A Travellerspoint blog

Mais pimenta, por favor!

semi-overcast
View RTW - 2010 on flaviaU's travel map.

Desde que eu mudei para os Estados Unidos o meu paladar mudou também, no começo tudo tinha muita pimenta, muito alho, muitos condimentos... Demorou alguns meses ou ate 1 ano para eu me acostumar com a comida, lembro quando eu comi a minha primeira refeição mexicana, não o mexicano que é servido no Brasil, mas o típico mexicano (porque como vocês devem saber que tem mais mexicano na Califórnia do que no México) e a pimenta era tanta que chegava a chorar, o Jonathan me chamava de exagerada, para ele aquilo não era nada comparado com o que ele estava comendo. Na nossa geladeira existiam uns 10 tipos de molho de pimenta, já que o Jonathan é o cozinheiro da casa e ele estava proibido de cozinhar com pimenta, eu não estou falando de pimenta do reino, porque essa eu já aprendi a comer, é pimenta malagueta mesmo ou até a pimenta habanero (mexicana), desde então ele criou um título para um livro que ele diz que vai escrever no futuro: “O molho de pimenta salvou meu casamento”.

Depois de 5 anos de casada e de ter experimentado comidas de vários lugares do mundo eu ainda não havia atingido o nível de tolerância para a pimenta que o Jonathan havia esperado, mas tudo mudou quando nós chegamos ao Sudeste da Ásia, onde a pimenta ou melhor o chilli como eles chamam aqui é a base da culinária. Antes mesmo de aprender a dizer ola ou obrigado eu aprendia a dizer “sem pimenta”, mas em várias ocasiões “sem pimenta” acabava sendo sem nada mesmo, nem sal, então eu comecei a pedir um pouquinho de pimenta o que muitas vezes se tornava muito mais do que eu havia imaginado e depois de vários copos de água (que na verdade só fazem a coisa piorar) e de não sentir os meus lábios de tanto queimar eu comecei a levar jeito e pela primeira vez. Foi aqui na Tailândia, quando finalmente eu consegui com que eles cozinhassem algo sem muita pimenta (mas com sal), eu resolvi por conta própria, por pimenta malagueta na minha comida. O Jonathan não acreditou no que ele estava vendo e com muito orgulho começou a contar pra todo mundo o que havia acontecido, o único problema agora é que ele não vai mais poder escrever o tal livro, a não ser que ele mude o título para: “Comida Tailandesa salvou meu casamento”.

Mas pimenta à parte, fazem algumas semanas que nos estamos tirando férias da nossa viagem, ou seja, passando os dias sem fazer absolutamente nada, indo de ilha em ilha, tomando banho de mar e comendo camarão na praia. Agora nós estamos na Ilha de Koh Phangan, cercada por belas praias e mundialmente famosa pelas suas “festas de lua cheia” – The Full moon Party, que já se tornaram tradição aqui, todo mês no primeiro dia de lua cheia, eles armam as barracas e aumentam o som na praia de Haad Rin, para milhares de pessoas de todo o mundo participarem dessa festa. A festa é conhecida pela musica eletrônica, as bebidas energéticas (o Red Bull nasceu aqui na Tailândia) e para quem quiser uma experiência ainda mais psicodélica existem uma infinidade de milk shakes com ingredientes duvidosos, mas como a nossa faixa etária já é considerada velha comparada com o restante da festa, nós só vamos mesmo de espectadores.

Encontramos uma pousada linda Baan Haad Yao Villa para passar os dias aqui na Ilha, cercada por um jardim cheio de orquídeas, com uma piscina no meio e o nosso bungalow possui um banheiro ao ar livre, nada melhor que um banho de banheiro sob a luz das estrelas, e como agora é temporada baixa, nos somos as unicas pessoas hospedadas aqui, tudo isso custando trinta reais por noite, nada mal. Passamos os dias lendo na beira da piscina, passeando de moto pelas praias e comendo a melhor comida Tailandesa da ilha, em uma restaurante onde os donos são pessoas maravilhosas e a comida é feita com amor e o que não poderia faltar, pimenta.

Posted by flaviaU 16:33 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

To Paradise

sunny 96 °F

We left Phi Phi in a relaxed state, not really sure what we would do that day, basically play it by ear when we got back to Phuket. Back at the hostel, we were so annoyed at the rude staff that were so unwilling to help us get where we wanted to go that we made the snap decision to not give them any more of our money. Instead, I jumped onto the back of a moto taxi and rushed to the bus station where I found a proactive travel agent who was willing to figure out a way to get us to Ko Tao, across the peninsula and a boat trip away, even though the last bus had left just 15 minutes prior. The next thing I knew, I was in the back of his car, and after a quick stop to pick up Flavia and our packs, we loaded up and raced to the outskirts of Phuket, where we stopped momentarily and were picked up by a minivan who sped across the peninsula to get us to Surat Thani, through deep green valley’s with towereing limestone cliffs everywhere, then dropped us off in a dark alley, where one guy approached and told us he worked for the travel company. Wearily we followed him to a small office, where one coworker lifted his head off of a cot and laughed quickly before closing his eyes and falling back to sleep. After 30 minutes of no information a tuk tuk pulled up and we were loaded in and taken across town to a pier where a ticket was handed to us. We ate and had a few beers, preparing for an overnight trip across the gulf that does not have the best reputation for luxury. Finally we loaded onto the boat, and we located our seats, which we in the galley of the boat, two rows of old mattresses on a platform on both sides, a few old fans, small wooden sliding portholes, and all of the supplies that needed to be taken to the island, beer, water, fruit and vegetables, motorcycles, and whatever else. The motor was painfully close as well and the noise and heat being spewed into our small sleeping area was brutal. With Flavia on one side, and an Aussie who snored over the engine noise and my earplugs, I tossed and turned, savoring a few minutes of sleep and overjoyed when the sun came up and we pulled into the island.

But wow, was it worth it! Kao Toa is beautiful, and as we settled into a beachfront bungalow and joked about the trip the night before with a few fellow night-trippers, so happy to be on a beach at that moment. Sairee beach is a shallow beach, lined with beach bums and restaurants and bars, and water so warm that it’s almost like taking a bath. After breakfast, I went out into town to search for a dive school, as Koh Tao has the best prices for quality Padi open water dive courses in the world, about $260 with four nights of free accomadation. It is said that they certify more divers here than anywhere in the world. My “group” ended up just being me and an instructor, an eager Englishman who was fairly new to diving but completely hooked, having come here for a holiday and never finding it in him to leave. After two mornings of studying books and videos and one short taste at only 6 meters, we finally went for our first real dive in the after just a taste the day before. Going down to 12 meters on my first dive at Japanese Gardens was quite a feeling, a strange mix of relaxing and exhilarating, slow and easy, and I was in love. The feeling of being inside of the fish tank, searching under the coral for blue spotted stingrays and moray eels, levitating weightlessly while watching bubbles slowly race to the surface and schools of Chevron Barracuda swimming above; just being there, in 90 degree water seeing the beauty of Thailand was spectacular. We then climbed back on the boat and drove to the other side of Nang Yuan Island to dive at Twins, where I saw Nemo fish and a spectacular coral. Back on land I had a permanent smile and couldn’t wait for my third day, when I would do two 18 meter dives, and finish my course.

The third morning I woke up early to get out onto the water at 8, although preparing to dive is pretty easy, just put on my boardshorts, a smear of sunscreen and out the door! The water was a bit rough and choppy that morning and we bounced out to Champon rocks where we went down to 18 meters and saw beautiful coral and marine life, although the water is too warm for the Whale Sharks that frequent this area in the other months. On our final dive we jumped into the White Rocks dive site, where we saw sea snakes, boxfish, and all the other usual suspects. Now that I am certified, I hope to dive in the rest of the places that we visit while on the road.

Back on land with Flavia, I knew she had been a bit bored sitting poolside waiting for me to complete the course, and she was eager to go snorkeling with me to see what I had been raving about, so we headed back to Nang Yuan Island with a Swedish couple whom we’d met on the hellacious boat ride a few days back to relax and check out the marine life from the surface. The beach here is spectacular, a thin strip of sand running between three islands, connecting them at all times except during the highest of high tides. The water is turquoise blue and the visability is great, and Flavia and I went for a dip and saw schools of parrotfish and a scorpion fish, two things I didn’t see on my dives. After resting a bit we hiked up to the viewpoint on the island, and after a 250 step climb, we were perched on a large boulder looking at this place that is beyond what they could do in Hollywood. For our final diner we went back to Su Chili, a restaurant where we ate three of our four dinners. Their curry was the best curry I’d ever had, so flavorful and hot, with a way of combining so many flavors and creating one smooth taste but still keeping a noticeable bit of every spice and ingredient. With sticky rice and an ice cold Chang Beer, I knew that this was a meal I would never get tired of eating. I was also impressed as Flavia ate her stir fried seafood with vegetables which turned out to be the spiciest thing I have ever seen her eat.

Leaving the following morning we said goodbye to our friends and I made the big decision to leave a few things behind that I have been carrying but hadn’t used, like a sweatshirt and a bulky pair of shoes that the manager of our restaurant seemed so happy to get! It’s nice to lighten the pack a bit, hopefully they won’t have a snowstorm around here anytime soon. After a quick boat ride to Ko Pha-Ngan we took a taxi across the island to Haad Yao, a small beach with a few restaurants and guesthouses. Flavia and I decided to splurge and say in a wonderful bungalow with a private outside bathroom and a nice pool to beat back the midday sun. This island seems extremely relaxed, especially where we are. We have been eating and hanging out at a perfect little restaurant called Apache, run by a long haired chief look-a-like and his wife, who happens to be an amazing cook as well. Nice bowls of curry are served with a homemade touch and a lot of love. In the evening after their adorable 2 year old girl is sleeping, a local showed up to play some guitar. His looked almost the opposite of cliché for what we expected, with dark skin and a huge afro, although his sun bleached cut off shorts and his faded blue and white striped shirt make him look like the protagonist out of a stranded at sea novel. His guitar skill was remarkable and we sang song after song while I kept the beat on a small Djembe drum while we butchered lyrics and toasted to paradise. This place truly is a paradise, a splendid way to relax to finish out our time in SE Asia.

Posted by JonathanU 01:51 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Em busca de tranqüilidade

sunny 90 °F
View RTW - 2010 on flaviaU's travel map.

Chegamos na Tailândia, um dos lugares mais esperados da viagem, mesmo com toda a confusão que esta acontecendo em Bangkok, a capital, o sul da Tailândia continua tranqüilo como sempre, como se nada estivesse acontecido. A população esta dividida, já faz um mês que o partido de esquerda, os camisas vermelhas, estão protestando, e o que começou com um protesto pacifico, acabou se tornando muito violento, mesmo assim muitos turistas ainda estão visitando a capital, porque os protestos estão acontecendo em uma área isolada pelo exercito. Nos não temos planos de ir a Bangkok até o dia 6 de junho, quando temos que voar para a Jordânia.

Cruzamos a fronteira do Laos para a Tailândia e de uma cidade pequena na fronteira pegamos um vôo com destino a Phuket, ilha famosa no sul do país. Phuket é um dos destinos mais visitados na Tailândia, pode ser considerado o novo Caribe, mas o nosso objetivo era de passar uma noite em Phuket e no outro dia pegar um barco em direção ao Ilha de Koh Phi Phi, ou seja, o paraíso. Toda essa área do oeste da Tailândia, foi atingido por um tsunami em 2004, as marcas desse desastre ainda estão em todos os lugares, milhares de pessoas morreram, turistas e nativos, quase todas as pessoas que moram na ilha possuem fotos e estórias do acontecido. Mas mesmo assim os tailandeses continuam a viver, reconstruíram tudo de novo e vivem uma vida normal, afinal essas coisas podem acontecer em qualquer lugar do mundo a qualquer hora. A ilha de Phi Phi se tornou mundialmente conhecida pelo filme “The Beach” – A Praia com o Leonardo Di Caprio em 2002. O filme é inspirado em livro também chamado The Beach, onde um mochileiro viaja pelo mundo em busca do paraíso, e encontra ele na Tailândia. A praia é maravilhosa, parece até mentira, nós ate demos a sorte de chegar la quando não havia ninguém, o que atualmente é impossível devido ao grande numero de turistas que visitam a ilha anualmente. Passamos o dia em um barco, nadando e fazendo snorkeling nas águas cristalinas da ilha, nada mal.

Depois de alguns dias resolvemos cruzar para o outro lado da costa, no golfo da Tailândia, mais especificamente as ilhas de Koh Tao e Kho Phang Nha, famosas pelas belíssimas praias e pelos corais, que fazem com que todos vão em busca de cursos de mergulho e snorkeling. A nossa jornada foi longa, primeiro pegamos um barco de Koh Phi Phi até Phuket (2 horas), de Phuket corremos para a rodoviária para pegar um ônibus até o outro lado da costa sul, o ponto de partida para as ilhas, quando chegamos na rodoviária, o ônibus já havia partido, mas o nosso motorista de taxi conseguiu parar o ônibus fora da cidade e fez ele esperar por nós, embarcamos no ônibus e depois de 3 horas chegamos a uma cidade portuária, para então pegar um barco noturno, que levou 8 horas para chegar até a ilha de Koh Tao, o barco possuía camas, imediatamente eu já pensei no horror dos ônibus cama do Vietnam, o barco tinha dois andares, o de cima com colchões finos e travesseiros no chão, um grudado do lado do outro e com alguns ventiladores no teto, e o andar de baixo, o que eu chamo de VIP, onde os colchões estavam convenientemente localizados em cima das caixas que carregam todos os suplementos para ilha, comida, bebidas, motocicletas, tudo que você possa imaginar e com mais um detalhe, pra ser mesmo VIP, o motor do barco também estava la. Como nos sempre damos sorte, a nossa “cama” estava localizada na área VIP, com tudo que tinha direito, incluindo ratos e baratas, um luxo! Como vocês podem imaginar, nos dormimos muito bem aquela noite, mas enfim chegamos ao nosso destino.

Posted by flaviaU 09:01 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Phi Phi

overcast 90 °F

The last few days have been more laid back than the rest of the time traveling for us. We were pretty much trapped in Vientiane, as after the first day of nice weather, we were stuck in suffocating heat and humidity that made Cambodia seem cold. We spent most of the days huddled under our suffering AC, which gave me another cold, but still seemed better than being outside. I will say that Vientiane was the complete opposite of every other big city that we visited in SE Asia. There is a seriously relaxed pace, no traffic, no one blasting their horns, people respecting traffic lights and laws, and the actual possibility of walking down a sidewalk, an idea that until now seemed beyond foreign! The city of Vientiane is ready for tourism in some respects with tons of new restaurants and cafes with great prices, strong AC, amazing French and Laotian cuisine, and bagels, yes, bagels! What a nice treat! On the other hand, there are few hotels, and the one that are there are poor in quality and high in price, compared to the other places that we stayed. We were stuck there though, so we hid out during the day, ate well, and waited through the Thai holiday to get our visas prepared to head into Thailand.

We bought a low priced plane ticket from just across the border of Thailand to Phuket, a jump to avoid the current Bangkok chaos and get some time exploring Thailand’s famous islands for the three weeks we have left in Southeast Asia. We were under the impression that Thailand would be empty due to the situation with the Red Shirts, but I think it’s quite the contrary, with most tourists still coming here, and the ones that would be in Bangkok have skipped it and headed south, and I can’t blame them. We arrived into Phuket Town, a run down and grimy home to few tourists and many cockroaches, ate one meal of amazing pork soup, slept in a room that was hotter than the soup, woke up early and took the quick ferry trip Ko Phi Phi, for a few days of relaxing an paradise. This is the most beautiful island I have ever seen, green and lush, with towering limestone islands, and more tourist facilities than all the islands of Hawaii put together. We met a pair of Chileans (note: I intentionally did not write Chilean couple) Nico and Faviola and we took a quick water taxi ride out of town to the Viking Resort, where we stayed in a beachside bungalow in the jungle and ate beautiful curry, Pad Thai, and relaxed on the private beach, sipping Chang Beer and looking out at the Island where the movie “The Beach” was filmed. In the evening we headed into town, walking 45 minutes along the water until we found a cheap restaurant, speaking Spanish with the Chileans and a Spanish girl, while looking at the horrific photo albums that chronicled the devastating Christmas Tsunami a few years back, creating two waves that swallowed the town and killed 6000 people here alone. It’s amazing to see not only how much was destroyed, but how much has been rebuilt since then. Finally, satisfied and a bit tipsy we finally took the long walk back through the jungle, fortunately lit with a string of small lights all the way back to our home where we sat on our porch in the hammock until well into the night, cherishing the few seconds that the oscillating fan would hit us.
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The next morning we woke up early to take a full day boat trip with the Chileans, and a group of hilarious Dutch guys to do some snorkeling and end the day at “The Beach” (from the movie “The Beach”). Two of them, Martin and Jaap, had organized a boat and got a great price for us to come along. We were picked up at 11 and we set out on the rickety long-tail boat, stopping at a couple of snorkeling spots, with beautiful coral but few fish, then cruising around, gawking at the impressive high priced resorts towering above the jungle and lining the beaches until we finally anchored at a protected bay, surrounded by towering cliffs, crystal clear water and full of amazed visitors. After a quick swim we pulled into another bay where we swam 100 feet with a dry bag to protect the cameras and precariously rode a wave over rocks and grabbed onto a rope pulling ourselves to the base of a staircase, walked up the steps, down the other side, then along a path until we came out onto Maya Beach (translated to movie beach). Now I will say that the weather was not perfect, but we were alone when we got there, a feat that even astonished a tour guide who happened to walk by while we were editing photos, asking us “how did you get the people out of the photo”! Alone on the beach, we snapped photos like Japanese tourists then played in the water in what was unanimously called the most beautiful beach in the world by the entire group. We were lucky also because within 20 minutes boats started pouring in, filling the beach with tourists, taking pictures full of 18 year old sunburned kids in the background while we sat back and smiled at our fortune. As we walked then swam back to the boat it started raining, and all we could do was laugh. After another quick snorkel in the water full of swarming little colorful fishies, I drove the boat back to our resort where we ate dinner, relaxed then headed to bed for a good night of sleep.
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Today we packed up and decided to head back to Phuket for a quick night before heading across the south of Thailand to head to Ko Tao for a week or so.

Posted by JonathanU 11:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (6)

3 meses na estrada

sunny 107 °F
View RTW - 2010 on flaviaU's travel map.

Hoje fazem 3 meses que partimos a nossa aventura pelo mundo, até agora sem nenhum arrependimento, somente coisas boas lembrar. Foram 3 meses de aprendizado, desde coisas simples e bizarras como usar os banheiros (privadas e chuveiros)* asiáticos até a cultura dos diversos povos. A Austrália e a Nova Zelândia foram fáceis, todo mundo falava a nossa língua, comia a mesma comida, apreciava a mesma cultura, com algumas diferenças, é claro, mas sem nenhum obstáculo. A verdadeira aventura começou mesmo no sudeste da Ásia, onde tudo parece estar de cabeça pra baixo, nada faz muito sentido, é um jogo de adivinhações, adivinhar a linguagem, o cardápio dos restaurantes, a ordem ou desordem do trânsito, as expressões faciais da população, cada dia é um novo dia, quando você pensa que esta entendendo alguma coisa, algo sempre acontece e você se pergunta, MEU DEUS! O que é que eu estou fazendo no meio dessa loucura? Mas tudo faz parte da aventura, até as horas de estresse, quando o motorista do taxi tenta te cobrar muito mais do que deveria, quando o ônibus VIP está mais pra ônibus escolar, quando eu e o Jonathan brigamos por nenhuma razão e 5 minutos depois já esquecemos o que nos estávamos discutindo. No final das contas, o melhor a fazer é dar umas boas gargalhadas e aprender a nossa lição da próxima vez que algo acontecer.

Celebrando os nossos 3 meses de viagem, escolhemos o Laos, um país pequeno rodeado por todos os países do sudeste da Ásia. O Laos é um pais predominantemente Budista, com centenas de templos e monges espalhados por todo lugar, a população é bem conservadora, como um bom exemplo, as mulheres Laocianas são proibidas de ter relações sexuais com estrangeiros, o lado bom disso é que não existe muito turismo sexual por aqui, pelo menos não tanto quanto como os países vizinhos (Tailândia e Camboja). Os laocianos são muito simples inocentes, ainda não descobriram os males do mundo ocidental, ou seja, ainda não foram envenenados pela corrupção. Depois do Camboja e do Vietnam, o Laos era tudo que eu queria, paz e tranqüilidade...

A nossa primeira parada foi uma cidadezinha chamada Luang Pragang, localizada no norte do país, patrimônio mundial, pelas suas belezas naturais, pela arquitetura com influências francesas e pela riqueza de detalhes de seus templos , encontrados em cada esquina. O dia começa bem cedo para o moradores e para os monges, as 5 horas da manhã os monges fazem uma procissão ao centro da cidade e se alinham na calçada, esperando os moradores lhes oferecerem porções de arroz em troca de uma bênção, essa rotina se repete todo dia, faça chuva ou faça sol. A temperatura estava insuportável, 37 graus as 9 horas da noite, 45 de meio-dia, sem condições de andar durante o dia, nos acabamos passando os dias nadando em cachoeiras ou na beira do rio Mekong, remando caiaques e tomando banho com elefantes, o que se tornou uma das melhores coisas que nós já fizemos na vida, subimos no pescoço deles descemos ladeira abaixo até a beira do rio, entramos na água, levamos um banho de tromba e brincamos de rodeio, o elefante do Jonathan tentando derrubar ele a cada 2 minutos, muito engraçado!
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Embarcamos em uma minivan e fizemos uma parada rápida em Vang Vieng, uma vila localizada na beira do rio Mekong, onde a atividade principal para os turistas, era de descer o rio de bóia e beber ate não agüentar mais, ai já viu o que acontece, no final do dia todo mundo bêbado e ralado, de tanto bater nas pedras durante a descida. A faixa etária era de 18 anos e a nacionalidade Inglesa, só duramos uma noite e partimos para a capital do país, Vientiane, na fronteira com a Tailândia. Aqui ficaremos até domingo, esperando o nosso visto de entrada para a Tailândia e enquanto esperamos resolvemos comemorar o nosso aniversario de 3 meses com uma massagem típica laociana e uma pedicure mais do que merecida para os meus pezinhos, afinal até os mochileiros merecem um pouquinho de luxo de vez em quando.

(*Não possuo nenhuma imagem ilustrativa dos banheiro asiáticos, mas assim que puder eu tiro uma foto pra vocês verem).

Posted by flaviaU 14:59 Archived in Laos Comments (4)

Updated map

Posted by flaviaU 17:15 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Bathing with Elephants

sunny 107 °F

After a few days in Luang Prabang we decided to move on, although the town turned out to be the mellow rehab that we had desired. After the waterfalls we spent a nice day relaxing, checking out the tour options, and trying in vain to upload pictures for the blog. So if you notice that there are no new pictures on the blog it’s because we went to five places, tried many times, but are unable so far to get pictures up so please be patient with us, hopefully we can find a way to do it within the next few days. On the last day we did a full day excursion which took us to the Nham Kan river where we kayaked down some slow rapids alongside limestone cliffs and thousands of fluttering white butterflies. After a quick swim we made our way to where the river joins the mighty Mekong, which we previously explored a few hundred miles downstream in Vietnam. There we explored a cave filled with hundreds of small Buddha statues.

Back on the kayaks we paddled down to a stop where we were supposed to do an elephant ride. With the suffocating 110 degree heat pounding down on us, we decided to change it up a bit and give the elephants a bath. After feeding them whole palm leaves, which they would snag with their trunks while whacking the flies off their backs a few times before stuffing them into their mouths, easily cracking the leaves with a sound of bones breaking and crunching. We both then jumped up onto our elephants, no loading station, just a boost 10 feet up until we were riding the neck, with the feet behind the massive ears, and balancing ourselves with the top of the two foot wide head. Sitting high on the front of the beast, I realized just how big this beautiful animal is. It’s a strange feeling to ride down a steep hill on top, looking straight down on the ground, being constantly wacked in the leg by an enormous and soft elephant ear, and the slow lumbering that goes into each powerful step. Once we got to the water, we slowly waded into the muddy water, where my elephant dunked his huge head while Flavia’s splashed water on her with her massive trunk, with Flavia unable to stop laughing. Mine then got a little spunky, as she is known as the feisty one and dunked down again then shot up and shook her humungous head from side to side, until I was launched into the murky river. She then bobbed down and right when I climbed back in she began another furious shake again, launching me back into the water. After scrubbing the elephants and playing with them in the water for a while we headed back up, both of us absolutely delighted, and I honestly think that in all of my travels, this may be the ultimate highlight.

Back in town, we went to one of the alleyways where they have local vegetarian food buffets, where women with plastic bags on sticks constantly smack the flies away. We each had a small plate of noodle dishes and I bought a half of a chicken and we ate, satisfied from the day and happy with the rainclouds that loomed nearby and brought a bit of cooling to Luang Prabang’s streets. The following morning we caught a minibus eight hours to Vang Vieng, through beautifully scenic green limestone mountains, along rivers, and through villages of hill tribes, with an indigenous look that seemed almost similar to Bolivia’s campesinos. We were both pretty tired when we finally arrived into the hot dusty streets of Vang Vieng, and were a bit turned off at how all of the buildings seemed to be quickly thrown together and how a tourist town seems to have been built out of an otherwise uninteresting location. This town is famous for its tubing, which seems to exist just to cool down the drunken hoards of Englishman who wander the streets in bikinis and boardshorts like zombies baking under the afternoon heat. Here, there seems to be an age limit of 20 to really enjoy the debauchery here, and frankly Flavia and I just don’t seem to feel like doing this here. Plus, when we woke up today to see an overcast morning and rain clouds we decided to get another bus ticket to head to the capital city of Vientienne. Once there we will have a few days to kill while preparing our Thai Visas, which as of today, are free! Hopefully, we will have no problems with this and be able to catch a flight down to the beach area in the south by the weekend. As of now our plan is to skip Chang Mai due to the heat and stay away from Bangkok until things have calmed down there.

UPDATE: We managed to upload some photos, check em out!

Posted by JonathanU 11:36 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Into Laos

sunny 100 °F

There were mixed emotions as we left Vietnam. We had a great time in Ha Long Bay, even with the overcast weather, which, if anything, made the thousands of limestone rocks jutting out of the water a bit more majestic. It was nice to travel with our friends, Rowena and Scott, and we had a great night on a private island, armed with a bottle of Vietnamese Vodka and a boat load of seafood. Ha Long bay was as beautiful as advertised and kayaking through caves into dead silent bays was the highlight of the trip. It was long two days, a lot of time on the minibus, and I am really glad to not be on the Vietnamese roads anymore. Then we had a lot of time on the boat, cruising slowly through the calm passages until we hit rough water on the way to the island. Overall it was a fun trip, and in the end we spent a bit more than we would have liked to, just to ensure that we would have a good trip. Back in Hanoi, we were just growing tired of the North Vietnam city, as well as just the concentration in Vietnamese cities in general. It’s tough because you cannot walk down the sidewalk as they are blocked by motorbikes, makeshift salons, restaurants, and what not, but at the same time, the traffic in the streets don’t feel much need to go around you, and it just gets tiring to be on full alert all the time, while trying to find your way around the streets and fending off never ending moto and taxi drivers. The action never stops from the moment you step out of the hotel until you get back. Also a bit annoying is the fact that, in the end, we found that no one that we met in Hanoi was really genuinely nice, instead we knew that sooner or later the business proposition or the petition for money was coming. All in all, we loved Vietnam, but we definitely preferred Saigon and the south, and hopefully we will be back one day, I think that it’s definitely worth another visit.

After sweating out the hottest day we’d had yet in the north, we split a taxi with our friend Tim, who was excitedly on his way back to the US after a three year stint in Hong Kong. We had a quick 1 hour flight on a new propeller plane (who knew they still made propeller planes), over the mountains to Luang Prabang in search of a bit of tranquility and hoping that the laid back Lao attitude that we’d heard about was true. Upon first site, it sure felt relaxed, and we disembarked at the silent airport as a worker flipped the lights of on the runway, as we were the only evening flight. We rode downtown without one horn blast, then walked through the 105 degree night heat, through the night market full of lots of things that will soon be in our backpacks, in search for a cheap guesthouse, then settled in for a quick meal and a nice sleep.

Feeling refreshed and relaxed, especially at the ability to make it 100 feet without anyone bothering us, and a reintroduction to the idea of walking on the sidewalk, we ate breakfast, then walked through the streets, checking out the temples, and enjoying the cool breeze and battling the scorching sun. Luang Prabang is the new hotspot in Southeast Asia, and is a lovely city along the banks of two rivers, the mighty Mekong and the Nam Khan. The streets are clean, the locals are smiling, and there are tons of monks, tourists, travelers, and cafes. It feels nice to be here, it just feels nice to be away from pollution and be able to slow down the pace a bit. When the heat finally got to us we changed and headed an hour by tuk-tuk to the nearby Kuang Si Waterfalls, a can’t miss spot for locals and visitors alike. Here, after a short walk past an Asian Black Bear rescue sanctuary full of big buddies with white arrows on their chests playing, relaxing in hammocks, bathing, and just generally being really cute, we began to hear the waterfalls. They were spectacular, full of sky blue water that drops and curls into about six pools, which spreads out the delighted crowd. The water is refreshingly cold, and as we traveled from pool to pool, we were so happy to have beaten the heat for the afternoon. We’d heard a tip about a secret pool from Rowena and, after a tricky traverse above the big waterfall, then up some steps and a right before the top, then up a waterfall (yes, up a waterfall) before we saw the gem of the area. Water fell from all heights above the cliffs, around trees, down rocks, and down into amazingly clear pools at different levels, before meeting in a natural infinity pool and tumbling 100 feet to the pool below. This was truly one of the most beautiful and special places that I had ever seen in all of my travels. Our first day here in Laos so far has been a great introduction and both of us are very excited about what we will see here, even if we just have a short time here.

Posted by JonathanU 18:50 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Cam on Vietnam

overcast
View RTW - 2010 on flaviaU's travel map.

Da cosmopolita Saigon viajamos para o norte em direção ao litoral, compramos um pacote de passagens de ônibus com 4 paradas, empolgados com a idéia de viajar em um ônibus “cama”, imaginando um ônibus leito, confortável e grande, mas assim que embarcamos na nossa primeira jornada descobrimos que o significado de conforto para os Vietnamitas é muito diferente do nosso. O ônibus parecia uma prisão, com mini beliches separadas por corredores minúsculos, feito exatamente para caber uma pessoa asiática, não necessariamente um turista americano, eram 3 fileiras de assentos com dois andares em cada, os assentos eram minúsculos e cercados por barras de metal, para a nossa “segurança”. O problema não foi somente o ônibus, mas também o estado da rodovia e a maneira que o motorista dirigia, pisando no freio a cada 5 minutos e buzinando o tempo todo, como vocês podem imaginar a nossa viagem foi de primeira classe, mas essa não foi nada comparada as próximas 3 que embarcamos.

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Fizemos uma parada rápida em Nha Trang, cidadezinha litorânea, cheia de turistas, mas sem muita personalidade, foi mesmo uma parada de descanso depois das 10 horas de viagem no ônibus. Dois dias depois embarcamos no ônibus VIP de novo, em direção a Hoi An, cidade histórica e patrimônio cultural da UNESCO. A segunda viagem de ônibus foi ainda pior, foi a combinação de todos os problemas que eu havia listado somando o ar-condicionado a toda potência, fazendo com o Jonathan pegasse um resfriado porque ele teve que me emprestar o cobertor dele no meio da noite. Hoi An é uma vila colonial, com heranças francesas e chinesas, demonstradas em vários monumentos, casas e na gastronomia também, mas não foi somente a parte histórica da cidade que nos chamou atenção, mas também o grande número de ateliers, costurando o que você possa imaginar, ou melhor, o que você desejar, tudo é feito sob encomenda, é só tirar a medida, escolher o tecido e o modelo e esperar ficar pronto, o que leva somente 1 dia, eles copiam qualquer modelo de roupa que você quiser, é só mostrar a foto da revista e pronto, como um passe de mágica, estará pronto no próximo dia. Nessas horas é que se torna muito difícil ser um mochileiro, sem lugar pra carregar mais nada na mochila, a tentação foi muito grande já que os preços são muito baratos e a qualidade quase sempre é ótima. Mas eles não fazem são roupa a medida não, você pode escolher entre uma infinidade de calçados também, escolher o couro e estilo e calçar ele no próximo dia. Mesmo com o meu limite de bagagem eu ainda consegui comprar umas coisinhas, ate convenci o Jonathan a comprar algo também, com a promessa de voltar a esse lugar um dia, com uma mala vazia e comprar tudo que eu tenho direito.

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Partimos para a nossa última e mais longa viagem de ônibus, 17 horas de viagem! As primeiras 5 horas em um ônibus pinga-pinga, caindo aos pedaços, mas pelo menos estávamos em boa companhia, quase todos as pessoas no ônibus eram estrangeiras. Descemos do ônibus, para embarcar no ônibus cama e seguir viagem durante a noite, claro que nesse país, sempre há uma surpresa nos esperando, o nosso ônibus estava lotado e nos tivemos que ser transferidos para uma outra empresa, muito pior que a nossa, viajei o tempo inteiro me segurando no assento, já que eu estava sentada na fileira do meio e na parte de cima, balançando de um lado para o outro e sendo jogada para frente cada vez que o motorista pisava no freio, nem o remédio para dormir que o Jonathan me deu fez efeito e depois de 12 horas de viagem e zero horas de sono, chegamos em Hanoi, a capital do Vietnam, barulhenta e poluída.

Depois de quase 3 semanas no Vietnam, já esta na hora de partir, dessa vez com destino ao Laos, país muito pequeno e recentemente aberto ao turismo. Eu e o Vietnam tivemos uma relação de amor e ódio, amor a culinária, as paisagens, e o caos das cidades. Ódio ao trânsito, os meios de transporte, a dificuldade de comunicar-se com as pessoas, de se expressar e de conseguir com que as pessoas te digam a verdade. Agora nos vamos em busca de sossego, e o Laos vai ser a parada perfeita para relaxar.

Posted by flaviaU 18:34 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Copycat Central

rain 75 °F

After 3 overnight buses in 6 days, it felt really good to finally get up to Hanoi, although we were absolutely exhausted by the time we finally reached our hotel. The final bus ride was terrible, with us being tossed from our bus company to a very budget one, where the “bed” consisted of a 5 foot long cushion with no armrest, so suspended five feet up along curvy bumpy roads required us to tie ourselves in with the seatbelts (literally tie, not buckle). I have to say that driving in Vietnam is the craziest I have seen anywhere, for example when we are on the highway and a moto is passing a bike, which is being passed by a car, and finally our bus is attempting to pass all three, on a two lane road, with a truck bearing down on us, and our driver hitting he horn 35 times per minute, all night long. There is no sense of road repair, and there are hundreds of potholes throughout all roads, and there seems to be no speed limit on any them. Hanoi is even crazier than Saigon, the roads are narrower, there are more motos, and with half of them parked on the sidewalks, walking through the streets is treacherous at best. Exhausted and worn out we attempted to settle in and find a decent meal. It was a pretty tough search to actually find something good, and we settled on something that was probably the worst meal that we’d had so far. Exhausted, hungry, agitated, frustrated, and unhappy with the room that we had occupied with the chain-link fence style mattress and mold on the ceiling, I sensed that Flavia and I were truly closer than we’d been so far to a complete war. We were both on the verge of breaking down, and the decision was made that to save sanity, we had to repack and pay a bit more than we’d like for another hotel to really save the day. Before we could fight with each other, we both were sound asleep, disaster averted!

Hanoi is the city of imposters, well in the business sense that is. Here is the jumping off point for excursions to Halong Bay, and every hotel sells tours, and every nook and small shop sells tours as well. The problem is that no one actually owns any boats, and no tours other than the expensive ones are reputable, and once a company, restaurant or business gets its name in Lonely Planet, 10 shops with the same name, same menu, or sign that says “Recommended by Lonely Planet” will spring up throughout the city, so there is no way to know if you are going to the real thing or an imposter. For example we were told of a good restaurant and we saw the sign and went up the steps to a dingy, stinky room, with birdcages on the ceiling and a decent menu, but just a terrible vibe. Flavia immediately turned around, and when we exited we noticed that 20 feet down the street on the other side there was a restaurant with the same sign, bird cages outside (as opposed to above the tables) and the address was the one that was recommended. They had the same menu as the other restaurant, however this one served a great meal! It’s unheard of to think that someone could move across the street and literally steal your business.

Now that we have settled in and explored a bit, we ended up booking a tour with a more expensive tour company, just to know that we are getting our money’s worth, and that (hopefully) we won’t come back with one of the 1000 horror stories of Halong Bay trips gone terribly wrong. We will be joined by an English couple whom we met on the bus, Rowina and Scott, and we are excited to have some company for this the beautiful trip through the thousands of limestone rocks jutting out of the water, although we are a bit nervous about the weather, but with a flight on Thursday, we really have no choice. Hanoi is fun enough though, although the “No Fun Police” close everything in the city at midnight. We spent last night watching English Football, the beer is still cheap and cold, and good food can be found, with a bit of an effort. We are really looking forward to the two day boat trip to relax and refuel after the taxing bus rides and sleepless nights, and also excited for our flight to Luang Prabang, Laos on Thursday evening.

Posted by JonathanU 16:23 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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