Saturday, December 23, 2006

Laos - pics 2

After a halfday of trekking we arrived at a remote village for lunch. We were soon the main attraction. Most of them stood there fascinated by us. Their village seems reasonably simple. They do have a school though.
And upon looking from a distance it seems they do have the obligatory satellite dishes on a few of the houses. Our guide (Pet) said that that village had a population of around 100.

From there we walked to another village (pop. around 400-500). It was a Mong (sp?) village and currently they are having some kind of festival which involves throwing balls around. Females who drop a ball thrown to them by a male have to marry the man who threw it. When we entered the village the males of our tour group made sure not to throw any balls that came our way and we specifically told the girls to CATCH everything.

Laos - pics 1

Cam takes a moment to enjoy the change from the busy streets of Vietnam and Cambodia to the quiet(ish) streets of Luang Prabang.
Houses in Laos are reasonably sized and fashioned with a satellite dish (of course).
Our first nights accomodation in Luang Prabang. Ali is overjoyed at how nice Laos is.
The bus we took from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. We thought the curtains were a nice touch, pity about the toilet.

Ta Phrom - From Tomb Raider Movie

Bayon Temple

Angkor Wat


After our time in Siem Reap we caught a plane to Laos. We had heard a few dodgy things about some of the smaller airlines but the twin prop plane (probably 30 seater) that we caught to Vientaine was quite good and we even got served food. We stayed one night there and then the next day caught a bus (looked like it had been taken from Priscilla Queen of the Desert set) up to Luang Prabang. That was about an 8 hour trip and the King of Bus had one of the worst toilets we have had to date. Think of bad smells, half height room in a double decker bus and a lot of swaying from the hilly mountains.

Several words can be used to describe Luang Prabang. One of them being chilly. We have been surprised with how cold it is here but it is reasonably north and quite hilly. I think the bus through the mountains got to 2000m at one point. We spent one day in Luang Prabang shopping and checking out the nearby sights. It is quite a small town and you can easily walk from one end of the main street to the other in a short time. They also have very cool night markets that pop up at one end of the main street after sunset. We all agree that we like Laos better than Cambodia. The people are a lot more friendly, seems to be less crime and the sellers and tuk-tuk drivers will stop bugging you after one quick 'no'. Oh and the tuk-tuks are a bit more like 3 wheeled vans than Cambodia.

After our day of rest we decided we were due for a bit of exercise. We took a 3 day trip with Green Discovery (highly recommended) which involved 1 day mountain biking, 1 day trekking and 1 day kayaking. Each night we stayed at a local village (quite an experience, and rather cold). The second night we were involved in a welcoming ceremony which involved the local chief of the village saying some stuff in case our souls had been left behind in the trip to the mountain. Also involved some of the local moonshine, a large amount of Beer Lao and the locals tying string around our wrists. We have to keep the string on for 3 days too or otherwise we may lose our soul again.

Today is another day of rest and more massages plus booking accomodation in Thailand. Accomodation is proving difficult as it seems New Years on a beach in Thailand is quite popular.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Cambodia - Siem Reap

Lost track of the days/date but after about 4 days in Phnom Penh we headed up to Siem Reap so that we could check out all the awesome temples. Must say that they are pretty amazing, Ankar Wat in particular. Also saw Ta Phrom which is the one from Tomb raider. Girls are currently at an Orphanage and we are going to catch the place tomorrow to get to Vientiene in Laos. Will post pictures of the temples when I go through the 200 odd photos. And this morning we got up early to catch the sunrise at Ankar Wat but there was so much cloud cover it was a bit of a let down. Busloads of tourists trekking through all the temples too. Siem Reap seems nicer, less crime, friendlier people than Phonm Penh and the place we have spent the last 2 nights at (The Ancient Ankar) has a pool, tho it isnt finished yet. :(

Cambodia - Phnom Penh

Our first night at Phnom Penh was the saturday and we stayed at the Kings guesthouse (wasnt that flash really). We decided the next day that we would stay at somewhere a bit better so we headed over to what wasw probably the dirty area of the town but also the backpacker district. We then found the Happy Lakeside Guesthouse. Seems every place is either happy or lucky or a bit of both and there is always a "very special price for you"!! The Guesthouse featured a nice outdoor wooden bar area over the lake and an overzealous owner. Most of the pubs/restaurants in that area seemed to cater specifically for westerners and of special mention is an indian place with $2 all you can eat, featuring unlimited cold water. We decided we had been moving around a fair bit and after meeting up with Dan on that sunday we decided we would stay a few nights at the Happy Lakeside. Happy B (the owner) was more than happy to take us to a few of the tourist attractions. So the monday we went to the killing fields followed by the shooting range for Cam and I to fire off some rounds from an AK47. I know, it wasnt a very good idea to follow up a morbid visit with shooting but they were close to each other and we decided against shooting livestock.Spent the next several days lounging around and catching up on sleep. Also purchased a watch from the russian markets which stopped working soon after we got back from the visit. However when we returned a few days later she did replace the face with one that was working (and then proceeded to wrap up the broken one to sell to the next sucker). Oh and part of the watch broke yesterday, tho I should still be happy cos I can tell the time.

Cambodia seems a lot more dusty than vietnam. I think this is due to the huge amount of concrete in Nam enabling all the rubbish to just wash away. Also seems to be a lot more cars in Cambodia than Vietnam. Oh, and the bling. Exhaust with flashing LEDs around them. Chrysler badges stuck on above a toyota badge of a toyota car. Seems very crazy but as our Mekong tour guide said "You got the money you get the honey". Also explains why most guys seem to be spending all their time lounging around on their bike and trying their best to display it to any girls walking by. Note to any future visitors: Be sure to visit the Seeing Hands massage place. Blind people who will give you the best massage ever and for only $4.50. The proceeds also go to help blind people and the massages are 'clean'.

Killing fields
Happy Lakeside Guesthouse

Mekong Delta Cruise

The Delta cruise consisted of a large amount of water and a large amount of boats. Boat sections of the journey were better than the bus sections as we could at least stretch our legs while travelling. It all felt weird for us tho, travelling with westerners again after we had spent our time out in the hamlet where we were the only white people. The tour made several stops. We were shown how they made coconut candy and other sweets (including cock rice - hey it definitely sounded like that was what they were saying).Also went for a short bike ride and saw a giant python.The floating markets were pretty cool and we got the best pineapple EVER there. Each boat ties what they have available to sell onto a bamboo pool - hopefully you can see it in the pic. Ohh, thought I might point out that banana trees grow like weeds around here and it only cost us about 10c for a bunch of lady fingers. Beers are also under a dollar.

The boarder crossing was pretty crazy when we pulled up at the edge of vietnam loads of monkeys (very fast agile kids) jumped onto our boat and started picking up our bags. We have noticed that around these parts it seems people try very hard to push their service onto you in order to make a buck. After obtaining our bags back we walked across the border, got a stamp and then boarded a boat which we all hoped was heading to Phnom Penh.

Damn dodgy posts

Aaargh, dont have time to fix up the problem below but you get the general idea.

Vietnam - country side

So the tuesday morning we all piled into a minivan and headed out to 'The Coconut Grove' a small hamlet a few hours west of Saigon. On the way we stopped off at the Cu Chi Tunnels. We also picked up some snake wine at the tunnels after having consumed it the previous night.- They place snakes and other animals into vats with alcohol, disgusting but the result is not too bad. Much nicer than tequila.

Cu Chi Tunnels.

Dinner on the street.

Snake wine.

We stayed that night at Nhung's grandmas place (a small cafe in the hamlet) and the next morning we were treated to a variety of activities. Including hunter - gathering for the boys (Cam and I should now be able to survive on an island with only coconut palms), bicycle riding for the girls and an offerring for everyone. We bumped into the town drunk on the way to Uncle Coconuts place and he joined us for some drinking and merriment. We later dubbed him Mr Moonshine and noted his attention for Claire (he repeatedly said "Number 1"). We later discovered that number 1 is a brand of condom over here so that has confused us even further. Anyway, the offering, including a chicken turned inside out was in the hope of a prosperous harvest for a new piece of land that Uncle Coconut had recently purchased. Of course the offerring also included shots of some of grandma's moonshine which soon made short work of Anje.

Mr Moonshine.

With a sad farewell (of sorts) we left the hamlet and headed back to Saigon with a short stop at some mountain (cant remember the name). It is strange cos it pops up out of nowhere. We caught the chairlift part way to the top and joined others in praying for lost souls at a pagoda. The cart/bobsled ride on the way down was closed that day. I was extremely dissapointed. So it was chairlift for the way back down. :(

Mountain Chairlift.

We proceeded to do some quick shopping in Ho Chi Minh and then started our series of early morning starts on our Mekong Delta cruise on the thursday. Considering this is meant to be a holiday we have had way too many early starts. Today took the cake with a 4:30 wake up to see the non-existant sunrise at Ankar Wat, but more on that later.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Cambodes - No time

So I was gonna write a whole lot more, considering I have only covered 3 days out of about 13 but I have been in this cafe with a slow connection for 2 hours and the fact that they have been playing the same shit cambodian song for the whole time is getting to me. So here are some random pics, work out what they are and hopefully ill be more thorough with the rest of it when we have more time in Laos.

Vietnam - Saigon

Well, after a long plane ride and 3 movies for me later we arrived at vietnam (Ho Chi Minh) airport - For the record, dont bother watching John Tucker must die, its a shocker!! We braved the large amount of people waiting in immigration to get in, somehow ended up at the back of the queue and after waiting a fair while we all made it into vietnam. No cavity searches either!! First setback came at the baggage carousel. Our backpacks werent there. Speaking to our first proper Vietnam contact (and he gets mad props for how good he was) revealed that our baggage only made it to Bangkok. The lady in melbourne fobbed us off and told us it was going all the way thru. Anyway he worked some magic and so it was on the next plane and would be dropped off at our guesthouse later on in the arvo (we got in around 11).

So we were picked up by Shane (Anje's cousin), his wife Nhung (sp?) and their son Sam at the airport. Weaving our way through our first encounter with crazy traffic and we arrived at what shall be dubbed the backpacker district of Saigon and our place called the Yellow House. Reasonably clean with shower and beds etc... Oh and free breakfast!!!!

Claire and I out the front of our first nights accomodation

Few things about Vietnam...

The people will go out of their way to make you happy. Almost feel like royalty. Traffic is crazy. Supposedly the city of 8 million contains 3 million motor bikes. I believe there is more than one for every person. Crossing the road is hell. Took as a little while to get used too. Tips we received were to close your eyes and then walk but you just have to make sure you dont rapidly change direction and you are safe. The traffic expects you to move in one direction and will swerve behind you if you are in their way. We got that down. See below for early attempts. Telephone lines look like they dont actually do repairs but rather just add a new line if there is anything wrong with an existing line. Kind of looks like Telstra to me. :D

After wandering aimlessly for a while we were takin our for dinner by Shane to a restaurant in the markets. It amazed me how quickly a hardware store that took up most of the footpath and some of the street could turn into a restaurant at night.

Next night we visited shanes place. Humble house for someone who earns a very decent wage but that seems to be the norm in Vietnam. Eat and sleep on the floor of the family room and then a kitchen and bathroom. Also ate out that night (monday I think) at a very nice restaurant on the footpath and drank snake wine. Interesting spirit that is left to brew in vats with snakes and other assorted animals.

The next day we all piled into a van and headed out to Nhung's grandma's place. What would be considered a hamlet, a few hours drive from Saigon.

Stupid thing wont let me add more images so ill create a new post with other ones in it...