Friday, 20 April 2012

Good Morning, Vietnam

hi fans!
Continuing our South East Asia tour, we are in Vietnam, and have been for 2 weeks now. Currently in the capital Hanoi, at the north end of this long and thin country. Battling traffic and noise, hawkers and the heat, Hanoi is quite a blast in your face, and ears.

But first we started in the south, coming into Saigon (or Ho Chi Min City, as it is technically, though no one calls it that), on the fun bus from Cambodia. We had a mess up with our Vietnam visas (thank you Cambodia), which has squashed our stay a little (language problems) but what the hey. It was a painless crossing, and we met up with out friend Gemma who lives there now, to show us around.   

We went to the war museum there, currently titled "War Remnants Museum", opened in 1975 as "The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government of South Vietnam". It was predictably horrifying and interesting, but quite clumsily laid out.  Not the best museum I've been to. Some incredible photos from war journalists though.  Laura sat under a fan while I took goofy pictures of the helicopters and planes outside.  There was a cool bulldozer, for those interested in those.

I AM smiling. Can we go now?
We both loved Saigon, and having friends there was brilliant.  So. Many. Motorbikes.  There are 20 Million in Vietnam. And if your'e not on one, then your'e a foreigner or yours is broken.

Another predominantly Buddhist country, there are quite a few temples and a lot of shrines.  Its odd to see the food offerings to Buddha at the small shrines being chocolate Oreos, a can of strawberry Fanta and sometimes a few cigarettes.  Laura saw a beer can at one. But i suppose everything moves with the times doesn't it.

Hoi An was our next stop, a train ride up the coast.  Not quite as flash as our Thailand train rides, but it got us there safe n sound.  Cricked necks and no sleep!  (we couldn't splash for the beds, we just had chairs).  Hoi An was beautiful, especially at night and felt very chinese influenced.  The beer was supa cheap and we hired bikes for 5 days to roll around on and enjoy the slow pace.  Very touristy, it was still a nice place to stop by.  I even had a suit made at a tailors, which is the done thing here.  Its on its way home in a box now.  Fingers crossed!  I even got a personal email from the post office, confirming its transit, and asking if I was well or not.

My mum is very proud

Sail boat in Hoi An

From Hoi An, we took another rattle train north to Hanoi, where i am sat now.  Probably the worst train ride we've had, with ogre snoring from somewhere infront, I nearly threw up at the smell of dried squid flapping around in someones hand at 5am as we got off.  I was grumpy! 

We are staying in the Old Town area, which is very hairy, and twice so at night time.   Its quite a place!  Want to eat street noodles sat on a reed mat on the pavement while a guy angle grinds some steel tubing 3 metres to your left infront of the metal shop?  This is the place!  Its pretty amazing to see how things run here.  Pavements are like that army assault course they used to have on Whitley Bay beach when i was little.  But with more motorbikes.  

It feels like im talking about bikes a lot, but that is the overwhelming feature of city life here, and all commerce and transport is done on one.  Laura found a great photo book in a shop called Bikes of Burden, which has captured some of the bike stunts here. Click HERE for some of the brilliant pictures. My favourite is this one i think, from the book...

Confuse those tail-gaiters!
And a few from our collection...

There's a man on there somewhere...
Bicycle with a wood burning stove on the back

Vietnam has been great fun, we've travelled a long way northwards, and seen even more amazing sights and memories.  And its good to know these places will still be here after we've left, for us to visit again sometime in the future.  

So, tomorrow we jump on an early bus, and enter into China.  COOL!  We have 3 and a half weeks to explore Yunnan and Guangxi provinces, where Dog is the speciality dish. COOL! no, wait...


Friday, 6 April 2012

A Short Stay in Cambodia...

After a final farewell with friends at New Life, we were on the open road and fending for ourselves again for the first time in a month. It was a bit of a shock to the system to say the least, especially when it came to the portion sizes at meal times. We had really been indulging at New Life.

Next stop Cambodia! Everywhere you look you'll find warnings about the madness that is the Cambodian border, and you've got to have your wits about you if you want to avoid one of the many scams that are out to get the innocent tourist. Luckily John was well read on the matter and had even managed to find a youtube video that guided you through the process – sounds a bit extreme but turned out to be really helpful!

6 on a bike
You arrive a few kilometres from the border, so the first task is to make sure the tuk tuk driver charges you a fair price. We eventually got him down to less than half of what he'd originally quoted. The next trick is to avoid all of the official-looking offices strategically placed on the approach to the border with men outside claiming it to be the place to get your visa – they don't mention their inflated prices or the fact that Cambodia actually gives visas on arrival (50 metres down the road) so you don't need to get one in advance.

A bamboo bicycle
Even when you get to the border the officials will try and scam you – signs very clearly state the 20$ visa price but that doesn't stop them asking for an extra 100 Baht for the 'express service' (code for their back pocket).  What?! Erm...sorry officer, we don't have any Baht left. Phew! Once into Poipet on the Cambodian side, you then really have to have your wits about you if you want to avoid the inflated prices being charged for your onward journey. Most people (like us) head to Siem Reap, and the 'official' taxi price is an incredible 48$, apparently so high because 25$ of every journey is given to the police. Great. We managed to join up with a tour group that had come from Bangkok and so paid an only slightly inflated price to take the bus – arriving in Siem Reap an exhausting 14 hours after we'd left Bangkok.

Siem Reap
Siem Reap is a gem of a city bustling with tourists thanks to it's main attraction, the ruins of Angkor Wat. Now I'm not going to lie, I'm not really fussed about crumbling ruins, and so it was with slight reluctance that I handed over 20$ for my day's pass. Definitely one of the more expensive things we've chosen to see this trip, but we were going off everyone's advice that it's definitely a 'must see'. The ruins are vast and spread out over many kilometres, so other than taking bicycles (which we didn't fancy in the 40 degree heat) we joined the tourist bandwagon and hired a driver for the day.

The driver & our carriage!
What a treat!!! We felt like royalty being driven around in our motorcycle carriage...he'd planned an itinerary for us that took in the main sites and so off we went. I don't think either of us had quite appreciated how vast or frankly amazing it was going to be – our first stop at Bayon (built nearly 1000 years ago!) was pretty incredible and definitely gave me a new appreciation for all things old.

indiana John assesses the ruins

Over the course of the day we visited 5 different sites, in and around Angkor Wat, including the amazing Ta Prohm which has been purposefully left to nature and now has trees growing through the walls. It was really beautiful. Temple fatigue kicked in towards the end but it was definitely one of the best days of our trip so far and lots of fun. A 'must see' for anyone heading to Cambodia.

More photos from Angkor Wat can be found here!  The clock is well and truly ticking on our time in Asia with only 6 weeks left until our flight to Istanbul. That definitely puts the pressure on our itinerary and we can no longer be as care free with our time. Our stay in Cambodia is limited to a week, giving us the remaining time to be split between Vietnam, China and a few days with John's cousin in Hong Kong.  Fun times ahead!x