A Travellerspoint blog

Ha Long Bay to Hue

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Ann here; Luke needed a rest from exhaustive blogging. This is going to be a big one; we have been slack with blog but busy with travel, so I suppose that’s a good thing.

So we were looking forward to our Ha Long Bay/Cat Ba Island tour when we last wrote. We were done with Hanoi and Uncle Ho (although we still see him on every propaganda poster), and ready to swim in the sparkling waters of one of the most beautiful places in the world.

We are at the hate stage of the love/hate backpacker/backpack relationship; sick of lugging the bloody things around, so we smugly thought we would leave our big bags at the hotel and take daypacks on our 3 day tour.
We did not reckon on cold weather. We didn’t have long pants, shoes, sleeping bags or layered clothing; thongs and a hoodie was as snug as we got. We hopped onto the boat after a 3 hour bus ride, ready for the stunning view; but we couldn’t see it; the mist was that thick. And cold – after 5 mins on the boat, feet like icicles, we realised our mistake. Oh dear; 3 days to go. Anyway we whined a bit and went on, and excitedly went down to look at our cabin; window was open. Rain was coming in. Blanket was just a fraction heavier than the air. Oh no.

Beer was our savior. Turning down the kayaking due to the danger of getting wet and never getting dry, we turned to expensive cans of tiger beer. Good plan. After a few beers, new friends from Holland and Sweden also being warmed by the amber ale, we thought it might be bed time. It was 8pm; there is not much to do on boats. We went down to our cabin and shivered the whole night through. Waking up in the morning we were excited by the thought of a hot shower; but no, there was no electricity while the boat was stopped. This meant getting dressed with the window open; a dangerous past time! Bu no more flashing for me; no one saw!. The next morning was a cruise to Cat Ba Island, a visit to the Cat Ba National Park, and free time in the afternoon. The day was a lot clearer so it was photo central – very pretty. Cat Ba national park was a bit of a let down; it was a hike up slippery steps to the top of a mountain - and we only had thongs. we went up about 5 steps before we realised it was asking for broken teeth to continue. As a German said when he looked at our feet “Those shoes are for the beach, man, not for ze mountain!” We got to Cat Ba town and had another meal where someone else decides what you will eat as a group; and is rarely what you want, or very nice. Noodles and rice are the safest options, although confusingly, there is always french fries. Odd. Anyway, we had originally look forward to swimming in our free time, but the cold weather put paid to that idea.

It was time for motorbikes.

Mums, you can stop reading now.

The motorbikes were my idea, even though Jane had come a cropper on one they still sounded fun. Luke was also keen and we hired ours from hotel. Worryingly, the first bike only had one rear view mirror. Luke got that one, as I was still trying to wuss out. Mine was a bit smaller and had two mirrors, which I never used anyway. We set off, having no idea where we were going and good reason to be frightened of vietnamese roads. Luke was excited, I was petrified, and spent the first 20 minutes contemplating all the ways I could die, and wondering how Jane fell off our her bike (Luke knew but wouldn’t tell me). Once we were out of town, and away from staring people, it became fun. We did no zooming, only putting around, and that way we could take in the pretty island and the views that you only usually see for a minute on busses. The automatic bikes were good, mine only died a couple of times. We took some video on the camera as proof of our bravery; I had a helmet without a visor, hard core, but Luke's looked like a pony club helmet; hilarious, Mad Dog Thornton indeed! (Jane: neither had any burberry on them; I was very sad.)

Anyway, we decided we’d had enough and headed back in town, where we had to turn left into our hotel’s street; this is where I almost got cleaned up by the bus. With some scooty Vietnamese styled driving, I avoided the bus, but lost my nerve. Unfortunately, it was the wrong street. In finding the next street, I narrowly avoided a truck (which was admittedly going very slowly), but I nevertheless handed back the bike gladly, our hands so cold they were frozen into bike handle shaped claws. We went back up to our hotel room which had a funky smell but a heater that would go to 30 degrees: result!
Dinner was again ordinary, shared with our Swiss friends olga and marion, (marion was a bloke), our 4th lot of grey army mates. Olga had just turned 70 – they were ace. Marion took 10000 photos per minute, but they were really nice, with great stories from when they worked in Hanoi, about 20 minutes after the war ended. We liked olga and marion.

So the next day it was cruise back to ha long city, and bus back to Hanoi, a short break then the train to hue. We went back to our hotel, ready to get real shoes and jeans on, hoping fervently that our bags were still there. They were; but our train tickets nearly were not. The ticket man explained:
“I have problem. Can you help me?” we said “We’ll try” – very confused. He continued “I book your tickets, but very busy, and when ticket man is gone I check tickets and he gave me ones for 2 days earlier.” he produced the tickets. “Don’t worry, I have your tickets for tonight. “ , and he produced a second lot of tickets, these for the correct date, the 10th. “ he continued, “I have tickets, but very expensive, i was wondering, can you help me?” I was super confused, but I looked at Luke and his beady expression implied he understood what was going on. the man said “Would you like shower, you can use room till 7pm, and use internet..”. Luke told him we’d do that and think about how much we could help; the guy had made an error, had to cover the cost himself (because it was his error), and was asking us for more money to correct the error. We were not aware at this point that we had already paid $10 per ticket extra to the man’s pocket. Maybe we DID come down in the last shower! Anyway, we cleaned ourselves up, which was glorious, and gave the man a little money at the end (clearly not enough; he was not happy). Dodgy! We really did not like Hanoi at all.

So off to the train station! Nothing in english, so where we had to go was a mystery, but we showed our ticket to enough people and were shepherded onto our sleeper train. The quality of sleep on a train is bad, but my level of excitement at sleeping on a train is high, so they cancel each other out. We got through the night, and landed in Hue at 11am, hungry and ready for a new town. We got lunch immediately; a hue pancake which is one of our favourite things ever. They are delicious! We then cruised around, looked into tours, and had some beer. Every town seems to have its own beer here! Ace! We didn’t like hue beer but did like huda, . The next morning it was time for the city tour, which was hilarious. It wasn’t meant to be, but the tour guide was very unwittingly funny. Hue is all about the monarchy, as it was the capital for the monarchy times, before the ho chi minh government came into play. We went to some very ornate tombs of kings (no more dead body viewings though) – the “small poc” king – who had no children and was ugly due to poc scars, the “sexy king”; who had 500 concubines; five per night, and over 100 children; and the “homosexual king”, who wore lots of makeup, played tennis, and “looked like woman”. We also went to the Citadel which has been pretty thoroughly knocked down, by bombs during the war, and a beautiful pagoda, where I reconnected with taking pictures of monks. After a long day we just wanted some food and bed. No beer.

The next day, yesterday, we went on a DMZ tour, which was from 6am-6pm. Our guide’s english was pretty challenging to understand, but between her and the lonely planet guide we understood what we were seeing. We went to khe sanh, the ho chi minh trail (which is a road; unexciting. Some of the trails (there are lots) are still secret for miliatary use – exciting! I wanted to see those ones!) And the vinh moc tunnels – 1km tunnel system which housed 300 people for 6 years. The would have been a very challenging 6 years. 19 babies were born in that time, one of whom we met, or saw, outside the museum. He looked like he had spent a lot of time in a tunnel. He was dancing, with a torch in hand.

After another long day, we got a delicious meal, and gladly took ourselves back through the rat infested streets to our hotel.

We are now on the bus to Hoi An. Going from Hanoi, to Hue, to Hoi An is linguistically very difficult and confusing. We are looking forward to Hoi An though; getting our suits made will be fun, and we’ll see the old city, and eat some good food. Our hotel has a pool – massive win! Currently on the worlds worst bus, many gouges up the side. Encouragingly we have not been in any fatal accidents yet.

I hope the mums stopped reading.

xxx

Posted by acard 22:20 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Hanoi - scammers, sickness and socialist heroes

overcast 18 °C

Luke here,

So we arrived at the Hanoi airport safe and sound from our Lao Airlines flight (apparently one of the most accident prone airlines in the world – instead of life jackets they advise you to use the cushion of your seat to float. Dodgy!). Strangely enough there was a taxi driver waiting for us with our name written on a piece of cardboard. We happily loaded our bags into his car and then he stated shoving his phone to my ear, "for you mister, for you", I thought this was a bit strange. Sure enough it was. On the other end of the phone was a vietnamese english accent advising me that the guesthouse was booked out and we would have to stay at number 2 guesthouse. We declined this and demanded to be taken to the guesthouse we had booked. So we headed off for the 45 minute drive into town. On the way into town things felt strange, the cab driver took about 10 phone calls and things just didn't feel right. All the way into town we were shooting funny looks at each other as if to say, take us back to the Laos way of life. This town is too busy for us.

We got into the "Old District" of Hanoi, and our taxi driver took us to a funny looking shop front. We unloaded our bags, went inside and asked about our reservation - the kid on the counter had know idea and called his friend, before too long there were four blokes there trying to convince us that the guesthouse we booked was full and we had to stay at this one. We got into a huge argument with the men who eventually conceded that we were too smart for their scam. We paid for the taxi ride, strapped on our packs and took off into the bustling streets of Hanoi. Shock to the system that was!! Sounds, people, bikes, cars, horns, screaming, yelling, dogs, laughing - all at once. ‘Bring back sleepy Luang Prabang!’ we were thinking!

Anyway, we found a nice guesthouse, near the fake guesthouse we had booked, dropped off our packs and went for dinner. (PS Ann says her favourite fake things in asia are fake books and fake guesthouses.) I got sick that night, aches pains, general flu/dengue fever like symptoms. Barely slept a wink and spent almost all of the next day in bed.

By the next morning i was better - we rose early to go to the Mausoleum where dead Ho Chi Minh is on show. This was a great experience. The whole procedure is very strange, wear long clothes, drop this bag there, take your camera there, pick this up there and get that from that window, hands by your side, no talking. All very strange and we weren't anywhere near dead Ho Chi yet. We filed through a funny room following a red mat all the way (with our arms by our sides), and there he is, encased in a glass coffin with fancy wooden trim, dead Uncle Ho Chi Minh himself. He looks good, well preserved. The whole experience was very creepy though. Apparently his wishes were to be cremated, bet he hates who ever decided to preserve him and put him on show for our beady eyes.

Ann was wearing leggings under her skirt to fulfil the long pants rule, however, as these leggings were black and white striped, this was apparently one of the most exotic things the locals had ever seen! Pointing and incredulous looks followed us everywhere we went.

We then went on a walking tour of the Old Town, which was pretty random and interesting.

Our next point of call is a three day tour of Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island. We will update you all when we get back from there. Photos to go up soon too.

Posted by acard 22:17 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Laos: The Home of Pink Toilet Paper

From Buses to Bruises in the Land of a Million Elephants

overcast 22 °C
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Luke just commented that it is weird now, hearing phones ring. He is very right! I can see us looking confused when we start a real life again and our phones ring. There are many glares in our future in the West!

But hopefully less bruises. We are currently in Vang Vieng, Laos, waiting for a bus to Luang Prabang and the good lord has given us access to free wifi; gotta stay in touch! I know some will see our communicative accessibility as a bad thing, un travellery, but it is a new day; I’m sure no one glared at travellers of old writing letters, or people writing in journals.

So. Laos. It’s a funny one; the people are not so forward in being friendly here; Laos takes laid back to new levels. Tuk Tuk touts cant even be bothered saying Tuk Tuk, they just lazily swing a “tuk…?” your way. It is refreshing, and will be hard to go back to Vietnam, home of persistence!

Impressions of Laos… hmmm. I’ll give it to you in snapshot form:
• A kid eating pink toilet paper. Spitting it out, and then joyfully eating another piece
• Paying $10 AUD for a packet of chips; not being ripped off, just stupid (Ann)
• Dancing at an empty bar in the back of no where (Luke)
• Tubing down a river with breathtaking views and horrendous bars and tourists
• Walking through Vientiane thinking; “where is the rest of this capital city??”
• Lavish Wats (temples) next to rundown shacks
• 2 new Canadian friends! Effie and Kristen. Hilarious, made for very good times
• unbelievably [picturesque; am currently on a teeny bouncy mini bus, in for the best 6 hours EVER, looking out on to fields lined with bamboo, with craggy mountains looming over head, sun streaming through fluffy clouds, an occasional bullock or hut dotting the landscape. It’s almost sickening
• GSOH – good sense of humour; Laos people seem to be laughing often… at me.

So when we left you we were in Vientiane, about to enjoy a beer Laos. I then did so, and facebook chatted to Sian; drunk. Tee hee hee. The next day we spent some time on breakfast, and headed out to see what the nation’s capital, nicknamed a long time ago the Land of a Million Elephants, had to offer. Firstly, to the Pha That Luang- a big gold monument. As it was closed for lunch, we just had a look around, popped into one of the 2 remaining Wats; there were four but they fell in the ‘Secret War with America. We then went on to another couple of temples, Wat Si Saket and Haw Pha Kew, one of which had an inordinate amount of Buddha statue around 4000. As Luke says, we have seen a LOT of Buddhas. One of the photos has a tally. These places are beautiful and some are breathtaking, but I think we are getting temple burn out.; I hope Luang Prabang is not very temple heavy!!

The next morning we hopped up bright and early to catch our “VIP” bus to Vang Vieng, home to the illustrious tubing; loved and hated for its backpackery scene of tubing down a river and stopping in at bars for buckets of cheap alcohol on the way. One of our friends has called it a cultural disgrace, and he is right. It is, however, a fun cultural disgrace, so we partook. The first day was a failed attempt though; disgustingly hung-over from a night out with our new Canadian mates, we didn’t get going till late. Then when we got there we just stood for a minute or five wondering where to go and how we do this thing. We were VERY hungover…! Once we got going, we realized the amount of money we had brought with us would fall woefully short, and sure enough, after a lousy 3 buckets of cheap booze, we were out of money. Without our beer blankets, we started to get cold, but we soldiered on. We went right to the end of the course, but the last part was very rocky, and if you were silly enough to go down the middle, you would get stranded on the rocks and beat your legs up hard core trying to make any progress down the river; like I did. Luke was fine, happily bobbing the easy course. This is how it is.

So grumpy, hungover, tired and sore we decided that tomorrow we would try again; wit thick wallets

Pause – there are piglets crossing the road. Awesome.

So the next day, feeling better, we embarked on round two. Happily swilling buckets of dubious mojitos a, we went to our first bar, where we convinced Kristen, the youngest out of the four of us, to do a bomb in the water, because such spirit was sorely lacking in the people we saw doing the flying foxes. Off she went. I stood on the side cheering like a proud “soccer mom”, and sure enough, Kristen did us proud. And her subsequent bruise now does her proud…
After returning home muddy, cold and tired but energized by fun times, we went out for dinner, and this is where the bruising became apparent; after doing a flying fox into the water and landing on my FACE, then doing a super fast slippery slide ending in a stunning aerial , Effie asked me what was on my chin; it was is a bruise from the aforementioned activities. Apparently you can bruise yourself by falling on your face; who knew!? Further investigations showed my legs as purple and green as well. I am a disgrace. Luke had one little bruise. Cheap whiskey in a bucket is such a good and bad thing, simultaneously.

So after wandering the bars for a bit, we went home happy and purple.

So we are now on our way to Luang Prabang,. It is supposed to be a gorgeous town and it comes highly recommended, but right now we are enjoying looking out at the Laos countryside; the most connected I feel to Laos so far. Vang Vieng was fun, great fun, but our livers are glad that we are leaving. We are very nearly to old for what we just did.

Love and kisses, ann and luke.

CONTINUED…
5/3/10

Ok after reading that , I realise we sound like complete fools. We have just checked out of our guest house in Luang Prabang, and we are heading to Hanoi in a couple of hours.

We have been grown ups here.
Luang Prabang IS gorgeous, but for one thing; the air. We noticed on the bus on the way here that the air was thick with smoke (from the slash and burn of the countryside? Not sure). We thought that Luang Prabang would be better; it isn’t. You cant see very far in the distance, or even very clearly across the Mekong River. Apart from that, we are stunned that this town could be built so long ago without modern technology and good roads! The other remarkable thing about it is how quiet it is… very welcome after aggressive Vang Vieng. It is almost a ghost town.
On our first day here we took a rest day; just read books, ate food, wandered by the river some, it was nice. We also booked our tours to the Pak Ouk caves and nearby waterfalls, and planned our time. The next day was the caves, and yet another boat ride down the Mekong River; except this time our boat broke down! Of course it did. A 1 hour trip took 2.5 hours, without a proper seat, along a river we’ve almost seen enough of. We then arrived at the caves which was a bit of a let down; basically a cave where a lot of Budda statues have been brought. With another boat ride after being rushed through the caves by an overly enthusiastic Grey Army member (similar to mature age student), we arrived back in LP tired and grumpy (Luke was fine, I was t’n’g). We asked the tour guide if we could do the waterfalls the next day; which made him grumpy. Oh well, we then went on to have a relaxing Luang Prabang afternoon, followed by night markets, which Luke hated. He tries not to but he cant help it.
So the next day, yesterday, we had a leisurely breakfast (please note all done at a leisurely pace, without throbbing hangovers) and made our way to the tour operator on time, where we were ushered onto a mini bus… driven by Mad Dog. This was our name for him.
Now, we have had some scary bus rides (one which resulted in hitting a motorcyclist), but Mad Dog was mad. Like a rogue bull, he was champing at the bit to pass whatever was on or near the road. It was so mental it was fun, but I was sure there were going to be fatalities.
So mad dog drops us off at the waterfalls and painstakingly tells us the time “foor tree” – four thirty, and we head off. It was stunning! Beautiful “jungle”, or bush, with twinkling waterfalls coming through gleaming rocks, with blue pools (luke thought suspiciously blue) every so often. We went up to the main event, and found we had enough time for a dip in one of the pools where they don’t say “don’t swimming here” on the sign.
So I hopped in the change room to change into my bathers.
These bathers are BAD luck. First time, bruises. Second time, door on change room that doesn’t lock.
One Asian man got more than he paid for.
That’s enough about that, there is family reading.

Anyway we hopped in, swam around, it was freezing but so pretty, and we had the pool to ourselves (after said Asian man left, with big grin on face). Then home, happy, to more food (cheap food at that!), a game of cards, and bed. Our room has shutters that let no light in so we are very well rested.
So today we hopped up, and took on the mountain temple in the middle of town, which had been scaring us with its big steps. Sure enough, when we got up the steps, there were 192 more! Oh the humanity. Another temple, more Budda (if we put the pictures up, check out Tuesday Budda, he’s my favourite.

Oh my god this is so long and probably not very interesting. Sorry!

Lots of love and words

Ann and Luke

Posted by acard 21:29 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Goodbye Vietnam, Hello Cambodia

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Luke here this time, thought it was about time i had some input into this thing.

We left Ho Chi Minh early on the 17th of Feb via bus to a small town on the Mekong called Cai Be. During the hot and long bus trip (we had prime seats directly behind the crazy driver), we heard a big bang, the bus driver hit the brakes, the bus door flung open and under the bus was a man and his motorbike who we had just collected. Luckily for all involved he was o.k and walked away from the accident with little more than a bent motorbike. From here our tour group of 20 or so were all loaded onto boats and set off for our day of exploring the Mekong and how the locals use this vast river to live.

Unfortunately the trip to the famous Floating Markets was a bit of a let down.. because the floating market was not there! They were all on break for Tet. We did see one boat with pumpkins on it. We did not buy any pumpkins.

After this they took us to a local "orchard", which, as far as we could tell, was kickback central for our guides and there was not an orchard to be seen. We ate some crap food, and paid through the nose for it. The best part was the bike ride to the orchard, where Ann started on the wrong side of the road. It was a lovely little cycle through some classic Mekong scenery. We then went to see how coconut candy and rice paper are made (we just finished the last of the coconut candy). Then, after a boat, a bus, a boat and a ferry, we came to another boat; this was our "sunset cruise along the Mekong" - but it was already dark. This boat very slowly took us to the Chau Doc Floating Hotel AKA "Floatel" for the night. Please do not let the name of this Hotel confuse you - it was an absolute dive.

The next morning we set off early again by boat to see some working fish farms - where the people who have houses on the Mekong (houses literally floating on the Mekong) catch fish and store them under their houses for selling at markets etc. This was quite fascinating. After visiting the ancient village of Cham and the largest/oldest Mosque there, we were on our way by boat to Cambodia. After 4 hours on the boat and a bit of stuffing around at the border to get Visas etc we were into Cambodia.

One dickhead German man forgot to give his passport to our guide so he was not stamped out of Vietnam, the guide didn't realise this until we were just about to arrange the Cambodian Visas - he went off his head at the old bloke, who stood his ground and simply said "its not my problem, you should have known you didn't have it." This was entertaining for us.

A further 2 hours by boat and 1 hour by bus we finally arrived at our guest house in Phnom Penh, where we again proceeded to climb to the fourth floor.

Ann writing now...

So Phnom Penh. To us it had a very different feel to Ho Chi Minh City; a bit more threatening maybe? More street urchins selling books, more stares from locals. Anyway, we took a walk up along the river to find a restaurant we'd heard about, but we got discouraged and walked back the other way. After dinner we went home and collapsed; the Mekong was all go go go and we were tired. And as we only had one full day in PP, we had a lot to figure out! We booked a morning tour to see the Killing Fields and S-21, the detention centre. Up early (again!), we were the last to our mini bus. We then went to see one of the most powerful sights I've ever seen; the killing fields, where 9000 people were exhumed from the mass graves of the Khmer Rouge. Walking through the quiet sight was more chilling because it was un threatening; a pleasant country scene, if not for the exhumed graves and the tree where they used to kill the babies before throwing them in the grave. There is a massive Stupa (buddhist temple for the dead) where the bones of the 9000 people murdered by the Khmer Rouge (they think there is a further 8000 there). The skulls are on the lowest level and you can see where they were beaten. It was truly one of the hardest things we've ever done.

After the Killing Fields, we bussed to S21, the former school-turned-detention centre for the Khmer Rouge. This is where Cambodians were held, tortured and questioned before being taken to the Killing Field. Again, something that looked so normal had housed such terrible things, and again, it was very hard to see and take in, quite graphic and scary. But we did, and I think we have a much much better understanding of what Cambodia has been through to get to where they are now.

After that, we went and had lunch and sorted out the second part of the day. I wanted to go to the Royal Palace (where the King of Cambodia lives, but the Prime Minister runs the joint). So we found ourself a tuk tuk (yay!) and went there. We didnt allow enough time; the place is massive! and stunning. We took about a million photos because everywhere we turned there was something wonderful (including cold sprinklers for me to walk under; it is very very hot in cambodia!). We saw a whole floor made of silver in the Silver Pagoda (luke was disappointed that someone had used sticky tape to keep it together at some point), millions of Buddha's and many beautiful buildings... and again got whistled at by a guard for going the wrong way. when will we learn?!

Then it was off to Wat Phnom; Wat meaning Temple. This is where the girl named Phnom discovered a big hill, or "Penh". Phnom Penh! we are so knowledgeable now - hahhaa. Anyway we decided to take a stroll around the bottom of the hill to avoid a crowd, and noticed a boy (17ish) scooting through the gardens with about 8 guards (or police? we cant tell. everyone looks official) coming after him. Of course we stopped to watch! we were a bit to close though and moved away. The guards were all shouting at the boy and he shouted back - the cheek of him. Turns out he had a knife (looked like the Steak variety), which they snatched off him and threw away; and then punched him in the face! more shouting and punching ensued, all the cambodian people were not as nervous of being close as we were; they had their chins pretty much on the guards shoulders while they asked the boy questions. eventually they let the boy go, who angrily wiped tears from his cheeks as he stormed away. Gold.

We then went to the top of the very pretty hill and had a look around, but the real excitement had passed. Another lovely Khmer meal where we discovered Amok - delicious! And then off to our early night due to the 6 hour bus to Siem Reap (town closest to Angkor Wat) in the morning.

The next day was the bus. it was:

  • long
  • hot
  • uncomfortable

thats enough about that. There was a cute cambodian child near us, but as i watched her I realised she was a devil child that hit her mum in the face (and didn't get told not to).

We arrived in Siem Reap at about 3pm and got a tuk tuk to our guesthouse. After basking in the air conditioning for a while, we went into town for a beer and to ask about tours to Angkor. Luke and I love research, and after a lot of it, we decided a tuk tuk and a tour guide was the way to go. We then met Jane Ryan and Laura for a couple of beers at the Red Piano; and at 3am we walked home, woke up the guard, and went to bed. Safe to say our grand plans for going to Angkor that day did not happen. Luckily we had a few days up our sleeves! That day was wasted,and we went straight to bed after dinner, carefully setting an alarm for 5am the next morning, as we were going to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat.

Unfortunately, the alarm was set (yes, by Ann) at 5am Australian time; a disappointing start to an epic day.

So we rolled out of bed for the second time at 5am, very very weary, and set off to see the world's biggest temple.

Ankgor Wat - Ankor Wow.

As soon as I saw those towers I was entranced. When I saw the massive steep staircase to go to the top I was less entranced, but seeing the sun rise over the 5 towers of Angkor Wat, even with a million other tourists, I felt like it was just us, the birds and Angkor. Even super sleepy, I was in love with the place. We went in, walked around, and took a trip up to the top. It is unbelievable that almost 1000 years ago there were structures being built at this level of sophistication and beauty.

After Angkor Wat, we headed to Ankgor Thom, a previous capital behind Angkor Wat. The place is massive, but our driver took us there and our tour guide walked us around it the opposite way to usual, to avoid the crowds. We learned a lot, not least of which was how it feels to walk around feeling like you're in a postcard. Throughout the day our guide would sit us somewhere cool and quiet to tell us the stories of the Kings who built the temples or who they are dedicated to, as well as some general Cambodian history. He was a real sweetie. He would put some of his plurals on his words after he said them, like "turtle s". We loved him.

We also visited the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed, and disappointed our guide by not remembering a film from 8 years ago very vividly. Fortunately he did some re-enactments for us of the pivotal bits, always saying "then
Angelina ran over there and fell in the studio" so we knew she didnt actually fall down mythical abyss. Phew!

To cap off the day we went back to Angkor (it was 3.30 by this time, we'd been on our feet since 5am) and we walked around while he told us more history and myths. We were about to go to one last part... but we had to pull the plug. we were exhausted - 13 hours after setting off.

So that was yesterday. This morning we woke up sore and grumpy; temple hangover! So glad we did those two areas properly though; I've wanted to go here for so long!

After fighting the grump, we headed to the green gecko project www.greengeckoproject.org that one of our friends had told us about; a NGO run by an Australian woman and her husband run, looking after 73 orphans or street kids from Siem Reap. It is an amazing organisation and we're looking forward to supporting it when we have, you know, an income. We took them some kids panadol, as they have a wish list of things they find it hard to get their hands on or afford.

After that eye opener, lunch, and a rest, we are now ready to go back to the temples for sunset.

We swear not to raid any tombs... on purpose anyway.

Posted by acard 23:42 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Xin chào! Chuc mung nam moi!

Hello! Happy new year!

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Hiya! Here we are, still in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon. I know I said Luke would be writing this but he leaves it too long and we would have forgotten the things that we'd done! So its Ann again.

So on the day after the Reunification Palace (catchy name eh? Symbolises the reunification of North and South Vietnam) was our War Education Day; we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a 250km tunnel network that the VC used during the war. Man, those tunnels were small AND they were the ones made bigger for westerners! They showed us an "educational video" which was pretty hard yards, apart from the wonderful bit where they call Americans "American Devils". We did like that.

Afterwards we got dropped off at the War Remnants Museum, which was a harrowing experience, with lots of hard hitting photos and displays of guns, bombs, and and three jars of preserved human fetuses deformed by exposure to dioxin. Woah. Yes Emma it did make me cry. So that was a big day for us, followed by dinner and some beer.

The next day was pretty quiet, we just cruised around, ate, and went to see a pagoda that was very pretty. and had lots of turtles that people give as an offering! I felt sorry for the turtles but there was no denying they were cute. a few beers and some new friends that night, and we were ready for Vung Tau.

The next day was the day now to be known as Oily Beach Day. We had heard wonderful things about "Saigon's Torquay" - a beach named Vung Tao and I was itching to go there and have a nice relaxed beach day with my fake book (will explain later). So we booked the boat, got up early and off we went; I was VERY excited. When we got to Vung Tau, I was a little bit worried; looked seedy. So we got a taxi to the back beach, and it all looked promising; except the strange brown nature of the water. We paid for an umbrella/sunlounger/table set up, and settled in to warm up before our swim. This part was good; we actually did relax. When luke was digging a hole in the sand (Dad! I dug a hole!") he said it smelled oily, but we thought it was that part of sand. It wasnt - when we came out of the sea (after being assaulted by rubbish) we found our skin had a layer of oil on us so it was hard to get dry and un angry after that! We didn't go back in the sea! So it was an expensive lesson; smell the water before you go in. Added to the joy of the day was the malaria tablet induced sunburn, most of which went away that night.

then it was Tet eve! they dont call it that, they just call the whole new year thing Tet, but for me, the day before new years day is the eve. it just is. so we had arranged to meet our new friends, a couple of english lads, for a beer at Allez Boo, our local bar. We went down to the river front with all the native Saigonners to watch the fireworks, and had a couple more beers. Whatever we did we must have done it properly because the next day I was struck with a horrendous hangover! and didnt do much until we went to see JANE RYAN; our celebrity guest! We went to meet her at her fancy hotel, and met her friend Laura. We then went on the worlds worst mission for food; went to a nice restaurant, had to wait an hour, got in, took our time choosing from the delicious menu, went to order and were told that there were only 2 dishes available (from 16 pages) and there was no rice. No rice! we were pretty dirty about this, ordered a couple of sides and then left, after an arguement about paying the 20% extra Tet service charge. We did not lose face though! We said all our hard hitting arguments with smiles. It was very confusing. Anyway, fun times wandering the streets of Saigon with Janey and Laura, fun times. They are doing Cu Chi and War Remnants today and we'll meet up with them later for beers and food. Oh how we are loving the food; we have had spring rolls with every meal so far!

So that brings us up to now. Today is our last day in Saigon, tomorrow we are off on our tour of the Mekong Delta which should be good, not least because it deposits us in Phnom Penh, our next destination! From there we're going to Ankor Wat, we're really looking forward to that, and then (and this bit is a mystery), we go to Laos. We dont know how we're going to get there, but that's the fun of it I suppose!

More photos to come, probably today. Its such a big mission we keep putting it off!

Posted by acard 17:43 Archived in Vietnam Tagged educational Comments (0)

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