Date of stay: November 2011
Where you stayed: Various hostels and backpackers
Tour or pre planned: Pre planned (self guided)
Arriving at Ho Chi Minh airport was not what I had imagined. I had expected a little airport that you walk off the plane on to the tarmac, but how I was wrong! I think that I had underestimated Vietnam as a whole, and was really surprised at how big it was.
I was staying at Kims Hotel, which I can highly recommend. I think the room was about $24USD a night, and was really nice, in a good location and I had an airport transfer.
As soon as I woke up I ran to the balcony to see what HCM had in store for me. Scooters. What seemed like millions and millions of scooters. Jaine and I set off to find some pho for breakfast, and made our way to the markets. The shopping didn't interest us too much, but we took a lot of photo's walking around the seafood and meat section of the markets. On walking to the markets, we got to experience crossing the road in HCM. Wow! I had read reviews that you just put your head down and walk. And that's pretty much what you do. The scooters swerve around you, but you have to keep an eye out for cars.
Jaine went and checked in to a backpackers down the road, and then we met back up and went to find a massage. The lady at Kim's had suggested a place in a hotel down the road, so off we set to indulge in the wonderful world of cheap massages. Warning bells should have started ringing when the sign outside the suggested hotel listed "Massage, Sauna, Jacuzzi". We walked very quickly out of the hotel after the lady informed that it was "man only massage". Very cautious for our next venue, we made sure that we found a "spa". Our luck was looking up as we weren't turned away from the spa, and we almost high-fived. That excitement soon disappeared as we were led in to the rooms and girls in little short red skirts walked in to the room. The massage didn't turn out to be dodgy, but the giggling from the next room and the expectation for a big tip told us we hadn't stumbled in to the most innocent of places.
Now it was time for a drink. We found a street between both of our hotels, and managed to follow the happy hours, people watching, sharing stories, and turning away street sellers. We then stumbled in to Le Pub, where we ended up meeting a Scottish couple, and joining a pub quiz team (with the most ridiculous questions ever, and went on for 4.5 hours). I bailed out after 2 and a half hours, but our team went on to win the pub quiz! I think everyone else had dropped out since it had gotten so late.
The next day we went to the Cu Chi tunnels, which had been recommended by my friend Erica. I had seen a photo of Erica while she was down in the tunnels, her face drained of colour and fear in her eyes. The tunnels were set up during the war, and the Vietnamese used the tunnels for protection, living and fighting. They went metres underground and went on for 75 miles. We walked around the site where there are examples of traps and weapons from the war, then we got to fire guns (was very rushed though), and then we hit the tunnels. Having never felt claustrophobic before, I didn't see why this would change now. I was about the 4th one to go in to the tunnels, and all started out fine. Then it started getting hotter and hotter and the tunnel got narrower. Here you are, crouched over in half with a 10cm gap each side of you in a tunnel 2 metres underground. All of a sudden we approached a bend, and the section of the tunnel I was in didn't have any light reaching it. That's when the photo of Erica flashed back in to my head, and I knew I wouldn't be looking much better now. Luckily there were exit's around every 20metres, and I was out of there at the sight of the next one.
That evening we had another meeting at Le Pub, with our new friends, and more drinks and stories followed. I was off to Cambodia the next day at 7am, so it was time to say farewell for now to Vietnam.
I had booked the bus to Phnom Penh through Kim's Hotel, it cost $10USD and was estimated to take around 6 hours. There are flights available, but I wanted to make the most of seeing the country side. Plus who could argue with $10?
I was picked up from the hotel around 7am and taken to the bus and given my assigned seat. There were a few other westerners on the bus, but not that many. Gladly I was sitting next to a local girl who spoke english, so she would inform me if we had to get off because we were at the border, or if we were stopping on one of the many food/toilet breaks they like to throw in.
The border crossing was no great hassle at all and the the bus driver took your passport and money for the Cambodian visa and filled in the forms required. Then you got your passport back once stamped. You really noticed the change once you crossed the border, Vietnam had been like a city the whole way to the border, hardly seeing any farm land, it was continuously shop after shop, and still hundreds of scooters. But once you crossed the border to Cambodia, there were a few random casino's at the border (that did not look very appealing at all) and lots of farm land. We made our first stop and having started out so early, I was starving. Hunger quickly took a back seat as I walked up to the food counter, and there were about half a dozen cooked dishes, with who knew what in them, and the person serving you probably wouldn't be able to tell you - even if they could speak english. I eventually settled on a pineapple. I didn't bother stocking up on water either. Walking in to check out the toilets made me realise I would rather die dehydrated than have to use the toilet. Always carry tissues and hand sanitizer with you in Asian countries!!!!! Even if you don't use toilets in rural Cambodia, you will definitely need these regardless of where you could be.
Driving on these buses can leave you at your wits end. You know when the driver is beeping his horn the situation is probably likely that you are passing another car/truck/bus or there’s an oncoming vehicle that is passing another car/truck/bus or that it’s only a 2 lane road. I just couldn't help myself, I would hear the tooting of the horn and look up. It was like I was torturing myself with seeing how close we got to hitting someone else. In saying that, if I am to do the same route again (which I am hoping is highly likely), I would take the bus all over again. So amazing driving along the country side, seeing all of the little houses up on stilts in the water. Rice paddies with all of the water buffalo, and even a ride on the barge across the river.
Phnom Penh was a lot bigger than what I had imagined, and arriving at the bus stop I waited for the hotel pick up who should have been waiting for me on arrival, this had already got me in a bad mood with the city. But I had made friends with a German couple and they were my saviours with the good old Lonely Planet. I had no idea where my guesthouse was! We got in to negotiations with a tuktuk driver and they dropped me off at my place before continuing on to their accommodation. They had mentioned that they had looked at staying at the same place, but had changed their mind to somewhere closer to town. I wish I had been that wise. I was staying at Sunday Guesthouse, which had been one of the top picks from the Lonely Planet. I wish I had read the reviews before staying there, as it made my time in Phnom Penh horrible. It was not close to anything, you had to take a tuktuk if you wanted to go into the main part. When I checked in there was no mention of the common areas and I only found out about them after reading reviews online. Deciding I'd had a big enough day, I booked my bus to Siem Reap for early the following morning, and called it a night.
I had just booked the bus through the guesthouse ($6USD to Siem Reap), and I wish that I had booked through one of the main bus companies. I was literally the only westerner on the bus, with men coming up within a metre of me at the bus stop and just staring at me. Being a girl, I cried quietly to myself for a few minutes, then told myself to harden up, put my headphones in and ignored everyone else. The bus ride was much the same as the previous day, around 6 hours and the driving was no different, with the same beautiful scenery.
The bus arrived in Siem Reap a couple of hours late, and worry levels went to the extreme, there were tuktuk drivers everywhere and I was thinking my hotel pickup guy wouldn't have waited around. Relief was massive as I saw a little sign with my name pop up. The last thing I wanted to do after spending 6-8 hours on the bus was haggle with a tuktuk driver.
Cruising through Siem Reap on the way to Rosy's Guesthouse, I already had a better feel about Cambodia. I organised going to Angkor Wat the following morning with the tuktuk driver (5am pick up) and upon arrival Rosy's felt a million times better with a bar and restaurant on the ground floor plus my room was a palace compared to the previous night and was only $4USD more.
Bags dumped in the room and I headed downstairs to the restaurant. Since I went on hunger strike on the bus, I tucked in to some Amok - the local curry and an Anchor (I always drink the local beers in the relevant country). Within an hour I had made friends and set off to Pub Street, which was a 10 minute walk down the river. Around Pub Street, there are other alley ways and streets with a range or restaurants and street food. We made our way down to Pub Street, which was packed. The street is closed off and people everywhere with restaurants and clubs pumping their music out onto the street. We ended up at one bar that was selling their drinks on the street and had a band outside, so it was literally a street party.
The following morning I slept in… waking up at 7.30am I had clearly missed my arranged ride. I easily found another tuktuk driver and for $14USD we were on our way to the temples. Arriving in to Angkor is surreal. People can spend days and days going to different areas of Angkor, I just wanted to check out the main spots. The rough tour I took was Ta Prohm (where Angelina shot Tomb Raider), Ta Keo, Terrace of Elephants, Bayon and Angkor Wat. The tombs are quite crowded and it's hard to get decent photos, but so amazing to be there. Angkor Wat is grand, with a massive moat going around the outside, but parts of it are being renovated and they have green scaffolding around parts of it, which ruins photos (November 2011). The temples and Siem Reap itself are so beautiful. I highly recommend going there. Females - wear a t-shirt and long pants though, you are not allowed in to some of the temples if you are dressed inappropriately (speaking from experience, but just gives me a reason to go back!).
After a long day in the heat walking around, I walked myself down to get some street food and visit the night markets. I picked up some beautiful Cambodian silk scarves and other nick-naks, had a foot massage and called it a night. Next day was another early wake up call to get the bus to Bangkok.
Phnom Penh was a let down on this occasion, but I want to go back there to get a different experience and stay at a better hotel. Siem Reap was my favourite place I visited, I could have stayed there forever.
After waiting at the guesthouse for over an hour and a half for the bus to Bangkok from Siem Reap ($12USD), I discovered that there was an Irish girl who was taking the same bus. Finally the bus arrived and it appeared that we were the last ones to be picked up and both of the buses seemed to be full. After a lot of back and forth between the 2 buses, the bus driver said "it's ok, we have plastic seat for you and it’s only an hour and half to border, then a new bus after that". So on we hoped carrying our little plastic seats and wedged them in the aisle. Not only did it take closer to 4 hours than the original hour and a half, but they decided to stop 3 times, so we would have to carry our seats off for people to get out, and then wait for everyone to file back on so we could carry our seats back down to our positions.
Finally reaching the border, after glaring at people sleeping in their seats for hours, it was time to drag my 24kgs of luggage between Cambodia and Thailand. The line on the Cambodian side was very hot and sweaty wait, standing out in the direct heat with no air con or fans. Then a 10 minute walk down to the Thailand border, at one point I was ready to just turn around and stay in Cambodia for the rest of my life. But the wait outside didn't take too long, but then there was about an hour wait inside and thank god they had air con.
We made our way to the vans that were to take us the rest of the way to Bangkok, and surprise surprise, we had another food stop. Giving in to my food strike on buses, I got some delicious pad thai. Only fitting to get some pad thai on first arrival to Thailand. Orlaith and I got bundled in to the front of another mini van and we were finally heading towards Bangkok, discovering on the way that we were both staying at NapPark Hostel.
I had originally thought that I wouldn't like Bangkok, but how wrong I was! We checked in to our backpackers (my first dorm room!) showered and met back up to get some dinner. More street food, this time from Khao San Road and we found a pub to eat it with some Singha's and buckets of Mojitos. Of course there had been flooding the previous week, with shops still having sandbags out the front of them, and with that, we decided we should sneak in to the closed off river to check it out. To much disappointment the river wasn't even breaching its banks and the only evidence of flooding was the fast flowing water. The hours flew by and before I knew it, it was way past my bedtime as I had a 10am transfer to the airport so I could get to Patong for some quality beach time.
After some luggage rearranging to meet the 20kgs check in limit, I was finally sitting at the airport gate on route to the beach. It was kind of awkward sitting at the airport not knowing where to look with numerous couples consisting of grey haired gentlemen with young thai girls. Hmmm..
Patong was great, relaxing on the beach, getting served beers (as well as being asked if you wanted to buy everything else possible) as you lay there in the sun. After contemplating whether to go to Ko Phi Phi for a day, I decided to save that for next time and just made the most of the beach and the street food.
All in all I loved my time in Asia and can’t wait to return, I made some great friends and saw some amazing sites, below are some photos from my adventure.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Overall rating destination: 5 out of 5