A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand - Chiang Mai - We're back & this time it's personal

by Kt

After getting back to Thailand from Singapore we headed straight up to Chiang Mai with the intention of settling for a bit in an apartment to get stuff sorted, have a break from the intensive travel and get organised.

It was nice to go back to somewhere we knew well - knowing where best to go to eat and shop. But we knew we didn't want to live around the old city area as we'd been before. The prices are often a little higher and just wanted to go somewhere where people live, not just tourists. So after a few days in our old favourite, the Na Inn, we moved to a room hostel in the Nimmanhaemin Road area to help us better with our search. This is an area we really wanted to move to. A modern area, created only in the last 20 years, it's near the university so has lots of young people and quirky cafes and restaurants and has a network of wide, quiet, leafy sois (lanes). There are also a lot of Japanese and Korean expats so lots of my fave food!

Finding an apartment however was not an easy task. Biggest problem is wanting something on a per month basis - that really ruled out the majority of properties. Then there was our must have list - walking distance to Nimmanhaemin Road, a kitchen, a separate bedroom, a swimming pool, a balcony and somewhere for us both to sit to work. You'd be amazed that so many places are just lacking any kind of furniture. Or you get somewhere that has a kitchen but no crockery etc - bit odd for a serviced apartment to be rented monthly!
After days of pounding the streets and going to all corners we ended up, as you do on most property searches, compromising big style and paying way more than we wanted!
Our new temporary 'home' was not a 1 bed apartment but a studio. There was a kitchen but no cooker (this was true of everywhere we looked though), no hob but there was a kitchen sink (you'd not believe how rare!), a microwave, hot water machine and plenty of crockery. The nice thing about the place was that it felt homely. The place rents rooms like a hotel but they are privately owned so each one is different. Some we had seen were sparse on the furniture side and especially for the kitchen. This place had plenty of space to work and even a little sofa area to sit which was a real bonus. Table and chairs on the balcony - I can't tell you how rare this is. In all but 1 places we have stayed in South East Asia that has had a balcony, only 1 had somewhere to sit. This balcony was also massive, was covered by the balcony above so sheltered from rain and really private - making it like another room almost. Oh and it does have a rather amazing mountain view too!

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This place is opposite our building...

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.... nope, we've got no idea either - unusual combo and one I'm not sure I will likely be investigating further.

Much as I was annoyed by Mark's insistence at a pool, which was definitely quite limiting, it is a really nice pool. Nice size, enough loungers (usually you get about 2 in a place where 100 people are staying - go figure!). But it's generally quiet down there in the day and it's def worth having for a cool down seeing as our room's aircon is practically useless.

When we moved in we went to Tesco Lotus to stock up on some bits - including a plug in saucepan type thing to do some cooking. Took some thinking about but eventually go used to what works cooking with it - had to get a bit experimental. I personalised the place an incy bit with things I had bought & stored in Chiang Mai while away. There was also some blue tack so I decorated the huge dressing table mirror with things cut out of magazines (I've only bought about 5 mags in 9 months so I have sadly carried these things about for a long time) plus a postcard of Brighton my lovely Rachel sent me & a painting Aurnia (aged 3) did so that helped my modern art withdrawal! I even put up a world map inside an empty frame (not in a cool / designer way) on the wall behind the bed. This very much clashes with the chintzy decor of the room but I kinda like that. There's some pleasingly kitsch clocks in here too.

The building itself is just plain weird. It was obviously built some time ago as a flash, top end complex, but they haven't quite been as busy as they could be to maintain the luxury. There's a long foyer area down to the reception which is really dark no matter the time of day. There are shop units, many of which are empty while some have huge antiques and chandeliers in but are never open. It's kind of like a Vegas hotel that has seen better days, with the not so great taste of the Trump tower (also a strangely dark place inside I find). We are not unconvinced that it is kept dark to save on electricity. The corridors on the floors themselves are even dark and you rarely see a soul. It can be a little creepy actually. Biggest pain is that we have 2 keys but only one slot key to get in from the elevator to the room area. So we can't really go out separately without some co-ordination. Mark turned into an urban tourist version of Bear Grylls and tried to fashion a slot key out of a plastic store card and a knife. I thought he was being beyond ridiculous but have to say with the tools he (didn't) have he didn't do a bad job - it didn't work, naturally, but bless, eh?

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Our other issue is the aircon didn't work. They sent some guys in to fix it and Mark and I went quite pale as the guy climbed over the balcony railings and balanced himself - with no ties - on the ledge the air con is on and started tampering - it is the 11th floor!!!!!!!!!!

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An entertaining interlude of our day is when the black bag goes up and down the side of the building. This seems to be a sliced up black bin bag. It shuffles down the side past our balcony and then back up on a bit of thread. We think it may be on a pulley or fishing rod but we have no idea if this is someone doing it, if it's automated and what the heck it is for!!!

So not having to eat out every night is a real joy but at the same time we have some great little eateries on our doorstep. We discovered a Vietnamese restaurant to my eternal joy which turns out to be super cheap too.

Other places we have enjoyed are the Why Not? Italian which has a nice garden to sit out in and the Smile Milk Bar - Rose Panacota - divine!

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The Librarista cafe's iced cocoa was a revelation!

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On my birthday we went for a roast at the Pub which is now within walking distance of us. Then we went to iBerry which is an ice-cream cafe in a fabulous garden setting with a huge character sculpture in the gardens and lots of quirky features.

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There's loads of cute little cafes with interesting arty decor that you come across while wondering the streets - dinosaurs et al!

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It's nice being settled and to have a little domesticity. The downside of course is that Mark is a messy bugger and I am reminded that housework sucks, but it is minimal so I really mustn't grumble.
So, we'll be here for a while with a brief trip to Laos in the middle. We'll be leaving most of our stuff back in Chiang Mai so we'd better hope nothing goes wrong with visas etc and we're not allowed back into Thailand where all our stuff will be!

Posted by KtandMark 07:53 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Cambodia to Bangkok & onto the garden city - Singa-poor us!!

by Kt

Escape from Cambodia
So we had, unusually for us a deadline for a place to be - we had a flight booked to Singapore so we had to make it from Siem Reap to Bangkok. Flying, although our usual choice of wimping out, was out of the question as is super expensive. Bangkok airways has a monopoly apparently so keep the flight prices high. So there were buses and mini buses and lots of horror stories to contend with. The thing I find hardest with the budget travel options is that they take sooo long. So for about £20 more we could get a car taking less than 3 hours or we get a bus which could easily be changed for a mini bus half way on the trip from what we'd heard, that took about 6 or 7 hours (or worse, I'd heard). We then had to find transport on the other side of the border but we're used to Thai buses so we thought we'd get a government one - another good 6 hours - hence the reticence to do it the Cambodian side too.

The drive was nice, the Cambodian countryside is lovely. We made a brief stop when the driver stopped to buy some meat from someone on the side of the road. There was a big old wooden table laid out with what seemed to be the whole cow - a big toothy, cow skull smiling out at us was an early morning treat I can tell you ;)

We kept getting someone phone us via the driver to arrange transport on the other-side. We didn't want to do this as we wanted to see what kind of transport we'd be getting but he kept up and what we assume was him appeared when we were dropped off at the border and started hassling us again. We sussed out leaving Cambodia and then walked into a rather bleak no mans land, complete with hotel/casino place. The towns on both sides of the border were really rather grim and I would not suggest to anyone bedding down no matter how convenient it might seem.
While queuing for Thai customs we got chatting to a young guy from Amsterdam. We were only westerners around that early in the morning and decided to look into splitting cost of a taxi. We got stuck at 'customs' for a while waiting for him. I say customs, there is just an ancient old scanning machine where they just get the odd person to put their stuff through. He had a bunch of stuff taken off him and we were a bit confused as to what it was about but have since realised that you can't take images of the Buddha out of Cambodia (I think this is true of Laos also and poss Thailand, though not sure it's enforced much).
Somehow on the other side of the border the guy who'd been hassling us on the Cambodia side appeared. Not quite sure how that happened but we just gave in and said if we agreed with the car we'd go with him - after haggling and telling him we would pay half the money up front and half when arrived in Bangkok we were on our way. It was not the fanciest car in the world. It had aircon.. just. It also seemed to have a spitfire in the boot. There were many points I wasn't sure if we'd make it. Mark and our new Dutch friend bonded over a love of diving while our driver dodged impending death a few times.

The highlight of the trip was the guy on a moped who was riding along his moped CROSS LEGGED...... ON THE PHONE...... ON THE DUAL CARRIAGEWAY!!!

We made it to Bangkok in just a few hours - taking taxis both side of the border had proved a tremendously good idea. I would highly recommend it and it doesn't even work out expensive if you can find a few people to travel with.

We had problems trying to get the driver to understand where our hotel was. The map on the phone, though in Thai was too small for him to read apparently. It concerned me slightly that he had such poor eyesight but had driven us such a distance - may have accounted for some of those near misses perhaps. If you start out highly strung when you go traveling, you really have to let it go. Just don't look is my main motto these days.

So, Bangkok.....

We were staying in the shopping district of Bangkok as we really needed to restock some clothes so we didn't go to Singapore looking like complete hobos.
This part of Bangkok was a bit of a culture shock, in a good way. It was like freakin Vegas - big, bright with anything you could wish to do, buy, eat! The nice thing about it was that it was side by side with the market stalls and the street food. The sky train as public transport was cheap and super easy. Was a real treat to get about in such a straightforward manner.

One of the things I loved about Bangkok was the bright coloured taxis. There were lots of bright pink one's which just made the traffic look cheerful.
There was also lots of sculptures, colour and interesting decor - a vibrant modern place.

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Food could be pretty pricey around where we were staying - the bagel shop I tracked down wasn't cheap but was really good. Always nice when you have something you haven't had for so long. We did find a fab little place that was decent value down the road from our hotel - the Pisces. And look they did their rice in a star shape - how can you not love that?

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I, to Mark's utter boredom, was delighted by the bath in our hotel room, though far from swanky, was exactly the Tiffany colour. This pleased me greatly. I still don't really know what to do with this information - felt I had to share it somewhere. Some of you understand, surely?

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Managed to get some shopping done, which was a very boring use of our time in Bangkok but it definitely showed me I'd like to spend more time there to explore.

Singapore

I had very much been looking forward to going to Singapore as, though a place I was interested to see, my friend Elena, who we'd hooked up in with in Phuket, lives there and so I couldn't wait to get together and have some fun. It was the week before my birthday so I considered this my birthday treat to myself.
And treated I was, emotionally and physically!! It's so nice to spend time with a friend you don't see very often and doubly nice when you've barely seen any friends for so long. It's also nice to be in a place where someone can guide you and knows how everything works. It takes all the stress out of everything. You don't have to make decisions and work stuff out and find things - it was utter bliss!!! I won't go into much detail to protect the innocent (or not so innocent) but give a quick rundown of where we went and what we ate.

On our first night we went to a private members club called the Tanglin club. Well let's start in style eh? I was glad that we'd invested in a few new clothes so they at least let us through the door! We had a very nice catch up and laugh, some champagne (oh happy day Veuve my fave!) and tried some Singapore food before heading off to a bar called Harry's, as Mark had expressed his desire to see a band. Not eloquently expressed as he'd had a few by then but 'I wanna see a band' was enough for fairy godmother Elena to make his wish come true.

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Harry's has been around for years and is a Singapore institution. It is opposite a place known as the '4 floors of whores'. Charming, oui? Well this place by night offers gentleman.. lady friends.. and depending on how high up the floors of the building you go, the quality of goods (for want of a better expression) improves. In Harry's, the band was very cool and also an institution. The charismatic, former singer, who lost his voice many years ago, still hangs around and joins them on stage. A sad but nice story of an interesting figure. As the evening went on there was definitely some negotiations going on with some of the clientele. By this time Mark was pretty merry and as his volume levels rose and appreciation of appropriate behaviour lowered, we managed to bundle him into a taxi home.

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The next day I started with a pot of teapigs tea. It is sad how disproportionately happy this made me. As we'd had a late night, our breakfast was so late that it was way past lunch but as I ended up having the best burger of my life, it was worth the wait. It was seemingly quite simple, a Wagyu beef burger (which I've had before and is always a bit special), sweet bread (not as in the offal of course) roll, pickle and just every bit was utter deliciousness. At this early point I was thinking it was going to be difficult to get me to leave this island.

That evening we went to a party at some friends of Elena's family which was lovely. Partly as the hosts family had cooked some amazing mutton biriani which was to die for, but mostly because it was just a very, warm, friendly, fun evening. It was so nice to be welcomed into someone's home and meet so many interesting people. By the nature of Singapore, it's population are so multi-national. Everything is a blend of styles, it really creates an interesting mix.

On Sunday I was able to tick off something that was on my bucket list. Climb Kilimanjaro? Bungee jump off a New Zealand ravine? Naaah - Champagne buffet in Singapore thank you very much!!! From the moment I'd heard about this Sunday brunch buffet where you get free flow, I repeat FREE FLOW champagne for the duration, it has been on my round the world bucket list. Shallow maybe - worth it? Definitely!
So this was at the St Regis. Elena is a regular so nabbed the best seats and talked us through it works. You have a menu of courses which you can order and is cooked in the kitchen, then you also have table after table of amazing food laid out that you can scoop up anytime you like. It is a french restaurant essentially which meant for amazing, fall on the floor with joy, stenchy, gooey cheese, amazing meats and seafood. Of course, it being Singapore there was plenty to cover all international tastes too. And did I mention the champagne?

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My favourite things from the things you ordered were: Crab Tartar & Avocado, Lobster Tartar with Black Pear Puree, Lobster Bisque, Sauteed Snail with Parsley & Garlic, Mushroom Risotto, Parmesan Cheese, Pan Seared Duck Breast, Pan Seared Scallops. They were all pretty tiny and incredibly tasty.

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Mark was a kid in a candy store/typical bloke at a buffet - he kept going back to the cooking station and had the same thing 3 time and seemed to feel the need to try one of anything he can get his hands on. I could see this was not going to end well. I was working on a much longer term strategy, making sure I wouldn't fill up on things I wasn't that bothered about so I couldn't appreciate the really special things (this theory was wasted on Mark). The nice thing about the whole thing is it's over a few hours (so for normal people - i.e not Mark - you have time to sit and let food digest) and is just luxurious and laid back affair. Did I mention the champagne?

I'm not a major desert person but the sweets were truly impressive. It was like they'd put Willy Wonka's factory through the Honey I Shrunk the Kids zapper.

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One thing I do adore is a rum baba and I think you can agree this is a great little number:

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Cheese & meats..... you have no idea how exciting this was for me. Proper cheese and meats are rare in Asia, well you can of course get them so it comes at a price and I've really missed it. Parmesan and Parma or Serrano hams are the one staple you will always find in my fridge back home. I could have just eat that and been happy.

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There was a bit in the salad section where you could kind of build your own ramen but as I often do with too much choice, got overwhelmed and came back with about 3 strands of noodle, a carrot and a cherry tomato. Elena who is half Japanese was appalled by my pathetic attempt and marched me back over to do it properly. There was a ceramic kettle which had hot miso which you poor on the noodles and then you top with the sliced bits and pieces. Here is my failure:

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And here is the correct version:

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That night we were pretty stuffed and tired so we all slobbed out and watched the strange mixture of the modern remake of Western 'True Grit', where we didn't understand a word they said and then 'Tangled' which was perfect! Elena's mum had supplied some left over bit and pieces which I didn't touch as was still too full which I was delighted about when her dad then turned up with left overs from the Japanese club which I happily wolfed down. It was a day, happily full of champagne, as I'd expected but it was also a day very happily full of some divine food. That is a happy tick on my bucket list, although I'm thinking about changing it to 'Have Singapore Champagne brunch once a year' :)

Next morning, a little sight seeing and some more food. We went to Little India which was way nicer than Little India in Kuala Lumpur. This was a nice heritage area, full of character and colour.

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We breakfasted on Dosa which is something I'd never tried before and loved.

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Next we went off to fairly new, super hotel Marina Bay Sands. This is a large hotel made up of 3 towers with a huge, cruise ship shaped (see what I did there) structure on the top. We went to the upstairs bar to have a few drinks (guess what) and check out the view. The swimming pool area is quite amazing, curving around the side of the hotel and with an infinity edge - very cool. Only problem, I thought, if I was staying there, I wouldn't be so keen to hang out there as you've got a whole bunch of tourists coming up to stare at the views and at you basically. Perfect for posers of course but not the greatest chill out going.

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I was particularly keen to see the 'Super Trees'. These are basically vertical gardens which have only just opened and I'd seen pictures of and they really are quite stunning. The whole area is kind of similar to the Eden project looking at eco botanical projects.

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One of the amazing things I learned was how much of the beachfront area was reclaimed. As in .. from the sea!!! Raffles is on beach road but isn't near the beach - that is because over the years Singapore has added to it's land by going out into the sea. This was a fact that, when on the top of an incredibly tall building on the edge of that land, made me feel a little bit wobbly.

We'd timed our trip quite badly as the Grand Prix was only due a couple of weeks after and the preparations had very much begun. From the top of the Marina Bay Sands you can see areas of the track. I can see how great it would be to be in Singapore for F1 because there are so many tall buildings you have lots of opportunity to get great places to watch.

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Then onto the infamous Raffles. It really is a gorgeous building and the thing that strikes me is how well built to be cooling it is.

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The long bar is actually not in it's original place - it was down in the hotel by the pool, but the for the sake of the guest's privacy it was moved up to the first floor on the outer corner. Pretty much all the features have moved but Elena says it doesn't have quite the same feel it used to, I guess that's to be expected. There are several factors the Long Bar is famous for:
- the mechanical fans, glamorously swishing above you

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- the Singapore sling, obviously we had one and it's actually quite nice - couldn't have much as it's too sweet for my tastes but pretty good!
- the peanuts in their shells are brought up from their big hessian sacks and you break em open and chuck the shells on the floor. It's tradition, but I tell you, it's quite hard - it goes against every grain. I tended to pile up the mess neatly then realising there was nowhere to go, just swept it all off onto the floor. Mark of course loved it and just flung it all over is shoulder.

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A new addition is the pigeons - all the peanut shell has made it attract some pretty bright pigeons who literally sneak in through the front door. Some customers who were in their eating were a little perturbed with the birds flying over when the staff try to shoo them out. We just found it funny and added to the character. I think this might be a battle they have on their hands for the foreseeable future.

I personally was just very excited about the hessian sacks - seriously - think back, when was the last time you saw one of those?

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The last thing we did (yep, more food, more champagne) was get some Chilli crab which Singapore is famous for.
We had the most amazing two starters. One was a sticky black squid dish, the other was a garlicy razor clam type thing.
Then came the crab! Wow, there was a lot of crab and it was messy. You really had to just get in and prepare to get yucky. And that I did! I liked the pepper crab more than the chilli crab I think.

As for what the parsnip shaped things in the top tanks were - your guest is as good as mine:

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And this meal I think pretty much took us to the point where we were so full of food we were walking like the Ghostbuster dough boy. Elena is well known for breaking people on a night out but she managed on more than one occasion to break Mark (Mark!) with food.

So Singapore was mainly about friendship, fun and food. I've talked mainly about the food of course here ... and the champagne, let's not forget about the champagne!!! I certainly won't. It was a fantastic break from the norms of budget traveling. I conceded that we may have to skip a few central American countries to make up for the cost but it was so worth it.

So what about Singapore as a destination - it is so different from the rest of Asia we've been to so far. It's so efficient and pretty and clean. That probably sounds weird but it's kind of a shock when you get there. It's in such juxtaposition to everywhere else. You notice it from the second you arrive to the second you leave. It's a remarkable country and has much to be proud of. It does it's own thing. It takes no crap. You do wrong you're in trouble. I respect that. You want to be there or live there, you gotta pay for the privilege - fair enough! And it's small. There's no where to hide that's for sure!!
It's a great place for getting your head together I think. That probably goes against the grain as you would assume that going to somewhere spiritual like Thailand would be better for that, but actually going somewhere where everything just works as it should and isn't crazy and contrary and time consuming... you have more time to think.

Posted by KtandMark 07:37 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Cambodia - Phnom Penh - The Killing Fields in Mark's words

by Mark

sunny

Those who know me best would probably agree when I say I don't often get emotional about things that don't directly affect me or those closest to me. This isn't because I don't care about what goes on in the world, it's just that I'm very aware of the horrific things human beings can inflict on each other and dwelling on that is just going to bring me down.

So, a trip to the killing fields in Phnom Penh Cambodia was little more than something to do in the morning before going for a nice lunch. I don't mean that to sound heartless but that's about the amount of importance I had placed upon it. I also employed my usual method of hiding any discomfort I feel with a situation by making stupid jokes about it.

A soon as we arrived, I felt that this was going to have more of an affect on me than I'd initially thought. There was a stillness and a quiet calm that seemed to permeate the air and I instantly knew that this place was going to affect me. Just walking through the entrance was enough to bring a lump to my throat and I could see I wasn't the only one feeling this way. People seemed to be in their own worlds, trying to take in what they were seeing and hearing.

The "tour" for want of a better word includes a headset that gives you information about each point as well as some well thought out music and plenty of interviews with survivors and other people who have been affected by the atrocities that occurred here.

For those that don't know, The Killing Fields are a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979. More information here

We we're visiting the main site Choeung Ek where approximately 17,000 people were killed during this period. The tour takes you past areas where the killings took place, where prisoners were held, and the actual gravesites themselves.

As you walk around the site, you are reminded of just how recent these events were. Each time it rains, more reminders are brought to the surface; clothing, glasses as well as human teeth and bones. Looking at some of the clothing, you could imagine these people lives and the horror of their deaths.

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The actual gravesites are now just grass and are roped off. A lot of the bodies have been removed for proper burial but there are 100's still left here in underwater graves. For some reason, one of the graves sites had loads of butterflies on it. Make of that what you will but it did seem to be symbolic in some way.

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As you walk around, you come to the back of the killing fields where this is a very peaceful lake. There seems to be a family living on the edge of it in a shack with a young child. Must be a strange place to be brought up.

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The tour ends at the Stupa monument. This tall tower houses over 8000 human skulls and is perhaps the most moving reminder of what happened here on the whole tour. It's kind of beautiful and draws you into it for quiet contemplation. I found it hard to walk away from.

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Today, the killing fields strangely beautiful. They are a reminder of what happened, a memorial to those who were brutally killed and perhaps most importantly, a place for future generations to visit and educate themselves about how to ensure this never happens again.

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Posted by KtandMark 23:13 Archived in Cambodia Tagged fields cambodia killing reap siem Comments (0)

Cambodia - Phnom Penh/Siem Reaping the rewards at Angkor Wat

by Kt

Mark has been going on about Siem Reaping the rewards for the last week. I hope he'll have it out of his system soon.

So getting from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh was pretty straightforward. We decided on the Mekong Express which was brilliant. Spacious, aircon wasn't amazing but it was v hot out and my seat was broken & I was over the back wheel so I was like a bucking bronco. But they looked after you well, particularly on the border which is organised (kinda) chaos. You stop for a little tea break just over the border. Just over the border was a ton of casinos. Not sure about why this is - I don't think they can bet in Vietnam as there was a casino in Da Nang which we were told the locals couldn't use, it was for the mainly Chinese tourists.
These are not big, grand casinos. The best one was called the 'Winn' - yep!! - in the same font as the Wynn - lush!!!

Then onto Phnom Penh. Worst bit was the ferry the coach we went on - I never like going on them. But it was an amazing drive through the Cambodian countryside. It was really lovely. Stilted houses, paddy fields with sporadic palm trees on edges (not sure what that was about), cattle and water buffalo. The huge hay piles intrigued me - definitely quite old fashioned farming.

We turned up at the back of some market in Phnom Penh and were grateful we'd arranged a tuk tuk to pick us up through the agent in HCMC. The tuk tuk driver was doing this for free apparently but did we want to go anywhere the next day. Well we did (and I know this is the way it works) and he seemed nice enough so we booked him to pick us up the next morning.

The tuk tuks are another new design. They are like mopeds pulling trailers. They look totally unstable but once you're in them and have cornered a few times, you realise they are miraculously balanced.

They even have tuk tuk buses - which is pulling a long flat trailer with wooden benches, which people pile onto.
Tuk tuk lorries have a boxed in back to store stuff in. They're pretty amazing.

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Another country another beer - on our first night we tried some local beer. I didn't like it much.
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After a long day travelling we didn't feel up to a huge amount after getting to our guesthouse. The Khavi guesthouse, I booked after reading story from a couple of travel bloggers that had had this guy years ago as a tuk tuk driver who's dream it was to have his own hotel. Not easy for a tuk tuk driver with low and sporadic earnings. But he made it and a great place it was too. They were so lovely and helpful there. A nice area to chill out downstairs and in a great area. There's a street of places to eat and can walk to both the palace and the river.

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So we explored a tiny bit then headed down the road to a place I'd seen recommended for simple food. Truthfully, I mainly wanted to go because I'd heard they had a pug. Sad but true. And they did. A fatty pug who knew how to charm customers to get fed - hence the poster below.

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Next morning we headed off to our first stop, the Killing Fields. This is a fairly long, dusty tuk tuk ride. If anyone does it - def wear sunglasses and sit on the drivers side. I was on the other side so was closest to the many near misses with lorries (so much construction going on here) and other speeding vehicles we had. It was rather heart stopping. I made Mark swap sides on the way back and he concurred it was indeed the dark side.
The roads are pretty bad (some of them are pretty much just dirt tracks). There's lots of bits where the road caves in, so the bike (and big seated area behind don't forget) has to drive around - which either means into oncoming traffic or into the path of pedestrians or buildings. Joy!

As we neared the Killing Fields it became more rural. There's lots of Asian cows plodding around (you know the ones with the humpy necks). They seem to always need to itch their noses - funny seeing a cow scratch his nose on a moped.

Killing Fields

I don't have that much to say about the Killing Fields. It is incredibly well done and I think it's somewhere everyone should go to remind ourselves what so easily gets forgotten. This should not happen. It is strangely one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Meadows, trees, a pond, orchards, birds.
But this was somewhere that horrific things happened and music was played loudly at night so the locals couldn't hear the screams. One of the chilling facts is that they barely shot anyone. Bullets were expensive so should be wasted. So many people died here that bones and scraps of cloth often comes up to the surface which is sporadically collected by the staff. Most bodies have been collected and put into the remembrance tower but not all and some they have intentionally left, near the ponds edge. There is a audio tour which is free for all which explains everything and you hear he stories from many people. This means that you experience this in your own time, in your own head space. A quiet place where many people ended up walking around alone. You sit on a bench to listen and you look around you and see scraps of cloth which you realise belonged to a some poor soul, taken down here. You stare at the big tree in horror as you hear what it was used for. I won't go into any more detail. But it is utterly horrifying and paralysingly saddening. Something beautiful and slightly spooky, is the abundance of butterflies. I won't go all hippy dippy on you but it was something you couldn't help notice and feel in juxtaposition to the gloom.

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S21 Genocide Museum

There wasn't much to the genocide museum as a museum but it is again the building itself which holds a terrible history. This is an old school which was used as a prison. Crudely constructed open topped cells filled the larger rooms. There are larger rooms with metal beds which were used for torture. A large photo of a body found in those rooms is often on the walls. It's pretty much as it was. This only ended at the end of the 70s so it is tangibly recent. There are photos and information on the people that stayed there. Most died there or were sent to the killing fields. Again, there is lots of information but I will spare you.

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The whole thing is politically alarming - realising how easily people can take advantage of the broken and vulnerable. Like Hitler, Pol Pot took a country, shattered from civil war and sold an impossible dream to the poor and underprivileged. His hatred of education seemed insane as he'd studied in France and been a teacher himself and all the other high up members of the Khmer Rouge had been as well. He'd failed his degree I think - like Hitler, clearly had issues with rejection. There are some amazing quotes from him. My favourite was probably along the lines of 'it is better to kill an innocent than to let an enemy go'. Nice, eh!!! But the alarming side is that no-one stepped in. No-one noticed or no-one looked? It's always unsettling that we pick and choose the troubles we step into. It's just difficult to comprehend all this and quite frankly it takes you to a pretty dark view of the world. You have to cling onto those stories of moving forward. It is startling that the Cambodian people have come across as so 'light'. Not that I expect them to walk around being 'woe is me' but they've had a very recent atrocity and continue to be one of the poorest countries in the world. I have also heard people describe their encounters with Cambodia as hard and etched with trouble. Quite frankly my experience of almost everyone, young and old, has been that they're quite scampish! A little mischievous and full of smiles. And it's not smiley in a 'whatever you say tourist person' way that you get elsewhere - it's them laughing at themselves or at you, or whatever. Like I say 'light' and maybe that's the thing. Life shouldn't be dark and dour - it can be lost or get tainted so easily, it should be enjoyed and made the most of. It took me about a week to go with this one though. It didn't help that I was reading 'The Help' so my faith in the world remained minimal for a while.

Market

We had hours left in the day and felt bad getting rid of the driver but there aren't obviously a lot of other attractions in the city.
I think most people go shooting but I really wasn't up for that. It was something I really fancied before my recent stint in Vietnam and Cambodia remind me horror of war and that's what guns are for.
So we opted for a market which I'd read had great art deco architecture - Mark was excited, I can tell you :) But I figured we could grab some lunch and then finish up. So we walked around - it really was a lovely building and a gorgeous, clean, interesting market. No messiness - no hassle. In fact, I was wondering what was wrong with me - why did no-one want to sell to me. The tuk tuk drivers would offer themselves up and just laugh when you said no. Where was this harsh and harrowing Cambodia that I'd heard so much about?

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That evening we got a little more adventurous and wandered further up the river. This is a hive of activity with lots of games and antics going on on the thick stretch that runs alongside. More great people watching. Further on from here is also where the majority of restaurants and hotels seemed to be. We didn't get to go to our first choice of restaurant - I forget it's name but it's a charity place that trains up street kids - it was all booked up darn it but we found a nice, friendly and surprisingly chic restaurant and tried their Khmer specialty taster menu. This was our last night and we had another early start and another bus awaiting us.

I felt really guilty spending such little time in Phnom Penh. We did the usual stuff that tourists do - pop in, see the stuff of the humanitarian tragedy and then move on. It was a nice laid back place so I would have liked to have spent more time there working it out. If we hadn't (unusually for us these days) had a flight booked on a specific date which meant we had limited time to make it to Bangkok, we definitely would have hung out longer. I'd like to go back sometime. I think this city is definitely one to watch in coming years, I really hope they don't knock too much down and make it middle of the road and boring to wander.

Thoughts on Cambodia at this point...
There is a lot of building going on in PP which is great as it means progress but they are not holding onto heritage buildings and apparently great buildings are being knocked down all the time. Some are well looked after like the palaces and the market as per above. But in particular buildings from the 50s and 60s which with some loving care could be fantastic attractions, are being bulldozed and dull un-inspiring samey buildings are going up. Shame.

The other side of the countries development is I think it's the hugest void of rich and poor I've seen so far. Cars which you even raise an eyebrow at at home - like Hummers and Bentleys. Bit weird.

The people seem to like colourful clothes here. I noticed this early on. Lot of bright reds, oranges and yellows - even their shoes. The boys in PP are very into their hair. Dying bits of it and sticking it up as high and bouffant as possible. It's v sweet.

On to Siem Reap...

We booked our hotel through our guesthouse in PP as we liked them so much, and we also booked our bus ticket through them.

It was the Mekong Express again but the bus wasn't as comfy or modern as the one from HCMC. It was OK though. The journey wasn't so far anyhow.
We got dropped off in what was like an agricultural trading estate type place in the middle of nowhere. Our arranged tuk tuk driver wasn't there so we went with a sweet, enthusiastic young lad. Same deal - we booked him to go to Angkor Wat etc but left it a day so we could have a bit of down time the day after as we were getting pretty knackered with so much moving about.

The hotel we stayed at, the 'New Riverside' was amazing. Please note that it was nowhere near the riverside but who cares it was fab and a bargain. Big, comfy rooms, a great breakfast included and a nice pool area. The staff were all also lovely there.

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There was two things I loved there totally -
Their shrine in the foyer had a light up plastic pineapple - I want want so bad!!!

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Pumpkin, ginger and coconut milk soup with garlic bread. I had this about 4 times during our stay - sooooo good.

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Pretty much all day, until about 8pm there was a free tuk tuk to take you into town, which was fab. Mark hated this as the tuk tuk had to go down a very steep curb to get out and it always seemed it would tip.

The centre of Siem Reap is amazingly easy as it's been turned into a tourist haven. This has occurred over the last 15 years or so, so it's not really a representation of real Cambodia but it's nice and easy for weary travellers. There is a central street called Pub street (yes I know, sounds awful) but I think it's just about creating back packer type areas. We were generally only there early evening so was always tame but am sure got crazier and louder later on.

Our first stop was the Angkor What? pub (see what they did there!) this was the first pub in Siem Reap circa 1998 - history lesson for you there folks.

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They also had a rather posh Irish bar but as we stayed longer we explored further and went to places on the outer edges. My recommendations here are the Khmer Kitchen as mentioned above, Molly Malone's again as above, but the food was v good, Sunflower restaurant (Chinese & Khmer) & everything in our hotel was good!

Begging and dodginess

Now let me start by saying that this was no where near as bad as I was expecting. Not even close. But it is there so am gonna talk about it now and get it over and done with. It's obviously hideous to watch/deal with the kids sent out. My first experience was a girl after the Killing Fields who kind of just half heartedly loped after me mumbling money for school. I think after lots of people of course feeding them if they say this, they have mainly cotton'd on that education gets guilt ridden westerners a good'n. I just told her firmly no - always useful to learn that word in a language sadly. But that was the way it generally was; a kid kind of just following you and muttering unenthusiastically. I have heard however of people being chased down the street by hoards of children. This does seem to be when that person has stupidly given in and given one child something - so of course the rest think why not me and so the chase begins. I've always been very away about the evils of begging and got firm early on in life but I think Mark was feeling very uncomfortable and it's easy to throw money to remove your guilt but it helps no-one. You don't want to create the industry of begging as per India for example. I mean it's everywhere - beggars in the UK usually have a dog rather than a child at least but in Spain, Greece and Italy I've experienced toddlers launched at you in the street. I feel sorry for anyone who feels they can do nothing but beg but using children is so bad and we're told time and again that usually where the children are there, it's a scam/a business.

We witnessed slightly more hard core (and heart wrenching) incidents in Siem Reap. This definitely fell into the category of organised and calculated. We actually ended up staying in Siem Reap about a week which is fairly unusual so we could see the usual suspects at various times of the evening. They seemed pretty connected. I think it was likely one extended family. The older guys who hung out opposite Molly Malone's looked like they were just tuk tuk drivers but then realised there was only one tuk tuk and a few of them. Then I noticed they talked to the beggar kids. Then I noticed them talk to people and people blank them walking by. Now some people are that rude, but most would just say no thank you, not totally ignore. Then later when they approached us, realised they were selling drugs. They weren't pushy or anything but I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them away from a well lit, busy street.
So they then seemed connected to the woman with the baby hanging off her. And the very young kids who'd run around the street at other times of day with said baby with no mother insight. Seriously - it was about 3 months old being held by a 4 year old running about and playing. Heart attack!! The kids would come up to you and put their arms around you and ask for money. It's a strange tactic as it's so full on, but maybe people feel so guilty having to literally unpeel a child from themselves that they give them money to go away. We barely got bothered - I hate to think that I have developed such an uncaring vibe or a cold un-moving stare but at the same time, I hope I have - makes life easier.
There was one main culprit who I think was part of this clan but was on his own most of the time. I say culprit but someone has done this to this kid but I fear unless he gets out of this pretty sharpish his life is heading in an unpleasant direction. He must have been 7ish. He was full on with the arm throwing and did this from late afternoon, all night from what we could see, along the Pub Street area. There's lots of places with balconies which is how we watched him so often. It was quite funny at times to see the reactions of the foreigners. I particularly was impressed when the boyfriend/husband in a couple, siddled off leaving his other half to it. Helpful!! But then one guy firmly removed the kid and I think he may have then gotten a few choice words from the older, nasty guys. There's no winning here. It was bad to watch but the chilling part was the way this kid would turn. When he got turned away - which was inevitably most of the time, we've seen him 'play' kick the girl from behind and spit at people as they walked away. This poor little kid has been doing this for god knows how many years and he's now fighting back at the rejection he faces everyday. I can see this escalating to being more violent. He really does carry himself with a scarily aggressive demeanour (understandably). Sad to think of his fate :( But as I say, this in no way defines Cambodia. As in all poor countries (and not so poor countries) people will use scamming and begging as an income.
Of course it's on a whole other level when you have the landmine victims - the no legged man being pulled around on a cart by his very young daughter. Much more respectful but still, when you watch, very organised. The guy goes around on his own for much of the time - they let him 'skate' for want of a better word, around some restaurants as he's docile and not aggressive. But the mother turns up with the little girl for her to do her shift of ferrying him around for a bit before he goes it alone again.
I think in Cambodia they are aware and do not like this reputation as there's signs up in some businesses and about the place saying 'we want to work' and things like that. As the country develops, hopefully more opportunities will become available to people and especially kids and people with disabilities but in the mean time if tourists just stopped giving the guilt money, this problem would not be something that could potentially grow and hurt more people than it helps. There are always people there running charities that will welcome that money to help them help people properly. Although that is a bit of a minefield - have read that the 'visit an orphanage' type trips aren't really helping, it's kind of bringing the kids up with a bizarre viewpoint. I think you should be happy to invest in charity without wanting the 'payback' of a child smiling at you and some cute photos, but then if it provides much needed money - tricky one.

My name is Katie and I didn't go to Angkor Wat

So, yep I was in Siem Reap and I did not see Angkor Wat. I didn't see a simple temple or ruin. On the day we were supposed to go I felt really ill and so Mark went on his own. He saw Angkor Wat and some of the other amazing sights. He enjoyed it, he photographed, he learned some interesting facts about the history (for instance most of the Buddha statues don't have heads as our old friend Pol Pot sold them all).
We stayed in Siem Reap for a fair few days after so I could have gone. Thing is, the $20 dollar entry to the park seemed a bit steep for something I didn't really care about seeing. And it felt liberating to acknowledge this. I didn't want to go. I'm getting bored of temples and ruins have never been my thing. I've been to Greece countless times and have never been to one site. I am a history lover but more recent history. Pretty much anything from the late 1880s onwards and I'm in. But I truly would only have been going to tick it off a list. So I didn't. Ha! So there! I'm sure those of you who haven't yet been, who long to see this amazing wonder of the world, unesco heritage gem, want to throw things at me. But hey, maybe you've been to LA and haven't sought out the Randys Donut's building, been to Florida without worshiping at the art deco shrine of South Beach or you've gone to Japan without going to 'Hello Kitty World or you've never been to a Tiki Bar or you walk past concrete block buildings not realising it's 60s architectural masterpiece. Those would be scandalous to me!!!

Anyway, here's some pics from the ruin I missed :)

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Apparently these steps were really, really high - ha ha!!

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Previously mentioned missing Buddha head

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The monks carry gold umbrellas in Cambodia which always looks pretty stunning

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Highlights

Food

The Khmer food was a surprise. I'd not heard great things about the food but it turned out to be pretty good. Quite hearty food. Things like stews and potatoes! Totally not what was expecting. There is a place called the Khmer Kitchen which has 4 or 5 little cafes sprinkled about the place and is good to try.

Burning pots/witches cauldrons

These will always remind me of Cambodia now. They are sat out on the roads outside houses and businesses and are used to burn rubbish. They were being pushed as some kind of 'eco' initiative (it's probably more about keeping Siem Reap looking pretty for tourists - but either way it's a good thing).
They reminded me of the kids books 'Meg & Mog'

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People

I know it's cheesy and written and said too much when talking about a place but tough. Coz it really is a big thing. My heart is with the Vietnamese the most - I've fallen for them good and proper but Cambodia is a close second. They weirdly seem to have the closest to a British sense of humour. I loved the guy in our Siem Reap hotel who told Mark to look for a blue sack that someone had dropped in the bottom of the pool. Threw Mark for a while. Not used to cheekiness and sarcasm. It's great. Obviously there are plenty of miserable, mean, rude and grabby people but on the whole people were just genuine.

Posted by KtandMark 23:12 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City & a quick trip to the seaside

by Kt

So, flying down from Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City as again the buses didn't look too tempting. The roads around the mountain are pretty hairy and the journey to do just a few hundred kilometeres was going to take 7 hours. Vietnam airlines are just too good and cheap not to use.

We were prepared for chaos in HCMC as some people had said that the traffic there was crazier than Hanoi. Not true. It's definitely still crazy in places but there's way more traffic lights and crossings so walking into swarms of traffic was pretty rare. I was a bit disappointed - I've become a real adrenalin junkie for walking into the road! It's still got the traditional sights and sounds though and Mark wasn't overkeen but I loved it.

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It's a much more modern city and seemed much larger too than Hanoi. We were staying in the backpacker area as that's where pretty much all the accommodation was. It was great when we first got there as everything is on your doorstep but it wore a little thin pretty soon as most places to eat or drink were a rip off and not that good. Eventually we found some good ones, hiding down lanes or leaving the area.

There was a small cafe in our alleyway called the Asian Kitchen which was great and while on a touristy day we stumbled across an amazing restaurant called Nha hang khoai (near the war remnants museum at 3a le quy don)
We'd stopped for a cold drink after a long hot walk and seeing the interesting menu and the prices, made sure we came back. Simply not being in the middle of tourist trap meant this v modern, stylish and tasty restaurant was great value. The food was central Vietnamese I think.
Mark was very adventurous and ordered sea snails - now these were nice but they were huge and there was tons of them so I think unless you were gonna share between 2 or more people - not great idea for a wussy westerner. It was a lot of snail to munch through.

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The sea snails:

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We also had crispy pancakes, which I wish I'd had more of in our time in the country and I won the smug award by ordering crab glass noodles which was mind blowingly delicious.

Another good feed, back in the touristy area was Le Pub (one of 2 in the country - the original being in Hanoi) - fantastic Bun Cha there and we went to my first ever ice-cream cafe, 'Fannys'. I so wanted to order the ice-cream that looked like sushi but went for taste instead of style.

The best part of our stay, and is what returned us to the backpacker area even though I wasn't that keen on it, was our guest house. The Vietnamese family that ran it were lovely and sweet. They had an 18 yr old poodley dog that hung out at the front not up to much, bless him and there was another one in back room that we never saw but he did yap like crazy when heard us. Apparently he only does it for foreigners - just doesn't like em!!
The place was called Ly Lyon and I can highly recommend - they are lovely people, it's very safe and cosy and comfy. Nice little homey touches. Great price too.

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My favourite thing about HCMC is the green spaces. There are large park areas in the city centre where all life goes on.
People walking circles around the park to get their exercise, little fitness areas setup with things to step on/swing on etc, aerobics classes, teenagers practicing dance routines, people sitting with guitar singing, the soccerish game involving kicking a shuttlecock high in air - that was super popular. Sundays were best - the park was bursting with life.

People watching is fun in HCMC - sitting on a street corner watching the crazy traffic and comings and goings. Although when in the backpacker area you of course have a lot of idiots. It seems to be a real hub for people coming and going at the starts and ends of their trips. Huge buses turning up all the time.

One of the first things we did was go to the War Remnants Museum. Not a cheerful day but an important one none-the-less.

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Out the front of the museum are some tanks and planes, including ones abandoned by the US army. You can see most of the blokes around like this bit in the way that boys do, but once you move into the museum any excitement and enthusiasm they had for war is quickly dispelled (unless they are complete pyshcos). It is the quietest place I had ever been to as people walk alone contemplating what they see.

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It is also a very fair museum. There is no condemnation for the US troops, only for the war itself. It was fascinating to see information on the extent of the opposition around the world which I'd never realised the extent of. In fact there are many instances of acts of bravery and of stand out acts of humanity from US troops and it also highlights the many US children of soldiers who have been affected by the horrors of agent orange. Kids with extreme deformities with smiling faces. I think my biggest shock was that there's so much contamination still out there, these children are still being born - I naively thought it was only kids from the 70s affected - not now still. In a happy coincidence the day after we visited, it was announced that the US government was going to pay millions (not in compensation - haven't got there yet!) but to remove a huge load of agent orange contamination in central Vietnam near Da Nang.
It was an interesting visit but of course very hard and depressing. It's the recentness of it all and the pointlessness (as is most war) - fear of communism and then fear of losing face. It's amazing how Vietnam has bounced back from a devastated country to be thriving as much as it is today. And they are still communist - threatening? hardly!

So, after I'd picked my sad heart up off the floor we needed a little light relief so I found out about a place called the 'Up Cafe'
This is a cafe out near the airport used mainly by locals which is based on the film 'Up' in that it's designed to look upside down.

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It was a fab little place - service was a bit odd but food was simple, tasty and it was just cute sitting with a piano hanging over your head.

We went to an art gallery that we stumbled on which was in a stunning old building and had some great modern works. Vietnamese art seems to really have taken it's own route and has some very unique styles.

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Vung tau - off to the coast
We knew that it didn't have the most amazing beaches as there are lots of oil rigs and stuff off the coast but at an hour and a half by a cheap hydrofoil - thought would be a nice mini-break!!! The journey was really good - a little choppy at the end but took you off on the Mekong and past lots of Mangroves to the sea.

We stayed on Back Beach so we weren't on an area pointing at the oil rigs/boats anyhow. Immediately the beach looked nice but it was initially a bit strange as it was almost 100% Vietnamese tourists only. It would get incredible choppy. Was quite nervous when went Mark went out a couple of times and he did say it was a little bit scary at times. Surfers would suddenly appear from time to time!

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We know that not many westerners visited but it was unusual to see in a beach resort. It's proximity to HCMC means that lots of people from the city go for the weekend. This was very noticeable. It was incredibly quiet all week then when the weekend came, bus loads came in and it was packed!!

We did discover that the westerners tend to prefer the side near the ferry terminal. We went over there to buy a ferry ticket in advance and headed for a lovely looking bar to get out of the torrential rain. It was a cool looking bar - Kurt Cobains face was carved into the brick and there was a lovely pool table so Mark was happy. Only downside was a couple of drunken idiots being loud and annoying - one English one Oz. When they disappeared we were relieved but when it got to 6pm the whole place changed.

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The lights went down, the music went up and a bunch of girls with dresses as short as possible appeared, as did some unpleasant, sad western guys. The guys were very delighted to find these girls loved talking to them *coughs*. I was sat on my own while Mark was playing pool and he quite quickly came running back over as he was a bit scared. The girls had thought he was on his own so had descended on him. So we left & were so happy we didn't stay in that part of Vung Tau. There did seem to be older guys with younger wives sprinkled about in other areas - but that's not unusual anywhere in South East Asia. Most hotels don't allow Vietnamese girls to stay in room with anyone unless married so it can be a real pain for genuine couples.
It is by all accounts a small area/part of the town and easily avoided so I would still highly recommend this town for a chilled out visit.

We did move from our hotel after a few nights to a super cheap, better one up into town as there was a fair ground setup opposite the hotel. Well, opposite a really wide road and a few hundred yards up the road. But from 7 until 10pm this was so loud it not only shook the room, it shook your eardrums and your brains. We are not usually fussed about noise but this hotel was pretty pricey and so it was ridiculous to put up with having to stay out all evening to avoid the noise.

We did venture into the fair one night on our way back from a little beach bar we frequented. Mark was a little 'happy' and so very enthusiastic. Zero foreigners so we were a bit of a spectacle. Mark had a couple of the games which were so blatantly fixed that it was just funny. Throwing a ball at a can in the hope it'd fall off - but it just ricochet'd off the solidly stuck can (and after hitting someone behind us - I decided it was time to leave!).

We had a bit of a splash out on most days paying to stay by the pool at the Imperial Hotel. This was a great pool on the beach and most of the time we shared it with only one or 2 sets of people. It was well worth it but we learned early to bring water with us - what they charged was extortionate! We also ventured to eat in there one day, only to be horrified that in this plush hotel, the 'chefs special spring roll' was like a potato croquette crossed with a findus crispy pancake. Hideous! So we were happy that we were enjoying the pool by day, while paying a pittance to stay in a guesthouse down the road.

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Something that I noticed a lot in the food in Vung Tau was there was a lot of use of black pepper in the food. It was so good - the Pho here was way better and cheaper than most of HCMC.

The beach area we didn't venture into until near the end of our trip was much busier and you could really see the 'localness' of it all. There were tons of deck chairs, shacks and small food sellers. It burst into life at the weekend. It reminded me of Brighton on a sunny weekend - when it seems like the whole world descends!

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We also met one of my favourite people of the trip. The incredible laughing old lady. We went to buy some water from her and she just rabbited on and giggled and chuckled her way through the encounter. I think she'd initially told us it was one price and realised her mistake and then told us the correct price but was tickled by her mistake. Have to say - most people wouldn't have corrected themselves or even given us the 'real' price she did in the first place. It was the way that she was rambling on that made me laugh the most - just a really sweet encounter. She was like a nice, Vietnamese verson of Catherine Tate's 'Nan'.

We did have one sticky moment - we were attacked by a huge (and heavy) floor standing umbrella. We weren't quite sure how it happened - there was no-one near it and no-wind but it had been raining so whether that had weighed it down somehow. It just pretty much fell on us as we walked past but luckily didn't hurt too much. It landed on our backs rather than our heads!

Back to Ho Chi Minh City....

Reunification Palace

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This place was built in the late 60s when the previous one had been bombed (I think) and was to be where the South Vietnamese government would sit. But when the North Vietnamese tanks rolled in, marking the end of the war, it stopped being used and has been preserved pretty much exactly how it was. So for me - a vintage lover - this place is not only a blinder in terms of architecture but the interiors and the little bits and pieces were just amazing.

There were conference rooms and a very cool retro lounge and underneath the whole place were the enforced rooms in the basement where the big wigs could flee to (these were creepy). There were map rooms, office and even a cinema and a party space on the roof. There was some interesting taxidermy and artwork.
The 'state of the art' industrial kitchen of the time was cool too.

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I could have hung out in the this place for days on end but after many hours Mark had had enough. He was particularly getting annoyed with my insistence on photographing every instance of vintage phones we'd see. I must admit, in the end, even I gave up as there were so many - but we got plenty - for the record!!!

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This made me laugh - the kitchen equipment generally needed a description - but thought that 'table' was a given.

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Highlights & Notable

"You're knicked!"

One of the Vietnamese TV channels seemed to show daily episodes of The Bill from the 80s. For those who don't know The Bill is a recently cancelled London based police drama. A classic - especially these old episodes with Bob Cryer, June Ackland etc. It was dubbed over in Vietnamese but the weird thing with some of the dubbing here is that they don't blank out the original speaking so if you listen really hard...

ABC bakery

Found this gem of a place a little too late. It was 30 seconds from our guesthouse but we didn't go in until our return to HCMC where we only had a day to play.
The food was amazing - lots of great cakes but for savoury toothed me, the pizza slices and savoury bakes were my thing.
Funnily enough when we caught our bus to Phnom Penh, our provided breakfast box was from there - so that was a thumbs up!!

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Weddings

As I have seen elsewhere - weddings are big news. I saw some more fantastic brides and I also liked this sweetly decorated car:

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French bread

Something that is synonymous with Vietnam are the streetcarts filled with french bread rolls.

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The independence anniversary artwork

This was slightly different to that in Hanoi but still really cool.

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Chewy Cream Puff

This amused Mark immensely - simple things eh?

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iPho

Still funny :)

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Hammocks

These were used all over the place, but the funniest thing was how often they were setup over an entire path, so you have walk into the road to avoid them.

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Sleeping on mopeds
You see this all the time - impressive!

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Masks

Common all over in South East Asia but in HCMC they seem to take this to a whole new level. There is the ones with wings out to the side. And they wear them on the beach ???!!!!! Each to their own but the point of this drives us mad. I mean - sweaty face.

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Our stalker

This is the Vietnamese airlines life size cut out lady. She stalked us all over Vietnam. Everywhere we went. Sinister gal!

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Posted by KtandMark 05:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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