Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Vietnam – a short visit

I had the opportunity to visit Vietnam for three days and just couldn’t pass it up, having read and heard so many positive things about it. I knew three wouldn’t be nearly enough to do any kind of justice to the place, but it was better than nothing.

Basically, while based in Thailand I won a prize for a short holiday, hotel stay, guided tour etc. We were based in Ho Chi Minh City and followed what I presume is a standard tourist itinerary. Even doing this gives you a great insight into this fascinating country.

We had a look around what used to be called the “American War Crimes Museum” and did a walking tour around some of the city’s famous monuments like the Opera House, markets and Chinese temples.

The thing that really struck me about the city initially was the volume of motorcycle traffic and lack of traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. On the face of it the city is chaotic, actually there’s a kid of order to it all. Once you get past the initial culture shock, you can appreciate the diverse, historical nature of the city. Asian shop houses intermingle with French style architecture and a strong communist Chinese influence.

The food here is really fresh, often chickens and ducks are kept round the back of restaurants and killed to order. Vietnamese cuisine is fantastic and very subtle. I loved eating out in the city, so many choices. And if you tire of Asian food, of course here in Vietnam you can always pick up a fresh baguette!

After a day in the city, we had two day trips out to the countryside. One day was spent along the Mekong Delta, visiting local communities and factories.

The other day was a visit to the famous Cu Chi tunnels, were Viet Cong and civilians lived during the French occupation and the Vietnam War. This was another fascinating day, some of the tunnels have been widened to allow for visitors to crawl in! Most of the tunnels are so small, only Vietnamese people could fit in!

Vietnam is a really lively place, packed full of history and diversity. Of course its recent history is very sad, and this is reason enough to visit, to understand what happened here and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

You’ll love Vietnam!

You can see more photos on my website, linked below.

South East Asia photos on my website, www.matthewt.co.uk

My blog - http://matthewted.blogspot.com

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Friendly Vientiane

As capital cities go, Vientiane has to be about the most friendly, relaxed and slow paced one that I’ve ever visited. It is small in city terms and I loved it. I only visited for a few days on my way elsewhere, and to be honest three days is probably more than enough to visit the city’s few sights and to soak up the atmosphere and sample the fine food.

The main sight, towards the north-east of the city is Vat That Luang, a shimmering golden temple. Although the centre of the main building is blocked off, there’s still plenty to see around the temple grounds, and plenty of photo opportunities.

Next on the list, in “downtown” is Patuxay. This is the Laotian version of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. Equally as impressive and with some uniquely South East Asian finishing touches. Like it’s French cousin, it is situated in a huge traffic island. You can climb to the top to get some impressive panoramas.

There are many smaller temples dotted around the city, the best of which is the beautifully maintained Haw Pha Kaew. If you catch this temple on a clear, sunny day (which is often in Vientiane!) you’ll come away with some great photos. This temple is a former home of Thailand’s Emerald Buddha.

Also well worth a visit, and just across the road is Wat Si Saket, the home of a thousand (or so!) Buddhas. In the cloister walls, there are hundreds of tiny recesses each of which house tiny Buddha statues. There is also a row of around 300 larger seated Buddha’s.

Khua Din market is the big draw for shoppers, catering to local culinary tastes as well as selling clothing and all the usual tourist tat.

I loved Vientiane, and if you go there not expecting a lot, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Some photos will follow shortly, in the meantime you can check photos on my website, www.matthewt.co.uk

My blog - http://matthewted.blogspot.com

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Friday, 19 March 2010

The Nottingham “Eye” is back

Nottingham’s answer to the London eye is back for another stint. Located in Nottingham’s Market Square it gives you some impressive views right across the city. Definitely recommended!

South East Asia photos on my website, www.matthewt.co.uk

My blog - http://matthewted.blogspot.com

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Bangkok Protests update

Things are still simmering away, however it has quietened down a little after the blood spilling protest the other day.

That stunt doesn’t seem to have done the Red Shirts any favours, sparking disgust amongst the Yellow Shirts, neutrals and foreigners alike. Not only that, many Red Shirts also seemed none too pleased about it either. There are a variety of reasons for this, the most prominent being the sheer wastefulness of a valuable resource, hygiene and what it has actually achieved.

The numbers of protestors have certainly dwindled since then, the numbers being quoted are that originally there were 100,000 now that’s down to around 18,000. These people are largely the mass of unemployed people from the Isaan area who have nothing really to go back to, expect to see these people in Bangkok for a while yet and I wouldn’t rule out another stunt like the blood protest. I would imagine Thaksin will appear on the “big screen” as well at some point to rally his people.

The next planned movement is for a convoy of pickups to drive around Bangkok on Saturday 20th March. Expect traffic delays and annoying loud speakers and megaphones as the protest leaders try to drum up more support.

Generally the situation remains OK for foreigners, as always keep your wits about you and avoid the protest areas, generally around Government House, Democracy Monument and the PM’s house. If you’re due to depart for Thailand soon, keep an eye on your Government’s foreign office advisory for Thailand.

South East Asia photos on my website, www.matthewt.co.uk

My blog - http://matthewted.blogspot.com

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Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Blood Red

The protests in Bangkok took a strange and slightly disturbing turn yesterday when protestors began pouring human blood (their own blood) over the gates of the Government House and the gates to the Prime Minister’s house.

It must be stated that this was done after seeking the permission of the security forces stationed at both locations and as a symbolic gesture. There has been one isolated incident of a grenade exploding in an army barracks but generally the situation on the ground remains peaceful and jovial.

I haven’t included pictures here for obvious reasons, but if you want to see this any Thai or international news site should be able to provide those.

South East Asia photos on my website, www.matthewt.co.uk

My blog - http://matthewted.blogspot.com

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Monday, 15 March 2010

In the red corner...

…Thaksin Shinawatra. The ongoing protests in Bangkok have hit the global news networks, so what’s the situation really like on the ground?

Well, very calm at the moment. It’s almost a carnival atmosphere as protestors and police/soldiers trade jokes and banter. But let’s not forget what’s happened before, this is a potentially volatile situation which could turn at any time. The Thai PM has invoked emergency laws to enable him to “send the tanks in” should the protest turn violent or they try to storm government offices as happened last time.

It will be an interesting stand off, as the majority of the protestors don’t necessarily have anything to rush back home for. They have mostly been bussed in from the poor, rural Isaan area in Thailand’s north east, many are unemployed or farmers and have had their travel fares paid for them. As with the previous protests, food and drink is on tap. Who’s behind the bank-rolling of this large scale protest? Who has most to gain embarrassing the government and calling for their heads? Thaksin?

Well back to the day to day events, it’s interesting to see normal Bangkokians being swept along with the crowds. The reports say everyone is wearing red and it may well appear that way from a long range camera shot. However, many of the people aren’t wearing red but have been simply caught up in the atmosphere, shopkeepers, food vendors, people with nothing better to do. Other people are simply fed up with it all and the disruption it brings to every day life and of course Bangkok’s infamous traffic.

For travellers going to Bangkok in the next week or so, the situation AT THE MOMENT is calm but of course can change. Check with your government’s foreign office as any advice they offer can affect your travel insurance. Generally holiday’s cancelled or otherwise affected by protest/riot/political unrest aren’t covered. I would say at the moment, none of that is on the cards, but the protestors are standing firm and so too are the government. Watch this space…

South East Asia photos on my website, www.matthewt.co.uk

My blog - http://matthewted.blogspot.com

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