19/6/06 - After a lovely breakfast we got on the bus and travelled to Halong Bay to board our boat for the day and overnight. Halong Bay is just gorgeous! Once aboard we had a sumptious lunch, then just sat back and relaxed as we made our way across the lovely waters to Halong Bay. We stopped off at some caves on the way which were interesting, but it was blazing hot and there were lots of steps to climb to get to the uppermost cave, but it was worth it. The caves gave some cool shelter and they were quite impressive. We then carried on and eventually dropped anchor in what I can only describe as paradise! Gorgeous waters surrounded by various shaped rocks covered in lush greenery. I eventually plucked up the courage to jump off the top deck into the sea, I landed a bit curved and subsequently my coxxic (I'm not sure how to spell it?) has hurt ever since! Swimming around for a while was just fab! It started to get dark, so we all climbed aboard (harder than it looked!, glad I went last so no-one had to look up at my bottom struggling to get back on board!), I stayed in my swim suit with a sarong wrapped around me for the rest of the evening. Dinner was yummy and as the sunset it started to thunder and lightning then we had a downpour for about 10 minutes. Once it was dark it was soooo pretty, as we could see the twinkly lights from all the other boats nearby, it was quite romantic, shame I wasn't there with someone special! Eventually went to bed after gazing at the stars in the pitch black sky from the top deck and OH MY GOD the cabin was soooooo hot! We had left windows open and fans on, but to not much avail! Caitlin and I ended up turning round in our beds and hanging our feet out the windows and we could hear David moaning next door at how hot it was and that he couldn't sleep. Not much sleep had that night! It was such a shame, as after a lovely breakfast we started to moor back at shore and the captain asked David for payment of storing beers in their fridge. David had paid a crewman the previous night and their were witnesses, but no one was owning up to taking the money! Basically, a very dishonest crewman on board. It left a bitter taste in our mouths and I don't think Intrepid will use the company again, as Tracey said the last few trips there was always something! Tho (pronounced Toe) was our guide for a few days and he was soooo informative and spoke very good English. He repeated himself alot, as he obviously wanted to get it right, but a few of the group found this a bit frustrating, even so we all loved him! 20/6/06 - After we moored the boat and got off quickly before they commandeered our luggage for the accused missing payment we drove to Hanoi, capital of Vietnam. We had lunch and then walked for miles around the town, including the Old Quarter, where there are still alot of the old French style buildings, from when it was under French rule. A few of us also visited Hanoi Towers, which is where prisoners of war were kept and tortured, including American soldiers in the Vietnam War (or American War as it is known over here), but of course it is recorded that no torture took place on the American soldiers, only those prisoners from centuries ago! The exhibition inside included supposed clothing of John McCain, who is now a senator in America and if I'm not mistaken he ran for President recently? Lots of photos of him and fellow soldiers and paraphenalia. The cells were quite gruesome and there was one photo in particular from a long long time ago of beheaded prisoners. It was very graphic, just the 3 heads of men in a hanging basket, one with his eyes open! Very eerie! Sue and I wandered over the chinese bridge across the lake in the centre of the city and saw a turtle which had been preserved since 1968, there is a legend about the turtle and a sword being returned to the lake, a bit like our King Arthur and Excalibur. We joined the others afterwards and walked, walked, walked, including visiting the ladies toilets in the Hilton Hotel, where we also checked out the Day Spa facilities and costs, which were surprisingly cheap, we didn't arrange any treatments though, soooo much to see and do! At 6.30pm the whole group met up at a theatre to watch The Water Puppets Show. Caitlin was feeling better which was nice to see. It was very interesting, not the sort of thing I would go and see twice, but I'm glad I went. Basically, it's puppets on water handled by people hidden behind scenery and cloths who are standing knee/waist deep in the water. The music was funny and they even told the story about the turtle and the lake, so Sue and I knew what they were going on about (as none of it was in English). We went for dinner afterwards at a restaurant and I had the most delicious melon juice cocktails. The waiter was very artistic and made lots of carvings out of the melon rind and put them on the side of the glasses. After that we went back to the hotel on cyclos - great fun! 21/6/06 - Had breakfast at Koto's (Know One Train One) an organisation set up by a Vietnamese guy. He takes street children off the streets and trains them in the hospitality trade (interesting to me, as you can imagine) and they all work in this restaurant. I have picked up a leaflet, you never know what future relationships may start? Bill Clinton ate here when he was President and he loved it. The guys didn't know what had hit them when the Secret Service descended on them for security sweeps beforehand, I think they all enjoyed the experience though, some of them probably didn't know who he was! Tho then walked us over to the Presidential Palace where we went to see Uncle Ho. This is Ho Chi Minh, he was the last President of Vietnam, he died in 1969. I was amazed, I didn't realise we would actually see him, I thought it was going to be some kind of tomb or something, but there he was lying in a glass case looking as if he was sound asleep. I couldn't believe he had been dead all this time, he looked so alive! He is guarded 24/7 , a guard at each corner and there are guards everywhere within the building and they tell you to keep quiet if you talk! We weren't allowed to take any cameras, phones, etc. inside. Afterwards Tho took us around the Palace grounds and we saw the actual Palace building, which is used for business and as a guesthouse for visiting diplomats. Ho Chi Minh did not want to live in it when he was President he preferred a much simpler way of life. His House on Stilts is in the grounds and it is very simple living indeed, he must have been a very humble man. By the look of his face, I think I would have liked him. We also saw the room he used as an office and his 2 cars, one of which was a very old Peugeot, not a patch on my Pap Pap though! Before we left the grounds Tho showed us the single pillat temple, the only one in Vietnam. Caitlin, Almira and I then set off to see the Army Museum, but when we got there it was closing in 10 minutes, so we decided to come back later (as it re-opened in the afternoon) and go shopping instead! I left them around 1.30pm and went to post alot of things back home. Tracey's friend Tam picked me up on his motorbike, it was a fab ride through the city, traffic mad! He ended up being my guardian angel, as he stayed with me at the Post Office and helped me with the language barrier and all the forms!!!! I wouldn't have had a clue if I'd have gone in on my own. Bless that man! He then took me back to the Army Museum where I met up with the girls again. The museum was interesting, lots of salvaged wrecks of American planes, tanks, etc. in the grounds. The exhibitions inside were very interesting, I definitely learnt alot, but I'm still a bit fuzzy on what the War was all about, who was on what side, how long it went on for, etc.... Apparently, I'm not the only one, even those involved aren't really sure! There was one photo which was just fab. It had been blown up and was hanging from the ceiling. It was in black and white and it was of a Vietnamese lady winning a flower show and in the background sticking out of the lake was an American plane! Bizarre! Got back to the hotel just in time to go to the train station for the over night train to Hue and no it was nothing like in the film 'Some Like It Hot'! No crackers or shaken vermouth in hot water bottles in sight! and no curtains!!! 22/6/06 - Arrived at hotel mid morning and I was shattered, hadn't slept a wink!! Subsequently spent all day in bed watching movies! 23/6/06 - Went on a boat ride down the Perfume River this morning, visited a temple on the way and I prayed as a Buddhist does at the altar, it was a great experience. We then got assigned our own motorbike and driver for the day, it was absolutely fab! We weaved our way through the countryside, stopping off to see a lady who makes conical hats, she only has one hand, a lady who makes incense sticks and we had a super super lunch with female monks. We lay down for a while on the monks bed afterwards, but they would only allow us girls, the boys were banished to the porch, ha ha! I can't describe enough how tasty the lunch was, the table was full of so many different dishes and they were all truly scrumptious!! Kat had a go on one of the bikes herself and ended up crashing into a tree, you had to be there, it was sooooo funny! She didn't really hurt herself, just smashed a light on the front of the bike, oops! It was hilarious, there she was tootling along disappearing into the distance, then she started to turn to what we thought was her attempt to come back and all of a sudden she must have accelerated as she just disappeared into this tree surrounded by bushes at breakneck speed! Laugh, I think a few of us wet ourselves! There is nothing like racing through the countryside with the wind in your hair on the back of a moto, it was just such a fab fab day! We ended up stopping off for a cool drink next to the oldest japanese style bridge in Vietnam, in the middle of nowhere and we all ended up having our palms read by a very old lady. The widower came up for me again, spooky! Apparently we will meet in 5 months time and he is a doctor and is 41. Mmmm! We got back to the hotel about 5pm and we were all knackered and covered in a fine film of dust! I had a shower and went to bed! 24/6/06 - Today we took a bus via the Hai Van Pass to Hoi An. We had lunch at the Cargo Club where I tried the local dish of Cao Lau (pronounced Cow Lau) and I have to say it was crap! Absolutely bland, tasteless! The place itself though was very nice indeed. We then went shopping and even though I had said I probably wouldn't be ordering any made to measure clothes I ended up ordering a trouser suit, jacket, a satin top and some silk pyjamas!! We all had dinner at Ly's (very nice lady - she runs cooking classes too), it was a great night. James got very drunk (maybe something to do with Meghan spiking his drinks! She said she was getting her own back on the other night when James spiked Ben's drinks - naughty naughty!) We had buckets of cocktails again and James ended up giving speeches about everyone. Apparently I do very well considering I am old!!!!!!! Cheeky git, but I knew what he meant, considering all except one are around 10 - 15 years younger than me, Dougie takes great delight in telling me he is exactly half my age, 18, OH MY GOD! But apparently they all love me! Aaaah! 25/6/06 - 10am went for fittings at Anna's and ended up picking finished items up at 5pm, including a leather handbag and I then ordered 2 more satin tops! This is the afternoon I spent 3 hours trying to update this website only to find that nothing had saved!!!!! I persevered a second time and still it didn't save, there were a few expletives, as you can probably imagine and I stomped off and found solace in a Mango Cornetto! Apparently the whole area had been having internet difficulties, shame no-one had said anything before I spent 3 hours crouched over a bloody keyboard! Very frustrating! Therefore apologies to those of you who ended up sending me emails worried that you hadn't heard from me, this is why!!!!! We all planned to go to the Mango Room for dinner but it was closed, so we all went to the beach for dinner on motos. Tracey burnt her leg on the exhaust of one of the motos, so she ended up going straight back, but we all had a nice din dins on the beach front. Another table was full of what looked like local businessmen, they were all drunk and it was someone's birthday. One man came over, he was very funny, he had a gruff voice and kept saying 'OK'! The wine was unfortunately warm, so we asked for an ice bucket and the ice cubes were gigantic. Ben managed to manoeuvre the bottle in eventually! I had sweet and sour fish which was gorgeous! I went back to the hotel on the back of Dougie's bike, it was such fun! We then went to an open air showing of the England/Ecuador match - I went back to the hotel at half time and watched the rest of the match in the room - Beckham scored in the 60th minute - woo hoo! Result 1-0! Yippee! 26/6/06 - Went to collect last tops from Anna's and ended up ordering 2 pairs of trainers, a pair of shoes and I bought a Buddha statue. I was going to go to the beach afterwards, but I just couldn't be bothered, so I had burger and chips delivered to my room and I watch the film 'The Clearing' with Robert Redford, Helen Mirren and Willem Dafoe. Went for dinner at the Mango Room, very nice place, very cosmopolitan decor, food and wine lovely! Went to bar opposite afterwards to watch Australia - Italy match. I drank alot of White Russians and ended up getting extremely drunk. I don't remember going back to the hotel on the back of a moto and only remembered dancing with James and him singing 'Lady In Red' to me once I'd been reminded! I do have a vague recollection of falling over in the bushes by reception, knocking on David's door and him not being impressed and knocking on James/Dougie's door and Dougie answering it naked!! Dougie said my face was a picture, a perfect end to a great night! I do remember being sick in the sink once back in the room and not being able to get rid of it down the plug hole!!! I was reminded of the fact when I went to the loo the following morning! 27/6/06 - Got up with a slight hangover, had breakfast, checked out and put things in the day room then went to collect trainers and shoes and ended up ordering another pair of shoes! I felt rough, so after stopping to have an iced lemon drink with Anna, Tracey, James, Dougie and Kat, who all at this point reminded me of the antics of the previous night, I went back to the hotel and spent rest of the morning on the bed in the day room. My shoes were delivered at 1pm and we set off at 2pm to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Flew to Ho Chi Minh City, I had lots of luggage which I needed to post home! We all went on a cyclo tour around the city, it has been Ho Chi Minh City and not Saigon since 1975. Our guide showed us the replica of Notre Dame Cathedral and the figure of Mary in front of it had wept for 3 weeks in November '05, the army had to be called in to control the crowds who came to see it. Her tears have left stains on the stone and they can't get it off?! The Post Office building was designed by Mr Eiffel, it's a beautful building of steel structure. We saw the Rex Hotel where the American Officers stayed during the war and now American soldiers come back and all want to stop there, as they weren't allowed back then unless they were officers. Again, there is alot of French influence in the building designs. It is very strange to imagine that the main streets were once covered in US Military and lots of fighting. We also saw the ReUnification Palace, where Presidents used to live and work, the US killed one of the them in 1962 and the theory is that the Vietnamese retaliated and assisted in the assassination of JF Kennedy, I hadn't heard this before, so found it very interesting! Had great dinner at a restaurant called 'Bee Saigon' - lovely coconut shakes - shared appetisers of tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa with Zoe, James, Dougie and Tracey. They cooked all the food opposite the restaurant and brought it across. Walked back to the hotel with Sue, Caitlin, Rhini and Kat. 28/6/06 - Went to Cu Chi Tunnels this morning, very interesting indeed. Watched a propaganda video where it said the Americans were evil and they had dropped bombs on innocent villagers, women and children and their Buddha statue. Our guide was a very funny man, he had been in the war, he kept saying 'You know!' The Cu Chi Tunnels are a network of very tiny tunnels which were used to hide in from the Americans. They lived underground in very tiny rooms. They would only cook between 7pm and midnight as they were concerned that the smoke would be seen coming out of the ground, so they waited until it was dark. The entrances to the tunnels are scattered throughout the forest and are tiny, there was no way my bum and hips were going to fit through! James and Ben stood in one hole and covered their heads with the hatch, which they had to make sure were covered in twigs and leaves to disguise them. I tried to go underground through one of the widened tunnels for tourists, but had to back out, it was too dark and it freaked me out, I don't know how they must have lived like that, but I suppose needs must! We also saw lots of the gruesome traps which they set around the forest for the Americans, they were very gruesome indeed. Pits with bamboo spikes pointing up, metal spiked balls that fell down on their heads if they stood on the release gadget, etc... There were a few B52 bomb craters around the forest too. New trees were planted in 1975 after the war, as alot of the area had been flattened, so it is looking healthy again now. David and James had a go on some rifles, boys will be boys! Came back and went to the Post Office to parcel up all my purchases back home. Guy at desk very helpful and spoke great English, lots of forms again, at least I was expecting them this time! He advised I keep the Buddha statue with me, as Vietnam very strict at customs and they would probably keep it and not allow it through! Nikki, I think you will be bringing it home for me! Had a relaxing afternoon and ended up having dinner in my room watching Sleepless In Seattle - lovely film! Caitlin went out and came back at 4am - James and Dougie sand 'Lady in Red' to me in the doorway, Caitlin then jumped on me and Rhini took a photo. Very funny, I was awake anyway! Caitlin and I then ran up to the top floor to see the view of the city, it as very pretty at 4am! and we were stood there in our pj's and undies! 29/6/06 - Crossed border into Cambodia today. Loooooong bumpy bus ride and ferry crossing, infrastructure just not supported here, very corrupt government, money not being spent on roads, etc. Had lunch at the one dollar restaurant, everything on the menu was one dollar. Got into Phnom Penh (capital), rested a bit then went for dinner at restaurant called 'Veiyo Tonle'. This was set up by a Khmer man named Lay Neth. His family were all killed by the Khmer Rouge and he was left an orphan living on the rubbish dumps. Fortunately, he built himself up and is now happily married. The restaurant pays for them to look after 24 orphaned children - all takings are used - after their humble living costs and they rely on donations too. Visit website www.veiyotonle.com. Lovely people and the album they have put together for people to read in the restaurant is a tearjerker. Great food here and coconut shakes! 30/6/06 - Meant to get up at 7.30am and go to Palace, but slept on until 8.45am! Had breakfast at Veiyo's then took a tuk tuk to the Russian Market. I saw a lovely Gucci holdall bag and was thinking of buying it, but I didn't want to have to carry it, so Caitlin asked if I'd mind if she bought it as she liked it too and she is going home in a week, so she bought it along with a new back pack, which you can pick up here for between 16-20 dollars!!!!!!!!! I paid 120 quid for mine - daylight robbery! I hope to see this bag again once back in Thailand and maybe Nikki would take it home for me!! Had a quick lunch back at the hotel with Kat, then we all made our way to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This translated means 'Poisonous Hill' and this isn't a graphic enough description of what I experienced! Our guide Mr Ran lost his Father, Mother, Grandparents, Uncles, etc, to the Khmer Rouge, they were rounded up and murdered at the Killing Fields. He was 6-9 years old whilst Pol Pot reigned terror over Cambodia and was held in a camp. He was too young to be trained as a soldier, but his older brothers and sisters were constantly asked to confess information, but they had made a pact and they didn't cave in, which is why Mr Ran probably survived, no-one linked each other to each other. Very brave. The interrogation prison is a very moving place. It used to be a school before Pol Pot's men moved in. Such atrocities, torture, cruelty took place here. They would play mind games with people, telling them their families didn't love them, that they had seen them that day and had said they could visit, but they said they didn't want to, of course they hadn't at all, and they used this on children in order to brain wash tem and even end up going out and killing their parents! It was just heartbreaking. There were photos all around as they kept records of everyone, the rooms still had stains on the floors, the old metal bed frames and the small metal boxes they had to use as toilets and were only allowed to empty every 2 weeks, or whenever the guards said they could. Famil;ies were sometimes kept in rooms opposite each other and they weren't allowed to talk to each other, just look at one another and have to listen to the torture taking place in rooms nearby. I was quite emotional and tears welled up a few times, I could feel the sadness and despair, it seemed to linger in the air all around. I can't understand the pure evil and madness that went on, just incomprehensible, I was horrified to hear that some of Pol Pot's people are now protected and hold seats in the present government, what's that all about! Fear, that's what! I just can't understand what possible reason there was for all this. Phnom Penh was completely destroyed, they told everyone to leave the city and go to the countryside for a few days, so they could find the enemies, then they could come back, of course that never happened, instead they murdered all people who were intellectuals, doctors, monks, teachers, only farm workers were seen to be free from persecution, but even then they were tortured into saying they were doctors, etc. thinking if they did they would survive with the promise of good jobs, but they killed everyone anyway!!! Absolute Madness!! We left here under a bit of a cloud and made our way to the Killing Fields. What an eye opener! So many mass graves, so many skulls, bones and clothing found some of which are now housed in a large Stupor on site for all to see, but as you walk around you suddenly realise that there are still bones and clothing sticking out of the ground, there is potentially so much there, but they decided to stop digging. I cried when I discovered that they used to hold babies by their legs and bash them against the trees to kill them and this was infront of their mothers, who were then also killed - horrific - I really hope that eventually some of the 'known' people will come to trial. Something had been announced that morning, not sure exactly what, but Mr Ran said the United Nations had announced about trials soon, but would take some years. The place was filled with such sadness and despair, how can humans exist that can do this?! Was a very sad afternoon. On the way back we noticed that a van had got stuck in the mud on the roadside, so we stopped and the boys jumped out and helped! They succeeded and they were caked in mud, it was a nice way to end a somewhat sad afternoon! Dinner at a training restaurant - superb Fish Amok a traditional Khmer dish. Went to bed a little lighter hearted, but head still full of thoughts of the days events.