A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam - First impressions from a bus, 23 hours in

Little temple style gateways to farms,
Lots of mopeds already!
Lots of industry

Posted by theelman 08:46 Comments (0)


We have spent the last week or so travelling around North Laos. After the chill out place that was Luang Prabrang we had a 6 hour ride from hell to Vang Vieng, adult Disneyland as someone put it.

Vang Vieng is a small town next to a river which has been transformed into an 18-30s party zone. A section of the river is laid out of people to tube down in rubber rings, jump off trapeze rope swings and generally drink a lot.

We did a great trip which got us away from the madness and into the countryside. We tubed in a cave, trekked a bit and ultimately kayaked through beautiful waters. All peaceful until you get to the otherworldly tubing section.

People at the bars throw in bottles on rope to pull you in. Every bar has different drink buckets, and even offer mud volleyball. Vanessa went on a rope swing. At first a good idea, she swung all around at dropped into the river gracefully. However on her second attempt she slipped off within 2 seconds. After seeing her emerge and a quick inspection she had just a cut inner lip. Some others werent as fortunate. We saw many people on crutches.

Vientaine the capital was just too hot. Every day despite tropical storms were 35 degrees. We did manage to get around a bit of the suprisingly modern capital. One of the best things we did was visit the excellent COPE center for unexploded bomb victims. Laos is the most heavily bombed country on Earth. During the Vietnam war the US ran secret carpet bombing campaigns all over Laos for 6 years. Even today people, especially children in rural areas find cluster bombs and the slightest of movement can explode them. COPE provides support and awareness for children all over Laos.

As I write we are currently nearer the end of a horrible 24 hour sleeper bus to Hanoi, Vietnam. There are 7 of us foreigners and we have all been put at the back of a bus which wasnt what we paid for. We all were promised a VIP bus with toilet, instead we have a old bus with a leaky roof. An Irish guy travelling with us had to move as it was dripping on his lap. We eventually taped up the hole only for the driver to rip it off at a stop. Luckily the rain stopped. However we had fun at the Laos Vietnam border. The corrupt Vietnam border guard demanded $1 per Westerner for a stamp. A whole bunch of about 40 people were fuming and refused to pay. Then these two English girls paid them, so left us with no choice. That guy must make several hundred dollars a day, a huge amount in Vietnam, and there is nothing you can do. Thank god for the EU.

Vietnam is known for scams and extortion of tourists. Nice to know the border guards are in on the scheme.

Posted by theelman 08:46 Comments (0)

Laos... A pleasant change of pace

Its unbelievable what a difference a border makes. Gone are the throat hacking, smoking everywhere, barging into you Chinese working class, and in their place some of the most laid back people in the world!

Laos is a country where you see tuktuk drivers asleep and the ones that are not take no for a legitimate first answer! Such a refreshing change of pace. I would blame the entry of the tropics, but India and Thailand are nothing like this.

Laos people are lovely. Except one guy who owns a shop on the main street of Luang Prabrang. We bought some bits, and we decided to change a jam for a larger one. When I offered him the extra 8000kip (laos kip is 13000 to the £) he claimed I hadnt paid him the first time. I was fuming at his blatent accusation. When I pointed to his huge cctv screen he claimed to be unable to record. Luckily a girl who worked at a restuarant we had eaten at had seen me pay, so I went to get her and she stuck up for me and apologised saying the old man is old so must forget. She definitely helped, as did me warning off every tourist who came into the shop, leaving without a sale after my explaination of what he was accusing. But other than him, Laos people are great.

It is odd withdrawing 500000 out of an atm. Vietnam will be even better with its 33000 to £1. Will definitely withdraw a million there!

Today we went on a great trip to a local waterfall. It had rope swings and jumps. Was a great laugh with a guy called Tim from Michigan, and his couple from Sheffield Liz and Addison who we had previously met at Halfway house at the Gorge. Next we are heading to Vang Vieng for some infamous tubing!

Laos seems to be catered for fun! 30+ degrees and cooling water activities are a great mix!

Posted by theelman 04:06 Comments (0)

Tiger Leaping Gorge

In our final days of China we did one of the best things we have done there during our time in the country. The Tiger Leaping Gorge trek was a two day trip across some of the most beautiful scenary in China.

Hot, sunny weather meant for a balmy climb up the infamous 28 bends. But the vistas were worth every tired breath! We hiked mostly alone but on the final day met up with Shaun, an Aussie we met in Kunming and John an incredible guy in his 60s from Colorado. He and his wife had toured China for 3 weeks, and then she went home and he stayed out travelling solo with no organised tour like they were on before. An inspiring feat, especially as he had no problems keeping up with us!

The pictures of the snow capped mountains and their sheer size as they thrust out of the gorge will say more than I can describe. But even the greatest picture cannot give the true imposing nature of the mountains.

After the gorge we went to Lijiang for one night which is a pretty if touristy place. Then we did a 25hour sleeper bus to our next country... Laos.

Posted by theelman 04:06 Comments (0)

Shangri La

After a more comfortable than expected night bus we arrived 20 degrees cooler and several thousand metres higher in Shangri La, a tibetean town formally called Zhongdian..

Sitting at 3500m we felt slight headaches but nothing major. We managed to see a lot in the few days we were there. Our guesthouse was a lovely rustic Tibetean place which was ran by a lovely woman called Loam. She was a fountain of knowledge and showed off proudly her amazing roof terrace which gave impressive views over the area. This included a small but beautiful temple that had outside it a huge gold pray wheel which sat at the top of the hill.

We also spent a day trekking around the area. We had lunch at a place in a village and sipped Yak Butter tea. It wasnt good. However the hot springs at the end of the trip and the views were.

The highlight of Shangri La, bar its views and Tibetean culture was the huge monestry. It sits imposing on the hill. A cool 85rmb and a bus ride later and you are able to stroll around this impressive place. The size is incredible, and the monuments and Buddhas inside are richly decorated. The views from the top are also excellent.

My highlight of Shangri La however was a simply mammoth Yak Burger with hand cut chips. Succulent and approx 1/2 pound of meat make for a superb burger! After Shangri La we went to the incredible Tiger Leaping Gorge...

Posted by theelman 17:41 Comments (0)

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