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Nicola and Christopher's Grand Adventure! This is a little story of our 3 month journey through, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. We hope that you (our friends and family) enjoy reading about our trip!

Another Kiwi Cafe, wine and more border woes...

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 26 August 2010 | Views [582]

Well folks we are currently reporting to you from the capital of Kampuchea (as the Khmer people still refer to it). We arrived in Phnom Penh this afternoon, although it seemed a little touch and go at one point. Yes, our border crossing wasn't the most straight forward of crossings...

But first a little update on what we got up to for our last couple of days in Vietnam. Saigon was an interesting city, one that highlighted the mixed feelings that we had about Vietnam on the whole. Obviously it was not as devastated as Hanoi during the last war and the city is a mix of sweeping boulevards (we are sure a legacy of the French) and some interesting architecture. Alas it would appear that the 8 million residents of Saigon are all in posession of a scooter and have a desire to ride down the road that we are trying to cross at any one point in time. We have become pro (dare we say) at crossing the roads in Vietnam but it still feels like you are taking your life in your hands every time, the trick is to edge across slowly so that the scooter riders from hell have enough time to swerve around you. OK, enough of the scooter riders in Saigon... just one last point, we didn't like them, especially Nicola!!!!

Our train ride to Saigon was long at just over 12 hours (an hour more than advertised), but par for the course in this part of the world. It was good value for money at only twice the price of the taxi ride to the train station (10km from the hotel). There weren't too many other foreigners on the train, none in our carriage, so folks had a good stare from time to time. We got chatting to a young man who was sitting in front of us, although after a couple of hours of broken English we decided to take a nap and put on the headphones. Christopher wasn't particularly impressed when he was told how Nicola smells very good... he is currently drafting a letter to the Vietnamese Education Authority about faux pars and the English language. Actually it was nice to get to have a chat with someone who wasn't looking to make money out of us.

The arrival in Saigon went rather well, after expecting to be beseiged by taxi drivers and touts on getting off the train. There was actually something resembling a queue (it isn't a British thing, as Nicola was as relieved as Christopher) and we made it to the tourist ghetto and a hotel without any problems. The hotel was nice, but small. We spent the first day in Saigon walking the city and getting our bearings as we moved out of the ghetto and beyond the hawkers and touts. It really strikes you as you walk around this city that tanks and the end of the civil war wasn't that long ago. As with the rest of Vietnam, the flag and images of Uncle Ho are ever present. We spent some time at the War Remnants Museum (formerly War Crimes Museum), a sobering account of the `American war' as they call it, and a strong reminder that we rarely learn the lessons of history.

We managed to trade another book at one of the tourist places around the corner from our hotel, gotta keep the Davis-reading-appetite fead or heaven knows what would happen. We have been struck by the number of photocopied books that are for sale in Vietnam, we especially appreciated the folks that would try and sell them to you while you are eating dinner.

On our second day we decided to head to the Cu Chi Tunnels about 70km NW of Saigon. This is an area that was home to a vast (250km) network of tunnels that the Viet Cong used to evade the Southern forces. We ventured out there on a tour, which was informative but a little longer on the travel front than it need have been. We got to scramble through a 100m of tunnel that hadn't been widened for foreigners, it was a dark and sweaty affair that gave us a little glimpse into what it might have been like. There was a shooting range on the grounds as well, with lots of tourists keen to find out what it was like to fire big bang bang sticks, much to our amazement.

We visited the former presidential palace on our return, just because we can't get enough of 1960's kitsch interior design. The palace has been renamed the re-unification palace and has hardly been changed since the tanks rolled through the gates in 1975. An interesting place to see.

OK, back to our border crossing... it is a relatively short journer between Saigon and Phnom Penh (six hours) and we were at the border in just over 2. The bus conductor had collected our passsports when we got on, much to our annoyance and proceeded to the exit counter with all those travelling with us. Lets just say that the Vietnam exit border was a shambles of people and bureaucracy, after waiting 15 minutes they finally (with as much disdain as they could muster) stamped our passports and we had left the country... now to get into Kamphuchea, we had sorted our visa's online a few months ago trying to save money and time. We came armed with our e-visa's and a bar code scan later and Nicola was stamped into the country. Upon scanning Christopher's visa we found that he had morphed into a 30 year old Asian man (not entirely unattractive) but definitely not him. The immigration official was a little concerned that the picture on the computer didn't look anything like him, several calls, officials, conversations (but no money passing hands thankfully) later they had resolved the issue and Christopher was stamped into the country.

We located the Kiwi Cafe in Phnom Penh and settled down for a little lamington cake and an iced coffee, good times! It gets better, we found that far from being the poor desert of a city we thought we were going to, there is actually a six storey shopping mall in the heart of the capital that dispenses bottles fo French wine for 7 USD (currently sitting in the fridge in our room). Nicola also managed to purchase a pair of Dolche and Gabana sunglasses (we are convinced they are the real deal) for 4 USD, and Christopher may be able to pick up the Monte Blanc ink pen he has always wanted for 7...

This travelling malarky is hard going!

OK, that is it for now. We are off for dinner and to watch `The Killing Fields' as one does here. We are in Phnom Penh for three nights and then off to Angkor. Hope to update you in a few days and get some more pics up soon.

Thanks to the olds for calling us in Saigon!!!!

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