Bai Xep > Hoi An

Once again, I’m well behind on my blog…  This time, I’m actually home.  Oops!

Bai Xep is a quiet little fishing village where the bus couldn’t even drive down to the “main street”.  The main street was like an alley in the UK and on either side locals were selling meat and fish.   Our guesthouse was right on the beach and was called Haven Vietnam.  This was probably our most expensive 2 nights accommodation apart from when we were on the island.  The guesthouse also owns the next door hostel called Big Tree Backpackers, this is where there restaurant was and no joke this was some of the nicest food for me on the entire trip!

We had dinner with the group that night and went to bed early because the bus journey had tired us out so much.  The next day, we thought we would walk along the beach.  The sea around us was the South China Sea and holy hell it was cold, almost as cold as the North Sea! Walking on the beach was hard going so we gave up after a little while and returned to the guesthouse and lounged on sun beds reading for the rest of the day.

In Bai Xep, the fishermen use conical boats to reach their fishing nets and row in a way which makes you think you wouldn’t be able to move far, but they do.  That night we had dinner with the group again, we got speaking to the older couple in our group – Marie and Joe who were from Canada and had done the lot pass already but had loved Vietnam so much they had come just to spend 2 months there, reliving their favourite parts.

The next morning we walked back up to the bus and hopped on to go to Hoi An,  Mia had often told us that this was her favourite stop and I was looking forward to seeing why.

Ho Chi Minh > Dalat

After issues checking out of our hotel in HCM we literally ran to meet our next Stray group. Thinking it would be all new people we were pleasantly surprised that we had been with 3 of them before!

Mia, our new guide introduced herself – she’s our first female guide on Stray and I’m so glad we’ve got her.

We hopped aboard the bus after he had decided to take down a couple of traffic cones to get to us and started our long drive to Dalat. Vietnam is such a long country that our travel days are pretty brutal. The drive to Dalat would take around 7/8 hours.

Mia introduced herself telling us that Mia is her English name and she chose it when she was younger based on her love of the Princess Diaries. She then went onto explain how she is 2 different ages. In Vietnamese culture she is 26, even though she was born in the same year as me and I’m 24. In Vietnam you are born 1 and they go by the year rather than the date. So in Vietnamese culture I would also be 26. In western culture, she would be 25.

On our drive we had a few stops for “happy rooms” and lunch and then we stopped at Datanla falls. A waterfall where you take a rollercoaster down the mountain to them. I wasn’t feeling well so decided against going down and sat in the sun at the top.

When I was sitting at the top it very much felt like Scotland in summer under the pine trees and with a much cooler temperature than what we’ve had since probably India.

When we arrived in Dalat, I could already tell it was going to be one of my favourite places and now after we’ve left I stand by that. That night Mia took the group to a restaurant called Artists Alley and it was cute and the food was absolutely delicious – best garlic bread I have ever eaten. We then went to maze bar which is literally a maze with thousands of staircases.

The next day we walked along the lake and around the town. We had a cute dinner and then sorted our stuff out for our journey to Bai Xep the next day.

Don Det (4000 Islands)

Our final full day in Laos began with us leaving Pakse and heading toward Don Det – an island in the Mekong River. We stopped at a place called Wat Phou first, this was a Hindu temple which had since been turned into a Buddhist temple, the most prominent religion in Laos by a mile. At this point I was still suffering from whatever bug I had picked up and decided I wouldn’t walk to the top as I was still pretty dizzy (and lazy).

After Wat Phou we hopped aboard the bus again and headed toward the 1st of our ferries for the day. This one the bus was able to board. These ferries were like none I had ever seen before, more like wooden rafts with 2 buses, 1 car and a whole bunch of people.

After this crossing we took the bus to Nakasong to catch our next ferry which truly gave me the fear. The next ferries were long narrow boats with tin roofs that wobbled when you got on them to the point of the roof falling on you. When 9 of us and our bags had got on we set off. There were 3 boats of us and the other 2 boat drivers took their boats and passengers to piers. Our driver decided he would try and beach us, it didn’t work and the boat went sideways, with us not able to get out onto dry land our driver announced right get out and we were forced to jump out the side of the boat into the sea… when it was my turn to get out one of the girls panicked and went to the other side with one leg out the boat tipped back and my other leg got stuck in the boat it’s safe to say my converse are ruined and our tour guide wasn’t happy with the boat driver…

Don Det seemed like a pretty special place. We signed up to see some rare Irrawaddy dolphins at sunset with 5 others from our group and it turned out to be pretty special. We saw the dolphins although I didn’t manage to get any pictures of them, so everyone will just need to believe me! To get to the dolphins however we had to take a tuk tuk and there are no tuk tuks on Don Det so we ordered a tuk tuk from Don Kon which is joined to Don Det via a bridge to collect us. The only road on Don Det is a single track road and is more like a land rover track in the hills back home. After our dolphin adventure we had our final meal with our friend Becky who was hopping off in Don Det to stay in a teepee for 4 nights. This was our last day in Laos which has definitely become one of my favourite countries now. The next day we crossed the border and journeyed to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Kuala Lumpur > Yangon

After leaving Delhi we caught a red eye flight to Kuala Lumpur. The flight itself would have been fine if we didn’t have a group of Indian guys who had never flown before infront of us… Once we arrived at KL airport I immediately decided I liked it already. We got an uber from the airport into the city which I told Ben we couldn’t fall asleep in… I slept for most of it. Arriving at the hotel had us in awe. We had managed to get a good deal on a 5 star and it was amazing. We arrived too early to check in and went up to the pool to sleep around it. We then headed to Petronas Towers mall for some lunch. After wandering back to the hotel we finally got into our room which was more like a flat! We had a kitchen/living room, bedroom, walk in wardrobe and a bathroom. It was a long way off the Indian hotels we had just come from. That night we went for dinner and to see the greatest showman (tickets were less than £3!!) Our second day in KL started off with us taking a walk to the KL tower in our ticket price it included a walk round the mini zoo. Here we fed squirrel monkeys and I fed the birds. It took me 2 attempts to manage the birds, the first time I freaked out and threw the seeds everywhere when a parrot flew at me. The man sorted my out the next time and I was fine! The next day we got an uber to the airport again and flew to Yangon. My flight got upgraded so I had the luxury of first class. Kuala Lumpur airport has to be the most chilled airport I have ever been in. If only they were all like that. Arriving in Yangon was yet another culture shock for me. Our uber driver caused us a nightmare trying to find him and then when we did find him he didn’t speak to us till he wanted a tip. So far for me, Myanmar is similar to india but less crazy driving. Today we have been to shwedagon pagoda which was stunning. We also visited the reclining Buddha and the market. Tonight we board an overnight bus which I’m feeling pretty anxious about!

10 things I’ve learned about India after my first visit

1. Indian drivers have amazing spatial awareness (and they need it). Indian roads are mental, if there is a space that your vehicle will fit in then it will. Regardless of it being a lane or not.

2. India really is an assault on your senses and it’s amazing. There is always noise whether it be dogs barking, horns constantly sounding, people singing or prayer music. Bright colours are all over especially in arid areas like Rajasthan where the ground is very beige. Flowers called rangoli’s which are bright are brought to temples, the buildings are painted colours and the women wear the brightest clothes I have ever seen.

There is always a smell in the air whether it be incense, burning rubbish or cow dung. The food is spicy, they tone it down for foreigners but it still burns my tongue off! Even the cups of tea here include spices (chai masala tea).

3. Indians have incredibly bendy legs. Not sure whether this is because of the amazing muscles they need just to use the bathroom or it’s down to something else but they can really bend those legs! So many men squat on small fence posts comfortably as their seats.

4. Curries do get better than your favourite Indian restaurant at home. My curry tastes have definitely been changed. I’ve gone from just eating chicken curries to preferring vegetable curries with paneer or dal (paneer where have you been all my life). I’ve jumped off the naan bandwagon and on to the roti rodeo.

5. In the past when I’ve visited monuments that I’ve been excited about (the statue of liberty comes to mind) they’ve disappointed me. I’ve learned that, that doesn’t always have to be the case. The Taj Mahal took my breath away and I almost cried it was so stunning. It was so much more than the hype.

6. Indians stare. a lot. I’m not sure if this shocked me more because coming from Britain we are taught at an early age that staring is rude. Everywhere we have gone the locals will stop and stare at us. They don’t even stop staring when you stare back, this encourages them even more! It’s expected now but this is definitely one of the things I’ve felt most uncomfortable about.

7. Animals live harmoniously amongst people. In every place we have been there have been cows wandering aimlessly, on the highways and in the towns. This is because of their sacredness to the Hindus of India. In the cities their are thousands of stray dogs and wild monkeys roaming without anyone thinking anything of it.

8. I didn’t realise how much of a religious country India would be. I knew there was Hindus and Muslims but there are so much more. There’s thousands of temples to thousands of God’s and goddesses.

9. Each city we visited varied so much, Delhi is so crazy busy and dusty. Agra is so touristy and people clamber for your business and Jaipur, although busy has a laid back atmosphere which I liked the best.

10. Finally, how much I love India. It has been so much more than I could have imagined or hoped for and I will definitely be back.

Final Day in Delhi

Today we faced Delhi ourselves. When I woke up this morning I didn’t want to leave the safety of the hotel. Delhi is scary. But we planned our day with the help of Mandys itinerary and off we went. We walked around 10 miles today and saw lots of sights notably the India gate and the lotus temple (more importantly we also found out India has Nandos) to get around we caught the Delhi metro which is really easy similar to the tube. Women have their own carriage here, we can board any carriage but men cannot board the women only one. The women only carriage is amazing but it’s really sad that it is needed so that women have a safe place. For dinner we had an Indian pizza hut which was great.

We’ve come back to the hotel now and I’ve done a massive repack ready for the flight to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow evening! India you have been so much more than I ever could have imagined or hoped for!

Jaipur to Delhi 

Our final journey together as a group today was the 7 hour bus ride back to Delhi. We left Jaipur Inn at 10am and arrived at the hotel in Delhi at around 4.45pm. We had a stop for lunch where I had possibly my last vegetable thali *cries*.

After arriving back at the hotel we took the Delhi metro (for the first time) as a group to Connaught Place which is where the British had their office when they occupied India. The buildings looked very British. Whilst we were here we saw Indian H&M and various other brands we recognised.

The shops for rent in connaught place are very expensive and so most of the smaller Indian shops were in the Palika Bazaar. Palika is completely underground and is like a shopping centre but the very opposite to a British shopping centre. We didn’t get to browse freely and the shop workers tried very hard to get you into shops.

Tonight’s dinner was at Nizams and Mandy recommended the rolls, i had a chicken and egg roll (the roll part was a roti which is similar to a naan) and it was amazing. We came back to the hotel after this and said our goodbyes which was really sad. Truly don’t think we could have got a better group to start our adventure with!