Tag Archives: weekend trip

The Angkorian weekender

3 Nov

THE ANGKORIAN WEEKENDER  Phnom Penh is known as “the pearl” of South East Asia. The city, Cambodia’s capital, is described by travellers as a genuine old Asian city, with timeless infrastructure, captivating Angkorian and French architecture and, it’s greatest asset, friendly and optimistic Khmer people. It’s easy to spend an entire weekend eating, drinking and aimlessly roaming the city just to absorb Cambodia’s distinctive culture. But these charming attractions are a stark contrast to Phnom Penh’s dark history, which is another important reason the city features on many travel itineraries.

I recently went to Phnom Penh from Ho Chi Minh City for a weekend trip, which was just enough time to see it’s main attractions.

I battle with rain and wind in front of The Royal Palace. It's surrounded by beautiful gardens and stunning Khmer buildings.

The attraction of The Silver Pagoda is it's silver tiled floor. Just one section of the floor is uncovered for display but the tiles are tired and taped together.

Wat Phnom is a quiet temple on the city's only hill. You will see monkeys and an elephant called Sambo at the foot of the hill as well.

The Independence Monument towers above Phnom Penh's largest roundabout. It was modelled on Angkor Wat's central tower and built to commemorate independence from France.

Over 8,000 victim's skulls are displayed at The Killing Fields as evidence of the brutality Cambodia experienced under Pol pot's regime of the 1970's. Plan your following activity carefully as The Killing Fields are an emotional experience.

Tuk tuks are the easiest and cheapest way to travel around Phnom Penh. It costs around US$2 for a trip across the city. Choose your drivers carefully though; my friends and I survived a tuk tuk crash on the way to The Killing Fields because our driver played chicken with a motorbike.

Phnom Penh's markets are fantastic! They offer much more variety and often greater quality than HCMC in Vietnam.

I was lucky enough to enjoy a private nighttime cruise along the Mekong for a friend's birthday party. To take a sunset cruise along the Mekong River, contact tour operators located on Sisowath Quay.

Weekend travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh

Browse the travel agencies on Pham Ngu Lao street to find the best deal (consider cost, travel times, visa handling and comfort) and prepay for your ticket to secure a seat. I took a Friday overnight bus which I very strongly do not recommend. The overnight bus took nearly 12 hours, as opposed to the usual six to seven hours, due to hours wasted waiting for the border to open overnight. Take a Friday 3pm bus or leave on Saturday at 6.30am.
I stayed at Top Banana Guesthouse which was cheap (US$15 per night for a room with two double beds), clean and ideally located.
I returned to Ho Chi Minh City via a 2pm Sapaco bus on Sunday afternoon which arrived in Ho Chi Minh City around 8.30pm.

By Marissa Toohey

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Finding peace in Kuala Lumpur

24 Oct

FINDING PEACE IN KUALA LUMPUR  It happened when I looked out of the window as the plane was descending into Kuala Lumpur (KL) in Malaysia: within an instant my ears stopped ringing, head stopped spinning, my shoulders completely relaxed and a soothing calmness spread throughout my entire body from head to toe. I saw orderly streets, empty spaces, no motorbikes, no traffic! Like an oasis to a desert nomad, KL was the orderly haven I had been dreaming of.

KLCC Park is stunning.

Wide, open and empty footpaths were the highlight for me. They were not obstructed by streetfood stalls, motorbikes, rubbish, floods or groups of people sitting on footstools. I was free to walk without worry.

The Petronas Towers are an impressive sight. KLCC Shopping Centre is located nextdoor and features most major international brands.

KL offered variety in products and services which I had been missing as well, particularly food, clothes and good books in English!

Chinatown offers great markets with huge variety.

And the noise; there was so much less noise than I had become used to, even in Chinatown and Little India.

I had been enjoying the past few months living in HCMC and it was only this moment, peering down upon KL, that I realised it has equipped me with greater perspectives and new appreciations. It’s now the simple things, like clear walkways and quiet streets, that bring me peace and contentment.

By Marissa Toohey

Actions speak louder than words at Mui Ne

9 Sep

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS AT MUI NE  It started with a night on the toilet and ended with a bottle of vodka and a talent show. I had one of the greatest times of my life during a week at Mui Ne on the south coast of Vietnam and I have my new Vietnamese friends to thank for it.

Games on the beach were great fun. We built the house in the background.

I don’t remember ever being as excited as when I arrived on Mui Ne beach to the loudest doof doof music, flags, tunnels and a number of games that had been set up along the beach especially for us. I felt like I was part of a crazy television game show, except I didn’t understand the rules or instructions. Despite the language barrier between myself and my friends, I contributed to the games by following demonstrations from my peers. However, I felt like a real burden when we played the spiderweb game … A game which requires lifting people through a puzzle of strings … A game which was not designed for Vietnamese people and full grown westerners. I claimed the biggest opening right from the start. Nonetheless, my team managed to win and we were rewarded with some wine.

I joined a group of Vietnamese men for a night of drinking and singing.

To bask in our glory and to enjoy the prize, I was invited to “the party room” that night. I arrived early to find just three men sitting on the floor with their shirts off, drinking rice wine and munching on some snacks that smelt distinctively like dried shrimp. I felt like an arts student who just walked onto the soccer field – we all knew I didn’t belong there. It was only a matter of time before the room filled, though, and we sung songs for hours. We shared rice wine and vodka and I fell more and more in love with Vietnam’s culture and people.

Mui Ne offered some major experiences and lessons that are key to life in Vietnam. I had a bumpy start, with a few illnesses and adjustments. But I’ve learnt a lot (did I mention I learnt tango dancing for a talent show at Mui Ne?) and I continue to be amazed at how inclusive and welcoming people are, even when I feel like I might be in the wrong place. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak the same language as actions speak louder than words.

Me and my friends at a Cham temple in Phan Thiet near Mui Ne.

About Mui Ne

Mui Ne is an infamous kite surfing destination just five hours north-east of Ho Chi Minh City by bus. It’s dominated by a number of large resorts along the beachfront that vary from basic to elite. Phan Thiet is just ten minutes from Mui Ne and has a number of sights including the Cham temple pictured right. Another major highlight of the region are white and red sand dunes.

Getting there and accommodation

I caught a tourist bus alone from Pham Ngu Lao in Ho Chi Minh City which costs just US$5. The journey took around five hours and the glorious destination was worth every minute of the bumpy ride. There are dozens of tour companies on Pham Ngu Lao street that operate daily buses to Mui Ne and Phan Thiet.

I stayed at Sunny Beach Resort which is picturesque, charming and very, very peaceful (especially compared to the mayhem of Ho Chi Minh City). The resort is located on Mui Ne beach, it has two large pools and a restaurant that must be complimented. A variety of rooms are available, from beach view bungalows to budget twin share.

By Marissa Toohey

Moreton Island wild dolphin feeding experience

16 Jul

MORETON ISLAND WILD DOLPHIN FEEDING EXPERIENCE  Dolphins are one of the most adored creatures on Earth and people travel from far and wide just to get close to them. Moreton Island near Brisbane is one of those special locations in Australia where people can pay to hand feed dolphins in the wild. For me, a truly devout admirer of the species, it was a bitter sweet experience.

The family of dolphins have been visiting Tangalooma Island Resort for decades. Three generations frequent the resort nightly, familiar with the routine of feeding at 6pm. Resort staff have watched them grow up and have names for every one of them.

But disappointment consumed me when a noisy flock of over 150 people raced towards the water to take part in the feeding experience during the weekend. The noise, pushing and shoving, and sneaky people jumping the fence to join the queue was too much for me, which made me feel for the seemingly dependent pod in the shallows of the water.

Only a handful of people were actually allowed into the water at a time and fish were rationed to one per person. The rules were firmly announced: no touching the dolphins. But it still felt like the dolphins were controlled for a show, rather than wild creatures as they should be.

Dolphins arrived early and people swum out to meet them.

Another disappointing aspect was the lack of management before and after the show. A number of dolphins arrived at the resort over an hour and a half before the feed was due to begin, swimming into shallow water in anticipation for food. People continued fishing off the pier despite the presence of dolphins below, and others swum right out to meet the wild pod, which is illegal in Australian waters (you are supposed to keep a distance away). Staff were nowhere in sight to manage the behaviours of their guests.

But the experience was still magical and I believe it must be effective in educating tourists from around the world. Getting up close to a dolphin, where you can see their playful eyes and powerful dorsal fins, is really inspiring – even if it was only for one minute. I only wish it was managed by researchers (not for profit) and restricted to fewer people.

Crikey – Irwin’s perform live croc show

13 Jul

CRIKEY – IRWIN’S PERFORM LIVE CROC SHOW Terri, Bindi and Robert Irwin are keeping Steve’s dream alive by educating Australia Zoo visitors through a ripper of a croc show.

I recently went to Australia Zoo and watched the Irwin family perform a croc show with Steve’s best mate, Wes. It was obvious that Steve’s passion and humour have been passed to his children, as Bindi bravely fed a large crocodile from just metres away and Robert joked about Channel 7 reporting them for allowing her to do so.

The family educates its audiences by demonstrating crocodile behaviours. Wes jumps into the water to make the croc territorial, they wave food above the water to temp it to jump, and Terri lures the large croc out of the water with food, showing the audience how slow it becomes once out of the water. The crystal clear water gives people a rare opportunity to see how the animals actually behave under water, revealing the power and pace with which their tales drive them forward.

The croc show is the greatest highlight of Australia Zoo, but it has many other merits as well. Zoo keepers play with tigers, feed elephants, walk wombats and cheetahs. Kangaroos roam freely in a large park and zoo guests are welcome to hand feed them.

The entire zoo is very leafy and sparse and the animals have impressive habitats. In fact, they are the happiest looking animals I have ever seen in a zoo.

Australia Zoo is located at Beerwah, around a one hour drive from Brisbane. The zoo offers a shuttle bus from Roma bus terminal in the CBD. Visit the Australia Zoo website for more information and to buy tickets online.

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