Saturday, 25 January 2014

Cambodia: Koh Rong island

After arriving in Cambodia I decided I desperately needed the beach and so after spending one night in Phnom Penh I jumped on the nearest bus and boat heading to Koh Rong Island. I arrived and was immediately greeted with white sand beaches and crystal clear blue waters.

Life on the island was attractively laid back and I spent most days trekking to and then lazing on some of the best beaches I have had the pleasure of experiencing while traveling. At night I would explore the island's many restaurants and clubs.

The Island was also home to some amazing wildlife including monkeys, many kind of fish as well as some snakes. The best though was saved for when I took a late night snorkel tour of the island's luminous plankton. With each wave of my arms it was like swimming through an ocean of glittering stars.

About four nights in I managed to contract a stomach bug that had been going around the island and was pretty much confined to my dorms for the next three days. After I had recovered though I decided it was time to head out to pastures new.

Sadly though this beautiful island is under the threat of serious development, many parts of the island have been brought up by Chinese developers who are planning to extensively develop the island (including building an airport). These types of developments rarely end well for the ecosystems of islands like this and it would be sad to see this island go the same way.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Christmas In Saigon

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Christmas Eve and proceeded to spent the day wandering around the city. Saigon turned out to be rather a different beast from Hanoi. Affluent where Hanoi was rustic, open where Hanoi was cramped and open all hours where Hanoi wound down at twelve.

They both shared a certain sensibility however, both were busy and hectic with the strange mixture of culture, spirituality and a pronounced emphasis on making money.

My first stop was the Bitexco tower in downtown HCMC, where I was offered a stupendous view over the city. After this I wandered the streets of the city itself, taking in the sights, sounds and views that the city had to offer.

I slept well that night and got up ready for a full day of sight seeing, I started my tour at Vietnam's war museum, where I got to witness first hand the devastation that Agent Orange and chemical weapons had caused, not only on the people (and in horrible detail children) of Vietnam but also on the countries wildlife and forest (much of which is still recovering).

After this I visited the Jade Emperor Pagoda and enjoyed the sheer level of beauty and craftsmanship that pervaded every level of the temple. Buddhas mixed with Taoist deities, all wrapped in a cloud of sweet smelling incense. That evening was Christmas day for me and I was pleasantly surprised to run into a few familiar faces from Bangkok. I spent the evening getting pleasantly wasted before moving on to the azure beaches of Cambodia.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Cat Tien: The importance of preserving Vietnam's wildlife

Shocking fact of the day, there are only 70 wild elephants left in Vietnam. Think about that, its not a very high number. In fact the WWF has advised that Vietnam might be one of the first countries in Asia where elephants actually go completely extinct.

I wanted this update on my blog to be a little different as I wanted to raise awareness of the very real threat that exists to Vietnam's wildlife (and sadly this also extends to alot of wildlife in Asia).

Poaching in Vietnam is rife, with animals like the incredible sweet Pygmy Loris being taken wholesale from the jungle, having their teeth pulled out or clipped (so that they cannot use the venom that is one of their distinct features to defend themselves) and kept as pets for Vietnamese family. The fact that large numbers of them will die of stress or that they in fact do not make very good pets is something that will lead to many of them then being abandoned to die.

The same happens to the rapidly dwindling numbers of Gibbons left in Vietnam. Whose mothers will be shot and killed and whose's babies are then sold as pets. The conditions that they are then kept in leads many to die of malnutrition or to suffer painfully cramped and cruel conditions.

My advise to any Vietnamise reading this blog who want to take one of these creatures as pets is simple, don't. These animals belong in the wild, not in a cage.

Cat Tien is one of the national parks hoping to turn the tide on the destruction of Vietnamise wildlife and forests (which sadly disappear more and more each year). The Gibbon sanctuary there works hard not only to rescue wildlife from conditions such as this but also seeks to rehabilitate them so they can once again enter the wild.

It was one of the few places in Vietnam where I got to see a truly wild area of countryside. I took showers and had stick insects land on my head, almost stepped on snakes, watched fireflies burning in the night, disturbed porcupines on the way to the bathroom and saw more monkeys in the forest then I can count.

But if the people of Vietnam want to keep any of this beauty and wonder then they have to act now. Or else have a future where they have no wildlife left.

If you want to help you can donate to Go East, who are working to protect Vietnam's wildlife:


My first impression of Dalat, besides beautiful surrounding countryside that (sadly) didn't extend to the city  was distinctly leopard print shaped. My tiny but very comfortable alcove at the hostel I was staying at was decorated in some of the most garish upholstery I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

I'll be honest and say that Dalat wasn't the best places i've been in Vietnam but in its own way it still had a certain charm. I started my first proper day there by visiting an old fashioned steam train, I then took a stroll through a particularly pretty floral show before heading to some of the temples that lay around the town. After being entranced by some particularly lovey statues of Quan Am, a Buddha of compassion.

While wandering the temple I was invited by the local woman there to stay and share the truly delicious food they had made. I chatted to them about why they were making food, what it was the monks did in terms of charitable work and even made a donation to help the poor there.

Afterwards I took a taxi to see the appropriately named crazy house, A particularly strange piece of architecture designed to make you feel like you had wandered into a scene from Alice in wonderland. All strange shapes, abstract structures and weird animal statues.

That night I went out for a tasty group meal with people from my hostel, after chatting to four traveling journalists I even got interviewed by them for their website (Human Unscripted, find the link below).

After exhausting all that I felt Dalat had to offer I decided to move on to the wonders of Cat Tien national park.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Nha Trang

After the beauty of Hoi An, Nha Trang came as something of a disappointment. Crowded, busy and very much a holiday destination aimed at Russian tourists it felt quite tacky and suffered in comparison to some of the other cities I had visited. However it had a few nice sights, a relatively nice beach and had a reputation as a party town that it certainly lived up to.

I spent the day renting bicycles with two friends and together we toured some beautiful Cham temples that had been lovingly restored and reappropriated for use as a chinese temple. Afterwards we cycled around the busy city, cutting through traffic and making our way to the city's impressive catholic cathedral (complete with back lit and street signed jesus and glowing lcd marys).

That night I headed out for a night on the town, it quickly descended from a relatively civilised affair to a full of night of dancing and drinking. I managed to make it till 3am, at which point I rather ungracefully retired to the privacy my room. The next morning, deeply hungover I caught the bus onwards to the alpine like reaches of Dalat.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Hoi An

The bustling city of Hoi An was my next port of call, set right on the coast it seemed to embody the best of what Vietnam had to offer. My first impressions of the city weren't that spectacular, as it seemed at first glance to be an average city with above average beach and old Vietnamese architecture.

First impressions turned out to be misleading however, as when the night fell the city came sparkling to life. Lit as it was by the iridescent glow of floating lanterns, bejeweled lamps and the ruby red fire that poured from nearby temple lights. My days around the city were spent cycling around the gently fading architecture and browsing through markets. While my nights were spent meeting up with some old friends (and making new ones), exploring the many bars that crowded the streets along the river and occasionally lighting a wish lantern to send floating down the river.

I spent my next day renting a bicycle and taking a leisurely ride to the beach, the sea was a steely grey and I relaxed there with beer as various touts took it in turns to try and sell us some braclett or trinket. The sight of the day had to go to three overly ambitious tourists who attempted to take a jetski out on the roughsea. Non were injuried in the ensuing accident but it was quite the spectacle, resue included.

One my last day there I decided to take a tour to the Cham ruins of My Son, we toured spectacular red brick ruins that had been sadly diminished by the repeating bombing it had taken during the Vietnam war. Our guide proved to be a surprising source of amusement for us, speaking as he did with one of the most ear splitting and overly bombastic voices I've ever had the pleasure of hearing.

My time in Hoi An over I decided to move onto the city of Nha Trang.