Category: South East Asia

Apr 09 2010

Sapa, Vietnam to Hekou, China

Arrived in LaoCai at 7.30am. Stored my bag at the train station (10,000 Dong~USD$0.50), had breakfast (20,000 Dong~USD$1)

and got a minivan (35,000 Dong ~USD$1.7) to Sapa. Sapa is just around 35km away from LaoCai. Sapa is a very colorful town with a few ethnic minority groups such as the Hmong, Dai and Tay.

It’s very misty up in Sapa.


BBQ piglet


Hmong people discussing about business

Terraced paddy field

Got back to LaoCai at 2pm and got on a motorbike taxi to the Vietnam-China border which is 3km away from the train station.

Leaving Vietnam

Crossed the border to the border town, HeKou.

Bought a 8pm bus ticket (137Yuan ~USD$20, 450km, 9 hours) from HeKou to Kunming.

I almost forgot that the time in China is an hour ahead of Vietnam, luckily there were still some time left when I thought about that. The sleeper bus left at 8pm sharp and was full. China has a first class infrastructure, the roads are much better than Vietnam and many other South East Asian countries. After spending the past few weeks on slow buses going on windy, narrow and bumpy roads, the bus ride to Kunming felt quite different. The bus went pretty fast. Instead of going around the mountains, there are many tunnels through the mountains and it’s a 4 lane highway so the ride was more comfortable.

Apr 07 2010

Hanoi Day 2, Vietnam

Rented a motorbike (110,000 Dong~USD$6) for the day.

Visited the History Museum (10,000 Dong~USD$0.5). The building has an IndoChina architecture which is a mix of Western and Eastern style.

Vietnam has a strong Chinese influences and a lot of Vietnamese artifacts have Chinese characters on it.

Museum of Vietnamese Revolution (20,000 Dong~USD$1).

Vietnam is a country which has been in many wars for the past 100 years. The museum was divided into Vietnamese struggle for independence from 1858-1945, thirty years of resistance war against the French and Americans from 1945-1975 and current history.

A guillotine used by the French to execute prisoners.

Dong Xuan market.

Local street food (15,000 Dong~USD$0.8)

Old structures

Crossing the red river to the other side using Long Bien bridge.

Military Museum

An old building from the Nguyen dynasty


The tank that broke through the presidential palace in Saigon.

Snake meat is popular in Vietnam. The village is located at Le Mat road which is around 10km way at the North Eastern part of the city separated by the river. It took around 40 minutes of motorbike ride to get there.
Playing with snake.

Snake in a jar

Apr 06 2010

Hanoi Day 1, Vietnam

Finally arrived at Hanoi at 4.30am in the morning after 2 days in 6 different vehicles. Got off the bus station at 5.30am.

Originally we were planning to take a cab to Hanoi Backpackers Hostel but because the driver seemed to be a little sketchy, we got off at a bus station. After asking around, took public bus number 8 (3000 Dong~USD$0.15) towards Hoan Kiem lake and managed to find our way to the hostel (USD$5).

Finally settled down in Hanoi after a long journey from Luang Prabang, Laos. Hanoi is the capital and the second largest city in Vietnam with a population of around 6 million people. The city has been the capital of Vietnam most of the time in history and the city is celebrating its 1000 year anniversary this year.

Since it’s the center of the communist government, I saw more men in military uniform than in Ho Chi Minh city. Visited Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex.

Ho Chi Minh body was well preserved here rest peacefully in the mausoleum.

Walked around the old quarter. The old quarter has some windy street with colonial and pre colonial buildings. Roads in Hanoi like Ho Chi Minh is not pedestrian friendly with motorbikes and food stalls all over the walk way.

Had a local Vietnamese dish (55,000 Dong~USD$3)

which was too much for 1 person.

Lake Hoan Kiem

A cathedral

Spent the afternoon getting my sense of directions and shop for tours to Halong Bay. There are many copy cat shops here and many shops use the same name. Sinh Cafe is the most popular name used for a tour agency with maybe a hundred shops using the name. It’ll be hard to find the original Sinh Cafe.

Night view of Lake Hoan Kim

Apr 05 2010

Laos-Vietnam border crossing

Morning in Phonsavon

Alms for the monks.

There is a weekly bus from Phonsavan to Hanoi but because currently is a low season, the bus is not running. Went to the bus station at 6.20am and took the 7am bus to Nong Haet (40,000 Kip~USD$5, 160km 4 hours).

Met Igna on the bus, she was another traveler who was doing the same trip to Hanoi overland.

Passing by some local villages

Arrived at Nong Haet at 11.30am and took the 12pm tuk-tuk (15,000 Kip~USD$2)

from Nong Haet to the Laos border which is another 15km away.

Local villages

The border was closed for lunch and only opened at 1.30pm.
Trucks waiting at the border

Laos side of the border

Crossing the border was pretty easy and only took 30 minutes.
Crossed to the Vietnam side

It’s 25km downhill from the Vietnamese border to the nearest town called Muong Xen. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any transportation other than motorbike. Since Igna doesn’t prefer to take motorbike, waited on the road and managed to find a car going down to the city and paid him 120,000 Dong~USD$6 each to get to Muong Xen. The driver was quite friendly and invited us to his house

while we waited for the bus towards Vinh.

Got on the 4.30pm bus towards Vinh (40,000 Dong~USD$2)

but we got off at Cuong Con, around 110km away. Arrived at Cuong Con at 7.30pm.

Had rice with chicken for 60,000 Dong~USD$3 and waited for the 8.30pm bus towards Hanoi (200,000 Dong~USD$10).

Apr 04 2010

Phonsavan, Laos

Got on a minivan at 8am to Phonsavan. (110,000 kip~USD$13).

Phonsavan is the capital of Xieng Khuang province. It’s considered quite a small town with only 60,000 people and is famous for the site Plain of Jars which is only 15km away. Xieng Khuang province was the most bombed area in Laos by the Americans during the Vietnam War. There is a big population of Hmong in this area. The Hmong are one of the 3 bigger ethnic group in Laos.

The road to Phonsavan is the windiest road I have seen so far. We passed by some local villages on the road

and noticed that Laos was still very behind in its development.
Infrastructure and education are important factors for a country to become competitive and Laos lack both of those. Many villages still don’t have water and electricity. The people here weren’t exposed much to the world and still keep their culture and way of life.

Slash and burn are common here. Laotians burn some land in order to grow crops.

The minivan stopped at a small town of the intersection between road to Vientienne and road to Phonsavan.
There is a small market at the intersection.

Had sticky rice for lunch (20,000Kip~USD$2.50).

It seems to me that even though Laos is a poor country but food is not cheap here compared to its neighboring countries. I am sure that I am paying the local price. Taking an exception to taxes, supply and demand are more important factors that determine prices of goods than the economic condition of a country. So even though the income of the locals is low, but they are still paying more for food. This is similar to a few middle eastern countries I visited few months ago where food wasn’t that cheap.

Arrived at Phonsavan at around 3.30pm and stayed at Saibadee guesthouse (30,000 Kip~USD$4)

A cute Laotian girl, daughter of the guesthouse owner

A Hmong lady

There are still a lot of UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) in this region and every year there are still people who are killed and injured by the UXO.
Visited the UXO Center.

From 1965 to 1973, the Americans dropped 1.36 metric tones of bomb with 250 million bomblets. This is equivalent with half a tonne of bomb for everyone in the country.

Northern Laos was bombed because the Pathet Laos communist was there and Southern Laos was bombed to disrupt the supply line used by the Northern Vietnamese in the Vietnam war. Xieng Khuang province was the most bombed area in Laos.
Sample of some bombs

Street in Phonsavon

There is a Chinese market in Phonsavan.

Most of the Chinese in Phonsavan come from Hunan province which is at Southern China. There are approximately 900 Chinese in this small town of 40,000 people, the Chinese are everywhere.

Chicken market

Noodles for dinner (15,000 Kip~USD$2)

Apr 03 2010

Luang Prabang, Laos

Finally arrived Luang Prabang bus station at 6.30am. Luang Prabang is situated in the middle of Laos and is the former capital of the country. It’s also listed as UNESCO heritage site.

Got on a tuk-tuk from the terminal to the city which is 5km away (8000 Kip~USD$1).

Went to Sysomphone Guesthouse with Sachiko and shared a room for 30,000 Kip~USD$4 each.

Met some nice people at the guesthouse and we took a shared minivan(45,000 Kip~USD$6) to Khuang Xi waterfalls which is 30km away.

Me on the swing

View of the river


With the crew

Bear sleeping on a hammock

On the way back, the minivan stopped by a Hmong village.
Showing Origami to the kids.

Temples in Luang Prabang

Downtown Luang Prabang

Night market selling handicrafts and food

A bomb for decoration at Utopia bar

Snakes and scorpions served with liquor

I am planning to go to Hanoi next. There are flights to Hanoi which cost USD$130 but I always prefer to go overland if it’s not too much trouble. There are a couple of options to go overland to Hanoi but most routes will take more than 30 hours to get there. There is a direct bus to Hanoi from Luang Prabang once a week on Sunday evening but because currently is considered a low season, it’s not guaranteed that the bus will run. Another straightforward way is to go back to Ventienne then get to Hanoi from there. However, I prefer to take a different route and not to take the same way back. So my plan was to get to Phonsavan first then try to find other modes of transportation to cross the border.

Apr 02 2010

Vientianne Day 1, Laos

It has been 8 months since I started my trip in August 2nd last year to Bogota, Colombia. Laos is the 41st country on this trip and probably will be the last country in South East Asia before I head back to Vietnam then go up north to China.

Vientienne is the capital of Laos and is also the biggest city in Laos with a population of around 300,000. Laos is still a poor country and is ruled by a communist government. The country was embroiled in a civil war between the Royal Lao government and the communist Pathet Laos from 1950 until 1975. Finally with the support of North Vietnam, the Pathet Laos managed to control the country. Subsistence agriculture accounts for the majority of jobs in the country.

Between 1964 and 1973, over 260 million bombs were dropped by the US in Laos. This is more than what was dropped during the whole of World War II.

Photos around the city

Rented a bicycle (10,000 Kip~USD$1.2) for the day.

Patuxay was built on the main north south avenue in the city, symbolizing the struggle of independence.

Laos Museum

However the museum was closed during lunch time so just managed to circle around the museum and took some photos of old military stuffs.

Assembly Hall. A communist flag flying right beside the Laos flag.

Hwa Pra Kaew

Presidential Place

Wat Si Muang

Took an overnight bus at 8pm to Luang Prabang (150,000 Kip~USD$18).

Somehow the bus had a mechanical problem and the mechanic took 3 hours to fix it.

Apr 01 2010

Vientianne, Laos

We changed to a different bus at 1.30 am in the morning to Vinh and then got on another bus at 2am towards Laos.

The bus arrived at the border around 4am and everyone waited

until 7am when the border opens.

The Vietnamese side

The custom officials at the Vietnamese side wanted USD$1 for the border crossing. Since everyone paid so I just went along. I think the USD$1 is a bribe and not an exit tax.

Crossed the border to the Laos side

The whole border crossing took 2 hours for everyone.

The weather in Laos is hot and dry. The bus doesn’t have air condition and the window can’t be opened so it’s pretty stuffy inside. Bags of rices and boxes were stacked all over bus.

The bus stopped a couple of times, dropping of goods.

After a long and torturous ride, finally arrived at Vientienne at 4.30pm after a 23 hours bus ride.

Got on a tuk-tuk (USD$1) to the city center which is another 13km away with 4 other guys from Japan and Korea.

Found Orchid guesthouse to have a better deal after searching around. Cramped into a room together (5000 Kip~USD$6 per person, USD$1~8420Kip)

and this felt like a high school trip with 4 guys in a room.

Orchid guesthouse is just across the Mekong river and there were some open air food stalls beside the river. Had sticky rice for dinner (26,000 Kip~USD$3) with my new roomates.

Mar 31 2010

Hue, Vietnam

Had an early breakfast, noodle with bread (20,000 Dong~US$1)

with the locals

Got on the 7.30am bus

towards Hue,

around 120km away and arrived at 11.30am.

Bought a bus ticket to Vientianne, Laos for this afternoon (42,000 Dong~USD$22). Met a Japanese guy, Yusuke and we rented a motorbike (70,000 Dong~USD$4)

and went around the city.

After having noodles almost everyday for the past few days, this time we had quite a sumptuous lunch of rice (50,000 Dong~USD$2.50)

Hue was the ancient capital of Vietnam. The imperial Nguyen dynasty ruled from Hue from 1802 until 1945.

Visited the former Imperial Palace (55,000 Dong~USD$3). It’s a big complex with many buildings, temples and gardens.

Inside the Imperial Palace

The palace was badly affected during the war.

Passed by a few places of worship, a buddhist pagoda


Got on the 5.30pm bus towards Vientianne, Laos. (420,000 Dong~USD$22).

Mar 30 2010

Hoi An, Vietnam

Arrived at Hoi An at 6.30am. Hoi An is a UNESCO heritage city. It’s old name is Faifo which was a major port in the 16th and 17th century. The city was the first site of Chinese settlement in Southern Vietnam. There are a few HuiGuan, (Assembly Hall/Chinese Congregation) which still play an important role for Vietnamese Chinese.

Walked west towards HaiBaTrung road with more accommodation options. Finally stayed at HopYen Hotel which is the only one with dormitory style room (USD$7).

There are 7 beds in a room and actually it’s not cheap relatively because there are USD$8-10 single rooms around.

Hoi An is a compact and small city. It’s easy to walk around the old city in just an hour.

FuJian association

Dropped by a local restaurant

Hoi An is famous for Cao Lau (30,000 Dong~USD$1.50), a local dish with a special kind of noodles.

Local Market


Japanese covered beach which was constructed in the 1590s by the Japanese to link them with the Chinese quarters.

Hoi An is famous for tailor made clothings, There are more than 100 tailor shops there.

and other handicrafts

Rented a motorbike (USD$4). Cua Dai beach is 5km east of the old city.

Then head north to Danang,

View Larger Map
which is the 4th largest city in Vietnam around 30km north of Hoi An. Danang succeeded Hoi An as the major port in central Vietnam in the 19th century. There aren’t a lot to see in Danang and is just a typical mid size city with tons of motorbikes roaming around.

Museum of Cham sculpture

Rode the bike back from Danang to Hoi An in the evening.
This is one of Hoi An local food called White Rose (30,000 Dong~USD$1.5).

Night view in Hoi An


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