A valentines at the Killing Fields

So most couples start Valentine’s Day with a romantic breakfast in bed. They spend the day watching lovey movies or go out for a posh lunch, we however, decided to go to the Killing Fields and S21 prison. What a valentines to remember. 

Another educational and deeply shocking experience. (There seems to be a lot of these in S.E Asia) 

We educated ourselves on the Khmer Regime. On the 4 tragic years of the 1970’s where psychopath Pol Potts ordered the killings of millions of innocent Cambodians.

The communist party led by Potts attempted ‘agriculture reform’. If you were educated, if you could be influential, if you disagreed or even just if you looked in the wrong direction, off with your head. 

Killing Fields

Never have I been to a place that conveys such reality of one mans inhumanity more than Choeng Ek Killing Fields.

The sight of the “Magic tree” that Khmer soldiers used as a tool to smash the heads of babies will be forever lodged in my mind.

 

This place was just 1 amongst 20,000 mass grave sites in Cambodia where victims were murdered and buried in secret between 1975-1979.

Somehow today it’s a very peaceful place. Thousands of tourists and locals come here to educate themselves and to mourn the dead.

Choeng Ek has multiple mass grave sites where hundred of victims were executed; including one specifically for women and small children. 

  
When you dig up the grass, you must remove even the roots” 

The Khmer Rouge slogan used to justify the murder of the whole family of each victim, including their children and babies.

Remains of bones and clothes of victims that have been found over the years are showcased around the site. 

Remains of the victims found in the field

Bones are still being discovered to this day, over 35 years on!  

I will never forget the way this place made me feel. Scared, sickened and deeply saddened at the thought of what a human can be capable of. 

S21 prison
A school shut down and converted into a secret prison; to torture victims until they confessed to crimes that they never committed. 

 It was here that thousands were whipped and beaten until they signed confessions that validified the Khmer Regimes ‘reason to kill’. The victim would then be taken to the Killing Fields to be massacred.

  

The prison has lots of information on this dark period in history. 

There are some very interesting exhibitions on 4 of the survivors of s21. Great men who today use their tragic experienc to promote the importance of education to young people. 

See, all 4 men were spared their life at the prison because they were useful to the communist party. They had previously obtained skills like art and mechanics and Pol Potts needed them for their abilities.

These survivors are sit at the grounds of s21 each day for tourists to ask them questions. Real first hand information.

Survivor Mr Mong was an artist ordered to draw a portrait of Pol Potts.

  He was warned that if it wasn’t good enough, he would be killed. Luckily for him, he was a very good artist. 

It’s estimated that the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7-2.5 million of a population of 8 million in 1975. A quarter of the population. As a result of this, 70% of the Cambodian population today are under 35 years old! Crazy eh? 

So not the most standard of valentines for us but definitely a memorable one. Thankfully in 1979, upon realisation of what was happening, other countries got involved and put a stop to Pol Potts and his sadistic ideology. 

I dread to think what would’ve happened to the history and people of Cambodia if this regime continued. 

LwL x 

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Sightseeing in Nha Trang

It appears that there are 3 main tourist spots that get circled around Nha Trang. A lot of places operate half day tours that cost around 1.3 million dong (£40). What with us being ‘travellers’ and all, 40 quid for half a day out just couldn’t be justified. We therefore popped on our walking shoes, GPS in hand and headed straight for the hotspots
Here’s a map to give you an idea of our day. 

  
We headed to the Long Son Pagoda first, this was approx. a 3.5km walk from our hotel.

Long Son Pagoda

One of the oldest and biggest pagodas in Nha Trang. It was built in 1886 but has more recently been dedicated to the monks and nuns who died protesting against the US supported Diem regime. 

  
I’d be lying if I said I was unbelievably impressed by this site but that’s just my opinion. Let me know when you visit? 
  We then climbed the 152 stone steps leading to the giant white Buddha sitting on a lotus blossom. It really was giant! We also had great view of the whole city from here and we passed some other cool stuff on the way up too.

We stopped for lunch after this in a random restaurant that we found. It was really hard to find somewhere to eat around this area, we were looking for ages! 

The benefits of walking everywhere is that you truly get to explore the place you’re visitong. We see some great sites along the way

  The Cham Towers were a further 3 or so km. We weren’t sure if this was walkable. As you can see from the map, there is a motorway and an island to get past beforehand, but we decided to take the risk. This was actually super easy so don’t be put off by this. The bridges had pavements and so did the busy roads. 

Cham Towers

The Po Nagar Cham Towers is a sacred Hindu site. The towers were built between the 7th and 12th century in honour of the Cham Princess. Today it’s still used as a pilgrimage for the local people. 

  
I loved this place, so much detail on the buildings and lots of scenery to enjoy. 

  
Entry fee: 22,000 dong

Dam Market 

On our way back we popped into the Dam Market, the famous trade centre of Nha Trang.
The market is a circle shape with stalls both in and around the circle. Expect all the obvious merchandise being sold here. 

  
I’d say it was approx. a 12km walk all in all. We did the whole day in the space of 4 1/2 hours; including a stroll along the beach and a cake stop on the way home. 
Our total day cost 275, 000 dong (£8.60). This included our lunch, fluids for the walk, 2 big cakes and entry into the Pogar Towers. 

I also lost about 200 calories. Well, before I ate the cake. That was my reward for the exercise ha.  

That means we saved over £30 each by avoiding a tour!

You may have seen some memes taking Facebook by storm recently. So I’m going to join in, as I feel I deserve one. 

 
LwL x 

Phong Nha: A day in the caves

..(and some other bits I’m waffling on about )

Wow. The only word that can possibly come close to representing the day I had in the caves.

To think that I came to Phong Nha on a whim; not really sure about what I was coming to see here is crazy. This was up there with my favourite days so far.  

 The morning started slow. We arrived on the sleeper bus at 4am and couldn’t check in until 12pm. Luckily we had booked to stay in the Easy Tiger hostel, the downstairs is open all night with plugs, sofas, a hot shower to use and hammocks out back to sleep. 

  So much goes on here and the staff are so helpful! At 9am everyday the owner Mike gives a talk about the history of Phong Nha: what’s good to see, where to go etc and gives you a map too.

It’s so lovely to see someone so genuinely interested in you enjoying your experience. Most importantly, he helps the locals develop the tourism here as he advertises and helps places, restaurants and Thangs Easy Riders next door. 

Thangs took us around the National Park on their motorcycles for the day. This is a great option if you’re not confident enough to drive one yourself. It’s a great setup too, the drivers are paid well and know the area and rules of the road. All of them used to be hunters in the park before it became a UNESCO site. Now this is illegal so all these guys lost their jobs so Thangs was set up to support them.

  Support the riders..  
 It’s crazy to think that 20 years ago there was nothing in this town because it was so destructed during the war.

Right, let’s get back on topic..! 

There are 4 main caves in Phong Nha, here’s the low down: 

Paradise Cave   

 This Cave was discovered in 2005. It’s been labelled the worlds most beautiful and magnificent with a length of 31.4kms and is the longest dry cave in Asia. 

    
Tourists can walk through 1-7kms of it depending on the time of year and the weather conditions.    

  

 Being in there is an indescribable feeling. Unfortunately none of my pictures do it any justice, you’ll just have to see for yourself! 

The Dark Cave   

  

 Easily my favourite but more due to the entertainment value than the wow factor. It’s hard to be wowed by the scenery of this one as its pitch black inside; the good news is, it involves lots of activities!

   


The 250,000 dong entry fee includes zipwiring to the cave, swimming, a mud bath,kayaking out and an optional obstacle course; it’s so much fun!! 

 
      
 
   
 
     
 
   
You float in the mud it’s crazy!

 
     
 
   
 

  

I’ll end with the two caves that we didn’t get to see: Phong nha and Son Doong. I’m a bit gutted that we missed these, but due to Liam reinjuring his already broken ribs on the zip wire at the Dark Cave (I told him not to go on it), we had to have a chill day on our second day. 

PLEASE NOTE: The zip wire is completely safe and doesn’t hurt. Liam broke his ribs a few months back and the impact into the water bruised the already fragile area. You should definitely do the zipwire! 

Phong Nha cave

Probably the most incredible and important in Vietnamese history. The Vietnamese used this cave during the war as a hiding place for all the trucks that they used to use to transport goods across the country. They had to hide these in the daytime and work at night because the Americans consistently monitored from the air and dropped bombs on any movement. It’s the worlds longest river cave with a length of over 7km. 

Google images:     

 

Son Doong 

It’s hard to believe that Son Doong was only discovered in 2009 considering its the worlds largest cave. The pictures of this place looks absolutely out of this world. 

Here’s some of my favourite google images: 

   

  

  

 

The caves are without a doubt the regions highlights, but with the area constantly developing and a number of other things to see, it’s worth staying here for at least 2 nights. 

Has anyone done these caves before?
LwL X 

Hanoi: City nightlife & a day at the Lake

Exploring Day 3

On our last day in Hanoi we headed towards the area of Ho Hoan Liem as I’d seen lots of good reviews online.

Ho Hoan Liem

Meaning ‘lake of the returned sword.’ The centrepiece of the city. 

 Legend has it that Emporer Le Loi threw his sword into the lake at a turtle dwelling there; after conquering the Chinese army in the 15th century. 
The lake has two islands, one built in the middle in honour of the tortoise named ‘Turtle Tower’..

  
 ..and another on the Eastern side named Jade Island.  

  

  

  
 Surrounding the lake are many beautiful patches of garden and flowers, it’s very picturesque. 
   
   
 It’s also beautiful at night..  On one side of the lake (over the road) is a statue of Ly Thai To (founder of Hanoi). 

  
The other side; King Le Temple, built in 1896 in honour of King Le Loi, and is home to a crowned statue and a rock carved with a poem written by the King himself about his determination to defeat the Chinese. 

  
    
Later on we wandered for the last time around the old quarter. I got myself a nice pair of Fonverse too for only £11! (Fake converse). Then we headed for the sleeper bus. 

What we missed
A Water Puppet show: Unfortunately we missed this as we planned to go on our last day near Ho Hoan Liem, but the show didn’t start until 5pm that day and our bus was at 6. Its a shame as this is a big part of vietnamese culture and I would’ve liked to have seen a show.

Hanoi ceramic mosaic mural: This one was a bit far out and doesn’t look like it was surrounded by much so we didn’t bother going but may be of interest to you. 

   Ho Chi Minh Museum: we only walked passed but you can actually go into the Ho Chi Minh museum. We was a bit museum’d out after spending that morning at Hoa Lo. It depends how much information your brain can take in a day I guess! 

Hanoi Nightlife
There are lots of bars and restaurants around the old quarter.

Of a night there is also a big long street market down the main road; selling everything from fake Adidas to pop-up birthday cards.

  

   
My highlight: witnessing a baby  riding an electric car beside me ha  
   

  

 Here are two of my favourite bars we went to:

Prague Bar 

Super relaxed, very chilled vibe with artistic paintings, low coffee tables and sofas. It reminded me of being Back in Amsterdam, which I imagine Prague is quite similar to? 

  This serves food and drink and a lovely array of flavoured sodas 

Rock Store/stone Bar
Sorry I can’t remember the actual name.. Rock something ha. 

This place has great wallpaper; all the names and logos of familiar rock’n’roll legends. 

The bar plays sports and has a great live band there every night singing some classic anthems. 

   
 The licence to party closes at midnight in Hanoi, however there are a few bars around the area that continue the party with locks ins. Ask around to see where to go, we heard that Toms bar do late night secret parties but we never went there. 

Anywhere I’ve missed that you’d recommend? 

LwL X 

Hectic Hanoi: Exploring day 1 and 2

Where the weather is shitty but the sights are quite pretty.. 

Ah, the political capital of Vietnam, a peaceful living yet crazy place with a population of 7 million people. 

You could easily lose yourself in this place for 3 days, just don’t forget to look, and look again when you run across the roads. Unfortunately Vietnam is very similar as Thailand in the sense that there are no rules on the road! (You think I’d be used to it by now) 

  
Hanoi as a city boasts lots of attractions that educates on the history of Vietnam. There’s the Hoa Lo Prison, the Museum of Literature, Ho Chi Minh museum and Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, not to mention the beauties of the Botanical Gardens and Ho Hoan Kiem Lake. Most of which we have visited over our time here. 

Here is a low down of our itinerary and the sites/attractions we saw in those days. I hope this helps if your wondering what to see/how much time you may need etc. 

Day 1

We arrived in Hanoi at 9am from Bangkok. As we had slept at the airport the night before; or not slept should I say, we went straight to our hotel and slept until about 3pm. Basically we wasted a whole morning where we could’ve seen more things but we sleep was more important at that time. 

Temple of Literature

We spent the afternoon at the temple of Literature. This was Vietnams first university. It is one of several temples in Vietnam which is dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. 

   
 The area has a lovely garden, shrines and rock carvings of doctors and graduates and is only 30,000 VND to enter (just under £1).    

 Location:

  

Day 2

On our second day in Hanoi we went to Hoa Lo prison museum and took a walk around the area of the Botanical Gardens 

Hoa Lo Prison

What a fascinating museum! A prison built by the French that detained up to 2000 political prisoners and US pilots during the Vietnam War. 

Most of the prison was knocked down in 1997 to make way for the Hanoi towers. Don’t be disheartened though, architects preserved some of the old prison to create the museum. What lies in tact is a creepy enough atmosphere for you to experience.  

 There’s a horrifying array of instruments of torture and solitary confinement cells (of which you can enter) also on display is the sewage pipes in which  some prisoners escaped in August 1945. 

  Definitely worth a few hours of your time, and it’s only 30,000 VND to enjoy!  

Bach Thao Park/Hanoi Botanical gardens   This is a big beautiful park with a lake and home of many rare species of plant. It is one of the few green areas left in industrialised Hanoi. 

 
 In the 1890s, the French imported many exotic tropical plants from all over the world to make up a rainforest right at the heart of the city. Cool huh? 
  Lots of people come here to relax, socialise, admire, study and participate in Tai Chi exercise (yes I crept in for a few moves).

  
  

I presume this would be lovely to lunch in on a hot sunny day, unfortunately we didn’t have that luxury, being January and cold.

Entry fee is just 2000 VND (6p). 

  
There’s lots around the area of the garden, including the Presidential Palace, One Pillar Pagoda, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and museum. All of which we passed for a photo op of course. 

   
One Pillar Pagoda

 
   

 

Ho Chi Minh Museum
  
Mausoleum  


The presidential palace is located right next to the gardens, which was completed in 1906 to house the Frend government-general of Indochina. You can do a tour here and see the palace for a 25k entrance fee but we chose not to, we was all info’d out for the day. 

So that’s our first 2 days, keep an eye out for day 3 and a Hanoi nightlife post! 

LwL x 

A day trip to Ha Long Bay

After much consideration, looking at both the ‘castaway 3 day tour’ and a day trip, we decided on a day trip to Ha Long Bay; purely because of North Vietnam January weather (It’s been cloudy with averages of 19-20c the last few days.)

It’s a shame as the castaway tour looks amazing, (I’ll explain more about this in a later post) but spending 3 days on a beach with crappy weather can be quite boring. 

We booked our day trip at a travel agent in the Old quarter. We paid a bit more than your average rate as the tour guide told us that you get longer on the islands than you do on other tours. (We paid $42 the average is $33)

It was jam packed with activities, starting with an 8am pick up from the hotel and a 3 and a half hour journey to Ha Long Bay pier. 
We stopped along the way to break up the journey at a Production factory for the disabled: 

  
   
 We arrived around lunchtime and on to the boat we went to enjoy some lunch as we headed off. 
  
The scenery along the way left us speechless. Hundreds of various shaped islands.

   

  

  

 Our first stop was the fishing village where we had the option to Kayak or travel around the islands by bamboo boat. Naturally being the control freak that I am, we decided on kayaking so that we could choose where to go. 

   

  

 The scenery was unbelievable, even though it was cloudy. 

   

  

  

  

  

  

 I can see why Ha Long Bay is a world heritage site. 

On the way to our next stop we passed ‘fighting chicken island’ this is 2 rocks in the sea that the Vietnamese believe to look like a cockerel and a chicken about to fight eachother.. What do you think?
   
 
Our last stop: the heavenly palace cave. Breathtaking. I have never seen anything quite like it. 

   
 The cave was discovered in 1993 by fisherman that were trying to find cover from a storm. They followed a monkey into the cave and fell upon this great discovery.

   
   
The monkey however, was no where to be seen inside, legend has it that the monkey turned into stone! 

   
   
The lighting system was installed in here a few years back and it is now one of the main tourist attractions in North Vietnam.

   

  

  

 After the caves we made the long journey home. We arrived at our hotel around 8:30pm. It was a lovely day overall, I just wish it was a bit sunnier! 

   

  

 LwL X 

Dong vs. Dollar: don’t get conned! 

In Vietnam, the used currency is Dong, but also American dollars. As if it weren’t hard enough trying to work out how much to the pound it is, we are also faced with another currency here. 

Tours, hostels and hotels around town are displayed in dollars. Shops and restaurants are generally advertised in Dong, with the exception of some places having both currencies displayed. 

This means that if you are not American or Vietnamese like myself, it gets really difficult to try and work out not only 2 but 3 different conversions, especially if you have bought both currencies. 

As a result of this, you could potentially get conned out of money or highly confused at the very least. Unfortunately this happened to us as soon as we arrived in Vietnam. 

On our way from the airport to Hanoi city centre, we somehow managed to be conned out of 1,980,000 Dong (£60) before we even arrived at the hotel! This was because the driver took my money off me as I was counting it (quite rudely as I was slow and he was getting bibbed) and decided to use both our dollars and dong together to make up a fee. Thanks to this we ended up paying £73 for a cab instead of £13!

Some words of wisdom and top tips from me to avoid any confusion: 

1. Be aware of your money and how much it converts to (the iPhone app converter+ is really useful and can be used offline). Do this before you need to give any out. e. g sort on the plane, in the airport etc. 

2. Be prepared with money you are to pay (get it out ready when you are going to buy)

3. My recommendation if you have both currencies is to take out one or the other for day/night trips and never combine the two. 

4. Work out which currency works best for what you are buying.

5. Be aware of the exchange rate (it can change everyday! 

You also want to take into account that change is given back in Dong so unless you have the right amount of dollars to pay for something, it may not be worth it. 

Hope this helps. Has anyone been victim to this before with currency conversions and being conned?

LwL X 

Chiang Mai: Take 2

 Spending another 2 nights in Chiang Mai meant more exploring for us. I am actually glad we came here a second time as we missed our some vital places I can now share with you.

First of all, the night bazaar (take 2) opened us up to so much more of the road. A tuk tuk took us to the ‘start’ or finish, whatever way you look at it. The place in my last picture with the arch of lights I thought was a closed mall, is actually more shops and stalls. 

Remember this..

 
  Opposite that is another night bazaar that leads to bars, game stalls and another great big food court! 

  
   

 We also finally found where some nightlife is! (The city centre is pretty quiet and dead by midnight). The place to go is Loi Ak road, just before the bazaar. It is a long street of different bars that look like there open until the early hours. Unfortunately we found this on our last night..

  
  Don’t forget to head to Sompet Market in the day for a sweet coconut

   

 Here’s some other snaps of us touring the many temples Chiang Mai has to offer around the city centre: 

Three Kings Monument   
  

   
      
    
  

   
LwL X 

Touring Pai: Part 2

The following day we headed to Mor Paeng Waterfall and the Chinese Village. 

We decided to get a one way taxi to the waterfall costing 200 baht. The taxi driver explained that taxi’s come up to the waterfalls every so often if we wanted a return, but gave us his number just in case.

Mor Paeng Waterfall

  Mor Paeng Waterfall is beautiful and secluded. The best thing about it was that there were only a few other people there when we arrived around midday, so it was easy to wander around and enjoy the scenery.

   

  

 There were a groups of young Thai children jumping in the water and sliding down the rocks having a blast. It was so lovely to watch children playing outside having fun like they should, not like these days in Western countries where every kid is delved into some sort of uncommunicative technology. 

   

 The waterfall is a bit of a tough and slippery climb but it’s worth wandering up top to see all of it, so just make sure you’re careful! 

   


 
   

 After we had finished we headed to the lovely cafe down the road. There were no taxis to be seen so we had to ring the agency that brought us, we actually waited an hour for him to arrive! It’s lucky that the cafe had wifi and that the lady was very nice and rung the taxi for us. 

Chinese Village 

It cost us 300 baht to return as we wanted to stop off at the Chinese Village. We was only given 25 minutes there by our driver which unfortunately wasn’t enough time. I’d recommend an hour or two here wandering around, looking at the shops etc. and taking in all it has to offer. 

  
  
  
  
  

We paid a total of 250 baht each doing it our own way, with the added stress of waiting around for returns and being on a clock at the village. 

You can do tours in Pai for around 500 baht per person for the full day. This includes a number of different attractions and the transport, but you are time bound by the drivers. 

The alternative is to get a moped for the day and drive to places yourself. A lot of people seemed to have this idea at the waterfall. It is easier and cheaper, however I am not a fan of mopeds out here or the way people drive and lack of ‘rules’ on the road. It’s chaos. In my time in Thailand I’ve seen/met over 40 tourists with injuries from driving mopeds including my friend Nathan!

So get one at your own risk and be very responsible and cautious if you do, just do not opt for doing it yourself with no guaranteed transport, you’ll waste a lot of your time and money. 

LwL X 

Touring Pai – Part 1

Pai is a small town in Northern Thailand, near the Myanmar border and is a very bumpy 146km ride from Chiang Mai.

There are a number of different attractions in Pai, and if your doing the ‘SE Asia banana route’ it’s worth heading here for a couple of nights before moving West into Laos.

In the two days in Pai we had, before I got food poisoning, we see 4 different attractions that Pai has to offer. There are about 12 or so altogether, most of which are drawn on this map..

  
Most tour operators in Pai do different day trip and packages that allow you to see multiple of these attractions in just one day/afternoon etc.  

  At first, I thought it was cramming too much in to do a package, so we decided to do the attractions on our own at our own pace.

On the afternoon we arrived, we headed to the World War II Memorial Bridge and then over to the Pai Canyon to watch the sunset. It cost 200 baht in a one way taxi just to get to the bridge. It was then that we realised that organised day trips are much cheaper! 

WWII Memorial Bridge 

The bridge was built during WWII by Thai prisoners of the Japanese Army in order for Japan to invade Burma, which at the time was a British colony. 

   
 
 
   Since then a new accessible bridge has been built alongside for transport. I would be surprised if you need more than 20 minutes here to explore. 


We then walked 1km to the Pai Canyon from memorial bridge. It’s a pretty straight and easy walk but be careful of the cars (there are no pavements in true Thai style, just gaps at the side of the road)

  
Pai Canyon

  This was my favourite. The Canyon is unreal and you can walk across most of it, at your own risk of course. 

  
    


   
  


   


  
  
   

  

 Both attractions could be done in under 2 hours, but as we got to the canyon at 4.30pm we stayed much longer just to watch the sunset. 

Luckily on this occasion we managed to jump onto a tour taxi heading back to the city centre for 50 baht each. No such luck in part 2.

To be continued..

LwL X