Lara's Blog

Friday, 29 December 2006

Halong Bay at Cat Ba (crap ba!) Island

Well that was completely different from our last tour! Arrived at Halong Bay wharf thingy after only about 4hrs on a cramped mini bus. There were about 100 or more wooden boats all cramed in together and the wharf was too small to accommodate them all. In order to board our boat we had to climb over two others WITH our packs (me with my wheelie duffle bag!!). So close to killing ourselves. The french canadian almost got crushed between two boats!!! Anyway we're on the boat phew. So cruising around was quite nice. The weather wasn't brilliant and visibility was reduced but it was interesting to see the floating village. We were then told to go on a little putput boat and pay 30 000 dong (a "donation" to the school) and we would go through a cave and see the school. We sorta putted around, diesel fume asphyxiation and apparently we went past the school. I never saw it and it wasn't pointed out. They would've made a fortune and i doubt any of it found its way to the school.
Later we went kayaking - only there weren't enough life jackets to go round!!! Very well organised trip this.
What else..... Lunch was ok i guess! Our cabins were fine too. The bathroom doors didn't close but at least there were ensuites.
Stayed the night on the boat....
next morning got to Cat Ba island

We had chosen to do the 15km bike ride (and paid extra) rather than the 6km hike. So we were separated off (without any warning mind u so were still wearing our thongs!! not exactly appropriate biking wear) and the others went off on their hike. We got to the bike place and they only had HUGE men's mountain bikes. Laurelle and i were too short to ride them. The only way of stopping was to fall off! The guide thought we were idiots but it was dangerous! Nat must've gotten the smallest bike and Cassie's really tall so they said they'd go. Laurelle and I refused. So the guide told nat and cassie to go past the bus and turn left and just go.
They got HUGELY lost (no guide, no map) and ended up on the other side of the island. they had to pay 150 000 dong to get a bus to drive them back and were INCREDIBLY annoyed.

Laurelle and i wanted our money back too cos there was no way we could have gone on those bikes. Oh and we missed the hike cos apparently you were only allowed to go with a local guide.

i better go ppl are waiting for the net
email me!

Tuesday, 26 December 2006


The train back to Hanoi was muuuch nicer - wood panelling makes all the difference! Except it was incredibly noisey - screechy creaks for most of the night. so i had about 2 hrs sleep. Got back to hotel in Hanoi at 545am to find that our rooms that we had booked AND paid for had been given away to a family who had lost their passports. Poor them, but it means they kicked us out of the hotel!! Supposedly they had booked somewhere else, but turns out they actually hadn't cos thought if we went there ourselves we could get cheaper rates. Tried all these hotels, booked out or really gross. Now waiting to see a hotel where rooms become available at 9am (one and a half hours away...). Hoping they will be clean and non-smelly! ANyway while killing time (at about 6am!) Laurelle and I went for a walk and found a tiny little place that sold Pho Bo (Beef noodle soup everyone seems to have for breakfast) . The old lady that made it for us couldn't speak english and when we asked how much to pay she held up the notes we needed to give her. heheh. So that was interesting at least!! And now we wait......

Monday, 25 December 2006

Merry Christmas from Sapa!!

Sapa is great!!
We left Hanoi at about 8pm on Sat night. Had an overnight train to Sapa. Bit scary in the cabin but we were able to lock ourselves in so it was ok!! We arrived at 6am and had a windy bumpy bus ride to our hotel for about an hour.
Our tour guide was a local girl, (20 yrs old) and she took the four of us for our trek. Four 12 yr old local girls followed us - each of them picked one of us to talk to and make things for. THey probably looked more lik 8yos though cos they were so tiny. It was very cute! They have their spiels: "where are you from? what's your name? how old are you? so young! how many brothers and sisters do you have? how long are you in sapa?" They followed us for almost the whole trek. "My" girl was named Man. She had 5 sisters and 1 brother and went to school mon-fri. They made us grass horses, crowns, hearts ... Very chatty and cute. They also made us promise to buy things from them when we got to their village. Which we were happy to do, they had put in the hard yards! Good entrepreners. Along the way we were also given sugar cane to try. That was nice, juicy and sweet but not sticky like sugar.
It was great to see, beautiful scenery with huge mountains, terraced with rice paddies, forests of bamboo. Laurelle almost fell in one! only her shoe copped the mud though. Lucky! And then of course the animals - little pot-bellied black pigs (at first we thought they were all pregnant but the piglets look the same!), water buffalo, ducks, chickens, dogs etc. The people are mainly dressed traditionally (hopefully photos to come). We were shown the school, and the plants they use to make indigo dye
We trekked about 10km all up.
Today we walked down a steep mountain to get to a waterfall. On the way we were taken through someone's house. They have two areas for cooking, one for the family and one for the pigs! About 9 ppl lived in the house we visited but i only saw one bed. I guess they sleep on the floor and pack the beds away during the day. There was corn drying hanging from the ceiling and lots of sacks of rice in the roof. THe doorway in was so small we weren't sure if we'd fit!!! Everyone is tiny, and it makes the children look younger than they are. the village was called "cat cat" which means beautiful. It was so steep - and we were offered to walk back up, but for 1000 dong we opted to catch motorbikes back up!!!!! Best dollar i ever spent i think. Although my bike broke down part way up so my driver hit the bike with a rock and it seemed to work after that...
We wandered around the markets for a while. Lots of fresh food - saw a chopped up dog. All that was left was his head and feet. Bit gross sorry :) We tried some local food including sweet potato fritters, fried spring rolls (kinda), and dough balls with sweet stuff in the middle.
Its hard when the local women and girls all want you to buy things from them, and you want to buy from everyone! but you really can't.
Now we have another overnight train tonight back to hanoi. Arriving at 5am - which will be fun since we can't check in to our hotel til 12pm!!!!!!!!! ah well :)
Hope everyone is having a great christmas!

Saturday, 23 December 2006

Hanoi dialup...

Dialup is really annoying.

Anyway this morning we met up with Nat's friend's friend (Chang) and her boyfriend. They took us on their motorbikes (!!!!) to a teeny upstairs restaurant where we had fantastic soup with pork meat balls or something and noodles. I am slightly concerned about the lukewarm temperature of the soup.... time will tell.... meanwhile motorbikes are fun! but i'm not sure if i'd want to go on one where i don't know the driver... Fun dodging traffic though :)
We were then taken to the temple of literature which is over 1000 yrs old.
Then... went to Uncle Ho's museum but it was closed on friday afternoons so we'll have to go back again after we get back... Apparently his moluseum (sp?) is only open in the mornings too. So we have to go back anyway.

Did a bit of souveneir shopping and for some reason a woman in one of the lacquer shops hates me. Because i went there on thursday, and was itnerested in somehting, she said she could give me good price today but not tomorrow (After we said we'd come back). So i went back today not believing her and she was crazy! No cheap price you were here yesterday! Laurelle wanted to go back this afternoon to actually make some purchases so i hid outside. The woman was like "where is your friend? you are here ALL the time". Oh and some of the other women we try to bargain with get really ANGRY when we offer something, even though Chang told us to offer 1/4 - 1/3 of the original price. And there are some that are nice... its very strange. Some of them definitely dont seem to want repeat business.

We booked ourselves for a tour of Sapa, yay. We leave on the overnight train tomorrow night and have 2 days before we return to on another overnight train to Hanoi. So not sure how the internet access will be for the next few days.

Thursday, 21 December 2006


Well after over 24 hrs in transit we've finally made it to Hanoi (i think the highlight was sleeping in Bangkok airport). Still haven't showered in about 36 hrs. NIIIIIIICE. oh and our taxi driver tried to take us to his mate's hotel, rather than the one we'd booked.
Hotel is nice and only $16.50/night/person although we think this is a rip off anyway! about half as cheap as a huge form in europe. def not complaining!
So i'm travelling with Laurelle (from high school), Nat (her uni friend) and Cassie (Nat's friend). Cassie is particularly excited - she's never been over seas before. They all think i'm psycho cos i immediately started walking out in the middle of the road in front of oncoming traffic - but that's what everyone told me to do!
(btw the hotel has DIALUP internet so no photos until we find somewhere with broadband)
We wandered the streets for a while this afternoon: women carrying baskets of fruit over their shoulders (then make you carry them, get your friends to take a pic then try to sell u a bunch of bananas for the equivalent of $5! i think its cheaper in sydney!!), ppl cooking on the streets, lots of little shops, crazy motorbikes with ppl wearing masks, honking, the lake has green water.... We ordered lunch, with no idea what we were ordering in this TINY (5 table) restaurant. i think altogether the bill was the equivalent of $9 for 4 ppl. Think it'll take me a while to get over the prices!
There is already stuff i've decided i want to buy too, glad i brought the big bag.
anyway i'll keep u updated :) email me!!!!

Monday, 18 December 2006

That's DR Lara to you

My brother the FBI agent (that's cricket playing in the ear phone!)

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Away again soon

Almost time for me to go overseas again! I'm going to Vietnam and Cambodia on dec 20 for around 6 weeks with Laurelle, Nat and Cassie, and KC for half or so of the trip. Am very disorganised, feel like i just got back from Europe and therefore have not organised anything... still dont have Visa... vaccinations... etc
oh well :)