2/6/07 30 °C
Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
27/5/07 31 °C
After a few days back in Hanoi to readjust to the humid conditions after the fresh mountain air of Sapa I headed to Halong Bay. There are countless tour companies operating in this region so I opted for one that came as a recommendation from some fellow travellers...promising lots of kayaking and superb food....I was sold! As it turnes out it was an excellent choice. Columbus is a small adventure tour comapny operating out of Hanoi and of the two "Junk boats" they own...the Santa Maria is the swishest one. Most companies have built specifically designed boats for the toursit market....put a sail on it and called it a Junk. Whilst they are reminiscent of the traditional fishing Junk boats they are in fact not but come with a great level of comfort...hot showers...sun deck...bar! So after a three hour bus ride we arrived at the busy harbor....a hiving metropolis of boats and tourists. As it turned out there were only three of us aboard the "Santa Maria cruiser" for our overnight stay, myself and a couple from Spain on their honeymoon. It was a fantastic couple of days....the bay is magnificent and once you move out of the main harbor area the waters take on a spectacular emerald green colour. It is little wonder that this area has been claimed a World Heritage site. Our first day was made up of visiting limestone caves, kayaking around Cat Ba Island and lounging on the decks...as promised the food was outstanding and with more crew than passengers we were treated like royalty. Our Captain who I named Jackie Chen for his striking resemblence to the action man himself was a charcter and had us doing jumping tricks off the boat and playing cards in to the wee hour. As much as I am a mountain girl....I do love to be on the ocean aboard a boat, in fact, it would have to be one of my favorite things in the world to wake up on the ocean. So after a fruity breakfast and some strong coffee we again headed out kayaking, visited a local fishing village and explored some of the smaller inlets....below is a picture of the "Santa Maria" team...we had a lot of laughs and some great conversations over the couple of days we spent together.
After Halong bay it was back to Hanoi for my final night and then off to Hoi An...
Lots of love and happy thoughts,
27/5/07 23 °C
After an overnight journey on a "soft sleeper" train I arrived in Lao Cai a town high in the north of Vietnam, right on the Chinese border. An hour bus drive through terraced rice paddies and along a very windy road lead me to the magical mountain town of Sapa. Sapa has only recently been rediscovered and is now firmly on the tourist map and it is easy to see why. Immediately I noticed the cooler temperatures and had to find a jumper hidden deep in the bottom of my pack. It was early morning so the valley was filled with mist....the whole place took on an almost spiritual feel. I opted to stay out of the main area, well off the well worn "Lonely Planet track" . The Topas Ecolodge owned by a danish trekking company, recommended to me by a german couple I met at the street kids' cafe in Hanoi, has to be one of the gems of my travels to date. It is situated on the top of a hill deep in the Sapa valley. The lodge has panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and sitting on the balcony of my very own little bungalow I felt like I was on the edge of the world. Everything is made of natural materials...there are no televisions, phones, air-conditioners and lighting and warm water are supplied by individual solar systems. In the evening the path is lit with little lanterns so as to find your way along the rocky path. I loved the self sustainable nature of this place and the natural beauty took my breath away!!! It was run by a young Danish guy, an avid mountain climber, who after spending the last few years scaling the heights of the world's highest mountains found himself here in this wonderful place and decided to stay. What a place to hang up the old trekking boots for a while!. He was great company and we spent a number of evening on my balcony with a bottle of red wine recounting stories of our travels, listening to the geckos and watching the fireflies dance in the evening light. It was so wonderful just to be deep in nature and I too fell in love with this place. I did a number of treks to visit the local villages where the black Hmong and Red Dao ethnic minority people still live their life as they have always done, visited a local school, and had my first taste of a night out on vietnamese rice wine ( never again!!...ended up in a dark, rather seedy bar singing karoke with some very drunk Danes and Vietnamese who were belting out some of the cheesiest pop songs of all time in bad english!!). Sapa and in particular the Topas Ecolodge was one of the most charming places I have ever stayed....this is an area of Vietnam that I know I will return to in the future, a week did just not seem enough time...there is a certain magic here...a magic that connects you back to the simple things in life...to nature and to the world as it should be...
Love to you all,
27/5/07 30 °C
Hello my dear family and friends!
Sorry for the long delay between blogs. I have been high up in the mountains and then out in the deep blue sea, chilling out under palm trees on deserted islands and getting led astray by some of the not so locals for the last couple of weeks....but all is well!!!. It has been a technology detox of sorts as my mobile phone breathed it's last breath in Laos. So I apologise for any unanswered messages and texts. I really do have a legitimate excuse this time ( it is not just me being the hopeless correspondent that I am.... as you all well know!!!). Ohhhhh....where do I start???. Arrived in Hanoi late one night and immediately feel under the spell of the chaos and craziness of that wonderful city. I stayed in a charming little hotel in the old quater with a tiny balcony overlooking the streets below. My first evening I found a great little street corner bar, met some mad brazilians and had lots of laughs drinking awful wine and watching the world go by. The next morning I was on a mission to get a haircut...Yes, I did the big chop and am know sporting a new, very short do! The guy who cut my hair spoke very little english and when I pointed to my pony tail to signal "a trim" he grabbed the scissors and cut it off!!! Needless to say I had to go and have a few wines after the event. The streets of Hanoi beckoned to be explored so with regular stops at little cafes for cups of the wonderful strong syrupy brew I began my adventures. In the last 10 years Hanoi has seen an explosion in the number of motorbikes on the crowded, narrow streets and crossing the road is like a game of russian roulette. I loved jumping on the back of a "Honda dream" and zooming through the city. The Press Club bar housed in a beautifully restored french colonial building on one of the leafy boulevards was one of my favorite spots and I spent a number of evenings there catching up with friends and making some new ones...mostly of the expat variety! Plump sofas, ratten bar stools and low lights...it was a delightful escape from the hectic outside. The historic old quarter and the lakeside paths occupied me for hours...a great city to wander and absorb the almost Parisian feel but with all the charms I love about Asia. This is a city on the move. I was happy to know that I would be spending a week or so here but first....in world away from this chaos was a mountain area that had captured my curiousity .....so I boarded a night train bound for the surreal and astoundingly beautiful Sapa.
Lots of love to you all, Jane xxx
16/5/07 30 °C
I do not think towns come more enchanting than the ancient capital of Laos....Luang Prabang. As the french explorer and naturalist Henri Mouhot wrote arriving here in 1861 "...were it not for the constant blaze of the tropical sun, or if the midday heat were tempered by a gentle breeze, the place would be a little paradise". Luang Prabang sits at the confluence of the Khan and Mekong rivers, encircelled by mountains and with some of the finest french provincial architecture I have ever seen. I found a picture perfect room in a beautiful guesthouse, an old white fench mansion with dark green shutters and 4.8m ceilings with lovely views on to the street below. This town is a photographers dream. The fist morning I woke at dawn and wandered down the narrow streets where lines of monks on their daily alms round receive offerings of rice and fruit from the buddhist faithful. The locals will sell you a ratten container of "sticky lice" and a kneeling spot on a straw mat for about USD$1, it was all very serene. The town seemed magical in the morning light filled with bronze figures in their saffron orange robes. This town is the perfect retreat to cafe hop...which I have been doing a lot of, writing my journal, taking photos and just absorbing the tranquil atmosphere. One such heavenly spot is the L'Etranger Book& Tea shop where I have been a regular and managed to pick up some more novels!. It was here curled up on the big cushions surrounded by classic national geograhic magazines that line the walls that I met a fantastic couple from NZ ( Mel and Darren). The three of us have spent the last few days together. We found a great wine bar which became our local and indulged in many of the fantastic local restaurants. Our favorite being L'Elephant. Mel and I spent hours at the night markets ( without doubt the best markets I have ever seen) bargaining over silver and beads ( my collection of which grows daily!). Yesterday we took a picnic lunch out to a local waterfall for a swim, what a stunning spot!. We also visited the local refuge for the moon bears and chatted to the volunteers about the wonderful work they are doing. All of these bears had been saved from the cruelty of poachers who use the poor little things to extract bile for the chinese market. I just loved watching them play, they are so human like. I have so enjoyed my few days here and would be sad to leave if it were not for my excitement of heading to Hanoi...a place I have long wanted to visit.
Hope you are all well and happy. Will send some more photos in a few days but computers are a little slow in this part of the world.
Take care, Jane xxx