Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Out of the rain & into the sun!

Okay...so Ninh Binh was a bit lame. Mostly because it was pouring with rain. But it's a tiny place with not much to do except outdoorsy things, and when it's raining & cold & the idea of having to put on wet clothes or pack them into a backpack makes a person cringe...not much to do! We arrived at 5am or some ridiculous hour. Decided to just park it at the hotel we arrived at because everything was dark & closed & raining. We went straight to bed & slept until 11 or so. Then we got ready & went on a wander. Not much to see, found some food, and then we asked the front desk about the Halong Bay tour. We then went out on a boat ride down the river to see some caves. One of the things to do. It started off ok, but started raining while we were out there & we came back drenched. The ladies didn't speak much English, they swarm you at the far end & want you to buy things from floating shops & to buy embroidered things on the boat & then they ask over & over for tips. It was frustrating, but the ride was pretty cool, saw some people rowing the boats with their feet instead of their hands.

We decided that it was just too crap to stay in town, so we went to hang our wet stuff up & crawl into the covers to warm up & we read for hours. Then we booked our trip out for the following morning to go straight to Halong Bay for 2 days & 1 night on a boat. We were waiting at 6am, breakfast was 2 bottles of water & a box of crackers & then we got picked up by a red sports car, transferred into a local bus & were the only tourists on it. It was quite the journey & we really had no idea where we were going or what was happening. Several hours later we got transferred to a taxi that brought us to a restaurant where we were to wait for a tour group to meet us. We asked a couple of times & finally a guy came & walked us down to the docks. Then we waited for another couple hours for them to get it all organized. While we waited we met a girl from Switzerland. Nice girl, had a crappy few days & was feeling really bitter about Vietnam in general. So the conversation was a bit of a downer -- and everyone on the bus commented on it when she left us to stay on Cat Ba Island for the night. We got on the boat & had lunch, then we went to some caves & wandered thru those. And it dumped on us again & we changed our clothes because we were soaked thru. After that we anchored for the night, had dinner & there were kayaks & swimming. It was about 5pm & raining & chilly. But we decided "what the hell!!!" we were there, so we went swimming. We thought at least that way we would be out of the wind. A Parissian named Theo, and an American from Nevada, named Addie came with us & we had a lot of fun. Two aussie blokes - Matt & Guy from Adelaide stayed in & played cards with a Dutch couple, Lues (Luce) & Eric. When we got back out of the water  & all dried off we joined the group in the main area & had some conversation, some beers & then...KAREOKE!!! Really Theo was the only one with the balls to go to it without a few beers under his belt, but by the end of the night we were all singing...badly most of us - but it was a lot of fun. The next morning we got up & ready & had a pitiful breakfast, stopped to check out a floating village & some caves, but most of us stayed on board because it was really chilly out. We played cards & they brought us back to the dock & we had lunch. Then we caught a bus into Hanoi & said our goodbyes. It was kinda lousy weather (but most of our time in Vietnam was that way) but the view of the bay was still incredible & we had loads of fun.

We got our room squared away in Hanoi & then went out to find some food. Success came quickly & the meal was incredible. Then we tried to find our way back (not an easy feat - Hanoi is a maze!) and wandered thru a night market & we both found hoodies that would suit our purposes & were warm & comfy!! It was bliss...2 weeks of being cold & we finally found something warm! We went back to our hotel, booked a bus out to Laos for the next afternoon. We decided to risk the crazy bus ride even though the horror stories abound - because a flight was just more than we were willing to spend.

Got up in the morning & packed up. Stored our bags & went for breakfast - another amazing meal. Then we went for a wander, I got a new book to read, we ran into Theo, Lues & Eric, so funny..and we made our way back to our hotel to meet the 5pm bus. We followed a moto to another travel place with a few people in front of it & were told to wait for our mini bus. We started chatting with the two people there, English gal, Teresa & her South African boyfriend Terrence. Over 2 hours later we were finally squared away & on a big bus heading for Laos. It was about 7:15pm. We stopped fairly often & at about 3am we stopped dead. They set up a couple hammocks hung from the bars along the roof of the bus (in the middle of the aisle) and there were a couple of Vietnamese guys that slept there. We were there until about 6:30am, when the border opened. Of course in all that time we didn't know where we were or why we were stopped. LOL Craziness.  We had also, on one of our stops, loaded up like crazy with random stuff & so when we did go thru the border they took forever looking over our bus. It was uneventful, but took about 2 hours. Then we were on our way. A quick stop for some breakfast...and we arrived in Vientienne at around 5pm. What a journey - but nowhere near as bad as some people have had it. And we made new friends! Spent the next couple hours wandering around a seemingly dead town..that had no available rooms...trying to find a place to rest our heads! Finally we found one & after we were all showered up - the 4 of us went out for some dinner & beer on the beach at around 9pm. Just ace! We were back at the hotel at around 11 & we all just went straight to bed & crashed out.

The next day we all woke up at around 11:30am. I had been up earlier, but was trying to sleep because I had barely slept on the bus. Crystal & I brought our laundry to a place, got some breakfast, asked about the options & what to see in Laos to try & decided how best to spend our time here. It has a great feeling...definitely want to come back..and Vientienne isn't even the most loved city! It's just the capital! We took it pretty easy, walked to find out where the post office was & saw the Arc de Triumphe that they have here. It's unfinished, but massive & kinda cool because it's got lotus flowers & buddhas & very asian things on something I have only seen in Europe. Pretty cool. But it was night so the pictures were crap. We went out for dinner on the beach again, and met up with our mates on the way back. We bought some beers & settled in at the hotel on the balcony for an evening of getting to know one another, drinking some Beer Laos & listening to Crystal's Iphone. it was awesome & we talked & drank until 3am...then one of the other patrons came out & yelled at us, and we realized it was ridiculously late & hit the bed.

Today...we woke up at around the same time. We had made plans last night for our days today...some of that was changed because of our late awakening. But we still went to breakfast/brunch this amazing place we had found...avocado...YUM!!! Then we rented bicycles, gathered up a bunch of stuff we wanted to send home, rode to the post office - shipped it off (much cheaper than my parcel from England!), went to see the Arc de Triumphe in the day, rode 3km out to Wat Sok Pluang (?) except we missed the road & it took a little longer. But we found it & we went to the traditional Laos sauna & massage. It was so awesome! Climbed up into a tree hut, got naked & wrapped in a sheet thingy, went into this hut that you couldn't see 3 inches in front of you there was so much steam...and it was so hot (and hot outside too LOL) And we sweat & breathed & loved it. It was an herbal sauna so there was basil & oregano & a bunch of other herbs in the air too. Reminded me of the raindrop massage that Pure Oasis had. It was stellar. We had 12 minutes of sauna, came out to cool down, had some tea. Met 2 french Canadians, Anthony & Sabrina from Montreal. Got to talking & they were really cool, his cousins own a bakery & ice cream parlour in Port Moody - so we are going to check it out when we get home. Then we hopped back in the sauna for a bit more. Cooled off afterwards, more tea, changed into a dry sheet, then got an hour long Laos massage. Similar to a Thai massage, but a little less rough, yet more joint popping & cracking. It was great...and then we rode back into town. Dropped off the bikes, ate some dinner, picked up our laundry...and now we're headed back to the room. If all has gone according to plan, our new friends bought us bus tickets & tomorrow morning we all head to Vang Vieng to get our tubing on!

We are having plenty of ideas about how to spend our last month...nothing concrete yet - so I guess you will be informed as it happens!!!