Cambodia: History learnt in Phnom Penh

DSC_0763-1 Arriving in Phnom Penh after quite a long bus ride from HCMC, I settled in the are of Toul Tom Poung. Maybe it was not the best idea to stay around that area since it was quite expensive and hard to find food. However, it was a long walk just to find an affordable hostel to stay from where I was dropped off. I was not that much interested in seeing all the temples, somehow. Having my Lonely Planet book on hands, I realised that I actually had read through Phnom Penh so many times and one of the most appealing thing I wanted to visit was the Killing field. I have never been interested in history, but it really made me want to come to pay my respect and understand better the country.

It was a 40 minute scooter ride from the hostel I stayed. You could choose to go with a tuk-tuk but I think it’s more convenient if you can share the scooter cost with someone (it’s for sure cheaper).

Arrvied at the Killing field, I didn’t know what to think about it. I was facing the monument filled with bones. I was stunned. With a recorder in hand, I followed each point. Every point is a story being told, and it is definitely not a nice story. I always took a moment to just imagine what it had happened. In the back of my head, I heard the scream, the crying… It was tragic. It was hard to face all the craves knowing that many people had left their lives there. Then I was standing in front of a big tree and did not expect a terrible story behind it. I listened to the recorder and found tears in my eyes. Pain would be the word I could describe. Babies and children were killed and it was hard to believe how they were murdered. My heart stopped. This whole Khmer Rouge was dreadful. If you have read about it, you know the story. However, being there and witnessing it are more traumatic. I left the place in silence and wished people who had been murdered during that time now stay in peace.

Vietnam: Hanoi and The People

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I used to live in this city, where you can find tons of interesting things that you can never find anywhere else. In which I find the most compelling must be the Hanoian people. There is a great variety here. People say Vietnamese people everyone looks the same. Take a look closer! The exotic Asian look might blind you but you will see they are different in a certain point.

If you have known, Asian loves to have ‘white’ skin. I mean, they prefer to have a lighter skin than a dark brown skin. Vietnamese people do have this favour too. The reason is simply about the way they want other people look at them. Light skin – ‘you work in an office, have a good job’; Brown skin – ‘oh, you must work really hard either on a field or always on a go’. It sounds quite funny but yes, that’s how they think. However, somehow it actually describes part of what they do. If you observe closely on each person pass by, there are women carrying big packages on a bicycle, old men trying to sell lotteries, men in suits, etc. This is what I mean with being different in a certain point. Hanoian (or Vietnamese people in general) work really hard. Everyone has their own businesses. Besides the higher social class with suits on, Hanoian people could be in a really low position. Some lucky ones have a job owning a shop, or driving taxi. Some actually work days and nights but only have the wage even less than a low position officer. Sometimes I wonder how they can handle everything in their lives with such a small amount of money.

Let’s get back to the jobs part. There are various jobs in Hanoi that you can’t imagine that they are even exist. I couldn’t tell them all, but I gotta say, thanks to them we have all the abilities to fulfil our needs while either living or travelling here.

About Hanoian people – I see ‘us’ in different perspectives. As a Hanoian born, allow me to use “we” in the following lines. There is a contrast between Hanoian before and now. What I learned about Hanoian people – as down to earth, kind, warm hearted, caring for each other – were way before the time I was born. I mean, I don’t say we are not like that. We are still warm hearted people and very hospitable. However, there is a certain extent, we have changed. I think, we only see this change through tourism. Tourists find Hanoian people are not as friendly as Saigon people. I have to admit, I see the same thing. I cudgel my brain about how much Hanoian people have changed. Looking around and I realised, the huge amount of people that we normally communicate with in Hanoi is from the rural area. As my perspective, they are less likely educated and they are quite aggressive in getting money. I’m not saying they have made Hanoi change that much but it gotta be one of the reasons, doesn’t it?
‘Do you know corruption is also one of the reasons?’ – T. asked.
After 3o minutes explaining, I got lost in the whole complication of Hanoi’s problems. Saigon is more developed than Hanoi. Its tourism is way ahead of us, thanks to the French reign. Therefore, the people there have a higher ability to earn more money and develop the city in any dimension. Somehow this leads to being more friendly in the South of Vietnam? I can’t tell but it really makes the people there happier and more relaxed in making money. In contrast, people from Northern Vietnam are more hostile in earning a living.

In my heart, I know we are great people. Because of some circumstances, we have to work hard for our livelihoods. And that’s what is all about. We could be someone sitting along the road with some small wooden chairs trying to sell tea or snacks, or carrying yokes around the city… I know that everyone all over the world has their own difficulties in living but I really admire Vietnamese people and how hard they work to afford a tough city life. Even though how fast the city has developed, Hanoian people still keep their own tradition and culture. In the end, everything I have mentioned comes from culture. And they are making the culture and profit us as travellers to see and understand a country better.

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Thailand: To Mae Tang

One thing I enjoy so much about travelling alone is meeting cool random people. It has given me the chance to see so many different people from different countries with different backgrounds. Checked in a guesthouse in the old town of Chiang Mai, I randomly met a guy hosting Couchsurfing. He is a friendly gay guy called Porsche (that’s how he calls himself). After a few line conversations, he offered a trip to Mae Tang. ‘Why not?’ – I thought. DSC_1203 We started a trip with some snacks in the market close by our guesthouse. Somehow I always ended up picking the wrong food. We started driving around noon. Coming with us was another Dutch guy staying in the same accommodation. We hit the road with full of excitement- music was on, we sang along. It felt superb being on the road to explore new places, and this time, I did not know where we were heading. First stop was the Tiger Kingdom. Oh well, let’s touch some big cats! The route we drove was a beautiful road. Two tree rows were standing parallel along the road. Flowers were falling slowly from the trees. The whole road was clear for us to drive real fast. I was feeling absolutely merry with what were surrounding me. There were banana leaves, palm trees, dogs and chickens running around on the street, the sun shining gave the road a touch of glitters. How cheerful was that? The most important thing must be a good travel companion. Porsche was such a funny and warm-hearted guy. Sam didn’t talk much though because of the hangover the night before 🙂 DSC05324

DSC_1206 Our last stop was a slide waterfall. It is located in Kangkued village, Maetang district. I wouldn’t call it a waterfall because the water in fact doesn’t really fall. The dare was to slide off that ‘waterfall’. It was definitely not something I would like to do. Besides my fear for water, that looked kinda scary. The slide is about 4m high and it leads to a little water hole that is about 2.5m deep. To some people, that was not a problem at all. However, it terrified me quite much. Knowing nothing what you could expect after the landing scared me. I was standing on the top of the slide and looking down. The cold water flashed to my lower body. It took me at least 5 minutes to calm myself down. With all the cheerings from Porsche and Sam, well, I decided to sit down slowly and get myself together. Bloop! It was not even 2 seconds and I hit the pond. I was freaked a bit because I couldn’t reach something to stand on but I managed to get off the water. I gotta say, it was really cool. Scary but cool. I realised I just managed to face my fear and got over it. I wouldn’t dare to do it again but I know I can get over the fear. Anyone can. DSC_1257

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DSC_1267 We headed back to Chiangmai with a good feeling. The sun was setting. And we enjoyed the music that was played along the road once again.

Thailand: Two sides of Bangkok

It was a right decision to have my weekend in Bangkok. Being here at its craziest time was kinda cool. I stayed in a French guesthouse located in a small alley between 2 busy roads – Rabuttrim and Khao San but I still got my quiet nights.

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Khao San Rd is known as the street of crazy night parties. I hadn’t had anything in my mind what to expect. Then, I was there. I was lost in a crowd of people at 11pm on a Friday night. The whole street was packed of people. Music was on. Some bars seemed like having a competition of who has better and louder music. Along the street does not only have bars and beers but also many food carts. Pad Thai, Coconut, and ‘insane’ insects. Just being here that I know why people say Bangkok is crazy. I was surprised by some businesses that Bangkok offers. Maybe a bit overwhelmed of what was actually moving around me. At one moment, people were all on the street dancing. Beers in hands, smile was on each face. My eyes were caught up at some lady guys dancing and trying to get a ‘customer’. Then the clock ticked midnight, police came from all directions and tried to shut all the bars down. Oh well, it was some kind of an act, I supposed. The moment the police were away from the spot, the music was on, people danced, again. The night life on Khao San just went on just until 2am. Bars were closing. However, the party seemed not over yet. A Sunday night, I hit a club for a pre-fullmoon party with N. The night of a Sunday night seemed not much a difference from other nights of Khao San. The party was over at 2.  For us, it was not nearly an end. In fact, the business of Bangkok’s night life is just started. N and I asked around for an after party and in fact, we got into a tuktuk for just 40BHT to get there. Quite a price huh? It was a 20 minute ride around Bangkok to get to that place. We were waited somehow. The amount of people any Tuktuk of Taxi bring to the club will be written down on a paper and I suppose they will have a share from that. At that moment, we realised why the trip was so cheap. Anyway…

Besides all the crazy party nights, the noise from the traffic, Bangkok has its quiet side. I spent a day walking along the riverside. Hopped on a boat and went to most attractions. Strolling around for awhile in the extreme heat of Bangkok… After a while, I found myself lost in an area that there was no tourist. ‘Bangkok could actually have a place like this?’ – I questioned myself. I was looking for shadow to hide there for a bit and led to a small temple. It was just a plan to dry my sweat but I stayed a bit longer sitting in the quietness. It seems pretty hard to find a quiet place in Bangkok because of all the traffics. And there I was, still! Most temples that I visited in Bangkok, they are quite touristic. Having a moment being surrounded by no one but the still were rare.  Time passed and time to move on.

I didn’t have a chance to explore more areas of Bangkok. However, I was there few years back so I didn’t really miss anything. But great thing, I got an opportunity to meet up with a friend that I met in Hanoi three and a half years ago.

From here, I was off to Koh Lanta!

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Thailand: Hiding out on Koh Lanta

It was a change of plan. I had doubted my trip to Myanmar and thought of where I would be going after Bangkok. Oh, Fullmoon party in Koh Phangan island? Koh Tao? Koh Lipe? Too many options for this beautiful country. At the last minute, I decided to book my flight from Krabi to Chiangmai. Therefore, Koh Lanta was my next destination. It is just a perfect hide-out for me.

At first, I found myself a bit lonely going to a honeymoon island just by myself. I was in the bus with couples hand-in-hand, or family sharing their laughters. However, by the time I reached the shore, I felt totally in peace. Maybe being alone is not too bad? After 20 hour travelling, I got myself a bungalow and headed right away to the beach. I fell asleep without knowing it, didn’t care about my surroundings if there were couples cuddling or kids running around. I couldn’t feel any better.

Many people have wondered why I am travelling by my own. Besides the fact that I don’t bother why not, I want to give sometime for myself to figure out what I want to do the coming time, to learn about myself better and find peace in my heart. And yes, I have found the perfect place to think. The moment I drove myself real fast along the beach with the motorbike I rented, I felt free. I freed myself from the troubles, from all the matters that were left behind in my real world and I letted myself to find my inner peace. I felt every single thing around me – the wind going through my hair and breezing on my skin, the smell of the sea, the delighted sunshine glowing on my whole body… I appreciated so much what I was having at that moment. I got a bit lost while driving. A little reflection – I felt lost myself, not only of the way, but also in my life. Well, life is always like that. You sometimes feel lost but you somehow manage to find your way out. And same to me, I did find my way to get out of the maze.

This place does not have so many tourists and I was so happy about it. I could calmly enjoy the sunset at 18:30 without many people on the beach. And sure was, it was a beautiful sunset at 18:30. The sun became a giant egg yolk and blended in the dark blue sky. The water became golden with a spark of glitters. At that moment, I wished I could just blend myself in, just like that.

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Then the night reached to this island. I loved the fact that I stayed in a bungalow that was 20 steps away from the beach. I took a stroll spontaneously on the beach at one night. Some restaurants were still open and had music on. The dimmed candle lights could be seen from a distance. Oh, it could be very romantic if I was with someone. Crickets chirped. Waves pounded the shore. I looked up and there were stars, sparkling over the dark sky. The full moon light illuminated equivocally behind the trees. That moment is so hard that impossible to find in the city. I was soaked up in the dark for a while. The only thing I hated was the mosquitos. But I wouldn’t do a crazy thing if I was so bothered by them. I ran to the water. Having my legs in the cold water felt just amazing. I could have actually dipped my whole body in unless I was not having my phone in my purse. And just like that, another day on this beautiful island passed by.

Waking up in the beachy morning  sun was absolutely my favourtie thing there. Having been travelling for few weeks, I never got a real good sleep as I got here. The first thing I heard in the morning were the bird singing and the wind blowing… There, I was the laziest person on earth. But why not? I was happy. I did nothing further than feeling the nature and enjoying myself. The time on Koh Lanta I learned to appreciate my time being alone. Somehow, it just got into me – my inner self. I might have not had all my answers but I have found the most important thing that I wanted for this trip – peace in my heart.

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Vietnam: Saigon

Found myself in a café where there were quite many young Vietnamese people hanging out. Around me were different kinds of people but they all came here with the same purpose – have a cup of coffee and hang out with friends. And me, sitting alone with a cup of coffee and a note-book.

After a week of travelling alone, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) was my final stop in Vietnam. It was a huge difference coming from Dalat to HCMC. From a place with a little cold draught and quiet alleys to humid and noisy Saigon. This city has a great amount of traffic on the road every day and night. Somehow, it gets even more crowded in the evening, especially District 1. D1 is the centre of Saigon that you can find a lot of backpackers around this area. Yes, I am included. The city seems never sleep in this district.

Walking around the city in the extreme heat, I passed by most of the main attractions. What actually worth a visit must be the war museum. An exhibition demonstrates the story of the Vietnam war. Looking through all the photos, you find sympathy. There is a heartbreaking array of photographs that bring you back to time. Mixed feelings in different visitors but they leave with something to think about. Night life in Saigon is crazy. I don’t have to mention the traffic but the amount of people going out is massive. I hid myself from the crowd by going up to a rooftop bar where are few steps away from the backpacker’s area. You are gonna love the view. The light is on and brings the city a spark at night. It is actually the highlight of my stay in Ho Chi Minh city.

I was in the rush so did not have the time to do any trips outside the city. But you are here, don’t miss the boat trip on the Mekong Delta or a trip to Cu Chi tunnels.  DSC_0507

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Vietnam: Easy-rider On The Go

It was a spontaneous trip that was recommended by some people I met on the way. It was worth the fear being ridden on a motorbike. You get a chance to have a better view of the surrounding and feel like having a real adventure. If you are a backpacker, I think you should take a trip with an Easy-rider to experience the real Vietnam.

The trip I took was to the elephant waterfall. With $25, i was taken to many places along the way – to flower farm, mushroom farm, chicken village… Silk factory is quite interesting. Out of curiosity, I finally knew how silk is made. There, i saw the cocoon and how they make silk from those cocoons. How fascinating is is that a cocoon is able to produce kilometres of silk string. The whole process is demonstrated in the factory.

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We moved on to the coffee farm where they plant several kinds of coffee trees. Our guide introduced us all of them and even showed us the process of making weasel coffee. I had heard about it before and found it kinda disgusting. However, after seeing it myself how it is made, I dared to take a try. Surprisingly, it tasted not bad at all, even good. I enjoyed it even more with a magnificent view from the balcony.

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After visiting some places, we got to our main destination – the elephant waterfall. The waterfall is not really special to me since I have seen some better. However, it was quite a trip to get closer to the waterfall. If you visit, I would recommend you to wear shoes and old clothes.

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It got more interesting on the way back. I was terrified a bit sitting behind my easy-rider. He went really fast and tried to avoid all the big busses from both directions. The fear was shown clearly on my face. The rider told me – Sometimes you have to take a risk for an adventure. We went up on the hill and to the Tuyen Quang lake where it is said that you can find all the romance here. After that, our last stop of the trip was Linh Phuoc pagoda. I was stunned by its architecture. The whole place is decorated by ceramic mosaics made from deliberately broken crockery. Every single detail is so beautiful.

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The trip is really worth to try when you are in Dalat. And there is no better way than taking an Easy-rider. If you can drive a motorbike, you can take the trip yourself too. However, I would prefer to go with a local to know better about places I go.

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Vietnam: Coffee Village (Làng Trung Nguyên) @ Buon Ma Thuat

Buon Ma Thuat is not popular among tourists. I have asked some travellers in Vietnam and no one has ever heard of this place. There is a direct flight from Hanoi to Buon Ma Thuat that takes 1 and a half hour. I randomly picked this destination but there is no regret. The town itself doesn’t have any special attractions. Mostly they are 1-2 hours away from Buon Ma Thuat. For example, Buon Don Village – famous for its elephant races and the suspension bamboo bridge. However, you do not know that Buon Ma Thuat is actually the centre of the coffee making.

If you have landed to Buon Ma Thuat, visiting the Coffee village is a must. Come here around 9 o’ clock to have a breakfast and a cup of Vietnamese Trung Nguyen coffee. You can actually find the Vietnamese filter coffee everywhere in Vietnam, every café corner. But how great it is to taste the coffee from its origin. Gotta say, I cannot have 2 or 3 Vietnamese coffee a day because it is kinda strong but it tastes absolutely delicious. With a touch of the condensed milk, it makes the coffee have a little taste of chocolate.

The place is surrounded by coffee and tea trees. You can actually pick some coffee seeds to try out yourself. The skin of the coffee fruit is eatable and I tried it – it tastes nothing like coffee unfortunately. There is also a museum that exhibit all the products to make coffee – from drying machine to storages… One guy showed me around the museum and explained me the function of each product. It is quite different from what I have learned but it is nice to know another way of making coffee.

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Vietnam: From Buon Ma Thuat To Buon Don

It was a hell of a ride. With a bus from the centre of Buon Ma Thuat, it takes about 1 hour to get to Buon Don Village. I settled myself in a hotel in the centre of Buon Ma Thuat and directly took the bus to the village. The bus ride must be the scariest one that I have ever had. I arrived safely in Buon Don which was a miracle.

Buon Don is known by its Cầu Treo (the Hanging Bridge/Suspension Bridge) which is made by bamboo and rattan and connected by iron cable and its elephant races which is held every March.  I gave a try crossing the bridge and ehm… I truly need to practice on my balance. The bridge looks quite fragile but it is actually very stable. The bridges are tighten on huge ancient trees that are hundreds years old and grown along Srepok river. It is so calming with the sound of the stream around and being surrounded by nature.

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It is also possible to try riding an elephant here in Buon Don, either around the village or through the stream. However, I refused to take that ride. The elephants look not so happy so I would prefer not to exploit them.

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One thing that you will find everywhere here is Nhà Sàn (Pfahlbau/Stilt House). They are built with wood on stilts. People here believe that they build their houses above the ground to prevent wild animals to get in. The wildness from the outside looks interesting. I could imagine the life in that wooden house must be fascinating – living so close to the nature, feel every single draught…

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If you have more time, try to take a visit in the village to see the lifestyle of this place. People here are extremely kind and friendly. I felt so warm and welcomed. Buon Don is not very popular among tourists but once you are here, you will see another culture of Vietnam. It’s nothing like the city.


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