Halong Bay: Birthdays, Boats, Bats and Buffalos

Hello all, this is a joint effort from both of us (Megan is typing though as Julia can’t spell and Megan is a ‘tad’ fussy about the written word!) 

As Ju wanted to go somewhere very cool for her Birthday we booked a 3 day/2 night tour of Halong Bay from our hotel in Hanoi.  The whole trip cost $45USD each and we didn’t really know what we would be doing, but we were content to have someone else organise us!  So on Thursday we were picked up from our hotel and made our way to Halong Bay with a small group of people from all over the world. 

After a 3 hour drive we climbed aboard a junk boat and cruised around the beautiful bay for the day, we went for a climb though the Hang Sung Sot Cave, swam off the boat, ate, drank and got to know the other people on the tour (4 Yanks, 2 Poles, 2 Frenchies, 2 Poms, 2 Aussies, 2 Koreans and 2 of us).

There are 3000+ islands rising into the mist from the green water with hidden beaches and grottos everywhere that are only accessible by boat!  It is absolutely breathtaking.   Here are some photos:

Halong Bay Harlong Bat A Junk Boat (just like ours)

Swimming in the bay was great, the water was so salty that there was no need to tread water to stay afloat – bliss.   We had regular encounters with ‘floating dairies’, little women on row boats stocked with food and drink for sale.

The floating dairy! 

Thursday night we slept on board the boat in a twin cabin.  While I caught up on some zzzz’s Ju went had had some beers with the people on the top deck of the boat.  On Friday, we woke up on the boat for Ju’s birthday….  Here is a photo of the birthday girl in her PJs outside our cabin!   What a stunning place to celebrate a birthday!   

The Birthday Girl!!! 
After a birthday breakfast, (consisting of very average food and a cabin of people singing happy birthday) we cruised out to Cat Ba Island – rugged, craggy and jungle like!  We got off the boat and a mini van dropped 2 Aussies, 2 Poms and 2 Kiwis (us) in the middle of nowhere for a 2 hour trek.

The 45 min climb up the ‘mountain’ just about killed us but once we got to the top it got a lot easier.  While the sweat was pouring off us “whities” in the 30+ degree heat, our 71 year old leader never sweated a bead!  It turns out he doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol AND he does this trek twice a day!  

The Trekking Team

Ju was a bit disappointed we didn’t get to see any monkeys, but we did spot 1 giant poisonous spider (6 inches in diameter with a yellow back), 2 pretty butterflies  (making a family) and a brief  but scary encounter with some local buffalo (who looked ready to attack). 

After trekking down the hill, we meandered through a long cave that the Vietnamese hid out in during the war.  The cave was a lot more peaceful than the one we saw on Thursday (no people except our group) and it was a real ‘bat cave’ (there were a lot of tiny bats fluttering around us).  

In the afternoon we set off on a smaller boat to go kayaking for an hour or so.  To get from the boat to the kayak was like something out of Survivor (as we had to navigate around a fish farm on thin wooden planks trying very hard not to fall in with the fish!) What is an afternoon kayaking without a bit of a race between the 2 kiwis, 2 Aussies, 2 Poms and 2 Vietnamese!  The kiwis came in first (yay) but it was a dirty race, so I don’t think  it would hold in a court of sports justice (the Aussie boys started it first though when they reminded us of the underarm bowling incident!!!!).  After all this hard work another swim was in order – we jumped off the boat and swam to a little island and back!  

Julia, Ann, Stu, Megan and Pete (the ANZAC team plus Ann our guide)

So… after the boat dropped us back off at Cat Ba Island, it was time for a feed and some birthday drinks!  We lost track of the Poms at this stage however the Aussies (Stu and Pete) and Ann helped us celebrate Ju’s birthday in cocktail style (cocktails are so cheap here).  Appropriately, the first stop was a Kiwi Bar…the Vietnamese owner’s hubby was from Dunedin, so there was New Zealand, All Blacks and Highlanders paraphernalia all over the place. We felt right at home!

Megan and Julia at the Kiwi Bar on Cat Ba Island

Ann and I went back to the hotel about midnight but Ju kept drinking with the boys till very late! (Silly Girl)

Saturday was a very loooooong day of hung over travel from 8am – 4pm!  I quote from Ju: “I will never travel long distance again after a big night out” (she wasn’t in good form at all).

So – that was Halong Bay!   What an amazing place.

      

Hectic Hanoi and the Banana Drama

Today we are writing from hectic Hanoi. Its pretty darn crazy in this city due to the fact that there are gizillions of motorcycles everywhere and because everyone toots their horn whenever they are close to someone else.   The situation is made even worse by the fact that the footpath is not for people, its for parking motorbikes, for streetstalls and pretty much anything other than walking! 

Words cannot express the craziness of the traffic here, in fact – even photos wont do the job!     For example, within our first 10  mins of Hanoi we spotted:

  • man riding motorcycle with dead pig hanging off the back (trotters hitting the ground)
  • man riding motorcycle with broken leg  (in plaster) holding on to his crutches
  • woman riding mortorcycle with stilettos and short skirt
  • a family of 2 adults, 2 kids on one bike

To cross the road in Hanoi you just walk in front of the traffic very slowly and the traffic will simply navigate around you – a suidicidal move in New Zealand but it actually works here!   

More motorcycles

 Motorcycles, motorcycles and some more motorcycles

Yesterday was really stressful as I (Julia) was half blind due to an eye infection (so no contacts) and broken glasses left in Bangkok.  This meant I had to wander around Hanoi the in craziness not seeing much at all.  Not good when gizillions of bikes are coming at you in a noisy beeping blur!   But no worries, I discovered that Vietnam is the land of cheap glasses!  Problem solved for $80USD which got me 2 pairs of new glasses and 1 pair of prescription sunglasses.   Score! 

So… a quick summary of what we have been doing in Hanoi: 

  • Walked and shopped till we dropped (literally,  we were exhausted)
  • Had a relaxing lunch by the lake Hoan Kiem (where the lucky giant tortoise makes an appearance every few years)

Turtle Temple 1 Turtle Temple 2 Hats a la Hanoi 

  • Wandered over the Huc Bridge to the Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) temple
  • Went to a cute Water Puppet show for a bit of Vietnamese culture
  • Ate dinner in a nice resturant with cyclo-bike seats
  • Bought a ‘real’ lonely planet which was actually a photocopy (thank godness I got the price down from $20USD!)

What else….  Well we got scammed by a woman selling bananas who convinced us to take photos of each other pretending to sell bananas wearing a silly hat and then promptly charged the equvielent of $8 NZD (non negotiable as the photo had already been taken).  We are never falling for that one again!!! 

Banana Drama

We nearly got scammed by the man on a motorbike who would have taken us halfway around the city to travel 20 meters down the road to the restaurant we wanted to go to BUT we are getting wiser now (thanks to Banana woman) so we didnt fall for it!  Yippee!

So thats pretty much been Hanoi, we are thinking of coming back for a day after 3 days of crusing around Halong Bay in a junk boat.  So this will be it  from us for a few days (as we will be too busy working on our tans to bother with technology).   Take care, keep smiling… we miss you all lots! J & M

Toilets, Tuk tuks, Temples and Titty Bars

Megan here – I was nominated to do the blog about Bangkok as I am looking through fresh eyes (Ju has been so many times before).  I think I can sum up Bangkok with the four T’s – Toilets, Tuk tuks, Temples and Titty Bars.

 Toilets – Yes, I had my first Asian toilet experience and I am still in councelling. Basically my technique involved a cross between a hover and squat over a little hole in the ground… the experience was traumatic.  There was pee everywhere and I was too scared of using the provided hose in case I sprayed the wrong way!  PS Thanks Ju for omitting to tell me to take some paper in…. I’ll be definately getting you back for that!

 Tuk tuks and Temples – Of course Thailand is renoun for its multitudes of Tuk tuks zipping around all over the place. “Fully Trick” little contraptions. I was keen to give one a go and I was also keen to see some of Bangkok’s impressive temples.

So we set off very late in the afternoon to try and see Wat Pho and Wat Prakaw before they closed.  On getting out of the taxi we were approached by a lovely Thai man who engaged us in an interesting conversation and advised us the Wat Pho was closed for the day and showed us on the map some other temples in the area that were open until 6pm, innocent enough right? 

He then told us about the last day of a massive ‘government’ tourist expo where we could buy cheap souvenirs.  Still sounded pretty good (especially because this guy works for a government department, had joked with us in English and Thai, talked politics with us and showed us a photos of his wife).   So our new friend “called” a tuk tuk for us and before we knew it we were wandering around the less than impressive “Lucky Temple”. 

Ju in the process of being conned The Lucky Temple

Anyway it turns out the tuk tuk driver would get  free tank of gas for taking us to the “souvenir expo”. When we tried to ditch him he was less than impressed and so we struck up a deal. We’d go to the “souvenir expo” so he could get his free gas if he would take us to Kao San Road (where we wanted to go) a win-win deal for all really! The “massive souvenir expo” that was hyped up for us turned out to be a mere jewellery shop. 

Yep we were well and truely duped!  Mai Pen Rai (Thai for no worries)we did get to see some really nice temples along the way….even if we didn’t get to go in.   Rule number one: Don’t fall for the scam – especially if you have lived in Bangkok before before (ay Julia!) . 

On arriving at Kao San Road, the skies opened and it poured down for a bout 30mins. Unbelievable. We wandered up and down before meeting up with Andrew and Robyn for a lovely dinner and a number of beers.

Rain Robyn, Megan and Andrew

 Titty Bars – No trip to Bangkok would be complete without a trip to Patpong, the famous red light district.  After consuming a resonable amount of beer (ok yes Robbie, it was a lot) to get up enough Dutch Courage (or is that Thai courage). We negotiated a deal for entry into an “establishment” (They made me do it dad, honest).

 Patpong

Without being too specific….I can honestly say I saw some things that would make even Ian Harrison lift an eyebrow….

Anyway – stay tuned same bat channel for Ju’s iminent update about Hanoi, Vietnam. Missing you lots. Love Megs

The trip begins!!

The trip begins!!! Megan and Mini-Moose arrived safely on Saturday night (much to my delight, its fun having ‘forang baa (crazy foreigner) travel buddies’.    

Yesterday we did a mission to Chatuchuck market working towards Megan’s goal of purchasing 43 handbags…. You think I am kidding?  I am not!!!    We managed to purchase 15 bags, 3 wallets, 4 pairs of shoes, 12 pairs of socks, a belly button ring, a watch, a crazy balloon, 6 T shirts and a cute puppy.  Ok, joking about the puppy – dad wouldn’t let me! 

So… the trip is on, lots of beer and yummy Thai food has already been consumed (thanks HardRock café for the great sounds).   Today we have packed our bags, taken a team photo and we are about to start our big adventure!    So… introducing the travel team:

  • Megan Barnes
  • Julia Baker
  • Mini Moose
  • Max the Kiwi (we reckon he is only half kiwi because he was probably made in China)   and….. 
  • the SD Travel Companions (thanks to the very crazy but cool Department of Labour, Service Design team, you guys rock)

 Team photo (click to enlarge)

Team Photo - Megan, Julia, Mini Moose, Max and SD Travel Companions

Some photos from the market:

Market foodA baby puppy perhaps?Puppy with Bling

My first week in Bangkok

Well, I have been in Bangkok for nearly a week now.  It’s been a lovely relaxing week of chilling out at dads, eating yummy Thai food, doing a bit of shopping and reading.

As Dad lives in the whop-whops one of the first things I got him to do was to help me fix up Pats bike I can get around by myself when everyone is at work [Pat is my little stepsister].   I very quickly learnt why Thais don’t generally do exercise outside – its too darn hot!   Yep, it was a stupid idea – but out of stubbornness I have ridden it nearly every day!

Favourite site while riding my bike: 2 guys on a bicycle, the back guy was holding 2 panes of glass!!!  No helmets, jandals for footwear and they were cycling head on into the traffic!   I wish I had taken my camera!

So its all fun and games over here!  Megan arrives tonight, we will be playing Tourist in Bangkok for a few days and then will fly to Vietnam on Tuesday (eeeeek I am so excited!!!).   I will post some photos of Bangkok before we head to Vietnam.

Welcome to my new weblog!

Hello everyone, welcome to my new weblog!  I had some ‘issues’ with my webhoster in NZ so I will use this as my online diary for a few months and then will upload the rest of my website later (when I get back from my 2 months backpacking).   So… why am I writing a blog I hear some ask (esp those who aren’t updated on the latest gossip or who don’t actually know me!).   WELL – I have finally quit my job and am embarking on my 3rd OE… the key difference is this time I don’t plan on working unless I have to!So far the plan is:

  • a week bumming around in Bangkok (nearly done)     
  •  2 months traveling around Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with my friend Megan.  We will also see a little bit of Thailand as we are using Bangkok as our base (my dad lives here)       
  • 1 month bumming around/learning Thai in Bangkok after Megan goes home        
  •  3 months Volunteering in North Eastern Thailand (teaching English)
  •  Catching up with a few friends who are going to visit me in Thailand (Aimee and Jono at the end of Oct, Albert for 2 weeks over Christmas/New Years)        
  • This is where the plan peters out… I think I will be broke so I might need to look for work (bummer).   Maybe I will get a job in Thailand or I could teach English in South Korea… who knows!

So, that’s what this website is for… to keep a record of my trip and to keep in touch with friends and family.   I hope you enjoy it!