Thursday, 25 September 2014

Final Thoughts

Its been five months now since I returned to England and since then I have even been back to America to work another summer at Camp Awosting. It was only recently that I realized there was no proper closure on my blog, so here it is, my final thoughts on the adventure of a lifetime.

Looking back all those many months ago when I first set off, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself in for or how much it would truly change my life. As I write this now reflecting on my adventures there is no way in a million years I would have ever imagined the things I would see, the people I would meet, or the places I would go, I had a good idea in my mind after doing my research but nothing could have fully prepare me for it. I think the overall highlight for which I am most grateful was meeting Fai, meeting her truly allowed me to see much more of Thailand than I would have otherwise, I love her very much.

As I write this there is now less than four days before I depart once again to Thailand only this time there is no intention of coming home (but for a holiday) I have a clear plan set in my head now, including an adventure in Vietnam, a return trip to Cambodia, more specifically Koh Rong and then I shall be enrolling in a TEFL course in Chiang Mai giving me the qualifications to successfully find a full time teaching position (hopefully in Ayutthaya but who knows)

I thank all of those who were following my blog, it was tough at times as it was hard to find time to do it, either that or I was generally feeling too lazy but I'm glad I kept it up, although it was simply impossible to document everything, I managed to get a huge amount down which I will thoroughly enjoy reading in later life. I hope that it also might have inspired some of you to take up an adventure of your own. If you're even half thinking about it, I say do it. You will never regret it! I promise!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Koh Larn and Pattaya

After cutting our holiday in Pranburi a little short due to our logistical issues we touched base in Ayutthaya for a couple of days before heading to Koh Larn, an island of the coast of Pattaya. My time is Thailand was coming to an end and this would be mine and Fai's final holiday together (until I return)

We headed off mid morning and arrived in Pattaya a few hours later, we parked up in the pier carpark and took the boat to Koh Larn. It was only around 40 mins on the boat and was an easy ride but for the little brat who would not leave Fai alone. To start with he seemed like a ordinary cute three year old but indeed he turned out to be a right little so and so. So here we were on Koh Larn, our first objective was to find some accommodation, we hadn't pre booked anything but had looked on the internet at the "Sea Beach Guesthouse" so went to check that place out. They told us they had a room available that evening but were fully booked for Saturday and Sunday, we took it for the Friday night and figured we would have a scout around to find something else. We rented a motobike from the guesthouse where they didn't even ask for a passport (first time I have even seen that) we hadnt even signed a book upon check in so basically they knew nothing about us and just handed us over the keys, it was kinda nice to be so trusted, I mean it would be impossible to steal the bike being on a small island but its possible we could have damaged it (don't worry we didn't). Our search was now on for different accommodation but it proved somewhat difficult. The island is only a few square Km's and there isnt that many places to stay, the first three or four places we looked at were full and it was starting to get dark so we figured we would try again in the morning after checking out of Sea Beach.

In the evening whilst looking for somewhere to eat we realized the island was very quiet, there was a pretty good night market selling all forms of seafood but the restaurants themselves where all basically empty. I'm not a huge fan of seafood and fancied something other than that, Fai though fancied some squid so we got some cooked up and took it to a bar where I was able to get some pat ga pow delivered by one of the locals. We had a cool night at the bar even though there was almost no one there; I got up and sung a song and taught a few of the locals some English. The following morning we still couldn't find any accommodation so decided we would take the boat back to Pattaya at 5PM giving us the whole day on the island still to go to the beach and go snorkeling. We left our bags with the place we stayed the night before and all was fine, we still had the motobike so off we went on a tour around the island in search of a nice beach to go snorkeling and that we did, I got to see some exotic fish and a mine field of sea urchins.

That evening we took the boat back to the mainland and found a hotel where we booked two nights. The last time I was in Pattaya I didn't have a particularly good time due to the traffic "fines" I had to pay to the police but I had forgotten about all that really and it was superb this time round. We hit the "walking street" and I even took Fai to a ping pong show, I myself had not actually seen one and as a backpacker in Thailand I'm pretty sure it has to be done, Fai was also a little curious about it too so in we went. I wont really describe it but it was very very strange, but also pretty funny to watch at the same time, Fai was in utter shock from the very begining and to be honest I kinda was too. Do we regret going in, not really but we know that we certainly dont need to see that ever again. Along with ping pong Fai and I also hit some of the go go bars of which she has never been, Fai is a very conservative devout Buddhist and to see naked Thai girls walking around dancing and acting highly provocatively was somewhat of a shock for her but after that wore off we had a really good time in there. On the walking street there is also "Ice Bar" here it is possible to go from an outside temperature in the high 30's to negative 15 degrees in a matter of seconds to indulge in some shots, they offer you a coat to wear before you go in but of course I declined went in and even took my t-shirt off, as you do. It was freeeezing!

Upon surfacing the next day and after a Subway we headed off to the "Pattaya Underwater World" we had always talked of going to the one in Bangkok but never actually got round to it, it was quite ironic that the first ever outing we talked about doing turned out to be our last (until I return again to Thailand) we manged to catch the feeding times and saw all sorts of monstrous magnificent aquatic life, what a day it was! The evening saw us hit the walking street again for round two of alcoholic antics and before we knew it, it was the next day, check out time and time to head back to Ayutthaya. I now only had one full day left in Thailand before heading home to England.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Pleasant Pranburi

Songkran was over and the streets were back to normal, you would think it had never had happened but for the last remaining traces of powder on the streets and cars. Ben was heading back to Bangkok and I had a couple of days left to recover from the wild celebrations although this wasn't quite the case. A couple of days after Songkran I woke up in excruciating pain which I knew full well was an ear infection, I've had many before in my life but this one was something else, I knew Songkran was the culprit and thought that it might be quite bad as Thailand's water is pretty dirty so that mixed in my ear along with the powder was not good. I managed to ride it out till 7.30AM when I had no choice but to call Fai as I needed to see a doctor, I already have severe hearing loss so I have to be especially careful with my ears. She finally woke up after many calls and came to the guesthouse to take my to the hospital, I was dizzy and was not looking forward to this visit at all. I told her I need to go to a government hospital because my insurance would only cover this but she strongly advised against it and told me it would not cost me very much to go to a private hospital and would be well under my excess of £50. From the moment we arrived I was very impressed with the way I was dealt with, they first asked if I had my passport but told them I only had my driving license on me which was ok, they took my weight and blood pressure and I was only waiting for a short time maybe 20 minutes before an ear nose and throat specialist saw to me. He checked both ears and asked me if I had "played Songkran", he told me I had a middle ear infection and what I was slightly concerned about (and it also bloody hurt) was that he syringed my left ear where the infection was and pulled out a load of gunk, he checked my right ear and told me it was ok then gave me a prescription for antibiotics, painkillers, and decongestants and a nurse took me to have an antibiotic injection in my bum (yeh, not had that one before). The bill came to 1250 baht (just over 20 quid) and I was on my way. Instead of going back to my small hot room at the guesthouse Fai said I could rest it up at her house where I started watching a film and fell asleep, her mum (who doesnt speak English) came in at 6PM to remind me to take my medication and then I waited for Fai to return as she had gone out somewhere, she then took me back to the guesthouse where I spent the next day recovering more before we were due to head to Pranburi.

After a bit more resting the pain had gone down considerably and it was now time for me, Fai, her sister Fah and her close family friends Beer and Nook to head south to Pranburi, a place I had never heard of before. It was around a 5 hour drive and we arrived to "Pranburi Delight" which certainly lived up to its name, it was a beautiful resort just across the road from the beach and it had a pool too. In the evening we headed to the night market in Hua Hin about a half hour/hour drive away from our resort where they had some amazingly handcrafted items, I'd not seen a market like it before in Thailand. On our way back we grabbed a bottle of Hong Thong from the 7-11 and headed back to drink it, even though Fah, Beer and Nook spoke little English I was still able to teach them some easy drinking games and it was a funny funny night.

After surfacing out of bed the next morning we headed to "Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park" to visit the "Phraya Nakhon Cave", now after visiting Laos with Fai I know she hates caves but this one we read was not a deep dark cave and it was also very famous as it was visited by three of the kings of Thailand including the current Rama IX (who also has a house in Pranburi). It was a great day albeit exhausting and extremely hot, we had a significant walk and climb up before we reached the opening and when we did it was magnificent, it had a lot of green life and plants inside due to a big opening where it had collapsed in and in the middle there was a hand built pavilion put there by order of Rama V. After our decent back down the rocky pathway we got our breath back and cooled down with an ice lolly before heading back to resort, though not before we bought some freshly caught crabs from a restaurant in the car park. On the way back we stopped in at Tesco Lotus to buy some other ingredients for a BBQ, the resort had a BBQ area we could use and we were the only people in the whole resort now which was kinda cool. To my surprise (well kind of) there was no beef products (steak/burgers etc) in the whole supermarket, the Thai people rarely eat beef but I did fancy me a nice steak, instead we got a selection of other tasty meats and headed back to the guesthouse to fire it up. What a night it was, we all again got very drunk and finished our night by splashing about in the pool.

The following morning it was time for the others to go as they only planned two nights where Fai and I planned to stay longer. There was a small problem which we didn't fully think through and that was that Beer was the one driving and he would be of course taking his car leaving us with no transport basically in the middle of nowhere. We said our goodbyes and off they went leaving just us two having the whole resort to ourselves it was very peaceful although kinda weird also. We didnt really have any plans for our remianing time here so we hired a motobike from the resort and headed off on a drive back to Hua Hin which was extremely sketchy, I think being in the pool the night before didn't help my ear and it was hurting again and made me a little dizzy which didnt help me maneuver and interpret the motorway but we made it there alive and went for some cake at a quaint little establishment before heading back to the resort again. It was a fairly early night for us as my head really wasn't feeling too good from the infection.

The following day we debated how long we would stay and whether or not we should hire a car due to the vast distances we needed to travel to see the various sights,we worked out though that hiring a car would be too expensive and the cost of the resort was fairly high too so we decided we would spend one last night and then head back to Ayutthaya, perhaps planning another little getaway somewhere else before I had to leave to go back to England. We spent our last day lazing around on the beach playing with the dogs who lived at the resort, the domestic husky called Vodka and the stray I dubbed "Sparky" it was funny watching them dig for crabs, I never thought they would actually get one but low and behold Sparky did but neither of them then quite knew what to do with it which was hilarious. In the evening the resort let us borrow the motobike this time for no charge so we could go and get some dinner then we headed back to get ready for checkout the next morning. We organised a mini bus that picked up us up directly from the resort taking us to Bangkok then we took another minibus to Ayutthaya.

Our time in Pranburi on the whole was great, my ear infection didn't help the situation as it did make me feel a bit groggy at times but even so I got to see yet another beautiful part of Thailand I would not have otherwise seen. It was also a great bonus getting to meet Fai's family, although Fah was the only blood relation they all consider each other brothers and sisters and it was a pleasure to be able to get on with them so well, they must have liked me too as they now keep asking "when is the next holiday with Chris?"

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Songkran 2014

After an amazing time in Laos I once again found myself back in Ayutthaya at Soi Farang and paid up seven nights at the "Toto Guesthouse" I was very exited as the Songkran Festival would be starting the next day and I'd heard great things about the Thai new year celebrations. I'd been asked a couple weeks earlier in Coffee Bar if I would MC for one of the stages that would be set up in the street. I was a little drunk and without thinking immediately said yes, later I was a little nervous as I knew there would thousands of people there but I knew I could do it so long as I had some dutch courage. The evening before Songkran, Fai and I went to meet the guy who had asked me, it seemed that he thought I knew more Thai than I actually did and that he wanted me to MC in Thai, whooops! He didn't really speak English so Fai translated and it was decided that I would MC in English, to a lot of people, most of whom would not be able to understand a single word I was saying. I was slightly less nervous then as if I messed it up they wouldn't even know.

So the Songkran day had come, I woke up got my waterproof bag at the ready and headed out to see what it was all about, before I even got downstairs I was attacked and soaked by a kid with his water gun, and thus it started! For those that don't know the Songkran festival sees the whole of Thailand turn into a MASSIVE water fight, actually incomprehensible to anyone who has never experienced it. I spent my time during the day soaking as many people as possible using any number of the large drums of water with buckets, guns and hoses dotted around everywhere. Another tradition is to apply a white clay type powder to peoples faces for which many people walking past would to do to me while I do it to them, I was drenched from head to toe constantly and my face physically hurt from smiling and laughing so much. In the evening I turned up to the huge outdoor stage where I was to MC, and this part didn't turn out quite as expected. The people really had no idea what I was saying at all so I didn't end up doing that much MC'in, instead I was dancing on the stage getting the crowd pumped and just took to the mic occasionally to say a few words in Thai and that went down a treat. As I wasn't getting paid for it (was offered free drinks) I was not strictly tied down to anything and could come and go as I pleased so it was a perfect set up really.

On the second day of the three day celebrations an old face from the past popped up on Facebook saying he was in Bangkok, I had worked with Ben 10 years ago at a DIY shop "Hayling Hardware" and hadn't seen him since, he asked what I was up to and I told him to come up to Ayutthaya to celebrate Songkran, when he arrived we hit the streets much like I did the previous day and we carried on the madness. We spent a good hour or two in one spot dancing in the street operating a couple of high pressure hoses spraying the cars and the people that went past, this was all in between us splashing around in a paddling pool with some of the local kids; two of them were child monks which was kinda cool. We then moved on to find street parties and different stages set up everywhere, we even jumped up onto random peoples pick up trucks to play Songkran with them. In the evening we headed to a different area to find a huge foam party where even a fire engine was getting involved in the water fights, we stayed here for a while and headed back to my stage where I did my thing for a little while and then we headed off again just drunkenly walking around stopping at the various parties, one of which we got dropped into a large drum of water and just carried on dancing, it truly was crazy and tremendously enjoyable. On the third and final day we both woke up extremely hungover but finally got up to go out and do it all again.

My first Songkran in Thailand was incredible, it was some of the three best consecutive days in my life where I was able to act like a 10 year old  not worry about a single thing. One of the best things about it was that the crowd in their thousands was almost entirely populated by local people, I think we saw at most a dozen other farang the whole time so we were celebrating it true Thai style. The reason there were no tourists in Ayutthaya is because they would have all have been in Chiang Mai as this is promoted as the best place to celebrate, It would have been nice to see how it's done in Chiang Mai, but my thing is to celebrate with the locals so I know exactly where ill be celebrating it again next year!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Stunning Little Laos

On my return to Thailand from Cambodia I spent the best part of two weeks doing very little,  I resided myself once again in "Farang Street" at the Ayutthaya Guesthouse and spent my days lazing around seeing Fai in between her final hours at University. During this time I did however perform the duties of a "Dek Wat" for a friend who recently became a monk along with two other monks. A Dek Wat is typically someone who is either a young orphan or a poor person and part of the job involves following a monk (or monks) between the hours of 6AM and 7AM carrying the food offerings the people on the street have to give to them, it is certainly unusual for a farang to do this so I did indeed get some funny looks yet coupled with amazing smiles from those who the monks blessed for their gracious parcels. One man asked me how long I would be living at the temple (What the Dek Wat would normally do) but I explained to him I was just helping for that morning. When we arrived back to the temple, although it was only 7AM, I was dripping with sweat as by the time the hour was up the trolley I was pushing behind them was completely full, it was a successful feast for the monks who went back to eat it. I am told the leftovers are given to poor local people or the many number of wild digs that roam the temple.
April 4th saw Fais final day at university and that evening we took an overnight bus to Laos, we arrived in Nong Khai (border town) in the morning and took a tuk tuk to the "Friendship Bridge" which we would cross to get into the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic. The process for obtaining my Laos visa was straightforward although pretty pricey at $35 plus $1 "overtime" charge which is a lot of rubbish but it was quick and easy to do; Fai being an ASEAN National did not require a Visa. Once we had crossed the bridge it was a then only a tuk tuk away to get to our hotel in Vientiane the capital city. We spent two nights here and on our first day just took a walk around exploring whilst in the evening we took to the night market followed by a visit to the local bowling alley, only having flip flops and no socks we did it bare feet which they had no problem with us doing; it was a throughly enjoyable day. The following day we hired bicycles and headed for the Patuaxi (Victory Gate) which is a famous site in the city, we climbed the large concrete stairs to find some small respite from the heat with the gentle breeze at the top. After taking the view in we checked our map and decided to head to "That Luang" a very famous stupa in the nearby area which was beautiful. Much like Thailand they had two entry prices for entering (one for locals one for foreigners), we tried to blag them that Fai was Lao as they have very similar languages but the woman didn't buy it and we both paid full price albeit not very much. On the way back to the hotel we encountered a public swimming pool that looked highly appealing so we went back to get something suitable to wear and headed straight back to take a dip, Fai cant actually swim so she found a tube she could float around in, the water unfortunately was too deep to attempt to teach her, ill have to do that some other when.

 The following day it was time for us to take our bus to Vang Vieng, a notorious party town and home to the (once) infamous 'tubing'. Its around a 3-4 hour drive north of Vientiane and we arrived and checked into the "Phongsavanh Resort" owned by a expat Kiwi and his Lao wife who were both excellent hosts. Knowing we had just a week in Laos our initial plan was to spend two nights in Vientiane, two in Vang Vieng and two in Luang Prabang however once we got to Vang Vieng we decided against the rushed travel and decided we would stay put here, this would allow us four days to slowly explore. The first thing we did was check out the local town which to my confusion was very quiet, I could not believe this was the home of the 'tubing'?! The reason for the large decline in numbers is down to the Laos government effectively banning it in 2012 due to the high number of accidents and fatalities that drinking copious amounts of local whiskey and plunging into the river on rope swings and zip lines bought. It's kind of good in a way as it's not really the most 'responsible tourism'. I did know that the tubing was almost stopped but it was confirmed to us that there were 3-4 bars left from the dozens that once stood and we could still do it, it was of course on our plan albeit we were prepared for something a lot more chilled.

Once we had checked out the town we went to hire a motorbike, now in all my travels I have always taken an automatic bike as that is always the standard on offer and most often cheapest but it was strange to see in Vang Vieng that almost every bike was a manual/semi automatic. Being kind of lazy I preferred an automatic and we did find one place renting them but they were charging double what a manual one was which sucked, it was still cheap enough though so we decided to take it. We rode around aimlessly for a while until we encountered a bridge that you can pass for a small fee, we drove across and saw a sign for the "Blue Lagoon' which we had read about in the information books at our guesthouse, the sign said 7KM and we figured we would have enough time to find it before it got dark and the bikes needed to be back. The road we had to take was perilous, not a single bit of tarmac or concrete in sight just thousands of rocks of all shapes and sizes, we could now see why they prefer you to take a bike with bigger wheels but even so, we could just about manage it, I just had to be careful especially with Fai on the back. We got a few K's in and came across a turning into a field with a magnificent view of the mountains so we pulled off here to take on some slightly better tracks, we had decided that we wouldn't make it all the way to the blue lagoon in time before it got dark so we checked this place out for a bit a then headed back to drop the bike back off. In the early evening it was dead everywhere so Fai and I ended up drinking a couple of beers outside one of the local shops entertaining some kids with cards and paper aeroplanes, around 9PM the town was starting to show signs of other backpackers so we said goodbye to them and headed to a bar.

Our second day we headed back to the bike rental place and decided this time on a manual, I only have very vague recollections of driving a manual before so gave it a quick test drive and realized there was nothing to it so off we went on our way to the blue lagoon back along the long rocky road. Once we reached it (after ignoring the fake turn off signs which luckily I'd read about) we discovered the alluring lagoon. It was populated with a small crowd of backpackers and was a very peaceful spot, we spent some good time here before visiting the cave which is also in the same spot. To get to the cave you must first climb some very steep rocky stairs about 100M before you can get into it, now Fai had not told me she did not like the dark until we actually got into the cave so needless to say she did not enjoy it as much as I did. In the cave were many bats, huge stalagmites and stalactites and even a reclining Buddha image. Once we had descended further down we turned off our lights to submerse in complete and utter darkness, to me it was tranquil, to Fai it was terrifying. We spent maybe an hour exploring before making our way back to the lagoon for a few last jumps. That evening there seemed to be a lot more backpackers around so we headed again to one of the bars for more beers and baloons.

The following day we still had the bike and weren't sure if we would go tubing or go for an unknown adventure exploring outside Vang Vieng. I was somewhat hungover and the thought of tubing didn't appeal so much so we headed off for a small village (~30KM away) as recommended by the our resort owner. Armed with my basic offline GPS map off we went, we drove through some small little towns where everybody was extremely curious as to who we were, we stopped at one place to get a drink and to have a little rest and the whole time was stared at in wonder by dozens of little eyes, we waved to them as we left and carried on our journey. We passed many schools which of course meant we passed many more kids walking or riding their bikes and they were all incredibly friendly and happy, they all shouted out to us "sabai dee" (hello) and some of them even tried running after our bike, it was funny to see how almost all of them carried an umbrella to protect them from the sun. A good hour or so into our ride we realized we had in fact passed our original destination by miles so headed back in search of the original place we intended. When we reached what we thought was the right place we made a turn off and ended up on a very remote path in the middle of nowhere, just a few local villagers, lots of cows and striking views. Our unknown excursion was a success

On our final day in Vang Vieng it was time for us to go tubing, we rocked up to the rental office where we met some fellow brits and shared a tuk tuk to the starting point. We started at the first bar before getting in the water where we were given our first free shot of whiskey and the day spawned from there. The river, due to the lack of rain over the last months, was very low and the current very slow so it was a leisurely ride in between the bars, with a fair bit of kicking needed in parts, but it was still pretty cool. When we approached each bar we would be pulled in by a guy throwing a rope down to us, we would get our free shot and have many more drinks before continuing our way down the river. Two of the bars had basketball hoops with a shower fitted on top which added a wicked spin to shooting hoops, one of the bars also had a petanque (boules) pitch and a volleyball net, so we got stuck into that too. It started to get late and we were due back at 6PM, the time in fact was already past 6PM which we didn't really care about, we all decided to forfeit some of our deposit but had to ensure we were back by 8PM at very latest as that's when the office closed and we would thus lose all our deposit. We all very drunkenly got in one of the tuk tuks waiting at the last bar and headed back into the town to drop off our tubes, after a shower and change we met up with our British friends again and took to the bars to continue our shenanigans.

The next day was now upon us and we had to take the bus to the border to cross back into Thailand, it wasn't ideal that we only got to spend one week but we needed to head back to Thailand to celebrate "Songkran" the Thai new year which would be starting in a couple of days. Even though we did only spend a week we manged to take in a  lot of what Laos had to offer, it is a remarkable country with extraordinary landscapes and welcoming people. I plan to certainly visit Laos again for a more extended trip.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Siem Reap (2nd time round)

After an emotional goodbye to those on Koh Rong, my destination was now Siem Reap, the place I started my adventure in Cambodia, and yes, the place I was nearly robbed on my first night out. I wasn't sure how to feel about going back here but I was very much exited to be visiting Angkor Wat, the largest religious site in the world. I took the boat from Koh Rong to Sihanoukville with the intention of getting the night bus from there, problem was though it was full so I had to stay one night in Sihanoukville to then catch the early bus in the morning. I went to The Dolphin Shack for some dinner and planned to get an early night in, what I actually ended up doing was spending almost the whole night on the toilet with what I can only put down to food poisoning. I had a brief bout of it on Koh Rong but thought it had passed so either it wasn't completely cleared or I'd picked up something else but it wasn't nice thats for sure. After very little sleep my alarm went off at 6.50AM and I immediately went to the bathroom to be sick, I had no idea how I would survive the long bus journey and almost decided to stay back till I was better, I decided though that I needed to go and pumped myself full of Imodium ready to catch my bus. The bus time quoted was 10 hours and normally you just add one or two hours to get a realistic time but the total journey was 14 hours with a change of bus in Phnom Penn, needless to say it was not so enjoyable but the good news is I did not need to use the vile toilet that was on the bus.

The first bus from Sihanoukville to Phenom Penn I took one of the three seats on the back row, to start with nobody was next to me but as I know full well in SE Asia these seats would soon be occupied by locals along the way. It turned out that the two available seats were used to fit three people but luckily two of them were kids so it wasn't too cramped, to take my mind of of things I ended up playing some games with them on my tablet. A few hours in one of the kids and his dad got off and I now had a lot more space to put my feet up, I managed to get some sleep but was woken to the sound of the other boy next to me heaving into a bag (presumably travel sick) it did not help my situation but I really did feel for him, I think he was only around 9 or 10, his parents were somewhere at the front and nobody came to his aid, I told him not to worry, offered him some water and told him he would be ok, he stopped for an hour or so while I drifted back off to sleep but then he set off again, luckily for both him and I we were nearly due to arrive in Phnom Penn. When we arrived it was time for a change of bus, and luckily I was pleased to see this one was a VIP bus and to my astonishment (the first time I have ever seen this) nobody was sat in the seat next to me for the entire ride so I was able to get very comfortable which made me feel a lot better. It was around 10PM when I arrived in Siem Reap, I got in a tuk tuk and headed to the guesthouse where Phillip my friend from Germany was staying, luckily he had also pre booked me a room so check in was quick and smooth. I went straight to bed in preparation for the visit to Angkor Wat the next morning.

After a decent nights sleep now that the bug that I had vanished I got up with a clear head ready to take on the extreme heat that visiting the temples of Angkor would bring. We arranged a tuk tuk via the guesthouse and we set off at 10AM deciding on just the one day pass. The day was specacular, through my travels in SE Asia I have visted a lot of temples and ruins but of course this topped them all by miles. We started with the most famous Angkor Wat site itself and worked our way round as much as we could see in the day, neededless to say the heat was extreme an with there being zero breeze this only added to the temprature but we battled through and throughly enjoyed it. Around 4PM we decided to head back to the guesthouse for an hour or so to shower and cool down and planned to return to watch the sunset, we were somehat dissapointed though because as soon as we got back to the guesthouse the whole sky clouded over making it impossible to view a sunset so we decided not to head back. Whilst we were on our way back to the guesthouse I witnessed something that instantly made me want to cry, we passed a childrens hospital which was split over two buldings across the road from each other, they have some barriers somewhat similar to those on a train track and as we approached they were being pulled down, I wondered what was going on and it was then that I saw three small kids being transported across the road hooked up to drips and blood bags, they were in a very bad way, they looked very malnourished and extremely sick, I'm not sure what was wrong with them but I think it may possibly have been dengue fever, on the way to Angkor Wat I noticed a big sign asking for blood donations due to a recent surge in people being infected. I would love so much to give blood but of course the idea of having a needle in my arm in Cambodia screams high risk to me, especially with the high prevelance of HIV in the country. The standard of health care in Cambodia is extremly low to non existent with a lot of doctors not even having proper training or education, it is a very sad situation and I truly pray that those children I saw and all the others young and old with health problems here find peace.

In the evening we headed to the 'Downtown Siem Reap Hostel" which is where a friend of mine I met in Ayutthaya had just started a job. The hostel is awesome, housing an outdoor swimming pool, a pool table and a nice chill out garden area, there's also a huge pull down projector screen on the side of the outdoor wall to watch movies. I spent my remaining three days in Siem Reap hanging out at this hostel and every night around midnight we would hit the Temple Club in Pub Street until the early hours, that place was always booming and we had some really great nights out there.

My time in Cambodia has now sadly come to an end, my visa is about to expire and I must leave and go back to Thailand, I am looking forward to seeing Fai and my other Thai friends but would have liked to have spent longer in Cambodia. Although my first experience was hellish the country really grew on me, I learnt a lot about the history and hardships the people had, and still have to face, and pray that times get better for these people. Cambodia is a country where 50% of its population are under 18 and it is great to see that their level of English is to a very high standard (much more so than Thailand), the children here are the future of the country and by them learning English it will ensure that they can secure themselves jobs in later life. There is certainly hope for Cambodia but its not going to be easy.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Koh Rong but it's So Right

Koh Rong is an island located three hours off the southwest coast of (Sihanoukville) Cambodia, it is the most magnificent tropical paradise I have ever come across in my life! There is no mains electricity everything is run by generators and power is rationed thoughout the day, water is also very scarce with the whole island being supplied by a reservoir. Our bungalow guesthouse "Koh Lanta" was without doubt the best, it was in a perfect spot directly on the beach, it was a reasonable price and was upstairs from a choice pizza restaurant. It's run by a French guy (Gee) and some Kymer staff he employs, they are awesome really friendly chilled out people, they make the dough daily and cook using traditional stone bake oven and they really were delicious. We had a small issue when we arrived to the island and that was that we didnt know there was no ATM, we came with around $50 in our wallet so kinda had a problem. We thought we were going to have to take the boat back to Sihanoukville costing $15 and wasting a whole day so were kinda gutted, word on the street though was of one bar who lends money at a 10% interest rate, they keep your passport and you have to come back to Koh Rong to pay them back so it wasnt really a good deal at all. Gee on the other hand told us he would do it at an 8% rate and we pay his friend from the boat when we get back to the mainland, he also told us he didn't need our passports which was a sick deal so our financial problems were thus gone.

We spent two weeks in total on the island and it will literally be impossible to explain the events that took place in the way that they happened so I can simply list. One day we trekked though a short jungle path to find an a good couple miles of beach which was virtually deserted. Another day we took a boat to another beach (Long Beach) on the island which again was largely empty, I hired a snorkel for the day and saw some incredible sea life I had never seen before, on the way back I steered the boat the whole way. I asked a kid on one of the days if I could ride his water buffalo along the beach to which his reply was yes. We partied with the local Cambodians at a Kymer wedding party. We went to a rave on the beach then after were invited back to a locals "house" (a big plank of wood on a platform with a tent like cover over it) we were offered food and drink although it looked highly unappealing I took some of the whiskey while my friends sampled the odd looking seafood. On another day we took kayaks to a very small island that had a temple/spirit houses at its center. I sung on a few evenings for the open mic night at Bongs. I helped out at the local school for which my favourite kid Mod was delighted,  he comes to see my every day at "Aisha" which is a Spanish restaurant next door to our guesthouse where I landed me a job, a few hours here and there very informal for free food and drink, that was siick. We went to the Full Moon party on a neighbouring island "Koh Rong Saloeng" for a superbly discounted price (being staff on the island) We helped put out a huge forrest fire using only a human chain and bags of sand as no water pumps are available, regrettably I was informed that the fire was indeed started on purpose by people wishing to build there, it is quicker and easier for them to do this instead of cutting all the trees down. What they had no consideration for was that the school (in the direct vicinity) could have gone up and if the westerners didn't help to put it out the whole island could have gone up. Im told that these fires are a regular occurrence. Lastly I should add in the two weeks I was on the island I slept inside just three times. My favourite place to sleep was on a camp bed on either the beach or balcony, luckily (touch wood) I do not get bitten by mosquitoes so was fine as far as that goes, on the last few nights though there were an abundance of sand flies which did bite me; this is only reason I had to sleep inside.

Koh Rong as I mentioned really is the best place I have ever been, without sounding cliché it is what I think the Thai islands would have been like 20 years ago. I was able to fully enjoy all parts of the island from enjoying the secluded beaches, meeting many local people, helping give back by giving time to the school and the local kids on the island, I was able to get an awesome job from which I met many more people and all in all I was able to feel at home with the island. I really do hope that the "Royal Group" who bought Koh Rong from the Cambodian Government dont completely destroy it, done correctly I believe the island can stay beautiful but it really needs considerable planning. Setting fire to things because you want to build there will not hold up, please sort this out!

My next stop is back to Siem Reap to meet my German friend Philip who I met in Thailand in January (i think), he has just come from Vietnam and we shall go explore the wonders of Angkor together. I am sad to leave as I got very attached to the way of life and the people here but I must move on. Dont worry though Koh Rong, I will be back!