2006 - Backpacking to Yunnan, China

Backpacking Adventure
Thailand, Laos, China, Vietnam
30 days through 4 countries
11 Oct <> 09 Nov 2006

Mohan / Ching / Balan / Chew / Tomoko / Bernard / Chan

at Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Day 01 (11.10.06) KL > Chiang Mai > Chiang Rai

The adventure kicked off when my charming wife, Catherine, sent me off at the Ipoh bus station for KL at 8pm on 10.10.06. My youngest son, Jin Wei, picked me up at Pudu station at 11 pm. 6am the next day, my son drove me to pick up Bernard Lee and Chan Meng Fye to meet the other team members; Balan & Chew Leng Soon. Balan’s brother drove us in his van to pick Mohan at his apartment in Bukit Jalil and straight to KLIA low cost carrier terminal. We were on AirAsia flight No. AK 896 at 8.50am to Chiang Mai and after 2 hours we landed at Chiang Mai airport and proceed to Chiang Mai ancient city for lunch at Silom Joy Restaurant beside the Thapae Gate. After lunch we went to Arcade Bus station to catch the bus for Chiang Rai. While waiting for bus at the station, we went for foot massage nearby.

AirAsia – KLIA to Chiang Mai, one way is RM134 per person
Tutu – Chiang Mai airport to town is B20 per person
Tutu – Town to Arcade bus station is B20 per person
Bus - Bus station to Chiang Rai is B140 per person
Chaluntorn House, Chiang Rai, opposite bus station - B200 a room for 2 pax

The route


Balan is sound asleep

Lunch at Silom Joy Cafe beside Thapae Gate


Bus to Chiang Rai

Dinner at Chiang Rai night market

Day 02 (12.10.06) Chiang Rai > Huay Xai, Laos

After breakfast we took the 8.30am bus from Chiang Rai arriving Chiang Khong, a riverside border town at 10.45am. Proceed to Thai immigration office beside the boat jetty by tutu. We then crossed the Mekong River by boat to the Laos side of Huay Xai, a cowboy town.

Bus - Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong - B57 per person
Tutu – Chiang Khong to jetty - B20 pp (could easily walk)
Boat crossing to Huay Xai is B20 pp
Friendship Guest House, Huay Xai, is B200 a room
Note: A bank at Laos’s immigration office.
B1 = Kip260 1RM = Kip2,600 1US = Kip10,000

Bus to Chiang Khong

Chiang Khong boat jetty

Chiang Khong immigration office

Waiting for the missing bag. After passing through Huay Xai immigration office, Chew Leng Soon realized that he had left behind a bag of clothing in the boat meant for distribution. We waited for almost 30 minutes before the bag was returned to us by the same boat-man on his return trip.

Huay Xai for centuries was a disembarkation point for Yunnan caravans led by the Hui (Chinese Muslims) on their way to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai in ancient Siam; today Chinese barges from Yunnan are able to navigate this far, so there is still a brisk trade in Chinese goods. Thailand’s Chiang Khong on the opposite river bank is also a significant source of trade. For most ferry arrivals from Chiang Khong, Huay Xai is just a stopover before boarding a boat southeast to Pak Beng or Luang Prabang, or northeast to Luang Namtha.

Lunch at river side restaurant

Evening was a special steam-boat dinner at Saiyaponthlao Food Restaurant with a bottle of whiskey bought by Mohan earlier. Here we met Ms Lanna an American lady who is currently teaching English to adults in Laos for the past 4 years. We enjoyed the company of Ms Lanna, the good food and talked until 12 midnight. When we got back to the guest-house, the door was locked. Luckily with the help of other guest-house people, they call the house-keeper with their mobile phone. Lesson number one, do not stay late.

Day 3 (13.10.06) Huay Xai > Luang Namtha

We had breakfast with Ms Lanna and handed her the bag of clothing for distribution to poor children around Huay Xai. We then proceed to the bus station by van arranged by an agent whom we booked the bus ticket the day before. We departed at 10.30am and arrived at Luang Namtha at 12 midnight. Dinner was at 12.40am after checking in to a guest-house.

The road from Huay Xai to Luang Namtha on route 3 is a 14 hours bus journey through muddy hell. Its all mud & mud and smell and taste of mud every where, whether it is inside or outside the bus. Normal time taken is about 7 hours, but we took 14 hours. It’s a long and winding muddy road through several different kinds of terrain, from river plain to high mountains of northern Laos. The road conditions vary accordingly from flat, graded passages to rutted, winding tracks. The very old bus ride was painful as it did not have proper seats. It had no suspension and was rocking like cradle on a slightest bump. We were stuck in muddy road countless times, and there were two occasions when we were stuck for hours whereby we as passengers were required to get down and helped to repair the road and to push the bus. No dinner for all, but we distributed chocolates and biscuits to the hungry children in the bus. I also gave away some clothing that I brought along. Credit goes to the hell driver and his assistants for the save journey and risk taken.

Bus – Huay Xai to Luang Namttha is Kip65,000 pp (RM25). However, we paid Kip104,000 to the agent instead of Kip65,000 at the bus station. We were overcharged by RM15 per person. (Do not buy bus ticket from travel agent)

Sleeping: Charuensin Guesthouse, Luang Namtha is Kip30,000 a room (RM12)

Breakfast with Ms. Lanna

Huay Xai bus station

Muddy bus

Broken seats

We had a punctured tyre in the morning

Muddy road all the way

1,2,3, everybody push

Wild pig passing by

Lunch break at a village

Hello friend!

The other broken bus along the way

Another big problem was when we were unable to proceed because of on-coming vehicles blocking the road. It was 10pm, and luckily a land-mover or excavator nearby was called to widen the road for the on-coming vehicle to pass through.

Day 4 (14.10.06) Luang Namtha > Jinghong, China

Getting there we traveled from Luang Namtha to Bortene a Laos border town, then to Mohan a Yunnan border town, Mengla before reaching Jinghong. The road was much better, however, there were many landslides and road-work in progress. Villages and farm-land doted along the road.

After breakfast at the bus-station, we departed Luang Namtha for Mengla at 9am. Here we met a Japanese backpacker, Ms Tomoko, and she accompanied us all the way to Kunming. We also make friend with two other Thai backpackers.

Bus - Luang Namtha to Mengla is Kip45,000 pp (RM17)
Bus - Mengla to Jinghong isY33 pp (RM15)
Lu Yuan Guest House, Jinghong, is Y35 a room (RM16)
Recommended is BanNa Hotel for same rate
Note: RM1 = Y2.2 US1 = Y8

Our van to Jinghong heating up

Yunnan immigration office at Mohan

By 10.30am we arrived at Bortene for Laos immigration clearance. A short drive away we reached the Yunnan immigration office at Mohan. We were delayed here for 3 hours waiting for our visa status clearance by Chinese immigration officers. This remote Chinese immigration office is not online and unable to verify our visa issued in KL. They have to fax our visa to KL for confirmation. The other big problem was Mohan’s passport had a rubber-stamp ink smeared on the photograph hence looks like tempered passport. Chew Leng Soon had a hard time explaining our trip in respect of our relationship and traveling purpose to the Officers. I suppose they have not seen an Indian from Malaysia passing through this remote border post - big shit! Mohan has big problem at the Chinese town of Mohan!

Land slide at Xishuangbanna National Park - one hour delay

We finally reached Mengla at 3pm for lunch, and departed at 3.30pm for Jinghong. Arriving Jinghong at 9.30pm and had BBQ dinner by the Lancang River with Ms Tomoko and 2 Thai backpackers. We had very cheap and good body massage by the Lancang River Bridge under thousand stars. We went home at 1.30am

Day 5 (15.10.06) Jinghong

After breakfast we explore the city and made friends with the local folks for information. Good food at Mei Mei Cafe along Manting Road. We met a girl along the road who had been very helpful and even called her tour operator girl-friend to assist us to get tickets for a Cultural show in the evening and also to arrange a tour to Mengla Cultural Garden the following day.

The city market is a very busy place. We bought a few interesting items there for fair prices. Afternoon was spent walking around the Burmese Shopping Village. We had medicated back rub by old lady by the road-side. Evening was the Cultural Show followed by discotheque for drinks.

Jinghong cultural show – Y160pp
Lu Yuan Guesthouse is Y35 a room (RM16)

Jinghong in the southwest of China and at the southern most tip of Yunnan Province has mysterious land known as Xishuangbanan. In the Dai language, "xishuang" is "twelve" and "banna" is "one thousand pieces of land", thus "Xishuangbanna" can be directly translated into "twelve thousand pieces of land". As a matter of fact, it refers to the twelve regions that are under its administration. With Myanmar to the southwest and Laos to the southeast, Xishuangbanna has a boundary line of 1,069 kilometers. Covering an area of 19,700 sq km, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture is composed of one municipality and two counties. The highest point in the region is 2,429 meters above sea level whereas the lowest is only 477 meters. Dominated by a tropical rain forest climate, the average temperature is 21°C. The capital of Xishuangbanna is "Jinghong", which means "the City of Dawn" in the Dai language. It is 692 km from Kunming. There are more than ten nationalities including the Dai, the Hani, the Jinuo and the Bulang, etc in its land. There live over 5,000 species of plants and hundreds kinds of rare and valuable birds and animals in its 20,000 square kilometers tropical virgin forest, thus Xishuangbanna is noted as "the Kingdom of Plants and Animals" . The Dai people are good at singing and dancing and believe in Buddhism. The Water-Splashing Festival, namely the New Year's Day by the Dai calendar will be celebrated every year in the 6th month of Dai calendar on April 13 - 15.

We had good medicated back rub by old lady

Mei Mei Cafe along Manting Road

There are a couple of markets in Jinghong. One is a whole street a few blocks north of the Banna Hotel off the same road. It has lots of stalls with jaded looking Burmese men desperate for a sale. Balan bought some stones and a cowboy hat.

Jinghong cultural show – Y160pp

Day 6 (16.10.06) Jinghong > Kunming

In the morning, we visited the Mengla Cultural Garden, which was situated on an island along the Lancang River. We had to get to the island by cable-car across the river. It’s a guided tour visiting a museum, hill-tribes performing dangerous act, dances and songs and the many caged animals. We spent about 2 hours before returning back. The overnight bus journey to Kunming was at 8.20pm.
Sleeping: Overnight bus journey to Kunming
Bus - Jinghong to Kunming is Y188pp (RM84)

Our girlfriends as tour guide

Lancang (Mekong) River has 1187km long stretch flowing through Xishuangbanna. At the moment, the Lancang River Tour is divided into two sections. The upper section is 135 kilometers long, from Jinghong to Simao; the lower section is 40km in length, from Jinghong to Olive Basin. The lower section attracts more tourists at present. Visitors will be enchanted by the tropical rain forest and animals along the two banks of the river. The Jinuo people, residing in the Jinuo Mountains on the west of the river bank 43km from Jinghong city, have in the last forty years adapted totally from a primitive to a modern way of life - a truly amazing story.

Cable-car across the river to the Mengla Cultural Garden

Mengla Cultural Garden mini zoo

Mohan drinking holy water

Sugar-cane mill

Climbing up the knife ladder

Licking red hot plate

Jumping on broken glass

Jumping on nails

Fire dance

We are dancing

Day 7 (17.10.06) Kunming City

Arrived Kunming by bus at 6.30am and took a taxi to Camellia Hotel. Morning was spent walking around the city and visiting city temples. Went to train station to check for ticket to Vietnam but services have since suspended.

In ancient times Kunming was an important gateway to the celebrated Silk Road which conducted to Tibet, Sichuan, Myanmar and India. The city’s highland scenery is interesting; its karsts landforms is bewitching. Its people are known for their varied and exotic habits and customs, and its land is pockmarked with historical artifacts, places of cultural interest, and gardens landscaped with a picturesque taste. Among the major scenic spots of Kunming are the Dianchi Lake, the Cuihu Lake, the Village of Ethnic Culture, the Jindian (Golden Temple) Park, the Western Mountain Forest Reserve, the Stone Forest, the Jiuxiang Scenic Belt, the Yuantong Mountain, the Grand View Pavilion, and the Qiongzhu Temple.

Sleeping: Camellia Hotel – Dormitory is Y30 per bed

Welcome to Kunming the capital of Yunnan

Kunming enjoys great fame among tourists not only because the region features a consistently warm climate, but also thanks to its wonderful landscapes. Among the most dramatic of these attractions is the Stone Forest (Shilin) as the 'First Wonder of the World.' It is situated in central Yunnan and north of the Dianchi Basin, is skirted on three sides by mountains, with one side opening onto the Dianchi Lake. Kunming is also a renowned historical and cultural city in southwest China.

Yuantong Temple is the most famous Buddhist temple in Kunming. It was first built in the late 8th century, the time of the Nanzhao Kingdom in the Tang Dynasty. After two major restorations in the Chenghua period1465-1487)of the Ming Dynasty and the 24th year of Emperor Kangxi's rule(1686)of the Qing Dynasty, the temple took on its present design, with covered corridors, bridges and grand halls. This old Temple is noted for its unusual structure which is high at the front and low at the back, from the front archway named "Yuantong Shengjing" (Wonderland), one can behold the entire garden. To the north is the splendid Yuantong main hall. At both sides of the hall are covered corridors running beside pools. The main hall maintains the style of the Yuan Dynasty architecture .Circling the two central pillars inside the hall are two giant dragons carved during the Ming Dynasty. The blue and yellow dragons face each other, as if they are ready to fight.

Kunming railway station

Day 8 (18.10.06) Kunming Stone Forest

We made our own breakfast at Camellia Hotel – bread & coffee. At 9am we took a van from the hotel heading for The Stone Forest (entrance is Y140 or RM63). We had the most expensive lunch at the Stone Forest restaurant - a cup of coffee cost RM10 - so never drink here.

After lunch we went to Jiuxiang scenic spot - entrance Y90. It was 96km to the southeast of Kunming City. The scenic area measuring 172 sq km has been listed as a national level key scenic resort of China. It has a river and underground caves. We then rush back for the Grand Primitive Song & Dance Medley – entrance is Y120.

The STONE FOREST is known as "One of Earth's Natural Wonders". It is located in Shilin County, 85km southeast of Kunming. Covering a few hundred sq. km, stone peaks rise abruptly from the ground in numerous layers like bamboo shoots, forests and pagodas. If you climb to the top of one of the peaks, you can behold thousands of peaks and valleys just like a marvelous vast black forest. The roads wind around between the peaks, taking visitors to ever more unexpected and beautiful scenes. Researches by Chinese and overseas geologists have proved that the Stone Forest is over 270 million years old. The area used to be an ocean. During the Long Geological Period from the late Permian Period 230million years ago to 2 million years ago, the ocean subsided and giant rocks appeared. During this time the rocks were gradually worn away by water, forming the strange rock forms seem today. Wandering in the Stone Forest is a unique experience .The stone mountains form strange shapes, the peaks are like poems and pictures, like the vertical "Lotus Peak," the majestic "Rhinoceros Admiring the Moon" and the graceful "Pavilion Observing the Peaks". The layers of mountains seem to be pressing forward; the curious shaped rocks excite people's imagination. In the depth of the Stone Forest, numerous lakes are like bright mirrors reflecting the rocks and peaks.

Van to Stone Forest – Y70pp
Additional van charges to Jiuxiang Cave – Y15pp
Dynamic Yunan cultural show – Y120pp
Sleeping: Camellia Hotel – Dormitory is Y30 per bed

Entrance to Stone Forest

As soon as one enters the Stone Forest scenic area, a crystal-clear lake comes into focus. By the east lakeside, rise from the water a good array of fantastic stone pinnacles, pillars, shoots, and stalactites, resembling natural potted scenery.

A few hundred steps beyond the lake, there is a pool with a huge boulder in the shape of a squatting lion. Hence it's given the name of "Lion Pool".

Mohan and Balan dressed up as tribal chief

Walking through the Stone Forest, we can still find traces of the Neolithic Age. This is a beautiful place combining the spirit of the ethnic minorities and natural scenery. Close to the Stone Forest are other scenic spots such as the Black Stone Forest, the Dadieshui Waterfall, the Changhu Lake (Long Lake), and the Ziyundong (Purple Clouds) Cave. Lakes, mountains, caves and rocks add more charm to the Stone Forest area. Every year, on the 24th day of the 6th lunar month, the Yi people celebrate their Torch Festival. Traditional activities including wrestling and bull fighting, and joyous singing and dancing always last throughout the whole night.

Jiuxiang (nine villages) Scenic Region is located in Jiuxiang Yi and Hui Autonomous Township of Yiliang County 96 km away from Kunming. In Yunnan Province it is a well-equipped comprehensive scenic region which is famous for its caves, mountains, rivers, deep valleys, minority customs and cultures.

It consists of 5 major scenic spots: Diehong Bridge, the Sanjiao Cave, the Dasha Dam, the Alulong and the Mingyue Lake. Among them, the most outstanding and beautiful is Diehong Bridge Scenic Spot whose construction has already been finished and is now open to the public. Diehong Bridge Scenic Spot is located in the southeast of Jiuxiang Street which is 5 km away. It includes six major scenic spots: the Green Shady Valley, the White Elephant Cave, the Goddess Cave, the Lying Dragon Cave, the Bat Cave and the Tourist Cableway. The whole journey is about four kilometers long and the time needed is three hours.

Deep valley to the river below

Under ground river

Jiuxiang cave

Two waterfalls side by side

Cascading pool

Grand Primitive Song & Dance Medley – entrance is Y120

I love the dancing and singing of these ethnic indigenous people. More than 70% of the performers are local peasant farmers from outlying villages of Yunnan and most of them are from ethnic groups including Yi, Miao, Tibetan, Dai, Bai, Va and Hani.

Dancers of Grand Primitive Song & Dance group

Day 9 (19.10.06) Kunming

This day is light & easy. It’s just walking around the city near the Hump shopping centre. We had very good dinner at Mamafu’s Noodles restaurant. I bought 2 day-pack “One Polar” brand for Y95 each at one of the supermarket beside Camellia.

Sleeping: Camellia Hotel – Dormitory is Y30 per bed

Day 10 (20.10.06) Kunming > Hekou

We went shopping again in the morning and had very good lunch & dinner at Mamafu’s Noodles restaurant. I bought 2 all-dry pants and a shirt. Check-out of hotel and placed our backpack at their store-room. The overnight bus to Hekou was at 7.45pm.
Bus – Kunming to Hekou is Y109pp
Sleeping - Overnight bus journey to Hekou

Camellia Hotel

Day 11 (21.10.06) Hekou > Lao Cai > Sapa, Vietnam

We arrived at Hekou at 8.45am after 13 hours of overnight bus journey. We then walked towards the Chinese immigration office. Again Mohan had problem clearing his passport. The smeared rubber stamp ink is the problem; however, it was cleared after some checking by the officers. Balan bought a bottle of whisky at the duty free shop for Deepavali celebration in Sapa. We crossed the bridge at 9.45 am sharp into Lao Cai, Vietnam, and walked towards the Vietnamese Immigration office. Chew Leng Soon and I were delayed 40 minutes here due to run-out of forms and they have to send people to collect from another office. We then took a tramp to the railway station to check for tickets to Ha Noi. At the railway station we took a van to Sapa with 17 passengers instead of 12. We celebrated Deepavali with good food and whisky at one of the recommended restaurant - Happy Deepavali To Mohan and Balan.
Van – Hekou to Sapa is D20000pp
Hill Tribe GH is US7 a room for 2
Note: RM1 = Dong4,000 US1 = Dong16,000

Crossing the bridge to Vietnam from China

Crossing the bridge into Vietnam

Chinese traders crossing to Vietnam

Red Hmong tribe in Sapa

Happy Deepavali to Mohan and Balan

Evening open market

Day 12 (22.10.06) Sapa

After breakfast, we went for a 5 hour guided trek through the valley visiting the Hmong villages along the way. We started by walking from Sapa town towards the Muong Hao valley – one of the most beautiful valley in Vietnam where we can admire a magnificent scenery. About 1km from the road, we turn right to get the trail leading into the valley. We trekked downhill through lush rice terrace to Lao Chai – 2 villages of Black Hmong tribe). Lunch was provided by stopping at one of the rest-house run by the Dao tribe. The guide prepared delicious lunch while we had beer. We experienced the daily life of the tribes and talked to friendly people.

After lunch we trekked through Ta Van village and noticed that there were home-stay for those who wish to stay with the tribal families. In total we trekked for about 14km up and down the hills crossing a beautiful river before ending the trek. A van came to pick us up heading for guest-house while Bernard would walk back preparing for his Nepal trip. In town our guide, Mr. Son took us for mutton lunch.

SAPA - Setting blissfully at the elevation of 1,650 meters on the Hoang Lien Son mountain range. Sapa is the hill station built in 1922 and a fine resort town in the northwest of Vietnam. Besides the fertile terraced paddy fields and hill tribal villages, it is home to the fog-swirled Fansipan peak, the highest in the country. The town has the temperate climate zone with the coldest months from January to February; the excellent summer weather from March to May; the rains from June to August. The town has the most pleasant temperature from September to mid-December. One of the most interesting spots is downtown Sapa. It is the place where you will see ethnic people adorn in colorful hill tribe costumes walking the streets. The Hmong and the Dao are the largest ethnic groups of this region. Normally, tourists will see troops of hill tribe villagers during the Saturday market where they will come to sell their handicrafts. Most of the attractions outside the city relate to nature such as trekking and making an excursion. Every trekker’s destination seems to be the 3,143-meter Fansipan peak that is only 9km from Sapa but can only be accessible by foot. The trip to this pristine natural site takes at least three days. The best time to visit is from mid-October to mid-December and in March. North of the city, just only 8km away from the city, is the Silver Waterfall or Thac Bac. It is one of the highest waterfalls in the country standing at 100 meters tall. A little bit further on the same road of Sapa-Lai Chau is Tram Ton Pass at the height of 1,900 meter, the highest mountain pass of the country. It is the natural dividing line of the dramatic contrast of the coldest weather in Sapa and the warmest in Lai Chau.

Trekking fee is US7pp
Hill Tribe GH is US7 a room for 2

My future daughter-in-law

Sapa market

American guest-house

Beautiful valleys

Indigo plant for dyeing cloth

Village by the bamboo forest

A tribal grave

Lunch time break

Day 13 (23.10.06) Sapa > Hanoi

After breakfast at Mountain View coffee house, we trekked up the Dragon Jaws Mountain beside the church in town – entrance is Dong20,000 (RM5). We also attended a cultural dance where we also participated in the bamboo dance. We then took a 6pm van down to Lao Cai to catch the train at 8.30pm for Hanoi.
Overnight train to Ha Noi
Train – Lao Cai to Ha Noi is D216,000pp

Day 14 (24.10.06) Hanoi

Arriving at 6am in Hanoi, we took a taxi to Bao Long Hotel at Hang Be Road. Afternoon we went for the Thang Long Water Puppet show – fee is D20,000. We then walked around the old quarter. Cheapest beer in the world is the draft Hoi Beer at RM0.50 or D2,000 a glass.

Hanoi the capital of Vietnam is a city of lakes and tree-lined boulevards. Although the transition to a market economy was perhaps most resisted in Hanoi, it's now well under way, and the city is as vibrant then the southern counterpart. Hanoi was founded around 1010 AD, shortly after the Vietnamese had attained independence from nearly 1,000 years of Chinese domination. The city was founded by Emperor Ly Thai Tho, who built a citadel and a surrounding walled city just northwest of the current Old Quarter. Hanoi served as Vietnam's capital until the Emperor Gia Long decided to move the capital to Hue in the nineteenth century. In 1902, the French made Hanoi the capital of French Indochina and the Viet Minh declared the city the capital of independent Vietnam in 1945. While much damage had been done to the city during the American War, much of it has been repaired. The city still retains a number of sites dating back nearly to its founding, as well as architectural treasures from the French occupation.

Puppet show – D20000pp
Bao Long Hotel at Hang Be road is US2 pp
Recommended - Prince 57 Hotel is US7 per room for 3

Bao Long Hotel at Hang Be street is US2 pp

Hoan Kiem Lake - Although just one of many parks and lakes is the most important. The lake lies just south of the old ancient part of town and is the center of legend. According to legend, in the fifteenth century a fisherman found a magical sword in his net one day, and he presented it to Emperor Ky Thai To (also known as Le Loi). The Emperor used the sword to defeat the invading Mongols. One day after the battle, the Emperor was enjoying an afternoon boat ride on Hoan Kiem Lake when a giant golden tortoise appeared, took the sword and disappeared into the depths of the lake.

A small pagoda sits on an islet in the center of the lake, and is dedicated to the tortoise. The lake is surrounded by a narrow strip of park-land with paths leading all around. There's a small cafe at the southwest corner of the lake which is almost always crowded when the weather is nice. Near the northeast corner of the lake a red wooden bridge connects to a small island with the Ngoc Son temple on it. The park around the lake is popular all day long. In the morning, you'll see people exercising, while in the afternoon people walk, sit and enjoy the sunset, or meeting special friends to watch the sunset.

Ngoc Son Temple

Vietcong commander

Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. A lot of guides list the water puppet show as a "must see" in Hanoi. I found that the show really is something that shouldn't be missed. Water puppetry is an art form which originated in Vietnam at least 1,000 years ago. The puppets are essentially marionettes, except that in place of strings or wires, the puppets are mounted on long poles, which remain totally hidden under a shallow pool of water. The workings of the puppets can be quite elaborate, and part of the fascination of the show is figuring out how each puppet works. The performance is a series of unconnected skits. Some simply depict scenes of everyday village life, such as planting rice or catching fish. Others act out famous legends or myths. Each act uses specially made puppets, each of which is different than the ones used by the other skits. The puppets are carved of wood and painted or lacquered with bright colors. The water and lighting provides some spectacular effects with only these very simple elements. Shows last about an hour and consist of about 16 stories. The entire performance is accompanied by a live orchestra sitting to the left of the stage. The traditional instruments include drums, flutes, xylophone and the harp-like dan bau. The band is accompanied by a singer as well.

The theater is located near the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake just a short walk from the Ngoc Son Temple. There are several performances every day, beginning at 16:15, with the last performance at 21:15. You must book your seats in advance, as the performances tend to sell out every day. You're advised to drop by the theater in the afternoon on the day you want to attend. There are two classes of tickets. First class tickets cost 40,000 Dong (2.40 USD) while second class is 20,000 Dong (1.20 USD). It doesn't appear that there is any difference between the first class and second class tickets, other than where you sit.

Day 15 (25.10.06) Hanoi >HaLong Bay> CatBa

A US25 package trip starts with a 3 hour van drive at 8am to Ha Long Bay. On board the junk boat we had lunch served at 2pm. Another 3 hour sailing before we reached Cat Ba Island. Along the way, we visited Sung Sot Cave and later stopped for swimming. Accommodation and dinner was at Cat Ba Plaza. We later explore the town centre.

Sung Sot Cave is situated in the centre of the UNESCO-declared World Heritage area, the Sung Sot or Surprise Grotto is on Bo Hon Island, and is one of the finest and widest grottoes of Halong Bay. Ascending to the grotto, the way is covered by trees and foliage, and consists of great paved stone blocks. Inside, it is partitioned into two chambers; the first one being similar to a wide theater hall. Many stalactites hang from the high ceiling, with numerous possible forms and shapes. A narrow passage leads to the second rooms, where a flow of light meets visitors. The chamber is so immense it could contain thousands of people at one time. At the deepest point of the grotto, a "royal garden" appears with a clear pond and a seemingly fascinating landscape of mountains. Many birds and plants live here.

Halong Bay is a World Natural Heritage, includes some 1,600 islands and islets in the Tonkin Gulf. Viewed from above, Halong Bay looks like an extremely vivid huge drawing. This is a wonderful and skillful masterpiece of the creation and of nature that turns thousands of dumb soulless stone islands into fantastic sculptural and artistic works of various graceful shapes, both familiar and strange to human beings. Thousands of islands emerging uneven in the fanciful waves look strong and magnificent but also mild and vivid... Wherever you come from, whosoever you are and however old you are, you will certainly experience the same emotion and feeling when admiring this wonder of stone and water. And great experiences will always remain even when you leave the place.

Cat Ba Island is the largest island in Halong Bay. The island has a few fishing villages and a small town. On the east side of the island you will find Lan Ha Bay which has numerous beaches and excellent scenery. There are two white sand beaches (Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2) located 1km from Cat Ba town. The two beaches are connected by a wooden walkway about 700m long. Cat Ba National Park occupies a large area of the island and is well worth a visit especially if you enjoy hiking. The best time to visit Cat Ba is during October and November. Temperatures are a little cool from December to February, and you can expect rain during March and April. June through August is hot and humid.

Day 16 (26.10.06) Cat Ba Island > Hanoi

8.30am boat back to Ha Long Bay for lunch and then traveled by van back to Hanoi. Evening was spent exploring the city and the lake area. It was another shopping day and drinking beer-Hoi. Prince 57 Hotel, Hanoi is US7 for 3 people

Cheers! to beer-Hoi

Day 17 (27.10.06) Hanoi > Vientiane, Laos

Morning was last shopping at the old quarter. After lunch we visited the Public Bank HQ and chat with the Manager, Mr. Tay. We were recommended to buy Vietnam famous coffee powder beside the Bank. We left Hanoi by bus at 9.30pm for Vientiane, Laos.
Bus – Ha Noi to Vientiane is D154,000 (RM39)
Overnight bus to Vientiane

Mr Tay of Public Bank

Buying silk sleeping-bag

Last drink in Hanoi

Day 18 (28.10.06) Vientiane, Laos

We arrived at Vietnam border town of Cau Treo at 7.30am for immigration clearance. We left the Namphao Laos immigration at 9.30am for a 380 km journey to Vientiane. In Vientiane we took a tutu to town and stayed at Riverside Hotel for B500 twin sharing room. Evening was exploring the Mekong River-side for dinner. This is the longest road journey of 20 hours from Hanoi to Vientiane arriving at 5.30pm the following day.

Vientiane - In spite of its role as the capital of Laos, Vientiane is unbelievably quiet, and a great place to hang out and relax, taking in the laid back atmosphere created by the country’s exceedingly friendly people.

War History - Across the Mekong River from Nong Khai in Thailand, Vientiane is the capital of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos). The warlord Fa Ngum founded the Lan Xang kingdom with Khmer backing in 1353. Its capital in modern-day Luang Prabang was shifted to Wieng Chan (Vientiane) around 1545. Over the centuries, Khmers, Vietnamese, Siamese, Burmese, French and Americans all fought wars on its soil before the communist Pathet Lao takeover in 1975.

Today, Vientiane is a peaceful city of multi-cultural influences, most evident in its architecture: Lao temples, French colonial mansions, Sino-Vietnamese shop houses and Soviet-style administrative offices. Southeast Asia’s recent development has been slower here, so there are few tall buildings and little traffic, but hotels and foreign restaurants are multiplying as the communist government opens up to visitors.
Riverside Hotel, Vientiane – B500 per room

Vietnamese students studying in Laos unloading personal effects

Day 19 (29.10.06) Vientiane

We changed to Phonepaseuth Guesthouse. After lunch we walked to the Morning Market and bought some T-shirts. We then walked to the bus station to check out on buses to Vang Vieng.

Evening we went to That Luang Temple where there was a celebration with fun-fare. Mr. Chew and I went for very good foot massage at LV City Massage, Spa and Beauty opposite our GH – strongly recommended. Phonepaseuth GH, Vientiane - B400 per room

Oldest stupa in town

Vientiane’s majestic Pha That Luang is a 16th century gilded stupa surrounded first by a wall of 30 smaller stupas. This is actually the result of two restorations since the Siamese sacked Vientiane in 1828. The Bangkok-style Wat Si Saket (1818) is the city’s oldest temple, containing 2,000 small and 300 larger Buddha images, mostly from the 16th to 19th centuries. The Lao monarchy used to worship at Haw Pha Kaew, now a museum. Said to have once held the Emerald Buddha (now in Bangkok), it contains some of Laos’ finest and oldest Buddhist sculptures.

You can shop for hill tribe handicrafts and Lao textiles at the Morning Market.

The Patuxai monument, the Lao version of the Arc de Triomphe, commemorates pre-Revolutionary war heroes: climb the inner stairs for a view of the city and its avenues.

Day 20 (30.10.06) Vientiane > Vang Vieng

8am bus to Vang Vieng, 156km away arriving at 1pm. Check-in at Phoubane GH. We went swimming in the beautiful river and exploring the town for food. The small town of Vang Vieng nestled beside the Nam Song River amid beautiful limestone karsts terrain and the main attraction is the TV bars.

Bus – Vientiane to Vang Vieng by local bus is K25,000pp
Phoubane GH, Vang Vieng – US3 per room

Day 21 (31.10.06) Vang Vieng

Early morning, Mr. Chan and I went to a temple I visited in 2003. I brought along the photos of monks and devotees taken back then. They were very pleased and surprised to see the photos. We joined in for the prayers after which we distributed old clothing to the old folks.

At 10am we all went for river-tubing down the 10km Nam Song River in an inflated tractor tyre ending near our guest house for US3.5 per person. Several ‘bars’ were set up on islands and beaches along the river where we stopped for beer and the Tarzan swing.

This family I met in 2003

The afternoon was walking along the river side and visiting the people I met 3 years ago. They stayed on the other side of the river. I also met another young girl in the village. We distributed ball-pen to school children along the road.

Photo taken in 2003

Photo taken in 2003

Photo taken in 2003

Happy dinner with Beer Lao

Phoubane GH, Vang Vieng – US3 per room

Day 22 (01.11.06) Vang Vieng > Luang Prabang

11am bus to Luang Prabang. The bus stops at Kew Kajang for food at 4pm. It was here that I met another family 3 years ago in 2003. I gave them the photos taken and some pen to the children. 6.30pm arrived at Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang the royal capital of Laos until the 1975 revolution, this World Heritage site remains a charming curiosity of ancient temples and French colonial architecture. Second City - When Fa Ngum founded the Lan Xang kingdom in 1353, he named his capital Muang Sawa. Later, when he received a Sri Lankan Buddha image (Phra Bang) from the Khmers, he renamed the capital Luang Phrabang. Vientiane became the new capital in 1545. Now, as Laos’ second biggest city, Luang Phrabang remains a sleepy town still awaiting modernity. The ethnic mix is Laos, Mien, Hmong and various other Thai tribes. The architecture is assorted, with northern Laos’s temples and French colonial buildings standing among humbler private dwellings: mountains surround the area, giving an isolated feel. Palace Museum - For the city’s history, try the French colonial-era Royal Palace Museum by the Mekong River. Built in 1904, it was a residence of King Sisavong Vang. He died in 1959, leaving it to Crown Prince Sisavang Vatthana. Following his exile during the 1975 revolution, the palace became a museum. It contains a 38-cm solid gold Buddha image from the 1st century, carved elephant tusks and other unusual Buddha statues. Temple Finery - Interesting temples: The classic Wat Xieng Thong (1560) is the city’s finest temple. It features some unique Buddha effigies and a beautiful tree of life mosaic. Stunning gold relief adorns the doors of Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham (1797). Wat Wisunalat (1513) is Luang Phrabang’s oldest, continually used temple. Burned by Chinese Ho bandits in 1887, it was rebuilt in 1898.The main stupa of Wat That Luang (1818) holds the ashes of King Sisavang Vong. Local lore dates the site to the 3rd century BC. River Attractions - Outside Luang Phrabang: Pak Ou Caves on the Mekong River are a 25-km boat ride away and contain hundreds of Buddha statues. 29 km south of the city are Kuang Si Falls, where water cascades from several tiers into the green pools below. This is a public recreation area.

Bus – Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang – US9.50pp
Merry Guesthouse is US4 a room

Farewell to staff of Phoubane Guesthouse, Vang Vieng

This is Vang Vieng bus station on an old air-field

Public transport

This family I met 3 years ago at Kew Kajang

Photo taken in 2003

Photo taken in 2003

Photo taken in 2003

Luang Prabang bus station

Day 23 (02.11.06) Luang Prabang

Early morning at 5.30am I walked out to the main road to witness hundreds of Buddhist monks begging for food. I then walked up the hill for the famous temple - Wat thammo thayaram and Phousi Stupa.

Mr Chew went to donate blood at the Red Cross centre where he also donated the previous year. He then visited his Hash House friends at Hotel Rama while we visited Kwang Xi and Sai waterfalls by paying the tutu US5 each.

Afternoon was exploring the town and had dinner at a Chinese restaurant together with the 4 nurses from the Red Cross Centre.

Merry Guesthouse is US4 a room
Mohan & Balan changed to Cold River GH for US5 a room Sai Waterfall

Wat thammo thayaram and Phousi Stupa.

Kwang Xi waterfall is about 24 miles south of Luang Prabang is considered the most picturesque in the area. Water cascades down 200 feet through a series of pools and cascades. Trips to Kwang Si falls are usually a full day affair combined with visits to one or more ethnic villages and lunch at the falls. Entrance fee is 15,000 kips.

Sai Waterfall is the closer of two spectacular waterfalls that make good day trips from Luang Prabang. The water cascades down through several pools before flowing into the Khan River. The water is best from about September to January. During the rainy season from May to August, the water will be thick and muddy. Entrance fee is 8,000 kips.

Khan River

Staff of Merry Guesthouse - US4 a room

Evening was walking to the night market at Sisavong Vang road down to Setthathilat Road. In front of the hill tribe market (usually closed at night) are several food stalls selling local delicacies. Further on towards the museum are many vendors of souvenir items, mostly textiles with a few other items thrown in.

Night market at Luang Prabang

Chan & girl friend enjoying dinner

Day 24 (03.11.06) Luang Prabang > Chiang Mai

10am to the jetty. Actual speed boat fee to Huay Xai is only 280,000 kips (RM107) but we paid US32pp through agent. Change boat at Pak Beng and 2nd change at another stop. The journey took 7 hours before arriving at Huay Xai at 5pm. We had dinner at JJ guesthouse while waiting for van to Chiang Mai. Departed at 7.30pm and arriving Chiang Mai at 11.30pm. Supper near Kalare Market.
Speed boat – Luang Prabang to Huay Xai is Kip280,000 (RM107) must pay in Kip.
Van – Chiang Kong to Chiang Mai – B220pp
Nam Khong GH in Chiang Mai is B250 a room - Strongly recommended.

Change boat and had lunch at Pak Beng

Day 25 (04.11.06) Chiang Mai > Sukhothai

After breakfast, we decided to break into 2 teams. Chew, Mohan & Balan would stay back in Chiang Mai while Chan, Bernard and I would travel to Sukhothai to witness the Loy Krathong festival there. We left Chiang Mai for Sukhothai at 2.30pm - a 5 hour journey. As all the guest-houses were full, we stayed at Chinawat Hotel, Sukhothai at B250 a room for 3 people. We walked to the market for dinner.
Bus – Chiang Mai to Sukhothai - B234pp
Chinawat Hotel - B250 a room for 3pax

Chew with girl friend

Balan sending love messages to wife

Day 26 (05.11.06) Sukhothai
After breakfast, we took tuk2 to Sukhothai Historical Park where the Loy Krathong festival was held. We each rented a bicycle (B20 each) and cycled round the complex. We then bought tickets for the Light and Sound Presentation at 9pm – fee is B400. There was a grand fire-work display at 12 midnight. Miss Universe, Natalie was present at the grand stand.
Chinawat Hotel - B250 a room for 3 pax

Day 27 (06.11.06) Sukhothai > Bangkok
Chan & Bernard took the bus back to Chiang Mai to meet the other team members. However, I decided to go back to Malaysia by train, so I took a bus to Phitsanulok to catch the train to Bangkok. The train departs at 11.18am and arrived in Bangkok at 8pm.
Train – Phitsanulok to Bangkok is B179
Station Hotel beside the railway station is B250 a room
Recommended is The Train Inn at B450 a room.

Day 28 (07.11.06) Bangkok > Hadyai
I spend the morning walking around Bangkok China Town and had very good chicken rice there. I have been eating there in my previous 3 trips. The train to Hadyai is at 5 pm.
Train – Bangkok to Hadyai is B345
Overnight train to Hadyai

Day 29 (08.11.06) Hadyai
I reached Hadyai at 12 noon.
Cathay Guest House is B200 a room

Day 30 (09.11.06) Hadyai > Ipoh
It was 6am train to Butterworth and 10.30am bus to Ipoh. The rest of the team flew in to KL from Chian Mai.

Family members of Cold River Guesthouse, Luang Prabang, Laos

Bernard Lee 016-2543318
Balan 016-2011373 email: ctbalan@sdc.com.my
Chan Meng Fye 016-2815989 email: fye2fly@yahoo.com
Chew Leng Soon 012-2177366 email: portoon@yahoo.com
Ching Neng Bin 012-5053199 email: ching2662@yahoo.co.uk
Mohanadas 012-2776031 email: mohanandas.mohan@shell.com

No comments:

Post a Comment