Vientiane 

I arrived in Vientiane shortly after 6pm and after I got my visa I was met by a pickup from the hotel. All arranged by Dudley, the South African guy I had met in Hanoi and who had told me to go to Cham Island.

When we had discovered in Hanoi that we both were heading to Laos eventually we discussed meeting up somewhere. In the end we traveled the country together.

So that first evening we went for the dinner at a steak restaurant. So no Laos food testing for me since Dudley is quite big on meat.

The next day we started with the sight-seeing and got first a lift downtown from the hotel. We were booked into Rashmi’s Plaza Hotel which had a rooftop pool but was a bit outside the center.

We started with a glance at the presidential palace (you are not allowed to visit it)

and then went first into the Sisaket museum. It was less a museum than a temple with a collection of Buddhas in all sizes. Please note that it was also smoke-free.

     

  

Next up should have been the Haw Pha Kaeo right across from it but due to elaborate renovations the temple was wrapped up like a sausage in a hot dog bun and we couldn’t see anything. Therefore we decided on walking to the Victory Gate which seemed to be only about one kilometer away. In this heat it wouldn’t have mattered if it had been only 500m away. We had to make a pit stop at a shopping mall along the way to cool down. Both of us were sweating profusely. Not really such a great show.

At least at the mall I could buy myself a SIM card for Laos and an ice coffee. Something the hotel with the rooftop pool couldn’t manage. After this short break we started walking again and really the Victory Gate was not that far off. It looked really great from afar, close up it was a bit of a let down. But since we were there we climbed up and took some pictures of the view from the top.

Yeah, it didn’t get any better in Vientiane. So far, so good though. Upon exciting the Victory Gate we took a tuk-tuk (Dudley needed a bit of coaxing to get in one) Pha That Luang, a golden stupa a bit out of the center.We made it there with 15 minutes to spare before lunch break. But it was enough to go inside and take some pictures.

  
There was not really so much to take pictures of. A stupa of course is a closed structure so there was just not more to see. Once outside we saw women selling little birds in cages (and I have no clue what kind of birds) and it was the perfect day to buy some of them their freedom.


Next to the stupa was a temple and a monument for some guy (again no clue who he was or what he had done and Lonely Planet doesn’t say).

  

After the successful visit to almost all the sights in Vientiane we went back downtown with the tuk-tuk.

We had arranged with the hotel that we would take the shuttle at 2pm back to the hotel so we were left with a bit of time on our hands and decided on lunch. Always a good idea to eat something. I ordered a lime mint juice and this is what I got.


Looks quite green, doesn’t it? I later ordered a strawberry mint juice, you really don’t want to know the color of that one.

We also ordered some real food which tasted very good, spicy though. It seemed as if almost everything I ordered on this trip was going to be spicy. So good that I got used to it from the first.

The rest of the day was spent in and around the pool. It was just too hot to do much else in the city and we had decided to leave the next day down south. Which was actually where I wanted to meet in the first place but due to a two day bus ride up from Siem Reap I opted for a meeting in Vientiane. Yours, Pollybert

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Final days in Hanoi

I shared the night train from Sa Pa to Hanoi with an English guy. While talking we discovered that last November he had been to the caves and the same hotel where I was headed. He told me it had been his best experience during his month in Vietnam. Sounded really good to me!

We only stayed the two of us for the first minute of the train ride. Once the train moved our compartment door opened and five people stood in the door. Not for long though because the grandmother and the oldest soon were sitting already on my bunk before I could say hello. The mother with the youngest on her arm and the middle one next to her kept standing but asked in halting English if we could move up so that the she and kids could stay on the lower bunks.

Of course we acquiesced in the move, what else was there to do? Once on the upper bed though I noticed that the AC was so cold that I got a brain freeze just from lying underneath it. I had to move my pillow from the window to the door with the result that I now had the light in my eyes. But it was at least less cold in my face. The mother apparently felt cold too and got the conductor to fix the problem. This was done by taping some paper over the AC outlet. The conductor though must have also done something else because within 10 minutes the compartment had sauna temperatures.

We removed the paper from the AC again but with no success, the heat wave continued. The little one didn’t like it either and started crying which she did continually during the short night. The AC finally decided to work again about 30 minutes before our arrival in Hanoi. Then it was again on frost modus.

The night from hell ended at 4:30 in the morning with our arrival. I couldn’t have been happier than when I saw the face of the bell boy who had also accompanied me to the train station. He put me in a taxi and I was back in no time at the Golden Sun Suites Hotel, installed in a room that had been vacated sometimes during the night and fast asleep.

I missed breakfast that morning but this was also managed in grace by the hotel. I left the room with all my luggage after 10am and the staff got me some coffee and fruits while I waited for my room to be ready.

While sitting in the extended breakfast area/lobby I met Dudley again, a South African I had seen and talked to shortly before going up to Sa Pa. He basically followed in my footsteps and was going there this evening.

We started talking about good places to see in Vietnam (I find this is the easiest way to decide on where to go. Talk to other travelers if you are as lazy as me and don’t want to read the guide book). He had a couple of suggestions, later even brought his notebook down, showed me the pictures and provided me with contacts. So when my room was ready we had agreed on a dinner date before his departure to Sa Pa.

I spent most of my day in my room and just loved it. With the AC on low it was cool but not cold while outside the heat and humidity made tourists look like puddles of sweat. I worked on the blog and restored some pictures on posts from Nepal (I had a lot of trouble with the blog on my trip so far) and while there are still pictures missing on some posts from China, I am getting there. I also uploaded a couple of new posts, all in all a very productive though lazy day.

Around 5pm I eventually left the hotel; it’s really bad if one doesn’t get outside at all, and strolled around a bit. I was unsure if I wanted to buy something; I had been eyeing some loose pants but in the end I decided against it. I really had enough stuff with me already, there was no point in adding more.

Shortly after 6pm I met Dudley and we settled on the highest building around the lake to have a great view with the dinner. I chose Bo Luc Lac, a dish I knew from Vienna. What came then had nothing to do with the dish I knew and also nothing with the original (at least according to Google). Again I had landed in a tourist trap around the lake. At least it tasted good, that was already more than at the last place.

  

For the next morning I had booked a city tour, again very lazy of me since the afternoon program was around the Hoàn Kiém Lake and the Literature Temple. Both things I have seen. But the morning was at the other end of the city, at the West lake and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. As it turned out it was a brilliant idea after all since I met some Indian guys who had great tips for Saigon and Cambodia.

We started at the West Lake with the Tran Quoc Pagoda. In front of the entrance you could buy small turtles to let them free in the lake.

  

After a short visit to the temple inside and a closer look upon the pagoda we left for the Ho Chi Minh Complex. Not only can you visit the mausoleum but also, his house on stilts, his cars, the One Pillar Pagoda and the president’s palace. All for the price of one ticket and a line up for only 45 minutes. Inside the mausoleum there was no lingering allowed, one had to be quiet and respectful and just move along. No pictures were allowed of the great man.


Our guide let us line up alone but waited for us after the mausoleum. The rest of the complex was done in group modus again.

I missed the president’s palace while I was talking to the Indians but at the garage we caught up with the group. The cars in his garage were all gifts from communist countries I think.

 Moving further into the complex we passed the house on stilts and the pagoda.

Next stop after the Ho Chi Minh complex was a 20 minutes halt at a handicapped workshop right across the street. It really annoyed me that we went there, it was the same as at the tour to Ha Long Bay. After 10 minutes I was bored and asked to be taken to the bus. I rather wanted to sit down there and read my book. Almost all other passengers followed my lead and eventually we left earlier. (Maybe I should start a revolution?)

After this unscheduled stop we went to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups and a lot of them were introduced here. The museum had also a large outdoor facility where the different housing structures could be visited.

                

Then it was already time for lunch which we had somewhere in the old quarter and was again not great. After the meal I said goodbye to my group, lots of valuable information in hand. I spent the rest of my last day wandering around in the sweltering heat, hopping in between in cool cafes for a refreshment stop.

My train south left shortly after 8pm and sometime in the early morning I would arrive at Dong Hoi. I was praying for a quiet night and no kids in my compartment. Yours, Pollybert

Hoa Lu and Tam Coc

While being on the food tour the evening before I had met another Austrian on the road. We bonded over the shared citizenship but not much more. Still it was nice to speak German again and when he told me about the guided tour he was doing the next day,  I was all for it and signed up as well.

We were picked up around 8:30 and off we went into the crazy traffic to go 150 km south to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th century.

Not only did I want to go sight-seeing, I sought to escape the city heat as well. But it was completely in the wrong direction. For that I would have needed to stay in the hotel room. There was just no escape from the heat.

In the air-conditioned car we made our way slowly south and when we got out at Hoa Lu I was immediately perspiring again. The heat was unbearable. We made our way over a bridge and followed our guide around. There was really not so much to see.

                

Back in the car it took a couple of minutes to feel like a human being again. I really don’t like AC because mostly I get a cold from it, but without one there would have been no existing on that day. Funnily enough we then went to our lunch stop and since the restaurant was reasonably cool I could eat some lunch (which was ok; so far on tours lunch in Vietnam has disappointed me).

After lunch there was a boat ride along a river very similar to what I have seen in Yangshuo. We walked over to the boat and saw rice all over the port. So this is the way how it is dried. Very interesting.

  

Then we got on the little boats, always two by two. I was paired with the Austrian guy who had even managed to bring an umbrella with him on this trip which turned out to be quite lifesaving. I sat with a long sleeved shirt on the boat not to get burned up completely.

The Austrian btw used the umbrella to creep nearer and nearer until I had to tell him that my thoughts in this heat couldn’t be further from being touched and he should keep his hands to his side. Didn’t really help a lot but I think he got the message. Awful behavior when you think about it, especially since he was married. His wife never got mentioned though and later on was only referred to in passing. One can only wish for a husband like this.

  

Our rower was a little woman and here on this river everyone rowed with their feet! An astonishing feat!

      

The boat tour took at least 90 minutes or so and we crossed through a couple of caves which was alway nice to get some shade. Even the goats stayed in the shade.

                                

It looked all very peaceful and scenic, but most of all it was hot. And my clothes were wet when we finally made it back on land. In the afternoon there should have been a short bike ride and while on the van I had been all for it. But once back from the boat ride I couldn’t imagine going outside on a bicycle again. Actually nobody else could so the bicycling was canceled and we went back to town again after having a cold drink.

For dinner the Austrian and I (I knew how to keep my distance) went to the best Pho place in town. It had rained shortly before in one short torrential burst and the air felt a lot better after it. Maybe that was why the soup tasted so delicious? Yours, Pollybert

Rafting on the Li River

Rafting sounds probably a lot more exciting than it actually was. Since it was already May 28th and my visa for China would expire on May 31st I had decided to just do Yangshuo in the end, then go back to Guilin and from the there on to Vietnam. Time was just too short to visit anything else, so today was my last day in Yangshuo. I checked out early in the morning because I had booked a guided rafting tour on the Li River.

While waiting at the corner of the hostel street and the main road I took a picture of the little side street. So this is where I spent three nights.IMG_3317

The finally a mini-van stopped next to me, I got on and look into 30 pairs of chances eyes. I was the only white person on the bus. And I was only one without a seat, so I had the pleasure to sit on a little platform behind the driver facing everybody else on the bus. So how best to work in a situation like this? I started with a loud Ni Hao which is always charming. And it worked, they smiled at me and I smiled back. And that was basically the most conversation I had on this trip.

At least the bus ride was not very long, about 40 minutes later we arrived in Xingping which is famous for its place on the 20 Yuan note. We got off the bus and after a short bathroom break we were divided into little groups and with two other single female travelers I was put on a boat. Far from a bamboo raft, this turned out to be a little bamboo motor boat. Which didn’t change the fact that the scenery again was stunning.IMG_3318IMG_3321IMG_3322IMG_3323IMG_3325IMG_3326IMG_3327

Interestingly enough even on this river there was police presence and they had quite the big boat. Also it was a lot faster than all the others.IMG_3332IMG_3333 Here it was speeding past us, I am sure there was an emergency further up on the river!
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More stunning scenery to come and with a couple of stops in between where you could get your picture taken by a professional (or something like it) and buy the picture immediately.IMG_3335IMG_3339IMG_3344IMG_3347IMG_3349IMG_3353IMG_3355

The last stop was exactly at the spot of the 20 Yuan note. So of course I asked one of my fellow travelers to take a picture of me with the note.IMG_3367

That was the end of the rafting tour and we wait for a bit at the landing to let the other travelers catch up.IMG_3375

On the way back I got a real seat on the bus since a couple of people stayed in Xinping. I later hear from Lisa and Paul that Xinping was a really nice “village” with a lot less tourism and much more relaxed than Yangshuo. Anyway, it was too late for me to change plans.

Once we arrived in Yangshuo I went back to the Westland Hostel, got my backpack and waited for the green bus No. 5. Which was actually on the way to the overland bus station not a problem at all. For one Yuan I was on my way to North Bus Station of Yangshuo and a little while later on my way to Guilin again.

Once I got off in Guilin I walked to my hotel which turned to out to be wrong one. I had booked a room at the Vienna Hotel (pun intended) and it was not this one I actually booked but another one nearer to the airport. Since I would leave early next morning I thought it better to get closer to it. Which was a big mistake since I had to take a taxi from the Vienna Hotel downtown to get to the other one and had t o get a taxi the next day as well. There was probably no price difference between a taxi ride from downtown and from where I stayed. since it was in the middle of nowhere I am sure I paid about the same amount.

So checked into the hotel then and since there was nothing to do or see in the immediate area and the only way to get away from there was by bus again, I decided to stay in my room, enjoy the air condition and just call it a day.
Yours, Pollybert

The Moon Hill in Yangshuo

Another morning dawned (and with dawned I mean the literal sense because I seem to wake up on this trip always around 6am) and I started to update the blog. Some of you might have noticed that I am 2 weeks behind on the blog. Since China I am just struggling to update. Anyway the wi-fi was working well with the VPN in the Westland Hostel and I updated a bit again.

But around noon and two cups of coffee I felt ready to get moving again and for today I had planned to see the Moon Hill. So again I went to the hostel next door, paid my 10 Yuan (a little more than a one Euro) and cycled out of the city in the same direction as yesterday. This time though I went over the Yulong River bridge and went further. I noticed that the heat really got to me and I need to take more breaks in-between. Also I felt the day of cycling from yesterday. Apparently I was not in such a good shape after all.

When I found the Moon Hill I got stopped by a woman next to the entrance who wanted to show me the farmer’s way to it by paying her a small fee and no entrance fee. I decided to trust her and declare it as local development aid. So I parked my bike and hiked up with her a small trail about 150 meters from the actual entrance. The heat and the humidity in the jungle just about did me in. Eventually we arrived a stone way and she told me to just walk about there, I will get to the hill and use the regular exit upon leaving. What she didn’t tell and might not have done the Moon Hill after all that the hike would be cruel.

So I trudged up some stairs (always stairs and more stairs) and arrived after maybe 20 minutes at this point of view.IMG_3283IMG_3284IMG_3286

It looked spectacular and I felt like the king of the world, but since it was only a view point and you could get up to the real “Moon”, I wanted to go there too. It took maybe another 40 minutes to get up there but the stairs in this heat and with a lot mosquitoes and the humidity it felt like hours. While walking up there were always people coming down and they motivated me to get on going. There was an end in sight and since they had made it, I could too. Plus they told me that there would be cold water on top. And I bought an overpriced cold water bottle because I felt I deserved it and so did the really old woman who had brought it up. she even fanned me while I drank it an gave me something for the mosquito bites. So it was money well invested.IMG_3289IMG_3290IMG_3291IMG_3292IMG_3295IMG_3297IMG_3298

On that the I never stopped sweating by the way. I think the hike increased my core temperature so much, that I couldn’t stop until I was back at the hostel. I have never experienced anything like it that water just ran down my body while I sitting in front of a fan and was not moving at all. A very weird experience. So after I had a little break on top, I walked down again which I enjoyed a lot more than going up although now I noticed the mosquitoes. Before I had just noticed the bites.IMG_3299IMG_3300IMG_3301

I had parked my bicycle next to a shed which was actually a little restaurant. Si I went to this place and ordered mixed vegetables with rice and it was just perfect. Maybe because I was starved for some vegetables after the dinner yesterday or maybe I was exhausted from the hike. Anyway, it was the perfect lunch with a cold beer to get some energy.IMG_3304

But every break needs to end and after an hour or so I was back on the road to roam the countryside some more. I passed what I thought was a cemetery, but I cannot be sure about. It looked definitely cared for and quite lovely.IMG_3305IMG_3306IMG_3308
While some others looked overgrown and abandoned.

Since sweat was dripping constantly my grip on the bike was not the best and anyway I had enough of bicycling already, I decided to make another stop. I found this quaint roadside place and had a coffee and some lychee juice here. And even in this no-name place they had wi-fi. The world is really shrinking.IMG_3310

Two hours and 10 postcards later I thought I had exhausted the hospitality of the little café and rode back to the city. I stopped for another hour at the bridge, watching the water pass by.IMG_3312IMG_3313IMG_3314

dinner that evening was Chinese fast food and I loved the way how it was presented. It was only a noodle soup with some meat, a salad and a tea egg but so good! Yours, PollybertIMG_3316