I would liked to have done it but I couldn’t justify spending that much on the tour. So the three of us set out to do it our own way a lot cheaper. So we got the bus to Cat Ba an island in Halong bay the next day – it took about 4 and a half hours, well I say the three of us – Joe got so drunk the night before he couldn’t get out of bed and ended up meeting us the next day.. Cat Ba itself isn’t anything that special but the tours are a lot cheaper. The first day we hired a motorbike and went around the island – first to the national park which was did a 3km trek and then to Hospital cave. The cave was pretty impressive – in the way the locals moved the hospital into this cave that had three stories. A guide showed us around inside and explained what everything used to be.
On the Junk

On the Junk


That day we managed to arrange a trip – I was very proud of us – we managed to charter our own Chinese Junk for only $50 each – this included food, all tickets, permits, Kayaking and an overnight stay on the boat. We met two guys from England who joined us on the boat so we had it to ourselves between the five of us.
We set off that morning and oh my god. It takes this a lot to impress me these days after travelling for a while but it was outstanding. I cant describe the views. We sailed around visiting beaches and caves stopped for lunch and went Kayaking through caves and lagoons. The food was awesome and I had finally learnt to use chopsticks so only a little of my food ended up on the floor.
Halong Bay

Halong Bay


The night was pretty cool, we brought a few drinks so it was a pretty good night, the captain of the boat ended up getting so drunk he was in bed by 7:30. The next day was even better then the first – we had the best weather I had seen so far in Vietnam. We took the canoes out again and went through a cave that was 200metres long and came out I into a lagoon. This truly is paradise. After the cave we headed to a beach when something happened that dampened my mood somewhat. I only went and dropped my camera in the water when we got out to the go on the beach. I could not believe it! That makes number 7 for my trip so far – I have the worst luck ever with cameras – it wasn’t a cheap one either.
Halong Bay Kayaking

Halong Bay Kayaking


We visited Monkey Island where the excitement continued… Paul one of the guys was climbing up a pretty difficult trail, slipped and dislocated his shoulder. It was a bit of a shame for him as he was in a lot of pain – the boat dropped him off at a hospital and dropped us back to Cat Ba.
Sapa

Sapa


We headed off the next morning and ended back up in Hanoi – and headed straight off to Sapa in the north that evening on the night train – being as we didn’t book the train the only ticket we could get was on the hard sleeper – and my god it was hard! I didn’t get any sleep and we arrived in Sapa around 5am. Me and Daniela wanted to go on a tour so we booked straight on a tour round the mountains and stayed in a homestay with a local family. We got told the trek was about 30km but I think they lied a bit – the first day we walked around 10km through the rice terraces – the local village people follow you trying to sell you stuff which can get a little annoying but you get used to it. Now I don’t know how we did it but we had perfect weather – the few days before it had been raining and was so misty that you couldn’t see ten meters in front of you and there we were with clear views all over the valley.
Last photo before my camera went for a swim!

Last photo before my camera went for a swim!


We got to the homestay and they were a really friendly family who were feeding us homemade rice wine… I cant remember how many shots we had but it was a lot! The next morning we headed up further into the hills. I can definitely recommend Sapa – it is a bit touristy and very cold but it was a highlight of Vietnam. It just dawned on me that it is getting close to Christmas – the night after the trek we started drinking mulled wine – it’s the first time its actually felt like Christmas. The next day we headed to Bac Ha which is about 3 hours away to the local market – It was pretty crazy – the food stalls were serving food that I couldn’t even guess what it could be – they had a cattle market and lots of souvenirs. We then got dropped to the main town to get our sleeper bus. So back to Hanoi – me Joe and Daniela were our separate ways the next day so we decided to go to a snake restaurant that night to say fair well.
Did your mum never tell you not to play with your food?

Did your mum never tell you not to play with your food?


It turned out to be a pretty messy night. We arrived at the snake village - there was about 12 of us. It was a bit touristy as they give you the snakes to handle and play with for a while before you enter the restaurant.. a little bit sadistic i thought. But they are farmed for eating so its no different then a pig of cow I suppose.
We sat down at the restaurant and was given the choice if we wanted to kill a snake - there was five between our group - I at first turned it down - and here were other volunteers. Now it is quite traditional so if you kill the snake you have to be the one to eat the heart. A few people went first and then Joe decided that he didnt want to do it anymore - so they asked for another volunteer - no one else wanted to so I stepped up. Everyone else had the snake held for them by the staff but they just handed me the head of the snake. So I have gutted a fish so it cant be that different....
Eating the heart

Eating the heart


Well it was - you do it when the snake is alive - not the most humane way I have to admit - I made a three inch slit in the belly of the snake with a knife and had to reach in find the heart pull it out and eat it whilst it was still beating. It was over pretty quickly and the heart didnt taste that bad i suppose.
Next was the drink - the first shot was vodka with snake bile - the second vodka with snake blood. They didnt taste to bad actually - then the food stated coming - it tasted a bit like chicken but tougher - there was fried snake skin, snake spring rolls, snake ribs - you get the picture... all through dinner we were drinking rice wine with snake bile - it didnt taste amazing but it was free drink. It was pretty messy by the end - quite a few people were ill, we got back to the hostel and found Mark locked out of the dorm in his underwear having been sick in his bed! nice.... It was a really good night, a good end to Vietnam.
Vodka with snake bile or blood - hmm hard choice...

Vodka with snake bile or blood - hmm hard choice...

Its been an awesome time in Vietnam – the bike trip was an awesome experience.
Until next time…
Home Stay in Sapa

Home Stay in Sapa

Posted by dezmondos 18:50 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Motorbike Vietnam - Part 1

HCMC, Dalat, Nha Trang, Quy Nhon, Hoi An, Hai Van Pass, Hue, Dong Ha

all seasons in one day 32 °C
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Day 1: Arriving in HCMC

As I left Kuala Lumpur the monsoon season that was up north decided to pay a visit – my god – I was waiting to board the flight when the heavens opened, you could not see further then 10ft – the planes were grounded until it passed and a little bit later we were in the air experiencing a lot of turbulence. Its only a 50 minute flight to Ho Chi Minh City so it wasn’t to bad. I got some cash out which instantly made me a millionaire in Vietnam and got the bus into town. I had heard about the traffic in Vietnam and it didn’t disappoint – it was pretty crazy. The accommodation was a bit more expensive as there is no dorm rooms – but its quite nice to have my own room, bathroom, air con and TV for a change.
War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum


Crossing the street is an art form in Vietnam – I find the best way is just to step out not looking and walk – if you look your natural instincts kick in and you want to stop. Which is a big no no. The bikes know what to do and they just filter round you. I thought Id see a few of the sights in HCMC so I went to the war remnants museum which was fascinating – I spent hours in there – there is so much information aswell as tanks, planes and helicopters from the war outside. I also went to Remuneration Palace which you can actually walk around – I found myself on the top balcony – definitely not something you can do at the Whitehouse!

Day 2 - Buying the bike

That evening I went to meet a couple that were selling a bike – they had a sign on it saying $250 ono so it caught my attention – I had been round all day trying to find bikes and it was not an easy task – this was seriously the first second hand bike I had seen for sale that was not from a dealer – I mean I’m sure there plenty around but I don’t speak Vietnamese so didn’t really play in my favor, so I looked around the backpacker area to try and find one that a backpacker has had. I d prefer to buy off a backpacker anyway – it will already be set up – ie bag rack etc. The one that they were selling was a 125cc Honda Bonus (well actually its not a Honda – it’s a fake one but they use all the same parts which is handy) – as soon as I saw it I fell in love with it.
Me buying Bonita Negra

Me buying Bonita Negra


I saw a few online but they were around the $400 - $500 mark which I didn’t really want to pay. To be honest I would have paid more but managed to get them down to $220 which was perfect as it had custom bag racks, a back box and helmet included. I was so excited. There were new tyres on it , the engine had been rebuilt 2 months ago and it had all the paper work. By no means was it perfect by a long shot – the seals were leaking on the front forks – it was a little difficult to start when cold and the electrics seemed a little temperamental but its cheap to get stuff fixed – they only paid $60 for the engine rebuild. So we shaked on the deal and Bonita Negra (Black Beauty – its black and I think its beautiful). Now foreigners are not allowed to own a bike in Vietnam so the ownership card has some locals name on it – but its ok – people rarely have that many problems. Technically according to the law you get arrested and the bike gets impounded as foreign and international driving licenses are not valid here so legally your driving without a license, insurance and a bike that doesn’t belong to you. I went for a beer with the couple that sold me the bike and they showed me the route they took and told me how much the ‘fine’ was for driving the bike without a license etc. All useful info that hopefully would come in useful – I planned to set off early next morning for the 300km trip to Dalat – my first stop.

Day 3 – An interesting first day biking – 273km

Now in the morning in my rush to get going I left totally unprepared – sure I strapped my backpack on and got the bike ready but I was definitely forgetting something…
All I hoped for on my first day biking was the following: That I would make it to Dalat without an accident, that I wouldn’t get pulled over by the police, that the bike would not break down and that it would stay dry… well 2 out of four isn’t that bad I suppose…
I set off through the crazy traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, to be honest I wasn’t to bothered about the traffic, as long as you don’t do anything silly or make unpredicted moves your generally ok and I have had motorbikes before so I was more excited then anything. It was surprising easy to get out of the city, ok the traffic was crazy but it was a straight forward road out. I was wearing short sleeves and it was so hot I had to keep stopping for sun screen and water – it was busy so didn’t really get out of the main city and industrial area until midday which would be pushing it to make it to Dalat before dark.
Mountain Road to Nha Trang

Mountain Road to Nha Trang


The one thing that you have to look out for is the big trucks – the rule of the road is the bigger vehicle has right of way and they really do not give a shit about you on a bike. So the first four hours or so were pretty standard – no scenery to look at just me and Bonita Negra taking the time to get to know each other. All was going fine – she was running like a dream – I took highway 1 out of the city then turned on to the route 20 towards Dalat. I stopped for lunch in the middle of nowhere – it was hilarious, there were no menus so I had to try and describe what I wanted with my hands as they didn’t speak any English and me obviously having not perfect my Vietnamese just yet. It was like being in Sumatra again – people are curious and just stare at you – it doesn’t bother me though.
After lunch I saw dark clouds forming above – ahh this is where I should have prepared more – in my rush to get going I didn’t get any covers for my bag – it had its cover on it but that is only on the front – oops – lots of wet clothes – As I sent most of my clothes home in Australia and downsized I didn’t have any wet weather gear at all so I managed to but a poncho along the way – not much good that it was though – I was soaked right through. The road were terrible, as it was more like a river then a road you couldn’t see the holes – so I really had to focus.
Bonita Negra visiting the Doc

Bonita Negra visiting the Doc


Then my bad luck continued – I was just heading into the mountains overtaking a slow moving truck when I went to change down a gear and nothing happened so I ran out of steam and came to an undignified halt. Shit! It was pouring with ran and Im stuck on the side of a mountain. I had a look and luckily it was just the gear leaver that came loose – unluckily the bolt was sheared off. I was stuck in third gear so I managed to nurse it to the next mechanic in a wooden shack and he got to work – now it wasn’t just the bolt sheared off it was the rod that connects the gear leaver to the gearbox – which he managed to fix in half an hour with an old piece of cable??? I was expecting it to be cheap but I was astonished… 10,000 VND (that’s about 30 pence! For half an hours work – bargain! The problems didn’t stop there however, the bike started backfiring and I was really taking it easy as the power kept on dying – I think its just the fuel and air mix but I thought I would get it sorted the following day whilst in Dalat if it made it.
Boat trip in Nha Trang

Boat trip in Nha Trang


More and more rain was coming down, by this time I was soaked through and freezing – the rain had really slowed my progress so it looked like I would be getting in at dark. Then to add another complication my front light was being temperamental and I still had a 100km to go. I called it a day when I went past the next hotel – I turned up looking like a drowned rat. The town I stopped in I think was called Dai Ninh – not that there was anything special to note about it, not that I cared – I’m glad I stopped – ok I wouldn’t get to Dalat until the next day but Im in no rush and its not worth pushing it to much. So I checked in to this hotel, I walked in and it looked expensive but it turned out to be cheaper than the place I stayed in HCMC – they even told me to ride the bike into reception!? I didn’t really think they were serious – this was a nice hotel and me and my bike were soaked – but they didn’t seem to care.
The place was like heaven! A massive room and hot water – just what I needed . I hung all of my clothes up and rested up for an early morning drive to Dalat and to get the bike running better.
Mud bath - Nha Trang

Mud bath - Nha Trang


What a first day – at times I was thinking (especially when it was raining hard with big lorries shoving you out of the way) why the hell I was doing this – but it was everything I expected and more – just being free go where you want to go and stop when you want to stop is worth it. Its such a frill riding a bike – I forgot what it felt like. This is going to be a good trip.

Day 4 – Dalat – 70km

A relatively short drive – I really had to nurse the bike to make it to Dalat, the power kept failing and all the hills didn’t make it any easier. I have decided that I will do most of my driving early on as for some reason it always rains in the afternoon. Dalat itself is a mountain town which is a retreat for Vietnamese on vacation but there was a few foreigners around. I checked into the hotel and went looking for a hostel, I got told be the first guy that it needed a new carburetor which was about 12 quid – ok, not overly expensive but Im sure there was a cheaper option and there was. It wasn’t the easiest to explain but he messed around with the mixture and it seemed to be running better, not perfect but I will give it a try – will most probably have to replace the carb at some point but will see how it goes. He also fixed the lights – since the rain yesterday nothing worked – lights, indicators nothing. These guys are magicians – the fuse was melted so he just cut it out put two wires together and it all works – this was a little then yesterday 60,000vnd (1.80) but I’m happy that its all working.
Me getting a pedicure - with Nail Art!

Me getting a pedicure - with Nail Art!


Right enough about the bike… so I was in Dalat… what to do… First stop I decided to go and have a look at a house called the ‘crazy house’. It’s a bit strange really, they have obviously got their inspiration from Guadi the architect that created a lot of amazing building and sculptures in Barcelona. It was pretty cool, quite small but it was worth a visit. Got chatting to 3 English guys outside who were asking questions about my bike – its funny seeing everyone’s reaction when you tell them your riding all the way North.
I had a walk down to the lake which was actually no longer a lake – for some reason it has been drained? So decided on riding up to the cable car and went for a ride on that. Managed to pick up a waterproof coat on the way back.
That was about it with Dalat, nothing to exciting but was worthy of a stop off.

Day 5, 6, 7, Dalat - Nah Trang – 130km

That morning I decided to get an early start so I got up and quickly got lost for a good hour setting me back a bit for the day. I had two choices of where to go – either Nha Trang or up through the Central Highlands on the Hoi Chi Minh Highway. After a lot of deliberating I decided to head to the coast – apparently its not as nice as the Highlands route but I was freezing due to the lack of warm clothes with me. I took the shorter road to Nha Trang that wasn’t on the maps but it was on my local atlas so I guessed it was actually a road… well some of it was a road – there had obviously been a lot of rain and I had to go up one side of a mountain and down the other side – it was an amazing road – a lot of off road style riding but Bonita Negra held up perfectly – with only one trip to a mechanics shed to pump up the back tyre that was looking a little flat (2000VND).
Not sure about the hat??

Not sure about the hat??


When I headed down the other side of the mountain all of a sudden it was boiling – I stripped down to shorts and a vest I headed along the coast up towards Nha Trang having a good sing along to my Ipod. I made really good progress and was in Nha Trang by 1pm and hit the beach with a few guys and girls I met in the hostel. The weather was great – good choice getting to the coast. We all went out that night and it was awesome the group of us just clicked and it was like we had known each other for years. It has a great night life – just what I needed after a few quiet days on the road.
Quick fuel stop with Magnus

Quick fuel stop with Magnus


The following day we all went on a boat tour of the islands which turned out to be more of a party boat – we stopped off at islands, went snorkeling and they even have a portable floating bar. I had also heard about a spa with mud baths 7km away so we all jumped into a taxi the next day and went for group mud baths – it was an awesome day, very relaxing especially after sitting on a motorbike for so long. When we got back into the city me, Adam (Germany), and Lindsay (Scotland) decided it would be good to go for a pedicure – we did get a little bit carried away and got nail art on our big toes… what can I say it was only about a pound!
On the open road

On the open road


After two nights of partying and the days spent relaxing it dawned on me that I still had a long way to go and although my deadline wasn’t that tight I still had to keep moving – Nha Trang is definitely a place you can get stuck for a while. I just want to mention how cheap Vietnam is at this point – beer is cheaper then water (30p for a Saigon) that’s in a bar – if you get a crate and return the bottle you pay under 15p. Not bad hey. That night I met a Norwegian guy called Magnus who had bought the same bike as me and was heading up to Hoi An – so we decided to join up for the trip the following day.

Day 8 – Nha Trang to Quy Nhon (260km)

One of the biggest rides to date! We got up and decided to set off at 10am – I had to get Bonita Negra to a mechanic as on the last days riding the exhaust had come lose – so I had to get a new gasket and get it tightened up and whilst at it I got them to change her oil – all in all 85,000VND. Still not doing to bad. I just hoped that that would be her last visit for a while – its all been simple things that have needed doing but I wanted to get a good few days of riding in before her next visit to the docs. So me and Magnus headed off – the first 50km was beautiful – ok it drizzled a bit but nothing to bad and the views of bays and islands was spectacular. Then we ran into what I can only describe as a monsoon! To say it rained would be the understatement of the century – we decided to crack on in spite of it. I was soaked right through and it was not possible to get any wetter. The road was in a pretty bad state – the pot holes were deep and when there was water on the road they were really hard to spot.
My new suit - Hoi An

My new suit - Hoi An


Then were plodding along around 60 and there was a bang – my back tyre decided to have a blow out – Magnus was ahead so he missed it but I thought I was a goner – the back end was snaking but somehow I stayed on. Great another visit to a mechanic for Bonita. As luck had it I was right outside a tyre fitter when it happened. He took the old inner tube out and it was destroyed – I haven’t seen one go like that before. Anyway he got to work and about an hour later we were on the road again. (100,000 VND – I thought this was quite expensive but I didn’t really have a choice – I was in the middle of no where!)
We got into Quy Nhon just as it was getting dark and found ourselves a hotel. Food was turning out to be a bit of an issue on the way – as no one spoke English around here so it’s a lot of pointing at a menu – kind of like a lucky dip! I did have the most amazing beef salad – it almost blew my head off but very tasty.

Day 9 - 10 – Quy Nhon to Hoi An – 306km

We had decided to head off early the next morning – very early like 6am as we thought the weather might be better – nope, that night I got kept awake by the wind and rain outside, we got downstairs in the morning and water was coming in the front door and our bikes in the cellar were in a few inches of water. Not a great sign but we wrapped up and got on our way. Bonita Negra started first time which was a god send, the rain doesn’t seem to bother her. To our delight after about an hour driving the rain stopped and it looked like it would turn into a good day. Our target was Hoi An hense the early start as it was a lot of miles – it was not made easier by the state of the road, the pot holes were deep and the traffic was terrible. It got sunny at last and I really started enjoying the ride – then the unthinkable happened again – my back wheel punctured again! I was on a really nice stretch of road going round a corner and it went – luckily this time it was a small hole in the inner tube. A stroke of luck was that it happened right outside a tyre fixer. The first women mechanic I have seen on this trip. She had her kids with her, they were so cute – we shared some of our chocolate snacks ( a very healthy lunch) and stood around waiting for my tube to be fixed. We were the centre of attention as a school must have just kicked out and kids were riding by shouting, waving and lots of staring. Now I got a bit miffed when I spotted the size of the inner tube I had in my rear tyre – the last fixer put an 17 inch one in instead of a 18 inch. No wonder it went! What a waste of 100,000vnd the day before – the worst thing was she didn’t have the correct size either – so she just patched it up – charging me 5,000vnd – I couldn’t believe how cheap it was (that’s 12p).
Hoi Van Pass

Hoi Van Pass


From then on I had to nurse the bike the last 125km to Hoi An – I had wondered why the bike felt a little unstable – the route of the problem must have been that tube. We made really good progress for the day even with Bonita’s problem and were in Hoi An by 3pm. That was our longest days ride yet. I knew I had to find a mechanic to put a new tube in but that could wait for the following day. I had told myself that whatever happens I would not be getting an clothes made in Hoi An (famous for its taylors). Within 2 hours I had ordered a suit from Yaly – the most expensive taylor in Hoi An and 2 casual shirts, and two smart shirts – oh yeah and some linen trousers. To be fair they were great value and the suit is amazing quality (cashmere don’t you know!), so I shipped it home hoping that I wouldn’t put to much weight on between now and October when I get back.
Hoi Van Pass- what a road

Hoi Van Pass- what a road


The following day I went for two suit fittings and picked up all my clothes. I love my suit – looks very nice if I say so myself. I took Bonita Negra to the doctors and with sign language managed to get her a new tire and inner tube. Now it wasn’t cheap but I cant risk another puncture in te middle of nowhere – I still have a long way to go. 450,000VND – sounds a lot but 13.50 isn’t that bad I suppose.

Day 11 – Hoi An – Hai Van Pass – Hue – Dong Ha – 203km

I was hoping for good weather as this was the day of the trip I have been looking forward to the most – the Hoi Van Pass – otherwise know as the Top Gear Pass. It is an amazing coastal road – it did not disappoint one bit! Its an awesome road and until now I haven’t really pushed Bonita that hard – that changed. Will the back tyre problems sorted I could push her a bit more – it was probably one of the best rides I have had on a bike- it’s a shame it finished so quickly. After the pass we stopped off at the Hue Citadel – it was pretty impressive outside but to be honest the inside was a little disappointing – there’s not actually that much to see once inside. It was a pretty quick stop in Hue but we wanted to get to Dong Ha to see the DMZ (demilitarized zone) that day. On the way out of Hue Magnus had his first bike trouble – it was only his clutch cable so it was a quick fix. We stopped at street stall and got some amazing pork baguettes. I am starting to get used to the constant staring from the locals – they just look at you like your crazy. The riding was getting easier though, its surprising how fast you get used the traffic. You also get used to what people carry on their bikes – pigs, chickens, dogs… but the weirdest thing I saw was a coffin on the back of a moped – just hope it was empty!
Interesting way of transporting pigs!

Interesting way of transporting pigs!


This was the first day Bonita Negra has made trouble free – I am hoping this trend will continue. It was an awesome day. We stopped off in Dong Ha – which is like the hell hole of Vietnam – it has no redeeming features what so ever. We stopped at the DMZ Café which is a hotel that was recommended in the Lonely Planet – now Im not sure who they paid to get it in there but it was disgusting – its described as ‘a good cheapie’ – sure it was cheap but I just wonder what part of it was good? It was dirty and the room was full of cob webs. To top it all off I got ill, it felt like I had a flu coming on – I was up all night sweating and shivering – great I thought, just what I need when Im in probably the worst place in Vietnam.
Hue Citadel

Hue Citadel


So I have around 16 days left - which will see me ride up to Hanoi and ride around the north to Sapa before hopefully selling the bike and going on a boat trip of Halong Bay. Stay tuned...

Posted by dezmondos 02:15 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Malaysia

with a quick stop in Singapore...

sunny 35 °C
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I arrived in Kuala Lumpur and got a bus into Chinatown to the Travellers Inn hostel – at last the accommodation was getting cheaper only 2 pounds for a dorm room. It was a really sociable hostel and I met some really cool people in there. The plan was to get a Thai visa from the embassy as they were giving away free 60 days visas and do a bit of sightseeing. Kuala Lumpur is a pretty cool city - cheap food and accommodation and definitely enough to keep you occupied for a few days.
Petronas Towers at night

Petronas Towers at night


The first stop was the Batu caves – a huge cave just outside of the city full of monkeys with a huge Hindu statue outside. They were pretty impressive. Also one of the things I wanted to see the most was the Petronas Towers – they look awesome so got the standard photos from the front of them. One of the best parts is the food – you can get anything and really cheap. We had a few nights out at the Reggie bar in Chinatown which ended up in a few big hangovers. Most of the days were spent just catching up on some rest on the rooftop garden in the hostel. Theres not a massive amount of things to do in KL but for some reason its really easy to stay here. So after a few days when I had my visa me and Kerri a guy from England decided to get the overnight train to Singapore for a few days. The border crossing was probably one of the quickest and efficient I have been through so far. The plan was to spend two nights and get the train back on the Monday. The first thing you notice is that the city is so clean – they have fines for everything and it is obvious – no litter, Graffiti, anything!
Our first day we went for a stroll down Orchard Road which is the shopping area – not that I could shop with no room in my bag – but it was good for a walk. On the way back we stopped at the Stanza the presidents palace. It was based in huge grounds – he even has his own golf course – hard job hey!
Chinatown

Chinatown


We had an early night as we planned to walk to Mt Faber – now Im not sure it warrants the mountain status as its only 116 metres high but it was a nice walk – the Henderson Wave Bridge which is a really cool design and has views over the Harbor. It’s a really easy city to get around the subway is the cleanest I have ever seen and it is huge! We also went to the famous Raffles Hotel – not that we could go in – for some reason wearing shorts, flip flops and a vest – not that I would have had the famous Singapore sling as it was $35. Now we met up with a few Swedish girls that we met in KL and decided to go out for the night. Big mistake! The price of Alcohol is twice that of England – we tried to find a cheap bar but apparently they don’t exist in Singapore – I knew it would be expensive but just not THAT expensive! There was a religious festival on that evening called Deepavali so we took a wonder down to little India to check it out. It was crazy! My god there were people everywhere.
Crazy night out

Crazy night out


The following day we were starting to feel the pinch in our wallets so we said goodbye to Singapore and headed on the bus back to KL. Now Singapore was worth a visit but to be honest its just a big city – fine if your earning good money living there but definitely not a backpacker destination.
Whilst on my way back to KL I decided to change my route slightly – I met a few guys that bought a motorbike in Vietnam and rode the length of the country, now I was thinking about the idea before after watching Top Gear – so I said to hell with it and booked a flight to Vietnam. It meant a couple more days in KL whilst I waited for the visa but hey – there are worse places to be. So the next few days involved planning my trip and studying maps of Vietnam.
Raffles Hotel

Raffles Hotel


On my last day I thought I would do a bit more sightseeing so we got up ridiculously early to queue up for the skybridge in the Patronas towers. Luckily we got up there pretty quick – to be fair it was just a corridor but its one to tick off the list – it’s the 5th tallest building in the world I think….
That afternoon we went to the market for some lunch – they make chicken and rice in these clay pots – it tasted amazing, to be fair most of the food you get here is pretty good. We also went up the KL communications tower which is higher then the twin towers and gives you a panoramic view over KL. Its surprising how much rain forest is still in the city.
Batu Caves

Batu Caves


So that’s the end of my Malaysia and Singapore adventure – next stop Vietnam!

Posted by dezmondos 22:55 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Indonesia part 2

Welcome to the Jungle!

31 °C
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So last time I had just made it to Java…
After more hard negotiating with Bemo drivers we headed to the bus station for a five hour road trip to Probolinggo , it wasn’t the best bus journey but what do you expect for 4 dollars? We arrived in Probolinggo late so were stuck there for the night – there is absolutely nothing there of interest – so we were out of there first thing in the morning to Bromo – apparently one of the best volcanoes in Java and luckily one that we could climb for free and no guide. We met Mat and Sheryl from England and planned the trip up the mountain at 3am in the morning so we could see the sunrise. Now the one thing I noticed instantly about Java was the shear volume of people. It is so crowded – I did some reading to find out – Indonesia has 240million in habitants and 137million of those live on Java.
What a pro shot!

What a pro shot!


We realized that when we got up we didn’t actually know which way to go – but headed in the direction – luckily it wasn’t that hard and we made it up there quick time – and boy was it worth it – breath taking is the only way to describe it. It was the first clear morning they have had in weeks so we were lucky to see it all – the photos do not do it justice. We climbed on top of the roofs of these concrete lookouts and had the most incredible view. A few Americans had joined us but other than that we were all along. I was half expecting a dinosaur to come out into the clearing – there was no sight of anything modern.
Bromo up close

Bromo up close


Now I really wanted to climb Bromo but we had chosen to see it from a distance at the view point rather than climb it so we could get the view – but I really wanted to climb it… we had a bus to catch at 9.30 and it was 6.00am so I came up with the amazing idea of climbing Bromo that morning as well! It was about an hour from the town to climb it if we were quick so we started to climb back down from the view point and headed for Bromo. The Sulphar was pouring out of the volcano it was something special. We got some pretty cool pics from the top - I love the way they aren’t health and safety mad – no railings – nothing stop you falling in. It was 100% worth the 8 hours out of the way to get there.
An early wakeup for sunrise

An early wakeup for sunrise


It wasn’t the easiest getting from Bromo to Yogyakarta (our next stop) it involved a lot of changing buses which would take around 14 hours – so we decided to jump in a taxi with some people from Thailand which didn’t make it that much more expensive. We were in Yogyakarta to visit Borobudur – a temple about 60km from Yogakarta – it says that this ranks alongside Angkor Wat in Cambodia – I really hope it doesn’t as it means I will be disappointed…
Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo


It wasn’t that bad but to be honest it wasn’t that special. To go with the theme of saving money I wanted to get public transport which took a bicycle taxi and 2 buses rather then taking a tour bus – saving us a whole $5 but in my eyes it was worth it. The temple itself was rebuilt about 20 years ago when they discovered it hidden under all the volcanic ash – well they said it had been rebuilt – some of it just consisted of piles of stone. OK maybe Im being a little harsh – it wasn’t all that bad. I was just bitter after paying $15 dollars to get in –‘yes I said $15 dollars – first of all the locals pay $2 and that is like 3 nights’ accommodation for me. The funniest part of the day by far was that we were being treated like celebrities – all the locals wanted their picture taken with us.
Burobudur

Burobudur


So after a little bit of a disappointing visit we headed to Sumatra – the good thing about Asia is that internal flights are dirt cheap so we took a flight via Jakarta to Medan. Now Sumatra is huge – its something like the 6th biggest island in the world but only had 40 million people living on it. The roads are terrible – it really was a white knuckle ride for five hours to Danau Toba the biggest lake in South East Asia. This lake has a huge island (well actually its not an island – as it connected by a tiny bit of land, but the locals call it that) in the middle which we stayed on in a town called Tuk Tuk. Apparently this used to be a massive tourist area but it had been forgotten about around 10 years ago. We heard there was a good trek or two so we headed there. It was pretty cool, everyone was happy to see and meet us – there must have been about 15 tourist on the whole island. On that note I have to say the Indonesians are most friendliest people I have ever met – at first I thought that they just wanted you to spend money but they are so helpful and happy.
Village - high up in Lake Toba

Village - high up in Lake Toba


The first day we rented a moped and went for a ride, it was only $5 for the day which was pretty cheap although they were shouting ‘no insurance’ just as we set off. Luckily we didn’t have any problems and made it back in one piece although we were slightly wet after being caught in a rain storm. We had tried to ride up to a village on top of the mountain on the island but had to turn back as the road was not cut out for a bike. Undeterred we decided to trek up the mountain the following day – it started off ok – we had to head to a little village about 5km away and then start our assent. Now, me being me, I did not want to pay for a guide when you can trek on your own. So we looked in the lonely planet for some inspiration and it described a route – no it said its at your own risk and do not climb when its wet – what do they know hey? Actually quite a lot.
Bromo smoking

Bromo smoking


It was probably one of the hardest treks I have done – it had rained the night before and everything was wet and slippery. The trail was barely distinguishable and was so overgrown a Machete would have been greatly appreciated. Now, we had been going for an hour and it would have been best to turn back but stubbornly we decided to go on. It was only 700metres from the lake but it took along time to get up there. We had been told there was a cool village at the top – hmm, I wouldn’t really call it a village. We stopped at John’s, a local that lived there and stopped for some tea. It was a much needed recharge – apparently everyone turns up lost and thirsty not knowing how hard the climb was going to be. We were no exception… he pointed us in the right direction – which to my dismay was 17km to the point where we were heading.
DSC00534

DSC00534


There was a lake at the top – after 14km we made it to the lake – more of a pond I would say and stopped for lunch. I was utterly shattered, I did not think I could walk much further and when we got told it was actually 7km to the town rather then the 3km we thought I wasn’t much happier. So, I thought it would be a good idea to hitch – this was the best part of the day for me – a local family crammed us in their car with the kids in the back and dropped us at the nearest town – we started waiting for the bus to drop us 22km back to Tuk Tuk when I thought at trying my hand at hitch hiking again – and to my pleasure it worked – we got onto the back of this truck carrying gas and were on our way – it was crazy – all the locals were pointing and laughing at us sitting on the back of this truck. Now he was delivering gas around the island so I helped him out dropping off these 5 gallon containers of gas at various stops along the way (rather me than him as he was smoking whilst carrying them). He was such a nice guy – didn’t want any money was just a good deed – I stand by what I said earlier – they are the friendliest nation I have met.
Happy local kids

Happy local kids


Then it was time to head to Bukit Lawang about 7 hours from Lake Toba – I had high hopes as its one of only two places in the world that you can see Orangutans in the wild. We arrived in this quiet little town Julie, a Swiss girl that we met on the way and were the centre of attention for the town – there must have been only about 10 other tourists there – everyone was so friendly - a really nice community. We were staying at the Rainforest Lodge that is owned by a lovely woman called Nora – if you ever go you should definitely stay here!
We chatted to a few guides who told us what to expect on our two day jungle trek. They told us about the famous Orangutan Mina – who was released years ago into the wild from captivity and has a score to settle – she has attacked over 60 guides to date – we saw our guides scars to prove it. He said we would most probably bump into her – or her into us! So we set off that morning at 8am into the jungle and within 20 minutes had our first sighting – a baby Orangutan with its mother in a tree right in front of us – its such an amazing sight – we must have stayed there watching for about half an hour. The trek itself got pretty tough at times – lots of slippery hills to climb and things to trip over.
Up close and personal

Up close and personal


We saw 10 wild Orangutans that day – it was awesome and yes we bumped into Mina – my god she was huge and she came straight for us – luckily our guide was in between us and he had some food so she didn’t attack. It was pretty scary – you don’t realize how huge they are until they are 6 foot in front of you – luckily we all got by unscathed and tucked in to our lunch of Nasi Goreng and fruit- they put on a pretty good spread for being in the jungle. We were soaked through with sweat and luckily next to our camp ground was a river, which I dived straight in. I did think how many tropical diseases I might catch at one moment while trekking but it soon goes out of your head. Had a few bites and leaches but other than that all seemed ok. Now I thought we would be sleeping in tents – oh no – plastic tarp held up by a few sticks – it was awesome – we stayed up in candle light playing cards and the guides we teaching us some funny games – these guys were hilarious.
Cooling off after a hot day trekking

Cooling off after a hot day trekking


So after a night of not much sleep due to the rocks under my tarp it was time to get going again, we saw white Gibbons and the other local monkeys that day. It was an awesome experience which left me well and truly shattered. But there was still more fun to be had – we rafted back down that afternoon to our lodge – the water was freezing but it was so refreshing after being sticky in the jungle. Unfortunately it was time to leave the following day, Nora was heading in a similar direction to see her dad in hospital so she took us to her sisters place in Binjai about three hours from Bukit Lawang for some lunch and drinks which was really nice of her. Then she pointed us in the right direction of our night bus and off we went. 12 hours later we arrived in the north of Sumatra in Banda Ache. No they are pretty fanatical about their religion here and I had been told you have to be careful - for example the law is that if you get caught drinking alcohol you get 40 lashes! Shit – I might have to be a bit careful.
Jungle dinner

Jungle dinner


After arriving in Banda Ache it was a quick taxi to the ferry and an hour later we were in Pula Weh. We had been told the diving here is excellent - i wouldn't say excellent and to be honest there is absolutely nothing to do on Pula Weh apart from diving but all the same I had a good time. So that brings a close to my Indonesia travels as I fly out of Banda Ache in a couple of days to Malaysia. If anyone is thinking of traveling South East Asia then you really cannot miss Indonesia – seriously one of my favorite countries so far!
Mina

Mina


That was the end of my blog but I thought I d better add a section about the Tsunami. One the way back from Pulah Weh I stopped off in Banda Ache for the night… I thought it would just be a boring stop over whilst I waited for my plane the next day – boy was I wrong.
I got to a cheap hotel in the centre of Banda Ache. In 2004 when the Tsunami hit this place was totally flattened – the wave was apparently 40 metres above sea level - the pictures I saw left me speechless. After the Tsunami a lot of volunteers came to help in Banda and the locals are very grateful to all tourists that come and they are all so nice. But since 2005 very little tourists come to Banda Ache.
I must have been stopped about 10 times on my way to find a place to eat that came recommended for photos with the locals. Now Banda Ache is very religious and they have their own laws governing the area – to name a couple: Adultery is punishable by death and drinking alcohol will get you 40 lashes! So I thought I d better be on my best behavior.
Boat in house

Boat in house


The next day I hired a moto driver to take me around to see some of the evidence left over from the Tsunami. First stop was the Mosque, the mosque was the only building that survived the Tsunami in the area – the destruction is indescribable from what I saw in the photos.
It is hard to believe the power of the wave – there were two more memorials left over from the Tsunami – one a 2500 tonne ship that was carried 4km inland by the wave. The power of the wave must have been immense. Then also there was another boat that landed on top of a house – it has been left as reminder of the tragic events.
Tsunami memorial

Tsunami memorial


I was in for a shock – next to the boat was a wall of photos – now it left me speechless with a lump in my throat – the photos were from the aftermath of the Tsunami, it showed the thousand of bodies just washed up on the land. Its hard to believe that they have almost rebuilt the whole city and the locals are more then happy to share their stories of what happen to them that day. During my trip in Sumatra there were a few natural disasters – a volcano erupted in Java just two days after I left and another Tsunami hit the west coast of Sumatra when I was in the north islands. It’s a reminder of how these people live under constant threat from natural disasters. Its hard to describe how I felt after visiting some of the sights – I almost felt wrong taking pictures there but the locals want you to so that people know the magnitude of what happened that day.
Mosque - Banda Ache

Mosque - Banda Ache

Posted by dezmondos 21:46 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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