Chilling in Nam

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
1
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Trip End Aug 16, 2006


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Saturday, July 1, 2006

Hey everyone,

So we're well underway on our Southeast Asia section of the travels. We flew into Bangkok to be greeted by intense heat and humidity, definately the hottest place so far. The town was in complete chaos (even though it is usally pretty chaotic anyway), since it was the King's 60th aniversary and everyone in Thailand absolutely adores him. Everybody dresses in yellow since that's his favourite colour and we went to the riverfront one day to watch his barge going past. From the photo you can just see a sea of yellow on either side of the river, it was pretty spectacular. World cup fever has most definately hit this part of the world and whenever we tell locals we're English they always talk about how good England are, although I am normally pretty pessimistic after the way they've played so far (1-0 to Ecuador, I mean, come on!!). Apparently, so we we're told by our guide in Cambodia, the crime rate goes up during the world cup since people tend to bet their houses and cars on games and then are forced to steal when they lose it all!
So anyway, back to the travels, we spent about 3 days in Bangkok, mostly basking in the cheapness of it all, buying additional T-shirts as we seem to go through about 2 a day here due to profuse sweating. You can pretty much buy anything for cheap here although most things are copies of originals, (lets have no mention of ladyboys!!). Since we would be coming back to Bangkok at the end of the trip we moved on pretty fast to Cambodia and the town of Siem Reap after a gruelling 8 hour bus ride along the worst road in the world, through a torrential thunderstorm, half of which was spent towing another bus which had broken down the day before. That said the journey was actually alot of fun as there were some cool people on the bus and we spent the time listening to eachothers music collections and singing along to the guitar. Once at Siem Reap we booked onto a 3 day tour of the temples around Angkor which for those who don't know (duh!!) used to be the capital of Cambodia about 500 years ago. It is now a massive collection of temples dotted around the jungle, some of which are home to very aggressive monkeys (one girl we spoke to got attacked and had to go and have a rabies jab!). The temples themselves were absolutely stunning and one of the sightseeing highlights of the trip (I would even say better than Macchu Pichu). Our tuk-tuk driver was training to be a guide of the temples so was always wanting to practice his english on us to tell us what went on at each one, although we only understood about 20% of what he said.
- a quick aside on transport and roads in Southeast Asia - due to the poor economies of the countries most people can't afford cars so motorbikes are the most common form of transport. In most cities instead of getting a taxi you can either take a 'luxurious' tuk-tuk (basically a motorbike attached to a little carriage with enough space for 2 people, although we managed 5 on one night), or a hair-raising moto-taxi which is just a motorbike with an extended seat which can just about fit 3 people (have seen families of 5 on one bike though!). The rules of the road are not especially well defined and particularly in Vietnam you often see people driving on the wrong side or cutting straight into oncoming traffic on a busy crossroads. Lastly, since there are very few pedestrian crossings here, there is a certain technique to crossing the road. This is explained in detail in the Lonely Planet and essentially involves waiting till there are not too many bikes coming and stepping out purposefully into the traffic. The two main rules are then not to change the speed of walking and never to stop, the idea being that the motorbikes will get out of your way and not you out of their way. In practice this sounds easy, but sometimes nerves of steel are needed to keep walking when you have 5 bikes coming towards you that don't seem willing to swerve around.
Anyways, to get back to the point. We headed from Siem Reap down to the capital Pnom Penh after around 4 days and were immensely grateful to have a Tuk-Tuk driver meet us at the bus stop displaying a card with our names on from some friends staying at a hotel in town. This avoided us the pain of having to negotiate our way through the crowd of drivers all trying to take you to their friend's hotel. The hotel our friends were at was pretty grotty but had a nice chilled out vibe and jetty on the terrace which had a boat moored on it where you could go sit and relax after coming back from the pubs. The town itself was not particularly exciting and it was recommended not to stray from the backpacker area after dark as muggings at gunpoint were reasonably common. We had one sombre day visiting the killing fields and S21 prison where thousands of Cambodians were tortured and killed under the regime of Pol Pot. It was worth doing but was probably one of the most shocking things I have ever seen, especially the case containing over 8000 human skulls dug up from mass graves at the killing fields.
After Pnom Penh, we skipped over to Vietnam and the main southern town Ho Chi Minh city (although all the locals still call it by its original name 'Saigon'). Vietnam was not what I expected, much more modern than anticipated especially since it is much cheaper than Cambodia even though the economy is stronger! It so far holds the record for cheapest beer on the trip coming in at about 22p a litre, although its not the tastiest stuff in the world. The food is however very good, on a par with the amazing curries of thailand and far better than what we tasted in Cambodia. We spent a few days in Saigon and visisted the tunnels used by the vietcong during the war and the war remnants museum, another sombre affair but very interesting at the same time. We then took a 2 day mekhong river tour on the advice of some friends we'd met in Cambodia. To sum up the tour in one word would be 'rubbish', it was like being shepherded around sites that were so uniteresting, Nick almost managed to fall asleep standing up! After that negative, we decided to get out of Saigon and head up coast to Nha Trang (Vietnam's main beach town) which is where I am writing this from. It's not the most exciting place in the world, although we have booked on a one day island tour tomorrow which by all accounts is supposed to be lots of fun (those accounts are not from the same friends who advised us to go on the Mekhong tour!!). After that we will move up to Hoi an about which we've also heard great things. Its sposed to be reasonably pricy and since we are currently budgeting at about 5 pounds a day, (note to potentially worried mums, it's actually quite easy to live on 5 pounds here as long as you don't go mad and spend 2 pounds on a meal because its still 'really cheap') we may be stretched to stay there too long, or just end up eating big bowls of steamed rice with sweet chilli sauce!
So that's been my and Nick's life for the past few weeks since leaving Japan. Good luck to England tonight against Portugal, although I'm not holding out too much hope! I've got lots of photos to upload but will wait till I get a faster connection as it'll take hours here. Hope everyone's well and having fun on their respective holidays.

Ta-ra for now

James
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