Thursday, 20 April 2017


Of all the places on our big old trip, Bangkok was the only one that was sort of chosen for us, our fine travel agent pointing out that flying back from here saves a lot of money, and that Thailand is actually quite nice. 

We arrived and took a taxi to our hotel, eventually were allowed into our room, and we relaxed and unpacked a bit and counted the clean underwear. We wandered our to find some food, and discovered that we had arrived in the middle of the Sonkran festival, (the same new year that had been the reason for loads of decorations and the occasional water pistol in Cambodia.)

The area we were staying was near some of the biggest shopping centres and open spaces, and the weather was well into the high 30's, which gave people free rein to have the biggest mass water fights we'd ever seen. No one was safe, and in the heat we didn't mind the surprise body shots, were less keen on the full in the face ones (we researched afterwards and apparently you are supposed to use "good" water, not straight from the taps, so hopefully that was adhered to) and people were generally respectful of mobile phones (most had them in waterproof lanyards, but I didn't have that luxury)  

We knew that finding food might be tricky, and went past dozens of restaurants in the big mall without a single veggie item on the menus, but eventually found a burrito place that had the option not to add the chicken, so we ate there. We came back via the Erawan shrine, where people decorated the idols with yellow things. Mostly marigold garlands but the occasional bottle of pop would turn up too. 

Our first full day was the height of the new year celebrations, and we took the bus (it was made of wood, but free) to the old town, and visited wat phra, the huge complex of temples which included the temple of the reclining Buddha. Loads of spectacular pinnacles, sparkly rooftops, decorated statues, rows upon rows of golden Buddha statues, and the epically huge reclining Buddha, which photos don't do justice to. 

We tried to visit the royal palace, but there was a parade happening later in the day, and the whole area was cordoned off. Unless you were an official mourner (dressed all in black, from Thailand, that sort of thing) you weren't coming in. 

The Thai king passed away last year, after over 70 years on the throne, and the year of official mourning is evident all over Bangkok - every building has black and white drapes around it, huge photos of the king with shrines in front and messages of condolence are outside every building, and lots of people are wearing black ribbons. 

The journey back to our district took forever on the bus (which we had to pay for this time, possibly because it had air conditioning), largely because the whole world wanted to be part of the water fights again. 

On Sunday, Sonkran had finished, and the streets returned to normal. We tried to take a riverboat service to the old town, but that wasn't running (google being rubbish) so we got a bus instead, hopping off at the golden mount, a temple atop a hillock, with a spiral walkway up. Bells were the big thing for this one, so we rang a lot of them as we climbed, including an epic gong, and the wind kept a constant jingling going of the tiny ones you could pay to dedicate (write your name in sharpie) and hang up from the eaves. At the top level we visited the shrine, ate an ice cream, and then went up on the roof to admire the golden pinnacle, and the panoramic views. 

A quick trip to the metal roofed temple at Wat Ratchanatdaram and a pause for a smoothie and a waffle, (it was still high thirties) and we riverboat to take us to Wat Arun, the sunset temple, covered in beautiful and intricate white and patterned mosaics, with demons and little wizards holding up the roofs.

In the evening we ate a pad Thai (Lisa's had something odd in it, we don't think it was meat, but we don't know what it might have been), and drank a mai Thai and all was well. 

On Monday we took the metro to the central railway station, and bought two tickets for the two hour journey to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand. It cost us about 35p for the tickets, and we sat in comfy leather seats, and looked out of the window at rural Thailand whooshing by as people tried to sell us food and drink in the carriage. 

On arrival we took a walk past the hundreds of tuktuks all trying to sell us tours, through the most rancid smelling market I have ever known, paused to eat crepes and drink smoothies, and then we hit the temples hard. 

The temples here are a combination of ruins, rebuilt from the ruins, and rebuilt to show what they would have been like (if concrete had been available back then) but they were very spectacular, and we spent ages wandering around.

A tuktuk back to the station, and a short wait for our train (we bought tickets for e express, which were more expensive, at about 40p each) which on arrival was completely rammed, so we stood crushed up against random people for the first hour of the journey, which was not amazingly pleasant. We ate pizza for dinner! 

We took the tube back and then walked the last bit through Lumpini park, where lisa had run the previous evening. 

Our final day, and we did the royal palace, another incredible complex of temples and shrines, including the emerald Buddha, the palace itself (not allowed in, but we watched the guards parade around) and an exhibition on the Queen's wonderful clothing through the years. 

We then bought some trinkets in the backpacker district, including some first class haggling, and took the bus back to the mall, where we ate Japanese food, and then got the packing done for our early flight in the morning. 

Monday, 17 April 2017


Cambodia for us was all about the temples. We stayed in Siem Riep, and for our first full day, we had a driver and a proper car with AC take us round all the main temples. Starting in Angkor Wat, with the classic multi pinnacled towers, and amazing friezes along every wall, we then did Bayon, with benevolent smiling faces adorning every tower, and a thousand little corridors to get lost in, the Elephant Terrace, then Tomanon, and Ta Prohm  (the amazing overgrown one from the Tomb Raider movie) there was one more on the way home - banteay kdei, but we'd been out and about for about 7 hours by the time we got back.

Day two proper we lazed about in the morning, and had a swim in the pool, before hopping in a tuk tuk and going back to Bayon. We found a shady spot and just sat and watched the world (literally, a tourist from every country) go by. We immersed ourselves in a beautiful place, until we ran out of water and went out to the next bit.

Baphuon, was a small one we missed the day before, part of the royal palace.

We spent some more time at the elephant terrace, finding some of the hidden bits, and moving on to the leper King terrace, a 6 layer sculptured terrace.

Day three was an early start and a long drive out to Beng Malaya, a huge and still in its fallen state complex, with more trees growing through it, tunnels and piles of stones to explore and walkways to climb and finally Bantea Srei, an intricately decorated "ladies" temple, quite small, but extremely beautiful.

We had lunch at a really posh restaurant - more amazing sea bass for me, loofah for Lisa, and we shared the most amazing banana fritters for pudding!


We went to Laos! Before we started planning Laos was little more than a useful answer in pointless, but after visiting we came to be rather fond of the place. For the next few years, a page in our passports will be fully devoted to it.

We started off with a climb up the steps to the mount Phusi temple, where the buddha's footprint (it is about 3 feet long) , and a lot of Buddha statues can be found. This is also one of the best places to view the famous Laotian sunset, but we didn't fancy sharing it with the hundred or so backpackers, or waiting an hour and a half for it to finish setting (it was already looking beautiful and deep red) so we went down the other side and found some dinner. I was delighted to discover sweet and sour chicken under "laos dishes" and he local beer was delicious. (I didn't dare try the draft, which worked out at about 10p a glass. I love my ability to not spend 4 hours a day in the toilet).

The next day we did some serious loafing in the room with the air con on full blast. Eventually we got hungry so went and found coffee and foot at a cafe, then walked around the other temples and had a boat ride at sunset, ticking "see the sunset over the Mekong in Laos" off my list of cool things I didn't know I wanted to do until I'd done them.

The temperatures were hitting 38°c so we were quite lethargic and taking our time getting anywhere. We visited the royal palace (they exiled their royals in the 70s, but still don't mind showing their old cars to the tourists) and drank more coffee and generally chilled out.

On our final day we took a minibus out to the massive waterfall, which was beautiful and spectacular at the top, but also had pools where you would paddle and swim underneath, so I cemented my position as someone who frolics under waterfalls, but I didn't actually swim, as the water seemed to be full of those fish that bite the loose skin off your feet, and I was quite startled.

Then we took a plane to Cambodia!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Hanoi and ha long bay.

We stayed a single night in Hanoi, enjoying the street party that seems to kick off on a Sunday evening, with groups of kids playing on closed roads around the lake, live music and general fun and frivolity. A late lunch of pizza meant we didn't need to eat until quite late, when we found a little gem of a restaurant, named Aubergine, we rolled our own spring rolls, I drank Hanoi beer, and we generally ate ourselves silly.

It was an early start the next morning, and a bus ride from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, stopping half way for a toilet break, and the opportunity to buy a two tonne water feature or marble elephant (we declined) it was a total of three and a half hours on the bus, and it had less legroom than Ryanair.

It was totally worth it though - as we boarded a little boat, which took us to treasure junk, a lovely two deck, plus sun deck on top ship, with masts and cold drinks and comfy beds. We started off with a five course lunch (I avoided two of them for being too heavy on the squids and prawns) then we relaxed as we cruised into the depths of the bay.

We stopped off to go into a cave, and then again to visit a secret beach, before dinner was served, this time it was another 5 courses, but I only needed to miss one. We drank some wine, and called it our anniversary celebration (technically we were a day late).

The next morning we woke deathly early, did tai chi on the deck as the sun rose behind the magnificent islands, then had a light breakfast before heading out to a floating village. We were rowed from there to a pearl farm, however, Lisa didn't want a pearl necklace, so we headed back for brunch.

Our 24 hours on the boat were up, and I'd taken about 400 photos of amazing islands and cliffs and misty seas and it was lovely.

Another 3 and a half hours on the bus and we were back in Hanoi, where we ate even more amazing food and ambled around before an early night.

Next day we had brunch at a rooftop cafe, tried to visit the temple on the lake but my shorts were too short so we went back to change, then we visited the temple on the lake, before walking across town to the temple of literature, where schoolchildren were praying for good grades (with much hitting of drums and clanging of gongs)

I bought some excellent ties, and then it was back to the hotel for a final interview, and a job offer.

In the evening we jogged round the lake a few times, and then we ate at Aubergine again!

Then it was off to the airport in the morning...

Friday, 7 April 2017

Hoi An

We are a bit in love with Hoi An. Yes, it is quite touristy, an obvious destination for backpackers and proper travellers like us, but this just seemed to me to make it more welcoming, accessible and friendly. Our first evening was punctuated by me having an interview, which was after dinner, and lisa went out to the night market.

After this, lisa came back to pull me towards town, where a big festival or some sort was happening, including big dance numbers where 20 identically dressed school children would do their thing, while hundred of parents and school mates videoed them on their phones. There were illuminated lanterns, sculptures lit up on the water, food stalls and the night market was also in full flow, so we had a look around, bought some (small) souvenirs and had a mango based cocktail.

Our next day was a cycling tour to the Me Sung temples. Just us and a guide, on three slightly ropy mountain bikes, squeaking into the countryside. We went through farmland, we saw a bull being carried on a trailer behind a scooter, we ate boiled peanuts, every schoolchild called "hello" as we went past, and one even raced us on his bike. I failed to try snails at the market, and it was a lovely way to see come more of the Vietnamese countryside.

We stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe. There were a few locals there, and the family of the owners (2 beautiful toddlers, 2 quiet girls, and 2 adorable boys, King and Bing, aged 8 and 7, but dressed alike and looking like twins, they were keen to practise their English conversing with lisa on favourite colours, pets, school, sports, and even singing Scarborough Fair (I sang, not Lisa.)

We ate Pho and made spring rolls, and drank chilled iced tea, and it was all lovely.

After lunch we got to the temple car park, left our bikes, and took a little shuttle to the temples themselves. Overgrown and fallen down over a thousand years, and then bombed by the Americans too, they've been restored or rebuilt to varying extents, but each cluster was interesting to walk around, cool to hide in, and fascinating to hear about.

The journey back was by minibus, our bikes stowed behind.

Our last full day in Hoi An was spent enjoying the old town. The ticket you buy gets you into five attractions, so we saw a very old house, the communal hall, and a temple in the morning, and a family chapel and the local museum in the afternoon.  After this we had a massage (both of us in the same room, with the girls climbing all over us to sort out pretty much everything above the waste) my favourite moment was when I realised he plinky plonks musak in the room was actually playing a version of "little drummer boy."

Then it was time to pack up again and prepare for the city again in the morning...

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Ho Chi Minh City

A slightly longer flight, almost two hours, and we were in Vietnam! My 40th country, not long after my 40th birthday (I'm now using a combination of the pointless criteria, with a caveat for actual separate stamps in my passport, so Hong Kong and Macau count separately, not as part of china, but I've removed the Vatican from the list.

Our taxi ride to the hotel was a lot of fun, with a thousand motorbikes swarming around us, lots of good natured tooting, and the enjoyable game of trying to outdo each other on the heavily laden scooters, our favourites being whole families of four, sandwiching children between adults and handlebars, huge boxes on the back, containing TVs, beautiful girls riding side saddle and my favourite, 15 full water-cooler bottles, strung on every available surface.

With three full days we didn't waste too much time, so we braved walking around the block in 35° heat, and buying crisps and sushi (and obscenely cheap beer) in a grocery store, and called it an afternoon well spent.

For the evening, we met up with Paul, who has been living in Ho Chi Minh city for a few years now, and had already provided us with all manner of useful advice for our arrival. He'd found a nice restaurant just down the road, and we ate honey chicken, tofu, and morning glory with garlic (our new favourite thing), and Lisa's wine was about a quarter of the total cost of the meal!

We walked back via the big town square, where pretty much everyone was just hanging around and enjoying the cool evening (it was down to 29° by 10pm.)

Day one proper we spent on a proper tour, taking a fast boat up the river to the Mekong delta, visiting families and drinking coconut milk and rice wine, admiring the various uses of the river bank, from rice production, timber treatment, heavy industry and general fishing and farming. Lunch was a huge affair with many courses of spring rolls, tofu galore for lisa, and chicken and fish for me. It was at an orphanage (although mostly it seemed to be more of a foster place, where kids can get an education without having to work on a farm as soon as they are old enough) so some of us played football with the kids afterwards
, before being dragged back to the boat. We took a ride on little rowing boats, and visited a farm, which was also home to the biggest snake we had ever seen.

Our second day, Paul was off work for most of the day, so he showed us some of the prettier outdoor bits of the city, taught us how to cross the roads, we visited the cathedral, and the post office and found little cafes and exciting lunch places. One of the cafes was just in what looked like an apartment block, but when you looked closely every apartment was a different cafe.

When he went to work in the evening, we visited the opera house, where they have the AO show which is pretty much the Vietnamese cirque de soleil- taking various aspects of Vietnamese culture and turning it into a thrilling set of dances and acrobatic skits.

That evening (having had a hefty lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, introducing us to wonders such as lotus flower seeds) we went to the bar on the roof of the xxxxx hotel and looked down at the fountains on the square, and the statue of Uncle Ho, while drinking cocktails (and in my case eating chips. Yes, sorry, I fancied some chips.)

Day three we spent the morning in the National art gallery (which was really good, contrary to the comments in our guide book) while the other museums were closed for lunch, then we visited the palace, and the War Remnants museum, before finding dinner at the Secret Garden - a rooftop restaurant serving amazing food with cockerels in (not too tiny) cages and nice views.

We left Ho Chi Minh city early the next morning to head to Hà Nội.