18 August 2008

15-17 August 2008: Chelmsford (Caz's hen weekend at V Fest)

My brother's fiancee - Caroline - decided to have her hen's night at the V Festival! What a fab way to celebrate only being free for another month....

We all arrived on the Friday evening at the campsite in Althorne (a little village 30mins from the V Festival) and set up home for the weekend. There were 10 of us in 3 tents and thankfully Lisa had organised a gas BBQ as well. We all managed to set up the tents (even though we were women I think we were extremely impressive) and then set about getting the barbie going and spending some quality time drinking!

Lisa had organised the whole weekend and though we were sorted for the night in terms of games, food and alcohol, our neighbours had a disco going with some very loud, very cheesy music blaring out of their tent! I kid you not. So like all good neighbours we joined them! If anything it was a chance to get warm and we even had our own male stripper...(enough said)!

The next morning was a leisurely one as we did not have to get to the festival until after midday. So on went the bacon, toast and tea. A taxi turned up and after the bride-to-be had preened herself enough we left the campground around 1pm.

By the time we got into the festival (and there some dramas with that!), had more to eat and had a drink in our hands, we were listening to Alanis Morrisette - then Duffy - then onto Will Young. Unfortunately we missed out on Estelle and the Sugababes...oh well....maybe next year. Along the way we met some aspiring male 'angels' who were trying on Caroline's wings for size - the competition was to see who could get the most gorgeous guy to wear them...some contenders but I am not sure there was any one clear winner....

It didn't rain all day and in fact the sun shone for most of it. By the time we got to the main act (The Muse) it was spitting but being crammed in amongst all the bodies actually kept you dry. The Muse were amazing and I know Caroline had a blast (you only need to see the photos to see that)!

We eventually got picked up again after the festival (lots of dramas with that!) and got returned to the campsite, though some a little worse for wear than others (no names mentioned...though you might be able to tell from the photo....).

Sunday was a day for sleeping off the previous night's excesses, but tents had to be packed up, people had to drive home and Caroline had to face up to the prospect of never being single again!! We had a pub lunch at the campground and Lisa recited an emotional poem and gave Caroline a collection of old photos for her to keep.

The sun was shining and we were a little sad to say goodbye to everyone...but we will all be able to relive the weekend come Caroline's wedding on 19 September.

Here are a few photos from the weekend...(I can tell you now that the incriminating photos are already deleted...)

08 August 2008

6-18 July 2008 - Laos

The moment we stepped foot in Laos the rain was never far away. It rained every afternoon and was torrential and sometimes stayed around for a good couple of hours (but thankfully this meant the temp was much cooler than Vietnam which was a relief to everyone). Keeping this in mind, and the fact we were driving across a mountain, we had to stop due to 3 very large landslides covering the road. The sort that can't be driven around, or over and being in Laos, it could be hours before it's cleared away. As Soon and the Laos guide were wondering what to do, they realised another Intrepid trip was coming up the other way. What luck we had in being able to 'swap' minivans on either side of the landslides. Of course that meant we had to get from one minivan to the other....

We put on our backpacks, grabbed any other bags and headed for the first landslide. Not only was it extremely muddy, it was raining still and the gradient was steep going up and then down the other side. Most of us needed help from each other due to the precarious nature of balancing 15+kg on your back and numerous other bags and walking up and down a very muddy slope...which 2 people found went up to your thigh if you stepped in the wrong place!! Lets just the next hotel had a large amount of very muddy clothes to wash (and the poor minivan driver had a very muddy minivan to wash). But everyone got through safely except for a flipflop still MIA!

Laos food is very much like Thai and a hell of a lot spicier than Vietnamese! We found that out the hard way on one of the nights as the cook forgot to put the chilli on the side and put it in the meal...there were a good few tears, and not many people could finish their meal. But the food is delicious and the coffee is as good as Vietnam.

Vang Vieng is famous for its tubing. In fact this town is only here for this one purpose only. You can either do the 4km in 1hr (just sitting on the river), or 6 hours if you want to do a tubing pub crawl! The pubs (and I use this term loosely) have people to pull you in from the river and try to get you before you float past them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The river is called Nam Song and as it is the 'rainy season' it is very high, very fast and very dirty. But oh so much fun!

We then headed of for another 8hr travel day to get to Luang Prabang. It is a lovely place to chill out – very much geared to westerners with its own coffee houses and western pubs. There is a lot of French architecture, a fab night market and gorgeous view point over the city if you want to climb over 300 steps We also got up at 5am to see the monks collecting alms – ie. their food for the day. Locals will come out and sit in the street waiting for them to pass by – about 60 of them in total.

After Luang we boarded our boat for a 2-day journey (and I do have to put my hand up and admit it was pretty boring) down the Mekong River to Pak Beng and then on to Huay Xai. In the evening, we docked at the small town of Pak Beng to spend the night (all electricity is turned off by about 11pm).

After this we had a border crossing back into Thailand which ended our trip!

I do like Laos, and it is very similar to Thailand. The scenery is very lush and absolutely stunning in Vang Vieng, but it is not as cheap as we imagined (except for Beer Lao which is usually the cheapest thing on any menu (660ml for 10,000 kip (c. US$1.20)). Most of us have also discovered the 'towers' you can buy that holds 3 litres of Beer Lao...amazing good value.

A collection of my favourite photos from Laos (top to bottom, left to right):
- Monks collecting their alms
- Preying on good fortune
- Even the young are taken to the temples to prey
- A monk and his 'Beer Laos' umbrella!
- Monks are allowed mobiles and obviously know how to take pictures with them!
- An evening by the Mekong River
- Bringing in the rice (a very dirty job)
- Collecting alms

22 June-5 July 2008 – Vietnam

I love Vietnam....even with all its chaos and motorbikes! Vietnam is just so different from Cambodia. The Vietnamese food has to be my all time favourite – Pho noodles, fresh spring rolls, cau lao, white rose, Vietnamese pancakes, bbq and most other dishes are so delicious. I would come back to Vietnam just for the food. And as for the coffee...that definitely has to rival anything from the UK (maybe not NZ though...).

I really do like Saigon but crossing the street is literally taking your life into your hands. There are about 5m people in Vietnam, and 3m motorcycles (more like mopeds)...so when you cross the street there is never a naturally break in the traffic so you step out slowly and keep moving slowly and let the bikes dodge you (I'm not kidding!). You just need to watch out for the kamikaze bikers who want to run you down!!

We visited the War Remnants Museum which houses remnants from the Vietnam War. We also went and saw the Cu Chi tunnels that the Viet Cong created. They run for about 200km and go from the Cu Chi river to under the US army base...the US army never knew they were literally under them the whole time! The tunnels are very claustrophobic to crawl through and I am told that they have been expanded for 'Westerners'...so the real tunnels are much smaller! There are three levels, at 3 metres, 6 metres and 9 metres deep and they had bunkers which houses the hospital, kitchen etc. Once the US realised they existed, they first tried to throw down gasoline and set it alight...but all that did was harden the clay, then they put dogs down there to flush them out, but the VC used the US garbage (food, cigarettes, toilet paper etc) to put off the dogs' scent, then they tried to drown the VC and then lastly, the US bombed the hell out of them...which did collapse the tunnels.

We then went to Nga Trang....scuba diving, lazing about on the beach and drinking Saigon beer was about the only thing on the menu! After that we went to Hoi An which we all fall in love with.

It only has a population of 80,000 and it has amazingly well preserved architecture - there is a part of the town ('Old town') recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also probably the hottest part of Vietnam so far so most of us were sweating like crazy the minute you step outside the hotel. The best time of day is after 2pm when a thin layer of clouds come over and it stops the full glare of the sun. One afternoon we went for a bike ride into the countryside and it was lots of fun. We passed people just out and about doing their everyday work and when we cycled past kids they would all high-5 us.

It is also the place to get any tailoring done. Thanks to a friend's recommendation I found a fantastic tailor (two sisters) who I then recommended to everyone else in the group and they must have made about US$1,000 from us all. If anyone intends coming over the tailor's address is: Phoung Nam, 15 Phu Tran, Hoi An.

We spent 1 night in Hanoi before escaping to see Halong Bay on a day boat. Halong Bay is in north eastern part of Vietnam and very beautiful with its nearly 2,000 limestone islands. We stopped to go to one grotto called Thien Cung, but so did every other tourist!

I liked Saigon better than Hanoi...not sure why, but Saigon has a better vibe to it. Hanoi is very historic and we were staying in the Old Quarter where 100,000 people live in 100 square miles...the most populated area in the world and only consists of 36 streets that are named after the product they sell (e.g. fabric, electrics, spices...). I went to see the water puppets and it was very entertaining (I recommend everyone go and see them). I am sure the expertise needed to manage one of the puppets is more than I have! In fact only a few families in Vietnam teach the art and every puppeteer has to study under them.

A collection of my favourite photos from Vietnam (top to bottom, left to right):
- Sleeping and keeping cool
- A very friendly local
- Young boys entranced with us westerners!
- Cruising along Halong Bay
- A temple in the lake (Lake of the Restored Sword in Hanoi)
- Harvesting time
- I even did a double take at what is on her top!!
- A monk's homework fluttering in the breeze
- Du Tuc's tomb near to Hue
- A painting by a 14 year old...it says a lot!
- A sign I found in a park...give it a read...
- Nga Trang beach
- A sailor in Hoi An
- Very brightly coloured lanterns