A Travellerspoint blog

On to Vietnam...

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Dalat and a couple more night buses.

sunny

22/01/2016 - We boarded our bus to Vietnam at around 8am. Having been on buses that were definitely for the more budget conscious traveller we decided to treat ourselves to a trip with supposedly the best bus company in Cambodia for our trip across the border. Sadly GiantIbis were a bit of a disappointment. As far as we could make out the only perks of travelling with them were the free breakfast pastries (which were actually quite good!?) and the bus attendant who was in denial over the fact that he wasn't an air steward. The journey took about 9 hours, instead of 7, as we got stuck in rush hour traffic which pretty much set the tone for most of our time in Vietnam's cities. From the bus station to the hostel we got a taxi, the driver seriously overcharged us which in our sleepy confused state we didn't figure out until we were in the hostel. Fleur also left her card in an atm, luckily she realised straight away and we went back. The bank staff were able to open up the cash machine as it had sucked it back in and return her card. After all the drama of the day we ended up eating dinner at the first clean looking place we came across. Only once we'd sat down did we realise that 90% of the menu involved creatures that lived in shells. So in true adventurous spirit we went for prawns and beef. In our defence the prawns did come with heads and all other bits still attached!

WP_20160122_08_22_20_Pro.jpg

23/01/2016 - We went down to breakfast in the hostel and had a very close encounter with a giant cockroach. It started off in the corner of the room but as it came closer and crawled under the breakfast table all four of us girls leapt up off our chairs and out of the way. The lady from the hostel came to our rescue and picked up the cockroach using a tea towel. Now come to think of it, I really hope that it went straight in the wash afterwards.
Although deep down I think we all know that it didn't.

We spent most of the day in the War Remnants Museum. It was an eye opening, and emotional visit to say the least. Having been relatively naive to the specifics of the Vietnam War, I was unprepared for what was to come. The museum had some general exhibits on the war which despite being very one sided were interesting and disturbing too. The exhibitions that really had an effect on the both of us where the ones on the use of Agent Orange in the war. Agent Orange was a chemical used by the Americans to destroy the jungle so that the Vietnamese soldiers would have no where to hide. The chemical was highly poisonous and not only had horrific effects on the Vietnamese people at the time but also continues to on their children and grandchildren. The effects ranged from skin disorders to severe disfigurement to psychological developmental issues. The exhibition moved me to tears and really made me despair at what humans can do to one another in the name of war.
DSC_0175_1.jpg

24/01/2016 - We had a bit of a lie in and wandered into town after breakfast. On the way in we were stopped by a group of young girls asking if we would mind chatting to them for a bit as a way to improve their English. There were about 10 of them and we spent close to an hour talking about our families, travel, education, work and Vietnam and England. They were so lovely and their English was much better than they thought it was. Sadly even though some of them were keen to travel, the cost made it an unlikely option for them. It emphasised how lucky we are in our ability to travel relatively easily and how we often take it for granted. We said goodbye to the girls, not before taking some group pictures of course and then carried on to do some sight seeing.

WP_20160124_11_35_20_Pro.jpg

We walked around the market, Fleur saw a rat!? We walked round the city and saw the Opera House, City Hall, the Cathedral, Reunification Palace and the Jade Pagoda. Popping into shops and escaping the heat any way we could in between. After all that walking we went for bahn mi sandwiches for dinner, which were amazing and then pancakes for dessert. We then went to the bus station to wait for our sleeper bus to Dalat. This sleeper bus was better than the last, we had individual reclining seats/beds. Similar in style to horizontal airplane seats, annoyingly Fleur and I were too far away from each other to talk during the journey. The journey seemed to be going ok until about 30 minutes in the driver seemed to take a wrong turning and had to reverse out of the dead end. When he carried on reversing as we joined the motorway that's when it started to get really terrifying. We reversed in total for about 10 minutes until we could finally get into the right lane. Luckily we survived and I even managed to sleep most of the way to Dalat despite the earlier trauma and a seriously bumpy road.
DSC_0185_1.jpg 90_DSC_0204_1.jpgDSC_0213_1.jpg

25/01/2016 - We arrived in Dalat at 5am and headed straight to our hostel, expecting to have to camp out in the foyer until a more sensible time but they were so lovely and had arranged a room so we could have a nap and a shower before we checked into our own room later on. They even gave us a free breakfast, we had a baguette with peanut butter and banana which was a nice reminder of home and was so tasty. The day was spent wandering around the town which was a little chillier than we were used to but it made a refreshing change. The town was a lot calmer than Saigon, again a nice change and just quite pretty. We walked to a bakery and picked up some local delicacies for later then wandered around the market before heading to the lake. We walked all around the lake, the water and the greenery making us instantly relax. The lake was reminiscent of a European lake, especially as some of the buildings were very similar in style to chalets. We stopped on the banks of the lake and had our snacks in the sunshine. We walked through some pretty gardens too and visited the crazy house, a marvel of concrete and imagination, then headed back to the hostel. It was a beautifully relaxed day, which is just what we were craving. In the evening we had a communal meal with all the other guests at the hostel. The homemade food was really good as was the homemade rice wine that we were all given shots of. The staff were all so sweet, warm and friendly. It was a lovely way to end a really good day.
DSC_0238_1.jpg90_DSC_0247_1.jpg

26/01/2016 - We had a bit of a lie in and then went into town for a while. Again we picked up snacks for our upcoming journey from the bakery and strawberries (a local specialty) from the market before heading to the bus station for our longest journey yet. We had two bus journeys (4 hours and 11 hours) split by a break of a couple of hours. The first journey was relatively painless and we passed some beautiful mountainous scenery on the way. Our break was in Nha Trang, a beach town. We went down to the beach and saw some of the biggest waves I've ever seen. We then had dinner at Lanterns, an organisation that supports orphanages and provides scholarships for children. We had a really delicious meal, our best so far in Vietnam. We then headed to get on our next bus. This time we had two of the five seats at the back, possibly the strangest seats on the bus. We managed to watch quite a bit of stuff on the Kindle and then sleep through the remaining time.
DSC_0284_1.jpgDSC_0298.jpgDSC_0300_1.jpg

Posted by AnitaBhogal 07:34 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Cambodia's capital

17/1/16 On the Sunday we waved goodbye to the beautiful coastline, travelling inland to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. We were a little anxious as we’d read quite a bit about bag snatching and scamming tuk tuk drivers but actually we found a good one who dropped us at our guesthouse without giving us the hard sell. The bigger challenge was climbing the 12 flights of stairs to our room - don't feel too sorry for us though, one of the hotel staff sprinted ahead of us with both our rucksacks on!

18/1/16 On the Monday we spent the day getting to know the city. We saw some impressive temples, the national museum and the independence monument (modeled on the temples of Angkor Wat). We even had time to explore some great fair trade boutiques.

WP_20160118_10_44_13_Pro.jpg WP_20160118_12_40_38_Pro.jpg

After a refreshing coconut break in the park (much needed in that heat) we took ourselves over to the Palace. As the King resides there we weren't allowed in too many of the buildings, but they were still pretty spectacular from the outside. There were two courtyards, filled with various different ornate staterooms and temples and rooms to accommodate various gifts given to the family over the years. For dinner we headed over to the backpacker side of town and had some amazingly cheap and delicious dosas in a tiny Indian restaurant.

WP_20160118_14_16_31_Pro.jpg WP_20160118_14_25_32_Pro.jpg WP_20160118_14_56_48_Pro.jpg

19/1/16 - Tuesday was an emotionally challenging day, when we visited two sites that had played a huge part in Cambodia’s devastating genocide. The first was the killing fields of Choeung Ek, about 40 mins out of the city. Here we heard how around 20,000 of Cambodia’s citizens, including intellectuals, officers, farmers, pregnant women and children, were brutally murdered and buried in mass graves from 1975-79. It was harrowing to hear and see - the pits were so clearly identified in the field and many of the clothes and rags are still surfacing. A huge stupa has been constructed at the centre of the site as a memorial to the victims. It displays more than 8,000 skulls, over 17 levels, identifying how each was killed. It was a very difficult trip but one we could not have left Cambodia without doing.

WP_20160119_11_54_37_Pro.jpg

In the afternoon we headed back into the city to Tuol Sleng Museum. Before 1975 this site was a small high school in the city, however this all changed when the Khmer Rouge came to power and turned it into a high security prison. Which in reality meant the largest centre of detention and torture in the country. Much of the site has been left as it was found and the audio guide was narrated by some of the (very few) survivors and witnesses. Another difficult trip and one which left us wondering again how on earth these atrocities had happened.

20/1/16 Our penultimate day in Cambodia called for some retail therapy! Phnom Penh is famous for its many markets so we took some time to explore a few - testing out our haggling skills on some souvenirs. We also saw a few more of the city’s statues and finished off the day with some delicious local specialities, including mango sticky rice.

WP_20160120_12_06_44_Pro.jpg WP_20160120_13_12_08_Pro.jpg WP_20160120_17_06_12_Pro.jpg

21/1/16 Our final day in Cambodia was quite possibly one of the best. We had decided to extend our stay by a day (to ensure we didn't overrun our visa in Vietnam) and to avoid having another day kicking around the city (and buying souvenirs we didn't have room to carry) we decided to get back to nature. Having read some rave reviews online we booked a VIP trip to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary. Previously government owned this amazing park is now run by a charity that focuses on saving animals from illegal and abusive owners and setting up shelters for them with sustainable breeding programmes and,where possible, releasing them back into the wild.

We had two fantastic guides, Emma and Chun, who accompanied us for the whole day showing us around and telling us some incredible stories of each of the animals in turn. We started off meeting Lucky the elephant, out for her daily walk. We were then each allowed to get up close, pet her and feed her a mid-morning snack (amazing fruits that we’d picked up from the market that morning). It was an experience we will never forget,being so close to such a beautiful and intelligent animal - she definitely melted our hearts.

IMG-20160127-WA0003.jpg 270_IMG_6958.jpg

After that we went on to meet another elephant with a prosthetic leg and watched how the keeper used positive reinforcement training to change over to a new leg (a twice a day task). We then got to see tigers, wild monkeys and sun bears before settling down for a delicious Cambodian lunch.

IMG-20160127-WA0004.jpg

In the afternoon the excitement continued with otters, leopards, a gibbon (who loved to have her foot stroked!) and a monkey who was using rescue remedy to calm his anxieties, caused by his previous abusive owners.

The final stop of the day was the nursery - and right up there with Lucky, on unforgettable moments. We met a very tiny leopard cat and a monkey, who were so gorgeous but too small for us to handle. We then headed into the teenage monkey enclosure where we spent an amazing half an hour petting and feeding them. They were so much fun - so so cheeky, cute and entertaining and such a brilliant way to end the day.

IMG_7026.jpg IMG-20160127-WA0001.jpg 90_IMG_7083.jpg

On the recommendation of Emma our guide, we went a little non-Cambodian for our dinner choice and feasted on some delicious pizza!

WP_20160121_17_37_24_Pro.jpg

Posted by Floglet 08:12 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia's coast

sunny 33 °C

11/01/2016 - At around midnight we had possibly the oddest experience of our travels to date, the overnight sleeper bus. Our bus was roughly the size of a double decker bus, with the bottom half reserved for luggage whilst the top was split into about 10 2 people sleeping pod type things. You had to clamber up into the pod which had a small double mattress, some pillows and a sheet. It was snug to say the least, you couldn't even sit up comfortably, it was horizontal or nothing really but it was our home for the next 6 hours until we changed busses for the next leg of our journey. Speeding down bumpy roads whilst horizontal is all kinds of strange.
IMG_6770.jpg

12/01/2016 - We finally arrived in Sihanoukville at our hotel at midday and after a quick freshen up went to independence beach, the closest beach to our hotel and one of the quieter ones in the town. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach, the water was really warm and lovely to swim in. We watched the beautiful sunset and finally dragged our sleep deprived (the sleeper bus, despite it's name wasn't the easiest to sleep on ironically) slightly sun drunk selves back to the hotel for some dinner.
DSC_0894.jpg

13/01/2016 - We had a really relaxed morning before getting the fast ferry over to Koh Rong, a small island off the coast of Cambodia. The ferry dropped us off on the beach and as we were only there for 4 hours we didn't venture inland away from the main beach. It was a beautiful beach but was ruined a little by the slightly tacky beach bars blearing loud music and the hoards of backpackers, most of whom seemed a little stoned. Yes, we possibly are a little old before our time!? The journey back from the island was a little horrific. It was so rough and hot and sticky...half the passengers were keeled over with looking fragile. The rest of the evening was a bit of a right off after that.
DSC_0909.jpg

14/01/2016 - We went for a really delicious late breakfast at The Starfish Project cafe. The project supports sustainable development projects, working in particular with disabled members of the community who they also employ to staff their cafe. In the afternoon we made the journey along to Kampot. Our guesthouse, Bohemiaz, was a little way out of the town in a more rural setting. The guesthouse was a bit more 'back to nature' than we were expecting...we were greeted by a rather large cricket waiting for us in our room. Luckily Fleur totally manned up and ushered him out of the room as I hid in a corner. The door didn't quite fit the frame and so to stop anything worse getting in overnight we gaffer taped it shut, which pretty much did the trick. It didn't stop the lizards though, which I think came in through the roof which was also a bit gappy.
90_DSC_0943.jpg

2016 - We had breakfast at the guesthouse and then went to Bokor National Park for the morning. In the mountains we saw the Stunningly eerie derelict remains of the French station, church and hotel that were abandoned in the 1970s when the Khmer Rouge forces took over the area. We also went to Popokvil Waterfalls, which from pictures looked beautiful but was really disappointingly completely dry when we went.
DSC_0970.jpg DSC_0963.jpg

In the afternoon we went to the town, had a really tasty lunch at Epic Arts Cafe who employ and support local deaf and disabled people and then explored the riverside town a bit. In the evening we went for a river cruise along the Kampong Bay River and saw another stunning sunset as well as some beautiful scenery. The highlight though was seeing real live fireflies for the first time. It was the most amazing thing to witness...they looked like fairy lights lighting up the trees and long grass as they twinkled away. It was an incredible, unbelievable sight and one I'll never forget.
DSC_1019.jpg

16/01/2016 - For our last day along the coast we made the 50 minute journey by tuk tuk to Kep. We checked in early into our next guesthouse, Oasis, put on our swimming costumes and headed over to Rabbit island by boat. The island was stunning and unlike Koh Rong, peaceful and relatively unspoilt with only a few beach bars and restaurants. We swam in the lovely warm and deceptively shallow waters and then lay in the glorious sunshine, it was idyllic. We had an amazing chilled out afternoon.Once back on the mainland we wondered halfway to town before giving up due to the heat, luckily we did though as we both ended up a little burnt. We had a cocktails and dinner back at the guesthouse which ended a pretty perfect day.
DSC_1037.jpgDSC_1035.jpg

Posted by AnitaBhogal 08:04 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

(Entries 10 - 12 of 15) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 »