A Travellerspoint blog

Koh Lanta Yai

Island hop 2!

overcast 28 °C

After waiting in the middle of the sea for about twenty minutes, the ferry boat appeared on the horizon and the party amongst the long tail boat men dispersed quickly as we did the final few hundred metres over to where the boat stops. In the boat next to ours was the owner of our accommodation who clearly cannot swim, and looked hilarious in his life jacket and checkered boxer shorts.

We arrived on Ko Lanta 90 minutes later and managed to get a room at the first place we went past outside the port for only 400 baht/£8. So what if it appeared to be the former kitchen with worktops and sink? Unfortunately it turned out to have a major problem with its drains and stunk more than our first one in Bangkok and Bangkok is bad for smells anyway. Thankfully it would only be for 2 nights.

The following day, we took a boat trip to Koh Mook, which we had planned to stay at, but probably couldn't have picked a worse time of year to go island hopping without prebooking accommodation. The attraction on Koh Mook is its hidden Emerald Cave set amongst the mountainous karsts in beautiful green seas.

Our long tail boat was driven by what looked like two Thai popstars from the 80s, both with thin moustaches and one with a short mullet and pink shell suit style jacket. It took a good hour and a half bouncing around in the spray from the boat to get to Koh Mook. We were drenched and annoyed that we had picked the coldest overcast day to do this trip. In the wind and waves, it was a little chilly. We stopped on the way for some snorkeling and saw plenty of black and yellow striped fish and a few other larger fish.

After lunch on the beach, we headed round to the Emerald Cave, which was unfortunately heaving with boats. It was suggested we wore lifejackets to make the swim through the cave, with the guides choosing to wear theirs upside down round their legs like nappies. Despite our boat supposedly being capable of taking 18 people on this trip, we were still a couple of lifejackets short on the 12 we needed. Chris had a ridiculously small child's vest on and I went without. The swim was only about 100m and most people found the ill fitting lifejackets to be more of a hinderance. There were a few entertaining chains of people, clinging onto each other evidently unable to swim, with their guide pulling from the front. I don't think I would have wanted to go through a pitch black cave if I couldn't swim!

Chris and I, perhaps rather sadistically, were highly amused by the number of people who were scared and freaking out from the darkness. We were in the dark for less than a minute, with a rope to follow should you wish and various guides waving torches. Karma got me though as I tripped over a submerged rock while walking out the other end of the cave onto the hidden beach. The darkness had helped build up the suspense of the lagoon, and we were not disappointed; it was beautiful with the karsts rising high, a gorgeous golden powdered sand beach, with the sea looking quite haunting as it flowed out of the dark cave.

We enjoyed the reward at the end of this cave; however preferred visiting the tourist free caves in Vang Vieng, Laos. This cave was also similar to the one we visited in Krabi on Christmas day, but with the added excitment of the darkness opening out on to the secret beach. I think we're beginning to get to the point on our trip where we have done most things, and a lot of what do now is 'same same, but different!'

The following day we have a 5 hour ferry booked to Ko Lipe, an island off the coast of Thailand near the Malaysian border.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 06:27 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches sea islands beach island cave snorkeling Comments (0)

Koh Jum, Thailand

Island hopping 1: A remote and undeveloped Thai beach island

sunny 30 °C

Koh Jum is a small island about an hour off the coast from Krabi with little else to do than enjoy the beaches. Our transfer to the port was from 10.30am, with the boat leaving at 11.30am. Knowing the port was only 3km, we were not too worried when it still had not arrived by five past as this is Thai time after all. The receptionist rang to double check and said it was on its way, they just had a lot of pick-ups around town first. By half past, we were getting anxious, even though she explained the boat left at 12. She called again, and 10 minutes later a pick up truck arrived and we were hastily packed into the cab in the back. The driver was shouting in Thai down the phone and driving pretty quickly. We were unloaded at the port and told to run the final couple of hundred metres, in the midday heat, with our backpacks.

On the boat we booked some accommodation, which was a bamboo bungalow sat a few metres up the hill just back from the beach. The ferry does not dock for Koh Jum; long tail boats come out to meet you and you make the transfer across the water. The boat takes you the final 5 minutes to the beach where it stops a couple of metres back from the shore. We trudged up the beach to our accommodation dumped our bags and headed for a swim.

Our accommodation seems as though it would remain open until it fell apart. The owner had long given up with his restaurant or even getting dressed for that matter, spending his days in his checkered boxer shorts. We didn't have any bedding and when we asked, he returned with some sheets which truly reeked of antiseptic. When we visited the restaurant next door, they asked where were staying and offered us sheets! There was another guy there who was leaving that day and had also stayed at old lamp, there to return his bedding.

The next 48 hours were spent eating, drinking, swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing (in the shade of course) and reading on the beach.

The beach was empty and had a rustic charm to it with broken tree branches and several large rocks,

By night, the wet sand by the water's edge was covered in crabs, with loads of different hermit crabs. The normal crabs would scurry off quickly but the hermits would give it a while before retracting into their shells. Some of them had a pretty jazzy shell on their backs and they came in various different shapes and sizes.

After two days rest and relaxation, it was time to move on and so we booked a boat on to Koh Lanta. As the boat didn't dock on the island, half an hour before it was due, we headed back out on the long tail boat and waited for it to appear.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:26 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches sea islands beach island snorkeling Comments (0)

Krabi Town, Thailand

A Krabi Christmas

sunny 35 °C

Krabi was a two and a half hour journey from Khao Lak through winding dense forest roads. We quite enjoy our short journey times between locations.

Krabi town is a strange place, set some miles back from the beach alongside the river. It is almost as if someone turned up one day and thought, 'right, we'll stick our beach town here'. As expected, Krabi is not pretty, but functional. Down by the river, along one side is a concrete promenade lined with long tail boat drivers touting for business, the other is made up of dense mangroves, with limestone karsts towering above. If you looked one way towards Krabi Town you would see a sprawling, concrete jungle with brightly coloured guesthouse signs. Look the other way and you could believe you had travelled to a completely different place, in the middle of an actual jungle.

We stopped for a beer on a floating restaurant and watched the long tail boats cruise up and down the river. We struggled to get a beer initially with the ladyboy in his short shorts and strange coral orange lipstick not having a clue what we wanted despite pointing at the beers. He flounced off and found someone who spoke English and went back to doing his very nice hair.

The following day we headed to Krabi beach, which was quite small and full of broken shells and absolutely full of people! We walked along to the end, where there were a group of friendly little monkeys hanging out. One voluntarily jumped on my bag, but as this had the camera in, we didn't want to open the bag with him and his little grabber hands on my back and he jumped down as I tried to give Chris the bag. I soon managed to coax an incredibly mischievous baby monkey on to my head which set about tickling my head!

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Monkeying around

As it was Christmas Eve, I persuaded Chris to have an oil massage. He was somewhat put out that the place was full of beautiful looking Thai female masseuses, yet he was saddled with the one guy. After about five minutes, they managed to find another guy and swapped for him! This one clearly had no idea what he was doing and just copied mine the whole time. Poor Christopher looked less than amused for the duration and spent almost as long complaining again afterwards. At least it wasn't a Thai massage, although watching his expression during that would have been far more amusing for me!

That evening, we ventured down to the river to take a long tail boat through the mangroves. Mangroves are trees whose roots make them look as though they are on stilts as the tree itself is elevated about a foot of the ground. Within these tangled roots, mud and sediment from the river is caught, preventing the river from washing the nutrient rich soil away and providing new land for wildlife. The mangrove swamps look eerie and mystical, and feel a little too quiet. We visited a cave, which although very open on the side of the rock, was impressive for the fact it was hidden unexpectedly behind these mangroves.

Our trip continued to another section of mangroves where some coconuts had clearly been put out to attract some monkeys to the edge of the water for passing tourist boats. They were entertaining, playing and swinging from the branches, one with a very small baby attached to its front, hanging on for dear life as mum swung from tree to tree.

Our final stop was a fish farm, which had 2 large turtles, which judging by their size, were for the tourists rather than meat. They were so cute! We were given fish to feed them. We were shown a few crabs, and some snapper fish, which had netting over their area, and would hide under the water before jumping up and snapping their mouths shut around the fish, and your fingers if you weren't quick enough. We passed on the offer to feed these, valuing our fingers.

The following day was Christmas day, and we had booked a sea kayaking tour around the karsts, caves and mangroves. This was a very relaxed tour with a guide who really did love the sound of his own voice. On the third time he repeated not to spray deet in the cave, Chris and I decided we'd been polite enough but would rather be left to it to explore the cave. This cave had a few paintings on the walls, which our guide had rather imaginatively managed to see a number of different things in the lines and rocks. There were also a few newer looking sketches.

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One of the caves we kayaked through

Back in the kayaks, we went through one fairly narrow cave with staligtites hanging down. As the tide was low, it was easy to move through. When the tide is high, you have to lay down on the kayaks to pass under the rocks.

We carried on through the mangroves before taking a narrow side turning, which led to another cave. We carried on through to the other side and were greeted by the most peaceful and gorgeous lagoon with karst cliffs rising high above with trees growing out almost horizontally.

After this we had lunch on a floating restaurant, served by a ladyboy in the shortest skirt ever! It would not have covered a lady's bum! She was serving the rice and our guide was placing dishes on the table, saying 'make sure you have rice from her, him, chin, I don't know what you call him' laughing as he explained this. As the only native speakers of English, Chris and I were the only ones laughing. When we explained what had been said, a couple of them hadn't even realised it was a ladyboy!

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Merry Christmas from the fresh water pool

After lunch we stopped off at Phutara, a natural water pool in the woods. Its setting seemed more like a flooded section of wood with rocks along the bottom, but the water was a beautiful clear grey blue colour like no other pool we had seen. The water was refreshing compared to the warm sea, but extremely pleasant for cooling off after kayaking.

The following day, boxing day, we headed down to the beach and hired a couple of kayaks for the day and headed off around the Railay Peninsula. This peninsula was made up of various different karsts and is often referred to as Thailand's Halong Bay. It was lovely kayaking between the towering karsts and being able to get right up close with the kayak. We stopped on some rocks to go snorkeling and saw a few good fish, in particular some tiny navy blue fish which had markings in electric blue.

Around the peninsula are various beaches, which are well served by the long tail boats. We stopped off at a couple before getting lunch on one of the busier islands. All along the water's edge were tens of long tail boats which had been converted into kitchens, cooking up virtually every Thai dish there and then. You could even get a freshly blended smoothie for less than a £1. Watching your food being prepared was all part of the fun.

After lunch we carried on round through the karsts before finding our own stretch of secluded beach where we had a swim before sitting to read our books. We both had a short nap and I awoke first to find the tide was coming in on us. Chris was sleeping head first to the water, which was finishing a matter of inches away. After moving his book and the boat which was thinking about floating off, I waited for the tide to wake sleeping beauty. Even though he was asleep on my towel, I decided it would be worth it. And suddenly there was a beeping, and Chris was awake! He'd set the alarm on his watch in case we both fell asleep. Literally two minutes later, a big wave came up, soaking my towel anyway but Christopher remained dry. I was very disappointed not to have my fun. :-(

It took over an hour to paddle back round the bay, and our arms were ready to drop off.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed a quick swim before dinner at Mr Krab-i, who do some of the best burgers we have had. I still preferred Whopping Burger in Vang Vieng, but Chris preferred this place.

The following day, we had a boat booked to take us to Koh Jum island.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 05:35 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Khao Lak, Thailand

Finally made it to the Thai beaches!

sunny 35 °C

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And finally we have made it to the Thai beaches after travelling for four and a half months. Khao Lak is situated to the north of Phuket and was completely devastated by the tsunami on Boxing day 2004. Other than the place looking very new, you would not know the destruction seen from that awful day as the whole place was completely rebuilt within about 2-3 years.

Unfortunately, our accommodation, set about a kilometre back from the coast, appears to have survived the tsunami and had not received any attention since much before. The staff, probably in their early twenties at most really could not have cared less even if they tried. The whole place had a rundown feel and almost a joke between management, assuming there was any, of how long can we leave it before people stop booking their holidays with us? When we asked if there was breakfast, the guy laughed as he said no. Later we noticed a new looking sign advertising breakfast but there clearly was not.

In our bungalow, the bathroom had a decent tiled floor and the lower section of the walls were painted a deep midnight blue. At some point though, someone apparently colour blind must have been asked to give it a touch up, and instead of blue, picked up some watery yellow paint and slapped it all over the blue creating a snot green smeared layer on the walls. I would dread to think when the off-white room last had a lick of paint. To finish the room off were some pretty ghastly frosted coloured small windows.

On our room at least they might need to replace the amber glass as there was quite a hole in it by the time we left. Let's just say my washing line could have got caught in the roof during a failed installation. It might have then pinged out of the roof into the window. (Much to my surprise.) I allowed Chris to deal with that one. We would have informed reception; however if they weren't asleep in their hammock, they were glued to their laptop screen. And even then they didn't speak English. I'm sure they will notice it soon....

Khao Lak town is one straight through road with a few lanes and alleys off of it, solely existing due to the coast. If I were writing a holiday brochure, I would describe the beach as 'a long stretch of palm trees overlooking golden sand beaches containing elements of mystery.' On arriving, you would quickly realise 'mystery' was the not so picturesque unlikely to feature in the brochure black sand. Fortunately for those seeking that image, the blank sand is well contained, creating a stopping point for interested tourists. Not for us though, for we are partial to the odd black sand fight, on more secluded beaches. (Paraty, Brazil.)

The remainder of the day was a challenge, spent lying on the beach reading our books and going for a quick dip when it got too hot. I'm sure there was probably the odd power nap as well for good measure.

Although the beaches here are very pretty and the sea is marginally warmer here than on Phu Quoc island in Vietnam, we preferred Phu Quoc as the beaches were completely empty and slightly more picturesque, particularly when there were locals fishing just off the coast. We shall have to see how the other Thai beaches compare over the next week. It's a hard job, but someone's got to do it.

Khao Lak is mainly used as a base to go snokeling to Ko Similan and its surrounding islands. The following day we embarked on one of the many speedboat trips to these islands, located 70km off the coast of Thailand. The journey took an hour and a half, and would not have been complete without a bit of sea sickness from some of our new found travel companions. Some people can be so antisocial! With my stomach made of metal, I was absolutely fine and quite enjoyed it on the way back as we bounced through the air. Chris was OK, but clearly pleased when it was over.

The snorkeling was brilliant! The coral was better when we snorkeled off of Phu Quoc, but the fish here were so colourful and varied and some of them were a good foot long and really colourful. There were your usual smaller striped fish, but some of the larger fish were turquoise with lilac scales, another was an aquamarine colour with dark blue and gold. A couple of our best finds were the 6ft long barracuda, which slithered off and tried to hide under a rock with its black dog like face sticking out. The other best find was also hiding under a rock and was about 6 inches long with a black and white striped body and yellow fins with black dots.

Our trip on Phu Quoc was more of a relaxing boat ride, whereas the boat was a means to an end on this trip. There must have been about 10-15 boats carrying 30 people out that day, and on the first stop, everyone snorkeled yet by the third stop, Chris and I were the only ones who snorkeled any distance from the beach and as we got back, there were only about 10 other people snorkeling by the water's edge. Not really sure why you would bother with this trip if you weren't going to snorkel? At least it meant the water was empty for us!

We returned that evening feeling incredibly tired, as we had spent over 2 hours swimming without even really realising.

Next stop, Krabi town!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 04:59 Archived in Thailand Tagged sea islands beach snorkeling Comments (0)

Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Trekking through the jungle - an entry by Chris

sunny 30 °C

It's Chris again. Zoë managed to contract tonsilitus for most of this section of the trip so it's up to me to write the blog.

Khao Sok National Park is a large area of jungle and limestone karsts in central Thailand. There is a small area where all of the accommodation and shops, restaurants etc serving visitors to the park are located. Most of the accommodation is bungalow type rooms on stilts. We booked a bungalow right on the river as we were intending to have an easy couple of days relaxing on the balcony, reading, drinking and snoozing after a pretty non-stop couple of weeks. As usual this didn't materialize and before we'd arrived we'd already planned a couple of trips into the jungle.

Unfortunately on arriving Zoë was a bit worse for wear and after a good look down her gullet with a touch it turned out she had tonsillitis. She spent the first afternoon napping whilst I relaxed on the balcony.

The next day she still wasn't feeling right so for the first time on our trip I decided to venture out on my own, guessing she would probably sleep through most of the day. Our guidebook suggested two different trails into the jungle and I decided to try what sounded like the shorter but more challenging trail so that if Zoë felt OK the next day we could do the longer, yet flatter one together.

After eating breakfast (alone), I set off along the 8km route (4km each way) as soon as the park opened to avoid the crowds and the worst of the heat. I needn't have bothered as I only saw one local jogger on the way there and about 5 people on the way back. The jungle was formed of thick bamboo and looked quite cool with the morning sun cutting through it. The first two or three kilometers were quite easy but then I had to start crossing rivers which meant getting wet shoes. This didn't bother me at first but then I realised that my ankle was bleeding and it turned out I was being leeched. I flicked the first few off but more kept appearing so I had to stop every few minutes to remove them. I then reached the waterfall which marked the end of the trail and the turning round point.

I took my shoes off to check for leeches and let them dry out a bit but as I was crossing the final river at the waterfall I slipped over. It wasn't until a few moments later that I realised that I now only had one shoe! After searching in the water in the vicinity of where I fell, I couldn't find it and wasn't looking forward to walking back with one bare foot no doubt being relentlessly eaten by leeches.

After a bit of thinking I decided to conduct a 'controlled experiment' where I would see if my one remaining shoe would sink or float, making sure I could grab it if it went downstream. It turned out they floated which meant my shoe could be miles away. Fortunately after setting out on what could have been a long expedition down the river I found my shoe lodged against a rock not far from where I fell. To say I was relieved would be an understatement. After a clamber up the waterfall and a bite to eat I set out on the return journey.

On the way back I bumped into a guy who we'd sat next to on the bus the day before. We ended up chatting for over an hour, standing in the middle of a stream, whilst he told stories of Thai body-to-body massages (apparently better than sex), getting into Aussie bar fights dressed as a woman, and the ethics of performance enhancing drugs in professional sport. I arrived back about 2.30 and Zoë had just got out of bed. I knew she was starting to feel better as she was ready for lunch.

Fortunately the next day Zoë was feeling better so we set out on the second of the jungle trails. It started off easy enough with some nice spots for swimming along the way. As we got closer to the turning round point the trail started to get a lot more difficult and it was becoming apparent that the guidebook suggesting that this was the easier trail was ill-informed. At points we were sliding down hills and clambering up the other side using our hands. This wasn't helped by wildly inaccurate distance markers, unless the last 200m did actually take us 45 minuted! We finally got to the waterfall at the end of the trail and were rewarded with a beautiful waterfall and rock pool which provided an excellent opportunity for a refreshing swim, made even better by only having to share it with one other person. The trip back dragged and I got leeched a fair bit again, but we stopped off for yet another swim which helped cool us down.

Before leaving I decided it was finally time to get my hair cut. Just realised, this is my second blog post and both times have been when I've had my hair cut. Anyway I was a bit nervous due the language barrier but after requesting 'same same but shorter' the result was fine and I was now a 'very sexy man', the hairdresser's words not mine!

The following morning we left Khao Sok, fully stocked up with corner shop antibiotics, aching and unrested to head to Khao Lak, an hour down the road and for another attempt at relaxing, this time on the beach.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 21:47 Archived in Thailand Tagged waterfalls trek jungle leeches Comments (1)

Bangkok Calling, Déjà vu

Same same, but different!

sunny 28 °C

Returning to Thailand it felt strangely quiet. Nobody was trying to sell us anything and nobody was shouting at us in the street. There were times in Vietnam when we weren't sure how we would cope if there was no one there telling us we needed to eat or drink but somehow we managed it. In fact, we managed to buy more here than we had done on the rest of our trip, yet not a single person had actively tried to sell us anything. Interesting that. There was one Vietnamese market we had wanted to browse, but stallholders began to almost fight over us in desperation that we bought their goods that we ended up just walking straight back out.

After a busy few days, the remainder of the morning was spent relaxing in our hotel, taking full advantage of the complimentary hot drinks and pool table. I am still awful at pool and Chris only appears better because I am so bad!

In the afternoon, after booking our train tickets to Surat Thani, we enjoyed paying 20p for lunch from the street vendors before heading downtown to the endless shopping malls. We have visited about 5 in a row, each one incredibly fancy and surprisingly busy considering the competition. We stocked up on a few necessities before heading to Lumphini park which has a pleasant circuit around a couple of lakes. We returned here the following night to take some night shots of the lake with the tower blocks rising up in the background.

The next day, we headed back up towards old town, taking the riverboat. We were trying to find a street Thanon Tanao, which wasn't named on our city map and didn't link together across the various maps in our guidebook and so a little guesswork was required! As expected, we went wrong, but found ourselves walking down a very pleasant residential street set on both sides of a canal. It was so peaceful along here with flowers and plants along the canal edge and the bridges that you could forget you were in Bangkok. We also passed a park where a group of about 50 school children were taking part in band practice and flag dancing. Although some sections were impressive, others still needed a lot of work and watching them walk the wrong way and then run back while still playing their instrument or waving their flag was quite amusing.

We eventually found Thanon Tanao, described as a street lined with restaurants, to find it pretty bare and nondescript. At least the walk there had been interesting. We found ourselves at Khao San, the backpacker street where we enjoyed people watching on our previous visit. Unfortunately we were a little early this time and although busy, it was more just passing people than drunk backpackers.

We took a riverboat back down to Wat Arun, in order to see it lit up by night. This temple is made of colourful bricks and rises high up on the water's edge.

As mentioned previously, we took a tuk tuk back to Lumphini park to take some photos before having a delicious dinner in the food market just outside. As we walked around the park it began to get a little chilly and I had to put my cardigan on. I didn't know it ever cooled down in Bangkok! Generally it was a much more comfortable temperature here this time round, especially coming from Cambodia.

After that, we caught our night train to Surat Thani in our very comfortable but freezing cold second class seated air conditioned night train.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 06:48 Archived in Thailand Tagged parks shopping river downtown Comments (0)

Siem Reap and Angkor Temples

Two days solid of exploring temples!

sunny 35 °C

Our 6 hour bus journey from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap soon became 9 hours to cover the 300km. It was a long slow journey, but the scenery was good as we winded through the various villages, linked together by paddy fields.

On arriving at the bus station in the middle of nowhere, we had a complimentary tuk tuk waiting to transport us into town. It turned out the hotels volunteer details of potential customers for tours around Angkor, which therefore meant our tuk tuk journey was a sales pitch trying to get us to book him for the following day. Unfortunately for him, we had already decided we were going to do it on bike; however would you believe that just yesterday a cyclist was hit from behind by a moped, therefore a tuk tuk would be safer!?

We eventually managed to shake him off when we got to the hotel, but he sure did hang around! We were shown to our room, with the man showing the way desperately spraying bug spray as we went in. Great sign. We'd booked this hotel based on it scoring about 9.5/10 on reviews which could do nothing but praise the place. The room was really dingey, the floor had puddles, the double bed only had one pillow and the room was dirty. We decided to ask for another room and as we opened the door, they were coming over to move us anyway saying we had been shown to the wrong room.

The next room initially looked better and didn't smell; however the toilet had been used and the bathroom was so dirty it was slimey. Plus the air-con didn't work and it was 30 odd degrees and very humid. We went out for dinner while they sorted the room. On returning at 10pm, there was no one around, despite us agreeing to try bikes for rent on our return. We decided to head back to town to sort the bikes and on return managed to find the manager. He claimed he was angry with his staff for not doing our room and would have to do it himself. He disappeared for 10-15 minutes before sending up one of his workers who looked at the air-con unit before casually informing me it wasn't going to work. It was ridiculously hot in our room and without even a fan, it made the outside feel cool. Chris had gone off in search of another hotel as we really didn't want to stay here anymore and it was far too hot in the room. I was offered a third room which had a dirty bathroom and floor in the room, but the air-con worked. By this point it was 11.15pm and we'd had enough of being messed around.

As Chris was requesting a room at another hotel with no stuff and on his own late at night, the hotel questioned who he would be sharing with, insinuating he could be bringing in a lady of the night.

Back at our original supposedly 3 star hotel, the owner was telling me the problems were in my mind because i was British and therefore expected too much. When Chris returned, the manager, convinced it was all down to me, tried to get Chris on side by showing him the third grotty room I'd already declined. We changed hotels and I think the new hotel was surprised to see Chris arriving with backpacks and a Western girl!

The following morning we did the 8km cycle up to Angkor to find that you couldn't buy tickets at the entrance. We were told the ticket booth was 4-5km away and so we hopped on the back of the ready and waiting mopeds and went back towards town to get our passes. We decided to do the temples further afield today, and head out for sunrise the following day.

Our first stop was Sra Srang lake, which used to be used for the Royal bath time. It was a very big and square lake set amongst trees on three sides. We walked around the lake and headed off through the trees to a small village and on through some paddy fields to the well hidden Bat Chum temple, which was currently being maintained and had some pretty clever looking bamboo scaffolding supporting it.

We headed back through the village, pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the scenery was around the temples. Once back at the lake, we saw a man sat atop of his cart on top of some straw, being pulled along by two oxen.

The next temple was Pre Preup, which consisted of about 6 temple towers on top of a high brick built podium, which allowed for great views over Angkor. We decided to return here for sunset, watching the sun drop below the trees. At the entrance of all the main temples is someone to check you have a ticket. The guy on this temple clearly wanted to practise his English and so began talking to us. He asked us how long we had known each other and loved that it had been 22 years, stating that 'our love was immortal, unlike those who had met a year ago'. As usual, he too contradicted himself by saying we were young to be married, yet questioned why we did not yet have children with us.

By this point we had already cycled some 16km yet had barely covered any ground on the map. We carried on visiting a couple more temples, each one with ladies shouting at you to buy drinks and children standing there like zombies chanting 'one dollar, one dollar' trying to get you to buy some tat from their basket. Some of the children literally seemed like they were in a trance, barely saying the words and just making a constant droning noise.

Prah Neak temple sits in the middle of a lake and is reached by walking along a raised wooden platform through trees and plants growing in the waters. I think we spent longer photographing and admiring the view of this lake than of the temple sat in the middle of another section of water.

By this point we had probably cycled about 35km and decided to add to our route by looping back round for sunset. Angkor Wat is obviously the biggest group of temples, set with a wide moat around the perimeter, and we were saving these until tomorrow. The second largest group could be found within Angkor Thom, and so we cycled through the middle, entering through the north gate and leaving through the victory gate. These gates were built of stone creating and pointy arch with bricks stacked high on top. Within the bricks, a huge face had been carved and created by having some of the bricks sticking out. Leading up to the gate are two rows of Buddhas on either side who were beheaded as part of the Khmer Rouge regime. The following day at the south gate, we saw that they are in the process of restoring the heads.

We stopped off at a couple of minor temples before completing our loop and heading back past the lake up to Pre Preup temple for sunset.

After sunset, we did the long 15km ride back to Siem Reap which seemed to go on forever, especially as I had a really rubbish bike. We had planned to hire bikes the following day, but partly due to the 15km ride to Ta Promh temple for sunrise, we decided to organise a tuk tuk.

The next morning, we left our hotel at 5am to find it was raining lightly which meant we were not going to get the sunrise we had hoped for. Halfway there, the heavens opened and it began to really throw it down. We had to quickly let down the sides of our tuk tuk to avoid getting soaked. It was like a little tuk tuk tent. We arrived at Ta Promh temple before daylight had begun to break and sat in the tuk tuk listening to the rain pounding down on the metal roof. We ended up sitting it out until just after sunrise when it stopped almost as quickly as it had started. Most people and all the tour busses go to Angkor Wat for sunrise, but Ta Promh is usually a close second choice; however today there was just one other couple and a family of three.

Ta Promh temple is very popular as it was the temple used for the film Tomb Raider. When we cycled past the day before, the temple and surrounding area was packed out with loads of people. Disappointed that the sunrise had been a write off, we were rewarded with this temple being completely empty. Chris and I decided to do the route around the temple backwards meaning it was just us on our own. This temple is home to the infamous photo of tree roots growing down and through the temple walls.

After Ta Promh, we visited Angkor Wat as those who go for sunrise on tour buses normally head back to town for breakfast, leaving it relatively empty. There were still quite a few people around but we timed it pretty perfectly. As we returned, there was a sea of colour heading along the path as all the tour buses had returned.

Angkor Wat was much better preserved and grander than any other temple we had seen here. It seemed to go on forever in various different sections. One part had an outdoor walkway with carvings on the wall in the stone the whole 50m stretch of the wall. We spent about an hour and half here looking around the various different areas.

After breakfast, we visited Bayon temple and a few small temples in the surrounding gardens. We had agreed to meet our tuk tuk driver on the road up to north gate, but when we came out, he was nowhere to be seen. It felt strange walking through the 50 or so tuk tuks parked up without any of them paying us any attention or offering us a tuk tuk.Twenty minutes later, we found our tuk tuk parked on his own, behind a van some 200m or so away from where we had agreed. Oh well, at least he'd hadn't ditched us!

Our last stop was Phnom Bakheng temple, which was a ten minute walk up a hill. The views from on top of this temple were amazing and you could see for miles around in all directions. In the distance, you could see Angkor Wat standing out above the trees.

We returned to town feeling all templed out and visited the Foreign Correspondence Club, for a couple of beers and food before heading back to the hotel for a shower and nap.

That evening,we had an Indian for dinner before wandering around the night markets. We went back to our hotel early, running the gauntlet, which was two ladies and a girl harassing you to come into their restaurant. The little girl was quite sweet and seemed to like playing some game of tag as we passed. She absolutely loved playing with us and couldn't stop giggling as she dragged me towards her restaurant.

Sometimes I find it sad seeing all these children being sent out to sell instead of just playing like children should. The groups of children selling at the temples are selling such rubbish that no one wants to buy, that I'm not even sure they are that successful at selling and making any money and just end up making a nuisance of themselves. Most children here do go to school so I'm not sure there is even a need for them to work.

The next morning we took a propellor plane to Bangkok.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 04:04 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples sunset sunrise angkor bike Comments (0)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

A historical tour around the city

sunny 35 °C

The travel company with whom we had booked our bus tickets were more than willing to sort out your visa and passport stamps for exiting Vietnam and entering Cambodia for a small fee of $7 each. Everyone on our mini bus seemed more than willing to pay this, but Chris and I as the expert border hoppers we have now become decided to do it ourselves. This meant basically we had to lug our weighty passports through the 'International border gate' (as opposed to the other sort?) up to the exit desk in Vietnam, while we waited for the stack of 10 to be processed for the rest of our group.

We all realighted the bus to take us the 100m or so through the no man's land before we handed in our visa forms as the kind Vietnamese lady scribbled the visa numbers down for the other ten with whom were crossing. Today visas cost an extra $2, because they could, so I suppose we only saved $5. We had our passports stamped into Cambodia and waited for the rest of our group, who wished they had done it themselves, feeling a little ripped off. At least I now know what I want to do when we get back, help tourists have their passports stamped! Bearing in mind a month's wage in the capital is $100, more than double that of someone from the countryside, they'd just made $70 for half an hour's 'work'.

Our bus driver had clearly received a backhander as after initially refusing, we were forced to take the $1 medical check to the point where he allowed the 'doctor' to steal the keys to the van. This medical check involved a guy waving a 'thermometer' within an inch or our foreheads, not touching. If that guy really is a doctor, I do hope we don't get sick in Cambodia.

With our generic health clearance leaflet in hand, we were free to continue our journey at great speed, coming within inches of hitting a moped stacked a good couple of feet above the guy's head and out to each side. He was oblivious as to how close we had come to hitting him as when tooting failed, our driver finally slammed on the breaks which clearly did not work. We were quite relieved to get on the proper bus to Phnom Penh.

This was a very dusty bus, with clouds of dust lingering permanently in the air. We were wishing we had a face mask, particularly as ventilation on these dusty roads was the open window next to us. As with our arrival in Vietnam, within minutes we were going past the scene of an accident, this time the front of a lorry had been smashed off, bringing down the front of a shop. Fortunately there were no dead bodies this time but not sure how recent it was.

We finally arrived in Phnom Penh just before 6 and took a tuk tuk to our guesthouse before heading out for one of the nicest dinners we have had on this trip. Chris had a calzone pizza which was OK, but I had the most delicious chicken wrapped in bacon, stuffed with spinach and cheese, topped with a pepper sauce. It had such a homely taste to it.

We had one day in Phnom Penh to explore the many sights. We started off at the Royal Palace, which although not as grand as Bangkok Place, in some ways it was more pleasant to visit due to the lack of hoards of tourists. It was surrounded by pretty gardens, and a good collection of colourful lotus flowers.

Next stop was the national museum, and on the way we passed a photography exhibition created by 9 different western photographers who have lived in South East Asia for many years and wanted to capture Asia through the eyes of an outsider on the inside, hoping to see things that a native would miss and take to be normal everyday shots, but able to look deeper than the tourist passing through.

Some of the exhibitions were a little strange; one appeared to like taking photos of emaciated and dead bodies, another had taken pictures of herself in some basic accommodation, which reminded me of student accommodation, in 2011 and 11 years previously.

Chris' favourite was the construction pictures, where someone had taken photos of tower blocks being constructed with scaffolding round them. My favourite was pictures of Cambodia showing normal everyday life with the best photo being of the back of a group of tower blocks grouped together to make a courtyard. The photo was black and white and showed three sides of the block, giving a snippet of everybody's lives, with their clutter in windows and clothes hanging up all over the place.

The national museum housed a lot of stone statues, most of which were crumbling in places and had come from our next place Angkor. In the middle was a very pleasant courtyard with lotus flower ponds and a Buddha shrine in the centre.

We took a tuk tuk to the former S-21 prison, which is now home to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Previously a school comprising 4 buildings, it was converted into a prison used for interrogation and torture when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in April 1975. Despite its leader Pol Pot being a highly educated individual, he banned education believing everyone should be farmers, harvesting for an equal communist state. Threatened by education, all schools were closed, most, as well as pagodas were converted into prisons, used to torture anyone who was believed to have been against the Khmer Rouge regime.

First to be imprisoned were those who were educated, teachers and anybody who spoke a foreign language. (I wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes!) After that, it was anybody who was seen as a potential threat who did not follow the rules or a traiter. Nobody was safe, and towards the end, Pol Pot's paranoia became so bad that even the Khmer soldiers who had preciously been carrying out the murders were not safe from genocide.

Those who were arrested, often for minor offences like stealing a banana when starving hungry, would be taken to their local prison, along with their whole family. The logic behind this was if a whole family was locked away, there was no one available to seek revenge. Once there, they would be tortured until either they died or confessed to some crime against the regime. On signing their confession, they were marked for execution and would eventually be sent to one of over 300 killing fields. The prison has been left the way it was found when it was liberated in January 1979, with the original beds used for torture and blood on the floors and walls. The prison had 4 sections and each classroom had been converted into some part of the prison. One block had been converted into dark, individual cells made out of either brick or wood. Along the outside landing which linked the classrooms was barbed wire fencing covering the whole front of the building with razor wire used on the gates. Some of the classrooms had been knocked through to create mass cells where prisoners would be chained to the floor, with barely enough space to lie down. A lot of the classrooms still had blackboards. Another block had been given over to a museum, with one room showing the mugshots of the poor people who found themselves where, with their prisoner number. There was another section with some pretty gruesome photos showing bodies they had found which had not survived the torture inflicted on their often emaciated bodies. This museum was eerie and quite disturbing to think of the history that had taken place at this school.

The final exhibiton talked of the lack of justice for the victims as those who helped Pol Pot are still awaiting trail and some how have defense lawyers prolonging these cases. The faces of these men, including one famous one of Duch, who helped Pol Pot disseminate his policies and beliefs for a communist Cambodia, look so evil and show no remorse. You stare at these recent photos of them as old men, disbelieving that they can pose in such a relaxed manner, knowing what they did.

After this, we headed to the Killing Fields, where prisoners who confessed would be transported for execution and burial. Choeung Ek Killing Fields are located about 5km from Phnom Penh and were originally a Chinese graveyard. Prisoners would be brought here in the night to be executed to the sound of Khmer music, which was played on loudspeakers to mask the screams and avoid rousing suspicion. Bullets were expensive, meaning prisoners were bludgeoned to death along sides of pits which were to become their graves. Towards the end of Pol Pot's dictatorship, more than 300 prisoners would be taken for execution everyday in comparison to the one truck load which used to arrive 2-3 times a week. Outsiders were unaware of what was taking place in the Killing Fields.

With your entrance ticket comes a really informative audio guide which walks you around the peaceful grounds of the Killing Fields, which overlook paddy fields to the back. It is hard to believe that somewhere as tranquil as this saw such evil. The audio included stories of survivors who had managed to survive prison, telling their accounts of the atrocities which took place. After walking pass various graves and around a secluded lake, your tour finished at the memorial stupa, which contains the remains of the people they found buried in the mass graves. There are thousands of skulls within this building, which have been categorised by gender and age groups. Around the Killing Fields are many signs reminding you to be quiet as a mark of respect, but in reality you walk around in stunned silence, struggling to believe what had taken place so recently in this beautiful location.

There are still bones, teeth and clothes in the graves, which over 30 years on are still coming to the surface and are collected by staff every couple of months and added to the collection already on display

The Killing Fields felt surreal, especially when you think than 2 million people were killed over the 3½ years the Khmer Rouge ran the country, which equates to 25% of their population. It's hard to believe that anybody over 35 is lucky to have survived the regime.

In the evening, we visited the Foreign Correspondence Club (which by unfortunate coincidence turned out to be happy hour,) and enjoyed a couple of cocktails while watching the sun go down over the river. During the war, reporters used to go here to meet up and after a drink or two, used to fire guns off of the balcony.

The following day we took a bus to Siem Reap ready for our temple adventure.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 20:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged palace cocktails genocide killing_fields Comments (1)

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