A Travellerspoint blog

Dalat

Quite a brief little entry today as we have had a good opportunity to rest and relax in the same place for a few days.

We left Mui Ne three days ago and were picked up by mini-bus to take us to Dalat. Over the course of everyone's travels people always recall one 'nightmare' bus journey. For the first hour i thought this was ours. The driver drove like a madman around the thin and scary mountain roads. Bumps were taken for granted as the driver viciously attacked every mound in the road. This caused everyone on the mini-bus to leap in the air and come crashing back down with a thud on the hard seats. However, it seemed the driver was in a rush because after an hour we stopped outside what must have been his house and a new driver took over! The rest of the journey was good with stunning views of the Central Highlands.

When we reached Dalat it was noticeably cooler. We are at 1750m which means the altitude issues are back such as non-growing beards and incredibly weak bladders! However, it is very nice to be out of flip flops and into trainers again. It also gives us the chance to dust off the fleeces that have been sitting in our bags for a couple of months. Dalat is a pleasant little city. It is certainly not as mad as HCMC but still has a vibrant Vietnamese feel to it. There are a few attractions to see but the main thing here is to do some outdoor activities in the surrounding countryside. We booked 2 activities - canyoning (more about this later) and mountain biking to Nha Trang. Nha Trang is our next destination and we thought it would be a nice change from getting a 6-hour bus. The distance is about 140km on a relatively new road and we checked out the quality of the bikes when we signed up. They also re-assured me when they told me there would be a 'support vehicle' available to use if (when) necessary during the ride. We shall wait and see how this goes!

We went canyoning on the second day. Basically this is abseiling down the sides of cliff faces and canyons through and over the top of waterfalls. We started by practising down a 5 metre cliff face. It was harder than you imagined and being mal-coordinated didn't help. We got the hang of it fairly quickly and had a go at jumping down the cliff rather than walking down the cliff. Next, we went down two amazing natural waterslides that were waterfalls going over rocks into the water.

Preparing for descent - Canyoning in Dalat

Preparing for descent - Canyoning in Dalat

Then came the real challenge. A 25 metre descent directly through a waterfall! It was madness and very scary. I had foolishly decided to wear my sandals that day as opposed to the other people who were wearing special grip North Face shoes! This resulted in a comedy of errors as i attempted to abseil through a waterfall over a slippery cliff face with about as much grip as a banana on an ice rink. I persevered and made it down it one piece as did Hannah who made it look annoyingly easy. At the bottom of the descent, with about 4m to go, you had to let go of all ropes and launch yourselves backwards into the water!

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Slippery Canyon

Mission Accomplished!

Mission Accomplished!

Our next challenge was a freefall jump from 7 metres into the river. Usually they do this jump from 10 metres but they needed to change the distance due to low water levels. This didn't reassure us as we looked down over the cliff edge. Nevertheless we summoned up the courage and jumped into the water. It was a good, if a little unorthodox test to see if my nose had sufficiently healed. Although it hurt on impact, mercifully no more damage occured. Our last challenge entitled 'The Washing Machine' involved abseiling into a waterfall, being tossed around by the gushing water and then dropping into the water below. It was a fantastic and memorable experience with many rewarding challenges along the way.

The big jump!!

The big jump!!

We go to Nha Trang tomorrow on an epic bike journey through the Central Highlands of Vietnam. We are anticipating sore limbs on our arrival in Nha Trang so have already eyed up a Spa place!

Posted by Phildean7 23:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City and Mui Ne

We arrived in our penultimate country, Vietnam, about a week ago. The border crossing from Phnom Penh was relatively painless as we wisely invested another $3 each on a bus that stopped once as opposed to the obligatory 50 stops on a cheaper bus.

Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). It is a mad, mad place. Definitely the craziest we have encountered thus far. There are 10 million people and 5 million motorbikes. We must have seen 2 million of those motorbikes when we first tried to cross a road. They have zebra crossings but these seem to be just a token gesture and almost like a 'thumbs up' at westerners who seem to be the only pedestrians. It was a mad circus as we hesitantly crossed the roads one step at a time dodging motorbikes, buses and cars. We were high-fiving each other each time we had successfully negotiated a crossing. Also, bizarrely they seem to allow motorbikes to ride on the pavement so you can never really relax as a pedestrian. On our first full day in HCMC we embarked on our own walking tour and the chaotic traffic meant it was as scary as the sky dive we did in New Zealand! You have to enjoy it all though as it does make for the most amazing, busy, bustling atmosphere. Stereotypically, along with the motorbikes, Vietnam is full of people wearing conical hats. I wanted one but we are yet to see a man wearing a cone hat so we think it might be a female thing.

There are 5 million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh!

There are 5 million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh!

HCMC from above

HCMC from above

We saw many sights on that first day including two interesting museums - the War Remnants Museum and the Independence palace. These places tell the story of the Vietnam war somewhat differently with a distinctly anti-American sentiment. On our second day in HCMC we did a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This was a place where 16,000 people lived in a network of underground tunnels for the duration of the Vietnam war. It was scary how small some of the tunnels and fox holes were that people squeezed into. We got to go in a couple of the tunnels and fox holes and they were very claustrophobic. If you wanted you could also try your hand at shooting an AK-47 but we turned that opportunity down. It also made squeezing through the tunnels a bit more 'realistic' as the sound of gunfire in the distance went through your ears as you made your way through the tunnels!

Naughty Hannah in the naughty hole

Naughty Hannah in the naughty hole

After a couple of days we moved northwards to the beach town of Mui Ne (yes, that is it's real name). This seemed like the perfect destination for another naked traveller shot entitled 'A Moonie in Mui Ne' but there were always too many people around! When we got to our hostel after a sweaty 4km walk with our big bags {"But it looked so close on the Lonely Planet Map"}, we were surprised and annoyed to find the hotel lady had given our room away because we were half an hour late! She made sure we had a room in the hotel next door that she tried to calm us down by explaining that it had a pool. Angrily we shouted at her "But we didn't order a pool!" and stomped into the hotel next door.

..... 30 minutes later we were very relieved to be in a hotel with a pool! Despite it's description as a beach town, the tide comes in at around 11am each day and goes out again at about 2am so for most of the day the South China sea batters the side of the beachfront hotel and completely covers the beach! Luckily, because of my foresight i had booked us a hotel with a pool. We spent the rest of the day sunbathing before going out for tea with some new friends.

We had a 4:45am alarm call the next day as we were going on a tour of the local attractions. Our 'tour guide' if you can call him that, drove us 20km in a cool little jeep to the white sand dunes. These were bigger and more impressive that we expected and they made for an awesome spectacle when the sun rose. Some people there had hired sand sledges to go down the dunes so we watched in anticipation as somebody took 10 calf-wrenching minutes to clamber up a massive sand dune with sand sledge in tow. He went down with as much pace as a tortoise going up the travelator on Gladiators so we were pleased we hadn't bothered with that particular extreme (extremely slow) sport.

Good Morning Vietnam! Sunrise Mui Ne

Good Morning Vietnam! Sunrise Mui Ne

Our next stop on the tour were the very cool red sand dunes and then a very Vietnamese fishing village. At the village, ladies with conical hats sorted through thousands of fish that men kept bringing in from their soup bowl style boats. It was cool and although the smell was very powerful, the atmosphere was very traditional and un-spoilt.

Vietnamese Fishing Village near Mui Ne

Vietnamese Fishing Village near Mui Ne

Our last stop was the Fairy Stream. This didn't sound very cool but was in fact a brilliant walk up a sandy stream. The stream is enclosed on one side with an impressive red canyon and eventually we reached a large waterfall. We managed to find a broken coconut along the way which Little Phil was able to use as a boat! We also encountered a herd of cows / bulls on the way back so nervously made our way through these. Overall, it was a nice little tour although our guide was more of a driver who simply pointed us in the right direction and grunted at each stop on the tour.

Fairy Stream and Red Canyon

Fairy Stream and Red Canyon

Coconut Boat Little Phil!!!

Coconut Boat Little Phil!!!

Hannah waterfalls Mui Ne

Hannah waterfalls Mui Ne

A lot of people we have met have said they have been disappointed by Vietnam but we are really liking it. It is a lot more expensive than Cambodia but still fairly cheap for us. It is geared up a little more for tourism and everybody is doing the same route either from South - North or vice versa. Annoyingly we seem to be travelling in the midst of the biggest public holiday of the year - Tet. This has meant we have had to be more planned when booking hostels and buses and also makes these more expensive. Thankfully we haven't encountered too many problems so far.

Posted by Phildean7 23:57 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Sihanoukville and Kampot

We moved on after 3 great days in the Cambodian capital - Phnom Penh. We caught a bus from there to the South of Cambodia headed for Sihanoukville. This is the beachy part of Cambodia and is much hyped about. As usual the bus left about 1 hour late as it waits until absolutely everybody who is supposed to be on board is on board regardless if they are running late or simply forgot they had to catch a bus. The Cambodians are very laid back in nature and no-one seems to kick up a fuss when the bus is delayed for one hour because some woman turned up late because she was fixing her hair. The other great thing about Cambodian buses seems to be the incessant Cambodian karaoke played on the speakers and on the big screen tv throughout the duration of the journey. It's akin to Chinese water torture having to put up with an awkward looking Cambodian 'pop star' for 4-5 hours on end! On this occasion, it was no different. We sat through the usual drivel and then were treated to some unique Cambodian mechanics when the bus broke down 20 minutes from our destination. Half an hour later it was soon fixed as the driver used his braces to fix the problem and we chugged the last 10km along at about 10 mph.

We spent 3 nights in Sihanoukville. It is certainly the dirtiest town we have been so far. There is rubbish everywhere and you have to really watch your step when you are walking. It is clearly a work in progress kind-of-place but there is no doubt that the beaches are stunning. We soaked up the very consistent Cambodian sun for the best part of 2 days. It has a very chilled out atmosphere on the beach which is probably because of the all day happy hours serving 50 cents beers!

Lady carries stuff on head Sihanoukville beach

Lady carries stuff on head Sihanoukville beach

50 cents happy hour!

50 cents happy hour!

On one of the days we took our trip out to the some of the surrounding islands. They were beautiful and very peaceful. The group we were with though were complete miseries and failed to muster a smile between themselves for the whole day. We kept ourselves amused however by using the snorkelling equipment to perfect our Elton John impressions in the water. We even got into the spirit of things when we were provided with a dodgy looking fish supper. It turned out to be delicious and we can now include Barracuda on the minuscule list of things we like.

Our hostels in Cambodia are proving to be very cheap and good value. On average we've been paying about $8 for a double room with a fan. Our cheapest so far has been $5 but this place had a foul-smelling bathroom (that wasn't the result of one of our deposits!). We have learnt to cope with the constant presence of Gecko's in our room although Hannah has nicknamed them dragons since we have seen one or two massive ones thus far in Cambodia. The other morning we found one amongst the bread rolls we had prepared for lunch the next day. Note to self: Gecko's like bread rolls. We are also learning to cope with the bathrooms which are all wet rooms with the toilet and accompanying toilet paper getting drenched every-time you have a shower. We have figured out this is why they have the need for the aptly named ''bum gun'' to wipe your bum with since the toilet paper has been thoroughly marmalised by the shower water.

After a lovely few days in Sihanoukville we went down to Kampot - a small riverside town near the Vietnam-Cambodia border. It had an almost horizontal laid-backness to it. It moved at a very slow pace but was surrounded by pleasant countryside and was a nice break from the other frantic Cambodian towns. We took a bike ride to see some much advertised rapids along the river. We managed to pick up bikes for the day for $1 dollar each. Hannah had a cool old style bike with a basket and curved handlebars. She looked like a sophisticated French lady out shopping for groceries. I followed behind on my rusty mountain bike looking like a sweaty English man shopping for a defibrillator! The ride itself was good, honest hard work in the searing 30 degree heat. We rode for about 9km and were expecting roaring rapids that cascaded dramatically over the rocks. Instead it was more like a trickle of tap water over a bunch of stones. Nevertheless, the setting was stunning and it was very, very peaceful and great to see the Cambodian countryside. I had the sorest of bottoms after wards but declined the ''internal massages'' on offer by the local ''sausage girls'' (this is their actual terminology not mine!).

Kampot countryside

Kampot countryside

We went on an interesting tour yesterday. The guide took us to a pepper farm, a salt production field, some really cool caves, a crab market and then took us to a really nice island for a lovely beach. It was a good day and the guide certainly enjoyed himself. He steadily worked his way through some ''funny'' cigarettes throughout the day and then rounded off the day with some very strong jugs of palm wine! We were relieved to be dropped off safely 2 hours later than planned!

Hannah Kampot countryside

Hannah Kampot countryside

We are now back in Phonm Penh as we needed to come back here before going to Vietnam tomorrow!

Posted by Phildean7 01:45 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Cambodian adventure

A big update coming up. We have well and truly got going again after stagnating a bit in the Philippines. We are now steadily on-the-move and are loving South East Asia.

We made a very short 45 minute flight from one island to another in the Philippines. We needed to get our bags down to 15kg each to allow us on the plane and so decided upon the ingenious plan of wearing all our heaviest clothes. This resulted in us sweating our socks off (literally) by wearing trousers, heavy walking shoes, trekking socks, t-shirt and tying a our only jumper round our waist. It worked and we came in at a competitive fighting weight of 14.5 kg each. The plane was quite interesting because it needed two propellers to give it that extra kick to get off the ground. The staff sat us strategically to even out the weight on board to give us the best chance of getting air borne!!

We arrived back in our original Philippine starting point of Cebu and caught a flight the next day to Bangkok via Hong Kong. We arrived in Bangkok late at night and spent about 5 hours sleeping at a nearby airport hotel. A 5am start the next morning to catch a early bus to take us to the Cambodian border. We'd been warned that this part of the journey may be stressful but it turned out quite nicely. The bus to the border was comfortable and we had two seats each. They dropped us at a random place though and we were immediately offered dodgy homemade Cambodian visas. Ignoring these we walked out of Thailand and entered no-man's land between the two countries. It was quite confusing but we managed to pay $20 for a Cambodian visa and eventually walked through into Cambodia. A shuttle bus took us into the nearest Cambodian town - Poipet where we were able to get a share taxi with two Russians - Alexsander and Svetlana. The share taxi whizzed through the gun barrel straight road to Siem Reap in about 2 hours.

We looked around Siem Reap and immediately loved it. It has loads of character and atmosphere and the people are amazingly happy, smiley and friendly. We have had great fun bartering in the markets. At one point we haggled from $8 down to $2 for some silk cushion covers. Our happiness has since been replaced by extreme guilt as we later learnt that the cushion covers take 10 days to make! No wonder the poor Cambodian seller bid me adieu with the line "You happy, i no happy". In the evening we found an amazing curry house for dinner. I was a bit worried by the ferocity of my impending curry when i noticed the Japanese man next to me had just consumed his curry whilst wearing an ice-cold flannel on his head! I needn't have worried - the curry was delicious.

On the second day we again had an early start of 5am. We were picked up by our tuk tuk driver who took us to Angkor Wat for sunrise.

Unbridled joy!

Unbridled joy!

You have to get here mega early to get a spot for photos and it was still pitch black when we were stumbling over stairs and rocky ground to try and find our way to the temple. After mistaking a rather shabby looking temple for Angkor Wat we positioned ourselves in prime position for sunrise. About 100 photos later we moved closer to get pictures of Angkor Wat with the reflection in the water in front. The reflection made for an even more stunning photo - nature's way of saying it's worth seeing twice.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Hannah said i spoiled the majesty of the moment when i was offered breakfast by a Cambodian lady. I simply inquired about the possibility of Richmond Sausages and Heinz Baked Beans but was met with bemusement from the poor Cambodian lady and amusement from Hannah. We toured the temples for the rest of the morning. Each one being very impressive. A highlight of the day being Hannah posing in front of Angkor Wat looking like a country bumpkin who opens cans with her teeth!

Cletus at Angkor Wat

Cletus at Angkor Wat

Hannah and Phil, Angkor Wat

Hannah and Phil, Angkor Wat

Disbelief

Disbelief

Tomb Raiders at the Temples

Tomb Raiders at the Temples

After a mid-afternoon rest we returned to look around the inside of Angkor Wat. It was massive and very beautiful with amazing carvings everywhere. We were turned away from the central tower however as Hannah's clothes were deemed too provocative!! That evening we met up with the two Russians we shared a taxi with the previous day. We had a great time over some drinks and confirmed some stereotypes with them - they do love vodka and Russia is very cold!!

Drinking with Russians!

Drinking with Russians!

The next day we moved on to the Cambodian capital - Phnom Penh (pronounced nom-pen). Hannah was not impressed when she got on the bus and saw her seat for the first time. The chair in front of her seat was fully reclined and would not budge back into it's upright position. Hannah therefore received a horizontal lap dance from the French man in front for the duration of the 5 hour journey. We were impressed with Phnom Penh straight away. Like Siem Reap, it had loads of character and the friendly Cambodians made us very welcome. We were even more impressed when we found an Irish bar that served amazing Steak and Guinness Pie!!

The following day we visited the eerie sight of the security prison during Pol Pot's reign - S-21. It's amazing that this atrocity took place only 35 years ago and the museum at the prison was interesting and shocking at the same time. We also visited the site of the Killing Fields - Cheung Ek. Again, this was very untouched with traces of human bones still on the floor and a huge temple encasing hundreds of human skulls. Although sickening, it was a stark reminder of the harshness of the times and made us love the Cambodians spirit even more.

In the afternoon we managed to get an amazing hair cut each. I initially spurned the first barber we found as the only English he spoke consisted of two words - "2 dollar" - the price of the hair cut. We found another place and were treated to a head massage as well as much needed the haircuts. The staff were clearly fascinated by Hannah's hair as they clambered round to watch the stylist cut her hair.

Hannah's hair draws the crowds

Hannah's hair draws the crowds

The results were impressive and the cuts an absolute bargain although Hannah's hair is still very white from the constant sun. I think she resembles a cross between Lucius Malfoy and David Gower. In the evening we walked along the lovely riverside and found a restaurant selling Tiger beer pints for $1!! We enjoyed the riverside setting and people watched for a few hours. We were greeted by a constant stream of Cambodian street children trying to sell us their wares. Rather than giving them money we supplied them with bar peanuts and bar crisps which they were delighted with!

Pints of ATiger beer for $1 = Happy Phil and Hannah!

Pints of ATiger beer for $1 = Happy Phil and Hannah!

Today we have just finished a 30km bike ride of some of the surrounding Mekong islands. It gave us an opportunity to view the beautiful Cambodian countryside and gave us a glimpse of Cambodian village life. We were offered about a million silk scarves over the course of the morning and sampled some of the most delicious fresh sweetcorn we've ever tasted. We were also shown the fields where a variety of vegetables were grown. I realized then that i know about as much about vegetables and crops as i do about quantum physics. It was a brilliant bike ride as we combined with ferry journeys as we cris-crossed our way through villages and over dirt tracks.

Silk weavers at work

Silk weavers at work

As you may have realised we are absolutely loving Cambodia. The people are great and the weather is stunning. We're off to South Cambodia tomorrow to visit the beaches and do some trekking...

Posted by Phildean7 00:34 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Boracay

Hello again!

From Iloilo we got another bus up to Caticlan which is the jumping off point for Boracay. As usual the bus that we were on was
scheduled to take 4 hours but instead took 6. We couldn’t sit together again as there wasn’t enough space. I ended up being the filling in a Filipino man sandwich on a seat that allegedly held three people! This bus was supposed to be a bit classier and so had sporadic air-con and a TV. The choice of films was not very varied however as we were treated to Fast and Furious 1, Fast and the Furious 2, Fast and Furious 3 and to round things off… Fast and Furious 4!! All the films have exactly the same storyline!!

We got over to Boracay after catching a boat from Caticlan. First impressions of Boracay were very impressive. The sand and the water are the best we’ve ever seen. Although it was busy as opposed to secluded, the place had a really welcoming and relaxing atmosphere.

Willy's Rock, Boracay

Willy's Rock, Boracay

White Beach, Boracay

White Beach, Boracay

We were greeted with countless people trying to sell us sunglasses and watches but once we said no they didn’t bother us again. After one night in a hostel we were very excited to move to our swanky hotel we’d booked a few months ago for a Christmas treat. We were not disappointed! We had a massive room and even our own little pool on our balcony!

Yes that is a pool on our balcony!

Yes that is a pool on our balcony!

We spent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day relaxing at our hotel and going into town for dinner and having ridiculously nice Cookie Dough Cheesecake from Starbucks! We exchanged a few Christmas presents to each other on the actual day. I’m now the proud new owner of a much needed pair of boxer shorts. It was a very relaxing Christmas before we moved to another hotel for the days either side of New Year.

Christmas present for all you ladies!

Christmas present for all you ladies!

Look at the sandcastle i made

Look at the sandcastle i made

This again was another lovely hotel. The infinity pool was very inviting so we divided our time between this pool and the local beaches – White Beach and Puka Beach. Both beaches were spectacular especially on the days where we had good weather.

Puka Beach

Puka Beach

Jumping Hannah

Jumping Hannah

We ventured into town each evening for food. There was always plenty of choice. One night we went for a curry. Our food was served and then after a couple of minutes I beckoned to the waitress and demanded to know where our 2 naan breads were. She preceded to point about 5cm in front of my eyes at 2 of the biggest naan breads you’ve ever seen. "Stupid English person". The waitress then went on to ask Hannah if she was Russian?!

The weather here has been a bit up and down. We have had a few really nice days whilst the rest have been very cloudy but still hot enough to stay out in the sun all day. We have really upped our games when it comes to tans. The sun is very strong even through the clouds and we now resemble extras from Slumdog Millionaire. Strangely the Filipino people are obsessed with becoming whiter rather than tanned. All of the products come with the promise of making you look whiter. Apparently they are envious of our pale, white skin and pasty complexions!

Tanned Hannah!!

Tanned Hannah!!

Posted by Phildean7 00:57 Archived in Philippines Comments (1)

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