Posts Tagged With: motorcycle

June 5th -Day 17 – Angkor Wat

There’s no denying that Angkor Wat is the headline on the itinerary for this trip.  It’s the largest religious site in the world and our last major visit before the end of the itinerary.

The most popular way to visit Angkor Wat is at sunrise, so we scheduled to this – which meant meeting at 4:45am for our trip out to the temple. We had to meet so early because at 5am we had to buy our tickets, to get to the site before the run began rising at 5:30.  Since the hotel didn’t open breakfast until 6, I grabbed a quick protein bar in my room, a rather refreshing shower and met with the group at 4:45, just in time to be introduced to our local guide in Siem Reap.

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Our 4:45am bus 

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Queueing to get our tickets

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My 3 day ticket, with stunning photo printed on there

We took the bus out to the ticket centre, where we queued up and had our photo taken.  The tickets are quite expensive ($40 for a 3 day ticket) and have photos printed onto them, so each of us had to present ourself even though the ticket price was included in the itinerary.

After we got our tickets, the bus driver raced with the rest of the tourists to head to the border of Angkor Wat, where we had to present our tickets to be allowed through the checkpoint.

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As the bus dropped us off, the sun was just creeping up

Once we got off the bus, the photo opportunities didn’t stop.  Rather than give you a blow by blow account, i’m going to let the photos and comments on those do the talking.

It was so hot inside Angkor Wat, and we spent around 2 hours exploring the site before it was time to head back to the hotel for breakfast.  It was hard to believe how much we’d achieved in just a few hours of the day – and there was plenty more to come! Since the weather forecast is bad for tomorrow, we tried to cram as much as possible into today.

I had a quick shower back at the hotel and then joined the rest of the group for breakfast before chilling out and regrouping at 10am to head to Bayon, the second most famous temple in the Siem Reap area.  Bayon is located inside an area known as Angkor Thom. On the way into Angkor Thom, we passed over one of the entry bridges which has 57 statues lining the side of the road, and came across a patch of monkeys including a particularly cheeky one who jumped onto someones motorcycle! Just as we finished photographing the monkeys, a group of Elephants paraded past. I’m not even making this up!

So yes, it was 10am and i’d been to the biggest temple in the world, seen sun rise, seen monkeys, elephants and we hadn’t even got to Bayon yet.  Again, click the photos for details:

I have to say, Bayon blew me away. I’ve been to Machu Picchu, but it had nothing on this in terms of impression it left in my brain.  Bayon is insane. It’s from another world. The faces, the structure and the presence of the whole place was something else.

Shortly after our tour of Bayon, we stopped for a toilet break. I dared to go look at one of the nearby stalls, and bought some postcards and a t-shirt from one of the vendors there.  The vendors are borderline aggressive in their sales technique and once i’d bought, they followed me to the coach and tried to convince everyone else to buy from them as well. The amounts they’re asking are tiny ($5 for a t-shirt, $1 for 10 postcards!) but they persist until you agree!

After the toilet break we had time for one more stop – at a site known as the Elephant Lodge.  Again, it’s super famous and it was really cool to see all the intricate carvings and imagine how everything was constructed many thousands of years ago. The entire Angkor area must have been such a site back when everything was being constructed – almost all of the temples were constructed in a 100 year period.

After the Elephant Lodge, we headed to our lunch stop.  Lunch today was included thanks to G-adventures support of the New Hope foundation, a site which runs yet another training restaurant, but also a school, medical care facility and social agency for under privileged families in Cambodia.  We ate an amazing meal including Crickets (which I opted out of!) before getting a talk from the New Hope staff about the facility and the good work they’re doing.  They take volunteers so if you’re looking for something good to do with your life, you could do worse than look them up!

So, just to point this out – it’s now just after lunch time and i’ve visited 3 amazing historic sites, seen sun rise, eaten food prepared by underprivileged students being educated by a NGO foundation, and now we’re heading back to the hotel to avoid the heat. Today was definitely a sense of achievement day!

At 6pm we headed back into Pub Street for a few more cocktails and dinner – which ended up with me heading out to join a younger Gadventures group (on a YOLO tour) for a few more drinks after the rest of the group headed out. I had visions of staying out super late, but my energy level was pretty low by 11 and decided to head back to the hotel and be sensible – we had another pre-7am start tomorrow!

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May 30th – Day 11 – Bay, Bus and Cyclos

Breakfast was quite basic but hey, we’re on a boat in the middle of Ha Long Bay and dining to scenery that many people wouldn’t believe even with their own eyes.  We had toast, fried eggs, some ‘laughing cow’ cheese and coffee.  Fine, but not luxury.

We were lucky with our morning position which meant that we were able to make it to a little island as the first boat to arrive, and when the island opened at 7:45am we had the chance to walk up the hill to a small pagoda or swim in the sea. I chose the both option, rushing up the hill with Yvonne and snapping a few photos before heading back down for a quick dip in the water before we had to move on.  It was really nice to cool down after the stairs upstairs, and the water was pretty pleasant even at 8am.

Our overnight view

Our overnight view

My stylish hill climbing / swimming outfit

My stylish hill climbing / swimming outfit

Dek in his classic pose

Dek in his classic pose

The view from the top, by  the pagoda

The view from the top, by the pagoda

Panorama

Panorama

Me at the pagoda

Me at the pagoda

Heading back down to swim

Heading back down to swim

Once we finished our swim, it was time to get back on the boat and head back to land. I grabbed a last shower in the boat (which was surprisingly good) and packed up my little day bag – the full bag had stayed in Hanoi at the hotel. We also had our bills to settle, and mine came to 471,000 for the drinks and kayaking – not the cheapest drinks in Vietnam, for sure!

Whilst the captain brought us back to land, the chef gave us all a demonstration of creating vegetable flowers for presentation including an intricate lattice carved from a carrot soaked in salt water for a few hours.  It was quite impressive and filled the time nicely as we headed back to the shore.

A cucumber flower in the making

A cucumber flower in the making

And the end result

And the end result

Latticework looks hard

Latticework looks hard

Chef concentrating on the lattice

Chef concentrating on the lattice

Presentation time

Presentation time

The finished result

The finished result

A final stretch in the sun

A final stretch in the sun

Once the demo was over we only had a couple of minutes sailing left before we reached the harbour and disembarked from our overnight home.  A quick toilet break in the harbour and we boarded our bus to head back to Hanoi – another 4 hour run, meaning we would arrive in Hanoi after lunch time.  Dek had promised us a stop at a restaurant but what happened was we ended up at the statue place again, where we discovered the cafe was closed and were forced to buy overpriced snacks to keep us going.  I bought a couple of snacks and some postcards, and amused myself on the bus by going through some of the photos you’ve seen in the previous posts.

Once we arrived back in Hanoi, we checked back into the same hotel and they very efficiently dropped our bags back in our new rooms for us.  It was nice to get back into a proper hotel after a night on the boat, but the scenery was less glamorous.

Dek had told us about a Hanoi speciality which I really wanted to try – called Egg Coffee, it is literally a shot of coffee with whisked egg yolk on top. It’s a pretty odd sounding combination which meant I had to try it!  We met up after a few minutes in the hotel and headed to the cafe which is supposedly the origin of this recipe – originated as a solution to a milk shortage in Vietnam when the French occupied.  Navigating the busy streets of Hanoi is an acquired skill, since there are no zebra crossings or stop lights – it’s just a case of plucking up the courage and going for it – slowly – as you cross the road and mopeds zoom around you on either side.

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Moped mayhem

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No rules as to direction or speed

Cafe Giang was quite literally a back alley place, but perfect for it.  We ordered our egg coffees and they quickly appeared – the tradition is to stir everything together (good, since the egg on top could literally support the spoon when it arrived) and then drink… It was a taste sensation!

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Cafe Giang

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Egg Coffee

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After stirring

I really liked the taste – review sites have likened it to liquid tiramisu and that was exactly our conclusion as well.  Definitely try this if you go to hanoi!

Once we finished off our coffees, we had a little free time where I went to explore the city on foot.  The streets being arranged by business type takes a bit of getting used to, but makes a lot of sense.

In the early evening we met up again as a group for our Cyclo Tour – which would give us a chance to sample the city and the crazy traffic at extremely close quarters!  Our cyclos gave us a quick tour of the old city and the french quarter, which was fascinating and absolute mayhem at all the road junctions.  Talk about putting your life in the hands of someone – those cyclos aren’t the most manourverable things!

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Traffic craziness

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Cyclo selfie

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Picking our cyclo driver

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At points the traffic was fairly chaotic

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Peace globe

Our cyclo tour dropped us off at a training restaurant which is supported by Gadventures.  This restaurant helps disadvantaged teenagers train to be chefs, waiting staff and allows them to work in the restaurant setting to earn a small wage as well.

There was a set menu presented for us as part of our tour, including a simple noodle salad, spring rolls and some curried vegetables.  The food tasted good and it was nice to feel we were supporting a good cause.

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Noodle Salad

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Fresh spring rolls

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Dinner chat

Once we finished our dinner, we grabbed a normal taxi back (there were too many of us to justify tuktuks) and then I shared a beer with Karl and Petra on the hotels rooftop bar before we headed to bed – we had another 7am start coming!

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May 28th – Day 9 – Mountain, Millionaires and Motorcycles

In the peak season, the tour would move on to Vietnam in the morning on this day, but since we’re travelling in the off -season, Lao Airlines only flies in the afternoons to Hanoi, so we had a free morning in Luang Prabang. I was pretty happy about this since I’ve really enjoyed the pace of life in Luang Prabang and I wanted to explore their most famous site, the Phousi Mountain (don’t say it too quickly!).  At the top of the mountain is a small temple which can be seen from all over the town, and it offers spectacular views of the two rivers which converge just outside of Luang Prabang.

I started the day with an early breakfast, around 7, before heading out to the mountain before the heat of the day hit. The base of the mountain path was a short walk from the hotel, and I was able to make good time heading up – after paying my 20,000 kip entrance fee. Almost every tourist attraction seems to charge the same here!

It was 309 steps up to the top of the mountain, but it was worth it – I had the top to myself and could see all of the town, the rivers and the small temple as well. The sense of achievement in doing this was also worth it!

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A view of the river and Luang Prabang from the mountain

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Top of the mountain selfie

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The other side of the town

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The temple at the top

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No idea what this purple leaf is but it was really vibrant and visible throughout the town

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It was a steep walk up the mountain

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Selfie after making it back down

On the way back down I decided to go for another Lao coffee, having enjoyed it the day before. There was some confusion in the shop who seemed to think I wanted a take away coffee and gave me the boiling hot coffee and condensed milk in a plastic bag, like a goldfish at the fair. After clarifying my request, I was quickly brought a new one in a glass and enjoyed it just as much as the first, although I didn’t dare to try and communicate about the doughnut !

Once I got back to the hotel I quickly packed before going for a swim in the beautiful hotel pool. It was still not even 8:30! The early mornings on this tour really mean the day packs in things… I swam for half an hour and by that point some of the others emerged from their rooms.

Since it was so early, I went back to the room for a little cool off and a nap before checking out from the hotel.  I walked back into the town and explored a little of the old town, hunting out some gift shops and stopping for lunch in a tourist restaurant called The Pizza, which served terrible over priced pizza and drinks but I wanted to be gentle to my stomach after the upset yesterday – I also ordered ginger tea which seemed to help.  After I ordered the olive pizza, the waiter dashed out of the shop to a neighbouring supermarket and came back in with a pack of olives and some ginger. Got to love small towns!

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Olive pizza

With a couple of hours remaining in Luang Prabang once lunch was over, I went into a coffee shop for a cold drink and some aircon as well as free wifi… Honestly this day was a bit unnecessary but the flight schedules had determined we should stay until 3pm.

At 3 we regrouped and headed out to the airport, where check-in was smooth and allowed us a little more waiting before we boarded Laos Airlines QV313 to Hanoi.  The flight was pretty much a mirror image of our flight from Chiang Mai – an ATR plane, terrible box meal and a 45 minute hop.

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Laos airlines selfie

When we landed in Hanoi the sky was incredible – the clouds were so dark and low, it was clear a storm was about to hit and shortly after we left the airport, we were presented with a wonderful thunderstorm. The Vietnamese visa process for a UK passport holder was super easy- no paperwork at all, just handing over my passport and getting a stamp at the border. Some of the others had spent upwards of $200 on their Vietnam visas!

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Vietnams visa is somewhat simple after the crazy Laos ones

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Our luggage collection

In the airport I also changed some US Dollars into Vietnamese dong and once again became a millionaire – $1 was worth 22,240 dong so my $100 gave me 2.2 Million dongs!

Our trip to the hotel was in a nice big comfortable bus and we got to see a bit of the hubbub of Hanoi – our hotel was quite central in the city on ‘silk street’ (fittingly the hotel was the Golden Silk Hotel).  The streets of Hanoi are organised by what is sold there – so there is glasses street, coffee street, and beer street. Quite an efficient way of shopping, unless you want a lot of different things at once!

During our bus ride Dek gave us some tips about Vietnam – a country of 90 million people, and Hanoi – the capital city with over 8 million people and over 4 million motorcycles.  The constant ‘beep beep’ of the motorcycles and cars weaving in and out was infectious and I couldn’t wait to get out and start exploring! We only got one night in Hanoi before our next destination, so we went on a short walk to Deks favourite local restaurant – called 96 Restaurant. Dek said they have one as well called 69 -although that sounds like a whole different dinner to me!

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Another hotel, another massive bed!

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Pineapple juice

Crossing the roads in Hanoi is something of an art form, as there is never really a break in the traffic – you just kind of ‘go for it’ when you want to cross, and the traffic avoids you. At first it sounds scary, but the more you do it the easier it becomes.

At 96 Restaurant I had some fresh vegetable spring rolls and tofu with satay sauce,as well as a fruit juice and it cost 250,000 dong! That feels like a lot, but it’s really about $20.

Once back at the hotel, and safely across the roads again, I quickly replaced my day pack into an overnight pack since we couldn’t bring our full bags for the next day trip to Ha Long Bay.  Tomorrow would be another early start, setting off at 6:30 – so I got an early night again. Excited for tomorrow though – Ha Long Bay is one of my reasons for booking the trip!

Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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