Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back home! :)

The time has come... to say bye to south-east Asia, and return home. Our plane from Delhi successfully landed in Vienna on Wednesday September 10th at 6:20 CET. We managed to catch earlier connecting bus to Prague, where we eventually arrived at 13:30.

After taking a few (actually quite a lot) pictures with our parents in various arrangements, we both set off to our homes to get some final holiday rest and prepare ourselves for upcoming events. The next year is about to bring many new challenges, related to all school, job, personal stuff, and also travelling… we are both looking forward!

However, the Fatal trip is actually not completely over, yet. We have gained significant inputs related to many areas of personal, professional and social (in global terms) life to think over in upcoming period. Besides, we need to (& want to) go through thousands of pictures and process countless short videos so as to put together a kind of “structured output” to concisely commemorate the whole trip.

Therefore, providing that you stay tuned at this website, you might be looking forward to following summary posts to be uploaded in upcoming weeks:
- major highlights from particular countries
- update on the final route
- interesting facts & numbers
- video summary of the trip

Last but not least, we would like to thank you, the readers of our blog, and especially our parents and other family members, for your continuous support during the entire trip, which made our summer adventures more easygoing, enjoyable, and secure.

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

At the Florenc coach terminal, Prague (June 20th)

At the Florenc coach terminal, Prague (September 10th)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

India III (Sep. 6 - Sep. 10)

The last stop of the Fatal trip has been in India, in Delhi to be more specific, where we stayed for the last three days. We arrived from Bangkok on Saturday September 6th, almost before midnight. It was exactly the same arrival hall, the same food stalls, the same outside climate (wet & warm & with typical Indian smell), the same rickshaws... but still so much different (now I’m not speaking about the exchange rate, which changed favorably, too). It simply was not our “first time” (as the locals tend to ask foreigners “Your first time in India?”). Well... the rickshaw drivers didn’t have it easy when bargaining:) We eventually found a cheap hotel near New Delhi railway station, right at the Main Bazaar street.

On the next day, we slept in a little bit, which was very easy to manage, thanks to a complete darkness in our room (no windows) and considerably increased humidity level. OK, so at 11 am we set off to have our breakfast - it was nice to recall those big Indian portions we were used to during the first two weeks of our travels. The rest of the day was about exploring the New Delhi district and shopping (actually the first phase of shopping - looking around & mapping the market & targeting the favored souvenirs). In the afternoon, we decided to see Qutab Minar, No.2 sight in Delhi - the tallest brick minaret in the world.

The second day in Delhi was dedicated mostly to sightseeing. Having already seen two most famous sights in Delhi (Red fort in June and Qutab Minar yesterday), we walked around Connaught place, Jantar Mantar, Parliament buildings, National museum, India Gate, and Hayman’s tomb, to take metro to Jama Masjid and continue further to the remote parts of Delhi’s suburbs (30 km from the centre). The afternoon was a shopping part of the day, again.

The last day in Delhi was also the last whole day of the Fatal trip. We spent the morning on our own - online & last shopping (yes, Delhi was intended to be more like a shopping stop:)) and went to enjoy the Bollywood blockbuster “Hijack” in the local cinema. As we already expected after the Jaipur Bollywood cinema experience, the movie was very well shot (compared to Thai, Vietnamese or Lao movies), with good choreography of randomly appearing dance scenes, with extremely poor plotline, wild effects, predictable dialogs unexpectedly switching from Hindi to English, and ripped music from Lord of the rings. Just amusing! :)

We finished the day with a dinner in the same restaurant we ate in on the first day of the Fatal trip - right before taking a train to Jodphur on June 21st. Moreover, we managed to sit at the same table and order (almost) the same dishes:) We arrived to the airport at 9 pm, successfully checked in (after dealing with tough Indian bureaucracy - 25 staff at 5 check-in counters? whatever...). The plane took off at 2 am, the dinner was served at 2:30 am, the breakfast then at 5am:) Welcome in Europe!

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

The main bazaar street, New Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Qutab Minar, Delhi suburbs

Ansal Plaza shopping center, Delhi suburbs

Cyclo-rickshaws, Delhi

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Thailand II (Aug. 25 - Sep. 5)

Although Thailand definitely is the most developed country in south-east Asia (as far as the quality of services and general living standards are concerned), our crossing from Cambodia was not as smooth as one would expect. Having been told in Siem Reap that our bus tipped over (wtf?) and therefore needing to take a shared taxi*) to the Aranya Prathet/Poipet border, we successfully entered Thailand. Our bus (actually the fourth from THE ONE that we were told to be definitely reserved for us) came about 5 hours after we have crossed the border. Since the driver has packed several large bags of something into the area reserved for the luggage of the passengers, he (suprisingly) realised that there is no space left and we soon set off to Bangkok with all the bags in the aisle within the passengers' area - resulting into all the people jumping like monkeys from one bag to another while trying to get outside the bus at one of the many stops along the way. With a couple of funny ape-like videos and pictures, we arrived to Bangkok in the afternoon.

First day spent in Bangkok was mostly organizational. We had to fix our flight tickets to India with which we have been having some long-term issues with, get a bus ticket to southern Thailand (where we wanted to spend our relaxing part of the trip), buy a trip to Kanchanaburi (famous safari, but also location of the well-known bridge over the river Kwai) and the floating market of Damnoen Saduak and last but not least - visit a tailor's shop in order to select the fabrics for our custom-made shirts that we have decided to buy. It took us almost the whole day, but it was definitely successful.

On Wednesday (August 27th) we went for the Kanchanaburi/Damnoen Saduak trip for the whole day and visited an interesting tiger temple along the way. Later we came to the conclusion that as we would otherwise not be able to see the bridge over the river Kwai and the floating market, the trip was definitely worth it, but since it was one of those many mass-touristical tours, it was not particularly appealing.

Next day we enjoyed Bangkok once again, focusing on sightseeing - we did not really have time to do it so far. We visited all the major sights in the town and had a really pleasant day. In the afternoon, we got onto a night bus to Krabi in southern Thailand.

We arrived to Krabi in the morning, found a guesthouse, bought a boat-ticket to Ko Phi-Phi, hired a motorbike and set off to the Ao Nang beach to spend the rest of the day on the beach. Our first impression of the Thai beaches was simply amazing - turquoise waters, white silk-like sand, bays formed by awesome carst formations. And one of the best things - almost no people. Simply wonderful. Well, one drawback we did find and it was the fact that the water level tends to go really down during tide, resulting into the sea kind of saying bye-bye to the beach - so where there once was sea, is a rocky landscape in the afternoon that you need to somehow climb over in order to reach water again. Since the whole procedure can take easily 10 minutes, it is sometimes better not to go swimming in the afternoon at all. We have spend one more day in Krabi (Klong Muang beach) and got on a boat to Ko Phi-Phi the other day in the morning.

Having arrived to Ko Phi-Phi on Saturday (31th August) after a quite scenic boat ride, we began our "lets-do-nothing" part of the trip. Having chosen Phi-Phi island, as one of allegedly the most beautiful places on the Earth, we could have hardly picked a better spot. The Phi-Phi beach actually motivates to do nothing, we even found it hard to walk around the island a bit :). Although we both had enough work for the beach bumming (mostly some personal and school stuff), our 3.5-day-long stay there was great.

We came back to Krabi on Thursday (4th September) and changed directly to a night bus to Bangkok. Being in Bangkok for the third time, the last day there we spent both alone, just walking around the town, visiting the shopping malls, food courts etc. - simply enjoying all the secural pleasures town has on offer. The day after we picked up our shirts, went to a Thai massage and left to the airport to catch our flight to Delhi - our last stop before coming back home after 3 months of travelling.

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

*) For which we ended up paying some extra money at the end, although it was not us who tipped the bus over, I believe.

Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok

Floating market, Damnoen Saduak

Klong Muang Beach, near Krabi

One of the amazing sunsets in paradise, Ko Phi-Phi

Original Thai massage

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fatal loss: 26.5 kg

So far, we have really enjoyed being on the Asian diet. Some of us (the fatter ones) appreciate its consequences, some of us (the skinnier ones) do not that much.

Nevertheless, in order to keep you updated even on the most detailed information, we are happy to announce that we have lost 26.5 kg (shared ca. 60:40) since we began our three-months-long fatal trip.

On behalf of the body-builders crew :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pictures update 3

Being again in Bangkok, it would be shameful not to utilize the local well-equipped internet cafes! So we are bringing you some more fatal pictures! Checkout especially the last one and then click on the link below the last photo.

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

In a cyclo-rickshaw, Hanoi, Vietnam

First time on the beach, Hue, Vietnam

Meeting with the party cadres, My Son, Vietnam

Sand dunes, Mui Ne, Vietnam

Watching the magnificent sunset, Kep, Cambodia

Driving around on a motorbike, around Kampot, Cambodia

Trekking in the jungle, Bokor National Park, Cambodia

Relaxing on a pickup after trekking, Bokor National Park, Cambodia

At a Khmer cooking course, Battambang, Cambodia

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Enjoying the last evening in Indochina, Angkor Area, Cambodia

Same same, but different - click here

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cambodia (Aug. 15 - Aug. 25)

Moving forward smoothly, we crossed the Vietnam-Cambodia border on August 15th. The direct bus connection from Ho-Chi-Minh City to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, was a fairly reasonable choice. But so as not to have it too easy (having already passed a great deal tougher borders), we were the only ones aboard who insisted on arranging the visa on our own - which put our guide in quite an unenviable situation as soon as some other passengers found out he actually ripped them off... he made 5 USD profit on each passport - a good deal, isn't it.

We arrived to Phnom Penh, satisfied that we didn't fall into a cheap tourist-greenhorn trap. Unexpectedly, Phnom Penh turned out to be quite an organized city with most of western facilities available (maybe with exception of all those huge Lexus cars parked right on the sidewalk that forced us to walk on the road). They even had a drainage system (not too common all over the Indochina), which unfortunately proved incapable of handling the monsoon downpour that stroke the city in the late afternoon. It was much more powerful than the one we experienced in Hanoi or Nha Trang in Vietnam as it literally flooded the whole city - there was up to 50 cm of water in the streets!

According to our expectations, the water was gone in couple of hours, and we spent the next day walking around the city without any problems. A place to be mentioned surely is the Tuol Sleng prison (high school converted into a prison and interrogation centre during the unstable period of civil war in 1970's), providing quite an impressive insight into the unsettled Cambodian history.

Originally we intended to visit the north-eastern part of the country (namely Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri province), however because of uncertain transportation options and limited time, we have set off to the south instead. Our journey to Kampot had taken twice as long as it should have, but luckily we had enough time to rent a motorbike and enjoy a wonderful sunset at the remote beaches near Kep, small seaside town 25 km far from Kampot.

The next two days were spent on a great trekking tour in the Bokor national park. Highlights of the tour would definitely be: approximately 10 km of relatively steep ascending through a rain forest, large abandoned building of the Bokor hill station, misty atmosphere of the ghost town, 3 hours in a real jungle (just enough time not to encounter any tiger), observing a live chameleon, river crab and few other extraordinary animals and plants. Last but not least, we met a couple of cool people from Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, with whom we also decided to share a taxi (6 people and a driver in one small car - quite an unforgettable ride) to Sihanoukville, our next destination.

Right after enjoying a nice sunrise at the Sihanoukville's beach, we moved on to Battambang, where we wanted to relax a little bit after the trekking - and so we did. We attended a half-day cooking class, so now we can prepare some of the Khmer specialities, e.g. a delicious fish amok cooked in coconut milk.

Last 3 days in Cambodia were dedicated to Siem Reap and mostly its surroundings, i.e. the Temples of Angkor. Honestly, our expectations had grown so big that we were a little bit afraid of disappointment. Luckily it did not happen, since the area was simply amazing. To be more precise, the temples of Angkor don't stand just for the Angkor Wat (which by the way isn't as interesting as the fact as it is the largest religious construction in the world), but for a vast complex of approximately 20 squared kms, comprising of tens of temples of all kinds and dimensions. We have spent all 3 days on bicycles, returning to Siem Reap always after sunset - demanding, but undoubtedly worth it.

On August 25th, we took a shared taxi to Poipet at the Cambodia-Thailand border and successfully entered Thailand again - just 10 hours before our visa would expire. Having done that, we actually ended our travels across the Indochina (meaning Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia) and are about to enjoy last 2 "fatal" weeks, mostly on the beaches of southern Thailand.

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

Tuol Sleng prison, Phnom Penh

Sunset on the beach near Kep

Bokor national park

Food market in Battambang

Angkor Wat

Friday, August 15, 2008

Vietnam (August 5 - Aug. 15)

After a tough (although still amusing) 3-hour sawngthaew drive from Vieng Xai, we arrived to Namsoy. We got our bags checked and went through a compulsory "health check", which actually did not happen, however still had to be paid for. With a legendary sentence "when in Vietnam, you do not have to worry about safety", the border officer waved us goodbye and we crossed the border to Vietnam, namely to a small town Nameo.

Judging by the excitement and honest interest of the locals, our arrival to Nameo was probably the most interesting thing that happened in Nameo for last couple of months (and probably will happen couple of the following ones as well). Having chosen the Namsoy/Nameo border crossing, we were aware of the fact that getting to Hanoi may be quite difficult, since our resources claimed the public transport at this crossing fairly "undeveloped" (meaning totally unreliable and random). One of the locals that actually spoke English quickly offered to take us by motorbike to a nearby town, where we were supposed to catch a bus to Hanoi or at least move closer to the coast, since there was no connection from Nameo to anywhere that day. The price was not that bad, so we have set off. After a few minutes of driving on a scenic road through the mountains, the drivers suddenly changed their minds and without bothering to explain us what is going on, drove back to the town which we have just left. Later we found out that the bus-driver found enough people for the bus to Hanoi (or just woke up), so we soon found ourselves sitting in a bus to Hanoi - together with 15 Vietnamese, one motorbike, ca. 20 large bags of potatoes and ca. 100 50kg-bags of soybeans and/or grass. Being already quite tired, we no longer cared when it began to rain inside the back of the bus (and into Martin's backpack) and the Vietnamese decided to move all their farming products and equipment to the front of the bus (while the bus was still going of course and all passengers still present and seated).

To our own surprise, we arrived to Hanoi soon before midnight the same day and went to bed. Our plans to go to a 2-day boat trip to Halong Bay was terminated by the typhoon, so we spent 3 pleasant days in Hanoi, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying all the sights and activities, including a water-puppet theatre and western-style cinema complex.

On Friday (August 8th) we took the sleeper bus to Hue, the former capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty and its historical centre. Although being interesting to see, the ruins were not extremely appealing, so after visiting them, we hired a bike and cycled to a nearby Thuan An beach - our first real encounter with the sea during our trip. Sitting on the sandy beach and watching the sea was really a pleasant change.

We left to Hoi An in the morning the other day. We spent the afternoon walking around the town, enjoying the atmosphere of a town that was one of few not damaged during the Vietnam War. Second day in Hoi An, we hired a motorbike and visited the close famous Cham monuments My Son.

Following stop was Nha Trang, the beach capital of Vietnam. While morning was effectively spent on deciding on our next stops in Vietnam and arranging a few things in this sense, the majority of the rest of the day we spent just lying on the beach, not really doing much (actually for the first time during our trip!). The only thing that disturbed us from our "doing nothing" was a great thunderstorm that came and paralysed the city for a while, with roads looking like little rivers, waterfalls instead of stairways etc. ... We swam back through the traffic to our guesthouse, changed clothes, picked up raincoats and with the storm getting weaker, we enjoyed the evening outside, discovering the town.

Mui Ne, another point of our interest, was a little charming town at the seaside. Having arrived around midday, we did not hesitate and booked a jeep trip to the famous white and red sand dunes. The sights we saw were really astonishing and we kind of regretted that we could not stay much longer. Our bus to Ho-Chi-Minh City (Saigon) was supposed to arrive at 2 AM at night, so we spent some time on the internet and then got some rest on the floor of a (already closed) local restaurant.

Having spent 3 days in Hanoi, we did not really want to invest much more of our time to Saigon, which was "just another regular city". Therefore we booked a trip to nearby Cu-Chi Tunnels - another important place of the Vietnam war - an amazingly sophisticated system of underground tunnels the Viet Cong used to fight the Americans. In the evening the words of the border officer of Nameo came true, when a passing motorbike-driver snapped my favourite fatal dog-tag and drove away with it. Hopefully, it was the one and only thing that we will have stolen.

On Friday, August 15th in the morning we got on the bus to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, excited about our next adventures to come.

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

Temple of Literature, Hanoi

One of the gates of the imperial city, Hue

Cham monuments, My Son

Nha Trang beach

Red sand dunes, Mui Ne

Friday, August 8, 2008

Pictures update 2

So far we have been mostly benefiting from the monsoon season (that is supposed to strike all over south-east Asia right now), as it was usually raining when we didn't care that much (e.g. at night) and at the same time the rain helps to keep the outside temperatures within a favourable range.
We have been aware it must happen once. But didn't expect it to be in the northern Vietnam, which is the only destination with hot & dry climate (instead of monsoon) at this time of the year. The typhoon coming from the Pacific ocean didn't allow us to sail to Halong bay yesterday and even though it was heavily raining in Hanoi as well (making us think the typhoon will be gone), it wasn't possible to sail on the next day (today) either.
Well, the trip must go on:), so we are leaving to Hue in central Vietnam in couple of hours, but before that we make use of the spare time the weather gave us to upload some more pictures - from our cameras:)

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

Eating a coconut, Sukhotai, Thailand

Elephant ride, near Chiang Mai, Thailand

Golden triangle, Sop Ruak, Thailand

At the Thai-Lao border (the river Mekong), Chiang Khong, Thailand

Going to a traditional Lao village, central Laos

Sailing the river Mekong on a speed boat, central Laos

Going to Luang Prabang with the local people, Laos

Around the Plain of jars, near Phonsavan, Laos

Watching out for US planes in the Artillery cave, Viang Xai, Laos

Preparing for a motorbike ride at the borders, Na Meo, Vietnam

Greeting the uncle Ho (in front of the Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum), Hanoi, Vietnam

Enjoying the dinner, Hanoi, Vietnam

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Laos (July 26 - August 5)

Laos is first of all the country of a wonderful countryside (that is as enjoyable during sunny days as when it is cloudy), friendly people (who don't chase you for money at every corner), incredibly slow transportation (average speed around 30 km/h - yes, that means 200 km in 7 hrs:)), interesting history (do you know it is the most bombed country in the world?), fairly inflated currency (we became millionares:)) and many other unexpected features... e.g. Lao dogs (suspected from transmitting the rabies) are the most playful pets we've come across so far:)

It took us one extra day to reach the Thai-Lao border (due to a scarce traffic) and we entered Laos by crossing the river Mekong on July 26th. Application for visa on-arrival went without any difficulties, as soon as the officer figured out that 30USD + 1USD (weekend overtime fee) is not equal to 36USD. Being already used to the Thai transportaion system, it wasn't good news to hear there were no buses to anywhere on that day... because all buses in Laos usually depart before 11am. That's why we spent the other half of the day in Huay Xay, during which we got interesting insights on Laos from American businessman, and tried delicious "street food", not missing out Beer Lao, brewed by the only internationally famous Lao company, BTW very tasty).

The next day, we set off to Luang Nam Tha, where we did a short treking through nearby villages and countryside. It was quite a hot day and we enjoyed brilliant sights. In the afternoon, we got on the bus to Luang Prabang (exceptionally not departing before 11am), the historical capital of the country. The city is believed to be (and for sure is) famous for a French architecture, however, we particularly enjoyed French influence in cuisine - baguettes & cheese rule:) Compromising on some temples (they really don't differ too much from the Thai ones:)), we spontaneously joined a group of local hotel staff to spend the afternoon at the amazing Kuang Si waterfalls. Unforgettable highlight of the day was yet to come... we were invited to join our new friends for lunch: 45-minute trek across the muddy road, observing preparation of a traditional chicken soup (even the chicken had a chance to observe it at the beginning:)), Thai karaoke, plenty of Beer Lao served with home-made ice, speedboat ride on Mekong at 8pm, and of course the virgin nature all around.

The bus to Vientiane took around 9 hours. Although it is the capital, you would never guess so - it is a calm and relaxed city with only 200.000 inhabitants. All the sights were within a walking distance from our guesthouse, which provided us with enough time not only to enjoy the city, but also to apply for (and successfully get) a Vietnamese visa extension.

Vang Vieng, possibly the most touristy place in Laos, was another kind of experience - more physical this time. We did some bycicle riding, caving and tubing (floating down the river in a huge tube). The "city" (20.000 people) itself basically comprises of 3 streets full of travel agencies, internet cafes and traditional "Friends' restaurants", where you can lie down on the bed and watch Friends series on DVD - enjoyable stuff... especially with delicious fruit shakes and excellent sandwiches:)

Remaining 5 days in Laos belong to the "off-the beaten track" chapter in Lonely Planet, meaning that the further from Vang Vieng (and closer to the Vietnamese border) we went, the more adventurous it all got (less buses, no English etc.) In Phonsavan, known for a mysterious Plain of Jars, there were still some other tourists, but we could easily filter them out by skipping all group tours, and renting our own motorbike instead. It was a perfect day!:)

We spent half day in Sam Neua, going on to Vieng Xai - "Birthplace of Lao PDR" (People's Democratic Republic). Despite spending 4 long hours by searching for any means of money exchange and any (at least rough) information on how to get to Vietnam, we managed to enjoy 4 hours of guided tour around 7 major caves that served as a military headquarters during the American-Vietnamese war. The whole complex counts hundreds of caves, most of which are not accessible due to unexploded ordnance threats.

Well, getting to Na Meo on the Vietnamese side had to be a piece of cake that time and so it was. Actually, it was for me and Zdenek. Unfortunately not for the locals... some of the Lao and Vietnamese people aboard our truck didn't handle the route with nobleness and were puking around during the frequent stops. Not kidding on this one:) Frankly speaking, the route is so bumpy and uncomfortable that even Lonely Planet guidebook straightforwardly discourages travellers from using this border crossing (labeled as "the most remote of remote ones, for hardy travellers only") However, the real tough part comes with getting from Na Meo to Hanoi... wait for the next post:)

On behalf of the fatal crew :)

That Luang (golden stupa), Vientiane

Kuang Si waterfalls, near Luang Prabang

Mekong river

Plain of jars, site #1, near Phonsavan

Caves complex, Vieng Xai