Monday, September 26, 2011

Ha Noi

We've been in Ha Noi for a few days now so I feel like I can finally write down observations made thus far.

I really like Vietnam, though I say that about every country I visit. I can't figure out what other city Ha Noi reminds me of. It's cleaner than Bangkok but maybe not as international, though it's still very modern and convenient. It has a bit of a European feel, yet still historic and unique. So I can't say for certain, but I can say that I have enjoyed my stay so far.

We're staying at the Ha Noi backpackers hostel and it's a great place to meet new people. It's a bit more expensive than the previous cities we've been in but still much cheaper compared to home. We've spent the last few days walking around and exploring the city. We booked a boat tour of Halong Bay that leaves tomorrow which we're all really excited about. It's supposed to be absolutely breathtaking and I believe it was named a new seventh wonder of the natural world, though I may be making it up. We'll also celebrate Liana's birthday on the boat, something we're also looking forward to.

After our tour we're returning to Ha Noi for a few days, then Kavita will leave us to return to Korea and Melissa, Liana and I will make our way down the coast. Looking forward to all that Vietnam has to offer!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good morning, Vietnam

Well, we'll be saying that tomorrow at least.

It's our last full day in Laos and I've loved spending time in this country. We are currently in Vientienne, the capital, though we only have a short time before we fly to Ha Noi tomorrow.

We had a great time in Luang Prabang, and other than Bangkok it's been my favorite city so far. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site- it really was beautiful. On our last day, we woke up around 4:45 for an Alm's Giving, which is a food offering to several Buddhist monks. Truthfully, I don't know much about it, but I'll do research when I have the time. We woke up early to go to the street they walked down and bought rice to offer them, although you could also give bananas or cookies. The entire street is lined with people offering food as well, and when the monks walk past you give each a small offering of rice. I'm not sure if the monks eat the food or they offer it to the poor, but I did notice quite a few of them giving food to two small boys asking for some sitting next to us. But like I said, I don't know much about it.

After that, we made our way to the bus station for a "VIP" bus ride to Veng Vienne. Although the bus wasn't bad, we thought it would be fun to sit in the very front. We could certainly see everything from the driver's point of view, but it was also frightening since it looked like we would dive off the cliffs at every turn. There has also been a huge amount of rain, much more than usual, which also means an increased number of mudslides. Because of this, our ride took about 3 hours longer than expected, but better safe than sorry. We were fortunate it didn't rain during our bus ride, but it was a little surreal to see all the slides and the bulldozers clearing them.

Once we arrived in Veng Vienne, we knew we were in for a completely different experience.It certainly wasn't as clean or developed, but still very accommodating to foreigners. VV is famous for its tubing- where you basically sit in a tube all day, float down a river and drink along the way. We heard some unsettling things about tubing, including people getting hurt and the river having really strong currents, so we decided not to take our chances. Instead, we visited a lagoon to swim in fresh water and a swimming pool, which was without a doubt more relaxing and infinitely safer than tubing. Although I'm sure we would have been fine to go, we really didn't want to risk it.

We woke up this morning and took a mini van to the capital. It was way more comfortable and way less scary for about the same price.

My general overall advice for Laos: Definitely visit, but know what you want to do before you come. If you'd like a laidback vacation, stay in Luang Prabang. If you want a little more excitement and partying, stay in Veng Vienne. I haven't been in Vientienne long enough to recommend anything, but I like what I've seen so far.

Overall, I enjoyed Laos. There was a moment driving on the bus from Luang Prabang when a group of small boys playing in the river were dashing in front of the bus and running away... it really made me fall in love with this country and its people. Life is just so simple here. It makes me kind of sad to see how Westernized it has become, because in some ways these cities have no culture of their own (although this was only really evident in Veng Vienne). It would be interesting to see how these cities looked and felt 20 or 30 years ago. I didn't really get a true sense of Laos, but I appreciate the time I spent here and everyone's hospitality.

I'm looking forward to spending time in Vietnam! We don't have any concrete plans, but we're going to spend about 3 weeks traveling up and down the country before going to Cambodia.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


We have arrived in Laos! I apologize for all spelling errors in advance. Writing this from an iPod is more difficult than I thought.

After a long two days on a slow boat from Thailand, we finally made it to Luang Prabang. The boat actually wasn't that bad... We had about 6 or 7 hours each day, and although it wasn't always comfortable, it was the safer option compared to the dangerous speed boats.

I have wonderful impressions of Laos and its people so far. As with Thailand, everyone is so nice. The atmosphere is very laid back, different than what I expected, but I absolutely love it.

We spent our first full day in LP walking around. We found a delicious cafe we'll return to several times during our stay. We also rented some bikes and rode them all around the city, ending at a beautiful temple overlooking it all. We had some trouble when returning our bikes since it started to downpour half way through our ride. Two things I have learned about southeast Asia so far: it doesn't rain all the time, but when it does it's sudden and it's a lot. We didn't mind though. We also ate Laos barbecue for dinner and made friends with some new people, coming from all parts of the world. We really are so lucky to speak English, as it's used so commonly in travel. You can have a conversation with someone from Japan or Belgium or Brazil because of it. It's really kind of amazing.

We're hoping to explore some waterfalls here, maybe check out the night market as well. Hopefully the weather will cooperate with us. After a few days we will go to Vang Vienne then we fly to Vietnam.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thailand so far

It's a rainy day in Chaing Mai so what better time to update everyone at home about what's been going on here in Thailand.

I can't say enough good things about the people, the food and the overall atmosphere of this country. We spent a few days in Bangkok and had a wonderful time then took an overnight train to where we are currently staying, in Chaing Mai. It was supposed to be about a 14 hour ride, but we got delayed and ended up being on the train for 16+ hours. It sounds terrible, which it kind of was, but overall not bad.

We were taken to our hostel and met up with our group that we would be trekking with. And I'll start off by saying that I had no idea I would be so brave in the jungle.

We started the day off by hiking and hiking and hiking some more. We stopped to cool off in a waterfall then hiked some more to the village we would be staying at. No electricity, no running water, nothing. But it really was nice to disconnect from all the modern conveniences we have which, in some ways make life easier, but in some ways make them more complicated. We were with about 8 other people so we talked together, ate together and drank together. The food on this trip has been wonderful thus far, but the food we ate that night was the best by far.

We woke up the next morning from the sound of a rooster and washed in the river. Then we set out to hike some more, this time wa a bit more challenging than the last. After a while, we finally found the village where we would bamboo raft and ride elephants. I honestly never thought I would be doing either of those things, but I'm so happy to be able to say I did.

Now we're back in our hostel and wishing the rain would stop. We spent the day walking around the city and exploring a bit. We signed up for a cooking class tomorrow and we're hoping to do a few more things before we go to our next destination, Chaing Rai, and then ultimately Laos.

I thought this vacation would be comparable to last summer's tour of Europe. We had to get up and pack every few days to leave for a new city, lots of travel time between destinations, etc. But it's a far cry from (what now seems a luxurious) getaway. But I like it. It's nice to travel and live like this for a short time. Where I'm thankful to get a hot shower and I don't even care when a spider crosses my path. They may be small things, but I appreciate them a lot more.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


We have safely arrived in Bangkok! And it's been an interesting 24 hours in the city.

Melissa and I got to the airport early for our flight and made it to Shanghai with no problem, only to find out our flight was delayed two hours (on top of our 3+ hour layover). We got some free cookies and water, wandered around Pu Dong and napped. But we finally arrived in Bangkok around 5 am. After a ridiculously frightening cab ride, we found our hostel and fell asleep. We found Liana and Kavita and we've been exploring all day.

We took our first tuk-tuk ride and browsed through some markets. We also went to the tourist center to make plans for the next few days. We're visiting a beautiful water market tomorrow that's outside the city. Then we have a few days time to explore Bangkok and all it has to offer. We're taking a night train to Chaing Mai and will wake up in another beautiful destination. We'll be taking a trek to a small village with no electricity or modern conveniences. We'll ride elephants and shower in waterfalls. Amazing.

I'm already so excited for the next two months, I can't really put it into words. Thank you all for following along on this incredible adventure!