Heidi's Blog

A trip around the world in more than 80 days

Transport in Asia

Even though I have been back for quite a while now, I still think about my journey quite a bit. Since I am currently talking about transport as a topic with some of my students, I had to think back to the times when I was in Asia, where goods and people are often moved in quite a different way to Middle European countries.

Transport in Asia differs from transport in Europe in a few details. The main bulk is carried by motorbikes and bicycles. These are only a few shots to give you a slight idea of what the roads look like and what can be loaded onto one single bike.

Three people fit onto one motorbike easily.

Even four grown men can go.

Children are either placed in front of the driver

or carried by the driver.

Sometimes the sun gets too hot to go without protection.

Of course, fruits and veggies are always a welcome refreshment.

Bikes are also made for at least two people at a time.

In some cities, cyclos are a popular form of transport (not only for people, but also for goods).

Tuktuks can be seen all over the place in Cambodia

and Laos.

Sometimes, however, more traditional forms of transport are preferred (Also note the way people use both sides of the road to go in either direction).

Buses are filled to the brim, be it with things

or with people

or both.

They are not extremely reliable and sometimes suffer from blown tyres.

So whichever form of transport you choose, you should have patience and not be distracted by unplanned stops or the potential travelsickness of your fellow travelers.

Last but not least, this is a video of a relatively small Vietnamese town. Please bear in mind that what you see here is no traffic at all. If you go to Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, there are far more vehicles on the road. Lean back and enjoy:

October 26, 2010 Posted by | Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam | Leave a comment

Back in Austria

So that’s it. My trip ended in July. I was picked up by a few very special friends at the airport and we celebrated my return. A bittersweet day.

I have now been back in Austria for a few months, but the feeling that I should or rather want to be somewhere completely different does not subside. So watch out – this blog might be reactivated at some stage in the future. Anyway, I would like to thank all my readers for following me around the world and leaving your comments. It was great to be in touch with you, because it felt like having a piece of home with me wherever I went.

And these are a few photos from my arrival in Vienna

and the fiesta with my little sis Doris.

September 22, 2010 Posted by | Back in Austria | Leave a comment

Back in Europe: London and Cambridge

After ten months of traveling around the world, a flight from Bangkok to London took me back to Europe . It was stranger for me than I had expected. I got satiated with stimuli from billboards on houses and moving objects alike. The people were a lot taller again, in general less cordial and much more concerned with outward appearance. It seemed that everyone worshipped consumerism. What I enjoyed, however, was the temperature. The Londoners still thought it was boiling hot, but to my taste it was nice and temperately warm after months of almost unbearable heat in Asia. In England, I concentrated on the important things in life – seeing my friends.

First, I met Kate, who I got to know in my former Viennese school. She worked there as a teaching assistant and made our students enjoy English much more. Below you can see us in front of Buckingham Palace.

After a drink on a boat bar, we went for a walk along the Thames and saw the Obelisk with the sphinxes next to it. The scars on the pedestal were caused by a German bomb by the way.

I also met Jana. We had got to know each other on a trip through Mexico two years ago on the same occasion as I met Nettie and Grant from New Zealand (see my New Zealand entries). In the middle of London, we tried to get as cozy as possible on huge grass chairs.

We did not only stroll around and chat, we also went to a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Globe Theatre. It was very well presented and played. Watching it from the moshpit without a seat, we got an impression of how theatre worked in the 16th century, although the audience surely behaves much better nowadays.

I also had the chance to get to know Cambridge with my own private guide – Matt, who I met in a hostel in New Zealand. First we went to a party, but the next day, we did some major sightseeing until we dropped.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Great Britain | Leave a comment

Bangkok – floating markets and good-bye Asia

Sadly, my last stop in Asia was Bangkok. I had already been to this mad city before, so I kind of knew my way around.

I took a room in a hotel with a rooftop swimming pool to relax after exhausting sightseeing days/weeks/months ;-)

I also treated myself with a Thai massage, a delight, although my favourite Asian massage is actually the Laos one. The massagists there are unsurpassed in the way they stretch your body. It is almost as if somebody did yoga for you.

But back to Bangkok. As you can see below, the floating markets near the Thai capital are a busy tourist attraction, and being no more than a tourist myself, I also went to see them.

You can buy anything from traders in boats or “shops” next to the river.

We even got to see some animals like a snake that you could have wrapped round your neck for a few Baht (I did not do it there, because I had already made the experience for free in Malaysia)

and massive wood-carved elephants in front of which I posed with two Korean girls.

When I had to leave Asia the same day in the evening, I got quite emotional, because it meant the near end of an amazing trip with so many different fascinating and/or shocking impressions, incredible people, stunning landscapes, marvellous experiences – a wonderful time that I had. Earlier on, when I was going away from Latin America, I could hardly believe that any other region might appeal to me again just as much, but it did happen. Asia and Latin America are quite different regarding people’s attitudes and mindsets, but I would not be able to choose between them to select the one that I prefer.

All in all, I loved almost every single second of traveling in countries so different to Austria and could not think of many things that I would like to do this much again. Writing this blog entry more than two months after my flight out of Bangkok, I still get sort of happy and sad at the same time when thinking back to my awesome holiday. On the one hand, I am of course overwhelmed with joy that I had the chance to make this experience, on the other hand, I would love to still be in the middle of it. But life goes on. And sooner or later I’m gonna go back to Asia and Latin America for sure.

September 6, 2010 Posted by | Thailand | Leave a comment

Nong Kiaw – exploring rural Laos

The real treasures of Laos lie in its countryside. People are even more chilled out, extremely helpful and friendly, talkative although their English is just basic. The scenery is also amazing. Laos is the only South East Asian country without access to the sea, but it boasts many different mountain formations. In order to get to know the rural bits of Laos, I stayed in a small village called Nong Kiaw.

It was quite easy to make friends there. The kids were particularly curious to get in contact with foreigners, but one day I watched a football match in front of one of the small shops, and I started talking to some Laos men. It was a wild mixture of English, Laos and gestures, but we understood each other – or thought so at least.

One day, all the tourists in the village went on a boat trip

to another mountain village.

We waded through streams,

passed self-made power stations along them

and crossed rice fields

to get to the waterfalls

that we had climbed up to.

On the way, our local guide entertained us by making animals out of fruits (pomelo)

and he carved instruments out of bamboo.

In my little bungalow in Nong Kiau I had my own pet – a frog that lived in the drainage hole in my bathroom. When I took a shower and the water rose to levels that did not allow him to breathe any more, it jumped out.

Sunset impression of Nong Kiau:

It is a charming place, and I was quite sad when I left it.

September 3, 2010 Posted by | Laos | Leave a comment

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a beautiful city in northern Laos. It is definitely worth visiting because of its many beautiful temples and all the monks walking around dressed in bright orange. They give it a special atmosphere.

The monks are young men usually from poor families in the countryside who are sent to a temple to get educated. When visiting the temples, you can often see them studying various subjects. Sometimes they approached me and started chatting to me in order to improve their English. The monks live a life of poverty which is full of rules. They are not allowed to go on motorbikes and they are not allowed to touch women for example.

Every day very early in the morning, the monks walk along the streets of Luang Prabang to collect offerings from buddhists. It is a long orange procession.

However, they are not the only attraction in Luang Prabang. There are amazing waterfalls where you can go swimming and swing on a rope.

Since it is set at the junction of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers, I also went on a boat trip with my Spanish friends Antonio and Unai.

Afterwards we all took a break with a drink

and watched the natives play petanque, a relic from French colonial times.

We tried our best to be as chilled-out as the people in Laos.

Last but not least, there is a famous night market where I did a lot of shopping. The people here are not tough negotiators as in other more touristically developed countries like Thailand or Vietnam. They offer a price that is acceptable to the buyer and the seller alike.

August 31, 2010 Posted by | Laos | Leave a comment

Crossing the border from Vietnam to Laos

Having spent more than three weeks in Vietnam, I decided I had had enough and went on to Laos. I crossed the border in the north, where the streets are muddy and the bus rides somewhat adventurous and certainly uncomfortable. Richard, Joy, myself and a Vietnamese were stuck in the last row of the minibus. One of us always had to lean forward, because the shoulders of all four of us did not fit in next to each other. First we went to Dien Bien Phu to spend the night there and to go on early the next morning.

We were lucky that it was only the beginning of the rainy season, so the streets were relatively dry. However, we still got stuck in the mud with our minibus,

and we had to wait behind another minibus that got stuck in front of us.

In the end, we managed to cross into Laos. Yippie! I was all excited. This is a photo of Joy, Richard, myself, Antonio and Unai immediately after entering Laos.

After the exhausting bus rides, we crossed a river

in order to get to a bigger bus. Look at this beauty :-)

On our way to Luang Prabang, we learned our first lesson about buses in Laos. They usually stop so people can buy food on the way or so that merchants can sell their goods – whichever perspective you prefer.

There is little space inside, because buses are usually filled to the brim. When they are full, they leave to the destination, which might be 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time or 2 hours after. You never know.

Broken tyres come free with the ride.

But while the driver and the luggage responsible were fixing the tyre, we could wait in the shade near the bus.

So now we knew why the guidebook said people should have time and patience when traveling through Laos. I think it’s such a pleasant country. Nobody’s in a hurry. People just take everything as it is. There are no clocks and timetables – the perfect life :-)

August 28, 2010 Posted by | Laos, Vietnam | Leave a comment

Sapa

After enjoying the beautiful scenery of Halong Bay, we took the night train to northernmost Vietnam.

Located in the mountains once again, Sapa offered this splendid view from the hotel room.

Together with Matias from Chile, I climbed the local mountain.

The next day, we ventured out on a 2-day hike to a minority village.

On the way, we met several natives.

who live in rather poor conditions.

Here you can see a man smoking tobacco in his self-made bamboo pipe.

As rice is an essential part of the diet in Vietnam, we could see rice paddies everywhere.

In the beginning, the rice plantlets are reared closely together until they reach a certain height.

Afterwards, they are spread out so they can grow bigger. Before this procedure, the ground of the paddy has to be flattened – usually with the help of a water buffalo. Cultivating rice is hard work. The people are bent over most of the time standing in the water. Many of them do not have rubber boots, so they are in there barefoot and sometimes get bitten by snakes.

When it rains, they wear basic but efficient protection, simple plastic covers.

Basic is a key word in the mountain regions. It makes you realise how little we actually need to be all right and enjoy life.

The women from the villages sew and embroider their gorgeous clothes themselves.

and then they often sell them at the market in their home village or in the nearby town of Sapa.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | Vietnam | Leave a comment

Halong Bay

One of my favourite places in Vietnam is Halong Bay, a world heritage site featuring about 3,000 limestone islands. In order to explore the bay in its whole beauty, Joy, Richard and I went on a cruise on the “Halong Party Cruiser”. The name of the boat was a bit misleading, because the majority of the passengers was a Vietnamese family complete with grandparents and children.

This is the captain of the boat busy steering with his feet, texting and entertaining the kids. Nobody can ever claim again that no men are multi-taskers!

The scenery of Halong Bay is breathtaking. I just sat in front of the boat and watched as we went along.

We did not only stay on the boat, we also visited an enormous cave (many of the islands are hollow),

went kayaking

and swimming on a relatively busy beach,

where I saw this woman completely covered from head to toe to protect herself from the tanning effect of the sun.

Several fishing villages are located in the bay.

The food on board was delicious. We also ate animals I definitely could not name.

To bring on a bit of party later in the evening, some ladies on smaller boats rowed around and sold relatively cheap beer amongst other things.

In the end, I found my great Vietnamese love. It was a really sad moment when we finally had to part.

August 19, 2010 Posted by | Vietnam | 2 Comments

Dalat and the central highlands

Months of almost unbearable heat in Asia made me go to the central highlands in Vietnam, where it is meant to be cooler. However, “refreshing” there means temperatures like in a normal summer in Austria. Still, the scenery (seen from a cable car below) was nice enough to make the visit worth while. Since the climate is more temperate than in other parts of Vietnam, vegetables from Europe, which were introduced by the French, can be grown there. The colonists also enjoyed Dalat and the highlands as a refuge from the heat near the coast.

Apart from the views, there are some more places worth visiting in Dalat like temples

waterfalls

a theme park with a wishing tree (You write your most urgent wish on a red/pink paper slip and throw it onto the tree. Afterwards, you just have to wait for it to come true.)

big golden animals which are very popular photo objects

long houses and traditional music inside

and a busy night market

with delicious street food

as well as a day market.

I decided to explore the mountains in the centre of Vietnam more extensively. So I hired a motorbike driver, a so-called Easy Rider and went to small places where hardly any tourists have been before.

Below you can see a small village where members of an ethnic minority live.

The restaurants I ate in were quite basic but served good food.

The scenery along the way was breathtaking.

And last but not least, I would like to give you an impression of the traffic in Vietnam. Please bear in mind, that this is not a busy street, just busines as usual. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReCTMFJK_Zc

August 17, 2010 Posted by | Vietnam | 1 Comment