A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Julie Kavanagh

Vietnam -Birthday celebrations in Nha Trang

On the night of the 15th of April we all got a sleeper bus from Ho Chi Mihn to Nha Thrang. I had heard Nha Thrang was a beautiful coastal city known for its beaches and lively party scene. So the ideal location to celebrate my 24th birthday!

One thing I absolutely loved about Vietnam in general was it was so unpredictable. One minute you're walking along quite a run-down dreary looking street and the next you stumble upon a beautiful unspoilt beach. Case in point - the beach at Nha Thrang...


Nha Trang was certainly more lively than most of the other cities in Vietnam. Bars and restaurants scattered the place which was fun to enjoy for a couple of days but ideally I like spending more time in slightly less commercialized places. One bar that stands out in my mind is a bar called 'Why Not?' bar. Please if you ever go by and are tempted to pop in for a drink remind yourself of that very question... As a collective group we were absolutely DYING the day after frequenting this ! I genuinely think that they fill the vodka bottles with poison or rocket fuel... trust me I have never felt so ill....DON'T DO IT!!!!

Anyway I was very SPOILT on my birthday! I got a traditional 'Donnelly Banana cake' from Diana and the lovely Vietnamese girls working in the hostel (Mozjo Inn) also got me a cake which was sooo cute!!


We headed across to Vinpearl, an island with an amusement park with rides and water-slides and a gorgeous beach. (Again very commercialized but a fun day out all in all!)


I went out for birthday drinks that night to the Sailing Club which was great fun - there's a DJ on the beach with everyone dancing till the early hours of the morning. Myself and Beth from 'Waaaless' (my future BFF traveling companion!!) managed to stay up till the sunrise which was pretty good going!


So after a few great nights out and good tanning time on the beach it was time to leave Nha Thrang and make tracks. On the night of the 21st we squeezed ourselves back on another sleeper bus and continued heading North along the coast to Hoi An.

Posted by Julie Kavanagh 20:22 Archived in Vietnam Tagged nha-trang Comments (0)

Vietnam - Motorbike Madness in Ho Chi Mihn

After getting a bus from Phnom Penh, Cambodia we arrived safely in Ho Chi Mihn, Vietnam on April 13th. My initial reaction was 'dear gawd there are motorbikes EVERYWHERE!!' It was mesmerizing but also quite daunting. ...I imagined it to be a similar feeling to being swarmed by bees but instead of getting stung the motorbikes would more than likely knock you down and kill you. (Not good!) BUT thankfully I'd been warned of this situation in advance so I knew the drill! When crossing the street in Vietnam you just have to go! ...otherwise you could literally be standing there waiting for hours!! You just have to pluck up the courage, step out and walk ...and the motorbikes will just swerve around you. (Apologies in advance to anyone that this advice doesn't work for!!)


After getting used to the noise and the 'I could get knocked down and die any second' feeling it was time to relax and enjoy all the amazing things that Vietnam had to offer. (And I assure you we did!!) ...I pretty much fell in love with Vietnam straight away! The food there is unreal (got addicted to Pho soup ..well to all the Vietnamese food actually!) The people are so friendly, similar to Cambodia they just seemed to be generally happy people even though most lived in what we would deem quite poor conditions. There were gorgeous beaches ..many still remained unspoilt although with Vietnam becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination I fear this may change over the next few years. (So you'll have to get there quick!!) Its ridiculously cheap which was great for the ole budget and also for my back as I treated myself to a massage every other day!! But most importantly (to me) RANDOM things happen to you in Vietnam....and randomness is ALWAYS good!

Ho Chi Minh City:
This was our first stop in Vietnam and as I already said the motorbikes were quite overwhelming at the start! Ho Chi Minh, formally Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam. Since the end of the Vietnam War many tourists visit Ho Chi Minh's Cu Chi tunnels and the extremely disturbing War Remnants museum. The Chu Chi tunnels were very interesting. Used by the Viet Cong soldiers during the war the tunnels are part of a huge network of tunnels that can be found throughout most of the country. At one part of the tour you were able to actually go down into the tunnels and make your way from one entrance to another. Word of advice though ..we are much taller and fatter than your average Viet Cong soldier so that experience was quite uncomfortable!


We also visited the War Remnants museum which was awfully sad. The museum mainly focuses on the American phase of the Vietnam War and exhibits military equipment and extremely graphic photography portraying the catastrophic affects of Agent Orange and other chemical sprays used during the war. The US military claim the goal of spraying the chemical was to defoliate forested and rural land depriving guerrillas of crops and of cover. However the chemical had horrendous effects on Vietnamese people who came into contact with it. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of Agent Orange . (The United States has challenged these figures as being unreliable.)


Ho Chi Minh was also great for an ole wander. I got up one day and just started walking around the city on my own. I don't even think I brought a map but I generally found that anywhere there seemed to be a tour group at or people taking photos was usually a good place to stop for a look!! I followed a group of people to what ended up being the main post office in the city. A gorgeous old building buzzing with tourists sending postcards around the world. So I jumped on the bandwagon and starting writing a few myself!! ...I'm not 100% did they all arrive to their destinations but sure its the thought that counts right!?

On our final night in the city we went to a quirky little place called Bobby Brewers. Its a restaurant and a cinema all in one..definitely worth a visit if you find yourself with a couple hours spare in Ho Chi Minh ..and you're in the mood for a movie night ...AND you've forgotten to eat dinner!!


Posted by Julie Kavanagh 20:13 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam ho_chi_mihn Comments (0)

Cambodia - The Killing Fields and S21 Prison

The following day the 4 of us packed into a tuk-tuk and braced ourselves for a difficult day ahead, visiting both the Killing Fields and the S21 prison. Oddly enough our tuk-tuk driver started the day off by bringing us to a shooting range where myself and Diana shot 20 rounds each through an AK 47. It was a good 'tick the box' experience but in hindsight really not the most appropriate day for this kind of activity!


The Killing Fields:

Just over 30 years ago, during a four year period (1975-1979) the Communist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot carried out one of the worst genocides in modern history. It is estimated that over 30% of the then population (about 2-3 million of the estimated 7 million population) was killed.

I had remembered a colleague in my Masters gave a great presentation about Cambodia and her experience at the Killing Fields. I remember being so shocked and horrified when she told us what happened but nothing could have prepared me for the sadness you feel when you're physically there.

When you walk through the gates you're given an audio guide and headphones so you can walk around by yourself. Straight ahead you can see a large memorial building filled with skulls. As it was such a short time ago that these atrocities occurred the site has been very well preserved. To this day pieces of bone and teeth can be found scattered around the dirt. You're standing right beside sunken mass graves where thousands of tortured bodies of men, women and children were thrown in like waste. You see the 'killing tree' which was used to smash the heads of young children and babies whose parents were accused of crimes against the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot's disturbing philosophy was to 'get them at the grassroots' so that these children "wouldn't grow up and take revenge for their parents' deaths".


Another fact that I found so horrifying was that bullets were deemed to have been too expensive to use so instead the Khmer Rouge used an array of different tools to murder these innocent people. (I couldn't even bring myself to take photos of them.) To think that these people weren't even granted a quick death was just so inhumane. In some cases where people didn't die from the blows to the head they were simply buried alive.

It was one of the most saddest and soul destroying things I've experienced. The most chilling moment of the day (for me) was at the very end. Music comes on your headphones that was actually played those 30 years ago to drown out people"s last harrowing screams. You sit there staring at the sunken ditches attempting to envision these peoples last living moments and it's heartbreaking.


S21 Prison:

We left the Killing Fields quite disheartened with life and to make it worse headed off to the S21 prison. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge converted a then high school and turned it into one of their torture, interrogation and execution centres. It is thought that approximately 20,000 people entered this prison, with only seven surviving. Our tour guide described to us how herself and her mum managed to escape Pol Pot's regime and flee to Vietnam but unfortunately her father, brother and sister were all brought to this prison and subsequently killed. Sadly as it was only 30 years ago many Cambodians today are still directly affected.

She took us around the prison detailing the different torture mechanisms used and showing us graphic photos. Some of the torture and interrogation techniques used were unthinkable.


I met some travellers along the way that chose not to visit the Killing Fields or the S21 prison as it might be too upsetting. I wondered were these the kind of people who go through life choosing to ignore it's harsh realities?! I just couldn't fathom how you could you visit Cambodia and not learn about and visit places that had such a huge impact on the country!!?!

....(Sorry rant over!) My point is, as sad as it was, I really would recommend visiting both places. (But definitely remember to bring some tissues!)

Five days was quite a short time to have in Cambodia so I would definitely like to go back sometime and explore further. I have to say I thought the Cambodian people were some of the friendliest people I've ever met! I also found their ability to forgive and move on from the past to be very inspiring.

Banner at the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh Cambodia

Banner at the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh Cambodia

Posted by Julie Kavanagh 14:16 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Cambodia - Templed out of it at Angkor Waaaat?

So we left the ping-pong shows of Bangkok behind us and headed off to Cambodia. Surprisingly enough the 4 of us naive over-trusting tourists once again got SHAFTED crossing the border. We paid for a promised '5 hour ride from Bangkok to Siem Reap' and got a 10 hour bus journey to the Cambodian border where we were essentially dropped off at the side of the street and left to find our own way to Siem Reap. ...ahh ye sure why not - what else would you be doing!

To be fair the trek was worth it in the end and we spent 2 amazing days in the beautiful Siem Reap. We strolled around the local markets and sifted through all kinds of weird and wonderful things on offer. And of course we visited the unforgettable temples at Angkor, one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. We were very eager and visited some of the temples at sunset on the first day and then got up again at 5am to visit the famous Angkor Wat temple at sunrise.


Unsurprisingly my favourite temple was Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed! (Growing up I was a tad bit obsessed!!) Myself and Diana ended up getting a bit carried away with the Lara Croft impressions that we both managed to rip our hippy pants in extremely awkward places. It got a bit awkward walking around with your entire bum on show so we took shelter under the tree for a while! (There was a stall where I could have bought new ones but I knew the woman was trying to rip me off so I refused to buy them!)


One thing that always fascinates me when visiting some of these world famous sites with Diana is her consistently strong ability to identify any 'restorative' work that has been done. You name it ...Machu Picchu, Ankgor Wat, Vietnamese temples.. if there's a restored roof, wall or even stone ...she WILL find it!! (and she will not be happy!!)


From Siem Reap we hopped on a night bus and headed down south to Phnom Penh. Here we stayed in the Number 9 Hotel which I'd recommend staying in for it's rooftop pool alone! It's only small but any amount of water in that heat is just GLORIOUS!!


Posted by Julie Kavanagh 13:30 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

One night in Bangkok

Bangkok, Bangkok, Bangkok .... where did it all go wrong?! ..WELL pretty much from the second we landed! Having not slept for 2 days myself and Diana stayed in bed for the first 24 hours without leaving the hotel. We met up with Jen and Lisa so planned a big night out for our 2nd night. We headed out to Khao San Road to check out the markets and avail of the cheap 'happy hour' manicures and massages!


That evening we got dressed up and headed out to the infamous rooftop Sky bar where "The Hangover" was filmed.

Sky Bar, Bangkok

Sky Bar, Bangkok

BUT to our disappointment we were refused entry due to our unsuitable footwear. We did have the option of buying closed toe sandals there but having seen them we decided it would be best to remain in our flip flops and head to a ping pong show! (Not quite sure what our rationale was there!) So we were coaxed into one of the many ping pong establishments under the pretense that it's free in but you just pay for drinks. We tried to make the most of what can only be described as quite a disgusting and depressing experience. At one stage I even had the 'pleasure' of getting involved in the action! They had me up beside the stage holding balloons over my head whilst the girls 'skilfully' burst them with darts .... I felt like the house in 'Up' ..but I just couldn't fly away! :(


....thankfully I've no actual photos of the event to add here!

After a half an hour two burly looking bouncers approached our table with a hefty receipt of what we "apparently" owed them! (Yep we got ripped off like many other silly tourists who go to these shows!) Apparently without even realising it we had stayed for a total of 6 shows which we had to individually pay for!! ....including the ping pong, bottle cap opening, cigarette smoking, RAZOR BLADE and balloon popping show!

I tried to talk to the people beside me to see what they were paying but the bouncer came over to me saying "If you've a problem with my bar then there will be a PROBLEM!" We translated this as 'pay up or you die' so we hastily handed over our money and legged it.

Our last hope for a successful night was to go to another club called Levels. It turned out we were walking up and down the correct street but weirdly nobody seemed to know where it was. So we eventually gave up and headed home!! It's safe to say that Bangkok was a complete disaster and I left the city hoping never to return! (Sorry Bangkok!)

Posted by Julie Kavanagh 05:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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