Sigh, this is a little daunting to write because I’ve waited so long to write this and now it’s really freak’n hot here in Phnom Penh. Anywhoo, here goes, I’ll try and keep it a little briefer and more succinct in an attempt to relieve the boredom of anyone reading this and also to suppress my illusions that I’m such a creative and humorous writer that the New York Times themselves should be printing my blogs.
Entering Vietnam we weren’t sure what we would be in for, as literally all reports we had heard from travellers we had met along the way indicated that Vietnam was a place full of awful people who are just out to rip you off, steal your stuff and do much worse! Some described it as a hell they couldn’t wait to get out of. Fortunately not a single one of these reports were true, at least for our stay anyway. It’s true the Vietnamese are more forth coming and self assured, which may be interpreted as aggressive, however if you talk to them, you will find they’re some of the nicest people on the planet. I think people perhaps experience problems when saving money becomes the most important thing as most of the Vietnamese people we met don’t bargain much or appreciate it much either. Once you learn this, everything is cool, and as long as you keep a smile on your face you’ll receive a smile back at you.
Our time in Vietnam was spent in a few places; Dien Bien Phu, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoian and Ho Chi Minh city and in writing that I just noticed that everywhere we stayed except for Dien Bien Phu started with H.. isn’t that interesting.
I’ll skip Dien Bien Phu because it was crap, Hanoi on the other hand was magnificent. Definitely our favourite city we visited in SE Asia. Considering just about every tree lined street is packed full of people sitting on the side of the road chowing down on some kind of tasty Vietnamese delicacy and washing it down with cheap Hanoi Beer, it is no surprise that Sheena and I spent many a day just walking around and of course eating! We have since realised that Vietnamese cuisine is incredibly under rated, and has some of the best street side food available in SE Asia… such a pleasant surprise. We ate a fair few dishes such as Hanoi’s signature dish Bun Cha (grilled pork served with vermicelli noodles with greens and bean sprouts), Banh Xeo (prawns, greens, and bean sprouts in a crispy fried crepe and wrapped with rice paper), Cha Ca (fried fish served with dill and other greens over vermicelli noodles, we ate along side a film crew making a doco about Cha Ca at our restaurant which is always a good sign!) and of course Bit Tet which is essentially Vietnamese steak and chips… just writing about these dishes makes me sad and makes my tummy rumble. In writing about these dishes I have essentially written about Hanoi!
The streets of Hanoi
Tasty Ban Xeo
Halong Bay was pretty but the weather was ordinary and Hue didn’t live up to expectations so I’ll just move on to Hoi An, a well preserved ancient town filled with old style buildings and tailors on mass.
The boats and cliffs of Halong Bay
Another photo of me jumping off something
So besides riding bikes through the old town we got ourselves a new wardrobe consisting of a few suits, shirts and dresses. I won’t say how much we spent as it will seem like a lot but in reality it was ridiculously cheap for tailor made clothing in high quality material… and we look hot in our new clothes! A highlight of Hoi An is their signature dish called Cau Lau… once again a very simple concoction of roasted pork served over dry noodles with chilli and herbs. Being us, we set out to find the best Cau Lau in town, and we think we did and for less than $1 a bowl, it is probably my favourite dish in all South East Asia!! Mmmm Cau Lau….
Sheena eating Cau Lau in the market
The streets of Hoi An
Our favourite Cau Lau restaurant
Our favourite Cau Lau!
Squid stuffed with minced pork
So Ho Chi Minh City was spent visiting the regular sights such as the Cu Chi Tunnels and the gruesome War Remants Museum which details in pictures the horrors of the Vietnam War (only from the Vietnamese side only of course, a common trait in all museums).
Roadside seafood market -
the garlic clams were cheap and awesome!
A lot of modern history was learned during our time in Vietnam especially in regards to the French occupation and the American invasion. Both incidences are quite perplexing and very regrettable. It’s a shame the Americans didn’t learn from the French and how they got their asses kicked in Dien Bien Phu, and it’s even more incredible the Khmer Rouge didn’t learn from every body else’s mistakes and attempting a Vietnamese invasion themselves. One thing we’ve certainly learned is don’t fuck with the Vietnamese! They will kill you, and they will kill you good… the east coast of Indochina is their land and they will rule it however they see fit, the Americans, the French, the Japanese and not even the Chinese will tell them any other way… they tried… and they all failed.
Our trip to Cambodia was primarily for visiting the ancient city of Angkor however we also wanted to check out the capital city Phnom Penh. The three days spent wondering around the temples of Angkor were fantastic and extremely hot. I won’t delve into specifics about Angkor as that would be boring, however I will say that the ancient city was far greater than any expectations that I previously had, truly phenomenal.
Phnom Penh is a fairly dusty city with a lot of poverty due to the countries horrific past that stems back way further than Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Having played the part of the rope in a game of tug of war between Vietnam and Thailand that lasted centuries, been carpet bombed by their “ally” the US during the Vietnam conflict, and undergoing a Mao like cultural revolution under the Khmer Rouge that resulted in the deaths of more than a million people during a 4 year period, it’s not surprising that Cambodia is faced with the problems of today. We saw the evidence of Cambodia’s torrid past at places such as S21 Prison where the Khmer Rouge interrogated and tortured their own citizens before taking them to Cheung Ek better known as the Killing Fields where men women and children were finished off and piled in mass graves. Problems such as an low skilled workforce due to the execution of the educated during the revolution and a grossly high percentage of amputees and disfigured people as a result of the thousands of land mines scattered all over the country by the US and the Khmer Rouge leave the impression that Cambodia (in Sheena’s words) doesn’t quite know where they are and what they want to be, unlike the Vietnamese whom appear to know exactly what they want and where they’re going (yes I know we have been in these countries for too short a period to create sweeping judgements on their inhabitants but we are opinionated people and there‘s nothing like a generalisation to create something interesting to say!). It doesn’t appear all bad for Cambodia though, the western world seems to have a fairly large presence in the country (perhaps out of guilt) with the agenda of helping the people rebuild the nation. This somewhat follows the trend of Cambodia’s fate being dictated by the actions of external forces.
The S21 Prison
And that’s the end of our trip in South East Asia and the end of this portion of the blog… I know I said I would make it more succinct, however as Sheena says I have written verbal diarrhoea and can’t help myself. Hope it wasn’t too tedious!
On to HONG KONG!
Sorry.. Haven’t blogged this yet and we are now in HK having also been to Macau… HK is like HK always is. We had a nice day eating Yum Cha with Spoon (not the utensil, Sheena’s friend from high school) and exploring HK Island a bit. We have also been to Macau where the highlight was eating Portuguese tarts and African Chicken and the lowlight was the casino (need I say more). I reckon the free drinks casinos supply are spiked with a splash of greed and served with a fresh slice of stupidity…
Now it’s on to BAHRAIN!