Saturday, 28 November 2009

Ho Chi Minh City and the Night Train

From 6 Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City

From 6 Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City

From 6 Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City

From 6 Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City

Last night we departed Ho Chi Minh City, having been there a night and seen one of the most manic cities in Asia. There were people everywhere, 99% of whom were on scooters, which made for some hairy road crossings. We've also noticed the horn seems to be preferred to the brake almost every time! Our journey there was a long one, not helped by a driver running off to the loo and a traffic accident, but we eventually arrived late afternoon on the 26th. We went out for a brief walking tour and all got incredibly hot in the sticky heat of the evening. For dinner, we went to a place visited by Bill Clinton in 2000 that specialises in Pho - noodle soup. It's very nice, I've even had some for breakfast! After dinner a la Clinton, we wandered back through the park, to see all the cool kids dancing to various latino dances in the band stands. Sara was right in there with a few of the others, showing off their best moves. There we're some real snake hipped chaps in there, wiggling about so much it was actually pretty funny! Leaving, it started to rain, so we conga'd out and back to the hotel at which point the heavens opened and temporarily cooled the city down.

The next day we got up at our leisure, popped out to buy a patch for the bag, and then went for lunch in a very smart old place with Kris, Louise, Sian, Penila and Tia. The food was cheap and great, and the surroundings very colonial! We then went to the War Museum, which informed us a great deal more about the Vietnam War. I was particularly interested by the photographs of Larry Burrows, an Englishman who was one of the first to take colour images for Western publications. After the War Museum, we popped into the Palace of Independence, where numerous important people had met their Vietnamese equivalents. It was a little bit of a socialist style building though, and not that interesting to look at!

We then popped back to get some grub and have a beer before heading to the overnight train to Nha Trang. Sara and I shared a cabin with the two Kiwi girls, Gill and Lisa. It was cozy, but comfortable enough, and we all slept quite well all in all. We arrived in Nha Trang at 6.30 this morning, had breakfast and are now relaxing until 12 when the plan is to go for a mudbath - apparently it's the done thing...?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Mekong Delta and a Scooter Ride Up a Mountain

We left Sihanoukville this morning headed for the Vietnamese border town of Chau Doc. The bus ride was longish and a bit hairy at times, with some prolonged overtaking resulting in some rollercoaster style screams. We also did 17km on a red dusty dirt road which was pretty exciting what with the at times blind driving due to the dust! We arrived in Chau Doc just after lunch, got some cash (we're now both Dong millionaires, 31,000 Dong to the pound) and at 4pm went on a Moto Tour of the town which led us up a nearby mountain (Nui Sam). It was brilliant. After the initial fear of being on the back of a bike, we soon got into the swing of things, with Sara even filming a few choice bits of the ride from the back of her bike! From the top of the mountain we watched the sunset over the Mekong Delta. Everywhere you look there's water, it's quite surreal really. After a beer and some hammock related gymnastics in the mountain top bar, we headedc back down, tryng not to swallow too many flies. We're off shortly for our first experience of Vietnamese food, and then tomorrow, Ho Chi Minh City is an 8 hour bus ride away.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Our first week in South East Asia

What a week it's been, we've been from the sticky heat of Bangkok, to the majesty of Ankor Wat in Siem Reap, on to Phnom Penh for a quick look at Cambodia's Capitol and some of it's tragic past, and then this morning to the beaches of Sihanoukville.

The Cambodian people are wonderful, really friendly and not as pushy when trying to sell you bits and bobs. Siem Reap was our first stop, where we spent a day looking round Ankor Wat and its less famous neighbours, Ankor Thom and Ta Prohm. We got up at 4.30am to see the sunrise over Ankor Wat, and spent the time there discovering every setting on our little camera taking every picture imaginable! We popped back for breakfast and then back to the temples with our guide for the day Sambaht. He showed us round Ankor Thom, Cambodia's old capitol, Ta Phrom - the "Tomb Raider" temple, finishing with Ankor Wat. It was an incredible day, and by the end of it we were exhausted from clambering up and down and the information overload!

We picked up a few souvenirs from Siem Reap, and saw the local market with ladies sat right in amongst their produce. One woman was sat on the counter surrounded by assorted cuts of beef and pork - not quite the meat counter at a supermarket.

From Siem Reap we traveled to Phnom Penh, with the aim of seeing some of Cambodia's tragic modern history. We toured the S-21 torture Camp and then the Killing fields which was quite a horrible experience to be honest, what went on so recently in this country was horrific.

From Phnom Penh we bussed it to Sihanoukville, a Cambodian beach resort. It's quite nice, we're 70m from the beach and the seafood is great! The beach itself is strange, with bars built right up to the tideline. We did find some sand to pop a towel on, only to be pestered non stop by "mobile shops" selling pedicures, lobster, bracelets, sunglasses. Sara found the best way to get the girls to move on was to promise she wouldn't buy a bracelet from any of the was one of many tactics we tried!

Today we went on a snorkel/island hopping trip, taking in three uninhabited islands. We snorkeled off two of them, seeing some amazing coral and chasing some gorgeous brightly coloured fish. We had a BBQ seafood lunch on one of the islands, and then went through the jungle to the other side of the island, hearing (but not seeing :( ) monkeys, emerging on a perfect beach, with sand so fine and soft it squeaked as you walked on it. All in all it was a great day, and the towo days here has been great after what seems like non-stop travel and serious sight-seeing!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Wat Pho and a TukTuk Hero

Without much of plan, we set out this morning for What Pho, the temple that's the home of an enormous reclining Buddha statue, who's feet we're in front of. We thought we'd walk, it's really not far, but with our shoddy map it turned into an extremely hot half an hour or so. Just as we arrived, a very friendly (seems to be a theme here) Thai chap said hello, mentioned Picadilly, and then told us that the Temple was closed until 4pm.

He then threw us in a TukTuk, and pre neogotiated us a 20Baht fee (40p) to take us to a pier on the river where we could get a boat to the floating market and tour bits of the city. We had nowhere near enough cash on us, even with some serious haggling, cutting one guys asking price in half, it was still too much.

We left, and met another friendly passer by (another theme is everyone always has a pen...) who scribbled a few places to go on our map and then grabbed us a TukTuk to take us on our way, this time taking us on a route via a couple of temples and on his recommendation, a tax free shopping centre, again keen to get us married asap. The TukTuk driver was young, and clearly deferred to this older guy, making the trip 40 Baht in total.

We set off and saw the temple of the black Buddha, so called because apparently the statue was originally black, and has since become gold thanks to locals coming and putting gold leaf on the statue. There, our third good Samaritan of the day suggested a place to go to book trips and tours where the commission was much less than the touristy spots, so we added that to our TukTuk chum's route, and decided not to go shopping!

We stopped at the travel centre to book Christmas, and came away with a prettty good deal for a week on Koh Phangan in a beach bungalow, from the 21st to the 27th, including night buses from Bangkok, and on from Koh Phangan to Georgetown in Malaysia. Christmas on the beach. Perfect!

We've yet to find a quality suit maker, and when Mr. TukTuk asked if he could take us to a tailor where he'd get a free petrol coupon for bringing us there, we were happy to oblige, especially as he'd wanted outside the travel agent for half an hour. We had a look around, asked about prices and measurements, and generally waffled ourselves away from the hard selling tailor, and headed back to our grateful partner in crime.

He then drove us back across the city to Wat Pho, and asked us for 40Baht - having been driving us for about two and a half hours we thought he deserved a bit of a tip.

Wat Pho is amazing and beautiful temple, with the added bonus of the biggest Buddha you have ever seen. Words can't really do it justice, so have a look at the photos - just click the slideshow!

We're just off for some dinner...

Arrived in Bangkok

From Bangkok

From Bangkok

Yesterday we arrived in Bangkok after a flight filled with some pretty serious sleeping for Sara and some serious film watching for me. We sweated our way through immigration and hopped in a taxi driven by a gap toothed but friendly driver. Having established that we weren't married but were a couple, he whipped out a brochure showcasing an assortment of jewellery seemingly in the hope to get us married before the end of the journey. Perhaps he wanted some new front teeth?

He dropped us off and we wandered to our hostel. It's pretty basic, down a little stray cat filled alley, with a few friendly cockroaches running about outside but clean enough inside. It's what we expected really, our room has two mattresses on the floor, and thankfully a fan and air con, without which sleep would've been impossible although Sara did get bit cold! It really is outrageously hot, between 30-33 and humid, so it will take a few days to get used to i'm sure.

After a much needed nap, we went for a wander and some grub down the Khao San Road, apparently a backpackers mecca but essentially a load of bars and hostels in one place with assorted clothes/tat for sale all on the same road. We'll have a look in the day, but at night it's quite exciting, although the smell is something else – a mixture of diesel, poo, street stall food and occasionally sick.

Now we're off to explore Bangkok...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Balloon

With time ticking away, we sent a balloon up into the sky yesterday with our blog address on it.

Did you find it!?!