A Travellerspoint blog

Hoi An

sunny 37 °C
View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

Hoi An didn't feel like Vietnam at all, it felt more like France. The buildings were all cute and old and the streets were small, the food was amazing and the weather was great. We loved it! Definitely my favourite place in Vietnam so far. Hoi An is the place in the Vietnam Top Gear special where they get the crazy suits made; there are so many tailor shops in the town it's unbelievable! It was so difficult to resist buying everything I wanted. I do regret not getting any shoes made though :(

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Pretty Hoi An by day and by night

Day 1:

We arrived on the bus from Hue in the afternoon and didn't really do much for the rest of the day, just had a wander around the old town. When we were walking along by the river in the evening I heard someone shouting my name in a Vietnamese accent, I ignored it at first as I assumed they were shouting for someone else, but it got louder and louder so I turned around. Turns out it was Lia and Matt (who we met in Hanoi), they got a waiter to shout after us! It was good to catch up with them and we arranged to meet for dinner and drinks the next night.

Day 2:

We'd booked to do a cooking class today which started with being taken to the market to buy everything we needed. There were six of us and we all had to pick one dish to cook and then we would all share the food afterwards. It was great going around the market with Van, our teacher, because she told us about all the foods and got us to try things we'd never had before. She did make us wear traditional Vietnamese hats though!

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At the market

After we'd got all of our food we went back to her house and she went through all the preparation and cooking with us. She was such a good teacher and the food we made was so delicious. I had made a chicken coconut curry (I even made fresh coconut milk!) and Stephen made the traditional dish of Hoi An, Cau Lao, which is marinated pork with brown wheat noodles. We were so full after lunch!

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Stephen cooking his pork with chopsticks

We met Lia and Matt for dinner in the evening, but I didn't eat much as I was still so full! Afterwards we went for drinks at a bar nearby, played lots of card games and attempted to play pool but some other people were hogging the table all night!

Day 3:

In the bar the night before Stephen had said he was going to rent a motorbike and go to the Marble Mountains which were about 30km away. Matt and Lia said they would get and bike and come with him, and before I know it I was convinced to go along too on the back of Stephen's bike. So we paid out $4 for a day's motorbike rental and off we went. It actually wasn't so bad, Stephen found it fairly easy to ride as it was an automatic and I just held on tight! We stopped at a beach along the way, had a swim and did some sunbathing and then continued on to the mountains. They were fairly impressive and there were lots of caves inside them with various Buddha's.

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At the top of the mountain

We went to the beach again on the way back and had some lunch at a nice place with big sunbeds and a pool table. It was so nice that we decided to all go back in the evening and have dinner there too!

Lia and Matt were getting the bus to Nha Trang the next day so we said we'd meet up with them there as we'd be there at the same time (unfortunately this never happened though because we were staying at opposite ends of a very long beach :().

Day 4:

Today was another relaxing day of doing nothing - for me anyway! After the best breakfast ever at a place called Cargo Club (so cheap, so delicious, and so much food!), Stephen rented a bike and cycled all around the town and to another beach.

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Breakfast at Cargo Club (what was on my plate was Egg's Benedict but I gobbled it all up before I took the photo!)

I just sat around and wrote some of the blog and went shopping! I got two dresses, one just off the shelf and one tailor-made. It was a bit of a pain as I had to keep going back to get it refitted as things weren't right about it, and they ran out of the white material I wanted so I had to go for black, but in the end it fitted well and I think I paid a reasonable price :)

In the evening we had some locally brewed beer before another delicious dinner. The local beer is so cheap here - 12p a glass!

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Day 5:

We were booked on the night bus to Nha Trang in the evening, so we just spent the day chilling out on the beach at Jaspa's Beach Club. The beach club was really just a restaurant/bar on the beach with some sunbeds on the sand and more big beds on some grass. It looked really posh but drinks were still cheap (not quite 12p though!).

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Jaspa's Beach Club

The night bus, as expected, was terrible. Luckily we got a 'bed' by a window, but they were very short and not particularly comfortable. As usual, Stephen couldn't stretch out because they are made for Vietnamese people who are tiny! We were told there would be three beds across the bus but they'd squeezed in four. I was also right in front of the toilet which stank :( I just thought about the fact that in 12 hours I would be back on a beach!

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Night bus

Posted by charlotter45 19:43 Archived in Vietnam Tagged food beach mountain motorbike tailor cooking_class Comments (0)

Ninh Binh and Hue

overcast 30 °C
View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

Ninh Binh:

Ninh Binh was so much better than I thought it'd be; the landscape of the area was the most beautiful and interesting I've ever seen and getting on a motorcycle was also pretty fun (until we got into traffic!).

We arrived in Ninh Binh late afternoon after getting the local bus from Hanoi, checked into our hotel and organised a tour of the local sites for the next day. The cheapest and best way to do it was to hire a motorbike and a driver each, something I didn't really want to do as I'm terrified of bikes! We walked around near our hotel to find something for dinner, but we didn't feel particularly safe walking around at night as it's not really a very touristy place so in the end we just ate at the hotel.

The reason we chose to stay the night in Ninh Binh is there's some caves with a river going through them called Tam Coc. You get in a little boat and someone rows you down the river and it's very scenic. You can do a day trip from Hanoi but its 2 hours on the bus each way and you end up there at the same time as all the other day trippers so its very busy, noisy and not very tranquil. We arranged with our drivers to take us to Tam Coc later in the day when all the tour buses had gone home.

Getting on the back of the bike was scary at first, but we were soon cruising along quiet country lanes with beautiful scenery so I forgot all about my fears. First stop was Bai Dinh pagoda, which was lots of temples with really massive gold Buddha's inside them. There were covered walkways lined with Buddha statues leading up to a 100 tonne bronze Buddha on top on a big hill (lots of stairs to climb). The place was packed with Vietnamese tourists and for once we weren't the ones being hassled to buy things! After this place I am totally Budda-ed out! I never want to go into another temple again (at least not on this trip!).

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Inside one of the temples at Bai Dinh Pagoda

Next up was a small and unimpressive temple, but next to it was another big hill with a little temple on top so we went up the stairs to that. The day was turning into just stopping at places, climbing up 500 steps and then looking at the view from the top! It was lucky that the view from the top was amazing enough for us not to care about the stairs :P

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On the bike

The next stop was Mua Cave. We'd read in Lonely Planet that the actual cave was really rubbish but to go anyway to climb the stairs and sample the view from the top.

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At the bottom - you can just see the stairs and the pagoda at the top behind us

Lonely Planet was right, it was worth going! The view was spectacular, big mountains, smaller ones on their own and paddy fields as far as you could see.

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You could also see the river running through Tam Coc caves below, it didn't look too busy so we were hopeful that it would be quiet when we got there.

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View over Tam Coc

When we got down from the top Stephen went to check out the cave and confirmed what we'd been told already - it was rubbish!

Now it was time for the last stop on our tour, the Tam Coc caves. We bought our tickets and got into our boat, it was very quiet with not many others around so we'd timed it perfectly. The people who row the boats can row them with their feet which it really funny to watch:

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The scenery was incredible, every time we went round a corner I was amazed at how beautiful it was. The pictures don't do it justice at all, but here are a couple anyway:

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Unfortunately, our drivers didn't take us on the scenic route back - they took us on Highway 1! This was pretty scary and really crowded with trucks and buses honking their horns as we weaved in front of them. Luckily we made it back alive and in time for us to grab some dinner and then catch our overnight train to Hue.

The night train:

There were many more Western people at the train station in Ninh Binh than we thought there would be, so that made me hopeful that we might not have to share our 6 berth room with too many locals. When we booked our train tickets in Hanoi we were told there were no soft-sleepers on this train so we booked for a hard-sleeper, but when the train arrived it was obvious that there were soft ones - all the other Western people headed down the train to carriage 6 while we hopped on at carriage 4. Oh dear! Luckily, when we found our room we were greeted by two girls from LA (they had meant to book soft-sleepers but the agent they booked through made a mistake) and it was just the 4 of us for the whole journey. They told us the good places to go in LA, which was really helpful, and Stephen gave them his email address so they could send us some more information. I was dreading the night train because the one we got between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore was so awful, but I fell asleep so quickly and slept right through the night (despite the 1 inch thick, very hard 'mattress') - Hooray!

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Stephen on his bunk

Hue:

In contrast to Ninh Binh, Hue was so much less than I thought it would be. We went to the citadel and paid to get into the Imperial Enclosure (£2.50 - which is expensive as far as Vietnam entrance fees go) which is where the King and all his people lived when Hue was the capital. It was pretty disappointing as there weren't many buildings there as much of it was bombed during the American War. There was quite an amusing video though explaining about the 'crap-shaped' pillars in the main building!

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Entrance building to the Imperial Enclosure

After this we went to the Ho Chi Minh museum as we'd missed out on the one in Hanoi. Lonely Planet says every town has one but the one in Hue is better than most. It was just one floor in quite a small building, and all it had in were photos and some of his things (like his desk as school). There weren't even any proper captions or descriptions. So if it's better than most, we're definitely not going to any others!

When we got back to our hostel we bumped into Lia and Matt who we met on the Ha Long Bay trip. They were just about to get the bus to Hoi An so we said we'd probably end up bumping into them there too!

The best thing about Hue was the Japanese restaurant we went to for dinner which was really nice and very good value for Japanese food. I think we paid about £15 for a cup of sake, a beer, 6 salmon sushi rolls, 2 pieces each of shrimp and tuna sushi, some edamame beans, sweet potato tempura and a noodle soup thing!

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Yummy food

We decided to go back to our dorm and watch some tv before having an early night, but got a bit distracted as the Australian girls who were also in our dorm were so funny! Apparently they had seen a rat in the room the night before and they were drawing up a rat roster for keeping an eye out during the night. There were six of them and they were 18 and living in Hanoi teaching English, but on a little trip down Vietnam for a week. One of them rang her friend and was telling her about all the 'qualms' they'd had (this seemed to be their favourite word) while they'd been travelling and they seemed to have had a few!

So, Hue wasn't great, but we were hopeful for our next stop, Hoi An, as we'd heard really great things :)

Posted by charlotter45 17:54 Archived in Vietnam Tagged temple mountain river cave stairs motorbike Comments (0)

Having fun in Hanoi

Boats, Blue Balloons, and Beer

overcast 29 °C
View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

When we touched down in Vietnam and ended up being ripped off by the locals three times within as many hours, I feared that this country was not going to be a good as I thought. We'd heard a lot of people say the locals are greedy and not very nice, and after our few days in Hanoi I had to agree as we'd met more bad than good! However, in the week and a half since we left Hanoi we've found everyone to be much friendlier so I've managed to enjoy the country a lot more.

Another down-side to Hanoi was the traffic! The city is full of tiny little streets packed with motorbikes coming at you from all angles - I'm surprised we made it out uninjured! The rule is just to step out into the road and walk very slowly at a steady pace and the motorbikes will just swerve to avoid you - very scary, especially for someone who (at home) always waits for the green man even when the road is empty!

So from this description you'll be thinking that we had a terrible time in Hanoi and couldn't wait to get out, but we actually had a really good time! During the day we did the usual museums and sightseeing and at night we went out to party as for once we actually had people to do that with :) And of course there was our not-very-cultural-or-informative Ha Long Bay tour (ie. the Hanoi Backpackers Rock Long Rock Hard tour) which, despite my reservations, was actually so much fun!

Day 1:

Our flight from Bangkok arrived at 7am but we couldn't check into our hostel until 1pm, so we dumped our bags and went on a walk. The traffic was crazy but we walked around a lot of the Old Quarter of Hanoi, stopping for street food noodles, and then onto the train station so we could buy our overnight train tickets from Ninh Binh to Hue. Stephen's foot had started to hurt after all this walking so we got a taxi back to the hostel and went for a sleep. It was a miracle that we managed to get a reliable metered taxi as when we got into our hostel room there was a notice saying to only get one of two types of cab as the others all have tampered meters! A reliable meter doesn't always mean a reliable driver though, ours drove off without giving us our change!

In the evening we went for dinner at a place recommended in Lonely Planet; it was good but expensive by Vietnam standards. After dinner we just went to bed as we had to be up early for our Ha Long Bay tour the next day.

Day 2:

We were picked up from the hostel at 8am for the 3 hour drive to Ha Long Bay. There was a bit of confusion at the port - there was supposed to be two separate boats but someone had allocated nearly all the girls to one boat and all the boys to another. In the end the guides decided that they would tether both the boats together (something they're not allowed to do any more!) and all the partying would be done together on the big boat.

We boarded our boat (the bigger one) and all gathered on the top deck to hear the rules of the boat. There were only two:

1. Don't jump off the boat unless you're told you're allowed to.
2. Never ever drink with your right hand, if you do someone can shout 'buffalo' at you and then you have to down your drink and buy another.

The second rule should have been fine for us as we're both left-handed, but Stephen did have some trouble!

We had a delicious lunch (Stephen got buffaloed), got shown to our cabins which were nicer than expected, and then went kayaking around the bay to a cave (Stephen got buffaloed again). The scenery was amazing, unlike anything we've seen before! It was a very misty day, which was a bit of a shame, but it did make it look very mysterious.

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After kayaking we had a shower and dinner and then were told to go up on the top deck so they could set up for the evening's entertainment,
which turned out to be the biggest game of ring of fire/king's cup ever (42 people in total!).

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I'd read a few blogs of people that had done this particular Ha Long Bay trip and it seemed that the game could so either way. As it mainly revolves around people making rules, it depends on the people playing. I was a bit nervous about it at first, but luckily the group of people on our boat weren't too crazy and just made up loads of really funny rules. It was mayhem and so much fun - I ended up having to swap clothes with Stephen and our whole table had to wear our pants on our heads!

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After the game was over they cleared the tables and it turned into a bit of a disco. We sat out of the deck talking with people for a while and then went to dance and ended up being some of the last to go to bed.

Day 3:

The 7am wake up call by an angry Vietnamese man was not fun! After breakfast most of the people on the boat left (as there was an option for a 3 day cruise with one night spent on an island) apart from us and four Canadian girls, and all the people who'd been on the island the night before joined us on our boat for the cruise back to the harbour. They all looked shattered!

The bus ride back to Hanoi wasn't at bad as I was expecting, it turned in a big game of 'Who Am I?' (where you can only answer the questions with yes or no)

We had dinner at a really cheap cook-it-yourself roadside BBQ, which wasn't the best. I avoided the meat as it looked a bit old and kept getting splattered with cooking oil!

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Cooking our dinner

After dinner we went to meet Betty (who we met on Koh Rong) and her boyfriend Mark for drinks. We had a really fun where lots of unexpected things happened. We found a big bunch of blue balloons outside a bar and so walked around the streets giving them to random Vietnamese people (some looked happy, others confused) including these three guys who were playing Hacky Sack with a shuttlecock. They were really good at it, until Betty asked to join in and it all went downhill from there!

We got more drinks at a bar near where they were playing and took it in turns to play. Eventually the Vietnamese guys gave up on us and left, leaving us with their shuttlecock! So we played a bit more between the four of us, but then it got stuck on a roof. Betty came to the rescue though and got it down with a bamboo pole :)

Hanoi has a curfew, so at midnight the police came round telling bars to close and people to get off the streets. The bar we were in just told us to come inside and we could carry on drinking in there. They let us behind the bar to serve them all sorts of crazy concoctions!

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This photo just about sums up our night!

Day 4:

Today was our cultural day :) We walked everywhere (not through choice though, we couldn't find any of the reliable taxis) and saw a lot of stuff. First up was the Temple of Literature, where they taught philosophy and all the degree certificates were carved out on massive stones that are still there. Next was the Army Museum, where we saw lots of tanks, shot down planes and videos on how the Vietnamese beat the French and the Americans. There was a Vietnamese tour group going around in front of us and they clapped and cheered at the end of each video, they're all so proud! We wanted to go to the Ho Chi Minh museum and his mausoleum as well but they were both closed by the time we got there. We took a picture from outside though, the mausoleum looked so imposing:

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Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

We then saw the One Pillar Pagoda, which is one of the most famous temples in Vietnam even though it's tiny. Stephen bought a funny t-shirt with it on crutches in the evening:

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The One Pillar Pagoda

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One Pillar Pagoda t-shirt

In the evening we met all the people who had been on our Ha Long Bay tour as they'd just got back from the island. We had a few drinks in our hostel's bar, a few drinks on a street corner bar (at about half the price of the hostel!) and then a few drinks at a club down the road. There was a band, but they stopped playing at midnight and said the police were coming because of the curfew and everybody had to go upstairs. It was so odd! The upstairs was just the same as downstairs but it had blacked out windows and they kept stopping the music every time the police went by. Looking at the building from the outside when we left, you couldn't tell anything was going on in there at all, it looked totally closed! Presumably this happens all around Hanoi and Vietnam - there's always somewhere open if you look hard enough!

Day 5:

We were getting the local bus to our next destination, Ninh Binh, at lunch time so we spent the morning visiting the Hoa Lo Prison. This prison was used by the French when they occupied Vietnam. After this the Vietnamese used it during the American War to hold US pilots. The exhibits were split into two to show both uses of this prison. It was quite amusing how they had made it seem that the French were so terrible to the prisoners, but when the Vietnamese used it for US soldiers it was like a hotel! I'm sure both sides of the story were a bit edited!

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The US Pilots translated and made a nice poster of Ho Chi Minh's New Year speech about defeating the 'Yanks'

We met a lot of young people who worked in Hanoi teaching English and they all said living there turns you into a massive drinker, and I could definitely see why after only a few nights there. Time for a rest for a few days I think!

On an unrelated note, we had a KFC for the first time on our travels today and the way the serve it there is verrry different from home:

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A real plate, cutlery and glass, and even a little dish for you to put you're sauces it! It is very difficult trying to eat a piece of original recipe chicken with a knife and fork though :P

Posted by charlotter45 20:47 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beer temple cruise museum mausoleum Comments (0)

Celebrating Songkran in Bangkok

sunny 37 °C

When we booked our flight from Bangkok to Hanoi many months ago, we had no idea it meant we'd be in Bangkok during Thai New year (Songkran). We only realised about a week before that our 3 days in the city exactly coincided with the 3 day long Songkran celebration. This was both good and bad: Good because it meant there was lots of fun stuff going on and lots of water fights; Bad because quite a lot of stuff was closed and also because you couldn't go anywhere without getting drenched!

We arrived at 10pm after another horrendous 14 hour bus journey from Sihanoukville in Cambodia. We were staying on Khao San Road which is where all the backpackers go, but it was a nice hotel with a rooftop pool. Little did we know that Khao San Road is where all the Songkran celebrations happen and where the biggest water fight is! It's all pedestrianised during New Year so we had to be dropped off at the end of the road. Within seconds we were soaking wet and having to push our way through massive crowds of people, all with water pistols! The festivities didn't officially begin until the next day, but it was obviously already in full swing on Khao San Road!

There was a rooftop terrace at our hotel so we could watch the water fight from above without getting wet:

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Day 1:

We decided to have a treat day today and spent the day shopping! Stephen needed a new camera as he broke his about a month ago and then accidentally left it in a hotel room two weeks ago, and I had a long list of things I needed/wanted, so we headed to the area of Bangkok where all the big malls are. It was quite interesting because all the malls have different kinds of shops: one was many local-type shops, one was all the big name designer brands, another was all the international high-street brands. Obviously we had to look around them all!

After a hard day's shopping we went to Hard Rock Cafe for dinner and had the biggest plate of nachos we'd ever seen:

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Om nom nom

Day 2:

Today was our cultural day - we went to a little riverside market in the morning and ate with the locals then visited the Grand Palace complex and Wat Pho.

The Grand Palace complex has lots of temples in and the palace of the King. All the temples were really big but were so ornate and had such pretty details, but it was really hot so we didn't spend too long walking around it.

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Grand Palace complex

After the palace we headed to Wat Pho which has a massive reclining Buddha inside, it's about the size of an aeroplane! Stephen had seen it before on his last trip to Bangkok and told me it was huge, but I didn't imagine it to be big it was so it was quite surprising!

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Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

After some lunch we got the boat down the river towards China Town. Unfortunately every single shop and restaurant was closed for Songkran, so we got a taxi back to the malls for more shopping.

We wanted to go to a tapas place for dinner that was recommended on Trip Advisor, so we got the sky train to the nearest stop. We walked around for ages looking for this restaurant and got about 10 full buckets of water thrown over us in the process, so we were absolutely drenched! When we finally found the right place there was a sign on the door saying it was closed for Songkran - great! Back to the restaurants in the mall for dinner!

On our way back to the hotel we stopped for a drink down a little side street near Khao San Road to wait for the police to clear the street as then we wouldn't get as wet going back to our hotel. The party is supposed to finish at 11pm, so the police come and get everyone to leave, but a lot of people turn up again to continue to party and water fight after they've gone! We met some Thai people having a drink at the same side-of-the-road bar and they seemed to be enjoying the celebrations a lot more than us. They were nice and didn't get us too wet - they did wipe their flour and water paste on our faces though, which is another Thai New Year tradition!

Day 3:

Today we decided to get involved in the water fight in the morning, so we armed ourselves with water pistols and headed down to the street. It was crazy! It was much busier today than before, presumably because it was the last day of celebrations. We were drenched within a minute, but at least we could get people back this time! It was fun for a couple of hours walking up and down the street and stopping for a few beers, but I'd had enough after a while so we went and spent the afternoon lounging around the pool at our hotel.

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Water fight on Khao San Road

Stephen went back down to the street in the afternoon as there were some bands playing on the stage, it said it was so busy and everyone knew the words to all the songs so they must have been pretty big bands in Thailand!

In the evening we planned to go to Moon Bar which is on the 59th floor on the 5 star Banyan Tree hotel. I wasn't sure if it was a good idea as they definitely wouldn't let us in if we were soaking wet, but we devised a plan and gave it a go! Stephen just wore shorts and a t-shirt but took a change of clothes in his backpack so he could change in the taxi and I just wore a dress with Stephen's waterproof jacket on top, done right up with the hood up. I looked like a bit of an idiot and it obviously made people throw more water over me, but by some miracle I managed to stay dry under the coat! After a bit of a nightmare with the taxi lady (she definitely drove us the longest way possible to this hotel!) we finally made it to the hotel and it was so worth it - the view was amazing!!

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View from where we sat

There was a restaurant up there too but it was out of our price range so we just had drinks. There was no roof or walls, it was all just on top of the building and it was just an incredible 360 degree view. The cocktails were £7 but they were really delicious and you got unlimited yummy bar snacks (cashew nuts, wasabi peanuts and sweet potato crisps) so it was definitely worth it. Here's the picture from it's website:

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Amazing!

So after a a few days treating ourselves with shopping, expensive food and cocktails, we had a Burger King as our last meal in Bangkok :P

It was so weird being in a city where everyone you went almost everyone was holding a water pistol! And it was adults too, not just children and teenagers. It was a shame that a lot of stuff was closed and we had to spend a lot of time in malls, but it was nice go in shops again and have air con! We definitely wouldn't have stayed on Khao San Road if we'd have realised it was Songkran when we booked, because although it was fun to get involved in the water fight when we wanted to, it was a right pain having to push through crowds of people and get soaking wet if you were just trying to get out and go for dinner or come back to the hotel to sleep!

Posted by charlotter45 00:09 Archived in Thailand Tagged temple mall songkran khao_san_road sky_bar Comments (1)

Koh Rong (but oh so right!)

Beach time in Koh Rong and Sihanoukville

sunny 35 °C
View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

We hadn’t planned this part of our trip, but we had 10 days spare before needing to be in Bangkok so we decided to travel south in Cambodia and visit the beach town of Sihanoukville. After a bit of planning online we also discovered there were quite a few islands off the coast that you could stay on. Koh Rong (meaning Monkey Island) looked the nicest and least touristy, so we booked a few nights there. We’ll also have a few days free after this so we’re going to go to Koh Chang, a Thai island, before going to Bangkok.

Sihanoukville:

Out flight arrived at Sihanoukville ‘International’ Airport (the smallest airport ever!) after 45 minutes in the air, we then got a bus to Serendipity Beach - one of six beaches in Sihanoukville and the one that all the backpackers go to.

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Sihanoukville 'International' Airport

We checked into a bungalow on the main street at Monkey Republic (a bar/restaurant/bungalows owned by some English expats) and headed to the beach. We were pleasantly surprised – this place really is a backpacker’s paradise! We were greeted by a huge white sand beach, lined by restaurants and bars all with comfy chairs and sun loungers, where beer was 50 cents and food was cheap too!

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Serendipity Beach

We spent two full days on the beach before we left for Koh Rong and it was heaven! It’s funny that we’ve been travelling for almost two months now and we haven’t had any beach time, so it was really nice to enjoy the sun, sea and sand.

There are many Cambodians on the beach selling things: the boys sells sunglasses, the girls sell homemade bracelets and the women do massages, manicures, pedicures and threading (plucking hairs using pieces of string). You’re advised not to buy bracelets from the little girls, but I did give in once because I really wanted one and she was so persuasive! I also got a pedicure and my legs and underarms threaded by a lovely lady called An-An. I have no idea if you can get your legs threaded at home as it takes so long – I’ve only ever seen it advertised for eyebrows – but if you could it would be so much more expensive than here. I paid US$13 for a 45 minute pedicure, half-leg and underarm threading – all while I was lying on a sunbed on the beach! I doubt you could get your eyebrows done in the middle of a shopping centre for that price at home!

In the evenings, the sunbeds disappear from the beach and out come candles and more comfy chairs for people to have dinner whilst listening to the sound of the waves. The beer gets cheaper too, a bar called Utopia sells draft beer for 25 cents between 9-10pm. After Utopia’s crazy happy hour ends everyone goes to party at a Brit-run bar on the beach called JJ’s.

In comparison to other places we’ve been, there are so many English people in Cambodia and Sihanoukville in particular. Either working in bars or just there backpacking like us. They far outweigh other nationalities here, and we can’t really work out why! We think maybe because the three main places in Cambodia for tourists (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville) feel very much like Western holiday destinations. In a lot of the main streets where the bars and restaurants are, you don’t feel like you’re in Asia, you could just as easily be in Spain!

Koh Rong:

Monkey Republic also own a place with bungalows on the beach of Koh Rong, so we booked to stay there for 3 nights. It was a cloudy windy day when we left Sihanoukville, so the 2 hour boat journey was pretty sickening. It was still cloudy when we arrived but you could tell that when the sun shone the island would look beautiful! There are no roads here so a short walk across the beach took us to our bungalow. It was right on the beach with two hammocks –perfect!

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Our bungalow

Koh Rong is quite a big island, but all the accommodation is situated on one beach. There are 4 main places you can stay, and a few other one or two room guesthouses, so the island has hardly been touched by tourism. It’s definitely a ‘come now’ destination as a big company has bought the island and is planning on selling off plots to posh hotels, building luxury beach front villas and even an airport! The staff at our bungalows don’t believe the hype though, so we’ll see, but it’s obviously a serious enough threat to stop other people coming here and making new guesthouses though.

In the evening we walked to one of the other sets of bungalows which were like treehouses and had dinner there, then came back for drinks in our bar which was now packed – apparently everyone staying on the island goes there for drinks!

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Treehouse

The owners of our bar have four dogs and the two females both had puppies about 6 weeks ago, so there are 5 tiny excitable puppies running about all the time – they’re so cute! Two of them are really fluffy too, they have the softest fur you’ve ever felt. There are also a couple of kittens, so I’ve definitely got my small animal fix here!

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My favourite puppy - Huan

On our first full day we took a short walk through the thick jungle to another beach – it was sunny and just looked beautiful - 4km of perfect white sand and crystal clear turquoise sea. To top it off an Italian couple have opened a restaurant there, the only building on the entire stretch of beach, where they sell the best bruschetta and pasta I’ve ever tasted!

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We spent most of the day swimming in the sea and relaxing on the chairs they had set up there, then walked back to our beach where we had BBQ fish for dinner.

Back at our bar, the Irish barman convinced Stephen to get a really long hair braid put into his hair! It was made by a Cambodian lady, whose married to one of the English managers of our bungalows and bar, and it took her an hour to make! Unfortunately it only stayed in Stephen’s hair 30 minutes before he took it out (it was pulling too much) – but luckily that was long enough for me to get a photo!

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In the making

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The final result

The Irish barman had a pink Mohican hairstyle with five of these tied into it – very cool! The lady also taught me how to make bracelets like the girls on Sihanoukville beach so I made two, one for me and one for Beth (I’ll try and remember to post it in Thailand!)

Our second day was also sunny so Stephen went kayaking and I just chilled out on the balcony and wrote this blog. The sea’s a bit choppy today so hopefully it will improve a bit tomorrow so the boat journey back to Sihanoukville won’t be too bad! We’ll arrive back at about 1pm so we’ll probably just spend one more night there and then get a bus to Thailand and a boat to Koh Chang.

I think I’ll like Koh Chang more than here, but I think Stephen would stay here on Koh Rong forever if he could! He likes that it’s quiet and untouched by tourism. I like my creature comforts a bit more! Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful here, but there are a few things I don’t like:

The generator only powers the lights in the bungalows from 5pm-midnight
There are no flush toilets and it’s a bit of a walk to go to them
Everything I own is damp and covered in sand
There are bugs and insects everywhere!

But overall, coming to Koh Rong has been one of the highlights of the trip so far – I didn’t think I’d ever be able to say I’d stayed on a near-deserted island in a beach front bungalow for less than £25 a day (and we could have done it for much less if we had 4 people sharing our bungalow and drank less beer!). And where else would you see a buffalo wander through a game of volleyball?!

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UPDATE:

Things have changed since I wrote this blog outside our bungalow 5 days ago, but seeing as I don’t have time to re-write the entry I will just do an update!

We decided not to go to Koh Chang and stay on Koh Rong instead so we ended up staying 7 nights – changing bungalows 3 times. We met a few really nice people and made friends with all the staff, and had an absolutely amazing time!

We did much of the same for the extra days, other than one day where we rented a boat with one of the girls who works at the bar and a couple of other people. We went to villages and beaches where tourists have never been before, it felt so surreal! One village had a river running right through it and it looked so picturesque:

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During the time we were there 3 of the puppies were sent off to their new homes – but luckily not my favourite! I totally fell in love with him and wish I could have taken him home (despite him spending all of yesterday afternoon chasing us round the beach and biting our ankles!)

He fell asleep on the bar one night so that made for a funny photo:

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We’re back in Sihanoukville now, unfortunately we had to leave Koh Rong this morning as we need to get to Bangkok before Thai New Year starts on the 13th. We were very sad to leave, especially as it wouldn’t be the same if we ever went back :(

Posted by charlotter45 02:06 Archived in Cambodia Tagged beaches boat village river island friends swimming bar Comments (2)

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