A Travellerspoint blog

Day 105 - 106 - Kampot Cool

sunny

Tuesday we had to get up at 6ish to get a tuk tuk to the stadium bus station. A ten minute wait & we were on our way for 7.10am. After a brief stop round 9am where we ate noodle soup at a roadside restaurant for 5000 riel each the journey was complete for midday, dropped off on a lonely road by a roundabout at Kampot.
As we were led by a tout to our guesthouse of choice - Ta Eng, Kampot didn't seem anything like we'd expected. The 'sleepy riverside town' Lonely Planet description was an understatement. The place wasn't just sleepy it seemed practically desolate! The 'built up' centre consisted of a handful of shops, restaurants & petrol stations. We were beginning to wonder if we should've skipped Kampot & gone straight to the coast!
Our views changed after we had settled in at our guest house, a small villa-style place with a decent-sized bedroom & own bathroom & a nice communal balcony to sit & watch the world go by. After agreeing to a moto tour the next day we walked round town, past the busy taxi drivers & down 7 Makara Street, the main road in the town centre. Halfway along the street past the numerous internet cafes & small shops we stopped for lunch at Epic Arts Cafe, a friendly little place geared towards helping deaf & disabled Cambodians with the money from the home-made dishes & employing such staff to run the place. Filled up on a delicious $3 tuna melt we followed the street to the river & took the intersecting road to find Le Mongieur Guest house that offered canoeing. Our forty minuten trek down the road & along a slippery dirt track brought us only to an old trainline. The guest house had ceased to exist!
We headed back to Ta Eng, embarrassingly getting lost owing to my foolishly heading for the wrong landmark (how was I to know there were several very similar statues on roundabouts & two of the same type of petrol station). Eventually we found our place, stumbling across the tucked away street by accident & just spent the night playing cards & eating vegetable fried rice - enjoying the peace & tranquility away from a busy city.

Wednesday we got up at 8ish & had jam baguettes & hot drinks for $3.50 at our guest house.
Our moto guide turned up & after negotiation we set off on our $11 customised day trip through the Kampot Province, after a brief stop at his place to pick up a third helmet.
Our first place Phnom Sor was reached after nearly two hours racing along the main road being overtaken by wagons & blasted by the heat. Entering the dusty little town of Kompong Trach we took a left down a dirt track & were escorted to the White Mountain another 2kms away.
Choosing a kind, friendly teenager, Muk as our guide we took afew minutes to look around the modern, ornate Wat
Kirisan with depictions of Heaven & Hell whilst trying to talk to an old man there in French. We then followed Muk as she led us through the mountain cave system, pointing out peculiar rock formations shaped like animals. Twenty minutes later we emerged into a strange & beautiful world. Hundreds of years ago a gigantic cavern roof had collapsed & the result of years of uninterupted growth had created a small, almost prehistoric-looking Eden valley. A curtain of green vines & plants were growing out of the walls, flowers sprang up from a purply dirt floor & in one corner, built into the rock was a small shrine with a reclining Buddha statue.
The open sky allowed the sun's rays to bathe this small world with a golden light & a blast of heat as a contrast to the cold, dark caves.
Walking across to the other side of the open cavern we were taken up steep stone steps & through several small caves where we were shown more natural 'sculptures' as well as Naga's final resting place (he was believed to have turned to stone as he died becoming the White Mountain). I have to admit one of the rock formations did spookliy resemble a serpent's mouth, complete with jagged teeth!
We left the secret world & were shown ancient coral embedded in the rock walls from a time when the sea had flowed through the Kampot Province millions of years ago.
Once back outside we climbed up to a viewpoint & tipped our young guide for her assistance.
We drove back along the road as thunder rumbled behind us & the wind whipped our exposed bodies, making the bike veer to the left, until we reached the quiet little seaside town of Kep. The unimpressive place was originally a popular French retreat at the turn of the twentieth century but the Khmer Rouge pretty much levelled the place & it was only now starting to become popular again – for the Phnom Penh elite.
We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch & I lazed in a hammock whilst Vicky sat on a wooden bench eating fried noodles & vegetables at a quite costly price with instant noodles! After the unsatisfactory meal we rode to Phnom Soria (between Kep & Kampot), on the way nearly crashing as my foot slipped between the back tyre & bike chassis.
We were taken to a modern temple then up into a cavern, led by two young boys where they showed us interesting rock formations & we disturbed some bats. The twenty minute loop was quite dangerous considering the sheer drop on one side of the narrow paths & the going was slow & slippery. Back outside we tipped the boys & were back in Kampot for 4.20pm.
In the evening we found a set of street stalls along 7 Makara Street & ate noodle soup (the nicest we'd tasted so far) & Khmer dessert. Finally a walk round the streets led to us booking a trekking tour in the nearby Bokor National Park for $75 each.

Posted by Eemail2004 17:36 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Day 101 - 104 - Phnom Penh

sunny

Friday we were up at 7ish & caught a tuk tuk to the Thai Embassy to apply for our Thai visas. My application was easy, fill out a form & hand in with a photo. For Vix however, we had to go back to the guesthouse as the dozy mare had forgotten her photos. Considering we would spend at least an hour walking each way we found a kodak shop halfway & Vicky paid for a fresh set of prints whilst I bought a 4GB memory card for $19 (I had nearly filled all my other cards).
Returning to the embassy Vicky's application went through & we both found to our dismay that we would be unable to pick up our visas till Monday, two days longer in Phnom Pehn than we'd hoped!
We ate brunch round 12ish, a $6.50 buffet of rice, noodles, sweet eggs, squid, chicken curry, fish curry, gammon & jam/sweet potato suet for dessert.
Stuffed beyond belief we waddled to the National Museum, paying $6 entrance fee. The museum was full of Buddist relics in stone, wood or metal form as well as detailed methods of how they were excavated/conserved (with pottery, metals, carbon-dating, DNA sequencing, palaeontology).
It also contained several Reamker paintings & a nice garden with 4 fish ponds. Two hours was enough time to look round so we walked back & had a nap to satisfy the wooziness from the intense heat.
For tea we went to the nearby market stalls & ate noodles with beef at 4000 riel ($1) each then played cards.

Saturday we were up 8ish, left some laundry with the guest house & ate Khmer dessert at Dragon Guest house for breakfast. Sadly, it didn't taste as nice as the first night, but it filled a hole!
We walked for ages to the Palace but when we found it the $7 entry fee each seemed a bit much to pay especially when only half the place was visitable & photography was prohibited. Instead we came across a quiet little corner of the town with a park area complete with naughty monkeys trying to scavenge in the bins (they couldn't quite work the hinged lids) & beggars, some missing limbs.
From the park we climbed up the only hill near Phnom Penh to Wat Phnom, a small local temple where we could view a large part of the city.
We ate lunch at O'Russe indoor market near the guesthouse which consisted of a nasty rice & pork/fish dish - mostly bones.
The rest of the afternoon we just relaxed & in the evening took a tuk tuk to Lazy Gecko, a restaurant situated on the edge of the city by a lake in the true backpacker area. Sadly, our main reason for going to see the orphaned children performing was dashed. It turned out once again Lonely Planet was out of date with it's info as they hadn't performed there for a while. So, we ate pasta dishes, drank some Beer Laos & contended ourselves by playing Scrabble, Top Trumps & Snakes & Ladders (Vicky's choice) in the knowledge that at least the money we spent was going towards the street kids charity.

Sunday we got up round 8am & picked up our laundry. We ate beans & egg with baguettes for breakfast at Dragon Guesthouse & took a walk to the central market where we caught a bus to Takeo for 7,000 riel. As we sat, with me trying to determine if I liked the strange birds nest syrupy energy drink I had bought we kept our eyes peeled for a sign for the Animal Sanctuary. We didn't see one but luckily other passengers knew where we needed to stop. Just over halfway to Takeo we were left in a cloud of dust to walk the 5kms to the sanctuary from the highway. In the extreme such an idea was positively suicidal, and as we passed several groups of desperately poor peasants on the way, including a wild-eyed old woman waving a big, nasty-looking stick at us we decided not to walk any further. As a result at the 2km point we hailed a moto & agreed to $5 to take us to the sanctuary & back. We breathed a sigh of relief as we sped down the dirt road past the peasants to the sanctuary entrance. A brief walk up a hill confirmed that we had been brought to the wrong place. Still it was nice to walk round a little-known, hidden wat, guided by a friendly old man.
Back on the bike we reached the sanctuary ticket booth, paid the entrance fee & to our surprise our moto guy took us half a kilometre through the park. We got off at a collection of large mesh cages containing small birds, as well as eagles, monkeys & several other mammals.
We ate lunch in the “restaurant area”, several bamboo huts with raised floors & hammocks, enjoying a vegetable fried rice dish for $1 each & chatting to a group of Cambodians from Phnom Penh on a quiet picnic away from the kids. Kindness became an infectious disease as they offered us Anchor beer & chicken & fruit & we in turn passed some onto the hungry street kids who put all the leftovers in a bag & shared the food out amongst themselves. After lunch we drunkenly said goodbye to our new friends & our moto guide drove us to various other parts of the huge sanctuary where we saw elephants, tigers, snakes, crocodiles, deer, boar & sunbears.
Once the tour was complete we were taken back to the highway & unsure when our next bus was due caught a minivan at 4pm back to Phnom Penh. It was an interesting journey. The minivan was nothing more than a people carrier, but instead of 10-15 people being transported there were 26 of us, with 2 on the roof & a full cargo of food.
Thanks to a brief breakdown we didn't get back into Phnom Penh till 6pm & were dropped off on the outskirts. It was a full hour walk back to the hostel in the pouring rain & high humidity so we had never been so glad as when we finally reached our boxroom!
We had dinner at another street stall, noodle soup, for $1 each & then I found a dessert stall & had a dish consisting of sweets, fruit, sweet milk & ice. It was delicious & only 2,000 riel each.

Monday we were up 8ish & had breakfast at Capitol Restaurant directly below – omlettes & hot drinks for 10,000 riel.
We negotiated with the throng of tuk tuk drivers, always posted just outside our guesthouse, for an $8 trip to 3 destinations – Tuol Sleng Museum, the Killing Fields & the Thai Embassy.
Ten minutes later (feeling awful playing the drivers off against each other) we reached the museum.
Tuol Sleng or S21 as it is known was originally Tuol Sleng School before being converted into a horrific 'detention centre' by the Khmer Rouge – a place where all intellectuals & many people with above basic labour skills were sent to. Like concerntration camps in German & Russia during World War II, S21 was both a prison & torture chamber until the late 1970s when the last 14 prisoners were rescued by Vietnamese forces.
From the outside S21 still looked very much like a school but the wire fencing wrapped round the buildings & bullet holes conjured up images of a ghetto & gave it a cold, evilness even in the hot sun.
The school was split into 4 concrete blocks – A, B, C & D. We started with block A which contained small rooms where the Vietnamese had found dead prisoners, the beds & shackles still there. The cold, hard, crumbling walls could have been anywhere but the remaining blackboards brought the reality back to us that this place had been a school. Outside the block were a set of gallows where prisoners were hung upside down & dunked head first into a barrel of water.
Block B served as a gallery, a heart-wrenching visual library of the victims, especially the small children who had undergone the most vile, despicable atrocities ever. These photos had been sickeningly taken by the Khmer Rouge themselves as evidence of their 'progress' in eradicating the enemies of the revolution. The upper floors were adorned with statements from the surviving victims of the Khmer Rouge dictatorship as well as detailing the origins of its' members – many of whom were secretly intellectuals themselves. The torturers became the tortured as they became old & outlived their usefulness.
Block C felt like the proper prison. The wire mesh fence enclosed a grey concrete building that had been renovated inside – walls knocked through & new ones erected, wooden panelling put up to create hundreds of small cells with standing room only. It reminded us a little of the French treatment of the Vietnamese in the late 1800s & early 1900s.
Upstairs most of the floor not consisting of cells were rooms covered with statements & photos taken by a journalist allowed to visit Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia. Interestingly the guy had been invited by Pol Pot, the leader, to report on the excellent conditions in Cambodia, on all the wonderful things his forces had done. The comments he had made were positive – improved schooling, medical progress, eradicating poverty – the sorts of leaps other countries were interested in. However, alongside these comments were his more recent opinions, that an elaborate facade had been created in the guise of a 'tour of progress'. Propaganda disguised the actual truth of the situation in Cambodia during the occupation, the torture chambers & death camps, the lack of education because teachers were forcibly removed from their posts, the mediocre medical skills taught by one peasant to another without professional guidance.
Block D contained more photos of victims, stories told by victims & their former guards, paintings depicting the horrific events & instruments of torture.
We left S2,1 reeling from the shock of a diabolical truth hidden away in this small school, & took a twenty minute drive out of Phnom Penh to the Killing Fields.
Unlike S21 visiting the Killing Fields revealed little evidence of its gruesome history, until we looked closely. The several acres of wild grassland served as the extermination site of the S21 prisoners. Their deaths were as horrific as the torture they had endured (if not died from). Many were shot or clubbed to death, buried alive digging their own graves, women raped & explosives put up them afterwards & children picked up & beaten against the trees or thrown upwards & impaled on rifle blades.
We first spotted a huge tower erected as a memorial to the victims of the genocide. The tower several stories high was a stone structure that contained the skulls found in the mass graves in the Killing Fields.
Leaving the tower we followed a route encompassing the original grave sites, now just overgrown pits. As we walked the signs informed us of how many bodies had been in each grave & we were astounded at the figures. Nearly two thirds of the county's population had been killed here.
It was a somber few hours we spent walking round & our mood only lifted when we spotted a group of Cambodian kids peeking through the surrounding fence – Vicky giving them pen & paper to share. Amusingly sharing seemed to be a foreign concept as they fought amongst themselves & begged Vicky for more.
We got to the Thai Embassy for two o'clock but had another thirty minutes till it opened so killed some time at a backstreet store buying lunch. As we returned to the Embassy the rain started & we had no where to shelter. Luckily the guards took sympathy on us & let us huddle in the courtyard under partial shelter. The storm reached monsoon proportions just as the Embassy opened & we dived inside. We had to wait another thirty minutes for our visas & so spent it chatting to a young English couple – Tom & Kim. The time flew & by the time we had our visas we had a free ride with Tom & Kim in their tuk tuk back into the city where we stopped for drinks by the lakeside near their hostel. Peter the tuk tuk driver joined us, generously treated to a meal by Tom. The driver's family had been victims of the Khmer Rouge & sadly he had lost them during the dictatorship. The things he told us made our blood run cold & brought home a greater reality of how everyone had been affected in the country by the regime.
From the bar Peter kindly took us all to our guest house in the city centre at no extra cost & after booking a bus to Kampot the four of us ate at a street stall where our new friends were introduced to the delicious South East Asian desserts!

Posted by Eemail2004 16:58 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Day 99 - 100 - Doing the Mekong D

sunny 32 °C

Thursday to our horror we awoke forty minutes after our 6.30am alarm!
Panicking we packed quickly, grabbed some baguettes for breakfast & the receptionist rang the agency informing them we would be ten minutes later than the 7.30am deadline.
We walked hurriedly to the agency & were taken to the bus parked round the corner.
The bus drove us for two hours to Cai Be in the Mekong Delta & dropped us off at the pier. A motorboat took us for a nice relaxing ride along the Mekong River, passing numerous clusters of stilted homes along the riverbank, to the Cai Be Floating Market. Disappointingly, the market consisted of nothing more than groups of boats displaying their produce on flagpoles.
We docked at one of many coconut mills where we were shown how rice paper & coconut sweets are made (the latter in crunch & toffee form).
We drove through a maze of shady canals, passing other craft & after docking proceeded along a dirt path running by the canals through thick vegetation to a restaurant for lunch.
We retraced our route back across the great river over to Vinh Long where a bus drove us to the small provincial town of Chau Doc, where, unlike everyone else who were dropped off at a floating hotel we were taken to a mini hotel five miles from town. This was due to us paying less for our trip.
After freshening up we walked on the roadside, finding a strange, modern sculpture park opposite the hotel. It was the neo-modern kind that seemed to make little sense to the untrained eye (us).
From here we found a nearby noodle soup stall & for once took no pleasure out of eating the stuff. It tasted disgusting. Poor Vix was starving having refused to eat most of hers.
Entering a busy market area we found a brightly decorated temple to look at & some stalls to buy cake.

Friday I awoke at 5am. Leaving Vicky in slumberland I dressed & met a moto driver (who I had booked the night before), who took me on an exhilarating early morning ride up Sam Mountain 2km away. It was exciting & terrifying a way to wake me up as we rocketed up the steep dirt track/rocky path, nearly jolting me off my seat every few metres. We got to the top to be rewarded with a breath-taking view of the vally, the border of Cambodia visible in the distance. The speed we had gotten to the top also meant I could see the sunrise – worth the early morning trip itself.
Once the sun had finally risen we set off back down the mountain &, at my request, drove to a pagoda built into the mountainside with a sacred cave passage leading to a shrine. It was a strange sensation practically crawling through a mountain shrine at 6.10am. Afterwards I was dropped off back at the hotel & paid the guy $5.
We chose egg baguettes for our free breakfast & were then picked up & taken to a jetty where we realised to our horror we hadn’t picked up our passports from the hotel as we forgot to hand in our key. Ten minutes later a guy turned up to pick up the key & thankfully return our passports, then we were off in a watercraft similar to that of the previous day.
We picked up everyone from the floating hotel (who hadn’t slept as well as us – loud noises & partying). Next we stopped at a fish farm which was basically just a wooden hut with a hole in the floor where thousands of fish swam under the floor, restricted only by an underwater net round the perimeter. Down a narrow channel & we docked at a bamboo walkway that led us to a surviving Cham minority villages where I picked up a genuine Vietnamese conical bamboo hat, & to a blue & white mosque that was closed. In the courtyard was a driving test track, a figure of eight path that one had to trace in order to pass their driving test (like in Top Gear).
Once we were finished at the village we were taken by boat to the border crossing, paying $22 each for our Cambodian visas. With this being our first border visa we expected the worse – scams, complications – basically anything preventing us crossing into Cambodia without parting with huge sums of cash. Either we were lucky or such crossing really are that smooth. Other than an hour spent at the border station waiting for our visas & afterwards our boat there were no problems. If anything we came out better off, as instead of taking the planned six hour slowboat to the jetty just outside Phnom Penh we caught the one hour fast boat with everyone else at no extra cost!
At the jetty we were picked up by a Capitol Bus & dropped off at Capitol Guesthouse in the city centre. We had been given a voucher entitling us to one night free at the said guesthouse so we thought we’d have a look. Ignoring the babbling tuk tuk drivers stationed right outside we proceeded up three flights of steps down a long corridor to our room. It was a shoebox, with no windows & only fans as air conditioning. It did have a bathroom & two single beds & would’ve cost $6 a night. That sold it for us.
We hit the internet then had dinner at Dragon Guesthouse five minutes away – a Cambodian rice dish & Saraman – which tasted like korma. A Khmer dessert of delicious sweet rice, fruit & coconut milk followed.

Posted by Eemail2004 17:07 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 92 - 98 - Another busy city

sunny 30 °C

Friday we got up at 6.45am, finished packing, grabbed some baguettes & checked out.
We got to Singh Café ten minutes later as the bus waited but it didn’t set off till 8am.
There was a break at 10.30am, we stopped for lunch at 11.15am where we had noodle soup & Cantonese rice for 55,000 dong & one more stop for snacks at 1.45pm.
I killed the time listening to my audio book until we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at 3.30pm.
The bus dropped us all off outside the Singh Café & I left Vicky there with our stuff as I was taken across the road & shown a guesthouse with a nice room. Put off by the maze of back streets we had taken to get there & by the racket coming from other buildings nearby, I met Vicky & the two of us walked round the corner down Pham Ngo Lao (the backpackers’ area). We found a decent place down a side street called Lin Phuong at $10 a night with free Internet, fridge, breakfast & T.V – plus the usual.
We had dinner at Backpackers Guesthouse two doors down – spaghetti bolognaise & penne carbonara – but the cheap meals didn’t taste nice (as we had noticed with many western dishes cooked in South East Asia). To fill me up I bought a ban bao, a thick, white, doughy pastry pie with egg & minced beef, which seemed to do the trick, at 10,000 dong.

Saturday we were up 9ish & had our free breakfast at the guesthouse, choosing egg baguettes with coffee & tea from the selection (it was either that or noodle soup or jam baguettes).
At 11am we set off on a walking tour. Saigon seemed less hectic than Hanoi – at least in the area we were staying of backpacker guesthouses, internet cafes, tourist clothe shops & across the road a strip of parkland that expanded into a decent-sized park.
We reached Ben Tham Market, the popular ‘famous’ indoor market mentioned in our Lonely Planet, & decided to visit the museums & skip chaos there would no doubt be inside Ben Tham.
We reached the Museum of Fine Arts early afternoon & took an hour wandering the three floors of exhibits. The ground floor consisted of only mildly interesting things – ceramics, such as vases & ornaments. The first floor took the most of our time, drawing us into the amazing paintings & sketches of war scenes, the sorts that made you aware of the grim realities whilst at the same time being picturesque. The second floor contained more ceramics as well as statues, furniture inlaid with mother of pearl & traditional art.
From the museum, we followed our huge city map bought in Dalat & found the beautiful theatre building (which we couldn’t go into as it was closed). From there to the Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the late 1800s where a wedding was taking place at the far end (a popular place for weddings – we saw 3 that day). Across the road was the Ho Chi Minh Post Office, a massive traditional French building seemingly designed as a railway station similar to the Cremaillere in Dalat. Old French maps were engraved into the wall paneling & Uncle Ho himself watching over us from a huge portrait.
We walked past the People’s Committee building, another architectural marvel & ate lunch at a kitchen canteen.
After lunch we checked out the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, took a long walk till we reached an incredibly busy roadway in one of the further away districts (the city is split into about 21 districts) which, after crossing & doubling back on ourselves, led us to the hidden away Jade Pagoda, an early 1900 Chinese-style temple made of teak & filled with colourful statues of deities & heroes & engravings of battle scenes.
Ten minutes from leaving the Pagoda we became lost (not hard in such a big city), walking further away from our destination, through the business districts & ending up at market smaller than Ben Tham. We managed to get instructions from a friendly young Vietnamese guy & retraced our steps, struggling as the night drew in to make out familiar landmarks.
We finally got back to our road round 7pm & upon checking our email found a message from Brianna (from the Nha Trang Island boat trip) suggesting a rendezvous with her & her friend Tom.
The meet was at New Delhi Indian Restaurant, on the main road below, two minutes from us. Brianna & Tom had eaten there several times already this week so highly recommended it. We were not disappointed enjoying the various dishes including a spicy chicken buryani, whilst catching up with our friend who had been in Saigon nearly a week already. It turned out she had been the unfortunate victim of a theft at the Sail Club the night we had left her at Why Not, losing not just a significant amount of cash but also her passport. That was why she was stuck in Saigon - waiting for a new one. Luckily, her friend Tom was able to put her up at his place on the other side of the city. We agreed to meet again the next night & after a ban bao we went back.

Sunday we were up 9ish again & had jam baguettes for our free breakfast.
We set off for the museums slightly earlier this time, at 10.30am, lazily catching a cyclo to the Post Office to send a parcel to Mum & Dad.
In the Post Office I sorted the parcel whilst Vicky got chatting to two Wakefield girls (hurrah more northern people) called Phillippa & Steph which turned into an hour long conversation as heavy rain prevented us from moving on.
When the rain eased off the four of us set off for the War Remnants Museum, where we parted with our new friends after telling them where we were staying.
The museum was huge an open plan modern structure with glass dividing sections. We had been warned about the place but were still unprepared for what we saw. The photos & descriptions provided a fascinatingly sick interpretation of the Vietnam War, painting a picture of the twisted behaviour & methodology of the Americans & her allies during that time. It was too much for Vicky & even for me, especially a photograph of three small children gunned down by Americans as they ran & the story of how psychotic soldiers wiped out an entire village, burning it to the ground & disemboweling six year old children.
We were glad when we got to the first floor. It was much easier on the eye & mind, detailing the origins of the war & statistical analysis of weapons used, quantities of ammo & comparisons of expenditure compared to other conflicts.
From the museum we headed back, towards the Reunification Palace, our next stop after picking up surprisingly delicious cold fried macaroni with sweet chilli from a street stall.
The Palace now served as a museum & a place for functions but originally was the command centre of the US until two tanks crashed through the ground walls, signaling the end to the Vietnam War.
We were impressed by the place with all its elegance, wealth & refinery. The rooms were all beautifully decorated with plush carpets & carved oak & teak furniture invalid with mother of pearl. We saw pretty much everything from the conference rooms to the former private quarters, to the old underground bunker. We could even go onto the roof & see a replica of the chopper used to evacuate American forces from the building when the walls fell.
It was interesting but everything became too similar after a while so we didn’t stay too long.
We headed back after this (not getting lost), side tracked a little as we bumped into Ken & Brenda from our Nha Trang boat trip, & caught up whilst drinking beer with them down the side street by their hotel. An hour later we left them, agreeing to meet later & dashed back to our guesthouse to wait for Brianna’s email. She turned up at our place & the three of us joined Ken & Brenda at a cheap kitchen called Thanh Hai, eating delicious chicken curry with rice & drinking even cheaper beers.
Afterwards we walked up the road to Go To Bar & sat on the top floor drinking & playing cards then headed back at 12.30pm. Once again we found ourselves locked out a guesthouse & had to knock to wake up the girls sleeping in reception.

We got up 8ish on Monday, had jam baguettes & went to find Ken & Brenda at their hotel Saigon Comfort but they weren’t there. Instead, we met them back at our guesthouse.
I grabbed a ban bao & the four of us caught a local bus from Ben Tham marketplace to Dam Sen at 11am.
A five-minute walk & we arrived at Dam Sen Waterpark. We paid the 3,000 dong each entry & were led through the main entrance past the lockers & changing rooms to a section up some stone steps beneath one of the water slides. This was the ‘western’ area. We didn’t know whether to feel special or diseased. Why couldn’t we have just been allowed to sit in one of the many empty chairs by the pools instead of half a mile away uphill?
We dumped our stuff in lockers & Ken & Brenda braved the worst slide straight away – the Kamikaze, an almost vertical drop, without even realising. Vicky & me were too cowardly for that so opted for the two slides next to each other, similar in height to the Kamikaze but more gradually sloped. Even so the speed we shot down the slides & burst out into the pool was quite terrifying.
Next we had a bit of a swim in the main pool & both of us dared brave the zip slide, launching off a platform slower than expected & letting go over the dizzying heights, dropping like a stone into the pool. It was fun & we felt exhilarated as we had lunch at 2pm at the restaurant, spending 55,000 on cobs & chips & a coke.
After lunch we headed up to the far end of the complex & went on several slides that used rubber inflatables. They were fun but not as exciting as our previous experiences at waterparks on the Greek islands, the Crazy River in particular.
We chilled out on the Lazy River that wound it’s way round most of the complex & took another ride each on the zip slide, ending with two other slides.
We left the waterpark at 5pml, caught the bus back & bumped into Steph & Phillippa, agreeing to meet them for drinks at Go To Bar in the evening round 9ish.
We got back to our guesthouse & I went on a mission to burn a DVD & try to find a camera repair shop where I could get an engineers report for our old, broken Sony, whilst Vix got her hair cut. As usual they didn't understand what I wanted offering to repair the camera.
8pm we joined up with Ken & Brenda & ate another dinner of chicken curry & this time tried meatballs with rice at Thanh Hai. Again the food was tasty & the 9,000 dong bottles of beer refreshing.
Our late start to dinner meant that we were running late with our rendezvous, but luckily, at 9.10pm Steph & Phillippa were still waiting. The six of us all went upstairs to the top floor of Go To Bar & drank & chatted till midnight. Again we were locked out our guesthouse & had to go wake the owners up.

Tuesday we were up for 9am, had a quick breakfast at the guesthouse & met Ken & Brenda at their hotel.
The four of us walked to Ben Tham Market with our own mental lists of things to get. Mine were reasonably easy: a Vietnam cap & vest top, whilst Ken was after a laser pen. By the time we got inside the place was heaving with western tourists & stall owners, each selling the ‘same same’ items, wooden toys & ornaments, various clothing garments, etc. I managed to find what I was after quite quickly, getting the top for 50,000 & the cap for 60,000, though I think I may have been ripped off! With the constant hassling from very aggressive sellers (grabbing & holding on to us) we were quick to leave, especially as that red glow in Vicky’s eyes meant there would soon be blood!
Our next task to book our onward journey through the Mekong changed from a 3 day to 2 day Mekong Delta trip (due to cost), ending with us crossing the border into Cambodia. It cost us $33 each.
We scanned our passports, statements & insurance documents onto our memory stick at an internet café & did 2 exchanges. Our Vietnam Lonely Planet & a novel were swapped for a new Cambodia copy & then we had fun trying to convert 2,200,000 with one bank closed & the other with no dollar or Riel. Instead we had to go to a tour agency with their inflated rates & came away with $115.
We met Ken & Brenda at 5pm for tea & being their last day we ate more like kings at a more expensive place than we were used to. Spring rolls, chicken & coconut rice, crispy noodles & pancakes went down a treat especially when washed down with many beers. To our gracious surprise Ken & Brenda paid the 200,000 bill as their treat. Bless them. We felt so appreciative – then they gave us the remains of their washbag supplies & a couple of books! We suggested to meet them in the morning to see them off which was the least we could do, & headed back, buying a T-shirt & Vicky a vest top for 60,000 total. We picked up baguettes & snacks from some street stalls & stuck them in our fridge for the next day.

Wednesday we had breakfast & met Ken & Brenda in at their hotel. An hour later we helped them load up & said goodbye for now agreeing to meet them sometime in Oz.
The rest of the day was just spent bumming around as it was too hot to really do much!

Posted by Eemail2004 17:05 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Day 87 - 91 - Dalat - "the Vietnamese Alps"

semi-overcast 15 °C

Sunday we were up at 6.50am had cereal & finished packing. The bus picked us up half an hour late.
The journey to Dalat was another long one, broken up by a 'lunch' stop at 11.40am of sweet & sour pork & rice.
The bus drove up into the mountains on a windy road, which was slow-going & muddy with half the road missing. I passed the time sleeping & listening to my audio book.
We arrived in Dalat - a massive widespread town on levels with a lake dividing half of it & french architecture everywhere. We were dropped off at the centre in the grounds of Pacific Hotel, but when we were shown around we weren't impressed. So, we chose Long Binh Hotel across the road, with a 4th floor balcony at 85,000 dong a night.
The rest of the day was spent wandering out of the centre of the town to sample fruitshakes (my bamboo one was disgusting & tasted like grass whilst Vicky's pineapple was delicious) & buy a new watch at 90,000 dong. We realised that things seemed much cheaper here due to Dalat being a student town.
We had dinner back at the hotel of fried rice & pork.

Monday we got up at 8ish, had baguettes & jam at the hotel, which along with coffee & tea came to 52,000 dong.
Once fuelled up on pineapple smoothies we bought maps of Dalat & Ho Chi Minh City & pencils & pads for the street kids, we strolled through the centre of town to find Hoa Binh Hotel. We had been told we would be able to hire bikes there. However, they didn't have bicycles just motorbikes. The other places we found wanted 50,000 dong per bike which we weren't prepared to pay for half a day!
Near Hoa Xuan Huong Lake we found a place that agreed to 30,000 dong per bike but they wouldn't adjust the low seat on mine, so we forgot the idea & instead took a long walk round the lakeside. Halfway round we found the Flower Garden, set a little way back from the lake. The 'garden' was a massive area with a dirty pond in the centre & concrete paths leading in different directions to rare & exotic flora put in beautiful displays like exploding fireworks. Up the hill several greenhouses were home to more delicate flowers as well as rocks, wooden sculptures & bits of tat the staff were trying to sell us. It took us over an hour to look around everything but we enjoyed it especially for only 10,000 dong each!
Once we were about three quarters round the lake we were starving so decided to eat at the restaurant on the lake. Nha Hong Thuy was a very posh place with equally posh prices, so we only had chicken soup which cost 35,000 dong itself! After our late lunch we walked to the post office to take a close look at the almost life-size Eiffel Tower replica which served as a transmitter tower. Not far was the Cathedral which was sadly closed but we could still walk around the outside. Further along was the Crazy Nga House, a totally bizarre place. Designed by someone obsessed with Alice in Wonderland - style fantasy. The building which was actually several buildings inter-connected. These consisted of twisted passageways & walkways criss-crossing high above the ground, cavern-style rooms (the place also serves as a very expensive hotel) with very scary red-eyed animals like tigers & bears, strangely carved furniture blended into the nightmare-scape & a fantasy garden with huge toadstools, animal statues & a giant spiderweb. It was surreal & at the same time slightly spooky trying to navigate our way round the labyrinth & some areas were impassible due to renovations & extension work on the buildings. The time flew & before we knew it over an hour had gone.
On the way back I bought a coffee filter set & got some banana crisps & cashew nut snacks from the market. When we got back we were able to enjoy showers with some water pressure (now that the shower had been fixed) & we had dinner at a kitchen - rice & caramelised chicken & beef noodle soup. We went to Hang Out Cafe, a backpacker bar, where we drank beer & watched a film.

Tuesday we ate breakfast at the hotel, fried egg baguettes & coffee, then sorted our laundry. We negotiated with 2 Easy Riders (moto drivers with good English & very knowledgeable of the area) for two days worth of trips.
Hiep & Ted, our Easy Riders were very friendly & generous, agreeing to $10 each on the first day & $12 each on the second. Upon us agreeing we immediately set off out of the top of town up a hill to the Cable Car Station. We paid 80,000 dong & quickly leapt through the open door of a moving cable car. Once shut the car left the station & descended slowly along the cable. The height made us feel a little dizzy (we'd never been in one before) but it felt safe enough. Our car passed at least 3 support towers before we saw anyone & when we did they looked more bored than anything. Guess they must have used the things many times. Twenty minutes later we met our Easy Riders at the other station & were taken the short distance to a meditation pagoda, with a giant bell. The bell has prayers on paper stuck inside it, the belief being that when the bell is struck the prayers are sent to Buddha. From there we were led down steps to the Quang Trung Reservoir, a man-made lake ringed with forest. At the bottom we joined a group of Vietnamese tourists to share the cost of a small boat over to an island on the lake (250,000 dong for 6 people). The ride across wasn't that interesting nor was the island itself, an expensive restaurant (the cheapest dish soup was 70,000 dong) & jungle which we took a short trek through until we became scared of getting lost & turned around.
Back at the reservoir an hour later (the return journey seemed a lot quicker) we were picked up by our Easy Riders driven to Datanla Falls, a small waterfall near Dalat that also had a tube ride down a set of tracks. We decided against the ride & carefully walked down several sets of steps to the bottom. The unimpressive sight we beheld was disappointing, the waterfall more sloping rapids running across boulders with a trickle of a fall from the top. I followed a path leading away from the falls & when it became too tricky I tried climbing across rocks which proved too slippery & dangerous.
We headed back to the bikes & ate instant noodles & noodle soup at the restaurant by the falls. Afterwards we were taken across town to the old French Railway Station, The Cremaillere, a cog railway where you can take a 30 minute train ride. Unfortunately at least 5 people were required for a journey & being unprepared to wait however long we were dropped off at our hotel at 3pm.
After a brief chill we had a dinner at Kim Van Restaurant, of spring rolls & pork with rice & banana which were delicious & we found the service as good as the food!

Wednesday we had breakfast at our hotel of egg & bread & I went on a mission to get a fruit juice from one of the smoothie stalls. The fifteen minute round trip was a waste of time as they only had bamboo (& I wasn't THAT desperate).
We were picked up by our Easy Riders as I got back & taken to the bottom of Pin Hat Mountain. The climb started easy enough, gentle sloped paths through the woods, but before long the slope became so steep we had to use branches & footholds in the slippery clay to get to the top. Once there the view was amazing, of the Quang Trung Reservoir & the valley. We stayed there for a good twenty minutes before our equally difficult climb back down, avoiding the lethal patches of wet clay. It had taken us 2 hours in total by the time we got back to the bottom.
We took a dirt track up to the reservoir then another road along the outskirts of town, & through a rain forest. Stopping along the way at the coffee plantation to wake up our bums & at the same time Hiep explained to us about Vietnamese coffee - how 2 different beans are combined, one for the scent & another for the flavour. He also told us how as a government initiative those who served in the former North Vietnamese Army were relocated to the south to work coffee plantations. The region where the coffee is grown exports 95% to Hanoi.
We had noodle soup for lunch at around 12.30pm at 15,000 dong each, at Chung Thoan Restaurant. Nearby we were shown the most spectacular waterfall we had ever seen. Elephant Falls is a massive combination of 3 falls poring hundreds of feet into the abyss. To our surprise Hiep didn't just show us the top of the falls but actually led us the entire way to the bottom (apparently unlike any tour agency would do). It was a perilous route as the stone path was disintegrated in places & we had to leap & use vines Indiana Jones style. At the bottom Hiep took pictures of us deafened by the loud roar from the waterfall above us. He then led us halfway up & through a crevice into a hidden cave the front of which was blocked by the raging torrent from the waterfall. The spray cooled us as we stood watching the amazing scene. We climbed the rest of the way to the top of the falls & crossed a bridge to a pagoda.
The religious site is home to 3 giant stone statues of Vishnu with various symbolic items in their hands & outside two Buddha statues, one small & reclining & the other a big laughing, sitting Buddha with a great girth – the more Chinese interpretation of Buddha.
We ended our tour with a trip round a silk factory, seeing how silk worms are boiled in their coocoon & the silk separated & the filaments are wrapped around spirals of electronic machinery.
We drove back & got caught in a rain storm, soaking us even with our coats on blasted by icy drops, making our skin sore.

Thursday we hand washed our clothes & had a mixed breakfast of banana crisps, biscuits, coconut & fruitcakes & pineapple smoothies. There was no one at the tandem bike rental shop again & it was nearly 11am anyway so we decided to find the local church, supposedly an architectural marvel. We spotted the place but the narrow streets led away from it, so there seemed no way to get there.
We chilled in a coffee house & then followed the route to Can Ly Falls. It was a nice place, peaceful, reasonably picturesque but seriously under developed. Half was a building site & the other half by the falls seemed to double up as a sewage dump. Nevertheless we spent an hour walking by the falls & could see the place's potential.
On the way back we came across an upsetting sight. A small cage filled with nearly ten dogs, treading on each other & crying. We knew they were going to be killed & eaten (the sign “thit cay” meant “with dog”). It was heart breaking.
Back in town I bought Mum & Dad coffee & filters & did a bit of shopping then we had a beer at the Cafe 100 Roofs. The five storey townhouse shared similarities with the Nga Crazy House, fantasy decoration, twisting passages & an overall sense of being in another world. The only difference was the passages didn't lead to bedrooms, they led to bar tables on different floors (hence the 100 Roofs).
We paid 20,000 dong for two tickets to Ho Chi Minh & ate tea at Anh Dao near the market by the lake.

Posted by Eemail2004 00:09 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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