A Travellerspoint blog

Trekking, caving, kayaking and BeerLao

VanVieng

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View 2007 travels on travellen's travel map.

After some down time lounging around VanVieng, we decided to get some activity in and do a 2-day, 1 night activity. Included was a full day of trekking with some caving in the mix, then a full day of kayaking... with seeing more caves.
So off we went Friday morning with our sturdy shoes on foot and bottles of water in our little backpack. This was real trekking and only about 5 minutes into the climbing, we were already sweating. Yes, I admit, we may be a little out of shape, but it was probably 85 degrees with about 80% humidity. Up and down, traversing, climbing, finding our footing, grabbing onto bamboo trees, rocks, branches we went. We finally made it to a little hut on stilts to have a BBQ lunch... very rustic, but very peaceful. The guide made a fire by rubbing little bits of coal together and we had little meat and veggie kebabs with rice. After the brief rest, we were off again. So here we all were with our $100+ dollar Nike and New Balance shoes and our guides were in flip-flops. Flip-flops! And we were barely keeping up with them!

The scenery was breathtaking though, very serene, and very beautiful being in the mountains and climbing to see the rice patties and more interesting, the local Hmong (Chinese exiles that live in Laos and have their own language and traditions separate from the Lao people) going about their daily business. Here are some Hmong children:

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During the hike, we crossed 2 caves. On that day, "caving" meant just walking into some caves, looking around, and taking some pictures. We learned about the stalacites (limestone formations going top-down from the ceiling) and the stalagmites (bottom-up from the ground), and just being in caves is also mystical. The Tham Hok Cave had this neat Elephant formation, which was cool. It was nice to get a break from the trekking!

We finally made it to Nam Song village, this very pretty bamboo hut village by the river. It was a LOT nicer than what I expected. I did a similar trek in Chang Mai, Thailand a few years ago (CMS, you remember this!), and we stayed in very unstable huts on stilts with pigs and chickens underneath us. Not so much fun. But this was like some of the nice (and cheap!) guesthouses we had been staying in. After a delicious meal and some BeerLao, we were off to get a good, and well-deserved, nights rest. Yes, I know I have mentioned BeerLao a few times, and don't think I'm an alcoholic. Its just such a part of their culture, and its soooo good! How can you turn down beer for $1USD that is really good?!?!?

The next day we did the kayaking along the Nam Song river, and that was definitely a lot more peaceful and easy than the trekking from the day before.

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(In the background in the picture above you can kinda see people tubing, which is SUPER popular here. Basically, for like 6 hours you coast down the river on a tube (duh!) and just hang out. We actually didn't end up doing it. 1. no time and 2. too boring! I could maybe do an hour or so, but 6?!?! It still looked fun though!). With the kayaks though we were little rapids too. How I still managed to get caught in some trees and get turned upside-down and flip-over, I still don't know. It was funny though! We stopped to see the last cave, the Sleeping Cave, and we 'docked' our kayaks and were getting ready to take off our lifevests, as we had done earlier. But noooo... our guide said to leave it on because we had to swim in the cave. What? Not knowing to believe him or not (he was kinda a joker), we left it on. We then came to do this super trecherous and dangerous journey through the cave. I never would have imagined that not only did we have to literally wade through this murky chest-deep water, but then we had to sludge through all this mud to then walk on the side of the cave barely holding on with sharp rocks underneath. It was veerrrrry slippery and FYI, we were in flip-flops as we were not forewarned about this activity. It was sooo crazy! It was pitch-black and I managed to snag a flashlight, but Char and this other traveller had these miniscule candles that you could hardly see .2 feet in front of you. We barely made it inside to a point where we could actually walk without watching every step. What did we get ourselves into? We looked around, and the limestone formations were pretty cool, but the path to get there was definitely NOT so cool. As we were muddy and soaking wet, we decided to not climb the side of cave wall again for the danger factor and just waded ourselves through the murky, muddy waters to get to freedom. I see the light! We had to have a laugh about it because it got to the point where it was just funny, and of course, then felt we deserved a BeerLao. Whoa, was that an experience!!! Here is a pict of the water we had to trudge through to get inside the cave. I know, I know, it doesn't look as crazy I just described it, but this is just to get into the cave. Inside where it was dark and scary was much worse!

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So that was the Trekking, caving, kayaking experience. If you ever are to come here, make sure you know what your getting yourself into if you do caving! Ha ha! What was weird was that something happened to my foot during that cave. Yes, it was super dangerous and even when we first started, I thought, "this would NEVER happen in the States. TOO dangergous and too much liability). But loooong story short, by the time we got home, the arch and top of my foot was unbearably sore and in pain (seriously, like 9/10 for you PT's). I really could hardly walk on it and thought I really did something bad. Where's a crutch when you need it? Luckily, (I hope!) I know what to do, so I drugged up on Ibuprofen, elevated, ace-wrapped, and iced my foot. And of course had some BeerLao (haha!). That seemed to do the trick and I felt better, until that night when I woke up with the sharp, burning pain on the outside of my foot. What the? It moved from the arch to the outside? So I didn't sleep at all that night because of the pain and then I got all paranoid about all the things that could be wrong with me. Did I step on something? Did I get bit by something? I can't be a gimp - I'm back-packing! And really, why does it feel like its hot and burning?! But then, even more strangely, by mid-day the next day, it just kind of disappeared. Hmm.... is BeerLao a miracle worker? :)

Its a mystery, but I'm all good now!

Posted by travellen 19:30 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

I loooooove it! - Laos

Finally made it to sleepy Laos!!

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View 2007 travels on travellen's travel map.

Yea! We made it! And soooooo well worth all the hassles and hiccups we had to deal with to get here! Its funny because when traveling, you move around so much its rare that you really feel comf and almost 'at home' at one particular place. Maybe after spending a whopping 3 days or something at one time, but even that isn't that common (except in our case, Hong Kong for 5 days). So it was a rare feeling that we hardly even left the airport in Vientiane, Laos that I felt sooo relaxed and comfortable. It is sooooo amazingly awesome here, I can't even begin to tell you. Most people don't know too much about Laos (we had to point to a map in HK and Macau to show where it is) and were asking us, "why are you going there?" Outside of the fact that we are in SE Asia and the countries are super close and the "why not" factor, but we have heard such good things from people that we were excited to get here. Not being known for anything in particular, basically just for being slow and sleepy, there is a wonderful, lazy atmosphere about it. We met some Germans that had been traveling the world for 2 years (yes, 2 years!), and when we were asking them about Laos and sites and things, they said that you don't go to Laos for the sites, you go for the people and the atmosphere. They planned on staying in Laos for 2 weeks and ended up staying there for 6 weeks. Now after being here, I can totally see what they are saying. The people.... sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo sooooooooo nice! The atmosphere..... sooooooooooo sooooooooooooooo relaxed and laid back. Its soooo chill and soo pleasant to be in a place like this.

Here's an example: So we arrive here and are looking at places to stay. We scout a little, make sure rooms are safe and comfortable, and we come across one that we like. We decide to take it, and the owner leads us to the room, kind of points to where everything is, and then just gives us this big smile... and leaves. At first, we are just happy to have a decent accomodation, but then we realized he was already half way down the hallway. So we chased him down and were like "umm... we would like to stay for 2 nights, should we fill out anything? and how much again?" And he just smiled and laughed and said "don't worry about it! Just pay when you leave and enjoy your stay." What? Sooooooooooo awesome! So much for paying upfront and the time costly paperwork, passport checks, and key deposits that we have had to deal with. Its that laid back. And by the way, we are staying in a nice place for $10USD.... which is more on the expensive side. Things here are sooooooooooooo sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo cheap! Dinners, beer (!!) are a little more than $1 USD, seriously. So of course you want to spend more because everything is so cheap, so we have to remember that every dollar counts! Clothes, nice clothes, you can find for $5-$10. But once again, the food, delicious food is around $1-3 dollars. AWESOME! I love it how cheap it is!

Vientiane is the capital of Laos, but when I say that, don't think of capital cities you normally would. Basically, there is like two 4-story buildings and a fountain, and that is the downtown area. It is soooo small. I loove it how it is so rustic and small and.... just laid back! A couple of times, we were thinking, "no really, where are the people?" And then you find them sleeping at some random places. Hardly anyone gives receipts, you just kinda pay them when you are done eating, and thats that! Which, by the way, the food is absolutely ahhhhh-mazing. Of course we arrived and there was a festival going on by the river. I had to get a photo of the sunset:

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I really can't pinpoint why I love it so much! I really feel happy and like I said, it was just a feeling we both got almost immediately, like "wow! This place is sooo cool! Now I see why people plan to stay here for a certain amount of time and stay here for so much longer." I've never seen people smile so much. At first I thought that we were getting laughed at or made fun of (yes, I know, its silly. Its just that I'm like 2 feet taller and 4 sizes bigger than anyone - they are TINY here), but then I realized that the people genuinely are nice, like to smile, and really have a no worries attitude. How great is that? The city is surprisingly Western, BUT does NOT feel like its overrun by tourists. The locals don't look twice at you and DO NOT stand in your face trying to sell things (i.e. China). The only "hassles" we have gotten is from tuk-tuk drivers, and that itself is hardly a whisper saying "tuk tuk?" and you just shake your head, they smile at you, and you move on. Here is one:

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Although it looks small, we've seen a good 10-12 people crammed in there, and it really does make a "tuk tuk" kind of sound. Its kinda funny.

Laos is really is a gem and I hope it stays that way. Yes, there are tourists, but it doesn't affect the everyday life of the Laotian people. If we weren't cramped for time, I would love to just chill-out here for a week or two, then make my way to another city. As Laos is known for being "sleepy," today was a good example. We took a minibus from Vientiane to Vanviang (3 and a half hours) and took all of 5 minutes to walk around the town (its about 2 blocks by 2 blocks) then spent the rest of the day drinking Lao Beer for less than a dollar, ate equally as cheap excellent food, sat on of these comf 'sleeper' seats and watched Friends episode after Friends episode:

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Ha ha! We were just opposite that doing the same thing - nothing! There aren't too many sites to see in the immediate area - there are excursion/day trips (which we will be doing), but you really just hang out and relax. Sooo sooo chill! Its awesome just having nothing to do.... for now. I would have to say I would get bored after about 3 days of this though! I enjoy sightseeing and doing stuff too much!

By the way, in case your wondering, here is what I'm traveling with for 4+ months. And yes, thats it! (I do laundry a lot, and yes, the bags still feel heavy. I also have shipped some stuff home!):

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Here's a map of the travels to Laos:

Posted by travellen 22:26 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

China, Hong Kong, and Macau

A recap...

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I kinda like to do these recap e-mails/blogs (sorry for the repeat for some!) because it gives me an opportunity to reflect on a chunk of my travels. And China/Hong Kong/Macau was definitely that. All in 3 weeks!

China. Before coming here, I knew it would be difficult, but being an optimist, I thought "it won't be so bad." Now, after traveling throughout China, I wouldn't call it bad, just hard. Some of the many stereotypes are true, yes it is super polluted in almost every way: air, land, sea, and noise. Noise (the Mandarin language is very harsh and people talk very loudly, the hawking, and with just so many people, its just loud), being a big one, and air being the first. No one speaks English and the most simple things can be such a headache (also, not the best at customer service). But, the people, when they want to be, are super nice and helpful. We really appreciated that. We probably saw .2% of the massive country with the billions of people, and some of the sites are truly amazing (once you make your way through the people). My favorites are the Great Wall, Beijing, and .... I guess just really getting to know the culture when we were in "small" towns ("small" in China is 3-5 million people) and being the only Westerners. Thats when you really feel like you are experiencing China as it is. Its a hard life. It boggles my mind to think how difficult it is to even regulate soooooo many people. By far the biggest problem is the air pollution. Granted, one of towns we visited is a coal mining town, but still - its bad. Every town was just as bad as the one before - hazy and smoggy. Besides the 1st couple of days in Beijing, we didn't see the sun the whole time we were there. And the smoking! Everyone smokes and China is a little behind the times with not smoking in enclosed spaces. Ugh. All and all, I'm glad I came but I don't forsee myself coming back to China, umm... in my lifetime.

To sum up China, here's a quote from Mao about China (I know, I know, its cheesy that I'm quoting Mao, but hey - its China! I had to mention him at least once!) that I like and I think sums up my experience: "The achievements are tremendous, the problems are numerous, the experience is rich, and the future is bright."

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Hong Kong is night and day compared to China - clean, very very modern and high tech, everyone is well-dressed, their isn't so much noise pollution with the hawking (illegal. If you do it, you get fined and possibly arrested), the Cantonese language is much easier on the ears, people are professionally dressed, customer friendly, and it really is a great blend of East meets West! Gotta love the skyscrapers after being away from it for 2 months (yes, its been 2 months since I've been gone!). We spent 5 full days there and it was very welcome after roughing it in China! I think we are spoiled now!

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Finally, Macau. A great blend of China, Hong Kong, and Portugal. Its supposed to be the next Las Vegas with the growth in casino's (there is a Venetian, Rio, MGM, etc), it also has some really historic and beautiful fortresses, churches, and temples. The food has been super and we enjoyed some delicious Portuguese food, wine, and sweets. :) If anyone is ever in Hong Kong, pop by Macau! Its only an hour away by ferry and is worth coming to.

And as usual, for more details, feel free to read my other blogs! Next stop is SE Asia (Laos first) and I'll try to send an update after traveling throughout Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand in a month of so. I'm sure I'll have great stories!!!

p.s. Unfortunately, it takes 84324329432827529347329473284324239 hours to download picts onto something like kodakgallery, so hopefully the little picts from my blog will do. I think I figured out how to shrink them so that I can upload more (i have a monthly capacity limit). It was easy in Australia/NZ because I had a home base computer, but its SUPER hard to do it when you don't have that. I'll send a link when I get back home.

Posted by travellen 04:13 Archived in China Comments (0)

Livin' Las Vegas... in Macau, China

Hong Kong to Macau to China to Macau... in 24 hours

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Alll right, its okay. In case you're like, "where is Macau?" its okay because I had to look it up myself before I left for this trip. Ha ha. If you look at a map of China, look at the very bottom and you will see the island Hong Kong (should be on every map!). Just west and a little south of it is this tiny little peninsula, Macau! It was actually a Portuguese colony up until the 90's (officially became under Chinese rule in 1999) and is now one of 2 Special Administrative Region with Hong Kong (has its own currency, etc), In the late 70's it was already considered a Chinese terrority with "temporary Portuguese administration," so these 2 cultures have been living in harmony for awhile. So as you can imagine, although tiny, Macau has a lot to offer, especially being the last European colony in Asia. At first, everything seems very random. There is definitely a Chinese feel to it (referring to things looking run-down and dirty), but then there are these big o brightly colored casino's. Yes, Macau is trying to become the Las Vegas of Asia with the casino's:

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Actually, the same person that built the Venetian in Vegas helped build this one and it really is almost exactly the same. Super nice, big, with the canals and everything. It was actually pretty fun! Different than Vegas, however, is that the main source of entertainment in Macau is gambling, versus shows, the strip, concerts, and other things Vegas has to offer besides just gambling. Anyhoo, so besides the China feel, Vegas feel, there is, obviously, Portuguese feel! There are these amazing churches, fortresses, european style buildings, squares, and small cobblestone streets that I have not seen elsewhere:

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The 1st picture is one of many pastel colored buildings we see and one of many churches. Which, by the way, because of the mixed religions of Macau, almost all temples are miu, where a combination of Buddhist, Taost, and Animist gods are worshipped. The 2nd picture is A-Ma Temple, which is named after a seafarers' goddess that dates to the 16th century. Legend has it that a girl, A-Ma, was very poor looking and she was looking for a pssage to Canton. She was refused by these wealthy junk owners but a lowly fisherman took her on board. A storm came and wrecked all the ships, except the one that the girld was on. So on arrival to Macau she vanished and reappeared as a goddess, on the spot where the fisherman built her temple. Its an innense mecca, almost overbearing at times, but very spiritual. It is said to exist before the city of Macau did. Finally, the last picture is the famous Ruinas de Sao Paulo, super amous in Macau. The church was built in 1602 along side a Jesuit College. Then in 1835 a fire destroyed all but the facade and the stairs behind it. It was restored in the early 90's and today is a must see by all tourists, like us! Its pretty cool!

The atmosphere is also interesting - Hong Kong is very business and very professional (and clean, organized, efficient, etc), and Macau has a small district like that, but it is 028443290X more laid back, and much better than mainland China - cleaner, less polluted, and pretty! I really feel it is a great mix of China, HK, and Portugal.

So all these days it took us to get here was worth it, and 2 days is enough. Looooong story short, we were trying to get organized in Hong Kong with our travels and other arrangements and basically spent 5 full days there. Then it happened that this weekend, when we wanted to go, was all booked up because it was yet another Chinese holiday (as we are learning, there are a lot of Chinese holidays. And when there are holidays, everyone and their mom's goes out of town and things are closed). With that there was this big convention, so basically we were short-ended on accomodations. Another long story short, we had to go to Goang Dong, China to sleep, to come back to Macau to spend 2 nights. So we wasted a whole day going through HK customs, Macau customs, and then China customs. Seriously. Big pain in the butt. All in an afternoon (its just an hour ferry to get from HK to Macau, and then a short bus ride to the China border). The next day was worse - we waited almost 2 hours for China customs, and then 30 min. for the Macau customs. Alas, it all worked out. Being back in China though... what a difference! We've been TOTALLY spoiled this past week and we literally crossed the border and, call me crazy, but it just seemed more polluted to me, dirty, was next to impossible to try to ask someone how to find a taxi, get to our hotel, and it was just a mess. Back to the hawking and people staring at us, not fun. We were happy that we were just there for one night. We did have our favorite bok choy, this yummy veggy, and poa (pronounced "bow"), this doughy dumpling with different fillings, so that was good.

So when we made it back to Macau, we felt we lot a lot of time and pow-wowed the city. It is small enough that we actually did walk the whole city. Lots of great and beautiful sites. Its just soo awesome to see portuguese street names and building names, and plazas and what not, in China. And of course we had to treat ourselves to a seafood portuguese dinner and some wine. YUMMY! (yes, we like to spoil ourselves sometimes!). Macau is also known for there egg tarts, which is tastes more custardy than eggy (depending) with a nice crisp crust. Here is me enjoying one:

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And the next day we did more walking around and then I jumped off a tower. Yes, you read correctly. I think I am becoming an e-drenaline junky. When I jumped in Queenstown, NZ we found out that one of the world's tallest jump was in Macau. I was kinda joking, but after the high of jumping, I said "lets do it!" So Char wanted to do it, and it advertises itself as the Worlds Tallest Bungy Jump at 233 m (or 764ft). In NZ it was 134 m. Even Char asked me "why are you doing it again?" And I don't know! Why not? This one was obviously a lot different because we were jumping from this Tower and were lowered down versus pulled up. Not to bore you with details again (refer to 9/16 "E-drenaline" blog), but the build-up wasn't nearly what it was in NZ, but the jump was definitely crazy, the free-fall being 100m more. However, the swing was 'controlled' more by a secondary cord that was attached to us. And then I was hanging upside down for what seemed like 084329278432 hours (couldn't feel my legs after awhile), which was kinda uncomf. Bottom line - it was definitely e-drenaline again, but the experience in NZ was a lot better. I'm glad I did it, but I'm officially going to take a break from bungy jumping. For the next month that is! ha ha ha! Just kidding! :)

FYI - this is the tower that Char and I jumped off, the Macau Tower:

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advertises itself as being "the World's Tallest Bungy" (how could I say no to that?), but that is controversial because it does have a deceleration cord (i.e. the more-or-less 'controlled' swing up and down with a 2nd cord after the initial fall). In NZ, that was almost as good as the jump itself! So I think South Africa has the highest freefall (meaning the jump, and then the bouncing up and down), but there is a bungy jump at the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado that is the ultimate highest (321m or 1053ft) but is rarely available for whatever reason. So basically, in a little more than a month apart I jumped possibly the worlds highest jump and the 5th (I think that is what NZ is!). Wow!

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Posted by travellen 21:02 Archived in Macau Comments (0)

Lights! Camera! Action!

Hong Kong

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Hong Kong is such a cool city! I know, I know, we are noticing little things more after coming from mainland China, but really - its a 180 from China. The Chinese definitely love their lights and billboards, and Hong Kong is nooo exception:

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Its actually really pretty when everything is lit up at night, although it kinda makes the skyline look boring during the day. Thats just my opinion though. Hong Kong happens to have the worlds largest light show every night at 8pm - the skyline on both the island side and the mainland side do this spectacular show. We went tonight and it was really cool how the buildings 'dance' to this background music and light up with different colors and shapes:

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We also have been walking around a lot and have gone to out-of-this-world shopping malls. Really, I haven't seen anything like it. Think of the biggest, cleanest, most expensive and luxurious mall and times that by 10 and you will get one of the many malls here. Its sooo clean and sparkly, nicely decorated, and a concierge that practically fall over themselves to help you out. There is also an automated touch-screen computer on each floor to guide you to certain stores (with a map and how to get there and everything). We were practically drooling over it. Its definitely a lot more posh and we felt waaaay under-dressed because everyone was in a business suit or looked really nice.. and we were in shorts, tank-tops and flip-flops.

HK also has the worlds largest escalator that takes you around the city... they even have a neat area convienently called SoHo. I'm totally guessing, but I believe it may be around a couple of miles long? The escalator takes you up and up, but then you have to walk back down by stairs. Its really cute and lots of nice shops and restaurants along the way, and of course nice views of the streets and what not. Here is a pict of it:

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I really like it here! It kinda reminds me of New York in a way that the city never seems to sleep and its just busy with people everywhere. Besides the busy city life, there is this really cool park called Victoria Park on a hill top that we took a tram up to (too steep to walk!). We had a nice 1-hour walk around it... the view was kinda hazy, but it was still cool to see the harbour and the skyline.

HK is very diverse and very modern and clean. Its going to be tough leaving, I'm getting too comfortable with civilization!

Posted by travellen 06:28 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

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