Tag Archives: bar

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt1

On to Sihanoukville, another bus, but clearly not a bad one as I remember nothing of it.

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DCIM100GOPROI did leave Jess behind here, but was re-united with Nico who I’d travelled Laos with and a few old good friends. The first place in Sin-Ville, as it’s jokingly known as, we stayed was possibly the cheapest hostel I’d been to, but it was understandably cheap, thin mattresses on big shelves with plenty of other people, no locks if there was even a door, nights spent cuddling your bag and sweating. Still at only $2 a night, it was almost ok to wait an hour for one of the two showers to come free. Don’r recall the name, but it’s right on the inside of the main corner in town.

DCIM100GOPROWe were only there a short while though, quickly heading over to Koh Rong Samloem for a full moon party. Not quite the scale of the Thai version, but the island had a little restaurant and plenty of friendly people on it. It would have been nicer without the lengthy boat ride either way, I did feel bad for all those suffering with hangovers on the way home. Back on the mainland we moved over to Led Zephyr for nicer rooms and a better bar. Much the same as the Thai equivalent Sihanoukville has it’s share of awful bars, promo girls and guys, buckets of dubious quality, hookers and crime. If you stay away from the main beach it’s generally pretty pleasant, but the sea front is pretty nasty. Away from the touristy beach the main town has a nice ex-pat community, often happy to have a chat with some snails (backpackers) the newly-locals share some wisdom and give some good tips on where to go for some incredible western food. The first roast dinner in a long time, and very nice it was.

A few days there and it was time to jump over to Koh Rong, an island of note for three reasons;

  1. Everybody smokes weed, all the time
  2. The whole island runs on one generator, so when it’s out, the island shuts down
  3. One of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen

DCIM100GOPROThe main strip is a hive of ramshackle bamboo buildings, constantly extended to cater for more and more backpackers. Getting a room is tricky as their booking systems tend to be ‘first come first served’ and as the residents wake up before the boat arrives it can be a nightmare to find the few newly located rooms before anyone else does. Once there though, you can spread out a bit, find a place you really like and either explore, or get high. Unfortunately most of the tourists seems to stick with the latter, but if you’re willing to avoid that and explore, there’s the popular and stunning beach on the other side of the island, but even more than that every section of coast is beautiful and often avoiding the two hotspots mean you’ll find somewhere even nicer. There’s plenty of trails through the forest to check out as well.

To be continued…

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Cambodia Pt3: Phnom Penh

So, another long and uncomfortable bus over to Phnom Penh.

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However, this one had to be one of the nicest. The coach had beds in it, admittedly they were slim and you had to share, but thankfully I had someone with me that I didn’t mind sharing with. There was a tiny little TV in there and a power supply, so we could even watch a movie or two. It still wasn’t comfy, but once you’re asleep, you really don’t mind.

We had a really nice hostel (11 Happy Backpackers) in the city, with a very cool rooftop bar, and some great food. I really loved the pumpkin soup, I haven’t had any since that beats it. Phnom Penh isn’t really about the night life though, it’s a much more serious place to visit, as the main attractions are the Tuol Sleng (S-21) Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. As the capital from which Pol Pot ruled, the city was the site of some incredibly horrific events and places.

DCIM100GOPROTuol Sleng museum was originally a school, but when Pol Pot took over he began to change things, education was not approved of, so many schools closed, often to be re-used for other purposes, in this case as a prison. The treatment of the prisoners here is what is most shocking, and as you explore the site you can see the appalling conditions they were kept in. As you continue through the museum you come across some of the smaller and more cramped cells, knowing that these people were rarely allowed out, often denied food and punished heavily for any misdemeanour. The last part includes some of the devices and techniques that were used on the inmates, things that I will not speak about here. While very sad and upsetting, this shocking example of Cambodias’ history is a must see, to understand what the people have been through, so recently and yet are still smiling and living their lives in such a positive way.

DCIM100GOPROThe Killing Fields, popularised by the movie of the same name is another must see in Phnom Penh, It is an incredibly well kept site, with an excellent audio tour that takes you through the now peaceful site that is grave to countless Cambodians massacred as part of the cultural cleansing. The tour explains the various areas, starting with relatively innocent stops like where the barracks once stop, and the guard houses, until you find yourself at the first mass grave. While there are few bones uncovered, you can see where rags and scraps of clothing have surfaced through the soil, and tourists have tied these to the fences and trees in the area. Wristbands from all around the world are hooped over posts marking out the edges of these graves, and despite the thousands of dedications, it is believed thousands more were murdered.DCIM100GOPROThere is a small lake a little away from the main site that allows tourists to stop and reflect on the horrors that had happened there, although it is hard to comprehend how, especially so recently, something so disturbing could have happened at all. The hardest part is the infant grave, and thinking of how innocent children and babies were taken and killed, more like cattle than people, before being dumped into another mass grave. The final stop of the tour is the Stupa, filled with the skulls of victims, hauntingly beautiful as the architecture and the interior clash. We visited very late in the day, just before closing so it was very quiet, and very peaceful. It seemed almost silent, except for the audio tour that we could pause at any time.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was rather more cheerful, exploring the markets and finding replacement shoes and just enjoying the city sights. We also took a trip out to the local wildlife park, the Phnom Tamao Wildlife rescue centre. South East Asian zoos do have a bad reputation, but this example was very nice; large open spaces and not a huge amount of tourists, all the animals were rescued from other zoos, or from private collectors, very few were taken from the wild. Certainly the animals looked healthy and happy, and checking out the various Asian bears was impressive, they do miss the Pandas, but when they’re so expensive it’s understandable.

The last thing I did before jumping on the next bus was to have a tooth pulled out. It was cheap, easy and quick (and I got to eat lots of pumpkin soup) so good in fact I went back not long after to get two more out. Goodbye wisdom teeth.

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Our next destination was the infamous Sihanoukville.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt2: Siem Reap Pt:2

The first part of the Siem Reap article is here

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DCIM101GOPROThe Lady Temple (Banteay Srei) was the next stop off, a much less spectacular stop, but the gardens make it impressive in a very different way. Much more peaceful and relaxing than the other temples. It’s quite a long way from the others, so you have to invest a bit of time getting there, but worth it in the end, especially if you’re a fan of flowers and gardens.

DCIM101GOPROThe Landmine museum was a rather brutal reminder of the horrible things that have happened to Cambodia only a couple of decades ago. A collection of deactivated weapons, bombs and mines are on display, along with some odd manikins modelling military uniforms and holding guns. It’s an odd but interesting stop that only takes a few minutes to explore, and all the money for the tickets goes to helping victims of landmines, so it’s worth a trip even if you don’t really take a look around.

DCIM101GOPROWe stopped on the way back at rather dodgy looking military base/shooting range Batman told us about. However it was highly over-priced and with no bargaining at all, we left without even touching a gun, one of the things on the bucket-list for SE Asia. Back through a few smaller temples,and Angkor Thom to get some more pics as the sun went down, then into Siem Reap for food and a well earned rest.

The next day was spent relaxing a bit more and exploring the town of Siem Reap, which is a lot more pleasant away from the touristy centre. There’s some interesting events that go on, including the incredible circus ‘Phare‘ which features a group of boys from nearby Battambang, The show really is very impressive, with all sorts of flips and somersaults performed, along with some great tongue in cheek jokes. What was best was that you could see that the performers were really enjoying themselves, breaking out into a grin every time they got a round of applause or pulled off the trick just right. There was also the American Ex-Pat who performed solo on Cello to raise money for the local hospitals, he had arrived in the 1980’s to help as a doctor and stayed ever since, working as a doctor during the day and performing at night to raise money for vital equipment and facilities.

DCIM100GOPROWe took another day to travel out to Tonle Sap Lake to experience the floating villages and the way the people survive constantly surrounded by water. It was a long trip out, and when we arrived there wasn’t much floating going on as the lake level had dropped over the summer. Still the houses up on stilts looked rather strange several metres above ground level. Once you get to the river you switch to a boat which guides you through the town, along with waving kids and happy faces.DCIM100GOPROThere’s a little stop to switch onto a little paddle boat with a lovely local woman and take a trip through the skinny trees that live right next to the main lake. It’s rather magical bobbing between the plants, sunlight filtering through the leaves. As you move through quietly and serenely it’s nice to take stock and realise how luck we are to be able to travel the way we do. Back out of the trees we’re back onto the motorboat and out into the lake itself.DCIM100GOPRO It’s simple colossal, 2700 square km while we visited, although during the monsoon season it backs up to 16000 square km, 22 times larger than Singapore.

Back in Siem Reap we spent a day chilling by the pool at the hostel before hopping on the night bus over to Phnom Penh.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Snow Stereotypes

Here’s a short list of who you’ll be seeing on the mountain, where they reside and how to identify them

1) The Aspen Skier

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Usually found in the nicer resorts, Meribel and Val D’Isere these are hardcore fairweather piste skiers. They’ll be on the blues and reds, competently winding their way down to the next over-priced hot chocolate. They will be wearing mostly black (Men) or white (Women) with plenty of fur, leather and frills, perfect hair and make-up (both genders). No helmets because they never go fast enough to crash, although do will occasionally collide upon which insurance details will appear immediately. Never seen out at night because they’ll be drinking nice win in their chalet. Thankfully easy to avoid as they’re more likely to be talking stocks than skis.

2) The Skiers’ Boyfriend

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Either skier or boarder, this guy has come on his first trip with his skier girlfriend and is not happy. Carrying her skies for her everywhere just to make her move that bit faster, then lapping the blues all day because she’s not up for the reds ‘yet’. It’s a good thing she’s gorgeous because without the sex this guy would be out of there. You might see them out one night, having a good time until her headache kicks in and it’s another early night. Next year he’s going with the boys.

3) The Park Rat

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Filthy, hairy and smelling of Jager, this guy will have the longest hoody known to man and shred absolute. No waterproof clothes, no helmet, because this guy never stacks it (until he makes the obituary page of the local shred rag) He doesn’t talk on the mountain, at least not to anyone who’s not a homie and thanks to the bandana he’s totally unrecognisable in the bars. Likely to be one of the seasonaires hitting on your mates, then bitching about tourists in the queue at the bar.

4) The Back Country King

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Mostly you’ll see this guy speeding along the reds and blues at the end of the day. Amazing gear, ABS backpack, picks, shovels, everything you’d need to make a home in an avalanche for a few days. He hits bits of the mountain most people don’t know existed, but occasionally you’ll see him hiking/rock climbing up to some drop (which no-one will see him do) His Go-Pro footage is so good you’d swear you’ve seen it somewhere before. Not in the bar much, conserving energy to hike Mont Blanc tomorrow.

5) The Park Chick

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Always gorgeous, even when you can’t see their face, this girl shreds so much bigger than you’re both hugely impressed and slightly turned on. Wearing super cool gear (mostly got for free from various sponsors/guys that fancy her) and a board about 8 years old. Her helmet with have a tonne of stickers, but in great condition, as she actually buys a new one after each bail. She’ll be surrounded by all those park rats at the bar trying to have a good night without getting too much drool on her fresh stash.

6) The Clueless Idiot

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First week on the snow and they used to roller-blade (or skateboard) so this will be easy, right? Mostly seen falling off drag lifts, or chair lifts, sometimes seen falling up stairs or out of gondolas. Definitely keen on the apres ski, although it then takes them two hours to get home (that one short blue run). Mostly dressed in recycled stuff from the parents loft and bargains from TK Maxx don’t be surprised to see them wearing swimming goggles a santa hat and a hilarious retro/animal onsie. Often seen being obnoxious at the bar after way too much pre-drinking, arguing over the price of everything. Steer clear of this guy at all times, he’s a danger on the slopes and a nightmare in the bar.

7) The Tech Guy

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Everything he owns is this seasons newest and most technically advanced, it’s a shame he doesn’t ride well enough to make it worth while. Usually mid-forties, successful and single, this is his mid-life crisis. Those goggles with the heads-up display are constantly telling him he’s going about 30kph and the clip in ski pole/glove combo is too necessary when you never crash hard enough to drop them. This guy knows all the stats about the mountain, including the gradient of that black he’s too scared to drop.

8) Everybody Else

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Decent riders, happy wearing newish stash on newish gear. Will drop most things for a challenge and happy in the park for a couple laps. Nothing crazy, but happy to get their round-in!

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Artwork by Kay Kim – veryverykaytv.tumblr.com/

Val D’Isere With Wasteland Ski

Val D’Isere has quite a reputation for being one of the nicest, and fanciest (by which I mean poshest) resorts in the alps. Which is why I was amazed to be heading there with 350 students from Oxford Brookes.

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IMG_20150111_132422At this point I had been transferred across from Alpe D’Huez in preparation for arrivals day. The usual brief explore around the town, followed by some lovely admin work got us ready for the masses to turn up. I was thankfully on Coach Driver duty, meaning I spent the day sat in a warm van ferrying drivers to their hotels. Certainly a step up from the freezing duty I had in VT, and really quite a pleasant day really. All of the students were in hotels within the same small area, along with the reps who were distributed between the various buildings.

IMG_20150112_121902The towns nightlife is quite impressive, much more suited to the amount of students we had than some resorts (but I’ll get to that in Les Arcs) Plenty of English staffed bars with plenty of space meant we had a nice choice of locations throughout the week and didn’t need to double up too often. Saloon, the sister of the VT bar was good fun, and really suited the group. Morris Pub was great for an afternoon of Apres with loads of space although the usual clientele seemed a little shocked to have their bar invaded by ski boot wearing teenagers. The clubs also offered just what we needed, The Bunker (under the famous Dicks Tea Bar) offered classic alpine club life, while Graal allowed us to take over the entire joint and have exclusive Brookes parties.

IMG_20150113_124251Snow conditions hadn’t improved much from ADH but there was fresh snow on the way in and some good spots if you were lucky enough to find them. Day one was incredibly windy, which put a lot of people off, but after rolling up to a little chair, to find it they were just about to open meant we were first in line to hit a fresh run. Only a green waited for us at the top, and a closed blue. We took the blue and found out why it was closed. The run was in desperate need of grooming, but we had a lot of fun with it, the moguls at the top had collected the fresh snow in the hollows making a sea of powder with deadly islands of ice poking up. Further down were wind-lips and as the piste flattened out the moguls disappeared. Near the bottom was a perfect rock drop that we ended up seshing a few times, even hiking up to finally ride it out.

IMG_20150115_190713The lower slopes of the resort were mostly an awful mix of ice and dirt but when there’s a run it’s hard to make the decision to take the gondola back down. Many complaints during the week about the icy conditions, but it was possible to avoid these runs if you stuck to one area in the mountain. The skiable area spreads over to Tignes, which opened up plenty more riding without any major icy patches. The Tignes side had a similar ridable area making the total size pretty massive, but it also offered a snow park that was actually built. Nicely shaped kickers and a few rails made the riding fun and with enough options to keep a park rat happy for a day or two. The pro-line wasn’t open, but for me that’s not a problem, the mid-line kickers are plenty big enough to give me a fright. With the small line being right next to an easy piste it was very easy for beginners to access and attempt, which is both good and bad. I’m not against new people trying to learn park, but when there are skiers hitting jumps while snow-plowing it’s clear they need to build up their ability on the pistes before causing problems going too slowly through the park.

IMG_20150114_144605One day later in the week was a complete white-out with high winds, so instead of risking our wrists on the ice we decided to build a little kicker on the slope around the back of our hotel. In hindsight we built it in the wrong place, with an awkward tree-hugging run up and a steep landing, but it was still great fun to sesh on a hang-over day. I managed to get my confidence with wild-cats, a trick similar to a backflip but over the tail end of the board.

The night of the week we hosted a slalom race and kicker jam for the uni. It was amazing to watch how quickly the piste-basher could build a kicker out of nowhere. The racing went well, with plenty of silly costumes and free wine and the competition was hotly contested. I can see this becoming a regular feature for a lot of unis.

The week was great fun, and Val is good resort (if a little expensive) I just hope we behaved well enough to get back next year.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Vietnam Pt9 – Hue

Hue is one of the larger cities on the route up through Vietnam, and the backpacker area is nicely placed over a few streets in the centre of the town.

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TankIt has a large citadel near the town, and then lots of little(ish) tombs out in the surrounding countryside as well. We decided after a decent night out, that we’d cycle (no moped this time) to see as much as we could. So heading out to the Citadel area we checked out yet another War Remnants Museum, which while the field of tanks was larger than most, was all much of the same as the others.

PalaceThe Citadel is a large area, with big impressive walls all around, at the centre of which is the Royal Palace which unfortunately was under reconditioning while we visited, meaning a lot of scaffolding in and around the site. While it was still worth a look around, the limits on where you could ride bikes and having to pay more than we had expected soured the experience a bit. Once the work is complete I imagine the area will be quite spectacular, however while we were there the construction and restoration meant we saw more of the work in progress than the buildings actually being worked on.

TombThe best part of the day was certainly cycling through the countryside, trying over and over to find the various tombs that were dotted about. Many wrong turns and detours meant we got a little sneak peak of life away from the touristy side, including some horrible new construction sites of cheap housing, some posh housing and the fairly reasonable conditions of the outer suburbs of the city. Once out in the countryside we found the tombs we were looking for although there were plenty of mis-directions and unhelpful locals, there were at least enough that did help us, and provide us with soft drinks to keep us going throughout the day.

ViewEach tomb had a nice unique factor, and the main ones, Khai Dinhs Tomb and the tomb of Tu Duc, were very impressive. Again construction and restoration efforts meant the views were a bit less impressive, but still they each featured some fascinating architecture and a fun place to explore. There were a couple smaller ones that we’d found in between, some were free entry and others I’m sure were supposed to be ticketed, but we missed that bit. Certainly not as impressive as the main two, but they helped to fill the day with interesting stops.

TombCycling was a nice change from the moped as well, and with the mellow hills of the area and reasonable traffic we felt perfectly safe at all times. Overall we rated the tombs much higher than the citadel and palace, but we booked our bus out again for the next day as we felt we’d seen all that the city had to offer us.

The nightlife is pretty good though, one of the hostels has a decent bar, although it shuts a little early, but meeting some of the people we’d met on our route up we had a good meal with a load of strangers, and ended up the only group in a bar at the end of the night. Playing pool against the staff and YouTubing punk rock songs on the sound system was a nice way to spend an evening.

Off the next day heading to Dong Hoi, to explore the famous caves in the area.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Vietnam Pt5 – Mui Ne

Mui Ne is a fairly small place to visit, and the main tourist area is quite a way from the actual town, this time spread along the beach road to the South.

Fairy Cliffs

Again the beach is almost inaccessible unless you’re staying at one of the resorts, although there is a very nice looking backpackers hostel, that was unfortunately booked up. As with all these places, being a couple roads back from the beach really knocks the price of accommodation down. The strip was rather bland, with nothing more than usual affair of restaurants and cafes mixed in with the ugly resorts.

dunesTo the North of the town is an area with some very impressive sand dunes, so after meeting up with the Norwegians again we took a drive on the rented mopeds to find them. While they are quite pretty, especially around sunset, this boy has grown up on coasts, and seen piles of sand before, and usually a little less covered in people. Still, good for a couple snaps.
Mui NeLater on that night we heard of a party happening up in one of the bars further up, so we decided to check it out. We arrived perhaps a little early, but still, with practically no one there, I don’t think it was going to get much better, after a quiet drink listening to the pounding commercial pop, we decided to try another place. We found a much bigger bar, with a lot more people, so ventured in only to realise we were massively underdressed. The girls inside were in cocktail dresses, while the men had shirts on at least, and I’m sure I saw the odd waistcoat. It didn’t take us long to realise we’d stumbled in to a resort party, and that these resorts were mostly full of Russians, and Russians love to dress up.

So, out of place and somewhat confused, we again have ourselves a quiet drink and decide to move on, this time finding a tidy little bar, with a reasonable amount of people and music quiet enough to allow us to talk to each other.

Fairy SpringThe next day we decided to explore the ‘Fairy Spring‘, a fancy name for was is really just a pleasant stroll barefoot up through a river to a little waterfall. Certainly nothing impressive, but perfectly nice to do, although my friend Nico was rather frustrated by the experience.

We came to the conclusion that Mui Ne wasn’t really somewhere to spend a lot of time, and really, considering how nice so many others were, I’d really recommend skipping it completely.

Fairy Waterfall

So, Dalat was next.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

 

Vietnam Pt3 – Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC, named after the saviour of Vietnam, previously Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam, and you can really feel it. The most commented thing about this city is the traffic, and you can see why.

Bitexco Tower

It’s incredible, even compared to Bangkok, like a river of mopeds, with the occasional tree branch of a car being swept along. The traffic rules are very flexible, and you’ll often find the pavement filled with oncoming traffic as they try to edge themselves closer to the red light that has cause this momentary tailback. Crossing the street is not for the faint hearted, in fact, it’s more like doing a high wire tight-rope than crossing a normal street. Walk straight, slowly and keep moving, that way the the traffic will flow around you. Any sudden movements will leave you at the bottom of a multi-bike pile up. That said, I never saw any accidents in the city, which considering I think I saw more mopeds in the first two minutes than I ever did in any European country in total is a miracle.

Post OfficeWe stayed in Phạm Ngũ Lão Street, the backpacker area, in one of the many alleys that maze their way between the park and the drinking street that are home to the guesthouse and hostels that accommodate the travellers in the city. It’s close to plenty of naff fast food places, including the ‘arriving soon’ McDonalds, the second in Vietnam. Exploring this city was very different to Can Tho, the gentle urbanism replaced by big commercialism and in-your-face advertising boards and the constant need to pay attention. Despite this, from the main backpacker area most tourist attractions are only a short walk away.

Reunification PalaceThe Reunification Palace is open and is an interesting spot to experience, mostly thanks to the rooms in the basement that show what was necessary in order to survive the war. The building was an important symbol during the vietnamese war, and housed several significant events marking the start, and end of the war.

Notre Dame

On our wanderings we also visited the City Post Office and Notre Dame Catherdral, both of which are close to the Palace. In a nearby shopping centre, the food court gave us a chance to experience urban food in Vietnam, somewhat confusing, but we ended up with a good variety of interesting and tasty foods.

War Remnants MuseumThe War Remnants museum (there’s one of these in every city) is very impressive, while it has much less in the way of actual weapons, it still has a display of artillery, tanks and aircraft, inside is dedicated to photo, and art galleries ranging from the effects of napalm, peace posters and historical propaganda. The stories it tells through pictures alone convey so much more than the bad captions and artifacts that other museums rely on. It is both tasteful and poignant in its delivery, and with such a strong and simple message the impact is quite moving. Of all the military museums, this was the best, and of all the attractions in HCMC, this was my favourite.

SkydeckWe finished the day with a trip up the highest building in the city. You can reach the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor of the Bitexco tower throughout the day, or you can go a little higher, to the 52nd, and have a drink as well. It works out about the same price, but with seating and a drink, we felt the bar was the better choice. Watching day turn to night across the city was fascinating, especially as the roads changed to rivers of light blurring streaks across the city.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel