It is officially my last night in Malaysia. Come tomorrow, Tim and I will finalise packing our bags, and head off on the bus to begin the long journey home.бизнес

Our journey involves a one hour bus ride, a one hour flight, a four hour stopover, and almost a nine hour flight through the night to Australia. Followed by a day and a half in Brisbane to get the rest of our belongings and say goodbye, and then we’ll be driving across three states to get to our new home.

They do say that “change is as a good as a holiday” but never content with doing things by halves, Tim and I decided the best thing would be to have a holiday, then come home to a massive change in life. The decision to send our belongings across the country and move to a new state seemed like a really good idea before we went away, when we had a heap of money saved and were fresh out of jobs we’d grown tired of. But now… It’s seeming like a bit of a crazy decision.

I still can’t decide if I’m looking forward to being home or not. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing my pet, and my sister and girlfriends from work. I’m excited to drive down to Melbourne with Tim, because we’ve never been on a road trip together before and I’ve never been on a road trip with someone who will pull over if I want to take a photo in the fields of grain. I’m really keen to wear some different clothes and read new books that I couldn’t carry with me on this trip.

But I am going to miss motorbiking on the edge of a foreign country, and eating delicious and extremely cheap food every night. I’m going to miss the freedom of not caring what time it is, or where we are. I’m going to miss having no schedule to stick to other than the upcoming date of a flight to another exciting destination. I’m sad to be leaving the amusing confusion that comes from not speaking the native tongue of whatever country we’re in.

So it’s a bit of a mixed bag of feelings today. I think I’ve got pre-post-holiday depression – which is really unfair because being prepared for things isn’t what I’m known for, and this isn’t even being prepared for anything good. I think I’m going to just stop blogging now, before I get too mopey about my upcoming return home. Instead, I’m going to go out and eat my last dinner in Malaysia, and I’m going to enjoy it!

Hot day, bored couple who wants to do something “travelly” and not hang around our clean, but extremely boring, hostel all day. Time for a waterfall visit.

If you’ve ever been to Luang Prabang, then you’ll know that one of the main tourist attractions seems to be the Kuang Si Falls. And for all those who are intending to go to LP and are doubtful of visiting somewhere that is so often touted by tuk-tuk drivers, don’t be so easily fooled. The first time my family and I visited LP, we avoided heading to the falls for a while because we figured it was the typical tourist trap that you normally see in SE Asia. One pitiful waterfall and a bunch of overpriced stuff. We were SO wrong.

Us at the Falls

Kuang Si Falls are about an hour’s tuk tuk ride away from the centre of Luang Prabang. You can motorbike there, or rent a car, or even use a bicycle, but tuk tuk is the cheapest and easiest option. If you head into the centre of town, there will be swarms of drivers practically begging to take you. We went with two girls from Norway (total strangers) so the price went down to 60,000 Kip there and back. The downside of going with a group/people you’ve never met is you need to agree on what time you want to leave, and you need to make sure the people you go with are on the same page as you. If you’re looking for a 30 minute photo-taking adventure, you’ll be upset if you end up with people who want to spend the whole day there.

Kuang Si Park

Entry to the falls is 20,000 Kip. This also gets you entry to the barely-advertised Bear Conservation Centre, a place that rescues bears from becoming trophy pets or part of strange medicinal practices. And for once in my life, I can see bears in captivity that aren’t showing signs of extreme stress or depression, which warms my heart to now end. The bears here have space, friends, and lots of the right kind of activities to keep them entertained and healthy. You can give donations, or buy a shirt, a bag, a water bottle… you get the picture, to support the centre and allow them to keep rescuing bears.

Moon Bears

 

LP Bears

After cooing over adorable bears, we went along some slippery dirt paths to the falls. There’s many levels to the falls, and they’re all equally impressive. The lower falls have beautiful, milky blue-green water, and the biggest fall that comes down the mountain is seriously impressive in itself. We walked to the top and snapped the obligatory photo between making a very important choice. Climb giant boulders and try to reach the very top of the fall, or go back down the hill to the lower falls and swim. For two lazy people, it wasn’t a hard decision.

Kuang Si Falls

Since we went in the afternoon, the crowds were pretty intense at all of the levels. Most people recommend going earlier in the day to avoid crowds and I would echo that advice – it’s just more relaxing. And many photo opportunities are ruined by two hundred other people milling on the edges of each pool. We found a relatively uncrowded pool, and decided we’d finally take our Nikon AW1 in the water. It’s waterproof to 10M, and we were still extremely paranoid about even splashing it. But it turned out fine!

Falls

 

Be warned, the water is pretty freezing. But it’s nice for a day out and the falls are absolutely gorgeous. This is an especially good outing if you’re finding yourself a little bored with the laid-back town of Luang Prabang, or if you need a break from all the temples – of which we saw a total of zero. If you want to go swimming but milky blue water ain’t your thang, or you want something a bit closer to town, check out the La Pistoche Swimming Pool & Bar.

Waterfalls

 

 

I finally rode a motorbike by myself!

Okay, it was an automatic scooter, but anything is an achievement for me, especially alone and in a foreign country. I decided that if we wanted to go ahead with our plan of motorbiking through Vietnam (a plan now very twisted and different to how we imagined) then I needed some practice first, so I could avoid killing myself on the first day.

So we went off to find someone to rent us some bikes, and 500 Baht and a held passport later, we had two little scooters with a helmet each. The guy had to explain to me how to actually start the scooter and rev the engine, and at this point he looked worried and asked if I actually knew how to ride at all. I nodded and shakily scooted twenty metres down the road. I don’t know who was more scared at this point – me or him.

We planned on riding the Samoeng Loop. Golden Triangle Rider has some really good info on it, and even a map you can buy and have mailed if you a, plan ahead and have time, and b, have a post box. The one for the Samoeng Loop is out of print and they have a new edition coming soon, but we also managed fine without a proper map. We ended up with two random maps, one from the motorbike rental guy of Chiang Mai, and one from a woman selling strawberries of half the loop.

The Samoeng Loop from GT Rider’s website.

The basic gist of the Samoeng Loop is Chiang Mai > Samoeng > around the Mae Sa Valley > Chiang Mai. Beginners are recommended to do this in reverse, so we took that advice and set off along the highway for the town of Mae Sa. It was pretty basic once we were out of Chiang Mai, you just follow all the signs and try not to get run over. Before you leave Mae Sa you should stop for fuel if you don’t have a full tank, because when you’re halfway up a hill in the middle of the rainforest, having low fuel makes you a bit panicky.

After you turn off for Samoeng, the hills start and it all gets really pretty. Dotted through the rainforest are a bunch of different tourist activities, like the tiger temple, elephant camps, zip lines, etc etc. There are also about a zillion people selling strawberries by the bag. We didn’t buy any but apparently they’re really tasty.

Dark, green, and wet - the perfect tropical rainforest waterfall.

Dark, green, and wet – the perfect tropical rainforest waterfall.

We first stopped at the Mae Sa Waterfall, which is pretty and apparently has TEN levels. We only made it to level four, where it was still green and very peaceful. Admission is 100 Baht each, and 20 Baht for motorbikes.

After we stopped for lunch (grilled chicken, yum!) we headed off to the Pata Caves. The turn off is ridiculously confusing – the sign points further up the hill, but it’s down the side road that heads downhill. So we detoured (u-turns on bikes are a big thing for me) and got on the right track. To get there we drove along a really steep road covered in red dust, and went further up the mountain. Also at the Pata Caves was the Buddha Handprint, but when we went to look at it, we couldn’t really figure out what it was meant to be.. It looked nothing like a hand! Sorry worshippers, we just didn’t get it.

Seriously, what IS this thing?

Seriously, what IS this thing?

So we trekked up the hill to go to the Pata Caves. It’s an uphill trek, and when the path forked, we went right. Obviously the wrong way because after another ten minutes of trekking we still couldn’t see a cave! Tim looked like he was going to die, so we decided to pike it and go back downhill, when Tim fell on his butt. His fake cried echoed through the hills and probably traumatised the wildlife.

Poor thing. He was very dirty after this!

Poor thing. He was very dirty after this!

On the way back to the main road, Tim’s bike turned off completely on the downhill slope, which was fun! Not. Once back on the highway, we kept riding further up and around the mountain. It gets pretty cold the higher you go, and sun disappears altogether, so I would wear long pants and bring a windcheater/windbreaker/North Face jacket so you don’t freeze. The cold is worth it though, because eventually you reach Samoeng, and get an amazing view of the landscape from the lookout. It was a bit foggy when we were there, but I can just imagine how amazing it is when it’s clear.

On a clear day, this would be even more amazing!

On a clear day, this would be even more amazing!

Then we headed downhill, and got confused at the turnoff. Left goes to Chiang Mai, right goes to Samoeng. Because we were confused and didn’t realise that going to Samoeng means going out of your way and backtracking to get home again, we followed the directions of a fellow motorbiker and began the ride back to Chiang Mai. We soon realised why they tell beginners to do the route backwards – going home was a lot of very steep and very sharp uphill turns, when I thought I would topple over quite a few times. Once we were past near-death, we were lucky enough to have some elephants pass us by on the other side of the road! It was a really awesome moment, and it made us glad we hadn’t paid to go and see elephants when we could see them for free.

Seeing elephants this close was a great end to a perfect trip.

Seeing elephants this close was a great end to a perfect trip.

We finally got on the highway back to Chiang Mai, and after some more confusion and an unneeded u-turn, we found ourselves back at the city. Navigating around the Old Town is a bit of nightmare – so many one way streets! But the ride itself was pleasant, beautiful and really easy for some totally inexperienced riders. All in all, it was an awesome day out and only cost us about $35 in total! Well worth it if you’re brave enough to give it a try. And if you’re not and you have a more experienced friend, go out on the back of their bike instead. I guarantee you’ll still have an amazing time.

Bikes

There were plenty of things up in the mountains to do that we passed by, there’s the Royal Botanic Gardens and I even saw a sign for Monkey School (??) so by no means did we do everything. I’m a bit bummed we missed heading to Samoeng, but there’s always next time!

Easy Rider

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It seems that many things are on the move in Laos lately! My Lonely Planet has once again left me unprepared for what happens at the end of my journey, so when Tim and I got off the boat, climbed up a mountain of dirt and found ourselves at an unknown road, we were stumped for a bit. There were (of course) tuk tuks everywhere, all of them telling us that it was 10 kilometres to town and we NEEDED to pay them all 20,000 Kip each and wait for our tuk tuk to be full so that we could leave. The lovely Tim, however, said “It’s only ten kms. We can walk.”Безопасные SEO эксперименты

It isn’t until we’ve been walking for five minutes and turning back and getting a tuk tuk would leave us scorned, that he decides to tell me 10 kms is the equivalent of his walk to work, to home, and back to work again. GREAT. So we plodded along in the dirt on the way to town, and after a while we passed a marker that said Luang Prabang was only 4 kilometres away. At this point we concluded that either the tuk tuk drivers were lying to us about the distance, or we walked way faster than we ever thought possible.

After about 45 minutes, fifteen tuk tuks crammed full of backpackers passed us, and we assumed it was the last of the people from the boat. We kept plodding along but when a smaller tuk tuk stopped and told us he would take us for 20,000 Kip for both of us, we basically fell into the back and let him take us instead. We were exhausted! And still a fair way out of town, because we came from the back, so I no doubt would’ve gotten us lost if we’d kept walking anyway.

So while I don’t think it actually is 10 kilometres, I wouldn’t recommend trying to walk the whole way into town unless you’ve got hardly any baggage or are really into walking. What I would recommend if trying to save even a little bit of cash is walking for twenty minutes, then getting into a smaller tuk tuk when they inevitably pull over to offer you a ride, and tell them you’ll pay 10,000 Kip each to the night market. They’ll probably offer it to you anyway.

Also, MAKE SURE YOU BOOK AHEAD if you’re going to be in Luang Prabang (or anywhere in SE Asia) during Chinese New Year. Because there is NOWHERE to stay, most guesthouses have little full signs out the front, and you’ll end up going way over budget for accommodation in what is normally a reasonably expensive town. Like we did, but not before we spent an hour and a half walking around town trying to find ourselves a bed.

And now, we get to play the game all over again because we could only book for one night. Joy!

“Getting into Laos will be easy. We go on this stupid little boat to Chiang Khong, then we walk down the hill, take a little canoe across the river and walk up the hill into Laos immigration! Done.”

Those, my friends, are the words of one very cocky traveller. You know, the one who has seen it all before, knows everything and gives other travellers advice on where to go and what to see. That one traveller that you think maybe knows too much, and maybe needs to see someplace new. You know the one? Yeah, that’s right, it’s me.

They’re also the words of one very misinformed and apparently out of date traveller, as I discovered last week. After prepping Tim on an easy and relaxed crossing into Laos from Chiang Khong in the north of Thailand, we had an entirely different experience. Turns out, they moved the border! WHO MOVES A BORDER?? Thai and Laos people, that’s who.

I thought I had the day sorted. We’d go on the stupid 500B minibus from Chiang Mai that makes you want to puke as it speeds round tight bends high in the mountains, and then we’d get some US dollars in Chiang Khong, find a place to stay and cross the border in the morning. Toooooo easy. Except that when we stopped at “Chiang Khong” today, it wasn’t the quiet riverside town I remembered. Instead, it was a large white border crossing in the middle of nowhere. NOT what I expected at all.

Cue a very confused, very cranky Britt arguing with her bus driver about how she wants to go to Chiang Khong, not this weird joint. Yes, Chiang Khong. The town, to cross into Laos. NO this isn’t the place! I want Chiang Khong. Yes, the town. The border. I want to go to Laos! Is this the place? No it’s not! It’s not the same! Oh, it is the place? It’s new? Oh. Okay.

(like a true pig-headed traveller, I didn’t even apologise to the poor guy who looked like he wanted to kill me. I just strolled off and looked confused)

I found out later that the new borders on the Thai and Laos side are only about one month old. So new there’s not even an ATM or clean water. Just toilets and a little Thai lady swapping 1000 Baht for $30 US. Because we were so unprepared we had to borrow some Baht from our new buddy and fellow Aussie Oliver, just so we had enough to pay for our visas on the other side.

So we stamped out of Thailand, paid 20 Baht for the shuttle bus across no man’s land (a five minute bus ride complete with a five minute screening of Iron Man 3) and across the new bridge to the Laos border and finally got into Laos after doing the immigration game. Which is basically filling out a form, throwing it at a guy in a hut with your passport and waiting around to pay the visa fee. And then we paid a 20 Baht “overtime fee” because of course we couldn’t get to the border before 4 pm.

Then, because we somehow ended up without a bus transfer, we took a 20,000 Kip tuk tuk to Huay Xai, the border town that I remembered. Here we finally found an ATM and were able to pay our driver, and go off to find a hostel.

I learnt today that relying completely on a 2012 Lonely Planet (whilst helpful in many other regards) and not checking dates on travel forums can really put a kink in some of the best laid plans. So if you’re headed to Laos from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and have done the trip before by canoe across the Mekong, be warned that this is no longer. Apparently a ferry still operates for motorbikes and little trucks but since I have neither of these I haven’t looked too far into it. Be prepared to cross the border, and make sure you have enough Baht or US dollars as there’s no ATM on the Thai side, and no promises of one coming any time soon.

Learn from my mistakes!

I realise I’ve been extremely slack since we actually left on our trip, and haven’t blogged once. Oops! This is why I’m not paid to write – because I’m terrible at sticking to dates and plans.

So, we safely arrived in Thailand – after a few late flights along the way – and we’ve since headed north to Chiang Mai. I will write some posts about what we’ve done so far but I just wanted to write a quick little update before I forgot to blog altogether!

We went motorbiking through the hills today – a post on that tomorrow – and now we’re sitting out at our hostel, fighting the bugs and the cold because WiFi only works in the lobby. Unhappy. We’re also faced with the task of figuring out exactly how we’re going to get to Vietnam, all of the options seem to take up a lot of time and money, and I’m actually considering taking the easy way out and flying from here to Hanoi and skipping Laos completely. But that makes me unhappy, especially since I finally put my Lonely Planet to work and figured out a very interesting little journey and border crossing ): A lot of Googling is going to happen tomorrow, I can already tell.

In other news, I’m trying to convince Tim he should grow a holiday beard and become scruffy, but he keeps fighting me on it.. So rally with me and tell him to grow it out! When else does he have a chance to look so wildly unprofessional and hobo-chic?

I’ll work on staying up to date from now on, and hopefully I remember to haul the laptop out and get writing! I hope I do for other reasons, like having a uni assessment due on Friday – eek!

Have a photo of Bangkok from the 7th floor of Siam Discovery to keep you entertained.

Mango City

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So at the moment I’m in the middle of one of the activities I am both best and worst at: planning. I’m the best at it because I can make a totally killer plan and have every last detail ironed out perfectly. And I’m the worst because no matter what I do, I can’t seem to stick to one of my own perfectly formulated plans no matter what I do. It’s like how people can give great advice but can’t take their own (also me). I’m sure there’s a word for this kind of behaviour… Can you be a planning hypocrite?

Anyway, at this point I’m trying to figure out what places Tim and I are going to scoot off to when we’re in Vietnam. So far, I know that we’ll be catching a horrific night bus from Luang Prabang (Laos) to Hanoi – mainly because I feel that now I’m super equipped with dealing with the bus systems in Vietnam, and also I want to watch Tim squirm a little when he realises what he’s in for.*

But then the real trouble comes because the main places I want to go are Hanoi, Sa Pa, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Now the last leg of this trip will be fine and I’ve just learnt we’ll be able to pay a measly $45 each and send our bikes back to Hanoi on the train instead of having to ride all the way back up North – I don’t want to push my luck by spending too long on bikes or waste my time repeating the trip.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

But the whole Sa Pa/Hanoi/Ha Long Bay thing is really going to screw me because Sa Pa is 6 hours from Hanoi, and Ha Long Bay is 3 hours from Hanoi – except they’re both in opposite directions. Of course. I feel like Sa Pa is going to get shafted here because after a quick search, I’ve found it’s cold and foggy most of the time in early February, which cancels out my plans to hike to the top of a mountain and look at the awesome rice paddies.

Of course, Hue and Sa Pa are the only new places I’ve added to the trip that I took with my family, and I really want to be able to see more of Vietnam this time, especially since I’ll have my own form of transport instead of relying on buses and taxis to take us around. I’d really like to go to Dalat and go canyoning, but other than that.. there’s really not much planned that I haven’t done already and loved so much I want to go back again. Is it wrong to repeat travel?watch The Circle 2017 movie online now

I know nobody is really reading this site at the moment because of the lack of content, but if you do happen upon this post and could recommend anything interesting to do in Vietnam that I haven’t listed or you think I should know about, let me know in a comment below!

* I’ve already asked if he wants to catch a bus and have warned him it’s the bus from hell – he still said yes!

So again, I’ve been majorly slacking. I have so many ideas for this blog and what I should post about, and I’ve been forcing myself to explore Brisbane further so that I actually have more to blog about. And yet, I just write everything in my little black book and forget about it.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m working 60 hours this week and am finding it hard to find time to eat, let alone do anything else. Running on about four hours of sleep a night is messing with me a bit, and I need to work out a better routine for myself. I’m still sure that my body will never get used to night shifts and all of the drama that comes from working in an all-female environment, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try anyway.

Good news for this week is that I’m going to Cirque du Soleil this weekend to see the Michael Jackson IMMORTAL world tour, and at work I managed to meet some of the techies from the show and they’ve promised to take my friends and I backstage when we go on Sunday. I’ve also just booked flights for Tim and I to leave for Malaysia on the 21st of January, and then on to Thailand that night. So exciting! Our rough plan is going to be Luang Prabang in Laos, then 3 weeks on motorbikes in Vietnam and then back to Penang in Malaysia to visit my family because they should be settled and beginning overseas life by then.

We’ll see how that all pans out in reality, but one thing is for sure, I am going to ride another motorbike and try not to crash this time! I’m extremely excited about time off from my hectic work schedule, and even more excited to be travelling overseas with my partner for the first time. I’m sure he’s even more excited about it as this will be his first time backpacking in Asia, but I wish he’d do a little research of his own and tell me what he wants to do instead of letting me plan anything. But since I know he probably won’t, I’m turning to anyone who still reads this blog and I’m asking: what are some fun things to do in Vietnam that we shouldn’t miss out on? Luang Prabang will be our chance to relax after a few days in Thailand, but apart from what I did with my family when I was last in Vietnam, I must admit I’m at a loss.

So let me know in the comments below if there’s anything we should see, something we should eat, or someplace we should stay!

P.S. Motorbike crash injuries from last time that I pray I don’t experience again!

motorbike injuries