A Travellerspoint blog

I Yacht to Write More Often

sunny 35 °C

March 17-21, 2018
I've fallen too far behind in my travel writings to document each day we spent on our boat, the Toum Teav.
Suffice it to say that each day was similar in structure but different in content.

At 7am or 8 am, coffee, tea, juice, and water served with eggs to order, bacon available most days, pancakes, pastries, corn flakes (no one touched them), yogurt, and a selection of tropical fruit like dragonfruit, milk fruit, mango, grapefruit, lychee, pineapple, banana, soursop, and the list goes on.

A morning jaunt:
On most days there would be a stop in the early morning at a rural village to meet local artisans, visit a school or a pagoda, or just tour the town.

Then back on the boat for lunch and the heat of the day until another stop at 2pm for another quick tour.

Sundown drinks and dinner on the boat and free time at night on the boat if cruising or ashore if docked (both options we typically filled with more drinks). It was a pretty charmed life!

On our day trips, we:
- Toured a brick and clay pot factory
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- Toured a tilapia and catfish fish farm. We fed the fish and created a brief but intense feeding frenzy
- Visited numerous pagodas and temples, and received a blessing from a senior monk
- Toured a fruit orchard and sampled all the different types of tropical fruit
- Saw how rice paper and rice wine are made (the wine has cobras and scorpions in the bottles), which we were told had certain aphrodisiac effects (!) 90_IMG_7783.jpg
- Saw how certain locally-derived snack foods are made
and visited a honey farm where we sampled honey and royal jelly (again, a "cure-all" product and many health claims were made... I wish I had taken a picture of the list of benefits. From memory, this stuff cures diabetes, ulcers, increases libido, increases beauty and eliminates wrinkles, cures Hepatitis A through C, and much, much, more).
- Visited a local school and bought pencils and notebooks for the kids (creating another brief but intense feeding frenzy!)
- Took a ride on an oxen cart (Oregon Trail or bust)
- Saw a floating market (sort of, there weren't many vendors left as a road bridge had recently been built)
- Took a tuktuk ride around Cambodian capital Phnom Penh 90_IMG_7592.jpg
and shopped at the night market, briefly turning down the wrong street (think red light district)
- Saw a traditional Apsara dance on the boat done by kids in a Phnom Penh cultural training program for disadvantaged youth. We also had a small dance party with the boat crew
- Took a ride on a traditional Vietnamese sampan boat
- Visited the largest local food market in Vietnam c8752aef-2..bae2fa81f9b.jpg
- Saw rural and urban life for Cambodian and Vietnamese people from the land and from the water
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- Saw the most incredible trees, 90_36271D20AE9ABD760AE2848E3C31757B.jpg exotic flowers, IMG_7615.jpg plants, 90_IMG_7787.jpg landscapes and scenery, at times starkly contrasted with extreme poverty, horrendous working conditions, lack of hygiene, and widespread pollution. A valuable reminder of how lucky it is to be born in a country like Canada. We make a conscious effort to set a good example, be socially aware, give our tourist dollars to good causes, and be good stewards of our planet as we travel.

All day, every day, we saw boats. Fishing boats, dugout canoe-type boats with incredibly loud, longtail motors, tugboats, huge industrial boats with cranes dredging up the canal bottom, other boats to carry the muck away, rice ferrying boats with rice drying out on huge tarps in the sun, and very very occasionally, we saw another passenger vessel like ours.
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As we leave Cambodia behind, I reflect on the interesting fact that I was able to speak English in essentially all the places we visited. Even in the rural towns, children are learning English in their schools and greet you on passing motorbikes with a loud "HELLO!" and a wave. In the markets, even the rural food markets, the prices were given in US dollars and our change was as well, with only the last fraction of a dollar given in the Cambodian currency, the Real.

Our Cambodian guides had gone to university and earned a degree in tourism before getting jobs as tour guides and specializing in either French or English tourism (and increasingly, Cantonese). These types of jobs are some of the most desirable jobs for millennials in Cambodia's biggest cities.

It was really incredible to feel so welcome, so safe, and so wanted in Cambodia. To be able to participate in an exchange where our tourist dollars are helping - and we are getting so much in return.

We covered a fair bit of waterway over these five days and crossed into Vietnam from Cambodia from the comfort of our boat. An immigration official - who was indistinguishable (to us) from an ordinary fisherman - boarded and we were processed and on our way within about an hour. We learned afterward there was a small hiccup with one of the French passports having the wrong type of visa. I believe it was resolved quickly with a small change fee. We never even left the lounge deck.

Posted by Casualodyssey 04:14 Archived in Cambodia Tagged water local boat traditional ship cambodia river vietnam canal tropical tour mekong palm delta Comments (0)

Au Revoir, Toum Teav & Hello, Ho Chi Minh

semi-overcast 33 °C

March 22, 2018
Our last morning on the boat. Breakfast was a bit sombre as we ate our last meal together as a group. We packed up our rooms, paid our bar bill and left our tips for the crew and guides.

Crossing through the Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) port was really interesting with huge container ships, some cruise liners and freighters. One member of our party very much enjoyed all the heavy ships and equipment - I'll let you guess who.
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We disembarked at 11 am, said our goodbyes, and walked into HCMC.

We took a cab to our hotel, and he stopped in front of a narrow alley way and indicated we would have to walk down it to find our hotel. Once inside the inner street, it's a street (or more like another city) within a street, with hundreds of little shops and stands and tables selling everything you could need or imagine. Rooms to rent, laundry, coffee, pho, tours, massage, nail salon, all within literally 10 metres of the entrance of our hotel. 90_IMG_8060.jpg
The hotels and guesthouses are narrow and extremely tall to make the maximum use of space. 90_IMG_7968.jpg
When we walked in to our hotel, Diep Anh Guesthouse, we were greeted by a small elderly Vietnamese man who introduced himself as Diep Anh, in excellent English. His whole family (wife, son, daughter, and grandbaby) were there as well helping run the place. He wore two pairs of glasses, layered, I suppose as improvised bifocals. It was very endearing.
90_IMG_7944.jpg Animated and friendly, Anh sat us down and walked us through a map with the top tourism sites which all were luckily within walking distance. He pointed out some good places for food and the approximate cost of some of the services and tours. He showed us the room, 5th floor (85 stairs, blarg) but good views and quiet. His friendly and informative introduction is clearly the reason for the high TripAdvisor scores. It was a great and warm welcome to Ho Chi Minh city.
We spent the balance of the day exploring the city on foot. Since the hotel is in the downtown, or District 1, we can cover all the main areas without calling a cab. There are no tuktuks here. Though they do have Uber car and Uber motorbike, and Grab, where you can ride on the back of a motorbike and it's super cheap.
The traffic here is phenomenal, which we expected. 180_IMG_7972.jpg
Ho Chi Minh city is about the same size as Bangkok with between 8 and 10 million people. Different sources seem to disagree on the actual population. It's a lot, anyway. It's also very clean compared to all cities we've visited so far (Hong Kong being the one exception). The French influence is apparent in the architecture, landscaping, and food, at least in the tourist district and older areas.
I'm pleased to say that I'm really enjoying the city. I don't generally expect to love the big cities on long trips - and usually just use them as jumping off points. But I'm happy we have 3 days to explore HCMC.

Posted by Casualodyssey 03:21 Archived in Vietnam Tagged traffic travel city vietnam busy big trip asia saigon chi ho minh hcmc population Comments (0)

Sailing the Mekong

March 16, 2018
So it's been one night and day since we boarded our riverboat, the Toum Teav. IMG_7443.jpg
It's a pretty interesting boat. It was originally a rice ferrying boat but was bought and rebuilt in 2001 as a passenger vessel. IMG_7444.jpg
It has dark wood walls, floors, doors, and trim and white painted railings. 90_IMG_7448.jpg
There is an upper deck for sunbathing and watching the river go by. There are also seating areas at the front and at the back to do the same. IMG_7449.jpg
On the main level there is a dining area with a couple long tables. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included and are served here. There are 13 crew members doing everything from mechanical, cleaning, cooking, tour guide activities, and driving the boat of course. There are ten cabins, four down and six up, but since there are only 8 people - four couples - we got bumped up to an upper deck cabin. We had to promise not to tell the other passengers! (And yes, there are more crew than passengers).
There are two couples from France and one from the UK. Everyone on the boat is about 25-30 years older than us, but that's fine! Adam seems to be able to stumble his way through enough French that the least-English-speaking couple, Michele and Christine (sp?), from a town near Lyon, can chat with us for short periods. Dominique, the husband in the second French couple, is from Normandy and speaks pretty good English. The couple from the UK (Essex, near London) is very friendly and it looks like everyone will be able to scrape along communication wise. Pretty fortunate considering it's such a small group.
We all sit together at meal times. The food is pretty incredible... four courses at lunch and dinner, and lots to choose from at breakfast including pastries and eggs to order. Two of the crew girls are our servers and they are so attentive my coffee and water cups never spend a second empty. Very fancy, and several levels above anything we anticipated.
We had a long day trip off the boat today to a river village called Kampong Chhnang. 705683B0D6998E6FCB0C26C9322DFA43.jpg 90_70559A090B4CECD70C007791F22C4AA0.jpg We saw how traditional pottery is made by the local women 90_7053E57596B88835A60B872A8FC900FD.jpg90_7054E369C95621AE4A1F37FD0D93EC9A.jpg
and bought some souvenirs. We walked up the main street where our guide explained all the food on offer 180_IMG_7485.jpg
90_IMG_7459.jpg and we toured a small local farm where palm sugar is harvested and used for many purposes. Palm sugar is one of Cambodia's chief exports.
We boated out on a smaller vessel to see some of the floating villages on the Sap River. IMG_7471.jpg
We watched the sun rise and sun set on the boat and cruised a few hours along our route to our next stop, and dropped anchor for the night.

Posted by Casualodyssey 05:55 Comments (0)

Temples and Tangles

March 13, 2018
Temple Day 1

We booked a tour for $13 each and our guide and driver picked us up at this morning 4:30am to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the main tourist attraction in all of Cambodia. It is pictured on the Cambodian flag. 90_IMG_7965.jpg
It is also the world's largest religious site, originally built in 1113 AD by Suryavarman II as a tribute to Hindu god Vishnu, and later added to and updated by ruling kings in a Buddhist tradition. It was never abandoned to the elements and has been in virtually continuous use since it was built.
There are 6 other tourists in the van with us: three from Hong Kong, a Brit, one from Japan, and a French Canadian girl. It took about 20 minutes to get to the site entrance and we walked in the dark for a little while among hundreds of other tourists and guides to an open area in front of the temple. Minute by minute the surroundings became more visible as the sun came up over the magnificent silhouette of the temple in the distance. IMG_7015.jpg
Walking the grounds and inner passages is a photographers dream. IMG_7154.jpg
Every turn, every corner, every elevation offers a perspective more stunning than the last. I think I took about 120 pictures in the three hours we spent exploring Angkor Wat and we could easily have stayed all day long. This, while making a conscious effort to use my eyes first and camera second. IMG_7118.jpg
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Next up was Ta Prohm, built by the greatest Angkorian king, Jayavarman VII. Ta Prohm was used for many scenes in the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movies, and looks it. The crumbling, mossy ruins are carpeted in roots and plants which over centuries have slowly retaken the site.
The juxtaposition of orderly man made monuments with the elegant disorder of wild, creeping nature made this a favourite site. FB03AD519C33C7DF1E98CB4F82B99DAD.jpg The visit was only slightly marred by the hordes of shouting, brash tourists crushing us in from both sides and carelessly traipsing through our carefully framed pictures. We were more polite and tried to stay out of the way when others took their shots.

The Bayon would be our third, and last temple of the day. FB338E46B3DA479100E1806D3D50C10D.jpg The Bayon forms part of the larger fortified city of Angkor Thom, 10km in size, which housed perhaps a million people during the reign of its most powerful king (r 1181 - 1219). The Bayon site is decorated with 216 enormous smiling faces FB344EBA91AD4366B466ADBA68DD85A6.jpg and over 11 thousand intricately carved bas-reliefs of life in 12th century Cambodia. FB3506E99A6C036D93014ED65A92870D.jpg
The heat around 12pm was approaching 35C and unfortunately the humidity was much higher than our previous days in Cambodia. We moved as quickly as possible through the large, open site and covered it in about 50 minutes before our water and heat tolerance were completely depleted.
We got back to our hotel around 1pm and I took a quick shower, swim, sun, and a "nap" that lasted until about 8pm. Cheap street food and drinks filled out the evening. We also met a young tuktuk driver, Lida, on our late night wanderings and lined up another temple trip to distant Beng Mealea for the following morning.

March 14, 2018
Temple Day 2

We arranged a 7am start for today's distant temple site, which we chose based on reviews from other travellers who prefer the crumbling, nature-dominated abandoned ruins to the more well-preserved variety. Lida, the tuktuk driver we made plans with the day before, was waiting for us in the hotel's open air lobby. We hit the road - and guessed the trip should take about an hour to 90 minutes by tuktuk. IMG_7316.jpg
After about 15 minutes of travel Lida stopped in at a bike "shop" (more like a roadside hut) for a two minute tune-up. The chain on the motorbike was tightened and air added to the tires. He paid the mechanic in local currency and the transaction looked fairly cheap, like a dollar or two.
The city slowly gave way to fields as we moved along the highway. IMG_7320.jpg We were one of the only tuktuks, mainly because people going this far would typically hire a car. As mentioned previously though, we prefer the experience of a tuktuk to a hired car. Lida stopped to ask directions a couple times, this was clearly not a route he drove often (or ever?) and eventually he learned from a farmer that he'd missed the turn off by a little bit. Like 30km! We turned around. He apologized profusely, but we reassured him it was no problem. We had all day to get there really, and he was so nice about it we felt worse for him than for ourselves anyway. We stopped for gas at a roadside gas station (which is really a cart with gas in liquor bottles). IMG_7331.jpg Gas is surprisingly expensive in Cambodia at $1/liter.
After a little more driving we could hear a noise from the bike that he also seemed to notice. Cue motorbike repair stop number two. This was turning into a dream tour for Adam: one primitive mechanic shop after another! The diagnosis: his bike needed a bearing replaced and it was going to take a little while. Since we were in a rural village, Adam and I set out down the road to see what we could see while Lida waited at the shop. If the bike was ready early he said he would come find us in the village. We walked down the road and saw a class being taught in an open air classroom near a pagoda, and watched the local farmers go by with their various loads and equipment. IMG_7321.jpg 90_IMG_7411.jpg The roads were deep red and dusty and sent up a cloud each time a vehicle passed. Eventually Lida swung back around to scoop us up, and we jostled back toward to our destination. 90_IMG_7414.jpg
We arrived at last, at Beng Mealea temple site, at 11am. Only about 2.5 hours behind schedule! The main downside to getting anywhere in Cambodia after 10am is the stifling heat, and this was turning out to be another sunny, swelteringly humid day.
Beng Mealea was built to the same floor plan as Angkor Wat and by the same king.
This site was even more collapsed and overtaken by roots and vines than Ta Prohm. Negotiating the temple, or more accurately the ruins, was done with a system of rickety wooden steps and precarious walkways, and a little bit of walking on the temple platforms themselves. 90_IMG_7379.jpg It was a quiet place with few tourists and we both really enjoyed the chaos that the jungle had wreaked upon the temple. It resembled Ta Prohm but on a much larger scale, and there were probably more of the carved stones littered in massive piles than there were remaining standing. 90_IMG_7391.jpg This was Adam's favourite temple site. I think for me it's a tie between here and Ta Prohm.
On the way back Lida took us by a different road (which made me a little nervous after the long morning of backtracking). It turned out to be a nice route and we got to ride through a village at the foot of a small mountain, and see our first rice paddies. Friendly children waved as we passed. IMG_7550.jpg
Back at the hotel by 2:30pm, we showered and changed as fast as possible before going out to find lunch. We stopped at a new place with $4 mains and I had the most refreshing lime mojito of my life. Or maybe it was the three most refreshing. It was just too damn hot to do anything else so we headed back to the hotel. I think I forgot to mention our room on the fourth floor was at the top of 94 stairs?! Which is totally fine the first time, but not so wonderful the third or fourth time in a day after an afternoon of sightseeing in the heat. Back under the air conditioner, I think we slept for about 12 hours. We woke up before dawn to go out for a filling and expensive Western breakfast in the tourist district and drank two strong coffees. IMG_7434.jpg
That sleep would be our last in Siem Reap as our 7-day river boat tour from Siem Reap to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) begins tonight.

Posted by Casualodyssey 16:09 Comments (0)

Sizzling Siem Reap

sunny 36 °C

March 11, 2018
We landed at the Siem Reap, Cambodia airport at 930 am and were greeted with hot tropical sun and palm trees. Getting our tourist visas and clearing customs took about two hours (!) despite relatively short lines.
Outside, we asked for a tuktuk to our hotel. Technically the airport pickup was included in our booking but since I hadn't heard from the hotel I wasn't counting on it.
Tuktuks in Cambodia are a bit different than the ones we took years ago in Thailand and Indonesia: not factory produced, 3 wheel taxis. Instead the Cambodian tuktuk looks like a wooden carriage style trailer attached to any 100-125cc motorcycle. At more than 125cc, a driver license is required - so you don't really see that. IMG_7652.jpg
Tuktuks are the ideal transport for us as tourists because you can look out the open sides and see the countryside go by while the moving air cools you down. Plus, they are cheaper than cars and other transport. Win win!
The driving in Siem Reap was a lot less wild than we remembered in other countries. It actually seemed like there might be a speed limit. We arrived at the hotel and checked in. It seemed pretty dead and it took us about an hour to figure out why... the pool was thick with dark green algae and was completely unrecognizable from the pictures online. 838cffea-a..bd798fbc549.jpg
The pool was the main reason we choose this hotel but we were too tired and hot to Transfer right away, so we committed to one night.
After a shower and a nap, we flagged down a tuktuk and went to the central tourist district to check out other hotels, grab a meal, and have some drinks on "Pub Street". 232D3514EC90FF9FA2C72ADBFAF37D46.jpg Our first drinks: Angkor beer (the local brand) along with a cheap crocodile stirfry over rice, which was delicious. 232E20C4A0B9F9E975FB5AC201152037.jpg
The bill? $6.25 for two mains and three beers. We could definitely have done worse.
We tried out the fish pedicure for $2 each which included a free beer too, that was really weird feeling at first but a neat experience. 231AE52ED248AAAF16415D94937FD3D3.jpg We found a great hotel with a beautiful pool and they told us to come back around 1pm tomorrow to check for a vacancy. 231BD6360061D9D1D1FEBF92235F2B6F.jpg A little more walking around and taking in the city before heading back to the hotel around 1am. 231CB5D0FB6112AF3070CE4F9044ED08.jpg

March 12, 2018
It's taking us a few days to work through the jet lag. The 35 degree afternoons don't help - napping is definitely attractive to beat the heat. The pool is lovely and the swim up bar is great too. IMG_7431.jpg
Street food is around $1.75 for beef noodles with fresh veggies and beers are sixty cents. Great ingredients for staying fuelled up while wandering around town. 2331C3AFC15E82F02B433EC007861A38.jpg

Posted by Casualodyssey 18:28 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel cambodia angkor tropical hot asia southeast reap siem Comments (0)

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