Cambodia     Laos


1/4/08 - 1/16/08

Our trail started on a slow boat down the Mekong River from Phnom Penh to the surprisingly friendly border-ish town of Chau Doc, Vietnam. Over the next couple days, we moved through fields, villages and canals of the Mekong Delta towards Saigon where we found a bustling and industrious city. We did a quick tourist walk around town, but got the most out of a jump to Chinatown for some good food. The rest of Saigon and Hanoi passed us by as mildly interesting big Asian cities: super noisy, somewhat dirty and with not enough good Vietnamese food for us. Somehow, wherever we went, fresh rolls and bubble tea drinks weren't.
There are plenty of stops near Hanoi, but we were ready to move on and the weather had turned cold and drizzly so we weren't in a hurry to head to the mountains or jump on a motorbike. So our last stop turned out to be Ha Long Bay, just a couple hours outside Hanoi. After a nice cruise we risked the infamous overnight bus from Hanoi to Vientiane, Laos. Lucky for us, the ride turned out to be pretty comfortable, other than the 7am border crossing on a frigid, fog entombed mountain pass.

Cruising down the Mekong

We spent our first night near the Cambodian border at Chau Doc. We did a little tour of a small floating village and a minority Muslim area. The floating houses double as fish farms with half a million or so fish held in nets underneath each. Next up was Can Tho, a larger city in the canal-ridden delta. We outdid ourselves here and spent 8 hours moving through the delta's floating markets and river villages on a glorified rowboat. Thankfully, it had a padded seat.

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Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) and Hanoi

The horns! The deafening and constant horns. The psychotic drivers running every which way. Saigon is not for the meek. We bored ourselves silly taking in the socialist architecture and then made for the Chinese quarter for some good street food. Near Saigon is the Cu Chi district and underground tunnel complex from the war. The tour was far too touristy and the tunnel crawl was a piece of cake, but our (Vietnamese-American) anti-American guide made up for the Disney-esque outing with his unique and brutal perspective on history. We took a boat back to Saigon and were lucky enough to be pulled over by the river police! We have no idea why, but we sat on our boat at a river policestation for about an hour waiting to be freed for return to town.
We flew up to Hanoi next and found it similar enough to Saigon for our taste to move quickly through. But we did make time to enjoy the communistic decorum surrounding Ho Chi Minh's waxlike remains before heading off to a somewhat more pleasant Ha Long Bay.

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Ha Long Bay

The Guilin of Vietnam, Ha Long was exactly what the postcards promised: majestic limestone cliffs rising out of the sea and into the mist. We did a 3 day tour of the bay that took us onto the bay on one of what seemed like thousands of tourist boats. Once on the water, the crowds drowned away and it was like we were all alone.

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