Monday, 26 October 2009

Mekong Expedition 2 ~ 2008


Day 1- 6, Thailand/Laos
Surat Thani, Ayuthaya, Cheng Mai, Chean Sean, Oudomkham(Laos)

This time around, we drove nearly 830km from Kuala Lumpur to reach our destination, Surat Thani in Thailand.

Daily briefing is compulsory to inform all of the route to the next destination and maintain convoy intact. Throughout the five days journey from Surat Thani to Ayuthaya, Cheng Mai and Chean Sean, we stopped to cook lunch, bought colorful hammocks, shopped at night market in Chiang Mai, visited the umbrella making factory, passed through a town selling silver jewelry, gemstones and surprisingly... we saw geysers. We also saw the carcass of a giant catfish with its head resembling to that of a goat's head. As time does not permit us, we only took pictures at the Golden Triangle and then boarded the ferry to cross border and stayed at Oudomkhom Hotel, Laos.

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Day 7 - 9, Vietnam
Dien Bien Phu, Sapa

We continued journey to Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam and after the short ferry ride, we crossed 3 rivers to reach the immigration checkpoint. Phongsaly Province International Immigration Check-Point which is located high up in the hills, approximately 5600ft above sea level.

Our Vietnam agent is very hospitable, each time we stop for pee stop they'll prepare hot vietnamese coffee straight from the thermos and everyone looked forward to hot coffee in the cold weather... The visit to De Castrie Bunker at A1 Hill was exhilarating and fun. We noted the Vietnamese barely had weapons but they destroyed the biggest French camp which was above the hill. We also visited Dien Bien Phu Muzuem and learnt about its history.

The journey to Sapa was horrendous, the narrow and winding road with poor visibility of 50 meters. Everyone was cautious and maintained radio contact to inform of any obstacles. Having gone through the stretch, everyone sighed with relief!

Sapa is a beautiful place and my wife couldn't’t stop talking about it with her friends. The town itself is quaint, cold and quiet. The smell of coffee is so irresistible that we decided to check out the cafe and if you are a coffee lover, you'll love the thick creamy sweet coffee, marvelous.

The visit to the Tavan Village is mesmerizing and were amazed to see the terraced padi fields from the village. Walking through the village, we visited the houses to see how they lived, kitchen, living, bedroom all in one house. We also saw a house that stored maize and their apparatus for winter. We saw the buffaloes, ducks, hens and dogs in the village, just like hometown. It was fascinating to see their irrigation system and how it works. We crossed a long bridge across a beautiful river.

The village ladies kept following, convincing us to buy their products and will not stop until we bought something. Halfway through we stopped at a souvenir shop and had a good time shopping. Back on the bus, our friends were waiting eagerly for us to share our stories at the village. From our bus we could see the winding trek which we took and our agent informed that the whole journey is 5 km. It was good exercise in cold weather.

Sapa town is a beautiful hillside town and after lunch we headed for the CAT CAT Village. This village is more challenging, my wife trekked more uphill then downhill and nearly drained of her energy. The waterfall background for group photograph is definitely refreshing and relaxing. After the village trip, some decided to check out the town but we went back to the hotel for a rest.

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Day 9 - 12, Vietnam
Hanoi, Halong Bay, Vinh

Hanoi is overcrowded with motorcycles and die hard drivers. When we arrived in Hanoi, we were shocked to see the city's chaotic traffic even at night and the brightly lighted shops. Back at the hotel, we had a scrumptious dinner and looked forward to the next day events.

At Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum we must observe silence all the way in and all the way out. You must abide by their rules to keep your hand by your side and must not wear any hat or cap even before entering, until you leave the door and away from the building. All observed silence when walking around the glass coffin of the late leader. After that we visited Ho Chi Minh's stilt house which is located in the same place.

We also visited the Sword Lake, Ngoc Son Temple and Vietnam Museum as depicted in the pictures. Dong Xuan - the famous shopping area in Hanoi was the next stop and we split into groups. After dinner we were treated to a puppet show the famous "Water Puppetry Show".

Halong Bay (has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is our next destination. From the hotel room, I could see Halong Bay from afar and just couldn't wait for the afternoon cruise. The boat passes by the limestone caves, in fact we visited the Dong Thien Cung cave which was colorfully lighted. We continued cruising and stopped to look at a fish farm but bought fresh fruits instead from a "sampan". While cruising, some relaxed on the top deck and took photographs with the cold wind splashing our faces and hair. The agent briefed us about the pair of roosters. We were enjoying our dinner on board while the sun sets which was beautiful and relaxing.

Night life is quiet at Halong Bay and with the cold weather its good to catch up on sleep after a hectic day.

It was cold when we arrived Namphao International Checkpoint and had to wait quite awhile for clearance. While waiting some made hot drinks while others enjoyed stove heat to warm themselves. To our surprise, the weather was warmer after checkpoint. We stopped by a viewpoint, sponsored by Theun Hinboun power company, and enjoyed the amazing scenery. Later we stopped by a local market and the gang bought a lot of stuff.

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Day 13 - 18, Laos / Thailand
Savanakhet (Laos), Nakhon Ratchasima,
Prachup Khiri Khan, Nakhon Si Thammarat,
Hatyai, Kuala Lumpur

We are in the last league of our journey and the last few days in Thailand was memorable from sun sets, meals, beautiful & cosy hotels to shopping, each face showed pure satisfaction. To complete the journey, we had a certificate presentation cum lunch at a floating seafood restaurant in Songkla. We stayed overnight in Hatyai before returning to Malaysia reminiscing the memories of Mekong 2, 2008.

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