Hi everyone, we're currently in Hoi An in Vietnam where the weather is a lot colder than we've been used to although not as cold as back home I'm sure!
After our last blog we travelled to Phnom Penh which took nearly 7 hours by bus, they like to have lots of stops en route! On the first evening we were there we went to a very small cinema which could seat less than 20 people and we watched a film called 'The Killing Fields' which tells the story of a journalist, Dith Pran and his journey to escape the death camps. It helped to give me an idea of what happened when the Khmer Rouge took over, Sam had read quite a bit about it but I didn't really have a clue!
The following day we took a tuk tuk out to see the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. This an area where many people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime during its rule of the country between 1975 and 1979 and there are other sites like this throughout Cambodia. We were given an audio guide to take us round the site, there wasn't particularly that much to see, there were areas fenced off which was mass graves where hundreds of people were buried. Even today when there is lots of rain, bone fragments, teeth and bits of their clothing will still come up from the soil. There was large commemorative stupa at the end which is filled with skulls of the victims.
Next we went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The site used to be a high school but was used as Security Prison 21 (S21) by the Khmer Rouge where as many as 20,000 prisoners were killed. There was both individual cells and mass cells, but all the prisoners were tied up and made to sleep on the floor in their underwear without mats or blankets. All the prisoners were tortured, one of the most shocking ways for me was at a wooden pole that used to be used for physical education of students and was turned into an interrogation and torture machine. The prisoner was tied with both hands behind their back and lifted upside down. It was repeated a number of time until the prisoner lost consciousness, then the interrogator dipped the prisoner's head into a barrel of filthy water which shicked to victim back into consciousness and then they could carry on with the toture.
Next stop was the beach at Sihanoukville! I couldn't wait! We again got the bus there and checked into our hotel which was in the Serendipity area, the main backpacker place. We stayed here for a week and just spent our time on the beach and sitting in beach bars,it was fab. There were a few days though where the weather wasn't so great and there was some massive downpours of rain but the parties go on all day and night here so there was always something to do! One day we took a walk to Otres Beach, the next beach along which is meant to be one of the nicest beaches in Cambodia. We didn't quite realise how far it was though and it took us over an hour to walk there and to us it didn't seem that different to Serendipity so we didn't bother going back again!
So after a week of relaxing it was time to move on to Ho Chi Minh City (previously Saigon) in Vietnam. It was a very long bus journey, we left at about 6.30am and didn't arrive until 8pm when it was absolutely chucking it down with rain! It looked as though Vietnam was going to live up to its reputation of the roads being chaos with so many scooters/motorbikes coming from all directions and they don't seem to follow the traffic lights that well! So crossing the road is an interesting experience, you just have to take small steps and the motorbikes will go around you....so far so good anyway!
In HCMC we visited the Reunification Palace which was built to serve as South Vietnams Presidential Palace. The first communist tanks inSaigon crashed through the gates in 1975 when Saigon surrendered to the North & its been left tot look the same since. We also went to the War Remnants Museum which mainly contains exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War. There was a few of the tanks, planes and helicopters used in the war outside the museum. For me one of the most shocking things that the Americans did was using the chemical weapons (Agent Orange). They spread this all over the countryside to try and defoliate rural/forested land as the Vietnamese weretoo disguised by this for the Americans liking! However the effects from them doing this are still present today. Many children are still being born with birth defects as it is passed on through generations. There was a whole exhibit about Agent Orange and many pictures of affected people which I found really upsetting!
The following day we went to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels which are a massive network of connecting underground tunnels which were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War. We got to go down into the tunnels and most of them were extremely small, about 1 metre tall maybe. We also saw lots of the different traps that the Vietnamese had set up to stop the Americans getting close. We also had the opportunity to shoot one of the many guns used in the war so me and Sam both fired 5 bullets from an AK47. The noise was deafening and so we wore headphones to protect our ears, it made us realise how noisy it must have been in the war!
The following day it was time to leave to Phu Quoc for Christmas! We got a night bus which was an interesting experience, we somehow ended up with the worst on the bus, right at the back above the noisy engine! The seat all recline fully so that you are pretty much lying down, we got a bit of sleep but not a whole lot. Then a one and a half hour ferry ride across to Phu Quoc. We arrived at the hotel by 10am so the room wasn't ready yet so we just sat on the beach until it was! The beach was lovely and so was the resort we were staying in.
On Christmas Eve, everyone at the hotel had had to pay for this Xmas Gala Dinner which was pretty expensiive and so we were expecting it to be pretty nice however I was very disappointed!! There was an unlimited seafood BBQ which Sam loved and the rest of the food was below average! There was a turkey which we saw being carved off the bone but it just didn't taste like turkey and by the time we got to dessert it had all gone! So overalll we weren't very impressed so agreed we'd go for a nice meal the next day!
Christmas Day we spent lying on the beach, as good and relaxing as it was we both agreed that for that one day we'd of rather been at home sat in front of the fire eating Christmas Dinner! The meal we went for in the eveing though was delicious. I had a nice bit of steak and Sam had ribs and we even splashed out on pudding too!
The following day we went on a boat trip. First though we stopped off at Pearl Factory where we saw them opening up the oysters and finding the pearls inside! Then to the boat where we did a bit of fishing (neither of us caught anything) and then snorkelling in a couple of places. The sea was so warm it made getting in very easy! We got back from the trip at about 5pm and then had a big rush to sort out our plans as we were leaving the next day and had no idea what we were doing!
We decided to go back to Ho Chi Minh City for one night and then fly up to Hoi An early for New Years. The flight only cost us 30 pounds each which was the same price as the train and would take a fraction of the time! So the following morning we went back to the ferry, it was a longer ferry ride (2 and a half hours) so we would have a shorter bus ride. What a mistake. It was the worst boat ride I have ever been on! The sea was extremely choppy, the boat was rocking all over the place, people were being sick everywhere and I'm still convinced we nearly capsized a few times however Sam things I'm exagerating a bit but it was really scary and Sam agrees with that!
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh at about 5 and went out for some food. We bumped into one of the guys that was on our Northern India trip which was a massive coincidence so we had a few drinks with him. Yesterday we flew up to Hoi An. Its well known for all the tailors and getting whatever you want made for a very cheap price so we'll have to see what we come back with! Sam's planning on getting a suit, I'm undecided…for now! We're here new until after New Year, it's a lovely city so looking forward to spending some time here.
We hope you all had a great Christmas and Happy New Year!