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The Missing Days

Teknology rools ok

View Asian Express on RogerLaHaye's travel map.

We finally flew to Saigon (or Ho Chi Min City as it is officially called). Arriving in the afternoon we took off to see the sights and do a bit of street shopping, mostly at a large covered market. All the fairly predictable items – clothes, watches, souvenirs, etc but good fun nonetheless.
In the evening we had dinner at a restaurant recommended by our tour guide, Mr Thong . On the table next to us was a couple – she Vietnamese, he English. We got talking and two remarkable coincidence emerged which tied together the two parts of my life. Firstly, he was a Ilford boy from East London – and NOT an Essex boy. Secondly he was importing perfume from the UK to Vietnam – and it was L’Oréal of London, a perfume originally produced in my home town of Leighton Buzzard.
After dinner I went for a walk to photograph the New Year lights which had just been put up, as the Vietnamese New Year falls in line with the Chinese one. They were fairly spectacular and my photos do not do them justice.
The Vietnamese life style is very similar to the Mediterranean one and the street were packed with pedestrian of all ages, cars and mopeds all taking in the lights. Seeing mopeds with dad, Mum and two small children all on one bike is really quite scary. They also appear to have Carte blanche to ride on the pavement when the streets are gridlocked. I arrived back at the hotel slightly shaken but not stirred....

On Sunday we made our way down to the seaside resort of. Can Tho. On the way we stopped at My Tho.
Upon reaching Can Tho.we stayed in a fabulous colonial style hotel and ate dinner on the terrace whilst watching the world go by.
Sunday was a day out, packing in as much as our tour company could manage. We took to the river on an Edwardian skiff with oiled teak furniture and were magic’d off to adventures new. During the course of the day we visited a honey making farm where we played with the food, then played with the bees and then I played with a python – very carefully! Quite why there was a python in a cage we didn’t discover.
Lunch was in a very tourist orientated restuarant by the river. A typical multi course meal, it introduced me to a new favourite food – river fish. I have no idea what particular river fish it was but it had sharp fins and was battered and fried. It arrived propped upright on a special serving dish.
Next up was a trip to see a singing group on a farm nearby. It was apparently traditional local music but sounded very much like real old country music from Nashville.
The day ended with a rooftop dinner back at the hotel, looking down at an endless procession of scooters, all fully laden with Mum, Dad, kids etc.
We also watched a tree being unloaded into the middle of street. Then another. Then some smaller bushes. Was this a way of slowing the never ending stream of over laden scooters we wondered. No, it transpires that this is the way that the Vietnamese celebrate New Year, by brightening up the streets. Sure enough by the next morning a half dozen trees and various other foliage had transformed the street - and slowed down the endless promenade of scooters.
My evening ended with a walk along the promenade photographing the myriad of buildings, boats and installations that were testaments to the neon mania that appears to have enveloped Vietnam.
Without doubt, the blingiest city to date!

We rose very early and took a boat down river to the Floating market. This is essentially a wholesale fruit and veg market that just happens to take place on the river, with different boats selling different product. A lot of the buyers are shops, restaurants etc rather than it being a family shopping experience. None the less it was interesting to see.
We also paid a visit to a noodle manufacturer where they still produce noodles by hand. Nothing if not educational – and you never know when you might want a change of career.....
After the excitement of the noodle making it was back to the hotel and then a long drive to the airport. The drive was in two parts separated by lunch. On the menu was my favourite river fish. In fact the whole lunch was a pretty well a replica of the previous days.
Over lunch we were entertained by two retired American gentlemen who had escaped from their wives to do a bit of cruising and touring.. They introduced us to a new concept in holiday travel – repositioning cruises. You can learn a lot over a good bit of river fish.

The day ended with our flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia and our arrival at the next part of our adventure.

Our first outing in Siemens Reap was to Ankor Thom the lesser known of the two main Ankors.
The morning was spent exploring the remains of this once majestic religious centre. Like it’s more famous neighbour, Anker Wat, it started life as a Hindu shrine but was changed to Buddhism at a later date.
The re construction work is less advanced than Ankor Wat but that is because it was not kept in use to the same level.
It still shows some of its former beauty though, especially where a shrine has been re- installed.
In the grounds sit two other temples, or even very decayed but the other still in use. This is the Hindu temple built for the sole use of the then royal family. A 3 storey brick edifice, it looks as though it isn’t going to be of use but services are still held and the chosen few locals who help in its upkeep are doing a magnificent job.
In the afternoon we started the tour of Anker Wot. This is as impressive as everyone says it is. Its size, detail and sheer presence make it look like as alien in the jungle as a space craft. Whist we generally consider Anker Wot as being recently discovered, the Cambodians never stopped using it. It was however forgotten by the outside world until a 19th century French man discovered and wrote a book about it – before dying of malaria. I stayed to watch the sun set in which the whole edifice seems to change to the most beautiful golden colour.

Today we visited more temples – but two of these were very special. The first was Banstead Srei which is a walled temple complex surrounded by a moat. Discovered by a French man in the mid 1800’s it was once the centre to a large village of over one thousand homes. Set away from any main road it was very peaceful and tranquil and still had the feeling of a place of meditation. I will of course not now be returning to the UK as planned but instead am giving myself up to a life of contemplation – as if!
The second temple was much more imposing with the actual temple itself set at the top of a high based some 50 feet off the ground. Lots of steps up and just as many coming down.!
The afternoon was spent at the third temple and this one was very exciting. Ta Keo was a vast complex and would once have been a very important religious and education centre complete with it’s own university. It also has a more recent claim to fame as it was the centre piece for both the Lara Croft film ‘Tomb Raider’ and the Harrison Ford film ‘Temple of Doom’.
The temple is also of particular note as it has been colonised by a tree that grows on buildings. Huge roots swaddle walls and ceilings with the tree trunks themselves starting some 10 feet off the ground.
The buildings are being rebuilt with funding from Japan but it I was told that it will take approximately 100 years to complete. Given what I saw I can believe that.
The visit to both Banstead Srei and Ta Keo was without doubt one of the highlights of the trip and I have loads of photos to bore you with when I get home 

The day started with a visit to a Khmer Village on the edge of a large lake. These villages are built around houses on stilts and people living on boats.
The lake iwas created as a reservoir by a king in the 10th C and is 16 miles long and only a few feet deep.
Apparently the number of people living on the lake has swollen dramatically in the past years as people have moved from Vietnam. However their fishing methods on the lake ( big close mesh nets and dynamite) mean that there are now very few fish left.
The afternoon was taken up with our next move – a flight to Luang Prabang in Laos.

Posted by RogerLaHaye 17:41

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