Archive for May, 2015

Vietnam 10

Posted in Uncategorized on May 23, 2015 by David Palmer

We had a very late breakfast and surprisingly were the only ones there. Mary, one of the waitresses took pity on us and talked to us in halting English to the point where it got slightly annoying. Eventually she got on with her tasks and we finished our meal and returned to our room to finish packing. We had planned on a walk to Saigon Zoo and despite the withering humidity it only took around 15 minutes to walk the short distance there. Pretty soon after checking out the giraffes and rhinos we stopped for cooling ice creams and then after ogling several more species we stopped at length for ice filled drinks, before completing our circumnavigation of the site. It is a Zoo of the old style, cramped quarters for the animals and a seeming lack of understanding of animal welfare. As in the UK, the zoo was also playing host to many school parties, though that is where the comparison ends. There appeared to be no one in charge, we couldn’t spot any teachers. There was no structure to their activities and no apparent learning going on, other than finding out that if you squirt water at the animals they react.

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We returned to the hotel to check out by 2pm. We settled the bill and then had our luggage put into storage for our flight that night. We met Ron and Jenny who informed us that the airline wanted us at the airport for 10pm, as this was the time of our pick-up we got Reception to contact the transfer company and change our time to 9pm. Afterwards we then set off on a slightly longer walk to the Reunification Palace. It didn’t appear to be quite as humid and the journey there was slightly more pleasant.
The palace is where the Vietnamese President surrendered to the Vietcong after the Americans pulled out and refused to support his regime anymore. We remembered from newsreels at the time the helicopters leaving the roof of the palace as they were fired upon. Not surprisingly to mark this event, today they had a Huey parked in the same spot on the roof.
We had a look in all the state rooms, thoughtfully renovated to how they were in the 70’s. A North Vietnamese pilot had infiltrated the South Vietnamese Airforce and flew one of the American’s F4e fighter planes and bombed the palace, hence the need for the renovation. Again, thoughtfully that plane now sits in the gardens alongside the palace.
We descended into the bowls of the palace to experience the ‘Bunker’, this is where the Americans directed the war effort and the Vietnamese President stayed during the finals stages of the war. It was still packed with 1970’s Hit-tech equipment, how dated it seemed now. The building is occasionally used for ‘Party’ functions but no longer for state business, though I think I read that you could get married there.

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On our return to the hotel we attempted to visit the Cathedral but it was after 4pm and it was closed to tourists. No doubt if the Pope had been holidaying they may have made an exception. Across the road was the post office, they did let people in after 4pm, so we entered. A beautiful building, looking freshly painted and still operating as a central post office. We witnessed people posting parcels, buying stamps and collecting and filling in all sorts of government forms. Yes, it was nearly exciting.

We found a Thai restaurant called Tuctuc to eat. As expected the food was very good and while waiting for the meal to arrive we Skyped Sarah. She was taking Mia for a walk at the time so we rang back 5 minutes later when she had got home and had a chat. It is her birthday tomorrow and she was putting on a BBQ for the family, luckily Sue and I are presently accustomed to eating out.
Arriving back at the hotel we visited the toilets then set off to visit the harbour just down the street. It was now dark and crossing the very busy roads was extremely hazardous. You need 360 vision at all times and also remember that standing on the pavement does not make you safe from mopeds. When (with difficulty) we did manage to reach the river bank we joined the many other romantic couples sat on the benches that lined the promenade and watched the lights of boats pass by and the occasional fish jump as if to say hello. We switched benches a couple of times to enjoy the view then set off back to the hotel.

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Arriving rather weary, we got our luggage out of storage, found the room we had been given to have a shower and sorted ourselves out for the journey home. Sue had been previously complaining that her legs were itching and when she inspected them they were quite blotchy and she had what appeared to be a small bite mark on her thigh. While we waited for our transfer to the airport we sat in the bar and had drinks. The driver arrived at 8.45pm and we were off.
Though the airport concourse seemed packed; we had checked in, passed through immigration and were sat in our departure lounge pretty quickly. They were showing Iron Man 3 on the screen near the gate and we watched this in its entirety. I had another look at Sue’s ankles and the blotchiness had got profoundly red, they didn’t look very good. The flight left 10 minutes late on a 12 hour 40 minute flight. We both managed to get some sleep on the flight but I found it difficult to get comfortable, though we did have a spare seat between us.Passport control and baggage collection went without a hitch and though we just missed the Hotel Hoppa Bus by seconds and had a 30 minute wait for the next, we soon had our luggage in the boot of the Fiesta and were pounding the tarmac of the M25 on the journey home. Jamie was in the garage working on his car when we arrived and was pleased to see us back.
Checking Sue’s legs there had been no improvement so after a coffee I took her to the Cottage Hospital to get them checked out. Unfortunately, it being a Bank Holiday weekend there was only nurses on duty and the one we saw wanted a doctor to check Sue out, We decided on the Leicester Royal as Sarah was having a family BBQ to celebrate her birthday and she lives just 10 minutes away from the Royal. We set off after Sue had hung the washing on the line that she had thrown into the washing machine within minutes of arriving home.
I dropped her off outside Accident and Emergency and then continued on to Sarah’s. I had to wait n the car for half an hour as they were returning from Bradgate Park. While the Rothwells and Jamie arrived and the BBQ was prepared I kept checking on what was happening with Sue. She was there for three hours before I got a text to pick her up. They were unsure as to what she had got, but the blood and urine tests were clear and whatever it was, wasn’t infectious. They even tested for Malaria. She has to see her own GP on Tuesday, but to ring the hospital if a fever develops. We both think it is a heat rash, as yesterday was extremely hot and humid and we did a lot of walking during the day. Fingers crossed we are right.

Vietnam 9

Posted in Uncategorized on May 21, 2015 by David Palmer

We had a lie in! The alarm on my mobile actually went off for the first time since being away without me waking up before-hand and turning it off. Another first was Sue beating me to the bathroom! Breakfasted at 7.54pm and spotted Ron and Jenny having theirs. Last night they had booked the same trip as ourselves today.
After, returning to the room to pack for a hot, sweaty day: water, towel, hat, suncream, spare T-shirt and sunglasses, we met Ron Na Jenny already waiting in the Reception. We were soon greeted by the same guide as yesterday as in the same mini-van picking up six more fellow tourists at other nearby hotels.
The journey to the Mekong Delta took around two hours with a brief stop at a Buddhists Temple for photographs and a look around. The grounds and building were very pretty and in excellent condition, but it has been quite a few years since Sue and I got excited about Temples and Pagodas, unless they happen to be the biggest or have some other attraction. This one wasn’t.
After leaving the bus we boarded a small boat to cross the river to the opposite bank to visit a village and be entertained by watching how the locals made absolutely everything from the coconut palm. We witnessed how they made coconut candy, sampled the product and Sue bought some. We were walking through nice shady fruit orchards and later sampled all the fruit that was abundant in the area. The only one we have never tried, but have often seen, is the Jack fruit. Strange texture, but not unpleasant taste.

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We were next treated to a horse-cart ride through the village. I felt very sorry for our little horse pulling five people and the cart. All the drivers were heavily clothed local women and ours seemed to enjoy tugging on the reins to encourage the horse to keep up a trot. I noticed the other horses weren’t treated similarly. I apologise to the little horse when we arrived at our destination and frowned at its driver. We were then treated to honey tea and shown some bees followed by a local band of musicians playing Mekong Folk songs accompanied by three wailing banshees. Not my cup of tea.

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We boarded a different boat and sailed to a small inhabited island in the centre of the river. There we had lunch, with the main dish being Elephant Eared fish. We shared the table with a couple of business men from Madras and chatted through the many courses about family and India.

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After a little walk along a path and through some pretty gardens, a scamper across a rickety bamboo bridge (not sure why) and a look at some fairly large crocodiles (seen much bigger) we boarded small sampans rowed by some local women. It’s the women that seem to do all the work around here. This was my favourite part of the day. We were rowed along what I guess was a small canal that was so pretty and cool. The foliage bent over us to give shade from the rather fierce sun and we saw the very unusual water coconut (never heard of it before) and some local geese who I held a conversation with. All too soon we had to get out of our little craft and board the first boat of the day and return across the river to our bus.

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The two-hour return journey was only notable for a brief storm, halfway back to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Sue slept most of the way. We spent the next couple of hours  back in our room, drinking coffee and relaxing. Sue fell asleep and woke with a headache so we watched TV in the room until bedtime. It has been a rather long day.

Vietnam 8

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2015 by David Palmer

Breakfasted at 6.45am and met by our guide as we left the elevator at 7.50am. For the first time we have company on our excursion, a Portuguese couple who presently live in London, one a doctor and the other an engineer. it is their last day in Vietnam and they fly back to the UK tomorrow.
Today we are going to the Cu Chi Tunnels. These are the underground labyrinth of tunnels, three levels deep and over 250km in length, that the Vietcong lived in and fought from. The tunnels even extended underneath the American Base nearby. The journey took around an hour and a half, through the usual impossible traffic and our guide kept us occupied with facts and stories about the tunnels and Vietcong, finishing with a black and white video that painted a rather one-sided view of the war on a drop down video screen in the mini-bus.
Upon arriving we were straight into the forest. The humidity was overpowering and the noise from the insects in the trees was deafening. We were careful to not step on the many huge millipedes randomly traversing the track we were following. W stopped at one of the entrances to the tunnels and couldn’t find it. The guide of course lifted up the cover and there it was, very small and impossible to see unless you knew about the bent twig on the tree to the side. And, we would have probably stepped on a landmine sited next to it if we didn’t know about the three tine pieces of bark sat on top of each other to its left. I had a go getting into the entrance (for photographic purposes) and just manged it, though getting back out was considerably more difficult. They were built that size to prevent the larger Americans going down.

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We were then treated to a demonstration of the many booby trap devices employed against the GI’s. Not nice to think about falling into them and they were not always meant to be lethal. A little later on after seeing how the Vietcong lived and worked in the tunnels. There was as many as 8000 living there, only coming our at night to relax or attack the enemy. There was a hospital, kitchens, laundry etc. all down there to make it a little underground town. Amazing, especially if you see the size of the tunnels and rooms. They even melted down the shrapnel from the bombs dropped on them to make the barbs for the booby traps as well making their own versions of landmines from unexploded bombs.

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The highlight was going through the tunnels. What a squeeze! It was fortunate that none of our group were on the large size or someone would have got stuck. As it was, because of Sue’s broken wrist, she hasn’t the strength in her left hand yet, in one underground section where we had to squeeze around a bend and then over a ledge she couldn’t pull herself through. Luckily, I was at the back of the group and behind her, so a gentle push managed to get her eased up into the next section. She didn’t complain about being man-handled!

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Afterwards we had a Vietcong meal. Tapioca root and tea, the root had been boiled for half an hour and to make it tasty we had a small bowl of spices, otherwise it didn’t have much taste, though was palatable. Our guide mentioned that after the war he was arrested when he tried to escape the country as one of the ‘Boat People’, he spent 6 months in a Hanoi prison and had nothing but Tapioca to eat, so it brought back memories for him.
Passing through the shop on exit, I bought a trinket before we returned to Saigon and a much-needed shower and change of clothes. As before, we didn’t bother with lunch as it was too hot to eat.
The afternoon was spent on a walk to the ‘War Remnants Museum’. Very moving. The museum is set on three floors and throughout all the rooms, people were silent as they looked at the exhibits and the many photographs outlining the Vietnam War. I noticed on our journey through the horrors that the Americans unleashed on the local population, particularly the ‘Mei Lei Massacre’ and the effects of ‘Agent Orange’, some had tears in their eyes. A very sobering place to visit.

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We returned to the hotel to shower again and change in readiness for the evening meal and show at the Opera house.
Dressed in our glad rags we set off to find a restaurant and eat before the performance. There are so many options around our hotel that it can be quite difficult to choose. While reading the menu outside one establishment we were persuaded to enter the premises up some stairs. On entering we could see that it was quite small with just five empty tables. Not a good sign I thought. In the corner was a middle-aged woman strumming a guitar and the menu when presented didn’t seem as expansive as we first thought. We smiled weakly at each other and decided to ‘tough it out’. The main constituents in the menu appeared to be based on spring rolls with a few soups and some rice dishes. I ordered the crab and prawn soup with Hue Style spring rolls, Sue chose shrimp and crab rice.
Whilst waiting, the guitarist brought us some rather tasty flat bread and I had noticed that on one wall was a collection of cups and shields and a few appeared to be for golf. Asking whether they were for golf she said yes. Asking if a member of her family had won them, she said yes again and that they were hers. That started up a conversation. She is on the amateur circuit and has played in tournaments in Australia and the UK, Gleneagles was mentioned. She then told us that Vietnam only had one professional player and that was her son, showing us an article in a well known Golfing magazine. He is presently sponsored by Glenmorangie. And tonight he was cooking our meal! When the food arrived Sue and I both agreed it was superb. Soon after we had settled into our seats, the word had obviously got around that it was now the ‘in’ place to dine, and it quickly filled up. As the golfing chef was obviously busy cheffing, my earlier thoughts on thanking the guy personally didn’t seem appropriate, so after finishing the pot of tea with ginger that came with the meal, we thanked his mother and left.
We were an hour early for the show so we sat in th auditorium with a glass of wine. You could tell the Vietnamese don’t do sophistication  like what we does, cos the barman offered me potato chips to go with my drink, obviously to improve the taste. After the first sip, he did have a point!
The show started on time and our 2nd row upgraded seats ( I kid you not, it is stamped on the tickets) afforded us a brilliant view of the stage. We have seen quite a few shows out in the Far East and they have all been superb. This was no exception, but I add the phrase, quirky. It was a mixture of story telling done with acrobatics, movement and song. At times it was tearfully funny and at others tearfully sensitive. It would be unkind to try and find superlatives to describe the show as the choreography, timing and skill displayed has to be seen and not hinted at. It is called the AO Show, Saigon, Vietnam. If I can find them on You Tube it will appear here: AO SHOW, SAIGON

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Returning to the hotel it was cocktails and beer in the bar and then to bed as tomorrow we sail the Mekong.

Cambodia 4

Posted in Uncategorized on May 19, 2015 by David Palmer

Late into breakfast at 7.15am. No Asian nonsense consumed this morning, good old British fayre, though the French did get a look in with their toast.
The rest of the morning was taken up with last-minute adjustments of the baggage, a shower and laying on the bed watching the National Geographic channel. What Sue doesn’t know about dangerous creatures isn’t worth knowing or is just plain tame. I did need a new lock for my case as the one on it had disappeared during the last flight. I found one across the road at what I guess was the Cambodian equivalent of an iron mongers. I thought it might have been a problem seeking such a small lock, but not so. I pointed to a large one on the rack and indicated smaller, and as progressively smaller and smaller ones were presented, we eventually  came to the one I wanted. Cost 25c and much better than the one it is replacing, though the box says it’s made in China, it certainly is more solid.
Pick-up time was 1.30pm and we were at reception to pay the bill for 12.50pm. embarrassingly, I had worked the bill to be around $350 – $360 taking into account the cars, guides, meals, drinks etc. we had. And, when perusing the list of items on the bill (with my glasses for accuracy), they did indeed appear to add up to that amount. However, the reception staff insisted that the total to pay was $150. We pointed out their error, to which they brought out our signed slips and insisted on $150. Showing them the list of items on the bill and insisting they were wrong, got us nowhere. They had a look of panic on their faces , so we relieved their agony and gave them $150 and they smiled. Our driver turned up at that moment so we left feeling rather awkward and with fingers crossed that security would not arrest us at the airport.
Luckily they didn’t and in quick time we were sat in departures idling our time away. Sue bought some more trinkets in the duty-free and I tiddled about on Facebook, then bought a hotdog, which apart from the mustard was mock plastic. Ron and Jenny arrived and we chatted to them for a while before boarding the plane. The flight lasted less than an hour and then as usual we were through immigration and picking our bags off the belt first. The driver was there with my name plate and we set of on the half hour journey to the Paragon Hotel in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. The journey can only be described as scene from Mario Kart, speeding weaving vehicles of all descriptions ignoring all courtesies to other road users and continually sounding their horns. There was no right or wrong way to proceed down a road or pavement, white lines are just for decoration and traffic lights are there to add colour. we set off 10 minutes before Ron and Jenny and arrived 10 minutes after. Probably because our driver was a fraction more careful than usual due to Sue ‘umming’ and ‘ahhhing’ at the near misses through out our route.
We got there. Surprise, surprise we had been upgraded to an executive room on the top floor! I do like the Orientals. And to cap it all, we have a corner room with absolutely stunning views over the city, especially at night. I knew that sack of rice we bought was a good investment.

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We had picked up some leaflets on trips in the Foye and after a brief read in the room we returned to Reception and booked a couple of trips with the Concierge, before returning to our Executive Suite for coffee.
Refreshed we set off to explore. Sue had been talking to one of the many friendly staff and after a recommendation she was determined to see the Opera House, which we found quite easily. Standing outside and taking photos, a very polite young lady asked if we wanted tickets. We inquired as to what was on and she showed us a video of the performance entitled ‘A Unique Way to Experience Vietnamese Culture’. It looked very good so we booked two tickets, amazingly on the front row, as she checked on-line  for availability of seats they magically appeared, having been returned. Can we do no wrong?

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Feeling lucky we set off in search of the Night Market, but after discovering it, they appeared to be packing up for the night, so we planned to find a restaurant and then return to the hotel. However, early on in our wanderings we had come across a statue of Ho Chi Minh, and we had been told that today was his birthday. People appeared to be preparing for something or other. Returning to the statue we found a place to eat that had aircon and replenished our rapidly diminishing strength with eastern grub. Whilst eating we noted a lot of activity going on outside.
The whole street and area had magically changed in around 45 minutes or so. Stages had been erected, sound systems put in place and hundreds of performers were going through their paces. The street wa around a mile long, and it had been divided roughly into 5 sections, each with a stage and a theme . Military music was being played on the first, the second had rhythmic dancers, the third was folk music and dancing, the fourth was traditional music that turned into rock music, the fifth was pop music with I suppose well known Vietnamese artists performing. There was also plays going on,  We dallied long at the last two and not very long at the others. The acts did between 3 to 4 numbers and then they would change. All were very good, but interpretation was lost on ourselves. However,  5 players using traditional instruments wand a singer began to play a pleasant catchy, obviously well known folk ditty, as gauged by the crowds reaction. However they transformed the piece into one of the most superb eerie rock songs you are ever likely to hear with the drummer (a lady who bashed a string of wooden rods hanging like a hammock) doing a solo that surpassed any that Ginger Baker has ever played.  Marvellous, what a shame they played one more song before making way for Vietnam’s equivalence of The Spice Girls. The Vietnamese certainly know how to celebrate a dead leaders birthday, I look forward to David Cameron’s.

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Returning to the hotel we paused at length in the bar for beer and cocktails before retiring. Or, were they mocktails?

Cambodia 3

Posted in Uncategorized on May 19, 2015 by David Palmer

We met our driver for the day at 8 am, after having another full breakfast and a good nights sleep. Today we were planning on visiting Tonle Sap, which is Cambodia’s largest lake. At present it is the dry season, great for visiting Temples but probably not for visiting any water feature. We had been informed that the lake was at present just a fraction of its normal Rainy Season capacity, but as we thought we had seen the best of the myriad of temples in the area we wanted a change. Quad biking was out as the children weren’t with us and waterfall bashing was out as the children weren’t with us, so a dried up lake bed seemed attractive.
It was a half hour drive along bumpy roads into the countryside, passing a few hot and uncomfortable tourists in their rattling tuctucs. The comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle is the preferred mode of transport at our age, we have sweated, choked and bounced in tuctucs in the past and that’s where they will remain, a memory.
We stopped briefly on route for our driver to buy our boat tickets before arriving at the riverside quay where we were to board. We could see that across the river there was quite some major development work going on. A large marina and a surrounding of plush villas seemed to be in the planning. In the near future the many straw huts and little shops and restaurants that were dotted along our bank, I guess will eventually make way for the developers too.

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As with our mode of transport from the city we were the only passengers on our boat. We had a crew of 3 and life jackets, but we shunned the latter as these were more comfortable to sit on rather than the cane seats on offer. One of the crew spoke decent English so there would be someone to understand our cries for help in a sinking.
The lake was 3 km up the river and we set off rather gingerly, being passed at speed by local, slimmer craft that were obviously going somewhere in a hurry. There was other tourists on the river, some caught us up and others that had got up earlier than ourselves were making their return. The water was a muddy brown and according to our guide, 8m below its peak flood level, as evidence he pointed to the water marks on pylons that we occasionally passed along the bank. Grounding was a constant worry to the pilot as the river was only around a metre deep, as demonstrated by our guide, this time plunging an oar into the water and pointing to the mud dredged up. Still, the fishermen were still going about their work and spinning their cast nets into the shallows. They seemed to be catching fish, after wading to the shore just a few steps aways they could be seen pulling little fish from the entanglements.

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When we eventually entered the lake the water was a muddy green, though had no smell. We could see in the distance, structures that eventually turned out to be little villages of rather basic house boats anchored in this now radically reduced body of water. Yet the lake just stretched out beyond the horizon. It was explained to us that the villages moved six times during the year. In the rainy season they anchored their homes to the tops of the trees that were flooded by the expanding lake. At this time of year they drove dozens of poles into the mud, much like a stooks of corn and tied onto these. Shops, churches and schools etc. all floating were to be seen as we chugged our way long.

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It was explained to us that the schools were supported by the locals themselves and that some of the orphaned children lived and slept there. Not surprisingly many would die from drowning or water borne disease. It was explained we could help them by buying some rice to help feed them, so we did. We chugged over to a village and bought a sack of rice for $30, and then chugged our way over to the school where our guide had been educated and we handed our rice over to the cooks who were busy preparing a meal of rice and fish for the children at the stern/back of the building. We were given a bowl of fish by the women for ourselves, though tasty, it was chewy and probably made from dry rather than fresh fish. We nibbled a bit and returned the bowls, thinking of the children.

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There was four classrooms in the school, separated into two platforms. the teachers were volunteers and none of them spoke English. Each class had a vey wide mix of ages and I guess inclusion in a class was dependent on ability rather than age. We looked in their books and the writing they contained, even by the 5 year olds was brilliant. However, the only teaching seen to be going on was copying text from the white board. The children were lovely, smiling and despite an obvious lack of interesting things going on in their education, were attentive. We came across a class of children with no teacher, they were quietly waiting for something. I couldn’t resist it. Opening the teacher’s desk I got out a board maker, but it didn’t work. A child helped me out by finding one that did. So for a while I attempted to teach some English to the class. Some of them had a smattering of phonics as they tried to interpret my writing. I would have loved to stay longer, but the OFSTED boat could be seen making waves towards us and we left.

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Next stop was a floating crocodile farm where the locals sold the meat and dried their skins. Sue tried on a blouse in the small shop while upstairs I took photos of the lake and buildings. As we sat on the boat ready to leave, our guide politely asked if we would help out some tourists who were in trouble. No, we were not going to buy another sack of rice, but their boat had broken down and they had no way of getting back. We let them accompany us back to the river quay. They were a family of four from the Philippines and very grateful to be rescued. We passed their broken boat on the way back and a rather sad-looking skipper who was pushing it long, in the metre deep lake.

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Back on land, Sue bought another trinket in one of the local huts, they foolishly tried to short change her and obviously didn’t know Sue Afterwards, we found a restaurant to have drinks and met our driver and asked him to take us to a nice restaurant where we could eat. Half an hour later we were seated and dining in a more sophisticated environment.
We instructed our driver next to take us to the National Museum in Siem Reap, principally because it was getting very hot, and it was the one museum that had air-con. Half an hour later we were suitably cool and our minds being expanded by the history and culture of Cambodia. We spent an hour and half wandering through the various rooms looking at the exhibits before finding our driver asleep at the entrance. It was raining outside. When we got back to the hotel there was a full blown thunderstorm rattling around the sky.

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After the rain had stopped we had a brief walk down one of the side streets next to the hotel to explore the locality, but it was quite unimpressive from a tourists point of interest, so we returned and had our evening meal in the bar. Afterwards we sat with a couple from Cardiff who had just flown in from Ho Chi Minh City and picked their brains on what to expect and to do. Being Welsh, the conversation centred on the noble game of rugby for quite a while before we moved on to other issues of less importance. It was nearly 11pm before we returned to our room.

Cambodia 2

Posted in Uncategorized on May 17, 2015 by David Palmer

Breakfast of curry today, and went down well. In full daylight we now understood why our room seemed so large and also such a plush balcony, we had been upgraded again, to one of the best suites on the top floor. I find that Asians are a good judge of social standing.
We had booked a car and a guide to escort us around the temples today, so we were up early, showered, dressed and eaten in readiness for 8am. There was a minor hiccup when a guide introduced himself, but later it became evident that he was  someone elses when ours turned up. Our car turned ut to be a mini-van, I had stipulated aircon and it was lovely and chilly when we took our seats.
Lots of presumptions about Angkor Wat were dispelled today. Our guide was very good and his English and knowledge was spot on. The area around Siem Reap is riddled with many, many temple complexes. Most of them are huge, and measured in sq kilometres! Angkor Wat was the first and most well known that we visited, and is as impressive as its reputation. It is surrounded by a huge moat, making any photo picturesque. To discover the site took us 3 hours and if the temperature hade been more reasonable we could have spent all day there. The next temple was not quite as large but equally impressive. To reach it we drove on for another fifteen minutes passing a variety of temples and complexes of differing sizes and dilapidation.

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It was pointed out to us that a lot of renovation is being done on most of the temples. France, China, Japan, Germany etc. have all bagged one or more and funding their rebuilding. The UK is sponsoring none.
The second temple took just over and hour to wander from the East Gate to the West Gate and from there we gratefully glided into the carpark of an air-conditioned restaurant. The guide suggested my meal and what a good choice, it was quite like a Thai Green curry but served in a fresh coconut and a perfect compliment to the icy beer that soon followed it. Sue stuck with the tried and tested sweet and sour chicken stir fry with rice.

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While we waited for our driver we chatted to three young Cambodian girls who tried to sell us trinkets. One of them had near perfect English at the age of 9yrs. I informed them that there was posters inside the restaurant telling diners not to buy trinkets from children, only grown-ups.
We visited two temples in the afternoon, The first being in a scene from ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, a film our guide had seen many times and is presently in the throws of being renovated (by the French), though the twisted snake like tree roots as seen in many documentaries and magazines are being left in situ. We photographed Angelina Jolie’s tree and saw all the little holes in the centre room of the temple that once held hundreds of huge precious gems. Long since disappeared.

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Our final temple contained many faces and was impressive because of the carvings depicting battle scenes and life of the various cultures that occupied the site over the centuries. All the complexes at one time or another changed from being Buddhist or Hindu and vice versa, each change reeking havoc on the previous culture’s carvings.
Withe brief stop at Victory Gate to photograph the Bridge of Heads we made our way back to the hotel.

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After showering, we went for an amble around the grounds of the hotel then made our way across the busy road outside and explored the locality. We passed a restaurant that took our interest and as we were thinking of where to eat later, we investigated. A waiter approached us and informed us that there was a buffet on offer and also that there was Cambodian Dancers and musicians performing at 7pm.  Investigating inside there appeared to be a large banqueting hall and stage. We promised to return and he promised to save a table.
Returning to the hotel we changed and at 6.30 made our way back to the restaurant. Good as his word we had a table to the side and in front of the stage. Most of the room was already occupied by Asians already dining. We later discovered that they were all Korean. Still in experimental mode I tried every dish that I had not seen before and all were acceptable to excellent. Some of the Korean dishes (they were all named in English as well as foreign) were a bit of a challenge, I should have remembered that from when we visited the country a few years ago! Sue stuck mostly to Thai (chicken!)
The dancers came on stage with lots of slow methodical movements and artistic, meaningful, hand movements, similar in style to Balinese dancing. Most of our fellow diners had left long before the show had finished and it is sad to say only Sue and I witnessed the last dance, the conclusion of which I was encouraged to photograph them on the stage.

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Returning to hotel we watched a bit of BBC News and then turned in for another early start tomorrow.

Cambodia 1

Posted in Uncategorized on May 16, 2015 by David Palmer

For a change we woke at the decadently late time of 7.15pm! The communist workers of Vietnam already out grafting in the fields would be shocked to learn of such western bourgeoise practises. In spite of our late awakening we were still one of the very first into breakfast.
First task of the day was to pack in readiness for our afternoon flight to Siem Reap. With that completed we set off down to the beach and headed off in the opposite direction to our trek a few days previous. Half an hour of splashing our toes in the surf brought us to some little bread basket fishing boats. They are similar to the Irish Coracles but I guess a little larger and more stable as these are built for the sea., not a lake. For a while, we watched a lone fisherman repair a netted structure that obviously somehow caught some type of creature living below the waves. It looked like the last one it housed, had a bit of a temper!

Retracing our steps we braved the now hot sand and diverted to a little beachside bar and played my favourite game, watching the locals and tourists pass by with refreshments at hand. At 35p for a large cold bottle of beer  we dallied and then consumed a second. I should mention that Sue ordered fresh lemon juice that displayed its authenticity with a large number of pips that shot up her straw.
Suitable cooled and revived we returned to our room, paid our bill and checked out. Reception looked after our suitcases, while we stepped across the road and had lunch. The lady owner once again sat with us we chatted until it was time to return in readiness for our transfer to Da Nang Airport.
The taxi arrived 15 minutes early and we duly set off. Check-in took less than 5 minutes, and though we had a short wait for the International Departures gate to open we were soon through into the departure lounge and sitting talking to Ron and Jenny who we had spotted earlier on.
Our flight left on time, we were on a half filled small turbo-prop aircraft. It reminded us of the last time we were on one of these in Nairobi, then, we sat quietly while the engines revved up, then  powered down and two hours later we caught a jet to Zanzibar. Not so this time, it flew. The flight time was one hour and fifteen minutes and significant from the point of view that on the approach to the airport you could clearly see the patterns of bomb craters left by the Americans, now filled with water. Some craters were  huge and they appeared to be everywhere. Do I remember from my youth that the American line was: We are not bombing Cambodia, our troops are not fighting there. Yes Mr Nixon, you lied!
Despite having an Evisa stapled into our passports at $80, we still had to fill in three immigration forms on the plane and have our hand and thumb prints scanned at passport control. However, our suitcases were first off the belt and first away from the airport as our driver wa there to greet us as we left Arrivals.
The 15 minute ride to the Angkor Paradise Hotel went with less hooting and swerving than in Vietnam, perhaps the Cambodians are more law-abiding citizens when it comes to driving. Let’s hope. Check in was quick and we found ourselves on the top floor in a large room decorated in traditional Cambodian style with a large balcony overlooking the pool and gardens.  After putting our documents etc. in the safe, we returned to the Reception and Concierge Desk to discuss how we could get to see the Temples. We had already discovered that it is warmer here than in Vietnam so we booked ourselves a car and a guide for the day, from 8am tomorrow. Another early start! Most people do the Temples by Tuctuc but I think we are at an age where the refuge of a car aircon is quite necessary.

Having sorted tomorrow out, we decided to interrogate our guide as to what was good to do on the following day. We took our evening meal in the hotel and it was very good. They do a beer here called (not surprisingly) Angkor and it is good. It has taste, unlike the Vietnamese rubbish I have been subjected to. Afterwards, we had a little stroll up and down the street outside to get our bearings and see what was there. It is obvious that Cambodia is poor and that Europeans don’t usually venture out of the hotels on foot.
Back at the hotel we were in bed for 10.30pm.