Flying home to London for a very pressing ENGAGEMENT!

19 Feb

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You’ll miss the puns won’t you? Go on admit it, you will. So firstly apologies for the delay in this our final blog (which we are actually writing at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport) but we have been a bit busy the last weeek or so scuba diving, lying on the beach, and celebrating my agreeing to marry Kieran! Yes folks, if you haven’t heard already, I am officially betrothed, and you probably have heard because I think i have told just about everyone by now ;)

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I have also taken a lot of photos of my new hand-with-ring in various guises; you will have to accept this if you wish to continue reading.

So how did he ask?! Well ladies and gentleman, it was pretty classic I can tell you. After a night out enjoying some dinner and drinks with friends, Kieran did this:

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This is what is known in Thailand as ‘a bucket’ (original hey?). Basically, it is a small bottle of some spirit or other with a mixer poured into a bucket and drunk with straws. I think you are ideally meant to share them between a few people….

Well, with a little Thai courage in him, Kieran decided that he couldn’t wait until Valentines Day to ask me to marry him (because that would be really cheesy, right?) and instead when we got back to our room at around midnight that night, i turned around to find him on one knee. Obviously my initial reaction was ‘What’s wrong with you! Why are you on the floor?’…. And then he produced the ring and all was clear…(ish…I was still a little tipsy). Cue a few screams (sorry neighbours) and a lot of late night skype calls, and before we knew it it was 3am in Koh Tao and definitely time to turn in…

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But not before a quick selfie or 2 of the happy moment! With hindsight, it’s a shame we aren’t wearing more clothes here, but i think it only proves to highlight exactly how surprising this proposal was- I was ready for bed when it happened!

So what better way to celebrate that week than with a romantic scuba dive, with an impromptu phot shoot on the dive boat:

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I especially love how little the other people in this second photo care about our happy news, or that they are in our photo. Scuba divers are very focused though to be fair.

Actually, we enjoyed a few days of minor celebrity as various aquaintences approached me at Big Blue and exclaimed ‘So it was YOU than got engaged!’ whilst simultaneously grabbing my left hand. I won’t lie: I loved it :)

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Even icy cold red wine tastes better with my bling.

Anyway enough about me (!), I’ll pass you over to Kieran for his version of events before we have to board….

No pressure then Becky, i mean Fiance. Well guys what can i say? I had the ring hidden away for 6 weeks of the trip and was fighting with myself for a moment in time, a chink of light that would be my chance to pounce. When it happened it was almost as surprising to myself as it was for Rebecca. I tried and failed to keep it together as i did the old fashioned -down on one knee- thing. It felt so wonderful though when she said yes to me and our future together.
There will be lots more said and written but Im the luckiest man in the world, we may be leaving a sunny Bangkok for a cold Britain but im on another plain altogether, closer to the stars.

Peace and Love people.

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Scuba dooby doo – We love Big Blue

9 Feb

Hey folks, Kieran here, I have to preface this Blog by saying that Rebecca very kindly allowed me to write about my learning to Scuba here. If you are keen (Keane) on reading about her first time here in Koh Tao may we refer you to October 2011 Blog.
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Look at the colour of us! Who knew?
So we left Bangkok last Sunday 2nd Feb, the day of the general elections in Thailand, there were(are) massive protests against the Government at present but on Sunday last we were just more concerned about getting to the beach (#soz). We got the late train from Bangkok which was due to arrive at Chumphon at 04.13.. Brilliant, bearing in mind these trains and the train guard give you no indication of where the heck you are (!). Our delayed train finally got in around 05.00 and we were on a bus to the port before long. We had pre booked our ferry ahead and judging by the numbers of people it was the right move. As we left the port on the Catamaran we saw a lovely Sunrise taking place.
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We were collected by our dive school Big Blue on the other side and driven to the Beach. Rebecca had learned to dive here back in 2011 (known henceforth as PK or Pre-Kieran) and she highly recommended I learn here.
I was briefed upon arrival and told to return at 5pm to watch some introduction films and then it was off to the hotel and bed. That evening we (15 of us) sat through some introduction videos to Scuba diving, its history, the safety requirements and the equipment. The following morning I was introduced to my instructor Andy Campbell and fellow students. Amongst our group was Kip who was here from Anchorage, Alaska and who, at 50 was having a re-birth of sorts and was eager to get in amongst the fishes. We soon buddied up. When learning to Scuba Dive, your instructor will “buddy” you up with another diver/student , this is so that you can keep an eye on eachother, your air supply, your equipment and , in the very rare occasion, something happens they will assist you and keep you calm.
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Tuesday morning we had some more videos to watch and that afternoon we were in the onsite pool to get a feeling for the equipment and also the sensation of breathing compressed air. The most important thing (which is stating the obvious) is to breathe normally, to keep breathing and to stay calm.The Air in the tank is compressed so they can get loads in that tank but its quite dry in your mouth and lungs so staying hydrated is really important.
The pool, when our group finally got in was a bit …musty and visibility wasnt great to be honest but we could see Andy our instructor and we began to get used to the various hand signals and signs that we would be seeing again and again over the next few days.
Tuesday finished Rebecca and I headed off to the beach to sample some of the delicious Barbeque on offer and settled on some Barracuda..
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Delicious..
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Let me at it!
The following day we would be in the sea! Hooray! The initial dive was just for us to follow Andy and take in the sites, to regulate our breathing and just look at the fishes. It was completely bizarre and such a buzz to be below the surface and in a different world. Myself and Kip had a good understanding and were signalling “ok” to eachother throughout like the good Scuba Students we were.
The second dive we focussed on some techniques from the pool, sharing regulators/breathing equipment in case of emergency, emergency ascending etc.
Thursday morning we had our written exam (groan!). Andy had told us not to be worried and that all of the practical stuff from the pool and our dives would get us through. He wasnt wrong, we all passed the test and were ready to go!.
The final two dives on Thursday were over too quickly, we had a fun dive of spotting fish and then our last dive saw us followed by Film maker Barrie who made us do all sorts of crazy stuff underwater which, knowing me , was a really hard ask! That night in the bar each of the 3 groups who had passed their Open Water got to see their individual movies complete with soundtrack. It was brilliant and quite a night.The video will hopefully be up here within the week.
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Team Andy..
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Another beer? “ok”!
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Rebecca and Kip throw down.. Step aside!
It was quite a night but despite the high jinks we were in bed by half midnight, maybe im getting old?
After a well deserved day off i began my Advanced adventurer course on Saturday, it would be Five different dives including, Wreck dive , Deep dive, night dive (scary) , buoyancy and navigation. Myself and Kip were buddied up again and the 5 dives absolutely flew in. Kip took a few pics on his Go Pro and we hope to have them up here soon. By midday Sunday 9th I was newly qualified as an advance adventurer diver which meant I now had 9 dives under my belt and could reach 29.9 metres on a Fun Dive. This means I will also be now able to accompany my darling Rebecca on a few trips this week provided I dont slow her down of course. We have each invested in a Scuba mask (one each, not one between us!) and are hoping to go together on Tuesday. Wish us luck!

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It doesnt give me nectar points but its a bit special eh?
Speaking of special we have been spoilt for sunsets here, we have to share one.

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The best of Tem-pals

2 Feb

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Because these temples are the BEST, and we are best pals ;) Ok well we thought it was cute, you can’t win ‘em all.

So the journey to Siem Rep began early on Wednesday morning with our speedboat trip. We had been prewarned to make sure we were well protected with factor 50, what with it being a 6 hour ride. There was an option to sit downstairs, but of course, we didn’t want to do that! What would be the point after all, if you couldn’t do this:

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Or see this:

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Unfortunately despite my very liberal application of factor 50 i still burnt to a crisp- damn you midday sun! Luckily our hotel had a nice little pool i could cool off my poor pink skin in when we arrived, so you don’t need to feel too sorry for me ;)

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Kieran contemplating his memoirs…

That evening i was still suffering so there was only one thing for it….

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Pina colada! Don’t judge me. I (now not so) secretly love these. And at $1.50 a pop, who wouldn’t?!
(everything in Cambodia is priced in American dollars instead of the local currency, riel. Not sure why.)

We also met up with our German friends Elizabeth and Felix again! They just can’t get enough!

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The girls having a nice gossip whilst the boys get chocolate banana pancakes- a Cambodian delicacy.

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We really loved Cambodia- it’s such a beautiful country and the people are just wonderful. But one thing we just couldn’t get on board with is that in Siem Reap there is ‘Pub Street’. It’s basically a street lined with bars and tacky neon lights, and young tourists drinking buckets of cocktails all over the place. I know it’s about the money, and I know that Cambodia needs the money more than most, but it really spoils such a lovely place. Ah still, i guess it’s only one street… When did i get so old?!

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Just in case you weren’t sure where it was.

But anyway, onto the main reason we came to Siep Reap. The Temples of Angkor! We decided to do just go for just one day due partly to our budget, and partly because we had heard from a few sources that 3 days was a bit…much. The temples are beautiful, but the coach loads of tourists not so much, and Kieran has quite a low tolerence for crowds ;) It was also Chinese New Year, so i guess that could go towards explaining the even higher than usual number of visitors. Initially we had wanted to go to Angkor Wat for sunrise, but our German friends advised us against it as they had gotten up at 4.30am the previous morning for the same reason, but due to the mass of people and tripods they could barely see a thing! So we thought we would be clever and switch up the usual order of things to try and beat those crowds…

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We began at the Bayon, with its 54 gothic towers decorated with 216 enormous coldly smiling faces. Intimidating stuff.

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Just stunning, and not too busy either… Where were all of these horrible crowds we had been warned about?

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Oh here they are! All sitting in standstill traffic to get to The Bayon having come from sunrise at Angkor Wat! God we’re good. I’ll now hand you over to Kieran to tell you about the rest of our temple adventure…
Good work Bex, so yeah, we had the idea to visit Angkor Wat second. So, whats there to say? Built by Suryavarnan || it is the earthly representation of Mt Meru (the Hindu Mount Olympus). It is the worlds largest religious building.Its sandstone blocks from which it was built were quarried 50km away and floated down the Stung Siem Reap on rafts! Rafts!

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The central tower you can see there rises 31metres above the third level of the building. You have to mount some pretty steep steps to get in there.

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If you have vertigo look away now. We spent a good hour or so having a wander round and just taking in the surrounding nature, far from the tuk tuk beeping and noise.
An awful lot of the temples of Angkor have pieces fading and crumbling and in recent years many other countries from India to Germany and Japan have lent their expertise to try and save what they can. In some cases this has meant numbering and re building parts of the temples which , you could say begs the question “is it the same temple?”
Thats for the scholars to answer. By this time it was 11.30 and we were happy to avoid the midday sun and return to base camp. We got a lift back to the hotel and relaxed until our evening sojourn back to the temples.
That afternon then we hit the very popular Ta Phrom “the ultimate indiana jones fantasy”. The location where nature has reclaimed its place amongst the temple ruins with awesome effect.

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The geeks amongst us will recognise this location from the first Tomb Raider movie.

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You could spend a whole day just at this one place but we were keen to get a decent sunset in.

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Kieran listens to the trees….
So, where to go for the sunset? We had debated back and forth and settled finally on Sra Srang, not so much a temple as a bathing pond, an ablutions pool (search me). It was a peaceful spot far from the maddening (literally) crowds. We had a seat by the pool and tried to calculate how long it would take, thought about our time in this beautiful country and our hope that we might return later.

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Becky stretching into the sunset.

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Tem-pals.
We had enjoyed a lovely day stepping back in time and we found ourselves pretty exhausted by the end of it. Our plan was to rent some bikes Saturday and head south out of town to the paddy fields. We borrow two oul nellies and off we went.

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Becky leads the charge.
Now , being an Irishman im used to some bad roads, a couple of potholes. These roads take the biscuit. Our poor bottoms took a right pummelling but we got to see some of the real Khmer people living their lives, kids going to school (on a saturday!) and finally got to these green fields.

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On the advice of my cousin Justin i bought a bag of tangerines/mandarins and shared them out with the kids we came across, they were dead chuffed, Bex dubbed me “Mandarin Man”.
Our cycle over we relaxed by the pool (another one, i know) until our late flight to Bangkok where we reside before heading overnight to Ko Tao and scuba diving! Fishes!

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Phnom Penh

28 Jan

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No clever or silly rhymes for this blog title I’m afraid, as it feels wrong to make light of some of the things we have learnt and seen this past 48 hours. Phnom Penh has experienced some horrific things, and all as little at 35 years ago- it’s mad to think that this city was basically in ruins in 1979. But before we share anymore of the history of this place, we’ll tell you how we got here.

Well. An early morning boat at 8am from glorious Phu Quoc saw us dock in Ha Tien at around 10am where we believed we would be led straight onto a bus for Cambodia. Simples, right? Oh how naive we were. After being bundled into a minibus (er… where’s the luxury bus we were promised?) we were offloaded a mere 5 minutes away at a hotel with a travel agency in the foyer. A small and scary Vietnamese lady (who smoked cigarette after cigarette, as if she might die if she didn’t have one in her hand) informed us she would be processing our visa’s here and sending them ahead ‘to save time’. Brilliant! So when will we be leaving? In 3 hours. So, not arriving in Phnom Penh at 4.30pm as we were told, arriving at 6.30pm? And we are stuck in this hotel foyer until we leave? Good. Great. Excellent. Of course, the wait was nothing to do with our Visa’s and more to do with us having to wait for another minibus load of tourists to arrive, and of course we would also be persuaded to spend money on food here since there was nowhere else to go, and that’s what you do when you wait around for hours on end isn’t it? You eat!

So, not wanting to bore you with tedious detail, (I had a fried egg sandwich. The Vietnames don’t really do breakfast as we know it) I shall cut to the chase. Eventually we were piled into a minibus. And i mean sardine-can piled. A space for 3 at the back had to squeeze in 4, and that included all 6ft 2″ of Kieran and 5ft 9″ of me, so you get a vague idea of the comfort level we were dealing with here.

The border was actually very close, and our smokey friend herded us off the bus and marched us to visa control with all of our passports in her hand. I’ll tell you now, you follow a person VERY closely when they have your passort (especially when they continue to smoke with the same hand, and you can just see it going up in a blaze of Marlborough), and all seemed to be going smoothly until we reached the Cambodian end. Suddenly our smoky friend was screaming ‘CORRUPTION!’ and waving her nicotine stick around dramatically. Now we weren’t sure if these dramatics were for our benefit, or if she just liked to make an entrance, but we stood around in the blistering heat for quite some time wondering what on earth was going on as she and the guards screamed at each other in… Vietnamese? I don’t know, I am guessing it was Vietnamese.

It seemed after much probing, that the issue was the Cambodian guards wanted each of us to have our temperature taken to check we didn’t have yellow fever, and for us each to give a dollar to the ‘Doctor’ for the privilege of being tested. Frankly, we were all happy to just hand over a dollar to speed things up, but apparently ol’ smokey Jo had principles, and she was sticking to them. About an hour passed in the dusty heat before finally the guards aquiesced (probably just to get rid of your woman waving her cigarette about and yelling at them), and we all were tested for yellow fever by a fella in a surgical mask (who i suspect was not a genuine Doctor) and let through into Cambodia to continue our sardine can journey for the next 5 hours. You’ll all be thrilled to hear that Kieran and I don’t have yellow fever (I mean, wouldn’t it be kind of OBVIOUS if someone had yellow fever? I think so. But then I’m not a doctor.) I do apologise for the lack of photos to illustrate this last tale, but they get a bit funny if you take photos at borders it seems… We saw someone else try. It wasn’t well recieved.

Arriving much later than planned, we arrived at ‘Fancy Guesthouse’ (loving the name) at 7.30pm for a much needed shower, and then we went in search of food and BEER!
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Guess where we are?

We bypassed a lot of very Western friendly restaurants and bars in favour of a little place that was virtually empty, and had a big table of locals having a bit of a party inside!20140128-181940.jpg
Party people on the left. We weren’t invited to join in :(
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We had a curry in a coconut! And very nice it was too.20140128-182236.jpg
Chef for the evening.

We had a really good meal, even if we were persuaded to order far more than we needed by the 14 year old lad serving us. You’ll soon learn why, but we are a bit soft in Cambodia.

The next day we had a quick breakfast (poached eggs on toast! Yes! A point for Cambodia vs. Vietnam), before taking a walk to Central Market which has had a bit of a spruce up thanks to French Funding.20140128-182926.jpg20140128-182950.jpg
Although the snacks weren’t really doing it for us.
After a good long wander around, I settled upon a stall for lunch which looked to have a nice noodle and spring roll thing going on…20140128-183210.jpg
Except it was served cold. With some kind of *gag* ‘porridge’ thrown on top! Actually, i really quite liked it, but Kieran wasn’t so keen. Well, you can’t win ‘em all.

So, to the first really difficult part of our trip; Tuol Sleng, Genocide Museum. Or S-21 as it would have been known, was a high school that the Khymer Rouge turned into a security prison and torture chamber, the largest incarceration centre in the country. Walking around it is hard to believe the horrific things that happened here; the torture that men, women and children were subjected to for days and weeks on end for no reason, and for many it was the end of the road. 20140128-183941.jpg
A small cell made from wood.20140128-184132.jpg
The barbed wire is to stop the prisoners from jumping to attempt suicide. 20140128-184259.jpg
Everything was documented and has now been preserved, and the faces of tortured souls stare at you as you walk through.
Needless to say, there are plenty of things we haven’t taken photos of as they were too horrific, many pictures of bodies that have been tortured literally to death, and children, as the KR wanted everything documented in pictures. It’s hard to comprehend that this all happened such a short time ago, and that the rest of the world let it happen at all….

On a more positive note, there are wonderful pictures that children drew to inspire peace, and I shall leave you with these as i pass you over to Kieran, and drink a much needed beer.

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Have a second one Bex. So, having visited Tuol Sleng and lunched we had been told about an Irish Bar which coincidentally happened to be two blocks from where we were staying.
We headed to “Rorys” and sidled up to the Bar.We soon made ourselves known to the owner Chad from Seattle and had a few pre dinner drinks

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Michael Collins there above the bar, Dublin Jersey to the right.
We paid our bill but Chad very kindly bought us another after which we had to make our excuses and flee to dinner.
Upon arrival on Sunday night we had discovered that we were two blocks from Ph 172 which features lots of backpacker friendly places with happy hours etc, and I had noticed a Shwarma place. So with Bex’ permission we headed there and got a warm welcome. It was lovely to put noodles aside and enjoy some hummus and eggplant. We had a lamb and chicken Shwarma followed by an Apple tea.
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I think she’s happy.
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For 40 minutes we could have been in a corner of Istanbul (kind of). We loved every bite and then it was back to hotel and Bed.
Having experienced the museum yesterday we decided today would be our trip to the Killing Fields of Choung Ek. Everybody has heard the name and it does evoke Humanity at its most barbaric.
We organised a tuk tuk there and braced ourselves for what we would discover.
These killing fields were the place of execution for thousands of prisoners of the KR. They were brought here by trucks and usually executed within minutes of arriving and dumped into pits. They didnt use any bullets as they were expensive, instead the executioners (murderers) would use whatever was to hand to get the job done. Pieces of Bamboo, garden hoes, axes would be utilized. Choung Ek is just one of hundreds of Killing fields around this country.
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Upon arrival at the entrance everyone is given an audio guide which in a very sensitive way aims to help you understand the magnitude of the Horrific deeds committed here.
The haunting fact is that within this City and indeed this country anyone over 40 would have been affected by what happened. 1 person in 4 on average were exterminated by this utter madness.

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Please forgive the graphic nature of some of these images, we would be lying if we tried to sugar coat anything we heard or saw. Needless to say we were both overwhelmed.
After leaving such a site we decided to visit the Wat Phnom, meaning Hill Temple, it is a place locals flock to for good luck. We climbed the steps and enjoyed the peaceful tranquility of this place of worship.

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Despite the sad sights of history we have enjoyed our first taste of Cambodia, the Khymer people are absolutely wonderful, they are incredibly friendly, helpful and welcoming. A smile goes an awful long way here when negotiating and our hope is that they can overcome the dark past which so much of the West left them to endure. We head to Siem Reap tomorrow via speedboat (yeah baby!) we have been told to whack on the sunblock and enjoy. Angkor Wat, perhaps the greatest collection of Temples in the world, awaits us. Who are we to refuse?

One love.

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It’s hardly a shock- we LOVED Phu Quoc!

26 Jan

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And who could blame us? Golden sands, blue skies and the clearest ocean water I have seen in a long time. We cheated and flew here as the flight was a bargain, and we just couldn’t wait! We arrived on Thursday afternoon and found our little bungalow just off the beach (a bargain at £13 a night) and went for a long walk on the beach to feel the sand between our toes (and to find an ATM).

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Oh and to take in a beautiful sunset- stunning hey? (Beware the floating Russians)

We also bumped into a German couple (Elizabeth and Felix) who we met on our overnight train from Hanoi, and decided to go for a little dinner together that night. The beach is lined with restaurants displaying their catch of the day, and we put or money down on a couple of rather large red snappers:

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Here little fishy!

The nightlife here is pretty non existent and by 10pm everything is closing down and the lights start going out along the shoreline, so we were definitely going to get the rest that we wanted. We arose bright and early on Friday to get straight onto the beach and bask in the sun all day…

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Kieran is as happy as a clam.

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It’s midday- you know what that means. Beer o’clock! Apologies for the gratuitous bikini shot ;)

We also had a really lovely lunch of coconut shrimps (shrimps here it seems are enormous prawns)

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As you can see, this blog is entirely based on pictures of us in the sun, and what we ate and drank. But the purpose of this 2 day break was to relax before we hit Cambodia so just bare with us a bit longer…. Kieran? Would you like to share some pictures of food and cocktails?

Indeed i would, as our plane came into land at Phu Quoc we were told it looked a little like Cuba, i dont know about that but having left the madness and noise and beeping of Saigon this place was such a welcome relief. We had wondered about just landing at the airport and kind of “looking around” for a place to stay but for piece of mind and in order to hit the sand as soon as physically possible we had decided to book ahead. We had a room made of solid concrete, flat screen telly, hot water. All the gifts you could need.

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Becky failed to mention above that the red snapper we ordered came with a skewer of Beef , Garlic bread (sometimes spelt “Galic Bread”) and a Caipirinha cocktail. All for 199vng (just under £6)
Needless to say we went to this particular place two nights in a row, and yes, we did have the red snapper option each time….
It was very interesting to note the range of prices on offer regarding the fish, as we found in Goa the restaurants loved to display their wares out front for you to investigate but the same piece of fish might be £3 cheaper next door! We did sniff out a very funky looking place which had a happy hour from 7-8. Boy do we love a happy hour…

Mango Daiquiri anyone?

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These were simply delish and we could easily get two into us before dinner.

Our last night came far too quickly and we both agreed another day would have been delightful, sure there were boat trips to “explore the island” but we were more than happy to sit, relax, listen to the sea and count our blessings.
On our final day we bumped into our German friends again and decided we would part ways in style. We headed out for a lovely meal and Felix decided to get a seafood hot pot cooked at the table. It looked a bit difficult but he seemed to enjoy it.

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Bless.

So with a little colour on our skin and our batteries fully charged, it’s onwards to the next part of the adventure: Cambodia!

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The Heat is still on in Saigon….

23 Jan

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Ok so now it’s called Ho Chi Minh City, but for the purposes of our blog title the old name works better. Plus, i have been singing the opening number from the musical Miss Saigon since I got here, much to Kieran’s joy.

So when we arrived the heat was most definitely on- a kind of smoggy humidity that you only get in a sprawling city such as this. But hey, it wasn’t raining so it was fine by us! The first job on arrival, as always, was to find food so we hit the streets. It didn’t take too long for us to spot the usual tiny stools on the pavement and people tucking into a brothy concoction so we went for it. This time we had lucked upon a seafood noodle soup (don’t you just love how we sit down somewhere without having the slightest clue what we are about to eat?).

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It was a bit pricier than your usual street fodder, about twice what we had been paying elsewhere in fact, but that’s what you get when you are in the capital I guess. And to be fair, there were huge chunks of fish and some massive prawns in there. We especially enjoyed it when the staff started rushing around and grabbing our lunch, and our table from under it, whilst shouting ‘police!’ and hustling us indoors. It seems maybe they didn’t have a license to trade, but we got to finish our broth in peace after this flurry of excitement thankfully. Never a dull moment.

On this first afternoon we decided to just have a general explore as most of the museums close at 4pm and 5pm, and to save our history lesson for tomorrow. Kieran had heard of an Adidas outlet store selling last season’s stuff dirt cheap so we trekked what felt like miles to find it. We finally arrived, only to discover the stuff wasn’t on sale at all! Very apologetic for dragging me out in such a fruitless mission, Kieran fed me a beer and all was well. At least we got to take in a few sights along the way…

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That’s right, it’s gotten dark.

We went home for a very quick change before heading out to dinner at ‘Nha Hang Ngon’ which was recommended in the good old Lonely Planet guide and was placed inside a gorgeously lit leafy garden.

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This wasn’t everything we ate, but they just bring stuff as soon as it’s ready so we only had a chance to take this one quick photo. As most of you know, once food is on the table Kieran and I can’t focus on anything else. We had an early night after dinner as we were up bright and early the next day to see the Cu Chi Tunnels!

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Yes it was an early morning, and there was a long bus ride (50km worth of bus ride in nasty traffic), and my darling Kieran took this deeply unflattering photo of me asleep on his shoulder. (Also, Jackie Ostocke is that you photo bombing us?!)

So the Cu Chi tunnels are a network of underground tunnels developed by the Viet Cong in the 1960’s to help them defend the area of Cu Chi from American attacks during the Vietnamese War. The tunnels spread across a whopping 200km, reaching back to Saigon, and in another direction out to the Cambodian border.

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A hidden tunnel entry point. Pretty tight wouldn’t you say? Our guide wanted a volunteer to squeeze themselves in and guess who stepped up?

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Kieran did of course! Obviously it was pretty distressing for the Americans when the Vietnamese would just pop up out of nowhere then disappear into thin air again…

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Where’d he go?!

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Not one to be outdone, i stepped up for a little peek inside the entrance to another tunnel…

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And peeking was all i would be doing here as the tunnel was just big enough for you to crawl through on your belly, and I wasn’t really up for that.

One of the tunnels had been widened and heightened so we fat Westerners could squeeze through and get the full experience. Even so, it was still a tight squeeze and a slow crawl!

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There goes Kieran! As he was leading the way, I’ll pass you over so he can share his experience with you…
So, as you can see above they have laid out about 140 metres of tunnels for us to wade through and experience what the vietnamese did. The earth in this particular area was particularly good for tunnels as it had a high clay element which kept them solid. another reason they kept them small was that they would be less likely to collapse if the gaps were smaller. They had miles of tunnels reaching right over to the Cambodia border. The complex we visited was well laid out, we saw a film about the life in the tunnels then various traps and defences they used. The Vietnamese would take old bombs that had fallen and not exploded and recycle the materials in them against their enemy.
It was a very informative trip and well worth the time if you Visit Saigon.
On the ride home our guide offered us a lift to the War Remnants museum which came highly recommended in the Lonely Planet.

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Within a few minutes of arriving I felt a bit overwhelmed to be honest. On the ground floor are a bunch of exhibits and photos from around the world showing the protests in other nations againstthe Vietnam war, there are accounts of US citizens who self immolated and also the two soldiers who intervened at the My Lai massacre.

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On the 1st floor were images of torture and brutality which were pretty devastating. Of course there is an element of propaganda to it but it is so rare that we see the other side of this conflict.
Also on the 1st floor was a series of images about the devastation of Agent Orange, the chemicals used as defoliants during the War which continue to cause birth defects and horrible deformities even still. We had to step out after about a 1/3 of this exhibit. Needless to say we didnt take any photos.

Upstairs there was a photo exhibit called “Requiem” which was dedicated to the Photographers who have died in conflict covering the War. Some images by Larry Burrows in particular were incredible.

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This image was of a young gunner who had seen his pilot and co-gunner killed in front of him.
Burrows himself died in Laos on a job, his images of Vietnam were used in Time and Newsweek and his use of colour brought home to Americans the human cost of the war.
We stepped outsdoe the museum into daylight, our heads were spinning and we were a bit numb.
In the courtyard outside are all kinds of US air combat vehicles.

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In light of what we had just read and seen any feelings of awe were swallowed up by feelings of revulsion . It was that kind of an afternoon folks.

We quickly found a place to have a Pho and a Saigon Beer (apt).
We then retired back to our hotel to wash the day off our bodies and freshen up for dinner. We had such a good time in Bangkok at the Banyan tree rooftop bar that we were keen to repeat the experience here in Saigon. We skipped the recommendation of the book which was the Rex Hotel and instead hit the AB tower and the CHILL bar. Good choice.

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Beautiful eh? (and saigon looks good too)

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Some stunning views were had and we also made it in time for Happy Hour!
Anyway, having eaten our fair share of noodles and pho for the past few weeks we decided to have a change…Pizza!

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Thin crispy cheesy and delicious ( the Pizza, not me)
We indulged and had a ball, it was a perfect way to end our time in this city.

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And after a perfect night Becky had a little cornetto which matched her dress

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And she also found a little slice of home

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Bless, now we head to Phu Quoc Island… Lets chase that sun.

Consult the weather man, before you go to Hoi An

20 Jan

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It’s January, it’s Vietnam. It’s meant to be sunny; or at least it’s meant to be DRY. It wasn’t. It still isn’t. Obviously, I dealt with this like an adult and I didn’t throw a diva strop about the fact that we had paid for a room in a guesthouse by the beach 6km out of town, because it hadn’t ever occured to us that it would bloody RAIN pretty much the whole time we were here. Oh wait no, I DID have a strop, for about an hour actually, until Kieran piled me into a cab to town and bought me a beer. Ah if only all of life’s problems were solved so easily…

My mood was further improved by the fact that we had a drink on a boat with a live musician and i ordered a glass of red as a treat. The glass was only half full, and as it seems there are no measures here I asked for a bit more wine, and the lad filled it up to the brim at no extra cost! I do love Vietman, even in the rain. To enhance my delight further, during the singer’s recess Kieran had a microphone thrust in his face quite out of nowhere and treated us toa delightful rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’, for which he received a beer on the house. Boom!

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Note the creepy boy peering at us from the hatch at the back. Spooky.

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But despite the crummy weather, Hoi An is very pretty at night all lit up.

The next morning the sun was mercifully shining so we grabbed the bicycles provided by our guesthouse and we went to see some stuff before the heavens opened again! Hoi An is a lovely town, with a river running through the middle and lots of little side streets lined with shops that is pedestrianised during the day.Unfortunately, due to the pituresque nature, it is also a bit of a tourist trap, and a lot of the shops and hawkers are shouting at you to come and look at all of their (very similar) tat. But hey, it’s still very pretty.

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Big dragon

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Me posing with a big fake horse in a temple

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And Kieran with a warrior. As you do.

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Kieran and I posing on the little bridge.

After seeing all we could, we retired for a little afternoon tipple and a snack, which was very well timed as the heavens shortly opened again.

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2 for 1 margs… Seemed rude not to.

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A local delicacy called ‘White Rose’- kind of a shrimp dumpling.
And Kieran was VERY impressed by the local happy hour arrangement:

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Now those are Happy Hours I can get used to! People come to Hoi an to see the various temples, pagodas and old community halls but there is a pervading sense of dollar signs in the locals eyes. The restaurants by and large have laid on quite westernized menus which are a little more expensive then we were paying in Hanoi. But its been lovely to take in the sights even if its a bit of the Vietnamese Bruges (i.e. you can see most of it in a day).

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We did enjoy these lovely pork skewers for 15 pence a go. Another thing which Hoi an, and Vietnam in general is famous for is its clothes shops and tailoring. They are as ubiquitous here as coffee houses and every one of them wants to bring you in for a fitting. I did notice quite a funky jacket yesterday in one place and remarkably Becky herself managed to find something she liked…

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Not bad eh? Now i cant put on a single pound in weight if i wanna still fit into it…Genius Kieran.
Anyway, the damp weather has changed our plans somewhat, we were hoping to hit Nha trang and a few more spots on the east coast but the wet weather has shaken things up somewhat.
So tomorrow we are on a flight to Ho Chi Minh (aka Saigon) where we hope, to quote a famous tune “the heat is on…”

Thats all for now folks..

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