A Travellerspoint blog

March 2008

Unites States of 'Amburgers

sunny 34 °C
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

Here we are in the good old US-of-A! Yeehaa!

Wow – is it friggin’ expensive after Thailand and Cambodia lol! – at least the Dollar is weak and we are getting over two to the pound. We knew this would be the case, but I’ve becoming a tightwad and need to break out of the mindset that something costs “100” – it’s only “50” really if you see what I mean. Still hard to deal with when you buy a coke for $3 and it’s “only” really £1.50 (in a theme park you understand).

1st surprise (I’m sure we are in for many) was at the car hire depot at LAX airport. I’d booked a deal with Dollar car rental called “lock and low” – you pay for a compact and get a random car in the “midrange” bracket (wanted to say midrange range but bracket made it all the much better). We went in, signed the forms, and then they tell you to go to Zone 2 = zone 2 was a garage (pronounced gararsh of course). I then asked the purdy goil in there which car – she just said, “pick one” – wicked! There was a line of cars – all sorts including convertibles – Kirstin made a bee-line straight for a soft top but it was well gay. I steered her successfully to a Ford Mustang. Sorted. V8 Power! And off we drove – and got totally thoroughly lost. And I mean really really lost. I was trying to deal with the new car (which I accidentally power-slid out of the rental “deepoe”) plus understand their road sign system, which is actually totally logical but 100% the opposite of what the UK do. You see a boulevard to your left and the name of the road you are still on is hanging directly in the middle of the road (yep – it’s still a bloody road as far as I’m concerned!) above the new road on the left, so it looks like that’s the name of the road on the left, but it’s not, it’s the name of the one you are still on. We soon cottoned on when the signs suggested there were about 10 La Brea Boulevards in a row. Couldn’t be! We drove round in so many circles it was daft. We could see the Highway/Freeway we wanted but every time we tried to join it there were roadworks, or I missed the turning.

We got there in the end, all the while keeping an eye out for a “Halfords” equivalent to buy a $100 Sat-Nav unit. No luck there. The V8 started to show the signs of illogical car choice – quarter of a tank gone already – hehe.

So we checked into the motel on Hollywood Boulevard and took a mooch down to the walk of fame – you know, the handprints of all the stars etc. Forgot our cameras but hey, you know the scene. When I say a “mooch”, we drove. America is BIG and we didn’t like the look of the locals.

After “mooching” and failing to convince K that we should eat in “hooters” :--p we chose a classy “Americas Grill” – and WOW – what a meal – I had a New York Strip steak and K had Fillet Mignon medallions (that means, in English, 2 x fillet steaks!). We got the typical super attentive US service and tried our 1st American wine – the French choices are severely limited. Somewhat suspiciously we had the recommended Martin Ray Pinot Noir. We had a half bottle as we had to drive, though I figured with my experience I could pass a sobriety test quite easily on a bottle or two how hard can it be?!?! – anyhow – the wine was blinkin’ fab! – our 1st American wine and it was delicious. Half bottle was £10. Nice and peppery, smooth finish, semi-complex, and to me, just missing a little of the French “character” – great none the less, and far easier to get it right than with French wines. I usually find New World wines tiresome after a bottle or so, so time will tell. Next time I won’t be driving and I’ll down a couple and report back… We’ll certainly be scheduling an exploration of the Napa Valley.

This morning we went to LA’s Six Flag Magic Mountain coaster park (notice how I omitted the “roller” before coaster? We are going local). Our receptionist chap tried to convince us to buy his tour package - $85 each for tickets and transfer there - each. In his own words , “with the cost of gas now this is cheaper than driving”. Yeah, right mate. I bought tickets online for $39 each and the drive was 30 minutes tops. And “gas” is half the price of UK petrol. It was a quarter last time I drove here so I can understand why car adverts now promote the MPG before the satnav and “HD” radio (the car itself gets talked about last). We hit the park at 10.30 am and joined the spring breakers – we discovered it was Easter here too. The queues were busy at fist. We queued for a mental coaster where you hang like you are flying like superman and it took 1 and a half hours. After that we spent $20 each and bought 4 “flash passes” each. This meant we could walk straight to the front of the queue on 4 rides. Wicked. The looks on the fat ladies faces when we queue jumped was worth the money.

Actually, there were not too many fat people. It seemed the Latinos had done most of the eating.

Boy oh boy does that place have a lot of roallercoaster. After the initial queuing, things eased off and we didn’t end up needing to use half of our flash passes. We went on every single coaster but two (one broke down and the other, we were far too tired and shaken up by then). We did a total of 9 coasters and 3 water rides. We did normal coasters, mega high, mega fast, standing up, lying down, sitting with legs forward, hanging under, and sitting in swinging chairs. I’m not sure if there can be any other configurations available!.

The highlights were:

Tatsu – you are hung underneath, suspended horizontally, and get sent round upside down, right way up, swirling looping etc, but the real moment was when we reached the top of a HUGE loop and you looked down , straight down as you are hanging underneath, and you can see you are about to drop at least 150 feet and loop, ending up at the bottom of the loop on your back looking at the sky. Even I screamed. (don’t confuse this ride with the rubbish Alton Towers equivalent which is too slow). It was truly fantastic and something we'll never forget. You just can't explain how extreme it was.

(if you zoom in you'll see a lot of people hanging up there! - that was Tatsu)

Colossus – an old wooden coaster – it was a very different experience from what we are used to and all the huge drops and hills, plus the rattling was a nice change and quite a “pure” coaster experience.

Goliath – a HUGE regular coaster on steel rails. The initial drop (370ft at 85 Mph) was terrifying, and then it went into a loooong spiral downwads. The G-force was so strong we wouldn’t see because our heads were stuck sideways on the headrests. I was nearly sick. Seriously, and more and I would have chucked.

All the others were OK – and very impressive individually, but we found they were all just different ways of seating you (or standing) on similar tracks. There are only so many times you can “enjoy” being twisted and looped violently. The real trick, and why the above three were special, seems to be in anticipation – making you see what you are about to be thrown into. Being violently twisted and looped gets boring quickly if you can’t tell which way is up. Might just as will sit in a washing machine.

By the time we went on our last coaster (the “Batman”) – we were commenting on how nice it was to be sitting down and totally forgot what was about to happen. We were just enjoying being comfortable.

We went on ride called the “Tidal Wave”. No surprises I chose what I thought would be the driest seat and got the wettest.



It was a great day. We did everything. As the day got later (It’s open until 10pm) the park started filling with “gangbangers” – at least that’s what we think they are. Hispanic types with sleeveless tops, lots of tattoos, and calf-length shorts with crotches also at calf-height – either they are all well hung or they are fashion victims. This was when we decided to call it a day, an easy choice as we were totally “coastered out”

(we threw half of that cone away - it must have weighed a Kilo!)

Tomorrow we are going to check out LA a bit more – going to drive down Sunset Boulevard all the way to Malibu Beach, and then the next two days… Disney LOL. More coasters!

p.s. gotta love this place – News on the TV just now….”A local man was trying to drill holes in a partition wall in his home. After failing several times he got frustrated and used his gun to fire several holes through the wall instead. His wife was on the other side – she died in hospital later”.

Tomorrow update - this is tomorrow here! - yep - we drove down Sunset Boulevard and then through Beverly Hills- it's astonishing how you can be in one block, drive accross one road and then go from built up city to green mega-bucks land. Really odd.

Oh - I got a pic for the "Arsed" Easter Egg competition (It's a family thing) on Rodeo Drive- can we enter it?

(Our entry is titled "Eggspensive"

We parked the car in Rodeo Drive (valet parking - ouch - expensive!) and took a stroll and bought a coffee, then drove down Santa Monica Boulevard. When we hit Santa Monica a thick cloud base had moved in so we headed North to Malibu and wow, there are some nice houses dotted along the coast. I'm not sure if we went into Malibu proper - we stopped at a pier in the Malibu district and had a burger and watched the surfers. All very Baywatch. The weather was beautiful and the surf good. You can see why people "dream" about California

(K on the Malibu fishing Pier)

26-3-08 – At our motel by Disney Land – very exited! – going tomorrow. Just watched the fireworks from our balcony – we are getting the impression the rides are really well thought out – will be a great change from just being thrown about!

We managed to get here only getting lost once. As soon as we got here I asked the receptionist where I could get a sat-nav from – so we drove down to a huge shopping thingy and I found a Tom-Tom Go - $200! – BUT – the lad I asked about it said, “you can get it cheaper at Best buy” – when I quizzed him and explained I only wanted it for 2 months he said, “no probs, just take it back to any Target store and get a refund – we give a 90 day refund policy on everything” – sweet :-) The car rental company wanted $16 a day to rent a sat-nav, so even if we couldn’t have returned it it would have been a big saving over 2 months. I guess he wasn’t happy in his job.

Talking about savings – I researched car insurance over here before we hired the car. I found out that the rental companies charge, on average, $15 a day for CDW (damage insurance) and another $15 a day for Liability (stops you getting your butt sued off when you hit a “ped”) – both these elements are deemed essential by anyone with any common sense. To quote one chap on the net, “if you don’t take out insurance you are insane and if you have an accident you’ll wish you were the one that died” lol. So that’s $210 a week on insurance. Bear in mind we’ve hired a Mustang for $124 a week. So I did some research… and I’ve bought a 12 month policy from the UK that covers all CDW, and Liability, and Excess cover, for … $200 – for a year! I’m so smart!

p.p.s I think I’ve broken about 4 US laws in the car so far :-p

Talking about language differences, not withstanding everything here is in English and Spanish, we were bemused with frequent markings on the roads saying “Xing Ped” – hmm is there a Chinese community here too I pondered? Took 24 hours to realise it means “Crossing Pedestrians”. Doh! More on language shortly…

28th March – we hit Disney this morning with great expectations. We did a heap of research (see , still getting more American by the day) and accordingly arrived at the park at 7.45 am after a great latte and a warmed cinnamon Danish with lots of icing – something we’ve both been dreaming about since Aspen a few years ago – no one does a Danish like the Americans, funnily.

We had read the reviews of the rides in both Disney Land and Disney California Adventure (the more “extreme” bit of the setup) and they were all glowing, mentioning the amazing special effects, the thrills, etc. So we dived straight in and queued for the Matterhorn. A 20 year old kiddies rollercoaster in a plastic mountain. Fair enough we thought, the newer rides like Indian Jones will be much better! So off we trotted to The Indy ride.

There is a fastpass system that is very well thought out. You hit a ride queue entrance, enter your ticket into the fastpass machine and it spits out another ticket with your time window – so if you arrive at say 9am, it will give you a ticket with a time window of 10am-11am to return and skip the queue. The funny thing was that as the Indy ride the queue for the fastpass machines was longer than the actual queue for the ride! – and people kept ignoring this – so we went straight in. Or so we thought. A lot of the rides are heavily themed inside and you actually end up unofficially queuing inside the ride buildings. No probs, took no longer than five minutes.

As we were lining up and walking “inside” the Indy ride (not queuing you understand) a modestly fat (but not fat by US standards) lady scooted by us on her mobility scooter and went straight to the ride proper. Ahh we thought, a poor disable person, then she got out of her buggy and literally RAN onto the ride. I was gobsmacked! – at least TRY and look a little incapacitated. Lazy cow. Seriously, it was like a miracle when she got up and ran- we laughed our asses off after I picked my chin up off the floor.

The Indy ride was kind of fun, but in essence it was a ghost train with Indy instead of ghosts. We were expecting Disney to lay on much more impressive special effects.

Next was the top rated Pirates of the Caribbean ride – actually it was never connected to the movie, it was created well before it but they have “tweaked it” to suit. It is basically a boat ride past a myriad of animatronic pirate “actors”. Kids stuff for sure.

Then we moved onto the Haunted House. After this we properly understood that Disneyland is most definitely for kiddies. No doubt young ones would be terrified, and they’d also have found Indy “awesome”. It’s not a criticism, we had fun, but it’s for kids, or for parents to watch their kids’ faces.

We also did the “honey I shrunk the audience” 3D movie – which again, was lame to be honest – the “4D” movie we saw in Bangkok was far better. We were both surprised Disney had not updated the experience.

Still, we were having a laugh, but both disappointed that everything seemed dated. By far the best “ride” was the people watching. I’ve heard the real fat people are in Florida. If that’s true, it’s going to be a real shocker. There are loads here. Truly shocking. We’ve never seen anything like it – “front bottoms” everywhere. Most memorable was a fatty family all wearing Mickey Mouse hats/ears and the horrendous mother stuffing cake after cake in her mouth. I counted 8 – and her daughter kept up with her. It was cruel to watch. Without exception, every pair of fat parents had kids that were clearly on their way to catching up. Poor things were consigned to a life of reduced mobility and ill health before they even got old enough to make the choice. Mind you, don’t confuse fat with US fat- its unreal. I saw one woman with her “front bottom” hanging out and I nearly brought up my lunch.

One caveat I’d add is its little surprise. There is literally NO choice of what to eat here. It’s either burgers, pizza, Weiners, corn dogs or… no, that’s it. Not just in the park – once out of a main city you are hard pushed to find “normal” restaurants. Fast food has truly taken over.

(this is typical - they are not disabled as such, they just can't be arsed to walk their bulk around. I missed her stuffing crisps in her cakehole - her basket was full of food - I think her scoot was food-powered)

Anyhow… fattism aside, we had now done nearly all of the main attractions in Disney Land bar Finding Nemo – that had a huge queue and we decided it could not be any better than what we’d already experienced, so we headed over to Disneyland Adventure California – the more “extreme” park next door included on our 2 day tickets.

(Me just before we got soaked through on a rapids type ride)

From the off this was far more impressive. The whole California theme-ing was far better than the Disney theme-ing of the main park. Again, we manipulated the fastpass system and did everything! – the coaster was great – we got front seats. The Tower of Terror was fantastic. You sit in a “lift” strapped to your chair and you are then presented with a “twilight zone” presentation and then hurtled upwards in the dark to then see more illusions like infinity mirrors – all fine and dandy.. but then…. The lift rockets upwards at a seat pressing speed, then stops, and then doors open in front of you and you are well over 100 feet up looking straight out over the park – it’s a surreal experience – you really don’t expect to see outside after being in a dark lift for so long. This is polished off with the lift plummeting at such a speed you go weightless for a significant time (I had to catch hold of my rucksack as it was rising to my knee height). You then shoot up and own “out of control” a fair few more times. We were both majorly impressed. It offered thrills and surprises – what we were expecting of all the rides to be honest.

After that we chewed through most of the other rides. By 2.40pm we were done for the time being. We decided to go back to the motel and sit in the hot tub for a rest.

Not bad going – we’d done nearly all of the main attractions in both parks by early afternoon and hadn’t queued for more than 20 minutes for any ride – some of the rides we walked straight on. Good timing too – it was getting rammed by 2pm and big queues were forming everywhere. We’d been pretty canny with out fastpasses too. You can only get another fastpass when the entry window for your existing fastpass has commenced, so you need to grab a new fastpass for your next ride whilst on your way to your next ride. With simple logic you can milk the system. All the panic we have read on the web about beating the queues seemed unfounded – and we were there during Spring Break (Easter)! Not bad!

Oh!- regarding the language thing - everything in LA seems to be in dual language to support the Spanish. This is not interesting in itself, but, when you are on a ghost train and a classic spooky voice-over warns you of all the "ghouls" and "horror" to follow it's bloody hillarious when it's immedialtely followed by a "spooky" Spanish version! You had to be there.

We are now in our room drinking beers and watching TV. We were supposed to go back to watch the parade and the fireworks but we both fell asleep :--) - seems jetlag caught up eventually! – No matter – we have tickets for tomorrow too so we are going to “cheese it up” and do all the naff stuff like hugging Mickey (no, don’t worry I’m not serious – no Mickey hugging – seriously – adults were queuing up to hug a random guy in a Mickey suit. Adults! – come on!!)

So tomorrow should be a giggle- no rush to do anything, no early start, and no real agenda. The most exciting thing lined up is the Monorail I think :--)

After that it’s probably back to LA to do Universal Studios , then head down to Uncle Pete’s in Phoenix….

Posted by Dodgey 22:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Just a minor update

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

Haha! – you’ll love this. We have 4 nights (3 now) in BKK before we fly to LA and we want comfort so we can “hole-up” and chill, watch some movies and do LOTS of web research on the USA, We went back to our old room at Rambuttri Village (near the Koh San Road) and had to live with cockroaches, mozzies and very noisy air con again, for 950 Baht - £18 (deluxe room with TV and fridge). This was fine when we were in transit but now we need quality time to do our research before we go to the hugely more expensive USA. We decide this morning that you must be able to get a much better room out of the tourist centre – bearing in mind you are paying for the privilege of being central – so we searched for hotels nearer the airport…..

… lots of crap hotels and resorts, and some swankier ones but they got bad reviews regarding service etc, and also wi-fi is essential for our research. We are determined not to go to the USA unprepared like everything else we have done as we have quickly learnt that you miss all the best deals and accommodation if you leave it too late or just grab rooms on arrival…

Then I found this… the Nasa Vegas, about half way between the centre and the airport. The reviews were all positive, just mentioning it’s a bit dated. A bit dated – it’s like stepping back in time but it’s superb!!! – We have gone from paying £18 for a tiny room with A/C and a telly, plus cockroaches and mosquitos, to a “Suite” with a separate upstairs and downstairs, unlimited 1Mb internet in the room, large screen TV, Jacuzzi bath, fridge, leather couch, table and chairs etc for £30 a night lol. On the ground floor they have a leisure centre with hot tubs, saunas etc..

It’s very dated but super value – where else can you get a suite like this for £30?

If you see us online try a Skype or MSN video call, we are permanently linked and my bandwidth tests to the UK are excellent.

Ahh – time for lots of relaxing and research now, before we go back to basic rooms and motels in America!

(Kirstin noting down all the movie channels - and the stairs to the bedroom)

(Our little office at the other end of the room)

(Bedroom with one hunk included)

("Jacuzzi bath" for one very small person)

Love it.

Oh - I've dumped a load more pictures on photobucket - make sure you select a country on the left when you follow the link - there is Cambodia and Thailand now. I've also added the Tsunami video that was shot at the place we stayed in Koh Lanta - it's in the Thailand folder///


Oh.. And Kirstin says.....

"Just to prove that my travel diary has not gone by the wayside here is just a short extract:

Phnom Penh

Rather than fly we opted for the 6 hour coach ride down to Phnom Penh, a trip we would avoid in future as their idea of air-conditioning is pretty basic and certainly not very cool, and whilst the road itself was fine the coach driver played recorded karaoke type programs for the duration of the trip. Rog spent the entire trip with ear plugs in and I sipped only enough water to keep my tongue moist in order not to have to use either the on-board loo or the squats at the stops along the way.

Phnom Pen itself is fairly grotty and full of beggars and drug-sellers – rog was offered everything from weed to opium on a regular basis. There are also many tiny children wandering the streets either selling fake tour books or simply looking for a free bit of something to eat and whilst their laughter and play can be heard everywhere it is still rather heart-breaking to see them wandering barefoot and asking for (yes asking rather than stealing) the left-over food from whatever inexpensive meal you have just gorged yourself on.

After a very sad afternoon spent at the genocide museum we decided to call it a day in Asia. We need a break as whilst we have both thoroughly enjoyed our time here so far and are keen to see more, it can be quite mentally exhausting, not to mention the heat which is rising each day as the hottest season approaches. We need a stretch of semi-normality before coming back to continue with a part of the world which will only become more poverty stricken the deeper we explore.

America here we come…..


Posted by Dodgey 21:45 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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 :--(



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.


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


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.


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…


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…


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

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.

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

(getting lighter)

(and lighter)

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

(Yep! Definately risen now)

(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.


(Faces everywhere you turned!)



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


(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)


(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.

(one of many Cobras protecting the main Angkor Watt)


(It's not a small place)

(ahh - it's us!)

(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.

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

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.


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!!!


(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.


(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)

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