A Travellerspoint blog

Nha Trang and Hoi An

In which we hit the beach, fall in love with a town and drink copious amounts of iced coffee

semi-overcast 28 °C

After the craziness of Saigon, we were quite glad to escape to the beach, and Nha Trang didn't disappoint. A really beautiful 8km beach covered in white sand and surrounded by palm trees. Nha Trang itself isn't a big place, just a few streets of shops and restaurants, lots of big hotels and a lots and lots of Russian tourists (apparently Nha Trang is a really popular holiday destination in Russia - who knew?) We spent a couple of days just chilling out on the beach.

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Aside from spending time on the beach, we have also fallen in love with Vietnamese coffee, which is either served hot with it's own mini filter on the cup, or over ice with condensed milk. I can't get enough of the iced coffee, and we found a favourite roadside stall to buy it from.

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There are also really amazing baguettes here - our favourite place served them wrapped in what looked like someone's maths homework (we think it was actually the stall's accounts but there you go!) Filled with pork, chicken and veg... tasty!

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So after a couple of really relaxing days in Nha Trang, we got another night bus to Hoi An. After a long and uncomfortable 13 hour journey, it took all of about 20 minutes for us to fall in love with Hoi An - I have totally lost my heart to it. A small town of narrow streets filled with original merchants houses and craft shops. In days gone by Hoi An was an important trading port, but today it is a historic town, world heritage site... and beautiful place to spend a few days. I couldn't take enough photos, but here are just a few.

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Hoi An is not only beautiful, but it's a great place for shopping - so as well as seeing some cultural sites like merchant houses, Chinese assembly halls and the symbol of Hoi An - the Japanese Bridge - we also did a bit of shopping, including getting ourselves some custom made clothes from one of Hoi An's favourite tailors. Fancy. More like we realised we can't turn up in the bars of Sydney wearing the same falling apart shorts and t-shirts we've been living in for the last few weeks!

After a couple of days wandering the streets of Hoi An, today we rented bikes and rode out along the coast to another lovely beach - after a beach drought since we arrived in Asia we're being a bit spoilt with two amazing beaches in a week!

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The ride out was almost as lovely as the beach - seeing a bit more of rural Vietnam.

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And to top it all off, we then rode out to an island just across the bridge from Hoi An to a bar called the Sleepy Gecko we'd heard about. As you can see though - after a long day's cycling Marcus just couldn't stay awake long enough to drink his shot!

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We could easily have spent a lot longer here, but tomorrow we're moving onto another world heritage site - the city of Hue - via Elephant Springs and Marble Mountain - on motorbikes (don't worry - we're not driving!)

Posted by teamgb 04:15 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City

In which we brave the Saigon traffic, visit the centre of the Cao Dai religion, try out some Viet Cong tunnels and cruise around the Mekong Delta

sunny 30 °C

Ho Chi Minh City is hectic! We've spent the last four days here - had a great time but we're exhausted! The traffic here makes Kathmandu look like a pedestrian zone - an unending stream of mainly mopeds which just don't stop. You just have to walk out into the traffic and they weave around you - we've finally mastered it but it's a bit of a leap of faith the first few times!

We arrived on Wednesday from Phnom Penh after a long but painless journey from Cambodia. We're staying in a really sweet, family guesthouse in the centre of the city - with possibly the nicest people ever running it. When we tried to leave for a walk with our bags, they were asking us to leave stuff behind so we didn't get our bags snatched, asking where we were going, checking we had a map... anyone would think we looked incapable!

One of the best things has been that we've timed our visit with an International Food Festival going on in a park a few minutes walk from our guesthouse. They've got food stalls from all over Asia (and a Fosters stall to 'represent' Australia) and a big stage with live music and dancing. On our first night, we even stumbled across some Mu Thai boxing - you can imagine how happy Marcus was!

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On Thursday we went out for the day to visit the centre of the Cao Dai religion. It's touted here as one of the 'weirdest' religions, which doesn't seem particularly PC, but it is really interesting. We went to their main temple which is north west of the city to see a service. People who observe Cao Dai attend the temple four times a day - at 6am, midday, 6pm and midnight - not much time for anything else! The temple itself is amazing - lots of bright and intricately patterned columns and murals.

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The religion is a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Christianity - but my favourite fact is that they have three 'saints' - one of whom is Victor Hugo, the French poet. We couldn't quite figure out why...

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In the afternoon we went to the Cu Chi district which, even though it's in the south, was a strong Viet Cong area during the war. They had one of the network of tunnels that the VC built to evade the Americans, and which they used to launch attacks. The tunnels are tiny - about 40cm each way - pretty horrible for claustrophic people like me! We both had a little go in one of the hiding tunnels though.

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100m of one of the remaining tunnels has been widened for tourists to have a go - apparently it's about 2.5 times the size it was during the time the VC used it. Marcus crawled through it - apparently at times it was pitch black and you were on hands and knees crawling through holes underground. These tunnels were three levels, down to about 8m below ground. Sounds pretty terrifying to me!

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The next day, we visited the War Remnants Museum which, while largely one-sided, is a real eye-opener about what happened here in the seventies. They have exhibitions about the ongoing effects of Agent Orange on the population with some incredibly sad stories, as well as a whole catalogue of information about atrocities committed by the Americans. It's a bit of a weird place - outside are huge tanks, planes and other American equipment captured or left over that people are having photos taken with - juxtaposed with really horrific stories and photos inside. One thing that we were shocked by is that there are still a huge amount of unexploded bombs left over here - which is still killing and maiming people today. In a few days we're going up to the DMZ which is the area most affected, so we might find out more then.

Yesterday we had a really good trip out to the Mekong Delta - getting a bus to My Tho and then a series of boats around some islands and through the delta canals. We really wish we had more time here, as getting out of the city and chilling out on some boats, eating lovely fresh fruit and getting some fresh air was a really great way to spend the day.

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So - today is our last day in Saigon, and tonight we're getting the night bus to Nha Trang which is - finally - a beach!

Posted by teamgb 18:05 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh

In which we make like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft and explore hidden temples

sunny 32 °C

Suor sdei from Cambodia! We've spent the last week in Siem Reap and the capital Phnom Penh. What an amazing country... if its possible even better food than Thailand, wonderfully friendly people and amazing history. We are absolutely loving it here.

Our Cambodian adventure got off to a great start with the best guest house we've stayed in yet. As anyone who has stayed in budget accommodation will know, if you get a clean bed and a hot shower you're pretty happy. But Golden Temple Villas (name check recommendation) was brilliant. We arrived after an eleven hour journey from Bangkok, tired, exhausted and hot. They sat us down in the restaurant, gave us free drinks, cold towels, organised a tuk tuk driver for us the next day and invited us to help ourselves to the free hot drinks. When we got to the room it was even better... a four poster bed no less in a lovely quiet room covered in carvings and wall hangings. At this point, its possible we were never going to leave.

Room at Golden Temple Villas

Room at Golden Temple Villas

We spent the next three days exploring the Angkor temples, the site is huge (hundreds of square miles) so we rented a tuk tuk to take us around.

Tuk tuk

Tuk tuk

The temples are unimaginable, especially considering they were built between the ninth and twelfth centuries. Even more amazing is that you can just explore them yourselves... climbing over the ruins, exploring hidden rooms and generally pretending to be in a film in our case. One of the sites, Ta Phromn, was actually used as a location in the Tomb Raider films.

Much better than me trying to describe how cool it was, here are just a few of the many, many photos we took over the three days...

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom 2

Angkor Thom 2

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

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Tree 2

Tree 2

Some of the temples have been left half as they were found, with trees and roots intertwined with the temples. It is literally like what a Disney theme park would look like if they decided to build a hidden temple.

After three days of temple exploits, we headed onto Phnom Penh, about a six hour bus ride. While Siem Reap is quiet a compact, reasonably quiet town, Phnom Penh feels a lot busier and more frenetic. As you'd expect from a capital city really. Much less tourists too, or certainly where we are. The food in Cambodia has been fantastic, its similar flavours to Thai food - lots of lemon grass, coconut and Thai basil - but more gentle and less spicy. They also have great breads and baguettes (a legacy from the French). We have also of course, in the interests of research, been trying out the local beer. We can confirm it is very good.

Angkor beer

Angkor beer

Its an interesting time to come to Phnom Penh as the king has just died so there is a mass mourning at the palace. There are photos of the king all over the city, and a constant chanting is being broadcast from the palace. In the evenings when we've walked through the park in front of the palace there are lots of local people because its a big meeting place, but also people laying flowers, burning incense and mourning the king.

Phnom Penh palace

Phnom Penh palace

Yesterday we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeng Ek killing fields. It feels really important to have been there, to bear witness I suppose, but they are totally harrowing places. The museum has been set up in the buildings of S21, a notorious prison and torture centre under the Khmer Rouge. Much of the prison has been left as it was when it was found, even down to rusting shackles and blood stains. Its an incredibly powerful way to tell that story. Of the 20,000 people (including women and children) only seven survived.

All those people were executed at Cheung Ek, which is now a memorial to all those killed in the genocide. Again, you can walk around the site which was filled with mass graves. Some of the stories we heard there will probably live with us for the rest of our lives, just unbelievably horrific. At the site they have built a memorial stupa which is filled with the skulls and bones of the victims.

Just time for one more lovely Cambodian meal tonight and tomorrow we're on the road again, next stop Ho Chi Minh city...

Posted by teamgb 22:54 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Bangkok

In which Marcus continues his quest for weird foods, we visit the grandest of grand palaces and finally get some real heat

sunny 35 °C

Greetings from Bangkok! We arrived here from Kathmandu on Saturday night, after a pretty easy flight via Delhi. We had originally planned to head straight on the road because we need to come back to Thailand in a few weeks, but we have both unfortunately been pretty unwell so decided to have a few extra days here. I think the toll of the trek and bouts of illness in Nepal are really starting to show, so we've deliberately taken it easy (after Marcus gave me a talking to about how we can't do everything!) Luckily our hotel is right on the Khao San Road so we don't have to walk far to get anything. We've already done a bit of shopping... at £2 for an owl t-shirt it'd be rude not to.

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So, we've had a couple of mornings chilling by the rooftop pool in our hotel, which has been lovely. Scorching hot with views over the Bangkok skyline, and a chance to show off our Everest diet bikini bodies (only two weeks of intense trekking and food poisoning you know)!

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Yesterday we went to the Grand Palace, which is actually a whole complex of palaces, temples and other incredibly decadent buildings. It is just overwhelmingly opulent, everything is covered in gold or intricate patterns of stones, carvings and murals.

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Gold statues

Gold statues

Statue

Statue

Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Temple of the Emerald Buddha

It is also home to the emerald Buddha, a jade carving which is apparently the most sacred item in Thailand. It has three outfits that are changed by the king during the year depending on the season (at the moment he's wearing his winter outfit... because 35 degrees is definitely wintery).

However, probably the highlight so far has been the food. There are street stalls everywhere selling pad Thai, noodles, curries, juices, and... insects. Marcus couldn't resist, so after getting a recommendation he went for a yummy bag of crickets. Apparently they tasted like prawns but less fishy (presumably more crickety).

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I was much happier with my massaman curry from a stall... delicious.

Today we've had another relaxing day by the pool, although we did push it and walk up the road for a foot massage. All in the interests of recuperation of course.

Tomorrow we're off to Cambodia... who knows what food Marcus might find to eat there...

Posted by teamgb 02:10 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Pokhara

In which we have a well earned rest

On Monday we got the bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara, about a seven hour journey. So far we'd only seen busy Kathmandu and the mountains, so it was lovely to see the more rural side of Nepal. Pokhara has been just what we needed, warmer, quieter and more relaxed. We're staying in Lakeside (guess what its next to) and our hotel room even has a tiny balcony with views of the lake, Fewa Tal.

On Tuesday we hired a boat to take us across the lake and then did an hour's steep walk to reach the beautiful World Peace Pagoda. The walk took us few really lush forest with great views back across Pokhara.

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View of Pokhara from pagoda

View of Pokhara from pagoda

Unfortunately, it also bought us into contact with some huge spiders and snake. Marcus was in his element with all the wildlife, and there were lots of beautiful butterflies and birds around too (here's hoping they eat the spiders). The pagoda itself was stunning, and from the top we also got a better view of the Himalayan peaks that overlook Pokhara, particularly the striking Fishtail mountain and Annapurna South.

World peace pagoda

World peace pagoda

Yesterday we had a walk (which ended up being a six mile round trip) to the International Mountain Museum (well you can't arrive at a mountaineering museum by car) which was interesting. Then today we took a walk along the north shore of the lake to the next village... brilliantly called Happy Village. Have decided this is the place for us!

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The walk was beautiful, really quiet with more cows and dogs than people around.

Lake view

Lake view

We also discovered our hotel has a roof terrace (by which I mean it has a roof with a couple of plastic chairs on it), and Marcus managed to blag himself a bottle of free Nepalese vodka, so we've been making our own vodka cocktails (vodka, guava juice and sprite since you ask) on our own private terrace. Who said backpacking wasn't luxury?

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So after a brilliant few days, sad to leave Pokhara and starting to feel sad about leaving Nepal too. Amazingly friendly and laid back people, beautiful mountains and great food. But its Kathmandu tomorrow and then we fly to Bangkok on Saturday via Delhi. Bring on the Thai food!

Posted by teamgb 02:55 Archived in Nepal Comments (1)

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