Monday, March 9, 2009


My friends, thank you very much for following this blog and sharing my experience with me. I hope it was a little interesting and inspiring. I am very much looking forward to seeing you all again in person soon. No more virtual relationships for a while. Take care! Stefan

Singapore to Macau 2009

Best country: Laos
Worst country: Vietnam

Best city: Luang Prabang, Laos
Worst city: Diem Bien Phu, Vietnam

Best hotel: The Chedi, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Worst hotel: Muong Thanh hotel, Diem Bien Phu, Vietnam

Best food: Dinner at the Oriental, Bangkok
Worst food: Dinner at the Shangri-La hotel, Beihai, China (stuffed sandworms!)

Most modern place: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Most rural place: The Laotian mountains

Worst moment: Flat tire in Laos after days of bad roads
Best moment: Right now, Hong Kong, looking out the window over the city from the 32nd floor, knowing I am coming home

Best driving tunes: Bob Marley
Worst driving tunes: Vietnamese radio 

Biggest surprise: Cellphones work even in the most remote areas in the world

5 weeks is very very long when you are far away from home.


Sunday, March 8, 2009


WE MADE IT. 7000 miles, 5 weeks, millions of kamikaze mopeds, deadly potholes, rocks, mountain passes, buffet dinners, hazardous pigs, chickens, stray dogs, naked babies, bicycles riders on highways, border crossings, bus transfers, buddhist temples, soot and smoke, insane passing maneuvers, packing and unpacking bags, earplugs, telephone calls and text messages, BLOGS, british small talk, miles...miles...miles, plastic water bottles, money changing, hotel beds, fried eggs over medium, gas stations, tolls, rice patties, run-over snakes, 6 am alarm clocks, british humor, sand and dirt, buses oncoming-in our lane...

It has not sunk in yet that we are done...or what we have been through. I'm still working on it in my head, digesting the trip. 

We have REALLY been looking forward to this moment! Cigar and Cognac after the finish. My dad and I enjoyed our treat at the Westin in Macau. We will be here for one night and then take a jetfoil boat over the bay to Hong Kong, our last stop of this journey. A drink never tasted this good.

Best and worst of everything to follow tomorrow!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

On a junk in Ha Long Bay

Hey! We slept on a junk in Ha Long Bay in the Chinese Sea last night, about 150 miles from the Chinese border, still in Vietnam. As we approached the boat pier after a long drive through traffic chaos, we weren't sure if we were up to spending the night on a boat with our fellow rally colleagues...but I am glad we did. Counter to what the name of this type of boat may suggest, the junk was not junky at all, but actually a very nice boat. My dad and I had the biggest beds so far on our trip in a beautiful wooden stateroom aboard. The crew shipped us out to sea for a few hours to a cave in the side of one of the large rocks sticking out of the water...and we had dinner in a cave! Nice buffet, complete with dancers and bottles of Vietnamese wine (not bad!). 

In the morning, we were woken up by the boat's diesels ferrying us back to shore for a late 8.30 am takeoff. We had a long way ahead of us to the Chinese border and then on to our overnight stay at Beihai. 

The border crossing out of socialist Vietnam into communist China was one hell of an event. It was our seventh border crossing. Imagine a border through which normally thousands of people on foot cross from Vietnam to China and back. Here we are, 25 European SUV's with equally unusual looking drivers and passengers...all full of dirt. It was a big spectacle, lots of photos being taken, every nook and cranny of our cars being searched and inspected. it took a while, but everyone was very friendly and no troubles were had.

We're at the Shangri-La hotel in Beihei, China, for tonight. Tomorrow, we'll drive to Macau and drop the cars at the container shipping company!

Our hotel for last night! The Bai Tho junk "Du Lich" in Ha Long Bay, Chinese Sea in Vietnam.
It was cold last night...maybe 50 degrees, but we enjoyed the views of the rock formations from the bow of the junk.
Crazy...dinner in a cave miles and miles off the Vietnamese coast.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sapa, Vietnamese Mountains

We spent the night before last in a village in the Vietnamese mountains called Sapa, close to the Chinese border. To get there, we drove up a mountain pass to an elevation of around 6500 ft and found a very cute town that felt almost like were were in the Swiss alps, plus some squealing pigs that woke us up in the morning. The Victoria Hotel up there in Sapa is a beautiful place...fireplaces burning, tribal woman hand-weaving fabrics for their robes...good food and warm water!

The warm, humid air in the valleys rises up and meets the cold air higher up in the mountains, creating condensation in the form of fog coming up the mountains from the valley.
By the can click on the images and they should enlarge. Here are some kids having lunch together out of a bowl. The girl just dropped here kitty into the house...there are animals everywhere in these mountain villages. Cats, dogs, chickens, pigs, buffalos, horses, cows...some more agreeable with car traffic than others. In general, none of the creatures living here, including the humans, are used to cars driving through their villages.
Rice planting is extremely laborious work. We were watching a bunch of planters putting each seedling into the ground for a while. It's amazing what a large number of people can accomplish when they work together on a project.
My dad checking the undercarriage of our car for a dead chicken that may be stuck somewhere. Unfortunately I produced the first casualty of our trip today. I managed to avoid the rooster, but the hen that came running after him had no chance. I'm glad it was only a bird not something more serious. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Arrived in Vietnam

Vietnam is a country of mountains and fertile green valleys full of rice planting. The landscape got much wider and more dramatic here in Vietnam--the roads are still very twisty and treacherous. There are so many opportunities for good pictures here..mostly images of people working the fields in their traditional Vietnamese clothing and hats. I am reluctant to jump out of the car, hold the camera in someone's face and drive off..but I need to do that more often.

I wish I could write something more poetic today, but I am pretty tired. Had a flat tire today that resulted in a stressful drive. It's a good thing we only have 4 more driving days. I think most of the group is ready for some stationary time. 
This is where the rice farmers live. No windows, no bed, no a/c. The house is just big enough for one or two people to lie down in.
The dogs were messing with the pig...but not for long. That pig was mean! The dogs were gone in a second. 

This is what people look like here in northern Vietnam. Beautiful traditional tribal costumes. Carrying wood up the mountains for many miles, with a smile. 

The humid valleys here offer the perfect climate for growing rice and there are terraces carved into the landscape in every valley here.

Every single rice plant has been planted by hand into the wet soil of these massive rice fields.

Road of many...water buffalos. 

From Laos to Vietnam

From our last stop in Luang Prabang we drove nearly 400 miles over rough mountain roads to get to the Vietnamese border and finally our destination for the day, Dien Bien Phu. We arrived at a hotel without running warm water and a building full of ugly hookers next to it who showed us their "goods" right upon arrival. Spent a night in beds with plastic covers on the mattresses and no pillow cases. 
Go Toyota! I wasn't sure if our truck is going to fully disappear in this ford, but it did just fine. 
Our first ferry crossing. A very old boat pushed the barge from shore to shore. Lots of kids swimming and playing in the wake of the boat's propeller. 
This is how they build bridges here, and most other structures: bamboo rods tied together. This is a pretty long bridge over the fast flowing river Pak in Laos.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Finally, I am back online. The last few days were spent at hotels of no quality to have any internet connection that could handle image uploading. Here are the pictures of our two days in Luang Prabang, Laos. If there were only one place one could go to in Southeast Asia to experience the whole thing, it would be this little town. Situated right on the Mekong River, Luang Prabang is an artsy little village full of crafts, cafes, little restaurants and incredible views of the river. We had a wonderful time there. 

The Mekong right before sunset from our hotel's terrace. We had dinner right there...the only downside was that there were bunches of big hairy spiders in the lawn and on the tablecloths!
You can take one of these wooden boats on the Mekong from Laos all the way to Thailand. A two day, one night ride. 
My dad and I hired this guy and his boat for a few hours to ship us around on the Mekong. He was very proud of his boat that he had just recently bought for 1000000.00 Kip, which is equal to $1500.
The river is the key to life here. Playing, bathing, fishing, all happens on the Mekong.