A Travellerspoint blog

Let's hit the water for some boat action

Boat and Bungalow in Halong Bay, Vietnam

semi-overcast 93 °F

It’s the crazy traveler again and I am sure I left off with stating how our Halong Bay tour guide arrived early and got me out a the shower. Well, let me give you the run down on the very “authentic” adventure. I use that word because although we signed up for a tour hoping to be with fellow westerners we also wanted to take in some culture. Just as we expected one thing after our long conversations with Kelly on her fun filled trip with tons of single men, well, we had a bit of a different experience. Let me paint a picture for you so that you can imagine for yourself the people on our deluxe boat in Halong Bay.

First of all, it appeared we were also going to be with fellow travelers speaking English, however, no real hot boys, rather a bunch of young kids. Okay, I can deal with that. It should be fun and make me feel youthful again (or the opposite). Once we got off the bus ride, well, things changed. We split off into two groups and I guess we picked the short straw once again but honestly I don’t recall ever picking a straw. All the westerners went on one boat and Lisa, myself and a lovey-dovey couple (appearing to speak English) went on another boat filled with 11 Vietnamese 18 year old students speaking no English but “can I use your USB cord?” Not to mention we had the boat captain’s 78 year old dad and uncle that really enjoyed their sticky rice wine and the guide’s wife that frequently was seen making herself vomit in the bathroom and not apologizing for making a massive mess in the sink, the toilets and the floor. So much for any others joining our crew as the Vietnamese group and family took up all the spots. I did feel like somewhat of a celebrity though in the fact that this one Vietnamese boy kept snapping photos of us. He liked taking “white” people pictures with his friends.

I chatted with our guide, who liked to be called “handsome guy” and he informed me just how lucky we were to be put with such a group. Maybe it was the waves or the ocean breeze but I thought he said “unlucky” so I agreed to that. When someone gives you lemons, why not make lemonade rather than a sour face? That is what we did. Turns out the couple was from Israel could only eat kosher (no seafood). We were the only real travelers on this boat so we always sat next to them, meaning, we always got loads of seafood. I didn’t eat too much as I just started eating it again but I did enjoy some squid, prawn and even a clam of some sort. The girl didn’t like veggies either so they opted to eat chips and laughing cow cheese most the time. No problem by us, we wanted the grub.

I must inform you of my favorite dinner thus far. It was “make your own fresh spring rolls” dinner on the boat. Talk about a party in my mouth!! You can put anything in those rice papers. They gave us meat, seafood, veggies, rice noodles and even pineapple. It was then and there that I decided I will make them for my family when I return to the US. If any of you reading find yourself having dinner with me, I will most likely have you try them. I enjoy them just as much as I enjoy Thai lettuce wraps at the Cheesecake Factory. Why? Because you make it to your own liking and everyone is happy. I was even telling the table you could put some nice warm fruit, perhaps some apples with caramel and make a dessert out of the it. The rice papers act as a holder for anything one chooses to stick inside. The possibilities are endless. I enjoyed some rice and pineapple after my 6 veggie ones. I couldn’t get enough as you can see I can’t stop talking about the spring rolls now. Yes, I am totally obsessed with these things. If you want a salad but have no real time to sit down and enjoy it, why not wrap it in a rice paper and eat on the go!

Moving on to our entertainment for the evening, it was a choice of a foot massage or karaoke. Now, I love to karaoke as much as the next guy but apparently not as much as the Vietnamese. They took over with all foreign songs and I attempted to have a conversation about sticky rice wine with the 78 year old man that was a captain in the war and served 35 years. I didn’t understand a word but found it entertaining to hear him try to explain the wine making process as I waited my much anticipated foot massage. Once my turn came around, I had an 8 minute massage I guess. It was more of a lower leg slap with a few seconds of actual foot “massage.” It was free so what can you expect. Time to retire to the room for some air con and sleep. Being put on this boat, there was no real mingling time with others due to the language barrier so sleepy time came early. For a second there I wanted to jump ship and go to another rocking boat that I could spot dancing and American tunes but I refrained and just enjoyed the relaxation with a cocktail in the room.

8am was the wake up call and we had some simple breakfast and packed up our bags to hit the main land for a bus trip to the national park. We were reunited with some of the westerner folks from the day before and I also met a sister duo from North Carolina. It is nice to chat with fellow Americans every now and then. Once at the park we were given the option to trek or cycle. I chose the 11km cycle because I wanted to see the “hospital” cave used in the Vietnam War and never discovered by the Americans. This cave took 3 years to build and was used for 10 years. It was filled with operation rooms, meeting rooms, a large cinema room and even a small pool. I know what you may think, kind of odd for a hospital cave to have a cinema and a pool, right? Indeed. Maybe the guide just told us that to make it seem more exciting. He also showed us an area that he claimed was used to “practice” fighting and that you have to duck down back and forth through a lowered section of the cave. I gave it a go and tried it but thinking back it did seem strange to have that as well.

After our 11km cycle with our single geared bikes, we met back up with the other half that did the trek and made our way to Cat Ba pier and on the boat again to Monkey Island where we would have lunch and stay for the evening in bungalows. I took in a little beach lounge time then trekked up to see the only monkey on the island with the other American girls, Isabella and Eva. We made our way back down to the beach just in time for “happy hour” on the floating bar. HILARIOUS! Basically, the floating bar was a dingy that said “bar” on the side and our guide inside it with a bucket of some alcoholic punch. It was a great way to get everyone in the water and on tubes to paddle out to him for our free cocktail. Everyone began to mingle and just enjoyed the water with some refreshments. There was one couple from Germany who wanted to stay on the island badly but no more bungalows were left. Phuk offered them a tent and I knew they had no shower. I ran it by Lisa before but offered them our place to shower before dinner. Traveling in a camper van for a month in Australia I really knew the importance of a nice shower every now and again. The offer was out there but they said they didn’t need one.

Beach time is done and back to our bungalow to rest up and shower. We also made a little cocktail for ourselves and just chatted a bit when all of a sudden we had a knock on our door. The Germans wanted a shower after all. No worries. We stayed towards the front and let them shower in the bathroom. Who can deny someone’s wanting to be clean?

BBQ dinner up next. Yippie! Lisa and I ate with the 2 American girls and can’t say I left the table hungry. This girl was stuffed. We chatted a bit before they other girls called it an early night and Lisa and I sipped some of our homemade cocktails before mingling with others at the beach. Turns out the Germans were very cheeky. Ok, so I told the German girl how I used to go to campsites with my van in Australia and sneak a shower. It’s not that bad, it’s a shower. I guess she thought I wouldn’t mind her telling me what she all did. I was in shock and Lisa couldn’t even speak to her after what she all said. Basically, they not only took showers at campsites but would sneak in and use the power for their van, then break the laundry machines to wash clothes. I couldn’t believe it. They did this night after night and what really got to me was when she said they would go into the community kitchens and steal food. That’s where I draw the line. Once you’ve messed with my food, it’s over as far as I am concerned. You have to think that the people you steal from are no different and just trying to travel on a budget as well. Not to mention that comment brought back memories of someone stealing my food in Melbourne. Not cool. The girl was a bit drunk and that is why I think she rambled on so much but I will say that I kept a very close eye out for my things after that and I was so glad that we didn’t leave them alone in our bungalow to shower. She didn’t deserve my good deed of giving them a shower.

It’s nearly 1am and I was off to bed for a great night sleep in the air con bungalow. The rain started to come down at 3am and I love sleeping in the rain. I also had a laugh because the Germans were in a tent outside. What goes around comes around I like to think. The next day we had breakfast and then it was making our way back to Hanoi where we would later catch a night train to Sapa. Yes, a very long day of transport by boat to bus to boat to bus to chilling in Hanoi before a night train to begin a new adventure. We stopped off for lunch before the final bus ride and because we had a night train to catch our guide put Lisa and I on another bus that would get back to Hanoi faster. Lesson learned once again, never change buses. We were on a nice greyhound type bus but were moved to a local mini van packed with people and a very crazy driver. I tried to sleep while Lisa was crammed in the back seat with 5 others and spotted a dead body out the window. Not to mention, we did not get to Hanoi any quicker than the original bus. I guess “handsome guy” just thought it would be amusing to mess with some westerners once again. It is 5pm and rainy and we just dropped our backpacks off at Kangaroo Travel in Hanoi and have 2 hrs to roam around, grab some grub and be back to make our way to the train station for a night train to Sapa.

Aside from our full Vietnamese boat trip and the return bus from hell, it was a great experience. Thank God we were reunited with others the second day and I am glad I did the trip. Sure, it could have been much better if we were with a different group but we made the best of it and I honestly feel that one of these days my luck will change and perhaps I will be on a tour with just myself and 10 hot blokes vying for my attention. A girl can dream, right?

Jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 20:47 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

LTD! There is no turning back now...the adventure continues

can't end this journey yet so I'm off to Hanoi, Vietnam

sunny 95 °F
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Today is June 3rd and I woke, wait, I never slept last night. I managed to get a taxi from the Conrad Hilton in Bangkok to the airport at 4am after a late night gym workout til 230am then a shower in the spa area of the hotel. I must say the back seat of the taxi was quite comfy and I slept there for 30 minutes on the way to the airport. When I really wanted to be in a traffic jam so I could sleep, there was non. Murphy’s Law one could say! See, I had to check out at 6pm and managed to get some cardio in around 6pm before I headed to the executive lounge until 11pm for wifi, chats and some awesome grilled tuna. Then, back to the gym where it is 24hrs. This girl had it all planned out. Homeless at the Conrad for night two. Once I arrived at the Bangkok Airport in my zombie state, I managed to check in and wondered a bit then off to my 650am flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.

If you didn’t gather by now, or I failed to mention in a previous update, well, it’s official! I am NOT taking my return flight back to the US from Sydney on June 9th, rather continuing on with this travel journey for a while longer. I will put the return on the back burner and take in each day as a new adventure. I am lucky that my friend Lisa is waiting for me in Hanoi and will have a hotel room waiting for me when I arrive sleep deprived. I boarded the Air Asia flight and hoped for a sleep but it was as if I stepped into an ice box. I think I had 2 minutes total of shut eye in 2 hours. Once I landed in Hanoi, I had to get my visa, go through customs and buy a new SIM card for my phone. Although I was very tired, I was excited for this extension of my 11 month trip thus far.

It’s 9am and this girl needs transport to the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. As I headed to the city bus, I found another form of transportation that was $3 USD for the 40 minute ride. Funny enough I happened to be in the shuttle with 2 fellow Wisconsin-its from West Bend. They just left Korea after breaking their 1 year contract of teaching English to travel before heading back to Chicago. We chatted a bit but seeing none of us slept at all we were all a bit “loopy.” We did notice straight away how the motor scooters and cars took over the road and found it amusing how walkers had to play a “frogger” game to go across the street. We were informed to walk slow so cars can see you and go around you or to tag on to a local when crossing the street. Hell, I will just jump on a locals back if need be to stay alive! Another guide told us to just close our eyes and just walk and hope for the best. Not sure if I like that approach but we will see on that one.

As I mentioned, Lisa had a place waiting but I managed to get dropped off at the wrong location so had to walk a bit before my hotel arrival and spotting my amazing bed with my name on it for a snooze. She knew that I would be flat out tired and gave me the double bed while she got the single. Bless her! It has only been 5 days since I last saw her but it felt like ages ago. Mind you, when we parted I figured I would keep in touch via face book and not see her again but that train ride back to Bangkok did make me realize I must continue onward with this journey. No more crunch time on schedules and I will make my way down Vietnam and over to Cambodia with her until se departs on July 1st and me, well, it’s a mystery from there.

After 4 hours of much needed shut eye, I found Lisa again and we ventured out to get some spring rolls and check out travel options. She knew of my latest addition to fresh spring rolls and already spotted a place before I arrived in town. We ran into a very nice women that gave us something to think about in terms of a Halong Bay and Sapa tour over the next 6 days. Then, we made our way back near our hotel and found a laundry finally after 3 hours of carrying our things around (mine stunk so bad I thought it was going to grow legs and walk away). Next up, we wondered to the Gecko Bar for free wifi and more grub for me because I was hungry. I was turned off by the “smoking allowed” and threw some nasty looks at people but I feel I am allowed. After all, it is MY health they are affected. As I ate, Lisa (being the accountant) worked up a budget plan and travel itinerary (a first for me in this year of travel). Perfect!

One day down in Hanoi and I managed to refrain from shopping, however, found this little shop that I adored and reminded me of the brand Free People back home. It also made me think that I too want to have a little shop of homemade things. Okay, enough rambling. I did manage to call my dad via skype and loved the cheap calling prices. Cheap as chips I tell you. You all must use this service because it is great. Better late than never for me.

Day two in Hanoi and what better way to begin than to try write some of my blog as we watched some touching movie on HBO. Lisa went about to roam to a coffee shop as I set out, mapless mind you, to run around the lake. I knew it was a right, left, right turn out of the hotel and then the lake. I had a great 3 loop run then found a Nike store which I refrained from any purchase but did find out they make it all in Vietnam as well as North Face. I chatted with a lovely Canadian couple that informed me on this as they spotted me sweating in the store from my run.

I set out to head back to the hotel but got caught up on watching this cute little boy playing in the streets. With his dad’s permission, I got a photo with the little guy and he really enjoyed the camera. He also was interested in my sweaty tank top for some reason.

Moving on, I set out back to the hotel but in the midst of it all I ran into the Wisconsin couple again and got to talking, which led to me losing all sense of direction and my 5 minute walk back turned into a 45 minute mission. Thank you to the girl her gave me a free motor scooter lift back to the church that I used as a land marker back to the hotel. A quick shower was in order then off to the prison in which John McCain was held captive during the Vietnam War with many other pilots. I saw his flight suit and read up on the US prisoners and what they did during that time. I know what you may be thinking, me getting involved in some sort of history lesson?? I shocked myself on this as well. Let’s just say there were treating very well compared to others in that prison. I saw pictures of them playing baseball, basketball, volleyball, getting letters from home, watching movies, decorating the Christmas tree and all sorts of stuff. I also saw the cells where the others stayed and it wasn’t very nice. My LA studio seems like a giant compared to their cells.

Later on, it was time to meet up with Lisa and make our payment on the next 6 days of adventures. We headed back to the sweet lady at Kangaroo travel and found 2 couples that just returned from Halong Bay. I was glad they enjoyed their experience and with a bit of my negotiating skills, I was able to get a great price for the two of us. It’s a done deal, I have a plan for the next month. Wow! This commitment phobe has a PLAN!!!

The day is drawing dark and we headed back to the hotel with a new friend in tow, one of the girls that came off the trip, Kelly. She needed a place to stay and was going to check out our hotel, however it was full and she went across the street. Her and Lisa hung out a bit as I tried to find this corner vender for a north face backpack I eyed up after my run. Just when I about gave up, I found it. I had to buy it even though it was fake, gave my much better pack to Kelly and the three of us got some grub. I will say I was NOT at all happy with the restaurant. I said over and over again NO PORK, NO MEAT. I thought something tasted different in my spring roll and I accidentally ate some chicken. Refusing to eat the second roll and after a bathroom stint, I went back to the table feeling ill (sure I bet some may be in my head but I felt very bad for doing it). Never will I eat meat willingly unless I am fighting for 1 million dollars on Survivor.

The night is still young, well, not really but I am. Okay, just flatter me PLEASE. Kelly and I hung out a bit chatting about the US and her curiosity about my long travels and my ability to adjust back to USA ways. It never occurred to me until then and I must admit I am a bit frightened about it. You mean I can’t wear flip flops everywhere and worn out shorts and a t-shirt to any restaurant and get good grub for cheap? What? I have to wash my hair, maybe wear some makeup and look in a mirror?? Yikes! Let’s just worry about that all later.

Being the negotiator that I am, I got us a few mango/vodkas at a good price. I don’t mean to brag but Lisa did tell Kelly how great I am at haggling for great prices but I never did it on alcohol drinks before. There is a first for everything. It is common sense that no price is set in stone and you really learn that when traveling third world countries.

After a great night of a few drinks and conversation this girl was ready for bed as the morning would come far to soon. On my way back to the hotel, I noticed a Dutch girl wanted to chat so I did. She was in a bit of a pickle with money and a visa as she was apparently “staying” with a wake board instructor for free and he had all her stuff. I couldn’t be bothered too much though and went to bed shortly after.

It’s June 5th, 2010 and what better day to discover Halong Bay (well a bit of sun would be nice). Usually the tours start a bit later than the time given but not when you count on it, oh no, then they come early. My shower was short lived as I got a call from the front desk saying our guide was waiting for us. I scrambled to get all my things in order and head down for a bus ride to the boat where we would be staying overnight. Bring on Halong Bay and hopefully a great crew of fellow travelers like Kelly had on hers. After all, the people you surround yourself by really make or break the fun factor.

jk livin'

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 20:41 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Train ride that changed my travels once again

Headed back to Bangkok, Thailand on my way back to catch my return flight to the US...or so I thought.

semi-overcast 91 °F
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Today is May 31st, 2010 and I woke up in car 6 #9 upper on the train. This is crazy thinking of what to do. Before I went to bed, I chatted with a Scottish girl about continuing my travels and postponing my US return. I went to bed weighing out my options. The reason I had such trouble was that my original United ticket would expire on June 9th. I could not change in anymore because I booked it on points. With that said, I would have to buy an entire new ticket and one ways can get hefty. I did find a few deals and worst case I buy another round trip making sure I will come back to Australia some day. That is a must anyway because my God daughter lives in OZ.

After weeks of contemplating and basically traveling with the idea that I would need to be in Bangkok by the 1st of June, I made a change of plans. I spoke to my grandpa and I am going with my gut on this one and headed to Vietnam instead of back to the US. I love and miss him and really wanted to surprise him and the rest of the family (I kept telling my mom I wasn’t sure when I would be back but I really planned on this surprise for some time now) but I promised him that I when I returned to LAX I would soon come back for a long visit and we will have to go to the lake, maybe even golf.

Decision made and I will remain optimistic and randomly check for flights back to the states either from Asia or Australia. It depends if I go back to the Cashman’s for Anissa’s baptism and if so, maybe pick up some shifts at the pub to pay for my return flight. My landlord (seeing my stuff is still in their garage, my mail still goes there and my jeep is parked there I figured she is still kind of my landlord) Linda gave me the “thumbs up” to stay traveling while I can. I am very fortunate to have this continued opportunity and owe them so much thanks. When ever will I have this freedom again? I am not returning to US soil just yet. What I do and when I return is still a mystery but one thing is for certain, this girl is staying abroad.

Okay, with that all settled, a weight of time crunching has been lifted and I suddenly feel a calming sensation of just going with the flow and taking things slow. Just when you think you can’t feel any more free you give yourself the gift of time. I am not looking at my return train back to Bangkok as a waste but a time to regroup and figure out my next move. Should I meet back up with Lisa in Vietnam or go up through Cambodia first? It is nice to have a travel buddy and even if I just meet up for a bit that would be fun. Settled, I will search flights for Hanoi, Vietnam and rush a visa on arrival application.

Now where does a girl like me stay? Go to the touristy street of Koh San? Or give in and go to the Hilton to be pampered a bit? After 1 hour of internet and chatting with a bloke I decided to do the touristy route and go on the city bus for 45 minutes to Koh San. In the middle of the bus ride I decided to do the luxury and do what I love, the Hilton in Bangkok. After my 1 ½ hour city bus excursion I arrived at the Millennium Hilton to be pampered and given a great room once again. I timed it perfectly because I still have time for free breakfast, a lot of it mind you.

Next up, a few minutes on the internet and skyping my mom then a bit of lounging at the pool and a proper gym workout. The rest of the day was filled with random transportation leading me nowhere but have no fear, I had free happy hour and food again. It was too late to get to the Vietnam Embassy so the concierge suggested that I go take the city boat to Koh San (remember I was there earlier via bus??) to the Air Asia tour place. You mean to tell me that there are no tour agencies around the hotel? Really? Now mind you that I did email the embassy earlier for a quick visa response but did not get to the email again. I tried downstairs but no luck so I went to the boat like he mentioned. I will chalk it up to adding another local transport to my day. It was no way 25 minutes like they said though, it was a 2 plus hour journey that got me lost and I had a Thai schoolboy help me.

I have to admit that in all my travels I did not ever feel this lost and confused but I couldn’t help but have some tears trickle down my face. He saw my frustration and bless his heart he made sure that I got off on the correct stop and to a tour place. Turns out that I didn’t need to come here at all. I found a hotel to let me check my email and I HAD THE VISA ON ARRIVAL ACCEPTANCE LETTER! Live and learn once again. I was so grateful for this little boy. He spoke very little English but the language barrier was not a factor when he could see the frustration in my face.

In addition to this long boat ride for nothing, they dropped me off on the wrong pier and once I got to the correct one, the Hilton free shuttle was not there. A water taxi saw me and helped me get back. Bless him too. This girl needs the executive lounge and free drinks and food. Not to mention free internet. I checked on flights to meet Lisa in Hanoi and instead of buying one for the day after tomorrow, I figured I would do it in the morning and hit the night markets first. Crazy Trish! Really? You would think after many times of this procrastination that I would buy tickets when I see them already! Not to mention I took the boat to the subway to a train to find out no night markets due to the chaos again. This shit today was just crazy! I like to think that I acted like a local and took on 3 forms of transport for nothing really. No more. Back to my safe haven of the Millennium Hilton and a great night sleep.

It’s a new day and I think I will check out late and roam around the city and stay in the executive lounge until 11pm then hide out until about 4am to get a taxi to the airport. Well, that didn’t happen. Why? I had my credit card information all ready this time and clicked to buy the ticket for the next day, June 2nd, but I wasn’t able to purchase it. What? I needed 24 hours in advance. Knowing all my past mistakes you would think this girl would learn but for some reason I like a challenge and to make things difficult for me at times. I refused to trace around the town again and pay double to get out in the morning. I made a decision to purchase for Thursday, June 3rd, and decided why not try the Conrad Hilton in the business district for a change? I know I will be traveling rough for an extended amount of time now (no return flight in sight anymore) so I am going to splurge one more night.

The rest of my Millennium Hilton stay was spent doing a nice workout, a great shower and then I went on the local boat again to find the Golden Buddha. I know, I used that darn boat again but felt confident this time that I would find my way. Also, the concierge also said I just got off on the 3rd stop, not the last stop this go around.
My arrival to the correct pier was a success and what followed, well, you will see. Bangkok is full of tuk tuks (a motorized three-wheel transport with a throaty cough from the two-stroke engine) and you must bargain and agree on a fare before accepting a ride. They approach you all the time and I asked for directions to the Golden Buddha but they insisted it was far and wanted me to get a ride. I preferred the walk but then settled on a cheap fare of 10,000THB (19,000=$1USD) but I had to agree to hit the Thailand fashion district first, act interested in getting a dress made for 10 minutes then in return they would give me free gas for the tuk tuk driver. I did it but got hassled by the sales guy for not making a purchase, then the Golden Buddha was closed (fortunately a man let me in anyway because he felt bad for me). My driver was set to wait for me but go figure he got his gas and didn’t care anymore. I came out and he was no where in sight, but guess who I ran into again?

What a small world, it was the Thai schoolboy again to the rescue. Him and his friends walked me all the way back to the pier where the Hilton boat drops you off. We were only 10 minutes walk away the entire time. That means I never had to get on the boat in the first place. I couldn’t help but walk through the streets with a smile on my face as I was being escorted by 5 school boys through the city and they really watched out for me, keeping me close on the side of the street so I would not get hit by a motor scooter or tuk tuk. The Hilton boat was occupied so they insisted on paying my fare on the public boat over. They walked me to the door of the Hilton. This reassured my faith that not all of the Thailand people are out to rip you off and that the youth of this country are very helpful.

Next up, the Conrad baby! I like to arrive in style to this 5 star resorts so I grab the free boat over the river with my backpack and instead of taking the sky bus I opted for the motor scooter adventure ride across town. Upon my arrival, I was directed to the executive lounge for a VIP check-in and welcome wine. Time to hit my lavish room to refresh and back to the lounge for food and drinks. I chatted with a US bloke that was working at the Embassy down the way and informed me how quite the area is due to all the craziness of Bangkok. I stayed in for the evening and took in a marvelous breakfast of all that I could imagine the next day. I got into the “business character” and read the morning paper with a hot chocolate as I took breaks from taking in massive amounts of food.

Time to roam the city from a different location. I had my retail therapy and was very impressed with my ability to refrain from any real purchases because I am backpacking. It was nice to try the new Jo Malone fragrance and see some USA type stores vs. all the markets I usually hit. It kind of made me homesick and rethink my plan of staying longer but I can’t go back on that now. I walked down to MBK and saw all the damage from the fires of the rioting and just took in the city. I stumbled upon the Gourmet Market and it reminded me of Whole Foods Market back home. This girl loves free samples. I even bought some green sticky rice and boy was that sweet and tasty.

Let’s hit the gym shall we? Back to the hotel and I have a 6pm checkout. This girl is homeless at the Conrad Hilton for night two. I bet not many people can say they’ve gone from executive suite to homeless in 1 day. I love the randomness. See, my flight isn’t until 650am the following day (June 3rd). No worries. My house of a backpack was being held at the front and I packed all I needed in my day pack. I managed to do a 60 minute cardio session then up to the lounge for great grilled tuna, some wine and wifi. 11pm came quick and back to the gym. I had it all to myself and next thing it was 2am and I had a nice shower in and decided to lounge out in the locker room for the next few hours. I still had the room key and because I thought I forgot something I decided to see if it worked. Sure enough, I was able to get in and the room was free. As much as I wanted to dose off on that bed again I refrained and went back to the locker room for a lay down until 4am. No sleep going on here so I figured going to the airport early would be best. I am optimistic that my lack of sleep with pay off by an extended journey in these foreign countries.
I know what is going through your mind, this girl HAS lost her mind but really I do meet people traveling like me all the time. Okay, minus the Hilton runs perhaps.

I’ve done my time in Bangkok once again and this girl needs to go to Vietnam and see what comes of this extended trip. LTD Baby!

Jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 20:37 Archived in Thailand Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

12 hrs of torture in a mini van led me across the border

Road trip to Vang Vieng, Laos

sunny 91 °F
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Any avid road trip fans out there? Bet you are jealous of my 12 hour minivan ride from Chiang Mai to the Border of Thailand/Laos that left at 7pm with a 7am arrival. Reclining seats? Who needs those. Heck, I didn’t even use a seat for the majority of the ride as my butt hated me after several hours and I decided to curl up in the leg space with my legs strategically place on the floor to get around the seat mountings as well as watch out for others belongings. A little dirt, foot odor (actually I grabbed a foot once because I thought it was part of the seat and only 3 inches from my face), and engine heat coming from the floor never hurt anyone. Thank God because if it did then I would be in pain. I gave my seat up for Lisa to give her extra room in exchange for me having her foot space. Who looks like the winner on that one? Not me but that was my good deed for the day, heck the entire month!!

Are we there yet? No, we did make quick toilet breaks but then around 6am arrived at the breakfast spot but had to wait until 7am. We all stayed in the van and left the door open for air. Me, still on the floor. This time I even had some free foot treatment. Some random dog hopped in and started licking my feet. I just went with it and soon our free breakfast as promised was ready. Thank you for 2 pieces of toast and a dab of jelly. Don’t give us too much! Luckily I had some dried mango to hold me over as it would be a long journey through the border and the rest of the bus to bus to another bus ride until we landed in Vang Vieng at around 4pm. Thai time strikes again. Did I mention the rain as well? What a great day for travel.

I don’t want to confuse you with thinking I am complaining by any means. I am trying to paint you a beautiful picture of my van ride from Thailand to Laos. Glorious but only needed to do once in my life. It’s kind of like “been there, done that!” Upon our arrival we checked in to Maleny guesthouse for a great rate. We had a television and air con. Not too shabby, especially coming off that amazing van ride last night. Let’s see if I can stick to my 3 night rule again on this trip.

Vang Vieng is known for bar hopping by river tubing as well as swinging, zip lining and taking a ride down the slide. I wanted to do some rock climbing as well but it was a bit expensive here. We ventured out and got some grub as we watched FRIENDS. I love this place because they have it on all the televisions in restaurants to lure you in and people just lounge all day taking in episode after episode. Little did I know then but most people were probably just hung over from tubing and wanted to veg out. I know that now because we did take part in the tubing experience and free whiskey shots will never leave one headache free. I don’t care how much water you drink before bed it just isn’t happening.

Just a random bit of information as well, sweet rice does NOT mean sticky rice. I was disappointed in that but ate as much as I could stand. I mean, I did get to see FRIENDS and felt a bit connected back to my roots in good old US of A.

You know when people say there is a first for everything? Well, today I set out to get a wax and I made friends with the girl next to me also getting a wax. Privacy really isn’t a big thing around these parts so again, we just went with it. I did have a great herbal stone massage that followed my wax. This was a true massage, no spine rubbing here. The night was pretty low key as we hit the bar across the way from us to share a bucket and use the wifi. I think at this point I may use my return flight and surprise the family at my parent’s lake house for Father’s Day! I will not tell anyone though and rent a car to get up there if need be. Again, not definite but definitely on my mind heaps as the end draws near to this 1 year adventure.

It’s Thursday May 27th, 2010 and I think a great day to take on this tubing adventure. I began my day with a very slow jog around the town, followed by some great sticky rice and mango with some boiled pumpkin (stoked to find that on the menu) and off we go on a tuk tuk with our tubes up to the starting point. We already know we will not be back by 6pm and will most likely lose our deposit. This place is crazy! It’s spring break central and we are playing the “fake” age game. Well, that was the plan but no one ever asked me so I never actually had to play. We began, or tried, to head down the river but all the bars are in the first 100 meters. We hit the first, then tubed to the second where we spent most the day. Small world because I spotted my “wax” friend and we chatted about places in Bali. I also told her they were break for waxing.

After our first bucket purchase, we zip lined, had some whiskey then started chatting with boys on gap year (meaning 18 year olds taking a year off to explore the world before university). Next thing you know, we are playing beer pong and some other games with the blokes. Our intention to float down the 2 hours on the river didn’t exactly happen (heck most people don’t even rent tubes rather just tuk tuk up to the bars so at least we did that). We lost out on our deposits due to our late return and we called it a night. Funny we both woke up at 3am in much need of water. We hit the streets for some late night munchies and called it a night, again.

I am sure you can guess what we participated in the following day, lounging watching FRIENDS, then moving on to another place for several movies and random chats with people. This place reminds me so much of the Gili Islands and Kuta in Bali where you can just watch movies and they don’t hound you to buy things to eat. Towards the end of the night I had to figure out a plan of action. I do think I will go back to catch my flight and hit Malaysia first. Lisa will leave in the morning but I decided to stay and do some cave tubing and a 15km kayak trip down the river, taking a rest stop at Mud Bar (one I did not go to on the tubing excursion). I got the email address of the couple I chatted with and we would possibly meet up for drinks the next night.

The morning came and I said goodbye to my travel buddy, Lisa. She was off to Vientiane at 930am as I was set for my tour at 9am. The cave tubing and kayak was so much fun and I met several other travelers and had great conversation. You can’t beat sitting in a hammock on the river watching mud volleyball as you sip an ice cold beer (just a sip for me when it is super cold because we all know I don’t fancy beer too much). Lounging, living, laughing and learning about others. Not too bad of a life right now. We got back in around 430pm from the day and I took a break before a night jog around. Guess what? I ran into that couple from the night prior. I met them back at the movie bar but they ended up staying out super late the night before and called it an early evening. I stayed and watched a movie with several others and looked for train tickets to Bangkok. I was unsuccessful so retired for the evening just as the rain started up again.

Another day is here and time for me to go to Vientiane then Bangkok on the night train…or so I thought. The train was sold out so I will meet up with Lisa in Vientiane for the night then leave the following day. I had enough time for a short jog then bought my 10am bus ticket out of Vang Vieng. BUS TICKET MY BUTT!! Okay so this trip wasn’t as long as the Chiang Mai trip but the bus, wait, the tiny small mini van (like an old dodge caravan that crammed seats to fit 12 people), was a 4 hour torture ride. Come on, really? I was left with the jump seat that didn’t tightened on the bottom so as we curved around the roads I would pop up a bit. Not to mention that I lost track after the 6th time the driver stopped to check the luggage he had strapped to the roof and made sure it was still in tact. Being the jump seat I also had no padding on the seat or a head rest. 4 hours felt like ages but I went with it because why? Because it is all part of the Laos experience. They say transportation isn’t glamorous and that is so true. Oddly enough, I asked Lisa later on her bus and she had a proper VIP bus (somewhat like a greyhound). Guess I got a bit unlucky on that one. You win some and lose some I guess and what I lost on this journey was feeling in my butt and almost my sanity at times.

The arrival and stay in Vientiane was short lived. I went with all the other “mini” van passengers into the city and then it dawned on me, I should try to see if there are train tickets left. I walked around a bit as I felt somewhat lost in translation. I managed to stumbled upon a travel agency and had her check the train. I got a 2nd class sleeper with air con. Looks like I won’t be meeting up with Lisa after all. I had the tour agency check flights in mid-end of July from Bangkok to LA and found a one way for $700. I also found a few good deals from Sydney. Hmmm, did I just make a mistake? If I go back will I regret not doing Vietnam and Cambodia? The closer I get to going home the more I feel I should stay. Am I keeping you in suspense? You will soon find out my decision, my final decision.

With my train ticket in hand, I did have 1 hour to grab some great grub. I wonder what I got, fresh springs rolls for take away to eat on the train perhaps? Indeed I did. In the meantime, I snacked on some grilled sticky rice in a bamboo shoot and fresh mango from a street vendor. 3:30pm came quick and there were 2 other couples and myself doing the same route. The more I talk to fellow travelers the more I want to stay. After a short train ride from the border into Thailand, we boarded the night train to Bangkok at 7pm. Arrival time in the morning would be 6am. This girl needs to have a plan of action by then or I am off to Singapore.

Bangkok here I come, AGAIN! LTD (living the dream)!

Jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 20:30 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bring on the Sunday night markets and my haggling skills

Back to Chiang Mai to my favorite restaurant and some gift buying before the next move

semi-overcast 87 °F
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It’s been a long day and we are glad to get back to the city of Chiang Mai to take on some shopping before we make our escape. Lisa is off to Laos and me, well, I don’t know just yet. It is Sunday May 23rd, 2010 and we just checked into the Nice Place Guesthouse down the street from the MD House, our prior Chiang Mai abode before leaving for the treks. A bonus on this place, just 1/3 of the price.

For those of you who know me quite well, you know I get my crazy food cravings and when I find a place I love I practically dream about it until I get to go back. Whole Foods Market perhaps?? In this case, the Taste of Heaven. Lisa wasn’t keen on joining so I ventured over for some fresh spring rolls and pumpkin in coconut milk. YUMMY! I hung out a bit trying to figure out online what to do next. Do I continue on and go to Laos with Lisa or do I make my way back down towards Singapore and get to Sydney by the 8th of June? Still no plan but what better way to relax my mind that to hit the markets.

Being Sunday, there are Sunday Night Markets along the old and new city of Chiang Mai. I used my bargaining ways to get some great gifts and even some local wine for myself. They had lychee flavor and I couldn’t pass that up. It’s 10pm and closing time for the markets. Time to venture back to Nice Place. I showed off my purchases to Lisa and settled in for the night. I have a decision to make soon, either buy a bus ticket to Laos to go to Vang Vieng or go to Bangkok in route back to Australia. Let me sleep on this one.

A new day has come and this girl needs to work on her blog and get it up and going. I am so behind on this journal of a year and really must ground myself for several hours. What better place to do it than at the Taste of Heaven restaurant. What felt like ages and maybe 3 meals later was just 3 hours on the computer. Lisa met me and we hit the day markets again. Although I ate sticky rice with mango and a mango shake earlier, I could not pass up another mango. We roamed around a bit then hit the night markets finally. The city curfew is now 11pm they are opened again. I picked up some more gifts and I now plan to send a package out in the morning. I was ecstatic to find a little shop with the perfect dresses and shirts. Total bohemian look and my style. Tonight would be the last night in Chiang Mai and tomorrow I will by a ticket for somewhere. Traveling without a plan or a map strikes again. Time for bed and let’s hope my sleep with bring me to some decision.

It’s Tuesday May 25th, 2010 and I decided what better way to leave a city than to take in a morning run. Good thing because I found the UPS store that I had to go to later in the day. As I ran I finally made up my mind, I would go to Vang Vieng, Laos for this tubing people talk so much about. I will suck it up and take a bus ride over night to go and then play it by ear once more. I will give myself a few days and then either move on towards Bangkok or ????

I informed Lisa of my decision and I said that maybe I would meet her there after she did another area. In the end, she decided to do the same route and do the tubing with me. Little did we know what nightmare of a van ride would be in our not so distant future. We spent the rest of the day doing some last minute browsing and shopping as we wore our ponchos in the rain. I hit the UPS mid day then back to my restaurant for some last minute grub and cocktail before our bus, I mean mini van, ride to Vang Vieng. Total travel time from door to door would be 18 hrs. Sound appealing to you? I think not.

Jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 20:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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