A Travellerspoint blog

The final push

Good day,

Well its been about three weeks since I last wrote on this blog job, but seeing as no one seems to leave me any messages these days I shall display less remorse in this case than would usually be considered fit for a gentleman such as myself. Right admonishment over my avid readers (yes I have delusions of grandeur, what of it?)!

Ok so where was I.... ummmmmm in Yangshao yes with all the funny rock formations. Well it turns out that it was probably one of our favourite places in China seeing as the experience of living there was more pleasant than having your nails pulled off with pliers. It was extremely backpacker friendly with cheap beverages of all varieties, good company and a smattering of interesting sights such as Moon hill a funny mountain with a half moon whole in it with great views of other funny mountain things only without holes in them. There was also a cave which was home to a mudbath that yours truly indulged in. The mud was stagnant and and only a little bit on the unsanitry side, but it did allow you to float on the service like the Dead Sea which was fun and there was an amusing slide made of mud on which one could attempt to maim oneself. The only down side to the frivolity of bathing in stagnant mud being the numerous diseases i probably picked up and the fact that even now 2 and a 1/2 weeks later i am still dirty! Anyway on balance i would do it again! Right so that was the sights the bars and restaurants probably dont need too much detail, we drank and ate to our little hearts content and generally jollied it up. The highlight of our time there would have to be riding these rediculous electric moped/motorbikes around the various sites. I had a low rider Harley Davidson style thing in Minature form and Jen had a Mary Poppins style bone shaker. I am happy to report mine is the faster of the two hogs, plus its cooler.... sort of. Low light would be the guesthouse where, not for the first time on this trip, we were treated like pond slime by the owner and her lazy and ugly minions, with the exception of one guy who like the orchestra on the Titannic holds his end up (so to speak) in face of massive impending disaster. Good guy, I almost feel bad on his behalf on sending a scathing email to the lonely planet with regards to the accuracy of their reviews throughout the lonely planet.

Anyway onwards it was to the uncharming town of ZhengZhou (pop 8 mil) a good 24 hr train ride north of Yangshao. We would have liked to go to Xi'an directly on the misguided assumption that it would be a pleasant place (more later), however owing to certain ticket rackets and the subsequent exorbitant rates charged for that service we felt that aiming for a craphole (apologies but its a suitable description) such as Zhengzhou would yield results. It did and having been there I would rather pay more and miss it in the future! The one redeeming feature of this particular place being the Shaolin Temple which is an hour out of town and home to the most dangerous and the collest clergy men in the world, The Shaolin Monks, masters of Kung Fu! We got to see a demonstration for about 20 mins which was amazing, but sadly after that the heavens opened and the rest of the day was spent huddled under eaves of temples and cursing our lack of forethought in bringing waterproofs. As it was we left within two days of arrival in Zhengzhou and were bloody pleased to see the back of the place! The stand out memory of Zhengzhou must be our arrival at 11.30pm to a town still very much awake and being taken off by a tout to a cheap hotel which according to the flyer was very decent looking. On arrival we walked up several flights of stairs past corridors with used potty's sitting outside the doors (ensuite facilities ladies and gents) up to our suite on the top floor. The room consisted or a bed (good start), a tele (good), aircon (excellent) and the decor of the bates motel (little worrying). The bathroom was absolutely the most horrendous place we had seen. The toilet didnt flush, reason being that the handle was attached to nothing but fresh air. The shower water was from a stagnant tank and the water smelled of raw sewage, we almost puked on the spot. However we made the mistake of paying in advance (duh) and so engaged in a 10 minute row with the manager (the devil) untill their patience went and they threw us out with our cash back in our hands... Victory! We then booked into a really nice hotel for only 50 cents more only for dickhead here to remember he had left one of the bags back in the hell house, so back to work I went in an effort to save the bag from the clutches of beelzebub himself. Anyway I got it back although they denied they knew about a bag for a few mins before I was pointed behind the counter and located the errant bag. I was then ushered out with what I imagine were a few choice Chinese swear words! Ah dear.

Right so twas onwards to Xi'an home of the terracotta warriors and other cultural delights. Xi'an it must be said does have some culture on offer, however they deserve to win prizes for effectively disguising it with the erection of ugly tower blocks and shopping malls all over the place! We spent three pleasant days there doing our best to absorb what culture we could find whilst in between munching our way through several McDonald's meals a fact neither of us are proud of. Probably saddest was Jennies reaction on finding a Carrefour supermarket, which can only be described as an ectasy! Poor girl was in there for an hour, ok i went too and was surprised at the relative cheapness of certain chinese consumer goods.. fascinating i think you'll agree! Anyway to the big show, that being Army of the Terracotta Warriors. We rocked up on a local bus to the site which is about 20km out of downtown Xi'an only to find ourselves marooned at the very furthest point of one of the most enormous carparks we've ever seen! Literally a marvel in its own right.. well not really, anyway we trudged for what felt like days before reaching what we assumed was the ticket office only to find that it was a massive refreshment stand. The ticket office was actually another 3 hrs down the path. Ok I'm exagerating, but it really is a vast carpark! Anyway we arrived at the ticket office to the usual sight which is familiar to anyone who has been anywhere in China. thousands upon thousands of Chinese tour groups each wearing lurid coloured hats and with the leader bellowing into a loud hailer and waving a stupid flag in the air. Forget the culture forget the sights, the only thing you'll be seeing is the thos stupid hats for the rest of the day... they are like scholes of fish(or is that the footballer?) who envelop you when you get too close. So thats it, we didnt see the warriors. No ok thats not true we did and they are amazing in a 'there's bloody loads of them' sort of way. Jen is convinced they're all fakes, but I hope not and certainly I've never heard of them being fakes before.. they're claim to fame is their preservation after all! Still this is China so who knows. Anyway they were very impressive. However the most amusing part of the site is in fact the museum, which is fairly large and most hold the total for the museum with least in it. It holds a funny leather thing which could be anything as none of the signs are in English.. i think its an alien. It also holds two bronze chariots found in an excavtion, and best of all in the largest hall of the museum is their biggest and best labelled exhibtion. Its an exhibition about the museum, so this is a museum built to hold an exhibit of itself. HMMMM. Very odd.

Anyway sadly that was Xi'an and with a dew exceptions was a little on the unextraordinary side of things. So we departed for the famously well preserved Ming Dynasty town of Pingyao still retained within its city walls. Pingyao must be one of the few places in China where development has not run riot and ruined the place. Outside of the city walls lurks a very ordinary and ugly Chinese town. But within the walls you are transported back a hundred years or more. Narrow alleys and cobbled streets with traditional houses and shops lining each side are ubiquitous. Compared to the bustle of most of China it's so sleepy it's comotosed! We stayed for three nights and probably that was enough owing to the tiny area it covers, but i would list it along with Yangshao as the top china experience. The town is littered with museums and by buying one city wide ticket you gain access to 20 of them which i can assure you is more than enough!! They all look the same anyway and with no English signs you cant distinguish between them really! Lots of nice little Chinese restaurants with amazing food and nice and cheap beer. We also ran into an old schoolmate who I hadnt seen in 5 years and who was on holiday from his job in London.. twas a little strange seeing him but we visited a few places together the next day and had a good time so just goes to show it really is a small world afterall! Anyway I imagine you are now getting a little fatigued by this account so I will speed you on to our current location that being Beijing.

Touted as the place in China for culture and just general interest. It should also hold the title as horrendously polluted which leaves the city immersed in a fug or fumes everyday, which makes it humid and uncomfortable. Still there is absolutely loads of stuff to see, that is if you can bear seeing it with half the Chinese population. We visited the forbidden city today only to find that most of it was behind netting and scaffolding and under restoration, and the rest is so crowded you really dont get to see very much. It s huge and impressive to behold but once again, you're left detached from the history and any ambience there might be. We also attempted to gain entry to Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, only to be ejected from the line by an obnoxious idiot with loud hailer who declared our foot wear unacceptable, this is inspite of the Chinese wearing similair flip flops. Apparently they are notorious for it, we spoke to some other travellers that also had the same problem, only they argued with the guy untill he got bored and went to annoy someone else. I would say we could be more upset about not getting to see a pickled dictator, and we certainly bother to try and get in again given the queue lasts about an hour for about 5 seconds in the actual mausoleum. ah well. Anyway let me start at the beginning of the Beij!

We arrived early in the morning by train at what we assumed would be the main station which has subway access and all the bells and whistles attached. Only it was infact the West Station which has only taxi access. Tai would be more than fine except for the problem of zero English spoken and no desire to attempt to understand what we were on about! So as it was we did our best and hoped he would use his brain and just drop us at Tiannamen Square which at least is less than KM from the hostel we were booked into. Fortunately the cabbie had had his weetabix this morning and got the drift and deposited us at the mighty square in double quick time. However things were not to continue in such a succesful manner. Being idiots we had no map locating the hostel and being idiots we truly believed the written directions provided as an alternative. Suffice to say we ended up completely lost with yours truly making a phone call from a shack to ask them where they were located. Unfortunately his directions referred to streets which to anyone from a first world country would describe as a boggy footpath, so it was with luck that we eventually made it to the front door. The hostel then made the mistake of winding up two very tired backpackers by proclaiming that our booking had now changed and we would be in a bigger dorm than booked, suffice to say he almost lost an arm untill he was saved by an aussie girl who agreed to swap out of a dorm so that we could get the 2 beds we originally booked. Anyway we made it and collapsed for about 20 mins before we were hailed by Simon and Claire our benefactors in KL who delivered my camera to me. They had given up work to go backpacking and were on the first leg of a year long tour around China. We ended up drinking into the night, as well as eating at oone of the nicest and cheapest Chinese restaurants we have found so far. The menu was a little far out with descriptions that had no relevance to the food e.g. the grandmother explodes the hot intestines round the back. I'm serious that was what it said for a plate of spicy beef or pork. Very bizare! Anyway since then we have been to the Temple of Heaven which was very peaceful even though it rained for most of the afternoon visited the forbidden city as i said before and tomorrow we go off to visit the great wall! Its almost the end of the trip and to be honest it will be good to get back home.. although i imagine that feeling will last for about 10 minutes when i actually do get home! Anyway I shall try and update again, maybe in New york city maybe here. Right I'm off for some Peking duck!!

Ciao

Posted by andyabroad 01:58 Comments (0)

Gibberish

Hallooo

Its too hard to even think about the Chinese equivalent so i wont even bother. Well we made it to the last (proper) leg of our journey uneventfully, journeying aboard singapore airlines in relative luxury and enjoying semi edible plane food all the way to Hong Kong via Singapore. Hong Kong inspite of our fears fuelled by the guidebook turned out not to be as extortionate as we had expected although dorm beds cost us 9 US$ each which was a little pricey although for 2 of the 3 nights we were alone in the dorm so not so bad.

Hong King itself was incredible, a true metropolis high rises everywhere and light bursting off them all day. Its also extremely pleasant due to the parks and general cleanlines of the whole place, you can always spot an ex- British Colony (i hope thats spelt right as it could be misinterpreted otherwise) a mile off, India excepted that is (and any others that dont fit into that sweeping generalisation). Anyway we spent a good few days waiting for our pricey visas to get processed, and spent them viewing the largest seated buddha in the world which was big not surprisingly although it would be interesting to find out how big the worlds secondest largest buddha is... ok maybe not actually interesting but..hmmm i'll leave it there actually. We also went up the peak on an old tram to view the city by night and unsuprisingly i am now the proud owner of about 100 photos of the hong kong skyline, probably none of which are very good.. ah well.

Notable points involving the big HK would be me having my camera stolen from my bag (interesting choice..it was a crap tripod, but useful), staying in the largest fire hazard ever built; the beautiful Mirador Mansions (or the worlds largest unlit human bbq). Ummm what else Jen bought yet another purse (her 4th or 5th of the trip), apparently the elephant shaped one was now a stupid shaped purse having slipped down opinion polls from 'oh my god the best purse i ever saw'. I feel sorry for everyone of Jennies purses, discarded as the latest infatuation takes over.. lets hope her taste in men is longer lasting! Ahh narcicism stop Mulliner. Ok (and i dont care if it was inappropriate to say narcicism or if it was spelt right.. i cant pronounce it properly so...). Ok (again) so that was HK the beginning of China or so we thought at the time that is untill we really did cross the border to China and the whole world stopped speaking English.

We took a train from Kowloon in HK and headed for Shenzen where we did the now familiar waiting in line for our passports to be stamped by some bored official. On arriving at the otherside we realised our deep we had landed in it. Our first sortie into China involved us trying to book a bus to Guangshou the capital of the state that borders HK, however noone spoke English and i mean no one, through sign language and phrase book we managed to get the general gist across whereupon someone decided that a bus for us was the wrongchoice and instead insisted we take a plane instead.. ummm no bus is good. But to no avail so we ended up taking the train which was a little more expensive but a hell of a lot less hastle. The trains turn out to be extremely nice in China although they are a bit pricier than in the other places we've been, we took a sleeper train last night from Guangshao (if the spelling is different try not worry if it sounds the same it probably is the same!) and it was great bedding provided clean and comfy, well as much as you could hope for on a train anyway. So we arrived in Guangszhao (ok that was deliberate) and decided to attempt buying a ticket to Guilin or next destination there and then. It was an unquallified disaster that typified the rest of the day. The ticket hall was mayhem with hundreds of people milling around, the few signs that had an English translation were all completely useless to anyone trying to do anything train related so it was not surprising that after signlanguage and phrase book trickery managed to pull up a train heading to the place we wanted to go, we fell down when trying to book something better than sleep on the floor with the insects class. On pointing to the sleeper class translation in the phrasebook the lady behind the desk sort of shrugged, laughed and shook her head all at once before moving on to the next in the queue... Balls!
Things did not improve.. it turned out we were not at the trainstation we thought we were at and according to the guidebook booking tickets at this particular station was akin to stealing candy from the proverbial baby, balls a second time. So having essentially been passively insulted by a book and not having a clue where we were, it was unsurprising when we almost went with a tout off to shithole towers for the night, before realising that if we ever wanted to leave this urban nightmare we should get it together now rather than later. So off to MaccyD's (McDonald's for those who just dont know!) for a quick summit meating with the decision being to dump the touts head for the other train station actually on the map we had by taking the subway. Job done.. almost, Lonely Planet in the infuriatingly inconsistent manner for which it is famous describes the other station as 'a seething mass of humanity', in this case they happen to be spot on as on arrival we realised booking tickets was out of the question.. so onwards we headed for the LP recomended youth hostel by the station where allegedly they would do the booking for you.. game on! Only of course the youth hostel was full or something and they no longer booked tickets.. that operation had moved a kilometer south of the station (very handy). Suffice to say sense of humour failures were well in the offing now and the hour was drawing late. We had both been lugging our bags around which didnt help and were on the point of getting back on the next train to HK. But we are British and thus are made of sterner stuff, so twas off to yet another area of town reputed to be the 'backpacker' area where travel agents wanting to book train tickets would grow on the trees and youth hostels would have cheap rooms on offer. To cut along story short (shorter) none of the places did what they said in the LP, the hostel was full and we ended up in a funny little place where you wernt alowed to keep a key. Anyway we did manage to book a ticket at an intown travel agent for minimal hastle and only slight expense so that was good and as a bi product of our stay in Guangzhao we saw a fireworks show for the King of Sweden which was impressive to say the least and also stumbled on the Chinese american baby adoption capital of the world. The area we stayed in is ona small island in the main river of town and was once a western enclave for merchants inland of China, it retains all these colonial buildings and is thus a favourite for marrige photos among the Chinese (they have their photos taken in the dress and suit a few days before they actually get married.. bit wierd but there you go). It is also home to a US consulate which forms the epicentre of a massive adoption ring. The place is awash with American couples with Chinese babys and all the shops sell baby strollers and baby toys and clothes, its a little on the freaky side actually. On saturday when we left town it appeared that the weekly batch had been dished out as childless couples on friday were all eating with babies on saturday evening and i mean they were everywhere.. we were probably the only white couple in the place with out a small chinese baby attached.

Wierd, but there you go. So twas on with the journey and a 17 hr marathon up to Guilin a town renowned for its Limestone rock formations that stick out of the land like nursery rhyme mountains and hills... one can imagine Count Dracula in his castle up on one of the loftier peaks, its dramatic to say the least. We headed a little bit south of Guilin though to the small town of Yangshao, which is right in these funny rock formations and very picturesque although completely overrun with toursits backpackers and espeacially Chinese tourists.. Bit to crowded really but we vill see.

Anyway thats it for me. be good one and all,

big brother is watching

Posted by andyabroad 05:48 Comments (0)

So long and thanks for all the....curry

Buenos Nachos

A greeting that will be as familiar to the Chinese as Hello is apparently. So its now almost exactly 12 hrs untill we fly out of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and now we must say good bye to South East Asia and allo to Ching Chong China land! So last time we met we were in Hanoi and Jen and I were about to go and visit an embalmed corpse.. only we didnt as we didnt get up in time so we missed Uncle Ho in his glass box and instead got to see the bigger concrete box in which one may find him. Apparently it represents a flower but it doesnt actually, it is a big concrete box. We also saw the outside of his museum and the outside of a Pagoda as we arrived between the hours of 11am and 1.30pm and of course Vietnam had gone to bed for a quick kip. So twas with heavy heart we found a bar and then went off individually searching for Birthday presents for the other one, not excatly culturally mind blowing but there you go.

We headed off via Night Bus to Hue just south of the DMZ that divided up the country in the years following the French IndoChina war up and till Uncle Ho's commies marched into Saigon about 21yrs later. Hue apparently is one of the most beautiful citiesin Vietnam, I can well believe it if it wasnt for both the North Vietnamese troups who insisted on knocking bits of it over during the Tet offensive and then the Yanks who finished the job by blowing up pretty much everything else in a bid to win it back off the NVA... so all in all not quite as amazing as perhaps the lonely planet makes out. Anyway enough of the boring stuff.. it was my birthday and having just arrived off the night bus on which I recieved no sleep we both just passed out for about the rest of the day. The reason I couldnt sleep on the bus was due to the fact that there was a crazy fellow in the seat behind me who had an alarming habit of sleep walking (I prey it was sleep walking) out of his seat and then steadying himself against my seat and the seat in front all the time with his eyes shut. He would wake up enough to go back to his seat with a little nudge or the driver jamming on the breaks but it was unsettling that whenever i closed my eyes he would appear like a serial killer. What confirmed that he was indeed a sandwich (or 12) short of a picnic was when he returned to his seat after being woken up by the driver in a particularly violent evasive driving manouvere and I turned round to 'check' he was secure only to find his big retarded face about 6 inches from mine with both eyes half open and then he started to emit wierd grunt noises rocked back and forth for about 15 seconds before returning to his sleep walker/serial killer mode. I tell you I clasped my penknife blade open close to my chest for the rest of the night.

Enough with the wierdo on the bus, in Hue we went on a DMZ tour to see the infamous sites of several Vietnam war battles, only there wasnt really anything to see at all with the exception of Ving Moch tunnels used by villagers to hide from US bombs. The tunnels were about 20 mtrs deep and hot as hell although not to tiny so one could stand with a slight bow. The other sites consisted of a bridge built after the war, 'The Rockpile' which was a former Artillary site on top of... you guessed it, a pile of rocks, only the artillary site was dismantled so it is now just a pile of rocks.... awesome (we still took pictures, it was either that or hit the tour guide who had 'bigged' it up). We also came to Khe Sanh firebase although this was also dismantled so instead you can see a bunker and a helicopter and a hilariously jingoistic museum glorifying the attacking forces with amusing captions such as 'The cowardly Americans show panic in the face of the mighty Liberation soldier', its a matter of historical fact that Khe Sanh was never over run by NVA except after it was abandoned by the US Marines... but who the hell cares when you have such a tragically funny museum on site. That about sums it up along with about 7 hours of driving thrown in... not that awesome.

Hue more than made up for it however with its gastronomic delights. Jennie's birthday being one day after mind and her father treating her and me to a delightful slap up meal during which Jen finally got her hands on the first decent bottle of wine she'd had since we left.. other local concotions being less than pleasing on the tongue. I must say Thank you to Micky for including me in this treat, it was without doubt the nicest meal we've had since we left Blighty. A gastronimically less pleasing meal but an amusing meal was had the night before at a restaurant run by a deaf mute who is both waiter and chef of the establishment.. cue rediculous sign language on all parts. Anyway enough with Hue we moved swiftly on to Hoi An which was agreeably just down the road by about 3 hrs.

Hoi An actually did live up to the LP's hype having not been obliterated during the war and also being a UNESCO World Heritage Site which means it was nice and clean and old looking as it should be. It also is home to the most hotel rooms in Vietnam on soem obscure basis, which apparently makes it cheap and luxurious, although we found it full and not so cheap. But we did end up with a leetle bit of a bargin for 8 dollars, for air con, satelite tele, ensuite and the killer... a swimming pool on the roof!! Result, although I cant say the same for the Italy v France World Cup Final, I cannot believe Italy are the World Champions.. defense is good but they really are a bunch of nancy boys who should never have won, however there you have it. The only consolation being the stunning Headbutt from Zidane that sent Materazzi flying, watching the replays cracks me up every time!

Hoi An is famous for its old buildings and also its tailors which are reputedly up there with Hong Kongs tailors, so of course being unable to control ourselves we both went and tailor made suits and shirts at the tailors shop round the corner of our hotel. Jen opting for a skirt and jacket combo in a subtle navy pinstripe, and myself opting for a brown pinstripe one.. it sounds far,far worse than it actually is (I know you dont believe me!). However in spite of the relative cheapness of the suit the postage for sending them home would have cost almost the same again, so now we're lumbered with two suits to haul around with us... we may try and wear them tomorrow on the plane and wangle an upgrade.. of course check in will be a bit suspicious what with these two well dressed people with dirty back packs... hmmmm. Anyway it took numerous fitting sessions all of which were quite good fun as they measured you up and pinned bits of cloth here and there, but by the time we had finished we realised we had to leave town and move on to Nha Trang.. aka the beach!

Nha Trang is rubbish... I dont really want to talk about it, we stayed about 24hrs and then got out, it was jammed with local holidaymakers (nothing wrong with that in particular) and subsequently the hotels and buildings had sprung up all over giving the place all the charm of Bournmouth on a cold and rainy day in February. It was also expensive and unless you had pots of cash or enjoyed sitting on a packed beach all day there was nothing to do either.. Nuff said.

Well almost it did give us a bizare insight to the Vietnamese at play, as we arrived at 5.45am from Hoi An, the entire beach front was packed with people playing football and badminton or just milling around... at quarter to six in the morning!!! Thats a culture shock when you compare Brits on holiday to that. The most bizare bit was the contingent of mostly middleaged to elderly female holiday makers who get their exercise by walking in funny ways up and down the beach front.. it was like watching your Mum and your Granny having competitons of who can do the best John Cleese impressions from the Ministry of Funny Walks. It was truly strange!

As you probably guessed we moved on swiftly to the much much quieter beaches of Mui Ne, renowned for its sand dunes and its Kite Surfing. Mui Ne was brilliant in comparisom to Nha Trang, relatively quiet with plenty to see and an ocean with waves so big and powerful that they knocked you off your feet everytime.. it was amazin! I spent a stupid amount of time in the sea pleasing my inner child by being knocked senseless by the sea, and then we took off on a motorbike to see sand dunes galore and odd rock formations. The sand dunes we absolutely mindblowing, located in land from the sea they're off Sahara like preportions with bright orange sand. The little kids around them hire out bits of plastic with handles on so you can go dune sledding down the sides of them.. which was great although it knackered you having to climb back up afterwards. Things just got more and more bizare with our next trip ebing to see yet more sand dunes only these sit on the shores of a lake with loads of lotus flowers sitting on the surface and the sand is a brilliant white.. yet another kodak moment (one of these days i'll upload some photos). Then it was on towards a place called the Red Canyon which is best described as a miny Grand Canyon carved out of semi hardened sand by flood waters.. another amazing natural oddity. We passed a Mercedes advert being filmed on the road coming back, so fingers crossed they'll have us in the background but somehow I think not, and that was pretty much that.. phew bit of a rush that.. sorry but I'm getting a bit bored of sitting behind a computer.

Ok moving on... to Saigon. Arriving in Saigon from Mui Ne was a bit of a shock, Saigon or rather Ho Chi Minh City is a massive bustling modern city with far more in common with Bangkok than its neighbour in the North, Hanoi. Its not an unpleasant place, but where Hanoi was restful (sort of) and walkable, Saigon is frantic and sprawling and with only two days to take it in we've been a little bit limited in what we have seen. It didnt help matters that when we woke up Saturday morning we realised we didnt have any cash whatsoever and just about every bank in town was shut.. cue massive arguments about what to do. Fortunately we were rescued by a cyclo driver who took us to HSBC bank which we were reliably informed 'never closed' only to be told by the security guard that the counter was closed. This is inspite of the fact that the counter was manned by a cashier who was dealing with a customer. Red mist quickly decending Jen somehow managed to slip past the guard and hung around the counter untill someone served her. Which then left the guard nonplussed when I tried to get past him again only to recieve the same response as before only this time I replied that my girlfriend was inside, to which he did a sort of double take, realised he'd been had and then gave up and stepped aside! One nil to us! Anyway having finally got our hands on some cash we set out to see the sights. Visiting the liberation palace, the former residence of the President of the Republic of Vietnam (the southern bit) before the commies took over in 1975. The palace itself has been left in almost exactly the same condition as 1975 and is preserved as a quasi museum. It is without doubt the most horrendously ugly state residence I have ever seen, it looks like a crappy comprehensive in Staines or perhaps a multi story carpark from the Sixties.. basically it looks like Slough condensed into a single building and hilariously its decorated like a porno palace from the sixties also. The mustard yellow carpets and odd wall paper along with some seriously unethical wall hangings all create an ensemble only the blind could really enjoy..apparently they still recieve foreign heads of state hear.. it must be some form of intimidation or something! All in all very odd, and at times rediculously funny, such as the crypto room in the basement which holds a desk, a chair, filing cabinet and two phones and thats it, one can only imagine they didnt use very tough codes in those days!
We then headed on to the War remanants museum, previously called the The museum of American and Chinese War Crimes, but changed for fear of putting off tourists...fair enough really. The museum itself holds various tanks and planes as well as a gallery of horrifying pictures showing the victims of Agent Orange and various forms of bombs firearms, you name it they have a picture of a dead or dying person who has suffered at its hands. In some ways the images are so grotesque that you sort of become imune to the shock and horror of it. Definitely a strange and sobering experience when you consider just how imaginatively sadistic some of the US made weapons are. Anyway after that we decided to call it a day on the tourist site front and headed off for a wander through markets where you buy all sorts of salavaged junk from the war and general army surplus. I was quite tempted to buy a clock from a Huey helicopter untill the guy told me it cost 120 dollars, not so much maybe.

Anyway we retreated for the day and booked up a trip for the Cu Chi tunnels just north of Saigon for today. These were Viet Cong tunnels used in their fight against the Americans based around Saigon, they were incredibly small and basically involved clambering on your hands and knees 8 mtrs underground watching out for Scorpions and other beasts of the deep, we did infact see a scorpion which freaked both of us out a hell of a lot, not helped byt the close confines of the tunnel. There was also a visit to a shooting range where you could cough up a quid a bullet to fire various small arms like AK 47 and M 16 and if you really want to be a day trippin badass you could fire an M60 heavy machine gun. Suffice to say we didnt bother seeing as the idea of spending what little cash we had shooting bullets from a fixed gun at hand drawn targets lost its appeal once you saw the other specimens waiting for their turn at recreating Nam!! The most memorable part of the trip was our tour guide who had previously fought as part of ARVN who were supported by USA in Vietnam war and had since been 'reeducated' to be a good commie. He was a very strange and agressice bloke who shouted about how wrong he was and America were and made demands that we didnt ask certain questions or generally just raved about random things intermitently, he was also extremely knowledgeable and quite interesting too, but I think he had prob been reeducated a little too well! There was one moment when a simpleton from some European country tried to compare the VC to terrorists saying they would have been branded as such should Dubya Bush been in control, this had most of the bus diving for cover as he was forcefully told he 'Waaarss Veeer Veerr Wrong' and that VC were heroes, the simpleton shut up after that! Ands thats about it.. anyone still awake out there?

Ah well, never mind next time I shall try and keep up to date more often... so we leave tomorrow for China which from what we've been told will be the biggest challenge to date. We have our phrase book handy so hopefully all being well the next report from the front will be from China..

Bon Soir

Posted by andyabroad 07:54 Comments (2)

Weasel does indeed appear to be on the menu...

all seasons in one day 33 °C

Me: Err Hello... wait hangon (guidebook out).. errr Sin Jaooo?

Waiter: Yes please sit down I shall bring you menu

Me: Its says Weasel?.. and tortoise?.. and snake.. umm whats fake dog meat?

Waiter: You want?

Me: No chips and steak please

Yes we are adventurous arent we! Well it was a bit much we had only just crossed the border of Vietnam and already they were trying to force feed us wild beast of the strangest descriptions.. my favourite is still Weasel (followed closely by fake dog meat???!!!) although I am yest to summon up the courage to try it!

So would you warrant it, we happen to be in Vietnam, but ever so much has happened since last time. For a start I declared three days of mourning following Englands noble stand against the cheating Spics (sorry sorry I mean our friends the Portuguese). It took me along time before I stopped repeating 'I cant believe we just lost to Portugal'. I still cant.. clearly the Argentine ref had some money riding on the game, either that or the Argie should just get over the fact that they lost the Falklands war.. even though it was in their own backyard, although perhaps the fact they invaded what is esentially some rocks and some sheep the size of the isle of wight at all is telling! Ok thats it as far souring international relations goes for now.. but seriously what the hell is Englands deal, why cant we take penalties. I'm haunted by Christiano Ronaldos grinning mug grrrrrrr. I never thought I'd say it but, Vive la France! Put one over on em!

Ok ok back to the subject at hand, Laos. We left Luang Prabang on another 200 km 8hr mission with the usual windy roads headed for Phonsovan, essentially just the main road with some houses, restaurants and guesthouses on either side and thats it. It was so quiet you couldnt find anywhere to eat after about 8.30pm. Two rather odd facts stand out for Phonsovan though: One, its the capital of the most heavily bombed province of the most heavily bombed country in the whole world! Two, its home to the frankly bizare plain of jars which as one might assume is essentially fields filled with huge stone jars, the purpose of them being completely unknown! According to our guide and from what we can gather, the prevailing theory among the Laos population is that they were used to store Whisky or rather the local brew the optimistically call whisky or comically Lao Lao ( I think the man with the job of naming it may have had one to many maybe). This theory although amusing is unlikely seeing as the jars hold anywhere between 50 gallons up to probably 250 gallons and there are hundreds of them (there were thousands and thousands, but international society for the preservation of culture.. namely the US Airforce did a fairly good job of blowing up the majority of them). Other theories include cremation and storage (bit unimaginative the last one really). Anyway as far as our guide was concerned almost certainly it was for the storage of booze which says a lot about the Laotians and they're culture as well as explaining why shops dont open till 11am (they all have hangovers!). Anyway they were extremely bizare and quite amusing although by the end of the day I was ready to move on. The other notable feature of the Phonsovan landscape includes the vast numbers of unexploded cluster bombs of all shapes and sizes and various other items of war junk including tanks and planes!! They use the bomb casings as stilts for their houses, fence posts, flower trays.. you name it they use it! Its extremely odd, nowhere however was stranger than our guesthouse's front room, inside which contained hundreds of clusterbombs, guns, shells, mortars, a nose cone of a fighter, even a stuffed cat wierdly enough! In all very strange!

Anyway we decided one day was plenty of time to see the jars and we were right so twas off to Vietnam 'pon a rickity bus irritatingly labelled VIP although quite how it qualified I am unable to divine! Too cut a long story short it was a nightmare, a 14 hr long one at that. The most interesting part being having our bags 'searched' by Vietnamese customs, which involved them asking you what a few items of your luggage were. In my case this turned out to be my speakers, the firstaid kit and my washbag, after which he decided he was bored and told me to go away (just as well I packed my drugs, bombs and guns at the bottom of case really!). Apart from this one relatively amusing insight into the mechanisms of good old fashioned Communist suspicion it was a bloody awful trip and to make matters worse, we arrived in a place called Vinh, which is a complete hole. It was the Slough of Vietnam and only one person in the whole bloody city spoke English, it was also the spot where the dialogue at the top took place. Yes indeed welcome to Vietnam! would you like your Weasel rare or medium rare?

We got the hell out of there first thing the next day, as of course any sane person would do. However before the delights of Hanoi were to be unleashed upon us, we first had to endure what is in absolute honesty the scariest 4 hours of my life. Untill lunch time the bus had been achieving a fair whack along the highway and making good time, but after lunch our driver who I assume had been drinking turned into a maniac who was apparently having a race against his other bus driver mates. The highways in Vietnam resemble a B road in England, one lane in each direction and some road markings from time to time, however this does not stop the Vietnamese from overtaking, undertaking, be it a blind corner or a hill they lunge in and out without ever slowing down doing 100km/h. The number of near misses against other trucks and busses was mindblowing, in the end we moved from the side of the bus closest to the oncoming traffic to the other side in a bid to at least lessen the crash injuries it seemed we were bound to recieve at any minute. One particular scary moment involved the bus driver overtaking one of his mates and waving and making odd faces and noises at him while all the time a truck was growing ever larger in front. What this guy was doing we have no idea, but it truly made us think about flying instead of taking the bus.. as it is we're taking the night bus tomorrow.. so i guess fools dont learn!! Wish us luck!

Anyway it was with relief that we arrived in Hanoi alive and in one piece, and even more of a relief to find that its a great place withb lots of culture and charm (we havent seen any yet but we will tomorrow, if we get up!). So we wasted a day or two just strolling around, we went to see a water puppet show which is a highly amusing water based version of punch and judy only with more history to it and slighty more advanced puppets and plot lines.. well more advanced than, 'thats the way to do it' and the like!

In the end we decided to head off to to Halong bay on a 3 day 2 night tour package, before we got to comfortable. For the princely sum of 47 dollars each we found ourselves transported to a luxury boat that was for a change fairly luxury (apart from our cabin leaking when it rained), where we cruised around these amazing limestone islands and visited caves.
Then we were taken to an amazing hotel and were checked into the best room we've stayed in all trip, all this and all meals included.. it was brilliant! We met some great people and we even had some Germans who were eating some humble pie this morning after last nights shock defeat to the Italian nancy boys. That'll teach some for their comment when we first met our tour guide who proclaimed how sad he was that England were out of the worldcup, only for them to proclaim they were quite glad.. well Fritz humble pie for you it is! but twas unfortunate indeed for them! The guide it should be said wasnt great but he was at least somewhat amusing being both effeminate in behaviour and voice and amusingly incapable of answering simple questions. Still great value as far as we were concerned. And now we are once again in Hanoi, where we hope to visit Mr Ho Chi Minh in his Mausoleum all embalmed up to the eyeballs for our viewing pleasure! Apparently they are extremely strict with someone we met suggesting he got told off more often there, than through his entire school days. So hands our of your pockets and stand up straight!!

Anyway tis all for now.. I mourn the English ineptitude when it somes to international competition..hmmmmm.

Farewell friends and remember theres allways 2010 (zzzzzzzz)

Posted by andyabroad 07:54 Archived in Belgium Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Lazing around in Laos

Everything is haappeennnninnnnng iiiinnnn slooowww moooottttiiiiooooonnnnnnnnnnnn zzzzzz zzzzz

Wakey Wakey you have now arrived in Laos.. where people appear to do absolutely bugger all all day apart from a bit of farming when the feeling takes them! Leaving Cambodia and entering Laos was abit like crossing a magic boundary into the last century (i mean a hundred years ago and not 1999), well almost, they have playstation 2's here!

Our entry was a little on the sketchy side of things, having bought an expensive river entry ticket whereby one sails up the Mekong in a sailing boat for six before arriving at the official border which straddles the great river, we were actually bundled into a small wooden canoe as part of a guiness world record attempt for the most number of people and two backpacks to cross the Mekong on a small canoe. I'm fairly sure we got the record, but neither of us was impressed with the 300 mtr journey which left us outside of shouting range of the man who sold us our ticket! What a wanker! (apologies for the French, but this is an old Frech protectorate.. obvious by the sheer volume of odd Frenchies hanging around!). Anyway having stood dumbly on the shore for a bout 5 minutes we were herded onto a mini bus that drove about 30 mtrs up the hill and around the corner before stopping. We were told we were waitingn for 1 more and only 5 mins.. as it turned out it was an hour and we were waiting for the chief of police, so we didnt complain too much! Anyway we drove a little while untill we were dropped of by a shed in a jungle which apparently was the border, we payed the guard a dollar 'service charge'and he stamped us in. So we drove on down a little jungle track that looked ripe for an ambush untill we got to another hut with another man who also wanted a dollar so he could stamp our passports as well, so we did and we drove on through the jungle untill we got to a corner of a tarmac road in what can only be described as the middle of bloody nowhere! This apparently was our drop off point having opted not to paythe extra 20 dollars to travel 20km to the boat station from where we would get a boat yto Si Phan Don (the four thousand islands). Clearly we were being had as there was no way inhell we would get any other form of transport with the exception of a tractor lawn mower jobby towing a trailer of peasants, but seeing as it was going at crawling pace it would have been faster to walk! So dignity in shatters we agreed to the 20 dollars fee and low and behold a man with a funny truck jobby -they call a jumbo in these parts- rocked up and showed us his mobile phone which he had clearly used to set it all up from the ticket man in Cambodia and ushered us on to a bench in the back of his jumbo! So anyway to cut a long story short (ok just to finish it off then) we entered i suspect illegally into Laos and made our way to the laid back islands of the Mekong river.

Theres not an awful lot to say about these islands.. we stayed on two intotal one with electricity and one without and did pretty much nothing for three days.. we hired bikes and rode around abit and saw a bridge and a waterfall and lots of pigs and thats about it. We were besieged dail;y by thunder storms on all sides and still are now.. the nights are always lit up by about three storms and every so often it will pour down so hard it comes through the roof and through all the light fittings which alarming\ly are left on throughout! And that was it ntohing to report i'm afraid!!

But not to fear we soon moved on up the delightfully named village of chumpasack where one can see an amazing old temple built on the side of the mountain.. and what should the mountain be named.. none other than Mount Penis! Oh yes, fantastic stuff.. and it was an amazing temple and hardly anyone else around the spoil it! The highlight would have to be a> driving a motorbike to get there and b> finding a cool human sacrifice rock carved like a crocodile!! Sweet! Anyway we spent a night there and not doing much else before heading upwards to the town of Pakse which is a dull functional travel centre where you pretty much have to stay before heading up to the capital Vientiene. We decided that we would head to an area known as the Boloven Plateau where they grow Laos coffee which is apparently some of the best according to the Laos ministry of information (yes they do have a ministry of information, Laos is communist apparently only with a capitalist heart!!) . This little venture involved hiring a motorbike for 2 days and riding about 200km stopping at various waterfalls! It was awesome and I got to drive because Jennie is afraid as bikes (although not as afraid as when I told her that actually i'd never really ridden a motorbike before Marmallapuram in India and espeacially one with gears such as the mighty beast I was piloting those two days! Its not as bad as it sounds I did ride a scooter in India but only round a playground! As for the gears on our bike, well there was no clutch so it was semi automatic anyway and had 125 cc engine which isnt too small but could hardly be described as motoring giant! And we only fell off once! Hahaha, calm down parents we were going at about 3 mph and it was on awet dirt track (yep thats a road in Laos) and the only casualty was my sprained wrist from trying to hold a bikes weight and two peoples we tumbled onto the floor much to hilarity of a family who were watching nearby! Anyway I can assure you that apart from a muddy patch on Sandalls trousers and my sore wrist and the old man who crippled himself from laughing so hard there were no other casualties apart from our wallets which Sandall did a good job of emptying by booking us into a 15$ chalet with waterfall view except for the trees in thew way.. no air con and to make up for it a standing lamp which looked like they stole it from your granny!! What was she thinking! Anyway there was a nice waterfall and on our ride back we got rained on big time (cue bright orange poncho jobby) and then alamost ran out of gas (cue stopping at some random petrol station jobby which consists of a barrell and a hose and a reddy liquid which you hope is petrol), but we made it in the end!

After a sleepness night to Vientiene on a VIP bus which leaked through the light fittings when it rained, we arrived in what can only be described as the least built up, busy and generally happening place ever to be given the title of city let alone capital city! The highlight of the city being a rediculous arc de triomphe style archway made in the 60's and never properly finished constructed with of all things concrete and unpainted concrete at that!! Taj Mahal eat your heart out, a true icon of Soviet style communism! Surprisingly enbough we only stayed a night, although during that night we saw Laos first Air Guitar competition (strange) and managed to both drink oursleves silly and spend 10 dollars on raffle tickets and 5 dollars on a t shirt in aid of sending the first Laos rugby team to Cambodia for a competition.. even the ticket seller wasnt too optimistic about there chances, suggesting they could be '├žompetitive'. Still there you have it, so it was with gargantuan hangovers that we arose at 6 am the next day to head off for our 10 hour bus ride to Luang Prabang along what is without doubt the windiest road in existence.. I have never felt so ill for so long without chundering! It was a true experience with stunning scenary but I would never ever repeat it! There was a risk of banditry along the road whcih explained the reason for an ununiformed guard armed with an AK47 to be on the bus although we were never told this so cue Mulliner going into evasive action mode before hangover made death by AK47 preferable to moving too suddenly! Anyway we made it in the end and find ourseleves in an extraordinaryly beautiful place which hasnt modernised in the slightest and looks stunning everywhere you go, Luang Prabang is full of old Temples and French Colonial buildings all decaying with a style that the French can only wish they actually possess! Anyway we've seen many beautiful things like an old russian antoaircraft cannon sitting besdie a buddhist stupa and now ebing used as a merry goround by the local kids and of course yours truly!

Well thats it for me, I'm off to indulge in my to current obsessions.. Beer Lao and football... I only pray it cools down a bit in Deutchland so England can perform like the champions we know they are.. COME ON ENGLAND! ROOOOOOOOOONNNNEEEEYY

Posted by andyabroad 05:40 Comments (0)

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