Siem Reap

Our final stop in Cambodia saw us take one last TERRIFYING night bus up to Siem Reap. By far the ricketiest bus on the bumpiest road by the craziest driver… I’m surprised we made it alive.
 

Before and after the bus broke down. We wern’t smiling then
  
 
With shaky legs we hopped in a tuk tuk and drove to the infamous Mad Monkey Hostel. It’s a sort of rite-of passage to stay in a Mad Monkey whilst in Cambodia, and the Siem Reap branch complete with beer kegs leading from the balcony to the pool and rooftop beach bar is probably the best.

   
 
Another ‘coming of age’ experience for the standard backpacker is going to see sunrise over Angkor Wat; the largest temple in the world, and part of the Angkor temple complex which is the most important and famous in South East Asia. Alarms set for 4am, we trudged bleary eyed through the dark (and before dawn, creepy) temple grounds to get to the imposing temple. 

  
Unfortunately, the sunrise excursion is an immensely popular one, and in order to get that ‘perfect Instagram photo’ you have to elbow and shove through rows of fellow social media fiends in order to get a glimpse, let alone a shot.

 

Still worth it for the view!!!!
  
    
  Still, getting up early meant you could breeze around the temples whilst it was still relatively cool… even if you were so tired you left your passport in the toilets and had to bribe a guard to rush you back on his motorbike to get it back… like I did.

 

Embracing our inner Angelinas at the Tomb Raider temple. Still no sign of Brad
  
    
    
 
The floating villages were also a great way to spend an afternoon. An hour’s drive out of the city, several huge villages stand on stilts over what looks at high tide in the middle of the ocean. Schools, police stations and town halls rise out of the water on logs which look like they would break any second… and of course provide another alternative way to view yet another sunset.

   
    
    
 
Cambodian nightlife gets no better than Siem Reap. ‘Pub street’ resembles any small strip in a tacky European ‘Brits-abroad’ location, and is as cheesy and wonderful as you could wish for. The ‘Angkor WHAT?’ bar faces the rival big club across the street, and revellers who cannot decide seem to form their own dance routines smack bam in the middle of them on the road.

   
 
Overall, Siem Reap was a perfect end to what was an amazing 10 days in Cambodia. Definitely one of our favourite countries out of the whole trip, it has the nicest locals, great nightlife, rich history and we couldn’t recommend it enough!

… Even if you spend your last day hiding from everything in a dark, air condiditoned room
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Koh Rong

Firstly, it’s totally unfair that this gorgeous haven has ‘rong’ in its title because there’s absolutely nothing we can list wrong with this paradise island. Having heard about it from fellow travellers across the whole of our trip we knew we had to save a considerable length of time for the island as we predicted we’d love it, and we did.   
A tiny island where shoes are by no means a necessity due to there being no roads, no cars and only boats as transportation, Koh Rong is a stretch of relaxed beach bars and restaurants with an incredibly chilled out vibe. With no wifi available on the island the atmosphere was even more Jamaican and luckily for us the small proximity of guest houses, bars and the ferry port meant that we bumped into two groups of friends we’d arranged to meet there by accident! 
 We embraced island living by booking onto a half day snorkelling trip that included most of the islands highlights all in one go. We set sail and stopped for snorkelling in the crystal clear sea before scrambling back to the boat when people onboard the boat mentioned a huge jellyfish was sauntering on over in my direction! 

  

   

  
 Next we stopped further out for a sport neither of us have ever participated in… Fishing! Everyone got given a rod and threw it in, hoping for the best! Despite Laura’s patient attempts we unfortunately didn’t catch anything but luckily for us the rest of the boat were flying fish around left right and centre so we had enough to cook up for our end of the day barbecue. 

   
   
The most famous part of the island is Long Beach. Pretty self explanatory really it is a long stretch of amazingly white sand beach. While we waited for the fish to be barbecued on the boat we frolicked around in the sea being generally stupid amongst civilised conversation before hopping back aboard to taste our home-caught meal whilst watching the sun go down to another incredible sunset. 

   
    
    
    
    
   
   

  

 Given that our trip was coming to an end we made the most of making a mini holiday out of Koh Rong and spent pur days on the beach and nights partying in all the beach front bars. 

   
    
 As the ferry (finally) set off for the mainland we were all extremely sad to be leaving, as proven by the curled bottom lip and incessant waving and ‘bye Koh Rong’-ing as the island behind us became a small spec in the distance. 

   
 Koh Rong: definitely up there with one of our fave places and a travellers absolute haven.  

   
    
   

Phnom Penh

We were pretty apprehensive about how much we would enjoy Phnom Penh, as although the buzzing capital of Cambodia should have lots to offer we knew the main tourist attraction was visiting the harrowing memorials of those that died during the Khmer Rouge regime. Still it’s something every visitor to Cambodia must do, so we hired a (insanely cheap) tuk tuk driver for the day to take us to the infamous Killing Fields, the S21 Prison where prisoners of war were detained and tortured and finally the markets to try and cheer ourselves up after an upsetting day of war history.

The Killing Fields were as eye-opening and horrific as expected. You get given an audio guide, complete not only with a history of events but actual first-hand accounts of those that survived. Teeth and bones are uncovered by wind every day from the mass graves that lie underneath the grass and dirt, and the Cambodians have made no attempt to hide them to show to the full extent the horror of the place.

   
 
The most disturbing part of the whole tour included the “killing tree”, which camp guards would smash babies’ heads against in front of their mothers, and finally the four stories high glass cabinet of hundreds of skulls of those found in the graves.

   
 
  
None of our group had an in depth understanding of the genocide which happened in the last century in Cambodia, and we were all shocked at how close to our lifetime it was. The S21 Prison was equally as bad, with blood still staining the floors of the cells and shocking photos of those tortured and kept in the prison, most for crimes they never committed.

  

Thankfully, (and it seems really hypocritical after seeing such awful things), through family connections we both had a greatly appreciated hotel to stay in – an absolute blessing after hostel life for so many months! Apart from the traumatic experience of the Killing Fields and S21, Phnom Penh has lots to offer – great markets, friendly people and a really relaxed vibe compared to the madness of other capital Asian cites. We’d both happily go again!

   
    
  

-Laura-

Ho Chi Minh

We were pleasantly surprised by Ho Chi Minh and decided by the time we left we preferred it to Hanoi. Whilst it is the epitome of a crazily busy and bustling Southeast Asian city it has an interesting history and charisma to it. 
Our first day in HCM and we threw ourselves straight into the historical background of the place by visiting all things war related. 

Our morning itinerary was taken up with wandering around the Cu Chi tunnels just outside of the city.The tunnel network became legendary during the war with America and stretched out from southern Vietnam to as far as the Cambodian border.   
    
    
 Wandering around the remains of the tunnels and wandering through those left at the site was a morning well spent. Our tour guide taught us a lot about the warfare conditions and preprepared us for our afternoon at the war museum. 
  
The war museum was filled with an abundance of information, recovered memorabilia and weapons, stories and personal tales from those who fought and those who lost loved ones. Some of the rooms were incredibly emotional, particularly the one that concentrated on the horrific aftermath of agent orange, the gas used by US troops on the Vietnamese from 1961. 

   
    
   
    
  

The emotional day got the better of us as we began imitating aeroplanes & helicopters…
 
One thing to be wary of which Laura (ever the literature student) noticed was the heavy use of powerful and emotive words used to paint the Americans in the worst light and victimise the Vietnamese. It’s a hard day, full of emotion but one that you have to do whilst in Ho Chi Minh. 

The following morning we took on a different aspect of HCM’s culture and wandered to the famous Ben Thanh market for some last minute souvenir trinkets and Christmas gifts! 

Completing our city break with beers on the tiny street stools whilst people watching seemed like the perfect way to end our Vietnamese adventure. 

   
    

The final Pho of Southeast Asia
 -Lottie- 

Mui Ne

We almost missed Mui Ne as our open bus ticket was meant to miss it out in favour of Dalat. As a pleasant surprise the ticket actually stopped in the town as a stop over on the way to Ho Chi Minh City so we got a fleeting glimpse of the gorgeous beach.
  

More of a family resort than a backpacker hotspot, the endless stretch of white beach still entices all ages for its surf and sun. Hundreds of kites dance above the sea as Mui Ne is the kite-surfing capital of South East Asia due to its abnormal amount of wind for such a hot climate.
  
Unfortunately because we couldn’t spend a full day we missed the iconic white and red sand dunes which are popular to drive through in jeeps or quad bikes. Still. just another reason to add to our ever expanding list; ‘Why to return to Vietnam’.

With the limited amount of backpacker accommodation full we checked into the more resort-style hotel and they still allowed us to pay dorm – price for a private room which was a bonus.
  
We walked (well poor Lottie hobbled) along the one road town that runs parallel to the beach front and noticed that almost every restaurant served something we’ve never seen before – alligator on a spit. I psyched myself up for trying the obscure local speciality as we walked into a restaurant, which turned out (by accident I swear) to be the only restaurant not serving BBQ’d alligator… Maybe next time. Or not.
  

Dalat

I’m not sure what we expecting from Dalat other than some small village-like place but how wrong we were! We drove past a huge lake and round large double lane roundabouts and soon realised it was a lot bigger than we thought! 

Due to the unfortunately tight schedule throughout the southern part of our trip we were only able to stay in Dalat for one night. This meant that we were unable to do the canyoning that Dalat is famous for because it takes a whole day and we didn’t have a whole day there! However, we still made the most of what little time we did have there. Starting with- ostrich riding! We went to the nearby Prenn Waterfall and came across the opportunity to ride an ostrich. Southeast Asia is full of random experiences and animals but never had we seen this before so it had to be done. Probably the weirdest experience of travelling yet was the feeling of uncertainty as the ostrich below me bolted to the other side of the pen, rattling me about all over the place. I couldn’t even contain myself watching Laura on it either, it was just so strange!   
   
    
 With that ticked off the bucket list we went back to our hostel, Woolfpack, for an amazing dinner. The communal dinner idea was so nice. Everyone say together on floor cushions and are as one big group which was really nice and the food was incredible. 

  
Our second (half) day in Dalat and our lonely planet guide book suggested the Crazy House as a great tourist attraction. We pulled up outside an extravagant building that looked like it should’ve been in Alice in Wonderland with tunnels, stairs and bridges everywhere. 

    
   
  

  

The house was designed by a Vietnamese architect, Hang Nga, (who still lives in the house) as a tribute to nature after her first masterpiece the House with 100 Roofs was torn down due to it being perceived as ‘antisocialist’. 

   
    
    
    
 A short but sweet stay in a delightful Dalat. 

  
Last minute side note: not the best place in the world to visit with a knee injury due to the 16374983 steps required to get, well, anywhere! 

-Lottie-

Nha Trang

Our whistle-stop ’24 hours per town’ tour down the Vietnamese coast took us next to the beach town of Nha Trang. We were expecting a quiet, deserted welcome as our overnight bus delivered us at 5.30am. 

However as the coach rolled down the main promenade our mouths dropped as we coasted by a spectacularly busy and animated beach front. Hundreds of people were swimming in the sea, children were playing football and various aerobics classes took place in front of the sunrise over the ocean. We were gobsmacked at how lively Nha Trang was at dawn, and vowed never to complain about 6am starts for work at home ever again.

Still bleary eyed we trudged to I-Home hostel, threw down our bags and immediately crashed for a nap on the bean bags letting Nha Trang whizz around without us until an acceptable hour in our eyes.
  

Vin Pearl Land is a waterpark that features excitedly on most backpacker routes; it’s the Disneyland of Vietnam with its own aquarium, small rollercoasters, copy-cat disney castle and dolphins.

Plus it lies on an island that can only be accessed by a giant cable car (the longest in the world over a stretch of water ooooh) which gives amazing views of the vast mountains and of the colourful town of Nha Trang nestled under them.

It was eerily quiet for a Saturday when we visited which was great as we queued for nothing… until we realised half of the water slides were shut for maintenance. Still it was a fantastically cheesy place and you can even relax on the beach once you’ve exhausted all of the rides.
  
 

Never too old
 
However the day was tainted slightly when we saw how some of the animals were kept and treated. We walked past an ‘animal circus’ which saw monkeys in chains dressed in costume, dogs crammed into tiny cages and reptiles in claustrophobic enclosures barely big enough to contain them. It definitely put a sour edge on the day so be warned before you go.

Nha Trang nightlife will unfortunately also hold a bitter taste in our mouths after it (yes it was 100% the bar’s fault) made Lottie trip up marble stairs and bash her knee up well and truly. Some make-shift dressing and manic antiseptic-ing lasted well until the next day, where luckily a nurse was staying at the same hostel and gave it a proper seeing to. Let’s all wish Lottie a speedy recovery for being an injured trouper!