At the beginning of September, I attended another Seable’s Holiday to Rome. This was, yet again, another fantastic and memorable trip.
Our small group set off on another adventure travelling to London Gatwick Airport to catch our flight. On arrival at Rome Fiumicino Airport we were met by Damiano and Emma who would be our guides for the holiday.
We had four fantastic days exploring Rome, some of the mainstreams and more iconic locations followed by places known mainly by locals.
Lake Albano, nearby Castel Gandolfo, a very nice and clear big lake where we had a fantastic swim, hired a Kayak and pedal boats to explore it.
We visited an organic farm where we had a fantastic freshly cooked meal prepared using only organic ingredient from the farm. Whilst at the farm we saw some friendly cats who certainly enjoyed the attention we gave them, and even our leftover food. After the meal the nice man at the farm took us to meet the donkeys, there was a Mother, Father and two little babies.
The visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican City, was unforgettable. We had a touch tour which enabled us to feel different pieces within the building. Throughout this tour we each had a headset that could scan point on the map and describe to us what we were looking at. We then headed outside to hear the Pope’s speech. To read more about the Vatican click here
We also took a tour around the Vatican Museums where a nice lady assisted us throughout our visit. She explained a lot about the Vatican Museum and its history. As part of this tour we were also able to go into the Sistine Chapel. Once in there, you have to remain silent and the use of cameras and mobile phones is not allowed, in fact every few minutes you would hear a person reminding you about this rule. When in the Chapel we were lucky enough to be able to touch, unlock, open and close the Sistine Chapel door.
We also took a walking tour around some of Rome’s most famous Piazzas, including Piazza Navona, the majestic Pantheon and the well know Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately, we were unable to go to the Spanish square and its steps. We then headed to the Coliseum, we could not go to the top level as this was not safe. But from the level we were, we were able to see the ruins and also to look inside the Amphitheatre.
Our final full day in Rome consisted of a tour of a big farmers’ food market where we sampled some more Italian food and purchased ingredient to make fresh pasta in an Italian cooking class. In this session we made our own dough which we used to then produce fresh pasta. We were shown how to make ravioli, tortellini and tagliatelle, which we would then have for lunch with a traditional pasta sauce.
Article written by Graham.
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I am Emma, from Seable Team, and I have just returned from the most incredible experience in Vietnam and Cambodia and, guess what, I can’t wait to share it with you all.
It was an inspection trip of the 2 countries to help us plan a future holiday for a group of Blind and Partially sighted travellers. We partnered with a Vietnamese tour operator who carefully planned a detailed itinerary for the 3 weeks.
In the following blog, I will be sharing with you the details of our trip.
Flight from London Gatwick to Doha-Doha to Hanoi. The start of our 17-hour journey began and to say I was excited was an understatement. I love a long-haul flight at the best of times, but I have to say that Qatar airlines was up there with the best of them. The seats were comfy and with 2 meals and unlimited drinks on each flight, we were well fed, watered and even managed to get a good amount of sleep before we landed in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Landing in Hanoi at 7am, we couldn’t wait to meet our guide and get started with the day. We were met by our guide Thomas and he took us straight for a traditional Vietnamese breakfast-Pho. He told us he was taking us to one of the best Pho in Hanoi and we couldn’t wait to try it. After what can only be described as the best beef Pho of our lives we had a quick iced coffee and then headed to our hotel.
We had a couple of hours sleep, as by now the jet lag was starting to catch up with us. We got freshened up and went for a welcome lunch with Linda, the lady who organised our trip. It was a wonderful lunch with more food than we could eat, including the start of our holiday obsession with spring rolls.
We were free for the evening to explore Hanoi….YESSS! When they told us it was a busy night market, they were not lying. It was crazy! Rows after rows of market stalls selling everything from bags to magnets. I felt like it was Christmas morning and was far to over excited. Hanoi’s evening market square was filled with noise and smells from the street food, it was overwhelming. Not forgetting to mention it was still 30 degrees at 10 pm at night, talk about sweating!!
Also, something I wasn’t prepared for was the obsession with Karaoke!! Street after street you would find someone singing surrounded by a group of people, it was amazing. I would have been temped to join in, if it wasn’t for the fact that I am beyond tone deaf.
It was an incredible introduction into Vietnam and I couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the trip had to offer.
We were picked up at the hotel by our guide at 9 am and drove to a near by village called Bat Trang. It is about 13km south east of Hanoi, on the Red River and is a village famous for the making of Ceramics and a long-standing trade village. The artistry of Bat Trang is well-known throughout Vietnam for its beautiful ceramics that have been created for over 700 years.
Our guide gave us a tour of a family Ceramics factory where he told us about the history and methods of their business. It was fascinating to get an appreciation for such a long-standing tradition within this family. Imagine us in the gift shop, knowing everything was hand made in that very building, we could have bought it all!
We the made our way to a family owned lacquer factory, where we were taught about the process of lacquering wood to make exquisite pieces of art. The guide carefully explained each process and the skill required. It was a very interesting tour and again the gift shop made it hard for us to leave. It was only day 2 and we felt like we were bringing back the whole of Vietnam with us already!
After the tour, we went to the Hanoi streets for a walking tour. Going through the hot sticky streets filled with rows after rows of spices, herbs, vegetables, fruit, meat and fish. It was an explosion for the senses with all the smells mixing together. Getting to try all the local grown vegetables and fruit and smell the freshly picked herbs was a great experience. Also, something I haven’t mentioned yet was the amount of people on scooters riding around the streets. I was very glad to have our guide with us to help us navigate the streets.
After a delicious lunch we went to the Hanoi Temple of Literature which was the first University of Vietnam built in 1070. With its incredible history, buildings and gardens it was a great tour.
We then went over to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the nation’s founder’s body is preserved. The colonial Presidential Palace, which was originally the French Governors office and a fine example of French architecture in Hanoi. It was very interesting to hear about the history but lacking in any tactile experience with us not being allowed to touch anything within the buildings.
In the grounds there was the One Pillar Pagoda, built in the 11th century in dedication to Buddha of Compassion and reminiscent of a lotus blossom rising from the pond. I really enjoyed getting to walk up the pagoda and sending a wish off to Buddha.
That evening again we ventured into the crazy streets of Hanoi and found a street food stall selling fresh crabs. We sat eating and drinking beers whilst listening to one of the many karaoke singers, it was perfect. As we were making our way back to the hotel, we got our first experience of a tropical thunder storm-we bought a couple of ponchos (to cover us from the rain) from a market stall and ran through the rain home; it was a brilliant and funny end to a very busy day.
Picked up at 8am from our hotel by our guide for our trip to Ha Long Bay with an over night stay on the boat. It’s listed as one of the new 7 wonders of the world, so we had high expectations. The drive was 3 hours long with a stop half way at a local service station. We were in a mini bus with the other travellers who were coming on the boat with us, so it was a great opportunity to chat with them and get to know them. The guide for the excursion was called Ha and was fantastic. She had brilliant English, as well as knowledge and history of Ha Long Bay.
We embarked on the Oriental Sails Cruise, which was an elegant boat with 3 floors and a wonderful open terrace. Our room was a good size with one big window, looking out onto the waters of Ha Long Bay. I couldn’t wait to see what the excursion had to offer.
Once everyone had settled into their rooms and freshened up, we went to the dinning room for lunch and the boat headed to Vung Vieng, a fish village along the limestone islands of Bai Tu. Dinner was an impressive feast, with dish after dish coming out. We all ate a little bit too much, but it was worth it.
After lunch we had the option to either go in a bamboo rowing boat around the fishing village or to take a kayak and follow a guide. Damiano and myself were feeling slightly more adventurous and so we chose to go kayaking. I think we made the right choice as it was a great experience. Ha guided us through the waters of the floating fishing village and as we kayaked, she told us about the history of the village and how they are sustainable.
Returning to the boat, we had a spring roll cooking class, where each of us had a go at making one and then we got to eat the final product. This was a great interactive activity for everyone on board. Dinner was served after, again it was a feast with traditional Vietnamese cuisine.
After dinner some guests did some singing and dancing whilst the others got involved in the squid fishing off the side of the boat. We went for the night squid fishing, but unfortunately, we had no luck in catching anything; we shouldn’t give up our day jobs! We called it a day and headed off to bed. I have to say, I don’t have the strongest sea legs and I was a bit nervous about sleeping on a boat as I have a slight sea sickness issue, but I can honestly say it was one of the best night’s sleep I have ever had (I think the slight rocking actually sent me to sleep like a baby).
The next morning, we woke up early at 6am for a Tai Chi lesson on board the terrace. I have never done Tai Chi before and I found it very peaceful. With the music and his voice telling us what to do, it was great and got us all ready for a big breakfast, ready to start the day. We then headed towards Thien Canh Son Cave and beach. After a short climb up some steps on the island, we reached the cave. It was full of limestone stalagmites which were wonderful to touch (some of the limestone we were unable to touch as it effects the development however), and Ha told us all about the way in which the cave came to be about. Then we made our way back to the boat and started the journey back to the harbour. Ha Long Bay was a real experience and one that I will always remember.
After our return to the harbour we made our way to the airport, where we flew to Da Nang airport. It was an hour flight from Hanoi and went super quick, by the time we were in the sky, we were landing already. We were met at the airport by our guide and driver, who took us to our hotel in Hoi An, about 40 mins from the airport. We arrived late and so checked in and called it a night. The hotel was beautiful, covered in lanterns and I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning and start exploring.
Waking up in Hoi An felt fantastic and I couldn’t wait to start the day. Breakfast was great and the hotel was as wonderful as I was expecting in day light. It had a lovely pool and spa area with lanterns everywhere. We were met by our guide Chanh who took us to our first activity of Lantern making. We had a brief introduction into the history, shape and colour of the lanterns as wells as the many stages of making them. We then got to have a go at making our own. I have to say I really enjoyed making mine and felt like a pro.
From the lantern making, we made our way to the Hoi An walking tour visit. A quick drive took us to the main attraction spot of Hoi An being the iconic 400 year old covered bridge which a Japanese styled temple is based on. It was a little bridge and full of history, great for some photos. Then we continued to the Museum of Trade Ceramics, a Vietnamese style wooden house which has showcased ceramics since 1858. The Tan Ky House which has had a long standing 200-year-old Chinese merchant residence. We were welcomed with a refreshing cup of local tea, which was much needed in the mid-day heat and then a tour commenced with much history of the residence.
We walked next to the Ong Temple, which was built for worshipping an ancient Chinese general who had been admired for his bravery, loyalty and justice-Guan Yu. It was built in 1653 by the Chinese settlers and was a fantastic temple. It was very tactile, with every part of the temple able to be touched and the smell of incense was incredible. Then we strolled around the market stalls selling baskets full of vegetable, herbs and spices. We then were taken to a restaurant by the river for a wonderful dinner.
The afternoon was free for us to explore the markets and what else Hoi An has to offer. When researching Hoi An, we read that it was the best place for tailor made clothing and so we weren’t going to miss this opportunity. We googled the top-rated store and we made our way, feeling like we were on a mission. We decided on the type of suit we would like and the colour and fabric, then it came to barter the price. You must be strong and have an idea of a price you are willing to pay (google helped us with this) and then it was time to measure.
After having a big breakfast, we were met by our guide outside the hotel to set off on our next adventure in Hoi An. Our plan was to visit Tra Que Village for a Farmer workshop and cooking class. After a quick 15-minute drive from the hotel, we arrived in the village and were met by fields and fields of different shades of green. We were welcomed with a basil seed cool drink and given a farmer’s uniform to dress up in, including a traditional Vietnamese hat to keep the scorching sun off our heads. Our second guide for the day from the village, gave a brief explanation of each vegetable and herb as we walked around the fields, stopping to smell and pick the herbs as we walked. He often would give us one to smell and ask us to guess the herb-which turns out to be much trickier than we would have thought! We joined in gardening activities in preparing the land, fertilizing the seaweed, raking the ground, sowing, watering and finally picking the vegetables that we would need to use in our cooking class. It was a fantastic tactile experience to get to have a first-hand go at the farming and learn how the locals grow their produce.
Back at the restaurant area of the farm, we were given an apron and chef hat ready for our cooking class. We were taught how to make spring rolls, chicken in a clay pot and local savoury pancakes filled with prawns and chicken. It was a wonderful cooking class, filled with detailed descriptions of how to make each dish. Once prepared, we made our way to the cooking station to cook the food ready for us to eat. The instructor was great fun, helping us flip the pancakes and even add some fire into the cooking. The heat from the kitchen was incredible on the hot day but it was so worth it when we sat down to eat the food we had made. The meal was delicious, full of garlic and chilly with the fresh veg we had just picked only an hour ago. It was a great morning and I loved every second of it.
That afternoon we had a free afternoon and so we thought we would check out the local beach only 10 minutes away from our hotel. With what seemed like an endless beach of white sand, it was met by the beautiful blue waters of the South China Sea. After quickly picking two sunbeds next to the sea, I ran into the cool waters. I have to admit that being in 40 degrees heat is wonderful but I was certainly missing going into the sea to cool off and so this was a welcomed visit. The waters were calm and clear. Once I had cooled off, I headed to my sunbed, ordered a cocktail and laid in the last bit of the afternoon sunshine, it was heaven!
As the sun was starting to set, we walked down the beach to explore it a little before heading back to the hotel. The beach was incredibly busy with all the locals, this was a much cooler time of day and it seemed to be the perfect time to come to the beach to avoid the scorching mid-day sun.
Back at the hotel after we had eaten enough street food to feed 10 people, we decided to try out the hotel spa, to finish the day off nicely. It was a beautiful area at the top of the hotel, filled with wonderful smells of flowers. We both had a traditional Vietnamese massage, which was fantastic. At the end of the hour, my lady sat me up and continued to style my hair into the most beautiful plait, which was unexpected but a lovely surprise. We both left feeling incredibly relaxed and ready for a much-needed sleep.
I could have stayed in Hoi An forever but unfortunately we had a morning flight to Ho Chi Minh to catch. Saying goodbye to our guide and driver, we waited in De Nang’s Airport for our flight. After a small delay of a couple hours, we were on our way to Ho Chi Minh for our next adventure. The flight was only one hour and went by incredibly quickly. We were picked up by our guide and driver and the first stop was for some dinner. We were taken to a lovely restaurant in the city centre. It was empty and we had the whole restaurant to ourselves which was an experience.
We started our drive to Mekong Delta which is 2 and half hours from the city. The car was very comfy and the drive went by quickly enough, stopping once in a local service station. The car could only take us so far, and then a boat had to take over. We made our way onto the boat ready for a short 20 mins boat ride to our Homestay for the night. The homestay was far grander than we were expecting, with a very big open entrance area, filled with extravagantly decorated furniture. The family owning the homestay greeted us and took us to our room, which was a big room that was simple, clean and cool.
Due to our later arrival because of our delayed flight, our guide slightly altered the itinerary and offered to take us on a late afternoon bike ride around the village where we were staying. It was a great opportunity to explore our surroundings. With fields of green, local houses, dogs, birds and more fruits and flowers in the trees, it really was an experience for all senses. The cycle ride lasted for about 40 mins and it felt great to do some exercise after sitting all day.
Back at the homestay, we freshened up and made our way to the kitchen to help the family prepare our evening meal. The two women of the family showed us how to help them prepare our meal, which can only be described as a feast. A little table was set up on the terrace at the front of the house, next to the river and it was like something out of a movie. The two of us sat at the table while the ladies kept bringing out different dishes they had prepared for us. From spring rolls, fish, chicken, rice, noodles; to say we were full was an understatement! Our guide also during the meal, brought to us the family’s home-made rice wine-it was pungent and had a real kick to it. We had a shot of rice with every new dish that was brought out to us and it quickly got us tipsy. Once we had successfully finished dinner we practically crawled over to the two hammocks set up beside us and laid in them as our dinner went down. It was a wonderful way to end the day!
The morning started with a home-made breakfast and after the night before I thought I would never eat again but somehow, we both managed a full breakfast. We said our goodbyes to the family of the homestay, with a big thank you for their wonderful hospitality. Our guide leaded us towards the boat and went through the plan of the day. The first stop being a local clay pottery workshop tour at the Brick Kilns, where we got to learn about how the local people create beautiful potteries from clay.
Next stop was a local workshop, where we got to see how they made rice paper, coconut candy, pop-rice and pop-corn, with us getting to have a go at every opportunity. It was fun to try and make the sweets and even more fun to try them once they were made! The guide described the different wines and let us try a little bit of each, it was still only 10.30am and each wine is about 40 percent proof-it was a fun morning. My jelly legs were definitely feeling the wine!
We made our way back on to the boat and went on a lovely boat ride through the Mekong River to the local restaurant for our dinner. We ate local fish and vegetables and had a little rest after eating. I think the morning rice wine had made me sleepy. Once we had had a rest, back on the boat, we made our way further up the river. Eventually we stopped at the side of the river and we swapped onto a much smaller rowing boat. We were given a traditional Vietnamese hat to help us shade from the intense sun and we headed off for a tour on the rowing boat. The lady stood at the back of the small boat and rowed us through the small water paths of the Mekong River, past the local houses lining the waters. It lasted about 30 mins and it was a very peaceful experience, hearing only the water splashing around us as we glided through wild untouched water ways.
The boat ride brought us back to our bigger boat, which we made our way back onto and headed to a local music stop. The tables had plates of different fruit on them for us to refresh ourselves with and local tea. We sat and listened to the locals sing whilst we took a rest from the travelling and hot sun.
After making our way back on the boat, we got to the car and started the journey back to Ho Chi Minh City. It was the evening by the time we arrived and after checking in to the hotel, a quick change, we headed out to explore Ho Chi Minh at night. Our guide told us that the city is famous at night for its big hotels and roof top bars. He told us of a couple that are a must try, for fantastic views of the city at night and so we made our way to find them. We went into the Bitexco building, which is the tallest in Ho Chi Minh and went up to floor 52 to the Heli Bar. The waitress guided us to a small table against the window and it made you feel like you were on top of the world. It was incredibly high and the lights of the city sparkled below us. A live band was playing as we ordered 2 (expensive but worth it) cocktails and enjoyed the experience of being the highest people in Ho Chi Minh.
Greeted by our guide, we were ready for a day of exploring Ho Chi Minh by day. The first stop was at Cho Ion, the Chinatown of the city but unfortunately it was going through renovation and so most of it was closed. We quickly went to our next stop being the Fito Museum. It is a traditional Vietnamese museum which told us all about the medicine used in the past and included a replica pharmacy where we had the opportunity to dress up as a doctor of medicine in Vietnam. Damiano, of course was the first person in the group to dress up and have a go at playing the role. The museum was full of history and great information where we got the opportunity to learn all about the history of medicine in Vietnam.
After the museum, we had a quick lunch and then headed to the Reunification Palace, which was the former residence of the President of the South of Vietnam until the end of April 1975. It was an incredible Palace filled with grand rooms and at the bottom of the Palace, were the bunkers used during the war. Unfortunately, the Palace was not the most tactile visit, with most of the rooms roped off, however the guide did a fantastic job of telling the story of the history within the Palace.
The tour then took us to the Notre Dame Cathedral, a neo-Romanesque cathedral constructed between 1877 and 1883 using bricks from Marseilles and stained-glass windows from Chartres. It was very strange to be standing in Vietnam and looking at the Notre Dame, thinking you could be in France not Vietnam. It was an incredible building that has stood the test of time from the French reign over Vietnam. Next to the Notre Dame, was the famous Old Saigon post office, where we got the opportunity to send some post cards back home. Last stop for shopping was at the French built Ben Thanh Market, which dates back to 1870. It was a maze of stalls selling everything you could imagine. After picking up some souvenirs, we made our way back to the hotel, where we rested and got some food. Tomorrow was a big day for us, as we were going to CAMBODIA (wahhoooo), and I could barely sleep with the excitement!!!
Waking up at 6.30am read for a big day of travelling because this was the day we made our way to CAMBODIA! We were both incredibly excited and I have to admit I was a bit nervous about the journey there, as I had read a few stories about crossing the border and it not being the easiest thing to do. We made our way to the bus station and checked in for our bus. We had to fill out 2 forms with our personal details and pay 35 dollars each for the visa to cross the border. I paid and handed over our passports to the guide from the bus company who came on the bus with us to Cambodia.
The bus was comfy with big seats and we were given a bottle of water and breakfast (2 pastries each) which was a nice surprise. We got comfy for the next 7 hours journey, stopping half way at the service station which was just before the Cambodian border. Once we reached the border, the guide told us where to walk to once off the coach. They called us one by one, checked our visas and passports and then we were met by the coach on the other side; it was as easy as that! Once everyone was back on the coach we continued the rest of the journey to Phnom Penh. When we arrived at Phnom Penh, our driver met us and took us directly to our hotel to check in. We were free to explore by ourselves for the rest of the afternoon and evening as our guide for Phnom Penh, would be meeting us in the morning.
That evening we went out with the aim to find some street food and see what Phnom Penh has to offer at night. The streets we busy with many bars and it all was a bit of a maze. After the day of travelling we were tired and after we have walked for a while exploring the night life we decided to just get some food and beer and made a slow walk back to the hotel.
Our guide met us ready for a busy day of touring Phnom Penh. Mr Chey spoke fantastic English and got us excited for the day ahead. The Royal Palace, was first on the list and the guide explained the rules of dressing before entering the Palace. All women have to cover to their knees and arms to the elbows. It was an extremely hot day and having to cover up made me feel like the warmest women on the planet, but it was worth it as the Palace was extraordinary. It was built by King Norodom in 1866 and it was extremely extravagant with gold everywhere and the Silver Pagoda was also located in the Palace grounds. The flag was flying high to let us know that the King of Cambodia was in residence, which was a very exciting moment to know we were that close to the King. The guide gave use an informative tour of the grounds of the Palace.
Next, we went to the National Museum, which is one of Phnom Penh’s true architectural gems. It was designed in Khmer style in 1917 by famed French architect Georges Groslier and Ecole Des Arts Cambodians. The building was great; however, the tour guide at the National Museum had very limited English and we were unable to touch any of the monuments, which made the tour very limited.
After a quick stop in the local Cambodian post office, we sent another post card home then made our way to Wat Phnom. This is the first pagoda to be built in 1373 to house the Buddha statues discovered in the Mekong by a woman named Penh. In the temple at the top of the pagoda, after doing the ceremony and praying, there was a lady there telling people fortunes.
Walking along the Sothearos Blvd it had a great view of the city and was an opportunity to enjoy the fresh air at Chaktomouk River bank. Then we had dinner at the River side restaurant, with a local Cambodian dinner. It was wonderful and great to enjoy a rest after a jam-packed morning.
Once dinner was done, we made our way to our afternoon activity with the guide. We were going to the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. I have to say I was slightly apprehensive about this tour, as I was unsure of how it was going to be. The Killing Field was one of the sites where there were brutal executions of more than 17,000 individuals, most of whom first suffered through interrogations, torture and deprivation in Toul Sleng Prison during Pol Pot regime from 1975-1979. I was very ignorant about my knowledge about the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, and I learnt a lot from our guide during this tour; however, it was a harrowing tour that will stay with me forever. We walked through the field of where the mass graves once were. The details of the Killing Fields were shocking and incredibly sad. They have a building inside the killing field, holding all the skulls found when the fields were excavated. It is an experience that you cannot really prepare yourself for, to stand in front of 10,000 skulls. It was extremely daunting and brought home the realisation to the extent of the deaths that happened right where I stood.
A short drive from the Killing Field, took us to Toul Sleng Genocide Museum-S21 prison. This prison was previously a high school and used as a prison by Pol Pot’s security forces and became the largest centre for detention and torture during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Inside the prison, along the walls were photos of every person that were kept within the prison. As you walk through rooms of faces upon faces of all the people killed, everyone visiting the prison is in silence and the experience is eerie and uneasy.
On our way back to the hotel, it started to rain like I had never seen before, seriously crazy rain! The roads were quickly flooded turning into streams and I felt terrible for all the people on scooters that were getting soaked as they travelled beside us. By the time we had made it to the hotel, it had turned into a typhoon with the wind and rain at full force whistling around us. That evening we decided to stay in at the hotel rather than try and brave the weather because let’s face it, you would have to be nuts to want to go out in that weather. It was nice to get to just chill for an evening and get ourselves ready for another big journey the next day.
We had breakfast and then were picked up by our driver who took us to the bus station, for our next journey to Siem Reap. It was a similar coach to before, comfy with water and breakfast provided. The journey was 6 hours with a stop half way at a local service station. The food looked incredible, as we looked on from a far unable to buy anything. Thankfully the journey went quickly and we were in Siem Reap before we knew it.
Our driver met us at the bus station and drove us to our hotel in Siem Reap. It was a beautiful hotel with incredibly friendly staff. We had a free afternoon and evening, so we bought two tickets for that evening and then made our way to have to street food-as by now we both were super hungry (I was hangry). We made our way to Pub Street, filled with shops and food stalls. After picking where to eat, we ordered some things to try that we had not eaten before. One of them things being crocodile, which was like a fishy chicken and I feel bad for saying that I liked it but it was quite good. We decided to walk to the circus as it was showing on the map as only 15 mins-I would recommend to take a tuk tuk as the walk was at the side of a busy dirty road but we made it after carefully navigating our way there. It was a very organised event, selling popcorn, ice-cream and cocktails as you walked in. We were guided to our seats and waited for it to start. It had a fantastic atmosphere, with everyone sat around in a circle and each person was given a hand fan to keep you cool from the heat. The show was brilliant, filled with crazy acrobatic stunts and fire shows. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and it was a great experience.
By the time we were leaving the circus, it was raining again and so we decided to get a tuk tuk back to the centre, costing $4 but you will have to barter it down. The night was finished with an ice cream roll, (which is something I’ve wanted to try for a while) and then headed back to the hotel as the next day was a busy tour day.
I was incredibly excited for the visits in Siem Reap, as I love Temples and the history behind them. Our guide met us at our hotel early in the morning and our first Temple we went to visit was called Angkor Wat. It is a world heritage site since 1992 and is famous for its beauty and splendour. On our way we stopped to buy our tickets for the temples-it was one ticket for all the temples we would be visiting on that day and they took our picture for the ticket. Our faces were on our own tickets and we were ready to visit the first temple.
Angkor Wat did not disappoint! It is one of the 7 wonders of the world and it really felt like it. It took your breath away with the impressive magnitude of the temple. The guide asked if we would be happy to go on the non-traditional tour and keep away from the crowds, which we loved and immediately said yes. He took us to the east entrance and it was nice and quiet. As we made our way towards the main temple, the guide stopped us at any great photo opportunity and it felt like we had our very own photographer with us. He told us the history of the temple and took us on a tour of the inside of the temple. He told us whenever we were allowed to touch the walls, carvings and statues making it a real interactive tour.
We next went to Ta Prohm Temple, one of the area’s most beautiful temples and where the movie Tomb Raider was filmed. At Ta Prohm, it was incredible to see the trees take over the old temples, it was a real nature vs man made. Walking through the ruins, again the guide would stop and take some great pictures and get us to feel the fallen tomb stones and they lost their battle against the huge roots from one of the trees.
We had lunch at a local restaurant next to the river, and after walking in the heat all morning we had really worked up an appetite. The Cambodian food was fantastic with fresh fruit juices, chicken curry, sticky pork, rice and of course spring rolls (we couldn’t eat a meal without a spring roll now).
Finally, we went to Angkor Thom, which is the antique capital of Angkor Thom 12th century, with its huge statues at the south gate depicting the churning the ocean of milk. Bayon Temple is unique for its 54 towers decorated with over 200 smiling faces of Avalokitesvara the Phimeanakas. You can feel the faces as you walk through the temple. Our guide told us about various gods, goddesses, and other-worldly beings from the mythological stories and epic poems of ancient Hinduism (modified by centuries of Buddhism).
Our tour for the day was over, so our guide took us back to our hotel and we were free for the evening. We thanked our guide for a great day and said our goodbyes. We had a rest until the evening, where we made our way back to the night market streets. Damiano’s friend was visiting Siem Reap, Cambodia and so we met him and went for a local meal. He ordered all the local traditional dishes for us to try, and they were delicious. After a great evening of food and company, we headed back to the hotel-I was shattered.
Our driver picked us up and took us to the airport in Siem Reap, where we waited for our flight to Ho Chi Minh. As we walked to our plane, we quickly realised that our plane was the very small one with propellers. I walked onto the tiny plane and as we made our way to the 2 seats, we strapped in ready for the flight. It was a bumpy ride but quickly over in an hour and a half.
Reaching boarder control in the airport, I wish I could say coming back into Vietnam was as easy as it was going into Cambodia, but unfortunately it was not. After queuing in serval different ques and filling out forms, we finally made it to the front. For the visa coming into Vietnam from Cambodia you need a passport photo and to pay $25 each-we had no photo or money!
Our journey to Phan Thiet had finally started and we were ready for the 5-hour drive-apart from we hadn’t eaten from 8am that morning and it was now 4pm and we were extremely hungry! We eventually arrived in Phan Thiet and thanked our driver for giving us such a smooth and easy journey. We were staying at the Romana Resort for the next 3 days and it was a fantastic break in the trip.
We started the journey back to Ho Chi Minh. We stopped half way into our 5-hour journey at a local service station and they were serving boxes of mini pancakes. I immediately bought a box and they were wonderful. Arriving in Ho Chi Minh at around 9.30-10pm we went straight to our hotel and rested until the next day.
This was our last day in Vietnam and we wanted to make sure it was a good one. We weren’t flying back to the UK until 7pm that day and so we had the whole day to do one last thing. The Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong‘s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters.
The tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels was led by a local guide who walked us through the networks of tunnels and we even had the opportunity to go down into some of the tunnels. I was too scared but Damiano went down into the small space and crawled along the tunnel. At the end of the tour we had the opportunity to shoot one of the guns. We picked to shoot an AK47 and had 5 bullets each. It was expensive at $25 for the ten bullets but what a rare chance to do something you would never otherwise get to do. I went first and nervously pressed the trigger and that was enough for me. I have learnt that I am definitely not a natural born shooter. We were given tea and local yams (as they were grown there at the tunnels during the war) to end the tour.
Meeting our driver, we then made our way back to Ho Chi Minh airport to head off on the 19-hour journey home ahead of us. The drive to the airport took 1 and a half hours and we were quickly there.
Qatar are a wonderful airline and it was a great first flight, with us being comfy and well fed. We were soon in Doha and with only a 3-hour layover, we were soon on our second flight back to the UK. With only 8 hours between us and UK soil, I could practically smell the grey London air. I slept for most of the flight, which was fantastic.
Our Vietnam and Cambodia adventure was over. I felt sad that it was over, but I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our big adventure and stay tuned for more adventurous blogs!!
For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.
This week’s blog has been written by our new guest blogger Holly Tuke, the award nominated disability and lifestyle blogger behind the successful blog Life of a Blind Girl.
10 Tips on looking for a job when you have a visual impairment
Finding a job can be difficult, even more so when you have a visual impairment or any other disability, but it can also be very rewarding knowing that you have got over many hurdles.
I have a visual impairment myself and I am registered as blind as I have no useful vision so I know what it can be like to find a job when you have a visual impairment.
I graduated university in 2017 so getting a job was constantly on my mind, as I knew that I couldn’t do basic jobs such as working in a shop, pub/restaurant, cafe or those sorts of things to just tie me over. I was working for a visual impairment charity whilst I was in my third year of university for a few hours a week so this was something to do whilst I was looking for a graduate job.
I don’t think I was fully prepared for how difficult it was going to be, I knew that it would be hard but I don’t think that I was fully prepared. I even considered changing my career path or going into postgraduate study.
Nevertheless, I managed to get myself a job in November 2017 which I absolutely love. So, I want to share 10 tips with you on looking for a job when you have a visual impairment.
1. Know what field you want to go into
This is so important whether you have a disability or not, but I’d say that it is key when you have a disability as you can look for jobs in that specific field.
2. Look on job websites
Websites such as Indeed,Total Jobs and The Guardian Jobs are some examples of websites where employers advertise job vacancies. They are fully accessible as well which is a bonus.
Check local websites as well such as your local paper, colleges, schools, the local council or universities for employment opportunities. You would be surprised how many jobs are advertised on such websites. You can often receive email alerts when new job vacancies are listed on websites, these are very useful to have.
3. Communicate with people you know
This can be very daunting and you often feel rude doing this, but if you know someone that works in the field that you want to go into then it can be a great way of finding out about employment opportunities.
4. Make use of services available to you
Making use of services can be a great way of looking for jobs and receiving career advice, services may include the RNIB Employment Line or services in your local area.
5. Contact employers directly
If you are looking to work within a specific company or organisation then contact them directly or look for a jobs section on their website. They may provide you with useful information on how to find out about job vacancies within their organisation.
6. Do some volunteering
Many charities and organisations are often looking for volunteers, this can be a great way of getting experience for your cv, gaining new skills and volunteering is sometimes the steppingstone that you need to get a job within a specific organisation. Nevertheless, volunteering is very rewarding and looks great on your CV.
7. Know your CV
Not all employers accept CV’s, so you might have to fill out an application form to apply for a job. Knowing your CV can make this process easier. If employers do accept CV’s then make sure you taylor your CV to fit the job that you’re applying for.
8. Ask for documents in an accessible format
You can’t apply for a job if documents aren’t in an accessible format, don’t be scared to ask for them in an accessible format, most employers are happy to do this. At the end of the day, you deserve a fair chance like everyone else.
9. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do
When looking for jobs, you may often come across jobs that you think you can’t do because of your visual impairment or other disability, but there are so many jobs that you can do.
As a blind person, one question that I often get asked is ‘what jobs can blind people do?’ And the list is practically endless. Obviously, there are limitations and there are certain jobs that we can’t do, but there are far more that we can do.
10. Don’t give up!
I think that this is the most important piece of advice that I can give, it can often feel disheartening, upsetting or frustrating when you are faced with disappointment when looking for work but it is very important to not give up and feel discouraged. Determination, dedication and hard work will pay off in the end!
Those are a few tips that I can offer about looking for jobs when you have a visual impairment or another disability, I hope that they have been of use.
Seable has been on an incredibly exciting mission for the last 3 weeks to our new destination; Thailand.
The team from Seable that went on this journey was myself Emma, Holiday Tailoress and CEO Damiano La Rocca. We set out on this trip with one mission…..TO COME BACK WITH AN EXCITING ACCESSIBLE HOLIDAY THAT WE CAN OFFER TO THE BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED. I, myself could not wait to get started and show all that we had to offer upon our return.
So here is the third and final part of our trip to Thailand:
After making eggs for breakfast we said our goodbyes to the owners who had made us feel so welcome and started the 3-half hour journey back to Chiang Mai. On the way, we stopped for food at a village restaurant and had local Thai dishes and watched the storm that was happening outside. It was a great day for ravelling as it rained all day. We eventually arrived at our destination and had the afternoon free to explore the city of Chiang Mai. It was a massive city with lots to explore including a blind Thai massage place. This of course was something that we had to go to and it was brilliant.
Picked up at 6.30am we went in a mini bus with the company Dumbo and we drove for 1 hour up into the mountains of Chiang Mai to see elephants. It was my most favourite part of the trip, they were free and happy and it was an absolute privilege to get to be near such fantastic creatures. It is something that we would absolutely love for our clients to experience. We did half a day trip, which we felt was more than enough time to get to see the elephants and they also provided a yummy lunch before they drove us back to our accommodation.
After packing up and freshening up we made our way to Chiang Mai train station and said bye to Jimi who was a brilliant tour guide. He was so knowledgeable and attentive during the whole trip. We then boarded the overnight train back to Bangkok.
Arriving early in the morning we were met by a member of Nutty adventures team who took us to the Hotel De’Moc which was a lovely surprise. We had a free day to rest and then get ready to meet everybody to start the Southern part of the trip.
So, we spent the day resting by the beautiful hotel pool, getting excited to meet the group later that evening. We met them all at 6pm and they took us for a lovely local meal that evening and it was a great way for us all to get to know each other. We all went to bed very excited knowing that the next day we get to explore southern Thailand.
Overall I think that Northern Thailand was fantastic with so much to offer to everybody. It is very accessible in many ways and I can’t wait to bring clients to Thailand. It was a trip of a lifetime and one that I believe many would find it hard to beat.
For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.
Travelling with a disability is never an easy task. That’s why public transports should be on the forefront of helping out. Unfortunately it seems this is not always the case.
Southern Rail’s cuts
Southern Railway train
This week we got very concerned upon hearing how train companies in the UK are scrapping help for disable people; especially Southern Rail, that is quietly cancelling ‘guaranteed assistance’ from 33 stations.
Transport for All, which campaigns on behalf of disabled passengers, said the company have scrapped their ‘turn up and go’ access at dozens of stations.
Before the change was announced, train maps specified the stations where those needing assistance could turn up and travel.
Now, the maps on the trains say that if such passengers do not book help in advance, ‘there might be a significant delay to your journey’.
A spokesman for Transport For All said: ‘Whether it’s assistance failing to turn up, inaccessible platforms or a lack of accessible facilities on trains, what is clear is that our railways are failing disabled and older passengers.
‘Now, to make matters worse Southern Rail have announced that they are withdrawing turn up and go assistance from 33 stations across their network.
‘This is clearly a huge backwards step for accessibility.’
On the other hand, a Southern spokesman said: ‘Passengers do not have to book assistance before travelling with us.
‘We only recommend this to ensure we have staff prepared with ramps or that alternative travel is in place if a station is not accessible. Our priority is to have an on-board supervisor on services which previously had a conductor.’
‘In the exceptional circumstances when this is not possible, we have a clear, robust process to ensure passengers with accessibility requirements are assisted to complete their journeys.’
Travelling with a Guide Dog on Public Transport
After hearing about these cuts by major Railways companies we scanned the web where we found some other very interesting first person accounts about difficulties of travelling on public transport, in this case we report an informative account on the difficulties of travelling with a guide dog from Patrick Robert, from Lambeth, who is blind and uses his guide dog Rufus to travel around London.
Travelling in London can be a real challenge for people with a visual impairment. Back in 2009 I registered as severely visually impaired (Blind). Since then I have had to adapt myself to the transport network and change my habits. Every time I travel around I’ve got the support from Rufus my guide dog.
This change in my life was not always easy. As a result I joined Transport for All in order to get advice and support when using the different public transport modes. “Lack of communications is one of the biggest challenges I face.
I often struggle on buses: when you’re speaking to a bus driver they don’t always verbally respond, but probably do a sign which I can’t see. I have had also some bad experience with bus drivers not stopping at the bus stop but a few meters away. Obviously if a bus driver does not stop in front of me, it makes it impossible for me to discuss with them and check the bus number.
On the Tube I had a lot of issues following the closure of ticket offices, making it harder for me to find staff to assist me. I need staff in order to travel safely and I need to find them as soon as possible to avoid being targeted by the general public.
Lack of communications is also an issue with taxis. Once I booked a taxi and told the operator that I was travelling with my guide dog and the driver should ring my doorbell when they arrive. I received a telephone call from the operator telling me that my taxi had arrived and was waiting outside for me. I reminded the operator of my earlier instructions and asked how I was supposed to identify the taxi outside?
Five minutes later my doorbell rang as I opened the door the driver was already heading back to his taxi.
Locking my front door, Rufus and I walked up to my front gate, only to hear the driver say he cannot take the dog. He proceeded to rant and rave about dogs not being allowed in his taxi. I told him I had advised the operator that I was travelling with a guide dog and he needs to have a go at them and in the meantime I need to get to this council meeting. I could hear him talking on his phone saying he was not prepared to take me. At this point it had started raining and I said to him he was breaking the law by refusing to take us.
That seemed to subdue him for he assisted me and Rufus into his cab and during the journey he kept apologising saying his custom and culture does not accept dogs and his company knew this. I told him it is against the law to refuse access to guide dog owners and their guide dog.
On another occasion I booked a minicab and told the operator that I was blind and the driver needs to come to my front door and ring my doorbell. The phone rang; it was the driver saying that he could not find my property. I gave him specific directions to my home from the location he described to me. Five minutes later, he rang back and asked me to come outside so he could see where my property was and I could see where he was?
I walked outside and waited about ten minutes and then went back in to find four messages on my answer machine from the driver saying he could not see me; he could only see a guy with a white stick, am I anywhere near him? I called him back and told him I was the guy with the white stick.”
The interview with Patrick Robert has been taken from the inews.co.uk (https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/travelling-disabled-person-taxi-drivers-try-refuse-take-guide-dog-i/)
For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.
Have a taste of your disabled holidays with Seable, discover how could it be through some of our client’s reviews.
We don’t sell products: our aim is to provide the most valuable experience supported by passion and enthusiasm, believing that our disabled holidays can offer a wide range of exciting activities in order to make your trip unforgettable.
Olga, 22, a partially sighted lady from Milton Keynes, England said: “Thank you for such a wonderful experience and everything that you have done for all of us while we were in Sicily. It is because of you that I tried so many new things. Your support, encouragement and humour in various activities has helped to make this one of the best weeks in my entire life. You have worked SO hard to ensure that everyone had not only a good time and learned about Sicily, its culture and history, but also tried something new. What you do is amazing. Keep it up. You are spreading so much joy and encouragement and I hope that your company will continue to grow. Hopefully see you again soon!”
Moreover, thank’s to our team, primary composed by local guides, you can deeply connect with the essence of your destination: “Amazing experience in Sicily. Some unique activities you wouldn’t find on a generic holiday package. As well as really friendly staff who have grown up in Sicily, which allows them to give great info on the best hidden places to eat and some knowledge on local history / sights you may want to see.” Daniel, 25, a partially sighted young boy from London said.
Rachel, 23, a partially sighted lady from Birmingham, England said: “The Seable team are amazing and very understanding, they knew the best places to take us in Sicily. A few activities we did such as; scuba diving, walking up Mount Etna, honey tasting, olive oil making and visiting an organic farm, were only some of the brilliant experiences but it didn’t stop there, there was always something we would be doing so there was never a dull moment. The team really do go the extra mile to help you in whatever way you need and are always there for a friendly chat if you need to. Can’t wait for the next trip!!”
Mohammed, 21, a blind man from Blackburn, Lancashire said: “I cannot put into words how good the service is provided by Seable Disabled Holidays. I went to Sicily with them in October and I was extremely satisfied with the five star service that was provided. Damiano and his staff ensured I was completely comfortable at all times. Damiano went out of his way on many occasions to help me and meet my requirements. Seable Disabled Holidays are always prepared to Taylor your holiday to suit you and your needs. All the staff are very friendly and understanding. You do not feel as if you’re disabled because they make sure you are treated as normal and that you get to do what you want. They will fulfil any dietary or religious requirements you have and do everything in their power to make sure you have the best time with no stress. I recommend Seable Disabled Holidays highly. Every excursion that is offered is worth every penny and provides the most authentic experience possible. Don’t take my word for it though, book today and find out for yourself!!”
Tanya, a lovely young daughter of a visually and hearing impaired elderly father from London, said: “Seable and Damiano made it possible to take my visually and hearing impaired elderly father on holiday this year. I could not have done this on my own. They made every effort to make sure we were comfortable and happy. The tour guide Francesco was so helpful with dad and with everything from finding a spa for dad to translating menus. I can’t recommend them highly enough!! Loved Sicily and we will definitely be traveling with Seable again next year.”
We are so proud and happy to hear such lovely feedback, and we want to thank you all for such delicious reviews.
Catania, Sicily is certainly not the best accessible destinations in Italy. Is a beautiful and historic town which offers museums and tourist attractions to all kinds of visitors. However, Catania now provides accessible tour operators, accessible trasport and features disability equipments which ensure both seniors and disabled tourists an enjoyable stay on the sunny Mediterranean sea.
When is the best time to book your holiday? Obviously it depends what sort you want, but in many cases the answer is now. If you look at a graph of when people book and research their holidays, an extraordinary change happens towards the end of December every year. Activity soars from its lowest point of the year to its highest. This remarkable shift happens as many of us, bloated and slightly bored by Christmas, with no work to do and cold grey weather outside, start to think about our summer holidays. We may not book immediately, but we certainly start searching the internet for ideas and prices.
The other day we got a chance to catch up with Damiano La Rocca, the founder of Seable, and a graduate of Accelerator’s Hatchery programme. Damiano recently returned to London, having spent a busy and successful summer in Sicily (his homeland) creating unique holiday experiences for Seable’s first customers.
How were you inspired to start Seable?
I was inspired to create Seable by my father’s charity, LIFE (Life Improvement for Everyone), and the lack of financial support it was receiving. LIFE is a charity that runs a scuba diving program for people with disabilities, which my father started when a good friend of his became paraplegic. It started as a rehabilitation scheme and grew, but has been unable to receive funding. I was motivated to create Seable and turn it into a thriving business and use my father’s services as an outlet for one of the vacation activites. Since its inception two years ago, it has seen growth through much planning and preparation. The first time it was in actual operation was this past summer, where it saw much success.
What does Seable do?
Seable is a social enterprise that organizes holidays for disabled people, primarily those that are blind, deaf, or bound to a wheelchair. Seable provides them with transport and accommodation, but what makes Seable unique is how we tailor each vacation to include exactly what the customer wants and for as long as they would like. We provide activities that the person, despite his or her impairement, can participate in; it ranges from scubadiving and jet skiing to cultural excursions. The main goal of the business is to provide an active vacation for the disabled so they can experience something new and different from their norm, and return with a remarkable story and new skills.
Can you describe some of your best experiences this past summer?
This summer, I was able to host 6 small groups for vacations. These groups ranged in size from a singular person to three or four people. One of the greatest I had was with a totally blind Paralympian. After this silver medalist heard of the different activities he could do while on vacation, he signed up! Because of Seable, he was still able to jet ski, scuba dive, windsurf, experience cultural excursions, and even do a 4×4-driving course! These are all things he wouldn’t have imagined experiencing as a blind man, yet was able to thanks to thanks to my business. Because this guy did his first scuba diving certificate in Sicily, he’s gone ahead and pursued four more scuba diving courses in four months! He’s taken this as a new hobby, a new challenge, and he’s already rebooked with Seable for next year, aiming to break the Guinness world record. Through this, I have been able to show that a holiday can actually change someone’slife. When you see a blind person for the first time windsurfing and he’s so grateful for it, and as long as you’re happy because you’re giving something to him that is invaluable.
Enable magazine is an award – winning disability lifestyle magazine that has joined the list of UK organizations that are working towards helping disabled people live a more independent and accessible lifestyle. This magazine is the best source of information for all the latest updates, beneficial news and interviews, and lots of other exciting and interesting features for the disabled community. (more…)