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Logbook:       Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand & Malaysia - Inland Travel - March 2016

In late February, we motored Slip Away north from Singapore to Admiral Cove Marina in Port Dickson, Malaysia (150 miles).  Admiral Cove was a safe and convenient place to leave Slip Away while we took off for some inland travel.  Port Dickson is just an hour away from the Kuala Lumpur Airport, and Air Asia offers reasonably priced airfares for traveling throughout the area.  We were excited about our plans to spend a month on the road visiting Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, meeting up with friends along the way.

Vietnam (March 1 to 13).  When we think of Vietnam, we can't help but remember the USA's involvement in the war there from 1964 to 1973.  Rich served in the U.S. Navy during the time of the Vietnam War (or "conflict" as it is officially called), but he was quite fortunate that his military service took him to Jacksonville, Florida; Patuxent River, Maryland; and Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily.  He had a number of friends and colleagues who fought in Vietnam.  Most of them made it home safely, but a few did not. 

Vietnam has spent literally thousands of years fighting off invaders - and doing it successfully.  Vietnam has long had a contentious relationship with China, which borders them to the north.  China conquered Vietnam in the second century BC, and for the most part, China remained in power until the early 10th century AD.  During this time, Vietnam was a key port of call on the trading route between China and India.  Also during this time, rice paddy agriculture took hold, and it remains a key component of Vietnamese life.  In the early 10th century, the Tang dynasty in China collapsed, and Vietnam seized the opportunity to end the Chinese occupation, although their struggles with China did not end.   

The French arrived in Vietnam and colonized it in the late 1800's.  While under colonial rule, there was a desire within the country for independence, and in the late 1920's Ho Chi Minh founded the Vietnam Revolutionary Youth League, which eventually became the Vietnamese Communist Party.  In World War II, the Japanese invaded and occupied Vietnam, and after their surrender, the French regained control, but shortly thereafter, fighting broke out between the French and Vietnamese.  The Franco-Viet Minh War lasted from 1946 to 1954 when the French surrendered, despite the USD $2 billion sent in military aid to the French by the Americans in 1954.  The Geneva Conference negotiated an end to the conflict, and one of the resolutions included a temporary division of Vietnam near the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh and the communists ruling in North Vietnam, and an anti-communist government in South Vietnam, which the USA supported.  Armed conflict between North and South Vietnam began in 1959, and in 1964, U.S. troops got involved. 

The "domino theory" was cited for the U.S. involvement in the civil war in Vietnam - the concern that Communism would end up spreading through all of Southeast Asia if it took over South Vietnam.  During the period from 1964 to 1973, 3.14 million Americans served in the US military in Vietnam, and troops from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand also participated on a smaller scale.  Over 58,000 lives were lost before the U.S. military pulled out of the war in 1973.  After the U.S. departed, the war continued with the South Vietnamese going it alone.  On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of Saigon's Presidential Palace, and South Vietnam's president, General Duon Van Minh surrendered. 

     

Vietnam was formally reunified in 1976, but the next few years were tumultuous times.  Reunification came with internal strife, including an anti-capitalist campaign that seized private properties and businesses, and hundreds of thousands of people fled the country.  Additionally, the Khmer Rouge in neighboring Cambodia were attacking bordering Vietnamese villages.  On Christmas Day 1978, Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia, and in just two weeks, Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge government.  This action angered the Chinese, who then invaded Vietnam in February 1979, but after 17 days of war, the Chinese withdrew. 

Vietnam was finally at peace, but it was struggling.  It attempted to establish relations with the U.S., but the U.S. snubbed the Vietnamese for an opportunity to start building a relationship with China.  Vietnam allied itself with and relied on the Soviet Union for about 10 years, but with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, they were finding themselves on their own.  Although the Communist Party remained in power in Vietnam, capitalism took root and started to flourish. 

Vietnam has a population today of about 90 million people.  Although there is a Communist government in place, only 4.5 million of the population are members of the Communist party.  Over the past several years, Vietnam has risen from the ashes and taken great strides forward.  Full diplomatic relations with the USA were restored in 1995, and relations with China have improved too.  Capitalism is thriving in Vietnam - they have one of the strongest and fastest-growing economies in Southeast Asia.  Their principal exports are crude oil, textiles and garments, footwear, fisheries products and electronics.  Tourism has also taken hold, and Vietnam has about 7 million visitors per year. 

Hanoi (March 1 to 3).  Hanoi in North Vietnam was the first stop on our visit to this country.  Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the country's second largest city, with a population of 7.5 million people.  Motorbikes are the main form of transportation here, with about 4 million registered motorbikes in the city.  Friends of ours told us they visited Hanoi in the 1990's when the primary form of transportation was bicycles - we wish we could have seen that!  Hanoi is a busy and hectic city, but it has a good energy to it. 

We took a 6 a.m. flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi, and although we were not thrilled about such an early morning flight, we reached our hotel in Hanoi by 9:30 a.m., so had the day to explore.  One of the first things we noticed when we arrived in Hanoi was that the air was cooler.  The temperature was about 68F (20C) when we stepped off the plane, and we welcomed the change from the heat and humidity we'd experienced for the past couple of months. 

We were staying at the Happy Moon Guesthouse in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, and since we arrived so early, our room wasn't ready, but our hosts fed us coffee and fruit, gave us a map and highlighted sights for us to see.  They stored our bags and sent us on our way.  Walking around the Old Quarter of Hanoi is one of the best ways to get around, but it takes some getting used to.  The streets are narrow and filled with motorbikes.  There are some sidewalks, but sidewalks are occupied either by tables and chairs of eating establishments, or by motorbikes using the sidewalk as a parking lot.  There are very few traffic lights at intersections, and crossing the street is a learned skill.  There will never be a clear spot with no traffic - just some spaces with less traffic.  Fortunately, the traffic is not moving very fast, and the motorbike drivers weave around obstacles (i.e. pedestrians).  The key is to keep walking forward at a steady pace and not stop.  It was scary at first, but we got better at it as time went on. 

We set out from our hotel that morning and walked around Hoan Kiem Lake, visited the Temple of the Jade Mountain, and had a late lunch of Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) at one of the small street-food eateries, for which Hanoi is known.  After a short afternoon nap, it was happy hour and we walked to the corner bar (again outdoors and on the street) that served Bia Hoi - a light, fresh beer made without preservatives.  Bia Hoi is very popular in Vietnam, and we enjoyed it - we actually enjoyed quite a bit of it, but since it has a low alcohol content, it wasn't a problem.  That evening, our friends Pat & Carrie Kinnison arrived in Hanoi.  They had been traveling in Laos for the past couple of weeks and were joining us to travel through Vietnam. 


Thp Ra (Turtle Tower) in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake
 
Hanoi Street Vendor
 
Pho Lunch


We packed in more sightseeing the following day - the Temple of Literature in the morning, and after a noodle lunch, we toured the Hoa Lo Prison (aka the Hanoi Hilton).  The French utilized the Hoa Lo Prison for political dissidents during their colonial rule, and the Vietnamese used it for American POW's during the Vietnam war. 
The portrayals of Vietnamese prisoners under French rule were horrific; however, depictions of the conditions and treatment of the American POWs at the Hoa Lo Prison would lead one to believe that the men had quite a nice time in captivity - this was our first but not our last exposure to government propaganda.  That evening, after a couple mugs of Bia Hoi, we stopped for a street-side hot-pot dinner.  The restaurant proprietors didn't speak English, and there was no menu (or at least not one in English), so we looked at what other people had on their tables, and pointed to what we wanted.  We had a gas grill in the middle of our table, and the proprietor brought us plates of meats and veggies to cook in the hot pot.  There really is great "street food" in Hanoi. 

We would have liked to stay another day in Hanoi, but we had only booked two nights at the Happy Moon Guesthouse, and they were full for the next couple of nights, so we needed to come up with a plan.  We wanted to see Halong Bay, and transportation options were such that it made sense for us to go there for a couple of days and come back to Hanoi, so that's what we did. 


Temple of Literature
 
Wall sculpture at Hoa Lo Prison (aka "Hanoi Hilton")
 
Street Food in Hanoi

 




Yummy ice cream
 
 

Rich & Pat enjoying some Bia Hoi (fresh beer)
 
Our delightful hosts at the Happy Moon Guest House -
Kat, Moon and River
 

Cat Ba Island (March 3 to 5).  Halong Bay is a spectacular seascape of 1,600 forest-covered limestone pillars and islets scattered throughout the Gulf of Tonkin  Legend has it that the bay was created by the flailing tail of a mystical dragon.  When most folks visit Halong Bay, they go on a tour boat and stay overnight on the boat anchored among the beautiful limestone formations in the bay.  Although we wanted to see the bay, staying on land appealed more to us than an overnight boat trip.  So, we booked an ocean view room at the Nam Phuong Hotel - at USD $6 per night, this was an incredible deal!  The rooms were very basic, and the furniture dated, but it was clean and relatively comfortable, except for the pillows, which were like small bricks.  But, how can one complain for $6 per night?! 

We enjoyed a walk up to Cannon Fort on the day we arrived, and the following day, we hiked an arduous cross-island trail - what were we thinking?!  On our way back to Hanoi, we took the "scenic route" which included a couple hours on a motor boat ride through Halong Bay.  Even with the hazy weather conditions, the bay was gorgeous.  We can only imagine how beautiful it would be with sunshine and blue skies.


The million-dollar view from our six-dollar-per-night hotel room
 
Rich led the pack on the arduous, cross-island hike
 
Rewarding scenery at the end of the hike

 


Halong Bay fishing village
 
One of the many tourist boats plying the waters of Halong Bay

Hanoi (March 5 to 6).  When we returned to Hanoi, the Happy Moon Guesthouse was still fully booked, so we stayed at the Hanoi Asia Guesthouse, which was also a good place, and the proprietors were equally as nice.  We had one more full day in Hanoi, and Pat & Carrie were ready for some downtime, so the two of us set out on our own to see a few more sights.  We were intrigued about seeing the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is available for viewing - he died 47 years ago in 1969.  When we arrived at the Mausoleum, the line of people waiting to enter the Mausoleum went on for several blocks.  Visiting "Uncle Ho" is a popular activity with the Vietnamese, and it was a Sunday, so it was a busy day.  Jan was reluctant to stand in line for hours to see a dead body, but Rich convinced her that we should get in line and see how quickly it moved.  To our surprise, it moved quite fast, and within about 30 minutes, we were walking by the temperature-controlled glass case with the corpse inside. The building and body are protected by a military honor guard, and the guards kept everyone moving, allowing us only about 90 seconds total in the viewing area.  There were no photos allowed - our cameras were taken away from us before going in and returned to us when we came out.  After seeing the corpse, we spent a bit more time visiting Ho Chi Minh's residence and the One Pillar Pagoda, all of which were in the same complex. 


Rich looking a bit grim in our "selfie" in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
 
Ho Chi Minh's former residence
 
One-Pillar Pagoda Buddhist Temple

For lunch that day, we went to KOTO ("Know One Teach One"), which is a not-for-profit restaurant which trains disadvantaged kids in the restaurant and hospitality industry.  While we ate, we chatted with an interesting couple at the next table - Americans from Washington DC, presently living in South Africa - he works for the U.S. Embassy there.  We meet some very interesting people in our travels!  After lunch, we stopped in at the 54 Traditions Gallery, and the owner Mark (an American from New York who has lived in Hanoi since 2001) showed us his collection of Vietnamese artifacts. 

That evening, the two of us and Pat & Carrie headed south on an overnight train to Hue, a trip for which we were not well prepared food-wise.  We assumed there would be a dining car and thought we'd just eat dinner on the train - what were we thinking?!  Food was available for purchase from a couple of ladies pushing carts through the train cars, and the choices were Ramen noodles or rice and sausage.  The Ramen noodles were the much better choice.  The four of us shared a sleeper car, and the beds were hard and uncomfortable - we've definitely had better nights of sleep!


A couple of beers at the Bia Hoi stand before the train trip
 
Rich settling in for the overnight ride to Hue

Hue (March 7 to 8).  In Hue, we stayed at the Binh Duong II Hotel - a beautiful, newly remodeled guesthouse, and the four of us had two of the three rooms on one of the top floors - very nice!  Shortly after arriving, we headed out on a walk down Le Loi Street, which runs along the south side of the Perfume River, and then we crossed the river to the north bank and toured the Imperial City walled fortress, which was built in the 1800's. 

After sightseeing, we stopped for a late lunch and a beer at Lac Thien Restaurant, which was recommended by our guidebook for a local dish called banh khoai - a Vietnamese pancake stuffed with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts.  The banh khoai was fantastic, and the proprietor Mr. Lac, who is a deaf mute, was absolutely delightful, as was all of the family who worked there.  We enjoyed the food and the family so much that we returned for an early lunch the next day before catching our bus to Hoi An.  We really liked Hue - it was very charming and smaller than Hanoi, so less hectic. 


Walled Imperial City
 
One of the entrances to the Imperial City

 


Tasty banh khoai
 
Mr. Lac made a show of opening the beer
 
 
Motorbike traffic in Hue was lighter than in Hanoi

 

The bus from Hue to Hoi An was a unique experience.  It was a four-hour trip, and unbeknownst to us, we were booked on a "sleeper bus" which had three rows of two layers of semi-reclining seats.  Jan was first of our group to get on the bus, and as she stepped up into the bus, the driver pointed to her feet and said "Choos."  After a few seconds of confusion, she finally figured out that she needed to take her shoes off.  He gave her a plastic bag in which she put her "choos" and she walked barefoot down the aisle in search of an empty seat.  Although the sleeper bus might sound like a good idea, the two of us were a bit too tall for the seats.  However, there were others on the bus less comfortable than us.  There was a truck driver from Texas who weighed about 300 lbs (~140 kilos) - the seats were an exceptionally tight squeeze for him.  And, his travel agent had booked his whole tour of Vietnam (1000 miles or 1600 km) on this sleeper bus.   

Hoi An (March 8 to 10).  Hoi An was an historical seaport, and its "Old Town" is a collection of well preserved buildings from the 17th to 19th centuries, when Hoi An (then called Fai Fo) was one of Southeast Asia's major international ports.  Various guidebooks and websites led us to believe that we would love Hoi An - we read that it would be a "highlight", that the city is "atmospheric and delightful" and that it "oozes charm and history."  Perhaps we were having a bad day, but it just wasn't all those things to us.  The history of the Old Town was interesting, and the architecture was unique, but the town was overrun with hordes of tourists, and the locals were hard-selling their trinkets and trash.  The entry fee to the Old Town (about USD $6) included tours of a few of the historic buildings, but a couple of the guides at these buildings were openly annoyed with us because we weren't buying any of their souvenirs.  Oh well!  We don't expect to love every place we visit, but we were wishing we had stayed longer in Hue and skipped Hoi An.
 

   


Sleeper bus from Hue to Hoi An

While visiting Hoi An, we stayed at the Beautiful Moon Guesthouse, which was recommended by some friends who had recently stayed there.  The guesthouse was brand new and stunning, but it was located several kilometers from the area surrounding the Old Town.  Taxis were not expensive, but we just felt a bit isolated - there was no wandering down the street to find a place for a beer or a bite to eat.  The guesthouse offered us the use of bicycles, but we didn't feel comfortable navigating bicycles amongst the motorbike traffic.  The proprietor, Kiep, is an interesting man - he fought in the Vietnam war against the Viet Cong, escaped to the U.S. after the war, and lived and worked in Seattle for 34 years.  He was laid off from his job a few years ago and came back to Vietnam.  He oversaw the building of this guesthouse, which opened just 6 months prior to our visit, and it was built to exacting and beautiful standards.  Kiep is a high-energy guy, and he did his best to make sure we enjoyed our stay.  Unfortunately, his wife was called away on a family matter, so we didn't get to meet her.  Also, she's the cook, so Kiep was challenged in that department.  One morning, he cooked us a special treat for breakfast - spaghetti!  On our last evening there, he served us Hoi An's version of the pork and shrimp pancakes that we so loved in Hue.  The next morning, three of the four of us had gastrointestinal distress - fortunately, not severe.  Jan apparently has a cast-iron stomach.


One of the traditional houses in Hoi An
 
 
Dragon fountain at the Quang Trieu Assembly Hall
 
The two of us with our travel companions Pat & Carrie
and Kiep, the proprietor of the Beautiful Moon guesthouse

From Hoi An, we were continuing on to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), which was 530 miles (850 km) away.  Our options were a 16-18 hour train or bus ride, or just over an hour on a plane.  Vietjet offered reasonable airfares from DaNang (just an hour from Hoi An), and we booked an evening flight so that we would have the day to see a few sights between Hoi An and DaNang.  Our flight was originally schedule for 9:30 p.m., but on the morning of our flight, Vietjet sent us an email saying our flight was cancelled and they had re-booked us on a later flight.  We ended up getting several emails that day, and with each new email, the flight got later and later, with the last one giving us an arrival time of 2 a.m.  Ugh!  Vietjet had an earlier flight - at 7:20 p.m. - and Kiep called the airline to see if we could get on that.  There were seats available, but they wouldn't accept a phone call to re-book since we had booked on-line.  Replies to our emails stated they "received our inquiry and would get back to us in 48 hours" - not helpful!  So, we went ahead with our sightseeing plans for the day and decided we'd sort things out at the airport.

DaNang (March 10).  Kiep arranged for a driver to take the four of us to DaNang with a couple of stops on the way.  Our first stop was an eco-farm and then we continued on to the Marble Mountains, a cluster of five marble and limestone hills with pagodas and caves containing Buddhist shrines.  We enjoyed both stops and arrived in DaNang mid-afternoon. 


Traditional farming near Hoi An
 
Pagoda at the Marble Mountains
 
Marble Mountains

When we reached DaNang, we split off from our travel companions for a few days.  Pat & Carrie were spending the night in DaNang and continuing on to Cambodia the next day.  We dropped them at their hotel, and the driver took us to the airport.  Once at the airport, we were only able to get our flights semi-sorted out - one of us was confirmed on the 7:20 p.m. flight, and one of us was wait-listed, but the counter agent told us they normally have no-shows, and he expected there would be no problem getting both of us on the flight.  The agent was happy to let us put our backpacks behind their counter so we could go into the city.  We had a few hours to kill and initially considered just finding a comfortable spot to hang out at the airport, but there were no comfortable spots.  The city center was just 3 km from the airport, so we walked into town. 

DaNang is a major port city with a population of approximately 1 million people.  Although we had grown accustomed to crossing the busy streets in Hanoi, the traffic in DaNang traveled at faster speeds than what we were used to, so it was a bit scary.  As we were walking from the airport into town, we needed to cross a four-lane intersection on the edge of a roundabout, and we got half-way across and were stuck.  The stream of traffic was endless, and we stood in the middle of the street for several minutes waiting for a break, which never came.  Fortunately, a local guy saw our plight and took pity on us.  He crossed out into the center with us, then walked us across the remaining lanes.  We walked three abreast, and the motorbikes and cars steered around us.  Whew!  We did not want to cross that intersection again, so decided we'd take a taxi back to the airport.

We didn't have much time to explore (less than a couple of hours), so we wandered down to the Han river, and walked along the paved riverfront walkway.  Many of the buildings in this area were new or recently renovated, and there was classical music playing over speakers on the riverfront walk.  How nice is that?!  After meandering along the river, we took a taxi back to the airport, and by this time it was starting to get dark. Rich ducked into the men's room before we headed for the airline counter, and as he tells it, just as he flushed the toilet, the lights went out, and half of the airport lost power.  Oh great!  The bathroom was pitch black, but he found his way out, and there was enough light for us to get to the airline ticket counter, but all the computers were down.  Fortunately, power was restored fairly quickly.  The counter agent saw us in the crowd (yes, we stuck out like sore thumbs!), motioned us over, and gave both of us boarding passes for the 7:20 p.m. flight.  Yay!  We checked our backpacks and headed for security.  Our flight was due to start boarding in a matter of minutes, and the security line was long, but everyone was understanding when we cut ahead.  We somehow scored seats in the front of the plane, with an empty seat between us so it was a comfortable flight to Ho Chi Minh City.  Although we ran into a lot of obstacles before getting on the plane, the flight went smoothly, and we were hopeful that all the crazy events of this day were behind us - but nooo! 

   


The very impressive dragon bridge in DaNang.
Dragons are important creatures in Vietnam.  According to folklore,
Vietnamese people are descended from a dragon and a fairy.

We arrived in the Saigon Airport and waited for our backpacks at the baggage claim.  The first few items to come off the plane were big styrofoam coolers which  apparently contained frozen fish.  When we checked our backpacks, we wrapped them in large plastic trash compactor bags so that the straps wouldn't get caught on conveyor belts or other equipment.  Our bags showed up, and we pulled them off the carousel.  As Jan grabbed her bag, she thought "What is that smell?"  She moved the bag away from the carousel and the smell followed.  She turned the bag over, and it was covered in sticky goo that smelled like dead fish.  Yuck!  Thank goodness the backpack was packed in that plastic bag, which went in the trash at the DaNang airport. 

Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon (March 11 to 13).  Although Saigon was re-named Ho Chi Minh City after the Vietnam War, the locals still call it Saigon, and even the airport code remains SGN.  This is Vietnam's largest city with 9 million people in the metropolitan area, and it's the country's economic center which is responsible for the lion's share of its GDP and industrial output. 

We arrived late in the evening and were unpleasantly surprised to find that our hotel - Graceful Saigon Hotel - was located smack dab in the middle of party central. The hotel is located on Bui Vien Street, which is the Saigon equivalent of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.  We would have loved that when we were younger, but it doesn't particularly appeal to us any more.  It ended up OK, however, because the hotel clerk was a super nice guy and gave us a room on the back side of the hotel, so we were not disturbed by the goings-on out front.  This hotel clerk obviously had experience dealing with "mature travelers" like us because he also gave us a great recommendation for a quiet restaurant which was an easy walk from our hotel. 

We had two days to tour Saigon, but first, we went shopping at the Ben Thanh Market to buy some new clothes.  Since numerous clothing manufacturers have their factories in Vietnam, one can get some good bargains here.  However, shopping at this market is not for the faint of heart.  It requires some hard-core bargaining, which isn't really our cup of tea, but we dove in and went for it.  At one point, we stepped outside to take a breather and strategize, and then we went back in again.  In the end we found a vendor who was actually fun to deal with, and we got a good amount of clothing (shirts, shorts and long pants) for what we thought was a reasonable price.  The clothing tags say Columbia and UnderArmour - we're not sure if they're knock-offs or seconds, but the quality seems to be pretty good, so we're happy about that. 


Bui Vien Street in Saigon
 
Shopping at the Ben Thanh Market
 
Our saleslady Lien at the Ben Thanh Market was quite entertaining

After shopping, we visited the Reunification Palace (formerly the Presidential Palace where the President of South Vietnam surrendered to the North Vietnamese in 1975) and the War Remnants Museum, which was another interesting view of Anti-American propaganda.  Although the government portrays Americans to be incredibly evil, fortunately, the local people don't see us that way.  We finished our day by watching a water puppets performance at the Golden Dragon Theater.  Unfortunately, we had a bad experience with a taxi driver on our way home that evening.  Jan was sitting in the front seat with him (a big mistake), and when she pulled out her wallet to pay, he distracted her by pointing to the meter, and reached into her wallet and grabbed her money - ostensibly to help her identify which bills she needed to pay.  Fortunately, she didn't have much money in her wallet, but he did manage to rip her off for about $25.  We should have known better than to let this happen, but it did, and it reminded us to keep our guard up for the rest of the trip.

On our second day in Saigon, we did a With Locals tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which are a network of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong as hideouts, living quarters and supply routes during the Vietnam War.  A young man named Tri met us at our hotel, and we took local buses out to the tunnels, which were  about 2 hours away.  It was a full day, but we enjoyed it tremendously, and we especially enjoyed our conversations with Tri. 

Our time in Vietnam had come to an end - twelve days had flown by, and we felt like it was not nearly enough time, but we had seen some highlights, and we were off to Cambodia. 


Formerly the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam,
now known as the Reunification Palace
 
Photograph from the War Remnants Museum showing
tanks crashing the gates of the Presidential Palace in 1975

 


Water Puppets performance in Saigon
 
Jan decides to check out the Cu Chi Tunnels
 
The two of us with our local guide Tri

Cambodia (March 13 to 17).  Our Lonely Planet book very appropriately describes Cambodia's history as "the good, the bad and the ugly."  During the Angkorian Period of history, which lasted from AD 802 to 1432, the ruling kings oversaw the construction of a vast amount of temples and established the Khmer (Cambodian) Empire as one of the great powers in Southeast Asia.  The Angkor dynasty ended when Thailand attacked, and the Khmer elite fled to Phnom Penh.  Over the next four hundred years, Cambodia fought for control of their country with both Thailand and Vietnam, and control of Siem Reap (the location of the great Angkor temples) changed hands several times.  In 1863, the French intimidated Cambodian King Norodom into signing a treaty of protectorate, and in 1907, they successfully pressured Thailand into returning previously captured Khmer provinces, including Siem Reap.  Like most countries in Southeast Asia, Japan occupied Cambodia in World War II, and Siem Reap went back under control of the Thais.  After World War II, the French regained power, and in 1947 Siem Reap once again became part of Cambodia.  In 1953, King Sihanouk declared Cambodia's independence from France, and the country experienced a short period of peace and prosperity.  In the late 1960's, Cambodia was being pulled into the war in Vietnam, and in 1970, the Cambodian King Sihanouk was deposed (with some U.S. involvement).  King Sihanouk sought asylum in Beijing and allied himself with an indigenous Cambodian revolutionary movement which became known as the Khmer Rouge.  Leadership of the Khmer Rouge included the legendary and Paris-educated Pol Pot.  A savage civil war engulfed the country from 1970 to 1975, and in April 1975, Phnom Penh surrendered to the Khmer Rouge.  The Khmer Rouge was brutal - people were uprooted from their homes, put to work as slaves and/or executed, and the country cut itself off from the outside world.  It is estimated that 2 million Cambodians died (one-quarter of their population at that time) under Pol Pot's reign.  From 1976 to 1978, the Khmer Rouge instigated a number of border clashes with the Vietnamese, and on Christmas Day 1978, the Vietnamese launched an invasion of Cambodia and toppled the Pol Pot government.  The 1980's were still a struggle for Cambodia, because although the Khmer Rouge was no longer in power, they remained a force to be reckoned with and civil war raged on.  At that time, Vietnamese forces occupied Cambodia, and they laid the world's largest minefield stretching from the Gulf of Thailand to Laos.  By 1989, as the Cold War was winding down, Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia.  A peace plan was adopted in 1990, and elections were held in 1993, but it would be another ten years before peace would really start to take root in this country. 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (March 13 to 14).  From Saigon in Vietnam, we took the Mekong Express bus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Fortunately, this was a normal bus (not a "sleeper bus"), and it was relatively comfortable for the 7-hour trip.  The Mekong Express staff provided assistance in getting us through the border crossing, which was greatly appreciated because the Cambodian officials were very serious and stern.  As the bus drove through the Cambodian countryside, we couldn't help but notice how dry and dusty it was.  It was the dry season, but this year was much drier than normal, and most of Southeast Asia was experiencing drought conditions. 

Overall, we found Cambodia to be an odd mix of rich and poor.  The motorbike was still a primary mode of transportation for many Cambodians, but there were more cars on the road in Phnom Penh than in Vietnam, and the cars were relatively new and expensive.  Many of their temples (wats) and government buildings were beautiful and ornate, and this was a stark contrast to the living conditions of the average Cambodian.  Also, we saw a lot of trash - on the sides of the highways and on street corners in the city - lots and lots of it. 


Very dry countryside enroute to Phnom Penh
 
Electrical wiring in Southeast Asia is scary at times
 
Trash was a problem in Cambodia

We arrived in Phnom Penh in the late afternoon and met up again with Pat & Carrie at the Diamond Palace II Hotel.  They were leaving the next morning for an anniversary celebration at a Cambodian island which was not on our itinerary, so it was fun to catch up with them before they departed.  As we were walking down the street to find dinner at a restaurant, we saw a couple more familiar faces - Bill & Natalia (s.v. Island Bound) - small world!  Bill & Natalia were heading to Siem Reap the next morning, and we would be following a day later, so we made plans to rendezvous there.

After breakfast the next morning, Pat & Carrie headed off to their island in the sun, and we went out for a day of sightseeing.  We walked along the riverfront to Wat Phnom and then explored the Central Market for a bit.  In the afternoon, we toured the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda.  We had hoped to get to the Tuol Sleng Museum, a former high school which was turned into a prison and torture camp under the Khmer Rouge, but we didn't have enough time to see all that we wanted in Phnom Penh.  It would have been a sobering visit, but we're sorry we missed something that was an important part of this country's history.


Wat Phnom -
Locals come to this temple to pray for good luck
 
Royal Palace
 
Architectural remnants of French colonial days
 

 


Fish for sale in the local market
 
Groundskeeper at the Royal Palace

Siem Reap (March 15 to 17).  From Phnom Penh, we boarded another Mekong Express bus to Siem Reap, and it was another long-ish bus trip - about 6 hours.  The bus stopped half-way for lunch, and when Jan went into the ladies room at the restaurant, she saw a sign which read "No Pissing on the Floor."  Really?!  At first, she thought maybe she had incorrectly walked into the Men's room, but she was definitely in the Ladies' room! 

In Siem Reap, we based ourselves at the Parklane Hotel, which was a good spot - close enough to walk to "Pub Street" where we found numerous restaurants and bars, but we were happy not to be in the middle of the action.  We did meet up with Bill & Natalia (s.v. Island Bound), as well as Anthony (s.v. Wild Fox) who was also in town.  The food in Cambodia was quite good, but we passed on the opportunity to try some of their local delicacies such as fried scorpions, spiders, and other insects. 


Meeting up with sailing friends in Siem Reap - the two of us with
Bill & Natalia (s.v. Island Bound) and Anthony (s.v. Wild Fox)
 
Fried scorpions for dinner?  No thanks!
 

Our hotel organized a tuk-tuk driver (Kimsan) to take us on our tour of the temples of Angkor.  Kimsan spoke English fairly well, he was very conscientious and we enjoyed our time with him.   His contact information can be found by clicking on his name/link above - we would highly recommend him. 

Temples of Angkor.  The Temples of Angkor were built over a 600 year period - from 802 to 1432 AD.  There are over 1000 temples, some of which are now just  small piles of rocks, but some of the complexes cover several square kilometers and were ancient cities.  Angkor Thom was one such city that covers an area of 9 square kilometers (3.5 square miles).  Our Lonely Planet guidebook refers to Angkor Wat as the "mother of all temples" - it is the largest religious monument in the world, covering an area of over 400 acres (over 160 hectares).  It is truly awe-inspiring. 

There are a couple of standard recommended routes for visiting the temples, and since we had a couple of days, Kimsan recommended we do the "big loop" on the first day, and the "small loop" on the second day, saving the Angkor Wat temple for last. 

On our first day, we visited the Preah Khan, Neak Poan, Mebon, and Pre Rup temples.  There were a fair amount of other tourists, but the numbers were manageable.  The weather was incredibly hot, and Kimsan kept a stock of water in a small cooler for us, but we were also happy to take a break mid-day for lunch in a shaded restaurant.  We invited Kimsan to join us for lunch, and we enjoyed getting to know him a little and to hear about his aspirations for his family.  His young daughter is attending an international school where she is learning English, which he believes is imperative for her to have good opportunities when she grows up.


Entering the walled city of Preah Khan,
which was constructed in the 12th century
 
There are numerous depictions of the Garuda (a half-man,
 half-bird divine being) throughout the Angkor temples
 
Guardians lining the causeway over the moat
 

 


Trees were attempting to overrun some of the temples
 
View from the top at Mebon
 
The temple walls were covered with intricate carvings

On day 2, in addition to Kimsan, a guide named Sip joined us, and we visited South Gate Bayon, Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Ta Prom and finally Angkor Wat.  Sip provided us with excellent commentary on the history of the temples and pointed out some details we would never have seen on our own.  There were hordes of tourists visiting these temples, and at times, some of the tour groups were pushy and annoying, and Sip also did his best to steer us away from the crowds as much as possible.  In any event, we had another great day.  Sip and Kimsan had gone to school together, and Sip was a bit of a character, and it was fun to see the camaraderie between the two of them. 


Faces on the temple towers at Bayon
 
Carvings on the walls of Bayon
 
At times, the temples were quite crowded with tourists
 

 


Courtyard of Angkor Wat
 
Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu Temple,
but gradually transformed to Buddhist by the end of the
12th century.
 
The two of us at Angkor Wat

After our second day of temple touring, we had an evening flight to Bangkok.  Fortunately, our hotel gave us a room so that we could shower before our flight because it was another very hot and sweaty day.  Kimsan drove us to the airport in his tuk-tuk, and we bid farewell to him.  We really liked the Cambodian people. 


Kimsan with his tuk-tuk

 
 
Rich with our tour guide Sip

We saw a few small groups of men playing music at the temples and in town.
They were significantly disabled by land mine explosions and unable to
work in traditional jobs, so played for donations to support themselves.
 

Thailand (March 17 to 29).  Next stop on our Southeast Asia tour was Thailand.  The two of us took a late evening flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok, arriving shortly before 11 pm.  The good thing about arriving in Bangkok late at night is that there's not much traffic, and our taxi driver whisked us to our hotel, flying through the streets at speeds reaching 80 mph (130 kph) - yikes!  We checked into Hotel de Bangkok, which is a budget hotel, but it was clean and comfortable, with easy access to public transportation (airport train and sky train).  It's located on a small side street off a major thoroughfare, and whenever we got back to our hotel after a day in the busy and hectic city, we felt like we had reached an oasis.

Thailand managed to avoid the severe political instability and bloodshed that its neighbors experienced, however, the country has gone through some changes in government.  Historically, Thailand was a monarchy, however in 1932, there was a "democratic revolution" and the country became a constitutional monarchy with a prime minister as head of the government.  The past decade has seen upheaval in Thailand's government, with a military coup in 2006, a return to civilian rule in 2007 and another military coup in 2014.  Thailand is currently under the rule of the military organization call National Council for Peace and Order. 

Despite being surrounded by colonized countries, Thailand somehow also evaded European invasion.  France had colonized Laos and Cambodia on Thailand's northeastern border; and Great Britain had colonized southern Burma on Thailand's western border, and Malaysia on its southern border.  France had its sights set on taking over Siam (as Thailand was called at that time), and Siam's leaders enlisted the aid of Great Britain, convincing them that it would be in their best interest to keep Siam independent to serve as a "buffer" state.  In 1896, British and French diplomats met in Paris for formal talks, and they signed a treaty agreeing to support the independence of Siam.  Siam was able to keep most of its land territories; however it was required to give up some areas which were occupied by Khmer, Malay or Lao people. 

 

Bangkok (March 17 to 21).  Bangkok is located in south-central Thailand, and sits on the eastern banks of the Chao Praya River.  It is Thailand's capital and largest city with a population of 8 million in Bangkok proper and 14 million in the metropolitan area - slightly smaller than Los Angeles (with 18.7 million in the greater L.A. area).  Bangkok is the second largest city in Southeast Asia behind Jakarta. 

   


Fun Fact:  There are over 8,000 7-Eleven stores in Thailand,
and about half of those are in Bangkok, so one can find a
7-Eleven on almost every street corner.

On our first morning in Bangkok, we were intent on relaxing a bit.  We slept in, had a lazy breakfast, and walked a load of dirty clothes to the laundry lady down the street.  Our friends Camille & John were flying in from Los Angeles, so we just hung out and waited for them.  They arrived mid-day and were ready to hit the ground running.  After our quiet morning, we were feeling refreshed, so ready to go too.  They checked into the hotel, stowed their bags in their room, and we went out for a walk.  There were a few interesting sights just down the street from our hotel, and the next thing we knew, we were in a tuk-tuk headed for the Chao Praya river, where we hopped on a boat and toured the backwater canals of the city.


This four-faced Buddha shrine was just down the street from our hotel
 
One of the canal corners
 
The Grand Palace at night

We spent a couple more days in Bangkok, and the following day, we hit some big sights - the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.  We arrived at the Grand Palace mid-morning, along with about a million other tourists.  The Temple of the Reclining Buddha was thankfully less crowded.  After a late lunch at a street-side cafe, we spent a bit of time sitting on park benches watching all the activity on the river, which was interesting and fun.  That evening, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Baan Arjan Thai Restaurant, which Camille found on TripAdvisor.  The food was reasonably priced, excellent, and the restaurant was a short walk from our hotel - a great find!


The Grand Palace has been the official residence of the King since 1782
 
Traditional Thai Gate Guardian
 
Beautiful murals in the Grand Palace complex

 


Wat Pho - Temple of the Reclining Buddha
 
Chinese Gate Guardian
 
Long-tail river boats in Thailand use a car engine for propulsion

On our last day in Bangkok, we visited the house of Jim Thompson, an American businessman who lived in Bangkok and helped revitalize the Thai silk business in the 1950's and 1960's.  We toured the gardens and house, and then stayed for lunch at the cafe, which was an excellent meal.  Afterward, we rode the Sky Train around for a while, just to see some of the city.  The train was crowded, but mostly with locals, and we found them to be quite pleasant and polite - a very different experience from the hordes of tourists we'd been running into.  We ended up at the Chatuchak Weekend Market, which is the largest market in Thailand with over 8000 stalls and vendors.  Again, it was mostly locals here, and there was an incredible variety of goods for sale. 


Jim Thompson's traditional teak house
 
Unwinding silk filaments from silkworm cocoons
 
Food vendor at Chatuchak Market

Hua Hin (March 21 to 24).  Hua Hin sits on the shores of the Gulf of Thailand about 125 miles (200 km) south of Bangkok.  It's a favorite weekend getaway spot for Bangkok residents, so our timing was good since we arrived on a Monday.  It took us four hours to travel to Hua Hin from Bangkok in a minivan with a driver who spent most of the trip texting on his phone - we somehow got there safely.  We checked into the Korawan Garden Eco Resort, which was a very charming place, and we were looking forward to a dip in their swimming pool, but it was so hot outside that the pool was the temperature of warm bath.  That evening, we went to the night market and enjoyed some local street food.  Jan tried "squid on a stick", and Rich had some pork skewers, but the highlight was a trip to the Swendsen's Ice Cream Parlor across the street from the market.  Sundaes at Swendsen's in Thailand were inexpensive, and ice cream was a nice treat in the hot climate there. 

The following day, we went on an excursion to the Kui Buri National Park, which is one of the parks in Thailand where one can see wild elephants.  The countryside on the way to and inside the park was quite parched - the effect of the very hot and dry weather that Thailand and all of southeast Asia were experiencing this year.  When we arrived at the park, the local guides piled us into the back of a pickup truck, and we went off in search of elephants.  We didn't see herds of elephants on our short safari, but we did see three, so we considered it a successful excursion. 


Waiting for the elephants to show up at with friends Camille & John at
Kui Buri National Park
 
These guys were pretty far away
 
But this one was quite close
 

By now, Pat & Carrie had also made their way to Hua Hin and joined us for some fun.  We met the next morning for a visit to Monkey Beach and a climb up to the Buddhist temple on Chopstick Hill at the south end of the Hua Hin beach.  That afternoon, the six of us were scheduled for a cooking class at the Hua Hin Thai Cooking Academy.  Our instructor Ya, was enthusiastic, fun and an excellent teacher, and all of us had a great day.  Ya took us shopping for ingredients at the local market, and we used them to make Massaman Curry paste from scratch (a lot of work) and then Massaman Curry chicken.  We also made stir fried veggies with oyster sauce and satay chicken.  For dessert, we had coconut sticky rice with mango, which was to die for!  We all went home with overfull bellies that evening.  The cooking school was a highlight of our trip.


View of Hua Hin from Chopstick Hill -
the air was not clear due to some inland fires
 
A very tall Buddha at the base of Chopstick Hill
 
Monkeys at play on the beach
 

 


Shopping at the local market
 
A rare sight - Rich cooking!
 
Ya and her class of pupils

 

The next morning, we said our good-byes to Nat and "Auntie" who were our hosts at the Korawan Garden Eco Resort.  We had enjoyed our time here, and they were wonderful hosts.  Pat & Carrie spent another day in Hua Hin, but Camille & John and the two of us headed off to Kaeng Krachan National Park

 

Samarn Bird Camp / Kaeng Krachan National Park (March 24 - 25)Samarn Bird Camp is a basic but comfortable hotel which sits just outside the gates of the Kaeng Krachan National Park.  Kaeng Krachan is Thailand's largest national park, and is billed as one of it's premier bird-watching locations.  March is supposed to be a good time to visit here, but due to drought conditions, this year was not optimal.  There are normally a couple of nice waterfalls in this park, but for the most part they were dried up.  However, we came here to see some birds and other wildlife, and that's what we did.  The Bird Camp had a little watering hole and a hide from which we did some bird-watching, and we also went for a full-day excursion in the park with Vishnu (Mr. Samarn's nephew).  Vishnu got us going early in the morning - 6:30 am - starting our day at the Panoenthung scenic view point.  Vishnu's enthusiasm was contagious, and his ability to spot birds and other wildlife was excellent.  In addition to the birds, we also saw some dusky langgur monkeys, including a mother and baby.  Although the birdlife wasn't as prolific as we had hoped, we saw a good variety due to Vishnu's spotting skills.

   


Nat & Auntie at the Korawan Garden Eco Resort

 


Camille & John with our guide Vishnu
 
Black-crested bulbuls
 
 
Mum & baby dusky langgur monkeys

Phetchaburi (March 26).  From Kaeng Krachan, we were heading to a town called Phetchaburi, and Vishnu offered to drop us there on his way to Bangkok.  Pat & Carrie were waiting for us in Phetchaburi, and since we had only one day here, we immediately headed out to see the Khoa Luang Cave Temple and Khoa Wang (Palace Hill).  There were lots of monkeys at Palace Hill, and they were quite smart and aggressive.  If you were drinking a bottle of water, they weren't interested, but if you had a bottle of soda or sweet tea, you had to guard it with your life!  After touring the sights, we enjoyed drinks and dinner at the Riverside Inn and watched large monitor lizards swimming in the river - they were about the size of small crocodiles.  In Phetchaburi, we stayed at the White Monkey Guesthouse, which was quite comfortable, and their breakfast (included in the room rate) was excellent. 


Khoa Luang Cave Temple
 
Bridge over the Petchaburi River
 
Palace Hill

The next stop on our tour of Thailand was Ayutthaya, which is located 50 miles (80 km) north of Bangkok.  Phetchaburi is about 80 miles (130 km) south of Bangkok, so we took a minibus to Bangkok's Victory Monument and changed to another minibus which took us to Ayutthaya.  The trip from Phetchaburi to Bangkok went smoothly, despite a short rain shower as we were arriving in Bangkok.  The rain stopped by the time we got to Victory Monument, however, as we were making our way across a pedestrian bridge to our minibus to Ayutthaya, the heavens opened up, and everyone scurried for cover.  We finally found our next minibus, and we were literally shoved and wedged into the last few available seats.  We had significant rainfall on the way from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, and there were numerous accidents on the highway, so we were quite happy to arrive safely at our destination.

Ayutthaya (March 27 - 28).  In Ayutthaya, we checked into the Baan Tebpitak Guesthouse, and were welcomed by the proprietress Rita.  The hotel was a beautiful traditional Thai building, and it had been in Rita's family for many years.  The hotel also had a pool, which offered welcome relief from the heat.  Despite all the rain we had on the road from Bangkok, none of it had fallen in Ayutthaya. 

Ayutthaya is an island situated at the confluence of three rivers, the Pa Sak River, the Lopburi River, and the Chao Phraya River, which runs all the way to Bangkok.  Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam from 1350 to 1767, and it has many old temples and ruins.  On the day we arrived, we walked to Wat Mahathat situated in the Ayutthaya Historical Park, but given the heat, we decided to take a boat tour the next day.  The boat tour circumnavigated the island, stopping at an elephant camp and several temples along the way.  The breeze on the boat was much appreciated as we traveled between temples.   


Wat Chaiwatthanaram

 
 
Buddha head entwined in tree roots at Wat Mahathat
 
Although it was sad to see these elephants chained,
this elephant kraal is helping to preserve the species in Thailand
with a successful breeding program

 


Most of the Buddha statues in Ayutthaya were beheaded
by the Burmese when they attacked Siam in 1767
 
Tug pulling a barge on the Chao Phraya River
 
Huge golden Buddha statue in the Chinese temple,
Wat Phra Nun Choeng

 

In the evenings, we walked to the local night market and ate street food for dinner.  There was lots of variety, and we weren't always sure what we were eating, but we found some especially tasty chicken wings, and Jan was quite happy when she found coconut sticky rice with fresh mango.  The mangoes here were unbelievably sweet!

Ayutthaya was the final stop on our Thailand tour, and from here, our small group was splitting up and venturing off in different directions.  Camille & John were heading to Phuket in southern Thailand to scuba dive and enjoy some beach time.  Pat & Carrie were spending a couple more days in Ayutthaya before heading off to see a bit of northern Thailand.  And we were flying "home" to Malaysia, stopping off in Melaka for a couple of days before heading to Slip Away in Port Dickson.   

Camille & John and the two of us had flights scheduled out of Bangkok mid-day, and rather than deal with another minibus for the trip to the airport, the four of us hired a taxi.  We said good-bye to Pat & Carrie in Ayutthaya, then to Camille & John at the airport.  We'd had an excellent adventure traveling with our friends in these foreign lands.

   


At the night market in Ayutthaya

 

Melaka, Malaysia (March 29 - April 1).  From Bangkok, the two of us flew to Kuala Lumpur (aka "KL"), and from there, we would catch a bus to Melaka.  The Customs and Immigration clearance process at the KL airport was efficient, and our checked bags were delivered quickly.  We landed at 3:15 pm and had time to buy a ticket and catch the bus to Melaka at 4:15 pm.  Sweet!  On the way to Melaka, Jan called our hotel (Hotel Hong), and they told us they'd pick us up at the Melaka Sentral bus station.  When we arrived at the bus station, we called again, and they told us they would meet us at the McDonald's in the bus station in about 30 minutes.  It was about 6:30 p.m., and we'd been eating a lot of rice and noodles over the past several weeks, so dinner at McDonald's sounded pretty good.  We ordered, sat down and dug into burgers and fries. 

Just as we were finishing, our ride showed up.  Perfect!  In addition to the two of us, the hotel driver picked up three young Chinese ladies who had come from KL on the same bus as us.  These young women were teaching Chinese in Brunei (a small country on the island of Borneo).  School was on holiday that week, so they were traveling.   

The Chinese ladies had not eaten dinner, and on the way to the hotel, the driver wanted to drop them off at a restaurant that served food "only found in Melaka."  He told us that we would enjoy it too, but since we had just eaten at McDonald's, we weren't all that hungry.  In any event, we went along - fortunately, it was one of those places where you pick out some skewers of meats and vegetables and cook them in a hot pot (this one filled with a spicy chili sauce), so we ate just a few veggie skewers and enjoyed a beer and conversation with the teachers.  The oldest of the three had lived in London, and her English was quite good and she was quite chatty.  The other two were quieter, but we think that was because they were less confident in their English.  However, as we parted ways, one of them said to Jan "You have beautiful eyes."  It occurred to us that they may never before have seen blue eyes!

   


The Chinese teachers on holiday in Melaka

Melaka (also spelled Malacca) was one of the most important seaports in Southeast Asia in the 1400's due to its location - half-way between China and India, with easy access to the Spice Islands of Indonesia.  Melaka was founded by the Sumatran-born Hindu prince Parameswara when Siam attacked and chased him out of Temasek (modern-day Singapore) in 1398 due to his piracy exploits.  Seeking protection from Siam, Parameswara established relations with China.  In 1405, the Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho arrived in Melaka, and Chinese settlers followed shortly thereafter.  By the time of Parameswara's death in 1414, Melaka was a powerful shipping port.  The Portuguese attacked and captured Melaka in 1511, and then the Dutch took over from 1641 to 1798.  In 1824, the Dutch ceded Melaka to the British in exchange for the port of Bencoolen on Sumatra.

We spent a couple of days sightseeing in Melaka.  Our first stop was the Baba-Nyonya Heritage Museum.  When the Chinese settlers arrived in the 1400's, they intermarried with the local Malays and came to be known as the Baba-Nyonya (also Straits Chinese or Peranakan).  The museum is set up in a traditional house, and our tour guide Emily kept us interested and entertained.  We also spent several hours exploring the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum.  Admiral Cheng Ho was a Chinese eunuch sea captain who led significant sea expeditions.  The explorations of Cheng Ho's fleets are the subject of the book 1421 by Gavin Menzies.  We also joined a free walking tour of the colonial historical area and spent some time in the Maritime Museum.  We found cold beers in the evening at a riverside cafe and tried some new local foods - the Famoso chicken rice balls were our favorite! 


Brightly painted buildings along the Melaka River
 
Statue of Admiral Cheng Ho
 
Model of Cheng Ho's fleet of boats which sailed from China in the 1400's

 


Remnants of the Dutch Fort
 
Our tour guide Zamzam
 
Tuk-tuks in Melaka were elaborately decorated

While in Melaka, we were especially savoring our air-conditioned hotel room.  The heat had really ratcheted up in the past month.  Southeast Asia normally has a hot climate, but this year's El Nio made it hotter than normal.  Even the locals were complaining about how hot it was, and Malaysia had shut down their schools a few times over the past weeks due to the heat. 

Slip Away was waiting for us in Port Dickson, and it was time to head home to her.  Port Dickson wasn't far away - only 50 miles (80 km) up the coast, but there was no direct bus, and we didn't really want to spend USD $50 on cab fare, so we made a day of it.  We took the bus to Seremban (about an hour and 15 minutes), then another bus to Port Dickson (another 40 minutes) - total cost was about USD $6.  We grabbed some lunch in town and then caught a taxi to the marina.  We could have taken another bus, but decided we were willing to splurge on the USD $3.50 taxi ride, which would drop us right at our door. 

Our month of meandering on land had come to an end.  We visited four countries in the past month, two of which were new ones for us, and had a great time traveling with our friends.  What a wonderful opportunity to experience these cultures and learn a bit more about the very interesting history of this region.