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Vietnam and Cambodia – The Great Adventure

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.

VVietnam Lonely Planet Guide Book

Day 1

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.

Busy road in Vietnam at night

Day 2

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.

Vietnam Street Food

Day 3

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).

Kayaking in Hanoi Bay

Day 4

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.

Hanoi Dragons

Day 5

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.

Hanoi Bay

Day 6

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.

 

Day 7

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!

Cooking in Vietnam

Day 8

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.

Ho Chi Min City - Night - Skyscrapers

Day 9

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!!!

 

Day 10

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.

Cambodia Phnom Phen

Day 11

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.

 

Day 12

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.

 

Day 13

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.

Angkor Wat

Day 14

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.

 

Day 17

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.

Vietnam Flag

Day 18

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!!

Thanks again,

Emma

 

For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.

VICTA / Seable Thailand Adventure Blog

For this week’s blog we are honoured to post an article written by the talented Matthew Clark, Parlaimentary Assistant at the Scottish Parliament, Trustee for Victa Children and keen traveller.

 

VICTA / Seable Thailand Adventure Blog

 

 

I consider myself lucky to be well internationally travelled. But this is only with family. Destinations and attractions have been numerous, but I have always craved something else; to travel with friends, peers, and experience richer, local cultural experiences than that family planned holidays deliver. Though I have many sighted friends though university, beyond hiking across the UK with friends from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Group, opportunity to enjoy any travel like this and with my own friends has been allusive.

Finally in 2017 I graduated from university – an extremely testing, and sometimes very dark time in my life – and decided it was time to seize more of the life I wanted. This includes travel. But, how, when I have tried, failed, or been too uncertain before?

 

 

Just at this time, VICTA advertised their latest international trip facilitated by Seable. On looking into the itinerary, I realised Thailand is nothing like the seedy image all too often portrayed by television. It is a large, tropical, majority Buddhist nation, with the unique history in Asia of having never been colonised. Our itinerary was to include temple ruin tours, visits to temples in rural hills and town centres, meeting (splashing with and being kissed by) elephants, visiting flower markets and bamboo gardens, voyaging on an overnight sleeper train, lake tour and rice barge, with the final days spent on an island beach resort. This simply is everything bundled into one trip that I could have wanted.

 

I couldn’t imagine better company to spend this trip in than we have enjoyed. VICTA staff and volunteers joined with Damiano from Seable, and two extraordinary Thai tour guides, to provide us all with expertise, assistance where required, but the facility all importantly to enjoy this itinerary to the fullest. When travel has so many times been dampened by planning around disability, or been concerned by the ability of friends to support me, this is such a relief; one I realise now in hindsight, looking back on all we did, and how wonderfully simple it felt to enjoy and accomplish.

 

 

For our Thailand adventure, I am happier today, having experienced and learned how I can travel and discover in the world what I wish to. I could do so with VICTA again, with Seable, and am closer to being able to do it of my own initiative too. But everyday, whether at home or away, I have strengthened, rebound and discovered new friendships, that this adventure can be remembered with, and new ones be made side by side with. .

Thailand here and now, writing this as I fly home, has come at a time in life where I needed refreshment, enlightenment, and purest pleasure. There are so many moments (and friends) to treasure.

 

Thank you one and all who have made this possible. Here is to all our future adventures, at home, away, maybe again in Thailand.

 

Article written by Matthew Clark

 

For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.

 

7 Tips for Disabled People Looking for Employment

Here 7 Tips for Disabled People Looking for Employment. On average, around 50% of disabled adults with disabilities are unemployed around Europe. It is no wonder then that finding a job as a disabled person is very stressful and time consuming; as they have to face the fear of discrimination alongside other normal interview nerves everyone feels. However, whatever your physical or learning disability may be, under the 2010 Equality Act employees and jobseekers are protected against discrimination in order to ensure that you have equality, fairness, respect and understanding either at your place of work or during the recruitment process.

 

The UK government is actively trying to make sure more and more disabled people are getting into employment, as this is beneficial to both the employers and the employees! This blog’s aim is to try and help prepare any disabled adult looking for work to be the best they can be in their interview with a few simple steps:

 

1. Preparation is key

 

Research the company as much as you can do before the interview. One tip is to go onto the company’s website and read the ‘About/About Us’ section to gain a quick insight into the history of the company and what the company values are. Employers are always looking for individuals to fit into their work culture, so once you know what that is, answers can be prepared in order to fit that template!

If you have trouble reading, it might also be worth looking up the company on YouTube for any promotional videos they may have released that would also give a quick insight into the company values and culture.

2. Know your CV

 

Similarly to researching the company beforehand, it is always good to know what exactly is written down on your CV, especially if you have had help writing it. Have a quick read through and come up with examples for each point on your CV that an employer may ask you; for example, if they ask: “Tell me more about your role at *insert previous job here*”, make sure you know what you’re going to say beforehand so that the question doesn’t catch you off guard.

It will be useful to prepare answers on your CV beforehand and then get a friend or family member to look over your CV and ask you questions about it so that you can practice before having your interview!

 

 

 

3. Confidence goes a long way

 

The key to any interview is confidence! If you go into an interview oozing confidence, charm and optimism, then you’re more likely to make a good, lasting impression. Although, be careful not to be too confident as that can sometimes come across as arrogant and rude! There is a fine line, and if you’re not too sure, ask your friends and family for their opinion. The most important thing is to let your personality shine through and be yourself.

 

4. Your disability

 

If you don’t want to, try not to focus too much on your disability. If you have a hidden disability that may not be immediately obvious to employers, then it might be worth bringing it up at an appropriate time in the interview (such as when they ask if you have any questions or if you have anything else you want to talk about). If you don’t want to bring it up though, then do not feel obliged to if you don’t think it is necessary.

If your disability is more on the ‘obvious’ side then you may want to shift your focus elsewhere, which is absolutely fine. Your interviewer may have some specific questions about how your disability will fit into your role, which is also fine as they are probably trying to work out how to put adjustments in place for you should you get the job. An important point is that – if you feel comfortable – try to answer as many questions about your disability as you can as this will show that you are willing to cooperate with your employer to make your position as a disabled in their employment easier. However, it is important to remember that you are not obligated to answer any questions you don’t think are necessary or appropriate. If there are any questions you don’t want to answer, it’s important to stay calm and friendly while stating that you don’t feel comfortable answering the question due to X,Y, Z reasons. The interviewer may not know that they are making you uncomfortable, so it is important to let them know gently but clearly.

 

 

5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions yourself

 

This comes hand in hand with the ‘Preparation is key’ section – it is always good to have some questions lined up at the end of your interview. This shows that you have been engaged and listening to what the employer has been talking about, and also shows a keen interest in the job you’re applying for – something all employers are looking for in an employee!

Try to get some questions ready in your head while the interviewer is talking, such as if you’re unfamiliar with a certain term they use, be sure to ask what it means etc. Some questions to have ready up your sleeve may be:

  • “What is the company culture like here?”
  • “What does the path of progression look like?”
  • “How many people will I be working with?”
  • “What would you like from me, an employee?”

 

6. Know the location beforehand

 

This point may seem like a simple one, but is also very important. It is good to work out where the interview is, what accessibility is like and how long it will take you to get there and plan well in advance, particularly if you have a physical disability. Does it have accessible parking? Accessible toilets? Is there a step free access/a hearing loop/are guide dogs welcome? All of these points are important to find out beforehand to ensure you don’t have a stressful time before the interview has even started! If your employer knows you have a disability, they should supply you with all of this information, but if they don’t know about your disability or have just forgotten, then do not be afraid to reach out to your contact and ask them directly. This will show initiative and independence, so do not be embarrassed about reaching out.

I always recommend getting to the location 15-30 minutes before your interview is scheduled to start, just in case there are any problems on the way there. Even if you’re a little early, once you’ve worked out where the interview is you can go to a coffee shop and have a quick drink to pass the time. This also gives you a good chance to go over any notes you may have made in preparation for the interview.

 

 

7. Rejection

 

It’s good to cover this part, as, on average, there are over 200 applicants that apply for a single role, and only 20% of them make it through to the interview stage. There are also around 5 other people interviewing at the same time for the same role, so sometimes you will get rejected from a role you were hoping to get. This does not mean you aren’t good enough for the role, but it may be something as simple as perhaps the person who did get the job lives 10 minutes closer or has slightly different work experience that may suit the role better. It is important to not be put off from applying to jobs if you do get rejected from a role, and what is even better is getting in contact with the interviewer and asking them for some constructive feedback as this will help you in the future!

 

Here some helpful job websites that are specifically designed for disabled adults looking for work:

 

Some recruitment agencies that focus on disabled adults:

Action on Hearing Loss can provide specific information and advice to deaf or hearing impaired jobseekers.

 

Tel: 020 7588 1885  Fax: 020 7588 1886
Email: info@blindinbusiness.org.uk

Blind in Business provides a range of services to both undergraduates/graduates and employers to ease the transition between education and employment for visually impaired individuals. BIB works through the whole application process, from supplying recruitment materials and vacancy information in a range of formats, to providing specialist seminars and advice. All the services are free and available to any visually-impaired young person looking for work.

 

Tel: 028 9029 7880  Textphone: 028 9029 7882
Email: hq@disabilityaction.org

Disability Action’s Employment and Training Service offers information and support for people with disabilities, to help them find and stay in work or vocational training. They also provide disability and diversity awareness training to employers, organisations, businesses and other interested agencies.

 

Also, some helpful websites might be Gov.co.uk that has details of the ‘two ticks’ scheme, meaning that employers who are involved with this scheme guarantee an interview to all disabled applicants so long as you reach the minimum criteria for the job. Similarly, have a look at the European Disability Forum; a website to research your full European Disability Rights, that has some great job listings there too!

 

Article written by Rosie Sanderson.

 

For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.

VICTA discover the REAL Cyprus

For this week’s blog, we have asked VICTA to tell us about their latest trip with SEABLE, when we explored the REAL Cyprus. Here’s the account of their experience:

 

VICTA discover the REAL Cyprus

 

For VICTA’s first international trip of 2017 we travelled to the beautiful island of Cyprus.  This was a dual location trip, with the first half spent on the coast in Paphos and the second half in the Troodos mountain range.

 

After a very early morning and a long day travelling, our group were thrilled to spend a relaxing afternoon by the pool in the sun. This was a great chance for the group to carry on getting to know each other, and catch up with old friends. In the evening we went out for a traditional meze style dinner. We were able to sample all the classic Cypriot dishes, including halloumi, lamb stews and moussaka.

 

VICTA discover the REAL Cyprus

Trying our hands at traditional pottery making

 

 

For our first full day in Cyprus, we visited ‘The Place’, a traditional Cypriot art and craft workshop. Here, we are able to meet some local crafters and have a look at what they produce. One item of particular interest was a traditional weaving loom. Participants were able to feel the thread and the shape and size of the loom, to get an idea of how weaved items are created.

 

After exploring the workshop, we were able to have a go at making our own mosaic fridge magnets. This was a really fun activity and resulted in a very personal memento of the trip. Then it was time to meet the potter’s wheel! This was a first for most of the group, and resulted in a lot of laughter and some very nice looking pots. The afternoon provided more opportunities for leisurely Cypriot gastronomic delights, and soaking up the lovely Mediterranean sunshine.

 

For our last day in Paphos we visited the Paphos Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent several hours exploring the site, learning about the Roman Mosaics and remains of Roman Villas. One member of the group even did a short performance for us in the ancient Odeon! After a delicious lunch (seafood of course), we enjoyed a wonder around the old harbour and had a chance to do some souvenir shopping.

 

VICTA discover the REAL Cyprus

Paphos Archaeological Park

 

On Saturday we set off for Troodos, calling in at a winery, where it would have been rude to turn down the complimentary Commandaria tasting. After lunch, we went for an energetic hike through the beautiful Troodos mountain range, experiencing new sights, smells and sounds.

 

VICTA discover the REAL Cyprus

Hiking high in the Troodos Mountains

 

The following morning we set off to Troodos Botanical Gardens to learn more about the geographical significance of the area. There were plenty more plants to feel and smell, and it made for an interesting comparison to botanic gardens in the UK. In the afternoon we visited a rose factory, and discovered more uses for rose oil than we could have ever imagined! This of course led on to another retail therapy opportunity.

 

All too soon the trip was over and it was time to go home. For half of the group this was their first VICTA international, and for one of those it was his first time ever on an aeroplane! It was great to explore this fabulous country together, and to witness old connections being strengthened, and new friendships being created. Not long until we get to do it all over again in Sicily!

 

By Felicity Poulton
Lead Activities Coordinator VICTA

 

 

For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.

 

 

World Down Syndrome Day

Today, March 21st, is the World Down Syndrome Day. A day all about recognising how unique those with the condition are. It is by recognising the contributions they can make to the world, and how much they can really achieve, that we can reduce the stigma surrounding disability.

 

 

Down Syndrome International encourages people across the globe to choose activities and events that will raise awareness of what Down Syndrome is, what it means to have the condition, and how people with Down Syndrome play a vital role in our lives.

 

By understanding the issues those with Down Syndrome face in everyday life, and recognising the steps people can take to help them realise their full potential, a real difference can be made to enrich the lives of those with the condition.

 

Today, as the  World Down Syndrome Day reached its 12th birthday, we hope where the voice of people with Down Syndrome, and those who work and live with them, will grows louder.

 

So, let’s celebrate this day with some amazing videos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.

Disabled holidays: 599 pounds per person

Disabled holidays

Disabled Holidays www.seable.co.uk

Disabled Holidays www.seable.co.uk

Come on holiday in Sicily for just 599 pounds per person.
We are taking last bookings for the next season May-October.

We are offering great holidays starting from 599 pounds per person included accessible accommodation, accessible transport, accessible excursions and chaperone. 

The offer will end on the 10th of May, so get in touch to find out more. 

You can call on 0207 7494866 

Our holiday service includes arranging wheelchair assistance at the airport, transfers in wheelchair adapted vehicles, mobility equipment hire, guaranteed adapted rooms at time of booking for disabled people.

You can also book your disabled holiday here: http://www.seable.co.uk/contact

Seable offers accessible activities, naturalistic excursions and gastronomic delights to the sighted and visually impaired, partially blind, totally blind, wheelchair users and physically impaired holidaymakers: seable.co.uk

Disabled holidays http://blog.seable.co.uk/holidays-for-wheelchair-users-and-physically-impaired/disabledholidays

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Disabled jobseekers: Jobs for disabled people with Evenbreak

disabled jobseekers

disabled jobseekers – Jobs for disabled people

Disabled jobseekers look no further

We are proud to spread the word for Evenbreak, a not-for-profit social enterprise, was formed to achieve three aims:

  • To help inclusive employers attract more talented disabled people;
  • To help disabled jobseekers find work with employers who will value their skills;
  • To promote the business benefits of employing disabled people.

With Evenbreak, inclusive employers can be confident that they will attract additional disabled candidates than they will attract from other media. Disabled jobseekers can be confident that employers who have chosen to place their vacancies on this site are serious about looking beyond their disabilities to identify what skills they have to offer.

Evenbreak was founded and is run by a disabled businesswoman. Jane was a finalist in the Stelios Disabled Entrepreneurs Award 2008, and has personal experience of employing many disabled people, learning so much about the value they bring to a business. Also, as a disabled person herself (a degenerative spinal condition that restricts her ability to sit or walk, meaning she runs Evenbreak lying down with a laptop suspended above her) she knows how important staying in work is – not just for the income, but also for the self-esteem, dignity, feeling of being useful and having a purpose it brings.

Evenbreak is run by disabled people, for disabled people. As a social enterprise we are keen to promote a positive image of disabled people in employment, and any surplus income will fund positive publicity campaigns promoting the benefits of employing disabled people, to balance out some of the current negative, and inaccurate, portrayals of disabled people in the media.

We are confident that this website is as accessible as it is possible to be, and it has been extensively tested by people with a range of disabilities. If you find it doesn’t meet your needs, please let us know.

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Accessible Sport – iDID Adventure Adaptive Conference

Accessible Sport: iDID Adventure Adaptive Conference “Building Resilience Through Independent Adventure. Work in disability sport, ad an adventure professional or are you looking to access adaptive adventure sports?”.

iDID Adaptive Adventure

Accessible Sport – iDID Conference

Last Friday we were in this magnificent Conference held in Northampton (UK), where we had met many operators in favor of disability sport. Below, we present some pictures we took at the event.

 


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The Times of Malta – Affordable and action-packed holidays for disabled people

The Times of Malta:  Affordable and action-packed holidays for disabled people

“When you read the list of activities on a Seable holiday, it sounds like the script of a James Bond film:

The Times of Malta

An accessible tour of Agrigento. Right: Scuba is a great activity for people with disability, as they find that the weightlessness in the water frees them up.

scuba diving, jet-skiing, ascending Mt Etna… The participants aren’t your average action heroes, however. Everyone on a Seable trip has some kind of disability, either physical or sensory. And they come to Sicily for a holiday where their disability takes a back seat to pleasure seeking. Peter Warren, 81, from the UK suffers from macular degeneration and only has about five per cent of his vision left. From a balcony in Sicily, he says he is “having the best holiday of my life”. It’s the first time he’s been able to travel alone since he started to lose his sight. He says: “This holiday certainly raised my self-esteem because I know I can travel abroad… and feel as though I’m on my own.”

Read more at The Times of Malta:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20140309/travel/Affordable-and-action-packed-holidays-for-disabled-people.510111

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The Disability Confident campaign – Seable Holidays

Seable supports the Disability Confident campaign, a new strategy to help more disable people get into work. 

Find out what the Department for Work and Pensions is promoting in this new campaign:

Positive about disability

Seable: Positive about disability

We’ve published a new strategy setting out ideas on how to help more disabled people and those with health conditions get into and stay in work.

Building on the success of the #disabilityconfident campaign, and as part of the government’s long-term economic plan, the proposals in the strategy look at what can be done for both employers and individuals, to enable more disabled people and people with health conditions to fulfil their aspirations of having a career.

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