The internet connection hasn't been kind to us...every time we have tried to upload anything, the connection goes....
So far we have stayed in Phnom Penh - Siem Reap - then back to Phnom Penh - to the Mekong Delta island, Chau Doc, Vietnam - and now Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), but first to recap on Cambodia.................
On arrival we spent our first morning finding our feet, and then the afternoon on a Mekong river sunset cruise. The next day we joined a Mekong island mountain bike trip, which included a scary cycle ride through the crazy city traffic to get to the ferry across to the stunning countryside!
That afternoon we managed to fit in a visit to the killing fields (never before had any wish to visit the remnants of genocide site before but can see why it is on the list of sites to visits in Cambodia) and the S21 prison. The 1970's Khmer Rouge massacres has resulted in approximately 70% of Cambodia's population being under 30 yrs old (many of whom are from fragmented families or orphaned). You can't quite get your head round the gruesomeness of it all.....almost surreal to think it really happened the way it did....and was kept hidden for so long....
We spent our third day taking an uplifting Khmer cookery course work shop...which was fun, but I think I had the most fun on our bike trip (the mountain bikes were good quality, we managed to island hop, ride through farms and also visit a family run silk production.) Our time in phnom penh was very action packed and tight scheduled but so glad we used our time as we did because it was all unmissable!
The next part of our trip filled me with dread because it involved long bus journeys.... They have not been fun but I can now say I survived them without too much travel sickness! The first bus was from Phnom Penh in the afternoon (leaving our cookery class early to make it in time!) and arrived 7 hours later after dark in siem reap. We got a tuk tuk into the main town to see what the guide book told us was 'pub street' - another of south east asias well established night time party spots, and oh boy it was just that - not for me though - too many bright flashing lights and ridiculously loud music, but amongst all this madness, it was entertaining to see loads of masseurs working their magic on the locals and tourists who sat in chairs lined up in sets of neat rows on the streets between the pubs and drunken people - very odd way to relax?! The town of Siem Reap was much more humid than Phnom Penh, and I even needed to wear my sunglasses at night so they could act as dust goggles!
Next day we had a tuk tuk take us to our first Angkor wat temple, 'kbal speak '- a carved riverbed set deep in the jungle, called the 'river of a thousand lingas'. It took us a few hrs to get there by tuk tuk and then an hours walking uphill to reach the riverbed and the picturesque waterfall (was so tiring and dusty in this humid heat!).
We ended up descending late in the day and had only a quarter of the way to continue before the skies darkened and the heavens opened. The forest became very eery at this point but we made it without being terrorised by the protected species of leopards there!
This rain forest adventure was an amazing introduction to Angkor wat and the vast number of temples we explored the following day (the most famous temple was the one featured in tomb raider, and others were used for some Indiana Jones movies).
Photos just don't do Angkor wat justice - it was what you imagine fairy tales are made of - incredible man engineering! The site is compared to mitchu pitu and petra...I've never climbed so many steps to jungle shrouded palaces, walled cities and temples in my life, and the stone definitely attracts the heat like I've never experienced! So very exhausting...and breath taking in more ways than one!
That evening we got a night sleeper bus back to Phnom Penh for sunrise just in time to catch the 6 hr mekong delta river boat to the border of Vietnam. The bus was less bumpy and more comfortable this time as my head stayed on my shoulders a lot better, and I remembered I had ear plugs packed which definitely helped with muffling the sounds of chaos, hearing everyone wake for the toilet break stops every 2-3 hours, and the loud loud music from the TV they play..not that dissimilar to the Indian buses Bollywood movies playing at high volume.!)
Mekong river life is endless wooden shack houses on stilts and floating villages, many of which have big box TV's and satellite dishes (even we don't have satellite tv yet!)! In fact most Cambodians, especially the monks have iPhones too...how about that! We met a few people who had done home stays on the Mekong delta. Apparently it's not best comfortable for sleeping arrangements but they did prepare and eat dinner with the family. This involved collecting snails and ants to chop up, marinade and then enjoy! Apparently you can buy ant paste out here but I haven't tracked it down at the markets yet..but I do think my 'ant' needs some!
Once through the Vietnam border, we disembarked at Chau Doc and wow what a culture difference! Besides an entirely different language (and we had only just mastered thank you's, hello's etc in Cambodian), on first impressions the Vietnamese temperament seems a little less charming, gracious, forthcoming, and smiley than the Cambodian's we had met.
Spent the night in Chau Doc and woke early with an hour to spare for exploring the morning catch in their fish market, before getting onto another 7 hr bus journey to Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon).
Saigon city dwellers only acknowledge you if they have to... they are clearly wealthier, the roads less dusty (tarmac at last), and the food and transport pricier to suit! Saigon is motor cycle mad!!!!! Apparently most residents own 2 mopeds each and this really does look likely. Strangely we haven't seen any tuk tuks in Vietnam yet either. Anthony has been transfixed with the insane amount of traffic and vehicles on the roads, and cant seem to stop filming and taking pictures of this mayhem....mega busy city with everything rammed in!
Yesterday we walked the city all day and night, especially walking through the many plush air conditioned department stores just so we could get back to normal temperature! These stores are more on par with Harrods and Selfridges than our high street ones. They have every international designer brand possible, and Christmas trees already on display!!!!!!! It really is a very odd mix of cosmopolitan and down town streets here....but even in the rich areas health and safety risk assessments certainly don't exist....no signs of the no win no fee culture here...and it's the only city we've seen that you have to walk out into moving traffic to get across the road as the motor cycles just weave round you (sounds crazy but this really is the only way...we try and cross with the locals for safety)!
Whilst walking our feet off we appreciated the city's Ben thanh market delights (although we're realising the food is pretty similar wherever you go now.....this market also has hundreds of good morning Vietnam and apocalypse now print t. Shirts ), the old quarter, china town, the city statues, the glitzy bitexco financial tower, french style municipal theatre and opera house, Notre dame basilica cathedral, reunification palace including the central post office - a french colonial masterpiece with the original 1870's telephone booths still polished and gleaming.
We haven't felt enamoured by the city yet, many definitely haven't had the customer service training we go through in the uk.....hoping the rest of Vietnam gets a little more endearing, however the countryside here is so very pretty!
Since starting this journey we have downgraded our accommodation from 75 dollars per night to 9 and 12 dollars and are now back up to 22 dollars a night....we're hoping this will give us more to spend towards somewhere nicer to stay in Hoi An, Hue & Hanoi, Halong Bay....but I m missing the luxuries of the start to our holiday (i.e swimming pool, fresh fruit delivered to your room daily etc...)
Today we are on a visit to Ben Dinh's Cu Chi tunnels...wonder if Anthony will fit in?