Catch up an our journey so far

Trip Start Oct 16, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sorry we havent been in touch so i appologise for the very long update, you might have had some of it already. But i do like to repeat myself!!
We had an early start, 5am to be precise to watch over 300 monks collecting alms (food) from local people along the streets before going to their monasteries. This was a weird site, bright orange robes as far as you could see! Next we visted The Royal Museum, loads of artefacts - boring, boring, boring! We took a lunchtime flight with Lao Airlines to Vientiene, the capital of Laos. Dont know why they bother having a stop here, its naff! We had some local food overlooking the Mekong. After our previous experience with biccycles we decided we wanted to do it again, so rode around the town visiting the Patuxai, a monument which looks like the Arc De triomphe commemorating Lao people who died in post revolutionary wars. Also we saw Pha That Luang 'World Precious Stupa' which is Laos most important national monument, unfortunately it was closed so we couldnt go inside, typical! We needed some chill out time by then so we went to a 4 star hotel, The Lao Plaza and paid to use their roof top swimming pool for the afternoon. After a longh drive we arrived at the local village on the Laos/Vietnam border for our homestay! We were mobbed by all the local children upon arrival who found us all highly amusing to play with and annoy.Before sunset we boarded our makeshift boats for a trip down the river. These were basically the fuel tanks of B52 bombers from the war, which have now been turned into small boats with engines. How cool! We bombed it down the river watching the sun set and hoping we didnt capsize, thats something not many people can say theyve done. That evening we were staying in two local houses with the families. The way they live is very basic and a real eye opener, makes you realise how lucky you are!

We finally crossed into Vietnam early the next morning and spent the whole day on the bus driving to a place called Ninh Binh, back arse of nowhere but only there for the night so it didnt really matter! Early start the next morning where we drove to the harbour and got on our boat to Halong Bay, that we would be staying on overnight. This was stunning, limestone rocks protruding out of the sea left right and centre, much better then Phi Phi! We cruised around in the sunshine, lounging on deck and drinking beer. We stopped and visited some caves before mooring up at the beach which was great fun. Sunset was drawing near so 10 minutes later the boat anchored for the night in the middle of the rocks.We all then proceeded to jump from the very top of the boat (approx 4/5 metres high) into the sea below which actually was quite scary.

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is absolutely manic, full of motorbikes and there seems to be no rules on the roads! You take your life into your own hands trying to cross! That evening we went to 'The Water Puppets' a very strange show with puppets dancing around in the water to Vietnamese music. We were glad when it was over!
Next morning we had breakfast at a restaurant called KOTOS 'Know One Teach One' where street kids are trained up and given jobs as part of this charity, sponsered by Intrepid. Ho Chi Minhs mauseleum was next on the agenda, unfortunately we could not see his body as it is being re-embalmed until December - bummer! We got to visit where he lived at The Presidiential Palace though. We had a few drinks at a floating bar on The West Lake and then spent the afternoon wandering around the Old Quarter of the city. This is know as the Venice of the far east although were not sure why?? Our third overnight train journey was that evening which took us to Hue 13 hours later.

Hue was a much nicer and quieter place, which we liked instantly. That afternoon the group were taken by cyclo ( a guy riding a bike with a seat at the front for us to sit in) to The Imperial Citadel. This was the royal residence of the Kings of Vietnam and contains The Forbidden City which is under restoration beacuse most of the original building were destroyed during the war. Our cyclos then took us to Dong Ba market - what a nightmare! We have never been harassed so much in our lives and made a very sharp exit! The next day has been our highlight of this trip so far, the motorbike tour! We all had our own motorbike and driver and were taken on a tour of Hue. Our first stop was The Perfume River where we took a boat cruise to a pagoda and temple. We were then picked up again by the bikes and taken across country down windy gravel paths and back alleyways to a colosseum type ruin, where elephants and tigers used to fight each other in times gone by. After some hairy moments at fairly high speeds on some dodgy little tracks we arrived at one of the old Kings tombs, a grand place with a lake and buildings before stopping for lunch at a nunnery. The food was completely vegetarian , simple but nice. We were then taken to where locals make incense sticks and then to a local woman who has one arm and makes the famous connacle hats. After driving through some paddy fields out of the town we stopped at a small village for a well earned drink. here the local fortune teller/pyschic came and read our palms for a small fee.We headed back after this and went out for a Friday night curry with the gang - some things never change! Not bad but not as good as The Mogul! After a few drinks in the Why Not? Bar a few of us (boys and girls this time) got a cyclo to a night club where we all had a boogie and a few drinks before having to cut the night short and take one of the girls home who was absolutely hammered! All in all a great day
Goodbye Vietnam, Roll on Cambodia.......

After a few hours drive, we arrived at our next destination, Hoi An. A small port town with lots of character and shopping heaven.I was dragged to the shops straight away. There are absolutely loads of tailors in this town who will make you up clothes for peanuts within 24 hours. The evening ambience in Hoi An is great with loads of restaurants and a few funky bars, a restaurant called the Cargo Club beign our first stop, great western food and classy atmosphere.
All the girls therefore hired bicycles to ride into town! Cool!Great beach, but so much hassle from people trying to sell you stuff that we soon decided to leave them to it!

The next morning we took another flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) a big city full of more motorbikes and traffic! In the late aftenoon we had a cyclo tour of the sights including The Caravelle Hotel (oldest hotel in Saigon), Rex Hotel (where the press stayed during the Vietnam war) and Notre Dame Cathedral (built with imported materials from France in a gothic style similar to the original). We all went to the local market after for some dinner.

An early start the next day for a visit to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. This was the cntre of Viet Cong resistance during the American/Vietnam War. This was a very interesting day out. Before arriving at the tunnels we stopped at a rubber plantation which was pretty cool. Then onto Cu Chi, we watched a video about the war and then had a guide who took us around. First we got to go in one of the tiny holes that is an entrance to one of the tunnels, we were shown how they made all their booby traps, very crude and basic but highly effective! We saw the crater of one of the B52 bombs that had dropped and then were taken to a shooting range to have a go at firing some of the guns! This was fantastic, I fired an AK47, M30 and the highlight an M60. We were then taken down to the tunnels we had to practically crawl in the dark to get through, I carried on to level three which was very tight and the deepest part of the tunnels. It was quite scary so god knows what it would have been like during the war when people lived down there most of the time!

We crossed into Cambodia early the next morning and said goodbye to Vietnam. First stop was Phnom Penh,the capital city. We werent very keen on this city, very corrupt and dodgy and exteremely poor. That evening we all ate in a restaurant that funds a local orphanage.
The next day was very emotionally draining, we visited Toul Sleng (Khmer Rouge S-21 prison). This is an old school that was converted into a prison by Pol Pot (the leader of the Khmer Rouge) where mass genocide took place. We were shown the cells were the innocent prisoners were kept and tortured and even saw some graphic images of their bodies after the torture and death. We were due to go to one of the many killing fields after.

Another flight the next day and we arrived at Siem Reap, the gateway to the Angkor temples. What a contrast to Phnom Penh, this was a beautiful little town where you wouldnt have realised you were in such a poor country. The only let down was our accomodation which was shabby to say the least! Having got our three day pass for the temples which are spread over 40 miles around the town and were built between the 8th and 13th centuries, we went to our first temple, Angkor Thom. It is quite unbelievable to think how these temples were made by pure man power as they are stunning even though they are in state of ruin in some parts. We wandered around for a few hours admiring the architecture and then hopped on a boat to visit the floating village. People live on floating houses on a massive lake and have to move their houses depeding on the level of water during dry and rainy season. Everything floats from the shops to the church to the school and this was quite something to see! This is the equivalent of the shanty towns in Africa but on water. We stopped at a crocodile farm where they keep the creatures they catch swimming in the lake. After this we went back onto dry land and visited a local school where the kids performed traditional dances for us. We played with the children after for a while, they all spoke incredibly good english and were so excited that we were there.
Oh my god, we had such an early start the next day, having to get up at 4.15am to head off to Angkor Wat for sunrise. This is the most famous of the temples although we were slightly disappointed as it didint seem as impressive as some of th others! It is regarded as the supreme masterpiece of Khmer architecture and is surrounded by a 570 feet wide moat. The sunrise was also a disappointment with so many tourists and lots of cloud. We then ventured inside where you were able to climb up some extremely steep steps to get inside. Having wandered around for a while we then had to get back down This was the steepest set of man made steps you have ever seen which seemed virtually vertical! The next temple was Ta Prohm (also know as the Lara Croft/Tomb Raider temple) as the film was based here. This temple has not been restored at all and is absolutely stunning surrounded by jungle with huge trees growing out of the stone. After strolling round for a few hours we visited the Landmine museum. This is a small place which has been set up by a guy who is actively searching for some of the remaining 5 million landmines that are still active in Cambodia near the Thai border mainly. Even to this day people are still having limbs blown off or being killed by them. The museum was full of de-activated mines and people who have been injured by them, telling their stories which was very moving and emotional.

Will send another one soon. Hope everybody is well. Keep in touch. Miss you all xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
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