Bangkok - Hong Kong

Ok, I know - I haven't written that much lately and I don't really have a reason for it, it's not as if they're not hundreds of internet places in Bangkok. Anyway, here we go. The last night with Fra and Kim was really funny. We went back to our hotel room and looked through what we had bought. It was a lot. Shitloads of cloths. I ended up sending home 9 kilosof stuff, which was more or less only cloths. To be a bit more specific I bought 20 t-shirts, 3 hoodies and 2 jeans. And some perfumes. And some other stuff. I love shopping in Bangkok and MBK, I spent less than $150 in total I think, which is good value I must say.

Anyways, back in the hotel room we showed each other everything we bought and then we decided (read: Kim decided) that we all needed face masks and that we should dye my hair. Dark brown it was supposed tobe, but as it turns out I'm really black-haired nowadays. Goodbye sun bleached blonde hair. Noone thinks I'm Swedish anymore though, which is good.

After they left (buhu - no more kiwis...) I thought Iwould be by myself in Bangkok for a couple of nights, but after just one night I met Tina from Germany who I had met in Nha Trang, Vietnam - so we ended up spending the rest of the time in Bangkok together. It was very nice to meet her again, although I was a bit surprised at first to meet her in Bangkok. But then again, the last night I also met the three Israeli girls from Halong Bay and Sapa, so I guess you can never spend a long time in Bangkok without meeting people you know... :)

Bangkok really made a mess of my English. There are so many Swedes there that you here Swedish all the time - no half of my thoughts are in semi-Swedish and thinking in neither Swedish nor English feels natural anymore. When trying to find my way from the map today I found myself thinking "One two tre fyra blocks kvar to go" - confusing.

So. After a nice time in Bangkok with lots of shopping and lots of Indian food, I'm know in Hong Kong. The airline was a bit worried that they wouldn't let me in because I didn't have permission to stay in Hong Kong and I had no exit ticket,but it was no problems at all. Arriving in Hong Kong at night was a great experience, it feels as if someone just dropped me in downtown Manhattan - the city is immense, colorful, modern, loud, bustling and extremely international. I reckon I will have some nice days here - if my budget allows it. I found a nice room for $130 (hongkong dollar - approxiamtely one HK$ on one SEK) - it's expensive but I don't think you can find much cheaper in HK. But the room is great - two beds, aircon, TV, hot shower - I feel liked a spoiled kid at Christmas after all those rat holes in Bangkok and other places. Very nice!

I'll write more tomorrow perhaps, now I have to go to bed. And yeah, also, thanks to Carey for showing me the great Dim Sum place where we had dinner and for giving me lots of great ideas for what to do in HK. See ya tomorrow as well! :)


On my way to China

Okey, now I am on my way to China. More or less at least. From Vang Vieng I decided that I should go to China as soon as possible and to go to China you could either take the plane or the bus from Vientiane. So I went to Vientiane together with Fra and Kim (the two kiwis). Then I really don't know what happend, but I ended up in Bangkok.

To fly from Vientiane to China was possible, but it would mean I had to stay a couple of days in Vientiane which I didn't feel like. And that would only take me to Kunming, which I didn't feel like at the moment. Taking the bus was possible, but it was expensive, would take me to Kunming as well and would take 2-3 days depending on who you asked. Not a good option. So instead I got on the night train to Bangkok from Vientiane together with the two kiwis and now we've spent two days of shopping in Bangkok. I will have to send home a lot of stuff, I've bought t-shirts for at least a year to come and now it's time for some jeans and some hoodies.

New plan is to fly to Hong Kong on Tuesday, which is a bit too late in my opinion but still very good. The price was a bit too high, but still cheaper than going from Vientiane to Kunming.

I'll write more in a day or two and I'll try to upload some pictures from our days in Bangkok. Tonight the kiwis are leaving (going back to New Zealand), so I'm by myself in Bangkok soon. I'll probably do some more shopping and some sightseeing.


Tubing in Vang Vieng

Now I've had two days of tubing in Vang Vieng. The first day when Allison left I had a great breakfast at the Organic Farm Cafe. After that I was by myself and had some plans to go tubing. It took me like two minutes of walking through the town before I met James (the Canadian guy that I stayed with in Luang Prabang) and he was going tubing as well. Turned out to be a big group of people, consisting of me, James (from Canada), the Swiss girl Carol and the Dutch guy Chris (I met both in Luang Prabang as well), Matthew, Luke, Danny and Alan from England and Kim and Fra (aka Kiwi) from New Zeeland. Really nice group of people and we had a great day together.

To go tubing you first get into line at the tubing office. You pay your $3 for the tube (and the tuk-tuk ride upstreams), fill in some forms abou8t security and stuff and then you're off. You get on a tuk-tuk which takes you to the starting point and from there you just get into your tube (a tractor wheel filled with air) and start to float down the river. Floating down the river is not what you do for the whole day though - it's just a way to get from one bar/place to the next. We never made it that far down the river really - we kinda got stuck at the first four bars.

All the bars sell beer Laos (best beer I've ever had I think), serve free lao-lao (Lao whiskey) or sell buckets with lao-lao and mixers. Some bars are just bars where you sit down, chill, drink, enjoy the sun and the music and just meet new people. Most bars have swings where you can swing into the water, courts for playing beach volley, a bonfire or other entertainment. We had a really great time both days - just chilling, playing volleyboll, drinking a bit and meeting loads of new people. The first day we got a new member in the group as well - Ashley, who quickly got the nickname Boston Wu-tang (long story short, she's from Boston and her last name is Wu).

You start early in the day with tubing - around noon for us. It should take like 2 hours just to go down the whole river to the end, and you have to be back at six. We never made it to the end - I think we stopped in the middle at 6 pm both days - taking a tuk-tuk back since it's too cold in the water and you have to return the tube. It was really good fun though!

The nights have been spent in the company of the group as well, having a really great time with loads of fun. It's a bit of a shame though that all bars close before midnight and that there's a curphew for people which means you can't have alcohol in the streets after 11 pm, you can't make any noise or just being outside in the night (going home from the bars is okay - if you do it quietly). The punishment for breaking the curphew is a warning the first time and then you may face up to a couple of years in jail. Not a good idea to push it... :)

My plans for the future is a bit unclear. I'm starting to think that I will spend a couple of days more in Vang Vieng and then try to get to China as fast as possible - probably by taking the plane from Viantiene. I'll see how it turns out.

Also uploaded some more pictures from Luang Prabang and the tubing in Vang Vieng. Enjoy!


Vang Vieng

So now I'm in Vang Vieng - a small town filled with backpackers. Some people compare this town to Khao San Road i Bangkok, which is not a good thing I would guess. Khao San Road is the backpackers area, which is overdeveloped, filled with bars and backpackers and a great way to spend a couple of days in Bangkok without ever seeing anything of Thailand or the Thai culture. I can see why they compare Vang Vieng to this, but I don't agree. Sure there are lots of backpackers. Sure the town is filled with bars showing Friends at large TV's, lots of guesthouses and bungalows offering rooms for $3 and upwards, restaurants letting you choose between Lao, Thai, Indian, Israeli or Western (burgers, pizza (yes, of course they have the happy version as well)) food and internet cafes with brand new computers. But still there's a certain charm to it. It is a relaxed feeling and a feeling of genuine welcoming from the locals. The locals are friendly, helpful, don't try to rip you off and in comparison to Bangkok the surroundings are absolutely breathtaking. I love Vang Vieng so far - and I haven't even done the tubing yet.

Sooo... Vang Vieng is a small town. A really small town. As you now know it's filled with bars, restaurants and guesthouses. The town itself is located in a large valley or perhaps on a plain, but it is surrounded by limestone cliffs - making it look quite a bit like Halong Bay actually. It is soooo beautiful. There is a small river or stream runnning through the city - giving opportunities for kayaking, rafting and ... tubing! The surrounding mountains contain lots of caves which gives the place lots of trekking and hiking possibilites.

The first day me and Allison went to the Blue Lagoon which was a small lagoon outside a cave - 6 km from the town. We spent a couple of hours there just swimming in the lagoon, playing with the swings and just relaxing in one of the huts by the small river. Indian food for dinner and then some drinks in a lovely bar with great music (especially when the open mic got used - there were two great guitar players there that night) and a bonfire to sit by.

Today, which I hope is the second day (which I just realized it can't be since I've had two nights here, so the first day was probably just arriving and going to a bar), I've been doing a hike to the Losi Cave. The plan was to go tubing, but first we wanted to go to the cave. The cave turned out to take a longer time than expected, so I decided to wait with the tubing until tomorrow. So we went to the cave me, Allison and a very nice German girl (whose name I think is Patricia but I wouldn't swear on it). To enter the cave you have to pay a guide to follow you, which is very sensible. The cave was huge. I don't know how deep it was, but we spent more than two hours in there. The cave leads inwards and inwards until you reach a lagoon inside the cave. Me and the German girl went for a swim with the guide while the others (Allison and a German couple) waited a bit away - they were a bit scared and having a bit of troubles with some claustrophobia. It was a great experience to walk around in the cave and also to swim around in it. Especially when the light of the guides flashlight went out while we were swimming - and this was the only light we had at the moment. It was sooooo dark - you couldn't know whether you had your eyes open or not.

Now I'm getting ready for dinner after having relaxed in the sun for a couple of hours. This has been a lovely relaxed, chilled out day - which seems to be the only kind of days you can have in Laos. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the tubing - I don't want you to worry before I've actually done it! :)


Last day in Luang Prabang?

Yesterday was at least as lazy as the day before. I didn't achieve to do anything, apart from finding a bar in the evening that had a pool table where I spent the whole evening, sharing a bottle of lao-lao (lao whiskey) with James (the Canadian). Oh yeah - we went for bowling also - the only thing that is allowed to stay open later than midnight. It was fun to do some bowling, but after a fair amount of lao-lao, the results is bound to be quite bad. First time I've played bowling bare-footed as well, it wasn't that bad and playing in flip-flops were absolutely impossible.

The things I had planned to do and failed utterly to do was:
- Buy a book to read (I did find a book shop however, but then I saw the pool table next doors)
- Get a haircut
- Buy scissors for my fingernails, I've lost the last three ones (I did actually find scissors and bought them, but they didn't work so I returned them - thus still no scissors)
- See the town and some temples (I did leave the main street today though - progess)
- Upload the last pictures

Since I failed to do any of those things yesterday, the plans for today are pretty much the same. Except that I will also try to buy tickets for a bus to Vhang Vien tomorrow morning, I think it's time for a new town now.

I've already uploaded the lasat pictures from Vietnam now - so now you can see great photos of the Bac Ha market, interesting photos from local bus rides and some nice pictures from Mai Chau.


Luang Prabang

Now I'm spending my, erm, third day in Luang Prabang and it stills feels as if I haven't seen the town yet. First day we went to the waterfalls and partying in the small village, so no town sightseeing then. Yesterday I slept until 11 am, took a long nice shower, went for a breakfast at the "Scandinavian Bakery" - lovely sandwiches, hot chocolate and pineapple juice, yumie! - and after that I went to the Internet cafe where I ended up spending a long time, writing about everything that I've done the last few days and uploading a lot of pictures. After Internet I went for a nice Indian dinner by myself which was very nice. Had a chicken vindaloo which cleared my sinuses and made me feel good again! :) Had some beers with a girl from Canada and then I went to bed really early. Today I've been relaxing as well - haven't accomplished anything apart from seeing a nice temple (no camera though, so I have to go back I suppose). Perhaps I should get some lunch now and try to find me a book and then get my camera. In the evening I'm climbing the hill here to see a nice temple in the sunset, supposedly very good views as well.

It feels nice to be just resting for a while - taking a vacation from traveling. I needed that! One-three more days and I'll be ready for more traveling again!

The last pictures from Vietnam will be uploaded tonight!


Border-crossing to Laos

Now I have finally managed to cross the border to Laos. The day before yesterday I left Mai Chau in Vietnam by moto-bike. He was supposed to take me to Sam Neau on the Laos side - which is like five hours on moto. Since he couldn't take dollars I had to pay the hotel which would give him dong instead. This was OK for me (but if I had given it more thought I might have understood that this could 'cause problems). Anyway, we ride through the Viatnamese mountains for three hours (with small kids, 2-20 years or so, in every village shouting "hello" and waiving at you). The driver tells me about some of the local villages, especially the Tao villages which is "his people". This is a great drive - going by moto is a good way to see the views and get a real feel for the country I think.

Just realized that I haven't described the evening of the second day in Mai Chau either - I apologize for the insequential and not chronological order of everything now. Anyway, the evening was great. After using Internet for a couple of hours - writing that extremely long blog entry and answering a couple of e-mails from friends and family I went to see some caves that a local had told me about. I could find them by looking for some special road sign and then look for some stairs. He told me the climb was a bit exhausting but I figured it wouldn't be a problem and seeing a cave is always nice. So I find the stairs and I look at them. They really are long - but it's not _that_ long anyway - I can make it! So I start. And then I realize that what I saw was just the stairs to the first turn. So I climb a bit more. And a bit more. And some more. And wow - this is a really nice view, but I am a bit tired now. And more climbing. And more. Even nicer view. And now you can't hear the city anymore. But still just stairs. Uff. Can't turn back now - so I continue. I think the total climb took me like half an hour (perhaps not - but a really long time and I haven't really been working out the last month if we put it that way). When I reach the cave it's almost sunset, which gives me lots of nice views of the valley and the cave an eerie feeling of emptiness, with looong shadows cast from the strange rock shapes. It was a shame that I couldn't stay that long - I wanted to get down the stairs before it gets dark. On my way down I counted the steps, which gave me the total of 1198 steps (a local told me 1251 when I got down, so I was kind of close anyway). That is a lot I can tell you!

After the caves I get back to the guesthouse where two other guys are staying this night. It is a Swiss guy and his Vietnamese guide. We all have a dinner with the family of the guesthouse which turns out to be very nice. They have lots of food and it's soooo good. Everybody shares the same plates, you just take your chopsticks and bring a piece of food to your rice bowl and eat it. Also they drink rice wine. A lot of rice wine. It feels likes Swedish midsummer, except that the speed is higher. When we finished the eating and drinking we go to the karaoke place in the village. It's me, the Swiss guy and three Vietnamese guys sitting in a small room and singing karaoke together with the girl that works in the place. It turns out that it is much easier getting the Vietnamese pronounciation and tones correct when you are (or at least trying to) singing. It was a great evening, the Vietnamese guide was really funny and was a great singer as well.

Anyways, the border-crossing. When we get to the border there is a small immigration office and a bus standing outside. There are some Westerns (for me it seems like a lot of them, like eight or nine perhaps - on the same place!) and they are trying to get into Vietnam from Laos. I later on learn that this border crossing has like 50 Westerners every week, but that only 1% or so cross the border from Vietnam - Laos. This I notice when I get into the office as well, show my passport and say "To Laos" - they border guard is very confused and has to find another book in a small cabin in another room before he can let me show my VISA and exit Vietnam. When you pass into Vietnam they seem to be very careful - checking VISA, asking questions, looking through the bag and stuff, but when you cross to Laos you just show your passport and walk right past all the security checks. When I get out of the office I notice that my driver has dumped my bag on the ground and I see him disappearing in the distance. Fuck. I should have figured that paying in advance wasn't a very good idea - but they really seemed nice and reliable (he was a friend of the family I stayed with). So. I'm at the border of Vietnam and Laos. I have just exited Vietnam which means I can't go back into Vietnam to find a new driver or to fix something. There is only one way right now - to Laos and the village on the other side of the border - perhaps I'll find something there. (The fact that he left me disturbes me a bit, but it really only means that I payed the standard price for getting to the border instead of getting a really good price for getting to Sam Neau). So I walk a couple of hundred meters before reaching the Laos immigration office. They seem very surprised to see a Westerner, and even more surprised by the fact that I come by foot and by myself. After showing my VISA and getting some stamps the border guards tells me that the only bus leaving from Na Maew (which is the village on the Laos side) leaves at 10 am, and now it's 12.30. Which means, they tell me, that I either try to find a truck and get a ride with one of them (there are usually some per day they say) or find a local family in the village where I can sleep. Both sound fine to me, so I decide to explore the village while waiting for some trucks. Exploring the village turns out to be easier done than said actually (no, it's not a misprint) - it's just to turn around 360 degrees and you've seen it all. There are a small restaurant, a small shop and five houses with the families of the shops. And the immigration office of course. And a small office checking arriving people for bird flu. That's it.

So I sit down in the shadow, play with my juggling balls for a while, order a noudle soup which turns out to be inedible, talk to the border guards for a while (no, they don't have anything to do - this is not a very commonly used border crossing) and try to get some sleep on my backpack. I ask the guard when he thinks there will be a truck here, and he says that there is usually a couple of trucks around 3 or 4 pm. Just to relax in a couple of hours then - which I do. At 3.30 the border guard comes over to me and seems to be really happy - he tells me there is a Vietnamese bus coming to the border in an twenty minutes or so and that I can take that bus to Sam Neau. When the bus arrives it turns out that Anita is at the bus and that she had planned to hitchhike from the border to Sam Neau. We have been traveling together for a week or so, but she left Mai Chau one day earlier than me to get to the border by hitch-hiking - but now we end up together anyway. We end up taking the bus from the border to Sam Neau and arrive there late in the evening - both very tired. We get a room, watch some TV with a Danish couple and then go to sleep. After reading the guidebook I decide that I need to get to a place where I can stay for a couple of days, which means I'm taking the bus to Luang Prabang in the morning. Anita decides to take the same bus but only to Nong Khiaw, she wants to go trekking first and I'll rather do that later.

The busride was supposed to be long - I knew that. When I get on the bus it seems to be a long, but nice, bus trip. The seats are very soft and alomst no-one seems to be throwing up. There is a nice couple from Holland in front of us and we talk a bit to them. The bus gets more and more crowded and some people have to sit on stuff in the aisle, like plastic chairs or other stuff. I'm glad I have my seat, my trip is supposed to be something like 15 hours long. After the lunch break it turns out that more people are getting on, and that those people have already entered the bus and taking seats. My left sweater is now not on the seat, but on the seat in front of my old place. I want to tell them that no, that was my seat and you'll have to take the aisle or someone else's seat - but then I see it's two parents and their 4 year old daughter sitting in their laps. Yeah yeah, I'll take the aisle - it can't be that bad, can it? It turns out it can. I spend 7 hours on that bumpy bus, sitting on a sack of rice. A sack of rice is hard. Really hard. Not like wood-seat hard, more like really really stone hard. And after a while it has the same shape as you rear parts, which means that it's not just hard for a small part of you and that you can shift around - it's hard for all of your ass and it's hard all of the time and you can't shift your position 'cause the sack is shaped after only one position! Blah! Oh well, I borrow a book from the guy next to me ("Zen and the art of taking care of your motorcycle" or something like that - a very interesting book, I have to get it so I can finish it - Dad: You should read it - it's about zen and life in general, but also have some nice thoughts about traveling that made me think much about our many travels together) which says that "Physical discomfort is only a problem when you're in a bad mood. If you're in a good mood, physical discomfort is not a problem, but if you're in a bad mood you can use the physical discomfort as an reason for the bad mood - although it rarely is." (loosely quoted from my memory). At the time that seemed very true, I was in a good mood (the first five hours at least), and the discomfort didn't bother me that much really. Along the way we have two flat tires, which gives us time to stop for a toilet visit, something I'm not sure they would have bothered with otherwise. The last three hours of my trip the bus is a bit more empty, a few people and all the Westerners (except me) got of at Nong Khiaw, which means I get my soft seat back (Fredrik: aaah, sweet music for my ass). I also get a new "neighbour" - a guy sitting down with a large automatic gun next to me. He always has it pointed towards the roof and I guess/hope it isn't loaded and well secured, but I still have a bit of a trouble relaxing the rest of the trip.

When I get to Luang Prabang it's one o'clock in the night and the first guesthouses I try to get into are full. But I find three guys and one girl on their way home from some partying and ask them about their guesthouse. They think it's full as well, but I can crash in their room. So I end up spending the night at the floor of their room (three beds, one madrass and one Anders on the floor). They turn out to be very nice, they all met up one or two days ago. There is one guy from Canada, Adam from New Zeeland, a guy from Italy and the Swiss girl Sabine. Since the Italian guy didn't use his blanket or pillow I had a blanket I could roll into (which made it more soft to sleep on that floor than the sleeping mats I had for two nights in Mai Chau).

In the morning they told me that they were going to the waterfalls. I was at first a bit skeptical - I wanted a day of relaxing, using the Internet and stuff. But I thought that going to the waterfalls for some hours wouldn't be that bad, so I followed them. I'm glad I did - although this made me miss a day of relaxing (I'm doiung that today anyway, so it's okey). The waterfalls was very nice and pretty, really good for taking photos. You could also go on a small trek/climb to the top of the waterfall which I did (the others did as well, but we lost each other for a while which means I did it by myself). Afterwards we were bathing for a while in the pools under the waterfalls, playing with the swing and having a great time. We had a good lunch and played some cards at a restaurant waiting for our tuk-tuk driver to pick us up. When he does, he tells us that he wants to take us to his village and we say, sure, why not.

When we get there it turns out to be a big party/disco in the small village. Later we find out that it is the birthday of the village chief and that they celebrate it by having live disco music, eating lots of food, drinking even more Beer Lao the whole day and dancing. When we got there the locals were very nice but already very drunk. They took us to dance with them - at first just disco dancing, but later more of traditional dances. They taught (see Sophie - I know how to do!) us how to dance, how we should move our hands, how we should walk in a ring and when we should go around in circles. Very confusing at first, but after a while (and more than a couple of Beer Lao - they were inviting us to drink with them all the time) we could really enjoy ourselves. We ended up spending almost four hours there before taking the tuktuk back to Luang Prabang. That was a really nice and interesting experience. To see the locals partying just for themselves, to meet the whole family (his five brothers and four sisters and of course the parents), to dance with the locals and to learn how to drink and share food in Laos. Not so nice but equally interesting was the fact that several locals (very drunk I admit) tried to grab my balls when we were dancing (old guys and my-age-guys). I'm not sure why, but I saw them do it to each other some times as well. Either they were just curious or it's some kind of "game". Strange.

Today I'm taking a slow day. I found a Scandinavian bakery where I sat down for breakfast between 12 and 2. Since then I've been using the computer, uploading pictures and writing this blog entry. See the pictures and please write more comments!


Still in Vietnam

So - I'm still in Vietnam. I've been without a decent Internet connection for more than a week now I think, so that's why I haven't posted anything to the blog. But here goes. This will probably be quite a long blog since it's a long time since I wrote and lots have happened. But I will take it from the beginning I suppose (I'm glad I wrote diaries for hand though - otherwise I wouldn't remeber it all i guess)...

From Hanoi me, Anita and the three Israeli girls took the train to Sapa (really it was to Lao Cai which is more than one hour of driving at small mountain roads). Me and Anita bought the tickets at the train station, which gave us a very good price, less than $5 for a hard seat. If it wasn't for the cold and the fact that the window wouldn't close completely these seats would have been fine, but with one window partially open all the time it turned out to be a freezing experience.

When we arrived in Sapa it was really cold (7 degrees or so - which is very cold when you're used to 25-35 and don't have cloth for the cold) and raining, so we ended up staying at Buffalo Bell by the fireplace the whole day - playing cards and drinking hot chocolate! The second day in Sapa we did some trekking in small local tribe villages. We saw Cat Cat, Ban Ho, Te Yan and Lao Chai. It was really nice to see the villages of some of the different tribe peoples and even more interesting to see their beautiful and colorful traditional dresses that they wear (and not just for the tourists as it turns out). The views were fantastic, this is by far the most astounding mountain area I've ever been to (and I've been traveling in mountain areas in Sweden, Norway, Spain, Greece, France, Slovakia and others as well). The mountains were huge, the valleys were deep and it was full of lovely rice paddies, small local hill tribe villages with small wooden houses (each tribe has their own way of building their houses) and great waterfalls. The only shame was that it was a bit hazy - so the few photos I took doesn't really convey the beauty of the magnificent mountains...

The third day in Sapa we went to see the Bac Ha market, where we saw loads of locals dressed up for the market - which gave us lots of good photo opportunities. On the bus back me and Anita decided to give the border crossing at Nay Trang a try, so we needed to get to Lai Chau (not to be confused with Lao Cai or Lai Chai - it's important to get it right we understood after a while). Nay Trang is not officially open to foreigners, or at least it wasn't when my guidebook was printed - but we thought we might give it a try anyway. So we asked around for how to get to Lai Chau, but the general opinion seemed to be that there was a bus leaving at 5 am the next morning. All of a sudden there was a bus standing in the street and they told us to take that one to get to Lai Chau. Very confusing and we had to make up our minds really quick. It turned out to be a very nice trip across the mountain range (going up to an altitude of almost 3000 meter and then back down again), giving us great views and a chance to see some locals. The first half of the trip took us up, up and up - all the time giving us good views of the mountains and the sunset. The second half was pitch black and winding down - clear sky and lots of stars though. We talked a bit to one girl from a local village wearing her beautiful traditional dress (and I'm so happy I bought that Vietnamese phrasebook).

When we arrived in Lai Chau and checked in to our guesthouse, we realized that after paying the room we only had 10.000 VND left - i.e. 5 SEK. So we went to look for an ATM and when we found it, it turned out to be broken. After asking around with the help of my phrasebook (no-one speaks English - at all) it turns out that this is the only ATM, that no hotels accept VISA or will exchange money and that the bank opens at 7 am. No dinner that day then. In the morning Anita went to the bank where she found out that, no, we couldn't use the VISA there, and yes, they could make an exception and exchange some dollars to dong. The problem was that we didn't have any dollars, we only had euros and travellers cheques which was NOT possible. So we were stuck in a city where no-one speaks English, the ATM and VISA doesn't work and we had no money. Doh!

Luckily Anita meets the only non-Vietnamese person in Lai Chau except for us - a man from New Zeeland working in Thailand who has an office in Lai Chau. He takes her by jeep to his office and after checking the exchange rates for euro at the internet he exchanges 50 euro for 1.100.000 dong - a good exchange rate for us and a chance to get some money. So we have money again, which was good! Back to the hotel, pack up and go to the road where we sit by the road side and wait for the local bus to Dien Bien Phu to pass. When the bus passes you just wave to it, throw your backpacks at the roof and get in. After having a harsch conversation/haggling with the driver about the price we end up paying only slightly more than the locals and alomst half of the first price he gave us. We also refused to pay for extra-heavy luggage, given the fact that the locals often brought rice, building material, huge bags and really heavy stuff. This bus ride turned out to be even more interesting, since it was six hours in daylight. The mountain views weren't as spectacular, but we followed some nice valleys, saw green rice paddies and a bunch of nice small villages where the locals were doing their daily routines and wearing their traditional dresses.

We had a nice lunch together with two guys from the army, they were on their way home we think (the communication is a bit hard). The bus ride was extraordinary, really an experience. The fact that it was slow, bumpy, that they played semi-loud Vietnamese music and having a couple of locals throwing up in plastic bags or in the bus only added to the experience.

When we arrived in Dien Bien Phu we were first aiming to get to the border in the evening. This turns out to be top tight since we have to go to the banks etc, for US$. Instead we take a guesthouse and arrange a pickup at 7 am with two motodrivers for bank and border crossing.

Before we go to sleep we want to explore the town and perhaps find a bar - so off we go. For some reason we end up in a private party that turns out to be a wedding. It looked like a bar from the outside, but when we went in everybody was laughing and pointing at us. But they wouldn't allow us to leave, instead we're invited for some tea, candy, cookies and of course a lot of rice wine. Everybody seems to think we're the great attraction at the moment and we get to talk to the two English speaking daughters of the family. They explain the tradition of their weddings and after a while the bride comes to the party as well, after being at the house of her parents, where the bride and the groom goes so he can ask for their permission. She then returns to her party, while he stays with her parents and drink some more rice wine. A bit confusing, but they were all very nice and friendly and we had a great time. After roughly an hour we decide to leave them to their partying, but first we exchange e-mail addresses and they give us some tea and candy as gifts for the road. Truly an odd but wonderful experience.

The following day (6/2 I think) we go to the bank and after one hour in four/five different places we get our US$ which we will need in Laos (the problem is that no-one accepts VISA, only Mastercard). From the bank we take two motos through the misty and freezing valley, with lovely rice paddies once again.

It turns out that when a border crossing in Vietnam is only for locals - it is only for locals and you can't even bribe your way through. After some haggling with the motodrivers we go back to Dien Bien Phu (lovely views of the emerald-green valley with clouds/mist in the valley and a clear sky) and get the bus to Son La. The distance is only 320 km or so, but the bus ride takes 6,5 hours - quite indicative of the type of road traveled. The road meanders through mountains and wonderful valleys. We follow a small river for a while which gives us insights in local villages and nice views of hanging bridges and other photo-genique stuff (too bad we couldn't stop the bus to take photos). The landscape is really different different from the mountains so far, with more dust and sand. The road is the worst road I've ever traveled for a longer time. It felt as though it was a road construction stretched out for 6 hours. (Note to dad: the road was about the same quality as the road construction-road in Greece - with sand, dust, stones, potholes and no room to meet other cars or buses). This doesn't stop the bus from going at break-neck speed (when it's not uphill that is - the motor isn't very strong) and bouncing up and down. I'm glad that I never feel road-sick - cause in this bus I would have. Asian people doesn't seem to be as lucky - they all seem to get sick. In this bus ride I think I counted to seven people (approximately 50%) throwing up in the bus or in plastic bags. The last old man they had to lead out of the bus and leave him in a town, he was too bad to continue traveling. And to take away the bad look and some of the smell they just throw lots of sand over the puke which actually helps - and then the bus ride continues... At the middle of the bus ride a local girl gets on the bus together with like a ton of wood. I'm not kidding - they filled the whole back of the back of the bus with wood for a fireplace or something - I guess she was selling it in the town or so. Since the wood now occupied like 8 seats and the whole aisle the bus got kind of crowded, with people sitting three on two seats, sitting on small plastic chairs or on the backpacks of other travellers. This seems to be the standard though - no-one really seemed to think it was strange.

I think I've been in Asia for too long - cause I don't seem to bother about stuff like that. Bouncy bus ride, dust everywhere (there was at least three windows and the door that wouldn't close), hard seat, people throwing up and 7 hours on a bus. I think my senses are somewhat disconnected from me at the moment - stuff like bad smells, cold or other discomforts are only temporary - so why bother about them?

Son La was a quite boring place - just a city (although i reflected about the fact that at the time we hadn't seen any Westerners for more than 4 days). The only good thing was that we found a pool place with real pool tables (i.e. American pool tables that I'm used to instead of the small bar pool tables you find everywhere in Asia). Had a great time playing pool with the locals (and they actually knew a few words of English - and together with the International language of sports/pool we could understand each other well). They were very proud of the fact the Ho Chi Minh himself (the great Vietnamese hero), uncle Ho, had been in their place and playing pool.

From Son La we took an early bus at 5 am to Nam Xoi (or so we thought), but due to some misunderstandings we ended up along the road, 7 km from Mai Chau. This is apparently as close to Nam Xoi and the Laos border crossing at Na Maew that you can get with public transport. Which is not very close at all - it is more than 5 hours by motobike to the border. Anyway, we take a moto to Mai Chau and stop in one of the local villages. Since this is kinda close to Hanoi it's somewhat touristic, but I've only seen three Westerners so far - so it's not that bad... We get a guesthouse/tribe white-stilt house where we decide to spend the day while trying to figure out how to get to the border. We had a great day in Mai Chau (feels good not to be traveling for once - we have spent the last days on buses mostly) - exploring the village by bike and going through the rice paddies on small paths. Since I'm feeling a bit sick - a cold that didn't really break out - I decided to stay here one more night before I go to Laos by moto. Anita on the other hand thinks it's a bit too expensive, so she will try to hitchhike to the border, and if that doesn't work she will get a border today. So at the moment I'm by myself - left to explore the village even more. I've heard there is a cave somewhere here and after that I'll go to some more villages, more rice paddies and then back to the stilt-house in the local village.

Tomorrow it's a moto to Laos and then I really hope I'll get to Laos. I've been in Vietnam almost a month now. I really love it, but I want to see other stuff now. The visa is running out in a couple of days as well, so I better cross the border before then... :) I'll try to post some pictures the next time I find a fast computer - this one is soooo slow. Keep writing comments and e-mails - I love to hear what's happening in Sweden and what you think about everything that's happening in my travels!


Halong Bay and moreHanoi

Yesterday I returned to Hanoi after my tour to Halong Bay (which means Descending Dragon - nice name). Originally I was booked for the two day, one night trip, but after meeting the people in my group and seeing some views we decided to extend our tour by one day. This was a really good decision as we got some time for ourselves at Cat Ba Island.

Halong Bay was really wonderful! Going by boat around the islands and seeing the amazing views (photos will be uploaded shortly) and the fascinating caves was very relaxing after the intense experience of Hanoi. We kayaked around for a while as well - it is a great way to get close-ups of the great view. We also visited some floating shrimp farms with our kayaks and bought some cheap wine from them (cheap compared to the rip-off prices at the boat). Our group consisted of me, a Finnish girl Anita (we're still hanging out - going to Sapa together tonight), the American Allison, the German guy Steffan and three Israeli girls (Nomi, Vicki and Jen). Steffan, Anita, Allison and me rented motobikes (three bikes - two driver, Steffan was driving Anita around) at Cat Ba Island and had a great time with our drivers seeing the whole island by bike and just playing around and doing stupid stuff. Loads of fun! Afterwards we went for some Bia Hoi (local draught beer) with our driver and learned how to drink in the Vietnamese way (mot hai ba zeeoo - one two three drink)! Extremely good fun!

I will upload pictures from Halong Bay soon, I hope. I don't know how the Internet connection in Sapa will be, but hopefully it will be possible to upload them from there. After Sapa I'm going to Laos, so for the first time I somewhat of a plan that stretches further than the night. But then again the plans might change and I still don't know how long I will spend in Sapa.

Yesterday evening in Hanoi was great. We had some food with Steffan before he had to catch his train for Sapa (we'll meet up in Sapa I hope - he has some pictures and other stuff that I want - including my Vietnamese vocabulary book that I bought yesterday). Me and Anita went for some Bia Hoi (which always ends up with you meeting loads of new people and having a great time - but then again, what do you expect when the beer is cheap and good?). We ended up in a small bar with a Danish girl and a Swedish guy named Anders (practical I know) and some other "none-Scandinavian people" as well.

Today I've been chilling in Hanoi with Anita. We went to the train stations and tried to find the cheapest possible tickets for Sapa. From $16 for a soft bed we went to less than $5 for a hard seat in the slow train. We don't mind sitting there that much and the chances of seeing some locals and getting some great experiences are much bigger. Will be loads of fun. The rest of the day we've been drinking coffee (ca phe sau da - yummie!) and playing cards at a cafe. Very nice!

I have confirmed that my holiday is extended now which means that I'll be back in Sweden in mid-April probably. I still don't know whether I can (or want to) reschedule my flight, but I'll probably go for the transmongolian train home instead - that's what I wanted to do originally so why not do it now that I have more time?