Monday, June 21, 2004

Birthday biking adventures.

So I set off for my second outing on a scooter into the steamy countryside around Hue, central Vietnam, the morning of my birthday. Finally admitting we were lost after an hour we stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe. After a few lessons from the locals on how to eat our food we were on the road again getting picked up by a local farmer's wife.

We of course accepted the offer of tea in her house and when we got there (after a pot of tea) her 18yr old daughter Vi, took us on a guided tour of the local Emperor's tomb. Back then to their house for fruit and a bowl of noodle soup (followed by a pot of tea), inspiring generosity from such a poor family, which we repayed with a donation to their last term at school. (Felt I owed them something too, having crashed myself and Vi into a tree on the way back trying not to kill a local dog - ironic that they steal them from each other's gardens for food, but I digress.)

The next day with our heightened scooter-confidence, our biking gang of 3 set off up the coast from sleepy Hoi An. After a brief visit to China Beach, we decided the best way to avoid the "hawkers of useless items" was to complete the 20km's back ON the beach. (The pictures will be up as soon as I find a 20th century computer. Here they are) Best fun on bikes yet, especially the last 5km's of pushing Renee's bike which had cut out after going through a foot of sea water (the otherwise indestructable Honda 50's achilles heel).

All in all highly successful birthday to-doings...

Monday, June 14, 2004

Halong Bay & Sapa - Islands and Mountains...

Been in the country over a week now and it's growing on me. bit of a love and hate relationship you could say. The scenery's amazing, as the photos show, but to find the people who see you as something other than a dollar sign you have to dig deep. That said, it's worth it when you do.

Halong bay, with its karst topography (new word for this week) which apparently means limestone formations including caves and pyramid peaks eroded easily by water (so there!), was amazing. Unfortunately the people there were so interested in my wallet it was difficult to appreciate the scenery, but sure I gave it a go all the same.

Sapa, home to Vietnam's highest peak; Fansipan, was far better. The local hilltribes dominate the town, which looks like it was plucked from the Alps and plonked amongst the jungles of northern Vietnam. We rented bikes, and took a couple of local souvenir-hawking girls back to see their village. Learnt how to replace the accelarator cable on my scooter along the way - while my 9yr old guide, Zu played my tinwhistle - and how to get away very fast from a local conman acting as a mechanic.

Climbed Fansipan the next day with 2 brothers from Adelaide, and I'm still feeling the pain. 3,143 metres of wet jungle, waterfalls, abseiling and hand over foot climbing, to find a completely whited out summit. The view was amazing from it, the day after I'm sure, but I just saw white clouds and pink spots. The latter probably having more to do with the altitude than the local environment.

All in all, northern Vietnam rocks. Now to head south for some beaches and war memorials... watch this space...

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Vietnam - Land of a thousand Hello's
Everybody's your best friend it seems... hmmm, call me a skeptic, but I don't trust 'em just yet. Just arrived in Hanoi following 3 bus journeys totalling over 30 hours from Laos. The last 12 hour journey was the hardest, with a crazy bus driver and a bird-in-a-bag that sang us a song, for 5 hours. The Laos bus journey presented a slightly different animal scenario. I was woken during my bus-nap by a group of kids that had stopped and boarded us to sell their 'food'. The delicacy thrust into my face as I awoke was rat-on-a-stick, followed by 7 cockroaches impaled on a chopstick. Now I know I've eaten a tarantula's left hind leg recently, but I draw the line at violated cockroaches. No sale kids...

Spent the last week or so in Southern Laos at Four Thousand Islands, where the Mekong splits into many islands (4,000 even) and bamboo bungalows cost $1 a night. As you can imagine I had to get away from there fast. :o) Pics to follow...

Hanoi is a different story. Takes a lot out of you on arrival. Think I'll take a few days to get those bus journeys out of my hair. Will probably head North-West to Sapa in the mountains in a few days. I've heard you can climb Fansipan, Vietnam's highest peak. Sure why not.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Dad...

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