Saturday, 28 April 2012

Battenburg...Whoops Battambang

So we decided to make a little trip across to Battambang from Siem Reap, it was a bit of a last minute decision as we were orginally going to go down to the coast but decided the coaches etc. were too annoying and would be easier to go across to Battambang.

We booked a hotel and make tentative plans of what to do. Battambang itself is VERY different from Siem Reap despite it being the second biggest city in Cambodia. Because it is in the middle of the countryside the surrounding roads were riddled in mines for years and have only in the past few years been cleared which means more visitors. However it is still developing and as such does not have a bit tourist population. 

The hotel we stayed in was nice enough however we chose the exact moment they were deciding to put a swimming pool on the roof....which meant VERY VERY loud noises from about 7am - 6pm...not great when you are trying to have a sleep after a super long journey.

There isn't really a lot to do in Battambang itself, the town is small and there isn't really anything to see, we walked around for a bit and had a fab breakfast at the Gecko cafe, and decided to take a Tuk Tuk into the surrounding countryside as this is where the appeal of Battambang lies.

The first Temple we climbed up

We visited various mountainside Temples, including hiking up a MASSIVE mountain, with a lovely little guide. We were practically dead by the top of the mountain but the views were magnificent and really made it worthwhile. The countryside itself around Battambang is beautiful and well worth the trip out of the town.

The views from the top
We were at the top!!

We didn't really get up to a lot more in Battambang and only stayed a few nights, it was worth seeing but I personally wouldn't suggest staying longer than 2/3 nights there, you'd run out of things to do very quickly!

However we did try some fabulous juice made from a Bamboo shoot, it was absolutely amazing, tasted completed unexpected and was super sweet and refreshing. If you ever see anyone pressing some Bamboo whilst in SE Asia, TRY some, honestly you will be very glad you did!!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Angkor Say Wat!

Sorry for the break in posting, we got distracted by the beautiful island of Koh Lanta and didn't manage to access the internet or our blog for a couple of weeks! However we are back now and need to get a crack on with our Cambodian adventures! 

We did arrive in Phnom Penh first but as we only spent a couple of days there before heading up to Siem Reap we will come back to Phnom Penh later on when we return! 

After a hellish bus journey that was meant to take 5.5 hours and took about 8.5 (including a little boy deciding to use the seats opposite us as a toilet...) we arrived in Siem Reap! After haggling for a tuk tuk and being pleasantly surprised at how cheap they were, we were led on a whistle stop tour of the town on the way to our hostel. Our first impressions were how lovely and laidback the town felt. This was reinforced with our wander around that evening.

The town itself is definitely geared towards tourism, more so than Phnom Penh I would say, there are a lot of Westerners, this isn't definitely a bad thing, and we did like the fact it made it easier to get food and to communicate but at the same time when towns are more geared towards tourism it also inevitably brings with it the darker side of tourism and there were a lot of child beggers who would run up to you and grab you demanding money as well as mothers with babies demanding for you to buy formula milk. Now unfortunately as heartbreaking as this can be we can't help everyone and a lot of the time you unfortunately do have to ignore them after saying sorry, but it does but a bit of a dampner on an otherwise charming little town.

We spent 5 nights in Siem Reap and loved it, there are countless markets to choose from and lovely little eateries to explore as well as the famous Angkor Temples complex. We decided to only spend one day at the temples, originally we were going to buy a 3 day pass but when we decided to cycle on the first day the heavens opened for pretty much the whole day so we gave up! We were very grateful the next day when we realised just how big the complex was!!

Angkor Wat

The temples themselves are amazing, after posing for a somewhat unflattering ticket photo we were on our way, first to stop at Angkor Wat, it's about a 15 walk to get to the temple where the Tuk Tuk drops you off and it was already well over 32 degrees celcius at half 8 in the morning!! It's very impressive on the walk towards the temples and even the glance of scaffolding does little to disrupt the impressiveness. Unfortunately although I thought I had come prepared with my maxi dress and shawl to cover up I was informed this was not good enough and wasn't allowed up to the top of the temple so Dan had to go it alone (I later purchased a T-Shirt for the other temples!)


After Angkor Wat we made our way to Angkor Thom with the famous Temple of faces Bayon. That was a fab temple and we really enjoyed ourselves, the other temples in the complex are just as breathtaking but by this time we had probably walked about 8 km and were getting tired (plus navigating pretty rickity wooden stairs which is pretty scary!!) we visited one more temple before we decided to stop for a bite to eat with our Tuk Tuk driver! Quite hilariously in the temple complex you can bargain for your food, we got two stalls going against each other and managed to get our meals down from $4 each to $2!!

After visting a few more temples including the famous "Tomb Raider" temple which unfortunately is crumbling to pieces and pretty much surrounded by scaffolding we decided to call it a day as we were temple-d out!!

Tomb Raider temple
 It was a brilliant way to spend the day and absolutely amazing to think these structures were completed with no machinary of any kind but we were glad in the end to only go for a day pass as I'm not sure we would've wanted to spend three days exploring the temples!

Temple Chic
 On another note if you are ever in Siem Reap you HAVE to check out the Viva! mexican restaurant it is absolutely AMAZING and for pudding make sure you try Blue Pumpkin one of the best cafe's/ice cream shops in Cambodia!!

Join us for the next installment where we venture off the beaten track in Battambang!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Across the border

So the time has come for us to cross the border into Cambodia, now as we wimped out and flew to Vietnam this will be our first land border crossing! I was slightly apprehensive as we had no idea what to expect! We booked a coach from HCMC to Phnom Penh so that was sorted and at least we had transport all the way.

The coach itself was fine, we went with Capitol Tours, and compared to some of the coaches we've been on it was nice, there was a toilet (a luxury in asia!) and we got free drinking water and a little wet wipe, very VIP!! We were two of only four westerners on the coach, luckily we did have an english speaking bus attendant! About an hour in the attendant came round to collect our passports and asked if we wanted to do our visas ourselves or for him to get them. I have read it's usually better to do it yourself so we told him that, apart from him looking surprised this way fine!

We reached the Vietnamese border and it all got very strange, everyone had to get off the bus with all of our baggage and we went to wait in another room and the man with all of our passports just sort of disappeared, no one had any idea where he had gone and I did panic for a moment worrying we'd be stranded at the Vietnamese border!

Luckily it turns out he was bypassing the queues for us to get our exit stamp, unluckily me and Dan were the last to be processed, so just had to wait whilst everyone else sat on the nice air conned coach!! Eventually we got our passports back and got back on the coach to drive about 100m to the Cambodia border where we had to get off the coach again! Everyone else got to go inside but we had to go and fill in the visa form. It was all very simple and we opted for the $20 Tourist Visa. There was no bribing of any visa officials as some of the guide books and website like to lead you to believe, we paid our $20 and we had our visas!

Once we had queued up and provided our fingerprints and photos we had our entry stamp to Cambodia and were on our way to Phnom Penh! It turned out later when we were talking to others over lunch they had paid $25 to the bus attendant for the same visa, so whilst only a saving of $5 we were very pleased we had opted to do it ourselves, it was super easy and nothing to worry about at all!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Saigon gone

We touched down to Saigon airport and were amazed at how easy it was at this end, my backpack even ended up being the first off the conveyor belt! We negotiated a taxi into the centre and got dropped off at our hostel. We stayed at the Phran Anh Backpackers Hostel, but it is definitely a very POSH backpackers hostel, one of the best room's we've had and definitely the best bathroom. It was an absolutely bargain and I would recommend it to anyone.

The city itself has lots to see, most of it related to the Vietnam war and unfortunately as happens with war a lot of it not very pleasant but important to see nevertheless. We visited the Reunification Palace, both of us were slightly dissapointed as it looked more like a bad 70s government building than a palace and in our opinion was not really worth the 30,000 dong entrance fee, you could join a free guided tour but you were only allowed around about 4 rooms and to be honest we would have been just as happy looking at it from the outside.

There is some lovely architecture around the city and we enjoyed just walking around enjoying the parks and people watching. You can even partake in a bit of exercise if you fancy it, although it's not necessarily advisable in the 34 degree heat! Dan still decided to show off a little bit...

One museum you should definitely visit is the War Remants Museum, it's only 15,000 dong to enter and it is WELL worth the entrance fee, we spent a good two and a half hours looking around, and it definitely makes you think. There are many artifacts from the Vietnam War, as well as an exhibition on the Prisoner of War camps. The Agent Orange exhibition is very harrowing and upsetting in places but interesting to read and understand more. There is a slight Vietnam bias throughout the museum but that is to be expected. Definitely do not miss this museum if you are in Vietnam.

Finally we went on a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, we had a very entertaining tour guide who went by the name of Mr Bean, he literally lectured us for two and a half hours about the war, and he seemed to hate everything, Vietnam, Communists, Capitalism, American's, English. I'm not really sure what he liked but it definitely was not a boring bus journey and he was a great tour guide if slightly crazy...

The tunnels themselves were very interesting and was fab to learn about the guerilla fight, both Dan and I decided to do the tunnels but I had to give up half way through as everyone in front kept stopping and it was getting smaller and smaller and I got very panicky and claustrophoic so was very thankful for the little escape routes dotted throughout the tunnel. It's definitely an experience and I'm glad I did at least half of it! I definitely have a lot of respect for the people who lived and fought in these tunnels for years.

One of the grass/bamboo traps
We both really enjoyed our time in HCMC and definitely preferred it as a city to Hanoi. Although it was very big it seemed to be easy to navigate and there was always lots happening! We have enjoyed our time in Vietnam however it definitely hasn't been our favourite place, we have met a lot of friendly and helpful vietnamese but unfortunately we have also met with a lot of hostile and unfriendly people which has some what tainted our experience. 

We are very excited to be moving on to Cambodia tomorrow but are somewhat apprehensive about our land border crossing, we'll let you know how it goes in the next blog post!

See you on the other side,

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Tailor of Hoi An

So after we enjoyed a few lovely relaxing days in Hue we decided to travel down to Hoi An, this time we went via coach as it's a lot easier when arriving in the town. The weather took a bit of a turn for the worst when we left Hue and it dropped about 8 degrees and was chucking it down!

Hoi An is famous for cheap custom made suits and dresses, you can't step anywhere in the town without someone trying to make you a custom designed suit, dress or shoes. Neither Dan or I wanted anything made (nor did we have the room to carry anything!) but it was fun exploring. The old town is shut off from all motorcycles and cars from early evening which was lovely and really helped the atmosphere not to be nearly run down every time you step off the curb! The riverside is beautiful, we weren't too amazed by the Japanese bridge, especially not to spend 90,000 dong (about £3) to walk over it! But we were very impressed by the abundence of fresh beer, most restaurants sell it and you could get half a pint for 3000 dong (9p!!) and it was absolutely amazing, and this is coming from a non-beer drinker!

We decided to do a tour to My Son whilst in Hoi An, My Son is a group of abandoned temples that are unfortunately mostly partially destoryed after the Vietnam war when American bombs were dropped in the area in order to try and kill the guerilla fighters hiding in the jungle. However the temples are still beautiful and the area they are located in is breathtaking. It was a thoroughly interesting day and we had a brilliant guide. 

We got the boat back along the river to Hoi An which is a fabulous way to enter the town, and it's definitely worth the extra dollar to enjoy this experience! We really enjoyed our time in Hoi An and if you do go make sure you take an empty suitcase (or two) as it's worth it to get a few custom made suits (or dresses)! 

We're venturing down to Ho Chi Minh city next, our final stop in Vietnam!


Friday, 6 April 2012

Come away to Hue

(Hue is pronounced Whey, by the way).

So, Hue. It was awesome. I loved it. The vibe in that place is killer. I can't quite think of the words to describe it, so I won't go on, but by comparison to EVEYRWHERE ELSE we have been in Vietnam, it was by far the best spot. In fact, it comes a very close second to all the places we have been so far in SouthEast Asia as a whole, (running up to Chiang Mai, Thailand).

It's a pretty small city, very clean (in relativity), and the people are all pretty freindly. The weather was great, the river running through the middle was a delight, and the citadel was beautiful.

We have found that the Vietnamese aren't fond of giving change. Literally any transaction made where you purchase goods or services for money, you will get incorrect change. We were growing used to this, as it was generally only a few hundred Dong (which amount to only pennies, Sterling). But, we got douched out of a lot of money at the citadel. It put kind of a downer on the thing, which sucks because the place is truely majestic, full of history and culture. But it was still a serious highlight of the trip.