Phnom Penh

Luckily we had no problems crossing over the border from Vietnam to Cambodia. Driving through Cambodia to the capital phnom Penh it is obvious that there is a lot more poverty here. The roads are rubble and dusty, there are a lot of shanty houses and not so many tourist hot spots. Arriving into PP a lot later than expected (again) we quickly checked into our hotel and went in search of food (Mexican!). Again we were only staying here 2 nights meaning the following day was our only full day so we were up early ready to explore. We hired a tuktuk for the day and the first stop was one of the many killing fields in Cambodia. There wasn’t overly much to see but the history behind the killing fields was amazing. Its now a very silent peaceful place but only 30/40 years ago this was the site that thousands of innocent Cambodian people were killed on, many for no reason except the communist president at the time (Pol Pot) felt threatened by them as some may have had a good education or job before his reign or just simply for the fact that he was paranoid that they were plotting against him. Whole families lost their lives here from the very young to the very old no one was safe. It was very sad hearing the story of what happened here but well worth the visit to understand Cambodia better. In some ways it’s still trying to pick itself up from the horror of what happened to them all. 20140227-170657.jpg20140227-171232.jpg

After the killing fields the tuktuk driver took us to S21. S21 was a former secondary school but in the time of the communist period the president turned it into a torturous prison where again innocent Cambodians were kept and tortured until they agreed with whatever crimes were being accused against them… After they “confessed” they were sent to the killing fields. Such an unfair way to live. When it was found out what was happening in Cambodia the army came to help but it was too late for many only 7 people were rescued from S21.
It was quite a lot to take in and after our visit to the prison we called in quits and what for food and a lie down! In the evening we met a friend for tea and drinks.
Before catching our bus to Siem Reap we visited the huge local market. It was colourful, loud and very smelly with fish still flapping about half alive and meat being diced and left to dry in the sun. You need a strong stomach to take in the sights and smells of the local market!
As deprived as Cambodia looks the people seem happy, kids are out playing together, neighbours talk to each other, there is a sense of community. These people work long hard days to help develop their lives and country. It’s quite inspiring.

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Ho Chi Minh City

Nha trang to Ho Chi Minh was only meant to be a short(ish) day trip except our bus driver decided to take the reeeeeeally long route. Finally arriving about 9pm (started at 745am!) we tried to check into our hotel but were told they had over booked and we’d have to stay in their sister hotel across the road… It was okay another room without a window and a rattling old air condition system but it had a bed and a boiling hot shower. Since we were only having 2 nights in HCM we knew that the following day we wanted to go on a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels so we were very productive on our first night and booked that and a bus to Cambodia and found a brilliant western restaurant before heading to bed.
On our only full day in the city we went to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. These are intertwining tunnels on 3 levels under the ground running through the city and surrounding areas even going as far as Cambodia. These tunnels were used by the Vietnamese in the war against the Americans to hide themselves and trap the Americans. They’re very tiny tunnels that the smaller Vietnamese people knew by heart. It was a brilliant tour and we even got to go down one of the tunnels that had been widened for us westerners to fit our large frames through!

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After the tunnels we went back into the city and to the war memorial museum which was very much one sided but opened our eyes to the horrors of what the Vietnamese had to go through in the war.
That evening we broke the traveler rule and did something very normal and went to the cinema to see the Lego film… It was brilliant! And strangely enough we weren’t the only westerners in the cinema.
On our final morning we wandered round HCM city stumbling upon some very western shops! HCM was a huge and busy city but rich with history and a place well deserving of a stop.

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Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a popular beach town along the coast of Vietnam. It’s not so popular with backpackers as it is with Russians! We arrived at the ridiculous hour of 630am and obviously couldn’t check in till 2pm!!! Tired and hungry we found food (Heinz baked BEAN on toast, yay to the bean tho) and lay on the beach before formulating a plan to keep us awake till check in. Nha Trang didn’t have a lot to offer except the beach but with it being very cloudy we needed something else to do. So we walked 4km to some famous rocks… That weren’t all that eventful and were so expensive (for looking at rocks) that we went to the cafe next door and saw them from the balcony. We then walked a further couple of km’s to a pagoda built around 781, pretty impressive. Super tired and hungry for lunch we then had to walk the looooong 6km journey back. Luckily we found food on the way and when we finally made it back to the hotel we could check in.
On our second we were up early (couldn’t have slept in anyway as the hotel next door started drilling at 630am!) and made our way to Vinpearl island. Vinpearl island is an amusement park on an island off Nha Trang. It has a water park, a theme park, an arcades room, 4d cinema, dolphin show and a huge aquarium! After befriending a Spanish girl the three of us headed into the park hoping for sunshine. The sunshine didn’t come out but we still had such a good time although we were all absolutely exhausted on the cable car back over to reality land.

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Hoi An

So far Hoi An has been our favourite place (closely followed by Pai). When arriving in cold Vietnam we’d decided that we wouldn’t visit Hoi An as we wanted to get to the warm as quick as we could. However after hearing so many people rave about it we decided we’d stop a night. We left wishing we were staying another night. Hoi An translates to lantern town and at night the whole town is lit up beautifully with handmade silk lanterns. Hoi An looked more developed than other towns we’d been in as there has been a clear effort to make the old town look presentable and it’s paid off. Wandering around the cobbled streets looking into the shops you could loose a couple of hours. There were so many yummy places to eat, colourful fresh fruit and vegetable markets, hand made dress and suit shops (not pushy like Bangkok and at such a reasonable price) and chilled out bars by the river. Before realising how beautiful Hoi An was we did have a disagreement with the bus company we were moving on with the following day as they didn’t have room for us on the bus, which would have meant another day in Hoi An, but as (at the time) we were adamant we were leaving the next day half of our first day was used up sorting that. On our second day we cycled the 4km journey to the beach. There wasn’t a glorious sun filled beach that greeted us but dark skies and huge waves crashing onto the shore line. The sand was blown around us and pelted our legs. It was brilliant. An extreme weather form and we spent ages just watching it (we weren’t the only crazy fools!). After we cycled back and wandered around lovely Hoi An before getting on another sleeper bus to our next destination… Luckily the sleeper bus was so much better than the last, wifi and everything!

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Things we didn’t know about traveling that we do now!

The opportunity we have at the moment is amazing. We get to visit places some people might only ever dream of, we get to experience unbelievable things, taste some amazing (and awful) food, see sights that lots may only ever see in the media, take in and be part of different cultures and not have the daily worries and difficulties we would have working back home.

But as a traveler it is sometimes difficult on the road. We’ve been talking a lot recently about all the things we didn’t realise would arise when on our trip. These home truths were never found on other websites or blogs so for future travellers and others just wanting more of an insight into our travels here’s a short list.

First thing scamming! Everyone is out to get as much as they can out of a tourist, it’s literally ridiculous sometimes. Getting a local bus for a tourist can sometimes be triple what a local will pay. Everything can be negotiated in South East Asia and you’re never sure whether you’ve got a good price or not. In England (and Europe as far as we know) it’s the same price for everyone and set prices all around, as good as haggling can be it’d would be nice for locals to be honest sometimes and just tell you the real price straight off!

Where next?? – this is a question we ask ourselves all the time. On a holiday you’d normally have a week or two to chill out wander around and find out what there is to do. Since we are traveling around and having such a short time in each place we’re constantly thinking about where our next stop is, where will we stay? What is there to do? How do we get there? How much shall we spend? Etc etc The research you need to do can eat into the time you have in one place and we can sometimes feel like we’ve missed out on some things or sometimes it’s just the fact we haven’t been able to chill out and appreciate a place.

Customer service – now this is only based on our experience so far in SEA and it’s not the general rule we’re sure but when entering a restaurant or buying something in a shop there are normally no smiles or welcome greetings like there would be back home. Even on organised trips the guides can sometimes not be very friendly and lack information. For example the Ha Long Bay trip we’ve just been on we checked into our cabin for the night on the boat late afternoon and we’re given no other instructions so as we were ridiculously hungover and cold we slept for a while. After about 30 mins the boat was very quiet and I went out investigate why. I found that the main boat we had been on (not enough bedrooms on there for us so others were placed on a different boat that was attached) had left and we were the only ones left on board the second boat! There have also been times on organised trips and on long bus journeys when the bus has stopped for a 10 minute break and we’ve literally had to run after the bus as it was leaving without us with our luggage and everything still on board. Sometime the most friendliest people we see are the children we met who have been eager to play and show off to us.

The food – food on SEA is very different from back home, lots of rice and noodles. Before leaving home the food was something we couldn’t wait to taste, imagining it to be so tasteful and exotic. The truth is it’s kind of the same a lot of the time… Just rice and noodles with some type of meat or fish thrown in… And in some circumstances who knows what kind of meat or fish it is. Western restaurants aren’t always readily found and when they are it’s still an uncertainty as to what you’re going to get!

Roads – driving in SEA is crazy. Everywhere we’ve been so far has had a ‘beeping system’ and no real lanes. It seems so long as you beep you can go in whatever lane you want as fast as you want. It’s been pretty scary at times.

Hangovers – the Chang beer over here is unregulated meaning that 1 bottle of beer might be 5% the next 12%, you can be hammered after only 3 beers. This makes drinking crazy crazy crazy. And then the hangovers even worse! Being hungover in a place you’re not sure of and knowing you’ve got to make the most of seeing this place can make for the worst hangovers ever!

Friends and family – obviously being away from home is difficult sometimes. We both miss family and friends and home cooked food!! Going out for food every day is amazing but also takes it’s toll and takes away the niceness of it.

However, we are fulfilling a life long dream by traveling and seeing these places and we promise we are trying to make the most of every day (hungover or not). We just wanted to give you all a bit more of a real insight into our experiences.

Cat Ba island

Arriving in the town it was like a ghost town. Hardly anything was open and there was no one about. Low/cold season is clearly not the time to visit Cat Ba island. We checked into our hotel (which boasted two swimming pools with two amazing twirly wirly slides sadly too cold to use) and looked out at the view. We hired a scooter for the day and traveled the 1 road island to see a cave used as a hospital in the war and also the national park. After nearly being eaten by dogs we climbed to the highest point and looked out at the breath taking views. On the evening we finally had showers (yes we were stinking) and had some really good western food.
Being valentines day the following day we had a huge breakfast, chilled and watched the notebook before walking along the coast and then spending the afternoon kayaking and playing on the beach (in the freezing cold still).
We were up early the following morning to start out journey back to Hanoi then onto Hue. 42 people were crammed onto a 16 seater bus to take us back to the boat. Luckily we were able to appreciate the boat journey this time but the food was still rank.
We are now currently on our 26th hour of traveling from Ha Long Bay Hue, very numb bums and hungry tums!

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Ha Long Bay

I’m not good on boats in general but with a horrific hangover it’s not even really worth thinking about. After waking up 20minutes late for our pick up time we stuffed everything we could into our rucksacks and ran downstairs and luckily managed to hop onto our bus heading for the magnificent Ha Long Bay. It wasn’t until we caught our breath that we realised how hanging we were. Looking down we also realised we were both still in clothes we had gone out in and also slept in. The 3 hour bus journey to the harbour in an over crowded bus was literally a nightmare. We then boarded a boat that was to be our home for the night!! The boat was old, cold and untrustworthy. We ate some pretty rank food whilst looking out at the huge lime stone islands that were dotted in the water before disembarking at a cave. We must have looked like the mardiest couple ever not talking to each other, not joining in with others and walking like zombies around the cave. On returning to the boat we were able to check into our tiny cold cabins and sleep for a while. We managed to socialise over another “delicious” meal and retired to bed quickly after tea. Luckily the water is so calm in the bay you don’t realise your on a boat … It would have been a disaster if it was swaying the whole night.
Feeling really disgusting the following morning (boat had no shower! We did finally change our clothes though) all we wanted to do was get off and find out beautiful 4 star hotel we’d treated ourselves to on Cat Ba island. The boat literally dumped us on the island the furthest point away from the town centre. Luckily there was another German couple in the same situation and after haggling with the only local taxi for about an hour we came to a decent price to take us down the only road Cat Ba has to the town.

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Hanoi

Driving from the airport to our hotel you could see a difference between Thailand and Vietnam. Vietnamese houses are tall and really skinny, the fronts are very grand and colourful but then it looks like they’ve forgotten to do the rest. And there are Karaoke bars are everywhere!! Rachel you would love it! We were staying in the old city and after dropping our bags at a lovely hotel we wandered around the streets. It’s a lot like Venice lots of intertwining, small roads. However the roads are full with 100’s of scooters. Crossing the road can be a nightmare. You’ve got to act confident and just walkout the traffic moves around you. On our first day we wandered around, in the freezing cold with no appropriate clothes as we were chasing the sun. We ate good food and booked a tour to see ha long bay (next post). In the evening we went to see a water puppet show. It was brilliant the stage is water and somehow there are puppets moving across the water telling you about the traditional Vietnamese way of life. There is a live orchestra that were very talented although everything was in Vietnamese so it’s a guessing game as to whats going on.
The following day we hit the tourist sites hard visiting the lake, the French prison (great history lesson) and the history museum which is in a beautiful building but holds no beauty inside except lots of stones.

That night we met a friend of Fergal’s for a few drinks (only a few as we had to be up at 7 to catch the bus to ha long bay). We started on 15p beer (yes I drank beer… First and last time) sitting on mini plastic stools on a corner of a busy street. From here neither of us really know what happened all we know is that we ended up back at our hotel about 530am oops.

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Pattaya

Lively, loud, Ladyboys, seedy and ladies of the night are just some of the carefully chosen words we’d use to describe Pattayas walking street (like a Malia or Zante strip… But mixed with Amsterdam). It was definitely an experience staying here… We were checked in by a ladyboy and then on our first night we wandered down to the beach front and the walking street. It was a very silent and shocked walk between Fergal and I, mouths wide open, eyes staring everywhere. It is honestly like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The beach is lined with Palm trees and under each palm tree and between each palm tree is a lady or a group of ladies/girls/ladyboys/gay men just waiting. Then when you make it into walking street they aren’t just in waiting instead they’re grabbing any male they can find trying to drag them into the gogo bar! Walking around Pattaya on our first night I felt like I had to hold Fergals hand as they could smell the fresh meat of a new male! I made the mistake on our second night of not taking hold of his hand after a few drinks down walking street and a palm tree lady grabbed him and told me to jog on home without him!
After the shock of seeing loud, bright Pattaya it was actually quite sad to see that so many girls (old and young) felt they had to make their money this way. We were quite glad to be only spending a couple of nights here.
In the day light the beach looked ermmm glorious, blue sea, yellow sand dotted with lots of rubbish and dirt… This at night turned into a rodent restaurant with mice and rats gorging on whatever they could find left on the beach!
This central part of Pattaya is a big holiday resort for all ages from Eastern Europe, it must be like their Benadorm!
After 2 days of central Pattaya we gladly moved to the northern area to a proper hotel away from the “lively” Pattaya strip. The hotel was gorgeous and we were able to relax and enjoy the sun for a few days. We got a boat over to one of the islands and spent the day playing in the clear blue sea and on the white sands, not a mouse or rat in sight! We ate lots of good food and for the first time in 3 weeks just didn’t do very much. It was needed, being on the go consistently and always moving around, as amazing and lucky as it is, it’s hard not having a sense of place and a few chill days. Don’t get us wrong we know we’re so lucky to have this opportunity instead of slogging away in rainy England.
That’s it for Thailand part 1 we’re off to Vietnam on a Monday!

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Ayutthaya

After a nightmare journey to ayutthaya, the Thai ladies scamming us and putting us on a bus to Bangkok, we arrived late afternoon to a lovely guesthouse. Opposite was a park that we wandered around and for the first time in 17 days heard peace and quiet. In the evening we stumbled across the Chinese celebrations! There were streets full of stalls, food, productions, dancers and many Chinese lanterns.
Early the next morning we hired bikes and navigated the streets of Ayutthaya to find an elephant park. There were 100’s of elephants, the oldest being 90years the youngest 2months. We spent some time feeding and playing with them before cycling off to find some temple ruins. Some of the ruins were brilliant (wat chaiwatthanaram) some were just okay (basically the rest).
In the evening we fought through the throngs of people still celebrating the Chinese New Year to find a recommended western food restaurant, woo!!
We really enjoyed the atmosphere in Ayutthaya and would recommend visiting.

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