Sunday, June 29, 2008

The highest peak in Vietnam

I have spent the last week in a place called Sapa, just South of the Chinese border. I flew into Hanoi and the city was absolute mayhem so i took the first train out and found myself the next morning high up in the mountains in Sapa.

I have been here for almost a week and sadly am hopping back on an overnight train tonight to get back to Hanoi (only to catch a bus and leave again- I am trying to avoid staying over night there until my mom arrives in another week).

It was tough leaving Laos since I had a really fun group to travel with but Vietnam has been just as prosperous. At the train station in Sapa I was on a bus with a few french couples (from Quebec, France and Switzerland) and hooked up with them for a few days. The first day we got here we did a trek through the terraced rice fields in the mountains. It is so breath taking. It is the first time I have ever seen landscapes like this in all my travels. There are rice fields carved out of the mountains as far as the eye can see, around every corner. I did manage to drop my camera and break it so even though I am in the most scenic area- I have no pics to prove it (I am using a FUJI disposasble actually right now......going back to basics with REAL FILM!). Luckily I have met 2 wicked photographers who have promised to send me pics down the road.

After a full day of treking and checking into a super dodgy hotel (a whopping $5/night!) I caught my SECOND cold since I have been here. ARGH!!!!!! Might be the weather, since for the first time since I have been here it is not over 30 degrees and there is actual cold mountain air, or it could be the utter filth and cess pool of germs that lurks pretty much everywhere in asia. During one of my strolls through the food market, imagine my surprise to see a selection of repulsive looking raw meet (something I am not a fan of under the most hiegenic of circumstances), some recognizable, some.....not so much. Anyways, as I walked down the stall, I saw whole animals to start off with and then it just got better and better. Pigs heads, chickens claws, innards and gizzards of every shape, size and colour and then the piece de resistance....hmm, is that Sparky I see? Yup, dogs heads. What a delicacy. Literally, chopped at the jugular and pardon the pun, but puppy-dog eyes staring right up at me.......i kid you not! Bon Apetit!

Moving on.....I was deciding whether to do a 3 day trek but since i have been feeling like crap opted for the more comfortable means of travel on the back of a motorcycle, riding through the mountains and it has been wild. The first day was with a guide who took us to an old hill tribe village of the H'Mong people and the Red Dzao, and then to an old church that had been bombed over and over again by the Americans in the Vietnam war. The second day we went without the guide and found our own way around the mountains, but it was pissing it down with rain. It was cold, wet, and uncomfortable but I still had a great time.
Yesterday the sun was out in full effect which made the mountains so much more enjoyable and I went for a few hours of exploring with another Canadian guy out here. We went for a gorgeous drive through the mountains and sat at the base of Fansipan, Vietnam's highest peak, in total awe of it all! On the way back we nativagated our way down to a gorgeous little waterfall and had a road side stop cooling down and sun bathing...super day.

So even though I am typically grumpy because I have had a cold for almost 4 days straight, it has been so nice coming to the mountains. Next stop I think is Mai Chau, a small little village outside of hanoi and then FINALLY I will make it to the OCEAN...I am itching to be by the sea!!! It seems almost wrong that I have been away for over amonth and the most exotic ocean I have been to was sitting on Brighton Beach:)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Good Morning Vietnam

After a few lazy and beautiful weeks, I had to say a sad farewell to Laos yesterday as I hopped on an airplane and headed east to Vietnam (after my last long distance bus journey, as enjoyable as it was, I opted for the 55 minute flight to Hanoi as opposed to the 2 day bus trip).

So my last week in laos was by far the best yet! After my wonderful experience on the overnight local bus i caught a few hours sleep once I checked into a Houy Xai guesthouse (as did my valium infused fellow bus riders...argh!). Early Monday morning I met up with about 12 other people at the Gibbon Experience head office and we sat through a "Safety First" video (ya right-i can say this now that i left the country but there are ABSOLUTELY NO safety standards in Laos!) outlining the plans for the next few days and what we were to expect. As we sat through this, a huge Land Cruiser pulled up outside offloading the saddest, most tired, smelly, bruised, battered and spent group of people I have come across yet......they had just finished the Gibbon Experience. Not so reassuring. We pelted them with questions and managed to get a few grunts and groans back, but to be honest at the point all that was running through my head was if my money was refundable?

Needless to say it wasn't. So off we went headed for the jungle. The ride felt like I was a passenger in a Nascar Rally Race (Dad- you would have paid money to have a go at roads like this in the machine that we were driving). Most of the time you felt like you were in a roller coaster going in slow motion, climbing huge hills and then plumeting over the top into unknown territory . We actually drove through a river and managed unbelievably not to get stuck (we found out later the previous group got stuck both on the way in AND out and had to leave the truck and trek an extra 5 of the reason for their long and tired faces upon arrival) .

We made it in and did a 2 hour trek up mountains through the jungle to get to the first hut. We strapped on zip line harnesses that stayed on for most of the next 3 days. We were then split into 3 groups and taken by guides who had little more grasp of the English language than I do of the Laos language and off we went.

Our first zip was just under 400 metres long, soaring through the tree tops of the Laos jungle......absolutley AMAZING!!!!! We managed a few zips around the jungle before getting to our tree house, which was home for the next few days. Once at the tree house our guides took off and we were left to our devices in the was pretty crazy, a mixture of utter freedom and appreciation for where we were and sheer terror as to how remote and far away from ANYONE and ANYTHING civilised we were! The only time you caught up with the guides is when you would hear your tree house rumbling and they would zip in with a bag of food for our meals (meals were rice 3 times a day and other unidentifiable food which was suprisingly tasty). The tree houses were probably about 5 or 6 stories high above the ground and the view was breath taking. Most of the few days there were spent at these heights. So scary and so exhilirating!

We woke up the first morning to the call of the Gibbons and it was the like being front and centre stage to an orchestra starting off with just one instrument and then climaxing to the LOUDEST most ear piercing sound of the monkeys singing to wild! Out of the 3 treehouses we were the only ones that managed to spot the little Gibbons. We actually found a group of little babies and they hung around 2 trees just swinging back and forth and , uh, well....monkeying around!

So after 3 days of leaches, giant squirrels (they were over a metre high!!!!) rats, spiders, monkeys, barking deer (i swear!!!!), a plethora of creepy crawley insects and countless clocked hours zipping through the forest we headed back to civilisation (I use that word VERY loosley!) to Houy Xai with a really group of friends.

I hooked up with a Dutch girl (Jay- there are so many people I have met so far from The Netherlands!) named Liesbeth and she looked and acted exactly like Daphne from Scooby Doo! Super fun girl. I spent most of the rest of the week traveling with the whole group that did the Gibbon X. After celebrating a safe arrival back from the jungle and doing a tally of all the injuries- and there were LOTS (me almost at the top of the list-but that is a whole different story!) it was time to head out of Houy Xai.

A handleful of us opted for a slow boat down the Mekong River to get back to Luang Prabang. Although it took 2 days to get there, it was some of the most enjoyable traveling I've ever done. We had a fun group and laid all of our bags and stuff out on the floor and spent 2 days floating down the river chatting, napping, reading, playing cards and just taking in the most incredible scenery! I have LOADs of photos from the trip, but I havent down loaded any yet....

Well, to wrap it up, we made it eventually back to Luang Prabang and spent another few days in 40 degree heat jut trying to stay cool. One afternoon, I went for what I thought was going to be a leisure bike ride to a near by waterfall for a swim. But it turned out I was with a fit French man (and SO easy on the eyes!), and "Daphne", who revealed to me she used to be on the European swim in the mid day sun we got lost outside of Luang Prabang and i think I must sweat out 10 lbs before finally finding some remote water to cool down in with all the locals which actually led to a different much prettier waterfall! So it was worth the trip and I made it back.

I said farewell to all my travel companions sadly and hopped on a plane (with prayers that plane travel was going to be a step up from bus travel) yesterday to Vietnam.

And here I am. Good morning Vietnam. It is now just 9am and I have a day ahead of me trying to stay cool and make sense of this bustling city (without being nailed by a motorcycle) and make plans for what to do and where to go next!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Top Ten List

Top Ten Reason I Just Endured Worlds Worst Bus Trip (on a LOCAL bus)
1.There was a motorcycle parked in the aisle beside me at the back of the bus which means i spent 15 long hours inhaling diesel fumes.
2.There was Laos comedy BLARING on the TV for the first 6 hours, then Laos music for the last 9 hours (did I mention this was an OVERNIGHT bus?)
3.My seat was jammed in the most upright uncomfortable position imaginable.
4.A young (not so sweet smelling) girl asleep on my shoulder for most of the trip.
5.As opposed to speed bumps, there were cows, dogs, chickens and cats that made the bus come to an abrubt stop or threatening swerve approximately every 3-5 minutes.
6.Horking men.
7.No air conditioning.
8.Windows and doors left wide open during one of the many unneccesary stops so every form of insect and creature joined us on our journey.
9.No toilets at ANY of the stops, forcing me to stop and squat in front of the bus, as I was afraid if any veered off any further I would be left behind.
10.It was a 15 HOUR journey.
-oh and one extra for good luck. 11. the only 2 other backpackers on the bus were passed out THE ENTIRE TIME after taking i get why that is such a hot commodity on the "backpacker circuit". fun times.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Laos Photo Shoot

I love the people of Loas. All they do is SLEEP! Honestly, they sleep EVERYWHERE. To actually pay for something, more times than not, I have had to physically wake up a shopkeeper, guesthouse host, or taxi driver. They sleep anytime and any where! In their market stalls, behind the counters, at their desk, I swear when our nightbus was crossing the border from Thailand to Laos, I saw one of the backpackers having to wake up the guard there to pay the entrance fee to get in the country...i could get use to this lifestyle!

I am still in Luang Prabang but only for a few more hours. I'm scheduled on a local night bus (14 deathly hours!!!) to leave here at 5:30 and arrive at some point tomorrow morning. Last night, when I went to buy my ticket I went to the first travel stall/tour agent in town and they said it was 225,000 kip- air conditioned bus, including tuk tuk ride to the bus station. I thought I would be smart and do some comparative shopping, but by the time I had hit the 5th bloody stall and EVERY SINGLE ONE had given me a diffent price, and i found out there is only one bus that goes there and it is a local bus with no air conditioning. ARGH! The glamourous side of being a dumb tourist! So I took the cheapest one and again, keep my fingers crossed I get there:) I am headed to Houay Xay (pronounced Hoy Say- ya, go figure!) where I will be leaving on Tuesday to do a 3 day eco-trek at the Gibbon Experience. This is the place where I will be sleeping in tree houses and zip lining all through the jungle. I cant wait. It is going to be a mission to get there but it should hopefully be worth it! (to see it checkout

Luang Prabang has been pretty cool. It has been nice staying in one spot for a few days with a nice room with AC. Though last night I went into the bathroom and shared my shower with a cockroach that was big enough to actually bite my head off. I had dreams all night of the book Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka, where the lowly salesman turns into a roach and he was hiding out in my room......ugh!!!!! Sweet Dreams.

So, it turned out that my free Tiger Trail photo shoot trip worked out. We headed out at 8am and drove for a few hours up river and literally did a photo shoot of us kayaking down the river for a few hours. All the photos are supposed to be for there new website and promo stuff. We went through a bunch of pretty big rapids but did it with the guides so it was pretty chill. The only gross part was that the earth here is a red clay colour so all the rivers run this gross brown red colour and i was SOOOOO dirty by the time mid day arrived. Even if you push your hand about an inch under water, it is totally hidden in the muck. Doesnt exactly make you want to plunge in for a refreshing dip. We kayaked to the main Lodge and had buffet and then had the guides to ourselves all afternoon to take us to the Elephant Project. What a wicked afternoon!!!! We got to climb up the elephants (literally climbing up there legs and pulling their ears to get us up) and walk around on them, and it wasn't part of a big touristy group, it was just 2 other girls and moi with the guides! And of course, the best part- it was ALLL FREEEEEEEEE!

The 2 guides we had were super cool too, on the way back to Luang Prabang, we were driving through fields upon fields of pineapple crops (the pineapples here are better than anything i have ever tasted before!) and they explained to us that this one village was a pineapple village. All they farmed was pineapples and they were everywhere, as it is pineapple season here. There was hut after hut after hut ALL SELLING pineapples. So we stopped, ate free pineapples in one of the huts with the locals, and then made our way back to L.P. Beautiful, beautiful day!

A few more hrs to go until I pack myself up and head out to the next stop............

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Elephant Country

Check in time! I made it to Laos~Elephant Country! My visa and passport all made it back to me!!!!! I have spent the last few days in Vientianne, Vang Vieng & have now parked myself at the verytipofthe Mekong River in a beautiful little place called Luang Prabang.
I dont want to count my chickens before they hatch but tomorrow I have a full day planned going into the jungle with one of the big tour companies and they are doing promotional pictures and therefore I dont have to pay for the full days worth (kinda like Tom did with the A.J.Hacket bungy jumping in New Zealand)! We shall see if itpans out but it looks like a pretty exciting day planned with the elephants!!!
I spent my weekend in Vang Vieng and did a 20km kayaking trip and went exploring some amazing caves along the Nam Song River. Also rented a bike for aday (a pink pimped out hello kitty bike i might add!) and went riding in Vientianne checking outtemples and going up the Mekong River....pretty amazing stuff (as well as more physical activitythis body has seen in ages!!)
Unfortunately this internet cafe is not AC'ed and although it is still before 10am here it is already over 30 degrees out. So i am off to mingle with the monks and check out the markets!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sweet Buddha!

I have absolutley nothing remarkable to say or write but to be honest, I am so hot I HAVE to sit in the internet cafe for AC, as I have checked out of my room so have no more safe haven to look forward to until my 7pm overnight bus ride to Laos (pending I haven't been scammed and my passport finds its way back to me:)

So I guess to kill time I will just start typing..... I used to consider myself a person who did not sweat. Maybe a light glisten here or there but never have i experienced an ACTUAL bead of sweat trickle down my body. Well........thats no longer the case. I think i have actually just lost about 10 pounds of perseperation from my body and had i been standing in one spot the whole time I think I mightve actually drowned in it. Disgusting. I just walked to the Grand Palace/Emerald Buddha, a main site i guess to see. Well, 12:00 sun is not the right time to do it. It is probably only about a 15 minute walk from where I am however, that is not including the flow of traffic and route to get there. And with my love of jaywalking and any kind of fast moving traffic while I am a pedestrian, I think the big buddha must've been watching over me. I had to fight cars, trucks, buses, stray cats and dogs, hagglers, tuk-tuks and my (carrying anywhere up to and including 5 people on them I swear!) It was a miracle I actually made it there. The way there was worse than the way back because a) i wasnt 100% sure where I was going and b) i was 10 pounds lighter on the way back and therefore more able to hustle with my life and the traffic flashing before my eyes.

So eventually i safely got there but sweet Jesus (sweet buddha maybe?) I have never been so hot in my entire life. And to add insult to injury, you have no idea how difficult it then was to reach into my bag and don more clothing (long sleeves i might add) to be "respectfully dressed" on the grounds. So the grounds are equivalent to a few football fields and as beautiful as it was there was about as much shade to fit a few coins tossed on the ground. The only safe haven was inside one of the temples, where i strategically placed myself near one of the fans at the edge and sat for about 15 minutes trying to regenerate myself. But honestly, how much regenerating can I do while literally dripping with sweat. All this was doing was saving myself from sunstroke. So, off I went back to face the elements (sun AND possibly even more damaging than sun- the traffic). And now I find myself slowly bringing down my body temperature in this internet cafe, so beautifully air conditioned. There you have it. I feel sorry for the person sitting beside me thats for sure. Oh ya, the best part? My bags are in hotel storage, and basically I am just lazing about wasting time until my overnight bus leaves for Laos. No shower is in the cards for a long, long time. (and trust me this is not the kind of accomodation that has courtesy suites available...though i have been trying to figure out what i can do with the roof top pool shower, though it is in obvious view of all the guests and i have no bathing suit or towel).

Fun times. Hahahahha, gross huh? Ah well. When in Bangkok, do as (Elise I am sure you are having a field day with that one, LOL)

Well, my clothing feels a bit dryer and my stomach is growling so off I go to sit next door and faff the time away until my departure........

So tonight, when you all lay dry and comfortable and smelling squeaky clean- think of me :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Khoa San Rd.

So here I am, in an internet cafe, having been awake already for over 6 hrs and it is only 9am. Jet lag SUCKS!!!! I have spent the first 2 nights in Bangkok fully awake (and with a killer soar throat!) and somewhat dazed and confused.

I got here safely Wednesday evening and came to the manic area of Banglampu where Khoa San Rd is. Absolute mayhem. I dont even think I can put in to words the chaos of this city, between the people, the animals, the cars, the smells, the sites, the filth......unless you have actually been here, it is tough to imagine.
I am actually staying at a decent hotel in the area and my room has been a bit of a safe haven from it all. Although I am ecstatic to actually be starting out on my trip I am not going to lie to say that that excitement is equally met with fear and anxiety of what is to come......but i can tell 2 days in that the carefree way of life is going to come back to me quite quickly.
So as soon as i got here and checked in I went for a stroll to sit and find somewhere to eat. After ordering (suprisingly green thai curry!!!) the couple next to meet had there food put infront of them. I stole a quick peak and though it looked very appetizing to my utmost relief, moments later the woman shreaked and both people jumped up just in time for me to see a lizard about 6 inches long that had fallen from the ceiling scurry off from the middle of the gents plate........right, bon apetit!
Actually the food has been amazing and knock on wood, my stomach is fine so far. The stalls are a dime a dozen and although some if it is unrecognizable, you can have just about anything under the sun (if you dare!).
My biggest hurdle getting here was figuring out what the hell to do! With literally everything on my doorstep and a free calendar for the next few months (and jet lag kicking in) I was totally taken aback by my inability to figure what to do and where to go (so i have actually spent the last 2 days wandering the market stalls conveniently!). Upon making the first concrete decision (GET OUT OF BAGKOK!) i decided to forget about going north in thailand as i hear it is a tourist mecca now and head straight for Laos. Oops I have no visa (though i must point out that i was supposed to get one for thailand too, but no one seemed to notice at the passport control...hmmmm.) There are warnings everywhere saying NOT to trust the tourism agencies in Banglampu, so again I was stumped but not for long. I took my first tuk-tuk ride to the TAT (gov approved tourist centre) and the wheels are in motion. Unfortunaly I had to handover my passport (never a fun thing to have to do in a foreign country to someone who barely has a grasp of your language) in order to apply for a Laos visa. So as of right now, my plan is to pick up passport and visa from "joe", my friendly Thai, at 6pm on friday and then at 7pm I head north to the border. Although it was tough to give over my passport, i let out a huge sigh of relief now that I actually have a plan that is taking form.
As for today and tomorrow, I am off maybe to see some more temples, sit by the rooftop pool of my hotel, brouse some more market stalls and start upon my 4th book since i left TO (dad i just finished Lois on the Loose and LOVED it!!!!!! any more suggestions?)
Hopefully tonight I might sleep properly instead of wide eyed all night with only the sounds of the streets winding down, then the calls of the early morning monks and then eventually the roosters wishing me a good morning by sun up. We shall see.
Again thanks for all the emails........sending lotsa love out.


Back Tracking To England

Ok, ok, ok! I'M HERE!!!!! I'm in Bangkok and my head is still spinning even though I landed just over 24hrs ago.

I know I missed a whole weeks worth in England-but to sum it up- IT WAS SMASHING! I spent loads of time with Jessica which acted as a little chicken soup for the soul to start me on my journey. I was staying in her flat in earlsfield in London most of the time although she is still living in Reading for another few weeks before she makes the big move to London. So it was pretty chill having access to my own place.
Highlights of England: Jessica, Amanda, Will, Brighton and Banksy!!!!!

As I said spending time with Jessica was obviously fantastic. She seems happuer now than i have seen her in ages. Amanda- same goes! I love how quickly and easily we seem to be able to slip into an old routine no matter how many months go by without seeing eachother. I met Amanda's new man Richard and felt instantly enthralled by him! He definatetaly got my stamp of approval and the sense of humour on this kid is probably right up there with Kosta's!

Will......mid-week I made the journey down to Brighton and took all the familiar paths through my old stomping ground- the North Laine, the high street and a stroll on Brighton Beach. I met up with Will and we had a few drinks and a quick bite and chatted the evening away :)

On Saturday, Jessica and I went to Waterloo Tube Station and found our way to The Cans Festival: The Banksy Exhibit. (If you dont know who Banksy is, Google him-he is a wicked street graffiti artist from London, who not only does really cool looking street art, but it also has quite a political undertone to it). So we found the tunnel and spent ages just taking in all the graffiti and i snapped a zillion pics which i will try to post on facebook at some point (sorry Jay!).
Saturday evening a bunch of us went down to Brighton for an adventurous night out. It started off quite tame and in a typical fashion ended up hopping from place to place, meeting new people and having a memorable (well, somewhat memorable) night! Jessica and I totally imposed ourselves on Will and his flat and I think by Sunday afternooon when we were finally out of his place he let out a huge sigh of relief to be free of the damn Canadians! (though I did get him somewhat tossing about the idea of marrying me for a visa, hahahahah!)
So with a hangover that I actually think I am still getting over, off we went back to London to pack up my stuff and do any preparations needed for the next part of my travels.....
Saying bye to Jess and Amanda sucked but hopefully I will be seeing both of them before I find myself back in Canada at the end of the summer. So that was England. Well, a pretty quick overview of it anyways.
Bags packed and weighing a tonne (what happened to my empty bag policy i couldnt tell you- but I will always have a special little spot in my heart for PRIMARK;)- off I went bound for Heathrow Airport and a very long (11 hr) flight to Bangkok.
AND SO HERE I AM. I have found my way somewhat and although I am not afraid to say that I have been pretty much scared shitless for the last 24 hrs, I am smiling from ear to ear and slowly getting a handle on what i am doing.
My coins are running out (and my stomach is ravenouslyt growling), but as I am in Bagkok for another few days and there are internet cafes a dime a dozen, I will for sure be back to write more........thinking and missing you (thats directed toward Jay and mom and dad, mostly cause i havent sent out a mass email yet with my blog address, LOL!)