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Malaysia: Langkawi

sunny 34 °C
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The morning we left Trang for Langkawi, the husband and wife owners Yamawa guesthouse made sure we were fully stocked with coffee and bananas. We were collected by a minivan from Andrew Travel and spent 3 hours snaking around very windy roads which made us both feel quite sick. We got off at Pak Bara port and had our little piece of paper changed for a ferry ticket voucher. We were then put on a songthaew which we thought would be for a short transfer to another minivan as it usually is, but it ended up being a 1.5 hour journey. We didn't mind too much though as the wind was in our hair, keeping us cool and occasionally sampling our noses with the odours of pig skin, manure and fish farms.

We were eventually let off at Satun ferry terminal where we were immediately confronted with a massive queue and plenty of confusion and chaos. Luckily, while I joined the back of the line, Lauren had the instinct to double check our ferry voucher at the ticket office where she discovered that we needed to exchange said voucher for our actual tickets, which she did. We found out that the reason for the congestion was that the earlier ferry had been cancelled and that normally, there isn't a queue at all. We have the best timing.
It took over an hour to get to the little exit Thailand booth but thankfully we made it onto the 13:30 ferry meaning we didn't have to wait until 18:00 for the next one.
Lauren had got chatting to a Moroccan-Australian man who was heading the same way as us and suggested we share a taxi. We agreed but ended up regretting it as he tried to boss up around by shouting for us to hurry up and fight our way to the doors to be the first off the ferry (we had neither the energy or impetus to do so considering we were carrying a combined 30kg on our backs). However we did save 10 ringgits (approx. £2) on the taxi fare so silver linings and all that.

We arrived at Mali Mali beach resort hotel and checked in. We were shown to our room which was a bungalow-come-hut right on the path to the beach. The room was a bit battered and scabby but it was fine. The bathroom was quite manky with plenty of mould, a foul smell, broken and uneven tiles, ants and exposed pipes. We pulled our faces but accepted our fate; at least the water was hot and we were close to the beach.
Relieving our spines from backpack shackles we ventured out onto the 'strip'; a long street of restaurants, shops and a few bars catering to the Malay and foreign holidaymakers visiting Cenang beach. The area did feel a little bit Benidorm-y but that's to be expected of a beach resort.
We chose to have our late lunch at a Syrian cafe (falafel always wins over the greasy Western food that was on offer) which proved to be very tasty if not a little pricey.

We then went back to our room to chill out and watch some crappy videos on the internet. At around 9pm I decided to pop to the minimart around the corner to get some sugary munchies. On my way back (literally a 3 minute walk) I felt like I was being followed. As I approached our door I saw a silhouette of a man standing a couple of metres to the left of me. I turned my head to him and smiled, thinking he must have been another guest at the hotel staying close to us. He then said "hello miss, can you help me?" and walked through the trees over the cobbles to where I was stood. At this point Lauren, upon hearing my voice, opened the door. The man then said "I'm sorry, my English isn't very good. I want to go with you for some fun tonight". I thought that perhaps we were lost in translation and that maybe he was looking for a bar. I asked him to repeat himself and he said "tonight, you and me, we have fun". It did now cross my mind that what he was actually asking could be inappropriate at best and indecent at worst. But, being the benefit-of-the-doubt sorta gal I am, I shook my head and said "I do not understand". He then took a step closer to me, invading my personal space and said "I want to have sex with you. Fucking. Tonight" and then made penetration gesture with his hands. I, mouth agape said no to which he replied "come on baby, I will pay you!" I said no again and went inside our room, Lauren shutting the door behind me.

All in all the exchange probably only lasted a minute but it felt much longer. I was a bit shaken up at first, which in turn made me feel angry. I initially wanted to go back out there and have a go at him; I was annoyed that he'd made me feel scared. Lauren then told me that while I'd been away someone had been knocking on the back window which only had a narrow path with water containers behind it. The knocking had scared her which is why she'd open the door as soon as she'd heard my voice outside. There was no way of knowing if it was the same guy who had done both the accosting and the knocking.
Both flustered and concerned that this weirdo knew exactly where we were staying and that he had easy access from the main strip we went to reception and told them what had happened. The girl was very sympathetic and immediately arranged for us to move to a different room on the opposite side where she said there were cameras.
We calmed each other down and managed to get some sleep, hoping that by tomorrow we'd be over all the weirdness.

The next day we got up and went for a walk to get some water and other bits. Whether it was my mind working overtime or whether it was factual observation I felt eyes on me, men's eyes. I felt that every time I walked past a guy, he looked at my body. I tried to shake it off but I couldn't help noticing it happening more and more. By the time we got to the point of wanting to go to the beach I just couldn't bring myself to get in a bikini. I didn't want to me looked at even more. Clearly the previous night’s events had bothered me more than I thought they would.

After a discussion we both decided that we weren't comfortable at Mali Mali and wanted to stay somewhere else. This was particularly disappointing because Lauren had spent extra for us to stay in a supposedly nice hotel as a birthday treat for me.
We spent the rest of the day on and off the phone with hotels.com trying to figure out if we could get a refund for the remainder of our stay (we'd paid upfront), searching online for an alternative accommodation nearby and packing our bags. Unfortunately the hotel refused to give us a refund but in spite of this, we checked out and moved to Melati's Hostel; an all-female dorm just up the road. It was basic but very clean with a lovely host and much more security, not to mention a quarter of the price of Mali Mali.
We felt safe and comfortable and quickly forgot about losing a bit of money. I even managed to joke about being mistaken for a sex-worker and the pervy gentleman at least being polite.

The following morning we awoke refreshed and ready to see Langkawi; the eagle island. We got chatting to Eleatty; the manager of the dorm who had had a very interesting life to say the least. Her dad is Danish and her mum is Malay and she was raised by her grandmother in Kuala Lumpur. She had 4 children of her own; 3 as a result of an arranged marriage at 18 years old and 1 a friends' child that she had adopted. She told us she was a lesbian and that her grandmother had caught her with a woman as a teenager which led to the arrangement of her marriage. She didn't say much about her husband but we got the gist that she was divorced and pretty happy these days with her kids all doing well and studying hard.

We eventually got our bums to Cenang beach which was undeniably beautiful and a 5 minute walk from our hostel. We found some sunbeds (£4 for the day) and settled down for a relaxing few hours. Because it was low season, the beach wasn't overly populated, but unfortunately there were loads of jet skis in the sea with no real area for swimming. We did get in and have a bit of a doggy-paddle but the jet skis got a little too close for comfort so we retreated pretty quickly. The other spoiler was the constant backing and forthing of 4x4s driving across the beach a few yards away from us along with the sightseeing helicopter doing loops above. Not quite the peaceful paradise we'd hoped for. We did get some fresh sea air though and also managed to get through a few book chapters before the thunder started. We'd been told it was quite common for there to be afternoon storms in Malaysia in April.

That evening we found a cheap restaurant just at the end of our dorm called Bella and after filling our faces we had a night-time walk up the strip. Weirdly, the further we got the more familiar logos started appear. Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC (which is ubiquitous in SE Asia) and Subway. Langkawi is a duty free island so there were also plenty of tax-free alcohol and food shops. We had a mosey hoping to find a bottle of Asti or perhaps some Vermouth but it wasn't all that cheap so we refrained.

In the morning we travelled by minivan to the beautiful Tanjung Rhu beach where we met our charming tour guide for the day; Wan. It was a pleasant shock for us both when Wan gave a very professional introduction and brief to our group. He even covered some health and safety! This is the first time we've experienced even a hint of a syllabus for any tour.
Our group was 15-strong and we were in a smallish speed boat with a driver that looked impossibly young to be captaining any vessel. Our first stop was a floating fish farm where we saw and fed an array of underwater species including stingrays (barbs still in place), leopard sharks and the huge barramundi. The fish were squashed into very small little man-made pools, all desperately jumping up like dogs to get a bit of food. It was like a fish prison and a bit sad but we took it for what it was and tried to learn about the aquatic creatures.

We next ventured into Kilim Geoforest proper; skipping over the line between the strait of Malacca and the Kilim river. We sailed along the dense mangroves and watched the surprisingly friendly long-tailed macaque monkeys swimming over to the boats (including ours) to be fed watermelon. Two young Chinese girls in our group made the oddest squealing noises when the monkeys came near which only added to our entertainment.

As if choreographed by Mother Nature herself, we quickly nipped over to another area of the river where the eagles hang out. In the mangroves of Langkawi there are white-bellied and brown sea eagles and they were both in abundance, circling overhead. Some of the boats that travel around the mangroves are authorised to throw a few grams of chicken-skin into the river to feed the majestic birds of prey; and ours was one of them. From afar, the birds are astounding in both aesthetic and ability. When they swooped down for their poultry snack we got to see them up close and their sheer size left us mouths agape (they have wingspans of over 2m).

We were soon navigating through the tributaries of Kilim river and thankfully our prepubescent driver was more than adept at snaking through the narrow channels; not crashing into trees or disturbing any scary poisonous creatures.
Speaking of creatures, we managed to spot a huge monitor lizard as well as a venomous green viper snake, chilling on a low branch.
Our guide Wan told us that there used to be crocodiles in the river too but that they’d moved out many years ago due to the advancement in tourism. Can’t say I blame them.
It really was breath taking to be within the mangroves; the scenery and clean air was one thing but you couldn’t escape the intense feeing of foreignness. Especially for a city-dweller like myself. This ancient natural environment was so alien and so full of wisdom and balance it made me feel incredibly insignificant. But also full of awe.

We had a generic fried rice lunch back at the floating fish farm. We declined the option to pick our own crab or fish to eat, both for vegetarianism and stingey-ism.
Round the corner we stopped at a bat cave (Gua Kelawar) where ironically we saw more monkeys than resident fruit bats. We walked along the wooden walkways up, down and around the cave, at one point stomping through smelly knee-deep water.

We returned to Tanjung Rhu to finish our tour and were given a bit of time to swim in the perfectly still, warm water of the Malacca strait, with ancient limestone formations as our backdrop. We felt pretty lucky.

That evening I finally got the chance to try the quintessentially Malay dish; Nasi Lemak. For those of you that don’t know it is a meal, usually eaten at breakfast, that consists of fried rice, anchovies, a fried egg, lamb/chicken/beef, cucumber and a chilli paste. It’s all cooked in a pandan leaf and usually served wrapped in a banana leaf. It was bloody delicious and had everything you’d want in one perfect portion. And for 30p, I felt like I’d found my soulmate.
We also devoured various Indian fried goods; sweetcorn bhajis, curried potatoes and soft yummy dough stuff. Calories galore.

Our last day in Langkawi was spent trying to find a more peaceful and less jet ski predominant beach. We walked for an hour and got to a beach we thought was pentai Tangah (the next main beach from Cenang). Although much quieter and incredibly beautiful, we didn’t hang around for long as there were plenty of BEWARE JELLYFISH signs and the sunbeds cost 10 quid each to use as they were attached to a posh resort.
We gave up and walked back, stopping to share a yoghurt smoothie on the way (romantic I know) and giggling at the funny shop and restaurant names (BS food court anyone?).

The day was redeemed a little as I managed to catch up with my Dad for almost 2 hours while Lauren perused the local bookshop (geek). We then finished off our last night in Langkawi by eating street food at dusk on the beach. We watched families burying each other in the sand and young hot hunks playing shirtless football in an effort to impress the ladies. The sun set and we tried to absorb the last little bits of an island that had somewhat underwhelmed but also surprised us. My excitement was steadily building for the next destination; Penang.

Posted by advensha 05:37 Archived in Malaysia Tagged beaches taxi malaysia snake long dirty hot ferry langkawi tuk_tuk scared mangroves queue bollywood viper fungus basic minivan my_ferry mali_mali pentai_cenang pervert accosted moved_room monitor_lizard tanjung_rhu malacca_strait Comments (0)

Thailand: Ko Lanta and Trang

sunny
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On the morning of Friday 15th April we left Khao Lak heading to Ko Lanta. Our first leg of the journey was a cramped minibus where we got talking to a lovely retired British couple from London who had done a hell of a lot of travelling over their lives, especially around Thailand. We swapped stories and shared Britishisms (as you do) and they told us all about their very eccentric gay son and his husband.
Thankfully the cramped bus only lasted for 3 hours and we got off at Krabi to then change to a different (less cramped) minibus driven by an awfully cool Thai fella who's driving was as untamed as his long hair. On this second leg of the journey we had to get on two big, industrial, open-air car ferries to get to Ko Lanta island; which was an experience.

After another 2 hours we arrived at Ko Lanta where we were dropped right outside of our hostel; Lemonade Boutique. The hostel was really nice; our dorm room was quite unusual as it had 4 single beds along with hospital-style privacy curtains - we'd gotten used to bunks. Everything was in order and we plopped our bags down and hungrily threw ourselves in the next door to 'Salad House' restaurant, which proclaimed to be an organic health food establishment. We quickly found out that it was like every other Thai restaurant; massive menu, most things deep-fried and not many veggie options and overpriced. We ordered some basic rice and tofu dishes and quietly noted to each other that we wouldn't return.

Our tummies full, we went to check out our beach; Khlong Dao, which was only 100m behind our hostel. The beach looked amazing set against a pink sunset. It was quiet, with only a few murmurs of children playing and a slight breeze whistling through the tall trees. There were a a sprinkling of bars and restaurants set back from the white sand with some brightly coloured lanterns hanging from their decks.

Back at our hostel we heard a cat crying outside our door and naturally, being lesbians, we couldn't help but let it in for a cuddle. We named this cat Gryger as he looked like a grey tiger and he became a regular feature of our Ko Lanta trip. We cuddled with Gryger for a few hours until our dorm-mates turned up; a young guy from Amsterdam and a British girl. To Lauren's disdain these two liked to listen to crap pop music and talk loudly about clothes and diets and selfies and other young people things. It always amuses me to see Lauren angrily gurning in a corner like a bitter old woman who's confused, scared and annoyed by the modern world.
At 11pm they shut up, just in time to save Lauren from an aneurysm.

The next day we rented bicycles and rode to Ko Lanta Animal Welfare centre approx. 3km away. The centre has been going for about 5 years and is a non-for-profit organisation that treats and houses ill and/or stray cats and dogs in Ko Lanta, as well as doing mass sterilisation programmes and re-homing animals that aren't safe on the streets. The centre runs entirely on volunteers so we thought we'd get involved and take one of their dogs for a walk. We were given Lady, who had been adopted by a Dutch family and was just waiting for a flight-buddy. She was young and placid and looked a bit like a collie. We were given 45 minutes to wander around the nearby rubber-tree fields.
For the first 5 minutes everything was good, we wandered amongst the woods and kept an eye out for other dogs or anything more sinister like hungry dog-eating snakes. Soon though, Lady decided she'd had enough and just stopped still; refusing to walk any further. We had to coax and tug her for the remainder of the walk. At first we thought she might have seen or smelled something that scared her but it quickly became apparent that she just wasn't in the mood to move. To be fair to her it was incredibly hot outside, but we weren't very well equipped to deal with a pretty big dog playing dead. We managed to drag her to the road leading back to the centre and we were only 200m away when she lay down in the dirt. Luckily for us a Geordie guy who works at the centre was driving past and saw us struggling, after he had a go at energising Lady he picked her up and carried her to his van to take her 30 seconds up the road. After speaking to the girls at the centre they laughed and apologised and said that Lady could be, at times, a lazy so and so.

We got a tour of the facility and met some of the cute dogs and cats with often pretty horrific back stories. The centre really is an amazing place and if we'd have known about it sooner we would have signed up to volunteer for a month.

By now we were peckish and so biked up to a veggie restaurant called Kunda, run by a lovely Polish couple. We had an amazing smoothie and some zapiekanka (an open sandwich with cheese and other delicious toppings). While enjoying the outdoor hippie-haven garden we got talking to a British-Morocco girl called Issan who has been travelling for a number of years and had just adopted a gorgeous little dog called Teddy from the Animal Welfare centre we'd just been to. She was really lovely and praised us for the big step we'd taken to come away. She also told us about her experience working on elite yachts for the super-rich for years and how it had opened her eyes to how wasteful, cruel and vapid the industry is and how it had 'broken' her and a lot of her colleagues over the years.

We cycled back to our dorm and got a little burned by the afternoon sun and met one of our new roomies; Brad from Canada. He had long greasy hair and was wearing an Iron maiden T shirt. We chatted about music and Thailand and our respective travel experiences and plans; it was refreshing to meet a backpacker who wasn't conventionally 'sceney' or 'hip'.

That evening we cycled to Sala Dan market approx. 3km up the road from where we were staying. Lauren ingeniously put her torch on flashing mode and hung it from her front basket in order to reduce our chances of being run down (especially considering we had no helmets or high visibility items).
The market was pretty sprawling with loads of snide clothes on offer along with the usual souvenirs. On our way out of the market Lauren spotted a funky little vintage shop in the corner called Neems where we both bought some retro shorts from the bargain bin.

On the ride home we stopped at a street food market for dinner. While there we saw a big ginger cat roaming around getting strokes. Beckoning it over we soon noticed that it had a massive gaping wound on it's neck. We took a snap and later emailed it to the Animal Welfare centre we'd just visited who replied the following day to say they'd found the cat and were treating it. We like to think of ourselves as modest heroes.

We woke up very early the next day having not slept very well due to the direct hit of the AC unit. We toddled to the beach where there were no sunbeds so we used some towels we'd borrowed from the hostel. Neither of us cope very well with the proliferation of sand and so after a bit of swimming in the warm Andaman sea we pulled ourselves away to the shade of another hippie restaurant called Irie. It being low season, wherever we went felt almost empty which was both nice and sometimes a little isolating. It was interesting to see the local people packing away to head to their other off-season jobs. In keeping with the sleepy atmosphere we didn't do much else for the rest of the day besides eating our new found favourite things; chocolate bon-bon sweets from the 7/11.

The following morning we were chucked in the back of a pick-up and driven to Lanta old town pier for our '4 islands' boat trip. Our boat was a long tail and our group was 20 strong Europeans including two very cute, very well-behaved German children. The tour guides were rough round the edges and very funny but certainly not polished (we did pick the cheapest trip). We had an exhilarating 1 hour ride on the sea to get to the first 'islands' - Ko Chuek and Ko Ma where we snorkelled with the many cute and colourful fish. Here's some of what we saw;

The next mooring point was at Marakot cave (aka emerald cave) which we we swam underneath for 80m in pitch black with hundreds of other tourists. It's certainly something we've both never experienced before; it was a unique combination of unbridled terror coupled with childlike exhilaration. The sight upon exiting the cave was worth the panic as we gazed upon what could have been the Garden of Eden. There were a little too many tourists for our liking but we consoled ourselves in the fact that in high season we would have felt like caged chickens. One guy floated in wearing a trilby... now that's commitment to fashion.
After admiring the natural beauty of the bay we swam back to the boat and head to our last stop; Ko Ngai island. The island is incredibly beautiful and very secluded with only a few signs of ramshackled civilisation. We ate a delicious Thai lunch with Coca Cola included to Lauren's delight and spent the rest of our 1 hour slot snorkelling in the translucent turquoise water. We got particularly fixated on a little dotted white fish who appeared to be digging around and guarding a den most probably full of babies. I'm sure our two white arses bobbing up and down in shallow water served as interesting amusement for the Muslim natives of the island.

The breezy ride back to Ko Lanta in the back of the pick-up truck was wondrous after a day of skin-cooking. After a short recuperation we head out for a street food tea and then onto the Irish Embassy; an Irish pub up by the popular Long beach. If you know me at all you'll know that I wouldn't just spontaneously go to a pub unless there's a motive, and in this instance, the motivation was a quiz. We settled down to our table and eyed around for any other couples or loners that we may want to join our duo. Unfortunately after some careful judging we decided that everyone else looked too thick to be worthy of joining our team and so continued as a twosome.

We titled ourselves Fannypackers as homage to Lauren's love of a bum bag (and owing to us both possessing fannies) and got stuck in to the questions. In all fairness, the quiz was written and mastered by a British guy so anyone from Blightly had an unfair advantage. Like good ex-colonists we of course embraced this advantage and, despite our diminutive team size we managed to come 3rd! The teams in 2nd and 1st had 4 and 5 people in them and we definitely saw some unauthorised usage of phones too... I can only assume they were cheating Southern bastards. We even won an extra point for having a funny name. The only issue was that our prize was a 750 baht token for the nearby paint-balling centre. Neither of us fancied putting on heavy protective gear in the 40° heat nevermind shooting people so instead we were given two Sambuca shots - perhaps not a fair trade but they were free nonetheless and they washed down my earlier Guinness and black nicely.

The next day was our last and we decided to laze about, cuddle our best friend Gryger and do some planning. We unfortunately weren't sleeping very well because of the air-conditioning, so on our last night after our dorm-mates checked out we swapped beds to be further away from the unit. This helped a lot and we wish we'd done it sooner.
Ko Lanta turned out to be a heavenly home-from-home with plenty of opportunity for animal-loving; a place that fed our weary travelling souls.

Our last little detour before heading to Malaysia was the province of Trang in Southern Thailand. The journey was only 4hrs on a minibus and involved getting on 2 car ferries to first pass the Lat Bo Nae river and then the Andaman sea to mainland Thailand. We suspected that the minibus driver thought he was playing GTA as he seemed to speed up when approaching sharp bends and also enjoyed overtaking vehicles that were already overtaking someone else.
We were dropped at Trang bus station and for the first time during this whole trip we weren't mobbed by taxi and/or tuk tuk drivers touting for our custom. In fact we couldn't see any other tourists, any English information or any taxis or tuk tuks. We stood around for a while and eventually a tuk tuk or more accurately a songthaew arrived. We got on along with a few other Thai passengers and hoped the driver knew where our guesthouse was. Thankfully, he did.

One thing that immediately struck us about Trang was the tuk tuks; they weren't like any we'd seen before. They are essentially little 3-wheeler cars with a partially open 'truck' in the back.

We made it to Yamawa guesthouse and were greeted by a very sweet smiley lady who runs the place with her husband and children. After freshening up we got in an actual and headed to the retail park with plans to see a film at the cinema. We arrived early for the film and so had a peep in the supermarket where we marvelled at the unusual wares like mushroom juice and green tea yogurt as well as buying plenty of calorific snacks. At the cinema's box office we were told that all of the films are dubbed in Thai with no English subtitles. We felt rather hard done by considering in every other cinema English was kept at the speaking language. Where's my Western privilege I felt like shouting! We hung our heads and got a ride to the one of the local night markets for yet more food. The market was a hive of activity and we were the only whiteys around. Families were there buying their tea and sweet treats for their kids. Young girls were shimmying around looking at ridiculously tiny polyester dresses with lemons printed on them.
We got plenty of double-takes but even more smiles and waves which filled us both with glee. We walked back to Yamawa rather glad our film-expedition had failed and spent the evening eating our munchies in bed. Poor us.

The next day we walked around the town a little checking out the local businesses and layout of the streets. At one point an elderly lady stopped me to stroke my arm and give me a big smile. Who doesn't find bingo wings comforting!? We didn't do much else except go to the other night market where I managed to find a freshly put-together pot fruit and berries; what a revelation, I haven't had berries for a lifetime.

Trang was a welcome reprieve from the 'touristy' hotspots we'd been frequenting for a while and the perfect little precursor to our country-hop over to Malaysia.

Posted by advensha 06:22 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches landscape beach thailand adventure beautiful cats ko_lanta sunny backpacking ferry travelling minibus trang andaman_sea Comments (0)

Thailand: Bangkok (again) and Khao Lak

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Our mini-bus to Bangkok arrived a bit earlier than we'd been told so we had to throw the last bits in our backpacks and run out of the door. We were taken to a much larger coach that was pretty old but in good condition with sticky leather seats and a bit of a cheesy, sweaty whiff. As usual, a few plastic lawn chairs were put in the aisle for some poor but seemingly not bothered Thai passengers.
The journey to the Cambodian border Poi Pet took 4 hours and went quickly as we'd loaded up some American Horror Story episodes onto our Kindles. There were some rather nosy French girls that sat beside us at the back who whispered and nudged each other when they saw our fluffy armpits.

We collected our bags off the coach and were given our 'tickets' for the next bus on the other side in Thailand. These tickets were red stickers adhered to our bosom.
We walked to the Cambodian border office and waited in a tiny, sticky prison-esque room for 45 minutes to get officially 'signed out' of the country. There were 6 queues but only 3 windows open. Everyone had to memorise the sequence of alternation from left person to right person and then back again. When we'd had everything stamped we stumbled outside and tried to figure out where the hell we went next. We were on a very big dual carriageway with a building site in the middle and there were no signs pointing to Thailand. We asked a security guard who gave us some vague hand gesture directions and eventually we got on the right track. The walk to Thailand's border office took 20 minutes, across congested roads, carrying all of our bags, in the boiling midday sun. By the time we arrived a the the office to join a slow-moving queue of over 100 people we were so exhausted and overheated that we didn't care. It took 2 hours to get through the border. Every 10 minutes we would kick our bags forward as the queue lazily moved on. To amuse ourselves during the 2 hours we people-watched; cute babies blabbering, spoiled-rotten toddlers having tantrums, shifty looking solo middle-aged men, a group of Canadian Jehovah's Witnesses, a French bulldog and a very loud and annoying body-builder girl from Leeds.

As we burst through the border to Thailand, relieved to be making progress once more, a man saw our red-sticker-laden boobies and escorted us to stand with a little group he'd put together. We were then piled into the back of a tuk-tuk along with 10 other people and everyone's suitcases. It was intimate to say the least. We were hauled off again 10 mins later for a lunch break where we had omelets and chatted to a very nice Dutch girl (didn't get her name) who had had some really horrible experiences involving being scammed and hospitalised.

Next we were squashed into an old minivan that had holes in the ceiling instead of air conditioning ducts, a partially detached bumper and nifty inbuilt kneecap crushing seating. We remained in a sweaty fetal position for 6 hours until we finally arrived in Bangkok at around 8:30pm. We did chat to the cute 18 year old American boy who was squashed up beside me (good job he was skinny) who caught us up with the presidential campaigns.

The one thing we'd forgotton about Bangkok is that it can be a ball ache to get a taxi that will a) know where you're going, b) actually drop you at the right place and c) put the journey on the proper meter instead of charging a made-up rip-off fixed fee. Tuk tuks aren't any better though; they're generally between 20-50% more expensive that taxis. After scrambling around in the dark for an ATM and being turned down by a few cabbies we finally found a guy who knew where we were going. He refused to put the fare on the meter but at this point we didn't care, we just wanted to put our bags down so we agreed on a price.

We eventually found out hostel after a bit of difficulty (we seem to always pick the hidden or unknown ones. We had a private room and although it was all exposed concrete (walls, floors, ceiling) we figured it might make it cooler and saw it as an intentional stylistic decision. Industrial-chic.
The area we were in was perfect; plenty of little bars and restaurants around but nice and chilled and all in easy walking distance. We chose a busy Thai restaurant and sat outside enjoying the metropolitan hum.
We spent the rest of our evening watching crap on our devices, excited that for the first time in a while we didn't have to set an alarm.

Naturally, we had a lie in and then a lazy morning walk to the infamous Khao San road - a short street in central Bangkok infested with backpackers and establishments designed to serve them. We booked our bus to Khao Lak and aimlessly wandered around; doing what we do best - silently judging everyone.
We then got in a cab (which again was like pulling teeth) and drove to the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre (BACC). I have been craving some contemporary art for months now as we've only really seen little bits here and there. The BACC is a huge, light building with nine floors of art. We started at the top and worked our way down. We saw some truly amazing art from some incredibly talented Asian artists. There were actually some pieces with much more shocking subject-matters and images than I ever expected. There was of course some Royalist and traditional fare but generally everything from the paintings to the sculptures were as subversive, challenging and thought-provoking as you'd expect from contemporary art.

For lunch we stepped into the massive MBK mall opposite where we shamefully settled on Subway sandwiches. Weirdly, this particular Thai subway offered an omelet as an 'add on' to your sub; which we of course partook in. After listlessly meandering the artificially lit corridors, occasionally peering into shop windows we got bored and went back to the hostel.

We went back to MBK the following morning as we'd found a whole cluster of camera shops on floor 5 and as we had the whole day to burn before catching our coach at 6pm, we thought we'd try our luck with my kaput DSLR. In the end only one of the shops offered repairs (the official Canon shop) but I was told my camera would need to be sent to a manufacturing facility to be looked at and fixed, which, considering it was almost Thai New Year, would take 3 weeks. On top of this, because I don't have a warranty, it would cost me a small fortune. Ah well, worth a try.
With nothing left to do (and shopping not being our thing), we found ourselves in one of the many food courts. For whatever reason the mall was even busier than the previous day, and the food court was chockablock. Every table was full with locals, tourists, singles, couples and families; consuming with vigour. Lauren found a veggie stand and I decided to get some fried chicken from the little street food market outside.

We head back to our hostel to get our bags and walked 15 minutes to Khao San road. We had over an hour to burn so we opted for a cheap massage in one of the many parlours on offer. We had our own little private cushioned den and were a little surprised when Lauren's masseur turned out to be male. We followed the instructions to get top-naked and got sufficiently yanked and contorted. Although a little painful at times it was just what we needed after lugging our bags around.

Not long after we were collected by a man best described as the Thai Captain Jack Sparrow who walked us, and some other travellers to a little grass verge where coaches were lining up. We waited for the best part of an hour on the side of the road and were finally ushered onto our bus; which was nice enough. Luckily for us we had first dibs on the seats an chose the two next the top of the stairway so we didn't have anyone reclining onto our legs. The bus made two extra stops to collect the rest of the passengers and was full in no time.

The passengers were mostly groups of young backpackers but there was also a French family with two young girls. One girl who sounded German stumbled up the stairs holding a large bottle of beer in one hand and a bag full of beers in the other. She was with an American guy who was on his way to a similar level of inebriation. The bus attendant told them that the buses are often checked by the police and so they'd have to pack the unopened beers away and finish drinking to avoid being fined. The couple snorted in defiance at his request and carried on as before. It's fair to say I think most of the bus were hoping they'd just fall asleep. Unfortunately this didn't happen and the girl spent the first hour of the journey shouting, walking up and down the aisle and banging on windows. When we stopped at a petrol station to fill up, she climbed down the stairs, kicked the door and demanded to be let off to go to the toilet and have a cigarette. The attendant explained that this was not a rest stop and it was not safe for anyone to get off. The girl carried on as before until Lauren told her that we would probably be stopping soon for a proper break so she should go back and sit down until then. Weirdly she obliged and shut up for a short while, but, after another hour she started shouting about doing a shit in her seat. She then walked to the top end of the bus where there was some sort of direct channel down to the driver (like the old double deckers) and proceeded to verbally harass him for 20 mins, demanding that he stop so she could go to the toilet. I must say here that although I completely understand that we all have calls of nature to relieve, there was a perfectly functioning toilet ON THE BUS that everyone else had been using without issue.

Needles to say, the driver got to the end of his tether and all of a sudden we came off a slip-road from the highway, mounted a curb and came to a jolting stop. The doors immediately opened and we heard the girl saying things like "whatever, I don't care, you should have stopped before, I have rights" etc. She got off the bus and started having a very slurry argument with the attendant. Her travelling companion was proclaiming that he didn't know what was going on or why she had been kicked off the bus, even though we'd heard him goading her to go and annoy the driver. He stood up and a load of beer bottles rolled from his feet down the length of the bus. He then pushed past the two little girls who were sleeping and woke them up. It was now half 10 and I'd had enough so I told him to collect up his bottles and join his friend outside; if anything to ensure she wasn't left on the streets of god knows where on her own in the middle of the night, drunk.
He did get off and we then all waited half an hour until their bags were found and unloaded. The rest of the bus saw this palaver as an opportunity for a fag break and so they piled off and lit up. The poor Thai workers just had despair written all over their faces.

As we waited for the smokers to finish up we watched the girl and her buddy walk over to a street which appeared to have a few business on it. The girl then stopped at a bit of grass, pulled her trousers down, squatted and took a shit. After a closer look we realised that she had done this in front of a police station. Luckily for her, it was closed.

We all got on our merry way again without the nuisances and, at approx. midnight, we had a 'proper' stop at a predictably expensive truck stop along with a load of other buses with weary westerners on them. We picked omelets and a packet of chocolate biscuits, not to relieve hunger but to just because we were awake and we could.
For the remainder of the journey we struggled to sleep. The sticky leather chairs didn't recline very far and a group of lads behind us had decided to play some sort of game that involved the loser getting a tattoo of Mr. Tumnus.
The low level itch of anxiety we both felt as a result of the maniacal driving (which probably felt worse because we were high up) didn't help deliver us to dreamland either.

We made it to Surat Thani at around 5:30am where we got off, collected our bags and sat for a while, playing with a cute Siamese kitten. We were put on a tuk tuk and taken to another bus station where we got on another coach heading to our destination; Khao Lak. When we booked our tickets we'd been told that we would arrive around 9am but this ETA was a little off as our latest bus attendant told us we would be getting in at 11:30.
We did have another break halfway through this second journey where we ate what we could, not fully sure what day it was and whether we needed food or not. At least on this bus we managed to fit in a few snoozes.

As asserted, we arrived at 11:30, ending our 18hr journey from Bangkok. A short taxi ride got us to Parisia guesthouse; a lovely place in a quiet little suburb where we had our own room and bathroom and a little balcony. Having had only a couple of hours of sleep in the last 30 hours we were both a little delirious, not to mention stinky, so we happily rushed to our room excited to sleep and wash. We quickly realised that the water supply was off, apparently to the whole area, so not only could we not shower, we couldn't flush the toilet either. Bloody marvellous.
We had a long well-deserved nap and decided to check out the nearby market to get some food (as the water was off we thought it safer to eat barbecued stuff from a stall as opposed to restaurant food). The market was charming, with as many locals as tourists and lots of fresh fruits, veggies and animal bits. We got some fried snacks and had a browse, secretly hoping that someone would spontaneously shower us with clean, soapy water. I even paid 10 baht to use a functioning toilet at a nearby café.
That night we went to sleep more tired and more dirty than we'd ever been in our adult lives. Character building you could say.

The next morning we awoke to find that the water was on! Hurrah! I jumped under the shower with such gay abandon it took me a good few minutes to notice that the water tasted like the sea. Yes, it was as salty as the beads of sweat consistently running down our backs. We sighed another sigh at this fact but hey, at least it was water. A bit of salt never hurt anyone! And, it might actually do us some good as we're probably low on essential salts anyway!

After cleansing we head out on a short walk to Bang Niang beach. At least it should have been a short walk, but for us two geniuses, it ended up being a 45 minute head-scratching, bicker-fest. We did find the beach, or at least we found the sea; large waves crashing on larger jagged rocks below the edges of resort hotels. "Where's the beach with the sand? The one where people go to sunbathe and swim?" we asked a few different passers-by. They all gave us different directions that got us even more confused.
We gave up eventually and sat down in a restaurant for lunch. The menu had no vegetarian options on it whatsoever so we asked the waitress if she could modify the dishes for us. She obliged and brought out the freshest, most delicious tofu meals we'd had in ages. Spirits restored we made one last ditch attempt to find the beach, and, obviously, we found it.

We found some free sunbeds and chilled for a while, having a little paddle in the very choppy Andaman sea. In typical Aisha and Lauren style we got bored of the sun quite quickly and went back to our little home to watch the film Impossible. For those of you that might not know, Khao Lak was the worst hit town of the 2004 boxing day tsunami and the film Impossible tells the true story of a Spanish family who survived it. We seem to have gotten into a habit of watching films related to our current surroundings; The Killing Fields while in Phnom Penh, Tomb Raider while in Siem Reap and now this.

That night we abandoned our normal 10pm bed time and head down to Moo Moo's cabaret bar to watch a performance. There we saw numerous gay anthems (Whitney, Liza, Madonna etc) mimed by some very beautiful, very dolled-up Thai performers. Some of the acts were better than others; it was obvious that some of the girls didn't know much English as they were miming gibberish but it only added to the fun.

The following day was Thai New Year, aka Songkran. After a lazy morning we put on our least favourite, quickest drying outfits and braved ourselves for a soaking. And oh boy did we get soaked. As soon as we stepped outside we were spotted by a group on the opposite side of the road who had water-guns, and that was the start of a long session of wet, wet wet. It was all good fun and we walked around with our eyes and mouths as shut as we could get them always anticipating the next attack. Every man and his dog were out; Thai and felangs were lapping it up. Even the police and their cars weren't safe and didn't stay dry for long. Some of the water was ice cold, some of it was warm and almost all of it was salty.

After an hour or so of walking around checking out the festivities, Lauren got a bit tired of the inadvertent wet T shirt competition and the last straw was her beloved spring rolls getting drowned by two English kids. After this atrocity, we went back to our room to dry off, getting one last sudden bowl of water thrown point-blank in our faces by an English lady. This made Lauren's blood boil and I had to try and talk her out of giving said lady a fist to the face in retaliation.

The following day was an adventurous one. We were collected by our driver-come-tour-guide Run early in the morning and taken to Khao Sok national park, approx. 60km inland from Khao Lak. We had paid a lot more than we wanted to for a day trip to the park as we opted not to do an elephant ride. Because 99% of visitors choose to do the ride this meant we had to have our own private tour to avoid it. We didn't dwell on the cost too much as we were just glad not to be a part of the elephant tourism trade.
Run told us about his life; we learned that he'd spent most of his early adulthood playing electric guitar in a band and gigging around Thailand for just enough money to get by. He told us that he had given up his music career in order to support his wife and 3 children and to ensure he was around to see them. He talked about the fact that he hadn't picked up a guitar in 8 years and that he doesn't know if he ever will again.

When we arrived at the park Run proved himself to be a very knowledgeable guide. He knew the Thai, English and sometimes the latin words for every plant, tree and animal we saw on our 3 hour trek through the jungle. We saw hundreds of glorious bamboo trees (which there are over 1000 different species of) and various lizards (mostly skinks). We also heard many birds as well as some gibbons. Run told us about the thousands of animals that live in the jungle including snakes, spiders, monkeys, elephants, tigers and even some remaining farming people.

We trekked to a small waterfall and lake where we swung on some U shaped bamboo hanging from the trees and listened to nature at its best. We didn't struggle on the hike as much as we thought we would. It was incredibly hot and humid (our cameras kept steaming up) but the trees provided some shade (albeit blocking any sign of a breeze too). Perhaps we've gotten fitter during our trip.

We'd certainly worked up an appetite walking 4km in the jungle so Run took us to a restaurant owned by ex-Olympic boxer Worapoj Petchkoom. We ate our mammoth vegetarian lunch and even go to hold some of Petchkoom's winning medals. Upon Googling him later, we discovered that Petchkoom had been banned from boxing for a short period for posing in a spread for a gay magazine. This obviously made us love him even more and we were gutted we didn't get to meet him.

After lunch we head back to the park to go canoeing on the river. To get to the river we walked through a large cave where some monks were performing some sort of prayer for Thai new year. They very kindly blessed us as we walked through; perhaps sensing our crap canoeing abilities.
As we approached the river we saw that we were the only visitors and that there was one inflatable 'canoe' (more like a dinghy). We then realised that we had our very own oarsman - wahey! Relieved at the fact we wouldn't be rowing ourselves around in a circle for 2 hours we happily hopped into the 'canoe' and watched as the plethora of fishes hung around waiting for us to throw 'em some food.

It soon became apparent that the river was incredibly shallow. In parts so shallow that we could have gotten out of the boat and walked ourselves through the river with water barely covering our ankles. This meant that our poor young rower had to periodically climb out and push us over the riverbed. At least we got a bit of a gluteus massage.

Other than the occasional bum scrape the voyage was incredibly peaceful and scenic. All we could see was clear water, fish, trees, birds and the monolithic limestone rock formations all around us. There were also a few local village people bathing and playing in the river, some with their pet dogs.
At one point, we came across a troop of bamboo rafts being transported to storage at the end of the season;

After almost 2 hours on the water, with reddened shoulders and sore coccyxes we got back in Run's lovely cold minivan and returned to our guesthouse. Like two kids who'd been at the fair all day we were all tuckered out.

Back in Khao Lak town we had a bit of a rubbish tea at a local restaurant called Joe's Kitchen and called it a night. We hoped that we'd be able to recuperate the following day on our bus to the island of Ko Lanta.

Posted by advensha 07:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged monkeys wildlife nature bus trekking cambodia thailand jungle bangkok tour lizard hot border backpacking national_park travelling canoeing sweaty queue humid khao_san_road nightmare khao_lak khao_sok bamboo_raft poi_pet hang_tep_bus kicked_off_bus drink_tourists Comments (0)

Cambodia: Siem Reap

sunny 40 °C
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Knowing our bus to Siem Reap from Battambang was at 7:30am, we got up nice and early. We hung around in the massive hostel foyer for almost an hour before anyone showed up to check us out. Luckily the bus company hadn't come to collect us yet. The American man who bought the hostel 4 months ago who we'd had friendly conversations with throughout our stay, eventually came over to deal with us. He was in a terrible mood and barely made eye contact with us, sighing away at the inconvenience of us checking out. He eventually got the paperwork together and took our payment and checked us out. We then tried to give him back the towels we'd loaned in order to have our $10 deposit returned. Upon looking at the towels he said "these aren't our towels, I don't recognise them". Obviously we asserted that we'd been given them by one of his employees when we checked in. It took a bit of tugging for him to hand over the money but we got there in the end. As we left with our bus driver we saw the little puppy pooing on the floor. We were glad to be gone.

We climbed onto our mini bus and the German lady who had been on our sick-drenched journey from Phnom Penh to Battambang looked up and smiled at us. Lauren immediately felt the need to assert "I'm much better now!" just in case the woman thought she was in for another projectile show.
The ride was only 4 hours or so, which felt like a mere eyelash flutter compared to some of our recent journeys. We were dropped very close to our guesthouse so found a nice tuk tuk man (Mr. Lin) who took us the few blocks to Siem Reap Holiday Garden for only $1.
The owner, Pia, gave us a very warm welcome, along with her 3 incredibly cuddly cats. The hotel is an old fashioned colonial building with some interesting replica Italian renaissance furniture. After our hostel experience in Battambang we were hugely relieved and excited to have our own double bedroom, with en suite AND its very own key! The guesthouse is in a quiet Muslim community and a short walk to the hotspots with plenty of restaurants and shops around.

For dinner we walked through the town to Artillery; another wholefood healthy hippie joint. We both remarked on how much the town reminded us of both Chiang Mai and Hội An. I think it's the mixture of the canals, trees, sprawling markets and decorative lights.

We booked our Angkor temples 'mini tour' through our hostel which meant we were up at 4am to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Mr. Yon, our tuk tuk driver dropped us at the ticket office first which was already teeming with tourists desperate to get a sniff of the largest religious monument in the world. We arrived at the site, had our tickets checked and entered, joined by thousands of travelling contemporaries.
We weren't blown away at first; it was still dark and we hadn't woken up yet. We were also nosing on the other tourists and pitying the Cambodian children trying to sell tat to us while obviously still half asleep. Due to a lack of chairs (pffffft) we sat on the dusty ground beside a large pond, watching the sun rise over the tower. Steadily more and more people gathered in front of us taking selfies with the Wat and obscuring our view. We didn't mind too much; we couldn't be bothered getting up and we enjoy people-watching anyway.

There's no denying that the Wat is damn impressive to look at, especially against the azure twilight. The interior of the complex is just as, if not more astounding than the exterior. Endless labyrinths covered in intricate carvings, a wealth of towers, galleries and impossibly steep stone staircases. We opted to not pay for a guide (we're most definitely on the penny pinch wagon now) so we didn't spend an awfully long time wandering around. We were both a little underwhelmed by the whole experience; we're not sure whether this is down to tiredness, ignorance, tourists or too much hype. However we did really enjoy ourselves and were glad we did it. Perhaps a bit of time will solidify the greatness better.

Mr. Yon took us through the south gateway to Angkor Thom (the ancient capital city of Angkor). Along either side of the gateway bridge are old stone sculptures of Khmer gods, all with very different, incredibly expressive faces. We then moved onto the Bayon temple. We were glad to find that because it was still very early in the morning there were hardly any other tourists there; in fact we only saw a handful in the hour we were there. Within the complex are many temples covered in large, softly smiling faces that radiate serenity. There are plenty of other carvings too throughout the site. We even managed to find the resident kitty, who we of course bestowed with many strokes.

The next stop was Ta Prohm; another temple site but one that hasn't been painstakingly renovated or rebuilt over the hundreds of years since it was neglected. This means that nature has reclaimed much of the area; there are gigantic trees growing in and around the ruins, with huge twirling roots making the biggest impact. The other fact I find very interesting is portions of the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were shot here. This means that my footprint could have stood on Angelina Jolie's footprint; the closest I'll ever get to having sex with her.

Our last stop on the 'mini tour' was Banteay Kdei aka The Citadel. Not much to note about this one; it's built in the same style as the Bayon and Ta Prohm and from around the same time, it's just a little smaller.
Opposite Banteay Kdei is Srah Srang reservoir; a huge body of water with an ancient stone platform and staircase. There we saw water buffalo, cows, children, and a group of workers chopping seaweed underwater with machete type tools. There were stood knee-deep in the water, bent awkwardly over, swinging their knifes over and over. Certainly not easy work; especially in the 40° heat. Here they are;

We got back on Mr. Yon's tuk tuk ready to return to our guesthouse at around 9:30am. Apparently the 'mini tour' normally takes a minimum of 6 hours. We were finished in 3 and a half. We got the feeling that Mr. Yon was a little disheartened by our rapid touring of Angkor city, but we were actually very pleased with ourselves that we'd largely avoided the crowds AND the midday sun! Obviously every traveller is different but there's only so much ancient stone you can take in before it all becomes a bit of a blur. But again perhaps this is emblematic of our ignorance or 'Generation X' desensitisation.

We fit in a cheeky cat nap back at 'home' and then spent a few hours trying desperately to find a travel agent that sells Nattakan bus tickets. We'd read that the only bus company that goes straight through from Cambodia into Thailand without having to change buses and carry your bags for a mile or two. However after giving up and speaking to Pia on our reception we discovered that Nattakan don't sell to third parties and so you can only buy online. We weren't too trusting of this option so we instead decided to be brave and booked the cheapest bus option we could.
We then had a rushed lunch where I had the most delicious char sui pork soup I've ever had and popped into the cinema to watch the sci-fi horror 10 Cloverfield Lane.
The film was pretty good and we enjoyed the feeling of dryness for a couple of hours.

That night we walked to the famous Pub street to have a nose and get some cheap street food. We got some tasty $1 noodles and treated ourselves to some Nom Kruok; crispy little spherical shells with sweet glutinous coconut rice and sweetcorn inside.
Pub street isn't one street but an area; filled with, as expected, lots of pubs and bars, along with loads of street food vendors, clothes shops, newsagents and restaurants. Naturally, tourists flock to this area for cheap food and drinks and familiar music. The vibe was actually quite cool; not too crazy, aggro or seedy, but an infectious buzz.

For our final day in Siem Reap we visited Artisans D'Angkor which was only a short walk from our guesthouse. It's an arts and crafts centre with lot of workshops and of course a gift shop, set in picturesque leafy surroundings set back from the town. We were given a tour around the centre and were shown all of the different crafts in-process including wood, ceramic and stone carving, lacquerware, silk and tile painting. We met with the artists, many of whom are profoundly or partially deaf and come from poor backgrounds. It was fascinating to see the work behind the sorts of things we would always overlook in shops. A lot of hard work, time and skill goes into the creation of small and big souvenirs, art pieces and furniture.
I did try out a bit of British Sign Language with some of the girls but it turns out Khmer Sign Language is actually very different. Who'd've guessed it!?

After our tour we then hopped on our free shuttle bus to the Angkor silk farm 10km away. There we were shown exactly how silk is harvested, processed and turned into all sorts of items. We saw the mulberry farm where the silk worms feed, the flat, circular baskets where they form their silky cocoons and the whole factory where the silk is refined. On this site there were only women workers, again from underprivileged backgrounds.
The experience actually made us feel ok about silk as an animal by-product. Neither of us knew how silk was produced, we knew it came from silk worms but we'd both guessed that they just shoot thread out of their bums. We were happy to hear that the silk actually comes from the empty cocoon of the worms and that they themselves aren't hurt or killed of messed with at all.

Later on in the afternoon we sat in our guesthouse's communal area and watched a counterfeit copy of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. We really are living the dream. The sounds of uzis and big boobs bouncing around clearly vibrated through the guesthouse as soon enough, 2 other British backpackers joined us on the sofas. While occasionally ogling Angelina, we all swapped travelling stories and tips and Lauren and I picked up some good ideas for South Thailand, our next destination.

That's it for Cambodia; we've loved every bit of it (except for the prevalence of the American dollar) and can't believe we're already halfway through our trip. Onto our third and final sojourn in bastard Bangkok.

Posted by advensha 06:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap angkor_wat bayon khmer cinema night_market ta_phrom tomb_raider 10_cloverfield_lane Comments (0)

Cambodia: Battambang

sunny 37 °C
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Our journey from Sihanoukville to Battambang was not a smooth one, in any sense of the word. The first leg of the journey wasn't too bad; 5 hours on a comfortable mini bus to Phnom Penh. We were among another 8ish Western travellers and at one point, one young German woman leant over and told the driver to speed up. Considering most South East Asian bus drivers we've had so far have driven like maniacs we were quite satisfied with this driver's ability to follow speed limits and basic road rules. Evidently said German lady was a bit of a F1 enthusiast.
As we approached Phnom Penh the traffic came to a standstill as a result of ongoing roadworks but luckily, we still arrived in time for our connection.

As we waited in the Mekong Express terminal for our next minibus, Lauren started to feel very sick. This isn't an infrequent occurrence, what with the crazy heat and humidity and travelling around we often have bouts of feeling dodgy. We wrote it off as just one of those fleeting moments and boarded the next minibus bound for Battambang.
This bus wasn't full and the 4 seats at the back were free. We eyed them up for later in the journey when we fancied a nap and got on our way.

Unfortunately, Lauren's nausea didn't let up and after about an hour on the road I awoke from a little snooze to find Lauren vomiting in one of the metal dustbins. At first we thought it was the hot and spicy crisps she had eaten for 'breakfast' but she continued to be sick every 40 minutes or so, even after there was nothing left in her stomach. Needless to say the 7 hour bus journey wasn't pleasant for anyone on the bus, least not poor Lauren. It didn't help that this driver enjoyed winding in and out traffic at 100 k/h; shame the German lady had gotten off at Phnom Penh.

At our rest-stop we were confronted with a surreal plastic safari complete with zebras, giraffes, elephants, monkeys and rhinos, just stood there beside the block of toilets. Upon entering the toilets we then saw a live turkey just wandering around. At this point we were trying to remember if we HAD in fact eaten a Happy Pizza the night before and we were hallucinating.
Unlike Lauren, I was starving so I wolfed down an amazing plate of fried noodles and vegetables - the best I've ever had.

For the next 4 hours of the journey I watched excitedly out of the window at the lightening that was illuminating the sky. Weirdly though we didn't hear any thunder. Lauren continued to be ill and would throw up every sip of water she'd managed to swallow. Luckily our drop-off point was round the corner from our hostel so we hopped in a tuk tuk for $1 and checked-in.

BTB hostel (actually sign-posted Cambodia hostel) is, to be frank, a bit of a shit hole. When you walk through the front entrance of the hostel it feels like you're in an old function room; a very large, open-plan scruffy hall with little areas sectioned off by low brick walls. These sections were communal spaces with tatty rugs and cushions on the floor and a TV with a dusty PS2 attached. There is also a small bar and a café on one side. The floor was bare concrete and only 2 of the ceiling fans were working.
We were welcomed and 'checked-in' by a friendly but incompetent Swedish lady who struggled to answer any of our questions. We were walked to our dorm room off a large, dirty corridor and told that the rooms didn't have keys and didn't lock; anyone could just come in and out as they please. This posed an obvious security risk, especially considering the corridor the room was on opened onto the street; anyone wandering past could just walk though. So really the corridor was more like an alley; under cover but technically outside. To top it off, there were no lockers in the rooms and the few set of lockers available in 'reception' were tiny and all in use already.
As much as we were justifiably concerned that there was a good chance our belongings were going to get stolen, poor Lauren was desperate to just lie down so we accepted our fate and got into bed.

The beds were pretty hard (as are 99% of the beds we've had in SE Asia) but we both slept well; we clearly needed it. Lauren had managed to sleep through for a good 7 hours without vomiting but she was understandably weak and very dehydrated. I wasn't feeling entirely tip top either so we decided to stay in for the day. We figured the four young boys we were sharing a dorm with would be out all day so we'd have the room to ourselves to play on the internet and recuperate.
At lunch time I stepped out to get some plain food for us. I stumbled across a corner caf with sandwiches advertised on a chalkboard. I got some plain boiled rice for Loz and somehow managed to order myself an onion, egg ad potato baguette. In typical Lauren style as soon as I returned she shunned the rice and drooled enviously over my sandwich. She had a few bites and I forced her to eat a few spoonfuls of rice too but her appetite didn't last long. We had an early-ish night in the hopes that by the morning Lauren would feel refreshed and hungry ready for our tuk tuk tour.

We left at 8am for our tour. Lauren did feel better enough to have some BJ toast (butter and jam) but was still weak. Our first stop was the bamboo train; known as norry in Khmer, these warped old tracks with their flat bamboo 'carriages' and lawnmower engine take you on a windswept, rickety 50 k/h ride. There aren't any brakes or guard rails but there are plenty of spiky trees and plants to cut you along the way. We enjoyed the enlivening ride for half an hour with only a few minor skin injuries and got off at what looked like a small village with lots of cute naked children running around and a few clothes and drinks stalls. as we browsed and pulled faces at the unimpressed kids, we watched the railway men lift the 'mats on wheels' off the tracks to make way for other carriages to go past and to also re-orientate them to head back to where we got on. Here are some audiovisual accompaniments for you;

Our next stop was a winery. Yes, a Cambodian winery. The place was pretty underwhelming, we didn't have a tour as all we could see was essentially a bit of trellis with some trees on it (although in fairness we weren't shown the vineyard). Lauren and I were most interested in using the toilet shack and playing with the cute puppy. We decided not to spend any money on trying the wines; we're not exactly connoisseurs and it also wasn't the best way for Lauren to get over her bug. A nice French man who was visiting got a selection of everything and offered me sips of it all. As expected, most of the wine tasted like vinegar; not tasty at all. There was one ginger wine though that was 20-something percent proof that was actually pretty nice; I'd certainly enjoy a swig if I had a cold.
The winery was clearly just a bit of a sales trap; perhaps the tuk tuk driver knew the owners.

We moved on fairly quickly to Battambang's swing bridge that hangs above Sangker river. The bridge is known as the 'Indiana Jones bridge' but I can find no evidence that it was actually used in any of the films. The novelty is that when you walk along the bridge it, quite rightly, swings from side to side. Our group (of 14 white tourists) hopped, skipped and jumped excitedly across the bridge while frustrated locals on motorbikes and bicycles tried to manoeuvre past us.

On the other side of the bridge was a small village where there were rats being barbecued for dinner. I must say they looked pretty tasty. We travelled back over the bridge and tuk tuk'd to our next destination; Banan temple.

Wat Banan is a very old temple (built somewhere between the 10th and 12th centuries) that can only be reached by climbing 360 steep steps. It was once thought to be a prototype for Angkor Wat but I'm pretty sure this has now been discredited. It was now midday and the sun was blazing down on us. Lauren did try a few flights but just wasn't strong enough to do it all so she waited for me at the bottom. I huffed and puffed my way up and at one point, a young boy who was missing one of his lower legs started fanning me as I approached the summit.
I finally made it and stood still for a few seconds catching my breath and looking at the central tower. There were a number of buildings, all in a state of disrepair. The old stones looked as though they had just been precariously placed on top of each other, kind of like an old game of Jenga. Any minute I expected the temples to just cave in - crushing whoever was inside plus all of the bats that live in there. There were a few DANGER signs and some crude wooden reinforced doorways but not much else. As much as it's probably unsafe it was actually refreshing to see them in their more 'natural' sorry state, as opposed to a lot of the meticulously renovated sites we've seen.
There were some amazing stone carvings of intricate patterns, Buddhas and goddesses as well as a stunning view over rural Battambang.

Once we'd all made our way down we then head off to Koh 1000 (aka 1000 islands). The 30 min journey was a VERY bumpy ride in motorbike tuk tuk. We all felt a little battered and bruised by the time we'd arrived and then were confronted with a traumatised macaque monkey chained up to a tree. Our guide told us he gets chained up for the day so that he doesn't bite anyone and then he's freed in the evening. We obviously didn't believe a word of it.
We selfishy put the monkey situation to the back of our minds and climbed onto a narrow speedboat that took us to our very own little floating shack where we could hang out and get to know each other better. After gearing each other up we all jumped into the warm lake surrounding us - a little gutted the water wasn't colder. After an hour or so of frolicking a boat brought us beers and the hot food we'd ordered earlier. this was the life. The group was a good mix of people; ages between 18 and 35 and a mix of European nationalities (English, Scottish, Dutch and German). We all shared our travelling stories and tips and asked each other lots of questions. It was nice.

After eating and sufficiently drying off we moved onto the killing caves of Phnom Sampeau. The caves are on top of a mountain (Phnom Sampeau) and are pretty self explanatory. They acted as a mass murder site for the Khmer Rouge; people would be thrown through the 'skylight' at the top of one of the caves and then their bodies would be chucked into the connecting underground cave. Once such an awful place has now become rather beautiful; green vegetation flanks the caves and surrounding area along with golden Buddha statues.
As we waked down the steep slope back into the village to watch the nightly flight of the millions of fruit bats, we stopped and gazed across the panoramic Cambodian landscape.

At the bottom we sat and had a drink with our driver Rit as we watched the fruit bats head out to find food. Rit was a Cambodian refugee in California who moved over to the US with his family when he was a young boy. He was incredibly tall for a Cambodian and covered with tattoos. He also had a broad California accent when speaking English but spoke Khmer, which was an unusual thing to see and hear. He told us that his father was in the army and had been warned of the Khmer Rouge's uprising and so had enough time to flee with his family. He had lots of scars on his face and body and I had a feeling he'd been through some shit.

We had 5 minutes to freshen up back at the hostel before heading out again to the Phare Ponleu Selpak circus. The circus was started in 1986 as a non-for-profit organisation using the arts to help vulnerable young people. The circus was such fun, filled with amazing gymnastic and acrobatic talent along with traditional dance and costumes. There was also plenty of comedy and a great little band that provided all of the music.
We scoffed popcorn and watched in awe at these amazing teenagers.

It was a wonderful day; stuffed to the brim with unique experiences and sights. Lauren made it through, in spite of the heat, constant moving around and not a lot of food. We both slept very well that evening, contemplating our 5 hour bus ride to Siem Reap.

Posted by advensha 20:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia bamboo travelling mini_bus sickness battambang mekong_express tuk_tuk_tour phnom_sampeau vomit fruit_bats 13hr_journey killing_caves Comments (0)

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