Travel Blog: Week 27

Cambodia and Thailand Week 27: 13.05.2013 – 19.05.2013. The start of the second 6 months! Monday:- The previous day of travel left me a little shell shocked when I first woke up. This was soon replaced by a burning desire to eat. I stepped out of the room to find that the ocean was less than 100 yards away. Arriving in the dark last night we had no idea of our surroundings. This was a very pleasant surprise. There was a

Cambodia and Thailand

Week 27: 13.05.2013 – 19.05.2013. The start of the second 6 months!

Monday:-

The previous day of travel left me a little shell shocked when I first woke up. This was soon replaced by a burning desire to eat. I stepped out of the room to find that the ocean was less than 100 yards away. Arriving in the dark last night we had no idea of our surroundings. This was a very pleasant surprise. There was a fabulous looking restaurant between me and the ocean and so within a few steps I was seated and looking at a very appealing breakfast menu. I hadn’t really eaten properly for two days and so not only did I order fruit with yoghurt but also a sandwich – I rehydrated too. It was bliss.

  

I spent much of the morning at that restaurant. Just enjoying the food, a cup of ginger tea (yes, Trev it was tea – but not the proper stuff according to my Mum), the view, and using wifi. I really needed to get down the details of the past few days.

The rest of the day was a mix of snoozing and swimming in the sea. The water is so swallow and warm here. It doesn’t give much relief from the heat of the day. You have to swim out a fair way before your feet leave the sand and the deeper water starts to be cooler. The surface however always remains warm. I met a girl who gave me some ideas for Laos. I may reconsider crossing the border once I’ve been to north Thailand.

Lunch was quite late in the day. Strangely, after all the street food I’d eaten and been fine, this meal from a good restaurant didn’t stay in me for long – I’ll spare you the details. I walked the road that ran parallel to the beach. Rough, red clay full of potholes and trash, and not very long.

  

  

There really was very little to do here. Not even a mini mart. I met Fouad in the evening and we took a tuk tuk back into the town.

It looked busy, at least the roads were as mad as anywhere else, but the restaurants were empty. Where was everyone. It was very surreal. We sat in one restaurant and ordered a beer whilst perusing the menu. It didn’t take long. It was a small menu and the waiter explained that most things were not available. We left. Found a pizza place which I was convinced served only reheated frozen food. I was wrong, and on seeing Fouad’s 5 cheese, yes 5, pizza, promptly order one myself. It was delicious. Fouad was hoping to go to the casino but without his passport stood no chance of getting in. We walked for a while hoping it would help digest the very heavy pizza. Prostitutes everywhere, rip off tuk tuks and a strange undercurrent. We got a tuk tuk back to Otres. There was a happening bar – still trying to sort out its music system problems. At least the speakers had stopped smoking!!! I saw the two girls we met in the swimming pool at Siem Reap and swapped a few stories. It was a bar full of very young tourists – late teens I would guess – and really not my thing so I left Fouad to it and went to bed.

Tuesday:-

Today I was up and out for a 9:30 snorkel trip. As requested I was at the beach just before 9:30 only to be told it had already left. Now I know that my trust in Cambodian people is on shaky ground, but when does anything ever leave on time let alone early in these places. My gut feel was that there was no trip running today – he just didn’t want to admit it. Feeling disappointed and a little pissed off I had breakfast. The snorkel trip included breakfast and lunch so I wasn’t expecting to be back at the restaurant. Another day of pretty much doing nothing on the cards. I’m not very good in these situations. Nowhere to walk, no snorkelling off the beach as the water is cloudy and there are no fish anyway, limited swimming, and no shops. The day was spent reading, listening to music and some swimming. A yoga class was taking place just down the beach – the local kids doing their utmost to copy – very funny!

  

  

I was ready to move on and so booked my bus ticket. I looked at so many options for getting back to Thailand. In the end I arranged a bus back to Phnom Penh, with a flight later that day to Bangkok. It was expensive but quicker and it meant I would get a 30 day visa, rather than the 15 days you get if you cross the border by land. The plan was to then get the night train to Chiang Mai.

Fouad found a new roomie and moved out that afternoon which meant I had the pay the full $15 for the room but I got the place to myself so could spread out my stuff and pack properly. After all I would be getting on a plane so had to make sure all the right things were in my checked bag. It all went in easily and my bag is feeling a little lighter. At last.

I just had time to get a quick meal before the restaurants close at 9. I’d ordered a great sandwich and also fruit salad. Too much for one meal but the left overs were boxed up for me and I put them in the hotel fridge for tomorrow’s breakfast. Perfect – assuming they are still there in the morning of course!

It had been a strange time for me in Cambodia. Some very memorable places and events but I never really felt connected. I’d heard such great stories from all sorts of people who rave about this part of the world but I can’t honestly say I felt the same. Maybe if I was here on a three week holiday it would be different but 5/6 months into a year’s trip it wasn’t doing it for me. I lay in bed thinking about that – was it me? This trip was about being open minded and open to new experiences. Not sure I was doing that justice.

Don’t get me wrong, these are fascinating places and I have enjoyed most of my time here. I just don’t feel completely at home. It’s not the food – that’s wonderful. Could it be the constant heat? The people? – many are very friendly but as Fouad once said a lot of the locals just see us as a wallet. They are crafty, and whilst I completely understand why, it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Whilst I’m musing, one of the things I have noticed about Cambodia, and actually the same applies to Thailand, is that they are obsessed about ‘clean’, which is no mean feat in a hot, sticky and pretty grubby country. They are forever sweeping. I think we Brits talk about the weather as a national past time but here it’s sweeping, and with those little whispy homemade kind of brooms. They sweep the rooms (fair enough), the beach restaurants (the Forth bridge springs to mind), but also the paths and roads. Any walked on surface. They also clean windows (Mum you’d be proud) and their mopeds and motorbikes are quite often spotless. The tuk tuks, which just by their very nature will sadly never look clean, are always tidy. It’s truly admirable not, bless em, a complete waste of time. A bit like talking about the the weather! On the other hand, there is trash everywhere. Like at home there are posters dotted around asking to “keep our country tidy”. Many of the locals have total disregard for this. That I do find difficult.

Anyway, enough trying to put my thoughts in order. Time for sleep.

Wednesday:-

I didn’t sleep that well but that’s the norm when I have an early start and have to be up and ready at a certain time. I pretty much woke every hour on the hour until about 5 when I slept soundly and then couldn’t wake up.

I was all but packed and so leaving the hotel was a doddle. Well, as long as you don’t count trying to settle my bill with the hotel owner who’d forgotten I’d already paid for the first night. Also paying with $100 bill was pushing my luck but I really needed the smaller notes. Anyway, it all sorted itself out and just as I was wondering if my transfer would turn up and if so would it be a motorbike, something I pointed out at the time of booking my ticket – 1 passenger with 2 rucksacks and a motorbike don’t work (although from what I’ve seen they’d make it work) – my transfer arrived. A small car. A car, an actual car. I hadn’t been in a proper car for weeks. It was all the more pleasant as my transfer was free. He’d wanted $2 but I had no small change and neither did he so he let me off.

It wasn’t long before I was dropped at the bus terminal, which makes it sound much grander than it was. It was a small office with a few buses parked outside – but boy did they have sparkly windows.

  

I just had time to eat my leftover dinner for breakfast and then it was time to board. The bus was full, but oh what I completely different experience. There were only 15 passengers but it was so much roomier. There were only 3 brief pickups and then we were off. Air conditioned, set just right, and fresh smelling. The wifi actually worked, although through the hills it was a little temperamental, and they showed 1 and a half movies. The Hobbit and Skyfall. If you could ignore the buffering and delayed sound it was pretty good. The roads seemed clearer and faster today and everything looked greener. Maybe it was just that I was in a better frame of mind.

We stopped after 2 hours at a restaurant. A little local place that was clean and had food. Interesting toilets!!! It was whilst we were waiting to get back on the bus that I noticed one of the other passengers had a ‘Ceremonies’ t-shirt. We shared stories of our Olympic volunteering experiences (she had been a first aider and got to see the whole ceremony – lucky thing). The journey was advertised as 4 hours.

  

  

It was about 4.50 when I looked out of the window only to see the Phnom Penh airport flash by. At an appropriate place I asked if I could get off here as I needed the airport – if they’d known they would have dropped me there. Doh, I should have mentioned it earlier. I was dropped on a street corner of a major road and was soon stepping into a tuk tuk.

I arrived at the airport too early to check in so I had a wonder and found a great little Vietnamese restaurant in arrivals. They didn’t seem to worry that I was going against the arriving passengers to get into the ‘terminal’. I had noodle soup, of course (but I’ve spared you another picture) which didn’t fill me up. Keen to use up the rest of my reil I had a Mr Whippy style ice cream with chocolate sauce. Wow – sugar rush!

  

I could now check in but only once they’d sorted the glitch in the computer system. They were just rebooting! Eventually, after much deep breathing and silent words of “be patient, be patient” I was checked in. They turned a blind eye to the extra 2 kgs I had and also invited me into the Bangkok Airways departure lounge free of charge. I’m so glad I entered my Virgin loyalty number when I booked this flight. I’ve never been in a departure lounge. There was free food, drink and wifi. It had been real feast of famine over the past week. Some days I’d eaten next to nothing and today I was already on my third meal and it wasn’t even 4pm. I went through to the boarding gate and waited, charging my phone at a power socket I found and updating my blog. I was so engrossed I missed my call for boarding. Yes, I was that one person who gets paged over and over and the plane can’t take off. Anyway they found me, I boarded and I even got a better seat at the front with no one else in the row.

Might be worth doing that again sometime. The flight was less than and hour but guess what, yes, another meal. I was already full but ate the food anyway. I had a 14 hour train journey ahead of me so I decided to stock up now. I stashed the meal, and the fetching dessert dish, in my bag for later.

I watched our descent through the window – so much smog!

We landed, and as usual I chose the slowest queue through immigration – I don’t know how I do it but every time! I got a new 30 day visa and I was through. My bag was waiting for me, doing lone circuits on the conveyer belt. Through customers and out. Now I needed to get to the train station. I asked airport information. I could get a taxi but it was rush hour so I decided to go for the train. First the airport link then change to the metro MRT to the end of the line and the main overland station. It was great fun, I like to keep moving and having the challenge of getting from A to B, but with two back packs and my framed pictures in a plastic bag, negotiating the ticket machines, turnstiles and carriages was certainly a challenge. I met an ex Brit Aussie and we got chatting. We were shortly joined by a very camp Jewish American and another Aussie, both in their 60s I would guess, and I was briefed on the pros and cons (mostly cons) of Bali. The 2 older men were getting off at my stop and kindly agreed to escort me to the MRT station as it wasn’t very pleasant in that area and they were going that way anyway. It was so lovely of them to see me on m way. I was frisked by he MRT security guards but waved through and soon I’d bought my token and was on the train. My bags were feeling heavy by now but carrying them was easier than taking them off and putting them back on. I made it to Hua Lamphong station. I’d missed the 18:10 train but the 19:35 was looking hopeful. I found the ticket booth and was in luck – no 1st left but at this stage I’d settle for 2nd. I’d made it. Unbelievably, I had succeeded in stringing together a bus ($12), a tuk tuk ($3 – mile for mile probably the most expensive), a plane ($177 – ouch, although a bus and extra visa would have been around $55 and much more time), an airport shuttle train (35THB), an underground train (29THB), and a main line train (791THB – about $25 ish – incredibly good value for a 14 hour journey) . I was on my way to Chiang Mai.

By now I was hot, sweaty, tired, thirsty and my shoulders were sore from the rubbing straps of my backpack. I bought a few provisions in the station taking care not to clear the mini mart shelves with the bag on my back. Water, crackers and some fruit from a vendor. I found the platform and decided to get on the train early. I would really like to dump my bags and get settled. I got on the train, a feat in itself. The steps were way off the platform and with the 22kg bag on my back, a 7kg bag on my front and my pictures I struggled to lift my foot high enough to make the first step and then lock my knee to raise me into the carriage. I gritted my teeth and made it. I found my berth, in a very
stinky carriage and started to settle. I was asked for my ticket. I was in the wrong carriage. Doh! Back on with all my bags and then I started to wind through the next 10 carriages through very narrow corridors. About half way a train guard suggested I get off the train and walk along the platform. I’d like to see him get in the train carrying this much weight! He helped me off and back on again and soon I was in the right place. Would I be lucky enough to have this little cabin all to myself.

    

Sadly, no! I was joined by a Japanese guy, Ley, and a few stops later a Thai girl. I was in the top bunk so it was time to shift my stuff skywards and settle in for the night. By now it was 9:30. It wouldn’t be long before I called it a night. The train was noisy, and so was the chatter from the other cabins in the carriage, and it swayed and jolted along, but I was loving this. My own little space – I could draw the curtain around me and be in my own little world. In the morning I would be in the north. I’d worked out sunrise was about 5:30 and the train would get in to Chaing Mai around 10 so I’d have a few hours of daylight to watch north Thailand unfold.

I brushed my teeth, visited the smallest room on the train (sooo small) and remembered all too late that I must wear shoes in these situations, closed the curtains to my little domain, changed and settled in. I think ear plugs may be in order tonight. Still loving it though. Hopefully I’ll feel the same in the morning.

    

Thursday:-

Not the best night’s sleep but I did sleep. I have to admit the swaying of the train did give me motion sickness but overall it was OK. I woke just after midnight thinking it was morning but realised it was still nighttime it was just that all the lights were still on and used the bathroom. It was right next to the cabin which although made finding it easy had its down sides too. I also woke at 3 and then around 6. Lots of loud people around the cabin. I woke with another headache. I’m pretty sure it’s all about hydration. It’s a real balance between finding water, buying it, carrying it and drinking it versus finding toilets etc.

  

  

The sun was up and I could see immediately we were travelling through the countryside. So much green – everywhere looked lush and the train was cutting right through it. There’d be the occasion knock of branches against each of the carriages as we whizzed by. Some small villages, roads, rivers, temples, and ploughed fields. What a great way to see the country. The Thai girl had left before i was awake so I took up he place on the bottom bunk so i could look out of the window and have breakfast – it consisted of my packet of crackers and yoghurt, oh and plenty of water. All I could stomach at this moment. There were lots of offers of juice and breakfast at inflated prices so the train was well catered.

  

    

The aircon was on full blast so I wrapped myself in as many spare blankets as I could find and watched the world pass by the window. I felt drowsy and had a little nap. There was now just about an hour left of the journey so I started to collect my things together and prepare for the next step. The train was running late, 2 hours late, so I took the chance to walk up and down the train corridor. I found the restaurant car – Gangnam style blaring, windows open so it was hot, locals eating rice and tourists drinking beer. I bought water and the worst tasting BBQ crisps I’ve ever had – both at inflated prices. I spent the rest of the the journey sitting by the window watching the scenery and waving to the locals.

  

  

Just before midday the train rolled in. I heaved on my bags and stepped down on to the platform. Now to find somewhere to stay. Within a few steps I saw someone with a poster of a very appealing guest house. They offered a free taxi transfer so I could just check out the place before deciding whether to stay. I got into the taxi bus with a Dutch couple. Within 10 minutes we had arrived. I checked out the private room (with bathroom) and the dorm (with shared bathroom). I was hoping to catch up on my budget here but the place was lovely, and with a pool, so I went for the private room – I needed some sleep and some space. I checked in with ‘Moon’ the very helpful Manager and had lunch in the guest house restaurant. I quick dip in the pool and then the rest of the afternoon was in the room. It was so hot here and the room wasn’t much better. I did laundry and watched movies on TV.

  

  

  

I didn’t go out again until 8 and that was only for a light dinner and some groceries for the room. I didn’t feel at my best today so just went back to the room and tried to sleep. Keeping cool was a case of showering throughout the night and having the fan, which just stirred the warm air, on full.

Friday:-

I’ve decided the next few days are just to chill. I think the constant moving around is starting to take its toll. Sometimes you just have to listen to your body and mine is saying – enough for a while!! So I’m going to take it easy – very easy. I watched more movies during the morning and ate breakfast in the room which isn’t actually allowed here but I made sure I completely tidied up. Who dares wins Rodders. I waited for the height of the day to pass before venturing out. The heat is just overwhelming here and I can only take it in short bursts. The street adjacent to my guest house is really interesting. A mix of temples, restaurants, small cafes, galleries, and artefact shops. I browsed for a few hours and weighed up the merits of paying the transaction fee for changing dollars v the ATM fee for cash. I plumped for cash.

I found a tea house and had the most delicious fruit cake and mango smoothie. Just as well I really enjoyed it as it cost a fortune and they added a service fee!!! That will be the only visit I make there! On the way back to the hotel I bought another painting – I know, I know. I’m still dragging around the 2 I bought in Bangkok. I’ll be arranging a package home in the next few days.

  

    

Back to the hotel with my newly acquired cash to pay for my room use so far and to secure the room for another couple of nights. The next flight on my round the world ticket was due to leave Singapore on the 20th. I wasn’t going to make that so called the airline to change. They would phone me back tomorrow- fingers crossed. Dinner was marmite and crackers – rock n roll!!

Saturday:-

Felt much better today I’m glad to say. After sorting out my flight for the 20th, which was now a month later on June 20th, and eating breakfasts headed out. It seemed cooler and so I spent the rest of the morning walking around the old city and visiting a temple.

  

    

I also booked my first tour for a while. A two day trekking tour in the jungle. I met a really lovely Thai girl, who unusually had travelled herself, at one of the temples and she told me the whereabouts of a reputable tour company so I tracked it down and signed up. I’m so sceptical now though – I think the girl may have had links with the tour company because I’m not sure I got the best deal. Anyway, it was done.

  

  

  

    

  

    

  

I had lunch at a street cafe with the locals and a sneaky ice cream a few streets later.

  

Onto the next temple. It was beautiful and not as popular as the first but it had a profound affect on me. As I sat in front of the many golden Buddhas, watching the Thai people making their offerings, I felt a wave of emotion and even started to cry!!!!!!!!! I approached one of the monks and got a blessing, a little chat and a “good luck” as I left.

  

  

  

  

I found out that if you needed to use the toilets at these temples you had to a) pay, b) take your shoes off (ugh), and then use newspaper for toilet paper!!!!

By now I was flagging so I headed back stopping at one last temple. Then I remembered the Saturday afternoon market. I found my way there and wandered along. As usual a huge and strange assortment of anything and everything but also a lot of silver. Luckily I had next to no money left so only had enough to buy a bag of lycée. So cheap here and absolutely delicious.

  

I crossed the moat wall back into the old city and stopped by a number of fabulous shops safe in the knowledge I was penniless.

  

Back to the hotel. JJ on reception asked me what I was doing tomorrow and would I be booking a tour. I explained I had already booked something – that was it – he was in a strop with me. “You told me you would book with me (I didn’t) and you broke your word (I hadn’t)”. When I asked if I could book my room for another night in two days time suddenly they were busy and full. I would have to pack and check out before my tour tomorrow.

I went out and wandered around the night market which was only a ten minutes walk away.

Much of the markets in Thailand sell the same kind of things. I love the hustle and bustle but the goods themselves are becoming a little predictable. What wasn’t predictable, was a little side street that I found. Many artists beavering away with their oil paints. The art work is just spectacular here. Rest easy – I left the place empty handed.

Back to the hotel to pack. I had to carry whatever I took on the trek. I’d been given a list of essentials which I packed and not much more. The rest was carefully packed into my main bag. I also had a dry bag for my valuables. I wanted to put these into a security box. All packed it was lights out and sleep.

Sunday:-

As was the norm I woke every hour on the hour to ensure I was on time for my pickup. I was! I had time for breakfast in my room and to finish the last minute packing. I was hoping to leave my bags at this hotel but that, it seemed, was nor an option. I just hoped I could leave them with the tour company. They arrived a little early and took me to the office to pay the rest of the balance, and check in my bags. I also got a safety deposit box – phew.

There were only 4 of us on this tour. It’s usually 10. This could go either way. As it turned out the other 3 girls were great fun and we all got along – 2 Essex girls and 1 from Amsterdam.

  

First stop was after about an hours drive in the truck. A market. We all bought water and I also got a big bag of lycée and the best hot coconut waffle. The tour guide stocked up on food for our lunch, dinner and breakfast. We were off again – just as the rain started. OK, so the tour office told me the tour had 8 people already booked on it and the weather would be great – I’m starting to understand how it works here.

  

It was still raining when we reached the elephants. We waited for the worst of it to pass before, fully bright coloured plastic poncho end up, we met our elephants. We swapped cameras and ambled into the jungle on our beasts. The rain subsided but it actually added to the experience. It was amazing being with the elephants who regularly stopped to scratch their big butts on the trees.

  

  

After a final wade through the river we returned to the elephant sheds to collect our souvenir photo. By now the rain had stopped which was perfect timing as now we began our trek. We met our local guide Louis and we headed up, up, up into the hills. Stopping for wild jungle mangos, water and to catch our breath. Jade,one of the Essex girls really struggled with the heat and the climb but after a few worrying moments and a sweet to get her sugar back up we were off again. We climbed and climbed then levelled out a little all to the distant sound of rumbling thunder. A lot of the trees are being felled here, and the stumps burned, and in their place they are growing rice.

  

    

We took our lunch break, which was a bag of hot rice, at a waterfall.

  

    

  

Time for a quick dip – mine being more than the others as I fell in! At this point we were joined by a dog who stayed with us for the rest of the trip. I think it was the left over rice which won her over. More climbing and then a short break during a brief rain shower.

    

  

Eventually we reached a more open area where the land was obviously being worked.

  

There in the distance was our village – home for the night. I was expecting the village to have signs that tourists stay here but there were none. Village life went on as normal and the tourists, us, were pretty much ignored apart from a we smiles. Walking up the path we were met by pigs and the cutest piglets, chickens, dogs and cats. At the top were cows and families getting on with life. Children playing, Dads fixing engines and Mums cooking.

  

  

  

  

We were shown to our hut, dumped our stuff, and went for a wander whilst Louis cooked us dinner over a fire.

  

  

  

I showered, well rinsed myself under the “shower”, and changed into my jim jams with long pants and sleeves over the top – if I could avoid being bitten by the bugs it would be a bonus. Dinner was fabulous, filling and by candlelight as it was getting dark – no electricity here. Louis entertained us with matchstick puzzles and his broken English.

  

I think he was a bit drunk – he shared his home brew with us but frankly I wanted to keep the enamel on my teeth and be able to swallow in the morning. Oh my god, or a Louis said Oh my Buddha, it was potent stuff. The days activities and the darkness bought on tiredness and we all hit the sack around 9. The beds were hard but comfy, although who knows when the blankets and pillows had last been washed. We had dirty grey mosquito nets as the hut was completely open – just a roof to keep us dry. I read for a while but my eyes were heavy and I was soon asleep. I love all this stuff!

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