First of all I'd like to thank you all for the flood of emails and e-prayers wishing us a safe flight with Lao Airlines. Your loving support made all the difference.

And yes, we did safely arrive in Hanoi on time and in one uncharred piece. We saw our plane from the departure lounge and were a little bit worried for our safety when we spotted and distinct lack of jet engines, and only saw propellers. I also got to witness my bag being dropped by the throwers at least three times. Woot! We were seated directly behind the right propellor, and so would be the first to be decapitated should it come loose. We were also above the wheel, and so would be the first to be sucked through the floor should our wheel be torn off by a fence or stray albatross. We were also right above the fuel tank, and so would be the first to be incinerated or exploded in case of a fire or explosion. Also, we were in the row very furthest from both exits, and thus would be the first to die of smoke inhalation, should we survive the fuel tank fire. Paul no longer wants to sit next to me on any future flights.

Stingy as we are, we took the shuttle bus from the airport into town, which, I kid you not, was a longer journey than our flight. We arrived in the Old Quarter at about 7pm, with no accomodation and only a vague idea of where we were. Waving off the moto and cyclo drivers, we decided to walk in the general direction of the lake and actually got there. The Tet celebrations were still going strong, and we walked past a few stages with music and dancing, and a little carnivale with bumper cars and carosels. The lake was lit up very beautifully but I was too tired to hold up my camera. We found a room in Prince 55-57 hotel, a gaudy affair with fairy lights. After umming and ahhing we got a room down to $6 (sweet!). It's quite a bit cleaner and nicer than the $8 room, but it is only slightly larger than the bed itself. We figured the tinyness would be hilarious fun. The door nearly hits the bed when it opens, so I have to jump on the bed while Paul squeezes in. The only free floor space is taken up by our bags. Bathroom is not bad, but we can only get the shower to go from freezing cold to slightly less cold. Bummer.

We have booked an overnight tour to Halong Bay, I just hope we haven't paid too much... The word is you get what you pay for, but my worry is being dumped on a "Why-didn't-I-pay-more!?" tour when I did in fact pay more. The day we get back from the bay, we'll have about 5 hours to kill before jumping on a train to Lao Cai, and then a bus to Sapa. We will probably stay here a week. Our train tickets are also a bit of a worry. We can't work out if we're in the same booth, or if our bunks are the low ones or the high ones. I guess I'm just going to deal with it however it turns out.

This morning we got a big bowl of our beloved Pho for breakfast, along with some fried bread stick things (the best) and we knew we'd been missing out on this soup for ages. We got noodle soup all through Cambodia and Laos, but it's just not the same.

Here is a photo of Paul to illustrate the temperature in Hanoi.

It's not freezing, just chilly.



Let's Fly Lao Airlines!!!

Oh so proud of being ahead of schedule (this affords us more lazy time) we are jetsetting off to Hanoi this afternoon on the affordable and reliable air carrier Lao Airlines. With a 100% safety record (i.e. no records made public) I think we are in good hands. For those of you who think otherwise, our flight number is QV313. We depart Luang Prabang at 1645 hours, and, all going well, we arrive in Hanoi at 1535.

It's a 50 minute flight to Hanoi. We chose this over a 24hr bus ride, which may or may not have been cut short at 10 or so hours in (by dumping us at the border again). To even begin the 24hr bus ride, we would have had to take another 11hr bus just to get to the right bus stop. Bugger that.

This morning we have many errands to run: pick up laundry, attempt to fit souviniers in bag, buy another bag, check weather in Hanoi, pay for room, and spend all our remaining kip. Will post of our safe arrivel at our earliest convenience.

Luang Prabang

Water Buffalo

Today we revisited the tubing office (actually it was a different office. It looks like they have different operators running the show on different days) and took the short tuk tuk trip back up the the launching point of the tubing run.

We politely waved off the bar owners and their bamboo poles, determined to make it the whole way this time. And we did! Four hours later! Let's just say the river gets slow at spots. We also stopped for lunch at the most deserted bar we could find. Unfortunately the staff thought that two guests constituted playing some blown out Eminem from four enormous speakers. We ate quickly.

I'm glad we did the whole trip properly, for a while we were actually out of earshot of the dance beats. The highlight of the trip was witnessing a heard of water buffalo going for a dip not a few metres from where we floated. There were about 10 adults, 3 of which I think were albino(!?), neck deep in the river, and 4 calves, who refused to get their hooves wet. From a distance we thought they were rocks, until some kiyakers passed and suddenly all the rocks emerged from the water and had a go at munching on the grass. As soon as the kiyakers had gone, they all returned to the water, still chewing and snorting softly. They kept dunking their head under the water, some of them stayed under, checking things out on the river bed.

So that was really beautiful, and at the same time sad. The only other water buffalo I have ever seen are on farm land, and only get to sit in knee deep still water.

In other news, I broke my super expensive sandels but got them repaired by a friendly magician.

Tomorrow we catch the 10am VIP bus to Luang Prabang. A super lovely girl sold us the tickets. From there we hope to somehow get to Vietnam. We'll see how that goes!

Vang Vieng

Dripping wet, shivering drunkards... in tubes.

I don't suppose anyone else will appreciate the delicate irony* here, but I truly thought that being in Laos on Australia Day would allow me to safely ignore my homeland. It has, however, brought me in contact with more Australians than I usually meet in a month. Yes, this is partly because I'm a hermit, but also because there are way the fuck too many Australians in Vang Vieng. It might be the horribly obnoxious riverside club scene that draws us in, or it may be the beautiful scener-- nope, it's most likely the club scene.

An afternoon tubing sounds like fun. Nice, relaxing fun just floating gradually downriver... all you need to do is make it past the half-dozen or so bars littered along the banks. Try to ignore the shitty... shitty music and once you're past the big slide (yes, the big slide) it actually does live up to my snobbish expectations.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) most people don't make it past the big slide. And as such, a tuk-tuk service is set up to drive the dripping wet, shivering drunkards back to town.

This is one town where I really feel sorry for the locals. I understand why our hotel manager is so grumpy all the time.

*possibly because it's not true irony at all, rather the Alanis Morrisette kind of irony that is anything but.

Tena Bungalows, Don Det

My second sale for the trip! Earning me a profit of $10.70, the kind and wise purchaser of this tee paid for four night accommodation on the tranquil island of Don Det, one of the 4000 Islands in the very south of Laos.

Tena/Tana/Thana Bungalows (the signs were all different)
Don Det, 4000 Islands, Laos
20,000 kip (US$2.50) per night


A very important day

That's right people! It's the most important day in the world, a day when hundreds of thousands of Australians get together to celebrate one thing - Chinese New Year!! I hope you are all busy throwing lettuce heads at dragons.

Today we are taking it easy after our tubing escapades of yesterday. My god, I cannot describe how crazy it was. You think tubing down a 3km stretch of river and you think serene mountain scapes, drifting waters, waving children etc. But no, in fact we barely made it 1km down the river, as we were lassoed by bar owners and distracted by the bucket cocktails and flying foxes and rope swings and dancing bikini girls (I can only take so many exposed bum cheeks) and blaring dance music and crazy craziness. We met nothing but Australians all day, and I liken it to spring break madness. At the last bar there was a massive bonfire, which was handy as we were all freezing by this stage. From there we grabbed a tuk tuk back to town with 6 other party goers, which cost us a whopping 10,000 kip each. The driver knew we were in no position to argue.

If Paul and I hadn't tagged along with some nice Sydney girls we met, we may have made it the whole 3km.

The tube hire place has a sign warning you about the costs involved, there were skulls and crossbones on there. So the tube costs you 55,000 kip, then there is the 60,000 kip deposit. You get all of this deposit back if you return your tube by 6pm (this is rare) and if you're late, you cop the 20,000 overtime fee. You can hire a dry bag for 10,000, but you need to leave a 50,000 deposit. We baulked at the deposit costs, but now I fully understand why they're so high. People get sooooo drunk that tubes and bags must go missing all the time. In fact as we lined up to hire our tube, we were entertained by multiple "LOST" posters on the wall. Lost: one nikkon camera, $100 reward, no questions asked. Lost: one pair of shoes. Lost: one mobile phone, one camera, one shoe and one bikini top. Good times!

Paul and I only got two drinks between us, one of them a bucket, so we were only completely drunk. Prior to drinking, however, I found myself climbing ladder after ladder up to a rickety bamboo platform, and shortly after swinging on a rope swing which hung from a massively tall crane-like pole which may as well have been constructed from paddle pop sticks. Aiming to avoid rocks in the river whilst completely airborne is really hard! I only screamed a little bit. Paul assured me he was watching but I don't know.

So that's tubing in Vang Vieng. I'm considering doing it again, this time with no stops at the bars, and making it the whole 3km back to town. Apparently the bars are only along the first kilometre, so the rest of the trip should be quite lovely...

Vang Vieng

Man this place is awesome. Did you that water in it's natural state was originally clear? As in see-through!? After gazing at the muddy Mekong so long I was beginning to doubt clear water as a myth. But the river here in Vang Vieng has set me straight. You can still see the rocky bottom at two metres deep. Not to mention the fish.

We have a great room with hot water and a doona (yay!) and are about to set out on a cave exploration expedition. Tomorrow we will most likely be tubing the 3km stretch of river which is miraculously lined in bars serving buckets of beer and stuff. It will most likely be a quick for me and Paul :|

Stay tuned for many a photo of fabulous scenery and stuff.

Vang Vieng

Moving on

Tomorrow we head off to Vang Vieng. Our current guest house is a little bit dodgy looking so I'm not sure if we should get the tickets from them or elsewhere. I don't suppose it makes a difference but hey!

Oh to be a VIP

Did I say awful? I meant freakin' awesome!!! The sleeper bus was very nearly completely great fun. The only drawback was the squat toilet (which I could live with) being blocked (which I couldn't). Fun Fun. Thankfully we stopped at a mid-way bus station at 12.30am and I found the toilets (after walking in the wrong direction for a few hundred metres). These cost a whopping 1000 kip to use, which I did not have, so I owe a nice tourist somewhere some money. So on your super spensive VIP express bus monster, you get a small double bed - we got the ground floor - a pillow and a super warm and cosy doona in lovely Lao yellow with butterfly stitching. Aside from the size, it's the best bedding we've had the whole trip. You also get an amusing bus attendant handing out chocolate Lactosoy drink boxes, little cakes in packets (twinkies?) and water bottles, and cracking onto our good-looking companions from Chile. Chilenos are nice people! Here is a photo of one named Elena (Mariella is behind her in the dark).

Preparing ourselves for a sparse plank of wood and nothing else, Paul and I stuffed our daypack with jumpers, socks, beanies, water bottles, pringles and chuppa chups, but didn't need any of them. Here is a photo of Paul, wearing a head torch that we also didn't use.

At the moment we're spending too much money on food in order to get free wi-fi (again) as we have to wait for our room to be cleaned. We arrived in Vientiane at 6am, just before sunrise and caught a truck bus thing into town. I don't know the name of it yet, but it's a truck with a big tray that has been fitted out with two wooden bench seats and a roof. Good fun and not a rip off which was pretty amazing. Of course not a lot was open and all the guest houses are full. The room we found is pretty dingy but we'll probably only stay two nights before heading to Vang Vieng. Here is a photo taken from the truck bus of the sunrise in Vientiane.

I'll take the free wi-fi opportunity to say that Pakse is a hole and I don't know why people stop there!! We walked around for 3-4 hours whilst waiting for our sleeper bus, ate some food, used some internet and it wasn't very pretty and was a bit smelly and there was nothing to see, except for this kid goat creature, which, despite being out of focus, is still very cute.

Next Stop Vientiane

Our original plan was to thoroughly explore every stop on our journey north, but we accidentally spent over a week on the paradisical island of Don Det. Plan B is to spend 20 hours travelling and skip everything between Don Det and the capital. It goes like this: 200,000 kip ($25 US), short boat ride, 2 hour bus ride to Pakse, 4-5 hour roam around Pakse town, 10 hour sleeper bus to Vientiane. Our more hardcore friends then caught the next bus to Vang Vieng (4 more hours) but we're going to give it a few days in the capital first.

We've never done a sleeper bus before but expect it to be thoroughly awful. Yay!

Here are some photos to keep you busy.

This is a 30 second exposure from the middle of a rice field on Don Det. It looks much more impressive on my camera than on this monitor.

Welcome to Laos

Being on a balcony, overlooking the vast Mekong dotted with islands, after having spent three days paddling and cycling around a tiny island, eating good food and drinking great cocktails, I'm concerned that I won't be able to properly describe the nightmare of a border crossing that got us here.

It started in Kratie, Cambodia, when we booked our through, repeat through, ticket to Don Det island in Laos. We and six other people are assured that we're paying for a through ticket, with one minibus change at the border. Eight people in total, buying their tickets from four different locations in Kratie, make it to the border safe and sound. There's a manual boom gate and a little booth on the side of the road, and not much else. No drivers or buses waiting to pick up any tourists making their own way. Barely a drinks stand selling warm Pepsi. So we wait for Cambodian immigration to finish their lunch, pay our dollar exit fee, get about six new stamps in our passport and we duck under the boom gate and we're out of Cambodia.

About two or three hundred metres down the road we see another manual boom gate and a booth so we figure Laos must be over there. We all don our backpacks and start walking. Half way between countries we hear a gunshot. From the Lao immigration booth. “That's encouraging,” the tall American guy carrying the suspicious box wrapped up in brown tape says. We all laugh and keep walking.

So immigration into Loas is easy enough – pay our dollar and get more cool stamps. It's the connecting minibus that is the problem. There isn't one. There's about ten immigration guys playing bocci and lazing about in hammocks, one cat, one dog and some chickens. But that's it. No one panics, we all sit down in the shade and wait. Immigration doesn't look surprised so we don't either. Two hours later we learn a little bit more about our companions. Two super tanned Finnish guys, and English couple, the tall American with the box (it's his birthday), and a nice lady from the Netherlands.

An hour later, after a few futile phone calls to our so called bus company, we're still sitting on the border, hoping a bus will roll up. The immigration guys offer to drive us to the ferry in the back of their ute for $10 a head, and we figure waiting is cheaper so we stay put. Finally another minibus arrives full of tourists from Cambodia, and the nice driver tells us we've been scammed. He offers to organise a minibus to come and collect us for $6 a head. Cheaper than the immigration ride and the ferry is closing in an hour or so so we say do it.

The only miracle of the day was that the driver promised us that our $6 would also cover the ferry (tiny boat) ride to the island and it actually did.Woot.

We also made good friends with our fellow scamees and have been hanging around with them on the island. I'd say it was worth the effort :)

So Don Det is awesome and I recommend staying here for as long as possible. There are little chicks and piglets and kittens and water buffalo babies roaming all over the place, and I have to stop and say 'awwwww' for every one of them. Here is a picture of 11 piglets and their massive mum.

The only electricity on the island comes from generators, which only run from about 6-10 at night. It's candles and torches after that. We're staying in one of the many bungalows that overlook the river on the sunset side for $2.50 a night. There is internet here thank god but it is about $3 an hour (crazy). Speaking of which you probably won't hear from us again until Champasak (I think that's where we're going next).

Here is a long exposure shot of us and and Englishman named James who has two heads. This was taken at a pig BBQ put on by some locals. Lots of fun.


Don Det

Guesthouse # 9 Siem Reap

I recently made a sale of this t-shirt on redbubble, which earnt me $10.70. This sale paid for nearly two whole nights accommodation while we were in Siem Reap. Here is a photo review of said accommodation so the buyer can enjoy their charity more fully.

Number 9 Guesthouse
Siem Reap
US$5 per night.


Thanks to the buyer for their kind purchase :)


We've been working hard on gaining mileage so you haven't heard from us since Siem Reap. Since then we returned to Phnom Penh for one night at number 9 sister guesthouse again, only this room was the worst we had. Termites had destroyed the walls and we spent the night expecting the roof to cave in on us. There was also a great big bulge around a nasty gash in the wall paneling that I'm pretty sure was one of the lesser gateways to hell.

After that we jumped on a mostly empty bus with the first French-Canadians we've met, who argued every dollar they ever spent. Apparently they paid $7 for tickets on a fast mini-bus, and we'd paid $5 for whatever would get us to Kratie in whatever time. Of course we ended up on the same bus, but only after half an hour of them standing on the kerb refusing to board because they paid $2 more than us for a minibus. Then they complained about a $2.50 moto ride (a half hour moto ride). Poor French-Canadians!

In Kratie, we have the best balance of nicest/cheapest that we've had in Cambodia. $4 a night beats the runner up, $5 a night in Siem Reap (a little nicer but still an extra dollar). A word on accomodation - cheap! For $5 you can get really nice or really mouldy, depending on how much you want to shop around. We're going to struggle back in Vietnam.

And yes, we shelled out the $2.50 ($5 return!!) for the moto ride to take us 16km north of town, a really beautiful ride along the mighty Mekong. And Dad, I confess, I rode without a helmet and had visions of my half skinned body skidding head first into a road sign the whole trip there and back. There were no road signs but my driver did have to slam on the brakes more than once for the suicidal dogs that kept throwing themselves onto the road. But it was really fun and I'm super glad that neither Paul nor myself died horribly.

The reason for the death defying excursion north was to take a boat ride to the middle of the Mekong (it is really wide) to catch a glimpse of the horrifically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. There's literally less than 100 left between Kratie and Southern Laos. We did catch glimpses, but not much more than that! I have about 50 photos of patches of water where a dolphin very recently was, and a few minutes of footage with a fin or two showing. It was really lovely to see though so I'm glad we risked our lives...

Tomorrow morning we head off on a minibus to Don Det island, just over the border into Loas. We're looking forward to $1 a night bungalows with or without toilet we're not sure. Don't believe the price until I confirm it in our next post though.
Speaking of which, if they have gotten electricity to the island of Don Det since our Lonely Planet was published, I don't think they'll have gotten internet connections yet. You might not hear from us for a while!

I will try to get some photos up tonight before we leave but I promise nothing!


The Temples of Angkor: bring money

After two days of strolling around 800 year old temples, I am templed out. It was a mostly pleasant experience, putting aside the expense.

Our tuk tuk driver was acting a bit awkward the whole two days, I think he was expecting us to turn around at any minute and say your fee is ridiculous buddy, let's halve it. But too polite to insist, we paid him.

If you plan on eating or drinking whilst touring the temples, get your guesthouse to make you a sandwich. The food is about three times worse than anywhere in town, and three times more expensive. Too hot to bother, we paid for the stupidly priced food as well.

I'm not kidding when I say bring money. Paul and I usually get around town eating and internetting all day with a $20 note and some reil in our pocket. It was out of laziness that we left the entirety of our most recent atm withdrawl in the daypack, and lucky we did.

Entry to the Angkor area for three days is US$40. If you actully manage to fill three days, the tuk tuks will cost you more than the entry fee. After day one we were wishing we only got the one day pass (still US$20). Tour guides are available to hire from town, but three days of this will also exceed your entry fee. They do have a lot to say though, and in a number of languages. We heard French, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, English and German. While Paul and I wandered around making up stories to explain the various objects we saw lying round (this is where they must have sautéed the goats, and this is what they used to preserve the monkeys) and pointing at random stuff and saying 'gee that's pretty', the less stingy tourists were getting a history of the empire. The goat sauté block was in fact a basin for collecting and channelling rain water that fell through the hole left at the top of the tower.

We find out after visiting that the ticketing is run by Sokha Hotel, a division of Cambodain petroleum company Sokimex. They pay the Cambodian government a fee of one million US dollars annually for the privilege. A portion of takings after that get given to the Apsara authority, who are in charge of preservation and restoration. For a number of years, it was estimated that only 5c of every dollar (after that first mill) was put back into the park. Today the distribution is better. This is pretty evident, on pretty much all of the sites areas were roped off for restoration, but nobody was there and nothing had been done. When there were workers on site, they weren't doing anything. Seriously. The most construction work I saw was in a hammok being erected. (ok I did see a tent of about 20 people, and at least 3 of them were chiseling at stones, and another place had a crane that did have a driver sleeping in it) One site we visited was due to be fully complete in 2002, but were no where near it when we were there.

There have been criticisms of the ticketing, saying a lack of transparency leaves heaps of room for 'miscalculating' ticket sales. In 2005, Cambodian tourisim reported 1.4 million tourists entering, but Sokimex only reported 300,000 ticket sales.

Speaking of oil giants and conspiracies, did you know that BP owns stonehedge? Ya-huh. And just to drive home my point, the killing fields (pol pot's dumpng ground for bodies when he killed a third of the Cambodian people in the 70s) is now privately owned by a Japanese company. Oh the humanity.

Is it time I moved on? The tuk tuk ride was great fun, taking us through some thick forested areas, countryside and towns. I won't go so far as to say it was my favourite part, but it was awesome. Over two days I took about 800 or 900 photos, (seriously!) 600 of which were on day one. We saw the tomb raider tree (the one where Angelina Jolie did her thing) and then saw some much bigger, better, more impressive and more awesome trees at other temples (I hear the location scout was fired).

I will upload a whole host of photos, as soon as I can process them all on my good for nothing (good for solitaire) laptop.

Paul and I have just run our finances and holy jesus the Australian dollar is a piece of crap right now. We've been operating in USD for so long, and have been patting ourselves on the back (before Siem Rip Off anyhow) about how fabulously low our spending is. But we finally add it up and convert it to AUD and we'll be skipping dinner tonight!

The even worse news is I'm back on the souvenir trail! So I buy a gift for mum for christmas, then Paul's mum, then me, and then something else for me, and what do you know I'm off the wagon.

My apologies for the long post - the internet here comes free with the food! There's just one more thing I must mention - lemongrass sorbet.

Siem Reap


Man we have been in Siem Reap about twenty hours now and only just worked out where we are. We have two maps of town, and two business cards with basic maps on them and damned if Paul or myself could make any sense of any of it! To top things off, any tuk tuk driver or guesthouse operator we asked to point to our location on a map would wave their finger non-commitally at some blank area on the page and say 'about here'. I think our mistake was over-estimating the size of Siem Reap. We expect a fifteen or twenty minute slog through the dusty streets looking for this particular landmark and we come upon it in about two minutes. There also appears to be two central markets in town, just to be thorough in confusing us, so as soon as we get some confidence in our position this market shows up and suddenly we may or may not be four blocks away. Gargh!

We have it sorted now though, forget the maps, just remember the direct route from our guesthouse to this really awesome (although a bit trendy) cafe lounge restaurant called Blue Pumpkin. Downstairs is a really airy ice-cream /bakery cafe (a bit like bread-top in the bakery area) and upstairs is a super cool restaurant (so cool it's all white and minimally). Food is a bit more expensive but comes with free wi-fi. Hence the long and involved blog post.

For those of you at home here is a picture of our meal.

This morning after being woken by the sound of hammering in the room next door (I think they were smashing out tiles in the bathroom) at 7am, and then being re-woken by ear splitting Khmer music at 8am and 9am (we found the loudspeaker responsible two blocks away) we decided to find another room. This was at number 10 guesthouse up the road a bit, which was ok - pretty clean bathroom, $6 a night - but on our wanders we found number 9 guesthouse. And you guessed it - it's affiliated with number 9 and number 9 guesthouses in Phnom Penh.

Number 10 were pissed that we only stayed one night. Out tuk tuk driver who ho picked us up at the bus station had been hassling us to go to the temples on his tuk tuk and pretty much lost it. We tried our best to be friendly and I think he told us to get bent in Khmer. Yikes.

So tomorrow we will most likely get started on the temples with another driver who doesn't swear at us. It's expensive business too. US$20 gets you a one day pass, $40 for three days and $60 for five. I think we're going to go for the three dayer.