Wednesday, December 30, 2009

There's no place like home....

Back home again after 7 weeks of cycling through beautiful South East Asia. Feels a bit strange to be back at work and back into it all again, hmm, I am sure that once the whole "holiday season" dies down it will feel like I never left.....

We really did have an amazing time on our bicycles, traveling through Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. We saw so many new places, met so many new people (both locals and fellow travelers), and just experienced so much on our travels.

Thanks to everyone who followed us via the blog, and everyone we met along the road. Also a big appreciative thank-you to all those who sent us encouraging messages throughout the trip :).

Elisha and Vanessa.

"Don't be scared of what you cannot see; your only fear is possibility."

Monday, December 21, 2009

So long SE Asia....

So this is it; our last day on holiday. It is sad to be finishing up, but quite a good feeling to be going home again.

We have been up to quite a bit over the past few days in Hanoi:

On Saturday we did a cooking school and market tour with 'The Hanoi Cooking Centre'. This was a brilliant experience; learning about all of the herbs and various vegetables unique to Vietnamese cooking, and then cooking up a mighty feast of Vietnamese deliciousness together. We made: Banana flower salad, seafood spring rolls, caramel pork and a sesame and peanut che (sweet dessert soup). It was all soo good, and hopefully we will be able to recreate some of the magic back at home. That is if I can ever find a banana flower in Auckland...

Yesterday (Sunday) Vanessa had an exciting e-mail come through from Adelaide University; She has been awarded an 'Australian Postgraduate Award' scholarship to study for her PhD next year!!! Good on you Nessa!!
To celebrate this excellent news we went out to 'Brother's Cafe' for lunch. This is a beautiful restaurant serving an extensive Vietnamese-food buffet located in the courtyard of an old Chinese temple. Very swanky indeed! So we had a wonderful leisurely 'last lunch on holiday' together and celebrated Nessa's success.

So we are flying back home at 1:30pm today. See everyone back at home soon!

- E & V.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Back to Hanoi

Total kilometers cycled: 2212.3 kms.
Total punctures: 2.

Today we caught a local bus from Halong city bus station back to Hanoi. Unfortunately upon reaching the Hanoi bus station we had no idea where in Hanoi we were (somewere in the outer suburbs..), fortunately we were able to arrange with a motorcycle driver to lead us to Hoan Kiem lake for about 1/4 the price of a taxi and none of the trouble :). This was definately the way to go, as we had an exhillerating cycle through the crazy traffic with none of the usual urban orienteering dramas.

It is a bit difficult to think that this was probably our last trip by bicycle for the holiday...
We still have quite a few days in Hanoi, but this was the last day of real travelling, and I am finding it a bit difficult to reconcile after so many weeks of bicycling our way around SE Asia. We have certainly seen and done a lot during our travels, not to mention all of the people we have met and all of the good times that we have had over the last 6 weeks... It really has been amazing!

Looking forward to seeing everyone back at home soon, it is not long to go now.
E & V.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lazy days on Cat Ba Island...

We arrived in Cat Ba island, just off the coast from Halong bay, late last night- it looked just like the Jurrasic park island (don't pretend that you didn't see that movie...)!
After cruising through the crazy karst rocky outcrops scattered all through Halong bay for the best part of 3 1/2 hours, the approach to Cat Ba island was pretty surreal - suddenly a big, craggy, jungle-clad, rocky island appeared in front of us with no signs of habitation except for a very long deserted pier stretching out into the bay.

We disembarked from the boat with a fun German couple who were also travelling independantly, and an organised tour group. The tour group loaded onto a bus waiting around the corner from the pier, and although we were hoping that we could negotiate a fare into town on the bus, the driver wouldn't take us into town unless we paid an exhorbidant fee. Needless to say that the bus took off without us... Not to worry though, a guy that had arrived at the pier called a few of his friends from the nearby village, and us and the German couple were soon whizzing the 30 kms accross the island on the back of motorbikes -fun!

Because it is the down season on the island, we managed to score a great room right on the waterfront with a big balcony for only $6!! Brilliant luck for us!
Today we have just gotten back from sea kayaking around part of the island, checking out the karsts up close, and lazing for a few hours on our own private little beach. Ahhh, this is the life for sure.....
Oh, the other great thing about hanging around the coast here is all of the fresh, delicious seafood available everywhere at rediculously low prices! I have never eaten so much seafood in all my life - I even had prawn noodle soup for breakfast this morning!! Mmmmm seafood...

Well, I am sure that everyone is now feeling sufficiently jealous ;). Too bad for me that Vanessa and I are now almost onto the final week of our SE Asia holiday....

I hope that everyone following us is keeping well and making their own holiday plans; Christmas is nearly upon us all!

Take care,
E & V.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Haiphong City and Halong Bay

Total Kilometers cycled: 2197.3km
Total punctures: 2

Ater having a wonderful time at Cuc Phuong National Park, we set off to Haiphong City, which sounded lovely (in the gospel according to Lonely Planet, that is) ...

The cycle to Haiphong was long-ish (124km), and pretty busy. We were going to break this into two lazy days, but decided enroute to combine it into one decent one. In the end we had a mixed ride - along the way we passed a road accident, where someone had been killed on their motorbike, which was sad and quite sobering. Makes us glad to be wearing our helmets...

We also passed and endless stream of restaurants offering dog-meat (and were passed by many motorbikes loaded up with caged dogs,clearly NOT destined for the pet shop!). Also, along the way, two teenage girls joined us for a break and we all shared some food and they practiced their English on us, which was really nice.

Despite Lonely Planet's lyrical waxing about Haiphong, we were not too impressed - the town was full of traffic and had a depressing "economic-decline" feeling about it. It seemed to be crammed with lazy men drinking coffee and leering at us as we walked about the city (although, I have to say that the few women we saw were very friendly and kind to us). Both the hotel and icecream shop recommended by Lonely Planet had been demolished, so I guess they hadn't been there for a while!

We decided to go to the port and see if there was a mid-day sailing to Cat Ba Island so that we could leave Hsaiphong a day early, but found that the only (official) sailing had been at 9am... A couple of women tried to sell us a ticket on their boat (no boat in sight!) from a fold-out table, but we were not as stupid as they would have liked, and decided to just grab a liesurely lunch and high-tail it to Halong Bay the following morning...

So, we arrived in Halong Bay last night, and it is beautiful! Clean sea air and long boulevards for walking. Even the people are really chilled out and don't constantly harass you to "buy something madame; moto-bike Miss; etc etc" Just a really chilled-out sleepy beachy town, right at the start of the high-season. Lovely ; )

Speaking of lovely, Halong Bay is not only known for it's Bay, but also for its seafood. We had a delicious seafood feast last night, including a pile of calamari and a whole grilled fish (Elisha and I both agreed - the best calamari we had ever tasted!). Mmmmm!

Yesterday we also bought tickets for the Government boat to Cat Ba Island, and are looking forward to sailing at 1pm today - we get a 3 1/2 hour cruise through Halong Bays highlights, and should arrive in Cat Ba in time to check-in to a Hotel and seek a(nother) yummy seafood dinner. Can't Wait!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cuc Phuong National Park

kilometers cycled: 1998.8
Total punctures: 2

We have spent the last two nights and a full day in the Cuc Phuong National Park, which is just over 45km from Ninh Binh. It has been absolutely beautiful, and very peaceful.

The past two mornings, we have awoken in our stilt-house to the sound of a pack of Gibbons whooping near by - sooo lovely, and a refreshing break from traffic and roosters, both of which seem to get going around 5am! The Gibbons were much more considerate and waited 'till 7am before they pleasantly woke us with their chorus.

The first day, we cycled from Ninh Binh to the National Park, and after checking into our lovely stilt-house (kind of like a tree hut), we checked out the Primate Rescue Centre that they have on-site. We were shown around by an informative park ranger, and it really was great to see all the different monkeys (and gibbons) swinging around their (big and comfortable!) cages. The Gibbons especially were an amazing sight when they really got into full flight, the speed at which they zipped around their encolusure with their looong arms was surprising!

Most species were very endangered, and many had been rescued from poachers or smugglers. Lots of the primates had small babies with them, so apparently the breeding programme is working well... The Rescue Centre rehabilitates the primates intensively (in large cages), and then they are released to a protected enclosure, where they receive limited food and human contact, and then some are eventually released into the larger park, where they are self-sufficient. It really is great work.

Yesterday, we cycled into the park centre (20km from the entry gate - a beautiful ride through temperate rainforest) and completed two treks - one to see an enormous "thousand-year-old" tree. We also stopped off along the way into the centre to trek to a "cave of prehistoric man", which, when discovered in the 1960's contained remains of three prehistoric people, suggestive of elaborate burial ritual. The cave itself was quite impressive, and we were grateful to have headlamps to explore it a little better - we even managed to spot a group of small bats on the ceiling!

Cuc Phuong National Park really was beautiful, and a slice of Vietnam that many people don't get to see - it was really great to experience the forest, animals, and other people without the huge amount of pollution and garbage that seems to intrude the rest of the country...

Anyway, we are back in Ninh Binh this afternoon, and will continue on to Thai Binh tomorrow, then Haiphong.

All the best to everyone at home - we love hearing from you.

E & V xoxo

Sunday, December 6, 2009

To the coast!

Distance cycled: 1866.6 kms
Punctures: 2.

So this morning we cycled out of Hanoi...hmmm, what can I say? It was a hooting, tooting, smoggy ride for the first 60 kms, then seemed to mellow out as the busses and trucks continued to zoom by, but the countryside started to take over from the city smog and grime. Within 106 kms, and after an incident involving a police officer waving us to stop at the side of the road and then proceeding to sexually proposition us (thank-you wedding ring, you saved me!!), we arrived in Ninh Binh, and a much more sedate pace of life :).

So tomorrow we plan to cycle the 45 - 50 kms to Cuc Phong national park to visit the primate rehab centre they have there and maybe go for a bit of a treck too. Should be quite nice to be in the national park for a day or two; we are both looking forward to it!

Take care everyone,
E & V.

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