Monday, 18 August 2014

Homeward bound (very late posting!!)

A crude representation of where we went

After saying bye to Amy I got the bus to Ho Chi Minh where I had a night before my flight the next day to Bangkok.

The bus ride was fairly uneventful but not particularly fun.  It was a sleeper bus which I was excited about until I realised I had chosen totally the wrong seat - never choose the seat at the back, it's in a row of 4 and the seats are fully reclined and you cannot sit up at all, plus you have a very low roof on top of you.  They're rather claustrophobic and you get to know your neighbour quite well.  Mine was a boy who kept touching my bum (couldn't work out if it was intentional or not) and next to him were a sickly couple, the man was ill, coughing and spluttering under a blanket even though it was a million degrees, and his wife who was constantly vomiting.  I feared for my health.

The advertised 6-8 hour journey took 9 hours and i was the only English speaker on the bus which made it fairly lonely but with a stroke of luck the bus dropped me right outside my hotel, woo hoo!! 

I returned to the hotel we'd stayed in previously but this time I opted for the dorm room as it was half the price and it wouldn't be real travelling without at least one dorm! (It was a bit weird for me going to bed and waking up in a room with a bunch of strangers, I won't make a habit of dorms!)

As I arrived late I headed out for dinner in a restaurant where I was sure the staff were high as they were so energetic and smiley, then crashed as I was tired from the journey.

The next morning I woke early to go to the airport and I had a wee accident. (As in small, not urine related)

A combination of flip flops, heavy rucksack, tiredness and clumsiness meant I managed to trip and fall down the stairs.  More embarrassed than anything (2 guests were in front and saw me do it) I recovered quickly, got up and sat down for breakfast.

When I went to stand up for my taxi, I burst into tears as where there had been a slight pain turned into a horrific pain in my foot and I couldn't put any weight on it at all.  I looked down and saw a nice lump on the side.  I realised I was in a bit of a sticky situation, I was about to get a flight to Bangkok for the day then a flight home the next day via Dubai and I was on my own and couldn't walk.

The ladies who'd seen me fall, as luck would have it, were doctors and after a quick examination decided it wasn't broken, instructed a hotel worker to get some ice and gave me some strong pain killers.  They walked me to the taxi and off I went to the airport, sobbing but trying not to and doing that annoying sniffling thing.

At the airport the taxi driver got me a trolley, put my luggage on it then had the cheek to ask for a tip with tears streaming down my face.  (One of the problems with SE Asia and probably any poor country is you never know if people are being nice because they want money or if they're actually just nice).  The check in desk wasn't open yet so I limped to the info counter and asked if they had crutches as once I got rid of the trolley I knew I wouldn't be able to move.  The lady got very confused and thought I had missed my flight but then saw my foot and sent for a doctor.  I wasn't convinced he knew what he was doing, I told him what was wrong and he started asking me about stomach pains then gave me a bandage.  The airline then brought round a  Wheel chair (they don't have crutches in airports) and I was wheeled about straight to the plane.  It was pretty sweet actually, asides the fact I missed out on browsing duty free and felt like a child in a push chair, I skipped all the security queues and was first on the plane.  I also got a row of 3 to myself, score!

My poor miss piggy foot

In Bangkok (after a lot of research) I checked into a swish hotel for the grand price of 900 baht (17 quid). It had a rooftop pool that I had to myself for the afternoon, a huge king bed,  a corner bath which I got very excited about but then realised weren't that comfortable and a separate shower.  I spent the afternoon by the pool, hopping around my room, in the corner bath and I ordered room service twice (it was very cheap) and felt like a queen. 

At Bangkok airport the next morning I went through the priority queue (wheelchair still) and saw members of the Thai Olympic team for Nanjing 2014.  The only reason I know this is because everyone was going crazy for the hottest member of the team and he was being mobbed, which he looked a little embarrassed by.

I'm writing this on the plane home, I am sat next to a guy who keeps snorting, in front of me is an old lady who I think is a bit batty and keeps pressing the assistance button though she doesn't need any help, and behind me is a guy who keeps telling everyone about how nervous he is and how he keeps needing to pee.  There's also two crying children, standard.  On the bright side I have just watched The Other Woman (laugh out loud funny) and Life of a King, a Cuba Gooding Jnr goodie that made me cry in front of everyone. 

So, some stats:

Money spent: £993.91 plus flights at £481 and £55. Not including flights, that's £23.66 a day which includes bus and boat journeys, food and drink, accommodation, souvenirs, visas, tours, everything.

Cheapest room: Ha Tien, Vietnam at £3 or something a night (not even a hostel!)

Most expensive: Bangkok just now but only marginally if I had split it with someone

Favourite hotel: The King Boutique, Siem Reap

Favourite place visited: Koh Tao or Dalat

Favourite country: Cambodia

Favourite tour: Dalat motorbike followed by tuk tuk tour in Kampot and Ang Thong marine park in Thailand

Things I will miss:
The sun
Bum guns
Every day being something new
Vietnamese iced coffee
Banana and coconut shakes
Swimming pools
Tuk tuks
Everything being ridiculously cheap
The sound of crickets and those loud birds I can't remember the name of that sound like they're going crazy
Kids saying hello

Things I won't miss:
Deet and sun lotion application
Insect bites even though you put the deet on
Being careful with what we eat
Public transport
Writing the blog on the nexus
Research every day
Having to be constantly vigilant for scams

Would I do it again: yes, but slower and different countries.  I think I'd prefer immersing myself in one country rather than hopping round three in the same space of time.

When I get time I want to do a "proper" photo post, I've only sorted through the Thailand pics and haven't had a chance to do the others.  

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Vietnam - Dalat

The journey to Dalat was a relatively quick four hours, however the beautiful winding mountain road was causing someone (Amy) some anguish who I think was convinced we would plough over the edge.  At least she wasn't throwing up like our other passengers.  Turns out the Vietnamese get very travel sick.  At one point we swerved and screeched to a halt, we had run into a herd of cows. No casualties though.  Each time something like that happens you do wonder if the drivers are very skilled or just very lucky.

We arrived and got a free minibus to our hotel, it turns out that the bus company we'd been religiously travelling with do free transfers to your hotel from the bus station and it's a trick we have definitely been missing!  Setting out to explore, we hadn't done much research and didn't know where the centre of town was.  We headed the wrong direction and it started to pour it down. 

A bit miserable and wet we recouped in a local cafe with WiFi and did some research.  For any travellers and holiday makers I highly recommend the app "Triposo".  When you have WiFi you download the country you're visiting and it has a whole host of info- exchange rate, weather, phrases, an offline map, plus all the top attractions you'd find on TripAdvisor.  It's very useful!

Clued up on the main sights, we headed into the main town and took a wander.  Dalat is a small town in the mountains between Ho Chi Minh and the coast.  The French settled here as it made a nice change from the heat the rest of the south faces, and it is very beautiful.  The architecture reminded me of the Swiss Alps (just realised I have never been to any Alps let alone the Swiss bit but you get my drift) and I liked it.  The town itself is nothing of beauty but the surrounding scenery is stunning.

Arrival sunset

Lake in the town

Many florists as flowers grow in the microclimate

The next day was my birthday, yay! We decided to celebrate by FINALLY getting round to a hike, we had failed in all other places due to low season/guide illness/expense.  The hike was a trek through the surrounding jungle, up a mountain (I use this term loosely, maybe let's call it a big hill) and down again the other side.

It started off promising, we began at a beautiful lake at the foot of the big hill surrounded by forest.  It really was very picturesque, rich holiday makers agreed and had built large mansions overlooking the water. 

The hike was 12km and took around five hours with a break for a picnic lunch.  With Amy's lack of balance and my habit of tripping up a lot (I made myself bleed in the first five minutes from tripping on bracken) I am pretty sure our guide was thinking "how did I get lumbered with these two?".  He was a sweet guy, confusingly a Vietnamese man called " Thai" who led us through streams, over tree stumps and up the hill.

First booboo

Afternoon picnic spot

We had both taken our shoes off at the first stream to cross but I managed to get very muddy very soon after and resorted to wading through the next streams we crossed, Amy valiantly removing shoes and socks for each.  Every 5 minutes we'd stop and search for leeches - I became very paranoid and squealed every time a leaf was on my leg.  Amy got a huge leech on her, we didn't know if it was huge because it had been feeing on her leg a while.  My leeches luckily stayed contained on my trainers and a quick squirt of insect repellent killed them right off - a good trick to know!

The hike was a little disappointing, I was expecting brilliant views when we reached the peak, but we reached the top surrounded by jungle, and descended surrounded by jungle, and jungle all looks the same.   It was good to get out into the wilderness though,as well as a bit of much needed exercise!!

After napping and having well needed showers we headed out for a birthday dinner in a lovely little restaurant - we're suckers for fairy lights and candles.  We then went to a bakery which had the most amazing looking cakes for amazing prices, 25000 dong (65p) for a fairly large individual cake.  We bought a few things and headed to the hotel for a feast.

beautiful views but poor service, wouldn't recommend

cosy atmosphere and lovely service!

amazing and so cheap!!! but not as nice as they loook

The following day we went on a tour of Dalat, we hadn't intended on booking anything but the guide in our hotel was SO enthusiastic that we couldn't refuse.  He will go far in life!  (He also persuaded Amy to travel 200km on the back of his bike back to Nha Trang when she could have got the cheaper bus back!)

The tour was AMAZING and the best thing I have ever done ever.  I think, as that's a grand statement to make.  We hopped on the back of motorbikes (this was an achievement in itself, the last time I was properly on a bike was Loomsey's (rest in peace xxx) at uni and I nearly pooed myself I was so scared) and headed out on a crazy trip around Dalat.

We stopped at:

  • A weasel coffee plantation and sampled the produce (coffee made from beans that weasels have eaten then pooped out.  Verdict: earthy taste but not liking coffee much anyway I am not able to give an educated opinion)
view from the factory

weasel poo coffee

  • A silk making factory (very interesting to see the process from silk worms to silk scarves, the factory smelt of mashed potatoes)

  • A village with a giant chicken statue, apparently built by the government to day thanks for the war effort (I think they would have preferred money) where we bought some candy for the poor kids (again, they would probably have preferred money)

  • A flower garden where they grew roses and gerberas on an industrial scale (quite interesting and our guides, Tien and Anh, gave us roses that then got ruined on the back of bikes)

    With Tien and our roses
  • A cricket factory where there were hundreds of crickets living in tarpaulin nests ready to be fried for consumption.  I couldn't bring myself to eat one, even looking at them made me feel queasy, but Amy gobbled them down. She might have even enjoyed it...

stopped for a delicious snack, some sort of papaya salad

But the most fun was had at the two waterfalls we were taken to.  The first, Elephant Falls, was a treacherous climb down to the base where we stood on a rock and got pounded by spray.  Neither of us had worn sensible shoes and so went bare foot which was slippery,muddy and painful!  Our guides were like cats, springing about all over the place and providing a steady hand when we needed it, which was a lot! We also headed down a pathway to be behind the waterfall, I gave up by this a point as too much water was in my eyes and I was worried my contacts were going to come out but Amy stood with Tien, screaming like mad men at the spray and getting drenched.  (Amy was the brave one on this trip,!)

I didn't poop myself....

We dried quickly on the bikes in the warm breeze and headed to Pongour Falls, probably the most amazing and beautiful place I have been in Asia.  The falls are wide rather than steep and the limestone has made shelves for the water to pour down.  We jumped in (OK, tentatively slid in) to the lake at the base and swam across to the base of the fall.  From here we climbed up the levels of the fall, it was so exhilarating!  And a bit scary and probably a bit dangerous.  At one point we went to the largest shelf where the water was most powerful and walked right underneath the shower.  I'm embarrassed to admit but I froze in panic and couldn't go any further, it's actually not much fun having heavy water pounding on top of you and not being able to see properly because there's so much water in your eyes and not breathing properly because of the water spray.  I was being a baby - anyone could water board me and I would sing like a canary!!  

Anyway once I got over the panic and Tien rescued me from the fiercest part I started to enjoy myself and we played on the water shelves striking silly poses and generally being silly.  It was amazing and one of the best experiences of my life!!  Travelling on the back of the bike was great too, it's so organic - you feel like part of the scenery rather than being cooped behind glass window of a minibus.  Plus we dried really quickly in the sun!

The trip was knackering so we napped when we got in then joined Tien for some beers in the evening.

Mine and Amy's final day together was spent chilling out in Dalat.  We had a huge lie in then headed down to the lake where we had a romantic pedalo ride.  We walked to 'the crazy house " but it's shut on weekends and so we rested and had tea in a nearby cafe (note to self - must do better research!)

Farewell sunset

The next day we parted ways, me to make my way slowly home and Amy to Nha Trang, where she will beach  bum for a week while waiting for Rob.