A Travellerspoint blog

Indochina Unplugged (Vietnam Leg)

After crossing the border over to Vietnam and driving for about 8 hours we finally arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The first thing we noticed after crossing the border was that we seemed to have left the poverty of Cambodia behind us and Vietnam was more on level with Thailand (although we both agree that Vietnam is our favourite place we've been to so far). We had 4 day in Ho Chi Minh City although we only had the afternoon of the first day what with all the driving. In the evening of the first day we had to bid farewell to our tour leader Tia and 7 of our tour companions (the best ones) and we were then left with me, Jamie and Kathryn and four others (the worst ones). Then on the evening of day 2 we met our new tour leader Kian and unfortunately only 2 more people joined (an Australian couple) we were hoping for at least another 7 to join to replace the ones that had left as there was a clear split between the group now, and our part of the group had now diminished to 3!!

On the morning of day 14 we went for a walking tour with our new tour leader and went to the Museum of War Crimes (which was a little graphic in places - there were deformed foetus's in pickle jars!!!). we also went via the Reunification Palace and the Post Office (which strangely seemed to be a tourist attraction as it was built by the same guy who built the Eifel Tower).

On day 15 we organised a half day tour to the Chu Chi tunnels where we got to fire AK47's and crawl through the tunnels (which were very small and very hot). The Chu Chi tunnels are a system of underground tunnels built by the Viet Cong and where used in the American war so they could safely hide from the regular bombings. When we got back from the Chu Chi tunnels we bumped into Kathryn who had just returned from her trip to the Mekong River and had met a British guy on the tour who worked in Vietnam for a bank and treated us to drinks as he knew we were on a budget and at the end of the evening gave Kathryn 20 USD for us to have drinks with (the result of a very good night when we got to Nha Trang). That evening we boarded our overnight train for the trip to Nha Trang (this night train was much nicer and safer than the one we had done in Thailand as we were in Cabins of 4 and were able to lock the door and also store our luggage in locked compartments which gave us peace of mind to sleep on the journey).

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At 5.30 the next morning our train arrived in Nha Trang (our second beach town where we were to spend 2 days). On the first day we mainly just relaxed by the beach recovering from the night train and on our first night went out for cocktails on the money we'd been given by the nice British guy, 20 USD would probably by a round for 3 people in England in Vietnam it bought us 20 cocktails to share between us and got all of us rather drunk. So much so that we spent most of the next day hungover and spent the day recovering by the beach before boarding our next night train that night bound for Hoi An.

We arrived in a town called Danang at about 5.30am the next day and travelled by bus for a further hour (seeing the sun rise over the beach on the way) to Hoi An. Although Hoi An was only a small town it was probably one of our favourite places in Vietnam and we got to stay here for 3 days and 4 nights. It is known for it's tailoring which was apparent by their being about 10 tailor shops on every street. So on the first day me and Jamie tracked down a tailor reccommended in my guide book called Mr XE's and Jamie got measured and choose his fabric (black pinstripe) for his suit which would be ready the next day.

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In the morning of the next day we hired bicycles and went for a tour around the town with the group then in the afternoon Jamie went for his second fitting of his suit and with only a few adjustments that needed to be made was told to come back the next afternoon for the finished suit. We were able to keep our bicycles for the whole day so went for a long ride around the town for the rest of the afternoon and rode to the nearby beach. We also booked a Vietnamese cooking class for the following day, we were able to pick 4 meals to cook and we choose vegetarian spring rolls, chicken and sweet corn soup, fried noodles with chicken and fried beef with chilli and lemongrass.

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On our final day in Hoi An (day 20 of the trip) we hired bicycles again (as we'd had so much fun the day before with them) and we went to the restaurant to do our cooking class which was really good fun and we got to write down the receipes so that we can try them again when we get home. We were also able to eat all 4 meals that we had cooked and even if I do say so myself they were really good!!! That afternoon we picked up Jamie's suit which fitted perfectly (and for 35 GBPs was a bargain!!).

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The next day we left Hoi An and travelled to the next town called Hue by bus, on the way to Hue we travelled over the Hai Van Pass which is considered one of the most scenic trips in the world!! We also stoppedat Marble Mountain on the way and got to climb up the mountain to get a better view of the sceneary, luckily it was much cooler on this day and was even raining a bit which made climbing the mountain a lot easier. We arrived at Hue in the afternoon and only spent one night in Hue which we were glad about as neither of us were that keen on the town and the locals were a bit strange. So on the following evening we left Hue to board our third and final night train to Hanoi.

We arrived in Hanoi at 5.30am and as were weren't able to get into our rooms until 11am we had to put them in a day room and then went to get breakfast. After breakfast at 7am we went on a walking tour of the old quarter (the old part of town) with the group until 10am and were then able to check into our rooms and have a much needed shower!! The rest of the day we spent looking around the shops and picking up some souveniors.

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On day 25 we left Hanoi for Halong Bay where we went on a boat cruise around the limestone rocks and enjoyed a seafood buffet lunch on board the boat. We stopped on route to Cat Ba Island (our destination for that night) at some caves where we were able to go inside. We spent the night in a hotel on Cat Ba Island before getting the ferry and bus the next morning back to Hanoi.

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We got back to Hanoi today and have just had our final dinner with the group. We depart Hanoi tomorrow and fly back to Bangkok where we will spend 3 nights before heading down to the islands in Thailand.

Although these entries weren't as detailed as we may have liked you are now up to date with where we are on our trip and hopefully our entries will be more frequent now that we've finished our tour.

Posted by katyjamie 04:01 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Indochina Unplugged (Cambodia Part Two)

As much as we'd like to write novel worthy entries of each of the 27 days of our trip and go into as much detail as you may want us to I think it's fair to say that we've got far enough behind in our blog writing to safely say that's not going to happen. So instead we will give you a brief outline of what we have done during this trip accompanied with some pictures that can hopefully fill in the details.

When we left off last time we were up to day 4 in the trip in Siam Reap, on day 5 we left Siam Reap by bus and travelled to a small Cambodian town called Kompong Cham (this was suppose to take 4 hours but with the bus breaking down twice and having to change tyres it may have taken a little longer) we were only here for one night and apart from the nice view of the river from our hotel room this town didn't have much else to offer us. So we were happy to be on our way the next morning to Takeo for our homestay. The homestay was good the family cooked us all a big dinner for the evening and we had a restful afternoon lying in hammocks.

The next day we left the homestay and headed to a beach town called Sihanoukville (we were here for 3 days and 3 nights). Whilst here we took a boat trip out to some of the islands where we were able to do some snorkling and had a BBQ lunch. The next day we were both planning on having massages on the beach but the boat trip the day before had left both of us with burnt backs and there was no way anyone was going to be touching let alone massaging them!!!

On day 10 we left for Phnom Penh and were here for 2 days and 2 nights. On the first day we went to the Royal Palace to see the silver pagoda (5000 silver tiles covering the floor) however it was not as immpressive as it sounds as most of the tiles are covered up in order to preserve them and we had to go back in a second time after we realised we'd walked straight over them without realising!!

On the second day in Phnom Penh we took a trip to the security prison 21 (S-21) and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. These where both areas used by Pol Pot's army, the Khmer Rouge, to interogate, torture and kill anyone they thought was a threat to Pol Pot's regime. On the way back from the killing fields we stopped at the markets to do some shopping.

Then on the morning of day 12 we set off early (6.30am) for our long days driving across the border to Vietnam.

Posted by katyjamie 03:42 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Cambodia Part One

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Firstly, we are sorry it has taken so long to update our blog again, we have been fairly busy and the blog writing has taken the back seat lately. As we have done alot in a fairly short space of time we are going to split our Cambodia blog into a few sections. So here goes for part one.

When we first crossed the border from Thailand to Cambodia we got a real sense of crosing a poverty line. On one side there was the more wealthy Thailand with flat and well kept roads, street lamps and proper waste management, and on the other side there was Cambodia, with uneven dirt tracks, lots of beggars and litter and general filth everywhere. Also the transport we took in Cambodia was nowhere near the standard of Thailand, our first bus broke down an hour into the journey and then we had to squeeze seven people into a taxi to continue the journey to Siem Reap.

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Our fisrt full day in Cambodia was mainly taken up with our visit to Angkor Wat. A huge temple complex consisiting of over 50 temples and which is South East Asia's largest tourist attraction. We awoke at 4.30am to get to the temples to watch the sunrise from behind the main temple, though it was very early and we were both still tired from our journey the day before it was an amazing experience, the sunrise was simply breath taking. We then had an explore around a few of the temples, starting with the main temple. What we found amazing was that the stone carvings where done using diamonds and that the base of the temple had hundreds of gems and diamonds set inside of them. For the rest of the day we wondered around various other temples within the complex including temples used in the Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider films. It was a brilliant day, however towards the end of our tour the heat really started to get to us and we found it difficult to enjoy as much, the thing that kept us going though was the fact that our Cambodian tour guide spoke with a perfect cockney accent, even though he had never been to England let along London.

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Later that evening we joined up with an Irish couple from the tour, Richard and Emar, for dinner at a restaraunt called the Red Piano which had been frequented by Angellina Jolie while she was shooting the Tomb Raider films, she even had a cocktail named after her! After dinner we all moved onto another bar, wittly named "Angkor What?" and met up with some others from our tour. Anyway to cut a long story short we drank alot and ended up drinking vodka in a petrol station untill 2am. Fun times!

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The following day, and with rather unforgiving hangovers, we went on a boat tour to visit a floating village which apart from the hangovers and slight sea sickness was really good. In the village we went to see a crocadile farm, a catfish farm and even a floating pig pen! We had thought that a floating village maybe the one place we could escape people begging but we were followed around by children on boats asking for money. After the floating village we went to a small "hammock" bar (as in a bar with hammocks rather than seats), and while here Jamie tried eating snake, he thinks it tastes like fish. Katy thinks it is disgusting!

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Anway that pretty much wraps up our first few days in Cambodia and we will write our next entry soon, we will also add some more photos.

Posted by katyjamie 04:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Songkhran

It is currently the Thai new year here at the moment or as they call it "Songkhran" it lasts from the 13th - 15th April. They celebrate the new year by having massive water fights in the street and covering people in a concoction of flour and water, according to my travel book this is mainly concentrated in the Chiang Mai area and Khao San Road (the road next to our hotel)!!!!

Me and Jamie got up early this morning to go to Chatuchak Weekend Market (an open-air market with more than 8,000 stalls) we managed to get up and out of the Khao San area before the kids (and adults) had started their new year fun. After being at the market for almost 7 hours and getting a few bargains (both me and Jamie got a t-shirt each for 2 pounds and I got a roxy baseball cap for 1 pound fifty). We then got the river boat back to Khao San Road which is a 5 minute walk from our hotel, when we got off the boat we were clean when we arrived at our room we looked like this:

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Posted by katyjamie 07:06 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Treasures of the North

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We have just got back from our "Treasures of the North" trip up to the North of Thailand. We have had a fairly hectic week and have seen and done a lot so we can't really go into too much detail otherwise this entry would be way too long.

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On our way up north our first stop was at Sukohthai the previous capital of Thailand and also our tour leader (Nok's) home town. Our main activity here was our cycling trip around Sukohthai's Historical Park, a large park area full of old ruined temples set amid lakes and trees. It was an incredibly beautiful place and was a very rewarding experience. Also while in Sukohthai we sampled the night markets, where Jamie sampled one of the local delicacies, fried bugs!! (Much to Katy's disgust!!) He tried fried grasshopper and fried grubs. They tasted like smokey bacon flavoured crisps.

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Our next stop was Lampang where we transferred to another guest house for the night. In the morning we went to the Elephant Conservation Centre where we got to watch the elephants have their morning bath, then we went to watch the elephant show where the elephants painted, played musical instruments (including playing the elephant song), showed us how they were used in the logging industry by moving and aligning the logs, they also performed various tricks such as putting a hat onto their trainers head. At the end of the show the male elephants bowed and the female elephants did a courtsey. We were then able to feed the elephants bananas and sugar canes.

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After the show we then went on our elephant back ride through the grounds which lasted about half an hour. We were taken through the lake where we had seen the elephants have their bath and then into the forest going up hills and through burned out parts of the forest. After our ride we were taken to the elephant hospital (the first one in the world) where we saw elephants that had been hurt or injured and were now being cared for at the hospital. One of the baby elephants had lost part of his leg from standing on a land mine, we were able to go right up to him and feed him bananas.

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After we left the elephant hospital we then went to visit a Karen village (the Karen are a hilltribe that live in the north of Thailand). Our journey there was very eventful though as it is currently the Thai New Year and the celebrate by throwing water at each other, we're not really sure why though. When we drove through the various villages we would be met by hoards of little children carrying buckets of water, and as we were travelling by Songtai 9an open backed truck) we would always get drenched. By the time we arrived in the Karen village we were all soaked to the bone. The Karen village itself was very interesting and we were shown how they made whisky from rice and also how they weaved sarongs out of silk.

After the Karen village we travelled to a small town outside of Chiang Mai where we would stay in a home stay for the night. That evening we were treated to a performance from local children where they performed traditional Thai music with traditional Thai instruments, after the performance we even got the oppertunity to play the instruments ourselves. Then we watched a couple of Thai dances while having a Thai massage, and were then given candles to dance with and copy the dancing by the locals.

The next day we left the homestay and travelled the short distance to Chiang Mai where we went to the night bazaar and around the night markets. The next day was free to explore Chiang Mai and we wandered into town to look at a couple of the temples in the area before stocking up on snacks for our long 12 hour night train journey back to Bangkok.

The train journey was very eventful, to start with the train pulled away leaving our carriage still at the station!! So had to come back to get us, so that didn't fill us with a lot of confidence for our train journey ahead. Later on some people ventured to the back carriage of the train where they found that there was a disco carriage on the train with flashing lights a DJ and a bar!! The train journey was very rickerty and neither of us slept the whole journey, mainly because Katy wasn't feeling very well and Jamie was scared of the train toppling over. We arrived in Bangkok at 6am and everyone was feeling more than a little worse for wear so we spend the rest of the day relaxing by the pool at our hotel before transferring back to our original hotel for the next week.

Posted by katyjamie 23:30 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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