I am now in Bangkok and about to head North to Laos, which will mark the halfway point on my South East Asian adventure. I have had an amazing time in Asia - the food has been amazing, everything has been cheap and I am travelling with a brilliant bunch of folk on my tour.
Vietnam has been my favourit place so far and highly recommend vising the place before it changes. The place has a lot going for it from Halong Bay to temples, war sites & museums, amazing food and unbelievably friendly people.
Welcome to Hanoi - power cuts, 10 pence beers and a brawl to go with your Taxi ride:
I landed in Hanoi, Vietnam after China and what a place it was. It very quickly became one of my favorite cities in the world. The place is exploding with character and is a proper old school Asian city - markets and stalls spilling onto the small streets selling anything and everything for almost nothing, the place stinking of amazing local food, scooters everywhere and sporadic power cuts to top it off - paradise!
Within minutes of arriving at the hostel I met a lad called Roy, who does a lot of aid work in the area and he became my local guide for Hanoi, which was handy. We did the usual - beer Hoi corner for a fair few 10 pence beers and then played pool at a bar on a table that moved to the bass coming out the speakers - the longest and most painful game either of us had played but I knew pretty quickly that Vietnam was gonna be good.
Roy recommended visiting Ho Chi Mins (aka: Uncle Ho) tomb, who is the country's father and pretty much a demi-god, who was instrumental in gaining independence and evicting the French. We chatted to a couple of locals who took us on the back of their scooters to the tomb for a few pennies - the ride was insane and I managed to take some video. The bloke told me to make sure my knees were tucked in close and I knew it was gonna be mad.
We got to the tomb only to find it was closed for the day after wandering around for a while in the 40 degree heat. We decided to treat ourselves to an air-conditioned cab and one pulled up and as we hopped in security and police were screaming at us and a cop ran over to the driver window and as the driver took off the cop held onto the window and then proceeded to batter our taxi drivers face with his fist while screaming at him. Roy and I were in the back just in shock as this all happened and then the cop let go and we sped off. It turns out that Taxis aren't supposed to pick people up outside the monument - what a way to enforce it! Taxi driver laughed it off while nursing his face and checking out the damage to his face in mirror. The rest of the journey was uneventful until we realised the driver had a dodgey meter, which was jumping up in price at a rate phenomenal rate. So we told him to pull-over and then argued over the dodgey meter and we eventually just threw half of what was on the meter at him and got out and jogged down the street.
I eventually did get back to the tomb before leaving Hanoi and paid my respects to Uncle Ho and it was a very impressive place.
Cambodia, the new Wild West - Tarantulas, guns and massages:
What a place! On one of our first nights we went into a bar where you sat down to have a beer when out of nowhere women popped out and started giving you a shoulder massage! Was a bit disconcerting to say the least and we all had the sneaky suspicion that it may have been a brothel. So as quickly as humanly possible we slammed our beers down our gullets while watching another customer who was casually cleaning his gun and loading bullets into the magazine while he had a beer at the bar- as you do.
On our bus ride to Siem Reap we had a food and toilet stop only to be greeted by men eating noodles with AK47s hanging off them and women wearing live tarantulas under their collars while trying to sell you coooked ones to snack on. I hate spiders but it had to be done. I bought my tarantula sat down and snacked on two of its legs before passing it round the rest of the group to enjoy. Was very oily and tasted a bit like chicken!
The uglier side to Cambodia was all the street kids and land mine victims scrounging a living from what they can. It is a very poor country and although they have managed to come through the Khmer Rouge years, they're still suffering - the place is still riddled with land mines and HIV is now ravaging the country and it's a shame because it is a pretty cool place.
Temples and Jungle:
Since being on the trip we have visited a fair few temples but none of them compare to Angkor Wat. I had been wanting to visit the temples for years and despite having a lot of expectation the place still blew me away. The place is huge and you could literally spend a week there. The pics don't do it justice but check out the album to get a taste of how amazing the place is.
Tunnels, Bamboo traps and AK47's:
We visited the Cu Chi tunnels just outside Saigon and was one of the highlights of the trip. This is where over 10 thousand people lived in a series of underground tunnels for several years during the Vietnam War. The place is incredible - had underground hospitals, schools and all sorts.
We were shown the bamboo traps they'd make to kill GI's, the combat tunnels and how they were almost impossible to actually find and how they recycled all the bombs and ordinance the Americans used on them to make weapons to use against the Americans. The place was incredible and I had a stint in one of the tunnels that had been enlarged for tourists - was on my hands and knees 5 meters underground in the pitch black in 40 degree heat and managed to do 80 meters! I also managed to squeeze into one of the tunnel entrances that were deemed too big for GI's - doubt I could have managed it with combat gear on though.
The day was rounded of by being taken to a firing range where you could fire anything from an AK47 to a M60 machine gun and I had a shot or two on the AK47 - good fun but some serious ear damage was done!
The trip hasn't all been fun and games and there have been a few very emotional days. The first of which was the War museum in Saigon, which gave the Vietnamese view on not only the Vietnam War but also the earlier war for independence with the French. The museum was incredible and really raped your senses with some brutal footage, photos and accounts of what the Vietnamese people went through during these conflicts. Photos were really hard hitting - people picking up body parts, pictures of massacred villages, Agent Orange (chemical defoliant used by the US) victims with actual jars of deformed fetuses on display - the place really did knock you. Almost 10 million people were killed or injured during the conflicts the country had been involved in and it just made me think how incredible the country and its people were - there is no bad feeling towards any visiting foreigners (even Americans) and not one person mentioned the war to me while I was there. They're a very proud people and they just get up and get on with things, which is quite incredible considering what they have been through in fairly recent history.
The other hard hitting day was in Cambodia, where we visited the S21 prison and then the killing fields. When the Khmer Rouge came to power the population of Cambodia was approx 7 million people and during their 3 year 8 month reign they were responsible for approximately 3 million deaths - a shocking part of Cambodia's history and the 2 main monuments dedicated to this tragedy had to be visited.
The prison was used to torture thousands of people and then a staging point for sending them to their deaths in the killing fields. People were torture for being educated, having glasses, speaking a 2nd language and all sorts of absurd reasons. In the region of 20 thousand people were tortured or killed here in just over 3 years and only 7 people survived.
The killing fields were horrendous. You saw pictures of what they used to look like - a swamp covered in bones and human remains. It is now nice gardens with a huge Pillar in the middle that must be about the height of a 4 floor building and the whole thing is filled with skulls encased in glass cabinets. You walk around the site on specific paths and get told about the history of the place, what was done to the victimes (which I'd rather not share) and then you realise that there are human bones coming through the ground you're walking on. I'm glad I did the tour and saw the fields but it is a truely shocking day and left most of our group either in tears or in shock.
As well as all of the above - other highlights include visiting a Buddhist temple where the Monks raise Tigers, which you can sit with and pet for a nominal donation and a trip on a boat which anchors and sets up its own floating bar and you're all given rubber rings to float about on while you sip cocktails.
I now head to Laos, which I know almost nothing about and I cannot wait.
Hope everyone is well. Cheers for now,