A Travellerspoint blog

Fiji

Robinson Crusoe island, Vousama village, Nadi, Mango Bay

sunny 35 °C
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Bula welcome to Fiji.

After such an exciting adventure in New Zealand I was worried what it would be like coming back to a country that was harder to travel. I didn't have a hard time adjusting, in fact I loved it from the moment I got there, it was hot and humid and a little rickety car transported me to my hostel that had a broken bed in a room with just a fan and a sheet and broken internet and a pushy receptionist who wanted to sell me loads of tours, that's what I love about travelling :-)

The hostel in Nadi was very basic but i got there late on the 27th and although i thought I had booked Robinson Crusoe island for the 29th it turned out when I went to the internet on the morning of the 28th that I was due to leave half an hour later so I rushed to grab some money and water to take to the island and ran to the bus stop where a bus picked me up to leave for the jetty.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Robinson Crusoe, I had booked it whilst in Oz as it looked like somewhere that might be lively for the new year. When I got on the bus I was greeted by a man with a painted black face and a machete who sang songs from countries all round the world to pass the time on the bus journey to the jetty. I then got on a boat that took us to a small island 7 acres big with palm trees in the middle and beach round the edge and a few huts. As we approached a group of Fijians were singing a welcome song on the beach for us and then our boat was attacked by a group of Cannibals....hmmmmm my introduction to Robinson Crusoe Island!

I did wonder how I would spend 5 days on such a small space of land with no escape, no internet, no food or drink except that they provided you with, and with a bucket of water for a shower, but I LOVED IT!!!!! Robinson Crusoe were some of my best few days of the whole trip. I soon discovered that I was one of only around 20 people staying on the island alongside the staff who worked there, on Tuesdays and Thursdays they had day and evening guests come to the island and on the Mondays and Wednesdays they had just day guests. The rest of the time the island was ours to do as we pleased. When the guests were there there was free snorkeling out to a reef where there were blue starfish and clams, kayaking, jewelery making from the coconuts, learning about the plants on the island, turtles viewing, crab racing and watching the traditional hula and fire dancing. As soon as the guests left the islanders would play games, drink Kava, light a bonfire on the beach and sing songs until way past bedtime and then relax on our own private paradise island in the morning.

Kava plays a big part of life in Fiji, and every time it is drunk there is a certain ritual to follow regardless of how informal the atmosphere. Kava is made from the root of a pepper plant which is crushed and mixed with water in a big bowl. It has the opposite effect of alcohol and makes you feel very relaxed and slow. Kava is drunk to welcome you to any place in Fiji, on any celebratory occasion and to say goodbye again.

It was New Year whilst I was there and we had 52 people stay on the island. We were allowed to pick whatever we wanted from the island to make tribal costumes for the evening and we had traditional warrior markings put on our face and bodies. The staffed cooked a massive dinner for us and then we had a Kava ceremony to welcome in the start of the evening. We then played some brutal island games which resulted in the majority of our tribal outfits being ripped to shreds and plenty of bruises being kept as mementos of the evening. After that it was general dancing, drinking and merry making to welcome in the New Year. As the sun came up on New Years day those survivors (of which I am proud to say I am one) went to the eastern side of the island and lit a bonfire to watch the sunrise, we sang songs and it was a very memorable moment, perfect way to end one of the best years of my life and start another one.

I was really sad to leave Robinson Crusoe but one of the staff on the island, Jowie, invited me to stay at his village for three days and to celebrate my birthday there. I was very honored and went back to the mainland to buy some Kava as a gift to the village for my welcoming ceremony. Jowie waited for me at the bus stop and brought me to the village of Vousama. 48 houses were in the village along with a church, it was far away from the main road so a supply van brought food twice a week but they had no refrigeration so only dry foods or food to be eaten that evening could be bought. I stayed in a house with Jowie, his grandma was also called Rebecca and i was told she would look after me as if i was her own grandchild so I should called her Nene yather (mother namesake), Jowies, brother, aunty, and two cousins also lived in the same house. I was surprised at how poor they were, when I had met Jowie working on the island I was naive to the fact that at home he would sleep on the floor with 6 of his relatives, use the same room for cooking, dining, sleeping and living all in a room about 14 ft by 10ft, the village had no running water so everyday they had to go to the local well to fetch some up for using to wash and cook with. Despite the little that they had they welcomed me and gave me everything they had. They welcomed me with crackers and butter and black tea and then it was time for my Kava ceremony. In the village they had an open air communal area,the chief of the village and around 30 other people all crammed in and sat around me. i was really nervous as I knew how important the ceremony was and didn;t want to get the procedures wrong. After they had mixed the Kava and blessed it they passed me a cup, i had to clap once and say Bula and then drink it down in one go, after I had finished I had to clap three times and hand the cup back. I had to do this with every new person that came in...that was a lot of Kava! Most people could speak some English but they taught me some Fijian so that I could be polite and converse with Nene yather and some of the older people in the village, everyone was so friendly and interested and let me ask them whatever questions I wanted about their life and life in the village. One of the guys had a job that took people from the Intercontinental hotel on his horse down the beach, he told me the next day he had a day off and would take me for free as a welcome gift from the village. I went to sleep that night and slept so well (probably the kava).

The next day was the 4th January, although it wasn't my birthday until the following day Jowie had to go back to work so he told me that they would celebrate my birthday that day instead so he could join in. It started with roti and coconut for breakfast followed by my horse ride on Natandola beach. The horse ride was great, we went to a cave and some ruins first where archeologists excavated the first people to arrive in Fiji, then we took the horse down through the water onto Natandola beach where we went swimming before heading home. The guy who took me was very nice but one of the first questions everyone in Fiji asked me was whether I was married or single and he was dropping lots of hints about how he would love a wife from England!!!!

When I came back from the horse ride Nene yather had been down to the mangroves and caught a mud crab which she then boiled in coconut milk for my birthday lunch. I was really honoured by this as the crabs can sell for a lot of money in the market, it was so delicious but I felt a bit awkward eating in front of everyone. I then went for a sleep and when i woke up they had made a garland of frangipani flowers to go round my neck and Ebbi, Jowies cousin, had brought me in one of her dresses to wear for the evening. To wash we went down to the local village well, I found washing really awkward as although they all wash down there and it is normal for them, lots of the children were staring at me as I looked different to them...it was an experience!

My birthday celebration began with the village preacher coming to give me a blessing, it was all in Fijian but Ebbi translated for me and I felt really emotional. After the blessing finished and we all sang a song in Fijian they brought out a big birthday cake with my name on that they had made and sang me happy birthday. Then the Kava began......some of the guys who could play the guitar came and played and sang traditional songs and before long we were dancing and a having a great celebration. I think I was the first to go to bed being a Kava novice and I slept soooooooo well!

On my birthday the 5th it didn't really feel like it was as I had celebrated the day before, one of the girls who I met on the Robinson Crusoe island came to the village for the day so i spent time with her and we were invited to various different peoples houses for Kava and lunch etc. That night was my final night in the village so we had a farewell Kava ceremony which replicated the first nights opening ceremony but instead of saying Bula to accept the drink, it was Mothe soto tali....goodbye and hope we meet again soon.

I headed to Mango Bay along the coral coast and stayed in a backpacker resort for 2 final nights before flying to Hawaii, the resort was lovely and I did my first dive since completing my open water in Thailand which was scary but fun, I swam in the sea and met some nice people but my heart was still back on Robinson Crusoe island and with the people in Vousama village.

My last day in Fiji ended on a high, I went back to Nadi for my flight and was greeted by the dive master from Robinson Crusoe Island Dan, he and his family are Indo-Fijian and I had told him all about my time in India and how much I loved the food there. He took me back to his families house in Nadi and his mum prepared me a big vegetarian Indian feast of chapati's and dahl and okra, and peppers it was really good and after wards he waved me off at the airport. I am so glad that Fiji is so close to Australia, I will definitely be going back there, the people and the culture have made me want to explore more of the South Pacific islands in the future.

Posted by BecciDrums 21:12 Archived in Fiji Comments (0)

5 countries in 7 days

Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia

sunny 36 °C
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In order to get to Indonesia I decided not to take the easy option and fly but to go overland!

I arrived in Bangkok from Cambodia and spent 2 nights on the Kho San road getting a few bits of shopping, and partying at the bars in the evening. I hadn't stopped off in Bangkok on my way up to the north of Thailand but I had been before to see the sights and I felt that the only thing left I had to do to complete my Thailand experience was to eat one of the fried bugs. A big red grasshopper was chosen for me...not the biggest bug (there were massive cockroaches on offer which I refused!) but not the smallest and after a few little squeals I managed to eat it in 2 mouthfuls bar the legs which I pulled off first as they were too crunchy! It tasted a lot like peanuts and I was very proud of myself, now I never have to do it again!

I booked the train from Bangkok accross the border into mainland Malaysia which took 24 hours but was very comfy with a sleeper seat and dinner and it stopped by the boat crossing to Penang island so I got off there and stayed for 1 night seeing the largest temple in Asia, staying in Love Lane and eating some good food in the evening as it was Ramadan and they had loads of food stalls on the streets after dark.

The next morning I got up early and caught the ferry back over to the mainland and hopped on the train through Malaysia and into Singapore taking 14 hours. I arrived in Singapore at 10.30pm at night with no Singapore dollars and no where booked to stay. Foolishly I expected Singapore being a relatively wealthy place to have a good train station with an ATM and taxis or maybe even some signs to the nearest bus or sky train stop but no! I wandered round for about 30 mins until I found the nearest ATM to get some cash then the bus wouldn;t accept me on board as I didn't have the right change, then when I managed to flag down a taxi the hostel that I had the name of had been knocked down to make way for ANOTHER shopping mall! Anyway I manged to make it to a lovely little hostel called The Hive and had the best nights sleep ever! The next day I changed my opinion on Singapore there was loads to do and explore if only I could get myself passed the shopping malls without stopping in every one. I failed and bought a lovely pair of shoes and 8 pairs of earrings which I am sure will come in useful in Oz! In Singapore I visited Little India, China town and the Malaysian Islamic area which was great fun after dark with everyone eating on the streets and I did manage to be a little bit cultural and visit the Asian arts museum.

Unfortunately my plan to go overland the whole way to Indonesia went a bit wrong when I realised that I could only get a boat to Sumatra. So I booked a cheap flight to Yogyakarta in Java and left on the 7th. 5 countries in 7 days...not bad.....but I was really looking forward to getting to Indonesia and chilling out for a while in my last stop in Asia before heading to Oz.

Posted by BecciDrums 01:09 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Cambodia

Phnom Phen, Siam Reap, Sihanoukville, Kampot

sunny 34 °C
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I arrived in Cambodia by bus from Saigon, it was probably the easiest border crossing so far...no problems and a luxury bus to carry us in! We arrived in Phnom Phen and stayed in the backpacker lakeside area. The lake was not the beautiful scenic scene described in the travel book but had thousands of dead fish floating in it, a big machine digging up part of the lake on the horizon, and as we found out when we got to our room, the bathroom was a hole straight down into the lake...no good for swimming and no wonder the poor little fishes were goners! I made a pact not to eat any seafood when we were there!

The accomodation we stayed in was right on the lake in a little tin roofed shack room, Phnom Phen was definately one of the hottest places I have been so far, in the morning we had to be out of our room by 8am in the morning as once the sun had been on the tin roof for a few hours it was an oven cooking us alive!

I had started reading a book called Stay Alive My Son about the life and escape of a family in the Cambodian genocide so I had an idea of some of the recent history of Cambodia but nothing prepared me for the visit to the S21 prison or the Killing Fields. We took a tuk tuk first to the S21 prison which was a school turned into the most notorious prison of the Khmer Rouge where they tortured and killed thousands of Cambodians. The prison has now been converted into a museum but the pictures on display are very hard hitting showing bodies exactly how they found them when the prison was discovered, and faces and pictures of the torture of hundreds of people who were held there some just young boys and girls. The head of the prison is currently under trial along with the rest of the Khmer Rouge leaders and we tried to spend a morning at one of the trials but unfortunately they were not on at the weekends when we were there.

Next up was the killing fields which have been tastefully made into a memorial ground and museum to honour the thousands of people who were murdered there and left in mass graves of up to 400 people per grave. They have made the area into a place that can be visited so that future Cambodians and visitors can see and learn from what happened during the Khmer Rouge reign in the hopes that nothing like it ever happens again. At the fields there were still remains of items of clothing left behind from those who had been murdered and a massive pile of skulls from the bodies that were found with heads including ones of children and babies. There have been some images I have seen that I will always remember forever and I think that this is one of them.

For the first few days in Cambodia especially as we travelled round the countryside I couldn't help but think about how places and people would have been affected during the time of the Khmer Rouge, but the more time I spent there the more I found that the people in Cambodia are the most fun loving in all South East Asia. Every where we went we could always have a joke with the younger guys and girls, the children were the best behaved children I have ever met, sitting on a bus on there mums lap for 10 hours and not a peep out of them and the older ladies on the bus would always wave a goodbye when they got off at their stop. The children were really welcoming to us, never shy always jumping around us and shouting hello and waving, in Siam Reip I was walking down the street when one young girl came and jumped up on my hip, popped a piece of the bread she was eating down my top and ran off again. It was definately the Cambodian people that made Cambodia a great place for me!

After a few days in Phnom Phen we got the bus up to Siam Reap in preparation for Angkor Wat! I was really excited until I found out that we were getting up at 5am in the morning in order to see the temple at sunrise but it was definately worth it. It was beautiful! That day we also went to Bayon the temple with loads of carved faces around it and the temple used in the filiming of Tomb raider which was really cool and had loads of trees woven in and out of the buildings.

I have been having a traditional massage in every country I have visited so far..what a luxury! In Cambodia the governement pay blind people to learn how to give massages in order that they can be self sufficient and earn a living so I went to have my first massage by a blind women in Siam Reap. It was pretty strange as the room was above her house in a backalley in the city, there was just a small fan, pretty dirty sheets, and a lot of grungy looking furniture... not the luxury I had come to expect from my massages in other countries but the massage was lovely all the same.

Siam Reap was where the 'Tripod' (me, Sarah, and Emma) that started in Laos came to an end with a very messy night that started with a Cambodian BBQ of snake, crocodile, ostrich, buffalo and chicken and ended being driven 100 meters round the corner in a tuk tuk as we had given in to the driver that had been hassling us all night! It was a sad day I loved every minute of travelling with Emma and Sarah and it was strange to know that in a few days I would be on my own again after 3 months of having travel buddies to rely on.

After the thrill of Angkor Wat there was not a lot left to do in Siam Riep although the bars and cafes were really nice there. We got a bus down to the very south of Cambodia to the beach side resort of Sihanoukville and stayed on a little beach called Serendipity. It was not really what I had envisaged and after the beautiful beaches in Goa Thailand and Vietnam I was a little bit disappointed. The whole beach was just one long line of bars with a mix of drunk westerners and Cambodian children who were trying to sell bracelets, give you a massage, wax your legs or give you a pedicure! It wasn't exactly the biggest confidence booster each day arriving to the beach and being told that my toe nails needed a bit of a going over and that they found a hairy patch on my legs! Anyway the last day we were there we managed to find a bit of the paradise promised..we went to a beach much further down the coast which only had about 10 people on it, no hawkers, beautiful clean sand and massive waves...bliss! I also spent a day at the national park boating through the mangroves, swimming in the sea on a beach with no one else on it, and watching the locals in the river catching oysters.....Happy days!

Sihanoukville was good for partying, cheap drinks, and cheap accomodation, there was a place called Utopia where you paid 1USD on arrival and then could stay in the dorm room for as long as you wanted...of course you had to put up with the all night partying right outside the door. We spent a few nights partying on the beach at a place called the Dolphin Shack, dancing on the bar and drinking free shots and meeting some crazy people...one of them was a guy from Alabama called Sherman something something something the third (would have been better if I could remember the something something something) he was a crazy American who had bought a cheap motorbike and biked from Vietnam down to the beach in Cambodia...he spent every night drinking and every day eating shrimp on the beach.

Sihanoukville was not the safest place, whilst I was there I was walking down the road with a German girl I had met and someone ran up behind her and tried to snatch her bag, then the next day at the beach some young boys came over to try and sell some t-shirts to us and managed to steal Sherman something something something the thirds wallet!

I felt like I had been to the main tourist hotspots in Cambodia but not really encountered the real Cambodian countrside and people outside of these areas so I decided to spend a few days in Kampot in the south east of the country. This was the best decision ever...what a lovely little town, it was so quiet you could ride a bike around really easily through the countryside, jump in the river to cool down, have a drink by the side of the river, explore caves....and the people here were so genuine and nice. I lost count of the number of times people shouted hello as I cycled past. We stopped for a break one day at a little shop and the people started sharing there food with us and letting us try their fruits and before long what had started with just 5 people in the shop turned into a massive gathering all just watching us drink water and eat fruit.
The day that we went to the caves we turned up to a group of around 8 children all running after the tuk tuk wanting to lead us into the caves and be our guide, we decided to let them all be our guides and had so much more fun because of it. Had we gone on our own we would have walked into and around the cave and back out again. With the children they took us through the cave showed us bats had us jumping up and over the rocks, squeezing through the tiniest gaps and eventually out the otherside. Brilliant!

I was sad to leave Kampot but I knew that my time in Indonesia was being eaten up the longer I spent in Cambodia so after a lovely 3 week visit I got on the bumpy bus over the border to Bangkok.

Posted by BecciDrums 01:05 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Vietnam part 1

Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay and Hoi An

sunny
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I arrived in Vietnam excited to learn all about the history and see a different culture to that I had experienced in Thailand and Laos. Vietnam did not disappoint! It is a very 'real' country and although it is now receiving a lot of tourists it has not compromised any of its charm or every day life as a result. Before heading to Vietnam we heard reports of the people not being as friendly or appreciating tourists as we did experience this but in a way that was part of Vietnams appeal...sometime in the guest houses you felt like they thought they were doing you a favour by giving you somewhere to sleep...customer service is pretty much not existant and the customer is almost always definately wrong.

We reached Hanoi after a 30 hour hot sweaty bus journey from Vientienne and treated ourselves with a nice air conditioned hotel room, the first glass of decent red wine in 6 months and some tapas! We stayed in Hanoi's old quarter which was crazy, loads of people loads of motorbikes, shops selling random things from Giant hot pink cuddly toys to fake money and red chinese lanterns. In Hanoi there are 8 million people and 6 million motorbikes and what appears to be no sense of road rules...crossing the road you have to be brave basically just walk at an even pace and the motorbikes will zip round you...very un-nerving and to begin with it took us ages although we were pro's by the time we reached Saigon. We spent the first morning queueing up to see the body of Ho Chi Minh the famous communist leader of Vietnam, his body has been preserved in the same way that Mao's and Lenin 's bodys have in their respective countries and he draws Vietnamese people and tourists from around the world to queue for hours and then spend 30 second looking at him. Vietnam is much more heavily influenced by China then Thailand and Laos had been so it was good to see some different temples and pagoda's as we were starting to get a bit templed out! On our first day in Hanoi we also made the great discovery of Fannys ice cream. It was a little French style ice cream parlour that did every type of ice cream falvour you could imagine from Durian to Green Tea to rice flavoured. We discovered that on the first friday of every month they held an eat as much ice cream as you can from 6.30pm to 11pm and thereafter the rest of our Vietnam trip was planned around arriving in Saigon for the first Friday of August in order to participate.

The next morning we left and headed up to Sapa a small hill town on the border with China. Sapa was beautiful, we took the sleeper train and ended up getting in at around 6am so the morning mists were surrounding the mountain and the air was so nice and refreshing in comparison to the humidity of Hanoi.

Sapa is home to many different hill tribes most of whom were all out to great us off the bus and from then on that morning we had our own fan club of Hmong women and children following us around trying to sell us their handicrafts and making general chit chat. We booked a trek for two days and one night and set off the next day again with our Hmong fan club in tow. The trek was supposed to be mild but was quite trecharous as the hills were really muddy and slippy, I had decided to go for the socks and sandals look as I sent my trainers home and my sandals rubbed a little and ended up putting my foot into a massive mud spat that soaked me half way up my leg within an hour of setting off. Luckily as we were getting hot and sweaty trekking we stopped at a lake and were able to jump in and have a swim. The Hmong women led us to their village where we had the famous Vietnamese Pho for lunch and then we were handed over to the Dzao tribes women who took us onto the next village and our homestay for the evening. To begin with we were a little disappointed with our homestay as our expectations were that we would be staying in someones house in a village however when we turned up it was a converted barn with beds and a pool table and a Kareoke machine. Disappointment soon turned into a fun evening though after we had a massive feast of local food and rice wine and then sang Kareoke keeping the rest of the villagers awake until about midnight. The next day we continued with our trek and made it another waterfall before heading back to Sapa. After a few days resting and not doing too much we headed to Bac Ha Market which brings Vietnamese people from around the north every sunday due to the different types of fruit and veg that can only be grown in that region and the colourful flower Hmong tribe who go there to find their husbands and wifes. The market was great and afterwards we got to go visit a flower Hmong village and were invited into their houses.

The Vietnamese love their food but they certainly see animals as food rather than pets I have seen some shocking sights.....massive pigs alive and strapped onto the backs of motorbikes on the motor way...dogs for sale at the market ...aswell as on sale in the dog meat resturants.....whole baby birds on squewers ready for the BBQ....and two little pigs in a bag with just their nose and eyes peaking out looking at their mate piggy being roasted on a spit roast (this was my worst one!)

The way back down from Sapa was not quite as comfortable as the way up, we got to the train station and they only had hard seats left for the journey...my oh my they were definately hard and we were knee knocking again the people sat on the opposite seats. We managed to while away the 9 hour night trip by one of us sleeping on the grotty floor underneath the seats whilst the other tried to make themselves comfortable on the wooden bench. Halfway through the journey just as we were about to nod off the Vietmanese train guards came and kicked and shouted at us..it was pretty frightening as we didn't really know what was going on or what they wanted, in the end they just wanted us to move our bags away from the window..I am sure there are politer ways of doing it though!Needless to say it was not the nest nights sleep ever and I was glad when we got back to Hanoi and checked into a hotel to finally get some sleep.

We booked a trip out to Halong Bay staying over night for one night on a junk ship, it was brilliant! Halong Bay was very beautiful with massive limstone peaks coming out of the water, we went kayaking off the boat and visited some caves in rocks. The trip was loads of fun only 12 of us on the boat in total so we stayed up under the stars drinking beer, playing cards. and eating good seafood.

Hoi An was next on the list, we bought an overnight bus ticket from Hanoi and arrived the next day. The Vietnamese bus drivers were crazy and I feared for my life, first of all we were cheapskates and decided to buy sitting seats for the sleeper journey so whilst everyone else had beds we just had the front two seats of the bus where we could see everything that was coming towards us as the driver overtook using his horn as a sign of making the people on the other side of the road move over a little bit so he could squeeze the bus through! It was Sarahs birthday the day we arrived so we celebrated in style buying her a tradintional Vietnamese cone hat and decorating it for her to wear around the bars in the town.
The accomodation in Hoi An was really good value aswell we got a hotel with a pool for 6 USD eacs so we jumped in the pool most days to cool off after exploring on bikes or having a busy day of shopping. Hoi An is famous for having loads of clothes and shoe makers who can make anything to order very cheaply...I manged to restrain myself just getting one pair of shorts made up and a dress and top for my mum. I am not sure how but although I sent a parcel home from Hoi An my rucksack is still incredibly heavy and requires strategic packing in order to fit everything in...I have also now aqquired another rucksack which also appears to be full to the brim!

Whilst in Hoi An I had a really bad toothache that painkillers would not get rid of so I succombed and went to a local Vietnamese dentist to sort it out...he was very nice and the room was clean although he wasn't the most gentle of dentists and I came away with a bit of a bloody mouth.

Hoi An had one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen, white sand, blue sea and hardly anyone there..the sand was so hot though you had to wear flip flops right down to the water. Whilst in Hoi An we went on a local bus trip to Marble Mountain and China Beach near Danang. We took the local bus there as it was supposed to be loads cheaper than getting a motorbike however what we did not realise was that the conductor of the bus would try his luck with us and charge whatever he wanted...finally after a lot of negotiation and stubborness we ended up paying just a little bit of the tourist inflated rate on the way there but the full tourist rate on the way back as we were threatened to be chucked onto the side of the road if we didn't pay. Marble mountain was really cool, loads of caves with marble temples and buddhas inside them. One of the caves was used by the Vietcong as a medical centre during the war although it was only a mile away from China beach were all the American soliders were resting and partying.

Nha Trang is a beach resort where the Vietnamese people come for their holidays, we spent a few days here..the first at a natural mud bath where we bathed in pools of mud then soaked ourselves off in the natural hotsprings before jumping to the jacuzzis and pools....great fun! The next day we went on a funky monkey tour of the islands which turned out to be a bit of a booze cruise. We only got off the boat to jump into the sea to a floating bar where we drank horrid shots(embarrassing for me as there were no life rings left and I had to wear a massive orange life jacket that kept popping open and bobbing me around with no control), the bar on the boat opened at 10am in the morning, the owner of the baot funky monkey got his band on board and gave us renditions of loads of badly sung songs from different countries...oh and we did some snorkling! Anyway it was great fun and the best bit was at the end of the day when we were on the beach of the final island and it started raining, instead of running under cover everyone just ran and jumped into the sea...definately the best place to be!

One of the nicest days of my whole trip so far was visiting a local orphange just outside Nha Trang, we were only the 3rd group of westerners ever to visit the orphanage and we spent the day playing games with the children, carrying round the babies, letting them take photos with our cameras and listening to them sing songs that they had learnt. The orphanage is not a recognised charity of NGO it is run by one women who takes in orphans from the local area, she provides food and clothing for them aswell as a place to stay. Some of the children had skin diseases as they don;t have a fresh supply of clean water but the hostel that we sayed with in Nha Trang is raising alot of money through various activities within the hostel and attached bar to get them the money for a clean water supply.

The Hill station of Dalat was next on the itinery and I was looking forward to going here for one reason...the Vang Dalat red wine....the best wine you can buy for a pound a bottle and kept us going for many a night in Vietnam!
As it was rainy season in Vietnam and Dalat was high in the mountains it rained here most of the time we stayed. We managed to book an easy rider day tour for the following day that we arrived. The next morning bright and early three easy riders came to pick us up and take us for a tour...there were two youunger guys who were both friends and then the leader of the pack! We got on the back of the bikes and off we went into the rainy mountains...the weather was a shame but fun all the same, we had to wear massive ponchos over our helmets and clothes! We went to a silk worm factory, saw and tasted the local rice wine being made, went to the local flower farms, went to see the coffee being grown and farmed and then went to the elephant waterfalls where we got soaked climbing underneath! It was such a cool day and the best bit was the scenary, driving along with the wind in your hair (well from underneath the poncho) seeing all the mountains and green hill sides.

The last point on our trip of Vietnam was Saigon...and we made it in time for the first Friday of August and the all you can eat Fannys ice cream buffet. It was a riot...we got there at 6pm and had to queue outside the ice cream place as there were operating a one in one out policy...inside was unbelievable in so many ways. First there was more than just ice cream that was all you can eat...they had a massive chocolate fountain, fresh fruit, ice cream cones, wafers, pancakes, chocolate sprinkles, organge juice, hot chocolate, sultanas and walnuts......an absolute sugary feast! There were about 4 ice cream bars with all the different flavours in them but instead of the organised queuing system that we would definately have in the UK is was a mass frenzy...basically she who shouted the loudest and pushed in the hardest got the ice cream! I managed to eat my way through 12 scoops of ice cream with generous lashings of chocolate fountain and a pancake before calling it quits...my fav flavours where cinnamon and ginger! One of the girls I was travelling with a tiny Chinese Californian girl managed to get through 24 scoops of ice cream and only stopped when she got a taste of the Durian flavoured ice cream that left a bad taste in her mouth.

Anyway that was a great introdution to Saigon and it only got better from there! Saigon is a really cool city, easy to walk about if you are brave enough to cross the roads with millions of motorbikes zipping in every direction. The only way to do it is to look the drivers in the face, walk at an even pace and hope that they zoom round you...failing that you will be standing at the side of a road for hours waiting . Saigon had loads of really cool outside eating places and beer Hoi drinking establishments. Beer Hoi on the side of the road was the equivilent of 10pence for a glass full so plenty of nights were spent there only moving to get a bowl of noodle soup. We went on a day trip to the Cuchi tunnels when we were there which was really interesting it was amazing and pretty scary to go down some of the tunnels they were so dark and cramped and small you could hardly believe that the Vietcong spent months down there. We learnt a lot about the Vietnamese war with America in Saigon and visited the war remanents museum which was the best museum I have visited on my trip and very moving. Some of the images on display I think I will rmember for the rest of my life particluarly of the people from the My Lai massacre and the agent orange victims.

I was really sad to leave Vietnam, it is definately my favourite place in South East Asia I have visited so far there is so much to see and learn and do, the countryside is so different every city you travel too and it really felt like we were in Vietnam having to get accustomed to their ways of living rather than them comprimising for tourists.

Posted by BecciDrums 00:54 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Laos

Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiene

rain 27 °C
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To get into Laos from Thailand I got the two day slow boat down the Mekong river from Chiang Khong in North Thailand accross the border and into Luang Prabang in Laos. The slow boat was an experience!!!! we started out at 8am in the morning on day one and arrived at 5pm on day two. There was an overnight stop off at a small little village in the mountains called Pak Beng but the rest of the time was spent on hard wooden seats exhausting all the travel games we could think of and drinking Sangsom rum and sprite to pass the day along. I met some cool girls and guys on the boat and two girls in particular Emma and Sarah I travelled with from that day for 2 and a half months until we had a sad farewell in Cambodia and went our separate ways! Travelling with them was brilliant fun, my alcohol consumption greatly increased in their company, as did nights partying, with lots of fun adventures, tears, and jokes inbetween :-)

Luang Prabang is a small town famous for its beautiful waterfalls and Buddhist temples. Laos is a previous French colony and still heavily influenced and so there were lots of little cafes dotted about the place selling salami baguettes, croque monsieur and croissants and not so much Laos food. We visited some of the temples in Luang Prabang and spent a day at one of the waterfalls swimming with the locals and jumping in from the rocks. The weather had been rubbish on the two day slow boat it rained from the moment we left Thailand but for the first time when we got to Luang Prabang the weather cheered up and was really hot. In the evenings there were a few little bars but a curfew runs in Laos which is enforced by the police so the only place that you can go after 11pm is the local bowling alley (which also happens to be run by the police...hmmmmm !) We spent a fun night bowling of which I was absolutely rubbish but consoled myself at the sight of 2 ladyboys bowling in the highest pair of heels I have ever seen. FUNNY!

After a few days in Luang Prabang we hired a mini bus between us all and headed to Vang Vieng. Before I went to Thailand I had never heard of Vang Vieng but everyone I met had a 'tubing in the Vang Vieng' T-shirt and I soon learnt that this small little village in the middle of Laos was a big party place where you jump in the river on a rubber tube and float down stopping at every bar along the way until you..hopefully... make it home.

Unfortunately...or fortunately :-) the weather when we were there rained so much that they shut down the tubing as the river overflowed. The only other things to do were to sit in traveller cafes watching repeat versions of Friends or Family Guy and I quickly grew very bored and wanted to move on! Before we left we did have a few good nights out though at Q Bar dancing the night away and one particularly messy day/night where we decided to just walk from tubing bar to bar instead of going down the river! We started at 4pm and by 8pm I had to go home to bed after having made it to only 4 bars due to the amount of extra whisky that was being poured into my whisky sprite buckets...a very messy few hours! The way home was a bit a of a blur but I vaguely remember humming the superman theme tune in my head to stop myself from being ill in the tuk tuk.

I was really glad to leave Vang Vieng and head to Vientiene which I had heard from some people was a bit of a boring place...i loved it though...loads of little cafes and museums and lovely places to walk and eat down by the river we spent a good few days chilling out there.

Laos has the unfortunate title of being the most bombed country in the world despite never actually having ever been at war. We visited a charity in Vientiene called COPE which raises money to look after people who have had limbs blown off by undentonated bombs of which there are still 25 million in the countryside. It was really sad to hear some of the stories as most of the victims are children and villagers who go out into the fields looking for scrap metal which they can sell at a high price to get money for their families.

I feel that I didn't really do Laos justice as a country as I only spent 11 days in total going amongst three of the most touristy places. The Laos countryside is beautiful, lots of big rolling hills and mountains, very green covered in forest, loads of caves and rock climbing and lovely little towns. As we travelled through the countryside most of the villages and smaller places that we passed were built from wood and people seemed to live very peaceful and basic lives in comparison to that of the rest of South East Asia I have seen so far. The people on Laos were very nice too, they didn't speak much English so we got to practice a lot more of the general courteseys in their language, Kup Jai La lai (thank you very much) was our favourate saying as it just rolls of the tongue!

We left Vientiene on a 30 hour bus journey to Hanoi in Vietnam after deciding not to opt for Laos Air which most insurance companies will refuse to cover you on due to the number of accidents and lack of EU standards being met. We had heard loads of horror stories about the bus journeys crossing the Laos/Vietnam border, where you don't get a seat and have to sit in the aisle or you are crammed up with chickens and goats for the entire journey or that at the Vietnam border they try to get more money out of you before they will go any further, so we set our expectations really low and were nicely suprised to find that we had good seats...no animals ...no extra charges to pay. As with most night buses we didn't get much sleep and the driver was a bit of a looney so with the money we saved from being (safe) cheapskates and not flying we arrived in Hanoi tired, grumpy, hot and bothered but treated ourself to the nice meal and a big bottle of red wine to make ourselves feel better which was definately worth it!

Posted by BecciDrums 00:41 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

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