A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia: Sihanoukville - Serendipity & Otres

sunny 38 °C
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On a cloudy Monday morning in Phnom Penh we got on our mini-bus to Sihanoukville; a province in Southwest Cambodia. For the whole 5 hour journey the bus played a wildlife documentary on a fold-down screen up front based on Cambodian's native wildlife; specifically the Giant Ibis bird. It was odd but quite interesting and we found ourselves watching it on a loop at times.
Half-way through the journey we had our usual rest-stop where I picked up some BBQd bananas and Lauren managed to wangle some stir fried veg and tofu.

We arrived mid-afternoon and walked from our drop-off stop to our hostel which was only a few hundred metres across the infamous Golden Lion roundabout. One Stop hostel was down a little alleyway and the staff were incredibly welcoming and helpful. We shared our dorm with 3 German girls and one other Welsh girl called Sammy. The hotel was clean and well-maintained with a pool in the middle (that we never used because it was always full and we're anti-social like that).

We took a short orientation walk to Serendipity beach which was only 10 minutes away. Sihanoukville is just like any touristy cheap beach town. There are endless bars, pubs, cafés, clothes shops and travel agents. There are also a few curious digital-based establishments such as a shop that puts illegally downloaded films, TV series and music on your device (phone, tablet, iPod etc) for a price as well as a 'cinema' that I'll mention shortly.

The first noticeable feature of the beach front itself is the depth of it. It was probably nearing high tide while we were there but there must have only been 30 feet between the sea and the shop fronts. Walking along the boardwalk we came across some affronting sights. There were, as we'd expected, plenty of beggars, many of which were disabled (amputee predominantly) but a few were very young children. We managed to weave our way through being as polite but firm as we could. As it was getting into early evening there were also a few mildly annoying bar/club touts (European) sniffing around. The next disheartening view was a chained-up monkey on a little platform whose eyes screamed "kill me now". The element that made us squirm with most fervour though was the presence of many Caucasian, middle-aged single men sat in bars, chain-smoking and drinking beer. It was difficult not to judge these men as sex-tourists; why else would they have chosen a Benidorm-style beach as far away as Cambodia? Maybe we've read too much about the rife, exploitative and downright inhuman sex-trade of the country that both natives and barangs (foreigners) take full advantage of.

After a 15 minute stroll we'd seen enough and so wandered back to the Lion roundabout to have dinner in Samdan restaurant; a non-for-profit centre that trains up young, underprivileged Cambodians in cooking and serving. I went for the local dish Lok Lak which is usually made with beef but this one used buffalo meat (I was craving animal). It was absolutely delicious and also incorporated a good portion of Kampot pepper; another famous local ingredient. Lauren had a lovely bean curry (oh how we've craved legumes!).

We had an early-ish night as I was still really run-down and had broken out in nose-herpes (typical). We chatted to Sammy for a while who, similar to us, had quit her job (as a high-school teacher) to go travelling. She was very athletic (which only emphasised our laziness by comparison) and had just completed some diving training in the town.

The following day we both felt a bit fed-up. Whether it was the lack of privacy, tiredness, vitamin-deficiency or just the usual ungrateful, entitled Western attitude, we just couldn't help feeling a little down. We tried our best not to dwell in the blue but we both knew that realistically, we weren't going to be 'up' and enthusiastic every single day and that we shouldn't criticise ourselves for that.
We did the only thing we know what to do when we're feeling a bit depressed; eat. After a beige brekkie at the hostel we chose the only veggie/vegan place in the town called Dao of life. While waiting for our oh-so-trendy raw, vegan, organic, fair-trade, rip-off dishes we made the most of the games shelf and played some strip Jack naked. Lauren also did a book-swap and got hold of a counterfeit copy of First They Killed My Father.

Not in the mood for Serendipity beach we then slid over to Top Cat cinema; basically a load of private little living rooms equipped with sofas, fans a large TV and a database filled with thousands of downloaded films and TV shows. You pay for a two hour 'slot' and basically watch whatever the hell you want in your own little cave. Yes it's a bit seedy and yes it's highly illegal but fuck me I think I've found my happy-place. If I could find myself a small office building and set one of these up I'm sure it'd go down a treat. Nobody wants to pay the extortionate cinema prices these days. I'd just have to think of a way to keep the police and the piracy ninjas away...
We were shown to our room by a girl whose pupils were bigger than her boobs. She gave us all the info and then told us we were more than welcome to smoke "whatever we wanted" and pointed to the Happy Pizza menu adhered to the wall. On top of everything you could also order pizza to be delivered, to your room AND they'd make it 'happy' for free. In case you're not sure what this definition of pizza happiness is I'll break it down for you; it's chunks of marijuana and potentially a sprinkling of shrooms. Unfortunately for you dear reader, we didn't order a pizza (we'd just eaten).

For our last day in Sleaze-anoukville we braved the beach. As we didn't bring beach towels we grabbed a pair of sticky sunbeds and stripped off to our bikinis. I haven't hair-removed for a good few weeks now and, so those of you that don't know me, I can grow a pretty impressive layer of fur on most parts of my body in record time. At this point I had quite noticeable hair all over my legs and substantial pittens (armpit kittens). The young Russian boys lay quite close to us tried their best to surreptitiously peek at our hairy-bits. I appreciated their diplomacy.
We hopped over the white sand littered with cigarette butts and plastic things and jumped into the body of water known as the Gulf of Thailand; an arm of the South China sea. To our delight and dismay the water was warm, in fact almost hot. Not a great relief from the sweltering heat but at least we had a sea-breeze. The water too was very salty; it made our skin sting and itch a little after a while. But, unlike the beach-front, the sea was lovely.
As we were leaving, Lauren went over to the bar to pay the $1 for our drinks. The waiter then tried to hand the dollar back and said he couldn't take it as it was damaged. I am really not exaggerating here when I say there was a 10mm tear in the note at the top. Lauren dismissed his protestations and that she didn't have any more notes but that it was fine anyway. As we were walking away the Russian bar-owner then came over and started shouting at us and saying that we needed to give them another dollar as the note was no good. Lauren told him it was the only dollar we had (it was) and pulled me away as he shouted "if you've got no money you should go home, we don't want you here!". We had heard a bit about some places being funny about less than perfect currency but this was ridiculous! I actually felt a little intimidated - the bastard.

For lunch we found out way to another non-for-profit café called Starfish. The food was pretty ordinary (we had sandwiches), but we sat outside in their plush, quiet garden under the shade of trees and next to an old fountain and stayed a little while to Skype my mum.
Upon returning to our hostel and doing some research we found out that to get to our next destination, Battambang, we had to get a TWO buses and go BACK to Phnom Penh where we'd just been which was geographically going back on ourselves. And of course, we had to pay a premium for this long journey. We just hadn't realised that there was no direct rout straight up to Battambang from Sihanoukville. What a fucking pain. But we had no choice so we booked and just thought of it as another essential journey.

We checked out the next morning and took a brief tuk-tuk ride to Otres; a region only 6km from Serendipity (still within Sihanoukville) but apparently much quieter, more picturesque and less trashy. The tuk tuk ride was reinvigorating; we drove along rudimentary dirt roads with a cooling wind rushing through us as we watched the landscape turn more rural and striking.
We arrived at Family Guesthouse Ubuntu and were shown to our hut-style room up on a wooden mezzanine. We had two fans and a mosquito net which was all we needed. The one downside was that the bathroom was down the outdoor wooden stairs (tricky in the evening) and was pretty much a campground bathroom (drippy cold shower and industrial metal sink).

Soon after arriving we rushed out to Otres beach; a 15 minute walk away. We were desperate to feel redeemed for picking Sihanoukville as so far it hadn't impressed us. After walking through a small high street with some shops and restaurants dotted around, we arrived at an orange track that lead onto the sand. A very old Ford drove by and for a moment we felt like it was the 1970s. The combination of the barren yet wonderfully colourful landscape made us believe we were in 70s Malibu for a second, about to play volleyball while wearing slightly conical-busted bikinis. But 1970s Cambodia was not comparable to California, and coastal areas like Sihanoukville were abandoned during the Khmer Rouge.

We had two options, turn left or turn right. Both ways appeared to be just long stretches of unbelievable white sand, palm trees and only a handful of people, mostly Cambodian. It really did seem like paradise. Because we didn't have towels we didn't want to just lie on the scorching sand, so we decided to turn right and walk along until we hopefully saw some sunbeds. We ended up on Otres 1 beach which had a few bars and hostels and a number of tourists about - but nowhere near as many as in Serendipity. We settled on some sunbeds and expected a barman from the bar they were attached to to come over and make us buy a drink, but to our delight, no one did.
Lauren skipped into the sea for a swim like a puppy off the lead. As before the water was very warm but not too salty this time around. Here's a video of our first look around the beach:

After a few minutes of complete serenity a young girl (approx. 10 years old) came over and offered us bracelets. We declined as always but, being the enterprising type, she then spotted my luxurious body hair and started ferociously selling her Mum's threading. We explained that we were happy being hairy and didn't want to be threaded but she just didn't understand. She said I looked like a boy and a monkey and that I should let her Mum get to work asap. In all fairness, with my level of hair growth, my legs would have been a goldmine for them. They would have been dining out on Lok Lak all week.
Of course it's a bit of a shame that the nonsensical (imho) and entirely constructed beauty ideal of hairlessness for women pervades many cultures outside of the West. But of course it's personal choice. I would like to think that our outward flouting of this particular societal 'rule' might pop into her mind when puberty hits and act as an example of difference.

After a couple of hours we walked to a restaurant near to our hostel; Pachamama. It's the only veggie/vegan place in Otres and run by a family from Somerset. They haven't been open for very long and they only have one chef (the daughter) so the service was a bit slow but this is consistent with Cambodia as a whole. The restaurant sits right on a river backing onto the Koh Kong mangroves. We sat overlooking the river listening to the wonderful sounds of all the unknown creatures. There were also plenty of creatures roaming around; a little kitten called Nugget, two dogs and 3 chickens.
The food was surprisingly stodgy (in a good way) with lots of veggies and potatoes (oh how we've missed it). We also had a try of the home-made coconut milk ice cream; the chai tea flavour was particularly yummy.
We retired to bed but it took me hours to get to sleep as there were little geckos crawling on our mosquito sheet and I got myself into a bit of panic. Somewhere in my half-asleep brain I thought one was going to end up in my mouth - a fate worse than Lauren's morning breath. At around 11pm the group of girls who were sleeping in the hut next door started screaming and saying something about cockroaches or beetles. This didn't scare me more, it actually made me laugh and have a bit of a word with myself - I'm not a big sissy girl like them...

For breakfast the next morning we went back to Pachamama and had an interesting Mangosteen tea; a fruit that grows extensively across Cambodia and is pretty much a mix between a lychee and an dragon fruit.
This time we turned left at the mid-point to head to Otres 2 beach. There were even less people and only a handful of bars and guesthouses on this side. again we picked some sunbeds and coaxed a gorgeous little puppy over for a play. A bit later on, two adult male dogs appeared a few hundred yards in front of us on the sand and the puppy went curiously bounding over. Something obviously went array as suddenly the two adult dogs started attacking the little puppy. Some brave people who were swimming in the sea and lay on the beach ran over and grabbed the puppy away - but the big dogs were still jumping up and biting his little legs. the lady from the bar we were lay at (who we presumed was the owner) was handed the injured puppy and took him away, yelping. We didn't see him again but we hope he made a recovery. One of the men who got in the middle was bitten on the hand and we later saw him walking with the main attacker dog - perhaps in an attempt to keep an eye on him or perhaps he was connected to it somehow.

Brushing the dog fight aside (and after ensuring there weren't any scary dogs still around), we had a swim and relax for an hour or so. We then walked half an hour back to Otres 1 to get a cheap massage. The massage was pretty good but what we didn't think about was the oil rubbing off our suncream. Needless to say on the 30 minute walk back to our hostel we both got some decent sunburn - I managed to cook my whole back (I only had my bikini top on) which caused me a fair bit of pain over the following days.

To get out of the sun we walked over to a newly-opened art studio run by a lovely Belgian woman called Anastasia. She was a scruffy arty type but wasn't remotely floating - she was incredibly passionate about arts and crafts and a no-bullshit type of chick. Over the next 3 hours we chatted and made our very own macramé anklets complete with little bells. We later learned that the bells are actually quite useful for keeping the snakes away. This helped loads with my night-time creature-fear... ahem.
I now wish I was interested in getting married so I could macramé my own wedding dress. I'll just have to make one of those owls from the 70s instead.

Our final meal in Otres was at a small bar come kitchen come guesthouse called Green Lantern, where we had a cheap pad thai and sweet and sour. We were satisfied with our $5 sustenance - a bargain for expensive Cambodia. It wasn't until our journey to Battambang early the next morning that we realised the shortcomings of said cheap pad thai...

Posted by advensha 22:35 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children beach monkey cambodia puppy tourists hot sihanoukville vegetarian vegan beggars serendipity_beach trashy samdan arts_and_crafts macrame art_studio dog_fight Comments (0)

Cambodia: Phnom Penh

sunny 38 °C
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As per usual we get to the travel agent where we're being picked up super early (Lauren's fault). We nip up to the shop to buy some travelling snacks and I inadvertently purchase cuttlefish flavoured peas (that I thought were wasabi peas). Needless to say I didn't eat the fishy peas.

We got on our Kumho Samco coach and were happy at how cold it felt compared to Hồ Chí Minh's molten streets. The bus was modern and clean and even had WiFi (which only worked for an hour but still). After half an hour one of the attendants came round and asked for our passports and $70. This was obviously for getting through the border and paying our visas but we were naturally uncomfortable with the idea of handing our very important little books over. Lauren initially refused saying that we'd sort it all our ourselves but after reading a testimonial on the Seat61 website that explained the bus companies use your passports to fill in all the forms for you, we relented and handed them over. The poor attendant didn't speak very good English and had to stand beside us while we jostled with the decision. His face read "fucking awkward tourists" and of course he was right.

When we arrived at the Vietnamese border we waited around for quite some time while a Vietnamese family tried and failed to surreptitiously talk about us. They pointed at Lauren's tattoos, our clothes and our shoes. I don't mind being the novelty every once in a while. The bus had given everyone's visa forms, passports and money to the fellas at the desks and one by one they called us up to go through. There was another British couple (male and female) on the bus and when the girl was called up one of the bus staff looked at the photo and gestured to me and then looked perplexed when I shook my head. Us whiteys do all look the same.

On the Cambodian side things were a swifter and smiley-er. We were a little miffed at the $35 pp visa fee as our Lonely Planet Guide said $20 and it was only 1 year old, but this set the precedent for the rest of Cambodia's prices - which were A LOT more expensive than anticipated.
We had our usual truck-stop where we voided our bladders and got some rice and veggies for a couple of dollars each.

We then spent the rest of the journey to Phnom Penh (another 5 hours) watching the outside temperature gauge at the front of the bus go up and up. At one point it said 39 degrees. We cried into our air-conditioned laps. Maybe Hồ Chí Minh wasn't the hottest place after all.
The further we got in to Cambodia the more we felt reminded of India; the landscape seemed to have a bit of an orange tinge and there was sandy dust everywhere. The roads were barely roads; mostly wide dirt tracks with a bit of concrete still remaining and plenty of potholes.

The bus took 7 and a half hours instead of the supposed 6. Becky and Kate were meeting us but we had no way of contacting them to tell them we were late so we hoped they weren't worried. As we parked up we immediately saw Becky's frantic waving through the window; they'd waited for us. Despite the blistering wall of heat that hit us when we stepped off the bus we were joyful and relieved to see their welcoming and familiar faces, and they even had a beer for us!
We hopped into their friend Heng's tuk tuk and set off on our way to our digs for the next 8 days.

Of course Becky and Kate's home was lovely, and massive. We had a whole room to ourselves with an en suite bathroom and Becky had even cleared some space in the wardrobe for us. We both enjoyed a figurative exhale as we settled in to what felt like a home from home.

We all went for dinner at a Khmer restaurant called Eleven One Kitchen where we enjoyed some delicious ricey/noodley dishes packed with flavour. Lauren approved of both the Angkor and Cambodia beer (which in many instances was cheaper than water).

That night we slept like babies; relaxed in the knowledge that we didn't have to do any forward planning for at least a few days. Becky and Kate were in work during the week so they'd leave before we got up in the mornings. I woke up hot and bothered and in pain only to discover that mother nature had decided now was the time to rid me of my useless uterine lining. Let me tell you, 39° heat + 60% humidity + period doesn't make for a happy Aisha.

The girls' cleaner turned up at 9:30am and we tried our best to politely stay out of her way whilst simultaneously trying not to flash her any of our bits by accident.
After lazing around for a few hours watching telly and trying not to sweat our organs out, we decided to brave the outdoors and walk to the Russian market which was only 15 minutes away. As soon as we left the apartment we regretted moaning about the heat in Hồ Chí Minh city; an igloo compared to Phnom Penh.

After a while we got used to the back and forth with the never-ending tuk tuk (remork) drivers; "hey lady, tuk tuk?", "no thank you, we're walking", and repeat. We made to the market with a few electrolytes left and entered under the corrugated roof. We then remembered the book mentioning that the market wasn't air-conditioned and so got incredibly hot in the day. Marvellous. We did our best to take in as many stalls as possible. There was an interesting mechanical section filled with hundreds of metal thingamabobs for cars and motorbikes and god knows what else. I couldn't help thinking that Guy Martin would've felt like a kid in a sweet shop.
Desperate to get out of the heat and humidity we ran into the nearest restaurant we could for some sweet sweet air-con relief. The restaurant was Cafe Yejj, where we had an unfortunately underwhelming meal, but didn't mind too much as it's a place where disadvantaged Cambodians, particularly women, are trained up in the hospitality trade. We were mostly just happy to cool down.
That evening when Becky and Kate had returned from work we ordered a delicious Khmer takeaway and chatted the night away; putting the world to rights while filling our faces.

The following day was the big one; visits to the two key Khmer Rouge sites in Phnom Penh. The honourable Heng picked us up nice and early and first took us to The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, 11 miles south of PP. Here's some of the journey;

For those of you that don't know, Choeung Ek was one of the main killing fields during the Khmer Rouge's rule from 1975-79. Thousands of Cambodian civilians (men, women and children) were brought to Choeung Ek from S-21 prison (where we visited afterwards) to be killed.
The audio-guide tour at Choeung Ek was honestly the best audio-guide we have ever had. Voiced by a Khmer Rouge survivor, it was incredibly informative, sensitive yet frank and just very well done. We spent over 2 hours walking around the fairly small site, taking in every last nugget of information on the guide. It goes without saying that the experience affected us both greatly; harrowing barely covers it. We would highly recommend that everyone visit if they're in Cambodia.

As if one horrifying expedition wasn't enough we then went to Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes (aka S-21 prison which used to be a high school). Once again, we were incredibly moved by what we saw and would urge anyone to go. A lot of people say to split the two sights up, but we wanted to do it all in one day to not only save time but to also try and get as much of a well-rounded appreciation of the overwhelming atrocities of the Khmer Rouge genocide as we could.

We were pretty quiet for the next few hours; letting all of the stories and images sink in. When B and K got home we chatted for a bit and went out for dinner at Sesame Noodle where we got three courses of SE Asian yumminess (including Japanese mochi for pudding). Just before we left a gecko decided to jump onto Emma (a friend of Becky and Kate's) and crawl up her back and arm. This turned us all into screaming idiots until the thing managed to find its way back onto a wall.

The next day Lauren and I did next to nothing other than a bit of onward planning. In the evening we had Mexican food (weird in Cambodia I know) and then went to a cute little hair salon that doubles as a gay bar at night. There were lots of buff Cambodian men coming in and out with dental-floss-straps vest tops that showed both nipples. Everyone's hair was impeccably coiffed (it is a salon after all) and for a while we were the only women in there. Later on though a few of our kind appeared (albeit Western) and we all sipped on strong cocktails and did what gays do; sang along to Britney Spears. The guys working there (who I'm presuming are also the hairdressers) were incredibly attentive and friendly and just generally the vibe was so welcoming and positive. It made me smile.

The following day, still appalled by the heat, we decided to have a swim in the apartment block's pool (on the 4th floor weirdly enough). The water was cold, which was perfect, and even though there was snot coming out of almost every one of my orifices, I managed to do 10 lengths (which for someone who can barely swim is a bit of a feat).

Sufficiently cooled off we then jumped in a tuk tuk to the Central Market, which is in and around a massive impressive colonial building (with some air-con). Lauren managed to pick up an Angkor Beer vest top for a couple of dollars and I managed to do what I do best, pull faces at cute babies.

We then walked to Wat Ounalom, where apparently one of Buddha's eyebrow hairs is kept. We mainly picked this holy site because Lauren seems to have developed a weird obsession with visiting Buddha's bodily parts. So far we've done a head hair (Yangon, Myanmar) and a footprint (Luang Prabang, Laos). Also, it was free to get in so that scored it a few points. Once we entered the grounds we were approached by an old man who opened up the little door of the Wat and invited us to climb in. We then all sat in front of the Buddha shrine while he blessed us with some water, oil and incense. It was a really lovely peaceful moment that made us feel a little closer to Cambodia than we did before.

We wandered around the rest of the grounds looking at the many old and new stupas alongside huts and washing lines of the local people. We also had a skinny black kitten latch itself onto us (my fault for stroking it).
A little walk away was Tonlé Sap riverside where we stopped in a few non-for-profit community shops; Daughter's of Cambodia and Friends 'N Stuff.

Next stop was The Flicks; an ex-pat, community-run cinema that shows new and old films for a few dollars in small, air conditioned viewing theatres. Following our education at Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng we were keen to see the 1985 film The Killing Fields which was showing at The Flicks 2. Unfortunately, we'd walked to The Flicks 3 and so had to get a tuk tuk over to the right cinema. Luckily, we just made it and we happily reclined on the wicker sofas in the cold, dark room ready to cry all over again. During the film I needed the loo but because we'd taken our shoes off to enter the cinema (a requirement) I didn't want to walk barefoot in the toilet. Lauren kindly pointed out that there were a pair of flip flops in the aisle for the toilet. I didn't think anything of this as everywhere else we've been (restaurants, theatres, truck-stops, spas etc) have a special pair of toilet flip flops usually outside the doors so you don't have to stand in piss. So I put them on and went on my merry way. It was only when the film ended that we noticed a man putting on said flip flops and leaving that I realised they weren't communal toilet flip flops, but just some poor cinema-goers shoes that I'd borrowed. He must have watched me put them on and thought "why the fuck is that girl putting my flip flops on and leaving the cinema!?" Well he must have been British because he didn't say a word to me, he didn't even look at me when I returned and put them back beside him.
That evening we introduced Becky and Kate to the brilliant Channel 4 programme First Dates (they're now hooked).

The next day my cold had taken an ugly turn; I was sneezing fluorescent snot every 10 minutes and so wasn't feeling up for public interaction. By the afternoon poor Lauren was beyond bored so I agreed to go to the Angkor Market with her (a mini supermarket) where we managed to spend $25, yes 25 fucking US dollars on next to nothing. We then found a little disabled-run craft shop where I bought a bracelet made from magazines and did my best not to thank the lovely lady who served me by presenting her with a load of phlegm.

For the rest of the day we watched scary wildlife programmes on king cobras and cougars killing people. As you do.
I was feeling really awful so I stayed in bed while Becky, Kate and Lauren went to The Secret Garden to drink $2 beer jugs. Unfortunately I didn't manage to nap as I'd taken two Sno Kuff tablets (the infamous cold tablets from India) which gave me nothing but heart palpitations for an hour. We all went for tea (along with three of B an K's friends) at the French-owned L'Orchidee where I mustered up the strength to stroke the resident dogs and eat some sweet and sour tofu. It being Friday we followed our meals with drinks on the trendy Bassac Lane in a bar called Cicada. The cocktails and conversations flowed (although I stuck to water in an attempt to prevent the cold worsening) and Kate and Lauren got chatting to a guy that turned out to be a bit of a film star. He showed them a picture of him with my fantasy wife Angelina Jolie whose upcoming film adaptation First they killed my Father he was cast in. They can't remember his name though...

On Saturday Becky, Lauren and I ventured to the palace only to find it was closed. Nowhere did it say why it was closed or for how long but we took it on the chin and went to the National Museum instead. The museum was average; there were some vaguely interesting old busts and sculptures mostly of Hindu gods and Buddha and a few bits of wood and weaving work.
Then, after half an hour in a tuk tuk and plenty of stopping and starting to check maps and forums, we managed to find the street-art area just beside the gorgeous Alserkal mosque. The graffiti was plastered along the walls of a narrow, mostly residential street with a few little house-shops and cafés. Reminiscent of the likes of Nelson street in Bristol but on a much smaller and less out-there sort of way. And weirdly enough, underneath one of the tags was the text 'Bristol to Cambodia'!
Ever a capitalist-pig (I can't help it, it's in my conditioning), I couldn't help but think that it's the sort of area that would be an excellent pace to invest in. There are already little coffee-houses, art and vintage shops and alternative bars starting up. It'll turn into Beijing's 798 in no time.
It really felt wonderful wandering around and dissecting the art; as expected it had elements of satire and social commentary on both Cambodia and the rest of the world. The only dampener was the fact that my camera decided to break AGAIN! As our money is running low and there's no guaranteeing it won't break again, I've decided not to get it fixed again and to just try and pick up a cheap compact digi camera if and when I come across one.

On the way back 'home' we stopped at a popular Chinese eatery - Chinese Noodle, where you can watch the thick noodles being made out the front. We all had soup and I chucked as much chilli in as I could to try and de-congest. It was ice cream and pastries at Posh Nosh for pudding followed by a swim in the pool with two cute Kiwi kids who were neighbours.

That evening we were supposed to be going to see a performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show by the Phnom Penh Players Company. Last minute the show was cancelled because of a power cut. Gutted, we instead invited some friends over and drank home-made espresso Martinis and played Cards Against Humanity. At around midnight the girls then decided it was time to go out. I, being the boring old ill bastard that I am decided to instead go to bed. At around 3am Lauren and the girls rolled in after having spent 3 hours singing karaoke at a KTV centre. Bloody ex-pats.

Our last day in Cambodia, Sunday, consisted of us all nursing hangovers (or a head-cold in my case) and lazing around for most of the morning fantasising about what type of food we all wanted. We settled on pizza and toddled down to Brooklyn Pizza where we gorged ourselves silly. To top off the indulgence we then got pedicures and exhaustedly giggled at each other for a couple of hours. We bought shit loads of sugar and fat-laden treats from the rip-off supermarket nearby (called Super-Duper) and spent our last evening trying to bring on diabetes while watching more First Dates.

Yes our time in Phnom Penh was a little more Western-focused than jaunts in previous locations but what can I say, after almost 3 months of all things foreign I think we deserved a bit of home-comfort. Becky and Kate were such generous and fun hosts and how lucky we are to have called their home ours for a week. And thank god I was ill there and not in some grotty dorm room in Vietnam. Speaking of grotty dorms, Sihanoukvile is next...

Posted by advensha 05:53 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh snails pizza karaoke tuk_tuk s21 genocide angelina_jolie ex-pats killing_fields khmer_rouge central_market wat_ounalom super_duper sesame_noodle espresso_martinis Comments (0)

Vietnam: Hồ Chí Minh

sunny 35 °C
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Our last morning in Hội An consisted of eating some breakfast and getting a bit felt up by one of the Vietnamese ladies who remarked that my tummy wasn't as big as her tummy and proceeded to take a good chunk of my abdominal flab in her hand and squeeze it determinedly.
This actually gave me a warm wash of nostalgia from the days when my dearly departed grandmother (Oma) would grab me in a similar place and announce that I had "A LOT OF SPECK" (German for bacon).

It was very hot and we were thankful for our 1hr air conditioned taxi ride to Da Nang train station. As per usual (thanks to Lauren's phobia of tardiness), we were VERY early for our train and so spent 2 hours cooing over cute babies and buying overpriced, nutritionally bereft packaged snacks.

This was our longest journey to date; 18 hours from Da Nang to Vietnam's capital Hồ Chí Minh. The train was in the exact same format as the one we took from Hà Nội to Huế a week earlier. For the first few hours we shared our 4-berth cabin with an old Vietnamese lady and her big potted plant. We didn't talk with each other but we shared plenty of smiles and polite gestures.
We spent the rest of the daytime hours trying to make the time pass as quickly as possible; playing games, reading, having the occasional snooze, daydreaming out of the window etc. One of the train attendants was a very smiley young man who seemed to be quite enamoured by us. Every now and again he would come into our cabin and sit beside the lady on her bed and look at us. He didn't speak any English but he seemed to be talking about us to the lady, at one point touching one of Lauren's arm tattoos. I tried my best to memorise his name badge and told Lauren not to worry as I'd unleash the scouse if he crossed the line. I didn't need to though.

At tea time we struggled a bit to order food as the menu was all in Vietnamese, but the crappy language app I'd downloaded onto my Kindle enabled us to order rice and vegetables. As we were waiting for our food a lady came round with a stall full of cooked meat items. I bought what looked like two pork satay sticks and hoped for the best. As I should have guessed the meat was tough and full of gristle and fat and also had pubic-like hairs poking out of it. I didn't finish the sticks.
We were presented with a large carton full of steamed white rice dolloped with garlic green-beans, and that was it. No sauce, no other vegetables. We later found out that rau (the word we used for vegetables) can, if said in a certain way, just mean green beans. Ah well, it was food and we were just happy to have plenty in our bellies for the rest of the long ride.

The original lady got off and was replaced by another old lady, but this one a bit more glam with pedicured feet and plenty of rouge. With nothing much else to do, at around 19:30 the three of us assumed the sleeping position and turned the cabin light off. An hour or so later a young woman came in to fill the last bed.
We both slept quite well, only a little bothered by the fluctuating temperature and occasional jerk and bump. At 5am, some weird pop music blasted in and woke us all up - this is the 'we're almost there' alarm. Bleary eyed and with limited space we got our bags together and made our way to the doors; blocking most of the aisle with our backpacks in the process.

At 5:20 we arrived and as advised by our next host, jumped into a well-marked official taxi which charged on the meter. Our accommodation was a homestay, and it didn't have a name as a hotel or guesthouse would. We gave the full address to the taxi driver but it became clear quite quickly that he wasn't really sure where it was. We'd been told (and we could see on Google Maps) that the homestay was only 2km from the station (a 10 min journey). However after 15 mins, the driver stopped on a main road and told us this was our destination. We obviously refuted this and showed him the address again. He eventually got us to the right place after half an hour of doing one big circle. Lauren then refused to pay him the amount on the meter (approx. £5) as he'd took us on a wild goose chase. Our host had told us it should cost no more than $2. I was a little shocked (and very proud) at 'easy-going' Loz standing defiant in a dark, unfamiliar Saigon. The man angrily accepted the £3.50 we gave him and we both felt a little victory (whilst also wondering whether he would come back later and murder us).

One of the benefits of a homestay is that you're generally not subjected to rigid check-in and out times. We told our host our arrival time in advance which mean he (Mr. Than) was there to greet us and let us into our room; saving hours of waiting around and falling asleep in cafés.
Our double room was on the second floor of a four-story house (typical of Hồ Chí Minh), tucked away at the end of a quiet side street and we had a shared bathroom. The house is occupied by the host's adult daughter who lives on the top floor (who we unfortunately never met). The were lots of knick-knacks around and it did feel like we were staying in a flat-share, which was cosy and nice.

We did all that we could at that time; sleep. Upon waking we stepped out onto the streets of District 3 to get ourselves some breakfast items. We walked down a narrow residential street on our way to the mini-mart where we saw the occupants of the tall houses, old and young, sat outside their doors, with their dogs, cats and chickens, in their underwear, taking in the vitamin D. And by jove was there plenty of vitamin D! We had thought Hội An was hot, but Hồ Chí Minh felt like Mars. Lauren started to worry that she wouldn't make it through the 3 days.

Later on, we ventured to District 1 - the city centre, a 20 minute walk away. At 36 °C we almost melted into the concrete. Once again, we'd thought that Hà Nội's traffic was frenzied and precarious for pedestrians, but that was before we'd experienced Hồ Chí Minh. It wasn't so much the size and complexity of the roads, although they were massive, but the quantity and unashamed conduct of the motorcyclists. It's difficult enough to navigate the streets of the capital as a pedestrian as there isn't a consistent pavement and even when there is, it's blocked by parked bikes or stalls. So a lot of the time you're walking in the road. When you do manage to get on a bit of ostensibly safe paving, you'll suddenly feel a motorbike zoom past your body - on your left and on your right. Lauren and I quickly realised that motorcyclists, in an attempt to beat the heavy traffic, will use pavements as an overtaking lane. This meant that on our first day we were constantly turning around to see if we were about to be run down. By our last day however, fighting obnoxious with obnoxious, we actively spread ourselves out across the pavement, forcing the bikers to re-enter the road. You really can't take us anywhere.

In town we wandered briefly around Bến Thành market, getting accosted most of the way by the traders. Then we booked our bus tickets to Phnom Penh and ate at a little vegetarian restaurant we'd stumbled across on the way. It was St. Patrick's day but we just didn't have it in us to find an Irish bar and face the crowds. Instead, we treated ourselves to a Baskin Robbins ice cream - when we should have actually had a Fanny's homemade Vietnamese ice cream but hindsight is a great thing.
That evening, my belly decided to act up again - at least I didn't digest the ice cream calories...

On our second day we walked back to Bến Thành market where we met our tour guide Vivianne (a young Vietnamese university student) from Saigon Free Walking Tours. We were joined on our city tour by a fellow Brit (from Kent) called Lisa who had only just arrived in Vietnam. We walked and chatted and learned a little about the history of Hồ Chí Minh. One thing we were struck by was the mass of beautiful very tall trees right in the midst of the urban centre (unfortunately my knowledge of trees isn't very good).
In the tour we explored the War Remnants Museum (previously known as Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes), Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, the Central Post Office (built by Gustave Eiffel) and the City Hall.
We enjoyed the tour but, dehydrated, hungry and overheated after waking for hours in the sun, we were keen to get back 'home'. The 30 minute walk back to District 3 at rush hour almost killed us. We stopped at Saigon Vegan for much-needed sustenance then once back, jumped straight in the shower to douse ourselves in ice cold water.

For our last day in Vietnam's capital we met up with our new friends Hattie and Michael who we met on our India tour. We chose Bookworm café as our meeting point; a scruffy little backpacker place with lots of books for borrowing and exchanging. On my way back from the toilet (that had no sink or way of hand-washing at all) I peeked in the adjacent kitchen and tried to ignore the hundreds of hygiene violations. Lauren had a disappointing fake sausage and cheese toastie and Hattie and Michael had a flavourless phở soup. The chilled/rustic vibe of the place was a redeeming feature though.
We walked to Bến Thành market and swept through the alleys of stalls, trying to browse without getting jumped on by sellers. Lauren even managed to buy some fake Ray Ban sunglasses to replace her 99p Shop ones. We then headed over to the nearby street food market which was a biggish warehouse-style location with many different food stalls; mostly Asian but some Westernised options too. It was pretty trendy and gentrified with street art on the walls, posters and indie music.

As none of us had seen it yet we all ventured over to Independence/Reunification Palace but had to walk around the whole circumference of its walls for 30 minutes to get to the right entrance. The Palace has quite an interesting history; it had started life as a palace but had also acted as government building (which aesthetically it looks more like). Inside wasn't particularly opulent as many European palaces tend to be, but the huge basement bunker was fascinating. A warren of concrete passages with lots of amazing looking old telecommunications technology.

For lunch we went back to the street food market where Hattie and Michael chose rib sandwiches, Lauren chose a Thai potato curry and I selected a Japanese Yaki Soba. We sat on the 'rustic' benches with all the other tourists, ex-pats and young Vietnamese and gobbled everything up while people-watching. The usual post-food lull hit us pretty quickly and that, coupled with the stifling heat and hours of walking around meant we were all pooped. We said our goodbyes and commenced our bastarding half hour walk back to our homestay; at rush hour, in 70% humidity.

That was it for Hồ Chí Minh city and I really liked it but I think Lauren is a little tired of cities now. I also think the heat is getting a bit debilitating for us English folks. So with that in mind, our next stop is big city Phnom Penh that's 3 degrees hotter than Vietnam. Genius!

Posted by advensha 05:25 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam hot saigon backpacking travelling humid ho_chi_minh south_vietnam independence_palace reunification_palace too_hot Comments (0)

Vietnam: Hội An


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The morning of our departure from Huế was a little frazzling. I realised late in the evening that I'd left my camera repair receipt at the shop and without one I'd have no chance of claiming through my insurance. So after hurriedly getting ready and packing my bag, I ran down to head to the shop. In my wisdom I'd saved a paragraph I'd written through Google translate explaining that I needed a copy of my receipt to hopefully make things easy to the shop attendants. I happened to show this paragraph to Toan (the guesthouse guy) who then dashed all my hopes and dreams and said it was total gibberish and made no sense at all. Compassionate to my plight he very kindly escorted me to the shop, which was closed. He rang the number on the sign and explained to the owner what I needed and he said that someone would be there in 10 minutes. 20 minutes later the girl from the day before arrived with a smile and opened up. The message hadn't been passed on but after flailing my hands and arms around in a crazy game of charades she understood what I needed and wrote me a receipt. Success!

At this point I had no idea whether Lauren had already been collected by the bus and was on her merry way to Hội An. Luckily, she was still in our room. We clambered down the stairs with our ever-growing backpacks and Toan asked us to pay for our stay. We were a little confused as we thought for a second we'd already paid but we handed over the 490,000 dong anyway and waited for our lift. Then, when checking our emails for our accommodation in Hội An we realised we HAD in fact paid for Sunny Fine guesthouse. We showed Toan the email confirmation and he apologised profusely and explained that he thought we'd booked through booking.com (where you don't pay upfront) but we'd actually booked with Agoda (where you do pay upfront). He felt really bad but I made a joke out of telling him I was going to call him a thief on my TripAdvisor review and we all had a good laugh about it.

We chatted to a nice solo-traveller called Mike from St. Albans for a bit then got collected by crappy old van with two poor long-legged Europeans squashed in what used to be the boot. We got on the coach and did a double-take at the format; 3 rows of mauve double-decker leather dentist chairs. The bottom level is on the floor of the coach - you have to get on your hands and knees in the aisle and shuffle into the seat/bed. To get up to the top deck there is a little ladder - you have to climb it and contort yourself into the seat/bed without knocking someone out with your arse/legs or in our case, tits. Once in place, you slide your legs into a shallow 'slot' and you can then decide whether you want to sit upright or lay down almost flat. We also had a our very own brown puffy duvet decorated with paw prints that I thought probably had more skin on it than Leatherface - so I didn't use mine.

We then spent an hour parked at the Petrolimex; people were loading box after box and bag after bag onto the coach. Eventually we left and after a couple of hours we stopped at a truck stop for toilets and food. This stop was an undeniable tourist-trap, ran by a very assertive lady who shouted at all of the Caucasians on the bus to buy food and snacks. She then went round asking everyone for foreign coins and notes as she collects them. We were pretty hungry and ill-prepared so we gave in and bought some Pringles for £2 which brought tears to my eyes. We did enjoy the delicious MSG though.

As always, I managed to fit in a few naps while on the coach; if I'm in a moving vehicle for over 10 minutes I simply cannot fight the urge to snooze. Lauren was near to the toilet and became increasingly frustrated at the male users of the coach toilet who seemed unable to shut the door after their visit; which meant a lovely smell wafted to our noses. I feel this is becoming a bit of a theme.

Four hours on the coach and we arrived in Hội An where we were immediately touted by motorbike-taxis (xe ôm) who told us that there aren't any taxis in Hội An and so we must use them. Unconvinced, we walked for less than 2 minutes and flagged a fully-licensed taxi (on the meter) that took us the 4km to Luna Villa Homestay. Nice try suckers. We received a very warm welcome by Peanut (really) and her staff and we were blown away by our massive modern room fully equipped with kettle, flat-screen telly AND a fridge! We also had a peek at the infinity swimming pool, flanked either side by huge palm and banana trees and two lakes. We knew we were going to be very comfortable.

Peanut was eager for us to book tours with her and repeatedly recommended a particular tailor shop in town (Hội An is renowned for it's bespoke tailoring trade), but we politely resisted; keen to try and do things ourselves without forking out.
We chilled out in our room for a few hours; I even got electrocuted by a lamp and almost voided my bowels. Lauren thought it was the finniest moment of her life.

That evening we attempted to visit a nearby restaurant (apparently 400m from our homestay). We got the route up on Google Maps and started following it but as we were in a really rural area (Cam Thanh village) it was pitch black. We cautiously walked up a very dark lane and heard the sounds of various creatures and different unknown things we stepped on. We used Lauren's torch app on her phone but we quickly became very anxious. Then, just as we thought we were approaching the restaurant a group of dogs came out of a yard and started aggressively barking at us. Naturally we gave up and practically ran back to the homestay; where the lovely staff made us some noodles so we didn't starve. What are we like eh!? As if we weren't spooked enough we then made the wise decision to watch Final Destination 3 on TV.

We tossed and turned a bit through the night and realised the cups of tea at 11pm were probably a mistake - we got a little excited by the presence of a kettle. Despite this we were up early and after our breakfast we had a little swim then cycled into the town centre 6km away.
As we were nearing the town a lady on the back of a motorbike siddled up to me, while I was cycling on the road, and started asking me when I'd arrived in Hội An and where I was from. Immediately aware I was being scouted for business I asked her why she needed to know and she then asked whether I needed any tailored clothes. After a firm NO she signalled her driver to speed on. I give her kudos for her unique approach.

Smoothly following our interesting introductory sales-pitch, after we'd parked up, we were promptly punched in the face by many more pestering ladies offering tailoring, massages, nail art, sandwiches and even eyebrow plucking - which one woman was keen to sell to Lauren. We ducked and blocked as best we could, upping our pace so to not inadvertently stop in front of a shop. The town itself is very pretty; lots of leftover colonial features line the very symmetrical and colourful streets and many lanterns float above your head.

The relentless bothering was a little disheartening but we were even more disillusioned when we approached the ticket booth for visiting the 'ancient town' sights and were told it cost 120,000 dong (£4) per person for a book of 5 tickets to visit 5 of the 25 sights. We had read that we'd have to pay something for the ancient sights but we didn't think it's be so much and we also didn't think we'd be limited to 5. We didn't dwell however and used our first ticket on visiting an old Chinese Assembly Hall; Phuc Kien. We then moved onto Tan Ky House; a 200 year old traditional Vietnamese trading house which among other things, contains some beautiful ornate panelling and furniture with mother of pearl Chinese lettering.

Feeling deprived of raw nutrients, we found a local grocery market where I excitedly bought apples and carrots. We then had a look at the ancient Japanese bridge deciding not to use a ticket to walk on it *cough swizz cough*. After a bit more wandering we finally had enough of the accosting and moved on to our most beloved activity; eating.

We'd spotted vegan café Annen on the ride into Hội An town and were glad to find it open when we arrived. We were also glad to find that it was locally owned by an husband and wife as a lot of the veggie/vegan places we've found thus far have been Western-owned, overpriced and with a 'hipster' vibe. We did have to Google a few of the dishes and we also had to wait an hour for them to be served (only the wife was cooking and the place was full) but boy was it worth it. Lauren chose a dish that is specific to Hội An; Mi Quang soup made of flat yellow noodles, mushrooms, carrots and tofu.

After a brisk cycle back before it got dark we had another swim before bed and felt like jammy little bastards.

We went back to the town the next day not wanting to waste our tickets. After bumping into Sandy and Peter; the Australian couple we'd met in Vientiane, we visited the Sa Huynh cultural museum which was small but had some interesting artefacts relating to the area from history, Independence from the French and the Vietnam war.

The weather was cloudy and a bit chilly and feeling hungry and fed up with Hội An's ancient town we went back to Annen café where we got chatting to a lovely young Vietnamese woman called Linh. After some initial small talk we discovered we were all part of the same club; the lezzies. It was so great to chat with a local person from our generation who was gay and hear about her experiences. Linh was thrilled to hear from us too and we spent the next hour sharing stories and asking questions. We swapped details and encouraged Linh to visit the UK and come stay with us if she did.

That evening, after a lovely long catch up with Mum until midnight neither of us could sleep and so our last day in Hội An was a very lazy one as we were knackered. We swam, ate, read and lay around.

We would have liked to use our remaining two tickets but we left them for the next guests instead. Hội An was a beautiful town with a very diverse and rich history. The constant product and service peddling did dampen things a bit, but if you look beyond this there's plenty to see. We also didn't manage to see the town at night but apparently it's a wonderful sight to behold; multicoloured lanterns are lit all over and a night market opens.

We think we hit a bit of lull in Hội An and so used the time to veg out. But thanks to the swish surroundings our batteries were well and truly recharged ready for our last stop in Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh city.

Posted by advensha 06:11 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam cycling travelling backpackers hoi_an scared vegetarian ancient_town infinity_pool eco_village annen luna_homestay cam_thanh_village Comments (0)

Vietnam: Huế

rain
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When we got to Hanoi Railway Station our train was conveniently already on the platform. We found our coach (4-berth soft-sleeper) and located our cabin. Our cabin-mates were Patty and Rusty, a lovely older couple from the US. We all chatted for a few hours and Lauren and I got a bowl of noodle soup gruel for tea, The 13 hour journey was perfectly fine; I got top and Lauren got bottom and aside from the odd bump and shake and the slightly smelly loo we both got a good few hours of sleep in.

We arrived at 9am and as soon as we stepped off the train the difference in climate was palpable; gorgeous sun. We jumped in a taxi and the tout who jumped in with us too gave us a hardcore sales-pitch the whole way; cheap tours and day trips, a recommendations book and plenty of photos of white folk enjoying themselves at the various sights. We managed to wriggle out of the sales and arrived at our stop; Sunny Fine guesthouse. We then found out we should have paid a lot less than we did in the taxi. Ahhh the woes of ignorance.

We dropped our bags with the very friendly gentleman on reception (Toan) and walked to the nearby Nina's café for breakfast. There Lauren had "the best omelette of my life" - her standards must have dropped because it only had onion, mushroom and Dairylea cheese in it. When we returned to Sunnyfine we were told our room was ready - at 10am! We've been incredibly lucky with early check-ins. The room was basic but had everything we needed and instead of a window it had a nice sticker of a window on the wall.

Being the lazy bums we are we spent the rest of the day lay down. The thing to rouse us was food, so we found a veggie place online and head out. It was then we discovered it was raining; so back up we went to fetch our almost-forgotten raincoats. It was proper rain; not torrential but familiar English style 'light rain' - the kind that'll soak you through. After a wet 20 minutes we arrived at the restaurant and found it closed and locked up. We then said "fuck it" and walked to the large mall where we ate in the food court and saw Zoolander 2 at the cinema.

We'd booked a tour with 'Hue Lady Riders' and were collected by two very young looking girls called Vi and Mynk the next morning. It was spitting a little but we happily hopped on the back of their scooters for our zoom around Hue. The two girls were no taller than 5 foot and so Lauren and I made for disproportionate passengers, likely to capsize the mopeds just through sheer difference in mass. Our first stop was a traditional street stand serving drinks. We were provided with the tiniest plastic stools to sit on; another indicator of our gigantism. In an attempt to get stuck in with the culture I opted for a Vietnamese iced coffee (cà phê đá); a small portion of espresso coffee sweetened with a glug or two of condensed milk and served with ice. Now I'm not a big coffee drinker anyway and when I do drink it, I like it mild, so the notorious potency of Vietnam's offering was quite eye-watering. I only managed a few sips.

After an exhilarating ride through the initially suburban but then very rural roads of Hue, along which we saw thick forests with signs about not poaching slow lorises, we arrived at Khải Định Tomb. We were a little disconcerted that the two girls just dropped us and pointed us to the ticket booth; with our other tours we'd be guided through the sights and the entry had been included in our tour price. We brushed this off and spent the comparatively expensive ‎£8 on the tickets. The tomb is built on Chau Chu mountain atop a few hundred steps. The concrete brickwork and figurines across the site were blackened due to age and evoked a slightly macabre image. Contrastingly, the interior of the various buildings were still very grand and colourful; the Emperor's tomb itself is covered in elaborate tiles with mirrors, gems and precious metals. A tomb that Liberace would be proud of. I was most interested by the fact that the Emperor was widely disliked in Vietnam as he was in cahoots with the French government (who were closely involved with the building of the tomb).

After another breathtaking drive on the scooters we stopped at Tu Hieu Pagoda which was deep within a pine forest and something we definitely wouldn't have found on our own. The pagoda wasn't too dissimilar from many of the others we'd seen before, a bit of the imagery was different (more of those unusual Vietnamese 'unicorns') and because of its location, it was very quiet and peaceful. On the way in was a large 'half-moon' lake full of cat fish (which the two girls wrongly or rightly fed with sugary biscuits). We later found out that the pagoda was once home to many eunuchs from the Citadel. Plenty of monks still live there to this day but unfortunately we just missed one of their chants. On our way out an old lady came running over with her old fashioned mobile phone asking the girls for help in Vietnamese. They had a look at the phone but couldn't help her. I then realised all that had happened was her phone had locked and she couldn't figure out how to unlock it. I quickly unlocked it and the lady was incredibly thankful. Even the girls couldn't believe my genius. I could do with that sort of adoration more regularly.

During the 'tour' we made an effort to get to know Mynk and Vi. We told them that we were a couple right at the beginning and they seemed quite impressed, asserting that they too felt like lesbians because they spent all their time together. They were very inquisitive and humourful if not a little immature for 20-somethings (but perhaps this was just cultural differences). They seemed to find us very funny which only made me show off more.

Next was the Tự Đức tomb, or more accurately the Tự Đức town; a HUGE and beautiful area containing the obvious tombs (Tự Đức, his fav wife and his adopted son), a few lakes, thousands of trees and plants and a load of small temples. Tự Đức, like most emperors, was a massive bastard who lived a very extravagant life; he had hundreds of wives and concubines and used forced labour to build his mausoleum. He also ordered that all of the slaves who buried him be beheaded so no grave-robbers could come and find his remains. We walked around the site for as long as we could with no guide and tried to take in as much as the scenery as we could.

The girls took us to a veggie restaurant for lunch where we ate everything that was put in front of us, including an interesting artichoke tea. We also tried (and failed) to perfect some Vietnamese phrases.

Our last ride was a very wet one; we were hit in the face with horizontal rain for about 20 minutes. It certainly perked us up from our post-lunch lull. Lauren managed to capture a little video of the ride;

We stopped at Thiên Mụ pagoda; the tallest religious building in Vietnam and just beside Huế's perfume river. This time the girls showed us around the sight and gave us some bits of information (but I won't bore you with it here). One of the most fascinating things we saw was the car (a gorgeous old mint-green Austin) of monk Thich Quang Duc who set himself on fire in Saigon in 1963 in protest to the awful treatment of Buddhists under the Diem regime.

That was it for our motorbike tour and we bid farewell to our petite hosts who very kindly invited us to karaoke that evening, but, feeling much too old for that sort of fun, we politely declined.

On a bit of a whim we took my broken DSLR to a camera shop just up the road from our guesthouse. The man and woman in the shop (who spoke almost no English) handled my camera for a while, trying out different batteries (despite me trying to explain that the two batteries I had were full). After a while the lady told me to come back in an hour. At this point we had no idea whether she was going to just have someone else look at my camera, actually repair it or just put it in the bin and offer me a new one when I returned, but, with no other prospects I accepted.

After a nice cheap local lunch, we returned to the shop to find that my camera had not only been repaired, but it was also in the process of being spit shined. The cost was 2 million dong (approx. ‎£65) and I tried my very best to non-verbally express my gratitude without being arrested for sexual assault. I think she understood that I was pleased.

That night in celebration we watched Freaky Friday on our 'retro' fuzzy fat TV and figured out what to do in our next destination; Hội An.

Posted by advensha 04:48 Archived in Vietnam Tagged raining vietnam backpacking travelling hue cinema south_east_asia zoolander_2 Comments (0)

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