Asia

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We ♥ Hong Kong

Light show from Kowloon

It’s a true testament to the greatness of a city when you enjoy the heck out of it despite awful weather. Such was the case with us and Hong Kong. Although we were only there for one super rainy day we really fell in love with the city. I was completely surprised by this since I had come to find I mostly dislike large Asian cities.  Apparently Hong Kong is my exception.

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Last stop in South East Asia – Chiang Mai, Thailand

At the amazing Elephant Nature Park

After our long journey from Luang Prabang we were really happy to be back in Thailand. We had a lot to look forward to in Chiang Mai! My Mom and her wonderful friend Vicky were going to be meeting us for a whirlwind week long trip to the city followed by our flight back to Canada via Hong Kong.

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Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai by Slow Boat

Slow Boat Day 1

As mentioned in the previous post there really isn’t a fast or comfortable way to get from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai on a small budget.  After much contemplation we decided to take our chances with the 2 day public slow boat upriver along the Mekong.  With extensive research (online, other travelers, travel agents etc) we concluded that the following awaited us:

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Luang Prabang, Laos

Monks at the waterfall

From Vang Vieng we took yet another extremely twisty, bumpy and generally uncomfortable bus ride to the main tourist town in Laos – Luang Prabang.  Although it is just over 200km’s away from Vang Vieng it took us more than 7 hours to get there. That should give you a pretty good idea of the state of the roads in Laos. The scenery on this journey was stunning, however. It almost made up for the 7 hours of nausea.

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Journey into Laos

Vang Vieng Views

I didn’t think we were going to make it to Laos this time around.  If I’m being completely honest my vote for our last two weeks was to head to another Thai island for a few more beautiful beach days before making our way up through the north of the country to Chiang Mai.  But, Luke really wanted to come to Laos so I gave in.  We had heard nothing but good things about the country so I convinced myself that it would be a good thing for us to go. Maybe we would experience something different from everything else we had seen so far in South East Asia.  Well, so far I can’t say that I’m in love with this place.

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Wet and Wild Songkran

Wet crowd

After a pretty scary flight from Hanoi we arrived in Bangkok for a short two day stay. The weather was not cooperating while we were in the air and there were severe thunderstorms and heavy winds above Bangkok. We’re pretty sure the pilot had to abort one landing attempt as the weather was too violent and the plane was forced to fly past the airport and into the gulf of Thailand before doubling back for another attempt. The second time around the weather cleared and we touched down without incident.

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Cruising Halong Bay

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You know how we said we never do tours? Well, we just did one. In our defence there isn’t really a better way to do Halong Bay. Situated in Northern Vietnam roughly a 4 hour drive from the capital of Hanoi is Halong Bay, one of the new seven natural wonders of the world. It is a gorgeous bay filled with over 3,000 limestone cliff islands and it is absolutely stunning!

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Charming Hoi An

Beautiful Lanterns

Our second stop in Vietnam was the charming little town of Hoi An. The old part of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is incredibly popular with tourists of all kinds. This is something that has surprised us about Vietnam in general – the amount and range of tourists. I kind of expected to only see backpackers around but there are so many families with young kids and older couples as well. Who knew this was such a popular destination for that kind of tourist? That said now that we’ve been here for a few weeks I can see why it is as popular as it is. Vietnam has been one big pleasant surprise.   

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Good Morning Vietnam

Boat ride

After a fairly comfortable 6 hour bus journey and an easy crossing at the Cambodia/Vietnam border we arrived in Vietnam’s largest city Saigon, shortly after 2:30pm (yes I know it is officially called Ho Chi Minh City but along with most travelers and locals I prefer to refer to it as Saigon). To our pleasant surprise the bus dropped us off literally meters away from our guesthouse in the backpacker district of Pham Ngu Lao. After a speedy check in we decided not to waste any time and head straight out to explore the bustling, hectic city. Contrary to our familiar pattern we actually had a busy couple of days planned in the city so we had little time to wander around and explore at our own pace.

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A Glimpse into Darkness Past in Phnom Penh

Prisoners at Toul Sleng

Although today Cambodia is a fabulous country to visit, filled with incredibly kind people and some of Southeast Asia’s top tourist attractions, it hasn’t always been this way. The latter half of the 20th century was particularly brutal in Cambodia with spill over violence from the Vietnam War followed by the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent years of forced labour and mass extermination of the Cambodian people. Cambodians have been through A LOT in the not too distance past.

While in the capital city, Phnom Penh we had a chance to visit some of the more brutal remnants of the most deadly period in recent Cambodian history, 1975-1979.

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