A Travellerspoint blog

Christmas on Koh Phangan

This next stop on the travels doesn't need much explaining I suppose to the people who are aware of the location of the full moon party! We had decided to head south for Christmas to an island called Koh Phangan. We had booked well in advance a hotel that like all accommodation in Thailand is massively inflated price wise by the time of year and the influx of tourists. However, we considered it to be a Christmas luxury! I apologise in advance for the lack of cultural insight you will experience from this blog!

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(view from the hotel, a little overcast!)

So the first night out wasn't really a night out, we just had a meal and then proceeded to chill out in our luxury hotel rooms on top of the cliff that looks over both the bays in the Hat Rin area. A friend called Jamie we had made on the way, through Sammy, had suggested he came join us during the Xmas period, and he turned up that evening.

The following day we got up late and mingled around the swimming pool, after a while Smith and I decide to have a wonder and explore the area. After coming back excited about the fish we had seen along the wooden walkways that skirted some of the rock faces along the coastline we decided to explore the town to see if we could invest in some fishing rods. After a little while we found some telescopic fishing rods and bartered a good deal on two of them! We set about working out how exactly we had to set up the rods with our trusty friend google! And went off to fish, that first day I managed to catch two fish and smith caught a one too, all very tropical looking, granted his more so than mine, in fact, his caused a slight panic in getting it off the hook, with it's leopard print spots and it's aggressive spines on it's dorsal fin! That night we went out to celebrate our traveling buddies Dans birthday. I'd be lier if I said I remembered much of the evening, I woke up with some funny stories from all sides of our group of friend of different capers people had got up to and I had a badly grazed knee, and I'm still trying to remember the exact manor in which I received it! 

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So after a day off and some more fishing Christmas eve came round and other night out ensued. We all wished each other an over emotional happy Christmas once it turned 12, especially for a group of people who had only been friends for a short time, thats what traveling and alcohol does to you! The following day we spend round the pool, an exciting prospect, and a first for an Xmas day! We had all arranged, a group of about 16 of us, to go for a traditional Christmas diner, I wore my Santa hat! The dinner I was surprisingly impressed with, it was a little cold, but unlike anywhere else in Asia they had managed to bring everyone's dinner out at the same time, so maybe that was their poor excuse, but I'll allow them it! Need I repeat myself, we went out that evening, and had a wicked night out!

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I'll be honest the next day was a right off! Two days solid partying is going to take it's toll on an old codger like me! The following day we spent around the pool once more and then some further fishing, by this time both Smith and I were up to 6 fish each!

The following day we headed for our next destination, Krabi, and more precisely Ao Nang, were had planned to stay there for New Years, but there will be a slight twist to this tale!

Posted by Christian25 07:43 Comments (0)

Bangkok - Thailand

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We arrived in Bangkok after a relatively smooth boarder crossing. The journey into central Bangkok reminded me a little of our first experience of Asia when we sped along a four lane motorway towards Beijing. Bangkok looked a world away from the other capitals we had visited in south east Asia!

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(roof top views from our guesthouse)

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We arrived without accommodation, we had been reassured that we would have no problems. We were dropped a stones throw away from Khao San road, the most notorious of backpacker destinations in Bangkok, riddled with bars, shops, a few restaurants, including Macdonalds and Burger King. Peppered between the 24 hour hubbub are guesthouses, however we decided against it and ventured onto the less well known and slightly less busy  Rambutri Street which is a little more toned down!

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(the infamous Khao San Road)
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We decided to go out that first night, the girls decided they wanted massages and pedicures and smith and I met up with a friend we made in Sihnoukville called Dan and his Canadian friend Shaun. The girls eventually met us out, I recall them laughing about our inebriated state. I ended up at a nightclub which was also a good laugh, then walked back and grabbed some of the famous Bangkok street food with Sammy at 3 in the morning!

The following day the Girls had decided they wanted to go to MBK. It's the largest shopping centre in Thailand as far as I'm aware. Smith, Dan and myself were a little less excited so we split up from the girls, and after some food we headed to the arcades to waste away the time. The hostel we were staying at put films on every night, and that's what we did after grabbing some food once returning from MBK.

The following day, a little more interesting shopping day had been planned to Bangkok's famous Weekend Market. We got a Taxi there and were dropped off on the outskirts, from there the expanse  of the market cannot be fully realised, only once you venture into the Bazaar like passage ways between small shops with good spilling out creating and archway over the narrow paths. Again the girls did better at the Market than the guys, but it wasn't for trying, there were plenty of nice clothing, just difficult to justify spending money on making your bag heavier!

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The following day, a Sunday, we decided to do the cultural things Bangkok has to offer and visit it's many temples and statues. We were told by a nice Thai man that Sundays were a special day for tourists as the government funded the TukTuk drivers to drive tourists around in return for petrol vouchers. This sounded excellent, however, the catch is that in between what the tourist wants to see, the TukTuk drivers take you to different tailors, jewellers and whatever else they can, in return for commission and their petrol vouchers, this did make for a tedious hindrance to otherwise interesting day! We went first to the Lucky Budda, a place that can be visited only one day of the month by tourists and we were lucky enough to have picked that day. We were given incense sticks to light to wish us luck on our travels. Next was the huge standing Budda, then the sitting Budda. I'll be completely honest, although impressive, it might have been the TukTuk scamming in between the temples, but the temple I found most impressive that day was Wat Saket which has an amazing view of the city was well as the Buddhist prayer bells which you ring as you ascend and descend the hill. We finished off with the sitting Budda temple before calling it a day exhausted with pretending to be interested in silk shirts! On the plus side our travel didn't cost us a dime that day!

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(the lucky Budda)

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(standing Budda)

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(this little chap had obviously decided to live in the temple, smart hound, get in with the Buddist monks and your on easy street!)

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(the sitting Budda)

(these following pictures are of Wat Saket)
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(me and Smith took a leaf out of the hounds book from the other temple and decided to muck about with the monks!)

The following day we decided to do the things we missed out on the previous day, due to time been eaten up explaining that we didn't want a tailored suit! We went on a Bangkok river trip which was quite interesting, it was shocking to see the water line on the side of the housing that overlooks the river from the resent flooding Bangkok had suffered, which we had feared would stop us making it here. In places the water line was several metres higher than it was presently, and I'm not entirely sure it was at it normal level when we were there! On the trip there was a point where we could buy a loaf of bread to feed the fish in the river, I assume they were cat fish, but the amount of them which flocked to eat the bread, you could hear them bashing into the side of the boat. After the river trip we had lunch and then headed to see the only temple we missed the day before the famous and largest in the world, Reclining Budda, it was huge and the pictures don't do it justice, you cannot stand far enough away to fit it all in!

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( the royal palace!)

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(Fish in the river, on the river tour!)

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(the temple of the reclining Budda)

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The next day was time to leave, to head south for Christmas! We had arranged a treat for ourselves in the form of luxury accommodation on the island of Koh Phangan. 

Posted by Christian25 22:32 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok Comments (0)

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

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Siem Reap was only ever going to be a fleeting visit, we only had one desire while we were there, to visit Angkor Wat and the other temples. The first day after travelling overnight was taken up with just a wonder around the town. Unfortunately as the day progressed as did me feeling poorly, and unfortunately that night I spent in bed recovering and hoping that I would be well enough to go visit the temples the following day!

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Luckily sweating it out paid off and we got up early enough it head to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples while it was still dark with the intention of seeing the Sun rise. Our TukTuk driver drove us to a temple which is located up a large hill. He pointed up a dark pathway and told us that's where we needed to go. He must have realised that we were not convinced so said he would guide us. Once we got up there there were a few others waiting for sunrise and it eventually came. Cloud cover interrupted the spectacle, but it was a good way to start the day. After that our driver took us to get some breakfast. During the chaos of a tomato sauce bottle exploding and causing great amusement at our table I noticed a monkey about 100 metres away and decide to steal away mid breakfast to take a picture. It started towards me with conviction and I feared I might get accosted by it, when it charged passed me towards the breakfast table and shimmied up one of the legs and stole Kaileys baguette. This obviously caused a greater eruption of laughter to explode over the group of us. 

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(the culprit!!!)

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(this picture doesn't do justice how large this spider was, it had made it's web between two trees and was sitting in the middle of it waiting for birds I expect!)

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(the temple with the trees growing out of it is where Tomb Raider was filmed, it's called Ta Prohm).

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The temples are arguabley some of the most impressive temples I have ever seen, and although many are ruins the place is still considered a religious area and is still in use for Buddist Monks. There is a large distance between the temples an each one is different, some have large moats around it, and others have trees that have become rooted in the fabric of the building, pulling it over or sitting on top of the large stone walls. The Cambodians proudly call it the 8th wonder of the world, and in all honesty I felt that it would be ranked in the official 7. 

The Cambodians seemed to have only very recently realised what they are sitting on in terms of tourism, and there is now efforts to repair the temples and make sure that nature doesn't damage too much of it. I expect in years to come the place will, if not protected, turn into somewhere much like the Pyrmids or the Great wall, where some of the magic is lost because of the comercial element that comes with popular tourist attractions, sone I'm pleased to say I have seen it before that potentially does happen. It was arguably the most interesting place I have visited on my travels so far!

The next stop is in a new country, Thailand!

Posted by Christian25 19:27 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel cambodia angkor wat reap siem Comments (1)

Sihnoukville - Cambodia

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Sihnoukville is one of Cambodias most popular seaside resorts. On arriving we headed to try and get accommodation at one of the most popular hostels in the town Monkey Republic, we were already sure that three of our friend were already there and Smith, Kailey,Emma, Zoe an myself were lucky enough to pick up the remaining beds available and meet up with the other Emma and Leanne and Sammy.

Our first full day in Sihnoukville we headed down to a beach called Otres beach. The sand was warm white and the water was calm, clear and a beautiful inviting blue. We spend the day by the beach and ate at one of the restaurants overlooking the sea. I mentioned to Smith how guilty I felt sitting there hot and sanding in my swimming shorts while everyone back home was working, it honestly did bother me and it pleased me that I haven't forgot about everyone or the desire to work. Feelings like this are easily forgotten however when you are being hugged by the warm embrace of the tropical sun and repetitive swell of the waves.

The following day after a heavy night out with a large army of fellow travellers, our group, growing larger by the day surfaced late and headed for a local hotels swimming pool. The evening is Sihnoukville are taken up at the beach bars or across the road from Monkey Republic is a place called TopCat's. A little cinema with private booths for about 5 or 6 people maximum. Any film they don't have is not worth watching, the American owner is happy to find you anything on his huge database of movies. Or as was the case a few hot afternoons, me and Smith hid ourselves away and played FIFA 2012.

I hadnt been massively keen on the idea of another boat trip but everyone we had made fiends with was going and dinner on return was included so it sounded more inviting. As it turned out, even with the freak weather conditions that came over the boat, apparently massively rare in Sihnoukville for the time of year we embraced the different nature of the trip. Lashing down with rain it was warmer to be in the sea so we continued to jump off and back onto the boat throughout the afternoon. Nobody seemed to care that it was wetter aboard the ship than it was in the sea. Plenty of beers were consumed on the trip back while dancing away on the packed deck!

By now we had been joined by our German friends who had been traveling along the coast with a friend they met on the road Tom. Off Sihnouville are several islands, and one in particular Koh Rong has several small beach resorts where you can stay in bamboo huts on stilts. Monkey island was the name of the bungalows we decided to stay in, run by the same guys who own Monkey Republic. Our whole group decide to go and spend a couple of nights on the beach front. The boat trip was set to take about 2 hours, but when we arrived at the port, we were informed it was likely to take longer because the sea was particulary choppy. The boat ride was an experience, with several people being sick, I managed to keep my breakfast down and relatively enjoy the trip. Once we arrived at the island we had to walk across the beach following a resort employee. The place looked close to paradise, and as we walked along the blindingly white fine sand, close by the little jetty, standing in the surf with it's owner was a massive water buffalo. I'm still upset I didn't get a picture as it was quite a surreal sight. A short walk along the shoreline and we arrive at Monkey Island. We dumped our belonging in our little bamboo hut and ran down to the beach to jump in the sea. After we washed up and went to get some food and relax. During my washing up process, in the little bamboo bathroom something caught my eye. On the back of the door, relatively well camouflaged was the largest spider I have ever seen. I promptly dried myself and got out of the room, then explained to smith the size of it, and he looked sceptical until he shimmied in and peered round the door. The thing was bigger than my hand and we decide it wasn't allowed to stay rent free! Standing in the bathroom with our weapons, me a bin and Smith a broom, we had decided to knock it into the bin and chuck it outside, until I gave it further thought and didn't like the idea of holding something as small as this little bin with a potentially poisonous and disgruntled insect inside, so smith went ahead and hit it with the broom. In all honesty I'm surprised it didn't whip it out of his hands and snap it over one of it's many knees, but it scurried off shocked but unharmed under the bamboo wall.

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(our bunglow)

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The following day we got up early to watch the sun rise, it was a little cloudy so not quite as impressive as we had hoped, then later in the morning me and Smith went on a little trek along the coastline, dipping in and out of the rainforest. It was like the film 'The Beach'. The rest of the day was spent either sun bathing or playing volleyball until the sun went down behind the island.

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(you might just be able to spot a water buffalo!)

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The following day it was time for us to leave, the Germans and their motorbike buddy Tom decided that the island was too beautiful to leave behind and decide to stay on, so we begrudgingly said our fairwells to them, knowing we wouldn't see each other again until potentially the New Year due to our directions changing.

The boat trip was a little rough again, but more pleasant, and once we were back on dry land we had to wait around until the evening to be picked up to move onto our next destination Siem Reap, where the famous Angkor Wat temples are situated.

Posted by Christian25 20:03 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel cambodia sihnoukville Comments (1)

Phnom Penh - Cambodia

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Phnom Penh was the first stop in Cambodia. Cambodia is somewhere I had been really looking forward to but was also quite apprehensive. It was somewhere that in all honesty I knew relatively little about, plus it was the first place we had been advices to take our malaria tablets. Arriving in Phnom Penh at night by coach to be greeted by a small Cambodian man with Mr. Smith held over his head on a piece of paper. The hostel had kindly offered a pick up service and hilariously we all crammed onto this TukTuk and bombed though the traffic. That evening we went out for a meal after having a wonder around the night Market.

The following day we organised with a TukTuk driver who worked from the hostel to take us to the cheerfully, but honestly named Genocide Museum, then onto the Killing Fields. The Genocide Museum is located in a suburb of Phnom Penh. Before the Khmer Rouge seized power of Cambodia it was a large school, but it was converted into a prison to interrogate people who Pol Pot belived was scheming or against his regime. The fact that the Prison had been left almost exactly as it was found after the regime was overthrown was a little difficult to comprehend. Some of the makeshift cells even had spot of blood on the tiles and manacles and chains connected to the floor. In other areas were rooms where beds had been left with implements of torture. It was a particularly depressing place! In one of the building where they we exhibiting some of the items found at the prison were all of the pictures that had been taken of the inmates that had been taken to the prison. It was had to believe how recently these acts of horrendous treatment had occurred. Between 1975 and 1979 20% of the population of Cambodia lost their lives at the hands of the Khmer Rouge!

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(Just one of the many frames with pictures of the inmates tourtured in the prison)

After the Museum we headed out of the city to the Killing Fields. There were Killing fields located all over Cambodia but this was know to be the largest of it's kind. The fields are located in a rural area which actually had been used as a grave site by Chinese people living in Cambodia years before it was taken over by the Khmer Rouge. Included in the priced of the ticket was an audio guide which was fantastic at helping someone understand what they were seeing. It's a strange to say but the place was amazing peaceful and actually quite beautiful which set a strange contrast against the horrendous atrocities that happened! It's a place that needs no explanation, if anyone is more interested in what happened at the killing fields I think it's important that people learn for themselves, it's almost too difficult to put into words.

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(during the rainy season, bones and rags of cloohing that have not been retrieved yet surface from the mud!)

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(this tree was used for actions that are too terrible to explain)

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One evening we had out we made friends with some a group of Cambodians. The following day I went along with them to their house for some beers and then we met up with the guys we were travelling with for a night out which proved to be very funny, all of us dancing a progressively getting more drunk! It was really fun to mix with the locals and it gave us a taste of how friendly and hospitable some Cambodians can be!

After the horrors and joys of Phnom Penh we decided to move on to a seaside resort for a bit of relaxation. Next stop Sihnoukville!
 

Posted by Christian25 23:08 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel cambodia phnom penh Comments (1)

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)

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Ho Chi Minh is Vietnams largest city, and although in places it is quite dirty it's arguably the most modern city we visited in Vietnam. One of the most important things we wanted to achieve in our time here was to sort out our Thai visa. To enter Thailand from a land boarder only gives you a 15 day visa, and to enter by air you gain a 30 day Visa. However we wanted longer than this so decide to apply for a 60 day visa at the Thai embassy before entering. The first day was taken up getting pictures taken, buying bus tickets and changing money into U.S Dollars, which are pretty much a second currency here in South East Asia. 

The following day we decided to visit the Vietnam War Museum, in the courtyard outside the shoebox shaped building were several American military aircraft and a few tanks that were obviously captured intact. 

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The Museum is a three story building, the ground level and almost lobby area concentrates on explaining the reaction of the war around the world. There were pictures from most of the big cities all over the world of people demonstrating against American force in Vietnam. There were also examples of political propaganda from communist political parties around the world, who were against the war and in support of the communist North Vietnam.

The first floor was slightly more grim, showing the devastation of the war on the Vietnamese countryside and it's people. Explanations of the different battles or cases of war crimes committed by the Americans. In particular the use of chemical weapons that had never been tested, in particular Napalm and Chemical Defoliants (Dioxin). The people who survived Napalm attacks were left with horrendous burns and disfigurements. The Chemical defoliants were used to destroy huge areas of the forests in order to expose the enemy. However, this chemical once exposed to it, either directly or by contaminated drinking water caused a generation of children to be born after the war with terrible birth defects, this was even the case for some American and Australian soldiers who were exposed. There were examples of some of the children who had been effected by the Dioxin which was quite depressing.    

Something i found interesting about the museum was the different viewpoint that it offered of the war. As a westerner my understanding of the Vietnam war was guided by the films that depict it, however these being American Hollywood war films tend to convey an obvious pro America slant. However, the museum, while being bias understandably to the Vietnamese,  helped me understand the war without Hollywood tinted glasses. There was an interesting exhibition of war photography too, it was quite a sombre collection of work as all the photographers died during the conflict. 

Photography is not forbidden in the museum, however it seemed in bad taste to be taking pictures of the subject matter, so Ho Chi Minh wasn't much of a place for photos.

While walking back to our hotel we stopes by the central market and had a little look round. Opposite is a square where people meet to play badminton or ball games, as well as a game I have only seen in South East Asia which is played with a handmade weighted shuttlecock which you kick with your feet, the intention is to keep it off the ground between the group of you playing. While the girls talked to the Vietnamese girls, me and Smith got involved with the game which was fun.

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(an example of the busy roads and the powerlines, all of them looked like this tangled chaos!)

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The following day we decided to go to the Water Park which was a laugh, I always regress into a small child when I go to water parks and this was no exception. That evening we parted company with the Germans, we were all sorry to say goodbye, but we would meet again in Cambodia!

The following day we would be leaving our first stop in South East Asia, next stop Cambodia!!!

Posted by Christian25 07:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Central Vietnam (Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang)

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We arrived in Hue after a long bus journey through the night in pretty cramped conditions. Surprisingly we were not feeling too tired and decided to head straight out after dumping our stuff. After walking for a while and being accosted by cyclo touts (bikes with a seat at the front that tourists can be peddled around on by often poor scrawny Vietnamese men). After a while we arrived at our intended destination, The citadel, which is a huge complex built by the Nguyen Dynasty from 1805 to 1945. The citadel is also referred to as the forbidden city, but it bares only a mild resemblance to the forbidden city in Beijing. A vast amount of the citadel was destroyed during heavy bombardment during the Vietnamese American war as Hue was an important military point. I really liked the fact that it was slightly run down an that nature had taken over in places, it had a great character.
   
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After a napping we got ready and went out for some drinks at a bar just down the road, me and Smith decided to challenge two guys (Henrich and Philipp, both from Germany) to a game of pool and after talking to the guys we realised they were staying in the same dorm as us at our hostel. After further discussion we realised we were heading virtually the same direction through South East Asia. However, they had bought motorbikes in Hanoi and were doing it all on two wheels. Both of them had spent time in Ireland at a private school so their English is pretty perfect, and Henrich has even got an Irish twang which is quite amusing! 

The following day we decide we would go to the beach, which excited us all as we have been so primarily stuck in the stuffy cities. We arranged with the hostel someone to take us as it was a good 20 min drive away. We arrived at a quiet white sandy stretch of beach with only a few deck chairs and dumped our stuff and ran into the mellow surf! Although we had done the Halong Bay trip, this was our first outing to the beach and it felt, to me, quite liberating. I had been quite desperate to just sit and stare at the waves with the sand between my toes. I spent a while walking the shoreline watching green soft shelled crabs the size of tangerines scuttling at speed to avoid me and being dragged out by the surf. It was a pretty perfect day as it for-filled in a very modest way what I had pictured the coastline of South East Asia to be like, we had some Seafood from an open sided Restaurant which just tipped it off!

That evening we went out again with the Germans and a few others from the hostel, after a while we had got the whole bar virtually in on a game of Killer Pool and even the owner and his staff were getting involved, we were putting in each, 10,000 dong and after the first three rounds I had won two picking up around 200,000 an a XXL T-shirt from the owner! It was pretty amusing as it sounds like a considerable amount of money but in reality that's about £6 and a T-Shirt that is massively oversized for my small stature!

The following day we were back on the road again, heading to Hoi An, we exchanged details with Henrich and Philipp so they could meet us up again. Hoi An is closer to the coastline, but the main town an it's famous old town is still about a 20 to 25 min bike ride away. When we arrived, staying at a hotel as it's more of a resort, the room offered a luxury that we hadn't had for some time. There was cable TV, a mini bar, our own Air-con, and most importantly for Kailey a Bath (not that I'm saying she needed one!!!). Both me and Smith not being as excited about the bath left her to enjoy a soak while we took full advantage of the free bike service the hotel offered and cycled down to see what the shoreline was like! Greeted by palm trees and beyond a white sandy beach, it looked like a definite day out!

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That evening the Germans turned up and we decide to head out and grab some food and some drinks in the old town. By the day the old town is full of tourists looking round the little galleries but most famously the tailors. I expect there are famous places in India for tailors, or even Hong Kong, which we may have missed, but Hoi An is pretty ridiculous. Lot of the different groups we have made friends with and keep bumping into, including the Germans all got different clothing made, from suits, to tweed jackets, to dresses and even shoes they'll make you anything. Hoi An post office must be one of the busiest in Vietnam with all the different travellers and tourists sending packages of clothes home. We decided not to get in on all the excitement.

Hoi An apart from it's nice beach and old town us a place to relax, and in all honesty that's exactly what we did, which means I can't offer you anything massively cultural to wet your palette, but it's a lovely town to mooch around an look at all the old buildings.

The next stop heading south is Nha Trang, again a seaside town, more so resorty that Hoi An, but there to break up the journey to the last stop in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as everyone in Vietnam still calls it. Nha Trang apart from the large group of people we met and some good nights out wasn't anything to write home about. Unfortunately this seaside town experiences a freak rainy season between November and December, so the weather apart from maybe the first day was pretty poor. Staying at our hostel though was two girls, Emma and Zoe who we had been bumping onto since Hanoi. The Germans, and Three girls, Sammy, Leanne and another Emma. The first day Sammy suggested we went and experience a spa and natural hot springs, where we had a mud bath and enjoyed mucking about at the pool. That evening we all met up, had some food and headed out to experience the town by night.

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(a floating village we passed During the boat trip)

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The following day, collectively experiencing hangovers we had the wise idea to go on a boat trip. The boat took us to a few islands offering different water sports as well as the opportunity to jump off the boat, apart from the poor weather, although still warm it turned out to be a fun day. For the rest of our stay in Nha Trang, dodging showers we didn't go a great deal instead rested up before making our move on to Ho Chi Minh!

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(views of the vietnamese countryside from the coach)

Posted by Christian25 07:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hanoi

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Hanoi came as a shock initially as we stood outside the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel with out bags. It had only been a two hour plane ride and a relatively easy bus ride into Hanoi. The whole front of the hostel was opened up and the place was bustling with young westerners either checking in sweating and lugging their massive rucksacks about or people drinking and eating, with loud music booming out. I had been a little disappointed that for the first few months of our travels we had bumped  into very few fellow travellers and now there was so many people who were clearly doing the same thing in one place I couldn't work out if I liked it or not. 

We checked in and decided to come down for a beer and quickly struck up convocation with and Australia called Chris. He recommended that we went with him to a small bar round the corner which sold the local home brewed beer called 'bia hoi'. Once arriving we were greeted to a narrow cross roads with motorcycles zooming in all directions and two opposite corners packed with people sitting on little plastic stools up to mini tables drinking the local brew. It was actually very nice and we ordered several round as well as some street food and conversed about each others travels so far, later crossing over the road to sit with the Vietnamese after they ran out of beer on the primarily western side, typical westerners.

The first whole day we went and explored the city which is ruled by the motorcycle. Crossing the road becomes a game of chicken, even more so due to the fact that although a pavement exists, it isn't used for pedestrians, rather parking the mopeds or motorbikes that are not currently choking the roads! Hanoi is a maze of similar looking streets which have have shops spilling out onto the street and a sticky heat that makes you feel a little dirty, but you soon get used to it.

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We have done lots of tours and trips through China, but in Hanoi we didn't feel like doing too much but becoming comfortable with our new surroundings. However, one excursion we had repeatedly been recommended was the Halong Bay trip. It's a place that has been shortlisted for the latest list of the 7 natural wonders of the world. 

It took a four our coach ride to get to the Halong port where we picked up our boat. Once aboard we were soon treated to a delicious lunch of all different Vietnamese dishes, many of which were seafood as we cruised for and hour and a half or so to eventually moor up in Halong Bay. Once we had anchored up in the bay we were able to cool off by jumping off the top of the boat. Later on we went canoeing round the bay, exploring the caves and visiting floating fishing villages, arriving back at our boat at dusk to another tasty meal after we had showered up. The evening wasn't as picturesque as the bay and descended into some drunken antics with the guides getting us playing drinking games, the rest of the evening became a bit of a blur, probably due to the long day and all the excitement.

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To cut a long story short I woke up in high spirits, had a nice breakfast and went up on top deck to soak up the morning rays. The other boat we were moored next to was continuing the trip further into the islands, bit our boat was heading back with us and a small group of people who had decided one day would be sufficient. I'm not sure if it would have been beneficial for me to have stayed, but due to being one of the last people up the night before my condition deteriorated on the journey back to the port. Boats and four hour coaches do nothing for a hangover, especially one that starts at midday because the initial good feeling when you have woken up is because your still drunk! After such a cultural and educational trip so far it's all a bit blasphemous to be describing getting myself into a bit of a pickle, but it was a funny memory (from what I can remember) and I'm sure you can pull something cultural out of my experience! 

One of the most interesting meals we have had so far on the road was at a grubby looking restaurant, with small plastic chairs and tables. The menu gives you a choice of different plates of raw meat (we chose beef) and vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, aubergine, garlic which you then cook yourself over a hot plate on the middle of the table, it was a really fun experience and also very tasty when put in one of the fresh rolls that they offer. 

We bought from our hostel in Hanoi a bus ticket with four stops on it that can be used within a month heading south for the equivalent of about £30, you can't go wrong, next stop Hue!

Posted by Christian25 07:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged travel vietnam asia Comments (0)

Hong Kong

After a mammoth journey on the train to a city outside Hong Kong called Shenzhen we had to go through customs, which seems a little bizarre as Hong Kong is now part of China, but we followed procedures. Once that was sorted we had to travel across Hong Kong to Hong Kong Island, this turned out to be relatively pain free, apart from having to make a couple of changes with out heavy bags. I don't plan to go into the ins and outs of the hostel, but we felt a bit fobbed off as we were moved to the sister hostel across the road which was immensely basic. The conciliation was the location.

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The first full day we had we decided to engage in possibly the most cultural experience any traveller can have... DisneyLand! I don't want to pass the buck, but it certainly would be on my list of things to do anywhere in the world, but a member of the travelling party was massively excited about going, and like watching a child at Christmas this enthusiasm rubbed off on me and I got into the spirit of thing and stopped being a grump. As it turned out it wasn't as bad as I had expected it to be, but my goodness it's false, cringeworthy and desperatly American, which is even more surreal in an Asia country.

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After all that excitement I wasn't sure how we could top it. So the following day we headed off to Aberdeen, which seems like a mighty detour, but it only took about 15 mins from Central to get there. Aberdeen is still a working fishing town in Hong Kong and although we had to keep the umbrellas up, the Marina is a cool place to look around. There are Asian men in junkboats calling to you walking along the quayside to take a ride around the harbour with them. As the weather was poor we gave it a miss. Something that I was excited about in the harbour was the fact that gracefully circling and swooping were Sea Eagles. I can remember years ago watching a natural world program about their plight in Hong Kong due to it's massive and ongoing urbanisation and how they were introducing protection for them, so it was nice to see them, even if, just like us humans they have appeared to become lazy. Picking out what appeared to be scraps from the fishing boats, that's urbanisation. As far as I know they nest of the top of skyscrapers too! The fish Market at Aberdeen, ignoring the puzzled looks of the Hong Kong fishermen was interesting to peruse. I don't think many westerners go in there, I took some pictures risking being gutted and boned and laid on a bed of ice like my subjects.

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That evening we went to Happy Vally Racecourse to have a flutter on the GG's. Wednesday is night racing, and although a bit of a surreal setting of skyscrapers and flat blocks hanging over the lush green grass the atmosphere was amazing. I picked a couple of winners, but overall was a few quid down. Smith waited until the last race to break even for the evening with a good win. It was a good job really, he was getting frustrated with me an Kailey waving our winning slips in his face. I thought he was going to jump the fence and jockey a horse himself, but it was all good natured and washed down with a few beers!

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Stanley Bay is arguably the resort end of Hong Kong Island and it has a good clothes Market. We headed there on the bus enjoying the scenic trip along the coastline. Once the we got to work devising new outfits for our next leg of the journey in the much warmer conditions of south east asia. I managed to pick up a few summery items which would replace the thermals and trousers I was still hauling in my bag from the colder leg of the journey. Once back at our hostel we shed these warmer clothes from our backpacks in what felt an almost symbolic end to another leg of our journey!

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Posted by Christian25 20:37 Comments (0)

Shanghai

The mega city!

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The last hour of our 17 hour train ride from Xi'an to Shanghai I vacated my top bunk bed, in which I had slept quite well, apart from the air-conditioning giving me a sore throat, and sat down to view out of the window. It's difficult as a new person to Shanghai to say where exactly it starts, but for that hour high rise, new looking buildings, some finished and painted White or just metal and glass reflecting back the landscape was a continuous sight across the vista and their proximity to each other increased as we drew closer!

We had been informed by other travellers in china that Shanghai wasn't worth spending much time with. The place is very new and they are developing it at a blistering rate, throwing up skyscrapers over night. Much of that old china which we were able to experience in Beijing and Xi'an has gone, and if it hasn't yet I'm sure it's only a matter of time. Many if the poor living in the slums were moved out to make way. Maybe Shanghai is a microcosm of China itself, offering a view of what's to come in a nation that's developing quicker than it's feet can carry it, living for 'the now'! That aside we wanted to make our own assumptions and after all, for a vast amount of the trip already the aim of the game has been to explore the culture and amazing sights the various countries have had to offer, I was quite looking forward to this modern look China and one of the mega-cities of the modern world.

Our first day was used for relaxing after the long journey, just venturing out of the hostel to grab some noodles. The following day we woke up to heavy rain, however Shanghai is much hotter than the other cities we have been to already, so while trekking out to sort out our ticket to take us to Hong Kong we bought ourselves an Umbrella, looking for something plain wasn't really an option as they were all pretty colourful. So we all went for a different tartan number, I ran straight outside to do my singing in the rain impression drawing a few looks. That evening we went for a few drinks at the bar of the Hostel and played a bit of pool. After a while we struck up convocation with a guy who was from the U.K. who seemed ok. We had all exchanged the usual pleasantries, and after another beer or two we discover he wasn't a fellow traveller in the same sense, but in Shanghai for business. After a little more probing (if he reads this it'll appeal to his sense of humour) he disclosed that he was in Youth Advertising and wrote books on Street Culture. A lengthy convocation and a flick through one of his books which looked fascinating (he didn't pay me to say that) seemed to seal the deal and we all seemed to hit it off. 

Adam a.k.a King Adz, although he was kind enough not to insist on being addressed as King, or The King had been giving some recommended rearurants by someone who he was meeting in Shanghai for the work he's doing on his next book, as suggested we joined him. During the day the three of us headed out to see The Jing'an Temple, which bizarrely emerged as we rounded the corner like a dandy lion amongst the fence posts. Huge skyscrapers hung over it, but bizarrely these modern glass buildings which refelcted it made for a truely unique view. The temple was very much under regeneration, but it was interesting to look around and view the cities skyline that encroaches the temple from it's courtyard. We had a quick look around the shopping area which was a tad out of our league and headed for the people's square by this time sheltered under our tartan investments. 

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We met up with Adam and grabbed a beer in the bar before taking the instructions he was given and heading out to locate this restaurant, jumpin on the metro and heading to The Bund. The Bund has been home to foreign traders and major banks for many years, and is one of the fancier places in shanghai, many of the buildings have a western look to them. The restaurant was in a fancy hotel called The Hyatt and we instantly knew that it was out of our price range, Adam was maintaining though that it was the second best restaurant in china for Peking Duck, the other being in Beijing, the home of the dish, in it's sister Resturant. We ordered a whole duck to share, being warned it would take an hour to prepare, we also ordered a beef dish, some special noodles and some vegetables. The beef, unlike the other Chinese beef we had eaten tasted like diced steak and was tender and the vegetables which Adam said were cooked in liqueur tasted like spinish but was cooked to perfection and had a delicious crunch. The Duck arrived early, landing on out table after about 40 minutes. After watching it being carved in font of us with precision. We were advised to dip the skin which although oily, was crisp, in some brown sugar and pop it in your mouth, once doing so the saying 'melt in your mouth' adopted a whole new meaning! Adam, being well travelled himself via leisure, business and lifestyle, he appreciated that it wasn't somewhere we would have gone on our budget and very kindly picked up a vast amount of the bill which we were massively grateful for!

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The following day we decided to go to Shanghai Science Museum, as it was highly recommended on online reviews, it takes a few stops to get there, but it was very direct in the metro, just taking one line. There is far more there than to see in one day in all honesty. Again, in typical Chinese style some areas were under redevelopment so not open. We had arranged to meet Adam again in the evening to get some food, but somewhere a little more modest. We headed out to the bar street, where we planned to get some food and have a few beers. Not being spoilt for choice with the selection of resturants we chose luckily a very good one. We all ordered a dish, as well as some rice and noodles and shared it amongst us. The highlight of the meal for me was Adams choice of a spicy fish soup. The fish was delicious and the liquid contained nice vegetables like pok-choi, pea shoots, bamboo shoots, chillis and at the bottom of the bowl were Vermicelli noodles, I'm salivating writing about it! We went for a drink in the bar street then headed back to the Hostel bar.

Adam was doing some work with Converse and after talking to Smith had obviously realised his enthusiasm for skateboarding. He kindly got us tickets to go to a skate compotition being held at one of the largest outdoor parks in the world called SMP were we met Sebastian, a Swede who had been given the task of looking after Adam. He had been living in china on and off the the last three years. After the skate comp which was good, although very wet, we went to get some food at a restaurant out of town, which again was very nice.

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(King Adz)

The following day we said our goodbyes to Adam and Shanghai, and embarked on our 19 hour train ride to head to Hong Kong!

Posted by Christian25 01:59 Archived in China Tagged china_shanghai_travel_asia Comments (0)

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