Dalat > Bai Xep

We left Dalat at 7.45am but not before the hotel manager forced us to at least take some bread with us so we wouldn’t starve. The drive was pretty long we were on the bus from 7.45am till around 5pm with only stops for lunch and happy rooms. We felt like we must have covered such a large distance but when we checked it was only 201 miles. That’s like Aberdeen to Edinburgh.

The first part of the journey was through a mountain pass with long twisty roads. Along this part of the journey Mia told us about Vietnamese burial traditions.

In Vietnam, they do not cremate they only bury. There are 2 sections to a graveyard: a community area and family areas. When a family member first dies they are buried in a wooden coffin in the community area for the first 3 years after they pass. After 3 years the family then dig the body up and clean the bones and put them into a ceramic pot within in the family’s area. They do this because they believe that our flesh belongs to the earth and what belongs to earth should return to earth but our bones belong to our family and they should return to them.

After a parent dies it is the sons job to worship to the ancestors every day as it is believed that the ancestors of the family help the family with their lives in the present.

We continued on the road stopping in Nha Trang for lunch. Nha Trang is a popular Russian holiday destination in Vietnam with beautiful beaches. Although Stray does not stop for long here we could have hopped off and caught the next bus later on. Apparently it is one of the most expensive cities in Vietnam.

We continued on toward Bai Xep after this, the only hiccup in this being our bus tried to fit on to a bridge that it was not built for it and the top of the bus scraped along the metal and the fan hatch was hit. Once we got through we were told no and had to reverse back under it.

Once we finally arrived at Bai Xep, we had to leave the bus at the top of the village and walk down as the roads were not built for cars only mopeds. We stayed in a cute little hostel/hotel called Haven Vietnam right on the beach. We had dinner with the group and made an early exit as we were so tired.

The next day we had the laziest day ever. We got up around 12pm had breakfast and then had a walk along the beach. I put my feet in the South China sea (which felt as cold as the north sea) and we walked back. The rest of our day pretty much revolved around eating.

Today we are on route to Hoi An!

Kampot > Phnom Penh

We left Sihanoukville with only 8 in our group. This was strange for us as we had just come from a group of 27. Our new guide was called Tong. We took the short trip to Kampot and checked into our hotel. Ben and I were completed zonked. 20 days of doing nothing had ruined us.

We eventually got up and wondered around the town stopping at a bakery for a sandwich. I didn’t take many pictures there but here are some:

The fruit above in the middle of the roundabout is durian. Durian is probably the worst fruit I’ve ever tried but Asian people love it. Tong likened the taste to creamy garlic. But the smell is rotten. Many hotels will not let you have durian in the room as the smell is so bad. But I’m still going to bring home some durian sweets and biscuits for my parents (you’re welcome guys).

This morning we started our journey to our last stop in Cambodia – the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

On our way there we made 2 stops. Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng. These are also known as the killing field and S-21. These are both the most well known of the killing fields (there are over 300 in Cambodia) and the prisons. If you aren’t familiar with the Khmer Rouge regime, basically a man named Pol Pot and his political party wanted to make everyone equal, no rich and no poor. He did this by forcing everyone in the cities out of their homes and forcing people to become killed. Enemies of the Khmer Rouge were people who were intellectuals – scholars, doctors, teachers, monks etc. Even if you looked like an intellectual you would be killed. Examples of this include if you wore glasses and if you were white. They severed family connections and forced people to live with strangers.

No one knows the exact figure of how many people died but it is estimated over 1.5million which is more than a quarter of Cambodia’s population. They were not killed quickly by bullets either. Bullets were too expensive. Most were beaten to death by wooden clubs, axes, farming tools. Thrown into mass graves, women and children too. One of the quotes that has stuck with me is how they justified killing babies “to remove the grass you must remove the roots too”.

Choeung Ek (the killing field) is where people came to die. Music played to mask the screams and today there are mass graves everywhere. They have not recovered all the bodies as it is an impossible task, in the monsoon season it is common for more bones and clothes from the deceased to surface on the top.

We then drove a short distance to Tuol Sleng (S21). S21 was where many of the people executed at the killing field were tortured for information on intellectuals before they were killed. Today I not only saw the methods of torture, I also saw photos of these innocent people after they had been. It was truly horrific. My only thought for them was that at least once they were dead they were no longer suffering at the hands of their torturers. The regime even had painters (other prisoners) come in and paint these people as they were tortured.

Today, we met Chum Mey one of the 11 survivors of S21. He survived by becoming a painter.

Today was an emotional day for all, once we arrived at drop off point we said goodbye to all but 1 of our group who we will head to Vietnam with on Saturday. We arrived at our guesthouse and got ourselves a well deserved curry.

Houay Xai – Luang Prabang

After crossing the border and having to pay an overtime fee to get our visas we got a tuk tuk into the town of Houay Xai in Laos. It was a flying visit there, we ate dinner by the Mekong and then went to sleep.

In the morning we got up early and got our tuk tuks to the boats. We were going to be taking a slow boat down the Mekong with the final destination being Luang Prabang with an overnight stop in a tiny village called Bane Thanoune (which apparently doesn’t even have a postal address).

After about half an hour on the boat we needed to stop because the mist was so thick it wasn’t safe to continue until it had cleared. So clearly we had to get our picture taken with the boat!

Chao – our tour leader – told us that the boat can hold 100 people. The back of the boat is the owners home. After sailing for 9 hours we finally reached the village. We had our dinner on the beach before heading toward the village.

When we arrived at the village it was pitch black but almost immediately we were surrounded by dogs and their puppies and families with children coming to say hi. The kids were all intent on getting plenty high fives in! After Chao told us about the village we were invited into a hut where the elders of the village performed the Baci Ceremony on us. The Baci involves several chants and then each elder individually comes to each person and ties home spun cotton onto our wrists whilst saying a blessing for us. Normally they bless you for safe travelling, a happy love life and good health. One of the men said that I looked like his daughter and he missed her. So he gave me an extra blessing and told me I was welcome back any time. After the blessings are completed you are offered shots of “happy water” – rice whisky. Each shot symbolises good health for one part of your body. They believe that if you have 1 shot you must have 2 as you have 2 legs, 2 arms etc. I was going to say no to any but Ben who doesn’t drink at all said no and the woman looked like she had been mortally offended! So I obliged and the 2nd shot was definitely nicer than the 1st. You then have to eat sticky rice and a banana. After this they sang us some local songs where Ben and I were taught local dance moves by one of the ladies and in turn we sang if you’re happy and you know it and Take me home, country roads. Where we taught her moves like big fish, little fish and the macarena.

After the ceremony we were shown our homes for the night.

The next morning we were woken up by roosters at 3.46am. I’m still a little bitter as we didn’t need to be up till 6am. We took a slow walk back to the boat (Ben got everyone lost) and then we started our final journey to Luang Prabang.

Before we got there we stopped off at the Pak Ou caves. These are holy caves that are filled with over 1000 Buddha’s.

After 6 hours of sailing we finally reached Luang Prabang. The stairs from the boat to the bus almost killed me with all my bags!

Kuala Lumpur > Yangon

After leaving Delhi we caught a red eye flight to Kuala Lumpur. The flight itself would have been fine if we didn’t have a group of Indian guys who had never flown before infront of us… Once we arrived at KL airport I immediately decided I liked it already. We got an uber from the airport into the city which I told Ben we couldn’t fall asleep in… I slept for most of it. Arriving at the hotel had us in awe. We had managed to get a good deal on a 5 star and it was amazing. We arrived too early to check in and went up to the pool to sleep around it. We then headed to Petronas Towers mall for some lunch. After wandering back to the hotel we finally got into our room which was more like a flat! We had a kitchen/living room, bedroom, walk in wardrobe and a bathroom. It was a long way off the Indian hotels we had just come from. That night we went for dinner and to see the greatest showman (tickets were less than £3!!) Our second day in KL started off with us taking a walk to the KL tower in our ticket price it included a walk round the mini zoo. Here we fed squirrel monkeys and I fed the birds. It took me 2 attempts to manage the birds, the first time I freaked out and threw the seeds everywhere when a parrot flew at me. The man sorted my out the next time and I was fine! The next day we got an uber to the airport again and flew to Yangon. My flight got upgraded so I had the luxury of first class. Kuala Lumpur airport has to be the most chilled airport I have ever been in. If only they were all like that. Arriving in Yangon was yet another culture shock for me. Our uber driver caused us a nightmare trying to find him and then when we did find him he didn’t speak to us till he wanted a tip. So far for me, Myanmar is similar to india but less crazy driving. Today we have been to shwedagon pagoda which was stunning. We also visited the reclining Buddha and the market. Tonight we board an overnight bus which I’m feeling pretty anxious about!