Well it's nice to be back it feels like ages since I last wrote a blog although I'm sure it doesn't to you...I'm now in Cambodia, Siem Reap to be precise home to the incredible Angkor Wat. I'll start with Vietnam though as I only just arrived there in the last blog. I last wrote to you from Hue where I was fortunate enough to speak with most of my family as they were kind enough to call my hotel, thankyou! So Hue involved much sightseeing including a very tranquil sunset river trip for 25p :) Next was Hoi An by public transport (truck didn't come in too pricey) A few hours travel down the coast and we arrived in temperatures in the mid to late thirties... Thankfully the hotel Kirsty booked had a pool (needless to say I travelled in my bikini, yes underneath in full preparation and was first in)
Hoi An was much smaller in population and size and very relaxed. After our intial pool dip we rented bikes and cycled 15 mins down the road to the beach, the last beach in Hue was an hours cycle ride away and beautiful but Hoi An was idyllic, I really had no idea that Vietnam was such a beautiful holiday destination. We arrived on the sands and within an hour a tropical storm was hot on our heels naturally the lightening didn't prevent us from getting out of the water and we stayed in until dusk. Hoi An provided us withour finest beach since Turkey and the next days plans were out of the window... we returned for more salt water. I had an interesting dip with an old Vietnam Vet who was on holiday with his wife. He told Lorna and I about life as a soldier in the Vietnam War and how he spelt 14 months fighting in the jungle when he was 25. I must say it was strange being on the same beaches that the soldiers used to get airlifted to for some r & r during the war in the 70's.
Aswell as it's beach Hoi An is notably famous for it's tailors. Row after row of them it's impossible to walk down the street without being collared (no pun!). You can have anything you like made up including copies of your own clothes which a few of us did. They were incredibly fast and cheap my friend paid 10 dollars for a dress to be made from scratch with the material of her choice included, Polly is returning next Summer for a complete new wardrobe!
So three full days of beach, sunburn and tailors and we then tookoff for our first night bus to Nha Trang, tourist mecca. We left at 6pm and arrived at 6am to a remarkable Sunrise over the South China sea (photos on a disc and will come when I find a net cafe with a working disc drive!). Kirsty found us a hotel and we were in the sea by 7.30am...by then it was nearly 30 degrees. We were expecting Benidorm but thankfully it was more like Thailand clear turquoise waters and a beautiful beach. The horizon is sprouting several hotels and skyscrapers and I'm sure in about 5 years it will have completely changed but for now it was just what we needed after 12 hours on a bus with no air con and several large families of mosquitoes.
That afternoon Lorna, John and I went dinghy sailing, a first for me but John and Lorna soon showed me the ropes and we were jibbing away in no time (Slimmy I did you proud!). We paid 10 dollars each for an hour (Vietnam and Cambodia have two currencies U.S Dollars and their own Vietnamese Dong and Cambodian Rials so you can pay in either and get change in both slightly confusing late at night)
That afternoon our leader Kirsty (an Aussie missing the sea) was in such a good mood she decided to throw a party on her balcony courtesy of E.O.E and the 12 of us were showered with champagne, red wine and of course beer for the boys. By 6pm it was all a bit messy and we headed out to sample Nha Trang by night. For those of you that have seen my profile on facebook you know how it all ended up but this was a holiday within a holiday as such! We ended up at the sailing Club which is a bar on the beach extremely idyllic but very expensive (in Vietnamese terms).
The following day was an early start as Lorna and I had arranged a boat trip for a few of us out to the islands for snorkelling etc etc, it wasn't a booze cruise but it wasn't far off either... lets just say the Vietnamese entertainment is quite random! It was a good day though lots of swimming and a good chance to meet other people. We've found that travelling in such a large group it is at times quite hard especially when you want to meet new people as you tend to stick with your own smaller groups from the truck but now that we had broken away from that I met a nice Aussie couple moving to Bath in a month, some ''gappers' from Hertfordsire and an Aussie girl who is a tour leader for the same company I'm going to travel with in S.America. So that night we all met up and ended up at the Sailing Club for much of the same...
Our final day was spent at the local mud baths (pictures on the E.O.E diary www.eoe.org.uk London to Sydney 2007) which were totally invigorating after too much Sailing Club..In a randomn fashion as we were leaving the complex a Vietnamese T.V station turned up and interviewed us about our experience we had just had, we were the only Westerners there and obviously stood out! It's strange as we're spending our days gradually getting darker and the locals completely cover up for them they aspire to be white. So many toiletries here contain whitening creams, the hawkers (traders) on the beach march around in the heat in hats, white gloves, socks (with toes!) and long trousers and sleeves and to ride a moped without a face mask is rare infact it's appears to be more important to wear one of those than a helmet.
So after another three days at the coast it was off to Saigon for the bright lights of the city on a five star train (the only 5 star thing about it was the name mind you). I don't think travelling wil ever be the same again at home after so may long journeys that I've undertaken. We got on the train for an 11 hr journey and thought nothing of it , I got in a taxi and drove the equilavent of Bath to Manchester and back to see the Taj Mahal, in Laos the truck took 8 hrs to see the Plain of Jars (for 20 mins) tomorrow we're catching a 3 hr taxi to the Thai border followed by an 8 hr train ride to Bangkok but it all goes part and parcel of the experience.... I don't think I'll ever moan about travelling up the M6 to Manchester ever again (Hope you're pleased Nads!)
Anyway back to the blog, the train to Saigon. We arrived at a sweltering midnight but the train journey flew (TP you would have loved it there was a designated 'club' carriage and as it was Saturday night the disco ball was plugged in and the DJ got out his decks, very random.
Our first day in Saigon started early in order to explore the War remnants museum, not for the faint hearted, a few people were coming out very tearful and some of the images displayed from the Vietnam War were very graffic. It was however extremely informative having really only been educated about the war through the American media and Hollywood it was beneficial to see it from the Vietnamese side. It was unfortunate to see that the effects of Agent Orange (Chemicals used) and the landmines are still a considerable problem for many of the Vietnamese communities today.
That afternoon we left Saigon and took a four hour journey to a small town to take a boat trip at 6am the following morning on the famous Mekong Delta. The Delta once used to be famous for its floating markets but sadly today they are very few and far between and although the trip provided me with some good 'river life' snaps the markets were a disappointment and we were glad to be heading back to the city in the evening!
The next day and a new country, Cambodia. A short 4 hour bus journey took us to the border where we sailed through and met up with our bright orange truck once again and the rest of the truck folk. We continued the drive onto Pnohm Penh and arrived at our hotel late afternoon. As strange as it was as soon as we crossed the border the landscape changed. Remote palm trees stood in out stretched fields and I know many of us were already thinking about the executions of thousands of Cambodians in the late 70's, it was quite strange.
I bought the Killing Fields DVD in Saigon anda few of us got together to watch it on our first night, I should have known it wouldn't work for 50p and we ended up watching Flightplan instead not quite the same. The next morning we hired bikes and went firstly to the Tuol Sleng Museum otherwise known as S21. The Museum used to be a High School but in 1975 Pol Pots security forces turned the school into Security Prison 21, the largest detention and torture centre in the country. Almost everyone that entered the prison was then taken to Choeung Ek the Killing Fields and beaten to death. The Museum was raw. Nothing was fabricated and you could still see traces of blood on the walls, the rusty beds with chains were still in the original position and served as a horrific reminder of the brutality that went on there for four years. I apologise for the photos on the blog but it was real and I wanted to capture it if but for the sake of showing people that may never make it to this part of the world. Suprisingly enough there were several people on the truck who had never heard of the Killing Fields...
Following the Museum tour we cycled about 15km to the fields themselves in an extremley sombre mood. The ride itself was an education in itself to see the dramatic fall in wealth as we left the city and to see so many HIV clinics and homeless children was saddening to say the least, I must say though as striken as they were the children greeted us with huge smiles.
The killing fields consisted of 129 mass graves where 17,000 men, women and children were executed by the Khymer Rouge. 8,000 skulls were found during excavations in1980 and evidence showed that many of the victims were beaten to death to save precious bullets. A disturbing sight was the amount of clothes that could still be seen partly buried in the earth. The sight itself gets hundreds of visitors and the land is gradually exposing layer after layer of cloth worn by the victims before they were killed. Again not for the faint hearted. Only now is Cambodia really starting to recover from the Khymer Rouge's genocidal rule (between 1975 and 1979). I bought a copy of the Killing Fields at the museum and that night we sucessfully watched it. I gave the next day to myself as a free day and swam in the Olympic Pool, strolled along the river and got caught in a tuk tuk in a tropical storm, the storm arrived within minutes of the dark clouds appearing and for 45 mins we snapped the locals still carrying on with their daily lives whilst we hid from the rain. The highlight of the day was finding farmhouse cheddar cheese with a union jack on it in a local supermarket. Yes cheese.
I have no drunken tales from Cambodia as Lorna, John and I have decided to give our livers a break after Vietnam... we're alcohol free until Bangkok. So next (don't worry it's nearing an end!) was onto Siem Reap home to Angkor Wat the worlds largest religious building and an absolute must see if you ever get the chance. We arrived in Siem Reap mid afternoon and headed straight there for sunset which unfortunately due to the monsson rains still lingering about was a bit disappointing but nevertheless still awe inspiring to see. We paid 20 dollars which enabled us a free evening and a full day the next. So at 4am the next day we were up for the other end of the spectrum, sunrise. Cycling 6km at 4.30am in the dark was strange but so worth it. We joined the masses and were extremely fortunate to see the Wat in all it's glory, you could hear a pin drop and there were hundreds of people, I hope the photos do it some justice.
We then spent the next 10 hours cycling around the site, we chose the small circuit which was about 19km and saw 6 different wats the most popular being Angkor wat itself, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm (which was featured in the film Tomb Raider). The last one was by far my highlight no not because of the film but for the roots (see photos)
After an 11 hour day predominantly on bicycles (which again should have been in a museum themselves) we were slightly weak last night and 'watted' out. Angkor Wat is Cambodia's national treaure and is the capital of it's ancient Khymer empire between that and the massacre at the Killing Fields it proves that Cambodia really is a mixture between heaven and hell.
So I've spent my final day today sat in front of a PC. On the 26th of September our big orange truck sets sail to Oz and we have a two week break so today I've booked flights to a destination off the beaten track a bit, the Phillipines. For 134 pounds a small group of us have booked a flight from Singapore to the Phillipines and a return back to Singapore followed by a one way flight to Darwin at the end incl all taxes and fees. Not bad. I'm pretty sure I won't be so close to such beautiful Islands again so I thought what the hell and a few others on the truck followed suit. Some people are off to Bali or back to Thailand but I wanted a proper retreat away from the backpacker trail as S.E Asia can be very same same!!
We're off to Thailand tommorow first stop Bangkok until Friday then the islands of Koh Samui, Ko Tao and Ko Pha-Ngan. I know I'm extremely fortunate and my holidays for the next few years will probably be in Bournemouth!
So better sign off now sorry to have missed so many birthdays this month I'll make up for it next year and pride will be bigger and better I can assure you! Thanks for your mails and messages Tabs you really are marrying the perfect man, Nick your e-mail was lovely, thankyou. Maff New Zealand is sorted I will have explored the South Island by the time you arrive so we'll stick to the north and how's my car?! James I'll try and call you on your birthday! Nicole good luck for the new term I hope your students don't correct your marking! Tabs facebook photos are cool and good luck with your new class just think of the gifts at Christmas! Ming don't run yourself into the ground commuting, TP your updates are priceless thankyou so much again and again. Cler enjoy France! Lesley glad you're back at work hopefully I'll have a desk not too far from you next year! Nads where are you?!!
Missing you all