Hanoi to Lao

I spend my second day in Hanoi first by going to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, but it was not open on Sunday. We did however get into the Ho Chi Minh museum, but it was mainly communist propaganda. Afterward we went to the 3 story market, which was insane. You can buy anything and everything you can imagine. Outside the indoor market there were streets packed with food, cloth, and electronic vendors. On the way back to our hotel Kim, Lyn, Carrie, and I picked up our laundry, which only cost 15,000 Dong per kilo, about $.35/lb of dry laundry. This was the first time I did my laundry (no washings before 20 days, not bad huh?). We dropped our stuff off and went to KFC for some lunch. Then onwards to the water puppet show, something Hanoi, Vietnam is known for. It was interesting, but I got bored. I had no idea what the hell the story line was. On the way back to our hotel, after the show, Haereshem and I got some Bao. That night we went out to eat and I got a side of kimchi. It was the best I've ever had, very flavorful and very spicy. After dinner we said our goodbyes for those that are not going to Lao. Some of us went to a night club but it was something else. I mean, 5 security guards in uniform greeted us inside the front doors and checked our bags. When the doors of the club opened we were almost deafened. It was SO loud. We found out that drinks were around 70,000 Dong, which totally a rip off, so we left. We noticed 4 more security guards scattered outside and around the front door, scoping the area. There were also several Mercedes, and other nice cars parked along the road. Mind you, this is a country where someone is rich if they own a 1985 ford. This place was definitely mob run.

Getting into Lao
The next morning, we were on the road at 5:30, which meant we had to wake up and pack our bags much earlier than that. I got in the van, now 6 of us, the Finnish couple, the Aussie couple, my German roommate Steffen, and myself. They are all 26 to 29 years old. I went to sleep for about 1.5 hours, at which point I could no longer sleep. The hotel had packed our breakfast for us, since breakfast was included in our stay, but we left to early to eat it. They packed us 4 slices of break, jam, butter, orange soda, and 2 bananas. The others told me that the break was moldy so I only had the bananas. Before we got to the Vietnam/Lao border the roads got VERY curvy and bumpy. We were riding along the edge and scaling several mountains. There were signs ALL OVER the place warning us of loose rocks, rock slides, weak bridges, uneven pavement, etc. These roads went on for hours and hours. We must have averaged 15km/hr. We checked out of Vietnam fine and now we were in no man's land. We had to drive to the Lao border, which was only half a km or so away. We had to pay a 2 dollar bribe and my visa was $35 USD. This fee was dependent on our nationality. We all were happy to be out of the ugly, rude, dirty Vietnam and into Lao. Lao was very different than Cambodia and Vietnam. Even though Lao is more poor than Cambodia, it isn't too apparent. True they live in wooden houses I could construct within a week, but there isn't the extreme poverty we saw in Cambodia. This is because Cambodia is missing an entire generation of people from the Killings in the 1970s.

Pak Xan
We arrived in Pak Xan around 8:30 at night, after having left Hanoi at 5:30 in the morning (talking about a long day of traveling). This city is tiny, which our hotel was the only hotel in the city. There is only one street (highway 13) that we will be taking during our stay in Lao. I went for a run in the early morning around 6:30 and then we had some breakfast. The hotel had a caged bear which we fed and pet. We had another 4 hour or so bus ride to get to the capital city of Vientiane.

This city was very quiet. It's the sleepiest capital city in the world is seems. We walked around and visited some pagodas. Steffen and I went into a shopping mall and could not believe what we saw. There were bootleg bags, watches, and clothing all over. Food kiosks selling all types of unusual foods and beers (at least unusual to me). We walked into one warehouse-like room where they had at least 20 kiosks of high-tech phones. MUCH more high tech than back in the states. Outside the mall there was a market. We say some locals melting down scrap metal and making jewelery. We wandered into another market where all they sold was electronic stuff. From cameras, to cell phones, to video games. You name it. They had more merchandise than all the products in a given Costco, UNBELIEVABLE. They had the same quantity of clothing and bags and shoes upstairs. Likewise with gold and silver jewelery. There were more people in the mall and these markets than in the entire city. On the way out I bought myself a black t-shirt of the Lao alphabet for about $1.50. On the way back to our hotel I met a couple from the US. Steffen and I got to talking with them and we decided to get a beer riverside. Mind you, the Mekong River was pretty dried up where we went to get the drink. We talked for a couple hours and had drank a little shy of one and a half liters of beer (which is quite a lot of beer in the hot sun). They are married and have been traveling for about a year. They have been all around south east Asia and eastern Europe. We talked about the cultural differences and how we all hated the Vietnamese people.

Vang Vieng
After another 3+ hour bus ride we arrived at a nice backpacker's city called Vang Vieng. We checked into our Bungalows and all went tubing down the Nam Song river. It is crazy, like a spring break of South East Asia. There had to have been 8 bars, that all had water slides and zip lines that through your out at least 15 feet above the water. We had to sign a waver with our tour guide and with the tubing company becuase many people have died using the zip lines. The bars were filled with western backpackers and free shots for all that stopped at their bars. People would through lines at your on your inner tube and we would grab on and they would drag us to their bar. They all served Beelao, a pretty nice lager, but we got a 'special' menu at one of the bars. They had Magic Mushroom Shakes, Weed Shakes, and, Weed Brownies for 50,000 kip. They also had Opium Tea for 250,000 kip. There are about 8,500 kip to $1 USD. The tubing trip took some time and I got off a little earlier and walked with my tube for about 3 km to see the town. Much of the town is filled with only locals. I get stares from the children like Jesus or something. They also say hi, or hello, in their broken English. It's very cute. When I within half a km to our hotel I saw the touristy area. There were Internet cafes everywhere, and ATMs, and book exchanges. There were tour booths, food stalls, and more white people than I've seen in the last 3 weeks. All the bars here have reruns of Friends playing on them, I'm not sure why, but they are just known for it. Tonight is a full moon and there is a huge Full Moon party that we're going to attend. Tomorrow we head for Luang Prabang, where we will be staying 3 nights. It will be nice to be somewhere for that long. We've stayed in 14 hotels in the last 3 weeks and it's becoming a pain in the ass to unpack and repack the same stuff over and over again.

Hue to Halong Bay via a Sleeper Train then to Hanoi, Vietnam

From Hue to Halong Bay via Sleeper Train
So we walked around Hue during the morning and visited the Citadel. It was quite large but I wasn't too impressed with the architecture or art work. It didn't impress may of us, but the locals seemed very impressed. I guess I would likely appreciate it more if I were deeply inlove with my own king. We walked to a super market, or the closest thing to it. I convince about 8 people to buy different types of cheese and crackers, and then we all got wine on the way back to our hotel. We were going to be on a crappy train from 15:30 one day until 6:00 the next morning, so we also got some munchies. The wine and cheese party was MY idea and everybody loved it. One the way back from the market I pointed out to both Kim and Lyn how Lorne and Ruby were (and always do) hold hands. We find it beautiful that these married people, both 80 years old, can be so full of life. We even hae trouble keeping up with them sometimes. Ruby even takes salsa lessons. Our wine and cheese party on the train was a great success. We were able to squeeze 8 people onto 2 lower bunks. There was Kim, Lyn, Lorne, Ruby, AJ, Myself, Haerishem, and someone else? I also ate on the train. Got myself some rice, some green stuff and chicken organs. I think it was mostly kidney and liver but I wasn't sure? It was tasty. Yes Lorne and Ruby, joined us in our drinking adventures (even at 80 years old), they were one of us. We arrived to Hanoi from the sleeper train, we dropped ourself off at a hotel, packed a bag for Halong Bay and then took a bus trip to Halong Bay.
Halong Bay
We arrived at Halong Bay after 4 hours, which is nothing after a 15+ hour train ride. Oh and by the way, there was no toilet on the train. Just a hole and a couple of handles on the walls so you didn't fall backwards. I posted a pic of what we had to deal with. At Halong Bay we got dropped off at tghe harbor where we got on to a very nice Junk Boat. There was a crew of 4 or 5 and all in a white uniform. There was an indoors secetion in which 6 tables were set. There was white table cloths, wine glasses and silverware all set. The lunch was as follows: Huge platter of whole shrimp, stuffed crab (in a whole crab), fried squid, white rice, sauted cabbage, french fries, vegetable egg rolls, and apples...all included. After a 2 hour boat trip of viewing the wonderful harbor area we took a ~45 minute stop to walk inside some natural caves. SO BEAUTIFUL. We then took the Junk Boat back to shore and took a 3 minute bus ride to our hotel in Halong Bay. This place was NICE. We had huge rooms, with huge beds and they even had the rooms ready with warm tea and hot coffee for us. The rooms had given us shoe polish, toothbrushes, combs, toothpaste, soaps, shampoos, Q-tips, shower caps, and so much more. At night we went to a local restaraunt and I got sweet and sour chicken (it was not too good) and we had a surprise birthday cake for Stefan, the German. He had turned 41. After dinner we walked in the down along the harbor and we stopped at a 24 hour Karaoke Bar. There was nobody singing at the time, but they were playing horrible techno music...well just techno music, the horrible part was what I think of techno music. I have formulated my own theory that ALL ASIANS LOVE TECHNO MUSIC. There was no body dancing on the stage. A couple of girls were asking me to dance with them, at least that's what I now understand to be the case. Nobody in my group would go up and for some illogical reason I complied with their requests. I went up and 'danced' with them, and not in the semi-erotic American way, but the crazy Asian way...hand waving, jumping, shaking, and the whole works. I am able to talk to the girls through a local who works at the bar. He says they are from China on a tour traveling Vietnam and that they want me to teach them to dance like me. We exchange moves and then I go sit with my friends. We take turns singing (though only 5 or 6 of us actually sing). I sing "I'm Too Sexy" since it doesn't involve any music range. I had to go up on stage and sing in front of all my friends and probably 15 to 25 other people. After we all finshed singing the locals sang songs in Vietnamese, we all go bored since they were very slow songs and sounded alike. Kim, Carrie, and myself were getting cold so we walked back at this time. Kim and I then hung out in her hotel room and watched some TV and she told me about Amsterdam some more. The next morning I almost slept in and woke up with 15 minutes to get ready, pack up, eat breakfast, and get on the bus back to Hanoi.

After another 4 hour bus ride we got back to Hanoi. We checked in our hotel and this was also a nice hotel. Then we went exploring the city. I went with Kim, Lyn, and Carrie. We bought tickets for the Water Puppet Show tomorrow at 15:30 since all the 5 shows today were already sold out. We walked up and down the streets and through the markets. The traffic here is insane. I have been nearly been run over many times, but that's 'normal' here. You have to have confidence to get anywhere in this town. You just walk in front of 5 or 6 oncomming motorcycles and cars just seems to 'move' aroun you. They never stop for pedetrians like we would at a red light. They do move around you though. Red lights and traffic lane lines are nothing more than a suggestion to these folk. I am very excited to be leaving Vietnam in a couple days and enter Lao. These people are dirty, rude, and pathetic. They always spit, no matter where they are. They spit inside their own temples, along the market, and while they walk to you. I mean REALLY SPIT. Today Carrie and I split some fried food on the street along some smaller road. I think one was a sausage of some sort? The other two were fried meats with spinach and mushroom maybe? My best guess is that they were pork, but I have no clue. Carrie and I are also trying to find some dog to eat for dinner.