A Travellerspoint blog

Beaches, bat caves, Bangkok and Angkar Wat

sunny 40 °C
View The adventure begins on astpurcell's travel map.

"Hello sirrr, ladyyy. You buy somethiiing?"
"No thanks."
"Looking for freee."
"That's nice."

"Hello my friend, you want tuk tuk?"
"No thanks. Just walking"
"Tomorrow?"
"No thanks, we're good."
"Where you going?"
"Just walking."
"You wan go temple?"
"No."

Sihanoukville

After our few days in Kampot we travelled to Sihanoukville. A popular destination for young travellers.

After a bit of a priori research we opted to stay in Otres Beach which was a few kilometres away from the main town and beaches but was supposedly a bit nicer. Boy were we glad with our decision. Otres Beach was pretty spectacular which is more than I could say for the main town and its beaches.

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We hired a scooter as soon as we arrived and rode, packs and all, to our accommodation. We had originally booked a fan room which proved to be a massive mistake.

It's fair to say Morgan was not coping with life and after our first night we opted for a move to an air-conditioned room. Best decision ever. I did put wet towels in the fridge to use to cool us down but apparently that wasn't enough. As far as we're concerned right now, aircon is the greatest invention of all-time.

We spent the next four days enjoying the beautiful Otres beach and the evenings in the main town. We also had a day trip to the nearby Ream National Park which I would definitely recommend to anyone who visits Sihanoukville.

After much deliberation we opted not to go to Koh Rong, mostly due to the lack of aircon and limited power there combined with our recent experience with only a fan (just so we don't sound too pathetic about the heat, temperatures have been exceeding 40C).

Battambang

Because we decided not to go to Koh Rong, we had a few extra days to kill so we decided to go to Battambang as it was on the way to Siem Reap. After sixteen hours on a bus and a transfer in Siem Reap (are you kidding me) we arrived in Battambang.

Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia and is up for a UNESCO world heritage site accreditation because of its french architecture. It's far more laid back than Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville but there's not a huge amount to do there.

We ended up just having one day there before heading back to Siem Reap. We spent the day on a scooter visting pagodas, some killing caves from the Khmer Rouge reign and some bat caves.

Other notable events included randomly sitting down to dinner with a Canadian man who was living and teaching in Battambang and going to a circus, that wasn't really a circus. I think it normally is a circus but it was a 10 year celebration so all we saw was some miming and a solo stage show which wasn't really our thing, but each to his own.

The highlight of Battambang was watching around one million bats leave their cave at dusk to go out and feed. The population for this particular species is around six million and around half of the population lives within a very small area just outside of Battambang. It was quite spectacular to watch.

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Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Our time in Siem Reap was pretty much centred around the temples of Angkor and the surrounding ruins.

Angkor Wat is actually incredible. It is the largest religious monument in the world and it was built almost 900 years ago. It is absolutely massive and the stone walls are still decorated with amazing detail. It's hard to believe it only took 35 years to build.

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Angkor Wat is just one of the ruins that remain of the ancient city of Yaśodharapura (now known as Angkor) which was once upon a time the capitol of the Khmer Empire and one of the largest cities in Asia. So after visiting Angkor Wat we spent the rest of the day checking out other ancient temples and buildings.

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It was a stinking hot day and we stuck it out for about 10 hours in the 40 degree heat trying to make the most of our day there. By the end of the day we had drunk over 8 L. It was a monster effort on our behalf (if I do say so myself).

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Unsurprisingly, our day at the ruins took it out of us so we didn't do a whole lot with the following two days in Siem Reap. Beer and markets pretty much sums it up.

Siem Reap to Bangkok

Siem Reap marked the end of our time in Cambodia. From there we travelled by bus to Bangkok. The bus ride to Bangkok was an adventure in itself.

We had heard the border crossing into Thailand was bad but honestly it was a shambles. Terrible signage, people and vehicles everywhere and very limited instructions. We had to just follow other tourists through the Cambodian exit point, across 'Limbo' and through the Thailand entrance point in the hope that they knew what they were doing.

Once we got through we had to take a further three vehicles before we finally made it to Bangkok. On the bright side we meet some pretty nice people on our way.

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Bangkok

We were introduced to Bangkok with an absolutely mental tuk tuk ride. We've seen some on-road craziness in the past two months but this was next level. It reminded me of a bad American comedy that completely exagerates the craziness of a foreign place, but it was real. And just to top it off, it came with disco lights and some Adele blasting on the sound system.

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We ended up spending an entire week in Bangkok which wasn't the plan but there's so much to do there and we had a bunch of things to get sorted before we left for Norway. In our week there we visited about 312 shopping malls and markets, became locals on the trains, walked about 93 km, went to the zoo and ate way too much fast food.

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Just a word of advice for you all because I'm good like that: don't go to Bangkok to buy camping gear. We pretty much spent three days trying to find camping gear for Norway and only managed to strike gold the day before we left with a Decathlon shop at a Tesco Extra. A massive relief.

So now we're heading to Norway to go on an epic road trip. Hopefully we'll survive the cold, we've been practicing by setting the aircon to 18 degrees...

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Posted by astpurcell 13:00 Archived in Cambodia Tagged markets cambodia angkor_wat bangkok bats battambang bangkok_zoo Comments (2)

Goodbye Vietnam. Hello Cambodia.

sunny 38 °C
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Unsurprisingly our last week in Vietnam came with both ups and downs. We travelled from the mountains back to the coast and on to Ho Chi Minh City. A week ago our time in Vietnam came to an end and we ventured into Cambodia where we are planning on spending around three weeks before heading to Thailand.

Mui Ne

Following on from my previous blog post, we traveled to Mui Ne, a small coastal town that is suppose to have beautiful beaches and a relaxed tropical vibe. Initial thoughts - the place looked alright. Secondary thoughts - not so much.

As we hopped off the bus and made our way towards our accommodation the street sides were trashed and the roads were smelly. We decided we'd try and find some nicer accommodation and went and had a beer and jumped on the wifi in a seafront bar.

Looking out to sea, the locals were swimming in a soup of rubbish due to bars and restaurants tossing their rubbish out to sea. After about half an hour there, a small 'dog' runs passed our feet. Morgan gets a bit suspect thinking it might have been a rat. A couple of minutes later it runs back, almost over Morgan's foot, and sure enough its a rat.

Morgan freaks and jumps on her seat. We're out of there before our feet can touch the ground. Within 5-10 minutes we see another five rats out on the street. Long story short we decided to stay in the accommodation we had booked, which was actually alright, but the damage was done.

The following day (Happy Birthday Julie) we hired a scooter and toured around to a nearby town, the beach and a local stream called Rainbow stream. The beach had nice clear water and surprisingly little rubbish considering its proximity to the rubbish laden waters we had seen the night before.

Rainbow stream was actually really cool. It's a small stream and you walk upstream in the water. It started off a bit dodge, in prime rat territory, but then opened up into some really spectacular sand dunes / cliffs. We ended up climbing up and walking back along the top, completely alone and in probably the most pristine environment we had been in in Vietnam.

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That evening was full of interesting events. I saw my first wild snake - unfortunately I saw it as I ran over it on our scooter; we had our first scooter accident which was purely my fault and involved a concrete pillar and Morgan's foot (sorry Morgan); and Morgan had a crying Vietnamese baby handed to her by the baby's father so that we could have a photo with it - it was very bizarre.

Ho Chi Minh

The following day we caught a bus to the big city - Ho Chi Minh. We were pretty apprehensive about Ho Chi Minh because we'd mostly heard bad things but we were pleasantly surprised.

We stayed for four nights. Visited the War Museum, Cu Chi tunnels (a 250 km network of underground tunnels built by the Viet Cong during the French and American wars), visited markets, talked to locals, drank cocktails 150 m above the city and had an awesome night out with Rosie and Matt (friends of Stacey's who are here on their honeymoon) - a great way to wind up our month in Vietnam.

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The last few weeks have flown by, but at the same time, arriving in Hanoi feels like a lifetime ago. Sad to think we're already a month through our trip but so excited for the adventures we'll have in Cambodia, Thailand and onward.

We have had an awesome time here but I would be lying if I said Vietnam was without its flaws. If you can tolerate lots of rubbish and funky smells, you can be rewarded with loads of interesting places to go and things to check out that make it worth your while. I'm glad we came and grateful for the experience but I don't think it will be somewhere we come back to in a hurry.

Phnom Penh

After a pain-free border crossing and a six hour bus ride we found ourselves in Phnom Penh, the capitol of Cambodia. We spent four nights in a nice new hotel surrounded by about a million construction sites.

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On our first day in Phnom Penh we visited the Choeung Ek killing fields and Toul Sleng Prison of the Khmer Rouge regime. I had heard a little of the history of Pol Pot in Cambodia and we knew we were in for a rough day but the history here is just really hard to wrap your head around.

A heads up, the next couple of paragraphs include some gruesome details so feel free to skip them if you want.

Choeung Ek is just one of many killing fields through Cambodia and over 20,000 people were killed there by Khmer Rouge soldiers between 1975-1978. Infants were killed by bashing their heads against a tree. The remains of 8,000 people are still kept there on display.

The prison showed how Cambodians were tortured and starved until they confessed to crimes they had never committed. Up to as many as 3 million Cambodians were killed by starvation, malnutrition and executions at the hands of other Cambodians, all in pursuit of Pol Pot's extreme communist dream of creating a self-sufficient, agricultural, 'pure' society.

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The genocide here was less than 40 years ago but walking through Phnom Penh now you would have no idea of its horrible history. The streets were alive with activity, dance classes we cranking in the city square and everyone was friendly and welcoming.

The place is not too different from Vietnam but with many subtle differences. Both countries are amazing for the way they have rebounded from their hardship.

We spent the rest of our time in Phnom Penh checking out markets, doing other touristy things and lounging beside the hotel pool.

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Kampot

After Phnom Penh we traveled to Kampot and stayed there for three nights.

Kampot is really cool. One of my favourite places of the trip so far. I think I like it because it's not too developed but has nice restaurants and shops so you don't feel uncomfortable being there. The town is nestled on the banks of the Praek Tuek Chhu river which is probably in better condition than any other large water body we have come across in Vietnam or Cambodia, so far.

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Our first day there we rode a scooter up into the Bokor National Park and checked out the sites up in there. 'National Park' seems to have a different meaning here than in NZ. There was a lot of development going on in the Park and the main tourist sites were old derelict buildings and a waterfall that you had to pay to see.

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Regardless, we were surrounded by lush, green forest and very little plastic which was a very nice change. We found a short walk through some forest and had a great time cruising around on the scooter. We even let Morgan loose behind the wheel of the scooter.

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That night we went on a sunset river cruise and watched the sun go down over the National Park as we cruised along the river surrounded by palm trees, mangroves and the odd waterfront bungalow. It was really nice.

Our second day we rode our scooter to a nearby town called Kep and jumped on a local boat to an island we had heard was nice called Rabbit Island or Koh Tunsay. The island was nice but was a bit of a disappointment. The water wasn't that clear and there was still plenty of rubbish around so our mission to find crystal clear, tropical water continues. I can't complain too much because we just spent the day on beachfront hammocks reading a book and in Morgan's case snapchatting Stacey.

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Next we're off to a town called Sihanoukville for a bit more sun and beach time. It's a tough life.

Posted by astpurcell 07:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia kampot phnom_penh vietnam mui_ne ho_chi_minh_city kep rabbit_island cu_chi_tunnels killing_fields choeung_ek war_musuem rainbow_stream bokor_national_park Comments (0)

Never Coming Home...


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So after my first blog post where I boasted the fact that neither Morgan or I had yet come down with any belly issues, within less than an hour of posting that, my stomach began to feel unwell.

Fast forward six hours and I'm throwing up out a taxi door onto the streets of Hanoi. Good times. And a nice image for you to kick off this blog post...
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I'll apologise now cos this is quite a long post. I've tried to be concise but it's been a busy couple of weeks. So get settled in cos just like travelling on a vietnamese bus, this is going to be a long and bumpy ride.

Vietnam is a country of mountains and coastline. I think I read or heard somewhere that 75% of the country is either mountainous or coastal, but I'm probably making that stat up. Regardless, there are lots of mountains and lots of beaches and and that pretty much sums up our last three weeks.

Sa Pa

So four hours after my incident out the taxi door, we were booked in for a six hour bus ride to Sa Pa and two days of trekking. Considering my condition, we thought a bus ride probably wasn't a good idea. Queue Carter Reed to the rescue, a young guy from Boston who had booked out a four person sleeper cabin on the train to Sa Pa that night and offered for us to join him. So we gladly accepted and greatly appreciated the help, thanks again Carter.

We arrived in Sa Pa the following morning and it was freezing and super foggy. Carter ended up joining us on our treks for the following two days through small mountain villages around the area. The fog and clouds cleared on our second day and gave way to some awesome views of the surrounding mountains and rice paddies within the valleys.
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Funny story... Morgan sleep talks from time to time. Mostly gibberish sometime she's coherent. During our night in Sa Pa, I woke up in the middle of the night and rolled over to face Morgan and out of her mouth comes what sounds like impressively fluent vietnamese (this is after four days in Vietnam). She wakes herself up with her sleep talking and realises what has just happened. We both just cracked up, it was hilarious!

Hanoi

After Sa Pa we caught the 12hr overnight bus back to Hanoi. Yay! This is our beautiful faces when it arrives at 3 am the next morning in 30 degree heat.
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That night we caught up with Alyssha and Michael and went to see a water puppet show which is kind of a thing here. I found the show to be pretty hilarious. Had know idea what the show was about cos it was all in vietnamese
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Da Nang

From Hanoi we caught an overnight bus to a large coastal city called Da Nang and had three nights there.

We were definitely in the minority. It's not a massive tourist spot and most of the tourists that were there were Asian. The beach was OK, nice sand but the water wasn't amazing. At night time the harbour, bridges and buildings were lit up quite which was quite spectacular.

We spent a day scootering around to the Lady Buddha statue and the Marble mountains. Both places were pretty awesome. Lady Buddha is a 67 m tall statue surrounded by a bunch of buddhist temples so it was pretty impressive. Marble mountains are a small cluster of marble hills with a heap of caves with buddhist shrines and temples, both old and new.
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We found this amazing cave branching from another tucked away cave. Inside was a buddha carved out from the rock and flying overhead were bats. We were the only ones in there. It was quite an incredible feeling being in there.

Hoi An

So after Da Nang we travelled a few km south to the world heritage town Hoi An. This was a really cool little place and we ended up staying there for a week. Between the beach, the town and the surrounding farms and villages, there was plenty to do.

The only downside to our time there was that it was stinking hot. We found out after we'd been there for a few days that there was a heatwave over south-east asia at that time and temperatures were five degrees higher than average. So we weren't just being pussies. Some days it was getting up to 36 degrees. I was sweating like a pedophile in a playground.

We over did it a bit on our first two days with a day of cycling to a couple of beaches and just checking the place out and then a day on a scooter in the baking sun riding out to My Son ruins (another world heritage site with ruins of champa temples dating from like the 7th century, I think).
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After that we had to chill out a bit and split each day up between activities and the glorious air conditioning in our room. We spent the week cruising around on bikes, riding through villages and rice paddies, checking out markets, drinking beer and eating lots of vegetarian food.
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Nha Trang

Our third overnight bus ride took us to our third coastal destination, Nha Trang. This was the first place I felt like we were on a tropical beach. The water here was far clearer than in Da Nang and Hoi An (with visibility around 12 m).
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We really liked Nha Trang and had a couple of really cool days there. One day we hired a scooter and rode about 40 minutes along the coast to a bush walk to a waterfall. We then rode back to the city and went to some mud baths which was a very interesting experience. The following day we had massages in the morning, spent the afternoon on the beach and then went to Vinpearl Land in the evening.

Vinpearl was awesome. It started with a 3.2 km gondola ride across to an island theme park. We went after 5 pm and got tickets for 300,000 dong (approx. $20) each. The theme park had adult and children's rides, a free arcade, 4D cinema, aquarium, reptile house and a really impressive musical fountain show. We had an awesome time!! The park normally also has a waterpark and dolphin show (not cool) but the waterpark was closed for renovations until the end of May.
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Nha Trang is a massive holiday destination for Russians and they made for great entertainment down on the beach with the photo shoots, speedos and warm up routines.

Da Lat

From Nha Trang we caught a bus into the mountains to a city called Da Lat, the Paris of Vietnam. Not quite sure how it managed to wrangle that nickname.

Anyway, I think when we first arrived we were quite disappointed but it kind of grew on me. It is just another city but we hired a scooter for a day and spent the day checking out temples, pagodas, statues, a monastery and some waterfalls. It was pretty cool in the end.

Next up we are heading back to the coast to a town called Mui Ne, probably our last beach in Vietnam before we head to Ho Chi Minh and on to Cambodia.

Posted by astpurcell 07:41 Archived in Vietnam Tagged mountains beaches statue scooter hoi_an da_nang nha_trang da_lat vinpearl Comments (5)

From one H-town to another

overcast 23 °C
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Started our sweet adventure four days ago, after a nice send off from friends and family.

Had an epic plane ride: Auckand - Gold Coast - Kuala Lumpur - Hanoi. We both remembered how much fun long haul overnight plane rides are...
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Arrived in Hanoi around 8:30 am and had our first experience of Vietnam people in the form of customs officials. The process of getting a visa seemed rather unorganised but it actually didn't end up taking too long and the process was fairly painless. Morgan had forgotten to print out passport photos which were a requirement for the visa but they weren't bothered and just let us through after paying our US$50.IMG_20160326_091720.jpg

We caught a bus into Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam with a population of over 7 million people. We were both pretty exhausted and were fighting to stay awake on the bus but were keen to take in the sights. We were dropped about a minutes walk from our hotel and had our first experience of crossing a Hanoi road. IMG_20160327_201252.jpg

The roads here are crazy to say the least. The road rules seem to be: don't crash into people in front of you; and toot to let people know you're passing them or coming through. They often don't stop at red lights and don't give way when they are pulling out into a road. It's just constant merging like a zip. We struggled a little bit on our first day, partly just because we were so tired and partly because it was such an intense first place to visit.

Our first day we just went for a quick walk and got some lunch, had a shower and a nap. Then went for a walk for a couple of hours to check out the city and got some dinner. Crashed out at around 8:30 pm (2:30 am NZ time).IMG_20160327_115024.jpg

Our second day in Hanoi we went for a big walk through the city. Feeling way better after a good nights sleep and a little bit of experience from the previous day, we both felt way more comfortable.

We managed to catch up with Alyssha and Michael at lunch time (friends from home who are living in Hanoi for three months). We spent the afternoon catching up and went to an old prison that was used by the French when they colonised Vietnam and the Vietnamese during the war with the US.

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After the prison we went and had a drink overlooking a hectic intersection then went and checked out some night markets and grabbed some dinner. Alyssha and Michael introduced us to our first street food experience of spring rolls, beef noodles and vegetable noodle soup. The food has been really good and so far no belly problems (touch wood).IMG_20160327_175018.jpgIMG_20160327_191117.jpg

Anyway Morgan's telling me that I'm not writing a thesis anymore, so I'll wrap it up. After dinner we booked a trip to a mountain town called Sa Pa and we are heading there tonight for two days of trekking.

The weather here is really interesting. It seems they very rarely see blue sky and the air is really hazy. Still trying to work out if it's pollution or just how their sky is. Apparently it's like this outside of the city as well so it seems they just have hazy air around here.

Smell ya later homos

Posted by astpurcell 21:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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