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Thirteen weeks

a travel blog by corinne_sarah

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And so it begins......................

London, United Kingdom

We, Corinne and Sarah, are about to embark on a thirteen week tour (hence the trip name!) of South East Asia, spanning across six different countries and visiting eleven different destinations.The farewell party was fantastical, thanks to all our friends and family for making it a great night. Our trip begins Monday the 22nd Jan '07, leaving Heathrow airport for the sunnier skies, hopefully, of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, though checking the weather forecast it looks as though we'll be flying through thunder storms, well we did want an adventure after all!

permalink written by  corinne_sarah on January 15, 2007 from London, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: Thirteen weeks
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Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

After a journey that lasted 26 hours and a whole day in bed we finally started to explore Ho Chi Minh City. We were, at first, a liitle scared after a crazy taxi ride from the airport to the Hotel where we unfortunatley witnessed a girl being knocked off her moped and our taxi only just missed her! Nobody seemed to take much notice though and she was straight back up with shopping bags and high heels intact!

The hotel is great and has a mini bar, cable TV and air-con, so much for roughing it!

The first thing the intrepid traveller must learn when in Ho CHi Minh, is how to cross the roads and still be alive when you get to the other side. We had begun to believe that we would spend our entire two weeks here just walking round the same block! However, when in Vietnam do as the Vietnamese do, take a deep breath and just go for it. Corinne is especially good at this, though I think she just closes her eyes! I, on the other hand just follow her and say " oh my god" alot.

Yesterday we had a brillant day. The day before we had been accosted by several people wanting us to see the city sights from the backs of their motor bikes, three words came to mind, NOT A CHANCE! So we gave in when a friendly rickshaw driver offered to take us. As agreed we met him yesterday at 11am and proceeded on our white knuckle ride around the city! You have no choice but to trust these guys and they are excellent at what they do, which is basically to ride out into the middle of very busy roads. (Again lots of eye-shutting is involved!) But we were soon loving it and Naam Proved to be a very good guide and took us to lots of interesting places. We visited two Pagodas in China Town which were extremely beautiful and very peaceful. Then we went off to the Reunifcation Palace Which is still used as a presidential building today. It was facinating and we took a guided tour round, which included the basement/bomb shelter used for war operations in the sixties and seventies. We were then taken to the War Remnants Museum which had many heart breaking pictures of atrocities carried out on Vietnamese people during the war, and the deadly effects of "Agent Orange" which was used as a herbicide to destroy acres of farmland but had horrific effects on the people which have also been passed on to their children. Naam and his partner then took us back to our hotel and we went out for a nice cold beer and scrumptious food (which cost about $3 each!).

Thats all for now folks! We'll catch up with you soon.

permalink written by  corinne_sarah on January 25, 2007 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Thirteen weeks
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Temples and Tunnels

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The day after the Rickshaw rollercoaster we decided to give ourselves a day off and went to the Statravel office to book a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, an underground network of tunnels which the Viet Cong used to sneak up on the US soldiers, and the Cao Dai Temple, which is the largest in Vietnam.
Yesterday, after another hearty breakfast at our hotel, we went to get our coach from round the corner at 8.15am. We did a couple more stops to pick other people up and then Minh, our tour guide introduced himself. He was a rather interesting character and he introduced us to his philosophy in life, which was basically that if the whole world smiled at each other that would solve all of the problems and there would be no more war and also that world leaders should sponsor a smiling school! We think he probably has his very own degree in smiling up on the wall at home!
So, after taking ages to get out of a very busy Ho Chi MInh, we were finally on our way. Although the way involved stopping at a "Handicapped Handicrafts" centre, which no one really wanted to do, but was actually quite good and the things these young people were producing were quite beautiful. Anyway, back on the road again and after a rather bumpy ride we eventually got to the temple. It was absolutley stunning, the colours were just gorgeous. We got there just in time for the noon ceremony which was fascinating to watch. There was a balcony where you could go to observe and the size and splendor af the place was incredible.
Once our 45 minutes was up it was back in the coach again headed to the "restaurant" for lunch. Now me being me and food always being a thing of interest, I was quite looking forward to this, however when we arrive we soon agreed that the word restaurant had been used in the loosest term possible, it was a tin shack on the side of a busy road! But the food was good, the toilets weren't and it was back on the road again headed for Cu Chi.

permalink written by  corinne_sarah on January 27, 2007 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Thirteen weeks
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Cu Chi Tunnels

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We eventually arrived at the Cu Chi tunnels and very gratefully got off the coach, one of our fellow tourists was a rather chatty American who we secretly named "Indi-ana Jones"! Details of his many exploits included fighting off an angry baracuda with just his bare feet, and saving a girl from certain shark attack whilst her useless husband looked on. So we found it rather amusing when this rather portly little fellow panicked when we arrived at Cu Chi. "We're in the jungle! Oh my god nobody said anything about the jungle! I've got a bad leg!" Hmm distinct lack of the Indi-ana style sense of adventure we'd all come to know so well on the coach!
We were all ushered on to the path through the jungle and started the tour by watching a DVD. This was about the brave Cu Chi guerillas who fought in trenches using hand made weapons and pretty mean looking traps to "kiw many amerwican Sowdiers", these people were awarded medals for "killing many american enemies". Next stop was to see the actuall tunnels themselves, which corinne bravely entered and I bravely held her bag for her! They were absolutely tiny and so dark, it is hard to imagine how these people coped. We also got to see original trenches and bomb craters. There was a chance to fire an MK-47 which us peace lovers declined and then we had tapioca (yuk) and green tea.
Then it was into the coach and homeward bound, where Indie regaled us with more outstandling tales of courage and how brilliant america is, oh and how big his boat was!

permalink written by  corinne_sarah on January 27, 2007 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Thirteen weeks
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Cruising on the Mekong Delta

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

It's been a lovely few days here in Vietnam. After the excitement of the Cu chi tunnels we decided to have a chillout day on Sunday and went for a walk around the city to see a few sights, we went to see the Post Office (doesn't sound exciting but was a very beautiful building), the big statue of Ho Chi Minh (he's a hero) and the Notredam Cathedral (very impressive). We, unfortunatley, have not had a day yet where we do not meet some sort of strange person and today was no exception as we got asked by a group of Japanese men if they could have their photos taken with us! It was a bit like being a celeb! The afternoon was great, we had met a British couple a few nights before who told us about this place called "Bobby Brewers" apparently all you need to do is buy a drink and you get to watch the latest films for free in an air conditioned cinema with comfy sofas! Well, we thought, this sounds like something that needs investigating! So off we went to see Apocalypto, the new Mel Gibson movie. All I can tell you is that the stories are all true and it's our new favourite place! We've seen three films so far and the best news yet is that you can have a bottle of red wine whilst you watch! Is this luxury?!
The next day dawned and it was a little sad for us as it was our last day in Yellow House Hotel, the people were lovely there and looked after us really well. We decided to go for a walk down to the harbour of the Siagon River which was nice, but we got accosted by a very persistant Cyclo driver who followed us everywhere, he just wouldn't take no for an answer, he kept trying to cross us over the roads and nearly got us killed several times! I seriously though Corinne was going to clout him at one stage! Then the cheeky monkey asked for a tip! "You give $1, no money, no lucky". Alright mate, no lucky now get lost! We eventually lost him by going down a road where cyclos are not allowed! Ha!
Then it was off to Bobby's again to catch the matinee! Phew, this travelling lark is hard work!
Tuesday, and it was time to move hotels, this was a bit scary as we just had no idea what the new one would be like. We weren't disapointed. It is gorgeous! The people are lovely.
That afternoon, feeling like we'd fallen on our feet yet again, we went for a walk to a park across town which was so pretty. It was so peaceful, which is rare in this city, a true oasis in the midst of all this chaos. It has lots of stunning water features and had a whole garden full of sculptures.
Yesterday was wicked! We booked a trip to the Mekong Delta. We started out at eight and got back at about six. What a day! We started off on a bus with the cutest little guide ever! He looked about ten but was actually 23! His name was Ngyuen, no, I don't know how to pronounce that either! Then we were at a harbour getting on a boat to Unicorn Island, sounds rather mystical doesn't it! There we visited a honey bee farm and had honey tea and sweet snack things like Lotus blossom, a peanut crackle thing and crystalized ginger. Corinne is very good at embracing these sorts of things, I am not, give me a cup of pg tips and a chocolate covered hobnob any day! At this point corinne held a thing full of bees and honey (you've sent me away with an adrenaline junkie!) and had a python round her neck, who was beautiful and his name was Gregory!
Then we proceeded on a walk through the jungle to a tropical fruit orchard, at one point our guide said "does anyone know where we are, because I don't" Oh that's reassuring!
Everybody was ushered to these tables laden with mint tea and tropical fruit, and we were informed that there is a special order in which to eat these, starting with pineapple dipped in chilli and salt, chuffing vile! Followed by bananas and other stuff i dont even know where to begin describing other than it's definatley an aquired taste! And yes you guessed, Miss George tucked in with great gusto! This cullinary delight was accompanied by traditonal music from the Islands top mucians, this can only be described as wailing, so the offer of a cd was politely declined!
After this we were off to one of the Mekong canals on a traditional row boat, this was really nice and only slightly terrifying, paddling along the shady waters wearing very becoming cone hats!
Off to the next Island to watch coconut candy being made, this was quite interesting actually and we got to try some which was nice. Then we had lunch and a stroll through some coconut fields. The mekong people are so friendly and love to talk to you, we were even invited in for a drink but had to say no, as we needed to get back to the meeting point. We got into a waiting speedboat for the trip back up the river for Ho Chi Minh City!
Which was great, we got to see loads of people on there boats going about their day to day business, they have very little and some of the boats are in poor shape but they are so happy, you begin to envy their simple life.

permalink written by  corinne_sarah on January 31, 2007 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Thirteen weeks
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Escape from the city!

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Hello again everyone! Firstly we would just like to thank all the people that have commented on our Blog, it's always lovely to get your messages. Keep 'em coming!
Well, after our Mekong Delta adventure we decided that we needed a well deserved rest, so Thursday was spent having a facial at one of Ho Chi Minh's many spas, sheer bliss! (Although there was a guy in the next cubical having a massage and it sounded like something from Snatch, lots of grunting and cracking bones!) Then we made our way back to the hotel via many places selling ice cold Tiger beer.
Ho Chi Minh was beginning to get a little noisy and hectic and we found ourselves yearning for a little peace and quiet and just being able to cross a road with everything still intact! So it was off to Sta Travel to book a trip to the beach, which we had anticipated being a whole day. It turns out there aren't any nice beaches that close, so we were forced to have a night away from the city at a idyllic resort in Mui Ne. Bed, breakfast and bus were all a very reasonable price, so it was with great excitement that we got up at 6am the following morning to get our bus. We had been told to be there for 7.40am so that we could all be on in time to head off for 8am. Now one thing we have learned about the Vietnamese is that they are not the most organised people in the world, so after alot of curfuffle we eventually got going an hour later than planned. The bus was to take four hours and drop us off safely at the canary resort. Oh if only! The journey in the "air-conditioned" bus (yeah right, more like being slowly roasted alive), ended up being over five hours. We eventually got to the travel agents office in Mui Ne and a man got on to give us instuctions on how to get to our hotel. It took me a full five mintues to realise he had stopped speaking Vietnamese and was now talking in English and I had absolutley no idea what was going on. I looked at Corinne, who always has a handle on these situations, the little man got off the bus looking rather pleased with himself and Corinne went off to get more details from him whilst I stood on the side of a hot dusty road being harassed by motorbike drivers who wanted us to get on the back of their bikes, no way! Corinne came back, none the wiser, and we decided to walk. Standing there, boiling hot and not having a clue where we were suddenly made Ho Chi MInh City seem like the best place in the world. So we began our hike, hoping we were headed in the right direction. When we westerners walk in the mid-day sun the locals have quite a giggle at our expense, they think we are absolute loonies (they have a point). So on this walk from hell, trudging along a busy road with no real footpath and being constantly accosted by motorcylists, we eventually gave in when asked for the 154th time if we would like a lift. Whilst negotiating a price and deciding what to do, a taxi pulled up. This knight and his air conditioned, not to mention far safer, steed seemed like the best option to us and we decided to get in with him. This started world war three. Oh dear! Now Vietnamese is a mystery at the best of times but irate Vietnamese is something else. The obnoxious motorcycle man was yelling at the taxi driver, obviously not impressed at having his tourists pinched. He had parked his bike so that we couldn't get in the cab and his friend kept grabbing my arm and saying "you no get in taxi". It takes alot to get me riled but now I was mad! We informed this motorcycle maniac that we were, infact, geting a taxi and shoved him out of the way! The taxi driver was so sweet and quite upset at being shouted at. He took us straight to the resort and charged us less than the bikes! We checked in and got our key to the cutest little bamboo bungalow, it had a mini bar, cable TV and two double beds! Wow! We changed in to our beach attire and managed the two minute walk to the beach before collapsing on sunbeds! It was everything we had imagined, sun, sea, sand and peace! We watched a beautiful sunset and then headed to the hotel restaurant for a delicious dinner. Then it was back to the bungalow to assemble mosquito nets and settle in for the night.
The next morning was much of the same with a lovely breakfast followed by reading on the beach and a swim in the sea! Perfect! It was a great little place, all the local people were fishing using traditional methods and a herd of cows even wandered passed. The time came to check out and it was with heavy hearts that we went to get the bus back to Siagon.
The next day, safely back to the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh, we went sightseeing again. This time we walked to the Jade pagoda, described by the lonely planet guide as being "the most colourful pagoda in Siagon". It wasn't. It wasn't jade either. We soon got over this disapointment when we went inside though and it turned out to be quite interesting. The best thing about yesterday was seeing all the preparations for Tet, or Chinese New Year. Everyone here goes mental for it and they have a three day national holiday. There are loads of decorations and light displays on a far grander scale than anything we're used to.
It's off to Cambodia tommorow and it is with mixed feelings that we'll be leaving Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. I wonder what adventures the next place has in store?

permalink written by  corinne_sarah on February 5, 2007 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Thirteen weeks
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We're in Cambodia!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Hello again everyone! We safely arrived in Phnom Penh on tuesday afternoon. We were picked up from the airport by a "tuk-tuk" (a motorbike with a brightly coloured trailer on the back) and our driver was lovely, really smiley and pleased to see us. The drive from the airport was brilliant fun in the back of this thing. We got to the Sunday guest house in one piece and were warmly welcomed and shown to a very comfy room.
After settling in we decided to go for a little walk and just to get our bearings and see what to expect of the capital city. Cambodia gives a litle bit of mixed impression on the first day, the way from the airport was littered with new buildings and forthcoming projects, however you immediatley see that it is a very poor country. Our hotel is in the middle of the city and yet the road to it is little more than a gravel track. The people are just amazing, so friendly and polite and speak excellent english - I'm very impressed.
Any way back to the walk. When we landed in Phnom penh our tiny little economy flight plane was driven over to banners and enormous photos of important looking people. Then loads of people approached the plane with TV cameras, very offical looking men with people running along side them carrying umberellas and photographers (they'd obviously been informed we were coming!), then loads of very smart, suited men got up from the back of the plane and got off! After the excitement died down we didn't really pay much attention. So we went on this walk of the city to see the Independance Monument, we realised something was amis when a very busy road suddenly became deathly quiet and there were loads of police and other uniformed people creating a road block. We quickly saw what the cause of all this was, there was some sort of ceremony going on at the monument with the very same poeple we'd seen get off the plane! So after having a good nose we went up to the next monument, which symbolised peace between Cambodia and Vietnam. There was this band setting up in white uniforms and red carpet, just as we were trying to get out of there we got stuck. Loads of very posh black cars with tinted windows turned up, they even had a police escort! We were trying to make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible but the police were frantically trying to move us out of the way! So off we went, we never did find out what was going on.
Back at the Hotel we booked a trip to the killing fields for the following day, during dinner that night the film was put on- it's really sad and almost puts you off going. However it's one of those things that you have to do and we were up early the next morning and ready for the bus.
There were six of us in the mini bus and we started off on time ( a nice change from Vietnam!) The city very quickly changes from wide roads and big buildings to dusty,red tracks and shacks. The road once out of the city can't even really be described as a road, cows, children.chickens and dogs wander across it and you quickly regret eating breakfast! However there is a real sense of adventure to it and you realise how spoilt we are in Britain. We weren't immediatley taken to the killing fields though, a rather interesting detour was made to a shooting range. The experiance is just surreal. You get provided with a "menu" of all the guns you can shoot and how much it costs. There are handguns, machine guns, hand grenades and you can even shoot a rocket launcher for $200! (We were both tempted by that!). All of our group declined and sat around having a chat. We were approached by a Cambodian guy who was shocked we didn't want a go. he was quite a character, he asked the English guy in our group where he was from, and when England was the answer he said "oh lubbley jubbley!" Then he asked us "you wanna shoot cow?" No thanks if it's all the same to you! Then we were back on our way on the bone jarring bus. We soon arrived at the killing fields and went in. The first thing you come to is the monument containing eight thousand skulls, they are arranged by age and sex. You then go round the field itself and see mass graves (not all have been exhumed) there are pieces of clothing still sticking out of the ground. I don't think you can put into words the feelings that you experiance at a place like this. It is just shocking to think what occured in this peaceful, shady orchard just a few decades ago. It is very moving and makes you admire the Cambodian poeple who appear to hold no grudges for the atrocites carried out here.
The rest of Wednesday was spent chiliing out and reading on the hotel balcony out of the relentless sun. It is incredibly hot here, even more so than vietnam. Unfortunatley, Thursday was another depressing day as we went to see Tuol Sleng, or S-21. This is the prison which people were brought to once arrested to be tortured and sent on to the killing fields for execution. They spare you nothing here and rightly so. The prison was an ex-highschool and from the outside looks quite normal. You see tiny cells and torture implements and equipment, you get very graphic descriptipns of what occured here. The worst thing though is the photographs. The Kymer Rouge were very thorough in documenting what happened, so every prisoner was photographed when they arrived. Their faces are haunting, they know what the future holds. Many women are pictured with there babies, there was no mercy for children, however tiny. Some faces look at you with defiance and grim determination, it's quite overwhelming. There are photos of people during and after torture. These images, if you can bear to look, stay with you.
We left there feeling thoroughly depressed and decided to visit the Russian market for some retail therapy. Then it was back to the hotel to escape the heat.
Today has been much more cheerful. We walked to the Phnom Wat temple which is on the top of a hill. Its a really beautiful place, very busy. They have monkeys in the grounds which are so cute and comical, we even saw one admiring its reflection in a piece of broken mirror!
It's off to Siem Riep tomorrow for a week to see the temples of Angkor Wat and we can't wait. Catch up with you soon!

permalink written by  corinne_sarah on February 9, 2007 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Thirteen weeks
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Same same but different!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Hello everyone!Firstly we'd like to apologise for the lack of recent blog entries, we have had difficulty getting Blogabond up in Cambodia but have finally found somewhere that appears to be able to locate the site. So here goes, brace yourselves it's been a busy two weeks!
Well, our last entry was from Phnom Penh, the capital city. On Saturday 10th of Feb, we got on a bus and headed north to a town called Siem Reap which is the nearest place to the Angkor ancient temples. The journey was actually ok and this bus was air conditioned which was lovely. It was quite quirky, and decorated inside with loads of fake flowers and bright throws and even had a t.v at the front. I was hoping for a nice film to break up the five hour journey, not so. After we'd been travelling for about ten minutes, the driver put a DVD on, Cambodian Karaoke! Seriously, I've never seen anything quite so random or tacky in my life, the singing was utterly atrocious but we had a giggle and making fun of the videos passed the time. The Cambodians love it so much there is even a whole t.v channel devoted to it here!
We finally got to Siem Reap which is experiencing rapid growth thanks to the booming tourist trade. The Central bus station was basically a few sheds in a giant sandpit! Getting off this bus was something else. As soon as a bus pulls up literally hundreds of tuk-tuk drivers and motorbike men crowd round the doorway and even try and get on the bus! You have to push your way through crowds of shouting, smelly men who grab you and try to get you to go in their whatever to Guesthouses that pay them to get tourists there. It's Very hot, very sandy and very scary! All you want to do is grab your backpack which is just lobbed out of the bus and hold on to it as tight as you can because they will try to grab it and put it in their tuk-tuk! Corinne located a decent bloke who was happy to take us to the place we'd booked rather than where he wanted to take us and off we went to find Jasmine lodge. On the way there, he informed us that he would like to be our driver for the temples, we agreed a decent price, arranged to meet him the next morning at nine and feeling rather pleased with ourselves we went to check in. Our smiles were greeted by a rather grumpy looking man. This was because he had apparently sent his tuk-tuk driver to get us and obviously we'd gone. Basically because it's impossible to find anyone in all that craziness and they hadn't confimed they were going to send anyone! Oh well! The Lodge was decent and had a lovely rooftop restaurant with a free pool table and the food there was really nice. But there were loads of mosquitos!
The following morning we met our tuk tuk man outside, he introduced our assigned driver for the three days who looked about fourteen, was really shy and didn't really understand a word we said! ( We realised the first guy was obviously a kind of middle man who did all the talking as he spoke good english). Off we went firstly to get our three day passes and then to the temples. This had been something we'd both been looking forward to, these temples are a pretty big deal, one of the seven wonders of the world and we were really excited. We weren't disapointed. We went to the biggest and most famous first, Angkor Wat (should be Angkot hot!) Wow! Nothing prepares you for the sheer size of the place it's gigantic and awe-inspiring. It's surrounded by a giant moat which was man made and the stones to make it were shipped from 50km away! All over a thousand years ago! Once you've fully expolred the outer levels you go into the middle with the towers. There are loads of very high, very steep stairways up to the top, this was because accending to the gods should not be easy. No fear of that! Once I saw what you had to climb and then come down again, I have to admit I was a little reluctant. I thought sitting in the shade with my bottle of water and watching Lara Croft (Corinne) do it would be much better. But wussing out is never an option with Lara and so I began climbing to the top. Going up was fine actually a real buzz and I throughly enjoyed it, plus it was well worth seeing the view from the top and there are loads of passage ways and things.You keep expecting some mystical creature to pop out and try and eat you it's a real adventure! But you can only put off the inevitable for so long and the time came to decend the stairs of terror. When you look down it's just a sheer drop and you can't actually see the second step until you're on the first one! Gulp! The trick is to take your time, don't let anyone rush you, concentate and never under any circumstances look down!
After we'd completed AW we went to meet our driver who took us on to the next temple, called Bayon at Angkor Thom. Bayon is much smaller than AW but it's really interesting the theme there is carved faces out of stone. Some are immense and others small it's much quieter than AW so you can take your time a bit more. After a busy morning we decided to have lunch and a rest. This is when Corinne got accosted by the demon child. There are loads of kids in these places trying to sell you souvenirs, they are really cute and love to talk to you, most are very sweet and move on to a polite no thanks. Others are more persistant and you have to a bit firmer. This child would not take no for an answer and I thought maybe Corinne had met her match in stubborness after alot of glaring, rude words in Cambodian and English from both sides and an almost full blown tantrum (from both of them) he eventually got the message. What sealed the deal where Corinne was concerned was when he said "if you no buy I no go away"!Well he'd set her a challange then hadn't he?! We no buy and he eventually stormed off muttering darkly.
The rest of that afternoon and the following morning was spent seeing yet more temples, all very interesting but if I describe everyone I'll be here all day and a cold beer is calling!
On the afternoon of the second day, our driver suggested a trip to see a floating village on the Mekong. This was very welcome as we weren't sure just how much more traipsing round temples we could take. We had a lovely breezy ride in the tuk tuk to the booking office and then went off to find our boat. Again the road turned into a dirt track lined by lots of tiny houses made from bamboo and reeds. This was an extremley poor area, I just couldn't believe it. Amongst all this poverty were loads of big posh coaches and tuk tuks like ours bringing tourists by the load to go on boat trips. There we all are well fed with cameras which cost more than it would to feed two of these families for a year. I think we both felt a bit ashamed and uncomfy. But again they are so welcoming and friendly hard to comprehend really. Anyway our driver found our boat man (I have no idea how, it's utter chaos!) and we followed him to the boat. There were loads all squashed together, you have to hop from boat to boat to get to the one you've booked it's so cool. British health and safety would have a fit! We had a really nice trip, going past floating schools and basketball courts until we got to the main village which is great. They have shops, churches and cafes. There are floating rafts where people grow food. We sailed round for a bit and then our driver took us to the middle and switched off the engine. It was perfect, late afternoon watching people go about their business and listening to the gentle sloshing of the water. Our peace was short lived though, as people in canoes came paddling furiously across to sell us drinks and bananas! Corinne bought a huge bunch of bananas for one dollar, they were delicious. Then our driver asked if we wanted to visit the crocdile farm, so we went to have look. They were quite well kept and very well fed. Turns out it's ilegal! Rich nations get poorer ones to farm the crocs and then ship them out to kill them for their skins so that rich people can get crocodile skin handbags and shoes! We got back in the boat and ready to go back. There are lots of beggers in Cambodia and many of them are children. This place was no exception, there were two young boys floating around in tiny tin bowls with little paddles. They came to the side of the boat to ask for money, one was badly scarred and had an arm missing from a landmine. It just breaks your heart. Instead of money though, Corinne gave them some of the bananas she'd bought. They were so chuffed! You'd think we'd given them a hundred pounds! We got safely back to our tuk tuk driver and headed back towards town, with loads of people and kids waving and shouting hello! Our driver stopped at the foot of the hill and told us there was a temple on the top to watch the sunset, we were pretty exhausted but walked up this hill that seemed like everest to a stunning view. You could see all the way around and it was pretty spectacular. We slept well that night!
Next day was a long ride out to a couple of temples about 30km away, one was called Bantay Srei and was very beautiful with lots of inticate carving. Then we headed back. Corinne had read that you could go up in a hot air balloon and see Angkor Wat from the sky so we got our driver to take us. It turns out its a giant helium balloon attatched to ropes which goes really high and takes you up for ten minutes. It was really cheap and not very busy so we decided to go up. It was incredible, absolutley amazing. I don't like heights but it felt very safe and was great fun. Then we headed back for a well earned rest.
There isn't really a whole lot more to see in Siem Reap once you've done the Temples so the next few days were spent chilling and walking around the town. We got talking to really interesting young man who told us lots about Cambodia's history and about his work which was going into the country side and bringing children back to Siem Reap so they would have the chance of regular meals and education. Then we went on to see a temple and got abducted by toddlers! Seriously we just walked through the gates of this place and about five kids aged between two and three grabbed us by our hands and dragged us round chattering like little monkey's. We had no idea what they were saying but they liked us and they even melted my heart ( I generally prefer animals to small children and avoid them at all costs!) it was hilarious. It's so bizarre there were no adults in sight and these kids were just left to their own devices!
We headed back to Phnom Penh on Saturday and checked in to Rory's Irish pub and Guesthouse. Its a pretty interesting place! It's off to Laos soon so we'll catch up with you from there!

permalink written by  corinne_sarah on February 18, 2007 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Thirteen weeks
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Lovin Laos

Vientiane, Laos

Just a quickie to let you all now that we safely arrived in Laos on Tuesday. It's absolutley beautiful, the perfect antidote to mad cities and busy tourist towns. The temperature is just right and the people are great, very friendly but much shyer than the Cambodians and Vietnamese which means you get left alone! Luang Prabang is a gorgeous little town between two rivers and it's surrounded by mountains. The pace of life here is just so laid back. Laos people believe that stess is very bad for you- this is our kind of place! We're off to some waterfalls this afternoon, and on Saturday we'll head to Vang Vieng for some extreme sports! We'll give you an update soon. We're dying to know how you all are so keep these comments coming!

permalink written by  corinne_sarah on February 21, 2007 from Vientiane, Laos
from the travel blog: Thirteen weeks
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Still lovin' Laos

Vientiane, Laos

Apologies again everyone but have had a bit of difficulty getting our blog up in Laos. Last time we wrote we had not long arrived here in Laos and were absolutely loving it. Well our opinion certainly hasn't changed but we move on again tomorrow to Bangkok and have to leave this stunning country that we've both come to love so well. Last time we checked in we were about to go for a trip to some waterfalls just outside Luang Prabang, it was fabulous, just beautiful. When you first get there there's a little bit of a trek through the forrest, they have moon bear rescue center there and a Indochina Tiger that was rescued from poachers when she was just a cub. We were a little bit nervous when we discovered there were animals there, as we imagined them living miserable lives in tiny cages. But we were pleasantly surprised to find them in spacious enclosures, beautifully kept and contented. So that actually turned out to be a bonus! There was a path up the side of the waterfalls which passed several deep, green-blue pools where people were swimming. We decided to do the walk first and then relax in the pools on the way down. It was nothing short of idyllic. Although the water is pretty chilly! On the way back we stopped at a tribal village for a look around it was interesting but obviously the point is for you to buy things and you get bombarded by people and children trying to sell you stuff!
The next day we completed a walking tour of the town seeing yet more wats! (Buddist temples) Although they are very pretty to look at and some are very old. That afternoon we went to the royal palace museum which was interesting, the kings reception room was our favourite, painted a deep, rich red with stories depicted on the walls made from multicoloured pieces of glass.
On Saturday we had to get up early and catch our bus to Vang Vieng which is an absolute must on the backpacker circuit as it's surrounded by rivers, mountains, caves and tribal villages. This makes it a haven for climbing, trekking, tubing, kayaking and caving! Laos has only really been tourist friendly for about 4-5 years now and there are a lack of decent roads just due to the terrain and money really. What this means is the bus to Vang Vieng ,which is no more than 200km away, takes 7hours and winds slowly up and down mountains not exactly fun! Especially without air con! Now let me paint the picture for you here, we have just left Luang Prabang a sleepy little town where most people are tucked up in bed by 10pm and the national curfew ensures the remaining party animals are home by 12 midnight! It's beautiful, old fashioned, relatively untouched by the tourist trade and very clean. When we turned up at Vang Vieng I couldn't quite believe it. We had been warned that it had been transformed from a tiny town to tourist mecca overnight but nothing prepares you for it! It's a really weird place, basically all traces of Laos tradition have gone leaving a town that caters for a travellers every need. It's full of guesthouses, T.V bars, restaurants, tour operators and souvenir shops and the whole place is like a massive building site! The huge influx of foreigners has encouraged building on a massive scale and new streets, roads and buildings are popping up everywhere. We soon found our guesthouse and checked in. It was run by a british guy and an american girl, both seriously chilled out (as is everyone there!). We went for a walk around and the town was busy and noisy. T.v bars are everywhere. They are full of these wooden platforms that are covered with cushions and pillows and you can watch friends, The Simpsons or films all day! The funny thing is that you can sit in one of these bars watching one episode of friends whilst three or four surrounding bars play different episodes! There is no getting away from that theme tune. Infact we were both singing it in the shower! Our first full day there we took full advantage of this and watched a couple of movies and then read all day, getting our strength up for all the adventures coming our way! The day after we decided to go tubing, an absolute must in Vang Vieng. What this entails is floating down the river all day in an inflated tractor tyre inner tube! But when we got to the place it was closed and all the tubes were gone. Not to worry though we found a posh hotel with an outdoor pool overlooking the river and for the bargain price of 20,000 kip ($2) we did a bit of sun worshipping! On Tuesday we had booked a trip to see some caves, trek to a village and then Kayak back to town. This was a brilliant day. We had a young guide called Nom who was friendly and had a cracking sense of humour. We were dropped of at our first cave named Elephant cave after a curious rock formation within which looks exactly like an elephant, but apart from that there wasn't much else to see as it's tiny. We then walked to Caves 2 and 3. Cave 2 was amazing, it was enormous this one had been used for civillians to hide in when Laos was being bombed during the Indochinan wars. There were three huge chambers, the first for young men, second for women and children and a third for the elderly. Nom had got some headtorches for us to use (Corinne had brought her own), I thought it was a joke when he brought them over the battery was so big you had to where it on a string around your neck! Of course Miss Sensible with her lovely streamlined torch thought this was very funny! The cave was full of tunnels and cool stalactites and we had to climb things and through things, brilliant fun! On to the third cave, my least favourite! Before going in, Nom told us how two years ago a French tourist had died in the cave. They had only found him because of the smell! Euww! This was because he'd gone in alone with only a candle and a lighter and got lost in the dark. If that wasn't spooky enough when you're about to head into a pitch black cave, he then announced that it was full of huge spiders! When asked what they eat, he replied "tourists!". He then went on a mission to find one for us! Calling "come on spiders lunch is here!". I decided I didn't really like Nom very much any more! Thankfully we didn't spend to long in there and hiked to the next cave. You had to get in the water, sit in a tube and pull yourself under low hanging rocks and into the cavern by a rope! It was wicked, hauling ourselves along in the echoy darkness. We did a little circuit and when we came out it was lunch time. Nom built a little fire and cooked us meat and vegetable kebabs whilst we swam in the clear water outside the cave. We sat down to a feast. Warm bread, fried rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and the kebabs, washed down with water and followed by delicious sweet bananas. Then we trekked to the village through paddy fields where out tuk tuk driver met us to take us to the river to kayak. We got all the stuff ready and set off, me and Corinne in one, the two other girls on the trip in another and Nom in his own little one. Nom had decided Corinne was the captain (how apt!) and once we got into it we made a pretty good team, infact we had to keep waiting for the others to catch up. We could tell that we had become Noms favourites and he was pretty impressed with us! It didn't take us long to click that the route we took was the tubing route. The biggest clue is all the riverside bars with loud music. We stopped at the last bar, a lovely place with mountains in the background, a log fire and Bob Marley playing. it was perfect. Then it was back to the kayak for the final push home.
Next day was tubing day! Wahoo! We got up early, had breakfast and headed for the tubing depo. The girls that were on our trip the day before joined us and we headed off in the tuk tuk. You get dumped by the river with your tube and off you go. We weren't on the river two minutes before we stopped at the first bar ( well it is all part of the tubing fun!) and had our first beer at 11am! You get free Lao Lao shots aswell (rice whiskey- good stuff!) however we declined because we did actually want to remember some of it! All these bars have jumps, either zip lines or swings and you ( by you I mean Corinne!) climb up rickety bamboo frames and throw yourself off! So that was basically it floating from bar to bar, jumping off things and drinking beer lao! We eventually got to the last bar, the one from the day before, and sat round the fire listening to Bob Dylan having another beer. You could also buy a joint from behind the bar, it was like something from the sixties! (Don't worry mum we didn't!). By this stage the sun had started to set and it was getting abit chilly so we stopped and got a tuk tuk back to town. What a great day! On Thursday we chilled out at a shady bar down by the river and read our books and Friday we made the dreaded journey back to Luang Prabang. It was lovely to be back! Yesterday we went out to the elephant park project and fed and rode some elephants. It was a magical experiance. They are so gentle and when you ride them they're so careful where they step! Today we have had another easy day, reading by the river and eating cake! Off to Thailand next and shopping in Bangkok!

permalink written by  corinne_sarah on March 5, 2007 from Vientiane, Laos
from the travel blog: Thirteen weeks
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