South East Asia
Three months around South East Asia in 2010, starting in Singapore and making my way to Vietnam then the Philippines and finally Hong Kong
I've just finished a 2 month contract in Utrecht, Netherlands and have flown into London for a couple of days before I start off on my big trip. The Hotel I'm staying in, Best Western Phoenix, has pretty small rooms but is cheap for London and very close to Paddington which makes getting to Heathrow a lot easier on the day I fly out. It would have been easier to fly from the Netherlands direct but I had to come to London to put some things in storage and pick up some others to take with me.
I've had a pretty uneventful few days in London, pretty much just running errands and making sure that all the paper work for closing down my company was signed of. I did catch up with a few guys from Spindrift for dinner on the last night as it was Michael's birthday so was able to say my farewells to a good bunch that I've been working with for the last year and a half.
I showed up quite early for my flight and had a breeze getting through checkin and then a boring wait in the airport. Picked up some insect repellent as that always comes in useful and I'm out.
Kerobokan, Bali, Indonesia
Flight from Heathrow was actually pretty painless. Changed planes in Bangkok which is a pretty nice and sizeable airport. Lost the insect repellent I'd picked up at Heathrow though because it was 125ml; hadn't thought about having to go through security again at BKK but of course I did.
The arrival at Bali was nice and straight forward - small airport. Luckily I still had a bunch of $US on an the visa was $25. I guess if I hadn't had some already I would have got some before I left. Timely reminder to pick up some more before I come to Asia tough.
There were a bunch of ATMs near the baggage carousel which made getting some cash easy once through immigration. On the way out there was a corridor of exchanges all filled with smiling, waving Balinese trying to get you business. Even so it makes a nice welcome to the country.
Once outside there a big crowd of people with signs for new arrivals and for once there was one for me. When I booked the villa originally it stated that there was a complimentary airport transfer. When I asked expedia to arrange it they said first that the villa didn't do transfers, then after I pointed them to their own site that I'd have to call and organise it myself. That might've been because it was hard to get the guy on the other end to understand though. Still when I arrived outside there was a guy waiting there with my name of a board to take me away.
Dewani Villas where I was staying was a bit out of the way - and a bit pricey compared to here I'd stay later - but I was looking for a quite spot to wind down and it hit the spot. Incredibly friendly staff ad a pool surrounded by well kept gardens with a few villas dotted ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼around. Obviously aimed more at couples and families it a was a great place to chill out, relax and do nothing for a few days.
Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
Kuta was pretty much as I'd expected. It's the main tourist resort in Bali and s such is a busy place full of shops, hotels and bars. Not really the kind of place that I'm interest in but I needed to buy some things, get online and look into diving.
Kuta has the best beach in Bali, a 5km stretch of white sand that curves up to the NW from Kuta. There were stands of surf boards every 50 meters or so and plenty of guys trying to gt you to learn to surf. The beach was full of people laid out enjoying the sun and a few locals flying kites.
Kedin's Inn where I stayed is a back packers that's nice and central with a decent pool. They only had one room left but it was air conditioned and not too pricey at about $17 a night.
After looking into the diving decided to head to Canidasa on the south east coast. You can go diving from pretty much any location - Bali is small enough that you can make day trips to almost all the sites - but I was looking for a more laid back atmosphere.
The last night I had Cap Cay - simple Indo stir fry - that tasted great and was cheap. Also booked my ticked to Candidasa via Perama ttravel; $6 for a 3 hour trip, pretty decent.
The trip to Candidasa was pretty painless though a bit longer that advertised, It took an hour to get to Ubud, half hour wait there than an hour and a half to Padang Bai where I had to wait another half hour before the last stint to Candidasa.
I'd already decided where I wanted to stay so when I got dropped of I smilingly ignored the drivers suggestion and made my way to Agung Bungalows. It was pretty cheap at $10 a bight and next door to DiveLite which I'd read was a decent dive shop. First impressions weren't that great as it was a bit run down but I ended up liking the place a lot. The center was filled with palm trees and over all the entire place was very green. Just outside my room there were pools with Carp swimming around and access to a small beach with white sand and clear water.
The coral reef off Candidasa was destroyed in the 80's sadly for cement and the concrete walls they have out in place aren't particularly attractive but do protect what's let of the beaches and you can walk down them out to sea as well.
The main reason for coming to Candidasas was to go diving and I signed up with DiveLite to go the next day. They already had snorkelers going to the Blue Lagoon near Padang Bai so I went along. I hadn't been in diving in three years but apart from trying to breath to the release valve at the very start it all came pretty quickly. The dive site was pretty average to be honest so I decided to head on to Ubud though there are undoubtedly better sites that I could have tried.
+11/12/2009A bit of culture
The trip to Ubud was again pretty painless. Got chatting to an old Italin guy who had been staying in the hut next to mine and was taking the same bus who had good things to say about about Ubud which was promising.
I didn't really have any plans on what I was going to do in Ubud when I arrived, it was moew a time filler while I waited for Mark to show up so we could go to the Gilis. I have to say that I liked Ubud a to though and really enjoyed my stay.
I speant a few hours walking around the center which is full of little art shops which while interesting don't hold my attention for long. Visited the monkey forest where I quickly hid the plastic bag I was carrying some books I'd bought in. I've been mugged by monkeys before and some of the little bastards where definitely eying up my bag.
On Sundat I went on a down hill bike ride with Bali Eco Cycling. Quite a fun way to speand the day though I did skip the up hill bit at the end; very lazy but the guys that who did it said it was the right choice. At the start took the opportunity to try Kopi Luwak coffee - the on that is made from beans that have een digested by Civets. Can't say that I noticed anything particularly incredible about the taste. Lunch was a buffet that included smoked chicken and duck which are Balinese specialities; the duck was particularly good.
Gili Trawangan, West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
I had an early start to get the shuttle to Padang Bai and the fast ferry to Gili Trwangan. My ticket was 900,000 return which was pretty decent given that I didn't barter and it was well below the advertised price. The ride across was pretty smooth and comfy taking about anhour and a half.
I didn't spend much time looking for accomodation as my stomach was feeling a bit crook - not sure the buffet the day before was so great. the place I ended up in was a bit pricey at $27 but air conditioned and pretty nice. I speant the first night in a room with no air con but upgraded when Mark arrived. The genius managed to show up too late for a ferry on the first day so was a day late.
After taking a day or two to get over my stomach bug had a great time on the Gilis. Spent a day snorkeling which was great - better than the diving at the Blue Lagoon - but did manage to get my back painfully sun burnt.
The last night was undoubtedly the best bit, tried a mushroom shake and had a seriously trippy experience. One of the most surreal and enjoyable experience I've had.
+18/12/2009Xmas at home
Christchurch, New Zealand
Getting to Christchurch was a bit of a pain. Ferry left at 10:30am and got to Padang Bai about two hours later. Even though I was the last to be dropped off I arrived at the airport at the airport at 3pm then had seven hours to kill before my flight.
After a change of planes at Sydney arrived in Christchurch where I breezed through immigration in ten minutes to find nobody waiting for me. Well actually my sister was there but had wandered off to the toilet as she'd thought I'd be a while. When she showed up went home to surprise the olds as the whole trip has been organised pretty last minute and I hadn't told them that I was coming.
+07/01/2010Visiting my little Sister
I didn't really have much in mind for Melbourne, no sights that I really wanted to see, just wanted to catch up with my little sister as I don't get to see her that much these days.
My impressions on Melbourne are that it'd be a great place to live but not so exciting to visit unless you're here for a sporting event (and there's a bunch of them) or you're into shopping. I was hard out of luck on both counts - leaving just as the Australian Open starts - but had a pretty enjoyable time anyway.
First weekend went on a wine tour to the South Yarra Valley which was a good day and spent a day wandering around the city center. Didn't get up to much during the week but managed to fit in a lot of meals out and drinking which suited my frame of mind just perfect. On the last weekend went to Hot BBQ which is a music festival and had a pretty good day of it, the following day was a bit of a write off though.
+19/01/2010The real start!
After a brief taster in Indonesia followed by a few weeks back in NZ and a week or so in Melbourne finally getting into the Asian part of this trip!
Landing at Singapore was a breeze, most people seemed to be flying on elsewhere and there was pretty much no competition at customs.
I had three full days in Singapore and spent them exploring the center. The first day I decided to have a look at Orchard Road, the shopping Mecca of Singapore. Well what can I say really, there certainly were a lot of shops but I'm not into that at the best of times and since I'm just starting out I hardly need more stuff to cram into my back back. Even so they have some pretty impressive buildings to sell stuff in.
The next day I decided to have a look at Little India and the Arab district. Little India was pretty dissapointing and while the Arab district had a bit more going for it I could have hapily skipped both.
My last day I spent wondering around the business district and Chinatown, both which were immensely more interesting than the previous day. The buildings in the central area are seriously impressive and there some pretty cool looking ones being constructed. Chinatown was large, colorful and packed full of people.
Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia
I was told the bus to KL would take 6 hours and it did - almost exactly. Border crossing was easy, just had to get off the bridge on both ends, line up and walk on through.
I stayed in Chinatown which was a pretty lively area. KL itself didn't do much for me though, after seeing the Petronas towers and going up the radio tower for the aerial view there wasn't much left to see. Originally I wanted to stay here a week so I'd be around for the Thaipusan festival - Hindu festival where they stick needles through their bodies to support metal arches as penance - in the Batu caves but it's not going to happen. Maybe I'll come back at the end of the week but I'm heading north and Thailand beckons.
+25/01/2010Bit more laid back
Malaysia seems to have got more interesting as I've headed north. On the ride up from Singapore it was just palm trees as far as the eye could see, now there's jungle everywhere with limestone peaks jutting out all over the place.
Georgetown was a bit more laid back than KL. There still wasn't that much I was interested in doing but I enjoyed my stay here. It hosed down on the second day I was here which made me kind if glad I handnt ventured too far a field. Still had an enjoyable wander about the town and some good cheap food.
+27/01/2010Didn't mean to go through here
Hat Yai, Thailand
I'd read that southern Thailand was a bit dodge so thought going from Georgetown to Krabi would avoid it but Hat Yai is a transport hub and after we crossed the border into Thailand in less than two hours I guessed we must be going that way. Obviously wasn't too concerned as otherwise I would have checked the route; clearly there was nothing to worry about, a painless border crossing though they did only give me a two week visa which is a bit of a pain.
+27/01/2010This is more like what I'm after
Krabi appealed to me as soon as I got here. Was quite picturesque situated next to the estuary and clearly more small town and laid back which I guess is what really appeals to me - though big cities can have there own appeal. Found a hotel pretty easy which was much cheaper and nicer than what I've stayed in so far.
On the full day I had here went sea kyacking which was awesome and did an elephant trek later in the afternoon which was ok - it's something I've always wanted to do so no regrets there even if it was pretty tame.
The area around Krabi is full of impressive limestone crags, beautiful scenery, and we kyacked around round one of these giant rocks in the mangroves.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Had Tom Yam for dinner which was nice and spicey but made the mistake of eating one of the chillies.
Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand
The boat from Krabi to Ko Phi Phi took about two hours, nice gentle ride. The approach in was pretty spectacular with lots of white sandy beaches surronded by limestone crags.
I have to say I like Ko Phi Phi a lot. Sure it's pretty touristy, there's not much going on here but tourism, and a lot more pricey than elsewhere but the place is beautiful and there's heaps to do.
Went up to the view point above just after I got here and the view was incredible. You've basically got two islands joined by a narrow spit of land which has two curving bays on each side with white sandy beaches and a thin stretch of buildings in the middle. Spent a good hour up there just enjoying the view. The next day I was going to go snorkeling but I'd got a bit of sun on the climb the day before and after my last experience decided I'd just laze about and enjoy the beaches rather than getting fried again.
The diving is meant to be pretty good round Ko Phi Phi but the visibility was poor when I went. There was a snorkeler with us who saw 11 black tip reef sharks while we saw none. Did see a leopard shark though which was cool. There were a lot of divers round on our second dive which didn't help either. Went with The Adventure Club which seem to be a pretty good outfit. We left half an hour earlier than the other dive boats which meant on our first dive at least there was no one else round and that when we arrived at Maya Bay - where The Beach was filmed - we had it almost to ourselves, though after half an hour it filled up pretty fast.
+01/02/2010Bungalow on the beach
Ko Samui, Thailand
Considered going to Phuket but it sounds pretty commercial so decided to keep to the smaller islands and go to Ko Samui. This meant heading back to Krabi then taking a bus north before catching another boat at Surat Thani.
I had plans to hire a scooter and go round the island but when I got up in the morning the beach was so nice and the setting so laid back that I ended up spending the day splitting my time between reading and swimming. Morning Glory where I was staying is a bunch of wooden bungalows sitting right next to the beach and it was just a few meters from the porch to the sea.
+03/02/2010No full Moon
Ko Phangan, Thailand
Caught the 11am ferry to Koh Phangan and managed to get a bit burnt sitting on the deck for the one hour crossing. Headed down to Haad Rin where they have the full moon parties though I was a few days too late for that. It's a pretty small wee town and about as touristy as you can get. Did have some awesome fruit shakes.
The bungalows I stayed in were pretty average but each one had a hammock out front so spent a good part of the day just lazing around in mine.
I would have liked to head up to the north coast for a day but I'm pretty restricted on time so plan to head to Koh Tao tomorrow to get some more diving in.
Ko Tao, Thailand
First impressions of Koh Tao were impressive with bungalows standing out in the green covered hills and surrounded by big boulders. Landing at the pier wasn't so impressive with quite a built up little town and people everywhere harassing you to take a taxi somewhere. It probably didn't help that the place was packed and for the first time I had a struggle to find a room.
Still I did find one in the end on the beach just to the north and then the setting did grow on me a bit more. With bungalows and restaurants all along the beach it's a pretty full on experience especially since everywhere seems to be full, not at all the laid back atmosphere I'd been expecting but rather more a party vibe, more so than anywhere I've been yet.
Just had a guy say he woke up to find a huge rat in his bungalow last night, something to look forward to.
Diving off Koh Tao was great, saw a couple of massive grey reef sharks on the first dive. Had a Thai massage in the afternoon on the beach which was nice.
I'd booked a ferry to Bangkok and for some bizarre reason had decided that I'd be on a boat the whole way. Much more logically of course the ferry went to Chumpron where everybody had to get off and transfer on to a bus for the seven hour drive u to Bangkok.
+06/02/2010Loud and Chaotic
Bangkok is a full on place. Staying on Thanon Khao San for the first night but it's ridiculously loud and busy so think I'll look for a more chilled location tomorrow.
My room actually grew on me even with the noise as it's got a balcony overlooking the road and it's pretty interesting sitting on that watching the chaos below. The noise was so loud that it all just blurred into one indistinct sound that I found I could happily sleep through as well.
As I only had the one day here didn't see as much as I would have liked to but did go visit the grand palace which was seriously impressive. I'm pretty sure I'll be back here so hopefully see a few more of the sites next time.
+08/02/2010Painful border crossing
I'd heard that the border crossing into Cambodia can be painful and it lived up to it. Things actually got annoying in Bangkok as I had paid for a shared taxi for the Cambodian leg but was told in the morning that it wasn't possible. As the agency i'd booked through wasn't open didn't have much but to say fine and go along with it or miss the bus.
I'd gone for the visa service which cost 1300 baht - almost double the official $20 fee - as I'd read that you usually end up paying more at the border anyway and didn't want to deal with the hassle. As it turned out a couple hadn't gone for this option and they ended up paying the sane at the border anyway.
At the border they do everything they can to part you from your cash. Just to get my passport stamped - I already had a visa - took over two hours; given that it was apparently 38 degrees this was painful. However there wad an "express lane" where if you paid the police 200 baht they'd go down and get your passport stamped and let you through. Didn't go for this, principle or something and don't want to encourage the bastards. A few people did go fir it though.
Once through the guy who was taking us through kept asking if I wanted to upgrade to a taxi which really pissed ne off ad I'd already paid for this. Straight after the last time I said no he said it was time to go and bundled me into a taxi anyway. Turned out they didn't have enough people for a bus so sent us in a taxi so it did eventually sort itself out though no thanks to guys organising it who had tried to squeeze more cash out till the last.
Siem Riep, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is the main reason that I wanted to come to Cambodia, it's one of those places in the world that I've always wanted to come and see for myself and it didn't disappoint.
There's actually a lot more temples in the region than just Angkor Wat and I ended up visiting five of them including Angkor Thom which are the ruins of a large city just nearby. Ended up hiring a tuk tuk and driver for the day and went for what was a pretty enjoyable and scenic ride around the temples. I especially liked the temple with the trees growing up through it.
+10/02/2010Trip down the Tonle Sap was awesome
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The boat down the Tonle Sap from Siem Rep to Phnom Penh was an awesome experience, one of the most enjoyable things I've done in a while.
Phnom Penh itself is nice enough but didn't do anything to encourage me to stay in the country any longer than necessary. Everywhere you go someone is asking if you want a Tuk Tuk and they keep on asking when you say no, gets frigging annoying.
I visited the killing field at Choeung Ek which was pretty depressing, no nowhere near as harrowing or effective as the genocide museum in Rwanda, but still pretty moving.
Made a trip to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda in the afternoon which was quite pretty. Had a wander around the street markets afterwards.
I've applied for my Vietnamese visa through my hotel which offers a next day service - for cheaper than going to the actual embassy - and have a bus ticket booked through to Hoh Chi Minh City.
+12/02/2010Saigon's got a cool vibe
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) has a vibe I really like. Unfortunately got here bang on Chinese new year which means everybody is on holiday and that I had to hunt around for a room.
Driving in the roads where absolutely swamped with motorbikes as far as the eye could see, it was quite impressive. Stayed in the Da Them district which is backpacker orientated and quite lively.
As it was the Chinese new years there a few guys dressed up in dragon suits and wearing some quite cool masks that went around to places accompanied by guys bashing the hell out of drums and symbols.
Spent a fair amount of time sitting round in some of the road side cafes drinking beer and watching the world pass, pretty pleasant way to pass the time and enjoy the city.
+13/02/2010Disappointing day trip to the Mekong Delta
My Tho, Vietnam
Made the mistake of taking a one day tour to the Mekong Delta. What I should have done is take a boat down to Chau Doc from Phnom Penh and then made my own way through up to HCMC.
While the tour itself was damn average it was made really bad by this guy from Norway who showed up drunk in the morning then announced on the bus that his father was an alcoholic and his mother bullshit - that's why he drank too much.
The tour was little more than a short boat trip to some nearby islands and some gimmicky things to pass the time the most enjoyable being a short trip down a canal in a row boat. I had expected to see the floating markets but apparently they shut early because of the holiday; shame they hadn't mentioned that earlier as that was the main reason I wanted to visit the delta.
+14/02/2010Guns and tunnels
Cu Chi, Vietnam
Did a half day tour to Cu Chi tunnels which was quite cool. Crawled 100 meters through a tunnel which they'd widened a bit for tourists. Given my height was a bit of a challenge at times and at points where other people were blocking the lights you got bit more of a sensation as to just how claustrophobic it must have been.
Also took the opportunity to fire of a few rounds with an AK47 and a M60.
+15/02/2010Packed and pricey
Mui Ne, Vietnam
The reason I chose to come to Mui Ne was because it sounded pretty laid back with a decent beach. In reality Chinese new years meant the place was packed and really expensive so I decided not to stay the full day I'd planned, cancelled the ticket I'd already paid for and booked a bus out the next day.
The place is known for wind surfing and kite surfing and maybe I should have stayed and given it a go but it seemed pretty crowded out there, must have been at least a hundred kites sailing around.
+16/02/2010Chinese new years is getting annoying
Nha Trang, Vietnam
The bus ride from Mui Ne to Nha Trang was quite scenic. Just north Mui Ne village was quite cute with a small quite bay and a bunch of colorful fishing boats floating about; further north it was bright green rice paddies surrounded by rugged hills.
Again it was a bit of a mission finding a room and I can only stay the one night. Will have a hunt round for a room for tomorrow but may just push on to Hoi An though could well just face the same problem there. A guy tried to sell me a dorm bed that sitting was sitting in the middle of reception for $15 but I found a really nice room just down the road for the same price. Given the troubles I'm having might try booking ahead for the rest of the week but things should be winding down now.
+17/02/2010Boat cruise round the islands
Nha Trang, Vietnam
So I decided to book an overnight bus to Hoi An rather than hunt round for a hotel. This gave me a whole day in Nha Trang and I spent it on a boat cruise round the islands just off the coast. Got back with two hours to spare which gave me time to get some food. The whole boat cruise is pretty water orientated with snorkeling, swimming and a floating bar. Given that I had to get straight on a bus after the tour with no opportunity for a shower decided to skip the swimming part which probably wasn't the best idea as it detracted a bit from the whole experience but really didn't want to be stuck with that sticky salty feeling for twelves hours. Had a really enjoyable day in any case lazing round in the sun and sinking a few beers.
Met a couple while waiting for the bus who had arrived this morning and after spending all day looking for a room had given up so looks like it was the right choice. There were also people facing a five day wait for a bus to Saigon so glad I'm heading North.
+18/02/2010Lovely town, nice and relaxed
Hoi An, Vietnam
The twelve hours on the sleeper bus was painful, obviously wasn't designed with people my height in mind and with five of us squeezed into the back seat it was a bouncy ride with not much sleep.
Hoi An is what I've been craving for the last week, nice quiet and laid back. At a point where I'm sick of day trips so skipped the "must see" to My Son and just enjoyed a couple of relaxed days soaking up the atmosphere and wandering round the markets and small streets. Bought a couple of t-shirts, one with the ever present yellow star on the front and the other with a hammer and sickle. This is the best place to buy a suit or get something tailored and I seriously considered it but don't have any need for one really or the space to lug it around though I could have posted it home.
It's got distinctly colder heading north and with it being overcast and windy almost need to pull out a jumper for the first time in a while.
Could have happily stayed a bit longer in Hoi An as it's a lovely town and there were still plenty of things to explore. However I've made the decision to move on to Hue and there's still a lot of the country to see.
+20/02/2020Temples, temples and more temples
The main attractions of Hue are the temples though it's also a good place to make trips to the DMZ from. The city itself seems pretty average though with the Perfume River winding through the middle with gardens on both sides it has a very attractive side, I imagine it would be much more impressive if the sun was out.
Finally gave in and bought a couple of wee paintings as souvenirs. They're nothing fantastic but the guy who sold them to me wasn't too pushy which is pretty rare. I generally avoid buying things like this as they're a pain to lug around but at the end it's nice to have something physical to remember the trip by.
Visited the citadel on the afternoon that I got here and while you get an impressive image of what it must have been like the place itself is disappointingly maintained with rubbish and weeds all over the place. Having said that it was still worth a look and they do seem to be in the process of doing it up.
Decided to take a night bus to Hanoi, there wasn't much choice actually unless I wanted to wait five days for the next available seat on a train and Hue isn't that tempting a place to stay. This gave me a whole day to fill so I took a boat tour up the perfume river to see some of temples a bit further out of town. They were all much more impressive than the citadel though by the end of the day I was definitely templed out. First stop was the Thien Mu Pagoda followed by the Tomb of Minh Mang, the Tomb of Khai Dinh and lastly the Tomb of Tu Duc which I found the most beautiful with it's small pine covered hills nestled around a small lake. All the tombs were done in quite
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼different styles so it's well worth visiting all three.
During a visit to one of the smaller temples a guy spotted a snake bite a frog. The snake had managed to get one of the frogs the rear legs and had a pretty firm grip on the little guy and was slowly waiting for it's venom to take effect. Given the size of the frog compared to the snake it would have been interesting to see how the snake managed to swallow it when it was done.
Well looks like I won't be seeing the sun for a while. Have had to pull out a jumper now and it seems that the Northern part of Vietnam is going to be a lot colder and I'll have to give up the shorts and t-shirt for a while. I think February/March is about the worst time to visit but there's not much that I can do about that.
The bus only took 14 hours which wasn't too bad since I'd expected it to take 16 to 17. Took a seating bus this time and can't say that I found it any less pleasant than the sleeping bus. After a fairly crazy motorbike taxi ride have got settled into a really friendly Hotel and plan to base myself here and make a few trips round the area over the next week to the Perfume Pagoda, Ha Long Bay and anything else I find that takes my fancy.
Hanoi is centered around a small lake, one of 28 apparently, and the old quarter where I stayed is just to the north of it. It's a warren of small windy roads and I managed to get a bit lost after going for a wander without any thought of where I was going. Did manage to get back to near I was staying but then I was turned around 180 degrees and started off again in exactly the wrong direction.
Tried some local food for lunch which was quite nice, some meat and seeds in a rice papery roll dipped into some sauce with lemon. Tried to do something similar for dinner but got served a bowl of boiled pig fat which smelled and tasted really bad so skipped that and found a restaurant.
+23/02/2010Overnight on the boat
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
It was overcast and misty but Ha Long Bay was still a spectacular sight. It would have been nice to see it in clear sunny weather but it was quite stunning as it was with crags jutting up out of the mist.
The boat we were staying on was luxurious and the whole experience was pretty relaxing.
Did some kyacking around the islands and visited the caves nearby which offered a brilliant view of the bay below. The caves themselves were quite large and were lighted in all kinds of colours; so while you didn't get a particularly natural experience it did make for quite a beautiful sight.
Went for a quick swim in the evening which was refreshing. Only a couple of others were keen enough to jump in but when you got over the cold it was pretty nice.
Cat Ba, Vietnam
On the morning of the second day woke up to a world covered in fog. It was pretty cool cruising through the mist and suddenly seeing other boats and small islands appearing out of the fog to fade away again just as quickly.
Our destination was Cat Ba, one of the larger populate islands. Sadly the fog never went away, and while we had a small two hire hike up a hill to see the view from which apparently you can see hundreds of islands, we couldn't see more than twenty meters. The walk itself was pretty cool though as the track was steep and had turned to mud but getting down was a bit painful as people were going very very slowly.
In the afternoon we had a scheduled trip to monkey island for swimming but given the shitty weather I gave it a pass and had a snooze and a wander around Cat Ba instead.
+25/02/2010Sun finally came out for the cruise back
The sun finally made an appearance and the cruise back from Cat Ba through Ha Long Bay was incredible. Sat on the top of the boat for the 4 hours journey back and just enjoyed the sun and the view, it was brilliant.
Back to Hanoi the rice paddies were full of people in the iconic Vietnamese conical hats working the fields and apart from being a bit slow and cramped was a pretty enjoyable ride.
Went back to North 1 Hotel as they are really friendly and keep giving me tea and snacks to eat.
+26/02/2010Cute but very touristy
Sa Pa, Vietnam
After spending the day lazing around in the old quarter took the night bus to SaPa. The bus to SaPa wasn't crowded and I had two whole seats to myself, luxury. The part from Lao Co to Sa Pa was when the sun was rising and the view was great but I was so sleepy I slept through most of it.
Sa Pa is a cute little mountain town though very very touristy. It's a good base for trekking and visiting indiginous villages but I'm guessing they'll be pretty touristy as well and I'm keen to move on to Laos. Climbed the hill next to Sa Pa which offers some nice views and had a wander around the weekend Market. The rice paddies are all dried up at the moment which means that the scenery isn't as great as it usually is based on the photos I've seen.
+28/02/2010Vietnamese side of the border
Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam
I booked what turned out to be a mini van to Dien Bien. Even though they squeezed in 18 of us and the roads were terrible I loved it. The scenery along the way was fantastic and I was just leaning out the window most of the way enjoying it. If I'd been stuck in the middle I don't think I would have enjoyed it but as it was it was great.
There were a lot of water buffalo along the way which seemed totally domesticated - even saw a guy riding one - though they seem to be left to roam where they want. For one part the tops of the hills were covered in trees with white flowers and with occasional rice paddies and steep hills on either side it really was beautiful.
There isn't much to do in Dien Bien and as we arrived in the evening and the leaves at 5:30 in the morning didn't have time to do anything but get some food and sleep in any case.
Tay Trang, Dien Bien, Laos
The border crossing took quite a long time considering there were only 12 of us. Getting the exit stamps for Vietnam was pretty fast, probably less than half an hour, but the Laos visas took almost two hours. The border guards tagged on a two dollar processing fee and a few people took quite an exception to this. It's not great but it's the way things work and the guide books said to expect it but they kept asking what the fee was for and why there weren't any signs about it. In the end they just put up a sign saying there was a fee and eventually everyone paid.
Muang Khua, Laos
On the Laos side there was just a dirt road, it seems they are in the process of putting a major road thru, but at the moment it's pretty rough. Part of these road works had created a slide that blocked the road for five hours. Some truck drivers at the front boiled up some instant noodles and gave us some which we ate with chopsticks they made out of bamboo which was pretty cool.
Once the slip was cleared saw an impressive sunset with the sun dark orange, almost red. This was while we were still on the bus though so by the time we arrived it was dark and we had take a longtail across the river in the dark with one guy managing to fall in the water while getting in the boat.
Power went off at ten before I'd had a a hot shower so it was a cold one in the morning, doh.
Muang Xay, Oudômxai, Laos
I would have preferred to take a boat south but no one else wanted to the next day so I took the bus to Luang Prabang. It was three and a half hours to Oudomxai which was the only available destination. There were a couple of Dutch girls planning on taking the boat the next day and it might have been better to wait and go with them but there wasn't anything to do during the day and it still would have been pricey - $50 to hire a boat per day and takes two days - so caught the bus with a Canadian couple.
+02/03/2010Time to chill
Arrived in Oudomxai just in time to catch the 11:30 bus to Luang Prabang. Next one was at 3pm so it was good timing. Took six hours to get to Luang Prabang and then a quick tuk tuk ride into town.
Given that I've been on buses for the last three days have decided to spend the first day relaxing by the Mekong and doing nothing. It's a really nice spot with restaurants all along the edge of the river and a really relaxed vibe.
Current plan is to base myself in Luang Prabang and make trips out to see the rest of Northen Laos before catching the slow boat north to Thailand. At the moment I don't think I'll make it down to the south which is a shame as I've heard the 4000 islands right down the bottom on the Mekong are meant to be pretty spectacular.
Visited some of the temples round the place, there are plenty, and climbed to the top of the hill in the center. The views were pretty average actually, a bit of a disappointed as I'd heard they were good but the cave with the Buddha's foot was open so got a look at that.
Took a minivan out to the Kouangxi Waterfall which was a very pretty spot. The waterfall itself wasn't that incredible but all the pools downstream from with there own little falls and surrounded by bamboo were magical.
At the top of the falls there was a three kilometer walk to see a cave and natural spring a bit further up in the hills. Was a pleasant stroll and the cave was quite impressive going into the hill about a couple of hundred meters.
Found out from an American guy that the slow boats from Luang Prabang to Thailand aren't running at the moment which is a bit of a bugger. Apparently the river is low and China hasn't been letting enough water through for the boats to run. So it looks like I might head down to the south and see the 400 islands after all!
+05/03/2010The Plain of Jars
Phonsavan, Xiangkhoang, Laos
It turns out that I'd booked a shared taxi to Phonsavan and it was not crowded and I had plenty of leg space, nice. The drive there was quite scenic though also pretty windy as it was again a route through the high hills.
The reason fro coming to Phonsavan was to visit the Plain of Jars. Apparently these jars were created four or five thousand years ago but nobody knows why. They get large, over two meters in each direction, and are dotted round in random locations all over the place. Visited the three main ones on a tour though after the first one it really wasn't so interesting anymore.
Also got the chance to try the local rice whiskey which is a pretty potent brew.
The most interesting thing about the place was the MAG information center. It's really well done and provides some pretty interesting info on the unexploded bombs that litter the country from Americas war with Vietnam. It seems that 600 people are still blown up each year and the fear of unexploded cluster bombs prevents a lot of people from working the most fertile land - as it was the most bombed. What's more people actually collect the bombs to sell as scrap metal for which they are paid a measily 25 cents per kilogram. There's a lot of people living on subsistance farming here but not being able to grow a full years worth of food they get money where they can.
It was cool to see that nzaid had funded some bomb clearing in the region, particularly round the jar sites, and I left a $20 donation.
Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng is a totally random place, not Laos at all but I don't know where else you'd find it. The main attraction here is the tubing - sure you can go kyacking, trekking and the rest - but most people come here to tube. About four kilometers north of town there's a stretch ofriver with dodgy wooden bars each with some sort of giant rope swing, slide or flying fox to send you flying into the river with a giant splash. You basically just float down the river visiting whatever bar takes yours fancy and drink, smoke or whatever until the sun goes down and it's time to go back to town.
Vang Vieng itself doesn't seem to gave much going on but tourism. Full of guest houses, clubs and tv bars it's a pretty chilled place during the day and a bit busier at night when everyone gets back.
On the last morning took a small walk to some nearby caves before catching an afternoon bus to Vientiane.
+10/03/2010Small town capital
Vientiane has to be about the most small and laid back capital city I've ever been to.
For some reason all the accomodation seemed to be packed and what was available was expensive. Because of that I decided to catch a night bus south the next night. There's not really that many attractions here and while sure I could have filled in a day or two was quite happy to move on. Did have a look at some of the temples around town, in some ways just as impressive as the ones in Luang Prabang, but not much else.
+12/03/2010Stomach bug :(
Pakse, Champasak, Laos
Sleeper bus to Pakse wasn't too bad as it was just a flat bed, bit cramped as there was two people squeezed into less than a single bed but the guy next to me got out half way there leaving me as the only person with a bed to myself. Problem was my stomach decided this would be a good time to play up so I was in for a painful ride with runs to the nearest toilet whenever we stopped.
Because of this I decided the best option was to stay a day in Pakse and hopefully get over it rather than run the risk of needing to go while on the boat which I had originally planned to take. Bit of a pain as there's not much here but as I'm probably going to spend most of the day on or near the bog not such a problem.
Did have a wander around town in the afternoon but really not much going on.
+13/03/2010Small village on the Mekong
Champasak, Champasak, Laos
I asked my hotel in Pakse about getting a boat to Champasak and they said they could do it and booked me a bus. Bit of a shame as I was looking forward to boat trip. Still only an hour on the bus and it seems my stomach is still a bit dodge so no problem really.
Champasak is a really small town on the Mekong all spread out along one road next to the river. A really laid back place think I could enjoy a couple of days lazing around here and should make a good base to visit the ruins at Wat Phou.
Visited Wat Phou in the afternoon. It's not such an impressive sight when you get there but after you've walked up the avenue down the middle and climbed the steps up the hill it's a beautiful view. The fact that the steps up were lined with trees that were covered in white flowers really made it lovely.
+14/03/2010Sun, hammock, river; what else do you need?
Don Det, Laos
Don Det has to be one of the most chilled out places that I've been. The locals don't seem to be in a hurry to do anything and you can't really blame them. I spent a couple of days here just sitting in a hammock by the river reading, and going for the odd swim when it got too hot.
There are boat trips to go see the falls and the fresh water dolphins but nobody seemed to be doing that - at least I couldn't find a boat that was going. Could have skipped over to the other island and maybe found one but I was enjoying lazing around.
I've also got it in my head to go to the Philippines so as laid back and lovely as it was decided to move on.
+17/03/2010Lots and lots of people
The first thing that got me on arriving back in Bangkok is the number of people. After Laos it just seems insanely crowded.
Trip back here was a mission,19 hours; boat to Nakasang, mini van to Pakse, tuk tuk to bus station, bus to Ubon then another to Bangkok. Hardly slept and arrived feeling absolutely exhausted.
Have booked a flight to Manila for midnight Thursday and plan to head out to the Tiger Temple tomorrow, the last thing I'm really keen to do in Thailand though I'll have to wait and see how good it is.
Kind of a shame to be missing the North of Thailand but apart from the bridge on the river Khwai and the ladies with the long necks - caused by adding rings to their necks which crush their rib cages as they grow - in the far north not to fussed. And from what I've heard the ethics surrounding the women with the long necks is pretty dodge, with tourism the only thing keeping the practice going and the most of the money being siphoned off for political causes leaving the women themselves on a subsistance living.
There was one thing I really couldn't leave Thailand without doing and that was visiting the tiger temple. Took a day trip out there which was two and a half hours of driving each way and a couple of hours at the temple. It was well worth it as you get to sit with and stroke the Tigers while they take a ridiculous number of photos of you. They're pretty impressive beasts and I'm not sure how they keep them so quiet cause if they wanted to go for you you wouldn't have a chance. Guess they're used to being surrounded by hundreds of humans for a few hours every day and must be drugged up to their eyeballs.
Got back to find the office of the agency where I'd left my back pack totally empty. Funnily enough really didn't feel that concerned even though the place was totally gutted. Turned out they'd moved office - would have been nice if they'd mentioned this - and the guy showed up in a taxi with my bag.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Went past a red shirt rally on the way to the airport. Even with riot police sitting around on the street corners and some guy yelling down a loud speaker seemed pretty tame.
Had an easy time checking in although the travel agency had just booked a ticket online with my name - good thing I tried them as I'd never heard of Cebu Pacific Air and they were a lot cheaper than anything else I'd come across. I had my doubts about the ticket but no issues at all, actually one of the fastest checkins I've had. They did check if I had an exit ticket from the Philippines so was glad I'd already booked though; though it probably would have been a lot cheaper to book it through these guys.
Manila, Luzon,, Philippines
Arrived in Manila 20 minutes earlier than sceduled at 4:30. From what I've read Manila doesn't sound that appealing so after breezing through immigration went upstairs and booked a ticket to Coron Town at 9:30. So another wait at the airport but somehow I'm really not minding them even though feeling tired after hardly any sleep.
+19/03/2010Bungalow on the sea
Coron, Palawan, Philippines
Flight was short and sweet and we landed on a small concrete runway on the opposite side of the island from Coron. A pleasant and scenic drive got me to town and decided to check out Krystal Lodge from the guide book. Good move as it turned out as the place is made up out of bungalows on stilts in the sea. Top of the price range on which I've been paying but I like the setting so much think I could stay here a while. Need to check out the diving over the next couple days but this is an ideal place to just chill. Small town on the sea and has that tropical laid back vibe I really like but haven't really found in SE Asia yet.
Got a bit sick for the first couple of days here but did get around to diving. Did a couple of wreck dives that pretty cool and one dive on Lake Barracuda. Lake Barracuda was surreal, fresh water down to 14 meters then salt water below that's 37 degrees. What with the steep limestone walls it was about the coolest dive I've done.
Climbed to the top of the wee hill above town which while not very high was hard work in the heat. Had some really good food at the French Bistro and really enjoyed lying back in a hammock for a couple of days and just reading (Terry Pratchet).
+24/03/2010Island hopping and snorkelling
El Nido, Philippines
Took the boat from Coron to El Nido which was pricey ($50) but the only option apart from flying via Manila and I love travelling by boat in any case. Pretty enjoyable trip sitting on the top smoking with a German guy for the seven hour ride.
El Nido itself is charming. I'd planned to only stay here one day but island hopping and snorkeling around the archipelago is so good I've extended that to a bit longer. Saw a black and white striped sea snake on one dive well over a meter long and a frogfish on another.
Eventually found El Nido Cornet restaurant which does great food as well.
Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines
Trip down to PP was bumpy as. They're in the process of putting a concrete highway through but for the most part we were hurtling overdirt roads and rocks.
Puerto Princessa was a small town with not much going on. It's more of an entry point to the rest of Palawan and my reason for coming here was to visit the underground river near Sabar.
Manila, Luzon,, Philippines
I haven't heard or read anything that made Manila sound interesting to decided to splash out on a nice Hotel and make the most of it and The Marriott certainly was nice. One thing that sucked was that you need an Ethernet connection to be able to use the wireless so since I just had my phone wasn't able to get online. Seems pretty crappy that they can't sort that out for you.
Original plan had been to go to Donsol and go diving with the whalesharks but I left booking a flight to late and would have had a pretty hectic schedule to try and fit it in in any case. Given how burned out I was feeling after the lady week decided that just chilling was a good idea.
Did get ripped a nit on the taxi when I arrived in Manila. Got one sorted through the carcrental desk in the airport which I thought would be a safe bet but they charged 300 pesos and it turned out the hotel was just across the road! Bastards. Still only $8 so not the end of the world. Only cost 140 to terminal 1 when I left and that was a fair drive away.
+02/04/2010Where did the sun go?
Hong Kong, China
Flight to Hong Kong was nice and short and Immigration a breeze. Got a 90 day entry visa which is a big change to the two to four week ones I've been given elsewhere.
Metro system is fanatastic, clean, fast and easy to use. Octopus card is a worthwhile investment even if you are only here for a few days.
Been for a wander around Central, Admirality and Causeway Bay as well as Kowloon and a trip to the Peak. The weather is pretty crap, can't even see the top of the taller buildings and a splattering of rain so the views aren't great so far. Still HK is a busy modern place that is quite a change from where I've been recently. It's very much a mix of East meets West and it works pretty well.
So after a few months travelling it's back to what I guess is home. Asia has been fun though full of ups and downs, I definitely felt more of an affinity to Africa. Feel ready to get back into work and a more normal life which certainly wasn't the case when I got back from Africa. Still plenty of the world to see but I think that I'll happily manage that in smaller trips.
Incredibly it's sunny in London so it's a pleasant start back in England, especially after the week of mist and rain in Hong Kong.
There's still plenty of places I want to go in South East Asia: the rest of Indonesia and the Phillipines, Burneo then of course there's still China and Japan.