A Travellerspoint blog

August 2013

Island paradise in the monsoon season.... Wet in Koh Rong

storm 32 °C

We have spent the last four nights on the Cambodian Island Koh Rong. After our first day of sunbathing and relaxing by the sea we awoke the next day to find that it was absolutely pouring and it did for most of our time on the island. It is well and truely monsoon season and the rain in the tropics is not like the cold wet drizzle we are used to in England. It seems to come in sheets of hot, heavy downpours coupled with strong wind. Surprisingly the rain has not effected the relaxing island retreat we were determined to have.

Most of our days have been sat either laid on our balcony hammock reading and drinking or sat downstairs in our guesthouse cafe watching the sea and rain, reading and drinking. It has been very laid back and quite nice to sit on a dry comfy chair watching the storms at sea. There was a puppy called fudge to keep us company and the occasional kitten.



A few times in the afternoon it has brightened up and we have gone for a swim. The sea is beautiful on Koh Rong, the cleanest and bluest we have ever been in. It is calm and must have a high salt content as we enjoyed floating around and swimming.


The only downside to the beach is the sand flies. Since Langkawi when Chelsea got covered in sandfly bites we have been cautious but they are surprisingly resilient on Koh Rong. No matter if we put repellent on or not we seemed to be getting bit, until we couldn't stand it any longer. We have both left the island with at least twenty or thirty bites each.


On our last day after the rain had eased up late afternoon we decided to go on an explore. We walked the full length of the cove and clambered over the rocky outcrop at the end which revealed another cove of yellow sand. We walked along, past some bungalows built into trees and walked all the way down to the other end of the beach. At the end was another rocky outcrop, a boat and a cluster of men sat around huge piles of litter. We decided to walk back at this point.


We really like Koh Rong. At the pier that ferrys tourists to and from the island is the main cluster of places to eat and stay but this is the least pretty area. We went in low season so a lot of building work was being done but it was still very dirty, a lot of piles of rubbish, uncleared building materials and general litter everywhere. Further down the beach it gets less developed, sparser and cleaner. About half way down is a resort called Monkey Island. This we think is the best place to eat and drink on the beach. Inexpensive food and a friendly atmosphere meant that every night at sunset, sometimes before we ventured down here, ate good food and drank way too many cans of Klang! They also have a friendly pack of dogs who love attention and Liam fell for one in particular called Poppy.


After five fun days in Koh Rong we were sad to leave and slightly hungover packed our bags ready for the 10am ferry back to the mainland. We paid our running tab, said bye to our new fluffy friends (were not talking about the rats running around our rooms) and caught the ferry. The boat ride takes two and a half hours and the upper deck is bare, everyone just lays out over each other and falls asleep.

When we arrived back in Sihanoukville we decided to book our bus straight to Seim Reip for that night. We booked a sleeper bus which set off at 7pm and spent the rest of the day in a cafe, eating and drinking and reading. We were picked up at 7pm by a minibus which then took us to a main road and dropped us off with a load of locals on the side of the street. Two big buses came, one was crap and one looked amazing. Guess which one we were on......... For the first time ever we were on the good one! It was to our surprise a hotel bus. Inside there were small booths big enough for two people, curtained off. Inside the booths were lights, plug sockets, a tv and air con. It was a smooth journey which brought us to Seim Reip at 7am. We are very excited about being in Seim Reip and visiting the temples of Angkor and can't wait to get sightseeing.

Posted by Chelsandliam 01:26 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia koh_rong Comments (1)

Sihanoukville & Koh Rong

sunny 36 °C

After three days in Phnom Penh we were eager to back to the more relaxed atmosphere of the beach. So our third bus in seven days picked us up outside our guesthouse, early, so early in fact we were still in bed when our reception phoned us to let us know they were here, they were not due until 7.45 and arrived at 7.15. We should have probably not still been in bed thirty minutes before our bus was due but as you may be able to tell, we do not like early starters.

In keeping with the trend the bus journey was long and completely weird. We went through the DVDs of Cambodian stand up and Cambodian pop artists and then as if this was not bad enough, a DVD of modernish songs but instead of the proper music video the TV showed videos of water buffalos fighting. It was the most random thing we have ever seen. Fortunately though Gangnam style was only on three times.
After six hours we thankfully pulled in to Sihanoukville. We then had to tackle the onslaught of tuk tuk dirvers that ran towards the bus as it pulled into the depot. We collected our bags and waited for the drivers to surround us then start out bidding each other until we were happy a price someone called out. We ended up getting a motorbike taxi each to the beach for $3.

We had booked ahead so we were soon in our room at our guesthouse. It was nothing special but cheap and a stone’s throw from the beach. It was 2pm by this point and we had not eaten nor drank anything all day so dumped our bags and went to the beach to find somewhere to eat. Our guesthouse was in between two beaches, Serendipity and Ocheteaul. We chose Ocheteaul, the beach is long but really busy, most restaurants spill out onto the narrow beach and there is so many people both tourist and local. It is not the prettiest beach we have ever seen but was heavenly compared to Phnom Penh. We sat and ate a meal, shared a jug of beer and watched the sea go in and out. As with Phnom Penh there were a lot of beggars, both children and adults aswell as vendors selling handmade bracelets, food and offering massages that we were constantly dismissing from our table. That was until one lad turned up, he was about two and a half feet tall, must have been no more that six years old. He was selling bracelets and he was like a mini Cambodian Del Boy. His sale pitch was you play ‘Rock Paper Scissors’ with him, if you win you get the bracelet for free, if you lose you pay. Liam loved the kids attitude, and his English was great so managed to banter a bit, got the bracelet for half he was charging and then played ‘Rock Paper Scissors’, he could not help it. Needless to say Liam lost and had to pay for the bracelet but the kid was fun and Liam did not mind giving him the dollar.


We went back to the room for an hour to let our jug of beer settle, but we were still hungry and were out again as the sun was setting for dinner. We chose the opposite direction this time and Serendipity beach, not so much a beach more of a rocky outcrop but it is peppered with nice bars and restaurants. We had a drink first in an outdoor bar over the sea and watched it get dark. Then we moved on to another restaurant for something to eat. Sihanoukville is not exactly up market but it is a lot of fun and nice places can be found. We had decided to spend the one night there as we wanted to go the Island of Koh Rong 3 hours of the coast.


We booked the ferry ticked with Koh Rong Diving, $10 each for a return and we were picked up from the dive centre at 7am……that’s two early starts in a row. The ferry was ok, there were comfy seats on the top deck where we could lay down and enjoy the scenery, although Chelsea slept for most of it. As we approached the island it looked like paradise, white sand turquoise waters and swinging palm trees. Disembarking the ferry on to a very small pier that led straight onto the sand, we went in the search for accommodation. Chelsea was not up for a cheap bungalow like Koh Phayam and the nicer, enclosed bungalows are out of our budget so we have found a room, on the beach which is cheap and cheerful. Again we had left it until we arrive to fill our stomachs so we checked in and went in the search for food. The beach at one end is quite congested with guesthouses, and there is a bit of building work going on which ruins the image somewhat, but the other end is more tranquil, with only one or two guesthouse/restaurants. We ate lunch, and then went to change into our beach clothes for an afternoon doing nothing. It did not disappoint, we lazed in the sun, swam in the sea and drank beer in a bar on the beach. The sea is the nicest we have seen so far. It is flat as a pancake and turquoise blue clear water. We spent most of our day in the water.

We are not sure how long to spend here, we enquired about doing a dive with a local dive company as we are now in a different sea to Vietnam but that is too expensive so will give it a miss. We will just be sunning ourselves and relaxing. Its not a bad way to spend a few days, getting ready for the mayhem that will be Angkor Wat.

Posted by Chelsandliam 04:29 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia sihanoukville koh_rong Comments (1)

Some sights in Phnom Penh

overcast 35 °C

Since we have been in Phnom Penh for more than a day and not seen anything we thought we would have a look around the city today. There are some main sights such as the Grand Palace, the democracy monument and the National Museum but we are a little fed up with a constant stream of pagodas and palaces so decided on some alternatives. The first stop was brunch and we went to a cheap local place that we have noticed has been busy everyday. We had pork ribs and rice served with broth and beef curry served with bread with two iced coffees for $5 and it was really tasty. It was raining when we had finished so we walked round the the riverside and had a drink until the rain eased up. Whilst sat we heard a girl upset and a man shouting and everyone came out of their restaurants to see if everything was ok. A lady had her bag snatched as she walked along the row of places that line the riverfront and she was obviously very upset. The criminals were on a bike and she had tried to hold on so had been dragged into the road. It was a horrible but apparently all too common event and all the staff in our cafe looked wholly disappointed. Phnom Penh has some major problems, there is a lot of poverty, a lot of children sent out to beg and mothers and babies. There is also a LOT of sex tourism and protitutes line the streets and bars. Many of these bars are not subtle and one has the selling point of 'no loneliness only fun'. It's not all bad though, there are some budget local eateries, a lot of choice with regards to bars and cafes and all the tuk-tuks are motorbikes with cute wooden carriages on the back.


We then set off to Central Market, politely declining twenty to thirty tuk-tuks drivers on the way. It started to rain about half way there but it did not take long to get there. It is definitely in walking distance to the riverside. The central market is a big domed building. The centre is mainly jewellery stalls and then branching off are stalls selling anything you could possibly want.


Around the outside of the building stalls set up under umbrellas and sell everything from crockery, clothing, electrical goods and fresh produce. We walked around, browsing all the stalls and were very surprised to find that it was really pleasant. No one heckled for us to buy anything and we were left to look around at our own pace. Liam got some new headphones and Chelsea got a bracelet.

After our shopping we decided to walk to Boeng Kak lake. We had read that it was lined with cheap places to stay and quirky cafes over the water but we were not sure if it was still there as our guidebook talked about the possibility of it being bulldozed for redevelopment. It took us a while to walk and we walked through some poor intimidating areas as well as some very upmarket places with skyscrapers and posh hotels. When we got near the area we needed the streets were particularly bad. It was a very poor Muslim area which meant that not just men but also women stared at Chelsea as her legs were not covered. People literally stopped talking and stared and it is one of a handful of times in our many months in Southeast Asia where we have not felt safe (bear in mind we worked hands on with tigers, leopards and lions for five months). We decided to turn back and headed to a temple we had seen on the way.

Wat Phnom is a short walk from the riverside and it set in a shady public park. We climbed the old stone steps and there are a few stupas and the main temple. It is picturesque and costs $1 for foreigners if you want to go inside. After a look around we realised we had gone up the back steps and walked around to the front which were much grander steps framed either side with snake sculptures. Also in the park is a giant wicker king cobra sculpture. We had read that there were little monekys in the park but we didn't see any.... It didn't stop Liam worrying about monkey bites and rabies shots though.


We headed to the riverside and walked down the river, calling in a place for a cheeky happy hour drink and we ended up coming back for 50 cent beers and frozen margaritas for dinner. The riverfront is not very picturesque. It is a row of eateries and bars on a wide, busy main road . The river is very polluted and lined with a lot of buildings still under construction. At night there is a night market which we browsed around and mainly sold the usual tourist fare, t-shirs, souvenirs, scarves and brick-a-brack. We are glad we have seen Phnom Penh but we are eager for clean air and open spaces. We have booked onto the local bus for the next leg of our journey. We are heading South in search for a beach paradise for a few days before we tackle Angkor Wat.

Posted by Chelsandliam 09:56 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh Comments (1)

An interesting journey to Cambodia

sunny 34 °C

Yesterday we left Saigon and Vietnam. It has gone so fast but we were eager to see our last country of the South East Asia area. We were up early; our bus was due to pick us up between 7.30am and 8.00, so by 7.00 we were checked out downstairs eating our breakfast. Unbelievably the breakfast area was full, we have no idea why people are up at this time if not for a bus, maybe we are just lazy.

For the first time ever the bus was on time, well a small mini bus that took us to the actual bus a few kilometres away. It was probably the worst bus we have had in Vietnam, it was old and not very comfortable. There was however clear space under every seat so you had ample leg room, or we would have if the area in front of our designated seats had not been taken up by some wooden box fitting. This set the mould for the trip, and we do not think it is possible to have a straightforward and comfortable journey anywhere within Asia.

We were the only non-Vietnamese on board out of around twenty people and right from the word go we knew it was going to be just one of them tips. The music started and the TV was on literally the second the bus started the roll forward, every song over here seems to sound the exact same. Thankfully it was not karaoke, but some kind of concert. On top of this we had a guy sat behind us who munched on sweets for more or less the entire trip and had a habit of clearing his throat every ten seconds. Every time he did this he made a noise like Scooby doo. Next to us was one guy who must have been some kind of business man, although you would not have guessed from his appearance, as his phone rang every five minutes. As if this was not bad enough he preceded to talk on his phone at about 200 decibels. It was ridiculous. Somehow, probably because we were just that tired, we managed to sleep for about two hours and this took us to the border.

The border was pretty straightforward apart from the bus company trying to rip us off twice. Firstly one of the staff aboard told us that he would do our Visa application at the border, we said no it is ok we have done it plenty of times. He then said that it can take up to 2 hours for foreigners and the bus will not wait as it has a strict timetable. Meaning we would have to pay him $5 each so it was done quicker. We were not standing for this, and as we thought we were through immigration both out of Vietnam and into Cambodia within about ten minutes. The second con was apparent when we cleared Cambodia immigration and Liam saw our bus drive off. The man was still with us at immigration and told us the bus had gone to park at a restaurant 2km away so the non-foreign guests could rest and wait for us. Meaning we had to pay for a taxi. Liam has never quite seen Chelsea so angry. She went all red faced and frothed at the mouth slightly. She told the man we had paid for the bus the whole way to Phnom Penh Cambodia and we were not paying for a taxi. The taxi would either have to be free or the bus would have to come back and get us. The man shrank to about six inch high. Needless to say the taxi was free.

Back aboard with Scooby doo and business man we continued. Next on TV was a Chinese 007-esque film which had English subtitles. Chelsea stared out of the window while Liam watched the film and was actually able to follow what was being said if not what was happening. The film was terrible but by the time it had finished we had more or less arrived.

After a tuk tuk to the riverside the main tourist accommodation seems to be we found a place that from the outside looked nice and was cheap. The rooms were a bit prison cell like but were clean and we thought saving money would do us no harm for the three nights we are here. We then went out for something to eat on the riverside. The streets are nowhere near as busy as the other cities we have visited and it is obvious that the poverty here is at a different level. We were asked by more beggars in the hour while we ate and drank than we have in the rest of trip combined. It is hard to ignore, especially the kids. The city does have a kind of charm though like all Asian cities and we plan to explore it as much we can while here.

Our final drama of the day happened when we returned to our guesthouse. We were settled down watching our laptop when Chelsea spotted a bug. This turned out to an ant but then out came the magnifying glass as Chelsea also freaks out when she sees insects. For good reason though as she soon spotted bed bugs. We were out of the room, fully packed with 2 minutes and downstairs. We initially asked to move rooms as we know it is not necessarily the whole hotel. Chelsea went to inspect another room this one was even worse, she was practically shacking them out of a pillow while the hotel staff looked on concerned. This was enough for us so we checked out and got our money back. A word of advise, do not stay at Happy 11 backpackers. It has a serious bed bug problem. Not only were the two room we saw infested but throughout the whole hotel mattresses and pillow are stacked in the halls and the staff obviously know about it. It was 9pm by this time, and we were not in the best of moods and tried the hotel next door that looked a lot nicer. Chelsea enquired at the desk and was told, or thought she did, that the room was $14 a night. The room was immense, really clean and comfortable; it even supplies gowns and a kettle. We of course said yes but was then told it was actually $40, Chelsea had mis- heard. We must have looked depressed, and the guy must have felt sorry for us, has as we were leaving the hotel he offered it us for $20. Chelsea bit the guys hand off. We were told on checking in, several times that we had to keep this price to ourselves as it was a special discount just for us and they did not want complaints. A change in fortune for us. It is over our budget but Chelsea was traumatised by the bed bug infested rank place next door and wanted to stay somewhere nice.

We had been in the room about an hour when Chelsea started throwing up and feeling terrible. This continued throughout the night and into today until about 2pm so we have not actually done anything today. Probably a good thing after the events of yesterday. When Chelsea started to feel better we went for a walk along the river and something to eat, and then after a couple of hours at our guesthouse, back out for dinner.

We are hoping to see a bit more of the city tomorrow and not just sit in our room drinking Yorkshire tea. See some more of the streets, maybe the market and visit a lake that sits in the centre of the city. After tomorrow we plan to head to south Cambodia to Sihanoukville, where the beaches and islands are, for a bit more relaxation on an island called Koh Rong. We like seeing the cities for the culture but after we went so long without a beach we are making the most of our opportunities.

Posted by Chelsandliam 09:02 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh Comments (3)

Three days in Saigon

sunny 38 °C

The first thing you notice about Saigon is the traffic. Walking out of our hotel onto a main road we were confronted with a mammoth amount of motorbikes, weaving in and out of trucks, buses and cars. The air is thick and polluted, people continually beep their horns and everyone wears face masks.


We were in search of something to eat and walked through the streets looking at restaurants. The shear amount was overwhelming and coupled with the fact that all the restaurant staff were on the streets trying to get you to come inside meant we just kept on walking. The streets are so busy, not only the traffic but the amount of people. Vendors set up and walk up and down the streets selling to tourists, the paths are lined with parked up motorbikes and the shops spill out onto the streets. We walked right out of the tourist district and settled on a café a bit further on where we sat and just watched the traffic. You see all sorts of sights, motorbikes pilled with boxes, pipes, fruit and veg, pretty much anything, they can or cannot fit on a bike. We saw dogs sat on motorbikes, people on foot weaving in and out of the crazy traffic to hand out leaflets and road sweepers that sweep up leaves in the mists of it all, god knows how they don’t get ran over. This was our first day in Saigon, all we did was have a walk around the streets. The city seems a lot bigger than Hanoi, the roads are a lot wider and the buildings taller. As always there is a lot of litter but there are also a lot of people employed to sweep it up.


After our first impressions the next day we were ready to see some sights. The last month or so we have not really been very interested in sightseeing and have just been enjoying our destinations, living and walking around towns however there were a few things that we wanted to see, Liam in particular. After breakfast we walked to the Reunification Palace. It was extremely hot and we walked from shaded tree to shaded tree to stay out of the scorching sun. After a few hair raising road crossing we had our method sorted, basically just don’t look, walk across the road at a consistent pace and the traffic pre-empts your pace and dodges you. Well we haven’t been ran over so we assume it’s as good a method as any. It was not far and once we got there we realised it was closed until after lunch. Luckily we had not had a productive morning and we only had to wait forty minutes so we decided to get a drink in a café and wait. We went to the nearest restaurant and asked if we could just have a drink. The waitress directed us to the café on the sixth floor. The café was beautiful inside and had really nice views across the city. We ordered our drinks, Liam a beer, Chelsea a homemade lemonade and we sat for a while looking over the city, strangely enough listening to Boyzone.

The palace opened at 1.30pm and cost 30,000 dong each (about £1) to enter. The palace was not really what we expected, it looked more like an office building, with a green at the front and a fountain. Along the road to the palace were old propaganda posters lined up which were interesting and there were a few tanks and a plane to look at.


Once we approached we were directed to the left by several guards who led us into a room where tourists were sat in rows and a lady at the front talked them through the guided tour, which we apparently had to be part of. We walked up to the second floor and started the tour and managed to slip out in front and ditch the tour. We walked around the palace at our own pace on our own and again were a little shocked by it. It felt empty and uninviting. Several rooms were open for viewing like the meeting rooms, the banquet room and others, a cinema and bedroom. Each room was set out as if it was an office, very minimal, basic furniture and not at all decorative like other palaces we have seen. We walked around the sterile halls peering in the rooms until we got to the roof. On the roof was a helicopter and we sat and had a cold drink. The last bit of the palace was the basement. This was a series of underground eerie hallways with rooms branching off with different office and intelligent rooms for the leaders and army. There was a lot of old intelligence equipment down there as well as some old cars and a gallery of old photos, maps and memorabilia.


The palace is not a particularly nice sight but it is interesting as a piece of history and to understand Vietnam in the 1970’s.

After our walk around the palace we headed to the War Remnants Museum which is really close by and costs 15000 dong to enter.


The first exhibit is a courtyard filled with military planes, tanks and arms. Liam loved it and after making sure he took at least one, but in most cases two photos of every item we were allowed to move on.


The other outside exhibit is a mock-up of the tactics and conditions used on Con Son island. There are tiger cages, small barbed wire coffin cages to keep prisoners inside, a guillotine and cells, as well as photos of war tactics and prisoners. It is extremely grim and disturbing and shows some horrifying sights of what people faced. Inside the museum is one of the best we have been to in Southeast Asia in terms of quality exhibits and information. We are used to faded photos, old exhibits and dusty relics but this was in excellent condition, well maintained and extremely busy. Normally there are just us and a few other tourists when we visit museums but this one was absolutely packed out. There are three floors of exhibits, mainly it is harrowing photos of war tactics, acts of war, the aftermath of war and the devastating effects it had on not only the armies involved and the civilians but also the landscape and economy of Vietnam but there are also some relics. There are cases full of weapons, huge pieces of shrapnel and different bombs. It is an extremely sombre museum and the main focus is on the effects that war has on people and the importance of peace. We spent a while looking around the different rooms and the highlight was an exhibition that was donated to the museum which has collated photos from the war from an impartial view. It shows amazing and devastating photos taken from all sides from the reporters that risked their lives to document the events and there is a tribute to reporters from all different countries.

We spent all day visiting the palace and museum and were tired walking back so we called into a café for a delicious blended iced mocha coffee. In the evening we got our first sight of the streets at night.


The main road is bright with neon signs and stalls set up selling BBQ skewers. We decided on a Vietnamese restaurant called five oysters and ordered a selection of dishes to share, beef salad, grilled octopus with chilli, fish spring rolls and Banh Xeo, a thin crispy pancake stuffed with seafood and meat, beansrpouts and veg.

Our final day in Saigon was a lot slower paced. We decided to visit Benh Thanh market just for a leisurely wander around. It was only a short walk and a few sketchy road crossings away and were only sold drugs twice on the way. We have noticed in Vietnam that there are a LOT of people selling drugs, especially in Saigon and everywhere we walk we are approached. The market is a huge indoor market and sells all sorts of things. As soon as we entered we were heckled for all sides to buy things, even grabbed. It was beyond off-putting and we instantly did not want to buy anything or even browse. We walked around for approximately six minutes before we decided to leave. It mainly sold tourist souvenirs, clothing, confectionary, and beauty products but there was also a street food section and a fresh produce area. Compared to other markets we have seen in Southeast Asia it was not particularly interesting and not enjoyable to walk around unless you enjoy being heckled at and pleaded with to buy crap.

The rest of the day was spent wandering the busy streets and moving from café to café talking.


We have booked our bus for tomorrow morning which will take us to Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. Saigon a name which evokes the exotic is a city which to us seems to be in a limbo of booming prosperity in a still developing nation. Glittering skyscrapers sit next to crumbling pavements pilled with litter. The cities inhabitants benefit from 21st century commodities which the city itself seems to not yet be able to deal with. We have enjoyed Saigon but have realised that we prefer the countryside and the quiet coasts to the chaotic and polluted cities.

Posted by Chelsandliam 09:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam saigon Comments (2)

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