Category Archives: Travel

A busy year ahead

As far as I’m concerned it’s not really the start of the year yet. I’m still on holidays. However with each new day l’m starting to feel the relaxing summer days slip away, and the busy days are coming at me like a steam train. I’m already past the point where I am relaxed enough to sleep in.

This year is going to be a busy one! I have some great plans for the year…plans for study, work and travel. Since they are all things that I am actually pretty excited about, I’m going to tell you all about it.

Study Plans

Perhaps I’m a little crazy but I have enrolled in uni…again…because it would seem 5.5 years wasn’t enough!!
I have enrolled in a Graduate Certificate of Education, which is essentially the first half of a masters. (A masters is 8 units of study, but if you were to do 4 units and bail, you get nothing. So you can do a Grad Cert which is 4 units, you graduate and then whenever you choose to go onto a masters, you have already completed half of it)
Over my two years of part-time study, I intend to complete a specialisation in online/ICT pedagogies. So I’m really looking forward to learning more about how to use ICT more effectively in my classroom, and hopefully a whole lot more!!!

I have also enrolled in a 7 week course through Udacity in how to build/program a search engine. Its only 7 weeks and has been designed for people with no programming knowledge, so hopefully it won’t be too full on. Udacity is a new educational site designed to offer a variety of courses online, for free. As they are new they only seem to have 2 courses available so far, but I expect that to grow pretty quickly. This is an interesting read on Udacity and how it came to be: Udacity and the future of online universities

Work Plans


Having attended a few Professional Learning sessions last year, as well as messing around with each new technology I come across (usually introduced to me by other nerd friends), I have decided I want to change the way I teach my Computer Science class.
I say that I want to change my Computer Science class – the reason I am being so specific, is not to say my other classes don’t matter, but when you have great ideas that involve radical changes, then you have to start somewhere.
So by now you may be wondering what these changes are.. In essence, the idea is to get the students to be a bit more proactive and take responsibility for their learning through an increase in availability of teacher feedback and learning resources. (I think that kind of summaries every teachers goal).
I might break down the “new” Computer Science into the technologies that will be used:

Lesson Blogging I will blog every lesson, prior to the lesson. This means that students will be aware of what will be happening in the lesson and can bring appropriate resources. I will also upload any required notes or task sheet and embed any relevant YouTube clips. In addition to it being useful in the lesson itself, it’s also great for the student who can’t find his copy of that assignment sheet, or also for those who miss a lesson due to illness. I trialled lesson blogs for a portion of last year and the students, as well as their parents, thought it was fantastic
Student Blogging This is one I am unsure about at this stage. I would like to see the students blogging their experiences and reflecting on their learning. It would also be great to see them getting into the blogging interface and learning a little more about web programming from a different angle – especially since a huge number of software engineers develop applications using web interfaces.
However, when I trialled this last year, the kids didn’t respond brilliantly to it, so I may leave it for a year before attempting it again (especially since I am already introducing many other things)
Microsoft OneNote  Using Microsoft OneNote I have created a student notebook with all the worksheets that are expected to complete throughout the year. Each topic has a main tab with a summary of the topic and a checklist of all the activities for that topics (students can tick the boxes as they complete the tasks to keep track of their own work). Then within each tab there is a page per worksheet for that topic. Also at the front of the notebook there is general course info, and a table where student can record the activities they’ve complete and the grades they got – so if they keep it up to date, they will always have a good idea of their level achievement, and if they’re aiming for a specific result, then knowing their grades will indicate where they can do better or slack off (hopefully no one will slack off though!)Thats not the greatest part about OneNote…the greatest part is that they can set notebook to synchronise with a Windows SkyDrive (online storage) and then ‘share’ it with me. So anytime a student does work, I get the update immediately. It also means that if I am looking at their work, and they are struggling with a concept, I can provide assistance by adding in text, audio, video, links – whatever the student needs in order to grasp the concept. This can happen in real-time!! (ok maybe a minute or two delay..but almost instant feedback if we are looking at the document at the same time). This has amazing potential to personalise the level of assistance I can provide students!!
YouTube Tutorials To assist the students in being able to do things for themselves, thus freeing up my time to help others, I will also be making a series of video tutorials and uploading them to my YouTube channel. In programming there are a number of key concepts/structures that can combined in many different ways to produce weird and wonderful programs. I plan on making on video per concept. Each video will have an explanation, complete with one of my amazing drawings outlining the concept. I will then demonstrate how it would be coded in Eclipse (the software we use to write programs in). To finish each clip I will provide a coded example of where and how that concept might be used in an actual program. (I say “will” because I haven’t made these tutorials yet. I have a grand plan in my head and have already made a start on recording and uploading these tutorials, so they are ready to go at the start of the school year)
Laptops For OneNote to really work, I need the students to have a laptop that they can take home with them, that has OneNote on it. Slowly but surely we are working towards a one-to-one environment where every student has access to a computer, and ideally they all have a laptop to use for the year. Before something like this can happen in a big school, it’s a good idea to trial it first. So this year I am really lucky to getting the opportunity to trial it with my Computer Science class. As mentioned, this means that I can be sure OneNote will work properly, it also means I can be confident every student has the required software for programming installed (it astounds me how many students attempt to go a whole school year without installing the free software on their home computer, and then complain to me about not having access to the software from home). I also plan on getting all students set up with a set of Internet browser bookmarks, so I never have to hear “I didn’t know where to find it” (usually in reference to an assignment sheet or my blog). I admit I pushed a bit to get laptops in my classroom, but I also I admit I’m quite stressed about it. There is so much potential for it to have huge benefits to the students, I just really hope that the students do the right thing!!

(If you want to check out my blog and YouTube channel, feel free to have a sticky-beak: http://catscompsci.wordpress.com/. Obviously there are no current lesson plans up, as the school year has not yet begun)

Travel Plans
In true form, I am also trying to squish an awesome holiday into this busy year. June 8th I will be attending my cousins wedding in The Netherlands..which is really exciting!!
I am not going to fly over just for the wedding though, I’m going to take time out and hang out with the family as well as do some sight-seeing.

So I will take four weeks off (mid-May to mid-June … really I am taking 2 weeks off and also making the most of a 2 week term break), I will fly to The Netherlands together with my mum. There we will meet up with my brother and sister-in-law, who will be nearing the end of their 6 month round-the-world trip, and we will hang out with the Dutch rellies.

Because four weeks is way too long to be in one place, Mum is going to England for a few days and Pat, Anna and I will hopefully go to Barcelona for a week to soak up some spanish culture.

I’m really looking forward to showing Pat and Anna around Holland a little bit, so they can see where I used to live and work, and also show them around some of my favourite places. I’m looking forward to a holiday away with the Boertjes (family). I’m really hoping the Barcelona plans go ahead, as I am really keen to check out the Gaudi architecture, try some spanish food, maybe take a cooking class, check out some dancing and basically enjoy the city. Then to finish the holiday I am really excited about seeing ‘little’ cousin marry the man of her dreams!!!

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Siem Reap, Cambodia

13/6/2011

Ho Chi Minh…
Checked into our flight to Siem Reap with no hassles. Boarding the plane I noticed there weren’t many people getting on (14 in total including mum and I, not including airplane staff). We were getting onto a little propeller plane, here the stairs folded down from the side of the plane.
Being the wet season, we flew through a lightning storm (we weren’t hit or anything) and being in a little plane, this meant that it was a bit of a rough trip.
We arrived at Siem Reap at about 6pm. We walked across the tarmac into a gorgeous but very small airport where bought our tourist visa. The visa cost $40US but we only had vietnamese and australian money, we asked if we could pay in aussie dollars and handed him a $50. He said “thats ok” and then wouldn’t give us change. Sneaky bugger.
So then we went through ‘immigration’ here the guy looked at our passports then handed them back, then passing through customs there was no one there to check our declaration forms so we wandered on through. Once we got into the main arrival hall our hostel dude was there to pick us up… in a tuk tuk!!! So we had a nice 20 minute tuk tuk ride to the hostel..
We spent the night in a very cute hostel with some very friendly staff. I got some great advice on some places to go and how to get there!

14/6/2011
We woke up bright and early, had some brekky and the hired a tuk tuk to take us to our hotel (the tour module I booked had us in a nice fancy hotel for 3 nights). So we checked into Casa Angkor and straight away hired a driver to take us to Kulen mountain (we were in a hurry to get going as we knew Kulen mountain closes to visitors at 11am).
Kulen mountain was about 1.5 hours drive away, the last half hour of which was up steep countryside along a very bumpy road. We noticed that many of the trees in this last section each had the same painting on them. It looked kind of like a pictogram of a person with a stick below it (not attached). According to our guide these are markers indicating which direction you should go, and not to go the way it is not pointing as that way is unsafe. As we had passed a sign saying the area was mined (land mined) I had interpreted the pictogram as a warning indicating there were mines. Whichever interpretation you go with, don’t go past the tree line!
At Kulen mountain we wandered through a small village before heading up the big staircase to the pagoda at the top. Kulen mountain has huge rocks everywhere, and at the top of one of these rocks a large reclining buddha has been carved into the stone, and then a pagoda built around it. It was really cool to see a pagoda in the middle of the jungle. The only annoying thing was that there were beggars, little children and other randoms everywhere asking for money. Particularly the children, they follow you around and in a whiny voice say “Just one dollar madam, one dollar”.
We headed part way down Kulen mountain and took a right turn to check out the waterfall. Randomly in the middle of a little village was a beautiful waterfall, probably about 10 metres high. When we got there we were at the top, so we found a little dirt track and followed that down to the bottom. It was stunning! Many people were swimming in it, but we weren’t quite that keen. We did give our feet a wash, which was very refreshing.
Along the drive back we stopped a few times to take some pictures. One of the road side stalls was selling bananas, but not just stock standard yellow bananas, she had yellow, green, orange-red and red-brown. We took a photo because we thought it looked cool. The lady was so lovely she gave us a red-orange banana to try for free. It was delicious!! But no different in flavour to a normal banana. However, bananas in the tropics are smaller and much sweeter than back home.
By the time we got back to the hotel it was around 2pm. We really wanted to do something interesting, but unfortunately most afternoon tours had already started. We really wanted to do a cooking class, but it was too late in the day. (we didn’t go to the temples of Angkor Wat etc because that was part of the tour that would be starting in the morning).
So we caught a tuk tuk to the old market in the city centre. There were some gorgeous little bits and bobs for sale around the markets, and we had a lovely wander around. At one little stall they were offering fish foot massage. This is where there is a tank of little fish, and you put your feet in the tank and the fish eat off all the dead skin. So I gave it a whirl.
There was one tank with little fish and they weren’t too bad. It tickled a bit but you could get used to it. Then it was time to test out the slightly bigger fish. I tried so hard but each time I squealed and pulled my feet out of the water. I have insanely ticklish feet, and not matter ho many times I tried, I couldn’t keep my feet in the water for longer than about 30 seconds!! If you ever get the chance, its worth trying!
A little further down the street we stopped again, but this time for a normal massage. We had a 10 minute foot massage, and it was soooo relaxing!
As it got into evening we found a great little street restaurant where we sat down and ordered some traditional Khmer food. We had beef amok. It was so tasty! The Cambodians use more meat and less vegies in their dishes than the Vietnamese people. They also have a much smaller selection of vegies that they use. As it was happy hour, I also took the opportunity to enjoy a cocktail…for $1.50 why wouldn’t you?!? The restaurant also had a traditional Apsara dancing show, so e watched some of that. It was beautiful to watch, and they had amazing costumes but the movements were so slow. In an hour we only saw 3 different dances.
We ended the evening with a little wander around the night market.

15/6/2011
Our guide Chanra picked us up from the hotel at 8am, and we headed straight to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was one of the ancient cities. It is surrounded by a huge moat, we entered the city via the south gate. This was a big bridge, and both bannisters had a big long snake running the length of the bridge, the snake is called Naga. Then on the left were ‘gods’ and on the right were ‘demons’ and they were each pulling the Naga to represent the fight between good and evil. This is a common theme on several of the buildings.
Inside the moat you first need to travel several hundred metres before getting to the centre of the ancient city. On this drive we spotted some monkeys, so we pulled over to have a look and take some pictures. Mum bought some bananas that we could feed them too. So I held out a banana to the papa monkey, it grabbed it, threw it on the ground and then ran at me and tried to climb up my legs. I screamed, and hid behind the guide! Its rather terrifying to have monkey running at you! I can tell you now the chance of it running to you for a cuddle and very slim! We fed some of the baby monkeys..they tried to run and climb up me too, after this I kept a good distance from the monkeys and stayed close to the guide who was holding onto a stick to scare them away if they got too close (not to hit them, but waving the stick at them was enough to keep them away).
Once in the centre-ish of the ancient city there are a number of amazing structures including: Bayon Temple, Baphoun Temple, Phimeanakas temple, the terrace of the elephants and the terrace of the leper king. Everything is constructed from volcanic rock and sandstone. The foundations are typically made from volcanic rock as it is very hard, on top of the foundations, all the walls roofs, etc are made of the sandstone. Being a softer stone the sandstone was used so that they were able to carve their decorations into it. Many of the carvings illustrate buddhist or hindu beliefs (depending on which temple you are in), some illustrate historical events, and some have sanskrit, the old writing which no one can read any more. On many of the sandstone blocks there were 2 holes. The sandstone blocks all came from Kulen mountain, they were transported down the river, and then for the last section they were dragged by elephants. Two sticks were put in each block, and this somehow provided the means for the elephant to drag it. I would try to describe the buildings, but I think that words can’t really describe the amazing and intricate designs, so you will have to look at the photos.
After exploring the city of Angkor Thom we headed to the ‘jungle temple’, Ta Prohm. This temple was used in Tomb Raider, and it is the one that has the trees growing on and into the stonework. The tree that grows on the buildings is called the Spong Tree. As tourists we love seeing this temple and we all think it is amazing, its probably the favourite of many. Unfortunately though, the trees are causing a lot of damage and as they are grow they are slowly destroying the buildings. Its a bit of catch 22, they want to restore the buildings and keep them well maintained, but the trees that cause the damage are what makes it the tourists’ favourite.
I’m going to watch tomb raider again when I get home to see if I can spot Ta Prohm in it.
After walking through Ta Prohm we were brought to a khmer restaurant near the ancient lake Sra Srang. It was yummy food – as usual. As we had been walking around in he blazing hot sun, it was so good to sit in the shade, near a fan and have a cold drink!
After lunch we headed to the most famous of all the temples in the Siem Reap area: Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a single temple with 5 towers (theres always odd numbers of things as odd numbers are considered lucky). Entering the main gate there was a very long centre causeway heading towards the building with the towers. We climbed many of the towers and it was absolutely awesome. The bas reliefs carved into the galleries are very detailed and cover many amazing stories. The detail that goes into every aspect of every building is astonishing! Again, words can’t really describe it.
After having spent the entire day in full sun, I must admit I was a smidge sunburned on my shoulders. To aid in the cooling off process, we had a swim in the pool once we had been delivered back to the hotel. It was incredibly refreshing. We sat by the poolside and ordered a drink. I ordered an iced tea…and I got a pot of cold black tea!! It wasn’t too bad, but it certainly wasn’t what I had hoped for!
For dinner we headed to pub street and went to a restaurant where we ordered a traditional khmer hot pot. You get a butane cooker on your table, and the pot on top of it has a grill plate in the centre where you cook your meat, and that drips down into a saucepan type thing. It is circular with a dome-ish type grill bit in the middle with a little moat around it. You cook the vegies in the moat and the meat on the grill. It was pretty cool, but a bit too much effort. Great to try it once!

16/6/2011
Once again we were picked up at 8am by our guide Chara, and we headed to a temple a little further afield, Banteay Srei. This is the ‘female temple’ and it is decorated with the ‘female divinity’. It is considered by most Cambodians to be the jewel of all the temples. It is a smaller temple, which has been made from pink sandstone, it is absolutely stunning in its intricate design, but mostly because it is the least ruined of each of the temples.
As soon as we got to Banteay Srei, unfortunately for us, it started BUCKETING with rain. So we had raincoats and umbrellas, but had to wait in the entrance hall for the rain to ease before we could head out to the temple. Even in the rain this temple was gorgeous. I just hope the pictures I took can do it some justice.
After this we headed to Banteay Samre, then to Pre Rup. Now having seen so many temples I can’t remember the distinguishing features of each. But as you can expect, they were both amazing. The rain had eased by then so we were able to ditch the raincoats.
After visiting these temples we were dropped off for some lunch. We ate and then set off again headed for he lake Tonle Sap. In a river way that leads to the lake we caught a boat and putted up the river way through a floating village. We saw schools and universities, markets and many houses. The floating village we went through is considered by some locals to be non-traditional. This is because the village is made up of Thai people. They have built their houses as boats that float on the water. The traditional khmer people live in very high stilted houses in another part of the lake. Unfortunately as the wet season is oly just starting there was not enough water for us to visit the traditional khmer villages.
The thai village was still very interesting, and it is astounding to see the conditions that these people live in. There is so much poverty! The kids were again coming up to us and asking for a dollar. But you can’t give money to everyone..you’d be instantly broke!
After visiting the floating villages we headed back to the other side of town where the temples were and climbed the mountain, and then the temple on top of the mountain, Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset. The temple had 5 tiers and was incredibly steep. Many of the steps going up were about 30cm high but only 10 or 15cm deep, with no hand railings. Up the top there were so many tourists up there hoping to get some good pictures, of course we were included. It was a very pretty sunset. It wasn’t amazing because it was quite cloudy due to al the rain we had had.
For our last night in Siem Reap we went out for dinner and ordered a Cambodian set menu where we got to try some traditional foods. They were all delicious of course!

17/6/2011
Started our morning by packing our bags. At 9:15 we were picked up from the hotel to go to our cooking class. We started the ‘class’ be heading to a house in the local village to see how the poor people live. In a little stilted hut a lady lived with her husband and three kids. They all sleep on grass mats, and cook in a little alcove over a wood fire. On the stove she had a big pot of fried bugs with some kind of crispy fried vegie (looked more like a weed). She also had some grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches put aside for dinner.
In payment for letting us see how she lived we gave her 2kg of white rice. We also asked our guide if it was acceptable to give them some money, and that was ok, so gave them $10, which is about 2 weeks wages.
In our wander over to this house our guide had pointed out different plants that were used for cooking and for medicine. Interesting what they believe certain plants do. For example, if a young coconut falls from a tree a pregnant woman will eat the fruit because it will help the baby ‘drop’ easily in birth.
In the cooking class we learned to make green mango salad, fish amok and sticky rice with palm sugar It was all pretty easy to make and tasted delicious!!
When the cooking class was over we hired a driver for the afternoon to take us to a few more temples. We went to Preah Khan and Neak Pean. Preah Khan was gorgeous, it was a very long temple and you would walk through short gallery after short gallery. In the centre was a memorial stupa containing the ashes of the king (this is one of the few temples still containing ashes, as many other temples were raided and damaged by the French, and then further damaged by the fighting in the time of the Civil War). It was absolutely bucketing with rain the whole time we were at these to temples, so it was a fairly short lived visit.
So now we are back at the hotel waiting for our lift to the airport and I am blogging as fast as I can to upload this while I still have free internet.
I hope you’ve enjoyed travelling with me and I will see you when I am home

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Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong Delta

9/6/2011

We set off from the hotel around 9am, for a self-guided walking tour of Ho Chi Minh city. We started off heading towards the site closest to our hotel: The Reunification Palace. This was South Vietnam’s presidential palace, until 1975 when Saigon surrendered to North Vietnam. Since then the building has been left exactly as is. The furniture and everything is still there. It was quite a nice building.

After this we headed to the War Remnants museum, but in the four blocks walk there we got stuck in a downpour. Its the wet season here, so you sometimes get a sudden downpour and then it stops. So we stood under the awning of a shop for about 20 minutes until it had eased up a bit. We walked the last block to the museum to find it was shut. Many of the museums close in the middle of the day, from around 11:30 to 1:30. So we found out from some locals that the Jade Emperor Pagoda would still be open and we caught a taxi there.

We got stooged by the taxi! It cost us $10 (which was a price he rounded up to..it was 197,200VND so he rounded up to 198,000. RUDE!) to travel around 5km, when you can hire a car for a full day for $30!!

Anyway, the Jade Emperor Pagoda was gorgeous. It was a stunning timber structure, with features of jade. It had some fish ponds outside that had a variety of different turtles and fish.

After spending time at the pagoda, we decided that we could walk back to the War Remnants Museum (not take another taxi), and if we stopped for lunch on the way, it would be open by the time we got there.

On the walk we spotted a scooter parked on the footpath, it had a cage full of puppies on the back. There was also one slightly older puppy tied to the top of the cage. He was driving around the city trying to sell them. He had stopped because a girl wanted to buy one. The little doggies were very cute, and it was awful to see this. I kind of wanted to buy one just to cuddle it and make it feel better about not being locked up.

Of course I couldn’t take a puppy, so with a sad look a the puppies we headed of to the War Remnants Museum to see lots more sad stuff. Here they had heaps of photos, stories and artefacts from the war. It was awful to see what was done to the Southern Vietnamese people, both by the North Vietnamese people as well as the Americans.

The effect of the chemicals used during the war, particularly Agent Orange, is still clearly visible in Ho Chi Minh city. In Vietnam there are 3 million people affected by Agent Orange, born with deformities and disabilities and are unable to look after themselves. In the market we saw a guy who couldn’t use his legs, they were folded up and tucked under his armpits as he dragged himself down the street with thongs on his hands.

After visiting the museum we wandered up ad down the main streets of Saigon, down to the Saigon river and back up. (When referring to the big city area you use the term Ho Chi Minh city, when referring specifically to the center of the city, Saigon is generally the term used). Then we headed to Banh Thanh market, but by this time (6pm-ish) it was closing up for the day. This really surprised me since all shops and restaurants are typically open till about 10pm!

So after all this walking we found restaurant to sit down for some dinner and a drink. It was a pretty average meal. By this time it was dark, and with all the crazy traffic I wanted to try and take some night time shots, so we went for another little wander. We also happened across a small night market & had a bit of a sticky beak.

All up we spent about 12 hours wandering around. It was nice to see many sights, but I have to say I don’t particularly like it here. Its really just another big busy city where people just want your money.

Oh and so far no one has tried to steal from us, but in our travels, basically everyone who had been here has had stuff stolen or people have attempted to steal from them.

10/6/2011

At 8am we were collected from our hotel to head out to the Cu Chi tunnels. It was about 50kms out of Saigon, in the country-side of Ho Chi Minh City. It took us about 1.5hours to get there.

The town of Cu Chi became a military target at war time, so to be able to stay alive the Vietnamese dug tunnels and rooms underground. There were three different levels, but I don’t remember if each level served a different purpose. The tunnels were used to get from room to room, the rooms may have been family ‘houses’, kitchens, uniform rooms, weapons manufacturing rooms etc. There were also many different tunnels heading up to the surface.

We got the opportunity to go through some tunnels (they were especially widened for tourists). Stopping low (not so low for a shorty like me) we walked along a 30metre tunnel about 3.5 meres underground. I didn’t find it scary at all, but it was certainly stiflingly hot!

At one point I also got to climb into an emergency escape tunnel..it was tiny. We lifted a tiny square of timber out of the ground and I dropped into a tiny hole, and ‘covered’ my tracks by putting leaves on top of the square of timber and pulling it down over my head once I was in the escape hole. It was a tiny space and pitch dark!!

We were also provided some of the food that the people lived on – boiled tapioca and you could dip it into a mix of sugar and crushed peanuts. The little dry mix was much tastier than the tapioca!!

So for 20 years the people at Cu Chi lived underground, they came up at night to tend their crops, to watch themselves and to get some fresh air (by the way, there were ventilation holes into the rooms and tunnels, but its not quite the same as being out in the open). All the food they had access to in this time was white rice and tapioca. I found the tunnels very cool, and would have found it interesting to do some more exploring, but the idea of living there is awful!

At the Cu Chi site there was also a shooting range where had the chance to shoot AK47s, M16s or M60s. I would have been keen to shoot an AK47, but you had to buy a minimum of 10 bullets, and I only wanted to take 2 shots. So I gave it a miss, but many other people had a go, and we could hear bursts of gun fire throughout our visit – I guess that also makes the concept a bit more authentic, only the guns weren’t pointed at us!

Back at the hotel, we had some time out before heading off again. We wandered the streets of he backpacker district, mostly just to found some cheap lunch. Unfortunately for us there was some sleazebag Englishman at the same restaurant, being a complete tosser and very loudly implying that the Vietnamese girls are rude for not wanting to f*** him. It was disgusting!! The minute we finished out meal we left!

Just to comment on that concept..it is pretty common to see older white guys here with younger vietnamese women. I call it ‘rent-a-wife’. Not very nice. But then I guess if $100 a month is an average workers wage, then hitting it off with a foreigner who makes that much in a day might not seem like a bad idea. I wouldn’t make that choice for myself, but I can see why some people might.

Since it was only fairly early in the afternoon we headed off to Benh Thanh markets while it was open. It was quite a nice market and the people weren’t too pushy. Mostly every stall has exactly the same as the last, but you occasionally find little gems amongst them. We ended up blowing all our cash on cheap clothes.. so after a while we had to go back to the hotel to get more money to change.

With our Aussie dollars we headed back to the backpacker district to find a money exchange. You just go from one place to the next until you find a rate you are happy with, or you get sick of it. Yesterday we got 21,600VND for $1 and today we were less lucky (got sick of hunting for a good rate) and got 21,300 for $1. Either way it works out well because in the shop if they try to sell you something for $1, they convert with 20,000VND .. so more money is left in my pocket. I don’t remember if I already wrote about it, but in Hoi An I actually bargained with the people to get the rate I wanted..it was great!!
Its a pretty crazy currency. For the last two weeks I have been a millionaire!!!

Anyway, we spent the whole afternoon dawdling and eventually sat down for some food. Mum got some weird conical shells in coconut milk. Its so gross..you just suck the creature out of the shell. I took a photo, but that was as close as I was getting!!

11/6/2011

We had a morning pickup and headed off on the 3hour bus ride to the boat terminal at Cai Be. Also on the tour the young dutch couple on their honeymoon (who were also on the Cu Chi tunnels tour) and a family of 4 from Sydney.

At the boat terminal we all got on board a narrow wooden boat with a thatched roof, and we each got a lazy sling chair to lay back into. We headed off to see a wholesale floating market. Here each boat sells goods, maybe only the only thing maybe more. On top of the boat they have a stick and they tie one example of the product that they’re selling onto the stick. Then people who are looking for that product can easily find it. They may be looking to buy or they may be looking to trade. Everywhere you looked were boats loaded up with Pineapples, or Sweet Potatoes, Rice or Fish and much more. There were also lots of smaller boats zoofing through the masses, some of these were floating take-away restaurants, or drinks stalls. It was pretty cool to see!

After we had passed through the whole market we headed off to a little factory where they produced rice and coconut products. We saw how the popped rice, then made a sugary syrup and mixed it all together to make sweet popped rice cakes…tasted great! We saw the production of rice wine…tasted disgusting! Like the firewater in China. Then we got to see how they made coconut candy, through using the all the coconut juice out of the flesh and cooking it with a caramel syrup until it produced a thick caramel sauce, which when cooled was a tasty chewy coconut lolly. I bought some of these for my students to try when I get home. At this factory it was great to see everything was used. The rice husks and coconut shells were used to feed the fires cooking of each of the products I mentioned.

After checking all this out we sat down and were provided with a cup of lotus tea, which was delicious, and a plate of sweets, including some of the ones we had seen get made. We also had a little look around their shop, which is where I bought the coconut candy. Here is where we also got the chance to try some snake wine. They have a big jar of rice wine, and fill it with dead snakes..it was really rancid! Even worse than firewater.

We hopped back on the boat and headed o the next stop: Asian House. Its a house built in the french colonial style on the outside, but the interior is very traditional Vietnamese. We stopped here for some Pandan leaf tea (disgusting!) and to watch a short folk music/ singing performance. It was pretty cool – but the show we saw in Hoi An was much better.

Back on the boat again, next stop was a ride down the river in a Sampan. The step off our boat onto the sampan was huge, so mum didn’t go on this one. Instead I went with the lady from Sydney. We were both given a conical hat and away we went down the river. Every now and then the lady rowing, who couldn’t speak much english, would point to a tree and say ‘Yum’. So along the way we saw bananas, coconuts, jackfruit and mangosteen growing by the river.

Our next stop was a fruit tree nursery where we saw all the teeny tiny trees ready for sale. I think we saw just about every tropical fruit there is!! Guava, Banana, Coconut, Mango, Mangosteen, Pomelo, Rambutan, Lychee, Longan, Jackfruit, Durian etc. After getting the chance to try some Guava, Pomelo and Jackfruit, e continued on to our lunch destination.

We pulled up at a teeny tiny village where a set menu lunch had been organised for us. Here we had about four courses and all of it was beautifully presented. The fish was upright as though swimming and had been cooked whole, they made all the scales stick out which looked kind of cool. Most of the other dishes had little men made out of cucumber on them. A cucumber man rowing a sampan, a cucumber man carrying baskets of rice etc. Very cool!!

By now it was time to start making tracks/waves to our destination. We headed off on the 3hour boat trip through all the little waterways of the Mekong Delta. We laid back in our lazy chairs and watched the gorgeous landscape pass us by, we saw some local people bathing, swimming, fishing, riding bikes along he river banks, trimming trees. It was so relaxing to just observe the lifestyle and enjoy putting down the river, until…. the big rain clouds rolled across the sky and it started bucketing with rain, the wind came up and caused big waves. Our guide gave us each a little plastic poncho and we all tried to huddle in spots where we would stay a little bit dry. We also had to pull up along the river bank until the rain and wind eased off. In such a shallow boat the waves can be very dangerous, especially since we ere coming up to cross one of the main branches of the Mekong river.

Once it was safe enough we travelled then last 20 minutes to Can Tho city, which is the hub of the Mekong Delta. We walked through the drizzle to our hotels where we checked in and dried off.

By this time the sun had set and it was time for food, so mum and I headed off to wander the streets and see what we could find. After not too long we found a restaurant that had english menu’s that wasn’t too westernized. Here the ‘Speciality Dish’ was snake, so we thought we’d better give it a whirl. We ordered a sate flavoured snake dish, and as a backup we ordered some fried rice and squid. The snake had a rather non-descript flavour. It was grainier than most meats and didn’t have a heap of flavour (though it may have been masked by the sate sauce). All in all it wasn’t too bad, the worst part is knowing what you are eating.

After bit more of a wander we headed to the top floor of our hotel to have cuppa at the rooftop cafe overlooking the lights of the city.

12/6/2011

The aim for the morning was to get to the market early, before there were too many tourists and before it got too hot. So we left the hotel at 6am, hopped on another little boat and headed down the river. This was another wholesale market, but being in the morning it was much busier. Boats were heavily loaded with their fruits and vegetables. In trading good they would throw their fruit across to the person on the other boat.

Because many people can’t be bothered going to the effort of getting out in a boat to buy their food they go to a local (land-based) market to buy stuff. Of course all the people selling at these markets had already been out on the river themselves to buy their goods. So after, we had passed through the floating market we were dropped off at a local market to check it out. We got off the boat and walked through the dirty mud around the market.

One of the first stalls we passed had big tubs of live fish, one of the fish was squirming and carrying on like a pork chop until it flew out of the bucket and slapped me on the leg. I squealed like a little girl!! For the rest of the morning, until I had a chance to wash my feet/legs, I was very conscious of my fish slime leg..uggggg!!!

Around the market we saw all the usual fruit, veg, meat and fish as well as the additional stuff like tripe, pigs liver, pigs head, frog, chicken foetus etc. It was interesting to look at but very smelly and dirty. We spent about 2.5hours exploring the floating and non-floating markets before heading back to the hotel for breakfast & to pack up. I was very happy to wash my feet and legs once we got back to the hotel!!

Once packed up we hopped on the bus and headed back to Saigon .. yet anothr 3 hour bus ride. I must admit, I did lay down (very uncomfortably) and doze most of the way.

Once back in Saigon, we weighed up our options for the afternoon before deciding to have some lunch and then go to the Zoo.

Next to our hotel is a Beef noodle house. So we popped in for a bite to eat and I ordered what I thought was pretty stock standard beef noodle soup. Much to my displeasure the meat didn’t look a whole lot like normal beef. We decided that based on appearance it had to be some kind of organ. I voted mum be the taste tester. She couldn’t really tell what it was but I am pretty sure it was cows testicles. Having already eaten these disgusting things in China I was not prepared to do it again! So I chucked all the pieces of ‘meat’ out on to a separate plate and proceeded to eat the rest of the noodle soup. I was very cheesed off!!!!

So with one unhappy duck, we caught a cab to the zoo. We ere lucky with our cab this time, our tour guide had told us to stick with the cab company ‘Vinasun’ because they are always fair and honest. So this time we travelled further than when we went to the Jade Emperor Pagoda and it only cost about $2.50. Much better!!

The zoo..I’m a bit of sucker for the zoo. I really love to look at animals, especially monkeys, but in China and now also in Vietnam I have been horrified to see the animals. They are all in tiny enclosures, mostly made of concrete, and they all look sick and unhappy. I think a part of the problem is the Vietnamese people who visit the zoo. They throw food and rubbish into the enclosures. I saw an obese orang-utan drinking ice tea from a plastic bottle. I saw a man throw a coke can at a tiger to try make it move. I saw people poking their hands into crocodile and lion enclosures…of course the animals were going to snap at them! It was pretty awful!

After the early start and several hours wandering in the warmth of the day, we headed back to the hotel for some time out. Catching up on blog writing, doing some reading etc.

By late evening we headed out to the optometrist to pick up our new glasses. They’re so pretty!! I am stoked with them. They are pretty pink (imitation) Miu Miu frames. Mum got some nice orange frames and she’s really happy with her glasses too.

So then we went to find somewhere to eat. Just down the street from the optometrist we found a nice local restaurant. After my lunch disaster I really wanted something nice and non-freaky to eat. But curiosity got the better of me and I ordered something called Four Seasons Beef. I tried to ask the waiter what was in it and he couldn’t really understand what I was asking, and even if he could he wouldn’t have been able to answer me.

Out came my food, it was a clay pot with a lid, sitting on top of a plate that had chunks of white stuff (looked kind of like kopha, must have been same kind of fat). Then the guy lit the white stuff and over the next 10-15 minutes, my dish cooked in the pot while displaying an assortment of different coloured flames. Eventually when I got to eat it, it was delicious! It was beef with oil, herbs, some green veggies, and peanuts and I got some steamed rice to go with it. I took a risk and this time it paid off!!

To top off the evening we stopped off at the super popular cafe across the street from our hotel and had a vanilla milkshake..yum!

13/6/2011

After attempting to sleep in (I managed to sleep till 6am, mum till 8am), we got up, had some brekky and started packing.

Once we had checked out, organised our airport taxi and stored our luggage for the day, we headed off to spend another half day in the city. We started by catching a taxi to the market in China Town ‘Binh Tay’. This market was huge, and the hallways so narrow. You had about 30cm width to walk through, in which you had to pass other people, workers carrying loads of boxes would push past you, mum actually got pushed into a stall and fell against the stall holder. The products weren’t very interesting and with all the pushing ans shoving we got pretty sick of it pretty quickly. I lost count of the times I got shoved, almost run into by trolleys and almost run over by motorbikes.

I have decided that if anyone to ask me I would say that Ho Chi Minh city is not worth visiting. Some of the sights in the city are interesting but there aren’t many worth seeing, the sights outside of the city are definitely worth visiting. But Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) is smelly and dirty, and full of extremely rude people.

So after china town we headed back to the main market Benh Thanh and got some last minute souvenirs. We stopped for a frozen yoghurt and then wandered back to the hotel to catch out taxi to the airport.

This concludes the Vietnam leg of the journey…tonight we will be in Cambodia.

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Hoi An

5/6/2011

We had an 8am flight to Da Nang, so this meant we had to catch a taxi at 5:15am to allow for an hour drive and traffic. I was surprised at how many people were up and about so early in the morning. People were out getting their morning exercise, playing badminton, setting up their stall for the day, butchering a cow on the side of the road ready to sell the meat (it was pretty freaky seeing a cow rib cage in the street!)

By 6:15 we were at the boarding gate, so we sat down a a cafe to order a cup of tea. They had two brands of tea on the list: Lipton and Dilmah. Since mum drinks Dilmah at home we both ordered a cup…little did we know that it was strawberry tea! To make it worse, hey don’t put in fresh milk, or even long life milk, they put in sweetened condensed milk. So there we sat with our two cups of strawberry sugar tea. Mum couldn’t drink it so she ordered lipton tea, and while it wasn’t fantastic I drank the two cups of strawberry tea.

We got to Da Nang to 9:30 and the next challenge was to find a taxi that would take us to Hoi An for a reasonable price. The difficulty here is that taxi scams are a major problem in the area. On a bus a few days ago we heard a girl saying she had been dumped in the middle of nowhere by the taxi driver, and then he demanded more money. So in hot weather she had to lug her baggage for several km’s. So we were a little tense, but luckily our driver took us where we needed to go. The only annoying thing was that a few blocks before our hotel he stopped and gave his friend a ‘lift’. She keep chattering to us to try convince us to visit her clothes shop. She was a bit pushy. Later on when we were wandering the streets she spotted us and virtually dragged us to her shop. We had a little flick at the catalogue and said we didn’t need anything. I hate being forced to go places against my will, and I certainly wasn’t going to spend money with someone like that!

So anyway, the hotel is basically in the middle of the city and is a bit of a luxury, it has hot water (every other hotel so far has forced us into old showers) and a swimming pool.

From the hotel it is only a few minutes walk to the ‘old city’ and the river. There are heaps off tiny little streets and laneways, its quite an adventure just to wander around. As many of the buildings you walk past are shops, I was quite surprised that they aren’t all hassling you to come into the shop. If you do go in for a look, sometimes they try to get you to buy stuff, but not all the time…its great to have that more laid back approach, it makes shopping more pleasant.

So in regards to shopping, Hoi An is very well known for all the tailors. It is quite cheap to get tailor made clothes. So in the spirit of things that is exactly what I did. At one shop I picked out a few designs for business shirts and a skirt, and at another shop I picked out some nice business-ish dresses. So they got my measurements, took a deposit and asked me to come back in two days. All these clothes together only cost around $80 or so…bargain!! Just keep your fingers crossed that they fit right and look good!

In addition to shopping we bought a ticket for the old city. This provides admission to 5 sights around the city, cultural buildings, temples etc. The good thing about it is that it doesn’t have to be used all in one day. So over the four days we can check out different things when we feel like it. The one thing we did do was check out the Japanese covered bridge..it was pretty. We had actually crossed it and continued on our way before we realised that just the bridge was the ‘sight’ covered by the ticket. Had I realised sooner I would have walked slower over it!!

For the majority of the day we just wandered the streets, looking in shops, and stopping for food and drink.

The other thing we wanted to see as part of the ticket, was a traditional dancing show, so we dutifully turned up at 8:45 ready for a 9:30 show. But once we got there we saw a sign that said “every day except Sunday”. So we post-poned that one and headed back to the hotel.

On the way to the hotel we bumped into Clive, who we had met on the Ha Long Bay trip, so we stopped to join him for a drink. Was great to have a catch up chat!!

6/6/2011

Our day started with a cooking class with the Thuan Tinh cooking school. We were picked up from the hotel and taken to the local markets. Here we wandered around and bought fresh herbs and vegetables, chicken bones, beef, prawns and pineapple to use for the dishes we were to learn to cook.

The market was another one of those scary smelly experiences where you choose your ingredients while they are still alive, and it is killed and butchered on the spot for you. The other freaky aspect was that the paths between the stall holders were tiny and crowded with people, but even then people on scooters would ride through and toot for you to move. I almost got run over a few times!

Once we had our ingredients we headed to the river and hopped on a boat, this took us for about a half hour trip up river to the island of Thuan Tinh. The location we arrived at was on old holiday resort that didn’t look like it had been used in 20 years. Here we were each given a bottle of water and a conical Vietnamese hat to wear – it was another scorcher of a day.

The first thing we did on the island was to hope in a little row boat and row to the main village on the island. The trip was down a little river flanked by water coconut palms. It was gorgeous. In the village we me a local family and they gave us some fried rice pancakes to taste. They were interesting but nothing special.

The main reason we had headed to the village was not for the pancakes, but to make some rice milk. There was a big stone grinder thing. You put the rice in the top together with some water and turn the grinding stone until the water was gone, the stuff you ground up Comes out at the bottom. You then pour back in what came out, and you keep going until you end up with thick white rice milk.

We took our freshly ground rice milk and rowed back to the old resort where we would do some cooking. Here we cooked four dishes: Vietnamese pork & shrimp spring rolls, crispy fried pancakes with pork and shrimp, beef noodle salad and the traditional beef noodle soup (using the chicken stock we made using the chicken bones we got at the market – I had been stressing when I saw chicken bones as an ingredient, but as a stock, I wasn’t expected to chew any bones!)
Everything we made was really tasty, and it was such a fun experience.

Back in Hoi An, we did some more wandering and some more shopping. At one jewellery store the girl running the store had the most adorable 2 month old puppy (Jack Russell I think). So I promptly plonked myself down on the floor of the shop and played with puppy. Such a cutie, she was called Mimi and she loved tummy rubs and just wanted to chew my fingers.

When we were tired of walking we sat down at a cafe and wrote some postcards while sipping tropical fruit mocktails. It was so relaxing! Hoi An is such a different pace to Hanoi. Its a very refreshing change.

In the evening we had planned to go see the traditional dancing show, since it had been closed on Sunday. We had learned that it was Vietnamese New Year, so being a public holiday the show was to be post-poned for another night. Instead we took a taxi to the nearby beach Cua Dai, we were told that this was the place to go for seafood.

At Cua Dai we wandered a short way along the beach, and caught the tail end of a gorgeous sunset. The water at the beach was full of people swimming..hundreds of people!! But we weren’t there to swim, so we wandered along the beach a bi before heading to the nearby streets to find a restaurant.

We sat down at a cute little restaurant and ordered some beer, prawn spring rolls, charcoal grilled squid and pineapple and stir fried crab and vegetable noodles. It was delicious!

Something I have noticed here is that it is often cheaper to buy beer than it is to buy water. It seems stupid, but either way I’m enjoying the local beers. For those of you dumb-founded at my sudden beer drinking, I don’t mind beer, but only when the weather is hot.

7/6/2011

At 4:45am we were sitting outside our hotel waiting to go on our ‘sunrise’ tour of My Son temple ruins. I was getting a little agitated because it was getting lighter and lighter. Eventually we got picked up, then we had to pick up more people, then we had to stop for breakfast and by the time we were on the way the sun was already up. We, and a few others had only booked the sunrise tour to see the sunrise over the ruins. It turned out it was really only an ‘early start’ tour, to get to the ruins before the day got too hot and before the other tourists. So we were pretty disappointed.

Aside from the lack of sunrise, the ruins were beautiful, and it was amazing that they are 1200 years old, and even after Vietnam got bombed (you could see bomb craters around the place), some of it is still standing.

Once we got back to the hotel we had some breakfast and a cup of tea. Then headed off to wander the streets once more. We spotted a place with awesome sandals, so ended up getting fitted for new sandals – got to choose the design and materials. Continuing along we found some gorgeous jewellery, and then we stopped for a massage. It was more expensive than on Cat Ba Island, here we paid $5 for a 30 minute foot massage. The guy was offering to do a full body massage for $10, so we may go back.

From there we headed back into the old part of town where we found a nice restaurant overlooking the river, and had some lunch. After that we headed to see a traditional folk music/dance performance at the Hoi An Handicraft workshop.

The performance was pretty cool, the band had lots of funky old school instruments, the singing wasn’t fantastic to listen to, but the dancing was beautiful.

Once the performance finished we looked around the workshop, we saw people making lanterns, carving wood, carving stone, embroidering pictures and making jute sleeping mats. It was really interesting to see how each of these things were done.

By the evening we went back to the optometrist to fit and collect our new glasses, then off to the first tailor to fit and collect shirts, and to the last tailor to fit and collect dresses. Everything we had made is fabulous! We still have to go fit out new sandals tomorrow.

We spent some time wandering around before finding a nice restaurant for a dinner. The place we went was great and cheap! It was 15cents for a glass of beer! They also offered set menu’s. So for a four course dinner and beer it cost a whopping $3.65!!

After dinner we popped in o a bar/cafe to have a drink before heading back to the hotel, what I found really amusing was that they had an air-conditioner on to cool the place down…it was set to 31degrees!!

Just another quick observation, Hoi An is stunning in the evening, almost anywhere you go you will see lanterns hanging in trees, on buildings strung across the road etc. Its enchanting!

8/6/2011

As our last day in Hoi An and with no set plans we started the day by sleeping in, at least mum did. I was unsuccessful at my attempt to sleep in and was wide awake by 6am. We had a leisurely breakfast before starting on packing all our purchases … will it all fit?

Todays plans include collecting our new sandals, getting a massage, enjoying some good food, wandering around taking in the atmosphere, and then flying out to Ho Chi Minh City in the afternoon.

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Ha Long Bay, Mai Chau and Hanoi

1/6/2011

We woke up after a restful sleep (much better sleeping in a hotel than in a boat!) and headed off to the jetty shortly after, to get the boat back to Ha Long City. Getting up was a massive challenge!! My calves were sooooo tight after yesterdays hike! I felt like an old nanna hobbling around.

The boat ride was again very peaceful, the haze was a bit thinner and we also travelled through an area of the bay that had a greater density of islands, so the scenery was a bit more colour-rich.

At one point in our journey we stopped at the biggest floating village in Ha Long. Here mum and I, and four others, rented a little row boat complete with a woman to row for us. She took us on a little tour of the area, and rowed through tunnels into other small bays (I don’t know if bay is the right word… The tunnel was the only way in/out and once in here it was vaguely circular with water at the bottom and sheer cliffs around). It was amazing!!

After our brief excursion we had lunch aboard the boat as it made its way into Ha Long City. At Ha Long city we caught a bus back to Hanoi. The 3 hour bus trip was terrible, it was a bit bigger than a normal minivan, no air conditioning, and we were crammed in 4 per row, and about 6 rows, plus luggage piled up on the front seats. I now know what sardine in a hot tin feels like!

Once we were finally checked into our hostel in hanoi,it was time for some exploring! So for a few hours we wandered around the streets checked out the local shops. I bought a cute dress for $35..pretty sure I paid too much for it, but that’s ok. We also sat down at a local food stall on the side of the street and had some food and a few beers. A big meal to feed 2 people came to a grand total of $5!!

Mum found wandering the streets terrifying at times. Most of the time scooters are parked on the footpath so you have to walk on the road, and the traffic is pretty crazy: bicycles, scooters and cars swerving like mad people down the road! Walking down the street is a challenge in itself, but crossing the road is even harder!! without any pedestrian crossings and no traffic lights for the cars it is a free-for-all. You just have to eye off your destination, walk at a steady pace and hope for the best!

2/6/2011

After brekky our guide for the Mai Chau tour, Hung, picked us up & we headed off down the highway. Excitingly for us, the tour consisted of the two of our,our guide, Hung and our driver. The distance to Mau Chau is 155km, with an expected travel time of 4 hours!!! When you hit a max speed of 65km/h down the highway, no wonder it takes so bloody long!

Once we were out of Hanoi (which in itself takes forever), the drive was through gorgeous countryside. Along the way Hung was more than happy to explain things we came across. For example in the middle of the field it is quite common to see a grave with a big headstone. In Vietnam, they believe in reincarnation, when someone dies they are buried in a wooden coffin on the family land. After three years (when just a skeleton remains) they are dug up, dressed in new clothes and put in a new concrete or steel coffin and buried again. The idea is that you are given new clothes and a new house for your new life.

Getting closer to Mai Chau the landscape was very mountainous, planted into the hillsides were tiers of green tea plants and the valleys were full of rice paddies. In the middle of some rice paddies in a valley lay a village of stilted houses, this was a village called Lac (1) in Mai Chau. We ‘checked in’ (dumped our bags in a room) and had some lunch. It was ridiculously hot, so we had a quick wander round the village before returning to our stilt house to sit in the shade by the fan.

In our short wander we checked out some more of the houses around the village. Virtually each house has a little shop of handmade goods in the ‘downstairs’. At one particular house we were looking at some silk tapestries, and had a look at the tapestry that was partially complete on a loom, it was gold silk. The lady that was making these particular tapestries showed us out the back of her place, that she had a dozen or so trays full of silk worms munching on mulberry leaves. When she is short on leaves she carries a big wicker basket on her head and collects more mulberry leaves from the trees in the mountains. Mum and I were surprised at just how much these villagers do for themselves. Obviously they try to make extra income by selling their products to tourists, but I think they are so self-sufficient that the tourists disappearing would not negatively impact them at all.

Once the day had cooled down a little we headed off on a bike ride around some of the neighbouring villages. We started by riding through the rice paddies belonging to the local farmers (on the little path of course). While it looks like one big rice field, each small plot is separated by a small raised section of land. Beyond the rice paddies we past crops of corn, peanuts and squash. We followed the path up and over a bridge, where we paused to watch the water buffalo cool down in the river, and continued on to the next village, Lac (2).

This village didn’t have any crops as they were separate from the houses and we had already passed them. The village itself was quite dry and dusty and was just full of houses. Here we popped in to visit a friend of Hung, her name was Xiaun (I think). She invited us in for some Vietnamese green tree and was most delighted to have us visit her home, she was also thrilled to show off the photos and postcards she had stuck all over the walls, that she had received from previous visitors. For a living she was a farmer, but also made tapestries, and we ended up buying a few scarf/shawl type things in a range of gorgeous colours. I think they are made of silk, but a coarser grade than we usually identify with silk (it depends on how it is spun as to how coarse or fine it is).

After our visit with Xiaun, we cycled to another village, Van. This one was a little higher in the hills and had a completely different feel to it. The houses were built on a slope, each house had its own crop/fish pond and animals at their house, not separate like in Lac. It was a lot more moist here, and with more trees, it had a real rainforest feel about it. Both villages were gorgeous, but completely different.

After all his cycling we were dripping with sweat, exhausted and hungry, so we headed back for dinner. Also staying at the same house was a big school group, and we were invited by them to go along to ‘dancing and party’. A little hesitant about this idea, going along turned out to be the right choice!

It was the first day of the lunar month, and this is cause for small celebration in the Lac village. Many people from Lac (1) and Lac (2) walked in the dark to a field adjacent to Lac (2). Here a big bonfire was lit, and the local White Thai (the White Thai are the minority group that live in Mai Chau) sang traditional songs and did some traditional dancing. Apart from the very rude and very noisy kids, it was a fantastic experience! To conclude the evening, everyone was invited to drink from a communal jar of traditional rice wine. It was very sweet, and didn’t have the burning sensation of the ‘fire water’ in China.

3/6/2011

With the village lights on all night and loud silly kids in the next room, we got very little sleep. From 5am I didn’t have any hope of sleeping any more. So at around 6am I got up and wandered through the village. It was so relaxing to dawdle around while the farmers were already out working in their fields, and any tourists were still in bed. Also the villagers were still setting up for the day, so weren’t hassling me about buying things.

By about 7:30 we had had breakfast and were packed up and ready to go. We popped in to Van village for another quick look around, before starting the massively long drive to the province of Ninh Binh.

With all the rough back roads, huge potholes and herds of cows I think that we had an average speed of 40km/h. We arrived at the old capital city of Vietnam, Hoa Lu, after about 4.5 hours of driving. Here Hung explained about the first king of Vietnam, and the his successors. It was pretty interesting, but with all the driving and the heat I didn’t really absorb much information. The temples there were very pretty, but there was not a whole lot left as it was not looked after for a long period of time, and the only bit theres now have undergone heavy duty restoration.

By his time we were very hungry so we were provided lunch at a local restaurant. In the Ninh Binh province goat is a speciality..so guess what one of the dishes was that we had for lunch??? You got it, Goat! As everyone knows I am not the biggest meat lover, but I did my part and ate goat. I tasted fine, the way it was marinated and cooked just tasted like chicken. So I ate it and my taste-buds told my head that it was ok, but I can tell you I was having serious mental issues coping with the concept.

The last our item was to be taken for a boat ride down a river between the rice paddies in an area full of limestone mountains. It is kind of like Ha Long Bay with sheer mountains popping up in the middle of nowhere, but rather than being in the sea, it is on land. So we spent a very peaceful 1.5hours being rowed along a river, through caves surrounded by rice green rice paddies and amazing limestone cliffs.

By now the Mai Chau tour module was complete, so we hopped back in the car or the remaining 3hour drive back to Hanoi. After 7.5 hours driving in one day we were pretty over it!

We were also both VERY excited to have a shower!! The ones in the village weren’t all that flash. On the topic of showers..so far they always seem to be cold, or you have to hold the shower head with one hand and wash yourself with the other. I am looking forward to using a shower where the shower head stays attached to the wall, and where I have the option of warm water. Lucky the weather is so hot that a cold shower isn’t too big a problem!

Just another quick comment before I forget, in Mau Chau we saw a girl with VERY long hair. Some girls grow their hair very very long, then when they cut it they sell it. This then gets used for things like hair extensions. Just another creative way to make an income- obviously with the time it takes to grow hair, you certainly can’t rely on it as a steady income!

4/6/2011

Today was a more chilled day, we planned to see a few sights but mostly just wander the streets.

We started by heading off to Hoan Kiem Lake. Its a big lake in the centre of Hanoi. At the top end of the lake we firstly bought tickets for the evening water puppet show, then headed across a beautiful red bridge to a little island to visit the Ngoc Son temple. The little island had many different trees, ranging from big to bonsai. The temple itself was nice, but nothing amazing, the scenery just outside the temple was the highlight.

We headed back over the bridge and proceeded to walk around the lake. Aside from the sweltering heat of a 38 degree day, it was a rather relaxing stroll. We saw an old Vietnamese man with his white hair in a bun on his head and wispy white beard, playing some traditional sounding music on a wooden flute type instrument. It was such a classic shot! Further around the lake we bought some sugar cane juice, you buy it in a plastic bag with a straw sticking out the top, and then we again paused for another musician, this was a slightly less old Vietnamese man playing the violin. After strolling for a while we stopped at a cafe for a breather. We sat in the shade overlooking the lake, mum sipping Papaya Juice and me tucking into a strawberry sundae.

After our little break we headed off again, we wandered some of the main shopping streets and checked out a market, we did make a few purchases along the way. By about 1pm we were pretty knackered and hungry so we stopped at a food stall in some random back street to eat Banh Tom with the locals. This was some kind of deep fried fritter, made of taro and whole small prawns, it was served with some kind of spicy soup that you dip the fritters into. I was fairly weirded out by eating who prawns, heads, legs, shells etc, but they tasted pretty good.

With some food in our bellies we headed off to check out Quan Chuong Gate and Bach Ma temple. They were both very beautiful. There was no information about the gate, but I am guessing it used to be the entrance to the city.

By 2pm we headed back to the hostel for a cold drink and a nap, so we would be fresh for another wander in the evening.

After catching up on some blog writing and a cool down we headed back outdoors. We went straight to the Thanh Long Water Puppet Theatre to see the show we bookd earlier in the day. Inside the theatre was a nicely set up stage, to the left was a band and at the front was a temple type structure, and in front of that a pond (about waist deep if you are standing in it). The band played fantastic traditional music, and the puppets played out the story of the old city being moved from Hou Lu to Hanoi, and the story of the king who saw a golden dragon rising up from Hanoi and this was the good omen to  move the capital to this location. The show wasn’t spectacular, but it was very interesting and I have certainly never seen anything like it.

After the show we stopped at some random food stall for dinner, and it was pretty gross (but for $2 it didn’t matter that we didn’t like it). After that I was a bit sick of all the random food, so we went to restaurant that had a menu in english as well as Vietnamese. Here we ordered a delicious banquet for two: Pho Bo (traditional beef noodle soup), ‘Ha Long Bay’ crab spring rolls and chicken with cashews and pineapple. Yummo!!!

After letting the food settle we headed to the night market. It was so crazy busy that after 2 blocks we spat it and headed back. We stopped at a few nice shops on the walk back to the hostel and got some silk sleeping bag liners for a bargain of $4 each!!!

To get a feel for the traffic, I filmed us crossing the road..this is the back street in the old quarter where our hostel is. In the film you can see the hostel across the road is our destination.

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First few Days in Vietnam

29/5/2011

After a night lacking in sleep, I got up at 4am to get read for the red-eye flight to Melbourne. Once in Melbourne we headed to the International terminal to check into our next flight. Standing in the queue were Vietnamese families with boxes and boxes of stuff. We learned that it is a tradition amongst Vietnamese that you have to give presents to EVERYONE in your family when returning from a trip, so each person has met their luggage limit of 30kg. Its amazing that the plane doesn’t fall out of the sky with all that weight!

Sitting at the departure gate mum and I were wondering what kind of food we would get on the plane. I said “What do I do if I have to choose between fish & pork?” (I don’t like either). So we get on the plane, settle in, then check out the menu, and what do you think was on it?!?! The choice of fish or pork!! I chose the pork…it ended up being ok, but still not on my my list of ‘likes’.

After a 1.5 hour transit in Ho Chi Minh, we were finally on the last leg. We arrived in Hanoi around 9:30 local time, and got to the hotel and to bed around 10:30 (1:30am tassie time). So we had an epic 21 hour first day!

 

30/5/2011

The morning got off to a start with us being picked up for out first our module: Ha Long Bay. The bus took off, expertly navigating Hanoi traffic, the driver did a great job dodging trucks and scooters, as well as the occasional cow or chicken. After driving for about 1.5 hours we stopped for a short break. We took the opportunity to get some water, and cool off with an ice cream. The choice of flavours was interesting and I ended up trying the coconut and green bean…it wasn’t terrible, but I don’t plan on having it again in a hurry!

We hopped back on the bus to continue onto Ha Long Bay. I managed to doze off for the rest of the bus trip which was great! When we finally got to Ha Long City we met the rest of our group (there were 14 of us in total), then all got on to a beautiful 3 storey traditional junk & headed off towards the islands of Ha Long Bay. It was so relaxing to sit on the top deck, soaking up the sun and the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately it was very hazy, so all the pics are rather grey, but it was still stunning.

Ha Long Bay is made up of over 2000 islands, some big, some small. In the middle of a cluster of islands we pulled up o the jetty and got off to go and explore some caves in the mountainside. To get to the caves we had to walk about heaps of stairs, then descend some steps into a cavern. There were lots of stalagmites and stalagtites. The textures on the cave ceiling were amazing! After following through each of the caverns we ended up on a viewing platform on the side of a cliff…great view!!

We then headed back to the boat, where we motored up to a floating market stall hat rented out kayaks. Here I buddied up with nice Englishman called Clive, and we paddled around the floating villages, little islands and in/out of caves for an hour. Though the water looked a bit dirty to me, it was great fun!!

Shortly after our kayaking we were taken to the beach for some swimming – I’m pretty sure it was man-made and the sand imported. Mum and I both went in for a dip…but I felt pretty disgusting afterwards and couldn’t wait to have a shower (pity there was no hot water on he boat) To finish up the day I sat out on the deck chatting to Clive, and enjoying a local Hanoi beer.

 

 

31/5/2011

I woke up bright and early at 6am, opened the door to my room and looked out over a most serene landscape. There was a light mist in the bay, the water was perfectly calm, and there were a dozen or so, beautiful old junks moored in the area. I sat up on the top deck and enjoyed the peace and quiet, listening to the insects buzzing on the islands. After breakfast the anchor was lifted and we started motoring towards Cat Ba Island.

It was a very pleasant 1.5 hour journey, navigating between all the small islands. Once we arrived at Cat Ba we hopped on the bus and headed to the national park, where a select few of us attempted the hill hike to the top. In 30 degree humid weather, climbing up a mountain like a goat, every part of my body was dripping with sweat! It was a gorgeous rainforest on a limestone mountain, I could hear all sorts of birds and also monkeys. Unfortunately we didn’t see any monkeys though. The last 50 metres of he hike was virtually straight up, and climbing rusted out ladders. At the very top was a steel lookout tower, I think it was held together by rust!! I climbed up it nonetheless and took a moment to appreciate the stunning view of the mountains.

When we got back to the bottom we were again bundled onto the bus and we headed to the other side of the island to check in to our hotel. Here we checked in, had a shower to cool down, ate some lunch and were then let loose for a free afternoon. Mum and I twaddled off in the direction of the markets. We got to a massage parlour and decided to spoil ourselves, so for $6.50 mum had a half hour shoulder massage and I had a half hour foot massage. I tell you what..I was in heaven. Hiking 1.5 hours on rocky terrain in flip flops really doesn’t do any good for your feet!!

Once we were done with the massages we continued on for a bit, checking out all the brightly coloured wares for sale. We stopped at a river stall and bought a coconut. They chop the top off for you and you drink the coconut juice out with a straw. Once all the juice is finished, they slice the coconut in half, so that you are able to eat the rest of the fruit. Once again we continued on, and by this stage we had found the markets. Here we could buy just about anything, preserved snakes, dried fish, live chickens or fish that they kill on site for you. We stuck with the safer option and bought some fresh fruit: Rambutan and Mangosteen.

We continued wandering the markets till we had seen everything and then headed towards the river where we wandered, checked out the boats, then sat down to eat our fruit. By this stage we had very sticky fingers, so we walked back to the hotel to wash our hands and stop for a quick breather. When we tried to take the elevator we soon realised there was no power. At this point we realised that power being switched off is a trend.. through the middle of the day people everywhere turnoff the electricity. Very weird!

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Ready, Set, Pack….

I am thoroughly looking forward to my next adventure. My mumsy and I are heading off for a 3 week adventure around Vietnam and Cambodia. We are doing a bunch of tour modules, as well as having a bit of chill-out time.

We start our travels in Hanoi, from there we will check out Ha Long Bay and the Mau Chau Hill Tribes. Then we fly to Hoi An, where we take it easy for a few days. After soaking up some culture we fly to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) where we tour around the city and the Mekong Delta. Then to wrap up the trip we fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia to check out the temples, markets etc.

So in preparation for this three week adventure, I have done much planning…

  • I have two fantastic teachers lined up to take my classes (since I am sneakily taking one extra week of holidays) and this means that I have done heaps of lesson planning in advance.
  • So I don’t lose the footy tipping at work, I have put in all my tips until Term 2. To correct that, I don’t mind losing if I just made terrible choices, but I don’t want to lose because I didn’t even attempt it.
  • I have organised for a gorgeous friend to look after my much loved puppy dog and my house.
  • I have cancelled my saturday newspaper delivery
  • … and of course I have started to make piles of everything I need to pack


Also, the when I was in china I bought a new travel mascot. I think its a lion..but its kind of hard to tell.

At the moment he is attached to the front of my day pack along with the Beijing olympics mascot, Hai Bao, and my heavy duty luggage tag.

The only problem is, he doesn’t have a name.  Please help me out….

So tomorrow is a day of packing, and then Mum and I jet off on Sunday mornings red-eye flight. Wish me luck!!!!

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China May 2010

Saturday May 29

Got up at 5am to fly from Melbourne to Sydney then Sydney to Shanghai.
The 11hour flight was pretty unexciting, I read my book, watched Shutter Island, ate, read my book, had a nap, ate, watched Dear John, read my book and ate again.
We arrived at the airport, where we were met by our guide for the next 10 days, Frank.
We were taken by van to hotel. It was about an hour drive and the drive through city was amazing!!! There is heaps of awesome/crazy architecture, and everything is amazingly lit up with changing coloured lights.

Got to hotel & checked in. staying on 14th floor. Its a pretty nice hotel. we’ll be here the whole time we’re in Shanghai.

We went for a wander down the street and bought milk for our morning cuppa.
We then had dinner at a funky looking restaurant, we ordered by pointing at pictures on the menu, and were pretty lucky – we ate chicken and cashew stuff, some weird bitter & salt omelette and deep fried sugar coated sweet potato sticks.. was a bit scary but otherwise good. I took a photo of my sprite can and pats cola can so that in future if I want to order a drink I can just get out my photo 🙂

Now its off to bed to get ready for meeting the tour group tomorrow and potentially some exploring.
Sunday May 30

We all woke up at 5am…then went back to sleep, hopefully we adjust to the time difference quickly, it is only 2 hours!!
Went for a wander round the local streets and saw all sorts of random stalls, as well as some live food markets where you pick your animal and they slaughter it for you. we saw chickens, ducks, pigeons, fish, snakes, eel, turtles .. just to name a few.

We met up with the rest of the tour group and our guides for a western style lunch, before  being let loose again for the afternoon.

With an afternoon free we caught a taxi to Yu Yuan Gardens. The cab ride was entertaining, no seat belts and either sitting jam packed in traffic or hurtling along the highway!!
The gardens were ridiculously busy but the old style buildings were fabulous!!
I did a little shopping, got some presents, a genuine solitary pearl ona silver necklace for Von (as requested – I don’t think she believed I would find it when she asked), got a cool t-shirt for me and one for Tim, and some other bits and bobs.
All the food stalls had the most weird and wonderful foods, but after having had a 6 course lunch, none of us were hungry.

I haven’t had a chance to write a proper update so will try a bit of a skim version…also haven?t’ had a chance to download any pics, so if you want to know what I am talking about you will have to google it!!

Yesterday we had lunch with our tour group, which ended up being a 6 course ‘western’ meal. It wasn’t very exciting, but we got to meet and greet and few people from the group.
In the arvo it was free time as we were still waiting for other group member to arrive, so we caught a cab into the old part of town where we went to the Yu Yuan Gardens. We had a look at the old pagoda style buildings which were really funky. It was ridiculously busy there!!
I did get a chance to do a wee bit of souveneir shopping, kicking myself now that I didn’t bargain more, but oh well, lesson learned. Did certainly find some funky stuff but you will have to wait and see about that.
In the evening we did a group thing again where we went out for dinner to another hotel for a westernised Chinese meal. It was very pleasant.

Monday May 31

This morning we had an early start, brekky at 7 and on the bus by 8. We headed out on a 2hour bus trip to the water city of ‘Wu Zhen’. Its this really old city, that?s built on top of canals. some real old people still live there. It was really random to be able to see into peoples houses in this really ancient little village and to see some of them still live traditionally where other have their big plasma tv’s – crazy!! Some people cruise down the canals on some long timber row boat type things, and they don’t have any motors, but a big oar at the bag, and the row by pushing this massive oar side to side, but kind of in a figure of 8. It required such big sweeping motions to get it all going, but I was really surprised at how fast they can go!!! (we didn’t get the chance to go for a boat ride tho)
It has heaps of narrow little streets, and it is crazy to think that half a million people pass through there every day. (google it for some pics, I haven’t had a chance to download any yet)
So we spent the first half of the day in Wu Zhen, and had a traditional Chinese lunch there which was really nice. Some bits of it were a little gross, like the hairy boney chunk of pork..ugggg!!!
But it was really cool to see the old village and old lifestyle.

We then bussed it back to the city where we went to The Bund, which is the old colonial section of town near the river. It had old western style buildings.. influenced by the germans and french etc. It wasn’t all that interesting, but as it was near the river the view across the river at the big city sky scrapers was cool, We could see the worlds 3rd tallest building from there, and the tv tower – the building with the balls on it (google a picture of shanghai and you will figure out what I mean).
The we headed to the French concession – a French part of town where all the swanky shops are, and we had an hour to relax before continuing on. we went to Haagen Dazs and had some super awesome jumbo ice creams.

Then we headed out for dinner where we had a Chinese hotpot. so you have a little hotplate in front of you and a pot of boiling broth, then the table has heaps of raw foods on it, and you pick what you want and cook it in your broth (kind of like the fondu dinner we had at mine where you cook your own food) it was heaps of  fun. I have heaps of pictures 😀

After dinner we headed back down to the riverside where we had a night time cruise up and down the river, we had an amazing view of all the shanghai skyscrapers – they light everything up with fluoro lights and stuff – really fantastic to see!!! Some of the building just have lights, other have lights that change colours in some kind of pattern, and other buildings are almost like giant tv screens where an entire building might be showing a picture or animations, or just be coloured.. everything is constantly changing, but really fantastic to see!!!

So after leaving at 8am we got back to the hotel at 9:30pm and it has been a MASSIVE day, but we’ve seen heaps which has been really good.
Tuesday June 1

Before I get too ahead of myself there are things I should mention about China.
1. Because the tap water is of such low quality/standards, we have to drink bottled water all the time. While that doesn’t sound too bad it also means that we have to brush our teeth with bottled water, we can’t accept any drinks containing ice blocks, and we can?t eat any cold foods as they are likely to have been washed/prepared in tap water. So you really have to stay aware of what you are putting in your body.
2. There is smog EVERYWHERE. The whole city is under a blanket of smog. Even though the days are nice, I have never seen a blue sky and all my photos have a very glary grey sky in them.
3. Anyone can smoke, anywhere, anytime. It’s not particularly pleasant to eat your evening meal with second hand smoke wafting into your face. Pat and I went to the internet cafe next door to the hotel last night and came back stinking of cigarettes.
As a comment on the smoking and the smog -his has resulted in all of us having a bit of a sore throat.
4. The breakfast buffet every morning is combination of western foods and Chinese foods, though its entertaining what the Chinese side has to offer for brekky – things like deep fried onion rings, deep fried salmon, pork dumplings etc. We ate a very strange assortment of foods for our first breakfast!!
5. The traffic. There are roughly 4 million cars in Shanghai and this number is increasing by 7000 each month. This huge number of cars is for he 20 million people who live in the city. People who do not have cars have bicycles or scooters. Traffic seems to have some rules, but in terms of merging its pretty much whoever shoves their nose in first – this applies with any combination of cars, bikes and scooters. From my bus window I have seen so many near misses I lost count. Pulling into the hotel driveway last night an old dude on a bike almost smashed into the side of the bus, and all he did was stop and then stare at the bus.. he was going to swerve round the front end of the bus but realised he wouldn’t have time.. he looked surprised/pissed off.
I will endeavour to take a picture of an intersection.. because its pretty crazy stuff!!
6. Most toilets around the place are squat toilets, so two footsteps and a hole in the ground. I can cope with that, but most Chinese people miss and aren’t very clean so they can be pretty rancid. The other bad aspect is that you usually have to provide your own toilet paper, and all used loo paper needs to go in the waste paper bin…you don’t flush it …ewwwww gross!!!!

Oh yeah, and we currently have two tour guides: Frank is our national guide and will stay with us the whole trip and Troy is our local guide, so will only be with us for the shanghai part. They’re both really nice, and Troy has been trying out all his jokes on us, the good and the bad.. its been very entertaining!!

So to get back to the story, today we started off with a visit to silk factory which was pretty cool and they showed us how they get the silk thread from a silk worm cocoon, how they develop it into sheets and then how they use it to make bedding. Most Chinese people have silk doonas – I found that surprising as I didn’t think they would be very warm, but apparently they are fantastic!!
We did a teeny bit of shopping there.. but you will have to wait and see what I got.

After that we went to the museum.. there was some cool stuff, but I am not really into museums. Some of the traditional clothing and the old ceramics were interesting but that was about it for me.

Then we headed to Jin Mao tower, I could be completely wrong but I think it is something like the 6th tallest building in the world?! So we caught the fast elevator to the 88th floor and got a real good view of shanghai. It was pretty awesome, I think the 88th floor was something like 340 metres up.
Shanghai itself is an absolutely massive city, I learned today that it is 6400 square kilometres in size!!! Just one city, how crazy is that?!?!?

Our next bonus for the day was a trip on the mag lev train (Magnetic Levitation). The trip to the airport takes 1 hour by car, and is about 30km, the maglev does it in 7min 21seconds with a top speed of 431km/h .. it was awesome!!! You can barely feel it move.. really amazing and fantastic concept!

So after that it was definitely time for some food. we had a small Chinese banquet in/on a floating restaurant. It was very nice. (lunch and dinner is almost always very much the same, so not much to report on there)

After lunch we went to the Yu Gardens, back in the old part of town. The three of us went there on our first day but just looked around the shops, this time we actually went into the gardens, and they were beautiful. It was mostly old buildings connected by narrow walkways, passing through small rock gardens, crossing bridges over little fish ponds, and wandering under strategically placed trees. It was really well designed – not functional design but intriguing. Just outside of the gardens we got time for some more shopping in that area. Then we were taken to the main shopping street of shanghai: Nanjing Road. This was mostly big department stores with big price tags, so we weren’t that into it.

After all of that we went out for another Chinese banquet which was really nice.
Now I am completely knackered, but at least we certainly got to see a lot of Shanghai.
Tomorrow we fly to Xi’An for the next leg off the tour.
So this is over and out for shanghai.
Wednesday June 2

So we had a late start ..7:30am instead of 6:30 ..pity I woke up at 6 anyway 🙁

We had brekky, packed our bags and tottered off to the airport. After boarding our flight it seemed to be taking a long time before we took off, it turned out someone had heart trouble and had to be sent to hospital so it took them ages to find his bags. so we had about an hour delay.

After 2.5 hours of flying we arrived in Xi’An, because of the delay we didn’t get to do any sightseeing, and instead got some time to chill out. We went to a local supermarket and got some drinks – since we can?t drink the tap water we have to buy bottled water.

So by this time we got bundled back onto the bus, and headed to some fancy theatre where we had a dumpling banquet. We had 16 different types of dumplings.. not all nice, but I did try them all. As we finished up our dinner the dancing/singing performance started. So the style they presented dates back to the Tang Dynasty. They had amazing costumes and the dancing was truly mesmerising. The music…well it was interesting, and I now believe that Chinese music was written to scare away evil spirits…cos it was BAD!!!!!
Thursday June 3

As we ran a little short on time yesterday, today has been insane!!! We crammed in so much stuff!!

We started the day by going to a workshop where they make replica terracotta warriors. It was quite cool to see the process from start to finish, putting the clay in the mould, taking it out and touching it up, firing it etc. We didn’t buy anything there because we were told we could get better quality models at the museum where the warriors actually were…

So off we toddled to the site of the terracotta warriors, about 1hr out of Xi’An.
At the site there are 3 pits and a museum or two. Pit 1 is the main pit that is full of heaps of infantry, archers, captains, some horses and a few generals. It was really amazing to see.
So when the tomb was originally made channels were dug into the ground. The floor of the channels was paved and the warriors were all placed. Timber rafters were placed aross the top of these channels, then matting was placed over that, then other stuff, then dirt etc. The site of the warriors is the two rivers (a choice made for feng Shui reasons), these rivers occasionally flooded, with the flooding and general moisture of the area, the dirt on either sideof the channels containing the warriors sank, but the paved area where the soldiers were didn’t sink..as a result all the warriors were crushed.
People didn’t know that these tombs existed until one day a dude was digging a well and accidentally came across the site. So soon after thaat they began excavation.
There was not a single warrior intact, and they are still very slowly excavating warriors and fitting all the puzzle pieces together to restore each soldier.
Another interesting point is that when they were originally made, each warrior was made unique, based on a actual warrior in the army of the First Emperor. So you will never find two warriors the same!!
Pit 2 & 3 are not excavated that much yet, the 3rd pit was the command center of the whole lot.
I took heaps of pictures – it was all so amazing to see!!!!

After that we headed off for lunch where we had yet another Chinese banquet, then we did a spot of shopping.

we headed back into Xi’An and went to the Wild Goose Pagoda, which was in a park and there were lots of pretty old buildings. It was really nice to chill out for the short time there.
In the park was also a giant bell, I got to bash it 3 times with a big timber pole. Ringing the bell is said to prevent calamities, and to bring happiness. The ringing of the bell (through sound) also carries your thoughts and love to your loved ones.

Then we went to the wall that surrounds the city centre of xi’an..like a mini great wall. It was amazing how they could make these massive structures way back when they had no machinery to help!!

Afer that we went to the muslim quarter where we checked out the mosque. Quite bizarre to see a chinese mosque! but it was beautifully designed and made. You just went from coutryard to courtyard through all sortsof different archways and buildings..absoluely stunning.
Coming out of the mosque we wandered around the bazaar had a look at some bits and bobs, but didn’t really buy anything.

The we headed to the restaurant where we had a buffet dinner (I didn’t think it was that great), then back to the hotel for an early night.

We left the hotel at 8am and got back at 9pm .. so sorry for the lack of detail about some stuff, but I am well knackered…so off to bed!!

Friday June 4

We started the morning by packing our bags, ready for an afternoon flight to Beijing.

After breakfast and check-out we headed to the Shaanxi Museum (the city off Xi’An is situated within the Shaanxi province). We had a quick look around but barely anyone was interested. I ended up buying some postcards and sitting in the sun in a courtyard writing some cards.
when our allocated time was up, we went out for lunch then headed to the airport.

The flight to Beijing was uneventful, I finished writing my postcards, read some of my book and looked out the window. About the only time you see blue sky is when you are up in a plane above all the smog and clouds.
I took a picture from theplane to show you just how gross it really is – you wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t see it!

So anyway we got to Beijing and met our local guide, Eric. His english is really good and he has been telling us heaps of interesting stuff about Beijing.

As we arrived in the late afternoon we only got to fit in one little bit of sightseeing.
We went to the olympic park and checked out the birds nest and watercube (from a distance).
The birds nest looks pretty cool, but the watercube is pretty uneventful (I expect it looks heaps better at night time when it is lit up).

There were heaps of street vendors around and I think almost everyone in our group bought something..its always entertaining when you get back to the bus and figure out who paid what for what product.  “I got 4 for 15 yuan” … “I got 4 for 10 yuan” … funny funny!!

So after that we went for dinner, and then checked into the hotel. The hotel is pretty swanky, only I am a little gutted there is no free internet. The last 2 hotels had free internet.
So my messages will be less frequent for the rest of my time away. Hope you will survive without me!!!

Pat and I did a quick (well, didn’t up being that quick) mission to get milk from the supermarket so mum could have a cuppa in the morning. We got a little sidetracked and had a bit of a look around the area, identified an internet cafe for when we have time to sit down and do some emailing, had a look at some street food stalls (we saw a soup containing intestines..mm yum!!), had a look at some quirky little shops, then eventually went to the supermarket to get mum some milk, and when we got back to the hotel she was already sound asleep!!!
Saturday June 5

After brekky we headed off to Tiannemen Square. This was the big peoples square where the people used to gather when Chariman Mao made announcements. Its just a massive square that faces the south gate of the Forbidden City (A picture of charinman mao now hangs on the front of the south gate0. The Forbidden City is the walled off city where the emperor from the Qing Dynasty lived.

So yeah we started at Tiannemen Square, its just a massive square full of people. Formany chinese people it is a dream to come to tiannemen square to respect chairman mao. While he made some poor choices mao was very loved by the chinese people. At the other end of the square a mausoleum was built, and chairman Mao’s body was placed in a crystal coffin and put on display for people to come see. The queue was 2 hours long so we didn’t go with the tour group, but as we have extra time here after the tour finishes we may go later in the week (undecided at this point)

Our whole tour group had a photo in front of the south gate where you can see Mao’s picture, and we each got a printed copy of the picture in a book of Beijing. Its really cool.

So we had a bit of time around the square to have a wander and take some pics. At one stage Pat put me on his shoulders to try get a good photo of the mass of people in the square, and we suddenly became a tourist attraction, we had people come stand next to us and get there photo taken…I think I must have been photographed at least 100 times by and with random chinese people…apparently we’re a real novelty..it was rather funny!!!

By this time we were about done with the square and we walked through the South Gate into the forbidden city. As I said, the forbidden city was the emperors residence, it was a long series of gates and courtyards, and in the inner area were the buildings where he emperor, empress and concubines had their quarters, we saw the throne room and all that as well.

One of the servants was very taken with the emperor and she managed to get ‘promoted’ to become a concubine. The emperor though she was cute and all that and lucky her, she fell pregnant and bore him a son. Though the emperor had many concubines, and many children he only had one son. When the emperor died, his son was made emperor, the only problem was that he was 6 years old. So to rule the country he had a throne, behind his throne was a curtain and behind that curtain was his mother, in a throne of her own. So the woman ruled he country through her son (If you have ever heard of ‘the power behind he throne’ this is a good example). I have missed bits of the story but she later became known as the dragon lady, I think she may have used the power to her advantage in quite a nasty way (will tell you some more abouther shortly).

So many of the sights we have seen in China have been restored, he forbidden city was all the original buildings. They have last very well, and are quite beautiful. They do however only use two colours: Yellow, the imperial colour and Red, for happiness and longevity.

After about 3 hours of walking we headed off for lunch, then made our way to the Summer Palace.

The summer palace was a large ‘complex’- a big lake, garden and some buildings contained within some protective walls. It was designed to house the emperor & all his people for the summer months (April to October).
So these gardens were absolutely stunning, there were lots of bridges over little canals, walkways connecting courtyards and buildings, all very intricate and beautifully designed.

The dragon lady spent quite a bit of time here, for every meal she was served 128 dishes of food, she made a servant try each dish before she didjust incase it waspoisoned, and she ate with pure silver cutlery, as silver would turn black if it came into conact with poison.
The reason she had some many dishes was partly so that no one could ever figure out whathe favourie was, to be able to poison her.
The cost of all this food of a single meal would have supported 30 peasants for a month!! She had 3 meals a day and only ate a few bits and pieces from a few of the dishes.
She also liked the smell of fruit and would have 40kg of fresh fruit in big bowls every day..would never eat it, just had it there to fragrance the air!!!
Very wasteful woman!!

So anyway, i think the summer palace was probably my favourite of the day so far.
I think we may head back there to explore a little further, and to paddle boat across the lake.
It has been a really hot day, and after walking several hours through all these sites we went back to the hotel for a rest and to freshen up.

I might also note at this point that its really interesting just driving round the city on the bus, you get to see so much stuff, however since I am so exhausted I fall asleep almost every time we drive anywhere..oops!

After our brief interlude we headed out for dinner, yet another Chinese banquet, this one was slightly nicer than the last few. Then we headed for the Red Theatre to go see the Kung-Fu show.

The show followed the story of a young monk who was brought to a monastery by his mother to master the art of Kung-Fu. It followed his path to enlightenment, through the times when he was at his best and through all the rough patches where he turned his back on his religion. It was absoultely amazing and was a combination of kung-fu, dance and acrobatics, very well put togeher and supported by fanasic stage design and music etc.
I have the dvd so you will all get to watch it with me!!

During the bus trip we were told that chairman Mao once said “You are not a man/woman until you have climbed to Great Wall of China” .. so I am off to bed, to mentally prepare for becoming a woman…
Sunday June 6

Wowsers, up at 5am!! so the aim was to get to the great wall early to beat all the car traffic on the way, human traffic on the wall and the heat of the day. It was a very smart plan!!

So at about 8:15am we started climbing the great wall at a section called Juyong Guan Pass. It was reasonably steep, it had large chunks of stairs then a small building/ tower, then stairs again, so the path was broken up with little flat sections. It took us about an hour to get to the highest point in the wall for the section we visited. It was really cool!!

Fantastically, there were quite a few people in our group who made it to the top. We had a bit of a photo session up there!!

On the way down a group of 5 of us stopped and got good bargain on some T-Shirts that say “I climbed the great wall of china”…and we walked back down the wall in our t-shirts. We got a big cheer from the peple on the bus when we got on!!

We found it really surprising that the wall is actually not very high, so if people attacked, they wouldn’t really have a hard time getting over the wall .. so we wondered if it may just have acted as a deterent. who knows?!

So now that I am officially a woman, I feel a little different..I am more tired now!!

After our expedition up the wall we went to a jade carving studio, we got a tour and then got shepherded into the shop, I wasn’t that interested and it was all crazy expensive.
we also had our lunch there. It was another Chinese banquet, it was a good one. Sometimes there are heaps of dishes I don’t like, but this time it was pretty good.

Then we headed back to Beijing where we went to the Silk Markets. It was a massive 6 or 7 storey building full of stalls/shops. Bottom level was shoes and bags, then there were two floors of clothes, etc etc, on the top floors were jewellery and pearls.
So I shopped it up, got some new puma shoes, and some tank tops and shirts. not everything I got was a bargain, but hey, you can’t win them all!!

This particular market was the most brutal we have been to so far, the sellers actually grab your wrists, and try to pull you into their stalls “Lady Lady you want Gucci bag I give you special price”
After a while you get really tired of the bartering, and sometimes you are bantering back and forth so much you forget what the money conversion is or how much you would have paid back home.

After that we headed to the Temple of Heaven, which is situated in a nice park. The buildings were really beautiful, and they were concentrated in a small area, which was good cos we were all knackered!!

So we stayed there for about an hour before heading off to see an acrobatic show. That was really good too, the chinese girls are so ridiculously flexible!! Some of the stuff they did was just amazing!!
My favourite thing in the show was the cage of death (I think thats what its called), it?s a giant metal mesh ball and a motorbike rides around in it, doing loops going round and round and upside down etc.
That in itself was pretty awesome.. then a second bike went in there too… then a third, a fourth and a fifth!!! 5 bikes all doing loops inside a metal ball!! It was insane, I LOVED it!!!

So to cap off our day we went to a restaurant for our farewell dinner where we had a Beijing specialty ‘Peking Duck’. I have photos to prove I ate it, but I didn’t like it much. The other dishes were nice though.

After exchanging emails and hugs we have said goodbye to most of our tour mates, and the tour has officially finished.
The few of us remaining will have dinner together tomorrow night, the after that its just the 3 of us. So I will still have lots of fun stuff to report on, but won’t be as ridiculously busy as we have been.

So I am off to bed now and looking forward to the fact that I won’t get a wake-up call in the morning.
Monday June 7

Started the day with a sleep-in, to a huge 7am!!! We had a lazy breakfast, consulted our map and off we went.

We didn’t really do much, but it took up the whole day. We did a fantastic job of navigating the Beijing subway system!! The subway system is so easy to use, and is so quick and efficient! Also using the subway system all day only cost us $1.20 each. How cheap is that?!?

The hardest part about using the subway is that where you get out of the station you have to figure out where to walk to get where you want to go. Luckily though, we wrote a list of all the places we wanted to go, and got our guide Frank to write them down in chinese, so we just point to a word on a piece of paper and people point which direction we have to walk..it works a treat!!

So our first stop for the day was the Beijing Zoo. It only cost $4!! So the aim of going to the oo was to see pandas. we saw to Great Panda’s sleeping, they lay on their back with all their limbs splayed..looks odd. They were really dirty and yellowy brown but nonetheless gorgeous creatures.
In another enclosure were 3 younger pandas and they were playing around a little and munching on bamboo..way cute!! they were even play fighting over a piece of bamboo..so cute so cute!

We wandered further and saw some lions, tigers, jaguars, hippos, rhinos, and elephants. We saw a few other animals, but the main goal was just to see pandas.
It was quie disappointing the enclosures were very small, dirty and smelly. it was a bit distressing to see a jaguar pacing around a 4×6 concrete floored cell 🙁

Anyway, with the slow start to the day the zoo took up most of the day. When we saw the animals we wanted to see we hopped back on the subway and went to ‘cyber city’. A big department type store with 5 storeys of electronics. There weren’t gadgets or anything, a floor of phones, one of laptops, one of cameras, one of components etc.

I got an 8gb memory stick, a memory card for my camera and apolaarizer for my camera, all for about $90. not ridiculously cheap, but cheaper than at home.
I have been having issues with my little underwater camera,, so will try to fix it later..

Anyway being the geek I am it was fun to have a bit of a poke around the electronics. By that time though we had to scoot back to the hotel to meet some people for dinner. Rush, rush, rush we got back in time to meet the others. Pat headed off to a swing dancing class and mum and I went out for dinner with 4 others from the group who are leaving tonight.

So the 6 of us twaddled off tofind a restaurant, and ended up finding this really cool one where there are hot plates on the tables and you cook your own food.
So we looked at the pictures in the meu and ordered a few things that looked safe..it was of course hilarious attempting to order because we had all forgotten our phrasebooks, and no one at the restaurant spoke english!!

So out came all the raw food ready to be cooked, fantastic friendly service..I think they took pity on us, or maybe they couldn’t be bothered trying to explain what we had to do, and they cooked our food for us. we had some fabulous meats and vegetables.

There was this one meat that we all thought looked like chicken, but then when we ate it, it smelled funny, tasted funny and had a really odd texture. I had one bite and threw it away. I was guessing it was stomach or lungs or something..
After lots of drawing pictures, making animal noises and pointing at body parts we figured out that we had just eaten … OX TESTICLES!!!! ug ug ug ug ug!!!! Soooo Grosss!!! Oh well its in my stomach theres nothing I can do about it now!!

The whole meal was heaps of fun, even if it did have disgusting bits in it..the whole lot of food and drinks to feed 6 people costus 126 yuan … converted $24!!!!
Thats $4 each for a decent meal with a few glasses of beer to go with it!

So after our awesome meal we headed back to the hotel because the others had to leave for the airport. On the walk back we picked up some fruits at a street stall, and I got to try Mangosteen and Lychee. I wasn’t overly fond of the lychee but the mangosteen was yummmy!!!

So now its the end of the evening, I am writing up my story then am off to the internet cafe to finally send you all an email.
Good night!!
Tuesday June 8

So with a relatively early start we met our driver for the day Mr Hou, and we headed off to a different section of the Great Wall. After a 2 hour drive we arrived at the Mu Tian Yu section. It was a very different section of wall than what we did the other day. With this section you couldn’t actually walk straight on the wall, you had to catch a cable car up. The wall followed along the peaks of a series of hills, so it was very up and down and windy around the corners which was really cool.

Getting the cable car up was fantastic because it meant that mum could get to the top as well. So we wandered around and took photos with the three of us, then mum found a nice scenic spot to sit, and Pat and I went adventuring.
We headed off in what might have been an easterly direction, there were big sweeping curves, flat bits, building things and super steep tall stairs, we walked for about half an hour before we got to the end point. When I say end point, I mean the point where the signs say you aren’t allowed to go further. They have restored sections of the wall for people to visit, but not everything has been restored. The sections that haven’t been restored are crumbling down and are overgrown with trees and bushes.

So being the explorers that we are we got to the end point, which was another building/watch tower, and jumped out the window to wander along an un-restored section of the wall.
we walked for about 20 mins, and it was really cool to see the original wall, it also showed how much restoration had been required.

So seeing another section of wall was not at all repetitive, the two sections offered completely different experiences, and we are so glad we did it. It was absolutely fantastic!!

By this time we had to head back down to the carpark to meet mum for a drink and lunch, so we caught a toboggan/luge ride down the mountain… it was fun but we weren’t allowed to go fast! I got yelled at by the guards on almost every corner, telling me to slow down. As you all know I can be a bit of a scaredy cat and wasn’t even going that fast!!!
Oh well, it was still fun.

So the we caught up with mum and ordered a big plate of yummy beef dumplings for a street stall, and chilled out for a bit.

After lunch we found Mr Hou and headed off to our second destination of the day: the Beijing 2008 Olympic Rowing and white Water Kayaking course. Pat was going to rent a kayak and test ride the white water course. Unfortunately though it was all dry 🙁

It was still very interesting to see how the course was designed and how it all works, so we wandered round for a bit. with the full sun it got a bit tiring and we found a shady spot to sit on the grass and watch some people learn how to paddle dragon boats (the rowing section, the lake, did have water). It was a nice relaxing afternoon.

By this time it was about 4:30 so we went back to the carpark to find Mr Hou, and he drove us the 1.5hours back to the hotel. (I managed a good sleep in the car between the wall and the water course, and again on the way to the hotel!!) Also by this time, having spent day after day in the full sun, I am looking slightly burned, not too bad though, should have a semi-decent tan by the time I get home 🙂

After a cup of tea and toilet break we headed back out. We caught the subway to a popular shopping street called Wangfujing Street. we had a bit of a wander down the street and looked at some of the shops, since that street was on our list of things to look at, but the main reason we went there at night time was that there is a popular night market in a side street. The night market has a few souveneirs and things but it is mostly food.

So food we ate: corn on a stick, fish balls, beef kebabs with spicy stuff on it, baby octopus kebabs, beef dumplings, banana dumplings, apple dumplings and a kebab of fruit coated in toffee. It was all pretty nice really.

Things we saw but weren’t quite game to try: Scorpion kebab, starfish kebab, seahorse kebab, spider kebab, lizard kebab, cocoon kebab, grasshopper kebab, baby chicken kebab (whole baby chicken) and fried stomach lining, just to name a few.

So we had a lovely night out, enjoyed some fabulous food and enjoyed looking at what freaky things Chinese people eat, then it was time  to head home and have a nap. It as a 6am start with a midnight finish – fabulous but very tiring day!!
Wednesday June 9

Started the day with a sleep in, then we started off on our list of things to do.

Our first stop was the Underground City. So we caught the subway to the nearest station, then with a combination of a map and lots of hand gestures slowly made our way in the direction of the Underground city. We thought we were getting close, then a guy with a bicycle tuk-tuk (if you don’t know what that is I will show you later) asked where we were going, when we told him, he said its that way then that way then that way, made it sound far away. So we were like, how much to get us there..he said 10yuan. So we’re like, yeah thats reasonable, and hopped on.
Then we got there and he said it was 10yuan each (30 all up), and I was like no you said 10..in the end we paid 20, he drives off, we go to enter the Underground city and are told that is closed permanently!!! Grrr!!

So we started walking back to the subway, realised very quickly that the dude with the bike had taken us the very long way round, and were almost already there when he picked us up. Oh well, the ride was a fun experience, and is a common mode of transport. So anyway we continued on our way back to the subway and our path took us through some ‘Hutongs’.  Hutongs are the old buildings/ style of housing where all the Chinese people used to live. In most places these have been destroyed and replaced with apartment buildings, but there are still some areas where the hutongs still stand, and people still live in them. These were on our list of things to see as well, so getting taken for a ‘ride’ wasn’t all that bad.

After all that walking on a 32degree day we were all pretty knackered, and totally overheated, so we bought some cold drinks and teeny hand held fans, and made our way back to the subway to go to our next stop.

We got to the Lama Temple and within the grounds of the temple we found a park bench in the shade of a tree, and sat and watched the people come in and pray to buddha with their incense offerings. I find temples really interesting, to see which gods people worship, and to see how they worship.

The lama temple was designed with a courtyard then a temple, then a courtyard then a temple and so on. I think there were about 5 temples each with different buddhas.
So there are buddhas like past present and future, another temple had buddhas of longevity, medicine and …can’t remember.

The last temple had a giant buddha. The matriya buddha was carved from a single piece of sandalwood and stands 18 metres tall, with a further 8 metres going into the ground to keep it upright. It was pretty amazing to see!

So after looking at all these courtyards, temples and buddhas, we found another shady spot to sit and just absorb the atmosphere. One thing I love about temples is that they’re always so chilled out, everyone is relaxed, there is barely any noise and it just gives you the peace to stop and smell the roses.

After recharging the batteries for a bit we took the subway to Hongqiao Market, otherwise known as pearl market. We started off by getting something into our bellies and went to Dairy Queen and got a giant ice cream. I got a flavour called brownie coffee. It was coffee flavoured ice cream with crushed up brownies..its was soooooo good!!!

So we started the pearl markets by looking at pearls. We were told, by an American lady who we had met in our travels, to go to level 5, to Cathy’s shop and say we were friends of Laurie and her mum. So we did exactly that, and got ‘friend ‘ prices. I won’t say what I got, or how much I paid because there is a chance that I bought something for someone.
either way the service and prices were fantastic!!! We spent ages there!!

So after having seen enough pearls for a lifetime, we went down to the next level, pearls again so we kept going, pearls again so we went down again, this level had bags and shoes, so we had a bit of a wander. Mum bought a gorgeous bright blue handbag!
Then down another layer was watches, electronics, scarves etc. I bought some really cute watches (I got 3 for 25yuan, which is $5). I also got myself a ‘flip-flap’, I had been looking for one for a while and finally found it. when you come to visit me when I am home, it will be sitting on the windowsill of the kitchen.. then you can see what it is 🙂

By this time he day was about over so we caught the subway back to the area where the hotel is, and stopped into a restaurant on the walk back to the hotel. A few nights ago a group of us went to a restaurant where they cook all the food on hot plates in front of you (where we had the unfortunate testicle incident), and this time we went back there, took Pat with us this time and had another lovely meal. This time we ordered better and only got stock standard beef, chicken and pork. It was lovely!!

The we headed back to the hotel for a relaxing evening doing nothing. All this walking up and down to subways, walking long streets all in 30+ heat really takes its toll on us, especially on mum.
Thursday June 10

Had a lovely sleep in this morning, then we all started the day by packing our bags, to figure out if we needed to buy anymore bags to get our stuff home (we’re all good).

We just kinda of pottered around for a bit then headed to the subway, we walked down the other side of the street this stime to see what shops were there. We found a baby shop which was good… Little kids here are dressed in pants that have a split through the crutch, so that they can just pee or squat any time they need to go. Its really quite disgusting, but also found it so funny that we thought we should get some as presents for people back home.

We continued on our merry way and caught the subway to the Summer Palace. We have been there before with the tour group but didn’t get time to look around much or go paddle boating. So we wandered around a bit, had an ice cream, absorbed the sun and relaxed atmosphere,ÿthen rented a paddle boat. We spent 2 hours paddling in and around Kunming Lake. It was awesome, very chilled.

By this time it was late-ish so we caught a tuk tuk to the nearest subway station and headed back to the hotel district, we went to a restaurant for dinner. We really struggled with ordering, then our waitress grabbed some Chineseÿlady who spoke English, and that lady helped us order. We ended up with sooo much food!! A meat & rice dish, a noodles & chicken dish, a plate of fried dumpling, and two plates of boiled dumpling (these had about 20 dumplings per plate). It was delicious.. but so much food!!! We couldn’t eat it all. All that food plus drinks (beer & coke)ÿcost us 69yuan…worked out to be $4.50 each!!!!

Anyway, it will be an early night tonight, we have to check out of the hotel at 4:30am tomorrow to get to the airport in time for our flight to Hong Kong
Friday June 11

After hearing an alarm clock ringing in my ears we got up at 3:50am, quickly showered, packed the last few bits and headed to the airport. On the way there we saw something funny.. a van full of spring onions. Only the van was so full they didn’t all fit, so there were heaps of bunches of spring onions tied to the roof of a van zipping down the highway at 100km/h!!!

So check in and everything went fine and before you knew it we were on our way to Hong Kong.
The flight was pretty standard, watched a movie, got fed, and within about 3-4 hours we landed in Hong Kong. we got picked up by a coach and brought to our hotel – so it was a quick change of clothes before getting out to explore the city for the half day we had available.

We headed out into the stinking hot and humid day, sweating bucket loads within minutes, and headed down to the wharf area where we did a harbour cruise.

The harbour cruise was nice, it gave us a chance to relax. Also with our limited amount of time in Hong Kong it gave us an opportunity to see quite a bit of the city.

After the cruise we just kind of wandered the streets looking at shops, then we looked at a few markets, and by that time we had to haul our butts back down to the wharf to see the “Symphony of Light and Sound”. They play music over a loud speaker and light up he building on the other side of the river in time with the music, they have coloured lights, laser lights etc. It was pretty cool, but not as spectacular as I had imagined. Hong Kong is ridiculously smoggy, and I think that affected the light show a bit. But also after seeing shanghai all it up,  even if it didn’t match music, Shanghai was much more impressive.

So after this it was time for some food so we wandered back to the markets (looking in a few shops along the way). We had dinner at a market stall. I had beef & pineapple, Pat had pan fried calamari and mum had razor clams. It was DELICIOUS!!! …mind you I tried the razor clams and hated them, but pats and my dishes were fantastic!!!

So after filling our bellies, we wandered through a few more market stalls before catching a cab back to the hotel.

Saturday June 12

We had an early start, got the airport and jumped on the plane to Melbourne. It was about an 8 hour flight. Food was bad but the flight in general was good. I watched ‘The Girl with the dragon tattoo’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’. I also slept for a good chunk of time so it was a good flight for me.

we arrived in Melbourne at about 8pm. We did some last minute duty free shopping, picked up our bags and checked into a hotel for the night.

Tomorrow we’ll be back at the airport at 6:30am,and should be in Hobart by 9am. It’s been a fantastic holiday!!!!

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Europe 2006 – 2007

So in June 2006, after about 5 years of study,  I FINALLY graduated from University. With a few letters after my name (BComp & BEd) it was about time for a vacation.

I booked my ticket and moved to The Netherlands (I have plenty of family and friends there so this was nothing particularly terrifying). I rented a room at a friends place and got myself a job as a teachers assistant. It was up to me to ensure that the teachers were actually teaching proper english. Though according to one of my colleagues “Australian is not English” and “I don’t know what language you people speak down there”. Good thing I was there to look out for the students, protect them against weirdo’s who think that the word ‘ramp’ refers to a speed hump!!

Anyway…working at a school, I conveniently got a week off from time to time.

During the first week off I jumped on the Thalys (fast train) to Paris. It was the middle of Summer, I went to Sacre Couer an overlooked the city, checked out the Eiffel Tower, Napoleans Tomb, the Notre Dame and of course Euro Disney. I had a fabulous time!!
I must admit – I am not ooozing enthusiasm because this was my third trip to Paris. BUT this was the first time I went in Summer. It actually made the experience much more pleasant, though Paris will still never make it to my list of favourite places.
I have always had trouble in Paris – even when I order food from a picture in the menu they refuse to serve me what I order, knowing that I can’t argue back. I’m not completely rude either, I do attempt to speak french and be polite, but my french is appalling!! So anyway, that was a fun week off work.

The second week off I flew to Ireland. Spent a few days in Dublin rented a car and drove down the coast to Dungarvan, and a quick look down as far as Cobh, then headed back up to Dublin. Went a bit inland rather than coastal, and went via Kilkenny.
Cobh was a gorgeous sleepy little town/fishing village in the side of a hill. The buildings were all very quaint and colourful and the people were so friendly.
Kilkenny was a small little town in the middle of nowhere, but adorable and with such an amazingly friendly, welcoming community. An interesting fact – kilkenny has 365 pubs. So you can try a different one every day of the year!!!

After working for a number of months I was a bit over it, so I quit my job, bought a 2 month unlimited access Eurail ticket and headed off on a grand (and very tiring) adventure!
Because I don’t want to bore you with the details, I will pick out some of the best bits.

Two months backpacking by train took me from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Oslo, Norway; Bergen, Norway; Berlin, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Munich, Germany; Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia; Venice, Italy, Florence, Italy; Rome, Italy; Nice, France; Barcelona, Spain; Madrid, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal then 40+ hours of train travel back to Amsterdam.

At the end of all of this, I flew to Austria for a week of R&R on the ski slopes of the Zillertal region – stunning!!!

My pearls of wisdom
DON’T bother going to Oslo, I was surprised at finding hookers and drug dealers within 2 metres of the main strip
DO go caving in Budapest, easily one of the most amazing things I have ever done!!
DON’T go to Pompeii as a day trip from Rome, it really is too far away for a day trip
DO a cooking class in Barcelona – heaps of fun, and you get taught how to make your own Sangria and can make/drink as much as you like!
DO go on a gondola ride in Venice, because otherwise you will regret it forever. However, make sure you are good at bargaining and don’t jump into the first gondola you see. Even with good bargaining skills it will still be a rip-off.
DON’T tour the Colosseum in Rome with a bad hangover, you don’t get the chance to really appreciate it.
DO go to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm – one of the most amazing things I have seen!!
DO ice skate whenever you can!

I backpacked Europe in the middle of Winter and had a blast – lucky for me it was the hottest european winter in 500 years!!

View all the photos on my Flickr album

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