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Dec 27, 2005 - Vietnam and Laos
November 01 to December 01, 2005

Reported by JoMar All rights reserved.

Vietnam and Laos were two countries that came as a big surprise to both Marc and me. Neither one of us thought they would be as beautiful as they were. In fact they are among the most beautiful countries either of us have visited ever; right up there with Austria, Alaska, Greece,Turkey and Africa. We arrived in Vietnam from Bangkok landing in Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon) on Nov. 01. Saigon was really cool. Like most large cities it was very busy and crowded; the exception here was that we have never seen so many motorbikes in one place! Actually there are very few cars in all of Vietnam, most people drive motorcycles. The back alleys and sidestreets of Saigon with all their shops were really neat to wonder thru. We purchased two tickets for a hop-on hop-off bus for 50 CAD dollars (not each!) to take us from Saigon to Hanoi (South to North.) This ticket also included a tour of The Mekong Delta in deep southern Vietnam. Here we travelled in canoes along the narrow waterways surrounded by jungle on both sides, ate traditional Vietnamese food and were treated to traditional Vietnamese song. I also posed with a python necklace that didn't go with anything I was wearing :-) I have always said the best part of travelling around the world is meeting and befriending people from all over the globe. On the Mekong Delta trip we met two really fabulous "attorneys" (inside joke) from Ireland; Ruth and Ian. We ended up meeting up again in Muine, Vietnam and spent a few days together in Phuket, Thailand as well. We promised to meet again in Canada for perhaps an Alaskan cruise!? and also in Ireland.

Anyway like I said we met up with our new Irish friends again in Muine, which is a beautiful beach community off the coast of Vietnam. We spent several days relaxing on the beach, partying with Ruth and Ian, and another new friend,Yannis from Crete, Greece. We had a blast in Muine!! We went to a beach bar were Marc and Ruth immediately jumped upon the bar to dance upon hearing that they were offering a free drink to anyone who would get up on the bar and dance! We had pizza with our friends and also did some amazing but dangerous parking lot motorcycle stunts (don't ask)

After Muine we took the bus to Hoi An. This was a charming little village known for it's silk garments. Marc and I had some pajamas tailor made for the kids back home. Merry Christmas you guys and we hope you loved your presents sent to us from Santa, of course! Hoi An holds the distinction of being the one place in Vietnam were families have lived in the same houses for 8 generations!! Cool huh?

We then took the bus to Nha Trang. Nha Trang is a very cool city on the coast that boasts the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam and also some of the most amazing islands. We did a one day tour of the islands. Very beautiful. It was here that we met Ariya and Cassie two really happenin chicks from Oz :-) It was also here that we clubbed until dawn with Ariya, Cassie, and Yusef. Yusef was another passenger on our one day island tour who we learned is actually from our home town of Hamilton, Ontario!!! Anyway the four of us danced and drank our butts off in Nha Trang and had a blast. We met up with Ariya and Cassie again in Phuket and did the dancing till the wee hours thing again. If you two are reading this we CANNOT WAIT to see you again in Brisbane :-)

After Nha Trang we decided to fly to Hanoi because we didn't want to travel on a bus for 16 hours and the flight was cheap. The 12 hour bus ride from Muine to Hoi An left my lower back and Marc's right arm paralyzed!! Actually the feeling in Marc's index finger still hasn't returned completely!!! 

When we arrived in Hanoi and got off the minibus in the old quarter, we were immediately descended upon by dozens of locals offering places to stay. We settled on one and then proceeded to explore Vietnam's capital city. The old quarter was really quaint. Many of the shops in this section have been selling the same wares for over 500 years!! We were befriended by a local who took us to a karaoke bar. Our new friend spoke in Vietnamese to the waitress and before we new it, without us ordering they brought us a whole wack of beers and every time we finished one they immediately went to open another three bottles. Anyway I put a stop to that immediately. When I told them we would let them know if we wanted another beer, the waitress looked at our new "friend" confusingly. They also brought us peanuts which we didn't eat but our friend sure did! We didn't sing but our buddy sang four songs. Needless to say at the end of the evening we were presented with a huge bill, for the beer and nuts and the songs that neither Marc or I sang!!! We put a stop to that also. Our new "let me show you around companion" didn't make an attempt to break out his wallet until he realized that we were not putting up with that shit! We had another incident in Hanoi were we got on the back of motorcycle taxis. We agreed on a price with one of them who could speak English and then on the way back to the hotel he told me that it was now "ten minutes to six" and the price is now 10 dong more! He stopped at the corner of our street instead of taking me to the hotel because he didn't want the other driver to see him try and get more money out of me. I told him flat out that we agreed on a price and he can't just change it and that I was not a "stupid tourist" all of a sudden this guy couldn't speak English!! Anyway he wouldn't take the agreed upon amount so I just threw the money at him and walked away. This was one of the few times that I really blew my top!!! We gave the other driver an extra 10 just for being honest and made sure my driver saw him get extra also. In retrospect 10 dong is very little money. However, it wasn't the money that pissed me off, or the fact that he was trying to get more from me then he should, they all do that. It was the fact that he thought I was "stupid" enough to fall for it and that after agreeing in good faith on a price he wanted to charge me more. I guess it was a matter of principal and integrity on my part. Wow thanks for listening you guys, obviously I had to get that one off my chest... :-)

From Hanoi we booked a two day one night cruise to Ha Long Bay. This bay is supposed to be the most beautiful place in all of Vietnam and it sure was magnificent!!  There we met many nice people including the Swedish Charlie's Angels (hi girls) and two fellow Canadians from Montreal Matt and Teresa who we found out were actually moving from Montreal to Vancouver in January! We spent two days talking and trading travel experiences and advice while sailing through this amazing valley of caves and limestone outcrops! We ended up hanging with the angels and Canadians in Hanoi and met up with Matt and Teresa in Thailand also. Our new friends from Montreal bought us a tiny beautiful Christmas tree!! Matt and Teresa and Ruth and Ian, if you guys are reading this please let us both say that we enjoyed hanging with you guys and watching movies, playing cards, drinking, eating, running, going to the cinema to see King Kong and all that stuff. Meeting you guys was THE highlight of our Southeast Asia trip!! Matt and Teresa we will see you guys in Vancouver;  Ruth and Ian we will see you guys in Vancouver also for our Alaska adventure, if we don't get to Ireland first :-)  We are so happy we've met you guys!!!

We flew from Hanoi to Vientiane, Lao on Nov. 16th. Veintiane was just okay but then we boarded a bus for the village of Vang Viang. Very cool hippie backpacker town. We met up with some Swedish backpackers here who we met in a club in Nha Trang and they still had some compromising photos of me on their camera (don't ask).  It was in Vang Viang that we did an all day tube ride down the Song River. Spectacular scenery and river bank bars all the way! It was here that I lost my sandals in the current!

Next stop was Luang Phrabang. The bus ride from Vang Viang to Laung Phrabang was one of the most beautiful rides of our entire trip! The natural beauty of the mountains and valleys and villages rivals any that we saw in Austria!! Laung Phrabang is the only historical town in all of Southeast Asia. From here we took a slow boat for two days along The Mekong River to the border of Thailand at Chiang Kong and then a bus from here to Chiang Mai. After our first day on the river we stopped in a riverside village called Pakbang. All the slowboats stopped here and as we were one of the last boats to arrive, accommodation was sparse. Anyway we stayed for the night in a room for 1.50 CAD. During the night we heard sounds in the walls and ceiling... you guessed it.  RATS!  We found out later that our fellow boat companions had the same visitors. Needless to say we were grateful to be back on the boat and heading for the border!

It was on the slowboat that we first met Dean from England. We met up again with Dean for a few days in Phuket, Thailand and had so much fun hanging out and doing the club and dinner and beach thing. Dean really cracked me up with his American porn star accent :-)  However, it was Dean and Marc who were the real soul sisters! As some of you know Marc is more the bar and dance person then I am so Dean was great company for him to go clubbing with while I stayed home most nights and relaxed with a good book, my favorite thing to do :-)  Dean, thank you again for the Christmas presents, it was nice to have presents to put under the tree Matt and Teresa bought for us. Amelie was a perfect choice as you know of all the places we have seen on our trip Paris was my favourite :-)  Marc LOVES his Madonna CD also!

Ruth, Ian, Teresa, Matt and Dean. You guys really made our stay in Phuket so wonderful and in part because of you we had a wonderful Christmas!! We are truly grateful to have met such special people. Phuket is just not the same with you not here.

The one thing we did notice about Vietnam and Lao is that the locals have very little regard for the beautiful place that they live in. Environmentally speaking they think nothing of throwing garbage in the streets and alleys of Hanoi or Saigon, and as a result the cities are infested with rats and roaches. Even on the boats in the beautiful Mekong Delta and Ha Long Bay the locals arbitrarily throw food and garbage into the water! Imagine the look on our faces when we saw that!! Generally speaking both countries were amazing, especially Vietnam.

Hope you all had a festive and wonderful Christmas and only the best for 2006.

LOVE

john

and of course marc too :-)

 

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