Ho Chi Minh City

On Wednesday 23rd October we took a bus from Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, to Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam. The six hour bus journey with Mekong Express was infinitely better than our previous bus trip (Siem Reap to Phnom Penh), although nothing in comparison to our luxury bus journies in South America. The bus was comfy and they made the border crossing a breeze, especially when compared to some of our previous border crossings (Bolivia to Argentina, for example).

The skyline of central Ho Chi Minh City

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Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng

After our days exploring the ancient temples around Angkor Wat we spent some time in Phnom Penh exploring some more recent history. We arranged a tuktuk to take us out to Choeung Ek, better known as the Killing Fields, and then to Tuol Sleng, better known as S-21, on the way back.

Before coming to Cambodia I knew a little about the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields, but I was by no means an expert. Following our visit to Choeung Ek and Tuel Slong I am still not an expert, but now I have some understanding of the horrors that went on during the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to early 1979.

A mass grave where 450 bodies were found

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Siem Reap

Following our very relaxing week at Melia Benoa, we left Bali on Monday 14th October heading for South East Asia and the final leg of our big adventure. Our flight provided us with a few hours at Singapore Changi airport before arriving in Bangkok at 2100 local time. In anticipation of being asked to prove that we were leaving Thailand within the 30 day visa, but not being prepared enough to have sorted out our visas for Vietnam, we had booked a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia for first thing Tuesday morning.

Hongda picking us up from the airport

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Hippie times around Oz

After so long experiencing winter temperatures (even though some were considerably higher than a normal British winter), it was quite a shock to the system as we walked down the plane steps at Ayers Rock airport into the 34°C heat. Actually, it was the hottest weather we had experienced since our wedding day a little more than 12 months earlier. It is always a relief when you see you based appear on the luggage carousel and this time was no different.

The wreck of SS Maheno on Fraser Island

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A week in paradise

During all of the planning for this seven month adventure we had intended to have one week of luxury in Bali. We included a stop in Bali when we booked our flights but that was all of the planning we did until a week or so before we were due to arrive! As we travelled down the east coast of Australia we spent our time researching the remainder of our time in that country instead of organising the next country. It wasn’t until we arrived in Sydney and spent a few days staying with family that we finally had time to think about our luxury week. We would spend hours trawling the internet looking for hotels, find some that looked good and then checked recent reviews for them. It was not with surprise that we often found the hotel website telling a very different story to the reviews, but eventually we found a hotel, in our price range, with space and a website that matched the reviews – so we quickly booked it! Finally, with only three days left until we were due to fly to the island of Bali, we had our hotel booked! We had booked 7 nights at the all-inclusive four-star resort of Melia Benoa, located on the northern edge of Nusa Dua. It included all of our food for the stay, all soft drinks and local alcoholic drinks, activities within the resort and non-motorised water sports and the hotel’s private beach. It should be quite a change to the 10 weeks spent in hostels in South America and then the 11 weeks spent in campervans in New Zealand and Australia!

Our flight from Sydney included a brief (3 hour) stop in Melbourne, including a one hour delay because of a temporary closure of Bali’s Denpasar airport because some important person (possibly a nation’s leader!) was flying in for the APEC summit taking place in Nusa Dua. We eventually touched down on Indonesian soil just after 10pm, taxied to the wrong gate, taxied back to the runway and then taxied to our correct gate. The UKBA guys at Heathrow could learn a lot from the immigration guys at Denpasar airport as it took more than 20 minutes for them to process the entire flight through passport control! Our bags took slightly longer to arrive and it was approaching midnight by the time we met our driver and headed out of the airport. At the hotel the check-in process was swift and we were soon being shown around our room, home for the next seven nights and the longest we have stayed anywhere since April. Our bodies were telling us it was later than it was, due to the time difference between Australia and Bali so we climbed into bed and were asleep almost instantly.

Tuesday began annoyingly early thanks to our bodies confusion over timezones. We decided to make the most of the morning, despite still being tired, and headed down for breakfast – a huge buffet spread and a feast for our eyes. Before we could tell ourselves to take things gently as we have a week of this, we had both eaten too much and were feeling worse for it! We took a walk to explore the hotel’s grounds before heading back to our room to get ready for a morning chilling by the pool. My favourite part of the resort, and something neither of us have experienced before, was the swim-up bar – made even better as we don’t have to pay for the drinks! We got changed before enjoying the buffet lunch in the beach side restaurant and then spent the afternoon relaxing on loungers under a sunshade on the beach. In the evening we dined at the resort’s upmarket Italian restaurant, enjoying an amazing three-course meal that was probably the best meal of the entire trip so far.

The following days followed a very similar pattern, with us enjoying an early breakfast, spending the morning and afternoon lounging around the pool or taking a swim up to the bar, interspersed by various activities including archery, air-rifle shooting, massage demonstrations, and a colouring-in lesson for Lindsay! I also managed to get Lindsay out on a kayak, albeit for a brief ten minute paddle as the jet skis hurtled all around us.

The hotel put on a number of different events for evening entertainment including a cultural Balinese dance show, a fire poi and percussion show and a cabaret show as we dined on the beach, with sand beneath our toes!

We did manage to escape the false world of the resort for an afternoon and hired a driver to take us to Pura Tanah Lot temple, Kuta beach and then Uluwatu temple for sunset. Seeing the real Bali outside of the protective walls of the resort was humbling and certainly worth doing. Pura Tanah Lot temple is an old temple built on a mini island a few metres off the mainland, and there is a causeway which allows access at low tide. Kuta was very, very busy and we could understand why it is known as the party town of the island – even from a visit in mid-afternoon. Uluwatu temple is built high atop a sea cliff and the surrounding area is full of monkeys willing to relieve you of your sunglasses, hat, earring…anything which isn’t permanently attached to you! Unfortunately there were a few clouds in the sky which obscured our sunset but it was still definitely worth a visit.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our week here and are sad to be leaving today, leaving the luxury of the resort and heading back into hostels as we explore Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos over the next two months before we arrive back in the UK.