A Travellerspoint blog

Hanoi- the final chapter

24 hours in the city , just scratching the surface!

Our new guide Quinh collected us from the hotel at 9 am to take us to Ho Chi Min's mausoleum. We were lucky as there was not much of a queue. We solemnly filed past the dimly lit embalmed body of the great man along with many Vietnamese. Our guide said most of his compatriots would visit at least once in their lifetime. Some of us thought he looked like a waxwork. No photos allowed in the mausoleum but outside was okay. Quinh gives us a potted history of Ho Chi Min's life, did you know he worked as a baker in a London hotel?!? And he was widely travelled and did not become leader until he was 51. We had a group photo taken on the parade ground. We went on the the presidential residence which was very interesting. There was a charming simplicity about it. His own home was minimalist. For example he was given a dinning room table but asked for a small white table cloth just for his place setting as he didn't need a full sized cloth for the huge table. The garden complete with a kidney shaped pond was very beautiful. There was also an unusual one legged pagoda.

Next stop was the museum of ethnology where the reproductions of the wooden thatched long houses were interesting to look around. We had to climb up some very rudimentary ladders to get to them. All part of the fun!

In the museum grounds was a restaurant run by catering students who produced delicious and reasonably priced local food. We had a good lunch and a few beers to set us up for the afternoon session.

We took in the temple of literature built in the 11th century as Vietnam's first university where the students go for their graduation photos, some up to two years before taking their final exams! It is an attractive location so I can understand why. On to the history museum where there were some amazing exhibits of stone and wooden carved statues, beautiful inlaid mother of pearl furniture and woven tribal clothing which were the highlights for me. Some of the group were flagging by this stage...... The last stop was the Hoam Kiem lake and the old shops quarter for a walking tour. However the chosen route was not very interesting and many of us were disappointed.

We returned to the Movenpick Hotel where we were to be collected for the journey to the airport. We had a coffee and we're at a bit of a loose end. Brian asked the receptionist for a recommendation for a bar to spend our last hour or so and was directed to the Mercure Hotel roof terrace. When we got there we were told it didn't have one! But a nearby office block did. Turned out it was next door to our hotel! It was worth the perseverance as the views of the city at night were marvellous. We toasted our last night gazing out over the city, just as we had ended our trip to China 10 years previously, the city on that occasion being Hong Kong.
Where would we be toasting in 10 years hence we wondered? πŸΎπŸΎπŸΎπŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰
A lovely finish to an amazing trip and a testament to 10 years of friendship and travel, thank you Christine, John, Rosie and Frank as well as our new friends! πŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒ

Posted by China reunited 02:12 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Highs and lows

Sunset hill or river beer?

A relatively late start at 9 am to visit one of the most important temples in Laos, Xieng Thong.
It is an amazing complex of buildings including the temple, a prayer house and meditation house, monastery monks quarters, a boathouse and stupas (tombs). The mosaic walls of the temple are very beautiful. Rich Jewel colours. The finest mosaic is the 6 foot high tree of life, in my opinion anyway. We take lots of photos hoping to reproduce the splendour we see before us. Judy made an offering of flowers in the temple on behalf of the group.

En route to the Kuangsi waterfall we stop at the Hmong village Ban Na Ouane where they run a cooperative. To support themselves the people make handicrafts and sell to tourists and to local shops and stall holders. Most of us buy something to support the community. The little children are so cute dressed in national costume. They look beseechingly at us holding woven articles for us to buy. "Only one dollar"! Can't buy from everyone.

At the falls we have an al fresco lunch at the waters edge. Then the more adventurous among us change into swim wear and scramble over rocks into the crystal clear but chilly water. It is very invigorating! We splash around for a while, listening to the waterfall crash around us and watching some mad fools jump in from an overhanging tree stump. Looks too risky to me, although the middle of the pool is quite deep. I can't touch the bottom.

Back to the hotel passing through an area of teak forests. Thin tells us that most of the wood is exported to China where it is manufactured and passed off as made in China. The teak forests in Laos are fast diminishing sadly.
We are given 15 minutes to get ready for a trip to see the sunset over the mountains and get a choice of riverside bar or the top of a hill. There are 11 in the riverside group and 4 in the hill climb!! Rosie and I decide to go for it and climb mount Phou Si. The exercise will do us good! 390 steps later we reach the top. The place is a frenzy of camera and smart phone toting maniacs all jockeying for pole position. We manage to get a few decent shots against the odds and Thin takes a photo of the 4 of us against the skyline. Going down is harder going than up, as it is so steep. Rosie has to hold Thin's hand all the way as her knee is painful. Well that's what she said...... Brian went to the river bar with the rest of the group 12 steps down and a beer to watch the sunset over the mountain and river in peace!!

We have 45 minutes to get ready for 7 pm when the Tuk Tuk taking us to the night market is booked. Just make it. Phew its all go! But it is our last night in Luang Prabang so its got to be done. For the first time this trip the driver tries to rip us off by asking way over the odds. We are so used to the honesty of the people we forgot to negotiate a fare up front. Live and learn.

The night market is fairly quiet. The boys buy yet another t-shirt each and Christine buys a beautiful table runner. Time to find somewhere to eat. We bump into Brian and Clare from our tour who tell us the recommended restaurant we are heading for is very expensive. We turn back to the main street where there are plenty of others to chose from. Chris and I look at the Coconut Garden menu. Inside the restaurant looks busy. Always a good sign. We agree on it and are ushered to an upstairs table overlooking a pretty courtyard surrounded by trees.

We have had enough of rice and noodles, so the girls choose garlic chicken on skewers and the boys have buffalo steaks, all accompanied by chips salad and soda bread rolls. All perfect! Very reasonably priced too πŸ‘We walk back through the night market as the traders pack up and check the price before getting into the Tuk Tuk back to the hotel. Weary but happy zzzzzz

Wednesday - last day in Laos
Long lie in and late breakfast πŸ˜ƒ
Packing, then a morning by the pool in the sun. We have a 3 pm check out for the evening flight to Hanoi.

On a personal note, Brian and I aren't sorry to leave the Palais Juliana hotel. It has some good features but needs updating. The decor is definitely showing signs of age. My bedside light only works when Brian is in bed. Very worrying! We did love Luang Prabang though. Expectations definitely exceeded, trip to the airport is only half an hour

Posted by China reunited 16:45 Comments (0)

Luang Prabang

A very full day (again)

We are up at 5 am to see the sunrise and watch the alms giving ceremony to the monks which the local Buddhist people do every day. What should be a moving and spiritually uplifting experience is marred by the behaviour of some disrespectful tourists who stand so close to the monks with iPhones and cameras flashing away. We stand back and watch from the opposite side of the road and take a few photos discreetly. As we respect their customs the locals explain the process to us and are happy for us to take photos. Thin suggests we walk back through the early morning market which is already buzzing at 7 am. I can't resist some retail therapy and buy a pair of slippers, resisting the urge to try deep fried spiders, snake and even barbecued rat! Back to the hotel for breakfast πŸ˜€

The National Museum is our next stop. It was formerly the home of Lao royalty until 1975 when the monarchy was overthrown. The throne room is very impressive. It has beautiful mosaics depicting Lao rural life. The private quarters of the Royal family are also interesting. At the entrance the is a huge statue of King Sisavang Vong who had 15 wives. Busy man! The temple of Wat Ho Pha Bang completes the complex.

We make a "happy house" stop at a small paper making business and shop. Some of the designs are stunning. I love the decorated paper lamp shades but logic prevails, where would I use it, and I leave empty handed. Brian buys an card made from elephant dung with a Banyan leaf... Guess the drinking club will be the recipients...

Next we embark on a boat trip down the Mekong to the Pak Ou caves. The scenery is stunning and very mountainous. We see water buffalo and elephants on the banks as we pass. Lunch is the usual soup, rice and noodles and much too much of it. The caves are on 2 levels and both contain a significant number of Buddha statues. The upper cave is quite a steep climb, so not everyone makes it. Rosie, John and I do. There is no artificial light so we share a torch to peer around in the gloom and take a few photos. The rock formations are not particularly interesting and most of the stalactites have eroded. On the way back the boat stops at a small riverside village which makes whiskey. We are given samples to try and its like firewater! The red wine they also make is slightly sweet but palatable, so we buy a small bottle. Meanwhile I help one of our group, Cathy, buy a canvas bag, as she had been carrying around her essentials in a plastic carrier! Out of the blue a dog fight erupted right beside me, colliding with my left leg. I jumped out of my skin in surprise. Lucky for me I didn't get bitten, but Thin did make me check my leg to make sure. Back in the boat for a relaxing return journey.

Baci Sukhuan ceremony and traditional dancing

A Shaman elder and group of local women gave us a blessing and tied baci cotton strings round our wrists. We have to keep them on for 3 days for the blessing to work. It is supposed to revitalise us to approach life with renewed vigour πŸ˜ƒ We are then given a shot glass of the local whiskey which we have to down in one, as there are only 2 glasses to share between 14 of us and the ladies stand over us while we drink it! While we recover from the shock of the local hootch we are entertained by 5 lovely local girls performing traditional Lao dances. At the end of the show we can have photos taken with them. Our men are first in the queue! We are glad that dinner is in the hotel as we are all tired after a very long day.

Posted by China reunited 00:25 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Goodbye Cambodia

In transit to Laos

Sunday we said goodbye Cambodia. So sad to leave this fascinating place and friendly people. At least we had a lie in! The evening flight to Luang Prabang arrived at 7 pm and we are met by our new guide Thin (yes that is his name and he has heard all the fat jokes before)! By 8 pm we are at the hotel Palais Juliana. Our room is on the ground floor with a patio leading to the lush tropical gardens around the pool. As soon as I look around I spot ants circling the ceiling! On closer inspection they are also swarming over the bed! The room feels damp and smells musty. Brian and I both look at each other and say can't stay here. Luckily for us Thin is still around and he gets the manager to find us another room on the first floor. Much better and we quickly settle in. None of the buildings in Luang Prabang can be built over 3 storeys high as the town has UNESCO world heritage site status which imposes this restriction. It certainly retains a simple charm which is most attractive. Looking forward to exploring.

Posted by China reunited 00:19 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Chill time

A relaxing day for a change!

Saturday morning saw a leisurely start to the day. Breakfast at the more civilised time of 7 am. However, it appeared that everyone else had the same idea. The buffet counters were so busy that negotiating them was like an obstacle course! We had difficulty finding a table for 6 and were relegated to the end of the dining room next to the staff rota!

The day soon improved when our guide Viesna collected us for a boat trip around Angkor moat. It was a beautiful, clear sunny morning and not too hot at 8 am. We had the water to ourselves. 4 to each gondola. We ghosted effortlessly along enjoying the peace and serenity of the morning. One of the boatmen started to sing local folk songs. He had a lovely clear voice and although we couldn't understand the words, it suited the mood perfectly. At the mid point of the trip we moored up and climbed a small hill to explore a ruined temple, then down a muddy path to see a hidden tunnel built by the local people as an escape route from conflict centuries ago. There was just enough room to enable an oxen to pass through. On the way back to the boats we saw a tall tree full of noisy fruit bats, some circling above us. The boatmen rowed us back to the jetty to our waiting coach which then took us into the centre of the city for a short walking tour.

This included a modern Buddhist temple and monastery and river walk. At the temple Brian was approached by a Chinese girl who wanted her photo taken with him and her bicycle! It could only happen to him! I think she wanted a good looking boyfriend to show the girls at home... (Cough!!!) The tour finished at the old market. Before more shopping we had a refreshing iced coffee in "I viva" a Mexican bar. All the markets seem to sell more or less the same things, but this one had a stall with an abundance of larger sized mens t shirts so all the boys made several purchases πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘
We decided to return to I viva for lunch. The boys were particularly keen as Angkor beer was only 50 cents a half litre🍻🍻🍻. 6 became 8 when Clare and Brian from our tour joined us for lunch. The food was good and a very sociable time was had by all. Back to the hotel by our favourite mode of transport, the Tuk Tuk.

The afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool and some leisurely swimming to cool off 😎😎😎

For our last night in Siem Reap we went back to the city centre. First stop was the night market for a last look around. Rosie and Chris both bought cotton elephant patterned harem pants. I already had a pair that I bought on the boat. I was tempted to buy another pair, but resisted the urge.
Unfortunately we picked a dull bar for our pre dinner drinks and swiftly moved on to find somewhere to eat. The waiter at the Temple restaurant was very persuasive so in we went. Lucky for us the food was good as Frank and I had fancied trying the Chamby restaurant which was opposite and had air conditioning! A short stroll to aid the digestion and we spot the Blue Pumpkin cafe which does amazing ice cream. Some of the party indulged. You know who you are, 🍦🍦. What a great day 😬

Posted by China reunited 19:30 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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