A Travellerspoint blog

February 2013

Hoi An

semi-overcast 27 °C

After a short flight we arrived at Da Nâng airport, in the pouring rain. Thankfully our hostel had sent a car to pick us up so we drove through the down pour along eerily quiet streets- I guess moped drivers don't go out in this weather.

The next morning the weather had not improved, but being used to thís from home I put on my raincoat and Duncan threw on a poncho and we headed out into Hoi An to explore. I was soaked from the waist down in about 10 minutes, and realised a poncho was the way to go as it would have covered a lot mỏre of me. We bought a town ticket which gave us access to certain buildings around Hoi An and wandered around the streets going into merchants houses and Chinese assembly halls. It was amazing how many tailors were in Hoi An, and so of course I had to buy something and in the afternoon I ordered myself a pretty dress...I think Duncan thought it was a waste of money, but it was very cheap compared to the UK, exactly what I wanted, and now I can say I have a tailor made item from Vietnam!

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The rain finally stopped later in the afternoon so we went out again for dinner. The meal was fantastic, classic Vietnamese dishes in a family run restaurant, but it did take 90 minutes to arrive after we had ordered as it was all cooked from fresh. We finished eating in time to make the second half of the rugby, and Duncan was thrilled to watch Scotland beat Ireland...just!

The next morning we had signed up to a cooking class at the restaurant from the previous night, thinking it would be a fun way to avoid the rain. There was no rain today, but still glad we did the class as we made some fantastic dishes and had a lot of fun. Starting with a cycle to the local market to get ingredients, and then a 2 on 1 class where we made spring rolls, chicken with lemongrass, fish clay-pot and shrinp with sugảr cane. We were both stuffed after eating all our culinary creations.

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As the sun was still out we hired bikes in the afternoon and pedalled down to the beach, about 5km out of town. It was very quiet with miles of white sand. Had a lot of fun playing in the crashing waves, then relaxed in the sun for a while. Headed back into town for another fantastic meal at a local restaurant, then wandered round town looking at all the pretty lanterns which light up every street at night.

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On our final day in Hoi An we were feeling adventurous, so after having fun on the back of a motorbike we decided to hire our own. After a shaky start and some practice on a quiet back road, we were off, with me in charge and Dunc riding pillion...nothing changes, I am still driving him around even here! We cruised around the countryside with some beautiful scenery, swapping driver every so often (don't worry though parents we were cautious and were probably the slowest bike on the road, even some push-bikes overtook ús at one point!).

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The novelty wore of after a couple of hours so we went back into Hoi An, ariving back with no accidents or injury - unlike many of the people in our hostel sporting motorbike scars. Then spent a lazy afternoon with me by the pool and Duncan hiding from the sun inside.

We both really like Hoi An, it was a very relãxing few day spent here.

Posted by duncan-alice 06:31 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City

semi-overcast 26 °C

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City from the Mekong Delta and the first thing that struck us was the quantity of mopeds and scooters on the road! It was incredible to see so many bikes and I really wouldn't want to drive with them weaving all over the place, even on the wrong side of the road.

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On our first full day in the city we had a look around the place, stopping at several museums / places of interest, including the City Museum which chartered the city's rise over the past century. This gave us an insight into the fascinating history of Vietnam and showed our ignorance of what had happened here. From the museum we went to the riverside which was a little disappointing and not great views / promenade to walk along. In the afternoon we saw the impressive Notre Dame cathedral and Independence Palace where the end of the Vietnam War was signified with a tank ploughing through the gates.

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To round of our day we visited the War Remnants museum to better understand the effect of the war on the Vietnamese people. It was very sad to see the devastating effects of how people had been affected by "agent orange" which the US splattered over the country. It also made me wonder if I'll be able to visit Iraq and Afghanistan in 40 years as a welcome tourist?

On our second day we took the bus out to see the Cu Chi tunnels, the underground tunnels used by the Vietnamese in times of war. There are 250kms of tunnels, all dug by hand and it was amazing to see how normal life was able to be conducted 5-25m underground with kitchens, movie rooms, schools, medical rooms etc etc. We went to the Ben Duoc tunnels which are apparently favoured by the Vietnamese tourists as they are less crowded and not recreated to accommodate the Western waistline! We were joined by a Japanese tour group which worked in our favour as the women were dressed like they were in a fashion show in 5 inch heels and the men scared they would get stuck so Alice and I were able to follow the guides straight into the tunnels while the Japanese mostly waited above ground. The tunnels were about 80cm high so being on all fours was more comfortable than trying to walk upright!

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The tour took about an hour which was a little disappointing and there was a lack of visitor centre / museum to put everything into context. On the way back to HCMC on the bus, a friendly old man spoke to me. He quickly offered Alice and I to stay at his house and for him to cook us dinner. After politely refusing he came and sat beside me and started asking what information I had about the US bombing Thailand and what other information I had I could share with him. He stressed we were the people and we must stick together. I felt a little uncomfortable, and was professing I was NOT American, while Alice sat on the seat opposite napping, completely unaware of what this guy was saying.

Our last day in the city was a lazy one; we started with breakfast at a bakery (one good thing the French left in Vietnam were baking skills!). We took a bus to the Cho Lon, the Chinese influenced area of the city. There was a massive bustling market which seemed to cater a lot more for wholesale rather than retail customers. By this point we are a bit market-ed out, so we didn't spend long there before trying to find some pagodas in the area which we had no joy with finding. In the afternoon, we went to the Jade Emperor pagoda on the other side of the city, built by the Chinese about a century ago. The huge fish and turtle ponds amused us - we think people must buy small animals from the stalls outside and leave them at the pagoda for good luck - although several of the gold fish were now dead! In early evening we took the bus to the airport for our flight to Da Nang.

Posted by duncan-alice 07:12 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Mekong Delta

sunny 30 °C

We have now headed on from Cambodia into Vietnam via the border crossing into the Mekong Delta. This has been the easiest border crossing yet. We arrived by mini-van and got our passports stamped with no queues on the Cambodia side, then walked down a dirt track and into the Vietnam passport control on the side of the Mekong River, where we sat down for 30 minutes in a cafe as they were stamped.

The rest of the trip down to Chau Doc was by boat, a very relaxing journey down the Mekong with some great scenes of river life. Arriving in Chau Doc we set of immediately to the nearby Sam mountain to see the sun set. We jumped in a Xe Dap Loi to get to the mountain, 5km out of town. This is basically a push bike with a pram on the back, which didn't look like it could hold one, let alone 2 large people. The driver must have had legs of steel to get us both to the mountain, up a slight hill, although he did get some help when his friend on a moped gave us a push from the back on the steepest section of road! Only just got to the mountain before sunset and had a very quick and sweaty climb to get to the top in time, but nice views once we were up there.

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The next day we were up early to see more of Chau Doc before heading on to Can Tho. The market by the water was bustling and we picked up some breakfast. Then we hired a man with a rowing boat who took us on a tour of the local floating villages, fish farm and the Cham Islamic stilt house villages. This was really fun, very peaceful on the water and some fantastic sights.

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Another slow bus journey (with the obligatory 2 hour break in the middle for no reason) brought us to Can Tho, and yet another form of transport checked off...motorbikes! This was the only form of public transport in Can Tho so we jumped on the back of one with our rucksacks for the short drive to our hostel....it was so much fun! The part of Can Tho we stayed in was not particularly exciting, but ok to stay for one night. However, our dawn boat ride into the Delta was brill. We visited 2 floating markets, one wholesale, one retail, a rice noodle factory, and cruised down the quieter canals. The trip was great, but by the end of our 7 hours we both had sore bums and the noisy engine driving the propeller on the boat was starting to get irritating, maybe a shorter version would have been better.

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From Can Tho we took a bus to Ben Tre, our final Delta stop. Ben Tre was a lovely little town, not a lot going on but it had a really nice feel to the place and not many tourists. We went on a cycle around the rice paddies and coconut groves by the river. This was very pleasant, but I was a little disappointed that we didn't find the rice wine factory or coconut candy factories which were meant to be on our route. Not sure if we passed them without realising or just took the wrong route.

From here we left the delta and moved on to Ho Chi Min City, on the nicest bus of the trip yet, clean with AC and comfy leather seats!

Posted by duncan-alice 07:05 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Cambodia

sunny 30 °C

Cambodia

Siem Reap (11th February - 13th February)

So, since we have had a lack of computer access and have gotten a little behind with the blog thought I would make try to cram all of our time in Cambodia into one post.

Had an epic journey into Cambodia from Pak Chong in Thailand – 3 buses to the border, then 3 hours at the border queuing for passport control each side and to get a Cambodian visa (which of course required us to pay unofficial ‘admin’ charges), then another bus from the border to Siem Reap which took 4.5 hours instead of the 3 it was meant to, and finally a tuk tuk from the bus station to our hostel. But we made it, after 16 hours! We both felt pretty rough by the end of this, but it was considerably worse for Duncan who had a dodgy stomach for the whole trip.

We spent a couple of days in Siem Reap. The first day we did very little, Duncan was still feeling ill and I had managed to mess up my feet with blisters and an allergic reaction to plasters and couldn’t walk very well. So we wandered around the town, found a pharmacy and bought me a different pair of flipflops. We decided to just get a one day pass to the temples, neither of us is that into temples that we felt the need to spend 3 days and a lot more money on them. However, the one day pass did include evening entry to see the sun set from the temples. So in the evening we jumped in our tuk tuk (fantastic way to travel!) and headed out to the temples. The ‘spot’ to watch the sun go down was from the top of one of the temples behind Angkor Wat, but neither of us was particularly impressed as the view was away from Angkor Wat and over some countryside and we had to queue for ages to get up there and stand with a million people all trying to get the perfect picture. I guess we can’t complain too much as we were also doing the same thing, but we hoped the other temples the next day would be a bit quieter.

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Up early (5am) for our day at temples, starting with sunrise at Angkor Wat. It was very impressive, took hundreds of photos! Although this was probably as busy as the previous night we had seat with a good view and the area was a lot larger so seemed far more peaceful. We wandered around the Wat and went up to the top level to check out the views. I still think it is incredible that these fantastic temples were built and then forgotten about for so long. Next up on our itinerary was Angkor Thom, the walled city just North of Angkor Wat. There was another temple here called the Bayon, which although not as large as Angkor Wat was covered in huge carved stone heads which made it equally impressive.

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I didn’t think the other areas of Angkor Thom were as interesting, partly as by this time we had already spent 5 hours walking around ruins and it had to be pretty amazing to beat Angkor Wat and the Bayon. We jumped in our tuk tuk for the final stop on our tour, Ta Phrom. We were both kind of tired and had seen a lot of ruins by this point, so weren’t expecting to spend long here…but it turned out to be my favourite temple of the tour. This one was particularly special as it had not been renovated and was still overgrown by huge trees and bushes (Tomb Raider was filmed here). This made it feel far more authentic, and I also now have a hundred photos of tree roots climbing over temple ruins! Last stop on our tour was another smaller temple, before we headed back home after what felt like a long day…it was only 1pm by this point! Spent the rest of the day napping and wandering round the market in town.

We weren't too impressed with Siem Reap - it is a town built up because it is near the ruins and there wasn't much else to see.

The next day we jumped on the bus to Phnom Pehn. Unfortunately the bus broke down halfway, so we sat on the side of the road in small town for a while as our 6hr journey turned into 10hrs. We were starting to realise that travel in Cambodia would almost certainly take longer than advertised!

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Phnom Penh (14th February - 17th February)

We both really liked Phnom Pehn, it was a far smaller and more laid back city than any we have been to previously on our trip. We spent one day walking around the city centre, checked out the market, Wat Phnom, some monuments and the grand palace. Both were interesting, but after seeing the Wats and grand palace in Bangkok just a week before they fell a little short on the ornate decorations. The second day was far more sobering, a trip to the Killing Fields (Cheung Ek) outside Phnom Pehn and S21 the prison in Phnom Pehn used by the Khmer Rouge. Both were very interesting but very sad experiences. Particularly the Killing Fields which had a really good audio guide with narratives from the survivors and Khmer Rouge soldiers. Definitely a must see if you go to Phnom Pehn.

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We had some great and very cheap food in Phnom Pehn. We were staying a Khmer neighbourhood so decided to check out the local restaurants. These were kitchens with plastic chairs and tables spilling out onto the street, where we got hot pot one night and a grill the next with a pitcher of beer each night, all for under $5 between us, fantastic value for money. They didn’t speak much/any English in these places though, so we had to point at other peoples food and the adverts on the wall. After this they obviously didn’t trust us to cook our own food at the table so we had our own chef, a young Cambodian girl no older than 10, stood at our table grilling our food for us, great service!

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We both really enjoyed the bits of Cambodia we visited, although feel like we haven’t really seen much of this country. But we only had a limited amount of time and after our first experiences of public transport we realised that getting around in Cambodia was not a quick business, and it would take weeks rather than days to see the whole country. Instead we decided to move on to Vietnam and spend more of our time there as although it would have been nice to see other parts of Cambodia, they were not on our ‘must-see’ list of places.

Posted by duncan-alice 07:01 Archived in Cambodia Tagged reap siem phnom penh Comments (0)

Thailand - Part 1

sunny 35 °C

Sorry for the delay in our posts - internet wasn't free where we were staying in Thailand or Cambodia so now we are in Vietnam with free internet we will take advantage of it to update you all! See Alice's flickr for all her photos if you are interested.

Thailand

Bangkok (5th February - 9th February)

We arrived in Bangkok from Hong Kong. Apart from the heat (30++) the biggest thing we noticed was being around western backpackers! It was a bit of a mini culture shock! Our hostel was very near Khao San Road which is the party street in Bangkok. The Thai people were so friendly and as soon as we got to Bangkok city centre from the airport with an address in English which the driver couldn't read, a boy let us use wifi through his phone so we could get the Thai letters. We spent the afternoon looking for summer clothes which wasn't as successful a trip as we had hoped!

The next day we took a very long time going to the Vietnam embassy to arrange our visas. The bus took over an hour but it was an interesting experience crawling through the city and also watching and listening to the middle aged driver and conductor shout at each other from one end of the bus to the other - sure we were the butt of their jokes! We went for express one day visa service as it was so painful trying to get there in the morning. Bangkok has a sky train (metro on stilts) which is lovely and air conditioned but doesn't really cover much of the west of the city (where we were staying) and the metro wasn't near us either. On the way back, we waited and waited for the bus which when it did had the same driver and conductor as the morning. While we were waiting we jumped in a tuk tuk for not much more than a bus fare but the driver said to us as we pulled off he would make 1 stop (where he takes you to a friends shop and force you to buy something at an inflated price). We quickly jumped out and resisted his offer of a free ride for 2 stops but Alice was disappointed we didn't get our first tuk tuk experience.

On our third day we went to the Grand Palace with a Geordie guy we met at the hostel. The residence of the King, the buildings were amazing but the number of tourists and being almost fully covered in the heat didn't make it the most enjoyable experience. In the afternoon we went to see Wat Pho, a Buddhist temple with a very laid back Buddha (literally).

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Our last day in Bangkok saw us take advantage of our Grand Palace ticket to visit Vivanmek Palace (former royal palace only made of wood) and Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall (royal reception hall) which was a very elegant building full of objects to celebrate one anniversary or another of the royal family.

Bangkok was a buzzing city but we were a bit overwhelmed by the western commercial tourism (which we didn't appreciate the lack of in China).

Khao Yai National Park (10th February - 11th February)

To break up our journey to Cambodia we decided to travel 3 hours in that direction and stop at a national park. Getting from our hostel in Bangkok to the bus station was eventful. We took a taxi to the sky train station insisting on the meter but as we pulled off he suggested an inflated price which we turned down. He proceeded to drive round the block before going to the station which we both noticed so we gave him a little over half of what the meter said and ran! It was then (an unforeseen) 30 minute walk to the bus station from the Sky train stop which left us both dripping in sweat and Alice very very unhappy! Despite having a ticket for a bus at 11am we went to the platform at 1030 and were told to jump on the bus which left immediately leaving us both a bit nervous if we would end up where we wanted! We were picked up in the back of a pick up truck and driven to our guesthouse where we had some lunch before going out to see some local caves and bats. Our guide had an amazing ability to spot animals and as we drove to the caves he spotted a whipsnake which Alice was privileged (and brave) enough to hold. At the caves, which are used by monks at night to meditate, we saw hundreds of bats and a selection of creepy crawlies the guide found. On the way back, we stopped at a field where every night about 2m (yes, million) bats go in search of food. It was an amazing sight to see the animals fly out the cave - some unlucky ones were caught by waiting hawks!)

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The next day we went into the national park where we had to wear sexy leech socks inside our shoes / over our trousers. We began the morning by seeing some gibbons which we were able to get great photos of through the guides spotter scope. We also saw monkeys and a massive horn bill which was very exciting. In the afternoon we went to the waterfall which featured in the Beach film - unfortunately no swimming was allowed - and then went off in search of elephant and the elusive tiger but unfortunately spotted none.

Posted by duncan-alice 06:43 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok khao yai Comments (0)

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