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Travel Story by Cathy Heffernan

  Leafy & very wet Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam

Hungry elephant, Chiang Mai

I haven't checked out Hanoi yet but my first impressions are that it is lovely and very very wet (monsoon downpours as we speak).

Waiting for my bag (which inevitably was the last to come out) at the airport today was a surreal experience. Box after box after box containing electrical appliances made their way around the conveyor belt - I swear there were two boxes for every one suitcase/backpack. I saw a flatscreen loads of TV, a few microwaves, stereos, several automatic ricemakers and an electric weighing scales(!) It was like watching those conveyor belts containing prizes in a cheesy game show - in place of the envelopes with the 'Mystery Trip', this conveyor belt had unidentifiable parcels of varying sizes and shapes... the hilarious thing was seeing people with these boxes piled up on their trollies walking through the 'Nothing to Declare' gate and not being stopped!

A quick update of the last few days - in Chiang Mai, we went on a trek which involved an elephant trek, a walk through the jungle, visiting hill tribes and a (cancelled as it turned out) bamboo rafting session. The elephant trek, to be terribly honest, was a bit of a let down in that it all seemed rather... cruel or something. Like, the elephants walked around this circle - something they must do every day of their lives... Now I know that elephants probably have a much higher bordom threshold than we do - but can you imagine living like that?! It reminded me a bit of the polar bears in Dublin Zoo - the ones that went crazy from being cooped up and swam up and down in a daze all day. That said, seeing the elephants was cool - even though they're these massive animals there's this gracefulness about them and I could see why they had such a high status in Thai culture in the past.

Couldn't sleep on the 'sleeper train' back to Bangkok again... Feeling every crack in the tracks resonate up through the train at 5.24am in the morning, I started to think 'sleeper train' is a bit of an oxymoron really... They're very handy though in that you do your travelling at night so don't waste time so I'm not complaining.

We did the tourist thang in Bangkok - the Grand Palace and the absolutely stunning Wat Phra Kaew, a Buddhist temple - the Vatican of Buddhism... It was just amazing - gold and multi-coloured walls glittering in the sunlight. It was almost like a Disneyland for Buddhists in that everything was so bright, clean and sparkly - but I don't mean that in an insulting way!

Ah, the rains have ceased. The walls of the internet cafe I'm in are plastered in posters of Halong Bay and it looks so so beautiful - I can't wait to visit it in the next couple days...

Click on photo to enlarge

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Date Submitted: 15 Dec 2008

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