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The surname and people who share it

Cheryl and Tracy in Asia


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Cheryl went to India in 2005 to undergo study and training aimed at preparing students to manage aid projects. During the course of those studies, Cheryl visited several schemes, including one designed to help Indian victims of the Tsunami and one for orphaned children. Impressed by India and by Indian people, Cheryl resolved to return and Tracy, a flatmate since university, decided to go too.

Cheryl and Tracy both took on extra work, over and above their full time jobs, to save enough to make a trip not only to India, but also to Thailand, Vietnam and possibly other Asian countries. Caring for Older people, distributing leaflets, selling sports programmes, manning call centres and other tasks took much of their spare time until the coffers were sufficiently full. The plans are for the two to be away for seven months, starting in February in Mumbai, India and ending in September in Bangkok, Thailand.

Arriving and Mumbai
Friends and family were at Heathrow on 15th February to see the pair off. The BA flight was 40 minutes late taking off. After a sleepless but otherwise uneventful night they landed at Mumbai at 6.14am London time, 11.44 Mumbai time, on Friday 16th.

Although accommodation for the rest of the trip may be more basic, they had pre-booked themselves into a hotel with the luxury of a ceiling fan for the first four nights to give themselves time to acclimatise. The room was basic but clean and the ceiling fan didn't prevent the room being like a sauna, say the girls. The shared loos were clean but a bit primitive, comprising badly made holes in the floor of a room with missing walls.

Map of the India route

Click here for a map of the route round India

The first days in India were spent discovering Mumbai. The first stop was, appropriately, the 'Gateway to India'. They also went to Elephanta Island, a 9 km journey by boat, and to Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, a train journey with a fare of a whole 2 rupees each - that's about 3p sterling. Other visits in Mumbai included Haj Ali's Mosque, the Hanging Gardens, Banganga tank, Chowpatty sea front, Eros cinema and Crawford Market.

It took a while for the girls to get used to people sleeping on the streets, child beggars and people grabbing at things they are carrying. After lots of walking, and lots of getting lost, the girls bade farewell to Mumbai on Monday 20th February to take the train to Pune (pronounced like Puma with an 'n' in place of the 'm').

Pune to Goa


For those wondering about costs, the girls say they are paying up to 350 rupees per night for a double room. That's roughly £4.60 for 2. They usually have their own loo, although occasionally loos and showers are shared.
The train to Pune was 'a little crowded'. Frequently children, blind people and women beggars would tap the girls' legs and grab ankles to attract attention. Pune itself is a little more relaxed than Mumbai. Tracy and Cheryl had a small chalet bungalow with their own, albeit filthy, toilet. The loo was 'western' but the plumbing is described as 'Indian'. The room was much cooler than the one in Mumbai and they also had a table and chairs on a patio. There's luxury.

The first day in Pune was spent discovering the town including a visit to the supermarket and buying essentials, such as a made-to-order sleeping bag liner - half shocking pink and half white with pink polka dots. That deserves a picture. Cheryl has also bought prescription glasses and sunglasses. Much cheaper to buy them there than to get them in England and take them although Cheryl has since found that they are not as effective as the ones she took from England.

Panji CarnivalPlanned visits in Pune included Ganesh Idol, Pataleshwar caves, Parvati Temple and Saras Baug Ganesh temple, although they didn't quite make all of them before heading south. On Thursday evening, 23rd February, Tracy and Cheryl took the night train, arriving in Goa at 7.15 on Friday morning.

Reports from the girls in Goa say that it is 'beautiful ' and that Panji feels Chilean, probably because of past Portuguese influences. They have not ventured to the typical 'party beaches' further north in Goa, where the atmosphere may be different, but they have been into old Goa to see the sights. They got to Panji for the carnival, which was 'fun' and stayed in the 'Comfort Hotel'. Senior relatives will be pleased to know that the girls have had their laundry done in Panji - an investment of 180 rupees for 18 items (yes, they took 18 items of clothing), that's about £2.25. We think they should be getting into the spirit of Goa and washing everything in the sea, hanging out to dry on the bushes and laying on the clothes to press them, but clearly they have not yet fully absorbed the local spirit. Wait till they get to Calcutta.

Palolem Sunset

Tracy doing her shopping in PalolemOn Monday 27th the girls were in Palolem, still in the Goa area, staying in a stilted hut on a picture postcard beach. On Tuesday 28th Tracy and Cheryl went going on a dolphin cruise as a birthday treat for Tracy. They left Palolem on Wednesday evening, 1st March, taking the 9.30 pm or 10.30 pm (Indian flexible time they say) sleeper bus to Hampi.

Hampi to the southern tip
Apparently the sleeper bus was not as bad as some have said, which is just as well as they will be depending on the sleeper for several more of their journeys. They had accommodation in Hampi and found it beautiful there too but only stayed one night. On Friday, 3rd March, they took the sleeper train to Bangalore, arriving at 7 on Saturday morning and from them got straight on a local bus to Mysore. They arrived in Mysore at lunchtime and stayed for the weekend.

Cheryl by the Hampi RuinsTracy and Cheryl went to the Palace in Mysore, which was lit up - obviously someone knew it was Tracy's birthday. They also went to Chamundi Hill for a special birthday dinner.

On Monday they went to Ooty on a public 22 seater mini bus, which, being an Indian 22 seater minibus, took 38 passengers all the way to the hill station. Ooty is several thousand feet above sea level. In the crowded mini bus the roads were a joy. They left Ooty on Tuesday evening, arriving in Kochi (otherwise known as Cochin) very early on Wednesday morning. It was then a ferry ride to the fort area, where they stayed until Friday morning, 10th March. Michael Palin would be proud of the logistics.

A ritual
described by Cheryl and Tracy

To start with we saw a few little boys holding really colourful umbrellas, then teenagers with fake arrows in their mouths. Then came the dancers and a group of men, apparently in a trance, followed by women, who didn't look as if they were enjoying themselves, carrying fire. The men were inhaling the smoke from the fire.
Ritual in KollamBacking up all this was a crane from which a fellow was hanging horizontally. He had an actual arrow pierced through his cheeks. He was suspended by two hooks through the skin on his upper back, two through his lower back and then two final hooks through the back of his thighs.
He seemed perfectly at peace.

Whist in fort area on Thursday, they went on a backwater cruise, which they thought was great - a 'be at one with nature and yourself' experience. They also went for a stroll along the beach and stumbled across the filming of a music video but didn't manage to get a part. On Friday morning they were up at sunrise to watch the Chinese fishermen's nets being emptied and visited the Palace. Later in the day they left Kochi on a local bus to the station where they caught the train to Kollam.

Kollam was hot! Even under the fan it was as hot as a sauna, such that the breeze from the fan hurt the skin, the only relief being to shower in front of a audience of lizards. In Kollam, whilst searching for a temple (that turned out to be next to the hotel) the girls came across a hindu ritual (see box).

After a budget reality check the girls left Kollam in third class to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India. "Although we travelled in the baggage racks it was a comfortable (read relatively short) journey and Kanyakumari was worth it. We can't go any further south - it is all up from here".

Unexpected guests at a cheap hotel in Kanyakumari
described by Cheryl

At Kanyakumari we checked into the cheapest room we've booked so far (Rs150 - about £2). Note we said 'booked' not 'stayed'. After a lovely day we went back to the room and decided to shower. Tracy came out of the shower with an 'oooooh hello'. Then silence. Thinking we had more lizards I looked at her and realised they weren't lizards!. Knowing at some point we were probably going to have to befriend the little chaps, otherwise known as cockroaches, we went to the corner stall, bought some Raid and headed back to the room. Tracy, knowing exactly how much I do not want to see cockroaches in my room, ordered me out. I obliged.

Well, let's say lessons were learnt. (1)if you have cockroaches, don't spray them with Raid. The whole community, with their dogs, come to investigate. (2) they will venture out of the bathroom (3) the difference between a Rs150 room and a Rs200 room is about a million cockroaches.

I banned Tracy from going back in and refused to go in myself. I called the man on reception, who came up, looked in and said (impersonating a cockroach) 'very nice, not a problem'. While that seems quite funny now, it was not exactly the response I was looking for. I asked him to get our bags out for us at which point he went downstairs and got the key for next door. 'New room, very nice, not a problem'. He wasn't quite getting it. He went in, scooped them up, and poured them back down the loo. Well this time he got it. In he went, out came our bags. Our things were shaken off and taken downstairs. More like it!

Let's be glad though. Thanks to the roaches we ended up in a very nice hotel down the road with a balcony, sea and sunset view, TV, western loo (with lid), drain grids and bathroom door that bolted and had no holes. Plus, we were on the third floor (where we hoped the roaches wouldn't bother). As most girls would we reacted with face masks, eye brow tweezers, nail files and foot cream (and a few late night switching moments - lizards). That hotel, which at that point was the cleanest and biggest room we'd stayed in, was only Rs250. (about £3).

The south-east
On Tuesday, 14th March, eighteen hours on a bus after leaving Kanyakumari, the girls arrived in Pondicherry . From there they went to Chennai (better known by its old name of Madras) on Thursday 16th. India is quite well known for its 'Bollywood' films. These are the major Indian films and tend to be made in Mumbai, the 'Bollywood' capital. The second biggest part of the film industry is Tamil films and these are usually based in Chennai (Madras). Whilst in Chennai the girls went to a studio and saw a film being made.

They find the main cities too sprawling, very hot and expensive to get round. They have decided not to stay in big cities so much but rather to concentrate on smaller places with plenty to see within a smaller area. They left Chennai on the 2pm train Thursday 17th March for Vijayawada, arriving at about 10.30pm that day.

They got to a hotel at about 11pm and checked out the room before booking, as has become their custom. This time, hardened by earlier experiences, they ignored the cockroach playing in the shower, the gap under the door "big enough for Rick Waller to roll under", and that the loo walls didn't quite reach the ceiling. They decided to book the room anyway, at the advertised price of Rs100, to be told by reception that the cost was actually Rs300 or Rs275 for a mattress on the floor. Being told by reception that there were no cheaper rooms, when they could see that there were, the girls decided that they could tolerate the bugs, the drunken chap in the reception area and the quirks of the room, but not the less-than-honest receptionist. In consequence, at close to midnight, they used their 'get out of jail free' card and booked instead into the 'Hotel Grand Regency', the only hotel in the guide book that was not 'men only'. Two nights in an air conditioned room, with their first hot water since leaving England, convinced them that once a month they will go for luxury.

Heading inland and up
AurangabadThe original plan was to leave Vijayawada and head towards Indore by train, but this plan had to be set aside because there were no trains for a week. Instead, 'Plan B' was devised. This involved leaving by bus for Hyderabad. Hyderabad is a mainly muslim city, whereas the other places they have been have been predominantly hindu.

This time the train was available, so they left Hyderabad by sleeper train to Aurangabad, and from there travelled by local bus to Ajanta. At Ellora and Ajanta they visited cave temples. At Ellora there is an impressive cave temple that took 150 years to finish and involved moving 200,000 tons of rock. By this time the girls had almost gone full circle, coming close to Mumbai, which they had left about 6 weeks earlier.

Another local bus took the girls to Jalgaon from where they took a sleeper bus to Indore and another local bus to Mandu. They hired bikes for the morning so that they could get around local ruins without relying on rickshaws.They had intended to stay in Mandu for two nights but after a single sleepless night sharing a room with spiders and rats, and with no alternative budget hotels to choose from, they moved on. Mandu was one of the smallest places they have been to and, apart from the rats, was a very nice place.

Snake Charmer, UjjainView from the room, UdaipurBy Tuesday 28th March the girls' local bus had taken them to Ujjain, where they saw their first snake charmer outside a temple. On the night of 29th March they took a 10 hour sleeper bus ride from there to Udaipur, reputedly 'the most romantic city in Rajasthan'. Certainly one of the most beautiful according to the girls. In Udaipur they found one of their best lodgings so far, in a guest house with panoramic views over the town. Rather than move on after a night or two, as they have previously, they have decided to stay for 5 nights, until Tuesday 4th April, when they took an early morning bus to Jodhpur.

Jodhpur is know as the 'Blue City'. Apparently it was not very blue, but the fort was pretty. They found Jodhpur a bit dirty and full of angry looking dogs. After three nights in and around Jodhpur they left by sleeper bus for Jaisalmer, through a landscape of little but sand. In Jaisalmer the girls stayed in the fort, in their cheapest room yet at just 100 rupees (£1.30). One wall of the room was the external wall of the fort itself, giving an amazing view of the city. In Jaisalmer they had yet another brush with Bollywood. One day they will manage to get into an Indian movie.

How not to travel - types of bus
described by Cheryl

These are the main types of bus. There is a 'public bus', with a 3 seat bench on the driver's side and a 2 seat bench on the other side, although there are usually more people than seats. The 'private bus' is a dated version of the traditional British coach. They have an aisle with two seats either side, but the driver tends to think he is in a public bus and fills the bus to the rafters and beyond. Semi-sleepers are like private buses but with reclining seats and are cheaper than full sleepers.

Sleeper buses have reclining chairs on the bottom, for which you pay about 50 rupees (70p) less than a a sleeper ticket. A sleeper ticket buys you a bunk. The bunks are where you would expect the luggage racks to be in a British coach but the roof is a little higher.

The north-west
Rather than stay in town, in the middle of their stay in Jaisalmer the girls headed off by jeep into the desert where they ended up, via a few villages, amongst the sand dunes. After meandering through the dunes by camel for a while, they had dinner cooked for them, sharing the table with dune beetles. Afterwards they found a place at the top of the dunes to spend the night. A ring of light around the moon, a sky full of stars and a chill in the air were all welcome after the heat of the towns.

Sleeper bus - helpful hint

Here are some hints from Cheryl. "If you should ever travel on a sleeper, take with you some rope or similar, which you can use to attach the curtain to the bottom of the bunk. Several times Tracy and I have woken to find people stood at our curtain having a peek into our bunk.

"On the way to Amritsar a chap hopped onto the bunk opposite ours and positioned himself nicely on his side facing us as if he were the audience and we were on stage. We used my hair tie and Tracy's hair cloths to tie the curtain down. He got up and moved to the reclining chairs below the bunk so that he could look up and under the bar we had tied the curtains to. We blocked this view with bags and he moved to his proper seat down the aisle and out of view".

After three nights shared between Jaisalmer and the desert, they went to Bikaner for a one-night stay and a visit to the rat temple. Apparently it is good luck if the rats scuttle over you while you are there, and if you eat a biscuit on which a rat has salivated then you are really blessed! The girls didn't need blessing that badly, so they made do with a picture of a white rat and resisted the biscuits altogether.

Cheryl and Tracy at the Golden TempleAnother sleeper bus took the girls from Bikaner to Amritsar (where Bride and prejudice was filmed). At Amritsar they visited the Golden Temple and watched the Pakistani and Indian military border ceremony. From Amritsar the original plan was to go to Shimla, a hill fort. However, Cheryl suffered a dose of food poising and after several days without improvement, needed a short spell in hospital to recover: "our most expensive night in India so far". This put the programme back a little. So instead of moving on via Shimla they stayed in Amritsar until Friday 21st April. From there, they took a sleeper bus direct to Delhi, which they reached in the early morning of Saturday 22nd April.

At about the time Cheryl and Tracy were leaving Amritsar, Cheryl's parents, David and Tricia, and her brother Mark, with his wife, Lisa, left Heathrow, also headed for Delhi. The flight from London and transfer to Delhi turned out to be quicker than the sleeper bus from Amritsar, so the visitors were ensconced in a Delhi hotel an hour ahead of our intrepid travellers from India. Cheryl's family had come to combine a holiday in the 'Golden Triangle' with a re-supply mission, to satisfy those cravings which only a parcel from England can. Amongst the suitcase full of absolute necessities were such essentials as coleslaw, radish and Marmite. The pair thus became a group of six for a fortnight or so.

The 'Golden Triangle'
The group's first three nights were spent in Delhi, mixing city site tours with acclimatisation for the newcomers. According to the girls, Delhi is quiet and sophisticated compared with their other stop-offs. The hotel was fairly central and very close to a local street market, which was vibrant, especially in the evening. The city was hot and hectic for the most-part, but in other parts rather reminiscent of some English cities. Perhaps Leeds more than London. There are extravagant government buildings, wide tree-lined roads and remarkably well-behaved (for India) traffic, especially around the eight-lane roundabout that surrounds the India Gate.

India's Monuments

1. Most are sadly neglected. The colourful frescoes and delicate decorations so often turn out to be blackened or just missing.
2. Local people pay a fraction of the price to view them. For example, to enter the grounds of the Taj Mahal will cost an Indian national 20 rupees and a foreign national 750 rupees.
3. Few, if any, of the staff appear to have attended customer service classes.

Delhi's sites are rather disappointing. Delhi is a capital city with capital city buildings rather than an historic or site seeing city. There is a huge Mosque (the biggest in India) and several tombs; a fort which has served as a royal residence rather than a military base, and one or two other buildings that make it to the guide books, but you would have to go a long way down our schedule of things to see in India before you would find one of Delhi's listed.

On 25th April the group left Delhi for Agra. The girls denied themselves the pleasures of public transport and kindly agreed to travel the 260 km by air conditioned taxi. A five hour journey with a stop on the border of Rajasthan had brought them to Agra in time for Tuesday's evening meal. The focus of Agra is, of course, the Taj Mahal. There are other sites but the town is very scattered, and pockets of interest are well dispersed.

Ferry across the Yamuna River behind the Taj Mahal

The first visit to the Taj was on Thursday, 27th April. Everyone was up at 5am to see the sun rise on the monument. We did not go inside the grounds on this occasion, but to the bank of the Yamuna river behind. In fact most of the river has dried up but there is still enough of a stream to give a ferryman a job. The rest is sandy river bed in which local people grow marrows. The theory (according to our local advisor) was that, as the sun rose, the reflection of the sun on the Taj would change its colour. It sounded good, but there was cloud and and a bit of a haze, so we saw the sun rise and the colour change from, well, white to white really. We then returned to the hotel for breakfast and kept out of the heat for much of the day, returning to the Taj itself, this time to go within the grounds, in time to spend a few hours there and to see the sun set. Similar weather conditions prevented us witnessing the publicised colour change from white, through pinks to darkness. Despite the lack of colourful sun reflections, everyone was in awe of the monument, which is surely the most attractive building in the world.

Power shortages

Despite tales of the strength of India's economy, there are severe power problems. Even in Delhi the national paper reports power cuts averaging 7 hours a day and air conditioning systems are banned in some buildings for three hours in the evening.

Cheryl and Tracy aat the Taj MahalWhilst in Agra there were also visits to Itimad-ud-Daulah's tomb and the fort. There seems to be a fort in most of the major towns. The difference with this one is that the Taj Mahal is visible from several vantage points, because at one time it was the residence of Shah Jahan, the king who built the Taj in honour of, and as a mausoleum for, his second and favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

We saw the Taj several more times, from the river bank behind, from 2 rooftop restaurants where we ate on some evenings and from within the grounds to which we returned at sunrise on Sunday. The next day we left by taxi for Jaipur, with a stop to visit Fatehpur Sikri, built as the Mughal capital and finished in 1585 but abandoned because of a lack of water 14 years later in favour of Agra.

Cheryl & Tracy in the Palace of WindsThe hotel in Agra had been typical of tourist hotels, not out of place on many continents. In Jaipur the group stayed at a 'Heritage Home', a much smaller hotel converted from a large colonial house and retaining much of the character and furniture. Jaipur is the state capital. It is huge and sprawling. Fortunately the hotel was within easy reach of the centre but in a quiet road (by local standards). The group was in Jaipur for 4 nights - effectively three days with a transit day either side. The first and third days were spent sightseeing with a local guide and 8 seater transport. On the day in the middle the group made their own way around the rambling streets of the old city, known as the 'Pink City' because the walls of buildings are painted in a colour close to pink. Here the spacious opulent city palace, still owned by royalty, jostles for space with shacks, roofless shops and wasteland populated by homeless people and beggars.

Unlike Agra, where sites had been separated by a 15 minute taxi ride, in Jaipur only short walking distances stood between monuments and buildings of interest. Probably the most famous building in Jaipur is the Hawa Mahal or 'Palace of Winds', an ornate 5 story whim built in 1799. It is only one room deep and has perforated screens facing onto the busy streets and bazaars below, to enable the veiled ladies of the harem to enjoy the street scene without being observed themselves. Within yards of the Hawa Mahal and City palace is Ishwar Lat, a tower built in 1749, which the group climbed despite the sun and 44 degree heat, and Jantar Mantar, an observatory, with 16 instruments, some of which are still said to be used to predict how hot the summer will be and characteristics of the pending monsoon.

Jaipur also has three forts, the best preserved of which is the Amber Fort, and Jal Mahal, a water palace, which would have been surrounded by water if there had not been a drought.

On 5th May another taxi took the group back to Delhi where shopping was the main attraction for most, although a splinter group managed a few more sites including a modern building for a change, a Bahai temple built in the shape of a lotus flower, and Raj Ghat, a memorial to Gandhi, built in the place of his cremation. The group spent a total of a fifteen days in the Delhi, Agra, Jaipur triangle ending on 7th May, when the relatives returned home. After experiencing air conditioning, private transport and hotels with swimming pools, the girls re-engaged with reality for their 5 hour train journey to Jhansi and onward bus ride to Orchha.

The north-east
Orchha was their hottest place yet, but very pretty. They stayed in a pleasant hotel for three nights before moving on to Khajaraho. Here they found local people very friendly and chatty and, for the first time, met a European who was nice to them. Previously, fellow travellers have been aloof and not at all friendly. There was lots to see at Khajaraho, but even so they only stayed one night so that they could move on to Varanassi. The one night they did stay was quite interesting. The first hotel they booked into had an air cooler that doubled up as a machine gun, firing insect like grasshoppers into the room. Not being fans of projected insects they moved on. The next day the only way to Varanassi was public bus, so 15 hours (overnight) on a local bus it was!

Varanassi was another great place with an atmosphere to match. Local people were very chatty and some local children showed the girls around. A man took them down the Ganges in is old and rather worn boat. He was full of information and interesting to listen to.

The next stop was Siligiri, but transport options were limited so the girls just had to go by first class, air conditioned sleeper. From Siligiri a jeep took them towards Darjeeling but they didn't quite make it on the first attempt. Darjeeling is in the hills and the weather had closed in. Jeep driving is a bit scary at the best of times and this was not the best of times. Thick cloud cover over a winding mountain road with no barriers and visibility barely beyond the front bumper made even the seasoned local travellers sick. The locals stayed on and risked it, but Cheryl and Tracy took the wiser option and left the jeep at Kurseong for an unscheduled overnight stay.

It was a worthwhile stop. Pretty and small enough to walk round but big enough to keep them busy for their short sojourn, with some welcome rain after the heat of the low lands. By the following morning the weather had cleared and so the girls continued their journey by shared taxi jeep to Darjeeling.

Darjeeling is very hilly! Finding accommodation was a challenge and they left it again very early in the morning to go 16km down the road for the 4am sunrise over the mountains. The cloud had gone so they soaked in the amazing clear views for a while before walking back to Darjeeling via the next town, Ghoom.

The girls wanted to go to Sikkim, otherwise known as Gangtok. This is very near the Chinese border so there are special arrangements for visiting which involve getting a permit to travel. They got the permit and visited the tea plantations around Darjeeling before setting off the next morning for a one night stay in Gangtok.

By Thursday night, 18th May, they were back in Darjeeling, from where they took the jeep taxi back to Siligiri at lunchtime Friday and a semi sleeper from there to Kolkata (Calcutta) on Friday night, arriving Saturday morning. There was only time for one day in Kolkata.

As Kolkata is so huge they toured by taxi. One of the sights was a temple that offers daily sacrifices of goats. Twenty goats are sacrificed on weekdays and 60 on Saturdays. After blessing, cleansing, beheading and chopping up the goats, they feed the meat with bread and rice to about 600 poor people each day. There are an awful lot of goats being bred somewhere. By the end of the day, after a thunderstorm that flooded the street their lodgings were in, they had checked in for their flight, leaving in the early hours of Sunday morning, 21st May, for Bangkok.

The girls arrived safely in Bangkok on Sunday, visiting Wat Pho and Wat Arun. There are plenty of other sights, but they are saving some, including the Golden Palace, for when they return in September.

Local woman in PaiThey left Bangkok on Tuesday, 23rd May by train for Phitsanulok and from there took a bus to Sukhothai where they stayed in a log cabin. They hired bikes to see the local ruins. Cheryl took a mountain bike, for which parts of her body suffered. Tracy took the comfort option and hired a granny bike, complete with bell. The wiser option with fewer bruises in sensitive parts.

From Sukhothai they went north to Chiang Mai, which was not as green or hilly as they expected, but pleasant nevertheless, with good food and a night market at the rich end of town. Cheryl and Tracy with 'their' elephantThe spending spree was curtailed by budget and the fact that they have to carry everything through three more countries. They travelled to Pai to get their visas for Laos and whilst there went trekking in the hills, had lunch by a waterfall and went on an elephant. On the elephant they were taken down to a river, which they ended up in. Twice. They had to stay in Pai for a few days until their visas were ready, so had a chance to try out a few more things, including touring on a motor bike (Cheryl driving). They returned on 2nd June from Pai to Chiang Mai for a bus connection to Chiang Khong, the border town on the Thailand side. They arrived late evening and stayed there one night, crossing by boat to Huay Xai, the border town on the Laos side, on the 3rd.


Click here for a map of Laos, showing the first part of the route.

Woman in Muang SingHuay Xai, the border town on the Mekong was nice, small with good food. They left on Sunday 4th by public bus to Luang Namtha, where they stayed 2 nights before heading, again by public bus, to Muang Sing, further north, toward the Chinese border. Luang Namtha and Muang Sing were very similar to Huay Xai and lot like northern Thailand: lovely looking hills and interesting hill tribes, markets etc. Their main attractions are treks, but the girls are saving these for later, which is why they did not stay long in either place. After one night in Muang Sing they went back to Luang Namtha for a bus connection to Udomxai, where they stayed one night. Udomxai is the travel hub of northern Laos. It has one street with barely one restaurant. The following morning they left for Nong Khiaw. From there they took a boat up the river Nam Ou to Muang Ngoi (there is no road access) where they spent two nights.

Hut in Muang NgoiMuang Ngoi was absolutely gorgeous! Just like a still from a film, very picturesque and very peaceful. They spent their time on the hammocks out the front of their bamboo hut on stilts by the river front and managed to do some reading, test the local beer and catch up on some sleep. They loved it, but with no electricity, the world cup coming up and another town 1 hour back down the river, they headed back to Nong Khiaw on Saturday 10th June, for one night. At Nong Khiaw they visited some caves, ate some fabulous food and sat in front of the TV for the football, 3 hours early - just in case. The sports channel they were watching in their bamboo hut restaurant was a Thai channel and just at the turn of 8pm (kick off) they put on a half hour tribute to the King, celebrating 60 years on the throne or something. Maybe the football gave way to the King, but they had good company - a couple of Brits (one from Brighton), a Spaniard, two French and one Brazilian - good beer and a beautiful spot by the river.

Pool outside Luang PrabangOn Sunday 11th they arrived in Luang Prabang, where they stayed for a few days as there is lots to see and fun things to do. Luang Prabang was nice, by far the biggest place they have been to so far in Laos - two main streets with a couple of little one. They describe it as a little like Pondicherry - so now we know. By 16th June they were in Vientiane, the capital, where they got their visas for Vietnam. They left by sleeper VIP bus down to Pakse, where they arrived early in the morning of Tuesday 20th June. From there they caught the local bus to Si Phan Don, ('Four Thousand Islands') and by boat to Don Det, the one amongst the 4,000 where they chose to stay. They were there until Thursday 22nd, when they left on a boat to the main island, then by local bus to Champasak. At Champasak they visited Wat Phu, allegedly the most impressive architectural site in Laos, then, on 23rd, continued to, via Pakse. They stayed at Tadlo until 25th when they went. via Pakse, by overnight sleeper back to the capital, Vientiane, arriving on Monday 26th.

The original plan was to go north to Sam Neua and Vang Xai, but it would have taken 'forever' on a public bus, and as neither of them was too bothered about that part of the journey they decided instead to go direct from Vientiane to Hanoi, expecting a 23 hour journey in a VIP sleeper bus.


Cheryl and Tracy on cyclo in Ha NoiThe 23 hour journey in the VIP sleeper bus turned out to be a 25 hour journey in a local bus - 48 people in a 25 seater coach which one chap and two girls abandoned, the girls after just seeing the bus. You don't get Routemasters in Laos. Anyway, they got there safely on Wednesday, 28th June. Hanoi was a bit more commercialised than their haunts of the previous few weeks, so the girls did what girls do. They hit the shops for a little retail therapy to get over the arduous journey.

Onward journey
From Vietnam they went to Cambodia before they returned to England from Bangkok on 9th September.

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