Thursday, 28 October 2010

Vietnam and Cambodia, done

Sorry it's been a while but I've been super busy and haven't had the best of internet access apart from trusty wifi on my phone.

Soooo, where did I last leave you? Oh yes Hoi An in Vietnam. After another horrid night bus journey from Hoi An we arrived at the crack of dawn in Nha Trang, a lovely town on the coast of Vietnam with a nice long beach. We ended up spending nearly an entire week here because a) I did my Advanced Open Water PADI course plus Claudia and Daire did their Open Water PADI course and b) I celebrated my 24th birthday there and was too hungover to undertake another night bus ride for a few days.

The diving was brilliant, definitely one of the better places I've dived and the course was great. I specialized in navigation. deep, photography, night and search & recovery. I was really happy Claudia and Daire decided to dive too because it means we can dive together in Ko Phi Phi, Ko Tao and Borneo =) I dived with Rainbow who were brilliant so if you are ever in Vietnam check them out!! After the course I joined Claudia and Daire at Octopus Diving and did a few fun dives which were extremely enjoyable due to the intensity of the advanced course. I saw loads of amazing fish plus I racked up quite a few numbers in my dive log.

On the 17th I celebrated my birthday with a few friends we've made whilst travelling. Natalie and Bob bought me a conical hat which is hilarious and I'm dong my best not to loose it (or squash it). Claudia bought me a beautiful silk kaftan and we went out for dinner where I had some over priced lobster which unfortunately wasn't worth the money I paid. Several bars ensued plus some paddling in the sea and we eventually arrived back at the hotel in a pretty bad worse-for-where state at 5am. I managed to get a bar to play some Green Day and ended up with a free bottle of champagne and chocolate cake, brilliant!!!

The 2 days were spent sleeping on the beach and we eventually left on another night bus for Saigon. Nha Trang was brilliant and even though it was a bit over cast the ocean was lovely and warm plus the town had a really good atmosphere about it.

Once again the night bus dropped us off at 6am in Saigon where we had to spend 3 hours napping in a hotel reception until a room was available for us. Saigon was fantastic whilst it was even bigger and busier than Hanoi it was more exciting and I would definitely go back. During our time there we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the War museum plus a pagoda and crazy market. The tunnels and museum were really interesting yet a completely harrowing experience. Whilst my history about the Vietnam war wasn't so great before I embarked on this trip I have learnt so much about the atrocities the US army did to the people of Vietnam. Yes, the Viet Cong did some awful stuff too which was very apparent at the Cu Chi Tunnels but the War Museum really showed the extent of the Holocaust like action the US Army caused with Dioxins and the other chemical they dropped on the country.

Anyway, enough of a history lesson. After Saigon we left Vietnam (1 week later than scheduled) and arrived in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. Whilst here we visited the Silver Pagoda (mega rip off), Killing Fields and Genocide Museum. This was another depressing day learning about the action of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pott's regime. The Genocide Museum (S21) is a bleak prison where thousands of Khmer people were sent for fear of bringing down the communist regime from the inside. The majority of people sent here were completely innocent and had to endure horrific interrogation and torture. The place reminded me of Auschwitz which I visited last year whilst inter railing. After being sent to the S21 the prisoners were then transported to the Killing Fields (just outside the city) where they were immediately executed. Babies and children were even killed here and now the person in charge of these actions is awaiting trails!!! Despite the reason for the Killing Fields it is quite a tranquil place and a memorial has been constructed in the centre where is holds the bones of the people who were murdered there.

After a few days of really depressing day trips we headed up north to Siem Reap (our current location) to marvel at some wonderful temples. We bought a 3 day pass for the Angkor temples and since then we have seen a crazy amount and personally I never want to see another temple again!!! On our first day we did the 'small circuit' which included Ta Prom my favourite temple of the 3 days. It is huge and has not undergone much renovation so is still in its original shape plus it has all thee magnificent tress growing through the rocks and looks completely stunning. It was the temple used in Tomb Raider so you would probable recognise it. We also went to see Bamteary Seria pink temple 30km outside the city and another one I can't remember the name off!!! There was a temple we wanted to see even further outside the city with a waterfall but our tuk tuk driver would not take us there unless we paid more and since we had already spent a significant amount on the temple pass we opted out.

On the second day we did the 'big circuit' which included some truly wonderful sights the temples of Angkor are unlike any temples you would normally see, they are in fantastic condition complete with intricate wall carvings plus they are HUGE!!! At the end of the second day we climbed the mountain (read large hill) to another temple to view sunset however the overcast weather made this a slight waste of time. That evening we checked out the market and met up with Natalie and Bob to explore Pub Street and eat Mexican food, yum yum!!! We knew we had to get up early so headed back to the hotel in good time however a problem struck... Daire, who was the last one out of the room locked the door but left the key inside.... Okay not to much of a problem because all hotels have spare keys right? WRONG!!!!! The crappy hotel we are staying in seemed to have a spare key for every room except ours. We spent over an hour trying to get in. We tried to pick the lock and failed, the staff tried to take the lock of the door and failed. Eventually Daire constructed a massive rod thing with a coat hanger at the end weaved t through the window and managed to pick up the key!!! It was all rather hilarious but a bit scary at the time since we almost couldn't get in!!!

After a short sleep and early 4.30am rise we headed to Angkor Wat to see sunrise. Angkor Wat is meant to be the most magnificent temple of them all because it is in such good condition and is huge!!! Anyway the sunrise was a complete waste of time and despite the grandeur of the temple I really wasn't 'feeling' it. Nevertheless we headed to Angkor Thom next where Bayon temple reside. This temple was really great because it is covered in faces carved into the towers. We looked around a few more temples and eventually headed back to the hotel at noon for some much needed sleep. This evening we are meeting people again for dinner, the night market and maybe doing that thing where you stick your feet in the water and the fist eat the dead skin!! Tomorrow we are headed to Laos and have to take a 24 hour bus journey because they plane is too expensive, joy!!! Cambodia has been a strange country and whilst the prices are surprisingly high and the people cam seem somewhat unfriendly I have enjoyed the contrast of war vs temples. However, I am really looking forward to Laos and tubing on Halloween.

Must dash now, lots to do plus I have to pack. The bus leaves a 6am, FUN!!!! Laterz xxxx

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Hue and Hoi An

Whilst Hanoi was a city bursting with life, noise and colour Hue, a city in Southern Vietnam was much more tranquil and less exhausting. The night bus journey to Hue was pretty horrific but once we got there and settled into out hostel, Hue Backpackers (FYI it was amazing - free beer!!!) we instantly feel in love with the place and it's chilled out atmosphere. The first day in Hue was spent exploring the old citadel which to be honest was a bit disappointing especially when compared with the Forbidden City in Beijing. The weather was absolutely boiling which really did not add to my appreciation of the ruins. When we arrived in the citadel we bumped into Ben and Fran, an English couple we met in Halong Bay and arranged to go for a drink that evening. After exploring the old ruins and all the surrounding streets we headed back to the hostel for free beer, fish n chips and headed out for the evening. We went to a couple of bars including one with the most mental waitress I've ever met. Apparently she was called Crazy Bonkers and not only was she extremely annoying but hilarious she also had the most high pitched deafening laugh ever!!!!! The evening was a succession of jagerbombs and cocktails... not the best idea considering we had to get up at 7.30am the next morning.

After an early start we headed out on a boat tour to visit some tombs and temples. The temples were pretty templey (as if I'm templed out all ready) but the tombs were really fascinating. We saw 3 in total and each one was better and more grand than the previous. I can't remember their names and I don't have 'the bible' handy so I'm not even going to try and guess but I would definitely recommend checking them out if you are ever in this part of the world. Each tomb was completely different in terms or design, size and architecture but each fascinating to walk around and wonder how the emperors used to live way back then. Some of the sites were merely for burial purposes but other had live in areas and hence much larger in size. We meet another English couple on the tour, Bob and Natalie (we seem to have a thing for picking up these Brits) and that evening the 5 of use met Ben and Fran for some good English grub minus the beers and plus the hangover remnants.

Another 7.30am rise meant we could catch the early bus to Hoi An, a small city on the coast where tailor made clothing is a speciality. We arrived in the high heat and decided to stay at the first place are eyes meet. This happened to be a luxury hotel next to the bus stop and for $6 each we were in heaven complete with a swimming pool, a first on this trip!!! After a swim, it started to rain so I decided to have a cheap facial and pedi (Daire had a massage!!!) until the weather died down and we could hit the streets to get some clothes made. After looking for ages I found a place to have my 2 dresses made. A replica of a shift dress I already own and a floaty maxi dress perfect for summer parties and evenings on the beach. Daire had a suit and 2 shirts made and Claudia got a top and playsuit.

That evening we meet all the Brits again at an arranged time and place and enjoyed happy hour cocktails and beers plus some non Vietnamese food!!!!!! Once again not ideal for a 7.30 wake up call but fun nevertheless.

Today we went to check out My Son, an ancient Cham temple in the jungle which was pretty interesting but really run down. It was hit badly during the war and not much is really left standing. If I never see a temple again (except Angkor Wat!!!) it'll be too soon!!!!!! The afternoon was spent collecting out tailor made clothes. Daire and I got ours made in the same shop and they did such a good job neither of us needed any adjustments. Claudia however was not so lucky and is waiting to pick up her adjusted items as I type. Tonight we have to catch another night bus to Nha Trang, our much need beach stop!!! I plan to scuba dive and hopefully pick up my advanced PADI plus laying on the beach reading my Dexter novels will be a well deserved treat from all our early mornings and busy days.

I got a little sun burnt today but hopefully it'll sort itself out by the time I go diving! Last night we also had to say goodbye to the Brits as they are on a much longer and more relaxing time scale than us. The night bus this evening will probably be as horrific as the last one but at least we'll get a few relaxing days on the beach to catch up on sleep. It was pouring with rain again today so fingers crossed for some nice weather. After the beach we are heading to Hoi Chi Minh and the Mekong Delta before entering Cambodia where things will calm down significantly and we wont be as busy... phew!!

Anyway, must dash now. Bus to catch and shower to have. Speak soon xxxxxxxxxxxx

Friday, 8 October 2010

Hanoi and Halong Bay

My last blog post felt rather rushed so I'm going to take my time to do this one properly.

On Sunday evening I arrived in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam where I met up with my friends Claudia and Daire. After a lot of catch up chat we feel asleep and woke up to a hot busy city on Monday morning. Hanoi is many things, terrifying, busy, colourful and delightful. It is terrifying because of the sheer number of mopeds over running the streets, crossing the road is a pure nightmare and on several occasions I've come close to having my toes lobbed off!!! On October 10th Hanoi celebrates 1000 years of being capital so you can imagine how absolutely crazy busy it is. More mopeds than usual, more people selling crap than usual, more people in general and most of all a complete wonderful buzz around the entire city, especially the lake area. A far as colour goes Hanoi is bursting with life. The streets are full of lanterns, the shops fronts are full of toys, the trees are full of glow-in-the-dark lights and there roads and people are covered in yellow and red celebratory ribbons and stickers. Whilst all the noise, air pollution and killer traffic may not be your cup of tea and certainly not relaxing the city is still a delight and full of old traditional buildings, funny looking houses, happy people and most of all cheap-as-chips beer =) enough to keep anyone happy!!!

Even though Hanoi is a huge city there isn't too much to see on the sight seeing front. We spent a full day walking around the Museum of Literature where Chinese architecture was in abundance. We also saw the 1 pillar pagoda, the lake, a few other pagodas and caught a dodgy rickshaw ride. Unfortunately we couldn't see the Hoi Chi Ming mausoleum because he's body is apparently in Russia but we did wonder around the grounds a little and I even got booted out of a church for wearing shorts, oops!!!! The evening was spent enjoying 'less than $1 beer' and eating random Vietnamese food i.e rice rice and more rice.

On Tuesday we left Hanoi for our 2 night tour of Halong Bay. We arrived on the boat and enjoyed a delicious sea food lunch and meet some wonderful people. Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site and consists of 1000+ islands poking up from the Gulf of Tonkin, it is a beautiful and peaceful place where the water is warm and the light breeze blows against your skin. The afternoon was spent cruising around the island (some look like animals e.g. fighting cock island) walking through an amazing cave full of more animal shaped rocks and finally taking a swim in the lush water. Claudia and I being the dare devils we are jumped off the boat's roof!!!! After more yummy food for dinner we finished the evening drinking beer and singing karaoke!!!! I am not normally a fan but couldn't resist joining in for Bohemian Rhapsody, Boys Don't Cry and  some other tasteful delights. We slept on the boat and were made to awake at 7am for an adventure packed day of kayaking, bicycle riding, jungle trekking and experiencing Cat Ba island from the inside of a hot sweaty mini bus. After the jungle trek on an island I can't remember the name of, Claudia, Daire and I were left in a remote village to spend the night in a bungalow instead of the hotels everyone else was heading too. The bungalows were basic yet endearing except for the giant spiders we made the bungalow owner man kill with a massive stick. Fortunately our beds came equipped with mosquito nets but that didn't stop us being horrified from all the creepy crawly noises we could hear in the dark. After another early start at 6am the 3 of us cycled back to the harbour to catch a boat to Cat Ba island where we were reunited with our other tour members. We spent a few hours cruising around the islands of Halong Bay and were taken back to the main land for lunch and the 3 hour bus ride back to Hanoi. Because we stayed in the bungalow we missed out on a trip to the beach and due to the not so great weather we were unable to visit monkey island =(

Halong Bay was an absolute dream and so relaxing making our arrival in Hanoi last night rather chaotic plus the air pollution felt 100 times worse after spending 3 days by the coast where only a few mopeds could be seen. Daire and I are getting so sick of eating rice we insisted on finding a pizza place for dinner. The pizza and fries was glorious!!!! We spent the evening walking around the lake and witnessing all the celebrations. The air was full of happiness and cheer, glow-in-the-dark toys were in abundance and the skies were full of flashing lights. After a sneaky cocktail we headed back to the hostel and enjoyed a much need sleep.

Today we leave Hanoi for Hue, a southern Vietnam town on the coast. The bus journey is 14 hours but hopefully my Dexter novels will keep me going. The bus leaves this evening so I think we'll spend the day chilling, walking around a little, blogging (obviously) and maybe buying some food for the horrific bus ride.

The weather here is nice, not too hot but high enough we can spend the day walking around in shorts and dresses. I'm getting really paranoid about being bitten by buys though!!!

Speak soon xxxx

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Beijing and Hong Kong

Wow, it certainly has been a busy week for me so I guess the best place to begin is the very beginning.

After an exhausting 18 journey from London including a 4 hour stop over in Dubai I arrived in bright, sunny Beijing. Beijing was a fantastic place sight seeing wise and boy was there a lot to do. The first day I spent walking around the city and exploring the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, Jingshan Park, hutongs and markets. The Forbidden City is where the Chinese Emperors used to live and was completely banned from the public, hence the name. The architecture is traditional Chinese and completely beautiful. All the buildings are made with wood and panted in beautiful colours. There are large pots all over the grounds which used to be full of water to put out fires. You can look into loads of the buildings and see all of the ancient treasures, it's completely amazing! After walking around the Forbidden City and the beautiful Imperial Gardens I walked down to Tiananmen Square. There were guards all over the place making sure protests break out and keeping a look out for any other trouble.

In the afternoon I attempted to find a place to eat lunch mentioned in my tour book. I spent ages trying to find the restaurant only to discover it was full. So I walked around the hutongs (traditional Chinese streets) and found another place that served all kinds of weird meals. After lunch I explored the Temple of Heaven Park and more Chinese architecture and climbed to the top of Jingshan Park to see over the city and all the roofs on the Forbidden City.

After an exhausting day walking I rushed back to my hostel Peking International (lovely place) and went out to see some Chinese Acrobatics which was completely amazing! Those people can move in ways you wouldn't even imagine!

Wednesday was my Chinese high light because it was the day I walked along the Great Wall of China. Words cannot describe how amazing this day was. The views were the most fantastic I have ever seen, walking across the crumbled ruins for 3 hours was breath taking and I can't wait to show you all the photos. It was an exhausting trek but completely worth it, amazing!!!!

That evening I walked through the night market and saw all the weird food on sticks e.g. snakes, beetles and worms, gross!!! I also went out for some famous Peking duck which was completely delicious. Beijing was a fantastic experience, the Chinese traditions were beautiful but the hygiene was disgusting. Their toilets are literally holes in the ground and completely horrid!!!!

On Thursday I flew to Hong Kong to met Charlotte. We've had such a fun time here and I'll be so sad to leave, Hong Kong really is one of the most amazing places on earth. The first night there we went out with Charlotte's work colleges in the famous Lan Kwai Fong where the atmosphere was buzzing and the people were in abundance. Everyone was playing ICE where you have to kneel down when presented with a bottle of Smirnoff Ice and down it! The next thing we knew one guy had bought an entire crate of bottles, hilarious!!! After exploring many bars including one on the 23rd floor of a skyscraper with amazing views we headed home to sleep in preparation for a few days of sight seeing.

On Friday we went for delicious Dim Sum for lunch followed by the bird and ladies market where I bought a few cheap treats. We got the famous Star Ferry across to the markets and back again so at night when all the building had their lights on the views were fantastic. In the evening we went out for Mexican food (a welcome change from Chinese) and headed back to the flat.

Yesterday, we went over to Lantau to see the massive Buddha. after queueing for what felt like forever we got the chair lift over the island where the views were stunning. After climbing 200+ stairs to see the Buddha which was amazing we had some noodles for lunch and joined the queue again for the chair lift again. We headed back to the flat for dinner and then went up to The Peak to see more stunning views of Hong Kong a night. The Peak is the largest viewing point on the island and boy were the views incredible. There really is no other place on earth like the Hong Kong skyline, it is completely breathing taking a night with all the sky scrapes and lights. After a few cocktails at The Peak we caught the rickety tram back down the hill.

My time in Hong Kong with Charlotte has been amazing. I've seen so much, been to so many places and experiences so many things. This city is probably one of the best places I've ever been and I hope I can come back one day. Compared to Beijing, Hong Kong is so clean and exciting. I thoroughly enjoyed both places and am really looking forward to meeting Daire and Claudia in Hanoi, Vietnam later!

See you later x