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Vietnam & Cambodia

12 January 2010 4,400 views 4 Comments

Hanoi
Halong Bay
Hue
New Year’s Eve
around Hue
Hoi An
flavours in Hoi An
Mui Ne
Mekong Delta
temples of Angkor
Phnom Penh
Gallery

Saturday

On arrival in Hanoi I met my transfer and made the journey through the typically unimpressive, unimpressionable suburbs surrounding the airport. After twenty minutes, or thereabouts, the roads got narrower, the buildings smaller, the lights brighter and by the time I arrived at the hotel to meet Simon I felt like I was on an Asian film set; it was cool.

Sunday

Hanoi

Hoan Kiem lake was literally 30 seconds away from the hotel and we walked there as soon as we woke up. It was a pretty, nice morning, lovely light, just warm enough and we sat right on the lake having lattes and pain au chocolat.

We took our time walking around the lake, there were New Year and Tet preparations going on and there were lots of flowers everywhere. We then followed a walk recommended by The Book that took us into the Old Quarter. Immediately it was a crowded market place. Actually I should say that Vietnam was so far a lot like I had expected: busy, noisy, traffic – lots of scooters, street vendors with fruit & veg, souvenirs, clothing, and it was all dusty and grubby. The most unexpected thing was the temperature – a lot cooler than I’d anticipated. We walked around the Old Quarter taking in the sights, sounds and smells. After a little bit we stopped at a coffee shop and had a superb breakfast #2: French toast with fruit & nuts (can’t do it justice but it was executed beautifully).

We carried on wandering around, sometimes big, wide streets, sometimes tiny narrow lanes. There were very few pavements, bikes & mopeds were parked all over the shop and there were street vendors everywhere. The shops in each area of the Old Quarter are specialised, they all sell the same goods: dried herbs, hardware, outdoor furniture, fake sunglasses, tacky red decorations. I later read in The Book that HanOi means ‘hanging about’ and each area is called ‘hang’ something: hang here for herbs, hang here for tacky red decorations etc. Actually one food market was crazy, there were heaps of fruit, veg & herbs but also raw meat, seafood, and nets of fishes and live frogs!!

Dotted all around the Old Quarter were food vendors: bbq fish skewers, pots of bubbling noodles, steaming rice buns, boiled & bbq-ed sweetcorn in their leaves. One tiny, tiny street we went down was crammed with food stalls, literally in door ways, on steps, on curbs – and they were all busy – such a sight, everyone squashed on to tiny plastic seats along the lane.

We went out again later by which time it was dark and the noise & sight of the traffic was intensified by all the flashing lights. I know it sounds mad to go on about the traffic but it really was ‘something’. We had a beer up in a first storey bar and could look down on the street. All the traffic moved at a relatively slow pace and apart from the self policing speed restriction there seemed to be no other road rules. Everything and everyone went in any direction on streets and at junctions, and everyone just manoeuvred their way around each other, everything just flowed. Other people have described the traffic system as the same as sailing rules: biggest vehicle takes precedent. Between that and the ceaseless beeping of horns to indicate your presence you have a road system!

Vietnamese flavours

After our beer we went to Green Tangerine determined to sample some of the quality French-Vietnamese cuisine. It was lovely – a quaint courtyard and charming building – and the food was really good. Simon had ‘bacon flowers’, bacon wrapped around blossoming mushrooms – it was unique! I had gazpacho served in a cocktail shaker! We both had scallops with orange sauce and aubergine mash, although that description doesn’t do the presentation or the flavours any justice! Dessert was beautiful. We both had mousse-y cheesecakes and they were drizzled with all sorts and melted in the mouth.

Naturally after this classy, high end meal the most appropriate thing to do was hit Le Pub, Hanoi’s best backpacker watering hole, for a final glass of house red, some thumping house tracks and the footie on Sky.

Monday

We went for an early walk and saw people doing tai chi, gym weights and playing badminton by the lake. The tai chi-ers were all tiny old people wrapped in coats, scarves and doing the gentlest movements. The gym-ers were bonkers, heaving bare weights on the road side.

We got picked up by a minibus and travelled to Halong City. It was about three hours and the scenery was pretty good: some little towns, fields and hills, crazy oncoming traffic driving in to each other, unusual houses. At Halong City there didn’t seem to be much except the ferry terminal and vendors servicing the boats and passengers. We were joining a ‘junk’ to go to Halong Bay and it was parked outside the harbour where there was more room. We hopped onto a transfer boat, chugged out of the harbour and literally stepped from one boat to another because the water on the bay was so still.

Halong Bay

Our junk was very charming: all dark chestnut wood, a dining room with bar, rooftop garden and terrace area with sun beds and two corridors (carpeted!) with rooms either side. Our room had all wooden interior, a big bed and slate finished en suite. That’s nicer than my Manly pad!

There was a welcome lunch, lots of different dishes that the whole table shared – the highlight was tuna steak in fresh tomato & herbs and we sampled the local ‘Dalat Red’. Dalat is the only wine producing region in Vietnam and, ahem, they won’t be exporting anytime soon. But we ploughed through and by the end it tasted alright (of course).

We were cruising into Halong Bay all the time and after we’d left the harbour it was all soft-peaked karsts (limestone hills that poked out of the water). There was a lot of them so the view was row upon row of karst silhouettes. It was very peaceful with a little breeze and some slithers of sunshine.

Later in the day we got on another little boat to go to some caves. They’re called the ‘surprising caves’ and they lived up to their name because you just don’t expect them to be so big. In fact someone told me I probably should have saved some surprise because I used mine up too early! The caves were enormous, never-ending, I haven’t seen anything like it. And there were lots of interesting shapes inside: stalactites and mites, columns, crumbled bits and other things I can’t describe!

paddling

After the caves there was kayaking. The light was already dropping as we started paddling and the scenery was beautiful: the silhouettes of the karsts, the stillness of the water and the junks bobbing around. We paddled around a headland and between two karsts then through a karst tunnel to a ‘lake’ entirely surrounded by karsts and accessible only by the tunnel (or parachute I guess). It was very peaceful, secluded and typically with water landscapes, it was hard to judge the size and scale of what we were seeing but I reckon it was big.
On the way paddling back the light really dropped til we were actually floating in the dark. It was a cloudy night so really quite dark but all the junks were lit up and it was very tranquil. Once we were back on our junk it was time for hot showers then wine, hanging out, dinner, and then a nice bobbing sleep.

Tuesday

After a quick breakfast we were on to another small boat and out for another trip. We cruised around the karsts, drinking green tea, chatting and taking in the views, then anchored in a little bay to go for a paddle. Although it was quite breezy on the boat close to the milky water it was really warm and we had a really good paddle around the karsts. There were monkeys on the rocks, mostly black but the little baby was ginger so we could clearly see him crawling around.

Several times we paddled through tunnels into bays that were surrounded by karsts and accessible only by kayak at low tide. It was amazing feeling so cut off, secluded and peaceful and the paddling was very gentle, it was a lovely way to see Halong Bay. At the end we went through one more tunnel. It was about 150 metres, quite narrow, low ceiling-ed with stalactites dropping down, oyster rock around the edges, a strong current moving through and completely pitch black dark! A couple of us wore head lights to guide through but mostly we had to rely on the current and instinct!

Back on the boat we had bbq-ed fish and then hung out for a while chatting and playing cards. Once we realised that our guides had actually fallen asleep (they were snoring) we made a bit of clutter to find out what was happening next… We chugged around more of the bay, got back into our kayaks and had a look around a floating village. I’ve never seen one of these before and it was quite remarkable: houses floating around the edge of the bay, everyone moving between by boat and those not moving just sat on the deck outside. It seemed very peaceful, calm, harmonious.

We did a fair bit of paddling then made our way back to the big junk for the evening. Out on the very top deck it was lovely: balmy air and twinkly with junk lights and stars.

Wednesday

We made our way out of the Bay and back to Halong City then onto the minibus back to Hanoi. All day the weather had been cloudy and misty – very atmospheric amongst the karsts but pretty miserable on the road.
We wandered around Hanoi, got some bits & pieces and then made our way to the train station. There were four of us in a little cabin, although down the carriage there were other cabins with whole Vietnamese families sharing! It was already getting dark and we trundled through Hanoi’s suburbs at a slow pace before lulling to sleep.

Thursday

In the morning we were cruising through endless rice paddies. There were cattle (ox maybe?), birds that looked like herons and people tending the fields wearing traditional conical hats – yay! The scenery and the journey were very relaxing and eventually the landscape started to get more built up, more traffic, more bustle and we arrived in Hue, the old capital of Vietnam. It was considerably warmer here than Hanoi so we were glad to arrive at our hotel. And the Vietnamese hospitality really ramped up a gear: cold flannels, fresh watermelon juice, cookies, perfect.

Hue

The Perfume River runs through Hue: on the north is the ancient city – the Citadel – and on the south the main hotel and tourism area. First stop was Vegetarian Restaurant Bo De at a pretty spot on the edge of the river for hot pot: a plate of noodles, a plate of mixed leaves & herbs and a pot bubbling on a mini gas stove with tofu, vegetables, bean sprouts and a tomato-y soup. It was sensational. So was the local beer, Huda.

We crossed the river and entered the Citadel. There were lots of very open, well kept spaces and various buildings and monuments. A lot of the Citadel is being restored (or rebuilt) so some of the buildings were very scruffy, crumbly, others more shiny & colourful. On the whole the grounds were well kept but not too ordered so it was a nice place to stroll around for a few hours. Having soaked up a substantial amount of history and architecture we made our way to the local food market. It was very colourful and aromatic, sometimes a bit too aromatic!

New Year’s Eve

So, New Year’s Eve. We started in the bar next to our hotel for Hudas and a local dish of steamed rice dumplings with fish wrapped in banana leaves, smashing. Then we went back (!) to our hotel because the management had invited everyone to a party. They’d gone to town: the little breakfast room had a full Vietnamese buffet including a three tier, multi colour sponge cake. There was music, drinks being passed around, then the manager gave a speech thanking everyone for their custom and wishing us ‘long happy life’ in 2010. He popped a bottle of sparkling and poured into a champagne glass pyramid while everyone clapped, shouted ‘cheers’, ‘vo’ (Vietnamese for ‘cheers’) and ‘happy new year’. The hospitality, friendliness and enthusiasm of the hotel manager and all the staff was incredible but as the beers started to kick in and it looked like there might be a food fight we decided to leave…

The Imperial Hotel has a rooftop terrace, the auspiciously and correctly named King’s Panorama Bar, and we had a couple of civilised drinks up there, it was just stunning. You could see new Hue (our side of the river), old Hue (other side) and the various parties and activity in different streets and hotels.

Then we made our way to where the parties seemed to be happening, had a Vietnamese dinner with red lanterns blowing around and Hudas disappearing as fast as we could order them and finally crashed into DMZ, a downtown backpacker’s bar for countdown.

Friday

Fortunately both Simon I had side stepped major hangovers and were just feeling a bit slow. But that was fine because today we were heading to Hoi An and we’d booked a private car so that we could see sights along the way including some of the temples, tombs and monuments around Hue.

around Hue

Tu Hieu Pagoda was in a lovely wooded area – very picturesque and peaceful. We arrived while the monks were chanting which was really charming.

Nam Giao Esplanade is in a shady sort of park and is an interesting monument because it just looks like a path through the trees but actually the different levels of the esplanade represent heaven, earth and humanity and the area was used for sacrifice and worship.

Tomb of Tu Duc was a large site and the tomb for one of Vietnam’s big emperor dudes. Apparently he spent more time designing this than ruling the country. I don’t suppose it would be any consolation to the ungoverned people but he did a great job, there were lots of very pretty features including a building that overlooked a pond, and nice pathways through the woods.

After this we hit the road to Hoi An, passing through little villages before stopping at Lang Cai Beach for lunch. The restaurant had a beach view, swaying palm trees, a nice breeze and, crucially, a seafood bbq. Spot on.

Then went through Danang – mostly industrial but with an airport making it a tourist gateway. There was a long beach and of course we couldn’t resist a stop and putting our feet on the sand. Along the beach front there was lots of development – loads of hotels going up. I’d be intrigued to see the place in 5 years time…

Marble Mountains

We were heading to Marble Mountains so of course beforehand our driver took us to a marble shop. There were some really impressive pieces and some very persistent sales people! At Marble Mountains we climbed a lot of steep steps to reach the top – there were good views over the countryside and the ocean. There were also pagodas and caves to explore. One cave was really impressive, the ceiling was really high and there were shafts of light spilling in – very ethereal. The best bit was a massive buddha statue that has been carved in the rock right there. It was female buddha and unlike the fat, jolly dude buddha, she’s all long and serious like Virgin Mary.

We’d had a completely brilliant time going from place to place – very civilised with our driver – and relaxing, but now we were hot and tired and ready to be at our destination. We found a gorgeous hotel, open front, marble foyer, fish pond with a little bridge (so cute), a swimming pool and out back a wooden terrace overlooking rice paddies. Within minutes we were on the terrace, watching the sun set, beer in hand.

Hoi An by night

In to the main part of Hoi An we found that the town is on a river and the streets off the river front are cobbled and quaint, lined with colonial-style buildings. At night the town twinkles and shines because there are lanterns hanging from all the buildings, fairy lights in the trees, and candle-lit lanterns floating on the river. It is truly beautiful. We walked around for a while and it didn’t take long for us to realise there were also loads of good eating places.

Vietnamese flavours ii

We ate at the Morning Glory Street Restaurant, at a table on the porch. Inside was an open kitchen where the entrees were prepared and you could see through to the main kitchen too. We had a beautiful dinner including a local speciality, ‘white rose’, scallops in rice paper dipped in a sweet chilli sauce, sensational.

Saturday

Started the day with a dip in the pool by the rice paddies, then out to the terrace for buffet breakfast. It doesn’t really get better than that does it.

This was the first place that I had coffee served in the traditional Vietnamese fashion: a metal filter that sits on top of the cup dripping coffee through. It’s either therapeutic or, enormously frustrating watching your coffee drip drip slowly through. The Vietnamese have a saying that if you rush your coffee you’re young and foolish.

Hoi An by day

Hoi An is known as the place for silk and getting made to measure suits at rock bottom prices so there are heaps of shops, tailors specialising in that. Simon went to get himself suited, I could think of nothing worse than being measured for clothes after the number of buffets I’d had so I avoided all of that and instead walked across the river, found somewhere with a nice view and had some more coffee and pineapple pancakes. The streets and buildings in Hoi An really are charming and the atmosphere of the place is relaxed and easy, you can understand why people stay for longer than they plan to.

We explored more, saw the Japanese Covered Bridge, walked along the river, crossed over to the more suburban, scruffy part of town and found the Lighthouse Café & Restaurant, a little hidden treasure. We sat on a pretty patio and had another gorgeous Vietnamese feast after which the restaurant organised a boat for us to cross over the river again.

Although I could have stayed in Hoi An for another week we were moving on and it was time to get to the bus stop for our overnight coach.

Sunday

on the move

At 6am we arrived in Nha Trang, a seaside ‘party’ town. The sun was rising and the beach front was teeming with people. Once we’d got our bags we went to sit on the beach for a while. It was a very long beach and the morning was gorgeous. Then it was onto the next bus for the next leg.
The scenery was really good: rice paddies climbing into lush green hills. There were lots of people working the fields wearing their conical hats and, despite the heat, wearing long sleeves and trousers. In Vietnam people try really hard to keep their skin pale because the darker your skin, the better indication it is of how much you work outdoors which suggests that you’re poor.

Mui Ne

Although the scenery was nice we were glad to see the outskirts of Mui Ne, our destination, and feel the mammoth journey come to an end. Mui Ne is a seaside town famous for its long beaches and red sand dunes. We knew there were a lot of ‘resorts’ in the area but we expected a sleepy town with minimal facilities and few internationals but it turned out to be the package holiday capital of Vietnam, and a favoured destination for Russian tourists!

At our hotel, White Sands, we had a big room with a balcony right on the beach, swimming pool, little beach cocktail bar and a big breezy restaurant. Lunch, swim, sleep and then a walk along the beach as the sun set. The fishing industry is pretty important in Mui Ne and there were lots of boats out including what basically looked like a human sized basket, they were pretty funky.

Whacked after a long day of travelling we had a pretty early night.

Monday

Mui Ne sights

It was a beautiful morning and we swung between the beach and pool for a few hours before jumping on a motorbike and going for a poke around. We cruised along the coast, stopping for pictures etc and then went through the main town area before finding somewhere for lunch. We stopped at a restaurant that was part of a resort, big tiled terrace with nice wooden furniture and features, surrounded by palm trees right on the beach; a fantastic spot. Further up the coast we went through a fishing village, very busy, bustling and local – a contrast to the built up hotel area. It also stank to high heaven! There were nets everywhere covered in tiny shrimp drying in the sun. I mean it, nets everywhere, on the dusty road, on the grubby sidewalk, on piles of rubbish, all with shrimp on. A few turns here and there and we arrived at the red dunes. It was stunning: the red dunes, the blue sky, the fishing village squashed onto the horizon.

Later we walked to a nearby resort, The Victoria, where we’d booked massages! The spa and treatment rooms were right on the beach and set in beautiful gardens, you could only hear crashing waves, it was a great set up.

Vietnamese flavours iii

We followed this with drinks and a delicious seafood bbq at the restaurant, an enormous first floor terrace with heaps of pot plants, lanterns, a clear view of the ocean and two dudes singing in a corner. The dessert buffet was an absolute highlight: the pastry chef cooking fresh pancakes, a couple of home made ice creams, fresh fruit, heaps of mini desserts, tarts and cakes.

Tuesday

on the move all day

We had a fast morning: swim, pack, motorbike taxis to the end of the road and then squashy mini bus to Ho Chi Minh. The scenery was nothing special, in fact we seemed to be in the industrial Ho Chi Minh suburbs for at least 50% of the journey.
Ho Chi Minh was as noisy and crowded as we’d anticipated; much more developed than Hanoi. Our intention was to get in and out of the city but after a bit of messing around with tour operators we eventually decided to taxi it for the full journey. We were driving to the Delta, and this journey was also thoroughly average. I expected that when we reached the Delta it would be all little towns, little shacks, little dust roads. But no, Ben Tre, the town in the Delta was a proper, big town. A bit disenchanted we walked the last leg through the market and along the river front. The Delta was a sluggish brown, very much a waterway for industry and trade rather than scenery, and the hotel options were all average. In short, we were disappointed and not sure we’d made the right decision to come.

Wednesday

Mekong Delta

In the morning we went in pursuit of making it worth it, a few steps outside we were approached by someone doing tours of the Delta. He was so passionate, smiley and genuine about the trip that we knew we’d found the right guide. I almost felt bad bargaining his price down, almost. We were in a big traditional river boat and the nice, lively guide was driving. We chugged up the waterway for about 500m and then turned into one of the smaller rivers lined with beautiful, big palms. There was quite a bit of activity along the river including people harvesting coconuts.

We went deeper into the Delta and then stopped at ‘The Island’ as the guide called it and went for a bike ride. ‘The Island’ couldn’t really be called land mass – it was very swampy, lots of rice paddies, waterways everywhere. We were cycling along dust tracks, dirt tracks, paved tracks, and there were lots of bridges joining everything together. Our bikes were old shoppers with baskets and we trundled around happily looking at the people gardening, all the domestic and farm animals, lots of crops growing and heaps of different plants and trees, rivers, streams, marshes and ponds. We finished at the guide’s house and hung out on hammocks drinking coconut juice.

After a while we got into a different wooden boat on a tiny little strip of water and floated downstream. We were deep in the river bed bouncing off the roots and branches of the trees. When we got to the main river the motor went on and we chugged back to the little pier where we’d started. The guide got a transfer bus sorted for all of us so that we could all get back to Ho Chi Minh City. It had definitely been worth it.

In between the transfer and the proper bus we tried sugar cane juice from a road side vendor. He has a cart that looked like a large pasta machine. He squashed the cane through the rollers and all the juice poured into a container, into a funnel, into a plastic bag, piled with ice, squeezed with lime, straw in, bag tied up. It was excellent fun and completely delicious and refreshing.

Bus ride back to HCMC, taxi to the airport and we arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia for the evening. Siem Reap was not how either of us had expected at all. There were lots of large hotels and the shops, night life, restaurants, street scene were a lot more developed than I had expected. So we had a pizza (!) before calling it a night.

Thursday

We rented a tuk tuk and driver for the day as we’d heard it was a good way to see the temples. The closer we got to the temples, the further we went out of town and the less built up it was.

Angkor Wat

The temples of Angkor cover a huge area of land. The ones that are closest together and closest to Angkor Wat are the best known. The temples are from different periods as each ‘ruler’ wanted to make a contribution and, well, they got a bit competitive. Angkor Wat is the biggest and it’s preeeety special. The grounds are huge and they’re surrounded by both a moat and a wall, so it’s not until you’re right in there that you can see anything.

We really took our time looking at Angkor Wat; walked slowly around the walls, looked at it from different angles, looked at the carvings in detail. Two things amazed me: how did they build this?? back in the day with just ropes and bits of wood to help them? And how did they do such tiny detailed stone carvings AND make them all look the same? I mean on parts of the temple there were rows of figures carved into the wall, probably 10cm tall and they all looked the same. Incredible. It really was a stunning building, lots of different impressive bits: columns, carvings, courtyards. We’d read a bit about the crowds at Angkor Wat and we’d been a bit concerned but I couldn’t believe how few people there seemed to be; it was very manageable.

the temples of Angkor

The next big temple we saw was, Angkor Thom. Sorry but I don’t really know the difference between them all, I just sort of appreciated them aesthetically and for the overall impression they made. Angkor Thom was more like a town of temples, and the biggest one was wicked. There were lots of turrets at all different heights and on each of the four sides of the turret was a big face. So wherever you went in the temple you were being watched! The best bit was all the faces were smiling! I thought this was marvelous. In fact around many of the temples the carvings were smiling and happy. We walked around some more of the Angkor Thom buildings, they each had different ‘highlight’ features: a moat, a pond, a catwalk (honestly), a big wall etc. And they all had heaps of different carvings and sculptures.

By the way have I mentioned how hot it was?? Sweating, humid and lots of sunshine too.
At one of the temples we sat and had lunch in the shade although I had to keep shifting because the shadows moved SO quickly! At most of the temple sites there were stalls with food, drink and souvenirs. There were also lots of kids and women shouting, trying to sell stuff and generally (sorry) being irritating.

The second to last temple we visited was really nice and is well known for being really pretty at sunset. The sun wasn’t quite setting but it wasn’t far off and the light & shadows on the temple were lovely. The hawkers in the area clearly knew what they were doing because they were all saying ‘have a beer; beer at the top as the sun sets’, ha, cheeky.

We finished up by going back to Angkor Wat to see it at a different time of day. The sun was in a completely different position now and lit up different qualities that we hadn’t seen in the morning.

Back at the hotel we had a swim in the nice big saltwater pool and had g&ts outside. Then we went on a g&t tour: the Foreign Correspondents Club was very cool & boutique, The Victoria, sister to the one in Mui Ne, which was lovely, chaise lounges and lots of greenery around the pool. Then we tuk tuked to Chivit Thai for dinner. It was low tables, sitting on cushions and we had tempura purple potato to start, very different.

Friday

Angkor Wat at sunrise

We were up early to see Angkor Wat for sun rise. It seemed busier than the day before – everyone streaming in. Again the vendors were making the most of the crowd with suggestions for ‘hot coffee’ all around. It was actually still pitch black when we arrived – the only lights from tuk tuks and cars. Some people had brought torches and we found our way, with the crowds, into the grounds. There’s a big lily pad pond in front of the temple and that’s a popular place for sunrise so we found a spot there (in fact we were behind two rows of people!) And so the sun rose. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day so there wasn’t the sun ‘bursting’ moment. But the light did change a lot, the colours and shadows of Angkor Wat moved, and altogether it was very pretty and special. Once the sun had risen lots of people disperse, we hung around for a little while longer and then wandered back out. As we were crossing the moat there was a commotion, pointing etc. We turned around and the sun was poking out behind Angkor Wat like a big, pulsing ball. Incredible. We saw it just momentarily and of course we legged it back to see more but it was gone in seconds; just a slither of an experience.

cycling round the temples

We went back to the hotel both for breakfast and to collect our bikes, today we were cycling round the temples. The bikes were roughly 9000 years old, mountain bikes, in the wrong size, uber squeaky blah blah, who cares, off we went. Yesterday we’d seen that most of the area is totally flat so the quality of bike – and rider – wasn’t a problem.

We cycled to the temple site and headed straight for Angkor Thom again. It was as much fun as yesterday – all the big faces. After that we took a different route to yesterday and looked at all new temples. Again, they were all unique and special and had their own defining features which was cool. It was fun going round on the bikes, and fortunately it wasn’t as hot as yesterday, and we took our time nicely. The first ‘new’ temple that we went to had a view over the whole area (we climbed a big hill!) and we could see Angkor Wat in the distance. There was also a chess board set up on the top of the temple, by which I mean three bits of rock (two ‘chairs’, one ‘table’) with a board chalked on to the ‘table’. And there were piles of different coloured stone to play drafts. So we did. A little crowd of temple ‘workers’ sat watching us, they seemed quite amused. There was a temple we went to this morning that had really steep, narrow steps. I didn’t know what was worse, going up, or coming down. It was one of the less attractive temples and it turned out that it was actually never finished.

We stopped for noodles and beer and then the last temple we went to was really brilliant. Its ‘outstanding feature’ was that the trees in the area had overtaken a lot of the structure. So there were walls and doorways with roots and trunks growing in and around them. It was very beautiful; the rocks were all crumbling and splitting, and the trees were enormous. I actually don’t know which was there first, the trees or the rock. In some ways it was also a bit spooky like the trees were eating the rock!

By the time we’d seen this temple I was cream blinkin’ crackered. We hopped onto our bikes and rode out of the temple ‘park’, the longest stretch of ride that day.

Back at the hotel, more g&ts then Simon had decided there was a hotel he wanted to see because the architecture and design was supposed to be superb. It was indeed lovely. A more resort-style hotel built around lots of ponds with lily pads and heaps of foliage everywhere. The restaurant was, in the middle of one of the ponds which was very lovely so we had dinner there.

Saturday

Phnom Penh

Another speedy morning: swim, brekky, pack, bus to Phnom Penh, average journey, made travel arrangements, went to the Friends coffee shop we’d heard about. It was a very cool place, the restaurant / coffee shop employs young people who have done some training in catering and gives them a chance to earn money, get experience, and then finds them ‘real’ work. So it’s a really good organisation, and also, the food was excellent, especially the babaganoush with dipping breads.

Outside it was a sweating 35ish or thereabouts made worse by the fact we were going to the Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda where the rules are that you must cover up. It was worth it though; the palace was beautiful. The grounds were simple but gorgeous and the buildings were really impressive, all intricate finishing touches and delicate details. It was very impressive and kingly.

We took a breather and stripped some of our layers off in a park and then went to the National Museum. It struck us at this point that Phnom Penh really wasn’t that large as Friends, the Royal Palace and museum were within one kilometre of each other! The museum was pretty good – heaps of ancient stuff. Funny enough the best bit was the pieces of Angkor temples that had been recovered. It was interesting to see them isolated, not in the context of a big temple. From the museum we walked to the river – again not far at all. Phnom Penh was a nice town but not really capital material. Along the river front were heaps of bars, cafes and shops, mostly attracting internationals.

last orders

I’d read about Hotel Le Royal, that was ‘the’ place in its time and had recently been refurbished and it sounded like the ideal spot for our holiday finale. Again it didn’t take long to get there but by the time we arrived we were hot & sticky, not exactly a pretty sight at the nice hotel. It was a lovely place – you’d use the term ‘colonial charm’ a lot. We sat out on the verandah desperate for the sun to go down and the breeze to pick up! We ordered g&ts, the tonic water was served in a carafe on the side, how cute. The long awaited breeze and coolness came and we had a few more drinks.

And now all we had to do was get home! A walk back to the bus station, tuk tuk to airport short flight to Bangkok, transfer, long flight back to Sydney, arrive to beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, in the ocean within two hours, g&t in hand within three…

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4 Comments »

  • lucyjjames » Blog Archive » Nai Yang, Thailand said:

    […] the main area on Phuket. Nai Yang on the other hand, is quiet, and a bit scruffy. It reminded me of Mui Ne in Vietnam and I loved it. There will be more glamorous beaches, better nightlife, more luxurious hotels on […]

  • lucyjjames » Blog Archive » Bali said:

    […] I rented a bike for the duration of my stay in Ubud which was great because I’d had enough of taxis by now. Plus I like bombing around towns rather than wandering around them (basically, skipping the bits I don’t like!). Oh yeah, and I love bike riding :) The bike ride out to Sayan, outside of Ubud, was a real highlight. As I got further out of Ubud the countryside was so very pretty and the villages were lovely. The bike riding itself was steady, challenging mostly because of the rusty chain and pedal stem! Reminded me of the bikes we had to go around Ankgor Wat. […]

  • lucyjjames » Blog Archive » South Thailand Islands said:

    […] but also took a day trip which was when we saw a lot more of the area. Very much like Halong Bay in Vietnam it was milky, turquoise with karsts bursting out of the calm water. I really like how your […]

  • lucyjjames » Blog Archive » Sri Lanka said:

    […] Hotel is 206 years old, one of the old colonial classics. It brought to mind the Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh and the Royal Livingstone in Zambia. I liked it straight away for its unpolished floor boards, the […]

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