A Travellerspoint blog

Istanbul

sunny 28 °C

Spent our fist day in Istanbul down by the port looking over the glistening water, then eating and drinking over a long lunch atone of the many rooftop terraces over looking to Marmaras ocean and the blue mosque. What a cool place Istanbul is. So picturesque, everything is walking distance from the old area and the people are friendly. Stayed at the sultanahmet kings palace hotel which was small but clean with a great breakfast. They had 12 different types of cheeses, 6 kinds of luncheon, fresh breads, olives, fruit. Delicious and looked out onto the sea. So relaxing.

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The whole vibe of Istanbul felt chilled out and even though we were there during Ramadan you couldn't tell. There was eating and drinking in the street and restaurants were busy. Locals were happy to show us around although sometimes would get a little sleazy. For those who like shopping, Istanbul is a must see there are hand made rugs for sale, hand painted tiles and wall hangings, vases bowls, you name it. Some are glazed with quartz which are more expensive but there are alternatives. Mosaic lamps are also in abundance but my bag would hardly shut before I got there so I only bought 3 tiles, could've easily filled a container though!

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The local drink there is Raki which is very similar to ouzo served with water then ice and extra water and bucket of ice (you'll be needing the water) tastes like aniseed and 2-3 will get you well on the way to dancing/talking sh!t mode. The local who worked at our hotel Yusef took us too a French hostel where a friend of his was working,it was underground and had nargile's (hooka pipes to smoke sheesha) there were heaps of flavours to choose from and all his tobacco was imported from Egypt. First night we selected lemon & mint then second night green apple. Unlike the $25 pipes in australia these ones lasted the whole night and were regularly stoked with fresh hot coals to keep the smoke coming. Cheap too coming in at $15 for a pipe, 2 raki, 1 large water, 1 juice and a glass of red.

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Fish is caught and sold along the waterfront at the restaurants, you can pick your fish from the markets out the back and they'll cook it for you. All meals are served with fresh bread which is free and the green beans seems as though they've been cooked in chopped tomatoes, mmm. Kebaps are small and inside is meat, small amount of lettuce and French fries. Really cheap and good for lunch.

The grand bazaar is huge, selling gold, scarves, tiles, souvenirs, leather, anything and everything. I found it too overwhelming and touristy, but still worth a see for the sheer size of the thing, it goes for blocks! The spice market was much more reasonable in size and only a short walk away. They sold spices (go figure) but also Turkish delight like a pick n mix style, cheap too. Pashminas were also on sale for about 5 lira or $3. Good place to stock up for gifts. And as you walk out the other side there you come out by a mosque and you might be lucky enough to catch a call to prayer over the megaphones which was great for reminding us just how far we were away from home. By the nearby bridge there are restaurants along the water too. We stopped for a couple of free Turkish apple teas. Which incidentally apparently the Turks don't even drink, it's for the tourists. Yum though.

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Other stops- blue mosque, not actually blue on the outside but filled with blue mosaics on the inside, just amazing and photos cannot do it justice at all. The museum was also amazing which was a Christian church until it was ruined by earthquakes and rebuilt as a mosque, still has images of Jesus and Mary inside though, but none on the cross obviously as Muslims do not believe this is the way the whole 'Easter thing' went down. There are huge plates with green Arabic calligraphy inside also which are beautiful. Get a guide or iPod though because there's no info inside. Again beautiful mosaics.

Could go on and on, there are cats everywhere in the old part that are cared for by the local restaurant owners who feed and water them and playful kittens running about. My favourite city so far will definitely be back!!!

Posted by Tamarillo 03:03 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

China

Intrepid tour from Beijing to Shanghai

semi-overcast 33 °C

Stayed at the harmony hotel Beijing which was about $50 a night. Was fine, decor a bit outdated but close enough to places of interest and had a grocery store across the street. China was huge, it seemed as though maps go out of date very quickly because of the change and growth. Also places look a lot closer on the maps, whole blocks and streets are often left out so getting around was difficult. Beijing was like america, 3 McDonald visible at all times, fast food everywhere and a real sprawled out feel. The subway was good though, cheap and easy to use.

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Checked out the great wall in Beijing which was far more stair climbing than I anticipated, but well worth it and the scenery and sheer amount of work that went into making and maintaining the wall was breathtaking. Definitely a highlight of the trip and not too crowded. We were lucky enough to have a misty day where the clouds hung over the valley and it wasn't too hot while climbing up. There are also multiple huge shopping malls throughout Beijing. The food is probably the oiliest I have ever tasted. Full of msg and everything just soaked in oil!

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Next stop was xi an via 12 hour bus ride. Was lucky enough to get a soft sleeper during peak season which meant 4 'soft' beds to a room. Bought a few bottles of the local spirit agwatol $4 a sml bottle for the ride and a mystery spirit which is will go into later. Agwatol (spelling?) is about 55% alcohol and is drunk straight, tastes pretty awful and causes extreme thirst in the night. As mentioned earlier I bought a mystery spirit for the supermarket which was brown, just in case the agwatol tasted bad - which it did. I showed the bottle to the group leadr and asked what it was, she started giggling and went red. Apparently I had selected a spirit that was for men (the Chinese believe that if you consume something eg the eye of an animal you will get better eyesight). This spirit was made of herbs and the penises of turtle and deer. Supposed to be like an aphrodisiac of sorts. Tasted like brandy, didn't have much effect on me, perhaps because I'm a woman? also there's a popular place by the river hohai? Or similar worth taking a look at, live music every night and a variety of food, a bit over priced but that's what you get for prime people watching seats and live music. One thing to brace yourself for is the spitting, anywhere and everywhere after a gut drag of phlegm. Also babies don't wear nappies, but instead have slits in the back of their pants, we saw a toddler doing his business (2's not 1's) inside in the train station on the floor - his mother saw and ran off.

Arrived at xi an safely and went straight to the terra cotta warriors which were built 2000 years ago by an emporer who decked when he took the throne at age 14 he would order 100's of slaves to build him an army of terra cotta warriors to protect his tomb. Once he died all the slaves were buried alive because they knew the secret entrace to his tomb. Following this is towns people destroyed the warriors that had taken years to build. Many warriors have been dug up but they have left hundreds in he ground because apparently when they are dug up they have bright colours all over them but are 1-2 days the colour disappears, so until technology can prevent that they will leave the rest underground. I wish I'd spent more time looking at the warriors, they were fascinatingthey all had different facial features and were made so precisely. Some were archers, others had horses and chariots and the whole museum which consists of 3 buildings is under cover. Well worth a visit.

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Next stop Suzhou by 12 hour train, this time got a hard sleeper carriage which I think was cheaper, 6 to a room this time. Suzhou is a cute town, pretty lanterns, a little village and master of nets garden. Nice little stop on the way to shanghai and apparently they have the most beautiful women in all of china.

Shanghai was my favourite city out of the places we visited in china. It was nothing like I'd imagined. Not as sprawing as a Beijing, there were a couple of main streets that were close to the bund which had restaurants and bars across the river and beautiful buildings on both sides. Great views, awesome for photos. Shanghai had a great feel to it, it was lively but had a great mix of old and new buildings that are lit up at night and the town planners had put slot of thought into the skyline which is amaing by night no matter what side of the bund you're on. Easy to get around too, get for drinks by the river, watching the boats go by and a good variety of food.

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Posted by Tamarillo 09:12 Archived in China Comments (0)

Hanoi and Halong Bay

Vietnam

sunny 35 °C

Stayed in the Hanoi view 2 hotel which was cheap $20 a night and brand new inside. Breakfast supplied (although they never got our orders right was always tasty and right outside the door were the markets where they sold whole roasted dog, herbs, meats, donuts etc. Was walking distance to the Chinese embassy so were were able to get our visa for china.

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Were a couple of good places to eat, the r n r bar was a favourite that played lots of led zep, the doors etc and sold Mexican food, fish n chips and burgers when we needed a break from noodles and rice. If you don't eat anywhere else in Hanoi MAKE SURE you eat at Quan An Ngon which is located 18 Phan Boi Chau. T: (04) 3942 8162. There is a restaurant on the way which has a similar name so don't get them mixed up. This place is big and yellow with sails as a roof and brown timber seating. Cheap delicious food and a great atmosphere, plenty to look at while you eat!!

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There's also weasel coffee for sale in Hanoi near the lake in the old district, this is actually made from beans that have been eaten by a cat like creature, pooped out, hand collected, washed and sold. Cant say that I tried any but I heard it mellows the taste. The old centre is by far the most touristy and you'll find the usual street vendors trying to rip you off and feigning that they can't speak English or have no change, all the regular junk for sale. Not as nice as nha trang - no beach. More corrupt and more deaths on the road than saigon. Met a couple of expats living there who said bus drivers can kill 3 people before their license is taken from them and if your motorbike gets stolen the cops will ask how much it's worth and demand half before they start looking for it.

Seemed to have a good nightlife if you're into drinking etc but not much to actually see and do apart from eating, drinking and shopping. Was worth it just to see the whole roasted dog at the stalls outside the hotel though.

Halong Bay was amazing though, we stayed on a small junk with a group of about 15 others from around the world (Christina was the name of the company) boat was surprising comfortable and well decorated inside especially for the price. View was amazing, boat had a sundeck and we just cruised past the islands and visited a huge cave (surprise cave) and a fishing village. So beautiful would highly, highly recommend. At night dinner was served which was all local food and while drinking a couple of cocktails we did a bit of cuttle fishing off the side of he boat - didnt catch anything but was still great fun.
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Surprise at the end of surprise cave ....

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Posted by Tamarillo 08:52 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Nha trang

Vietnam

sunny 34 °C

From Cambodia we caught a 15 hour bus ride back to Saigon then flew to nha trang. The first couple of nights we stayed at the tide hotel which was away from the main tourist centre, nice big rooms some with balconies looking out over the sea for $14 a night, we couldn't get one with a balcony though so went ingot the tourist area to look. We tried to walk but after 2 hours in the sun a guy pulled over and drove us round the tourist area so we knew where to find it then drove us to a restaurant near the beach, I should probably point out here that this guy was on a scooter and there were now three of us on there, Josh was on the back bouncing off the end if the seat on every bump and was freaking out, this guy was driving fast and weaving in and out if traffic, when we got the restaurant we had a few margaritas to calm the nerves. There were kids throwing empty beer bottles over the balcony where they smashed into the rocks and beach. The parents and staff didn't care at all and staff laughed when we kicked up a fuss about it. One thing the vietnamese don't have an issue with is throwing rubbish everywhere. It's in the street, it's on the beach, it's in the waterways. it's in the sea where they fish and swim.

After lunch our driver was outside with some other bloke and even though we'd told him not to wait, there he was. At this point we were feeling a bit tipsy after the margaritas and the guys offered to take us on a tour round town. I said if they went slowly it would be fine, we visited a large orange pagoda where I had to wear a robe type thing to cover my shoulders and legs, then a big white Buddha where students where trying to sell us paintings and then had an angry rant at us when we didn't buy any.

The next day we found the accommodation that held us for a month, it was called ha thu and was down a little alleyway off the main street. The room was huge, took up half the top floor and had a large private balcony, top floor over looking the whole bay, you could even see vinpearl the Asian Disneyland across the bay, lit up at night. For $14 a night we took it! We stayed a month.

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Pho was not as prevalent as in Saigon but there were plenty of good things to eat. The cycle cafe sold amazing vinegar boiled beef, which came out in a terra-cotta pot still boiling, the broth had vinegar, tiny pieces of lemongrass, ginger, beef, stock, shallots, onion, tomato in it and was served with rice paper rolling paper that was soft, lettuce, mint and cucumber. The idea was you put the beef and big bits from the stock into the paper with the veges and herbs. Get it from the Cyclo Cafe Tasted amazing and I had it so many times. Also there's a great texas ribs place if you're feeling like a hit of Western food. DSC00492

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Close to Cyclo Cafe is Lanterns Restaurant that run a great cooking class for just over $20 pp, you get to cook 3 dishes and check out the markets where they get the food from. I sampled some of the local delicacy - duck embryo too.

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There are mudbaths for a short taxi ride nearby too which have mud from 100 metres under the ground and you don't need to share with others. About $45 for 2 people includes a foot rub, mineral showers and mud bath. Rainbow diving offers dive courses from those who just wanna try - it was my first time ever or those who are experienced and want to get their licence for cheap. I'd recommend these guys they were great and all spoke excellent English, we didn't even need to do pool training first. There are heaps of tours offered - we went to Monkey Island - unfortunately there were shows using baby bears that were whipped and I cried and walked off, there's also dog and monkey shows. I did however get to ride an Ostrich (I know this seems very hipper critical, but the ostriches weren't being whipped to do stupid tricks.

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I mentioned we stayed here a month, Nha Trang is awesome only fall down is the litter which is abundant.DSC00484

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Posted by Tamarillo 08:48 Archived in Vietnam Tagged nha trang Comments (0)

Cambodia

Phnom penh and siem reap

semi-overcast 34 °C

We took a boat from Saigon to Cambodia, it took about 6 hours. Had an option for slow or fast we took fast boat which was huge and had an outdoor area at tieback where you could have a beer and play cards. First stop was phnom penh, can't remember our hotel but it was close to the main street but stunk of moth balls! Cambodia is so much poorer than vietnam and you can see it and feel it everywhere. There are kids seling trinkets and bracelets everywhere. They start with '3 for a dollar, then, it's five for a dollar, then 10 for a dollar' and the whole time you're saying I don't want any thanks, then they start wth the 'why nots'. These kids are everywhere, out well are dark, with their parents no where to be seen. They're so cute too, beautiful skin and big brown eyes, its heartbreaking. One night we ended up packaging up our left over curry as there was heaps left. These kids had come in the sell us stuff and they were so young about 2,4,&5 I asked if they were hungry and they said yes. When gave it to them outside, along with a coke and water we bought for them, she yelled to her friends and mum and they all sat in a doorway and demolished the food in seconds. Such an eye opener, we are so lucky back home in new Zealand and Australia. Fishing villages were also really poor and living off $1 a day.

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We also went on a quad bike tour which I can't recommend enough, it was called blazing trails, we took the day one including the killing fields and sunset. They dropped us off at the killing fields first, the first monument was a huge shrine filled with 10,000 odd skulls dug up from the mass graves of pol pot. Then we walked by the graves and as we looked down we realized in the dirt where we stood were fragments of bone and pieces of peoples clothes! Every time it rains mire body parts get washed up, the western education system doesn't even touch this at school and it only happen thirty years ago! They killed people using farm tools and some grabbed babies and children by the legs and swung their heads into a tree to kill them, they were killing hundreds a day in the end and took out a quarter of the population. Now days everyone had a family member that died in the regime, immediate family. The killers were forced to kill by threats that if they didn't their families would get tortured and killed, they would play loud music to drown out the groans from this being killed and a corrosive was poured onto the mass graves to eliminate the smell and kill anyone half buried and still alive. Horrendous....

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Thoughout the bike tour we met the most amazing kids - take some lollies or pencils if youre going out there - they all run out to the gate when they hear the bikes coming to wave and yell 'hello!'

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The genocidde museum was just as confronting, a school transformed into a torture zone where people were locked up in tiny horse carrying like cells and beaten often dying there, or if not being blindfolded and taken to the killing fields by the truckload. There were photos and stories of survivors but also the weapons and photos of the torture devices were still there.

Completely horrifying but necessary, pretty hard to sleep after seeing it.

Siem reap was much less depressing, Ankor Wot is breath taking but my favourite was ta prom a must see! What an amazing place!

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Posted by Tamarillo 07:32 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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