A Travellerspoint blog

Less of the Temples, More of the City and a Touch of Madness

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View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

So with Angkor Watt under our belt – a very satisfied belt I might add, we went back to chill-mode for the next couple of days, and Siem Reap is a superb place for that. There is a well established street bar scene which is geared directly at tourism. That sounds bad but actually they’ve done it near-perfectly. There is a well balanced mix of tastes, ranging from local Khmer cuisine with some Apsara dancing chucked in, to French Cafes and restaurants, to nutty bars with multiple levels and live crocs.

We found a great French bar and sat on the upper balcony – which is where I have been doing my blogging (free wi-fi). It’s so easy to sit there the whole day, nibbling at snacks and slowly getting sozzled.

Across the street is a restaurant featuring free Apsara dancing every evening so we plonked ourselves down there on our last night in Siem Reap (and it was of course no mistake that we were still in range for the free wi-fi from the French bar :--) The dancing was a good hoot – mostly it involves the girls moving about very slowly in a kind of Egyptian way, occasionally holding golden goblets, and at one stage, rather bemusingly , with wicker baskets on their heads – and no – not balanced on their heads – with their heads in them – lol – shame – didn’t get a picture :--(

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The guys join them after a while and they do a coconut dance where they spin round and clack each others’ coconuts together. I thought this was put-on but we found them doing the same thing in another bar. I have doubts it will hit the UK.

Oh – didn’t have the pics last time I posted, but do now… below is the Dead Fish bar – all split on lots of “platforms” at different levels– you can see a waiter on the left taking drinks from a tray that slides up on a diagonal pulley-beam combo.

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If the place was not odd enough already, they had about 10 crocodiles on the ground floor.

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On one of the levels they have a pool table, which is nothing odd in itself but a few things were not quite right… it started to become apparent when, after finding there was no chalk for the cues, I racked up the balls and they all wandered off from the triangle formation the moment I removed the triangle. I inspected the immaculate looking table which had clearly been recovered recently only to discover some bright spark had re-felted it not in felt, but with office carpet! I can only assume it was down to lack of choice, or more probably, they had decided the felt wasn’t lasting long enough and went for something tougher. The net result of this was when you hit a ball it would meander in all directions across the table, often changing direction by ninety degrees as it slowed :--) All of this and we had no chalk so hitting the white was tough enough on it’s own. It was hilarious – we knew we were going to be in for a long game. Fortunately my “Ray Mears” mode kicked in and I figured fag ash would be as good as chalk – and it worked!

One of the downsides of all this street bar activity is that you meet a lot of land mine victims, as I mentioned before. We found out that actually there are more amputees in Cambodia due to mistreated snake bites than land mines – though make no mistake, there are a lot of mine victims.

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This legless chap has a hand powered “bike” – I paid him to take the photo – seemed better than just doing it. I certainly didn’t want to buy any of his books – we’ve already found out they are the kings of book forgers over here. We bought Lonely Planet Cambodia and Loas books which were brand new, for £1.50 each – seemed a bit odd and then we noticed some of the maps and pictures were a bit ropey. Fakes. No problem you think? Well, they showed published dates of 2007 but I checked after noticing the currency sections were way off the mark and then saw that they had stuck a new barcode with published date over the original. I reckon we have 1998 books! – makes using them for price guides and accommodation recommendations pretty pointless.

That brings me onto the “Lonely Planet Kiss of Death” – we’ve heard of this – a hotel gets recommended and instantly the owner moves to a beach hut and his sister’s uncle runs the joint at twice the price with half the quality. And it’s true. Every time we’ve gone to check out a guest house in the book it’s full, and it looks crap. Every time there have been far better options very near by. Pays to use those books as a culture and activity guide only.

Anyhow, for a wild change of topic, here is our usual mode of transport here…

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They are very comfortable and cheap, though the driver becomes an instant paraplegic if the thing gets rear ended.. it’s attached just behind his back with a large steel ball. Not a nice thought.

I’m also starting to collect images of odd signs. I wish I’d started it sooner in Thailand as there have been some corkers that I’ve not got pictures of. This one was in a guest house where we got our laundry done…

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Phew! – I would have left my grenades in my shorts had I not seen it.

Moving on.. we set off for Phnom Phen – we took a “luxury coach” for £4 each. It was a 6 hour journey that turned into 7 when we had to stop while some locals lifted a digger out of a pond with a crane. The coach was fine but they played Cambodian Karaoke all the way – I ended up with earplugs in and Kirstin dialled up her ipod to max. It drove me mad in the end. Why oh why in Asia the bus drivers think everyone wants to watch TV for 7 hours is a mystery to me. We’ve had the same in Thailand. It’s atrocious, and more often than not, 90% of the passengers are foreigners anyhow. Ahh well, we got there in the end.

As we got closer to Phnom Phen (we stopped a few times for toilet and drinks) the amount of beggars and children selling stuff increased rapidly. You could see the people were getting poorer and poorer. At one stop we abandoned our fag break and got back on just to run away from the hawkers and beggars. Saying that, some of the kids are incredibly cute. When they were loading up the coach , and I was outside making sure our backpacks got loaded, two young girls came round the corner, they can’t have been more than 8 years old I’d guess – and they both had our huge backpacks attached to them – the 1st girl turned 180 degrees and plonked K’s backpack on the coach deck and released herself, sighing in relief. The second girl walked towards me, then her eyes widened and she said, “ohhh nooo” – as she started falling backwards with the weight. I caught her. Awwww! – I gave them both some small change and they were delighted – they gave us a big wave goodbye as we left – way too cute.

On the other hand… in Phnom Phen it’s not so pretty. Every child seems to be selling something and they have a big homeless and abuse problem. We were eating dinner the other night and a tiny girl – maybe 5 ish, with a snotty nose and a sad expression came up and politely , but clearly desperately, asked if she may take my left over half of a spring roll, “can I have please?” – of course I gave it to her. The staff then chased her away. It’s really really hard seeing children this young on the streets fending for themselves. And I can’t bear to think what else goes on. You can’t ignore it – there are frequent posters asking foreigners not to abuse children…. Terrible, truly terrible.

I’ve also been offered, on several occasions (and bear on mind we are quite smartly dressed)

- Ganja (no surprise there)
- Opium
- Shooting guns/rockets – at cows and chickens I’ve read.

Some nights I get approached two or three times.

All of this has pretty much spoilt Phnom Phen for us. We went to see the old school building that was used by the Khmer Rouge as a torture and interrogation prison – where some of the biggest atrocities were committed during their time. We paid for a guide, who it transpired, was around during the conflict – her father was killed and she worked on a farm under force. It was a grim tour. It’s unbelievable how horrific people can be to each other when all the rules are taken away. What really drove it home though was how recently it was – the prison was only liberated by the Vietnamese in 1979. A fascinating but haunting afternoon.

If you fancy an education and you don’t already know, read up on the Khmer Rougue and Pol Pot – what went on here was terrible and unbelievable and the fact the Cambodian people are so jolly and optimistic is a testament to human resilience.

After that we tried our hand at the National Museum – that was hilarious. We were in and out in about 5 minutes tops! – Just lots and lots of statues and carvings from the Angkor period. Nothing had descriptions and we are not historians. As we walked in and saw the 1st exhibits Kirstin said to me , “hmm, can’t see this taking long hey?! – lol – we just walked in one way and straight out the exit. Way too boring unless you are specifically into that stuff.

Yesterday we decided we’ve had enough of Cambodia. In fact, after a bit of discussion, we both agreed we are done with Asia for now. We need a break. We need normality. And we want to be somewhere where you don’t need to spray with mozzie repellent 3 times and shower 3 times a day and basically spend most of your time trying not to get eaten alive :--)

We were planning to work our way up though Cambo, then Laos, then into North Thailand, but that can wait – we’ll be back in this “area” towards December – we want to be in Hong Kong for the Chinese New year in Feb 09 – so we’ll prob do Japan in September (for the Autumn colours) then a touch of Korea (God knows what that will be like – we are praying they are more calm when at home) then HK, then after that more of what we have missed here.

In the meantime – what to do next…..?

Well, in a fit of compulsion, I just booked two seats to LA ! :--) – we fancy big sights, theme parks, self drive – basically we want to “do” things. We’ve had an awesome time here but it’s time for a change. After you’ve done the main sights there is little to do but drink beer, which sounds great, and it is, at first, but after a while it wears a bit thin.

Nothing planned yet. We fly back to BKK today, then off to LA on Monday. We are going to spend the next few days planning a little and arranging car hire and a rough itinerary. April – June seems a reasonable time to be in America, we think. I checked the theme parks are open, so that’s cool :--)

We are both very excited! – and I’m suspecting we might spend a little more than planned too lol. We’ll see.

p.s. Out travel map is going to be ridiculous compared to everyone else’s orderly journeys round the world. Lots of cross crossing due to impulsiveness awaits :--)

Posted by Dodgey 00:41 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Hope And Angkor

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Yep – there really is a hotel called the Hope And Angkor :-)

We tried to arrange our tour of Angkor Watt through our hotel but every time we asked they added on another charge – at 1st it was an extra $10 for an early start. Then they kept adding more extras on. I got fed up in the end and called the tuk tuk driver that dropped us off at our hotel We felt very unhappy about lining the pockets of the hotel desk manager instead of the people who really needed the money. We have discovered that money is everything in Cambodia. Everyone gets a commission for anything you do and if you have enough money you can do anything you want – legal or not. It makes the Cambodians very unhappy who are generally very poor indeed. A typical hotel staffer earns $50 a month. A border guard earns $30 a month – which expains why they milk extra dollars off you at the border!

In the end we paid $25 for our guide and $15 for our tuk tuk and driver (Hotel wanted $58 for the same people). We got a 5am pickup so we could watch the sunrise over Angkor Watt (the main temple of the Angkor complex) which we’ve been recommended to do by several sources. Bleary eyed we set off on our tuk tuk in the pitch black, gently pottering down the road towards the temple, not being able to see a thing. As we walked into the main grounds we had to follow a small group of people who had torches – you really couldn’t see your own feet. We tripped up several times on flag stones and steps here and there. It was a weird and eerie experience – not being able to see anything but knowing Angkor Watt was in front of us somewhere.

There were a few hawkers offering coffee – thank God, so we grabbed two particularly horrific coffees and sat down on the steps of one of the library temples and awaited the “action”. Sure enough as dawn slowly broke the five towers of Angkor Watt started to appear in front of us on a magnificent scale. It was totally awe inspiring – and spookily silent – not too many people bother to get there that early. Ironically, once there was decent light, most of the people who came to see the sunrise assumed that was it and trotted off into the main temple. The sun hadn’t risen into view yet lol! – When the sun did come into view it rose above the towers in a matter of minutes and it was most definitely worth the two hour wait (at 7am is had risen proper) . One we had got over the splendour of the sunrise we headed back to meet our guide at the main gates – and at this time notice the huge numbers of people arriving! They were streaming in non stop and any photo opportunities of the reflection of the towers in the lake were gone.

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(it was pitch black, then the sun started rising)

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(getting lighter)

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(and lighter)

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(This is where we watched from, with our coffees)

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(Yep! Definately risen now)

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(part of the moat on our return to our guide after sunrise)

We hooked up with our guide and jumped in our tuk tuk to be swept off to the 1st temple – we were doing them in an order to avoid the crowds – good plan. We were doing the 17km “small” loop – it’s a massive complex – you can do a 30km loop too.

Our guide was fantastic and we learnt a lot about Hindu Gods, Buddhas, Kings, etc and clambered all over some unbelievably ornate temples – all the while having the temples pretty much to ourselves. As it was still very early in the morning the temperature was hot but OK.

During the next few hours we saw a LOT of temples and climbed some truly terrifying steps up them. As fatigue started to set in I checked the time. It was only 9.50am!! We’d forgotten we had started at 5am lol. The heat is starting to ramp up at this stage and we entered the ruined temple with all the trees growing over and through it – a location used in the Tomb Raider film. It was again spectacular but we’d got our timing wrong and collided with a huge contingency of Koreans.

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(Faces everywhere you turned!)

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(the 54 towers of faces - faces, faces!)

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(the small pool is the King's pool, the big one, which you can see less that half of, was for his concubines. Lucky man)

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(to give an idea of height and perspective, you are actually looking at two flights of steps, the ones you can see, and another long flight below, you can't see as it was too steep to photo without me falling down). At the top of this temple I took 3 incense sticks and put them by a Buddha statue and donated a dollar. Kirstin was perplexed as I'd shunned all religeous offerings so far. I explained we needed hep from above to get back down safely.

Koreans are hilarious – they travel almost exclusively in huge groups – we think their entire family. Their dress sense is unusual to say the least! – the best way to describe it is to imagine someone has been fired out of a cannon, passing through a charity shop, Dorothy Perkins, and a fancy dress shop, finally ending up at a silly hat shop. They look like they are off to play golf, but no golf club I know of would admit them. It’s unreal and you cannot mistake them for any other nationality. Being so many of them you can’t get near any photo opportunity spots and you have to spend a lot of time dodging their parasols. Our guide was telling us they use a Korean guide, a Korean driver, eat at Korean restaurants, who’s owners brothers are the guides, then stay in Korean hotels. All their money goes back to Koreans. Thailand banned them from having work permits for exactly this reason. Cambodia do not have the luxury of doing this as any stray dollars coming their way are much needed.

After the “Korean” temple we were absolutely shagged and needed to stop so we got our guide to take us to a quiet restaurant for an 11am early lunch. Once we were done I asked when the Koreans go to lunch (they always go back into Siem Reap to eat at Korean restaurants) and when he told me 12pm – 2pm I immediately suggested that would be the best time to see Angkor Watt itself. “Good idea!” he said. And it was. It was practically empty which was fabulous.

We got a lengthy tour of all the bass-reliefs on the walls of the 1st floor – so lengthy that we were starting to flag a little :-) - the second floor was impressive and we were looking up at the towers atop the 3rd floor with awe – though we both felt that Angkor Watt is best viewed from afar due to it’s scale. We found some of the other “smaller” temples far more interesting close up. Angkor Watt is split into three floors based on the Buddhist belief of hell, life, and heaven. 1st floor is hell, 2nd is life/alive, 3rd floor is heaven. Heaven is currently closed due to maintenance – never thought I’d hear myself say that. Rather ironically we spent most of our time in hell.

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(one of many Cobras protecting the main Angkor Watt)

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(It's not a small place)

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(ahh - it's us!)

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(apparently it's a good job being a soldier now. Not so good a while ago...)

By now were were dead beat and “templed-out” so we gave up and returned to the hotel to hit the pool bar. Incidentally – the temperature at Angkor by lunch time was unreal – we found ourselves running from shade to shade. Must have been in the late 30’s – early 40’s.

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(This one is for Clare and Rachel - wish you were here - again :-) )

We had a fab day. It was absolutely stunning and fascinating. The best bit was easily seeing the sunrise over the towers. We could have gone back to watch the corresponding sunset but we’ve seen a fair few of them so far this year :-)

Since then we’ve been spuddling round markets and trying out different bars and restaurants – a particular favourite is the Dead Fish bar – which has lots of platforms on five levels, all linked by little stair cases and all served by various arrangements of ropes and pullies guiding drinks trays around the building. Clare and Rachel spent time here and recommended it to us. Great place and they have live crocodiles on the ground floor – fenced in of course – but only a low fence!

We love bars like that. Health and Safety has killed all such places in the Western World which is a crying shame.

We’ve found free Wi-Fi in “pub” street – which is where we are now, supping a cold beer after breakfast. The scene here is lovely. Nothing like Thailand. We have not seen any scruffy idiots or pissed Brits yet – they don’t seem to be here. It’s a much older crowd – but then I guess that’s what you get in a town based soley around temples.

The Cambodian people have so far proven lovely. The tuk tuk touts are not overly pushy, all the bar staff are very polite and helpful and the general atmosphere is relaxed and somewhat “colonial”. The Cambodians are very poor and we see a fair few land mine victims selling books (books you don’t want or need but they want to appear not to be begging) – we’ve found ourselves giving them small change frequently. Their injuries are horrific and for once you really feel the urge to give.

Our guide explained to us that they are all very frustrated at the corruption in Cambodia. Money never ends up in the right hands and they are desperate for more tourists to come (its increasing each year). It doesn’t help when your 1st experience of the country is getting tucked up at the border by the very officials you are meant to trust. We found out that the $30 a month Visa/Border officials work with the chaps who take you to their office and rip you off. The chaps who lead you there pay a fee of $5000 a year for the privilege to higher officials. They then keep some of the money they milk from you, and give some to the border officials. Apparently everything works like this.

Another example is tuk tuk drivers – they get a small payment when they take you to a market, from the market stall holders, regardless of whether you buy anything or not. This results in free tuk tuks to markets  - everything you do is linked to money somehow. It’s going to be very interesting when we go deeper into Cambo in a few days time. We plan to work our way overland to the Laos South border which will probably take a few weeks and pass us through some very unspoilt parts of the country. The same will apply in South Laos.

In summary – we love Cambodia so far! It’s so different from Thailand, much less commercial and it really feels like we are travelling “proper” now.

p.s. God bless America – drew out $250 and our account got debited £116 !!!

Posted by Dodgey 22:22 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Breaking Thais

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Breaking Thais

Well, what a 24 hours! We had decided to go to Cambodia for a few days to see Angkor, and I read up on a web report on how to get their cheaply. Basically doom and gloom but doable. We popped down the train station in Bangkok to pre-book our tickets for the next day but found we couldn’t as it was treated as a commuter train and there was no need. As it happened, we couldn’t reserve our hotel without 48 hours notice through our cheapie Asia-rooms site so it was no biggie. We had a spare day. We decided to have a day of abstinence on the beer front. That lasted until 12pm. It’s hot and clammy in Bangkok – you HAVE to drink beer. I’m sure it’s a law. By 3pm we’d sunk 3 large Chang beers and watched “The Beach” in a bar that plays it on a loop. Talking about law, we tried to buy some travel books on Laos and Cambodia but lucked out. Every time we tried a new stall, they ran! – we found out the police were on the rampage against illegal traders. We drank more beers.

We packed our bags minimally – leaving behind our backpacks, planning to pay to store them in Bangkok and travel uber light in Cambodia and then come back and collect them afterwards. Not long afterwards we both agreed we didn’t want to be tied down to returning to a specific place and repacked, avec backpacks. A bloody good decision it transpired.

The Train to the Thai border at Aranyaprathet leaves Bangkok (BKK) at 5.55 am, so being the sensible type of guy, I set our alarm for 4.25 am and we checked out and left at 4.45 am. We grabbed a cab and within 8 mad minutes we were at the train station. Great, no ticket kiosks open and an hour early. To be fair, I wake up every two hours with “bug alerts”. Being a very hair chap has its downsides. Every single contact with anything feels like a creature is crawling over me, and this is in a sealed air-conditioned room. So getting up at 4.25 am is no big deal for me. K was less happy.

Anyhow, we hung around and boarded our train at 5.55am with trepidation. As it turned out, the journey was both fascinating and enjoyable. Chugging through the city in the wee hours is an eye opener. You know how you were always told not to put your head out of the train window as a child? (of course now you can’t – its all sealed for our “protection” in England). Well, they were right, at least for BKK. Peoples’ “homes” are built so close to the line that one finger out of the window would result in instant digit removal!. I was facing forwards and it was more than disconcerting. I flinched a lot. Corrugated roofs of shack type buildings passed mere millimetres away. It was a real education seeing how the poorer people live and wake up.

If the train had not stopped at every single tiny station we’d have reached our destination in a couple of hours. As it was, in our 3rd class train, we stopped, seemingly, when any Tom Dick of Harry waved at the train.

We had no air conditioning, hard seats and no “buffet car”. But that was an asset. It all felt very Michael Palin. All we had were roof fans, and ladies and gents walking up and down offering various inedible Thai delights for sale including one lady with some odd white round “fruits” or “nuts” which she hacked open with a machete and popped a straw in. God know what they were but they smelt of fish.

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As the journey went on we watched the city fade away and things became far more rural, much like Vietnam. One of the Thai guys in our cabin was either nuts, drunk, or high. I could not figure which. He seemed harmless but it started with him singing at full volume listening to his Walkman (I know, I’m old school – sod iPods). It was amusing more than anything and most of us were smiling but a girl behind was less than amused and fetched a guard (yep, we had guards). He duly arrived and slapped the guy across the head, told him off and left. Of course in England that slap would have made the Sun and a big court case.

Much later on into the journey I noticed we also had an armed Transport Police chap walking up and down the train. When the weird guy persisted in sitting randomly opposite people and generally being a bit “unsettling” the armed guy took him in between two carriages, closed the doors, and gave him a major bollocking. The funny thing was, I loved this. I felt safe. Not because of the weird guy, he was harmless and no match for a good bit of British aggro, but because I was on a train, with guards, with police. I was on a 70 pence train journey and there were 3 guards (who regularly cleaned the floors) and a bad-ass copper. British transport bigwigs should take note. If you want people to take public transport – make people feel safe. Sure it won’t be cost effective on a spreadsheet, but in the long run, people will use public transport and the overall goal will be achieved and it really WILL be cost effective. I’d never dream of catching a night bus, or a late train in London. It’s simply not safe – and we are supposed to be a developed country!?!

We totally loved it. It was slow, quirky, well fed and above all, relaxing. Other bits I loved were the fact there were no doors in the “between carriage” sections so you had a smoke and watched the real world whizz by, and there was no back door either! Totally reminded me of westerns where the good guy punches the bad guy ouuta the back onto the tracks. Oh – and we also saw people on one of those “pump the handle” carts on the track with a small engine – you can catch them apparently for small “hops” though they are shortly to be banned. I want a go!!!

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(This was the view out the back, nice and airy)

Five and a half hour later we reached our destination and were greeted by a tuk tuk driver who had boarded the train to “catch” his early prey (by this time we are both minging big time and are trying to work out who smellt more and if we can smell ourselves, or each other – it was probably me). We got ferried off to the border, and then the fun began. I won’t elaborate too much, but basically:

a) He offered a dodgy overpriced Visa. We declined. No probs.
b) We got followed and quizzed by a “mafia” guy who wanted to know if we’d taken up said offer. We ignored him
c) Went to the official Cambodia Visa office and got robbed of $5 each. They tried to convince os you have to pay 1000 Thai Baht for a visa (£18) when we knew it was $20 (£10). We stood our ground and eventually settled on $25. The officials were in total cahoots with the guy arranging it and would not open the hatch ‘till we coughed up the backhander.
d) Got fed through to the mafia taxis where we made a reasonable deal for $45 to get private cab for a 3 hour journey.

All in all it was more hilarious than annoying. The best bit was a chap telling us about the 1000Baht Visa and when I explained I had no Baht, only Dollars (I hid my Baht in advance) and that I’d spoken to my embassy in advance for advice, he insisted that the minimum was $25 and then he spoke to one of the officials who said or did nothing, and the conman then said “see!, he said 1000Baht is the only way!”, I replied, “hahah – what!?!? He said nothing at all – how did you come to that conclusion” . We got our way in the end, and paid £2.50 each over the odds. Corruption is rife but at least it’s not too serious.

Once we were in our cab we negotiated the infamous Poi Pet to Siam Reap “road”. It’s famous for being a dirt road that can take up to 14 hours to navigate in the wet, and usually 5 or 6 hours in the dry. The thing is, Bangkok airways has a monopoly on the flight route and rumour is they sponsor the Cambodians to keep the road in a poor state to force people to fly. The flights are £100 plus taxes one way. The train fare is 70 Pence, the taxi, £25, for up to 4 people. You do the math, as our US friends say. Luckily for us, this “secret” arrangement comes to an end next year so the Cambodians are well underway improving the road and the whole bone jarring, mud lane driving, hump jumping, pot hole banging experience “only” took three hours. Trust me, I’ve read numerous report of the journey normally taking all day. It was dry for us so we were frequently following the dust trails of other vehicles – at times you could not see more than 3 or 4 feet in front (and there is a constant flow of oncoming massive trucks). Even so, it was incomparably more relaxing than our Visa run we did in Thailand with the sleeping driver.

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(This was as clear as it got – I was too scared to take pictures when visibility was down to a foot or so)

On arrival at Siem Reap we checked into the Somadevi Angkor Hotel – 5 star, and rightly so. Recommended by Clare, and a good recommendation that was! – pool bar included (the main reason we went for it!). £30 a night for total luxury. We’ve had a stroll down the main street and so far, we can safely say, the Cambodians are in a class of their own when it comes to friendliness. And it’s damn cheap here – all $$$$ which of course are half price for us. We initially planned to Angkor Watt and run, but we both thing we’ll be here as long as we can, working our way through the country. It’s that promising. We’ll work our way through to Loas, where we’ve been told of a village where you meet the “elder”” and if he likes you, you stay for free as his guest,

Kirstin has no real idea what to expect at the main temples of Angkor – I can’t wait for our 1st day – she’ll be blown away. I’ve wanted to visit the temples since I first saw them on the Discovery channel about 4 years ago and when we chatted about it today it became clear she is in for a shock and has no idea of the scale of it all!. We are going to start with a 5am visit to watch the sun rise over the complex. Did I mention I’m excited? :-p (not before a day in the pool ….)

Posted by Dodgey 20:20 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

One Night in Bangkok

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OK, That’s a total lie, but an irresistible title. We’ve been here for 3 or 4 nights so far. Much more fun on the return visit – last time we just wanted to get to the beaches and rid our minds of all city thoughts (Peckham does that to you). This time we were up for sight seeing.

Matt and Justin were with us for their last two days. We had a painless flight back from Koh Samui – though there were loads of mozzies in the plane which makes for a lot of swatting and general panic whilst the safety briefing is going on. There were too many lardy people and the types that spend 30 minutes messing around with the overhead lockers in between us and the exits to make any kind of escape possible anyhow so – safety schmafety. (I do actually take note of where the emergency exits are on each flight – I watched a documentary ages ago that concluded your chances of survival in an air crash are wholly down to how close you are to the exits and how fast you can get to them – Discovery channel wisdom for you).

We checked into a half decent hotel (with a bath!!) and then got stuck into Bangkok proper. We also checked out China Town and had a hectic meal, delicious mind you. I pretended to make off with a whole shark fin much to their amusement – it was about £800 for the whole fin! – they were most insistent we had shark fin soup but we are backpackers – a touch too pricey, even for the soup – around £25 a bowl.

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(On the Koh San Road again)

We did a longtail boat tour 1st. This is essentially a Gondola with a truck engine on it zooming around the canals for an hour – taking in sights like the floating market and, far more interestingly, looking at all the houses and communities based on the edge of the waterways. Very enjoyable and enlightening – one thing you notice is that they have a LOT of temples.

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(I certainly would NOT swim in the water)

With that in mind, the next day we set off to see the Grand Palace – they have a rule that you must cover your bare flesh to go inside – i.e. no shorts, no short skirts, and no sleeveless tops (Justin!) – Justin had to go and rent a shirt for the day and he ended up looking like a janitor in his blue collar. More fun than that was waiting for him and watching a Thai lady with a megaphone shouting at practically everyone, “you! No shorts”, “you, people, no sleeves, you get clothes”. It’s amazing how many people will ignore the guide books, or don’t have one at all – whole groups arrived dressed inappropriately. Some slipped though by being sneaky. So much for respecting the Monks.

We were very lucky to see the Grand Palace – a chap at the main gate, standing right by a soldier told us , “Grand Palace closed” – open again at 3.30 (We happened to know 3.30 is actually when it closes) – we ignored him and walked 1 min down the road and entered the “closed” palace. This is common place. It’s a tuk-tuk scam. If anybody sees you heading for a tourist attraction they come over, all helpful, and tell you the object of your desire is indeed closed for cleaning/Thai holiday/Monks praying blah blah blah – then they tell you you should get a Tuk Tuk to another temple (they mean their mates’ clothes shop). We got half stung like this when a Tuk Tuk took us to a boat pier that amazingly wanted to charge us 4x more than normal. We ran. So far, EVERY single Tuk Tuk driver in Bangkok we have dealt with has been dishonest, and EVERY single person who has offered help when you are looking at a map, has wandered off, then as if by magic, a Tuk Tuk appears offering to take you to the place the chap you just spoke to was talking about. They seriously need to ban these things It does the Thai people a huge disservice when the 1st thing you are presented with in Thailand is dishonesty. All the Thais we have met have been super. Apart from Tuk Tuk drivers.

Anyway – returning to the Grand Palace – it was certainly eye candy, with lots of emerald Buddhas and gold everywhere and some stunning wall paintings. The main super special Buddah was in a room you are not allowed to take pictures in – but I managed – long zoom and 1600 Iso :-) Being that there were three lads in the group a lot of silly Buddah poses ensued.

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(I’m incensed! – groan)

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(Matt and "Justin the Janitor" in a WestSide Freeze)

I also noticed a very odd sign on the ticket entrance to the site, “Free for Thai People” – think about it. The sign was in English. Don’t get that.

After that many more beers were sunk and Matt and Justin zoomed off to the airport. It was great fun having them over and very very odd seeing them leave in a taxi – knowing they are going all the way back to the UK and that we are effectively “home” as it stands.

The following day K & I went to the Ocean World, based in two basement floors of the Paragon Shopping Center. What a place! It has a glass walkway under the main shark aquarium and you can also (which we did) get on a glass bottom boat and go on the top of the water and look down, whith a guide who found it too funny, far too many times, to make jokes about feeding people to the sharks. By the 6th time it was getting embarrassing.

We watched as two guys in scuba gear fed the sharks – all a few feet from your face. Brilliant stuff. I would have lots of great pictures but our little Sony digital camera packed up when we got there! I got as few crapo ones with my phone. I got a picture of K touching a real snake but alas my phone cam is useless in low light – very brave of her (I did too!)

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(yep, he’s looking at me)

Pretty much everything in there was fascinating and we thoroughly recommend it to anyone visiting Bangkok. As part of the package we got tickets to the “4D” Ocean cinema experience. I pretty much assumed the “4th” dimension would involve moving seats or the likes of. I was mostly right. We donned our 3D glasses and the movie started. The “3D-ness” was impressive and soon into the feature a massive sea snake swam at us – it was right in front of your nose, and Kirstin, bless her, wasn’t sure if it was just her seeing it like this. She hates snakes, and just as the snake was inches from our noses the seats luched forwards and compressed air was blown in our faces from hidden jets. She took off her glasses AND closed her eyes :-) As the movie continued they played various other tricks including thin air pipes on the floor that flow around your ankles making it feel like you were being touched by sea tentacles. A short but super experience.

After that we checked out the rest of the shopping centre. I wanted some cheap small speakers for the beach so we headed to the Hi-Fi floor. On route we noticed a Lambourghini in a showroom. I assumed this was the usual competition in a shopping centre thing, then quickly realised that this was really a dealership (on the 5th floor) and there were dealerships for BMW, Spyker and other luxury cars. This was no cheapo shopping center. We found a hi-fi shop but this was not place to be spending a tenner! – There were the kind of speakers and amps in there that you read about in a magazine with a pop out feature titled “If you had £100,000 to spend on speakers…” – it was mega rich land.

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(At last I found speakers big enough to be buried in…)

We didn’t ask for prices, would have been too embarrassing, but I saw stuff in there only millionaires can buy to be one up on their other millionaire friends.

We went back to the ground floor where we belonged and had a KFC.

We’ve decided in a fit of impulsiveness to delay North Thailand by a week or two and go to Cambodia to see Angkor Watt. We have a choice of flying or going overland. Flying is £400 return for the both of us for a 45 minute flight. Bangkok air has a monopoly on flights to Siem Reap. So we are going overland. I’ve done a lot of research and it’s a bit of a minefield (no pun intended, honest) – the journey is littered with scams and cons. I’ve found a great website by someone who does the journey all the time and goes into great detail on how to do it with the least hassle. Basically it goes like this:

Get train from BKK to border – leaves 5.55 am – takes five and a half hours – cost -…….70pence each!!
Get off train and get £1 tuk tuk to border (don’t let any tour guides on tuk tuk with us)
Ignore anyone who approaches us and go straight to immigration.
Ignore pretend immigration officials
Pay $20 for visa, refuse to pay more in Baht
Get on free bus to transport depot, again ignoring touts and keeping all children at arms length
Get $45 taxi to Siem Reap - 5 hours ish. Make sure it’s a mafia taxi. If not mafia taxi they will stop your taxi and threaten driver. Make sure you don’t share taxi – too hot and cramped. Make sure taxi is really going to Siem Reap.

Whole thing should cost around £25 for the two of us, rather than £200 each way. Whether we come back by plane or overland depends on how the outgoing trip goes. Should be a hoot. We are going to book the hotel my Sister Clare stayed at – pool bar sealed the deal.

It goes on. If you want a laugh, read this:

http://www.talesofasia.com/cambodia-overland-bkksr-self.htm

We are catching the train tomorrow morning and leaving most of our stuff in a lockup in Bangkok so we can travel light (and run fast !). We are getting pretty handy at spotting conmen now so it should just be a case of ignoring people and giving them “that” look.

Lots of pictures of Angkor Watt will be incoming shortly!.....

p.s. mended the camera! – read on the net for a solution and the common theme was “bash the mo-fo in the floor” – not taking this seriously until I read lots of replies saying, “wow, yes! It really works”. So I threw it on our stone floor and bingo! It works!

Posted by Dodgey 00:34 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Visitors and Retracing footsteps


View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

Visitors!

Matt and Justin Arrived in typical Thai style. We worked out roughly how long it would take to get from Krabi airport to out place, and they arrived 3 hours later than our estimate. Their taxi/truck took them all over the place whilst the driver picked up his washing, dropped off some goods, etc etc. It was quite a shock when they did actually arrive. It was quite surreal. Within the hour we had them accustomed to the way of the hammock and all was sorted.

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The next day, after they’d settled in and we’d knocked back a whole heap of Singha beers we spent most of the time “hammocking” and generally doing what we’ve become experts at – mostly nothing. Justin and I had a brief knock about with the badminton set we’ve managed to buy a few days earlier – that lasted about 10 minutes due to the heat and their jetlag. Not a bad thing considering one of the rackets popped strings almost immediately. Thai build quality is something we have become accustomed to. There is a very good reason you can buy two rackets and a shuttlecock for £4. When I unzipped the racket bag the zipper fell off immediately. That was a clear sign of things to come.

A day or so later we hired a scooter “taxi”. They are scooters with a third wheel attached and seating for up to 7 extra people (we’ve seen 7 but 4 or 5 seems to be the norm). Usually, you hail them like cabs and agree a fee and they scoot you round the island in relative comfort. We decided to hire our own for the day. Better to be able to talk to each other than be on individual scooters we thought. How wrong we were. Don’t get me wrong, it was bloody good fun, but this thing was almost uncontrollable. When I attempted to steer, the front wheel, having practically no weight on it, would just skip and bounce and we’d carry on in a straight line. If I accelerated in 1st or 2nd gear up any kind of incline we’d wheelie – consequently losing 100% control of the steering (and 50% of our brakes!). When I eased off the throttle we’d veer left, when I accelerated we’d veer right. It got to the point that going up hill required myself as the rider, and Justin as the most forward passenger to both lean over the front of the whole contraption just to keep some kind of control. It was slow going. We got to a café on a very steep hill and everyone but me got off to allow me to park safely.

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We now have great admiration for the regular “taxi” drivers and can also confirm that a 100cc engine is not big enough for 4 people.

The next couple of days the weather took a decidedly nasty turn and we got grey skies and regular heavy downpours. Fortunately we always seemed to find ourselves at a bar during these challenging times so it all panned out OK.

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On our last day in Koh Lanta we agreed that the Muay Thai (sp?) boxing was not to be missed. For the few that don’t know, that’s Thai kick boxing. It’s kind of odd. They spend pretty much as much time performing their pre-fight rituals as they do actually fighting. They walk around the ring, seemingly praying at each corner, then crouch in the middle, flapping their feet and rolling their fists over each other in they way people used to do in disco dancing. When they eventually face each other, accompanied by rhythmic drum and “wailing” music, they kind of gently bob about with the music, switching weight from foot to foot and wiggling their heads. Then, at last, they kick the crap out of each other.

They started off with the youngest and worked up through the age/weight classes through the evening. To be honest, the younger lads were the most impressive to watch. They were keener, more agile, and seemed to be able to end the fights with submissions more than the heavier chaps. My heart was in my mouth at one stage when one lad got a sharp kick to the head and collapsed, but he was OK in the end. The Thai spectators were very keen and clearly had money riding on the fights – waving slips of paper in the air, and tossing them away when their chaps lost.

Great fun, and looking forward to catching a “bigger” event in Bangkok.

The next day we set off to go back to Koh Phan Gnan to show the boys the paradise we’d been staying at at the start of our adventure. It was very sad leaving Kun, Lap, Tom and the others behind at Koh Lanta. We’d become close and Kun made a touching gesture that made it clear that he and I had become good friends over our 5 weeks of knowing each other. Things like that are going to be memorable on our travels.

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(Why may facial expression is so dorky I will never know)

Our trip back to Koh Phan Gnan was supposed to be from 7am, arriving at 5pm. I won’t bore you with the details but we got their at 11pm. What was clear was that the company arranging our journey had 90% of the people going one way, and 10% (us) going another way, so they avoided laying on extra transport for us and consequently dumped us very late at a harbour and legged it before we noticed our boat was waaay later than planned. We’ve definitely learnt that over here it’s better to arrange all of your own transport than let someone else do it.

Koh Phan Gnan was as great as it had been before and the lads enjoyed a trip to the waterfalls and lots of beach time.

We popped over to the unused beach next door and inspiration overcame us. We decided to build a sand-formula-one-car-castle. We got the front wheels and bodywork done and then I realised that the tide was coming in so we decided to abandon the plan due to not wanting to see our hard work go to waste. Great fun and Justin managed to skin his knee in his excitement playing about in the sand.

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Kirstin was out of the sand castle building action. She got her hand stung by a bee in Koh Lanta which then swelled up to the extent she couldn’t move her fingers and we hastily took off her wedding rings. It got worse before it got better. Fortunately we got some antihistamine tabs from the chemist. The only down side (well, I thought it was quite cool) was that the tabs also contained a tranquiliser lol. She was very quiet and quite spaced out for a day.

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After three days it started going back to normal and all is well now.

On two of the nights one of the beach bars hosted a BBQ and put cushions on the sand with little tables and lit a fire – we had super times, chilling and knocking back Vodka Redbulls and PinaColadas – I don’t think Matt or Justin will be touching a PInacolada for some time to come.

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(the effect of 7 Vodka Redbulls was not subtle)

After 5 days chilling in Koh Phan Gnan we headed back to Koh Samui on a ferry that picked us up directly from our beach. Talk about convenient. We had in mind staying somewhere a little more “swish” in Koh Samui and we’d seen a few likely candidates on the beach when we last stopped there for a day. Slight catch, when we checked the prices they ranged between £150 to £400 per night per room!!! – we rather hilariously ended up back at the flea pit we stayed at before.

We now have a day here, then we are off to Bangkok for 2 days before the lads fly home. We plan to do the sight seeing that me and K skipped when we were first there (we were too excited about the beaches at the time) – floating market, temples, and something about ping-pong girls too – no idea what they are on about.

After that K and I are going to catch the slow train through North Thailand, stopping at several places along the way for temples and animals etc, ending up at Chang Mai, and then after a rest, over to Laos. We’ve had our fill of beaches for now and are both very much looking forward to some “culture” action.

One more thing – a huge thanks from Larry and Eva for our pressies! – I now have a portable version of “shut the box” and K got lots of lovely lady stuff. I’ve managed to shut the box once so far!

Posted by Dodgey 19:21 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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