Saturday, March 26, 2011

Clouds in Nha Trang

So I am coming to realize that I am truly horrific at updating this blog. There is just so much happening, I keep forgetting! Here is a brief synopsis since my last update:
-I am now traveling with a wonderful, fun, and loving group of people that I met in Chiang Mai, and with whom I've been traveling for about a month. Three guys and two girls make for amazing adventures, laughs, and a total and complete unawareness of time and place. I have literally no conception of what day it is, what time it is, because I'm so wrapped up in the present and what I'm doing with these wonderful people. I've never been this presently-focused. It's amazing.
-VIETNAM. It's amazing and beautiful. We arrived in Hanoi on the 15th (I think...?) after a tumultuous night bus that was 26 hours and had no bathroom. Can you say uncomfortable? Hanoi was lovely, but freezing, and none of us had the right clothes for the rain and cold. We were pretty uncomfortable and thought that maybe it was just Hanoi that was cold! So after a few days we set down for Halong Bay, a UNESCO world heritage sight and the place where they filmed some James Bond (or so the boys said). It was absolutely stunning and reminded me a lot of Krabi in Thailand, with the rocks jutting out of aqua blue waters. It was, however, still freezing and cold and we were all wet and wearing the same clothes that we'd been wearing for four days. We stayed in this crappy little hotel and all snuggled to try to conserve body heat, but to no avail. We left Halong Bay the next day, literally running away from the cold towards warmer weather and sun. We couldn't get there fast enough.
-We got to Hue, a beautiful little town right smack dab in the middle of Vietnam. It was lovely; we stayed in this beautiful hotel with a balcony overlooking the city. Several western bars and pool tables made the boys very happy, and the sun and picturesque views of the water made Georgie and I happy little clams.We did some touristy things--a river cruise, tours of two tombs of emperors that were stunning, a nationally famous pagoda, etc. and wrapped up our stint in Hue after about two days.
-After Hue, we took a van to Hoi An, which was my favorite city thus far. Situated about three hours south of Hue, it is a tiny, quaint ,town covered in multi-colored lanterns that light up the skyline at night. We rented bicycles, spent a day at the beach, biked around the city, ate lots of food from the best bakery in southeast asia, and went to My Son--another UNESCO sight famed for its 4th century ruins that were once the central feature of the Champa people. I got some amazing pictures (trying to upload them now...the Champa people were Hindu and thus there were some beautiful figures of the Hindu gods dotting the lush green hills that lined the various brick temples). I don't know whether My Son was the highlight of the third day or if the motorcycles we rented were, but either way, it was definitely one of the best experiences I've had on this trip. I hired a driver because I was too scared to motorbike myself (the drivers in Vietnam are CRAZY), and had a blast.
-After three nights in Hoi An (I could have stayed forever), we are now in Nha Trang, a beach town on the coast that is famed in Vietnam for its sunbathing and surfing. It's again been cloudy and rainy (Georgie is convinced she brings the rain), but we've made the most of it and haven't let the weather cloud our fun. Our friend Steve had his birthday yesterday, which culminated in a cake throwing fight and massive buckets of alcohol.

Thats it for now--I'm off to grab dinner before steve and sophie have to head off again, and then it'll be the four of us (Georgie, Dewi, Olly, and me) until georgie's cousin meets us in a week in Cambodia. I will hopefully write more before then!

Sending lots of love from Vietnam,

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Quick Update

Sabaidee, everyone!

This post is going to have to be short and to the point, as I have to order some food and visit the travel man before getting on a bus, because tonight we are going to Vietnam! We're taking a sleeper bus (should be interesting) that leaves at 6:30 tonight and gets into Hanoi at the same time tomorrow.

I promise to write a much longer post when I get the chance. But here is a quick recap from my last entry:

-Luang Prabang, Laos. Unbelievable. I felt like we were going back in time, in this slow, lazy town on the Mekong. We spent about four days there, and the highlight was going to Elephant Village, this conservation organization that rescues female elephants that were abused in the logging industry. The Village works with the elephants and helps domesticate them while ensuring their health and physical activity. We did a two day elephant adventure program at the Village, where we rode elephants bareback through a river and washed them in the water. It was such a special experience...I didn't think I would ever have been as comfortable riding on the head of an elephant, my knees wedged between her wiggling ears (which means she was happy). I felt so in my element, so at ease washing her in the water, being totally submerged and wet as she filled her trunk and sprayed water everywhere. It was unbelievable and was an experience I'll never forget.

-Vang Vieng, aka the home of extreme tubing, Laos edition. Picture a river lined with bars, where you tube down, totally drunk, and hold your hand out for ropes that the Lao people throw to you to reel you in to the bars. We had two full days of tubing before I had to stop because my liver physically hurt. So many dance parties, mud wrestling, and floating down a river in the unchartered, mountainous country of Laos. It was incredible.

-Kong Loh Cave. We took a six hour bus ride down into the southern part of Laos for what was an unbelivable special experience, being in a part of the country that was totally untouched by tourism. We were literally the only white people in the village; every time we walked by the local people, we would get a chorus of would run up to us, touch us, take pictures. We went into this massive cave that went for what felt like a good mile and a half, full of huge stalactites and stalagmites. We sat in a longboat, immersed in total darkness--the only light came from our headlamps. It was actually like a descent into Hades, and being the dork that I am, I half imagined scenes from the Inferno happening above me. It was so creepy and so, so cool. I've never seen anything like it in my life.

-Vientiene. It's a crap town, really, and we've been here for one too many days. But we are leaving tonight, and I couldn't be more excited. So much more to write, but I have to go order a bread bowl so I can get moving. I'll write more when I have the chance, I promise.

Much love to all. xo

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Land of A Million Elephants

Hello from Laos, everyone!
What an unbelievable last week it has been. I feel like so much has happened in just a couple of days, it’s hard to keep track of everything we’ve done, of all the people we’ve met. Here are some of the highlights:
-A day trip of elephant riding. AMAZING. We even got to see a baby elephant, who was just three weeks old! Cutest thing in the world. I wanted to steal him, but his mother was hovering very protectively. We rode the adult elephants for about an hour, sitting on the little chair that most of these touristy places provide. It was amazing, but I hate how the elephants are shackled and chained up. I think we are actually going to go on a two day elephant-camping trek, in which we learn to bathe and ride the elephants ourselves, bareback. I might have a small panic attack mounting one of the huge guys, but they are so gentle and loving, I think maybe I can try to connect with them. When our elephant let us off, I thanked him and he raised his trunk to my hand. It was lovely.
-We then went on a hike up a mountain , swam in a waterfall, and then went white water rafting. The problem with the rafting and waterfall bit was that Thailand is in its dry season now, so the water levels were super low. Thus, there was a lot of “RIGHT!” “LEFT” and such directions being yelled at us by our guide, and I energetically was hurling my body in every direction, trying to get the boat to move. My rafting mates were not as zealous as I was, but they got a kick out of my energy. It was a great time, and then we went on a bamboo cruise (which was more like being dragged through a dirty river because this guy from Canada was driving…just kidding Ryan J). The day was one of the best I’ve had here. We returned to our hostel (which we loved and through which we met our newest travel companions). Two days later, seven of us (the original four, plus our friends Dewi, Georgie, and Olly) headed out on a long boat to Laos. Picture a house on a boat, with leather seats, and that’s exactly what it looked like. It was an amazing experience, cruising down the Mekong River, the heart of Southeast Asia, watching the mountains looming in the distance and occasionally fishermen setting out their nets in rocky coves. It was like a trip down a different decade, a different century. We arrived in Luang Pra Bang, Laos this evening, and checked into a lovely hostel/hotel where we’ll be staying for the next two nights. Friday we are hopefully going on the elephant trek, which will go into Saturday. From there, who knows?
Every day here I feel like I’m conquering some new challenge, some new issue. My first week or two were plagued by the fear that I didn’t have a plan and what could someone like me do with that? And I have come to beautifully accept this plan-lessness and have really started to embrace it. Hygiene has gone out the window, as has any desire to make myself look appealing. It’s Laos and it’s hot and I’m perpetually covered in sunscreen and bugspray. And I’m totally okay with it. Last night I discovered a party of cockroaches in the bathroom. My new tactic is to flash a lot of lights at them and sing to them, and then do my business after they scurry away. I think this is called growth.
Sitting in my seat on our houseboat, watching the mist clear from the palm tree-covered mountains, watching the fishermen cast their nets and the Laotian children play in the muddied water, I smiled, shook my head at the craziness of this all, and became overpowered with the feeling that this was all just so right.