Vietnam by Motorbike Trip Day 4

Day 4 started with a visit to the local village by the lake at Lien Son, Lak Lake.  This is another population that were displaced by the government.   After the Vietnam War they were moved from their homes in the forest to this village.   Their homes in the forest were raised up on stilts to help protect from animals (tigers etc) so when they rebuilt they kept the same style of house to keep with tradition. 
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Most of the houses are really long to fit the whole family in.  When a couple is married the man typically moves in with the wife’s family until they can afford to have their own house.
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Not unusual to see cattle, pigs, dogs, chickens and children roaming the village.
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It was pretty windy this day and we noticed it even more when we got out onto the plains where the rice paddies failed to offer much protection.
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Thang gave us the statistic that Vietnam is the second highest producer of rice in the world, Thailand is number one.  Actually that’s completely incorrect it’s about 7th and 8th but they grow a lot of rice regardless. The paddies we saw were normal rice, the sticky rice version is more likely to be grown in the terraced paddies on hillsides.

Had to get a pic of the 3 bikes in.
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We’d eaten a lot of local black pepper in Cambodia but hadn’t seen the plants up close until today. The plants look a bit like a bean plant and are grown up around trees.
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The green corns are dried to produce the black corns we eat.
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Looking at any menu in Vietnam it’s easy to see how important noodles are to the cuisine, breakfast, lunch and dinner.   We got to see rice noodles being made from rice powder and dried on bamboo sticks.   Different attachments can give thinner or thicker noodles.
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We had asked Thang to make this a bit shorter day because we hadn’t realised how tiring the days would be.   This meant we got into our final overnight stop, Buon Ma Thuot, around 2pm so we had a chance for a rest.

Our last dinner was very tasty.
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We couldn’t pass up some pool on the way home, Thang outdid both of us even Matt with his 3 finger glove.
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Day 4 down it was another reasonably early night in preparation for the almost 200km ride on the last day.

Vietnam by Motorbike Trip Day 3

On the road again nice and early heading further north we saw some of the flower fields that supply the many flower stalls at the Da Lat market.  Having fresh cut flowers is particularly important coming up to the end of January when the Vietnamese festival TET begins.

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In November 2013 typhoon Haiyan brought a lot of rainfall to this inland area, causing causing damage to many of the roads.   We discovered this when we struck some 15km of serious road works early in the day.
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Even the roading contractors seem to
wear sandals when they’re working.  Not sure this guy would have been able to hear his radio over all the machinery.
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Again we passed lots of coffee plantations and stopped at a cafe with a great view over the valley.

This cafe served many different types of coffee beans but was well known for its weasel coffee. Knowing how it’s made we weren’t game to try it, for those who don’t know here’s the explanation. The bean is fed to a weasel like this friendly one we met.

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The weasel excretes the bean, and the bean is then used to make a really expensive coffee.

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We saw where the weasels are housed, even their ‘honeymoon’ suite.

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This weasel facility was also producing rice wine. The rice is cooked, left to ferment then heated to produce steam. When the steam meets cold water and condenses the end result is rice wine varying between about 30-60% alcohol.

With so many silk products for sale in the markets it was great to stop by a silk farm to see how the threads are made. It all starts with the silkworm being fattened up on a diet of mulberry leaves.

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The worm then spins a silk fibre cocoon around itself, creating what looks like a cotton ball.

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When the time is right the cocoon is immersed in boiling water to separate the strands. The strands are picked up by the mechanical reel.
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The final product sort of looks like loops of pasta.
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Our stop at the Elephant waterfalls gave us a chance to stretch our legs.
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We clambered over rocks to get nearer the bottom and ended up having a bit of a mid morning shower in the spray.
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The landscape we were biking through was beautiful, it’s not like other countries we’ve been to where there are expanses of nothing. It seems that every inch has been put to use for coffee, fruit etc. The Vietnamese are very industrious people, always busy.
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Matt enjoyed the chance to stop to smell the tigerbalm.
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Thang decided to pretty up my helmet with flowers.
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Matt practised his tough ‘biker’ look while he wished he actually had Thangs bike for the whole trip.
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Stairway to great views? Well that’s what Thang told us. I think he just wanted to laugh at watching us climb all the way to the top because it was too overgrown to see much of a view.
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Our last pit stop of the day was to see a floating village.
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These people once lived on the great Mekong river but were redirected by the government to live on this lake instead.
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Instead of practicing our rotary-hoe tractor contraption (known as a highland taxi, often loaded with 25 workers) driving we thought we’d better leave it to the locals who seem to be experts at steering with their feet.
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As we were coming into Lien Son, our overnight stop, Thang got a puncture in his back tyre. Luckily even at 5pm we found a repair shop and after what looked like some glueing, patching and banging the tube was fixed and we got to our accommodation for a good dinner and early night.

Vietnam by Motorbike Trip Day 2

We didn’t actually hop on our bikes at all on Day 2.  We had added this day into the tour to give us a chance to look around Da Lat.  

We found a cafe in the morning that served a Latte and Flat White, always a good start to our day.   Quite a contrast sitting in the warm cafe looking out at the locals enjoying noodle soup for breakfast at the usual plastic table and chairs, yes many women do wear those hats.

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One of the popular tourist spots, especially for the Russian tour groups bused in for day trips from Nha Trang, is the Crazy House.  It’s quite difficult to explain, I guess it’s what you could imagine if Willy Wonka built a house.   There are no straight lines, the walls are made to look like tree trunks and you can end up walking over the rooftops.
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We didn’t spend too long here because all the uneven ground and walls started making us dizzy.
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Lunchtime brought the usual search of the street stalls.   We found these mini Bahn Mi’s which were delicious.
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The city is well maintained, very tidy, and still has many remnants of French Colonial Architecture.  We think it’s the most western / European Vietnamese city we’ve seen. There are even wide footpaths and clean air from the 1500m elevation.  
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There is a large lake which is nice to wander around, we saw the beginnings of blossom buds but in a few weeks the trees on the lake edge will look beautiful.

Da Lat is well known for it’s big flower garden that is beautiful to wander around.  
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There are heaps of bonsai trees, we really like the structure of them.

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They do some pretty cool designs with flowers like this portrait of Ho Chi Minh.
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Has anyone seen Matt’s glass slipper?
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At dinner we sampled both the red and white local Da Lat wine.   Not tasty enough to pay lots for but at the equivalent of around NZ$2 per glass we had to try it once.   Although we were under the impression that it was local wine, we later learnt that the majority is brought in by the barrel from France, perhaps their rejects?

Neat city , favourite place in Vietnam so far & wished we’d had more time there. But back on the bike it is.

Vietnam by Motorbike Trip Day 1

From Ho Chi Minh City we caught a train up to Mui Ne, a coastal city.   We were quite glad we were staying just the one night, it’s completely overrun by Russian tourists (note the signs in pic below) and we found it very lacking in personality.  Although it did have some interesting things on the menu. 
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We knew that people carried all sorts on their bike but a washing machine? Why is it that we have moving trucks at home? NB. The white plastic straps were over his shoulders like a backpack.
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Our time here was the start of our 5 day motorbike trip north via the central highlands.   Our guide Thang met us the night before setting off to go over our itinerary then bright and early the next day we set off with our own bikes, Thang leading on his carrying our gear.  

Day 1 involved quite a few stops along the way,  the first at a fishing village just north of Mui Ne. 
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It makes you realise just how important fishing is to the livelihoods of so many Vietnamese families.   While the men are out fishing the women are on the shore looking after children and shucking shells.

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Sometimes it’s the simple round boats that do the job on the water.   It must take a bit of practice to manoeuvre them in any way other than round in circles.
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We also spotted some repairs going on.
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We continued north passing some of the big sand dunes that line the coast. Not as impressive as those in Northland NZ but pretty cool all the same.
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Our morning tea stop was a paddock on the side of the road where a watermelon crop was.   Although they were growing just in sand the melons got enough water through irrigation to make them super juicy.
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We then headed inland and saw the scenery change to become more hilly and green.  We stopped where there were peanuts and taro drying in the sun.  The taro is sliced before drying and is either for the consumption of humans and animals.   The peanuts were yummy but we’re so used to having them salted.  They also grow at ground level in sand.
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Our lunch stop was at a small cafe, great tasting pork and veges on rice.   The most memorable part though was when Matt was called handsome then offered 7 buffalo to marry one of the local girls, apparently the going rate.  He wasn’t prepared to move in with the extended Vietnamese family though so he stuck with the offer of the NZ girl. 

We’ve seen so many dragonfruit in all of the markets we’ve been to and at our next stop we saw a big plantation.  The plant looks like a long skinny cactus, 4 are planted on each side of a post and they climb up to form what looks like a single plant.   Usually there are 2-3 crops of fruit a year but the wealthy farmers string lighting up so it’s lit 24 hours a day.  By doing this they can get 7 crops a year.  
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Our guide Thang manages to do bike tours through most of the high season and supplements this by growing cashew nuts through the low season.  He spotted a couple of trees on our travels and wanted to show us. 
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I would never have thought that they look like this before they’re harvested.

Banana anyone.
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The scenery we were travelling through was really pretty.  The only problem was the strong winds that blew us around a little.
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It was quite surprising to hear that behind Brazil, Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer of coffee.   There were many plantations on our travels.  Driving by it looks like an orchard but when you stop to look you see the bright red berries that contain the coffee bean.   We tried Vietnamese coffee twice on this first day but didn’t like it. Normally served with condensed milk which makes it really sweet and it ends up thick and tasting more like a hot chocolate to us.
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Our last sightseeing stop was a mushroom farm growing ‘ear’  mushrooms.  Rubber tree scraps are bagged up and then splits in the bags are where the mushrooms form.  
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There were plenty of fully grown ones being dried outside too. 
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It turned out to be a pretty big day of driving.  After about 200km we approached Da Lat where we were having a couple of nights.   It was getting dark, Matt’s petrol gauge was way past empty and we ended up driving through the city of 500,000 people to get to our accommodation. 

On Rach’s 2nd day of solo motorbiking (the other being the 5 hours off road in Cambodia) we had to negotiate some of the busiest intersections and roundabouts we’ve been through.

A little unnerving (no briefing, coaching, instructions, directions or tips – just on your bike and follow me) but we came through unscathed and went out for a well deserved goat hot pot dinner.  
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Ho Chi Minh

As soon as we touched down in Ho Chi Minh it was definitely a change of pace from Phu Quoc. With a population of 7.4 million and almost everyone on a motorbike, crossing the road was a little tricky to start with.
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We visited the war history museum which gave a very descriptive insight into the horrors of the Vietnam War. There was the usual display of fighter planes and other machinery.
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A bit more gruesome was the area describing torture techniques, I won’t go into detail.
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It was incredible to learn that more than 2 million civilians were killed during this time and the effects of Agent Orange are still seen today through mutations in DNA causing various disabilities in today’s generation.

On a lighter note we also spent much time wandering around the city.

The Saigon Square market was a hit, especially with Simon who seemed to arrive home with more shopping bags each day. A lot of the goods are much better quality than in Thailand etc. Because there are so many clothing and footwear factories in Vietnam the overrun from genuine exporters is sold at the markets. Was a bit tricky for a girl to find sports shoes there though, half the time the store will only have a style in one size and the other half they look at my size 9 foot as I walk in the door and immediately say no.

We all managed to do a bit of exercise to work off the Christmas / New Year’s excess. Matt and Simon got tennis coaching from ‘Coach Kong’ a couple of days, Gieve was good at going for walks around the park and Rach got into some of the public exercise machines.

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One exciting thing for the locals is that the first McDonald’s in Vietnam is due to open in the city soon. Apparently this progress was due to the owner being the Presidents son in law.
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There are many motorbike taxi’s in the city and when the drivers have down time they like to relax on their bikes, there must be some pretty good balance involved.

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We were also impressed with some of the wiring around town and the maintenance man clambering over them.

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There are many different types of street tours that you can do around the city day or night. We choose an evening street food tour where you get taken around on the back of motorbikes. It was quite entertaining going through the major roundabouts to see how you really need to drive in Vietnam, i.e. never completely stop just slow down and do your best to dodge other bikes.
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We were taken to 5 different stalls, sometimes having 2 or 3 dishes at once. We tried the HCM take on the papaya salad, noodle soup, famous rice paper pancakes, various desserts, rice wine and more.

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The more entertaining dish was the baby duck embryo which only Gieve was game to try.
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Although it’s a popular snack most of our guides had tried it once or twice but don’t eat it regularly.

Our second to last night we went in search of a karaoke bar. It’s not hard to find one in the city but they all seemed to only have private rooms for hire. We were more after the open area listen to anyone sing feel so gave it a miss.

Because we had a kitchen, on the last night Matt decided he would cook dinner. We went off to the supermarket in search of everything we needed. After about an hour in there we thought maybe making risotto wasn’t the best idea. The major thing we had trouble finding / translating was arborio rice. Plenty of rice options but which one? We must have looked really lost because a customer came to help us and ended up calling her sister who was working in a restaurant to see what we should use. Really great to have help and the sticky rice we decided on worked out great, in fact we might use it at home. Dessert was some NZ Natural Mint Choc chip icecream we found, delish.

We said farewell to Simon and Gieve for now as we were headed to the central highlands and they were off to Nha Trang for the remainder of their trip.

HCMC was enjoyable although living there would be stretch, each time you go out on the streets it’s a bit of an assault on the senses, too much to handle sometimes!

We had heaps of fun in these 10 days in Phu Quoc and HCMC, next stop trying our hands at a motorbike trip.

Happy Phu Year

It was great to have friends Simon and Gieve join us in Vietnam over New Years for 10 days of hanging out and relaxing.  We met them and spent the first 5 in Phu Quoc, an island off the south coast that actually looks like it should belong to Cambodia because it’s much closer to that shore.  

We stayed on Long Beach in Duong Dong, about half way up the island on the western coast. 

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Almost straight away we hired motorbikes and began exploring the rest of the island.  First up was the northern tip.   Nice beaches along the way and some interesting sights on the road.  Pork (meatballs) for dinner?

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We got onto some pretty dusty roads, there is a – lot – of roading and hotel development going on due to increasing tourist numbers.   There are a few fish sauce factories on the island so we went past lots of fish drying in the sun. 
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New Years eve was another day out searching for the popular ‘star’ beach in the south.  On the way we stopped for refreshments and got talking to one of the locals.  This meant that he was trying to either give directions to the beach or telling us of a restaurant to go to, unfortunately we didn’t understand anything and just ended up in fits of giggles over his enthusiasm.

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The beach deserves it’s name as one of the best on the island, great sand, we had time for a quick sunbathe before lunch.
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New Year’s eve we had a seafood bbq on the beach before heading out to find the nightlife of Phu Quoc.
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‘Chez Carole’ was the perfect place to bring in the new year.   Matt got a bit embarrassed with Simon’s Pina Coladas.
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The Filipino band was great. 

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They seemed to like having Matt and Simon there, maybe it was Matt’s great dance moves.
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It was a great night.

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We had some non-vietnamese dinners, one of which was some pretty good Indian.  Matt choose about the hottest dish on the menu.

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I don’t want to say that entertaining was draining but there were a couple of times that an afternoon nap was required.  Matt choose to document one, it looks uncomfortable but this was one of the best sleeps I’d had in ages.

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Our last day on the island we drove out to one of the waterfalls, a great spot to relax on the rocks and have a swim.

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Phu Quoc was a great place to explore, we loved getting out and about on the bikes even through the skinny streets.
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It was also great value for a lot of things – the first day before Simon & Geive arrived we had lunch at a roadside stall that was busy. They only had one dish – fried chicken, zingy salad and sauce on rice. 2 plates of this, 2 beers and a sprite (shandys), 100,000 dong which is about $NZ6.

Next we headed off to Ho Chi Minh to experience the bustling city life.

Kampot and Kep

From Ko Chang we got another ferry and minivan to the Cambodia border.   This was our first land border crossing in Asia, what an experience.  As if dodging the hoards of people trying to get you to buy a bus ticket from them wasn’t enough, then you have to avoid the ‘health check’  line.  At least we knew to ignore & skip this, a lot of people were sucked in by the official looking uniform, the toy flashing light medical scan device and the quarantine sign.  

We were glad we had arranged our transport beforehand, we found our driver quickly and started off on the 4 hour 250km trip to Kampot.  All was going well until about 40 minutes into the trip when the car started overheating.   Our driver (zero english) wasn’t much of a car man and didn’t really know what to do so started pouring water over the radiator.   After some persuasion from Matt he actually put some water into the radiator too!

It seemed to come right after being filled up so off we went again.   Unfortunately there was definitely a leak somewhere so we had to stop about every 20 minutes to cool the car down.

Eventually after literally 40 or 50 phone calls the driver called a friend to come and meet us so we stopped on the side of the road and waited.  We were sitting in the car when we saw him  collecting a couple of branches and taking an axe to them.   We couldn’t figure out what he was up to, but then realised he was fashioning some sort of tow-bar so his friend could tow him home.
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Because we were already so far behind on our drive we weren’t keen to spend another 3 hours slowly towing the car home so had to explain that we wanted to go in the good car and leave the other one. After some scratching of heads they agreed & we got on our way reaching Kampot just before dark.
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Kampot is on the south coast of Cambodia, it’s a smaller town (40,000 but seems like 5000)so isn’t nearly as touristy as Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. The location on the coast and a river running through it means there’s plenty of fresh fish available.

Our guesthouse was at the edge of town so we hired a motorbike to get around. We went exploring on the outskirts of town down a few random dirt tracks.
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Bokor National Park is a well known attraction in the area. It was about an hour 40km bike trip to the top of Bokor mountain where there is a brand new (about a year old) massive casino. Best motorbike ride we’ve done anywhere so far with great road, no traffic and top views.
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The hill was first used as a getaway destination for French settlers who stayed in the now abandoned Palace Hotel and Casino.
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Currently there is renovation work being done on the building to restore it, I’m not sure what purpose it will have when restored.
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It was a great view over the National Park to the coast and Phu Quoc Island Vietnam (coming in the next post).
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This old settlement also had a post office and shops but the only other remnant still standing is the church.
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Back to the new casino. It was definitely built for many many more people than currently frequent it. It’s a pretty ridiculous set of structures on top of a 1000m hill basically in the middle of the jungle. We had a flutter on the pokie machines and were the only people in the massive room.
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The same went for the restaurant where we had lunch, empty.
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We wouldn’t recommend the trip for the casino and old buildings but the drive is fantastic, definitely the best road in Cambodia, and great views along the way.
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The first day we managed to find an Australian run cafe with great coffee so went there for breakfast most days. Couldn’t fault their egg’s bene, delicious.

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Our walk through the local market was pretty short lived, we struggled with the heat and fish/meat smell combo. It was quite funny though to see 4 or 5 live ducks tied by the feet and strung over the handle bars of this motorbike.

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Free wifi? Good that he has a good sense of humour.
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Sitting down by the river was a great spot to see some beautiful sunsets (every night they were stunning) and sample some yummy cocktails.
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We also went on a river cruise on evening. It turns out the stray dogs of the town like sunset trips too, this one jumped aboard as we were pulling away from the shore.
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We passed under the old bridge which is really a rickety, unsafe but in use combination of 3 different structures.
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This seems like a good alternative way to get home from school.
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We saw lots of fishing boats heading out to get their nights catch.
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It seems that every night there is a beautiful sunset turning the sky brilliant orange and pink.
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We had our first ever Christmas day away from home in Kampot. Although not celebrated by the locals there were plenty of places running a special Christmas day menu. We chose the restaurant offering NZ lamb for a taste of home. We realised we should have shared a plate as we got a massive serving of lamb, pork, crackling, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, broccoli, roast carrots, apple sauce and mint sauce. Yum.
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While we were eating we were watching a group of 3 men who brought their own asian spirits and were doing rounds of shots. They then got out their tupperware container of kimchi and own chopsticks for a snack. For dinner they shared the Christmas roast meal, eating it on rice with their chopsticks and kimchi. Quite entertaining to watch.
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On a walk one day we thought the local prison must be a housing area because there were so many children playing in the courtyard. Although obviously not high security, going by the exterior it’s not a place you’d want to find yourself.
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After 5 days in Kampot it was time to head to Kep a 40 minute tuk-tuk away. We love tuk-tuk rides but we should have had proper face masks for dry and dusty roads.
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While Kampot is known for its world class pepper, Kep is known for great fresh crab. Combine the two and you have a tasty dish.
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It’s a very sleepy town with many abandoned french colonial houses from the time of Khmer Rouge. The desperate locals would strip the houses of valuables so they could trade with Vietnamese for rice and money.
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The crab market was definitely the most popular place in town but it was also nice to motorbike through a forested area with views over the coast, even if Matt was embarrassed about our pink bike with leopard print foot scuffs.
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Our accommodation was great apart from the geckos that we couldn’t get out of our room. They would hide behind the air conditioning unit and call to each other throughout the night. Also roaming around outside were chickens, roosters, dogs, and turkeys.
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Again, being on the coast led to some beautiful views.
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Our next stop was Vietnam so we had another (hopefully our last) land border crossing, not overly hi-tech.

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Again we bypassed the ‘compulsory’ $1 health check and after about an hours wait finally got on our way.

Next, some more island time on Phu Quoc with friends Simon and Gieve.

Ko Chang

After another 1 night stopover in Bangkok then a quick 30min flight we arrived in Trat.  From here it was a minivan (seat of the pants stuff as usual) and ferry (short and good) trip over to the island of Ko Chang, in the eastern Gulf of Thailand towards the border with Cambodia.

The airport is very minimal, Bangkok Airways built it, it’s more of a hut with no walls. 
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Our accommodation was right on the river and was a beautiful, relaxing place to be staying. Much better than a room on the beach surrounded by the many (we’d estimate 75%) Russian tourists. The walkway to the house was raised above the mangroves, all the plants were so lush and green. The ‘river’ is an estuary so very tidal and was cool to see the difference between high & low tide, and see locals looking for crabs under houses during low tide.

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It was a 5min walk to the beach but we liked to kayak down the river to get there instead. 
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We also went up river to explore, it was very peaceful.  The owner of the guesthouse said that sometimes you can spot pythons curled up sleeping in the trees along the riverbank so we kept an eye out but didn’t see any.
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It was a great way to see the other houses along the river, some of them well kept, others not so watertight.
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This was the sundeck and covered deck of our guesthouse.  It made a great place to read out of the midday sun.

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There are a couple of restaurants just across the river and it was fun one night to get boated to and from dinner.
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Again we hired a scooter to get around.  We had a good look down the west coast of the island where most of the settlements are but didn’t venture to the east.  A 7 year old boy was the petrol pump attendant.  Well we think it was petrol, could have been anything.
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We stumbled across a great collection of street stalls and although we’ve been trying to eat mostly thai, the lady on a stand made an outstanding kebab. So good that we had it 2 days in a row.  

It was also around here that we saw the bank security guard moonlighting as the meat skewer chef.

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It was great to kick back eating awesome food and having a beer from the 7-11, while watching the mix of locals & tourists eating, many stray dogs, food vendors putting on a show while whipping up a dish, & general thai street goings on. In Thailand if you find a good set of stalls it is much better than going to a restaurant (even a highly rated & expensive one), in our experience.

We had a bit of time at the beach, the water was warm and calm. It was a great spot to see beautiful sunsets.
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We went to a popular waterfall one day, not overly spectacular but it was a good place for people to have a dip on a hot day.
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There are a couple of islands just off the coast that are good for day trips. At low tide its actually possible to walk out to the closest one about 300m from shore. There’s a great viewpoint looking over these islands which is another great place to watch the sunset.
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We liked Ko Chang a lot. It had a nice mix of beaches, resorts, local food & villages, things to do, without feeling too busy or touristy. It seemed pretty quiet for the week before Xmas – that was due to unrest in Bangkok causing lots of cancellations from paranoid travellers. Our accommodation was outstanding, really unique and one of the best we’ve stayed in anywhere on our travels.

Fun fun, next stop to Cambodia for Christmas.

Hazy Days in Hong Kong

After Siem Reap we were planning to spend some time in Bangkok but with riots/demonstrations over the government happening frequently we instead headed to Hong Kong to catch up with friends Silas and JJ for a few days.

We were lucky to nab very cheap flights with Emirates on the big bird A380 which we hadn’t flown before. Great plane, heaps of legroom, smooth take off’s, highly recommended.

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We liked watching the exterior tail cam.

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It was great to see friends and stay at their apartment close to town. 

We couldn’t help but laugh a little when we saw this notice in the lobby of their building.  Mahjong must cause quite a ruckus.
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We hadn’t quite realised until we got there just how densely populated the city is.   The footpaths were pretty crammed and the subway non stop busy, busiest (but also most efficient) we’ve seen anywhere by a long way.
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We had a couple of dinners out, I don’t think we were expecting a sashimi platter quite this big when we ordered it but we sampled most of it.   The sea urchin was a bit too slimy for our taste.
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Another night we had our first try of goose, kind of tasted like duck but even better!

Matt was lucky enough to get game of squash with Silas, was good fun even after all these months off the court.
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We went for a walk along the waterfront and got a ferry across the harbour to get a good view of the city but unfortunately it was quite hazy/smoggy during our time in the city so our photos haven’t captured the (awesome) skyline very well.
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There are a lot of modern buildings and much development going on around the city.   Bamboo is the main material for scaffolding and we enjoyed watching the progress of this build not far from the apartment.  Hard to gauge but they were constructing the scaffolding on a 45° concrete slope, not an easy task.
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Rachel celebrated her birthday here so we thought it called for a day of eating.   Lunch was at 1 of 2 Michelin star Dim Sum restaurants in Hong Kong, where sometimes the wait for a table can be a couple of hours.  We were lucky and only had a 20min wait.  It’s the most unassuming place but the food is delicious.  We especially liked the baked BBQ pork bun and fried dumpling type things with a yummy meat filling.
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Matt was also quite a fan of the sticky rice in lotus leaf which he thought would be a good lunch when he returns to work, providing it is available at Hungry Wok Hornby Mall food court. 
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We got a little carried away and thought they would be small dishes so ordered 7 items.
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Needless to say we couldn’t finish it all and left very full and very happy at having only spent NZ$24 on a superb meal at the only Michelin star restaurant we’ve ever been to.

To follow that up Matt whipped up a yummy home cooked meal for dinner complete with apple crumble and some NZ Sauvignon Blanc from Silas and JJ’s collection.
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They were so thoughtful and brought home a delicious birthday cake, just a shame we couldn’t finish it all.
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Hong Kong has a lot of jungle running behind the city so it’s easy to get out into some greenery.   The mountain called Victoria Peak is a popular place to go to get a great view over the city on the north and to the south side of the island.   We chose to taxi part way then walk up, it’s pretty steep going. There is a tram to the top but like usual we didn’t like the idea of waiting in the line for ages.  It was our last day but unfortunately the weather hadn’t cleared so this was the view we had.
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Thanks to Silas and JJ for having us stay it was great to see you again.
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Next stop another Thai island getaway.

Smiles of Siem Reap

After a quick stopover of one night in Bangkok we were headed to Cambodia.   The luxury of having only carry on bags and sitting near the front of the plane meant the wait time for our visas on arrival in Siem Reap was only about 5min.

We were here to see what the thousands of people come to visit every day, the temples of Angkor.  
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As you can see Rach donned her ‘Dora the Explorer’ outfit.

Reading ahead most visitors can take 2 to 3 days to fully explore all of the temples.   After this long travelling we’ve realised that our attention to any particular site is really only limited to a few hours.   Keeping this in mind we arranged for a tuk tuk driver to take us around, keeping to 3 of the main temples.  
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Angkor Wat was the first stop.  It’s great to drive around the man made moat to the entrance.  We spent a couple of hours looking around, certainly not as long as most, but saw most of the grounds.
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We spotted this monkey waiting patiently to use the porta loo.
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Although there were thousands of people here the area is so large that we did manage to get lots of photos with no people in them.
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Then we headed towards Bayon and as we went through the entrance gate we spotted a bit of monkeying around.  This little girl was not happy about the monkey trying to hitch a ride (check out the look on her face) .   Out came someone’s slingshot, now we see why they’re sold everywhere.

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This is our driver Mr Ven Sing with said monkey.
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I guess they’re so used to people that they make themselves at home anywhere.
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The temple was set back from the road along a raised walkway.  
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Maybe if we weren’t sweating so much we may have opted to climb the stairs to the top but we opted for the horizontal track. 
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One thing we cant get over is the layout of the temple and how there were clear frames (obviously not window frames that long ago). 

This was the temple of faces, many carved into the stone. 
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The detail that went into each carving must have taken so long to complete.
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The last temple of our visit was Ta Prohm, where trees have taken root in amongst the stones of the temple.

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This one seemed the most touristy with people offering all sorts of things for sale.  When we left, literally through the gauntlet of begging children – we got away easy, some people were hassled from the exit right up until they got into their van.

It is certainly incredible to see the huge trees growing out of the stonework.

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Back in Siem Reap we decided to have a look around town. Although we knew it was a popular tourist spot we never expected it to be so geared up for foreigners. Probably takes the title of most touristy spot we’ve ever seen. However it’s still has a certain kind of charm, even after getting asked if we need a tuk tuk ride several hundred times over the days we were there.

The most well known street, Pub Street, is a line of bars and restaurants catering to any taste.

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Like any tourist area it’s not where the best quality restaurants are but it’s busy well into the night.   There is some traditional cuisine on this street but it’s more pizza, pasta, grill, Mexican, sushi etc.

Unexpectedly there was a squash tournament on the big screen outside one of the bars.

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On a walk by the river we managed to find some locals, not easy to find on Pub Street, going about some fishing and gaming on the footpath.

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We decided to do a motorbike tour which was by far one of the best things we have done on this whole trip. We each had our own semi automatic bike and with just the two of us and our guide we covered a lot of ground in the 5 hours.

It didn’t take long to get into the country side along a bumpy dirt road. We stopped to take a look at women weaving baskets. They complete about 5 or 6 baskets a day and sell them at the markets in the city for around $10 each.
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Here there was also this simple gizmo for children to learn to walk. They hold on and go round and round in circles.
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It was beautiful to be driving between the palm trees and rice paddies, everything was so green.
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We only had one slight detour due to a road washout.
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There were lots of people out harvesting the rice. It gave us a greater appreciation for the rice that we easily buy when we saw them in the huge fields doing all of the harvest by hand. After its dried the process of separating the grain is also done by hand.
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It’s usual to get friends and neighbours to help with the harvest then help them in return.
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The big thing that made our day was all the children that we saw would smile and wave at us, almost all of them shouting hello even right back from their houses. They were so happy. Even though it was a Saturday they still had school so we saw lots biking home for lunch. It’s so funny seeing 5 and 6 year olds quite capable of handling an adult size bike even though the seat was up to their shoulders when they were pedalling.
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We had a look around the school, same sort of layout as the primary schools we went to.
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We had some lollies with us so Rach tried to save the world one lolly at a time.
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We got to see another temple ruin, this one most tourists would never know about.
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The whole time we were out we didn’t see another westerner, so it felt like we were really off the usual tourist trail.
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One night we saw a sign for “Cambodian food festival” so we ventured to it. On entry we were given tickets for the lucky draw and proceeded to win 4 beers so this was a good start.
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Rather than a food festival though it was more like a open air concert with tables and food stalls but was fun for something different. We thought the stall selling toddler helmets was funny, then turned around and saw one being put to use.
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Cambodia has now taken the trophy for cheapest destination we’ve visited, with many meals in SR being US$1 and $2, and draught beer .50c per glass. If you bargained a bit you could get a whole day tuk tuk driver for ten bucks.

The rest of our time in Siem Reap was spent around the pool at the guesthouse and generally relaxing. We met some Canadians and went out to dinner with them one night. Great fun, next stop another ‘one night in Bangkok’ before a visit to Hong Kong.