Tag Archives: asia

Anti- Stress solution?

5 Jul

Because I’m not getting any younger and I probably should take more care of myself than I actually do, I booked myself in for a Thai massage last night after work. I am slowly creeping up to a birthday that ends in a nought (but aren’t we all?) so it might be time to take preventative action and make positive steps.

For those of you who regularly read my blog, you will know that I first tried Thai massage in Thailand earlier this year. As I had so many things to do, I ran out of time and had to have a quick upper body massage at the airport. Last night was the whole hog.

The thing that I like most about Thai massage is that you remain fully clothed. I’ve had other massages before and I really can’t stand the vulnerability of being half-naked in a darkened room with a stranger. When I arrived some comfortable clothes were laid out for me. The practitioner quickly realised I wasn’t going to fit into the aforementioned clothes and went to get me new ones. I’m pretty sure they were men’s trousers and they were massive on me. One more motivation to help me lose weight to add to the list. 

Thai people look small but then they are manipulating and stretching your body, they are surprisingly strong. I can only describe the feeling as being a bit like when a toddler or young child decides to walk over you instead of around you because they haven’t yet realised that when you put your full weight on someone it hurts. Elbows, legs and arms everywhere! At one point when she grabbed my neck to massage it, it reminded me of fighting with my brother as a kid and him grabbing my neck so I couldn’t fight back.


It’s probably not recommended to be reminiscing of childhood play fights while someone is treating to realign your body’s energy. On this part, I need more practice at this.

It is said that the massage should be leave the practitioner and the client energised after the massage. I certainly felt a lot better, even though I also felt I had just done 10 rounds with a Mini Mike Tyson. I was thinking how can the practitioner possibly feel energised after this really physical procedure? I think she probably felt great about beating up a person who is twice her size and getting paid for it.

In an age where our lives are dominated by stress, it is important to find methods of relaxing. It turns out that for me this could be someone standing on my back while pulling my arms up to the sky. 

Last few nights before home

1 May

After the Farewell dinner and drinks, I did not get up early on Thursday morning. I got up and transferred to my next hotel in the city, which happened to be the one where I had stayed for the first two nights in Bangkok. I hadn’t planned anything specifically for today because I knew after being on the road for so long I wanted to have time to relax and just do whatever I wanted. Also, from experience, the Farewell drinks on these sorts of trips never finish before midnight so I had already taken that into account.

I spend the day trying to stay cool and doing some shopping. One thing about the shopping centres in Thailand is that they are well air-conditioned and huge. The main shopping centre near to my hotel was Terminal 21 and each floor has a theme. The London themed floor even had a double decker bus parked on it!

The next day was an early start as I had booked to go on a trip to see the Bridge Over the River Kwai. This was a film that my dad had made us watch countless times when we were growing up so it one sense I felt obliged to go and see it. To get there we got into some motorised boats and were given life jackets that would have been useless in an emergency. The scenery en route was lovely and the river itself seemed relatively clean.


If I am brutally honest I was a bit disappointed. For some reason, I had it in my head that it would be a lot bigger than it actually was. The bridge was original but was reconstructed after the allied bombing shattered the bridge.

After the viewing of the bridge, we went to the museum which told the history of the Thailand-Burma railway and what the conditions were like for the POWs who were forced to build the bridge. Again, this was an eye-opener and part of history that I never learnt about in school. Something else to go on the history reading list when I get back home. The facility is also continuing research into the POWs who were detained and forced to build the railway and, if you have a relative who was a POW, you can receive all the details that you have about them for the cost of the print out.

There was also a cemetery to visit where more than 6,000 of the POWs who died are buried. The cemetery is impeccably maintained and even while we were there there were 6 gardeners tending to the lawns and flowers.

We drove for about 40 minutes and then took the Thailand State Railway from Nam Tok to Tha Kilen. The scenery was stunning along the way as we crossed over the Tham Kra Sae Bridge. It was interesting to travel through the countryside and see a bit how local people live. The carriage was nice but even in our “expensive” carriage for tourists who pay slightly more than the locals for nicer seats, it wasn’t so comfortable. The seats were wooden and across the train tracks you could feel every bump and divert along the way.


We transferred back to our hotels. This took longer than expected, partly because it was Friday evening. The Bnagkok traffic really is crazy. It seems that there are more rules in Thailand than in Cambodia or Vietnam but the vast quality of vehicles is mind blowing. It takes so long to get anywhere. The problem is that the public transport, like trains and metros, are not part of the infrastructure in certain parts of the city but as there is no alternative people have to sit in the traffic.

The next and penultimate day I had a bike tour of Old Town Bangkok. It seems crazy to be cycling round in Bangkok in the heat but this was why I had booked onto the morning tour. Luckily, the weather had cooled down a bit and it was a bit cloudy. It was still hot as we were cycling though. The tour was not quite what I expected but in a good way. We cycled along through back streets and residential streets. It reminded me a little bit of the opening credited of Naked Gun. I was disappointed that I didn’t have a Go-Pro because I am sure that it would be interesting to play it back and see the whole tour again. We did get some strange looks when we were cycling around.

I asked our guide why more of the locals didn’t cycle around the city. She explained that Thai people are a bit lazy and that it was dangerous! But not so dangerous that tourists can’t go around the city. I had already checked that the company had comprehensive insurance(!)

On the tour, we saw the hotel where Hangover 2 was filmed, tasted Roti – a sweetened version of the Indian dish, which is served with condensed milk and sugar and bananas, cycled through Chinatown and visited Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese temples. What I didn’t realise is that 60% of Thailand’s population is descended from Chinese and you can see this in the influences on food, religion and in the faces of the people (That sounds a bit racist but that is not how it is intended).

At the Buddhist temple, which was a temple dedicated to friendship and partners, the guide gave us a lotus flower and showed us how to fold it. I can’t remember if I mentioned but on the night Tuk-Tuk tour I previously did, they showed us how to fold the lotus flower but this was a different technique. Being the smart arse that I am I did two different folds on my flowers. We actually went into the temple and left the lotus flowers as an offering to Buddha. I’m not really sure how I felt about this as I’m not a Buddhist but I thought it was a nice touch anyway.

The last stop was to feed turtles at another temple. There were so any turtles it was unbelievable and the greedy things would come straight up to you and eat the lettuce leaves out of your hands. Some of them were big bullies and would literally push the other smaller turtles out of the way. All’s fair in true love and war.

All in all the tour was great: it exceeded my expectations and was a great last thing for me to do in Bangkok. In the afternoon, I wandered around some shopping centres and had a manicure and pedicure which I never do at home and was unbelievably cheap in comparison with what we pay here.

The next morning it was time to pack my bag and head to the airport. At the airport I had a Thai massage. It was more expensive that you could get for it in town but I had Bhat to use up! Thai massage is fully clothed and involves the therapist pressing on pressure points. I was seriously concerned I was being assaulted. It felt so awful and really hurt while she was going it. She was slapping me about and kneeing me in the back while pulling my arms until they cracked. I was convinced that I would have bruises all over me the next day. When she was finished it did actually feel ok and I felt a lot better. The price we pay for relaxation!

I arrived home in Switzerland to a lovely 18 degrees which was great because a few days earlier I had heard it had been snowing and I only had sandals to wear home. My trip had been a lot more than I had expected but I was sure that a night in my own bed was going to be like a dream come true…

Siem Reap

25 Apr

After exploring the capital it was time to head off to Siem Reap. Along the way we stopped at a food market where some of the food looked like it belonged on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – think deep-fried tarantula, cockroaches et al. Luckily I had had a big breakfast so I didn’t need to eat anything. Apparently Cambodians only eat these as a snack with a drink, a bit like a Cambodian tapas. Still probably best to give it a wide berth.


The next stop was a trip to a Silk factory. We learnt all about how the silk is made from the cocoons of the silkworms and how the thread is transformed and woven into silk scarves. It was an interesting story but as my home town is famous for silk it wasn’t anything that was new to me. Having said that it was interesting to see how it works in a completely different country with oodles of heat. They actually wet the silk to prevent it from breaking when weaving. I was also pleased but surprised to her that the women working there get 3 months paid maternity leave which is what women are entitled to in Switzerland!

The next stop was a floating village – a community that lives in boats and lives off the river. We even spotted a school. 

After a long time on the road it was finally time to arrive at the hotel. After food some of us headed to a local bar for drinks. At 1 Dollar for a beer I was not complaining. The bar staff were super friendly. We got caught up in a battle of Connect 4 with one of them. I knew when he offered to play us for drinks that he was Cambodias Grand Connect 4 Master. And he was! The four of us only managed to beat him once and that was with the help of another barman!

The next day we went to see the temples. The first on the agenda was Angkor Wat. This is one of the most famous temples in Cambodia and is on the national flag. Even at 8 in the morning the heat was oppressive and I was beginning to struggle already. The actual building is mind blowing. The intricacy of the carvings is incredible and the building is well preserved. But walking around in the heat was too much for me.

We left this temple to visit the Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom. We explored around and learnt a bit more about he place from our guide. Again, it is incredible to think that this temple was built so long ago with limited technology compared with what capacities technology offers to us today. 

Finally we visited Banteay Srey temple. This was the oldest of the temples we saw and was one of the more beautiful. 

After a rest in the evening we went to a Traditional Cambodian dance show. I won’t say it was like Strictly Come Dancing because it wasn’t but it was interesting to see this style of dance with is similar to Thai dancing. The costumes were colourful and dazzling and the stories behind the dances were, not always clear, but entertaining. 

The next day was an early start and I mean early! 4am to be precise. Today was the day that we would see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Despite the early morning, it didn’t disappoint and was worth skipping s couple of hours kip for. We also climbed to the top of one of the towers that he hadn’t done the day befor because it was too hot to wait in the queue in the heat of the sun. 


After this, and it was still only early now, we went to visit the temple made famous by Lars Croft and The Tomb Raider movie. This temple is a lot different to the other temples in style and also in condition. Large parts of the temple are structurally unsafe and major reconstruction work is underway. 

I went back to the hotel and slept and watched some tv before heading down to the pool for a swim. Imagine my surprise when I realised it was raining. It didn’t put me off, I still went out for a dip in the rain and it was really refreshing.

Later it was time to visit a street food market where we tried some exotic foods. Our guide was keen for us NOT to try the street food as Cambodian street food is not as fresh and clean as in Thailand or Vietnam. I was happy to take his advice.


I was sad to be leaving Siem Reap. I misch preferred it to Phnom Penh. The streets were cleaner and a lot wider than in Phnom Penh which means it didn’t feel as hot in Siem Reap. I still got bitten to death by insects though despite my jungle formula insect repellent…

Miss Saigon – Part 2: Exploring

19 Apr

On Tuesday it was an early start as I had a trip to the Mekong River Delta. The Mekong River Delta is called the Nine Dragons because there are 9 rivers that flow into the sea. To get to the Delta, it was a 2 hour bus ride, luckily with air-conditioning!

During the bus ride we stopped at the equivalent of a motorway service station and the guide told me that Vietnamese people don’t like to say toilet so they say they are going to the Happy Place, which is better than the American equivalent of bathroom.

At the Delta we took a boat and visited Coconut Island where the local economy is centred around coconuts. We visited a family who make charcoal from coconut shells. The shells are burnt for about 10 days and then taken out of the kilns to cool and are bagged and sold at local markets. 


We hopped back into the boat and visited another community who break open the coconuts and use the fibres to make door mats. They then sell on the coconut shells to other families who can turn the shells into charcoal. 

We then took a xe-lói which is a bit like a Tuk Tuk to see where they use the stalks of the coconuts to make brooms to use in the house. The women who make the brooms can produce 100 brooms a day. They get paid by how many brooms they produce each day so a lot of women are able to work when their children are at school and earn extra income.

We stopped for a short break at a local orchard and ate some of the seasonal fruit – pomelo, mango, banana and pineapple. Then we went kayaking on the River. I have kayaked a few times before but, even so, I was a bit sceptical about kayaking on this huge river where there was a lot of river traffic but also where the depth could be up to 10 metres. Still it was an enjoyable experience and not as nerve wrecking as I thought it would be. Apart from fish, there are no predators in the water (allegedly).

After that we got onto bicycles (it was beginning to be a bit like a triathlon or multi-event race) and headed to a local house for lunch by the river. 

The lunch was a traditional Vietnamese lunch including Snake head fish which is a member of the catfish family. I have never heard of this fish before but it was delicious. 

We took the bus back to the city after the trip and arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City just before 5. I had a beer in the bar and relaxed. It had been so hot during the day that I was feeling wiped out so I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing. After some tips from my guide about how to cross the road, I went for a walk around. Crossing the road here is an experience! I worked out that the best thing to do is to wait for a gap in traffic and walk across in a constant and steady space – the bikes will be able to judge the distance that way and end up not hitting you.

The next day I had a half day tour of Saigon which stopped first at the Notre Dame Catherdral and the Central Post Office. I had seen both of these buildings before on the Street Food tour but it was nice to learn a bit more about the buildings and to go inside. The cathedral was built during the time when Vietnam was a French colony and the Post Office was designed by the same man who built the Eiffel Tower.


I also visited the Reunification Palace and toured the Presidential rooms as well as the Bunker and the kitchens. The next stop was the War Renaments Museum which was an eye-opener. I wrote in an earlier post that I didn’t know much about the Vietnam war. In hindsight this was an understatement. The museum provides an excellent insight into the conflict and the aftermath which is still being felt in modern-day Vietnam.


The tour guide told me that his father had his leg blown off in 1986 by a stepping on a landmine while working on the family farm. His uncle saved his life and soon he was back working on the farm with a prosthetic leg. It’s easy to forget that this war was only 40 years ago; the first war that was documented in black and white photographs and later in colour film. There is a really good photography exhibition which documents what actually happened, including some very distressing images. 

Shortly after returned to the hotel and had a nice lunch of Vietnamese prawn pancakes  (basically a bit like a Yorkshire pudding with a prawn in the middle and some herbs). Delicious! I said this to the waiter and he looked at me a bit confused. A few minutes later his friend came up to me and asked what word I had said to him and asked me what it meant. I may have introduced the word Delicious to Southern Vietnam. You heard it here first!


I changed hotels in the afternoon to join up with the group that I will be travelling through Cambodia with. I am looking forward to having some company and visiting my third country in 5 days!

Current insect bite count: 14 😦

Happy Holidays!

13 Apr

When I booked this holiday in November, I think it was, it seemed like an age away. But it’s already here and I am ready for holiday. Big Time. I have been ready for a least a week. I really start to get excited and in the holiday mood when I collect the money that I have ordered from the bank and I start taking a look at the exotic looking notes. I genuinely have no idea if I have an average person’s annual wage with me or if it will all be gone in a few hours.

Everything is organised, planned and packed. Or at least I hope it is. People have been making me feel a bit anxious about travelling to Asia on my own. In the last 3 hours, two separate people have warned me about the Bangkok Hilton. I am not sure what this says about me if people are warning me not to deal drug while on holiday! Once I arrive and I get to the hotel, I will be feeling more confident and ready to enjoy myself.

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This trip (I have said this before and failed) I have packed as light as possible. I always start off with a list (something that my mum always used to do before our family holidays) of everything that I need and just before I finish packing I decide I must have forgotten something and end up throwing more stuff into my bag at random just so I don’t feel like I have forgotten something. I was very tempted to do this this morning. I have resisted temptation for a few reasons.

Experience tells me that being a light as possible while you are moving between countries (3 in 17 days in fact) has many advantages. I think that the day we travel from Vietnam to Cambodia we use public transport so the less I have, not just to carry, but also to keep an eye on the better.

Apart from one in-case-of-emergency lipstick, I have not got any make-up packed whatsoever. I don’t wear a lot of make-up anyway and I figure that when the weather is forecast to be 37 degree with 95% humidity, a layer of foundation is the last thing that I will need. After my children’s Factor 50 suncream has been applied, it is not really worth trying to get an even coverage with my MAC make-up.

I took so many T-shirts with me to South Africa last year that I came back with 5 clean ones in the bottom of my bag that I didn’t even realise I had brought with me. This trip was a bit tricky because it involved camping and we moved every day so I didn’t have the luxury of being able to get everything out of my bag to see what was clean and what wasn’t.

There is one thing that I have been agonizing over – my electric toothbrush. If I was stranded on a desert island my electric toothbrush would be my luxury item. But only if it had unlimited battery life or was solar-powered because there would be nowhere for you to plug it in would there? My teeth never seem clean when I use a manual toothbrush but taking it with me means I need to take more cables with me and it is one more thing to forget or lose in a hotel room.

Discipline is the name of  the game! I do still have the niggling feeling that I have forgotten something. If I have it’s nothing that I can buy when I am out there or nothing that I can’t go without….

…. just had to quickly check that I had packed my glasses. I have! Panic over. Phew!

All being well, I will try to keep up with the blog on my travels but it is a bit fiddly to write on the WordPress app with my sausage fingers.

In the meantime, have a great Easter, whether you celebrate it or not. I’m not sure that my chocolate egg is going to survive the Asian heat…