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Hanoi....only 4 months late!

semi-overcast

Sorry sorry I know I've been rubbish at keeping this updated...but it's hard...I legit spent tons of time in Nepal catching up on about 2 months of my own diary (by torchlight...but we'll get to that) let alone blogging :/ and you know what they say...spend the time making the memories to capture, not capturing the memories...or I'm just lazy...yeah more likely that :/
Anyhow I'm in Lombok and it's been absolutely bucketing down so I thought I'd try and properly sit down to write so here goes...back where we left off...Hanoi.

I arrived in Hanoi exhausted but excited to spend Christmas in the capital of the most Christian country of south east Asia and New Years on a boat on Halong Bay?....hell yes!
Hanoi is much smaller and less westernised than Saigon which was lovely, I stayed in the old quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake which although chaotic was very atmospheric. Big shout out to Hanoi Backpackers, these guys run an awesome hostel, incredible tours are are just generally all round fantastic people.

The first couple of days was a blur of exploring the city and hitting the sights.
Honestly I can't remember what was on what days so in no particular order:

Women's museum: Interesting...essentially a museum on Vietnamese culture and traditions of different ethnic groups

Hoa Lo prison: contrasting on areas but a good overview of large parts of Vietnamese history

Temple of Literature: really pretty area but I think I must have lucked out with tour bus hour...it was so.crowded.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: Reaalllyyy spooky...you had to get there super early, go though more security than an airport...line up...walk across a massive complex that was all misty and had a huge building set in the middle. Once you walked past the extremely heavily armed guards you couldn't stop moving as you filed around Ho Chi Minhs body which looked extremely wax like. Weird but cool.

....and simply meandering the lanes of the old quarter

I also managed to drink wayyy too much highlands coffee and eat far too many tuna toasties from Joma and Bun Cha (BBQ pork)

Christmas Eve pub crawl was a crazy night involving trying to buy Santa hats off innocent bystanders, free shots for Aussies, clubbing Vietnamese style and kebabs before we got (very!) lost on the 2min walk home that meant at 20min cab to get us back...oops...Merry Christmas!!

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After a late start the next morning and much skyping we had the most massive lunch on the roof and with free flow beer and sangria we were all in bed by 8pm...woo so much class right there.
Scored some cotton buds in the secret santa...so useful!

Came down with a cold over the next couple of days so instead of heading out of the city for a couple of days I stayed in bed...awesome. That was a fun story. I did however manage to drag myself out to Joma (what a surprise :/ ) and skype Immy for a record breaking 3.5 hours while she was in Spain...good grief.

There was a night out somewhere here worth mentioning. The curfew in Hanoi is midnight when everything closes...we all headed across the highway to a club ran by the mafia and kept on going. On the way home one of the guys was asked if he wanted a ride by a moto driver who then tried to pickpocket him...much persuading and fight breaking up later we were followed all the way back by said driver which did not help any of the guys patience or testosterone levels!

I couldn't sleep one night and around 4.30 am I decided to get up and head over to the lake as many people had said it was really interesting pre dawn and I knew I'd never wake up that early!
So so glad I did...despite the freezing cold, everyone and anyone was out exercising and socialising and it was more crowded than during the day!
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New Year's Eve came around and it was time to head off to Halong Bay and that is another post in itself I've decided! Sorry this is so rambly, it was a while ago!

Stay smiling xx

Posted by isabellepurcell 04:39 Archived in Vietnam Tagged travel vietnam christmas asia hanoi backpacking southeastasia Comments (0)

Vietnam #1 A month in dot points because I'm lazy

sunny

Ha Tien:
- The border town near Cambodia
- Did not see another westerner in the entire time I was there
- Spent a lovely day cycling through local fishing villages
- Got what I thought was an ear infection and brought some ear drops that later turned out to be water
- Ear got worse so got on bus to Saigon (HCMC)
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Saigon:
- Arrived super late and went straight to international medical clinic. Not an infection but don't know what it is. Brilliant.
- World food festival on opposite my hostel...so much good food! And singing and dancing

- War Museum - so moving. I didn't find it as propagandist as I had been told to expect, the photos just speak for themselves. And I had to sit down a few times.
- Ben Thanh Market
- Met the lovely Sammie and her family for dinner

- Best Bahn Mi and ca phe sua da for breakfast
- Post office (designed by same guy as the Eiffel Tower), Notre Dame, local mosque and Reunification palace.
- The Reunification Palace was great, but quite surreal as it still seems as though someone is living there
- It was amazing going through the basement, used as a bomb shelter and seeing the actual maps and communication technology used to run and command the war.
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- Japanese! for lunch and highlands coffee
- Snails and squid for dinner (still the best meal I've had to date)
- GO2, cocktails and shisha
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- Opening a corked bottle of wine with a knife, nail file and scissors

- Crab soup in the Chinese quarter for breakfast (yeah not a fan)
- Korean food for lunch with Sammie and her family
- Back to GO2 for copious amounts of cocktails
- Ear magically better now

- Tour de Jours bakery (worth the walk) and the Jade Emperor pagoda (not so worth the walk)

- Tour of the cu chi tunnels - very touristy and more guns, tanks and weapons than tunnels. Nevertheless, glad I've seen it!
- Drinking games, pho and dancing with half the hostel, crazy!

Mui Ne:
- Quiet beach town with so many wind and kite surfers
- There's no hostel here, so got a good deal on a room at an actually decent hotel (thanks agoda!) with a pool! and it was lovely to have my own space for a bit, however after a night, I realised how much l loved having people around me and meeting other people and was just lonely
- So I skyped everyone at home
- And did a tour of the sand dunes, driving a 4WD dirt bike type thing over them was amazing!! So impressive!
- And of the fairy stream...where you can walk down a little river, through a canyon to the waterfall.
- And then got the bus to Dalat
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Dalat:

- Former French Hill station
- So much colder than the rest of the country due to the elevation - a welcome change.
- Absolutely beautiful architecture and cobbled alleyways - so easy to get lost which happened a lot!
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- The beds at Enjoy Dalat hostel are described among backpackers as being 'like a morgue' - and they are set into the wall, but I actually really liked the fact that it was like you had you own little room.
- Did an motorbike tour of the countryside tour with Briar from NZ. Bo our guide was fantastic, highlights were trying weasel poop coffee, standing under and getting soaked by the elephant waterfalls, running into Jesse and Amy again, trying 80% alcohol rice wine and surviving the 'Chicken village', which for anyone who knows me was my own personal nightmare.
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- Went out with Bo, everyone from the hostel and the gorgeous family who run it for dinner at the most local place. We had what was basically a cook it yourself BBQ to make into rice paper rolls, so much rice wine and beer. Amazing!
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- In the absence of anything resembling a bar, we got some beer and sat by the lake sharing stories and playing games...before one of the hostel owners brothers remembered he had an exam at 7.30am and had to be taken home.

- Next day Briar, Zorsia and I visited the crazy house (Gaudi-esqe architecture in the weirdest location) took a cable car across the valley and had corn icy poles by the lake
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- After another local family dinner we had the most crazy session of karaoke ever! It's taken really seriously over here and is really sophisticatedly set up with private rooms, sounds systems, a TV, lighting and an iPad to control songs all
linked in. So bad but so good.
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Nha Trang:

- To Russians what Bali is to Aussies
- You could pay hundreds of dollars and stay at the highest class hotel and I bet you wouldn't get service even near equal to the lovely staff at Mojzo Inn. They remembered everyones name from the word go, we so concerned, helpful and questioning and made you feel so at home.
- So that was nice
- Unfortunately the weather wasn't exactly beach appropriate so day 1 was spent being a typical tourist at the Cham Towers and White Buddha.
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0BE502B82219AC6817F5DC15D5A4243F.jpg - 0BE58E962219AC68177003478CD27CDE.jpg I also went to the gallery of photographer Long Tan. He's quite well known and had an exhibit in Melbourne a while back, and it was amazing talking to him about Melbourne and how he found it. His B+W portraits of people and Vietnamese life are incredibly moving, and something he said really stuck with me. "When you take a photo in colour you photograph someone's clothes, when you take it in B+W you capture their soul".

- Next day I went on a snorkel trip to surrounding islands. It was cold but so worth it. It was so beautiful and full of life. Oh and everyone else only spoke Russian.

Hoi An:

- Spent a few days here just relaxing, as I'd been to the main sights when I was here with the fam a couple of years ago.
- Ran into Amy and Jesse again and had a afternoon Bia Hoi bar crawl
- Did an evening cooking class and now can cook spring rolls, beef and banana leaf salad and lemongrass marinated fish in banana leaf...ok not actually..but it was fun...and I realised how much I missed having a kitchen.
- Got up for a 5am for a tour to the MySon ruins..so worthwhile as the fog rose out of the valley and the sun rose. it was very atmospheric, albeit small. And we were the only people there, so that was cool.
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- The old town of Hoi An is heritage listed and so beautiful and charming, easily killed a couple of hours just wondering around taking it all in.

...and then I got on the bus to Hanoi

...to be continued.

Posted by isabellepurcell 03:25 Archived in Vietnam Tagged travel vietnam asia backpacking Comments (0)

Finding Paradise in Cambodia

Koh Rong, Kampot and Kep


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So many people have already asked me where my favorite place has been. To date, I absolutely have to say the South of Cambodia. Except not Sihanoukville. Its weird. And full of drunken backpackers (say nothing!) and prostitutes. Although Otres beach about 30mins from the main town is beautiful, a lot quieter and I do regret not taking my camera in a bout of 'oh I'm by myself and might want to swim.'
It's absolutely worth passing through though to jump on the boat to Koh Rong Island, which is absolute paradise on earth. Eline, a girl from Utretcht and I shared a bungalow literally right on the beach and despite planning to stay only for a night, ended up staying for three. There is not a lot there, just a few shack like bars and bungalows, giving it a real 'adventure deserted island life' feel. The beach is stunning and the water so clear that you could stand up to your neck and still see your feet.
We had a extremely relaxing few days going from the hammock to the water and to stop ourselves feeling too lazy, hired a kayak and paddled out to the 'little island' where there was some of the best snorkeling I've ever seen.
We mayyyy have had the same thing for dinner all three nights. BBQ chicken and barracuda on the beach...couldn't have asked for better! And then spent the nights playing cards in open aired shacks and watching insane lightning shows while it thunder stormed outside.
Another highlight here, was the bio luminescent plankton, which after the power is turned off at midnight glow in the dark in reaction to movement. Its hard to explain, but essentially if you swim or move the water around, it lights up and glows like there are tiny fairy lights under the water. Absolutely beautiful.
Back on the mainland, I headed to Bodhi Villa in Kampot, where I again ended up staying longer than expected and spent my birthday with the best bunch of people!
Kampot is a really chilled out town based around the river, with a distinctly French feel. The first night I was there was their live music night, and with face painting = free tequila shots, was a really fun night. The next day was my birthday which was spent cycling around town, skyping everyone at home and relaxing on the riverside deck. I was so lucky to be surrounded by such a a gorgeous group of people, including Jesse and Amy from QLD, who I've continued to bump into all the way through Vietnam, which has been lovely. Red wine, rum balls and a distinctly quieter night later, I was officially 20!
The next day I headed up to Bokor Moutain on a motorbike to find the elusive 'abandoned hill station.' We didn't find it but had an awesome day, taking in the views all the way to Thailand and exploring the area. Yes, I did fall off, nothing too nasty, but enough to make me extremely careful!
Finally it was time to say goodbye to Cambodia, with my last night in Kep, right on the border of Vietnam. Its a lovely seaside town with amazing seafood and watching the sun go down over the coast of both Cambodia and Vietnam I was looking forward to moving on.

Posted by isabellepurcell 22:39 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel cambodia kampot vietnam island asia backpacking kep Comments (0)

Bhutan Part 2

Everything not nursing!


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So Bhutan wasn't all healthcare, hospitals and nursing, we also spent some time sightseeing, exploring and generally having a grand old time.
We did a day trip to Punakha, the old capital, stopping on the way at the Dochula Pass to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas. Despite the fog failing to lift, it was absolutely beautiful and extremely atmospheric, an unexpected highlight of Bhutan.
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In Punakha we walked across a massive bridge, across a river, covered in prayer flags that was honestly the most unstable thing I've ever seen..so much fun! We also explored their Dzong which was really impressive.
At the end of the day we walked up to a monastery through local villages. The general consensus was that the highlight here was seeing the famous 'protective penises.' Images covered houses and there were status everywhere. Very safe lucky..maybe? Kinda immaturely hilarious...definitely!
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Another day was spent around Thimphu at the giant Buddha (gold and huge) and the Takin (national animal of Bhutan) Zoo. Possibly the ugliest animal ever..so ugly it's almost cute. We were lucky enough to have a picnic lunch on a hill surrounded by prayer flags and overlooking Thimphu. Never have I eaten somewhere so picturesque!

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One night we headed out with the students. It was the funniest night, starting with scarily (when we saw the photos) sober karaoke and dancing at club desiree. Topped of with Rosie's traffic directing skills it was an awesome night.

On our last morning in Paro RIHS hosted a lovely farewell morning tea. We all dressed up in kiras and ghos and shared experiences, thanks and stories with those who has been so kind and worked so hard to host us and help us throughout our time in Bhutan. There were tears and we all knew how indebted we are.

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We spent a couple of nights in Paro at the end, mainly to hike up to tigers nest, the quintessential Bhutanese experience. The walk was as hard as you'd expect, on tracks for about 4hrs consistently uphill at altitude, we (really) took our time though and it was absolutely worth it. We had l seen photos but typically nothing matched it. It was the most beautiful sight and touching place and I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
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Our final night was one none of us will ever forget. We had drinks around a bonfire, presented gifts and songs to the incredible staff who had worked and travelled with us and embraced the last night in Bhutan we would have together. It really struck me how much love and experience I was surrounded with and I couldn't believed we'd met at the airport not even two weeks ago.
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I'm writing this about a month after leaving Bhutan, and I still can't get over how lucky I am. It's the most amazing, beautiful and interesting place and I got to experience it with a bunch of incredible people. It's a place and time I'll look back on fondly, and forever be so so grateful I handed in my application to go last minute on a whim.

Posted by isabellepurcell 19:28 Archived in Bhutan Tagged travel himalayas backpacking bhutan paro thimphu Comments (1)

Bangkok and Hua Hin


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After flying out of Bhutan, we had a couple of nights in Bangkok. Due to the fact that Paro's airport is purely visual and doesn't have a control tower we had to have a grace period before the groups flight back to Aus in case of rain or fog meaning that we couldn't leave Paro.
We used this time to relax for our last few days together and I took the opportunity to see parts of Bangkok I missed last time. First up was Jim Thomsons house, a beautiful traditional Thai style country house set in lovely gardens, right it in the middle of the most manic city I've ever been. It belonged to the founder of the Thai silk industry who went missing while hiking in Malaysia. It still houses his impressive collection of art and artefacts and was extremely interesting. The contrast to surrounding Bangkok was also the weirdest experience.
With Barbs local knowledge we had a great lunch in the locals section of MBK and picked up a few bits and bobs (like a phone charger-seriously who forgets to pack one?...me apparently)

Back at the hotel I was surprised with about 10 emails from mum (love her!). After confirming that, you know...everyone was ok, found out about the cyclone in the Philippines. James, Beth and I had a flight booked early the next morning to Nha Trang, exactly where it was headed in the next 24hrs and with people being evacuated already, naturally decided to change our plans. That arvo was fun (sense the sarcasm) trying to get onto insurance companies, airlines, hotels and various embassies and consulates. All worked out nicely, with an extra night in Bangkok planned, we were Hua Hin headed on the coast, 2hrs drive from Bangkok.
That night we hit up patpong and I'll say no more.
The next day was full of massages, rooftop pools, and burgers (the first thing that wasn't noodles or potatoes in 3weeks). After dinner (pretty sure we keep the restaurant across the road in business while we were there) we waved the majority of the group off to the airport. Saying goodbye was hard, we'd all got so used to each other's company, had the most amazing experience together and I couldn't have asked for a better group...can't thank everyone enough.
We changed hotels for our last minute extra night . No one really knew what we were in for, we just booked it because Adam who we'd travelled Bhutan with was staying there so it made sense. It was beautiful! The most amazing pool, gorgeous hotel and right on the river. We pulled a sneaky and piled 3ppl into a 2 person room and it ended up being a bargain! Late night swims and a couple of piƱa coladas later and I was convinced everything happens for a reason.
After a very hot bus ride to Hua Hin the next day and we spent the next few days relaxing as much as possible, literally doing nothing and soaking up the beach. We had a ahem 'interesting' night out and did some great people watching. In the interest of full disclosure it's worth mentioning that one day here just didn't happen as far as Beth and I were concerned. One missing persons report, multiple calls to the embassy (again!), dealing with the police, multiple hours and the biggest freak out ever later...James was actually ok.
Back in Bangkok, after another super hard goodbye I spent the next couple of days holed up at the hostel or a fab Internet cafe in Siam paragon writing my 4000 word assignment for Bhutan. With that done and dusted I headed out to Asiatique, a night market on the river for Loi Krathong, a massive Thai festival.
I've never seen so many people crammed into boats and in one area. It was absolutely beautiful though, 'krathongs' are released down the river decorated with flowers and lit with candles and incense. There were also tons of floating lanterns marking Bangkoks skyline. The idea is that you let go of all your anger, hatred and bad deeds with the Krathong and let your negative thoughts float away. There was a 'water parade' of sorts with lit up boats and barges and it was a fantastic, atmospheric night.
Battled the crowds back, ready for a VERY early train into Cambodia the next morning.

Stay smiling xx

Posted by isabellepurcell 08:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged travel thailand bangkok asia backpacking southeastasia Comments (0)

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