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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Vientiane and Vang Vieng

The flight from Hanoi in Vietnam to Vientiane in Laos, was smoother than David Beckhams face when he’s finished his morning Gillette shave. Compare that to a 30 bus drive, 1 hour on a plane was heaven. In the airport we were peckish and fancied a bite to eat, so we found a kiosk and bought a pot noodle. When I asked for hot water I got another famous “Dime bar look.”  Why would she sell pot noodles in an airport with no hot water? Anyway once I told her the pot noodles were no good to us with no water she miraculously found a kettle under the counter.  Had we known that we’d be treated to an in-flight meal we wouldn’t have bothered. No sooner had I eaten my little pasty and drank my free cwoffee, the seat belt signs flashed as we were approaching to land. Once in the airport we filled our forms out for a visa forms. At this point I’ll let you know miss Alex was adamant we could pay for by card. I however was not so sure but went along with her because “she’s always right.” As it turns out we could not pay by card and we were escorted through customs to the main door to a cash point, then back to purchase our visa.
At the airport we jumped in a taxi and headed for some guesthouses. We managed to find one after a few rejections, it even offered a free breakfast. The breakfast was scrambled egg or fried egg, with a piece of fruit. Plus all the Nescafe you could drink, and we took full advantage of the free drinks. (OWT FOR NOWT) I over heard an American one morning complaining about the breakfast. He said to the owner “is that it, is this my free breakfast? Scrambled or fried?” I laughed and thought what does he really want for free!!
The first day we ventured out and had a little scout of the nearby streets. Had to admit Vientiane did not feel like a capital city. It was so laid back and relaxed, a million miles away from Ho Chi Minh and the dangers of crossing the roads.  Miss Alex had spotted in The Lonely Planet (backpackers bible) a bowling alley nearby and thought it would be fun to have a game. All I will say is I gave her a lesson in bowling!!
Also on our list of things to do was visit a gym, as The Lonely Planet recommended a day here as well. A day pass was about $6 (£4) and we spent a few hours on the machines, ending with a foot massage. Heaven!! Vientiane is not really full of trips and things to do. Because it is very near the Thailand border many people use it for visa runs. So it’s more of a stop gap. Also a lot of people have warned miss Alex and me about the food in laos not being very good. Well I would like to lay that to rest now and say we have had some really good food here. Ok granted its not as good as Thai food but that’s like comparing a pot noodle to my mums roast dinner. (we miss them crispy roast tatties with loads of gravy)
Yesterday we jumped on a bus and headed to Vang Vieng, when sold the ticket we were told it would take 2 hours as opposed to the usual 4 hours. It took us 4 and a half hours but since I’ve came away travelling I’ve learnt to take a very deep breath and say Hooooo saaaaah, HOOOOOOOO SAAAAAAAH. It generally works. Here in Vang Vieng we’ll be tubing, if your not sure what tubing is then you tube it. (after you’ve finished reading this of course, also don’t watch the accident videos)
Miss Alex and I went for a run tonight around Vang Vieng, the highlight for me must be us running through a wedding reception in the middle of the street. Imagine the sight of us 2 running through as the bride and groom take their first dance. Im going to go now because we are getting ready to watch the big match tonight. Liverpool play in the league cup final against Cardiff City at Anfield South. (Wembley) You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Speak soon xxx

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No-one told us Vietnam was this cold!

As the train pulled up in Hanoi all we could see out of the window were people dressed in puffa jackets, winter hats and scarves huddled up on the platform! Our hearts sank! We found a taxi who took us to a hotel, we checked in and guess what we did? We turned the heating on! Nipped out for something to eat at a little café that we have since eaten in everyday at some point! No more ice coffees for us, we even asked for the milk to be hot to put in them! I think we walked around for about an hour that day before the cold had got to our toes too much (still wearing flip flops as I have no other shoes) and we went back to the hotel for a sleep, again the night on the train hadn’t been the best sleep ever (but defiantly better than the bus!)

That evening we had planned to go out and watch the football (Liverpool played Brighton and trashed them 6-1, see I do take an interest!!!!) but as we’ve found in Vietnam apart form Ho Chi Minh city everywhere seems to have an 11pm curfew plus it was cold out so we got a few beers and watched it in bed, again with the heating on!!!

On Monday morning we went to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. The prison dates back to the late 1800’s built when the French colonised Vietnam to hold and punish “political prisoner’s” (Vietnamese people who didn’t want to be under the control of the French). They even had an area in the prison where children were kept with their mothers. Many people were executed here and the guillotine used is on show, mister Alex spoke for both of us when he said, “just looking at it makes me feel uneasy”. Once the French had left Vietnam the prison was used by the Vietnamese to hold American prisoners of war during the Vietnamese War. The museum was quite keen to show how well the American soldier’s were treated showing pictures of the men playing basket ball in the yard, however we wondered how biased this actually was as the prison was sarcastically referred to as the Hanoi Hilton by the POWs.

Monday afternoon and yesterday we spent walking the streets. Everywhere is so hustle and bustle, each street looking like the last with people squatting on little stools snuggled in their puffa jackets eating soup and noodles cooked on a stove in the street. There’s the butchers that just consists of a small bench covered in meat on the corner. The women selling fruit and veg from contraptions that look like big woven scales over their shoulders, chickens in the middle of the street, propaganda shops, crabs and fish waiting to be picked for diner in washing up bowls, it’s organised chaos. On Monday afternoon we had a coffee in a café set high up so we could look over and watch the traffic and hustle below. Despite Hanoi being the capital of Vietnam it’s feel is so different to Ho Chi Minh in the south.

Yesterday we decided to join the locals- squatted on the stools in the street in front of the cathedral and ordered a coffee and some seeds we had seen all the locals eating while chatting. The ground was covered in the casings of the seeds flicked and spat out. The seeds were lovely but the coffee was soooo strong mister Alex had to finish mine for me! We then went for a run/people dodge round the lake yesterday evening, I think all the fumes and pollution by the number of traffic and bikes got to my chest, bring on the sea air again!

This morning we got up early, 7am, to go and see Ho Chi Minh himself. He’s been preserved and is open to view from 8.30am until 10.30am everyday. We were meant to go yesterday but neither of us could get to sleep so at about 1am we turned off the alarm and then obviously slept in! We qued for about 15 minutes before getting in to the building where he is. I’ve got to say he looked really good to say he’s been dead a few years, just like the pictures we’ve seen of him. He does go to Russia every year for 3 months for work but they obviously do a really good job! We walked round him in silence, he’s very well looked after and guarded, I was quite pleased when we left as all the guards with guns and bayonets were giving me the heebie jeebies!

As I write this I’m sat at our regular café with yet another cup of hot coffee, wearing the same outfit I’ve worn for the past 3 days (we only had one set of warm clothes apart from the jogging bottoms I wore to sleep in on the train and overnight bus we did last week!). So when you look at the photos on facebook no we didn’t just take photos on one day- we are just scruffbags in the same clothes ever day!!! Anyway we are out of here in 3 hours, we have a flight booked to Vientiane in Laos (the normal backpacker route is by a 30 hour bus ride however everyone we have spoken to who has done this has a horror story or 2 to tell so we thought the flights are going to be well worth it). We’ve checked the weather forecast and we should be back into our shorts by the morning, at least I hope so as I feel we are starting to smell!

Despite not being our favourite country we have enjoyed Vietnam, escaped without anything untoward happening to us and have enjoyed experiencing another country. We’re just looking forward to Laos and then back into Thailand where we can get back on the spicy curries!!!


10 Can Journey

We set off to Hanoi from Hoi An armed with 10 small cans of lager and 6 chupa chups lollipops. It was an 18 hour train ride. This gear is strong but probably 10 cans was about right to take the edge off the long, long journey ahead. 

·      5 pm can number 1, hmmm nector!! The train journey just began and we’d just introduced ourselves to a Canadian couple who we were sharing our 4 birth cabin consisting of 2 bunks. The usual introductory travellers questions where asked. Any one who has travelled will know the three basic questions are, Where are you from? Where are you heading to? Where have you been?
·      Can number 2, and the Canadian couple have a can with us. Were starting to get the taste now and the conversation was flowing.
·      Can number 3 and a kiwi couple from down the carriage way, see the party and introduce themselves to us all. Same travellers questions, Where have you been? Where are you going? Where are you from? They seem a really nice couple and the male kiwi had proposed to his girl recently so the female kiwi was eager to talk about the proposal. Drinks flowing nicely now.
·      The trolley dolly makes her way down the carriage just in time for more beers as the Canadian couple had helped miss Alex and me polish off our supplies pretty quick. Can number 4!!
·      Can number 5, we find out the kiwis work in South Korea as English teachers, so this turns the talk political. I was intrigued to find out what its like with the North and South Koreans so tense. Very weird situation in that region, its almost as pathetic as 2 neighbours who just don’t like each other.
·      Can number 6 and the kiwis get a mention from the Rugby World Cup in which they won late last year. The Canadians have the famous dime bar look on their faces!
·      Can number 7 and the drinks are well and truly flowing now, the trolley dolly is back again with more supplies as we obviously underestimated how many cans we would all need.
·      New supplies and can number 8, its about 8pm now and we had been on the train for just over 3 hours.
·      Can number 9 and although these cans were smaller than back home they where starting to hit home. The female kiwi stifles a yarn, not long left for this party now as the Canadian couple make it obvious they want to settle in for bed.
·      Can number 10 and miss Alex and me had done it. 10 can journey and the edge was definitely taken off the journey. The kiwi couple make excuses and say goodnight thanking us for the hospitality. They leave and no sooner than this the Canadian couple pull out a bottle of red wine, 2 big baguettes with spreadable cheese and half a pound of salami. They offered miss Alex and me a little piece and that is exactly what we got . The tiniest of pieces!! Then they offered a sip of wine in which miss Alex kindly declined. The Canadians obviously didn’t really want to share with us. Considering we gave them a lot of our beer this was a bit rude but in all honesty we’d probably drank enough already. Maybe the baguette would have been nice to share. Plus I gave them one of my lollipops. So after it was obvious the Canadians wanted to be left alone, miss Alex went to sleep and I was left on my top bunk sucking on my lollipops and listening to my ipod. I woke up the next morning at 9;45am and arrival at Hanoi was due for 11;00am.

In all the long train journey is the longest we have done including all flights and buses. For this reason it was probably the most dreaded journey but by no means the worst we have had.

Speak Soon xxx

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Are we back in England???!!!

The overnight bus journey to Hoi An wasn’t the best experience ever! Every side I got comfy on I kept getting a dead arm or leg plus being on the top bunk and with the roads being dead bumpy in my half awake half asleep state I kept thinking the bus was going to tip over!! We arrived at Hoi An at 8am and were greeted with pouring rain and it was cold, it felt like we’d arrived back at home! We were immediately scouted for a hotel that in the pictures shown to us looked lovely plus it had a free taxi ride there so we jumped right in. On arriving to the hotel though we soon realised the pictures shown to us must be about 50 years old, it was scabby but it did have a hot shower and as it was raining heavily outside, we were tired and we’d claimed the free taxi we decided to stay the night.

After the long bus journey with a bad nights sleep we went straight to bed for a couple of hours before waking up and deciding to explore our new surroundings. So with a new lease of energy we bought ourselves matching orange and purple plastic rain macs and set off to walk around the town. We made it to a café where we had breakfast and then walked around the town for about an hour. If the weather had been nicer or at least just not raining it probably would have been a lovely place to explore and get lost wandering the streets. Hoi An is well known for it’s tailors and appears to have a lot of French influence making it a quaint and cute town to visit. However in the pouring rain wearing our flip flops and vest tops we weren’t really loving it. We ended going back for a nap and then to a restaurant across the road for tea before deciding to leave today (the next day). When I went to have a shower I realised the towels we were given looked like they had been used by 4 other people since they’d last been washed plus the hot shower only stayed hot until I’d put a load of shampoo in my hair!!!

The staff at the hotel were really helpful though and arranged for an overnight sleeper train for us to get to the capital of Vietnam Hanoi tonight. So we woke this morning, to find our bed to be really damp not sure why but it wasn’t very nice -again shabby hotel, spent a couple of hours in the same restaurant across the road where we had tea last night and wrote postcards and finally got on facebook for the first time in Vietnam! Before getting a bus at 13:30 to the train station and then waiting until 16:30 for the train. I’m writing this on the train, it’s a lot better than the bus. We are in a little room with 2 sets of bunkbeds in, we are both on the top bunk, and are sharing with a Canadian couple who we have just had a few beers with and with a coupe from New Zealand in a room down the corridor. We get to Hanoi at 11:00am so it’s a long journey but hopefully we should have a better nights sleep than we did on the bus to Hoi An.

At the moment very jealous of the Canadian couple, in preparation for the overnight train me and mister Al brought 10 cans of beer with us, the Canadians have bought a bottle of red wine, French bread, a posh cheese, salami and olives, they have a lovely little romantic feast going on!!

Overall I think if we’d visited Hoi An when the weather was nice and we weren’t  so tired from the overnight bus we would have loved it but as it was us being the snap happy couple that we usually are didn’t take one picture when we were there which speaks for itself! Hopefully we will like Hanoi more!!!

Lots of love to everyone, will be posting this in the morning when we get to Hanoi xxxxxxxx

Friday, February 17, 2012

Nha Trang

Written on the 16/2/2012
As soon as we stepped off the bus at Nha Trang, the taxi/tuc tuc drivers were at the door of the coach waiting for their next fare. This is usual and it kind of feels like being a superstar with all the paparazzi and journalists waiting for you. Anyway no sooner had I gathered the luggage together, miss Alex had a tout with a nice ring binder with nice pictures of a nice guesthouse for us to stay in. So we decided we’d give it a look, then the tout handed miss Alex a helmet. I instantly burst into laughter as this meant one thing. Crazy frog!!! Normally it’s a taxi ride to the accommodation but this time it was a bike. For some reason miss Alex on the back of a bike with her Cath Kidson bag and a saggy helmet is enough to make me giggle like a girl. Even to the point where on the back of my bike I managed to fumble my camera from my bag and take pictures of miss Alex looking nervous and uncomfortable on the back of her bike whizzing through traffic. From past experience I can only imagine what miss Alex was screeching down the drivers ear. The hotel we were taken to was a nice hotel and the name of it fitted it perfectly, it was called Nice Hotel. We paid $12 (£8) for the penthouse 9th floor room with stunning views of the bay, with a balcony.
Before we went to Nha Trang we’d checked the weather, it was due to be around 28 degrees, quite colder than the usual 33 + we’ve grown used to. So we were a bit concerned about being able to top up our tans, this concern however was put to bed on the first day as we both managed to get burnt.
The first day was spent at a place on the beach front called The Louisiana Brew House. They had beds on the beach and a nice pool to relax next to. There was a cracking cake stand here and we promised ourselves a nice treat the next day as it was valentines day.
In the evening we went for a run, this turned out to be a 6 mile epic along the sea front. After Tea on the way back to the Nice Hotel miss Alex spotted a place to have drinks. It was literally someone’s living room opened up, with tiny tables and chairs that a 5 year old girl would play house with. The beer only cost 5000 dong (15p) it was strong homebrew as well. This gave us a taste for another drink so before we ended getting really drunk in the living room bar we decided to try a place we’d spotted earlier in the night called Patricks. Patrick is a typical French restaurateur, by this I mean he is a perfectionist. No sooner had we walked in he was telling me how proud he was of his 450 different varieties in wine. When I asked him for his best English wine, he laughed at me not realising I was being serious. I felt like telling him it cant be that hard the squash a few grapes barefoot to produce a good wine!!
Valentines day took us back to the Louisiana Brew House for more tanning, this time with a very high factor 15. Midday came and our little cake treat that we’d promised our selves. We had a Tiramisu cake with a cappuccino and it was finger licking good.
The evening meal was spent with miss Alex as she had accepted my request to be my valentine. The food was not as good as we’d expected really. We chose to eat at a very nice looking place on the beach front called The Sailing Club, it looked very upmarket but the service was straight out of Fawlty Towers. A cocktail bar followed, then back to Patricks for some wine and live music. Because the food wasn’t really much good at the meal, miss Alex wanted a crepe, we each had strawberry crepe and as Patrick would say it was FAN TAS TEEK!!! In one of my earlier blogs from kep I failed to mention how miss Alex had asked another French restaurateur for some butter for her jacket potato. The famous Dime Bar look followed this request and a dialogue that goes along the lines of miss Alex asking “excuse me can I please have some butter” the Frenchman says “eh” then miss Alex would ask “some butter for my potato” the Frenchman with another blank look “eh” then miss Alex imitates spreading butter onto a potato and the coin finally drops, the Frenchman says “AH BUTT TIERE!! To this day we are still not sure what the difference between butter and butt tiere is. So now Miss Alex and I sometimes say to our selves its better to say nothing than have the  blank looks.
Next day we went to an Island called Vinpearl. To get to the island we had to ride in a cable car stretching from the main land. This is the longest in the world (3k) Once on the island there was a theme park, water park and aquarium. I must say miss Alex was a little bit nervous in the cable car, 200 foot high from the sea water, but once I reassured her that if we fell it would only hurt us once I think she settled down a little. Once safely across to the island miss Alex noticed a Swinging Chair ride, that goes round like a carousel. Without hesitation she jumped on and I took the opportunity to take some photos of her screaming her head off on the ride, as she is being swung around at a million miles an hour. A lad was sick on the ride and as it came to a halt he managed to vomit on most of the fellow riders shoes and flip flops that had been left on the ground. Thankfully not miss Alex’s.
Then we headed to the Water park. After one particular slide I had to pull my shorts from my chest as I got off at the end. I looked like Simon Cowell. In front of a watching crowd was a little bit embarrassing!! Through out the day we both managed to do all the slides and had a really good laugh. One particular ride was called Tsunami, Miss Alex and me grabbed a double seated ring and before we could settle ourselves into the ring, we were pushed from the top. Imagine a skateboard half pipe, but bigger, on the first dissent down we managed to hit the other side. I think for a second we both thought we’d end up going over the side.
The underwater aquarium was also very good. But because we were in Vietnam, where maybe Health and Safety Regulations aren’t as tough as England I half expected to see something that I couldn’t see in England. Something different like a Vietnamese diver wrestling with a Shark or watching a pack of Piranha fish going to town on a school of goldfish.
After some Tea we decided to head for the theme park and do some rides, as I’m writing this I’m already thinking why did we decide to do this. Nether the less, the theme park it was and the first thing we sore was a tower with four spinning arms. The four spinning arms each had another spinning arm. This spinning arm then turned forwards and backwards, and to top it off the tower moved like a pendulum. No Chance!!!! We instead settled for the Pirate Ship that just rocks gently backwards and forwards. As soon as the ride started miss Alex and me were both looking at each other in regret. Why did we decide to do these rides after tea? It only lasted for 5 minutes and I would have loved this ride when I was younger but now I’m afraid I cant handle these rides.
After a couple of minutes to compose ourselves we headed into the indoor arcade, just to let you know this left hand that is typing this blog is the hardest hitting hand in Vinpearl. That’s right I smashed the boxing glove machine into the middle of next week and Miss Alex was witness to the new record score on the machine. Both of us managed to last the full 3 minutes on the Bucking Bronco Bull. Once again it was really funny watching miss Alex’s face as she was getting flung about on top of a bull but she did really good, and out lasted any of the Vietnamese locals, who where flying off at a rates of knots.
Today we booked a sleeper bus to Hoi An, 12 hours overnight and I’m fully expecting this to be a new worst nights sleep ever for miss Alex, who needs at least 8/9 hours undisturbed sleep per night. So a rocking bus beeping and beeping horns every 10 seconds is not the best of starts.

Speak Soon xxx

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Cu Chi Tunnels and the sleeper bus

On Saturday we went to see the Ch Chi tunnels. Tunnels dug out by hand by the Vietnamese army during the Vietnamese war to hide and fight the American soldiers. We both had to admit these tunnels are very impressive. They go to 3 different levels underground and is a whole maze stored in the soldiers memory, they never created a map. There are hundreds of entrances to the tunnels that were about 30cm deep and 60cm wide, tiny, and were covered over by leaves so completely hidden  to anyone that didn't know where they were. These tunnels went 7km to the American soldier base but were so small the soldiers had to walk while squatting. There was an area of 100m that had been dug out to double the original size for tourists to go through, we couldn't believe it was double the size we were so squashed crawling through and it was hot and stuffy. The one we crawled through had exits every 20m so had a good air supply yet still it felt difficult to breathe, the real tunnels used during the war only had tiny oxygen holes disguised in termite mounds so the American soldiers couldn't discover them. Mister Al did the whole 100m but I came out at the exit 20m before the end because I was getting far too sweaty!

The whole trip was very biased but really interesting. It showed that as the Vietnamese had little money and sources for weapons how they used parts off bombs and grenades fired at them by the American soldiers to create their own weapons and set traps. It was incredible to imagine that these soldiers lived, cooked, went to the toilet in these tunnels for months at a time without seeing the outside and everything was so well thought out and planned that they couldn't be found. For example the cooking room deep under ground had a little tunnel above the stove area used to cook which went miles away from the actual tunnels and the holes where the smoke eventually escaped were tiny and scattered so they could never lead back to the actual cooking room. The tour was really interesting however the tour group was too big to enjoy and appreciate it to it's full level, we couldn't always hear or see what was being shown and the American family there were first in line to do and demonstrate everything so others didn't get much of a chance!

We got back to the city at about 3pm and had wanted to go and see the war museum but, and this sounds really stupid as we knew our way round the city really well after walking around the past 2 days, we couldn't find it! We were on the right street and from where the museum was marked on the map we walked past it numerous times but we both didn't see it. It didn't help much when we asked someone they just pointed in the general direction of where we had already been walking! So obviously we weren't meant to make that trip so instead I made a spur of the moment decision to get my hair cut. £3 for a wash and cut which is fine, I just got it neatened up and am really happy with the result, best £3 hair cut I'll ever have!! 

The next day, yesterday, we came to Nha Trang. It was a 11 hour bus ride but we paid a little bit extra for a sleeper bus. This seems to be only available in Vietnam as the sleeper buses in Thailand were just normal buses with a seat overnight. The ones in Vietnam though have little beds on them, 3 narrow rows of bunk beds so even though it's squashy and with me and mister Al being tall we touch the bottom part where you put your feet it means you can stretch out and nearly lie flat while on the bus. So, as we've had a lot of long bus journeys recently we treated ourselves to a sleeper bus during the day! It was another day of living off crisps and sweets and another restricted fluid intake as there was no toilet but at least it was a bit comfier.

So we reached Nha Trang at about 19:00 last night and were scouted by 2 motorbike taxis to go to a hotel for $10 a night (£8 for both of us). I didn't love the taxi ride to the hotel on the back of the bike with my bags and we were ripped off for the journey (we thought they did free transfers for the hotel) but the hotel is really nice. We're on the top floor and have a view over the city and of the beach. It reminds us a lot of Phuket in Thailand only minus the prostitutes and the beach is nicer. It's also starting to get a bit cooler as we travel up Vietnam, the daytime is still hot at about 28 degrees but it drops cool at night- for the first time in ages last night we slept without the fan on and under a duvet!! Plus it also means that it will be cool enough to actually blow dry my hair tomorrow night for our valentines day meal :).

We've spent today exploring around the area and topped our tans up a bit on the beach. Going for a run now, it's going to be nice as the air is getting cooler as it's getting into the evening. 

missing everyone lots at the moment. Lots of love xxxxxxxx

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ho Chi Minh City, Tetris level 9

Due to the previous nights events, explained in the last blog by miss Alex,  we didn’t rise from bed until around 10am the following day. We were both really hungry, probably due to the lack of food from the day before. So we went for a nice breakfast on the corner of the side street and watched from our roadside table, as what seemed like half of Ho Chi Minh City pass us by on their bikes. I’ve mentioned before that crossing the road in Thailand was an experience, but this is a level up. Imagine the 80’s game Tetris (Gameboy) as you progress and go up through the levels, the objects moves faster. This is like South East Asia. It feels as we progress through the countries the traffic comes at you faster and more in terms of quantity. Where as Bangkok we’d dodge 20 bikes to cross the road, now in Ho Chi Minh City were upto 60/70 bikes at a fast pace. I would compare crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City to level 9 on tetris and Bangkok a level 5, my road back a level 1. We have been told the secret is to just walk out in front of the bikes and let them avoid you. Once breakfast was booked we took a walk through the streets eventually until we came upon the City Zoo. It cost us about 8000 Dong (25p ish) It was massive and it reminded me of the film Madgascar because of the high rise buildings either side, whilst wild animals run about their patch. Gotta say Alex the Lion was too busy tucking into his fresh chicken to entertain us with a dance. Tony the Tiger was an angry little devil. Tony the Tiger was on his own behind a piece of glass, his compound was about 100 foot by 200 and he was pacing up and down. Through life there is a certain type of person who likes to provoke, and this  situations this was no different, A Chinese group decided it would be fun to make noise at Tony and try to goad him. I however stayed at a safe enough distance to snap away, happily in the knowledge that if Tony decided enough was enough, and he was gonna smash the glass panel and eat some people I would be back of the que giving it big steps with miss Alex.
After the Zoo we went to see a traditional water puppet show, I kind of half expected this to be like a Punch and Judy show, however, it turned out to be not only funny but really clever. It was musical themed and the show was telling the story of Vietnam through the ages.
Today miss Alex wanted a few bits from the market. At midday first we headed to a big department store, a bit like our House of Frazer. We made our way on a proper tuc tuc. Miss Alex and I had to take once each as they only sit one passenger. Basically it’s a basket at the front of the bike for the passenger to sit in. We got a few funny looks at the lights and the old bloke who was peddling looked past his Tour De France looking best. I Felt like I should have got out and took it in turns with him to peddle. Before the department store we passed The Notre Dame Cathedral, no we didn’t pop into Paris on the way! Vietnam was once a French colony and the architecture has a lot of tell tale signs that the French have influenced here. So there is also many church’s. Whilst having a cwoffee yesterday evening we overlooked a small park, there was a main road either side of the park and the streets were lined with 100 foot tall tress. The buildings were of similar design to that of a European city.
We had a quick look around the department store decided everything was too expensive for 2 tax dodging backpackers and went to look for the market.
At the market miss Alex displayed some good teckas (good technique) in bartering. She had 4 tops and the woman wanted 800,000 Dong (£24) miss Alex was not budging from 400,000 Dong. After a couple of minutes of miss Alex adamant of 400,000 she got the deal. All the way down from 800,000 to 400,000 stopping at every 50,000 Dong. The market brought miss Alex’s happiest moment of the day and also the angriest. This is when she actually found a pair of nice flowery flip flops that she liked (been looking since Christmas) the girl didn’t have her size. “Too big, too big” miss Alex was told. When miss Alex asked if she had any flip flops her size the woman pointed to a pair of massive (size 10) blue Adidas flip flops that miss Alex wouldn’t wear for all the tea in China. I found this to be hysterical as the Vietnamese woman was trying to say miss Alex’s size are not made in South East Asia. Not that she has big feet!! :-) 
Tomorrow we have a trip planned to go see the Chu Chi tunnels that were used in the Vietnamese War. Looking forward to it,  should be really interesting to see then on the way home were going to go to the War Remnants Museum, up until recently as 1993 it has been known as the Museum of American War Crimes. I’m guessing there is still a lot of hurt.  

Speak Soon xxx

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Never mind "snakes on a plane" it's eels on a bus!!!

Coming to Vietnam on Wednesday began pretty smoothly. We were picked up at 10:30 as we had been told and went to the boarder in a nice little mini-bus. Crossing the boarder was surprisingly easy- no queing at all like when we went into Cambodia and no-one tried to rip us off like some of the stories we've heard.

However, when we got to Hat Tien, 40 minutes from the boarder, we were told we had to change buses. We knew this would happen, we'd been told that at Hat Tien we would get on a "big bus with a toilet" to take us to Ho Chi Minh City. On reaching Hat Tien though we were told we had to wait 2 hours for the big bus. That meant the big bus wasn't leaving until 14:00 and we'd been told we would get to Ho Chi Minh for 19:00, but we thought "ok maybe it's not actually that far to get there." But then people started talking and saying the bus takes 8 then someone else said 10 hours!! So we didn't know what to expect. 

The big bus came which was actually a local bus with no toilet (we were back on restricted fluid intake!) The bus was alright though, for most of it we had 2 seats each so we could spread out. The driver was crazy though, he didn't even stop properly when people were getting on and off they had to jump!! And when overtaking he would hold his hand on the horn and floor the accelerator with little regard for whatever was coming the other way!
We waited and waited for a food stop that the long bus journeys normally have. By this point I was pretty hungry as I hadn't eaten since breakfast at 9 that morning (mister Al had a little noodle soup thing while we were waiting for the big bus but I really didn't like the look of it)! At 18:00 we pulled up but there was no food to be seen, just a filthy, smelly squat toilet! It was now we plucked up the courage to ask the driver when we would get there- apparently 8pm, so we only had 2 more hours to go!! We thought this was great, only an hour later than we'd been told when we booked the bus so we started drinking again and talking about all the things we wanted to eat once we got there,

8pm came, the bus pulled up, we all got off and were hounded by taxi men (pretty scary actually) but the bus driver marched us to an office in the car park and pointed to another mini-bus full of Vietnamese people but with 4 squashy seats at the back empty- these were for me, mister Al and the 2 other westerners with us. All dreams of food we'd spent the last 2 hours talking about immediately vanished and I regretted drinking the water we'd just drank. We were told we would be on this bus for 2 hours so we thought "that takes us to 22:00 that's fine,  we will just get on with it." So we got on the back seats with our legs up our armpits and off we went, (not before having a drama as we thought mister Al's bag hadn't made it on the bus, it had it was just hidden). This bus was also a local mini-bus so people were hopping on and off at roads in the middle of no-where,

At 21:30 the bus pulled into the Vietnamese equivalent to a service station making our hearts sink- the bus wouldn't stop if we were only half an hour away. We tried to ask the driver when we would reach Ho Chi Minh City but he couldn't speak much English and kept saying 3. So we tried to ask a Vietnamese girl on the bus who also told us 3, I said to her "3 in the morning we get there?" and she said "yes" we really couldn't believe that was true! In Vietnam the currency is US dollars (like in Cambodia) and dong. We had dollars from Cambodia and a small amount of dong which was change given to mister Al when he had bought his noodle soup at Hat Tien. So first we used the dong to buy some water and crisps to snack on for the journey and then went to order some noodles from the service station restaurant. Only they told us they didn't take dollars there. There was no cash point so all the dong we had left from the crisps was just enough to buy one portion of noodles and veg to share. Only the waitress misunderstood what I asked for and brought us beef noodle soup, more dong than we had on us. I nearly started crying as they were asking for the money and we were trying to give them dollars and explaining it wasn't what we ordered. Eventually they understood and did bring us the veg noodles so we managed to have a little to eat. 

Shortly after leaving the service station a young lad got on the bus with a big polystyrene box and sat in-front of us. After a while, as I was pulling my thighs off the sticky materiel of the  seats, I noticed the lad looking under the seats in front of him using his phone as a torch, now bear in mind the bus was pitch black. Just as the lad moved to look under his seat at our feet mister Al let out a kind of shout/scream saying "get off" as he pulled his feet up. This made me start shouting and grabbing his bag at his feet as I thought (due to all the stories we've heard of whats happened to other travelers) that the lad thought we were asleep and was after mister Al's day bag that contained the laptop. However that wasn't the case, (sorry my mind instantly jumped to that conclusion), something wet had slipped and slid over mister Als' foot, making a funny sound as he moved his foot!!! Us 4 Westerners on the back seat now turned our attention to the young lad's polystyrene box on the floor. The lady on the back with us saw him open it quickly and saw it was full of water with long black wriggly things in it-  we're hoping eels and not water snakes! One must have escaped and the lad had been watching it with his phone when it had slid over mister Al's foot. The lad then spent the rest of the journey with his foot on the lid of the box! 

By now I felt really tested, tired, hungry with no idea what time we were getting to Ho Chi Minh, squashed and now daren't put my feet back on the floor so actually did have my knees up my armpits! Luckily at half past midnight the bus stopped and we were told we were there, only not quite there as we were on the outskirts of the city so had to pay $15 for a taxi to take us in (before this we realised we'd left our beachy/dirty washing bag on the bus parked only 100 meters away yet to get it back we had to pay a dollar!!)

Walking the streets at 1am we finally found somewhere to stay- Ha Vy hotel $12 a night right in the centre and the staff are lovely. We were only going to stay here 3 nights but we have tagged another on the end as the next bus trip to Nha Trang on the coast is another long one! 

We forgot to tell people before we came to Vietnam that facebook isn't allowed here, not sure why, I know we can get it in some parts but at the moment we can't so contact us by email and mum let me know when you can skype! 

lots of love xxxxxxxxxx

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Miss Alex and I arrived in Kep from Kampot on Monday 6/2/2012 in a tuc tuc, its fair to say our tuc tuc ride was more enjoyable than some of our payed trips and took us an hour. We may just pay a tuc tuc driver to drive us around one day. Miss Alex was reading her book and I noticed that the cattle on the roadside, at this point I‘ll let you know that every family home here, has 3 cows, a couple of dogs and one chicken with a load of chicks in toe. Anyway I noticed the cows on the side of the road just eating from the bits of rubbish everywhere. So then I started asking myself isn’t that what Mad Cows Disease was all about in the 80s and 90s? So with this in mind I’m debating whether to go Vegetarian for the rest of South East Asia. (Until next time I want a bacon butty) Miss Alex has already said she’ll be going Veggie in Vietnam because she’ll never forgive herself if she accidently has dog in one of her curries. This happened to me on my last job I was on before I came away Globe trotting.  It was a Belgium boat with Belgium crew and one night they served up a stew, which in all honesty tasted nice until the chef decided to tell us it was horse. Only after we’d finished we were told this. I then I had a sad picture of a poor horse having one bad day at the races, then next thing its sold on as meat.
We arrived at Kep with a guesthouse in mind, we don’t normally pre look for accommodation but this time I had one thing in mind. I’d researched on the internet for a guesthouse with satellite tv, Liverpool were playing last night and I wanted a guesthouse with satellite for me to watch it. The guesthouse was called Reaksmey and for $10 I think we have a really smart room, especially with the satellite tv for me to watch the match. Although miss Alex might disagree as we have no sink in the bathroom.
So once we checked in we threw the bags in and headed for the “famous” crab market. It is literally 2 minutes from the guesthouse. I was still a bit delicate from my illness, so the smell of fish and crabs knocked me sideways. There’s about 15 little restaurants in a row just past the crab market and guess what they all sell? Crab and fish, so the menu for each restaurant had a choice of Crab soup, fish curry red, fish curry green, pizza with crab, pizza with crab and anchovies (why would anyone do that to a pizza?)
A little further down the road from the crab market we found a Cambodian bloke 50 foot up a coconut tree chopping down coconuts. As I got our camera out to take a picture of him that high up, a bunch of coconuts came hurtling down to the ground and landed about 20 foot away from us. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) would have a field day over here. They’d have probably asked him where his High Viz jacket was. Like it would have helped!!
In the Evening we went for a run, we’d been gone for a while and dusk was settling in, you may think the major problem now is getting lost. Nope it’s the dogs that every family has. These dogs are guard dogs and if you step on there territory you will know about it in the morning.  A dog then approaches us on our way home, starting to snarl at us, miss Alex starts off with the “good doggie” approach, it still edges closer until miss Alex snaps “NO, GO AWAY NAUGHTY DOGGIE” and the dog backed off and left us to it. We have been told that it can be a common occurrence for dogs to approach in a nasty manner, but the way to get out of it is imitate throwing a stone at them and they will soon scarper. Coming home last night from a couple of drinks we also found this technique to work. I did have a real stone in my hand ready and cocked.
Today we went for breakfast next door as the perfect guesthouse I’d chosen doesn’t just not have a sink, but they also don’t have a restaurant. (they do have satellite though) The food was sub standard and instead of ice cwoffees we got hot cwoffees. Miss Alex ordered chocolate and banana pancake and got just a banana pancake. I felt much better as the lady had added the total of the bill up wrong. Instead of $7 we paid $6. On the way back the 2 dogs from restaurant followed us all the way home, on the way there was a bit of stand off between a near by neighbours dogs, but the 2 dogs still followed us. One of these dogs in particular was all black lady dog and she looked real old. She even talked to us like a certain little furry friend back in Scarbrough does. Miss Alex had a soft spot for this dog and when we eventually got to the gates of the guesthouse the dog stopped as if knowing not to come in through the gates. We felt terrible, as we’d let this dog walk with us then we had to leave it at the gates. Also at some point the 2 dogs would probably have to go past the near by neighbours dogs again to get home. The rest of the day was spent at the very small beach, then we decided to treat our selves to a massage.
Tonight we’ve booked our bus to Vietnam for the morning, so by tomorrow night we’ll be in Ho Chi Min, or as the oldies would say Saigon.
Although some parts of Cambodia have been hard to stomach, ie The Killing Field and Tuol Sleng Prison, I’ve enjoyed other parts. Sihanoukville was good for the reunion with the 2 Sams and Harry & Laura. Kampot is probably our favourite place even though we only had a couple of days there, a couple of days was enough to chill out. Imagine a small French town on a Sunday afternoon and that was the feeling in the atmosphere. We are really looking forward to Vietnam and plenty more discoveries along the way.

Speak Soon xxx

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Kampot Pepper

We left Shianokville on Saturday and came to a little riverside village 2 hours down the coast of Cambodia called Kampot. The bus journey here wasn’t so pleasant seems they had over booked the mini bus so it was a case of playing sardines, this also meant they didn’t have enough room to fit everyone’s bags in the bus so we drove the whole 2 hours with the boat open and the bags secured in by rope!! We also made the mistake of going for a morning run before getting the bus which meant due to having to drink loads after the run as it was already over 30 degrees before 11am I was desperate for the toilet the entire way!

We almost immediately loved it here. It’s so much quieter and calmer than everywhere else we’ve seen in Cambodia. There seems to be a lot of French influence to the town with houses with shutters on the windows and baguette stalls on the streets. It’s also a lot cleaner and tidier and we have yet to be asked for money by anyone on the street.

We checked into a gorgeous guesthouse straight away, it’s very, very clean, the rooms are 10 dollars a night (approx £6.25 between us) and the room is massive (should really be used as a dorm room) with 2 double beds and a hot shower! We then set out exploring the village. We found a lovely little family run café (Chim’s family café) where we had the best Cambodian food yet, so far we haven’t been that impressed with Cambodian cuisine. Mister Alex had noodle soup and it was just to die for, so good that we went there for tea again last night just so I could have the soup myself! We then had a nice little walk along the river before cracking open a bottle of wine we’d bought for 4 dollars, (wine has become a very rare treat since being away as, although beer and cocktails are cheap, wine tends to be expensive and when we have found somewhere reasonable it hasn’t been that great! But, maybe due to the French influence, wine seems to be very available here so much so that there’s a wine shop with good, cheap wine next door to our guesthouse!! Heaven)! Later that evening we took a walk down the next street as earlier we had noticed that the street had been closed off to traffic and they were setting up chairs and tables with decorations on for a wedding reception. At the end of all the chairs was a little stage which when we went round the other side was on the back of a truck, basically it’s a mobile wedding reception! When we got there they were all dancing traditional dance (very slow). The women looked amazing, they all wear sparkly bright dresses but I couldn’t work out which was the bride as they wear any colour here!

Yesterday morning we got up early as we had booked on a day trip. We thought there would be a big group of us but it turned out we had our own private tour guide and tuck tuck! First we went to a salt farm. Here they have fields dug out which they pump seawater into. The water is left for a week and as long as it doesn’t rain the salt from the water crystallises so nets can then be used to get the salt out of the water. This is then stored in big barns, (when we went in one it looked like the pictures everyone’s putting on facebook of the snow back home at the moment)! The salt is then sold all over Cambodia and the neighbouring countries. The workers here looked very poor and we couldn’t believe it when we were told they only make 5 US dollars a day! As the salt farms can only be used during the dry season the workers then work on the rice paddies during the rainy season.
We were then taken to a temple set in a cave. The cave had natural formations inside, which looked like an elephant, eagle, pig and cow and the shrine in it was built before Angkor Wat! The best thing about this cave temple though was the journey to and from the cave was through a very rural farming village. It was so interesting to see the houses and the workers in the field. They had big pigs and cows wandering around the garden, the houses were all on stilts for when it floods in the rainy season but at the moment the area under the house is used as a communal area. It all felt a little bit like going back in time- they use cows to plough the fields like we used to use horses, although it’s obviously a bit different as it never gets that cold here even in the rainy season.

Kampot is known for it’s pepper so our final stop was a pepper plantation. I don’t know if it’s just us but we didn’t know where pepper came from or how it was made or anything until the trip. It’s actually grown on vine trees; it looked a little bit like a vineyard. The pepper grows on little stems coming off the tree that is then picked by the workers. It’s originally green but after being left to dry out the outacasing can be removed and there’s the peppercorn that can go straight in the grinder at home or can be crushed before being sold to go in a shaker pot, easy peasy but something we didn’t know!

During the whole trip the tuck tuck appeared to be dying. It was making very unhealthy noises and as we left the pepper plantation, so being at the furthest point away from the guesthouse (30km), it gave up!! The driver eventually got it started but wasn’t able to use second gear so had to jump from first to third plus it was struggling so much that at two points mister Alex had to jump out and give it a push then run and jump back in again when it got going! We were really surprised it actually got us back but then even more surprised when the driver offered to take us somewhere else today! Maybe he gets a free upgrade when he runs this one into the ground!

We finished the day with a little boat ride down the Mekong River for sunset. It was really beautiful, the boat went down the river until it reached the tip of joining the sea and then pulled onto a little bit of beach jutting out on one side of the river edges so we could get off and watch the sun go down. It was then back to Chim’s for tea so I could have the soup I’d been dreaming of since Mister Al had it for lunch the day before. However, just before we went for tea Mister Alex came over feeling ill and he had to go back to the guesthouse before the food even arrived. Seems like I passed the poorly tummy bug onto him!! Luckily after a nights rest he feels much better today so we are going to head to our final stop in Cambodia after breakfast just 25km down the road to Kep, a little beach resort.

Miss everyone lots, lots of love xxxxxx

Just remembered when we were in Sihanokville I finally got to see the new twilight movie!!! (It came out literally about 5 days after we came away). It was in a “cinema” across from our guesthouse but was actually private rooms that were a lot like a front room at home with sofas and cushions and a massive tv with surround sound! So after a long wait I actually ended up seeing it in the coolest, comfiest cinema ever, snuggled up to mister Al with our crisps, sweets, chocolate and chocolate milk!!!  xxxxx


Last Sunday we arrived in Sihanoukville  29/1/2012 at 7pm, me and Harry had the same thing on our minds, Football. Liverpool were due to play Man Utd, kick off at local time was 8pm. So for me it was a case of find us a guesthouse, throw our bags in, freshen up and look for the match in a bar. After a good half hour of rejection after rejection we managed to find a guesthouse in downtown Sihanoukville, run by an English bloke. Reasonable price.  Headed for a cluster of bars, we went to the first one that didn’t look like a prostitute bar. Liverpool won the match 2;1 and there was a Manc in there watching the match. Was good to give him some stick, and see him sit there and watch the result in pain.
The next day we headed to the beach and found the 2 Sams in the sea. As it was soo hot it took us all of 2 seconds to join them for a reunion. During the catch up on goss a couple of local Cambodian kids were hovering around us, Then one of them jumped on Harry and asked him the throw him up in the air. He had his arms around Harry’s neck and feet on his waist.  He would  then attempt to perform a summersault into the waist deep water. After half an hour there must have been 30 kids using Harry, Sam and me to launch them into the air. The Russian and Chinese have nothing to fear from the Cambodians at the Olympics. (bellyflops galore) It felt like we’d taken the local Orphanage for a day out, so many kids!! Most of the kids were beggars, not necessary looking for money but plastic empty bottles. They sell these on to make a “living.” Other kids were selling wristbands, made to order with string. These look really cool and can be personalized with words and names. As fun as this was, throwing the kids into the water The Lonely Planet travel book (Backpackers bible) described Sihanoukville as being rife for theft. Only take items to the beach that you don’t mind going missing it said. So one eye was constantly on our bags and towels at all times. Nothing did go missing.
Another reunion means only one thing, a good night out. So off we went to see what Sihanoukville had to offer. It only had 3 clubs. But the dance moves were electric. The 3 of us boys were performing The Inbetweeners routine and the girls must have been so embarrassed as they were looking pretty good on the dance floor. Miss Alex spotted the stage and headed straight for it. All of miss Alex’s friends know “the dance” and we weren’t disappointed. Centre stage miss Alex treated us, and every one in the club to her brilliant routine.
The next day was pretty rough and this happened to be the start of miss Alex’s food poisoning. Lasted three days, and the pain she was in was hard to watch. When miss Alex wasn’t on the toilet, she was doubled up on bed with stomach cramps.
Once recovered, we booked on to a 3 island boat trip. We sailed to an island that we couldn’t go near because a Russian billionaire owned this tiny island. All that was on the island was his house. Then we stopped to snorkel and jump in the water from the 3 story boat.  Next we headed to an Island with a stunning 9km beach. This Island was completely empty it was a real desert island. This is where the tour guide would take us on a tour through the Mangroves. Chest deep in some parts and miss Alex was screaming A LOT!!. The water was so murky you couldn’t see more than a couple of inches in the water. She was convinced things were biting her feet. Once through the mangroves the tour guide took us for a walk through the jungle, if I’m going to be honest, we could have been in England in a Woods somewhere near Scarborough, taking Meggie for a walk. It didn’t feel like a jungle. On the way back to main land the drinks were flowing, (for the boys). At the bar on the boat drinking games began and the music was blaring.
One of the games involved a snorkel placed up the face as if you were about to go in to the water. Then a pint of beer would be dropped down the breathing tube on the snorkel and into the mouth. For some reason the barman seemed to call me out, in front of the entire boat (minus miss Alex, girl Sam and Laura who were up on top deck sunning it). How could I not go up and take my go like a man now. So I placed the mask on my face, then the barman did his 3 second countdown and started to pour, I started to drink ………… and drink …………….  and drink …………… and drink and then drink some more. I could hear every one cheering but I thought to myself this was a long pint. I had to stop pulled off the snorkel and looked behind me to see not a pint glass but a massive jug!
Whilst in Sihanoukville miss Alex and me managed to get 3 runs done. 4 miles in the mid day heat is very tough, but all the same we really enjoy our runs together. Even if miss Alex listens to her ipod whilst running and makes noises like female tennis players do hitting the ball. These noises give us some funny looks from people as we pass them!!
The Guest house we stayed in, after the first night was called Mick and Craigs. In all honesty it was very friendly, and the rooms were nice. But would only let us take the room on a day by day basis. I still cannot get my head around the reason why we couldn’t book the room for 4/5 nights. So on the second day of miss Alex’s food poisoning they told us we had to move as the room was booked. After I had a run in with the staff we managed to hold our ground and stay, miss Alex was really ill at this point and didn’t need a chaotic few hours of packing bags and looking for accommodation. My argument with the staff was how could some one else book our room but we couldn’t. Miss Alex even tried to book on the internet but got no joy.
I can’t see us ever returning to Sihanoukville, it was an ok seaside town but you are not given a moments bit of piece on the beach. Whether it’s the man with no legs hobbling up asking for money, or the kids wanting you to buy a wristband, then it’ll be the massage ladies asking if she can cut your nails or pluck your eye brows with 2 bits of string, (very impressive to watch but apparently painful) So on Saturday we headed for Kampot, for our last few days in Cambodia before Vietnam.

Speak soon xxx