A Travellerspoint blog

More buses.....

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Today was another travel day as we headed north and east towards Kratie. This little town's main attraction is the Irrawaddy dolphin, which I hope Tam will be able to tell you more about in tomorrows entry as we attempt to find them! For today, we were pretty much just confined to a bus, as the 5-6 hour trip dragged on to 8 hours. Yawn! Top it off with a completely unusable toilet block at our last reststop (and that is saying something for us, as our standards of hygiene are not what they were!) and you have a couple of tired and grouchy travellers!

But we arrived safely and have a room in a hostel overlooking the river - very nice :-) After an early dinner, we retired back to our room to find that the door had somehow managed to lock itself shut with a bolt from the inside - strange! Anyway, after a few failed attempts to break into our room (reassuring!) the managers solution was to wait for our neighbour to arrive home for the night and then use the adjoining door in his room to access ours...... suddenly we're feeling a little less safe here! So we patiently waited in the lobby, in a stiffling heat, for an hour for our neighbour to return and then we were reunited with all our lovely stuff! Perhaps we should put something up against the adjoining door tonight to ensure no breakins......... :-)

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 20:45 Archived in Cambodia Tagged kratie Comments (1)

A difficult day

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Our original plan for today had been to put our passports in at the Thai Embassy to sort out a Thai visa, then get a bus to Kratie (travelling overland to Thailand will only give us a fifteen day stamp but we need longer, hence the need for a visa). But the buses only go to Kratie in the morning so our plans were scuppered! Phnom Penh sightseeing it is instead then!

With Guy, we hired a tuk-tuk driver for the day to take us where we wanted to go. First stop, the Thai Embassy for us and the Vietnam Embassy for Guy. We were highly unsuccessful in sorting out our visas. The Embassy was closed so we had to speak to a man in a hut outside. The price he quoted for the visa was almost double what it stated on the Embassy website. Clearly, with the Embassy shut, he could charge what he liked, adding an extra $5 every other sentence for one thing or another. Deciding we would not pay his ridiculous bribes we walked away. We'll figure out another plan instead! Guy was successful in putting in for his Vietnam visa so it wasn't a wasted trip.

Then onto the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museam, a.k.a. the S-21. This former school was used as a security prison during Pol-Pot's regime in the 1970's. Under the Khmer Rouge, all schools were closed (they belived that education was not important and that everyone should just work the land instead) and some were turned into prisons.

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The S-21 is truly an awful place. Thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured and sent to the killing fields from here. The old classrooms were turned into cells and torture chambers and in some places you can still see what appears to be dried blood on the floor. People who were targeted by the Khmer Rouge included educated individuals such as doctors, lawyers, scientists and teachers, Buddhist monks, ethnic minorites, and anyone who they believed opposed their ideology.

The Khmer Rouge kept detailed records of everyone who came into the prison including taking their photograph. These photographs are now on display and the sheer volume of them is overwhelming. Most of the people whose faces we looked at would have been murdered not long after their picture had been taken. And even more upsetting was the number of pictures of children and babies. The information boards at the museum explained that when someone was arreseted by the Khmer Rouge, his whole family would usually be captured and killed also so that no-one could seek revenge on their behalf. Under the regime around a quarter of the population of Cambodia was murdered, something that we both find extremelly difficult to comprehend.

After spending a couple of hours walking through the different buildings, looking at photographs and reading information boards at the S-21 we decided to take a few hours break before going to visit the Killing Fields on the outskirts of town. So our tuk-tuk driver took us back to our hostel where we spent some time relaxing and working out how we would get around our Thai visa issue; we decided to just pay up and fly to Bangkok so we can get a thirty day stamp!

At 3pm, we met up with our driver again who took us to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, more commonly known as the Killing Fields. This is a site where thousands of people were murdered (bullets were seen as too expensive and so most victims were beaten /stabbed to death) and buried by Khmer Rouge soldiers. There are many more sites like this throughout Cambodia.

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Walking through the site, the audio guide explained the different areas and what had happened here. We saw mass graves, fragments of bones and clothes that are still only just making their way up to the surface, a tree which was used to brutally kill infants against and the memorial stupa which has on display the skulls and larger bones of some of the victims who were killed and buried here.

Today has been deeply upsetting and, at times, we both couldn't quite believe what we were seeing / hearing.

We had a sedate evening of going out for dinner with Guy followed by a trip to Dairy Queen.

Exhausted from our day we'll have an early night.

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 20:43 Archived in Cambodia Tagged phnompenh Comments (1)

Wifi on a minibus?! Too good to be true!

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Suffice to say we were relieved to be leaving Serendipity Beach today! However, our much hyped up transport was a bit of a disappointment. "The minibus has lots of space," they said, "It even has wifi!". Ha! We should have known better! We were all piled into a little minibus, with bags squashed into every available space. Surprise, surprise, no wifi signal either! Oh well! It's all part of the experience, right?

Several hours later we arrived in Phnom Penh and checked into our hostel on the waterfront. This area appears to be much more lively than where we stayed last time we were here, thankfully! However, our room is actually hotter than the sun and smells of damp...... I fear that hostelworld has failed us this time. To console ourselves after a long journey and the traumas of last night, we took Guy to the local Pizza Company restaurant. This cheered us all up significantly. But a lack of sleep on Koh Rong due to the ridiculous number of itchy sand fly bites means that I am thoroughly exhausted so it will be an early night for me tonight!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 20:38 Archived in Cambodia Tagged phnompenh Comments (0)


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Whilst researching accommodation in Sihanoukville, we randomly stumbled across a place called Lonely Beach on Trip Advisor. It promised a beautiful secluded beach, prisitne waters, and the full shipwrecked experience Robinson Crusoe style (i.e. no running water, only a few hours of electric a day, sleeping practically outdoors etc...). So of course, we couldn't say no!


The journey to our slice of paradise was a difficult one. First off, our tuk-tuk driver couldn't find the port where the boat was going from as a result of Lonely Beach providing very confusing instructions. We managed to put a call through to stop the boat leaving without us so we made it (thank goodness I brought my iPhone!). Then it was a three and a half hour journey on supposedly calm waters; I still felt seriously seasick!


But I'm pleased to report it was more than worth it. True secluded paradise (and at a price us stingy backpackers can afford)!


We spent our days sunbathing, swimming, reading, making a giant sandcastle, and playing chess (to escape the midday sun), and our evenings taking highly refreshing bucket showers (no running water!), eating tasty food such as beef curry and sweet and sour squid, and spending time with our new friends Jenny, Guy and Sina! Our accommodation was a twelve bed dorm room that was essentially a platform on stilts with a roof. The sides were all open so we could see out to sea from one aspect and into the jungle from the other. Lovely!

I think the only negative thing we can say about our time on Lonely Beach was the sandflies from which there was no escaping. Poor Jo got eaten alive! Luckily we had some steriod cream leftover from the bed bug episode and a lot of Tiger Balm!!


Sadly we had to leave Lonely Beach one day earlier than we wanted to. The winds on our fourth night on the island were crazy, blasting into the dorm room and battering the tarpaulin that had been tied to one side of the dorm. The boat was able to go the following afternoon so we hopped on as Yogi (the friendly manager of the resort) told us the weather forecast for the next few days was for even stronger winds. So we waved goodbye to one of the nicest beaches we've ever been to!

Getting back to civilisation was a shock to the system (even after a hair-raising boat ride through high swells in high winds). Rather than go all the way back to Otres Beach, we decided to stay more central as we were getting a bus the next day. That was a mistake. Somehow we ended up in a guesthouse right next to Serendipty Beach (the beach Dan had told us was dreadful). Oops!! Hungry and in need of a beer, the three of us (Guy came with) dubiously made our way down to the sand. Awful. Full of litter, the smell of garbage and never ending people trying to sell you all manner of crap. Concluding there was nothing else for it, we made our way through several beers and cocktails, watching fireworks being set off all over the place and drunken westerners acting like louts! It wasn't long before we escaped back to our room to eat junk food and watch the rugby!!

We miss you already Lonely Beach!!

Tam xx


Posted by Tam-Jo 20:28 Archived in Cambodia Tagged kohrong Comments (1)

Back to the beach!

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After what felt like a long bus trip south, we finally arrived at the beaches of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Having decided to shun the touristy area of Serendipity Beach, we hopped in a tuk tuk and headed to the much quieter area of Otres Beach. The accommodation we wanted to stay in had a room free across the road from the beach, so we took it and got ourselves settled in. After a quick freshen up we wandered to the bar/restaurant across the road and discovered the amazing Cambodian and Greek food, and the 50p draft beer that would become our staples over the following three days!

There is not much to report from our time in Otres. We managed to finally rid ourselves of bed bugs, thanks to the many kettles full of boiling water provided by our hostel staff! We also met up with Dan again one evening for drinks and dinner, and were relieved we weren't staying elsewhere in Sihanoukville as he likened it to the Costa Del Sol, which is not what we had come all this way to see! We were also horrified to discover that he had not yet been in the sea, so paddling became a necessary addition to our evening!


Other than these events, our days were spent soaking in the beautiful scenery, eating salad (with real feta cheese in it! YUM!), swimming in the sea and befriending the local bar/restaurant owner who would give us free donuts and beer :-) We also spent the middle of every day out of the sun (like good girls!) planning our upcoming trip around the Thai islands. We hope that by the time we leave here tomorrow the rest of our trip will be planned and booked, but knowing us we will change our minds somewhere along the way and alter all our carefully made plans!


Tomorrow we leave for Koh Rong and our own little slice of paradise!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 19:43 Archived in Cambodia Tagged otres Comments (1)

Goodnight,sleep tight,don't let the bed bugs bite...ACTUALLY

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So after a lack of sleep last night, we were looking forward to a quiet room where we might actually get more than a couple of hours kip. Fail!!

After dark, the bugs emerged. Bed bugs! And lots and lots and lots of them!! Not knowing what they were at first, we tried to ignore them as best we could. Jo, however, couldn't get back to sleep after this discovery so spent a couple of hours online researching, amongst other things, these disgusting little creatures. I awoke at about 3am to find her huddled on a chair, iPod in hand, looking a little deranged. After she'd updated me on all her new found knowledge (of which I was certain was going to give me nightmares) we resigned ourselves to the fact that we'd have to spend the whole night in this room so would have to just deal with it. We shared the bed which looked the least infested and hoped for the best. Of course, neither of us slept very well, waking up every half an hour to find more of them crawling over us!

And surprise surprise, this morning we discovered bites. On me, a whole trail of them along my right arm and two strips down my back; and on Jo several on her legs. Totally totally disgusting!

We complained to the hotel staff. I even showed the receptionist our room, pointing out all the ones on the bed sheets that we'd squished in the night! We managed to score free breakfasts and a free upgrade to the fast boat today meaning that we'd get to Phnom Penh a few hours earlier than planned. Totally not worth dealing with bed bugs for though. Fingers crossed we don't come across them again on our travels! And apologies for the rant but they really were repulsive!!


After breakfast we visited a fish farm and a Cham village before sitting on the boat for two hours to get to the border. Following a lot of waiting around at the border, we boarded our fast boat for the three hour trip to Phnom Penh.

Once we had checked into our hostel we tried to find somewhere to go for dinner. Seeing as it's Valentine's day, we thought we'd make a little romantic trip to the nearest McDonalds / KFC / Burger King. No such luck! The area we're staying in is super quiet and a little creepy. But we did stumble upon a coffee shop that served pasta, so in we settled for a nice spag bol and some cheesecake! Happy Valentine's all :-)

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 06:05 Archived in Cambodia Tagged mekong phnompenh Comments (1)

Street Pho Bo...finally!

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Not much to report on. We had to move to the hotel next door as ours was full. Packing for this took a long time...our room was a state!

We've had a very productive day, getting plans sorted for Cambodia and Thailand. Inbetween planning we went for little walks trying to find the ABC Bakery that Sarah and Felix told us was amazing. After almost an hour in total of pounding the pavements in Saigon, on a day when it was hotter than the sun, we found the bakery. It was closed for Tet. Oops!

But this evening, we finally completed Adam's challenge to eat Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) at a street stall. Very proud of ourselves!

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 05:46 Archived in Vietnam Tagged saigon Comments (1)

Death, destruction and Die Hard

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Today we tackled what we knew would be one of the more difficult museums on our trip - the War Remnants Musuem (formally the American War Crimes Museum). We were both still feeling a little tender after Tet, and despite Dan's warnings that the museum would take several hours to get through, we attempted to get through it in the 40 minutes between us arriving and it closing for lunch. We didn't manage it! But we did spend the morning in the upper reaches of the building going through a very moving exhibition of photographs of the war, taken by photographers that had died in the war. Their stories and pictures made it all seem very real to us, in a way that no other site until then had managed. It also told a story of American losses in Vietnam, something largely overlooked elsewhere as the numbers pale in comparision to the numbers of Vietnamese killed. Needless to say, it was very, very sad.


When closing time came we were a little relieved to have a break. We went to the nearby cinema and booked tickets to see the only English language film showing - A Good Day to Die Hard. What can I say? Is it time for Bruce Willis to give it up? Maybe, but he still kicks ass! Then lunch, and a wander around Saigon (which was half empty because of Tet!) to see the Notre Dame Cathedral and to find a post office. Then back to the museum.

Our afternoon was spent looking at pictures of the effects of Agent Orange, a herbicide sprayed in vast quantities over southern Vietnam to try to expose the Viet Cong, who were adept at hiding in the forest. It is easy to see the effects today on the streets of Saigon, and these genetic abnormalities look set to continue into the future here. The museum also contains an exhibit on the massacre of a whole village by American soldiers, which was hard to get through.

By kicking out time we were both feeling emotionally drained. We had dinner (i.e. comfort food) at a Mexican restaurant across the road and then headed home to watch some trashy TV to soothe our poor heads and hearts.

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 05:43 Archived in Vietnam Tagged saigon Comments (0)

Write off day

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We finally surfaced at around 1pm today only to realise that our hangovers were so severe that we couldn't possibly get out of bed for several hours (apart from a quick run by me to the shop to get some Kettle Chips, Pringles and Coke to sustain us)!

Here's some highlights from last night's celebrations:


- Drinking cheap beer on stools in the street.


- Going to a stage performance in one of the parks to see some proper Vietnamese celebrations.


- Infiltrating the stage of this performance once the show had finished!


- Making friends with some soldiers who were initially trying to force us off said stage.

- Drinking vodka in the street bought by our new Canadian friends Karli and Meghan...classy we know!


- Watching Wales win against France...Jo was very, very happy!


- Doing shots bought by a some fellow Brits (neither of us can remember their names).


- Drinking more cheap beer on stools in the street.


- Dancing in a bar.

- Dan getting kicked out of the bar for trying to smuggle in cheaper beer from down the road.


- The rest is a blur.

So today we did nothing but watch films (including Spiderman 3 and 102 Dalmations) and go to Pizza Hut for dinner to meet up with Dan and Karli for a hangover fix. We had the best intentions of going to the pub at 10pm to watch the England game but we both fell asleep in our room! Oops! Will have to read up on the match report tomorrow instead.

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 05:37 Archived in Vietnam Tagged saigon Comments (0)

Tunnels and gun fire

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Today we went to the Cu Chi tunnels, outside Saigon. This was a base of the Viet Cong in the war. We had seen a set of tunnels on our DMZ tour and weren't sure what to expect of this well visited tourist site in the south. It started relatively badly with us sharing the tour with a huge bus load of people. Then followed a long drive, a forced shopping experience, and a lot of waiting around.

When we finally got into the Cu Chi tunnel site we were herded into an underground bunker to see, what I can only hope was, a propaganda video shown in the war about "crazy devil American bombers" and "the American killing heros of Vietnam". This was followed by quite an informative, but short, talk by a South Vietnamese army veteran, telling the often unheard side of the war story in Vietnam.


The "sights" of the tunnels lurched between uninspiring and horrific. The home-made man traps looked incredibly painful - bamboo spikes galore! But the firing range on site, for people to try their hand at shooting the guns used by both sides in the war, was a tourist gimmic too far in our eyes! The tunnels themselves were TINY! As we're both a little claustrophobic we dared not brave them!

Tonight we are out to watch the Six Nations and to celebrate Tet (lunar new year)! I will leave it for Tam to tell you about our evenings antics tomorrow!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 05:15 Archived in Vietnam Tagged saigon Comments (0)

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