Home, sweet home!

After about 25 hours of travel and layovers, Matt and I arrived safely home.

The sky here in Wellington is so blue, really noticeable after our month in smog pollution and dusty haze.

Marlborough Sounds, during our flight into Wellington.

It was good to have a reminder of how lucky we are in New Zealand. The things I missed the most were being able to:

  • Flush toilet paper (SE Asia sewerage system can’t cope with paper)
  • Drink water straight from the tap
  • Brush my teeth with an electric toothbrush – they feel so much smoother now!

Our bottled water consumption over 6 days in Thailand. Fourteen 1.5L bottles and another few 500ml bottles. So. Much. Plastic. Many local families don’t have water filters in their home, so buy bottled water like we did.
To reduce our plastic use, we travelled with a portable water filter, but it broke about two weeks into our trip.

So, that’s all for this blog about our trip. We’ve treated this a bit like a diary, more for us to look back on than for anyone else to read! But if you have been following it, thanks for your interest, and we hope it’s been interesting to you as well.

Bangkok: By Boat

Yesterday, we visited some of Bangkok’s famous attractions via a boat along the Chao Phraya river.

We walked the periphery of the King’s Palace, but decided not to go in, because it cost about $25 NZD per person, and was packed full of tourists and annoying tour groups.

We also visited the Wat Pho and the Wat Arun. The Wat Pho also had a hefty cover charge of $10 NZD each so we again wandered around the outside. We’ve seen heaps of temples by now, and while they are all amazing, there’s not much new to see in them.

In the evening, we visited the Ratchaduk night market. After Chatachuk Market on our first day, this market seemed small and uninteresting… Except that I finally got to eat some insects! We tried the grasshoppers – they were really delicious and had a great texture. I couldn’t quite bring myself to order the silk worms, because they looked like giant maggots…

We start our long flight home this afternoon. There is a tropical storm due to hit southern Thailand this evening, and we are hoping that it won’t affect our travel. See you soon, NZ!

Bangkok: Back to Westernisation

Matt and I landed safely in Bangkok the night before last. Our first impressions are good, and it is a big contrast to Cambodia. The people here seem nicer and more happy to help you, the roads are cleaner and easier to walk, there is efficient and easy-to-navigate public transport (luxury!). All the benefits of being a richer country.

We spent yesterday exploring the Chatuchak weekend market. It is the largest market in Thailand, and covers a whopping 27 acres of land. It is divided up into 27 sections for different goods: books, clothing, handcrafts, etc. Despite the huge number of stalls, we didn’t see too much repetition. We explored maybe one-eighth of it, bought a few souvenirs, and tried some of the yummy foods on offer.

Chatuchak weekend market: It goes on like this for miles.
Coconut icecream with coconut flesh and roasted pumpkin from the market – so delicious.

We are staying in a very non-touristy part of town, and there are hardly any dinner options near our apartment. But there is a sushi place opposite us, so we went there last night, expecting something similar to what we get in NZ, but it was so much better than that. We think they might have messed up our order, but we got a big bowl of sashimi for less than $20 NZD – salmon, roe, octopus, squid, eel, other fish that we didn’t recognise… and it was soooo good. We feel like we should be eating Thai food here, but because Thailand is so influenced by other Asian cultures, it’s a good opportunity to experience other cuisines here too.

Tonight we are going to Bangkok’s waterfront to watch the New Year’s fireworks. We think we’ve found a spot that won’t be too crowded – fingers crossed!

Siem Reap: Templed-out

Matt and I have spent the last one and a half days exploring the Angkor Wat temples. The amount of work that went into them is mind-blowing, and they are quite amazing. Though they are getting a little bit samey now…

Yesterday, we went on a small guided tour with six other people and visited the ‘big three’: Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm (or the Tomb Raider Temple), and the pinnacle Angkor Wat. I was still quite unwell, so the first half of the day is a blur for me. Today, we re-visited some of the areas within Angkor Thom that we didn’t get to see yesterday.

Our photos here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/AQ3f4JwttvymvXoZA

Angkor Thom
Ta Prohm
Angkor Wat
Secret passage in the Terrace of the Leper King

Phnom Penh: Merry Christmas!

Cambodia is mostly Bhuddist, so there is little in the way of Christmas celebrations here.

Matt and I celebrated Christmas with gastro (unfortunately not short for gastronomy!) so we spent the whole day cooped up in our hotel room.

Today we are feeling a little bit better – although still not great. We fly to Siem Reap today at midday and are staying in bed until then.

Phnom Penh: The Khmer Rouge

Matt and I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum today, at the site of S-21, one of the secret prisons during the Khmer Rouge’s reign.

The Khmer Rouge was in power between 1975 to 1979. During that time, almost one-quarter of the Cambodian population were either murdered (‘perceived’ supporters of the enemy, scholars, non-Khmer ethnic groups), or died from starvation or fatigue, due to the Khmer Rouge’s strict regime and poor economic policies.

It was a very moving experience. We purchased the audio tour and walked through the exhibits with a Khmer person telling us (in English) the story of what happened. We spent about three hours there. It gave us a greater understanding of and respect for the Khmer people.

After that, we were lucky enough to do a tour with some locals – Matt’s colleague Thida (who grew up in Cambodia and moved to NZ 20 years ago) and D (a local). We visited Wat Phnom, a Bhuddist/Taoist temple where D gave us incense sticks and Thida told us to make a wish – although not fitting within my belief system, it felt timely after all that we’d heard in the morning…

We also visited a local restaurant where I tried a local delicacy of fertilised duck egg. It was tasty, if I didn’t think about or look at what I was consuming. It tasted a bit like chicken liver. You could see the feathers of the baby duck which put me off a bit. I didn’t manage to finish it.

We feel really lucky to have been able to spend that time with Thida and D and it was great to learn more from them about Khmer culture.

Phnom Penh: Hot…

Our first day in Cambodia has been good, but very hot. On the whole, it feels a bit cleaner and more ordered than Vietnam.

Mekong River waterfront in Phnom Penh.

Very few places here have air conditioning, including the museums. We visited the National Museum, which had a lot of sculpture and art from early Cambodia. We had lunch at the cafe there, and it was amazing – one of the best meals we have had on our trip. We tried the fish amok (a mild coconut curry) which is a traditional Khmer dish. It was really fresh and flavoursome, and arrived in a coconut, what a novelty! We also had a lime, lychee, and mint smoothie – delicious.

We then visited the Royal Palace, but by that point it was starting to get too hot to spend much time there. Photos of the inside are not allowed, but the outside gives you an idea of its grandeur:

It feels a lot hotter here than it did in Singapore and Ho Chi Minh, even though the temperatures are about the same. Singapore had lots of trees and Ho Chi Minh had lots of smog; Cambodia has neither, and the sun really beats down in the middle of the day. One of my pairs of trousers go really dark when they get wet, so I had a sweat-stained butt for the whole of our first day (I felt VERY self-concious, and bought some new trousers on the way back to our hotel). We’ve seen some locals in hoodies though! How they don’t get heatstroke, I don’t know…

There are lots of temples here and many Bhuddist monks walking around in their beautiful saffron robes. They leave their clean ones drying on the balconies of the temples, which is quite a cool sight.

The old and the new: Bhuddist temple against a backdrop of high-rise apartments.

Ho Chi Minh: Our last day

Matt and I visited the Saigon Zoo in the morning before our flight to Cambodia.
The zoo was amazing and allowed us to get up close to the animals.

But, for nearly all of the animals, the cages were small, mostly concrete (no grass) and had very few ‘fun’ things for them to do. The lions are a good example:

At the zoo, I also had a fun conversation with some young Vietnamese school kids who spoke pretty good English, and could understand my Kiwi accent. One of them was born in Canada, and I asked her if one of her parents was Canadian, but she didn’t understand what I was asking, so I rephrased to ‘Why were you born in Canada?’ She explained that her mum went over to Canada, then she giggled and gave me (I think) the Vietnamese word for sex. It was quite funny, and it was nice to be able to talk to a ‘local’.

Nervous travelers that we are, we arrived super-early for our flight to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. As Matt mentioned, our flight went without a hitch. We’ll post here soon about our first impressions of Cambodia.

Dalat: Cable cars and waterfalls

Today we took the cable car down to the Truc Lam pagoda. Unfortunately, we forgot that Vietnamese working hours tend to include a break between 11.30am and 1.30pm. We arrived at the top of the cable car at 11am, which meant that there was no time to explore the pagoda. We’ve visited a lot of pagodas here though, so we’re not too disappointed.

After our cable car ride, we walked the 4.5km down to the Datlana waterfall. (The Vietnamese don’t seem to ever walk anywhere; they either drive or scooter, so we must have looked nuts to them!) The waterfall is beautiful – not as polluted as the other waterways in Dalat – and well worth the trip.

For a late lunch, we visited the Super-C shopping mall – our first shopping mall in Vietnam. We were relieved to find a massive supermarket (more like K-Mart merged with a supermarket) to pick up some snacks. There don’t seem to be supermarkets in Vietnam, but there are lots of convenience stores. Prices at these convenience stores are rarely listed, so you have to ask the staff how much an item is, which can be challenging with our limited Vietnamese and their limited English!

The cafe above the Super-C shopping mall.

Tomorrow, we fly to Ho Chi Minh, where we will stay for two nights, before we leave for Phnom Penh in Cambodia. As you can probably tell by the change of tone in our posts, the novelty of Vietnam has worn off a bit now. A lot of people are friendly, but a lot of people aren’t. It’s totally understandable – there is a lot of recent history between Vietnam and the West – but it makes the trip less enjoyable. We’re looking forward to a change of culture in Cambodia.

Da Lat: The Wellington of Vietnam

Our bus trip from Nha Trang to Da Lat was awful. The road is really steep and twisty, and our driver threw us around the corners with reckless abandon, passed slower vehicles on blind corners, and pumped the brakes instead of slowing smoothly. I managed to hold my stomach contents until the last 15 minutes. We’ve decided not to spend more than two hours on a bus for the rest of our travel.

Da Lat, though, is beautiful. It is hilly, lush, and green. Instead of rice, it produces wine and strawberries (although it seems NZ strawbs are superior, as we have seen signs for them!). The temperature here is a comfortable 25 degrees. And, only two weeks into our trip, and we finally have some sunshine!

Da Lat also feels a little bit less ‘scammy’, as it is more of a holiday destination for Vietnamese than for foreign tourists. There are very few touts, and we feel like we can trust the people here a little bit more.

Today, we visited the ‘Crazy House’, a series of ‘houses’ with very unconventional architecture. It was pretty amazing! It still functions as a hotel, although I don’t think you would want to try to find your room at night after a couple of drinks…

For lunch, we had obviously found a place that was infrequently visited by Westerners… The locals stared at us while we were eating. The owner came out and sat with us for a while. He asked Matt how much Matt’s shoes and sunglasses cost. He then picked up Matt’s sunglasses from the table and tried them on, then asked if he could buy them! Usually it is the other way around. It was an uncomfortable but not negative experience.

Later, we walked around the lake to the flower gardens. They were good for photos but not really our thing, the pollution was noticeable and they weren’t as impressive as we had expected.

On the way home, we stopped by an icecream restuarant (aptly located on Pasteur St). I have been craving icecream since we left New Zealand! I had a delicious but unusual green tea and red bean sundae. Da Lat seems to be full of icecream stores and we might have to try another one tomorrow.