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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

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Hi Clare and Logan
Great to read through this, brings back some memories and the pictures are great.
I can't wait to hear your stories about China and Africa. Have a great journey and see you sometimes around in Switzerland. (Just hopefully not in the last two weeks of August, because then I'll be on the move by myself)
Peter Egloff

by onyx007

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