“But people die canyoning!” Dad protested over the phone.
. . .
Perched way up in the central highlands, the town of Da Lat is a lovely little escape from the madness of Vietnam’s larger cities, and a welcome break from the heat and humidity of the south. The city is surrounded by dense green woodlands, and hosts a stunning view of mountains in every direction.
Canyoning (or abseiling, whatever you want to call it) is the big thing to do in Da Lat. With a bit of haggling, for $25 you can attempt to walk down a slippery waterfall protected by nothing but a stringy piece of rope and the all too relaxed grip of a cheerful little Vietnamese man.
If I’m honest, Mui Ne is a dirty little resort town with an ugly beach and over-priced water sports. I met someone recently who spent eight days there. How on earth they managed that without driving themselves to insanity will forever be a mystery to me, because there is truly only one worthwhile thing to do – see the sand dunes.
To me, someone who’s never seen sand dunes before, I thought they were pretty cool. There’s two sites – the red dunes and the white dunes. Both of them seem to stretch on for miles and miles, and have soft pillowy sand that my feet instantly sunk into. Continue reading →
I didn’t have much to say in the way of words about Ho Chi Minh, so I thought I’d just share a few of my favourite photos from my four days in the city instead! HCMC isn’t a very pretty city unfortunately, but it does have some interesting colonial architecture and excitingly colourful markets.
So just to make things confusing, I actually went to Singapore twice. The first was to see my Mum and her friend Nerys on their way back from The UK, which was before the antics on Koh Phangnan. The second was after Cambodia to catch up with my good friend Georgina, before she set off for the adventure of a lifetime in Western Europe (the lucky duck).
I am sorry in advance for the lack of quality photos in this post! I really only took photos of food so prepare to see a lot of that!
Singapore is a wonderful mix of diverse cultures that are reflected in the architecture, food and even the language of this huge, vibrant city. Given the contrasts between Little India, Chinatown and the luxuriously high end shopping district of Orchard Rd, stepping out of a subway station can feel like stepping into another world. However what sets Singapore miles apart from the rest of South East Asia is its cutting edge technology, world class infrastructure and highly developed economy.
My time with Mum and Nerys revolved mostly around shopping and drinking. We stayed in a hotel very close to shopping heaven, Orchard Rd, so it was impossible to get to the subway station without one of us seeing something along the way that we wanted to buy.
A massive highlight of my time with them was going to Altitude Bar, supposedly the tallest alfresco bar in the world. Situated on the 62nd floor rooftop of One Raffles Place, it boasts a stunning 360′ view of Singapore’s skyline. It doesn’t come cheap though. With a $30 cover charge that includes one cocktail, its about double the price of an entire night out in most backpacker hubs in South East Asia, so thanks Mum!
Mum and Nerys were frothing to go to the iconic Raffles Hotel, a luxurious, colonial style hotel originally built in 1899. Its also the birthplace of the classic Singapore Sling. The Raffles magic was a bit lost on me but certainly not on Mum and Nerys. I’ve never seen two women more excited to see a building!
Georgina and I stayed in a hostel in Little India. I would argue that Little India is the most culturally rich area of Singapore. It’s obvious that the vast majority (if not all) of the people living in and frequenting this area are actually Indian, and so there is an abundance of delicious and truly authentic Indian food to be found, along with traditional Indian clothes, bangles, bindis, random nick-nacks, flower garlands and religious ornaments. There’s also a massive fresh produce market that sells all different kinds of meat other than beef, rare fruit and vegetables for Indian specialty dishes and a whole lotta spices.
I can’t ignore the fact that when walking through Little India, there’s one thing I didn’t like. Yes, the beautiful smells and colours are a welcome assault to the senses but what’s not welcome, is the constant staring from the vast majority of men. You know I wouldn’t write about this if it weren’t true, so I feel obligated to mention that if you’re a white female walking through Little India then prepare to be looked at. This happened to all of us time and time again, both with Mum and Nerys and with Georgina. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with what we wore, as I got stared at whilst wearing baggy hippy pants and a T-shirt just as much as I got stared at whilst wearing a short spaghetti-strap dress. I’m not saying that every man we saw in Little India stared us down, but believe me there were a lot. I won’t deny that I felt extremely uncomfortable, although I will stress that I never felt unsafe.
Georgina and I share a true love of food, so we basically made it our mission in Singapore to eat all the delicious things that were available and within our price range. Our first port of call was Sakunthala’s, an Indian restaurant that was recommended to us by our hostel.
When we sat down at the restaurant, they put us on a shared table with a big group of Indian men all chatting away in their native language. There was this one guy on the end who looked kinda in the group but kinda not. Suddenly he turns to us and says (in the most bogan Australian accent I have ever heard) “Aye are youse guys from Astraya?” Oh My God it was so unexpected and so funny. It was definitely a “had to be there moment” but holy shit it was hilarious. Georgina and I were both so surprised and we laughed about it for ages afterwards. We ended up getting chatting to him, he was a really nice guy from Perth and he helped us pick out some stuff from the menu which we’d never heard of before. This was legit Indian, no butter chicken here. We both ended up getting vegetarian set meals with bread and rice and a small serve of a few different veggie curries, and we also shared some chicken as well. It was so delicious, and really good value! I think we only spent about $12 SGD each, probably one of the cheapest meals we had in Singapore!
The next day, Eat Fest 2014 continued! We went for a bit of a shopathon (kidding I’m broke) down at Orchard Road and stopped for lunch at Marchè, a Swedish market-style restaurant that is famous for its potato rosti. We didn’t try the rosti because the queue was stupidly long but we did get a delicious chicken and seafood paella and calamari with aioli. We washed it down with some old-school fresh squeezed lemonade.
That day we walked all the way from Little India to Orchard Road to the Singapore Botanical Gardens in the 34′ heat and 1000% humidity. We got a bit lost and ended up walking about 10kms, so that was fun (~~~sarcasm~~~). We also went to the Gardens by the Bay which is where those great big light up trees are near Marina Bay Sands. Both gardens are really nice! I apologise for not having photos of this! Lazy past me deserves a slap on the wrist.
Next on Eat Fest is breakfast at a very cute, very busy little cafe called Drury Lane! I went for the pancakes with poached pears, blueberry compote and maple syrup – just thinking about it makes me drool. G had the eggs benedict which everyone else in the whole cafe seemed to be eating. Also delicious!
Honestly I’m not even sure what we did that day. The only thing I remember is eating that delicious $6 wonton noodle soup in ChinaTown. Wow is all I can say. No photo this time!
On our final night in Singapore we decided to watch the laser light show over the bay opposite Marina Bay Sands and then head out for dinner at Clarke Quay. We were wondering how Singapore could afford to put on what we assumed would be a mind-blowingly spectacular laser light show every night. Turns out its not spectacular at all, so that’s how they afford it. Tbh, bit of a waste of time. Marina Bay is still pretty though.
So we headed off to Clarke Quay in search of deliciousness and were overwhelmed with choice. There was nowhere that really stood out to us both, so we settled on what smelled the best, which was Señor Taco’s Mexican. I have been craving Mexican food for so long and damn girl this is exactly what I needed. Totally overpriced but really yummy.
I don’t remember what we did the following day but I do remember SPRINTING through the torrential rain to get from the subway station back to our hostel. We (well, I) was running late to get to the airport. We both got drenched within two minutes, with my white T-shirt going completely see-through. We then waited outside the hostel with our bags trying to hail a taxi. I kid you not we waited for an hour, and every taxi that drove past shook their heads at us. The hostel even tried multiple times to call one for us but there were apparently none available! Eventually the hostel guy tells us that there is another subway station that is conveniently on the airport line only a ten minute walk away. Well thanks for letting us know mate. We literally ran to this train station. Poor Georgina had to carry her super heavy suitcase while I waddled along with a backpack on each side. We must have looked RIDICULOUS. We joked that somebody probably took a video of us that was instantly going viral. I felt like a contestant on The Amazing Race. Finally, we make it on the train, soaked, out of breath and now stressed that the train wasn’t going to get us there in time. I am one of those people who likes to get to the airport unnecessarily early, like before check in has even opened. Georgina was trying to convince me that we were definitely going to make it with an hour before close of check-in. But in my head I was thinking this is it. After 8 months overseas, this is the day I miss a flight.
All the panic was for nothing, of course. I arrived with plenty of time to spare, checked-in and got my tax refund. Georgina and I said our sad goodbyes as well (insert crying emoji). The next time I see her will be in March, which feels like a long time to wait, but when I think about how quickly this year has gone I remember that its really nothing at all.
After zooming through passport control and inhaling some McDonald’s, I sailed smoothly through customs and was on my way to Ho Chi Minh City. Good evening Vietnam!
After recovering from my dengue-like illness in Bangkok, I rolled out of bed at an ungodly hour for the 5:55am train to Aranyaprathet, the border town to Cambodia. When I hit Khao San road at sunrise, there was still people sitting in the gutter being sick all over themselves. Ah, youth.
I got a tuk-tuk to the train station and bought my ticket with plenty of time to spare. It cost me only $1 for the seven hour journey through the beautiful Thai countryside. Getting another tuk-tuk to the immigration and going through passport control and into Cambodia was easy as pie. The four hour bus to Siem Reap cost $9 and I was told that it included drop off at my accommodation. This was a total lie, as I had to pay another $5 to get from the bus station to the first hostel I could find. It was pissing down rain (as usual) and I was exhausted. I headed straight out for some food glorious food, wandered around the night market and then went to bed.
The next day was another early start. My new German friend Roxanne and I were up before dawn to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. “Angkor what?” I hear you ask? Don’t worry, I’d never heard of it either to be real. The Temples of Angkor are located just outside Siem Reap and span over 400 square kilometres. The archeological site contains the ruins of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th century. It is the largest religious monument as well as the largest preindustrial city in the world. Angkor Wat is actually the name of one particular structure, but the name has come to be used to refer to the entire site.
Sunrise over Angkor Wat is supposed to be mind-blowingly beautiful, but due to the unfortunate weather, the sunrise that we saw was rather an anti-climax.
Both Roxanne and I found the actual Angkor Wat ruins a little bit disappointing, but we did really enjoy the Bayon Temple, which has hundreds of detailed faces intricately carved into its stone structure. I’m so annoyed at myself because the combination of the horrible overcast weather and me not knowing how to use my camera like a pro meant that all my photos of the ruins were terrible!
Siem Reap has very seedy bar scene which I decided not to investigate. Instead, Roxanne and I took an overnight bus to Sihanoukville, the backpacker beach town on the South Coast of Cambodia. Our overnight bus was ridiculous. Roxanne and I basically had to share a single bed. We were told that we would arrive in Sihanoukville at 7am. Nope, we arrived in Phnom Penh at 7am and had to get on another bus that got us to Sihanoukville at 2pm. As is tradition, it was pouring with rain when we arrived. Also, I lost a shoe! Somewhere between Siem Reap and changing buses in Phnom Penh, one of my beautiful Nikes became detached from my backpack that was being held in the storage compartment underneath the bus. Gutted!
I’m sure Sihanoukville, or “Snooky” as I heard somebody call it, is beautiful in the dry season when the sun is shining but, of course, it was either raining or cloudy the whole time I was there. Classic. The rather unimpressive beach is packed with ladies selling mani-pedis and massages, and seven year olds selling bracelets. My two new friends made up for all of that though, James and Ash from Sydney! We got along really well. It was so nice to meet some fellow Aussies with my same sense of humour! We ended up travelling to Phnom Penh together where I visited the Killing Fields and S21 Prison Museum to learn about the absolute horror of the Khmer Rouge.
Between 1975 and 1978, the Khmer Rouge senselessly tortured and murdered up to an estimated 3 million people, including women and children. Under the reign of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge invaded the entire country, capturing anyone who was skilled or educated. These people were seen as a threat to Pol Pot’s horrifying regime. I won’t go into details about exactly what happened back then because it is honestly too disturbing to discuss.
What shocks me most, is that I didn’t learn about any of this in school. I’d vaguely heard of the Khmer Rouge, but I had no idea of the extent of the atrocity that went on. How the hell did I not know about this? This was surely one of the most evil crimes ever committed against humanity and it happened less than forty years ago. In fact, just two days ago the two most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge were finally convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison (Fuller & Wallace, 2014). It absolutely stuns me that this is such modern history. In a time when TVs and radios were very much a reality, absolute terror was taking place in a country not too far from my own, and nothing was done to stop it. That being said, there are apparently 41 wars being fought around the world right now, and here I am, writing a blog.
If you’d like to know more about the Khmer Rouge, educate yo’self here.
Obviously this was a very sobering experience but one of Cambodia’s absolute must-sees. There is no other way to even begin to understand the horrendous past of this still-recovering country.
I spent one final night in Phnom Penh with James and Ash. We ate some pizza to boost my happiness levels after that day’s confronting activities and drank a cocktail at one of Phnom Penh’s swankiest rooftop bars (although, it wasn’t very swanky at all to be honest).
The following day I flew out to Singapore to see my girl, Georgina (YAY!) and to eat literally every delicious thing we could get our hands on!