A Travellerspoint blog

January 2011

Nha Trang

sunny 27 °C

The journey to Nha Trang was another six hours up the coast - I'm definitely getting used to the road trips again by now! So far we've both done at least 24 hours on the bus and there will be plenty more to go in Asia, nevermind the three weeks touring New Zealand. We had read that Nha Trang was the 'party city' of Vietnam and would compare with the likes of the Canary Islands, Phuket in Thailand or even Surfers Paradise in Oz. This was definitely exagerated by other people we had met on the way up - apart from one good club there aren't many options here in terms of the nightlife. It's a city come beach town with a very long beach strip near the centre. Similar to Mui Ne, I was happy to visit any place that was different to the madness of Ho Chi Minh/Phnom Penh/Bangkok.

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We arrived late on Thursday evening so we just spent the night having a quick wander around and getting dinner in a nearby restaurant. The next day we were up early for a tour of the nearby islands. This was a 6 dollar trip and I suppose you got what you paid for - the highlight being a dead coral reef I had the 'pleasure' of snorkelling around! You can see a pic of me as a 'fashionista' in the water below... I also managed to cut my finger off one of the rocks which I wasn't too thrilled about. Any additional sights such as the acquarium and one of the main islands had to be paid for seperately, but weren't that expensive.

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However we did have a fun day and managed to entertain ourselves...

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In fairness to the tour guides they did go all out to look after us providing a nice lunch, music entertainment (which included 'Molly Malone' being sung just for me) and the staff generally being silly...

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That night we headed out on the town. I ordered a four dollar cocktail in a coconut but you've no idea how strong it actually was. The staff found it funny when I had to ask them to take it back and water it down with more orange juice so that I could actually drink the thing. Any of you reading this who know me well will know it must have been pretty bad in order for me to do this!

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We ended up at the main party beach club called the Sailing Group which was full of Western travellers. One major annoyance about this place are Vietnamese women posing as prostitues who are in fact trying to rob you. They will come up in groups offering all sorts and then start touching you. I had to push them away and get quite angry before they'd take the hint. They don't seem to have any fear in them so the best policy in this case is to run! If you ever visit this place make sure you never venture out at night alone, and bring as little cash as possible.

I woke up the next day not feeling the best - my chest felt a bit clogged up. Carly tells me it's similar to her symptoms in relation to the cold she is still shaking off since Cambodia. Hopefully it's not the same one. Therefore Saturday and Sunday were spent chilling out by the beach reading my book and listening to music. I had intended on doing a scuba dive here but didn't wat to risk it as the water is very cold. I'll wait until I get to Southern Thailand at the end of February to do this.

Today I visited 'Vinpearl Land' - aka the Vietnamese equivalent of Disney World. It was certainly no Disney or Universal but it did entertain for a few hours. You pay a set fee and that includes the cable car ride over to the island and full access to every ride in the theme/water park. It's geared more towards children and families. The best part for me was the arcade - every game was free of charge! I happily spent well over an hour playing the likes of Street Fighter and Time Crisis.

[It's not Hollywood, it's....]

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FYI I'm unable to upload any pictures to Facebook at the moment as the main address is blocked in Vietnam (damn censorship). However I can get around this by going into another address but it won't let me add any new photos. It looks like I'll have to wait until Laos to do this. In a couple of hours we get a 6pm overnight sleeper bus to Hoi An - a nice twelve hour journey to look forward too!

Posted by mattld 01:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Good Morning Vietnam! Ho Chi Minh City & Mui Ne

sunny 25 °C

Heading into Vietnam was so much easier than our previous trip from Thailand into Cambodia. Having organised the Visas in advance we were pretty much able to go straight through the border. We only had to get off the bus twice – once to officially leave Cambodia and the other to enter Vietnam. It was weird having to put our luggage on scanners as we didn’t do this the previous time – what does that say about Cambodia?

Carly and I were both weary of Ho Chi Minh city, our first stop. The reviews we had read in advance didn’t make for positive impressions. We arrived at our hotel on Friday afternoon – the hotel itself was fine but nothing special. It lacked a window in our room which for me was a big deal as it felt far more closter phobic. There was also a very dodgy smell in the room but I could live with this – I smelt far worse on the streets in Phnom Penh. The hotel staff made good efforts with us e.g. two of them practically killed themselves jumping down the steps in order to rush to our taxi to pick up our bags. We both agreed on a ‘no tipping policy’ back in Bangkok (with 2 exceptions so far) so I hope they didn’t mind! The only problem was a severe lack of English so it has been a case of smiling, nodding and making hand gestures for the past few days. The breakfast wasn’t exactly Western friendly either with mostly meat and broth dishes to start the day – we settled instead for a glass of diluted orange (now with 5% real juice) and a piece of bread with jam on it. The lovely buffet from Siem Reap that we were treated to was a distant past. Oh well you can’t have it that good all the time considering the budget!

We were both in a bad mood on arrival as the taxi man completely ripped us off from the bus to the hotel. In Thailand it is actually cheaper to get a metered taxi than to take a tuk tuk (unless you bargain hard). Going by this rule of thumb we felt like we were going to get a decent deal but it turned out what should have been a 5 dollar cab ride ended up costing us 20. We later read online how taxi companies are not regulated in Vietnam and there are rip-off companies with similar names to the official ones that have their meters fixed in their favour. I’ve never seen a meter shoot up as fast as the one we had taken on arrival. Just when you think you’ve got this Asia thing sorted they go and throw another spanner in the works. ‘Live and learn’ is turning out to be the phrase for the Asian part of my holiday.

Initial impressions of the city were poor as we accidentally booked ourselves into the non tourist area. Sounds nice in theory but on our first day we spent well over an hour wandering the streets for a edible meal. It was almost looking like Eel & Crab Juice from the local food stall on the street until we found an Italian restaurant. Saved! Only it was the worst Italian food we’ve ever had. The four inch pizza was awful but at least there was tears of uncontrolled laughter as a plate of seven chips (I kid you not) arrived on an oversized plate. The waiter must have thought we were very rude! Feck it.

That night we spent the whole evening in our room feeling sorry for ourselves and wishing that the three days in Ho Chi Minh would pass as quickly as possible. Thankfully after finding our way around on day two things picked up. We spent Friday sightseeing and took in a few attractions including the Vietnamese War museum, a Chinese temple and the local market. A one dollar ride on what was practically a wheelchair attached to a push bike cycled by an elderly man (he talked us into it I swear) gave us a few laughs. The city of Ho Chi Minh is practically Phnom Penh part 2 but with a few differences. There is a very fancy downtown area with all the famous designer names from Luis Vitton to Prada and Gucci. The streets here are nicely decorated and there is sufficient space to move around i.e. an actual foot path you can use. In addition the tuk tuks are seemingly banned in this country as we didn’t see one between us. At least 90% of people travel by motorbikes and it made crossing the road a bit of a nightmare. There are zebra crossings here but nobody pays attention to them. Traffic lights? Forget it! You just have to shove your way through and force the drivers to go around you – which they do in fairness to them. Horns are constantly being beeped but after a while you just tune out.

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On Saturday night Carly was feeling a bit under the weather so I headed out for dinner and a few drinks downtown - I needed one badly. It was an early night but I did get talking to a load of cruise ship workers who were telling me about the geriatrics on board their vessel. The guests paid 17,000 Euro for a two week cruise so I can only imagine the snobbery and diva demands of it all. Something to look forward to when I’m older perhaps! On Sunday we took a wander around the town, had dinner and chilled out. We couldn’t wait to get out of there and off to the Vietnamese coast.

Monday morning couldn’t arrive quick enough – it was off to our first ‘holiday’ style destination of the trip, Mui Ne. I’ve no regrets on any of our stops so far but we needed a change of scenery badly. Thank god, Mui Ne is a lovely little coastal town. We couldn’t have been more thrilled arriving as our hotel is actually on the sea coast. We settled in and took an afternoon bike trip exploring the main downtown area which is quiet and peaceful – exactly what we wanted after the noise pollution we endured from the previous two stops. That night we headed to the local pub Pogo where the cocktail special of the day was only a dollar! I’ve never drunk rum, coke and lime before but it certainly did the job and we ended up heading to a partially outdoor beach club until 4am. Music was great!

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On Tuesday Carly relaxed by the beach at our hotel and I headed off on a half day trip which took me to a river stream you could walk through surrounded by grand canyon style rock features. We then went to a local fishing village followed by three more stops at white, yellow and red sand dunes respectively. I got to try out some sand boarding which sounds more fun than it actually is.

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That night it was back to Pogo with two Israeli girls we had met the night before. On offer was a bucket of vodka (half a bottle went into it) with red bull for 5 dollars. It would have been rude not to! Unfortunately it seemed like a good idea only in theory and I ended up back at our hotel asleep by 1am. Carly wasn’t much better than me either for the record!

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We extended our stay at Mui Ne by a day so today has been spent recovering and chilling out at the hotel. The next couple of weeks will be spent making our way up the coast before heading into Laos for about a week and finally back to Thailand until the end of February. Due to money and time constraints we’ve decided to leave Hong Kong and Macau out of the trip so I’ll have to get around to that another time. Tomorrow afternoon we head to Nha Trang.

Vietnamese Essentials
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Chao = Hello
Cam On (pronounced Cam Ern) = Thank You
Com Cam On = No Thank You

1 Euro = 30,000 Dong

The Vietnamese New Year is on February 3rd so it looks like we'll be able to enjoy a firework display at midnight on the 2nd which is my birthday as well. Happy days! Apparently it's the year of the cat...

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Posted by mattld 01:18 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Phnom Pehn

sunny 28 °C

It was Monday morning and I was finally feeling human again – the previous two days had been painful sitting in the room all day long as I physically couldn’t go anywhere. My recovery was well timed as we were heading off to our next stop, Phnom Penh. This is the capital of Cambodia and located on the Eastern side of the country.

We were picked up at 10.30am and once again it was another six hour journey. This one was far easier as it involved no border changing. The only annoyance was the bus driver who was rather fond of his horn and beeped incessantly for the whole trip. Please stop? Once again we stopped off at a baron location for a dodgy restaurant with lots of mosquitoes and locals about – a trip to the toilet resulted in me running straight back out much to the amusement of the Khmer people. The smell was unmerciful.

It was obvious we were near our stop when large buildings and traffic began to re-appear. We had just gotten used to a more quiet and simple town only for the chaotic world of Bangkok to revisit us. Roads were choc-a-bloc with cars, tuk tuks and motorbikes (known as motos here and an alternative lift to the tuk tuk that drivers are only too happy to offer for half the price and double the danger).

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Khmer people started to wave at us while stuck in traffic – we waved back but when we stated to move again so did they. It was then I realised they were drivers trying to get us into a tuk tuk or moto with them. We soon pulled up at our destination and the front doors opened. The drivers sprinted to the door and feverishly waited outside waving their hands in the air like zombies would for fresh human flesh. We waited until the end letting the other Western passengers go ahead so they could get the brunt of it – only that didn’t really seem to work. Coming off the bus we felt like celebrities with a group of ten drivers screaming for our attention. Thank god I’m not famous as this was just pure brain damage. After picking up our bags myself and Carly were separated by the crowd. At one point I had no personal space at all so I couldn’t help but point at Carly and shout “talk to the wife she makes all the decisions!” in order to send some her way. Woops sorry Carly. A few minutes later we picked the most desperate of the drivers and went with him. To be fair to the tuk tuks here, they are in slightly better condition than their Thai counterparts. The carriages are a little bit more attached and it feels a little bit safer. When we arrived at our hotel the driver was trying to sell us a trip to the killing field, museums or even a random orphanage. I hate booking tuk tuk drivers in advance as I have no idea what time or day we’ll be going so this was an ‘absolutely not’. Only I had to spend another 5 minutes explaining this. He automatically came down 50% in price before finally giving up. Of course, the same driver would appear the following morning having camped outside overnight for a possible fare with us.

Our hotel in Phnom Penh is very much a city centre residence as opposed to the holiday resort feel of the Central Boutique in Siem Reap. The pool is gone, the staff are far less personal and there is a lot less space in comparison. On the other hand it has the most comfortable beds we’ve had yet as well as the shower. Internet connection is much better too! First impressions of the city were not so good. The streets are filthy in comparison to Siem Reap. Traffic is a nightmare, it’s impossible to walk on footpaths due to the stalls/vehicles and walking on the road does not feel like a safe experience given that there are constant motorbikes coming up from behind at all times. Smells ranging from ‘ok I can handle this one’ to ‘what just died?’ fill the streets in the main central location. Cows hanging on spits roasting over flames are a regular street sight. It even led to the purchase of a cheap surgical mask which you can see me in later on! Drivers are much more aggressive than our previous two locations so ‘no’, ‘we’re walking’, ‘dei ar kun’ and ‘no thanks’ are our most frequently used words here.

So what have we been up to over the past few days? On Tuesday we paid a visit to the Royal Palace. This was similar to the one in Bangkok but on a much smaller scale. The grounds themselves are stunning with some beautiful architecture that was built over 100 years ago. After that we had a wander around the town before finding a modern shopping mall – the thrills of in-door air conditioning. We were far too easily pleased with some familiar Western sights. A trip to the arcade resulted in humiliation for me as I decided to have a go on one of the Japanese arcade dancing machines. Unfortunately a local crowd quickly gathered behind me only to point and laugh loudly at my inability to dance. Carly found it hilarious of course.

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On Wednesday I decided I needed work out time badly and headed off to a local gym down the road while Carly caught up on more Gossip Girl (she’s watched over 20 episodes - I just refuse) and Wot Phnom, another Temple which apparently has the most bling ever. Anyway, on arrival I quickly discovered this was no ordinary gym as I was greeted by no less than 10 female staff at the front reception (I’m not exaggerating either this time). 6 were behind the counter with the other four split into two groups on both sides. Walking up to the reception the ten of them quickly closed in on me smiling like they had coat hangers stuck in their mouths. They were far too thrilled and it was all too much. Why does Asia insist on having so many staff in their establishments? Is labour THAT cheap? For the record they were all stunning and if I was that way inclined I would have been happy to stay and chat to them all day.

Paying 15 dollars in (well I could hardly bargain with 10 Khmer models starting at me like that could I?) I was expecting it to be good and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Only six months old the gym has fantastic equipment and many more bored staff on every floor looking for something to do – one in particular just stared at me while I did weights so I decided to turn him into a free personal trainer for the afternoon. I took a swim afterwards in the outdoor pool and it was like swimming in a bottle of Evian. It was that fresh. The whole complex was like an extension of a six star hotel. I found out that afternoon that a 1 year membership is 600 US dollars – this is three times the price of most gyms in Ireland and just shows there is a filthy rich market somewhere in Cambodia! Speaking of which, in the middle of all the tuk tuks and 1970s lada rivas are random hummers and executive range rovers – I’d be scarlet driving one in Ireland, never mind here!

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Today we visited two of the most infamous sites in Cambodia, the killing fields at Choeung Ek and the genocide prison museum, Tuol Sleng. I had spoken briefly about this in my previous post. The Khmer Rouge had taken control of Cambodia in 1975 in a similar way to the Nazi party and committed genocide on more than 2 million of its own citizens in a bizarre attempt to introduce communism i.e. just under 30% of their entire population. Both sites were terribly upsetting but a must visit as these events cannot be forgotten. We saw the mass graves of the victims at the killing fields where they were slaughtered in the most inhumane ways. Pieces of clothing and cartilage remain stuck in the ground and a monument dedicated to these people house hundreds of skulls and bones. We also saw at Tuol Sleng how the prisoners were kept alive and tortured for false confessions before being taking to Choeung Ek for execution. I took many photos but on reflection feel it’s not appropriate to post on my facebook page. Below I’ve put just a few pictures to give you some sort of idea of what we saw. I would highly recommend researching this tragedy further online via Google or Wikipedia. A documentary DVD also worth watching is ‘Khmer Rouge: S21’.

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Tomorrow we leave Phnom Penh and head to Vietnam for our first stop which is Ho Chi Minh. We’re expecting another chaotic city so it’ll be interesting to see how it differs from Cambodia. We’ve very much enjoyed our time and experience in this country – with the exception of the drivers who drove me nuts at times, the people have been so polite and friendly. Most of them will never get the chance to leave their own country never mind South East Asia. Therefore they are always curious to interact with foreigners and ask questions in order to find out more about where we live. Children too will always wave and smile on the street which is so cute. All in all Cambodia is highly worth visiting.

Random Observations
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It seems there's something about Carly. Khmer people like to stare at my friend - even when there are monkeys getting it on beside her.

Dolls look like something from Child's Play. It's the Christmas gift from hell.

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It seems a popular stop after the Killing Fields is to be taken to the local Shooting Range to fire some rifles. In fact our Tuk Tuk driver nearly insisted on it. We politely declined.

La Dolce Vita on street 172 is the best restaurant in the world... EVER. Cheap as chips and they have everything from Khmer cuisine to Italian, Mexican, Western and Vegetarian. I ate there 4 times, Carly 5! We practically put the owner’s kids through school.

People missing limbs like to jump or leap out at you from around corners and scream for money. I've had more shocks in Cambodia than any horror film I've seen recently.

Lost in Translation this week comes courtesy of Carly:

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Posted by mattld 07:11 Archived in Cambodia Comments (4)

Crossing the border into Cambodia - Siem Reap & Angkor Wat

sunny 28 °C

At the time of writing this (Saturday evening), I'm sitting here in bed, sick as a dog. A very late night with far too much alcohol has confined me to my room for almost the whole day - the hangover is not so much the problem. The stomach pains I've been having for the last few hours however are. Carly is not much better than me and after watching Astro Boy on TV for the first time (it was ok); I thought I'd take time to give an update on the past week. This entry is even longer than the last one so feel free to skim through I won't be offended!

We had intended to depart for Cambodia on Tuesday. Unfortunately on Monday when we went to the Vietnamese embassy we were told we would have to wait 24 hours for our Visa. We really wanted to get this sorted in Thailand rather than leave it until the last minute a week later so we opted to stay an additional day. As we were both in Bangkok before, we were starting to get fed up with the city and just wanted to get a move on - there's a lot of South East Asia to be seen over the next 7+ weeks that are left.

We decided to kill some time by heading out for drinks on Monday night and on Tuesday by heading to the Grand Palace - this is a must see attraction in Thailand but as we both had been before we decided to instead take a wander around the outskirts. The whole area was packed with tourists and people trying to sell you stuff. On arrival one guy pretended to be an 'official rep' giving us lots of information (which we already knew). He then proceeded to try and get us into a Tuk Tuk and off for a tour of other 'free attractions'. No doubt with a few oul jewellery stops on the way! After saying no 51 times we moved on and found a really good temple down the road that neither of us had been to before and was very cheap in - Angkor Thom. The highlight here was without a doubt the 25 metre reclining Buddha which you can see below. These Buddha’s just keep on getting bigger! Later that afternoon we were delighted to pick up our Visas which were approved. We were both feeling a bit anxious about the whole trip the following day. That evening we had our final meal in Bangkok and an early night.

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Wednesday morning arrived and we were finally leaving hurrah! Carly told me about one of her friends who had all her luggage robbed on a similar journey in Peru and had to end her vacation early. Not exactly what I wanted to hear so this made me even more worried. Bold Carly. We read online about one bus company who were highly dodgy, forcing passengers into staying overnight at the border which is something we really didn't want to do. We got a taxi to the bus station and picked our bus company carefully. A 'VIP' bus with air conditioning and more comfortable seats was about 1 Euro extra - we'll take that one thanks. There were only four other Westerners on our bus which alarmed me a little. I expected more. The rest were made up mainly of Thai and Khmer (the official term for the Cambodian people). I kept staring out the window in a paranoid frenzy to ensure nobody was running away with our luggage.

The journey itself was smooth and the six hours that it took went by quickly thanks to my iPod. We knew we were getting close to the border when police started to get onto the bus to check nationalities for the Asian people. They ignored us completely but it was alarming to see a number of people thrown off the bus for not having proper ID with them, including one man and his son who were sat next to us. After two police checks the army then took their turn of checking over everyone and it was then we arrived at our first stop. We knew we would have to get a Tuk Tuk to the border - we were pretty much shoved onto one as soon as we got off our bus. The driver was female - a nice change and she was happy for us to travel together with our luggage.

The Tuk Tuk arrived at what appeared to be a government entry where you could purchase your Cambodian Visa. However it was double the price of what the guidebook had advised and on closer inspection the empty white room and lack of any official security gave the impression all was not what it seemed. An American woman travelling alone didn't take long to kick up a well timed hissy fit and refused to pay the 1,000 baht they were asking for. The other Westerners and we then agreed that we would walk across to the border and try to do it there. The man was not happy and shouted that we would have to pay an additional amount on top of the 1,000 baht when we would inevitably return. Charming! It wasn't long before we found out that these guys were scam artists trying to overcharge us for what could have been a false Visa.

The six of us walked closely together towards the border and it was completely straight forward. Conjured up images of angry soldiers pointing rifles in our faces and over the top religious obsessives shouting foreign obscurities were thankfully untrue and a bit dramatic on my behalf. Once through we were in 'no mans' land between both borders. It was here we were greeted by our first Khmer who was only too happy to inform us on everything we needed to know. Aww how lovely. He was a government official who was not out to sell us anything or make money. It wasn't long before he started to irritate as he clung on to both of us like a parasite would on a tree. He directed us towards the border entry tunnel and told he would see us on the other side. I wasn't happy about this. We had read about the free government bus that would bring us to the Cambodian bus depot where we could get a taxi to Siem Reap. Therefore we agreed to get on the bus when it arrived along with a larger group of Western tourists. I was starting to feel better about the situation.

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Our Khmer friend joined us on the bus and used this time on the microphone to welcome us to Cambodia and explain how important tourists are for the country etc. etc. He certainly had charm but god was he annoying. Our options were given to us as follows at the depot - take a taxi, mini van or bus into Siem Reap. At first the Khmer man had insisted that any of the three options were good and acted quite neutral. When we arrived he changed tactic, informing us the mini van had already left (grand as we had heard the worst stories about them) and that taxis would cost 500 baht each and would require four of us including our luggage! He was clearly pushing the bus at this stage. There was no way we were paying 2,000 baht for a taxi between four of us squashed in for a three hour journey. Unfortunately all the taxi drivers decided to disappear so we were unable to try and bargain or get a second opinion. Instead we opted for the bus.

The Khmer 'government official' was only too thrilled and once everyone was on the bus he joined us again for this journey. Argghh! At this stage I lost all interest and was completely rude to him for the remainder of the journey - he even told me to shut up when I laughed out loud at how every hotel in Cambodia was full and the one he was bringing us to was the only one with a room available. Thankfully we had booked ours in advance. Likewise we were told how we must get our Riel (the currency) at the border as US dollars would not be accepted in Siem Reap. This was a load of rubbish too - the US currency is bizarrely their main currency in an unofficial capacity. Even the ATMS will give you it. The Riel is accepted but as no other country outside of Cambodia offer or take it (we tried on several occasions to get it in Ireland, Australia and Thailand), we decided we would use dollars as much as possible. At least that way we wouldn't be stuck with useless currency at the end. It's 5,000 Riel to one Euro and the paper notes practically disintegrate in your hands.

Arriving into Siem Reap we were knackered, hungry and grumpy. The food stop on the way did little to help as we were stranded at a remote outdoors restaurant with mosquitoes everywhere and Khmer children trying to put 'free' bracelets into your hand as a gift. Getting off our bus all we wanted was to get to our hotel. Immediately a Khmer man clung on to us trying to get us into a Tuk. Even though that's what we were looking for, I was fed up of being sold to and was admittedly quite rude. Having lost him I was then happy to pick a Tuk Tuk for ourselves. I couldn't have been happier arriving at our hotel - it was far nicer than the one in Bangkok. I would highly recommend a stay here - it's called the Angkor Wat Central Boutique Hotel. The rooms are spacious, clean, with air con and it has a nice balcony outside. The pool area is very nice and with only 30 odd rooms the staff are personal and friendly.

Cambodia itself is far better than what myself or Carly had been expecting. It reminds me very much of the Thai countryside in Chiang Mai. The main town itself was a bit like going back in time. The roads are dusty, basic and everyone is driving motorcycles with only a few cars to be seen. But there’s a real charm to it that Bangkok and all its mentalness lacked. Numerous stalls populate most streets selling everything from popular meat dishes to grilled banana. Restaurants, massage parlours and tuk tuks are plentiful. There's a KFC around the corner from our hotel and I shamefully admit to paying a visit today when hungover for some familiar food for lunch.

Thursday morning was a very early start at 4.30am. We booked ourselves to do the tour of Angkor Wat the night before. Not many people know about this ancient wonder of the world, including myself. It's billed as one of the highlights of South East Asia and I can now understand why. The temples themselves are almost 1,000 years old - the easiest way to describe them would be the Asian version of the pyramids. Scriptures/carvings on the main temple walls depict the Khmer way of life during those times. Images included soldiers at battle; everyday life and heaven versus hell were presented. One small temple near the grounds even had images of dinosaurs which I found really surprising. Watching the sunrise over the main ground at 6am was simply beautiful and a must do if you're visiting.

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After a long 12 hour day we enjoyed a well earned three hour powernap before heading into the town centre for dinner, a wander around the night market and a foot massage for 1 dollar! In terms of money, it can't get much cheaper than Cambodia. It even makes Thailand look expensive. Almost everything is set around the 1 dollar mark with only luxury dinners like steaks etc. costing up to 10 dollars in certain places. Accommodation aside, you could live comfortably on 1 dollar per day if you needed to providing your hotel includes breakfast. In fact, Carly will be taking up this challenge on Sunday and I look forward to reporting back on how she gets on.

Friday morning was spent by the pool (I did 50 laps go me) before taking in an afternoon trip to three different sites. The first one brought us to an old school that had been used as a killing ground after the Vietnam War. The Khmer leader at the time wanted to introduce communism. Naturally, the well educated were none too happy and tried to oppose it. Sadly 2 million Khmer citizens were slaughtered in the 70s/80s before the UN finally intervened. The picture bellows shows some of the skulls of the dead - it was quite eerie seeing it.

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The second stop was a complete sham - what started out as a trip to the handicraft centre to see how Cambodian statues are made turned quickly into a badly disguised sales pitch. Already annoyed that we had been forced into this 'attraction', I upset our sales man by not tipping at the very end... despite being asked for some 'appreciation' and being told goodbye about 10 times. The highlight was the pink toilet roll I managed to steal for Carly.

The final attraction however more than made up for it. We were taken out by boat to the floating markets to watch the sunset. This was stunning. It was fascinating to see the Khmer who live out here. It brought a few tears to the eye in fact when considering how little they have, living on what is essentially a floating shack in the middle of nowhere with only the most basic of things. Especially when you think how shallow the Western world is with its obsession of celebrities, image, money etc. These people have very little but each other and seemed so happy and content with their lives. We could learn a lot from them..

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That evening myself and Carly decided to head on what I'll admit was essentially a drinking binge in bars where drinks were $1.50 or less. A long night of various cheap cocktails and vodka & red bulls led to the worst hangover today that I can recall. The night itself was great - we ended up at Club Temple which had all the modern chart classics and a good mix of Western tourists and Khmer locals alike. By 3am everyone was dancing on the tables. I ran into two groups of Irish which put an end to my streak of 7 days without seeing another person from my own country. Maybe I can beat this in Vietnam? As informed at the beginning of this entry, today has been spent in bed with very painful stomach cramps. I won't be mixing my drinks like that again for a while that's for sure.

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Sunday was more of the same to begin with but finally this evening I have started to feel a lot better and am hoping by tomorrow I will be more or less better and able to do the trip in good health to our next destination on the Eastern side of Cambodia, Phnom Phen.

Random Observations
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Hello = Suas Dei
Thank you = Ar Kun
No Thank you = Dei Ar Kun (unfortunately this one doesn't seem to work at all)

Khmer people do not like you to walk ANYWHERE. In fact, one evening we were offered 28 different tuk tuks on the way to dinner (we counted).

KFC Cambodia has some interesting differences e.g. the meal portions are less than half the size (greedy Westerners!), rice is served instead of chips for most of the meals (love that), they offer sausage burgers and the staff have better English than the ones on Ireland. I've never been treated so well in a fast food restaurant. However I think this is where I got food poisoning from so I wouldn't recommend!

Khmer cuisine is very tasty and not too dissimilar to Thai food.

Lost in translation continue this week...

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Posted by mattld 03:11 Archived in Cambodia Comments (2)

Hello Bangkok (and South East Asia)!

sunny 30 °C

Happy New Years! First off, apologies for the length of this entry, it was hard to get it any shorter and there is so much more that I didn't even cover! I'll try to be more concise in future updates but can't promise anything.

After a three week break back home in Ireland for Christmas, it was time to hit the road for part two of my travels. I really enjoyed my time in Dublin - it was great seeing everyone and spending Christmas day with the family. I definitely made the right choice. It was weird being back at first but after a week it had felt like I had never left. All my Australian experiences from 2010 seemed like a distant memory and certainly a lot shorter than 12 weeks in retrospect.

This week was very strange - it didn't hit me until Tuesday that I was actually going again. With two days to go I had nothing organised. But by Thursday everything got sorted and I was on my way. I wasn't as sad leaving this time - it's not as scary travelling for the second time, especially when I've now got a travelling buddy to go with for the Asian part. I mentioned this last year but I met my travel buddy Carly through a friend of a friend in Sydney very much by chance in Wagamamas Japanese restaurant. We clicked instantly and the rest is history. We have a similar sense of humour and want to do exactly the same things so it has worked out perfectly. Here's a brief update on the itinary for part two before I get started:

  • 8 Weeks in South East Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and possibly Hong Kong/Maccau)
  • 1 Week in Sydney
  • 3 Weeks in New Zealand
  • 2 Weeks in Fiji
  • 1 Week in LA/San Diego

Thursday was a very long day - I left for the airport at 3pm, flew out at 6.30pm (after an hour delay), landed in London and then flew to Bangkok at 9.30pm. The flights were grand. Mr. Sleeping Tablets came in handy yet again and knocked me out for 6 of the 11 hour flight. I arrived into Bangkok finally at 3.30pm the following day local time i.e. 8.30am Irish time. Thrilled to be there, my good form was soon lost as I discovered my baggage had been left behind in London. The annoyance! I haven't had this in years and it really is a pain in the arse. After doing the whole baggage reporting routine, I got myself a cab and headed for the hotel.

I forgot how bad the traffic was in this city (I had been to Thailand in 2009 for 2 weeks). It takes literally ages to get anywhere by car. A word of advice for anyone - get the MRT underground or Sky Train as much as you can! However I also forgot how cheap it actually was - an hour long journey cost just ten Euro. Love it! A trip to 7 Eleven shortly after cost me just 2.70 Euro (roughly) for 2 large bottles of water, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, a yoghurt, tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush. You can't go wrong... The hotels we're staying in are all going to be pretty much 3 star. At 14 Euro per night why not? However judging by the first one, I think it's more 2 star in terms of Western standards. I would call it pleasent plus - room are grand and clean with aircon. TV was dodgy, safe and room key weren't working initially and the pool is broken for the next month. Oh well, it beats a hostel anyday.

Carly arrived a couple hours after me looking like death warmed up - she decided to save a few quid (literally) and took the option of 3 seperate stops from Sydney. What should have been a straightforward 9 hours ended up being 24. Live and learn Carly! That evening we settled in and went for dinner down the road catching up on the past 3 weeks. An early night was in order. Saturday morning and we both woke up in great form. First day of the holiday - thrilled! A quick breakfast and off to sightsee. Only it turned out it was student day (i.e. all general attractions were free for them). Rather than facing thousands of Thai students and Qs we headed to the local shopping mall. I got myself kitted out with a new t-shirt and shorts (essential in this weather) and treated ourselves to a fish spa - very tickly, we were both laughing uncontrollably at the start with a lot of people staring at us like freaks. Oh well. The feet felt great after. We then got some lunch and randomly, went bowling where we both were completely awful - I'm blaming the jet lag. Apparently it's what you do in Asia on your first day!

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Getting back to the hotel my luggage had still not arrived - not happy! I was starting to get a bit worried but there was nothing I could do that evening as the airport helpline had shut and I had already spoken to them that day. Like me, Carly loves a good powernap before a night out so that evening after a two hours sleep we were ready to hit the nightlife. We met up with Dan one of my mates who was on the last night of his holiday along with his brother which resulted in a very long night of drinking and karaoke. I only signed myself up for two songs but the Thai people don't mind sharing one of their two microphones (I think) so I barely stopped. 2.30am and it was time for a drunken McDonalds and good oul Tuk Tuk home to bed.

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Sunday was quite productive all things considered - we took in an Asian Modern Art Gallery...

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...walked around Chinatown and went to visit one of the Temples. I'll probably be sick to death of them by week 8 but for now I can't get enough. It's very surreal walking around the markets and taking it all in, I just love the whole Asian-ness of it (is it PC to say that?). My luggage finally arrived that night and all was where it was meant to be thank god. I felt like I hadn't seen my bag in over a week and I was so fed up of only having two things to wear and no toiletries. We had planned to go to Cambodia the following morning but were knackered so decided to extend our stay in Bangkok by a day. The joys of having a flexible travelling plan - it's the first time ever I've ever had the luxury of this.

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Today we're having a relatively lazy day as tomorrow we head to Cambodia - the first of four border crossings over the next two months. I've read many horror stories so it'll be interesting to see how exagerated or bad it is! Next blog update at the end of the week.

Some Observations (Look away now if you're the sensitive type)
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Asians as we know will eat most things. From chicken's feet to pigs faces, it's all readily available.

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Tuk Tuks are great fun - but if they offer a great price don't get on. You'll be taken to 50 jewellery and diamond stores en route. Not loving it!

The local beggers love milking any misfortune they have - one old man missing a leg was only too happy to roll around on a skateboard highlighting his condition. I really should have gotten a picture...

Dirty old Western men are EVERYWHERE. Especially in our hotel. Last night we were woken up at 4am by some Thai prostitute screaming at an old man who just kept apologising. Maybe he couldn't perform??? Anyway, RUDE.

On a final note, a lot of English signs are getting 'lost in translation'. Here's just one example:

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Posted by mattld 21:56 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

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