A Travellerspoint blog

Hong Kong

We arrive in Hong Kong and are whisked to our hotel in Kowloon. The hotel has a mall attached but is about 20 min walk from the ferry terminal. We had been given an upgrade to a 'Harbour View', very nice you may think? Well, the harbour was a dockyard and the room was so small you had to side-step around the bed. Some discussion a lesson on the various 'harbours' in Hong Kong and one credit card later we have a huge suite with a Victoria Harbour view - THE harbour view Hong Kong is famous for.

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What to do in Hong Kong? Well, as seasoned tourists, you can't really go wrong with the hop-on hop-off bus which drives past all the highlights and includes a star ferry and peak tram tickets. We are staying in Kowloon which is actually on main land China. The Hong Kong we all know is actually situated on a small island, so the Star Ferry is our first stop to get over to the island, it is an iconic landmark in Hong Kong. It runs to lots of locations but importantly from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. The ferry now runs from a new wharf but you can visit the original that dates back many years. The crossing gives you amazing views of both Hong Kong Island and the modern hotel Kowloon skyline. Getting on the bus we do a loop of the city in Hong Kong everything is up - it puts New York to shame. Skyscrapers dominate the skyline but there are a few gems of old buildings mingled in. We had all you can eat dim sum for lunch but I'm not too impressed other than the pork buns. Next we took Keith to electronics heaven in the Wan Chai centre. It consists of a maze of shops on numerous floors, all selling electronics at a cheaper rate than the high street. Keith loves it [KB -I only bought one thing, a set of awesome Bluetooth speakers].

Dragging Keith away we go to the Peak Tram which is another iconic landmark in Hong Kong. It is a steep tram taking people up to Peak point over looking the city. Our bus ticket includes a tram ride too but we still have to queue for about 30 mins. The tram arrives and you have no idea how steep the track will be, then the tram rises from the station and you can see the track. It is very steep and the glimpses of the city as we rise through the trees are amazing. At the top there is a viewing platform and a shopping centre. The viewing platform gives you 360 views of Hong Kong, it is really beautiful sight and perfect to end the day on.

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Today we explored Kowloon, we started in the Kowloon park. It is full of people relaxing and enjoying the sculpted gardens. The gardens run along side the famous shopping area of Nathan Road but you feel like you are no where near the city. Coming back on to Nathan Street you can buy numerous designer brands and fakes. The street has more brand name shops than you could name - each shop however has a couple of shady characters outside offering imitations of the extortionate bling you have just see in the shop. We fight past the amazing extravagance as the other end of this street is where we are heading. At the bottom of Nathan Street is the famous Jade and Temple Street markets. Not sure how much of the Jade is real here but it is interesting walking around. This ram shackled looking indoor market is jam packed with jade stalls. Keith buys me a light green jade bangle and himself a necklace.

We also venture around Hong Kong Island on the old tram system, $2.40 no matter how far you go.

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Hong Kong is famous for one more thing the world's biggest sound and light show. So before leaving we headed down to the avenue of stars to watch this spectacle. The Avenue of Stars is the Asia version of Hollywood Stars, we did manage to find Bruce Lee! We got here early to get seats and whilst waiting try the snack food of shredded squid. It's okay but can't eat all of it, as it is quiet dry. Then the show starts, the whole city seems to be involved, with each building trying to out do each other. Lasers, lights and dramatic music, it is well worth going to see.

Bye to Hong Kong and hello Sydney via Qantas Business class. Actually Qantas Business class on this route is not great [KB - It's an old A330 and I'm not sure which is older - the cabin crew or the aircraft!]. The seat layout is pretty poor as you must climb over your neighbour if they have the seat down. As the start of the flight sees the first few minutes of my birthday, Keith gets the crew to sing me happy birthday with sticky toffee pudding as cake! I get some Qantas pyjamas, flatten the seat- back and have a good sleep, looking forward to a second birthday when we land!

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Posted by StaceyandKeith 00:51 Comments (1)

Cambodia and Vietnam - part 2

A whirl wind tour

We travelled to Hue by bus and arrived in time for a quick walk around Hue, it is very quiet here. The pace is very slow.

Tonight we frequented the locals and backpackers haunt of Brown Eyes Bar. This bar in the sleepy town of Hue, is a great place to dance the night away. It has a large cocktail menu and offers a free drink and snack on arrival. They also encourage people to play Jenga and pool, both big crazes in Vietnam - the staff even join in to! [KB - I got very drunk in the buckets of Mojito I was supposed to be sharing with the wife. It transpires she wasn't taking anywhere near her share. It's ok, though we got on famously with an Aussie couple our age and they reciprocated. I get the feeling the women were scheming]

This morning we were going on a Dragon boat ride, I'm quiet excited. However, when I see the boat, it's not the wooden Dragon boat I was expecting but rather a motored houseboat with two metal dragons stuck on the front [KB - I didn't really care, my drinking buddy and I sat at the front feeling sorry for ourselves!]. Off we go down the Perfume River toward the Thien Mu Pagoda. Built in 1601 between the Perfume River and a pine forest, the Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the oldest and prettiest buildings in Vietnam. Among the many interesting artefacts housed at the complex is the car that took the monk Thich Quang Duc to his self-immolation (burning) in 1963 Saigon. Inside the Pagoda are lots of people with offerings to the spirits and lots of monks, who are visiting. Monks with shaved heads including women have devoted everything to the religion.

Next stop the UNSECO site of the Hue Imperial Citadel, the citadel is surrounded by 2km of walls and moats for protection. A giant Vietnam flag guards the area. Inside the citadel is the Imperial City, with a perimeter of almost 2.5 km. Inside the Imperial City was the imperial enclosure called the Purple Forbidden City in Vietnamese. The enclosure was reserved for the Nguyễn imperial family. The complex is big but you have to use your imagination as some of the buildings are ruins - a product of old age, looting and the Vietnam War.

For a late lunch we had a local dish of hotpot. It is a beef and vegetable soup served with noodles. It is great considering lots if people went in search of Pho 24 (a fast food Pho restaurant) and ended up with something not very good. Then the rain starts, Hue is a wet city in Vietnam. It is like a monsoon but it is not rainy season at the minute - I think our curse has struck again. Everyone stays inside as huge muddy puddles have formed outside. Good job we have visited a lot of the city already.

We fly to Hanoi otherwise it would be another mammoth train journey. It is not raining in Hanoi but the slow pace of life has definitely been left behind. This city is buzzing, alive with people and motorbikes crammed into any space not occupied by tube houses or shops. The only place to relax is Hoem Kiem Lake - lucky as this is where the world famous water puppet troupe perform. We managed to get tickets to see the afternoon water puppet show, it is Vietnamese Punch and Judy in water. The scenes are played out with a band and singers depicting life in Vietnam, catching fish and dancing. The puppets are beautifully carved from teak and the puppeteers have mastered moving them in life like manner whilst standing waist deep in water behind a screen. The colourful fish puppets were my favourite and the squirted water out their mouths. [KB - I fell asleep, read into that what you want!].

The water puppet show is next to the Old Quarter. Originally the street names in the Old Quarter reflected what was sold on that street like cloth or fish. We encounter hair accessories, decorations and clothing streets. The Old Quarter has beautiful tube houses, they are thin structures made from wood but rising many levels. Heading back we find a bar overlooking a manic road intersection and watch the magically orchestrated traffic flow. There are no rules but the traffic flows pretty well. At this intersection there are also helium ballon sellers, they have vast quantities of character helium balloons. Every so often someone turns up of a scooter, buys and balloon and races away with it tied to the back of the scooter. If someone the other side of the road wants a balloon no problem the ballon sellers race through the manic traffic to reach them first. It is like the ultimate version of the game Chicken. [KB - Stacey went off to look round the market, whilst I sat with our new Aussie friends in a bar overlooking potential road carnage. We only saw one crash in about an hour!]. The road system seems to have no rules or regulation. The majority of users are on scooters, with a couple cars dotted around. Allegedly there is a test one must complete - ride your bike around a small figure of '8' without falling off! Crashes are a regular occurrence. As a pedestrian, all is needed is luck and bravery. The recognised method to crossing the road is not the safety of waiting for a gap - no, the method consists of you striding bravely across with out stopping! The flow of bikes seems to part around you. If you do loose your nerve and stop, this causes carnage as bikes swerve to avoid you - be brave, don't look and definitely don't stop! One way streets and pavements mean nothing to the motorists. Any route to get from A-B is fair game here!

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The Dinner tonight is a very local restaurant - Cha Ca La Vong, it actually looks like the family's front room. The menu is interesting - they only do one dish: fish with greens cooked on a gas stove on the table and served with noodles. The food is great, it is full of locals and has this authentic Vietnam feel. Only down side is the portion size is for the tiny Vietnamese people and not 5 hungry westerners.

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Last 2 days are spent at Ha Long bay, famous for its Limestone formations and Junk boats. There are thousands of Junk boats moving past giant Limestone formations, we will not be alone. The group has a private boat and we get a upper deck bedroom with a little balcony. It is great considering the rooms downstairs and it is like being in a hotel. We sail through the eerie Limestone formations to a cave complex. Basically you just follow the line of other tourists making their way through the caves. The guide points out several rocks formed by nature but looking like a turtle or buddha. Leaving the caves behind we head to the beach, they have banned tourists from swimming off the boats but have provided a beach area to swim in. The water is freezing but as a bonus there is a big hill to climb to warm up and watch the sunset. We trekked up the steps to the top to watch sunset over the Limestone formations.

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Back on the Junk dinner is served and the food is very, very good. Then the crew turn the lights off and parade around with pineapple lights singing happy birthday. We are very confused but then it is explained that it is the Junk's 3rd birthday. After dinner we visited the crew in the kitchen to thank them for such wonderful food. They are having dinner sat down on a rug in the kitchen. I get to try some pork belly with spices, it is really tasty - although the captain tries to tease us, joking it is dog meat. During the night a boat which as become untied crashed into us and you can see into the other boats cabins. [KB - surprisingly, Stacey forgot to mention that on the flat calm water she succumbed to her sea sickness - we had one poorly bunny for about 16hrs!]

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This morning we sail a different route back to harbour passed more Limestone formations and house boats. It is a beautiful place but eerie and full of tourists. The bus takes us back to Hanoi for a group farewell dinner at Koto. Koto is a project sponsored by Intrepid Travel, giving training and jobs in hospitality to young adults. We are having a set menu cooked and served by the trainees. It is an excellent experience and well worth visiting the restaurant if you happen to be in Hanoi.

Posted by StaceyandKeith 00:50 Comments (1)

Cambodia and Vietnam

An whirl wind tour


View The Adventure on StaceyandKeith's travel map.

Hello everyone and sorry I havent written for a while. We have been off exploring and enjoying it too much to write on the blog.

We flew to Bangkok with Jet Airways from New Delhi. Arriving in Bangkok, it's warm and sticky. Everyone else has already arrived for the tour so we have our own car to take us to the Vientgai Hotel. Bangkok seems quiet and organised compared to India. Car are not using their horns every second and drivers drive in the marked lanes. Not sure why I am surprised Bangkok seems fairly western, it caters for all types of tourist. The Vientgai Hotel is a great choice if you are a party animal or like neon lights and disco music whilst you try and sleep. The hotel is on Rambuttri road which runs parallel with the famous tourist haunt of Kao San Road. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and food stalls to pick from however Pen Thai was a recommendation and it's seconds from the hotel. It has seats and tables spilling out onto the street and a real buzz (KB: when she says seats, she means kiddies plastic furniture!). Locals occupy the majority of the seats, sipping cool beers and eating fried fish. We order food and then get the chance to sit back and absorb the surroundings. There are ladies trying to sell bangles, hats and general tat, a man selling fried scorpion and a guy with a giant collection of helium balloons. The street is crowded and a bar has an 'english' singer outside an Asian chap murdering western hits in broken English. It's fascinating to watch, locals crowded in by tourists all eager to taste yum Thai food, drink cheap beer and experience Thai night life. We are not that eager to experience Thai night life tonight as tomorrow we have a 6 hour drive across the border to Siem Reap.

The bus journey to Siem Reap in Cambodia is about 6 hours including stops at 'Happy Houses' - toilets to the uneducated. Just before we cross the border, we stop at a typical Thai service station. I try the South East Asia treat of Sticky Rice with black bean cooked in a bamboo cane. It is okay but a bit bland to eat the whole stick [KB - it was crap, it made tofu look interesting!].

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The border crossing is hot and sticky, we have to change vans and walk through the Immigration check points it takes about an hour.

We finally arrive in Siem Reap about 1600, we are staying in Hotel Freedom. Our pool view room is nice, clean and cool. In the evening our tour leader hails some tuk tuks (sorry, motor remork, tuk tuk is an banned term in Cambodia) to take us downtown for dinner and to the night markets. Siem Reap has huge night markets selling tourist tat, cheap clothes and electronics. The most interesting thing about the night market we visited were a group of blind men playing instruments. They were playing traditional Cambodia music and it sounded good. No doubt hard work for them to learn and play.

Siem Reap is on the outskirts of Angkor Archaeological site, famous for it's temples. First stop is the central Angkor Thom complex, here we see Bayon Temple, Royal Palace, Baphuon and the Terrace of Lions. The most striking thing about the temples are the carved faces, four on each side of a tower and lots of them all staring down with big happy faces. Apart from the faces there is some amazingly beautiful stone carvings shimming in the sunshine. The ancient people of Thom seemed to like very steep stairs, it is really hard work getting to the tops of the temples but the views are worth it. You can stand at the top looking down over the temple absorbing the architecture and see the carvings close up. This was only our first stop in Angkor park and we had already lost 2 people on the tour, they finally turned up an hour later in a tuk tuk [KB - they got absorbed with the temple and missed the collection time and point, delaying the whole group by an hour]

We had lunch in a small roadside cafe over looking Angkor Watt. Angkor Watt is without a doubt the most famous temple in the Angkor site, it is printed on the Cambodian bank notes. The cafe owners sister was selling acrylic paintings of local scenes and life. The paintings were excellent quality and only $25 for a large one. Keith spots a local scene painting, its beautiful and depicts life on a river. We get the painting and the lady packed it up in a small weaved case. After lunch on it was on to Angkor Watt temple. There are entrances on all cardinal points leading to the temple area. We enter from the least crowded direction which also happens to be tree lined - pretty good considering the mid afternoon sun. The path is dotted with entrance gates which host large colonies of bats in the roof. Looking up, Keith figured out what the 'liquid' dripping from the ceiling was and warned the rest of the group! Obviously bats go to the toilet whilst hanging upside down! The temple itself is one large spire surrounded by four smaller ones - when I say 'small' they are up to about 100ft tall. Tourists are welcome to explore all around the complex and look at the ornate carvings of various scenes and images. You can even brave a very, very steep flight of stairs to visit the main temple which contains many chambers and corridors, each housing various carvings and statues.

That evening we went to a traditional Cambodian dance show which included an all you can eat buffet with enough room to seat 1000 people. The dance show was not very interesting [KB - the food was pretty low quality 'all you can eat buffet, full of chubby westerners that would mill around like zombies wandering into people with plates piled high. The show was the traditional slow cambodian pace - it looked like kung fu in slow motion. Lesson learnt, don't go there again!].

We went and watched the sunrise at Angkor Watt, it was a very early and dark start. The tour guide expertly navigated us onto a ledge directly opposite the temple and we watched the sunrise with hundreds of other people. Surprisingly, flash photography does not illuminate the temple from a couple of kilometres away, despite the best efforts of most photographers.

After a spot of food we visited Banteay Seri Temple, widely considered the most beautiful temple in Angkor. A lot of the temple is destroyed but it does have gorgeous carved doorways.

Next we visited the temple that was in the tomb raider films, Ta Prohm. Lara Croft disappears down a hole next to a big tree, you can have your picture taken next to the tree. It appears like it is in the jungle but there is a road right up to it. Trees have destroyed this temple. You can have your picture taken next to huge tree roots with the tree tops sticking out of the top of the temple. Everything in Angkor is one dollar according to the child street hawkers. One of the guys on the tour gets caught out by this, one dollar Angkor guide book but its actually 8 dollars.

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Time to do something different tonight, so we signed up for a Cambodian cooking class at Tiger de Papier. It's a small family run restaurant in the centre of Siem Reap. We arrive at the class via tuk tuk, sorry motor remork, and are given the restaurant menu. We can pick a starter and a main course from it that we shall cook. So much to choose from. Keith picked Fresh Spring Rolls and Chicken Amok and I picked Fried Spring Rolls and Tom Yum Soup. Then it was off to the market for a wander and gawp. The market is compact and rammed full of produce. The sales people sit on the stall in the middle and wander around the produce to serve you. All the fresh ingredients we need are pointed out to us and we get some Mangosteen fruit to try later. Back to restaurant for some cooking. Someone has kindly put out chopping boards with the ingredients we need for each dish and a very sharp knife - we fear finger loss at some point. The chef sings out instructions and we follow along, chopping and pounding. Keith got yellow fingers from the fresh Turmeric. For dessert we are having a group Pumpkin Custard with Jack Fruit. The custard is whipped up and then cooked inside the scooped out Pumpkin. Whilst the dessert is steaming we are called in to cook our starters and mains in a giant hot wok. It was quite easy, spoon of this and pinch of that. Everything ended up cooked and being served at the same time. The food was yummy. The class was great fun and we got the recipes too.

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Leaving Siem Reap behind we headed via bus through little rural towns to the Cambodian capital Phomn Phen.

On the way we stop at Silk Farm for lunch. Here you can see how silk is extracted from the cocoon and then weaved into beautiful items such as scarfs. It is owned by an American and a local lady who shows us around in her silk pj's. A traditional Cambodia lunch is served and it is great. Then the table of silk scarfs comes out for sale, they are actually very cheap. I buy a blue and gold silk scarf and then head back inside to the weavers area. The lady who made my scarf stands up, thanks me and then let's me have my photo taken her.

Nearer to the capital we stop at Spider village! The locals in this village eat insect stir fries and fried spiders. Ever stall we look at there different bugs for sale. It is creepy! Our tour guide hangs a bag of spiders and grass in the bus and we leave for the capital.

At dinner the tour guide brings the spiders around so people can hold them. After a little touch I let it sit on my arm but then it starts crawling up. I did not like that, the spiders then get fried. Time to try the local treat of fried spider leg, Keith goes first and says it tastes like chicken but crunchy. Then I try it, I can not say it is my favourite treat, you can feel the hairy legs as you eat.

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Our tour guide was a child during the Khmer Rouge period and was sent from the town to the fields to collect dung for burning. The guide takes us firstly to S21, it's a collection of concrete two floor buildings where intellectuals and people who spoke out against the Khmer Rouge were tortured before been sent to the Killing Fields [KB - basically the hierarchy were so afraid of revolt, they captured, tortured then murdered anyone capable of stringing a sentence together. It's scary to think this has happened in our life times]. We see rooms with beds and chains and horrible pictures of dead people. Then we see the special picture chair, they took pictures of all the people captured, including children to document their work. The chair held them in a correct position. There are hundreds of photos displayed and they look so scared because they know what's going to happen. There are a few survivors (six) of S21, one was a painter. He has written a book and sits at S21 talking to people and signing books. It is a sad place. After visiting S21 we travel to the Killing Fields. This is where they found mass graves of people taken from S21. The mass graves are tiny for the number of bodies found. People have tied coloured bracelets to the fences around the graves. The bones found now sit in a glass stupa at the site, all arranged into an order. It's a memorial and a very strange modern art piece, spooky.

Right, off to Chau Dock in Vietnam via tourist speed boat. The boat is dark, cramped and hot and its a 2 hour journey to the border crossing. We get to the border point at Vietnam and are waved into a cafe. Not standing in line or passport checks, we just sit for 20 mins in the cafe and are then told we can carry on into Vietnam. We change $50 with a lady in the cafe and get back one million dong, thats right Keith married a millionaire! [KB - the boat was dark, cramped and hot if you stayed inside.....!].

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There is nothing to really say about Chau Dock, its a small village in the Mekong Delta and tourists only go there as a stopping point to Saigon [KB - I can say something else, it was smelly]

With nothing else to do we head to Sam Mountain for sunset. We arrive at the town where Sam Mountain is located and have to pay to visit the Mountain. We buy the tickets and head off but stop less than 20m down the road. Ticket check! Really. Finally we head up the mountain but we have to stop half way up, the bus is overheating. However the bus does have an amazing reversing horn which plays a song! We get off to find the bus has a hole in radiator, the driver is busy putting bottled water into it and it was coming straight out the bottom! We decide to walk the rest of the way, we did underestimate how steep the hill was, but made it up a fraction behind the struggling bus. Finally reaching the top, we find the hammock bar, it does as it says on the tin - a bar with hammocks. It is great, swinging side to side admiring the scenic view. Definitely need a hammock [KB - and a beer!].

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Saigon, capital of South Vietnam or also called Ho Chi Minh City. It is a large and fairly busy city but we feel safe walking round. We decide to visit the Rex Hotel roof top bar. The Rex hotel was famously where the US troops Officers' mess was based and where press releases where held during the war. It also has a giant light up crown on the roof. It is an excellent place for a cocktail whilst people/traffic watching - it is not cheap though.

The tour changes over in Saigon, so some people leave the tour and we get a new tour leader.

As we have a free day, we do a walking tour of the city. We visit the main sights, the Hotel De Ville, Opera house and small version of Notre Dame cathedral. Then we head for lunch at #19, this small seafood restaurant is where the journalists filed their reports during the war. The food is excellent.

On the way back we wandered through designer mall mingled with local handicraft shops and street sellers. The shops in this city are comparable to London, if not cleaner and bigger. We also see lots of locals sat on child sized, pre-school chairs on the streets drinking soft drinks to cool down - I suppose in the uk we'd call it al fresco.

Time to learn about the Vietnam war and visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. The 200 km of tunnels built outside Saigon by the Vietcon (the communist north) were used to survive living so close to the enemy and for attacks. We see the tiny entrances and have a go at fitting in [KB - one of us slips in, the other struggles with her lumpy jumper!]. The entrance's width is the same length as my foot.

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We tried the everyday food of tapioca root, its been boiled to make it soft and it is bland. We see the horrific traps the Vietcon used to maim and kill soldiers of the south. Then we went down an enlarged tunnel designed for tourists to see what it was like underground. The tunnel is still tiny, a little bit of crawling is required and it's hot. Leaving the tunnels behind we visited the War Remnants museum in Saigon. This museum shows how Vietnam views the Vietnam war. It has some military aircraft, tanks and weapons in the front courtyard and then inside there are the graphically depicted horrors of war [KB - including a US chinook I challenged Stacey to fix. She failed]. Pictures of people hurt by Agent Orange - a chemical used to defoliate the jungle, including US soldiers and their children. Not a place to go if you are sensitive. [KB - Stacey is very anti America until I point out the museum is very one sided (maybe correctly some may argue). She hasn't watched any Vietnam films, so when we get home we are having a Apocalypse Now, Platoon, MASH and Forrest Gump extravaganza!].

It's lunchtime and we are off to try the local dish - Pho (pronounced 'fur'). It's a broth with noodles and meat and surprisingly good depending on the restaurant! We visited Pho 2000 which is famous for entertaining Bill Clinton a few years back when he was the first US president to visit after the war. His picture adorns most walls and the food is very good.

Another overnight train to Hoi An, this train journey is 17 hours. Not just overnight but half the day as well. Luckily this train does have compartments with 4 beds, lockable door, air conditioning and western style toilets. It is a relative good nights sleep. [KB - it's a great journey, both in comfort and social. The feat itself is pretty cool considering there is only one rail track, 1m wide (not standard I'm told), put in by the French in the mid 20th century. The whole thing runs very well, considering!]

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In Hoi An we are staying on Cam Nam island which is about 5 mins walk from the town centre. Hoi An is a small town but it is very famous for its made-for-you trade. You can get everything made here, suits, handbags and shoes. After a short walk we picked 2 shops to have clothes and shoes made in. Sun Tailors is a family affair and they are really friendly. They have hundreds of catalogues to chose items and lots of different materials. They will even post back the stuff, great! Keith gets a suit, shirt and blazer and I get 2 dresses, blouse, trousers and a blazer made. From Kim Anh shoes I get a pair of comfortable sandals made and Keith has a pair of grey trainers. We have to go back tomorrow to try on everything.

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After having so much fun at our Cambodian cooking class we decide to do a Vietnamese one too. It is a different setup, we are cooking a set menu together. Everyone has their own part to play chopping and mashing. We learn tips about the temperature of the oil for frying things and how to cook in banana leaf. The lady running the class learnt english from karaoke songs and therefore recites lines from songs, she's very good and it is very funny. Everybody helped cook: spring rolls, chicken soup, banana leaf cooked tuna and aubergine in clay pot, yum.

During our time in Hoi An we got to know two locals who owned little shops opposite the hotel. At Mrs Tonk's we got drinks in her little street bar and our washing got done at Mrs Honk's. Great names, nice ladies.

Our tour leader took us on a morning cycle ride around Cam Nam island. It was very beautiful cycling down small fishing village lanes and through fields of rice. On the way back we visited the beach. It was a gorgeous white sand beach with lots of people out in little round fishing boats. Here we had a coconut drink straight from the coconut. The drink was massive and very sweet. No time for a dip unfortunately, but I know we'll return here one day!

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We had to cycle back quickly to Hoi An for clothes fittings. My stuff fitted great but Keith needed some alterations. We agree to come back later and they also invite us for family food of Cau Lau as they think Keith is very funny. On the way back, we have lunch in the Brothers Cafe in main Hoi An, this cafe has a great riverside garden which is beautifully landscaped it has a strong 'colonial' feel to it. There is also a wonderful water fountain. The food is good too.

Back at Sun Tailors we try Cau Lau - a broth with udon noodles, pork, wontons and fresh herbs. It is really good but hard to eat with chop sticks. The girls pack up the stuff to send home for us and they drop the top off at the hotel later - great service!

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Posted by StaceyandKeith 18.03.2013 00:27 Comments (3)

Varanasi - The Circle Of Life

The Monsoon Continues

rain 5 °C

Sunrise boat ride on Ganges was missing the sun but that aside, we had the chance to see the circle of life being completed, in what Hindus believe is a sacred place. On the banks of the River Ganges in Varanasi are a series of steps called Ghats. There are many Ghats leading to the river bank and each ghat has a temple. Where we start our boat ride is called Dasaswamedh Ghat and it is very busy. People returning from Kumbh Mela, Holy washing festival at Allahabad, are washing themselves in the Ganges with the locals. Some just dip a toe but others totally immerse themselves. It is cold for this time of year, I'm wearing a waterproof, they must be freezing. Lots of people are taking Ganges river water away with them to perform rituals at home. Many are wearing orange, a holy colour. The river bank is covered with rubbish [KB - it's full of everything you can imagine!] and it floats downstream giving masses of Siberian birds food. The boat takes us downstream past numerous ghats and pretty temples and then we reach the sacred cremation grounds. Here the circle of life is complete. Relatives and friends bring their dead loved ones to cremate them in auspicious circumstances. Cremating your loved one here is considered the best and holiest place. Huge piles of wood fill the narrow streets by the ghat and we can see the eternal flame burning. There are ash remains in the river just in front of the boat. It's strange seeing how they cremate people so publicly - what is the norm here seems alien to us.

After a breakfast stop we visit Barnasi University and and the University Temple. The University is organised into faculty hostel accommodation, faculty building and a large playing field. It is a huge University with 18000 students. The temple has one of the largest towers in India. Inside the temple people rush in a crazy manner to be blessed by various gods. There is a real buzz around the University. We grab a quick banana float drink from a local stand, local prices, only 60 rupees about 60p. The drink is delicious, with fresh bananas and sweet vanilla ice cream. We also visited the Mother India Temple, this is not just another temple. It houses a large marble carved map of India and surrounding countries. It is an impressive piece of Indian craftwork. The whole time we have been out it has been raining monsoon style. We brave the rain to try a local restaurant called Devanshi City. This is not a tourist multi country cuisine restaurant but a place where the locals are eating and drinking hot coffee whilst sheltering from the rain. The Devanshi Thali is excellent, it's made of 4 dishes served with jeera rice and naan. Yum, yum and best of all under 150 rupees, £1.50. I can highly recommend this place, it was a little piece of real India.

Sunset time, it has stopped raining and we take a rickshaw back down to the Ghats to watch the Aarti Ceremony. Then the rain and lightning returns at full strength, we were two very wet people watching the ceremony. It was interesting however seeing the young monks performing their daily rituals, including wafting fire around and chanting with bells [KB - the rain was so hard that two of the seven monks had their flames extinguished!]. Like two drowned rats we head back to the hotel but on the way we grab some treats from a snack stand. They are samosas and spicy fried meat balls and absolutely yummy - 20 rupees. Our rickshaw driver had patiently waited in the rain for us, then braved the deluge cycling us home - we gave him a very healthy tip. A great end to a day of seeing life like a local.

Bye

Stacey and Keith

Posted by StaceyandKeith 09:18 Archived in India Comments (1)

Agra Fort, mousey train journey and Buddha

Also on 14 Feb we visited Agra Fort, where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son for spending his inheritance. Then we spend an hour waiting for sunset on the river bank opposite the Taj Mahal. The sunset and the time spent in the beautiful moon park was wonderful but be warned the Taj Mahal does not change colour at sunset - well not this evening anyway!

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Visit a shop to buy a sandalwood necklace and leave with the necklace, orange pashmina, gorgeous blue and silver sari, blue Ganesh statue, wooden fan and a new Indian friend. I should state I only bought the necklace, pashmina and sari and at a very special Valentines price! Joking aside Unique Handicrafts Agra owned by Sanjeev and Geeta Gupta was a nice shop, owned by lovely people and they had nice chi tea.

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Tonight we are travelling to Varanasi via train, air conditioned tier 2 sleeper. Basically its seats that fold down into beds with four people in an area and probably 40 people per carriage. The toilet is, well not really a toilet but a hole onto the train tracks. Keith also encountered either a very heavy cockroach or a train mouse who climbed over him in the night [KB - I was just dropping off and felt something scurry across my back. Rolling over to see which native was trying to touch me up, I saw a little object scurry away across the floor, followed by a couple of his mates. That was me sleeping with my mouth closed!]. Icky - I am not a fan of rodents and slept on the top bunk happily till sun rise. Breakfast was roti and salted crisps.

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15 Feb Arrival Ancient and Holy city of Varanasi.

You not getting what you asked for and nobody tells you till you arrive!

Indian culture is very "yes, ma'am/sir" - they do not like to disappoint. We arrived in Varanasi and Keith noted the hotel had different details to our tour notes on email. After brief discussion at the hotel I believed we were staying in, we are taken to Hotel Pradeep. I am not impressed, the hotel had changed but nobody bothered to tell me, so I could approve the hotel. The Hotel Pradeep has more of a hostel feel, the rooms are not luxurious and our's over looks a busy road, honk-honk-honkity-honk.

Feeling annoyed we embark on a trip to Sarnath. The gardens and ruins are considered a palace of pilgrimage for people of the Buddhist faith because they believe that Lord Buddha gave his first sermon here. It's interesting to see the monks chanting in the elaborately decorated temple. Our tour guide is interesting, in that he displays the India male trait of only really addressing the male in the group. It's very annoying, questions through Keith then. [KB - worst part of him only talking to me is that everyone knows I glaze over after a few minutes anyway! Hope there's no exam at the end of this!]

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Back at the hotel we discover a nice roof garden. Unfortunately we have brought the rain from the UK and will mainly be inside this evening as it is monsoon conditions outdoors. From the bedroom window we see a wedding parade. A marching band is playing the parade music, there is a guy setting off giant fireworks and people with fluorescent light tubes on their hats dancing.

Stacey and Keith

Posted by StaceyandKeith 08:22 Comments (1)

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