A Travellerspoint blog

Halong Bay

By Kevin

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Halong Bay in Vietnam is, without question, among the most scenic sights in the world. The bay consists of nearly 2,000 different limestone islands that rise spectacularly from the ocean. Incredibly stunning.

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Amy and I spent three days and two nights on a “junk” boat cruising through the bay. (The term “junk” refers to the Ancient Chinese style of vessel that is found throughout the bay, not the age or quality of our boat. Our boat was anything but junky.) Fitted with multiple private bedrooms, our boat “Bai Tu Long” had ten other travellers onboard. We spent our days sailing amongst the limestone islands, exploring and rafting through caves, visiting floating villages, and doing a bit of kayaking. Tough to beat.

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Of the people onboard for our first night, we were the only ones who were staying two nights on the boat. (The rest were either returning to Hanoi after one night or spending their second night at a nearby hotel.) On the morning of our second day, while our boat took the others to their next destination, a different boat picked Amy and I up for the day… and we had the entire boat to ourselves. It was a gorgeous boat with a crew of four---and we were the only two guests. We felt like we were living a life of luxury---if only for a short day. (We returned to our original boat later that evening.)

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The kayaking in Halong Bay is incredible; we paddled through several different caves and emerged in lagoons surrounded by huge limestone peaks. Very cool. The downside, however, is that the water in Halong Bay is far from clean. It’s obvious that many of the junk boats (and perhaps the floating villages) dump a lot of their waste into the water. Definitely a huge shame, and it kept us from swimming in the water.

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You can see all of our Halong Bay pictures here, along with photos from the rest of Vietnam. After Halong Bay, we had originally intended to take the night train to Sapa (in Northern Vietnam). But we changed our plans last-minute and are headed instead to the mountain town of Dalat, where we intend to bike, hike, and abseil in the surrounding area there. Will fill you in soon...

Posted by amyandkev 08:13 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Hoi An & Hanoi: The Best & Worst

By Kevin

During our first week in Vietnam, we spent four nights in Hoi An, a small town on the central coast of the South China Sea. From there, we spent three nights in Hanoi, a large and somewhat chaotic city in northern Vietnam. Here, in no particular order, is the best and worst of our experiences in these places…

THE BEST

Food: The food in this country is fantastic, probably the best so far of our travels. From the fresh spring rolls, to the various dipping sauces, to the soups, to the vegetables, to the noodles, to the seafood… it’s been consistently good (and very cheap). There’s definitely a lot more to Vietnamese food than just pho. (And, when we return to Seattle, we will definitely be seeking it out...)

Tailors: Hoi An is world-renowned for its inexpensive, made-to-order clothing shops. The center of town is overflowing with these shops; on one block, I counted ten such shops in a row. These shops can make or duplicate just about anything that you show them (they all have samples or fashion magazines in order to pick out designs), all done and tailored within 24 hours, if needed. The shops differ widely in price, but, in a typical shop, a men’s dress shirt will cost about ten or twelve bucks, while a suit will cost about $50 to $110 (depending on quality and the type of fabric). Amy had two coats made (the gray one below only cost only $25) plus a dress, while I had a suit, a coat, and three shirts made.

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Domestic Air Travel: Vietnam Airlines and JetStar offer extremely cheap fares throughout the country. While sleeper trains (and even sleeper buses with bunks instead of seats) are available and widely used, it’s hard not to just fly from place to place. Our flight from Saigon to Hoi An on Vietnam Airlines was only $37 per ticket, while Hoi An to Hanoi on JetStar was about the same.

Cooking Class: We took a great cooking class in Hoi An that involved a trip to an outdoor food market (where we sampled bizarre fruits and vegetables) and then prepared various Vietnamese dishes. I wasn’t exactly a top student. The chef shook his head at the results of my labor several times, including the “decorative” vegetables below that were supposed to resemble flowers. (See if you can guess which plate is mine and which is Amy’s.)

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Beer: The beer here is very good, but its best feature is its price. A bottled beer in a restaurant is typically fifty or sixty cents, which is cheaper than a soda. And, even better, a freshly-brewed pilsner known as bia hoi or “fresh beer”, when available, is even cheaper.

The Gecko Hotel: Amy found us a fantastic place in Hanoi. Located in the heart of the Old Quarter, this hotel is almost brand new, has modern rooms, free wireless internet, a free laptop for use in the rooms, a large television, over-the-top service, and free breakfast... for $32 per night. Not too shabby.

Copycat Businesses: To our amusement, we often encounter businesses that are clear copy-cats of successful businesses from the Western world. For example, see if you can tell what coffee franchise this clearly resembles, right down to the green, circular logo…

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THE WORST

Motorbikes: Motorbikes are the predominant means of transportation—by a huge, huge margin. The streets are a chaotic mass of motorbikes. On our taxi ride from Danang to nearby Hoi An, the taxi driver honked about 800 times and nearly took out about 50 bikers.

Crossing the Street in the Old Quarter: Most of the busy streets in the Old Quarter of Hanoi do not have stoplights or meaningful crosswalks---which can make it quite daunting to cross the street and evade the sea of motorbikes. Here are the three rules and tips for crossing the street, as far as we can tell: (1) Don’t wait for a significant break in the traffic since it will likely never come; (2) Walk at a constant, steady pace across the street and the traffic will move around you; (3) Do not suddenly dart for the end or stop abruptly; (4) If you get lucky and see other people trying to cross the street, join in with them; and (4) Cross your fingers and hope for the best. (Yikes.)

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Motorbikes, Part II. For pedestrians, the motorbikes make it a bad idea to carelessly “stroll” down a street. The streets of Hoi An and the Old Quarter of Hanoi (where we stayed) have very narrow streets and alleyways (often without sidewalks), and the motorbikes will seemingly roar through any and all spaces, no matter how narrow it may be. To make matters worse, even when streets have sidewalks, such sidewalks are often impassable since they are filled with parked motorbikes or vendors. (Fortunately, both Hoi An and Hanoi offered street markets or promenades in the evening where certain streets were closed to motorbikes.)

Aggressive Salespeople: It’s rare to walk down the street in Hanoi and not be constantly approached by aggressive and insistent vendors or drivers about buying certain products or using a particular service. (This also makes it difficult to simply browse through items in a market.) And a simple “no” or “head shake” is often not enough. (Very annoying.) In light of the absurdity of what was sometimes often offered to us, it’s clear that these salespeople think nothing of being rejected a thousand times in a row before someone will finally say yes.

Tailors: This one belongs within both the “best” and the “worst.” I’ve described the positive aspects above, but I was basically dreading and loathing tailors by the time we left Hoi An. First, it’s completely overwhelming. Unless you arrive with a solid idea of what you want, the decisions in what tailor to choose and what you want them to make (and what type of fabric to use) can make your head spin. Definitely too many choices. Second, it’s just too time consuming. Every piece of clothing you have made requires several trips to the tailor for fittings (since it takes several times to get it just right) and, depending on the shop, may lead to some push back from the tailor about whether changes need to be made. Even Amy (who loves to shop) was exhausted and a bit disillusioned by the process (although she loved the end result). Third, it’s easy to get carried away with this. We ran into many travelers who had planned on having a few simple items made… and ended up staying for a week and having a thousand dollars worth of clothes made.

Hanoi's trash: While Hanoi and its Old Quarter definitely has its own charm, be prepared for streets littered with trash.

Haggling: Everything is negotiable here, and—especially in the street markets or touristy shops—you will often get ripped off if you don’t haggle a bit. One traveler wisely advised that the initial, suggested price is probably about forty percent higher than it should be—and that our counteroffer should be roughly sixty percent less (with the aim of eventually getting it for forty percent less). It all gets a bit tedious and makes you (often unreasonably) suspicious of all prices you see.

Anyway, Hoi An and Hanoi are extremely different cities with a completely different vibe and charm, but we enjoyed them both very much. We'll post a link to our pictures once we get them all up on Flickr.

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Up next, we head out on a three-day boat trip through scenic Halong Bay. More soon...

Posted by amyandkev 04:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Singapore

By Amy

We love Singapore! After yet another last-minute change to our itinerary, we travelled from the beaches of Thailand to urban Singapore. And we are definitely thankful to Steve and Alice Early for convincing us to visit...

Our original itinerary for Southeast Asia didn’t have us stopping in Singapore, due partly to time constraints but also because we had heard from other travelers that it’s just “another big city.” However, friends of Kevin’s family, Steve and Alice Early, live in Singapore and got in touch with Kevin when they found out that we were in the region. Well, how could we turn down a few days in a real home with real home-cooked food? After 2 months on the road, eating 3 meals a day in restaurants and lately having to question the safety of everything we consumed (down to the water and ice), it sounded like heaven to our ears.

We planned on staying 3 nights, but three nights easily turned into four (and we wish we could have spent several more if our schedule would have allowed). We were immediately enamored with Singapore and our hosts. Steve is the son of Kevin’s first-grade teacher from Prosser (and he occasionally babysat when Kevin was very little). Steve and Alice both grew up in Prosser, and they are both schoolteachers in Singapore. They have two bright and delightful children – Charles and Kathleen. And our stay wouldn’t have been the same without Raema – their live-in help who cooked us our meals, and looked after the house. Raema – your cooking was such a treat for us – thank-you!!

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Singapore is a beautiful city; very lush, green, and impossibly clean! I’ve never seen a city as clean as Singapore. (Not coincidentally, Singapore has strict penalties for littering and graffiti. You might remember the caning of an American several years ago. And, yes, chewing gum is still illegal here.) In many ways, Singapore was in stark contrast to all the other Asia countries we had visited so far; while Malaysia, Laos, and Thailand felt a bit like we were stepping back in time, Singapore almost felt like a city from the future – it is very modern, clean, and, well-run. The downtown, central Singapore area was especially fun and charming. There is a river that runs through the downtown, with several waterfront neighborhoods lining the river. Restaurant after restaurant is set up al fresca to dine outside while meandering boats float by. We hopped on one of the boats to enjoy a sunset ride, and it was amazing to see the city from that viewpoint – we were stunned by the beauty of Singapore.

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The country of Singapore is extremely small – the island is 26 miles wide, and 14 miles long, certainly not much bigger than some cities. Singaporeans seem naturally friendly and courteous. Everyone we encountered, from our taxi driver to a fellow river boat passenger, were clearly proud of their city and eager to share it with us. The majority of the population is Chinese, with large contingents of Malay and Indian people. English, however, is a national language in Singapore and seems to actually be the predominant language. Almost everyone speaks English here, and all signage is in English--so navigating the city is quite easy.

The number one attraction of Singapore is easily the culinary delights. We’ve never seen so many restaurants and cafes block after block. Singapore is a very international city and offers a wide range of food types with any of the Asian specialties, including an abundance of Chinese, Malay, and Indian options. The food here is delicious and –even more important after our bouts with food poisoning in other Asian countries – it’s safe and clean. Even the street vendors that offer endless options for cheap food are equally safe for tourists to consume.

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After eating, shopping has to be the next favorite pastime for Singaporeans and tourists alike. It reminded me a bit of Malaysia when it came to the shopping malls – so many shopping malls that it was hard to decide which ones to frequent (there was no way we could fit them all in, and nor would I even bother trying to convince Kevin that we needed to). The prices aren’t a bargain here though. Cost of living is definitely closer to US standards than anywhere else we’ve visited in Asia, so, to Kevin’s relief, we mostly limited it to window shopping.

Other must do’s in Singapore include the Singapore Zoo. Steve said it’s more like an animal resort than a zoo – I have to agree. This was one of the best and most well run zoos, I’d ever seen.

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Steve and Alice’s home is right up against a rainforest, the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Kevin and I did a hike through this rainforest that Steve recommended. It ended up being far more challenging than we counted on – with the heat and humidity and the steep climbs (it included a climb to the highest point in all of Singapore), we were exhausted! Afterwards we learned from Steve that he never does both the trail trek and summit climb together – he picks one or the other. And here we thought the trek included both! It was worth it though, especially in seeing probably 50 monkeys at the visitor center just before we started our summit climb – here’s some pictures of the climb and the monkeys…aren’t they adorable??

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We left Singapore and the Early’s home on Tuesday morning. We were extremely glad that we ended up including Singapore in our itinerary – it would have been a shame to miss this city. We’ll now be telling fellow Southeast Asia travelers that a visit to Singapore should definitely be included. (Then again, they won’t be staying with Steve, Alice, Charles and Kathleen, so sadly their visit will be lacking!) We had such a great stay and hope we’ll be back another time. Thanks again to Steve and Alice for taking us in, and especially to Kathleen for letting us use your room! We look forward to seeing you in Seattle soon.

Next stop: Good morning, Vietnam!
[NOTE: We had some technical difficulties with our earlier Thailand blog post. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, it’s posted below…]

Posted by amyandkev 01:49 Archived in Singapore Comments (3)

Thailand: Koh Lanta & Koh Phi Phi

By Kevin

Change of plans. After Laos, we had planned on flying direct to Hanoi, where we would spend a couple weeks in Vietnam. But two things made us go a bit out of our way to the beaches of Thailand instead. First, I learned that a college friend of mine, Mike Cuoco, and his fiancée, Heather, would be in Thailand during this time---and he was coaxing us to head that way. Second, Amy and I were in desperate need of some R&R on the beach. In Laos, I got sick first (of the head cold variety) then Amy got sick (acid reflux problems) then I got sick again as we were leaving Laos (I ate something bad) immediately followed by Amy getting sick (she must have eaten the same thing). Yikes. Not good at all. We definitely needed somewhere to rest up and get well----and Thailand was the perfect fit.

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What We Did: We spent five nights on the island of Koh Lanta and then three nights on Koh Phi Phi, both of which are accessible by ferry. Both islands are located in the Andaman Sea off the west coast of Thailand, near Phuket. The water here is ridiculously clear and warm, with temperatures around 85 degrees. (Feels like a warm swimming pool.) You can check out all of our pictures right here within the "Koh Lanta" and "Koh Phi Phi" folders.

Activities on Koh Lanta: We spent most of our time on Koh Lanta doing little else but lounging on the beach, reading books, watching the monkeys near our balcony… and getting healthy. Our resort and the adjacent beach were incredibly quiet and peaceful, which we loved. We had planned on scuba diving here but decided not to due to our health and the expense. (Diving here is much more expensive than we had expected.)

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Activities on Koh Phi Phi: On two occasions, we joined Mike and Heather to hire out a long boat to explore the island and hit various snorkeling spots. Huge, towering cliffs and turquoise waters make the island among the most scenic areas we’ve ever seen. The highlight is probably Maya Bay, which was made famous by Leo Dicaprio’s movie “The Beach.” Very cool.

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Costs: Food was not cheap on either island, especially in Koh Phi Phi. After becoming accustomed to five dollar meals in Laos, it was a bit of a shock to routinely face $25-$30 bills (or more) for meals. This was not the Thailand that I remember from two years ago, as far as cost goes. (Although I’m sure it varies considerably within Thailand based upon the place and even which beach you pick.) However, our hotel on Lanta was extremely reasonable. We had a fantastic room, a great property, and a gorgeous, near-empty beach for only $65 per night (including breakfast and free internet). Koh Phi has some reasonably priced hotels and restaurant near the main town center, but we had been warned that this area is extremely crowded and over-developed. (And not particularly attractive.) So we decided to splurge a bit more and stay at a hotel on a much more secluded part of the island. (Definitely money well spent.)

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Up Next: Although we did not include it on our initial itinerary, we’ve decided to stop for several days in Singapore before continuing on to Vietnam. We have some family friends who live there , so we’re looking forward to not staying in a hotel for a change and having home-cooked meals. More soon….

Posted by amyandkev 07:20 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Laos: Wrap-Up

By Amy & Kevin

Our time in Laos has ended. Unfortunately, between Kevin coming down sick, then Amy getting sick, and our timidness to leave the main areas due to malaria risk, our time in Laos was probably not as thorough as it could have been. But what an amazing experience it was to visit a country so far removed from our own. You can check out all of our Laos pictures (which includes pics from Vientiane, Vang Vieng, and Luang Prabang) at this link.

What We Did: We spent a little over a week traveling directly north from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, with a stopover in the middle in Vieng Vang (not on map). We spent 3 nights in Vientiane, 2 nights in Vieng Vang, and 3 more nights in Luang Prabang.

Overall Impression: Laos perhaps does not have the same extent or quality of traditional sightseeing as in other countries. But this is perhaps what makes Laos so unique and noteworthy. Without the hordes of tourism and having fallen way behind many of its neighbors over the years, visiting Laos almost feels like stepping back in time. Life is so simple and relaxed here, it’s hard not to be charmed and fascinated.

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How We Traveled: The three areas we visited are about four to six hours apart by vehicle. We travelled this distance by a so-called “VIP” passenger bus (although there was definitely nothing VIP about them). Generally these buses cost $5 per person (though on our second leg we upgraded to what we thought was a luxury bus for $10/person – not so much!). These buses were run-down, very old, and had no air-conditioning (though they both advertised as having such). The road between the three cities is also very narrow and winding – and on the bus to Luang Prabang a poor girl behind us kept getting sick. Yuck.

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Activities: In Laos, one of the more popular activities is visiting and touring “wats” – ancient or very old buddhist temples. They are everywhere! Our guidebook’s 3.5k walking tour in Luang Prabang, for instance, had us visit nine different wats. While often gorgeous and fascinating , by the end we were skipping them – one can only see so many wats in a day before they all start to look the same. Other activities we participated in included inner tubing, visiting and swimming by a waterfall, partaking in the rich culture of massage, hanging out in cafes, and absolutely relishing the Laos food. Laos also has wonderful outdoor markets that sell everything from food, slippers, purses, clothing, toiletries, jewelry, you name it. And they are extremely tranquil and non-aggressive (unlike the KL markets where you are constantly haggled).

Costs: Laos is incredibly affordable. The current exchange rate was $1 US = 85,000 Kip. We stayed in above-average hotels (which included air-conditioning, attached bath, and nice linens) for around $35 US/night. Meals were incredibly cheap – most entrees were between $1 - $3 US. On average, we never left a meal owing more than $10 US total, which included two entrees, bottled water, and beverages for us both. Usually it was even less. And breakfast was always included in our hotel stay. One hour massages generally ran between $4 and $8 US.

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Currency: Laos only has paper money (no coins) in HUGE denominations. The smallest bill is 500 kip (about five cents) and most transactions involve tens of thousands of kips. In fact, when we went to the ATM the first time, we withdrew 1 million kip (roughly 100 dollars).

Our Lonely Planet guide scared us by indicating that the country had almost no working ATMs (and only in Vientiane) and rarely accepted credit cards. The latter was true but we found plenty of working ATMs in Luang Prabang and Vientiane and one in Vang Vieng. (We brought a bunch of U.S. currency that we could take to money exchangers---but ended up not needed it.) Then again, we met a traveller in Vang Vieng who said he had been there ten days… and couldn’t pay the hotel bill until the ATM was fixed. (He was shocked when we told him that it had worked fine for us that day.)

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Language Barrier: Even though very few people we met know much English, the language barrier is not difficult. Nearly every menu and sign was written in both Lao and English. And most people in service careers seem to know enough words in English to make it fairly easy to order food or buy items. (We read that English is now often learned by Lao schoolchildren since parents believe that knowing English pretty much guarantees their future employment.)

The People. The people here are incredibly friendly and polite. We had read that the Lao people are known as being very relaxed and laid-back, and it definitely shows. People seemed to consistently have a ‘no worries’ attitude, which we loved. And it was incredible how eager people were to greet you with a smile and a “sabai-di” (meaning ‘hello’). If there was any lingering animosity toward the U.S. for its bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War, it didn’t show in the people we met. Big smiles and cheerful demeanor would always follow when we told locals that we were from the U.S. (The only animosity we encountered was from a drunken Irishman who had some choice words directed at us about U.S. foreign policy of late.)

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Most Annoying. The most annoying feature of Laos was the smoky haze that lingered in every city we were in, the result of agricultural fires that burned throughout the country. Apparently, every year from January through April in Laos, the farmers (mostly rice farmers) practice slash-and-burn agriculture. They rarely grow rice on the same land more than once and just clear forested land elsewhere (via fires) for their next crop. (We read in the newspaper that the Lao government will seek to stop this practice soon.)

The Food. We found the food to be consistently good. Laos food seems to be a bit of a fusion between Vietnamese and Thai food, and both of those types of food are also regularly available. Laos dishes traditionally come with sticky rice, which is delicious.

Nearly every restaurant or café we went to had an ENOURMOUS menu, featuring Lao, Vietnamese, Thai, and Western dishes. Very few restaurants seemed to specialize in a particular type of cuisine. And even if it did (such as “Luang Prabang Pizza”), its menu would still be many, many pages long with a wide array of Lao, Vietnamese, Thai, and Western dishes.

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Next Stop: Our initial plan was to fly from Luang Prabang to Hanoi and spend several weeks in Vietnam. At the last minute, however, we decided to fly to the beaches of Thailand instead. Kevin has a friend from college who is currently travelling in Thailand, and—after struggling to stay healthy lately—we both decided that we could use some R&R on the beach. We therefore flew to Krabi, Thailand and took a ferry to the island of Koh Lanta, which is in the Andaman Sea off the western coast of Thailand. More on that soon!

Posted by amyandkev 04:55 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Laos Massage

By Amy

I have now had the pleasure of two massages while is Laos. This has to be my favorite thing about this country! The Laos people are famous for their style of massage – they call it the Laos Traditional Massage, although I’m not sure they’re the originals for this style (it is highly similar to the Thai- style massage). But, in any fashion, it is amazing and very cheap. And, had I not gotten sick during part of our stay in Laos, I would have had one every day!

My first massage was in Vientiane. Kevin was down sick during this day, so I decided this might be the right time for me to wander off to try a massage. I did some research, and found the highest rated spa in the city– just several blocks from our hotel. It was called The Papaya Spa. It was beautiful! It was an open-air building made out of a beautiful dark wood. Straw fans were rotating on the ceiling, creating a wonderfully comfortable cool breeze. All of the furnishings appeared to be traditional Laos style, very old, but regal. The room that I was taken to for my massage was just as tranquil – with soft music playing to add to the peacefulness. You could hear the birds outside gently chirping. First, they had me change into some cotton shorts and a sarong top. Then they had me lay down on a mattress on the floor – no raised tables for these masseuses.

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The massage started out familiar enough – with the masseuse working on my back. But that’s where the familiarity ended. Then she started moving my legs into different positions, using her body to gain leverage and add resistance against my own. By the time my hour was done, she had twisted, contorted, bent, flexed, and moved my body into positions even my gymnastics instructor would have been proud of. While there were times that I had to clench my teeth – some of the stretches were quite intense -- they would only last for a second before either the position would end or I’d feel my muscles relax. Overall, the hour-long massage was amazing – I felt fantastic and I left with my body feeling so much stronger and limber than when I entered. The price for this? $12. In Vientienne you could get massages for as cheap as $5, but it was worth the extra to have it in such a beautiful place. I was definitely hooked! [Note from Kevin: In all of Laos, we never saw another 60-minute massage offered for more than six dollars. Leave it to Amy, of course, to find easily the most expensive spa in the country…]

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When we arrived in Luang Prabang, Kevin was feeling much better so we both decided to get a massage. We wandered the streets to pick our location (massage is such a popular activity here there are many, many places that offer it. Which is great beacuase it also means price competitition – so much less money for us). We finally settled on a place and decided on a package option – it included a 1 hour traditional Laos massage and 30 minutes of a hot tea bag treatment (the pictures showed giant tea bags being applied to a person’s back). The price -- $8/person.

The initial Laos-style massage itself was generally very similar to the one I had in Vientiane with even more body work. Again, it felt great to have your body stretched out and the muscles rubbed through. The hour went by too quickly, of course, and now it was time for the hot tea bag treatment. They left a towel for us and asked us to remove the shorts and shirt and instead drape the towel over us as we lay down on our stomachs. When they returned, they removed these large pouches from a tub and placed them on our backs. They were quite hot – so much so that when they first placed them on my back, I had to hold back a squeal from the shock. But they only touched the pouches to our skin for a second and then quickly removed it and placed it on a different part of our back for a quick second. They repeated this motion over and over, gradually lengthening the time that they left the bag on our skin as it cooled down. When it had cooled down considerably, they would start the process over with a new hot bag. The scent from the pouches smelled of a fragrant tea. After about 30 – 40 minutes, they told us our massage was over. We felt refreshed and relaxed. What a great way to spend $8!

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The next day, however, we discovered a side effect from the massage. We woke up feeling quite sore, as if we had spent the previous day running and lifting weights. Every muscle ached a little (but seriously...what better way to get your daily exercise?!?). But, of course, the experience was definitely worth it. I told Kevin that my new objective will be to try a traditional massage in every country we visit – to see the similarities and differences. He just asked “even in Europe?” Yes, even in Europe...definitely in Europe. Gotta run...it's time for my next massage!

Posted by amyandkev 02:52 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Laundry in Laos

By Amy

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Laos is bloody hot, with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees. And with that heat comes humidity, which makes it even worse. We have never gone through our clothes so fast as we have in Laos – it would be unthinkable in this heat to wear something more than one time (and usually we can’t even get through one day without going through at least a couple pairs of clothing). Considering how little clothes we are travelling with, we needed to do our laundry... and fast.

I checked into the laundry service offered by our hotel – even though we were paying only $35 a night for our room, by Laos standards, it was a pretty upscale place. So, yes, they did offer laundry, but shockingly it came with a steep price – even at US standards. Each piece of clothing – no matter how tiny –would be charged at $1 - $3 a piece! Since we were needing to clean practically our entire wardrobe, this would add up very quickly. I had recalled places in town advertising laundry at 10,000 kip per kilogram (that’s just over $1 US). When I had passed these places previously, I just noticed them as yet another example of life in Laos – never did I consider that I might actually take my clothes to these places. But now that was exactly what I was going to do!

Since Kevin was feeling ill at this time, I gathered up all our dirty laundry into my pillowcase and set out on my way. It was a bit of a walk (several blocks) that, even without carrying a large bundle over my shoulder, would be been exhausting due to the humidity. So that, along with being a bit embarrassed about what it would look like as I take to the streets with this huge load, I decided to catch a tuk-tuk (their motorcycle taxis). I paid $1 to have him drop me off at a street not far from where I remember seeing many of these laundry places.

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As I’m walking down the street with my bundle, I finally come upon the laundry row. There are many – in fact, there’s more laundry shops on one street than coffee shops in Seattle. I try to find the one that looks the nicest – yet my search is useless. Each one is very small – like a shop turned out from an old garage – and very dirty looking. Clothes are generally found drying on clotheslines out front. If it wasn’t for the sign’s out front “1 kg – 10,000 kip” you would think these were somebody’s very humble home. I finally decided ‘what the heck’ and approached one – a little card table was setup outside with a few Laos people hanging out front. They looked at my bundle and gestured me to place it on the kitchen scale that was setup on the table. My laundry weighed in at 3.5 kg. They wrote a slip out that showed I owed 35,000 kip (less than four U.S. dollars). I paid and asked when I could pick it up – they clearly spoke very little English and so I gestured at my watch. They replied in broken English: “tomorrow – 5pm”. And that was that.

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The next day I walked back to laundry shop to get our clothes. As soon as they saw me, they handed me the sleeping bag full of folded clothes – which they immediately knew it was mine. (Do they have many customers? Or perhaps they deal with mostly locals, and clearly being a Westerner, I was easily remembered?) When I got back to our hotel, I dumped out the clothes – I was feeling a little guilty over how skeptical I was at whether they would truly be clean – but, alas, everything appeared very clean. And the clothes even smelled great. I don’t know whether they use washing machines or whether the clothes are hand-washed, but whatever their method, our clothes had been refreshed! I was definitely pleased with my decision to do it “the local way” and hike to one of the laundry houses...

Posted by amyandkev 05:29 Archived in Laos Comments (3)

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