I really hope this works because if I write loads and it crashes I may cry!! It's been so long since I;'ve written because computers in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have been SO unreliable so when I have tried it hasn't worked. This one seems fairly quick though and if it works I'll have to go back and get my old memory card to upload other pics!
I'll try and summarise each country as best I can because if I write loads I might send you off to sleep!
My first stop after Thailand was Cambodia. It is such a beautiful country, but has a horrifying history and it is very difficult to grasp that such events happened only 30 years ago. I wasn't prepared either for the poverty that we witnessed, and it was heartbreaking to see so many children begging on the streets. Siem Reap was the first place I visited and it was really good. By day we visited the temples of Angkor Wat, which were incredible. The area that they spanned was huge so I got a tuk tuk (a carriage on the back of a motorbike) with 3 girls that I met when I arrived - Alex, Laura and Sophie. Angkor Wat itself was beautiful and looked fantastic with its huge towers rising above the moat around it. Some of the other temples were also really nice though, our favourite being the one that Tomb Raider was filmed at! It has huge trees sprouting out from the temple walls and there was something magical about it. The most amazing thing was imagining just how much work it took to build the temples though, the detail was incredible and was all done by hand.
After Siem Reap I got the bus to Pnomh Penh, the capital city. It was a huge, chaotic city with even more evidence of poverty all around. On the bus I met Danny and James and explored the city with them and then ended up spending 2 weeks with them. We also met a dutch girl, Simone, who was so much fun and she travelled along with us. The first thing we did was visit Toul Sleng prison, where the Pol Pot regime killed thousands of people during the 1970's. It was awful standing in the cells that were used to torture prisoners, who were captured because they had different political beliefs to that of the Khmer Rouge who had taken over the country. The Khmer Rouge killed many people for reasons such as being educated (so teachers and their families were killed), wearing glasses (the saw this as a weakness) or for being from ethnic minorities. Many children were killed right there in the prison and seeing the pictures of their faces that had been taken when they arrived was heartbreaking. Another trip we did took us out to the killing fields, where a lot of the deaths took place and where there are mass graves. Some of it was very difficult to look at, for example they have a big display filled with skulls and clothing that were dug up. The most chilling thing was hearing children playing right next to the fields, a sound which definitely would not have been heard during that era. After I left CAmbodia, I read the book "first they killed my father" which was the story of one girl's experience when the Khmer Rouge took over the country. What they went through was terrible but I would definitely recommend the book for anyone who wants to learn more.
From Pnomh Penh Danny, James, Simone and I headed for Laos. It was a beautiful country and really laid back. We spent a night in Don Det, an island that is part of Si Phan Don (4000 islands). We hired kayaks and paddled around the water, which was so relaxing! Our next stop was Vang Vieng. It's hard to describe Vang Vieng...it's a town situated on a river but it is very westernised and one of the favourite stop-offs on the South-east asia backpacker trail. It has a dramatic surrounding of karst cliffs but the main reason that people travel here is to go tubing. Tubing involved floating down the river on tractor tires, stopping off at the bars on the riverside along the way. It's impossible to get across how much fun this actually is because I had heard so many people speak about it before but until you experience it you have no idea!! It is one of the highlights of my trip, due mainly to the fantastic people that I met. I had intended to spend 3 days there but ended up spending 10 and seriously considered staying there to work for a while (only getting free food and drink, don't worry Dave, I'm still coming back!). I also met Rob, Rens and Marlo who I spent time with in Thailand, as they were working there. It was awesome to see them again and also to spend time with all of the new people I met so it was very, very sad when I finally had to leave. It sounds silly to say that somewhere where I encountered no culture whatsoever would become a highlight of my trip, but I can't get across enough how much fun I had! Now that I'm starting to reflect on the rest of my adventure, the parts that stand out are definitely because of the people who I met there.
After Vang Vieng I set off on another adventure on my own, involving a nightmare 24 hour bus journey to Hanoi in Vietnam. Crossing the border into what is my 14th and last country was a very strange feeling. I was glad to get to Hanoi in one piece after the hellish journey, involving rude people and even a live rooster in a box up the back of the bus with us! Thankfully I met some nice people there and we all managed to keep each other sane! Hanoi was a beautiful city but I didn;t have too much time there. I was exhausted after 10 days of partying in Vang Vieng so had a bit of a chill-out. I went to Halong Bay one of the days, which was beautiful. We did a boat trip around the bay and a bit of kayaking. When I got back I went to a Vietnamese water puppet show with CArolyn, who I met on the bus, which was really interesting. I spent a lot of time wandering around taking pictures of city life in Vietnam...in a word - crazy! Motorbikes are absolutely everywhere and the volume of traffic is indescribable. Crossing the road is like an extreme sport!
From Hanoi I headed for Hoi An (easy to get the two confused!) which was also another highlight (Asia has been full of these!). While on the bus there I met Rich, and through talking about Vang Vieng (we had both been there) we discovered we had a mutual friend, Tasch, who was joining us in Hoi An the next day. Hoi An was a beautiful little seaside town and we had a great time cycling to the beach every day (passing people working in rice paddies and sailing on the river) and engaging in our other favourite pastime...shopping! Hoi An is famous for tailor shops and pretty much every shop that you walk past is one. I had planned to get a dress made for a wedding that I'm going to but I didn't really plan on buying the other items that are now filling my rucksack! It was too good to resist though, there are not many other places in the world where you can get tailor-made clothes so cheaply.
Tasch, Rich and I then made our way to Mui Ne, another beachside town which was very chilled and laid-back, although not as picturesque as Hoi An. We did a little trip to the sand=dunes there but they weren't as spectacular as the ones I had seen in Peru, and the sand-boarding wasn't as much fun either! We met a lot of people there and in Hoi An that we keep bumping into aswell. This is definitely been one of my favourite aspects of travelling: bumping into people in random places where you least expect it! One of my favourites was a guy I met in Vang Vieng, he is from Bridge of Don and we figured out he went to school with one of my friends! I've bumped into him all the way down Vietnam, as well as another big group who we've been spending time with in HCMC (my current location!). they all left this morning but I've been joined by others from VV and a girl I met in Cambodia!
I've been in HCMC (or SAigon) for the last week. I hadn't intended spending this much time here but my plans to visit orphanages in the country-side unfortunately didn't take off due to flights being booked up. However, I did get a chance to visit one of the projects just outside Saigon and that was very interesting. It was upsetting to hear that a lot of the children were not orphans but had been abandoned by their parents. They all seemed very happy, lively children despite what they have gone through. Many of them can't even go to school because they don't even have birth certificates. One of the girls was really shy when she sat down beside us and the woman who runs the orphanage later explained that it was because we were the first foreigners she had ever seen!
While in Saigon I also visited the War Remnants Museum, which was very interesting but horrific too. Evan and I then went to the Cu Chi tunnels, and saw part of a network of tunnels that the Viet Cong used to hide out from the Americans during the Vietnam War. Those of you who know me will know that I'm extremely claustrophobic so it was impossible for me to go in...I did try! Evan went through both the tourist one (which has been made bigger for westerners) and the original one...he said this was very dark, twisty and cramped, so I'm glad I didn't do it! It was still a really interesting day though so I'm glad I went along.
Sadly I have to leave Vietnam tomorrow. I have completely fallen in love with the country and it is definitely one of my favourites on the trip. There is something magical about it and I would recommend it to anyone! I fly to Bangkok to spend a night there with a friend I met in Australia, then I'm going to head for one last week in the sun on an island. I havent' decided where yet but I have a lot of friends in Thailand at the moment so I'll find out where everyone is and make a decision from there. I really can't believe that after the best 10 months of my life it's all going to be over in 11 days! I'm very sad that it's almost time to go home but at the same time I'm extremely excited to see everyone in less than two weeks. Words can't describe how much I miss my friends and family back home!
Anyway, I'm off to go and get my last memory card and pray that I can upload the pictures!!
I will try and do a quick update before I go home.
Miss you all!
UPDATE: just tried to upload pics and got all excited because the connection here is pretty fast, but for some reason it won't download Java so I can upload the pictures, grrr! I will try and get them updated in Thailand but if not then I'll get them all on when I go home!