RoundTheWorld

This blog covers our trip around the world in 2006. We will post here with news of where we are and what we've been up to. Enjoy! Ang & Jane

Monday, November 27

Location: Siem Reap
Miles Travelled: 35514
Time Zone: GMT + 7

We arrived in our hostel in Singapore pretty late, and it was only in the morning that we got a chance to see what a lovely old colonial-looking building it was. It's also set on a busy pedestrian street with a huge Mosque at one end. We got a suggested walking tour route from the girl at reception and set off for Little India to see one of her sights - the oldest temple in Singapore. What a let-down! It's just a big ugly cube of a building, painted in wine and white. And it was a really long walk!! Ah well...
After lunch we were off to Raffles to have a Singapore Sling before getting the Duck Tour around the city so we'd at least have some idea of the place. Nothing went to plan however and we spent ages looking for the Duck Tours office so we could book our tickets, so of course we didn't have time to have our Singapore Sling after all! Ah well, the Duck Tour was good fun though it didn't go to half the sights that the literature said it would and instead gave us a tour of random hotels, just for the laugh. That morning we had made one good decision and booked tickets for the Night Safari in Singapore Zoo - brilliant!! We loved it, wandering around looking for animals in their darkened pens... The tram that travels through the zoo is amazing too - there are actually animals out in the open, wandering around on the road! Afterwards we managed to get into the live animal show, which was really good too. They had some creatures arrive into the arena by scampering along a rope that was only 2 foot above our heads!! They also had a very funny sketch where one staff member acted like a complete idiot of an audience member and pretended she'd lost her friend Molly - who turned out to be a boa that was in a box under some poor people's seats!! Not us, thank God! Afterwards, we had a little time to spare and so we finally got our Singapore Sling in one of the zoo bars!

Arriving in Hanoi was crazy... We got picked up at the airport along with a Dutch couple Jasper and Sonne, but traffic was absolutely hectic and it not only took ages to get to our hostel, but we had to take a detour which meant we got a very fast introduction to normal road behaviour in Vietnam. It was then we had our first lesson in Vietnamese driving - the horn is all-important as it signals to the driver ahead of you that you intend to overtake but a) need the other driver to give more room or b) are reminding the other driver not to randomly pull across in front of you. It also signals to a driver coming towards you that you require the other driver to a) get off your side of the road, or b) pull over on their side of the road and give you more room to overtake the vehicle you are currently overtaking. Did you get that? Good. (Perhaps a practical demonstration makes things clearer faster!)
But by far the first thing you notice about Vietnamese traffic is the motorbikes! There are zillions of them!!! I'm pretty sure that's not much of an exaggeration... And they carry EVERYTHING on the backs of these things - during our time in Vietnam we saw cages of chickens, cages of pigs, entire families (5 people!!), huge piles of straw, massive mountains of polystyrene and even furniture!!
Our hostel was really a hotel and to celebrate our first night in Vietnam we popped open the bottle of sparkling wine Shelina had very kindly given us as a farewell gift from Australia and toasted the girl herself.

Our first full day in Hanoi, we went to find the Water Puppetry Theatre and meanwhile learned how to cross the road - i.e. slowly, watching the motorbikes coming towards you and allowing them time to go around you. Don't think for one minute that pedestrian crossings are any great help in these situations as they just mean that you probably have a better view of traffic - nobody stops for you, not even when the pedestrian light is green!! Lots of fun and entertainment! Near the Water Puppetry Theatre we found an absolutely lovely little temple on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake, and spent some time there admiring the building and the statues. Afterwards we booked in to the night show in the theatre and then went to see the Temple of Literature - gorgeous, gorgeous place! It had a bonsai exhibition on while we were there, and there were some amazing little trees around.
Afterwards we went to the Army Museum, which was the scariest place I've ever been to... Luckily we only had about an hour and a half there cos I think I might have been completely terrified of these lovely people if we'd stayed much longer. It is the biggest exercise in propaganda I could imagine - every exhibit detailed how many American (1960's to 70's) or French soldiers (around 1954) were killed by the exhibit. And we're not talking all guns or machetes, there were clothing exhibits with labels saying how many were killed by the hero who wore them. Outside were the remains of some US aeroplanes that had been shot down or captured during the "American War".
After booking all our trips and onward travel, we were off to the Water Puppetry Theatre for our show - very entertaining and sometimes even funny! And we bumped into Jasper and Sonne there too.
Off to Halong Bay the next morning which is a beautiful World Heritage area containing 3000 or so islands. We'd a lovely relaxing time there - visiting a floating village, many caves, kayaking to a hidden lagoon and staying on the boat overnight. We met two Irish girls, Gina and Eimear from Monaghan who have been about 2 to 4 days ahead of us ever since - very handy for accommodation and tour tips! And you'll never guess who else were on our boat - Jasper and Sonne!! We were unlikely to meet them again after the boat trip, as they were not going back to Hanoi afterwards but going north instead. It was a really good two days.
Back in Hanoi, I had one of my fabulous bouts of stupidity. We had a train to catch that night for our trip so SaPa for a bit of hill-walking and a homestay with a hill-tribe family. Long story short, I had gone off on my own and came back so late that not only did we almost miss it, but poor Jane had been climbing the walls with worry because the only reason I could possibly miss a train was that I was dead or dying. She now agrees that stupidity is another reason - but only because I swear it will never happen again! One good thing did come out of it, because Jane met 4 lovely Belgian guys (Luc, Nico, Johan and Ricky) who were also going on our train and would be in SaPa at the same time as us. Oh, and a mini-celebrity, Jerome the travelling gnome! (www.travellinggnome.net - we urge all of you to sign the petition!)

We'd a lovely guide in SaPa, an 18yr old girl of the local Black Hmoob tribe called Ya. As soon as we started on our way, we picked up two lovely little 8yr old girls called Mai and Ju who spent the day with us and made us little bracelets and garlands - which is a trade off for later in the afternoon when they try to sell you stuff and you end up feeling you have to!! We spent the night in the village of Ta Van in the home of the Omg Au (dunno how it's spelt, but that's how it sounds) family who are of the Green Zay tribe. They were in the middle of re-concreting the floor of the house, so we got a chance to see them at work. Ya made a fabulous dinner for us, and showed us how to make spring rolls - our families are going to be sick of eating them not long after we get home! We also had some really really really strong local rice wine... Vile!!
The next day we visited a waterfall on our way, then bumped into the Belgians and discovered that poor Johan had managed to try and kill himself by falling down the waterfall trying to rescue his walking pole... Luckily he didn't do too much damage - or at least he didn't admit to doing much damage! We got the bus back to Lao Cai where we had a couple of beers with a Canadian guy called Aidan while waiting for the night train to Hanoi.

Back in Hanoi, we had the free use of a hotel room so we could shower and have a nap before getting another night train, this time to Hue. For the first time we were in a 6-berth cabin, sharing with 4 older Vietnamese men. They had a great night - everything we did seemed to amuse them and even doing nothing had them in convulsions too. They were especially amused by Jane's attempts to get onto her bunk - we were in the middle row and she had to dive past her giant rucksack which was on the end of the bunk. (I have to admit, it was really funny!) But they were really nice, and got bottles of water for all of us and also our breakfasts from the staff. They even tried to get us talking to two other westerners who we glimpsed standing in the hallway outside our cabin looking out the window.
In the morning while approaching Hue and getting ready to leave the train, Jane and I went to stand in the hall, and discovered just who those two westerners were - Anne O'Toole and her boyfriend Julien!! Anne used to work with me in Traventec and left a few months after me. I always say Ireland is a small place, but I really didn't think the world was pretty small too!! Mind you, if they hadn't been in the next cabin, we may not have met!
We went for a walk to the old Forbidden City of Hue, and wandered around for ages looking at the different temples and the beautifully restored buildings, and also the many ruins. Some were destroyed during the war and some were just neglected. Later we met up with Anne and Julien for a drink in the DMZ bar, and then headed home for an early night. Next day we were joined by Anne and Julien on a dragon boat cruise to see some of the pagodas and temples that lie close to the banks of the Perfume river. We saw Thien Mu Pagoda, Hon Chen temple, the absolutely beautiful Khai Dinh Tomb and Minh Mang tomb. Afterwards we went to the market for a browse and got nabbed by a nail technician, who did a lovely job on our toes and fingernails! Later I called my cousin Michelle to wish her the best of luck on her wedding day, and also got to talk to my sisters Olivia and Mayri as they were bridesmaids. Very strange for me to miss a big family occasion, but they all had a great day and everything went well!

We had booked a tour of the De-Militarised Zone for the following morning and really didn't know what to expect as we knew very little about the war. It was a really good tour and our guide encouraged questions, which was great cos we learned so much! We now know who was on which side and what the "reasons" for the war were. We visited Hien Luong bridge on the Ben Hai river which was the border between North and South Vietnam, we walked around in the Vinh Moc tunnels which were built not for fighting (there was no fighting on the ground in North Vietnam) but for villagers to carry on with their lives while being bombed from overhead and saw Cua Tung beach. The tunnels were pretty cool, but the living spaces were tiny - about the size of the space underneath your average kitchen table. And there was one per family!

We got a bus to Hoi An that evening and discovered that our hotel had free cocktails every evening from 6.30 to 7.30, and oh look, we'd arrived on time! As some of the first to arrive we got talking to an Aussie woman called Kerrie, whose poor partner Rob was suffering from (un-diagnosed as yet) Gastroenteritis in their room. She'd met several people at cocktail hour the previous evening and so we met Sarah and Tim (a kiwi couple), Katie from Canada, and Kayleigh and Mike from England.
Hoi An is famous for its tailor shops, so late next morning we headed off to find the one that Eimear and Gina recommended. We hadn't realised how long two people could take to decide what they wanted and then what fabrics they would like, so we weren't out of there until close to dinnertime!! Then we got waylaid by a shoe girl - they make made-to-measure shoes there too - and I ordered sandals and Jane ordered knee-high boots. Somehow, after having dinner in a nearby restaurant, we managed to make it back to the hotel on time for cocktail hour - funny that!! There we met another friend of Kerrie's, Lorna, the usual bunch and also met Kerrie's Rob for the first time.

Next day we were off to My Son heritage area to see the ruins of temples in the Cham architecture. Some are almost totally destroyed but some have been restored and are really lovely. Some, like the one in the picture haven't been restored but are in great nick for their age! Afterwards we went to collect our clothes which was a total nightmare for Jane - most of mine only required some further small alterations, but I dunno if the person who made Janes could read the handwriting of the girl who wrote the measurements!! Every one of Jane's clothes needed alteration and most needed serious work!! So off we trotted for the afternoon and came back for the final fit, we thought! Mine were perfect and I could take them away with me, but for some bizarre reason they had completely overdone the required alterations on Jane's! They needed to keep them overnight to sort it out. At the shoe place, they'd made the completely wrong boot for Jane and would have to start all over again. But what a surprise, we got back to the hotel at 6.30 again - I don't know how that happened...
I hadn't intended showing off my new clothes but Kerrie wanted to see them, and Sarah was all up for modelling them for me, so we had our own little fashion parade right there by the pool! Great fun and we lasted long past the end of the free cocktails...

The next morning was Jane's final, final fitting and when we got to the shop we met Yvonne, who'd been at the fashion parade the previous night and we'd given her the directions. She was only too pleased to sit around with us as we waited for everything to be completed rather than brave all the hassling of every person in Hoi An who had something to sell... Afterwards we picked up our shoes and boots, which we were both a little disappointed with and on the way back to our hotel to await the arrival of our overnight bus to Nha Trang, we bumped into Jasper and Sonne again! We only had time for a quick chat unfortunately but it was nice to see them again.

We had a quiet first day in Nha Trang, and just booked a boat trip around the islands and booking our seats on our next bus to Saigon. We met up with Kerrie and Rob for some drinks in the Sailing Club that evening as Rob was beginning to feel better, and before leaving for the evening, gave Kerrie the details of the boat trip we were doing the following day. And yet for some reason we were still shocked when she turned up next morning! Our host for the day was called Loc, but he insisted we called him "Funky Monkey". He was actually a really funny guy and had a few words of Irish for us when making his introductory speech! We stopped at Mun Island for some snorkelling at a coral reef, then went to Bamboo Island for a huge lunch before being entertained by the Nha Trang boy band - the crew of the boat! Very funny indeed - I never thought I'd see the day when I would be dancing on a dance floor in my bikini!! The funniest part of it was that the distance from the dancefloor to the ceiling of the boat was only about 5 foot, so every one of us had bent necks or worse!! Later we had a floating bar, which was a mad contraption consisting of a metal ring around a float where the barman sat with two buckets of cocktails, and we all hung on to the metal ring while floating in rubber rings around the bar.
Afterwards we went to Tam Island where Jane did some parasailing. We'd met a lovely Vietnamese couple called Thanh and Tiffany (she lives in America) who tried some jetskiing and so Jane and Kerrie decided to give it a go too! After Tam Island we went to the aquarium which has loads of really big fish in really small tanks - not the nicest place in the world... And then we went back to the mainland. We met up with Kerrie and Rob for dinner again and we planned a trip to the mud baths for the following day. Next morning they called to our hotel and we headed off on our spa day... It was great fun, and we bumped into Thanh and Tiffany again! We spent ages in the mud, then the mineral spa, then had lunch and went for massages. I had gotten burnt on my back while snorkelling the previous day so the massage was a really bad idea - they walked up and down our spines!!! Crazy people... Bones did crack though, so I guess it must have done some good though I couldn't tell through the pain!!!

That evening we got another overnight bus, this time to Saigon. We checked into a hotel and went for breakfast - bumping into Anne and Julien again! They were off on a trip on the Mekong Delta and were off to Cambodia a couple of days later. Later I went to the market to buy some gifts for my family, and we'd another early night cos you just don't sleep very well on those overnight buses.

We went to see a Cao Dai temple north west of Saigon, which was a beautiful building and we were there on time to see their noon service which was supposed to be really colourful as different people wear different colours, but about 95% of the congregation were in white that day! Ah well... Afterwards we went to see the Cu Chi tunnels which are the ones that were used for fighting. We watched a propaganda film and many different types of traps were demonstrated to us before we descended into the tunnel. They have widened them to allow westerners access to them, but they were still really tight!! There are several exits along the route the guide brought us and as it really is quite claustrophic, only 4 managed to complete the route - Jane and I included! We were very proud, despite the dirt! Back in the city later, we bumped into Julien and Anne again, and said goodbye to them as they were off to Cambodia early the following morning.

Next day was our last in Saigon, so we spent the morning re-organising our Thailand/Laos plans, and ended up cutting Laos completely. We're disappointed but we just didn't have time to do both - so if anyone fancies financing a holiday for either of us next year, you know where'd be a good destination!! Afterwards we went to the market again so Jane could buy some gifts (and I could attempt the unlikely and find the stall I'd accidentally left something behind at the last day!). Later we went to the post office and sent home parcels - twice, in my case!!

The next day we were off on a cruise of the mekong delta, before saying goodbye to Vietnam and crossing the border into Cambodia...

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