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Into thin air….

I have had the most unbelievably awesome day. It started early but that was ok as I’d gone to sleep at 9pm – unheard of for me. We hopped on our hop on hop off bus round Ecuador and got to meet our companions for the day.

First stop at a farm where we saw the cutest calves, G and N milked cows, we had a very delicious breaky in the farmhouse and then met the guinea pigs, destined to be eaten 😬.

And off to Cotopaxi, which was in cloud when we first saw it and then cleared to reveal the most magnificent volcano. Breathtakingly stunning.

And just a little windy and cold, which necessitated the purchase of a coat! Next stop lunch at a market town Pujili which was a traditional feast, I went for the chicken option over the boiled pig skin.

Then to Quilotoa lake, a 3km wide turquoise lake in the crater of an active volcano. And boy, at 4000m up you noticed your lungs working overtime.

A chance for a pretty amazing hot chocolate (well they know how to do chocolate here) before departure. We caught a glimpse of the other huge volcano in Ecuador, Chimborazo…

One last stop en route for an Ecuadorean ice cream before arriving for the night in Baños. Let’s see what delights you have to offer us. I’m quite loving this incredible country.

Homeward bound…leaving on a jet plane…back to life, back to reality etc

It could have been a day of waiting around, and we did take advantage of a lie-in, but then we used our last day wisely. In the middle of the Mekong river is a large island called Silk Island. It is so named as they harvest silk worms and produce spun silk from which they make dyed goods.

Unsure how to get to the island, we wandered to where a notice told us a boat had departed earlier and within minutes it was being arranged that a tuc tuc would take us to the ferry, on the ferry and round Silk Island. We ensured that the only chap who spoke English explained to our driver we had to be back at 2pm to get ready for our flight.

The ferry took us across the river, and lots of school children were on it as they have a two hour break during the hottest section of the day.

Once on the island the tuc tuc took us to a family home where they spin their own silk from worms (there was an explanation about why the worms were dead). The colours of the silk were beautiful. They were v friendly to us.

So granny spins the cotton, sister in law makes the patterns in a loom, the sister talks to tourists and sorts the cash, the daughter (age 4) looks cute and plays in the mud. We all had a go at spinning using an old bike to help.

Then we all went to watch the sister in law making an amazing pattern on the loom.

And the inevitable invitation to buy things, but actually, we wanted to buy such gorgeous silk items. Three scarves later and we were on our way. We will never quite know if the driver got lost, but we seemed to see the island several times and came across a few dead ends. He asked a lot of people and we ended up walking to the end of an individual pier thing, confused why we were there.

We’d been dropped there for a drink and to eat pomelo and it was actually v relaxing chilling by the river. Slightly panicking about time, we didn’t spend as long there as we would have liked. A few pics of the island on the way back.

We got the return ferry and got a sandwich on the way back to the hotel. All showered and changed and our taxi driver came to fetch us. Now waiting for the first of three flights to reach the UK.

It’s been a fantastic adventure.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge

Today was a disturbing day (in part) and rightly so. We did a bit of a tour round the city, but arrived at the Genocide Museum quite early. We roughly knew what we were expecting, but the nature of Tuol Sleng jail was just something else. It had been a large school in the 50’s to serve the children of Phnomh Penh. The country was getting itself back on its feet after being ruled by the French. However, the rule of Pol Pot and his communist ‘brothers’ brought about the most devastating and torturous regime which began with trickery and brainwashing to get the Cambodian people to leave their homes and city. I won’t go on, but in the ‘school’ turned ‘prison’ where we were, around 22000 men, women and children were held prisoner in horrific circumstances, tortured for information and then killed.

Only 7 of the 22000 escaped and amazingly we met 3 of those today at the museum, as it now is. If you’re interested, read a summary of Khmer Rouge here, I have learnt so much. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.history.com/.amp/topics/cold-war/the-khmer-rouge

We deliberately did this first to ensure the rest of the day was happier. Our guide remembered growing up as a child in the Pol Pot era, and he was emotional about the hardship he suffered, being separated from his siblings and parents and made to do hard labour.

So, onto the King’s Palace, which is still shut due to covid. Looked fancy from the outside though!

And at night 😃

Then we went to a park to see a statue celebrating Cambodia’s independence (much sought but a long time coming).

After the park we had lunch, in a huge old style place that did proper Cambodian food but felt a bit like a station. We liked it sooo much that we had dinner there too.

With renewed energy we went off to a temple on a man made hill. The best bit was the toucans eating all the offerings to Buddha. They’re amazing at shelling tamarinds with their beaks.

Spot the toucan

Up the top we saw a mix of Buddha statues, heard far too much about enlightenment and Buddhist teachings although in fact, the philosophy is a good way to live at peace with yourself and others. We saw many people bringing offerings and praying for good luck. Coming back down we saw a tiger, as it’s year of the tiger.

A shiny bandstand….

And a few cool statues….

I think I’ve done this in the wrong order but you’ll never know. At some point we went to the National Museum of Cambodia. Erm, there were many, many statues and our guide was a little over-enthusiastic about their related history. My eyes generally glaze over when we start BC and move forward in decades. He was a little over zealous with the Buddhist teaching too – are there similarities with Jehovah’s Witnesses? We couldn’t even take photos to keep entertained. We escaped eventually as they shut for siesta time…thank goodness.

Little else to report. Ah, we ended our day at the market where you can buy anything from an unidentifiable part of a long-dead animal, complete with flies, to a ‘Rolex’ watch. We decided against the former and bought the latter. There was everything you could want and more.

After walking an hour in one direction for dinner, we got a tuk tuk back in the direction we had come from and went to the place where we had lunch. I can recommend the flambéd bananas for pudding 🤩

A fisherman’s life…

It has been a chilled out day but a very enjoyable one. A four hour bus ride through the Cambodian countryside, most of which passed by with my eyes shut. Hang on, I may have a pic or two! Aha, so we stopped for a snack on the way. The gents were cooking bamboo sticks on an open fire, pouring water on the bamboo to stop them burning. They’re stuffed with a mix of sticky rice, black beans and coconut milk. We saw the process….

The ladies then chop the sticks to make them thinner
Yum! Like rice pudding….

After arriving at a huge lake (biggest in South Asia) we jumped on a boat, well, waded to it, and had lunch on board. Chicken/veg skewers and rice.

The best bit was a long warm snooze after lunch. That was the fisherman bit. I think I could cope with that.

Arriving in the capital of Cambodia, Phnomh Penh around 3.30, we got motorbike transport to the hotel.

The hotel is lovely and we hung out at the pool. After getting ready for the evening we had a wander round town, ending up at a French restaurant (nod to previous colonialism) and I sulked as it wasn’t Cambodian food and was expensive. I did apologise for my sulk.

Back to the hotel and ready for bed before a tiring day of sightseeing tomorrow, but we can sleep on the plane day after that. Night all 🥰

Two days squashed into one…

As the rain stopped play yesterday we had a totally full on day today to make up for it. Started with a drive through Siem Reap city on the way to Ankhor Wat temple complex – a world heritage site. It was already pretty hot when we arrived and just got hotter and sweatier as the day progressed, which tends to sap your energy.

All the carvings on the wall throughout the temple depict images of life at the time in the area. They were so intricate and precise.

We climbed right to the top of the temple on narrow flights of wooden stairs.

And then down the bottom again where people in traditional dress were having pics by the lake. Then there was us.

We moved on to look at Angkor Tom, another famous temple which had lots of faces leading up to it. Here is Grace.

And a further temple – Baya ? Again, it was beautifully carved and was huge!

We went to one last temple and in my humble opinion the best. It has trees that are growing out of the top of it, with huge trees roots growing down to find water. It makes an amazing sight.

However, the dilemma is that in time the trees growing will destroy the temple, but without them, it’s just another of the 100 temples in the area.

Off to lunch at a local restaurant and it was delicious. The food in Cambodia appears to have a strong Thai influence. No chopsticks in sight and everything comes with rice. This sign was in the loo.

Important notice

After lunch (and reinvigorated for about 2 mins) we climbed a mountain with a great view back over the temples.

All templed out, we had a power nap on the bus whilst travelling back to Siem Reap to wander round.

The king’s palace

We headed off to a port to board a boat to see a floating village. It was fascinating to see how people live in dwellings suspended on the water, complete with shops, a school, places to eat and with boats that sell food to you at your door. It felt a little voyeuristic and I was conscious of not taking too many photos of people going about daily life.

I imagine that daily life can feel hard, fishing to make a living and having v little living space for several generations. But I wonder if there is great fun to be had and a sense of camaraderie??

We were dropped back to the hotel, tired and happy, ready to head out for another curry in the evening. What a great day….

Rain interferes with play

We got our first lie-in of the holiday and woke up refreshed but panicked about getting breakfast. We did get there but there wasn’t a lot of food left!

We transferred to the international airport for a flight to Cambodia on a rickety old plane that looked like it would never get airborne. We have lived to tell the tale.

Cambodia, on first glance, looks very different to Vietnam, much emptier, more tropical, less populated and less touristy. Our plans this PM were scuppered by the long downpour of heavy rain which made a boat trip on a lake kind of untenable. Our guide assures us we can fit it all in tomorrow. So we are chilling in the hotel and wondering if lunch may roll into dinner. My tummy is definitely saying it’s time to eat, whatever the definition.

I’ll try to take some pics when out, if only to make this blog more exciting.

Erm, so, we did have some nice grub for dinner and it did get a bit busier once the rain subsided. It’s an odd place but perhaps it’ll all get more exciting when we head to some sights tomorrow. A few pics for good measure.

Our repetitive guide…

Ok, so we feel the day had the potential to be interesting, if we hadn’t been told the same information we were told yesterday over and again. And if you ask a question, you get the last piece of information that you were told repeated back to you. And that will be nothing to do with the question you asked.

I’m sounding like a moaner and it’s the littlest problem. So we went to the Cu Chi tunnels, a series of hand signals tunnels which span over 250km length, often at 3 levels, which confounded the Americans in the Vietnam war. We got to experience a small length of the tunnel for ourselves.

It’s narrow, dark, airless and I can’t imagine having to move around and live underground for soooo long. They also made many lethal ground traps to kill American troops who patrolled the area.

In addition, we saw rice pancakes being made…

We were invited to sit and eat some cassava, not the most exciting flavour but we did manage some.

Oh, and we saw a large snail. Erm, we felt more could’ve been made of the trip but it was a bit rushed, and the emotion of the tunnels and the war was lost. The boys did have a go at shooting an AK47 which was pretty special.

The snail

A minor snooze back at the ranch before going to find a skyscraper which we thought had an extended platform that you could go out onto, Turns out it was a helipad, but the view was cool from inside.

We headed back to ground level before going to Ho Chi Minh’s first shopping mall. Why? I’ve no idea as it’s all the shops we have back home and we can’t fit any purchases in our cases. So we bought nothing. Back at the hotel we showered and prepared for the v best evening!!! A street food tour on vintage Vespas. It was fab. First to the flower market….

Next up, to a street food market where we had our first course.

It amazes me that all of life is on show all the time, so you see people in their Pj’s watching telly as you walk by.

Off to our next stop and next course.

The traffic was mad! People cut across you, go round you, drive at you going the wrong way. You sure do dice with death.

More food and then it chucked it down…rain like we haven’t seen since arriving. Torrents of it. Then as went into a block of flats, built after the city was flattened in the war. We saw terrifying electrics, many cute kids and saw how it is for daily living.

Then off to a last stop with was pudding. If I say banana and rice it sounds nice, but it could have been a bit sweeter. The highlight of this part was going under the cafe where each house had a basement and system of tunnels. The man who lived under the cafe actually had a stash of AK47s and our guide showed us how quickly he can take one apart and put it back together. They teach them that at school. It was a surreal moment.

All in all we had the most fantastic evening. The rain made it even more fun and the food was seriously tasty.

Oh what a day!

A slightly disappointing hotel breaky but those who are hungry cannot be picky. We made up for it in the rest of the day. The bus picked us up at 8 and we headed 2 hrs to the Mekong Delta which is series of waterways where there are four large islands. We didn’t really understand what was planned for us but it ended up being great fun.

The first stop was a loo stop, but at the most lovely services you’ve ever seen. Take a look.

Lotus flower…we think.

The bus deposited us at a marina near the Delta. Then we jumped on a boat to cross the very wide river. Bits of foliage float in the water and a wide bridge spans it, taking traffic over the expanse of water. You can just see it here.

Once over the other side we were a cog in a tourist wheel but it was fun, and I salved my conscience by remembering that we are helping an economy recover post-covid. Tourism is the second largest income in Vietnam and I like to think we helped today.

Whoa, bees.

A lady showed us just one of her 3000 hives which produces honey and related products to sell at market. That, and people like us, provide an income. We sat and had delicious fried bananas slices with honey and honey tea. Both mmmmm.

Walking through their farm we saw many different fruits on trees. Pomelos (big grapefruit), coconuts, Jack fruit, guava, banana and lots that I’ve forgotten.

Erm, it was whilst walking out of the farm that I noticed a snake in a cage. Seconds after pointing to it then it was round Neil’s neck!!!!

Aaaaaaah

After re-depositing the snake back safely in the box (other family members declined trying on the necklace) we walked on and found a pony and trap waiting for us. I felt highly sorry for the poor pony carrying us lot, but it was pretty cool.

We arrived at another local village where they served us fruit – pomelo, rambutan, lychee, something odd-looking, and pineapple. It was all delicious til the wasps descended and finished off for us. The fruit eating was accompanied by a musical delight…though they looked a little unhappy doing it.

It was a really interesting sound. Then they finished with a rendition of ‘if you’re happy and you know it…’ and we cringed but sang heartily. Then the next bit was fab, so we walked again and ended up at some steps where two wooden boats were waiting for us. They got us on and gave us a ride along the 2m wide delta where boats travel up and down all day. The palm leaves grow up either side until they touch, creating a tunnel effect so you almost feel you’re enclosed. Luckily I took many pics.

Weirdo tourists taking pics of us 🤪

The boat ride was really long, but took us back to our original boat which then transported us back across the river to an island for lunch. Just before we got back on that boat, we went somewhere to be shown the process of making coconut candy. It tasted yum.

Bang the coconut

…throw away the old milk. Remove the husk, add caramel and put the grated coconut in. Heat using burning fire of coconut husks. Let it set, chop it up and box it up. Nice.

Onto lunch despite not feeling hungry at all. When we saw this chap waiting on our table tho, we couldn’t resist.

More and more food kept coming and it was lovely but I was sooo full up. After stuffing in as much as I could we jumped back on our boat to head back to the bus. The boat driver (!) gave us a refreshing drink of fresh coconut milk for the journey.

We were actually back at the hotel about 3, so time for a swim and some reading before heading out for dinner (yes, I managed it) at Anan which is a modern Vietnamese restaurant which was expensive in terms of eating out here, but worth it.

Just one of 7 flights….

Still exhausted on waking because of such a busy day yesterday. But we had to get up and eat breaky in order to get to the airport in Hue for an onward flight. It was a short and easy flight and our guide met us at the airport.

First impressions of Ho Chi Minh city was of a modern looking, multicultural and busy city which could perhaps be any big city in the world. Just this second the jury is out about whether these 3 days will feature highly on the best bits of the hol. Let’s see. Part of the struggle was the lunch, which was billed as traditional Vietnamese but was so clearly ‘Vietnamese food for tourists!’ and expensive and not so tasty.

We enjoyed seeing the post office and Notre Dame cathedral from the outside. We got a fleeting view of a huge pagoda and saw a street market, but nothing to rival the more rural markets we have been to. I only got pics of the post office, a beautiful old style building which felt quite British inside.

Then we went to the War Remnants museum. I didn’t quite know what expect, but it was an incredibly moving account of the Vietnam war. I learnt so much about why it started and the effect it had on the Vietnamese people (and those in Cambodia and Laos). The politics behind the conflict seem complex and ever-changing, but it was certainly protracted and signified huge losses of life (and money/resources) on both sides.

I didn’t take any photos. I think I was feeling too disturbed and overwhelmed to consider it. If you’re ever here, make a point of going. It is history that I feel we should all learn about and I’m embarrassed that I was so oblivious until today.

The rest of the day has been uneventful though I’m hoping for some proper authentic Vietnamese food later and a spot of clubbing….you’re never too old. 🤣

Ah yes, clubbing!! Complete with girls dancing on the bar (mild disapproval) and many nitrogen balloons being consumed (mild to medium disapproval)

Parents and children in Saigon nightclub
Girls dancing on bar

Hmmm, night all. A couple of beers should help me sleep 😴

Hoi An to Hue over the Hoi Van pass (the land of many H’s)

So, a little about what this beautiful country and its people are like. They are a calm and confident nation, who have known great conflict in their time, defending themselves against protagonist invaders. The last 25/30 years have been more peaceful and I think the Vietnamese are enjoying establishing themselves independently. This means a focus on tourism, rebuilding the economy and physically building a lot of new places.

However, individual families are cohesive, often with many generations living and working closely together. People graft hard to sustain and contribute to family life. Working (often in physically demanding jobs) is no mean feat in this heat and humidity, often on unfavourable land eg the terraced paddy fields.

It feels a very fair country. You get what you need but it’s divided up equally. There is virtually no police presence but it’s a very open nation, so no one is out to nick your stuff or rip you off. People try to sell you stuff but with a polite no thanks they leave you alone. The (mainly) Buddhist religion appears to underpin everyday life, with the values of peace, kindness and gentleness ever apparent.

It’s so long and thin that travelling up and down is a regular occurrence. Vietnamese seem to like to travel to tourist destinations too. There are few English, no Americans but increasing numbers of Indian visitors and some Ozzies and Japanese. This may be a covid effect. The Vietnam borders only re-opened in April when nearly everyone had their two vaccines already.

It is a green, mountainous and stunning country. The towns and cities are noisy, smelly and over crowded in terms of living space. In between towns it is less densely populated and some tribes live very remotely.

There we go, more observations later!

Today, we got an early start to climb up Marble Mountain on the outskirts of Hoi An. There were other marble mountains but people chopped them up to make things. This has now been stopped. We saw a million carved statues for sale, some very huge, some smaller. The ones on the mountain weren’t marble as they can’t get them up there!

I love a water lily and these were some stunners on the way up top.

After sweating our way up and down, we carried on over the highest mountain pass in Vietnam, the Hoi van pass. Stunning scenery of mountains one side and the ocean the other. Not too hairy either as the road was wide and visibility was ok.

Down the bottom we arrived at Lang Ho beach, a lovely long stretch of golden sand but sadly now bought up by the hotels that line the beach. Time for a coffee overlooking the oyster farmers doing their stuff with the oysters. Personally, they can keep them, I’m not a fan.

On to Hue and a lovely long stop for lunch in a place that seemed to have a big French influence. The food was amazing and we ate a lot.

It rained for the first time in our 9 days whilst we were eating, which cooled the place down a tiny bit! After stuffing our faces we were back on the van to the citadel. A 5km squared space divided into sections within the walls, where previous kings and their many wives had resided. It was a serene space in a busy city, green and chilled. There were many pagodas and lots of coi carp to feed.

Everywhere you looked was another great piece of architecture or view. The only shame is that so many of the buildings were destroyed by the French but they’re now being rebuilt, one by one.

This is an example of one of the kings robes – the kings were treated with very special treatment, almost like gods.

The royal family was disbanded in 1945 and now any ancestors live normal lives in Vietnam.

We left the citadel and went onto a Buddhist monastery (Thien Mu) on a hill overlooking the perfume river. Monks in grey robes wandered around.

It was another place which exuded peace, despite its proximity to the whole of the rest of life being lived to its fullness below. We then descended to the river itself and had a boat trip back to town. So many families swimming and paddle board to cool down after a seriously hot day.

Later on we went out for iced coffee. Hue is a really lively, studenty type place, with lots of bars and loud music. Felt like a fun place to be. Night all…I’m pooped.

Just another day in paradise

A rude awakening for breakfast, with the strongest coffee to help me wake up. We tried to get bikes from the hotel reception but dilly-dallied so they’d gone. Perhaps we should’ve been grateful as the distance to the beach was quite long and it was getting hotter. The beach was lovely even though we got ripped off for sun beds. I love the round boats that the fishermen use here.

And the obligatory hot dogs legs!

We only managed two hours at the beach. That included time for a swim and a snooze. The water was chillier than in the bay yesterday, but still very nice. Back to the hotel for a swim in the pool, and time to chill before heading out for a first fitting of our clothes and some shopping. Oh, and a stop for a late lunch in a lovely cafe.

A wander round the shops, bartering on trousers/shirts/bags etc, with Dominic winning the prize for the cheeky smile which always gets the price down. Lots of meandering, stopping to take photos and keeping hydrated. The day seems to have effortlessly slipped by. Before we knew it, we were back for the final fitting and wow, everything looks so gorgeous. Just worried about how to transport it all home safely.

Off to a restaurant where I didn’t feel hungry til I saw the menu. Grace enjoying some fresh coconut milk.

I can’t understand why this style of decor appeals to me so much. I know my granny lived in Japan for a long time, so maybe it’s in the blood!

Another schlep round the market for final purchases of tat/pressies and a few pics of the river boats with their lanterns all lit up. Gorgeous place that will stay in my ❤️ forever.

Goodbye and thank you Hoi An. You’ve made great memories.

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