Sunday, October 29, 2006
We are now in Cambodia. We spent our first day in Phnom Penh, where we visited the Silver Pagoda. This is named after the silver tiles that line the floor (not too impressive now as the tiles are mainly covered with rugs so people don't walk on them). More notable is the Buddha statue that is decorated with lots of diamonds, the largest being 25 carets! Karly will be using this as the benchmark for her proper engagement ring when she finally gets it.
We took an interesting bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap in the north west of the country. We got to see lots of green countryside and cars that were overloaded with people. Our favourite was a van packed with people on the inside. There were a few motorbikes strapped upright to the roof and, just to squeeze a few more people in, they were sitting on the motor bikes!
Siem Reap is the tourist capital of Cambodia due to it being the home of Angkor Wat. These are temples that were built about a thousand years ago and are one of the 7 man made wonders of the world (we would have been a little more impressed if we hadn't already seen the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China). Don't get us wrong they are amazing and well worth a look, but they come third in our 'man made wonders of the world sites that we've visited' rankings.
The temples are spread over a large area so we hired a tuk tuk (check out the photo of Andy and our driver Luk). We think two males holding hands here is a common thing, though it still took Andy by surprise when Luk starting grabbing his arm. For two and a half days we did some hard core temple exploring. It was really hard work, as it was very hot and there are lots of stairs, most of which have signs at the bottom saying 'climb at your own risk' (which is reassuring). It was usually fine going up, a bit like rock climbing, but coming down was a bit nerve racking. Andy didn't climb the very tall stairs.
The main temple, called Angkor Wat, is impressive because of it's size, while the next biggest one has hundreds of huge faces sculptured into the stones. However, due to the extensive restoration work done on these two sites they had a bit of a sterile feel to them. Our favourite sites were actually the smaller ones that haven't had as much restoration work, so they have lots of greenery on them and huge tree roots overtaking them. Andy's favourite was the site that was used for the filming of Tomb Raider while Karly preferred a site that had lots of butterflies.
Now that we're all templed out we're going to head down to the beach on the south coast for a well deserved rest.
We took 250 photos but we'll only put a few on the web. Here are our favourites.....
Monday, October 23, 2006
Goodbye Kayode, Goodbye Vietnam
We spent our last few days with Kayode doing cheery things like visiting War Museums. The War Remnants Museum was a sobering look at the Vietnam War with lots of photos and stories (and Agent Orange affected fetus' in jars) about the terrible atrocities that happened here. It's the kind of museum you don't want to talk about much after you leave. God only knows how they actually coped with the war when we were so disturbed by the museum. A touch lighter on the old emotions was the Reunification Palace. This was built in 1966 as a place for South Vietnams President to live. Karly thinks the architect went to the Mike Brady School of Architecture (a joke lost on Andy and Kayode as they weren't exposed to as much American culture as she was). Inside the first few floors were pretty boring with lots of 60's looking office furniture but when you got to the top two floors you could tell the President was a bit of a party animal as he had a gambling room and he'd converted the roof terrace into a disco.
We decided that we needed to do something constructive on Kayode's last day so we visited the Caidai Great Temple. Caidoism is the Vietnamese sect that was founded in the 1920's. It's a combination of a few different religions and philosophies and the temple is pretty psychedelic. We also visited the Cu Chi Tunnels. Like the last lot of tunnels we visited these were used during the war by the Northern Vietnamese. These ones were even smaller than the ones we visited before. You had to bend down the entire time you were in there. They were very claustrophobic. Andy didn't go in them.
After the tunnels Andy and Kayode decided to fire some machine guns! Andy fired an M16 and Kayode fired an AK47. As both of them wear glasses, neither were sure if they actually hit the targets they were aiming at.
We spent Kayode's last night having drinks and dinner with the people we have met along the way. It was a nice farewell but not to drunken as everyone (except us) had early flights or busses the next day.
Now that it's just the two of us again we're back to the lazy travelers who don't socialise much and don't start the day till after lunch. We decided we needed to wind down a bit so we headed to Mui Ne Beach on the south east coast. It was perfect because it's only 4 hours away and we're getting sick of long journeys. However, following the trend of never really having an uneventful journey the bus was pulled over for speeding and then it broke down. We had to wait for them to pull the engine apart and put it back together again. Eight hours later we arrived at our destination. We found a lovely little bungalow right on the beach and just ate seafood and read for three days.
The only time we left our sun beds in Mui Ne was when we visited the Red Sand Dunes. As we're getting bored with tours that leave really early and make you stop at places you don't want to stop at we decided to hire two motor bikes (with drivers of course) and do our own thing. Mums - obviously we wore leathers, helmets and proper shoes not the shorts, t-shirts, flip flops/thongs and baseball caps you see in the photos. Once at the sand dunes we were ambushed by at least 20 kids all trying to get us to hire there sand sleds for whatever price we wanted to pay. We ended up choosing two little boys and then recieved a bit of bad language from some of the kids we didn't choose (although he could have been calling out to a friend. Phuc Yu is a common name here). Our two little sand sleders took us to what they said was the best hill and gave us sand sledding instructions. It was fun but the walk back up the hill was exhausting so we only did it a couple of times. We thanked the kids and Andy paid them. They then bullied Andy into handing over more money even though they originally said that their sleds cost whatever we wanted to pay. Finally rid of the kids we sat down and got ready to watch the sun set. This was about the time the wind picked up and we were blasted with red sand. Watching the sun set was very beautiful, but it was also very uncomfortable. Although we got some good photos and that's the main thing.
We're back in Saigon now but tonight is our last night in Vietnam as we leave for Cambodia tomorrow. Karly has just finished reading a book about the war in Cambodia called 'First They Killed My Father' so we imagine there will be lots of light hearted things to see there aswell.
Anyway heres the pictures:
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Nha Trang. Do you want to be in my gang?
After all of the stress we've been under lately we decided it was time for a bit of r&r so we headed to the beach side resort of Nha Trang. It has a really nice beach and plenty of night life. Before arriving in Nha Trang we met up with a couple of Irish girls (Gubby and Sarah) and a guy from east London (Steve). So we basically all hung out together in Nha Trang and were joined by a guy called Ben from Kingston, London. Everyone had the same idea of spending the days relaxing on the beach and a couple of quiet drinks in the evening. However the combination of people meant that the nights were quite drunkard so we didn't get to the beach until the afternoon and then we'd have showers and hit the town again. So basically it was like a holiday in Tenerife. Andy and Karly were the biggest light weights in the group getting home between 3am and 4am each morning while Kayode isn't old and married like us so he stayed out even later then us.
On our first day on the beach some kids challenged Andy and Kayode to a game of football. These kids were selling postcards so the deal was if the kids won, each of the men on Andy's team had to buy a pack of postcards. If the men won they got the postcards for free. The kids obviously won 3 - 0 (they were hustlers and were used to playing bare foot in the sand and they're not 30). The kid that was marking Andy only came up to his waist. After this first meeting on the beach we thought that would be the last we saw of these kids as they'd go off to hustle someone else. But no, they followed us around for the next 4 days hassling us. They were quite cute (the younger ones), very cheeky and spoke great English but got a little annoying at times. Nha Trang has a big problem with pedophiles (ie Gary Glitter) because there are so many of these kids trying to make some money on the beach from tourists. It's really heart breaking as these kids are so sweet. A Canadian Vietnamese woman has set up a bar where all the money goes towards helping the kids so they're not so desperate. It has a school out the back and they get clothes and stuff for them.
Nha Trang wasn't just all drinking and kids annoying us, we also went to some mud baths. First you sit in a bath full of mud, then you bake in the sun, then you shower it off with some high pressure water before sitting in a bath of hot spring water. They also had a swimming pool that was 38 degrees. It was like taking a hot bath but, as the outside temperature was also quite hot, it was all a bit too much after a while. By the end of all these treatments our skin felt great.
We have just arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We're hoping to have a quiet few days here before Kayode flies back home but the Irish girls arrive on Monday so we don't know if that's going to happen.
Anyway here's the link to the photos. There's not that many as we didn't take our camera out at night as Nha Trang is the kind of place you get mugged by working girls (it happened to one of the Irish girls) and we didn't really do much in the day to take photos of:
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Triple H (Hanoi, Hue and Hoi An)
Now that Kayode is here we have started to do a few touristy things. In Hanoi we went to visit the Temple of Literature. This had lots of nice old buildings dedicated to Confucius and other great blokes (most of who seemed to be Chinese not Vietnamese).
We also went to visit the oldest prison in Hanoi, nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton (by the American pilots kept there during the Vietnam war).
The prison was originally built by the French, when they ruled Vietnam, so it had a lot of exhibits about how the French tortured and killed Vietnamese freedom fighters, often by guillotine. The part about the American pilots was very interesting. The museum exhibit made their stay in the Hanoi Hilton sound more like a holiday camp then prison (they were allowed to play guitar, volleyball, get presents from home etc.).
After Hanoi we got an overnight train to a place called Hue. It had just suffered from a Typhoon, so a lot of trees were blown over and the smaller houses had no roofs left. Apparently 6 people died in Hue so it was probably a good thing that we arrived late!
In Hue we went to visit a Citadel. This was pretty much a smaller version of the Forbidden City in China, so it was quite difficult for us to get that excited about it (though Kayode seemed to like it).
The following day we went on a coach tour around the DMZ (The Demilitarised Zone). This was the area that separated the North and South of Vietnam, so it had some of the biggest battles during the Vietnam war. The tour included a visit to part of the Ho Chi Minh trail. This was a trail in the jungle that the VC used as a supply route stretching hundreds of miles down the country. In an effort to stop the supply route the Americans used the chemical Agent Orange to destroy the jungle foliage, so the VC couldn't hide from the bombers etc.
Large parts of the area still had little or no vegetation today, 30 years after the war. And our Vietnamese tour guide, also told us that Agent Orange (which 30 years ago was thought not to harm people) actually causes cancer and births defects. He said that there are estimated to be about 8 million Vietnamese still suffering from the side effects even today, so it's still a massive problem in certain parts of the country. God bless America!!!!!!!!
We also visited a war museum at Kah San (yes like the Cold Chisel song), where we saw Choppers, Tanks and Guns. Andy liked this a lot, but Karly didn't seem that bothered. We then visited some actual tunnels that the VC used to live in during the Vietnam war. At one point over 200 VC soldiers (including women and kids) lived in very small tunnels. Karly and Kayode actually went down into the tunnels, but Andy was a big girl and couldn't face it. Instead he listened to the tour guide, as he told how his home village was burnt to the ground by American bombs.
Even after all the bad things that have happened to this country, you might expect the Vietnamese people to hold a slight grudge, but everyone here seems very friendly and welcoming (even to American tourists).
After Hue we went onto a place called Hoi An. The main attraction here was a ruined temple, called My Son. It was supposed to be the best preserved temple ruins in Vietnam, but largely it was just a pile of bricks. The most preserved buildings were blown up by the Americans during the war, as the VC were using them to hide in. It even had a massive crater where one of the bombs fell.
On the way back from the temple we were waiting for our boat, when a large group of Vietnamese kids crowded around us. They all seemed to find Kayode very interesting, with one little girl chasing him around with a stick! We don't think they often see black men in Vietnam.
Here are the pictures from above:
And here are the pictures from our last blog entry that we couldn't get to work:
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Hip Hip Hanoi
We flew into Vietnam last Tuesday and things didn't get off to a great start. The taxi driver tried to scam us by taking us to his mates hotel and trying to pass it off as the one we booked into. Luckily we'd read about the scam already so we knew what was going on. That incident aside we're really liking Hanoi. The people are friendly, there's lots of trendy cafe's and it's cheap.
The traffic is absolutely crazy. In the few days we're been here we're seen a father and son knocked off their bike and our taxi hit another bike. It's a huge effort to cross the road. You just have to step out onto the road and walk and millions of motor bikes navigate there way around you. We're getting the hang of it.
We went on a three day cruise around Halong Bay. Which is a UNESCO World Heritage site made up of limestone mountains jutting out of the water. It was very spectacular. We spent the first day looking in some caves and swimming and then we slept on the boat. The next day we went swimming off Monkey Island which obviously has heaps of monkeys on it. They were extremely cheeky and would steel anything they could but they seemed to prefer beer. Apparently they bite so we kept our distance. We spent the second night in a hotel on an island. This is where we bonded with our tour group which consisted of some Canadians, Australians, a French guy, a gay Irish guy and the Vietnamese rent boy he'd hired for the weekend and our lovely Vietnamese tour guide. The Canadians we're obsessed with getting on the 'hard liquor' so we ended up drinking Vodka (aswell as some beers). It was a fun night that ended with some Karaoke.
Karly was quite hung over the next day but Andy had one of the worst hang overs he has ever had. This was probably the worst day to be hung over as we had a very bumpy bus ride followed by a boat ride and then a four hour bus journey back to Hanoi. He was sick all the way. But the rest of the group was very supportive and didn't seem to mind him spewing in a bag on the bus for four hours.
Andy's friend Kayode has arrived and will be spending the next two and a half weeks with us (if he can put up with us!).
We haven't managed to put any photos on yet. Hopefully we can do it shortly.
Tonight we are leaving Hanoi and getting a sleeper train to Hue. Hue has just suffered a large storm so we might not be staying there too long, as there may not be very much left to look at.