Good Morning Vietnam!!!!!!!!!!!!

OK, so the title of this one gives our location away. We are in Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam. We’ve been travelling for just over 2 weeks and I think we’re in the swing of things now.

We arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, on 1st December to beautiful sunshine just as the weather turned bitterly cold in the UK – great timing! :-) A few days in the Thai capital just wandering around and looking at the odd temple (wat in Thai) was all the culture we wanted at that point. We’d seen a lot of the sights there on our honeymoon 8 years ago. The main event was Sat getting his hair cut in a Thai barbers shop for the princely sum of £1! (and this included a head and shoulder massage at the end too!)

This is also an opportunity to introduce Larry. Larry is a llama and he’s from Argentina. Gill and Andy brought him back for us from their honeymoon and thought he’d be a good companion on our travels. Here’s Larry enjoying a beer in Bangkok.

He could never just have the one though!

Until then we’d been uncertain which direction we’d take from Bangkok but decided a beach would be a good idea. The usual locations of Phuket and Krabi were too far south for us so we headed east to an island called Koh Chang.

We’d arrived there during the celebrations for the King of Thailand’s birthday on the 5th December. It’s a massive event and a national holiday so everyone was in high spirits and everywhere was busy. To get to the island we took a 30 minute ferry ride and at the other end jumped onto the back of a pickup truck with benches in the back (aka a taxi) for the ride to the other end of the island and the resort of Bang Bao. We’d selected one of the Lonely Planet choices to stay and had phoned ahead to make a reservation for 4 nights. Luckily they didn’t have the reservation (more on that in a minute) but they did have a little straw thatched bungalow we could stay in.

Cute on the outside but pretty basic on the inside

Cute on the outside but pretty basic on the inside

There was a pier with many souvenir shops and restaurants along it but not much else in this resort, and definitely no beach (OK so we didn’t research it well enough beforehand but we’re learning!) so after 2 nights we went back to the north of the island to the resort of White Sands, booked ourselves into a nice room and stayed there for the next 5 days.

The beach was lovely and the water great for a cooling down paddle

The beach was lovely and the water great for a cooling down paddle

Koh Chang isn’t too far from the Cambodian border so that seemed the next logical place to go when we decided it was time to move on. We did our due diligence and checked with several tour companies before we bought our tickets (that’s important to know, bear with me). So at 7.20 am we were picked up in a minibus and headed for the ferry. So far so good. When we landed on the mainland we got going but ended up at another of the ferry terminals picking up more passengers and then waiting for ages at a roadside cafe for more people. So far this has taken the best part of 3 hours and it should only have been one hour! Anyway, it’s given us the opportunity to get to know some of the other people on the bus. We chat for a long time with a Dutch couple, Ivo and Angela. They too are on a world tour. They’d packed in their jobs and were just over a week into a year long journey so we had plenty to talk about.

The bus finally gets going and stops just short of the Thai border. We’re told to disembark and enter a building where forms are handed out and we’re instructed to fill them in. It’s then we realise we’ve been on a scam bus. Basically they expect you to fill in their forms and they’ll get the visa for you but at a much inflated price. If you don’t go ahead with this, you’re stranded at the border. After a bit of a fraught altercation (there are now 8 of us standing our ground and insisting we are not paying the scammers) they burn the forms we’ve filled in (since we refuse to hand them back given they have all our personal details on them) and we get a refund of about $4 each. We all walk over the border together and fill in the same forms for a second time and pay the correct amount. It hasn’t exactly gone to plan but at least there’s a bus waiting to take us to Siem Reap which had been our original destination.

We’d already been aware of these “scam buses” but they operate from Bangkok so we didn’t think we’d be affected. Clearly we were wrong. Of the 8 of us ‘mavericks’ 6 of us decided to stay at the guest house where the bus dropped everyone off. At $8 a night it was a bargain. A little foray into town for dinner ($2 each) and a few beers seemed just reward for a stressful day!

In case you’re wondering about the $ prices, some of the countries in South East Asia operate a dual currency system so you can pay in dollars for virtually anything.

Anyway, Siem Reap has a really nice vibe to it and we spend a few days there. Our time was spent getting to know the city but more importantly, seeing the ruins at the ancient site of Angkor Wat. There are many temples built several centuries ago and are the main reason people visit Siem Reap.

Sat and I enjoying a moment of shade in one of the ruins

Sat and I enjoying a moment of shade in one of the ruins

Once we’d visited Angkor Wat we were quite keen to press on as Vietnam was high on our priority list of places we really wanted to visit. Another 6 hour bus journey to Phnom Penh would enable us to get our visa for Vietnam quickly. Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and although it has a riverside location, it just didn’t grab me like Siem Reap did. However we did visit the Killing Fields and the interrogation centre/prison of S21 where many of the atrocities and murders took place during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The stories of what happened are truly horrific and it’s hard to understand why the west didn’t intervene when mass genocide was happening. At least some of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge are now being prosecuted but for many it’s too little too late.

A trip to the National Museum sealed our visit to Phnom Penh and with Vietnamese visas in hand, we boarded yet another bus for yet another 6 hour journey to Ho Chi Minh City. And here we are. We arrived yesterday and did the customary arrival ritual of lunch and a beer! $5 total for the 2 of us! The food is excellent, far tastier than the blandness in Cambodia. They know how to use chillies to good effect here!

This morning we went for our first run since leaving the UK. There’s a park just across the road from where we’re staying and it was full of people exercising – many doing martial arts or T’ai Chi and things like that. And most of them were between the ages of 60 and 80.

Lunch today was at a place called Pho 2000 (pho means noodles) and it’s famous because Bill Clinton ate there in 2000. There are pictures of his visit all over the walls. The food was superb, particularly the Vietnamese spring rolls. Think we’ll be going there again while we’re here.

So that’s the story so far. It’s likely we’ll stay here until Christmas as we hope there’ll be a nice atmosphere here. We sat in a cafe this morning by the river drinking coconut juice and listening to traditional Christmas carols sung in Vietnamese! It’s hard to feel Christmassy when it’s so hot. Especially when you know the UK has ground to a halt because it’s snowing.

Vietnam celebrates 65 years of communism on the 22nd and there are festivities and events being organised for that. Should be interesting to be around for that.

If we have any readers left, then we wish you a wonderful Christmas and a very happy and healthy 2010.

Lots of love

Jo & Sat

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