A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Susiep539

Nha Trang

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...except when it's cloudy and cold and too windy for swimming

overcast 20 °C

We arrived at 8am, and were dropped off outside a $6 a night hotel. Score! It was fairly nice, if a little out of the centre, so we checked in. Then we headed straight out to get breakfast. We found somewhere that had a buffet breakfast, and for $3 each, we tucked into an eclectic mix of bread, cheese, dumplings, bacon, salad, fruit, rice, vegetables, soup, noodles, beef stew, sausages, eggs, and just about anything else that gets eaten (or the Vietnamese think gets eaten) anywhere in the world!!

We then walked along the seafront to the centre.
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We got a tea, more because we wanted the free wi-fi than the tea too see whether our friend Flic from volunteering who was in Nha Trang had got back to us. She hadn't, so after another wander round, we headed back to our hotel to chill out for a while. After a bit we went out to try and find Flic. We didn't have any luck, so we went to a posh place called Louisiana Brewery. John tried all 4 of their beers for $4, and Susie had a VERY yummy chocolate cake for $2. Yummmm! We were going to have a swim in the pool that they have for free use, but it started to get a little rainy and it was very windy, so we decided against it in the end.
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We set off to walk back to our hotel to see if there was any news from Flic, but on the way, who should we see but the lady herself, having a drink on the seafront with her friend Amanda.

They took us to the market, where they did some shopping, and we just window shopped, seeing as we had no money left after Hoi An! It was great to see Flic and have some other company! Then we went back to our hotel, chilled out and then headed out to meet Flic and Amanda for dinner.

We had a tasty tasty seafood hotpot for dinner, had a couple of drinks, and then went back and got a fairly early night, to recover from our overnight trip from the night before!

The next day we had noodle soup (called Pho, and it's the Vietnamese FAVOURITE THING EVER. WE just think it's OK, and are getting a little fed up of it to be honest!) for breakfast. We then walked out to a mud spa that Flic had recommended. It was further than we expected, at 6km, and down a rather muddy track. We definitely don't recommend walking it!
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At the, rather posh, spa, we opted for the decadent 900,000 dong ($45) package for the two of us. In hindsight, it probably wasn't worth it, and the public mud/hot baths would be good enough, but we decided that after our horrible long bus journeys we'd earnt some pampering! Our time included 20 minutes in a warm mud bath - rather satisfying but horrible, but left our skin feeling silky smooth - followed by 45 minutes in a secluded little bath of our own, where we got given water and fruit, and into which they put some bags of herbs, which smelt nice, but made us feel rather like we were being made into a cup of tea!! Then we had a 30 minute massage - John's first ever - that was lovely, and left us both feeling very pampered! Then we could have gone swimming afterwards, but were both feeling too nice and soft skinned to want to go in the water again! It was a lovely couple of hours!
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Then we went back to the city (getting a $3 taxi this time) to meet Flic and continue our extravagant day by having lobster on the beach for lunch! It was cooked by a lady who had a BBQ right on the beach, and we sat on a blue tarpaulin to enjoy it. It was slightly stressful, due to the wind and the waves that came right up to where we were sitting, but the food was delicious! We only paid $15 between us for 3 crabs, 3 lobsters and 3 shrimps! It was fantastic, and great eating right on the beach too, even if there were lots of people around trying to sell us stuff!
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We topped off our day of luxury by having cheesecake and beer at Louisiana Brewery again, and then having another massage in an open hut right next to the beach. Ahhhhh, bliss!! Our day had been rather extravagant and luxurious, but the whole thing only cost us about $35 each, which is only 22 pounds! Not bad, when you consider the massage alone would be more than that at home!!

We then headed back to our hotel, where John started to feel a bit ill, so Susie headed out alone to meet Flic for dinner. They had a good chat over dinner, but the Indian restaurant we went to was very disappointing. Boo! Susie then said goodbye to Flic, and we arranged to meet up again in Saigon, when we were all there in a few days.

We went to bed, ready for an early start the next day to head to Dalat.

Posted by Susiep539 03:37 Archived in Vietnam Tagged lobster nha_trang louisiana_brewery mud_spa Comments (0)

Hanoi (part 2), the overnight bus and onto Hoi An

Oh, and, unexpectedly, Hue. Stupid bus company.

semi-overcast 22 °C

The next day, after our return from Halong bay, we had a slice of leftover pizza for brekkie, before heading downstairs, where it transpired that we had breakfast included at our hotel. So, two breakfasts it was! Susie had a desert, by having a banana pancake, while John had an omelet.

We then set off, very full, on attempt 2 to see Uncle Ho! When we arrived this time, the presence of guards, scanners, hundreds of tour groups, etc, alerted us to the fact that HCM was available for viewing. Hurrah! After getting a little lost, and then being put through an airport style scanner, where you weren't allowed to take water through (more security than the land border we entered through, where a guard just had a little rifle around in our bags!), we had our camera taken off us, and then we joined a queue ready for our sighting! As we headed in in our line, past LOTS of armed security guards, we were told off for talking before we'd even entered the building! Then we thought we'd better be quiet! We were walked into the Mausoleum, where we walked past lots more security guards, in\\to the room where Uncle Ho himself is (except for the 3 months of the year when he goes to Russia for maintenance of course!). In the room there were 6 security guards around the sides where you can walk, and 4 more in the central bit, surrounding a glass coffin/case with the big man himself in. He is is lying down, and looks rather fake and waxworky really, but would do you expect when he's been dead for 40 years??? Apparently, so we found out later, his head looks big, because of how many times they've had to re-embalm it, but because he's dressed it's not all that obvious. It was the most surreal experience, but a definite must do for anyone in Hanoi!!!!
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The Mausoleum

We headed out, past all the horrible gift shops that would have HCM turning in his grave, if he was in one, and then went to the 'Hanoi Hilton', an old prison that is now a Museum. It was built by the French, when Vietnam was under their control, and has since been used by the Japanese, and by the Vietnamese against the Americans (when it held mostly American pilots, including John McCain), when it gained the nickname it now holds.
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The Museum was interesting, but most of the prison has been knocked down now, and the Museum was so biased that it made for irritating, if funny reading. Lots of talk of the horrible oppression of the French and Japanese (which, don't get us wrong, we're sure was awful), but only a little bit of information about it during the Vietnam war, and that was highly complementary to the Vietnamese. The exhibits actually said that it gained it's nickname because of the good conditions...apparently the Vietnamese don't get sarcasm!!
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Some slightly scary models demonstrating conditions under French oppression

After that, we headed back to the city centre. We went to try and find somewhere to exchange the books that we had finished reading, but despite finding two places were unsuccessful - one didn't seem to exist (it turned out it has moved recently) and the other one sneered at our books, since one was a hardback and one a photocopy, and refused to give us any money off the books he had to sell, despite having about 1,000,000, and pricing them waaaaay too high (even an old, tatty copy of Rebecca was $3, and most were $5 or more for second hand books), so we gave up. We then went and had lunch at a little cafe, which was boring and average, and then chilled out for the rest of the afternoon, reading, using the internet and just chilling by the lake.

Finally, we set off at 5pm for our fistr overnight bus experience to Hoi An. We were picked up in a car, and taken to the bus. It was completely mental, and had 3 lines of bunk beds, and had about 8 rows of them. We were the first on the bus, and so had the pick of the beds...after trying about 10 each, we made the controversial choice of two of the ones at the top at the back. We made this choice because they were flat and had the only opening window on the bus! We waited for about 2 hours until everyone else made it to the bus, and then eventually set off at 7:30pm. We had the last of our leftover pizza for dinner en route, and then settled down for the night.

We're not going to lie, it wasn't the best nights sleep either of us have ever had. But we did both sleep (yes, even Susie who never sleeps on transport), and probably just about got our 8 hours, during the 11 hours or so we tried to sleep! It was very bumpy, but our seatbelts held us in, and the choice of beds proved worthy, as the bed being flat made a lot of difference!

We arrived in Hue at 9am, feeling a little dazed and sleepy but not too bad considering, expecting to catch a connecting bus straightaway (that was what we'd been told!), but it turned out we had a 4 hour stopover. Grrrrrr.

Oh well, we decided to make the most of it and to explore Hue. We had tasty noodle soup for breakfast, then wandered over to the Citadel, which is where the capital of Vietnam was for a long time (don't ask me when or for how long, I don't remember!). We had a tea, and then walked all the way around. It was really impressive, but we decided not to go inside.
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Instead we wandered along the river to the local market, where we window shopped for a while, before going back to have lunch...a very Vietnamese caesar salad and chips. Yum!!
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We then went back to get our bus...it turns out when you're told the bus will be there at 1, that's just accounting for Western stupidity, and so that actually means 2:10...Since we'd been there since 12:30, we were slightly annoyed, but we bought some oreos, and Susie made John play fun fun cards games (that he strangely didn't enjoy!), which kept us both entertained (if stressed on John's part) until the bus came.

Another four hour bus journey later (still on a sleeping bus...this is where we realised how good our choices had been - these beds only went down to a 45 degree angle, and we both struggled to sleep much. We arrived in Hoi An, finally, at 6pm, 25 hours after we started the journey. Pheeeeew!!!!

The hotel we were dropped off at wanted $18 a night...screw that, we started to walk down the street, when a lady on a moped called to us "you come to my uncles Hotel, only $10". Brilliant, we thought, only to have her drive off and leave us to guess the way, and keep driving past, shouting "England" at us. Very confusing, and then by chance we did end up in her Uncle's hotel! It was very nice, and they were all very friendly. The lady who'd taken us to the hotel (kind of) then came into our room and told us about her dress shop. We decided to go and see the next day, since Susie did want one dress. We then went and had a surprisingly tasty dinner at a restaurant a couple of doors down - Susie had very spicy but yummy chicken with chilli and lemongrass and John had some other chicken dish! It was the nicest Asian food we'd had since Cambodia! Hoi An was off to a good start! We then went and collapsed into bed, glad of a real bed!

NB - Sorry for the lack of photos at the minute, we'll upload them soon. We're having camera-computer connectivity issues at the moment!

Posted by Susiep539 04:19 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi hue hoi_an mausoleum citadel ho_chi_minh Comments (0)

Hanoi!

The arrival to real life!

sunny 23 °C

So, there we were, somewhere in Hanoi, but luckily still alive despite the bus drivers best efforts. We walked into the bus station to try to find a map, or someone to ask. No go, it was all shut and dark. Fantastic. We decided to just start walking, and wandered around some fairly main, lit streets, but they were all very local, and there was no English anywhere. We walked past a couple of places that could’ve been hotels, but we weren’t sure and didn’t dare go in and ask! 10 minutes and lots more maybe hotels/maybe nots later, we braved it, and after one telling us they had no beds, and looking shocked at the very prospect of us checking in, another one scooped us up, and hurrah, we had a bed! Admittedly a rock solid bed, in what may or may not have been somewhere that people normally rent ‘by the hour’ (read, where to take your mistress/prostitute...), but we decided to ignore that possible fact, and just went to sleep!

The next morning, first task, find out where on earth we were, and how to get to the city centre. After a little walk around, which stressed Susie out because she had no idea where anywhere was in relation to our hotel etc (John did though so it was OK), we found a coffee house with wi-fi. We eventually worked out where we were – about 6km south of the city centre. We decided in our infinite wisdom to walk it, and after getting some money out, checking out (where the woman charged us $3 less than the man had said, which made up for the fact he charged us 5 times more than he should have done for water. Haha.

The walk was rather long, but straightforward, and we were both enjoying being somewhere with some life to it, after all of Laos (which although lovely is very quiet!). After about 90 minutes, we arrived at the hotel we’d planning to stay in, Liberty Hotel, where we were greeted by a lovely, yet completely insane lady who asked us about 10 questions in quick succession, and then finally took us to a really nice room. It had a HOT SHOWER, CABLE TELEVISION, SOFT PILLOWS, and various other luxuries unknown to us for weeks! It was an extravagance at $15 a night, but soooo worth it. Ahhhhh.

We went out and got our bearings (well, John did anyway, Susie seems to have a mental block knowing her way round Hanoi). After a little wander, we went and got a very locals lunch of Bun Cha (grilled pork mince meat balls, with a tasty soup with more pork in it, that is served with a massive plate of lettuce/other greens, loads of noodles, fish spring rolls and a beer), which was very tasty, but LOTS of food and far too much meat for people who’ve basically been eating vegetarian for 2 weeks!
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We then went back to the room, and proceeded to have a VERY lazy afternoon, which was much needed after the busy last week or so we’d had! We spent almost the whole afternoon in our room, making the most of having cable tv in our room (first time since Siem Reap!), and watched ‘America’s Next Top Model’ for about 5 hours. Disgraceful, yes, but definitely some much needed trash! Our brains hadn’t chilled out that much for weeks!

After America’s Next Top Model finished, an episode of Masterchef USA gave us both a massive craving for ribs, so a short guide book flick later, we ended up at Al Fresco’s for dinner. This is a small Australian run chain that does ribs, burgers, etc. Upon arrival, we deliberated for a while about whether to get a whole rack each, but descided against it, mainly because it was $20! In the end we shared one, and we were so glad we did. It was huuuuuuge!! With that and an extra potato wedges, we were both struggling to finish it, and we were really hungry before! We did finish though, because they were quite possible the best ribs we’ve ever had - so meaty and delicious, and yummmmm!!!
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What made the whole experience even better was the fact that there was paper over the table, and crayons, for drawing on. WIN! We had great fun, and Susie drew an awesome map of our route so far!
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We staggered back along the edge of the Hoan Kiem Lake, which was surrounded by couples, cuddling up on the benches! We declined to join in, and instead went back and went to bed!
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Did we mention that there's a LOT of motorbikes here???

The next day we woke up at 8am, which is fairly late for us, and set off with the intention to go and see Ho Chi Min’s (or Uncle Ho as the Vietnamese fondly call him) dead, embalmed body. However, when we got there it turns out that it’s shut on Mondays, we can only assume because he needs some down time! Undetered, we set off to find more about him, and went to see his house, a simple wooden building, and the palace next door, which was where the Royal family lived, and is supposed to contrast how wonderfully simply Uncle Ho lived his life!
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We also went to the Ho Chi Min Museum, which tells you about his life and times in a stupidly abstract way!
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THis tells you something about HCM, of course :s
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We found it all rather amusing though, and the contrast between everything that Ho Chi Min and the Vietnamese communists stood for, compared to Vietnam today, and the stalls outside the museum selling tacky souvenirs, is funny but a little ridiculous and sad.

After that, we went to the Temple of Literature, a Confucian temple, which was very pretty and peaceful.
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Our tummys finally started rumbling after last nights ribs, and so we headed to a little cafe. It provides jobs for locals from poor backgrounds, and so we felt very good about ourselves, both because our money was going to a good cause, and because we had yummy cakes and tea. Mmmm!
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In the afternoon, we watched some more TV, and then went out to St. Joseph's Cathedral. This looks like a small version of the Notre Dame from the outside, and inside looked exactly like a church/cathedral would at home. Despite not being in the least religious, it was really comforting, just because of how British it felt!!
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In the evening, we went to a vegetarian restaurant, which specialising in making dishes that look and taste like meat, while still being suitable for veggies. This is fairly common in Vietnam, as traditionally hosts wanted to make food for their Buddhist guests that was the same as their other guests. It was OK, but we caught them at a bad time, as they were very busy, and so it wasn’t as good as it could have been. It did look very like meat, and the taste was there, but the texture was missing!!
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We then headed off to bed, ready for our early start to Halong Bay the next day.

Posted by Susiep539 00:31 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi bun_cha st_josephs_catherdral ho_chi_min liberty_hotel temple_of_literature Comments (0)

Phonsavanh and the Plain of Jars

sunny 27 °C

We were picked up from our guesthouse by a very plush minibus, that we hoped was taking us all the way to Phonsavanh. Unfortunately it was not to be as we were moved onto an older, but actually more comfortable bus for the journey. However, the bus was only 7 hours, not the 10 we had been led to expect, and so we were happy when we arrived at 4:30pm.

We let ourselves get scooped up from the bus station by a guy who promised us a 40,000kip room. Done! It ws surprisingly nice as well and we were pleased with the decision we made!! We wandered into Phonsavanh to have a little look round. There wasn’t much there, but there was an interesting UXO (unexploded ordinance) information centre. This area was one of the worst affected in Lao during the Vietnam war, and there are still a lot of bombs that havent exploded that are all around the area. During the Vietnam war (and the secret war that America fought with Laos at the same time: more on that in our next blog post), America dropped 2 tonnes of bombs per person living in Lao at the time. This makes Laos the most bombed country per person in history, and the bombs total more than all the bombs dropped in Europe during the 2nd World War. The centre was about how the bombs that didn’t explode are affecting Laos now, since a lot of them didn’t explode, and they estimate that they’ve only cleared 1% of everything there. Apparently 30-60 people are killed in Laos each year, and an average of one person a day is injured by UXO. They also affect a lot of people by making land unavailable for use as farmland. People get injured and killed by accidentally hitting the UXO during farming,trying to take the bombs apart to use the gunpowder inside, and children get hurt because one of the bombs that is very prevalent looks like a tennis ball, and so they play with them, only to have it explode. The centre was interesting, if very scary, and the company that’s running it is doing a lot to remove UXO from the surrounding areas.
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A map of where was bombed in Laos
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After this, we went on the internet for a while, and then had rice and tofu for dinner and went to bed.

The next day was our trip to the Plain of Jars. The Plain of Jars is exactly what it sounds like...lots of jars on a plain! They are a lot of boulders on fields all around this area of North Laos, and the biggest are near Phonsavanh. At some point, estimated to be 2000 years ago but nobody really knows, a group of unknown people carved them all into jars of varying shapes and sizes, with the biggest being an estimated 6 tonnes!! Nobody knows why they were carved, but theories range from them being storage containers for rice wine, to them being burial casks. Something this ludicrous we just had to see!!

We woke early and had a huuuuuuge bowl of noodle soup for breakfast.
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We then headed off to find our preferred method of jar discovery transport....a motorbike! We rented one for 100,000kip (£8, $12.50), and after a quick bit of tuition from the guy at the shop, John was off, with Susie on the back, both of us feeling slightly scared, but feeling more reassured by the minute, as it turns out John is a natural on a motorbike!
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We went to the first jar site, which is 15km from Phonsavnh, and paid our 10,000 kip a head entry fee. The first thighng we saw was a sign about how they’d cleared a thin path through and around the jars of UXO, but warning us to stay inside the white markers, as there could well be UXO outside these. Apparently they’d cleared 127 pieces from the two fields of this site.
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The markers - the white path in the middle is the only safe area.

The jars themselves are completely ridiculous, and are just as they sound – lots of huge stones carved into jar shapes! There were also several bomb craters around the site, and a cave.
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Then we set off to the second site...or so we thought. Somehow we missed the turning in our motorbike excitement, then scared an old lady by asking her where we had to go! With a lot of pointing and hand gestures, she pointed us back the way we’d come. We went, thought we’d found the road so turned off, and ended up on a 1 hour, 12km long exploration! Using the sun as a compass, we eventually found our way back to where we were going. It was really lovely to see some really untouristy villages, and the countryside was really beautiful. It was a slightly stressful induction for us motorbike novices, but at least the track was empty! We were relieved when we found ourselves again, because we didn’t fancy going all the way back, especially along the bumpy, tiny dirt tracks we were on!
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Once we were on the main track again, which was still a dirt track, albeit a larger one, we headed to a waterfall. We climbed over the rocks down the side of the lovely, wide waterfall.
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Next, John taught Susie to drive the motorbike, and she drove the next few km to another jar site. This was over a larger area, and quieter, and we had fun wandering around, looking at the countryside and the jars.
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As we headed back, taking it in turns to drive and both getting quite confident, we stopped and saw a Russian tank that had been blown up.
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We got back to Phonsavanh at 3pm, saw a cow in a truck on the back of a makeshift tractor motor,
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had rice and spring rolls for a late lunch, returned the bike,
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and then collapsed for the rest of the afternoon! We were both very tired and saddlesore, but really enjoyed our day.

Later, Susie went and bought some cool rice pots from the market, and got her toes repainted (it’s become a bit of an obsession – they’re now green with gold sparkly tips).
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We had steak and chips for dinner – YUM – and then went to bed.

Posted by Susiep539 23:34 Archived in Laos Tagged plain_of_jars motorbike phonsavanh phonsavan uxo Comments (0)

Luang Prabang

We got picked up at 10am from our Guesthouse by a bus with an excessively shiny interior.
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This picked up various other people and then delivered us to the bus station, where we were transferred to a double decker bus! You could only sit on the top deck, and we headed for the backseats, which meant we got all 5 seats to ourselves for the journey. Hurrah!

However, this didn’t save us on this horrible journey. It was really hilly and bumpy the whole way, and although the scenery was beautiful, this didn’t quit e make up for it!
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John fell asleep for a while which saved him, but Susie just felt iller and iller until we finally arrived at 4:30pm. Hurrah! The tuk-tuk driver at the bus station tried to charge us 70,000kip ($9) for the 3k journey into town, so we walked instead! A rather long but money saving walk later, we arrived at the Guesthouse we’d picked. It was too expensive though, so we went to the one across the road. This was cheap at only 40,000kip (£3.50, $5) per night, but did feel and look rather like a prison cell!

When we’d dumped our bags, we went for a wander through the pretty night market into town. We went and got dinner; Susie went western and had a burger, while John had a disappointing curry. We went for a walk along the river, and then went to bed.

The next day we got noodle soup for breakfast and then followed the walking tour that was in the Guidebook. It started with a fresh produce market that was really interesting and had lots of ridiculous things to buy!
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Live frogs for dinner anyone??
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Then we wandered along the river, where we saw some pretty boats.
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After that, the walking tour mostly taught us that there are too any Wats (temples) in Luang Prabang!!
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Susie in a Wat garden

An hour and 8 temples later, Susie started to feel ill so we headed back to our Guesthouse, where Susie had a nap and John read. At 12 we went to get lunch, and ended up at a rather posh (although not too expensive) restaurant where we had papaya salad and curry for lunch which was very tasty, if rather spicy!! The restaurant was outside and had a lovely pond and was so nice and peaceful that we sat there for 2 hours, reading and enjoying feeling upmarket(especially since it was still only $3 a head!!!
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After that, we went up Phu Si, a hill in the centre of Luang Prabang. On the way up was a temple that had a “Buddha’s footprint”...didn’t look much like a person’s footprint to us though!
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What do you think???

We continued our walk to the top, which had such lovely views that we sat down, got our books out, and spent another 2 hours reading and enjoying the view and peace and quiet.
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Monument on the top of Phu Si
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John reading...and yes, that is a fiction book!!

Until 5pm that is when all the tourist IN THE WORLD came to the top to watch the sun set. We mae our escape and went and booked bus tickets to go to Phonsavanh the next day. We went and enjoyed a beer by the river, and then went to try to find somewhere to eat. As we’ve said before, we are not fans of Lao food, and we thought we ought to be able to find something interesting to eat. However, when an hour walk had provided nothing but more of the same noodle/rice meals, we gave up and had curry. This wasn’t what we felt like, but it filled a hole! After dinner, Susie went for a walk around the night market and bought a few bits and bobs, and then we went to bed.

Overall, we like Luang Prabang, and we felt it is somewhere anyone could come and experience all the niceties of Asia, without any of the less desirable bits. Lots of winding streets, monks, temples, colourful markets, etc. But it all feels a little fake, and after all the other places we've been, we weren't completely taken with it. A lot of people rave about it, but we aren't quite that positive. Nice enough, but not all that!

Posted by Susiep539 03:29 Archived in Laos Tagged luang_prabang phu Comments (0)

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