A Travellerspoint blog

Nha Trang...very glam!!

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The bus to Nha Trang was a bit of a nightmare!! Another crazy driver, lots more near misses, the journey was so bumpy that a small boy was sick in the middle of the night…luckily into a bag which the driver proceeded to throw out the window….charming!!

Nha Trang is a beach town known for it’s snorkeling and watersports. The Miss Universe pageant was being held in a resort on the outskirts so the town was pretty busy.
We booked onto a one day boat trip to go snorkeling and sailing around the islands just off the coast. We booked it through our hotel and it wasn’t until we got on the boat we realized we had booked onto Mama Linh’s party boat…where there emphasis wasn’t particularly on the snorkeling unfortunately. We stopped at one reef but it wasn’t that nice and the water was full of hundreds of tiny jellyfish! We moored up with 3 other boats and that is where the entertainment began! The boat crew turned into the band complete with a drum kit made of plastic tubs! They belted out a couple of Vietnamese numbers then started dragging people up on stage to sing a song from their country…muggins here was pulled up first and made to sing Yellow Submarine luckily an Irish (to the Vietnamese English and Irish are ‘same same’!) girl was pulled up with me and she did the singing…as you can imagine I was not impressed about being made to get up!! After everyone was thoroughly embarrassed the lead singer took to the sea for the ‘floating bar’ he was strapped onto a big rubber ring with a crate full of drinks. Everyone bobbed around in the water on life-rings with their drinks. We visited another island then headed for the mainland. I was a bit disappointed as we had mainly gone for the snorkeling but the whole trip seemed a bit surreal with the crazy entertainment!

Just when I thought the day couldn’t get stranger we met up with some friends and headed out for the night…straight into the middle of the Miss Universe after party!!! The contest had finished that day…Miss Venezuela being crowned Miss Universe and they were all out to celebrate along with the hosts Jerry Springer and Mel B! Never seen so many tall beautiful women in my life…out favourite was Miss Trindad and Tobago she was gorgeous and very friendly.

The next day we went to the Long Son pagoda and saw the monks going to prayer and climbed the hill to the white Buddha perched on top of the mountainside overlooking Nha Trang. In the afternoon we went to the hot springs and had a mud bath! That was fun, the mud wasn’t as thick as we thought it would be, it was quite runny and felt very strange. I also went for a massage and when I went into the room I saw a rail running along the ceiling and I thought that’s a bit strange…halfway through the massage it soon became clear that it was for balance when the woman got up on the table and started to walk all over my back!!! Did feel very relaxed afterwards though.

Another day another bus journey, this time back up into the mountains to Dalat in the Central Highlands which is said to be like the French alps. Dalat is home to the Easy Riders a crew of motorbike tour guides who organise tailored trips throughout Vietnam. We had been looking at doing a section of our trip this way and we decided to do a 4 day tour through the highlands, along the Ho Chi Minh trail and down to Mui Ne.

Our guides were Stephane and Binh (whose nickname was Dunhill) we sorted out our itinerary and arranged for them to collect us at 8.00am the next morning to start our adventure!!!

Posted by VanessaT 05:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Sapa, Hue and Hoi An

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Time seems to be passing very quickly at the moment, i cant believe i am a quarter of the way through my trip already!

The sleeper train up to Sapa was fine, basically the same as the Chinese trains. At 5 am the train arrived in Lao Cai and it was into a minibus for the 45 min drive to Sapa itself. I had arranged to meet up with Sally a girl I met in Hanoi so headed straight for the Friendly Hotel. As the name suggests they were very friendly and I got a massive room with a balcony, ensuite and two beds for the bargain price of $8 a night!!
Went to look round the local market then headed to the nearby minority village of Cat Cat. The walk was down through the valley with rice terraces and wandering water buffalo, very picturesque with a small waterfall at the end of the trail. The road back was pretty steep so I got a lift back on a motorbike, I think they are used to people not wanting to walk back up as there are plenty of drivers hanging around ready to cart you back up the hill! Motorbike taxis are very common in Vietnam but it was my first experience of one…made it safely to the top with no problems, I’m glad it was on the quite roads of Sapa rather than the congested ones of Hanoi!
One of the most refreshing things about Sapa is that it gets quite cold due to the altitude so you have a nice thick duvet at night!
We hired a minibus and drove to the Silver Waterfalls then onto the Tram Ton Pass which has a beautiful view over the mountain ranges and nearby Mt Fansipan. It was a bit cloudy when we were there but lovely all the same. We almost didn’t make it to the pass as the driver started to head back to Sapa after we came down from the waterfall. After some pointing at the map he rang the place we booked the minibus through and agreed to turn around. Unfortunately he was a bit cross which led to him driving like a mad man along the steep and winding potholed roads up to the pass! It was a very bumpy ride to say the least! Whilst we were snapping pictures at the pass Sally, who was just wearing sandals, managed to stand in a massive cow pat!! Obviously we all found this hilarious…including the driver! He seemed to cheer up after this and the trip back to Sapa was at a more leisurely pace!!
That evening we caught the sleeper train back to Hanoi. It arrived at 5am and we had decided to walk to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and wait until it opened at 8am. The sight which greeted us at the grassy space in front of the mausoleum was mad. It was full of Vietnamese people doing their morning exercises. Some groups were doing aerobics, some doing laps and stretches…mostly all in their pajamas!! At 7am the Vietnamese flag was raised with the national anthem blaring out. Then it was time for most people to jump on their bikes and head off to start the day. A group of older ladies stayed behind to do tai chi and another routine involving a fan!
The whole thing seemed to be very social with groups sitting around chatting after their workouts were completed.
It was time to see my second embalmed communist leader of the trip! I must say Uncle Ho experience is a lot more atmospheric than the Mao one, he is lying in a large sunken mahogany structure in the middle of a darkened room surrounded by armed guards. Many vietnamese regularly make a pilgrimage here and they were out in force that morning. Many coming straight from their morning workouts.
That evening we caught the sleeper bus to Hue, 13 hours down the coast. Again i was thinking sleeper buses, they sound great, nice and cosy.....wrong!!!!
The bus we were on was a bit old and decrepit and as its designed for Asian people the beds are very short!! We had the air con on full blast and were entertained by Vietnamese music videos...also at full blast! To add to the cacophony the driver seemed to think his horn was a musical instrument and blared it liberally throughout the entire night!!! Luckily everyone saw the funny side and we all managed to get a couple of hours sleep in various gymnastic positions in order to fit into the beds!
The next morning i looked down into the aisle and saw a carpet of people lying all along the aisles....had people fallen out their beds? No... it transpired that the driver had made a couple of sneaky stops in the night and locals were now lining the aisles, snoozing peacefully.

Arriving in Hue it was the usual tout circus but we escaped to a cafe for breakfast....at least we thought we did....and hour later we came out the cafe to find a couple still waiting for us!!! One was from a hotel we were going to look at anyway so we climbed onto their motorbikes...complete with massive rucksacks and headed off. The hotel was quite close luckily and for the bargain price of $6 a room we checked in.

later that day we walked to the old citadel, and into the Purple Forbidden city...quite similar to the beijing one but a lot smaller and in the process of being restored. The heat was so fierce it turned into a bit of an endurance test to make it round, but we managed it by having lots of stops for cold drinks and basically running from one bit of shade to the next!!!
We booked onto a tour to the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) the next day. It was a long drive up highway 1 to the DMZ, in the morning we drove along highway 9 and saw the Rockpile, a big hill used as a US marine lookout and the Khe Sanh combat base site of the famous siege used by the Vietnamese to distract attention from the Tet Offensive. Quite a lot of imagination is required as there is not much left, when the US pulled out they took anything that could be used as anti-war propaganda.
After lunch it was back up highway 1 to the actual DMZ, passing on the way the remains of the Doc Mieu base, once part of the McNamara Wall (an electronic defense system used to detect any infiltration of the southern side of the DMZ) then across the Ben Hai river, the demarkation line between northern and southern Vietnam at the 17th parallel. Our final stop was the Vinh Moc Tunnels on the northern side of the DMZ.
In 1966 the US began a massive bombing campaign and the villagers of Vinh Moc found themselves living in one of the most heavily bombed strips of land on the planet. Their solution was to tunnel into the hard red clay and create a massive system of underground tunnels linking the rice fields and nearby villages. As they excavated they camouflaged the earth in order to avoid detection from the air.
Down in the tunnels its quite claustrophobic and very dark, i was glad i had my torch with me! we walked around the tunnels for about 30 mins led by a guide as its quite easy to get lost down them! We passed small alcoves which housed families and a slightly larger one which served as the maternity ward...17 babies were born in the tunnels! Some of the tunnels open onto the beach and are designed so the breese provides clean air. There are a number of air vents, wells and toilets. None of the tunnels were destroyed during the war, there was only one direct hit by a drilling bomb which came down to the tunnel level but did not explode. Instead the vietnamese adapted the hole it left into another air vent! I can imagine it was pretty scary to be down in the tunnels listening to the bombs being dropped and wondering if the tunnels are going to collapse around you! The longest the villagers had to stay in the tunnels was 5 consecutive days. Above ground you can still see big craters left behind by the near misses.

The next day we go the sleeper bus down to Hoi An...the journey was only 4 hours but you still get a bed! this time we were in a swanky modern sleeper bus...shame it was only for 4 hrs!

Hoi An is a small riverside town, one of the few places in Vietnam that escaped the bombs so a lot of the traditional houses are still standing and they are making a concerted effort to maintain the town through restoration and keeping the centre of town car and motorbike free which is a welcome change in Vietnam!
The other thing the town is famous for is its tailoring. The town is home to no less than 500 tailor shops all offering to make anything your heart desires at a knock down price! Naturally we were like kids in a sweet shop and couldnt resist getting something made. I decided to get an asymmetric winter jacket made (just right for the weather in vietnam!!) they took my measurements in 5 seconds flat and told me to return the next day for a second fitting. A few shops down i spied a couple of dresses i liked and again the measurement process was speedy and we were sent on our way.
the next day it was back off to the tailors, the dresses were a bit too full in the skirts so they were sent back off to the tailors and i had to return in the afternoon. same with the jacket, the collar wasnt quite right and the sleeves were different lengths.
went for a look round the old town and the market and had lunch on the river....back to the shops....still wasnt happy with one of the dresses and the sleeve still needed to be adjusted on the jacket. the speed that they work at is just incredible, 30 mins later i had the finished jacket and being picky sent the dress back one more time and then picked it up the next day. So all this fitting and altering and the jacket was a bargain 15pounds! the dresses 7.50 each. it does make you aware of the massive profits shops in the UK are making if you can get things made to measure for so little here!

hoi an seems to have been a whirlwind ride of fitting rooms but we have manged to see some of the old town too. hotels in hoi an are really cheap and ours was only 5pounds a night but has a swimming pool and free breakfast and killer views from the rooftop restaurant so we will definitely miss that!!

today its time to get back in the sleeper bus...we have our fingers crossed its the swanky new one as this is a 12 hr journey.....we will see!!!!

theres also some new pics on flickr!!! and sorry for the bad spelling and grammar, typed this really quickly waiting for the bus!

Posted by VanessaT 23:38 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Hanoi and Halong Bay

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The Air Asia flight to Hanoi was uneventful...although check in took rather a long time as i had to wait for a group of about 15 Vietnamese to check in various appliances including deep fat friers and fans!!

Spent the evening wandering round Hanoi, bought a vietnamese lonely planet...essential! had some gorgeous vietnamese ice cream, seems to be a hit with the locals too as there is always a scrum outside the shop!

i went to see a traditional water puppet show, the art form originated in the countryside and was used to entertain villages and tell folk stories. its made up of lots of different sketches many involving the day to day life of farmers and their communities. its performed in waist deep water (originally rice paddies) which is handy for concealing the mechanics of the puppets. the puppeteers control the puppets from behind a bamboo screen so they cant actually see what they are doing and have to rely on their training. the secrets of water puppetry are still fiercely guarded by the village troupes and some maneuvers are only referred to in code! also the puppeteers used to fall victim to lots of waterborne diseases but today the hanoi puppeteers wear waders!

the next day i followed the lonely planet walking tour which takes in the crowded and maze-like old quarter of hanoi. it has a rich heritage going back to when villagers moved into hanoi and brought their trades with them. the old quarter used to consist of 36 streets named after the trade that took place there. each road had at least one temple honoring the guilds patron saint or founder. you still find shops grouped by the things they sell...mirrors, hardware stores, shoes, toys etc. the houses are also very narrow and known as 'tube houses' as the shopkeepers were taxed on the width of their shop front.

pretty bad weather on saturday but inbetween storms i managed to head out to Hoa Lo prison nicknamed the 'Hanoi Hilton' by US POWS held there during the war. the prison was originally built by the french to hold political vietnamese prisoners who wanted independence. they were held in appalling conditions, tortured and many executed using the french guillotine which is on display. the exhibition of this era of the prisons history is quite gory reading.
the US era exhibition however has a very different feel....it shows the POWS preparing for christmas...being treated in the infirmary..playing cards and generally, according to the vietnamese, being treated like kings. US presidential candidate John McCain was held at the Hanoi Hilton for part of his 5 years as a POW and there is a display case showing his airforce suit. during his years as a POW he was tortured so badly (admittedly not in Hoa Lo) it resulted in a permanent disability and he can no longer raise his arms above his head. there are countless reports of the mis-treatment of pows at the hands of the vietnamese who extracted through torture signed statements of anti american propaganda...hmmm funny- try as i might i couldnt find this section of the exhibition!!!!!

in the evening a big group of people from the hostel went out for another Hanoi institution bia hoi. these are tiny corner establishments selling locally produced beer. it has no additives or preservatives so has to be drunk on the day it leaves the factory. as you walk around hanoi you see bia hoi sellers characterised by the plastic furniture spilling all over the pavement and onto the street which serve as the seating areas. not being a beer fan it didnt taste particularly good to me but seemed to be going down well with everyone else...especially as is costs about 30p a glass!!

the next day was a very early start as i had booked through the hostel a tour of halong bay...the return of the limestone karsts, basically a yangshuo on water! halong bay is about 3 hrs from hanoi by bus and the journey went pretty quickly...when we got to the dock it was pandemonium! halong bay is a very popular place and there are probably about 100 boats that make the trip out everyday...if not more. this means that at mid-day when people are arriving and leaving the boats there are hundreds of people and buses milling around.

getting to the boat was heaven, when we got on board we were greeted with cold towels and a beautifully set out dining room. as we were eating lunch we started to sail out into halong bay (along with all the other boats...it was like the spanish armada!) the food onboard was nice, lots of seafood and the vietnamese staple...spring rolls!

after we had been traveling for a while the boats all spread out so it became a lot more peaceful. the karsts were very much like the ones in china but some of them were a lot bigger..more like islands. early afternoon we reached the biggest cave in the bay and went on a walking tour then headed to a small floating village with a fish farm which was the starting point for our kayaking in the bay. after an hour we headed back to the boat and had a light snack of tropical fruits and relaxed on the top deck...this was the life. as the sun was beginning to set we went swimming off the boat which was my favourite part of the trip, the water was lovely and warm and clear and it was so refreshing!!

another lovely meal was followed by a kareoke session....far less professional than the japanese version! after a couple of hours of murdering queen songs it was off to bed. the next day we got onto a smaller boat for the fairly rough transfer to cat ba island a vietnamese holiday resort. we checked into the hotel and had lunch. i was so shattered from the early starts (still not a morning person!) that i just had a lazy afternoon watching films as the hotel room came with a tv!!!!
another early start back off to the big boat to sail back to the dock.

overall i really enjoyed the trip but it made me thankful i'm travelling independently as sticking to the tour schedule is quite limiting and you feel slightly like you are being herded around! on the plus side it was nice for a couple of days to have all decisions taken out of your hands...you dont have to think about where you are going to stay/eat or how you are going to get anywhere.

as we arrived back in hanoi the heavens opened with the heaviest rain i have seen yet, the road the hostel on turned into a raging river...any heavy rain in hanoi causes this as the drainage system gets quickly overwhelmed.

lazy day today, i'm heading up to sapa near the vietnam/chinese border tonight...its the return of the overnight sleeper train!!

Posted by VanessaT 02:06 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

One Night In Bangkok(and a bit more)

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First back to Hong Kong...

On the Saturday i headed off to the International Dragon Boat Regatta...i thought it would be this massive event, loads of people there, stalls, things to see etc. the flyer said it was a 10 min walk from the mtr station.......an hour later i was still walking along the river!!!! finally found the area where it was being held. There were lots of teams there, probably about 50 different ones from all over the world they had small gazebos for each team.........and that was it!!! it was almost like it wasnt a public event, there wasnt really anyone there apart from the teams taking part...alll very strange. also there wasnt any information about who was racing or anything so you couldnt really tell what was going on, i watched a couple of races and headed back into the city a bit disappointed!

ooh one good thing did come of it though, i found a place that sold jacket potatos at the shopping mall where the mtr station was........it was so nice, i've really missed not being able to eat jacket potatos!
That evening i went to watch the Sex and the City film, really enjoyed it, all the women in Hong Kong are obviously big fans too!!

Sunday i went to the market area there are 3- the goldfish, flower and bird markets....pretty self explanatory what they sell!!!!! the bird market was probably the most interesting, lots of men selling little birds in gold cages...it seemed to be a boys club..whether the birds were status symbols or something i'm not sure...there seemed to be a bit of 'my bird is prettier/sings better than your bird' going on!!!

I took the Star Ferry over to Central again and went up to the Peak on the tram...it's so unbelievably steep!!!! the view from the top is amazing, i was really lucky to get a clear day, the first one since i arrived in hong kong.

Walking around central after going to the peak i saw lots of women in a skip i was wondering what an earth they were doing when they started flinging piles of clothes out to women waiting on the pavement. turns out a shop had been damaged by water (not sure how) and they were dumping all their old stock into the skip so the women had jumped in and were pouncing on all the soaking wet clothes...very bizarre!! these were normal women, dressed pretty well etc....they obviously love a freebie in Hong Kong!!!

The next day i flew to Thailand! It was my one and only cathay pacific flight...unfortunately it was only a couple of hours, i wish it was one of the long ones as it was the nicest plane i've been on i think!! really good inflight entertainment too. we even got a full on meal i was surprised as it was such a short flight. Landed in Bangkok, i wasn't sure what to expect and i think i was more nervous landing there than in Beijing! Having gotten used to the Chinese way of doing things i was wondering if it would be difficult to adjust. turns out i neednt have worried at all, everything here is very easy as most people speak english. got the airport bus into the centre of bangkok....the journey took 3 hours- longer than it took to get from hong kong! (its meant to take 45mins). there was a big storm and apparently when it rains in bangkok the traffic gets really bad!

the hostel is lovely (i'm back here again now) probably the nicest place i've stayed, more like a hotel really, its very new and clean which is nice as when you walk down the road there are massive rats and cockroaches so its nice to be able to retreat to somewhere spotless!!

Went for a walk to the river with my new dorm mates and had some street food in the evening.

its funny getting used to the drivers in each country. in china there are lots of cars but as there are also a lot of bikes they tend to drive at a reasonable speed so if they do get into a big crash no-one gets that hurt... in Hong Kong and Bangkok however they drive like mad-men! in Bangkok you have the added variety of lots of mototaxis and tuk tuks.

Got my vietnamese visa no problems, very excited to be filling up my passport with lots of different stamps and things!

Traveling around Bangkok is quite quick if you go by skytrain but its quite a limited system s stop-wise so you can also use the ferry which stops at lots of piers along the river. i took the ferry up to Wat Po and saw the famous reclining Budda which was very impressive...its so big!! the feet are beautiful, they are inlaid with budda images made of mother of pearl. just up the road is the Grand Palace so headed there too, the temples are all so colourful with lots of mirrored glass tiles which make them twinkle in the sun.

made my pilgrimage to Khao San road....it wasnt actually as crazy as i thought it would be, lots of stalls and western orientated bars, it was the day time though so i think it gets livelier at night! went to Boots, stocked up on cucumber cleansing wipes! there are lots of boots all over bangkok actually...i feel the need to go into every one i pass...not sure why? i got like that in hong kong every time i saw a marks and spencers, i think it was a good job i left hong kong when i did because i was spending my entire budget on percy pigs!!! (i cant remember if i said but i had fish and chips in Hong kong at a proper chippy!!)

on the way back to the hostel i got caught in a massive storm and got drenched, looked like i had stepped into the shower with my clothes on...! we went out for dinner to a korean bbq place which was nice, you cooked your meat on a little bbq in the middle of the table then we headed to patpong the bar area near to the hostel....it used to be notorious for the sex trade but now its more of a tourist attraction with a big market and lots of bars..it is still the place for men to go and find 'company' and you get lots of men trying to get you (they arent fussy about which sex you are, i was with 3 guys from my dorm and they would still be asking me aswell!) to go and see ping pong shows....we declined of course!

The next day we went to Jim Thompsons house, an american man who fell in love with thai culture, moved here and introduced thai silk to the west, it became really famous after it was featured in the film the King and I. He built a house from 6 traditional wooden thai houses which are up on stilts. the house itself is really beautiful, all dark wood and open balconies he obviously had an eye for interior design, its filled with all the original furniture and i'd quite happily live there! its also surrounded by a thickly planted garden which he called his 'jungle'. Jim Thompson disappeared in the 60's in Malaysia and his body was never found...! still a big south east asian mystery

went out for dinner again, it was one of the guys birthdays...we were trying to find a traditional thai restaurant but ended up eating vietnamese! i seem to have eaten everything but thai food! it was very nice though.

the next day i travelled to Ko Samet which is a 3hour bus journey from bangkok. bought a boat ticket for the 30 min journey to the island and asked when the next boat left....when there were 20 people! i was the only person in sight!!!! the different attitudes are so contrasting, in china and japan everything was like clockwork and left on schedule but in thailand they are a lot more 'manana' about things! after an hour they had scraped together about 9 people so we headed off. wasnt sure what to expect from my first thai island, i hadnt booked any accommodation so just named one of the places in the lonely planet when the driver asked where i was going. we headed off along the dirt track on the songthaew (basically a pick up truck with bench seats in the back songthaew literally means two rows). there had been a bit of rain and the dirt track had turned into a bit of a mud fest...felt like i was doing the wild and woolly!! got dropped off at toks little huts, it seemed a bit quiet and no-one was really around but it was late so i paid for one night and decided to look for somewhere else in the morning.

the next day i headed down the road to naga bungalows which is also home to the island post office. its run by an englishwoman who moved to ko samet 26 yrs ago and is married to a thai man. her grown up children were visiting so it had a real family atmosphere to the place. it also had a large open lounge area and they showed dvds in the evening and served good food. they also had a bakery and had fresh croissants and rolls every day. a 30 second walk and you were down onto the white sand beach and into the clear calm sea......this explains why the next 5 days literally went...sleep, read, eat, sunbathe, swim, read, eat, watch films, sleep....! i was really lucky with the weather and it was bright sunshine all the time i was there.
paradise comes with bugs though!! i went and bought a little plug in bug repellent thing and that seemed to do the trick, as the bungalow was made out of bamboo and not sealed there was a mosquito net too which i was glad about! also the showers were cold!! even though it was quite warm i still wasnt the biggest fan but i got used to them in the end. the fresh water has to be shipped over from the mainland so they are big on water conservation!

forced myself to head back to bangkok yesterday, the boat ride back was a bit hairy, lots of waves and when we pulled up at the pier, it was low tide so we had to climb up the pier legs to get onto it!
didnt do that much today, went to see Get Smart, its really cheap to go to the cinema here, only 1 pound 50! (i have no pound sign on this keyboard!) in thailand they have a monarchy obsession and they love their king so much they play the national anthem and a little king montage at the start of each film...everyone stands for it...the cinema was mainly full of schoolchildren and every one of them stood up...you'd never get that in england!!

flying to vietnam tomorrow so getting an early night.

phew this has been a long one!!

have uploaded some photos, unfortunately i got a virus on my flash drive so i lost some of my HK photos and my bangkok ones but i've put some up of HK and ko samet

Posted by VanessaT 06:23 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Macao to Hong Kong

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My second day in Guangzhou i went to the Temple of the Nan-yue king, it has a museum and the excavated tomb, bit like a basic version of the pyramids with everything they would need for the afterlife including sacrificial cooks and concubines. The king was buried in a suit made from hundreds of small pieces of jade sewn together as they believed the jade to have magical properties and helped to prevent the body from decaying.

On my way to the museum i passed Qingping market notorious for its live animals including kittens and puppies, all for human consumption eek. i didnt venture in but on the outskirts are stalls selling lots of dried herbs and plants for medicine and someone was selling dried snakes which smelt awful!

the next day i got the bus to Macao...slight confusion when we got dropped off. The bus stops in a big underground shopping mall and it's very unclear where you have to go. In the end a local said Macao and pointed upwards so then we discovered Macao at the top of the escalators...all very weird!

The difference as soon as you cross the border is just incredible, it's like stepping into europe!! lots of narrow winding streets and Portugese architecture, it's also quite small and easy to get around by walking and the bus which is nice. Found the guesthouse no problems, Macao has very little budget accommodation, basically this one place which is actually a 2 bedroom apartment! its quite cosy (read very very small!!!) with one shower and one toilet for 13 people! i had emailed the owner before and he had told me that the hostel was full on the second night but they could give me a bed in the lounge which i agreed to, it sounded ok and there isnt anywhere else to go. so the first night i was in the smallest dorm room ever but the second night i was in the lounge....which actually turned out to be the hallway/lobby! there were three of us packed in there on campbeds, it was hilarious!!

so the first thing i did in macao was to head out to the local cafe for a sandwich...not having had a sandwich for 2 months i was quite excited and tucked in! however the baguette was really chewy and halfway through i realised the cap on my tooth had fallen off so i only had half a tooth! i couldnt even find it in the roll so i must have eaten it...nice!
after consulting with the hostel owner who claimed all the private dentists in macao were 'very very dirty' i headed to the local hospital where they had a dental department. luckily i was now in macao where most people speak english (and the dentists arent just in dirty garages with no doors or even flooring as they are in china!) so was able to explain to the dentist what had happened! he wanted me to make an appointment for root canal and come back but i managed to explain that i just wanted it capped again...no major dental procedures thanks very much! he started talking about how he wasnt sure he could get a good colour match and i was thinking all sorts of horrific things but he actually did a very good job!! the front looks fine but the back feels quite rough on my tongue!! overall i think the whole thing from breaking my tooth to walking out the hospital took about 2 1/2 hours, a lot more efficient than england! and a lot cheaper, only 25 pounds, bargain!!!

that evening i headed up the Macao tower to see the view over macao, the casinos look great all lit up.
the next day was full on sightseeing as there is a lot to do in macao. First i walked through Senado Square up to the ruins of St pauls, only the front facade of the church is left after a fire demolished the rest, then onto the Macao Museum and the old fort. During the Portugese occupation anyone who wasnt Portugese (catholic) or chinese was buried in the Protestant cemetery where there are lots of interesting gravestones, lots of people from Britain and the USA, sadly their occupants often very young.

after the graveyard we headed up to Guia Lighthouse via the cable car. the Guia lighthouse is the first lighthouse ever to be built on the China mainland. its very cute and wouldnt look out of place on the cornish coast!!!

back to the hostel for a freshen up and then it was time to hit the casinos!!! Macao is the Las Vegas of the east with many vegas style casinos opening up, its already overtaken vegas' annual turnover. First stop was the towering Grand Lisboa with its modern gaming floors where we discovered the game of choice for the chinese was baccarat. then over the road to the retro Casino Lisboa which had recently had a facelift but you wouldnt have guessed, this seemed to be the old school joint. down the road to the Sands which is more your bog standard vegas style casino, seemed to be a bit rundown but was packed to the rafters. Down to the Venetian on Taipa island via the courtesy casino buses! the Venetian is very impressive,the second largest building in the world, its an exact replica of the vegas one, complete with canals and gondolas! we spent about 5 hours looking round casinos, i'd never been in one before so it was all very oceans eleven to me!!! no george or brad though unfortunately!!!

the next day i got the ferry over to Hong Kong and checked into the notorious Chungking mansions, home of many budget guesthouses...all of varying degrees of quality! Chungking is unlike anything i have ever seen, the ground floor is a maze of shops restaurants and tailors with two tiny lifts (and very long queues) in each block to take you whichever of the 17 floors you require. I was in an 8 bed dorm and if you had shown me the beds and the size of the room i would have said it was impossible to fit them in there but somehow they are jammed in but you are basically 1 foot away from your neighbour and in the middle two bunks they are actually pushed together so you are basically in the same bed!! it was a fun night though as everyone got into the spirit and we had a laugh. one of the other guys in the room i had a met in yangshuo so it was a real coincidence to run into him!!

i checked out the next day and on the advice of someone i met in Guangzhou moved down the road into the Mirador mansions, a slight step up from chungking but not much! the dorm however is a lot bigger with good air con (hong kong has 90% humidity at the moment!) and even has a large outdoor terrace area which weirdly doubles as a kung fu school 3 nights a week!!!

the nice thing about the nathan road area (also called the golden mile due to property prices and the amount of money made from tourism) is the cultural diversity, like being back in london. its home to Indians, Middle Eastern people, Nepalese, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Nigerians, Europeans, Americans, Pakistanis, people from all over the world, an anthropologist discovered that over the course of a year 120 different nationalities would have passed through Chungking. i did find mainland china quite a strange experience due to the lack of any kind of ethnic diversity so seeing lots of different faces around is more familiar and a bit more comforting!

its also nice to see touches of england here and there....they drive on the left hand side, have english plug sockets (rather than very dodgy looking pin ones!) i even found a chippy!!!

today i took the star ferry over to Hong Kong island and looked around soho and the central area. also rode the mid level escalators- commuters that live up the hill on hong kong island but work in central take the mid level escalators to work, they are a series of escalators (the longest in the world) that operate downhill from 6.30am-10am and then uphill for the rest of the day so you dont have to wear yourself out climbing the steep hill!!

went down to the avenue of stars...a hong kong version of the hollywood walk of fame...which has plaques dedicated to prominent members of the hong kong film industry. it is a good vantage point to see the views of Hong Kong all lit up at night...it really is an amazing view!!! there is also the symphony of light show where many buildings on hong kong island are lit up with musical accompaniment but it was a bit cheesy!!!!

another massive storm tonight so have taken refuge in the hostel! a couple of people in the hostel have come to hong kong to try and get new chinese visas. at the moment the government is cracking down on foreigners living in china as they want to reduce the amount of people living in beijing for the olympics (the city is basically one big carpark the traffic is so bad!) one canadian man who has lived in beijing for 8 years, has a chinese wife and runs a business is unable to get anything other than a 3 month tourist visa!
the whole country truly cannot wait to hold the olympics. Its funny contrasting it with london where people are already moaning about getting the olympics, how our taxes are paying for it etc and its still 4 years away!

trying to upload photos to flickr but its not working at the moment, will try again tomorrow.

Posted by VanessaT 09:24 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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