A Travellerspoint blog

Africa Part One

Dear all,
It has been a while since we updated our blog due to our laptop deciding to break down! We are still to write about China but first here are our tales of Africa where we travelled overland for two months.

Our first destination was Cape Town, South Africa. Flying into the city was an incredible sight. We flew over the grand Table Mountain cradling Cape Town and the pretty coastline. It was simple taking the bus from the airport into the city and allowed us a tour of the surroundings. Our initial impression of the people of South Africa was extremely friendly and helpful, especially the hotel staff, the smiling was contagious! As we drove into the city we passed the huge slum areas. They were just awful, it's hard to imagine people live like this, no one should have to live in this state of poverty. It was quite a shock seeing this so close to both the city and airport, in a central area. 

We had a lovely week in Cape Town despite a few 'run ins' with some of the locals, we were lucky on a few occasions not to have had anything stolen, there was one incidence where we had to sprint back to our hotel away from a man. A big scary. Obviously this sort of thing can happen anywhere but when you are not in your own country- especially one where 300 people are murdered every day (not an exaggeration)- it does tend to leave you feeling out of your comfort zone! 
We spent a lot of time at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront which is a really nice and safe area. It reminded us a lot of Circular Quay in Sydney, what with the harbour, restaurants & shops. Very laid back. During our week in CT we did so many things! Went on a sunset cruise, many seals, waves & champagne! Had lovely dinners with traditional African dancing and singing groups entertaining us, the music they make is great, so upbeat! We did a hop on hop off bus tour around the city and the wine lands of Constantia & others. Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens which are one of the largest in the world, were extraordinary. We visited the District Six museum which is a tribute to an area which was inhabited by the natives, their community. During the years of apartheid the whites decided they wanted to build on this land and make it a whites only community. They evicted people from their homes and destroyed the entire district, leaving these people displaced & without a sense of belonging anywhere. Even when some were found accommodation they had lost the community they knew, subsequently leading to social & mental issues for many. The land was never actually developed, it still lies vacant to this day, as a reminder of the consequences of apartheid & a memorial for those who lived there. A fascinating piece of South Africa's history. 

One of our highlights was cage diving with the great white sharks!! We were nervous but really excited!! We were taken to Gaansbaai the 'great white capital', two hours south of Cape Town. After a short 15 minute boat trip out to sea we anchored, waiting for our fishy friends! The crew throw out chum to attract them to the boat, a cocktail of tuna, guts and fish oil, mmm. Once we spot a shark they throw a huge tuna head out as bait to bring them close to the cage.
After half an hour we got our first spotting, a medium sized white nice and close up! Considering it was low season for sharks we saw a lot, about ten or so and some really big ones. The water was very murky, in the cage you couldn't see them until they came out of nowhere bearing their teeth next to you! The cage was tiny, poor Loges was crouching! A bit claustrophobic. The water was absolutely freezing even wearing two wetsuits! The view from the boat was a lot better, you could see all of the sharks on the surface. It was creepy but cool seeing the dorsal fin coming towards you when you're inside the cage knowing all that's between you is a thin piece of metal! One shark went a bit mad and bit a finger of the man next to Logan. The shark got it's mouth through the viewing window into the cage, pretty frightening! We had to get to shore pretty quickly then. Once you see these creatures in their environment and look right into their black eyes, you find that you have a new found respect for them, they are really incredible. 

One of our favourite spots in Cape Town was Camps Bay. On the red bus tour we drove all around the coast, which is very similar to the Great Ocean Road, stunning. Camps Bay had amazing restaurants & hotels lining the shore and white sandy beaches, bliss! This is a celebrity hangout we are told. Although it was hot it was not hot enough for the five degree water! 

We had a nice sunset picnic on Signal Hill just off Table Mountain, a panoramic view over the city. We went up Table Mountain on the one day there wasn't a huge cloud covering it! We visited the castle of Good Hope and went to see the penguins at Boulders Beach. This was an interesting expedition taking the train out here to Simons Town to see them.. As a tourist it's strongly advised that you buy first class ticket, although not crash hot it sure beats the raucous that goes on in the other carriages! Peole walk up and down the aisles with instruments and sticks beating the poles, they come and beg and don't leave you alone and there were loads of kids without tickets who crept on and were going mad ANC throwing stones out the window at people! Whoa! The penguins were very nice though, we were so close to the whole colony.

After an action packed week it was time to join our tour group!
We went through eight countries on this overland trip, very exciting! We are travelling by truck, it is converted in the back with seats and tables, quite comfortable and enough space. We began the trip with 21 people then at different places we would drop people off and pick up 'new blood' as they call it! At one point our group dropped down to 9 people, it was bizaare having so many extra seats on the truck and getting organised in the mornings so much faster! 

Camping for 47 of the 54 days prover not to be as bad as expected. We really enjoyed it. We had the morning from hell with our tent only one of the days.. We were in Uganda at a lake, camping here, which didn't seem so bad until I realised whilst sipping away a drink at the bar watching the sunset, that we were not alone on this campsite... It was home to a large hippo population.. I don't know if you've seen how big hippos are before but they are HUGE. Upto 5 metres long and standing at 2ish meters with a lot if weight on them! They also happen to kill more people in Africa than any other animal, you can imagine this made me feel a tad uneasy watching them swim past the bar.. At night hippos come to feed on land and our tents were strewn all over their feeding patch! We were having dinner around the fire when  a group of hippos started wandering around our tents into the bushes! It was petrifying! Even Logan ran away! The next morning at 4 am when leaving camp not only did we have to worry about the threat of hippos but the rain was torrential! We all looked ridiculous trying to put down these tents with the wind blowing a gale too! That was definitely my least favourite moment!

We drove up from South Africa where the landscape is completely barren and the roads seem to go on forever.. We then went to Namibia where you probably would have seen pictures of the famous Dune 45 and Sossuvlei pans before. The dunes were incredible, very similar to the landscape of the red centre in Oz. The pans are white salt pans with dead trees protruding from them surrounded by red desert, quite a sight. We went to Fish River Canyon  which is the second largest canyon in the world. We had a picnic with chews and champagne here whilst watching the sunset, wow!

Next we journeyed to Swakopmund which is the 'adventure capital' of Namibia. It also has quite a claim to fame as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt own a house here! We went quad biking on the dunes which was amazing! We went on some huge dunes, a bit scary at times! We also went sandboarding which wasn't much fun in the heat having to climb back up huge dunes just to slide down them again! I chickened out of sky diving, I thought if I ever decide to do it I will do it in a country which has strict safety regulations!!!

We began to see wildlife in Namibia, we had zebras running alongside our truck and hundreds of Springbok (a type of antelope) crossing the road. Seeing the wildlife we only see in zoos soon becomes the norm! Our first game drives were in Etosha National Park, we were very lucky on the first day to see a few lions at a kill! We also saw a very rare sight of two male rhinos chasing each at full speed through the park to then have a battle in the waterhole! We were right up close putting bets on the winner! Turns out the underdog won! We saw many ugly wildebeest, giraffes, vultures and a memorable experience of following a herd of elephants to a watering hole where they were joined by another herd. There were at least 30 of them and had tiny little ones with them! Throughout our African safaris we had to keep pinching ourselves to remind us we're actually in Africa seeing these amazing creatures in the wild!

Our next country was Botswana which we especially liked. The scenery is very nice, very green with much forestry. Due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the country a few years back, they now conduct checks/ quarantine at many places on the roads. These aren't exactly effective however, basically you wipe you're feet on a mat which is so deteriorated all it does is maybe spread out any possible infection. I'm not entirely sure why they bother with this routine, most probably to get money bribes from people they 'suspect'.

We stayed at s traditional bushmans camp in grass huts that they make. We watched their traditional hunting dances by the fire and the next morning they took us out into the bush to find various roots and leaves which cure different things e.g stomach pains. It was fascinating. Even watching them converse with one another is interesting. They speak in clicks, so bizarre! They use their tongues to produce different cluck sounds. They wear almost nothing, small patches of animal skin to cover privates and that's about it. We found it ironic that one if the elders in the tribe who was happily smoking away at an unfiltered tobacco filled pipe was currently being treated with a root for poor lungs. She had been coughing up blood for a while. A great experience seeing these tribes people.

For a couple of nights we stayed in the Okavango Delta, an area of wetlands with many islands. We were basic bush camping so we were in the wild. We could hear the hippos at night near our camp, terrifying! They make a horrible grunting noise. Whilst here we went on many mokoro rides around the delta, the only mode if transport here. They are traditional dug out canoes made from the boabab tree. We did a walking safari- 3 hours in the blistering heat searching for animals. It was scary but exciting knowing that we could come across any animal including predators and we have no protection between us and them! We had strict instructions of what to do in the situation if coming face to face with a dangerous animal. For example: leopard- do not look up into the tree at it or it will jump down and scratch your eyes out. Lion- do not run or make any movement, try and take a picture if you can otherwise just wait it out until they leave. Rhinos- run in a zig zag. This was a comforting initiation speech to our walking safari. Great. Luckily we didn't have any troubles, we saw many zebras, wildebeest and giraffe up close. That night we went fir a subset cruise to the hippos playground. Sounds romantic right?! We got very close to them in our tiny canoes! It was really incredible though to be in their environment.

Our next safari was in Chobe national park. We went on a boat cruise where we saw alot of wildlife, hundreds of baboons- those horrible monkeys, a herd of elephants playing and bathing in the water and many hippos, buffalo and crocs.

Our crossing into Zambia was an eventful one, it also happened to be Friday the 13th which didn't help our luck! Half of our group plus the leader got a horrible virus and they were vomiting the entire day. Our border formalities with visas took 4 hours in the sweltering heat with locals harrassing us from every angle to buy their goods. Very distressing. We finally got to our campsite where the monkeys are extremely vicious and tried to attack everyone. Logan bought a slingshot which you didn't actually have to shoot, you just pretend and they run very quickly ! The Victoria Falls were breathtaking, one of the biggest in the world. You get absolutely drenched even from the viewing decks! Whilst in Livingstone I did a lion walk with two young lions, you can pat them and walk alongside them. It was surreal being in contact with these predators. An organization has setup this activity in order to protect the lions in a conservation area. They have contact with humans when they are young and as they get older the contact becomes less frequent until it ceases completely and they are monitored in a Park to hunt for themselves. They are aiming to encourage breeding and to protect the lions.

The next part of our trip was in eastern Africa, more of the 'real' Africa. This includes; less hot water, unreliable power, awful roads, poorer and more corruption= bribes at almost every police check for no real reason.

Posted by cdiblmull 07:29 Comments (0)

Vietnam cont'd & Cambodia

Hello all! We've been so busy & haven't had a chance to send a new update for a while, so here it is!

We spent some more time in our favourite place Hoi An where we did some more shopping & eating plenty of the great food! You'll be pleased to know Logan is now fully recovered & back to his energetic self! As the city is a UNESCO protected site you must buy a pass for 3 days to enter. This also allows you to visit museums, old houses & temples within the city walls, which are all beautiful. It's so nice to see how proud the people are of their city & how well preserved & clean it all is. We shipped some things home then flew to Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City.

The locals call it Saigon as in the south of Vietnam they did not want communism (hence the Vietnam War), they were capitalists, however when the Americans withdrew from the war the communist armies in the north took over the country & sent the capitalists to 're-education camps' aka jails, to teach them communism. Sorry for the history lesson, I'm sure you all know this anyway- we were just really confused at the start of the trip not knowing why some call it Saigon & some say Ho Chi Minh City!
Saigon was okay, just a big city, not much to see in the way of culture. It was about 10 degrees warmer here than Hanoi! It's very organised & developed, seems like there's alot more money here. We went to the posh Sheraton hotel for happy hour which was ridiculously pricey! $12 for a small bottle of water!! Great views over the city though.

We had a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels which were incredible- they had 'western- sized' tunnels so we could see what it was like down there, they were tiny! Logan was rolled into a ball squeezing through! I couldn't do it- especially with the 30 Japanese tourists herding behind us! Our tour guide was brilliant, he was in the Vietnam war so we were lucky to be able to hear a first hand account of his experiences. The tunnels went on forever, criss- crossing everywhere underneath us. There was a shooting range here with loads of different guns to choose from, Logan tried a semi automatic, so loud! It felt very authentic walking through the jungle with booby traps along the path and tunnels underneath whilst shots were going off everywhere! Really set the scene!

We visited the war museum later on which was extremely upsetting. They had huge tanks & planes out the front of the museum, a massive collection. Inside there was lots of information about the war & different recounts from those affected & involved. Like most of the information in south east asia regarding the war it was all very one sided with alot of false information & images. For example, there was a picture where an American tank was dragging some Vietnamese men behind it and the caption stated this was one of the ways Americans tortured their victims, by dragging them alive. In the same museum they had a section where they had collected photos that foreign media had taken during the war. This picture was taken by a foreigner & was in fact to show how many dead bodies were left in the villages & they had to take them away to bury them- this was also confirmed from other sources. The most tragic part of the museum was seeing images of all the Vietnamese people who were affected by Agent Orange either during the war or generations after. To give you an idea of some of the effects- people's eyes were on their chins, hands on their bottoms, lips on their cheeks. It was truly devastating. People can be born with so many different disabilities, cancers or deformities. As if seeing all of this wasn't harrowing enough, they actually had the bodies of babies that had died in the womb because of Agent Orange preserved in tanks.
On a lighter note.. We had a tour along the Mekong to see the floating markets and to go to the local factories where they make honey, coconut candy & rice crispies! Very good! This was our last night in Vietnam so to celebrate a great past 10 days we had KFC..! It's really good here! (We're so cultured right?!)

We travelled overland to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, transfixed by the amazing scenery outside! It was very green & undeveloped, a nice change from the ugly tall grey buildings covering Vietnam. It was boiling hot here, everyone stripping off their thermals & jumpers! Noone could believe how developed it was, more so than anywhere in Vietnam, loads of banks, electrical stores & investment companies lining the streets. We had a cyclo tour around the city where men pedal bikes behind you whilst you're attached in a buggy- so relaxing! The palaces, parks, monuments & temples are so beautiful, covered in gold in the middle of busy roads. The sunsets in Cambodia are the best we've seen. Huge, red suns & pink skies. We all immediately liked it here, it had a great, friendly atmosphere. We went on a dinner cruise which was good fun- Cambodian cuisine is delicious! Coconut curries are the best here! The markets are huge, we got quite lost & I got too excited buying lots of clothes!

The next day was another depressing day. We visited the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot's regime) and the S21 prison where people were interrogated & tortured before being taken away to the fields & killed. Approx 3 million people were killed. They had thousands of images of all of the victims & documents describing what atrocities took place at this time which were all found here when the army raided the prison. It was chilling walking through the rooms where prisoners were held captive in tiny cells & rooms where the steel beds & torture devices were still in place where they were found. The prison was formerly a school, which makes the situation even more messed up. We went to one of the Killing Fields where 129 huge mass graves had been uncovered. Throughout Cambodia there are many killing fields, lots of them are bigger than this one. Some were graves of thousands of people. There are still 32 graves where we visited which have not been excavated, as the government does not wish to disturb any more souls. They estimate there are still hundreds of bodies missing. Very eerie. They had a memorial which was made of glass & had 17 levels of victims skulls, bones & clothes, all in categories e.g women 15- 25 years old. There was a huge tree in the middle of the fields which they used to kill babies by smashing their heads. It is such a huge tragedy, one which is hard to even fathom. When the Cambodians tell us about it, it brings tears to their eyes, they will never stop hurting, so many of them were witness to it & had family killed. Although it's a difficult place to go we're so glad we did.

Our tour guide is Cambodian & so to show us his hometown & the people he took us to his friend's daughter's 13th birthday party. It was so much fun! They setup a huge table for us & cooked us great food & showed us traditional Cambodian dancing! The little kids were gorgeous, they were dancing with us & jumping up on our shoulders! We had the best night, it was really cool to be part of a local celebration & to feel so welcomed! The Cambodian people sure know how to party!

On our way to Siem Reap- which is supposed to be a 6 hour drive but took us 10 & a half (the excuse was there were too many cows on the road which slowed us down, but we actually only passed one herd!) we stopped off at a silk factory to learn how it is made. The business was owned by an American & his Cambodian wife who haved lived there for 20 years. He was an amazing guy. He fought in the Vietnam war & when it ended he wanted to go back to help the people in Cambodia who suffered and so he worked for an American company which provided prosthetic arms & legs for those injured in the war. Many of the people who received prosthetics would hide them & continue to beg or would sell them. The company eventually ran out of funding so they had to withdraw their services, however Bud (American man) still wanted to help so he started up a small silk weaving business employing disabled people. He began to find out that parents were actually deliberately maiming their children so that they could bring money home for the family. Due to this he started to employ both disabled & able bodied people. This balance seemed to work and so grew his business which now employs about 45 people. The process of producing silk requires ALOT of patience & time! Basically the worm has to be protected from predators while it's growing, it changes colour when it's ready to weave a cocoon which it stays in, you must put the cocoons in the sun to kill the worm inside then you put the cocoons in boling water to separate the strands and unwind the raw silk from the cocoon. A single strand of silk is so strong- although it takes 20 strands to make one usable thread & one cocoon produces about 1500 metres of silk. There are huge manual machines which the women in the factory work on to make silk scarves, it's a really complex machine! The scarves were quite expensive but the women in the factory were paid really well plus they have maternity leave & some holiday leave (which is unheard of in southeast Asia!) so it goes to a great cause.

A speciality around Cambodia is tarantulas & bugs. Eugh. We stopped at a tarantula farm & Logan had 3 walking on his chest! I had one put on my bare arm & anyone who knows me knows that I freak when it comes to spiders, can imagine my reaction! This huge bloody spider started crawling across my skin & noone would get it off me & I just burst into tears! Needless to say facing ones fears does not always work..! Women at the farm were walking around with huge piles of fried tarantulas on plates! Our guide wanted us to have a good 'experience' & bought a mixed bag of tarantulas, sparrows, frogs, crickets & cockroaches! Only the boys were brave enough! Logan had a cricket & it continued to scratch inside of his throat the rest of the day! Not a delicacy for the Western diet!

On our first day in Siem Reap we went to Angkor Wat for sunrise. It was 5 am & we could not believe how packed it was! The sun finally came up at 7 am which was so worth the early start. The tempe is just breath taking. We got some fantastic shots which we must upload soon! We had a tour around Angkor which is massive! It is a magical place to go. Many of the inscriptions were broken away but the murals on the walls were completely intact. It is amazing seeing stories carved by people from thousands of years ago, almost as if they are communicating with you all these years later. Angkor Wat is made up of many temples at different sites. We visited a few more which were great, full of nooks & crannies leading to small shrines or statues. You could explore in these all day. They are so cleverly built. By this stage the temperature had reached 37 degrees so everyone was pretty keen to go to the hotel for a swim!! Eventually so many temples begin to resemble each other! We also visited the Tomb Raider temple the next day, where the movie is fimed. It is incredible! The ancient temple has gigantic trees entwined around the stone & the doorways. It looks like the trees are reclaiming their land! This was our favourite temple.

The town of Siem Reap is cool, not much to it but there are loads of small restaurants, bars & shops along Pub St. The massages are the cheapest ever- $2 for a one hour foot massage, $3 for a full body massage for an hour! They do a good job too! I always feel sorry for the ladies who do Logan's feet because it's actually double the work!! For dinner we went to a cabaret style restaurant where there was traditional Cambodian dancing. The costumes are fantastic. They have a famous restaurant in town where Angelina Jolie always goes, they had her picture everywhere! She came here alot whilst filming Tomb Raider. We tuk tukked home which is the most popular mode of transport- like an open cart attached to a motorbike- good fun and cheap- as long as you negotiate the price beforehand!

We visited a floating village just out of Siem Reap. 3000 people live here & their houses, as well as schools, churches, basketball courts, shops, restaurants, alligator & snake farms are all literally floating in the middle of this enormous lake which looks just like an ocean. It's very odd. These people are some of the poorest people we have seen. It was pretty confronting actually. People would ride around on crappy little boats with their babies & small children & try to pull up onto tourist boats. The babies in their arms would be so dehydrated & sick from the heat, it was just awful. The guide told us that many of the women purposely do this to their children as it's the only way they can get money which is so sad. We gave the women bottles of water trying to get them to give it to their babies but they just put it in their boat & kept begging. It was frustrating but it is really a tough call. If you give them money then the cycle continues where the children are at risk of illness or death because the parents know they can earn an income from this or if you don't give them money you worry that they will have no food to feed their families. Often we would try to give them meals or bottles of clean water. The lake they live on is absolutely filthy. They wash clothes in it, bathe in it, swim in it, put their sewage waste & rubbish in it & drink from it. Of course illness is rife. The children on the boats carry huge pythons on their necks which is a very strange sight. They rip out their fangs. There are tiny babies on the little boats with big snakes crawling all over them & children swinging them around their heads. They gave me one to put around my neck for a dollar, I can do snakes! Was a bit scary when it started to constrict though!
The thing that really touches you in these kinds of places where it is just pure poverty, is the fact that children can still smile & laugh. It makes you wonder how they can still find happiness when their situation is so awful. It is a type of innocence which is truly admirable.

On our last night in Cambodia our guide took us to his auntie's house in a small village where she made us dinner. She owns a restaurant in town & the food was delicious! They went to so much effort for us, they set up a buffet table with lots of local specialities & decorated the tables outside with flowers, lights & pretty tablecloths. They showed us a popular style of dance which is sort of like the macarena, so fun, we were dancing for ages! The Cambodian people are so sweet & very generous. We like it alot here & will definitely be back!

We returned to Bangkok where the tour ended. I had not been sick at all the entire month then at both of the border crossings on the way back to Bangkok I was sick- both times when they were stamping my passport! Such bad timing! It was just so humid, it got the better of me. We said goodbye to our group, some of them on the tour had been with us the entire month (the tour is made up of 4 different legs of the trip, we picked up & left people along the way), so this was strange. We'll be keeping in touch with the few people we became close with, they're really great. We got an early flight from Bangkok to Singapore where we hung around the airport for 5 hours waiting for our flight to Beijing, at least it's a nice airport to be stuck in! The next instalment of our trip will be backpacking through China! Hope you enjoyed this! Lots of love Logan & Clare XXX

Posted by cdiblmull 04:54 Comments (0)

Vietnam & Laos

An update on everything we've been doing! At the time of writing we were in Hoi An where Logan has just been diagnosed with Dengue fever stage 1. Not good but luckily we caught it in its early stages. A doctor came to the hotel and took blood. His temperature was 40 degrees. A relief that we now know what it is and we have medication!

We had a fantastic time in Luang Prabang in Laos for a few days, it is the best city we loved it. There are about 400, 000 people who live there and it's got a colonial quarter which is beautiful from when the French were there. The markets were brilliant & the restaurants & bars were amazing, they were all 'jungle like' with trees all over and candles, very cool. The city was extremely friendly and homely & the culture was unspoilt by tourism as was most of the city itself. It only took about ten minutes to arrive in the countryside filled with rice paddies & bamboo huts. (Eek just realised we already wrote a paragraph on Luang Prabang further down- sorry for the repitition!)

When we left Chiang Mai in Thailand we drove to Chiang Kong, a small town in Thailand where we stayed for a night on the river. Over the river we could see Laos, pretty amazing. The next morning we crossed the river by boat to get our visas at the border. Oh my gosh it is so disorganised over there in terms of gaining a visa. There were people everywhere and you line up for about an hour to give them your passport then move into the next line next to it to wait for them to hold up your passport! Ridiculous as noone could see their photo! Finally got in then got onto a houseboat down the Mekong river. It was a private boat for us and really comfy. The scenery was gorgeous, mountains and hilltribe villages and buffalo. Really nicel. We arrived in a town called Pakbeng in Laos after 8 hours. It was really small and not much there. We went for a traditional dinner, they eat alot of coriander, buffalo meat and ginger & they love their rice wine which is potent! Worse than vodka eugh!

After Pakbeng we got back onto our houseboat for another 8 hours. On the way we stopped off at a
traditional hilltribe village in the mountains. All the kids waited for us at the top and they were all so beautiful and sweet, very shy! We gave them lollies which they loved and Logan tried to give them wasabi chips and they were all spitting them out, so funny. Their village is very basic as you'd expect but so clever the way they make their homes out of entwined bamboo. There was a small school in the village where all 70 kids go with one teacher, we all donated money to the school. We sang them songs and they were laughing at how silly we were! There were cute little puppies everywhere too!

After the village we went further down the Mekong to Pak Ou caves, all these big caves with millions of Buddha statues inside- a bit random! Later on we arrived in Luang Prabang which used to be the capital city of Laos until the French moved it to Vientiane. Such an amazing city, so far it's all of the tours favourite. They have really great restaurants and the people are so friendly, more so than the Thai people. We went to the night markets there and bought some great bits & pieces- our luggage is steadily getting heavier!! We can't believe how cheap goods are here.

During our stay at Luang Prabang we ate loads of nutella and banana crepes, went to the Ethnology museum, went to the waterfalls, went to a homestay dinner (at a local's house) which was really good, at the start they blessed us in this kind of ceremony to wish us luck and welcome us. The food was to die for! We had these eggplants covered in crispy batter ahhhh! The next day was the absolute best day of our trip so far. In the morning we went ziplining which is where you swing through the jungle at crazy heights! You're attached with a harness and they push you off a ledge! Quite scary but fun! We then went to an Elephant Conservation Centre for our elephant ride. We both went on one together, our elephant was 44 so quite slow! We went through the jungle for a while and then the guide jumped off and took pics of us and made Logan ride on its neck (bare neck!) It was a big scary considering we were hanging off cliffs sometimes! Then he made me do it! It was really weird and we were wading through water- I thought I was going to fall off! After the ride we rode on a separate elephant each 'bareneck' down to the river for the 'bathing'. Wow. What an experience, just magic! The elphant went deep into the water and was filling up its trunk then splashing it on us! It was so cool to be holding the elephant and be part of that!

The next morning we all took part in giving alms to the monks. We weren't sure what we were in for! We left early and went to a locals house where she was cooking the Laos speciality sticky rice (they love it but it tastes like rice mixed with glue!) We then took a mat to the road where all the locals where lined up outside their houses doing the same. Us girls had to put a scarf around our chests, so as not to 'turn on' the monks!! We always sing "Im too sexy for the monks!". Then the monks come down the streets in a line and you have to roll balls of sticky rice quickly and put in their pots. Its actually quite stressful because they walk past really fast and the sticky rice is hard to get out! The monks aren't allowed to cook and so they must go around the whole city every day and collect food for breakfast and lunch (they don't eat dinner). It's really amazing seeing hundreds of them in their orange robes walking the streets.

We walked around the French Quarter for a while then got the bus to drive to Vang Vieng. It took 7 hours over the mountains on horribly bumpy roads. Eugh it was tedious. Vang Vieng is the place where all those drunk idiot backpackers go tubing and die. 35 people have died this year- 3 Australians in the last month. Instead of this we went kayaking down the river 8kms. We went past the tubing part, about 30 bars on the riverbanks with the music pumping and drunks hanging off the decks. We watched people swinging off rope swing and flying foxes over jagged rocks. Don't know why they think this is a good idea? The part of town we stayed in was really nice, the mountain scenery was incredible. For lunch we went to an Irish pub which was really good- we needed some comfort food!

We travelled to the capital Vientiane which is 4 hours away by bus. We found that there didn't seem to be much culture left here. It didn't feel like the other 2 places in terms of architecture and the people. It was quite unfriendly and the government presence/power/ corruption was strongly felt. We were only there for a night. We visited the Buddha Park which was pretty amazing, full of statues representing different buddha teachings. We also went to the COPE centre which provides information about the unexploded bombs in Laos from the Vietnam War- or as they call it here the American War. Laos was the most bombed country which most people don't know and it is still full of unexploded mines and bombs. The centre we visited makes prosthetic legs and arms for survivors, it is actually strongly supported by the Australian government.

That afternoon we flew to Hanoi which was absolutely freezing. We arrived at our hotel and put all our thermals on and big jackets! Bit of a shock coming from the heat of Laos. While driving from the airport we were stopped on the road by police twice taking bribes from the driver. Nice introduction to the country... Not.. We were terrified of staying in Hanoi as our tour leader was telling us horror stories of people being slashed and robbed. Nowadays in Hanoi there are lots of people coming up from the south who are poor so robbing is rife. We felt at ease being within the big group though and there were no problems. The people here at the markets and in the streets are very pushy, they shove things in your face trying to make you buy something and call out at you constantly. The French influence here is quite apparent in the architectural style. However it looks more like the backstreets of Paris- pretty filthy and dog poo everywhere. There is a population of 6 million with 4 million motorbikes. It's insane. Everytime you cross the road you think you're going to die, you have to just cross and hope they miss you. We're pretty used to it now, as long as you don't stop!!

We went to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum which was a very weird experience. You have to go through a security check and leave your camera and bags behind. You then walk in twos towards the building and once you reach the outside you walk in single file and you're escorted inside. There are guards everywhere moving you along and you must have your hands by your side. It was really awkward.. When inside where Ho Chi Minh lies it was freezing and I was just shocked. Very odd seeing a preserved dead man, however we didn't have much time to gawk at him as we were pushed along, you couldn't stop! Eugh. After we visited his old home and the museum about him. They keep absolutely everything about him- his pen, car, bed, book, slippers! Weird!

We went to the notorious Hoa Lo prison aka Hanoi Hilton. It was quite creepy. The information about the war was completely inaccurate and biased.. Interesting to read it. John McCain the presidential candidate in America was in the Vietam war and he was shot down out of a plane, they had his uniform there. We visited the temple of literature amongst other things then finished it off with the water puppets show which was quite good. The markets are really good in Hanoi, they have streets such as Silk st. or jacket st. and gold st. so you know where to buy these items and they are just full of these shops for miles.We were glad to leave Hanoi as we didn't particluarly like it. The people here are very rude which surprised us as often the Vietnamese people at home seem to be very gentle and kind.

We stayed on a junk boat on Halong Bay for a night which was quite spectacular although it was raining and freezing. There are 3000 karsts/ islands here. We visited a few caves which were huge. We also took a boat out to see the monkeys and feed them, so cute. The boat was nice, we all had our own rooms, it was 3 levels. We now have a big group of 16, previously we had 8 so it makes quite a difference but everyone is nice. The water on the bay is a beautiful green colour, it was special waking up to this view.

The next night we caught a sleeper train to Hue. We had heard about the dodgy sleeper trains in Vietnam, however our guide assured us as we were in first class thay would be really nice. Unfortunately this wasn't the case... There were cockroaches, people smoking on the train which came through the vents in our tiny cabins. There were 4 beds in the cabin and they were so tiny, my legs only just fit down the end so imagine how awful it was for Logan who had to sleep with his knees upto his belly! I slept up the top and there were no guard rails. Needless to say none of us really slept that night. The hotel we stayed at in Hue was very luxurious, well deserved!! It was a nice town. We went for a motorbike tour around the towns sights. We rode on the back with guides! We visited the king's tomb, the citadel, bunker hill, colosseum (tiger fighting) and rice paddies. One hectare equals 6 kgs or rice- not much!

We drove to Hoi An in the morning and immediately we had a good impression. It's a really nice city and amazing shopping! There are over 400 tailor shops! We ordered a pair of shoes to be made for Logan, all leather dress shoes for $90 not bad! The ladies were laughing as they had to use two A4 pieces of paper to trace his size! I designed 2 dresses for me which turned out nicely. Only $20 each. We were supposed to do a cooking class this morning but as Logan is unwell we didn't but we got the recipes to make at home. We'll send another update soon! Lots of love

Posted by cdiblmull 23:11 Comments (1)

A overview of the past 13 days...

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Hey there- ( sabaidi- hello in loatian, the language in Loas)

So an update on our recent adventures...

we started in bangkok, went to the royal palace, whatpo temple ( where the world famous reclining buddha is- it is 44m long) and travelled around the many canals through the city.

after being in bangkok for 4 days- getting used to being in asian culture, we caught a night train to changmai and went to the tiger kingdom where they let you play and pat the tigers. we went and played with 4, 6 month old tigers which was lots of fun. Later that night we went to the buddhist temple and watched the monks chanting after sun set.

We then left changmai and went to a town called chiang kong. this was on the thailand side of the mekong river to Laos. We crossed into laos and then travelled for the next two days by slow boat( when i say slow. its about 30 kms p/h ) on the way we stopped at a hill tribe. this was really cool. the only thing was that not to many kids wore clothes let alone underwear...

after the boat ride, we arrived in luang prabang. we stayed here for 3 days and did a few really great things. on the first night we went to a local villagers house for dinner, this was so good. in the morning we went what they call zip lining, this is doing a flying fox through the tops of the trees, it was awsome. we also went to a elephant conservation camp and went on an elephant trek- we also got a chance to take the elephants into the water and bathe them. of corse they bathed you too. the next morning we got up at 5:15 to give alms to the monks. this is the only way that the monks can have food. Every morning the monks, 300 of them, get up before sunrise and walk the streets with a pot and many of the locals and some tourists go on the street and offer rice and fruit and cake to the monks. it was very interesting. i have decided that im never going to be a monk. i love food too much and im sure that i wouldnt be able to collect enough for me and the worms...

then... we travelled 7h on pritty much jamberoo mountain except big trucks and a really shit road. it was really pretty though. Everyone was so close to being sick all the way.

Now we are in a town called vang vieng. this is where the kid died last month doing tubing.( we went on a ropeswing and hit his head on rocks.the town the biggest hole. its a town in the middle of no where and its filled with stupid tourists and lots of alcohol. we went for a 4 hour kayak down the river which was really nice this morning.we kayaked through the place where everyone hangs out on the river with lots of bars and ropeswings into the river... keep in mind the river is filled with rocks and abour 3 feet deep. as you can imagine. not very clever.
We are just relaxing this afternoon and tonight and then tomorrow off to the next town- 4h away to fly to hanoi, vietnam the day after. :)

so all in all. having a blast. it feels like we have been gone for ages already.

I hope all is well and will keep giving updates. dont forget to send me updates too :)

Lots of love Logan and Clare

Posted by cdiblmull 02:46 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Welcome to Clare and Logan's travel blog for our adventures!

We are heading around the world for 12 months.

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We are travelling through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia for 1 month, from beijing to Hongkong for 3 weeks. We then fly to Capetown in South Africa for 2 months overland from Capetown to Nairobi-Kenya. After this we then Fly across to London for 7 months campervaning and backpacking through europe and the uk.

We will be Updating our blog at every opportunity that we have.

It would be great for you to keep in touch and follow our journey.

Thanks

Clare and Logan.

Posted by cdiblmull 03:12 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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