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Roaming Vietnam and Cambodia - 2011


Hanoi (1)
Ha Long baai
Hanoi (2)
Sapa / Bac Ha
Hoi An
Hue
Ho Chi Minh City
Siem Reap


Aeroflot, 12 november.

Flight Aeroflot SU230 from Schiphol to Moscow was punctual, and in an almost new Airbus 320. Quite something else than the Ilyushin IL-76 and other Soviet type of aircraft that used to serve this route in earlier years.. Upon arrival at Sheremetevo F-terminal straight through security control to the bus for the announced transfer to the D-terminal. We diligently followed the signs, walked, walked until we had no more signs directing us to the bus. We already WERE in the D-terminal... The shuttlebus has been cancelled for some time now, but the signs have not been taken down yet.

Flight SU541 to Hanoi was delayed for 30 minutes. Another surprise: a brand new Airbus 330. Reasonable seats (check SeatGuru.com for the best seats..) and try to avoid the last two rows of each compartment since those seats have limitations. Airline food at Aeroflot is good these days! Sleeping on the trusted 10 milligram-"pam" was OK until breakfast..


Sheremetevo Moskou

Vlucht SU541

Hanoi

Hanoi, old city


Hanoi, 13 november.

Arrival in Hanoi with the departure delay, so at 9:25am local time. A well-organized chaos need to be endured to obtain our visa. Do not forget to bring plenty of US$ or €, since the local stamping fee is $50 for a multiple-entry visa. Credit cards not accepted! Vietnamese are very friendly for their visitors, as long as they pay.


Hanoi

Hanoi

Hanoi

Hanoi
We met our hotel transfer at the exit, and the 35 kilometer to our downtown hotel took little less than one hour. Traffic in Vietnam is quite a challenge; regulations and lines are only guidelines which are applied sometimes. In practice it is the strongest, biggest of freshest one that will have right of way. But since all roadusers have the same mentality, it works like a charm! Pay special attention to the goods that are transported on the scooters; during our short trip we encountered a cage full of piglets, 12 crates Tiger beer, 2 oildrums, a stack of car tyres and a family of 4 including the dog. Smoking and/or making phonecalls executed while driving…

Hotel Hanoi Elite is located in the old centre and you will not find it without local help. It has an address, but it is located in a charming little alley which has no official name. The young lady at the front desk made an unforgettable welcome speech and we felt at home from the first minute. We would spend this night, and another three after returning from the Halong excursion. Our room was on the 6th floor (as we requested) but what we did NOT know; the hotel has no elevator.. All in all: this hotel is a real gem and worth your money. They earned a good evaluation at Tripadvisor! After unpacking and settling we decided to check out the area. Got 8 million VND from an ATM (equals €280), bought two Vietnamese SIM-cards for only $5 each (which we have used our entire stay in Vietnam without re-fill) and enjoyed the hustle and bustle in the streets. Hanoi can suffocate you because of its crowds, dust, heat and noise.

Video Old Quarter, Hanoi>

The comparison with Bangkok sprung to mind, but this place is dirtier and appears less organized. Humidity is better though, you feel less sticky here. Jetlag started to set in, and a good night' sleep would be just fine!


Ha Long, 14 november.

We slept fine, but had to rise early. Hotel pick-up for the three-day Halong bay was scheduled at 7:30am. An 8-person minivan transported us the 120 kilometer east.


Hanoi, bridge over Red River

Halong

Halong

Halong
Since most roads are one-lane and passing through villages, in conjunction with the earlier mentioned traffic-mentality which leads to frequent accidents, it took us 4 hours to cover the distance. It could have been one hour less but a head-on collision between two trucks blocked the main road for a long time. One advantage of this roadtrip is that you already get a nice impression of rural Vietnam. The road is a continuos chaos of smoking trucks, overcrowded minivans, millions of bikes and scooters. Alongside the roads many street vendors. Almost all houses have relatively narrow but colorful facades, but are several stories high and very deep.

Halong is famous. Even without knowing you can tell by the huge number of visitors flowing in from all directions. The formalities for embarking our cruiser were short and swift, and the cruise took off for the 3-day/2-night tour.
First call was Titop island; a cone-shaped rock jutting from the water with a scenic view once you negotiated the 427 steps… But it is worth the effort!


Halong, TiTop island

Halong Ti Top island

Halong, TiTop island

Halong Ti Top island
Next on the list was Cua Van; the floating fishing village. Situated in a semi-circle along the rocks of the bay are floating houses, workshops and one school. Population 600. No roads, no cars. The kids learn to swim first, then how to sail and then how to read and write. The community lives from fishing, but I suspect that tourism is contributing more and more nowadays. Probably it will ultimately kill the authenticity of this secluded little community…

Halong, TiTop island

Halong, Cua Van (floating fishing village)

Halong Cua Van

Halong, Cua Van

Halong Cua Van

Halong

Halong

Halong
Het dorp ligt in een baai van één van de 1969 islanden in Halong baai en heeft geen wegen (dus ook geen auto's). Wat een rust!

Dat geldt ook nu, want het is donker en we liggen op onze ankerplaats waar we gaan overnachten. Afgezien van een paar kwekgrage Spanjaarden is het hier doodstil (en aardedonker). Desondanks zit ik hier nog in mijn korte broek en een T-shirt, en ga zo een koud Tigertje bestellen. Over een half uurtje diner!


Ha Long, 15 november.


Halong, Luon

Halong, Luon

Halong, Luon

our cook on the Huong Hai junk
Sleeping on board the Indochina Sails Premium is a wonderful experience. Total silence during the night, seabreeze, a bit of bobbing on the waves… Today is the major excursion day which is carried out with the so-called "day-boat". This is actually a small junk which accomodates approx. 20 pax, and which is easier to manoeuvre. Tethered were several canoes… Promising!

First stop: Luong Bay. An enclosed lake, accessible only by canoe via a low passage under the rocks. Spectacular, and total silence. Black kites circling around, fish jumping, splash of canoes..


Halong, junk Huong Hai

Halong, Ho Dong Tien cave

Ho Dong Tien

Ho Dong Tien
Next on the list: Ho Dong Tien cave. Again: accessible only by canoe and a flexible back. No mass tourism here. Indochina Sails has the exclusive right to visit under conditions of extreme care and respect for the ecosystem. If you want to steer clear of the crowds, go for this one. (no, they do not pay me for writing this down..)

A wonderful seafood lunch, rustled up by our junks' cook (and frankly quite a bit better than the generic buffet lunch served on the main ship). After lunch a visit to Halong Pearl which turned out to be a floating pearl farm. Very interesting stuff; I learned where pearls come from AND how to determine if a pearl is real or fake. Be warned though: at the end of the tour the tourist-trap is there but without the usual pressure from "da staff" to make a purchase.


Halong, Ho Dong Tien cave

Halong, Halong Pearl farm

Halong Pearl

Halong, Halong Pearl farm

Halong

Halong

Halong sunset

Surprise Cave
Back to the main ship and time to say goodbye to the junk and her crew. Pity. This junk has more charme and is more authentic than the big cruise-junks.
Cooldown on the upper deck, cold Tiger beer at hand, spectacular sunset over Halong!


Ha Long / Hanoi, 16 november.

Early breakfast (6:30am) because the captain wanted to jump the crowds for the visit to Surprise Cave. As it turned out we were by far NOT the first group to arrive. This is mass-tourism. The cave is huge, and animated with colourful illumination. DisneyWorld in Vietnam? But true, it was impressive. And the end of the walk the inevitable souvenir stands and the one and only toilet on the premises.

Back to the main ship for a huge breakfast to prepare for the transfer back to the harbor and the subsequent 120 km to Hanoi. The minivan should leave at noon, but arrived only at 1:30pm due to..: another major, roadblocking accident between a truck and a minivan. We arrived back at the hotel in Hanoi at 5:30pm.


Halong

Traffic on highway QL81 Halong-Hanoi

Enthusiastic youth in the Ethnologic Museum"

Etnologic Museum, Hanoi
Suggestion if you ever plan to visit Halong:
Book the 3-day/2-night trip. Going all this way for only one night on the water means that you spend more time in traffic queues than on the cruise. Besides that you are going to miss out on the more remote (and more interesting) sites in the bay.

A quick fresh-up in the room (this time on the 4th floor) and dinner in a local restaurant around the corner. The New Day diner was recommended by the girl at the front desk. She was dead right! The place is overcrowded and bustling, but the food is fresh and abundant. We had our fill including drinks and dessert for 11 Euros.


Hanoi, 17 november.

First action of the day was to visit the Ethnologic Museum. Do not bother to even try public transport: it exists and is super cheap but will take you a long time to reach your destination. Just take a cab and negotiate the price before entering. You will find an indication for flag down, Dong per mile and additional fee for luggage on a visible sign. We agreed on VND 140.000 (5 euro) for the 7 kilometers which took us 30 minutes.
The Ethnologic Museum is a showcase of authentic buildings and the many ethnic minorities from all regions of Vietnam. Another interesting fact were the dozens of roaming high school pupils, chasing for foreigners who would like to carry a conversation in English with them.


Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, Hanoi

Hanoi

Waterpuppet theater, Hanoi"

Streetview Hanoi"

The other downtown sightseeing "musts" of that day:
-Temple of Literature (interesting architecture in a park setting)
-Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh (closes at 4pm sharp, we arrived at 4.05..)
-the One Pillar Pagoda (a waste of time: the "one pillar" is a concrete pillar, which does not make sense under a 1000-year old building..)

Dinner again in the local New Day, and hurry to the Water Puppet Theatre next to the lake. Water puppet shows are typical Vietnamese tradition and were held to entertain the people. A lake (or a basin) was the stage where marionets (human, animals, dragons) were operated from behind a temple-shaped screen. The music and sound effects are supplied by a group of musicians, playing authentic instruments, sitting next to the basin. Hard to describe, you have to see to understand. Spectacular it was!
It is recommended to book tickets well in advance as they always have a full house, being one of the most famous ones in Vietnam.


Hanoi, 18 november.

A day without any planned activities, just necessary to process all the input and impressions of the last week. The only obligation was to collect the train ticket vouchers at Topas Travel for the trip to the north. Since I did not feel like spending all morning in stuck in traffic jams in a taxi, I managed to get a lift on a XE OM, driven by the neighbor of the desk clerk. If you really want to experience the dynamics of the street and your nerves can handle the thrill: try this!


Shoeshop at night..

Train SP3 Hanoi-Lao Cai

Hanoi railway station


Province of Lao Cai


Hanoi, 19 november.

Last day in Hanoi: tonight we will take the train to Sapa, about 280 kilometer northwest of Hanoi in the mountainous area. Besides packing we also need to prepare the transfers in the Da Nang area and a visit to the Central Post Office to send two parcels back home.
Since the weather changed (more humid, more smog, more heat) we decided to take it easy and spend some time in the shadow next to the central lake. Within 10 minutes three young ladies joined, introduced themselves as students on a mission and if we could help them with an interview. Again the same objective as the young kids in the museum: to master English, as in Vietnam there is no other way of training and exercising. Television and movies are all voice-overed Vietnamese...

We took dinner at the recommended (famous) "Quan An Ngon"-restaurant, next to the railway station. Since it was saturday it was more than overcrowded and we had no high hope of being allocated a table at all, but surprisingly we were seated and served within 10 minutes. It has to be said: this place lives up to its fame! Delicious!
Our traintickets were (of course) not traceable in the station, but we more and more started to rely on Vietnamese ways of handling things. Just surrender and let things have their course. It will work out eventually...
Train SP3 to Sapa is a regular public timetable train, to which private coaches of several travelling agencies are added. Ours was Fanxipan, but I counted at least 4 competitors' carriages. We decided to pay a little extra to have our private cabin, which meaned that the top two berths in the compartment were not occupied. My God, it is cold here and noisy here! The carriages' airco-unit was directly on top of our compartment, something to remember for the way back. Sleep came quick and intense until arrival in Lao Cai.


Lao Cai

Lao Cai

Red River

Red River


Sapa / Bac Ha, 20 november.

Arrival at Lao Cai station at 6am. Breakfast in a restaurant across the square, which also served as the meeting spot for the guides. We had a private guide and a driver with a modern 4x4... This is not quite what we expected since most fellow travellers took off in a minivan. On the other hand: let's sit back and enjoy the ride!
First stop was to be Bac Ha market, about 70 kilometer north of Lao Cai. Bac Ha market only takes place on sundays and serves as both the regional food-, clothes- and craftmarket as well as a social meeting spot for families.


Den Trung Do

Den Trung Do

Den Trung Do

Bac Ha

Bac Ha

Bac Ha

Bac Ha

Cock fights at Bac Ha market

Part of the voyage to Bac Ha was made in a long-tail boat on the Red River, getting ashore again at the authentic mountain settlement of Den Trung Do. Back in the car, and passing a spectacular pass higher and higher into the mountains. What wonderful clean air!

Bac Ha market is dynamic and bustling with ethnic people in their colourful traditional outfits. Tools, buffalo, horses, clothes, building materials, dogs, anything! Steer clear of buffaloes! They sneeze, and when they do, you and your camera are covered with brown goo...
In my opinion Bac Ha is going to lose its character in the next few years since more and more Chinese traders are taking over business by cornering the market with their cheap stuff, pushing out the locals with authentic merchandise. The influx of tourists is not helping much either..

Back to Lao Cai, where we made a short stop at the Chinese border. Crossing impossible without the proper documents, but it was interesting to see the truck- and cartloads or merchandise entering into Vietnam...
Onwards to our destination Sapa, where we stayed for one night in the Topas Ecolodge. Though only a 40 kilometer drive from Lao Cai it took almost two hours, mainly due to the general road conditions. We arrived just before sunset. Spectacular mountain ranges, shrouded in mist. The images in the brochure were quite different...


Bac Ha

Bac Ha

Bac Ha: transporting the new acquisitions

Buffalo trade at Bac Ha market

1 bike, 12 pigs..

Ho Chi Minh lives on in Vietnam

Red River: Vietnam-China border

Sapa
The Ecolodge is an oasis of silence and views. The amenities are "eco" but comfortable. Bring a sweater, you are going to need it! At night you will not believe your eyes. Total darkness and an abundance of stars. Impressive!

Topas Ecolodge, Sapa

Topas Ecolodge, Sapa

Red Dao - women welcome us

Sapa


Sapa, 21 november.

Huge bed, fresh air, total silence: ingredients for a good nights'rest. Sunrise should be spectacular but the morning fog covered the valleys. Again no view of Fang Si Pan mountain (Vietnams' highest mountain). A short walk around the premises, the view improved. At 2pm we shuttled back to Sapa village. Sapa was founded as a mountain retreat for the French colonists and this can be seen in the architecture. Unfortunately mass-tourism is setting in, and this in its return attracts the ethnic minorities who try to make a living selling textile. Once hand-made by themselves, but nowadays most of the merchandise is "made in China"...
Massages in abundance, and we finished the day with a wonderful relaxing 30 minute-foot massage which takes less than $4 from your wallet.
Back to Lao Cai for the nighttrain back to Hanoi. This time we occupied the compartment on the other extremity: no noise at all!

Should you wish to plan a visit to Sapa area: go for two nights at least. The trip from Hanoi to the north takes a long time, as all travel in Vietnam takes its time. By car your average will be about 25-30 miles per hour, train is even slower...


Topas Ecolodge, Sapa

Red Dao - women

Sapa

Black Hmong - mother and her kids

Black Hmong

flight VN1507 Hanoi - Da Nang

Cham sculpture museum, Da Nang

Life Heritage Resort


Hoi An, 22 november.

Arrival back in Hanoi at 5am, met our pre-arranged driver (booked via the Hanoi Elite hotel) to transfer us to the airport. One hour flat drive, mainly because traffic is thin at this early hour of the day.
Super fast check-in and baggage drop, and at 6:15am we were munching away the worlds' most horrible ham/cheese sandwich ever for breakfast..


..could be Holland...

Hoi An local dish: cao lau

3 week old silkworms

Hoi An
Flight Vietnam Airlines 1507 to Da Nang took off and touched down at Da Nang International Airport at the scheduled time. This airport is very compact, has only one luggage belt, and it took only 15 minutes between getting off the plane and a handshake with our driver.
Taxi scams are unfortunately common practice at all Vietnam airports: google Internet and you will find many threads.
In one of the threads we found mrs. Ha, who runs a travelling agency and acts as a go-between for car transfers. Prices are equal to or little more than the taxi rates BUT you travel in a private car without fear for being scammed.
Discover Vietnam for more information on mrs. Ha.

Hoi An

Hoi An

Japanese bridge, Hoi An

Hoi An

Since the Cham-museum was dead on the road to Hoi An we took a break for a visit. In the Cham museum you will find an interesting collection of sculptures, found at several temple-sites.

Life Resort Hoi An was going to be the place to reside during our stay.
After the noise, dust and crowds in Hanoi you will find Hoi An to be a welcome change. Little seabreeze and informal, cozy streets with low buildings, many in colonial style. Another point of interest of Hoi An is the silk-industry. Several tailors offer 24-hour service and can supply an abundance of colors, models and fashions.
We made a visit to Thang Loi and placed some orders for both dresses and a suit. Just to have an indication: cashmere jacket and trousers, silk shirt, perfectly measured and cut, fitting session, all in 24 hours for less than $200.


Hoi An

Hoi An

Hoi An

Thang Loi seamstresses
Lunch in one of the many local streetside places: a bowl of Cao Lau (the local speciality) and a fresh juice. This place was just perfect. We will come back to see if dinner is matching...

Hoi An

My Son

My Son

My Son


Hoi An, 23 november.

The hotel offers a good breakfast buffet, matching the level of the resort. For some reason though I felt that this type of resort just does not belong (fit?) in the Hoi An-setting.
Sent the third parcel back home, containing our space-taking warm clothing for the mountains. The gained space in the suitcases was necessary to stow the nice little hand-made bamboo lanterns with silk coating.

The tourist board of Hoi An introduced a neat way of visiting the places of interest; in one of the many streetshops you buy a 6-item-entry card and a map on which you can plan your own itinerary. At your selected places your entry-card is validated and you have "free" entry. We visited several Chinese common houses and one of the typical Hoi An wood houses with authentic interior.

Taken care of the laundry: outside the gate several women offer their services and for 25% of the resorts' price we had the laundry cleaned, ironed and folded.
A dip in the pool to cool down, dinner and early sleep since tomorrow morning we are taking the My Son Sunrise Tour...


My Son

Van Hai pas

Van Hai pas

Emporial Palace in the Hue Citadel


Hoi An / Hue, 24 november.

Indeed: rise at 4:30am, the tour minivan collected us at 5am, breakfast was handed out and we set off for a 50-kilometer road trip south to the My Son temples. We did not experience the Sunrise Over The Temples since (again) there was a very persistent fog over the mountain range.
The temples are actually no more than ruines. In the Vietnam War in 1969 much damage was imposed on the complex, that was under restauration since 1937.


Emporial Palace in the Hue Citadel

Dong Ba market, Hue

Emporial Palace in the Hue Citadel

Ho Chi Minh-museum, Hue
Back to the resort at 9:30am, a quick shower and a real breakfast, waiting for the last tailor-items to be fitted and delivered. Waiting for our (mrs. Ha-organized) transfer to Hue, 123 kilometer northbound.

At 2pm sharp a new Chevrolet opened its doors and loaded up. We agreed to take the spectacular Van Hai pass instead of the newly opened tunnel north of Da Nang. Again, the persistent fog prohibited us to see the views of China Beach, Monkey Mountain and Da Nang. Since the tunnel opened there is almost no more traffic over the pass except tanker-trucks. And a convoy of five (extra)wide-load trucks. No way to overtake. No way of turning back...


Ho Chi Minh-museum, Hue

Parfum river, Hue

Parfum rivier, Hue

Thien Mu temple, Hue

We were told that the centre part of Vietnam is known for its downpours. They were right... It downpoured... Traffic got even more intense and slow. Finally we reached our destination at 5:30pm. See? Average speed in Vietnam is low, do your math.

Hotel Ancient House offers charm, but surely NO light in our room... Of all the present bulbs less than half of those worked, and the working half had bordello-red shades. One other feature was the corrugated roof covering the inner yard. Next to our window, it sounded like a machinegun being emptied when it started to rain. And it kept raining!
Try to avoid room #103...


Hue, 25 november.

The Ancient House might have its quirks, but the bed is incredibly comfortable! Breakfast is good as well: for $35/night this hotel is value for money. It is a small family-business, hence the personal attention and willingness to help out.
Exploring the city and the citadel in the pouring rain. Through the centre, across the river, passing Dong Ba market, entering the Royal Palace via the South entrance. The palace spreads over a vast surface, but unfortunately many buildings are heavily damaged. Partly due to old age and lack of fundings, partly to heavy artillery fire in 1947. The buildings that are salvaged and restored are impressive though. You will need at least 4 hours to do a basic exploration of the premises.

I concluded the city tour with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh-museum; dedicated to "uncle Ho", the founder of comtemporary Vietnam. A huge two-stories building with an interesting display but I appeared to be the one and only visitor, which made me feel a bit eerie and lost there. But só quiet..!


Thien Mu temple, Hue

Dong Ba market, Hue

Emporial Palace in the Hue Citadel

Hue


Hue, 26 november.

...silence... why? Because it stopped raining, and therefor no more machine gun next to the bedroom.
Around Hue you can find several tombs, but to get there needs some organization. The simplest way is to charter a longtail-boat and agree with the owner on the itinerary. Since a visit to the nearest tomb already would take at least 4 hours (roundtrip) and the sky was still threatening, we decided to limit the cruise to the Thien Mu pagoda and, a bit more upstream, the recently restored Linh Tinh Mon temple.
Back in Hue we followed the Lonely Planets' recommendation for lunch: Lac Thien restaurant, close to the citadel. This place is run by a deaf-mute family who communicat by sign language and writing. Even on the walls and ceiling, no need to bring your own marker. They are supplied and you are encouraged to contribute to the dynamic work of art..
You will receive a home-made beerbottle-opener, signed by the owner, and you are asked if you would make a picture anywhere on the world which includes this opener.

The rest of the afternoon was spent drifting around Hue's old quarter (north and east of Dong Ba market), where you will find many temples, hidden away from the streets. Worth a visit though, and no crowds!
The 5 pm thunderstorm arrived according to schedule, and drove us back to our hotel.


Ho Chi Minh, 27 november.

Nightly rain again, but more intense than the previous time. So intense that I decided to put earplugs..


Phu Bai International Airport, Hue

Vietnamese coffee

The six daily flights from Phu Bai International Airport

flight VN1373 to Saigon
Checked out, and took our Mrs. Ha - booked transfer to Phu Bai International Airport, a 30-minute drive for 250.000 VND. This airport handles 6 flights a day, and since they accomodate a weekly flight to Laos the airport is designated International...
A short flight to Ho Chi Minh brought us out of the rain and into another rainshower, but this time at 32C. Hotel Majestic Saigon was going to be our place for the next three nights. Riverfront (end of Dong Khoi street), downtown, modern steel- and glass buildings mixed with authentic colonial architecture.
Reconnaissance of the area by foot: the Notre Dame cathedral, the Main Post Office (Gustave Eiffel) next to it, the Opera House, the Reunification Palace.
It is clear that Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon in the old days) is changing rapidly. Especially the downtown ward "Quan 1" is clearly the centre of huge investments, where old buildings are torn down to make space for new towers. Right next to our (still original) Majestic Hotel, the Bitexco Tower just opened its doors for visitors. What a contrast...
Dinner in the famous Quan An Ngon restaurant opposite the Reunification Palace. This place has a wonderful and dynamic atmosphere, seats indoors and in the garden. Hint: indoors is better since the outdoor seats are close to the perpetual heavy traffic and thus noisy and smelly.
Steamed clams for me with noodles. The claims for freshness of Vietnamese food are absolutely not exaggerated here!

Majestic hotel room 339: view over Saigon

Majestic Saigon

Main post office Saigon

New defies old in Saigon


28 november.

Breakfast on the roof terrace-with-a-view. Though early, already humidly pressing and warm. Take it easy...

The Reunification Palace is a must while in Ho Chi Minh. The building has a long history of construction, destruction by artillery, reconstruction, change of purpose. Nowadays it is used only for ceremonial receptions (heads of state and such). Guided tours are offered through this immense building, but if you choose you can also discover it on your own.
The collection of artefacts from all over the world is amazing, though not visible up-close as most official rooms are off-limits and only visible from behind a chain. In the underground basement the presidential quarters can be visited: it was here where the war was orchestrated. Video shows give a detailed eyewitness report. Ho Chi Minh's vintage Mercedes is on display as well.

Ben Thanh market is next on the list. Housed in a nice red-tiled building you will find a variety of goods, both food and non-food. Unusual for us: most of the food is still alive and moving about in its containers... Well, at least you have your guarantee that what you buy is fresh!

A stroll through the centre confirms more and more that this city is changing rapidly. Population grows, so does transportation, but the streets remain the same. Result: increasing traffic congestion, beginning to take on Bangkok proportions.
For me this city will loose a lot of its charm over the next two decades, especially when the now barren Thu Thiem peninsula across the river is going to be developed as the Vietnam Financial Centre.


Reunification Palace

HoChiMinh resistance museum

Simca... who still remembers?


29 november.

Slept long (we are on holidays..) and after brunch a visit to the Revolution Museum. Not only the French Revolution is on display, also the American war is clearly documented. Besides all this you can find a surprising collection of utensils and machinery from Vietnams' period of industrial development.
In the garden some war vehicles (land- and airborne) are on display (UH-1 helicopter, F5 fighter jet, M41 tank), but for me personally the old French cars like a Peugeot 403 and a Simca brought back memories of long ago..

After lunch we separated since Ho Chi Minh had one more reason for me to visit this city; one of my hobbies is to "collect" visits to the highest accessible point of any building or tower, taller than 150 meters, anywhere on the world. Think of the WTC (NYC 1987, when still existed), Macau Tower, Eiffel Tower, Funkturm Berlin and many others.
Recently the Bitexco Financial Tower (Vietnams' 2nd highest building, 262 meters, 68 floors) opened its visitors' platform on the 49th floor which had to be added to the list. And it was worth the VND 200.000 entry ticket... The view is breathtaking (but what else do you expect on 200+ meters), even though the sky was hazy.

After that the more mundane chores had to be executed: laundry, parcel #4 to be shipped back to EU, preparing and packing for tomorrows' move to Cambodia.



Saigon skyview @ 220 meters

Bitexco Tower

Angkor Village Resort


Siem Reap, 30 november.

An early start because of the necessary visit to the GPO (closed yesterday despite the announcement that it would be open until 10pm), and on to the airport. Downtown HCMC has its street lay-out like lower Manhattan: one-way streets in a grid-pattern. In HCMC-rushhour a guarantee for gridlocks, so the 8-kilometer ride to the airport took almost one hour...
A full flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Mainly Chinese and Japanese on their way to the Angkor Temples. Siem Reap Airport is very compact, has a nice main building and a very relaxed atmosphere compared to Vietnams' intensity. Passing the immigration is a piece of cake if you already have your E-visa registered before arrival. Your fingerprints (all 10..) are scanned and stored for security reasons.

No pick-up nor hotel transfer to meet us, which was our own mistake. We took a minivan-taxi, of which the driver offered his services in case we should need local transportation. In the beginning this felt like the start of a scam, but gradually we learned that this offer was genuine and without strings attached. We exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch.


Tuktuk Cambodja-style

Angkor

Angkor

Angkor Bayon
The Angkor Village resort is situated just on the Siem Reap city limit, in the wilderness. A very recommendable and comfortable high-end place, but a very strong contrast with the surrounding dwellings. A bit uncomfortable for my taste... The swimming-pool is unique though (see site) and very welcome in this heat.
The menu in the resort did not match our wish for authentic (local) food, so we set out for Siem Reap centre by tuktuk. First impression of this little road trip: more poverty than Vietnam, but things look more organized (and cleaner). Siem Reap looks more Western, mainly due to the masses of tourists and the kind of restaurants, massageparlors and such that are linked to their presence. It is not difficult to find a restaurant in city centre, in which the Central Market is the pivoting point. Fresh dumplings, amok and a drink would do just fine and it did!

Bayon

Angkor Bayon

Bayon

Angkor Bayon


1 december.

The Angkor - tempelcomplex covers a huge territory and consists of many sites. If you want to visit all temples you need at least a week.
There are several travelling agencies around Siem Reap that offer 1-, 2- and multiple-day trips to Angkor, either in groups or individual arrangements. Almost all hotels can mediate in arranging something for you. We decided on a one-day individual (guided) tour to do the absolute highlights of Angkor.
Price indication for a day (9am-7pm): $30 for car and driver plus $30 for an official guide.


Angkor

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat
To have access to the Angkor area you need to buy an entry pass (price depending on the number of days you plan to visit, $40 for a 3-day pass is what we choose). Prepare to queue at the main entrance road to obtain your pass. The website and the pictures will tell their stories, but in a nutshell: the temples were constructed during the 10th and 11th centuries by several kings, and were abandoned at a certain point after which decay set in. In the early 1900's the ruins were discovered by French explorers. At present the restauration of several temples is carried out under coordination of UNESCO, with help from sponsors. These days Angkor Wat and the Bayon are the main places "to be".
Be early and try to avoid the never-ending influx of the crowds. Walking and waiting in lines brought memories of Disney World... Prepare for an early lunch (11am) and go for Angkor Wat at noon, because then the tour groups go for their arranged lunch and the temples are quieter.


2 december.

Today we wanted to visit some of the more remote temples of the complex: Banteay Srei (the "Womens' temple"), Banteay Semre and Ta Prohm. For transportation we relied on mister Sarat, our taxidriver and his tuktuk. In Cambodia these vehicles are known as "moto-remork", synonym for motor-trailer.

Tuktuk ride (video poor quality)

You will find travelling in a moto-remork through the countryside very relaxing, and you will see (and feel) more than in a car. A nice extra was the Angkor Butterfly Centre . Never knew butterflies could be this big and this colourful... Worth a short break, and an interesting chat with director Ben.
We concluded the daytrip with the traditional sunset (as advertised in all the brochures) at Pre Rup temple, nice indeed, but a bit overrated.


Ta Prom

Ta Prom

Roadtrip to Banteay Srey

the daily 5-mile walk to school..

Roadtrip

Roadtrip to Banteay Srey

Roadtrip to Banteay Srey

Roadtrip

Roadtrip

Roadtrip to Banteay Srey

Banteay Srey

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre

Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre

Banteay Samre

A suggestion if you plan to move around in Siem Reap / Angkor area:
we would like to recommend Sarat Kim. He speaks English, is very friendly and flexible, and knows the area very well. You can contact him via:
Email: saratkimmoto@yahoo.com
GSM: +855 12 859 956
Price indicator for a day: $25-30 / tuktuk or $35-40 / airconditioned minivan.

You cannot visit Cambodia without seeing the traditional Khmer-dance: Apsara. Several shows are available in Siem Reap, we opted for the one offered by our hotel. (Apsara Angkor Village) Nice arrangement, where you enjoy your 4-course dinner while enjoying the dance and the accompanying "live" music.


Banteay Samre

Sunset over Pre Rup

Apsara

Apsara dance


3 december.

Packed, luggage in the day storage because we only fly back to Hanoi late at night. We split up and spent the day in Siem Reap, I ended in a very special massage shop. This one is founded to enable handicapped people to make a living, and my masseuse was a young, blind woman. She and her collegues mastered the art of several traditional massages. Besides the massage we both learned a few words of each others' language..


Feetmassage by the visually impaired

Flight SU542 Hanoi-Moskou

Flight SU542 over Afghanistan

Back to the resort, Sarat Kim drove us back to the airport for our flight to Hanoi. Since we arrived late in the evening and had a connecting flight only the next morning we opted for a local airport hotel. The reviews already gave us no high hopes and they were right... Our pick-up did not show, and after some calls two seedy boys showed up. Two miles down the road, to Frankenstein Hotel. But who cares, the last weeks were perfect!


4 december.

The hotel is located along the runway, so the name "Airport Hotel" is correct. The local rooster started his chores at 5 am, and the first plane took off at 5.10am. Time to get up!
Flight SU542 to Moscow was full. Could not perform E-check-in and we were assigned seats 36 H/K. 11-hour flight during daylight and wonderful views over the Himalaya and Afghanistan. A four-hour lay-over in Moscow, and connecting SU329 arrived punctual in Amsterdam. Back home in Rotterdam at midnight on the dot. Cold! From 32C to 7C. Showertime.

It's all over. Back to daily life, facing winter and long working hours...



update: oct 30, 2013