Holidays and Other Excursions

Author: krw

Tonle Sap Lake

Day 10 Thursday 25 December 2014

Happy Christmas and for us a day of transition.  We leave Siem Reap by cruise boat to head south along the Tonle Sap lake and river with seven days of cruising ahead of us.

Although pre-warned the low level of water prevents the river cruiser – Mekong Prestige II – being able to negotiate the Tonle Sap lake and so we are  loaded into a motorboat which is not particularly comfortable (not enough knee room for tall western sized people) and told that we have a three hour or so journey to the river cruiser.

There are no pictures of our activities today – it was not quite what we wanted!  It took more like four and half hours to reach the cruiser and not far short of our destination those travelling on the small deck were forced indoors as we saw the first rain of the holiday.The lake is huge and for most of the journey land was only visible on either post or starboard at the horizon.  And the other horizon is water as far as the eye can see.

The commencement of our trip is enlivened by the party sitting in front of us (an apparently excitable Brazilian) and the ladies behind us have an entertaining discussion as both appear to have been allocated the same cabin.  After a while we decide nothing can be done until we get there.  I certainly get the impression that the Brazilian thinks she might be travelling on the Queen Mary rather than a river cruiser!

Eventually we have land on both sides again and we transfer from the motor boat to the cruiser.  She is a well appointed vessel as we had expected (she is less than a year old).  Whilst we might struggle to get across the crew have to get our huge suitcases on board as well – and nothing goes in the drink which is good news.  However due to the cabin mix up one of our cases goes astray so unpacking is a little slower than we might have liked.

Before long we are sat at dinner and the tensions relax.  There is a wide offering and four courses – and even cheese for the end of the meal for me.  We are going to eat well for the next week.   And I rather think we shall sleep well.

Siem Reap Day 2

Day 9 Wednesday 24 December 2014

Another early start and our guide whisks off to Tar Prohm temple.  This is famous as it was used for one of the Indiana Jones films and unlike some of the other sites we can see the impact of the jungle growth on the site.  Approaching the outside of the temple there is a tree which has managed to grow seemingly on the stone blocks – the roots run around the top of the blocks and then eventually dive into the cracks to find sustenance underground.

Elsewhere in the complex it looks like the Spong trees (Spong is a wonderful word bringing to mind the Goons) balanced on walls, look the other side and the roots run down the wall and then through cracks into the ground.

Photographs are here:

As with other temples the original gods were hindu related.  Some restoration continues but I believe there is an intention here to retain a nod to the overground state  as it is intended to reflect some of the lost nature of all of the temples.  They were lost until the mid-nineteenth century after the capital was moved elsewhere from Siem Reap; it is now thought after a 30 year drought followed by very heavy rains which overwhelmed the drainage system – sounds like global warming and then an inevitable correction.  And once the centre was weakened Cambodia as a whole changed.

Our next stop is further away – but worth the journey,  We go to Banteay Srei which is a very well served tourist point – parking, toilets and all organised very well to see a smaller sire which has been well preserved.  This is busy.  The carvings here in the stone are much deeper and have survived well.

There is one story of a carving we are told where the “good” god has to unravel a spell cast on a devil who cannot killed in daytime, or at night, by a man or a woman, nor by an animal, neither indoors, or outdoors (there may well be other conditions!).  So the good god becomes half man, half bull, and kills the devil in a doorway at day break; thereby finding a way around the curse!

When I look at the photos again I may find other points on which to comment.

Our return to the hotel (our least favourite of the trip) shows another odd event.  We have a third bed in our room.  So the hotel fails for a poor breakfast choice (hard boiled runny eggs have soft whites), a dirty sheet on our first night on Jackie’s side of the bed and now an unwanted extra bed, which we ask (and it is) promptly removed.

We spend the afternoon close to the pool in Siem Reap enjoying some sun as it is a awful lot warmer than our earlier locations.  We might even get a little browner.

And we have been promised a Christmas Eve extravaganza.  So cocktails in the normal outside restaurant – the staff have been busy creating a snow scene all around.  Then we head out and around the back of the swimming pool for the food and the entertainment.  The wife has a dislike of flying bugs – mainly because they always bite her and not me!  Anyway this area seems to be inundated with the most spectacular group of insects ever encountered.

Around us are numerous different food stations and this ranges from pasta being cooked in front of us, a charcoal grill which is so busy I cannot get near, bakery, salads.  The kitchen staff have been working flat out all day.  We move around gathering food and then sitting down – whereupon we become sitting ducks for the insects.  The wife nearly loses a glass of wine at one point!

The entertainment at this point is a little disappointing – a couple of girls singing to backing tracks and I could have done without Hotel California being murdered.  Poor.  We were also promised dancing and it became clear that this was where the moeny had been spent.  It was the same high quality team we had enjoyed the previous evening of Apsara dancers.  Yay, the coconut song again!

We decided an early retreat to bed was in order.

Siem Reap – Day 1

Day 8 Tuesday 23 December 2014

Siem Reap is a huge tourist place.  Much, much larger than Luang Prabang.  The draw here are the temples built in 11 – 14th centuries and which then were lost and became covered in overgrowth until rediscovered by the French when they were in power in the mid-nineteenth century.

At the time of construction Cambodia was a much larger country and covered much of what is now considered to be Vietnam to the south east, Laos to the north and Thailand to the west.  The borders have frequently moved as a result of invasions and disputes and the current borders largely derive from the French arrangements in the nineteenth century.

Our hotel has obviously been selected by the operators for convenience to the main attractions, Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat and not for the quality of the breakfast.  Hard boiled eggs which have solid yolks and runny whites (how do they do that I wonder?) and despite the French influence in the region the knack of good fresh bread (particularly croissants) seems to have been lost.

Never mind – hotels are secondary to the sites and our guide redeeems himself for the previous day and we are off to Angkor Thom where we stop outside the walls and indeed the moat.  The construction of these sites was (to my mind) amazingly well engineered.  The weight of water in the moat around the development holds it all in place,  all very clever.  The target for today is the Bayon temple which stood at the centre of the complex.  Originally the temple had 54 towers, each with four faces above – 216 smiling faces.  Not all survive but all were individual.  The photos also show the associated carving throughout the temple.  Again the work was amazing and given its age it is all based on the Hindu religion and Hindu stories.  There are several clever photos possible of people kissing the smiling face which others achieved!

Angkor Thom photographs are at

Outside the Bayon temple we are taken to the location of the Royal Palace, now long gone at the rear of which there were two swimming pools – and even now both contain water, although perhaps not as clean as they were once.

The engineers who designed the entire area used the main river flows into the lagoons / moats around the major Angkors but also to provide strength to the ground to ensure the building weight was held in place and also to ensure that water continued to flow and therefore provided good clean water downstream as well providing all that was required by what became in the mid-fifteenth century a huge city which controlled most of the entire indo-china peninsula.  These people were clever.

Outside is the elephant terrace – a partially enclosed area with elephants engraved along the walls which was probably used as a parade ground and at the end of the terrace another area known incorrectly as the Leper terrace.  Modern investigation has shown that the statue at the top of the area was a respresentation of the god of justice who decided on individual descent to hell or elevation to heaven!  His fingers were missing and so it was believed to be leprosy – but merely damage it seems!  Beneath the statue however were the remains of a creamtorium which has been partially reconstructed.  This elevated section is also opposite the drive to the fifth “Victory” gate where the King would sit to welcome troops returning from battle.

Following a little light shopping our excursion continues with a gondola trip around one corner of the moat.  This is a peaceful interlude but enables us to gain some idea of the scale of the construction.  The water is currently ten or so feet below the top of the surrounding banks showing that we are now in the dry season and the capacity to hold extra water without flooding the area.  On the inner side there is a high wall so the city must have been considered impregnable.  Once we pass the point at which the water flows into this moat from the network system our oarsman is obviously working much more easily.  We progress around the corner but do not stop to see the temple at the corner.

We turn around, so harder work against the current until we again pass the inlet and drift back to our starting point.  Calm and cooler in the heat of the day.

Time for a break to avoid the heat and we leave the hotel again at 3pm to hear for Angkor Wat the very famous temple.  We walk across the entrance bridge, again another huge moat and water supports the construction inside.  Buddhist monks occupied the temple throughout and these are still on site in more modern facilities close by.  Approaching the temple it looks as if there are only three towers but step to one side in front of a smalll lake and there are five – and if the reflections are working well then 10!  Monkeys abound – living on the droppings from the tourists.

Separate album for this:

The temple when originally built was for the hindu religion and therefore the carvings reflect Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the associated stories.  However the influences came from India with Buddhism and the top of the temple had the Hindu features removed and replaced by a Buddha.  So there are close links to our visit to India last year.

The original steps to the top of the temple look to be impossible – they are steep and the each step is very narrow plus there are no handrails!  I suppose middle age feet (and I do not mean people younger than us) had smaller feet.  Never mind; the authorities have erected some slightly more modern steps, with handrails and we pull ourselves up the steps and into the top of the temple.  The views down make the people very small below.  We wander around the top taking photos (some of these appear on the Flickr page as usual) before we descend and regroup.  We head for the inevitable stalls and for the first time manage to get Angkor coffee – which is lovely and nutty as well as coffee.  For me without the sweetening of the condensed milk which I am told makes it even better.

We return to the viewing point across the lake as we are told that like the Taj Mahal the temple can change colour as we approach sunset and sometimes it gains a wonderful glint.  This obviously needs a completely clear sky (our lovely guide shows us some recent examples) and sadly there is a cloud in the wrong place at the wrong time.  OTOH on reviewing the pictures later the change in colour which I had not seen at the time does appear in one of my pictures.

With the evening settling in we return to the hotel – but there is further entertainment.  We head out to the Aspara dinner and dance.  There are pictures of the menu and the food at Flickr (I will add links when the technology allows), plus a couple of pictures of the dancers.

The food was excellent, in particular we recall the marinated fish.  The dancing was also excellent and we were treated to a number of dances – the fishermen, where boy gets girl (eventually), the coconut song and the dance of the Monkey king plus some others.  A talented troop and they deserve our approbation.

The music however plus our discussions with our guides overe language and the need for significant tonal inflection to distinguish similar words, leads me to be believe however that ears work differently here as the music may have recognisable time signatures but tonally the music always sounds “different”.

By the time we reach bed we are tired.  {This is the second version of this post; rewards will be offered for anyone who finds the original – it was much funnier}.

Luang Prabang to Siem Reap

Day 7 Monday 22 December 2014

Until now all of the holiday arrangements had run well; timetables had been observed, guides knowing well what they were doing and it all has gone very smoothly.

We get to the very nice small airport at Luang Prabang and check in.  Just as we complete this a notice is posted at the desk and we are going to be delayed by nearly two hours.  The guide offers to take us back into town – but we decline – who knows the flight might suddenly be right time again.  He does however notify his office and we hope the message reaches the other end.

So we head through the passport control – only to find that there is not much in the way of refreshment the other side.  Anyway I am a fat unfit b******, so missing a meal will not do me that much harm.  And the passenger information systems continue to tell us that the flight was leaving on time even when we were clearly nearly two hours past that time.

We see the arrival – it is the same plane as the one on which arrived from Hanoi a few days earlier.  It unloads and reloads rapidly so that departure is pretty rapid, recovering some of the lost time.

Consequently our flight arrives in Siem Reap nearly two hours down and thanks to ebola we have to fill in another form to say we have not recently been in West Africa – which means we take ages to exit the airport.  The passport control team are not particularly speedy either.  Once outside our guide is not in evidence and we carry out several checks before electing to get a taxi to our hotel.

The route to our hotel takes us along what seems to be the main drag from the aiport with numerous hotels, all of which have lots of glittering lights, snowmen, reindeers, Santa Claus and Xmas trees – here it seems there is some acknowledgment.

Our hotel is the Tara Angkor which is graded 4 star, but to our mind is perhaps a little lacking in some respects.  Dinner in the hotel and the prices are again unbelievably low.  The wife has a burger for about $4 whilst I stick with rather more local food.

Amazing how a day doing nothing is tiring.  So time for bed.

Luang Prabang Day 3

Day 6 Sunday 21 December 2014

Good morning, a much later call today and the hotel, having been very quiet yesterday was much busier this morning with a wider selection at breakfast.

We head into LP itself first to take the flower arrangement to the Watermelon stupa and with guidance from our guide I seem to manage to get it is almost dead centre under the watemelon!

There is also a replica of the gold buddha statue here, the original having moved to the capital.  There is a replica of the emerald buddha which originally came from India at the same time as the gold buddha, although the originals are now in separate countries.

Our main excursion today is into the countryside, first to visit a Hmong (pronounced Mong) village where they have commenced the festival so the children in particular are wearing their “national” dress which  for the young girls seems to require a hat which looks very much like a lampshade!

As usual pictures are on Flickr

We progress onto the National Park at the Kuangsi waterfall where there is a small reserve for a small number of remaining black bears.  From there we steadily walk up the hill past the lower waterfalls and a number of very clear pools where it is possible to swim.  We choose not to swim – it looks cold and I do not feel like spending the rest of the day feeling slightly damp and cold – it is a warmer day – at least for us – the locals however are still wrapped up with woolies and coats.

Eventually we reach the main fall which looks wonderful, although I am not sure the photos do it justice!

Our guide and driver have transported a lunch for us and serve us with a picnic – including hot food at a table adjacent to the falls.  Does food always taste better in the open air and even better still in the open air adjacent to some attractive scenery?

Having had a busy couple of days we opt for an early finish and return to the hotel so this blog gets started and photos get uploaded.  Some extra sleep is not a bad idea either!  This is supposed to be a holiday after all.

Our day was rounded off by a trip back into town. First to wander through the night market. Another market, this time along the main street which is completely closed to normal traffic, although motorbikes seem to manage to thread their way through. Some more purchases before a local beer in a street side restaurant. Then we head to a “French” restaurant – the “Elephant” which produced some good food – but the cost was an awful lot higher than the previous evening. Another motorised tuc tuc – but this time we are wearing our coats and so do no feel the cold so badly.

Luang Prabang Day 2

Day 5 Saturday 20 December 2014

An early call this morning as we are going into LP with guide and driver to observe the giving of alms to the monks.  All of the many monks start at one end of town and steadily progress through the entire town to end up at the main monastery we had visited the previous day.  So soon after six in the morning one side of the road, towards the end of the procession which is not so heavily populated, are ladies with bowls of rice (some have others items) and on the other side numerous onlookers like ourselves.

A gong sounds to give notice of the approaching monks and in groups, representing different monastries they steadily process past.  Eventually the light improves sufficiently to permit photographs which are on the Flickr site.

Somewhere around the middle of the procession there is a break and the ladies then have the potential to refill their bowls of rice.  At the end of the ladies in or group is a small child and she does not give the monks any food but instead receives and it is explained that it is known that she is from a poorer family and the monks share the food they have received with the poorer groups.

We later find that our guide was a monk for a number of years.  If the land canot support the younger members of the family then joining a monastery  provides food and a good education and is beneficial for all concerned.  So Buddhism rather than a national dependence on the state – are we institutionalised Buddhists?

Heading back to the transport we walked through the morning market – it opens at 5 and the villagers from the surrounding area bring in all sorts of goods to be sold.  This covers  vegetables, meat, fish plus scarves and other goods of all descriptions.  There are photos – but again there do not seem to be any shortages of anything important and indeed in terms of vegetables these seem to be excellent in quality and quantity.

Anyway back to the hotel for breakfast and to shed our overcoats.  We have a big excursion today when we return to the town and the riverside to take a boat upstream for about two hours to visit a cave where the gold buddha was originally kept when brought to the country.  After the climb the previous day we decline the visit to the upper cave as we are told it contains not only buddha statues but also bats!

We cross the river to a small village and we walk through to where they keep the elephants in a small reserve in winter.  In summer they are used to move logs so are still working elephants.  Fed with numerous bananas they seem quite happy and relaxed even if necessarily tethered.

Then we wander back through the village for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Mekong river – the sunshine is brilliant and it is again a warm day.  On the return trip to LP we stop at a village where they can show us numerous scarves and the wife is able to buy some items for a close friend’s impending birthday.  Here we hear the almost universal request “Do you want to buy a scarf?” in a polite but slightly singing voice which cannot be done justice in print.  This is repeated as we walk through the village as there are numerous sellers ans more scarves and table runners than the one village can possibly produce.  However thy are all very nice pieces and each house appears to have its own weaving loom we do wondr just how much weaving can possibly be achieved locally.

Whilst the village is obviously organised for visits like ours it is also notable that most of the houses have huge satellite dishes (athough rusty) and therefore presumably some form of power supply and television.  It may be rural but certainly they are not cut off from the outside world in any form.  Even here there is a well decorated and maintained temple – it reminds me of Greece where there may be economic problems but the religious houses are well maintained.

Travelling with the current our return journey is a little faster than outward and so towards the end of the afternoon we return to the hotel.

The evening commences with a Baci ceremony for the four travellers where about 20 local people welcome us to Laos.  About 10 ladies plus a couple of musicians sing a welcome and then a dancing group entertain us with their skills  and a number of different dances.  The end of the ceremony requires us to present our wrists and they tie pieces of string around each wrist to represent close ties between Laos and ourselves.  We are also presented with a flower arrangement which I receive from the Village elder (Shaman / priest) and I have to present this the following day at the Watermelon stupa.

We were a little amazed at this being laid on for just the four of us and we were somewhat relieved when a Mexican couple joined us during the proceedings.

Our evening was rounded off by dinner in the hotel and I can report that yet another excellent repast was consumed by the travellers.  The hotel kitchen can cook and the only thing we find difficult is that the concept of “courses” seems to be unknown as the soup arrives and the remaining food arrives almost immediately when the waiting team return to the kitchen!  After such a long day we are glad to retire to bed.

Good night.


Luang Prabang

Day 4 Friday 19 December 2014

Whilst I am sure that there are many other aspects of Vietnam which could be seen, we shall see the south of the country later on our trip; for the moment our location must change and it is back to the airport and a small twin turbo-prop ATR72 airplane to Luang Prabang.  I have seen many spellings; this is the one I am adopting and indeed will probably shorten it to LP throughout this and the next couple of posts.

The flight is over largely green countryside, largely invisible thorough the cloud layer, wth noticeably much more hills / mountains as we close on LP. Also as we approach LP there are are several rivers in evidence.  The airport here is tiny and we have a walk across the concrete from our plane to the entrance at the far end of the building.  Later we will establish that it is standing much closer to the departure gate.  And alongside are much smaller local Lao planes!

A wonderful queue now develops as we all have to have visas and so we hand over passport and visa form that we have completed.  Join another queue to hand over $35.  Well except there is another $1 service charge.  So hand over $36!  Then your passport is duly stamped with a visa attached and you can enter the country!

Reclaim suitcases and yes our new guide is there and waiting.  We head off into town crossing the Nam Khan river and he takes us around the headland where the Nam Khan flows into the Mekong and we have our first view of the mighty Mekong river which is the main point of this holiday.  We also drive pass the “Tamarind” restaurant which he recommends for good dining this evening.  This young man clearly knows what we like!

First a trip round the main temple.  There are a large number in LP but the monks all come to this one at breakfast time having collected through the town (see tomorrow).  This gives a reminder on the Buddhist culture and we also see the Chariot used to convey the body of the last King of Laos.

Towards the other end of town we stop at Phousy Hill and have to climb to the top – some 330 steps.  And it goes to prove we are not fit as we struggle with the climb!  About a third of the way up a monk is sat and has excellent English for a conversation with my wife.  Along the way there are numerous Buddha statues (hence some photos) but we reach the end very short of breath.  The photographs are here

Wonderful views over the countryside.  LP is not huge and we can see the surrounding wooded hillsides and the town below.  Eventually a stead descent sees us back on the main street and transported to our hotel – Le Palais Juilana which is about 3km from town.  Briefly use the swimming pool but we keep being reminded that it is winter locally, even though it feels warm to us!  Sunset around 5:30pm.

We are still in the travelling phase of this holiday so merely resort enough clothes  for now and then head back into town for dinner at the Tamarind.  They place a small brazier near our feet to keep them warm and the mozzies away and give us a huge menu.  Careful reading shows a set menu with a variety of local delicacies and so we chose that.  And it was all very good.  The price includes wine and was $30 for the two of us.  Outstanding value.

Tuc tuc here is a little powered metal cage – and by this time of day without our coats was pretty cold.  We head to bed as we have an early start tomorrow.

Vietnam (north) – another day

Day 3 Thursday 18 December 2014

Good and varied breakfast in the Movenpick, but avoiding the local delicacies on offer we stick to a continental breakfast as we have a busy day in Hanoi.    Our first planned stop is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum but on seeing numerous school children in long lines our guide aborts this visit and we head off to the Temple of Literature.  Originally constructed as a school for Royal children, it was later extended to become the first University and major place of learning where in the fifteenth to seventeeth centuries the people who learnt here were very important with examination success being recorded on impressive stone tablets.  The teachings of Confucius (of whom there is a statue) and the three Kings responsible for extending education are honoured in the Temple.  Whilst some aspects of the teachings of Confucius might not match modern life they formed the bedrock of society here for a long time.  Despite the bustle outside it is a quiet and peaceful area.

Today’s photographs are at

We then return to the Mausoleum where we can see the body of Ho Chi Minh, although poorly – first tip here is that if you have reactolite glasses they look like sun glasses so the (armed) guards politely and silently request removal.  Not a problem unless like my wife and I you can see not a lot!  Surreptiously putting them back on and off and not missing a step (you need to keep in step you know) as you pass the great man is quite a struggle for both of us.

Back in the open air we rejoin our guide and enter the remaining complex where we are outside the French colonial head quarters built for the Governor of French Indo-China.  The whole of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand were controlled from here and indeed the country boundaries were redrawn by the French which has ed to many significant changes in the separate countries as becomes clear in Cambodia later in our journey.

We hear more detail of the French colonial period which was effectively ended by Ho Chi Minh.  The French were in control from the middle of the nineteenth century until the Japanese took control.  At the end of the war in 1945 Vietnam declared independence but the French returned seeking to take back control.  They built  a massive garrison at Dien Bien Phu in a deep wooded valley from which to control the Vietnamese.  However the guerilla tactics adopted by the Vietnamese – building narrow paths to the top of the surrounding hills under cover of mists prevented French aerial visibility and the narrow valley enabled supply lines to be cut easily.  Eventually the French suffered a massive defeat and as a result of a peace treaty Vietnam was divided into North, controlled by Ho Chi Minh and South Vietnam which was still linked with the French.

At one point Ho Chi Minh sought assistance from the USA but in that period it was isolationist and would not assist, so not surprisingly help was sought from the Russians.  It makes you wonder how different history would have been in this part of the world if the USA had helped?

Ho Chi Minh would not take up residence in the fine ex-French colonial headquarters preferring a much simpler house nearby which we can see from the outside.  This was temporary but the replacement house on stilts, which of course is common in Vietnam, was no more luxurious.  A man of and with the people who did believe “that we are all in this together” had very modest accommodation.  Adjacent was the effective “cabinet room” alongside a massive bunker which could be used when bombs were being dropped by the Americans from South Vietnamese airbases as the “war against communism” developed in the late sixties and early seventies.

This is however all in a beautiful parkland setting (or at least it is now) with a lake, trees and now well maintained grass.

In 1989 we may recall the fall of the Berlin Wall.  What I did not know was that in the same year (when we married – so I do have a wife on these travels) was that Communism was being reformed in Vietnam and Laos.  The new communism may not entirely match our political choice, but individuals have far more freedom and can travel abroad freely.  They buy and build businesses and land and we are struck everywhere in Vietnam (and later Laos) that there seem to be plentiful supplies of food and clothing.  Hanoi may be much different to the countryside, and I will write about Laos later, but certainly in the capital there seemed to be no shortages on anything.  And my wife (well she deserves a comment) notes how clean it is all seems compared to our trip last year to India.  Here streets are tidy and clean and unemployment is very low, with people no doubt employed to maintain this state of affairs.

Leaving this central area we go the Museum of Ethnology where the 54 different ethnic groupings within Vietnam are represented.  They have many different languages and backgrounds as they reflect moving populations, invasions and economic and social changes and the museum seeks to reflect this.

However in the grounds of the Museum is a small restaurant which works in the same way as “Jamie’s Fifteen”.  It takes youngsters and trains them in cooking, waiting and management skills and we have a very tasty lunch – more Hanoi soup first.

There are settings conveying the different living and working practices of the different ethnic groups.  Outside the main museum there are samples of various buildings from around Vietnam showing different types of construction – one of wood, one of bamboo, one with a thaatched type roof, some on the ground and others on stilts from those living on or close flood plains (perhaps we should adopt this in the UK!).  We did not take photos in this area but I can refer you to .  Strongly recommended for a visit.

We return to the City Centre for a light hearted trip (after the sight seeing) in a tuc tuc – man powered, not motorised – around the Old Quarter which is essentially a huge market.  The streets are teeming with food suppliers, clothing, shoes, jewellery, cafes etc.  Equally interesting was the street traffic.  Mopeds loaded up with boxes, goods for delivery or families (4 on a single moped was the largest number I saw.  Managed a photo of three.  Walking around there are still many ladies delivering in traditional style with a pole and baskets on each end and a pointed straw hat, although the numbers are declining as the population modernises.

Finally time for dinner and a huge step change tonight.  “San Ho” is an expensive fish restaurant which is almost opposite our hotel.  So no major exercise.  Food very good, but expensive by comparison with anything else and yet nothing to make us go “wow”.  Our choice but might have done better to go back to the same place as the night before!

Vietnam (north)

Day 2 Wednesday 17 December 2014

We are awoken (well we were not asleep) in what are theoretically the early hours but it is only 21:00 back in the UK.  Vietnam has a 7 hour time difference and following a not bad breakfast we are on descent into Hanoi.

First annoying experience, despite the cases being given priority stickers at Gatwick we endure a longish wait before they emerge.  Meanwhile we are entertained by four boxes apparently containing Johnnie Walker whisky going around and around on the carousel!

Exit with nothing to declare we are met by a young guide and meeting the two other ladies on this tour (whose bags had been first to emerge so had also had a long wait), we head to the hotel and get our first taste of the Hanoi rush hour.  Public transport seems a little lacking – as far as I can see they have built a new airport terminal to cope with growing traffic but there is no rail connection to the airport!  There is heavy use of mopeds / motorbikes with this being a very heavily used mode of transport.

Our first stop is a coffee and the Museum of History which enables our guide to give a run down of Vietnamese history over the last 2000 years.  Controlled by China until approx 1000AD, Hanoi was formed and became the capital of an independent country in 1004 AD.  Much of the next 400 years or so was to be subject to continued invasions from China until the Vietnamese under resourceful leaders seduced the Chinese navy into the mouth of the river where stakes had been buried which, as the tide dropped, trapped the invaders and enabled the Vietnamese troops to inflict a heavy defeat.  The tactic was so good that it was used a second time, the Chinese having apparently forgotten the history in the meantime.

This period ended when the French came and Hanoi became the headquarters for French Indo-China in the nineteenth century.  That initially ended with the Japanese invasion and so in 1945 with the Japanese withdrawal Vietnam became independent and certainly our guide considered this an important date.  Led by Ho Chi Minh the French returned with the intention of recovering Indo-China and the Vietnamese guerillas were born.

The French built a huge garrison at Dien Bien Phu in the north of the country in a deeply wooded valley.  As we acknowledged the mists hang around in the morning in winter and under this cover from aircraft the Vietnamese were able to construct narrow paths through the woods to the top of the surrounding hillsides and were able cut the land supply lines to the garrison and also to rain down firepower from the hillsides inflicting a heavy defeat.  The French surrendered the North and the country became divided into two – North and South Vietnam.
This album records our two days in Hanoi and are now in the order they were taken I think, so should match this blog a little more closely.

Hanoi has recently celebrated 1000 years of existence and has created a giant mural covering some 4 km along the major city road, parts of which we saw and appear in the photos.  We then drove around part of the city seeing the Lake of Restored sword and the temple at Quan Thanh temple which was at the north gate of the original city.

Following on from sleep in the afternoon we wandered around the corner from the Movenpick hotel with the intention of sampling some Vietnamese food.  Quan Ngon restaurant is an obviously popular place; after a false start a waitress with some English (and English is a much taught language in Vietnam we found) helped us through the menu and we ordered far too much.  Hanoi soup to start is an absolute must.  Either beef or chicken noodle – but good and refreshing.  The highlight was a shrimp speciality in a pancake.  But then we were also given rice paper and a variety of herbs and so with the shrimp pancake, herbs and lettuce and then roll up within the rice paper so that it is a little like we would eat crispy duck and pancake in the UK but also resembling a rice paper pring roll.  Crowned the best course however was a beef dish on various greens which was very tasty.  Plus some rice and other bits and pieces.

Time for bed.


Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

Day 1 Tuesday 16 December 2014

She is Jackie and I am Richard. The names may well be changed to protect the innocent. This is the first of our holidays planned post retirement, if you exclude the trip to North Wales back in the summer when a long weekend became a week and a bit visiting the railways there.

This trip commenced not with with usual car journey to an airport but instead, courtesy of some very well priced tickets from FGW (not anyone’s favourite operator) to Gatwick airport. We progressed from rail to the shuttle and North Terminal and booked in. Now for the best part of three weeks we are in the hands of Voyages Jules Verne (hereinafter VJV) visiting Vietnam (north), Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam (south).

The day then passes in the usual blur of security, the interminable trek over the bridge to the satellite terminal, joining the Vietnam Air Boeing 777-200 ER plane and heading off across Europe, whilst trying to get some sleep.  This time as it is long haul (10 hours 45 minutes) we have taken premium economy and unusually Jackie manages more sleep than I do – which given she says she cannot sleep on a plane is almost amazing.

To me the area we are visiting is defined in two ways with recent history in the area having largely passed me by.  There are the horrific news images from the Vietnam war in the late sixties and early seventies and the later filmic recreations – “The Deer Hunter”, “Apocalypse Now” and of course “Good Morning Vietnam” and alongside this the genocide recorded in “The Killing Fields”.  Shortly before our departure Sue Perkins was in full travelogue mode covering the Mekong river over a four episode period which gave a much modern view of the area (and is no doubt available even now on DVD from your favourite supplier).  What will we find as we tour?