Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Vietnam & Cambodia

No, I didn't forget to come back from my trip as someone suggested, I've just had trouble focussing on one thing at a time since I got back, so hense I haven't been blogging. They always say that you are busier on your holidays and boy is that true for me! I had so many plans for the remaining days off after we returned, but feel like I have only achieved little bits of most of them. Anyway...

The trip was amazing! Exhausting at times, but amazing.

We started off in Vietnam and our first impression of the country was the traffic. All bikes and lots of noise. Bikes with three or four people, bikes piled high with all sorts and shapes of things, bikes weaving in and out within inches of crashing into one another, but never doing so, bikes with horns and riders not afraid to use them. The only road rule I could determine after a couple of weeks in Vietnam is that you can drive whichever side of the road you like, through whatever colour light you like, just as long as you use your horn.

After a very hot and humid day in Hanoi, we began the first part of our trip in Sapa, a small region in Vietnam's northern mountains. The cooler air and the awe-inspiring scenery was a welcoming break from the chaos of Hanoi. Sapa is the home to a number of hilltribes and I was particularly interested in the indigo textiles of the Black Hmong people. I've written a bit about them on my Kimono Reincarnate blog.

In Sapa we did a two day trek. In hindsight, we were so glad we did this at the beginning of the trip. I don't think I could have summoned up the energy for it at the end. The trek was my heaven and hell and our guide was my angel. In the dry season, the trek would raise your heartbeat a little. In the wet, which was when we were trekking, the steep slopes became mudslides and every step had to be thought out. By me anyway. The Black Hmong girls how had nominated themselves as our guides happily bounced down the hill like mountain goats, catching any big, inexperienced tourist on their way.

The night in the middle of the trek we did a homestay in a Day (pronounced Zay) village. The family were lovely and we had a lot of fun playing cards with the kids all night. The house was simple, but clean. It had a bare cement floor, the kitchen had a wood fire on that floor, there were a couple of bare electric bulbs in the building and the only water to the house was brought by a piece of hosing that had been inserted into the creek near the house. This creek was the same one that all the toilets of the village emptied into, so I was very glad we were further upstream than many others.

A rooster's crow woke us in the morning while we were comfortable under the rafters encased in mosquito nets. I found the second day of the trek harder than the first. It had rained heavily the night before and the slippery clay had now become a sucking bog. While in the middle of a beautiful bamboo forest, all I could think about was any movie about the Vietnamese War (or American War as it is referred to there). I could feel the heat and humidly, I could hear the insects, I could feel the pain, I could hear the sounds of gunfire. OK, maybe no gunfire. For all its difficulty though, I loved it. Each time we stopped, I was blessed by an amazing scenery. Our guide carved steps into the mountain slopes for me to climb down and was a fountain of interesting knowledge. By the end of the day I was covered in thick mud, exhausted but somehow, spiritually revived.

It's at this point that I remember why I haven't written about the trip until now. I am in great danger of never stopping. I'll try to make it brief from here...

The food in Vietnam was delicious! I lived for days on different spring rolls and over the weeks delighted in the fish, the prawns and the sauted morning glory. Everything was so cheap and the heat meant that beer was a perfect partner with many meals.

The people we travelled with were just as entertaining as the trip itself. We had many Aussies, a couple of Norwegians, a Welsh and an American, to be later joined by a number of Brits. On the first night we met the group, Wayne warned the only other Aussie guy that he had been starved for native speaking males for the past year and a half and he would probably talk his ear off. And that he did over the next few weeks. Sorry John!

We travelled from the north to the south stopping at Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Saigon and finally Chau Doc.

The waters of Halong Bay were magical. We stayed on a gorgeous boat and there were just as many staff as there were guests. Swimming in the calm, warm ocean waters, I had a boat row up to me, a convenience store on water if you like, and ask me if I wanted to buy some wine. I laughed and told the woman that as I was in my swimmers, I could honestly say I had no money on me.

In Hue we went on a fabulous motorbike ride through the backstreets and into the country. We lunched (and then napped) at a Buddhist nunnery, I had my fortune told and I was given two flowers by two different men, neither my husband. Our wonderful drivers held our helmets out for us, so that we could step in underneath it while they did up our straps. We felt about 4 years old. It was the most delightful day!

I got a major clothes shopping fix in Hoi An. It is famous for its tailoring and I had so many pieces custom made as well as four pairs of custom made shoes!

Saigon was where I started to get tired. Really tired. Other than visiting the harrowing War Museum, a spot of shopping and a wonderful High Tea at the Rex Hotel, I didn't do too much.

I will be slowly putting more photos up on Flikr, but for the time being, here are a few...

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

A stay in the not-so pleasant Chau Doc was the beginning of a few bad days for me. The morning we left there to cross the border into Cambodia, I came down with a nasty bug. Wayne and I had been sick earlier, though I hadn't been hit too bad at that stage. I did however have some medicine from it which was handy, or so I thought. It wasn't until days later that I realised what was making me throw up was actually the medicine that was stopping, well, things at the other end. The six hour boat ride was my personal hell. I felt so ill, had a fever and just couldn't wait to get to the hotel. Luckily, our hotel room had a wonderful view of the river, so once the fever broke, I was able to enjoy it from the window. There was a "Kiwi Bakery" up the road, so Wayne managed to ply me with a tiny taste of lamingtons and fish and chips. Those few bites were close to all I ate for days.So, I didn't see much in Phnom Penh. I did go for a walk on my own to the Royal Palace, a quite stroll on my own was just what I needed that day. Out the front of the palace I saw three young monks in their draped garments. I asked them if I could take a picture of them. They shyly said yes. Then one of them said to me, in very good English, "Now, I would like a picture with you," to which out of the folds in his saffron robe he pulled out a small, silver digital camera. The moment had me smiling for the rest of the day.

Finally, we made it to Siem Reap. I was still feeling ill and tired, but I wasn't going to let that spoil this part of the trip that I had so looked forward to. With many cans of 7up and the occassional mento, I kept myself sugared up while being unable to stomach much else. Angkor Wat didn't impress me as much as I had expected, but I still enjoyed an afternoon of exploring taking photos. Watching the sun rise behind the temple the next day was a magical moment. We temple tramped for a full day taking in the Bayon, which is famous for carved heads on all for sides of numerous towers and other temples. Our funny little guide with the most wicked laugh I've ever heard, then took us through the jungle. We stumbled across ruins of walls, buddhas and crumbling temples. I felt the way that I had the first time I had seen a documentry on Cambodia when I was a kid. I remembered seeing a piece on the discovery of these very temples in that very jungle. I thought it was so exciting, so exotic. I never imagined that I would be standing on that very soil. Through the insect-ridden jungle we came to Ta Prohm, an amazing ruin with large fig trees overtaking the stone temple, reclaiming its place. It was here that Tomb Raider was filmed. I held my breath, taking in the scene before me. This is what I had come for.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

The three week trip was way too short to do justice to these two amazing countries. I want much more time to soak it all in, to stay in one place for longer and get to know it better. That will be next time... just have to start saving for that now....

1 comment:

Mel & Seigo said...

Magical!! :)