Friday, December 25, 2009

A fake fashion prarade in Hoi an!

The trip from Hue to Hoi an was pretty chill.. No dramas and it was pretty quick! When I arrived I ended up staying at the guest house that the bus dropped me at, it was cheap though a little scetchy. After dropping off my stuff I headed into town and explored it a little. Hoi an is really famous for tailors and let me tell you, there is no shortage of them. From the moment I stepped out of the hotel I was hit with touts from ladies trying to get me to come into their shop to make clothes or shoes. Due to the fact this is a relatively small town, most of the people's income comes from these tailor shops or from cyclos and motorbikes, so all of the above are being constantly thrown in your face everywhere throughout town. The town itself is quite nice though, very small and quite pretty. I ended up just walking around the first night soaking it all up.
The next day I got into fashion mode!! I started early so I could spend time deciding what I wanted and so the clothes could be made with enough time to get altered if necessary. I really just wanted a suit and some pants and shirts for work, but I really got into the spirit and ended up getting a bit more! So, these guys can make almost anything for you... Seriously! They let you flick through a 'Next' catalogue and you can decide what style, material, where you want pockets... It's brilliant! I ended up getting a bunch of shirts, a suit, some pants, shorts and a sweet winter coat!! Had to send it all back to Korea though because it wasn't overly practical traveling with nice clothes for 3 months, but shipping was cheap and they should be there when I get back ( I hope).
On the last day in Hoi an Dom, Lyndsay and myself hired scooters and headed over to a place called 'My Son' which are temple ruins that were bombed during the war. The temples were okay, but the ride over was fun! Passing through villages with loud 'hellos' from children... Was cool!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hue and bamboo umbrella hats

I would just like to begin this post by noting that I rarely stereotype countries and their people (this comes after defending Aus's reputation on an international front for many years). However in saying this there are certain times when countries and people really do fit their stereotypes. When many people think of Vietnam they think of ladies running around with those bamboo shoulder sticks wearing those cool umbrella hats. This is a total stereotype... But that's exactly what they wear!! Awesome.. huh! And they aren't just putting on a show for the tourists either... no no!! They are wearing this kit all over the country; On farms, in the city, riding bicycles etc.

Anyway, enough distractions! So after Hanoi I went to the small city of 'Hue,' Which has a lot of history and is interesting if you are really interested in the American War or the previous Vietnamese rules of the past few decades. My interest in the previous issues is merely lukewarm, so I opted to only spend a day in the town in order to have a quick look and nothing else. That's pretty much exactly what I did. I saw the Citadel, I visited the market and I peered into the scetchy looking 'Perfume River' and then I left. I did also find time for another cooking class though, which was fun because it was just me and it ended up being a private lesson! My favourite part of the lesson was when my tiny little Vietnamese cooking teacher threw me on the back of her scooter and took me to the market. It must have looked rather strange... Like she was my little scooter slave or something. On the return I threw her on the back though and listened to her scream in my ear the whole time like I was going to get us both killed. But the lesson was fun! I can now make Kick-arse spring rolls!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How long is Halong Bay?

The first thing that you need to note when visiting Halong Bay is that there is no way to go there without being a massive tourist! You can make your own way there, but once you get there you need to hop onto a tourist boat that takes you around the bay. Or you can just simply book a tour, which is what a lot of people (including myself) do.
The tour was reasonably priced (though there were definitely cheaper options) and it went for 3 days (3 nights). It involved us all jumping in and out of vans and hopping on and off boats. Did get to do a bit of swimming in the bay too which was nice, though the bay was notably dirty! We also visited Cat Ba island and Monkey island too. Each was rather nice, though there is really nothing magical nor special I can note about either. Overall though the bay is a really pretty place, however the Halong Bay Boat trademark sails seemed to be subbed for filthy petroleum engines and there scent and pollution was sure evident. We all had a good time on and off the boat though... Drank some, ate some and played some... Good times!


Okay, so I have to try and keep this blog a little more frequent and up-to-date and to do this it means simplifying it a little and keep post to mere summaries rather than detailed descriptions.
Anyway, let's talk Vietnam! To get to Hanoi I had to cross into Vietnam by land, which I was pretty excited about! Don't ask me why, I was just curious more than anything I guess. But the border was no problems! It was a little strange however seeing how different one side was to the other. It seems as if I had stepped into a land of tropical landscapes in a matter of a simple visa exchange and all the cars on the road had been swapped for scooters.
But I arrived in Hanoi none the less and went onto 'The Drift Hostel,' which was pretty nice and well organised! During my time in Hanoi I didn't do anything remarkably exciting, though I did enjoy the new challenge of crossing the street and my new favourite sport... 'Scooter dodging.' Try it when you are in Vietnam! The best way is to simply close your eyes and step out into traffic! I also met plenty of people at the hostel who shared my passion for scooter dodging and joined me on my adventures across town.
Here are the main things I did/achieved in Hanoi:
-Didn't get hit by a scooter.
-Drank beer for 3000 dong (15c) on a plastic chair in the middle of the street.
-Saw some old American B52 that had been shot down during the war.
-Sent home all my warm clothing from China.
-Ate some awesome Vietnamese food (trout, pho and spring rolls).
-Visited the prison where John McCain was during the war.
-Visited a museum (can't tell you much about it really).

Well that's about it really. I did also manage to meet up with Prairie (ECC) and Lyndsay (China) as well and we all booked a Halong Bay trip together... But that's the next post!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Are you Yangshuo???

So, on the way to the train station in Kunming I happened to meet up with Sarah again. She was meant to be heading to Kunming on that day, but I saw her down near the train station and she was with some other travellers. The other travellers’ names were Omri (Israel), Eva and Jeremy (USA) and we were all catching an overnight train to Guilin. Once again the train was relatively calm, even though it was an 18-hour journey. The sleepers were quite good though, even if there were some strange things happening around me. When I arrived in Guilin I decided to take a bus to Yangshuo rather than staying in Guilin for the night. I headed there with the crew I had just met up with and we all hopped onto a minibus that took us all the way to Yangshuo bus station. We ended up finding a decent hostel right in the middle of town and we hit the town to find some food because we hadn’t eaten a decent meal for about 24 hours! The town of Yangshou is a very beautiful place. It is located on a river and there are tons of tall limestone peaks throughout the area. It was very impressive to see! I didn’t really have anything planned for my time in Yangshuo, but that was good in my opinion because I was able to relax and take it easy for a bit. The day after we arrived, we all rented mountain bikes and headed off to some nearby sights. The mountain bikes ended up being the best thing too, because the terrain at times became a little rough and bumpy. First we went to the ‘Moon Hill,’ which was a cool natural arch located just outside the town and we all hiked up it. We were followed by local touts who were trying their hardest to sell us water and whatever else they had stuck in their little eskies. After the hike we got back on the bikes and peddled out to find a village that was nearby. We found the village, along with locals exploiting their heritage and trying to charge an entry fee to get into the area. We didn’t want to pay, so we rode around the outskirts looking for another way in or even another way round. We ended up being stopped by the same pushers further up the trail, but we just rode past them and continued on. It turns out the village was not that special nor that interesting, so charging an entrance fee was ridiculous. Riding through the countryside out that way was really nice though; it was definitely a pretty place to see. That night we all ate together and we ate quite well because Eva and Jeremy have been blogging about food and they did some research and had found good places to eat in Yangshuo. The next day Eva, Jeremy, Omri and I got up early and took a cooking class. We began by heading to a local market where we look around for fresh produce and our Chinese master chef (Amy) bought all the necessary things that we would need to cook that day. She also showed us where we could see people preparing dog meat, so we stopped there to have a quick look. I not sure what I expected, but it was actually quite shocking! There were different parts of dog all cut up, and next to them there was a man with a knife skinning a dog that had just been killed on the ground. There was also many large dogs in cages freaking out, because they new that they were next! It was pretty shocking actually, so I walked in out of that area quite quickly! After we had finished seeing dogs being butchered, we headed to the restaurant where we would learn to cook Chinese food. We all had a pretty good time and we learnt to cook some nice tasty food! We’ll see if I’ll be able to replica the whole thing again though. I do have a recipe list and a plan to do more cooking classes through Asia, though I do have a poor memory and tend to just cook things the way I want rather than to the correct recipe.

After a few nights in Yangshuo, Omri and I headed to Longshan where we intended to go see some famous rice terraces that were in the area. The trip out took a bit of time and we had to catch a few buses to get there, but we eventually arrived late in the afternoon. We hiked up to the town of Ping-an, where we found a cheap room for the night. We didn’t see much of the rice terraces in the afternoon due to the fact it was a little cloudy, but we went to bed that night with high hopes for the next day. The next day we awoke to similar scenes to the day before, though this time there was a thick mist present, which was a little disappointing. From what we could see the terraces did look quite spectacular, though I couldn’t help but thinking that maybe they would’ve been a little better on a clear day. We hike
d on anyway and eventually found a village where some of the locals were cooking food and inviting people into their house (at a price of course). We ended up following a nice local into their home and let them cook a bunch of food for us, which ended up being very cheap and very tasty! After a nice meal we hiked on to the next village, but the day took a little turn south and we ended up getting stuck in the rain. It wasn’t that big a deal because neither one of us was worried about getting wet, but it was a little irritating. Eventually we found a minibus that was heading back to Longshan, so we squished into that and it took us to another bus that took us to Guilin. Eventually we made it back to Yangshuo early in the evening tired, a little damp and really really hungry! For the next few days I did not do a whole lot, just relaxed and took it easy. At night I went out drinking with Omri and I bumped into Annete and Gerald again. It was totally by chance! It was fun to hang out with them again though. They had done a bit of a different route, so it was funny that they ended up in the same place as me. After a couple of lazy days I left Yangshuo and started my journey toward Vietnam. When I was catching the bus to Guilin I met some nice English guys (Lyndsey, Alex and Sarah). They were heading on a similar path to me, so I caught the bus and train with them. I actually ended up getting a soft sleeper carriage on the train (due to a communication breakdown), which was nice, bit more expensive then what I was planning on spending though. I am glad I had the soft sleeper at the end of the trip though, because I may have become used to this nicer option hence spending a bit more than I’d hoped.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A quick stop in Dali and Kunming

So, after travelling with Sarah, Chantal and Dennis for almost 2 weeks, I said goodbye to them and set off to Dali. Dali isn’t too far from Lijiang, so the bus trip there was relatively tame. I ended up staying at the ‘jade Emu,’ which is an Australian run hostel. It was a fun place, and I spent the night drinking and playing pool with other guests. I met an Aussie guy named Trent who was riding his bicycle with his girlfriend from London to Vietnam! They’d been riding for about 6 months so far and had covered some pretty good distance and seen some pretty sweet places.

I stayed 2 nights in Dali, but didn’t do a whole lot. The old town was cool, but not as cool as Lijiang and the mountains were nice, but not as nice as the Gorge. I ended up meeting a few people that I had met previously in Lijiang and we hung at night with them for a bit, but we really did nothing special.

After the 2nd night I headed to Kunming. The main reason why I went there was to obtain my Vietnamese visa (which I later discovered I could’ve done in pretty much any city). I arrived on the weekend, which meant that I had to wait till Monday till I could visit the embassy to get my Visa. I didn’t find much to do in the city of Kunming (though I hear there is a lot to do outside the city). I pretty much hung out at the hostel and studied Korean or went downtown and wandered about. On the Sunday night I went and saw a performance called ‘Dynamic Yunnan’ (Yunnan is the name of the province). The show was really cool! They performed with drums, singing and there was a chick that did a peacock dance, which was a traditional dance performed by people in the region. It was cool! I highly recommend it if you are ever in Kunming!

On the Monday, I went and got my Visa! I also saw Trent (The cyclist) there too, which was a strange coincidence. The visa took a day and it was ready just in time for me to get it before I hopped on a train out of Kunming.

The ‘Jang’ is slang for Lijiang

So, after mapping out the route from Chengdu to Lijiang I decided that it would be a good idea to fly rather than take trains and buses as I would save a good deal of time. Plus the flight was not too expensive, so I opted for that and Sarah, Dennis and Chantal came along too. I had arranged to stay at ‘mama Naxi’ in Lijiang, which once again is the Lonely Planet’s “our pick.” I had also arranged for the hostel to come and pick us up from the airport. Instead of picking us up however, the hostel just came and picked up some other random foreigners and left us stranded! We called the hostel and they sent a van back and said it would be 10 mins… 1 hour later the van finally came! The whole ordeal was made more frustrating due the fact that the airport was closing and they needed us to leave (the security were giving us a hard time). When we got to the hostel it was quite late and the girl was very rude to us and just threw us all into a room and left. She didn’t even apologise about the pick up and when we asked about it she didn’t seem to really think it was a big deal. The room she threw us in was horrible too, plus the shared bathrooms were some of the worst I’d ever seen! We did manage to get some sleep however and the next day we got up and immediately looked round for another hostel. We found a decent one, so we went back to mama’s and checked our arses out of there. They did over charge me a little too and they were neither nice nor helpful. So if you are thinking of heading to this hostel when you’re in Lijiang… DON’T!!!
The old town of Lijiang is a very pretty place! It’s really hard to describe it, but I was very impressed! It is however, full of tourists and they once again they are the kind that love to stare and stick cameras in your face. But if you can ignore them you can have a really pleasant time in the town. Some of what is old though has been restored and painted to be pretty
for all the visitors, so it does lack a little authenticity.
The next day a bunch of us got up really early and got into a taxi and headed to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. I have been really excited about hiking the gorge, as I hear that it is really spectacular and that day I was definitely full of beans! There were 6 of us walking together (Sarah, Dennis, Chantal, Wenna and Lee). We began the hike at about 11:00 am and we headed up towards our first guesthouse.
The weather was looking a little bad when we started, so we weren’t really sure what to expect. We all started at pretty similar pace, which changed as soon as we started to climb a little, and people started to throw in some breaks here and there. Right from the start the view was amazing! It is really hard to explain, but the gorge is massive! The huge stone peaks of mountains tower over you and make you feel really small! We were hiking up the side of the gorge with the smaller mountains so it was a little easier, though the climb up was still a little difficult in parts. We ended up stoping about halfway across the track and staying at a guesthouse that had some really cool views. It was also a very cheap place to stay and it appeared that we were the only ones staying there too. The night got a little boring after a while, but we filled the time playing cards and some other random games.
The next day we took off at about 10:30, which we thought was a little late because there was meant to still be about 4 hours hiking to go and we still needed to find our way back to Lijiang. The weather was also very similar to the day before, but it still never really rained on us, which was nice. The hike ended up only being about 2.5 hours (not 4) and we were ready to head home by 1. It turns out however that the road that was meant to take us back had been shut due to a large rock that had fallen onto it during their attempt to widen the road. So we ended up having to take a taxi 17km in the other direction. This taxi took us to a place where we could get a ferry across the river, but finding this ferry was another matter! We walked around for about an hour looking for where to get onto this ferry. We could see the boat!!! But, we couldn’t see where we were supposed to hop on it! Eventually we waited on a rock where the ferry came over, picked us up, and ripped us off! It was one of those ‘What are you going to do scenarios’ where there was no other option but to take the ferry (for 30 secs) across the river.
Once we were across the river we had to hike up to a guesthouse, where we waited for a bout an hour for a bus to come and get us. The bus too was a little bit expensive, but once again it was our only option! We ended up getting back to Lijiang 7 hours after we finished the trek, which was longer than the whole trek put together!