Joining The Party In Phnom Penh

Author: Jarik

We join a throng of hundreds of thousands of feet slowly moving along the river promenade and adjacent streets in Phnom Penh. It is the annual Boat Race Water Festival, the most celebrated public holiday in Cambodia, marking the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap river. We are fortunate enough to be in the centre of the action on the final of three nights. The city is alive. Spectators stand shoulder to shoulder lining the banks of the river to get a glimpse of the human powered long boats cutting through the water.

The VIP stand opposite the finish line and across the square from the Royal Palace is elaborately decorated, bathed in light and there are bodyguards everywhere. Every square inch of any horizontal space is occupied by people with a friendly festive disposition. Food and drink sellers and their carts are constantly being urged along by police who are keen to keep the crowd moving. Other curious tourists sit safely on the third and fourth floor terraces peering out over the churning mass. The festival culminates with fireworks and a river parade with massive flotillas decorated with thousands of colourful lights moving from bank to bank down the river, finally stopping in front of the Royal Palace. We relish in the unexpected and unique cultural immersion experience.


To our delightful surprise, Phnom Penh is a culturally rich and tourist friendly city but, it is not overrun by tourists. Although there are clear foreign tourist areas with pubs, hostels and hotels, these are confined to a narrow strip along the river. A short walk deeper into the city will take you through authentic markets, along busy commercial streets and, if you, like us, walk from place to place, residential areas with hundreds of small home businesses. We fall in love with Khmer cuisine – a scrumptious combination of fresh Thai flavours and the full richness of Indian dishes – and the family have enough opportunities to identify their favourite as we sample the local fare everywhere we go.

Ornamental buildings and religious sites on every second corner reflect a proud heritage and make for a visually interesting street experience. We spend a few hours admiring the architecture and artistry of the Royal Palace and by chance wander through a Buddhist enclave filled with decorated temples and golden shrines. Later, a parents-only visit to the S21 Genocide Museum is a sobering reminder of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge four decades ago. It is however good to see that the city is moving forward. There is a lot of new construction going on and after the huge festive event that we witnessed, the streets were swept, litter removed and pavements washed the very next morning.

(Media reports cited a number of four million people that attended the boat races in Phnom Penh this year. In 2010 a tragic stampede occurred at the very same promenade that we were, costing the lives of 350 people hence the police presence to control the movement of the crowds.)

– Jarik –


The Water Festival

Author: Eulain

I pulled on dad’s arm, “I want to see the fireworks.” Dad stood up, “Alright, let’s go.” We walked down the crowded streets towards the river. Soon after we arrived the fireworks stopped. A parade of big boats full of little lights came past and then pulled closer to the bank of the river. Dad lifted me up onto his shoulders, high above the crowd.

Everywhere I looked I could see boats full of lights, trees with fairy lights, little stalls with food and desert and loads of people.  Dad and I could barely move! From my perch up high I could see how streams of people were moving slowly.  It was an amazing scene. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

– Eulain –


Relaxing By The Kampot River

Author: Ruzow

Our tuk-tuk turned off the road and onto a gravel driveway. A few moments later we came to a halt. We had just arrived at Ramo Resort, a beautiful little riverside retreat. We were taken to two tiny bungalows on stilts, right next to each other. This was to be our home for the next three days.

There was a lovely little restaurant and relaxation area, where we spent most of our time. We enjoyed many meals and shared many great moments. If we weren’t lying in a hammock we could be found jumping off the platform into the warm waters of the Kampot River.


Us children spent many hours in the water, either swimming or floating on tubes.

We went for a run to Kampot Town, two kilometres down the river. There wasn’t much to see and we preferred our riverside haven.

All too soon it was time to board the bus to Phnom Penh.

– Ruzow –


Adventures In Kep

Author: Mariza

As I’m writing this I am lying in a hammock under a palm leave construction on the bank of the Kampot river. Peaceful and amazing. We just had the most incredible Cambodian meal, after arriving from Kep a few hours ago. Life is sooooooooo good!!!

Back to Kep.

We arrive in Kep from Phnom Penh by bus on a hot afternoon. The hotel – less than impressive – has no power. To its defence, the entire speck of a town is affected. A great reason to go to the beach.

Kep has one man made beach. The rest of the ocean ends against concrete walls or mudflats. Not quite the pristine beaches we so love in Australia. Gosh are we going to enjoy those when we get home!!

The ocean looks like a dam, no waves, and the water is warm. Very lovely for floating around in for a long time. The locals either swim with all their clothes on, or totally starkers (little kids). We did not see a single local in a swimsuit. They must think us strange. DSC04905

We enjoy a cheap meal at a local eatery. As we stroll back towards our hotel we stumble upon a stunning beach bar. Jarik and I enjoy icy cold, dry rosé (the first decent wine in two months!!), while the kids play on the sand with newly found French friends. Bliss!! Early the next morning we are up and ready for our day on Rabbit Island. We enjoy a scrumptious breakfast at a cute beach cafe, before we board our longboat to the island. The island is charming with its timber and palm frond bungalows and colourful beach chairs and hammocks. Massages of every kind is on offer for next to nothing all over the beach.

The walk around the island is only five kilometres, but takes almost a whole day. The swimming, building a raft out of driftwood and playing on beaches along the way is only a very small part of the reason for this. For the most part, the path goes along the shore. For one significant stretch it goes through who knows where. We couldn’t find it. After a long time of frustrating hit and miss (or all misses, I should say!), dead ends, bleeding legs and many scratches all over, we make our way through mud, bush and scrub and back onto the path. We are all VERY happy and relieved to get back to the beach where we started and in total agreement that Rabbit Island is not going on our list of favourite walks or destinations. We make it just in time for a cold drink and a quick swim before we have to board our boat back to Kep.

After a shower (or dripping session, one drop at a time) we go to the crab market where we have a delicious meal of Amok fish curry. Super yummo!! We have a lovely conversation with the owner of our eatery and hear all about the ups and downs of starting a business in this part of the world.

We walk the few kilometres to our new favourite hangout and enjoy rosé in beautiful wine glasses, dim lights and stunning surroundings. They do serve amazing mocktails for kids too. The two littlies play UNO, while the two older ones engage in long conversations with the parents. Precious. The kids convince us to linger a little longer and indulge in enjoying one another in such a special place. We stroll home hours later, hearts full to capacity.

We’re up early the next morning for our run. We finish at the scooter rentals where we pick up two scooters for the six of us. We ride three-three to our breakfast spot. Very cool.

Our move to a much better hotel, right by the beach and the action, consists of two trips back and forth. Only two people with backpacks can fit onto a scooter. Jarik and I giggle as we wizz up and down the ocean road with a kid each, four backpacks and hair blowing in the breeze. This would NEVER happen back home!


We spend the rest of the day scooting all over the place. We visit a temple, explore caves, get lost between tiny villages among the green rice paddies, find the secret lake after much searching, have the most incredible meal on the side of a dirt road (a traditional curry made from scratch with ingredients picked right before preparation) and tour a pepper farm. We are exhausted and covered in dust from head to toe when we finally get back to our hotel, but very happy about our adventurous day. A nice refreshing swim at dusk, followed by a cheap, simple meal conclude a day we will never forget.


Jarik and I are the only ones up for a morning run. After a leisurely breakfast, with a view across the beach and bay, we spend the rest of our morning between the beach and the pool. Exhausting! So to recover, I squeeze in a traditional Khmer massage between checking out and getting on the bus. Somebody has to do it.

Kep is a great little place tucked in between the ocean and the green hills of a national park. The huge French estates, now a little neglected, will surely be restored to its former glory. There is development happening all over, but especially around the long promenade. It is a popular weekend and holiday destination for locals.

We leave the place with lots of new experiences and fabulous memories. Thank you Kep, it’s been a pleasure.

– Mariza –

Your Next Meal…

Author: Eulain


Everybody knows you can eat,

Vegetables, pastas and meat.

Have you ever stoped to try,

A huge gooey bull’s eye?

How would you like a cat,

Or maybe a big black rat?

Maybe just some dog,

But, not a poisonous frog.

Susu is another story,

Fried with morning-glory.

Maybe snail or slug,

Or some other bug?

A spider or snake,

Really this isn’t fake.

But please, I’d prefer,

Only noodles in my Phó!

– Eulain –

Saigon And The Mekong

Author: Jarik

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC or Saigon) is the only place where our bags got heavier – significantly heavier. The city is a shopper’s paradise. We were in the market for sporting goods as both Mariza and Eulain required new trail running shoes (again) and a quick look at the labels confirmed that the shoes that we bought in Europe and South America had their origins in Vietnam. The challenge was clear. We had to find “originals” at a bargain price in a city that is littered with knock-offs. Even our morning runs through the streets and in the large inner-city parks turned into a scouting expedition for sporting equipment stores. The city parks are very well maintained and early in the morning they are filled with hundreds of keen exercisers playing badminton, doing yoga, hopping in groups to the beat of loud music, stretching, shaking, running or walking. In our experience, this placed HCMC on par with Budapest when it came to enthusiasm for public exercise.

Our quest was filled with perils. Firstly, there was the onslaught of hard selling vendors who only relented when you turned your back and walked away, and even then some would persist. Then there was the sheer number of shops and stalls that all seem to sell very similar wares, all at very different prices. To get to the best price you have to complete the haggling process a number of times for any given item. But what finally proved to be our downfall, was the constant barrage of desirable goods at attractive prices that made us lose all sense of reason and objectivity. In the end we loaded our backpacks not only with two pairs of new shoes, but also with eleven new exercise shirts, three shorts and about fifteen meters of dress fabric!

Heaving under the much heavier load and eternally grateful that we did not buy the six hammocks we haggled down to just under $1 each, we left HCMC for a week in the Mekong Delta. We spent most of our time in the cities of Can Tho and Chau Doc. One of the highlights of Can Tho was puttering through an early morning floating market in a longboat. Water vessels of all sizes congregate to exchange wares at a particular bend in the river, identifying their produce on offer by hoisting a sample up like a flag on a long pole on the boat. Weaving between the boats and barges of fruit, vegetables, timber and other products, peddlers in little rowboats offer coffee and noodle soup to the dawn merchants and their clientele. We spent the rest of the day exploring little canals lined with stilted homes flanked by rice paddies. The way of life is so vastly different from ours.


In Chau Doc, our hotel was on the main square and only two blocks away from the Mekong River. From our fourth-floor balcony, we had the perfect view of the informal food market that sprung up every evening. Over a basic noodle soup dinner we had a delightful conversation, in very broken English, with the stall owner. We were some of the very few tourists in the city and caused quite a stir and drawing many side remarks. The city mostly functions as a local border stop-over between Vietnam and Cambodia. The next day, our morning run took us right through the centre of the large local market. No touristy souvenirs or sportswear here! We had to side-step and duck a few times to get through the malaise of baskets, buckets and tables covered by low tarpaulins, much to the amusement of everyone. One of the things that we enjoyed about our runs in every city is that it usually took us a little deeper into the neighbourhoods at a time of the day when there was still a lot of household activities going on. Chau Doc was no different and our sweat was rewarded with many colourful sights, a lot of hellos and waves from children and parents getting ready for the day.

Very fittingly, we left Vietnam on the Mekong, heading to Cambodia on board a twenty-five passenger high speed ferry. It is a surprisingly broad river with a lot of activity. A six hour trip took us (and our heavy backpacks) to Phnom Penh and the eighteenth country we arrive in during the past eight months of travel. We have been to Vietnam! (And we have a lot to show for it!)

– Jarik –

My Amazing Birthday!

Author: Kali

From the moment I was awakened by beautiful singing, to being lulled to sleep by the steady clack-clack and rock of the train, I had a fabulous time! My family spoilt me in every possible way from swimming and playing on the beach and having ice cold mango smoothies at the beach bar, to even balloons on my train bed. I was showered with many gifts, goodies and cards and squeezed so many times it felt as if I would burst.

I laughed as the others told me the ordeal of firstly finding a bakery, choosing a cake, trying to explain the flavours and decoration to a Vietnamese speaking lady, only to end up receiving a cake that has ‘collect 21/10’ decoratively written on it.

Eulain and I spent some precious moments together. Every time I would look over to Eulain, my ‘sand castle building’ buddy, she would draw a heart or write a short message for me in the brown sand. Esto clung to me like syrup and did every possible thing (including a two man bodysurf!) with a large smile and a high five. Ruzow knows me so well! He outdid himself and organised practically everything and worked hard in preparation and planning to make the day special.

Mum made a huge fuss about me turning five and not being a toddler anymore. Well mum… double that and add four! The years have flown by fast. Too fast! I loved every second of the exciting, surprising and unforgettable day with my amazing family. I wish this year, the adventure in particular, would never end!


Until next time,


Quy Nhon, A Beach City With No Foreign Tourists

Author: Ruzow

Quy Nhon is a quiet beach city on the coast of Vietnam. We spent four days there and quickly grew to love it.


The city has a more local atmosphere than any of the other cities we have visited in Vietnam. There are street-side restaurants with little tables and stools everywhere, that serve everything from snails to sea serpents. A curious thing I noticed is that it seems to be a Quy Nhon custom that, when at a restaurant, all unwanted food and rubbish are simply discarded under the table. A concept completely foreign to me. The local men also seem to have a love for drinking warm beer with ice and having a go at street karaoke. This is extremely painful to listen to!

My favourite drink in Vietnam and also a Quy Nhon speciality, is a mango smoothie. The best was the one we had at Aloo Café. We sat at a little street table while enjoying our rich and creamy beverages. Quy Nhon also has delicious, fresh and really strange seafood. When you arrive at a restaurant the first things that meet your eyes, are containers full of live sea creatures waiting to appear on your plate. After having a few different meals, I decided that Bap (a type of fish) served with spring rolls was definitely my favourite. I will, however, not go back for the huge clams.


A nice way to start the day in the city is a stroll or a jog along the beach promenade followed by a swim in the ocean. The city itself is very beautiful, clean and well maintained and there are gardens and parks everywhere.

Walking along the beach during the late afternoon/early evening, was amazing. The beach was bustling with people playing football and volleyball, along with people sitting at the little drink shacks.

There weren’t more than a handful of tourists while we were there. This is exactly what we hoped for. An authentic Vietnamese city experience.

– Ruzow –

Hom and Tao

Author: Kali

The hand waved us across the road and down the muddy slope. The old man was lying on the back of his water buffalo! The poor beast looked exhausted, lying with it’s head between it’s hooves and ears drooping. However, that large head slowly lifted up in curiosity as we approached.

Friendly man waving us over

The man wore a pair of dirt encrusted trousers and a white collar shirt that could’ve been mistaken for brown. He wore a stained conical on his head, shielding his face from the afternoon sun.

He introduced himself as “Hom”, shook each of our hands enthusiastically, and pointed to the large animal still lying in the dirt and said slowly and repeatedly, “Tao”. Tao’s head lifted slightly at the mention of his name and then stood up and came closer.

At first I was quite frightened. A water buffalo is a big animal, with big horns and big hooves and big teeth. Hom saw that all of us were drawing back a little. He gently took my hand in his rough, wrinkled hand and set it carefully on Tao’s hairy back. Soon, poor Tao was being handled like a pet kitten.

I was curious to know how old this massive beast was. I asked Hom, he either didn’t seem to hear or didn’t understand. However, a second later, he knelt down and carefully wrote something in the dirt with his fore finger: “50”! We were surprised and impressed. Hom looked with pride at Tao and gave him an affectionate slap on his neck.

Unexpectedly, Hom took me by the arm and led me towards the right side of Tao. He gestured for me to throw my left leg across the buffalo’s broad back, while at the same time he would lift me. After a few seconds I was sitting up on Tao’s back. It felt really strange! Eulain joined me and Hom led us as we walked a few paces. I never imagined that I would ride on the back of a water buffalo!

Until next time,



The Enchantment of Hoi An

Author: Jarik

Ten thousand colourful lanterns cast little circles of enchantment all through the pedestrian lanes of the historical river side town. Their reflections dance cheerfully on the water where more lanterns float in between the rowboats that carry the couples that set the lanterns adrift to garner themselves good fortune. The aroma of sweet, strong Vietnamese coffee drifting from the dimly lit corner coffee shops intermingles with the smoky flavours from the water side food stalls, while the muffled conversations drifting from the patron filled restaurants carry warmly through the streets. The intoxicating mixture brings cheer to everyone that set their feet to the streets. We have a wonderful time exploring Hoi An, from our arrival at dusk, continuing late into the evening. Our hotel is only two blocks from the historical centre. A little oasis with a pool and tidy rooms.




Early the next morning we run 5km through rice paddies and vegetable gardens to An Bang Beach. The shoreline is dotted with palm frond umbrellas and brightly coloured beach chairs. Ordering a drink and the promise to order lunch, give us the right of use of a set of chairs for the day. The children do not let the opportunity go by to swim and bodyboard and we are equally enthusiastic to sample the cold beer. Across the bay we can see Da Nang, an up and coming tourist destination. It has probably more than twenty new high-rise seafront resorts under construction, representing all the international leisure groups. A new Gold Coast in the making. On An Bang Beach, however, there are no buildings or infrastructure other than the beach shacks, so the beach is blissfully unspoilt – true luxury!


Sun kissed, we stroll back to Ho An later the afternoon, looking forward to continue the evening under the spell of the enchanted place. It does not disappoint, rewarding us with a delightful dinner as we sit under strings of colourful lanterns floating above a terrace, overlooking the light filled river. Fortune has found us. We just smile and drink even deeper.

– Jarik –


Hué, Vietnam

Author: Kali

The hot, muggy air fell on us like steaming blankets as soon as we stepped out of the cool train that we had been cooped up in for the last twenty hours. Because of the heavy flooding, the journey took nearly double the scheduled time. It was so good to stretch my legs further than just to the filthy train toilet.

The loud calls of the taxis and cyclos welcomed us to Hue, a city we would come to love in the four days we spent there. It was early evening and as we walked down the busy main road. We stopped several times to look at the lit up monuments and artworks that added decoration to the riverside greenery. Small plastic chair pavement restaurants dotted the strip beside the big brown river and it looked like everyone was enjoying themselves. We definitely were!

A few kilometres later, the grand four star Century hotel caught our attention with it’s broad stairs, large columns and welcoming lights. Ruzow exclaimed excitedly: “It looks much better than on the website!” We oohed and aahed as we walked up the shiny polished steps  and into the richly decorated lobby. We were received with cool lemon tea as a “welcome drink”. Our two rooms were absolutely wonderful with beautiful river views. After we unpacked our few belongings, our next step was towards the street just opposite our hotel, for dinner.

We ventured down the bustling and festive lane that was filled with restaurants and bars, all spilling over into the street. After searching for what felt like a lifetime, we found the perfect place. At Mr. Tao’s we sat on small wooden chairs among a sea of Asian faces, all having a fabulous time watching the crowd flow by. The six of us sat tightly around a small, low wooden table that barely had enough space for our six tiny bowls. Amazingly, the plates of delicious clam and cheese, dry noodle beef and of course two of Hue’s Huda beers could also fit. We had front row seats to the show, sitting basically IN the street. It was so interesting seeing all kinds of people embrace the Friday festivities with friends or family. I could have sat there for hours. The streets were absolutely FILLED! Our first night in Hue, having dinner on the sidewalk of the “walking street” with the locals, has a special place in my heart.

The next day, we went to visit the famous Hue Citadel. It is a huge complex of colourful gates, decorated walls, lakes and canals and traditional buildings. This used to be the emperor’s palace. We spent four hours lost in the maze that we could not get enough of. It touched me that above every gate, on every wall, in every building, somewhere, you could find some form of a poem. Of course, we could not read it, but the thought and sight of the detailed characters amazed me.

We were convinced that we found the best Vietnamese food in the country. So good that we went there for dinner twice during our stay. We met a young lady, Nhu y, who was our waitress both times. She was very friendly and outgoing and told us many things about herself and her city. The second time was nothing short of amazing! A dragon carved from carrots, guarded the food on our table. We were served complementary homemade drinks and a traditional dessert. It was super special. We asked Nhu y about a toy we have seen many children play with in Vietnam. She gave us a brief description and told us that it is called a “cau”. We were thrilled when she offered to buy us each one and deliver it to us at our hotel.

Amazing Vietnamese Food at Elegant

Nhu y arrived at our hotel as we were heading down for breakfast the next morning. Not only did she bring four caus, but a whole bag of gifts and goodies. We each received a beautiful notebook and pen, a pack of UNO cards and cool hair bands. It was wonderful and such a pleasant surprise. This is why we travel the world, to seek such connections with the local people and to make new friends. Thank you so much Nhu y for your friendliness and kindness towards us. It was such a pleasure to meet you and become such good friends. Looking forward to your visit in Australia! 😉

Hue was a wonderfully colourful and vibrant city. It was great to be part of its pulse, even if it was only for four days.

Until next time,


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