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a southern yankee abroad

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snorkeling

Vietnam: Sleeper Trains and Beautiful Nha Trang

IMG_8132.JPGAfter the miracle of meeting up with my group in time for the train ride to Nha Trang, I had my first overnight sleeper train experience. While it was cold and dirty, it was also a fun experience and somehow the best sleep I’ve gotten in awhile. Maybe I was just so exhausted from a few long nights and then the craziness of trying to find my way alone through Saigon traffic that night, but I crashed hard, despite the conditions on the train. There are only two temperatures on the overnight trains: extreme hot or extreme cold. I had extreme cold for my first ride. Also, I definitely used my sleep sack as the sheets had several sketchy stains. The train brought all 10 members of our group together into a tiny cabin to play games and chat, until we all returned to our 4 person cabins for sleeping. I’d say you really get close to people when you’re together in a sleeper train cabin.

 

I awoke the next morning to the sound of Vietnamese music playing over the loudspeakers and a beautiful view of the Truong Son mountains outside of the train window. Watching the sunrise over the mountains and rice fields as our train barreled through the countryside was a special experience.

Then, we were in Nha Trang! Nha Trang is a beach town in Vietnam that is known as a vacation hotspot for Russians. In fact, almost everything in the town is written in Vietnamese, Russian, or maybe English. There were Russian people everywhere. Upon arrival, we went to the hotel and prepared for a day out on the boat in the East Sea (otherwise known as the South China Sea, but the Vietnamese prefer to call it the East Sea!)

 

The snorkeling was much clearer in Nha Trang than in Sihanoukville. I saw a large variety of beautiful fish, and even two starfish (one blue and one orange). I also saw a larger fish that I thought was a barracuda, but my guide said it was likely a gar. After snorkeling, our guides prepared a huge meal for us on the boat, including spring rolls, rice, noodles, prawn, fish, chicken, green beans, omelets, and baguettes. Then, we headed over to a nearby island to relax on the beach before heading back.

 

Once back, we decided to buy tickets to play on a set of inflatable in the water just off the main beach (only 60,000 dong!) This is the best 60k dong I’ve spent on the trip. The inflatables were a giant floating playground, and I felt like a kid again!


The next day was spent relaxing on the beach and bumming around the town. It was so nice to have an “off” day, as I’ve been traveling now for 17 days and I feel each day has been packed with activities. I was also very sore from climbing on and falling off all the inflatables! Later in the evening, we boarded another train for an 11 hour overnight ride from Nha Trang to Danang. The ride got off to a crazy start when they did not turn on the lights or AC for about 10 minutes after we boarded. I am not one to ever faint, but being on a crowded, hot, dirty sleeper train with stale air brought me close to that point. However, once they got the air on it was freezing cold by the end of the night! Like the first train ride, this once was also cold, dirty, fun, and full of good sleep. I have very mixed feelings about Vietnamese sleeper trains, but I think my overall opinion is that they are useful and good for the adventurous person. The next stop is Hoi An!

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Cambodia: Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville

 

I’ve spent the last few days visiting the Cambodian cities of Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. Here I visited the killing fields and genocide museum (which you can read about here). In the afternoon, I explored the city for a while on my own and ended up visiting the National Museum of Cambodia. It reminded me of the Met in NYC except much smaller and with only Khmer artifacts. There is a beautiful garden in the middle of the museum, where I spent some time reflecting. I also met an older British man here who was visiting Cambodia on “holiday” (what the Brits call vacation…I’m adopting this phrase!) and he ended up giving me some good life advice!

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National Museum of Cambodia

After meeting back up with my group at the hotel pool, we went to happy hour drinks at F.C.C. (Foreign Correspondent’s Club), which is apparently a well-known ex-pat bar. I really liked the neo-colonial vibe here. The bar featured riveting photography documenting the recent history of Cambodia.  Also, the sunset over the Ton Le Sap River was very nice! After cocktails, we went to dinner at Friends, a local restaurant that supports non-profit work in the city (thanks for the recommendation, DJ!) and then on to a rooftop bar with a great view of the city!

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F.C.C, Phnom Penh
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Rooftop, Phnom Penh

The next day, we traveled to Sihanoukville, which is known as a backpacker’s beach town. The vibe here was very chill.IMG_7951

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Otres Beach, Sihanoukville

We spent the first afternoon on Otres Beach, and then took a boat out the next day for snorkeling, swimming, and barbecue on Bamboo Island. While the snorkeling was not as clear as some times I’ve been in Florida and Mexico, it was still very cool to see so many large sea urchins in the crevices of the coral. My favorite part was the boat ride back to Sihanoukville from the island–the water was super choppy and everyone got soaked over and over again!

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Girl picture on Bamboo Island!
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The sticky rice family on Bamboo Island

Alexa’s and my hotel room in Sihanoukville was very…interesting, complete with lizards and an earthworm in the bathroom (I definitely wore my shower shoes) and a door handle that fell off on our last night. Fortunately, the hotel sent a guy to replace the our knob in the middle of the night…quite the adventure.

Now, it is off to Vietnam with the first stop being the Mekong Delta. Cambodia has been both beautiful and heart-breaking. I would love to return to this country at some point in the future. It has definitely made an impression on me.   

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Adventures in Sihanoukville!

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