A Travellerspoint blog

A few days in Kuala Lumpur

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We decided to take a breather from island life and spent 4 days getting our selves organised and stocking up on supplies in Kuala Lumpur. We had been to KL before and chose this city mainly because its the hub city for Air Asia so most of our flights will be coming in and out of KL. We booked a self catering apartment which was really great as after 8 weeks of street and restaurant food we were keen to have some home cooked meals!

We spent our time visiting markets and moseying around the shops and enjoying life back in the first world. We also visited the Bathu caves, something we had wanted to do on our last visit but never quite got there. The caves are an impressive Hindu shrine on the outskirts of the city. You have to climb a very long and steep staircase to reach them and along the way there are loads of monkeys waiting eyeing out what ever you have in your hands and generally just running amok!

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Walking into the cave is like entering a huge natural cathedral with animals (monkeys/rats/chickens/bats) running freely and a number of shrines built into the rock. It was quiet when we visited with just the odd Hindu Poojary giving blessings to a few people but you can see that the site is geared to handle a crowd as the was crowd control barriers stacked up in the corner and the cave floor looked well trodden. We were happy we hadn't visited on a busy day as the humidity was close to 100% inside! I took the opportunity to get a blessing and a lucky charm bracelet from a Poojary - more of a tourist trap I'm sure but it gave me a chance to look a little closer at the shrine without feeling like I was gawking.

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While in KL we also had our first 'scam' day! It started out with a chat from my brother Richard asking us if we had been scammed lately which was ironic as I said no - no scams that i can think of! As things turn out they took a downward spiral from there on. First we booked a flight to Borneo but somehow the system changed our dates from March to April, the flight was £13 but when we called to change it we were charged £40 for the change?!

We had booked a new hotel for the last night closer to the airport so we set out in a cab to find it and without us noticing the cab driver carefully slipped his hat over the meter and when we came to our destination proceeded to charge us triple the going rate! Well Greg had an absolute fit and managed to convince the guy to lower his rate (ie place the money on the seat and firmly said this is the price before walking away!)

We then arrived at our destination and spent about an hour looking for our hotel only to discover that the map was incorrect and the hotel was actually miles away for the station where we needed to be. We spent the next 2 hours trying to get refunded (luckily we did) and rebook another hotel. We then took another cab to the hotel and for ease of explanation told the cabbie to drop us at a more well known hotel a few streets and we would just walk the rest of the way. The cab driver took one look at the hotel and said - you are staying at this expensive hotel - you can pay more and tried to charge us an additional fare?! Assertive Greg stepped in and very clearly told her to go and jump in a lake and gave her the pre agreed rate.

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After checking in the mirror just in case we has 'scam me please' written on our foreheads, we settled in to our new hotel for a short rest before our 4am flight to Cambodia the next day!

Posted by Waldos on Tour 02:48 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

The laid back island of Koh Lanta

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The ferry crossing from Krabi /Ao Nang area to Koh Lanta took around 2.5 to 3 hrs. Ko Lanta is an island around 35km in length and 6 km wide. It's really beautiful with fantastic beaches stretching alone the west cost and mangrove swamps on the east coast and thick tropical jungle in the interior.

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Ko Lanta really appealed to us because of the great beaches, is less developed and not as main stream as some of the other islands on the Andaman coast line, and is also extremely well positioned to be used as a base to explore outlying islands.There is also a lovely drive along the coast o the national park which is somewhere between a drive along Chapmans Peak and Tsitsikamma with breathtaking views across the ocean while you drive through thick jungle areas dodging monkeys as you go. Every km or two you reach a little settlement with shops and restaurants and in between there are secluded beaches where you take a short walk through the bush to reach - not a resort in sight!

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We stayed on Ko Lanta for 9 nights in total, and during this time managed to take 2 lovely day trips, one to Ko Rok and the other to Ko Phi Phi.

We hired a scooter for the duration of our stay, and spent 2 nights at place towards the middle of the island on the west coat, and the rest of the time we hired a room in a very look key beach house called the Pink House towards the bottom of the island on the west cost.

We had a very simple fan room towards 'the back' (about 5 steps from the beach) with a fan which was almost perfect despite the first few days having a really intense heat/humidity wave. Luckily we could sleep with the door open to get a bit of a breeze. The guest house was run by a very entrepeneurial family who seemed to have their hand in every pot (accommodation/restaurant/tourist information/scooter hire/petol etc) the whole family which seemed to be about 20 people all worked and had a specific role headed up by one daughter who was the only English speaker. Somehow they made it work and seemed to be running a thriving business!

If we weren't heading off on the day trips, most of our days involved jumping on the scooter and exploring the island, stopping off somewhere on more secluded beach, chilling out, swimming, reading, snorkelling etc.

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We tried to use our time in Koh Lanta to kick back a bit, and try and plan the rest of our trip (this ended up being put on the back burner, mainly because it was just to hot that we ended up deciding to use Kuala Lumpur as a base for all our onward exploration, after Koh Lanta, but with so many options it can become a little overwhelming at times), do a few runs and a few yoga sessions with Mona (an older American lady who kicked in her finance career in LA for a simplified life on the island of Koh Lanta 10 years ago). Honestly can't believe the physical condition she is in for her age, absolutely incredible! I know I was a bit of yoga sceptic before this trip, but I am 100% convinced now! Mona made sure we could hardly walk after 90 mins in her studio! The location was absolutely brilliant with yoga held on a wooden deck over looking the sea facing out west for the sunset. Actually because we were always based on the west coast of the island were well position to see the most spectacular sunsets.

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Other parts of the island that we explored and that were highlights included the Old Town (on the East Coast), the nature reserve and lighthouse (on the southern tip), the town and ferry area in the north, and off course just riding around seeing the countryside and views.

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The day trip to Koh Rok was absolutely brilliant, a highlight for us. We were picked up by speedboat from the beach in front of our bungalow and headed southward for about an hr, until we arrived at the 2 islands of Koh Rok, both of which are a nature reserve. We noticed straight away that the visibility of water was just incredible and the beaches a brilliant fine powdery white sand. We managed to do some snorkelling and explored around a bit as well a relaxed and read. The tour company provided lunch which was a very tasty Green Thai Curry and loads of fruit. The islands are so beautiful and largely untouched by the onslaught of tourists.

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The day trip Koh Phi Phi involved catching a transfer bus up to the small ferry terminal on the North of the island. We then had around a 2 hr ferry trip across to Koh Phi Phi. We were then transferred across to a long tail boat and headed out to some islands surrounding Koh Phi Phi.

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One of the first things we noticed about Koh Phi Phi is that it's no guesses as to why it was so tragically effected by the Tsunami in 2004 (more than 2,000 people lost their lives on this island alone, to give you context there were just over 8,000 fatalities in the whole of Thailand). The main settlement area is on a low lying sand spit joining 2 mountainous islands. As a lead up to the sand spit on either side are massive unforgiving cliffs that would have acted as a funnel when the tsunami hit, only amplifying the effect. It's amazing how development has taken place since then, it's is very hard to believe that the settlement was basically flattened.

The long tail trip excursion entailed exploring Phi Phi Ley Island, which included a few very scenic coves and inlets as well as Maya Bay (the main location for the movie "The Beach"). The scenery is absolutely incredible, but if you minus the thousands of tourist who make a beeline for Maya Bay, it would be so much better. I suppose its just a case of a popular film promoting the commercial exploitation of an incredible setting. The other noticeable thing on this island was the existence of loads of weird looking bamboo ladders on the most inopportune cliffs, used by locals to collect birds nests, and sold to the Chinese as a delicacy, reaching as much as Baht 15,000 per kg (Rand 4,500; £ 325), incredible! We stopped off in Koh Phi Phi for a couple of hours, walking around, grabbing a beer and sorting out some onward flights. Koh Phi Phi is far more developed and touristybut we had a great time visiting the islands, but were glad to climb on ferry back to the chilled out island of Koh Lanta.

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After a wonderful time in Koh Lanta we were ready to move on, and caught a transfer bus to Krabi (again incredible value on the transfers money wise, 3 hr transfer around £7, including 2 pontoon crossings). As we were catching a very early flight out of Krabi to KL, we booked ourselves into a budget hotel to rest our heads for a few hours.

Posted by Waldos on Tour 02:35 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Exploring Krabi

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Cath's accommodation strategy and record is flippin incredible. And once again she pulled one out the bag, this time with a bit of a twist.

After arriving in Krabi quite late, we caught a cab about 30 km north west of Krabi to a remote part of the coastline. The place we stayed was called Bananas bungalows, which are very simple and rustic bamboo huts overlooking the mangrove swamp and owned by an eccentric German called Ollie. As we arrived at night we weren't too sure what the setting and landscape looked like, but could hear loads of creatures everywhere, frogs, insects and all sorts of mangrove tidal creatures, really cool, and took us a while to get to sleep with all the wild around, something we haven't been used to living in the UK for the last 4 years.

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Anyways, we woke up in the very early hours in the morning to Muslim call for prayer echoing off the mountains and beautiful sunrise streams of light coming through all the little holes in our bamboo hut. We were absolutely taken aback when we walked out our hut to see the most beautiful setting - a lively tidal mangrove swamp with all sorts of weird noises and high karst mountains everywhere! Beyond the mangrove swamp and a walkway we could see sand extended far out! Such incredibly good value, and a great experience, the accommo was close to the cheapest we had paid to date in Thailand.

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We hired a scooter and explored the area. Unfortunately we were occasionally caught out by heavy rain on the road and had to duck off into a side street cafe or shop to cover from the rain. The landscape and driving was awesome. After getting a bit wet, we found refuge in a new coffee shop / restaurant. We were apparently only his second western customers, had he had a only been open a month. He was so excited and charismatic! Such a nice guy! He introduced us to his family and chatted to us for quite a while, showed us his Facebook page and website etc. He was very passionate and excited about us being there, and we had a great time chatting to him and waiting out the storm in his shop.

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We got back to the bananas late afternoon to tide going out and a brilliant sunset scene in the making so decided to go for a little walk over the walkway through the mangroves and across the sand. The water had pulled back about a kilometer and it was fascinating to see what was left on the sand, first hermit crabs, then a little further thousands of small starfish and then jellyfish and the weird colourful sponges and then plants with huge red and purple starfish with black spikes! There were loads of local woman walking along the shore collecting clams for their dinner so we helped them a bit. On the way back we had to move quickly as the tide was pulling in but when we got to the swamp it had these weird fish in it that almost looked a bit like squid. The swamp is sooo noisy and creaks and bubbles constantly - reminded me of ginger beer.

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After some research we realised that Krabi covers quite a big area and as much as we had enjoyed "Bananas", it was time to venture over to the more mainstream and well known area of Ao Nang and Railey. The latter being a headland "peninsula" separated from the mainland by huge mountains and cliffs, so the only way to get there is to catch a long tail boat from Ao Nang, the touristy and beachy area across to the Railey area. We stayed on a beach called Ton Sai, which is very much more low key and rustic than the other beaches of Railey.

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The scenery is superb! Just unbelievable! We found our way to our bungalow up on the hill at the back end of Ton Sai, which is basically a small settlement of extreme adventurer hippies who are passionate not only about rock climbing but seem to have the time to perfect all sorts of weird and wonderful skills- hula hooping, tight walk rope walking, fire dancing etc. Very chilled out and relaxing. The average person over here could be on the cover of men's health or something, minus the dreads and all the weird tats, but they are in all in incredible shape, 8 packs and not an ounce of fat, built arms etc. As soon as we realised this was a rock climbing paradise and one of the ultimate destinations for climbing we realised why.

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We made our way down to the beach towards sunset and noticed loads of rock climbers doing there thing on the over hangs next to the beach. These guys are incredible! So strong and talented! Anyways while we were sipping on a beer admiring the sunset and scene, Cath pointed up to the top of the mountain right above us. I thought she was pointing to a huge stalactite near the top, but suddenly we saw a base jumper taking a big leap. It was literally only seconds but after a few attempts his shoot did not open. It was just so shocking and it all happened so quickly, but after you could see the utter desperation in his attempts some sort of material opened up a little ( maybe 10 or so metres above the ground) barely I would say, but enough to stop an absolute free fall into the ground. He hit the ground with a big thud and was steps away from loads of people milling around one of the rock climbing areas near the beach. So so lucky he didn't hit anyone. It was all beyond words! We kept our distance . People gathered around and there were conflicting views as to how to treat him or whether he was even alive. Eventually, a couple of people with first aid or a medical background stepped in, and stopped the local Thais wishing to put him on a boat back to Krabi as soon as possible.

Unfortunately this is Thailand, so the thought of a medic helicopter flying into this isolated beach soon vanished after these guys were still trying to attend to him after 30 to 45 min. It was all very shocking and quite a few people were in tears. We have our doubts whether this guy will make it, we tried to distance ourselves as the other guys were doing what they could. They eventually took him off, but he was not in a good way at all. We later heard that he had stabilised, but had some extremely seriously injuries and it was still a bit touch and go. It took just a few split seconds, still can't believe it, and the whole beach was in utter shock the rest of the evening, the atmosphere was very sombering. He hit the ground so hard! I can't believe he could potentially live through that, so so lucky, and would be a testament to the way those guys treated him on the scene.

The next day we decided to spend valentines day exploring the beaches in and around the area. Railay beach is one of Thailands top beaches with powdery white sand and lovely blue water, it's hard to believe it separated from the rocky Tonsai by a short jungle walk. We hopped from beach to beach on the headland, each with its own unique character and settled for lunch on Phra Nang Beach which had an awesome spin on street food - boat food! About 10 boats equipped with a makeshift kitchen and about 4 Thai woman pulled up on the beach and people flocked to buy a cheap tasty meal for lunch. The food was absolutely delicious and the setting was incredible - we couldn't believe that could make such a variety of food in a small little boat kitchen.

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We finished off the day by climbing up to a lovely viewpoint on one of the cliffs and then down into a Lagoon which was sunk into the middle and close to sea level. It felt like we had hiked into a volcano and a Nat Geo photo shoot - we eventually climbed back to the main path covered in red mud and absolutely exhausted!

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After spending a few days watching these rock climbers scale just about every available cliff face we though we should definitely give it a try so we signed up for a 1 day rock climbing course. The guide took us to one of the easier cliffs to learn from and we stood their waiting for our 'health and safety briefing' and a step by step guide on all the equipment and commands etc. We soon realised that this is Thailand and we were handed a rope and a harness and taught how to tie the very important knot that connected us to the man on the ground and . . . off we went with a cheerful word of encouragement from our teacher . . . You climb your style . . . 100 different climbers 100 different styles!

Um . . . ok?

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After a few climbs we were having a ball . . . with a lot of adrenaline pumping through our veins! We climbed up to some lovely viewpoints that looked out across the bay and the assailed down again. It was a nervewracking experience but well worth it once we were back on the ground!

The next day we headed back to Ao Nang to sort out some things for Gregs work. We had a lovely street food dinner and soothed our aching climbers muscles with a massage! Next up would be the ferry to Koh Lanta

Posted by Waldos on Tour 07:57 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

The Gulf islands of Koh Samui and Ko Tao

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After a bit of a journey involving 4 taxis, 2 flights, 1 bus trip and a 4 hour nap over at a budget Bangkok airport hotel (all within 24 hrs) we finally hit the sandy shores of Koh Samui.

Arriving here from Vietnam we quickly noticed the change in pace and the glossy holiday resort vibe that has taken over the island.

After a 2 hour ferry ride and a lot of haggling at the port we finally made our way to our hotel on the more remote and under-developed west coast. We settled ourselves into the tropical beach and started chilling out in no time at all. We hired a scooter for a couple of days, which made for the perfect and most cost effective way of getting around and exploring the island, taking in the beaches, waterfalls, fisherman's village etc.

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We had read and heard that Ko Samui has a really poor reputation for traffic accidents and that we should take extra care. Not that we wouldn't, but I am glad we approached everything with extra extreme caution as it wasn't 2 hrs on the road until we saw our first accident, involving a biker going over the front of the handlebars of his suped up bike and landing on a curb. We were there probably just a couple of minutes after it happened, and it did not look good at all. I am more than astonished to see how many testosterone charged holiday makers who think its fine to drive around looking like a "cat-ma-lat" without a freaking helmet, just so that they can look like a zoolander on tropical heat. I don't wish harm on anyone, but this situation, amongst loads of others would be completely different if people worried about their safety and others rather than trying to look cool! We were way in the minority as far as wearing helmets, bloody incredible!

Whilst we were visiting the fishermans wharf, Cath recognised some familiar faces, Henk and Jane from Spain (close friends of the Stewarts in PE), who we had met years back when we were staying with them in Plett. What a small world, and amazing that our paths crossed at exactly the right time! We had a drink and caught up for a few hours, absolutely brilliant! What are the chances!

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After 3 days on Kho Samui we were keen for some chill time on the quieter, nature lovers island of Koh Tao. The blood pressure always elevates when you arrive at a new place and are met by a haggle of taxi men and tour operators trying to fleece you of your amo before you have had a chance to settle yourself, and this was by no means any exception.

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We finally checked into our accommo, on a massive cliff, north of Sairee Beach, the main beach on the island. A wonderful spot with fantastic views and a brilliant infinity pool and deck. The setting was awesome and the sun sets were epic. This all came with a bit of a trek from town and a challenging hill just before our hotel, but was worth it and away from the main hussle and bustle. We settled in here for a couple of nights and ventured into town for some grub, massages and a yoga session. Koh Tao by contrast to Koh Samui is far more chilled and less mainstream and "resorty" (Ko Samui has a large element of irresponsible tourist development). Ko Tao on the other hand is geared more towards the independent adventure traveller focused on scuba diving and snorkelling rather than the all inclusive beach lounger deals or sky sports enthusiast. This was more our scene.

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We hired a kayak and ventured around the coves heading north to the small islands off the north west coast of Koh Tao. The evenings involved wandering around the main beach area, soaking up the vibe, having a few quiet drinks and watching some of the fire dancers doing there thing, before signing off for the night back at our quiet remote accommodation.

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We decided to book a couple of dives and found a reputable operation, away from the main Sairee beach area. The owner was from Cyprus and had a very laid back approach to things. They also owned the coffee shop opposite the dive operation and a few very remote bungalows on the completely under-developed part of the island. We decided to take this up and relocated out there for 3 nights, and during this time managed to do a couple of dives. We had a great time and saw some fantastic fish, but unfortunately the elusive Whale Shark is still out there somewhere.

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The new remote accomo spot was just what we were looking for. The bungalows were done out Balinese style, with thatch and very tasteful furnished, an epic open shower and a great view from the deck in front over the sea, inclusive of hammock (perfect for blomming). Just what the dr ordered. It was a bit of a scramble down to the rocky / boulder beach, but the snorkelling and warm water made the trip more than worthwhile. It was also a bit tough getting into the dive operation and we needed to get transfers via 4x4, but on the one occasion we decided to run in.

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We managed to go for a few hard runs while on the island, exhausting in the humidity, even when running quite late in the day. We were sad to leave, but the 9 days on the gulf side meant we had to move on or we would not cover the Andaman coast before our visa expires. We booked a transfer from Koh Tao to Krabi which took a whole day and involved catching 2 different ferries, over some very rough seas and a bus transfer across the mainland Thai peninsula to Krabi.

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Posted by Waldos on Tour 06:35 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Elegant Saigon

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Fearing another long and bumpy sleeper train journey we decided to fly the very cheap and very unreliable Jetstar from Da Nang down to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City as it is now called. We left Hoi An with very heavy hearts as we had such a lovely week there but with such a huge area to cover and our visa end date fast approaching we had to push on. After a few delays we landed in Saigon at 2am and promptly headed straight to our hotel to sleep ready to explore the city the next day!

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Saigon is a classically beautiful but modern city with lovely wide tree lined avenues and old french style buildings. Everything about it is pure elegance from the architecture to the friendly people - we were also very priviledged enough to be there in the build up to Tet (the lunar new year which for most vietnamese is the only week off they get) so the city was really looking its best with lights in every tree and shop windows all painted with blossom trees and well wishes for the year of the serpent!

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The heat and humidity had really dialed up a notch and after one morning in the Ben Thanh Market we realised the cyclo drivers were going to became a very necessary means of transport in the heat of the day.

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Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum - a photographic display of the war with a very obvious anti American slant. We wondered around the exhibitions of pictures taken by various journalists (many of whom were killed while on assignment). They were extremely disturbing but at the same time important to see. We left the museum with very conflicting feelings as it is very obviously a one sided anti American exhibition however you can't deny the devastating effect the war and in particular Chemical warfare (Agent Orange) had on the rural Vietnamese people. If anything it left us with a lot more questions to research about how things got so badly out of control.

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After such a heavy afternoon we decided to round things off with a drink in the Bitexo financial tower sky deck. A bar with stunning panaramic views over the city - we timed it perfectly as the sun was setting over the skyline as we cracked open our first tiger beer.

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The next day we took a cab to the An Dong market market in China Town. This is the market where all the local traders come to buy their goods wholesale so its a lot less touristy and you don't get hassled at all - its pretty clear that the tradesmen have bigger fish to fry then flogging one off items to tourist. This can be seen by the constant fierce tapping of calculators and wrapping of boxes. We passed a jam packed internet cafe with people sitting on crates at every computer glued to the screens and chickens scratching around at their feet - we wondered to ourselves how many online deals were being made in that shop and who were they selling to? It wouldn't surprise us all if this is the other side of Alibaba that we don't see.

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After a few hours wondering around the market taking in the excitement of all the trades we decided that a cyclo drive was in order so we hailed down to guys who after a tough negotiation agreed to take us to see some temples. Each had its own USP - the one with the wood carving, the one with the incense, the one with the jade figurines etc etc interesting to see nonetheless! The drive through China Town was a great way to see the area as its not confined like other China Towns so walking it could have taken ages.

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On our last day we had booked a flight out to Bangkok late in the evening so we had the whole day to explore. We started off by walking to the Emperor Jade Pagoda which is Saigon's oldest pagoda built by the Chinese community over 200 years ago. As you walk in you are hit with the strong smell of insence and in every corner there are people practising some kind of Taosist ritual - baby terrapins, fish and birds can be bought to add (with a wish or a prayer) to the ever growing stocks in the pagoda ponds and cages. The terrapin pond was particularly disturbing as it was completely over crowded with terrapins grasping to get out some with parayers written in white tipex on their backs.

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Inside the temple there were loads of different deities being prayed to an people could buy oil to pour over an oil lamp, have their prayers writen in Chinese or burn insense at the many alters. The temple itself was very interesting to wonder around but when we walked out part of us wanted to buy up all the baby animals and set them free!

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We then decided to hit the shops for some lighthearted retail therapy and spent an hour in Saigon square where you can get a huge variety of knockoffs straight from the 'faketory'! we kitted ourselves out with a few high quality items and now we were ready for our epic journy to the beach!

Posted by Waldos on Tour 19:57 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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