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Olympics Lytham Hanoi


Bangkok & Hanoi

As we change we get a blast of the rather pleasant humid heat of Bangkok. But we have yet to fly two hours North and can expect cooler weather ahead.

We arrived in Hanoi in good shape and found our Sofitel Metropole hotel on the edge of the Old Quarter. Quick snack and then to bed.


The Chinese New Year of the Tiger has just started. [These celebrations would follow us for the entire stay in Vietnam while the Moon changed from full to last quarter.] Things are busy in Hanoi and the city will celebrate a 1000 year anniversary on 10/10/10. We met our guide named My pronounced Me for a tour of the city. My is shivering and wearing a padded anorak while we are in shirt sleeves. We start with the mausoleum of Ho Chi Min and join the long queue which shuffles forward and we are soon in the no frolicking zone where we are organised two abreast and must keep our hands at our sides.

These conditions are enforced by guards in white uniforms who keep us entertained with manoeuvres and marching reminding us we are in a Communist state. Eventually we arrive at the tomb where Ho's body lies in a cool eerie light. The Russians have helped with the science and the work continues. We meet up back in the main square and it seems a natural place to discuss Communism and conscription which is two years sometime of your choice between 18 & 27. Next stop was the Presidential Palace. A fine example of French Colonial architecture.

This is the place to learn how the Vietnamese overcame years of French Colonial rule masterminded by the leadership of Ho Chi min. Ho refused to live in such splendour and we visit his modest, minimalist house in the grounds of the palace. Soon after this success the country was divided into the Communist North and Anti-Communist South and the Americans arrived. The country has a population of 83m and they are all here today in party mood. Our last stop is the Hanoi Hilton but on the way there we have time to stop at a Buddhist temple where lines of youngsters line the arcades leaving money on the back of stone Tortoises in the hope of getting good grades. The Hanoi Hilton is the prison where the US pilots would find themselves if captured. Now turned into a museum there is a section devoted to this, however the Prison was originally built by the French to deal with the local dissidents in the time of Colonial rule. Most of this has now been demolished and is replaced by Hanoi's tallest building. What remains is a very distressing story of terrible conditions. No one feels like frolicking here. Our guide leaves us and we explore by ourselves. The small motorbike is preferred here. These have the advantage of being able to drive in any direction on any street or pavement.

It is common to see a family of four on one. We see some remarkable things being transported, perhaps the 42inch Plasma TV is in the lead right now. It is difficult to photograph these things as they go past so fast. We set ourselves a challenge to take a photo of the oddest thing we can.


This morning we took a tour of the Old Quarter by cyclo.

The roads are narrow and busy and there is a heady mixture of sights and smells.

As well a a chaotic mixture of shops next to each other in which some live, vendors group themselves together and the street name is descriptive: Silk Street, Hat Street and Mobile Phone Street. My takes us for a drink at the Roof Top Cafe and chats to us while we watch life go on. He tells us how to cross the road: 'Just walk slowly'. We try it and it works, everything misses us. We set him free and wander about in the maze for a while until we find a rather pleasant restaurant with a tranquil courtyard for lunch. It is so good we book for dinner. We walk that off around the lake and department store.

cushion covers hit the spot. A rather poorly printed bookmark is on sale for 5,000 Dong. At 39,000 to the Pound it is not expensive, however the 5,000 Dong note is a very beautifully printed item itself. We decide to use them as bookmarks.

Time for a rest and a bit of packing ahead of our early start towards Halong Bay in the morning. We expect a change of pace. Dinner back in the unassuming Green Mandarin restaurant on Shoe Street turns out to be very good.

Halong Bay

A three hour coach ride took us to the Halong Bay World Heritage Site where we board our Junk for twenty four hours cruising on the bay.

Although it is very warm there is a mist about today and it makes everything very mysterious. As I write this sitting on deck, we have just returned from climbing 423 steps up to the top of one of the 3000 islands in this bay. The views were magnificent. Returning to Earth I recovered by kibitzing this game of Xsang Chi.

Rather than return to the mainland the fishermen have built a floating town in one of the quieter channels. We visited them and were paddled around the main square by a yougster.

The busy schedule continued as we met some of the other passengers in the bar before dinner.


TaiChi lesson for Liz in the South China Sea.

Spelunking for everyone. The path takes us deep into the island in the system of limestone caverns which are bathed in light.

But the mist thickens for our voyage back to Halong and we pack and get the bus back to the airport.

We see several people using umbrellas while cycling. We leave the main road and head off towards the small village of Vinh Bao. This is a chance to see the rice fields close up but our detour is to see the Water Puppet Show. These shows are popular all over Vietnam but here the young people's amateur production is subsidised. The story is clearly traditional, good verses evil, boy meets girl but without subtitles. The Puppets are worked from behind the stage and the mechanisms are below the water. The action takes place on the surface and some jets of water and fireworks provide special effects.

Hanoi to Hue is 354 miles and takes just over an hour

We arrive in the darkness but we see stars. Hopefully, after cloud and mist this means some Sun tomorrow. It is much hotter and humid already. Our accommodation for two nights is the Boutique Villa Hue which is a training establishment for hoteliers. Here you can have an omelette cooked for breakfast. The menu lists what can be put into it: Ham, Tomato, Cheese, Meat, Onion, Peppers, Radish. The conversation with the trainee goes like this: Peter An omelette please Trainee OK Sir, meat? Peter No, Tomato Result is an omelette with everything except tomato.

In Vietnam There is a policy of allowing only two children per couple but some plan for three and take the heavy fine in their stride. Everyone wants Boys, but you are not allowed to ask what the sex of the unborn child is [Everyone does]. It is very inauspicious for a girl to be born in the year of the Tiger. For this reason there is a rise in Caesarean births just before new year. This also happens at the end of the year of the Pig as parents secure good luck for their sons by bringing them prematurely into the world.


A short walk down the busy streets takes us to the landing stage. There is a tax on buildings based on the width of the building. The consequences are that the architecture is dominated by thin, deep and high buildings, even in the countryside where no other buildings are nearby. They call them Tube Houses. We embark on a boat that will take us up river to the Thien Mu Pagoda.

This was the home of the monk who Martyred himself by fire in Saigon in 1963 as a protest against the anti-Buddhist stance of the government. It is very sunny hot and humid. Our guide enlightens us as to the ways of Buddhism.

Listen to the bell. [Large WAV file]. It gets hotter as we go to a local vegetarian restaurant for lunch. Our guide tucks in and so do we. It is all very tasty and different Usually we would trust our guide but this place is very different from anything we would normally venture into. Time will tell. The food has been generally very good so far. There are a lot of tropical fruits to choose from [to have in your cocktail].

Onwards to the moated Citadel built in 1804 by Emperor Gia Long. Inside is the Forbidden Purple City, where he lived with 730 concubines. Most of the original structure was destroyed in 1968 (Tet Offensive) but is now being restored.

Hoi An

This morning we crossed the Hai Van Pass on our way to to Hoi An. The top was fortified by the French and then later by the Americans.

There was another light lunch stop at a local restaurant this time in Da Nang. Turned out even better than the last one.

We visited a museum containing many stone carvings of Indian Gods and Icons. We understand in 14th Century the whole peninsular was ruled by one all conquering peoples. Later they were driven back bit by bit but this is the legacy they left behind. Another short trip on the road before arriving in Hoi An. We have to leave the van as our accommodation the Vinh Hung hotel is in a pedestrians’ location. The entire interior of the hotel is made from a dark polished wood.

Our room looks out over the street and has a balcony.

Hoi An

We have the day to ourselves. Phew by 9am it is hot and I mean hot and humid. The town comes to life.

The market gets very busy and the space very small between the stalls, but mopeds still keep going up and down. There are a lot of shops here and we get some made to measure things from the tailors who make them in a few hours. We avail a ticket to see five places of our choosing. We see the Japanese Bridge,

Meeting House and Phung Hung's house where a memeber of the family greets us and shows us around. Listen here. [Large WAV file]. to what she has to say.

After all this effort we conclude another cold shower would be a good idea followed by lunch. which is cheep and cheerful. then to the music show.

where the star is the Lady. [Very Large WAV file]. We set off out of the hotel to collect the clothes ordered earlier and have dinner. The streets are very busy and we have found ourselves in the middle of a festival that takes place on the day following every New Moon. We follow the crowds down to the river where everyone is gathering to set candles floating down the river in paper boats. A crowd has gatered in the square and the game seems to be a type of Bingo where we can buy a card with words on it. Then a straw is drawn. This dictates the song to be sung by the two singers who are backed by a drum and bowed gourd. As the words on your card appear in the song you can attract the attention of the assistants who will give you a flag. Get enough flags and you win something.


We have the morning to explore Hoi An further before being met by a guide to get us to Da Nang Airport. Our suitcases get a lift out of the pedestrian zone. Watch Keith and Jean's overtake them here. Between Hoi An and Da Nang is a fifteen mile long beach.

This is being developed for Golf and tourism. There is evidence of investment from abroad. The end result would appear to be an 'enclave' where everything is provided within the complex walls. Da Nang was the beach head for the US landing force in the American War. The country is at it thinnest and so the US were able to divide the North from the South with the minimum force at this point while taking advantage of the port. The US military facilities remain and are now used by the Vietnam Army. With some trepidation about the heat we may meet further South we board the plane where I have written about the last two days. We have just been given the prepare for landing instruction.

Da Nang to Saigon is 374 miles and takes just over an hour

The Airbus 303 landed like a dream. It is 3 degrees hotter and looking ahead, the forecast for Cambodia is another 4 on top of that. We are booked into the The Caravelle hotel. What an amazing difference from where we have been so far. This is an International hotel, could almost be anywhere. Nice though, and we get some cocktails on the rooftop. A trip out at night confirms the vast difference between here and Hanoi.

Finding a seat in a four story ice cream parlour, we sit back with the kids and watch the neon change colour While we struggle to remember this is a communist country and reflect that 10 hours ago we were in a farmers vegetable market. It is an early start tomorrow with a very full programme of sights to see. Our view from the hotel 16th floor looks South East and with the curtains open we should have a wonderful Sun rise tomorrow.


And so it was.

We travel forty five minutes out of the city to a living museum dedicated to the North Vietnamese fighters who built a huge complex of tunnels in which to hide and conduct the guerrilla war on the city of Saigon. The tour explains how life was for them, which was very hard indeed. We see the shoes they made out of tyres which have strange cutting soles and design. In case any tracks were left when walking, these shoes sent people the wrong way. (?).

As a race of people, the Vietnamese are smaller than the Westerner and so are their tunnels. The chance to go down one is not to be missed although we are provided with a 'tourist' tunnel which is bigger than necessary. Having said this it is still very small and it takes every ounce of will power to go through 40 meters. I returned to the surface shaking after the airless claustrophobia and heat of even this small and shallow trip. The whole trip is enhanced by the sound of sporadic gunfire. There is a shooting range rifle club here and you may buy some ammo and fire a M13 or the AKA47 along with many other rifles. At first it makes you jump but we get used to it. Nice touch! Back to the city we have lunch at a big restaurant before going to the post office which is inself a tourist spot.

The next trip is to the old palace. A modern building used before the capital was moved to Hanoi. Large open plan offices simply decorated in sixties style sit above a basment fortress used to conduct the war.

We have had a busy day, and still have the War museum and two pagadas to go. The war museum is very confusing. The US helped the South Vietnamese fight the North Vietnamese. The North won and the museum is here in the South. I am confused.

Vietnam's recent history...

Siem Reap

Saigon to Siam Reap is 313 miles and takes 1 hour

This morning's flight to Siem Reap takes a long time in the lounge areas and security but the flight time is only long enough to manage yesterdays blog. Eventually we arrive. Sporting our e-visas we bypass the long queues and go straight through to immigration where much rubber stamping and triplication takes place. We are all given different treatment being left with this and that and having to surrender this and that. Our guide greets us with a present of a book about Ankor and a scarf. The scarf may seem like an unlikely present when arriving in a country where it is 37 degrees, but we did occasionally find them useful in keeping the sun off our necks. This map shows the area.

Ankor Thom is in the North and the man made West Baray lake is visible. [Taking off from the airport gives a wonderful view of the lake.] Ankor Wat is the square structure just South and East of Thom but not visible at this scale. Try to find it, but first, before you resize the new window or move anything zoom in to the max-1 and with a bit of browser specific luck see our hotel and pool!

Since it is 37 degrees we all get straight into the pool. It is like a warm bath. So the time arrives for us to go and see Angkor Wat. Our guide is called Thoun. He shows us around slowly, speaking quietly and keeping us away from any other visitors as much as he can. Even in the afternoon we need lots of water as the Sun is hot even when setting.

With half an hour to go to Sunset we sit down and Thoun talks to us quietly about this and that. As the Sun sets we get our snaps and then Thoun takes us for a walk Eastwards. This is leaving by the back entrance and is a magical experience which very few visitors are able to arrange. It passes through the forest where we come across a Monkey. He was not alone. Countless others were around us of all ages. We met the van which took us to a restaurant from which we walked back to the hotel where the pool was as warm as before. In our bathroom there is a sign ' no hot water'. This is true, there is only a cold water tap. At first I thought this was strange, but actually it should read no cold water! [The cold water is so hot.]

Siem Reap

Before breakfast we leave the hotel to go to see the Ta Prohm temples. But as we are getting ready the fire alam goes off. Or wait a moment, is it the aircon going wrong? No, it is the dawn chorus of Cicadas. [Large WAV file]. We have to adjust to this schedule for our entire stay here as the Sun and heat from 10:30 to 15:00 is so fierce. Going early lets us avoid the worst of the heat and allows us see them without anyone else there. By the very end of our visit many other people are turning up and the atmosphere is lost. Well done Thoun!

Ta Prohm is also known as the Jungle Temple. The temples here have been left the way they were discovered to allow visitors to get an idea how the jungle has taken them over. There are many trees growing in and around the buildings.

On our return we have a tropical breakfast and there is just time to go down the street to the market to get some presents. After our schedule of travel and discovery it is good to have some free time in the hotel to relax. Here is the view from our room!

Now it seems that Pohl Pot wiped out 99.999% of everyone in this country with any intellectual capacity not so long ago in order to dominate the population. That left the others living like animals without doctors, teachers or engineers. Some ran away to hide in the jungle. Eventually the Viet Kong said enough was enough invaded and sorted it all out. The country is recovering. Angkor Thom was our afternoon destination. It shows Anchor Wat to be just a small garden house in comparison, although clearly designed by the same architect.

Siem Reap

Banteay Srei, constructed in the tenth century, is a more remote temple away from the crowds although associated the ancient capital complex. Almost an hour by car we see the infrastructure now being built in this area. The roads are straight and grid like, ready for further developement. Also known as the 'Lady's Temple' it was built with harder stone than all the others. This is why the carvings have survived the ravages of time better than any of the others in Cambodia.

It makes the trip worth while. The money from our tickets goes back to build roads and hotels and generally improve the area. 95% of the population of Cambodia struggle to find clean water. We stopped at a small village where they make Moonshine from Palm trees and leave a few dollars behind exchanged for some rather nice bowls. Then pay a flying visit to a temple with very steep steps. We all make it to the top.

From the top we can just see the Lady Temple, which we have just come from, far away peeping out above the jungle below us. In the jungle, there are many exotic plants to be seen on the way.

Photograph by Thoun

The whole complex has survived the damaging effects of the alternation of rainy and dry seasons on the foundations because of a series of reservoirs which keep the water table constant. Less spectacular than the temples themselves these huge reservoirs have sides carefully crafted in stone steps.

Having done all this we are back in the hotel pool for 11:00. At 15:00 Keith and Jean take their cookery class. They select a meal from the restaurant menu and are taken to the market to purchase the ingredients. Then they cook the meal and eat it. The portions are large so Thoun and Rain are invited in to help. 'Not enough salt' observes Thoun with a smile. Recipes to follow

We revisit Ankor Wat by Rickshaw. Access to the main tower has been granted and we are among the last to be allowed to go up today. The gradient of steps on these buildings is 75 degrees, rather like deck access on board ship but without the hand rails and much higher of course. From the top we see the Holy of Hollies [A Buddha].

We get a trophy tripod moment.

Siem Reap

A well earned leisurely breakfast and free time at the pool before a 16:15 trip to Tonle Sap Lake. Time to reflect on our trip and all the people along the way who have helped us. We have visited two very different countries who share a common history and their stories are forever interlaced. The Year of the Tiger Full Moon has swung around, now almost in its last quarter, it shines high in the morning sky over the pool.

Any excuse for a walk and an indulgent tripod moment: Hello to everyone at FCC

So we come to the trip to the lake. Did anyone of us know what a profound trip this would be. As we leave town we follow the river and the dwellings become more and more basic. There is no escape for the people living here. But then we arrive at the landing stage to board our blade boat for a trip on the lake. It is The dry season so the water level is about 30 feet lower than in the wet season. The lake is feeding the Mekong River right now, but in the wet season the Mekong will feed the lake. Trees tower above us with marker buoys in their tops indicating the channel when they are submerged. Industry and living accommodation line the banks as we pass by on the muddy and filthy water.

Naked children play on the banks near the fish factory which simply dumps the rotting waste every day into the river. We pass through this hell onto the lake itself. The lake is the eighth largest in the world and now even in this season as we leave the river mouth behind the effect is like being at sea. The floating village comes into sight. Much larger than the one in Halong Bay this community has Basketball courts, Churches, shops, battery charging stations, farms and restaurants. We go to the restaurant and learn about the fish in the lake. A little boy with a Python paddles up to us in a wok suggesting we are photographed with the snake.

Crocodiles are farmed in cages. The beer is on ice, but nobody feels like any. From the roof we gaze West towards the Sunset. Another restaurant is in the distance with other travellers on the roof getting some photographs.

Not exactly Friday night in the Taps

We return the way we came, running the gauntlet of the fish factory smell in near darkness. We retreat to the pool to contemplate what we have just seen and done. Words are inadequate. We find a French boutique restaurant run by a Frenchman (!) with a story to tell. He distracts us for some time, but this writer, had his mind not so much on his Boeuf Bourguignon, but back in the darkness of the lake...

Homeward Bound

Changed at Bangkok for Heathrow. Onboard, over the North East coast of India, I have power for the laptop and time to finish the blog on this afternoon flight. Generally this holiday got better and better as it went on. The final trip to the lake sounds horrible. Perhaps it was but it was one of the most powerful experiences we have ever been through. So many people have helped us on our way directly or indirectly. Perhaps we have helped some as we have passed by? One deserves special mention: Our guide in Cambodia was Phai Bunthoun, a man who started life cutting Rubber Trees, learned Nursing and now Guiding. Our trip was mainly temples, but there are trips to study nature and demography which he can arrange. We would like to reccomend you contact Thoun if you want a guide in Cambodia. He, together with his driver 'So-Safe' Rain, is your man.

As I mentioned before, seventy five percent of the population in Cambodia is under twenty five years old thanks to Pol Pot. For us, Vietnam is another world. But Cambodia is another Planet.

Siam ReapBangkok2071

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Bonus Photos

Bloggin on the Bay.

Voted shot of the trip.

Bonus Story

On the outward trip our cases were booked all the way through to Hanoi. We had locked each of them with a combination lock. When we picked them up from the carousel we found one case was open, the zip fasteners which the lock passed through were broken and the lock was still attached to one side of the zip and closed. The other case was more mysterious. The zip was smashed in the same way however our lock was missing. However another combination lock was attached. Thankfully it did not lock the case. Baffled we looked at the contents and decided nothing had been put in, so we went through customs and on holiday. I occasionally tried to remove the lock without success, the combination lock stayed fixed to our case all the way. Back home today we need the case again. Casually I tried a few combinations and WOW it opened. 'What was the combination'? Liz asked me, 'No idea' I replied. The lock design means there are any of seven lines it could be. 'Read it down the middle' Liz said. I did. It was the combination of our lost lock.