Another ciy another story.
From Siem Reap (Angkor) we travelled with the GAP Adventure Tour into Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital city. Many things you could say about Cambodia. The average population is under 30yrs of age, you notice this as you're roaming around the busy streets with many people getting in your way to advertise their tuc-tuc. The people seem very friendly, up to the point where you refuse them, then they're not interested in you at all. Monks are everywhere, it's as if they've been gathered here from all the corners of the Earth to invade Cambodia one smile a a time. The monks are the orange men of the country, orange clothing, orange umbrella, orange bags, orange sandals, and much more. Phnom penh may not be recognised in the world as anything important, Cambodia's only recent public glory have been the Lara Croft films in their tombs, but to the Cambodian's Pnom Penh holds the secret to why you cannot see many old people walking the streets, why the average age is s low and why people are not interested in you unless you're interested in their merchandise. S21 and the Killing Fields!! There's a lot on the internet if you Google them, but to actually go and see it for yourself is another matter. Our guide of the day had had a grandfather who was murdered in the 1970's when the S21 prison and the Killing Fileds were utilised to their worst possible way. Along the tour of the S21 prison we saw one of the 7 people that had survived. Out of 20,000 people only 7 survived to tell the tale. Three died of natural causes and four are now alive. One has painted the experiences to better demonstrate the horror that went on (they look like a child's painting but their message comes across very well), one does guided tours in the old S21 prison (the man we saw during our guide) and two others live near Phnom Penh in their old age. This, by the way, was on teh 10th of June.
On the 11th of june we took another long bus to the beaches of Cambodia, not, again, what Cambodia's famous for. But it should be as the beaches along this fine little country have something to be admired. Hot water, sandy beaches, blue skies, sunshine, cheap cocktails and people willing to give you a massage as you lay on the beach watcing life go by.
12th of June was when England drew with USA, watched the match at 1.30am of next morning in a English bar hidden away. Sad to watch the draw with such a crap team as England was being that morning. The day was much better! Took a Boat trip that started in the morning and ended in the afternoon. Had breakfast on the beach, took a boat out to a snorkelling place by a little island where we got to see some wildlife underwater. The water was so salty that I wished all pool waters woould be the same so when Bronwyn and I go swimming I wouldn't be slow person who Bronwyn shouts "keep your legs up!!" Thoughts about work for about two seconds, then moved on to floating in the Gulf of Thailand. Then we visited another little island, more snorkelling, more floating and more sunburnt for me. I had sun-creamed the parts that were burnt before so this time i'd be burnt in the rest and get an even tan. Soon it was time for the third island, we stopped here for lunch and walked through it to the other side for some secluded beaches with hot sea water, momentous gazes across palm trees and blue skies. Not a care in the world. Lonch was barracuda with salad and watermelon for dessert. Perfect perfect perfect. Got boat back and was thoroughly happy with the rest of the day.
!3th June, another bus journey to Chau Doc. Crossing the border of Cambodia into Vietnam. It was a funny eperience. The border patrol was just for sow to the tourists it seemed, no locals were paying attention to the rules. The barriers were going up and down without so much as a fliker to passports or documents of any kind, unless you mean money. The officials scanned us, bags got scanned, temperature checked all of us, health questionnaire completed, paid then to look at our passports and stamp them. An hour later we got through to Vietnam and into clean AC bus which we were very thankful for. Got into Chau Doc and did a floating market tour. They're famous for being in the early morning, the boats with their merchndise go o the spot in the river and sell their products. The way to know what boat is selling what is to look at a pole that they stick their different products on a string. So one pole may only have watermelons (that's he only thing they have) and another may have bananas, watermelons, lemons and rice and fish and other things. Generally a boat will stick to a maximum of four merchandise and if they go with fruit, then you'll have to go to another boat for veg and another for meat and etc. They showed us the local fish farms that are all along the river in Chau Doc. They were explaining that one farm can have 50,00-100,000 fish. The house is above water but the fish are all kept in underwater cages that go deep in the river. They were also saying that one fish can weigh up to 4kg and can be sold for about 4$ in the market. That's one happy fish farming family, if you can get beyond the fishy smells. After that we all took a bike ride up Sam Mountain with some bike drivers who could manage to stay alive in the Vietnam traffic and tell the tale. Fast riding and even when going up the mountain, with tight corners and not being able to see the bends, speed kept on increasing. It was worth the fright, the sunset on the mountain and the hammocks and the 1$ beer was another memorable scenery. On the way back we went into a monastery, it seems Vietnam has them too but not as many as Cambodia. Slept well in AC room with hot shower and TV.
14th June bus ride to Hoi Chin Minh City (formelly known as Saigon). Didn't do much except have dinner at a restaurant that supported and had set up a orphanage in Saigon. Good dinner. The children who roam the streets are merchands themselves. They'll come up to you and try and sell you books that you don't want and are very good at it too. They'll ask "why?" and they'll say to "play rock paper scissors and if you loose then you buy my book" and other tricks to get you to buy their books. I fell into the rock paper scissors trick and had to buy 'Into the Wild' book as i'd read all the oters or were too depressing.
15th June, visited the Cu Chi Tunnels in the Cu Chi area outside of Saigon. Our guide was Hai, a Vietnam war veteran with good English (mostly American English from the American GI's he'd accompanied during the vietnam war). He told all about the history, the American involvement, the propaganda, that's still existent against America, the reason for American's leaving 3yrs before the war was finished, the reason for the war coninuing till it did, and his experiences during and after. He was a very old man with most of his teeth gone and the ones left behind were not going to go to any beauty contest. Charlotte liked the man because he looked 'cute'. He was funny though, much more than any of the other guides have been.Later we visited the orphanage and saw the fruits of last night's dinner into action, doing something for real people with problems that their families could not resolve.
16th June, checked out of the hotel we'd stayed the previous nights and checked into Saigon Beautiful Hotel, cheaper and nicer to stay in for the duration of our stay in Saigon, till the flight to Hong Kong (HK) on 20th. A couple of days pass and as usual when people spent a lot of time together, they get pissed off with each other about silly things that you shouldn't get pissed off at. On the 17th we booked our hostel in HK. Got pissed off with Em, but it should've ended there and it didn't so the next day (Charlotte's 23rd birthday) C+E went to a water park and i stayed in. They came back and we talked about it. Strange the female of the species. Got better afterwards when we went to see Prince of Persia. Cinema was good, top floor of a shopping building and afterwards we walked back to our hotel, late at night. Em was commenting on how easy it has been to walk around Vietnam without any problems from thieves and such things, when 5 mins later a motorbike comes towards us with two people, they're driving on the pavement, but since Vietnam bikes drive anywhere and anyhow we didn't think this was strange at all, it comes towards me, but i get out of the way, goes towards Em, but she too evades them, then Charlotte's the last one who didn't get out of their way or they were determined because they grabbed her handbag, cut the strings with a knife and went off into the Saigon traffic of hell. Happy birthday Charlotte! Not good at all. We had to report it, but the police were more annoyed at us for waking them up from their noce-picking job and TV watching. It took forever for them to give us a piece of paper where we could write the theft down, even then we had to go back next day to verify it and finish the prcedure. Needless to say Charlotte wasn't happy and her parents were a mixture of good and bad support. Cancelling her cards that she had in the handbag was more challengin, something her brother accomplished and then things were a little better. The Insurance would have to wait till later. In the end she didn't bother, too much hassle and when we tried to contact them in Nepal about the cancelled plans due to the strikes in Bangkok, they (Columbus Direct) never replied. Later did I find out that you have to ring someone and that's the only way to do it.
On 20th June we flew with United Airways (flight 862) from Saigon to HK, early in the morning. Sunrise flight, but otherwise nothing special at all. Got into HK and things here are expensive. Accomodation's minimalistic to extremes. Indians and Africans are abundant in the guesthouse we'd booked in Saigon. Food is cheap ($3-6 if you looked for it). Our tripple room was smaller than my bedroom in London and it had two beds, TV, AC, Bathroom (wet-room). To say it was tiny would be an understatement of the centry. But we managed and the manager was a very nice guy with lots of help.
21st June was the start of the Roam China tour from HK to Beijing. Checked into West Hotel, close to the hostel last night, but no Indians or Africans to be seen, just Chinese people. Had the day to ourselves, visited Victoria Peak via the Tram. Saw the night sky of HK across the river. Beautiful skyscrappers with different logos of companies flashing the night sky. Lots of people were out to do the same thing too. HK being a British colony has people who speak Cantonese/Mandarin and English. You can get by without having to speak any Mandarin here.
22nd June was another day to ourselves, morning wise. Bought some clothes as i was getting bored of having the same clothes on all the time. A little variation was much needed. As my dad said about some of the pictures posted on facebook, my pants have been places! Perhaps too many places, time for them to retire soon and live with their pension. Overnight train (one of five in this GAP Adventure tour) to Guilin, near Jangshou.On the train got to know people a little more. 12 of us and the guide (Michael) all on the train with our backpacks and big noses. Michael soon explains that white and black people are called big noses in China, for the obvious reasons! Played games and killed time as that's all there's to do in a sleeper train where the lights go out at 22.00 and no other light by you bunk bed. I slept well but the other all found it difficult to get a shut eye amongst the train's many noises and possible stops in unknown places of China. To get out of HK you had to go through immigrations and then you're officially into China. Communism till the core. One baby policy. No facebook and you tube. No South Park either it seemed, for unknown reasons! Micheal was born in 1978, when the one baby policy was created and took effect. He was explaining the difficulties people get into if they have two children. The Chinese Government's controll of it's people and lands. How some people can have two or three children, but they have to be farmers and not city dwellers. In farming the male is prefered because with more children you get given more land by the Government (all land is owned by the Government, never the people) and since a boy can do more and gets married at some point (around early twenties), more land is given to that family for having another person (the bride) in the family. The bride's family lose the land given to them when she was born instead.
23rd of June was a day of mostly rest and catching up on sleep for those that didn't on the train. Took a bicycle tour around Jangshou, scenic sights of Chinese mountains, climbed Moon Hill and had amazing lunch for pittance. Was very happy and full after 5hrs of cycling.
24th of June was early wake-up to go to Tai Chi class with a very camp instructor. One hour's tai chi was good to help those painful but muscle from yesterday's gruelling bike ride. I was beginning to seriously miss my bike in Brighton. Then did a caligraphy class where an old man taught us how to paint Chinese writing in a nice way. He didn't speak much English but what he did know he communicated in words and hands. Great!!