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1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

Well, I'm back in Bangkok for the fourth time. I thought I had done with the place but I've decided on skipping Laos (after conducting a lengthy cost-benefit analysis!) and flying to Cambodia on 20th December and, hopefully, overlanding it to Vietnam around the 30th. So it should be Christmas in Cambodia and New Year's in 'Nam!

I hear Cambodia is a major party place at Christmas! NOT! Well, one thing I have heard is that marijuana is legal there and costs around $1 per kilo!! Yah, Paul, Bob and Al get your tongues off the floor and put them back into your mouths! I think the per ounce price works out at around 3 cents (or tuppence in Irish money), a pretty good deal, whatcha reckon??

Should be reading e-mail in Bangkok on the 20th if you want to send e-mail. If you want to send normal mail then send stuff to MEANEY Michael, Poste Restante, GPO, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. To reach there anytime before, say, Jan 10th or maybe after, i.e. send now! Also, voice-mail messages will be hard for me to pickup until I get to Hong Kong, you can still leave them but it may be a few months before I hear them!

----------------------- THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES ... ---------------

Well, it's 11 countries in 11 months and no end in sight.

Since the last entry I spent another couple of weeks in Thailand. The first week I travelled towards the Laos border (stopped in Khon Kaen, Nong Khai, Si Chang Mai). In the end I plumped for not going to Laos after having some visa hassles (the Laos consulate in Khon Kaen being shut down for a week for the King of Thailand's birthday, having to extend my Thai visa by a month and the Laos visa going to take 4 or 5 days to be processed), hearing some travel reports (the road to Luang Prabang, Laos, being dangerous due to bandits, 5 bus-travelling French supposedly were terminated with extreme prejudice a couple of months before) and figuring that there wouldn't be so much to see there on the route I'd be taking (from Vientiane south-east along the Thai border). I can still say that I've seen Laos, though I'll leave out the fact that it was only from across the Mekong river in Thailand! :-)

So I headed back to Bangkok to arrange the next leg of the trip to Cambodia, stopping off along the way at S.E. Asia's best wildlife park, Khao Yai, for a few nights. Encountered a few species of monkeys and other assorted animals plus some exotic birds along the trails here (practically no humans to be seen!) but I just didn't bother my arse getting up at the crack of dawn to try and catch some serious wildlife such as the elephants in the area, probably due to having to sleep on floorboards each night, the accomodation being rather basic but cheap (40 cents a night)!

Back in Bangkok I bought a flight to Cambodia and while waiting for a visa to Vietnam I headed west towards Burma to Kanchanaburi (again) and Songkhlaburi, taking in the mega Erawan National Park on the way with its beautiful emerald waterfalls and cascades. Made it back to Bangkok in time for my flight. It was my fifth time in BKK and the only time I didn't bump into somebody I knew!

Honourable mention must go to Ed & Wina here whom I met in Bangkok a couple of weeks before, the only friends from my previous life as a working stiff that have bothered flying halfway across the world just to meet me!?!! Good on yer guys!

I flew to Phnom Penh on the 20th of December, it was my first flight in Asia so far. I only took is as the overland route from Thailand's border through Cambodia was of questionable safety, I'd've probably made it through okay but then again I might not have.

A few days were spent in PP, partly to fix the deliberate errors the Vietnamese embassy in Bangkok made on my visa (in order to extort more money from me). The most impressive sights of Phnom Penh were notable for being very disturbing, the Tuol Sleng (S-21) museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. S-21 was a prison that people were taken to be tortured by the Khmer Rouge and Choeung Ek was where the prisoners were sent to be bludgeoned to death and buried in mass graves. Horrific places both of them, particularly S-21 with its many photographs of inmates and bare torture rooms. For anybody interested in shooting M-16s or AK-47s then PP is the place to do it, costs about $1 per bullet but I didn't bother.

From the capital it was a 5 hour boat ride to the town of Siem Reap which is situated very close to the temples of Angkor said by some to be the greatest sight in all Asia and they might be right. My first day at the temples was Christmas Day and I was up for sunrise (and sunset) at Angkor Wat, the largest of the temples (in fact the largest temple in the world), a fantastic place without a doubt. My 4 days there were the highlight of the journey so far (travel tip no. 14: if you're ever in Siem Reap, Cambodia, be sure and visit Angkor, it's tops!). I was lucky enough to catch some great traditional dancing performances in front of a couple of the temples (Bayon & Angkor Wat) which was really special.

I ferried it back to Phnom Penh and travelled overland to Saigon (a.k.a. Ho Chi Minh city), Vietnam, on December 30th in time for the New Year. Cambodia was unusual in that the places I visited on the one hand showed a race that had sunk lower than almost any other (the years of the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror) and on the other showed a race that had climbed higher than most (the temples of Angkor). It was some contrast.

Though I heard various frightening stories about crime in Cambodia I didn't encounter any in my mere 10 days there. The only bits of excitement were meeting an Italian guy who'd just survived a Siem Reap ferry that had sank (4 locals missing I heard) and when I was in Siem Reap a girl at my guesthouse saw a soldier at the airport there who'd been shot in the shoulder, he'd been flown in from the Thai border, presumably wounded in a skirmish with the Khmer Rouge!

Unfortunately all my photos from Cambodia (and from the Mekong Delta, Vietnam) are officially missing. I think they were probably the best photos I have ever taken! I normally send them undeveloped to a friend in the States (hi Charlie) who has a good quality outfit develop them (they're slides). However, in Vietnam I was not allowed to mail them out of the country due to the typical Communist hangup about sending stuff they can't visually check so I ended up giving them to a Swiss guy I met who very nicely offered to send them to Charlie when he got back to Switzerland in a day or so. And I was thinking "yah, Swiss post, nothing can go wrong." Think again, hopefully the photos are just stuck in U.S. customs ... right??!! ;-}

Anyway I made it to Saigon overland from PP on 30th Dec. The Cambodia leg ended up costing around $350 for 10 days, relatively expensive due to taking faster ferry boats ($50 return), temple tickets ($40 for 3 days), $30 for fixing up my Vietnam visa, $20 for a Cambodian visa and that doesn't include $120 for the flight from Bangkok.

Saigon has the craziest traffic I've ever come across, imagine gadzillions of bikes and motorbikes whizzing through large intersections in all directions with not a traffic light in sight. A highlight here is to hire a bike and just cycle and see if you can make it through the day in one piece.

I didn't find that much to see in Saigon apart from the war museum whose name has changed from the Museum of American War Crimes to War Crimes Museum to its current War Remnants Museum as relations between Vietnam and the US have steadily improved! The content of the museum hasn't changed much however, it's still a very one-sided look at the war from the victor's point of view but it does show much of the bad side of war (is there a good side?).

From Saigon I hopped on a couple of organized tours, one to the Mekong Delta for 3 days which gave an interesting insight to the way people live on the rivers of the area (and we saw more rice fields than you can shake a stick at) and the other tour to Cao Dai temple & Cu Chi tunnels. Cao Daism is a bizarre religion which has millions of followers in the south, it's a combination of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism with a Catholic hierarchy (they have a pope!) and the dudes at their main temple in Tay Ninh have a pretty cool mass everyday dressed in weird robes. They also revere Victor Hugo, strange! The Cu Chi tunnels are a network of tunnels in which the Vietcong used to live and launch surprise attacks on the Americans and South Vietnamese Army. In return the Americans gave the area the distinction of being "the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated and generally devastated area in the history of warfare". And if you think that bothered the Vietcong much then you're wrong. Apart from seeing some of the original tiny tunnels we also checked out some of the lethal spiked traps the VC made as well as watch a belly-breaker of a propaganda movie on the making of the tunnels, they don't make inept propaganda like this anymore.

From Saigon it was onwards to Dalat, a nicely situated town in the highlands with some nice scenery and a cool, pleasant climate. From there I headed down to the coast to Ca Na where I had a hotel room that opened right onto a very nice, sunny beach, not bad for $8 a night. It was a nice place to rest up for a while, I hadn't seen a beach in a couple of months (yah, I hear you all crying for me!). Next stop was Nha Trang (managed to get kicked off a bus on the way and left in the middle of the countryside, the bus conductor wouldn't accept the decent price I was offering for the ride and I wouldn't accept his foreigner price) which is a very popular beach resort, good for another few days R&R.

Then it was an overnight bus to Hoi An, one of the prettiest towns I've seen in my travels so far though its charm is being threatened by hordes of art and tailor shops springing up all over its small centre. The food was particularly good here though it was very good all over the south, not so great in the north though. Special mention must go to the beer as Vietnam is the first place that I've been able to afford regular intakes of the golden suds, I could normally get a big 640ml bottle for 80 cents (50p) with the cheapest I came across being the pints of draught in Hanoi, 18 cents a pop! Yummmy! My personal recommendation is Red Horse beer (6.5% alcohol, yeahh!).

Hoi An is very popular place for getting clothes made. The silk here is very cheap, runs around $5 a square metre for the best stuff. I think it's a woman's dream, she justs goes in to a tailors, picks out a material, points at a dress in a Vogue or Cosmopolitan magazine, gets her measurements taken and, hey presto, the next day she has a lovely dress (depending on the tailor!) for as little as $12! Bought a few presents here as well as a kimono (just a dressing gown really) for myself, it's pretty flash it has to be said.

This is where I first met the guy I ended up travelling with later on for a while, David from the planet Vegus (yo bro). Actually he's really from Oz! Because there is one main route up/down Vietnam you tend to bump into the same assholes continually along the way. It just so happened the one I bumped into most was David! :-)

The beach nearby Hoi An was pretty nice and the weather great so I indulged myself one day, took it easy on a deck chair beneath a palm-leaf umbrella while beach vendors brought me fresh pineapples, cool drinks, succulent coconut and the like. You didn't know it but while you were suffering through January's freezing cold I was living the life of a king but I was thinking all the while of you guys! If only you'd known you'd have been cheered up immensely I'm sure!

After a couple of days in Danang from where I visited China Beach I took the train onwards to Hue, a beautiful ride up the coast. Hue is one of Vietnam's ancient capitals and has some very nice buildings in the area with big, fat entrance fees to match which encouraged a bit of back-wall climbing in order to dodge. The Citadel and Tu Duc's tomb were the highlight here.

Hue is the place to go to do a tour of the DMZ, the misnomered demilitarised zone. The tour involved much bus travel (240 miles in one day) and most of the sights visited were notable for there being nothing to see, e.g. the bit of the Ho Chi Minh trail we saw (the trail the North Vietnamese used to supply their people in the south) was just a simple road and at Khe Sanh combat base, site of the war's biggest battle (check out the lyric to B. Springsteen's "Born in the USA"), all that was left was a long patch of dirt, the remains of its airfield! The tour was still interesting as far as learning about the war went and we were taken to Vinh Moc where we got to walk through the original tunnel system used by a village to live underground for 4 years during the war, that was pretty good. They had a maternity "room" there, basically a recess in the tunnel wall where a grand total of 17 babies were born!

Hue was the last stop in south Vietnam. The south was remarkable for having one of the prettiest sights in all Asia which was the flocks of high school girls cycling the streets dressed in white silk ao dais, the traditional Vietnamese dress! Quite amazing (yes David, I'm incurable!). The fact that the dresses are practically see-through had nothing to do with the attraction I assure you! :-) As well as that I must give the Vietnamese very high marks for Asian beauty (based on fellow traveller's reports of course as you know I pay no attention to such things, right?). Singapore gets a very honourable mention in this category also.

From Hue it was a long, cold train ride to cloudy Hanoi, a very nice city with lots of lakes, handsome buildings and tree-lined streets. One thing not to be missed here is a visit to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum where you can see "Uncle Ho" lying in his glass coffin. Ho had not long ago returned from a repickling in Russia and was looking pretty good for being around the 107 year mark!

Using Hanoi as a centre I visited a few places, Sapa and Ninh Binh with David and Halong Bay with a tour group. Sapa is famous for its mountain scenery and hill tribes and it was a very nice place, lots of friendly people, interesting hill tribes, souvenirs to buy and walks to be done. Most notable was Sunday's market at a place called Bac Ha, filled with the most colourfully dressed tribes people you ever saw, knocked off a roll of 36 in an hour here!

Our way back from Sapa was delightful, we had a hard seat (emphasis on hard) on an overnight train to Hanoi. One of the carriages derailed 45 minutes out of the station and the ensuing delay meant we spent 19 hours on the train. I was lucky enough to be allowed a "sleep" on a really uncomfortable bench in a cargo carriage which got loaded with a couple of hundred chickens, the cocks among them deciding to crow into my ear at ungodly hours. David the asshole grabbed 6 hours sleep under the conditions, I probably managed around 6 minutes!

A couple of places nearby Ninh Binh were famous for their "karst" scenery, sheer mountains of limestone rising vertically out of the ground all over the place. We spent a couple of very nice days cycling through the hills and rice fields here. Halong Bay was similar except the mountains rise out of the water and there's more of them, over 1500 islands of rock fill the bay! It's Vietnam's top scenic attaction and well worth a visit though the weather was very dull when I was there. The north of Vietnam is certainly better than the south for scenery.

We stayed in Hanoi over the Vietnamese New Year, Feb 6th/7th, which was pretty boring, nothing to do as everything's shut and the celebrations definitely lack a bit of "spark" since the government banned fireworks a couple of years ago.

I left Vietnam for China on Feb 17th. In all I spent 7 weeks there and around US$1000 with $150 spent on souvenirs and presents, not a bad deal I have to say.

1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

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