Saturday, 25 June 2016

Anambas - Indonesia



Just after dawn we made our way through the outer western islands of the Anambas group and found a large sheltered bay where we dropped the anchor. Our priority now was sleep as an overnight sail never allows for much of it. We had raced ahead of a storm front we could see fast approaching from the west and luckily we had managed to dodge it. Not so lucky was Tuppenny and Tiki an hour behind us as they felt the full force of the torrential downpour, strong winds. thunder and lightning. Drenched and exhausted, they soon arrived into the bay to anchor with us and it was time for sleep on all boats.


          Sunrise on our approach into the Anambas group of islands - back into Indonesia for a spell.


                                         Villages far and few between amid the islands.

Waking early afternoon, we were able to view our surroundings and appreciate the remoteness of this island group. In our bay, the dwellings were far and few between with only a dirt track linking them - no sign of vehicles of any sort and small canoes the only mode of transport between the houses. Last years rally was the first time these islands had been visited, so a yacht anchoring in the bay would be a novelty. As we hadn't officially checked in to Indonesia, we weren't able to go ashore so a leisurely afternoon was spent onboard getting the boat back in order after our night crossing.

Up anchoring early the following morning, we motored for a couple of hours across to Terempa - the main town of the Anambas group and our clearing in point. Hoisting our yellow quarantine flag, our three boats motored into the harbour and looked for a spot to drop the pick. We had read that anchoring can be challenging in this group of islands and this was to be our first experience of that. Two and three attempts on a rocky bottom before we all managed to get the anchors to lock securely. Not having to wait more than half an hour before we could see the immigration boat readying itself to come out and check us all in. We were the first boat to be boarded by what seemed a multitude of officials - Health and Quarantine to start, followed by Customs then finally Immigration. They had a good look downstairs, commented on our alcohol supply and advised that it was not to be taken ashore (as if we would), photographed a few things then told us we could put up our Indonesian flag and we were done. All in all about 30 mins, very friendly personnel, happy to have their photos taken with us all smiling - a good experience all round. As we were a few days ahead of the rally and the official rally activities, we up anchored and headed out to explore these beautiful remote islands.


                    Pete giving some of the local kids surfing lessons - the board being an esky lid.


            Tuppenny going through the entry process - Quarantine, Health, Customs & Immigration.

   
                  Pete grocery shopping Terempa style. Do you have any cereal.....lost in translation!

Waterfall Bay was our first stop. A large sheltered bay with a relatively large fishing community along the shore line. We met Herol, a local fellow who had arrived out in his speed boat to visit us. Arriving at Tiki first and finding they had a reasonable knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia , he stopped with them to practice his English. After a couple of hours of communicating as such, we headed ashore with him and walked up the waterfall. Being the dry season, there was minimal water but enough to have some small falls and lovely cool waterholes at the base in which to plunge and cool off. Harol was a trader in the village and sorted us out with fresh squid, fish and vegetables we were needing.Due to a lack of recent rains, the waterfall wasn't exactly fast flowing but enough to find a waterhole and have a cool refreshing plunge.



                                           Pete taking a refreshing shower under the waterfall.


Basic village dwellings

We next headed up to North of the island group - first night we named Fad Bay where we anchored near a FAD (fish attracting device). On sunset, it was towed out to the open water where it was lit up like a Xmas tree. Working all night and returning at daybreak the inhabitants then sleep till early afternoon when, on wakening, sounds of modern music drifted across the water. 

Time to move on and the next stop was a picturesque anchorage in water so clear that we could see the anchor sitting on the bottom in 6 mtrs of depth. Snorkeling here was another amazing experience and to top it all off, Pete speared a sweetlip which was succulent on the barbeque for dinner. I had been given a green coconut and after managing to peel the husk strip by strip with a screwdriver, we extracted milk and soft flesh in which we cooked our catch. Yum!! This anchorage we named Sweetlip Island.


                                      
                                                   Tiki and Gemini Lady at "Sweet Lip Island"

Back to Tarempa where all the fleet had arrived in our absence and a couple of days of rally activities. One of which was a day trip away to one of the outer islands for diving, snorkeling and a beach barbeque. With most of the cruisers attending the excursion, it was a great day of chatting and swapping stories and as most of them had just arrived, they wanted to hear about the anchorages we had found. Our hosts cooked fresh fish on a large grill over the flames, teamed with rice, potatoes in foil, salad and home made spicy sauces to match - it was a sumptuous feast. Whilst snorkeling, I could feel some 'bities' in the water, not an uncommon experience in these parts but I must have got a 'stinger' of sorts under my swim shirt which had a feast on my skin. By midnight my torso was covered in red angry bites screaming out to be scratched which then took 48 hours of regular cortisone cream and anti-histamine to get under control. I would almost think it was an allergic reaction to the initial sting. 48 hours I do not ever wish to go through again 😫😫.


Away from the harbour for the last time, we headed out towards the most easterly islands to give us a head start for our passage to Malaysia in a couple of days. We found a delightful spot, calm and sheltered close by an island with a lovely beach - just calling for the plough disc bbq to be brought out again. Another rally catamaran had joined us in the anchorage so we had 9 people around the barbeque that night, enjoying a beer and watching the sun set over an idyllic location.


                         Heading ashore for another beach barbeque - Tiki, Kittani and Psycho Puss


                             The girls scavenging for anything that will burn for the barbeque fire.


                       Our view from the beach as the sun slowly sets on another day in paradise.

Our last day started with the morning 'sight seeing underwater', then breakfast and readying the boat for a mid afternoon departure from the Anambas Islands. You could easily spend a month in this area hopping from bay to bay, so many we hadn't discovered but thoroughly enjoying the ones we did. We were pleased we had made the decision not to go north from Tioman with the rally, allowing us to spend more time here as many of the other boats felt they hadn't had enough time to explore the treasures Anambas has to offer. Tarempa has now just become a clearing in port for Indonesia making it more accessible for cruisers in the future. Though I don't think that will change things much in this pristine untouched part of the world, I would hope not anyway.


Can't help myself with sunsets!


JABS!! (Just Another Bl..dy Sunset)

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Revisiting Tioman after nearly 30 years



When Kate was a toddler, we were lucky enough to spend a few days with Petes brother Colin on a large private motor cruiser leaving out of Singapore and we had followed the Malaysian coastline north as far as Tioman. My recollections back then were that of an idyllic island, clear turquoise water perfect for snorkeling and small white sandy beaches of the neighboring uninhabited atolls. Not much has changed since then. 


On the way to Tioman

By the time our little flotilla of Kittani, Tiki and Tuppenny arrived,  the anchorage in front of Tekek town seemed to be a mass of masts with nearly all of the rally already secured in place. We were split half and half either side of the jetty and ferry terminal, both side being affected by the constant coming and goings of boats from the busy little hub - nowhere was exempt from the wash. Tioman was our next clearing in point after Pangkor and it turned out to be a fairly layback relaxed procedure with Jabatan Laut (Harbour master), then Customs and Immigration. Time to join in the rally festivities planned for our arrival. 

The official welcome ceremony was followed by a day of games with the locals, and there were many laughs to be had. Though seemingly quite shy at first, eventually the locals started joining in and from the small children to the adults, everyone seemed to enjoy a great day. The games included throwing balloons full of water to our fellow team mates, relay races which involved blowing a balloon until it popped, and finally the tug of war - mens and womens. The overall fitness of cruisers is high, and this was proved in the ladies tug of war where unbeknown to us, the locals had anchored their end to the soccer goal posts buried deep in the sand. Not only did we win, we pulled the goal posts completely out of the ground. Well done girls!!!

Another day about 40 of us did a jungle walk across to the other side of the island. Starting in town, we followed the coast road for a short while then turned inland and started the long trek up the hill. It was a steady climb up concrete steps and large flat rocks - thankfully through the shady jungle which gave us some reprieve from the hot sun and just when we thought we had reached the top, even more steps. It wasn't a walk for the feint hearted and by the time we did eventually reach the summit, every t-shirt was wringing wet, even those of the local guides. From there a gentle walk downhill to the waterfall where the plunge into the chilling water of the rock pools took our breath away.  An hour later we continued further downhill to lunch at Juara village. 4 wheel drives had been supplied to transfer us all back across the top to Tekek - I don't think anyone would have had the energy or inclination to retrace our steps.


Juara Bay


Tekek village had some reasonable stores for provisioning, and being a duty free island, very reasonably priced alcohol, though we still had enough ship supplies to see us through to Labuan. There were quite a few warungs to choose from for meals, though we really couldn't go past Lina's Seafood barbeque where we found ourselves almost every evening. A great choice of freshly cooked fish, squid and crab from the open fire, al dente vegetables in tasty sauces, Tom yam curries - we loved it all and as always so inexpensive. Beer at duty free prices could be purchased two doors down and brought back to the table. I think Lina was sad to see us all leave after a week of bumper patronage from the rally boats. 


Jungle tree..with growth???  Monkey Bay

We had decided not to venture north with the rally but stay around Tioman and enjoy what it had to offer. By doing this, it also made our trip across to the Anambas island group (Indonesia) only an overnight sail of  appx. 90 miles as opposed to a 3 day, 2 night sail down from Redang. So after all the rally boats had left, our first priority was to help Tuppenny with a leaking propellor shaft tube. To do this, we convinced Gillie to warp Tuppenny against the main jetty at high tide and wait for the water to recede. Neil (Tiki) and Pete  then started at 0400 the next day. First the prop shaft was removed, then the old set of bellows from the drip less seal. The leak was due to the original seal being forced onto a very small collar around the sterntube. This was ground back to allow a better seal and the new drip less system was reattached. Sounds simple, but took most of the morning. With the incoming tide lapping close to the prop shaft hole, the shaft was replaced, seal replaced and.....no more leaking bilge! 

         
    
All that behind us, we were ready to take off and explore what Tioman had to offer, so we hopped around into Monkey bay where the jungle ashore was alive with the noisy little animals. Our daily pattern continued of swimming in the clear waters, snorkelling the fringing reefs, lazing around reading, beach barbecue ashore for dinner then in the morning up anchor and on to the next stop. Tulai island was an hours motor away from Tioman and became our favourite anchorage. A pod of dolphins escorted us to an area of good holding on sand between the island and an outcrop of rocks. These rocks formations were a stunning landscape themselves but the snorkelling below was by far the best we had seen. In and around the rocks was amazing fish life, bommies and shelves with different corals of all shapes and colours, black tip reef sharks and turtles who weren't really bothered by out presence. I likened it to swimming in one huge salt water aquarium. We would snorkel early morning before the local tour boats arrived, then again in the afternoon after their departure. 

         


         

After a few nights at Tulai, it was time to head back to Tioman, replenish our fresh vegetable supply, top up our water tanks in the small marina and officially check out of Malaysia with the authorities. Pulling into the marina (capacity 20 yachts) we spotted a familiar boat - 'Jackster' with whom we had sailed out of Darwin in 2013 to Indonesia. Always great to see familiar faces and lovely to catch up with Jacqui and David and their newest addition to the boat - Polly puss cat, and to hear about all they had done and seen in the last 2 years. They gave us some great info and tips for some of the destinations we have ahead of us. After introducing them to Lina's seafood, we shared a special gin and tonic to toast David's 60th birthday, wished them well and parted ways once again - always in the hope that our paths may cross somewhere down the track one day. Never say never - the cruisers motto.


Pushing our of Tekek, we motored around to the other side of Tioman into Juara bay where we had lunched after our jungle trek. A lovely wide sweeping bay, the village itself smaller than Tekek but we managed to find a great little restaurant - Beach Shack Tioman run by Tim, an Aussie expat now long time resident and his Malaysian wife. They offer chalets to let, camping sites  boat trips, fishing, snorkelling and surfing (seasonal) and great western food at good prices. After night upon night of spicy dishes with exotic flavours, noodles and rice you just get a craving for some western food and these guys made the best burgers. It was such a good meal that we opted to go back again in the morning for pancake breakfast before heading of for our first overnight sail of the rally. 



Pushing off at lunch time we managed to get a good start at sailing with favourable winds and sat on 7 knots for a while before the winds died down and we had to turn the motor on. With Tuppenny departing with us and Tiki a few hours behind, we headed off in a easterly towards the Anambas group of islands in Indonesia. We knew we would be transiting the main shipping routes in and out of Singapore and were expecting to encounter many large container ships on the move. It was a full moon and clear skies so we had plenty of moonlight to light the smaller vessels and the larger ones are generally lit up like Xmas trees so no trouble seeing them coming. All in all, it wasn't a bad crossing with the majority of vessels acknowledging and accommodating our requests. Only a few large Chinese vessels did not respond to us when we tried to contact them and we only had to alter course once  throughout the night. Thank goodness for A.I.S (Automatic Identification System) and radar and all the technology available to us these days - how ever did Captain Cook and the likes do it?

We had timed our pace well and as daylight started to infiltrate the night sky, Anambas was silhouetted in front of us. As we reached the first of the islands, the sun rose behind distant clouds and welcomed us back to Indonesia.






Monday, 16 May 2016

Pangkor Marina

Some information on Pangkor Marina.

As always, James Khoo is available to provide assistance in sourcing contractors and or parts. He is a great and friendly resource.

We left Kittani on the hard stand here for nearly 2 years.

The sealift lifting method the use was one of the easiest we have ever done. It can lift up to roughly 40 ton and we saw a 65 footer being lifted with no issues.


                     The 'Sealift' method used at Pangkor Marina - simple and quick

Once on the hard, we were supported by 5 metal poles on each side with one forward and aft. Possibly due to the fact that we had advised our stay would be a minimum of 12 months, there were spot welded into position - we weren't going to move. 

There is the ability to have somebody regularly look over your boat however speaking to other cruisers, the effectiveness of this was questionable. You can have power to the boat for a fee however this would require oversight for topping up batteries, etc. Refer to previous comment. 

The staff are all excellent, friendly and always willing to help. Especially Ruz in the office - a big thank you to her for all the directions. 

Jimmy from Precision marine was very helpful with advice and was kind enough to lend us a caulking gun for sausage Sikalfex. 

We also used the following contractors:-

Refrigeration - Azman  017 599 6099. He tested and regassed both fridge and freezer for MYR150. Good value.

RIB Repair - Ganesh 012 266 0425. We had a slow leak which he guaranteed he would be able to fix. He charged MYR600. We had to send it back as it was still deflating and unfortunately had to leave the day after we received it back. It is still leaking 😡😡. My error was paying him in full when we first received it. Another boat had massive leaks which he did fix. Maybe I was just unlucky. Not good value.

General hardware, pressure hoses, plastic cnc cutting, small welding - Southward Hose & Engineering.
Julia 016 411 8161. Can get you just about anything, great person to know and very helpful.
Canvas - KS 016 547 2759.  We had some basic rear covers made for the coach house from Sunbrella. MYR1000 for 4 pieces with 3 clears. We supplied zips, UV thread and ss eyelets. Good value.

Upholstery - Razali 016 531 0919. (Next door to Jimmy). A reasonable range of fabric at good prices. We only purchased fabric. Other cruisers had cushions made and all pleased with job and price.
Car Hire - Mohan. 012 515 6677. We had a small Kancil for MYR650 per month. A necessity if you are staying for any length of time as most things are a drive away. 
Fuel - The boys from the Marina can get it however you will pay more. The Shell servo is opposite Jimmy's and no problems filling 7 jerry jugs at a time.

Restaurants - some great local ones. 
Biriyani for brilliant tandoori, curries, and the murtabak is a must!!!! No alcohol available. Excellent value
Tar Dee on the way to Jimmy's on the left hand side. Chinese so beer is available.mgood and cheap. No menu as such - you just tell them what you want.
333 - in Sitiawan close to the Hindu temple. Food court with lots of variety. Alcohol. Good and cheap.

Back to Kittani and the rally start



After a wonderful 4 months back in Oz with family and friends from November to February, it was back to Malaysia and the task of readying Kittani to launch and join the Sail Malaysia East rally and head down under. She had faired well on the hard for 23 months, despite the intense heat and humidity here in Pangkor Marina. Extracting a birds nest from the main sail covers was the only external sign of wildlife. Inside was rodent and insect free and no mould on the surfaces. These had been our main concerns whilst we were away and our preparations of washing everything down with oil of clove, the many moisture absorbing packets placed throughout, ant powder and cockroach baits all worked wonders.

By the time I arrived back, Pete had been busy for a month with a hundred different projects on the go at once. Inside, a final coat of lacquer had gone on all the newly installed interior walls, the fridge and freezer resealed and painted, engine serviced and our old radar reconnected and working. The latter being a real challenge to the original 35 year old piece of equipment as we had to cut the main power supply in order to have the mast removed and painted in Satun, Thailand. 26 splices later and she powered up again - an oldie but a goodie! Outside, the masts were being transformed, steps replaced, pulleys and shackles where they should be, lazy jacks and lines restored. We repainted the deck including the toerail and re stained the coach house so Kittani was looking pretty neat.

Whilst on the hard stand, we had run the engine, the generator and as much other equipment as we could, so now it was time to put it all to the test. Our departure day had finally arrived so at first light we waved goodbye to Pangkor, heading out of the Marina and turning left, following the west Malaysian coast south towards Singapore. Travelling with 'Tuppenny', the first day was a long one, pushing through to Port Klang and dropping anchor opposite the loading terminals just after midnight. Other than a couple of minor issues, all went well and we were pleased with the way Kittani had performed. 


From there we day hopped down the coast and headed into Puteri marina. Previously in 2013, we had stayed in Danga Bay Marina which no longer exists, so this was a new spot for us. A large roomy tree lined Marina with nice wide fingers and we managed a berth on the end of one of these allowing us to catch the sea breeze. Power hooked up and shade covers on, we ventured out to explore our new surroundings. Numerous cafes and restaurants are in the Marina precinct and at night all the trees are lit with blue and white neon lights. A popular place especially on weekends for locals to come and see the yachts, walk along the promenade, and there are always brides and grooms having their wedding shots done. Tomorrow we are off to Singapore for the night, to chase a few necessities and meet our new crew member who is joining us for the trip home.

Finally able to meet in person after numerous emails and Skype over the past few weeks, it was nice to sit down to a meal with Kelly. Her first trip to the east and we opted for a local food court sampling various dishes of finger food, some we were not sure just what we were eating, but all good. We had headed across to Singapore via the Tuas bridge, but returned via the causeway as we had to visit the Indonesian consulate in Johor Bahru and apply for our visas for Anambas and Natuna Islands. That done, it was back to the Marina and show Kelly her home for the next few months. The next few days were taken up with lengthy briefings about the rally, last minute provisioning, meeting our fellow cruisers as they arrived into the marina, the official gala dinner and welcome and a special event. We bought a copy of Game of Thrones and thought it would be nice to have some comfortable viewing. Neil from Tiki had hired a meeting room at the local hotel in the past.....so off we went to aircon, large screen, coffee and nibbles. At 5.00pm finger food and drinks were available from the bar....a bit decadent, but great fun.


                                The view from the conference room looking over Puteri Marina


       
               
                            Cold meeting room and even colder wine - an enjoyable afternoon


      

                               All good - the view, the wine, the air-con and the company 

Then it was time to head off.
As we made our way down the waters separating Malaysia and Singapore, we were closely watched by Singaporean authorities ensuring we didn't venture too far into their side. Anchoring the first evening halfway between the 2 land masses, we were surrounded by lights - blaring from the loading terminals on both Malaysian and Singaporean sides, from the massive container ships anchored out awaiting their turn in port, from those underway in and out of port, and a bright moon all made to light up the skies. Next morning we headed off shortly before sunrise and made our way down and around Singapore, keeping well out of the way of the traffic. When we reached Tanjung Pengelih and Malaysian waters again, we headed up river to find the fuel barge and top up our tanks - a much easier exercise than expected. So laden to the brim we sailed around the S.E corner of Malaysia and started out trek north to the islands. 



                        Some of the large floating obstacles in our way coming out of Singapore

First stop was Palau Sibu arriving late afternoon so no time to check out the surroundings. Next morning we motored around to a bay on the north of the island and had our first snorkel. Visibility was reasonable and the coral and fish life quite impressive. Whilst in Singapore, we purchased a Go-Pro camera so we're keen to try out photographing the underwater world. 


       

       

                     A couple of our first GoPro shots - still learning but not bad for beginners

The area is now dotted with island of all sizes - some tiny and nothing more than a few rocks. Others small with only a tiny village comprising a dozen houses. Then the large islands with villages on each coast. Each day the hardest decision is which island to pick next. Usually within a couple of hours motoring, we have made it to our destination by lunch time, then time for our daily exercise of snorkelling before getting everything together to go ashore for a beach barbque. Gathering wood to burn, the fire gets started and once the fire has died down, into the coals go the potatoes and we sit back in our chairs watching the sun slowing sink behind the horizon - another exhausting day ended. 

    

        
                       Ashore at Pulau Bebi Besar watching the sunset over the boats anchored out
                                                     Pete, Kelly, Neil and Heather (Tiki)

We ate ashore wherever we could find 'warungs' serving local food - much cheaper to eat out than cook onboard. Then the secluded white sandy beaches just called out for beach barbecues so out with out barby plate - an old plough disc serving us well. Sausages, sweet potato chips, onions and a salad to complement, who could ask for more.

     

                       The chef hard  at work.                               A sunset view - remnants of a .....?

        

                             Life as a cruiser - when everything is working and we can relax!


      

                             


      
      
                                        Kittani and Tiki at anchor at Pulau Lima Kechil


Friday, 16 October 2015

Vietnam - South and Cambodia

The day dawned with overcast skies and drizzle and our hopes of seeing much on our way to Hoi An looked dashed. Maybe the train would have been a better option after all. So we are collected from the hotel room and set off southwards in a full mini van. First stop is a small village and local market, though the thought of getting out of the van and trapsing through the rain to see yet another market is not enticing, but we do it. It is only a quick stop as we are all keen to re board the van and head off. Except the van won't start. Trying and trying to turn the motor over to no avail, we are soon asked for volunteers to give a push start - in the rain!! This is not a good sign - maybe we should have taken the train after all !!

         

                                   Here's how you buy your ducks at market - so cute !!!

        

                          Having to push start our mini bus after our market stop 😩😩😩 

Our next stop was at a beach, but the view was likened to a cyclone approaching so we didn't linger. Up and over the Hai Van Pass and 20 mins at the top to take in an amazing view looking southwards to DaNang and the coast. Our driver had parked the bus on a downhill slope this time as a precaution and sure enough the van needed a jump start. Down into DaNang and lunch at Marble Mouñtain, one of the five marble and limestone hills in what is other wise flat coastal area. The area is famous for its stone sculpture and the most amazing marble statues I have ever seen. Then a short steep climb to the top of the mountain after lunch for a view across the water.

        

                                             The view from the top of Marble Mountain 

        

                            Some great laughing Buda marble statues - too big to bring home.

    

                                      Pics from our climb to the top of Marble Mountain

From there it was only a short 20 mins south to Hoi An, our coastal stop for a few nights. It has an 'ancient town' that is cut by canals and street upon street of tailor shops as well as the usual array of lacquered artifacts, ceramics, luggage and clothing. The town has quite a sleepy atmosphere by day, but It is at night that it really becomes alive, with coloured lanterns lighting every street running both sides of the canal and the bridges lit like Xmas. Everywhere are small children to old ladies selling candles which you set adrift on the canal and make a wish. The bars and restaurants are wall to wall, all touting for your custom. We found a great one that served fried wantons with a prawn/salsa topping and we made this our 'entree' stop each night, the mains usually being somewhere else. 

Our hotel offered a free shuttle bus daily to the local beach where they had sun lounges reserved for hotel guests, so we took advantage of a lovely sunny day and spent the day swimming and relaxing. Hoi An is a great half way stop when travelling the length of the country and although it was touristy as expected,  we really enjoyed this little coastal place.

        
        

                                                  The sleepy town of Hoi An by day

        

                               Then by night the streets of Hoi An all decorated with lanterns

    

                     Shops selling lanterns.                                  Canal side decorations by night

       

                      Elderly Vietnamese woman selling the candles to set afloat on the canal

       

                      Dinner - The sun setting and the town starting to light up for the evening.

Here's where we detour from Vietnam and fly to Cambodia for a week arriving early evening into Siam Reap. As we descend, we can see that the skies are darkening and we are heading into a massive storm. Oh great! Thankfull to be on the ground as the lightning bolts and thunder start, we are met by a young man who gets us to wait while he brings our transport around. The rain is torrential instantly flooding the streets and the thunder and lightning simultaneous overhead and up comes our little man in a tuk-tuk with plastic roll down sides. Cramming the pair of us and 4 pieces of luggage in, we are off into the storm. It was a slow trip but we eventually got to the hotel - and dry!!

       

                               Our driver was all smiles as he packed us in to our tuk-tuk

After a shower we take a tuk-tuk to Pub Street, the equivalence to Kao San Road in Bangkok. Many of the restaurants are advertising 'Barbecue' as their speciality where you choose 4 types of meat and they are served with Asian vegetables, all of which you cook yourself similar to a 'Steamboat' Dinner. I baulked at the frog legs, ostrich and kangaroo (just a child of the 'Skippy' age) but did opt to try crocodile. Along with that we played safe and had chicken, prawns and squid. A very tasty meal but not exactly cheap for the amount of meat we ate.

Next day was temple touring and although you could spend days trapsing over the thousands of temples in this area, we opted to hire a tuk-tuk for the day and take in some of the main ones. Starting of course with Angkor Wat. Built in the 12th century, it was originally a Hindu temple then later becoming a Buddhist temple. Just to think how old the stones are gives an almost surreal experience as we clambered up, down and over them for hours. Bayon temple was next, followed by Ta Prohn - made famous in the Tomb Raider movie. Massive fig, banyan and kapok trees spread their gigantic roots over the stones, walls and terraces - an almost possessive grip on the land.

        
  
                                                    Entering the impressive Angkor Watt

     

                                                      Amazing buildings and tombs 

    

                          Some of the great old trees from Ta Prohn - 'Tomb Raider Temple'

     
 
                                   Root systems that anchor their great heights to the ground

From Siam Reap we flew south to Phonh Penh with Basaka Air (never heard of them!) Not a lover of flying in the first place, it was with trepidation I boarded the flight. I need not have worried. Smooth as silk, 32 mins flying time and a relatively new'ish plane and an English captain! It saved 6 hours by road and was so worth it. In PP, we did a day trip to S21 jail, originally a school that was transformed into a prison where atrocious torture methods were practiced under the Pol Pot regime. Only 7 survivors out of 20,000 prisoners - we have just about had our fill of the depressive history of the Vietnam war. Not a lot to do in Phonh Penh so glad we only had 2 days there.

         
   
                                              A poignant reminder of the life of a prisoner

Finishing with Cambodia, with boarded Qatar Air and flew back to Vietnam and out last stop of Ho Chi Minh City, though many still refer to the capital as Saigon. And I thought I had seen streets filled with motorbikes - I was not prepared for the sheer volume of bikes here. With a population of 18 million, there are 6 million motorcycles and they all appeared to be on the streets at the same time. 

Our hotel was a 5 minute walk to the Ben Thanh markets -  a huge undercover area with aisle upon aisle of clothing and shoes, wood carvings, lacquer wear, hardware, auto parts, food stalls and more, and where we did the last of our Xmas shopping. I would like to say that I got some great bargains. The truth is I am hopeless at bartering whereas Pete has it down to a fine art. I end up walking away appearing to loose interest and saying we can always look elsewhere - magic words to ensure Pete gets the bottom price. And we know they are still making a profit, maybe just not as much as with other tourists. 

          

                                           Imagine trying to find a car part here ...... !!

We spent a day traipsing  through the Reunification Palace and the War Memorial - both excellent attractions and easy walking distance from our hotel. In the evenings we wandered up to Bien Vui, the main area for hostels and backpackers ensuring an abundance of bars and restaurants where food and drink prices were much cheaper than our hotel. Often we would end the evening with a  massage for Pete and a mani or pedicure for me, then wander back to the hotel and a good nights sleep.

        

                                             In the grounds of the Reunification Palace

We did a day tour to the Cu Chi tunnels where we were amazed by the labyrinths used by the Viet Cong. The size of the small openings that the Vietnamese squeezed through were definitely not designed for the larger European body sizes. There was the opportunity to follow one of the underground tunnels for 100 meters with an exit every 20 meters for those who found the going too tough. Imagining that claustrophobic feeling, I chose to walk the above ground path with the guide waiting for a minute at each exit in case some of our group opted out. One by one they did, Pete making it to the 80 meter mark and only 2 young Asian guys made the full distance liking it to being in a 2' square sauna. Pete also got a chance to fire off some rounds on an AK47.

        

                                              Cu Chi tunnels -  Oh so squeezy ......... !!

We left the city for a few days to go to Mui Ne, a resort town on the SEcoast 3 hours drive away. We opted to travel down by 'sleeper bus' and it wasn't a bad run at all. Air conditioned buses with 2 levels of almost fully reclining seats with room to stretch out the legs. Our short trip was over in no time, and we were arriving into Mui Ne. A long palm lined beach popular with wind and surf kiters, a huge choice of hotels and restaurants and obviously catering to the Russian tourists with alł signage in their language. It was a lovely few days of long beach walks, hours spent lazying around th pool reading and just chilling out.

        
        

                                Gettiing comfortable on our 'sleeper bus' for our trip to Mui Ne

        

                                                      A roadside stall selling dragon fruit 

        
 
                                                  A perfect place to chill for a few days 

One more place to see before we leave the country and that is the Mekong Delta. Our accomodation was a home stay on the river, basic amenities, good local food with a fun night afterwards sitting around the table playing cards with our group. The loser of each hand had to drink a shot glass of home made rice wine ...... ugh!! That was reason enough to try your best.

Our next day was a boat trip down the Mekong and included the floating markets, a bee farm, a rice noodle factory, a coconut candy factory, lunch and a ride in a sampan along the canals under the canopy of water coconut trees. It was a day of experiencing the agricultural heartland of Vietnam and seeing how the locals live.

       

                      That's one big Budha                                             Pretty coloured Python

        

                                                   Our Sampan ride in the Mekong Delta 

        
        
     
                                                .......... and our overnight homestay.

        

                              Drying rice paper in the sun before it is shredded into noodles

Back in Ho Chi Minh and time to sort out our bags for the flight home. It has been a wonderful month crossing from North to South. We have enjoyed the mountains and caves in the middle of the country then the beaches and towns on the coast, the 5 star hotels to the farm and home stays. Vietnam - another country ticked off our bucket list and now it is time to fly home for some much overdue family time.