Cambodia and the beginning of Vietnam


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Asia » Cambodia
March 31st 2012
Published: March 31st 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Wednesday 21stMarch – Siem Reap

Today is day one of our two day tour around Angkor which we have organised through our taxi driver that picked us up from the airport yesterday.

We are picked up by our tuk tuk driver at 5am and head off into the darkness, we stop at the ticketing booth outside of Angkor Wat where we have our mugshots taken and printed onto our three day pass, this is done to ensure no ticket sharing takes place. We then make our way to Angkor Wat where a large crowd has gathered to await the sunrise directly above the temple.

The sunrise is spectacular over Angkor Wat which is the largest religious structure in the world, once we have snapped a few pics and the sun is up we head back to the tuk tuk which we eventually find amongst the sea of tuk tuks and set off to Angkor Thom for breakfast before exploring this massive area.

Angkor Thom is a fortified city that once housed over one million Cambodians around 1220AD. Today it is still 10sq km in size that contains several ruins including the Terrace of Elephants, the Victory gate, temples & religious structures and the main attraction Bayon. Bayon is a temple that has 54 towers which are famously decorated with 216 enormous coldly smiling faces, today these faces have decayed and some faces only have half of their features which add to the uniqueness of them. As the sun gets higher in the sky we start to swelter in the heat as we are only a few weeks out from the middle of the “hot” season. We manage to walk through all of Angkor Thom and get back to the tuk tuk where the driver has a chili bin of ice cold water which we are able to help ourselves to to keep hydrated. In the afternoon we are taken back to Angkor Wat to explore the inside of the temple and around a couple more temples, giant stone structures and carvings; however by 4pm the heat gets the better of us so we get dropped off back in Siem Reap. After a few well deserved cold showers we make our way out for a couple of beers and dinner. Like many of the touristy towns we have been to, there is quite a market for Westerners, tonight we enjoy some local Khmer food, some drinks and a game of pool at Angkor Wat? bar on Pub Street before calling it a night and heading home to bed.

Thursday 22nd March – Siem Reap

Today is the second day of our tour and we have a taxi for the day as we are heading to a couple of sites 30km out of town. Our first stop is the floating village and markets on the Tonle Sap lake (dirty brown lake, that looks more like a swamp) which the lonely planet describes as a scam but we and all the other tourists there are still willing to see what its all about. The gist of the market is you pay $20 for a ticket each which includes a boat ride down the muddy river to a poor floating village where you are shown a market (a floating pontoon with a crocodile farm, fish tanks with only one or two half dead catfish, local children with snakes around their necks begging you to have a photo with them then pay them and a souvenir shop), once you’ve had enough of that (or in Paulas case get shit scared of the children with the snakes around their necks) you are taken to a ‘supermarket’ where you can buy a 50kg bag of rice for $80, or other staple food to take to the local school and assist in providing for the kids. We bought a big box of noodles for the children, were taken to the school, donated the noodles and had a few photos with the kids before going back to the mainland. While we were at the school we had a mini tour of the facilities, it was horrifying to see that a toilet for the children was a small hole in the pontoon and the waste goes straight into the lake, and the dishes were washed over the side of the pontoon and the lake water was used not only for cooking but for drinking also. Once we arrived back at the dock our boat guide politely asks us if we had a good time and to leave him and the driver a tip so they could help to feed their families (our taxi driver told us the money from our $20 ticket goes towards the guides and to be aware that they will try to get more money out of us), the guide obviously didn’t see us spotting him using a high tech mobile phone to watch a video during our trip to the school, so we politely left them a small donation and made our way back to our waiting taxi.

During the afternoon we made our way around some more temples, however we had had enough of looking at hundred year old stone so asked if we could be dropped back at our guesthouse. On our way back I saw we were near the landmine museum and stopped in. The museum was a real eye opener as it is owned and run by a man who was forced to be a child soldier during the Khmer led genocide only 30 years ago. He has now become a hugely important figure as not only does his museum home over 20 people who have been affected by landmines, but in his day to day work he continues to rid the country of unexploded land mines and bombs which number in the millions and today are still maiming humans and children who stumble upon these bomblets when farming in the fields. The $3 we paid for entry here was well worth it and this was our last stop before we had the taxi take us back to our guest house in Siem Reap.

Back in the Reap I went and got a haircut, an easy no.1 all over, we made our way through yet another market, played some pool with the locals; Paula finally managed to find a G&T which are advertised everywhere but often there’s no tonic, had dinner and cruised around the city.

Friday 23rd March – Siem Reap - Phonm Phen

This morning we got the 7am mini bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Phen and arrived around 1pm in the centre of the city. We jumped in a tuk tuk, found ourselves a guesthouse - the standard $15 a night which includes breakfast and an ensuite etc.

I had read up about shooting range and found that there is a good range where you can throw grenades, shoot pistols, machine guns, and even fire a rocket launcher (if you have a spare $350).

I had a go with the Ak-47, $40 for 25 rounds and a couple of coconuts as targets. The first 10-15 shots were spent on single shot where I hit the coconut target only a couple of times before the guy switched it up to full automatic. As you may have seen on a video I posted on FB, I sprayed a couple of bursts and it was a full on rush to feel the power, however it was also weird knowing this is one of the main weapons which has featured in many wars and caused so much death and destruction.

While I was still pumped with adrenalin we cruised back to the city and wandered around looking for a place to have a nice cold bevvy. Luckily for us we stumbled upon an Irish bar which was playing the Super 15, and the Melbourne Rebels were playing the Western Force. We spent the next few hours engulfed in the rugby before we found ourselves some dinner. Unfortunately we felt Phnom Phen was a really unsafe, dirty and poor place so our thoughts were to get the sight-seeing done and move on.

Saturday 24th March – Phnom Phen

After brekky at our guest house our tuk tuk driver arrived to take us to the killing fields of Choeung Ek and the S-21 torture prison which prior to the Civil War was a high school. The killing fields is a must do and as recommended we both read “First the killed my Father” which covers the destruction of an urban Cambodian family through execution and disease during the Khmer Rouge period.

The killing fields is a mass grave where you can still see teeth and bones coming through the ground, here you take an audio tour for 1-2 hours hearing eye witness accounts and learning about the genocide which can be very emotional for the tourists visiting the area.

After the killing fields we went towards the S-21 torture prison which is now a museum and in the process were hit by a ferocious storm which lasted only 15 minutes, it was fair to say sitting in the back of a tuk tuk wasn’t the best place to be and we were soaked through our plastic ponchos.

We went through S-21 where it has graphic pictures of the prisoners held and murdered there, after walking through a couple of the 4 main buildings Paula couldn’t handle seeing any more of this death and anguish and I went on for all of 10 minutes by myself before we finished the day in search of some kind of happiness after being around and learning about death all day.

Sunday 25th March Phnom Penh – Ho Chi Min City (Vietnam)

Off to Vietnam today, we got to the airport and were at the check in counter when we were told our flights were for the next day (good one Paula)... it suddenly dawned on us that this was going to be a very expensive trip as not only did P book the flights twice, we are entering the country four days early so had to apply for two new visas. Luckily the amazing man checking us in changed our flight to today and before we knew it we were all aboard and ready for take-off.

We flew into Saigon airport and caught the airport bus into Pham Ngu Lau (the main backpacker area), we paid 40,000 dong ($2) and when we got on the bus we were given our ticket it read 4000 dong… obviously we paid the foreign amount which is a bit of a lottery!

We got into the town, greeted by tour agencies fighting for our attention to book us on their ‘special discount for you’ tours around the city, because of this we found the closest guest house, checked in, and went in search for a cold beer. That evening we were cruising around the Pham Ngu Lau area and came across what can only be described as a road side tea party but with beer. We sat down in mini seats with mini tables, along with many other tourists and drank our beer while being stalked by hawkers trying to sell us dried squid, ‘designer’ sunglasses and photocopied travel guides. Tonight was a big night; we met a few British expats who were living here, a US couple and a few other British people who were here for a couple of days. By midnight P had had enough so I walked her back to the guesthouse then headed back to the party. Well one drink led to another and that led to cigars and the next thing I knew the sun was up and it was 7am – needless to say P was slightly annoyed with me when I got back to the guesthouse as we were meant to be picked up to go on a day tour of the Ch Chi tunnels.

Monday 26th March - HCMC

Well did P make me pay; she made me have a cold shower then dragged me around the sweltering city and through a market which was stinking hot, over-crowded, stunk like fish and far too noisy. At one stage P wanted to go and try some of the different coffee so bought me a coke and left me at one of the hawker stalls in the middle of the market, 10 minutes later she returned to find me asleep sitting up with the locals all wondering what to do with me. On that note we went back to the guesthouse where I fell into a deep sleep the second my head hit the pillow, Paula made it out for a full body massage from the blind institution which is one of the only places that is recommended as the masseuses are professionally trained and won’t ask you if you want a happy ending...

Tuesday 27th March - HCMC

After re-booking our tour from the previous day we had an 8am pick up from our guesthouse for our tour 30km 1 ½ hours’ drive to the Cu Chi tunnels which facilitated the Viet Cong during the 1960s. There was around 200km of tunnels during that time.

Our guide showed us around the area where we were shown some old school boobie traps, went down and through a 100m tunnel, and P and I fired 10 rounds each of the American M16. This particular shooting range had the guns fixed to the fence so you didn’t really take control of the weapon and it was only a single shot so there was really no way of having a spray or hitting the targets. Cambodia range is definitely better :)

After the tour we found a great local restaurant where we feasted on Beef Pho (P’s favourite dish which is a beef noodle soup), spring rolls and fried rice before making it back to the guesthouse to pack ready for our pick up tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 28th March - Vung Tau

Another stuff up with our travel arrangements, although this time it was not our fault. We missed our first boat to Vung Tau which is a small town 3 hour drive East of HCMC, but got on another 45 minutes later. We decided to take the hydrofoil instead of the bus for different scenery and also because it only took half the time. Once we docked in Vung Tau we got a taxi to take us to what is recommended as the busy backpacker area in search of a guest house. Vung Tau was nothing like we expected, we were told that during the week it is quiet and on the weekend it is humming as a lot of people from HCMC go there for the weekend to get away from the city, spend the weekend at the beach and slightly cooler temperatures (about 30-33 degrees). Not only were we the only westerners there, the locals were incredibly unfriendly, inflated their prices more than 10 times, the beaches were dirty and polluted, and we felt very unwelcome. In the afternoon we hired a motorbike from the guesthouse and went cruising around the area to see what it was all about. Although we have tried to avoid them as much as possible, we ended up at a westerner bar where we had a couple of drinks and a few games of pool, when we left and got to our motorbike our helmets had been stolen and the ‘security guard’ had no idea what had happened to them. Driving on a motorbike without a helmet in Vietnam is illegal and westerners get fined big bucks if they are caught so we quickly went to a helmet shop where we had to buy new ones and continue on our way.

Thursday 29th March – Vung Tau

Today we decided that we would go back to HCMC tomorrow as we had already paid for two nights in the guesthouse, but we would also start the day with fresh minds and no bias towards the town. We caught a gondola 500m above sea level that took us to a hilltop overlooking Vung Tau. At the top we checked out the views, walked around the area which is marketed as a Cloud Lake eco-tourism park and found ourselves at an area that had rides similar to a mini theme park. Much to our surprise all the rides were included in the gondola ticket so we made the most of the go-carts and the alpine rollercoaster before making our way back down the gondola. That afternoon we were once again sweltering in the heat, so we checked into a resort pool for the afternoon where we lazed about and enjoyed the beach chairs in our own space. For dinner that night P had been sussing out a popular seafood restaurant that is highly recommended in the Lonely Planet. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and a couple of drinks as we watched a massive electrical storm roll passed and also the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship that looked spectacular all lit up at night.

Friday 30th March – Vung Tau - HCMC

Today we made our way back to HCMC by hydrofoil again and checked back into the same guesthouse. We noticed the huge difference in temperature here compared to being by the coast (so much hotter) so we sought out a movie theatre that played English movies and sat in the air-con for a few hours. That night we went back to a delicious restaurant that we came to a couple of days earlier and had some drinks and a little bit of food. After a few hours Dan decided that he wanted to check out a bowling alley in another part of town so we decided to take a moto taxi (motorbike with a driver and you on the back) through town to the alley. This sounds reasonably easy and stress free unless you have seen the traffic in HCMC. Motorbikes travel at about six a breast who try to merge with taxis, buses and cyclos, there are no real road rules here, generally you just go for it although buses have the right of way, then cars, then motorbikes. Being a pedestrian is tough work; you kind of just step off the curb and slowly walk across the road as the traffic disperses around you, also if you get hit its your fault!!

Saturday 31st March

Tonight we leave for Mui Ne by sleeper bus at 8pm so we have the day to spend chilling out around HCMC. We had a sleep in, nice breakfast, skyped Rusty and Ali then went for a walk though one of the many central city parks. Today is a public holiday in Vietnam, we haven’t been able to figure out why it is a public holiday but we do know that it is a four day holiday and HCMC is in comparison to a few days ago totally deserted. As I sit in a sports bar typing up this blog we watched the end of the Hurricanes game as they were beaten by the Cheetahs and we are currently half time in the Chiefs vs Warratahs game. Soon we are off to get P some more Beef Pho and pick up our bags to get on the bus. Luckily Mui Ne is only about four hours from here so we will get there about midnight tonight, book into a guesthouse and hopefully wake up to a clean and beautiful beach town tomorrow.

Thats all for now folks, until next time

Love D&P x

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