A Travellerspoint blog

Phnom Penh

Our last stop in Cambodia is 5 nights in the capital Phnom Penh. We are staying at a nice little French villa beside the royal palace and only A $2 tuk tuk ride to just about anywhere you want to go.

The area we are in is a real mixed bag. At the end of the road are families that live on the street. Each night they lay there mats down and during the day they are sorting through the rubbish. In contast just around the corner at the other end of the street maybe 100 meters away are some of the most fashionable shops and resturants in PP. All the guide books recommend them and whenever we are down that end there are a constant stream of SUV's pulling up full of wealthy westerners. It's a real contrast and one that is quite hard to accept.

The classy shopping end of the street
29UploadedFile0.jpg
In contrast to the end with people living on the streets and sorting through the litter
UploadedFile15.jpg
The beef being dried in the sun complete with flies and wasps then at the end of the day it is barbequed
9UploadedFile12.jpg

We have hit the markets and done our bit for the economy buying up some bargains. There is the most famous the Russian market, the Central market and the obligatory night market. The central was the best with not as much touristy related crap on sale. It is also where you go to get your barbequed spiders, cockroaches, grasshoppers and other assorted beetles. The kids have passed up the chance to taste each time, strange that as so have we. The most outrageous sight was a van full of cages contian rats. The rats were being driven to restaurants in Vietnam where they fetch $2 per kilo. About half of them looked alive as the climbed all over each other. The noise of the screeching and the smell was nearly enough to make us sick.

Rach has gone all shopping serious and bought an extra suitcase to fill and take home and I have picked up a north face carry pack for $10.
The goods for sale in the market aren't all fakes as most of them are made in Vietnam or Cambodia so you are buying the same stuff as gets exported.

We have also taken the kids to Dreamland - PP's answer the Disneyland. We did enjoy ourselves in the end but only after having to return to the ticket counter and ask where the staff were to operate the rides. It was 10am and the place was deserted. We ended up getting a man assigned to us who followed us around and turned the rides on as we wanted to use them! The dragon rollercoaster and the bumper cars where big hits. Also at the park is an enourmous a/c indoor playground. There we met lots of expats with there kids and Nannys. Rach and I had a chat to an Aussie guy who had been here for 3 months. We quizzed him about his lifestyle here which he said was a better standard than in OZ but his salary is $18 000 US compared to what he was getting in Sydney which was $82 000!!! A massive call to make the change but they were committed for 2 years. He and his wife had 3 kids all younger than ours. However to put his salary in context he paid $140 US a month rent for a 3 bedroom apartment and had a helper who worked for them full time cooking, cleaning and child minding who earns $140 month also. It means the have a great standard of living here but once they return to Oz he said they will have nothing. Having sold their house to make the trip.

22UploadedFile1.jpg

The sightseeing we have done has been limited. Weve been to the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda which was very impressive and also to Wat Phnom ,Wat Botum and Wat Ounalon which are all pagodas. We also did an evening river cruise where the captain of the boat was so good he managed to do our 1 hour trip in 45 minutes!

The Royal Palace
19UploadedFile5.jpg
The Vietnam and Cambodia Friendship Monument
90_11UploadedFile10.jpg
enjoying the view and waving a lot from the boat
18UploadedFile3.jpg
Life on the banks of the Mekong
22UploadedFile4.jpg
Another random baby tossed at Holly for some holiday snaps
15UploadedFile6.jpg
I made my way to two museums solo. The national museum and Toul Sleng genocide museum also know as S21. The latter was an horrific place to visit. It's an old school that Pol Pot converted to a detention and torture center. 17 000 people went through there before being taken to the killing fields. It's a very moving and somber place to visit. Rooms full of photos of those detained both dead and alive, human remains and torture rooms.
It's hard to believe the Cambodian people are so friendly and upbeat with what they have endured in the past. Having been at war with or invaded/occupied by Thailand, Loas, Vietnam, France, America and Japan all of recent times. I can't imagine us being so forgiving if we had been treated in this way.

Other than that we have had a few swims in the pool at our accommodation, played in the playground at the end of the street and done a few half days of shopping and sightseeing. There are also some lovely restaurants and cafes around. One particular does the best smoothies which everyone wants to go back to daily. We also got to have a meal at the FCC - the famous Foreign Correspondence Club.

13UploadedFile11.jpg

As we were really enjoying our time in PP we decided to flag the stopover in Singapore for 3 nights. We didn't have any accommodation booked so we are now flying straight from here to back home. That coupled with the fact that we can stay at our current accommodation and the price here is 20% of what we would pay in Singapore for a tiny hotel room.

Is been a fantastic end to a great trip. We have been able to see and do some amazing things together. Vietnam was nice but Cambodia would be a place I would come back too, reminding us so much of what we loved about Turkey. It's not the flashest place but it has a wonderful personalty.
Fun and friendly people with a diverse countryside and amazing sights to visit. In hindsight I would chop off a week or 2 of Vietnam and have done more time here. The highlights in Vietnam were Halong Bay, Tam Coc River in Ninh Binh and the old town of Hoi An. In Cambodia we have loved Sien Reap and all the Angkor temples. Truly breathtaking structures and all so different.

And as for the biggest mistake, we've gone to too many places. It's been really hard for Bella to keep up. I will not miss being asked every morning "Are we going home today" looking back at the Turkey trip we did 2 towns in the first 38 days and here we had been to 8. For Bella when your older looking back on this blog I apologise for dragging you around so much. However once we got out the door you did get stuck in and had your share of fun. Your just sometimes too strong willed to suck it up like your siblings. You've also flashed your smile to all those locals who wanted a photo of or with you. Youve become the most famous of the 5 of us. Holly and Toby have been great. They haven't grumbled and have just accepted the challenges we have faced. They have enjoyed the sight seeing far more than I would have imagined and we didn't see much of the dreaded bottom lip from Tobs. His love of exploring and questioning why and when is something I love about him and hope continues. I'm looking forward to heading up the hills at home with Toby in his "Junior Palentologist" uniform looking for the elusive Richmond dinosaur remains.

Space was the biggest issue, room to run around and living space. They have all adapted and played with what little toys they had. The excitement they have when able to play with water bottles in the bath says it all. It has been nice for Mum to have a coffee and shopping buddy in Holly. Whenever there was a chance to to get out and have some free time Rach would always take Holly along - 2 peas in a pod those two. Holly is the strangest kid i know. She is always happy and looking to have fun and is very perceptive. She gets so much from travelling that it's scary. I hope one day when she is older she will take me travelling with her, she's already great company now. We've really been a family of 3 adults and 2 kids with Holly often jollying the other two along if needed. Holly your a star!

As for my lovely wife, she's done her fair share of sweating. Anything over 30 degrees and her face turns into a watering can. As much as she looks uncomfortable she does look funny. I love how positive she is and how nothing fazes her. It keeps the kids settled knowing that Mum thinks everything is ok. Shes a great traveling buddy as well as a pretty dam good wife. I'm very lucky to have such a cool chick with me. Thanks babe for another awesome adventure. I also apologies in advance for complaining about how cold it is when we get home and annoying you daily about different destinations to go to next! South America in 2014 sounds pretty good (as long as the All Whites qualify for the World Cup in Brazil!)

Rach - time for me to reflect:
Well I've had a great week lots of cool shopping here in PP nice to load up the bags prior to heading home. It's been another fantastic Watson Family experience and I'm sure we're all a little more worldly because of it. Vietnam was not what I expected after many years of wanting to travel there was disappointing. It was not easy to negotiate with young children and for much of the first couple of weeks I found myself wishing we were in Turkey. Cambodia by contrast has been great the people kinder and happier and we'd return without hesitation. Though as we were discussing it tonight your senses ge t a littled dulled as you progress through our trip and maybe if we had done the trip in reverse we may have felt differently about Vietnam.

It's been a completely different trip to Turkey where really we lived as pretty much part of the community due to our long stays in places. This time we have been tourists. The kids have all been great, their ability to accept and adjust astounds me whether it be traffic, smells, rubbish, food or sleeping arrangements they just knuckle down and get on with it. For poor old Bellie the trip was about 7 weeks too long and she has constantly talked about her friends Greer, Evie and Arlia - this has surprised me as at home she is the least homely and spends most of her time wanting to be somewhere other than home. She has a strong will and hasn't hesitated letting us know when she's had a guts full but shes also charmed the Vietnamese and Cambodians in their thousands. She must feature in just about every Asian persons holiday snaps. Though again she doesn't hesitate to stand her ground and not let them photograph her if she doesn't want. Toby is ever our trouper and lover of hot weather. He has a sense of adventure and has suprised us with the amount of energy he has to run round in this heat. With a tan to die for he fits right in to this life. Matt and I still laugh and think of him teaching surfing or similar on some tropical island. Holly's maturity and perception is beyond her years. She notices the world around her - the poverty the disability the living conditions. Her tolerance to the heat is siimilar to mine and we've both done our far share of sweating. She has made an excellent shopping buddy.

Matt ever the organiser it's obvious we couldn't have done it without you. Our accomodation finder, and itinery planner with a terrific sense of adventure as well as the ability to laugh in the face of adversity. We make a pretty good team with me looking after posessions, medical and routines. How awesome for our kids to have so much quality time with their fun and loving Dad - thanks Dad for a fantastic holiday xx

I'm looking forward to being home - I miss my lovely family and coffee, wine and chats with girlfriends. I'm over having 3 meals a day in restaurants. Decent coffee, and molenburg toast are high on my list as well as my own bed, my low pillow and my own home and routines. We are very fortunate to have been born in New Zealand and I have spent a lot of time thinking about the lives of many of the people we have met. Little kids running around the playground in nothing but there undies asking for money while there parents rifle through the rubbish bins looking for something to eat is a memory that will be firmly etched in my mind. As well as the horrific injuries many of these people have sustained during wars and after from land mines. For countries that have been through so much these people are very forgiving. As well as that all the fantastic work that is being done by the NGO's (non government organisations) to help keep these people off the street and give them meaningful jobs.

What would I bring / not bring again? We've done pretty well this time on the packing front. The kids having their clothes in separate cells has been great. We haven't brought the excess of warm clothes to drag around the country (but will probably regret that on Thursday when we are in Chch in our sandals and shorts!). The multiplug was awesome (thanks Gary) for charging our numerous electircal devices - until it spontaneously combusted. I didn't bring my running shoes for a ride in my pack (and haven't missed them) We travelled with backpacks rather than a suitcase (not convinced Matt :0) ) My poor old backpack of 20 years old has sadly disintergrated under the strain. We forgot the vegemite! almost a criminal offence and I so wish I had brought a dishwash brush to wash out the drink bottles - who would think something so simple would be impossible to find in the whole of Vietnam and Cambodia. The decision to bring enough probiotics for all of us to take every day has been well worth it. We have avoided any major illnesses and our extensive medical kit remains largely untouched. This trip we have had two iPads and an iPhone which have all proved their worth. In terms of keeping in touch, up to date and entertained they have been great. And so much easier than carrying lots of books, puzzles and games. As well as being far more portable than the laptop we took last time. Our other great find is the parakito mossie bands they are very effective and all natural which is a bonus when there's a risk of malaria.

So that's it for the watson5 soon we'll be winging our way home. Moaning about the cold and our holiday will seem so long ago. How long will it be till Matt is on to planning the next one?

PS Matt Brazil sounds much more like a boys trip :0)

large_7UploadedFile13.jpg

Posted by Watson5 03:26 Comments (3)

Nataya

We got another flight to move locations, this time flying cambodian air. We arrived without incident and were picked up for our 110km journey to our accommodation. The transport sent by the resort was interesting, actually it was a shit box car that we couldn't even fit our luggage into. And after charging me a huge amount for the trip in a car which was full of rust, cracked window from top to bottom and the driver who I think had never driven before - all made for an interesting trip with a few white knuckle moments.

The resort was the most expensive accommodation we have had on this trip and was booked as a treat for the end of the trip. Being our only time near the beach in Cambodia it had a lovely view out to the village's fishing boats and beyond Phu Quoc Island which is Vietnamese.
The pool is lovely and occupied most of our time here. We played the odd game of Pétanque and kicked around the football. The only other activity has been lizard hunting which day and night is a great source of excitement with the odd frog thrown in for good measure.

Dinner on the beach with the 300 metre pier in the background
7UploadedFile17.jpg
Bellie enjoys the outdoor bath
90_18UploadedFile4.jpg
The pool
17UploadedFile5.jpg
A fiercely competitive game of pétanque
10UploadedFile7.jpg
Crab Amok - yum
90_8UploadedFile12.jpg
Out of our 4 nights we made one trip into the town of Kampot. We visted the place that Gary and family stayed at and had a quick look around before heading back in another tuk tuk.

6UploadedFile14.jpg
Check out the clearance height of the bridge. Not much higher than Holly
6UploadedFile13.jpg

Other than that there should have been nothing else to report but ....... we managed to avoid having a boring time and had a couple of interesting moments

The first was completely harmless and a little comical.
One morning at breakfast one of the managers came to us and told us not to panic or be worried if we saw groups of men with guns hanging around as well as police and some military personal. I of course asked why but he would only tell me they were expecting some important people. So all day we watched as bodyguards roamed around looking as confused as us. Towards the end of the day a band arrived which we were told was as per the special guest's request. Thinking it would be U2 or 1 direction I was a little disappointed to see 3 old dudes who looked like they started ZZ Top. I had a chat to them and they revealed the mystery guests.....the police commissioner and/or the prime minister. The band had been summoned 2 days prior from Thailand, told they had to be there. They didn't seem particularly excited by the prospect but more out of obligation. One guy was Canadian and another French but both looked like they were locals now after many years of cruising around these parts of the world. They played on and off for a few hours with no guests in sight which worked well for Holly, Toby and Bella who got up and showed some of the moves their Mum has taught them. The night didn't seem to end up to be much and in the morning the VIPs had left at 5.30am. The manager said the night went well even if the PM had brought his own food!

The other "event" was a early wake up one morning at 4.30am. Rach woke first to a loud crackling noises from the corner of the room. Loud enough to wake us both, we dreaded what it was we were going to find, thinking and intruder or large animal was rustling around. Once her eyes were open though Rach smelt the strong aroma of burning plastic. Grabbing the torch she pointed it in the direction of the noise for us to see rather a lot of smoke. Getting closer we saw the 4 point multiplug we had brought with us to charge our electronics was about to catch fire. Rach pulled it from the wall and we got the smouldering, melted power box outside. The damage was obvious and it must have been only seconds away from catching fire. It had also burnt a hole in the desk it was on. Even with the surge protector the many power cuts and surges had nearly caused a fire in our wooden room and with no smoke alarms we shuddered thinking of the possible outcomes. We both stayed awake the rest of the night and ended up being moved from the room as the smell of burning plastic wouldn't go away and for peace of mind. Some days you certainly feel lucky

20UploadedFile1.jpg
27UploadedFile0.jpg

So that was our time on the beach
Swimming, playing games, chillaxing and having some quiet family time.

16UploadedFile3.jpg
13UploadedFile6.jpg
18UploadedFile2.jpg
Our favourite waiter Soan Sem
6UploadedFile9.jpg

Posted by Watson5 00:39 Comments (2)

Siem Reap


We finished up our time in Vietnam and nervously headed off to Cambodia. We needn't have worried. The week we have spent here has been the best so far.

We started with our 1 hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately the flight took a bit longer as the airline along with changing the departure gate, re issuing boarding passes and trying to split our seats all up 5 minutes before take off, also changed the plane to a smaller and slower one. The flight was fine except for maybe the landing where we bounced along the runway dam busters style. Also as in each of the Vietnam flights as soon as the passengers think we have landed it's seat belts off and bags are removed from the overhead lockers, even with us still offically landing and not even taxi-ing to the gate. Rach - I'd like to add here that the internal flights of our trip have been nerve wracking as far as I'm concerned and I don't mind flying at all. Everything happens fast and erratically and on one wheel usually. Take off, landing and turning are all done fast and steep. I have been counting down each flight and looking forward to boarding an Air NZ one. Oh and there was the water that poured out over the heads of the passengers down the front during take off of on this last flight - confidence inspiring stuff!!

At immigration we skipped the the queues and went to the visa on arrival section I had done e-visas on the Internet before we left. I felt very smug as 90% of the passengers started their half hour of beaurocracy. So it was last off the plane but first out of the airport for us.

Rach: Siem Reap is a lovely little town bustling with activity and a really neat vibe. We found the people to be really friendly and helpful all taking a liking to the kids. There was loads of great shopping, both the same old market stuff that we had become accustomed to seeing as well as some neat little boutique type stores selling things such as bags made from recycled paper. And so so cheap, Holly and I had a ball and went a bit crazy on silk scarves. The town was full of the same hoards of young kids and disabled people begging some of which is very hard to see and I found myself parting with a few $1 notes. One little girl we particularly took a shine to called herself "Linda" she had a lot of fun with the kids and gave them all gifts. At 10 years old she was very quick witted but never asked for money. We saw her a couple of times over our stay. Siem Reap is also the home of the "Dr Fish massage" You pay $1 for the privilege of lots of tiny fish nibbling away at your feet. Bella wasn't having a bar of it and Matt lasted only 5 seconds but Holly, Toby and I had about 3 turns over as many days and I have to say my feet are feeling great. Gets rid if all that hard old skin. At first it is extremely almost nauseating ticklish Holly and Toby were shrieking with laughter. After a few minutes it settles down. Sounds gross but I really think it could take off in the Richmond Mall.

The kids and Linda
90_24UploadedFile0.jpg
Fish massage fun
270_16UploadedFile2.jpg
Rach picking up our washing - funny to see it hanging out on the street front
9UploadedFile10.jpg
Same old market fodder - dried squid
23UploadedFile0.jpg
The heat finally goy too much for Toby and Matt and off they went for a haircut.
17UploadedFile1.jpg

Our accommodation in Siem Reap was at the Moon Boutique hotel. We had inter-connecting rooms which were right beside the pool. The staff were fantastic and made a huge fuss of all the kids. During our stay we had a small issue with the air conditioning in one of the rooms. They tried to fix it but couldn't get it right. It didn't bother us to much but as compensation they gave us a free meal at the restaurant and also a free Khmer massage each. We tried to refuse but they were adamant. It was the first time during our trip that we felt we were experiencing something similar to the hospitality we recieved in Turkey. We took our massage and I will let Rach describe the beating that she took!
Rach: Hmm now where to begin - off we went to the day spa having left the kids in our room for the hour with two lovely ladies from reception. The resort rate for babysitting is $2 per hour - hard to believe and in this instance the service was provided for free. We were provided with baggy tops and pants to wear and were in a room with two massage tables. The initial question from our masseurs who both had very limited english was did we want "firm" massage. This was when I made my first crucial mistake. Matt said medium and I said yes firm. From then the torture commenced we were pushed, prodded, pulled and stretched. As well as bent into angles our bodies hadn't experienced in years. My lady was particulary brutal even after me asking in the first minute that she be a bit softer. She walked on my back and all but threw me round the room. Matt had great amusement watching my obvious discomfort while I at one stage went in to fits of laughter you know the type where you just can't stop and you have tears streaming down your face. To be quite honest I was glad when it was all over and will never again ask for a Traditional Khmer Massage! I'd have felt evn worse if I'd had to pay for it.

The tranquil surrounds of the Moon Boutique
UploadedFile38.jpg
UploadedFile39.jpg
babysitter?
90_18UploadedFile1.jpg

The main purpose of going to SR is the temples. This area was was the center for the Hindu faith for hundreds of years. Between 800 and 1200 each King would build a new temple dedicated to the Gods. As we had a week to explore we split up the 6 days into 3 half days of hitting the temples. In this heat a half day is plenty for the kids and Rach affectionately known as the big girl with the red face. There was some resitance from the troops on the first day but being able to run and explore was enough to keep them happy. As a bonus Rach really enjoyed it. She's not much of a "ruins" girl so it was nice to see the lonely planet getting read by someone else.

The first trip was to Banteay Srei or Lady Temple which has the finest stone carvings of all the temples. It's a pinkish colour and considered the jewel in the crown of Angkorian artisanship. It's a stunning temple and is very well preserved, being built in 967. On the way back we stopped at Pre Rup which is a pyramid shaped temple-mountian. It was built by Rajendravarman II at the same time. It's name means "Turning the Body" which suggests it may have been a crematorium. The kids enjoyed clambering up the many steps even though it was bloody hot.

Banteay Srei
90_13UploadedFile3.jpg
90_15UploadedFile2.jpg

Pre Rup
90_4UploadedFile9.jpg
On the way home we visited the Butterfly Center. Again we were shown around for free. They went through the process of breeding butterfliesincluding gluing the chrysalis on to bamboo sticks and placing them in a cage safe from predators. The kids all loved the centre, racing around with their butterfly cards looking for all the different species. The only WTF time was being shown the cages full of scorpions and spiders the size of your hand. There were lots of backwards steps taken when he opened the door to the scorpions for obvious reasons including that one escaped!!

The chrysalis arrangement
270_14UploadedFile5.jpg
16UploadedFile4.jpg
90_10UploadedFile6.jpg
8UploadedFile7.jpg

The next trip was to the big one, Angkor Wat. We headed off in a tuk tuk which we had hired for 5 hours for $10 US (Tuk tuk is our most preferred, fun and cool way to travel). The largest religious building in the world, built in the 11th century by Suryavaram II and the reason most come to Siem Reap. I have to say that I was actually a little dissapointed, this might have been because of the giant green tarpaulin that was draped over the front as they do more restoration. We still spent an hour and a half wandering around the enormous grounds. Fortunately there weren't many tourists there and we had the freedom to go where we pleased.

Tuk tuk for $1 or $2 you can travel a long way
15UploadedFile5.jpg
The majestic Angkor Wat
4UploadedFile20.jpg
6UploadedFile12.jpg
11UploadedFile11.jpg

From there it was a short ride to Angkor Thom. A fortified city 10 sq km in size built at the end of the 12th century by Jayavarman VII. Angkor Thom consists of many temples and monuments. The most impressive was Bayon. It's purpose stll not known it contains 216 smiling faces, some of them are huge sculptures. It's a airy place to wander as everywhere you look an ancient face is looking back at you. We spent so long here that after visiting Baphuon, Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King we were out of tme and had to head back to the salvation of our cool room. By now the heat was starting to hit us all and a swim was a welcome relieve. Also Bella was doing her nut sick of looking at stupid stones! The only excitement for her being seeing a large family of monkeys on the way home.

90_3UploadedFile22.jpg
90_2UploadedFile21.jpg
3UploadedFile28.jpg

Rach immersed in a coke negotiation. Check out Holly and Toby's elation - never has a Coke tasted so good
3UploadedFile23.jpg
5UploadedFile25.jpg
6UploadedFile26.jpg

The third and final day of templing was off to Beng Mealea but before we made the 1 hour trip in a car we had to go to Ta Prohm which we ran out of time to visit on our previous trip. It had been overgrown by the jungle but has been manicured now, leaving some trees inter-woven into the ruins. It's nothing like the other temples and is quite a site with the trees looking as if they are taking back control of the temple and anything in its path. It has been made most famous for the "Tomb Raider" movie. Thankfully again we had a clear path to wander and take photos. We maybe saw another 10 people during the hour we were there.

UploadedFile42.jpg
From there we drove to Beng Mealea. Built in the 12th century by Suryavarman II it is the same floor plan as Angkor Wat so is an enormous site but unlike the others in the area it has not been restored. The jungle has been cut back but the sandstone blocks have been left where they fell. To make your way around Apsara guides help you clamber over the fallen stones and collapsed towers. In that respect it is unlike any other temple and you get a feeling of being an explorer yourself. The kids certianly enjoyed it and even Bella was loving the climbing on hands and knees. Toby was beside himself, you could see the adventure in his eyes. The two guides were great and both didn't hesitate to sling Bella under their arm when it got too hard for her to negotiate.

UploadedFile46.jpg
UploadedFile45.jpg
large_90_UploadedFile44.jpg
Other visits have been to a Silk farm where we got shown through the process of producing silk. The 24 day life of a silk worm isn't the best for them but is a fascinating and time consuming process to making beautiful silk that we now appreciate much better.

Silk cocoons ready for processing
UploadedFile50.jpg
Winding the silk on to reels ready for dying and weaving
UploadedFile51.jpg
I also made a trip to the Angkor museum. Much larger than I had imagined it and really well set out. I had rather quiet 2 hours here without the kids who I decided to spare the agony of a museum visit.

All up we had a fantastic time in Siem Reap. It had everything that we wanted to experience. Interesting sites to visit, a cool little town to explore, nice food, excellent accommodation and wonderful people. It was the first time we had felt sad to leave and have to move on, hopefully our next stop in Kampot on the coast will be as good.

The lovely team at Moon Boutique
UploadedFile52.jpg
off to the airport in style. The hotel dropped us off in two tuk tuks including our luggage
90_11UploadedFile6.jpg

Posted by Watson5 07:11 Comments (2)

Ho Chi Minh City

Well our 5 days are up Vietnams capital. The city is far more developed than Hanoi, the only other city we travelled too and I think has more to offer. We are in District 1 and can see The Ben Thanh market from the hotel and most of HCMC attractions are within walking distance.

The view from our hotell showing the Benh Thanh Market
3UploadedFile20.jpg

We are back to a two rooms non interconnecting deal in a good hotel with a nice pool on the roof and a fantastic view of the city. So the compromise being Matt and I doing the sitting in the hallway every evening updating the blog and drinking bad coffee while we supervise our two rooms. To anyone walking past we look a bit strange and get some interesting sideways glances. Then off we trott to our respective rooms to look after whichever combination of kids it is for that night. They enjoy having turns at being the "only child" in Dad's room with the treat of sneaking down to breakfast a bit earlier. One big score for Ho Chi Min as far as the kids are concerned is the playground at the Toa Dan Park which we go to each morning to blow off some steam before tackling the days activities.

The rooftop pool and view with Bitexco tower in the background
14UploadedFile2.jpg
Hijinks at the park
5UploadedFile8.jpg
As a treat for the kids we spent the morning at the Dam Sen waterpark, always a bit of a "grin and bare it" experience for Matt and I but the kids love it. So we set off early to get there for the 9am opening. Note to self - dumb idea during school holidays. The place was teaming with kids most without their parents on some ? holiday programme. The noise was unbearable and it was a scramble for everything even just to use the changing rooms. Our kids struggle to understand the pushy rude behaviour they witness but hopefully they'll still have some manners when we get back. There were some sights and experiences to behold. Being stared at was fun, watching a little boy pee all over the path that people were walking on while his parents stood back and watched. Bellie and my trip to the toilet (my most hated job with her and her need to go every 20 mins) where I couldn't stand up straight or sit on the toilet with my legs out the front and shut the door and having buckets of water whooshed in under the door all over our feet. Part of the the hourly cleaning that were signed for yet there is little evidence of them. Unlike Hanoi's waterpark the staff were really strict on the height restrictions Holly and Toby were stuck in the little kids pool much to their dismay. Thankfully after just 2 1/2 hours we persuaded the kids they didn't really want to be there and disappeared with a promise of icecream.

8UploadedFile10.jpg
5UploadedFile12.jpg
Now and then we still come across the odd squat toiet - again another experience for just Mum and Bellie as Holly can turn off her need to pee when she sees one and boys, well they're just lucky with their plumbing. So Bellie will walk in and say "oh no not one of those crouching ones again Mum" and then we spend the next 5 mins tying to keep clothes and feet dry - those things were not designed for 3 year olds wearing trousers. I almost choke when we also have to pay for the privilege as they are invariably filthy and have no toilet paper. If you're a guy in Vietnam it ia completely acceptable to pee at the side of the road. The kids thinks it's hilarious driving down the road seeing men relieving themselves.

As we've previously talked about the wages are low and there always seems to be an abundance of staff mostly standing round looking bored. It seems no job description ever should cross over into another. You can be standing at reception with 8 staff and they'll call the bell boy to help you with your bags from the other side of the hotel. Because of the low wages people seem to live very much day by day it seems. All the shops sell shampoo etc in what we would consider single use samples these are bought here as the outlay for a bottle of shampoo is to great against the weekly wage. Food is bought in much the same manner hence the lack of big supermarkets.

Traffics still busy!
9UploadedFile6.jpg
I took the girls for a haircut the other day. The first challenge being finding somewhere "above board". You see district 1 of Ho Chi Min City is full of hairdressing salons staffed by groups of 10 or so very "dolled up" gals wearing matching short tight dresses. They are known for going above and beyond in terms of offering "extra services". So anyway Bellie got a very short fringe trim and Holly a haircut from a funny dude wearing "Where's Wally" glasses. Matt's hair is getting shorter and shorter, each day he comes back not quiet happy with how it looks!

Here's Wally
90_21UploadedFile0.jpg

Matt: The sights we have been to have been good. We took a trip up the Bitexco tower which is the city tallest building boasting incredible view over the city.

The view from the tower
3UploadedFile9.jpg
The city's museums have also been well worth a visit. The best was probably the History museum which had quiet a few relics taken from Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It also had a rather unusual display of a mumified woman found 200 years ago when excavation was being done in the city. The kids were quite bemused at seeing a rather dead looking lady in a glass box on display.

Here's Mrs Mummy
5UploadedFile13.jpg
Across the road from the History museum is the Military museum. Inside is a collection of Ho Chi Minhs as he liberated the south. Outside is a large display of tanks, planes and rockets from the American war. The most popular is one of the tanks that busted down the gates to the Reunifacation Palace on 30th April 1975.

Mostly a big empty room except for 4 watsons- the Military Museum
5UploadedFile14.jpg
I also went to the War Remnants Museum but by myself. I was warned before hand what to expect. It's a very sobering place and not one for small children. Originally named the "Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes" it contains mostly information from the American invasion. There are rooms full of graphic images and text detailing the atrocities committed during the war. The museum is HCMC most popular but also gets a bit of bad press for being very one sided. However everything inside is well documented and a large amount of information and images were provided by the Americans. There are rooms dedicated to the use of Napalm during the war and it's effects now, the My Lai massacre, torture used by the Americans and the maltreatment of the dead civilians. It also has a section dedicated to Americans who were involved in the deaths of civilians that have gone on to political office in American like Senator Bob Kerrey. Everything inside was chillingly terrible and inhuman.

The last spot to visit was the Reunifaction Palace. All in all not a highlight. Summed up really with the tanks in the garden being replicas of the ones used to break down the gates in the famous photos from the end of the war. The kids enjoyed the basement which was a underground bunker full of communications centers and war rooms.

15UploadedFile4.jpg
We've tried to do some more shopping but even going to the popular Ben Thanh market we've come out empty handed it seems there are only 5 different types of stores but replicated hundreds of times over.

Iceream at "Fannys"
6UploadedFile18.jpg

The food has been nice. We found a cool BBQ resturant where they bring out your meat for you to cook yourself. With the weather so hot it's nice be around a BBQ with a cold beer.
6UploadedFile17.jpg
5UploadedFile19.jpg

Posted by Watson5 08:27 Comments (2)

Dalat

Well what a difference a 1 hour flight makes, Dalat is a nippily 15 degrees cooler. All the family were so excited to get off the plane to a cooler climate, me not so much. I moaned and groaned and even put on my long sleeve top in protest. We arrived at 7am after getting the 6am flight. There is only 1 flight a day from Danang to Dalat with the alternative being an 11 hour train trip followed by a 6 hour bus trip. Not that appealing, so getting the kids up at 3.30 for the 4am ride to the airport was our start to the day. The kids all did great which surprised us. We were expecting some resistance to getting woken up in the middle of the night and we were lucky when we got to our hotel at 8am we were able to go straight to our rooms and have a rest.

Our home for 4 nights - the Saigon Dalat
2UploadedFile22.jpg

Our time in Dalat has been slightly awkward for want of a better word. It's a funny place. Described as being Vietnams bohemian center. At one stage the French made up 20 percent of the population here and built villas all over the place. It's also home to the hill tribes of Da Lat who farmed the area growing vegetables and flowers. Now there are resorts and golf courses being built everywhere. It still has the traffic, noise and rubbish but is full of pine forests and it's damn cold. It rained on and off every day we were there. One minute you love it the next you want to get out!

During our stay here we've gone into town each day. There are no shops selling tourist t shirts or nick knacks. It's a locals town. Rows of shops selling winter clothes and vegetables. Winter clothes were the garish bright acrylic knits you might have seen back in the 60's. There isn't a warm friendly feel about the place and we have been targeted for over charging more than usual. I picked up some water and bits from a small store and the lady passed a calculator to me with 395 000 vd on it. I said no no no that's too dear so she got out here pad and added it up - it came to 98 000. That's $6 not the $25 she wanted. We also have been shouted at and pushed a lot. Even at the hotel the yelling and fighting outside the rooms in the hall is crazy. One night Rach and I both went out and shushed both adults and kids at 11pm. The only ones that took any notice were the two drunk guys who after I had spoken to them wanted to come into our room. As they reached out to take my hand that I was gesturing for them to quieten down with that they stumbled across the other side of the hall. Over the next hour the two loudly sshed each other as they passed our room. We had to laugh at there efforts.

90_2UploadedFile20.jpg
I kind of wish you could smell this photo
4UploadedFile16.jpg
We have been to a lake on the edge of town where we hired these tacky swans to pedal out on and we also got to visit Hang Nga Crazy house. Built buy a local lady it's really quiet mad. It's open for day tourists and also is accommodation. The rooms are decorated in animal themes and had no logical shape. Connecting each of the rooms is a snaking pathway going all over the place. It's as if a group of primary school kids were asked to design a hotel they would like to stay in - needless to say our kids loved it.

5UploadedFile17.jpg
5UploadedFile18.jpg
Our big excursion was a trip I ended up booking with a guide in town. I tried the hotel but they were heaps dearer and quiet vague on what we were going to see. The trip started with our guide Tinh picking us up at 7.45am and taking us out to Tuyen Lam lake. Here we got to have a ride on an elephant. The conditions weren't great with light rain and heavy fog but it added to the atmosphere of riding an elephant on the side of a misty lake. Rach, Holly and Bella went for the first 30 minutes then Toby and I went. I had to laugh as Rach returned trying to hold on to Holly and Bella while clutching an umbrella that had been blown inside out. I was a really cool experience and I was glad to be able to find a elephant that was being looked after well. We have passed up other chances where the elephants didn't look like they were very well cared for. Here there was heaps off padding on her back, no marks on her body, she had lots of room to move and was fed while we were there. I was really impressed with the the guy taking us who didn't even have a whip or stick he just rubbed his foot on the side of the elephants neck to direct her. It was a great experince and the kids were beaming during and after the ride.

2UploadedFile23.jpg
3UploadedFile24.jpg
4UploadedFile25.jpg
Our next stop was the Datanla waterfall. To get to it we had to take a bobsled/roller-coaster (called a rollerbob" down the hill. It was hilarious and loads of fun, two at a time we raced down the hill on our sleds. The waterfall was cool, with the rain it was bigger than I had expected. At the bottom there was a real mix of Vietnam. A guy selling a seat on a horse for a photo (no room to ride), a concrete tiger, a guy dressed as a mythical monkey man ready for photos, 2 huts selling the local hill tribes clothing, disco music blearing from a small shop added to the roller coaster we had come on. All because of the waterfall. It was as if the towns councilors had asked for an idea on what to add to the waterfall experience and they ended up choosing all of them.

5UploadedFile26.jpg
2UploadedFile27.jpg
1UploadedFile29.jpg
90_2UploadedFile28.jpg
As it is Vietnam's school holidays now the place was packed and everyone was pushing. So you can appreciate how bad it was, women were grabbing Bella's arms and pushing her our of the way. Rach had to do some loud tutting to protect the girls while Toby and I just had to push back. I understand that with all the people living here you have to be assertive to get anywhere but pushing the kids was over the top.

From the waterfall we went to Truc Lam Pagoda and then took the 2.3 km gondola down the hill. It was a beautiful view over the fields of vegetables, flowers and coffee that is grown here.

The view from the cable car
UploadedFile30.jpg
UploadedFile31.jpg
Toby's exciting moment here was watching me and Bella go through the turnstile and not watch where he was walking and falling down 9 concrete steps. He ended up with lots of bruises to his arms and legs and a small bump on the head but otherwise ok. Afterwards he was telling us he was like "superman". Hmm I thought he could fly!.

We finished up at lunchtime having had a really cool morning and enjoyed our guides knowledge of the area and insight into Vietnamese life.

Another source of ongoing amusement is having our laundry done. It's a little like waiting for christmas wondering what shape colour and size our clothes will return in. We have tended not to use the service offered by hotels as it is charged out at a per item price which ends up expensive for the many little people's clothes we have. Off we trotted this one day to the laundry recommended by our tour guide. The guy spoke no English so with gestures we asked "how much". Well he promptly emptied our laundry bag on the floor of his shop and proceeded to count each item. Puts a new meaning to airing your dirty laundry in public. Anyway later that night Matt returned to collect our clean laundry bringing it straight home for me to stock take. Phew everything was there and only one additional t-shirt to return so off Matt went back to the guy who was very excited that he had made the effort to return it. I suspect it is a rare occurrence and probably saved him being yelled at by another tourist missing clothes.

Keep meaning to show you how light we are travelling 9 weeks worth of clothes and shoes for each of the kids is stored in these cells. Impressed?
4UploadedFile13.jpg
The rest of our time inn Dalat was just wandering about the towns centre having lunches and dinners. It was nice for the kids to have plenty of down time and rest up before we hit the next big city of Ho chi Minh or Saigon.

Posted by Watson5 06:18 Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 37) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 »