A Travellerspoint blog

Mui Ne and Nha Trang


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So we got to Mui Ne and realised there isn't really that much there! The whole place has been built there for the beach, but to be honest we weren't that impressed with the beach! We'd found a great little hotel run by a family with a lovey garden which we ate breakfast in every morning though, and had a very nice swim in a pool located next to the beach at another hotel.
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We decided there wasn't much reason to stay any longer, so after 3 nights we caught another bus to Nha Trang (a sleeper!). The boys always travel really well on the long bus trips (they're used to it!), and Ash and I love watching the scenery go by.
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The strongest impressions I had were of mangos, lotus flowers and cows. The landscape was surprisingly arid, I suppose I had the impression of Vietnam as being covered in jungle, but it actually has an amazing range of landscapes, like Australia. The people had turned the arid landscape into hay and rice fields, we saw farmers harvesting hay by hand/pitch fork and throwing the hay onto wooden carts pulled by oxen. For a country that's moving ahead so quickly in so many ways there are some things that are still so very traditional!

And wow, what a first impression Nha Trang made. Ash and I are very big on the feel of a place, it's amazing how you can like, or not like, a place for no other reason than the feel (or vibe!) of a place. We really liked Nha Trang straight away. Once we checked into the hotel we wandered around, as we do when we first get to a place, and checked out the beach. Beautiful!

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Nha Trang is big enough to have everything some wandering tourists could need, like stacks of restaurants and an unbelievably number of coffee houses (coffee is very important to the Vietnamese and Vietnamese coffee is great, especially iced with condensed milk, awesome.....). So we set about settling into our new place, balancing some wandering around exploring with school work, and trying to avoid the very hot humid weather. I'd see some clouds building up on the horizon some days and start hoping that a storm would come and cool everything down. So far, that has happened very rarely unfortunately, it's not the wet season yet! But a trade-off for the hot days is the lovely evenings, all the locals hang around outside from about 5pm onwards, when the sun loses it's strength. It's still very warm but pleasant, a great time to wander around.

Most of the hotels that we've been staying in don't have pools, so with the hot weather Ash and I try to work out ways to get a swim or two in somewhere. Luckily, there's a place in Nha Trang called the Louisanna Brewhouse, on the beach, where if you rent two sunbeds (for 40 000 Dong, or AUS$2) for the day, you can swim in their pool AND swim in the beach. Awesome! So we spent a day down there and it was lovely, the ocean water was just the right temperature, and when we wanted to get away from the sand we'd hop in the pool. Only problem was that apart from the umbrella over the sunbeds, there was no shelter, so despite reapplying sunscreen we all got burnt a bit. I'm happy to say this was the first time the boys have been sunburnt, and now they know what it feels like so we don't want to repeat the experience!

Cameron turned 6 early May, so the day before I was out exploring the local area for a toy store. One of the great things about Nha Trang is that it hasn't yet succumbed to the massive department store theme unlike many of it's Asian counterparts, but it would have made things a lot easier when looking for a pressie and cake! After much wandering around and asking I managed to find a LEGO (or cheap Chinese rip off) train which Cameron loved, plus an icecream cake (thanks Baskin Robbins!).

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A couple of days later, Ash woke up early in the morning with stomach cramps, which quickly degenerated into constant pain and extremely frequents trips to the bathroom. When a fever turned up the next day we decided it was time for some extra help. We visited a local hospital and after many ultrasounds and blood tests Ash was diagnosed with acute gastroenteritis and placed on antibiotics and a drip. He stayed for a couple of days but then wanted out because he'd had enough of the whole hospital thing! It took a week but he's much better now, thank goodness, and back to normal.

While we were waiting for Ash to recover, we spent a bit of time at the Lanterns restaurant nearby, where Cameron worked his charm and ended up behind the bar making fruit juices! WP_20150513_001.jpgWP_20150513_004.jpgWP_20150515_003.jpg

The boys and I headed down to the beach for a swim at about 5pm (wanting to avoid being burnt again!), and found the water full of locals that head down after work/school every day. People were swimming around fully clothed, maybe as an impromptu swim, or maybe because the Vietnamese are actually quite modest, you don't see a Vietnamese lady swimming in a bikini that's for sure! The ladies here cover themselves up completely while getting around, despite the heat, in long sleeved jackets and pants to preserve their skin and not go brown. I don't know how they do it! The boys and I were the only Westerners there, which always warrants a few stares.

Once Ash got better, we visited the Long Sun Pagoda, a 19th century pagoda that still has monks living there. We watched part of a sermon, then wandered up the stairs to the giant seated Buddha.

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We ended up staying in Nha Trang for 10 days, but decided to keep moving on and check out Danang, which is basically the gateway to Hoi An. The last time we came to Vietnam (11 years ago!), we didn't stay in Danang but passed straight through to Hoi An, so we thought we'd check Danang out a bit this time. Because the distance from Nha Trang to Danang is huge, we decided to take the sleeper train which would take about 12 hours. Another adventure! Cameron's first sleeper train which he was super excited about. Unfortunately, there were no "soft sleepers" left (better mattresses and only four per cabin), so we went for the "hard sleepers" instead, which, as you can tell by the name, had harder mattresses and six beds to a cabin. Luckily, we ended up sharing with a couple of nice Vietnamese ladies that didn't speak any English. Ash and I didn't get much sleep (perhaps due to the announcements over the loud speakers whenever the train stopped), but the boys slept and had lots of fun. We had a little bit of time before reaching Danang to look at the countryside, rice paddies with people actually ploughing using an ox!

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It turns out that there wasn't too much to see in Danang, although there was a great beach and some impressive bridges (one particular bridge was the shape of a huge yellow dragon which was very cool). We only stayed a couple of nights, then caught the local bus to Hoi An, which is about 30 minutes away. And that, ladies and gentlemen, will be the topic for our next post!

Posted by tollidaytravels 06:23 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Saigon


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I’m once again taking the opportunity of a long bus ride amongst the crazy driving to update the blog, we’ve just left Saigon (HCMC) and we’re heading over to Mui Ne on the coast. We ended up staying in HCMC for 2 weeks, which has gone by amazingly quickly. We decided to stay for the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war, or “Liberation Day” as the locals call it. The intention was to watch the marching and parades that were planned along the road that ultimately terminates at the Reunification Palace (where the Viet Cong tanks drove over the gates and took hold of the Palace, and therefore of South Vietnam) and get involved in other activities, but it turned out the whole area was blocked off and it was invitation only! We ended up watching some on TV, we were expecting various tanks and other artillery but it was just the different units of current and past soldiers and some very bored looking officials, so it turned out well in the end!

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The ANZAC ceremony was great, just a short service at one of the RMIT facilities, hosted by the Australian and New Zealand embassies. It was great to be in a place where our soldiers have actually fought for the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli.

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It’s been great staying in HCMC a bit longer because we’ve had the time to check out places that we would never have gone to otherwise. We worked out the great bus system pretty quickly and made our way to lots of destinations at a much cheaper rate (compared to taxis). KizCiti was one of the destinations. It was a great day out, where the kids got to try out lots of different occupations and “earn” money that they could then spend on other things. The boys were airline pilots, bankers, magicians, radio announcers, bakers, pharmacists, firemen and doctors. Plus they had a cool water activity area. We actually ran out of time, they could have had a go at being policemen and soldiers, or mechanics. Maybe next time!

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We also checked out a new shopping centre in District 7 (HCMC is split into districts rather than suburbs). They had a new kids area there with lots of hands-on activities. Yes, more kids areas. We actively look for places for the boys to blow off a bit of steam and do some normal kid stuff, it balances out all the rest of the sightseeing that we do, plus it’s a good activity for the afternoon after a morning of school work!

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Ash went on a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, about an hour and a half out of HCMC. The tunnels were dug out using picks and baskets by the people of Cu Chi, 250km worth! They thought of everything, areas to cook, places for women and children to live, ventilation, booby traps for the enemy. The tunnels are so cleverly camouflaged you’d never know they were there. The people would pop out of the ground, shoot a soldier then disappear again. Imagine the state of mind you’d be in as the “enemy” you’re in the jungle, you’re comrades are being killed but no one knows how or by who. Anything the Americans did to deal with them was counteracted by another clever strategy, they were amazingly determined and inventive!

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Just like Cambodia, we’ve left some friends behind at the Blue River Hotel in Pham Ngu Lao. We were told we were family, to go into the kitchen to get drinks from the fridge whenever we wanted. Tui (the owner) made me rice porridge and ginger tea when I had a bit of a dodgy tummy, they fed Cameron and Lachlan chocolate and found some birthday music for Lachlan. There were two Tuis, and the other Tui was extremely knowledgeable on restaurants and other destinations, and was able to explain some of the Vietnamese idiosyncrasies that we were not familiar with! Lovely, lovely people. We’re always sad to leave them behind but we never know who we’ll meet next!

Posted by tollidaytravels 03:12 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Goodbye Cambodia, hello Vietnam!


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The month we’ve had in Cambodia has passed very quickly, and we’ve enjoyed it very much. Ash and I both feel very comfortable here, but we also agree that it has shown us how much we take what we consider to be the basic things for granted. Life here is not easy for most people, it’s a struggle to get work and earn enough money to pay for your families needs. Along the way we met so many parents who worked extra jobs for their children to go to school, and who are paying a lot of money (comparatively) for their children to learn English so they can get a better job and have better lives. I had a brief chat with a tuk tuk driver in Sihanoukville who turned out to be a Geography teacher in a Khmer school but drove tuk tuks at night for extra money. We’ve met young people who are working two jobs so they can support their elderly parents, because they can’t work and there are no pensions here. There's nothing like travelling to make you appreciate what you've got at home.

We reached Ho Chi Minh, after a 7 hour bus ride and relatively painless crossing of the border. We thought we'd be crossing the Mekong via a ferry, but it turns out the Japanese had very kindly provided US$100 million to Cambodia to build a bridge, which had only opened 3 days earlier! (photo below) We actually hadn't booked any accommodation, but someone met us once we got off the bus at Pham Ngu Lao and took us to a hotel nearby which we stayed in for 2 nights. We've discovered a great network of little laneways off the crazy main street (honestly, the traffic is insane) with the skinniest buildings we've ever seen. We looked around for some more accommodation and found the Blue River Hotel, still in the network of laneways) which we booked for a week. Thank God, because the last night we stayed at the first place we were kept up practically all night, first by Vietnamese karaoke (reeeeaaaaally bad) then a brass band that started at 5 in the morning for a funeral! Holy moly.
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We've been here for 5 days so far and have done a bit of looking around, trying to time our outings around the really hot weather. We did a bit of a tour around the city on a cyclo (sick-lo), which is a traditional Vietnamese way of getting around consisting of a bicycle and a seat at the front. It was great to get our bearings, but a bit hair-raising when you've got motorbikes, cars and buses going every which-way! Ash and I have noticed how much things have changed since we were here 11 years ago, there's been a huge increase in development and the amount of money put into infrastructure.
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A great example of this is the National War Museum. Eleven years ago, it was a small building with a very small outdoor area filled with a helicopter, guns and other war relics. Now, it's a three storey purpose-built building with a whole separate display outside of helicopters, jets, tanks, and a replica of the outdoor torture area used by the Americans to hold captured Viet Cong. It's a really good museum but oh so very confronting, full of photos and descriptions of things done to the Vietnamese by the Americans (no mention of the Australians or New Zealanders thank goodness or what the North Vietnamese Army did to Southern Vietnamese and other prisoners of war) and the impacts of Agent Orange which are still being felt even today. Very, very sad, and particularly relevant since it's the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War on 30 April (or, as they say here, liberation from the Americans), which is something that is a big deal here judging by the number of banners and ad boards the Government has put up around the city.

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With the intention of showing the boys a bit of Vietnamese culture, we went to the Saigon Opera House and watched the AO Show (standing for Aaaaah and Oooooh Show), which was brilliant. It was a group of young dancers/acrobats that did lots of short scenes showing the different aspects to Vietnamese culture, from living in the country to the craziness of living in the city. They used bamboo sticks and poles, and grass baskets of different sizes to do amazing acrobatics, dancing and contortionism.

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In amongst all of this Lachlan turned 10, no more single digits! What a place to have a birthday in! We had a little party at the hotel (thanks to the great staff here!), and managed to find a couple of very small presents (no big ones since we'll have to carry them). It was a bit low key, but today we went to the Dam Sen Water Park for the day, so the boys still got their excitement! No photos unfortunately, since we couldn't carry the phone with us, but suffice to say there were lots of water slides and pools to keep us happy for a few hours!

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The plan is to stay here for a few more days and go to the ANZAC service here on the 25th. It'll be great to be somewhere for the memorial where Aussies actually fought. Other than that there's nothing else planned, wait until our next instalment!

Posted by tollidaytravels 06:12 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Sihanoukville


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It's been a while since our last blog but we're back! : )

We can't believe we've left Sihanoukville - and to top it off we're staying in the same street in Phnom Penh as before which adds to the surreal feeling. It’s been fun, interesting and relaxing! Our Cambodian VISA expires on the 20th April (Happy Birthday Trev!) we caught a minibus back to Phnom Penh today (14th) and will stay here until the 18th April. Then we'll catch a bus to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

It’s Khmer New Year, which lasts officially for 3 days (so pretty much the whole week), and which is a big deal for the Khmer people. Lots of festivities including fireworks, families having picnics on the beach (at Sihanoukville at least) and people throwing water at each other in the street (mental note to leave electronics out of our day packs). On the way back to Phnom Penh we saw decorations made out of palm leaves, fruit and balloons on the porches of the homes, very colourful!

Our first impression of Sihanoukville was that it was really touristy and we were quite disappointed about that, but we've left today feeling quite sad to go because we've had such a great time.

We have had a good catch-up with Gordy (Ash's Uncle) while we have been here and seen a lot of places with him – including a great little bar called Purple overlooking the Serendipity beach and another hotel called Charlie Harpers. We've met so many people while we've been here, the crowd at Charlie Harpers like Lin, Linda and Jamie, and the staff at the Reef Resort like Neang and Thea. Gordy introduced us to his Tuk Tuk (actually Remork in Cambodia) driver Sopheack, and he's done a great job driving us around to various places.
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On 7 April, we took a one day Suntours Cambodia cruise out to the west of Sihanoukville. We cruised pass Koh Dek Koul which is a little rocky island where you can stay for $2000-3000 per night, and only if you're Russian! The Russians have a strong presence here, especially the Russian Mafia! We stopped for some snorkelling at Koh Tas and then went to Koh Rong Samloem and anchored at Saracen Bay. There are beach bungalows to stay in and an island setting just like all those paradise type photos you see. We agreed that a trip back here was definitely on the cards. Some notable achievements from the boys included Cameron and his snorkling (he took to it like a natural), Lachlan’s jump from the third deck of the boat into the water, Cameron’s from the second deck, and Lachlan swimming with Dad from the beach to the boat. We've certainly seen the boys swimming confidence and abilities approve from so much pool time! Of course, the day was finished off by a lovely drink watching the sun set at the Queenco Casino!
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On 10 April, we took a Tuk Tuk tour with Sopheak around Sihanoukville to visit the various beaches that make up this place. Our first stop was Otres Beach, which is a popular backpacker hangout with beautiful beaches and is a place where you do nothing but relax. We travelled to Wat Leu (on top of a hill overlooking Sihanoukville so it gave us great views!) followed by lunch on Independence Beach, and we mean that literally because the restaurants are right down on the beach.

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So we've had a great mix of seeing the sights and relaxing. The boys have made some excellent progress through schoolwork and we now have a good pack of work to send back home. Good work boys! We'll be in Phnom Penh until Saturday then it's time for a 7 hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh, big day!

Posted by tollidaytravels 03:40 Comments (0)

Begining our adventures in Cambodia!


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We enjoyed two great days with Abu and his daughter Farheen in Kuala Lumpur. We were treated to some great hospitality and really enjoyed our stayed at their apartment. The boys loved the pool which we enjoyed on both days we were there – Cameron still talks about going back to take one more swim!
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From here we flew to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. We’d been considering travelling longer in Malaysia, then heading over to Thailand, but decided against it due to the very hot uncomfortable weather that’s on the way. Looking ahead, weather is going to play a big part in where we go, as we’d like to go to Japan but want to get there in summer and not winter! Plus Ash’s Uncle, Gordon, is going to be in Cambodia for a few weeks now, so it’s a great chance to catch up with him. We landed in Phnom Penh on the 20 March 2015 and instantly warmed to the place. The people are very friendly and take a keen interest in the boys. We’d forgotten what it was like to be harassed about needing a tuk-tuk as soon as we step out the door, there was none of that in Singapore or Malaysia! We visited Wat Ounalom (the headquarters of Cambodian Buddhism), the Royal Palace and also Wat Phnom (a buddist temple on top of the only hill in Phnom Penh). The Royal Palace was fascinating, there is a Pagoda inside which has over 7 tonnes of silver in the tiles on the floor and a Buddha carved out of a solid piece of Emerald.

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We stayed until the 23rd and then travelled south to Sihanoukville, which is a beach side town south of PP. We decided to take the trip in a taxi, rather than on one of the many bus companies, as the bus takes longer and the taxi is only a little bit more expensive. The drive down wasn’t too bad, comparatively, on the hair-raising meter. Everyone is quite happy to pass each other (the lines on the road are just there for decoration!) and the poor motorcycles get pushed off the road – hang on tight everyone!

We’re quite surprised (and maybe a bit disappointed) about how touristy it is here in Sihanoukville. There are a lot of Expats who live over here renting apartments for US$300-500 per month and generally living quite cheaply. There a few islands which get frequent backpacker visits and there are tourist boats that travel to and around the island. It is a big party place with lots of bars (especially down along the beaches) and there are no shortage of restaurants offering a good selection of western and Asian food. Having said that, there’s a great deal of poverty here. There’s such a huge contrast in living standards, obviously between the expats and the locals, but even between the locals themselves. The country still hasn’t recovered from the impacts of the Khmer Rouge, they totally decimated the place during the four years that they had control. We’ve learnt a little bit about it, but decided against taking the boys to the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields for obvious reasons! By all accounts, the country has changed a lot, for the better or worse is up to the individual, over the past five years. Life is still very much a struggle for a lot of the people here.

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We managed to find a really great hotel (Reef Resort) run by a British Expat family. After initially booking for 3 days we extended our stay to 3 weeks (yeah, it’s that good). There is a great pool (which is totally awesome because it’s getting very hot and sticky now) and a pool table (found in every bar around here as well). We’re fully expecting Lachlan to become a pool shark by the end of the stay!

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We're continuing on with the homeschooling with the boys, considering the constant change in location they're actually doing really well with adjusting! We've found a bit of a routine here in Sihanoukville, since we're here for much longer. Breakfast, school in the morning, swim, lunch, swim. Awesome!
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So given we can have a good mix of both we decided to stay a bit longer and then move on to Vietnam. We’ll miss the Northern part of Cambodia, where Siem Reap and Angkor Wat is, but we fully intend to come back and do this part of Cambodia when the weather gets better!
We’ve been travelling for 7 weeks now, but it actually seems longer than that. We’ve done so much already! During our travels, we’ve come to appreciate the smaller things in life, like: toilet paper, a shower separate to the toilet, mozzie spray, a pool, air conditioning and rooms that don’t smell. It’s amazing how your perspective on what’s important can change!

Posted by tollidaytravels 21:24 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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