Siem Reap & Temple Hopping in a Tuk Tuk

I travelled to Siem Reap from Ho Chi Minh Airport; I could’ve taken a bus but had to have proof that I was leaving Vietnam before arriving. On an unrelated note, it’s been said that I look very much like a meme of a cat. Out of all the places I could find this cat’s Instagram page, it was right before airport security. As the person checking my passport gave me the glare, all I could think was “shall I pull the cat face?” which made it really hard to keep a straight face (I couldn’t). For the tickets to the temples you have to have a photo taken for your pass so I just pulled the cat face there, hopefully that got it out of my system.

My first impression was that it is a lot less chaotic here in Siem Reap than in Vietnam, and so much easier to get around. On the way from the airport into the city the taxi driver would not stop texting, to the point where I wanted to ask him to let me drive and he could give me directions. After a quick nap I popped into the tourist area of the city to the markets – I saw someone setting up food on a stall attached to her motorbike, and then drove up the road. Not too sure if I’d like a side dish of exhaust fumes.

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Yesterday, I woke up at 3.45am to snooze for 20 minutes, and then to the temples via tuk tuk. First stop was Angkor Wat for sunrise, then to Ta Prohm, and then a few smaller ones before finishing at Angkor Thom. Ta Prohm was one of the places where Tomb Raider was filmed and gave a lot of attention to Cambodia through the movies. I asked the driver what Cambodians thought of the movies as I guessed that westerners coming over here and to flood the temples whilst people are worshipping would cause some kind of disruption, but it seems as though from what he said that the Cambodians just like to see people enjoy their country.

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Sim, the driver, is also an expert Instagram-style photographer in the temples that he’s allowed into, and he knows a lot about them too. I also have heaps of pictures. Literally heaps. He has a Facebook page which can be used to rent his tuk tuk, and if anyone reading this wants a recommendation, his page is here.

The temples were great though it was a hot day, reaching 33 degrees and nearing 80% humidity but well worth getting up at 4.30am. I really liked visiting Ta Prohm as the environment is growing on the temples, so you can see the trees growing up them, which definitely made it feel like I was far away from home.

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Today I went to Angkor National Museum to get more of an understanding of these temples, and a lot of it is based around two religions I don’t know a lot about – Hinduism and Buddhism – I definitely felt as though I deserved my grade G in GCSE RE. Different kings used different style of architecture to build these temples with symbolism from religion. Some of the pieces on display are dated from the 10th century, obviously made without any technology or transportation like we have today. Whenever I see things like this, I’m always reminded that I will quite happily buy a sandwich if I can’t be arsed to make one, yet a thousand years ago people were working tirelessly to construct these temples and the work inside.

It started raining whilst in the museum so I returned to the hostel to chill and watch some TV. I found a great restaurant nearby so I’ve eaten some awesome Cambodian food over the past few days.

Overall, I’ve only spent three nights in Cambodia, but I have really enjoyed my stay here. As I want to get my back seen to in Malaysia before I go to India next weekend(!) I’ve had to keep my visit short but sweet, and it would’ve been nice to spend a week or two longer here. Since leaving Australia this is the eighth country I’ve been to, and whilst I can’t judge the country on two whole days in one place, it’s the one so far I’d pick to come back to next time I’m in Asia.

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Ho Chi Minh

My last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, with just one full day here. It seemed as though the hostel managed to make a cock up my reservation, meaning that I get a double bed in a dorm for US$17 for two nights. I can’t complain.

I set out to go to the War Museum today, it’s three floors and an outdoor area explaining the impact of the Americans due to the Vietnam War and the impact that it has had, which is still going on today — children are still being born with deformities and disabilities as a result of how the US fought. It didn’t paint the USA in the best light, though I feel as though it was unbiased, just like the Peace Museum in Hiroshima. On the way there, I had to walk into oncoming traffic as the pavement was blocked – it’s not that uncommon, and it’s usually a restaurant with tables taking up the entire pavement, or parked motorbikes. This time, it was because someone decided to set up and chill in a hammock in the middle of the pavement.

After a few hours in the museum I just chilled – grabbed some food and drank a copious amount of Vietnamese Iced Coffee (seems to be ice with coffee). There’s a couple of other things I could’ve done, including touring the Cu Chi caves, though for me, it’d probably hurt my back. It’s one of the tours where you can just fire an AK47 with no prior training or safety brief, because why not.

It’s quite interesting in the area I’m staying as it’s gentrified to foreigners, and it seems that the only way these businesses seem to think they can get people in is to advertise that it’s happy hour. I know that I’ve been abroad and had many drunken nights, but it’s a shame to see drinking culture advertised so heavily here, where there’s many great things about Vietnamese culture that outshine getting pissed.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Cambodia. I have my own private room for the next few nights as I am ever so slightly completely 100% over being woken/kept up in hostel dorms almost, if not, every day for almost three months.

In some aspects I can see why people love Vietnam; the food is great, it’s cheap and the people are incredibly friendly, wanting you to enjoy the country. For me, I wouldn’t say I’m a massive fan; I like to travel without being attached to Google Maps to navigate, I really enjoy being able to cross the road without fearing for my life, and I guess I’ve stayed in hostels and shared accommodation for too long – I’m sitting at six months straight without my own room.

 

Hoi An

Before I came to Hoi An, I stayed in Da Nang for a couple of nights. There wasn’t a lot to do so I pretty much lounged around drinking coffee.

In Hoi An, there isn’t really that much to do that I want to – there’s beaches to cycle to but I neither want to get sunburn or cycle, there’s a temple supposedly similar to Angkor Wat, where I’m going this week, but there is a lantern festival on Sunday. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in cafes, drinking watermelon juice and Vietnamese Coffee.

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On Saturday I did a food tour – it was quite a few outdoor stands in the street then into the company’s property where they cooked around half of the 44 tastings that we had. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel as though I needed an Uber to walk two blocks after the tour.

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Black sesame

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This morning, I got picked up for a cooking class, where we first went to a market to get the produce for the menu items we’d chosen to cook prior. I chose BBQ fish wrapped in banana skin as it’s a method of cooking that I’ve not done before, and it’s pretty easy. I was having a think as to what to tell everyone in the class my job was as it gets old being hoarded with questions because I’m a chef. A professional gymnast and hostage negotiator did come to mind, but I accidentally told someone about work.

The way the class worked was that the teacher showed everyone how to prepare the proteins and then came individually to show us the next steps, then one by one we’d finish the dish. There were 13 of us, so the day did grow a bit long, but I’ve had neither lunch nor dinner.

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Tonight there is a full moon which means that the Lantern Festival is on. I’ve been down to the river for a bit, but after being there for 45 minutes I wanted to get away from the crowds.

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Hue

To get to Hue from Hanoi was a 14 hour overnight train ride, where I shared a room with a German couple, a Vietnamese lady and her pet dog which she allowed us to pet. I’ve shared hostel dorms with hundreds of other people by now as well as maybe a cat, but this dog was a lot preferable to a lot of people I’ve stayed in a room with.

After a coffee and some food I headed to the Imperial City. It was 36 degrees outside but I did manage to get around more or less the whole thing. As it was so hot, I lacked the brain power to be able to read and absorb the information displayed, though it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

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Today, I went on a tour to see the Summer Gardens, Padoga and three tombs of historic emperors. My Asian history isn’t too great, it’s too hot to take in much information so had a nice day out and about, without knowing too much of the historic meaning.

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I’m getting to the point now where I always “have to do something,” whether that be booking and getting to the transport, needing to download a map and a translator, make absolutely sure that I know how to get from A to B on travel days and even just out and about, knowing whether or not to trust taxi drivers and if so which ones, telling someone on the street that I don’t want to buy whatever shit they’re selling, the currency, exchange rate as not to get ripped off, getting to the other side of the road alive and in one piece, it feels like work and that’s where all my energy is going. I’m also going to play the female card, and say that being foreign, female and on my own pushes my guard up a lot more when it comes to trusting people.

I do want to go somewhere that’s familiar to me and I’m just wanting to go back to Europe for a bit. The week after next is my India trip which I’m excited for, and I’m so glad that I get to let someone else do all the work for planning that. In a few days time I’ll book a flight from India to Budapest and spend the time between that and the Egypt and Jordan trip in Eastern Europe, then I’ll decide where I go before heading off to New Zealand.

 

Ha Long Bay

Yesterday morning I went off to Ha Long Bay which the hostel had booked for me. It meant staying overnight on a boat, with my own room and the biggest double bed that I’ve ever slept in.

I’d been told that I’d get there by bus, however the streets around are too small to fit a bus down. A tour guide rocked up on a moped, told me to get on the back in t-shirt, shorts and flip flops with no helmet, and drove me through, and sometimes onto, the traffic to get the bus. I was bricking it, my travel insurance definitely would not cover that, and he was rather amused.

Over the past couple of days we’ve been into caves, climbed up to viewpoints and kayaked.

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Hanoi

Yesterday morning I arrived in Hanoi, and annoyingly so, my visa to allow me to stay in the country for longer than two weeks was approved within an hour of me leaving the airport. At the hostel I was asked what my plans in Vietnam are and have had up until I get a train to Hue sorted out for me.

I tried not to do a lot yesterday and felt very much as though I had to be switched on – the roads are a complete nightmare to cross and you literally have to walk into the traffic and hopefully won’t get hit by a car/bus/moped. My internal monologue whilst crossing is along the lines of “fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck ohhh shit.” I’ve seen people carrying things just sellotaped to the back of their bike, as well as a parent riding with what must’ve been a one-year-old child in between his legs.

I went to the Hao Loa Prison museum, which was used by the French to imprison the Vietnamese and later on used by the Vietnamese to imprison the Americans during the Vietnamese War. Most of the museum was based on how the Vietnamese were treated when they were inside, though it was interesting to hear about how the Americans were treated inside – a lot, lot better. After I went to check into the hostel properly, nap, and go to the road where the train passes through a few times per day.

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The Hanoi Train Street is different because instead of traffic, bar a few mopeds, it’s a pedestrian road with train tracks which you can walk on (obviously not when the train’s coming). There’s a few bars there that are like hostel bars, where they encourage the foreigners to have a “Choo Choo Beer” and chat – the staff yell out “Choo Choo” when they give you the beer.

 

Today, I went to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which I wasn’t fussed by, and then the Citadel, which I still wasn’t fussed by. After some pho, spring rolls and a Vietnamese Coffee I headed to the History Museum which I was expecting to be modern history, but instead it was more archaeology based. The area around is quite nice with a lake and stuff, but I didn’t feel it was worth going to. On the way back to the hostel I picked up some Bahn Mi and was inside when it started pissing down.

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Quite possibly the cheapest beer I’ve ever had at £0.66

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Overall, I think I’ve struggled with the city, but then it is very different to anywhere I’ve experienced. I’ve eaten better than anywhere else so far, and I think if I give Vietnam a chance then I’ll get used to the chaos and really like it here.

Tomorrow I’m off to Ha Long Bay overnight which is one of the reasons why I chose to come to Vietnam. I’ve heard from the people that I’ve spoken to who have already been that it’s definitely worth a visit.

Tokyo

Before Tokyo I spent a couple of nights in Hakone. There’s a well-known daytrip that you can take, where you go up a ropeway then a cable car up a mountain to view Mt Fuji on a clear day (it wasn’t), then go down and get a pirate ship across a lake to a town, where you can wander or get a bus somewhere. To be honest, it really did feel like a pump-the-tourist-through kind of place and I did want to go back to bed halfway through.

With Tokyo, I was here ten months ago and had done most of the tourist things. I’ve been to Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akihabara, Senso-ji Temple, the Robot Restauant, Mirikan, Harijuku etc., and a lot of that was better the first time around. If I’d been better prepared I could’ve seen some sumo, gone Mario Kart street racing (couldn’t apply for an International Driving License whilst in Australia with my UK one) and visited the Digital Art Museum, which I wasn’t aware that sold out heaps in advance. There was another Pokemon shop here too which was laden with cretins, so I’d definitely recommend Osaka’s over Tokyo’s.

I did come with the intent of buying a new, good camera and to try it out in the city, which I’ve done. I took it out to Senso-ji at night and a few other places. My favourite was Gotokuji Temple, which has a shrine to cats.

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This time around, I do still think that Tokyo would be best done with company, and it’s been difficult to get around. Relying on offline maps has been useful, though I’ve made a spelling mistake which added an extra 40 minutes onto a journey. I’ve also found that when using the Metro and to change station, I feel like I’ve gotten off the platform, and into the depths of Narnia to find the next station, taking upwards of ten minutes sometimes. It makes changing at Bank/Monument on the London Underground seem like an absolute dream. With that said, I know I’ve been in Tokyo for too long this time, though I still would like to spend a couple of days here with some company.

Tomorrow evening I’m off to Vietnam, and how long I stay there depends on whether or not I get a visa for more than 14 days approved before I arrive in the country – me being as organised as usual.  I’m looking forward to eating Banh Mi, Banh Xao, and being in relatively small cities. Honestly, I don’t know much about the country so hopefully like being in Seoul, I’ll learn heaps.

Osaka

Whilst travelling I have a few personal rules, including why I will never put anything in a hostel bathroom sink, the amount of people in a dorm (though this is a bit different in Japan) and staying in a hostel near public transport so I don’t damage my back so much. Another one of mine is not letting hungry become hangry, so I set off to get some lunch straight after arriving in Osaka.

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Best ramen ever.

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One of the travel bloggers I follow described a bowl of pork rib ramen as one of the best dishes she’s ever eaten so I went out to eat exactly that. This was also the one time the GPS on my phone decided to work too, so I took that as a sign. All I can say is that the bowl of ramen was glorious; the pork so delicious yet I knew it was so bad for me; the broth was the best I’ve ever had and the noodles were perfect. Sometimes I describe my life as a series of first world problems, and I couldn’t decide whether or not that made the top 5 or 10 of best dishes I’ve ever eaten, as I’ve eaten three-Michelin-star standard food.

I didn’t really fancy being a tourist, so I went back to the hostel and chilled. I noticed in the corner of the room that there was this metal post with a rope, so I took a closer look and it seems like instead of a fire escape, we have a harness and if we need to make a quick escape we are expected to teach ourselves how to abseil down a building. Obviously 100% safe.

Yesterday was a bit of a meh day, but I was in a good mood. I started off at a Pokemon Center – if I did not have a budget for this trip and wasn’t living out of a backpack for the next 3+ months, I would’ve totally bought everything in sight. It was nice to see other people who were older than me having a moment whilst in that shop, because I was too.

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View from the ferris wheel

After, I set off for lunch and a walk, then opted to travel on the ferris wheel in the tourist area. As my day trip was going to be Himeji Castle which I did last week, I thought that I’d go to Osaka castle, and go to a much better castle for a day trip for the following day. Osaka castle wasn’t much on the inside, just a museum with a view from the top, equal to the view from the ferris wheel.

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So, today, I was going to go to another castle. I’ve wanted to go for the past fourteen years; I’ve kind of been twice in England and the one I can actually visit was built whilst I was in high school. After a Google search, I found out that not only could I not visit Hogwarts at the Japanese version of Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there was in fact a typhoon destined to hit near Osaka today. Brilliant.

This morning I headed off to a convenience store to stock up on some food and booze, and I’ve been a grown up today, finalising my India trip, forgetting to pay off my credit card bill and researching a couple of things for when I get to Tokyo and beyond. Unfortunately, I have not yet managed to end up on BBC News like I did when I got caught up in Cyclone Debbie, but I should be able to move on towards Fuji tomorrow.

Hiroshima

Hiroshima is primarily known for having an atomic bomb dropped on it by the USA army in August 1945. At the end of 1945 it is thought that the bomb had killed 140,000 (+/-10,000) people. In school I’d learnt about World War I and II and visited areas in France and Belgium and got a better understanding about what actually happened during the World Wars. As I’m in Japan and have no fixed timeline as to where I want to be and when, other than a flight to Vietnam the week after next and to end up Egypt and Jordan by the end of the year maybe, I thought I’d come here to get a better understanding of why the atomic bomb was dropped, and how the city was effected as a result of it.

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I’ve been staying in hostels in Japan, which are more often than not capsule style. It’s like living in a drawer.
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Bento Box on the train up to Hiroshima

Upon arriving, I got to the hostel before it started pouring with rain. I’d given up my seat on the tram to an elderly woman and couldn’t help but think if she grew up in the area, what affect the atomic bomb that was dropped would have on her, her family and the people she knew. I ditched my backpack at the hostel and headed for the Atomic Bomb Dome, having a look around before heading to the Peace Memorial Museum.

The museum went into great depth about the events that occurred both before and after the bomb was dropped, and the effects that it had on the local people, families and area. One thing that really surprised me was how severely injured people who were as far away as 9km from the bomb were, some dying from the radiation that they were exposed to that day, or by the following week.

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After being in the museum, I went back to walk around the Dome, and whilst I’m only 24 and arrived in Hiroshima a few hours before, I got a sense of how much the area must have changed in that one second when the bomb exploded. The Peace Park had once been a busy street but now serves a purpose to inform people as to what atomic weapons are capable of, as well as the upsets and damage that they can inflict.

Today, I started off at Miyajima Island which is known for having a shrine and deer on the loose, and with my Japanese Rail ticket I could ride the ferry for free. I didn’t really find that there was too much to do – I chose not to ride the cable car up to the top of the mountain as I didn’t really fancy that, and I had a deer try to eat my hand as I’d just eaten a pasty. There’s pastries known as Momiji Cakes on the island, flavoured I think with maple syrup from the island and I even saw some Kit Kats in that flavour too.

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It started pouring with rain so I decided to get the ferry back and go to Osaka Castle, around 50 minutes on the tram. Spent an hour or so there – there’s a museum inside and a lookout on the top, though I wouldn’t lose any sleep if I’d missed out on the museum.

Tomorrow, I’m still staying in Hiroshima for the night, but I’m thinking of heading to Nagasaki as I’ve done pretty much all there is to do in Hiroshima and have paid for my bed for the night. After Nagasaki will come Osaka, then I’m back in the Fuji area, though I have really researched being in that area this time. After Fuji will be Tokyo, I think with a bit too long a stay, but I have a few options for day trips.