Tag Archives: vietnam

Off to the Cambodian Capital – Phnom Penh

22 Apr

It was already time to leave Vietnam and head to country number 3 of this trip – Cambodia. I am always a bit nervous about border crossings in developing countries and, after a bit of hopping on and off the bus, we made it through. In terms of transport, we were spoilt – fully air-conditioned and Wifi! Pure luxury!

The majority of the day was travelling in the bus and we arrived at our hotel at around 3. This was enough time to have a quick dip in the roof top pool. Refreshing is not the word. By now it was around 35 degrees and far too hot for my fair and pale skin!

Early afternoon we took a Tuk-Tuk for a city tour and visited a temple called Wat Phnom and the Independence Monument in the main square. It was then time for food, which is obviously the best time of the day. I tried some more of the local food which was nice but is, in general, not as good a quality as the Vietnamese food. Because of the heat and the long drive, it was an early night so that I could be ready for the next day.


The next day was tough because of the heat (it was about 34 degrees at 7.30 in the morning to give you an idea) and because of the subject matter. We learnt about the genocide in Cambodia and the brutal regime of Pol Pot which didn’t end until his death in 1998. Once again this is another period of history I know very little about and I will be looking into on my return home.

In the morning we went to the Killing Fields. This is the place where people would be executed. In total there are 129 mass graves, some of which contain women and children. What were people executed for? Basically anything. The people of Cambodia were so hungry but stealing food or picking fruit from a tree would mean that they were sentenced to death. 86 of the graves have now been excavated and there is a fitting memorial to the victims. You can even leave a flower and incense in memory of the victims. I have said before about my visit to Dachau, outside Munich, the places where these atrocities occur are usually transformed into a peaceful tribute to the victims.

After this visit, we went to S-21 which is where people would be brought to confess their crimes before being sent to the Killing Fields. Some of the details were horrendous. The guide told us that her aunt disappeared one day and no one knows what happened to her. Presumably she is in one of the graves at the Killing Fields. 

After an emotional morning and feeling drained from the heat, I had a nap at the hotel in the afternoon to recover. In the evening we went to see a kickboxing match. The match was televised live on Cambodia and because we were foreigners we had VIP seating right behind the Cambodian Minister of Sport.


The matches were really entertaining but it was a bit like watching a lesser known sport at the Olympics and not really knowing what was going on but enjoying it anyway. 

We saw a total of two knockouts. The atmosphere was electric: completely different to football or rugby but exhilarating. I would recommend watching a match if you have the opportunity. The matches had added spice as they were a Cambodian fighter versus a Thai fighter. Competitive stuff! 

After a few beers, food and 15 minutes of Fame on Cambodia TV, it was time to go back to the hotel to get ready for the next day’s adventure. 

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 😦

Miss Saigon – Part 1: Vietnamese Food

17 Apr

After swapping my Swiss Miss (via Thailand) for Miss Saigon, I was eager to get my teeth into something tasty. I’m not sure I could name one Vietnamese dish, apart from maybe a noodle soup.

At 6pm, only a few hours after I booked into the hotel, I was collected for a Street Food tour which also included a tour of the the most famous places at night. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting for the guide to turn up on a motorbike, pass me a helmet and tell me to get on the back!

I’ve never been on a motorbike before and from my limited experience so far I’m not convinced that Vietnam was the best place to start. Ho Chi Minh City has a population of 10 million people and a motorbike population of just of 5 million. If Holland rode motorbikes instead of pushbikes this is  exactly how the Netherlands would be like. It doesn’t seem that there are too many road rules. People go where they want to. Roundabouts are a logistical nightmare. You round a corner on a main road and in the middle of the road is a man in the road struggling to push a cartful of mangoes up the hill. Gulp!

Luckily my guide was a careful driver and didn’t drive too fast or wildly. At first, I was hanging on to the poor sod for dear life but I soon got used to it. He left me outside a shopping centre while he parked up the car in the multi-storey. It wasn’t long before 3 children came up to me. Instantly, I put my guard up: I wasn’t sure if this was a trick to somehow distract me while an amigo helped themself to my bag. In the background, I could see a woman smiling ear to ear and I realised these were her children. The children simply wanted to practice their English with me. They told me they learn English at school and they practice as much as they can with foreigners visiting the city. One of them asked me if I was sad because I was on holiday alone? I said, no, I was having a great time anyway.

My guide took me to enjoy broken rice and poor spare ribs in a small restaurant. Broken rice is very common in Southern Vietnam and the grain of the rice is actually very small. The food was tasty as was the apple and grapefruit juice. We wondered around the main plaza which was alive with people. There are water fountain displays and lots of people were out enjoying the weather because it was Sunday. In the middle of the plaza and in front of the government buildings is a statue of Ho Chi Minh who the city is named after. I had no idea that the city is named after a person and I’m not sure there are many cities in the world that can claim that. 


After we met with a friend of his, who is also a tour guide. I think she wanted to practice her English, which was fine with me. We set off on the bikes again and crossed the Saigon River. On the bridge we made a quick stop to collect some corn that is typical Vietnamese. It was warmed with chili, spices and onions. Next stop was a few minutes away and was where the action was happening. In the evening young people gather on the bank of the river and barbecue. We found a street seller and had some fish kebabs, sausages (a bit like a German wurst), deep fried eggs in batter and a Vietnamese-style lemonade that had passionfruit in it. After stuffing myself to bursting point (as usual), we drove home in the tunnel going under the River and was back at the hotel.

The next morning was an early start. I had a cooking class to go to! Because of the bad traffic I was left waiting in the hotel lobby for 40 minutes, but the tour company had phoned in advance to tell me they would be late.

After getting stuck in traffic and arriving even later, I arrived for the class. I was in a group with four other ladies (2 Swedes, 1 from Portugal and a British lady who has been living in South Africa for almost 30 years). To being with we went to collect our ingredients and learn more about them. All of the produce is grown or produced at the site, with the exception of sugar and oil which they buy from the local market. It was so interesting to pick my own lemongrass and see how it is grown. They also grown their own oyster mushrooms in a really unique way in rubber plant shavings and plastic bags. 

I also found out how peanuts are grown. Did you know they were grown underground? When you taste them before they are roasted (like we did) they taste like peas. Really! They do! That must be why we call them peanuts in English. Thinking about it some more in German the word is Erdnuss coming from Erd for earth and Nuss from nut, which is exactly how they are grown!

On to the cooking and I was so glad to hear that we were cooking 4 courses! The first was spring rolls with a homemade dipping sauce, which I have always wanted to have a go at but I was too nervous to give it a go. They are so easy to make and I will definitely be making them when we get home and no we didn’t make that rice paper! That would have been a step too far for this amateur chef! 

Next up was a papaya salad with fried beef with lemongrass and ginger! Delicious and more and so simple to make again! Luckily, the chili was mainly for decoration for this dish or I would have been suffering later. Next was a chicken and mushroom dish that was marinaded and cooked in a clay pot. Again deliciousness personified! It didn’t look as attractive as the other dishes but the smells and flavours were incredible. 

Dessert was a banana spring roll. I have never heard of this before and to say I was sceptical was an understatement. Served with coconut icecream (I’m not a huge fan of anything coconut), it was a dream and a perfect ending to a fantastic experience and meal. Throughout the day I had learnt a lot about marinades and sauces as well as ingredients and flavour combinations. 


Our chef for the day was Mi (pronounced Me) and she helped us to prepare the dishes and answer our questions. She was a great head chef and was knowledgeable and funny (even though she told me off for forgetting to put herbs in my second spring rolls). The whole operation is run by Chef Tan who has appeared in cookery programmes with Gordon Ramsey. He told us he has two restaurants in Melbourne as well as his cookery school. If you are in the area, I highly recommend this experience to anyone and everyone. The atmosphere and staff are excellent and, even though the  course is commercially designed, it loses none of its charm and authenticity.

After the cooking class, I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is a large network of connecting tunnels underground that the Vietnamese people used during the Vietnam war to evade capture from the Americans. It’s incredible that people lived underground with living rooms, workshops and medical quarters. It was also possible to go underground and see the size of the tunnels, which have actually been enlarged for tourist to see how life was like. The tunnels are narrow, dark and oppressively hot. I have no idea how much willpower these people must have needed to survive.


I don’t know very much about the Vietnam war but I will go home and read up about it. It’s a war on recent history that I never learnt about at school and is definitely a war that has shaped modern day Vietnam. History is important and it can helps us understand the world today.

Traffic jams stop me getting to the hotel in good time but enough time to relax by the pool with some very cheap beer before another long day tomorrow.

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…