Bec and Paul are trundling through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia until school is back in March 2009. They insist on keeping a blog despite the facebook thing being much more likely to attract any interest.


Not Dead and Not Stranded

Woot! We made it to Darwin without much incident. The pilot did turn on the seatbelt sign at one stage, and we were all going to die, but it turned out ok.

We filed off the plane to the sirens of the fire alarm, and were informed 40 minutes later that we didn't need to evacuate. Baggage took a while but not too long, declared all my wooden tidbits to the amusement of our friendly swat team guy. This time only the Asians were drilled about their business in Vietnam and Australia, it's nice to see some racial profiling by a (ginger) security worker every now and then.

Meanwhile, at the Darwin domestic terminal, Paul and I are stalking Paul Macurio (I don't know how to spell his name... I'd google it, but he might see. *edit: It's Mercurio) Paul is more interested in the camera guy and his equipment(pun intended).

We've spent more money than we have in a week on a coffee, a juice and a sandwich, despite the fact that we're getting breakfast on the plane in half an hour.

See you all in Melbourne. Or hell. Depending on how the flight goes. (And on what you think of Melbourne.)



With only a few hours until our exit from Saigon, I think it's time to reflect, summarise, and make sweeping generalisations about the three countries I have visited.

1. Cambodia has a garbage problem.

A big one. A waist deep one. As soon as our mega bus crossed the border, we started noticing roadside rubbish piles. The cleanest spots we found were probably Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville (I will mention the conditions of this statement momentarily) and the Angkor temples.

So Sihanoukville did have a rubbish problem, but it also had big bins for businesses and we did witness a garbage truck actually collecting garbage. I say Serendipity Beach was clean, and it was, and we were surprised by this. The however is a large one and it comes when you walk down the beach beyond the wall to wall restaurants and you see some sand. This is where the rubbish ends up. It spreads until the tourist spot starts up again 4km down the coast. The bottles and cans are collected by very young children, under the stern eye of their grandmother or something. Everything else stays on the sand, or ends up in the water. The spread of litter is thick and it goes far.

The Angkor Park is pretty well maintained, and relatively clean, if I remember correctly. The word relatively is the important one here, as it means in comparison to the waist deep rubbish piles we saw in the rest of the country.

2. Vietnam has an attitude to garbage problem.

This was best evidenced in Sa Pa, where I tried to pocket a wrapper in front of my H'moung homies Zi and Chi. I intended to carry it around with me all day, and put it in my little rubbish bag when I returned to my room.

Chi stopped me. 'You throw it in the gutter!' She took the wrapper off me and demonstrated.
'No, you need to put it in the bin!'
'No people sweep it up. People pay.'
She was referring to the varitable army of street sweepers you see employed all over Vietnam. These guys walk the streets pushing rather large wheelie bins sweeping up rubbish and collecting it from businesses. The streets are pretty clean as a result of their work. However, a short walk to the edge of a ledge in Sa Pa will reveal a waterfall of rubbish, decorating the side of the hill. This gets blown or washed out of reach of the street sweepers and ends up in the waterways. No one seems to see this as a problem.

3. Cats in Cambodia and Laos are hunted for their tails.

Not really. But every cat we saw in both of these countries had a big problem with their tail. Either it was completely missing, cut in half, bent in half, bent in thirds, broken in three places and twisted in a coil (we named this one Pussistence) or completely mangled in any number of other ways. It was a bit of a hold your breath moment when we crossed the border between Cambodia and Laos (finally) and we saw our first Lao cat. The mangled tale syndrome, we found, was not limited by the border.

From what we saw, Vietnamese cats are free from this condition.

4. The SE Asian mantra is "Anything you can do, I can charge money for".

Be it finding a room, a shoeshine, transport, laundry, carrying of bags, locating train station platforms... It's all on offer for a price in SE Asia.

5. It is plainly evident why the singing bird was caged.

Caging birds is a big thing in SE Asia. In homes and businesses, they are caged for their birdsong. They even cage the ugly ones, like indian miners, as their song is still impressive. Although I am still unclear as to why they cage the pidgeons.

At temples, the tiny cages are not much bigger than the tiny birds. They are sold to tourists and worshippers, so they may be set free for good luck. I have it on biblical authority (source: lonely planet) that these birds are trained to return to their owners, to be recaged and resold.

6. It is plainly evident why the caged dog is quiet.

In Hoi An we saw a cage full of dogs strapped to the back of a motorbike. The same cage would have housed about 15 chickens, all crammed in. This time it held three dogs, all crammed in. They looked like the neglected down-trodden dogs you see on RSPCA ads, only these ones had no looks in their eyes of 'Why!?' They were raised in these conditions and will die in them. Not a sound from them.

7. In all three countries, if you don't want a ride on a motorbike, clearly you are in want of marijuana instead. And if (in the unlikely event) you do not want marijuana, surely you are in need of opium.

It becomes a habit of chirping out a sing-song "No-thank-youuu" in response to the moto driver's "Hello moto!". When they follow with a more shady "Marijuana?" your habitual sing-song reply seems out of place.

8. SE Asian children are sadists.

How many dogs have I seen chased and kicked and tormented by children over here!? Also we witnessed a gecko shot to pieces (literally) by two kids sporting a pellet gun with a laser sight. At a hill top temple in Luang Prabang in Laos, a boy carried around his caged bird all day instead of releasing it for luck. We saw him swinging the little cage at his side as if it were a bag of lollies. There seems to be no general lesson of be nice to animals over here.

9. There is no water shortage in South East Asia.

People in Australia are publicly lynched if they are caught watering down their front step. People in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam not only water their front step, but also their entire driveway, and the road outside their house within a ten metre radius.

Guesthouse Review

The sale of this tee paid for about two thirds of a night at the following guesthouse.

NHU Guesthouse
Saigon, Vietnam
$8 USD per night


A sign!
A precarious three story climb up ladder steps.
Two single beds (can be pushed together!)
Hot and cold water showers
An adorable basin
A balcony
A bird's eye view of the alley
Cable TV
A table!


Guesthouse Review

The sale of this tee paid for about two thirds of a night at the following guesthouse.

Nice Dreams Guesthouse
Dalat, Vietnam
$11 USD per night


Complimentary buffet breakfast.

Homely kitchen.
Early morning sunshine.Banana pancakes!Snazzy bathroom with NO ventilation and a funny smell.
Hot water and functional toilet.Cable TV with three movie channels!
Swavo dresser, big bed, mosquito net.
A nice chair and a not external window.
A complimentary hairbrush with complimentary hair. Gross.A water feature with six goldfish and two dead turtles, also with a funny smell, left on the rocks for decoration.


Saigon Again

Four days in Dalat and we can't wait to get home. One afternoon in Saigon and suddenly we're in no hurry. We found (were shown by a crazy lady in a blue shirt with a badge on it) an awesome little guesthouse down three alleys, each one smaller than the last. We're up three flights of tiny ladder stairs (I have no idea how we're going to get our bags back down!) in a room with cable tv and hot water and a tiny balcony from which we can jump to three of the neighbouring buildings. Two opposing fans create a nice tornado above our bed. This is good as it is really hot again. Saigon apparantly has two seasons, wet hot and dry hot.

There are two long term guests staying in the other rooms, a Canadian on the second floor and an Australian on the first.

Tomorrow we will eat as much Pho as possible and maybe take a sun sauna. Good for the complexion.


Last Stop Saigon

Today we catch the 7.30am bus to Saigon. Our ticket says we should arrive at 3pm. It will be a long day! We're hoping to squeeze in breakfast or risk starvation.


Honeymoon Capital of Vietnam


First impressions of Dalat are a disappointment! Maybe we're comparing it too closely to Sapa. Maybe we got dumped in the ugly part of town. Lonely planet said we might be forgiven for thinking we'd walked into the French Alps at springtime. Dalat is certainly on a hill, but I see no other comparison. I did see one nice building from the bus ... And we haven't checked out the lake yet, or the golf course next to the lake which is about three times larger than it's neighbour.

Apparantly there are some nice things to see out of town like waterfalls and stuff, but out of town is so far! And the moto drivers are so shifty and annoying.

On the upside our room is nice and it comes with free internet (hence the long and whingy post) and free breakfast. This will either kick arse or totally suck, I will let you know tomorrow when I abuse the internet resources a little more. On a side note, my keyboard has no letters, so please forgive the typos.

Our connecting bus sorted itself out in that I don't know how it works but it always seems to kind of way. Our 6.30pm sleeper bus was nearly an hour late, and when it did arrive it had a brother. This caused much confusion. Finally we board to find that the only beds available are the ones in the back row, which means we sleep hip to hip with 3 strangers. Paul didn't whinge when I flew in and grabbed the window bed, because he is my hero. 4 people had to sleep in the isle, but got isle mattresses and blankets. The back row was very hot and very bouncy and it was hard to sleep without getting the ocasional concussion.

We did get dumped at a hotel in Nha Trang, but it was only three doors down from the tourist office we needed to be at. This was closed as it was 5.30 in the morning, so we sat in the reception area of the hotel and lifted our feet while they mopped the floor. At 7.15 the tourist office opened and we got our tickets confirmed. 15 minutes later our bus rolls up and 1 hour after that we had finished collecting people from all over Nha Trang and we were on our way.

We arrived in Dalat at about 3pm. A long journey.

Stay tuned for the final days before home home home!



To Dalat!

We've spent all our money on clothes and shoes (even Paul!!!) and now have no room to put anything. I'm scouring jetstar's website for baggage allowance rules - it's not looking good!!

We have joined the ranks of the lazy and purchased an open tour ticket that goes: Hoi An - Nha Trang - Dalat - Saigon.

The Hoi An to Nha Trang leg is another sleeper bus, and we're catching that tonight at 6.30. Suddenly feeling rushed, we're going to skip Nha Trang and jump straight on the Dalat bus. Assuming the first bus takes us where we're meant to go (the bus station) this won't be a problem. However, if the bus driver does what bus drivers usually do (dump us at a shitty hotel not quite in the centre of town) then catching the connecting bus might prove a bit difficult. I will inform you of our adventure from Dalat. Or Nha Trang. Depending on how well it goes.


Overnight Bus Review

Due to the impending end of our adventure, I fear I am running short on accommodation to review. Hence this overnight bus review! The sale of this tee paid for not quite half this bus ticket.

Camel Travel Sleeper Bus
Hanoi to Hoi An
18 hours
306,000 dong (US$18)


A bus!
A little reclining seat bed perfect for short people.
Wide lanes!
Luxury aeroplane-style toilet.
Killer opportunity for tri-podless long exposure photography.


Thavisouk Guesthouse Review

This one's a bit late but here's a review of a guesthouse in Vang Vieng, in response to the sale of this tee. The sale got me one night at:

Thavisouk Guesthouse
Vang Vieng, Laos
50,000 kip (US$6.25) per night


Attractive welcome banner.
Space filling side walk.
Cleanest bathroom we'd had in a while. This one also had the best water temperature and pressure ever.
A mountainous view. You're going to have to trust me when I say there are mountains outside this window. I was too lazy to expose correctly.
A cosy bed complete with doona! This was the first doona we'd had since home. Good thing too as it wasn't exactly boiling in Vang Vieng.
And a reception baby who was just the cutest.


Hoi An

Back in Hoi An and it is hot again! One week in Sapa and you forget that the earth revolves around the sun. It's quite nice being back in the heat. Things dry quickly. Drinking cold water becomes a spiritual experience. You don't have to wear much and I may even get a tan.

The drawback of being in the heat again: during the cold I wore my entire wardrobe and this afforded me more space in my bag for things and trinkets, which I filled with no trouble. Now I have nowhere to put my long pants, my jacket, my gloves, my jumper. To make matters worse, I am in the tailor capital of the world and fully intend to purchase another full wardrobe even though I have nowhere to put it. Oh the humanity.

Things have changed in Hoi An. They have paved the road. This is amazing news and as soon as Paul and I noticed we started dragging our feet and walking in zig zags and saying things like "so luxurious!"

One drawback of Hoi An is the local's enthusiasm for making a sale. People come into a restaraunt and talk to you all freindly like and then say I have a shop not far from here maybe you take a look. Well and good but when you politely decline, they persevere, and when you politely decline again, they persevere, and it takes a firm and possibly a little rude (in my book) No for them to go away.

Our hotel (that's right, hotel not guesthouse!) has an information book in the room that mentions these touts and recommends we approach a shop without them as the price is likely to be higher if we are escorted. Well and good if they follow you for three blocks down the street, the street is just fair-game and it's our own fault for being out and having money on our person really. But these touts are most annoying when you're at the back of a restaurant trying to eat noodle soup (this is splishy and requires concentration and is embarrasing if you get any on your chin) and this person is standing at your table, insisting that you come to their shop.

The lady who sells drinks ourside our hotel tried to get me to go into a shop across the road that is apparently her friend's. She also gives me a business card for another shop after drawing the letter A in the bottom right hand corner. "Show them this and you will get a discount," she says. But I'm pretty sure I heard "Show them this is you will get over-charged and I will get a cut."

Tomorrow I will dive in (i'll just have to chose a shop at random I guess) and get some shirts copied, maybe a new jacket and maybe some pants and maybe a dress and possibly some skirts. Maybe also a different kind of jacket, and maybe some more shirts and some shoes. We'll see.

Today we are mosying around town on bicycles with no brakes. This is semi-ok if you go really slowly and are willing to sacrifice your foot in order to avoid the motorbike, but for the beach run I think we should get better bikes.

Bye for now,
Hoi An


Before I tell you how awesome Hoi An is, I'd like to tell you about my brush with a pickpocket!

That's right people, ever trusting, it will never happen to me Bec was very nearly robbed in the streets of Hanoi by a local pickpocket.

So we're walking along looking for Stamp Street, where the guys make all the stamps, and a guy selling postcards crosses the street and starts walking along next to us, holding a handfull of postcards. Paul is on my left, my cumpler bag (totally hard to open without the whole street hearing it) is hanging on my right side and next to that is an over enthusiastic guy trying to sell me postcards. I look at him politely, look down at his postcards, look back up and say no thank-you. He keeps walking along, a little close for comfort. This is irritating and down-right rude so I'm less interested in being polite to him now. He's fanning out the postcards, which are conveniently obscuring my bag from my view. He actually drops one, and I'm not sure if this is intentional, as I bend down to pick it up but he gets it himself. Maybe there was a team, and a second guy intended to get to my bag whilst I was distracted. If so it didn't work. So he picks up his postcard and keeps fanning.

Here's the lesson: any good tourist not interested in buying things off the street knows to look straight ahead and keep walking. Don't look at the item being sold or you've bought it. This is exactly what the pick pocket is after, he'll only need a second or two of a steadfast tourist glaring at the horizon to make off with their wallet.

BUT! Even though this guy is clearly an arsehole, I am oh-so polite that I glance down at his postcards once more, intending to say a firm no thank-you and quicken my pace. Looking down I notice his right arm is way far under the postcard canopy, he's in up to his elbow. I see this, and he sees that I see this, and in an 'oh shit' reflex he withdraws his arm way too quickly (novice) and I click. It took me a while but I got there. Paul also sees this and looks at me for confirmation. I nod, and Paul, my hero, jumps between me and the would-be theif, and with a protective hand on my shoulder, points at the guy and says go away. Meanwhile I'm checking my bag for wallet, iPod and SLR (hard to steal but I'm checking) . It's all there.

Clearly he his sprung, and this guy still tries to get in close and show us postcards. Three finger points from Paul and he concedes defeat and disappears. I only wish I had gotten all up in his face with finger pointing too, and words like police and theif and some internationally recognised swears. I also wish we had hassled him to the point of making a scene. Let his neighbours know he is a pickpocket. Tape a sign to his back. FOR SHAAAAAAME. But no, we just high-tailed out of there.

Lesson two: Crumpler bags kick arse. I think if I had any other bag at my side, this guy would have had an easier time getting in. My trusty crumpler, with its space-aged hardcore velcro, its clips and its super sturdy fabric, this guy should have known better.


By the way

On a side note, we are catching an 18 hour sleeper bus to Hoi An this evening. Two nights of travel in a row. We are hardcore.

Will attempt to post in Hoi An, assuming the tailors also have internet!

Escape from Sapa

Leaving Sapa was harder than we thought! We moseyed on over to the 'official' train ticket office to find that the fare back to hanoi was 50,000 dong more expensive than the fare to Lao Cai. When we started pointing to the price sheet and what not (amongst ourselves) wondering what up with the price hike, the woman about to sell us tickets walks over and says 'Full, go to Binh Minh hotel.' We ask 'Huh? Where? If it's full (it must have filled up since we walked in the door and the woman must be getting live updates from her telekenetic antenna) how can a hotel sell us tickets?' She gave no further information, as to how this was possible or where this magic train emtpying hotel was located.

Off we go back to our own hotel to ask them for tickets. 'We have tickets available,' they say, 'cost is 300,000 dong for hard sleeper.' Our hard sleeper fare from Hanoi to Lao Cai was only 140,000 dong for the top bunk, and we knew that the bottom bunk cost 170,000. We ask why is it nearly double the price and we are told 'booking fee'.

'Bugger that,' we say and head over to a mansion like building we spotted on our wanderings with a sign that read 'Tourist Information'. I'll take a moment to mention this as a wonderful haven of free internet, free maps, free museum, free booklets and acurate information that is not biased toward ripping you off. Amazing. This should be a tourist attraction in itself: honest organisation in Vietnam. Am I going to far there? No.

We approach a nice lady at a nice desk and ask if we can buy train tickets there. She says yes, but only super amazing private cars with schmancy wood pannelled walls and photographable bathrooms. Price, I will tell you, was 300 - 350,000 dong, the same price out hotel tried to sell us public dump tickets for. We say 'Oh. Too nice for us. What about the public hard sleeper?' She writes us a little note and pins it to our sleeve and then sends us to the lake.

We're told to look for Binh Minh II Hotel, which shares a building with the actually official government office that sells the proper train tickets and will even print the real thing out for you. Finally.

We find this building with not a lot of trouble (by now we're about 2 hours into our search for train tickets). The man behind the window bars, however, is less than helpful. We find out very quickly why the bars are there - so people can't leap through the window and strangle him.
'Hard sleeper?' we ask oh so politely.
'Full' he says.
'How about tomorrow?'
'How about thursday of next week?'
'How about mid april?'
He looks at us rudely.
'We're in no hurry.' I smile.
'Full,' he says.
This is when Paul cracks the shits.
We harrass this guy for half an hour, trying to get it out of him why he won't sell us a ticket. And why the only ticket he will sell (seat not sleeper) is twice the price it should be? This is where he goes all quiet and stops answering our questions. He makes a phonecall (to a hotel I think) and I speak to a nice lady who says we can come back to this guy in the morning and buy a hard sleeper then.
'He says it's full.' I say.
'He doesn't speak much English.'
Right.... 'How much for this ticket?'
'Can I speak to the man again?'
'You can't tell me the price?'
'I need to speak to the man first.'
Great. I hand the phone back to the man who says a few words and hangs up. I ask him the price and he says 'Full.'
We waste yet more time trying to unscam the scammer but eventually move on. We go around town looking for hotels with tickets for the train. All are redicously priced.

The cheapest we find is 250,000 dong. By now we have lost interest in saving money and decide to get this ticket. The woman makes us wait for a phone call and then we are told 'Full.' We get up to leave (no thank-you's this late in the day [did I mention it was the next day by now? Yes our search for tickets went for two days]) but another woman stands up and tells us to wait five minutes. The first lady says something along the lines of 'But I just told them it was full.' And they argue a bit, then turn to us and tell us two different stories. Paul has left but I stand my ground and try to get this straight. 'You say full. You say five minute wait. How is this possible?'
Suddenly the woman who says wait changes her mins and says 'Full.' She's lost paitience with me. Why not just tell me to get bent, get out of her shop? Why does she actually attempt to tell me the train is full? Again with the telekinetic antenna.
'It's not full,' I say. 'I will wait five minutes but I must go and tell my boyfriend.'
'No you wait here!'
'I'll be right ba-'
'Full.' She waves her hand.
I very nearly punch her but leave instead.

Our solution to the ticket hawking in Sapa was to catch the bus to Lao Cai without a train ticket and buy one at the station. Our suspicions are confirmed there, where we are told the hard sleepers are full. The railway must pre sell, or just reserve, every sleeper ticket for hotels and agencies to sell at double or more the going rate. How can one direction of travel be so simple, and the other be so corrupted? I cave and buy a soft seat ticket, proud that I have paid the correct price for at least something in Vietnam.

Prior to 2002, foriegners were charged, officially and legally, up to 400% the local rate for any ticket in Vietnam. This system was abolished, but I can see there was no effort needed in getting around it.

What gets me is the flat out lying to your face that we so often encounter from people. Of the three countries I have visited (whopping I know) 99% of this has occured in Vietnam.

Sorry to rant - but the people need to know!!! Try and buy your return ticket in Hanoi or good luck getting back without paying double.


Back in Sapa!

After a very noisy train ride, and an over-priced bus ride, we are back in Sapa. The train ride was ok in the end, we each got a top bunk (the coffin sized one) but I rediscovered my super flexibility and not only managed to climb up and get in, but also fold in half and thirds in order to reach my bag and rearrange my blanket. Surprisingly, Paul was less happy with the situation than he was the last time. I also slept really well, and only woke up thirty times. Every time the train made a new noise I would wake up and brace myself, convinced we were going to derail. But we didn't!

So Sapa is COLD. Here is a photo of Paul (again) to illustrate the weather.
We arrived yesterday and found Chi pretty quickly. Zi had received my email and had sent Chi to find us. Chi showed us a good market stall and we got some Pho for breakfast, and then headed off on an overpriced moto to the bottom of the valley. There was a Hmoung festival on to celebrte the new year and I'm beginning to think 'ethnic minority' might be a bit misleading. The place was full of Hmoung people from all over the place. I don't know how many there were, but there were lots.

They has various games and challanges set up, inluding "Climb the muddy bamboo trunk to get the candy at the top" which was great fun to watch. There was also "Catch the goat while blindfolded", "Walk along the swinging bamboo bridge and try not to fall in the mud", "Run to the top of the hill carrying the coloured flag", "Throw the ball and flag at the absurdly high target", "Palm of Fury" (Paul's name for two guys pushing againt a short bamboo pole) and everbody's favourite "Tug of war". It was a lot like a school fate. I kept asking Chi why each challenge was on and she kept saying "for fun!" like I was some kind of idiot.

After the Hmoung fete, we walked up the mountain (one hour) to Chi's house where she and her mum cooked us lunch. We ate rice, stir fried morning glory (tasted like bacon!), a boiled potatoe dish and a yummy looking bowl of "fat meat" which was mostly fat. This was leftover from the new year goings on, where (I think) a pig is killed and the meat is divided into thirds, one for the house, one for your neighbour and one for an offering. I definately read this somewhere, but it may or may not apply to the Hmoung people. I don't think I could get any info out of Chi, as she likes talking about interesting things. Certainly there was an emphasis on the fat, rather than the meat. We caught a moto back into town and found Zi, and we shared a bundle of rice that was wrapped up in a banana leaf. Chi's mum had warmed it up on the fire before we left and it was still steaming when we opened it.

Chi's house was a rather large two story wooden barn-like constuction with a ladder to the second level (where corn and straw was drying). It had a compacted dirt floor and one lightbulb which was powered (barely) but a hydro-electric setup at a nearby waterfall. We passed this on the way up, and Chi pointed it out. It was this amazing clear water rushing over rocks and pebbles, right over the road and continuing down the mountain. There were a few other houses next to Chi's (we were halfway up the mountain - well above the road) and a whole lot of rice feilds and veggie gardens. We were entertained by three puppies and some ducks and chickens while we waited for lunch.
The weather yesterday cleared up quite nicely and it was beautifully sunny in the vally. Sunny enough to reburn the hole where Paul's nose used to be, and to turn my red ski-mask into a heat mask. If I thought my skin could power a lightbulb when my back got burnt on Don Det, I am convinced I could have powered my laptop with my face by the end of yesterday. I went to bed with a plaster mask of wet tissues stuck to my nose and forehead. This you might imagine was horribly conflicting because the rest of me was freezing cold.

I had the ingenious idea of getting a room with two beds and therefore getting two doonas! The single beds are always rather large so we're sharing one bed and two doonas - awesome! We bought some thich socks and mega gloves today from a lady who wouldn't let us leave until we bought something. Although we really wanted to look around she kept dropping and dropping the price until we really couldn't say no.

Despite the cold, we're going to spend as much time as we can in Sapa. Maybe another sunny day will happen by.