John and Sheila's return to Vietnam
November 2000.

Sunday 29th October. We got off to an exciting start when the pilot of the plane out of Heathrow, a Boeing 777, took off a bit too steeply and scraped the tail down the runway. We didn't hear anything but apparently the people at the back did. So then we had to circle over Southend a few times jettisoning 50 tons of fuel before landing back at Heathrow, to be met at the end of the runway by a fleet of fire engines. However, there was apparently no damage and so three hours later we were ready to depart again, but this time the British weather had stepped in to thwart us - a storm had blown up and the wind speed exceeded the limit for a 777 to take off so we were grounded.

Five hours later we got away on a different flight (while our luggage remained locked in the first plane which is coming tomorrow) and arrived in Dubai where our connecting flight had long gone.

Mon 30th. Dubai.  The impressive new terminal building at Dubai airport which opened this year is a huge, six-storey, kilometre-long tube and the top two floors are a hotel built into the complex. They gave us a room in the hotel and assorted food vouchers to wait for the next flight to Bangkok and Sheila was in heaven - a hotel with a basement full of duty free shops!

Tue 31st. Bangkok.  We left for Bangkok at 3 am, now a day late but having enjoyed our leisure at the 'Dubai Airport Resort'. We are assured that the baggage has caught up with us and been transferred to our flight. We shall see!.

Arriving at Bangkok at midday the bags did indeed catch us up as promised and we checked into the Royal Benja Hotel where we stayed last year. It was still very good value, but not looking quite as shiny new as before - things age fast in the tropics! We set the afternoon aside for arranging things but in fact it took all of 15 minutes at TTS, the travel agent we used before, to book our train ticket to Nong Khai, the border town for Laos (2-berth sleeper 1077 Baht (£18) each). At leisure, we went for a ride on the new 'Skytrain' overhead metro, then had a coffee at Starbucks and an ice cream at Haagen Dazs. Not particularly oriental, but we'll start the real sightseeing in Laos.

Wed 1st November. Breakfast at the Benja was still a large buffet, but not as wide a range of choices as last year. It's always a mistake to go back to the same place. We had a lazy day, getting the Skytrain to the river front then walking up to the Oriental Hotel. Afternoon tea was a bit outside our price range so we had another ice cream at Hagen Dazs. We walked along the shops on Sukhumvit Road back to the hotel to pick up the bags and got a taxi to the Central Railway Station for 80 baht. (60 baht = UK£1, 40 baht = US$1).

After buying some essentials (bug spray and a bottle of water) at the little supermarket we had a tea at Coffeebucks and found our way to the platform for the 8:30pm train to Nong Khai. All the passengers were there, sitting on the platform surrounded by their baggage, but no sign of the train. It eventually arrived at 9:30 and left about 10:30. As soon as we had installed ourselves in our cosy sleeping compartment we headed for the restaurant car and had a couple of bottles of ice-cold beer, accompanied by some very tasty chicken & cashew nuts, sweet & sour chicken and fried rice. There was in fact a comprehensive printed food menu but it soon transpired that these were the only dishes available!

Thurs 2nd. Laos.  After a cosy night dozing to the clickety clack of the train we awoke to bright sunshine and the vivid green Thai countryside passing by our window. We finally arrived in Nong Khai two hours late and were promptly besieged by tuk-tuk drivers wanting to take us to the immigration office at the Mekong bridge, which we agreed for 50 baht (probably far too much because it's only about half a mile from the train station). After Thai emigration we got the minibus across the bridge to Lao immigration where they issued a visa for US$30 (about the same price as at the embassy) with no hassle. After that there are various choices of transport into Vientiane, from luxury aircon taxi at 300 baht through an old rattletrap (our choice) for 150 baht to a shared tuk-tuk for about 30 baht each.

When we got to Vientiane just after midday it was closed for lunch! For a capital city it's a very quiet, dusty, laid-back place. We eventually found a travel agent open and discovered that there's a 4pm flight to Luang Phabang, the picturesque former capital in the mountains, so we booked it, had a slap-up lunch and Kir vin blanc at a steak house nearby then got a tuk-tuk out to the airport for 10,000 Lao kip (UK£1 or US$1.50). They had warned us to check in two hours ahead but we didn't take it seriously, but when we got there at 2:30 they were taking down the check-in notice and driving away with the baggage! We managed to get someone to come back and check us in, and soon after we got to the departure lounge the flight boarded and we took off, nearly an hour early!

We arrived at Luang Phabang airport and for a moment it looked like there were no hotel touts there and we might not find anywhere to stay. However, we were soon captured by the man from the Chitlatda Guest House, a clean, new place centrally located near the market. We had a twin room with a little balcony and ensuite bathroom for $10 a night.

We went for an evening stroll round the town and watched the sun go down over the Mekong river, then had a very good meal at the Khem Kam food garden, on a balcony overlooking the Nam Khan, the other river that encircles Luang Phabang.

Fri 3rd. A pleasant day at leisure in Luang Phabang, walking around looking at colourful temples and fishing boats on the river.

We tried to arrange for a fast boat down the Mekong back to Vientiane but it costs £300 for the boat, which takes six people, and we couldn't find four more people wanting to go so it was rather too expensive.  We had an excellent but pricey dinner at Villa Santi, complete with Lao dance show and Gamelan orchestra.

Sat 4th. Up early for the bus to Vientiane, a 400-kilometre trip for £5 ($7.50) each. The bus was full, with people sitting on little plastic stools down the aisle, and all the luggage including a couple of motorbikes was strapped to the roof.

It was overcast and misty at first, but as we climbed higher into the mountains we went right through the clouds until they looked like a sea of foam in the valley below.

The first three-quarters of the way was through spectacular mountains with jagged peaks where little villages clung to the top of precipitous slopes as we roared past in the bus - at least, we roared if it was downhill, we struggled slowly past if it was uphill. We had a quick lunch stop for stir-fry vegetables and boiled eggs and apart from a couple of road works and a broken down lorry blocking the road there were few hold-ups and we got to Vientiane about 6pm.

We stayed at the very pleasant Houan Lao Guest House near the Si Muang temple on the eastern edge of town and had another excellent meal (and more Kirs) at L'Opera Italian restaurant opposite the fountain in the centre of town.

Sun 5th. Up even earlier for the bus to Savannaket. For a longer trip than yesterday, on a more modern, comfortable bus, it cost half the price, £2.50 each. The bus was only half full and we set off at a gentle pace, picking up people here and there along the way. The scenery was very different from yesterday, mostly flat with scattered villages and rice paddies, but it was comfortable and we dozed and watched the world go by the window. There was no lunch stop so we had a half-melted bar of Galaxy chocolate that we brought from England for just such an eventuality.

We arrived at Savannaket at 3pm, ascertained that the bus to Vietnam would leave at 6am tomorrow, and went by tuk-tuk to the Mekong hotel, a slightly run down old French colonial villa with large, wood-panelled rooms, and checked into the best room in the place with bathroom (with a bath, not shower), fridge, TV and a view of the Mekong river out of the window.

We went for a walk round Savannaket but there wasn't much else to see and no restaurants we fancied, so we sat at an open-air café by the river and watched the sun go down while we had beer and crisps and a corn on the cob from a street stall for dinner.

Mon 6th. Up even earlier again for the 6 o'clock bus to the Vietnamese border town of Lao Bao. What the guide book said should have been an 8-hour trip turned into a 13-hour endurance test. The road was unsurfaced and the bus was packed with local people three to a seat plus their worldly goods and livestock. There were no lunch stops but you could buy local delicacies along the way, such as chicken's head on a stick or rats in a basket (you could choose between rats with their skins on or already skinned). After enjoying their lunch the local ladies lit up their pipes for a smoke. We survived on bananas and water.

Arriving at Lao Bao two hours after sunset it was no surprise that the border was closed until next morning, so we went to the one and only guest house in town and stayed in a simple room with a bed, a chair and a fan for £1.50. The place was also the only restaurant in town and the fried rice and vegetables for 60p was very tasty.

Tue 7th. Vietnam.  We slept quite well, only waking occasionally to hear the pitter patter of the mice (or rats?) across the linoleum and the scuffle of the cockroaches in the waste bin. We were actually quite cosy inside the mosquito net, which would repel all but a determined attack, and I was glad I always close all cases and bags out of habit, so nothing was lurking inside in the morning.

The motorbike 'taxi' to the border (2 km) should have been 3000 kip (30 pence) each but of course when we got there they demanded 5000. Going through into Vietnam was straightforward, then we had to pay another $2.50 each for another motorbike taxi to the bus station (5 km).

There the hassles began. The unpleasant man who seemed to be in charge of fleecing tourists demanded $20 each for the trip to Hue, a similar length of journey to yesterday's which would cost a tenth of the price in Laos. Another man said we could go on his bus for $15 but an hour later when the bus was about to leave, he had disappeared and the first man came back demanding $20. We eventually paid $17 each and the bus set off. Five minutes down the road we stopped and loaded masses of contraband drinks and cigarettes into the bus, which were hidden in cavities under the floor and in the roof. A couple of ladies looking like Michelin men got on, and we realised that they had dozens of packs of 200 cigarettes strapped round their trunks and down their arms and legs. At a police checkpoint further down the road the police got on and walked down the bus, but they were either very stupid or suitably rewarded, because they saw nothing and said nothing. But it was not plain sailing for the padded ladies - at one point an angry woman stopped the bus, got on and started arguing violently with one of the women and pulling the hidden cigarettes from under her clothes. Finding that they were securely strapped on, she got out a wicked-looking knife and started cutting away the binding and the clothes around it. All the time the women were shouting violently at each other and the cigarette-carrier only gave in when the other woman threatened her with the knife. We watched in amazement from two seats away. After taking about half the padded woman's hoard the knife woman left the bus angrily and we continued on our way.

The next part of the entertainment was when a drunk who could hardly stand got on the bus. He couldn't make it to a seat so he ended up sprawled down the aisle. From time to time he would drag himself to a sitting position and lean on someone's legs, until they moved nervously away and he sprawled down again. Eventually he was helped off the bus and met by a woman who seemed less than pleased to see him.

Our amusement diminished, however, when we became the victims of a scam that has obviously been used before. All the buses from the Laos border go to Dong Ah, the first town on the main Hanoi-Saigon road, and terminate there. We had paid to go all the way to Hue, another 60 km, so they hustled us onto motorbikes and said they'd take us to the Hue bus. In fact they took us out of town and tried to drop us by the side of the road where they said the bus would stop, but we refused to get off the bikes. When one of the drivers flagged down a passing bus a big flap broke out because we made it clear that we weren't going to pay anybody any more money. Eventually the bus driver said get on, he'd take us to Hue for free, but it was obvious he was just doing it as a favour and the crook at the border basically got away with it. We started off down the road fuming that we had been fooled, but by the time we arrived in Hue the bus driver's generosity, the sunshine and the fact that we had arrived at last completely cheered us up.
   The Citadel in Hue.

When we left Hue a year ago after the big flood it was still grey, muddy and damaged. Today it was bright and bustling and even this year's slight floods had left no mark. We had lunch at the group of cafés that had been the first to open after the flood. When we explained that we'd been here at that time they were so pleased that we came back that they gave us a cake! We went back to the Thai Binh hotel where we had been marooned for five days and found that it had tripled in size - they've built a huge extension beside the old hotel. Even so it was full up, but the lady at reception recognised us because Sheila was wearing the same outfit as last year! She arranged a good room for us at the nearby Vong Canh hotel and after we checked in we went back to see Minh and Thu, the brother and sister who ran the motorbike tour of Hue that we went on in the pouring rain last time. Their single-storey shack had been flooded to the ceiling the next day. They recognised us straight away and were really pleased that we'd come back to see them. Half of the shack is now a brand new café (with a raised floor in case of floods!) and they seem to be prospering.

After a one-hour cyclo ride round town in the late afternoon we made our final call, to the Omar Khayyam Indian restaurant we had been to the night before the flood. It was so good then that we said we'd go back the next day, and a year later we finally made it! It was still just as good.

Wed 8th. Our fifth bus ride in a row was absolute luxury compared to the rest. The Sinh Café started as a café in Saigon who arranged tours for tourists, now they are almost the national travel agency. They do an 'open bus ticket' between the main tourist spots that you buy in advance and just confirm the day before you travel. We bought Hue - Hoi An - Nha Trang - Dalat - Saigon for $20 each and set off at 8am for Hoi An on the big, comfortable, air-conditioned coach. They even do a bit of a tour on the way and we stopped to look at the South China Sea at Lang Co beach, a photo opportunity at the top of the Hai Van pass and half an hour at the Marble Mountain south of Da Nang. The mountain really is made of marble and you can climb (or scramble) through a cave, out through a small hole at the top and up to the top of the mountain for a great view. There is a Chinese-style temple and pagoda half way up to provide an excuse to catch your breath as you take photos.

We arrived in Hoi An at 2pm and were met at the bus by a man from the Vinh Hung 2 hotel that the lady from the Thai Binh in Hue had booked for us. Vinh Hung 2 is a big new hotel with a swimming pool, and they gave us the best room in the place for a very good price because we're friends of the lady in Hue!

Sheila had a nap while I went for a walk round Hoi An and it is a wonderful place. It was one of the early international ports - it is mentioned in Persian and Arab documents of the 10th century, was used by Chinese merchants from the 15th century and by Dutch and Portuguese traders from the 17th century. Then a hundred years ago the river silted up and it became frozen in time. It was almost completely ignored in all Vietnam's recent wars so parts of it have not changed for centuries - it is packed with old merchants' houses with huge wooden beams and pillars, and Chinese style temples. The river is full of wooden boats and at one end is a teeming market where small boats bring in fish and women in conical hats splash out to meet them and try to grab a big dish full of the small silvery fish. The overall effect is tremendously atmospheric and picturesque, and although it is inevitably a bit touristy, I loved it. Walking round, as the book says, with a bit of imagination you really have the feeling that you've been transported back a couple of centuries.

   The creek in Hoi An.

   Unloading fish at the market in Hoi An.

  A Chinese temple in Hoi An.

In the evening we wandered round the streets, lit by Chinese lanterns hanging from the shops. For 10,000 dong (50p) each we were shown round the oldest house in town, the 300-year old house at 77 Tran Phu street. The carving on the dark woodwork of the walls and beams was very impressive and the whole effect quite timeless.

Most of the restaurants offer what appears to us to be a similar menu so we plumped for a café overlooking the river and had a very good dinner of spring rolls, sizzling beef on a hot plate and chicken and baby corn.

Thurs 9th. We had a pleasant day strolling around old Hoi An town, along the waterfront, through the market and down the street of old French colonial houses. Sheila had a massage and a leg wax but she said the massage was more like GBH than relaxation. We wandered through the Vietnamese town on the other side of the creek and had an hour's boat ride gently paddling up and down the river. After a couple of beers in one of the waterfront cafés we had an Indian meal at the Hoi An branch of Omar Khayyam and it was just as good as the one in Hue.

  Pigs in a basket, Hoi An style.

  Riverboat at Hoi An.

Fri 10th. In the morning we went on a minibus to the Cham temple ruins at My Son. They were built at the same time as the Khmer temples at Angkor and the site was occupied for a thousand years. The Chams built in brick, rather than the stone the Khmers used, and although they are interesting the Cham ruins are not nearly as large and impressive as Angkor. The site is in the middle of a picturesque valley surrounded by mountains and it's definitely worth seeing.

   A Cham tower at My Son ruins.

In the afternoon we met our friends Richard and Fearon from Canada who were also travelling in Vietnam. We first met two years ago in Bamako in Mali and have kept in touch. When we both decided to visit Vietnam this year we loosely arranged to meet up and our paths crossed in Hoi An. We spent the afternoon drinking beer and chatting and the evening drinking beer, chatting and having dinner at the excellent Vinh Hung restaurant, part of the same group as the hotel we're staying in.

So far we have had sunshine almost all the time, but today it clouded over and in the evening started to pour with rain. In the middle of the night it was still pouring down and the electricity went off. This does not look good!

Sat 11th. Because the Vinh Hung 2 hotel was full we had to move to the Vinh Hung 1, which is a lovely old hotel in a former merchant's house right in the middle of the old town. The rooms are panelled and the furniture is all traditional style. We had a large room with a four poster bed and a view of the rooftops of Hoi An old town.

We met Richard and Fearon for a drink on the balcony of the Tam Tam café then had lunch at the Dong Phuong overlooking the waterfront. It was still raining hard and it was very atmospheric sitting in the café, open at the front and sides, watching the rain beat across the river and the boats.

Sheila and Fearon spent some time browsing in the silk shops and then we went to see two of the restored merchants' houses in the town, Tan Ky's house and Phung Hung's house. They are both over 200 years old, both apparently still occupied (and owned?) by descendants of the families that founded them and are both lovely structures with huge dark Jackwood pillars resting on marble bases (to avoid rot), heavily beamed roofs and lots of interior carving and decoration. In both of them there were flood marks well above head height from last year's big flood.

After a drink on the balcony of Treats café we went for an excellent dinner at Tranh Thanh restaurant just down the street. Amongst other dishes we had peppery beef and pork strips cooked on a little barbecue by the table, which were delicious.

Sun 12th. We were going to go on a cycling tour round the countryside but it's still pouring down so once again that's been postponed. Instead we had another relaxing day strolling round town with Richard and Fearon between the showers, eating and drinking in cafés and (in Sheila's case) shopping for lots of ridiculously cheap silk clothes (why would anyone want five pairs of silk pyjamas, I wonder?).

In the evening after drinks at a couple of cafés with Richard & Fearon and John & Lori from Australia, we went back to the café on the corner overlooking the waterfront but the meal was not as tasty as last night's.

Mon 13th. Up early for the bus to Nha Trang. It is still raining so we've abandoned the idea of the cycling tour and decided to move on. Richard and Fearon are travelling with a different bus company but they were told their bus was 'not working' today (or maybe there aren't enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile) so they bought another ticket on ours. For most of the way the scenery was mile after mile of flooded rice paddies. One farmer was struggling through knee-deep mud with a buffalo-drawn plough, while wearing a plastic mac to keep the rain off!

It's a long 12-hour journey so we just checked into the hotel and walked across the road to the beachfront Coconut Café for a very good meal.

Tues 14th. Day sightseeing in Nha Trang. We got a taxi with Richard and Fearon to the Po Hagar Cham towers on the other side of the river and found that they are better restored than the ones at My Son near Hoi An. We walked back across the bridge looking at the fishing fleet moored up below, then found a footbridge across to a restaurant in a park on an island where we had lunch of grilled tiger prawns as we sat overlooking the river. Before they cooked the prawns the waiter brought them out to show us and they were so fresh, in fact frisky, that they kept jumping out of the basket onto the ground.

   Po Hagar Cham towers, Nha Trang.

   Fishing harbour, Nha Trang.

In the afternoon Sheila and I went for a short tour round town in cyclos, stopping at the Long Son Chinese pagoda, and finishing at the beach. We walked back along the beach to the Coconut Café where we met Richard & Fearon and had our first course of dinner - deep fried prawns. For our second course we went to the Tandoori restaurant on Tran Hung Dao Street. It was all delicious.

Wed 15th. Bus to Dalat, stopping on the way at the Po Klong Garai Cham towers perched on the top of a small hill, probably the best-restored Cham towers we've seen. 

Soon afterwards we stopped again for lunch at a totally disorganised restaurant, so the whole journey took about 7 hours whereas a swift dash would have done it in 3 or 4. The last part up into the mountains was picturesque and noticeably cooler.

We checked into the clean, modern Hai Son hotel which is very good value and located right in the centre of town opposite the market. We wandered round the market which is huge and varied and extremely interesting.
  In Dalat central market.

Then we were entertained by Richard and Fearon to a glass of very acceptable Dalat red wine and some Camembert cheese that Richard had found in a shop nearby, before going for a very nice, up-market meal at the Lyla Hotel restaurant. The prices are quite high and as we were standing outside considering the menu the lady maitre d' offered us a special 20% discount! How could we refuse?

Thurs 16th. A grey, wet, rainy day but we set out to do some sightseeing anyway. The market was very quiet but we explored all three levels and Sheila had her shoes mended for 50p at a little shoe shop.

We went with Richard and Fearon for a tour by taxi to the former Governor General's residence which is usually open to the public, but today it's closed for a wedding reception. We went on to the summer palace of Bo Dai, the last 'feudal emperor' of Vietnam. The palace is in a nice position on top of a hill surrounded by gardens and it still contains all the furniture and artifacts that were there when Bo Dai abdicated in the 1950s. It is a strange building, though, built in what was presumably the height of style in the 1930s, it seems rather plain and dated now.

Just down the road from there we visited the Hang Nga guesthouse. This is the only hotel I've had to pay an admission fee to enter, but it was worth it: It was designed by the daughter of a former president and the rooms are built in multiple overlapping levels inside artificial tree trunks - each room is a different shape, often on two levels, with unusual-shaped wooden furniture and fireplaces inside large animal statues. There is a small garden with an aviary and little paths amongst statues and huge artificial cobwebs. Prices ranged from about $30 to $70 and it would be a fascinating place to stay.

Finally we went to a more conventional although equally impressive hotel, the Palace (now Sofitel Palace) hotel, built in the 1920s in grand colonial style overlooking the lake. We sat in the lounge drinking Earl Grey tea (or, in Sheila's case, a very expensive Kir) as a pianist entertained us in the background.

For dinner we went to the Tanh Tanh restaurant and had an excellent meal of chicken and ginger, beef with lemon grass & chilli and mixed veg and rice.

Fri 17th. The weather improved a bit so we went walking round Dalat. It's a very pleasant place with a tree-lined lake, interesting shopping streets and a wonderful market. We had lunch at a restaurant on one side of the lake then went round to another restaurant on the other side for a drink. In the evening it started to rain again so we hurried over to one of the row of cafés on the hill behind the hotel for a beer, then back to the Tanh Tanh restaurant for another great meal.

   Around Dalat.

Sat 18th. Today we completed the overland journey from Hong Kong to Singapore. We got the bus from Dalat to Saigon and so filled the 'gap' we left last year. (Click here to read about last year's travels)

The bus was supposed to stop for us to see a tea and mulberry plantation along the way. In fact it drew up without explanation on the road in the middle of nowhere and we gathered by inspection that the little bushes on one side of the road were tea plants and the taller bushes on the other side were mulberries.

The bus stopped in De Tham street, Saigon, where the travellers' cafés are, and as the bus pulled in one of the cyclo drivers who took us on our marathon 6-hour tour of Saigon last time recognised us and came running over to say hello - and to make sure we did our tour this year with him! We checked into a very nice room at the Southern Hotel where we stayed last year.

We met Richard and Fearon for a beer and an Indian meal then had a browse through the pirate CD shops before retiring.

Sun 19th. We went for a four-hour cyclo tour -

   The inferno:  glass-blowing works in Saigon.

  The market in Chinatown, Saigon

  Weighing out live chickens.  If they flap their wings, does that alter their weight?

  The market in Chinatown.

  The Black river, with banana boats.

  Sheila not unloading bananas.

I had my friendly cyclo driver from last year and Sheila had the same interesting, informative driver/guide, and the tour was just as fascinating as before.

While people napped in the heat of the afternoon I went to the Ha-Noi supermarket and bought Vietnamese red wine, French brie cheese, Ritz crackers and some peanuts and we had a pre-dinner party with Richard and Fearon, sitting on the floor of the 'lounge' part of room 802 at the Southern hotel, because they hadn't yet furnished it with chairs!

In the evening we walked along Dong Khoi, formerly Rue Catinat, the very elegant French street in the centre of town, and watched the Vietnamese cruising up and down on their motorbikes. We had a nice but expensive meal at the Liberty restaurant.

Mon 20th to Wed 22nd. Days of shopping in the markets and walking round the French district in the centre of Saigon.
   Saigon Town Hall.

While we were in Ben Thanh market we were approached by one of the young girls selling postcards, who suddenly declared that Sheila's hands needed attention and she should have them manicured at a place here in the market. We were unable to resist her very direct sales technique and Sheila ended up at a little stall in the corner of the market, having the full manicure and pedicure attended by three manicurists - it takes that many people to get her into a fit state to be seen these days! I went for a walk through District 4, an off-the-beaten-track island on the opposite side of one of the rivers that runs through Saigon, and didn't see another tourist the whole time I was there.

We went for a last cyclo ride round Chinatown and then flew to Bangkok.

Despite having a reasonable meal on the plane at about 5pm courtesy of Vietnam Airlines, we still went out for a wonderful Indian meal at the Akbar restaurant a couple of hours later!

Thurs 23rd.Thailand.  We did some more shopping in the morning; Sheila insists that Thai silk is totally different to Hoi An silk, she needs both and did indeed buy both. Then we went for a walking tour of Bangkok temples in the afternoon. We went down Nana street to the canal and caught one of the motor taxi-boats down the canal to the centre of Bangkok. The boats terminate opposite Wat Rajanatda at the edge of the 'island' of old Bangkok. After climbing to the top of its 'pyramid' for a good view over the city, from there we walked through another Wat next door, and down the street to Wat Suthat, one of the most picturesque temples in Bangkok. From there we visited Wat Ratbophit and the nearby Wat Rajapardit, all of which were very peaceful in the early evening quiet after most of the visitors had gone. We walked through Wang Saranlom, a park which was full of people doing aerobics and jogging round the perimeter, and got to Wat Pho, one of the main temples near the Grand Palace, just after it closed for the night.

  Wat Sraket seen from Wat Rajanatda, Bangkok.

We tried to get a tuk-tuk back to the Benja hotel but the traffic was totally gridlocked so we walked the 15 minutes or so to the beginning of the Skytrain overhead railway and got the train back. We sat outside the Irish bar on the corner of Nana street and Sukhumvit road having a beer and popadums and then back to the Akbar Indian restaurant for another great meal.

Fri 24th. We spent our last day pottering round, shopping, having ice cream, etc. and finished with an Italian meal at L'Opera restaurant, which was just as good as their branch in Vientiane all that time ago at the start of the trip.

Click here to see pictures from our other travels......