Northern Vietnam

Phong Nha Ke Bang – a mountain formation that only has a page or two in most travel books, the background for the movie Kong: Skull Island, and the spot for the largest known cave passage cross-section in the world.

Here’s an interesting story about Phong Nha: around the year 1990, a local was walking around and discovered the entrance to Hang Son Doon (the largest cave). Vietnamese people are scared of caves since they think they’re occupied by spirits and steer away from them. The local heard the sound of the water flowing in the cave and the winds that were blowing out of it, was probably spooked, and left thinking no more of it. Many, many years later, a bunch of British researchers working in the area heard the story of a local having found a cave, and reached the house of the local. The passage of years didn’t alter his superstitions and he initially refused he had discovered any such entrance. After a couple of years he came around and took the researchers to the cave… and ladies and gentlemen, that is how the largest cave in the world was discovered!

So; the cave itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site (as is the entire national park), and you can visit the largest cave in the world only via a guided tour that will set you back a measly $3000. No, that is not a typo. That price was a tad bit beyond my budget, so I settled for some of the other cheaper and more accessible caves, and they were stunning… makes me wonder how amazing this Hang Son Doon cave to command a price like that and still have people that go!

The area is still developing and there’s just a few hostels and guest houses around, but the hostel I stayed at, the Easy Tiger, pretty much ran the place (in a good way, I might add). They hold briefing talks every morning where they talk about the area for free and you can book tours to the caves, that they don’t run themselves, via them, or even on your own. While they are obviously running a business and probably make their money, they employ locals from the area that are likely to lose their way of living once tourism really picks up in this town, teach them English, and overall help uplifting the entire community. They also serve delicious western food and make a mean peanut butter. In short, recommend.

Unfortunately, since Phong Nha is in Vietnam, it gets their fair bit of party kids. While checking in, I overheard a shirtless guy talking to someone at the reception telling him that their group has been in Phong Nha for 3 days, but they really haven’t had the time to explore any of the area because they’ve just been partying hard. He wanted to know what they can do in a few quick hours before they leave Phong Nha to go to their next destination. The guy at the reception took a few seconds to process this, but was too nice to mock this fool, and actually gave him suggestions. My question: why do you need to fly to Vietnam just to drink? Just stay at home and save your parents some money.

Later that night, an English lad came to the dorm around 4 am, unzipped his pants in the middle of the room and peed. Right there, in the middle of the room. I guess that’s why he needed to fly to Vietnam – there’s no way he could get away with that back home.

Peeing also seemed like a tourist trend in the town. I spotted an old Chinese man peeing in the middle of one of the caves with absolute disregard to the cave’s heritage, the security guards, or the women around. Remember how I previously talked about how Chinese tourists are the worst? Add this to the list of reasons.

Now here’s some pictures of the area:

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View from the hostel hammocks (that I may or may not have fallen out of).
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Inside of the Phong Nha cave.

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Casual pee session in the caves.
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Swimming through one of the newly discovered caves.

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After Phong Nha, I had a short recovery stay in Hanoi and made my way up to SaPa, which should be on everyone’s places to see list in Vietnam. On the recommendation of a friend, I stayed at a hostel in Ta Van Village, which is about an hour by road from SaPa, but it’s where most of the trekking tours you do from SaPa will take you. I think this post is all about recommending hostels, because I strongly recommend this one too. It’s called My Tra, and is run by an Aussie bloke called Andrew. He gives you tips on how you can trek in the area along with a hand drawn map, and the beds and food at the hostels are some of the best I’ve slept in / eaten in Vietnam.

SaPa, and the area around it are all rice terraces, the temperature is cooler than anywhere in Vietnam – even in the summer – and overall it was a great place for me to wind down and relax. I spent more nights here than I had planned on, and I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

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Right outside the hostel.

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Fansipan cable car.

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Onward to HaLong Bay from there for me, where they have emerald waters, junk boat tours, and loads of floating garbage.

Over-tourism has ruined what this place probably was, and while the natural beauty of the place is still visible, it would be a lot better if the locals stopped disposing of their waste into the waters. I was in HaLong only for a couple of nights, and other than the time a Spanish dude in the bunk above me, picked up my towel lying on my bed while I was away, used it, didn’t bother putting it back on my bed, pretended he only spoke Spanish when I saw the towel on his bed and confronted him about it, and then told me (in English) that he thought it was the ‘room towel’, nothing particularly eventful happened.

I did a HaLong Bay tour, rode kayaks, did a small viewpoint trek, rode bikes across the island, drank a few beers, played some card games, and ate some delicious Vietnamese food.

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My final stop in Vietnam was Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, and the museum hub of Vietnam (along with HCMC).

My departure date from Vietnam would mark the last month of my adventure, and I wanted to spend time by myself. So while I stayed in a hostel (a party one at that too, because it was cheap), I spent my days walking around the city, exploring the museums, and drinking loads and loads of Vietnamese coffee.

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St. Joseph’s cathedral.
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Shards of an American fighter plan at the Military History Museum.

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Central Vietnam

Between the major cities of Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south lies a bunch of ancient Vietnamese towns and cities with an influence of cultures and a centre-point for one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam war.

My trip northwards started with the ancient town of Hoi An – a UNESCO world heritage site. The town itself is a small and easily accessible on bike or foot (no motorised vehicles inside the main town), and the highlights of the little town are in a cluster, a few metres apart from each other. Hoi An was the base of spice traders in ancient Vietnam, and the settlements included people from Japan, Portugal, the Netherlands and India. By night, the town transforms into this magical place lit by lanterns; there’s restaurants at every step, but the whole town makes you feel like you’re back in the 15th century (albeit one where people have iPhones and selfie sticks).

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Hoi An by night.
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Japanese bridge – a wooden bridge linking the Japanese quarters to those of the Chinese.

Hoi An is famous for its Cau Lau noodles – a dish of noodles and pork only available in Hoi An. The noodles are delicious, as is the case with most Asian food, but nothing to revere in my opinion.

I also had my first experience with bia hoi in Hoi An – a local draft beer brewed fresh daily and sold in bottles measuring around 700 ml for around 15 cents! Like the rest of Asia, where there is cheap alcohol, there will be 19 year old kids wanting to get shit-faced; and Hoi An, in spite of its culture, is no exception. But the bars are less than a handful, which makes them easy to avoid.

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The highlight of any trip to Central Vietnam is ride a bike through the Hai Van pass – rated by Top Gear as one of the top 10 scenic rides in the world – as every tourist shop will also point out to you. You can rent a bike, strap on your haversack to it, and make this beautiful journey on your own, or you can have an ‘Easy Rider’ do the riding while you sit at the back of his bike taking in the views. It had been raining on and off during my time there, and even though I really wanted to ride through the mountains myself, getting an Easy Rider seemed like as safer option.

My first stop was the Marble Mountains of Da Nang: five marble mountains representing the 5 elements. The mountains have Buddhist sanctuaries all over, and only the mountain representing water is open to tourists to ascend. The view from the top – breathtaking (mainly because you’ll be breathless after the ascend).

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Top of the Marble Mountains.

The next stop was the Hai Van pass…

Now, there are times when pictures and videos cannot do justice to an experience, and riding through the Hai Van pass is one of those things. There’s wind in your hair, the temperature is just right, and riding through the pass is a feast for the eyes. I was glad I chose to get an Easy Rider because it started raining while we were reaching the top of the mountain, and you’re literally riding through the clouds with a very short visibility range. The rain clouds also made it pointless for me to stop at the top of the pass and climb up to the very tip for the viewpoint – I wouldn’t be able to see more than a metre ahead of me, but well…

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I was forced to do this, I swear. 

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After we got off the pass, my Easy Rider took me to a waterfall where ‘only the locals go’. Everybody knows that’s tourist talk for ‘it’s where all the tourists and maybe some locals go,’ but I was in for a surprise. The waterfall was actually a place where only locals go, and I was the only non-Vietnamese person there besides an older white man who had married a local.

The Vietnamese were fascinated by my non-white appearance, and the kids were mesmerised by my GoPro. They passed it around and looked at the exact same view in front of their eyes through the screen on the GoPro like it was magic. An old man swam up to me with his friend who spoke some English. They asked me what I did, and were very curious to know what I thought about Vietnamese women. I found out why a few minutes later when the non-English speaking guy offered my his daughter’s hand in marriage…

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While I was being propositioned, my Easy Rider arranged for a simple, but delicious lunch by the waterfall – spicy grilled fish, steamed rice, cabbage and soy sauce – and a lot of Huda beers (a beer company from Hue). He got us 6 cans, but only had 1 because he was riding, which left me with 5 beers to guzzle.

The journey ended in the imperial city of Hue, where I said goodbye to my Easy Rider who would now make the scenic ride back to Hoi An by himself… what an amazing job to have.

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Hue was the capital of one of the Vietnamese dynasties a few hundred years ago, and is host to what is called the Imperial City of Hue: a walled palace that was the seat of the king.

Being at the border of what was Northern Vietnam and Southern Vietnam, Hue was the place where the bloody Battle of Hue took place. One of the longest and bloodiest battles between the Americans and the Vietcong. This also means a lot of the imperial city has been destroyed, but what remains is still pretty amazing.

I’ll spare you the details since Wikipedia has all the information you need about the battle; so here are some pictures of the Imperial City.

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Dalat, Vietnam

It started out as an amazing first night. My hostel hosted these amazing family dinners where pretty much the entire hostel ate a local meal with the family that ran the hostel – all you can eat Vietnamese spring rolls, a salad, a soup, a vegetable, a chicken dish, and rice… all for a pricey $3!

I made friends with a group of Dutch girls over dinner (the Dutch are easily the nicest people I’ve met on my travels), and we decided to go out on the town. Our first stop was the Escape Bar which is a multi-level bar that’s designed like a maze. You buy your drinks at the entrance, and then make your way through multiple stairwells, each randomly breaking out into a cluster of tables / a dance floor / an area full of quirky artefacts / toilets / another bar to buy more drinks. You have to stick together as a group, or you aren’t going to find your friends again. I’d have pictures of the bar, but one of the Dutch girls was designated photographer for the night, and she left the morning after, without exchanging coordinates.

From the Escape Bar, it was another bar, and then another, and then another, until we ran into a bunch of partying locals on the street, who insisted we share their barbecue and beers with them; we did. We also sang a couple of Westlife songs – the only English songs they knew!

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Dalat street party. 

After that, we ended up at the only night club open till 4 am in Dalat… 2 blocks from my hostel. The club was packed: fancy locals in VIP tables on the sides of the club, not-so-fancy locals in little clusters all around the club, and tourists strictly in the centre of the club on the dance floor. The clubs have a weird no drinks on the dance floor policy, I guess they’re worried someone will smash their beer bottles on another’s head? Props to them for trying…

As we were dancing, we noticed a fight break out at the VIP tables. One of the locals grabbed the other by the collar and shoved him all the way to the DJ’s booth. Now the DJ, not wanting the crowd to miss the spectacle, promptly turned off the music so that everyone’s eyes are towards the action. Right on cue, the collar grabber pulled out a knife and stabbed the other guy right in the neck!

Now, there are some people who like to stand and watch fights like these, but not me… I fucking ran! My hostel friends, just like me, ran with. We told the bouncer at the door what happened, and he insisted we get out of there immediately as well; like we needed more convincing.

We ran maybe a block until we were a fair distance from the club, and right outside the little alley where my hostel was, we met some other people from the hostel smoking cigarettes. Clear from any danger (or so we thought), we were narrating our story to them, when we notice some shouting from the direction of the club and the guys from the club were now brawling on the streets with machetes! We ran again, this time straight to the hostel.

We were later told the two guys originally involved probably belonged to rival gangs. And sure, maybe they did, BUT WHO BRINGS KNIVES AND MACHETES TO A NIGHT CLUB! AND HOW DO YOU CONCEAL THEM!

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Anyway, Dalat is a tiny city / town, 6 hours north of Ho Chi Minh City, and the French came here to escape the blistering heat of Ho Chi Minh City. For being this close to the city, I was surprised by how cool the temperatures were. Dropping to 15 degrees at night in the middle of the Vietnamese summers, the hostels here don’t even have air conditioners installed. They don’t need it.

The place is filled with French style villas, and they’ve even got their own Eiffel Tower (it’s a telephone tower – but under renovation currently).

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There’s a lot of trekking you can do in the surrounding hills, and some canyoning as well. I enthusiastically signed up for a canyoning trip, and then proceeded to get very drunk (night of the stabbing), so I did my canyoning trip hungover. A lot of fun, but would not recommend.

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Similar to the Escape Bar is the Dalat Crazy House, which is a home / hotel that was built by the lady who was the teacher to the guy who built the Escape Bar. Quirky house, but I can’t imagine this being a peaceful hotel to stay in – there were over a hundred tourists walking around. It has a nice aerial view of Dalat though.

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Classic Asian girl pose. 

In spite of my experiences though, which I believe was a one off, Dalat is one of my favourite places in Vietnam. The family run hostels, weather, food, and coffee make it the perfect getaway.

Most tourists travelling Vietnam go to the old city of Hoi An from Dalat, but it’s a really long bus journey, so I decided to stop by the beaches of Nha Trang and break up the travel time. But it’s a city made literally just for the Russians – they’re everywhere and more in number than the locals – and everything is either in Vietnamese or Russian.

It’s supposed to be a good spot to scuba dive from in Vietnam though, but I’m poor, so I didn’t go. For what it’s worth, here’s a picture of the beach at Nha Trang.

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

I started my Vietnam journey with the lovely city of Ho Chi Minh. Originally called Saigon, but rechristened after the northern Vietnamese (Vietcong) won the war against southern Vietnam. Not many know about the Vietnam war, and the reasons behind it (included me, until this trip), so I’ll start this post with a bit of background. What I say may sound opinionated (it is), and it’s very likely that I have missed mentioning, or perhaps I may not even be aware of, some of the facts surrounding the war. But this is what I understand of the situation:

Vietnam was a French colony and under the French, like every other country under foreign rule, they were oppressed. Towards the end of WWII, the attitude of oppressed nations (including Vietnam) changed. The fight for freedom was gaining traction, and it was getting harder for the oppressors, especially the allies of WWII, to continue to hold their colonies while stopping Germany from doing the same in Europe – they couldn’t take a noble stance at the UN if they themselves committed atrocities outside Europe.

Vietnam demanded independence, but the French didn’t want that; the riches they were looting from Vietnam were too valuable to let go of. France had suffered heavily in WWII, and sought the help of the United States in controlling Vietnam. Under Ho Chi Minh (the leader of the Worker’s Party of Vietnam), however, the Vietnamese declared independence from the French rule. The details aren’t necessary (nor do I know them well enough), but as a result of this declaration of independence, Vietnam was split into two. Ho Chi Minh’s party controlled the north, while the French (with the help of the USA) indirectly controlled the south – installing a Vietnamese puppet to rule the south. By the mid 1950s though, the French had more or less left Vietnam, and the southern Vietnamese cause was aided and controlled only by the USA.

The Vietcong began their attempts to free the south and unify Vietnam as one independent nation. The Vietcong were a communist regime, while the south of Vietnam was an attempt at democracy. The USA didn’t want this. They wanted Vietnam (or at least southern Vietnam) to be a democracy – because they didn’t want communism in more countries of the world. Why was this USA’s problem? Your guess is as good as mine. But from what I understand, they were financially (and politically) motivated – war is, after all, the best kind of business. And while the USA didn’t ‘officially’ enter the war against Vietnam until 1965, they long funded the war by aiding the southern Vietnamese.

On the flip-side, Russia, along with a few other communist nations decided to support the Vietcong. If USA was supporting the south, the Russians probably found it fit to support the north. With this, Vietnam ended up being a battleground that continued the cold war between the communist regimes of Russia and the democratic nation of USA. The southern Vietnamese were armed with US provided helicopters, tanks, bombs, guns and other ammunition, while Russia and China took care of the Vietcong. And though the battle went on for decades, and the casualties were mainly Vietnamese.

The Vietnamese were basically pawns. The US did everything they could to force the Vietcong to retreat, including the use of Agent Orange, but the Vietcong had some serious fight in them. In spite of being repeatedly bombed by the USA: every single day, for years and years, the Vietcong did not give in. Through the war, the USA dropped 7 million tons of bombs in Vietnam – that’s more than double the amount dropped in Europe and Asia in WWII! As for the chemical warfare, please Google ‘Agent Orange’ to see the consequences of what the chemical did to the locals.

In the end, the Vietcong proved to be too resilient. They were masters of guerrilla warfare, and although USA didn’t officially lose the war – they withdrew forces from southern Vietnam, which led to the downfall of the southern Vietnamese regime – it seems pretty clear that it was a war that they were not likely to win.

A badass, war-movie like interaction took place when the Vietcong army entered Saigon, broke through what is now called the Reunification Palace (post-war name to signify the reunification of the north and south of Vietnam), and entered the cabinet room where General Duong Van Minh, the leader of the southern Vietnamese forces, along with his advisors were waiting. I quote from Wiki: “The revolution is here. You are here,” Minh said. He added, “We have been waiting for you so that we could turn over the government.” Colonel Bui Tin, the commander of the Vietcong curtly replied, “There is no question of your transferring power. Your power has crumbled. You cannot give up what you do not have.”

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Reunification Palace.

Coming back to the city as it is today, they have the War Remnants Museum that gives you, admittedly, a pro-Vietcong view of the war. But the museum is worth a visit. They have a whole section dedicated to the horrific consequences of Agent Orange – and the pictures made my insides churn. There’s a lot of American tanks, helicopters and planes on display in the courtyard outside the museum, and they are pretty cool.

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Courtyard outside the War Remnants Museum.
The city also has a lovely, French style post office, as well as a French built cathedral called the Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon.
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Outside of the post office.
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Inside of the post office.
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Notre Dame Saigon.

A short drive away from Ho Chi Minh City, there is a town by the name of Cu Chi, that has what remains of the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. During the war, most of the fighting took place in the middle of Vietnam by the border between the north and the south. But the Vietcong found a way to bring the battle to the south. They took the sea route from the north, and went all around Vietnam to Cambodia, from where they entered the mainland, moved northwards, and then cut east to Cu Chi in Vietnam.

If you want to see how the Vietcong fought, this is the place to go. Masters of guerrilla warfare, these locals were farmers by the day, and soldiers by night. They used these tunnels as a place to hide, as well as a place to eat, sleep, store weapons, and sneak up on the enemy. The network forms a part of a larger network of underground tunnels, and the Cu Chi Tunnels themselves are around 120kms long – stretching all the way to Cambodia. The tunnels themselves are so tiny, it’s amazing how these soldiers moved through them. The tunnels are a measly 60 centimetres by 80 centimetres, and the only way to move was crawling horizontally on their bellies.

The tourist accessible spot of the Cu Chi Tunnels are some of the few tunnel networks that have been preserve by the Vietnamese government, and a lot of the tunnels collapsed during the war because of the bombings. There’s an original entry point that you can briefly enter into to see what it was like to be in the tunnels, and there’s also a 100m stretch of tunnel that they’ve more than doubled in size through which tourists can enter to see what it was like being in the tunnels: claustrophobic, cramped, terribly hot, and tiring – in spite of them being king-sized.

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One of the original entrances to the tunnels.

I also visited the Mekong Delta, which is a vast network of rivers and rivulets that the Vietnamese use for trade and travel.

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Cruising the Mekong Delta.

In terms of food, Ho Chi Minh City offers pretty much every kind of cuisine you could want. I stuck to Vietnamese food for the major part. I love bahn mi, and it’s probably one of the few good things the French did to Vietnam: they gave them the recipe to a perfect baguette. During my tour of the Mekong Delta there was also some snake infused rice wine on offer. It’s rice wine with some snake poison (the alcohol makes it harmless) and the snake itself (for added zing maybe?). A cool souvenir to take back from Vietnam.

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Ready to drink snake infused rice wine.
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Take away bottles for tourists.

A lot of people don’t like Ho Chi Minh City, but that’s probably because they are expecting a Bangkok like experience. I really liked the city, its history, and as is standard with most of Southeast Asia, the people.

 

Hong Kong

Reluctantly, but because my expiring visa, I had to leave Bali and make my way to my next destination: Hong Kong. I had a connection in Singapore, and I don’t know what it was, but I was really tired when I got on the plane in Bali, but I just passed out. I haven’t slept like that on a plane, and when I woke up, we were already docked at the gate in Singapore. I quickly got up from my seat, picked up my bag from the overhead bin, and got off the plane: WITHOUT PICKING UP MY BELOVED KINDLE FROM THE SEAT POCKET! 😦

As you all know, I was travelling during my birthday this year, and obviously haven’t received any gifts from pretty much any of you. I am willing to forgive the delay in return for a Kindle (not the cheap one please) from any kind soul who feels like getting me one. Please do text me separately and let me know.

Now, Hong Kong is not part of the banana pancake trail, and rightly so; it’s almost like a European city with European city rates. Hostels are tiny and expensive, and they’ve got 3 tier bunk beds in an already cramped space. The food is amazing though, and there’s malls everywhere. In fact, there’s only malls. It was hard to hold back because Hong Kong does not have any sales tax, so clothes, shoes, perfumes and electronics are cheaper than pretty much anywhere else . I was there for 10 days, and I felt like it was a few days too much for Hong Kong. Most people stay for no more than 2 or 3 days. But there’s something about big cities that I just love. I like staying in small towns and villages, but for the long term, it’s always going to be a city for me.

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In terms of the touristy stuff Hong Kong has a few things to offer, and they are all quite nice. But even though I had 10 days, I didn’t get to Victoria Peak / the Peak Tram – the lines were just insane – and I’ve been there many years back already. The captions with pictures below are sufficient explanations for the tourist spots.

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Victorian era cannon that’s fired at noon everyday.
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Cable car in Tung Chung.
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Big Buddha.
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Cable car views on the way back.
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Temple Street night market.
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Lovely Chinese temple.

Hong Kong has dim sum shops (obviously), and dim sums are my favourite things to eat (right after pasta). I had loads of them. There’s a bunch of Michelin star restaurants in Hong Kong, and some of them are surprisingly cheap! By Michelin star restaurant standards anyway. But something all the restaurants in Hong Kong do, much to my chagrin, is serve tea with every meal. If it were free, I wouldn’t care; but it’s not. You need to shell out anything between HK$ 3 to 15 for the tea – whether you want to drink it or not. I don’t drink tea, so it was a few HK$ wasted with every meal. But I think the food made up for it.

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Noodles at Din Tai Fung

Later at night, the pier on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon have some nice spots, and it was calming just sitting by the water and watching the beautiful city by night. It would have been a lot nicer if I had a Kindle to read a book on while I sat there, so in case you skipped paragraph 2 of this post, I repeat: I am accepting Kindles as gifts.

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Looking at Hong Kong Island from Kowloon.

For my last few days, I also ran into this goofball, who brought me some delicious wine from Australia. And in spite of her bellicose nature, I think overall she was tolerable.

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I guess she’s trying to tell me it’s time for food?
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Airport goodbye… no ragrets.

From Hong Kong, I have now made my way to Vietnam (without leaving anything else behind on the plane – thank God), and it’s been such an adventure already; so more on that soon…

Bali and the Gilis

After the emotional rollercoaster of Phnom Penh in Cambodia, my original plan was to visit Malaysia to dive in the Sipadan, but ridiculous Malaysian visa restrictions required me to apply for a visa from India / Thailand / Singapore only, which was cost prohibitive to do. So after $400 lost in flights in and out of Malaysia + internal flights to the Sipadan + non refundable Hostelworld booking advances (should have paid the $1 for flexible bookings!), I decided to make my way to Bali.

Now, Bali is, undisputedly, Indonesia’s most famous island destination. What the map doesn’t tell you though is how huge that island is. I spent close to a month on the island, and I couldn’t even visit the major areas of the island. I remember when I was still home and planning my trip, I had decided to give Indonesia 1 month where I would start in Jakarta, and then visit Yogyakarta, Bali, the Gilis, Lombok, Komodo, Florence, the Java islands, Sumatra, and maybe a few other places I can’t recollect. It all seemed doable looking at the map, but the truth is far from it. Indonesia is an archipelago of over 17,000 islands – and it would take a lifetime to visit them all. What’s more, the islands are spread out, like really really spread out, and though Indonesia has good and cheap internal flight connectivity, trying to visit Indonesia’s top spots in 30 days would be a ludicrous idea.

I started off  time on the island at the luxury tourist spot of Seminyak. I stayed at a hostel that had capsule beds (my favourite kind of dorm), and although the hostel had a party vibe that’s usually not my drift, I had a pretty good time in Seminyak. There’s the famous Potato Head Beach Club, my personal favourite: La Favella, and a bunch of other nice (and expensive) clubs and pubs. My friend Jack, who I also ran into at the start of my trip in Bangkok, was also in Bali for most of my time there, and with him, it’s always a party. We visited a few gay clubs in Seminyak as well, and I even had a Balinese Beyonce try really hard to make out with me, in spite of my resistance and polite refusals. One of they days, I even made my way down to the Single Fin sundown party all the way in Uluwatu (2 hours drive south of Seminyak), which was really nice overall.

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Jesus watching over your drinks at La Favella.

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After Seminyak, I went slightly south and stayed at the most touristy beach in Bali – Kuta Beach. While I did spend a few nights there, they were mainly to rest at night after my advanced open water qualifications dives in Nusa Penida (for manta rays!) and Tulamben (for the USS Liberty Wreck dive – a ship that was hit by a Japanese torpedo and beached near Tulamben during WWII). The dives were spectacular and definitely one of the highlights of my time in Bali.

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Shipwreck dive.
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Nusa Penida.
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Getting my tan on. 

From there I met up with Jack again and made my way to Ubud – the hippy town in the middle of Bali. Eat, Pray, Love is based in Ubud, and besides the acres and acres of rice fields (no beaches here), there are oodles of yoga centres and vegan restaurants. There’s a monkey sanctuary that I didn’t go to, but it’s probably pretty fun on the inside. I also attended my first ever yoga class (you read that right) in Ubud, and it was pretty calming and relaxing.

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Toilet in Ubud spitting truth bombs. 
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Road near the monkey sanctuary. 
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Sexy yoga pose. 

On to the Gilis from there, where we spent a few nights in Gili Trawangan – the party island of the Gilis: super trashy, followed by a few nights in Gili Air – the relaxing island of the Gilis: super nice. I also did a few fun dives while I was in the Gilis – I saw sooo many turtles – and also managed to catch a few good sunsets.

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Evenings in Gili Trawangan.
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More Gili T.
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Sunset in Gili Air.
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Last night with Jack in Gili Air.

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Dropped by Mr. Turtle’s for breakfast. 

I went back to Kuta from there where I met up with my friend Niharika who flew down for her birthday weekend. I did another couple of fun dives, went to surf school, and even visited the most famous bar / pub / club in Bali – Sky Garden!

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After Niharika left, I went to Canggu Beach, the surfer beach of Bali, and after perhaps Gili Air, this would be my favourite spot. The beaches were far less crowded and the waters were perfect for surfing.

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Overall, I really liked my time in Bali (and the Gilis). The beaches are beautiful, the food is delicious, and the people, like most of Southeast Asia, are super friendly. I hope to return some day.

Honorary mention: AVOCADO. Bali (and I think Indonesia in general) is really big on avocado… and it’s cheap! If you love avocado, and pay a mini fortune for below average avocados where you live (like I do), that’s probably added incentive to make that trip to Bali.

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Best brekky. 

PS – I realise that this post was quite drab, and that’s mainly because so much happened in that 1 month in Bali, and I’m writing about it a whole month after I left, so the stories aren’t that fresh in my mind, and it’s hard to condense it all in one post anyway. Bottom line, need to post more often.

 

Cambodia!

I’m running out of words to describe all the beautiful places and temples I’m seeing, but I’ll give this a shot.

I took the bus to Siem Reap from Cambodia and did my first ever land border crossing: it was a fun experience, and the Cambodian side has some really nice looking entry point art.

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Siem Reap is the gateway to the famous Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples, and this place alone made my trip to Cambodia worthwhile.

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The famous Angkor Wat.
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Bayon temple.
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Bayon again.
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Entry point to a cluster of temples.

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Tomb raider temple.

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I stayed at the Siem Reap hostel, and I can’t recommend them enough. It’s a lovely hostel, and pretty much everything you need is taken care of by them. They have an arrangement with the tuk-tuk drivers, so you can just tell the reception the kind of tour you want to do, and they will have a tuk-tuk driver waiting for you the next day, no price negotiations necessary. The food was amazing, and they even have a pool! I think it’s a Cambodian hostel thing, but literally all the hostels I stayed at had pools.

The Cambodians suffered a lot under the Khmer Rouge rule, and the Siem Reap hostel, as well as a lot of restaurants I went to across Cambodia, employ and help victims of the land mines, their children, etc.

Cambodians eat insects as a part of their normal life, and it would be a shame if I came all the way to Cambodia and didn’t at least sample some of them. I found a place called Bugs Cafe that was very well rated. I got the platter, which consisted of: spring roll with ants, a feuillette with red ants, a tarantula samosa, crickets and silk worms wok, and an insect skewer consisting of a scorpion, a tarantula and water bug that looked like a cockroach.

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From Siem Reap, I went down to Kampot and spent time at a hostel that doubles as a water park. They had those massive water slides that throw you a few feet up in the air!

And then my final stop: Phnom Penh. The capital city of Cambodia. I’ll keep my description of Phnom Penh brief because of the strong emotions I felt while I was there. The Khmer Rouge was a communist party that governed Cambodia in the 1970s under the directions of their leader Pol Pot. Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge committed mass genocide. They followers of the Khmer Rouge believed (or were led to believe) that the main cause of suffering of the Cambodians were the educated class and the people who lived in cities. Armed by their leaders, they arrested, tortured and killed anyone who was educated or lived in a city. A large number of people fled the cities to avoid being slaughtered. The ones who were captured were made to work in the rice fields. The Khmer Rouge government made absurd demands in the amount of rice that these workers had to produce – a feat not possible even if they actually knew how to work in the fields. People were randomly arrested, tortured barbarically until they signed confessions naming other people they had no links with – just so that the torture would stop.

They even had killing fields… a few hundred of them across Cambodia. I visited the killing fields of Phnom Penh, where they found mass graves of hundreds of people, including women and children. Since this was mass genocide, they didn’t have enough bullets to kill all these people. Plus bullets were expensive. So these barbarians had victims kneel and smashed the back of their heads with axes, swords, sticks, poles, and basically anything they could find. They would then slit their throats to make sure they were dead, and then toss their bodies in a pit filled with dead bodies. For the children, they held them by the ankles and swung them so that their heads smashed against a tree and they died. They were then tossed in the mass graves with the others. It was terrible. They say that 1 in 4 Cambodians were killed in that brief period of the Khmer Rouge rule. That’s millions of people killed for living in a city or having an education. They even arrested and killed you if you wore glasses!

The Khmer Rouge was finally overthrown with the help of the Vietnamese, but internationally, and even in the United Nations, the Khmer Rouge was recognised as the ruling party for many many years after that. That’s world politics for you. The leaders of the Khmer Rouge are still under trial, and it seems very unlikely that any of them will be brought to justice while they are alive. They’re all very very old now. The leader, Pol Pot died under house arrest, and it’s very unlikely that he was made to suffer even a little for his crimes.

I was so emotionally overwhelmed that I didn’t even bother clicking pictures at the S21 (high school converted to a jail and torture chamber) or the killing fields. Besides, I don’t think clicking pictures at places like these would even be appropriate. They exist today as a reminder of what happened, as a memory of the millions that lost their lives, and as a warning of the horrific consequences of genocide. But is the world really listening?