We are finally home and easing our way back into London Life - well I am anyway.
Maria had to go straight back to work while I relax at home… errr, I mean look for a job!
It has been a mind blowing four months of experiences and undoubtedly the most rewarding thing we have ever done. It’s hard to sum it all up really, so we figured the best way to do this would be by posting a final A-Z of our travels.
These are just a few of the highlights that make us smile when we think back to what we’ve managed to cram into a relatively short space of time:
Our tour of SE Asia may finally be over, but that hasn’t stopped us dropping in on Grant and Brookie who are currently out in Dubai.
As you can see from the photo, this place is the complete antithisis of Asia.
There is money everywhere you look (except for in our bank accounts, which are well and truly depleted after four months of travelling)!
That said, we are staying in a suite at the Marriot… but Brookie managed to get that for $35 a night :-)
We had loads of fun yesterday at the Atlantis Resort, which is home to the most amazing waterpark EVER.
All of us became 8 years old again the minute we picked up our rubber rings and were actually the last people left at the end of the day, begging to go on more slides.
Video footage of our aquatic antics to follow…
I’d like to say that the two stacked guys in the ring are Jan and I doing a bit of light sparring… but that would be a complete lie.
It’s actually some super hard Muay Thai fighters competing for big money at Bangkok’s Lumpini Stadium.
We all went to see it last night and after a few beer Singha, found ourselves cheering and shouting and betting on the guy that would win. It was the perfect way to finish off our time in Thailand with Bangkok Jan.
We’re just about to jump on a plane and fly to Dubai for 3 days, where Brookie, Grant and an amazing water park await our arrival.
The trip of a life time is nearly over… but we’re drawing it out for as long as we can :-)
With less than a week left of our four month trip, we have had to say goodbye to our fifth country - Vietnam.
It’s been amazing and extremely varied - we’ve had boat rides on the Mekong Delta, motorbike tours of the Central Highlands, trekking in the mountains of Sapa and cruises around the breathtaking Halong Bay.
Facebook is banned in Vietnam, so it has been difficult to post pictures as we go.
However, we are now in Bangkok updating the blog from Jan’s funky offices and have created three galleries with photos from our time in ‘Nam.
Click on the below links to see them on Facebook.
Extreme Lundeen strikes again!
For anyone who hasn’t quite worked out what Maria is about to eat for lunch, it’s a plate of Crickets fried in pigs fat and served on prawn crackers.
The dish is one of the many ‘delicacies’ on the menu at Highway 4, a restaurant in Hanoi that serves an array of weird and wonderful meals.
Ethereal is probably the best way to describe Halong Bay, a UNESCO heritage site with just under 2,000 limestone karsts rising majestically from the South China Sea.
This is where we have spent the last few days, relaxing on board The Dragon’s Pearl. It’s owned by Indochina Junks, one of the more expensive companies that run cruises, but we thought what the hell - let’s treat ourselves! Another reason we chose to book with theses guys was that they are the only outfit with a permit to sail in the Bai Tu Long area of Halong Bay. This meant that rather than being surrounded by the other 500 junks which set sail every day, we were alone. In fact, during the three days at sea, we only saw two other boats.
On our first evening, as we headed out into the ocean, a blue mist hung over the whole of Halong Bay. It was a calming and atmospheric sight, but really all we wanted was a stunning sunset. We were certainly owed one!
The second day consisted of eating, kayaking, eating, swimming and then eating some more. The guys who worked on The Dragon’s Pearl definitely loved to feed their guests :-) The most memorable meal was definitely dinner on the final night, where we were taken into a beautiful candlelit cave and served a BBQ feast of meat and fresh seafood.
In the late afternoon of the second day the sun finally came out, transforming the whole of Halong Bay. The sky turned bright blue and the water shimmered a beautiful emerald green, reflecting the towering karsts.
Maria used the time to take a small row boat to meet the locals at a nearby floating fishing village. I couldn’t resist lying out on the deck and topping up the tan!
It seemed our prayers had been answered and, as the day got better and better, our smiles got bigger and bigger.
Then the sun began to dip, illuminating everything in a gorgeous orange light and we finally got the sunset we’d been wanting for soooooo long!
We honestly couldn’t have asked for a better way to end our last experience in Vietnam :-)
Sapa is one of those places that genuinely takes your breath away. The scenery is simply out of this world- huge mountains covered in lush green fields, large valleys with flowing rivers and rows upon rows of rice terraces as far as the eye can see.
The one downside to a place of such beauty is its appeal to tourists, who (like us) come by the bus-load, collectively spoiling the very thing we’ve all made a pilgrimage to see.
Nevertheless, we booked a two day trekking tour and were lucky enough to get our own guide- not that it made much difference. Almost as soon we had walked out of the guest house we found ourselves in the middle of a long line of tourists all snaking their way down the mountain to the village of Loa Chai.
On either side of us we were also flanked by an entourage of hill tribe women, all decked out in their ‘traditional’ attire. Each one of them was clearly a graduate of the “where you from, what your name, you buy from me” school of English.
We totally understood that they were just trying to make a living and humoured them for as long as we could, but after a while the banter gets old and you just want them to leave you in peace.
In their defense, they probably think exactly the same of us westerners, who trample through their beautiful villages in our thousands, every day of the year!
Thankfully our guide ‘Mi’ was lovely - really chirpy, helpful and full of local knowledge. She explained to us that she was Black Hmong, a hill tribe in the Sapa region, which is also home to a wealth of other ethnic minorities. Each can be distinguished by the clothes they wear and also the language they speak- which will be one of the 54 regional dialects.
We photographed a lot of the tribal women and found that they had a very distinct beauty. Most were only in their 20s, but looked old before their time- the result of back breaking manual labour and the strain of raising large families from a young age.
After lunch we asked Mi if we could escape the maddening crowd - she totally understood why and excitedly said that we could take the ‘small road’ to the hamlet of Ta Van where our homestay was.
That’s when the fun started- she took us across rickety bridges, up muddy trails and along the edge of rice terraces, with 2ft of muddy water on one side and a 6ft drop on the other! There were a couple of close calls and I still can’t fathom out how we made it to the homestay without falling in!
After a good night’s sleep, we woke to the sound of torrential rain on the roof, peered out the window and finally appreciated why this area is often referred to as the City in the Clouds.
The whole valley (or what we could see of it) looked completely different, with everything shrouded in an eerie but spectacular mist.
We admired the views for a while, then I realised I hadn’t packed a jacket. Damn it. Suddenly Sapa wasn’t so picturesque!
For the majority of the 12km trek back to town we huddled under an umbrella cursing the rain, but refusing to let it put a dampener on our trip. That was until we got back to the guest house and someone told us the UK has just had the hottest April on record!!!
The following day the weather was pretty similar, but we made the most of our time by hiring a scooter and visiting another village called Cat Cat.
Despite the mist we managed to get some fantastic photos and have decided to make a Facebook gallery out of our favourites.
We’ll put them up as soon as we can, but it’s always a bit problematic in Vietnam where the site is officially banned!
In the meantime we’ll leave you with this… one of our favourite photos from Sapa.
We’ve now arrived in Sapa, a mountainous region in the far-far north of Vietnam.
It’s home to a host of different hill tribes who painstakingly farm the land by carving hundreds of miles of cascading rice terraces into the sides of these steep and towering slopes.
We’re about to spend a few days trekking through the landscape, visiting some of the villages along the way.
We have just drafted and posted our final two cooking course blogs.
Click on the links to be taken through to these pages.
A 2011 Manor Court Menu will be printed shortly and we’ll be taking bookings for dinner on a first come first serve basis ;-)
If you can’t beat them, join them!
As you will have seen from our Saigon blog post, the Vietnamese love their motorbikes, so we figured we’d have to give one a go.
Taking inspiration from the hilarious episode of Top Gear in Vietnam, we hired ourselves an old Russian Minsk (and a guide) through Hoi An Motorbike Adventures and set off on a two day loop covering 300km of varying terrain.
On the first morning we rode through the lowlands surrounding Hoi An, driving over floating bridges, winding through country lane ways and stopping at a few historical war sites en route. After lunch we headed for the more mountainous areas of Vietnam and joined the now paved Ho Chi Minh highway. It was once just a muddy trail through dense jungle which the Viet Cong used to move supplies during the war. Looking at it now, it was difficult to imagine what it must have been like to trudge along this, under constant bombardment from B52s day and night!
The further up the mountain we went the more rural it became with just a few tiny hamlets dotted along the side of the road. These are home to ethnic minorities who rarely leave the area, so every place we passed kids would run out to sneak a peek at the white people on motorbikes and high five us as we rode by.
The sun was scorching hot so we stopped briefly for a swim in a refreshing little waterfall to cool down, but we needn’t have! Ten minutes after heading off, a huge storm hit us from nowhere, soaking us to the bone. Our guide cringed as we reminded him of his earlier briefing which ended with the line “you won’t need visors for your helmets or any ponchos, it won’t rain at all on this trip”.
We were supposed to be sleeping in a Prao Hill Tribe homestay that night, but Mark (the owner of the company, who was also our guide) had to change things at the last minute. Instead we were taken to the village of Arso. It’s actually pronounced arse-ole, and the irony wasn’t lost on us when we checked into the only guest house in this backwater hamlet, which consisted of just a few shacks, a bar and a single petrol pump.
We could tell that our guide was a bit embarrassed at shabbiness of the accommodation (and the lack of ponchos) so proceeded to pay for all our beer and rice wine that night. The rationale being that drunk people don’t notice mouldy walls, bed bugs or wet clothes. He was right :-)
In the morning we descended out of the mountains (my hangover easing) and stopped off to visit a hill tribe who were, until recently, prolific head hunters. Their ceremonial huts are now decorated with animal skulls, but less than half a century ago, these were all human - probably taken from a load of unsuspecting chaps in a neighbouring village!
Not content with the thrill of cruising through stunning Vietnamese scenery, Extreme-Lundeen decided we should up the ante. Therefore our two day tour ended with us abseiling down a 50m drop into Hell’s Cave - a natural gorge in a limestone karst known as Marble Mountain. Not a bad way to cross the finish line!
We couldn’t have wished for a better way to see Vietnam’s central highlands, so hats off to Clarkson, Hammond and May- if it wasn’t for that episode of Top Gear we probably wouldn’t have decided on this awesome experience.