A Travellerspoint blog

Hanoi

Semi organised chaos

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There's a very busy backpacker area with lots of souvenir shops, cheap bars and street food. We enjoyed a papaya and pork salad and also a beef BBQ grill with zesty dipping sauce. You can easily spend a day getting lost in this old quarter and sampling local foods. We also wandered around the rich French quarter with its posh shops and restaurants, visited the Vietnamese cultural museums and another prison museum too.

Locals flock around the lake in the evening. It was nice to just sit and watch it unfold; people practicing ballroom dancing, joggers, weird & wonderful gym routines (including balancing on your head right by the waters edge), kids roller blading and local students wanting to practice their English. We ended up with a group of students around us asking about England, the government, our travels, just so they could practice speaking English. ==Your heading here...==

Posted by bloorsontour 08:40 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi Comments (1)

Phong Nha caving

The Tu Lan cave system, spectacular!

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Phong Nha was a trip based on a recommendation from another backpacker, Nickie, so we had high hopes. It didn't disappoint! We went on a two day caving trek in the Tu Lan cave system.

The first day consisted of a hard trek/climb/scramble over rocks and through jungle to reach our evenings camp site. I can honestly say, at times it was the hardest thing I've done (Sophie typing). It was mosquito infested and the humidity made the inclines really testing. The reward at the end was a campsite by a natural waterfall and pool, to which the whole group dived straight into. We also had our first taste of caving. Pitch black, head torches on, bats swooping down to mosquitos in your headlight and wow!!!!!! A scene like I have never seen before! You float and swim through cathedral sized caves that's formations are unworldly. Truly breathtaking.

We had an evening feast of BBQ pork, morning glory greens, tomato chilli tofu, fried rice, egg noodles, omelettes, loads! Of course, they also open the local rice wine too. Then to a night in a hammock in the rain with a plastic sheet over the top, where I became an evenings feast for mosquitos. I woke up with 7 bites on my face...not impressed!

Day 2 involved lots of cave swimming around the Tu Lan system. One of its rock formations made it to the front cover of the National Geographic magazine and photo of the year. Our photo doesn't quite look the same. We had a brilliant couple of days led by Oxalis trekking and would like to come back to do their Hang En trek to spend the night on a beach in the middle of a cave. Oxalis are also the only company to trek to the biggest cave in the world, Song Doong (?spelling), but there's an 18 month waiting list and $3000 price tag to do this.

There's plenty of tourist caves to visit in the area if you don't want to trek. Paradise cave is beautiful and even though there's a lot of local tourists there it can't distract from its impressiveness. We hired a motorbike for the afternoon and took in the scenery and stopped for an iced coffee or two.

Next stop....

Posted by bloorsontour 06:48 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Hoi An to Hue via Danang

A motorcycle adventure over the Hi Van pass

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Motorbikes are the way to get around Vietnam. So far we've seen 3 pigs, a fridge and another motorbike being carried (not all on the same bike!) We decided to get involved and took a 2 day trip which includes the Hi Van pass, made famous by the bafoons from top gear.

On the first day we travelled to Danang via a few beaches and monkey mountain. The mountain used to be an American base and is on the peninsular of the bay and the city. We wound our way around the mountain on our bike, getting higher and higher up, just hoping that our bike would make it up the steep inclines. At the top the views were incredible! I hope the photos give youan idea.

We headed into Danang to experience riding in a major city, which was a lot easier than expected. Just forget everything you know about traffic rules, remember that priority is given purely on how big you are. The only problem was Sophie on the back, she continued to squeak at every passing bike!

We struggled to find somewhere to stay, it was fully booked with local Vietnamese on their holiday. During the day the beaches were empty but then at 5 o'clock it was jampacked with locals. Luckily we found a really cheap and clean room next door to a fab local street side restaurant. Beer was cheap and the seafood was amazing. We had jumbo prawns with chilli dip, BBQ fish with a chilli & lime dressing, rice crackers, salad and peanut clams. Delicious! Our table was the cleanest there; the Vietnamese etiquette seems to be to put all left over cans, shell, bones, food onto the floor around them. It was a tip by the time we left.

Day 2 was the highlight of our road trip. The Hi Van pass is a beautifully scenic stretch of road that winds its way around the coastal mountains between two cities. You pass plenty of other bikers all wanting to get a glimpse of the views; turquoise water, city scapes, beaches, mountains, it had the whole lot!

It was so hot! We got a little sunburnt from the last stretch of biking and Sophie's nose now resembles Rudolph! When we arrived in Hue we quickly found an air-con superstore to cool off a grab some food. Bliss!

There was more to Hue than we were expecting, but unfortunately we only had time for an afternoon there. We wandered around the old citadel that until recently housed Vietnamese royalty (but the war changed this) and took shelter from the sun in various temples and museums. There's a nice riverfront too lined with restaurants and bars. A nice afternoon was finished with a glass of local wine on the balcony of our room in the evening (a little rough in taste but nice nonetheless).

Posted by bloorsontour 06:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Hoi An, Vietnam

Lanterns galore

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Hoi An is an historic trading port and is packed with history, you just have to look beyond the souvenir shops... there are a lot of tourists, but for good reason - its pretty stunning. We rented bikes and did some exploring. We cycled around the old city, popped into some museums, temples and historic homes. Then window shopped in the numerous tailor shops (there is absolutely no room for anymore clothes in our bags).

The weather was roasting, so we managed to get some beach time. Bang An beach was a perfect beach - the best we've found on our travels so far. A stretch of white sand and little beach cafes that were a welcome find to our cycle to the beach front.

At night time the old quarter is lit up with colourful lanterns on the river and around every building. It's very busy with tourists around by the river front but its easy enough to find a secluded spot for a nice meal. There are loads of posh restaurants to choose from, which of course are way outside our backpacker budget.

We found a restaurant out of town - Baby Mustard. They had a huge herb garden and amazing food! I went for a Thai style shrimp soup and slow cooked pork in a clay pot. Sophie sees food as a competition and thinks she "won" with the mackerel steamed in herbs and spices in a banana leaf.. They also offer a cookery class here but unfortunately we had to leave the next day so couldnt do it. We're already decided that we will come back to Vietnam and take things much slower next year,so we plan to be back at Baby Mustard then.

There's so much more to do in the area here that we didn't get chance to see; Cham Islands, My Son Temple, cycling tours to villages and markets. We will be back. But for now it was time for our road trip on a motorbike!

Posted by bloorsontour 06:34 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Dalat, Vietnam

Canyoning adventure!

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We arrived and were met by a Vietnamese, somewhat hippy version of Del Boy. Leather jacket, gift of the gab and a greeting of "welcome to our family"... We signed up for a Groovy Gecko canyoning trip, unsure of what to expect and then headed out to the night market for some food. We didn't make it past next door before our first food stop - pancakes with bean sprouts and prawns, a bowl full of herb salad and chilli sauce. Pretty delicious and 15p each. The night market was pretty standard, they really need to diversify their product range, though the minnion hats were pretty cool. We ordered a pork curry and a prawn and garlic curry, which both proved fairly disappointing and cost over 5 dollars - we both wish we'd stuck with the pancakes!

Canyoning, for those that don't know is a combination of walking, climbing, abseiling, jumping and swimming through gorges or canyons. We had a group of 21 people (a big audience for any embarrassing moments). The first activity was to abseil down an 18m cliff into the river below. It was pretty tame and the water wasn't half as cold as expected. After a bit of a walk, we were in an area away from the visitor centre and it was a lot more wild. We were told to lie with our head facing down stream, looking at the sky, as they shoved us into some rapids - very fun! Next was a bit more abseiling practice where we were told to stop jumping like ladyboys... We did some pretty bit jumps down, but the instructors then showed us how it was done, doing the full descent in a single jump.

Next up was abseiling down a waterfall, which entailed getting smashed in the face by water as you tried not to fall over as we were assured getting up would be extremely difficult! I was first up and upon getting to the going where the face became vertical, I was told to jump - the rope wasn't long enough to get to the bottom so that didn't leave much choice... Sophie had no trouble either, but a couple of people had a nightmare. One girl got stuck facing the wrong way and had to be lowered down and then dropped into the water head first - only pride was hurt though.

There were some relaxing moments as we floated down the river on our backs, paddled in waterfall pools and enjoyed a good lunch on the top of a waterfall. The guides were a good laugh too.

The penultimate obstacle was an 11m cliff jump which got the adrenaline flowing. There was a 7m option but Sophie wasn't going to be outdone so she was the first of the girls to do it - unfortunately no picture!

Finally we had a blind descent dropping into raging white water. For a second it seemed that you were being dragged under and then you were spat out looking pretty dazed!

A fantastic day ended with a home cooked meal of lemon grass chicken, soup, tofu, salad, greens and plenty more. It was a nice atmosphere around the table, helped by Mr Ting's "happy water" - 30% rice wine... We met 2 Israeli girls who have offered to be our guides when we are there in September - Tal and Ayelet, we'll hold you to it!

There was too much to do in Dalat. We decided to get an Easy Rider tour rather than getting lost ourselves so that we cram as much into the day. Bombing around on bikes was great fun and we saw all sorts of stuff. Pretty touristy, but that's what we are! My rider was an absolute joker and at our first stop scaled a mango tree to get us something to eat. We also sampled the rice wine - this was fresh from the still and 70% - it brought instant red cheeks! There were also lots of weezles as coffee chewed up and s%%t out is highly prized. For some reason, all the coffee is roasted with chocolate and tastes sweet - not my idea of good coffee... We saw a silk factory which was more interesting than it sounds and a pretty huge waterfall (elephant falls). during our lunch stop my rider brought some florescent yellow "tea" for us to try. It was nicer than the rice wine! After drinking it he took us to see what it was- liquid from a huge jar full of snakes. Apparently fermented juice of poisonous snakes is good for back ache and a man's "strength". "One person drinks, two people happy"...

After a bit more sightseeing, we set off for Hoi An the following afternoon. It is from that 15hour bus journey that I write this post...

Posted by bloorsontour 19:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Mui Ne

No photographs; too busy watching The Wire

We headed to a beach resort area called Mui Ne for two nights because I'm still letting my feet recover from the trekking in Cambodia. It's a very long stretch of road with sea on one side and sand dunes on the other,interspersed with huge resorts built right up on the beach.

We stopped a little outside the main strip in a beautiful small family run hotel called Minh Anh Garden Hotel (definitely worth a recommendation). We had a huge room with two double beds in it, endless tea and coffee, tropical fresh fruit and noodles. On our last morning there the owner saw us packing our bags and asked if we wanted an omelette breakfast making... for FREE. Of course we said yes! Then as we were leaving she gave us a souvenir... You'll never guess what it was...a keyring for my collection :-) I was well chuffed.

Ordinarily there would have been plenty to fill our time there; i.e. sand boarding, the fairy stream walk, surfing, sunbathing; but unfortunately it was torrential rain all the time we were there. So instead we chilled at our hotel and caught up on some episodes of The Wire and planned our trip to Dalat (our next stop).

We did however have amazing seafood at Mr Crabs restaurant that consisted of BBQ squid and seafood curry. As well as a glass of red wine at a beautiful boutique hotel called Breeze that sits on top of a hill overlooking the sea (we forgot to take our camera out but the setting was stunning).

It was time to move on from the rainy beach and head to Dalat for some adventure.

Posted by bloorsontour 07:02 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Ho Chi Minh, Saigon, Vietnam

We've got a feeling we're going to love it here

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We're in Ho Chi Minh,Vietnam. We arrived here by an overnight sleeper bus, which Jason did most of the moaning on. We didn't get much sleep at all.

J: "what is this, seriously what is it?" The lower 2\3 of the bus were for luggage and we were crammed against the roof of the bus on a semi reclined bed big enough for a SMALL midget.

Anyway, we love it here. I don't think its everyone's cups of tea, but we love the hustle and bustle of the city. It's crazy busy all of the time. We've been stopping in the main backpacker bit which has lots of restaurants, bars, night food stalls and the best fruit smoothie stall we've found. It gets even more hectic at night time when the streets turn into temporary bars and serve tasty treats. We enjoyed the chilli squid with a beer or two.

We got a bit drunk on the first night here...blame two Vietnamese pensioners (if they had a welfare state anyway) for this. We sat down at a cafe for a drink and for some reason the old man by Jason started to top up Jason's glass with beer...continuously. We learnt that "yo" means "cheers". They shared their food and beer with us and we reciprocated with more beer and food, refusing to let them drink us under the table. A few hours later and we had a table full of empty beer cans and they got up to leave. They had bought far more than us, but not content with this generosity, they paid our bill too before we knew what was going on. It was a lovely surprise and a 'welcome to Vietnam'. We think we're gonna like this country.

There's plenty to keep you busy in the day; the usual museums, palaces, shopping activities. We visited the Chinese quarter and walked around most of the pagodas in the area and wandered around the posher side of town to browse in the windows of Burberry, Chloe and D & G. We chose to go to the War Remnants Museum...another grim but 'must-do' experience. The museum has lots of historical information about the Vietnamese war as well as a war photography exhibition that is worth a look. The museum and its exhibitions are harrowing, showing the lives of the Vietnamese after the war and the affects of the Americans Agent Orange toxin.

You can stay in the city a bit longer and take tours to the areas near by, such as the Chu Chi tunnels and national park to see the gibbons. We are only here for three weeks so unfortunately had to leave these out but you can easily fill 4/5days here.

Posted by bloorsontour 06:22 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Last stop in Cambodia

Phnom Penh

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Our last stop in Cambodia is Phnom Penh, the capital. We had heard mixed reviews about it, but overall we thought it was a good city (if a little frayed around the edges). Its striving to be like other big Asian cities, but not quite there yet. Very busy, dirty (I saw numerous rats), but is then scattered with lovely modern coffee shops and posh French restaurants.

We decided to visit the S-21 prison, the Khmer Rouge torture house that they converted from a school. Its right in the centre of the city and looks like a normal school from the outside, but when you go inside it's quite different. I won't write about all the grim details about the numbers that died, torture techniques, living conditions...it was all shockingly disgusting and there's loads of information on the internet about it. But what moved me the most were the photographed faces of hundreds of men, women, children and babies that were there at some point in the 70s that covered the walls of the prison. I'm sure none of them survived. I'm afraid we decided not to visit the Killing Fields from Phnom Penh because we'd seen the Killing Caves and prison and had an appreciation of the history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge.

We had a couple of good food stops. One was a breakfast treat at a posh French restaurant (we mainly went in because we needed rescuing from the heat and they had air-con). Because we'd spent more than usual on breakfast we needed a cheap tea and had a fab cheap eat of noodles and fried tofu with a few beers all for the cost of £3...it was surprisingly tasty.

We did the usual tourist stops of the city;a walk along the river, seeing the palace and pagoda, markets and shops; and then as the monsoon rain hit we went for cover and watched some Cambodian boxing. It was free to watch at a TV studio set in a basketball stadium and consisted of roughly 5 fights with the locals cheering a corner. It was good,but we preferred watching Thai boxing in Bangkok with the crazy locals shouting their bets.

Anyway, next stop Vietnam.

Posted by bloorsontour 06:11 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Koh Kong, Chi Phat

Trekking

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If only you could see the view that I'm writing this blog entry from. We're just heading down the river on a wooden boat with tree lined embankments and lingering morning cloud mist in the trees. We've had a great couple of days in Chi Phat and now the boat is taking us further down the river for two hours so we can catch a bus to Phnom Penh.

Chi Phat is a village community that were one of the last Khmer Rouge run areas and when they were free from the regime they struggled to know what to do next. A lot of the locals took to poaching the wildlife to make money. The charity Wildlife Alliance has been working with the community to educate them on wildlife reservation and helped to turn their village into an eco-tourist area. Everybody benefits from the charity; women cook your food for you,families provide tourists with guesthouses or home stays, local men take you on a variety of tours (treks, cycling, boats, wildlife spotting, camping) and its all run through a central visitor centre. Profits are invested in park rangers that gather up the numerous poachers snares that are still in use. It's a great community environment.

We decided to do a two day trek with overnight stay in the forest. I was really apprehensive, I'm not the best camper back home with hot water and electricity on tap. We were a group of 5; we were the two English, Alan an Irish man and his French wife Florence and Anran, a New Zealand student. Everybody was really nice and we spent most of our time in Chi Phat together.

We each had to carry our own backpack with hammock, rain coat, blanket and dry clothes in it (plus sun cream, mosquito spray and other essentials). It was so heavy and sweaty. We trekked 20km through the jungle in sweltering heat. Because there were other people in the group it kept my moaning down as didn't want to be the ginger winger! Our lunch stop was great; our three guides made a fire, then boiled rice and stir fried lots of veg in soy sauce and spices. It was really tasty! We didn't see lots of wildlife because the monsoon rain had made the animals retreat into the thicker jungle. We heard the call of gibbons, saw spiders, unusual newts and a multicoloured gecko. There were loads of leaches. I won a beer because I was the first to get one stuck on me. We were all constantly having to flick them off before they got in our clothing. Gross!

I couldn't believe where we were camping. It was much more than I was expecting; a covered raised shack that our hammocks were to go under, with a view of the river and even a ceramic toilet (no flush). There was a waterfall 5 minutes walk away,which looked so dangerous with lots of white water because of the monsoon rain. Our guide took us to a corner that whipped water around a small whirlpool rather than down stream so we all had a refreshing and well deserved dip.

That night we had another freshly cooked feast and gathered around candles drinking Alan's rum for the evening. Just before going to bed our guide decided to tell us that there were wild elephants nearby, as well as leopards and snakes...just what you wanted to hear before sleeping in the jungle. My night in the hammock was surprisingly comfortable; I slept reasonably well under the mosquito net and it was quite cool at night, which made a refreshing change. Jason of course slept really well, he always does.

The next day consisted of a 14km hike with another waterfall stop. By the end of the two days I have never wanted a shower more. I was so sweaty and dirty, and had also acquired moisture blisters on my feet. Owch! I also slept like a log. The two days had been hard work but definitely worth it and would recommend to anybody. There is still loads to do even if you don't want to camp and the community is worth supporting.

Posted by bloorsontour 10:00 Archived in Cambodia Tagged chi phat Comments (2)

Cambodian beaches

Sihinoukville and Koh Rong

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Time for some beach time. Jason treated us to a two night stay in a 4* hotel, Moon Julie Hotel. It had a pool, gym, air-con and very own omelette chef for breakfast (plus we got upgraded to a junior suite). Sihinoukville was a very backpacker friendly resort, with lots of bars and beach side restaurants. We loved the evening beach bbqs; BBQ prawn/squid/fish, with potatoes, coleslaw, garlic bread for three dollars and a nice cold beer.

In the day we relaxed on the beach with a fresh fruit smoothie. There are a few beaches around the resort, but they vary considerably; Otres beach is nice and chilled, as well as clean, but Serendipity and Occheuteal beaches were quite dirty so you couldn't swim and had lots of cheap souvenir stalls. Apart from the beach food we weren't that taken by Sihinoukville and so caught a boat to an island called Koh Rong for an overnight stay.

We started chatting to an English girl on the boat to Koh Rong, Nickie, that had been travelling for 18months and has given us some top tips for Vietnam. Thanks Nickie! We all stayed at a place called Bongs that had basic wooden shacks, limited electricity and an awful toilet. It was far from the 4* hotel we'd been staying in. Most of the accommodation is very basic. Its an island that has tonnes of natural beauty, but unfortunately the backpacker scene is growing at a rate that the island development can't handle. For example, the sewage leaks into the main beach area and parts of it are a busy construction area under development. We only stayed on the island one night so only managed to take a small hike around one side of the island to one of the smaller secluded beaches that is picture perfect white sand and clear water. The only down side is the sand flies; you have to smother yourself in coconut oil if you have any hope of not being bitten. Nickie had just had a recent hospital stay because her bites got infected and she needed IV antibiotics. There are loads of people with bitten scarred legs and a guy working in the guesthouse bar thats foot was swelling with infection everyday. Grim! We would have liked to do the trek over the island but we'd only taken an overnight bag with us and had unsuitable shoes to avoid the deadly snakes and scorpions the island's jungle had.

Overall we were both a little disappointed with this beach and island area, especially when comparing them to some of the Thai and Sri Lankan beaches we've been to. Now it's time to find Jason some trekking.

Posted by bloorsontour 09:53 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Battambang in the monsoon rain

Bamboo train and Killing Cave

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Next stop was Battambang. We got a full crowd of tuk tuk drivers beckoning us off the bus when we arrived, the most I have ever seen touting for business. It's really overwhelming, but Jason said I'd just got to stay calm and remember that business and money is really important to them here in Cambodia. A guy name Spaniel (that's how we kept pronouncing his name anyway) grabbed our bags and took us to a nice, reasonably priced hotel. He also won our business for a day tour in his tuktuk the next day.

After a well rested sleep we woke up to torrential rain...boo! Regardless, we met Spaniel and went out for the day. First stop, the bamboo train. I was all geared up in my waterproof jacket, whereas Jason had given up on staying dry and opted for his swimming shorts. We boarded a rickety bamboo board with a motor; apparently its the only one of its kind and solved the old problem of meeting another train on a single track. Luckily we didnt have to do this in the rain, but the driver can dissemble the bamboo train and lift it off the track if another train needed to cross the track at the same time. We were soaked, but it was fun! Zipping down the line at about 15mph. At the end of the line there's a little village with souvenirs and cafe. The local kids speak amazing English as they try to sell you bamboo leaf grasshoppers and bracelets they've made. They will try anything to get a dollar from you (its quite sad really).

Unfortunately the rain had hampered plans for us to visit a Cambodian winery because the road was impassable. It's a shame, we were really looking forward to a nice glass of wine. We've not had one on our travels yet. So instead we went to the a hill top temple and the 'killing caves'.

The temple itself was nice, although not as impressive as some of the ones we've seen on our travels already. I'm sure the views would have been impressive too,but it was covered in thick cloud for as far as you could see from the monsoon rain. Next door to the temple are the 'killing caves', which is now a memorial site for those that were murdered there under the Khmer Rouge. It was very atmospheric; especially with the rain and clouds; as you walked down a narrow staircase to the bottom of the caves where there is now a large gold Buddha statue. A local boy, probably 8-9years, had become our guide. Again he spoke brilliant English , but don't think he grasped the importance of what he was describing as the words simply became part of his sales pitch. He said that 5000 people had been killed in the caves (men, women and children) and he put on a little light inside the glass walled memorial area, which lit up to show hundreds of human bones. Nothing could have prepared me, I froze and chose not to step any nearer, I couldn't. Jason went up to the memorial area with the boy where he pointed out injuries found on bones and skin. It wasn't appropriate for us to take photographs here. So so upsetting and mind boggling. It's part of recent history. I dread to think how I'll react if we have time to visit the killing field of Choeung Ek.

We had a little bit of time in a cafe while we waited for the bats to come out of a cave. While we were waiting we were chatting to our tuk tuk driver and another one that spoke good English. They were apologising for how they acted as we got off the bus the day before, describing how this wasn't their personality but that times are hard in Cambodia and business and money means everything to their family's survival. The other tuk tuk driver was talking a lot about government and politics, how a recent election resulted in murders on the streets from government forces. He said we were lucky to be born in the UK and that he sees on the TV and on the internet what opportunities we have. Me and Jason agreed with everything he said and appreciate more then ever the daily struggles that a lot of Cambodians have to go through to survive. Our tuktuk drivers were in their twenties,seemed very intelligent, wanted a future for Cambodia but felt trapped in the lives' they've been given. I think this is the most poverty stricken country I've visited. I know the country has a reputation for being called 'scambodia' by backpackers, but I guess you have to remember why they are out to get that extra dollar from tourists.

We finished our day with a viewing of millions of bats leaving a cave in early evening and swirling through the skyline over rice paddy fields. Amazing.

A jampacked and rainy day was finished with an Indian curry and a beer. Yes, I know it's not a Cambodian cuisine, but so far I've not been very impressed with local food and you know I love a chicken saag.

Another early start tomorrow and a 13 hour bus trip to the south coast beaches.

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Posted by bloorsontour 07:20 Comments (1)

Angkor temples

"One dollar...'

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This was my second visit to the Angkor temples in Cambodia, the first being about 6 years ago. I was worried that they wouldn't live up to my memories, but I needn't have been...

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There are over a hundred temples across an area of 250 sq miles, some over 1000 yrs old and the detail that remains is breathtaking. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to picture the temples at the heart of a thriving city with incredible wealth. It is not understood how, but this great civilisation came to an abrupt end and the temples were lost to the jungle for hundreds of years. So that's the guide book bit...

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The splendor of the temples and the hordes of designer-clothes-clad, electronics-wielding tourists is a stark and rather unpleasant contrast to the local Cambodians. The area is extremely poor and the touts and sales people are desperate for your dollars. Its easy to become dismissive and even annoyed by the constant: "sir, lady, you want pant OK?" "Only 1 dollar OK", "Where you from?". We both found it easy enough to deal with with the adults, but the children make the whole experience quite heartbreaking. We did see a number of free school projects, english lessons and small scale local initiatives to improve the lives of some, but this is far from enough. We gave only to the bands made up of landmine victims and a girl with severe burns and a disability. There are literally hundreds of kids that want your money and you feel terrible for not giving it. We decided to find a local initiative to support rather than giving to individuals.

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Around Asia, its easy to become a bit templed-out, but the Angkor temples are truly awe-inspiring and I could not recommend a visit enough. We spent from 5am to 6:30pm and did little more than scratch the surface. The local touts are a big part of the visit, though we had significant parts of the day walking though temples without hassle and where we we could neither see nor hear anything but the jungle and the incredible ruins. Responding in German also seemed to bring a swift end to conversations. Despite the constant attempts to relieve you of the contents of your wallet, the 2 of us had a driver for the day, entry to the park and a local lunch for under 80 dollars, which I thinks is worth every penny and a lot more...

Favourite temple:
Going to have to choose 3...

Bayon- the one with the surreal faces is INCREDIBLE
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Tha Prohm- the one from tomb raider - large parts are unrestored and we had large areas to ourselves. Incredibly atmospheric and being able to climb around make you feel like your discovering it for yourself.
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Banteay Srei - worth the 36km tuktuk ride (and extra 8 dollar charge!) The temple is 1000 years old and the stone work is not only pristine, but is also the most detailed I've ever seen. That, combined with the rose coloured stone and getting away from the crowds put this right up there.
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Posted by bloorsontour 19:21 Archived in Cambodia Tagged angkor wat reap siem Comments (3)

Thailand

Bangkok and Ayutthaya

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Safely arrived in Bangkok. For those that don't know, we have already travelled around Thailand so its just a fleeting visit here on our way through to Cambodia. Oh, and to get Jason some new pants.

It was a tiring flight getting to Thailand as it was over night, so we booked straight into an air-con room and even upgraded to one with a bath (amazing). We caught up on some sleep and then headed out on the sky train to the MBK shopping centre. Jason loves his pants he got from there 6 years ago and was in search of some more. Success...an array of colourful pants, including fluorescent pink!

We both feel surprisingly at home again in Bangkok. Buzzing, cosmopolitan, east meets west, great food, good shopping, temples and you're never too far away from a beach. One place we didn't manage to visit last time was Autthaya; Thailand's old capital and just an hour or two from Bangkok. We've found a nice little hotel to stay in with a pool, which is most definitely needed as its soooooo hot. We hired a couple of bikes from the hotel and spent the day pootling around visiting various temple ruins, coffee shops and street side food stalls.

We've tried some of our favourite Thai food as well as other new things since being here; somtam (spicy papaya salad), red curry, pork broth, prawn and cuttle fish in basil leaves, spicy mussle omlette, fish cakes and fruit frappes to name just a few. Love, love, love the food here! We've tried to eat where the locals eat; including night markets, street stall food, MBK shopping mall; for fresh authentic food.

We've got an 8-9 hour bus drive booked now to get us over the border and into Cambodia so wish us luck!

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Posted by bloorsontour 08:28 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Sri Lanka highlights

How to sum up our visit to Sri Lanka...

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  • THE PEOPLE were generally incredibly friendly. Everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles and almost felt like celebrities. We certainly didn't manage to just fit in!

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  • THE FOOD was pretty good, especially the local cafés. You can eat delicious rottis, fruit, curd and curries and I is all incredibly cheap!

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  • PUBLIC TRANSPORT is astonishingly cheap and good fun (for the first hour at least). Its very easy to get around. The only issue is the craziness of the driving!

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  • THE ANIMALS. Wild elephants, incredible birds and leopards. Yala national park has to be one of our best days spent so far.

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  • RELIGION plays a massive part in Sri Lankan life. There is great sense of community and always a festival of some description. All festivals seem to be about sharing what little they have...

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  • THE BEACHES - stunning and deserted. Extremely laid back and missing the hedonistic element of resorts elsewhere in Asia - a great place to just relax.

Posted by bloorsontour 07:53 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Trincomalee

Perfect beach, great food and men on fish hooks...

A penultimate post from Sri Lanka, we'll write something more as we await our flight to Bangkok...

Sophie has managed to get a cold, so we've taken a few lazy days on the beach to recover. I've been practising my front crawl, which has always been a problem stroke, whilst sophie watched from a hammock. We've treated ourselves to huge prawns and lobster for dinner on one evening, have found our favorite rotti/ kottu rotti place and also somewhere to watch the football that makes a cracking cuppa. Its been a good few days with little to report, at least until we set off for the train station...
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Being a country of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and a Christians; there is seemingly always some religious celebration kicking off. For Buddhists, every full moon brings some form of celebration, usually accompanied by dansal (free food). It seems that the Tamil (Hindu) celebrations see the free food and then raise it with men suspended from moving vehicles by fish hooks through the skin... Sophie was horrified!
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The night train was OK for me but a bit of an ordeal for sophie. 1st class was "sold out" so we had second class seats. These were similar to airline seats but we were directly facing another 2 seats, which meant half the legroom. A couple of hours in, 1st class suddenly became available. In fact only one of the 10 or so cabins were occupied... Naturally there would be a supplement, but after some hard negotiation, we settled on just over £2 per person! Corruption worked in our favour for once! The 1st class cabin was fairly rustic and came complete with the odd cockroach, but being able to lie down and stretch out our legs was a dream. I slept fairly well, but unfortunately sophie wasn't so lucky.
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When we arrived, we headed to negombo and splashed out for our first AC room to spend the day and allow sophie to catch up on sleep. She's still not great, but I hope is on the mend. We fly at 1am so its going to be another long night, but we have a nice hotel in Bangkok booked and hopefully shell be back on form soon...

Posted by bloorsontour 22:06 Comments (2)

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