Archive Page 2

To the MOUNTAINS!

So, the road to Leh opened the day before we set off to the mountains. However, we’d done some hard thinking in Delhi and despite the fact it was the main reason we had returned to India there realistically wasn’t going to be enough time to get out of it what we wanted. Therefore plan B; we would head up to Shimla, across to Manali, further across to Dharmshala and then finish off at Amritsar before training it back for one last session at Delhi. 

This worked quite well in the end, we had a mad couple of days in Shimla as school holidays kicked off in India and everyone flocked to the cool. This was only improved by Dominoes.

Manali was equally busy but thankfully the old town was chilled and out of the way so we had a really relaxing couple of days there. We wandered up to the Solang Valley one day to watch the hang gliders and  zorbers bounce around under the snow capped mountains. 

We spent the most time in Mcleod Ganj, the home of the Tibetan Government in exile. We signed our asses up to a yoga course and got to the relaxing. The population attitude was really relaxed, unfortunately traffic was allowed the whole way through town which kind of took the atmosphere and vommed on it. In spite of this we had quite a good time. The yoga was intense and we both noticed the difference in just the 5days with our slightly mad, hyper instructor. The Tibetan side of things was a real eye opener, having not being born when the invasion took place and it not really hitting the news except for during the 2008 Olympics it was interesting to see things from a purely Tibetan point of view. We visited the museums and went to a talk from a guy who had been a political prisoner in China. It was strange because I came out of there thinking, its not that bad, the problem being its all been done before, especially by the British. But the Chinese are systematically destroying an entire culture, which seriously is bad.  So think about that next time you’re buying Chinese products. 

Last stop was Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple, and another Dominoes. The town itself is nothing special but the Golden Temple was amazing. As much for the building as the atmosphere. Theres a food hall there which feeds about 80,000 people a day; free of charge. Thats generosity for you. It was incredible the way they just got batch after batch of people through. The temple itself was also incredible. The huge fresh water lake around it, built in marble and then the temple with hundreds of people filing through. It was a really deep experience. And I dont say that lightly. 

By now we were both shattered and so it was almost time to be heading home. One last train to go and we would be on the last stage!  

Stick in the oven and leave to roast…

In line with mad India, we went for the mad decision of a jaunt around the desert in June. The road to Leh wasnt open yet so we decided to kill two weeks with a blast through Rajasthan. At this time of year the temperatures are in the mid forties every day which makes for draining work when you travel like we do (refuse all mechanised transport once in town, even if it means walking 8-12km a day, also don’t get up before 10am so spend most of your active time across the hottest part of the day). 

Nonetheless we had a good old time and added a few more experiences to the list. We saw the Amber Fort in Jaipur,  went ziplining at the fort in Jodhpur, lazed on lakeside balconies looking at the fort of Udaipur, got attacked by monkies at the Palace at Bundi and ate pizzas at the fort in Jaisalmer.

To top it all off we had a really nice sunset camel safari out of Jaisalmer. The sunset was windy and dusty but we had the place to ourselves, the guide was really nice and the hotel guy let me drive some of the way home. It was certainly worth the excessive price we paid for it!

Just to finish on a high note we took a 17 hour train back to Delhi which was a perfect way to experience what it must feel like to be a zoo animal as we provided the main entertainment for the carriage most of the way back. 

I’d forgotten how tiring travel in India can be!  

Delhi, without the Belly

We’ve both been really excited to come back to India. The last two months have been amazing, and compared to the first two they’ve been really simple, but we both wanted to get back to the no holds barred chaos and the slightly more genuine travelling feeling.

We rocked up in Delhi with no visa issues (thank god) and got ourselves all the way to town on the seriously efficient metro service, its amazing the difference 10m depth makes here. As soon as we got out of the tube station we were assaulted. By smell, by noise, by rickshaw drivers. We literally spent five minutes wandering around grinning like goons. Then realised we had No idea where we were.

After consulting the bible (LP) Megs dragged me in the direction of the cheap end of town and we got ourselves a bed in a cosy little place up a dingy  alley past the open air urinals. It was good to be back…

Delhi is a mad mix. You can go from the litter strewn streets of Old Delhi where the dust and the fumes are worse than smoking 20 reds a day to the relative calm of New Delhi where you find boutiques and chic little restaurants. The parliamentary buildings are so reminiscent of America its scary, if it wasn’t for the barrage of horns you really could be forgiven for not knowing it was India (ignoring the proudly hung flags of course).

We spent about 5days bouncing between the two entities, exploring by ourselves in the day and then hooking up with a friend from Uni who lives here in the evenings. As such we’ve actually managed a pleasant balance, and the metro system makes the whole affair a lot less stressful. Trying to arrange autorickshaws at reasonable costs being one of Indias best day to day challenges for the traveller.

Naturally of course neither of us can now breathe but hey, its India!  and its good to be back.

The other side of Bangkok

Bangkok is a massive city. Its a capital so it kind of comes with the territory, but we hadn’t really had the chance to explore it the first time round so we left with the slightly deflated feeling resulting from too much time on Th Khao San, THE backpacker hangout and about as far from Thai culture as you can get whilst still in their borders.

This time was different. I’d finished my diary in Vietnam and this is me, so only another Moleskine would do. Thankfully theres’ a few places which sell them in Bangkok so we went exploring. It was a great day!

We wandered through a part of town which seemed to deal exclusively in engines and mechanical parts, there was street after street of blocks, gear boxes, body parts and wheels just piled floor to ceiling. Megan hated it!

After a Starbucks and two smoothies we eventually found an internet cafe and got some directions to Siam Pargon. Now this is the side of town you want to be staying. It was bustling, it was loud, you could hardly breathe, but you had bars, restaurants, shopping from George to Chanel and everything in between and happy smiley Thai people. It was awesome. We spent ludicrous amounts of money on new diaries and soup and McDonalds and Krispy Kreams and Boots and I drooled over stereos and Macs.

However, that evening we got handed a flyer for a restaurant around Th Khao San, it had the best vegetarian food I’ve eaten in a while, gorgeous humous and pittas and pretty good lassi. Afterwards we ended up in a small blues bar, literally round the corner from Khao San and had a great evening of live blues and a catch up with an old friend who was randomly in Bangkok.  I guess all it takes is a bit of exploring. We were glad we did…

Ha Long, but not on telly…

We’re in Vietnam, the north of Vietnam no less so it seemed only right to visit the famous Ha Long bay. Courtesy of top gear we both went anticipating the majestic sight of this geologically freaky limestone “outcrop”. Obviously, with it being pretty famous we also knew that there was no way it was going to be a hassle free sightseeing tour. It’d be worth it we reckoned.

Like all good traveller types we bused in ourselves, found our own way to the only ferry port we could see and immediately realised we were screwed. The happy capital letter sign over the entrace read “Welcome to Ha Long tourist port”. There has been no point on this trip when something organised as a tourist attraction has in any way been relaxing or value for money. “Tourist” is another term for piggybank out here.

We desperately tried to find ourselves a local ferryport. We only wanted to get to Cat Ba island, which has its own population so there would certainly be a ferry for them. But no we were told. So, in leiu of backtracking 100km to the city of Hai Phong (which we were told did have a normal ferry) we settled for a cheapish 1-day tour which promised to drop us off at Cat Ba by the end of the day. Error.

It was by this time after lunch, but when we boarded the boat we were dutifully informed that lunch wasn’t included in our ticket. Neither it seemed was ANYTHING that the other passengers were ushered into throughout the hot, looong afternoon. Fair enough we thought, we’ll be on Cat Ba soon and we can just have a massive dinner.

We landed on the island well after dark, a rumour of engine trouble rumbled through the ranks, but no communication from our wonderful tour host. The only thing we got out of him was a reminder that our tour ended as soon as we got off the boat. The warning bells should have been deafening, but we’d not eaten and after our 5am start we weren’t really that awake either.

When I spotted the taxi with the sign “N. Pier to Cat Ba 25km” I started to worry. Then we rounded the corner and there sat a bus. Everyone was ushered on, and there was suddenly a bloke chanting in my ear 100,000…100,000 per person. WTF!? I asked. The tour is over. There is only this bus or that taxi. Conveniently the prices are the same either way. So, walk 25km, in the dark? Obviously not, they held all the cards. Two other guys were in our situation, they kicked off, as did we. Its unreasonable. Obviously. Everything was going well until one girl at the front (selfish hound) decided she was bored and wanted to get to her hotel, the fact that we were so late was the tour companies fault she conveniently forgot. That was the undoing of it all. The price dropped to 70,000 a head ($3.5) and I broke out the last of our money. A nice girl at this point told us she didnt think there was an ATM on Cat Ba. Blue doesn’t even describe my response to that statement.

Anyway there was. We broke out as much cash as I could handle and had a couple of 5000vnd beers (yeah, the bus was 70,000, a beer was 5,000. Go Figure)

We eventually found an awesome little company on the island called Slo Pony (Asia Outdoors) who, although they charged western prices, took us out for an awesome little day of kayaking and deep water soloing. The weather was good, the guides were good, the food was good and the climbing was shit scary… but it was worth it.

Cat Ba taught us how we see spending our money. We resented every penny we spent on the tour to get to Cat Ba, we didn’t want it and it wasn’t worth the hassle and the extra costs. We spent about 6 times the amount on the one day out with Slo Pony, but hell, it was a GOOD day. Worth every penny. No hidden costs, no nasty surprises. Professional. So what if it costs more, you get a stress free experience for your money.

To those who want to see Ha Long Bay. Don’t. Get to Hai Phong, or book a bus-boat-bus combo with a reputable company in Ha Noi. Get onto Cat Ba and go explore Lan Ha Bay. Its the same belt of islands, its simply a city border which separates them. If you want a good trip out into the bay I would reccommend Slo Pony whole heartedly. Its worth the money. Even on a budget.

But if you just want the amazingness of the limestone carsts? Go to Laos, Go to South Thailand. Enjoy a cheaper, more friendly atmosphere and don’t give the Ha Long tour companies a dime…

EDIT: Wrote this after three days of very little sleep. Sorry if its too Whiney…

Mopeds, Mines and Masonary

Who Knew, Laos is the most bombed country on earth per person. The Americans handily dropped 2tonnes of ordanance for every man, woman and child during the…Vietnam war. I did my history coursework on that war and as far as I remember we missed that bit. As a result Laos is a bit of  a strange place to travel in once you get off the main roads. Every new development needs minesweeping for unexploded cluster bombs and every time a small scale farmer wants to expand his land? Well generally they take the risk.

This has obviously had an effect on tourism. One of Laos’ most impressive archaeological heritage sites is littered with bomb craters and unexploded bombs. MAG ( a british organisation/charity) has been working with locals and other bomb disposal teams to help clean up some of the general mess, but has managed to clear safe pathways through a fair selection of the sites across the Plain of Jars. As you stroll through thousand year old history you are urged to keep between the lines of painted stones as outside of these hasn’t been cleared of  ordanance.

Then you get on the road (hence the moped in the title, gears and shiz were awesome fun, though flying water for the New Year made things a tad dangerous) and you realise that these awesome little villages you are riding through most likely hasn’t been cleared and the beautiful countryside around you is a killing zone. It kinda puts a downer on things given the Lao people are some the friendliest and most genuine we have met, and courtesy of more American arrogance (read the full story on the “secret war”) it is a seriously scary place to live.

 

Sorry if this is a bit preachy, I try not to be, but the story behind all of this is horrifying!

Learning to love Lager…

LAOS. Originally intended as an easy way to get overland between Thailand and Vietnam, it has turned into one of our most loved places.

The highlight was probably Laos New Year. We ended up in a tiny little town out near the Plain of Jars (an epic archaeological site, with hewn stone urns about the size of a Megan. And this is ME saying archaeology is cool). The place was in one of the most bombed regions in the world so everywhere you look bomb casings were being used. As a fence, as a flower pot etc. REALLY wierd.

Anyway Laos new years goes on for three days and basically involves having all the evil washed away. So people line the streets throwing water, spraying water and generally soaking everyone that goes past. Also involved is morning to evening drinking. To the extent that our guesthouse owner offered us beer for breakfast. After three days of only drinking Beer Lao (the only beer availiable, and if you’ve been paying attention, a lager) you do start to get a taste for it.

We were fooled to start when they started sharing a bottle and handing the glass around, Megan was convinced it would be nice sensible drinking. Nope 😀 you down your glass, and that bottle they opened was over a pint, and the first of three crates of 12 they have cooling in the fridge.

God Bless New Year.