A Travellerspoint blog

Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw

Laos

5/2/16
By the time we’d checked in and unloaded, most of the town was shutting up for the night so we had a very mixed dinner of yoghurt and a freshly made crepe from a street stall.

6/2/16
Our first morning in Laos we headed out for breakfast at one of the town’s French bakeries - Le Banneton - and sampled some delicious homemade yoghurt and pastries. We then had to move hostels, as our one had become fully booked. After this switchover and some extra planning we stopped at a local market for some mega sandwiches made on fresh baguettes.

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Luang Prabang is famous for its many buddhist temples and so after our filling lunch we decided to spend the afternoon exploring some of them. We managed a total of eight (pretty good going), with the grandest being Wat Xiengthong (which Anita sympathetically nicknamed ‘disco temple’ due to its sparkling mosaics). It included a huge royal carriage which was built to carry the royal urns. We were also lucky enough to witness the monks from the temple performing a musical symbolic ritual with drums and chimes. We ended our tour at the tip of the peninsula, looking out onto the bamboo bridge which has to be rebuilt every year as it doesn't survive the rainy season.

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For dinner we had some delicious Laos specialities including Laap (minced pork with lemongrass, chilli and Thai basil) and Orlam (a type of chicken stew with aubergine, beans and dill) and of course some Beer Lao. For dessert we got crepes and discovered the most amazing topping - creamed coconut with condensed milk (definitely one we’ll be recreating when we get home!).
We finished off the day with our first visit to the amazing night market, which brings families from the surrounding tribes and villages to sell their handicrafts to the tourists. It was pretty hard not to buy everything in sight!

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7/2/16
The next morning we visited the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, which gave a fascinating display describing the four main tribes in Laos and their traditional handicrafts and dress - including weaving, cotton production, batik, embroidery and bamboo weaving. We also learnt about a special project that’s been set up to record and preserve these skills for future generations.

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In the afternoon we explored the former Royal Palace which included a temple that is home to the Pha Bang buddha (after whom the town is named) and the main entertaining rooms and living quarters.
We then summoned up our energy and climbed the 329 steps up Phu Si to the golden stupa of That Chomsi. We had amazing views of the town and the countryside beyond.
In the evening we rewarded ourselves with some Lao whiskey with dinner (as it was cheaper than any soft drink!) and some more local dishes.

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8/2/16
Monday was a day of entertaining (on reflection) journeying, to reach the northern mountain town of Nong Khiaw. The day began with our shuttle pick up where we were put in the front of a minibus - slightly worn with a crack that stretched the width of the windscreen. We were glad to find out this was only taking us as far as the bus station, where we all climbed out and waited. After a little while we were shown to our next bus where our bags were tied to the roof and we were all snugly squeezed in. After a long wait we realised we weren't moving any time soon (discovering that Laos is a pretty laid back country) and so two of our fellow passengers entertained us with some ukulele playing and singing. When we thought we were ready to go the bus station staff surprised us by insisting that one more person needed to fit in the bus - despite all the seats being occupied. After some negotiations Anita and I ended up sharing the three back seats with two French guys (one of them was easily over six foot). Not only was it a pretty tight squeeze, it was also probably one of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever been on - lifting us out of our seats on several occasions - Anita actually hit her head on the roof! The spectacular scenery did make up for it though, rolling countryside and dramatic mountains and rivers.

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When the end was in sight we were faced with one final hurdle when the van that was taking us from the bus station to town wouldn't start. Luckily there were stronger looking travellers on our bus who were summoned to get out and push until the driver managed to kick it into life!
It really was worth all the morning’s excitement when we arrived - it was the most incredible setting, in the valley surrounded by mountains and the most beautiful village. We spent the afternoon exploring the village and local life and then headed to the bridge over the river to watch the sun set.
In the evening we went to an Indian restaurant for dinner, and although it was quite a wait the food definitely made up for it.

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9/2/16
Tuesday was pancake day, so not wanting to miss out we had a banana and chocolate pancake for breakfast! That set us up for our 2km walk out of the village to the Tham Pha Tok caves, where the locals had hidden and lived during the American bombings in the Vietnamese war. To reach the caves we had to cross a precarious bamboo bridge and were then shown around some of the narrow caverns by two local men. Once we’d had our fill we headed back to the village surrounded by spectacular scenery.

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We then started a climb up to a mountain viewpoint, which was pretty challenging underfoot but did give us impressive views of the town and river below. We then rewarded ourselves with some desserts and watched the sun set from the bar.

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10/2/16
The next morning brought some additional excitement when we realised we didn't have enough cash to pay our hostel. When both the ATMs in the village were out of action we had a bit of nail biting wait for the bank to open, just before our bus was due to leave!

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Our journey back to Luang WP_20160210_11_48_25_Pro.jpg was equally spectacular and much more comfortable - although not for one woman, the bus company had managed to overbook again and she was left to sit on a cushion between the two front seats for the entire ride.

Posted by Floglet 19:26 Comments (0)

Halong Bay and a little more Hanoi

overcast 15 °C

01/02/2016 - We were picked up at 8am for our two day trip to Halong Bay.Once on the bus we were told by our guide that we were going to be an intimate little group of 8, on a boat that would fit four times that many easily. The journey to the harbour took around 4 hours but we got a really interesting insight into vietnamese life from our guide along the way and once there we had a freezing cold but relatively short wait to board our boat. Once on the boat we had a quick chance to look around, we wandered up to the sundeck, before being served possibly the biggest lunch I'd ever eaten. The whole time we were sailing through some stunning scenery, the bay was simply beautiful and despite it being grey and cold the sky was clear which meant our views weren't affected. We got to work off lunch by walking around Hang Son Sot caves and visiting a pearl farm. Later we sat anchored for a while and had the option to go swimming but unsurprisingly most of us declined. The two men on the boat went for a swim but their reactions confirmed that we'd made the better decision. Just before dinner we had a little time to kill, so we played cards for a while in the bar which was nice and warm. Dinner that night, though delicious felt bigger than lunch.

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02/02/2016 - We went up to the sun deck for some early morning tai chi. I preferred the views and the peacefulness of the bay at that time of the morning to the tai chi itself but it was definitely an experience. We then had what had been described to us as a light breakfast but was really not. There was toast, eggs, ham, fresh fruit and all in far too large quantities. After breakfast we visited a former fishing village that was now preserved as a museum of sorts, showing how fishermen and their families used to live in the bay. It was really cold again so we passed up the chance to go kayaking in the area and instead were rowed around in a small boat. Once back at the boat we made Vietnamese spring rolls before being served another large lunch. I don't think we'd eaten that much food in such a short space of time before. After lunch we headed back to our hotel, our bus journey on the way back was a little noisier as we picked up a group of Spanish travellers too. Once back in Hanoi we were greeted rather enthusiastically by the lady at our hostel. I think she might have missed us. We freshened up and then went out for dinner and finally got to try bun cha, a Vietnamese speciality of pork patties with noodles, broth and greens...it didn't disappoint, it was really delicious.

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03/02/2016 - We had a bit of a lie in before deciding to walk to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum but we ended up getting there just as it was closing for lunch. We decided instead to visit the Temple of Literature, popping into a local cafe Koto, for some tea and cake to keep us going. We shared a slice of peanut chocolate coffee mousse cake which doesn't sound like it should work but it really did. The temple was really pretty and we learnt a little bit about the sacred creatures by eavesdropping in on a nearby tour. What shocked us most was that their version of a unicorn is nothing like the Western one, instead it is half dog half lion, still cute but in a completely different way. After the temple we visited Hoa Lo prison which was used by the French in their occupation of Vietnam to hold Vietnamese revolutionaries and later by the Vietnamese to hold American prisoners of war. Some of the conditions were horrific, prisoners were tortured here. Interestingly it also seems now to be used as a propaganda tool in the depiction of how well the American prisoners of war were treated. The American prisoners ironically called it the Hanoi Hilton. Once we were done we went back to the hostel only to find that no taxi driver would take us on to Sian's, where we were going to stay for the next few days, because of the traffic. We were told to try again in an hour and a bit. So we went to find somewhere to waste away the time. We stumbled on a Congo, a local coffee shop chain and sat there chatting whilst having an amazingly good yoghurt coffee. It tasted almost like a coffee lassi. Fleur went one step more adventurous and had hers with sticky rice which again was really good. Eventually we got a cab to Sian's, where she had hot homemade soup waiting for us. The soup, the pg tips and the company made for a pretty perfect chilled out evening.

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04/02/2016 - We woke up early and went straight to see Ho Chi Minh. It was a unique experience, seeing his preserved body lying in front of us. The visit emphasised how respected he was and still is in Vietnam. After we left it began raining and it only got heavier as walked around the Ciitadel. Whilst there we saw a graduation ceremony and a small exhibition on the Tet festival. The ruins in the Citadel were pretty and would have been more so had the rain let up. We also got to go down into a war bunker that had been used in the Vietnam War. We then did a tiny bit of souvenir shopping before heading back through the Chinese market to get a taxi to Sian's. The market, as it was the run up to Tet was especially manic, almost to the point of a little scary. We managed to survive the walk through, just. Once back at Sian's we had lunch and then had a really relaxed but much needed afternoon chatting and drinking tea. We went out for pizza and cider in the evening, traditionally Vietnamese of course?! Ending our last day in Vietnam.

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05/02/2016 - We got to have another lie in before packing up and then heading to brunch. We managed a main and dessert before having to head back for our bags and to wait for our taxi. The taxi was a little late and despite seeming to go in the opposite direction to the airport for far too long we made it there and onto our flight with time to spare. Our journey to Laos was only an hour long and was on the smallest plane of our travels so far with only two seats on either side of the middle. The journey went smoothly though and the only surprise was a young girl screaming as we landed only to be told by her mum that she was not on a rollercoaster.

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Posted by AnitaBhogal 11:01 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi (pt 1)

overcast 15 °C
View Travelling 2016 on Floglet's travel map.

27/1/16 We arrived in Hoi An in the early hours of Wednesday morning and were excited to be met off our bus by one of the hotel staff who escorted us across the street (literally!) to our home for the next few days. Amazingly our room was already ready for us so we headed upstairs for a nap to recuperate after the journey.
As a good way to start the day we headed out for breakfast to a restaurant that had been recommended in our guidebook. It was incredible. We both thought we'd ordered just one standard dish, but the food just kept on coming! Eggs, fruit, bread, coffee and juice, all with an amazing view over Hoi An.

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The rest of the day was spent exploring the town - a UNESCO world heritage site - and all its lovely shops. We'd heard it was famous for its tailoring shops and had been warned by our hotel to watch out for the persistent salespeople. We'd been doing pretty well, letting them down gently with excuses like; 'our bag is too small to carry any more clothes' and 'we're poor travellers with no spare money to spend' but by late afternoon we must have let our guard down when a friendly woman pounced. She was very persistent (and flattered us) so we agreed to go to her shop 'just to look'. After a fairly lengthy walk we arrived at her stall with several other 'captured' tourists. In fairness to them they did have a pretty comprehensive pattern collection and fabric (I even spotted some H&M prints) but we weren't willing to part with our cash and so after a lengthy debate we managed to escape and vowed to be more firm in future.

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In the evening we had a delicious meal with some regional specialities - white rose dumplings, shrimp pancake and wontons.

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28/1/16 The next day we spent some time exploring Hoi An's historical buildings. These were mostly linked to the town's past as a trading port and the architecture had a much greater Chinese influence than anything else we'd seen on our travels. The buildings included two assembly halls, a temple, a merchant's house, a family chapel and a Japanese covered bridge and were all really beautiful.

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In the evening we enjoyed some 'happy hour' beer (for 30p a pint) and explored the stunning lantern market. We then headed to a really cute restaurant for dinner which had an open kitchen so you could literally see your dinner being made. The menu was quite creative and dessert included a very green, green tea creme brulée.

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29/1/16
On the Friday we had a fantastic excursion north to the imperial city of Hué. On the way we stopped off at the marble mountains, a cluster of five limestone hills. After ascending in an elevator (very high-tech!) we had an hour exploring the different temples and pagodas.

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The drive up to Hué was pretty spectacular - filled with mountains, the ocean, bright green rice paddies, buffaloes and even a coastal train!

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Hué was Vietnam's imperial capital from the early 1800s to 1945 and our tour took us around some of the remaining buildings from the ruling dynasty. First stop were the tombs from Emperor Tu Doc and his family - impressive stone structures set in beautiful parkland. Following this we headed to the main attraction - the Imperial City.

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The start of our visit was somewhat impeded by our search for food (we hadn't eaten since breakfast and we were pretty famished). Luckily we came across an ice cream stand (literally the only food available) and refuelled so we could continue exploring. We saw the citadel's spectacular gate house, the Emperor's main entertaining palace and the temple for the emporers (designed for worship of the nine Nguyen emperors, with urns for each). We also saw the site of the emperor’s private residence, which sadly had been completely destroyed during the war. We then headed to Thien Mu pagoda, which has become an icon for Vietnam, and explored its beautiful gardens before the rain descended.

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When we got back to Hoi An we had a delicious evening meal at a restaurant that trains disadvantaged young people to become chefs and waiters. They were so sweet, in fact they even managed to talk us into dessert!

30/1/16
Due to limited time left on our visa exemption (15 days for Vietnam) and the impending Vietnamese new year holiday Tet (aka 'travel madness') we decided to hotfoot it up the country by catching a plane up to Hanoi and maximising our time in the North. We landed in a very cool 15 degrees.

After we'd arrived and settled into the hostel we made good use of our time and actually did our hair and put on some make up (the first time in four weeks).We were then ready to hit the town and headed out for a delicious meal and long overdue catch up with our uni friend Sian, who teaches English in Hanoi.

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31/1/16
On the Sunday we spent some time exploring the old quarter of Hanoi. It’s a great place to get a feel for the city but the pavements do become car parks and the roads are a battleground between pedestrians, motorbikes and cars, making it a bit of a challenge to walk around!

After braving the main market the weather took a turn for the worse, and we were forced(!) to go for coffee to escape the drizzle. We chose a cafe that would normally have had stunning views across Hoan Kiem lake, unfortunately when we were there visibility was somewhat reduced. We odered some fresh fruit salad to snack on which also included avocado (came as a bit of a surprise!). We also tried the local specialty of vietnamese coffee with whisked egg whites.

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The afternoon was spent souvenir shopping and visiting two temples (one on Hoan Kiem lake itself). We also had some delicious pho (Vietnamese soup) for lunch.

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In the evening we took shelter from the rain and finished off the day with some yummy Banh Mi (pork baguettes).

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Posted by Floglet 18:21 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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