A Journey Through Indochina

Indochina Travel Blog

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One of the many stilt houses on the klong's in Bangkok.

Day 1 Arrived in Bangkok and checked in to the Royal Hotel. I'm told that as Bangkok is a city of Rivers and Canals then the best place to see it from is the water. We therefore hired a longtail boat for a trip along the busy 'klongs' where we passed many of the stilt house villages that make up a large part of the city. We also visited the Royal Barge Museum.

Day 2 In the morning we took in a sightseeing tour of the city, on foot and by boat. We started at the Grand Palace and saw the stunning Emerald Buddha. We also went to Wat Po (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) which contains Thailand's tallest prang (tower). In the afternoon we drove to Kanchanaburi where we visited the famous 'Bridge over the River Kwai'.

Heading out along the Mekong to the Pak Ou caves.
We then took a short minin bus drive North to Pakseng where we transferred to longtail boats for a journey up the Kwai to our accommodation which was a hotel consisting of private rafthouses floating on the water. Each rafthouse is in effect a floating bedroom with ensuite bathroom attached.

Day 3 Today we spent the morning exploring the jungle and visiting the nearby minority Mon village and we even took an elephant ride. In the afternoon we took a bamboo raft down the Kwai where we relaxed in the sun and spent time swimming in the river.

Day 4 An early start today as we left via longtail boats to meet our minibus for a drive back to Bangkok Airport. Our flight took us to Luang Prabang in Laos. Luang Prabang is situated in the rolling hills of the Upper Mekong River and is a tranquil town celebrated for it's exceptionally lovely setting.

Just a few of the thousands of Buddha statues to be found in the Pak Ou caves.
  In the evening we climbed to the small temple at the top of Mount Phousi to enjoy sunset views over the town.

Day 5 All the main places in Luang Prabang are close together so in the morning we start at Wat Visun where we saw the biggest Buddha statue in Laos. Wat Xieng Thong (Golden Temple) built in 1559 and probably the most beautiful temple in Luang Prabang. We also visited Wat Sen and Wat Mai ("What? Another Temple?" I hear you say). In the afternoon we walked down to the jetty to board a boat for a trip along the Mekong out to the Pak Ou Caves. At the caves we climbed the steps up the limestone cliffs to reach the sacred Buddhist shrine. Although now abandoned by the monks, there is an altar for incense burning, flower offerings and numerous rock shelves crammed with thousands of Buddha images of all shapes and sizes.

The sunset over Luang Prabang in Laos from Mount Phousi.

Day 6 In the morning we spent time wandering around Luang Prabang looking at the temples and visited the Royal Palace where the National Museum is housed. In the afternoon we took a short flight to Vientiane. This low-built, red roofed town is the attractive, if somewhat sleepy capital of Laos. Incredibly for SE Asia the streets are largely traffic free save for pedestrians, bicycles and mopeds. In the afternoon we visited the Victory Gate, the That Luang stupa which is said to contain a hair of the Buddha and Wat Sisaket which is packed with fine Buddha images. In the evening we took a stroll along the banks of the Mekong to watch the sun set over the Thai city of Nong Khai across the border on the western bank.

The Royal Palace in Vientiane.

Day 7 In the morning we visited Buddha Park where we saw the amazing gardens and statues. In the afternoon we drove to the airport for our flight to Hanoi in Vietnam.

Day 8 In the morning we toured the main sights in Hanoi. Architecturally styled like a French provincial town with tree-lined boulevards and substantial low-built houses; the city is wonderfuly nostalgic. Among the interesting sights are the charming One-Pillar Pagoda and the Presidential Palace, a very fine example of French colonial architecture. Ho Chi Minh himself, a spartan-living and scholarly man, chose not to live in the Presidential Palace; he preferred instead a simple teak 2-storied stilt house specially built for him in the grounds (it reminded him of the many years he spent in the forest directing his wartime campaigns, first against the French, then the Americans).

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum in Hanoi.
In the afternoon we visited the Old Quarter, through the city's bustling street markets. The streets are named after various crafts or specialities: Paper Street, Silk Street, Basket Street etc. The shops themselves have very narrow frontages but are actually quite deep. They are known locally as 'tube' shops while on the pavement food sellers sell noodles, snacks and stir-fries from shoulder panniers.

Day 9  In the morning we visited Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum which resembles Lenin's in Moscow. In the afternoon we drove to Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin. Thousands of jagged limestone islands rise out of the jade green waters like the hairy scales of a submerged dragon. In fact Ha Long means ' where the dragon descends to the sea' as legend tells that the rugged seascape was created by the pounding tail of a dragon as he ran from the mountains in to the sea, carving islands in his wake.

Ho Chi Minh's residence in the grounds of the Presidential Palace.

Day 10 In the morning we took a cruise amongst the islands in Ha Long Bay. We stopped at some of the hidden grottoes beneath the towering cliffs and also stopped on one of the quiet beaches, fringed with thick jungle, to have a swim. In Ha Long Bay we saw an amazing assortment of boats, junks and wooden sampans with their sails hoisted as they glided through the Bay. On board the boat we had a delicious seafood lunch. In the evening we returned to Hanoi to board the overnight sleeper train to Hue.

Day 11 We arrive in Hue which is one of the great cultural and religious centres in Vietnam. The Perfumed River divides the city in two; it has been an inspiration for poets and painters for many centuries. In the afternoon we take a long-tailed boat to the Thien Mu Pagoda.

The entrance to the Old Quarter in Hanoi.
This lovely monastery is the oldest in Hue.

Day 12 On the left bank in Hue is the Old Citadel, the palace built by the Nguyen dynasty (Vietnams ruling emperors from the early 1800's to 1945). The citadel has formal moats and impressive ramparts which were constructed by 20,000 men and was an exact copy of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Although most of the Inner City was totally destroyed during the month long Tet Offensive (1968), the vast outer walls and the West Wing remin and are an eloquent reminder of the palace's former glory.

Day 13 Today we enjoyed a scenic drive across the spectacular Col des Nuages (The Pass of Ocean Clouds), passing rural scenes of thatched, wooden houses and lime green rice paddies. Pausing at Danang, the one time centre of the important Kingdom of Champa (2nd century AD to 1720).

The many boats available for hire in Ha Long Bay.
We visited the Cham museum, which houses a fine collection of Cham sculptures such as sandstone altars and many images of Shiva the Hindu god. We then visited the nearby five peaks of the Marble Mountains, originally islands, said to represent the five elements (water, wood, fire, gold and earth). The naturally formed grottoes have been transformed into heavily carved Buddhist sanctuaries and Thuy Son hillock (representing water) is especially hallowed. Our torches came in handy to explore the caves and grottoes. We also stopped off at China Beach for lunch and a swim in the South China Sea. Then, after lunch, we continue our journey on to Hoi An, first colonised by the Portugese in the 16th century.

Day 14 The historic merchant town of Hoi An had become one of the busiest international trading ports of southeast Asia by the 17th and 18th centuries and it stil retains it's medieval charm with many of it's buildings superbly preserved.

Debbie outside the Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue.
We visited the Japenese Bridge, built in the 17th century, whose undulating yellow and green tiled roof gave the impression of moving water. We also looked around the many markets which were an ideal place to pick up silk paintings and tailored silk clothing. Also of interest was the early morning fish market where everyone seemed to be wearing conical hats.

Day 15 In the morning we drove back to Danang to take a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). On arrival we had a walking tour of the city's central sights. We visited the Presidential Palace (renamed Reunification Hall) and the War Crimes Museum. We also took a cyclo taxi for a tour of the Cholon district, the animated Chinese area.

Day 16 Today we drove to the famous Cu Chi tunnels which formed an amazing underground command base for 10,000 Viet Cong troops and were a major part of the Tet Offensive in 1968.

Me and Debbie about to embark on a cyclo tour of Hue.
After Cu Chi we drove to Tay Ninh to visit the Cao Dai Temple. The Cao Dai religion was founded in 1923 and is a curious amalgam of nationalism, mysticism and oriental beliefs, namely Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.

Day 17 The morning was used to have a lie in and generally relax. In the afternoon we took our flight to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. On arrival we immediately took in a city tour which went to the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda (also called the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha). We also visited Wat Phnom.

Day 18 Once again we embarked on an exploration of the city. We went to the National Arts Museum which contained a notable collection of Khmer sculpture. We also went to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (a High School that became the Khmer Rouge's main torture and interrogation centre).

Wat Arun in Bangkok.
After this we drove out to the 'Killing Fields' where a huge glass tower memorial is filled with human skulls - a sombre reminder of Pol Pot's atrocities.

Day 19 & 20 In the morning we flew to Siem Reap, our base for exploring the ancient temples of Angkor. This amazing ruined city, built between the 9th and 13th centuries deep in the Cambodian jungle, is spread out over some 155 square kilometres and is scattered with walled cities and magnificent stone temples, sculptures, causeways and reservoirs. Firstly we visited the 1st Angkor Capital which contains the Rolous temple group including Bakong, Preah Ko and Lolei. In the afternoon we visited the 2nd Angkor Capital including Ta Keo, Kravan and East Mebon with a sunset at Pre Rup. In addition we took a boat excursion to Tonle Sap, Great Lake of Cambodia and one of the natural wonders of Asia.

Our view from the back of a Tuk Tuk.
Only 12m deep it covers nearly a seventh of of Cambodia's land area. We then moved on to Ta Prohm, lying half consumed by the jungle and finally on to the 3rd Angkor Capital and the temples of Surijavarman II which includes Banteay Srei and the famous Angkor Wat.

Day 21 We continued our explorations with a visit to the temples of King Jayavarman VII, reputedly Angkor's greatest king. The complex includes many of the most impressive buildings and temples in Angkor including Angkor Thom, the Bayon and the Elephant Terrace. Late afternoon we made our way back to the airport for our flight back to Bangkok.

 

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One of the many stilt houses on th…
One of the many stilt houses on t…
Heading out along the Mekong to th…
Heading out along the Mekong to t…
Just a few of the thousands of Bud…
Just a few of the thousands of Bu…
The sunset over Luang Prabang in L…
The sunset over Luang Prabang in …
The Royal Palace in Vientiane.
The Royal Palace in Vientiane.
Ho Chi Minhs mausoleum in Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum in Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minhs residence in the gro…
Ho Chi Minh's residence in the gr…
The entrance to the Old Quarter in…
The entrance to the Old Quarter i…
The many boats available for hire …
The many boats available for hire…
Debbie outside the Thien Mu Pagoda…
Debbie outside the Thien Mu Pagod…
Me and Debbie about to embark on a…
Me and Debbie about to embark on …
Wat Arun in Bangkok.
Wat Arun in Bangkok.
Our view from the back of a Tuk Tu…
Our view from the back of a Tuk T…
The Emerald Buddha at the Grand Pa…
The Emerald Buddha at the Grand P…
Me and Debbie along side the Recli…
Me and Debbie along side the Recl…
Wat Arun in Bangkok.
Wat Arun in Bangkok.
Our transport awaits at the Mon mi…
Our transport awaits at the Mon m…
The exterior of Wat Xieng in Luang…
The exterior of Wat Xieng in Luan…
The interior of Wat Xieng.
The interior of Wat Xieng.
One of the many markets in Luang P…
One of the many markets in Luang …
There is a large floating vilage o…
There is a large floating vilage …
Part of the floating vilage on Ton…
Part of the floating vilage on To…
Some of the children we saw when w…
Some of the children we saw when …
Part of the ruins at Angkor.
Part of the ruins at Angkor.
Debbie at Angkor Thom.
Debbie at Angkor Thom.
A photo from inside the ruins at A…
A photo from inside the ruins at …
Me on China Beach.
Me on China Beach.
Marble mountain. The holes in the …
Marble mountain. The holes in the…
Debbie beside one of the larger Bu…
Debbie beside one of the larger B…
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photo by: mdcoffey129