Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Laos: Do's and Don'ts!

Next up on the tip sharing extravaganza is the beautiful, relaxed country of Laos...


- Give yourself enough time in Luang Prabang. This incredible town, slow-paced and full of wonders, is the perfect spot to lose a week or two, and we wished we had had more time after hitting the sights to just sit back and enjoy the atmosphere.

- Take in the Plain of Jars if archaeology interests you. Although the town of Phonsavan wasn't the nicest we've been to, the enigmatic jars are unique and receive far fewer visitors from the more famous sites. More recent history, present in the form of bomb craters and UXO education, adds a greater understanding of the terrors faced by families across Laos even today.

- Try the wonderful fusion of Laos and French culture through delicious food. Flaky pastries and warm croissants sit alongside more usual SE Asian fare, complementing each other and adding some variety to the normal staples of noodles and rice. Coffee shop life in Vientienne is alive and kicking, and makes for some enjoyable hours wiled away people-watching.


- Feel like you have to follow the crowd. The 'usual' backpacker route seems to travel between Luang Prabang and Vientienne via Vang Vieng, the infamous party town known for tubing and lots of drinking. Whilst we love tubing, we don't love big party atmospheres, and decided to give it a miss. Sure, we could have avoided the big hotspots and set out in search of the gorgeous landscape that Vang Vieng was once known for. But having spoken to a few travellers on the road, it seemed more likely that we'd become frustrated. Everyone has their own travel style, and whilst I completely understand that for some people partying is a way of relaxing, our time overseas is just too short to be spent in a haze! We missed out on what seems like the most popular activity in Laos (judging by the number of t-shirts we saw), and we don't regret it one single bit. Discovering what suits you is one of the exciting aspects of travelling.

- Expect everything to run smoothly. Buses are late, roadslides happen, and Asian motorbikes are most definitely not designed for westerners. Laugh, find a comfortable spot to bunk down in and meet some people. Laos is friendly and welcoming, and around every corner is some guaranteed beautiful scenery to distract you.

Vietnam: Do's and Don'ts!

Rather than spending a longer period of time at a few key parts of a country as we usually do on holiday, in Vietnam we travelled from the south to the north, hitting more towns for a few days at a time and utilising the great night train system to enable us to see more. Although I feel that we were able to experience more of the diversity of the country this way, moving from place to place could be very tiring at times. However, Vietnam is a great place, with plenty to keep a traveller occupied, and here are the usual do's and don'ts...


- Spend a night on a junk in Halong Bay. By far one the highlights of the trip, my fears that the bay would be crammed with boats was immediately dispelled after appreciating first hand the sheer vastness of the area. With steep cliffs soaring out of the water at every turn, it is easy to round a corner and lose sight of anyone else. Absolute bliss, just don't forget your swimsuit and miss the chance to take a dip after a hot day!

- Catch the water puppet show in Hanoi. Another experience that far exceeded my expectations, the skill and coordination involved in pulling it all off left me in awe. The spectacular puppets and beautiful soft music didn't hurt either.

- Use the great train system for cheap trips between the main hot spots. Travel in Vietnam seems to follow a similar route - most people we met had come from the same places and were heading forward in the same direction, most likely influenced by the easy availability and cost of train, particularly overnight. We found the whole system simple to use and comfortable, although book at least a couple of days ahead if you want a bed, otherwise only the upright 3rd class seats will be free, and 12 hours on those doesn't really bear thinking about...


- Expect Vietnam to be quiet. Next to Bangkok, it was the most touristy country we've visited in SE Asia, firmly on the backpackers trail. There were some quieter areas, such as the Mekong Delta, but the bigger cities were pretty packed, both with foreign and Vietnamese tourists. There were some positives to this too - we met some lovely fellow travellers there from all over the planet, and enjoyed some fantastic days out with our new companions.

- Forget to plan your future wardrobe. Hoi An is a treasure trove of tailors, and if you come armed with pictures or ideas, within 48 hours you can walk away with a suitcaseful of perfectly fitting clothes with only a small dent in your finances. Get recommendations on arrival though - we did hear a couple of stories of shoddy work from the very cheapest workshops - the key to quality seemed to be offers of multiple fittings, a good examination of the materials and taking a cutting to compare to the final product.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Cambodia: Do's and Don'ts!

Cambodia was a country that had always fired my imagination, the great temples almost familiar before I'd actually seen them in person, the recent brutal history more sobering. I tried to arrive with as little expectation as possible to avoid any potential disappointment, a feat difficult for such a famous (and infamous) place. Nevertheless, it left a lasting positive impression, and is somewhere I would definitely like to explore further in the future.


- Take your time in Siem Reap. Although Angkor is obviously the main draw, the town itself is friendly, very safe and interesting. Lots of local artisan workshops support Cambodian charities and will help you part with your money, and the huge numbers of cafes and restaurants offering yummy food could keep you full for months. A couple of extra days on top of your temple allowance would provide ample opportunities for enjoying the atmosphere and chatting with locals.

- Plan your time at Angkor carefully. There is so much to see and explore that it would take weeks to do it justice, so having an idea of the main areas you want to hit is useful, particularly the more remote sites that take time to travel between. One day will allow you to see Angkor Wat, the Bayon and Angkor Thom comfortably, but not much else. If you want to get out and do the larger temple circuits, at least three days is ideal.

- Pick your season carefully if you can. We travelled during the wet season, which has benefits and drawbacks. If you like fewer tourists and the dramatic scenery that rain brings out, then the wet season is for you. If, however, you aren't keen on the consistent afternoon downpours, bringing inches of rain and heavy moisture in the air, then maybe the dry season would be better.


- Be disrespectful at the Khmer Rouge memorial sites. It sounds like common sense of course, but when we visited the killing fields and museum there was a group pulling out snacks and basically having a full on picnic during the extremely affecting video, crunching crisps during the sober depictions. Another person was texting constantly on their mobile phone, whilst a nearby group chatted loudly in the 'quiet please' areas.

- Take organised tours if you can avoid it. The large coaches arriving at Angkor hurried guests through sites, and seemed to all follow the same route at the same time, so there were patches with huge numbers of people at once. Better to hire a local tuk tuk driver and determine your own route and pace, whilst also hearing the funny stories and useful advice your driver has to tell.

- Be afraid of Phnom Penh. We'd heard terrible stories of bags being snatched and increasingly muggings at night, yet found the city very friendly. Being vigilant is always important, and we always take care to keep our belongings close to our bodies and hidden out of sight, but preconceptions about a place can really colour your experience. Although not the most aesthetically beautiful place ever, the capital is interesting and well worth a few days of exploration.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Bangkok: Do's and Don'ts!

Our trip to SE Asia was equal parts fascinating, exciting and challenging. Although it wasn't our first visit to the region, it was certainly the longest we'd spent in one trip there, and the intensity of visiting five countries and all they had to offer made it a memorable experience. From the thrills of the ancient sites and beautiful landscape, to the frustration of the unrelenting heat, it certainly had the ability to bring out extremes in us.

Bangkok was frantic and busy, yet a jewel of SE Asia. Time to kick off the 'do's and don'ts' with this royal centre...


- Eat from every possible street stall you can find. Although I am sure there are many wonderful restaurants in the city, we never tired of the fragrant, evocative smells of fresh Pad Thai being flashed fried in woks, crunchy corn on the cob and spring rolls smothered with spicy chilli sauce. Even thinking about it now is making my mouth water...

- Try to visit a range of the very different areas of Bangkok. The touristy streets are buzzing with life and lights, Chinatown is friendly, extending down winding side streets, and the river side is quiet and a temporary relief from the heat. Each area has its own charms.

- Experience some of the very modern amenities alongside the ancient draws. We spent one afternoon at the cinema, snuggled into the most comfortable, spacious seats possible in a near-empty theatre, for a fraction of the price back home.


- Forget about practicalities when packing. Respectful clothing is expected at temples, which translates into ankle-length bottoms and shoulders covered (and not the usual covering up with a pashmina - they aren't counted as covering up). You can borrow items at sites, but you never know who has already worn them, and in sweaty, sticky heats, it's not a nice prospect! Also, if travelling during rainy season as we were, a travel umbrella is indispensible for the sudden downpours. When it rains, it really rains.

- Be put off by the crowds. Bangkok was heaving with people when we visited, and that was during low season. Getting a feel for the busiest hours, and making the weather work for you ensures quieter trips to the big sights and more breathing space when wandering around.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Temples as far as the eye can see...

The first time I ever heard of the Bagan district of Myanmar, with its plains of red brick temples, I knew it was a place I wanted to make it to someday. Around this time last year, I stumbled across a couple of blog posts waxing lyrical about the beauty and sheer scale of the area, and with a plan to spend some time in SE Asia at the forefront of my mind, there was no way I was going to skip it.

We saved Bagan until last - the final stop on a hectic trip, allowing us a number of days to relax and try to make a small dent into the thousands of visiting possibilities there. We had high hopes, and were certainly not disappointed. The temples were literally everywhere - sitting alongside the roads, hidden behind bushes and trees off the beaten track, and in the very grounds of our hotel, imposing features sitting directly outside our window.

Although there are some particularly popular monuments, either as excellent preserved examples of internal artwork, or temples you can climb to the roof of for views across the whole area, most are smaller and densely packed into the landscape, so there is little chance of coming across other tourists at all. We spent whole days seeing just a handful at most of other people, waving a quick greeting before finding ourselves alone again.

Bagan is very easy to get around, with few roads and no chance of missing temples, although the distances to reach outlying areas make travelling on foot difficult. We started on the first evening with a bike, although thoughts of using one for the next few days were quickly dismissed when considering the high humidity and relentless sun. We decided on the somewhat romantic option of using a horse and carriage, which came with the added bonus of a knowledgeable and friendly driver who not only directed us towards temples we may have missed otherwise, but also recommended timely eating options and helped us fit much more into our days.

The temples themselves were amazing, similar on the whole in architectural design and materials, but very different in other ways, from the size to the internal details. The combining of religious traditions was fascinating - Hindu influenced spirits sat beside huge golden Buddha statues, reflecting the complementing belief systems of the local people. Narrow stairs wound up through the belly of the larger temples, opening up onto wide roofs where we could see the flat land open up, temples as far as the eye could see and further.

Although the sunsets were rather subdued, dark clouds sweeping across the sky in the late afternoon, the sunrises were beautiful, with purples and pinks gradually making way to golden oranges and yellows before bursting into a brilliant blue which held the whole day. We made a major mistake on our first morning - in our hurry to view the sunrise on our terrace we left the door open, inviting huge numbers of mosquitoes into our room which we spent the next hour hunting down before we could do anything else (rather unsuccessfully judging by the number of new bites I received that day...).

The temples are not the only attraction of Bagan (although it would be pointless comparing anything to them!). We visited lacquer ware workshops, an art Bagan and nearby villages are famous for, the main challenge being trying to choose items from the shelves and shelves of hand painted objects coated in the rich and glossy black lacquer. Sitting by the river helped lower the temperature, slight relief in the form of gentle breezes whilst watching boats floating by. We had planned to hike up a nearby mountain, although the onset of rather nasty colds dispelled that idea, and we spent extra time at the temples instead.

We left Bagan relaxed and enchanted, both by the incredible sights we'd seen and the charming local people we'd encountered, and ready for a final day in Yangon before heading home.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Glittering gold in Yangon

We woke up in Bangkok, and after a quick stop for breakfast (and a longer-lasting reminder of the seriously oppressive humidity), we dashed to the airport to catch a flight to our final stop of the trip - Myanmar.

Boarding the ever reliable Air Asia (my favourite budget airline), we were soon descending into Yangon, the golden stupas of temples and the densely packed buildings lit up by the evening sunset. There were a number of immediate differences between Myanmar and the other SE Asian countries we'd visited - firstly, the people look quite different from the small framed men and women we were used to seeing, no doubt reflecting the different cultural influences over time, with a more Indian build and colouring. It was an appreciated break after finding over the past weeks that we couldn't fit into car seats/tuk tuks/clothing and feeling huge compared to the rest of the population! The taxis into town were also interesting - lacking doors or complete interiors, it was a case of holding on tightly!

The following morning we set out to get a feel for Yangon, and wandered around for a few hours, visiting some of the main temples and the colonial remnants of the past. The city was friendly and lively, and having been forewarned about the numerous holes in the road and some precariously balancing pavement slabs (thank you Lonely Planet!) we kept one eye glued to the ground and avoided any mishaps (although, in retrospect, flip flops probably weren't the best choice of footwear).

The city twisted and turned, markets dotted down alleys and up narrow buildings, footbridges arching high over busy roads (affording nice views) and tall pastel painted colonial facades overlooking temples. Everywhere was crowded with people, with very few tourists in between.

We saved the biggest attraction for after the sun has set, visiting Shwedagon Pagoda in the dark, when the huge gold stupa and surrounding golden temples are lit up and contrast against the black sky. The day had been rainy, so the floor was slick with water, making moving around barefooted difficult, but casting stunning reflections on the ground. Even the feel of the water under our feet helped cool our bodies and enable us to enjoy the visit even more. The temple was peaceful, with people quietly moving from area to area, only the occasional sound of a struck going breaking the hush.

We met a couple of local guides who took us round the whole site, and the small amount of money it cost was more than justified by the information we received. In fact, we would probably have missed a number of the smaller or hidden features without them. After we had thanked them and they went on their way, we spend some more time there, just wandering around and enjoying the atmosphere and the beauty of the place. It really was one of the most magnificent sights we'd seen on the whole trip.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Farewell to Laos

Overnight buses, as you may have noticed, are not my favourite way to travel. However, they have two main advantages: firstly, they prevent any loss of previous time in a new place, and secondly, they save on the cost of a hostel room. As a result of these rather convincing arguments in their favour, as much as I want to reject them completely, instead spending a day admiring the views out of a bus window (or, when I'm really grumpy, checking out plane tickets...), they always win out.

The overnight bus from Phonsavan to Vientienne, the capital of Laos, was a prime example of why I dislike them. Cramped, with temperamental seats (Oh, you won't recline. Okay. I've decided to read instead? Oh right, you're going to suddenly collapse backwards. No worries...) and my own inability to sleep any way but fully horizontally, there was then our fellow passengers.

Case number 1 - local teenagers in front of me, drinking, throwing food at each other and trying out their mobile phone ring tones. Actually, that's not too different from buses back home, so let's move onto...

Case number 2 - local man wielding a huge gun over his shoulder. And playing with/stroking it constantly. Nice.

Case number 3 - the curse of the smelly food. People bringing hot meals for the trip, sending a waft of whatever was on sale at the station through the bus with no escape.

Anyway, after a long and odd journey, including the bus stopping at 3am so everyone could have some 'dinner', we made it to Vientienne and gratefully found our hostel, who (probably feeling sorry for us!) managed to whip up our room quickly ready to catch up on some much needed sleep (hummm, maybe I need to re-think the advantages of the overnight bus...). Amazingly, and without intention, our hostel was situated right next to some delicious French cafes, and we spent the rest of the day relaxing and soaking up some of the atmosphere of the Laos capital.

Lovely Pha That Luang, the most important national monument in Laos, and present on every postcard/magnet/keyring, was at the top of our list of sights, and arriving in early afternoon gave us the complex to ourselves. Although hot and sticky, the peace allowed us to explore the different details surrounding the impressive central stupa, including colourful and richly decorated smaller temples and stopping for a drink at a nearby food stall.

After refreshing ourselves with the 'Chlorophyll' flavoured beverage sold, and expecting to turn green at any moment, we pushed on, visiting the Laos 'Arc de Triomphe' (a rather unfair comparison) the Patuxai and other various small monuments lining the streets and parks. After a few heavy days of travel, it was nice to wind down and sit in cafes, people-watching and letting the world go by.

However, after a few days it was time to get going, back into Bangkok and towards the final part of our trip. We used the very simple but remarkably complex sounding train linking the two countries, which involved a tuk tuk ride, then onto a tiny train over the border via the 'Friendship Bridge', then a wait for the larger sleeper train which would carry us to the Thai capital once more. In reality, the whole thing was very smooth, and we were soon snuggled under blankets on our final overnight train ride.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The trials and tribulations of seeing the Jars

One of the unique sights of Laos is the mysterious Plain of Jars, a few sites littered with stone jars (and some lids) of various sizes, carved from local rock and filling the landscape in their hundreds. No-one really knows why they were made, but they draw visitors to the small town of Phonsavan and it was there we went after leaving Luang Prabang.

The journey itself was a bit of a disaster – a recent landslide had completely covered the road winding through a mountain pass, and although we had been assured that it had been ‘pretty much cleared’, it of course had not, and we spent over four hours parked in a long line of cars and buses waiting for work to finish (to be honest, we should have started to be suspicious when our driver had the largest lunch I’ve ever seen shortly before the roadblock, and was in no hurry to set off again. Perhaps a tad na├»ve to think he was just enjoy the view of the sweeping hills as much as we were…). Diggers were hard at work, along with a lot of manual labour, but as soon as area were cleared they begin filling in again, and it was a long slog. Rumours abounded down the waiting lines, with people claiming that they heard from someone else that people had been waiting for upwards of three days, others saying that we would have to turn back to Luang Prabang and wait it out until the next day, and some people panicked, choosing to haul their luggage up and other the footpath leading across the hill and down to look for a car on the other side. We sat it out, and eventually the path was clear enough to begin letting vehicles through. Every ten cars or so the road had to be re-cleared, and we all held our breath a little as our turn came. Fortunately, everything held, and we were back on our way. Naturally, there was opportunity in every disaster, and locals had hurried to set up stalls selling food and gifts along the road, no doubt thrilled at the unexpected boom in business.

A journey that should have been six hours had taken twelve, and when we eventually made it to Phonsavan we were tired, stiff and in need of a bed. The following morning didn’t start too well – we were keen to head out to the Jars sites but couldn’t join a tour without finding a group. We couldn’t find anyone willing (I’m not entirely sure what they came to Phonsavan for) and weren’t willing ourselves to pay an extortionate amount for a private hire, so the only option was to hire a small motorbike and make our own way.

So we did. F had only rode automatic scooters before, and almost ten years ago at that, and I have never at all, so it was a bumpy start, not helped by the uneven road. Eventually we got going, off on the road, happily whizzing along…until we got a flat tire. Around $1 got us a new wheel and back on course, although it was clear that the tiny Asian bike wasn’t overly happy with our combined Western weight, and complained all the way. Burning my leg on the exhaust pipe after a too-quick dismount just added to the fun.

We grumpily arrived at the Jar site, and were finally distracted by the stone containers dotted around in front of us. Perched on hills, under trees and in groups on the plains, the jars were unusual and many huge, revealing the skill and effort taken to carve them. The area has also been the subject of much UXO (unexploded ordnance) removal to make it visitor-safe, the vast bomb craters a stark reminder of the destruction of much of areas of Laos and the sheer luck that kept so many of the jars safe. Very few visitors (we only saw one other couple) made wandering through the site peaceful and more atmospheric and allowed us to really explore the jars.

Back in town, after a ride through some nearby villages and having eventually abandoned the bike idea, we visited the MAG centre – the organisation that deals with the UXO in Laos. The information and movie were fascinating, and many examples of defused ‘bombies’ (the local name for cluster bombs) were on display. Looking at the small globes, like pitted yellow hockey or tennis balls, I’m not surprised so many children die playing with these interesting ‘toys’ they find on the ground. The number of different bombs still estimated to be in Laos is incredible, and the Russian roulette farmers and families play every day striking the ground to farm it or even when conducting repairs or improvements on older houses is so saddening to acknowledge.

Apart from these two aspects, Phonsavan as a town wasn’t particularly nice, catering just to the very few tourists passing through, so we booked tickets for an overnight bus to Vientienne and prepared for a long, uncomfortable journey once more!

Hidden gems...

Despite feeling quite ‘templed out’ by the end of Vietnam, it took only a few hours in Luang Prabang and glimpses of gold-topped buildings and monks wandering around as we arrived into town for us to eagerly head out to see our first temples in Laos. We began at Wat Xieng Thong, a beautiful monastery with sweeping roofs and glistening mosaics in brilliant jewel colours. Quiet yet imposing, the monastery and surrounding smaller buildings glowed in the morning light and set us up for a great day.

After a quick breakfast and our first realisation of just how dominant French food is in Laos (with some tasty croissants), we braved the steep climb up Phu Si hill to reach That Chomsi, a stupa that stands proud over the city, visible from just about anywhere. The walk up was extremely hot and sweaty, but there are plenty of distractions along the way. Gold Buddha’s line the walkway, small caves reveal shrines, and there is even a ‘footprint’ of Buddha (which Lonely Planet describes as more like a brontosaurus and I have to agree – Buddha must have had very large feet to have produced the metre-long imprint).

Finally making it to the top we were greeted with gorgeous views across the city and river stretching into the forests beyond, and the slight breeze was very welcomed. We bumped unexpectedly into a couple we’d spent time in Vietnam with, and caught our breath before descending once more.

The Royal Palace museum was next on our list, the former royal residence now preserved for visitors. The exhibits were interesting and labelled in English, which is always a bonus, showing both the throne room and other official entertaining areas, along with the private residences, which were remarkably modest and homely. We visited Pha Bang – the Buddha for which the city is named, and walked in the grounds under the shade of palm trees, bumping into a colleague from home, another odd coincidence.

The following day we took a day trip to see the area around the city. We began with a boat trip up the Mekong, stopping off at the Pak Ou caves, a complex crammed with thousands of Buddha’s of every shape and size, faces peering out from beneath the natural formations of the rocks, bats clinging overhead. The upper cave was especially impressive, huge old wooden doors, carved with delicate and detailed reliefs rewarding the steep climb up (why does everything involve a ‘steep climb’?!). the boat trip there and back was also enjoyable – children splashing around in the water at the banks, even a floating petrol station in the middle of the river.

The afternoon took us to Tat Kuang Si, a jungle park with an impressive multi-tiered waterfall crashing down into milky blue pools where visitors can swim. The water was freezing cold and required some careful manuovering to avoid a shock to the system after all the heat (which this really involved was rather ungracefully crab-walking into the water, if that’s possible to imagine), but incredibly refreshing after a few minutes. Some clever people were jumping from the top of waterfall sections, which seemed a bit suspect as the water wasn’t particularly deep and there were many jagged rocks. One of the people on our bus came back with a potentially broken hand, so it probably wasn’t the best idea.

The waterfalls themselves were great though – fast flowing and loud they cascaded over the rocks, sometimes splitting off so multiple drops fed into one pool, then continued on the next fall. At the base of the waterfall was a bear reserve, where moon and sun bears rescued from poachers or previously kept as pets are brought. We spent some time talking to the British manager of the centre, who explained how the whole thing functioned and how they basically run entirely off of visitor donations, and his personal savings. Using an area of the jungle park allowed the bears room in their natural habitat, whilst keeping them safe from poaching (some were so domesticated that they would have happily approached humans in the wild). The bears themselves were gorgeous, with flat, wide faces and patches of yellow on their upper chests, lounging around in hammocks and on swings (on such a hot day they seemed to have it figured out…), completely oblivious to all the attention they were being paid by my camera lens! A really interesting and worthwhile endeavour.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Puppets and corpses...just a normal day in Hanoi

We spent our final couple of days in Hanoi, a city with some interesting sights, but the number of scooters and broken pavements made it a pedestrian’s nightmare. After getting a feel for the central area and its street names (we were on ‘Hang Mang’ which some taxi drivers repeated as ‘hang man’ and caused a few juvenile giggles), we braved the heat to visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. This really was one of the strangest parts of the trip so far. Once we’d purchased our entrance tickets, we paraded, along with hundreds of other people, along a covered walkway leading towards the site. Dotted along the walkway were flat screen TVs showing past celebrations and projecting songs sung in honour of the famous leader. Once we had made it to the mausoleum itself, and been checked for appropriate dress, we shuffled inside, and had just a minute or so to glance upon the body before being swept away by the crowds.

The preservation was incredible – he looked exactly like a wax work model resting and surrounded by armed guards on every side. It seemed quite ironic that someone who wanted to be cremated and scattered is now visited daily by so many people gazing upon his ever-perfect corpse. After exiting the main building we continued the tour of the grounds – seeing the old presidential home, pagoda and even a garage of Ho Chi Minh’s old cars. It was all very tastefully done, and clearly inspired many of the Vietnamese visitors to the complex, but it was certainly a new experience for us!

The rain started to pour in earnest as we walked to the nearby Temple of Literature, a lovely place which we may have explored for longer if the relentless downpour had ceased, but as last we admitted defeat and decided that the afternoon would be better spent indoors.

Hanoi has some lovely places to visit, but by this point we were temporarily ‘templed out’, and were most looking forward to seeing a water puppet show. A tradition developed as a distraction from the heavy floods, the shows are exactly as they sound – a pool of water with a temple backdrop through which puppets come out in the water, controlled by complex rods and strings, and perform legends and old tales. The puppets were incredible – fire-breathing dragons, boats filled with human puppets, a whole selection of animals, all accompanied by singing and music from a small orchestra of traditional instruments sitting at the side lines.

The show really was captivating, and the synchronisation and fluid movements of the puppets amazing. We’d heard great things about the performance, and it definitely lived up to our expectations and more. However, after just a couple of short weeks in Vietnam, it was time to move on once more.