Hi our last day in Nha Trang was spent wandering around the very big Dam market and then strolling along the beach, which was a bit windswept after the rain, but was still lovely. We then caught an early bus to the mountainous Dalat, nicknamed 'the city of eternal spring', which is inland and dotted with lakes, waterfalls and surrounded by evergreen forests. The journey was very long,the driver had to change the tyres and at one point I thought the bus was not going to make it up the hill as it was going so slow! When we eventually arrived in Dalat we headed to Xuan Huong lake to watch the sunset, which was beautiful, and then had a walk round the town centre. Due to time we only had one night in Dalat, so early the next morning, after bumping into our friends who were headed the same way, we caught another bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). This was another long journey which turned out to be quite eventful when the mother of a runaway teenager, on our bus, got on and started fighting with her and had to be kicked off the bus. When we finally arrived in Ho Chi Minh City we discovered that all of the guesthouses we had wanted to stay in were full! Thankfully there was a vietnamese woman waiting to take us to her ' amazing' guesthouse! I'm always suspicious but the rooms were nice so we took them!
Ho Chi Minh is a great city and we saw most of the sights including chinatown with it's amazing chinese temples and bustling markets, the cities central market 'Ben Thanh Market' with it's fantastic fish and meat stalls, the beautiful Hotel de Ville (People's committee building), Dan Sinh Market which sells old army gear, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Opera House, the Jade Emperor Pagoda and we walked past the Reunification Palace (see the photograph) which was built in the 1960's and hasn't changed since the day the first communist tanks, in Saigon, rushed towards it on the morning of 30th April 1975, the day Saigon surrended. We also visited the extremely interesting and well balanced War Remnants Museum which displayed retired artillary pieces, an array of photographs of victims of the war including those who suffered torture as well as those born with birth defects caused by the USA's use of defoliants (i.e. agent orange). Our last day in the city was spent on a tour to Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels. The temple is 3hrs out of Ho Chi Minh city but we arrived in time for the service at noon. This was lovely to watch and involved many worshippers either dressed in white, yellow, blue or red robes depending on their religion. Women entered the temple from one side and sat down and then men entered on the other side. Worshippers nodded their heads in time to the clanging of the gong, then chanting begins against a string band and as prayers and hymns continue incense, flowers, alcohol and tea are offered up to the supreme being. Our next stop was the tunnel network at Cu Chi which became legendary during the 1960's for it's role in facilitating Viet Cong (Vietnamese resistance fighters) control of a large rural area only 30km from Saigon. At its height the tunnel system stretched from Saigon to the Cambodian border. We got to go down into the tunnels which was not a very nice experience because as you crawled further and further along, the tunnels got smaller and smaller and it got hotter and hotter! People had to spend weeks down there at a time in complete darkness and in very poor living conditions surviving on tea and bolied roots. We got to try the tea which was nice but the root was disgusting!
Lovely and cheap vietnamese food we did try from street sellers was called Pho which is a large bowl of beef noodle soup (costs 60p) and Jem and I had the best lunch ever which was a vietnamese BBQ and involved cooking tender pieces of marinated beef on a charcoal brazier and eating it with salad and rice - delicious!
The following day we left Vietnam and caught the bus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The journey took six hours and involved a lot of getting on and off the bus at the border to leave Vietnam and then enter Cambodia. We arrived in Phnom Penh to discover that it was the Water Festival (Bon Om Tuk) which involves hundreds of thousands of Cambodians flocking to the riverfront to celebrate and watch some 350 boats compete in races on the Tonle Sap River. The winning boats 22 to 70 paddlers share a whopping US $100 prize. The city was swarming with people, the atmosphere was great, but unfortunately for us we got pickpocketed and our passports were lost forever!! This obviously put a dampner on the evening and the next day was spent trying to locate the tourist police station, 15km out of town, only to find that the polieman on duty had gone to a family wedding!! It's now Thursday evening and, after alot of hassle with corrupt policemen (we had to pay him $10 just to write the police report form!!) and stupidly located tourist police stations and immigration services, we have now got a new passport and will hopefully be getting our visa's tomorrow! All part of the fun hey! We also later discovered that 5 people on the Singapore team actually drowned in the river during the boat race and a lot of people got things stolen. One couple we met had been pulled off their motorbike as thieves stole their bag. Another tourist was pulled off the back of a motorbike by her bag and unfortunately then got run over by a passing car! Jem and I were just grateful that it was only our passports!
In between visits to the police station and the British Embassy (we've had to go there 4 times now and it's an hours walk from where we are staying!) we have managed to visit the killing fields of Choeung Ek to pay our respects to the 17,000 men, women and children who were executed there by the Khmer Rouge between mid 1975 and Dec 1978. To save bullets most people had their skulls cracked with hoes, hammers or they were beheaded. Babies were thrown against trees. All very upsetting! Next we went to the Tuol Sleng Museum, once a high school which, during Pol Pots regime in 1975, was turned into Security Prison 21 (S-21) were it was the largest centre of detention and torture in the country. Detainees who died during torture were buried in mass graves inside the prison grounds others were sent to the killing fields to be executed. We saw photographers of the prisoners, tools used for torture, the cells and paintings of prisoners getting tortured. All very emotional but I'm glad I have a better understanding of how those people suffered.
On a lighter note we also visited Phsar Tonl Tom Poung, otherwise known as the Russian Market. We got a tuk tuk there which actually crashed into a motorbike!!! Thankfully no-one was hurt but we're hoping that nothing else happens to us on this trip because we've definitely had our fair shar of bad luck (delayed luggage, stolen passports and a tuk tuk crash!!!). We really enjoyed the market which sells everything you could possibly want and the best food ever! We had a lovely noodle soup with chopped spring rolls in followed by the best waffles in the world - delicious and all for the bargain price a couple of pound!
Bye for now, lots of love xxx