Phnom Penh . . .

The Silver Pagoda in The King’s Palace Phnom Penh

We flew from Vientiane to Phnom Penh with Vietnam Airlines. Both The Man and I were a little anxious. It’s our ages I think and remembering the flying reputation Vietnam had in the past (very old Russian transport planes), but, it was a brilliant flight. The aeroplane was very modern, the flight attendants pleasant and smiling, the women elegant and the men smart and pleasing. I sound like an old lady but honestly they were so lovely and attentive. I’m not a great flyer but they made me feel quite relaxed. The flight was short, only an hour and five minutes but they still managed to serve us an in flight meal which was not at all bad; a meat roll, fruit, cup of tea etc.,

Arrival at Phnom Penh airport went much smoother that I could have thought. We managed to get some dollars from Bangkok airport so the immigration was quicker than Luang Prabang. It was more organised in any case. We filled in the little immigration document on board the plane, waited in line for them to check everything. They took our passports at one window and they were passed along for us to pay and collect. A line of officials all sitting down behind a long glass barrier. They worked like a conveyor belt handing the passports from one to the next until they arrived at the end of the line. It took less than five minutes I think. It was a big relief after the kerfuffle at Laos.

I had booked a taxi through to collect us and I wasn’t too sure if it was going to work but. . . there by the exit was a man with a sign saying Ninette Hartley in bold letters. A miracle. The place was very busy but our driver helped us through arrivals and we were soon in an air conditioned car heading for the centre of Phnom Penh. Just to mention here that booking through meant that the car was paid for from my card and we didn’t have to mess about looking for cash. I think Geoff gave the driver a tip anyway.

I have absolutely no idea what I expected Phnom Penh to offer me. The drive from the airport took us through the suburbs and into the city. The landscape was very flat. No hills or mountains. The streets were busy with heavy traffic; the usual million mopeds carrying more than two people but at least they were wearing helmets this time. There were more shop fronts and fewer street sellers. The area of the city which is for the government and embassy buildings etc., had wide boulevard type roads with flower beds, grass and walkways. Most buildings sat behind attractive high walls and iron gates. It didn’t feel like a communist country, although what I expect that to be I’m not really sure.

A few shots of Phnom Penh. The Mekong River in the middle.

Our hotel entrance was just one door set in a high wall. There was a man in a wooden booth with glass windows checking to see who was entering . As we went through the door we were transported from a busy, street into a complete oasis. We had to walk past the swimming pool to get to the hotel lobby and it was just like walking through a clearing in the jungle. The hotel restaurant where breakfast could be taken was right beside this pool. What a delight it was. We upgraded to a bigger room, a suite in fact, as we were to have three nights at this lovely place and honestly, it was so cheap considering we were in a city. Later on the next day we would be very glad we had done this.

Photos of the Pavilion Hotel Phnom Penh

We decided to visit one of the 300 Killing Fields just outside the city, and S21-Tuol Sleng Prison in the city centre, on one morning. We knew it was going to be difficult and emotional and Geoff wasn’t sure I would be able to handle both on the same day but I agreed with him that it would be better this way. So we booked a taxi to take us out to Choeng Ek (The Killing Field closest to Phnom Penh), wait for us and then bring us back to S-21. He waited for us there too before returning us to our hotel.

I don’t know how much to write about our visit to the Killing Fields and S-21. I made a note in my journal and I’ll copy some of it here:

*CONTENT WARNING, the following might upset some readers.

I found it disturbing, unbelievable and very sad. Man’s inhumanity to man at its very worst. Cambodian against Cambodian. Awful. I was especially affected by ‘The Killing Tree’. This is the infamous tree where Khmer Rouge Soldiers smashed the heads of young infants and babies against the trunk, holding them by their legs, in front of their mothers, and then throwing them into the pit. The mothers, mostly naked, were killed and thrown in after them. This whole scenario is so appalling I found it hard to take in. It is beyond my comprehension how any person could behave in this way. In my journal I wrote: unbelievable, SAD , awful, horrid, terrifying, cruel, inhuman. Beyond anything I can imagine.

Above are some photographs of the Killing Fields

The S-21 prison was originally a school, three stories built around three sides of a square courtyard. I saw many schools after this as we drove through the towns on our way up to Siem Reap and every time I was reminded of the awful atrocities that happened in the converted school in Phnom Penh. The S-21 prison was a cruel, horrendous place. Torturing innocent people until they confessed to something that wasn’t true and then they were taken out and killed. At first with bullets but in the end they were beaten to death or hacked with machetes. Classrooms were prison cells and some classrooms were divided into many small cells by building brick walls creating small, cramped cells about 6’x 3′. Four years this continued. 1975 until 1979, when the Vietnamese came into Cambodia and beat the Khmer Rouge into surrender. Between 14,000 and 17,000 people went into this prison and only twelve are believed to have survived. One survivor was there at the prison, Bou Meng, there is a book about his experience and we bought it from him as he sat behind a table in the courtyard at Tuol Sleng. I did do some reading about the history of Cambodia and when we came back home last week we watched again the film The Killing Fields. This time I understood it all so much better. Those young (very young) boys who made up. the Khmer Rouge army really had no choice. Brainwashed and in fear of their own lives, I guess they did what they had to do. But some of them did it with relish I think. Others did not.

A few photographs from S-21 Prison. Top includes photographs of some prisoners.

Centre top includes John Dewhurst and Kerry Hamill

Bottom is from left: The memorial, Bour Meng’s book, The courtyard today.

There were so many photographs showing tortured, and dead bodies with many stories behind the pictures. You can only take so much. One story touched me particularly hard and I expect that was because of losing my son Tosh when he was 27. There were three young foreigners John Dewhurst and Kerry Hamill and Stuart Glass. They were on a boat off the coast of Cambodia when attacked by a Khmer Rouge gunboat. Stuart Glass was shot on the boat and the other two were taken to S-21 prison and were killed after being tortured. They were around the same age as Tosh when they died. I cannot begin to imagine what their parents went through. It’s a dreadful story. You can read more about their story here and also a more detailed account of S-21.

I am sorry if this is not my usual kind of jolly blog but I felt I had to write about it even though it was not a good experience. We cannot hide from these things that have occurred in the world. They are complicated emotions that I feel; guilt, sadness, hopelessness, despair — but I’m not an activist and I am guilty of letting these things happen. I know it was something that Tosh felt strongly about, knowing these dreadful things are going on in the world but not actively doing anything about it. We are all guilty of standing back and letting things go by. I guess we fall back on, ‘what can I do about it?’

It was incredibly hot while we were there, 39 degrees for most of the time. When we got back to our hotel Geoff began to feel unwell. He’d lost his cap sometime during the morning and the heat obviously affected him. He was burning up although we’d not been ‘in the sun’ it was cloudy and the smoke was still hanging about. He just overheated rather dramatically. He went to bed and I kept putting wet flannels that I had cooled down in the freezer over his head. He slept for something like 17 hours and didn’t eat until breakfast the next day.

I swam in the pool and tried to take in all that we had seen, although it felt decadent and disrespectful to be just relaxing and doing nothing. We had paid our respects and I had thought deeply about the people and what happened from 1975-1979 in Cambodia.

The rest of the day I spent in our room. As I said at the beginning we’d upgraded to a suite so I was able to be in the sitting room while keeping and ear and eye on Geoff who was flat out in the bedroom. I read the book about Bou Meng. It was thought provoking and moving. I wondered how must it feel to be one of the only survivors out of thousands of prisoners. He survived because he was an artist and they were able to use him to paint portraits of prominent communist leaders and other posters for propaganda.

The next day, Geoff stayed out of the heat but I thought I should make the effort to go to the Royal Palace which was very close to our hotel. A very different experience from the day before. Such opulence, gold and comfort everywhere. I could only see 50% of the palace because it was the beginning of three days celebration for the Cambodian New Year and the king was practising something (sitting probably) in his throne room. In any case it was extremely boiling and I didn’t want to get struck down in the same way Geoff had. I went into the Silver Pagoda which is known as ‘The Temple of the Emerald-Crystal Buddha’ . No photographs allowed sadly. A few people were bowing and praying on the carpet below the buddha which was not that big but set high up on top of a gold plinth in the middle of the building. I walked around the grounds but for a very short time, always trying to keep in the shade. There was a model of Angkar Wat – we would be going there the next day. Finally I walked towards the exit where I found a magnificent model of king’s litter with soldiers and servants attending him. It was absolutely magnificent. Housed in an air conditioned room I spent some time there before walking back to our hotel.

My next post will be about Siem Reap and hopefully a jollier one. Cambodia is a beautiful country, we should not forget that and Phnom Penh must live with its history. Anyone over 50 is a little reluctant to talk about it.

Luang Prabang, Laos. . .

As we came into land at Luang Prabang International Airport I was shocked at the amount of smoke in the air. I knew that the smoke was a problem in Thailand with the farmers burning their post-harvest stubble but had no idea it would be the same in Laos. The smoke was so thick you could barely see across the runway to the terminal building. I heard a few days later that they had shut the airport for one day that week because visibility was so low. You could smell the smoke in the air, I can’t find the words to describe it. All I can say is that it wasn’t pleasant and it took me back to the time when they burnt all the cattle in the UK because of foot and mouth disease — it’s clag-like and sticks in your nose and throat. Many people were wearing masks, and we did too, but I’m not sure it made any difference.

The smoke did not detract from the beauty of Luang Prabang, we only thought how much better it would be without it. We had a five-day stay and the smoke hung around for most of the time only lifting for the last two days, when we could actually see across the Mekong and enjoyed a lovely meal in a restaurant right beside the magnificent river.


There is no shortage of cafés, market stalls, street sellers etc., in Luang Prabang, in fact every road and every corner and every conceivable place where you could set up a stall, someone would be selling or cooking something. I quite enjoyed the night market, even though the evening we strolled through, the smoke was very bad. We walked around the town during the day and stopped for coffee a couple of times and shopped in a rather lovely boutique. We also visited the Lao Traditional Arts and Ethnography Centre where I learned a little about the different ethnic origins of the Lao people. While there I bought a necklace, a shopping bag and a mug (I’d broken my mug that I bought when travelling down to Phuket 🙁 so I had to replace it.)


One evening we went to the Lao Ballet. I didn’t fully understand the story but the costumes and the dancers were brilliant. The girls so elegant with beautiful hand movements. I was so glad to have seen it. The only problem was a gentleman in front of me who was videoing the whole thing on his iPad…I wanted to ask him why he didn’t just watch it on youtube! I took my photos at the end when invited to do so.

DANCERS – I didn’t get a photo of the girls’ beautiful hands! Here’s one I found on Pinterest

Move on to other images of Luang Prabang


We took a trip out in a taxi to the Kuang Si Waterfall. Our driver Seet ( that was how it was pronounced but not sure how it’s spelt) was very helpful pointing out various interesting places as we passed them. He asked if we wanted to stop at the tourist elephant spot to ride and feed the elephants but we declined because it wasn’t a sanctuary. Before actually reaching the waterfall we had to walk through a forest where there was a bear sanctuary. The bears were in huge enclosures with plenty of room to move around, play and relax. They seemed happy, which made me happy. Of course we both bought T-shirts and made a donation to the cause.


The waterfall was the best thing I’ve done in ages. We arrived early, so it wasn’t too crowded. I’d had the foresight to change into my swimming costume before I left the hotel – wise decision because changing back into dry clothes after I swam was difficult enough in the public toilets with soaking wet floors. I actually changed outside any cubicle. . . but back to the swim. I edged down the stone steps and sat for a minute with my legs dangling in the water. I couldn’t believe all the little fish swimming around my feet but they were harmless and it didn’t put me off taking the plunge. It was cold but not uncomfortably so. A few people were swimming and a couple of Lao women who swam close to me, indicated that I should jump up and down, so I did and we all laughed. I swam out to the waterfall and realised I was smiling the whole time. A wonderful feeling of wellbeing coursed through my body. That might sound over dramatic but the positive effect physically and mentally on me during that swim was something I will never forget.


As we drove away from the waterfall there were an amazing number of white butterflies – it was beautiful. The photo below doesn’t really show how amazing it was. I did take a little video too but I don’t seem to be able to upload it onto here.

We stayed in Luang Prabang for three days and then took the high speed train down to Vientiane where we stayed for just one night before flying to Phnom Penh. The train station was out in the middle of nowhere and we were told to arrive at least an hour before departure as we had to show passports and go through security just like an airport. We were impressed with the train, which took just over two and a half hours to cover the 320 odd kilometres. Built in collaboration with the Chinese it took only four years to complete the stretch from Butan in China to Vientiane. The train was quiet, smooth and well ventilated. Cool inside even though the temperature outside was hovering around 38/39 degrees.


Vientiane offered us nothing, particularly as I had booked a rubbish hotel five kilometres from the centre. The next morning when we took the taxi to the airport and drove through the city, we could see that we hadn’t missed much. However, Phnom Penh was to be a different story. You can read about that next time.

Thailand Travels Part 2 Bangkok to Phuket. . .

I should have written this a few days earlier but I was struck first with a horrible head cold in Bangkok and then a bout of Thai Tummy (yuk). I’m over it all now thank goodness.

We left Bangkok on the 27th March and headed south for three hours. Our first stop was at the Eurasia Chaam Lagoon Hotel. Not the best place I’ve stayed in but cheap at £25 per night for two people. The mattress on the bed was an old sprung one and the bathroom had much to be desired. It was tired and old but clean and it worked so can’t complain at the price. The beach was close and the pool (only one was open they were repairing the other) was warm and big enough for a good swim. I spoke to a few friendly Thai children when I was there and they were very keen to practice their English! Matthew spent the day fishing at the Jurassic Fishing Park (his birthday treat to himself) sadly he didn’t catch anything this time out. We joined him in the evening for a great meal beside the lake. Wonderful food and great company.

Eurasia Chaam Lagoon Hotel Photo Dump (I think this is the expression)

Fishing. . . not really my scene but it was the most beautiful, peaceful place.

From Cha-am we drove down to Chumphon where we stayed at Nana Beach Hotel and Resort Geoff and I booked a cabin which was delightful. Outside there was a little seating area. The pool was warm and opposite the hotel was the beach with a pretty good restaurant. We ate here the first night and the second night we chose an Italian place just a few metres walk down the road. Matt had pizza which was apparently as good as the real thing from Italy. . . well the owner of the restaurant was an Italian.

After two nights in Chumphon we headed on down to Khao Lak. It’s one of the areas in Thailand that was hit by the 2014 Tsunami on Boxing Day. It is the most beautiful place but all the time we were there the tsunami was in the back of my mind. I know it’s nearly 20 years ago and today there would be more of a warning, and people would understand what was going to happen but even so . . .

A sign to remind everyone. . .

Our hotel, Seaview Hotel and Resort was gorgeous and I was disappointed not to be spending more than one night. So I managed to give myself a bit of food poisoning which meant there was no way I could travel on to Phuket with the others on Saturday morning. I went to extreme lengths to spend another day in Khao Lak and it was wasted because I spent the whole time in bed! (except when I wasn’t throwing up or something even more horrendous). The Man was a saint and looked after me superbly.

Next Stop Phuket

Now I have to say right from the start that Phuket was not my favourite spot in Thailand. It was very busy and where we were staying made it impossible for us to ‘walk’ into town. I was probably still feeling a bit rough after Khao Lak which didn’t help. My lovely son drove all the way back from Phuket to Khao Lak to collect us and I really appreciated that. It took well over two hours each way for him. We had a lovely villa with a pool and the family enjoyed a few days there together. Matthew and his wife Som were married last December but none of the family could make it. So, we did a little re-enactment which was all rather lovely and a bit emotional. The granddaughters were ‘bridesmaids’, Matthew read out his speech and there were a few tears. All wonderful family time. Afterwards we drove to a restaurant high above the sea, ate a lovely meal and watched the sunset. Below are some random photographs of the wedding, the pool at the villa and the sunset at the restaurant. Loved it all!

Some wedding photos

The Man and I left Phuket on Thursday 6th April to travel across to Lao or should I spell it Laos? It’s a bit confusing. What is certain is that most people pronounce it Lao. . . but. . . take a look at this website HERE

More travelling news soon. Watch this space.

Thailand Travels Week One. . . Bangkok

It was a long flight and fairly bumpy for the first half but it settled down for the final six hours and eventually we landed at Bangkok Survarnabhumi airport. It was four o’clock in the afternoon and the heat as we exited the plane struck us full force. The intensity is indescribable, and it was incomprehensible to my English body and brain how this much warmth could be just in the atmosphere without some mechanical or other kind of assistance. We were tired but still had to get through immigration and the queue was long. But, there was nothing could be done except wait and be patient. The bags arrived on the belt well before we were there to collect them, which makes a change. A bit of a hassle to get a cab but we managed to jump the queue unintentionally. Forty minutes later we were checked in to our hotel room. Showered, a change of clothes and we were ready to go out into Bangkok city and meet my son and daughter-in-law for supper.

Naturally we lost ourselves within the first five minutes. We were staying in the Centre Point Hotel Sukhumvit 10. Sukhumvit is the name of the area as well as the street name but ALL the streets were named Sukhumvit but with different numbers. A grid system. Simple but not for a couple of jet lagged Westerners looking for a restaurant who assumed Sukhumvit 11 would be next to 10. Additionally, there were not street names on the walls of the buildings and for some reason (probably jet lag again) we didn’t notice the huge street signs on poles at every corner!

As you can see by the photographs the signs and cables in Bangkok abound in their thousands. The railway was running above our heads as we walked along. Street vendors, the music blaring our walk around the area close to our hotel assaulted all our senses. Bangkok is colourful in every way. The smell of stir frying vegetables, and deep frying foods such as spring rolls — we didn’t see any chicken feet that night thank goodness. There are loads of stalls selling ready prepared fruits; pineapple, melon, grapefruit and pomelo (a new one for me, like a grapefruit). Also of course the ubiquitous coconut! The photograph at the top is a coconut smoothie, a delicious blend of ‘things’ passed off as a mocktail.

Our hotel was wonderful and the salt swimming pool an absolute delight, as well as a must for cooling off. Even though I stayed in the shade for ninety-nine per cent of the time we were there I still managed to get sunburn and prickly heat! I went to the beauty salon in the hotel and got a pedicure, foot massage, nails painted, the full works for an astonishing 200 baht (around £4.80).

We were in Bangkok to celebrate my son Matthew’s 50th birthday. Eventually the whole family arrived in the city and we were joined by a few of Matt’s friends for a meal at Mr Ribeye. There were sixteen of us sitting around the table. I think we gave him a good evening.

A slideshow of Bangkok sights including the hotel pool, Bangkok at night, a walk around a nearby city lake which was only 400 metres from our hotel. Bangkok is a busy city and very hot.

I’m adjusting to the heat gradually. We left Bangkok last Monday to travel down the coast with a few stops, (Cha-am, Nana Beach Chumphon, Khao Lak )along the way to Phuket. More about this little road trip on the next post.