TRAVELLING STORY 3
This is the story of one of the trips of my lifetime around South Each Asia. Though I have grown up here, it is still so amazing for me to explore my own country and the region. I would love to see more: Tibet, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Phillippines, etc. Hope you will enjoy it!
I have grown up with a dream to travel round the world! You know such a dream can be considered "Out of your mind" when you live in Vietnam. Fortunately, thanks to my job as a professional guide and to my luck, I have been traveling in different ways and for a few times to 3 continents (and the dream is not over yet).
One of the most memorable trips is my self-exploration of South East Asia, including Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, China and Cambodia from May to September 2005. It was truly a lifetime experience for me! If you are interested, I would like to share with you my trip experiences. It"s a bit behind the time but still a hot topic to me.
I started in Laos by crossing the border in Quang Tri province (Vietnam), near Hue and travelled up to Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Hoayxai (in Laos), all by public bus and to tell the truth I still dreamed about those long rough bus rides (11 hours from Hue to Savanakhet, 6 hours from Savanakhet to Vientiane, 10 hours from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, and 6 hours from Luang Prabang to Hoayxai by speed boat in the summer sun!!!). However, it was a great way to see a lot of the country. In general, I enjoyed this laid-back country very much. The nature is beautiful with many forests, mountains, teak plantations and the rough beautiful Mekong River. The people are really friendly, especially relaxing and easy-going (no hurry at all). There are beautiful Buddhist temples and traditional wooden architecture. The food is fine and the markets are colourful and lively. The life pace here is slow and peaceful.
From Hoayxai, I crossed the border in Ching Khong and travelled down to Chiangmai (North Thailand). From the messy and slowly developing country of Laos, I arrived in the better organized and developed country of Thailand. I did some very enjoyable tours in Chiangmai, one of a very few really charming and enjoyable cities in touristy Thailand. I enjoyed walking hours through lovely quiet garden streets of Old town Chiangmai, eating delicious Thai food, shopping at busy colourful Night Barzar, visiting craft villages, riding on an elephant, motorbike, tuk tuk, etc. After Chiangmai I went down to Bangkok by evening bus and found Bangkok quite quiet early in the morning even in the Bang Lamphu area (backpackers‚ area)! 2 hours later, I heard the real Bangkok! I stayed in Bangkok for a few days mainly to take care of visas for Myanmar and China. To me, Bangkok is not as charming and enjoyable as Chiangmai, but I took time to visit some highlights such as Wat Pho and Royal Palace which are also special. I explored the city quite much by metro, sky train, public boat and bus. These means of transportation are time and energy consuming, but really great to mingle among the locals and experience some sights and aspects of the real local life. There are some great markets and shopping areas, especially the weekend market at Chatuchak. I enjoyed the trip to the River Kwae, the War cemetery and an elephant camp. I did visit some beaches around Pattaya as well, but I preferred the beaches back home. I did not see more of Thailand as you should spend a good amount of time for this country alone, so I may come back for another time. Chiangmai and Bangkok are the two places in my intended tour itineraries for my company.
Then came the greatest experiences in Myanmar! This country was more than what I had expected and a really big wonderful surprise according to my poor knowledge about it before I got there. The country is economically very poor and self-supported, but the people are so warm-hearted, the Buddhist culture is so rich and special, and the landscapes are very beautiful. I enjoyed Rangoon with many leftover Anglo colonial constructions, and the shady streets. Particularly, Swedagon is really a world wonder of a Buddhist temple. Again I travelled everywhere by public bus and truck to stick to my tight budget and to see a lot of the country. The roads here are really in very poor conditions and the buses are old and slow. You could not believe how much they tried to squeeze people, animals, and things on the roof, the outside and inside of these vehicles as they are not very frequent, for some distances only one bus a day! I was squeezed in as well and I felt sorry for the people but honestly I enjoyed those amazing scenes. What more amazing was that the people were so friendly, helpful and communicative in those hell-on-earth vehicles. The most annoying thing was so many checks-up on the road by the army soldiers. I did not understand what they were checking for so often among those innocent-looking poor people. About the sites, I enjoyed the Ancient town of Bagan so much with thousands of stunning Buddhist temples dotting along hills, villages, and deserts. I rented a horse cart and explored the whole World heritage site in the heat of 38 degree, but still very enjoyable and impressive. I equally enjoyed very much the boat trip and scenic scenes in Inle Lake where you can see the unique image of leg-rowers. This natural scenic spot is really uniquely beautiful and pleasant to be at. I went to the big and better developed city of Mandalay, visiting many famous sites there but they did not leave as much impression as the other places. The Burmese people are really interesting. I found them somewhat standing-out (I don"t say they are odd) with their own unique ways of living, believing, behaving, etc. For example, most men choose betel nuts, having red lips and black teeth. Most women (and many men as well) use tanakar, a kind of powder from a tree bark as a natural cosmetic substance. Most men wear longins, something like sarong and funny to see them sit to pee (I am sorry if you don"t like this story). The cars have the steering wheels on the right and they drive on the right as well! People often pray whenever they go by a temple and you have to walk on your bare feet when visiting any temples, hills, and caves where one or more Buddhas are worshiped. So on and so forth.
Well, you must come there to experience those scenes and sites yourselves, really fantastic!
I may spend another chapter to write about China! This country is so big and out of my imagination and knowledge. I did not enjoy the cities very much as I expected to see lots of old charming constructions. But they are all modern with big blocks of grey buildings, busy traffic, very crowded. But frankly speaking, all the big cities I visited such as Kunming, Chengdu, Xian, Beijing, Wuhan, have nice public parks where the local elderly love to come to dance, sing songs, chat, play chess with each other, and many big interesting shopping areas. Huge bargaining is a must when you shop in China, the given price may be 10 times over the real price! Many natural scenic spots and cultures of minority groups of China were what I enjoyed most. The nature in this country is so impressive with deep gorges, high peaks, dotted rocks, lakes, rivers, villages among rice fields and maize plantations. I enjoyed the fantastic and tough hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge (one of the deepest gorges in the world and I almost lost my breath at the last part up there!), the wonderful cruise on the Yangze river through the three Gorges (now the world biggest dam is being built there), the uniquely beautiful Jiuzhaigou Nature reserve with unique turquoise and transparent lakes, beautiful waterfalls and forests, the great Great Wall, the stunning Terracotta Warriors, the Summer palaces in Beijing, the interesting cultures of the Bai, Naxi, Tibetan peoples in Yunnan, the old lovely towns of Dali, Lijiang, Sangrila, Suhe, Yanhshou, etc. Yes, China is really a very interesting and great country to travel to. It"s a pity that I did not visit Tibet and do the silk road trip yet, but I will definitely seek for chances to experience them.
Travelling alone has some good advantages such as having your own timing, plans, tastes of food and specialties, choice of accommodation, transports, etc. But there are many moments that you do want to have some company such as feelings of security to walk somewhere rather remote, sharing comments and discussions, watching your belongings while you are queuing to buy tickets or need to go to a toilet, sharing the cost of accommodation or taxi, etc. But this trip was an inspection trip for me, so it was not easy to travel with someone. I tried to visit many sites, explore tour itineraries besides inspecting many hotels and visiting local tour agencies. In general, it was a very great and successful trip.
Are you tired from reading my travelling experiences? I really hope you have enjoyed reading my experiences.
Sorry! It isn"t the end yet because 2 months later I got my back-bag on and traveled again to Cambodia and Laos for 10 days! I went to Cambodia 2 times before but I only visited Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. This time I added Sihanoukville, Battambang, and the whole route along the Mighty Mekong River from Kongpong Cham up to Stungtreng and to Laos. And again rough bus rides, long tiring boat trips, simple accommodation, but very enjoyable trip!
Phnom Penh is always easy and enjoyable to hang around by motorcycle. It was extremely fun to watch a big elephant walking down the busiest street along the river in the capital city. I love the baguettes here. Sihanoukville is a really pleasant place to be with beautiful empty beaches and a peaceful town. The Ream National Park nearby is worth a try. Then I came up North to Battambang, another peaceful town in Cambodia where I did a great exploration by motorbike through the countryside and villages. Have you ever heard of a bamboo train? It"s actually something like a bamboo draft that the locals here put on some wheels and a motor instead of on the water so that it can run on the railway like a train! Try it in Battambang! Real fun! I came to Siem Reap the third time on a very scenic boat ride for more than 5 hours from Battambang. This boat trip is different from the one from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap on express boats. It is slower, and thus more peaceful in narrower rivers, seeing more of the daily life, rice fields, and even marijuana fields! Besides, I hooked up with other travel fellows and enjoyed chatting with them. It was really a beautiful trip! I don‚Äôt want to tell much about Siem Reap as this place has been written so much in many travelogues. Then came the rough part to follow the Mekong River, passing by Kongpong Cham, Kratie, Stung Treng, up to Laos border! I enjoyed seeing more of Cambodia, learning more about the Mekong River (now I have seen it all the way from China down to Vietnam and out into the South Vietnam Sea). Especially, it was very enjoyable to watch the rare Irrawaddy dolphins playing in the water.
It was a rough day from Kratie to Stung Treng in a very old car with 9 people (!) on a terribly pumping road for 6 hours! After that, with other 4 travel fellows, I took a speed boat to Laos border for 2 hours. Crossing the border here could be so easy as you gave the custom men some tips. But you must have Laos visa in advance otherwise you will have to take the whole rough trip back to Phnom Penh to apply for it!
We arrived in Si Phandon, the lovely Four thousand islands area, a paradise on earth. It"s a unique place! I was totally relaxed in this remote and rather primitive place where people still get electricity from car batteries! It"s literally dark in the evening here. But it"s so peaceful and relaxing! I could lie down on the hammock in front of my guesthouse room built on stilts above the Mekong River and let time and life go by and all the rough bus rides and tiring boat rides behind!
After Siphan Don, I went to Champasak, a World Cultural Heritage site, something similar to Angkor Temples but less impressive of course. I realized that the South of Laos is so promote and even quieter and slower than the North. Buses are not frequent at all and very crowded but the roads are much better than in Burma. Due to my tight schedule, I did not explore more of Laos as I continuously took 3 more long bus rides from Champasak to Pakse, then to Savanakhet and back to Hue through the evening. I got back to Lao Bao early in the morning where I had left 5 months ago. I felt secured and proud to be back home after such long journeys! I have so many things to tell home about.
Of course there are more stories that I could not write all down. But I am very pleased to share more if you let me know.
Plan your trips, take them and enjoy them!
Be my travel buddies.