Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Sri Racha Tiger Zoo

After spending three nights in Bangkok we took a two and a half hour taxi ride to Pattaya. On the way we stopped at Sri Racha Tiger Zoo in Chonburi. Sri Racha holds alot of different animals and activites, including pig racing(?), shooting, Tigers, crocodiles and Elephants. When we first arrived we used a pellet gun to shoot cages which held meat, if you hit the target the tigers got food.

After this we took the oppurtunity to have our picture taken with a tiger cub. The tiger was literally dragged out of the tiny cage it was being held in and a bottle of milk was kept in its mouth to keep it calm. 

After this picture the whole place just didnt make any sense to me. We went to watch a tiger show afterwards and the tigers looked so terrified. They are obviously raised with such violence to show them that the humans are in charge that if they were to put a foot out of line they would be treated inhumanely. I left after 5 minutes of the show, the way this place treats animals is exploatitve and basically a disgrace. After researching this place on the internet, i found out that 53 tigers were killed due to eating contaminated chicken. If this zoo was opened in the west it would last about 5 minutes, yeah its great for tourists to be able to hold a tiger but the conditions the animals have to suffer is a travesty.

Tigers made to stand on platforms and perform tricks
The reason we went here in the first place was to see tigers being looked after, as in Thailand there are many sanctuaries which take tigers out of danger and look after them. I wouldn't be suprised if all these tigers ended up in a sanctuary in a few years time.


Back to Thailand - Bangkok

Arriving back into Thailand was quite refreshing, but Bangkok is one crazy city! We left our hotel in Hanoi at 6am to catch our 10am flight which took about an hour to get to Bangkok . We arrived at the hotel which my Uncle simon was meeting us at. It was amazing!! The Ambassador suite at the Davis! As soon as we arrived me and Adam ran around for about 10 minutes jumping on the beds like little kids. The suite included a 42 inch plasma, two double en suite rooms, a jacuzzi and a kitchen! Immense.

We relaxed for a while and had some cheeky room service, then we went to the cinema to watch the Hangover 2. Great film, but very surreal watching a film set in Bangkok and walking out into Bangkok. The cinema was amazing compared to English cinemas and the popcorn was unbelievable! Just before the film was about to start everyone in the cinema stood up and a message about the king came onto the screen. Thai people love their king.

The Hangover 2
After the cinema we waited for simon as he was arriving at about 8pm, we hid in the jacuzzi for about an hour to suprise him, and as soon as i got out he came through the door, typical! We took simon down to Khao San road for some Pad Thai- which is a noodle, beansprout and meat dish. We had a few drinks and then headed back to the room for a go in the jacuzzi!

Hot Tub Time!
The day after we went to see a few sites, we went to see the The Golden Buddha which was quite breathtaking and we saw a few temples nearby. The guy who was driving our Tuk Tuk tried to rip us of by dropping us at a jewlery store and asked us to walk around for 5 minutes because he gets free petrol!? Cheeky Mother!!

Golden Buddha

After this we went on a long tail boat down the river towards the Grand Palace. We saw some great sights, there were women working on the floating markets, who were great fun. We saw alot of houses made on the river on stilits, most looked really dangerous, we saw a few crocodiles just chilling out on the river bank and an insane amount of fish.

Floating Market Friend!

Simon and Adam rocking out the Conical look

Houses on Bangkok River

After this we grabbed some more Pad Thai down Khao San Road and headed back for a nap (such hard work). At night time we headed to Patpong night market, which is a crazy place. It is basically a side street which has bars at either side and a market in the middle, we met up with some friends and had a few drinks, which turned into a lot of drinks and watching a Ping Pong show, i wont go into detail but it was very funny!

PatPong night Market


Halong Bay, Vietnam

We took a three hour bus ride from the capital of vietnam- Hanoi to go and see Halong Bay. The bus ride was rather ropey and very full but we met some very friendly people on the way there.

Halong Bay is a UNESCO World heritage site and very popular travel destination, and it is very easy to see why! The bay features thousands of Limestone Karsts (small isles) in very different shapes and sizes.

The Spectacular View  

We booked ourselves a day boat trip around the Bay, which consists of more than 1900 islet, most of which are limestone. The limestone has gone through 500 million years of formation to give them all the different shapes and sizes.

One of the many isles

We sunned ourselves on the boat and took lots of pictures as we gazed at the amazing scenery. The area is so vast that you could easily get lost out there. People had built their own houses on the sea and their was even a school. Crazy stuff! I couldnt imagine living at sea for all of my life! But researching the area on the internet and it says human beings had been in the area for tens of thousands of years. Half way through we stopped at a little floating fish farm and the man on the boat said if we wanted we could buy a fish of some shrimp and the chef on the boat would cook it for our lunch.

Fish farm

After visiting the fish farm we sat down to lunch on the boat and ate fish, tofu, chicken and beef mixed with rice. Lovely! We then carried on our journey and headed to some caves where the boat docked and we had the chance to take a boat underneath and through some of the limestone rocks. It was breathtaking to see the limestone so close up.

Limestone Time
After this we headed towards Sung Sot Cave (Cave of Surprises), which is the largest cave in Halong Bay. Located at the Bo Hon Island, the cave got its name from a French admiral who was surprised at the size of the cave when he discovered it.

The caves were massive inside and had different coloured lights shining allover the rocks, but the cave has been highly developed for tourism, it has a cement pathway and even gift shops outside. Kind of ruins the feel!
 After seeing the caves we got back on our boat and went back to land and took another 3 hour bus ride back to the city. We had such a great day and saw some amazing things!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Hoi An, Vietnam

Today, after an 8 hour train ride, we arrived in Hoi An, Vietnam. Located on the South China Sea, Hoi An is an historic market town located on the Mekong River.  There are some 120,000 inhabitants and the town is well known to backpackers.

There wasn't a great deal of western people around, but there were noticeably more than in other Vietnamese towns we visited such as Da Nang and Nha Trang.  The architecture is very reminiscent of Chinese towns and as slightly different from what we have been used to seeing in Thailand and Cambodia.

We spent a couple of nights here and during our time we toured the endless rows of markets which seem to go on for miles and miles!  The people are very friendly, and coupled with the towns 'bohemian' atmosphere it was one of the most enjoyable towns I have seen so far on my travels.

Hoi An usually attracts attention due to is sale of rare cottons and silks.  If you want a perfectly tailored item of clothing for a very cheap price - Hoi An is the place to find it.

On our last evening we took a Mekong Rover boat tour at sunset which is a perfect way to see the town.  During our ride, our boat operator allowed us to ride the boat!

If you are in Vietnam in the future then make sure Hoi An is on your agenda.  It is a lovely town, with lovely people and will leave a lasting impression.  The food is cheap, there is no hustle and bustle of city life and most of all it is totally different to anything else you will see in Vietnam.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Thap Ba Hot Spring Mudbath

Whilst in Nha Trang, Vietnam we decided to get a little bit of relaxation after all the bus and train travel and go and have a mud bath.

2 Person Mud Bath

It cost around £25 between us and this included a mud bath for two, then a soak in a hot spring water bath, hydrotherapy and access to a swimming pool. The baths had a pipe inside which pumped in the mud. We took a shower in warm mineral water and got into the bath. The mud was very very thick but felt great. If you lie back you will naturally float which is pretty cool.

After getting out of the Mud we lay in the sun to let it sink into our bodies and dry. This lets the minerals present in the mud penetrate onto the skin. We then showered of and went into a hot mineral water bath which was very warm, especially in 35 degree heat, but it felt good!!

Our skin felt amazing afterwards, definetley worth doing!


    Saturday, 2 July 2011

    Travelling through Vietnam

    Well this was a very interesting experience! We booked our sleeper train tickets in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, which is were we first arrived from Cambodia. We initially were going to fly from Ho Chi Minh upto Hanoi, but we decided to tick a box and go by train.


    The train tickets cost us around £50 pounds each for approximatley 33 hours of travel, but it was definetley worth it as we got to stop and spend a few days in different places. The first train ride was actually quite fun becuase it was abit of a novelty and we got a whole cabin to ourselves. It took us 8 hours to get from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang.

    Sleeper Cabin for 4 people
    We spent a few days in Nha Trang and then headed further up the coast to Danang. I would never recommend anyone to ever go there, the people are very rude and just stare at you constantly and there is nothing to do. Anyway it took us 11 hours to get there. This train ride was slightly different as me and Adam were put in seperate cabins. Adam was sharing with one quiet Chinese man and a Thai guy who couldnt sit still. On the other hand i was sharing with a whole Viatnemese family. Brilliant. There was about 6 of us in a 4 person cabin and everyone was asleep so i couldnt make any noise. None of them spoke english but the woman, or my mum as i renamed her offered me her shirt because i was cold which i thought was sweet.

    boredom sets in\!
    We spent two nights in danang and then embarked on our longest train- 15 hours to Hanoi. We got onto the train at 11.30pm and walked into the cabin and there was two old viatnemese women asleep with the lights off, so we thought to be respectful we would be really quiet and just try to sleep. So we chilled out and got some z's. I dont think that these Viatnemese woman have the same level of respect as 5am, BANG curtains wide open, talking, well shouting to each other. Great way to wake up!!!! And then at 6am they decide to go back to sleep?! very annoying.

    It was definetley a great experience that i would do again, but i think its the luck of the draw who you share a cabin with!!


    Saturday, 18 June 2011

    The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda of Cambodia

    The Throne Hall

    The Royal Palace is situated in Phonm Penh and was a 5 minute ride in a tuk-tuk away from our hotel so i thought i'd have a cheeky nose around. The Palace is a complex of buildings which serve as the Royal Residence of the King of Cambodia. The kings of Cambodia have occupied the grounds since the 1860's.

    The Throne Hall is where the kings generals and officals used to carry out their duties, it is still used today as a place for religious and royal ceremonies (royal weddings etc). I had a look inside and the whole building was massive but you couldn't walk through much of it as it was all cordoned off, i tried to take a picture and got told off, so i headed to the next building.

    The Silver Pagoda

    The Silver Pagoda houses many national treasures, such as gold and jewelled Buddha statues, there was so many cabinets full of gold antiques and jewellery it was breathtaking. There is a life sized gold Buddha which is decorated with 9584 diamonds, stunning. I just wish i could of taken some pictures inside to show you all. On the floor of the Silver Pagoda is more than 5,000 silver tiles and you can hear them moving as you walk over them, but you cannot see them as the whole Pagoda is covered with red carpets.

    Statues outside the Silver Pagoda
    The whole area outside the Pagoda is filled with statues and small temples, most of them are dedicated to Kings. The building which surrounds the Throne and the pagoda is probably about a mile long and the whole inside is decorated with muriels and paintings, no attention to detail lost here.

    Mini Angkor Wat
    Also outside the pagoda is a mini version of the angkor Wat temple, which has koi carp swimming around the outside! It was a really cool place to visit and learn about the heritage of another country.


    Tuol Sleng Prison (S-21), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Prison Cells from outside

     Today we went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  Formerly the Chao Ponhea Yat High School, the five buildings of the complex were converted in August 1975, four months after the Khmer Rouge won the civil war, into a prison and interrogation center. The Khmer Rouge renamed the complex "Security Prison 21" (S-21) and construction began to adapt the prison to the inmates: the buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and all windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes.

    Bed used to torture prisoners

     This is the prison where those killed on the Choeung Ek Killing Fields were previously held, although many thousands of the prisoners were killed inside here and never made it to the killing fields.

    From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000, although the real number is unknown). At any one time, the prison held between 1,000–1,500 prisoners.

    Mugshots of Prisoners

     They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed. In the early months of S-21's existence, most of the victims were from the previous regime and included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, engineers, etc.

    Counting down the years in blood

    The museum costs about $2USD to get in and we spent around 2 hours looking around the prison.  It is amazing sight and much like the Killing Fields, the place was eerily silent, even though there were many visitors walking around the complex.  The cells in which the prisoners were contained were tiny.  About 8 foot high, 3 foot wide and 7 foot long.  Awful conditions.  As you walk around, you can still see the dried bloodstains on the floor from the prisoners - this is because when it was captured by Vietnamese forces, they contained the area and it was kept exactly how it remains - in state.

    Blood-stained floor

    Again, it's hard to image that what happened here occured in the same generation of my parents.  You feel like your visiting somewhere which is hundreds of years old beacause it so hard to comprehend that something like this went on so recently - and i'm sure, somewhere in the world, something like this is sadly going on today.

    Life of Torture

    ~ Adam

    Friday, 10 June 2011

    Lighthouse Orpanage

    After visiting the Killing fields and the Prison we visited the Lighthouse Orphanage. It was a 15 minute Tuk Tuk ride from our hotel. The Orphanage is situated in a very poor part of Phnom Penh and we got some very strange looks from the cambodian people as we passed by them. They are just so unfamiliar with seeing western people that they just look at you and i noticed people staring especially at my feet!?

    The orphanage houses 98 children aged from 3 to 18 years old, which have been rescued from poor families or have been abused for various reasons. The orphanage does not recieve any funding and relies of donations from locals and tourists to keep surviving.


    Rice and cooking oil

    I went shopping for essentials needed for the children, i got Soap, Toothpaste, Toothbrushes, combs and hairbands. I probably spent no more than £15 and it was the best money i have ever spent. At home i would spend that sort of money without even really thinking about it, but in poorer countries the money can go such a long way and really make a difference. On the way to the orphanage we picked up a sack of rice, cooking oil and some fruit. The sack of rice cost $35 (about £20) and would last the orphanage just one day- no wonder they struggle to feed the children.

    The man that showed us around had worked in the orphanage for 8 years and spent almost every day and night there- without pay. He showed us a few of the buildings where the children sleep. They were quite spacious and looked very colourful. The buildings had been donated one by Norway and one from Australia. 

    The children wake up everyday at 6am and go to school for 7am. They attend a public school in the morning and in the afternoon they head back to the orphanage to learn english. After this they can kick the footy around, play with tourists or wind each other up!

    We spent some time playing with the children and talking to them. They especially enjoyed taking videos on my camera of themselves, I now have about 6 10 minute videos of them all screaming and posing for camera! Most of the children there seemed happy and at home and all of them spoke very good english. Two of the young boys asked us if we knew Justin Bieber and then gave us a rendition of one of his songs! 

    I really enjoyed visiting the orpanage, but just wish they had more money to depend on. Please take a look at their wetbsite and if you can spare some money, please do it! It will go a very long way!!!! 



    Thursday, 9 June 2011

    The Killing Fields (Choeng Ek)

    Entrance to the Killing Fields

    Today we went to the most famous site of 'The Killing Fields, or 'Choeng Uk'.  IF you have seen the film 'The Killing Fields, then you'll probably know a little bit about what happened here, and at dozen of other execution and labour camps across Cambodia during 1975-1979.  If you haven't seen the film or you don't know too much about it, i will do my best to explain.

    Skulls of Murdered Men, Women and Children

    The Khmer Rouge killed nearly two million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979, spreading like a virus from the jungles until they controlled the entire country, only to systematically dismantle and destroy it in the name of a Communism. Our tuk tuk driver who also acted as a very informative tour guide (not requested but deeply appreciated) explained that Pol Pol (Khmer Rouge leader) wanted to turn Cambodia, which he re-named Kampuchea, back to "Year Zero," and intellectuals, businessmen, Buddhists and foreigners were all purged. Often by execution but sometimes simply by working people to death in the fields.  They would work 15 hours a day and survive on a bowl of Gruel a day, once they had done their job, they were not longer needed and simply executed and buried in mass graves, a lot of them were buried alive.

    Mass Grave of more than 100 women and children

    It's hard to understand that what went on here only occurred 40 years ago.  Our driver lost his father to the killing fields when he was 6 years old and has since been back to the prison (see next blog) to find a picture of him; but couldn't find anything.  I cant imagine how that would feel.

    The site isn't too big, but make no mistake, there are many many bodies here.  Most have been exhumed and re-buried or the remains placed in the Skull Crypt (top) but every now and again when the rain comes down and the soil turns, new remained pop up.  We spotted countless fragments of skull, bones, teeth, so you really have to watch your step.

    Surface remains - possibly a leg bone.

    What makes the experience even more chilling and tragic is that there are also clothing items on the surface which are still popping up.  Personally, this brought home the reality of the event as I could really make the human connection and only imagine what went on with the body inside those clothes.  Also, many of the clothes are small, so you can see that a child is buried here somewhere.

    Child Clothing surfaced

    There are also a lot of clothes which have been recovered and are now located in the Crypt underneath the skulls.  You can still see the dried bloodstains on certain garments.  I tried to imagine what their last moments were like as those drops of blood fell from whichever wound they had sustained - which we were told were likely axe wounds, trauma from bamboo sticks or other blunt objects.  The reason?  Bullets cost money, a life was worthless, save the money for something more important.  Tragic.

    Bloodstained Clothing removed from exhumed bodies

    There is a small museum towards the end of the tour which goes some way to explained what happened here and why it did.  Most of the dead were taken from a prison, which was converted from a Secondary School, called Tuol Sleng, better known as S:21 (See next blog).  The 'crimes' they had 'commited' ranged from 'speaking their mind', being intelligent, opposing the regime, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time - These were all punished by a long spell of backbreaking agricultural labour, followed by - if you were lucky - a quick execution followed by a mass burial; many times next to your own brothers, sisters, parents or children.

    Remains of Human Head, Blunt Trauma to the back of the skull and above the right eye

    I am glad that we got to experience this place.  It is regarded as sacred ground amongst the Cambodians of today and serves as a reminder of just how bad mans' inhumanity to man' really can be.  There is an eerie silence around the site and the expressions on peoples faces were a mixture of shock, sadness confusion and despair - something the Cambodian People are unfortunate to have to live with for the rest of their History.  Later on we are off to the prison, which still in it's original state, to see why this happened and how prisoner's were captured and detained.

    Adam ~

    Remains slowly unearthing