Sparky Travels

July 31, 2009


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A pagoda

A pagoda

On the bus to Huế we stopped off a few times. We climbed one of the Marble Mountains where there are pagodas (I’m starting to get pagoda fatigue) and caves with Buddhist statues, swam in the South China Sea and ate at a grotty/overpriced restaurant which backs onto a beautiful beach.

Our hotel in Huế was pretty swanky but the city is pretty average. We went on a motorbike tour of the area which had lots of things to see. More pagodas, local market, a japanese covered bridge, museum of Vietnamese rural life and seeing how incense sticks are made. I’ve certainly done more and seen more on this trip than I would have on my own. Compared to the Cambodian leg, we have more peaks and troughs of activity allowing time to relax.

Huế is situated on the Perfume River and is famous for it’s Citadel. So, before our final overnight train we went for a walk round the Citadel. Unfortunately the pagoda fatigue had really taken hold by now and the experienced was rather lost on us. Given that most of it is only 150 years old and was bombed to hell by the americans I’m amazed that we managed to string it out to an hour and a half.

Our overnight train to Hanoi got off to a fun start when me and the tour leader realised we were sharing our 4 bed cabin with a family of 4. So we tottered off to the girl’s cabin with a couple of beers and proceeded to play the small number of card games we could remember.  I got back to my cabin to find the 4 year old son sleeping in my bed. His mum soon turfed him out and I managed to get a couple of hours of broken sleep.

July 28, 2009

Hoi An

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Assembly Hall

Assembly Hall

Hoi An
After a relatively comfortable overnight train that arrived in Danang at a ludicrous 4:45am we got a minibus to Hoi An for 3 nights in one place. Luxury. Our hotel had awesome wifi and a private pool which both were put to good use. We had quite a lot of free time in this small historic city which was recognised as world heritage site by Unesco in 1999. Hoi An is famous for its tailors and I took advantage of on Monday by getting a couple of suits (one with waistcoat), a couple of shirts and a pair of shoes made. The total cost of $250 and 24hr turnaround combined with the excellent workmanship made me consider ordering many more but sense prevailed and I managed to stop myself there. I endeded up with so much stuff that I had to get it sent home by sea. Parting with my first tailored clothes was difficult after dressing in shorts and tshirts for the last 3 weeks but its good to have a lighter bag and I’ll be glad when they arrive back in Edinburgh in 3 months time. Hoi An apparently has a lovely beach but I failed to make it once. The old town is really beautiful and I spent most of my time strolling about visiting temples, museums, assembly halls, restaurants and bars.

catalogue pose

catalogue pose

The food on the trip just keeps on getting better and the food in Hoi An was generally exceptional. “White Rose” dumplings, squid stuffed with pork and shrimp hotpot were the pick of the bunch though. We had another cookery class which was slightly disappointing compared to the Cambodian one but I can now make ‘Hot and Sour Chicken Soup’, ‘Fish in Banana Leaves’ (don’t ask me where I’m going to get fresh banana leaves in Britain) and an impressive looking salad.
Hoi An has been my favourite place so far and I’m tempted to return when I have a few free days at the end of my trip.

July 25, 2009

Nha Trang

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Finally we got some days by the beach. Nha Trang is a popular resort town based round a bay that is - apparently - rated in the top 29 in the world. After arriving at the train station at some ungodly hour we had to wait for three hours till we could check in. Then it was off down to the beautiful sandy beach 500m away to sleep, swim, sunbathe and drink.


The next day we went off on a boat tour of the neighbouring islands. The aquarium on route was worth no more than the $1.50 entrance fee but the other activities, ably hosted by our Vietnamese ‘captain’ named FunkyMonkey were a pleasant surprise. It was like a mature 18-30’s excursion with snorkeling, karaoke, sunbathing and a floating bar. Much pity went out to the guy who lost his wedding ring in the sea on his 1st wedding anniversary. All this was followed by another overnight train, this time the destination was Hoi An.


July 23, 2009

Mekong Delta

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Yesterday was another homestay, which are always opportunities to catch a glimpse of real rural life and to catch malaria. This was an exceptionally busy day in the Mekong Delta so I’ll list the highlights:

  • Traditional boat to jungle restaurant
  • Went on a tour of the abundant fruit that grows in the area. [Including tasty,tasty longans which resemble lychees]
  • Visit to coconut sweet factory.[Unfortunately most of the sweets contained durian which means they taste foul]
  • Tour of a brick factory [ It had big kilns and resembled a miniature Stoke]
  • Learnt how to weave a bamboo mat. [It takes experts 4hrs, it would take me 4 weeks]
  • salt factory[they actually just clean dirty salt and sell it on]
  • Some extremely amateur local music from our host’s next door neighbours. [ Including an appalling version of Flower Of Scotland by yours truly]


After waking up with my feet covered in insect bites today we returned to HoChiMin city and then got an overnight train to Nha Trang.

July 21, 2009

Ho Chi Minh AKA Saigon

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Yesterday we spent most of the time travelling to Vietnam via public bus, ending up in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam. It is a more modern city than the Cambodian capital and  it was nice to have pavements to walk on. They are certainly necessary since the number of mopeds and bikes is astounding. They buzz along the street like drunken bees and the only way to cross the road is to put your head down and walk.  We took a trip to the War Remnants Museum which was a pretty decent bit of propaganda on the attrocities commited by the U.S and the South Vietnamese ‘Puppet’ Government during the Vietnam War. It showed the crazy amount of firepower and ordanance that the U.S dropped on Vietnam and the effects of Agent Orange and other biological weapons. It was also  good to put some of the most famous pictures from that time into context and to see more information on the infamous My Lai massacre.

Since it was the last day of our group we went out and got blotto in a number of backpacker bars. We ended up in a club called  ‘Apocalypse Now’ which you’d think this would be slightly offensive to the Vietnamese but it seems not.

Today was a slow starter for obvious reasons and all we did of note was to go to the Reunification Palace ( aka Independence Palace ). Originally an ornate 19th Century french palace, it was rebuilt by the South Vietnamese in the 1960’s to resemble a middle of the road Marriot Hotel.

Tonight we met our new group. I’d heard that there would only be seven of us on this part of the trip but then two of the boys we were traveling with had to pull out due to spending all their money on booze. That left me and 4 girls! Somehow I feel that given the choice between (for example) bear hunting and shopping, I’ll lose the vote. hmm. On the plus side, our guide is a local (and male) which is always better than some westerner trying to guide us round with their pidgin-vietnamese.

July 19, 2009

Phnom Penh

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We escaped the rain of Sihanoukville to travel via public buses (yes, more karaoke) to the capital city Phnom Penh. We’d briefly travelled through the city a few days earlier on our way to between destinations, but this was a chance to really get out and explore. The first stop was lunch at a restaurant run by a charity that homes and gives vocational training to street kids. Then it was a trip to watch live televised kickboxing. As some of you know, I have vague plans (aren’t they all?!) to see a sport in as many countries as possible. This was a good start and some of the fights were pretty entertaining, if somewhat amateur. Cocktails in the Foreign Correspondents Club began a messy night of drinking which wasn’t ideal considering the next morning was a trip to the killing fields and the infamous S21 prison. I have to admit that before this trip I didnt really know too much about the attrocities committed by the Pol Pot regime only 30 years ago but the sight of mass graves and torture rooms certainly hit home.

Killing Fields skulls

Killing Fields skulls

Yipee! For once my blog is fully up to date. Tonight is our final night in Cambodia and I’ll be sad to say ‘Li Haoy’ to a country with true beauty and a people that really inspire [Nick was right, that is spew inducing]. This is also the penultimate night of this leg of the trip so all but 5 of the group leave us in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It’ll be sad to say goodbye to some really nice people but I’m sure those that join us for the next couple of weeks will be good replacements.

Homestay & Sihanoukville

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On Tuesday we travelled via public and private bus to our homestay in the village of Chambok, deep in the mountains. The public bus had khmer karaoke blaring out all the way along, as is the norm, but somehow I managed to sleep right through it. Our home for the night was a traditional khmer house built on stilts to protect against flooding. The accomodation was basic but not uncomfortably so. We also had a wild tarantula guarding our room which was shared by 8 of us. The evening was spent having dinner, playing shuttlecock keepy-uppy with a hilarious old crone and, inevitably, more karaoke. Our hosts were very welcoming and it was interesting to get a glimpse of real rural life in Cambodia.

The next day was the first of three nights in Sihanoukville, a fledgling beach resort with beautiful white sand and bars all along the beach. Unfortunately our arrival coincided with the worst monsoon weather the area had seen for a decade. Four days of constant torrential rain took the shine off our stay and when I say ‘constant’ and ‘torrential’ I mean them to their greatest possible interpretation. The only thing left to do was to get blind drunk on beer,shots and buckets. It was a task I accomplished with traditional scottish aplomb (what a great word!). On one of the days I also managed to do something constructive when, instead of a trip to a waterfall, a few of us went on a 1 day khmer cookery course. We learned how to make pork spring rolls, banana-flower salad, fish amok and banana fritters and then stuffed our faces with them. It was really nice to learn something that I can use in the future and I hope to get to more classes as I travel.dscf0417-small1

July 15, 2009

Nothing to see here

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — admin @ 12:35 pm

No really. I’ll do a massive update when I’m somewhere where the internet isn’t so flaky and when I can put some interesting words together.
Just think of it as an exercise in patience.
Suffice to say that I’m in Sihanoukville beach resort and it’s pishing with rain.

July 14, 2009

Kompong Cham

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Last night (assuming I updated my blog every day) after dinner we went around the local market. The highlight of this was a trip to Doctor Fish. For $3 you stick your feet in a big fish tank and let the wee fishies nibble your toes clean. Only once we were sitting there trying to stifle yelps and giggles did we find out that one type of fish had teeth and the other had suckers. Our feet were cleaner and our laughing muscles well exercised, Thank you Dr Fish! ‘Today’ we went to Kampong Cham a small town on the banks of the Mekong river. The place is not the most exciting but the day was excellent. We hired bikes and jumped on the ferry to an island (Koh Paen) on the river. Once there we went for a ride to the school and spent an hour or so helping the kids with their English. Once we (and they) got over their shyness it was hustle and bustle with songs being sung and lots of colours, numbers and names being shouted out.  As rewarding an experience for us as it was for the kids.

Dinner was at a local Tuk-Tuk driver’s house. A traditional Khmer meal sitting on the floor followed by some interesting spider fun. There was the Spider Whisky ( made using 50 tarantulas so their venom adds to the potency), then the deep-fried  tarantula (I only had a leg but it was not too bad) followed by a real live (de-fanged) one for us to play with.



It seems that the spider-practise was needed since the next destination was a traditional rural homestay. But that, my friends, is another story…

July 12, 2009

Siem Reap

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Here I am sitting on a big comfy chair sipping a banana milkshake in Siem Reap, nursing a minor hangover. We went out for our first real night out last night to the ‘Angkor What? Bar’ where you won a tshirt if you bought two cocktail buckets. Needless to say, I’m wearing mine now. I could have gone to see a floating village but decided to stroll round Siem Reap instead. I’ll see another floating village later on in the trip so no big loss. Yesterday was temple day and the mercury hit 35 Celsius with no rain. The temples were magnificent but the number of tourists at Angkor Wat itself ruined (no pun intended) it a bit. The temples we visited later in the heat of the day were quieter and just as enjoyable.

In the evening we went for dinner at our local guide’s house. The food was delicious and the story of his life was captivating and shocking in equal measure. Its only 11 years since the end of the civil war and some of the stories really showed how short a time ago that was.

One day prior we spent the day travelling from Bangkok into Cambodia. It was made all the easier by the private bus and new road that has just been opened in Cambodia. It cut the trip time on that stretch from 8 bumpy hours to 4 smooth ones. Nice.

The Khmer people are very friendly and spend much of their time laughing which is amazing given the hardships they had to and still do endure.

p.s Thanks for the photo tips y’all, I’ll try and get them stored and added soon.dscf0264-small

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