SE Asia Travels-Update from the road
Kuta, Lombok

Deserted beach, Kuta, Lombok

It may be obvious from the vast amount of time between postings, but my best laid plans to post regularly have gone by the wayside. This is both good and bad.

The good news is that once we got on a roll I simply didn’t have time to compose a readable note, though Twitter was perfect. I could crank out 140 characters without too much trouble. Our days were full of travel, sightseeing, tracking down good massages and locating good food and cheap beer, which is plentiful across SE Asia. While we did have computer time just about every day much of it was spent on Trip Advisor and Agoda, planning our next moves, with a little bit of time for Email, Facebook and Twitter.

The bad news is that my brand new Toshiba Portege computer stopped working. Entirely. Just gave up the ghost and wouldn’t boot up. It’s currently in the shop in Perth, and so far they’ve replaced the motherboard and are working on some problem with the display—now we’re waiting for a new LCD. If this keeps up I’ll have a brand new computer, component by component. Thankfully it’s covered under an international warranty. So I’m limping along on internet cafés and am borrowing other people’s computers—not conducive to writing as much as I’d like.

We’ve been on the road for about two months, and we’re going strong. The trip is really divided into 3 segments and we’ve completed one:

  1. Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia (Bali & Lombok)
  2. Australia (Caralinga Farms, near Borden, 4 hours from Perth in Western Australia)
  3. ? It should be Laos, Cambodia, maybe Thailand if they dry out, and New Zealand

Phase I Highlights:

Hong Kong: It was great to see friends Tracy and Joe, and it was fun to have Cindy tag along for the first leg of the trip. Our biggest goal was to get over jet lag, which we did by taking a dip in the South China Sea off Joe and Tracy’s boat, getting foot massages, stuffing ourselves silly on dim sum and getting kicked out of fancy hotels due to dress code infractions. See related articles: A Day in Hong Kong and Dining in Hong Kong.

Beach Club Cottage at Phu Quok

Beach Club Cottage at Phu Quok

Vietnam: This being our second visit we had high hopes for Vietnam, which were mostly realized. The one major downside was the weather. We were supposed to be heading into the dry season, but the monsoons hung on late this year and we arrived in the midst of the 3rd typhoon in a week. This wasn’t any regular monsoon, with an hour or two of rain. This featured torrents of rain, interspersed with a complete deluge, complemented by horizontal sheets of rain blowing sideways, sometimes 24 hours a day. We acquired a new set of rain gear and have an entire series of ghostly photos of us floating through Vietnam in our slickers, monk-like. We never left the hotel without our ponchos, affectionately referred to as our tarps, and my camera was always wrapped in a camp towel in a ziptop bag

We still enjoyed Vietnam, but the rain made it a different experience than we were expecting, especially on Phu Quoc Island off of Saigon. It was beautiful, and relatively undeveloped so there were fewer tourists than other parts of Vietnam. The typhoon was pushing storm surges at our seaside resort so we couldn’t swim without being swept to Thailand, but it was relaxing, though damp, in our thatch-roof bungalow (remarkably waterproof). The wind pushed the sea spray horizontally to mix with the vertical rain drops so that everything we owned was damp, including all of our electronics (laptop, ipods, camera, etc). Long Beach, is not surprisingly, a very long beach that would be wonderful in the dry season. The very best part of Phu Quoc was the night market with the best fresh seafood, pulled from the ocean that day, lying on a bed of ice. We just pointed at what we wanted and they grilled it up. We also appreciated seeing all the well-loved hunting dogs that almost every family had as a pet, very similar to a Rhodesian Ridgeback, but called a Phu Quoc hunting dog.

We also visited Saigon (lots of shiny buildings going up since our last visit), Danang (nice to stroll along the river and we were introduced to the haunting tone of Hue Ca music, but it’s more of a commerce-focused city), Hue (where we visited the Citadel, an impressive fortress with multiple moats where the Nguyen dynasty ruled for 145 years), and Hanoi (a nightmare of traffic, congestion and the press & din of too many people, not to mention government broadcasts blaring from loudspeakers on the street). The only good thing about Hanoi is that that is where all the treasures are. After visiting many dusty, bare museums in other parts of Vietnam, we now understand that everything has been removed to museums in Hanoi.

Em, our Hmong guide with her mother

Em, our Hmong guide with her mother

The rains cleared enough for us to head to the ghostly rock formations (thousands of them) in Halang Bay, kayaking and spending the night on a junk. Our favorite stop in Vietnam for this trip was, hands down, Sapa. With its lofty peaks reaching to the sky, perilously steep, muddy trails and impossibly terraced, brilliant green rice paddies, it was a magical, otherworldly place. Our trekking adventure and homestay with a H’mong family was a very special experience. Our impish 18 year Black H’mong guide, fluent in English, H’mong dialect, Vietnamese, with a smattering of French, German & Chinese, truly straddles two worlds, with her traditional dress, living as her ancestors have for centuries, but with her smartphone linking her to the modern world. She entertains tourists daily yet has never traveled the 20 or so miles down the mountain to the train station.


Inga & Steve on Gili T, Indonesia

Inga & Steve on Gili T, Indonesia

After putting up with torrential rains for 3 weeks in Vietnam we abandoned a big section of our planned itinerary and pored over weather reports to find sun. After cross referencing multiple, mostly unhelpful weather reports (what does “thunderstorms” mean? One thunderstorm a day or thunderstorms 24/7?), blog reports and Trip Advisor reports, we realized that we had to range all the way to Bali or Burma to find sun, and since Bali was closer to our next destination of Perth, that’s where we ended up. We ended up having a fabulous time, spending almost 3 weeks in Indonesia, including 10 days in Bali and 1 week in Lombok, including the Gilis (3 tiny atolls off Lombok that are heaven on earth). Lombok is like Bali was 20 years ago–beautiful beaches and not much development. We did learn that “Lombok” means “chili” and the food is scorching hot-beware of those tiny red chilis.  It turned into a real beach trip, with one outstanding beach or snorkel site after another, with amazing food, both fresh seafood, and Indonesian favorites. I’m happy to report that budget travel is alive and well in Indonesia. See related articles: Budget Travel in Bali, Exploring Bali in Two Days, and  Pamper Your Feet in SE Asia.

We’re hoping to be able to backtrack to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand in January, but we’ll see how the area is doing by then. Check out our farm update from Western Australia.

To see photos from Bali, see public Facebook link (you don’t have to be a member of Facebook or friend me).



All photos by Inga Aksamit