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Showing posts from March, 2015

Day 32 - 31 March 2015 - Pakse to Siem Reap

The room was extremely comfortable and the service pleasant. Yet I was not able to sleep properly. I was quite tense. The disappointment at the Vietnam border kept playing on my mind. I kept on mulling options in case I was refused entry into Cambodia with the car. I knew that the Laos border would not present any problems. Many reports on the Net talked about all around corruption at the border posts. Would I be able to handle that? There weren’t any reports about driving a personal car, from other than the neighbouring countries, into Cambodia. Therefore, the documents required to be presented to Immigration and Customs to get the car in were not known. Despite the Cambodian Embassy in New Delhi confirming that the Carnet alone would suffice, I was apprehensive. The Vietnam Embassy in New Delhi had given similar advice with disappointing results. These thoughts as well as the fact that the schedule would go completely off sync with financial implications, due to pre-booked hotels, k…

Day 31 - 30 March 2015 - Paksan to Pakse

Having woken up early and got ready I waited for daylight before setting off for Pakse. By 6 am I thought there was enough of it to check out of the hotel. The girl at the reception gave me back my passport once I had made the payment and she had personally checked the room. She had to return change of $2, for which she had neither USD nor adequate change in LK. Finally, I accepted what she had; she gave me a bottle of water when she saw me filling bottles from the dispenser near the reception. I got on to Route 13, just across the hotel, at a quarter past 6 am. The road condition I encountered surprised me. The surfacing was good in most parts and the traffic was sparse. In the first two hours I covered nearly 170 kms. I then realised why Phoukong, in Luang Prabang, had a hurt look on his face when I asked him if the road to Pakse is motorable. He simply said, “Yes, yes”. But the eyes and face told a different story – that of incredulous betrayal. Instead of the 11 hours I had estima…

Day 30 - 29 March 2015 - Luang Prabang to Paksan

Last night when I was about to go to sleep I heard a loud roar, which was followed by a power blackout. I wondered if a heavy storm was hitting the city, when the lights came back on. After a while there was another huge roar and the power supply went out again. That was the only ‘negative’ I could log this far in the stay in Luang Prabang. I made a mental note of it to mention in the blog before falling into a deep sleep. When I woke up this morning the power supply was on and I was in time for breakfast at 6.30 am. I loved the hotel, especially the service of Peter and Duong, the ‘ever smiling twins’ as I have dubbed them.
When I was driving through Khem Kong, the street beside the Mekong River, I saw a large gathering of locals and tourists near the market. Then, I saw the reason for the power disruption. A huge tree had fallen pulling down the power lines with it. Some shops were damaged too. People were working to remedy the situation. The drive from Luang Prabang to Paksan was ab…

Day 29 - 28 March 2015 - In Luang Prabang

Last evening, as I was moving to the Sok Dee Residence, Peter introduced me to Phoukong, who oversaw matters at the hotel. This morning I reached out to him for suggestions to do a bit of sightseeing. He suggested the Ban Pak Ou caves, Whisky Village and a Buddhist temple. I was definitely interested in the first two and the third, time permitting. I was under the impression that the caves could be reached only by boat because I had seen many tourists being approached by boatmen in front of the Mekong Sunset View Hotel for a boat ride to the caves. Phoukong corrected my impression. I asked him if he could suggest someone who could take me to the caves and the village. He said he himself could show me around if he could find a replacement to relieve him. When I returned from breakfast he confirmed that he could accompany me and that we could leave around noon. That suited me fine as I wanted some time to complete the blog and update the expense statement, which could not be left in arr…

Day 28 - 27 March 2015 - Tay Trang to Luang Prabang

The bus was supposed to reach the Dien Bien Phu bus stand before 6 am. It did not because of the 90 minute stop just outside of Hanoi city to tranship parcels. In the end, as events panned out, the delayed arrival into Dien Bien Phu bus stand at a quarter to 7 am was not so critical. I felt I should have stayed a day at the historic city of Dien Bien Phu, which saw the defeat of the French forces against Viet Minh in 1954. The battles saw the evolution of a rugged guerrilla outfit into an organised revolutionary army. Repeated routs of the French army led to the 1954 Geneva agreement where North Vietnam was conceded to Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh.
Buses ply regularly between Dien Bien Phu, which is about 40 kms to the Vietnamese border at Tay Trang, and Laos. I went to the ticket counter to enquire about the bus to Tay Trang and was told to board a bus that would leave at 7.30 am. Apparently, that was the first bus to the border. Reaching the bus stand earlier would not have helped me ge…

Day 27 - 26 March 2015 - In Hanoi

This afternoon Elvis and I were to check out of the hotel at different timings. The arrangements had to be cross checked and finalised after breakfast. I confirmed that a taxi would pick me up after 6 pm and drop me at the bus stand from where I would take an overnight bus to Dien Bien Phu. The hotel reception arranged a taxi for Elvis at noon to get to the airport from where he would fly to Ho Chi Minh City by a quarter to three. We were to have driven from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by my car. But, thanks to the procedures in Vietnam, that did not happen. Despite the efforts of many at various levels, the car could not be brought in to drive in Vietnam. Nevertheless, we had had a wonderful time in Hanoi.
We still had a good part of the morning to make yet another attempt to go inside the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Elvis and I had been to the mausoleum twice before without any success. Both times we were told that it is closed. Yesterday when we were there I met a Sri Lankan settled in th…

Day 26 - 25 March 2015 - In Hanoi

Even though we had thought of beating the breakfast rush in the hotel restaurant by being there before the scheduled opening time of 6.30 am Elvis and I missed the deadline; he because of sound sleep and I because of documentation work. However, when we went down for breakfast, to our surprise, the hall was empty and we had the entire run of the place. We had a leisurely breakfast and then got down to business. I asked the receptionist to book me by an overnight bus from Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu, which she did quickly. Then it was booking a flight for Elvis to Ho Chi Minh City, which he wanted done from Vietnam Airlines office. That was done too and we walked to the Indian Embassy to thank Joachim Fernando and Mahadevan for all the assistance they had provided. They felt sad too that the car could not be brought in and driven through Vietnam.
The website of the Lao PDR dealing with information on ‘on arrival’ visa clearly mentions that Indians are eligible for the same on arrival at Sop …

Day 25 - 24 March 2015 - In Hanoi (day trip to Halong Bay)

It was raining by the time I woke up early in the morning. The light rain got bigger. Elvis and I had scheduled a visit to the Halong Bay this day since the application for permission to bring the car into Vietnam was with the Ministry of Transportation and would take at least a day to process it. Rain and foul weather, we thought, will play spoilsport with the plans. We had to reach the pickup point for the tour at 8 am, so we reached the restaurant for breakfast at 6.45 am to find the place swarming with tourists, who were evidently checking out. The buffet items had already vanished in the 15 minutes that the restaurant was open! We ate what we could and waited for a taxi to take us to the pickup point. We have not had to wait for more than 5 minutes the days preceding this before a taxi coasted by. However, this day was different. It was raining and a local festival was in progress. In the end, after much waiting, the hotel which had booked our tour sent two young guys on mobikes …

Day 24 - 23 March 2015 - In Hanoi

I do not know if it had anything to do with Hanoi or the presence of Elvis – I slept like a baby and as if I had no care in the world. The problems I was having in getting my car into Hanoi to drive through the country was every bit alive. But that did not affect my sleep. The mind is a strange creature. It may have even anticipated the email from Sandeep Bhat from Kasargod, who is currently based out of Dubai. This is what I got from him when I woke up in the morning.
“Hello Mr. Suresh, Greetings!...I have been following your South East Asian Drive blog right from the day you left Cochin. I have a special interest in SEA coz I had my education in Singapore and I worked and travelled extensively in the ASEAN countries. From your latest blog I understand you have issues taking your car into Vietnam. Hence, I would like to share one of my local friend’s number with you…She belongs to some influential political family in Hanoi and has some good contacts at the government level. May be she…

Day 23 - 22 March 2015 - In Hanoi

Sleep is not easy when the bus turns and winds its way on the road, but at the same time, I must admit, I was not uncomfortable. Just before 5 am the bus stopped in what looked like a terminus from the prone position I was in. However, none of the passengers got off the bus. I too remained where I was, waiting for someone to announce where we were. After about 45 minutes I saw a couple of passengers pick up their shoes in plastic bags and get off the bus. The stay at the place was getting prolonged and the day was breaking slowly. I got up and went out of the bus to be told that we had reached Hanoi bus terminus; the wait was for passengers to wake up! As soon as I alighted from the bus with my baggage a guy came to me shaking his car key, obviously a taxi driver. I chose another who offered to take me to a place where I could link to WiFi to get the address of the hotel where I was booked. The Gallant Hotel was more than 20 kms from the bus terminus and wound its way through streets …

Day 22 - 21 March 2015 - Luang Prabang to Tay Trang

Last evening, Peter, one of the ‘smiling twins’ at the hotel reception offered to give me breakfast at 6 am, if I wanted to leave early. However, he shocked me into saying that it would take about 12 hours to the border, which closes at 5 pm! My original intent was to stay at Sop Hun, the Loa side of the border, but was told that accommodation would be hard to come by there. So I decided to push through to Tay Trang, the Vietnamese border and shack up in one of the towns close by. Google Maps showed the distance to the border as 360 kms and put the expected time for travel as less than 6 hours! I was confused by the two vastly different estimated times to cover the distance. In the end, I segmented the 360 kms from Luang Prabang to Tay Trang into three of 120 kms each; the first was just about okay, the next 120 kms was awful and the last was superb.
The route was almost entirely though mountainous terrain and the awful part of the stretch was where road works were in progress. I got h…

Day 21 - 20 March 2015 - In Luang Prabang

As I checked into the Saynamkhan Hotel last evening I was shown the balcony of the room from where I was told I could watch monks go in procession at 6 am collection alms from those who volunteered on the road side. The Buddhist tradition is called Tak Bat in the Laotian language. There are certain ‘rules’ attached to the practice of Tak Bat. Silence has to be observed and the offering must be made only if it is meaningful to the giver. Sticky rice, which is offered, should be fresh and not bought from street vendors. Those not making the offering are expected to dress appropriately, stand at a respectful distance from the monks, not touch them or in any way disturb them. I watched the morning ritual from the balcony of my room as groups of monks in single file went through the street, opened the bowl they carried for givers to drop a ball of sticky rice into it. It was a very solemn ritual and many tourists had lined up to experience the tradition.
Last evening I was engaged in updati…