Archive for June, 2008

Published by Linda on 24 Jun 2008

The Road to Bangkok……

…….okay so I’d heard about this journey long before I took it. The road from Siam Reap to Bangkok is meant to be one of the worst journeys in South East Asia. (there will be another getting from Laos to Thailand – an eight hour ride in a power canoe sitting with your knees up to your chest!!!!!) The guide book says that a certain airline is paying the government not to resurface the road so people will choose to fly!!! Anyway our tour leader said the first leg from Siam Reap to the Thai boarder can take anywhere between 3 and 8 hours (she’s done it in both) It was raining the night before so we were prepared for the worst……..honestly, it wasn’t that bad. The road started like this……

……..which was pretty good I thought, and eventually looked more like this……………

In fairness though, it was funny more than anything else. Bit of a rollarcoaster without the g-force. Anyhoo we got to the boarder in about 4 hours – bonus. Took a couple of hours to check out of Cambodia and get into Thailand (we took tuk-tuks between the boarders) The boarder towns are weird, I had been told this but there is a kind of strange atmosphere that I don’t quite know how to describe, loads of hussle and bustle and then at the same time you expect tumble weeds to roll by. Strangeness. We jumped on our bus to Bangkok which took about 6/7 hours. Almost took a hopper in the bus loo at one stage (few bruises but I’ll live) Sounds ridiculous but going to the bathroom is a big deal here, you have to battle between drinking enough so you don’t get dehydrated and not so much that you need to go, because there’s just some places you just don’t wannna!!!! Anyway we got into Bangkok about 7pm so it was only 12 hours (seems long I know but we were braced for 16/17 hours so it seemed like we did well)

I was in Bangkok before so I knew what to expect from it. Took fairly easy because we will be back there again on our way to Koh Samui. Had a good old night out in an Irish bar (where else!!) but I prepared some skittle vodka to drink before we got to the pub. It went down pretty well, although some of my work colleagues seem to be a lot more partial to it :-)

You can also partake in the local drink of choice which is basically any kind of cocktail in a bucket for $6. Dangerous stuff.

Also went to see the The Grand Palace which is home to the Emerald Buddha. I’ve never seen so many grossly overly decorative buildings in such a small space!

So much cash was spent on these buildings, it’s amazing. For instance each of these tiny golden tiles cost $1 and that was way when back when it was built!!

Honestly the buildings are squished in. You can’t take a photo of one without getting at least another in your view!!!! Would be much more impressive if they were separated out a little. The Emerald Buddha is in another temple (where you can’t take pictures) but lads he’s so small, what a disappointment – I was expecting great things and you can barely see him with all the other gold and glittery things in the temple!!!

I think I’ve said before that I’m getting a bit templed out and I am but at the same time I have this weird addiction to see more of them and every time I’m disappointed because they are gaudy monstrosities!! We’re moving on to Laos and then back into Chiang Mai before coming back to Bangkok again.

P.S. I think my attention span is going again, have given up reading – can’t sit still at the moment either, hoping Laos will sort me out.

Published by Linda on 18 Jun 2008

Cambodia – Siam Reap

We arrived in Siam Reap which Suze (our tour leader) says is developing at an almighty rate. There are shops and buildings shooting up everywhere. As with some places in Vietnam, it is nice to visit here before it gets completely overrun. The big cheese here is Angkor Wat, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it is well worth the visit. Some of us decided, in our wisdom(!), to go there for sunrise so we had a 4.30am start!! It was well worth it though to see this……

My photos don’t really do it justice and also look more like sunset I reckon! We had a good old stroll around Angkor Wat which is just enormous, again you just can’t see it from my photos, it’s amazing that they built it all by hand!!! All the carvings are sooo detailed and it only took 40 years to build. Headed back for a bit of breakfast before heading out again to Angkor City to see some of the other temples.

We were taken to see Ta Prohm Temple which is where Tomb Raider was filmed and it’s pretty cool. There are trees growing up throughout the temple and it makes it pretty spectacular. We hit another few temples throughout the morning, got a chance to get up close with Budda…….

…….before stopping for a well needed lunch break!!!

After lunch we headed back to Angkor Wat with the rest of the group and our guide. By this stage a couple of us (myself and Adrian mainly) were pretty much delirious and all templed out!!! Finished up in the afternoon and we were pretty knackered.

Was really tired and planned to go home after dinner, which included a traditional Khmer dance show……….

……….but it was raining so we hit the bar below the restaurant and the music was good so we made a night of it! The unplanned ones are always great. Made it to the wee small hours and still managed to be up at 9am for some crazy reason.

Totally chillaxed that day as the day after we had to take the infamous bus journey from Siam Reap to Bangkok…….watch this space!!!

Published by Linda on 18 Jun 2008

Cambodia – Phnom Penn

We moved into Cambodia for 5/6 days and first stop was Phnom Penn. Had a heavy night on the tiles here and after drinking the pub dry, we finished up in a nightclub called Heart of Darkness – nice!!!! Still though it was good fun and you only live once!!

Loads to see here including the torture camps and the largest Killing Field (of which there were many) in Cambodia. After that heavy night (suddenly not quite the best of ideas) we headed off early to the Killing Fields and after went to Tuol Sleng, the genocide museum which used to be the Khmer Rouge S-21 Prison. There are four buildings, two of which show photographs of the prisoners who were detained there.You can see how tiny some of the little kids were….

The other two buildings have been kept intact and more or less look like they would have I guess – not as nice though, I’m sure! The tiny cells they were kept in, the two spoons of watery porridge to eat a day and of course the horrendous methods of torture they were put through doesn’t even bear thinking about. The disturbing thing is there are still blood stains on the floor, which have been cleaned somewhat but not entirely, which I guess is fitting because this country will take a long time to recover. This is a pic of a typical cell in the prison…

I suppose the other thing that got to me was the innocent graffitti scribbles on the walls – from when it was a school in a former life.

We also visited the Killing Fields, where those who survived Tuol Sleng were brought to be killed. I had heard a bit about the Killing Fields so I was prepared for that or so I thought. The first feeling was of complete calm and serenity. It’s so peaceful out there and then feels kind of eerie when you know what went on there.

We were shown the mass graves and the trees against which babies and little kids were killed. Dreadful. Dominating the site is a glass tower filled with skulls of all the victims that were killed there – which of course is really disturbing. What got to me though, was the pieces of clothing still on the ground where we were walking.

They have also put cabinets of the victims’ clothing at the Killing Fields site and at Tuol Sleng. The clothes are relatively new looking and could still be worn which should how recent these events were. The people in Cambodia are so kind and gentle but there is a real sadness about them, again I guess it takes a few generations to recover from such events. Don’t really want to put many more of these photos up here but they are on my flicker site if you want to see them. I am reading “When Broken Glass Floats” which was written by someone who survived the Khmer Rouge regime. Very good read – I’m also very excited that my attention span is getting a bit better – haven’t read anything (apart from Potter) in years!!!!

That was a pretty tough morning and various emotions hit me in waves even throughout the days after. After a recovery lunch, we went to see Wat Phnom, a really beautiful Buddhist temple.

I have a few thoughts on the whole Buddhism thing though, I agree mostly with the way they say you should live your life – and I certainly don’t adhere to it properly but hopefully I’m not going to hell just quite yet. What bothers me about the temples is (and bearing in mind I’m seeing quite touristy ones) that they are sooooo ornate, filled with gold, etc, so much so that in Wat Phnom three quarters of the temple is filled with ornaments.

I don’t go to Church regularly but I think a place of worship should be filled with people, rather than objects. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Also there is so much poverty in the places that we’ve seen, and yet the money is used for decorating these temples. Anyhoo that’s a debate that could run and run.

After that I wandered over to the Royal Palace – famous for the Silver Pagoda which is spectacular. The other buildings here are equally as impressive but unfortunately you cannot go into them, which is such a pity.

Myself, Fiona and Amy then went for a massage done by the blind and it was great, totally relaxed and dopey after it. That finished our time in Phnom Penn and we now are moving on to Siem Reap.

Published by Linda on 10 Jun 2008

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) & Mekong Delta

Arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at 4.30am by overnight train. Had to leave the hotel at 6.45am to drive to the Cu Chi Tunnels which was really interesting. They basically built villages underground to protect themselves from the Americans during the war. The tunnels measure 250km in total. We had a chance to crawl through some of the tunnels which was a bit scary and really hot!! This photo shows a typical entrance into the tunnel network…..

and this one shows how they ventilated the tunnels.

Not really sure how I managed to get in (or get out!) of here……..

At the end of our time at the Cu Chi tunnels, we had a chance to shoot some guns so couldn’t pass out on that!! It was a lot of fun, might get myself an AK47 at some stage – joke :-) It was mounted too so you didn’t get a load of kickback on your shoulder.

Heading back to HCMC and visited the War Remnants Museum. It was very disturbing but something you should see, rather than you’d like to see, if you know what I mean. There were a lot of photographs of the war, some were quite brutal and really unpleasant but then I guess war is. Also a lot of pictures of the lasting damage done by the Agent Orange bombings. There was one particular photograph which sticks in my head. A Vietnamese man surrounded by American soldiers. The caption was a quote from the photographer asking them to wait until he could capture the scene and when he was done, he turned and heard the shots fired. I know someone has to document war but it seems so clinical to hold the fate of the life of another human being albeit for a few seconds. Also saw a lot of the weapons used to torture the prisoners, things you couldn’t even bear thinking about. Of course there was brutality on both sides – check out my flickr photos showing the traps used by the Vietnamese!!

Ho Chi Minh City is totally mental, like Hanoi but much bigger and there is traffic everywhere!! These photos don’t really capture just how many mopeds there are here. They also drive like maniacs and there doesn’t seem to be any real rules to be upheld. It’s not hard to imagine why there are 43 road deaths a day in this country.

Saturday morning found us on a 3 hour bus journey to the Mekong Delta. Made a pit stop to see a Buddhist temple which was spectacular, as you can see…..

Had a fantastic tour around the Delta. This area is unspoilt by tourism. We got to cruise around and visit some of the villages that surround it. Many different things are produced around the delta including clay products such bricks, roof slates and pottery.

After a hard morning’s work(!) we had an amazing lunch in a Vietnamese house, followed by a relaxing snooze in hammocks. Did I mention I have a tough life? :-) In the afternoon we made another couple of stops and got a chance to taste snake wine and hold a python – now they are heavy buggers!!! We also couldn’t hold him in the middle because he’d eaten a duck two days before – nice!! To recover we had some green tea and fruit – jack-fruit and dragon eye fruit which are really good!

We were then brought to our homestay and spend the night sleeping under mossie nets (thank god, the war seems to be back on!) listening to roosters, frogs, crickets and all the other wildlife. Really enjoyable, had the best sleep since leaving home. The following morning we visited a sweet factory where caramel, rice paper and other sweetie products are made. These guys here are making the equivalent of Rice Crispie bars!

Then it was back to Ho Chi Minh with us to meet the rest of the group. There are 18 of us now which is great. We all had dinner in a restaurant which trains homeless kids to become chefs and cooks. Moving into Cambodia next and I will be sad to leave Vietnam, it’s such a varied country, depending on where you go.

That brings us to the end of our two weeks in Vietnam. It’s a great country, really varied on the one hand they are agricultural is still a huge industry but tourism is going to boom and I’d highly recommend a visit before that happens because I think there will be massive changes here in the next 10 years. Anyhoo that’s the scoop for now. Next stop………..Cambodia!!

P.S. The mossie war is back on :-( The little feckers seem to like me again and this time the bites are swelling big time – oh joy!! Anyway I have a lovely one on my knee which has swelled so much that I look like I’ve two knees on my left leg. It is providing great entertainment for the tour group but I could do without it!! I am now armed with 95% DEET repellent, anti-histamine gel and tiger balm and they’re still eating me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Published by Linda on 04 Jun 2008

Hue, Hoi An & Nha Trang

Left Hanoi by night train on wednesday and got into Hue for one night only. Took a break from the cultural stuff and did some sun lounging on the beach which was all gooood. The Vietnamese are so different to us though, they cover up completely on the beach to avoid getting a tan and because they are far more modest than us. I think we amused or offended them or maybe a bit of both! I saw a teenager with socks, trousers, teeshirt, jacket, face mask (well they all wear them) hat & gloves!!! Imagine how hot you’d be!!!!

Left by bus the following morning for Hoi An which is just lovely. Beautiful artwork including these pictures which believe it or not are weaved thread by thread. Unbelievable stuff. Got to see the live silkworms, the cocoons being unraveled and the silk wound up. We also got to see the people creating these amazing pictures.

Really nice feel to this place and it’s nice to see it now as apparently it is going to become a huge holiday spot. There is plans to build a 6 star hotel and a 5 star resort on China beach which is very beautiful and unspoilt at the moment.

Also sampled some more great food in a local restaurant, shrimp wrapped in banana leaves, shrimp wrapped on sugar cane sticks and steamed won tons (white rose) to name but a few!!!! They also do amazing fish in clay pots, which is different everywhere so I have to keep trying it! I’ve gone on a little fish frenzy I have to admit but it’s just so good and fresh here. Did a little bespoke tailoring here too which was fun.

Following a 12 hour day train journey (with a mouse in the carriage!!), Nha Trang brought some more welcome rest and relaxation on the beach. This is another town set to become a huge resort. It is hosting the Miss Universe competion in a couple of weeks so there will be a huge influx of people here. It’s all up and coming but at the moment all the resorts are just built and completely deserted so there could be bargains for discounts on holliers here I reckon.  

We also had a big night out here and sampled some buckets of cocktails, which can only be good (well not so good the following day actually – groan….) The bar we went to is on the the beach so now I definitely know I’m on holidays!

 

 

P.S. It would appear that the group have noticed my need (okay, okay compulsion!!) to be neat and organised and have nicknamed me Monica from friends!!!!! Sooooo unfair! Damn it, thought no one would notice. And I keep walking myself into it because we were discussing what vegetables we like one night and I mentioned that I like brussel sprouts better than cabbage because they’re neater…..oh I got abused for that one!! (But they are so much neater, really can you argue with me??) Anyway I’ve retaliated a little and named the Tour leader “Monk Lover” as she has a little thaang for the monks. It’s all good fun though :-)