Feb 072014
 

holv7 (10)

our last night in saigon, alex and minh came over on their motorbikes and picked sal and i up and we took off over to the other side of the river and a seafood restaurant that had been closed for tet festival up until last night.

it was a great final meal on a trip of great meals, we let minh order, and the rest of the night there was just a constant stream of plates of various shellfish – which was obviously the specialty of the restaurant. they were mostly cooked over charcoal and had a variety of sauces and marinades, we also had chargrilled corn with onions and salted eggs and plenty of greens.

a steady flow of beer helped wash it all down before we mounted our steeds and tore off back into the city where we went up to the 23rd floor of a non-descript looking office building – but at the top is the Shri Restaurant & Bar. we had a coffee while looking out over saigon at night, then it was back to the hotel for a goodbye beer and our last nights sleep before flying to singapore tomorrow and then on to darwin and home.

here are a couple more photos i hadnt put up yet, i am sitting at the airport as we wait for our flight to singapore and feeling a little sad about leaving this beautiful city, but confident we will be back again – for a longer stay and more exploration of the rest of vietnam.

I am sure one thing this trip has settled for both sal & I are that there are plenty of places we would be happy to spend 6 months a year as a base, malaysia has several possibilities and we have previously considered bali, now vietnam is definitely on the list.

dad used to come up to saigon every year and spend a few months here, i can understand now how he fell in love with the place and people.

it also completes a small ambition of mine, dad and i had travelled to so many countries together and vietnam was I believe, the only one i hadnt been to.

 

 Posted by at 11:25 am



Feb 062014
 

holv6 (6)

thats the view from the steps of the thuc cafe, where i have just enjoyed an espresso on the way home from breakfast, its typical of the heart of this vibrant place, wide footpaths, tree lined streets, small parks, with all the buzz of an international city.

the longer we spend here, the more convinced we are to come back and live here for an extended time – like 6 months, it was always our loose plan to spend our retirement living somewhere overseas for 6 months and somewhere in australia for the other 6 months – saigon is the first place in our recent travels where I am really certain I wish to come back to and spend time actually living here.

breakfast today was at the i.d. Cafe, the first time we visited we sat downstairs where they have their coffee machine and a couple of little tables, and enjoyed an espresso, it wasnt until I asked where the toilet was and they directed me upstairs, that we discovered they have a large upstairs space with a small restaurant, funky decorations and a view out over the local streets.

so today sal & I went back for a leisurely breakfast, sal had an omelette with baguette and i had char grilled pork with vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, peanuts, thai basil, coriander and a typical vietnamese dressing. with a couple of short macchiatos the bill came to about $12 – which is not cheap in saigon but it was yummy and is at least half what a similar meal in a trendy cafe would cost in sydney.

 

Feb 042014
 

i read about this little stall in an alley on a website devoted to saigon streetfood, its rumoured to have the best gà nướng or BBQ chook with broken rice. we taxied out there tonite to give it a shot, its not easy to find and a fair way from our hotel. the couple that run it have a few little tables lining the alley and a big char grill at one end to bbq the chook and pork on.

its a pretty crazy scene, they are absolutely flat out and as the food is cooked at one end of the alley and plated up to be served at the other end, the staff are sprinting from one end of the alley to the other, balancing plates of gà nướng and the couple of other dishes they cook here – all the time dodging the motorbikes that are still using the narrow, table lined alley!

the food lived up to its reputation, succulent and tender chook bbq’d in a scrumptious marinade, on a bed of ‘broken’ rice, a few pickles, some tomato and cucumber slices and a side dish of fresh chilli sauce. all for about $1.75 each!

they also do a side dish called cha, a steamed loaf of ground pork, mushroom, crab and other “secret” ingredients, but the language barrier meant we ended up missing out this time!

the taxis cost $10 to get us there and back – so about double the price of dinner for 3! if we were staying longer I would definitely get a motor bike for running round like this. Still compared to just about anywhere else, $15 all up for a meal for 3 and transport is still pretty damn cheap!

Feb 042014
 

holv3 (14)

Bánh mì is the perfect fast food and/or hangover cure in Saigon. walk any street in Saigon and you’re likely to find at least one street food vendor smearing a small baguette with pâté, dropping in some cold cuts, pickled vegetables and fresh coriander squirting in some soy sauce (and adding a few chili peppers) … then wrapping it in a small sheet of paper and snapping a rubber band around the assembly. Off you go with a great hangover cure, midday or midnight sandwich snack.

Luckily you can usually find a street cart selling bánh mì right next to a cafe serving a great coffee so you could probably live on a diet of bánh mì and coffee indefinitely!

sal and i had a bánh mì and coffee to try to dispel the foggy head and lethargy that undoubtably had plenty to do with the excesses of last night, sal headed home but i decided to wander down town to the restaurant where we dined last night to pick up the jumper i had left there due to my early onset dementia.

as i was strolling along the shady boulevards of saigon i was assailed by a number of dodgy looking old men on motorbikes, slowing down so they could offer me ‘special massage with nice girl’, i suspect what they were offering was neither special nor a massage – and probably not a nice girl either!

it did occour to me they were missing their mark, had they offered me “special bánh mì or phở” – I probably would have taken them up on their kind offer and jumped on the back of their honda.

instead i gently declined their offer of “special massage” and continued my meanderings through the shady streets.

Feb 042014
 

holv3

the longer we spend in this city the more I enjoy it, certainly somewhere I want to come back and live for a few months, its got a lovely feel to it, very friendly, and as i said earlier, the wide boulevards, lots of big trees, wide footpaths and very clean streets make it stand out.

kai and banyans

yesterday we caught up with Alex Vu, our mutual friend, peter phipps is an old garma festival mate of mine and he hooked us up with alex when we told peter we were coming to saigon.

alex came over to our apartment and invited us back to his house to see a traditional vietnamese family home, he offered to take kai over on his motorbike while sal and i caught a taxi – as you can imagine kai took to that idea like a rat up a drainpipe!

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we spent a very enjoyable afternoon at alex’s house enjoying his hospitality, his parents and the rest of the family are away up north for the tet holiday so he was home alone, the house is 4 stories high, on a small footprint. after a tour of the house we settled down to beers, rice wine and lots of nibblies!

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we walked home after a couple of hours with alex with a plan to catch up for dinner with another of his friends later on, that gave us time for a nanna nap and sober up before heading out on the town!

alex and his friend minh arrived and we headed out to the bbq garden restaurant for a slap up meal, we started off with a 3 litre ‘jug’ of beer which seemed like the perfect solution to a problem we didnt even know about!

the table has a bbq in the middle of the table and you simply order dishes off the menu and then cook them on the plate, we had goat, beef in betel leaf, prawns, squid, vegies and probably more i have forgotten!

we then came back up near our apartment where there are lots of little japanese bars and enjoyed a bottle of warm sake, tuna sashimi and sushi, alex and minh then took us to the havana club to finish the night off – well sort of, after that we did end up back at the apartment having a few beers and a wide ranging, intellectual, articulate and erudite drunken rave!

All in all a wonderful night, with great company, yummy food and a big hangover on the way!

 

Feb 022014
 

we awoke a bit doughy this morning after a bottle of vietnamese red and too many beers playing poker last night! we did have a very comfortable sleep on board the good ship Le Conchinchine 3, and the crepes, fresh fruit and strong black coffee got us going pretty quickly. It was a lovely calm misty morning on the mekong river and we headed off in a smaller boat to explore the floating markets of Cai Be as well as visiting villagers using traditional methods to make rice paper for spring rolls and puffed rice for cereals and munchy treats. I have added a couple of short videos to show these traditional skills and you can watch them below.

we also visited a beautiful traditional wooden vietnamese house that is nearly 200 years old and operates as a home stay now. we enjoyed a fruit platter and pot of tea in the gardens after wandering through the house and admiring not just the construction but the beautiful antique furniture,

both the rice paper and puffed rice are made using a fire made from the rice husks, we saw the same fuel used in the brick kilns, and the ash after the husks are burnt is used as fertiliser so there is very little wasted in the production chain of rice!

the rice paper sheets are made with a form of rice milk that you can see in the tub beside the woman, the puffed rice is mixed with river sand in a large wok – the sand has become black from the burning husks and is continuously reused.

so it was goodbye to Le Conchinchine 3 and her wonderful crew, and our guide Kiet, and off in our car to Ho Chi Minh City, we arrived early in the afternoon and have settled into our apartment in down town Saigon, on first appearances its a beautiful city, wide boulevards, unusally wide and flat footpaths for this part of the world and lots of trees and old buildings.

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we ducked out for our first meal – a bowl of Pho, luckily we found a little street food stall that was open – as much of Saigon is closed for the Tet holiday, and for the princley sum of about $4 we had a bowl of Pho each and Kai had a plate of chicken and rice. I think we are going to enjoy our few days here!

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Feb 022014
 

we woke on saturday morning in chau doc and went for a wander through the huge street market before breakfast, which we got at a stall across the road from the restaurant, rice with a thin pork steak that was freshly char grilled, served with a yummy spicy sauce and a little salad.

we were picked up by a driver and headed off for our slow boat which was waiting for us in Long Xuyen, we arrived about lunch time and met our guide for the next couple of days, kiet. we headed out in the small boat and kiet explained that we were the only guests on the good ship “Le Conchinchine” – a boat 80′ long with 3 decks, 12 cabins  and 4 crew!!

we got comfortable and then headed off down the mighty mekong river towards Sa Dec, we had a delicious lunch of banana flower salad with shredded chicken followed by fried bread pork parcels, which I suspect were a bit fattening! never mind, because ahead of us was a 12km ride through flower growing villages outside Sa Dec.

first we disembarked into the small boat and went across  the river to look at some brick kilns, the driveshaft promptly fell apart and we started drifting downriver, kiet and I managed to paddle across to the kilns while the driver hung upside down over the motor trying to fix the drive shaft!

we rejoined the big boat and motored off down the mekong, its a magical thing travelling down a big river slowly on a large boat, there is plenty of time to take all the sights in, a lovely breeze keeps you cool, people yell out to you from the banks, you can move around, snooze, or play hide and seek with the crew!

we then unloaded the bikes and set off for Sa Dec where the big boat would meet us, it was absolutely magical, we rode mainly on quiet concrete paths through the shady villages, winding our way through the beautiful nurseries  of flowers that these villages are famous for. it was late afternoon and a lovely temperature for a leisurely ride!

we dropped the bikes back at the boat at the sa dec wharf and then had a quick wander through the nightmarkets, before setting off to steam down river to our night anchorage, we sat up on the top deck watching the sun go down, sipping a beer while sal had a foot massage at the same time from one of the crew!

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market in sa dec

dinner was served after our cocktails in the dining deck, we had a delicate soup first, just vegetables but really tasty, next we had calamari, this was followed by rice with stir fried vegies, sweet and sour pork and a whole fish done in a tomato chilli sauce.

following dinner we had a few games of poker with the crew before retiring to our huge cabins for a well earned rest!

Jan 312014
 

holc12

bye to cambodia, and hi to vietnam!

today we caught the fast boat from phnom penh, down the mekong river to châu dóc, a small city on the river where we are spending a night in a hotel before joining the slow boat for the trip on to ho chi min city (HCMC).

as toad of toad hall famously said, “there is nothing half so much fun as simply messing about in boats!”, its such a pleasant way to travel, cool breeze, no bumps, great scenery as you cruise down the river, comfortable chairs, more leg space than a plane and you can sit outside.

also border crossings are so much more civilised, we pulled into a jetty and disembarked to clear out of cambodia, left our luggage on board, a couple of minutes later and our passports were stamped, we bought a cold beer from the girl on the jetty and jumped back on the boat.

exactly 1 beer later and we pulled into the jetty at the vietnamese border, someone took all our passports, we sat around and had another beer, climbed back on the boat and the same someone gave us all our passports back, stamped and we were officially in vietnam!

the whole trip took about 5 hours and we pulled in to châu dóc just before sunset, someone said to us our hotel was “50m that way and then turn left and its on your right down that street”. after following those directions and finding nothing resembling a hotel we asked some locals eating their dinner where the hotel was and despite their lack of english and our total absence of vietnamese, they took us to the door.

we had no sooner let ourselves in the room than the tour operator from ho chi minh that I had booked the boat trips through rang us to check we had arrived ok, and then told us the arrangements for our transfer by car to the slow boat in the morning.

it never ceases to amaze me how these things all just seem to fall into place, considering this was all organised at the last minute via email with someone in HCMC and it relied on a tuk tuk picking us up from our hotel in phnom penh, dropping us at the ferry terminal, somehow someone knowing which boat we were meant to go on from the 4 tied up at the wharf, getting us on the right boat, across two borders and into a hotel in the back streets of a wild river town – all with minimal language in common and none of the people involved working directly for the company organising the trip who were in a city hundreds of km’s away.

the internet has certainly transformed travel beyond belief in the last 10 years!

so of course the order of the day was to get straight out on the streets and find some nice local food, we walked 50m up the street from the hotel and there were just acres of street carts making fresh vietnamese meals, hundreds of people perched on the ubiquitous plastic stools at a shonky plastic table woofing down great fresh food.

sal saw a noodle dish being taken to a table and so pointed to that to choose a dish, i managed to get the girl serving to pick something off the menu for me – which turned out to be beef with chilli and lemongrass, and kai ended up with shredded chicken and fried rice – not quite what he wanted but he ate it with gusto! sal’s turned out to be noodles with prawns and squid and a top choice!

click on ‘i’ in top left corner of images for caption.

Jan 312014
 

holc11

tonite was our last dinner in phnom penh and we headed out to a highly recommended restaurant, the anjali, for a cambodian speciality, fish amok. its made with a freshwater monk fish and a cocunut cream sauce with kaffir lime, chilli, lemon grass, galangal, garlic and fish sauce. it was absolutely superb! we also had a pork lok lak, which is pork cooked in a delicat sweet and sour souce with fresh green pepper corns.

we managed to squeeze in a dessert as well, kai had saute apple with ice cream and i had saute pineapple with ice cream – both were delicious.

a fitting final feast on our cambodian journey and the tuk tuk drive home along the mekong water front in the cool night air was a perfect end to a very enjoyable night.

 

 Posted by at 12:12 am  Tagged with:



Jan 302014
 

holc10

so its the year of the fire horse tomorrow, and chinese new year’s eve. phnom penh is very quiet with many businesses and shops closed and very little traffic on the roads.

many shops have set up their offerings for luck in their forecourts, this one staight across from our hotel, not sure its so lucky for the poor piggy!

its our last night here before heading off on a 3 day boat and car trip to Ho Chi Minh city in vietnam. this is our itinerary,

Day 1: 31 JAN 2014 – Phnom Penh to Chau Doc by Speedboat.

11h00 – 11h30 Our guide & car will pick up from your hotel & transfer to Phnom Penh border get speedboat to Chau Doc – Vietnam. On arrival take a walk to your Hotel.

Accommodation: Trung Nguyen Hotel

Meals: None

 

Day 2: 1 FEB 2014 – Long Xuyen – Sadec – Caibe

07h30 Our Private Car will pick up & transfer to Can Tho. 12h00pm boarding Le Cochinchine boat -11h00 – 11:30am: arrive Long Xuyen, visit a crocodile farm in Mekong, then our small boat pick up and boat trip to see Long Xuyen floating villages & Ong Ho island (Cu Lao Ong Ho – Museum of the 2nd President of the Vietnam), bike ride on the footpaths of the countryside of Ong Ho island to discover tropical fruit orchards and local people’s activities and the small  arroyos on the island. Visit the daily life of the local people who live on both sides of the Mekong river .

-12:30pm – 01:00pm: boarding on Le Cochinchine/Mekong Emotion boat in Long Xuyen, welcome drink and check in cabin.

-Lunch on board. Then cruise to Sa Dec. Enjoy the beautiful scenery, picturesque boats ballet and ferry crossings over Mekong River branches, wild life on the banks, and the magnificent sunset on the river.

-Dinner and overnight on board in Sa Dec.

Accommodation: Le Cochinchine Cruise

Meals: B / L / D

 

Day 2: 2 FEB 2014 – Cai Be – Saigon

-In the morning, the noise of the floating market wake you up, visit the daily life of the local people who live on both sides of the Mekong river, breakfast on board.

-After breakfast, check out luggages to small motor boat to explore the lively Cai Be floating market in the morning.

-Walking for visit a handicraft village of the local people then sightseeing the old house and sample various tropical fruits.

-Continue boat trip to Mekong Lodge – an eco-resort Mekong Lodge includes more than 40 private pretty bungalows and River View Restaurant, stretched in an area of more than 10.000 m2 lays just beside the Tien River.

-Visit Mekong Lodge and walking around this area to see local people who are doing daily activities.

-12:00pm: Boat transfer to Cai Be harbor then disembark and route for Saigon by shuttle bus.

Meals: B

 

Jan 292014
 

yesterday we took kai to kid’s city which is a 11 storey building with couloured glass walls full of kids activities, it even has cambodia’s first and only ice skating rink.

first up we hit the laser tag game, needless to say in a game that involved hunting and shooting each other in a dark building, my skills came to the fore and I won with the most points! it was a lot of fun, although after 25mins of it we were all shagged!

then we went to the science floors which had a lot of very good interactive exhibits, all sorts of displays from electricity, to levers, pulleys, gravity, balance, hearing, sight, puzzles, magnetism and so on. nearly everyone there was a way for kai to be physically involved in demonstrating the scientific principle and to learn something more about it.

finally we went to the ‘clip & climb’ floor, this was definitely the highlight for kai and we spent a couple of hours here, he climbed most of the huge structures to the top, i made it to the top of one and sal climbed about halfway up a few. the abseil down was the most fun, and a good incentive to make the climb to the top!

we skipped the ice skating as we were not dressed for the icy conditions!

here are a couple of short videos of the kai monkey in action!

Jan 282014
 

holc8

tonite sal & i walked down to the riverfront for a couple of beers in a cafe overlooking the esplanade, after 2 large handles of beer each, we drained our wallet of the princley sum of $2 and then walked along the road where we had seen street vendors set up last night, all the tables had little gas burners on them which the cambodians call BBQ’s so we sat down and waited until a couple of giggly girls with no english turned up at the table, they gave us an arrangement of veges, herbs, eggs, noodles and raw meat as well as a pot which they put on the burner.

turned out the pot was full of tasty stock with dumplings, we then added the rest of the ingredients to our own taste and timing and then ladled the resulting noodle soup into bowls and tore up vietnamese mint to add to it – it was superb, the stock is yummy and adding the extras and cooking at the table just adds to the whole experience.

we provided free entertainment for the local diners as well as the giggly girls, watching the clumsy barangs trying to cook, serve and eat their local dish!

we woofed down all our stomachs could hold, then we had a couple more beers to wash it down and this time had our wallet lightened by  $7 – and we left enough in the pot to feed a small village!

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Jan 272014
 

today we found the ou ruessei market in phnom penh, its the real khmer local market where all the farmers sell their produce, its complete mayhem! thousands of vendors selling fruit, veges, meat, seafood, dried products, cooked products, spices, sauces, you name it, they have it.

the market is a swarming mass of humanity, an olfactory overload and visual kaleidoscope, its tighter than a can of sardines, the floors are wet and uneven. the massive undercover market is surrounded by a moat of motorcycles 10 deep for its entire circumference and there are hundreds of tuk-tuks touting for transport to and from. no one speaks any english, there are no tourists and all transactions are in local currency (khmer riel).

although i wasnt hungry i couldnt go past the freshly made spring rolls with vermicelli noodles and pork, at 500 riel (25c) I think i was charged tourist price, but what the hell, they were to die for.

click on ‘i’ in top left corner of images for description

in other news today, we nearly got caught up in a protest this morning, the street we were walking along had the protest walking down the street the other way, there was several hundred people blocking the road with placards and monks in the frontline, police started pouring in to the area, people were running away past us and we decided descretion was the better part of valour and turned tail and ran away as well! we saw truckloads of riot police in full body armour, shields and armed with what i presume were guns for rubber bullets and smoke canisters.

news of the protest here – http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/cambodian-police-break-protest-tv-license-22155393

Jan 272014
 

holc6 (18)

this morning we embarked on a journey that we might have had second thoughts about had we known what it actually involved! because of the low river levels in the dry season we had to be driven to a point at the river where we could join the boat, we were told it was a 4 hour journey but it took over 5 hours!

the roads in cambodia have to be seen to be believed, this is the major highway in cambodia and its atrocious, the bitumen sections are filled with huge potholes that look like they are remnants of the bombing in the war, they are about half a metre deep and when they are not deep they are filled with large sharp rocks. much of the road the bitumen is gone and its just gravel with clouds of fine dust – i have no idea how the driver knew where he was going much of the time.

the road is filled with pushbikes, motorbikes pulling enormous trailers, extrordinary machines powered by stationary engines with handlebars about 3 metres long, horses and carts, cows and carts, trucks, buses and cars.

the driver never went over 60kmh, which i suspect was because thats where the speedo got stuck – it certainly seemed much faster!

i was astonished by the enormous sizes of the loads everything carried, small motorbikes were often hooked up to large steel trailers up to 10m in length loaded with what looked like tonnes of timber, minivans with their interior compltely filled with firewood and then two long poles hanging out the back so anther tonne of wood could be staked and tied outside the back of the minivan.

i realised after a while that the reason the loads could be so enormous was that that cambodia is basically absolutely flat, so nothing ever has to go up a hill, or try to control speed going down one!

the boat trip was a welcome relief after the car, there were only 3 other passengers, 3 law students from sydney, these girls were living for 3 months in Phnom Penh. so the six of us enjoyed a slow and leisurely trip down the river, we had a yummy vegetable curry lunch before stopping at a silk weaving village which was actually quite interesting, the village also had a buddhist temple with 2 large prawn statues guarding the gates – and i thought only australia did the big statues of animals we eat thing!

dinner was satays and salad on the top deck of the boat as we slowly motored into Phnom Penh.

click on the ‘i’ in the top left corner to see image descriptions.

Jan 252014
 

so tomorrow morning we are off to phnom penh, by car and then boat down the mekong river. we cant catch the boat all the way because being the middle of the dry season, the water is too low up this end.

siem reap reminds me of so many of the larger towns i have stayed over my many years of travelling the world, it takes 3 or 4 days to really get connected with the energy of the place, to work out where to eat, where to shop, and to start relaxing into the transition from traveller to resident – not resident in the sense of living permenantly in a place. Rather being at ease sufficiently to feel like you have stopped moving.

unfortunately that often means you are leaving just when you get the sense you should be staying!

siem reap is a dirty, dusty, flat town with few redeeming features – but like so much of the world, the redeeming features are the people and the food, tonite was a perfect example. we went back to the little restaurant that our guide had shown us, and where we had lunch with him 2 days ago. tonite we picked through the menu and kai had a simple but yummy fried chicken dish with rice, we had a simple fish soup with morning glory, a pork and vegetables salad and the wonderful fish & pork omelette (whoddu thunk!).

holc5

a splendid and simple meal, with a room full of laughing and friendly cambodian girls who cook and wait on the few dodgy tables and plastic chairs, a family of orphaned girls taken in by their uncle and set up in the restaurant as they grew up. kai ended up sitting with one of the sons of one of the sisters and tried his best to ‘corrupt’ him by playing games on the iPhone with him. so we sat and had a cool beer, chatting with the girls, watching some inane comedy in kmher on the TV while 2 boys were absorbed in their games of the 21st century.

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its that simple, and its more than enough for me, its why i travel, i have never been one for seeking out other tourists to sit and chat with, to hook up on facebook or compare lists of places been and things done at the shallowest level, travelling for me is about that interconnection with the people, culture and food of the places we visit.

yet in a city filled with thousands of tourists we saw almost none sitting in the khmer restaurants, or eating the street food with the local workers, and I never saw another child interacting with the cambodian kids – and we wonder why there is so much racism and xenophobia, although I am not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg.

 

Jan 252014
 

today is definitely a lazy day, we wandered back to the La Boulangerie Cafe for breakfast again, its a good thing its a fair walk from the hotel because I dont think 2 croissants and a pile of crispy bacon is all that healthy!

the rest of the day has been spent resting, reading, playing cards and fiddling on the internets! I have added a subscription button on the sidebar, this will save me manually emailing out updates and automate the process, so, dear readers, please avail yourselves of the marvels of modern technology and sign up. free set of broken coathangers to the first 10 to sign up, and you go in the lucky draw to win a bounced cheque for a large sum of money.

here are a couple of pics to look at in the meantime,

click on the ‘i’ in the top left corner of the image for descriptions

Jan 242014
 

holc3this morning we found a little french cafe we had been looking for, kai woofed down pancakes and chocolate, which while not very healthy, were delicious by all accounts. he then had a hair cut and after lunch Bun picked us up and we headed out to the temples again, first up was Ta Prohm, where scenes of the film Tomb Raider were shot. it is largely overgrown with huge banyan trees wrapped around and growing through its structure.

Ta Nei was the second one we visited, also largely overgrown by the jungle, but as its hidden away down a dirt track very few tourists visit it, in fact while we were there we were the only people visiting the temple – a welcome relief from the hordes crawling over the other temples. we were able to get a real sense of the peace and serenity of these incredible temples set in the towering and shady jungle.

the final temple we visited was Bayon, this temple was built in a period of peace between hindus and buddhists in cambodia and the intricate carvings reflect this. its known as the temple of faces due to the large buhdda faces carved in the towers.

our final stop for the day was to observe a troupe of monkeys playing in the grass beside the road, it was a highlight for kai, there were several new born babies as well as big males, pregnant mums and juveniles. we bought some bananas to feed them with and i discovered they dont like having their tails pulled – i was only actually giving it a gentle tug to encourage one to turn around for a photo, but i have a scratch on my leg to prove it!

we actually enjoyed the 3 temples today much more than Angkor Wat, they were smaller and more intimate, the shade from the huge trees makes them cooler and overall they just seemed more interesting.

the history of the whole region is fascinating, the vandalism by each of the religions towards the others is such a sad indictment of organised religion, so many of the carvings defaced after changes between hinduism, buddhism and islam as the state religions in the khmer kingdom.

the damage is much worse than that caused by 900 years of weathering or decades of ferocious war in the 20th century.

the sheer scale of the empire at its peak in the 12 century is hard to picture, such enterprise, infrastructure development, enginineering and pure human effort is hard to imagine – especially as the whole region was basically deserted later, hence the fact that all these temples lay unknown and undiscovered until the 1930’s.

tomorrow we are having a lay day, then sunday we are catching the boat down to Phnom Penh.

click on the ‘i’ in the top left hand corner of the images to see the caption.

 

Jan 242014
 

holcas you can see, its a bit chilly in the mornings in siem reap, even allowing for us coming out of our wet season and into their dry, there is no doubt its rather cool first up.

we have spent a couple of days getting familiar with siem reap, being somewhere that there are so many tourists is a bit of a shock after malaysia, and it does detract from the experience somewhat.

the food is good, although its proving harder than I expected to find good local food – mainly due to tourists meaning that there are many more western style restaurants than i expected.

as you can see from the tarantula video, there are still opportunities for authentic street food!

today we did angkor wat, we hired a guide,  he had a car with a driver and he was certainly informed and passionate in his guiding, the numbers alone are impressive, 30 million tons of sandstone, floated on bamboo rafts down a canal from the mountain where it was mined, 8000 elephants in the construction and a 100,000 khmer labourers to build it – all done over 900 years ago.

the highlight for me was the little cambodian restaurant that our guide, Bun took us to after the tour! we asked him to take us somewhere to have a traditional cambodian meal and the fact that the restaurant is only 100m from out hotel is an added bonus!

we had an amazing omelette, a yummy sour soup with fish, a great pork and pumkin dish, and a sweet and sour vegetables.

last night we had the amazing experience of going to the local cambodian circus, called phare.

it was an incredible blend of culture, theatre, story telling, dance, acrobatics, juggling and music – with amazing energy and intensity.

the circus schools takes disadvantaged young kids from cambodia and teaches them to become performers so it has an important social as well as cultural function. we had vip seats in the centre, front row – when the flaming skipping rope slipped out of their hands , as you will see in the video, it nearly hit us and kai reckoned “we were nearly killed!”. kai had an absolute ball and along with Lego land I think it is a highlight of his travels so far.

 

Jan 192014
 

this morning we found a new place for breakfast, very good roti teluh (roti with egg). i made a little video of the guy making the teh tarik which is the indian hot drink made with tea, condensed and evapourated milk. they pour it as you can see in the video to make it skightly foamy and reduce the temperature for drinking. for some unknown reason its the perfect accompaniment to  spicy food!

we decided to walk down to the waterfront and catch the ferry across to Butterworth for lunch today, I assumed there would be great hawker food on the Butterworth side because all the buses and trains are arriving there for people to catch the ferry across to penang, it proved to be the case and we had another excellent meal. the highlight for me was actually a salad made with salted cucumber slices, chilli, pineapple and shallots!

this is the stall we got our plate of food from, dont you wish we had food like this in australia at the bus stop!

holp3 (4)the net here is very slow tonite so i wont put too many images up, but we finished lunch and caught the next ferry back to penang, sal went off to get her hair done and kai and i moved apartments to the one next door as we couldnt stay in one for the whole 4 nights so we are doing 2 in each. very similar to the one next door, a little bigger with 2 bedrooms and different antiques inside.

for dinner we headed down to a big night market we had spotted when we went to catch the ferry at lunchtime, once again our eyes were bigger than our tummies!

holp3 (6) the net is very slow here tonite so i will post some more pics when it speeds up again! ok net back up so here are the rest of the images from yesterday, as usual, click on the ‘i’ in the top left corner of the image to see the caption.