We took our 14 hour bus ride from Hue to Hanoi and arrived there about 6.30 in the morning. On route we met a girl called Suzanna and caught a cab with her to the backpackers hostel. We found a travel agents and booked on a 2 day tour leaving that day for $52. It included one night on the boat and another on the Cat Ba island. We managed to get breakfast and head off on the 4 hour ride to Halong City. You can only imagine how tired and sweaty we were by then. Aimee felt particularly bad as a smelly French guy had perched himself in the bunk beside her. In the mini bus we got chatting to a group from NZ and UK, there were two mums Penny and Karen with their daughters Katie and Emily and 2 friends Norvelle and Allie. They were a great bunch. We got on to our boat and we had a lunch which consisted of tofu, rice, green veg, onions etc. It was pretty good. The food was very similar over the trip except we got spring rolls and battered prawns on a few occasions.. and soups. They then took us to a cave which was gorgeous and was lit up by different colour lights. I think James Cameron must have got inspiration from the Alien film from this cave as the way some of the rocks were formed looked like little aliens..They then took us off to a spot to go swimming and a bit later on we went kayaking. I am a terrible kayaker.. me and my partner go around in circles after a while.. eventually Aimee and I got the hang of it but we then headed back to the boat to catch the end of the sunset. They docked the boats in the middle of the islands with lots of boats around. We then all jumped into the water from the boat and had a swim.. that was cool. Later on no one could be persuaded to do kareoke (surprisingly Aimee and I were up for it) so we just chilled on the top deck and got chatting a to a few couples we met. One were from Argentina- Lara and Gabriel. Another couple were from Belgium- Pete and Carolina and lastly a couple from Austria and Romania- Maria and I cannot remember the guys name. It was a relaxing end to a manic day..thankfully we passed out in our cabin when it came to go to sleep.. even though I was sweating my butt off. :)
The next morning we headed off to Cat Ba island and we went on a 2 hour hike in Cat Ba national park. It was gorgeous and when you got to the top of the peak you could climb on an additional frame. That was interesting as when you got to the top there were a few planks missing and we were up pretty high..We managed to take the easier route up and the steeper route down so by the end we were all pretty muddy. It was a great mini hike though :) We headed off to our hotel and headed to the beach number 1, there were 2 and we heard number 2 was even more beautiful. We stayed for a few hours and by the time we were going to leave it was getting pretty packed with all the locals, it seemed to be a beach party or something on the go. You can see Cat Ba is being more built up but its a cute island and the water was lovely on the beach. We had dinner with our friends and spent a few hours chatting before we went to our room and watched 'He's not that into you' haha (yes I know, sad but its a good film.. well sure only the girls would agree) We couldn't believe Aimee only had 2 more nights.. the last 3 weeks have flown. The next day we headed off to Halong city again. We decided to sunbathe for an hour or so on the boat (bad mistake- we got burnt to a crisp!!) Honestly it was not even for long but the sun in the morning was so strong. We headed back to Hanoi for Aimees last night. On route we got chatting to Gareth who was traveling with his girlfriend Jess (they would soon become my traveling buddies) On route into the city it was packed and stages being set up. They were getting ready for the celebrations for the 65th year of independence for Vietnam. We stayed in Green Hostels Hanoi which was $4 including breakfast and the dorm rooms were sooo clean (much more then I have got used to) Aimee and I bunked in there with Bruce, Jess and Gareth but it was a 12 sleeper dorm. We headed off for some food and ended up in a locals cafe with a bowl of some kind of soup with noddles and all sorts of weird stuff in.. (Did not like to ask) but for 20k dong it was a bargain. When eating dinner Aimee realised she had lost her bankcard when she had withdrawn cash earlier so we went to find a phone to cancel it (poor Aimee). We watched the performances on the stage which consisted of dancing, singing, dragons and they had an amazing fireworks diplay for 15 mins. In the midst of it all to my delight (not) a drunk Vietnames guy took a fancy to me and went for a grope of my ass. I thought I imagined it the first time but then realised I was being molested in the crowd. I swiftly moved away from him but he kept getting closer and grabbed my arm (sunburnt) really tightly. There were thousands of people in the crowd so it was all pretty cramped. A nice young boy said he was a naughty man which he clearly was. Even when Jess moved me behind her he kept trying to grab my arm.. what can I say.. I attract drunk men (whats new there) Aimee and I headed back amongst the chaos to our hostel and went to bed. It was a brilliant end to a great trip with Aimee and we were thankful we could join in the celebrations..We had a 6am wake up call for Aimee to catch her flight :( The next day I saw her off to the shuttle bus which we missed and she caught a cab. I could not believe she was heading home :) I still miss her a week on..
Jess and Gareth invited me to join them for a night in NinhBinh which was 2 hours south of Hanoi and with no plans I accepted. We were to leave the following morning at 8. They are a lovely couple and I was happy I had made some friends. The day Aimee left I met Caine and Dave who were in the same dorm and we headed out to check out Hanoi city and some museums. We headed for the history musuem which was not what I was expecting and was a little boring. We then had some lunch and headed off for the Army museum and when we got there it was shut for rennovations. I was guttered as I missed out on the history museum in Saigon (HCMC) which a few people told me was really interesting and told the history of captain orange. This was where the Vietnamese got sprayed in the war with some chemicals by America which caused disfigurement and serious injuries.. even as the future generations continue now it remains and its very sad. We headed back to the hostel and chilled out. They both had buses at 5 to different locations. Later that night Jess, Gareth and I headed to an indian restaurant I had spotted earlier in the day. It was a bit out of our budget and I went for a spinich and potato curry with a garlic nann.. it was delicious and cost me about 77kdong. On the way back we were heading to the night market and took a few pictures when someone nabbed Gareths phone.. we really did not have any luck in Hanoi in that respect.
The next day we caught our bus and we stopped at a temple along the way. It was a royal temple for the first king of Vietnam who was killed by his drunk son. We then got dropped off in the middle of no where a little outside central NinhBinh in the blazing heat with our backpacks. Needless to say I really sweated my ass off as we walked for about 2km until we picked up a cab. My backpack is really a bit to heavy in that respect so I definitely need to offload some more bits. I gave Aimee some flip flops and pumps to bring home a few days earlier but I need to get rid of more really :) We got to a hostel and chilled out there and had some beef noodles later on that night. The next morning we formed a group with about 7 others and rented motorbikes to go to Tam Coc and the National Park. Tam Coc was about 9 km away and then the National Park was about 90km, a round trip. Jess was a driver for the trip. Tam Coc was AMAZING... you pay 60k dong (about 2quid) and you get on a boat and you are rowed downstream with surrounding mountains and under little bridges.. there are little houses on the rivers as well. It is spectacular and my partner was Michael from Ukraine who lived in USA for 12 years..it is 2 passangers to a boat but we saw some boats with about 5 people on..At the end of the stream there is a little place to buy bits and refreshments. I realised I had a lost 100k dong which is nothing in English but would have paid for a few meals in Vietnam. I was a bit annoyed only because we were leaving Vietnam that night so I did not want to keep withdrawing money..Tam Coc is definitely high up on the best experiences of my trip.
After Tam Coc 8 of us headed off on the 45km ride to the national park.. it was good fun and a long old ride.. well over an hour. We got there and went to a monkey orphanage which had gibbons and red langurs and other colours (not sure if I spelt that right).. they were all so cute.. We also went to a little turtle place they had there.. We went and grabbed some lunch and then headed off on the bikes to a cave in the national park. After a climb we found it and took some pictures before heading off. I actually had a go on the bike and Jess taught me the basics so I went for a little drive as it was really quiet..I LOVED it.. :) But of course more practice..
We headed back and then had some food with the gang before we headed off on our 20 hour bus ride to Laos..We picked up some snacks for our long journey, I got some jam rings..and chocolate bread :) As we were the last ones on this bus we were at the park which was majorly cramped but funny enough I still managed to get some sleep. We reached the Laos border a bit to early so everyone slept until about 6.15 until they started to open the borders. (it opened at 7am) We paid a $1 and got stamped out of Vietnam and then headed to get our Laos visas which was $35. After successfully clearing Laos immigrations we picked up some cooked battered sweet potatoes which a woman was cooking on the side of the ride which was delicious (healthy breakfast huh) We then headed off for another 8 hours on the bus until we reached Vientiane. When we got there we got dropped at the bus station and paid 2$ to get into the centre. We stayed at the Youth hostel inn which cost us 30k kip each. (12,000kip=£1) It was right near the water front (the Mekong River) which is under construction so there was no good scenary.. I did sample a rice curry there which was quite tasty. We went for a wander but there was not to much to see so we chiiled for a bit. Later on we went to Taj Mahal for another curry which was cheaper (25kip) and delicious. I had a chicken korma but it was very different to back home but nevertheless I throughly enjoyed it.. we decided to head off to Vang Viang the next day on the afternoon bus.
The next day after eating some porridge (yummy, its weird the things you crave sometimes) we walked over to the Xuay Pai and around a shopping mall. I have been hunting for havanas since I arrived on my trip but not found them anywhere.. I have since picked up a pair in Vang Viang.. We popped to a travel agents and took a few pictures before we had a burger and headed back for the 1.30 bus. The bus trip was interesting and they put all our luggage on the top of the bus and wrapped it up. When we were all seated I saw a bag dangle over the side (guess whos that was) I feared for my poor bag on the Laos roads.. Sorry Mart.. I will be buying you a new one when I return :) Thankfully 4.5 hours later we arrived in Vang Viang with all bags in tact and a little damp as it had rained a little bit on the way over. We are now in the Central Backpackers which is only costing 20k kip a night..Two nights ago we met up again with Bruce and a few other friends Jess and Gareth had made on the way. Sadly that day an Irish guy died when tubing. The current is apparently 4 times stronger at this time of year so I was very VERY nervous.. As sad as it is was I wore a life jacket in case there were any dodgy currents or rips..For those who don't know what tubing is..Basically you float down the Mekong River on a massive tyre and you get pulled into bars where you get drunk on free shots and buckets. I promised myself I would not get to wrecked but after my first bucket and shots I was well on my way. It was the most surreal and fun experience and I got talking to so many people. Sadly somewhere between bar 3 and 4 I lost my camera. I am still baffled now in my hungover haze how this happened as I don't know if the stream took it away or I left it in the previous bar. I was even more guttered when I thought I had lost the pictures of Halong Bay. I just remembered Aimee has them on a CD we did before she left so its only really 6 days of pictures which have gone. The camera was slowly dying so not to fussed about that but I feel sad about the pictures I have lost and I feel kinda naked. Everyone knows I love to take pictures so I will need to buy one when I get a chance and hopefully find a good deal. I am still guttered though but this stuff happens..now I need to contact the insurance company and sort that out. When I eventually got back to land we went and showered and headed out for some more drinks but we were all to drunk so we did not stay out for long. Today I am chilling out but I need to get up and eat some food and figure out if I report the camera incident from here or in the next town.. fun fun!!
My rough plan is to stay another night in Vang Viang.. then head to Lurang Parang for 2-3 nights.. I might head further north before I head back to Thailand and Chang Mai. I am also tempted to do the Gibbons experience in Laos where you trek into a jungle and live in treehouses for 2-3 days and in the morning you can hear the Gibbons J Its sounds so cool and definitely something I won't get to do again. I want to spend at least 4 days there and do some trekking before I head for Southern Thailand for some rest and partying.. :) Its scary how quick times goes when you are having fun. Before I know it I will be getting ready for flying to Oz..