A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia: Phnom Penh

Blind Massage and Tuol Sleng

sunny 36 °C

Tiring of the chaotic cities I decide to stay only a short while in Phnom Pehn. The infestation of mopeds has clearly spread to Cambodia too, and the beeping of horns tormented me once more. Luckily I could find solace in the swimming pool at my hostel/hotel. It was small but satisfying after trudging around the city in the hellish heat.

After reading so much about the traditional 'healing hands' of the Blind Masseurs of Cambodia, I decide to let a massaging 'magician' mould my body back into shape. Unfortunately the 'magician' must have had a day off, as the lady I received a massage from simply poked and prodded me. Not to be rude I tipped as the project is a great cause, giving Cambodian people who are blind an opportunity to live a normal life.

On Monday I took a long (and exhausting) walk, (determined to get some exercise) to Tuol Sleng Museum. The former High School was taken over by Pol Pot's security forces in 1975 and used as a prison to torture and kill Cambodian victims. Rows and rows of photos documented the victims, mug shots taken as they entered the prison. The once classrooms were turned into cells/chambers, with barb wire surrounding the exits preventing as form of escape. What was once climbing apparatus for the school children to exercise on became a mechanism for torture- used to hang prisoners upside down until they became unconscious, followed by dunking the prisoner's head in cold water, painfully bringing them back to consciousness.

The building seemed to be left virtually as it was when it was used as a prison. The 'class rooms' displayed a metal frame bed in the middle of the room, a metal shackle and sometimes a black and white picture of a deceased victim, as they had been found. Room after room the same...victim after victim, the same.

Little information was written in displays, but little was needed. You didn't need to be told in much detail what went on here. The walls of the 'class rooms' held all the stories...if only they could talk.

Posted by Melanie Kidd 03:11 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

All quiet in the Kampot front

2 days of peace

sunny 36 °C

Kampot...just what I needed! Hanging in the garden of Blissful Guest House hammocks await for lazy travelers to collapse in to, with an ice cold beer in hand. Simplicity at it's best, just a bed with a mossie net and outside 'scoop flush' toilets. Only $2 per night.

My tuk-tuk driver convince me to take a trip to the caves in the afternoon on the day of my arrival. Joined by a girl from Sweden, Tess, we embark on the bumpy ride through the stunning countryside. The roads are dusty and the cows are skinny. 10 minutes into our journey we reach an abandoned railway line. Another tuk-tuk is stuck half-way across the line, surrounded by several villages pondering over the situation. Two wooden planks have been placed either side of the line, placed to help vehicles drive over the line. In this case it didn't work. Unable to carry on until the other tuk-tuk has moved, we wait for at least 10 minutes until the villagers finally decide there is only one option...the old fashioned method of 'heave-ho'. Circling the vechile they push from behind, whilst rocking the tuk-tuk from side to side, shimmying it over the railway line. Inspired by the efforts of the villages our tuk-tuk driver recruits the help of some local children. He speeds up towards the line. As we hit the track the kids push their hardest, and we bounce over to the other side. Easy. Or so we think.

Two minutes further into our journey there are some strange clicking noises coming from the tuk-tuk. Our driver ignores it, and speeds on...until disaster. The chain comes off of the bike. Stranded in the middle of the countryside we wait whilst our driver repeatedly swears in English, then apologises profusely, as he haphazardly puts the chain back on the bike. This incident happens several more times. But it provides ideal opportunities to take pictures. Once we reach the fields near the caves, the driver goes to fix the bike whilst we recruit some local children to show us the caves. Speaking perfect English (and with a good knowledge of several other languages) two boys become our leaders, whilst other children tag along for the journey. We hire a flashlight from another child and head into the caves. The narrow cave channels, and large rocks make the journey more exciting. But with only one very useless torch, it is difficult to see where I'm going. We spot bats and find a clear pool of water, perfectly still hiding in the darkness. A narrow exit reveals the rest of the children ready to walk us back. We give the children money, and find our driver with the fixed tuk-tuk.

My second day in Kampot involves exploration of the town on a bicycle. However, due to the intensity of the heat I end up doing most of my 'exploration' around the cafes that line the waterfront. The The 'touristy' side of the river is easily navigated on tarmacked roads. Crossing the bridge the roads are dusty orange-coloured tracks, twisting through the local village.

Posted by Melanie Kidd 03:11 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Canyoning and Crazy Houses!

Da Lat, Vietnam

The bus to Da Lat was small, hot and cramped. We launched over bumps, spending most of the journey on the wrong side of the road as we swerved around pot holes and dodged mopeds. An German man sat across from me looked over and jokingly draws a cross with his finger across his chest. We both chuckle quietly, but it definitely nervous laughter. A couple hours of the journey we have a flat tyre. A Russian girl shows me a plant on the side of the road. When you touch it the leaves curl up, as if to trap a small creature. This keeps us amused for a while.

Back on the road the bus crawls up the hills as it struggles to get us there. When we reach Da Lat the bus driver drops us off outside a hotel where a couple of guys ambush the bus trying to sell us rooms at the hotel and tours around Da Lat. Knowing where I want to stay I meander through the group of people, and grab my backpack from the back of the bus. In such a hurry, I manage to leave both my jumper and gortex jacket on the bus. I don't realise this until the bus has driven away!

Walking around Da Lat I soon realise it is not quite what I imagined. The traffic is equally as bad as any other busy Vietnamese city and the centre isn't as picturesque as I hoped. I quickly dive into an adventure tour company shop, and sign up for a canyoning trip for the next day. This wasn't my first choice, I was keen to trek or horseride. But being the only person booked on to either of those options I would have to pay a lot extra. Therefore they suggested the canyoning which 3 people had already booked on to. I quickly paid the money before I chickened out and changed my mind.

SATURDAY: I get picked up at 9am, and meet the three other people I will spend the day with (who conveniently stay at the hotel next to mine). We are transported to Datalana Waterfalls, which at first glance is full of tourists. We ride the roller coaster deeper into the jungle.

The first abseil acts as a reminder for me about how to do it. Having only done it once when I was about 12 years old, somehow it stuck in my mind. And I definitely found it less scary than the first time round.

The abseils get slightly more difficult after this to get us warmed up for the 'big one' after lunch. We had the chance to jump off heights into the water, which ranged between 5-10 metres- which I didn't do. And we also got the chance to ride the rapids like water slides- which I did do and ended up with a huge bruise on my left hip. It was great fun though.

Lunch was at a quiet spot, away from all the tourists, by a relaxing part of the river. The water was clear, and the tropical canopy shaded us from the sun.

After lunch we trekked on, wading through rivers, balancing on fallen-tree bridges and climbing slopes using vines to pull ourselves up. We eventually reached our biggest challenge. Bamboo (our guide) set up the ropes at the top of a fairly big and very powerful waterfall. This was certainly a step up from the abseils we had done during the morning. The two boys went first to show us girls how it was done. Will sailed down with ease. Ryan fell once at the top. We watched as the water pounded his face, whilst he struggled back on to his feet and wearily abseiled down to the bottom. Fran wasn't keen on the idea of doing it. So it was my go next. I was pretty nervous, but knew if I didn't give it a go I would definitely regret it! I edged my way up to Bamboo on the top of the waterfall and clung to him as he attached the ropes to my harness. As I slid my feet slowly backwards to the edge of the waterfall I knew this was the last chance to turn back. Feeling brave and full of adrenaline I edged my way over the first edge. Almost immediately I lost my footing, and fell into the water. I tried to look up but the gushing water blocked my view. I tried to call up to Bamboo to pull me back up, but either he couldn't hear me or he chose not to. Struggling to push myself back up again, it seemed like forever until I eventually got back up onto my feet. I could hear cheering from the boys below. Feeling a second burst of energy I carried on knowing there was only one way off the waterfall.

The further down I got the stronger the pressure of the water was on my legs. I fell again right in the midst of the waterfall, at the most forceful part. I had to keep looking behind me, as there was no way I could face the falling water. I watched the water spray off of my helmet, and felt the force on the back of my head. It took even longer to push myself back up onto my feet, as the water made it seem impossible. Eventually I got up again, which was accompanied by another cheer. I made my way down the last part, and lowered myself into the water. Exhausted but full of exhilaration I swam to the rocks back on to dry land. Was one of the most thrilling things I've experienced.

By the final abseil I was so tired, and ended up pulling out of it. It was called the 'washing machine' as at the bottom was a rapid of water that sucked you under and spat you out on the other side. I started the climb down but didn't like the look of all the dangerous rocks jutting up, so clambered back up again. As far as I was concerned I had already acheived a great deal that day. The 20 minute trek up hill to meet the van was hard, even for our guides. When I got back to the hotel I slipped into sleep with a smile on my face. What an amazing day!

SUNDAY: I'm still exhausted from canyoning, so just amble around the town. I take lunch in a small travellers cafe, and meet another Enbglish girl, Rebecca. We get chatting and decide to visit the 'Crazy House' that afternoon. It's a house/hotel designed by a Vietnamese architect with the mind of a Surrealist, who clearly had no very little grip on health & saftey, and a firm grip on insanity.

Posted by Melanie Kidd 03:10 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Nha Trang

I arrive in Nha Trang at 8:30am, and book into a popular backpackers hostel before going for a run alongside the beach. It's been quite some time since I have been for a run, so 20 minutes is certainly enough.

Adamant on doing as much exercise as possible I take a long walk along the length of the beach to the Oceanographic Museum. It the grounds of a research centre, the museum contains many varieties of tropical fish.

Only a short walk from my accommodation (and an even shorter bike ride) I find a dirt cheap Veggie cafe that does tasty food of the 'I can't believe it's not meat' variety.

Tuesday morning started with a wander around the touristy part of the town with two Aussie guys I had met in Hanoi. Wondering what we should eat for breakfast, we fell upon a tasty looking baguette stand. Peering through the glass cabinet to take a look at the filling options, I stand back and notice clear red letters taped to the glass saying 'Vegetarian'. Perfect. I don't say anything to the boys knowing it might put them off. The baguette lady carefully fills our bread with tasty salad, well disguised tofu and glass noodles, and then squirts a healthy topping of chilli sauce inside. She pulls out mini plastic stools for us, and the lady next door prepares coffee for the boys and an ice tea for me. For only 10 Dong, it is the cheapest and tastiest baguette I have had so far. The boys happily wolf down their baguettes, and seem satisfied by the taste. I then point out the fact that they have just eaten vegetarian food. Surprised, they do agree that it was a great baguette...but are keen to make up for the lack of meat at lunch time! I quickly decide I shall be visiting the baguette lady everyday.

The boys go to Vinpearl, a water/theme park on an island off of the mainland. Keen to explore the town I decide to hire a bicycle. I quickly get used to the traffic, realising one simple rule...

1. Never stop!

Just keep moving. Stopping confuses the other road users. Even when approaching roundabouts! Don't hesitate. Aside from going circling roundabouts several times before daring to turn off, I manage to master the Vietnamese method of cruising.

My first stop is the Long Son Pagoda. And my first mistake is trusting a kind Vietnamese lady who greets me at the gate. She is keen to show me around, as she knows the temple very well. She claims to be an orpan, who was housed an an orphange affiliated with this particular temple when she was young. She instructs me on how to respect Buddha in the temple, and grabs my camera to take pictures of me.

She offers to pray to Buddha to bring me a good man. She rushes me around the temple, and up to the sleeping Buddha statue.

At this point I realise there is a catch. She wants me to buy postcards to supposedly support the orphange she came from. She wants 400,000 Dong for the postacards (about 12 pounds)! I try to reason with her, and offer to make a donation. She insists that you can not make donations to the Orphange... "Only buy postcards". I make an offer to buy one for less money, but this not the answer she is looking for. Her sweet smile turns into an dissapproving frown. She tries to intimidate me by raising her voice, "Oh my god! I help you, you don't help me!" I apologise again, but tell her I can not afford to pay that amount for postacrds, but am always willing to make donations to good causes. She yells louder. I try to shake her off, as people around are begining to stare. I walk up towards the next part of the pagoda, as she calls from below "Oh my god! I do not help you no longer." I turn around to see a security guard standing just behind her. The last thing I need is to be accused of upsetting an orphaned woman, and thrown out of the temple!! Luckily he ignores the commotion. I carry on quickly up the steps, until she is out of my sight. I feel embarrased and slightly intimidated. I hurry around the rest of the sight. On my way out I see her walking towards the gate. In a mission impossible fashion I duck behind statues, and weave through the trees, hoping she doesn't spot me. I struggle to unlick my bike, and a guy delays me by remiding me I have to pay for parking my bike. I peer over my shoulder as I wait for my change, but she still hasn't seen me. Leaping on to the bike, I check the 3 arch ways of the gate to see which one she is standing in. I spot her absurdly large hat in the centre archway. If I dart towards the left archway I can sail out without risking eyecontact with her. I dart towards the archway, and sink into the centre of the traffic. I've escaped. Once I am far enough away to feel at ease again, I wonder how many people she has harrassed into giving her money. How many people give in to save embarrassment?? As I try to shake her from my mind I notice a bakery on the corner. A slice of cake will help me forget.

Biking towards the beach it begins to rain. I hover under the shelter of a tree to eat my my slice of reward. When the rain subsides, I bike around trying to find a museum I had read about. I can't find it, and it begins to rain again. Defeated I head back to the main road which runs alongside the beach, and start to head back to the hostel.

Up until this moment I had been riding with my rucksack secured in the front basket with the bike chain. As I headed back to the hostel, which was only a short distnace away, I do not lock the bag to the bike. As I sailed along admiring the view, I felt a moped pull up on the left side of me and slow down. I turned to look to see two men on the moped. As soon as l looked, the man on the back reached out to snatch my bag, getting hold of the side. Reacting quickly I grabbed hold of the top loop. The men tested my grasp by pulling away on the moped, attempting to pull the bag from my hands, and pulling me forward off of the seat. Luckily I had a firm grasp and would not let the bag go. Realising they were defeated they let go of the bag, and sped off. As they let go, I tried to maintain control of ther bike, but it was too difficult. I tipped over to the right and fell on to the side of the road. My knee hit the curb, then the bike fell on to my knee. A Vietnamese man on another moped stopped to help me up, and attached my bag to the front of the bike for me. I clambered on to the bike, and started to head back to the hostel. Stopping briefly for a minute I had a 30 second weep, before a sudden rush of triumphant feeling hit me.

5 minutes into the bike ride, the adrenline fades, and my knee begins to ache. At the hostel restaurant I put ice on it, and order my second reward of the day...a big glass of wine.

Later on that evening I quickly consume several cocktails, but the pain in my knee is getting worse. An Irish girl in my room, who conveniently is a nurse, accompanies me to the pharmacy to get some painkilling gel. At the next bar I feel it getting worse, and have difficulty trying to bend it as it's so inflammed. Two of the Irish nurses insist on dragging me to the hospital to get it checked out. At the hospital the nurse wants to inject more painkillers and send me on my way, but we convince them to give me an x-ray. A wheel chair pulls up beside me and I am wheeled through corridors, into an outdoor courtyard, and through into another part of the hospital. The x-ray room contains the most basic equipment. As I wait for my x-ray I am put on to a bed next to an elderly lady. She has a drip linked to her arm. A relative lays next to her, giving her a firm hug as she sleeps. There are afew stains on the floor, and the bed isn't very clean. I hope my knee isn't broken so I can leave quickly. I wait for ages opposite a room where they are examining my x-ray. The girls are great and keep me smiling. They are also intrigued to see how the hospital runs, comparing it with the methods and procedures back in Ireland. Eventually my x-ray is shown to me. There are no obvious signs of a break. The doctor advises me to get another x-ray the next day. I see this as a way to get more moeny out of me. They also charge me for a ridiculous bright blue knee support, which covers my entire leg from ankle almost to hip! The stupid thing makes it harder to walk, and I take it off as soon as I get back to the hostel.

Wednesday morning I was supposed to be on an early bus to Da Lat. But I decided to rest my knee and slept in. Later on in the morning I head to the beach with the Irish girls. The weather isn't right for tanning, and I get restless. As soon as lunchtime arrives I hobble over to the baguette stall. The lovely lady puts out a plastic stool for me, but stops when she sees me struggling to get down low enough to sit on it. Another smiley lady speaks very good english, and asks me what happened. She then translates to the baguette lady, and they have a debate about in Vietnamese. They make sure I am comfortable, when the inquisitive drinks lady comes over and gets the low-down. As I eat my sandwich, the baguette lady makes a salt solution and massages my knee. The smiley lady explains how guilty they all feel. I tell her that it has not impinged my view of Vietnam or the people. They tell me to come back tomorrow as they want to see if my knee has improved.

Thursday: Stuck in Nha Trang for another day, I do very little besides take a trip to get a baguette. My knee is improving, but I get fussed over again. More locals having coffee are informed about the story of my knee by the drinks lady. She rises from her stool to tell the story in Vietnamese, using dramatic hand gestures and facial expressions to convey the swelling of my knee; the moment of the near bag snatching, and the shock I felt during the moment (these were all her interpretations of the story, not mine).

Feeling like I am wasting time, I book a bus to Da Lat for the next day.

Friday: My bus leaves for Da Lat at 8am. Just after 7am I visit the baguette lady for the last time. Perched on the miniture stool, watching the locals carry on around me as normal, I feel at ease. I don't understand a word the they are saying, but it is so interesting to watch them interact. I could easily sit here for hours. I say goodbye to the baguette lady, and she softly grips my hand with a smile that says 'take care'. The drinks lady comes over to see me off to, points to be improved knee and smiles. I hope they can see how grateful I am for their hospitality, and for letting me sit and watch them as they go about their lives.

Posted by Melanie Kidd 03:10 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Peace and wine in Hoi An


I find tranquility in Hoi An, a small and quaint European-style town close to the coast. Full of cute cafes and kitsch bars (which were a little pricey) I felt much more relaxed and happy here.

The second day we hire bikes and cycle to the beach, only 2.5 km from town. With hardly anyone around I fall asleep to the sounds of the waves and under the affectionate warmth of the sun. Eventually I wake up incredibly burnt. Happens every time, and I never learn. Biking back past rice fields and country-side shack houses, I feel like I am in 'real' Vietnam.

The next day I go on a organised trip to My Son, an area containing relics of Hindu temples. It is an incredibly hot day, making it difficult to appreciate the site for what it is.

Later in the evening I go for a drink with some people I met on the trip, and I enjoy my first glass of wine in a long time. It's pricey but worth it. A few social drinks turns into a few beers, some shots and dancing on a pool table in the local noisy bar!

Posted by Melanie Kidd 03:10 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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