Thursday, 10 February 2011

PostHeaderIcon Photos: Vietnam, Cambodia & Bangkok, January 2011

Some photos from a trip through Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangkok in Jan 2011.

Whilst away I used an iPhone app that tracked the tour using the inbuilt GPS and uploaded them linked to a Google map, you can see it here - - also see the map at the bottom of this post. So rather than do a write-up for this trip, I'm just going to reproduce those TmT blog entries instead, albeit with the numerous corrections that are inevitable when you write on an iPhone.

Sunday 9 Jan 2011 14:03

Finally made it to Hanoi, after the plane broke and had to do an emergency landing back in Bangkok! But two tries and four breakfasts later I made it. The weather is pretty chilly and overcast, not what I was expecting. I only brought one piece of cold weather clothing with me. My hotel for the next two days is in the old part of town, not the most salubrious of locations but hell of a lot of atmosphere. Think the smallest dirtiest streets you can imagine and then add 10,000 scooters with no lane control or give way rules. It was complete chaos out there, I've had to retire back to the hotel to sample their beer. Even after four breakfasts (don't ask!) I'm starving and can't wait to eat, I resorted to buying cut pineapple off a lady in the street, look out for the shits now I dare say.

Monday 10 Jan 2011 10:49

An early start today doing a bit of a tour of Hanoi, wasn't easy getting up after a night on Larue beer. We were fortunate to find a bar showing the Man Utd v Liverpool match live and so a quick beer turned into a little bit of a session. This morning we got on a bus to do our 'walking' tour if Hanoi! Went to see the prison museum, Ho Chi Minh's tomb and house, the One Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature (picture). The tour was over by 1130 so I don't know why we left so early. In the afternoon we had free time to kill before catching the overnight train to Hue so after lunch we went to see the Water Puppet show, a bizarre experience of puppeteers standing up to their waist in water with the puppet controls being sticks hidden under the water rather than strings from above. I struggled to stay awake in the theatre but parts of the show were actually entertaining, just couldn't understand a word of it. Am currently killing time before the train so surprise, surprise it's beer o'clock!

Tuesday 11 Jan 2011 9:10

Arrived in Hue after an overnighter on a sleeper train from Hanoi. The train was very basic but not as bad as others I've been on. There was a bit of hassle when we boarded as a couple of locals had commandeered our cabin and where refusing to budge. They eventually got turfed out by our guide but only after they'd stunk the place out smoking. One of them did sneak back in during the night to use an empty bunk, fortunately for him he didn't light up as there would have been warfare. He'd gone by the morning, I think my snoring probably has some advantages. The journey was made more manageable once we'd found the catering carriage, I think it was more of a canteen for the train staff than anything else but the lady was happy to serve us cheap beers before throwing us out at 1015. Just off now for a motorbike tour of Hue.

Tuesday 11 Jan 2011 12:21

Did a motor bike tour around Hue today. I started off wondering if I'd be OK in just a T-shirt but fortunately at the last second nipped back for an extra layer as by the end of the tour it got very cold and wet. The tour did the typical things you expect from these things, local crafts, a temple, war relics, village life etc. We weren't able to ride ourselves but had to sit on the back with a driver, probably for the best as the roads are nuts with bikes just weaving in and out anywhere in any direction, crossroads have to be seen to be believed. Right now it's overcast, grey and raining, not what I expected. Should brighten up somewhat as we head further south in a couple of days.

Thursday 13 Jan 2011 5:04

This morning was taken up with a boat trip down the river to see Tu Dam Pagoda, a Buddhist temple. Rather bizarrely one of the exhibits was a 1950's car owned by a monk who burnt himself to death in the courtyard in protest over the tyrannical administration. We went in a Dragon Boat, basically a loudly painted conservatory/gift shop/family home with a keel and engine. Had the weather been good it might have been a pleasant trip but I'm sure we'd have had more fun and it would have been quicker had we taken a motorcycle taxi. After lunch we caught a 'local' bus to Hoi An. I had visions of it being a rickety old thing with peasants carrying pigs and chickens but what actually turned up was a plush coach not with seats but with three rows of double-decker reclining bunks! Most unusual but comfy nevertheless, though they would have been more comfy had they not been built, like everything else around here, for a person somewhat smaller than your average westerner. It was a 4 hour journey through small towns and the countryside with mountains on one side and the sea the other. Almost all of country was rice paddy fields being farmed by the locals. Once again, had it not been grey and raining I'm sure it would have been very picturesque. After arriving at Hoi An we went for food and had an all-you-can-eat type of meal where you had to make your own fresh spring rolls. We then went out for some drinks which turned into a very late night and it took us ages to find the way back to our hotel.

Thursday 13 Jan 2011 13:23

Woke up with a hangover, never a good sign. Had a bit of a session last night around the bars of Hoi An, like everything else booze here is dirt cheap, just had a flash back of dancing on a pool table, must have been a good night. Got chucked out of the bar around 2 and the 5 minute walk home must have taken an hour, we were completely lost. We eventually found it as someone managed to pick up the hotels wifi signal so we knew we were close! Hoi An is a really nice place, the old part of town is very touristy but quiet nice, full of bars, restaurants, gift shops and tailors which it appears to be well known for. The temperature is picking up now we're further south, finally shorts and T-shirts weather. Am doing a Vietnamese cooking class tonight, should be fun. So far everything I've eaten has been gorgeous, looking forward to cooking it myself.

Thursday 13 Jan 2011 22:18

Was a quiet day after last nights blow out, but I did succumb to a beer or two. They have places that sell what they call 'fresh beer' that's basically a home brew made on the day and when the barrel is gone its gone. The beer is just as good as any other draft beer and at ten pence a glass it'd be criminal not to indulge in a few. Had a Vietnamese cooking lesson this evening, we did grilled fish in banana leaf, vegetable spring rolls, fried wonton and chicken salad. It was all very lush. We didn't actually get to do to much cooking as each dish was a bit of a group effort but I picked up a couple of handy hints that I'll defo by using at home. I can't help thinking though that it is just a scam by the restaurants to get you to do your own cooking and charge twice as much for it (£6 instead of £3 so you can't really complain.)

Saturday 15 Jan 2011 9:11

A room with a view, not! Am in Nha Trang, a trashy, sleazy beach resort catering to the whims of Western travellers, whatever they may be. Was a nine hour train journey to get here but at least we're heading in the right direction, it's getting warmer now, I'll be taking a dip in the sea later! The scenery en-route was quite nice to look at, basically just more paddy fields and mountains but at least the sun was shining this time. Before leaving Hoi An yesterday we did a bike tour around the local countryside, was quite interesting.

Saturday 15 Jan 2011 11:03

Went for a boat trip to the islands off Nha Trang to do a bit of snorkelling. The weather wasn't great again and I cramped my leg soon after jumping in and swimming against a strong current so all in all it wasn't a very successful trip. After mooring up somewhere quieter for lunch we decided to call it a day and head home early.

Sunday 16 Jan 2011 16:56

Still in Nha Trang but getting ready for the night train to Saigon. Went to a pub last night where it was 2 for 1 cocktails, it seams to always be happy hour! Needless to say a lot were drank and they just kept coming. I certainly felt the worse for it today. At some point I must have thrown up as I've had that sicky smell in my nose all day long. The night wasn't without it's mishaps, a few got all their money stolen and one stumbled off his motorbike taxi, banged his head on the floor and gashed his forehead nastily. It required a hospital visit for stitches and a CT scan! To help recover from our hangovers we went to a mud bath and hot springs, it definitely helped the recovery process however I feel really drowsy now, hopefully it should help me sleep on the train.

Monday 17 Jan 2011 12:03

After arriving in Saigon (officially Ho Chi Minh City but the locals still call it Saigon) on the overnight sleeper train, in which I slept surprisingly well, a positive after effect of a night on the raz, we couldn't hang around too long as we decided on a trip to see the Mekong Delta which was a good couple of hours drive away. So after stopping for some Pho (noodle soup) for breakfast off we set. The trip around the delta was surprisingly short and I didn't see everything I expected us to but it was still well worth it. The tour was by boat around Vinh Long, essentially an island in the river system. It started on a large barge type boat before we reached an island and we transferred into small 3-4 man canoes to navigate the small waterways through the island. It was then back on the barge for a cruise across the river to lunch. The food was very good but being mainly fishy stuff I didn't eat a great deal. They did however have a slow roasted pork dish that was divine, it was so sweet I think it had been roasted in a sauce heavy laden with the local sugar cane. Then back on the boat where we went to sample some local fruits and finally to a place were they made sweets from coconut and sweet rice cakes. The process for popping the rice was interesting, it's a bit like popcorn but done in a massive sand filled wok type cauldron, I might try it (on a smaller scale) when I get home.

Monday 17 Jan 2011 22:34

Went out for food this evening to one of the street cafes by the city market. These cafes are not there during the day but spring up after dark when the indoor market closes and more touristy stalls open up outside. They are generally complete chaos with no apparent order at all. The dishes come in no particular order as and when they're ready. My main course didn't arrive until everyone else had finished theirs which was a bit worrying but when it did eventually arrive it was will worth the wait, some of the nicest food I've tasted. I had a simple fried rice with beef, but the beef was some if the most tender and flavoursome I've had in a while. I think they rushed the dish to me after complaining and the beef was still a bit rare, just the way I like it. Some people on another table ordered fried goats nipple and they couldn't eat it so passed it over. It was very chewy, I had to spit it out! People weren't up to doing much after food, I think they're saving themselves for tomorrow when its the last night the whole group will together, and so we headed back to the hotel via a dodgy DVD store. I'd have happily stayed out for a few drinks but instead decided to check out the hotel restaurant which is a revolving one on the top floor. I was disappointed that only one other stopped for a drink with me but we do have an early start in the morning.

Tuesday 18 Jan 2011 9:39

This morning we visited the Cu Chi Tunnel complex a couple of hours outside of Saigon, it's an area of preserved tunnels that was used as a base for the Zone Party Committee and the High Command of Sai Gon during the Vietnam war. The tour started with a video introduction with (supposed) archive footage of battles in the area. I think it was as much propaganda as it was history. One part of the video extolled the greatness of certain individuals who were now recognised as war heroes for killing many Americans, at this point a couple of people got up and left - patriotic American tourists I presume! The tour continued around a number of exhibits showing life in the tunnels and one particular gruesome exhibit showing the home made traps used in the jungle, it was quite depressing and horrific. We then got to shoot rifles, they had an array of weapons from AK-47's right up to M60's. Unfortunately they were all secured down now after a Korean tourist turned one on himself and blew his brains out! The tour ended with a crawl through part of the tunnels, more a gimmick than anything else. These tunnels had been cemented and widened to fit the more ample Western frame but were still a little claustrophobic.

Tuesday 18 Jan 2011 23:57

Spent the afternoon looking around Saigon, saw all the usual sites and visited the war museum which was a very sobering experience. Outside is filled with US tanks and planes etc but inside is mainly just photo exhibits showing the effects of the war. There's a section on the effect Agent Orange had with some rather harrowing pictures of deformed children. There's another section showing the atrocities and torture carried out by US troops against the Vietnamese in very graphic detail, GIs holding up decapitated heads, people being tied to and dragged behind tanks until they died etc. I came out of there feeling very depressed. In the evening we went for our final meal as the whole group, only half of us are continuing to Cambodia tomorrow. We went to a very nice restaurant were the food was excellent but still not as tasty as some of the more traditional local food we'd ate. Afterwards we went to Fanny's for ice cream. Not a late night as people had early departures in the morning.

Wednesday 19 Jan 2011 16:18

Arrived at our hotel in Phnom Penh after a long and tiring journey from Saigon. My first impressions are a bit mixed, food and beer is 2-3 times the price it was in Vietnam, the country is clearly a lot poorer and so has less infrastructure etc but the people seem nice enough and that's what I usually rate a country on. One striking difference is just how fewer people there are around. In Vietnam you'd see people working in all the paddy fields, here very few. It is however a lot hotter and sunnier which could account for that. It is also a country with 5 times less population. A whole new set of beers to try now, my first impressions are that Cambodian beer (Angkor) is much nicer than the Vietnamese stuff. Food doesn't seem as good but I've only ate in a road side cafe so far when the bus stopped for lunch.

Thursday 20 Jan 2011 17:43

Went to the S-21 Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields today. S-21 is a school that the Pol Pot regime converted into a prison for the purposes of torture, after continued torture for up to a few months at a time prisoners were loaded onto trucks during the night and told they were being transported to labour camps. In fact they were transported to the killing fields where they were immediately, brutally killed and dumped into mass graves. It was an extremely sobering morning and I don't think anyone came away with dry eyes, especially after one of the three remaining prisoners still alive today told us about the abuses he was subjected to, it was all very moving. We returned to the city for lunch and to lift spirits we went to the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) for cocktails whilst we waited the Royal Palace to open. Afterwards we got a Cyclo (a peddled tricycle with a seat at the front for the passenger) tour of Phnom Penh back to the hotel.

Thursday 20 Jan 2011 23:04

Last night in Phnom Penh was a frustrating one, basically due to the complete lack of service you get in almost any bar or restaurant. We started off with drinks in the FCC which took about 45 minutes to receive, so deciding not to eat there we had dinner in a restaurant across the road which even for the standard I've come to expect was really taking the piss. In Vietnam and even more so in Cambodia there doesn't appear to be any understanding in the kitchen of when food should come out. Every dish arrives as and when it's ready, so some people have finished before other's food arrives. Even though menus have separate sections for starter and main, dishes will come out in any order and more often than not the starter will come afterwards. If you were to order your dessert at the same time as your main you're going to he running a bit of a risk I'd say. Paying for bills is a nightmare too. They just don't have any kind of system for passing on your order to the person who takes your money, you have to repeat your order all over again and after you've paid will they only then compare it to the original order! And on top of all that the restaurant tried to short change us; should have stayed at the FCC.

Friday 21 Jan 2011 9:22

Stopped for a snack at Spider Village on the way to Siem Reap, the local delicacy is fried tarantula spider, as well as fried crickets and lemon grass stuffed frogs. The spider wasn't too bad, tasted a bit like spiced fried chicken skin.

Friday 21 Jan 2011 15:16

Arrived at hotel in Siem Reap, am relaxing in the roof top bar before heading out to the temples for sunset. Happy days.

Friday 21 Jan 2011 17:32

We went to see the sunset from the top of a mountain temple, it was like termites on a mound! The number of people up there was ridiculous, made the whole event pointless. I estimated at least 100 coach loads, most of which were Japanese, Chinese and Korean - not always the politest of tourists. I decided to leave before sunset just to avoid the rush, wasn't much of one anyway. Afterwards we had cocktails in the hotel bar before going to a roadside BBQ restaurant for dinner. The food was excellent and very good value. A young boy came around and begged for our leftover food, we ended up buying an additional meal just to give to the street kids.

Saturday 22 Jan 2011 5:31

Got up at 5AM to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Am knackered and my bowls aren't good this morning, time to crack open the Imodiums!

Saturday 22 Jan 2011 11:05

Went to see the Angkor temples today, Angkor Thom, the Jungle Temple (i.e. the Tomb Raider temple) and Angkor Wat itself. The first two were good but to be honest I wasn't impressed with Ankgor Wat, it doesn't quite live up to the hype.

Sunday 23 Jan 2011 16:31

This morning went to the Angkor Museum, was very good, had a lot of well preserved artefacts from the temples. Did get a bit monotonous towards the end though, all a bit same same but different as they're fond of saying around here. Late afternoon we visited a floating village on the lake. There are entire villages that live in floating house boats that move around depending on the water level. They have everything on floating platforms from houses to hospitals to tennis courts. The money spinner for the beggar community in these villages seams to be little kids with big snakes wrapped around them going from tourist boat to tourist boat asking for, like everything else, "one dollar" for a photo. During the boat journey I was surprised when the deck hand, a boy of about 7 years old, came up behind me and started hitting me very hard indeed. I soon realised he was giving me a massage and he wouldn't stop until he had his one dollar. For someone so small there was certainly a lot of strength in his hands and arms, it was more like 'I'm going to beat you up until you pay up.' On the way to the floating village we stopped off at an orphanage. Now I'm not one for liking kids but even I have to admit they were adorable. It really struck me that even though these kids had nothing they were the smiliest, happiest kids you could ever meet. They put on a dance show for us which was quite amusing, especially the "monkey dance". The orphanage doesn't have any sponsors and relies completely on donations, so rather than bring back presents for people I've decided to make a donation instead.

Monday 24 Jan 2011 15:54

Arrived at the Bangkok hotel after a long and tiring drive from Siem Reap. The hotel is quite basic but handily situated for all the shops. Just had a look around before getting ready for dinner out. First impressions - hot and dirty.

Tuesday 25 Jan 2011 9:31

Went out for some local food last night, I had a gorgeous Thai red curry. We then went for a drink in a bar that could really have been anywhere in the world and at £5 a beer not the best value, thankfully cocktails were 2 for 1. Woke up a bit groggy this morning. Spent the morning looking around The Grand Palace and Wat Pho with it's 46m long reclining gold Buddha. I'll say one thing about the locals, they do like their Buddha's. Thought I'd do a bit of shopping this afternoon but it turned into a fruitless task. I went to the IT mall and got pissed off with constantly being asked if I wanted porn DVDs. So I went to the aquarium but I wasn't going to pay £20 to get in! So I thought I'd find somewhere nice for a drink but couldn't. Ended up back in my hotel room with a can of Singha beer. Something I found amusing in the IT shopping mall: Two monks, dressed in orange robes with shaved heads and eyebrows etc walked into one of the stores and one pulls his iPhone out from somewhere, plugs it into one of the media speakers on display and starts playing Lady Gaga. Both of them are there nodding their heads and singing along. Weird sight. Last night of the trip this evening so to quote a phrase of Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's "Don't take me home until I'm drunk, very drunk indeed!"

Tuesday 25 Jan 2011 23:08

Well the last night in Bangkok was a bit of a damp squib. We went to the Khoasarn Road area for dinner but afterwards no one was that keen on staying on for a few drinks. To be fair there were a number of people with dicky stomachs and others with early departures in the morning but still, you'd think an effort would be made. Had a couple of beers in the hotel bar before the mosi's got too much for me so had an earlyish night.

Wednesday 26 Jan 2011 12:18

Back at Bangkok airport waiting for my flight home. End of the trip. Has been good, I'd do it all again.

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