The first thing we did yesterday was check out of our hotel. We decided to switch to another hotel that has good reviews online. Our new room has a nice view of the harbor and is only $12 per night! As we were checking in the guy at the desk asked if we wanted to attend a show that evening to celebrate the anniversary of Ho Chi Minh visiting the island. I got the impression he was obligated to bring a certain number of guests, including foreigners. We figured it couldn’t hurt to say ‘yes’.
Friday morning we ate the free (lousy) breakfast from our hotel and then walked up the block to join our rock climbing trip. The company is called Asia Outdoors and apparently they have a pretty good reputation for leading climbing trips. The location where we’d be climbing was a small island in nearby Lan Ha Bay. Even with the low clouds and mist it was a scenic boat ride to get there. Just beyond the boat dock we passed a floating village presumably inhabited by local fishermen and their families. After that we motored through some of the steep limestone rock karsts this area is famous for.
Taking another overnight train in Vietnam wasn’t our first choice, given our less than restful train ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Huế. However, we had already bought the train tickets from Huế to Hanoi so we decided to go ahead with another train trip. We didn’t leave Huế until the afternoon so we hung out in the hotel since Caroline wasn’t feeling great.
Our day of sightseeting in Huế started out a little rainy and we had to take cover under a gazebo with some locals.
After the rain eased up we (bought an umbrella and) walked to the former Imperial City, which also encompasses the Forbidden Purple City, which is the former home of the emperors of Vietnam.
We checked out of our hotel and immediately made for the Phnom Penh airport. Cambodia is probably the poorest country I’ve visited, but it does have some interesting history. I wonder if it will eventually catch up to it’s more affluent neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam.
We enjoyed our time in Siem Reap, but it was time to move on to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Our main reason for going there was to catch a flight to Ho Chi Minh City in a couple days. Vietnam’s slightly strict visa requirements make flying into the country easier than crossing a land border. We initially thought about taking a boat from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, but online reviews made the boats sound like floating death traps, therefore, we took a bus instead.
Yesterday we spent most of the day planning our onward travel to Phnom Penh and we also booked a flight to Venice at the end of the month. Very exciting! In the late afternoon we went to the national museum which had lots of examples of statuary from the Angkor region. These carvings were in much better shape than most we saw the day before at Angkor and it was nice to see how detailed the carvings could be. After the museum we had dinner and walked to the nearby Phare Circus. It’s similar to Cirque du Soleil, but not quite as polished and with less colorful costumes and makeup. We did enjoy the show of acrobatics, contortionists, juggling, and general clowning around.
Not surprisingly, southeast Asia is hot. It’s so hot that we decided to get up before the sun to join a bike tour around the Angkor temples. The most famous of these temples is Angkor Wat, but there are many other temples and ruins in the area.
After yesterday’s long day of travel, we took it easy this morning by laying around in our air conditioned hotel room. We started planning our travel into Vietnam since we had to arrange visas before we arrived there. We also heard from our friends in Rochester, the Rosens, who were going to be in Italy in early April. We might be able to meet them in Venice for a day or two if we fly to Europe before then.
If you’re superstitious, I suppose Friday, March 13th is not a good day to attempt a land border crossing from Thailand into Cambodia. Thankfully we’re barely aware of what day of the week it is while we’re traveling so we went ahead with our travel plans. Our morning started with a crowded minibus from Koh Chang to the border. And when I say crowded, I mean every seat and space between had a person or luggage in it. The scenery was mostly rubber tree plantations and dirt-poor houses along the roadside. At one point we did drive through some impressive limestone hills and cliffs, but that was the only highlight, scenery-wise.
Tuesday we got up early to catch a taxi over to the train station to then get ourselves to Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal. It was a good thing we set out early because morning traffic in Bangkok is a bit crazy. And by ‘a bit crazy’, I mean unbelievably insane. Cars and scooters just going everywhere, traffic signals hardly matter, it’s incredible. At the bus terminal we bought a ticket for the bus to Koh Chang, number 999, a very lucky number—we’ve been told Thais like the odd numbers, especially the number 9. It was a six hour bus ride to the ferry terminal near the town of Trat, and then a 45 minute crossing to the island of Koh Chang just off the coast in the Gulf of Thailand, where we stayed at the Blue Lagoon Resort for a few days.
On our third full day in Bangkok we were up before the sun in order to join a bike tour led by Co Van Kessel tours, which was a company founded by a dutchman, if you’re wondering about the non-Thai name. Our first stop was at a Chinese shrine.
After weaving through some quiet Bangkok streets we stopped at a busy market where locals were shopping for all manner of food and some non-food items.