Monthly Archives: June 2016

Angkor Archaeological Park

Hello from Phuket! It’s nice to be back here, and the weather is much cooler than when we were last in Thailand in April. It’s rainy season, and I currently have tonsillitis, which isn’t fun, but antibiotics are bloody cheap. Yesterday we bought a set of twenty amoxicillin tablets for me, fifty doxycycline tablets (anti-malarials, which cost £1 per tablet at home) some calpol, and some indigestion tablets for a grand total of SIX QUID.

So, dear reader, please put in any drug requests now! We are three weeks away from home. Speaking of home, will the UK still be standing when we get there? This is the worst political turmoil I’ve experienced in my lifetime. I’m so sad about leaving the EU. I love Europe. Plus the pound has already plummeted in value, which makes future travels more expensive, and I’m dreading another recession.

Anyway, happy thoughts please!

Last week we visited Angkor Archaeological Park, just outside of Siem Reap. I filled my phone with photos so I thought I’d post them all here.

First up: Angkor Wat!

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Angkor Wat is the most famous of the many temples in the park. We got up at 3.45am and met our tuk tuk driver, Hip, who took us to Angkor Wat for sunrise. It was breathtaking. Other travellers had warned us that there would be loads of people there….but there wasn’t! A few hundred perhaps, but not the huge crowd I’d imagined. The silhouette of Angkor Wat was really familiar to us having been in Cambodia for a couple of weeks. It was incredible to see it in the flesh and watch the detail slowly appear as the sun rose.

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(Above photos are from inside Angkor Wat)

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(Made friends with a kitty. I told her she had the coolest house ever and fed her some pizza flavoured Pringles)

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(The steps up the big “pineapple” made our hands mega dirty.)

Angkor Wat definitely has the coolest silhouette, but the other temples were way cooler inside!

Next up, Bayan Temple. This place was one of my favourites, it had loads of hidden faces everywhere.

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I’m sorry that my photo quality is pretty pants – these were taken on my iPhone and then reduced in resolution so I can upload them easily with crappy wifi. I can’t wait to show you all some decent photos from the big camera when we’re back!

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I can’t believe it wasn’t even 7am at this point!

I’m unsure of the name of the next temple. It felt a bit like something from Ancient Greece to me.

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It was a muggy day, but it worked out well because it wasn’t too hot.

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I really loved the temples that were a bit more rugged and unkept. They reminded me of The Jungle Book and really captured my imagination.

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(Statues are often missing heads because it was once believed that they contained gold, and so the temples were sometimes ransacked.)

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I firmly believe that the only good thing the Khmer Rouge did was to leave the temples alone. Thank goodness they left them. They’re such a joy to explore as a tourist. Also, they’re free to visit for locals, and we met a local family who told us that they go nearly every weekend for picnics. How cool is that?!

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See – I did warn you I took a lot of photos!

We were totally knackered by the time we left, but it was a fabulous day, and one of my favourite sites in South East Asia. I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

Before I leave you, here’s a list of really mundane inanimate objects I’m excited for when I get home. Always appreciate the small things!

  1. Electric toothbrush
  2. Heinz tomato soup
  3. Pajamas without elastic around the ankles
  4. The correct conditioner for my candy floss hair.
  5. Sofa
  6. Bed
  7. Tea making facilities
  8. Bath
  9. Haircut
  10. Not feeling ill.

 

That wasn’t meant to be a rant, I just know I’ll have the post-travel Blues so I’m getting myself excited for the small things that I miss a lot.

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Week one in Cambodia

Our first stop after a suspiciously easy border crossing from Vietnam, was Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. We arrived in the evening, and the following day went to learn about Cambodia’s history.

This wasn’t an easy introduction to the country. I’ve ummed and ahhed about writing about the Khmer Rouge, because it isn’t easy to write about and it won’t be easy to read either. However the people of Cambodia want tourists to visit the memorials, and they want the world to know their history, so it only seemed right to get it down in words on my blog.

In the late 1970s, the Cambodian government was lead by the Khmer Rouge, whose rule eventually lead to a huge genocide. They orchestrated a mass famine, and wanted to create a “peasant nation.” They began by getting rid of educated people (I.e people who might have questioned their ideals) the first victims were scholars, teachers, and even people who wore glasses. The country was isolated, money was banned, religion was banned, and a huge percentage of the population were sent to work in slave labour camps.

Our first stop of the day was the Killing Fields Genocide Memorial. We were given handheld audio guides, which enables you to take a tour silently and at your own pace. The Killing Fields is essentially a mass grave, one of many all over the country. As you walk around, you step over pieces of human bone and clothing that rise through the soil every time it rains.

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Cambodian people were brought here by the truck load, lined up at the edge of a huge grave and bludgeoned to death. (The Khmer Rouge didn’t want to waste their precious bullets.) The workers would spread chemicals on the bodies to help eliminate the smell and also kill off anyone unlucky enough to survive the blow. I can’t write more. Yet there’s more. There are all the human skulls stacked floor to ceiling, more than you could possibly count, with holes in the top, or completely crushed. There was a killing tree. That makes my blood run cold to even think about it, I’ve got goosebumps all over my legs.
They hung huge speakers in the trees and played deafeningly loud patriotic songs all day, over the whirring of the generators. The audio guide played a sample of the sound, so you can imagine what people heard drowning out the death cries.

Next, we visited the S-21 prison. We didn’t pay extra for the audio guide this time round. I couldn’t face the descriptions of the torture methods. The prison used to be a school. Here, people were held and tortured for up to six months before being sent to their deaths in the fields. The floors still have bloodstains on them and there’s bloody handprints on the walls. It’s a very somber place, and I barely even heard birdsong whilst we were there.

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For some reason the Khmer Rouge photographed each victim before they locked them up. In the museum, all the photos are displayed and make for very haunting viewing. I tried to look at every face as an individual, I felt like I owed them that much…but in the end…. There were too many.

Cambodia has broken my heart. This atrocity happened just over ten years before I was born. I almost can’t believe it’s real, yet walking around Cambodia, I’ve hardly seen anybody over the age of fifty, so it must be real, right? One quarter of the population was wiped out. The regime forced marriages that lead to many children (the people my age) being born of unhappy circumstances.
What I’ve taken from that day in Phnom Penh is an incredible sense of gratitude for what I have, and a growing urgency in my mind that I should never take it for granted.

We left Phnom Penh feeling a little bit like different people to the ones who arrived there.

Next stop: Kampot.
We had a nice time in Kampot. We were only there for one night. It’s a small town built on the banks of the river. We had a nice meal by the riverside watching the sunset.

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After Kampot we went to Kep, which is by the sea. I always feel excited to be by the sea when we travel. I’ve always loved the ocean, but I think my love has been enhanced recently because the climate is so damn hot, a sea breeze does me the world of good.

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I loved Kep! We were taken by tuk tuk miles from the town to our accommodation, which was a little bungalow in the jungle, run by a lovely French couple. We chilled out for two days, frequenting the local sailing club which had stunning views of the sunset over the sea. (And two for one cocktails) we wandered round, and just had a lovely relaxing time.

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Then we hopped on the bus to Sihanoukville, our stepping stone to Koh Rong Island. After a night here we were off to island paradise.

We had a wonderful time. It was stunning! So here’s a little ode I wrote to Koh Rong Island (I had absolutely nothing better to do, we didn’t have wifi because the island hadn’t paid their bill and so got cut off by the supplier.)

Here’s to the peacock-coloured ocean drenched in turquoise, green and gold.

Here’s to waiting for it to be pitch black so you can swim amongst the glowing plankton that is so magical and sparkly that it almost feels like you’re swimming through space.

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Here’s to sleeping in a bungalow on the beach, cooled only by a fan so you wake up with the sun, drenched in sweat. Here’s to your nighttime curfew being determined by the monstrous moths who come out at night, forcing you to switch off the light and listen to music instead of reading as usual.

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Here’s to pure white sand so fine that it squeaks underfoot.

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Here’s to 4km of beach with no people and more importantly, no litter on it.

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Here’s to skipping meals because there’s no ATM on the island and we want to eek out the little cash we brought in order to stay as long as possible.

Here’s to stray dogs who dig themselves a hole in the sand under your sun lounger so they can sleep in your shade and company, only huffing occasionally when water drips on them because you went swimming.

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Here’s to planning birthday surprises, being eaten alive by mosquitos and waking up to Tom doing a magical salsa dance stood on the bed whilst clapping the bastards to death.

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Here’s to the sea that’s as warm and clear as a swimming pool, to cans of yucky cheap beer and getting accidentally sunburnt because the anti-malaria tablets make your skin more sensitive.

Here’s to the ache of there being only four weeks left balanced by the excitement of seeing my friends, family and cats again. 

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….. And here’s to being the happiest I’ve ever been.

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Good night Vietnam.

Well hello from Ho Chi Minh City!

That’s a mouthful isn’t it? HCMC is also known as Saigon. I’m scrabbling to stay on top of the blog. We’ve made it this far! So I thought I’d bring you up to date with recent happenings in a more summary kinda way with the help of lots of photos so that it doesn’t drag on too much. We’re heading to Cambodia on the bus tomorrow, and I must admit I’m totally KNACKERED. Over tea this evening, Tom and I decided to calculate how much travel we’ve done in Vietnam…. Drum roll please… Over 24 days we have spent 70 hours on public transport, which is over 11% our time here (that’s including time spent asleep) so I’ve given myself full permission to be exhausted haha. Onwards!

Hoi An
After Hue, we headed to Hoi An, (not to be confused with Hanoi!) which is a beautiful coastal town set upon the river. It’s an ancient trading port and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is really atmospheric and the influence from the trading with China and Japan is still apparent today. It really whisks you back in time, and it ended up being one of my favourite places in Vietnam.

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We had a cycle to the beach one day, then the heavens opened and we sheltered in a restaurant (shame.) We explored the old town by day and by night, which I loved. Hoi An is also famous for tailoring and shoe making. Many people get suits made and sent home. Tom and I decided to treat ourselves to a pair of shoes each. Tom got a beautiful pair of leather and suede brown brogues made, and I went for a pair of sandals. What a luxury to have shoes made to measure for my narrow and high-instepped feet, my toes are singing! (They cost £17 which is much less than I’d normally pay for good shoes) Unfortunately I can’t share a pic of Tom’s shoes as he’s posted them home.

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(They’re dirty already, fingers crossed that they make it home in one piece! Travelling is mighty hard on the old footwear!)

Other highlights of Hoi An were a wonderful musical performance including six musicians playing traditional instruments including a bamboo flute. This then ended up being a game of bingo (I’m not sure why) but we didn’t win…. Also I got a manicure and pedicure. What luxury!

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I was then struck down with some diabolical food poisoning. (From a cheese sandwich, no less) I was very very sicky, so we had to spend an extra night there… Tom eating out in restaurants on his own, bless him. The staff at our homestay were so lovely to me, and kept popping to our room to check on me whilst Tom was out and about. Fast forward a week later and I’m FINALLY back to normal. Oh well…

Nha Trang
We had a lovely ten hour train journey through the day to Nha Trang, which is further down the coast. The train was a nightmare for me, still ill, but I made it!
Nha Trang is a kind of beach resort-like town that is really popular amongst Russian people. This makes it quite surreal because a lot of the writing you see is in Russian, and you have a lot of Russian menus thrust in your face, which makes life even more confusing than normal.

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I spent the day in bed recovering whilst Tom took himself to a brew house he found on the beach (I don’t feel too sorry for him, whilst he sent me photos of his pints haha)
The next day I made it to the beach and drank a coconut at the beach bar. Progress! In all honesty, I didn’t see much of Nha Trang, but I did like what I saw. (Apart from when I saw someone spit-roasting an entire crocodile in the street, which didn’t help my disposition.)

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Da Lat
Next on the agenda was Da Lat, a town up in the mountains that is cool in climate and popular amongst the Vietnamese as a honeymoon destination. Our hostel was a real gem as they gave us free breakfast and dinner, we met some lovely people and the staff were really nice.
On our first day we walked to the Crazy House, a piece of bonkers architecture designed by a female local architect.

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(Above photos are courtesy of google images, as I was still being dopey and forgot to take my phone or camera with me.)

The Crazy House has been a work in progress since 1990, and was really interesting to visit, although it didn’t feel very safe at some points (e.g. When we walked over the roof with a hand rail at knee height) I loved it though. The lonely planet describe it as “imagine Gaudi and Tolkein meeting up and dropping acid together.” Haha.
That evening we went the 100 roofs cafe, a bar by the same architect. This was literally like a maze and it took us a while to find the bar.

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(The best bar I’ve ever been to!)

The next day we took a cable car across the valley to visit a monastery, which was wonderful to get a bit of peace, then we just chilled with people from our hostel and Ruby the three week old kitten who I had to try really hard not to kidnap.

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We were up early for the bus the next day. I dubiously had my eye on the street butcher across from the hostel whilst I ate my breakfast. I then saw him pick up an entire cow’s head, snap the jaw bone open and then cut the tongue out. My new found vegetarianism is being reinforced by the day at the moment haha!

Ho Chi Minh City
Our final stop in Vietnam is HCMC. After yet another long-ass bus we arrived and found our hostel.

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What followed was an interesting night’s sleep with rats running around the floor of our room. GRIM.

The following day we visited the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. These were used in the Vietnam war by the Vietcong so that they could hide from and attack the Americans.

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We saw all sorts of horrifically tortuous booby traps created by the Vietnamese. We were then led to a shooting range where you could pay to fire a variety of guns. I wish I’m joking, but I’m not. Seriously. I was just thinking “why the fuck would you want to shoot a gun, here of all places?!” I’ve never heard gunshots before, and they were absolutely deafening and terrifying, and I didn’t like it at all. Then we were shown an American tank, which lots of members of our tour group posed by, smiling for photos and taking selfies.

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I just find this whole mentality disturbing, and I was quite upset that people don’t seem to have a concept that they’re posing for a photo with a weapon of war, in a place where thousands died. Anyway. Rant over.
We then got to the entrance of the tunnels. We were told that it was a stretch of 100 metres, and we could get out at intervals of 20m. I’d been warned that they were small, but I wasn’t ready for how small the tunnels actually were! You literally had to shuffle along in a crouch. There were people in front and behind, and it was hot and so small. Panic started to rise in my throat, my breath quickened  and my chest tightened and I said “sorry, I need to come out!” And had to go back and get out. I just couldn’t do it. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t even go into the tunnels. I could feel a panic attack coming on and I didn’t want to cause a scene. I’ve realised that I hate small spaces with people in them. I could have managed if it was just me and Tom, but the thought of there being people ahead and behind without being able to get out just…ARGH. The Cu Chi tunnels were an amazing place to visit, and I recommend them to anyone visiting Vietnam.

For the sake of the blog, here’s a description from Tom’s point of view of his trip down the tunnels:

“Claustrophobic, sweaty, dusty and back breaking.”

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(Ho chi Minh city from the view of our rat hotel)

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(My new flutey tute)

On waking in the second morning in the rat hotel I went to the toilet, got locked inside the toilet having made a horrific smell (thanks Vietnamese food) and then had to be broken out by the hotel staff. Mortifying!! To be honest, the hotel wasn’t exactly the best, hence the rodent problem.

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(At least there was a gap above the door so I didn’t get Cu Chi tunnel claustrophobic a whilst waiting to be broken out)

I decided we deserved a fancy hotel with a bed that’s comfortable and no rats…. So spent 17 quid for a night in the Dragon Palace. Yay!

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Our final day was spent in the war remnants museum, which was filled with some really harrowing images. I had a massive lump in my throat throughout. It’s crazy that the Vietnam war was one of the first that was documented by the media.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed our time in Vietnam. I feel most homesick when I’m poorly, so I did struggle with being ill twice. The country is a true mixed bag of crazy hustle bustle in the cities and beautiful countryside. I’m glad we came here.

Things that have surprised me in Vietnam

1) The bananas are green.
2) The oranges are also green.
3) People like crouching. On the streets of Vietnam, you’ll often see people crouched, smoking a cigarette, or chatting. They do it with their feet flat on the floor. I tried this in our hotel room and fell flat on my arse.
4) No one walks really. Scooters are the given mode of transport with locals driving from shop to shop, parking their bike on the pavement outside. This makes it a pretty tricky place to be a pedestrian.
5) Vietnam is home to possibly the world’s cheapest beer. 9p a glass makes a happy Thomas.
6) The gaps between the cities make for a lot of travel time. It’s easy to see why lots of backpackers choose to travel by motorbike. Having seen so many people covered in bandages however, I decided it’s not for me.
7) Families live together. Many generations of one family live under one roof in Vietnam, which is lovely. The Vietnamese are very social and many choose to spend the evenings sat on stools in the street. This makes me want to strive to spend less time in front of the TV when we get home!

8) There are over 54 ethnic groups living in Vietnam today. I really enjoyed meeting some of the Black Hmong tribe whilst we were in Sapa. It was a lovely experience.

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Tam Coc and Hue

Hello dearest reader! We are currently sat in our hostel room in Da Lat, sheltering from a rainstorm. Once again, I’m playing catch up on the blog… One day I’ll be up to date! Imagine that!

After beautiful Halong Bay, we were off on the bus to Nimh Bin. After about six hours, our bus stopped in apparently the middle of nowhere. It was pitch black outside and completely tipping it down. We asked the driver if it was the final stop, to which he nodded and so we jumped off into ankle deep water.

After consulting Tom’s phone we discovered we were in a small town called Tam Coc, miles away from our original destination (and pre-booked hostel) in Nimh Bin. Once again, the travel gods were smiling at us and we managed to cancel our hostel without getting charged and stayed in the hotel next to the bus stop! That was a relief. We ate in the restaurant opposite whilst we watched everyone running around in the rain. We weren’t expecting rainy season whilst in Vietnam, but most days it chucks it down for a couple of hours. In a way this is a good thing, because it clears out the stifling heat!

After some rest, we woke up the next day and realised we were in such beautiful surroundings. The landscape was filled with huge natural stone blocks similar to the ones in Halong Bay, and it was also quite jungly.

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We went downstairs for some breakfast (which was grim) and as I was poking down some kind of cremated egg, a woman on a bicycle pulled up and started screaming and pointing. We were like “what.” (My coffee hadn’t kicked in at this point.) After a whole chorus of people started shouting in Vietnamese we finally noticed the large snake that was in the bush by our table. I was like “do you reckon it’s dangerous?” Tom said “yep!” One of the staff came over with a big stick and poked the snake which leapt a few foot in the air and out of the bush towards our table. Tom jumped on his chair and I started running around the restaurant like a headless chicken. And thus, breakfast was over. Nothing like a brush with death to start your day!

We hired some bicycles from the hotel and went to look for some caves. The cycle was nice because it was flat and it’s nowhere near as hot as Thailand. So, no death threats for Tom this time!
The cave was a bit disconcerting as we just walked around on our own. We were the only ones there, and I couldn’t help but picture that scene in The Descent when the cave collapses. Anyway, we made it out alive and headed up 520 steps to a view point over the river. It was hard work, but worth it as the view was amazing. We could see people enjoying a row on the river, so decided to do that the following day.

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The boat trip was incredible because the woman rowing the boat used her feet to row which I just found absolutely fascinating! The landscape was stunning, and we had a really nice time.

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Weirdly there were all these paparazzi men taking photos of us which we got bullied into buying. (Silly me for imagining you can do ANYTHING in Vietnam without being bloody hassled to death.) oh well, the result is a hilarious photo to put on the fridge. We look so unimpressed!!

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After a few hours of waiting around and rinsing the hotel’s wifi, we got a taxi to the train station. Our taxi man was the smiliest man I’ve ever met, and spent the whole journey offering us pineapple. We arrived at the train station, and boarded the sleeper train with much trepidation on my part.
We found our carriage, slid open the door to find a family of four on the bottom two bunks and the top two bunks clear for me and Tom. After trying to silently shove my backpack under the bottom bunk I faced the challenge of getting onto the top bunk without the help from a ladder. The bunk was at chin height, and those of you who know me will understand that I’m very athletically challenged. I didn’t dare put my foot on the bunk below as it was full of people, so in order to get on to my bed I had to get my foot above my head – think John cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks with Tom pushing my bum upwards. Utterly ridiculous. Luckily the family were asleep so no one saw the display. I lay there trying not to be sick (damn motion sickness to hell!!) and praying I didn’t need the toilet in the night.

The carriage was okay, very basic, and the sheets weren’t at all clean…. But I value my own life enough to avoid taking the sleeper bus in Vietnam. After a few minutes, the door opened and a guard came in, and gestured for Tom to follow him. I sat and waited for about ten minutes thinking “what the hell is going on?!”
It turns out, Tom was taken into a “posh” carriage, the guard closed the door behind them and patted the bed for Tom to sit down on the bunk opposite. The guard then asked if Tom would like this carriage for fifty dollars. Tom said “it’s very nice but no thank you!” And quickly exited. As he was leaving he saw a rat coming out of the air conditioning vent. I found all this out as Tom and I communicated through texts on our phones as we didn’t want to make any noise. Modern technology eh?

The night was.. Ok. I had about two hours sleep because the train constantly stopped and started all night. I and was lying awake when the guard came at 7am to tell us it was our stop. Phew! For some reason we were super early, so our designated taxi hadn’t arrived. We were pushed into buying some coffee which arrived in the fucking DIRTIEST glass I’ve ever seen whilst some bloke tried to convince us to book a tour with him. I felt like punching him in the head, not only because he was annoying, but I was also very sleep deprived and it wasn’t even 8am, so I definitely didn’t appreciate the sales pitch. Luckily we managed to get in touch with the hotel so they came to pick us up before I committed GBH.

Our hotel was sent from heaven. They gave us cold fresh mango juice and let us into the room hours early, which had two double beds in it. I was so happy! We spent the day chilling out and then walked around the city of Hue (pronounced hway.) we booked a tour for the following day.

Our tour took us to the demilitarised zone which was the no fire zone between north and south Vietnam. We visited the Khe Sanh American military base which is now a war museum. There were lots of remnants from the war including bunkers, helicopters, planes and bombs.

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And in the afternoon the Vinh Moc tunnels. The villagers of Vinh Moc built the tunnel system and hid below ground for six years. The tunnel is essentially a series of long corridors with rooms coming off. The “family rooms” are scarcely big enough for two adults to lie down in. There was a maternity room where seventeen children were born. The tunnels have been widened for tourists, but they’re still incredibly small, I was constantly bashing my head and had to walk doubled over on many occasions. Also it was SO hot down there. I thought it’d be cool. It was a really humbling place to visit. It was so dark. I can’t begin to imagine living my daily life in a place like that. I left feeling incredibly lucky.

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(A bomb crater)

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