Weekly Blog; And so this is Christmas and what have We done?

Things are starting to slow down here at HQ, we’re down to just 6 people in the office! Looking back, 2010 has been a very eventful year. I have split this blog in two, firstly, I will review the year and highlight EIA’s achievements. Secondly, and you can find the second part here, we share the fantastic things you have been doing too.

Thank you to everybody who has supported us over the last 12 months, here are just some of our successes this year.

  • Copyright EIA/Mary RiceEIA played a crucial role in ensuring proposals by Tanzania and Zambia to sell 112 tonnes of stockpiled ivory through CITES failed.Despite limited resources we were able to carry out investigations in both countries, gathering irrefutable evidence that levels of poaching are much higher than reported. We published a report and video ‘Open Season’ and presented this evidence at CITES. EIA was the only voice to speak out against the real situation in Zambia and thanks to us both proposals were rejected. Read what Mary had to say.
  • New Chilling Facts Survey, coming soon.We provided evidence to ensure nine leading UK supermarkets reduced their use of climate changing HFCs following our second ‘Chilling Facts’ survey in February.
  • Once again EIA was at the forefront of protecting whales at the IWC. In June, proposals by Japan, Iceland and Norway to be allowed new commercial catch quotas threatened to seriously undermine the 24-year moratorium on whaling. Thankfully, our strenuous lobbying helped to stop them.

  • Copyright EIA/TelepakOur forest team had a major success as the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of banning imports of illegally logged timber and wood products. This follows the success of EIA’s efforts in the US to introduce a ban in 2008. It is a testament to EIA’s tenacity and commitment that after 10 years of campaigning, the world’s two largest markets for wood products, have now shut the door on imports of stolen timber. Read on.

  • Working with our Indonesian partners we highlighted the illegal exploits of timber barons Ricky Gunawan and Hengky Gosal in a damning report: ‘Rogue Traders: The Murky Business of Merbau Timber Smuggling in Indonesia’. The report received huge coverage, putting Gosal uncomfortably in the spotlight. Read Julian’s reaction.
  • Copyright istock.The Year of the Tiger made history as the highest level political meeting ever held for a single species in St Petersburg, at the International Tiger Forum. Debbie Banks and Alasdair Cameron were invited to the Forum, as experts in the field of illegal trade and enforcement in consumer countries. $330 million was pledged and Leonardo di Caprio donated $1 million, all the press were there. Read Debbie’s comments following the forum.

  • Our award-winning documentary Inside: The Tiger Trade continues to be broadcast internationally and is raising our profile telling the rest of the world how we work. Watch out for more documentaries next year. See the trailer here.

None of this would have been possible without your support – Thank you.

Our blog is in its 5th month and I am sure you will agree, it has gone from strength to strength. We have had nearly 5000 visits in that time and by far our most popular post has been this one. Thank you to all the campaigners to have contributed and all of you who have made comments.

I’ll leave you with the words of Louie Psihoyos, director of Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove

The Cove. Credit - thecovemovie.com“EIA is an amazing example of a small group of individuals using great science and passion to help save the environment … in the environmental movement, EIA is the equivalent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

From everyone at EIA, Seasons Greetings and thank you once again.

Signing out for 2010,

Sophia Cheng

Weekly Blog; A post dedicated to you.

Thank you to you!

None of our work would be possible without support from people like you. EIA is a small organisation but a lean one, for every £1 that is donated, 79p goes directly towards our frontline, investigation and campaign work.

Many of you have been fundraising for EIA this year in all shapes and forms; some of our top fundraisers include,

Sue Harris raised money for EIA at her party in SeptemberSue Spicer who had an EIA stall at the Dive Show twice this year, raised £1500. Andy Rouse, who has donated over £1000, from the proceeds of his book. The Wignall family raised over £450 from a sponsored 50 mile walk in Somerset. Thank you to Nicola Shepherd, Sue Harris who gave over £900 in celebration from a wedding and a party respectively!

John Hegley performing at Roar! Imagine a Tiger - Credit Sue FollDan Cockril, Tony Husband and friends organised a fantastic event a few weeks ago, Roar, Imagine a Tiger, a collection of poets and artists performed including John Hegley, Polar Bear, Charlie Dark and Sean Taylor. Despite tube strikes and adverse weather they raised a smashing £600! It was a wonderful evening; glass of wine in hand and seated in the comfort of Screen on the Green, away from the cold and the snow, the audience were entertained with a wonderful variety of performances in aid of our tiger campaign, in this, the Year of the Tiger.

Save the Wild Tiger Forum - Copyright Mike DooleyLast week, we jointly held the UK tiger forum, in conjunction with Born Free and Wild Aid, hosted by Asia House, it was a fantastic evening and you can see highlights here. Donal McIntyre hosted the evening, Bill Oddie was a guest speaker, Virginia McKenna, Liz Bonnin attended and even Brian May was there (for a short time), 300 of you turned up to find out how the tiger fares following the International Tiger Forum in St. Petersburg. All the money raised will be split between the three organisations.

Thank you to all our funders, from larger trusts and companies, down to each individual member. Naturetrek donated over £7000 to EIA this yearThank you to all those who gave their time, our volunteers; Tomo, Debbie, Cara, Ilaria, Alessandro and Alex and others who shared their expertise, Michael Ambjorn, Julia Hailes and Ogilvy Ideas Shop, amongst others. We really appreciate all your support.

Looking ahead, Jason Cheng (yes, ahem, you might note a similarity in the surname, he is my brother!) will be running the 2011 marathon for EIA.

Jason Cheng will be running the marathon in 2011

He are a few words from him;

“I’m supporting The E.I.A for this year’s London marathon as I am an avid supporter of the work and research they undertake and I am all for increasing the awareness of endangered species around the world. As a typical university first year student studying in Bangor, north Wales; marathon training will provide a good structure to disperse between zoology lectures and the pub, which will be sorely missed over the coming months. This Christmas, it would be great iif you would find a few extra quid to donate to this worthy cause; http://www.justgiving.com/jasoncheng

So all that leaves to me to say is Merry Christmas and

thank you for all your support over the last 12 months.

From the EIA team.

Sophia Cheng

EIA’s Weekly Blog Feature: Do you have what it takes to be an EIA fundraiser?

Many of our members have been tackling their own exciting fundraising challenges to help EIA, such as Isobel (12) and Mark (9) who embarked on a 50-mile hike along the River Perrett trail in Somerset, with their family and dog in tow.

“On our last day we walked from Haslebury Mill to Winyards Gap,” said proud mum Nicola. “This was our hardest day of walking as we were all tired, the way was poorly marked at times, and we went quite a long way out of our way! We did make it to the pub in time to order lunch and plenty to drink and to celebrate finishing the walk.

“This was a great experience – character building, I’m sure, and we managed to raise £450 for EIA and the tigers.”

Illaria and Chris have been pulling pints at the UK’s biggest festivals this summer including Glastonbury, Latitude and Reading! Together they have raised over £450 volunteering for EIA!

The streets of Kingswood, near Bristol, will be dramatically transformed this weekend via an artistic jungle theme, complete with a parade featuring a five-foot tiger designed by the local school, with all proceeds from the weekend donated to EIA! We look forward to sharing pictures of the event soon!

Do you have what it takes to be an EIA fundraiser?

The sky’s the limit when it comes to dreaming up fundraising ideas to help EIA. Whether they’re conceiving themed events, arranging screenings of our documentary work or getting themselves sponsored for a challenge, our members are passionate and creative. If you can think up a fun way to raise much-needed funds for EIA, then do please get in touch as we’d love to help you.

We have copies of our award-winning documentary available for private screenings, and if you’re interested in holding a fundraising event we’re happy to supply a copy of the film and other materials for your evening. Email sophiacheng@eia-international.org or call us at 0207 3547960.

2 Responses

  1. I would be interested in hiring our local hall and screening your film, providing tea/coffee and biscuits as a fundraiser but have never screened anything so I don’t really know how to do it and I would not look at doing this until after Christmas as the hall is pretty well booked up until then and it is really between then and Easter that people are looking for an evening out.

    Regards,

    Rosemary

     

    • Hi Rosemary,

      Thank you for your comments and your interest in hosting a screening, it would be a great idea! A big screen certainly does this documentary justice. I am more than happy to help you as much as I can, giving you details on the technical equipment you would need etc. Let me know what you had in mind, you can email me at sophiacheng@eia-international.org or call me on 0207 354 7980.

      I look forward to hearing from you,

      Sophia

Papua New Guinea – the land of the unexpected

I’ve gone and left it a long time since I last wrote and generally been out of touch for a while but most importantly I survived my time in the jungle, did not get eaten and generally had a wholesome cultural experience 🙂

I was reunited with Jason in Bali..slightly worried he would want to get trollied straight away and me knowing my liver would not be able to cope after the Filippino thrashing. To my surprise he was under the weather and generally gone off drinking!! However, by the time full moon came around we both gave drinking another go…Jason ended up stripping down to undies and jumping in the pool!

My next experience was the Pelni ship – Indonesian ferries. Jason was keen for me to travel the authentic way – the journey was 3 days in economy..we set up camp on the deck, very hot and very smelly. Jason was comfortable in his hammock I was on the floor with cockroaches! But it was all in the name of character building and I was blown away by how much of the local language Jason had picked up in his 2 months there.

We only had a few hours in Makassar then on to Jayapura, West Papua. This is where it all got a lot more exciting. Jayapura is a dump. And a lot more expensive than the rest of Indonesia ($15 for a night – ouch!). We headed straight to Papua New Guinean (PNG) consulate to get out visas underway, worryingly we bumped into a lot of backpackers who had been waiting up to 2 weeks for their visa. Jason only had 5 days before his indonesian visa ran out. We charmed the ppl at the consulate and with a lot of persistence we actually got our visas faster than anyone we knew…only to find out that they were not going to let me out of Indonesia!! I had the wrong visa but my english charm pulled though again :p and after some sweet talking they finally stamped me out of the country. Our boarder crossing was mildly eventful including a drunken swede getting on top of the moving car…we were also given lots of free condoms I suppose in an effort to help the AIDs situation which is the worsed in the Pacific.
************Papua New Guinea ******************************

The craziest destination on my world itinerary, when I mentioned it to most people their reaction was surprise as it has a pretty dangerous reputation. However my first encounters, infact all my encounters with Papuans were really friendly. Many of them speak a good level of english too. Our first stop was the boarder town of Vanimo – there is nothing there! One supermarket and one bank! Now the thing about PNG is that there is no infrastructure for the residents let alone for tourists trying to get around. the main method is PMV – private motor vehicle. Usually a pick-up that’s heading somewhere and he sells space in the back. The other thing is that everything is very laid back.. it’s not just Sunday that is a day of rest, everyday is a day of rest. So we bided time in Lido a small surfing village with a nice family sleeping in a bamboo hut on the floor and washing in the river. Sitting in the back of a pick up truck sounds fun but not 6 hours of it on a shockingly bad road followed by another 8 hours of it at night and then in the rain. The last 4 hours i sat in a puddle and was absolutely miserable. So by the time we reached our destination any bed would do. Wewak guesthouse is owned by a crazy jaundiced Yugoslavian lady that screeched in your ear whilst shuffling around. It turns out that she was brought to PNG and subsequently abandoned by an aussie guy so she actually turned to prostitution for money. It must have really messed with her head cause she absolutely scared the bejesus out of me! Our room was a prison cell and I don’t want to mention the bathroom.

The following day we had a change of luck; another point to note about PNG is that there are so few white people (wallys) or tourists around that any expats are more than willing to stick a limb out and help you. This is what happened to us..a guy called Philip pulled over and let us know that he owned the best hotel in the area and we were permitted to stay there complimentary..provided we washed! ha! I forgot to mention that for our whole PNG experience we were with an american called Mark who had got a ridiculously lucky on the stock market and had been travelling for 28 months, he was typically american arrogant, inappropriate and amusing. We’d learned to love him by the end! He was smellier than the rest of us! After a dip in the pool (!) we had a complimentary meal! The boys had ideas of getting a canoe and paddling down the Sepik, PNG’s largest river. However I was slightly less enthusiastic as 1 white couple got attacked the previous year, Philip – introduced us to 2 anthropologists who had just come out of the bush. They were wonderful and suggested we stay where they had carried out their research. With in 3 hours it was all sorted!

Tongwinjambe was to be our home for the next 10 days, 18 hours away from the nearest town. We stayed with a fantastic family in a traditional village. Going to the market for food and to the family’s garden to dig up sweet potato and cut down sago – their staple, and collecting drinking water from the well. We were fortunate enough to attend a funeral and it was an overwhelming experience. Mourners adorn mud on their bodies and women wail during the ceremony. People seem to die quite frequently, another young man had had a heart attack playing football. There was no more football to be played for the next year. I entertained the kids first by learning pidgin songs then by teaching them english ones, favorites included Hokey Cokey and What’s the Time Mr Wolf?!!! We cooked our own food and the boys brought the fish back. Everyone walks barefoot and during wet season it’s reminiscent of Glastonbury, my feet took quite a beating. Since they are so remote they have quite a naive view as to how the world works, one absurd example is that they grow a lot of narcotics in that area and they actually asked Mark to help them try and sell the stuff in the US!!

Many of the families don’t have much money if any but they’re not poor in the truest sense they are very self sufficient and trade for goods. However as western mentality creeps in the need for cash becomes ever stronger, prices for certain goods are extortionate 3quid for a bag of flour! Most days in the village are very lazy, napping and making string bags! One event for the day involved their dog which kept going in the kitchen so the whole family laid the dog down, and the father armed with a machette chopped off the dogs tail with their 2 year old son jumping up and down with excitement in the background! They just found it funny – I have a feeling the dog did not…

Our time was up before we knew it, personally i’d had enough of mosquito’s which tormented me everynight and was keen to actually wash properly…we had quite the send off as the whole village came to see us off, shouting “Apo”! One exceedingly long journey on a canoe through the night and we were back in civilisation again, PNG civilisation anyway. Back at the Boutique hotel I somehow managed to talk my way into getting another nights accomodation on the house, although we were told rather bluntly that we must wash and dress smarter (something Jason and Mark struggled with having given alot of our clothes to the village!) Philip’s genorosity shone through so for Mark’s 25th the meal, again was on the house.

By this point it is time for me and Jason to start making our way to Aus and then NZ however, PNG being PNG our 1st domestic flight was cancelled which was essential if we were to make our 3 connecting flights. Sitting in the “airport” Jason recalled a conversation over dinner the previous night, we had met a helicopter pilot flying in our direction so he went off in search of him, 10 mins later we have wangled our way onto a free flight!! I got the front seat as I was the smallest and Oh my lord it was the most amazing hour of my life, what a fantastic way to travel! We flew over the Sepik, along the coast line, over ridges, low enough to see all the locals waving up at us! I can’t explain how brilliant it was, totally unexpected too. (see facebook!) More flight issues meant we were put up in the best place in Medang for the night too, and we got to speak to the pilot who had wanted to fly helicopters since he was 7 and was now living his dream. And that was our last night in PNG. We only got a small sample of the country but what a taster! To go more remote than we did you’d need a lot more time and money. It was a fantastic experience for me and I hope to remain in contact with the family we stayed with.

Flying into Brisbane was really exciting, chocoloate on the plane! And out of the window, skyscrapers and lights and cars and roads!!! Our night at the airport was almost luxourious (We both had Subways and Guylian chocolate!). Although jason was not allowed to take feathers or snake vertebrate into NZ we were finally allowed through and were reunited with our slightly emotional mother. All the Chengs are altogether now and we are travelling the north island. I’ve given up backpacking for a month or so and doing some more fine dining. NZ seems to be stuck in the 1950s but a geologists dream! Looking forward to Christmas with family friends. It’s so much colder here it almost feels Christmassy!!

Fashion Shows and Fertilised Eggs; A Tale of Two Halves‏

Morning all, the sun has just risen over Manila and I have some time to kill as I wait to avoid paying half night fees at my hostel (very tight of me I know).
Mine and Chris’ adventure ended in Vang Vien. This is where tubing occurs, briefly it involves a rubber ring and lots of bars on the river bank. A pub crawl on water if you will or a grown up water park with no health and safety whatsoever. Along the way there are slides, swings and zip wires, which get more interesting the more you consume. This is the backpacking rite of passage in SE Asia and Lonely Planet are right about this one; it’s a blast! You usually need a day to recover so they have “Friends Cafes” where you are basically horizontal watching reruns for as long as you like. Yes, this place lacked culture and temples but it was a great getaway from all of that. We also showed 2 other people how to ride a motorbike and explored caves and lagoons. But alas that is where we parted, Chris is now heading south in the direction of Cambodia having spent his birthday in the jungle! Was great travelling with him and looking forward to some pho bo when we get back!
From one good friend to another I ventured in the direction of Bangkok in search of Adam, who I had it on good authority had finally sorted himself out and was actually on his way to Thailand. Took me a while to work out he was an hour out of the centre but eventually I made it to his hotel, I got a little over excited and emotional when we were united, lol.
As well as Adam’s company, which I was obviously looking forward to, he
also brought with him a package from home including essentials from M&S but also a surprise box of belgium chocolotes from mum, I was absolutely delighted. Thanks again! And some money for a nice slap up meal which we took full advantage of. It being Adam’s first night in Bangkok and my last, quite fittingly we had a few buckets on Khao San road talking about everyone from home and how everyone is getting on. Then I headed south all the way from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur on trains, buses and taxis…plus on night at the airport.

The Phillippines

Probably one of the best decisions i’ve made, if not only because it was not on my original plan but I’ve had a completely fantastic time here and did it all on my own! My first impressions of Manila weren’t amazing, you can see the American influence everywhere as well as the Spanish therefore more like the Americas than asia. Areas are quite run down and it was a bit of a culture shock really. Someone I met in Hanoi put me in touch with the people he met whilst in the Philippines and before I knew it I was hanging out with Aussie djs and frenchies as well as lots of filipinos. I met a guy called Earnest, the most entertaining gay guy of my acquaintance who said he was helping with a fashion show the following day, I casually dropped in if they needed an extra pair of hands (i.e. backstage etc) to let me know. Earnest got in touch with me so I headed to the nice part of Manila, Makati and was introduced to the designer, Pia and stylists. Within ten minutes Pia asked if I would like to host the event, me, host, a
fashion show?! They were going for international appeal and my accent was what they were looking for! The models were all beautiful but really intimidating, only one actually spoke to me! For any of you who have seen The Devil Wears Prada it was straight out of that, everyone was stereotypically model-like and arrogant only the gay guy was nice to me, ha! I was dressed in a scruffy denim skirt and polo shirt but Pia said she’d dress me up. I stayed round the other side talking to the waiters, sorting out what I’d say and not make a tit out of myself. I was called to get my make-up done by a top Filipino artist, he did my hair as well, bear in mind I’ve only worn eyeliner and not straightened for over 3 months – I told him I hope he liked a challenge!
The result was I did not recognise myself in the mirror! Next thing I know I’m in a dress Pia had designed herself and high heels (another thing I am not used to wearing!). When I went downstairs people wanted to take photographs of me, asking me my name and who I was wearing!! Press from fashion magazines in the Philippines. I was also introduced to Filipino actor and a top talent scouter who asked for my email after saying I had a face for commercials! (ha!!) The fashion show went really well, I did ok once I got over my nerves.Had such an awesome time meeting people and hanging out backstage with the less than straight stylists.
The island of Boracay was next, where I somehow managed to get a room in the nicest hotel on the island for free (and no Adam/Wiggy it didn’t involve me giving any favours!). The aussie dj, Simon Bell was playing as the sunset on the rooftop bar, fantastic. It was Halloweeen that night which is huge out here so there were parties on the beach until the wee small hours. The next day I was introduced to Victor Basa, who is a celebrity out here, he was on their version of Dancing On Ice, is in a boyband, models etc. A nice chap, very pretty too. When we went out for lunch people were taking photos of us! So surreal. I later found out he’s bisexual. lol. He’s co-host of Strictly Come Dancing and good friend since they were in the BB house – Philippines (!) is Jon Avila, Victor said in passing he was half-filipino from Essex, I clearly overreacted so he invited John over.
Another very good looking chap, when he spoke I had to try hard to stop myself from laughing, he had the thickest essex accent I’ve heard in a long time!! He grew up in Brentwood and we talked about Dukes and Zeus, I had to break it to him that it had shut down! As the drinks flowed he kept coming up to me saying how it was great to talk to someone from home, how no-one understands him out here. He plays a superhero in a family TV show out here so is not allowed to smoke etc in public. TO be quite honest, this guy bloody loves it out here, everyone loves him .I met more people in the industry and  I met more people im the industry,mingling with high society on free cocktails is never too tough.

However, I did notice how it disagreed with me, how i’d not really done much exploring. How fickle and gossip-led it all was. I forgot to mention the aussie dj who was a bit of a diva, walked out creating quite the drama and two factions… also I was running out of party outfits! So I balanced it by chill out days on the beach with my book and sampling filipino delicacies…balot – fertilised egg. You drink the ambiotic juice then munch the yolk and the very young chicken…sometimes they are so developed they have feathers…i bottled it on the embryo. Photos to follow.

Back on Luzon I headed north to the rice terraces, another UNESCO world heritage site. Lots of walking up and down valleys and to waterfalls, we slept in a traditional Ifugao hut. So peaceful we were in bed by 9!

So that’s where I am now. In just a few days from now the Cheng’s gruesome twosome will be reunited in Bali. I cannot wait, if only to see what 4 months of travelling has done to my brother!

Good Morning Vietnam

Sin Jow! Today is our last day in Vietnam, in two and a half hours we are embarking on a 24+ journey to Laos’ capital. It’s supposed to be a hideous journey but character building i say. Picking up where we left off, we headed into the highlands to see a different side of Vietnam. 
Dalat was nice, more like the french alps than asia, much much cooler, even had to wear a jumper at one point! We fell for the tourist trap and ended up seeing the naf sites, which the Chinese tourists we were with loved…Chris did a bit of rafting though near this ‘huge’ waterfall! Interestingly, they sporadically turn the power off in Dalat city for five hours in the middle of the day, wth very little to do we got cake and wine and munched in the dark!
Next day we really got off the beaten track and headed north on very local buses; on one they just stared at us for ten minutes when we got on. Vietnamese toot their horn every 30 seconds and even have horns with fade out and little tunes. The young guy heckles people on the street for the six hour journey trying to cram more and more people on the bus. The last bus 
we were on was loaded with a half tonne of Durian in the back (probably the most disgusting smelling fruit ever) which made us both feel ill.
In Kon Tum, we met Steph and Henry who convinced us to hire motorbikes the next day. Neither of us had been on motorbikes before but we rose to the challenge, Chris only moderately burned himself! We went up passes in the hills and into local villages, it was really great to see what the Vietnamese get up to when they are not hassling you for a moto or taxi in the larger towns!
It was on the bus back to the coast when Chris got into his second accident of the day. You see the Highlands are fantastic, beautiful scenery but not well lit up at night. At a loo stop he managed to put his foot and a large part 
of his leg through a hole on the side of the road, scraping a healthy amount off skin off and making his motorcycle burn considerably worse. Both exhausted in Danang, where we did not want to be, we found a less seedy place to stay after the first place charged by the hour…
Hoi An was our next stop, a small town on the coast but very much kitted out for tourists, neither of us wanted clothes made so we sampled the night life instead. I met some people that like me had come all the way from Russia, the first time that has happened in SE Asia. We exchanged trans-Siberian stories during happy hour (where drinks were free!!)
Keen to keep heading north, our next stop was Nimh Binh, we arrived 4.30am on a sleeper bus. But once we had recuperated we thought we could go the motorbikes alone. We both loved it! Picking up speed passing stunning hills and paddy fields,(very similar to Yangshuo in China). But we didn’t have time to stay long.
Halong Bay – a UNESCO world heritage site – is a must in north Vietnam and what better way to do it than by cruising round on a junk boat for 3 days. Kayaking and swimming in the sea before brekkie too- it was a tough schedule. We stayed on Cat Ba island for the night before reaching Hanoi – our last stop in Vietnam.
We had heard mixed reports of Hanoi but everyone said the place to stay is Hanoi Backpackers, it’s where all the cool kids hang. (clearly we headed 
straight for it!) And we’ve been with a good bunch since. We checked 
out Loo Pub…then a place my brother had been and had left me a note which i went in search of. ‘Hi Sophia Cheng, BRO’ is graffitied on the wall there.
At dragonfly, it was someone’s brithday..which somehow led to the consumption of 2 and a half bottles of tequila. Safe to say most of the next day, bar an excellent fry up, was a write off! I was feeling slightly better in the evening and we went to a gig to see an Aussie band, Regurgitate, play who were surprisingly good. I felt I was making up for my lack of festivals over summer. We unfortunately missed the Vietnamese punk rock band. Shame.
Night life in Vietnam tends to shut at 12 because it is considered a ‘social 
evil’ and the police come in and turn off the music, the only place open after that are lock-ins, where you siddle up and knock on what looks like a completely closed bar only to find the drinks are flowing on the inside. Last night we hung out with locals who were playing the guitar and violin, so so random but brilliant. Chris enjoyed meeting ex-Viet Cong soldiers who declined to inform him of all the gory details they’d experienced!
I’ve been travelling for nearly three months now, it doesn’t feel like a holiday anymore but a way of life. My biggest decision is what fantastic country shall i go to next. The credit crunch sounds so far away and detached from where I am. Although my funds are disappearing fast. Next stop is Laos for infamous tubing…then to Bangkok where I will stay with Adam for a few days (good friend from home) before sampling the Philippines 🙂

Soph & Chris’ Excellent Adventure

Battambang in Cambodia had me on a bamboo train zooming on rickety tracks playing chicken with carts coming the other way. With nothing more to excite me I went back to Pnom Penh to get my Vietnamese visa. So I took the opportunity to visit an orphanage for the day. I really had no idea what to expect, having only seen Oliver Twist but it was great fun and they really appreciated the large bag of rice I brought with me. It was great because I was simply able to be a kid for the day. Played volleyball, very badly, it, colouring in and Uno. Some of the kids there were as young as three and they’re learning French, English and even Japanese. The orphanage relies solely on donations and is barely able to scrap enough together.
After my good deed I thought i deserved a little treat, so I went to the Raffles hotel, the most famous hotel in Cambodia (journalists had to stay here
during the early 1970s) and had a real Singapore Sling, (during happy hour obviously!!) Met some businessmen who were involved with NGO’s and
funding so did a bit of networking and went to see some documentaries on environmental problems facing Cambodia. Was refreshing to get away
from the touristy thing for a few days.
But I had itchy feet and I thought it was high time to head to the beach, I had not seen the sea the whole time i’ve been away. Sihanoukville did not
let me down 🙂 stayed at an English run place and stocked up on Heinz baked beans, PG tips and fantastic fry ups. The place itself is probably what Thailand was like about 15 years ago. Lots of shacks along the beach and long happy hours. Met a bunch of Scottish girls, digged that bikini out
and just chilled out. We got acquainted with a bunch of lads from Ireland and the 10 of us hit it pretty hard every night we were there!! Good times.
Next stop was Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as most people still call it. With only one hours sleep before the bus I was so grateful the journey wasn’t
full of locals and karaoke and the AC was working. I curled up and arrived 6 hours later. Chris (Wiggy to most people) arrived the next day and so I
am no longer travelling on my jack! We went to Apocalypse Now the main club in the city and it is FULL of hookers!! I thought Sinhoukville was bad,
Chris chatted to 7 girls, 6 were prostitutes. I think he was a bit disheartened by that, lol. I on the other hand was one of the three western girls there. But my Asian look played a part because if Chris left me to go to the bar I swear creepy fat men started looking at me weirdly… It was also mildly entertaining to see how the whole operation worked…men sidling up to unimpressed women and they then negotiate prices. We bumped into the lads again the next night and Chris propositioned a young lady, it would have been a $100 each for the night (that’s 4 lads and me…!) Alas, that was out of all our budgets.
We were very ready to leave Saigon and whilst waiting for the night train I went and got a full body massage..best 4 quid i’ve ever spent! It was all
rather sensual though and it’s easy to see how guys pay a few dollars more for a happy ending! The night train was hilarious, seeing Chris attempt to get into the top bunk and it really reminded me of travelling with the girls (we were slightly more agile than Wiggy – who hit his head very hard 3 times!). Nha Trang started off intrestingly…me and Chris sampled the mud baths… but a quite night turned into us taking a paralytic girl back to ours cause she had no idea where she was staying…
What we needed more than anything was a detox – a few earlier nights involving less alcohol. So we went to Jungle beach a remote place with
shacks on the beach, it is stunning. Paradise even. It was perfect. Some people get stuck there, one guy had been there for 3 weeks! Now i feel
refreshed and ready for more madness 🙂