27 April 2015

South East Asia Part 1


My first trip to Asia involved a three week stint in Hong Kong, Vietnam and Cambodia. Not much time and not much money, but we did it!
When I first thought about this trip my mind conjured up visions of travelling through the rainforest and watching out for bomb remains from the Vietnam War. As you can tell my thoughts about south-east Asia were pretty naive, however as soon as my friend told me to Google Halong Bay my thoughts quickly changed. I didn't really have much involvement on planning the trip; rather I left that to my other friends to decide.

Hong Kong

The trip started in Hong Kong, with a few days to explore the city and see how my friend had been living for the past year. I've got to say I loved Hong Kong; it had the perfect mix of east meets west, and it is a great place to start off as a new backpacker. There was enough of the unknown to get me out of my comfort zone but enough of the ‘holiday’ feel, which made me feel like I was still on vacation. I won’t go into too much detail about Hong Kong as that can be left for a whole post by itself, but basically we stayed in a small hostel in the city and spent our time looking at the main sights of the Victoria PeakTsim Sha Tsui East Promenade, the 10,000 Buddha Monastery and a selection of night markets.


Vietnam - Hanoi 

Three days later, we caught our already booked flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. Our visas were already sorted before we left the UK, so remember to plan a month or so ahead. The flight to Vietnam took about 2-3 hours and we landed in scorching hot weather. Deet repellent spray and factor 50 thrown on, we got a taxi from the airport to our hostel in Hanoi which we came across in our travel books. My first thoughts about Vietnam were sandy, very rural and quite alien. The capital of Hanoi is full of hustle and bustle and different from any city I’d ever experienced up to this point. As we were a group of blonde, red head and brunette (and all pretty tall) westerners we got many stares, many pictures taken and many odd looks. We spent about three days in Hanoi looking at the main sites, eating in very nice restaurants every night and drinking cocktails at the main bars. To travel Vietnam on a Westerner budget is ridiculous. You can live like a King and wine and dine yourselves every night.


Halong Bay

The next part of our trip involved going to one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, Halong Bay. We booked our boat trip through a shop in Hanoi, which was easy to do and easy to come across. At first look, Halong Bay was even better than I first thought. Imagine pirate ships, a bit of an eerie feel to the air and hidden caves. If you go to Vietnam, this place is a must see, and a trip of a lifetime. Most of the boat trips are pretty similar, they tend just to vary on the boat facilities and meals, but the itinerary remains the same.



Sapa

After Halong Bay, we headed back to Hanoi to catch a train to Sapa. We booked a soft sleeper train which meant a little cabin with two reasonable sized bunkbeds. Sapa was a mix of countryside, waterfalls, local people and good food. We spent the day walking round the mountains of the rice paddy fields with a local woman. She showed us some great sights and a beautiful waterfall. The rest of the day was spent getting £3 massages (thirty minutes of heaven), and then bargaining at the markets and eating ridiculously cheap buffet lunches. However, after Sapa, Hell hit for a day. We were scammed on the bus back down to the train station, and then we had to experience an eight hour hard seater train back to Hanoi. Imagine a hard park bench but with no room. Then imagine an array of angry Vietnamese women shouting, and then top it off with a sweaty, clammy train journey with young Vietnamese boys thinking they’d hit the jackpot of hilarity, being able to stare at my friends and I for eight hours. Not to depress the story but this was a dire part of the trip. On a positive note it made the rest of the trip even better. Moral of the story, always book long train journeys at least a day in advance.



Ho Chi Minh 

Following on from the hell train, I refused to climb straight on a twenty hour hard seater train to Ho Chi Minh, which was our next destination of choice. However, my friend managed to find the way to a ‘sleeper bus’ terminal which sold ‘beds on a bus'. The cost was about £30 for a 36 hour bus ride. 36 hours may seem ridiculous but the beds on the bus were comfy, and there was plenty of air con. The bus stopped about every four hours for toilet breaks and buffet lunches which were included in the price of the bus ticket. The journey went very quickly and it allowed us to see the countryside and coast of Vietnam. We stayed at a cheap hotel named in our travel book and spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh looking at the main sites of Cu Chi Tunnels, markets and a few museums. We then booked what we were told a boat was to Cambodia, but after a six hour bus ride we hadn't crossed any water…. At the Cambodian border we paid $10 on arrival for our visa, which was easily done. We then ‘bused’ it the rest of the way to Phnom Penh for the remainder of our trip.


Cambodia - Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat was on the agenda which also links to the town Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is more famous for certain scenes in Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones. The complex is an array of old temples, lakes and Cambodian children selling you postcards. I highly recommend spending a day in Angkor Wat, and waking up early to catch the sunrise over the temples. Getting driven round the whole place by a local man on a tuk-tuk is really cheap and in the heat is really welcoming. Siem Reap is then most likely where you will stay, and in my opinion it’s a must. We stayed in a good hotel ($5 each), had cocktails ($1) and another thirty minute massage ($3) and then got driven around all day. Living like a king once again. However, Cambodia is stricken with child poverty. Having read about how the system works, instead of giving money to the children we often bought them drinks or gave them stuff from our hotel such as the toothbrushes etc. Money frequently goes to pimps and simply encourages the industry.


Phnom Penh

After Angkor Wat, a day or two was spent in Phnom Penh, which involved touring the Killing Fields of Choeung EkTuol Sleng Museum and a few other museums in relation to the Pol Pots regime. Not a fully delightful way to spend our last day but very interesting and important to see I feel. On a lighter and final note, try and search for the Happy Pizza restaurant. They ask if you want your pizza ‘happy’, and it sure affected my friend with tears/laughter/craziness about an hour later, if you get what I mean….

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