Month: April 2015

LAZY DAYS ON KAMPOT RIVER

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Kampot, on the south coast of Cambodia, was the breath of fresh air and relaxation we needed after the stinking hot encounters with Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam followed by Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital.

It is slightly up river from the coast and the beach town called Kep. On arrival in Kampot we tuk tukked our way out of town and up the other side of the river bank to accommodation called Naga, where we found a chilled out backpacker vibe and Blair, our Canadian friend, who we first met in Laos. Unfortunately Blair was leaving that afternoon so we just had enough time to catch up and for Blair to inform us about the various creatures living in our bamboo hut – the same one he had just checked out of.

We never got to meet the friendly frog that lived in the window frame but did become very well acquainted with the family of rats living in the wall cavity. On day one they chewed through our small backpack to finish off a pack of Oreos. The rest of the time we could hear and see them scuttling through the walls. The lack of hut-frog was more than compensated for by the variety of frogs that lived in the shared bathroom and had a particular penchant for the toilet seat and bowl.

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The toilet frog.

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The view from our guesthouse.

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Friendly neighbours.

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The start of one of the most amazing sunsets we’ve ever seen.

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We call this one ‘Maura at Sunset’

The main appeal for me was relaxing in our riverside bar and jumping into the water to cool off whenever the heat got too much. Another highlight was the amazing crab lunch at Kep market. We sat next to the shore watching people haul in crab pots while we got our hands dirty breaking into the sweetness covered in the famous Kampot pepper sauce.

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Kep Beach. Notice the Cambodian guy in the background going for a swim fully clothed.

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Catching our crab lunch.

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The famous Kampot pepper.

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Crab fingers.

The furthest we ventured was up a nearby hill on scooters to see an abandoned monstrosity of a French built casino and the even eerier newly built casino by the Cambodians, namely due to its enormous proportions and complete lack of guests. The hour long drive up the hill was along a winding road with sweeping curves and hairpin bends and as per normal the ride was the most exhilarating part, closely followed by being immersed in clouds that rolled in out of nowhere.

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Accurate road sign.

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One of the many abandoned buildings from the French colonial era.

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They had all that space and they built…..this….

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Once abandoned now hosting Easter mass.

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Before the clouds…

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…and after.

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Inside the old casino.

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In the clouds.

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The lone monk.

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On the road back down.

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WE ALREADY MISS SAIGON

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After numerous travellers told us that Saigon is a ‘get in and get out’ kind of city, our expectations for Vietnam’s largest city were very low.

It is over run by mopeds, cramped, loud and stinky, and…. we loved it! There is an air to the city that feels very unique, it has a distinctly Vietnamese feel, which is accompanied by the soundtrack of 4 million scooters. Somehow, despite it being a thousand times busier than Hanoi, it is much more enjoyable to wander through.

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Not sure what they were protesting, but definitely brave to stand in five lanes of traffic.

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The absolute highlight was our visit to the War Remnants Museum. Though highlight really isn’t the right word for it, shocking and traumatic would be a more fitting description. Focusing almost entirely on what the Vietnamese call the American War, it was mostly made up of photographic exhibitions of the different impacts of the war on the Vietnamese, including the hardest to see and comprehend: the use of Agent Orange.

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In other war-related tourist activities, we took a trip to the Chu Chi tunnels, on the outskirts of Saigon, which is a section of the maze of tunnels the Viet Cong used for communication, supply routes, defence and living quarters. The main reason to visit is to walk through the insanely tiny tunnels, which, alarmingly, have been widened for us giant westerners. I’m not claustrophobic, but as we took our first steps into the tunnel, it was very hard not to panic and I had to really concentrate on staying calm. We only walked 20 metres of the network –  and that was 15 metres too far!

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Our first stop on the tour: a workshop which employs those with disabilities, many of these a direct result of Agent Orange.

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The look of panic.

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Where’s Angela?

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There she is!

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One of the tunnel entrances, which has already been widened.

We said our goodbyes to Saigon, and to Vietnam, and, looking out over the beautiful mess of lights and traffic, we felt genuinely sad to be leaving. Our time in Vietnam has felt more like an extended holiday than strenuous backpacking, due to the spotlessly clean accommodation, easy transport and high-levels of seafood in-take. It was definitely a stark difference between the more rough and ready days of Laos. Though the touristy experience has meant that we don’t feel like we really got under the skin of the country, it has been an amazing few weeks.

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