Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

I am mother to two young adults in their mid to late 20's. I work in the medical field as an admin officer/personal assistant. I look forward to the day when I can spend heaps more time taking and making photographs. However, for now, the bills have to be paid. I married a jazz musician many, many years ago. My adopted home is Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. I am originally from North Queensland... a tropical place!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Travel Update - Friday 2nd November 2012

Well, travel plans out of Sapa went as planned -- more or less!  It rained the afternoon we were leaving and as we had to take our luggage to the Tourist Bureau, it got somewhat wet.  We were a bit peeved when we discovered the bus went to many different hotels in Sapa to collect it's contingent of travellers but we were told we had to go to the Tourist Bureau.  In a way, it was a good thing because we were the first on the bus so got to choose seats.  The bus collected us just before 5pm but it didn't leave Sapa until 6:35pm by the time the driver had collected the other 9 people and packed them and the luggage into the bus.  The trip down the mountain was a bit scary but we arrived in Lao Cai in one piece.

The driver dropped us outside the railway yards and we quickly located the building where we had to collect our tickets.  Once that was organised, we located Le Bordeaux, a cafe recommended by the very helpful person at the Sapa Tourist Bureau.  Turns out it is opposite the train station and is a very popular place for travellers to grab a bite to eat ... it was packed but the food was good and we didn't have to wait too long for it.  A quick trip across the road got us to the railway station where we had a short wait before we could board the train to Hanoi.

The trip back to Hanoi was better for me than the one on the way up to Lao Cai but Mary had a shocking trip with little sleep on a mattress which was much smaller than the already small space of the bunks.  We shared a cabin with a young mother and her approximately 3 year old boy (little horror) and a young 20 something girl who spent a lot of time talking on her mobile phone.  We arrived at Hanoi around 5am and was part of a chaotic situation of many people exiting the station all at once.  Mary and I decided to sit at a 'cafe' just outside the station, have a cuppa and read our books which we did amidst the ebb and flow of a stream of humanity.  An hour or two later when we looked up we were part of a very select group of people left at the station.  It was amazing!

Across from the station we saw a Vietnam Airlines office so decided to head over there around 8am to see if we could leave our luggage for the day while we walked around Hanoi.  Turns out our plane was leaving at 6:40pm so we had the day to fill.  We arrived at the office before the receptionist did so waited in the quiet, airconditioned building where we watched a parade of people coming to work.  Fascinating.  The young girl from VA arrived around 8:40am and had some difficulty understanding what we were asking of her.  She eventually 'got it' and looked uncertain about whether she should do this for us.  I got the impression that this is not something she has been asked before.  After some thought, she decided she would look after our luggage.  She also told us that, to get to the airport, we had options of taking a bus (40,000 VND) or a taxi (for 220,000 VND).  We decided on the bus so she showed us on the map where the bus depot was and we set off to find it.

Along the way, we decided on breakfast at a 'western type' cafe (which had lattes!) which was delicious.  After having further discussions, we decided we would take the taxi option to the airport so we didn't need to find the bus depot.  We asked at the cafe where I could get some passport photos printed (I already had the file on a USB drive - thanks Clinton) and the official version was they didn't know.  However the young girl we asked kindly told us we could try a place not too far away and showed us on the map where it was, so we set out to find it.  We finally found a photocopy place which was the only likely looking place in the vicinity of where she directed us so we went in and, with the assistance of a few different people, eventually told them what we wanted.  They certainly had all the appropriate equipment, including photo paper, so they were able to help. 

I had had enough walking by this stage so we took a taxi outside the photo place (driven by the only woman taxi driver we saw in all of Vietnam) to the lake in the old quarter which has a temple on an island in the lake joined to the land by a red bridge.  Very picturesque.  My mate Ruth told me about this lake and it is certainly worthwhile checking out.

The bridge linking the temple island with the mainland.
We were lucky to see another young couple having their wedding photos taken by the lake.
After a cruise around half the lake, we headed off to find the way to the Blue Butterfly restaurant once again for lunch.  After a sensational dinner at this restaurant, I was very disappointed by the food served to me at lunch.  I can only guess that different chefs are rostered on for day and night.  Mary did enjoy her meal.
Setting off for the railway station with our trusty map, we managed to find our way after lots and lots of walking.  Here are some of the sights we saw on the way.

A shop selling birds in cages.

Shops, houses and appartments along the railway line. 

 We collected our luggage and the very helpful receptionist rang for a taxi for us.  We were taken on the scenic drive to the airport and, after a little nap in the taxi for me, we arrived in plenty of time for our flight.  In fact, we had to wait quite a while for the check-in for our flight to open.  After being told three different lots of information by three different staff, Mary was not impressed.  However, we eventually checked-in, went through security (very easy) into the waiting area and settled to wait for our 6:40 pm flight.  Unfortunately the flight was delayed and we eventually left Hanoi at 8:15pm.

Arriving in Luang Prabang about an hour later, we joined the line to obtain a visa, went through immigration and found an ATM to get some money for Laos before catching a taxi to town.  All very easy.  Mary had booked us into a guesthouse before leaving Sapa so we had accommodation for the first two nights.  On the way into town, we realised there was a festival underway - the Bun Awk Phansa which "sees the floating of candle-bearing boats down rivers."  After checking in to our guesthouse, we hit the streets to see what was happening.  Sure enough, the Mekong River had lots and lots of "candle-bearing boats" floating downstream.  Decorations all over town featured boats of all sorts as well as stars and other decorations.  There were also floating lights in the air over Luang Prabang.  Paper lantern-type items with candles were lit and as the air heated in the lantern, it rose into the air.  Looked lovely.

The wat across the road from our guesthouse.

One of the many star decorations around town

Many of the lanterns from the wat across from the guesthouse the next day.
Stars hanging from a tree in a restaurant.

Stars outside another wat.

After two days at our original guesthouse, we moved to another guesthouse in the main street where we are very comfortable ... although there are no TVs in rooms!  Yes!  We have had breakfasts at cafes on the banks of the Mekong River which is a lovely way to start our day and lunches and dinner at various cafes and restaurants.  The food, by and large, is lovely.  Luang Prabang is such a laid-back place with lovely people.  We have had two easy days exploring by foot around town.  One of the best finds was a fish spa where you put your feet into a fish tank full of little fish who come and nibble all the dead skin off your feet.  Feet come out of there very soft.  It was very difficult to leave feet in the tank for the first minute or two as the fish tickle.  However, if you can get past that feeling, the results are delightful.
Lots and lots of little fish!
I decided to get a full body massage after the fish spa and was very pleased that I did.  A young woman who has hands about the size of my palm was the best masseur I have come across in Asia.  I had a few massages in Vietnam but they were not worthwhile having.  I am going to treat myself again for my birthday next week!
After leaving the massage parlour, I floated along the banks of the Nam Khan river and took lots of photos, including many of a group of monks crossing the river via a bamboo bridge, before heading back to the guesthouse.

Today, Mary and I walked around continuiong our exploration of Luang Prabang.  We booked into a cooking class for next Monday, walked around the Nam Khan river to the junction with the Mekong River, where we had a delightful lunch, before checking out more wats on the way back to the guesthouse and relaxed for a couple of hours.
The junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers which will be very familiar to some of you.

Local boats moored in the Nam Khan River near the junction with the Mekong River.

One of the many wats around Luang Prabang.
After a short nap, dinner was had prior to a trip to the night market in the main street of Luang Prabang where many goodies were purchased.  Back to the guesthouse and an update of the blog.  I hope you enjoy following our travels.
More for Debbie:
Hanoi temple cat enjoying his life.

Sibling cats on the Mekong riverfront at Luang Prabang on the prowl.


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