Sunday, 29 June 2008

One of the Champion Fire Boys in action...

On our way to the islands

They have arrived!

We met Mimi and Gareth from Bangkok airport bright and early last Thursday morning. Since then there has been a lot of eating and visiting Thai palaces (see above: we all showed up slightly under-dressed - check out our stylish rented clothing, particularly the boys' trousers...).

On Friday we left Bangkok and made our way to the first of our two Thai islands, Koh Phangan, which is where we are now. It is very hard work, but we are just about managing to enjoy our beach huts with sea views and the crystal clear water...

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Sugarcane = yum

In Vietnam I discovered something I probably shouldn't have, because now I am addicted.

Sugarcane juice is the best thing on a hot day and you can get it on every street everywhere - here I am at the end of our temples trip yesterday drinking it out of a bag (weirdly) although in this instance I think the juice of a wasp might have made it's way in there too, which is slightly less yum.

Three for one dollar

Here we are trapped outside one of the temples in Angkor by a swarm of girls aged 5 - 10 trying to sell us three bracelets for $1.

Temples of Angkor

Lunch on the road in Cambodia

Yes, those are toasted crickets in that bowl, and no, I wasn't hungry enough to try one.

Friday, 20 June 2008

When in Cambodia, do as Angelina Jolie

This morning we decided to go a little off the beaten track. So we picked up a 50kg bag of rice and decided to deliver it to one of Cambodia's poorest orphanages. The place was in need of EVERYTHING. Up to seven children sleep on one bed, they are constantly short of food, clothes and building materials and the whole thing depends entirely on charity (and since this orphanage is hardly known about, charity is slow to come to these children).

The 17 year old orphanage manager showed us around a basic classroom, a fly-infested kitchen and some crowded sleeping quarters. She had been brought up at the orphanage herself and was incredibly smart - as were the kids who spoke good English and were eager for us to play with them. Here are a couple more pics including one of Amy with her new best friend (sorry Mimi), Sarah.

The Killing Fields

The ''Killing Fields'' are 15km from Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.

They were the execution grounds of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Here in this picture, some of the skulls of the regime's victims can be seen. These have been stacked in a tall tower which acts as a memorial to those who died.

Two things you should know about Cambodia

We've just arrived in Cambodia by river boat and judging by people's questions about the place, it seems that a lot of us know surprisingly little about Cambodia. Apart from having a very cool and exotic name, people seem to realise that it's a poor place and that at some point something bad happened here. Here's a quick introduction to two things you should know about the place:

1) The famous Angkor Wat temples were the capital of a vast Khmer Empire that stretched from Burma to Vietnam and included most of Thailand and lasted from around 802 to 1432

2) During the mid-70s over 2 million Cambodian people were executed by the Khmer Rouge regime in one of history's most bloody and brutal attempts of social change. The elderly, academics, women, children and even people who wore glasses were systematically tortured and executed
in an ethnic cleansing programme that saw more people die than during Hitler's rule.

Fish feeding frenzy in my basement!

Before leaving Vietnam we decided to take a trip to the Mekong Delta, just South of Saigon. Here we found whole communities living on floating houses. We took a row boat out to some and discovered that under each house is a large cage with literally 100s of thousands of fish packed tightly inside. Don't wear your best frock when feeding these fellas though... When you drop some food into this little hatch the fish go completely crazy and water splashes everywhere!

Some snake and scorpion with your wine, sir?

One Vietnamese delicacy we didn't indulge in is their snake and scorpion wine. Drinking this stuff is supposed to be an aphrodisiac. If you look at the picture you can actually see the tail of the scorpion in the snake's mouth.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Suicide ride

Unfortunately, in some parts of Vietnam the only way to get around (apart from on foot, bien sur) is on the back of someone's motorbike. I managed to avoid this frankly terrifying experience until yesterday, when we arrived in Saigon and needed to get to the Museum of War Remnants, which was an unreasonably long walk away.

Luckily my driver was very nice and paid attention when I told him to go verrry slowly, so I survived to tell the tale. However, I didn't think I would, so that is what you call a brave smile and not one of joy.

Canine beach friends in Mui Ne

We've just spent a few days in Mui Ne, a tiny fishing village next on the highway next to the coast with a beautiful beach. The town has become somewhat of a mecca for kite surfers (a sport which is a cross-breed between windsurfing and kite-flying), although we were more interested in the suposed surfing potential of the place.

Unfortunately, the surfing waves failed to manifest during our stay in Mui Ne, so we were forced to console ourselves by sunbathing on the beach and playing pool. Terrible.

We also befriended this wee fella on the left. He was very cute!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Riding like the wind through Vietnamese streets

Here we are cycling to the beach in Hoi An. Amy, being a proficient bicycologist and photographologist rolled into one (a bicycophotogaphist is the official term for this cross-breed, I believe) took this photo of my sweaty back whilst riding along on her bicycloped.

Peacock springrolls

Sorry to go on about the food, but it really is fantastic here. Here's an example of what we were served as an appetizer at one restaurant (they're not actually spring rolls with peacock meat inside them by the way!).

This peacock here has mini spring rolls on cocktail sticks stuck into his body. His actual body is made out of a hollowed out pineapple with a candle inside it. His head, wings and tail-feathers are carved out of carrot. This magnificent food sculpture lasted just long enough for us to take this photo before we devoured it (in seconds...).

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Oh boy! The food in Hanoi!

Hanoi is an incredible city for dining. The strong French influence has resulted in a culinary legacy of fresh Asian fusion cuisine and fine wine. Amongst the dishes we sampled were:
  • Rabbit and turnip crumble, served with a tomato sherbert
  • Boneless chicken legs, stuffed with 'tartiflette' (a French dish of cream, potatoes, cheese and bacon)
  • Fresh spring rolls stuffed with omelet, fresh prawns and mint, served with a spicy vinegar
  • ...and loads of fresh, crispy baguettes! (the standard bread in Vietnam)
If you plan on visiting the place, make sure you're hungry when you arrive - you'll find plenty of excellent restaurants there.

Good Morning Vietnam

Greetings, readers!

We've just returned from two days on a boat out to Halong Bay, where there are hundreds of limestone islands dotted about as far as the eye can see.

We spent our time exploring (and I quote) "AMAZING caves" and practising our diving by leaping off of our boat into the seemingly bottomless ocean. Throughout all this we had a highly amusing Vietnamese guide whose voice sounded as though it was permanently affected by helium.
We met a lovely Aussie couple (one half of which, Lucy, is in the water with me on the left) who we shared quite a lot of red wine with, and in the middle of the night, we decided to invade another boat where we found some Irish, American and Danish tourists and a bottle of vodka.

We woke up the next morning and said 'Good morning Vietnam' as we looked out onto the sparkling ocean with its strangely shaped islands before returning to Hanoi.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

A week in Hong Kong

Oops! Sorry we've neglected you for a while - we've just spent a week in the air-conditioned haven of Hong Kong (we arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam this morning) and didn't have much time for blog-writing. But in a nutshell, we spent the last week dining on fine food, drinking in very cool bars, riding on rollercoasters and being spoilt rotten by my family whilst dodging the monsoon rains in luxury shopping malls. Oh, and we also introduced my family to the British delights of bangers 'n mash.

On the right, you can see my cousin Gordon eating chickens' feet for breakfast.