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Phnom Penh – The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Warning – this may be a tough read, I’ll try to make the next a little lighter…

We took a bus from Saigon, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. It took about 7 hours and we were met with the usual scam of taking us to nowhere close to where we needed to be then getting harassed by about twenty Tuk Tuk drivers who would overcharge to take us to where we had just drove past. We just walked away from the scammers and found one a little further away, after a little bargaining we still paid $3.50 for a 10 minute Tuk Tuk ride.

We only planned to stay two days in Phnom Penh before heading down south, we had heard it wasn’t that great for travellers, and it wasn’t, it was really expensive, but we needed the full day for visiting the museums dedicated to remembering the national horror that the Khmer Rouge oversaw here from 1975-1979.

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Saigon & the Mekong Delta

The first thing on the agenda when we got to Saigon, was to go to the War Remnants Museum, this is a museum aimed at educating the world about the atrocities committed during the American / Vietnam War. The first thing you notice when you start looking around this museum is that there is nothing withheld from public view here, there are graphic images and depictions of the horrifying events that occurred throughout this country with many stories and interviews alongside the images to tell of the devastation that occurred.

It’s a really difficult museum to walk around, as the images of death and destruction are on every wall, there is an entire exhibition dedicated to showing the photos that journalists managed to take during the war, unfortunately many of the journalists were killed later on during the war.

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Mui Ne

We were told by a guy that we met a few weeks ago, that if we went to Mui Ne, a coastal town about 5 hours from Dalat, we had to stay at the Mui Ne Hills Resort. We booked a private room in the budget part of the resort, but after reading lots of reviews of people saying they got upgraded to the nice hotel next door, we were quietly hoping we would get the same.

After the same old bus scam from Dalat, whereby the bus company drops you nowhere near where you need to be and there’s a hoard of taxi drivers just waiting to take you to where you are going and scam you out of money in the process, we learned that you just have to get used to this in South East Asia, it happens everywhere.

We got to the resort, and sure enough they upgraded us to the nice hotel, so we had got a really nice room, in a really nice resort, with three swimming pools and a bar / restaurant by the main pool that was very reasonably priced even for travellers, 50 pence for a beer resulted in quite a few beers being drank by the pool in the 5 days we spent there. We had only booked 2 nights here but ended up staying 5 in the end as it was so nice and chilled.

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Dalat – the Central Highlands

We arrived on the train from hell to Nha Trang, a beach-side town, that seemed to us like it had passed it’s best. Unfortunately the weather was bad for us, raining and cloudy, the sea was rough, so if we couldn’t go to the beach there wasn’t much point in staying. We had booked 3 nights at the hostel, but within a couple of hours we knew we didn’t like the town so cancelled two of the three nights and booked a bus the next day to Dalat in the highlands.

The bus journey to Dalat was pretty horrific, we got the back row, it was the bumpiest and most horrible bus journey yet for 6 hours up to Dalat, from sea level to 5,000 feet, with a crazy driver. We just about managed to keep our breakfast inside us though and  survived the journey to get to Dalat.

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Hoi An & the Night Train Bushtucker Trial

We arrived in Hoi An to a brand new hotel we had found on the internet in advance, we had booked two nights, but as soon as we got there we realised we would be staying longer. It had only been open for two weeks, so was really cheap at £15 per night, this was cheaper than almost anything else in Hoi An because the old town is famous for being a UNESCO world heritage site.

The hotel had every luxury we hadn’t had for the previous month and a half, a big room with a comfy bed (in Asia, this is as rare as rocking horse excrement), a balcony, a bath, a swimming pool, free use of bicycles and free breakfast. It was so nice to just relax somewhere comfortable for a few days after 6-7 busy weeks of travelling quite quickly, so we stayed five nights in the end.

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The DMZ, Huế and the Hai Van Pass

We got on a bus from Phong Nha village to Huế which would stop a couple of times along the way in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in central Vietnam, the area that was used as the border and separation between North and South during the American / Vietnam War. The first stop was at the Vinh Moc Tunnels, this was a village in the DMZ that was famous for building a network of tunnels, in three stages to take the entire village underground away from the bombing by the USA.

This full network of tunnels housed areas for sleeping, eating, working, even a maternity area. The tunnels were a few KM long in total and went down to depths of 23m at the deepest. We walked through the tunnels and came out through one of the exits straight on to a beach on the South China Sea. There was also a small museum here to show all of the tunnels in the region that were built during this time, of which there were dozens.

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Phong Nha National Park

We left Hanoi around 7pm to head to the train station for the overnight train to Dong Hoi, around 10 hours on the train. We had never done an overnight train before, but we had promised somebody very special that we would do one in Vietnam one day and this was to be the first. We were excited and nervous in equal measures, not really knowing what to expect, we even text the best friends to find out if they recommended beer to make the journey easier, of course they did so I headed straight to the shop to stock up.

The train was bumpy, rocked a lot when moving, stopped and started all the time and I barely fit in the bed so sleeping wasn’t very easy, and the toilet was the worst smell I’ve ever experienced, but overall it was actually fine and a good experience to have achieved (not like the next one we did, but we’ll come to that another day). Ten hours later we arrived in a town called Dong Hoi, knowing we had to catch the local bus to Phong Nha national park, we had no idea where the bus stop was, but we set off walking towards the bus station on the map. We got to a dual carriageway with no paths, so decided a taxi might be a better option than walking, as soon as we got in the taxi we both doubted he knew where he was going when he drove straight past the bus station and ignored our repeated calls to stop.

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Hanoi and Halong Bay

Following two quick days in Hong Kong, we then flew to Hanoi to start the Vietnam adventure. On arriving we plan to spend about five weeks here travelling from north to south by trains and buses, before crossing in to Cambodia overland from the south.

We checked in to quite a nice hotel in Hanoi, nothing too expensive, but we thought we would treat ourselves to a hotel with it being our anniversary while we were there. The staff were so friendly, and after a day of travelling and walking through the manic streets of the old quarter to get to the hotel, it was a welcome relief to see really friendly and happy faces.

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Hong Kong; The Sequel

We left the Guilin hotel about 7am and walked to the train station. It was one train to Guangzhou for three hours, then we had 20 minutes to connect to our other train in what is surely the largest train station in the world, bigger than most airports. Thankfully we made it as we could just transfer straight to the right platform we need for the next 30-minute train to Shenzhen. Then it was a metro across the city for 30 minutes to the border between China and Hong Kong, we got stamped out of China, walked a little, then entered Hong Kong at the other side then it was another metro train for an hour in Hong Kong to get to the centre.

So after about six hours on five different trains, lots of transfers and some walking we weren’t too impressed when we arrived at the hostel in Hong Kong and were told to wait in a queue of people to check-in. It was one check-in desk for many hostels, so lots of people waiting, but it didn’t take long thankfully and we were soon out in Hong Kong, a little more civilised than we had for the last three weeks and we were actually really happy to be here.

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