Our first stop was the fast moving city of Bangkok with lots to see for a couple of days. We then travelled overland through Thailand and crossed into Cambodia at a chaotic border crossing. The poverty, heat, smells, dust and people milling around are a shock to the system. We spent a week travelling through Cambodia, seeing Siem Reap and the amazing temples of Angkor Wat (below). Travelling by boat on Tonle Sap Lake and seeing the floating villages with the children jumping into and swimming in the dirty water. Spent a night in a rural homestay where electricity arrived four months ago and the outside toilet and shower had no running water. Closed our eyes as we drove on the crazy roads where no rules seem to apply.
Stayed in Phnom Penh, the capital, which was a beautiful city but has suffered so much in this war torn country. Visited the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum, heard the horror stories of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia, a desperately poor country is emerging from a long period of darkness and many basic services do not exist. Yet everywhere we were greeting with smiles and a welcome. Another border crossing into Vietnam and on to the madness of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Colourful markets that sold everything from beautiful silks to baby chickens. Exotic fruits that tasted of sunshine and most of which I had never seen before. Scooters are the main means of transport. Whole families squeeze on along with pigs, chickens and anything that needs to be moved.
Wriggling through the Cu Chi tunnels and seeing the war museum brought the American war involvement to life . An overnight train took us up to Central Vietnam and the lovely cities of Hoi An and the old capital of Hue. Time to ride push bikes into the countryside and explore the communal vegetable patches, paddy fields, see the water buffalo ploughing the fields and the farmers at work. Ride scooters through the crazy city traffic, down back lanes, visit the pagodas and the country markets. Take a dragon boat up the Perfume River and enjoy the wonderful food of Hoi An.
A flight took us to Hanoi – if we thought Ho Chi Minh was noisy it was nothing to Hanoi (above). Smaller but with six million people and about 4 million scooters it made crossing the street a life and death experience. All life carried on on the pavement…cooking, eating, washing, and socialising. Outside our hotel the barber hung his mirror on a tree branch, opened his fold up chair and carried on his business – no need to sweep up.
A couple days cruising on the beautiful Halong Bay and visiting a magnificent cave was a chance to relax.
Trekking with the Sapa Tribe
Sapa, 360k north of Hanoi, near the Chinese border, was our next stop. Our daughter joined us from Sydney and we did some great trekking in this lovely remote mountaineous area. On the small terraces the local tribespeople did all the farm work by hand. (Ireland of long ago) The women made all their clothes from hemp, dyed and embroidered them too. Vietnam is still a very poor country. However, the last decade has seen big changes – tourism, new overseas investment, improving infrastructure and wifi is everywhere. Family life is hugely important and arranged marriages are still commonplace. There is a big young population who are into fashion, music and i phones. We had excellent local guides along the way who answered all our questions, filled us in on history and lifestyle and made sure we were safe.
We loved all the different food and managed to avoid any illness. A wonderful and interesting trip but coming back to the peace and quiet of our lovely Dublin and Wicklow hills is appreciated all the more.
Teresa and Sean Dolan