A Travellerspoint blog

October 2012

Hoi An to Hue

...Vietnam continued....

So if anyone read the last post, our next journey was the overnight train from Nha Trang to Danang. Now this train was slightly worse then the previous train and no where near as clean. Unfortunately we were not given another complimentary upgrade. We had to walk to the next carriage to find a useable loo and there were a few cockroaches that were enjoying our cabin with us - not too many though, thank goodness!
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Claire, an Australian who was on the Intrepid trip with us had just turned ??...... um anyway it was her birthday so our guide had organised a lovely cake for her and we had a little party. At around midnight, I ( Ken ) went to my top bunk. All was going so well until around 3am when I woke up with a pain I don't ever recall having in my short life so far. It felt as if someone had put a branding iron into my guts, man oh man I knew I was in trouble. I sat bolt upright scrambled off the top bunk,careful not to wake anyone and found my flip flops (very necessary for where I was off to). Running the risk of dirtying my shorts and a dribble down my legs, I sort of walked to the closest toilet. Imagine walking quickly on your tiptoes with a book between your legs? That was me. Oddly enough the state of the toilet didn't bug me anymore. Needless to say, the rest of my night was spent wearing a track on the carpet between our cabin and the dodgy loo. Eventually at around 6h30 everyone started to wake up and I got pills from Lou.

Enough dirty stories, now back to our travels. Once off our train we bussed it to Hoi An. It was very interesting to see all the big resorts being built around Danang. Big golf estates and hotels. All the usual course designers. In a few years this place will be a 5* strip of beach resorts a bit like in Cancun, Mexico. When we got to the hotel we got our room straight away, which was great because Louise was still ill and meant she could climb into bed. Our guide took us on a walking tour of the town and we had lunch at 'Mermaids', the first restaurant in the town. I refrained from eating and had a black Lipton tea. Ok so Hoi An- A UNESCO world heritage site- is a magical old town and it is like stepping back in time or on to a film set, Its simply stunning. We spent the afternoon walking around ancient temples, historical houses and the markets. I managed to get Lou a birthday pressie and myself a hammock. There are hundreds of tailors and shoe shops here and it's quite unbelievable what they can make in a couple of hours.
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Still not feeling on top form, I wandered back to the hotel to check on Lou and have some rest. The evening consisted of me heading into town for a wander and a cuppa tea and Lou staying in bed. I hated the fact that she was sick because she would love this place. After a good night sleep I was up early and we went down to the beach via a few villages on bicycles. About half an hour of body surfing in the rain was a great way to wake up. Lou was feeling better, but not well enough to cycle. When I got back she was AWOL. I found her down the road from the hotel having breakfast with Gordon and Kaye. I must admit, I was so happy to see her up and looking better.The rest of the day was spent being tour guide to Lou and absorbing the charming little town, taking in the sights, sounds and smells together. Wonderful. It's a very overpowering place and easy to fall in love with. So it was full moon and a lantern festival awaited us that evening. On the festival night, streets are decorated with colorful traditional lanterns lighting the whole town while soulful folk and opera music and lyrical poetry chanting wafting from every corner. The centre of town is closed to traffic and all the lights aRE turned off. This is one of a few exotic festivals around the world which does not require a season to visit. It happens on the 14th day of the lunar month.
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Usually on this night, tourists leave their hotels and flood the street walking the peaceful street, lit by hundreds of colorful lanterns, listening to the music floating in the air and enjoying an enchanting moment back in ancient time. For us it wasn't as romantic and dreamy as portrayed. It was wet, overcrowded and the rain basically put a damper on a good night. We walked the street dodging people and dancing dragons until we were soaked through, then we called it a night.

When we woke up I wished Louise a HAPPY BIRTHDAY- The big 30, and I handed her present wrapped in newspaper. She wasn't expecting anything as we had said no pressies this year because of this trip. It was a carved box, with chopsticks inside. We went and had a birthday breakfast upstairs at a restaurant overlooking the river and then found a tailor to get a skirt made for her to wear on her birthday night. It didn't stop there, next was a cobbler to get custom sandals made to go with the skirt. I did say Lou would love this place! We hired some bikes and rode around and then went for coffee and cake at the Cargo Club. Lou spent the rest of the afternoon getting her nails done while I buggered off towards the beach to fish with the locals for about an hour. Caught nothing!
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Then began the rush. Get to the tailor for a fitting of the skirt at 17h00, too big so it needed adjusting. They promised to deliver it to our hotel by 18h30 after I paid for it in full. Racing against the light we headed back to return our bikes (which are only US$1/day) and to pick up Louise's new shoes. She also wanted to get her hair washed and straightened before we met everyone at 19h00 for a group dinner to celebrate the birthday. I showered and got dressed and waited and waited and waited............... Eventually Lou got back at 18h40, frantically did her make up, chucked on her new gear and we went off for dinner. Wow she looked good! Lou got given a lovely bunch of flowers and a cake by the group. It was a good day.
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The weather over the last few days had been really crap, but today, 1st October, was the worst, it was dumping down in Hoi An. This was not a problem as we were moving on to our next destination, Hue. The best part about Hue is the road that takes you there and not too much else. The road to Hue is a must do drive in Vietnam. The views are breathtaking. We stopped at China beach and watched fishermen pulling in their nets, then headed through the port town of Danang, across a lagoon and started climbing the pass. The drive is stunning and anyone who saw Top Gear Vietnam special will know what I mean. After 4 hours we arrived in Hue.
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"Hue- The intelectual,spiritual and cultural heart of Vietnam. Palaces and pagodas, tombs and temples, culture and cuisine, history and heartbreak- There's no shortage of poetic pairings to descrtibe Hue" One of our guide books.
"Just another dirty Vietnamese city, with lots of the unnecessary tourist traps" - Ken Erler, 2012

Our time in Hue was spent writing our Cambodia blog, chilling and checking out the Imperial Citadel - which is very fascinating. It was constructed on the Northern bank of the perfume river, started in 1804, as the royal residence for kings of Vietnam. During the Indochina and American wars many of the buildings were destroyed. But most have been or are in the process of being restored. We did spend a lovely time exploring this amazing place. Also worth a mention is the Mandarin Cafe. The owner is a Vietnam war veteran, also a photographer. The staff are welcoming and very friendly. The food is mouthwateringly great and time will pass you by as you immerse yourself in the albums of photographs the owner has taken over the years. He sells postcards of his work and also gives each customer a free one. Time spent here is time well spent.
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After 2 nights in Hue we headed to the train station for our last sleeper train to Hanoi........

Posted by louslabbert 22:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged mountains temples fishing beach train river vietnam pagodas funny hanoi ancient hue hoi_an overnight mandarin_cafe Comments (1)

Good morning, Vietnam!

Our time in Ho Chi Minh City and Southern Vietnam

32 °C

"So the weary travellers climbed off the bus after an 8 hour drive from Pnom Penh in Cambodia at the bus station in Ho Chi Minh City.........."

Ok so this place was like nothing we had ever seen before. The city is frightening to see first hand. There are so many scooters and the traffic seem to ignore any road rules that anyone ever taught us. It is like a well choreographed free for all, hooters going off all around us. This was daunting to say the least. So taking our lives into our own hands we stepped out into the oncoming traffic - seemingly taking a step closer to the bright lights at the end of the tunnel. The secret we were duly informed, is to walk slowly, one step at a time and never to stop. The bikes and cars avoid you and by walking slowly you give them the choice of which direction to go around you.

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After a great night on the town in the former Saigon, Lou awoke with the trots. So she opted to stay in bed for the day while I went around town with my two Swiss mates. After a delicious pho for breakfast, we walked around the Ben Thanh market, and then headed to the War Remnants Museum for a shocking education on the war and the US's genocide of the Vietnamese people. The emotions you feel whilst here are so varied that its hard to explain, but I will try. The first thing you see are the fighter jets, cannons, tanks(US and Viet), large bombs etc, typical war museum. Its all fun and games standing behind the guns, pretending to shoot, for the perfect photo. Its a happy childlike feeling. Then you explore some more and see the camps and prisons used by the Thai people. Then you head inside and start looking at the photographs, reading the captions and you get re-educated. some of the pictures almost make you spew in your mouth and others are just mind numbing to think about. Rage, horror, pity, sadness, fear and helplessness are just some of the emotions that I felt in those hours walking through the museum. People deformed, by chemicals used in the war by the US, sit at the museum every day to raise funds to help families who suffered the same fate. Agent orange and other chemicals continue to destroy lives of the people who came close to them( US soldiers too). It is a day I will never forget.
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So our Cambodian group had split up and in the evening we met new people joining our tour for the Vietnam leg. We all went out for dinner and a few drinks, Lou stayed home ( at the hotel ) again to try get well. Now after walking around the city for a day, I could negotiate the streets with confidence, cockily giving pointers to the new people on our tour.

With rain hammering down and Louise feeling a little better the next morning our tour took us to the Mekong delta. After boarding a boat, we were shown how the locals live on the various islands in the delta. We stopped and had Thai tea with a family who gave us local fruits to taste and sang folk songs with local instruments providing the tunes. After that we headed to another island where they make coconut candy, very tasty indeed and interesting to see how they made rice paper at the factory too. After the factory tour we were shepherded onto little canoes and were taken down mangrove lined canals to a village. We ate lunch here, it was a welcome respite from the relentless rain. After a relaxing lunch we went to another village where we were staying for the night - another home stay. This was a totally different thing to the last one in Cambodia, it was more like a school camp. Dorm rooms, separate toilets and cold water showers around the back of the building and the dining area about 40m away up a concrete path. No hot water but at least we had facilities. The afternoon was spent playing cards and relaxing on the veranda - we had planned a countryside bike ride which was cancelled due to the rain. For dinner we were shown how to make spring rolls and ate them together with pork, veg and fish. eventually we hit the sack after a few beers and a bottle of rice wine.
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The following morning was spent cycling and eating breakfast, baguettes, eggs and coffee - my old man would love the coffee here, no fresh milk, just condensed milk. We then bussed it back to Saigon for an afternoon of markets and sightseeing because Lou had missed it the other day. With our first SE Asian overnight train to look forward to, we bought ourselves some food and drinks for dinner on the train.

Overnight madness- Sleeper train, 4 to a cabin. Lou and I were paired with Gordon, in his eighties and Kaye from Australia. They were on the trip with us through Vietnam. We sat chatting for a while, eating and then I headed next door to the party cabin. Nils ( one of the Swiss guys on tour ) and I had bought a bottle of rice wine each from the family at home stay the previous night and Eugene ( from Ireland ) had got a case of tiger beer. A polystyrene cool box with ice had been purchased at the station before departure, so it was full steam ahead to Nha Trang. The train was much better then we had expected and was pleasant enough - could be down to the fact that our group was upgraded to 1st class for the journey - bonus!

At 5am the train pulled into Nha Trang station and we caught cabs to our hotel. Exhausted from lack of sleep - have you slept on the top bunk of an old train lately?? We dropped our bags at our hotel and hit he beach. Nha Trang was the place the US soldiers used to come for R and R during the war. Its a lovely sandy beach with a great view of a few small islands just off shore. By lunch time we were all beached out and went to check in. Louise was feeling rotten again, but this time with flu! We had a nap in the afternoon and spent the evening strolling along the promenade watching the locals, playing soccer, badminton and running. We settled for Bratwurst for dinner, Oh boy what a refreshing change from Asian food. Yum yum yum. We turned in early and got a really good nights rest. The following day Lou was feeling worse, but we were getting on another overnight train that evening, and to be honest, I think she was dreading it. After walking around the market we got Lou to bed. We payed extra to keep the room because we were meant to check out at 12pm. This meant Lou could sleep and I could shower after the beach. Which is exactly what happened - I body surfed for around 3 hours then showered, packed and left for the station. Nha Trang could've been any beach resort in the world. Overpriced, neon signed bars and restaurants lined the main street near the beach. It is nothing special, but it does have a great beach. We enjoyed our few days here and loved the sunshine.
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Next destination - Hoi An.......

Posted by louslabbert 21:51 Archived in Vietnam Tagged temples traffic food bus train city museum usa sights saigon thai war genocide sounds ho_chi_ming Comments (0)

Cambodia

A whirlwind tour through the country....

13th September 2012- Goodbye Bangkok.......

A very long day for us as our overland journey began. The bus picked us up at 7am , Cambodia bound . We spent our first night in Siem Reap, where we arrived at 16:15.. Luckily the bus stopped every 2 hours for "happy house" - the term used on the tour for a toilet break!
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Siem Reap is a small town that attracts tourists from all around the globe as it is the gateway to the magnificent temples at Angkor and the reason for our stay here. As a group we all went for a dinner - traditional Khmer food - which was great. I had a chicken coconut curry and Ken had beef lok lak, a tasty Khmer dish full of flavour served with rice and a fried egg. Then we headed to "pub street" for a few cold cheap drinks (beers US$0.50) and to get to know our group. Not wanting to be hungover for the long day of temples the following day, we headed home on a tuk-tuk at around 11pm.
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The Temples of Angkor must be SE Asia's biggest draw card and are spread out over 40 square miles around Siem Reap, built between the 8th and 13th centuries. We started the day at the massive temple complex called Bayon, named after the Banyon tree. Built between 1181-1220 it has a vast amount of relief carvings (around 4000 linear feet) of battles and of the history and beliefs of the local population. There are mysterious carvings of faces carved into towers on the 3rd level. Then we moved on to Preah Kahn - another temple built by the same king. It was steaming hot and we were all feeling like we had been sitting in a sauna for hours, so we headed for some shade, drinks and lunch. After the well deserved break we took off to explore the temple Ken really wanted to see, Ta Prohm. It hasn't been restored and it is surrounded by a moat and has been left pretty much the way it was discovered in the late 1800s. The jungle has reclaimed the temple for itself. This temple was used to film the Tomb Raider film with Angelina Jolie. It was fascinating to see how much damage the trees have done to the huge sandstone buildings. All templed out we headed to our last temple for the day and most famous temple in Cambodia, Angkor Wat. This is the supreme masterpiece of Khmer architecture. It is an impressive pyramid temple built between 1113-1150. The moat surrounding it is 570 foot wide and around 4 miles long. Probably the best views and impressions of this place are the first, when you cross the moat on the causeway and enter through the gates. Its an incredible sight and one you see on nearly every photograph of Cambodia. A very tiring day for all and one we thoroughly enjoyed. This will stay with us until we kick the bucket.
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So after quiet night of quick food, a fish pedicure and reading we crashed early. The following morning we headed off by bus to Tonle Sap Lake. This is Asia's largest fresh water lake. In the wet season it expands from around 2600 km2 to a sea-like 12000 km2. When we arrived at the lake we were ushered onto a boat which took us to Chong Kneas, a floating village. This is not a typical tourist attraction, this is a real village that many Cambodians call home. Residents live in brightly coloured houseboats that bob up and down on the choppy water. Villagers can worship at the floating catholic church or mosque. The large community of Chong Kneas consists of a network of 8 villages that lie along the Tonle Sap water way. The village migrates with the rising and falling water levels. About 6,000 residents live there. Although it sounds charming, life on these waterway is hard. Inhabitants live mainly in wooden house boats, some of the more poor live in makeshift stilt houses on the shore.
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On our last night in Siem Reap we joined our tour guide for dinner at a local restaurant. As no-one spoke english, he ordered a variety of dishes to try, including sizzling spicy beef ( yum!), spicy fried frogs , baby duck eggs and a spicy eel dish. Ken tried a bit of everything, and really enjoyed the frog dísh and baby duck eggs. I wasn't quite so adventurous and stuck to the beef and the rice! I did try the baby duck eggs and although it wasn't too bad, I didn't have any more than one bite! Was a great night away from the usual tourist part of the town.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Siem Reap, but it was time to go. After a long 7 hour bus journey on a public bus we arrived at a place called Kompong Cham, on the banks of the Mekong River. Thanks to the belting rain, we didn't do much here except the previous blog catch up and go out for dinner. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise though which made up for it being the sleepy hollow of Cambodia - well to us, anyway!
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Another bus journey took us to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. It was made the capital in the 1430s, when the capital was moved from Angkor in order to increase trade and put some distance from the kingdom of Siam (Thailand). We spent a very interesting afternoon at the killing fields and the S21 prison camp. It was gut wrenching to learn how these people were slaughtered during the Pol Pot regime. S21(Tuol Sleng genocide museum)was a high school which was converted to a prison by the Khmer Rouge. It was designed for detention, interrogation, inhumane torture and killing, after confessions from the detainees were received and documented. All of the photographic evidence aand torture cells we saw and the visit to the killing fields left us with very heavy hearts and absolute disgust and sadness about how humans could treat each other. Over 2 million people were killed during the Pol Pot Regime.
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We had another morning in Phnom Penh, which we spent shopping at the local markets and picking up a few essentials at a supermarket.

Our next stop was Chambok, a rural village where we spend the night at a homestay. Very basic houses are built on stilts. The sleeping area is upstairs - matresses on the floow with mosquito nets and the living area is underneath the house, with a seperate hut for cooking and an outbuilding for the long drop toilet. The water is a piped down the hill to the village from a 40 metre high waterfall. After meeting our host families and checking out the houses we walked up to a central canteen area. Women from the village take it in turns to cook for the visitors to the village. After dinner, which was lovely, we were treated to some entertainment by the local kids who performed a series of dances for us. The whole project is about sustainable living off the land. Villages used to hunt animals from the forest and and chop trees for a living , but now, thanks to eco-tourism they are protecting their land and replanting trees etc. After the dancing we headed back to our hosts where we all sat and enjoyed a few beers and homemade rice wine. With the help of a couple of interpreters we were able to ask our host families questions and vice versa. We learnt a lot about their way of life. An early start thje next morning, thanks to the roosters. Breakfast was served back at the canteen area, again cooked by the village ladies. After breakfast we went on a guided hike through the forest to the waterfall. It was around 6km walk up the mountain. After a dip in the water we headed back to the village. What an amazing experience the homestay was and an insight into a life so far removed to what we know.
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Next up on the worlwind tour of Cambodia was a seaside resport called Sihanoukville, about 3 hours drive from Chambok. What an experience! Hawkers patrol the beach and pretty much swarm you like flies to shit. They sell everything and anything from fresh fruit to cooked crabs, prawns and squid to sunglasses and weed! Even when you sit at one of the beach side bars or restaurants they hound you. I was offered hundreds of pedicures during our stay there. On the first night we went to one of the many restaurants which do bbqs every evening. We chose a lovely local restaurant. You choose any of the meat , fish or chicken and it is served with a potato of your choice plus a salad. I had squid and Ken had the pork steaks. Was really yummy! Washed down with US$0.50 beer of course. After dinner we enjoyed a couple of drinks at an awesome beach bar that sits on stilts above the sea. So so relaxing and such a treat to see and hear the waves crashing on the rocks. Our one full beach day in Sihanoukville was pretty much ruined to the rain, but we did manage to get a few hours lying on the beach and swimming in the sea - was so lovely. While splashing in the waves it was at that point that I was so excited about moving back to South Africa and hopefully being able to do this more often. The whole afternoon and evening was a total washout, thanks to the monsoon season. We treated ourselves to a full body massage at a place called "Seeing Hands" - they employ blind or sight impaired people as the masseurs. What a great and much needed massage. An early night for us after dinner with the group and the rain still bucketing down.

Last stop in cambodia was back at Phnom Penh for one more night. Not much was on the agenda. We walked around town, sampled some tasty street food at the "Yellow Market" and enjoyed a few happy hour beers, while the rain poured again. We decided to embrace the rain rather than wait for it to stop, and went in search of a restaurant we had past earlier in the day. Thanks to Ken's good sense of direction we enjoyed a delicious bowl of Vietnamese Pho for dinner, gearing us up for Vietnam. Sopping wet and tummies full , we had a relaxing last night in Cambodia.
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We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cambodia and we were looking forward to the next leg of our overland journey through SE Asia - Vietnam here we come.

Posted by louslabbert 14:22 Archived in Cambodia Tagged landscapes waterfalls lakes beaches bridges buildings boats temples villages rain fishing fields bus city rice museum wat pol_pot sunsets_and killing_fields _sunrises pnom_penh Comments (0)

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