Marvellous Malaysia on The Straits of Malacca

Dusky Leaf Monkeys

As part of our travels Sam and I agreed to look out for a spot, where at some point in the future, we might want to stay for a month or two, away from the English winter. We’ve seen many beautiful places but nowhere with the right balance of things to do, see, experience and enjoy for an extended period…..until we came to George Town on Penang Island, sitting on the north-west coast of Malaysia. On entering Malaysia you get a three-month visa free of charge – a great start – then you meet the wonderful multi-cultural people, eat the fabulous food, and of course bask in the tropical climate.

Tucked at the top of the Straits of Malacca, Penang had an important strategic position in the development of trade in the 1700 – 1800’s, which saw colonial powers impose themselves along the Straits – British in Penang and the Dutch in Malacca. Both cities now enjoy UNESCO Heritage site status largely due to the incredibly well preserved and diverse architecture of their respective old towns.

George Town Dispensary 1923

However, the architectural heritage is not limited to colonial style buildings. One of the most striking features of Penang and to some extent Malaysia, is the evidence of its multi-cultural history and presence. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the “Street of Harmony” where in the space of a mile you can walk from the Anglican Church of St George’s,


to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy Temple, which contains remarkable stories about the warring Chinese Clans in the 1840’s…


on to Sri Mahamariamman Hindu temple,


and to Kapitan Keling Mosque in the space of half a mile.


The history is fascinating. Captain Francis Light is credited with the development of George Town (hence the colonial name) in 1786, serving the interests of the British East India Company. Through some typically duplicitous colonial dealings he secured a lease on the land. If ever there was an example of history being written by the victorious it can be found on his monument in St George’s.


Judging by the reaction we got when we asked a local guide about the veracity of the epitaph it would probably be labelled “fake news” these days!

One of the endearing features of George Town is the plethora of ramshackle trading stores adorned with vintage signage. I particularly liked this one with the old Raleigh sign (Robin Hood included)…


..and ancient seemingly decrepit workshops that still showed signs of activity, although quite what they produce…well, who knows..”housing materials” apparently.

Truly a Man Cave!

Complementing the architecture is a wonderful array of street art. Tracking these down becomes something of an adventure in itself with unexpected delights popping up all over town. There are three particular popular ones which use real bikes to make the art even more remarkable.

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However, this is just the tip of the iceberg and George Town has rightly become famous for its burgeoning street art scene. Here is selection of some of our favourites..

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More Monkey Business

As well as the pleasures of George Town, Penang Island has lots of other attractions, including Penang Hills, where the temperature drops and a lush tropical forest sits towering above the town. We jumped on a bus and enjoyed a ride through the Island for a few pence before reaching the Hills. A swift cable car journey up and before we knew it we found ourselves gazing at beautiful and striking Dusky Leaf Monkeys. They look unreal and you find yourself staring at them in amazement. By monkey standards they are shy, so we were delighted to see them and their striking features close up.


We took a guided tour through the jungle high across a walkway and were able to view the jungle close up, with the sound of cicadas (and mimicking Drongo birds) for a soundtrack.

Jungle Walkway

Our guide spotted something quite unique, a crab that lives in the foliage in the mountains – the Highland Vampire Crab. I don’t know what you think, but a creature called a Vampire Crab isn’t ideal! Here is a picture of one modelled rather bravely by Sam….


It wasn’t all trekking and animal spotting. I had time for a jungle canopy swing. Turn the volume up to get the full Cicada soundtrack at 10 secs…..

Before we finished our visit on a canopy walkway looking down the jungle treetops

Sam on top of the Jungle Canopy

Malaysian Nom Nom

Whether you go away for a long trip or a long weekend you can’t help wondering if you are going to be okay on the food front in a foreign land. The scales we occasionally come across in our hotel rooms provide an unambiguous answer and are a testament to the fact that we are having absolutely no difficulty filling our faces. With a small handful of exceptions, the food has been excellent, and George Town with its multi-cultural offerings tops the list for cuisine. Penang is known as the food capital of Malaysia and rightly so. The Little India neighbourhood was full of lovely restaurants with great veggie dishes. We also indulged in a lot of pancake eating having discovered a superb place on the Street of Harmony serving up the best pancakes we have ever eaten – and as pancake/crepe aficionados that is high praise. Their speciality one included beansprouts and sultanas – an odd mix but it was delicious. Here is a sample of their wonderful wares..


Penang and George Town have made a really great impression on us and it’s definitely a place we want to return to. We scratched the surface on our visit and there is a lot more to see on this wonderful Malaysian Island. Getting on the ferry across the Straits of Malacca, to get the train south to Kuala Lumpur, we felt excited but a bit sad to leave. Sam caught me looking like a wistful traveller on the ferry looking back at Penang.

Wherever I lay my hat..

Kuala Lumpur

We visited KL as recently as three years ago, and enjoyed seeing the main sites such as the Petronas Towers and the Batu Caves on that trip. So we took the opportunity to have a bit of a relax and have some down time. That didn’t stop us popping up the KL Tower for some great views of the city and to test our nerve by walking in the glass sky box that is appended to the Tower. Given the popularity of the sky box you queue for at least 20 minutes and then you are allowed a maximum of two minutes in the box before you are asked to leave and let the next group in.  Most people abused this rule, staying in there for far longer until a burly Malaysian security man insisted they leave. When our turn came we gingerly stepped out onto the glass, looked down very briefly, adopted suitable poses for pics and after about 40 seconds I suggested to Sam that we had seen all we needed to see and should really leave and let the next people in the queue have their moment.

KL Tower Sky Box

We also visited a few night markets, enjoying the food and atmosphere, but not so much the rain. I don’t know what it is about KL but it rains more regularly than any place we have ever been to, with every day delivering huge downpours with violent thunder and lightning.



We continued our journey down the west coast on Malaysia’s excellent railway system – the best we have experienced so far. Clean, comfortable and punctual, the ideal way to see the countryside unfolding. Malacca is another interesting town with an important trading history that was primarily developed by the Dutch and Portuguese, with a bit of British interference at some point. Although not quite as interesting as George Town (to us at least) it has its charm including the pink Christ Church dating from 1753.


…and a great riverside walk where there is more evidence of the Malaysian enthusiasm for street art and murals.


The town is also famed for its colourful street market on Jonker Walk which gets jam-packed at the weekend and is perfect for people watching from the respite of a bar stool.

Herbs, spices & all sorts on a Jonker Walk stall

The Malacca Tourist Board won’t thank us for saying this, but two of our abiding memories from the town are firstly the bizarre and quite frankly horrendous pimped up “rickshaws” that cycle about the town decorated with venerable historical characters such as Hello Kitty and Pokemon while pumping out deafening cheesy music. We were told that they are one of the local traditions. Well quite frankly they are an abomination to a town claiming heritage status. Your Honour, I present “Exhibit A” for the prosecution….

Get Lost Kitty!

Secondly, we found our way into what looked like a British Pub – our suspicions confirmed when we looked at the menu and my eyes immediately alighted on the words “Branston Pickle” while Sam spotted “Pie and Mash”. Absence really can make the heart grow fonder when it comes to HP sauce, Branston Pickle and mashed potato with gravy! We both love South East Asian food and didn’t really think we were hankering after any food from home. That is until we saw the menu and scoffed down our meals in record time. We were two very happy campers after that meal…..until we ran into some more of the blasted rickshaw contraptions again!

Home Comforts


Up Next:

From Malacca we took another train south to head into our sixth country – Singapore. However, we will be returning to Malaysia in November when we go to Borneo in search of more jungle wildlife. In the meantime, there is a lot of travelling to be done including the next stages in our adventure which are going to present us with a real contrast: spotless Singapore, followed by the wild Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java.








Island Hopping and a Jungle Treehouse in Southern Thailand

Beats Halong Bay – Chiew Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park

After our busy trek southwards from Northern Thailand, the last couple of weeks have been a real contrast: lazing around on beautiful island beaches and living in a jungle treehouse in Thailand’s premier National Park, Khao Sok.

We’ve been reflecting on the difference between holidaying and travelling. The most obvious one to us is the ability to have lots of downtime where we do next to nothing. Our holidays are usually organised with military precision, making the most of nearly every minute. Whereas now doing nothing is not only fine, it’s essential to avoid total exhaustion. If we were in holiday mode Sam would have quite rightly throttled me by now. It felt a bit odd initially, but we both really value the time where we just rest, read or float about listlessly in the sea knowing that we have days lined up where we will be busy, followed by doing absolutely nothing…or maybe thinking about material for the blog!

Heading to the south of Thailand we decided it was time for some island life, opting for the east coast and the Gulf of Thailand before the rains set in. The beaches are beautiful and quiet at this time of year, ideal for recharging the batteries.

We spent five horizontal days on the south coast of Ko Phangan looking across the water to the north coast of Koh Samui. These beaches are really popular and very busy in high season, but we had some of them virtually to ourselves – a real island paradise.

Away from the numbers

Then after a short ferry ride, we then spent a week on the north coast of Samui gazing at the south coast of Phangan. Obviously we did a little bit more than that….but not much more!

Mae Nam Beach, Samui

Both islands have their party reputations, especially Ko Phangan and its legendary full moon party (although in truth there appears to be a party arranged for every phase of the lunar cycle). However, that is definitely not our scene (anymore!) and there are more than enough quiet beaches to be found on both islands to escape the booze-filled hedonistic madness.


We haven’t been completely idle: another joy of having time on our side is the chance to plough through books old, new, and varied that we would never normally get the opportunity to read in just a few sittings. I’ve also got my head down and done some real work – a desk, good wifi and laptop enabling me to get on with some projects. Okay, it’s not work in the traditional sense but I’m enjoying the idea of being a nomadic worker and the “office” isn’t too shabby either….

Never had a view like this at Worthing Town Hall

Khao Sok National Park

When Sam left her job in Crawley, her colleagues bought her an excellent Lonely Planet coffee table travel book, containing the top 500 places to visit in the world. Tucked away somewhere in the 400’s was a short paragraph extolling the virtues of Khao Sok National Park in south west of Thailand. We decided this would make for a great change from the beach and researched accommodations options, of which they turned out to be plenty. We opted for a treehouse experience – how often are you going to get that opportunity?

Our jungle home

This was going to be four days and nights of rustic living, among the sights, sounds and smells of the jungle. You know you’re in for the real deal when the guide book in your room provides advice on how to deal with the variety of animals you might come across in the jungle and (more alarmingly) in your treehouse. For example, you and I know that leeches are harmless…………..but that doesn’t mean I want the little bleeders (see what I did there) anywhere near me! There was also friendly but firm instruction on not leaving doors or windows open, otherwise you might find a troop of long tailed macaque monkeys squatting in your home. Although none got into our lodgings they did make themselves very comfortable on our “verandah”.

Cheeky Monkey

Rejuvenated from our island break we launched ourselves into a series of jungle tours and activities starting with a night safari into the National Park, where our eagle eyed guide was able to point out stick insects, various lizards, frogs, a mouse deer (or was it a deer mouse?) and a sinister looking tree viper hanging high above our heads. Sam was his match though spotting the amazing sight of fire-flys lighting up the darkness and bringing our attention to the presence of a large bat by deploying a high pitch scream as it flew in front of her face. When we turned our torches off we were plunged into pitch blackness and the sounds and smells of the jungle were heightened. Tramping into the dark jungle was a unique experience and great fun. We felt proper adventurous!

The next day we took an hours drive to Chiew Lan Lake to see the beautiful limestone karsts that are studded throughout brilliant blue green water. This is breath taking scenery – as good as the far more famous Halong Bay in Vietnam, but without thousands of tourists cramming the waters.

Vertical karsts

….we could easily fill the blog with pictures of this gorgeous scenery, but here is a bit of footage instead..

On getting to shore we had a short trek before a bamboo raft took us to some caves, before a bit of downtime swimming and kayaking in the lake.  During the trek we found the hidey-hole of a tarantula with its legs peeping out….(note camera shake)….


….and by way of contrast signage warning of larger beasts…


After our exertions we took a canoe trip down the River Sok, which started inauspiciously when a frail bamboo bridge I was crossing, gave way with a loud crack, under my burgeoning weight, much to Sam’s delight. Karma immediately saw to it that while failing to control her hilarity her left leg disappeared into river mud sinking her knee deep. Having abandoned our dignity on shore we sailed gracefully downstream with our guide. Strangely the trip included stopping for a cuppa boiled on a campfire…. all we longed for in the sweltering heat was ice cold water, but after all the trouble the guide went to, we felt obliged to drink the hot tea.

More tea vicar?

It did give us another chance to stop and look at the incredible limestone rock formations that never fail to impress:


On our last day Sam wisely ducked out of a walk that was billed as a trek into deeper jungle. Our guide wanted to show me his village and take me off the beaten track. He advised that I regularly rub in bug repellant as the jungle would be full of leeches. My heart sank a bit further when I observed he was armed with a machete to help clear the path we were to take. Twenty minutes in my clothes were drenched in sweat, breathing heavily and thinking I wouldn’t last much longer! Leeches kept attaching themselves to my shoes so I had to keep vigilant, brushing them off before they made it to my skin. Yuk! Thankfully the heat, humidity and machete hacking got to my guide and he started to slow down. We certainly were off the beaten track, in fact there was no track for large parts of the trek. As we faced another section of dense jungle with no obvious route ahead I asked “….er… when was the last time you came on this trek exactly?” My guide stopped and thought for a moment “over two years ago” came his reply! No wonder there was no path to follow. Here is a pic of the typical view of our trek….

A path less travelled..

Between warnings of leeches, poisonous plants, wild pigs and spiky bamboo I vaguely recalled him mentioning that the second part of he trek would involve walking beside and through a river. So I was thrilled to hear the sound of a river babbling away after 90 minutes of deep jungle experience. I did briefly here the call of the Gibbon (probably warning me about the leeches), but didn’t spot any wildlife. My guide was as good as his word and we spent the next hour walking through fast cool waters that refreshed my tired feet and made the whole experience well worth the effort. I felt quite triumphant that I hard done it and was coming out alive.

Bear Grylls….not

However, the leeches had the final say, despite my running battle with them one had made its way onto the back of my leg and was happily sucking away. No pain, but it turned out to be quite hard to staunch the flow of blood once I’d got it off me. By way of consolation I finished the trek with a spot of tubing down the River Sok – great fun and a brilliant way to see the river and its wildlife (inc a mangrove snake) from a different angle. Apologies for the pincer legs and knobbly knees that swing into shot…..

During our last night when we were settled in our bed, when there was a noisy commotion near our heads, something quite large was in our room and far too close for comfort. As is the way when these things happen, I was despatched by Sam to leave the safety of our mosquito net cocoon and with iPhone torch set to stun, identify and presumably deal with the cause. As I gingerly stepped into the bathroom I found a very large lizard staring back at me with four eyes. “That’s unusual” I thought to myself, until I realised that two of the eyes belonged to a creature in the lizards mouth, which I think was a frog, but could have been a large cockroach. Sadly this pic doesn’t do it justice, but it was a real monster..


We loved our jungle adventures and it is incredibly exciting and humbling being so near to so much untarnished beauty. We can’t speak highly enough of Khao Sok – it’s turned out to be a really unexpected gem in our journey. Having said that after five days up in our treehouse we were ready for a return to creature comforts, air-con and a really hot powerful shower.

Oh Phuket

With a trip to Penang in northern Malaysia planned, we drove south from the jungle to Phuket where a short flight over the border would take us to our next country. We weren’t particularly keen on the idea of Phuket – another Thai island that comes laced with pre-conceptions and a dodgy reputation. However, we didn’t realise just how big the island is and how easy it was to find a hotel sitting next to a deserted beach and a small forest. With no desire to see the islands lowlights, we took root and enjoyed a few more days of island snoozing.

Nai Yang Beach fringed by Sirinart National Park

Top Travelling Tip

If you follow the Thai courtesy of leaving your footwear outside your home, it pays to be vigilant. One morning while putting on my trainers I could feel my toe pushing against a rolled up sock. “That’s odd…..both my socks are on the floor” followed by a rapid realisation that something else was pressing against my toe in my shoe. After a panicky withdrawal of my foot a rather disgruntled and crumpled frog hopped out, obviously enjoying the damp and clammy home it had made for itself until I launched my size 10 at it. I’m pleased to report no damage was done to the frog or myself. However, Sam was less than happy as I burst into a full length version of “Froggie went a Courting”  for the next hour.

Evicted from home, sweet home


Next Time: Mmmmmmmmm…..Malaysia!!


Suki and the Elephant AirBnB in Chiang Mai



We spent last year running an AirBnB from our home in Brighton, letting our spare bedrooms to travellers from all over the world. As a result, we regularly received an AirBnB magazine that highlighted some of the most unusual and exotic AirBnB accommodation across the world. One in particular caught our eye: a set of rustic villas located in an elephant sanctuary in the jungle an hour west from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. The article promised living among the elephants, and the chance to meet and interact with them close up. We duly checked the letting details – at about £30.00 a night it looked a great deal and a unique visit. As we don’t plan out itinerary much more than 2/3 weeks ahead at a time we couldn’t make an immediate booking, but we knew when we planned to go to Chiang Mai so we checked again once we were approaching Thailand and found there were rooms still available for a couple of nights. More messing around with elephants beckoned!

On arrival we discovered to get to the camp we had to drag our luggage across a long, rickety and bouncy bridge that swayed worryingly with each step and looked straight out of the set of “I’m a Celebrity….” but this was much more a case of “get me in there” as we viewed the idyllic  river running alongside the villas with elephants dotted about.


After checking into our Villa – a wonderfully ramshackle timber building – we were pointed in the direction of baby elephant Suki and invited to introduce ourselves to her. What a beauty Suki is, 3 months old and just about mastering coordination of her strong ungainly limbs and inquisitive trunk.


We booked ourselves on to a day’s tour at the sanctuary: a jungle trek, followed by rafting down the river, the highlight of feeding Suki and her mother, and bathing another one of the herd in the flowing river.

When you book onto something called a jungle trek you kind of expect a fairly long but pleasant stroll through a rainforest for an hour or so, taking in a waterfall or two. If that option existed we didn’t get it!! Along with three fellow trekkers from France and Brazil we headed off in our songthaew (an open-air taxi with minimal suspension) for a drive deep into the jungle where we were deposited with our two guides, one of whom was clearly worried about my age and fitness as she kept checking “John, you okay?” She had good reason. The heat was draining, but what made it exhausting was the regular disappearance of anything resembling a horizontal path to follow, which meant that we had to spend a lot of the trek head down working out where to place each foot. The terrain was uneven to say the least and obstructed by jagged rocks, fallen trees and swamps. Steep vertical drops started appearing on one side of the route with the only thing preventing us slipping being up grasping overhanging branches and vines for support. I was going to jokingly ask our guides how many tourists they had lost over the years but thought better of it in case they gave me an honest answer. My long legs gave me some advantage but poor Sam had to clamber over all sorts. We eventually reached a waterfall in one piece and went for a dip in rather bracing water – a blessed if short-lived relief from the heat.


While we swam in the river our guides decided that in the interests of health and safety we should each have a stick to help us through the jungle. Ten minutes later five bamboo sticks roughly hewn from the jungle were issued to us. They were a great help although I nearly speared myself on mine, pole vault style. Crossing narrow bamboo bridges over rapids soon followed (along with a sense of deja vu after our Luang Prabang bridge nightmare), until wet slippery undergrowth mercifully gave way to flat wide paths, allowing our travel insurance policy to slip back into its hammock and rest easy again. (I’ve come to think of our Travel Insurance Policy as a real entity that looks down on us frowning as we embark on some of our adventures).


After trekking, sailing down the Wang River on a bamboo raft of dubious construction was relaxing and serene, the waters rushing past us as we veered between rocks and overhanging trees skilfully steered by our skipper with his bamboo rod. Another magical experience when your senses drink in the jungle floating by and you are immersed in the moment, not a care in the world. Priceless.

However, the best was yet to come. Having scrambled off our raft we met up with our elephant guide and went off to feed Suki and mum: “you go ahead, they will follow you – they can smell the bananas!” Being eagerly pursued by several tons of elephant who are very keen to relieve you of all the bananas stored in the basket on your shoulder is quite a feeling, like having a London bus relentlessly homing in on you. Suki, who hasn’t yet graduated to banana feeding, added to the chaos by careering between her mums’ legs and nearly knocking me and Sam flat on our faces. Terrific fun and all the time being up close to these remarkable creatures.


After feeding time was over, we headed back down to the river to bathe another elephant who is one of the most delightfully tactile creatures, wrapping its trunk around us playfully as we did our best to exfoliate her tough hide.


As we sat in the bar area in the evenings and mornings elephants would wander up looking for a treat, sniffing out any sign of a banana going spare. We agreed that this remarkable AirBnB had exceeded the expectations that had whetted our appetite in the glossy magazine we read months ago whilst still in the UK.


However, the constant presence of glorious elephants is only half the story at Chai Lai Orchard. It also runs a social enterprise called Daughter’s Rising that rescues women and young girls from the ever growing sex trafficking industry. Their remarkable work not only allows a route for these women to escape this dreadful industry, but provides training and education. All of the young women working at this sanctuary have escaped and are being given opportunities to learn English, train in hospitality and have a future free from fear and exploitation. A brilliant short film explains more at this link:

Daughters Rising Film


Chiang Mai – same same, but different..

Ten years ago we we stayed in Chiang Mai and we were looking forward to returning to the city. We chose to stay close to the vibrant Night Market, which seems to have grown even bigger as have the food courts that accompany it, selling cheap and delicious meals. We happily overdosed on fabulous fresh veggie Pad Thai, cooked in seconds for a couple of quid and a refreshing bottle of Leo to accompany it.

The old town with its historic walls hasn’t changed much, but the Wat’s and Temples seemed to be grander, with more gold leaf decoration than when we last visited.


In one temple a young monk sat meditating and praying with fellow Bhuddists, while further across the room about a dozen elderly monks sat quietly, cross legged and as still as stone, a picture of tranquility in deep meditation……… took us five minutes to realise they weren’t real, but astonishingly life like wax replicas.


Rather than head off straight to Bangkok, and onward to the islands in the south, we thought we would meander down on the train and spend a few days stopping off at some interesting towns en route, starting with Lampang. While the town itself was unremarkable the surrounding countryside offered beautiful hilltop panorama’s to view the paddy fields, plains and mountains of the area.


After a two day stopover we took the train to Sukothai where the ancient town was a real find. Temples, Wats, and statues of Bhudda in a lovely historical park area that was beautifully conserved. We took a couple of bikes from the hotel and happily cycled around the ancient sites for several hours.


Remarkably there was hardly anyone there, a handful of visitors wandering around the large site in virtual solitude. Sukothai really deserves more attention.


Sukothai also provided us with our best hotel infinity pool experience yet, which is saying something given the ones we’ve enjoyed to date…..


Our third stop was less enthralling. It started badly with a four hour journey on a train carriage with no air/con in 30 degrees+ temperature. Everyone in the train carriage appeared to be struggling to manage the sweltering heat and we were so glad we’d  decided to break the journey up and could escape before Bangkok. When we passed through Lopburi 10 years ago, the station was covered with monkeys scurrying around the station. On arrival there was no sign of any monkeys, other than ornamental ones, so we decided to head straight to the hotel and looked for a taxi, of which there were none. Instead two old fellas on 3-wheel bikes leapt up, crammed our bags, and us, into each of their tricycles and began to cycle….very slowly. In fact my cycling chauffeur was considerably older than Sam’s (who had overtaken us immediately) and after a short downhill stretch he had to hop off and push. Now I know I’m carrying a few extra pounds and could lose a bit of weight but I thought that this was a bit much. As he struggled to push the combined weight of his bike, bag and passenger guilt got the better of me and I hopped out and helped him push as well, much to the amusement of a passing van load of children, laughing at the sweaty westerner paying to push his own luggage on a tricycle.


After checking in we took the precaution of booking a taxi with a combustion engine and headed into town in search of Lopburi’s famous monkeys and oh my we found them! It was like stumbling on the set of Planet of the Apes. The ground was alive with the movement of wild monkeys eating, fighting, chasing each other through traffic, adorning buildings left, right and centre, and having the most blatant in your face sex!



Now we like our little simian ancestral cousins but quite frankly this was unpleasant, it was really clear who bossed Lopburi town! By a monument we met a man with dark glasses and a big white stick – we incorrectly assumed he was blind. In fact the big white stick was for beating monkeys that came too close. He gestured wildly to Sam speaking rapidly in Thai, but we were unable to get the gist of what he meant. A few more frantic gestures and it became clear he was indicating for her to take the sunglasses off her head, before the monkeys did it for her!! Looking at the numbers I couldn’t help feeling that his luck was going to run out soon and that stick was going to be appropriated by a pack of marauding monkeys and shoved in a place where the sun doesn’t shine ………sideways.


Two hours on from Lopburi we crawled into Bangkok for a one night stop before flying south. After the mixed comforts of our train journeys south we came across the complete opposite. Standing regally at the next platform was the Eastern Oriental Express that runs from Bangkok via Kuala Lumper to Singapore. An absolute beauty and thankfully not a monkey in sight!



Top Travelling Tips
Carrying travel books around for a year is not a practical option in the battle to keep luggage weight down. There are loads of good online travel sites that provide great up to date advice, maps, itineraries and recommendations. For S/E Asia we would recommend Travelfish for its detailed and excellent guides. Cheap to boot and well worth the investment. The other must have for train travel (anywhere in the world) is the superb Man in Seat 61. A brilliant source of information, timetables and advice.


Next Up: Island Life and a Treehouse in Southern Thailand

Laos: A Tale of Two Cities


Of all the locations on our itinerary, Laos is probably the one we knew least about and had done nearly no advance reading on.  The only land-locked country in S/E Asia, Laos doesn’t have an obvious wow factor to poach tourists from its neighbours. No Bangkok or Saigon, and while it certainly doesn’t lack interesting ancient temples, it has nothing in the scale of Angkor in Cambodia.

However, therein lies some of its charm. Laos feels calm, relaxed and is certainly less hectic than its Vietnamese neighbour. On arriving it had more in common with Cambodia – although the capital Vientiane is much smaller than its Cambodian counterpart Phnom Penh, which is no bad thing.

Vientiane has to be the smallest and quietest capital city we have ever visited. Sitting on the banks of the Mekong, you can view the northeast border of Thailan. The river was high when we visited, but in the dry season we were told there are numerous mud flats meaning you can actually make the journey across on foot for part of the year. Being so compact it’s quite easy to visit several of the main tourist attractions of Vientiane in a few days: a smattering of temples; a beautiful reclining Bhudda;


French colonial architecture; a rather endearing but tired version of the Arc de Triomphe; and a very grand Presidential Palace which seems strangely incongruous in what is one of the only Marxist-Leninist Socialist Republics in the world…


Nice pad comrade!

Sam and I are trying to avoid the travellers affliction of getting “templed-out” on our trip by visiting other sites, museums and attractions. In Vientiane this led us to a fascinating but shocking discovery about the legacy of the Vietnam War that Laos continues to live with over 40 years after the last shots were fired.


While we knew that the USA had bombed Laos and Cambodia as part of their efforts to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail, we didn’t appreciate the scale of the bombardment or its nature. We discovered more when we visited a medical centre that provides artificial limbs and treatment for the victims of land mines in Laos.

Incredibly, the USAF dropped more bombs on Laos than was dropped by the allies in Europe in WWII – 2 million tonnes of ordnance between 1964 and 1973; 580,000 missions, equivalent to a bombing raid every eight minutes 24 hours a day for nine years. Laos had more bombs dropped on it during the Vietnam war, despite having nothing to do with the war, than Vietnam itself.  As a result, Laos continues to hold the unwanted record of being the most bombed country in the world per capita.

If that wasn’t bad enough the “bombs” contained millions of small bombs known as “bombies” – the size of a tennis ball. 30% of these failed to detonate, leaving 80 million bombies scattered throughout the country at the end of the war. In turn this led to over 20,000 people being killed or injured by the unexploded bombs between 1975 and 2011.


A model of “bombies” at the COPE Centre

These bombies, which lie dormant for decades, are still being detonated today by farmers digging their land, the heat of an adjacent cooking pot, or commonly children discovering and playing with one. Having swathes of agricultural land, where farming can kill or maim you, prolongs the deadly legacy and poverty in Laos. Poverty also leads some to hunt for the scrap metal left from the war – a dangerous game of Russian roulette. The good news is that real progress is being made on bomb clearance making areas safe again, although this work can be undone in rainy season when mudslides and landslips mean that areas already declared safe once again become dangerous and need to be surveyed once again. It is a thoroughly depressing story that continues to create casualties today. The devastation caused by the USAs so called ‘Secret War’ is an epitaph to the war crimes of LBJ and Nixon.

Our visit to the COPE centre in Vientiane displayed not only the terrible consequences of the bombing, but the remarkable rehabilitation work to supply victims with new limbs and physiotherapy – a really inspiring effort in the face of what must seem like insurmountable odds.  If you are interested in reading more about their work it can be found at:


A short flight took us north to Luang Prabang, a Unesco World Heritage site. On landing we immediately knew we had arrived somewhere special, with jungle and mountains bordering a gorgeous town that sits as a peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. Both rivers were high, topped up by rainy season and full of mud gorged from the fields and plantations that usually form their embankments. The speed of the rivers, especially at their confluence was an amazing sight.


Go on, push him in..

Despite the surrounding geography, the centre of Luang Prabang is pancake flat – perfect for pottering around on bicycles, especially ones that have no brakes, gears or lights (though they did come with baskets). We spent our first day gently rolling around the town, getting our bearings and making several pit stops for delicious homegrown banana smoothies.

Beside the Nam Khan River we came across a sign inviting us to a lovely riverside cafe – one catch: it’s on the other side of the river only accessible by a small boat. We parked the bikes and gingerly stepped onto the boat, sitting down among the liberally distributed life jackets. Off we went battling the current when suddenly the engine stalled and for a moment we thought we might be making another unscheduled trip to the Mekong Delta.


Happily after a few moments the engine spluttered back into life and we made it to the other side, rewarding ourselves with sublime crepes while perched precariously above the river.


Luang Prabang as well as being wonderful to pronounce is a delight, certainly comparable to Hoi An in Vietnam. The night  market is full of stalls selling local goods – (no fake designer tat like the other markets) and totally hassle-free – Laotians don’t do hassle; fab street food, excellent restaurants in beautiful wooden French colonial buildings, temples with bhudda’s galore, and the two stunning rivers regularly popping into view as you glance down a street one way or the other.


During one of our cycle trips we came across an old iron bridge only accessible for  motorbikes. We weren’t entirely sure if it was meant for cycles but decided to go for it. The wooden slats wobbled as we peddled our way nervously across facing the oncoming motorbikes just inches from our wheels.  We became increasingly aware of the queue of motorbikes patiently building up behind us as we pootled our way across, as illustrated by the stubborn tricyclist below…


On returning we found a narrow section of bridge which we thought might be intended for pedestrian access and thought it might be a safer option to push our bikes along this quieter, but considerably narrower route….so began the terror. This part of the bridge was made up of planks of wood, most of which were loose, and in one or two spots had disappeared altogether into the Nam Khan River below which was a long way down, very deep and fast flowing. Every now and then the front wheels of our bikes would slip down a gap between the planks, and we had to yank the wheel out causing the wood to creak and shake. Neither of us uttered a word during the crossing, a sure sign we were both properly scared and just wanted it to be over. It probably took us 10 minutes to cross, but it felt an awful lot longer.


When we eventually stepped back onto terra firma an elderly gentleman stood looking at us bewildered by our antics. “Good afternoon” I said in my best Hugh Grant voice, while Sam plonked herself down in the kerb and tried to regain some composure. I don’t know why but at no point, not even a few yards in did we ever consider stopping and going back, as if forward was our only option.


Smiling through gritted teeth

Luang Prabang is also a great base to visit the surrounding countryside that offers waterfalls, caves and elephant treks. We adore elephants (who doesn’t) and took a trip to a sanctuary where they have been spared a life of logging. Being with an elephant up close never fails to be a jaw dropping experience, their size, strength, and beauty overwhelming the senses.


After feeding them bananas we hopped on their necks for a ride through the jungle to a watering hole. It’s a strange sensation feeling yourself rock from side to side as your elephant lumbers forward, with nothing to hold on to. Despite being given some basic instructions (forward, left, right, stop….stop, PLEASE STOP!!) they regularly wander off the route to find whatever food they can forage to feed their voracious appetite.


You just have to hope that you aren’t going to be decapitated by overhanging branches or launched into the mud head first several feet below! Riding an elephant into a watering hole is exhilarating and terrifying, watching your elephant slowly disappear into the water leaving you marooned on her head and back, trunk sloshing about joyfully. We can’t get enough of elephants and will be staying in an AirBnB located in an elephant sanctuary in Thailand next week – can’t wait!


Another must see is Kuang Si waterfalls – famed for their bright blue water. However in rainy season the falls are a gushing torrent, milky coffee in colour, and are an absolutely drenching spectacle.


With waters high and wild lots of the paths and viewing platforms are closed or actually under water.


In the park area we unexpectedly came across a sanctuary for Moon Bears – much smaller than black bears, but looking equally adorable. These bears have been rescued from farms where their bile is extracted for “health benefits”. Sadly many have spent years in cages and can’t be released into the wild, unable to fed themselves and at the mercy of poachers. The sanctuary they are in is spacious, but it is sad to see fences keeping them in. The lesser of two evils.


On our last day in Laos we found that the Mekong had calmed and we took the opportunity to take a boat trip out to see it close up – beautiful and serene. When we set off we didn’t think about how often we would meet the Mekong and what an incredible river it is, sustaining so many communities and lives on its path from the mountains in the north, right through to the Delta.



The River isn’t without controversy, with Laos building dams along its course with the aim of being the hydro-electricity powerhouse of the region. However there are real concerns about how that will affect the rivers’ ecology and sustainability downstream, particularly for Cambodia and Vietnam.


Laos, the quiet relation of S/E Asia has been a very relaxing leg on our journey, and Luang Prabang will be one of our highlights of our travels.

Next Week – 10 years on we return to Chiang Mai in Thailand: same same but different.

Happy in Hanoi With Hannah



One of the challenges we continually face on this trip is keeping our bags under the 20kg imposed by the internal flights we take. We are both unapologetic shopaholics and it is taking remarkable willpower not to buy lots of gorgeous knick-knacks from the markets we visit that would look lovely in our home. Occasionally we do yield to temptation and buy some clothes, but this is more from necessity than retail addiction. We have an agreement that if we buy new clothes something has to be jettisoned from the wardrobe – one in one out! There is something quite disciplined and liberating about this approach. Slowly but surely the climate demands thinner tops & trews, so that we are leaving a trail of thick European clobber throughout S/E Asia.


Along with one-in-one out, we have another rule that is written in stone – there will be no elephant trousers! Under no circumstances will either of us allow this sartorial Armageddon. Sam showed signs of weakening when she bought what appeared to be a nice, light white dress in Laos. However, closer inspection revealed a small elephant print that just about stayed on the right side of acceptability.

Having said that, I will forgive Sam just about anything for coming up with the most wonderful birthday ‘gift’. As we can’t buy stuff I assumed I wouldn’t get a pressie (this was exactly the excuse I gave Sam on her birthday). However on my 55th (!) she revealed she had been in clandestine communications with my daughter Hannah who was making arrangements for a 2 week trip to meet us in Vietnam – what a marvellous surprise! We quickly researched a suitable beach location that we knew Hannah would enjoy and booked our flights back to Vietnam from Cambodia for a few days in crazy Hanoi, then down to the beach on DaNang together with a detour to Hoi An. Hannah visiting gave us the perfect excuse to revisit places we’d been to 8 years ago and hadn’t initially planned to go to see on this trip. We’re so glad we had the opportunity to revisit them.


In Hanoi we had our first really bad hotel experience. We booked a ’boutique’ hotel in the Old Quarter – where all hotels call themselves ’boutique’ as there isn’t the space to build anything bigger. On arrival our hearts started to sink when we checked into a bedroom that reminded us of the Crossroads Motel – it looked as though it hadn’t been updated since 1973. Happily Hannah’s room was much brighter. However, the deal-breaker was the uninterrupted building works taking place a few floors above our room. “Yes, we renovate the spa and gym on the 8th floor” the Receptionist proudly told Sam when she complained about the noise which had been going on non-stop, resulting in next to no sleep. When the receptionist read the signals that a sleep-deprived Sam is one of the most dangerous creatures on the planet and not to be messed with, she added nervously “I will ask them to stop”. Of course they didn’t, Vietnamese builders don’t stop when mild mannered receptionists asks them to keep it down. They carried on morning, noon & night, until we could stand no more and checked out early, much to the surprise of the hotel staff.

On our first trip out into Hanoi, Hannah was still suffering jet lag from her 12 hour flight. Combined with a temperature of 35+ degrees and crippling humidity she was taken a bit poorly at the temple on the lake in the centre of Hanoi. Fearing she might faint we stopped in the shade for a while. Unfortunately she felt a bit nauseous and it looked as though she might actually be sick into the lake, or worse still, on the sacred temple! While Sam made all the right sympathetic and comforting noises, my mind played out a scene of vomit, uproar at a cultural atrocity followed by imprisonment – all in the blink of an eye! Moments later when Hannah indicated a slight improvement we quickly shuffled her off the temple site with the unsympathetic advice … “you can throw up anywhere you like now”.


The suffocating heat in Hanoi then took its toll on me as we strolled through the night market. While Sam and Hannah checked out the stalls I sensed my body temperature rising and rising. In response I gulped down bottles of water. However rather than cool and hydrate me the water gushed out of every pore – like some great sweaty waterfall drenching my shirt and shorts. I squelched home reluctantly accepting that I probably wouldn’t get a second wear out of my undies on this occasion.

A trip to the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ provided an interesting and disturbing insight into how the French treated Vietnamese prisoners during their occupation, including the guillotine used to execute revolutionary patriots. The prison was subsequently used by the North Vietnamese for captured US Airforce pilots, including Senator John McCain who passed away this week. He revisited the prison years later and met with his captors, all part of the reconciliation process that took place between the USA and Vietnam.


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Our detour to Hanoi meant that we could hook up with another familiar face from home, Aiden, the son of our very good friends Anthony and Carolyn. Aiden has been in Vietnam for several months teaching English and he arranged to take us out for a good night in Hanoi, starting with a great little restaurant off the beaten track, shoes off, knees up, no table or chairs – a great menu and delicious food.


After that it was back into the Old Quarter and sampling Vietnam’s version of home brew – Bia Hoi. Dirt cheap (about 30p a glass) it’s a street drink that is rough, ready, strangely refreshing and possibly a risk to your health. We followed that with a session on a rooftop bar that ended at midnight when the authorities decree all bars must close. An end to the night? No chance, as Aiden skilfully guided us to a discrete lock-in.

The memory of this is understandably vague – we were hammered by then and having a wonderful time. Unfortunately one of the things I can recall is hearing Jumping Jack Flash come on the jukebox and immediately springing to my feet, insisting that “I do a great Mick Jagger.” For reasons that remain unclear I felt the impersonation would be enhanced if I donned the motorcycle crash helmet I found on a table. In full flow I jerked about Jagger-like, strutting up to the bar, lifting the visor on the helmet and shouting “well alright” to the bemused bar staff and customers before snapping the visor down, spinning 180 degrees and marching back down the bar clapping my hands together Mick stylee! What could possibly add to the embarrassment…………… discovering that your hysterical daughter has recorded the “performance” on her iPhone for posterity/blackmail! Sam recalls a local asking her if I was her husband. When she replied I was, he just looked at her sympathetically and said ‘I’m sorry!’


And so after a memorable Hanoi night we said our goodbyes and set off but not before Aiden asked that I message him to let him know we had got back to our hotel – you know you are getting old when your mates kids insist on being told that you have got home safely!!

The next afternoon we flew to DaNang, famed for being a key American base in the War, but now boasting a glorious 5km beach of soft sand, clean warm sea water and climbing temperatures.


On our first day it was a bit grey and overcast so we decided to head for the hills – Ba Na Hills to see a bizarre European theme park and the recently opened Golden Bridge, held up by the Hands of God. The only way up to Ba Na Hills is on a jaw dropping 5000 metre cable car journey that is worth the day trip by itself. We kept getting higher and higher with great views back to the coast and the adjacent Monkey and Marble Mountains.


Once you arrive you are greeted by the site of a mock French village, town square, hotels, restaurants, and a cathedral – all false (should that be faux?). We wandered into the “church” and Sam stepped up to the altar to inspect what appeared to be a giant bible but in fact was a large piece of polystyrene. In a plasterboard confessional box I assumed the role of priest and told Sam to say two Hail Mary’s and an Act of Contrition for her sins: “……sounds like a good deal” was her reply!


The Golden Bridge held up by two giant hands is remarkable. It doesn’t serve any purpose, such linking two hitherto unconnected points. Rather it seems to exist as a striking sight and feat of engineering, and of course it’s all very Instagram. Even the most cynical of visitors can’t fail to be impressed by the sheer scale and drama of those hands high in the hills, frequently draped in mist, cloud and marauding Koreans armed with selfi-sticks!


Some serious sunbathing took place over the few days including the chance to meet with more friends on An Bang beach near Hoi An. By chance our travels crossed with Chris, Karen and their children. Sam and I regularly fail miserably to visit Chris and Karen at the wonderful Purple Carrot in Hassocks, so it felt ironic that we should finally see each other on a beach thousands of miles from home. It was a lovely relaxing day catching up and even though we’ve only been away for two months it was great seeing family and friends.


We promised Hannah a trip to Hoi An, just 30 mins south of DaNang. It’s a beautiful town and world heritage site full of quaint independent shops and ancient homes. Hoi An miraculously escaped the ravages of War. Being south of DaNang it wasn’t carpet bombed by the good old US, and once the South Vietnamese Army collapsed, the Liberation Army swept through towns like Hoi An without much military exchange or damage.


As a result Hoi An retained its unique character which comes to life at night when lanterns adorn the streets and candles float gently down the river – it looks almost too good to be true and can rightly claims the title of Vietnam’s most picturesque town.


If that wasn’t enough for Hannah it also offers shopping heaven with pretty, independent shops sitting alongside a vibrant night market and rock bottom prices! We’ve noticed that fruit inspired clothing is really popular in Vietnam……


and when in Rome……


We returned to DaNang and enjoyed a boat cruise on the River Han underneath the many bridges the town is famous for, particularly the multi-coloured Dragon Bridge.


Like Nha Trang further down the coast DaNang has a bit of a reputation for being touristy and lacking charm, but when you have a beach that is so good and quiet it’s hard to find fault. DaNang enjoys the added benefit of its proximity to Hoi An, and a large airport that has great connections to cities throughout the region. Well worth checking out, especially if you are a beach bum.


All too soon we were returning to Hanoi and accompanying Hannah to the airport for her flight home. Her visit has felt like a holiday within our travels and we were thrilled to share time with her. It also marked a bit of a milestone in our travels as we left Vietnam a couple of days after Hannah, heading for Laos.

Vietnam is a wonderful manic country that is so full of vitality, lovely people and a fascinating history. There are a few corners of the country we still haven’t seen yet – the perfect excuse for a return visit…..and some more Bia Hoi!!

Travellers Top Tips
Short and sweet this one – we could not survive without our eye masks and ear plugs to block out the lights and sounds that seem to accompany most hotel rooms. It can make for some tricky conversations when one or especially both of us have our ear plugs in. They’ve given us hours of extra sleep, but even they couldn’t block out Hanoi builders!!

Next Week – Learning about Laos

In Memory Of The Killing Fields


Three years, eight months and twenty days” this is a timeframe etched on the Khmer people and it’s a phrase often quoted here when referring to the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot. It coldly quantifies Cambodia’s darkest time, the period when over 2 million Khmer were murdered – a quarter of the country’s population.

In our previous blog we struggled to find the superlatives to justify the astonishing beauty to be found in Cambodia. This week having visited the Killing Fields it’s equally hard, if not harder to find the words to adequately convey the horror inflicted on the innocent victims who are commemorated in Phnom Penh.

We should begin by addressing the question of writing on this subject and sharing photos. We had mixed feelings about what was appropriate and in some locations quite rightly photography isn’t allowed.

However, visitors are thanked, welcomed and movingly told that by paying their respects at the Killing Fields they become holders of the memory of the Khmer Rouge’s genocide; encouraged to share the story of what happened and to remember the victims so that such atrocities can be avoided in the future. So we will share with you our experience.

Memorial at S-21:


The Khmer people had suffered in the years prior to Khmer Rouge – a bloody civil war and the USA bombing campaigns in Kampuchea. Indeed, many initially celebrated the victory of the Khmer Rouge and the end of Civil War, but that was short lived. Within hours of entering Phnom Penh its inhabitants were told to leave for the countryside immediately on the pretence that the US were about to bomb the city. Incredibly the capital city, Phnom Penh, was emptied in 3 days – a ghost town.



So began ‘Year Zero’ and the implementation of ‘Brother 1’ Pol Pot’s regime that sent everyone to farms to create a peasant society. Professional people, the educated, monks, priests were all viewed with suspicion and would perish. Even wearing glasses marked you out as the enemy as this indicated an ability to read – no longer necessary and certainly enough reason to be executed.

There are two key sites in Phnom Penh that commemorate the genocide that took place from April 1975 to January 1979. We first visited Tuol Sleng Prison – simply known as S-21. A converted school, S-21 became the notorious centre of interrogation and torture of anyone suspected of being a traitor to Khmer Rouge, which in an increasingly paranoid regime became just about anyone.


Treatment of prisoners was barbaric with guards instructed not to kill prisoners but to prolong torture ensuring ‘confessions’ were obtained. The confessions typically involved admitting to spying for the enemy and naming fellow ‘conspirators’; which in turn led to more arrests and torture. Such was the madness of the regime that having killed all of the qualified doctors and nurses, Prison Guards had to learn rudimentary medical skills to try to keep prisoners alive to continue their torture. Some prisoners tried to end their misery by committing suicide by jumping off the high balconies at S-21, which led to barbed wire being put up to stop them.


The Prison Guards themselves were often imprisoned if they failed to extract confessions or killed a prisoner before he or she had signed their confession. It was a system built on fear and brutality.

The prison cells are small, basic and bleak. In many of the communal cell areas there are displays showing row upon row of photos of prisoners faces who look scared and bewildered. Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge maintained detailed records of their victims much of which they failed to destroy when they eventually fled Phnom Penh.

A very small handful of prisoners survived S-21 & we were privileged to meet two of them on site. They promote the work to remember the genocide and gave evidence in some of the War Crime trials that belatedly took place almost 30 years after the
Khmer Rouge were defeated. Not surprisingly they are haunted by the experience, grieving for the family, friends and fellow Khmer who lost their lives.




Choeung Ek

Following S-21 we made the trip to Choeung Ek, about 10 miles south of the city.  There are a number of Killing Fields throughout Cambodia and Choeung Ek is the main memorial site. After obtaining confessions at S-21, prisoners were transported here along with others who had been rounded up – their final journey.  In order to save ammunition prisoners were usually beaten to death, had their throats cut and were thrown into mass graves. After the war ended almost 9000 bodies were discovered at the site, although many more have been left undisturbed.

Bones and scraps of clothes regularly rise to the surface of the fields, especially during rainy season, revealing further chilling evidence of the scale of the Killing Field. In fact, we saw a small pile of bones which had been collected and were waiting proper commemoration.


The site includes the Killing Tree, a site of unimaginable terror where shards of bone and flesh were found in its trunk when Choeung Ek was discovered after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge. Next to the tree a mass grave of children and infants was found. The Khmer Rouge’s twisted logic was that they did not want children avenging the death of their murdered parents, so they were bludgeoned to death against the tree, their feet held in the hands of the aggressors, their skulls smashed against the tree and dropped into the grave. It is a terrible shock to learn of these atrocities and then to find the same tree still standing there overhanging the excavated grave. Of all the atrocities we learned of at the Killing Fields, this particular spot was a place which jolted both of us. We had to take time to reflect as we stood besides this tree that had witnessed such unimaginable horrors.

At the centre of the Killing Field is the Choeung Ek Monument, a glass-walled Bhuddist Stupa that contains over 5000 skulls, many displaying their final injury. The monument along with the site in general is overwhelming.


We visited Auschwitz a couple of years ago and walking around Choeung Ek, trying to imagine the fear and desperation of its victims led to very similar feelings –  anger and disbelief giving way to a sense of respectful tranquility and sadness at the most appalling injustice meted out to innocent people. It is an incredibly moving and upsetting experience.


Visiting these sites and writing about it is difficult, but we both wanted to better understand what happened, how and why; and most importantly to reflect and pay our respects.

We wish we could finish on a positive note, describing how Cambodia has flourished since ridding itself of the tyranny of Pol Pot – unfortunately we can’t. When we first arrived in Siem Reap the national elections were taking place. However,  it became clear quickly that these were not open and fair. The Government and Prime Minister has remained in power since 1979 when Khmer rebels fighting the Khmer Rouge were supported by the Vietnamese to topple Pol Pot. Sadly, it seems the leaders of that revolt have made the familiar journey from freedom fighters to dictators over the course of the following decades. Political opponents are imprisoned or exiled, a free press closed down, and the electorate intimidated into voting (or face reprisals).

It feels as though in trying to recover from and never revisit the fear of the genocide of Khmer Rouge, current generations of Khmer people are being subjugated, unable to create independence from a Government influenced by Vietnam and an economy increasingly controlled by China.

Our time in Cambodia has been a mixed one. The stunning beauty of Angkor Watt and the surrounding temples, contrasting with the legacy of Khmer Rouge. The lovely relaxed feeling of Siem Reap compared with a more seedy and edgy Phnom Penh. Throughout it all have been the wonderful Khmer people who are so warm, friendly and welcoming; deserving so much more than their recent history and current government gives them.


Next Week: A Return to Vietnam to see family & friends.




Angkor Wat – A Wonderful World!


We’ve made our way to our second country, flying from Sai Gon to a quiet and modern airport in Siem Reap, Cambodia. First impressions were very positive, after the traffic mayhem of Vietnam, Cambodia feels calm & the Khmer people are so very warm & friendly. Although in use for a number of years now “Cambodia” doesn’t register as the name of the country with the local people who’ve experienced more name changes than most – they think of themselves as Khmer, & reference to Kampuchea is more likely to be acknowledged than ‘Cambodia’.

We will return to the Country’s troubled history in the next blog, but our first week was to focus on the Angkor Park area. Thanks to a great tip from our friend Jerry we hooked up with a local guide (Kheleur) a few weeks before we arrived. He set up 5 days of visits for us in the Angkor area, with a number of dawn starts. We haven’t had such an intense tourist schedule since we left home so we wisely slotted in a ‘rest day’ in the middle of the programme. As he was booked up Kheleur organised a guide, car & driver for us.

The week that followed was fabulous. It becomes apparent very quickly why Angkor Wat and the surrounding area is a Unesco World Heritage site that always crops up in the top 5 listings of “must see” places to visit in the world.


We don’t have the vocabulary to do anything like justice to the raw beauty of Angkor, it’s tempting to stop writing now & let lots of pictures do the talking. We will endeavour though, trying to point out our highlights & for what it’s worth our advice should you visit (you should – there is nowhere quite like this).


The first thing to say is that Angkor Wat itself is just one of a vast series of temples and if you want to experience the area it’s worth spending at least 2/3 days exploring – but the more you can manage, the better. A guide will enhance the experience enormously. You can hire a Tuk Tuk & use a map/guide, but you won’t get the rich detail a good guide can provide or see some of the less visited temples that are off the beaten track. Having travelled so far to see Angkor it’s worth shelling out a bit more as it’s likely to be a once in a lifetime experience that you will never forget. Our guide Buntheoun was wonderful company, his passion for Angkor, its history, and the Khmer people shone through, bringing to life the astonishing temples and the beautiful carvings that adorn them.


Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th Centuries, becoming the largest city in the world in the 12th century. The scale of the buildings, their complexity and the carvings are reminiscent of the skills and ingenuity it must have taken to build the Pyramids.


What adds to the wild beauty of the temples is their co-existence with trees and jungle that at many sites are as much a feature as the buildings themselves. None more so than Ta Prohm (also known as the Tomb Raider Temple as this is where some of the film was shot) where giant trees have taken root & wrap themselves around the temples – it’s hard to tell if the trees are holding up the temples or vice-versa.


Despite the best efforts of conservation & restoration there are crumbling walls & large blocks of sandstone strewn about the sites, but this adds to the sense of unworldliness at Angkor, you really do feel that you’ve stepped back in time into a lost jungle empire.


Many of the carvings relate to Hindu folklore or Bhuddas, none more so than at Bayon one of the few sites where Bhuddist imagery hasn’t been removed in favour of Shiva, Vishnu & Brahma. Here we found dozens of Bhudda faces staring out at us benignly as the clouds opened & we enjoyed a rainy season downpour that eased the heat & humidity.


Bunthoeun guided us to sites off the tourist trail that we shared with just a handful of other gobsmacked visitors – so special.

We were up at 4.30 the next day to watch sunrise at Angkor Wat – far more company for this event but the temple is large & not overcrowded in rainy season. It’s tempting to focus on the lotus flower shaped towers at Angkor Wat, the archetypal image that has been replicated in the national flag. However, there is real treasure to be found in the gallery that runs around parts of the building, where intricate carvings depict images of life, heaven & hell. The quality and detail of a section completed in the 12th century is incredible. Many walked past these without giving them much of a glance. Happily for us Bunthoeun talked us through the galleries remarkable stories, that are still being told 800 years later – what a fitting tribute to the craftsmen and women who created them.

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After a rest day we visited Banteay Srei, known as the Woman’s Temple that has beautiful decoration in sandstone. A few local people had mentioned this as their favourite in Angkor, in part due to the detail and depth of the decoration which are amazing

We then took a jungle trek into the hills to discover ancient Hindu carvings in streams and waterfalls. How these have survived erosion & remain so vivid is a mystery. As we trekked back down the hill we could hear gibbons calling to each other, a wonderful sound but no sighting.

Close to Siem Reap is Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in S/E Asia. The lake supports a large proportion of the Country’s population, growing with the lake in rainy season. Our boat took us alongside the eerie flooded forests..


and the fishing villages built on stilts alongside the river. Although they looked ramshackle on first appearance, they are really quite substantial and built to survive what the weather throws at them. We briefly sailed into the main body of the lake which is so large you would think you are at sea – a bit intimidating.


On our last day we visited a Bhuddist monastery, another dawn start, and met one of its monks, spending time listening to his prayers and chants. Sitting quietly cross-legged with the monk should have been a time of deep reflection, maybe enlightenment. Instead we found our minds drifting to the increasingly excruciating pain in our knees, and in my case a growing horror that a bit of a dodgy tummy was about to announce itself in the most inappropriate way imaginable. No matter how serene the monk was, I don’t think he would have forgiven me that!

By way of complete contrast we finished the week at Siem Reap’s local market, where a wide variety of fruit, veg & other unusual delicacies are available. This included ants & ant eggs which became a necessary part of the diet during the starvation years of Khmer Rouge. Bunthoeun told us how these, along with many other foods which were eaten out of pure necessity, have become part of the regular diet of locals nowadays.


There was meat, OMG, so much meat & blood & guts &  heads & limbs & beaks & claws & eyeballs & axes & cleavers & chopping – a stark reminder that behind the sanitised packaging of supermarkets there is still traditional butchery….here on graphic display in the market in front of two nervous veggies.

And so our week came to an end, fascinating, breathtaking and wonderful. This will be one of our trip highlights. Siem Reap really is a lovely city with such welcoming people. As you’ll have gathered from our gushing comments we can’t recommend Angkor highly enough. Although there is no direct flight from the UK, tying in a visit with a trip to Bangkok, Saigon or Hanoi (all direct flights) would be perfect.


In our next blog we reflect on a very different aspect of Cambodia’s past as we visit The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh and learn of the terror of the Khmer Rouge.

Saigon Revisited & The Mekong Delta


After a month away from Saigon we returned to it with a bit of foreboding – would it be as overwhelming as when we first arrived? Our journey back from Mui Ne started well with another trip on the Vietnamese Railway. We travelled second class again but our carriage wasn’t overcrowded & we had seats with plenty of space to stretch out, unencumbered by boxes, although we were nearly crushed by a very large bag of kumquats – what a way to go!
We read, dozed & watched the countryside roll by for four very relaxing hours, chatting to travellers intrigued by our visit to their country & the impressions we had gained.

We may have acclimatised, & not had a long flight to recover from, so our second stint in Saigon was much more manageable & we felt we got to know the city much better. Our first full day back was taken up visiting Cholon – Saigon’s Chinatown. It’s an intense, fascinating area which captures much of the spirit of Saigon in its dense ramshackle streets, marketplaces, and elaborate Pagoda’s where incense fills the air. Occasionally there are glimpses of colonial architecture that adds to the neighbourhoods character.



You can’t go too far in Saigon without coming across reminders of its 20th century conflicts. Amid the Pagoda’s in Cholon is Cha Tam Church, the final hiding place of the hated President Diem & his brother before their brutal assassination in 1963. The Kennedy administration had given up supporting Diem & acknowledged they had hung him out to dry by backing the coup against him, effectively signing his death warrant – just 3 weeks later JFK himself was assassinated.

In contrast to Cholon we spent the next day in the upmarket area of Saigon, with its high rise buildings & western designer shops; Gucci, Chanel etc – a chance to replenish our meagre stock of clothing! (Zara & H&M I should add, not the former!) We’ve started ditching items that are too hot to wear or have been shrunk / discoloured in the laundry, replacing them with the thinnest cotton we can find that still preserves modesty. We also discovered that although the plentiful, & incredibly cheap, laundry services are on the whole very good, they clearly chuck everything in on a hot temperature & don’t separate colours. So whites soon become grey & ankle length trousers start heading north.

The traffic is more manageable in the area and although modern it boasts the Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office (designed by Gustave Eiffel), the Opera House, and the Governors Colonial Home – all built in the late 1800’s by the French Colonialists. Here is Sam in the Post Office:


Towering over the area is the Bitexco Tower a stunning addition that provides wonderful 360 degree views from its sky deck. We made two visits to enjoy the stunning city views during the day & again to see the neon come to life once darkness falls.


One of the must-do trips in Saigon is to the Cu Chi Tunnels, 30kms north of the city. Started during the war against the French, they expanded dramatically when the Americans arrived, the Viet Cong building an incredible 250kms of tunnels in Cu Chi, several storeys deep that included living quarters, kitchens, and meeting rooms, and extended under the American’s bases. It’s an astonishing testament to the tenacity, endurance and ingenuity of the Vietnamese and you begin to understand why the Chinese, French & Americans have all been sent packing. The tunnels have been enlarged for tourists to experience, but they are still small, hot & claustrophobic. Sam was far braver than me & managed to get through a section of the tunnels in one piece but was happy to step out before they narrowed to the bottlenecks that require crawling to get through – designed to prevent larger GI’s from pursuing their enemy.


Alongside the tunnels are displays of the gruesome booby traps that used various combinations of spears & spikes to kill or seriously injure – when camouflaged they are undetectable. With the energy sapping heat & jungle reducing visibility it’s hard to imagine how typical raw, young recruits drafted by the US coped with chasing & fighting an enemy they couldn’t see while constantly risking stepping in mines & traps. It must have been terrifying & bewildering.

Cu Chi is remarkable & it’s a privilege to see it, but it feels as though the drive to make it a tourist attraction might have gone too far. You can go to a range & fire off deafening live rounds into a hillside if that’s your thing. However, there didn’t seem to be anywhere that remembered & honoured the thousands that were killed at the site, which American B-52s tried to carpet bomb into oblivion when they couldn’t locate and destroy the tunnels in any other way. Maybe there is a memorial & we weren’t shown it, but if there is it should be a part of every tour. After all, this site is a mass grave.

Mekong Delta

After our return to Saigon we headed west to the Mekong Delta, Vietnam’s pancake flat rice bowl that sits in the south west corner off the country, bordering Cambodia. The Rivers that make up the Mekong Delta look unreal, being red/brown in colour with all the mud and silt collected from a journey started thousands of miles north in China & Tibet. On checking into our hotel in Can Tho we were lucky enough to be put on the 31st floor giving us an amazing view of the rivers and delta. We could easily have spent the week staring out of the window.


After a day familiarising ourself with the town & checking out the obligatory Ho Chi Minh statue (in Can Tho he looks a bit like the Tin Man from Oz), we were up at the crack of dawn next day to head off to Cai Rang floating market, the largest in the Delta. The market is at its best & busiest between 5 – 6.00 a.m, hence the early start. We clambered into a small sampan with a lovely couple from Belgium & puttered up the river toward the market. It takes about 45 minutes & by the time we got to the market we were both feeling a little queasy. Our boat was tied to the sampan that serves breakfast for tourists & market folk alike. A very hearty bowl of vegetable noodle soup with chilli went down surprisingly well (especially given the time of day) and immediately settled our stomachs – it’s surprising how easy it is to adapt to local food & eating habits when there is no Plan B!


The market is a wonderful site & our guide pointed out how boats advertise their wares, tying the fruit or veg they sell to the top of a long piece of bamboo that is erected flag like, so pineapples, corn, sweet potatoes, even pumpkins were hoist aloft on bamboo poles. It was full of colour, characters, life & laughter, and we followed brekkie by climbing onto a market boat to enjoy sweet, succulent fresh pineapple.


Lots of the boats have clothes hanging on lines & rudimentary ‘kitchens’. Having assumed the boats were used just to sell produce our guide explained that in many cases these were homes as well, where people spend most of their life living on the river. Although picturesque the market is also gritty & workaday – it’s where people are making a living.


After the noise of the market we headed up a small tributary, enjoying peace & tranquility, until I spotted a river snake & excitedly pointed it out to Sam. It was very idyllic, gently floating along sipping on fresh coconut water. Our friends from Belgium were enjoying a pre-wedding trip & were perfect company.


We took an even smaller boat a couple of days later to travel up narrow forest streams in an area where like Ch Chi, the Viet Cong established a base and tunnels to fight the South Vietnamese & Americans. These are on a much smaller scale, but interesting nonetheless especially as they were built alongside waterways. Apart from a small pathway you arent allowed to wander far from the stream & certainly can’t investigate the jungle it meanders through as there remains unexploded bombs & mines in the area. This ever present contrast between the beauty & tranquility of Vietnamese countryside & it’s bloody history is jarring.


Given the absence of hills the Delta is perfect cycling country – as long as you don’t mind pedalling along in 30+ degrees & very high humidity! The bike trip included visits to sample raw organic chocolate & local coffee. As she doesn’t eat chocolate or drink coffee, Sam wisely headed for the Spa. Happily the bike ride involved several pit stops for food & drink, sampling aforementioned treats, along with sugar cane drinks (delicious), fruit & a very tasty savoury pancake with veg, at the end of the journey. Although the paths were flat, getting up & over several bridges required some ooomph. My friendly guide Mario insisted we take a break in a coffee spot where you don’t pull up a chair, but slip into a hammock. I readily agreed to this but had the usual problems folding my long legs into Vietnamese size hammocks! The guides on the trips in Can Tho we’re all good & if you ever visit, check out Mr Hieu for local tours – they are great.

On our last day in Saigon, after travelling back from the Mekong Delta, we decided to stay in the Continental Hotel – famed for being the base for journalists from Time Magazine, New York Times, Washington Post etc. during the Vietnam War. As big fan’s of Graham Greene (& given his Brighton connections) we were delighted to learn that he stayed here when he wrote The Quiet American.
After a detour into Cambodia our travel plans will take us to Hanoi in the north so it will be interesting to refresh our memory of the capital, having visited it around eight years ago, and compare it to Saigon. Although it doesn’t have quite the ‘Old Town’ charm of its northern rival, Saigon is a great city that buzzes with life & never seems to stop. The longer we were there the more we liked it. Interestingly, very few people seem to call it Ho Chi Minh City, (as it was renamed in 1975, after reunification). The preferred ‘Saigon’ is far more evocative.


Top Travelling Tips..

If you are going to go somewhere in rainy season get a decent rain Mac that you can sling on at a moments notice…….& look really stylish


Next Week: we explore Cambodia.

What A Waste…


In your minds eye imagine for a moment your perfect beach scene: gorgeous waves lapping up onto miles of sand, lined by palm trees, maybe a hammock or two swaying in the gentle breeze, that cools you from the heat of the sun. The beach at Mui Ne ticks all the boxes as the pictures above and below shows.


As I stood in the sea taking this snap of our beachfront villa I felt something…..not in a spiritual or emotional way, I felt an actual something……clinging to my knee. A sad, limp, sandbag, minus its cargo, had abandoned its post & attached itself to me. As it held on it was joined by other bits of rubbish, plastic bags and unidentifiable fishing detritus. Normally I don’t mind being the centre of attention, but I draw the line at becoming a waste receptacle.

More seriously, this summed up one of the greatest challenges facing Vietnamese tourism – litter, piles and piles of it. In the UK our beaches are pretty good & we have armies of volunteers only too willing to do litter picks & clean ups. In fact some of those events now struggle to find much to clear. In Vietnam there is a real problem & with it comes the risk that it will kill the golden goose, turning off the tourists who are a key part of the country’s economic growth. More important than the aesthetics, is the damage being done to sealife as well as the risk to public health.


Most of the beaches we’ve visited so far haven’t been too bad, with a judicious turn of the head any litter in view could be moved to our blind spot, edited out of our beachside bliss. There is no escape from reality at Mui Ne beach. Don’t get me wrong, this is a glorious spot, but it’s become completely spoiled – saddening and maddening in equal measure.

As we wander down the the main drag of shops & restaurants which, run parallel to the beach, piles of rubbish are deposited along the route. With no strict system of refuse disposal & collection these huge mounds will, no doubt, end up with the other piles of rubbish on the beach ready for its journey into the ocean.

As I type this a dozen people are doing their best to clear rubbish in front of desirable beach homes. I don’t envy them & I’m not entirely sure it’s being collected for removal, or is just being moved around the corner – out of sight, until high tide comes to redistribute it elsewhere on the Vietnamese coast. I fear the blight of litter is something we will return to as our travels & this blog progresses.


Let’s Go Surfing…..

One of our indulgences is having massages & our hotel in Mui Ne included a beach side spa. That makes it sound very grand, it was really more of a glorified hut with a few beds installed. Both Sam & I went for a back, neck & head massage, 45 minutes for just £7 each – bargain!
I always seem to get more robust treatment than Sam & this was to be no different. Lying face down trying to relax after the masseur had pulled my pants down to reveal more bum cheek than I felt was absolutely necessary, the bed shook as she hopped onto it. Using only my sense of touch (& the accompanying pain) I detected a foot starting to rest on the base of my spine swiftly followed by her second foot being planted firmly between my shoulders! As my eyes nearly popped out of my head from the pressure I tried to picture the image in my minds eye…..she’s surfing me! Remarkably I felt the outside edge of both feet fit snugly either side of my spine, a technique I imagine was last used by the Viet Cong to extract intelligence from captured G.I’s. If I suffered osteoporosis she would have been ankle deep in my lungs at this point. The whole experience was quite traumatic, so much so that I went back for seconds a few days later……Sam taking the opportunity to capture the scene in all its glory (minus excess bum cheek I’m pleased to say).


Jeep jeep, jeep jeep yeah!

These ‘lyric’ headings are starting to get tenuous – apologies to Macca for that one!

With the beach less of an option, we took a tour of the local sites to see what Mui Ne has to offer, which is quite a lot, from Red & White Sand Dunes….


Fishing Villages (happily you can’t smell the stench which hit us upon arrival!!)..


to a journey up its Fairy Spring, a lovely stream leading to a waterfall…



We toured around the sites in a battered old jeep with a driver who spoke no English. It was sign language all the way, which didn’t detract from the experience at all. No question of seat belts as the seats themselves didn’t appear to be fixed to anything! I looked down to see a large hole in the footwell that I could have put my feet through Flinstones style. As we careered down the streets, which at best were pothole ridden & at worst uneven dirt tracks, my seat began rocking back & forth. A short while later it broke completely & I took up a reclining position stretched out in an apparently relaxed (not!) position. I couldn’t help recalling the Beverly Hillbillies, my daydreaming regularly disturbed by a banging sound from the rear which turned out to be Sam bouncing back & forth across the back seat like a pinball. Initially we thought we wouldn’t be able to cope with this chaos for the duration of the trip, but like Vietnam itself you find yourself quickly adapting to the madness and before you know it there is a crazy grin of happiness creeping across your face.


World in Motion

In the past we’ve often taken holidays in late June/early July so we’ve watched the World Cup & Euro’s from some weird & wonderful places – witnessing Zidane’s Final head butt while breakfasting in the Big Sur being a highlight. Just days before setting off we learnt that Vietnam had not secured any broadcast rights for the tournament – panic!! Inevitably a deal was sorted & there was full coverage. The main problem was the late game, which for us kicked off at 1.00 a.m – so we abandoned hopes of watching the matches against Belgium & Colombia. The earlier Sweden game was hugely enjoyable & despite knowing no Vietnamese it was clear that the pundits weren’t impressed with Raheem Sterling. Here is a pic of us celebrating that win.

We couldn’t sleep through the Croatia game, resigning ourselves to the probability of extra time, penalties, defeat, & bed at 4.00am. Unfortunately, the English defence curtailed our pessimism. As ever, we found neutral fans supported Brazil, although once they were out & given the huge popularity of the Premiership, England became more popular. There might also have been an element of pity, supporting a small, increasingly isolated nation with an unstable government & uncertain future – a plucky team of underdogs led by an eccentric bearded man wearing an inexplicable waistcoat. Had we won the World Cup superstition would have dictated that we watched every future tournament in Vietnam! It’s the hope that kills you.

Top Travelling Tips #3

Learning Vietnam’s Rules of the Road:


Rule 1 – there are no rules
Rule 2 – there is no such thing as a one way street
Rule 3 – there is nowhere a Moped can’t go
Rule 4 – when you think you’re safe – that is when you are most vulnerable
Rule 5 – when crossing, look left & right…..simultaneously
Rule 6 – traffic lights:


Next week – Sai Gon Revisited.

It’s Delightful, It’s Delicious, It’s D’lovely…….It’s Dalat.


Sunset over Dalat

We’ve taken the 3-4 hour trip inland from the south central coast to the central highlands city of Dalat. Whenever we told the Vietnamese friends we’ve encountered our plans they smiled and made a shivering gesture, saying Dalat is “very cold, nice change from heat” with a knowing smile that made us rather nervous.

It’s true that Dalat is cold compared to where we’ve been, but even at it’s elevated altitude in the mountains the typical daily temperature is in the mid-20s, with evenings dipping to about 15. It makes for a very comfortable change and the novelty of not having the background soundtrack of air conditioning constantly on in our room.

Dalat is simply wonderful. An old French colonial settlement that has the reputation of being the garden of Vietnam, where fruit, vegetables, flowers and coffee grow abundantly in volcanically enriched soil cheerful in the knowledge that the climate never swelters or frosts – to pun another Cole Porter lyric: Anything Grows!


The buildings & proliferation of pine trees set in green gardens makes you feel you are in the French countryside……


Home for a week – a room in a French Colonial Villa

Poo Goes the Weasel:
During our trip into the countryside we were offered the opportunity to try ‘Weasel Coffee’. As a non-coffee drinker Sam wisely opted out, but I thought I’d give it a go – sounds interesting, I thought, probably got nothing to do with Weasels I told myself. Wrong, wrong, wrong….the clue is in the name you idiot Mitchell!

Vietnam is now a major coffee producer, but Weasel Coffee is a speciality as it relies on the ‘productivity’ of said Weasels. Many years ago local farmers noticed that Weasels liked to eat coffee beans – after being digested & fermented by the Weasel, the beans would then re-appear in their faeces. A brave & entrepreneurial farmer then took these weasel crap encrusted coffee beans, cleaned & roasted them to produce Weasel coffee – which turns out to be quite a delicacy locally. So, long story short, I drank a cup of Weasel shit. I’m pleased to report no ill effects, although I’m sure I still have a slight after-taste of weasel!


One of the more unexpected things we’ve learnt in Vietnam is the growth of religion in what is a predominantly secular country. Make no mistake, Ho Chi Minh remains predominant in the culture, but there has been an increase in Bhuddism & Catholicism, especially when the diktats of Communist rule became more relaxed. Churches and temples are very popular attracting the devout & curious alike. We’ve noticed a competitive streak when it comes to building bigger, better & higher statues of Buddha in Vietnam – not sure what Buddha would make of this (Buddha envy?). On a visit to a temple our guide asked us what religion we had. When we told him we are atheists, he replied, “ahhh…..freedom,” with a wry smile.


Haircut, Haircut!
It’s said that the only things in life you can’t avoid are death & taxes… which should be added haircuts (although Donald Trump appears to have avoided all three – sad). So it was with some trepidation that I had my first Vietnamese haircut last week. We found a local hairdresser & through the power of sign-language, google translate & the barbers 10 & 13 year old children who spoke a bit of English we established the order – the old classic short back & sides, with a little bit longer on top. 5 minutes later everything was done as requested for a mere 100,000 Dong – just over £3. It was like being back in the 70’s.


We stayed a chatted to the lovely family as best we could, showing them pictures of the Royal Pavilion the Pier & the seafront, giving the impression we live in a theme park, leaving the children wide eyed with curiosity & envy. We’ve found the children love to take every opportunity to practice their English & this gave a perfect setting for the hairdressers children to do just that – we were a captive audience. There are the stock questions; where are you from, what is your name, how old are you….. & a genuine curiosity to learn what we like about their beloved Vietnam.




We both hoped to lose a bit of weight & get fitter on our travels, and regular swimming & profuse amounts of sweating has probably helped a bit (scales suggest no change….grrr). In Dalat as we walked up a hill to our room I turned Sam & said I was so unfit my breathing was laboured. Sam said she felt exactly the same, & after thinking about it (& doing a bit of Google research) we attributed it to the altitude at Dalat, which is over 1500 metres – the point at which mild altitude symptoms occur. Reassured & delighted with our diagnosis we indulged in Passion Fruit cake later that day!



Highlands on the road to Dalat

Top Travelling Tips #2

Instead of finding/buying/packing lots of travel plugs, just take one attached to a home multi-plug lead. So simple but so convenient & no more fighting over who gets to charge what up first. I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner. So far we haven’t tripped any electric systems either – which is a surprise given how much we load up! (Credit for this ingenious idea goes to Sandy – a friend of Sam’s sister Tina)


Next Week: We return to the coast to talk rubbish (no change there I hear you cry) & watching the World Cup from afar.