Had a difficult day so far today, and feeling disillusioned with Thailand. Went out early to avoid the crowds and started with the Reclining Buddha. Should have taken the photo from the head end as this shot makes his feet look massive. Too much trouble to explain but too many people in this country try and rip you off and tell outright lies. I recommend you avoid the country completely, and instead visit all of it's lovely neighbours instead!
A bit of a bamboo theme in Battambang. This is our breakfast which we bought yesterday. It consists of sticky rice and black beans, flavoured with coconut milk, which is jammed into a piece of bamboo stick and then cooked over a charcoal fire. Also included are baby bananas and local oranges, which betray their name and are green. Finally, sugar biscuits made from palm sugar collected from the flowers at the top of the palm tree and wrapped in banana leaf. Nothing is wasted and everything from the banana, bamboo and palm trees are used and then recycled as firewood or fertilizer for the fields. All very tasty indeed.
Arrived at Battambang today and had a lovely journey through the countryside to a disused railway line. The locals have rigged up tiny rafts made of offcuts of wood and bamboo that are balanced on two sets of wheels that fit on the train track. They have mounted little lawnmower sized engines on them and you can whiz along the track! The etiquette is that if you meet another machine coming in the opposite direction, then the one with the lightest load has to dismantle their machine so that the other can go past. This happened to us at least three times in half an hour.
After our failure to see the sunrise this morning, we went to a temple called Pre Rup to try to catch the sunset. It was really busy there and everyone climbed the steep steps to try to get the best view. I am not sure how this rates against the others, but I was pleased to get a snap that included a statue of a lion's bottom. Not sure what happened to the rest of his body, but most of the temples have been badly damaged during many wars over the years.
Got up at 4.30 today to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat but it was cloudy so not good. Then we went to Ta Prohm which is the temple complex where Angelina Jolie filmed Tomb Raider. It was completely fantastic with gigantic trees growing all over the buildings, most of which are ruins, but some have been restored. Very creepy, wouldn't like to be there in the dark.
Visited the legendary Angkor Wat this afternoon and it is a very impressive place with a massive moat all of the way around it. Struggled to get a good photo of it, but we are going again tomorrow so I will see what I can do then. It had some pretty steep and narrow steps up to it, although they stopped using the original steps in 2006 due to some unfortunate incidents where tourists fell down them, so here is a photo of the wooden replacements that have bannisters.
Visiting Angkor Thom this morning which is the big area that is next door to Angkor Wat. Which photo is of the demons? The answer is debatable, but the official one is the ones playing tug of war with the snake.
There are thousands of lotus ponds en route to Siem Reap and it appears that my previous pictures, and correction, were both wrong and were not lotuses after all. Without doubt though, these are lotus seeds and you eat them either raw, as we did, or boiled. They look a lot like broad beans, but are a bit fiddly. I like this photo because of the cute little girl who sat quietly while her mum was working.
Went on a bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. It was over 300 k and took all day. Thyda took us to a market that sold fried crickets that everyone tried, and liked, except me. She also bought live tarantulas to fry later and Darren held one of them on his hand in the market. I was in such a panic that the photo I took of him chopped his hand off! I held one for about 10 seconds once I was reassured it was quite docile - but I was starting to hyper ventilate.
Went out tonight to the local guides house for a celebration dinner, and Thyda our guide got Dave a beautiful cake with with his name and date of birth written on it. She also bought some wine that we drank in the tiniest glasses you have ever seen! Not much good for either me or Dave. Five families lived in the one big house with a total of 30 people, and they had massive outdoor speakers so we all danced all night - even Darren. Amazing night and totally unexpected.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year. After this mornings visit and blog, I thought it a good idea to lighten the mood and try out a video. If it works you should get a singing message, but if you have ever heard me sing before you might want to avoid it! Thank you also to HSBC bank, who for some reason decorated the outside of their building, and supplied Mrs Claus for me to pose with.
The rumdul is the national flower of Cambodia and this may be an example of it. It grows in to a large tree with fragrant white flowers which blow off in the breeze. These photos were taken at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum where over 17,000 people were tortured and killed between 1975 and 1979. Only 14 people came out alive and only two survive today and we met both of them. The picture of the tree has a gallows in front of it where people were hung by their feet and when they blacked out they were dipped head first in water filled with stinging creatures in the jars beneath to wake them up.
Left Ho Chi Minh City this morning on a public bus to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. It's about a seven hour trip and it had a driver, a helper and a lovely lady who acted like an air hostess. She made loads of announcements and brought round breakfast and drinks, and then after we stopped for lunch she announced that Santa would be joining us on the journey! The drivers helper had got changed in the back and was quite shy at first, but he came down the front and started handing out presents to everyone. We all got a beautifully boxed napkin and the karaoke machine played Christmas carols for about the next two hours. Really loudly.
We also went on a canoe ride although I am not sure if you can recognise Darren, Margs and Dave in the photo. It was very good, the water was running extremely fast and we were very close to the water. Ps, the guy at the front was doing the rowing and then another guy at the back stood up and steered, a bit like a gondola.
I have tried hard not to make this blog touristy (!?!), but went on a boat trip on the Mekong Delta today, and Ryan, who is also on our trip, persuaded me to hold the python! Also, our tour guide was very lively, so we ended up doing karaoke on the boat and she taught us a song which went:- Vi et nam, ho chi minh Mna, mna, mna, mna. Repeat above four times and then on to the next verse.
Here is Darren being driven round the streets of Saigon in a cyclo, and then conducting an interview outside the main Post Office. If you look carefully you should be able to see one of the boys filming the conversation, and all of the girls hanging on every word. They then had a group photo session before going on their way. Ps, apparently it was for a school project!
Arrived in Saigon at 5am on the overnight train from Nha Trang. Just had a fantastic cup of coffee with a free cup of tea chaser at an outdoor cafe in a park. Felt a bit out of place though as we didn't arrive on a moped with a birdcage on the back! We were chatting to a local man who told us that many people keep birds in their apartments, and they bring their birds out to the cafe so they can socialise with their friends, and learn new tweety sounds at the same time.
Everyone crams in or on to every vehicle in Vietnam. You often see four people on a motorbike, and two on a bicycle. They come with foot rests and a seat for the person on the back. We got the hang of it quite quickly although I had an easier time than Darren.
Useful Vietnamese phrase translated into English. Not too sure how accurately. It's what the fishermen do when they get back from a nights fishing, just before they spend the afternoon doing karaoke - or so our guide tells us. It looks quite an apt description for me and Margs today though.
If you are ever unsure what to wear on a long train journey then take a leaf from Marg's book and get some handmade, beautifully tailored, multi-zippy trousers and strike a pose like a super-model. Ten hour train ride from Hoi An to Nha Trang today.
Sorry can't help myself, there is just too much to write about. Have already had to drop a photo of Margs up a ladder, but we walked along the street with this lady flower seller and her bike. It is cheating really as I don't see how she could ride it. Maybe she does that when she has sold enough.
Sticking with the cycling and bridge theme, here is Dave on a tiny bridge made of single stems of bamboo. We went past it again a few hours later when the tide had come in and it was only about a foot above the water level.
Bought some crunchy sugary sweetcorn snacks from a street seller - probably a bit like cereal but without the milk, and then sweet potato cakes from this lady for about 15 pence each. Then we found a bar that sold beer for about 12 pence a half pint, which means we could have bought six half pints and left a tip for the price of the Sugar Puffs!
Terrible weather but beautiful Hoi An. Arrived today after a four hour bus ride from Hue. It threw it down all morning, but has stopped for the afternoon. Found a lovely bar by the river and checking out the height of the flood water on 8th November 2011! Just to the top of Margs head, but I would have been fine. The high water mark in 2010 was only about waist high, but in September 2009 it was not far off the ceiling. The owner told us he was only shut for about 10 days this year and then they were open for business again.
Many years ago the emperor of Vietnam decided to move his capital city from Hue to Hanoi as he dreamt that he saw a dragon, which is very lucky, fly into the sky from Hanoi and then land again in Halong Bay. We have been to both of those places and seen no dragons, but here in Hue there is a whole nest of them down by the river. Been on a boat trip on a double headed dragon boat, which must be incredibly lucky, so why is it chucking it down with rain? And my feet are freezing.
It has come to my attention that I have incorrectly identified the national flower of Vietnam. I actually found a water lily, whereas the lotus flowers are currently out of season and are just dead sticks poking out of the water. I did find some giant metal flowers next to a lake in Hanoi that I think is a lotus, so this is version 2.0 of the national flower of Vietnam - hopefully.
Is this a photo of Hue aquarium? No, like you do when you are on holiday, we are visiting the supermarket and they have large tanks of fish swimming about that you can pick from. Much fresher than Sainsburys. I didn't look but Dave said they also had cartons of what looked like butterfly larvae which I am guessing you can take home and release in your garden.
Sitting on a pavement in a spacious cafe in Hanoi drinking coffee with condensed milk. We have recklessly ordered without checking the price first and it has come with fancy strainer and water with lime in it so I am sure that the price will be high. Did you know that in central Hanoi over 100,000 people live in 100 hectares and it is one of the most densely populated places on earth? It certainly seems like it to me. FYI we are back in Hanoi for the afternoon and then catching a sleeper train to Hue.
Update from the cafe - price of the coffee was fine, I should be less cynical! Had an hour to casually wander back to the hotel to catch the train. Unfortunately we set off in the wrong direction and ended up in the tiny residential streets where there were no road signs, no taxis and no one spoke English. We were still lost 45 minutes later and by then were running along the side of the street with the motorbikes heading straight for us. With 10 minutes to go we got back to the cafe and started to run in the opposite direction. After another five minutes I was in front and recognised a restaurant on the other side of the street where we had eaten previously. I pointed it out to Darren then shot round the corner going the other way. He saw me wave so headed to where I had pointed, so suddenly we had lost each other! Got back to the hotel with a minute to spare and calmed down slowly on the train.
Sorry to go on about Halong Bay, but staying overnight on a lovely boat in the bay. Amazing dinner tonight with edible flowers made of tomato, cucumber and the centrepiece was a very hot looking chilli. Surrounded by prawns and a crab each. Nearly told them I was a veggie as worried about potential bones, etc, but very glad I didn't.