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Penang at Last!

Our long ferry voyage down the coast of Thailand from Krabi finally ended and we crossed the border into Malaysia between Koh Lipe and Langkawi. One last boat trip brought us into Georgetown, Penang on 26th February. In the planning stages it had seemed so adventurous to travel down through the Andaman Sea by public ferry, but in fact we realised that thousands of intrepid travellers are jumping on boats between the islands every day. Not quite as adventurous as we thought we were!!

Another ferry journey

On arrival we spent a couple of days staying in Georgetown checking out practical stuff like the main tourist attractions, where to find the best food and how the public transport worked. It felt important to be organised, as a long awaited day was just around the corner – Darcie would be travelling out to meet us to spend a couple of week’s holiday in Malaysia and Singapore.
We did a bit of sightseeing but found it quite difficult as Georgetown was not just hot, but sweltering hot – the hottest place we had been to so far! Between about 11.00 am and 4.00 pm the sun was so intense that we literally ran between any available patches of shade. We managed to do a bit of sightseeing and shopping around town, but two days later it was up with the backpacks again to take the bus along the coast to the resort of Batu Ferrenghi beach and our apartment at the “By The Sea” condo style complex .


What a long time we had waited to get a big hug from our lovely daughter! We went down to the airport to meet her and were so excited to see her eventually emerge from the arrivals hall.
In spite of having travelled for around 20 hours, Darcie didn’t seem too tired and actually managed to get a couple of hours around the pool on her first afternoon. In the evening we just had to to celebrate properly, so we temporarily gave up our frugal, backpacking ways and took her for a meal at the fanciest restaurant in town.

The Ferrenghi Garden is a beautiful outdoor restaurant in a lush setting among tropical trees, flowers and waterfalls all illuminated with sparkly, coloured lighting.
So lovely to be together again after such a long time!

As Georgetown is famous for its eclectic foodie culture, we explored Little India and Chinatown and ate local street food specialties with Danny, who is a historian, artist and food enthusiast.

Danny buying us tasty egg samosas at a stall in Little India
In Penang, you often mix a selection of curries all together on your plate so the different flavours complement one another

Another thing the town is well known for is it’s street art so we followed the “trail” around the most well known pieces:-

Stopping off for a cool, refreshing coconut water after the hard work of walking around in the hot sunshine.

The next day we got a ride on the funicular which took us up to the viewpoint of Penang Hill for fantastic views over the city and across Penang Strait to the mainland.

The steep track up the hillside. Penang funicular was opened in 1923 and we saw one of the original wooden carriages although they are using new modern equipment now
Great views from the top! There was a gorgeous, colonial style restaurant there where we had coffee. I wanted to go back in the evening as the city lights would have been spectacular, but sadly we ran out of time.

Our apartment complex opened right onto the beach and had a lovely pool area which was a good thing as Darcie was able to have some “proper holiday” time relaxing on a sun bed and soaking up some rays!

One day we took a trip into the hills to visit a stunning butterfly park and check out a tropical fruit farm.

This butterfly was huge – around the size of my hand!
They came in all shapes, sizes and colours
Gorgeous clashing colours!
Sampling the 18 different tropical fruits

We have had difficulties with cyclone, political unrest and pandemic so far on our travels. We didn’t think we would need to add fire to the mix, but in Batu Ferrenghi it was so hot and dry that one day, the bush to the side of our apartments burst into flame. The fire spread incredibly quickly and at one point the flames were about 20 feet high. This picture was taken from our balcony; that’s the other side of our building on the right. We thought the blaze might spread to our apartment building, but the “BytheSea”staff were brilliant – they dragged big fire hoses out from the basement area and managed to get the fire under control long before the Fire Engines eventually turned up from Georgetown.

On our last evening in Penang we met up once again with the Hartshorn family were travelling in the opposite direction up from Singapore, so luckily our paths crossed once again. We had an authentic local Nyonyan meal, and then went to a special “dessert restaurant” where we tried sticky black rice pudding with coconut cream and weird looking cubes of rubbery lemon herb jelly served in sweetened rose water with ice cubes. It was refreshing and actually tasted quite nice!

Our first week with Darcie seems to have gone by incredibly quickly, but at least we still have a few days and some exiting sights and activities to look forward to in Singapore!

Livin’ the Dream…..

….. in Koh Adang

So sorry to everyone who has to earn a living, but this is what we came for!

The only resort on this National Park island – it’s 99% jungle and bare rock with some beautiful beaches that are only accessible by boat

Koh Adang is in the Tarutao National Park. The only island in the Park that has been permitted to develop as a tourist destination is Koh Lipe, and that is the place that the ferries stop. When you arrive there the ferries dock onto a floating pontoon and long tailed boats come out to take you into the shore. Then to get to Koh Adang, you have to traverse Koh Lipe. As it was only a 15 minute walk to Sunset Beach, we marched across with our backpacks in spite of the mid-day heat. Our resort sent another long tail boat to pick us up from the beach and transport us across the channel to Koh Adang.

On the long tail boat from the ferry pontoon in Koh Lipe, with the mountains of Koh Adang in the background.
Arriving in Koh Adang, they use a tractor to get the luggage up the beach. We had to wade ashore!
Worth it when we got there…….
really well worth it!
Cooking down in the pool and livin’ the dream!
Having a wander along the resort’s private beach on our first evening
Breakfast was interesting – Ali had chicken with ginger and rice, and I had a ubiquitous omelet
The sea has unfortunately been quite choppy since we arrived, but today we braved the ocean on a resort kayak and paddled around the rocks to the next deserted beach.
Sadly because we were busy paddling we didn’t get the chance to get any kayaking photos.
What can you say?
Acres of white sand with no-one on it.
More sand and sea
There was a Ranger Station at a beautiful spot on the southern point of the island where it’s possible to camp under the casuarina trees
Shoal of tiny silver fish in the shallow water
The snorkelling was not brilliant due to the windy conditions and choppy sea but there was some live coral and just a few tropical fish.
Last but not least, we spotted this colourful gecko on the wall outside our room. He obligingly stayed still for us to take a few photos – isn’t he cute!!

Tomorrow, 26th February we will be sad to leave Koh Adang and head off on another ferry across the Malaysian border to Langkawi and then straight on to Penang, arriving in the evening – it’s going to be another long travel day!

Trains, Planes, Automobiles (and Boats!)

OK, we might have to back track a little here to get the trains part of our title for this post in.

As you will know if you are a regular reader, on 17th February we got the Train back from the River Kwai to Bangkok. It was a long travel day, as that evening we went off to the airport to catch a late Plane to Krabi – arriving at about 1.00 am. Luckily the nice airport taxi driver who took us to our overnight hotel was also happy to collect us the following morning in his Automobile for the hour’s ride to Kong Ka Pier in Krabi. We got the 11.00 am Boat to our first island destination – Koh Lanta.

Waiting at Kong Ka Pier.
Leaving the dock at Krabi, it was not as gloomy as it looks in this picture, and since we arrived it’s been wall to wall sunshine and 34C
Limestone karst scenery photographed from the ferry coming out of Krabi

Koh Lanta is a relaxed, laid back place (quite windy at the moment), with many small resorts, casual bars and restaurants all down the long west coast beaches. At the moment the island seems to be full of French people, which we weren’t really expecting and which can be just un petit peu irritating when they take over nearly the entire pool and common areas of our small resort.
Mind you, we have been a bit boring while we have been here and haven’t explored too much as we have both had HEAD COLDS!! NOT Coronavirus as neither of us has had a cough or any hint of a raised temperature, just a bit snivelly and feeling sorry for ourselves for a few days.

Ok – so it’s a bit contrived! But we really did feel lousy for a couple of days.
As you can see it’s all better now.

Whilst travelling in South East Asia we have worked out we need to become competent with riding mopeds, as in spite of the safety issues, these are indisputably the best way to get about and explore the more remote beaches and places like the National Parks and mountain areas. This will be something to get our heads round before we take off on our next trip!

Sitting in the sunshine waiting for a beer
Not many people! The view up the beach…….
…and down the beach
Waiting for the sun to set
Another beautiful beach sunset, this time in Thailand not India.

Quite excited as we are going off tomorrow (22nd February) to an almost uninhabited tropical island. Ko Adang is a National Park and we are staying at the one and only small resort on the island. It’s completely jungle, there are no roads and the only way in is by boat. Apparently the reef, and snorkelling around the island is very good, so we are hoping to take the GoPro out and have some colourful underwater pictures for our next blog.

Bridge on the River Kwai and the Hellfire Pass

We took our first local train journey in Thailand from Thonburi station in Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, the site of the famous Bridge.

Train pulling in to Thonburi Station. There was no first or second class or A/C coaches, so we bundled in with everyone else on the bench seats and kept the windows open!

Arrived in Kanchanaburi late morning and had a long hot (34C) walk with backpacks to our guest house. It was a wrench to walk back out into the blazing heat, but later we marched off to the Death Railway Museum and War Cemetery. We seem to have developed a bit of a World War II theme for parts our Asian travels.
As previously, we found our introduction to the events on the Death Railway moving and interesting. Apparently the famous 1958, David Lean film about the bridge was not all that realistic and life and death during the building of the railway was unremittingly awful – definitely no singing or whistling!

War cemetery for Commonwealth and Dutch prisoners of war at Kanchanaburi
We saw this very poignant bronze statue taken from an original sketch by a prisoner of war in the Museum.

Later that afternoon we got a tuk-tuk out to the Kwae Yai (River Kwai) Bridge in time to watch a train coming over. We were surprised by how touristy the area round the Bridge was, with many food and souvenir stalls and people of all nationalities walking along the tracks taking pictures.

The actual bridge was always a concrete and steel structure instead of the wooden bridge that was depicted in the film
Train coming over the bridge
Trying to take a moment to reflect, among the crowds of tourists as the sun goes down

Next morning we jumped on an early local bus from Kanchanaburi, out past the village of Nam Tok to the Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre, only 45 miles from the Myanmar (Burma) border. Here we had an opportunity to walk along the most tortuous part of the Death Railway where thousands of British, Australian and Dutch Prisoners of War, along with tens of thousands of South East Asian conscripts lost their lives. In this section the prisoners had to hack cuttings out of solid rock using only hammers, spikes and shovels. In other areas they needed to build up to the level of the track using wood cut from the forest. We learned that they received very little food and often worked 20 hours a day. Diseases such as malaria, beri-beri and cholera were rife, and in their malnourished and weakened state the men had little resistance. As a tiny tribute to their suffering, we walked the whole 5km of the memorial route in the fierce, middle of the day sunshine.

Paul walking in the Hellfire Pass. In some places you can see the old sleepers, rails and other old bits of machinery and equipment left over from the original building of the railway more than 75 years ago!
One of the deep cuttings – the deepest is around 7 metres. You can only imagine the backbreaking work needed to cut and clear the rock by hand in the heat. In addition the dry season was apparently the easiest, with working and living in the jungle during the monsoon being far more difficult, dangerous and unhealthy!

The old track stretching into the distance
That night we stayed in a nice homestay in the nearby village of Nam Tok

The next day we took the train back to Bangkok and met another great travelling companion – Akeem was in Thailand to attend a friend’s wedding but had decided to take a few days out to visit the National Parks in the west of the country. We enjoyed his company so much, the 6 hour journey went by quickly. We missed the opportunity to get a picture, but if we are lucky our paths may cross again in Penang!

The railway between Nam Tok and Kanchanaburi follows the same route as the original Death Railway. In places the train still passes over wooden supports along the steep river bank. Although presumably these have been renewed since World War 11, it still felt a little hairy!

We had a couple of spare hours in Bangkok to grab a meal before catching a plane out to the beaches and islands of southern Thailand.

Last meal in Bangkok

One Night (or Three) in Bangkok

We arrived late on the evening of 11th and went straight to our hotel which was close to the backpacker area of Khao San road. We didn’t like our hotel room much as it was decorated in so called ‘designer’ concrete without a window, unrelievedly dark and oppressive – it ended up being referred to as the prison cell. We needed an alarm clock on for the morning as there was no idea if it was light or dark outside.

As always the first day in the city was a confusion of trying to suss out the transport and sites. We grabbed a tuk-tuk to see a couple of attractions, the Lucky Buddha and the Big Buddha, but as usual ended up in an argument with the driver who wanted us to take a long tail boat ride at £60 – they always push you to places that give them a backhander – and get stroppy when you refuse.
We managed a pizza lunch and a beer, but after that surprised ourselves by heading back to the prison cell about 4.30pm. We were so tired we slept through to 8am the following morning.

The Lucky Buddha can apparently grant wishes – wished for World Peace and an end to Coronavirus.
The Big Buddha, or as we called it the Big Bling Buddha

By the next day we started to get our heads around the city and we bought a Bangkok Tourist Boat pass and spent a lot of the day on and around the beautiful Chao Phraya river. As Ali needed contact lenses we hopped onto the SkyTrain (MRT in Bangkok) to one of the big shopping centres and then traveled on to the famous Jim Thompson House and Museum. (American Thai silk merchant, possible spy, disappeared in unusual circumstances) Bangkok has lots of canals that cut between the districts and we managed to get back to the river on a canal boat.

Enjoying blue sky and sunshine on the tourist boat
Loved the interesting architecture of this ‘broken’ building
Wat Arun temple from the river
Inside the traditional and beatuiful Thai house put together by Jim Thompson. His designs are still popular and Paul bought a lovely polo shirt at the museum shop.
There is not a lot of room to turn the canal boats!
Spotted this quite large monitor lizard cooling off in the brown canal water

As we wanted to make the most of our boat ticket, in the evening we caught the ferry back down the river to the huge shopping and entertainment area, Asiatique. After a nice stir fry duck with pack choi, and chicken noodles at the food court we caught the last ferry up the river in time for bed.

Lights on the ferris wheel at Asiatique
Wat Arun was even more beautiful cruising past at night.

On Friday 14th February we left Bangkok early on the local train to head off into the countryside towards the Burmese border and the Bridge on the River Kwai.

Temples and More at Angkor Wat

We seem to have a penchant for scrambling around old buildings and temple sites around the world. We enjoyed it in Mexico and Hampi (India), and Angkor Wat, the biggest temple complex in the world didn’t disappoint.
We arrived in Siem Reap on 4th February on the very efficient Grand Ibis coach service from Phnom Penh. On first acquaintance Siem Reap seems to be a bit of a dusty and not very glamourous town, but we soon discovered it to be a laid back and welcoming place. It probably helped that our fabulous hotel (Tito Suites) sent a tuk-tuk out to collect us at the bus station and this was just the start of the brilliant care and service they provided during our week’s stay. It was great value and nearly the best hotel we have stayed in on our travels.

Our gorgeous hotel swimming pool. Our balcony is up to the top right hand side, directly overlooking the pool area.

We were surprised when we spoke to other travellers who’d only spent 1 day viewing the temples at the vast Angkor Archeological Park and wondered how interesting it was likely to be. On our first day we visited the main temple which was great, and surprisingly not too busy – perhaps because there are very few Chinese tourists in Cambodia at the moment. However we really started to enjoy our explorations when we visited Ta Prohm, the “Lara Croft temple”. This has been left in quite a wild state and offered lots of clambering and exploring opportunities. We actually ended up spending 6 days visiting the different ancient and far flung sites, including a place in the hills where carvings have been cut into the bed of a river. We found the Angkor Archeological Park every bit as impressive as expected, but were disappointed that a lot of our photos just looked like piles of rocks! They definitely do not reflect the artistry and grandeur of the ruins.

Our favourites were Bakong and Ta Nai Temples, but we probably enjoyed the latter most because there was almost no one else there when we visited. We were taken around the sites by our helpful tuk-tuk driver John, who we hired for 3 whole days, but towards the end of the week we decided to rent mountain bikes to go off exploring on our own. On our last day we used a car and driver to take us the 60km out to the river carvings at Kbal Spean and to Beng Mealea temple in the jungle.

We pinched a stock photo of the main temple as ours didn’t come out this well
Our picture from the Temple towers towards the gate – not too many people!
Couldn’t resist taking this “perspective” shot down an ancient cloistered corridor at Angkor Wat Temple
Some of the carvings depicted life of a thousand years ago……
…and some depicted beautiful temple dancers or ancient mythological scenes
Some other temple we visited, so many we can’t remember exactly which one this is.
Sadly in places the limestone of the temples has become blackened over time so the detail is hard to capture.
Several of the bridges had amazing ‘balustrades’ formed of gods and demons all hauling on a serpent headed Naga
Love to be looking like Lara Croft, but unfortunately more Dora the Explorer!
Cycling around the huge moat surrounding the Angkor Wat Temple


HeroRATS of Cambodia

Cambodia still has a problem with landmines left over from the recent conflicts and many thousands of people have been killed or injured through disturbing old landmines or unexploded ordinance. It was discovered in Africa that giant pouched rats can be trained to sniff out TNT and locate landmines. There are now 53 HeroRATS located in Siem Reap that are active in clearing the countryside. The rats only weigh 1.5kgs, and as 2kgs is the threshold to set off a mine they can run over the ground safely. We were happy to support the work done with the rats and went to the APOPO visitor centre to find out more.

Having a banana treat after demonstrating how they detect the mines
A summary of the work done by the rats – in 2019 the rats cleared 23 mine fields of 371 landmines and 316 other unexploded ordinance alowing farmers an local people to go about their business safely

Other things we enjoyed we enjoyed in Siem Reap were vegging out in the restaurants and bars, drinking incredibly cheap beer, an ‘eat-all-you-want’ cultural evening buffet and going to the Phare Circus.

Paul thought he was in heaven with beer at 50 US cents a glass
Pub street – pretty and not too wild
Getting a bit of culture while stuffing our faces
The Phare circus is a project to provide work for young people in the Siem Reap area. It was slightly weird but quite entertaining.

The Pleasure and Pain of Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh feels like a capitol city that is still trying to establish its identity. It seems caught between its ancient and traditional Khmer past, the aftermath of the more recent terrible events in Cambodia, and the business of becoming a modern 21st century capitol.

The city is a mixture of opulent palaces and temples, French colonial architecture, monumental communist era public spaces and ultra modern buildings which contrast starkly with the rubbish strewn, run down streets that form the larger part of the city. We didn’t find it to be a particularly tourist friendly place; it was expensive and several times we felt we were being slightly ripped off with charges for transport, attractions and food.

A partial view of one of the grand public spaces taken from the rooftop pool area of our hotel
Taken in another area of the public space close to our hotel, showing a rather blingy, modern Buddhist Temple with four monks in attendance

The Royal Palace is the foremost of the tourist attractions in Phnom Penh with a visit costing US$30 including a guide. The Cambodians have great respect for their King who still lives in the Royal Palace, so tourists have access to only a limited number of buildings on the site. Even after paying for a guide, we didn’t find that much of interest there – there were a number of temple areas housing many solid gold statues of the Buddha, some decorated with many massive diamonds. The Silver Pagoda is also so called as it has floor made from thousands of solid silver tiles weighing a kilogram each! However most of the floor was tarnished and largely covered in carpet, and the jewelled gold Buddhas were all so dust covered and dirty that it was hard to appreciate their gorgeousness! Also such ostentatious displays of wealth felt incongruous to us in a country where most of the population still lives in significant poverty.

One of the few photographs we took inside the Royal Palace compound. Pictures of the fabulous insides of the Temples were unfortunately forbidden.

The other big attraction is the Wat Phnom Temple which, legend suggests, was founded on a small hill in the city in 1372 after a middle aged lady called Grandmother Penh or Lady Penh found 4 statues of the Buddha in a tree trunk floating in the river. The site is now a Buddhist Temple visited by many Cambodians to make offerings and prayers, but we were shocked by the dirt and plastic waste strewn all around the place of worship.

Going up the steps to Wat Phnom
All the junk and rubbish left on the floor by worshippers around the Temple

In Phnom Penh we were reunited with the Mekong River, which had become truly enormous since we last saw it in Laos. One of the most fun things we did was to enjoy a sunset boat trip at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers. We booked an “Unlimited Beer” cruise and were lucky enough to meet up with Simon and Tracy, a fabulous and fun British couple on an extended holiday to Cambodia and Vietnam. We had a great time drinking beer with them, watching the sun go down and later, eating dinner. We’ve said it lots of times but one of the best things about travelling is definitely meeting up with fellow travellers!

People living on boats just a few yards from from people paying over $100 a night for a room in a hotel.
Sun setting behind a typical temple spire
The Phnom Penh skyline with almost as many new skyscrapers under construction as fully completed.
A lovely meal with our holiday friends Tracy and Simon. Tracy is holding her tarantula off the top pf her tarantula burger!

The Visit to the Toul Sleng Prison and The Killing Fields
We knew we needed to visit these sites, although after our visits to Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi and the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, we have to admit we were not really looking forward to the experience.

Toul Sleng is the name of the former school in Phnom Penh where the Khmer Rouge regime held and tortured thousands of their fellow countrymen and women during the years 1975 to 1979, before sending them out to the Cheung Ek Killing Field for extermination. Visiting the prison was an intense emotional experience, particularly as our guide was a lovely lady, a little younger than us who had lived through the horror of the regime and lost her father and at least one sister and brother, before escaping with her mother, across the border to Vietnam. She told us she had worked as a guide at Toul Sleng for the last 5 years so the pain and suffering remains fresh and is present everyday for her. Talking to her was heartbreaking and we were both pretty much moved to tears – this was probably our hardest experience, even more so than visiting Cheung Ek. As we were teenagers in the 1970’s, we can remember hearing news reports from Cambodia and this visit really brought that limited knowledge to life for us.

The outside of one of the prison blocks at Toul Sleng

17,000 men, women and children were believed to have been murdered and buried at The Killing Field at Choeung Ek. This was the largest and most notorious of over 20,000 “Killing Fields”, or sites of mass graves across Cambodia.

Now Choeung Ek is a peaceful place of memorial with little to see apart from depressions in the ground to show the sites of the mass graves. Bones and clothing still regularly work their way up to the surface and the caretakers of the site collect and store them respectfully
The only proper building on the site is this beautiful modern stoupa which was built in 1988 to house the skulls and large bones of some of the victims. Every year on National Remembrance Day – 20th May, a ceremony takes place here to commemorate those who died
You can go inside the stoupa and are encouraged to take photos so those who died are not forgotten. The Cambodian people we spoke to hope that by sharing their experience, other nations might recognise and avoid any future path to genocide.

More cheery entries on the next blog!

Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as most of the locals still call it)

We had been told that HCMC was busy, chaotic, crazy and it would be impossible to cross the road. Anyone who thought this had obviously not been to Mumbai! We were only there for 3 days and enjoyed our time.

We’ve found that student walking tours are a reasonably cheap way of getting insights into the cities we visit and our lovely guide Kim spoke good English and provided an excellent introduction to the city.

Kim offered us the opportunity to make our own fresh coconut iced coffee. Here she is buying the soft, creamy coconut flesh from a stall in Ben Thanh market.
Notre Dame Cathedral de Saigon!
In front of the City Hall with the lotus pond in the foreground. In common with many other old buildings in the city, it was built by the French and shows off their distinctive colonial style
Another French colonial building. Kim told us that the grey block on the top right of the picture was the site that the last American helicopters took off from when they abandoned the city to the communist armies.
We found this iconic image of the last Americans leaving Saigon on 29th April 1975
We made our coconut iced coffee in a cafe in the old building just a couple of floors below where this historic scene played out!

Later in the day we visited the War Remnants Museum, which incorporated part of a prison. There were artifacts such as a guillotine and reproductions showing the barbarous conditions originally imposed on Vietnamese independence fighters by the French colonial power, and more recently used by the American backed South Vietnamese government. The exhibits in the main part of the museum were predominantly contemporary images of the Vietnam War taken by internationally renowned war photographers of the day. It felt very uncomfortable to be be presented with the terrible images and consequences of American actions during the war. The information was obviously provided from the Vietnamese (Communist) perspective and gave us a different viewpoint. As people who can remember the TV news coverage as well as the attempted justifications by Western governments during the 1970’s it really challenged our views.

Outside the museum were tanks, planes guns and other weapons and ordinance from the war.

The following day we felt we needed to cheer ourselves up a bit so we visited the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

Big Bird by Paul!
Taking selfies and eating at the same time seems to require a lot of concentration which is why Ali’s looking grim!
Lotus Pond

On our final evening we treated ourselves to dinner at a nice vegetarian wholefood restaurant, then headed off for amazing night views of Ho Chi Minh City from the Eon Heli Cocktail Bar on the 52nd floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower.

View from the floor to ceiling glass windows at the Heli Bar. In the distance is Landmark 81, the tallest building in Vietnam

Our next journey involved another bus, this time it turned up – Hurrah!
After a 6.5 hour journey and another border crossing, we arrived in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

A bad bus day!

We need to have a quick rant about our journey from Nha Trang down to Ho Chi Minh City.

Because of the New Year, we had booked a bus well in advance to take us on the next 10 hour leg of our journey. Imagine our frustration when, after arriving in good time, well before 8.00 am at the bus stop, the wretched thing just didn’t turn up! We were left on the street with our backpacks, a destination over 300 kilometres away and no idea how to get there during the busiest travel time of the year.

Paul looking glum as we try and decide what to do

We couldn’t book another bus or a train as we already knew they were full and needed 24 hours notice to buy a ticket. So the only alternative was to look at the possibility of flying; we hauled up at a coffee bar and within the space of an hour had managed to book a flight to Ho Chi Minh City which left in only 6 hours time! Luckily the buses from Nha Trang out to Cam Ranh airport, one hour’s journey away were actually running.

It cost us 5 times as much as we had already paid for the bus tickets which was a bit maddening!

In the coffee bar watching the motorbikes stream by as we killed a couple of hours
Happy to see a tangerine sunset approaching Ho Chi Minh City
A shot of the city as we came in to land

To save a bit of cash on finally arriving at Ho Chi Minh airport we decided to take the bus from there into the city. But guess what? As it was around 7.00 pm by now and still Tet New Year, the buses had stopped running! After a bit more frustration we palled up with a hilarious Spanish lady who spoke no English but also wanted to get (cheaply) into town. We shared a Grab cab (like Uber) with her and after being dropped off, we had a long 20 minute walk through crazy Beer Street in the backpacker area before arriving at our AirBnB around 8.30. We were so knackered, hungry and fed up by this time! However, there is a light at the end of every tunnel and around 9.30 we managed to persuade a local restaurant to feed us.

Hey, all’s well that ends well on a travelling day!

Digging into yummy seafood coconut fried rice served in the coconut shell

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

or Happy New Year in Vietnamese!

When we arrived at our hotel in central Nha Trang there was a big group of people waiting to check in. As we were very early we waited patiently and began to notice that most of them were overweight, pasty and a bit unhealthy looking; lots of jogging bottoms and tattoos in evidence. Overhearing conversations we worked out that they were all Russians.
The receptionist told us that most of their guests and indeed nearly every other visitor to Nha Trang came from either Russia or China. This was to be our first exposure to Russians en-masse! All of the signage and information around the city was in Vietnamese, Russian and Chinese, with very little in English. The Chinese were no trouble, but the Russians tended to go around in loud talking, heavy smoking, beer swilling groups and they weren’t all that friendly towards other nationalities.
On the other hand, once we got to the beach front we realised why Nha Trang is so popular. Beyond the big city boulevard and the promenade there is a long stretch of reasonably clean golden sand and the water in the bay is a deep aqua marine topped by foamy white wavelets. The view along the coast and over towards Vinh Nguyen island and the massive Vinpearl Theme and Water Park was spectacular.

As many shops and tourist attractions were closed for the Tet New Year celebrations we were happy to ignore our fellow tourists, rent a sunbed with an umbrella and veg out in the hot sunshine for the 3 days of our stay

A second Happy New Year for us!
Walking along the “Neon Mile” at night. Half of the skyscrapers near the beach front have mega flashy gyrating neon light displays built in to them which kind of complimented the Tet New Year seafront displays.
Ali standing in front of one of the New Year displays on the seafront – this just about sums up Nha Trang for us – a bit tacky but also colourful and certainly an ok place to spend a few days.