Arriving in Hanoi

After two weeks in Laos we went to Vietnam. We had a plane with a propellor and I was a bit sceptical about it but it turned out to be allright after all.

In many countries you need to show that you are in possession of a return ticket, which in some cases like ours is a bit difficult because we don’t know the precise day we might leave the country. So before we begon our trip, Araldo beagled, I mean googled the Internet in search for an answer. And making a fake ticket was the best we could do (if you ever try that, don’t forget not to use the same flight company name as you are using for the inward flight, otherwise they will find out the fraud).

Once we arrived at the airport of Hanoi, we had to pass the visa staff, like usual. Araldo got our visas booked on the Internet, but we didn’t print the paper because it said it would be okay, but it was not! The officer said: “oh, this is not good, you have to print it!”, (but where can you find a bloody printer on a airport!? You might ask…). Well the answer to all problems is MONEY!
He asked us for 20 U.S dollars, slip it discretely in his pocket, took our passports and gave them to his college and told us to wait. There was a waiting room full of people waiting for their visas, I was losing hope and saw myself waiting for hours. After 10 minutes, our guy said :”psst,  psssst, come over here… here are your passport”. Best 20$ ever spent, we just passed in front of everyone 🙂

The driver of our hotel was waiting for us and we had our first exciting drive in Vietnam.

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We lodged at the Hanoi Guesthouse Hotel, a brand new place with very helpful and nice staff. The hotel is situated in a small street in the old french quarter.
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The street where our hotel is.
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Another part of that street leading to a busier one.

We visited the Temple of the Jade Mountain, the Ngoc son. It is situated on a small island on the Hoan Kiem Lake and connected to the shore with a red bridge. The temple is dedicated to Confucian and Taoist philosophers and the national hero General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols back in the XIII century.

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We forgot to make a picture of the building so we borrowed one from Lonely Planet.
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Beautiful roots and Araldo the beautiful boy.
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Non spoiled picture of the tree.
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You can make an offer and pray. You also see Chinese signs because of the Chinese influence on Vietnam.

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This is the legendary turtle with the sword of Le Loi. To read more about it, please visit the link below.

http://www.travelingthruhistory.com/turtle-tower/

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The Turtle Tower in the Hoan Kiem Lake.
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Walking through the streets to see the cathedral.
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And there it is. Unfortunately we couldn't go inside.
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We walked back to our hotel. And you can see how crazy it is.
Question: which motorcycle has priority? The ones coming from the left or right? Or the other ones?
* Answer will be at the bottom of this post.
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"Hello, Banana?" (It is not a private joke but it's what you hear all the time in the whole country).
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Can you spot the red/green lights to cross over?
There aren't any 🙂 you just cross slowly, very slowly. Never run and if you find a red or green light be very careful to cross over.
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You can see many motorcycle or bicycles with shops on it, from clothes to flowers.

* Answer to the question: priority? Who cares. Just make it alive.

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Mount Phousi

Already our last day in Laos before flying to Hanoi (instead of taking the bus as we initially had planned. It should be obvious why). Today on the program: a visit to the palace and to watch the sunset from nearby Mount Phousi.

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Temple on the palace grounds.
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The front of the palace.
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Across the street from the palace there is a small mountain. To get there you have to go up the stairs, about 400 steps.
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An hour before sunset we headed to the entrance.
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Again, there was a temple.
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View halfway. You can see the bridge we crossed the night before to go to the pizza place.
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The way up was quite interesting, as it was littered with a lot of Buddha statues all covered in gold paint. This one is Tuesday Buddha.
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Saturday Buddha.

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Modern monks.
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View from the top of mount Phousi.
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The top was kind of a bad joke. It was so crowded with tourists, you had to push yourself through them to get a nice shot of the sunset.
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Say hello to the crowd.
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Go away, damn tourists!
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After pushing some of them over the edge I ended up with a satisfactory sunset picture 😉
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Even going down was quite tireing in the Laos heat.
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Down again. The night market had already started. On the other side the palace temple.

Random walk in Luang Prabang

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Starting our random walk through the little centre.
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Dried orange peels, so delicious!
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Spaghetti anyone?
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Worn down by the blistering heat we sat down for a refreshment at the head of the peninsula where the two rivers meet.
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Friendly gecko's everywhere.
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Trying to get a photo from the canoe builders unnoticed.

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Besides the main temple from an earlier post, there where also plenty smaller ones.

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Sitting down along the Mekong rivier with a Beerlao (supposed to be the nicest beer from South East Asia and we have to agree) to watch the sunset.

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We were really craving a nice pizza, so we headed to the pizza place that got raving reviews on TripAdvisor. Unfortunately it was a little out of the way, like, one hour walking through shabby back streets and as bonus a large bridge with loose planks here and there (in the pitch black / being blinded by oncoming traffic). In the end we made it, but we were both stressed out. Luckily the pizzas were indeed very good. On our way back we opted for the much shorter route. This however, included a canoe ride across the river in the dark.

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Hard to see, but you can see a canoe made from a hollow three. After five minutes waiting at the canoe some guys noticed us.
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Sanne not so confident.
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We made it to the other side, payed 10000 dong to the guys and were directly back in the tourist area. We strolled back to our guesthouse over the night market, haggling for some souvenirs here and there.

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Butterfly park

The day we visited the waterfall, we also went to the butterfly park nearby. The park has been created by a Dutch couple.

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Clipper.
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Paris peacock.
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That butterfly was so hard to get still. I had to make several shots to get a good one, luckily.
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Female striped blue crow.
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Common tiger.
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Great Mormon.
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Cruiser.

Kouangxi waterfall

My friend Zarah advised me to take a look at the big waterfall near Luang Prabang, at Tat Kuang Si. We took a tuk-tuk and up we go.

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It was a nice trip through the Lao countryside.
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We had to cross multiple wooden bridges like this one.

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Scooters of course, looking forward to pass in front of you.
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Our driver made a short stop at of the little shops near the road.
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Just chilling.

A little bit further down the walking trail in direction to the waterfall, you can find a bear sanctuary. Those bears were saved from those horrid bile farms. If you are interested in helping them, please take a look at: www.freethebears.org.au

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He's better of here than in a small cage for sure!
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A nice tree.
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Waater!
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You can also swim in it.

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The waterfall 🙂
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Araldo decided to walk higher to look at the waterfall from above. I am really scared of heights so it's a nope for me.
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On his way up, he met some crazy dude on a bike who fell several times on the slippery trail.

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Would you like some fish?
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Back to the guesthouse.

Wat Xieng Thong

After a little break, finally our series of blog posts continues once again. Hopefully we manage to keep it up this time. Enjoy!

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It was a warm and sunny day in Luang Prabang and we decided to visit the Wat Xieng Thong or the Temple of the Golden City. It’s a Buddhist temple (Wat) near where the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers join. The construction took place between 1559 and 1960, by the Lao King Setthathirah. The Lao kings used to be crowned there as it was the royal temple, but it was until 1975 that the Wat was under the patronage of royal family.

Typical Laotian art and craft is represented as well, like carved gilded wood depicting scenes from Buddha’s life, decorations made out of glass mosaic.

Because of wars and neglect, major projects of restoration took place in the fifty ‘s and sixty’s, including the notable help of the french who participated in the share of the cost. 

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The entry of the Wat
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The Buddha inside.
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Details on the door.
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The Tree of Life.
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Outside you can see small shrines with beautiful details on it.

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Daily life pictured in beautiful piece of mosaic.

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Bus ride from hell

Although we knew beforehand Vientiane wouldn’t be that interesting, it is the place where most international flights arrive. But after two nights we saw more than enough of it. We couldn’t wait to leave this depressing place and go to somewhere more interesting.

Luang Prabang is about 220 km to the north of Vientiane and is the place to be for tourists. To get there we could take a local plane, but the only airline that goes this route, Lao Airline, is not famous for its safety record. Furthermore, when going by bus or train you get to see a little bit more of the real country. As there is literally only a few kilometers of rail in the whole of Laos, we opted for a ten hour bus ride via Vang Vieng.

Early in the morning we where picked up from the guesthouse with a still empty bus, but we ended up with a full mini bus after a short tour through the city with mostly Asian tourists and one German guy. It went slowly at first due to heavy traffic and often horendus road conditions, such as big holes in the tarmac, or large deep pools of mud, but after an hour or so the roads were mostly empty and the road conditions improved to acceptable levels, maybe even better than Belgium roads. The driver took this as a sign to speed up a little (much). Either he must have thought he was Schumacher or that the road was disappearing behind him. Overtaking other vehicles on the twisting and winding road in corners without any visibility of oncoming traffic was no exception. Adrenaline was pumping nonstop through our veins, every corner thinking, “if someone is coming now, we will either crash into it or have to avoid the heads on crash by driving into the 100m deep ravine. Either way, we’ll die”.

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Escaped from the busy traffic.
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Cows had to run for their lives.
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Nice scenery.

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Amazingly we survived the first halve of our trip and arrived in the backpackers mekka Vang Vieng, infamous for drunk partying tourist and dangerous entertainment like tubing (going steerless on the river in a car tube). Interestingly, many signs over here where written in Korean. Apparently the city attracts many South Korean tourists because a famous movie (to them) was filmed here. Except for the German guy everyone got off here, but we had to change busses to continue. Unfortunately, a guy took our bus tickets when we left in Vientiane and we didn’t have any proof that we bought a ticket all the way to Luang Prabang. Much confusion among the tour operator staff when we tried explaining the situation to them in english, which they didn’t understand too well, but after a while we got hold of someone that could translate our predicament. A few phonecalls later, to the guesthouse that sold us the tickets and we were cleared to go with the next bus that was due to leave in an hour. When we drove through the city our ideas about this place where confirmed and we were happy we skipped it altogether.

The next leg might be the most exciting drives I had ever experienced. But not in a good way, as the driver was even more crazy with his overtaking behaviour, and we started to come in the mountains, with dangerous ravines right next to the road all the time. Especially nerve wrecking was a part of the road that had apparently vanished in a landslide earlier. They where trying to rebuild the stretch of 1 kilometer bumpy and slippery mud with a bunch of machines, but they had some work to do yet. One part of the ‘road’ with bumpy uphill mud was very narrow, but we had to pass it to reach our destination. The driver didn’t hesitate, took a run-up and we just bounced past the deep ravine to the other side. That piece of road was even more narrow after we had passed it, as part of the edge of the mud road had slide into the abbys. Our hearts where racing, it must have been at least 200 beats per minute, but we where happy we survived this ordeal.

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Landslide ahead!
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The edge of the 'road' giving away.

After taking in the views from the mountain pass, we continued and arrived safe and sound, close after sunset, in Luang Prabang. Dropping us at our hotel was an imposibility, so we had to hike a mile to the hotel with 20 kilos on our back before settling into our relaxed Vietnamese-run guesthouse with a cold beer. Next time we prefer to play Russian roulette as bus rides in Laos seem to be a little bit too much excitement for us.

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Taking a break at the top with our Asian friends.
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Cool views from the top.

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I never looked so relieved.
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Finally, our rewards 🙂