Tag Archives: south east asia

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…

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 😦