Motorcyle Diaries

August 1, 2010 by

We had a choice. Either take a gruelling 16 hour bus ride from Siem Reap to Pakse in southern Laos or pay $80 for a 40-minute flight. Ok, this wasn’t a hard choice but I was slightly concerned about the dodgy reputation of national airlines in this part of the world.

My doubts could not have been more misplaced. From start to finish Laos Airlines was the best flight experience I’ve ever had. The flight left 20 minutes early due to everyone being ready to go, we were given a meal despite the journey lasting just over half an hour, and we went through passport control (including applying for and collecting our Laos visas) in just 10 minutes. We were in Pakse two hours ahead of schedule.

But that’s where we waved goodbye to modern living and opened our arms to laconic Laos life.

On the road in Laos

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AWE (the Angkor Wat Experience)

July 29, 2010 by

We were both eager with anticipation as our bus pulled into a stop in Siem Reap – for the next five days this would be our base from which to explore the fabled temples of Angkor.

Bayon at Angkor Thom

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Phnom-enal

July 26, 2010 by

Phnom Penh is a surprisingly cool and cultured city. That is, compared to its South East Asian neighbours (not that hard). Once you get passed the usual mess of traffic and rubbish, there are lots of hip bars and restaurants and an array of interesting architecture from old school palaces and temples to very new school city mansions.

Decorative architecture in Phnom Penh

So what did we do in this capital of cool? We bought baggy travellers trousers and ate big bugs, of course.

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Phu-n in the Sun

July 21, 2010 by

Having to spend a night in Rach Gia, quite possibly the most unpleasant and charmless town in Vietnam, before being allowed by the travel gods to embark on a stomach-turning three hour ferry ride through choppy waters with 3 metre swells was yet another example of how the best places on earth are the hardest to get to.

(Of course, we could have avoided that whole disappeared-hotel-reservation-get-put-into-another-hotel-room-more-like-a-windowless-cell-with-polyester-sheets-then-shouting-then-different-hotel-room-better-but-one-million-mosquitoes-and-rat-droppings-in-our-bed ordeal altogether by taking a direct flight to Phu Quoc from Saigon, but it made us feel like we earned the vacation.)

And when we finally escaped from the vomit fumes permeating our boat, we were delighted to be met by paradise.

Our front yard, for four days.

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Do Miss Mekong

July 16, 2010 by

We had decided to take a two-day tour through the Mekong Delta on our way to our last stop in Vietnam, the fabled Phu Quoc island. Over the next two days we would watch local dwellers throw huge bags of rubbish into the river then bathe and cook in the same water. We would hold our breath as various bloated animal carcasses floated perilously close to our boat. And we would discover the armpit of Vietnam, a town called Rach Gia where no tourist should ever find themselves. Clearly, the Mekong Delta tour was not the best part of our trip.

Muddy waters

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Don’t Miss Saigon

July 15, 2010 by

Thankfully, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) was a lot less hectic than Hanoi and lot more organised. It even had a supermarket where you can buy items for the price that is written on them rather than having to haggle for every product as we had done until now.

We didn’t stay too long in the city but we enjoyed it nonetheless. Whilst there we visited the War Remnants Museum, a haunting reminder of the atrocities committed by the Americans on the Vietnamese people. It is an exhibition that every person in the US should see but probably won’t. The museum also offered a stunning picture gallery from photographers who died during the war and who took an array of brutal yet beautiful images of battle in the countryside.

The US military vehicles outside the War Remnants Museum offer an ominous introduction to the exhibition

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Recipe for Relaxation

July 15, 2010 by

(Preface: We were so busy making bubbles and chilling out in Nha Trang that we only remembered to bring out the camera for the cooking class, pictures of which you will find interspersed throughout the following post.)

We had originally planned to follow Hoi An with a lazy few days in Mui Ne, a beachside resort town with sand dunes and wind. But with our newly acquired PADI certificates in our salty hands, we decided that some more scuba diving was in order and we opted to head to Nha Trang, Vietnam’s diving hub, for a few days instead.

Our cooking teacher, Madame Chuon.

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Suits and Scuba

July 9, 2010 by

After our first two weeks in Vietnam we were a little disappointed with the country. We had been really looking forward to visiting this region, famed for its amazing food, friendly people and picturesque coastline. Manna, who is probably the world’s number one fan of Vietnamese Pho soup, was particularly excited about Vietnam and had been dreaming of this trip for most of her adult life.

Yet, so far the people had been friendly only when trying to rip you off, the food was hit and miss, and the beauty was tainted by man-made pollution. But then we arrived in Hoi An and everything changed.

Hoi An by night

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Hot in Hue

July 7, 2010 by

Following our unexpectedly picturesque interlude in Ninh Binh, we continued our southward journey down the curvy Vietnamese coast to the old imperial capital of Hue (pronounced hoo-ay), which sits on the banks of the poetically named Perfume River.

The Hue Citadel by night

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The Real Deal

June 28, 2010 by

Our Mekong region Lonely Planet, unlike our great Footprint South America Handbook, has not been of much use – in fact, more often than not, it has got things completely wrong, causing us to adopt a policy of using its accommodation listings as a guide of what to avoid. But it does suggest going to Ninh Binh, a small town south of Halong, as a way of seeing “the real Vietnam” and a gateway to Tam Coc, or “Halong on the rice paddies”. We heeded its advice and, for once, we were not disappointed. 

Limestone and rice paddies -- Vietnamese beauty as expected.

 

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