Happy New Year!!!!
Just a quick entry to let you know I'm still alive and well. Unfortunately my desire to blog has drastically gone down hill. Sorry to those who keep checking here for updates and find nothing. A brief summary of the last 2 months traveling through SE Asia:
Two and a half weeks with stops in Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Saigon and the Mekong Delta
My first few days in Vietnam were spent in Hanoi and Halong Bay, and were fairly uneventful. In Hue I met up with 2 guys from my Africa tour. With them and 10 friends they made on their trip to Halong Bay we traveled as a group of 14 people from Hue down to Saigon. The majority of the people in the group were in there early to mid 20s so we partied most nights. In Hue, Hoi An and Mui Ne we rented motorbikes during the day and rode around to see the sights - lots of fun!! In Nha Trang we spent one day at an amusement park island and another on a 4 island boat tour. In Mui Ne our motorbike tour took us to the White Sand dunes. Very pretty, but nothing compared to the sand dunes in Namibia. Saigon felt like just another city to me, but I did get to meet up with Patrice Murphy, a friend from Antigonish. She has been living in Saigon, working as a teacher. I took a day trip out of Saigon to visit the Chu Chi Tunnels, and even crawled through one!! What a tiny space! Not for the claustrophobic. My journey to Cambodia was through a 2 day 1 night tour that took me into the Mekong Delta. Unfortunately it as well was fairly uneventful. But overall I found Vietnam to be a beautiful country and I would love to go back!
Five days with stops in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap
The boat that took me to Phnom Penh arrived much later than expected so I had less than 24 hrs in the city. The evening I arrived in Phnom Penh I went out with travelers I met on my journey through the Mekong. The next day I visited the Royal Palace and S-21 with one of the same travelers. That afternoon I took a bus up to Siem Reap. I spent the next 3 days visiting the temples with a friend from Calgary. Unfortunately on the second day of seeing the temples injured my heels by jumping 6.5 feet down off the ledge of a temple onto what I thought was grass. It was only a very thing layer of grass and then solid rock! To top it off I jumped in bare feet. This was VERY bad timing as it was now very painful to walk and I had a 3 day 2 night trek planning in northern Thailand 4 days later and another 3 days of trekking planned in northern Laos a week later.
A day and night in Bangkok and five days in Chiang Mai
After a long night bus journey from Siem Reap I arrived in Bangkok around lunch time. I found a guesthouse and went out for lunch. Then I decided to walk around. Sure enough silly me, I ended up getting "scammed". By scammed I just had my afternoon wasted, being driven around in a tuk tuk to what was supposed to be different temples but really got taken to tailor shops where they wanted me to buy things. The incentive that got me in the tuk tuk was that it was supposed to be a government holiday so certain tuk tuks will take you around to scenic locations for only 20 baht over 3 hrs, with only one stop at a factory. But it seemed like every other stop he wanted to take me to a factory. In the end I said no and walked back to Koh San road. There I got an amazing Thai massage. That night I went to a "ping pong" show which I will only describe as an EXPERIENCE. Sorry, I won't get into detail on this one but if you've been to one you know what I mean. The next morning I ventured to the Royal Palace, which was very beautiful. That evening I took a night train to Chiang Mai. I arrived at my hostel the following morning and booked the 3 day 2 night trek, which included an elephant ride, white water rafting and bamboo rafting. That afternoon I ventured into the town to take a look around and stumbled upon some high school track and field and cheerleading. That was fun to watch I left on the trek the following morning. There ended up being 11 of us on the trek. We drove an hr outside of Chiang Mai where we started the trek riding an elephant for 30 mins. Then we had lunch, followed by 3 hrs of trekking - mainly uphill. We stayed the night in a small village with very basic accommodations - one big room with mats, mosquito nets and bedding. The next day we trekked all day, stopping at 3 different waterfalls. For lunch we had noodles our guide cooked that morning and we got to eat out of bamboo bowls and with bamboo chopsticks he made on the spot! Very cool. Our night time accommodations were very similar to the previous nights. In the morning we trekked for an hr and then did 45 mins of white water rafting (which was pretty fun) and 15 mins of bamboo rafting (which unfortunately was pretty boring). After the rafting we ate lunch and traveled back to Chiang Mai. The next day I did a lot of nothing and just rested my feet in anticipation for another 3 day trek starting 2 days later.
Twelve days with stops in Huay Xai, the Bokeo Nature Reserve, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng
I crossed into Huay Xai, Laos from Chiang Khong, Thailand on Dec 7. The following day I was going on The Waterfall Gibbon Experience. It consisted of trekking, zip lining and living in tree houses in the Bokeo Nature Reserve for 3 days and 2 nights. It was an AWESOME experience!! Unfortunately I didn't see any gibbons, but I sure did live like one for 3 days. Zipping over tree tops and living in trees 40 meters off the ground was soo cool. I even had my first X-Ring encounter with a couple also doing the Gibbon Experience. When we gathered at the office in the morning they noticed my ring and commented that I went to X. They were from Australia and the woman told me her aunt and cousin went to X. Turns out I knew who her cousin was - Jim Kehoe for those wondering. When I returned from the Gibbon Experience I was pleasantly surprised by the arrival of Ashley, Garrett and Landon - my 3 friends from Calgary who weren't supposed to meet up with me until I got to southern Thailand!!! They were going on the Gibbon Experience that was leaving the next morning. So we had one night to catch up and then we would split for 3 days. They would meet up with me again in Luang Prabang. The following morning I got on a boat to Luang Prabang with 4 people that were on the Gibbon Experience with me. It was supposed to be a 2 day 1 night journey with an overnight stop in Pak Beng. Well for starters we left an hour late and they filled the boat with too many people. Then an hr into the journey we hit a rock and started taking on water. We had to pull over onto a sandy riverbank and unload everyone and the bags while we waited for a new boat. Of course mine came off wet An hour later the new boat arrived but it was smaller than the first. Now there really was no room on the boat. People were scattered all over the floor and in the aisle. Since we were now delayed 2 hrs we didn't end up making it to Pak Beng before dark and the boat had no lights so it pulled over to another sandy river bank and people had to sleep on the boat or on the shore. The nights in Laos were quite cold so my friends did not have a pleasant night. They didn't have sleeping bags or warm clothes so they froze. I didn't find it that bad aside from not having any food. I was used to sleeping on a beach under the stars and I also still had all my warm clothes, a hat, scarf, sleeping bag and mosquito net! At the crack of dawn the boat set off for Pak Beng and then Luang Prabang. We made it to Luang Prabang with about 20 mins of sunlight left. During the day I had another "small world" experience. A couple sitting behind me on the boat was talking to some other people about living in Canada. I chimed in, saying I was Canadian and asked where they went. They said the worked in Banff for 5 months but prior to that spent time in Toronto, making their way East to Nova Scotia. I asked where they went in NS. They said the spent 3 weeks WOOFING in a small town called Antigonish!!! What are the chances!! They ended up working in Ohio on Betty Sharpe's farm. Luang Prabang was nice. We ended up visiting it during the Laos games. We tried to attend the opening ceremonies but by the time we got to the stadium it was packed and there was no where to sit. We also visited a really pretty waterfall. I left Luang Prabang on Dec 15th with Ashley, Garrett and Landon and we headed for Vang Vieng via minivan. Travel within Laos was not on my side and sure enough we ran into another hiccup. An hour into our journey the minivan was going down a windy road and a semi truck was coming up, and a big pick up truck is trying to pass it!!! Our driver stops and pulls over as far as he can. For some reason the pick up truck doesn't stop passing the semi truck and ends up bouncing back and forth between the end of our minivan and the semi truck. Then both trucks drive off. This leaves our driver mad so he drops us at the closes road side village and chases after the truck that hit his van. It had scratches but no dents. The damage was definitely way less than I thought it would be. So there we are, stranded on the side of the road in the noon day sun. We waited 2 hrs before stopping a bus and hitching a ride to Vang Vieng. How do I describe Vang Vieng. In short it is a party town with a river that is lined with bars and people visiting spend their days drinking buckets of booze. Some people end up floating down the river but most just walk from bar to bar. It was a fun time but 2 days of it was enough for me! On our third day there we rented bicycles and rode 7 km out of town to check out a cave and blue lagoon. The next morning we headed for the Thai border.
I think I shall end this entry now. I will write about Christmas and New Years in the Southern islands of Thailand in my entry. Below are links to pictures in my Facebook albums for the countries mentioned above. Enjoy!
Vietnam - Part I
Vietnam - Part II note: mainly partying pictures
Vietnam - Part III note: mainly partying pictures
Vietnam - Part IV and Cambodia
Central and Northern Thailand