A Travellerspoint blog

top gear route

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we decided it would be a good idea to rent scooters and ride them from hue to hoi an, just like they did on top gear.

I haven't seen it but apparently on top gear the weather is beautiful, and they see the most fantastic scenery. When we went, we were riding for seven hours and it chucked it down the entire time. We couldn't see anything through the fog. I loved every second of it, as did half of the group. The other half hated every second - Elliot described it as the worst thing he has ever done in his life!

One of the guys I met at the farmstay had bought a motorbike in laos and is riding it around asia, so he was glad to have company for this leg. Lloyd went on the back of his bike because he didnt have money to rent his own bike, roz came on the back of mine because she didn't want to ride, and everyone else had their own bike. We all had different coloured waterproof ponchos and different coloured helmets, so we looked like a special form of the power rangers!

we stopped for coffee at one point in a tiny little shack, where the owner was an old vietnamese man who spoke a strange form of french, and drank a glass of absolute rocket fuel that they call ca-phe out here. We rode on, and ate lunch at a place by the motorway where we feasted on a banquet of local prawns, beef soup, spinach with garlic etc, and it cost us about 2 pounds each!

we finally got to hoi an, after getting lost a couple of times in town we found the hotel we'd arranged to meet the welsh girls in (the ones from chiang mai), and had a pretty awful dinner at the hotel. Vowing never to eat there again, we had an amazing curry the net night before going out on the town. I saw the marble mountain today, and tomorrow we're going to the my son ruins. Getting the night bus tomorrow evening to nha trang

Posted by joe_leviente 02:00 Comments (0)

the northern half of vietnam

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the booze cruise through ha long bay was amazing.

beautiful scenery - over 3,000 limestone islands reaching out of jade-green water, full of caves, not a wave in sight, but a constant flow of other tourist boats and the local floating villagers. Apparently a few generations ago the fishermen had a dispute with the farmers - the farmers were charging them too much rent so they all moved into floating houses in the bay. As time passed, the villagers started to believe that if they ever touched land on the mainland, their ancestors would be pissed at them for going back, so the majority of people we saw in the villages had never touched the mainland. They had floating villages, schools, markets, and even a floating hospital

We spent the first night on the boat. It was styled like a chinese junk, with a big eating area, beds for 30 tourists and a sunbathing deck upstairs, and was named The Jolly Roger. Everybody in the group was amazing, there was about 30 of us in total. It was our tour guide's last ever tour, and after a year and a half of two tours each week, every week, there was a lot of celebrating to be done!

Waking up at 7am wasn't pleasant, but the breakfast made up for it. We were dropped off at castaway island, the company's private island. That day I kayaked across the water to another island, did rock climbing, kayaked back and got dragged on an inflatable lilo behind a speed boat, played badmington and volleyball on the beach, and then another night of drinking games and a lot of nakedness...

After a couple days of rest (we took a private room at the hostel for 2 nights of absolute luxury) we headed to phong nha farmstay in central vietnam. That was so cool - we stayed in a dorm there and met 4 guys, and 2 people from ha long bay caught up with us there. We rode around the nearby national park in an old american war jeep with no roof (it even had a siren), which was SICK! went to a couple of caves and beaches and things and generally just chilled out.

We then all got a bus to hue via the DeMilitarised Zone (DMZ) where we saw some more war museums and tunnels. Spent a few days in Hue, which is a cool little town. We walked around the town, an old citadel, had a couple of good nights out etc. Both nights we ate at the same place - a french restaurant called la carambole. Both nights i ordered the same thing, which was recommended to me - a MAHUSIVE fillet steak, literally the size of my fist. cooked to perfection, the first night i had it with mushroom sauce and chips, second night i had mustard sauce and mash. Beautiful. It cost 160,000 vietnamese dong (VND) which equates to five pounds - expensive for my travelling budget but cheap compared to back home and sometimes you have to treat yourself!

Posted by joe_leviente 01:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hanoi + Sapa

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Roz and I decided we would travel down through Vietnam together, and got a flight to Hanoi. Both of our Thai visas were coming to an end, so we needed to leave the country and didnt have time to go to Bangkok and sort out our visas at the Vietnamese embassy, so we decided to fly because you can get a visa on arrival (that you still need to organise in advance). This also allows me to avoid the long, difficult bus trip from Hanoi to Laos, it allows me to cross from Cambodia into southern Laos, and allows me to get the slow boat from Laos back to Chiang Mai.

Malaysia can wait until later, when the weather will be better and I can actually enjoy it how I wanted to before - trekking through the jungles in Borneo, and relaxing on the beaches of Langkawi and the Perenthian Islands.

Hanoi is a pretty cool city. We're staying in a dorm in a backpacker hostel in the old town, with small winding streets full of scooters and taxis beeping away at each other. The traffic here is even more hectic than Thailand - the country grew up on bicycles, and the road laws haven't changed since everything became motorised.

The idea is, you don't stop - that sets off a domino effect of everything else stopping around you - you just go with the flow of the traffic. at roundabouts, junctions, cross roads, you just look for a gap in the flow of the road, and coast through it, beeping continuously to remind everyone else of your presence. Might makes right, so the scooters avoid the cars, which avoid the busses, which avoid the trucks...

It sounds like pure chaos, but it actually works pretty well! In a way its quite beautiful to watch it from the balcony on the 5th floor of our hostel, everything just flowing smoothly around everything else.

The most interesting part is being a pedestrian. the pavements are full of parked scooters, so you have to walk in the road, amongst all the other traffic. Again, you just flow with everything else, keeping a steady pace and not making any sudden movements so that the scooters can weave around you, predicting your future position from the pace of your steps. Crossing the road is much the same - wait for a small gap, then just walk at a steady pace, making eye-contact with the on-coming traffic and watching as it all flows around you.

We booked tickets to Sapa, a small town up in the mountains, home of the highest peak in Vietnam. This entailed getting a vietnamese sleeper bus, which was pretty interesting! the seats were actually more like sun-loungers, and your feet went into a compartment underneath the head of the person in front. They were obviously designed for vietnamese people, so I was about 2 feet too tall. I couldnt sleep with my legs folded over backwards, so I just lay down on the floor in the middle of the bus and slept there!

We spent 3 days and 2 nights there, and the town was constantly covered in fog. it got pretty tiring constantly being hounded by the packs of H'mong and Dzao tribe women, selling you their handmade trinkets. They were all very nice and friendly, but it was jsut a bit annoying after a while. Theres only so many times you can say "no, thankyou"...

I bought some hiking boots, thinking of my future as an itinerant harvest worker in Australia. Turns out that the northern face is a Vietnamese company, so you can buy the official gear (not fake, unlike everything else in Vietnam) at knock-off prices. I also met the only other Human geographer I've met since I've been out here (I have met one other physical geographer, and a town-planner). It was quite difficult to find any shoes above size 8, and near impossible to find any in my size - 10. I didn't see one pair of size 11s anywhere. The few vendors who did have the boots I wanted in my size were well aware of what a precious commodity they held, so I had to pay 45USD for a pair - still a bargain, as I probably would have had to pay at last 60 pounds back home!

We got the night bus back to Hanoi, where I arrived 2 hours ago at 5.30am. We can't check into the hostel because all the beds are still being slept in - I booked a bed for tonight, but we have to wait for people to check out first! So they let us up to the lounge area so we can use the free internet, watch TV, and wait for the free breakfast! This night bus was a lot better - the beds were actually bunks, so there was plenty of space for my legs, and my size 10s.

We also booked ourselves onto a 3-day booze cruise through Halong Bay - a world heritage sight, home to hundreds of limestone monoliths and crystal clear water. We depart tomorrow morning, so I will update when I return!

Posted by joe_leviente 17:15 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

"chilling"... ok partying

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SO, we went to Railay with the intentions of detoxing. However, it rained constantly, and all there is to do on railay is rock-climb or go on a snorkel trip. Because of the rain, we couldn't do either, so we just ate and drank.

We got bored of that, and I left the girls to go to ko phi phi. Luckily, the weather improved drastically and I had about 5 days of sunshine, punctuated by the occasional short shower of rain. I went on a couple of snorkelling boat trips, to Maya bay, where they filmed the beach, and to bamboo island (stopping off at various points on each trip, having dinner on the boat in a bay as we watched the sun set, and on the second trip, cliff jumping). Phi Phi is jsut as beautiful as pangnan, except so much smaller. You can walk from one side of the island to the other in 5mins, and the entire thing is the most shameless example of Thai tourism ever. The vast majority of the people that live and work there are westerners, the entire town is just dive shops, bars, guesthouses...

But I had a good time anyway. There was a bar called reggae bar, which had a muay thai ring in the middle. There were fights at the beginning of the night, then after they finished they let the tourists into the ring to fight to win a free bucket. My friends convinced me it would be a good idea, so I ended up beating a french guy with a massive beard, providing our table with a sangsom bucket. I decided to share the bucket, because I had only signed up for a "quiet night", which soon turned into another all-nighter.

there was a bar on Phi Phi (aptly named "rolling stoned"), which had a live band who played classic rock covers all night. They soon started recognising us, and playing our requests. They were quite good, and could actually sing the lyrics properly (a first in my experience of thai cover bands)!

It was around this time that I decided to stop drinking M150. One night I didnt have any, and I got pretty bad withdrawal symptoms the next day - the shakes, cold sweats, heart palpitations... so I knocked that one on the head and haven't had any since.

My intentions were to go from Phi Phi to Langkawi and continue my journey into Malaysia. However, I heard the weather there was absolutely abismal, and didn't want my memory, of what was going to be a highlight of the journey, be jaded by bad weather. So I decided to go back to ko pagnan, and go to the full moon party that I actually regretted avoiding. A huge backtrack! I met roz at her bungalows in pangnan, and a load of people I'd met travelling were going to the party too, plus a few friends from back home. Also, the weather was better in the gulf of thailand and i was getting bored of rain-dodging.

I can't remember the full moon party, but I know i had a good time. IT was jsut what I expected - huge crowds of drunk chavs. Not really my thing but you learn to make the most of any situation, so I still enjoyed myself. Finished off the party at dawn, watching the sun rise over the beach, sipping another special happy mushroom shake... stunning.

We then watched two of our friends each pay 3000baht to get a tattoo of a lump of cheese on their ribs... I doubt they're the first people to get a stupid tattoo at 10am on ko pangnan...

Posted by joe_leviente 17:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

diving and partying!

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So I made it back to the hustle and bustle of bangkok. booked myself a combined bus + Ferry ticket down to Ko Tao for the next day - If I'd known I could have booked it for the same day I would have just done that, but instead I spent a night in a cheap guesthouse. Anyway, it broke up the Journey. I left Lampang at about 6pm and arrived at the guesthouse in bangkok at about mid day the next day. After spending the night in bangkok, I got on the bus at about 7pm. It got to Chumpon, the port-town, at about 4am, where we waited until 7am for the ferry. The ferry got to Ko tao at about 11am, so if I'd done all of that in one go it would have been one helluva journey!

At Ko tao I bumped into 3 welsh girls that I met in chiang mai, which was really nice. They left the next day so we all went and had a night out that evening. However, before that (and before getting any sleep, and still half-cut from all the chang I drank at chumpon and on the ferry) I signed onto the open water scuba diving course, watched the instructional safety video, and passed my first test.

Scuba Diving was AMAZING. the course was hard work - started at about 8.30am every morning and finished at about 6pm each evening, by which point everyone was so tired it was just a few beers with dinner and then to bed. Unfortunately most of the coral around Ko Tao was dead, and we didn't see any sharks, but it was still really fun. The act of scuba diving is really relaxing, and gets you almost into a dream state - all you can hear is your breath (you sound like darth vader), and it feels like you're flying, filling/emptying your lungs to float or sink whilst calmly kicking your legs and keeping your arms tucked away.

There was 3 of us on our course, with one dive instructor and one dive master, so it was good teaching. Unfortunately, me and the french dude Jean weren't so good at saving our oxygen, so our dives only lasted about 40minutes. We started at 200bars of pressure in our tanks, and had to surface when we got down to 50bars (which me and Jean got to at roughly the same time). However, when we hit 50bars, the girl we were with still had 90, and the dive instructor still had 150! hopefully I'll get more practise and be able to save my oxygen better.

Anyway, I passed the course, and decided to move on to ko pagnan. I intentionally avoided the full moon party, and arrived about 5 days before the black moon party (the exact opposite of the full moon). I initially decided to avoid haad rin and all my preconceptions of the large crowds of drunk chavs, and stayed a night on the quieter southern coast, ban tai. I immediately regretted this, as it was absolutely dead. My bungalow was a shit hole and full of mosquitos, and there was no one around. at some point during the first sleepless night, I decided to move up to haad rin.

I got to a place called coral bungalows, which was a 5min walk from the haad rin beach (home of the world famous full moon party), and because it was quiet season and so far from full moon, i only paid 300baht for a bungalow which is usually 1000baht, and goes up to 2000baht at full moon in the high season!

Coral bungalows was amazing. I had such a good time, and ended up staying there for something like 11 nights, over which point i moved into about 4 different rooms as I shared with people I met to make it cheaper for all of us. I made a really good group of friends there and got stuck in the lifestyle of waking up at mid-day, chilling by the beach, having dinner, having a few beers, then going out and partying all night, fire-breathing, fire-limbo, fire-skipping... anything to do with playing with fire, we did it at haad rin. We went to the black moon party, which was amazing (particularly because of the "special happy mushroom milkshake" we downed before hand), and had a few pool parties at coral bungalows. When there wasn't a party going on, we just went to haad rin and partied at cactus bar.

The day times were spent at the beach, by the pool, riding scooters around the island, and generally chilling. Ko pangnan is absolutely beautiful.

The staff at coral were all really cool. A couple of times after the pool parties we sat up with them until the early hours of the morning drinking and smoking spliffs. They were all Burmese, so they taught me a few phrases in burmese, and we all made really good friends. Most interestingly, they all had cockney accents! apparently one of them got taken in by a young traveller from east london, who taught him English. He acquired the cockney accent, then got a job at coral bungalows and taught the others to speak english, in the same accent. The crowds of drunk chavs probably helped...

the re-occurring theme of the islands from then on became the infamous bucket. one of these couple probably end the night for a lot of people. however, after two or three, you're not going to sleep until long after dawn! A small, conical bucket - the kind you might make a sand-castle with - gets filled with ice cubes, a 40ml bottle of cheap thai rum (sangsom), a 33ml can of sprite, and a bottle of the life-changing M-150. M-150 is like redbull except stronger... and don't forget that in Thailand the redbull has amphetamines in! this alcohol / super-amphetamine-redbull concoction will relieve you of any hangover, get you in the mood for dancing, drinking, and chatting bollocks on the porch of your bungalow for hours on end...

Luckily, we decided that we'd been on ko pangnan for long enough, and myself and the two girls i'd been sharing a room with decided to make the journey over to the west coast. I avoided Ko Samui, because all I heard about it were bad things

Posted by joe_leviente 16:29 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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