Thursday, March 8, 2012

Home

We're safely home after a wonderful trip. Initially I started the blog as a means of keeping the girls up to date with where we were and what we were doing. It also served to remind us of what we had done that we had forgotten. Now we're home we can enjoy the trip again by reading our blog.

We hope that those of you reading it have felt that you too have shared in our adventure. Graham said a lovely thing - when I told him that we had not sent him a post card he said that he got a post card from us every day by our blog. Thank you Graham.

Already we are planning our next adventure.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The big finish - part 2

Our last day. I spent the morning relaxing in and around the pool. It was just glorious.


John went exploring on the monorail.



For some reason we had been unable to check in online for our return flight to London. This morning John went to City Air Terminal at K.L. Sentral (no, I haven't misspelt it!). Problem solved and we now have seats more or less where we wanted them. Apparently we can check our luggage in there before we get the train to the airport. That's great 'cos steamer trunk is really heavy. We don't know if we can check cases right through to Glasgow but we'll ask.

In the afternoon we went to a couple of the many shopping malls but it was rather disappointing. It was either cheap rubbish, tiny sizes or prices equal to, or more than, home.

Back to the hotel early to pack and do the blog.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The big finish - part 1

K.L. is quite unlike anywhere else we've been on this trip. Its size is bigger, buildings are higher (and a lot more of them) and the economy is obviously very buoyant.

We took an open top bus tour of the city this morning - 3 hours to do the circuit. It was a good idea as it gave us a sense of what was where. Although the central area is not that large it is quite hilly and surprisingly well wooded so that you get very few distant views and therefore no sense of wider scale. On parts of the journey it was all very reminiscent of Fritz Lang's Metropolis with concentrations of high rise buildings divided by elevated roadways.


Despite all the new buildings there are still chunks of greenery and areas of older buildings.

We then went back to Chinatown.

After 3 hours in the sun on an open-top bus beers were urgently required. We then wandered through the huge market and bought the ultimate present. Let's hope the recipient agrees with us. After spotting it we just kept grinning. We were so delighted with ourselves.

We then headed off to Central market. The weather deteriorated. Black clouds loomed and we had a tremendous downpour accompanied by a couple of splendid claps of thunder. We took shelter in a large open-sided marquee at which some sort of event was about to take place. This proved to be a badly organised break-dancing competition. We endured it long enough for the rain to ease before exploring the wonders of Central market.

Cocktail hour was approaching so we just took a taxi back to the hotel..

Saturday, February 25, 2012

YES!

Wonderful. Club lounge. Have so missed a glass of wine.

Completing the circle.

Not impressed with either Vientiane or the Vansana hotel. Dinner in the hotel not much cop. We should have clocked that when the reception staff seemed surprised we planned to eat in the hotel. That was a clue! They forgot about our airport transfer this morning and their credit card machine had broken down.

Short Air Asia flight to K.L. was just 2.5 hours and started with our final view of the Mekong. It was obscured somewhat by an intense heat haze but still visible.. Air Asia is a bit like Ryanair but with rice. Big difference is the glamorous female cabin attendants. They also don't conclude their flights with the crass fanfare so beloved by Ryanair.

Bus to train station (in the process passing the F1 track at Sepang - Graham please note), train to city centre and taxi to hotel. Easy. In room at 3.30pm. K.L. is 8 hours ahead of U.K. as opposed to Laos 7 hours.

Cath if you wished you were with us for the elephant ride you would wish you were at this hotel with us too. . It's just like the Traders in Hong Kong. Check in at the club lounge, complimentary tea, coffee and soft drinks all day and cocktails from 5.30 till 7.30. It's only 4.30 now so that will have to wait until tomorrow's blog.

In the main we have chosen small hotels but this is huge.

I went down to take a few photos and then of course I couldn't remember our room number. I thought it might be 1924 so rang their bell. Fortunately nobody was in. I then decided to eat humble pie and go back to the club lounge to ask. It's 1928. I wont forget again.

Checked out the pool. Will maybe have a swim on Monday.We treated ourselves to this rather grand hotel for our last 3 nights so I want to make the most of it.


John is still feeling a little delicate so will be careful where we have dinner tonight.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The inevitable

It  was bound to happen. I'm just surprised it didn't happen sooner. John has the runs. He has man runs! Good old immodium to the rescue. Should really be called commodium!

Made the short flight to Vientiane. It was all of half an hour. We had contemplated doing it by bus but decided we wanted a wee while in Vientiane. Given John's delicate state 9 hours on rickety roads in a vehicle of uncertain mechanical condition would not have been a good idea.  30 mins on a brand new airbus wins hands down. It amused us that the baggage "carousel" at Vientiane appeared to be the old Stornoway one recycled.

It has been a while since I mentioned lookalikes. Today's specimens were fellow passengers on the flight and included a man obviously going to a Ho Chi Minh lookalikes pageant, (this is presumably the local version of an Elvis convention), and Julian Assange. In Julian's case I know he's trying to avoid going to Sweden but lurking in Laos seems a bit extreme!

John didn't feel like going anywhere this afternoon so I was allowed out to play on my own! I couldn't decide whether to have a swim and sit by the pool or to go walkabout. It seems a pity not to see a little of the capital of Laos so I did the walky thing. It's a reflection of John's condition that he has not taken a single photograph today.

It will be dinner in the hotel for me and an early night.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Howdah you do?

We have had THE MOST AWESOME MORNING! Up early to go ride an elephant. We went half an hour up into the hills to the elephants' base station. After my two previous experiences with elephants I was more than a smidgeon wary but here they had proper wooden howdahs with a safety bar in front. All was well I thought but it turned out that we had got the disobedient one of the troupe. She did settle down though. We lumbered through the undergrowth as one of a group of 6 elephants. After about 15 minutes we were given the chance to actually ride the elephant bareback and "drive" it. I was way too much of a woose but John was up for it. He rode it for the last 45 mins back to the base station. Going on the flat was easy but there wasn't much of that. On the other hand gradients were more than a little hairy. Would our insurance cover us if John fell off? No time to consult policy. He was like a wee boy in a sweetie shop. The elephant hide was quite coarse and John was anxious that he would get a rash from the chafing - a clear case of pachyderm-atitis!


When we got back to the base station we were invited to give our elephants some sugar cane as a treat. By that time my fear had gone. Hong Khun is a real gentle giant.

I know the elephants are tame and this is done several times a day by loads of people but for John and I it was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. It really felt as if we were thrashing through the undergrowth in the wilds. The scenery was spectacular. I took loads of video. I think we'll put it all on one dvd so that we can relive it again and again.

Lunch time was spent reflecting on our morning. After lunch we bit the bullet and bought a steamer trunk! Don't think it's quite as cavernous as Donnie and Cath's but it was bought with our next adventure in mind. We now have matruschka luggage. The stripy holdall is flat inside a new medium sized holdall which is inside the steamer trunk! We haven't actually bought that much but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

To cap a truly wonderful day we both went for a massage. It surely will be down to earth with a bump when we get home. Now we're having a drink and contemplating where to have dinner. Decisions. Decisions. Life is so tough!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

After the storm, the calm

Was awake at 06.00am when I heard what can only be described as banging, certainly not bells. After a while it dawned on us that it was the daily 6am call for the monks to receive alms. Perhaps we'll get up tomorrow morning to watch, perhaps we won't! Had a lovely breakfast on the balcony of the hotel, overlooking the main street. Our initial impressions of the hotel were confirmed. Definitely colonial style.

Although it was only 8am it was already getting hot. We set off to explore on foot.

This is so different to Hanoi. Luang Prabang has a reputation for being laid back. We now understand why. It really is the calm after the noise and chaos of the past few days.The stall holders don't hustle you to buy (they actually probably sell more that way). John said that it is the most civilised market to which I have subjected him.

We wandered and spent huge chunks of time drinking beer sitting in shaded cafes by the river. We saw - and videod - a most entertaining sight of several pigs being reluctantly unloaded from a riverboat. That amused us.

At the same cafe we watched a group of local lads playing boules. They were really rather good.

We walked up to the confluence of the river Mekong and Nan Khan river.

Walking back along the side of the Nam Khan river we came across this rickety wooden footbridge which we concluded must have been the prototype for the Squiggly Bridge in Glasgow.

John took zillions more photos. Culling them is going to be a mammoth project. Although it was not planned this way this happens to be our third UNESCO World Heritage Site this trip.

Just back from the night market. John came too but that was ok really. It wasn't busy. Loads of stalls and a riot of colour. There was some hustling but nothing like in Vietnam. Bought a couple of things but not the one thing I was really looking for. Maybe I'll get it in one of the shops tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From dong to kip

The water puppet theatre was very clever. Apparently water puppetry dates from the 12th century and has become a specialised Vietnamese art form. The water bit reflects the flooded rice fields where the art form evolved. It was a riot of colour and with a surprising degree of movement. It was accompanied by an ensemble of tradional instruments whose players' costumes were as colourful as the puppets. All in all, a most enjoyable evening.



This morning was dry and cool but not cold. We had a lazy time with yet another steam bath, just loving the luxury. Wonder if it's possible to steam away the skin! I had the first runny tummy of the trip so stayed in the room packing etc while John went for a wander.

We walked down to a nice restaurant at the lakeside for lunch before our pick up for the airport.

Our flight to Luang Prabang was on a lovely wee plane. Shades of Lewis flights. We hadn't expected any catering but were served a light meal and a drink. By the time we got our visas etc and got to the hotel it was almost 9pm. First impressions are that we've chosen well again. The hotel is small. It's definitely old colonial style. Our room doesn't have much of a view but is large and beautifully furnished with solid old furniture.

We're tired now. Bed. So long dong and it's hip hip kip! 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Too big for my boots?

Wonder if this short video clip of the puppet theatre will upload ok.


video

Halong day 2

Another dawn start. Light breakfast before our next excursion. After a misty start the sun came out, Definitely warmer than yesterday,




view from our balcony
 We cruised around more of the islands before transferring to a rowing boat to explore one of the largest caves in the bay. Very different to yesterday's.

Back to the boat for brunch. My avoirdupois could not stand a longer cruise! Relax time until back ashore at noon. By which time the mist had descended again. How lucky were we.

This has been a fantastic experience. We were so lucky in our choice of junk. We deliberately chose a more upmarket cruise. Good decision. We had thought our boat was 50-60 years old but in fact it was just a little over 3 years old but made in the style of older vessels.


Chauffered back to the hotel again. Time to relax in our private steam before an early dinner and then off to a show at the water puppet theatre. At this stage it is not clear whether the puppets, the puppeteers or even the entire audience are the ones in the water! 

Along to Halong

Up early for our 8am pick up to Halong Bay. We had expected a mini bus load but were delighted to discover that we had our own chauffeur for the 3.5 hour journey to the port.

Wow! Wow! Wow! We can't believe this. I just love it. The junk is a real step back in time to the days when style was defined as a transatlantic liner. The floors are all highly polished wood, chairs all upholstered and the drapes exude opulence.

Our cabin is spacious with a far larger ensuite than we could have expected. The shower is double length with lashings of hot water. Our balcony reflects the size of the room and has cane table and chairs. The room even has a fridge. It is all way beyond our expectations.

Lunch was a seafood compilation all beautifully presented.

After lunch we enjoyed a while cruising around.


We then boarded a tender for an excursion to some caves. Oh yes, we thought. Seen one cave, seen them all. Boy were we wrong! It was absolutely spectacular. Amazing rock formations cleverly lit and almost cathedral like spaces. Thunder thighs may have somthing to say tomorrow.


We visited another island with a mountain to climb. We passed on that as it was already getting dark and there were loads of steep steps with little or no handrail. Back to the boat, very happy chappies.

Another gastronomical delight for dinner.

 They really push the boat out for the food! In the course of the meal we were given a demonstartion of what could only be described as synchronised waitressing. We retired early as we had another crack of dawn start.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

In from the cold

Today it's been cold. Hardly rained at all but I donned yellow splot as an extra layer against the cold. Sad or what?


Walked around and explored the city, mainly the old town. It's a maze of narrow streets and frantic activity, not unlike your average kasbah!



In particular there are overhead wires absolutely everywhere. An added skill which electricians need to have here is the ability to unravel knots.


Don't usually have lunch but did today as a means of warming up. Another great warmer upper was my foot massage. There was the inevitable pain but also plenty gain.

Couldn't wait to get back to the hotel for a sauna. What luxury - a sauna en suite! Actually I suppose it's a steam bath.


Needed a stop for supplies and saw Hanoi Vodka. We have long held to the view that things can be suspiciously cheap and at less than £3 a bottle this definitely falls into that category! A quick road test and it seems ok. Tomorrow morning might be another story. Hope not as we have an 8am pick up to go for our Halong Bay cruise.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Northwards

Struck lucky last night and had the compartment to ourselves. I slept well. John less so. Both of us noted a couple of occasions during the night when the carriage rather alarmingly appeared to be going up and down rather than side to side. However we're still here.

Woke to drizzle and a grey day, as forecast. It's a pity 'cos the scenery was quite spectacular.

When we boarded the train it was running almost an hour late. It made up some time during the night but lost time again when we had an unscheduled stop. If it had been in the UK we would have concluded that someone had pulled the communication cord. That's a bit advanced for Vietnamese trains. Nevertheless the train had braked very abruptly then lots of railway staff were running alongside the train looking at its undercarriage. Lots of excited shouting then half an hour later we were on our way.

To redress the taxi drivers balance - we got a really good rate from the station to the hotel. Our hotel in Hanoi old town looks somewhat unprepossessing but..... what a shower (literally!) The room is fairly basic but the shower cabinet has lights, music that we haven't worked out how to get, a standard spray, a drench head, jacuzzi jets and a sauna! Wow! Wow! Wow! I just love it. If Hanoi disappoints we can spend the next three days in the shower! Can;t put a photo in here 'cos the bathroom is too steamy!

Wetnam!

Hotel was full so no late checkout available. Weather had broken so wasn't a day for the beach anyway. In the words of Chloe - didn't want sun anyway!

Got the shuttle bus into Hoi An with a view to exploring more of the lovely old town. Rain came on. At first a light drizzle then a steady wetting rain. Never to miss a trick, within minutes vendors were hawking cheap plastic coveralls. John was agin such a naff purchase bit this was one of the very few occasions when I have overruled him. Bought 2. Girls, do you remember the book you had as children - The Big Orange Splot? Well that's what Dad and I were. He was the big orange splot and I was the big yellow splot! It was hilarious, we just had to laugh at ourselves.The style and colour of the coveralls multplied by the number of people who were wearing them made a wet Hoi An look like a Ku Klux Klan fun day out!


Despite the grey day the lanterns still added plenty of colour.

We spent the afternoon dotting between bars during breaks in the rain. In the process we discovered the delights of bia hoi which is probably the world's cheapest beer at about 14p for a 250 ml glass. We took the opportunity to wander round backstreets that we would not normally have seen.


We were still bar hopping when happy hour came. Thank goodness for that as I was well and truly beered out. Margaritas? Yes!

We were so grateful to be big splots, and dry. John was even grateful to his wayward wife for keeping him dry.

We ate in town and returned to the hotel for our luggage. They got us a taxi for the train station in Da Nang. Here we had some excitement. The taxi didn't take us to the station, he took us to the airport. Drama! Shouts! Eventually lots of dong later we got to the train station. He demanded his full metered fare for our excursion. I think not! But we were locked in and our luggage was in the boot. I don't often get angry but when I do I do it big time. Gillie - do you remember your Mum in action with the French woman at the velo rail? I was even worse but the big problem was that I don't speak Vietnamese. In the end we paid him slightly less than the meter said and left shaking with fury. How impotent we felt. It was not a huge sum of money and we had had such a wonderful stay in Hoi An that we determined we would not allow this charlatan of a taxi driver to sully our memory of Hoi An.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Doing nothing

I can't remember when I last had a whole day of doing absolutely nothing. It has been simply wonderful.


Much of today's inactivity has involved watching the coracle fishermen. How they manage to make these craft move, much less steer them is quite beyond us.


John had planned to take a bike from the hotel and go off for a couple of hours with his camera. I was surprised and a little concerned when he returned after about 40 minutes. It turned out that the bikes were made in Japan for people of Japanese stature! He chose the one with the seat set at the highest but even at that his knees were bashing the handlebars with every turn. An attempt to raise the seat more was more successful in dismantling the entire construction and nearly led to a very unpleasant accident involving the seat post! However he did get some good photos.





Sadly it's now time to roll everything up for the rucksack again.



Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Shangri-la?

We think we might have found our ideal holiday destination.

The hotel is wonderful but above all, affordable. Our room with balcony is spacious, air con is almost silent, fridge has space for our drinks. Breakfast is fabulous with masses of different fresh fruits. Large infinity pool with more than enough loungers - even with the Germans! Private beach also has loads of  loungers and straw parasols. Unlike many beach resorts there is a wee stall next door for essential supplies and also offering a laundry service. Across the road are a couple of inexpensive restaurants serving local cuisine.

The courtesy bus takes you into Hoi An for free or a taxi is only £3. Hoi An is something else. It manages to combine modern tourist tat, squillions of tailors with the quaintness and quiet charm of the old town.


I yielded to the temptation of local tailors and am now in proud possession of a beautiful silk dress and jacket plus a cotton sundress and linen skirt. "My" girl was helpful and lovely to look at.

 
 The town at night is festooned with coloured lanterns and has a real fun atmosphere. It is a photographer's paradise.


I am so torn with wanting to enjoy the luxury of our hotel but not wanting to miss the attractions of the town The huge market was a riot of colour with both food and souvenirs in equal measure.



I loved Rio and still want to go back but here is a close second.

Thanks to Graham for setting up my skype credit I can now call any UK number. Great to have a long chat with Donnie and Cath this evening..