Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Pchum Ben again and on my travels!

You may recall dear blogger that last year around this time I was in Kampong Cham for the Buddhist festival of Pchum Ben it was about five weeks into my stay in Cambodia and I was struggling (and still am) to get to grips with the Khmer language that said my translator Sarith paid me a great compliment just before we broke up for the holiday by telling me that although I don't have a great vocabulary when I do speak Khmer "it is very clear" believe me from him that is quite a compliment as he is something of a perfectionist.
As ever I digress Pchum Ben is a family time when every one goes back to their homeland (province) to celebrate and make offerings in the pagodas to their ancestors so Phnom Penh empties out quite remarkably making it much safer to cross the road but every where is shut and a little dull so Chris and I decided to explore our neighbouring country Vietnam.
This turned out to be a very wise choice on several counts one being the severe flooding in the lower regions of Cambodia making travel even more dangerous than usual Cambodia is no stranger to flooding but this rainy season has been very bad with many homes animals and rice crops destroyed over 100 people have been killed in the flooding and thousands made homeless not to mention the food shortages which will inevitably happen in the longer term as far as I can ascertain non of this has made the international news.
Below are some photo's pinched from Gilly and Sam's blog of the flooding in Kratie [thanks both]

The tops of palm trees in Kratie
going by boat to the Pagoda taking rice and other food offerings
   The other count was that Vietnam was such an interesting and beautiful place to visit and I am ashamed to say not one that was top of my 'must see' list probably as I am old enough to remember the 'spot of bother' there in the 70's
Hanoi was our first port of call and we touched down at the airport after dark unfortunately and despite the warnings in lonely planet about airport taxi scams we ran headlong into one!! we were unfortunate enough to encounter a psychopathic taxi driver who within 5 minutes tried to extort money from us however he had not bargained on the resourcefulness and fortitude of two older British women who refused to be intimidated it was not a great start to our visit but fortunately all's well as the saying goes. 
The following day we were picked up at our hotel by a cruise company Calypso Cruises (very Vietnamese) to take us to Ha Long Bay for a 2 day one night cruise around the bay which incidentally is a nominee for the 7 natural wonders of the world competition [it gets my vote] We were told that the company had upgraded us to a 4* junk Oh yes we thought here we go again but they really had and it exceeded all our expectations and made up for our earlier and somewhat unpleasant first encounter of Vietnam
Ha Long Bay or Descending Dragon Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Quang Ninh Province of Vietnam it is comprised of 1,960 islets and we loved the place so much we extended our stay on the junk to 2 nights 3 days on the spot and spent our days touring the bay stopping off to explore some of the limestone caves with their amazing stalactites and stalagmites, kayaking in some of the smaller coves and swimming in the cool clear emerald seas.
I saw the most wonderful sunset whilst swimming though of course this could not be captured on camera but it will stay with me for ever what a lucky woman I am.
The service and food on board was first class [especially sea food as you would expect ]and I must have gained several of those kilo's I have lost since leaving the UK there was a cookery demonstration on how to make fried spring rolls so I will be trying those out when I get back now I know how to stop them unravelling.
Chris and I tried our hand at fishing for squid but with no luck but it was fun trying.
The weather was warm and sunny less humid than PP we were so lucky as on our return to Hanoi we never saw the sun again!
For more info on Ha Long Bay  go to
We spent 3 nights and 2 days in Hanoi at a nice inexpensive hotel right in the heart of the old quarter great location although a bit noisy the staff were ultra friendly and helpful giving us some recommendations for restaurants which were great and inexpensive
As it rained non stop we had to find indoor activities this was not hard and included a visit  to the Museum of Fine Arts The House of Literature Vietnam's oldest University, The Water Puppet Theatre and a renovated merchants house all were very interesting Oh and we managed a bit of shopping too well one can have too much culture!!!!
Barring another brief encounter with an aggressive young man in a coffee shop [who could have been the brother of our airport taxi driver] we had a very good stay in Vietnam the traffic though made Phnom Penh's seem benign it mainly went in the same direction just very fast and aggressive a bit like the men really!!
Lea Howie
I climbed to the top of this island phew!
Ha Long Bay picture gallery
One of the limestone caves

Our fab junk at Ha Long Bay

Map of Ha Long Bay one of the beautiful islets