A Travellerspoint blog

Mui Ne Beach

Relaxation

sunny 25 °C
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This has been a relaxing break from the travel routine. This is a small beachside town and we were booked in to a resort style place. We relaxed on the beach, wandered around, swam, drank from coconuts, had massages, slept, etc.

An amazing sight here is fishermen out to sea in small baskets in the early morning. They use an oar to whiz around and are obvously trapping something out there (crabs, clams ??). I asked a staff member at the hotel and we both agreed that we were talking about crab pots but then I wasn't so sure. A dozen crabs didn't turn up from room service so maybe we did understand each other.

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Equally as amazing was making arrangements with a local travel agent at 8pm on New Years Day (a public holiday ... apparently) to book flights and train and bus tickets for later in the journey. I would have been hard pressed to buy a loaf of bread at that time on a public holiday in Toowoomba.

From here we go a little inland and catch an overnight train to Danang and then Hoi An.

Posted by Neil-Sonia 08:44 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Busy, busy, busy ...

semi-overcast 30 °C
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We arrived in Saigon in the evening and took a taxi to our hotel. This is an amazing city with somewhere between 5 and 7 million people and no mass public transport system. There seemed to be 10 to 14 million scooters and other vehicles in the streets, all with horns blaring. After 3 days there, we almost perfected the art of crossing the street. You basically head out between the scooters and pray to whatever gods you can think of until you get across to the other side.

In Saigon, we visited several pagodas, the War Remnants Museum (complete with plenty of anti-US memorabilia), the Reunification Palace (more anti-US material but very interesting) and a couple of other museums. The place was rather tiring but intensely energetic. Every time you ventured on to the street, you would see something absolutely surprising. These sights included extended families riding around on scooters, more scooters with building materials attached to the back of them, bicycles with fairy floss machines attached to the back of them, bicycles with bar-b-ques attached to the back of them, motor scooters with bicycles attached to the back of them, and so on .... Never dull, I suspect.

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We also witnessed New Years Eve in Saigon (I think it is only referred to as Ho Chi Minh City by government officials and politically correct tourists). The was an incredible sight with the equivalent of the entire population of Queensland riding along the street in front of us, bright lights everywhere, noise, crowds and some more noise.

The young women running the hotel (actually a small group of hotels) that we stayed in were fascinating organisers who displayed a phenomenomal skill-set. At one stage while we were sorting out onward travel arrangements with the young lady on reception, she was finalising our bus tickets, organising someone's laundry, and talking on two telephones at the same time. All done perfectly and managing to make the seven people that she was dealing with feel welcome and important. She even took our hands and guided us across the busy street a couple of times. At the end of our stay of 3 nights (costing about $US75 including laundry, drinks, breakfasts, postcards and forward bus bookings) we were given two small bottles of wine as "valued customers". Their capacity for hard work and entrepreneurial flair is something to be seen. I went to a stall in one of the massive markets there with the intention of buying a cap. I walked away with three shirts and a cap. Not quite sure how that happened ...

The only negative to all this was where a couple of cyclo drivers used these skills to separate us with more of our money than we had intended. I suppose we were just doing our bit to redistribute some of our imperialist-capitalist Western wealth with the people in developing countries.

After a few days of this crazy busy, we were looking forward to our next stop at a resort at Mui Ne Beach about 240km up the coast.

Posted by Neil-Sonia 08:10 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Same, Same, but Different

Down the Mekong

semi-overcast 30 °C
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An interesting saying that they have in these parts is "Same, Same but Different". I think it has something to do with attempted translations (i.e. "yes .... same, same") with the "... but different" a touch of Cambodian whimsy. I'm not quite sure exactly what it means but it often seemed to make sense.

We finished with Cambodia and took to the water in a tourist boat that speeds people down the Mekong river to a place in Vietnam called Chau Doc. The trip was very interesting, with all sorts of traffic on this enormous river and people growing many different crops right up to the water's edge. The border checkpoint was quite interesting as we had to disembark on the Cambodian side, go through customs, walk 50 or so metres, repeat the process on the Vietnamese side and then get back on the boat.

After we arrived in Chau Doc, we were greeted by the usual band of enthusiastic transport operators. We made an unintelligible deal with two motor scooter pilots who (we hoped) had agreed to take us to the place in the guidebook that we were pointing to. With siren-like horns blazing and suitcases stacked so that the drivers could barely see, we sped off to the hotel 6 km out of town like visiting heads of state. A highlight of the speedy journey were the graceful Vietnamese student girls in traditional white silk outfits riding along the streets amongst the rice-paddies. The place we stayed was very good and the transport operators convinced us that they needed to pick us up again at 10 o'clock the next morning to take us "up the mountain" and then on to the bus station for the next part of the trip. Although we were a little dubious about all of this, it worked out really well and we took the bus on to Cantho.

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Cantho is very much a part of the "Mekong Delta" section of the country and after arriving in the evening we started to gain a better understanding of Vietnamese capabilities for entrepreneurship. As we were checking in at our hotel, a man sold us a 5:30am - 1:30pm "floating markets" boat trip and a bus ticket to Saigon. The boat trip turned out to be an incredibly fascinating experience. We were met by our boatman in the dark at 5:30, given a bunch of tiny bananas and two baguettes and taken out on his small boat into the river. After about half an hour, we drew closer to the floating markets and a boat bobbed along side and sold us coffee. A few minutes later, another sold us the first of several pieces of fruit we ate during the day. The markets were incredible, with hundreds of boats trading with one another along the river. They identify what they are selling by putting a sample of it at the end of a bamboo pole that sticks up in the air from their boat. We stopped at the one with the pineapple at the end of the pole and had some of those. After this, we visited a small family-run noodle factory, looked at the old "monkey bridge" bamboo river crossings and had lunch at a "fruit garden" where we had fish that was caught in front of us and were given massages and a hammock to sleep in.

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After the boat trip and having a look around Cantho, we took a min-bus to Saigon.

Posted by Neil-Sonia 08:26 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Christmas in Phnom Penh

More great food, some sad sights

sunny 30 °C
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We arrived safely in Phnom Penh on Christmas Eve after an eventful trip on a comfortable coach. We stopped for a break as we were getting nearer to Phnom Penh where the local vendors were trying to ply us with their wares. Some interesting offerings which many of the passengers indicated were absolute delicacies were trays of fried large spiders and crickets. People bought them in little plastic bags and proceeded to eat them with delight. We were offered a sample by the kind man in front of us but weren't brave enough to try.

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Phnom Penh is a very busy and exciting city. A lot of it is still in a fair state of decay after all the turmoil here but it is rapidly being revitalised. They are maintaining the French feel to the place and making the most of the magnificant frontage to the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.

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On Christmas Day we headed of for the day with our tuk-tuk driver. First stop was the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. This was very interesting and we saw lots of Buddhist antiquities and royal wares. The pagoda has a floor of 5000 silver tiles.

After this, we headed off to the sad part of a visit here. We spent most of Christmas Day looking at the Choeng Ek Memorial (Killing Fields) and the Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 torture and general misery centre). It was very moving and incredibly horrific. It was incredible the degree of evil that was perpetrated by Pol Pot and his paranoid cronies from 1975 until 1979 as they tried to exterminate the entire middle class and empty the cities to create some kind of crazy agrarian utopia. We saw the arrangement of skulls, bones and victim's clothing in the memorial and looked at the mass graves. As you walk around you can still see bits of bone and clothing coming up through the soil. In the detention centre museum they have the photos of the terrified faces of the victims. It is an old high school and it is pretty scary to see ordinary looking school classroom blocks that were converted for the purposes of torture and horror. One of the photos was that of an Australian journalist who also met a sorry end. 17,000 people went through the place and they found 7 alive when the Vietnamese invaded.

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All in all it wasn't really the best way to have a Merry Christmas but Sonia and I tend to celebrate special days like that. For Sonia's 40th birthday, Ben took us on a 6 hour visit to the equally as harrowing Hiroshima Peace Museum.

After all of this, we visited the Foreign Correspondent's Club which is a beautiful place located on the Mekong. It is an old-fashioned "colonials in the tropics" kind of place with large open bar areas and fabulous teak furniture. The food there was brilliant. We enjoyed it so much that we returned at night and dined on the rooftop terrace looking at the full moon rising over the Mekong (sorry about the travel writer superlatives here but it was really pretty good and "nice" didn't seem to be quite enough).

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Today we went off again in the tuk-tuk and visited the National Museum which was also very interesting. After this, we decided to make it a shopping day. We discovered that we are not really very good at haggling but we bought a number of interesting artifacts. In a market, we sat down for some great noodles and decided to ask for some coffee like the coffee wizard in the stall next to us was making. Something got lost in translation and we ended up with hot coffees, cold coffees, numerous glasses of ice and an opened tin of condensed milk. At the end, I counted that they had used 10 separate glasses on us.

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Tomorrow we get on a boat that takes us down a branch of the Mekong called the Brassac to a place in Vietnam called Chau Doc. We will stay overnight there and probably go to Siagon by bus on Friday.

Posted by Neil-Sonia 20:49 Archived in Cambodia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

No Phroblem

On to Phnom Penh

sunny 32 °C
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The Aspara dancers were indeed beautiful. At the end of the show we went home by tuk-tuk, the young driver (Bol) responding with the Cambodian standard of "no problem" when we asked if he would be OK for a 5:00am start the next day. This allowed us to go went back to Angkor Wat at sunrise for a closer look. Although it was a bit ridiculous with about a thousand other tourists, camera flashes, noise, silly poses and the like, you could see how it could be a serene and spiritually uplifting experience. The sun rises directly behind the temples and makes an impressive sight.

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After some breakfast and some more bartering, we checked out the relief carvings in more detail and then visited Ta Phrom which is the famous site where the ruins have fichus growing over, through and from them. Later in the day, we went and had lunch at Bol's mum's food stall near the Bayon and met various members of the extended family. Bol's mum is a great cook.

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The people here are friendly, humorous, graceful and endearing. It makes you wonder what in the hell was going on when they were being murdered for a decade or so. Sonia remarked that there didn't seem to be many older people. There seems to a generation that is eerily absent.

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Today we ventured back onto the Cambodian roads for a bus ride down to Phnom Penh. The trip started with us all being given a complimentary cake, bottle of water, napkin and toothpick. I think that all British B&B operators should be sent on three weeks compulsory work experience over here to learn the art of customer service. the trip down was fascinating with many sights of rice fields, oxen, villages and people going about their daily business. The best Cambodian roads have a lane on the right that is for people heading forward and one on the left for people heading the other way (like continental Europe). It is, however, far more complex than that.

The slowest vehicle always has the far right and then the others overtake on the left (well, most of the time). This means that the hand-held tractor towing firewood overtakes the ox-cart carrying rice (much the same as shown on the walls 1000 years ago). The tuk-tuk overtakes the tractor and the scooter carrying two adults, three kids and a pig overtakes the tuk-tuk. The buses and cars tend to overtake all of these. This all works quite well except when the oxcart, the tractor, the tuk-tuk , the scooter and the bus all happen to need the single lane at the same time. This is further complicated when the overtaking car meets a large bus or truck coming in the opposite direction. I don't know what happens then as I had my eyes closed.

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The horn seems to play an important role in all of this. A small beep to let the others know you are there, a larger one for the possibility of collision and a really large one often. Fortunately, the bus had a loud horn that was used often.

We are now safely in Phnom Penh which also seems to be a fascinating place. I will close this entry now as the letters on this keyboard are not really visible and I am starting to forget where the keys might be. Merry Christmas.

Posted by Neil-Sonia 22:44 Archived in Cambodia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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