Month: May 2014

Kuala Lumpur – Petronas Towers and Shopping Malls

I woke up feeling very unwell on the morning we were leaving Cambodia for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I felt very lightheaded and had a really bad pain in my chest. Our flight was at 8am and somehow I managed to pack my bag despite the pain and made it to the airport. I was having some difficulties breathing, but I really didn’t want to have to go to the doctor in Cambodia. I decided that if the pain hadn’t gone away once we’d reached Kuala Lumpur that I’d go to the doctor there. I was starting to feel better on the plane, but as soon as we’d landed in Kuala Lumpur and we were in the queue for immigration, I was starting to feel much worse and like I needed to see a doctor ASAP.

We went to the airport’s medical clinic and the doctor diagnosed me with a respiratory infection, which would explain the intense pain I was having in my chest. I told her that I’d just arrived from Cambodia and she said the high level of air pollution in Cambodia was probably the reason I was feeling so unwell. Cambodia was incredibly dirty – sewage poured into the river, rubbish piled high in the road, rats and dirty nappies everywhere AND all the motorbike fumes – it’s no wonder that I got so sick. The doctor prescribed me some antibiotics and some painkillers and was told to rest for a couple of days, which was a little annoying because we only had 2 days in Kuala Lumpur.

After checking into our hostel, we went and got something for lunch, but I didn’t have much appetite (for once) and I only managed a couple of spoons of noodle soup. We then walked around the city for a bit and discovered it pretty much was just skyscrapers and shopping malls. There were even air-conditioned walkways to take you from one shopping mall to the next! It’s great if you had loads of money and wanted to shop, but not so great if you were a backpacker and had no interest in splashing out in Gucci or Louis Vuitton. After Cambodia and the dirty dusty roads, we quite enjoyed being in a big city and feeling like we were back in ‘civilisation’.

'Civilisation' in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

‘Civilisation’ in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The following morning I was feeling a little better but not 100%, but we decided to go out anyway and try and see what Kuala Lumpur had to offer. We started off with a trip to the gardens by the Petronas Towers – we wanted to go up to the observation deck but the ticket was an extortionate amount. We decided given how expensive it was and my current condition that the trip wasn’t worth it. It then started pouring it down and we sought shelter in…another shopping mall. The torrential rain didn’t seem to be stopping so we had lunch and went to the cinema. We saw Bad Neighbour and a ticket was pretty cheap compared to England – less than 2 pounds! It was actually quite nice to go to the cinema after travelling for so long. I’m actually starting to miss home a bit now, especially being able to cook my own food. We spend so much time waiting for food in restaurants, I just want to cook my own food for once!! There was an even an M&S Food Hall in the shopping mall selling biscuits, crisps, percy pigs and alcohol. I got so excited when I saw it that I actually bought a pack of shortbread biscuits and they were so yummy. Nom nom nom.

I found one shop selling disposable knickers!

I found one shop selling disposable knickers!

When we had come out of the cinema the torrential rain had stopped and we went back to the hostel to lie down (I wasn’t feeling too well again). After a little nap we decided to venture out to Kuala Lumpur’s China Town for a spot of dinner. I’m not sure what I was expecting of China Town but it was pretty much just stalls and stalls of fake Rolex watches, designer handbags and the like. There were hundreds of Australian women stocking up on fake designer handbags, and one woman had bought so many bags that she had to chuck them into a black bin bag. Surprisingly there weren’t actually that many Chinese restaurants in China Town, it was mainly just shopping. Shopping is pretty much the only thing to do in KL!!

Lanterns of China Town

Lanterns of China Town

The Petronas Towers at night!

The Petronas Towers at night!

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Beautiful Angkor Wat, Cambodia

After our ordeal with the bus we spent the following day relaxing and chilling by the pool. We took a tuk tuk just before sunset and went to one of the temples at Angkor. If you buy a one-day ticket to Angkor Wat after 5pm you’re allowed access to the complex to watch sunset at one of the temples as well as the ticket being valid for the following day. We thought we were being original watching the sun go down at Phnom Bakheng but it appears everyone had the same idea… there were hundreds of people perched on the top of the temple for sunset. Unfortunately the rain wasn’t waiting for the sun to go down and as soon as it started raining… the masses started leaving, leaving us to take in the view by ourselves.

Monks at Phnom Bakheng

Monks at Phnom Bakheng

The masses at Phnom Bakheng

The masses at Phnom Bakheng

Baby watching the sunset at Phnom Bakheng

Baby watching the sunset at Phnom Bakheng

We woke up bright and bushy tailed the following morning at 4.30am to be picked up by Mr Raya, our tuk tuk driver, for sunrise at Angkor Wat. Again, there were thousands of people standing across the moat from Angkor Wat waiting for the sun to rise. Despite all the people outside the temple, there were very few people inside the temple after the sun had actually risen. Walking around the temple complex left you in awe.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat was actually first a Hindu and then a Buddhist temple, and is the largest religious monument in the world. The temple is a classic example of Khmer architecture and has 5 massive lotus-like towers made of sandstone. It was incredibly beautiful and peaceful watching the sun come up over the lotus-like towers. Unfortunately the tranquility and beauty was somewhat ruined by the masses of hawkers inside Angkor Wat trying to sell you anything and everything. We saw one German tourist being repeatedly bothered by a hawker trying to sell him an Angkor Wat guide. The tourist kept saying no and eventually lost his patience, so the hawker deliberately kept trying to piss him off on purpose – we watched the hawker follow him around the temple for at least 10 minutes trying to get him to buy the guide. Also, you’d walk into some dark parts of the temple to find people holding out incense sticks and saying ‘this is for Lucky Buddha’ or ‘Good Luck from Buddha today’, luckily we’d read all about the scams that go on inside Angkor Wat and knew if we took an incense stick they’d then try and make you pay $10 or some other ridiculous amount. There’s no way to stop the hawkers unfortunately because Cambodians are allowed to visit and be at the Angkor complex for free – only foreign tourists have to pay.

Temple within Angkor Wat

Temple within Angkor Wat

Lotus-like towers

Lotus-like towers

Lotus-like towers at sunrise

Lotus-like towers at sunrise

After watching sunrise at Angkor Wat, we found Mr Raya and went to Angkor Thom City, the last capital city of the Khmer Empire. In an area of 9km there are numerous temples and religious monuments. The first temple we visited in Angkor Thom City was Bayon and it was very striking because of the 216 stone faces in the towers that jut out from the upper terrace. This temple was more ‘baroque’ than Angkor Wat’s classical architecture. This is also the only temple that was built as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to Buddha – the other temples were originally Hindu temples.

Bayon Temple - one of 216 faces

Bayon Temple – one of 216 faces

Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple

The 216 faces in the temple are apparently meant to be interpretations of King Jayavarman VII. On the walls outside the temple there were various historical scenes and scenes of every day life of the Angkorian Khmer carved into limestone such as the Khmer Army marching into battle. We then walked to the Terrace of Elephants, which was a former temple but there are only a few ruins left. The last temple in the Angkor Thom City complex was the ‘Terrace of the Leper King’. On top of the temple was a statue of the Hindu God Yama, the god of death. The statue is called the ‘Leper King’ because it’s discoloured and covered in moss, so it apparently looks like someone with leprosy.

Terrace of Elephants

Terrace of Elephants

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After exploring the temples of the city of Angkor Thom we decided it was high time for breakfast, so we stopped at one of the many restaurants inside Angkor for a bite to eat. We offered to buy Mr Raya breakfast but he said he’d already eaten and had a coffee instead. Mr Raya sat with us whilst we ate and told us about his life and family. He used to be in the Cambodian Army but now worked as a tuk tuk driver to earn a living. He explained that tuk tuk drivers could earn more money than any other skilled job in Cambodia. A seamstress earns about $70 a month, whereas he could earn at least $30 a day at Angkor Wat (we were paying him $15 to drive us around for the day). He explained he had to work as much as he could so he could pay for his children to go to school. It’s crazy that we can easily spend $70 in 2 or 3 days here, but that’s the monthly minimum wage for some Cambodians – I’ve never felt more grateful for where I come from and for the life I’ve lived.

We then got back into the tuk tuk to visit the Ta Prohm temple aka the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’. It was a really interesting temple because there were trees growing out of the ruins and it was being taken over by the jungle. Ta Prohm was made famous by the film ‘Tomb Raider’ so there were hundreds of people at the temple. It was by far our favourite temple because the trees growing out of the ruins gave it an eerie feel. The temple looks like soon it’ll be completely taken over by the jungle.

Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider)

Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider)

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Inside Ta Prohm

Inside Ta Prohm

Kyle pretending to be Tomb Raider.

Kyle pretending to be Tomb Raider.

Our last and final temple at Angkor was Banteay Kdei or the ‘Citadel of Monks’ cells’. The temple was architecturally similar to Ta Prohm temple without all the trees. The temple was was full of hawkers trying to sell you drinks, books and lucky Buddha incense. Some tourists avoided parts of the temple because they could see there were loads of hawkers waiting inside trying to scam you, which I thought was a shame. There were also ‘Official Tourist Guides’ just wandering about the temple offering tours for $10 for 30 minutes. We heard one ‘Official Tourist Guide’ taking a group of people around the temple and everything he was saying he’d made up. It’s a shame that these people have to scam people just to make a couple of dollars.

All in all we had a great day at Angkor Wat and loved exploring its temples. It was a real shame though that the temples were full of hawkers trying to scam tourists into a tour or with the lucky Buddha incense. They tell you the money from the incense is going to the monks and the upkeep of the temple… it doesn’t.

Nightmare Bus Journey to Siem Reap, Cambodia

After a couple of days in Phnom Penh we decided it was time to move on to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat. We booked a coach through our hostel to Siem Reap for $8 each and it was meant to take 8 hours. We were told by our hostel that the bus would be air conditioned, have a toilet and wifi… blah blah…it did not.

We got on to the coach to find the bus packed already and everyone covered in sweat because the air con wasn’t on. There were even 4 Spanish guys who’d taken their tops off because it was so hot. We figured that when the bus finally left the driver would turn the air con, which he did but it didn’t work. We spent the next 8 hours absolutely drenched in sweat.

There was also no toilet on the bus, so we had to stop at ‘service stations’ along the way. I say ‘service stations’ because your idea of a service station at home is nothing compared to the service stations in Cambodia. The ‘service stations’ consisted of an open air restaurant where the food had been sitting out all day and then at the back there were some toilets. The toilets were just holes in the ground – it was that basic.

We got talking to a couple from Hawaii and they were looking VERY pissed off. They’d apparently paid to go on a ‘luxury’ tour of Cambodia from Vietnam and somehow they’d ended up on this bus. They’d been told some cock and bull story that because it was a national holiday in Cambodia some of the transport options weren’t available. When we told them that we’d paid $8 for the bus they were absolutely furious! They said they’d paid over $500 each for luxury transport and 5* hotels. The coach was FAR from luxurious, and was the WORST coach I’d ever been on in my life.

I was just counting down the hours until we could get off the bus and we’d be in Siem Reap. After 8 hours had passed the bus seemed to be stopping so we thought that we must have arrived – hurrah! It was yet another ‘service station’ and it was the worst one yet. There were cockroaches and flies EVERYWHERE. I was busting for the toilet (no toilet on the coach) and the toilets were just another hole in the ground, but this time there were cockroaches everywhere. I cannot stand cockroaches – they make me squirm. I nearly didn’t go to the loo because of the cockroaches but the driver said it would take another hour and a half to get to Siem Reap. I was so desperate for the loo and so disgusted with my surroundings and standards of hygiene that I tripped and fell over. I finally put my big girl pants on and went to the loo in the company of loads of cockroaches – I ran out of there as soon as I could. It was only then that I realised I’d cut my toe really badly when I tripped and there was blood everywhere. Unfortunately the ‘service station’ didn’t even have any running water to clean my wound :-(.

I was feeling pretty miserable by this point and just wanted to be in Siem Reap already, but it took another 2 and a half hours! Total journey time was nearly 11 hours! When we finally arrived at the bus station in Siem Reap, the Hawaiian couple had a pick-up waiting for them from their hotel. I looked up the name of their hotel the next day and found it was nothing more than a crappy hostel. I felt quite bad that they’d been ripped off so badly.

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

On our final day in Phnom Penh we decided to check out the Royal Palace. I’d read some reviews on tripadvisor before we went (it’s often quite amusing) and somebody had written that the Royal Palace puts Buckingham Palace to shame…

The entrance fee to the Royal Palace was a bit steep at $6 a person. (You had to pay $3 to take your camera in with you!). We thought it was pretty expensive considering you only really had access to 3 buildings and the gardens. Also, despite paying $3 to take your camera in with you, you couldn’t take pictures inside the Throne Hall or inside the Silver Pagoda.. which basically meant you paid $3 to take pictures of the garden. There were scary guards inside the Throne Hall and Silver Pagoda shouting at anyone who was even holding their camera inside these buildings.

Throne Hall at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Throne Hall at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Throne Hall at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Throne Hall at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Having just complained about the entry fee, I must admit that the Royal Palace was very impressive – there was so much gold. It was amazing that the streets outside the palace were dusty dirt roads and yet inside the palace walls was all this grandeur!

The Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

The Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

We then went into the Silver Pagoda and we were rather confused as to why it was called so and wondered whether we were in the right place. Kyle asked the guard and he confirmed that sure enough this was the Silver Pagoda and lifted up the red carpet to show us the silver floor underneath. 95% of the silver floor is covered to protect it, which seemed pretty pointless to me. Why have something as lavish as a silver floor if you have to protect it?
Obviously there are no pictures of the Emerald Buddha or the 2048 carat gold Buddha inside the Silver Pagoda because you weren’t allowed!

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After an hour or two we decided we’d had enough of the Royal Palace and decided to go back to the hostel before our coach left for Siem Reap. As soon as we walked out the Royal Palace we were greeted by beggars and children with amputated limbs asking us for money. They kept saying to us ‘please, please. we need eat. please’. I thought it was incredibly sad that the King of Cambodia lives in this grand palace covered in gold and just outside the palace there are hundreds of people begging for money and living in poverty.

Genocide in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

From Ho Chi Minh City we took an 8-hour coach to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for Cambodia. When we arrived at the coach station the map said we were only about 10 minutes from our hostel, so I wanted to walk instead of taking a tuk tuk. We put our backpacks on and made our way to the exit only to be confronted by hundreds of tuk tuks asking us where we were going. We declined all their offers and made our way to the road, which was nothing more than a bright orange dusty track with no pavement. We soon realised that walking to our hostel would be virtually impossible. We jumped into a tuk tuk and escaped the hawkers hassling you every 10 metres.

The following morning we arranged to have a tuk tuk take us to the Killing Fields and S-21 Prison – Phnom Penh despite being the capital city has no public transport system. The next day we were picked up by our tuk tuk and made the 40-minute journey on bumpy dirt tracks to the Killing Fields.

When we finally arrived at the Killing Fields we were given audio guides and a map to accompany the visit. It was the first time in our South East Asia trip that we were given a running commentary throughout a visit. The audio guide was very interesting and was told by a young man who’d managed to escape the Killing Fields. For those who aren’t familiar with the Killing Fields, they were sites were thousands of Cambodians were killed and buried by the Communist Khmer Rouge regime. Out of a population of 8 million I think about 2.5 million people died in the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot is dubbed the ‘Hitler of Cambodia’.

I’m afraid pictures don’t accompany this post because it felt wrong to take pictures of where so many people were tortured and lost their lives. The audio guide explained that the people were being held at the S-21 Prison in Phnom Penh and were told that they were going back to their families – they had no idea they were coming to the Killing Fields. There are 20,000 mass graves, and one of the mass graves was by the ‘Killing Tree’. A tree used to beat and smash the heads of young children and babies before throwing them into the mass grave. As ammunition was too expensive for the Khmer Rouge they used agricultural tools to torture and kill the Cambodians that were sent here. The audio guide explained they’d excavated many of the mass graves to ascertain how the majority of people died. The majority of people were killed by a blow to the head from a machete or some other agricultural tool.

It was incredibly sad and I felt so much sorrow for Cambodia. What was particularly harrowing was that you could see bones coming up under your feet as you walked around. The guide explained that whenever it rains remains come to the surface and they have to regularly collect bones, teeth and clothing.

At the end of the visit lies a memorial stupa dedicated to all those who’d lost their lives at one of Cambodia’s 500 killing fields. The memorial stupa was piled high with human skulls, and each skull had a little note on how they had been killed.

After the Killing Fields we went to the Tuol Sleng Museum or the S-21 Prison. Kyle had found the fields quite disturbing and really didn’t want to see what the prison had in store. What was most sad about the prison was that it had previously been a school. Under Khmer Regime all schools, pagodas and places of worship were shut down and turned into prisons.

All of the classrooms had been turned into cells, and many still had their blackboards in them. The windows of the cells on the upper floors were lined with barbed wire to stop prisoners committing suicide. The people that were held here were repeatedly tortured and coerced into giving up other family and friends. They were forced into writing confessions saying they were spies and were working with the CIA or KGB.

After the Killing Fields and S-21 Prison I felt so much sadness for the Cambodian people. You’d think after Nazi Germany and the mass killing of the Jews that it wouldn’t happen anymore. Although visiting these places was difficult, it’s a reminder to all that we cannot let these atrocities happen again. What I can’t get my head around is the fact that Pol Pot never stood trial for genocide; he committed suicide in 1997 before it could happen. Other senior members of the Khmer Regime were only brought to trial in 2007-2009. I don’t understand how they managed to get away with what they did for so long.

‘The Truth About the Vietnam War’ – Mr Binh, Saigon

Feeling like we’d seen everything that Ho Chi Minh City had to offer, we decided to spend our final day in Vietnam at the Cu Chi Tunnels. For those who don’t know, the Cu Chi Tunnels span 250km and were used by Viet Cong’s main base of operations during the Tet Offensive in 1968. The original tunnels were only 80cm high and 30cm wide… Too narrow for most Westerners. The Americans never defeated the Viet Cong at the Cu Chi Tunnels.

We booked a tour through our hostel and didn’t realise what day it was or it’s significance with the tour. We were actually visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels on ‘Liberation Day’ aka the end of the Vietnamese War and the fall of Saigon. We were met by our guide Mr Binh (Bean) who told us that today was a very, very sad day for him. He told us that he wasn’t Vietnamese but American, and had fought with the American army during the Vietnam War. His father was Filipino but had lived in Vietnam before emigrating to the US before the Vietnam War. Mr Binh then returned to Vietnam with the American army to fight the Viet Cong and the Communist Northern Vietnamese. He told us that after Saigon was captured by the Northern Vietnamese and Communism established as the majority, he was forced to spend 5 years in a ‘Reunification Camp’ to rid him of his anti-Communist beliefs.

After being in Northern Vietnam and visiting the War Remnants Museum yesterday, it was really interesting to hear another perspective of the war. When we got on the bus to the tunnels he asked us if we wanted to know the ‘truth’ about the Vietnam War. He said everything in the War Remnants Museum and Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi was Communist propaganda and utter ‘bullshit’, and that today he’d tell us the truth. Today was a very sad day for him because it was Liberation Day, the day that the Viet Cong and Northern Vietnamese troops captured Saigon, and the day that marked he end of the Vietnam War. He told us that on this day 39 years ago he took a gun to his head and nearly killed himself because Saigon’s fall meant the establishment of communism as the popularity.

It was interesting to hear his story because he said initially he wasn’t against Communism, but after his fiancée and the love of his life was brutally murdered by the Viet Cong for no apparent reason, he wanted justice. Mr Binh went on to say that though Ho Chi Minh is the city’s official name, to him it would always be ‘Saigon’. Always. (After the Vietnam War Saigon was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City).

The Cu Chi tunnels were very interesting and it was in part due to Mr Binh’s commentary as he’d actually fought here against the Viet Cong and Northern Vietnamese. We started the tour at one of the tunnel’s entrances to show us just how small they were. They were not more than 30 cm wide and Mr Binh told us that the tunnels were too big for the ‘big fat American soldiers’. He also told us how a young woman with a rather large bottom got stuck trying to get into the tunnels yesterday. He had plenty of stories about how the Viet Cong were able to spot Americans soldiers hiding behind trees because they were so big boned.

One of the tunnel's entrances

One of the tunnel’s entrances

Mr Binh then showed us various traps used by the Viet Cong to hinder the American war effort. He explained that the tunnels underneath were on three levels and to maintain air supply the Viet Cong had made vents and tried to disguise them. The Americans quickly caught on and would send a German Shepherd to find the vents by trying to get it to smell ‘fish sauce’ as Mr Binh explained Vietnamese food is’very stinky stinky’. The Viet Cong though had another trick up its sleeve and built this booby trap below with sharp bamboo sticks. They’d put the ‘stinky fish sauce’ under the trap door and the German shepherd would fall to a nasty death. Mr Binh told us that many American army dogs died this way.

Booby Trap

Booby Trap

We then went into the tunnels to get a taste of what they were like and they were very, very narrow. For once being petite served its purpose. A lot of taller Westerners found it very claustrophobic, and one girl even had a panic attack half way through the tunnel we went in. The tunnel rarely went in a straight line and Mr Binh explained this was done by the Viet Cong to confuse and scare any American soldiers that might have made it into the tunnel.

Inside the tunnel!

Inside the tunnel!

The tunnels were really interesting but we could constantly hear the sound of gunfire. There was a shooting range at the end of the tour and you could shoot an AK-47, M16 and others. I was perplexed how Mr Binh who’d fought here and witnessed many people die here could return here on a daily basis. The constant sound of gun fire must be a constant reminder of the horrors of the Vietnam War. The sound of shots being fired gave the tunnels a very eerie atmosphere and I felt like I’d been transported through time.

As for Mr Binh, he said he was currently writing his second book which was due to be published next year by Bloomsbury in the US. He said his book would be entitled ‘An American eagle flies down to hell’. Although Mr Binh was a real character and full of war tales, it was hard to know just how much of his story was true. He told us that he’d already published a book about his life and told us it was called ‘Three Moons of Vietnam’ but I couldn’t find it online or in the bookshop he told us about…

Ho Chi Minh City

After a couple of weeks in Vietnam, our trip came to a close in Ho Chi Minh City. We arrived in the city at around 9 am and after a quick shower we went out to see HCMC’s attractions. I wanted to start with a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral to see how it compared with Paris, but for some reason the cathedral was closed and wouldn’t be open until the evening. We weren’t impressed and whilst trying to decide what we were going to do next we stumbled upon HCMC’s post office. It was quite an interesting building architecturally, but at the end of the day it was just a post office… Nothing more, nothing less.

The Post Office!

The Post Office!

Inside the Post Office

Inside the Post Office

Telephone cabines

Telephone cabines

We then decided to have a coffee break until the War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace opened (all the museums seem to close for a 2 hour lunch break) and I’m ashamed to admit we actually went into a Dunkin’ Donuts. We hadn’t seen many fast food or coffee chains so far in our South East Asia trip and Kyle was desperate to have a strawberry frosted doughnut (Missing home much?). We got chatting to a young Vietnamese guy on the table next to us and he actually turned out to be the owner of the Dunkin’ Donuts’ brand in Vietnam. He asked us what on earth we were doing in HCMC and we explained that we were backpacking around SEA and that HCMC was our last stop in Vietnam. He told us we should have made Hoi An our last stop because there’s nothing really to do or see in HCMC. He actually said one of the most interesting things to see in HCMC was probably the post office next door (!). He told us that both the War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace were a waste of time. We were unsure whether he was being sarcastic or not, so we went on our way to the War Remnants Museum.

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I was interested in visiting the War Remnants Museum to learn a bit more about the Vietnam War. I thought it would be an educational museum like London’s Imperial War Museum… how wrong I was. The outside exhibits of the War Remnants Museum consisted of US tanks, planes and artillery. There were many Vietnamese people proudly posing and taking pictures with the US tanks. We then went inside and it was the most confusing museum I’ve ever been to. There was no clear layout or commentary, the museum was basically a collection of photographs of dead children and rotting corpses accompanied by captions such as ‘Children killed by US soldiers’. There was absolutely no explanation of the war – the museum was just pure anti-American propaganda. If you had no knowledge of the Vietnam War and you went to this museum, you wouldn’t know that Southern Vietnam was actually anti-Communist and were fighting with the Americans against the Communist Northern Vietnamese.

The most horrific part of the museum was the ‘Agent Orange’ exhibit which consisted of a collection of photographs of deformed children and victims of Agent Orange. There was even a display of two dead foetuses in a jar with deformities as a result of the Agent Orange campaign. It was incredibly sad to see these pictures and I felt quite numb afterwards. Although the museum was sad, I was annoyed with the total lack of commentary in the museum. You forget that Vietnam is still a Communist country so the government of course is only going to show one side of the story.

Also, in the gift shop they sold fake dog tags bearing the names of U.S. soldiers who’d lost their lives in the Vietnam War!

We then went along to ‘Independence Palace’, which was the home and workplace of Southern Vietnam’s president during the Vietnam War. It was only really interesting from a historical point of view because it was on this site that the Vietnam War came to an end.

Vinpearl and Scuba Diving in Nha Trang, Vietnam

After four nights in Hoi An, we got on yet another sleeper bus, but this time for Nha Trang. Our hotel in Hoi An promised to reserve us the seats we wanted on the bus, but that was another broken promise. As soon as the coach arrived there was a scramble to get onto the bus and not end up in the back row. Luckily being the small and feisty girl that I am, I managed to get on the bus and nab us some pretty good seats. We arrived in Nha Trang at 6 am in the morning – the first time a bus has actually arrived at its scheduled arrival time, and the streets were absolutely jam packed with touts and motorbike taxis. We were literaly surrounded by a mob of people shouting and yelling at us asking where we were going, what we were doing, etc, etc. It was way too much and we managed to bundle into a cab and arrive at our hotel.

On the sleeper bus!

On the sleeper bus!

We arrived like eager beavers at our hotel at 7am and they were nice enough to let us check-in. We showered, found some breakfast, booked two scuba dives for the next day, and made our way to Vinpearl amusement park all before 9am! Vinpearl had roller coasters, a water park, an aquarium, a free arcade, a beach and a dolphin show for about £15 each. The ticket included the cable car ride from the main land to the Vinpearl island – which was worth the Vinpearl entry ticket price in itself for the incredible views.

Vinpearl was actually pretty lame… Some of the water slides were actually painful and I cut my elbow on one of the slides. They needed some serious maintenance! We also tried to combat my fear of heights by going on slides that were basically a vertical drop from start to finish. I very nearly chickened out, but in the end I just went down and it wasn’t too bad! I still don’t like the free fall bit… I hate the way it makes my stomach feel. I’m thinking of maybe trying bungee jumping or sky diving in Australia, but I’m just taking baby steps at this moment in time.

The following morning we went on two dives with Angel Dives, a French-owned dive company. We were a little unsure about doing some dives in Vietnam as we’d heard the visibility was often poor and wouldn’t match what we’d seen in Thailand, but the visibility was actually crystal clear. We got to see some cool coral and fish, but our dive master who was guiding and leading the dive was more interested in taking underwater pictures of the same thing again and again, so I pulled some silly poses while Kyle took pictures.

Underwater selfie

Underwater selfie

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

After Vinpearl and our dives, we decided it was high time to leave Nha Trang as it was incredibly touristy and FULL of Russians. When all the signs for restaurants, shops and pharmacies are all written in Russian you know it’s time to leave. We’d met this British expat who’d married and was now living in Vietnam on our dive boat who explained why Nha Trang attracts so many Russians. Apparently Vinpearl is joint owned by a Vietnamese billionaire and the Russian Mafia. They have an agreement that Russians are allowed to fly direct from Russia to Nha Trang without a visa.

He also told us the trials and tribulations of being a Westerner married to a Vietnamese woman and living in Ho Chi Minh City. He told us that shopping was a real problem at the beginning of their marriage. He’d go into a shop and see something he liked and the owner would try and make him pay 5x the price a Vietnamese local would pay. He started going shopping with his wife in the hope they’d charge the normal Vietnamese local price, but because she was married to a Westerner they’d charge her 3x the local price. He said his wife would even try to return to the shop a couple days but the owner always remembered that she was married to a Westerner and would charge 3x the local price. He explained how camera phones changed his life because from that moment on he’d just take a picture of what he wanted and his wife would then go and buy it for him – without getting ripped off. I asked him what he missed most about England and he said SAUSAGES – pork and apple ones. He misses them so much that he bought a sausage maker to make his own.

Next stop: Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

Custom made in Hoi An, Vietnam

After our day out with Mr Trung, we cycled back to Hoi An and dabbled with the idea of getting something custom made. Kyle was thinking about suit and I was considering getting a pair of sandals made. We decided to check out our hotel’s sister’s shop to get a quote for a suit. At this point we were only CONSIDERING getting anything made…

We went into T&C Tailors (our hotel’s sister’s tailor) and were given a Next (!) catalogue to get an idea of the type of suit we wanted. We flicked through the catalogue but found it difficult to decide just by looking at pictures of men posing in suits. The owner didn’t have the right colour fabric that we were looking for and was trying to push us to buy a suit in another colour for $150. We told the woman that it was way too high and she dropped her price to $130. Kyle told her that he wanted to pay $100 max and the woman said no, so I walked out the shop. The woman by this point was being VERY pushy. As soon as I walked out the shop, the woman agreed to do it for $100, but by that point we weren’t interested in having a suit made by T&C Tailors.

We then went on the search for a good shoemaker and found one with an excellent reputation on tripadvisor. We went to the Thien Friendly Shoe Shop and it was absolutely packed with people trying on shoes that they had custom made. An assistant told me to look around the shop at the shoes they’d previously made, flick through their catalogues, or show them a picture of what you’re looking for. You could even have a shoe you already own ‘copied’. I’d been looking for a Tropezienne style sandal since we arrived in Thailand but with no luck. I found a picture on the internet of what I wanted and she printed it, and then asked me what colour I wanted. She gave me several huge wheels of various red leathers… several wheels just of red leathers! It was hard to choose… but I finally found a red leather that I liked, my foot measurements were taken and I was told to come back tomorrow for a fitting.

The picture of the sandal I wanted

The picture of the sandal I wanted

The following day at breakfast we felt the repercussions of saying no to a suit by T&C Tailors, our hotel’s sister’s shop. One of the members of staff rudely interrupted our breakfast to ask us why we didn’t buy a suit at her sister’s shop. We told her that we weren’t interested and she kept telling us that we MUST buy one and that we should go there right now. We couldn’t quite believe that she had the audacity to bother us while we were eating breakfast about a suit. That was T&C Tailor and Nhi Trung Hotel’s last chance… they definitely lost our business!

After spending the day walking around Hoi An, we went back to Thien Friendly Shoe Shop for my sandal fitting. On first try they were absolutely perfect, and exactly what I was looking for. For 20 pounds I chose every little detail of the shoe from the finish to the buckle. Pretty good price really!

The shoe shop told us there was a tailor across the road that was number 1 on tripadvisor. We went to Hoa Nang Sunny Cloth Shop to have a browse and a chat, and the owner was very professional and didn’t push us to buy anything at all. Her policy is if you don’t like the finished product, don’t pay. While Kyle talked suits with the owner, I looked around the shop at the different styles of dresses they’d previously made. I saw a plain cotton dress that I liked and I tried it on for size. Within five minutes of walking into the shop I’d already had my measurements taken, chosen a fabric, pattern, neckline, the length, and told to come back tomorrow for a fitting. I entered the shop with no intention of buying anything!

A rubbish picture of me at my dress fitting!

A rubbish picture of me at my dress fitting!

Kyle trying on his suit!

Kyle trying on his suit!

A day with Mr Trung, Hoi An

The following morning we were met by Mr Trung at our hotel at 8.15am. He’d even brought me a sun hat to wear so that I didn’t get burnt! We rent bikes and cycled 15 minutes out of town to the local fish market where he explained the young fishermen in his village came here to sell the fish they’ve caught at 1am everyday. We then cycled to his fishing village and he gave us a small history of his village. Mr Trung was really sweet and spoke good English – although he often used ‘sorry’ when he met ‘umm’

‘Sorry I now give you a history of my fishing village…’

Local fish market

Local fish market

He then took us to the pottery part of the village where we had a go making a pot on a wheel… The wheel was operated by a lady kicking the wheel every 5 seconds. I wasn’t very good at it but Kyle admitted he’d regularly attended pottery camp when he was young. He was actually pretty good at it! The pots are then left out to dry in the sun for 2 days before being put in a kiln.

Spinning the wheel

Spinning the wheel

Having a go on the wheel!

Having a go on the wheel!

Mr Trung then took us to a pond to do a spot of fishing. I’d never caught a fish before so it was pretty exciting. The fishing pole was pretty basic and just made out of bamboo. I managed to catch at least five fish but I absolutely hated taking the fish off the hook and throwing it back into the water. I hated the way it was struggling and flapping about in my hand – I genuinely felt sorry for the fish. For a second I even dabbled with the idea of becoming a vegetarian, but that was quickly forgotten when Mr Trung took us to his house for a cooking lesson and lunch with his family.

I caught a fish!

I caught a fish!

Kyle thinking about catching fish

Kyle thinking about catching fish

Mrs Trung taught us how to make a chilli, lemongrass and garlic marinade which we then put on a freshly caught white snapper and BBQ’d in a banana leaf. We made and ate so much food that we had little food babies.

Cooking lesson with Mr Trung

Cooking lesson with Mr Trung

Spring Rolls

Spring Rolls

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White Snapper in a banana leaf

White Snapper in a banana leaf

After the cooking and all the eating, we had some fresh tea and talked to Mr Trung about his life. He explained that used to be a teacher but was now retired, and that he works a couple hours an evening in Hoi An at a restaurant in the hope he’ll convince someone to go on his tour. He explained that he had to keep working to pay for his daughter’s education. (School in Vietnam is not free).

Mr Trung and his family

Mr Trung and his family

I really enjoyed the tour with Mr Trung and felt quite honoured that he’d taken us to his fishing village and introduced us to his family. It also felt much better to give your money to a local person rather than a huge tour operator.

xx