Friday, 25 August 2006

err, waiter? there's a fly in my soup...

...and then some. Left Phnom Penh (no I don't know how to pronounce it either) to go to a place called Battambang, was initially disappointed when I realised that this wasn't Battemberg of cake fame, but soon got over that when I discovered a nice cafe selling lots of other much nicer cakes. However this soon faded into utter disgust as I decided to go for an adventure and find somewhere 'local' to eat, oh dear. Much gesturing and pointing ensued and out came a nice noodle dish, yummy yum, but hang on what's that? and that? IT WAS CRAWLING WITH INSECTS. Initially I thought this was some kind of mistake, until I realised that they had been fried: they were there on purpose! Guys I really tried to eat it. Each bite was washed down with a hefty gulp from the enormous jug of beer I accidently ordered. I had a good few mouthfulls until I realised that the food to beer ratio was heftily weighted towards me being very drunk. I did eat about half of it but had to stop when I looked at the chopsticks and there was loads of insect wings stuck on them. Eeeeeeeuuuuww. I stumbled home and heartily brushed my teeth never to think of it again, until now.

Eating crises aside, went on a tour of the local area for the day with some dude called Bom (or similar) who took me along lots of muddy tracks that are actually main roads. Saw lots of rice paddies, learnt how much rice costs and that if you hand plant it rather than some other way of planting it you get 4 times as much rice (my rice education continues, I might even be able to cook it one day). Went up a hill to one of those lovely Khmer Rouge type places where Bom's family was killed and on the way down I saw a funky lizard who we called Ernie - see how I'm helping Cambodian's recover from their cruel past. On way back got very splashed by big muddy puddle as road had disappeared (pic), washed most of the mud off in a rice paddy which in all honesty left me just as muddy, but now probably have a happy combination of rice fly diseases. Unfortunately on my way out to dinner (went to a restuarant stuffed with tourists so felt pretty safe) I misjudged the dark patch next to the pavement and was up to me knees in mud again.

Time for a bit of ancient history now folks. The temples of Angkor, the remains of the great civilisation of South East Asia. Thousands of years old. Yada yada yada. Spent a day looking around all these old temples and stuff, Angkor Wat is apparently the largest religious building in the world though I think they cheated on this, look - it's tiny, ha ha haaaaaaa! Played Tomb Raider in Ta Phrom which is where parts of the film was, erm, filmed, if you look real close at the picture below you might be able to find one of the keys or whatever it is that Lara Croft was always looking for. Got a bit embarassing though as I was messing around and got caught by a huge tour group who snuck up behind me and the leader pointed out a sign saying 'DANGER DANGER' as I scrambled and posed all over the ruins, whoops. Climbed a big hill to watch the sunset over Angkor, like everyone else I know who also did this, it was cloudy and a little rainy. And that was that for Cambodia, almost. Journey to Bangkok naturally took about 12 times longer than it's meant to owing to bumpy road, tiny (read collapsing) bridges and lots of dust (got off the bus and was orange with all the dirt - realised however that this is essential make-up for a chav night out in any town near you).

Enough of that, I'm going to the beach.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

merrily down the Mekong

Apparently couldn't spend all my time on the beach so hot-tailed it down to Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City (which turned out to be the same place). Can't actually remember what I did there so must've been great - plus have already accidently deleted this post twice so gradually losing patience with writing it. Hmmm, oh yeh did go somewhere else in between, Nha Trang or something, it was distinctly av. though. So obviously I got lost in Saigon/Ho Chi, and now taking things a step further by not only getting lost on the way to places, but also getting lost in these places. Spent a little longer than intended in the City Museum - granted given that I didn't actually want to go there at all, I thought it was somewhere else. Then found the Reunification Palace, not wanting to play the 'British card' or anything, but it wasn't Buckingham Palace (not that I've ever been there), see picture - it looks rubbish, so I didn't bother going in. If anyone who went in there thought it was simply the best place ever, I don't want to know. A few metres on and I was at my intended destination (woo), the War Remnants Museum (less woo), it had all the remnants of war (though did not have that classic song lyric "war! what is it good for? absolutely nothing! Huh" playing in the background, shame cos I had it stuck in my head) and some lovely pictures of decapitated bodies, etc. Also turns out that Agent Orange was not a fruity spy. Pleasant.

Next stop a 3 day 'tour' of the Mekong Delta. Visited various Mekong Delta related sights that my defective memory has somehow erased. Well let me summarise what I can recall, coconut sweet factory, 'traditional' music (turns out the traditional music is akin to cat wailing/fingernails on blackboard), rice factory, rice noodle factory (oh the education of it all), floating vegetable market, slightly schizophrenic tour guide and lots and lots of river. Turns out the Mekong river is very big, so big that it took about 4 days (11 hours, I exaggerate) to do the 5 hour by bus journey to Phnom Penh.

Guess that's a bit of a giveaway as to where I am now, Phnom Penh the 'resurgent' (Lonely Planet uses this word at least twice to describe it, but have no idea as to what it might mean, any ideas?) capital of Cambodia (yep, another country to add to the list). As a city it's a leeetle messed up in the history department. Schools that are actually used as prisons and classrooms for torture (worse even than AS maths, if you can imagine that). Khmer Rouge killing fields (Choueng Ek) where thousands (possibly more) were not so nicely murdered and unceremoniously buried. Enough said? Nope, cos now there're sweet 11yr old girls selling cocaine on the streets. Fair point it's not all bad - the food's nice - but I think I'm going somewhere less resurgent tomorrow.

Wednesday, 9 August 2006


(Vietnamese for 'thank you' - not quite as much fun as the Laoian (?) one, li li liiiii li li). For now this one's just going to be writing I think as the speed of this computer is comparable to that, of well, something very slow (life's too short slow) and can't actually view website from here anyway - something to do with site being blocked due to my uncouth remarks about Uncie Ho probably...

So anyway, I struggled to tear myself away from Hanoi and went to a wee town called Ninh Binh which was nice, the scenery was similar to Halong Bay but different because lots of rice paddies - not too surprising given that it's known as 'Halong Bay in the rice paddies'. Had a fantastic bus journey down to Hue as there was a distinct inbalance between the number of passengers and the number of seats available - when he realised this problem the driver/conductor dude started shouting into his phone for about 30 mins as if would create seats from thin air in this vain, finally gave up and promptly fell asleep in a hammock (not whilst driving).

Had a 'DMZ day' which was rather educating I must say, I now know (I think so at least) that the Viet Cong were the northern Vietnamese army who were fighting the US of A in the south with the aid of the Ho Chi Minh trail (lots of tunnels to transport stuff from China (I think) to the south to take out the evil americans). Have a lovely picture of the DMZ as it is now (this is of the 'border' on the north side, apparently they kept fighting to have the tallest flagpole and stuff - the things that count in war...), though apparently it wasn't as 'demilitarised' as intended back then with people living in tunnels for 5 years (!). Consider that a history lesson, didn't stop me pretending to be Forrest Gump or generally being silly with weaponry (see right) though. Oh, and for lunch we ended up gatecrashing a wedding, no-one seemed to mind a whole bus load of tourists there, in fact I think they quite liked it. Bizarre. And then a very weird 'small world' moment as pretty much literally ran into someone from RAMSBURY!!!! Yikes!

Am now in Hoi An, it's really nice here. And I haven't got lost here. A significant achievement given my past record. Loads of good food too, yum yum. There was a full moon/Japan-Vietnam 'cultural exchange' festival on the other night which involved boat races, the requisite b.a.d. music and lots of pretty twinkly candles out on the river, very nice. Hoi An is famous (well amongst travellers in Vietnam anyway) for it's tailor shops (over 200), somehow a trip to buy a pair of shorts has resulted in me buying 2 shorts, 2 shirts, 1 suit, 1 dress and 1 jacket (whoops), but for the record I look hot (with a capital T) in a suit - shame it's not soo practical whilst travelling... Hired out a motorbike yesterday (don't panic assorted aged rellies, I securely wrapped myself up in cottonwool before embarking on such an exercise - actually it wasn't for the first time either, eeek) and drove up to the 'marble mountains' near Danang, which are probably as far from being mountains as possible (thankfully as all the pagodas and caves and stuff were kindly located at the top) and then spent the rest of the day chilling on China Beach, and I'm going back there again today. It's such a hard life.

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

and the capital of Vietnam is...

...Hanoi! So no more arguments about that one. 36 hours later and a decidedly non-VIP bus ride and I made it to the city of moto's. Found a lovely place to stay and went for an explore around the place. That's a big lie. I went out to get a fruit shake and didn't return for about 5 hours, I got very lost (not much of a surprise there), though I don't think I'm the only one to have done so, I reckon the reason that there are so many people on the streets on their motorbikes and eating and stuff is because 5 years ago they left their homes, maybe to get a pint of milk or a goat or something and just haven't found their way back yet. I'm sure the streets move every hour or so just to keep things 'interesting'. Anyways, I've seen a lot of the Old Quarter (see right, or is it left, completely lost all sense of direction...). Went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum though unfortunately he was having his afternoon nap and was not to be disturbed (apparently he doesn't get much rest these days) so had to make do with the attached museum which if I was studying symbolism for an art GCSE would have been great, alas I was left standing incredulously at a giant plate of fruit which portrayed 'Vietnams hope for the future generation to learn from their history', uh-huh. Took in a few more sights - I probably should have realised that when the bible (Lonely Planet) said the history museum was 'in a nice building' it would mean the contents were less than exciting. It was breathtakingly dull and didn't even have air-con (sacrilege). Went to a few temples (as per usual) and the prison, don't know why but since been travelling seem to keep on paying to go to jail, biz-arre.

Alas, left the befuddling streets of Hanoi behind to go to Sapa via the equally befuddling (it's a cool word, why not use it twice) train station from where the train was leaving from at least 6 different platforms, turns out the different carriages all go to different platforms and then the train gets built together and leaves seconds later, keeps things really simple. Sapa's a french hill station famous for it's Saturday market, which was, well, a four letter word beginning with 's' (and I don't mean Sapa). Oh and it started to rain. Non-stop. Went to the Sunday market in Bac Ha which was AWEsome (see above), all the people from nearby hill-tribes came here in their best colourful costumes (no-one told me it was fancy dress) and sold horses, food, tobacco, little piggies, wellies and pretty much anything else you'd need in the Vietnamese hills - I just about managed not to accidently buy a chicken. Back to Hanoi on the overnight (tch) train in something less than luxury and then (yay) to Halong Bay (see right) for a cruise, cave (see left), kayak and swim. You'd probably not believe this but, oh yes, it was still raining (I realise i'm becoming a little obsessed by this, especially as it is the rainy season and to be expected, but I'm on holiday). Just in case I'd forgotten what irony is (ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife), the sun came out the second we stepped off the boat, ha ha haaaaaaaa. However we did go through a tunnel as featured in Tomorrow Never Dies so that brings the number of Bond film sets visited up to 2, I'm practically a Bond girl now, just call me Halle Berry(hmmm).

Am currently back in Hanoi (I think, could be more lost than I thought). Managed to lose 2 pairs of sunglasses in the space of 3 hours which strikes me as a little stupid, however not to worry as there are streets dedicated to selling gen-u-ine Roy Bans. I'm sorted for entertainment tonight, there's a place here doing all you can eat on ice cream, I fully intend to try every flavour they have (about 30) so could be rolling home - good job I'm not on the top bunk. On that note I'm going - have to leave early to allow for very high probability of not finding my way there within the next hour. Au revoir!