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Trip Start Oct 22, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, December 8, 2005

Yesterday we got up early decided to make the most of our short stay in Vientiane. We hired a tuk tuk and got it to drive us roughly 30kms out of town to Buddha Park. On the way we also stopped at Wat Si Muang where legend has it that when the city spire was to be laid a sacrifice was required. No one volunteered until a pregnant lady stepped into the hole and was subsequently crushed. We then proceeded along the dodgey road to Buddha Park. The park was full of sculptures of Budhist and Hindu gods. You could even crawl inside the "mouth" of one of the huge sculptures. It was designed to depict you entering hell then as you climbed up to the top, you were ascending to heaven. Inside was a bit creepy as the lights were off. We used a torch to explore inside. The top also gave a great view of the park and a very large reclining Buddha.

Back in Vientiane we checked out the Royal Palace, though you can not go in. We then wandered around, passed the old That Dam, then on to the Thong Khan Kham Market (but thankfully didn't buy anything). Next was the Patuxai or Victory Monument. It looked like the Arch de Triomphe in Paris. Evidently it was made of concrete donated by the USA for a new runway after the American War. Up the road was the Pha That Luang Wat. This temple is one of the most important in Laos as its found on their currency. According to legend, a piece of the breastbone of Buddha was enclosed here in the stupa that was built in 3rd century BC. The current temple was built by King Setthathiratin the mid-16th century. As it was a bright and sunny day it was fantastic, completely painted in gold, against the clear blue sky.

We then got a tuk tuk to deliver us to the airport to catch our first Vietnam Air flight to Hanoi. At the airport we tried top get on the earlier flight to Hanoi but no luck. We also tried to get rid of all our small Lao notes, but everything in the airport was too expensive. They did have CNN though so we caught up on what was going on in the world.

After arriving in Hanoi last night we had planned to explore for one day then head to Ha Long Bay. However as we had no room left to take any photos on our memory cards we had to find somewhere to download them. Despite the guide saying you can't walk 100 metres without finding a net cafe, we had little luck. We searched and searched but found that no one had a memory card reader or couldn't understand what we needed. Eventually after a while and quite a long walk around the city we found what we needed and cleared the cards. Unfortunately this took ages so we decided to do the tourist stuff the next day. We did manage to book our trip to Ha Long Bay, organise our Cambodia VISAs, change the date of our flight from Saigon to Hong Kong, book a flight from Angkor Wat to Saigon and book an overnight train to Hue. Luckily our hotel was also a travel agent and they organised it all for us at a pretty resonable price.

Today we got up early and jumped on the back of a couple of motorbike taxis to take us to the Air Force Museum. Neither of us had actually been on motorbikes before so we held on tight. The trafic in Hanoi is amazing. To cross the road you basically step out and all the motorbikes, pushbikes and cars go around you. If you didn't step out into the traffic you would not get across as there is no gap and they don't bother stopping for zebra crossings or red traffic signals. When we made it to the museum we discovered it had closed in March for a new exhibition but was still not open! The armed guards didn't want us to get off the motorbikes or take any photos so we continued on our way to the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu). It is a temple dedicated to the great scholar Confucius and to honour the school's graduates. Inside they had a photographic exhibition which had some really amazing and award winning photos.

After an hour or so inside we headed to the Army Museum taking in a monument of Lenin along the way. Unfortunetly our bad luck continued and the museum was closed for the day. So we again continued on to the Ho Chi Minh Mauselum. The big Ho is actually having his annual embalming maintence in Russia so we couldn't get a peak, but took a nice photo of the building and decided to do some shopping.

The market that we had been looking forward to visiting was actually really crap. It had lots of clothes made from polester material and little else of interest so we headed back to the hotel to pick up our mail then onto the post office before the international postal desk closed at 4.30pm. This was an interesting experience. First we had to find some cardboard to wrap the stuff in. We wanted to send a painting home so need to protect it in cardboard so it couldn't be bent. To our surprise you can't just ask for an empty cardboard box, no there is a shop that sells the old boxes. Yes, all the other shops sell their old boxes, then this shop sells them on to people like us. An interesting recycling concept! With our cardboard in hand we went to the post office, packed and labeled our stuff and stood in line (they don't actually have lines, it's more of a pushing free for all) for a little while. When we reached the front we discovered they actually want to see, verify and record everything in the package, so we had to open it up again. Then began the forms. Four forms for each package, three packages so 12 forms total. All of them, of course, in Vietnamese. Eventually, with some help from a friendly postal worker, we managed to write the correct things in the correct spaces and after an hour our three boxes were on their way.

We then walked back to the famed Thang Long Water Puppet show. It was interesting to see a puppet show where the puppeteers were behind a black background, standing in water. A different way to entertain with live music and singing all in Vietnamese. Afterwards we met up with Alex, a new friend from Holland we met while waiting for our flight in Vientiane, had a yummy dinner at a resturant called Little Hanoi then headed back to the hotel where Rick tought Meg how to play chess. He may have won this first time but it wont last long!
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