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Hanging out in Ho Chi Minh City

sunny 37 °C
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I left Dalat for Ho Chi Minh city absolutely broken! My body was aching all over and I was still tied from the canyoning even after having a big sleep. On the bus to the HCMC I met 3 girls, 2 travelling together from the Netherlands and 1 from the UK. When we arrived we walked to the hostel 'Vietnam inn Saigon'. Another of my favourite hostels, it had 9 floors, with the top being an open air roof top bar with a nice pool table! I went out that evening with the girls I met and we ate a strange but very tasty meal; like fried potatoes in egg. We walked through some of the neighbouring parks before returning. That evening I had a great massage in the hostel, although it was expensive and performed by a blind man! But he told me about an institute for the blind just down the road which trains people to become masseuses and costs only £2 for 1 hour! I went to this place almost every day I was in HCMC!
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My first full day in HCMC I visited the war remnants museum with displays from the Vietnam war with USA. I had no idea it was so bad, it lasted twice as long as WWII and was mainly chemical warfare, with agent Orange being the main chemical, which was used to defoliate the country but caused severe physical developmental abnormalities to foetuses. Some of the photographs in the museum were horrific, and the information very to-the-point. Although not always biased as a large portion was dedicated to American opposal to the war.
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The war museum was hard work emotionally, but when I left an American guy; Dimitri, approached me as he was also a solo traveller, and we began a mini walking tour of the city that he seemed to have researched. We walked past 'turtle lake' (with no turtles), the cathedral (with a wedding), the old post office, and then back towards the backpacker area. It was a nice walk.
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The next day I started with a £2 blind massage before grabbing a motorbike taxi to the 'jade pagoda'. From here I walked back towards the hostel via other temples, food stalls and the reunification palace. A long day of walking! That evening, whilst drinking and playing pool in the bar, 2 guys from Bristol and a guy from Germany approached me to say "you're Libby?"!! The guys, Steve, Paul and Steffi, had met Sean whilst traveling Vietnam and apparently had heard of my "amazing pool skillzz" from him! We made friends quickly and I met them in the bar almost every night whilst I was in HCMC.
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People set tortoises free in the temples for good luck... this may was selling them outside the temple.
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A cockerel crowing in the middle of a busy city street!
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Reunification palace.
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The view from the hostel sky bar at night.

The next day I spent visiting temples and pagodas again, this time in Chinatown, where I got a bus to. The temples were so beautiful.
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I guess this is one of the 'free tortoises'... it was MASSIVE!
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Incense burning, again for good luck.
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Another tortoise haven!

From Chinatown I got a motorbike taxi to take me to a museum dedicated to ancient Vietnamese and Chinese medicine. It was fascinating, and at the end I had some mushroom tea... I know!!
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All the dried plants and spices used in the traditional medicine.
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An imitation of an ancient apothecary.

I decided to try to walk back to my hostel from here, the journey took me 2 hours, but luckily on the way I found a bun cha Hanoi shop! And I ended the walk with another blind massage to recuperate!
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That evening I met up again with Cameron, it was the nice thing about travelling Vietnam, you bump into the same people in each new town or city, this was the 3rd town where I'd seen Cam now, and we still keep in touch on Facebook now :) it was the same with Nielz, my chauffeur from Phong Nha, we met again in Hoi An and in Dalat!

After days of walking miles across the city in all directions, I finally took a rest and spent the whole next day playing pool in the hostel! I met 2 friends Wilf and Dave, and we took over the music, playing 90s boy bands and then some 80s classics! I then met a guy Jack who told me a story about his travels which sounded very familiar to me... I said to him I knew the story, I had heard it from another traveller, George from Hoi An, and it turned out they were friends traveling together! Travelling really does make the world seem both big and small at the same time!

That evening a big group of us went out for steak across the road and then drinks in our rooftop bar, before moving to a local club.
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With George and Danny.

On Saturday I rode with George on his bike to the tallest building in Vietnam; the Bitexo tower. We had heard of a way to avoid the high tourist entry fee to the 360° window view point, which involved going a few floors higher to a cafe which sold expensive (but cheaper than the entrance fee) coffee. The view from the top of the tower was spectacular!
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On Sunday, after 9 days in HCMC, I felt like I had almost done all there was to do, so I visited the zoo and botanical garden. It was $3 entrance! The zoo was ok really, some animals had great large enclosures. However, others, like the elephants, were very sad to see... I spent must of the day also feeling like I was part of the zoo, as I think I was the only Westerner in the whole zoo, and with it being a weekend, it was packed with local tourists who wanted their photo with me or to talk in English to me. It was actually a really nice day meeting lots of Vietnamese people and people watching!
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More people watching in the local park; all parks are used as outdoor gyms!

That night a big group of us from the hostel went out (after pool of course) to a local club! It was a really fun night with some crazy dancing!
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My final day in HCMC, hungover, I chilled with the Bristol and German guys, Steve, Paul and Steffi. I'd like to think I helped Steve sell his motorbike, but really all I did was sit on the back as we drove between different bike shops!

I really liked HCMC, however I do think I spent a little too much time here in all. Unfortunately, I lost my special travel credit card in Hoi An, and I asked my uncle and aunt to forward the replacement to my hostel. After 14 days waiting for it to arrive (5 days estimated) I gave up and left, which is a good job because if I had been determined, I'd still be there now waiting! Regardless, the city was probably the most interesting place I could have been waiting and I met some really great people who were to become close travel companions in the weeks to come...

Posted by Libbytes 09:54 Archived in Vietnam Tagged saigon ho_chi_minh_city Comments (0)

Public transport in the Mekong Delta

rain 35 °C
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As the last major city in the south of Vietnam, from HCMC the next step for most people is Cambodia. However, I had heard great things about the very southern part of Vietnam in the Mekong Delta. I managed to convince myself, and George, that the best way into Cambodia was through the delta... and it was certainly an adventure on public transport and motorbikes, but it most certainly wasn't easy!

We headed out from the hostel towards the local bus station, a mission in itself as we had to wait for a local bus to take us there. From there we booked on a bus to Can Tho, a town right in the heart of the Delta. As soon as we arrived and got off the bus we were surrounded by taxi drivers wanting to know where we were going, it was crazy. I vaguely remembered reading something about a free transfer at the station, so we asked someone and there was free onward transfer, which the taxi drivers kept to themselves!

That evening we joined a food tour of the town which involved trying sugar cane juice, savoury muffins wrapped in leaves, homemade fresh spring rolls, field mouse and baked aubergine, and a dessert of sticky rice. We turned down the option of snake after the tour guide told us it is rubbery, tasteless and quite expensive, not a great salesman!
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Spring rolls
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Muffin
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Mouse and aubergine
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Dessert
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The next day we were going to get up early and go to the floating market... but me and early still don't mix unfortunately!! So instead we walked around the town, which was pretty.
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Brave little lizard...
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Obligatory statue of the revered Ho Chi Minh.

In the afternoon we got another public bus to the border town of Ha Tien. The bus was more like a mini bus, and the ride through the local villages was spectacular but incredibly bumpy!

The rain started along the way, and it never stopped raining from that moment until we entered Cambodia!

Ha Tien was a very uninteresting town, very small, and especially in the rain, there wasn't much to do. We booked onward bus transport that evening into Cambodia, but the following day we were told that the bus had broken down and that it was not known when it would be fixed! Luckily we found a small bar to keep us entertained for that evening and left the day after on motorbike taxis instead!! The journey on the motorbike took about 2 hours from Ha Tien to the nearest big town in Cambodia; Kampot.

The Mekong Delta was a stunning part of Vietnam, with most houses being wooden and on stilts, with narrow water ways cutting through rice paddies and lots of pretty bridges and boats. However, the weather at this time of year really limited what we could do and in Ha Tien particularly, we were confined to the hostel or restaurants all day.

Posted by Libbytes 08:37 Archived in Vietnam Tagged mekong_delta can_tho ha_tien Comments (0)

Easy river living in Kampot

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Crossing the border into Cambodia was both relaxed and stressful at the same time. A Cambodian visa technically costs $20 at the border, but it is almost impossible to pay less than $26 due to corruption. However, the forms were easy to finish and all-in-all our border crossing took about 5-10 minutes! Incredibly fast compared to every other crossing! Just across the border was a small casino village for Vietnamese, since it is illegal to gamble in Vietnam.

It seems odd, but the landscape did seem to change when we crossed the border, as did the atmosphere. All through Cambodia people were full of smiles and very friendly, however, you couldn't help but feel like with some people, this was forced and the real incentive was for you to give them money... and why not?! The poverty was more obvious here than other places I had visited.

It took us a while to find our hostel; Acadia backpackers, which had been recommended to us by almost everyone. As soon as we arrived we saw why. For $3 a night I had a comfortable dorm bed in a beautiful hostel right on Kampot river with stunning scenery. There was a boat swing, a high rope swing into the river and a 'blob'; an inflatable raft where someone sits on one end and others jump on the opposite end to catapult the other into the air and water! It was a lot of fun, even just watching!
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The dorm
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Boat swing
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Rope swing
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Blob

The first day I went with others from the hostel to Kampot town and ate the biggest ribs I have ever seen! The amount of meat on them was ridiculous! That evening I chilled in the bar with my new friends.
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Durian statue in the centre of town!

In the day, George and I hung out with other people from the hostel, playing on the rope swing and blob. My upper strength of a gnat meant that I could only just hang on long enough to make the water, but other guys were able to swing to the apex and do a flip which was cool to watch! In the afternoon a group of us went tubing along the river. The river was dammed and every afternoon, around 5pm, they opened the dam making rapids in the river and really fun tubing. However, that evening they didn't open it :( so we were left to float leisurely down the river with a few beers...

In the evening we went to the town again to try some famous homemade fresh noodles, which the guy made right in front of us. They were delicious.
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Back at the hostel there was a big party and all the bar guys drank too, which inevitably led to multiple free drinks and shots at the bar!, quite a messy night!

Kampot was a nice town, but a lot of the restaurants and businesses were owned by expats rather than local people, which seemed odd. The river was pretty and the local area was very scenic, however we had arranged to meet Steve, Paul and Steffi in Koh Rong so we left Kampot after only 2 nights.

Posted by Libbytes 08:37 Archived in Cambodia Tagged kampot Comments (0)

First taste of island living; Koh Rong

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We left Kampot for Sihanoukville mid morning and immediately caught a boat to the small island Koh Rong.
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We checked into our beach accommodation, which was $10 a night for a private room with a double bed! We all got a room each at that price!
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The view from the guest house

The first night we met the guys at a cute little cafe which made the best quesadillas I've ever had with tiny kittens running about that just wanted cuddles! At one point I had 4 kittens fighting for the prime position on my lap! We came here everyday...
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Steve getting kitty cuddles
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Pile on
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I chilled on the beach that night with Steve, Paul, Steffi, George, Karen and Marc, and we watched the world cup and had too many drinks!

The next day the group of us (minus Karen as she felt very ill) went on a boat trip fishing and snorkelling. I got really sea sick, which is usual for me, but perhaps due to the night before! The visibility for snorkelling wasn't great, but we managed to catch a lot of fish (I didn't catch any!! No matter how hard I tried!!) which was good because we cooked and ate all the fish we caught!
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Waiting for the boat
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Snorkelling
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We watched the sun set from the boat, then returned to shore where we waited until dark before wading out off the beach to about waist deep to watch bioluminescent plankton which truly was incredible. The plankton responded to movement, so we were thrashing about in the water making it glow. And when you removed your arms/hands from the water you could see them in little dots on your skin... fascinating!

The next day George and I walked up and over the interior of the island (which had no roads) to the opposite side of the island; long beach. The walk through the jungle was very hot and humid, and at some points required clambering over rocks clinging onto ropes and vines.
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After almost an hour hike we were relieved to see the beach...
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I played in the sea whilst George chilled on the beach... something he can't to regret thanks to the sand flies...
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We decided to take a local boat taxi back to the main village and spent that evening with Karen, Steffi and Marc, eating BBQ and playing beer pong! In the bar that night I met Wilf and Dave again! Still a small world....

We arranged to travel now as a large group of myself, Karen, George, Steve, Paul and Steffi, and we headed from Koh Rong to the capital; Phnom Penh.

I loved koh rong... it was remote and still undeveloped with a quiet atmosphere, but it still had some modern/western bars and cafes which was a nice comfort for a few days. The island was beautiful, especially long beach, but I couldn't help notice a high amount of rubbish (especially plastics) on the beaches, I didn't know if it was left by tourists or washed ashore. But still, it was a shame. The plankton off shore really did capture me though, I have since heard that this exists off the coast of Norfolk in UK too!!

Posted by Libbytes 03:21 Archived in Cambodia Tagged beach koh_rong bioluminescent_plankton Comments (0)

Extremes in Phnom Penh

sunny 36 °C
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The newly formed travel group of myself, Steve and Paul from Bristol, George from Gloucester, Steffi from Germany and Karen from The Netherlands, headed off together in what turned into a private minibus from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh. It quickly became apparent that from now on I was tour guide and organiser for all trips, which I loved and hated simultaneously!

We arrived at an amazing hostel (recommended by Sean) hostel eighty8. It had a pool table and a pool! That evening we all got in the pool and initiated a late-finishing pool party which ended due to complaints from fellow guests.... oops!
England was playing in the world cup that night so George and I patriotically stayed up til 5am to support... by stayed up I mean fell sleep on the Thai sofas in front of the TV... lol unfortunately, England lost :(

Our first full day in Phnom Penh we visited the killing fields, a museum and one site of mass killings and executions during the Pol Pot regime. We got a tuk tuk to take us and on the way there he stopped at a shooting range which allows you to fire any gun you want... strange, but apparently all killing field day-trips include a stop at a shooting range, so it's probably better that we went before, rather than after learning about how millions of people were killed...!!

I didn't fire any guns, but George and Paul did... wow it was loud! Even with heavy duty ear defenders on.
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Gangsta Paul... hahaha

From here we went to the killing fields... what an experience. I didn't know anything about the killings in Cambodia before visiting here. I had heard of Pol Pot and his comparison to Hitler, but I had no idea why or what that meant...

In 4 years (1975-1979) an estimated 3 million people (including women and children) were executed or died due to the Khmer rouge regime. A staggering amount considering the population of Cambodia at that time was only around 8 million...

Life under the Khmer Rouge: Wikipedia.
In power, the Khmer Rouge carried out a radical program that included isolating the country from all foreign influences, closing schools, hospitals, and factories, abolishing banking, finance, and currency, outlawing all religions, confiscating all private property and relocating people (often splitting up families) from urban areas to collective farms where forced labour was widespread.

The Khmer Rouge attempted to turn Cambodia into a classless society by depopulating cities and forcing the urban population into agricultural communes. The entire population was forced to become farmers in labour camps. They forced people to work for 12 hours non-stop, without adequate rest or food. These actions resulted in massive deaths through executions, work exhaustion, illness, and starvation. Money was abolished, books were burned, teachers, merchants, and almost the entire intellectual elite of the country were murdered to make the agricultural communism, as Pol Pot envisioned it, a reality.

During their four years in power, the Khmer Rouge overworked and starved the population, at the same time executing selected groups who they believed were enemies of the state or spies or had the potential to undermine the new state. People who they perceived as intellectuals or even those who had stereotypical signs of learning, such as glasses, would also be killed. People would also be executed for attempting to escape from the communes or for breaching minor rules. If caught, offenders were taken quietly off to a distant forest or field after sunset and killed.

The executed were buried in mass graves. In order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using wooden sticks, spades or sharpened bamboo. In some cases the children and infants of adult victims were killed by having their heads bashed against the trunks of Chankiri trees. The rationale was "to stop them growing up and taking revenge for their parents' deaths."

The killing fields included an audio tour with accounts from survivors and graphic details. Waking around the fields you could see places were mass graves were. And even the tree used for killing children...
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Graves
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Killing tree.

A memorial building housed hundreds of skulls and bones...
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The place was shocking...

From here we drove to the S-21 prison or 'Tuol Sleng' (which was a school before). It was used to interrogate and torture potential enemies of the regime... it was kept almost intact as a memorial and museum, and was very creepy...
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The day was emotionally draining and we returned in the afternoon to chill in the pool, all of us very quiet...

After a swim and a nap we headed for food, which lead to drinks and karaoke (there were karaoke bars everywhere!) And eventually a very seedy night club!
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The next day we spent the whole day lounging by the pool and snoozing, still tired from the full day before. We left that evening on a night bus to Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat.

Phnom Penh really was the city of extremes...

Posted by Libbytes 09:55 Archived in Cambodia Tagged phnom_penh Comments (0)

Say Wat?!? Angkor Wat.

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We arrived in Siem Reap very early and had to wait until midday to check in. The night bus wasn't great so all of us slept on sofas in the lobby until we were allowed in the room. Another lovely hostel, this place also had a swimming pool, but was a little further from the centre of town.

In the afternoon, after a quick dip we headed to a collection of remote villages in two tuk tuks. The houses were pretty, especially those built on stilts. The drivers then took us to a crocodile farm, which was not the best in terms of animal welfare, mainly due to the shear number of crocs, but still it was interesting to see. The boys were a little obsessed with catching one of the free roaming chickens to throw in to the enclosure... So much so, they asked the staff, who agreed! ...poor chicken...(s)!!!
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Driving through Siem Reap
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Tuk tuk!!!
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Baby crocs
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Paul with his crocodile food!!

When we got back we all got in the pool again, before eating at the local night market and taking an early night in preparation for a 4am start at Angkor Wat the following day...

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Still dark when we arrived...
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Watching the sun rise
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The road to Angkor Thom:
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George trying to pose in the bridge
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Wish we had a better form of transport...
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Spot the face... and spot the German!

Bayon temple:
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Baphuon temple:
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Ignoring the sign and climbing up...
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Elephant walk:
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Preah Khan temple:
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Ta Prohm temple:
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Paul was finally happy after we found the dinosaur marking...
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By the end of it all we were knackered, so went back to the hostel for a nap. Since we only bought a one day ticket to visit the temples, myself, Karen, George and Steve went back to watch the sunset.
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Acting like the locals to cool down!
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That evening back at the hostel we played an all time favourite drinking game of mine; drink uno! Followed by watching the Holland game for Karen and too many drinks...
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The night ended late!

The following day was slow and lazy, a hangover cure of kfc and some serious pool time was topped with a night at the Cambodian circus; more like a drama and acrobatic performance. It was really good fun!
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That night we took an over night bus back in to Bangkok, Thailand.

Siem Reap was great for the temples, but we did get harassed by street sellers almost everywhere we went which quickly became frustrating. The town was nice, but like everywhere we went in Cambodia; was completely overrun by tourists and the things that come along with that - the street sellers... We constantly felt harassed and like we were merely walking wallets. Local people chose only to interact with us if there was a chance of a tip. It's a shame really, but we were glad to get out of Cambodia. I'm not sure if being in a larger group effected this, and sure, we only went to big towns... Perhaps I should try to return to Cambodia, alone, or in search or smaller towns as I'm sure Cambodia has a lot more to offer.

Posted by Libbytes 04:46 Archived in Cambodia Tagged siem_reap angkor_wat angkor Comments (0)

Feeling at home in Bangkok

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We arrived in Bangkok from Siem Reap. Everyone in the group had been to Bangkok before, but stayed in a different district, AND... they all hated the city. So my mission, as designated tour guide, was to change all their opinions!! I took them to all my favourite restaurants and bars from previous visits, and we stayed at the hostel I stayed in previously; Hi Mid Bangkok. It felt like home going back to somewhere familiar after a long time travelling, a lovely feeling.

The first day I took them to a boat noodles place Ben took me to on my first day. Boat noodles had also been Dan's favourite Thai dish from the days we spent together, and it was great that everyone enjoyed the meal, even after I told them the soup was made with pigs blood (something Ben only told me afterwards too!).

In the evening we started the night at a jazz roof top bar which I went to a few times previously. We got very drunk and then the 6 of us piled into one tuk tuk to go to a club in Sukhumvit district...
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In the tuk tuks.
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The club had a mirror on the ceiling... lol
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Getting to know the locals!

The following day we went early to apply for a visa for Myanmar, which was a very easy process, and cheap! We watched transformers at the cinema, and then got scammed by a seafood restaurant! Our visas were ready the following day and after we picked them up we all went for a massage! I took everyone to a Japanese restaurant that evening (another one that Ben introduced me to). Again, everyone loved it! After, 4 of us went for drinks along Khao San Road (not my choice...) before everyone realised the is what they didn't like about Bangkok... better to keep the organisation up to me then!!!
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The last day in Bangkok was spent walking around between malls and a few shrines that I didn't manage to visit before. Steve and I also visited the Baiyoke tower, the tallest building in Thailand, with amazing views. Unfortunately, my camera had been playing up and corrupting my photos without me knowing, so I lost all the ones I took this day. Luckily the problem was fixable!

I love the city of bangkok, and it is currently the place I have spent longest in so it really does feel like my home in Asia. I was also successful in my mission to convince the others that Bangkok is more than just Khao San Road, as everyone said that this time, Bangkok was enjoyable, hassle free and had great food! Winner!

Posted by Libbytes 01:41 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok Comments (0)

Making friends in Mandalay, Myanmar

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The gang, reduced now to just the boys and I, flew with airasia from Bangkok to Mandalay in the morning and walked from the bus transfer point to garden guesthouse. It was already afternoon so we ate at a local Chinese restaurant and showered before heading out to watch the sunset at Mandalay Hill; a Buddhist temple on top of a hill over looking the city. The walk up to the top was along a massive covered stone staircase, which had close to 1800 steps!! We were not allowed to wear shoes and had to walk bare foot! Along the way there were stops for shrines or Buddha statues, as well as lots of local people also walking up who were very eager to talk to us!

We were first approached by a group of monks roughly our age. They were interested in where we were from and how we got to Myanmar. They were excited to hear we were English and told us that many local people come to the temple on Sunday evenings just to talk to tourists to practice their English and learn about the world. The most talkative monk told us about the English language school in Mandalay, and how his class always meet on Sunday evenings at the top. Sure enough, when we reached the top there were lots of people eager to talk to us, and as the only female in our group I was quickly surrounded by at least 10 young Burmese women.

They were fascinating to talk to as we exchanged questions and answers about our differing cultures. They were both shocked and excited to hear that I was (technically) travelling alone and asked multiple questions about the cultures of other countries I had visited previously.

We all watched the sun set together, stunning... what a beautiful introduction to Myanmar and the people. It was such a contrast to how we felt in Cambodia and some places in Vietnam. The people here wanted nothing from us but friendship and teaching. We offered to visit their language school the next evening and they were all delighted and excited to see us again!

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At the base of the temple were 2 guardian lions, they were so big I could only fit one in the picture!!
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People waking through the temple.
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View from the top
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Sun set
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Some of the people we met

After waking back down we went for food in the town and had chicken tosai/dosai; a savoury pancake filled with chicken curry and Dahl on the side. It was so cheap and delicious! We then went for drinks at a local bar which had a small stage on which local women were singing over a backing of electric keyboard preset rhythm tracks.... it was.... special...! What's more, the men in the pub buy what looked like Christmas tinsel to give as gifts to the women in recognition of their singing... We couldn't quite work out exactly what was going on. Perhaps a singing competition, perhaps prostitution... We were being too polite to ask directly! We didn't realise how much the tinsel was and after joining in, we were hit with a huge bill at the end!

The next day I organised a full day of sightseeing outside the town. We went first to 'the longest teak bridge in the world'. Actually, Myanmar advertised a lot of it's attractions as 'the biggest' or 'the longest' and we could never quite work out whether this was the true... but anyway, on the way to the bridge our taxi (aka pick-up truck) stopped at a silk factory and I bought a beautiful scarf to use as cover up for temple visiting.

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Driving through the town

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The women were very skilled. All men in Myanmar wore these skirt-like bottoms; a tube of material tied in front. Unfortunately, the boys didn't buy these :(

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U Bein bridge at Amurapura
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It was very windy!
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From here we drove to a village called Sagaing which was basically just a village of temples. We climbed what our driver said was the best/most interesting temple and in the views from the top all we could see were more temples and shrines littering the hillsides.
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Lots of steps again!
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Possibly hundreds of temples
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At the top
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Stupa at the top

We then drove to an ancient village; Mingun, where there was a temple housing 'the largest uncracked bell in the world'. We got there too late to go in so instead we saw the ancient elephant guardians of the temple.
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We raced back to try and make the English school but we turned up too late and so vowed to go back the next day instead. The food we had that night was amazing, but we had no idea what it was as it definitely wasn't what we ordered!!

After a tiring day we spent the next day chilling and walking around the town. We made it on time to the English school, and were asked to teach a little lesson each. I decided to talk about British traditions, such as Christmas, Easter, Sunday roasts, birthdays that we celebrate like 16, 18, 21, New year's etc. They loved it and asked many questions!
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The class!

Afterwards, we went to a traditional Myanmar dance and puppet show. It was pretty! We went back to the same place for food, and with the receipt from the last night, were able to order a great meal again!

We had had an amazing time in Mandalay, such a beautiful town with wonderful people.... However, we were in for a shock when we returned to our hostel that night, a huge riot had kicked off, and guys with long sticks were speeding on motorbikes with police trying to shut it down. We snuck around the back, with the help of some locals, and watched from the safety of our room. Nothing much happened apart from a lot of shouting, the police had managed to secure the area with road blocks and the threat of automatic rifles which they carried... We got bored of waiting for something to happen and went to bed. In the morning, there was no sign that anything had happened, and rumours were already spreading about the cause of the riot... We tried to keep an open mind, but it seemed like religious differences was to blame...

I don't think this incident effected any of our opinions of the town, and we all left thinking positively about Mandalay. I would definitely return to Mandalay, but I may think about staying elsewhere in the town.

Posted by Libbytes 07:45 Archived in Myanmar Tagged mandalay Comments (0)

Trekking in Hsipaw

sunny 37 °C
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From Mandalay we took the tourist bus to Hsipaw, a village in the north with great access to the minority mountain people of Myanmar such as Shan, Karen and Palaung people. We arrived late in the evening and booked a trekking tour through the hostel to a Palaung village.

The trek started at 6am the next day, through the village of Hsipaw, then through rice paddies, maize fields and tea plantations. The incline was shallow to start with, but then we started going up... the views got better, but the sun got hotter and it became so humid we were all dripping with sweat!
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Rice paddies
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Broad rim hats protected from the midday sun which was so hot.
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Local Shan women chilling outside the shop! You see Asian people sitting like this a lot... I find this position so uncomfortable, but they can sit for hours like this.
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Our guide was quick to tell us about 'the Chinese' who apparently steal all of Myanmar's resources, such as these pipes being built to transport gas and oil 400km into China... the local people who own the land where the gas is taken from see no money, instead, the government receives everything...
Further along the trail we saw hardwood and rubber plantations, with all the harvests again going to China...

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It wasn't quite a walk in the park...
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We finally made the top and our village destination...
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The village was beautiful, each house unique and set into the mountainside on stilts or in the valley. Houses had some personal vegetables and herbs, but most of what the village grows is shared, such as major vegetables, the tea plantations where they work and the rice paddies.
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This house had a private garden, but were happy to share!
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Steve helped this boy pick his Apple by lifting him up above his head, he thought Steve was a giant or something and was delighted to finally reach a branch... I just wished I could've got my camera out faster to capture it!

Our hosts cooked us a delicious traditional meal and offered us rice wine. There was going to be a big festival that night in the village, where people from neighbouring villages came to worship in the Buddhist temple. My face was painted with Thanaka; derived from tree bark and used as a natural sunscreen but also as decoration. And I must not have looked smart enough as she also gave me one of her sparkling bright t-shirts to wear!!

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Our hosts in the village.
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We stayed over night in the village and the party went on late into the night, but unfortunately I got a pretty bad migraine so went to bed early and missed most of the celebrations :(

The next morning we headed out after breakfast back down the mountain to Hsipaw.

Although the trekking was difficult, I did enjoy it, mainly the company and our tour guide, he was very funny (and extremely racist towards Chinese, mainly racist jokes!!). The village was beautiful and I was pretty sad that I felt too ill to enjoy the celebrations properly. Arriving back in Hsipaw we all had big blisters and sore feet and aching legs, so I think it was enough exercise for a week at least!!

Posted by Libbytes 05:27 Archived in Myanmar Tagged hsipaw Comments (0)

Wet season on Inle Lake; Nguanshwe

storm 30 °C
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We took an overnight bus from Hsipaw to Nguanshwe. A little different from most other overnight buses, the buses in Myanmar were not sleeper buses, so getting to sleep sitting upright is not ideal. Luckily for me I can usually sleep anywhere, so it wasn't so bad... the guys took sleeping pills to cope, which you can buy OTC in Asia!

We checked into Gold star guest house and were introduced to the wet season in Asia quite abruptly... I don't think it stopped raining for more than 20 mins at a time whilst we were here!

After giving up waiting for the rain to stop, the following day we decided to take a boat trip on the lake regardless. Many people live on the lake, either in floating villages or stilted houses. Those on stilts were far more impressive as they had to accommodate high floods in wet season. The season had only just started really, so most of the stilt was on show.
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Heading out into the lake through floating villages

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It in the centre of the lake I got a great 'lonely planet picture'!!

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Stilted houses
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Local shop!!

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People use the water ways between the reeds like roads

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They even have floating temples on the lake!

Our boat man took us to many businesses and shops, I guess he got commission for any sales, but that's ok, the trip was super cheap. In the shops the owners usually showed us what they do, with information too, so it was interesting anyway.

First to a reed cotton weaving factory.
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Pulling the thread out
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Weaving

Then to a blacksmiths, who made knives and other items.
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Tempering the metal
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Lots of knives!

A silver smith
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A traditional Myanmar cigar shop
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We got a free sample here and actually the cigars are delicious, mellow tobacco wrapped in a leaf with corn sheafs as the filter.

Lastly we went to a shop owned by people from a long-neck Karen tribe. Their necklaces are a spiral of thick bronze which gets replaced every year by a longer piece. The process of fitting the necklace can take a full day! They never take it off after this, until one year later when it's replaced. Incredible. A long neck is a sign of wisdom and beauty, but biologically, their necks are not longer, instead their shoulders are pushed lower.
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On the way back it rained heavily with lightning hitting the mountains surrounding the lake
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Black clouds.... scary!

The following day it rained heavily continuously... Steve and I visited a massage place down the road to kill some time. The lady who owned the shop was lovely, really friendly. She told us about her plans to start a local food cookery class. We volunteered ourselves to be her guinea pigs in the first class and pledged to go back the following day with Paul and Steffi.
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Thae Su's house!

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Chicken curry ingredients
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Frying the potatoes for potato curry
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Ingredients for Shan sticky noodle soup (my fave)!
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Finished product!

The day was great and the weather stayed nice during the cooking!

The Inle Lake area seemed beautiful, unfortunately with all the heavy rain I don't think we came away with the best impression, as all we could do most of the time was stay inside, mainly in coffee shops and the internet cafe we found. The lake was also quite commercial and touristy, but it was still nice to see and chat to the people.

Posted by Libbytes 19:31 Archived in Myanmar Tagged lake inle_lake nguanshwe Comments (0)

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