Thursday, January 31, 2013

Flying Through Vietnam

Laos is laid back and quiet and as we crossed the boarder into Vietnam, I noticed a shift in the pace of life. When you walk onto the street in Vietnam, you will be thrust into a vortex of people, motorbikes, and smells. The rush is endless and loud, always horns are beeping and people are everywhere. Everyone is a part of this constant flow and rush. Even the language sounds harsh and hurried.

We adapted quickly to the hectic ways of Vietnam and it felt like we flew through the country! Vietnam is very beautiful and we enjoyed it a lot. Maybe that's why it felt like we had only just arrived when we left. All in all, we spent about two weeks skipping around the country and enjoying the views.

wet winter day in Hanoi
We started in Hanoi, coming in at nearly midnight on a 30 hour bus from Luang Prabang, Laos. The weather in Hanoi in January is not ideal. It was cold, dreary, and wet. We only stayed one day and visiting the Women's Museum and wandering through some small streets.

Next we went to Halong Bay. We did as most people do and booked a tour in Hanoi which bused us to and from the bay and provided food and accommodation for two days/one night. Halong Bay is mystical and stunningly gorgeous. I'm so glad we went, even though we were freezing most of the time. We did not really prepare for it to be so cold, clothes-wise. It was still worth it, though! :)

After Halong Bay, we took the tour bus back into Hanoi and walked straight to the train station to take an overnight train to Danang. Immediately after arriving in Danang, we went to Hoi An where we soaked up the sunshine and walked around the completely charming old city center, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It's a picturesque town with something for every kind of traveler. I love the photos we took there.

We went to see the My Son ruins (pronounced "me so-un" not like my child who's a boy, "my son"). They are hundreds of years old and in the middle of the jungle. It was very cool and very packed with tourists.

From Hoi An, we went back to Danang to catch another overnight train to Nha Trang where we immediately walked to the bus station and got on a mini-bus to Dalat. Dalat is a small mountain town with a lake. We rented a swan paddle boat one morning and had a great time on the water, paddling around. It was so fun!! Then we found a great cafe and spent the afternoon drinking delicious coffees and enjoying the free wifi and darling atmosphere. If I lived in Dalat, I would be a regular at Windmills Coffee!

Lastly, we headed to Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. The motorbikes in this city are unreal. Any traffic light or traffic circle is an amazing sight. We didn't do much in the city, other than walk around and look at things. The one thing we really wanted to do was see the Mekong Delta.

Vietnam had been quite a trip! I'm so glad we chose to go and explore. Here's my favorite picture from the Mekong Delta and quite possibly the best picture I've ever taken in my life.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"The Best Waterfall I've Ever Been to in my Life"

The title of this post was written to me by my first ever travel partner and BFF, Amanda. I knew after I read it that we had to go to Kwangsi Waterfall in Luang Prabang. She wasn't one to recommend anything lame, even in the vaguest of ways so I knew this would be legit.

We rented a motorbike and rode out to the falls. After our first motorbike rental in Laos, which was a piece of sh*# and the roads were worse, I was a little nervous. What we ended up with was one of the best days of our whole trip.

The motorbike was immaculate and brand new and the road the probably the best maintained road in all of Laos. I think we saw maybe one pothole (this is a big deal, I swear!). Here's some of the gorgeous scenery we passes on the way. It was about 27km from the city to the falls, all of it stunning.

Once we got there, we were surprised with bears! Yes, BEARS! There is a bear sanctuary in the waterfall park and it's quite fun to watch them lumber around and relax in their enclosure. You can also watch them being fed around 12:30pm.

Then there's the actual falls, which only get better and better as you hike up to the grand finale. No more words, just enjoy the photos! :)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Day in Vang Vieng, Laos

All the van drivers in Vientiane will tell you the bus takes 5-6 hours to get to Vang Vieng and they can get you there in 3. Well, they probably can get you there in 3 since the bus really only takes 4 hours. We paid 40,000 kip for the bus, which is about $5. The van drivers wanted to charge nearly twice that. Ten dollars might not seem like a lot, but in this country it really is.

We got into Vang Vieng on a sunny afternoon in complete awe of the nearby mountains that seemed to rise straight up out of the ground. The backdrop of this tiny river town is stunning. 

You might have heard about the river tubing saga of Vang Vieng. It's reached some major news outlets in 2012. River tubing was a huge cash cow in Vang Vieng. Tourists came here to rent an inner tube and float down the river stopping at the various bars along the riverbank for alcohol, weed, and mushrooms. It was a great party that was always poppin' and raking in the dough for the owners. However, there is tragedy in this tale. When you put together a river and massively intoxicated people, you get danger. Many people got hurt and even lost their lives in the river. In 2011, 27 people died in Vang Vieng and even more were taken straight to Vientiane, skipping the tiny hospital in Vang Vieng. Something had to be done. The government finally stepped in and closed all the bars along the river. The main attraction of the city has been squashed. You can still rent inner tubes and float down but not as many people do it these days.

We decided to skip tubing altogether and visit some other nearby attractions. First we went to the Blue Lagoon and Poukham Cave (also spelled, Tam Pu Kam). This seems to be the popular new hangout since the river tubing is slowing down. There's a cool cave to explore, a blue river to swim in and swing into, a grassy area with huts to chill at, bathrooms, and a bar. Well worth the 10,000 kip entry fee. 

Reclining Buddha in the cave
cave rock stacks
Blue Lagoon
hang out spot
Next we rode the Eastern Loop and went to Geng Nyui waterfall (also spelled Kaeng Nyui). The northern part of the loop is beautiful and passes through some small villages, which are very interesting. But the roads are absolutely terrible. I would never go on it with a scooter. Ours was no match for that stoney, steep road. If you want to go to the waterfall, I suggest you take the road closer to town and come back that way too.

old, scary bridge
a view from the scary road
The waterfall itself was ensconced in thick, green jungle. It's a short hike back to the falls, which were really more like a trickle when we were there since it was the heart of the dry season. Even tamed, the place was beautiful. I was reminded of Fern Canyon, a very cool spot in northern California that I used to visit with my mom and brother. They filmed part of Jurassic Park there. 

Finally, we rode back to Vang Vieng to eat some very good pizza and relax.