28.12.14

The Vietnam Diaries: Ho Chi Minh






A bustling, hectic metropolis. Abrasive, intense and exhausting. I found it lacked any of the authenticity and culture I had seen in other towns such as Ubud, Kampot and Siem Reap. It reminded me of Phnom Penh – another capital city I had hated – and I decided to move on pretty swiftly.

We had however, a single day to kill in between. And there was no chance that we would be spending it in the city – so we booked a $12 tour of the Mekong Delta, from 8am to 5pm including lunch and water.

I usually hate tours like this but in a country like Vietnam, where small quirks and histories are overlooked for the larger, depressing tragedies, it was nice to be told stories of families and rural life for a change.

For example; supposedly the Vietnamese bury their lost loved ones in the rice paddies where they make their livelihood.

Que Julia: “Mmmm. Tastes like grandma!” #ShitEbertSays

We were taken to see the past, present and future Buddha statues, where we were told to NEVER take a selfie with a Buddha – it is sacrilegious to be in a photo standing in front of the Buddha. (A little bit late on that one, Sorry Buddha.)

Next stop was the “Handicapped Handicrafts” store…I don’t think much more needs to be said on that one.

We were then taken to botanic gardens where we paid a solid $6 for a mango smoothie as we hadn’t had breakfast. Stupid move, but it tasted damn good.

We were then taken on a small boat up the Mekong delta, while Asian men took lots of photographs of/with us and waved animatedly.

We were treated to a Vietnamese theatrical performance which was really just a bit strange and awkward, before drinking honey tea and holding a massive python for fun.

Last stop was the coconut candy making store – oddly really disgusting rather than the expected tasty. All round disappointment.

Overall – 100% worth the trip. We got to see a good chunk of the real south without being overwhelmed by angry motorcycle men and Japanese tourists with mammoth cameras (Japanese festival was there that week, of course.)






19.12.14

Hostel: ARCADIA BACKPACKERS, Kampot






Arcadia [ahr-key-dee-uh] noun; any real or imaginary place offering peace and simplicity.

‘A barefoot backpackers riverside beach resort’. Arcadia, nestled amongst the trees along the river about 8km from the town of Kampot, is one of those hostels that you arrive at and never leave.

It’s true. My cousin went there for a couple of days…she left four months later.

Bamboo huts built by hand; walls painted by staff (and drunk customers); a rope swing; a swinging (dangerous for the drunk face-planter *me*) boat; a floating pontoon and a bell. DON’T RING THE BELL. Or you shall have to buy everyone in the bar a tequila shot. And that ends badly for you, and everyone around you. (Although that is in essence, Arcadia. It is wild, fun and devastating to the budget/liver).

Three Australian guys own the place – travellers themselves, and it is run mainly by backpackers and locals who just want to live the laidback paradise lifestyle they have created along the river.

At the end of the road is a small family run shop offering cheap local meals, laundry, motos and a chat. They seem to be almost an extension of Arcadia, knowing all the guests and staff alike.

The rooms range from $5 dorms to $25 riverside utopia. Although you’ve missed out if you haven’t passed out in a hammock at least once during your stay.

Rating: 10/10


Even if you aren’t a massive drinker or wild-at-heart traveller, it’s worth a visit purely for the memories and friends you will make even in a short 4 days. 






16.12.14

A Town Called Kampot










An often overlooked haven of Cambodia is the small riverside town of Kampot, nestled close to the Vietnamese border. Peaceful, gentle and beautiful. A welcome balance of honest Cambodian culture and tourism, I felt safe and comfortable, while also seeing a whole other lifestyle to the Khmer people.

Economically Kampot is based on Salt & Pepper production & fishing. A gateway to the stunning Bokor National park I couldn’t recommend the town more. From night markets to street-side noodles; sunsets & sunrises that make you question whether it is reality or a dream world that you find yourself living in.

Get There:
The easiest way to visit Kampot is via bus from Phnom Penh, Kep or Sihanoukville. I had mine booked through Giant Ibis for $7. Another option is via shared taxi – an early morning journey from Kampot to Phnom Penh cost us $35, split 3 ways. If there are a group consider getting a quote – it could be that the air-conditioned comfort is the unconventionally cheaper option!

Bokor National Park:
Overlooking the sea to the Vietnamese mountains (previously seen from Koh Ta Kiev), Bokor National park is about 2 hours on Moto from the town centre. Up a windy mountain road, the park is a shrine to what seems to be a never-ending quest for commercialisation. And failure. Building developments remain untouched, rotting in the sky over a beautiful backdrop. The newest development is the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort, a $1bn US Dollar Casino that is eerily reminiscent of the desolate house in the shining (out-dated d├ęcor and void of personality). Wildlife is there, somewhere, but impossible to find. The waterfalls, although still stunning, rarely flow unless in the peak of the rainy season.
That said, the views are like none other. The old abandoned casino, french colonial and inspiringly grandiose gives me reason to stay in one place.
Note: If you are riding a Moto – be careful. Our inner tyre punctured at the top by the casino (the men in the fire station just at the bottom of the new complex are sweet and willing to help for a few dollars). On the way time, it completely blew and the guards were unhelpful and frustrating. But anywhere along the main road, outside of the park, are side stalls where a family man will fix you up for a super cheap fee.

The Town:
Don’t miss a sunset at the beach – not a real ‘beach’ as such and a fair ride out of town towards Bokor, but this was that moment where we stood back and said ‘is this real? Or is it just fantasy?’
Within the town the river is the main feature, with roads and colonial buildings running off, pulling together quaint charm.
Waterfalls and mountains are abundant in Kampot – you won’t run out of day trips and adventures soon.

Where to Stay?
I can only recommend two places in Kampot as they were those that I visited. Firstly, Mad Monkey. A hostel chain, MM is a flashpacker hostel with a pool, bar and pristine vibes. Closer to a hotel than anything id seen in Cambodia so far, it was a definite luxury option at a budget price.
Secondly – and this is the one I will shout about for days – Arcadia backpackers. But there will be a whole post on this one, so wait for that.




















10.12.14

Travellers Tips Vietnam #2



Getting Around:

Vietnam is quite literally one of the most beautiful countries to travel – whether it be by motorbike, boat or bus; it is accessible and other worldly.
Many choose to explore the Ho Chi Minh trail via motorbike. I wish I had the balls/balance to have done it this way, but having never ridden a motorbike solo before (or even really being able to ride a standard bicycle), I chose bus.
A one-way ticket from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi via bus cost us…a whopping $46 dollars. Stopping at Mui Ne, Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue & Hanoi along the way. Basically a full proof quick-trip up the coast stopping at all the major hits and beauty. Unfortunately, we missed the wildly incredible Phong Na caves (one to return for), but other than that we were able to maximise on our very short time period to see everything we wanted. Several of the trips are 10+ hours long, and overnight (saving on accommodation) while others are 4-5 hours. None will be luxurious comfort, but they are easy sleeper buses and as a budget backpacker, you couldn’t really ask for much more.

Hotels & Hostels.

You will note that I haven’t included a single hostel or hotel review in the Vietnamese articles – its simply because we put no pre-thought into them whatsoever. I couldn’t remember the name of the place I was sleeping in at the time; I certainly cant now. But as two female travellers, every bus stop had a number of friendly, welcoming touts offering twin rooms for $4-6 each. It’s by far the easiest way – ditch the guidebook. Speak to the touts and see which of them is less offensive, abrasive or rude. Follow others from the bus – be sensible. You’re more likely to find a place bordering on luxury this way.

Money
Vietnamese Dong is the national currency of Vietnam. There isn’t so much to say on this as it isn’t quite as complicated as in Cambodia. It’s approximately 16000 Dong to the $1. (we rounded to 15000 – that way you end up spending less than you think.

NOTE: They really really don’t want you to take their currency out of the country, so try to spend it all before you leave/exchange locally. We made the mistake of ‘saving’ our dong at airport security, forgo-ing the most perfect foundation I have ever tried in my life for my budget. Only to find that when I got to Bangkok and tried to change it, I essentially lost it all anyway. Damn waste – one key thing I wish I’d known before.  (After 2 months I was growing needy of my makeup bag)

8.12.14

Ho Chi Minh




A bustling, hectic metropolis. Abrasive, intense and exhausting. I found it lacked any of the authenticity and culture I had seen in other towns such as Ubud, Kampot and Siem Reap. It reminded me of Phnom Penh – another capital city I had hated – and I decided to move on pretty swiftly.

We had however, a single day to kill in between. And there was no chance that we would be spending it in the city – so we booked a $12 tour of the Mekong Delta, from 8am to 5pm including lunch and water.

I usually hate tours like this but in a country like Vietnam, where small quirks and histories are overlooked for the larger, depressing tragedies, it was nice to be told stories of families and rural life for a change.

For example; supposedly the Vietnamese bury their lost loved ones in the rice paddies where they make their livelihood.

Que Julia: “Mmmm. Tastes like grandma!” #ShitEbertSays

We were taken to see the past, present and future Buddha statues, where we were told to NEVER take a selfie with a Buddha – it is sacrilegious to be in a photo standing in front of the Buddha. (A little bit late on that one, Sorry Buddha.)

Next stop was the “Handicapped Handicrafts” store…I don’t think much more needs to be said on that one.

We were then taken to botanic gardens where we paid a solid $6 for a mango smoothie as we hadn’t had breakfast. Stupid move, but it tasted damn good.

We were then taken on a small boat up the Mekong delta, while Asian men took lots of photographs of/with us and waved animatedly.

We were treated to a Vietnamese theatrical performance which was really just a bit strange and awkward, before drinking honey tea and holding a massive python for fun.

Last stop was the coconut candy making store – oddly really disgusting rather than the expected tasty. All round disappointment.

Overall – 100% worth the trip. We got to see a good chunk of the real south without being overwhelmed by angry motorcycle men and Japanese tourists with mammoth cameras (Japanese festival was there that week, of course.)