A quiet, wet weekend.

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It has not quite been the homecoming that I had hoped for - it certainly hasn't been bad by any means, however I have yet to go for a run (or do any exercise) in the last four days. Quite a change from the 15-25kms of walking I did each day while away, plus some more structured running.

I managed to sleep for an incredible thirteen hours last night, on top of the ten or 11 each other day I have been home. I'm a slow learner, but one of the few things that I have learnt over the decade or so of my malaise is that sleep should not be fought, but rather embraced. Sleep is good. And the quickest way of getting better.

Aki and I had a very pleasant morning yesterday getting new shoes at The Runners Shop, having a coffee and doing a bit of fruit shopping. Nothing very exciting, but it was great to catch up. We hopefully will get out for a run together on Wednesday afternoon around the trails at the base of Mt Ainslie / Mt Majura.

I feel much better, although my throat still clogs up completely making breathing very difficult at times. I will get out tomorrow unless the weather is so inclement that it would be too ill advised. A run would be great, although I shall be sensible! The current forecast is for showers and 8-16*C, not too bad for Canberra, but I'm still in a northern hemisphere, tropical South East Asian state of mind and acclimatisation.
Training starts, no matter how slowly, tomorrow. Maybe start a bit of Geocaching too!


Friday in Canberra

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Back in surprisingly warm Canberra, Bob and I suffered the full onset of our head colds upon our return on Wednesday, retreating to bed in the late afternoon, and then spluttering our way through Thursday. I had a bit of a talk to Aki though a stuffed nose and blocked throat.
Although keen to get to Customs on my return on Friday, my (temporarily) ailing health and a colleague of Bob's death meant that I opted to not run up to customs, given that Aki, Friar and Rad would also be away.
We were both much better after 12 hours sleep, however did not do much until the funeral. My stomach growled audibly throughout, and although there were some tears, it was quite a good service. We tried a hole in the wall at the markets for a bowl of Pho, and although not up to Hanoi standards, and at 11 times the cost, it helped us get back into the Vietnam state of mind. Two days back, and we missed the food a lot.
I reinforced the food stocks at home with a visit to the Asian Grocer in Weedon (Piddlin') Close for Tofu, fresh herbs (coriander, basil and Vietnamese mint), some instant ginger tea, rice porridge mix (congee) and noodles. Dinner was a little char grilled kangaroo, udon noodles dunked in a stock with pearl mushrooms and english spinach, and a mess of vegetables with seasonings of lime juice, fish sauce, coriander roots, basil, lemongrass, garlic, onion and chilli.
On arriving home, we found the phone lines and internet out. No talking to Aki for a while. I still feel better, and am anxious to run, although I'm not sure what is wise at the moment. I will meet Aki for the ACTCCC run at Red Hill tomorrow . . . . Bob does not want me to run, I'll see how I go tonight. I have so many plans and so little time!


Touchdown Kingsford Smith

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What bittersweet emotions!

The flight, customs et al were relatively hassle-free, and Bob and I are sitting in Qantas Club where I am shocked at my unbridled delight at the speed of the internet connection! I can do more in a few minutes than I could do in an hour or three in the emerging technology of Laos and Vietnam.

I will look forward greatly to seeing the Lucy cat, catching up with Aki and Strewth, and getting back into the loop of Coolrunning, but I will miss Vietnam and will certainly miss the warm, balmy weather! Yes, I may have been sweating at times, but I didn't 'feel' the heat - the climate really suited me . . . going back into Canberra winter will be another issue.

Unfortunately Bob and I both came down with colds on Monday, before our early morning run around Hoan Kiem Lake with the supporting cast of tens of thousand daily 'fun runners', walkers, badminton players, tai chi and aerobic exponents and other morning exercisers. I had the 'shivers' not long after I started, the first while away, and although I considered turning back and giving it a miss, I pushed on, not wanting to shirk. Bob's Achilles/calf injury kept his pace to one so pedestrian that even I was slowing down to keep him in sight, however despite this he had to pull out before completing the first lap (of around a mile or 1.6km) and returned to the hotel. I continued on with another, faster lap, enjoying the company, but aware of my worsening throat and blocked sinus'.

We had to take it pretty easy on Monday, effectively our last day in Hanoi, nursing worsening raw sore throats and investing in a supply of tissues. I slept a little in the afternoon, before scouting out a place to eat while Bob enjoyed a final Bia Hoi (fresh draught beer without preservatives) or five with his new best friends du jour, Ernie from Portland, Oregon and Peter from Carlton, Melbourne.

In my still slightly dazed and dizzy state, I wandered from one side of the old quarter to another, first checking out places near the markets, then finding myself, if not exactly lost, then certainly misrepresenting my location. I followed buses to the railway station and found a couple of possible eateries, before getting heartily sick and tired of it all and just wanting to stop. Needless to say, I wasn't wearing my garmin, and while I loved finding new places like "mushroom street" (an offshoot of ginseng street, where, surprise surprise, there were shop after shop selling mushrooms of increasing size and potency, many of truly gigantic proportions), I was keen to just lie down.

We returned to our regular street haunt, and had a final meal in Hanoi blowout of Grilled Pigeon, Eel with citronella (sic) and chilli (no flies on me), stir fried mustard greens with five kinds of mushrooms, and crispy noodles. With a bottle of Tiger Beer and iced tea the bill came to 87,000 Dong, about AUD $7.50 for more food than two people should eat. Despite this, we made the short trip to the laneway near the musical instrument shops to visit 'our' lady and her fruit cups for desert - tall glasses filled with chunks of fruit including avocado (it works), with some coconut cream and condensed milk poured on. One then helps yourself to a bowlful of crushed ice with which to stir and make your own delicious and generally-good-for-you drink/fruit salad. The cost - 12,000 Dong (AUD $1) for the two.
We visited Ho Chi Mihn's mausoleum on Sunday morning, quite a slow, but rather moving experience. While there were quite a few western tourists there, they were dramatically out numbered by the number of Vietnamese paying their respects, most quite young. Uncle Ho is only able to be visited for quite restricted hours, never on a Monday or Friday, nor in the afternoons or after 11:00am. With an elaborate guard of honour, it made a little more sense, and we quietly filed through past his embalmed body with atmospheric lighting.
On 'the other side' - and it felt like that - everyone grabbed their cameras and took photos and chatted excitedly, so different to how it was a short time earlier while queuing. We did went through the complex to the Presidential Palace, and were attached to a local guide, Quan, a student of English and dance. He was quite the showman, and pushed us ahead of most others, especially foreign tourists who he would advise were not allowed in this area! The perspective on Uncle was enlightening though, and we saw far more than would otherwise be the case.


Au Revior Hanoi

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Alas, I have not blogged, because I've been too busy living and enjoying the delights of Hanoi .
However today we catch a budget airline flight (Thai Air Airlines) from Hanoi to Bangkok, and thence on a Qantas flight later that afternoon from Bangkok to Canberra via Sydney. As great as it will be to see the Lucy cat again, there are so many things that I will miss about SE Asia, Vietnam and Hanoi I do not have the anticipatory anxiety to get going that is usual on the last day of travel.
We have had a magic time, even looking at a couple of apartments / flats on Saturday to see what was available if we were to come back for a month or four. Very tempting!
I have composed all sorts of ditty's in my head of how the traffic moves as an unconducted symphony of everyone playing and jamming together in harmony. Corny, but as you run through the streets at the same pace (or faster) than the prevailing traffic of bicycles or scooters, then join tens of thousands around Hoan Keim Lake as they do their morning constitutional exercise of walking, jogging, tai chi, aerobics, badminton, weights, wheeling chairs, etc, etc, it is a wonderful sense of being part of a vibrant village of humankind (for whom exercise of all kinds is valid and valuable, irrespective of what one wears, how old, how skillful or whatever.) I love it.
To change, to pack to leave.
Sigh.
I will update the travel blog with travel info as soon as I can.
Thank you Vietnam


Hello from the "Han Oi Duck"

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I love Vietnam. And I especially love Ha Noi, even with the bustling crowds of people, the incessant honking of horns, the noise (I'm not generally a big city person). The smells are fantastic, the food behind the smells even better. There is not the constant touting to buy that we experienced in Hue and Hoi An - because it is in the north, or proportionally fewer tourists I don't know.

But the food, the food . . . ..

The train was late arriving to Da Nang, and lost a little further time along the way, meaning that our planned 4:00am arrival was in fact after 5:00. The hard class sleeper was a cabin with 6 people/beds in it . . . Bob and I on the top bunks, a Vietnamese couple in their 20's on the middle bunks and an aging Japanese tourist on the bottom on one side, and a mother and her four year old daughter on the other. It was quite congenial, despite the need for the beds to be down, leaving us no where to sit after a very short time, with only the bunks to lie on (at 4 o'clock in the afternoon). I found that the adjoining cabin had only a single guy in there, so with sign language we sat with him and once again the garmin broke the ice as I placed it on the windowsill to get good coverage.

Along the route, we were joined by another Australian guy, Darryl, off travelling with his daughter's school group from Lismore on a 10 day tour of Vietnam. He was a Vietnam vet, Bob's age exactly at 58, and it was fascinating talking to him, which we did well into the evening until the cabin mates needed to go to sleep at around 9:00pm.

I slept surprisingly well on the train, and so we decided to walk to the Camilla 2 Hotel where Bob had stayed on a number of occasions last year on his cycle tour. It was coming light and there had been overnight rain and it was particularly pleasant walking the 2 or 3 kilometres through the streets which were coming alive with motor scooters and food vendors. As we arrived at the Lake there were thousands, tens of thousands, of people of every age exercising - some jogging around the perimeter; many walking, some with walking frames or pushing wheelchairs; other groups had set up weights benches; or took part in group calathensics. It was very exciting and heartening to see.

We did not sleep at all during the day on Thursday, as Bob introduced me to some of the most magnificent food we have yet had on the trip; lunch in an alley adjacent to the market where we had a giant bowl of flavourful noodles with tofu, loads of green vegetables and snails (we think) for a total of 16,000 dong for the two of us (about $1.30 AUD). I chinese dumpling style bun winked at us nearby for 'dessert' (5,000 dong). Later that afternoon, glasses of mixed fruits (mango, jackfruit, pawpaw, pineapple, kidney beans, avocado) with condensed milk and coconut cream set us back 10,000 dong. You add crushed ice to the glass and eat/drink/slurp. It was spectacular! (and almost good for you too).

Did I say I loved Hanoi?

The 10th party congress in on during our time in Hanoi, and the streets are awash with red and yellow banners, flags and great patriotic posters. After Bob and I sat on a corner having (fresh draught beer without preservatives) for an hour or so (the total for rather more than a skinfull was 12,000 dong, about $1 AUD - I abstained), we toddled off to a local come-by-night street eatery where we had beef with noodles (not like anything in the local Chinese/Thai/Asian-Australian restaurant), Squid with garlic (the eel with citronella and chilli was 'off'), and a mass of stir fried mustard greens with 4 or 5 different types of mushrooms. A great feed. Great food. and with a (relatively expensive Tiger Beer - 10,000 dong) it came to 58,000.

Rad had rung us during the afternoon as we were exploring the streets in the French Quarter, heading up to the Opera House to see what performances may be on whilst we were in town. It was wonderful to talk to him, although he confirmed that the weather was cold, not something that I am looking forward to! The Opera House was pretty quiet while we are here, however in honour of the party congress (think bicentennial celebrations), there was a performance of martial arts and acrobatics on a stage set up in the middle of the road near the lake. We wandered down after dinner, and managed to secure a good position at the railing for the 8:00 pm start. It was great fun and we really enjoyed ourselves, the streets and always busy intersection coming nearly to a standstill during the performance. The symbolism was great in the martial arts display - the 'girls' (dubbed Miss Toughy by Bob) had Red belts and always beat the big guys up when outnumbered.
TO BE CONTINUED . . . .


Hoi An to Han Noi

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I am finally getting the feel of Hoi An and the noisier, busy-nes of (?southern) Vietnam - so different from the Manyana attitude and 'drive around the dog' attitude of Laos. I will be sorry to leave, especially this lovely friendly hotel.

Dinner at a local restaurant last night was a treat, and good fun with a couple of Western Australian's on each side - including a pair of nice young blokes who prepared their meal as part of a cooking class (for a reasonable USD $8 per person). It looked so good as they ground and chopped their ingredients that we opted for one of the same dishes, a standout Grilled Fish in Banana leaves with 'saffron' and spices. The 'saffron' is not the more-expensive than gold crocus stamen, but a turmeric coloured ground root, something like galangal. It was a knock-out to eat though!

With it, we had 'fried won ton', not the usual Bob & Carolyne sort of food, but a local specialty, and it consisted of crisp fried won ton papers, four filled with a pungent mixture of ?pork. On our last meal in Hoi An, we had to try this restaurant's version of Cau Lao for comparison . . . it was also very good. Stir fried 'Kang Kong' - green thinned stemmed vegetable with ample garlic provided our vegetables for the day. It was a great meal, washed down by copious amounts of fresh draught beer by Bob (at 3,000 dong a glass - about 25c - and with no preservatives it is his drink of choice), and a large bottle of water and vietnamese green tea for me. The total bill (including no less than 6 beers) was 110,000 dong a bit less than $10 Australian.

The meal was the end of a day which started at 6:00am with a trip to My Son, a group of ancient temples about an hour away from Hoi An. We had booked a car with Phouc, the guy who delivered us to Hoi An from Da Nang train station, and it arrived with his younger brother (?) on time. We went around the block to collect a Dutch couple we had met on our first day in Ayutthaya at the start of the trip who had joined us on a twilight boat tour around the rivers and canals of the city on that first night. We had run into them once more in the streets of Luang Prabang, and then again the previous day in a pagoda in Hoi An. We had booked the car and arranged for them to join us in this early trip which would get there long before the bulk of the tourist buses.

My Son was good, but fell short of expectations; there was little information or description and without this, despite the dramatic ruins (some bombed in the American War after being there for 14 Centuries) in a spectacular setting, we could not get the full value from the site. We had been spoilt by the similar temples at Vat Phou in Laos, which were still the site of active worship and were more interesting and in context having spent an hour in the Japanese funded exhibition hall first.

As the ex- US Marine Corp jeep ferried us back to the 'staging post' where buses and cars parked, bus loads started to arrive without a break. We were back in Hoi An at around 10:00am and had a good breakfast in the garden of the hotel, me practicing my Vietnamese and having a language lesson.

It was something of a lazy rest of the day, although the garmin indicated over 10km of walking. I headed off on my own and wandered through the local neighbourhood streets, where one did not have to fear the cry of "hello" as a ploy to sell you a motorbike taxi/clothes/water/ anything we will sell you anything! It was great to talk to people and say Xin chao! (hello) and wave without fear. The response was wonderful, and I spent half an hour or so with a wonderful, betal nut chewing woman of 52 (she looked older to me), as she insisted I sit next to her on the bamboo matting and 'chat'. As she did not speak a word of English (even the telephone answering Hello) it was at times frustrating, but nevertheless very interesting and warm. She was far more philosophical that at 41 I hadn't had children than all those we had met in Laos and Thailand who were deeply troubled and saddened by this. She had seven children, the eldest 31 and many grandchildren. (I am trying to show off at how much my Vietnamese communication has improved here by the way!). A young grandson was with her, very unsure of me, and as she filled my palm with chilli flavoured prawn crackers, and compared the colour of the skin on our arms, he remained unsure.

Bob is cycling a couple of kilometres to the Beach while I write this, and then we have engaged Phouc's services once again to take us to the train station at Da Nang for our marathon journey to Ha Noi. We will be sharing a carriage with 4 others, and are due to arrive at 4:00am. We have arranged with the hotel to check in then, and will stay at the Camillia 2 (where Bob stayed on 3 occasions during his cycling trip last July) until we leave on Anzac Day.

I'm looking forward to Ha Noi, where hopefully staying in the one place will enable me to run a a little more; early starts and checking out (not to mention all nighters on the bus) are certainly making it difficult at times. Bob's calf/achilles injury was better yesterday, after being so bad on Monday that we could only eat at the most local of restaurants we found a couple of doors down he was limping so much. It turned out OK, the food was very good, more fish and Cao Lao, and maybe a bit too much Xika Vodka back in the room later.


Where I am in Hoi An

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Bob and I walked down to the train in Hue, about 2kms away, enjoying the clearer weather and drier conditions. Unfortunately, Bob is hindered by a calf injury which is causing him to limp and is quite painful. Maybe the walk wasn't such a great idea afterall!

After a short wait for the train, during which we chatted to an Australian, Travis and his English girlfriend who were also heading to Hoi An, we boarded the train bound for Da Nang. Many others on the train had obviously spent a long night travelling long distances, however we we on the eastern side of the train and this was to prove invaluable. After speeding along the outskirts of the city at around 70km/hr, we slowed as we approached the bays and found ourselves on a single track wedged between the bay and dramatic mountains rising to our west. From here, the train prattled along at around 20km/hr (gotta love the garmin), climbing up steep grades for a railway and winding it's way perilously along the barely-there track which clung to a whisper of ground before plunging down 100's of metres. It is stunning.

We shall repeat the journey in the other direction on Wednesday, having secured two tickets for top (of three) berths in a 'hard class' carriage to Ha Noi. It was all that was available, but will get us to our destination in time.

After collecting our tickets, we were approached by a man 'with a car' who offered to drive us to Hoi An for a price. I was wary, and unusual for our experience on this trip to Vietnam so far, he left us alone to talk among ourselves. Saving the travel and wait for a bus was alluring, and with some trepidation we agreed and were soon bundled into a white Mazda sedan, with a fat marble Buddha on the dashboard and were hurtling along with the horn constantly blaring in a vain warning to the cyclo's, bikes, scooters, other cars and trucks to get out of the way. Once again, it was a relief to have the garmin to check that we were actually being taken in the correct direction - it's little line was drawing a clear path first east across the streets of Da Nang and then south, just where we wanted to go! We somehow arrived in one piece, and paid the negotiated 100,000 dong fare. It was certainly quick, and we may use Mr Phoung's services again to drive us to My Song tomorrow to get there before the crowds.

Our first choice of hotel looked a treat and we were greeted by a charming woman, unfortunately they were full for the evening. We then moved 400m down the road to one suggested by Travis as being very new and including a good breakfast; ornate with heavy carved wood and with a faux chinese style relief of a village int he breakfast area, we looked at a room that was being cleaned (one of only two available for that night) and decided to stay here. At USD $25 it was a good looking room, however something about the hotel didn't grab me as much as the others we had stayed in; perhaps it was just bigger.

That afternoon and evening were wandered around the old streets of Hoi An, an UNESCO world heritage town, lined with old chinese style houses of two stories from it's past as the major trading port in this part of the world. With narrow alleys and interesting architecture is is very interesting, unfortunately the swarm of tourists and number of shops established to sell clothes and 'authentic' souvenirs to tourists gives it the feel very much of Venice in Italy; of undisputed value, but turned into something of a theme park of itself to survive. This is only a first impression however, and we shall give Bob's calf a rest today and do a little more exploring in the compact old town centre.

With many options to eat, we settled on a place which had fresh beer for 3,000 dong, something we had yet to see in Vietnam thus far, although well missed by Bob from his experiences in Ha Noi last year. The menu was interesting, and eschewing many of the local specialties because they are heavily reliant on 'shrimp' and therefore likely to create another anaphylactic near-death experience for Bob, we stuck to a stunning whole fish with 'the works' - chilli, lemongrasss, garlic and ginger; stir fried green vegetable with peanuts; cao bau a local noodle dish; and local fired won ton, crisp sheets of fried pastry studded with garlic and pork. It was very good indeed.
We will move to the smaller, local hotel up the road today (just for the heck of it, and I liked the cheery young woman and her 20 room hotel), and take in the sights. Tomorrow we plan to go to My Son and then back to Da Nang on Wednesday. The weather is cool to cold (for this little duck at any rate) and while Bob is finding it a welcome relief, I am lamenting my lack of warm clothes! We will attend the ANZAC Day down service in Ha Noi, so I hope the weather warms up before then - the forecast for today was only 19*!


Away in Hue ~ Part II

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Once Bob was on board the bus, we were off, hurtling through the frontier streets and winding our way up switchbacks which cut a swathe through the mountains. Soon were arrived at Khe Sahn, well known to all of my generation through the Cold Chisel song of the '70's, although Bob was able to fill me in on some details which went beyond the chorus and beat.

As we descended to the plains near the river, cemeteries, both of Chinese style monuments for civilians and war cemeteries with thousands of small headstones started to appear in islands of land where burial was possible. By the time we reached the junction of Quing Tri, the number of cemeteries increased to an almost blinding frequency, dotting the bright emerald green rice paddies with their stark grey stones, and forming islands on higher ground of friable sandy loam.

It had been tiring, however we were approaching our destination and the kilometre markers started to appear for us to countdown our arrival in Hue, 33km, 32km, 31 . . . then a shuddering stop with the engines turned off as a procession of loud trucks, buses and motorbikes, all with their horns blaring came past. We were told to get off and to have lunch here. It was 11:30am, 27 1/2 hours since we had left Tad Fane, and our destination was agonisingly close. A 'fast food' restaurant, Vietnamese style was there with the usual bad taste and worse quality souvenirs and knick knacks. Of the food, there were only one or two options, none of which appealed. We decided to wait until Hue and had a drink each instead. The bus was unloading it's cargo of charcoal at the roadside and there was nothing to do but wait.

Ultimately, we moved again and headed to the outskirts of Hue. With little fanfare, the four Thai women and Bob and I departed, grabbed our bags from under the bus and were left standing adjacent to the river as a bevy of motor taxi drivers vied for our attention. Having selected a short list of options for accommodation from the Lonely Planet, before I had a chance to sling my bag over my shoulder I was flung onto the back of one Kamikaze motor bike, as Bob mounted another and there was a race between the riders to see you could get to our destination first.

We arrived at the Binh Minh Sunrise Hotel and were shown a couple of rooms, at USD$20 and USD$25. The $25 room was more spacious and luxurious than we needed, and we were soon registered and in room 407 , where there was hot water and even better, a BATH! I was soon wallowing in the hot water and scrubbing off the grime of 30 hours of travel. It was getting late, and being (Good) Friday afternoon, we needed to get some dong, find out about the trains to HaNoi from Da Nang and grab something to eat! After a while, we found an ATM which accepted Australian cards. After the tricky kip situation in Laos, it was great to see a bevy of ATM's. As we left our hotel for a walk, it started to rain, leaving visibility poor and and it difficult to get around the mad rush of traffic which screeched and blew their horns continually.

We had a nap and woke later than expected, wandering out into the gloom to find dinner. This was not so successful, and in my sleep deprived state I found the noise and relative aggressiveness of people after the gentleness of Laos quite overbearing. Bob and I went into a beer shop where once again the Garmin drew many admiring glances and provided the opportunity to start communication with the locals. Bob enjoyed a Huba Beer, and was pressed to try some Festival beer as a friendly guy poured out some of his bottle into Bob's glass. I settled for a couple of baguettes sold on the corner, warmed and crispy over a brazier, and we stopped by a restaurant on the way home run by Mr Chu and had a fruit salad and break from the weather. It was full of falang, but Mr Chu was an exceptional photographer of the Vietnamese people and landscape, he restaurant was comfortable and the prices were good. We slept well that night.

More rain on Saturday thwarted much activity, although we walked along the river to the railway station in an attempt to buy our tickets from Da Nang to Ha Noi, only to find that these could only be purchased from Da Nang. We bought tickets for today (Sunday) to Da Nang, where we will then get our overnight tickets to Ha Noi. The train will leave at 2:30pm on Wednesday and get into Ha Noi at 4:30am! With naff little plastic sheets over our bodies like everyone else in town, we walked over to the citadel, and around the town and to the markets in search of lunch. The aggression of the stall holders was difficult for us both, with our arms being grabbed and held onto. We retreated up the road and stopped by Mr Chu's again for some fruit and excellent Vietnamese Tea. Dinner was better, although it was a slightly frustrating in day in not having any succesful internet access.

We do however have local phone numbers now; Bob has just recharged his SIM card from last year and his number is +84 912749650.
Mine is +84 906567690.

Now, to Da Nang and 3 nights in Hoi An, taking in the ancient port city of My Song.

Onwards and Upwards!


Away in Hue

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What a culture shock!

Bob did secure tickets on the local bus to Vietnam, and we boarded at 9:30pm for the unknown. As the only falang on board it was always going to be an 'interesting' trip; Seats were only installed in the front half of the bus and these were full, with quite a number of very small children. The duration of the journey was indeterminate, and we had no idea what to expect.

Leaving some time after 10:00pm, just on the town borders we stopped under cover of darkness and a troop of guys slunk on, settling down on the floor at the back, one accompanied by a couple of thick blue poly pipes about 6 metres long. The lights were soon extinguished, stopping my first elementary lesson in Vietnamese from the very basic guide in the back of the lonely planet guide. A Vietnamese DVD of Karaoke was played at a loud volume from here.

We stopped a few times, with many items being secured to the roof. Later, in the light these were shown to be sacks of charcoal. Often, the schreechingly bright fluorescent light was flung on to rouse anyone from the illusion of slumber. At times, the call to stop by one to answer a call of nature resulted in a stampede out of the bus with a long row of men relieving themselves.

After travelling past stands of gum trees, around two in the morning we stopped and everyone alighted. With the assistance of an English speaking Thai woman travelling with 3 friends, we found that we were in Dan Savan, the border town of Laos. As the border post didn't open until 7:00am, there was nothing to do but wait.

The weather was warm and the wind still, so that was a blessing. Walking down the street it felt as though we were in a deserted Western town, and I could not help humming the theme from "The Good ,the Bad, and the Ugly" as we strode down the main street, it's boarded up shop fronts with low awnings over the street on hitching posts, a piece of cardboard substituting for spinifex being blown down the street. Dogs lay across the centre lines oblivious to everything.

Laying our holsters on the grimy tabletop down the road, we ordered a coffee and hoped for the best. The coffee was not Cafe'Lao though, instead it was a thick concoction of Cafe'Viet, welcome nevertheless and bearable with the addition of sugar. After being hassled incredibly by a series of women touts to change our money to dong or to take our passports to stamp, we ordered a second. The largest dog on the centre of the road got up to saunter off, revealing herself instead to be a sow hanging out with the dogs for a break.

At around six am we walked across the river to the 'other side' waiting once again for the Lao border officials to finish dressing, check their mobile phones, and so on. More touts hassled. A crush of men pushed and shoved their way through oblivious to any protocol. Eventually, a little bruised, we had paid our 10,000 dong departure tax and had our visa's checked. Now to enter Vietnam.

The most elaborate sort of border post was under construction, a huge edifice soaring its way to the sky with a fallange of workers already hard at it. It appeared absurd to our sleepy eyes and brains out here in the middle of no where. Further up the hill, our visas were checked, and we made our way to another 3 areas to be stamped and checked. There seemed to something amiss with Bob's new 'security enhanced' passport (maybe he just looked too good in the passport photo!), but with good humour we were through without too much ado. Then, more waiting, more touts, almost all young women in identical white 'bucket' style hats, approaching all, and running away from the police in the area.


There was no sign of the bus, and no indication of what to do. The 4 Thai ladies were equally at odds, so we just waited, hoped that we would have known if the bus left without us, and waited some more.

The bus did come and all goods were removed and as we walked through a rudimentary airport security checkpoint with our handluggage on a conveyor to X-Ray, our backpacks were placed in a pile for searching. 'Digger' a cute, if rather aging cocker spanial came out for her sniffer duties and eventually, our bus' pile of luggage was cleared. Everyone (except Bob) piled on board, and we were off, collecting Bob at the last moment as he had mislaid one of his bags.


Mekong River Tales

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We made it as far as Savaanakhet, another border town between Thailand on the Mekong, by chicken bus (a local public bus, with chickens, livestock and lots of produce and people on board), stopping at markets every hour or so and being invaded by hoards of urchins selling grilled food on sticks, bags of sticky rice, drinks and skewered eggs. Although Bob and I initially sat on plastic stools in the centre aisle, and I then stood as woman carrying babies or small children got on, within the first 80km I was able to sit, and eventually Bob and I sat together for the last part of the journey.

At the northern bus station we arrived rather damp, not from the sweat of the journey, but rather the joyous celebration of Lao New Year and the water festival that accompanies it. Children, very young and teenagers line the street with industrial strength water canon, hoses and small plastic bags filled with water to drench those who pass. It's like a nationwide Muck-Up day (for those few of you old enough and NSW enough to remember) which is taken up by all with good humour. A well aimed bucket at the open window in front of us hit a few of us fair and square with the 'water' part of the festival. It is very much New Year's Eve here in Savaanakhet, and there will be festivities for days.

It is our hope to catch a 10:00pm bus from Savaanakhet to Hue' this evening; Bob is out at the Bus Station now hoping to secure tickets. It is about 240km to the border.


Tad Fane

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Unfortunately we are really strapped for time, even though this is the best little internet place this side of Chiang Rai, and there is much to report!

We headed up by Songtheaw(sp?) from the main market here (selling lots of interesting protein, such as wriggling lizards) for the Kilometre 38 marker often the way to Pak Xong. From here it was an 800m-1km walk to the Tad Fane ' Resort'. The Songtheaw ride was fascinating enough ~ it took two hours to cover the 35kms, including stopping our already overladen truck along the route to pick up a busload (albeit a mini bus) of other travellers heading up the highway when their van broke down. With lots of cheerful accommodation, plastic chairs were added to the centre, and somehow, with the roof laden with sacks of everything, 6 guys hanging off the read and the roof, and 26 people cramped inside we mane it up to our stop.

The Resort had lovely little cabins set in a high altitude tropical wonderland. A beautiful setting, with an appreciably cooler temperature as we had quickly risen from near 300m to 1,000m above sea level. Bob loved this and talked about living here!!!

The centrepoint were the dual waterfalls cascading across the ravine, it was a very beautiful and peaceful setting. The restaurant on the upper level had stunning views and cool breezes, although it's menu was limited and seemingly overpriced. Given that it had a monopoly on those staying there we had little choice.

The highlights are hard to distill - I ran each day, (do you know that I love my Garmin Forerunner?) heading off into the wild blue yonder and then 'taking a short cut' (Aki knows all about my short cuts!) back towards where I had started to form a loop course, rather than merely going out and back. I did have to run through teak, coffee and tea plantations at one stage, then bush bash through lantana and across a creek before rejoining a track, but it was a stunning run. I wish that I could have bottled some of the broad grins I got along the way, which made the Osmonds look like a group of toothless hens.

Yesterday Bob and I eschewed the USD $10 'trekking tour' (which looked pretty lame, and headed off around the canyon ourselves, using the GPS and our wits. We reached a picnic viewing area at the top, with truckloads of Thai tourists and some more spectacular waterfalls, where we had a lunch of noodle soup (my Laotion is now strong enough to communicate our most basic needs) and some more water before heading back.

The previous day, we partly walked, partly took a Songthaew to Pak Xong, the town a Km 50 on the Plateau where we explored the markets, bought some coffee wine (!) and had another good lunch. Later we explored the waterfall on the other side of the highway to
Tad Fane, finding a beautiful setting along a good dirt track and chatting to some local school kids who were also going to this peaceful place for a picnic during the Laotian New Year festivities.

The Bolavens Plateau is the home of fine Arabica coffee bean plantations and the coffee here is exceptional. Walking to the waterfalls we saw many sheets of beans drying in the sun. The coffee at the resort was OK, and 5,000 kip a cup. However at the local stalls everywhere, fantastic, strong Coffee Lao is available for 2,000 kip, often served with a chaser of weak tea. It may already be sweetened, however I have found that the addition of sugar does add to the enjoyment of this wonderful thick brew.

Twice yesterday I spent a good hour or so chatting and learning from local girls about 11 years of age with a pad of paper and a pen, the best pronunciation of numbers and other important thing. In the afternoon, as Bob enjoyed a BeerLao with the locals up the road, (8,000 kip and the money going to the local community) I had an interesting time explaining to Mai and Champee (they were excited to get their names written in English on paper to take home) the value of the Australian coins I gave them. That there could be a unit less than a dollar was alien to them. The rule of thumb here is 10,000 kip to the US dollar, so five or ten cents didn't make sense. Was it 5,000 dollars? 500 dollars? With no coins in Lao this also exacerbated it. As darkness fell and they started to push their bike ad cart with coffee for sale home, Bob fought to refuse the offer of more Lao Lao from the friendly locals, as the giant full moon rose to signal the start of Pee Mai Lao, or Laotian New Year we wandered back to the sound of much laughter and music wafting across each of the valleys.

Now, we are travelling but whatever means possible to Savanakhet about 240kms to the north, and then west to the Vietnamese border.

Wish us luck, or Kok Mee!


Greetings from Pak Xe

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We had a wonderful trip on a boat (quite a generous term) down the Mee Kong from the overnight bus from Vientiane to Pak Xe on Saturday. After much waiting, sharing an exceptional coffee with an Australian (G'Day Mate) guy who had been travelling since he was 18 (and not about to stop), and haggling to the point of walking away with the boat owner as the price went up, before finally reverting to more reasonable $4 each, we had the most spectacular 2 hour trip down a very different section of the Mee Kong. With little description beforehand, I would say that it may be been the highlight of the travel that we have done thus far.

On arriving outside the sleepy village of Champasak, we climbed up the vertical ladder strung together with bamboo, string and a faith in Buddha to arrive at a guesthouse who had no doubt done a deal with the boat owner. The other falang didn't venture further, and although the price was right, we walked into town a bit more to see what we could find. We found another guesthouse, a bit more expensive, but with concrete walls (we later learned from our Aussie mate the sound of (sweet, little) mice on the bamboo walls was driving him to distraction!).

Champasak, and indeed all of the Mee Kong from what we could see on arriving in the Champasak district in Pak Xe kept reminding me of the Northern Rivers of NSW. One didn't have to stretch your imagination too far to see Grafton, or Lismore or Yamba in the curve of the river, the tree lined streets, and warm air. Only the sight of the myriad of traditional boats fishing, the bamboo thatched huts on the bank and vegetable gardens brought one back firmly to SE Asia.

We explored the sleepy village in the afternoon by foot, and had some noodle soup for lunch in a local doorway. Served with plenty of salad greens ( mint, green beans, beansprouts and other things) it was a good dish for under a dollar each. Although I didn't intend to, having not slept at all on the overnight bus (my seat remained wedged upright, while close in front were fully reclined meaning I was in a cruel and unnatural position for the 10 hours), I just lay down for a minute and slept for a couple of hours in the cool of the air-conditioning. Later that afternoon I walked to the north of town while Bob chewed the fat and drank some Beer Lao with Steve. Although finding that if I was desperate for food or drink I didn't have to venture more than a few metres at most, I found a very serious, and quite professional Saturday afternoon of football being held between two proper 11-a-side teams. Of these, about 9 or 10 were wearing football boots, whilst the others were barefoot. All around 14 to 17 years of age, the (some in jersey) red team and the (no so many in jersey) green team had a good contest and I was sucked in to watching right until the end.

The following day (Sunday), we rented bikes, the ever present U-frame bike with 24" wheels that take over the streets in Lao, and rode out the the local attraction, Vat Phou. It was spectacular and quite a new 'discovery'; archaeological work only began in 1991, and it is still largely unaffected by restoration or tourism. Nevertheless, many Lao and Thai go to the site for Buddhist worship. Originally a Hindu and Khmer temple site dating from the 5th Century, steep terraced structures and massive stone temples work their way up the hill to the most sacred sanctuary where the sacred spring is fed into the holiest temple.

Fantastic intricate carvings of Ganesha, Nandi, Vishnisha and Dubbha were carved into every nook and crany, many still in excellent condition. This is the earliest known Khmer site, predating Angkor Wat, and an ancient road is just apparent leading it's way from the site of Vat Phou to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

We stopped on the way back at a local noodle house, ordering two bowls of noodle soup from the lovely old woman in my appalling Lao. We shared our table with two or three other woman eating, sharing all the sauces and chilli between us, fresh iced weak tea brought out for us to drink and on seeing how voraciously Bob cleaned up his bowl, a large bamboo steamer of sticky Rice was brought out for him to sate his appetite some more.

The cost? In total a massive 14,000 kip, or less than $2.

We had had dinner on both nights in Champasak and breakfast at a little eatery near the always dry fountain roundabout, eating excellent fresh food each time. We were keen to have some of the land lady's excellent Coffee before we left on the first available transport back to Pak Xe, and I presented her with the pillow that I had been carrying around since Bob bought two in the market in Burma (Myanmar), fearing the hard boards used as seats on the slow boats and buses. With great excitement, he had nervously presented his pillow and a large pack of dried seaweed ('river algae') on bended knees to the monks and novices as they did their morning Alms round. As with my dinner lady, it was accepted with scarily disguised joy, humility and a large helping of disbelief. Strange falang!

On a crowded Songthew we came to Pak Xe this morning, needing to change money and catch up on the internet before we head west to the Bolaven Plateau this afternoon; home of the best Arabica coffee plantations in SE Asia. The Laotian New Year celebrations are coming into full swing, similar to the SongLa in Thailand, everyone goes home to their home provinces for the extensive holiday, celebrated with maybe even more fervour than the Christmas/summer/New Year celebrations in secular Australia. Everything will close down from (at least) the 13th April to the end of the celebrations on the 16th. As this encompasses a weekend, another two days have been added, meaning potential lock down (particularly among banks and the like - there are no ATM's outside of the Capital) from the 11-12th to the 19th of April.


Short and dirty.

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Best wishes to all those making the trek down to Canberra this weekend for their personal challenges in either the Marathon Eve 5 or 10km or marathon or 50km events.
I'll be thinking of you.

This will be necessarily brief, as it is a rainy Friday afternoon in Vientiane and Bob and I are waiting to catch our bus (allegedly special VIP, we will see) to Pakse in the south tonight at 7:00pm local time. The internet shop is packed and I can't stop yawning and am finding it hard to get motivated. Will leave all the tourists here and go for a walk (and maybe sneak in another excellent Cafe Lao) before the 12 hour bus journey. If all goes well, we then hope to jump on a chicken boat down to Champasak where we will stay for a couple of days before heading up to the Bolvens Plateau. I don't expect that there will be great, or much internet access until we hit Vietnam in about a weeks' time. Our Lao visa's expire on the 14th of April at any rate! It was quite a bit of fun and games in getting them renewed yesterday.

So, lots of travel in the next few days and not much contact. Take care and look after yourselves! Canberra Marathon in 2007!


More Jungle Tales

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When we awoke to the jungle sounds enveloping the river bank, there were much delighted, musical chattering among the guys. Their traps set the night before had caught some good sized fish and eels. Bob brought me a Nescafe, and as I washed and changed I saw the elder Guide race at lightening pace from the north, carrying a large branch with outstretched arms and yelling with great excitement. I could see something among the leaves, a nest perhaps, and hurried down to see what the excitement was about.

Just as he put is down, he jumped back yelping and dancing high in the air. It was an Ant's nest, and we were to add this special treat to our morning stew of fish sauce and eel for breakfast. The Ants eggs were a particular delicacy and highly valued for their sweet flavour.

Bob and I ate Joerk (sp?), a local rice congee, and sticky rice with the breakfast stew. It was all very good, a quite a change from Bob's perennial breakfast at home of museli, soy milk, yoghurt and fruit. More green bamboo poles had been cut to boil water to refill our drinking stocks, and the plastic bottles of brownish - bamboo flavoured water (a little herbal and smokey like a weak tea) were cooking in the river as we ate.

Quickly camp was broken and packed up with the he minimum of fuss, and we were on our way again, heading up from the river bank through the jungle once more. Thankfully, although dense, there was little need to crawl for far today. The skies had cleared, and we enjoyed being able to walk largely upright for long stretches. More flowers, fungus and insects were pointed out to us, more leaves discovered which had herbal and curative properties and the casings of some huge bombs dropped by the Americans during the IndoChinese conflict of the '60's and '70's were a frightening stark reminder that Laos remains the most heavily bombed country in history, surpassing all of Europe in WWII.

There were still many creek crossings, some requiring a lot of faith and leaps across the great unknown, others perilous bamboo poles with bamboo twine holding it together and in one case a raft made of green bamboo. Stopping at a cliff for a break we were aware of the great majesty of the place. I was far more careful than usual though, as Laos is not the place to get sick or injured, even if into he centre of the Capital..Out here, it would be disastrous.

For lunch a fire materialised before we had even taken off our packs, once again on the rocky floor of the low river. A further few hours trek saw us rock hopping over great chasms up river, as we continued to gain altitude. The sound of the river was strong, but subterranean as it flowed through great caves beneath us. Near a tranquil lagoon, we stopped to establish camp for the night.

We all entered the water, where it pushed it's way through narrow rocks to run clear and fast and washed the grime of the day from our bodies. Choi's melodious singing filled the air with his rendition of songs that sounded like hymns (Jerusalem perhaps? He was wearing Juventus football shorts), but with a sweet lilting ornamentation so typical of this part of the world.

Just as I finished washing out my shorts front he day and setting them out of some hot smooth rocks to dry, Bob cried 'SNAKE' with great excitement. He called for me to stay put. As first thought to be a relatively benign python, it came out from a cave were I had been seconds earlier, and was quietly swimming up river into the lagoon. Although curved, it was estimated to be around 2 metres long, and it's body was as thick as an arm. Upon rearing it's head, it proved to be no python, but a far more dangerous Cobra. Bob got the camera as Sai looked on cautiously, and took this photo with his arms outstretched to their full extent, and maybe shaking just a little.

The local guys, once they had returned from their expedition collecting mussels from the river, were equally excited and very impressed with the photo. As an hor's deuvre I dined on mussels cooked on green bamboo splints, liberally laced with garlic. It may have been the highlight of the meals on the trek, although with so much it is difficult to tell!

We had a wonderful, relaxed afternoon and then had another candle -lit dinner of sticky rice, a rich and fragrant fish soup cooked with lots of wild ginger and some leaves which imparted a sour, lemony taste, the delicious air dried beef, cooked on sticks over the fire, scrambled eggs and onions, and the piece de resistance, a rich, quite beefy eel stew. It was delicious and I can still hanker for it. The guys were very generous with their supply of Lao Lao whisky, and Choi made an offering of sticky rice and fish to the spirits in a makeshift shrine before we ate to protect us from misfortune. It must have worked.

With chopsticks made from some bamboo for Bob and I on the spot, we had breakfast of spicy rich noodles, nescafe and more, before we finally headed on our way to the roadway to be collected. A large swimming hole provided much welcome relief, although we were soon to learn that a crocodile (but not so big) had been recently sighted there.
Giving a lift to villages out collecting wild mangos back on the way (about a 20km walk in stifling 39* heat), we had a jolly old time, sharing lunch at the local guides house, where more Lao Lao was drunk (as an energy drink), and we supped on dried buffalo skin, soup, dried beef, rice (of course), tinned sardines, and chilli, with sugar cane juice to drink and a typical Lao sweet (desert is not a concept here) of sago pumpkin, palm sugar and coconut. Delicious and refreshing, it cleansed the chilli tang from the mouth perfectly.
A brilliant trip which defied all expectations. I feel I understand the Lao in a way I never could otherwise.


Rudyard Duck's Jungle Tales

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I learned to stop worrying and eat an Ant's Nest for Breakfast

Where do I begin?

We had chosen the 'nature trail', and although we did not come any where near seeing Tigers, Gibbons or the Siamese Crocodile we did see recent evidence of Deer, Wild Boar and wild (?Civet) cats nearby. The most astounding array of luminous butterflies were there in every hue of the rainbow; dragonflies were fluorescing in [pink, blue and green; mushrooms and fungus adopted every natural and seemingly artificial hue from deep velvet purple, vermilion orange and GI green. Orchids great and small hung on every tree and in every crevice along the route.

It seemed that we were carrying suspiciously little food for 4 strapping lads and I as we set off from our base. A large plastic bag of sticky rice, small packet WaiWai noodles, onions, chilli and garlic, half a cabbage, small bottles of squid brand fish sauce and Maggi (soy sauce) seasoning, a nob of luncheon meat style pork sausage, a flattened grilled chook (more head and scrawny feet than meet) and some sheets of what turned out to be delicious "heaven's meat" or air dried beef (or other red meat?).

This was ample as it turned out. With only a couple of tin dishes and cups of Bob and I (the falang), the only other utensil was a smallish saucepan. This, along with the multi-purpose machete and a cigarette lighter was sufficient not only to feed us, but to provide us with a feast to write home about (what do you think that I'm doing?).

We left Vientiane with our not-so-good-English speaking guide Sai for one of the few National Protected Area's (NPA) about 120km north of the Capital. On the way we picked up our two local guides form a village on the fringe of the NPA, and then after passing through the checkpoint and paying our entrance fee, made our way to Tad Leuk, a popular waterfall for locals onto he weekend. At the shelter which sold drinks and food, we had what could only be described as a feast; sticky rice to roll into balls and dip in sauces and spice; a hot, whole grilled river fish with it's skin deliciously crispy with salt; papaya salad and baguette sandwiches for our falang tastes. They were good, but unnecessary with the excellent local food.

At around 12:30pm we were on our way. The bush was similar at this stage to much of that found around water courses at home. Within 10 minutes however, rumbling thunder made me look for the local subway station, and the bush turned to tropical jungle and we climbed away from the water course and into bamboo forest.

Boy, do I have a new respect for bamboo! During the trek on the first afternoon, we spent much of the time crawling on our hands and knees, slunk low to the ground so that our packs wouldn't catch, on the dense, canopy of dry bamboo poles which had formed tunnels overhead, and offered sharp splinter to catch eyes, ears and arms at every step. Occasional breaks into fresh green bamboo permitted us to walk hunched, or at times, even upright, however the rain had started after we had been on the trail for 20 minutes and the almost impenetrable thicket meant that we were largely dry. Even with this difficult movement, the local guide at the front (LG1) was using his machete to hack our way through almost constantly. The second Local Guide (LG2). Came up the rear carrying a tent, a couple of sleeping mats and bags in his hands. Both the local guys were wearing rubber thongs, and managed to step through the thicket of wines and bamboo without consequence.

At our camp site on the flat smooth rocks of the river we set up camp for the night, bathed in the clear running runner and collected dinner. Already along the trail, LG2, now known to be called Choi (left), had excitedly collected some leaves which were explained to us were sweet when cooked. Wild ginger had been dug from the ground when the tell tale leaves were seen, and we ate some wild mangos, no bigger than a plum, that although slightly sour, were eaten with the skin intact and left a strong mango aftertaste. Bamboo flowers were hulled to reveal a kernel inside which substituted for rice and had a good, slightly nutty flavour. So much was here, that living off the land was not just feasible, but an important way of like for many of the Sao Lao, ordinary people, who lived in the Ban villages and had a largely subsidence and barter lifestyle.

As we sat on the river bank, marvelling at the variety of insects around, the local guides quickly and effortlessly collected hardwood and bamboo for a fire, set traps for fish for breakfast and cut down the magic bamboo for it's myriad of uses. Bamboo supplemented our tent poles, was used as fire wood, and boiled water. Into he photo above, Choi is stuffing sticky rice that was first soaked in the river in a plastic bag until it swelled and absorbed the water, into bamboo poles, which are then stuffed with bamboo leaves at the top, and placed on the fire to steam. When the steam comes out of the end like a 'peace pipe' it is ready, and delicious! A deft hack splits the bamboo in two lengthwise and perfect round cylinders of the precious stuff if perfectly cooked and served.

With accompanying sounds of birds, insects, frogs and running water, Bob sampled the local Lau Lao, strong local moonshine made from rice, presented to him in a quickly and beautifully constructed cap, the size of a demi-tasse, constructed of green bamboo which maintained the liquid and provided thermal qualities.

Amazingly Sai brought about a dozen eggs, held only in a plastic bag inside his flimsy, broken backpack. Of these, only one was broken. We shared a meal of chicken soup, with a few fish caught early BBQ'd on split green bamboo; sticky rice with the ubiquitous Maggi seasoning, slices of the luncheon meat style sausage, boiled eggs, and green leaves. It was wonderful, and small orange votive candles were lit as the light faded, providing one of the most spectacular dinner settings imaginable.

We didn't realise how this could, and would improve in the days to come. We slept well to the forest sounds, waking at first light when the guys went to check their traps.


Out of range, out of Cyberspace

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After the HHH experience the night before, we woke surprisingly well and early. Breakfast was definitely on the agenda! A shared continental breakfast with extra coffee and a couple of excellent crispy, still warm baguettes served us well. We discussed are constantly evolving plans, and looked into some of the National Protected Areas in the district; it is difficult to visit them independently, at the very least one needs a local Lao speaker and a guide. Bob found an excellent trek though, 3 days with 2 nights spent camping under canvas in the bush. It would be relatively expensive for the two of us, although the cost would come down if others were involved. A brief sojourn to the fountain at Nam Phou to discussed the options and logistics (we need to extend our Visa, in Vientiane, by Friday at the latest). We were of a like mind, and decided to go for it, leaving tomorrow.

So for the next few days we will be out of contact as we hike through some thick jungle and camp out on Monday and Tuesday night. We return on Wednesday night, and will stay again in the excellent Vayakorn Guest house (USD $15 night - room 107), probably spending two days in the Capital fixing up our visa's, arranging money, laundry and internet, and doing those things of the revolution that stops on the weekend - The National Cultural Hall, The Museum and so on. Would also like to jog/walk/cycle down to the southern reaches of the Mee Kong along a (Canberra term) bike path.

We attempted to get our photos transferred to CD, and much to Bob's temporary chagrin, the girl in the photo shop deleted them from the camera. Stuff happens.

We wandered back up to the Triumphal Arch and took a couple more photos, there being loads more people, especially locals when we visited today. Bob made a great new friend though as we were leaving. He had bought us both ice creams and a young novice monk said something to us as we passed. It took a moment to comprehend, but he dashed back and asked if he would like one too (I've been trying to explain to Bob that they collect their alms in the morning, but do not eat after midday). He opted for water and we chatted most amicably for quite a while, he keen to improve his English. He was the most charming young man. We exchanged telephone numbers, and he rang us while we were eating on the riverfront tonight.

(Bob: We are having a wonderful whole grilled fish. Have you had dinner?
Novice: I do not eat dinner
Bob: (with great sincerity) I am so sorry for you . . . )

We shall contact him when we return from our trek and he has invited us to see where he lives in the Wat.

After we re-visited the Arch, we continued on to That Luang Stupa, the most significant site in Vientiane. Bob had lunch at a local noodle joint, while I walked around a bit and saw much of the local character. Within a block radius of the Stupa there were at least two dozen eateries. I then saw more, 9,10,11, 12 . . . so many places to eat! I was invited into a rocking kind of party at one ("Come and join us!"), but declined. After sending Bob back to the hotel in a tuk tuk, I continued exploring, seeing the austere triple tri (anglular) roof of the National Assembly, and the very impressive (but the revolution is closed on Sunday) National Revolutionary Museum.

I then just wandered back, following the nose of my face and the garmin on my wrist. Wandering down any likely looking street (most unpaved), and coming across another Buddhist festival in full flight with lots of fluttering flags, drums and chanting. Some areas were solidly middle class in an Australian context, whilst in others loomed huge Greco-Laotian style Mcmansions (extra chilli, hold the special sauce). Huge columns loom to the top storey in an imposing manner, providing a sentinel over the heavy rendered walls and wrought iron and gold coloured gates and ornamentation. Next door may be a typical rural Lao house, woven rattan walls, or a mixture of teak planks, with thatching , shingles or color-bond (preferably blue) roofing. Usually, the other house in under slow construction in the grounds as well.

Bob napped, then we met and arranged to be de-haired at a local beauty/massage place that waxed. There were many options, but this looked particularly good and was not much more expensive. We had the waxing of our lives! Although I'm sure that girls were brought from far and wide to look and marvel at this falang's hairy legs, and there was some amusement when looking at Bob's, we were whisked away to a very nice room, where Bob had a muscley male masseuse pummel his legs and de-hair them with a fine tooth set of tweezers, whilst I had one, and then two women to work on mine. No monotonous Enya here, the traditional Lao music was wonderful!

A cup of sweet tea to finish, and the purchase of an English language book to read before we headed off to dinner of 2 whole fish, their skin encrusted with salt and stuffed with garlic and lemongrass, on the banks of the Mee Kong watching the sun set and thousands use the dry river bank (think of the Todd River in the Alice) being used as a giant fun fair of people riding bikes, horses, playing countless games of soccer, volleyball, badminton and the wonderful local SE Asian game like volleyball and a small rattan ball using their legs and head. A parking area contained thousands of bikes,
to be continued



Post hash house harriers report; (no shift key again, but fast computers).

It was interesting meeting up at the nam phou (main fountain) for the run. The HHH are usually loud ex-pats from my limited experience, and at registration there were a number of Lao women. After payment of our registration fee ( a steep 60,00 kip for the 2 of us), and examination of the others, I no longer felt quite so self conscious of my not-terribly good running gear and shoes. My $10 specials, were at the upper end of the scale in many cases, with the few decent pairs being clapped out new balance that may only have had the shoe laces holding them together. My clothes were not so bad by comparison either; jeans and the like were in evidence. A few people finished off, or bought, food and ate.

We all then piled into assorted vehicles for a journey to "Sperm Whales" house, then we were transported by a fleet of tuk tuk's to the Beer Lao brewery - sacred ground for these fellows. An amusing prayer was read, and we were off following a trail of white flour or chalk dust on the ground. Few people were actually running, and as we crossed a precarious log bridge and wandered in every direction looking for the trail. Eventually it was found on the other side of the canal. At a further rickety (at best) crossing we regained the track on the other side.

Apparently at this stage a group of 5 Lao women (of 6) left and caught a tuk tuk home.

Bob and I jogged along at the front, looking for markers, and being kept company by a very athletic Brahman cow which had escaped it's tether. The kilometres that followed saw constant stopping and starting as a group of maybe half a dozen or so hashers looked for markers and the correct trail, whilst those coming up the rear (walking mainly) kept counsel by following only when a route was decided. This policy failed however once we had trundled through a series of dry rice paddies, over the retaining walls for the water and across from one side to another. Eventually a checkpoint - a large flour circle - was reached, and then another and another. There was a whole rice paddy full of circles, with an etching on the ground that also looked like a crop circle. Here the group lost the plot and the path, with no running for quite a while as we each followed individual leads. I found a Buddhist festival on in a village, although my appearance caused some laughter.

After great confusion (having been told that it was a special April Fool's hash), eventually the trail was found again, and this time it was fairly clear to follow. Only a few houses and traversed, many sabadee's were said, and Bob and I were able to jog (although did stop to climb through the rusty barb wire fence. I was pleased that I had such an effective tetanus injection last year.)

Before we reached the end there was a 'beer stop', (fortunately there was water too), where most everyone had a big bottle of Beer Lao (Bob included). A wonderful looking old woman insisted I sit, and she made great to tell me (eventually through a young relative) that "I was number one". Compared to everyone else (Bob excluded), I did look in good nick. With all the false trails I had covered about 9.5kms to that point, and most of the others stopped there and got a ride back in the 'beer truck'. Although a little concerned about the light available, the organiser told us that there was 4kms to go. Within a lap and a bit (of the AIS track), a 3k to go sign appeared. I ran with a Lao guy chatting for a while, pleased that I was comfortable at close to 5 minute pace after being out there for ?Maybe two hours. He pulled up with a calf injury, and after ensuring that he was OK, continued on to follow Bob on the fairly good, wide gravel road. Only about 1,200m past the 3k to go sign, we were at the finish.

A few, but not many, other joggers trickled in. The others came via the beer truck. The typical ex pat beer drinking undergraduate hijinks's ensued, although there was lots to drink, including water and soda for me, and some good 'nibblies' of barbecued corn on the cob, chips,sticky rice and a spicy salad. Bob and I did not continue on to dinner at a local Lao restaurant, which was yet to begin at 9pm, having all met at 3:30pm.. We walked back to the hotel and went to bed without supper, tired, although delighted with a lovely run in an area we would not otherwise have had access to.


The computer ate my blog, Miss . . .

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Really it did

After much effort in blogging on Thursday in Luang Prabang, the computer connection ate my homework, and a only a very early draft was saved.

Que Sera Sera.
The icing on the cake however wad me barging in on a Dutch girl sitting at the computer next to me as I overheard her explain to a stroppy American companion that she needed to spend as much time as it took to do her first English language job application for a position she really wanted. I gave up on my internet and helped this charming young women in altering her resume. (We changed the title to a Curriculum Vitae as it was a position in an academic research institution). Frankly, her spoken and written English was excellent, she had better vocabulary, spelling and grammar than most Australian graduates. However I feel that my input in making it more job specific helped. Mira, with a Bangladeshi father and Dutch mother was extremely grateful and we parted exchanging details, hugs and good wishes.

I missed having lunch at our favourite cheap place by the river, but met him there later to explore a deserted old French Colonial house he had found in a side street. The floor didn't give way underfoot, and it exuded quite a charm, with it's high ceilings and open rooms. A stroll to the big talat (market) saw Bob look like a likely candidate for illegal substances again (Never me. Anywhere. But Bob has been offered marijuana, pornography, little girls and here, opium.) It was the market of the locals supermarket and department store, although we left having only bought a small packet of dried banana (1,000 kip) yet to be eaten.

.

We hadn't been looking forward over much to the bus trip (variously described as 8 or 9 hours) to Vientiane, however the first part of the journey in particular was an adventure in itself. We caught a jumbo (a motor cycle with a sidecar for 2 passengers, not an elephant or large ute-taxi as I imagined) to the bus station and were on board our special VIP bus early. It seemed a bit rich not travelling with the locals, however once the journey was underway we were very pleased. The road quickly rose up from the 300m elevation of Luang Prabang to pass through impossibly tiny villages of a few huts clustered together on sharp switchbacks and S-bends at 1,200, 1,300 and 1,400m. It was wonderfully and unexpectedly spectacular, with dogs, toddlers, chooks and pigs sitting patiently in the middle of the narrow road as traffic approached and stopped.

The driver was extremely careful and I'm sure that no passenger willed him to go faster. Thai pop music DVD's entertained us during the journey. A stop for lunch was (unbeknownst to us) included in our 110,000 kip fare, as was water and a dubious snack of something little a twinkie bar early on tin the journey. The local public (chicken) bus would take over 12 hours. This was just fine . . . .

A shared tuk tuk ride to the centre of Vientiane led us almost outside our first choice of accommodation from the lonely planet guide. A quick check of the room and the hot water service and the (non-negotiable) price of USD $15 for the night, and we checked in to the Vayakorn Guesthouse. It proved to be very comfortable after a wander along the Mee Kong River at dusk, and a simple light meal of a shared noodle salad from a local place (no menus or English). A wander around the town near the guesthouse (joy - is that a working ATM I see before me?), a bit of Friday night crime on ABC Asia Pacific, and a phone call to 'Joe' - the contact for the local Hash House Harriers.

I'm not too sure about the HHH, but we are committed now. They will meet at the local fountain for a 7 or 8 km run out of town with dinner and drinks after. It will be interesting if nothing else! I so enjoyed my run around Luang Prabang, and felt better, and indeed, faster than I had with my rapidly deteriorating form in Canberra before we left. Including having to walk across an iron bridge (no cars, lots of push and motor bikes, and s.l.o.w. old pedestrians, I did a most enjoyable 5km in 28:00 flat. Closer to 5 minute pace when I was moving. There is a good walking track along the Mee Kong described in a map of Vientiane which we shall explore, although we have not yet found suitable bikes to hire.


Click for Hanoi, Viet Nam Forecast


About me

  • I'm Carolyne
  • From Canberra, Australia
  • I love to run! Staying in Weymouth, Dorset on the South West Coast of England until October. I'm 46, live in Canberra with Bob and have been running since 1990. This has been interrupted by long periods of illness, however I am extremely stubborn! I'll never be a fast runner, however I give it everything, and am slowly learning to read my body better and adjust my training and expectations accordingly. Or rather I would, if running were possible at the moment - I will retuyrn soon.
  • My profile

  • <>Vietname vs Brazil Olympic Football Friendly 8PM 1 aAugust 2008
  • A Hot time in the Old Town tonight
  • <>Trip to Nha Trang and Da Lat 4 August to  August 2008
  • Flights Booked
  • <>Scooter Trip to Ninh Binh  aAugust 2008
  • Planned
  • <>Trip to Cambodia and Siem Riep 17 August to 24 August 2008
  • Flights Booked & 2 Nights accomodation




  • Long Course Tri 2k/83k/20k 12 February 2006
  • Sri Chinmoy Long Course Tri 2.2k/80k/20k 6 March
  • Backpacking Laos & Vietnam 14 March to 26 April 2006
  • Thailand Temple Run 21k 19 March 2006





  • Customs 5k Fridays
  • BBQ Stakes  6k Wednesdays
  • Tour de Mountain 19k 18 December
  • 1:55:02 Results
  • Cross Country Summer Series 5k Tuesdays in November
  • Cool Runners Six Foot Track Slow Jog/Walk 46k 25-27 November
  • Wonderful!!
  • Sri Chimnoy Triple Tri Relay 20 November
  • 1:55:38 1:04:53 1:22:55 Results Report Photos
  • Tour de Femme 20k Fun Ride 13 November
  • 40:40ish
  • Bonshaw Cup 6.4k 16 November
  • 30:30ish
  • Hartley Lifecare Fun Run 5k 17 November
  • Belconnen Fun Run 6k 12 November
  • 28:38ish
  • Mt Majura Vineyard Two Peaks Classic 26k 5 November
  • Last! 3:08:00 Results Report
  • Wagga Tri-ants Duathlon 10k/40k/5k 30 October
  • Scratching
  • Bulls Head Challenge 27k 23 October
  • 2:20:49 Results
  • Weston Creek Fun Run 6k 16 October
  • 32:02 Results Results
  • Fitzroy Falls 42k & 10k 15 October
  • Results
  • Orroral Valley 20k 9 October
  • 1:52:44 Results
  • Sri Chinmoy 10k 3 October
  • 0:50:14 Results
  • Duathlon Championships 10k/40k/5k 23 September
  • 3:09:07 Results
  • Canberra Times 10k 18 September
  • 0:45:30 CR TE AM!
  • Sydney Marathon 11 September 3:47:13
  • ACTVAC Half Marathon 21.1k 28 August
  • Entered DNS
  • Black Mtn UpDown GutBuster 5.2k 16 August 0:33:38
  • Results
  • Mt Wilson to Bilpin Bush Run 35k 20 August 3:15:14
  • Results
  • City to Surf 14k 14 August 64:17
  • Bush Capital Mtn Runs 25k 30 July  
  • 2:17:09 Results
  • Shoalhaven King of the Mtn 32k 17 July
  • 2:53:15 Results
  • Sri Chinmoy Off Road Duathlon 3.3k/23k/7.7k 2 July 2:40:29
  • Results
  • Woodford to Glenbrook  25k 26 June DNF Injured Results
  • Terry Fox 10k 19 June 46:59
  • Results
  • Aust Mtn Running Champs9k 18 June 1:06:33
  • Results
  • ACTVAC Monthly Handicap 9k Farrer Ridge 29 May 0:46:05
  • ACT Mtn Running Champs  9k 28 May 1:06:50
  • Results
  • SMH Half Marathon 22 May 1:41:56 (1:40:50)
  • Results
  • ABS Fun Run 7.3k 19 May 0:34:45
  • Results
  • Canberra Half Marathon 15 May injured Results
  • Sri Chimnoy 10k 8 May 0:47:55
  • Results
  • Nail Can Hill Run  1 May 56:23
  • Results
  • Newcastle Duathlon  24 April 2:45:39.2
  • Results
  • Canberra Marathon  10 April 3:47:56
  • Results
  • Women & Girls 5k 3 April 22:53
  • Results
  • Sri Chimnoy 10k 28 March 47:56
  • Results
  • Weston Creek Half Marathon 13 March 1:43:23
  • Results
  • Sri Chimnoy Long Course Tri 6 March 5:30:35
  • Results
  • Hobart International Triathlon 20 February 2:52:05

  • Canberra Capital Triathlon 30 January 3:01:43
  • Results
  • Medibank Private Australia Day8k 26 January 38:39
  • Results
  • Lorne Pier to Pub Swim 1.2k 8 January 22:12
  • Results
  • Lorne Mountain to Surf 8k 7 January 0:37.56
  • Results



    moon phases

  • 5k 20:11 Cairns 2000
  • 10k 43:49 Moruya
  • City to Surf 1:02:57 2000
  • Half Marathon 1:33:50 Steamboat 2000
  • Marathon 3:47:56 Canberra 2005
    Chip Time (3:47:13) Sydney 2005



  • Kilometres Run
    January 212
    February 199
    March 214
    April 201
    May 188
    June 182
    July 255
    August 246
    September 155
    October 159
    November 200
    December 62
    Year to Date 2,267




    Last posts

  • New Blog Address
  • After having been largely blocked from posting on ...
  • Back in Canberra, Blogging Service (hopefully) Res...
  • Kama, Krama, Kramar Chameleon
  • Restaurant Review - Siem Reab
  • Back from Angkor Wat
  • Update
  • Notes from a Rainy Da Lat
  • Overnight Scoot to Tam Dao Hill Station
  • Viet Nam Plans


  • Days Sick
    January 10
    February 10
    March 10
    April 4
    May 7
    June 8
    July 9
    August 11
    September 11
    October 11
    November 9
    December Lots. ?15


    Distance Swum
    February 17,400m
    October 3,800m
    November 4,150m
    December .
    Distance Cycled
    November 120km
    December 297 km