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!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Sunny Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville is just a five hour bus ride from Phnom Pehn and again all fairly painless, we had pre booked the sister guesthouse of the one in the capital which was also called "Sunday" only after we booked it though did we realise it wasnt so close to the beach so we cancelled and took a cheaper one "GBT" which was literally two minutes walk to the beach, it was ideal.

We ended up staying four nights and our days were spent lazing around the beach in the many bars on offer. There are a lot of kids selling bracelets on the beach and we again asked the usual question "do you go to school" they all replied yes but I didn't believe them all, I hoped some were telling the truth though. In any case we decided to be friendly as there's no doubt they have it pretty rough and the best thing we could offer was our time. We spent many an hour playing pool and we were propositioned by some of the nippers that if we win we get a free bracelet, if we lose we have to buy one. It sounded fun so we agreed, after a while though they started to get very annoying so we had to tell them to clear off, we bumped into them later however and they apologized so all was ok.

One of the best bars on the beach was "The Dolphin Shack" there are a lot of westerners working there and in fact almost every bar on the strip has a sign looking for western staff, if I'd come here earlier in my travels I would have almost certainly taken one, we spent a good couple of nights partying here and it was great. On one of the other evenings we hit the local casino with a budget of around $10 in mind, they offered us free alcohol and we all ended up winning a small amount of money. When we started winning suddenly the free alcohol stopped, although it was only around $30-$40 between us that we won I don't think they were so happy. On another evening we went to a nearby club/bar called Utopia where they had a late happy hour deal (25 cents for a beer!) we caught the last ten minutes of it and ordered as many as we could physically fit on the table so everyone could just help themselves. They had good music and a swimming pool in the middle, it was superb.

On our final day we headed to the quieter (Otres) beach it was beautiful and very relaxing we spent the day mostly playing pool and chilling in hammocks and chairs. Tomorrow we head to "Koh Rong" an island just three hours away we have heard it is spectacular and cant wait.

Sihanoukville was a pretty cool place but coupled with that it appeared to have a very dark side, the number of huge billboards and signs up everywhere relating to child trafficking and prostitution gave me the chills but its good to see at least there are organizations attempting to help these vulnerable people.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Phnom Pehn

After the ordeal I had on my first night out I am pleased to say that I have seen much more of Cambodia now and it is a wonderful country with some wonderfull people. I spent only three nights in Siem Reap in the end as my two German friends planned to head to Phnom Pehn I decided to head there with them, I didnt see Angkor Wat yet so will go back to Siem Reap to see it before I leave.

To get to Phnom Pehn we took a seven hour bus ride which was all fairly painless and arrived to the "Sunday Guesthouse" we had pre booked.  We were on the top floor which had a cool little lounge area right outside our room and as most people didnt bother climbing the stairs it was basically our own private area for the four nights we stayed. The first day Lenny and I jumped in a tuk tuk to head for the Central Market, unfortunately Jacob had to stay back nursing a dodgy tummy presumably from some off food but we couldn't work out what. We got to the market and it was pretty smart, I managed to pick up a sweet pair of shorts and a new t-shirt for a good price. We had a wonder round for a while looking out for a new ring (something I've wanted for for a while) but still I didn't find a suitable one the right size.  When we were finshed with the market we made our way to The Grand Place, another famous site in the city. It was beautiful, it had a lush green garden and a lot of interesting artifacts to see as well of course as the main temple, sadly we wernt aloud into this one but could still get a good look in. We spent a good hour and a half wondering round before heading back to the guesthouse. On the way back Lenny narrowly avoided losing his phone by someone on a motobike who tried to snatch it out of his hand, it was lucky he was holding it tight.

The following day our destination was the S21-Prison (Genocide Museum) Jacob was still feeling ill so it was just me and Lenny again. We walked there as it wasn't too far and grabbed some lunch from a restaurant outside before going in. Whilst at the restaurant we had the usual kid come in selling bracelets, as a general rule you really should not buy anything from kids on the street as it keeps them out of school but it was the weekend and when he came to our table we started chatting to him. We first asked him if he went to school for which his reply was yes, his English was incredible so we got talking to him more about his school and his family and it was really interesting, he told us on the weekend he sells bracelets and other random bits to pay for school, clothing, books etc so we decided to buy something, I took a bracelet, and Lenny a scarf. The boy (whose name is best pronounced Heya) offered us a chance for some money off for playing rock, paper, scissors which Lenny and I both won, we felt kinda bad so bought him a drink and chatted a whole lot more with him, we asked him what else there is to do around Phenom Pehn and he told us about the Russian Market, we had loads of time before the S21-Museum closed so we decided to check this market out, maybe we would find a ring here. Heya said he would come with us and organised a tuk tuk (one of his friends who would turn out to be our driver for two days) we had a mooch around the market for a while and I came out with the perfect ring, Lenny who also had been looking for one got his too. It was then time to head back to S21 and words cannot describe how horrific this place was, it used to be a school but was turned into a prison under the order of Pol Pot and the Kymer Rouge. I couldn't even begin to imagine what used to happen in this place, around 20,000 people were killed there and only seven people survived, on the way out we saw one of the seven survivors selling books on his story but I was lost for words on what to say to him, I was only able to give a respectful wai and we left feeling very sad.

The following day Jacob was feeling better and we all (Heya included) headed to the "killing fields" one of many sites where mass execution was carried in the most hinious ways. One particular method was to smash small children and babies against a tree. I felt physically ill. We had an audio tour and the stories and the horror told was barbaric, you could still see some bones emerging from the grave sites it was unimaginable to even try and understand. After an emotional visit to the killing fields we were taken to the shooting range where I would have my one and only opportunity to fire some big guns, it was pretty pricey but we got it down a bit, we ended up taking 10 bullets each on three guns, the guns we fired where AK-47, M16 & K57 and they were seriously powerful,  I have never fired anything bigger than a small rifle so it was really exiting, I'm not sure I'll do it again but it was a great once in a lifetime opportunity, my favourite gun I think was the AK. Having satisfied our trigger happy fingertips we headed back again to the Russian Market to buy Heya a gift for his great company, we got to speak to him a lot and wanted to say thank you. We asked him what he needed and he tried very hard to convince us that a new phone would help his schooling but we had something more practical in mind, he then told us he wanted some new shoes to show off when he went back to visit his home province, we thought was a much better option.  He decided on taking a pair that were too big but he told us they were the ones he wanted, we figured it was ok as they would last him longer as he grows into them so we bought them and he was happy. It was then time to drop him off while we had a quick drive around the independence monument amd took a nice pizza on the riverside.

I must say I was quite impressed with Phnom Pehn, sure its heavily polluted, the traffic is chaotic and we encountered another thief but I really enjoyed my time there. Our next stop is Sihanoukville on the beach.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Kingdom of Cambodia

The day had arrived that I would be starting a new series of adventures in a new country, Cambodia. Fai came to pick me up from the guesthouse to take me to the Poipet border, a place that I very much despise. It was here we had to say our goodbyes and I told her I would see her in a months time, I was now on my own about to embark on the unknown yet again. No sooner had I said my goodbyes that I was approached by someone saying "hello sir you going Cambodia today sir" I just gave a big smile and ignored him wondering how many more times I would be asked similar questions by these con men, to my huge suprise though this was the only one. As you know I have been to this border once before and had a nightmare sorting everything as well as getting ripped off but as I knew now exactly where to go it was a very smooth process. I went to the offcial place to buy my visa and paid the correct fee of $20. The official then pointed to a bit of paper that said $20 + 100 baht, I smiled and politely lauged with him that I wasnt going to pay the addtional money (that was only going to go in his pocket) and it worked. He looked a bit grumpy and I thought this might mean I'd have to wait longer but within 10 minutes I got my passport back, visa in place. I now just had to que for an hour at the gate to cross and there I was officially in Cambodia. From the Poipet border I took the free shuttle bus to the bus staion and shared a taxi with some Russians I'd met in the que,  it was $12 each for the three hour journey and jesus was it sketchy. I cant even count how many times he used the horn but it was several dozen times at least. After surving the taxi to Siem Reap I had to then take a tuk tuk to my pre booked guesthouse "Tropical Breeze" which had a huge very clean room, more like a hotel.

My first impression of Cambodia is that it is very diffrent to Thailand. It is very dirty and dusty, the traffic is chaotic, the streets are poorly lit and there are a lot of street kids here begging. What would you expect though from a country which has suffered such a horrible history including genocide only three decades ago, I am not complaining by any means but it is a lot take in. Not only do I have to adapt to this but I now have to get to grips with a new currency, to make things trickier they use both thier own Riel but more commonly the USD and as there are no cents in circulation if you need change from a dollar its given in Riel, it requires a good mental arithmetic to make sure you're not being fobbed off. My brain has been wired to Baht over the past few months so I have to do many calulations to work out what the price of something is in Baht then I know if its a good deal or not.

The first evening in Siem Reap I just stayed at the guesthouse, I arrived after dark and I wasnt up for taking to the streets on my own just yet. By staying at the guesthouse I ended up meeting a French guy and two German guys which was a bit of a weight of my shoulders, the following morning they headed out on the trips they had booked while I took myself for a walk to explore. The location of where im staying is just 5-10 minutes from the old market and pub street so it was easy to find, whilst walking through the market I couldn't belive it when I bumped into a Japanese group I had met one night in Streetlamp (Ayutthaya),  we went for some beers and they came back to my guesthouse to play pool. Come five or six pm the french guy and the german guys were back and the Japanese guys had to leave to watch the sunset at Angkor Wat. They started on the Angkor beer with me and before we knew it we were all drunk and ready to head to pub street which as the name suggests is full of bars. We stopped off at a restaurant first for something to eat and I noticed frog and crocodile on the menu, of course I decided on the frog BBQ for my tea. If you want to know what it tastes like (without trying to sound cliché) it did taste like chicken, seriously,  it was kind of a mix between chicken and steak as it had quite a chewy texture,  it was delicious. When we got to pub street it was very busy and very well lit up,  we ended up choosing a cool bar with swinging seats where we got truly hammered and I got up to sing with the three girls who were there singing to backing tracks, it went down well and one of the customers put a request in for me to sing Robbies "Angels" so of course not to be rude I did, it was great fun. The bar was closing and my friends wanted to head back but I was keen to stay on and find another place that was still open, afterwards though I thought it probably wasnt a good idea but they'd already gone so I got in a tuk tuk and asked him to take me to my guesthouse, at this point though I had very little money on me just a few thousand Riel (about a dollar) and he said it was enough, problem was though he didnt take me to the guesthouse...

Now the following story is about how I narrowly avoided being robbed on my first night out in Cambodia. Instead of the driver taking me back we ended up at one of his friends house's for which I was now very worried.  I asked him what he was doing and he told me to come inside quickly, he just needed to get something and then he would drive me back, I knew the driver knew I had no money so I thought it was quite possible he did just need to see someone quickly. It was strange though when he told me to come with him, I declined but he insisted so we ended up on the porch of a house where his friend was very drunk.  We talked for about 10 minutes and all seemed ok until his friend asked for some money, I told him I didnt have any and then he started to get angry, I asked my driver to please take me home and I walked back over to the tuk tuk, the driver followed but his friend wasnt happy for me to leave,  he demanded some money and whilst following us he threw a glass bottle in my direction, all of a sudden I knew I was in real danger.  I had no idea where I was, the road to his house had no streetlights and if I was to run I would have to deal with the dog who was guarding the gate to his house so running was not an option. It was then I came up with my life saving story, I reminded the driver I only had little money on me and if he drives off quickly now I would pick him as my guide for Ankgor Wat and would offer him $40 for it, this of course was highly appealing to him so it was now in his interest to keep me safe to get my business later. Now of course I had no intention of doing this but he didnt know that, we passed the gate with the dog and got on the main road, problem was though his friend who also owned a tuk tuk got into his to try and chase, luckily as he was so drunk he was not able to catch us. When I recognised where I was I gave the driver a fictitious guesthouse name and just told him to drop me a few places down so he did not know where I stayed. I gave him what money I had and made it back to my guesthouse alive, you can not even imagine the relief running through my body. What did suck though was that when I got to my room I realised I had lost my key and reception was closed so I found some cushions on the balcony and made up a bed in the corridor. It was a good laugh for the other guests who discovered me in the morning but I felt like death when I woke.

So there you have it, on just one night out I realised that Cambodia is a very poor country and contains some desperate people. The lesson of the story is to ensure I do not go out on my own again, I'm sure not everyone is out to rob you but there obviously are people here that will.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Valentines in Kanchanaburi

The day had arrived that Fai and I were to head to Kanchanaburi, she had booked us a room at the Monsane Resort and it was perfect. Before we checked in we first went to see the "Bridge over the River Kwai' (pronounced Kwair) the number one reason most people visit the provence. For those that don't know the bridge/railway also known as "Death Railway" was built during WW2 under the power of the Japanese, over 100,000 people lost their lives in the building of it due to the very extreme forced working conditions that the people had to face. Upon arrival it was strange to think that such a beautiful location and setting was once the home to such horror.

After seeing the bridge we headed for the resort to check in, shortly after we headed for Soiyak Noi waterfall which was beautiful, there were a lot of farang there splashing around but it was still a great little spot. We then headed to the the Soiyak National Park where we blagged local pricing to enter (Thailand is notorious for having one price for Thai and a much higher price for farang) The park was beautiful and we were basically the only ones in the whole place. Day two we decided to head to the Safari Park we had seen signposted, now I'd been to a Safari Park before but when I was much younger and don't really remember it much but this was awesome. We saw many an animal from gazelles to bears, lions, tigers and zebras but my favourite had to be the giraffes which came over to the bus sticking their long necks in to munch on the food we had for them; it was was quality. After the safari ride we went to see the elephant and crocodile show that was included. For the elephant show I was the only farang there so by default I was not able to refuse when I was summoned up to have a full size elephant stamp on my nuts. Seriously, I had to lie underneath while the monster of a thing gave numerous stamps over my private region, it was obviously trained to do it softly but even so its pretty dam scary. The crocodile show was pretty dam scary too, we watched as two guys narrowly avoided potentially fatal chomps by the powerful creatures, sticking their arms and heads between the massive jaws. In the evening we rented a kayak from the resort and headed out onto the river, it was Fai's first time in such a thing and when I wasn't purposely rocking it she enjoyed it, and of course so did I.

We had only booked two nights in Kanchanaburi so checked out the next day but instead of going straight back to Ayutthaya we decided to head to "Erawan National Park" to check out another natural wonder of thailand. With my foot being almost healed I manned up and we climbed the full 1.5KM to the 7th tier. I was boiling hot to say the least and by the time we got to the top I was absolutely covered in sweat so I stripped down to my boxers to get in and cool off, I just had to watch out for the fish that every now and then would charge in and nip me. Having cooled down it was time to head back down to the bottom to head to the dam. When we got there we discovered a Valantines festival being held where we had a drink and I won us two toys but shooting them off the shelf. It was then time to head home.

I have decided to stay a further week in Ayutthaya before I head to Cambodia, I have moved rooms in the guesthouse as I just could not cope with the noise the dogs in the house next door, there are over a dozen of them and every night and very early every morning it sounds like they are murdering each other or worse, the room I'm in now is much better although the mattress needed replacing several years ago so its not great for my back but hey ho.

Yesterday Fai went to the market to buy me some fish to release into the river by the temple. As it was my birthday just gone, releasing fish is done for good luck and it was quite special, oddly though it was more expensive to buy the fish live from the market than it was to buy them and have them killed there.

For anyone that is in or is going to Thailand I strongly recommend you check out Kanchanaburi, ideally you will need to rent a car as a lot of the attractions are a significant distance apart but of course you could also go on an organized tour. It truly is a magnificent provence.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Immigration and Birthday Celebration

Upon arrival to Ayutthaya Dave and I checked into the Ayutthaya Guesthouse, this guesthouse is also owned by Streetlamp so it was the obvious choice and I'd not stayed here yet either. Now as soon as we put our bags down my first critical mission was to get to the immigration office to extend my Visa that expired the very next day. Overstaying is not really a problem its just subject to a fine (500 Baht a day up to a maximum 20,000 Baht) but I didn't want to overstay by even a single day incase the US deemed it a problem when I apply for my working visa there.

Off to immigration I went not really knowing what the process was, all I knew was that a 30 day extension was 1900 Baht.  It's only a short distance from Soi Farang (the street with all the guesthouses and farang bars including my very favourite Streetlamp) and Dave and I found it eventually.  When I got there she told me I need a form completed by my guesthouse owner so she gave me the papers and I headed back to have it filled out. When I returned to the immigration office she then told me she needs a copy of his ID. Erghh! So back to the guesthouse I went to obtain it, thankfully on my return this time the guesthouse owner let me borrow his bike to get there. Once I had the correct paper work it was simple, I grabbed a ticket number for the que and within 10 minutes I was being seen to, I then just had to sit there while they entered some data into the computer, I moved around to four different people for different levels of processing and didn't need to say anything much at all, 30 minutes later it was done and I walked out with my extension. Sorted!

That evening we planned to have a quiet one so not to be too hanging for my birthday but of course that didn't happen. We stayed out till well past 12 therefore it was my birthday before i went to bed and I got a few free drinks at the various bars on the road, it was a good night. I hadn't really planned much for my birthday only that I would probably get very intoxicated and that I wanted to get hold of some fireworks. Both ended up happening and I even got hold of some skylaterns too. We started at Coffee Bar, one of my favourite all Thai places, it was here that Fai presented me with a wonderful birthday card, an amazing homemade cake and a new speaker to replace the one that had fallen from the hotel balcony in Surin. She really is a top girl; she is jai dee mak! After Coffee Bar we headed back to Soi Farang where we drunk copious amounts more whiskey setting of the fireworks in the street then the very special birthday sky lantern. It was coming up to around 1 or 2AM which meant it was time to head to mam-mam, the only place in Ayutthaya open until 6 in the morning. I love this place, it is so welcoming, I managed to get up on stage with the DJ and sung one of Thailands favourite western songs 'Zombie' coupled with some improv freestyle in Thai telling the people that I loved them and their country; of course it went down well. I couldn't tell you what time I got in but man it was one hell of a night.

The following day we had to wake up as Dave had to get to Suwanapoom airport to catch his flight to Sydney, Australia; a country where he would be starting his new life. Fai being the best person ever offered to drive and I was in the car hanging to say the least and in fact I was probably still a little drunk, all I knew is that I would not want to be him right then, I know how daunting it is to start life in a new country but I knew he'd be ok. We arrived and we said goodbye, I wished him chok dee and off he went. Fai and I then headed back to Ayutthaya where I plan to stay for around a week to get all my paper work in order for my US Visa. There is nothing really on the agenda as I've seen pretty much all of the city now but Fai has mentioned going to Kanchanaburi which was on my list so we will be heading there for Valentines weekend. I cant wait, I heard it is a beautiful place.

Friday, 7 February 2014

The Islands!

Firstly I should explain the current update on my foot from when I fell in Lop Buri. I have not really mentioned it that much but it has hindered my mobility somewhat (walking takes a lot longer and has been pretty painful) I've been soldiering on but it really has been me pissing me off for nearly three weeks! I figured there must be a small fracture so I took to the internet for some self diagnosis and saw foot fractures, especially where mine is, are very common and it will heal by itself so long as I keep it rested. I debated, but resisted going to the Doctor as I know the advice given would have been not walk on it and they would have given me a prescription for pain killers I can already obtain without one. I would then have the hassle of paying excess on my insurance and going to claim it all back so in the end I didn't bother. I have waited it out, making sure I wear my sports sandals instead of flip flops for the support and that has definitely been helping as I can almost walk normal with those on. The plan for the first three days on Samui (based around my foot) would be to not do very much to give my foot a full fighting chance of surviving Koh Phagnan; the most notorious party island in the world.

Having not pre booked any accommodation on Samui this was our first port of call. We had to take a mini van to the opposite end of the island as thats where everything is, the guy dropped us off in Lamai, a quiter place to that of the more popular Cha-Weng. It was a steaming hot day and we had all our stuff with so instead of walking around we grabbed some motobikes and found accommodation that way. It didnt take us long to find a cool little guesthouse "Kaoeng Bungalows"with an amazing view of the sea, It was a very reasonable price at just 350 Baht a night, I figured we would pay a lot more on the islands but this was perfect, especially considering the view.

Our days on Samui were spent riding around on our bikes exploring, along with laying on the beach and of course sinking a few beers and whiskeys. On one of the days we headed for a waterfall, now obviously I was not ready to climb but I saw they offered an off road 4x4 lift (part of the way anyway), Dave said he would walk and I should get in this and meet him at the top. The ride was fun, I thought it was just a lift for lazy and elderly people but it was actually more like a roller coaster where we had to hold on for dear life while he flew this mini monster truck around. At the destination Dave was nowhere in sight and if I was to see the actual waterfall I did indeed need to climb some rocky stairs. I kinda wished I hadn't as it didn't help my foot, but the waterfall was cool and I found a quiet spot where I could have a dip as it was sweltering. A little while later I still could not find Dave and had no phone on me so I headed back the guesthouse where I bumped into him on his bike on the street.

Now I must say that the nightlife on Samui disappointed me somewhat, I had a preconceived idea about what it would be like but basically it was dead pretty much everywhere (this may well have been down to everyone being on Koh Phangan for the Black Moon Party I'm not sure). It was a good thing in a way that there wasn't much going on because the whole point was to rest my foot. On one of the evenings while searching for a party we randomly came across a Thai bar called 'Camp Beer' I think. Pretty much everyone on Samui are farang holiday makers so it was a surprise to find this, I was really pleased, it was a great night. After relaxing on Samui my foot was feeling better and it was time for us to head off on the three hour boat ride to the infamous island that is Koh Phangan, home of the Full Moon Party!

We had checked the dates prior and realized we would miss both the full moon and half moon but none the less we heard this places goes off whatever the lunar cycle may be. As we were waiting at the pier for the people who had just come from Pangan to get off we got a glimpse of what we were in for, the amount of people coming off with cuts and bandages was ridiculous, after they had all hobbled off we got on and set sail the three hour journey. We had not pre booked here either but started talking to a guy at thier pier who was trying to get us to go to his 'Coral Bungalows' it was just 5-10 minutes walking distance from the one and only Haad Rin beach and had a pool so we thought it was definitely worth a look, it was also offered at a discounted price (500 baht for aircon room instead of 1500) because of the moon so we went for it. It turned out to be a super cool place with super nice staff, it was the perfect pick. What did make me laugh when we got there was the amount of signs specifying the amount of money you would have to pay if you broke/lost anything in the room/resort. They had literally covered everything, it was obvious that this place gets pretty looney on the full moon.

After checking in we rented bikes to go exploring, now oh my god did we have to check these bikes over throughly before we took them. We had to sign off absolutely everything and if anything was broken afterwards the fines were extortionate. I have never encountered this in Thailand before, you here the stories of people getting scammed when renting bikes but in reality thats not the case they normally just chuck you the key and off you go, but no this was very very different so we had to be thorough. I'm sure we wern't going to be scammed but should we actually have broken or scratched it it was going to be expensive. With the bikes being fully checked off we went on exploring and oh my days these were the sketchiest roads I have ever been on, it was up and down and up and down, with very steep hills that on a few Dave had to push himself up on full throttle. After checking out some awesome views we came across a man and his monkey getting coconuts from the palm trees. He had this thing tamed pretty well, it was on a long leash and was high up in the tree, the man warned us to watch our heads and he shouted some commands for the monkey to twist the coconut and drop it down to the ground. We spoke to the guy after and he told us the monkey doesn't eat much food but runs off whiskey and red bull (sounds a bit like me)

After a few hours our exploring was done now all that was on the agenda for the rest of our time was partying, after all we were on Koh Phangan. We met some wicked people here including two guys from England, Emily and Matt who we spent all of our time with. The first night was a pool party at our resort which I have a vague recollection of it being crazy as hell. The second day we woke up around noon and got straight on the buckets playing cards all day until it was time to head to the clubs on Haad Rin beach. This night was even crazier than the last, it was full of fire dancers, nos baloons and many more buckets. I'm not sure what time I got in but in the morning Dave woke up with a tattoo, yes a tattoo, he'd decided at 5AM it was a good idea to get the Hong Thong (Golden Phoenix) logo on his leg, I was actually gonna get this a while back but have decided against now even though it does look pretty cool. It was super funny in the morning when we found out.

The third day we decided to give the booze a break (at least for the afternoon anyway) and our plan was to head to mushroom mountain to get a round of milkshakes, after chilling for a while we went on a mission to find some baloons, the bar told us they had them but to come back around 8PM so we ended up on a diffrent mission involving the maddest bridge you have ever come across. I mean this thing was seriously dangerous so we trod very lightly all the while I was laughing so hard I actually got stomach cramps and was sick; I dont know why it was so funny but it was. When we got around the corner along the rocks we realized it was the way to some quaint little bungalows that looked pretty smart, you got a really good view of the beach and the island from there. We sat for a while and contemplated the journey back as we needed to get back before it got dark as that would not have been fun at all. By the time we got back we decided it was time to start on the buckets and it went on from there, in the evening there was a foam party on the beach where we partied all night long, there were again fire dancers, people jumping over a giant flaming skipping rope and human fireworks in the sea. It was a guy stood on a table in the sea with fireworks attached to him almost like a human catherine wheel. How he didn't get burnt to bits i don't know, then again he probably did, he must have.

The following morning we had to pack up leave, it was time to head back up to Bangkok and then to Ayutthaya, we didn't fly but took the boat (of course) and then another sleeper train to Bangkok where we got a different train up to Ayutthaya. Its my birthday in two days and Dave leaves in two so we are spending his last few days here.

Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are spectacular, there are many more islands to explore but for now thats all time allowed for. I'm not sure I need to return to Samui but will certainly be going back to Koh Phangan for a full moon party. That was place will be going off!!

Friday, 31 January 2014

The Journey South

Our journey down south was surprisingly pleasant considering it was over 1400KM. We started by taking the sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok which was awesome, you pay just under 300 Baht more than the bus but my god is it worth it. You get your own little bed with a curtain for privacy and it is pretty comfortable too, they have a restaurant carriage where we popped in for a few drinks and that basically turned into a party where we got chatting to lots of people. The restaurant/bar closed though at a reasonable hour (probably a good thing) and it was time for bed. We got woken at around 5AM the next day by the conductors and checked the GPS to see where we were in the world. We decided we needed to jump off at the next stop rather than go all the way to Hua Lampong (Bangkok's Railway Hub) so we got off, got straight into a taxi and headed for Don Mueang Airport where we had a flight to take us to Surat Thani. I didn't plan on taking any flights while I was out here but its a hell of a distance going all way by land so I thought I could splash out on this one.

When we got to check in they told us we would have to pay 900 Baht each if we wanted to check in luggage. What!? We had checked the small print (well we thought we had) allowing 15KG free but realized we went with a different airline in the end which didn't offer free luggage. After some smooth talking to the lady she told us she would allow us to take all of our stuff on as hand luggage so that we did. It was at that point Dave and I realized how many banned items we were carrying (scissors, liquids more than 100ml, aerosols etc) but we thought we'd 'test' their security and just chance it. Sure enough though we were pulled and they went through all of our stuff, I blagged quite a few bits as I politely argued that the stuff was probably under 100ml but in reality almost certainly wasn't. The main thing I needed to keep though was my medicinal shampoo for my psoriasis as I'm not sure how easy it is to find in Thailand, it was way over 100ml but after a bit of pleading he checked no one was looking and put it back in my bag for me. What a guy! Dave unfortunately though lost his special Thai rice whiskey which we hadn't even had chance to taste.

We had a few hours to wait now before our flight so had a little nap in the departure lounge. It was then time to board, up in the air we then went and one hour later we arrived to Surat Thani. From the airport it was all smooth sailing, we bought a joint bus and boat ticket from the airport to get us to Koh Samui. The bus was ready and waiting and took just over an hour to get to the pier. It was then 1.5 hours on the water until we arrived on Koh Samui. Sweet!

All in all this is the furthest distance travelled in one sitting it took exactly 24 hours on the nose from the train leaving Chiang Mai to us arriving in Samui. I was dreading it before we left but it fact it was all rather quite fun.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Chiang Mai second time round

I loved it before and I still do, Chiang Mai is a really cool place, end of. We ended up staying for four nights and of course many an event happened, like always its impossible to put them into words but for my future self reading this, and of course you, I'm going to try.

The first night was hilarious, we had travelled up from Sukothai with two German guys who had pre booked a guesthouse, when we arrived though it was full. The lady said it was ok she would call her friend and we could stay at her guesthouse (when I say hers both of them were lady boys but that's by the by. It just added to the humour) after our long journey we just wanted a room so we said we'd take a look. The rooms were huge but it was an almost derelict building, very strange indeed. As Phillip and Ben (our German friends) had already paid we decided to stay with them just for one night and head to JJ's in the morning (The place I stayed last time I was there) our night at the first guesthouse was comfortable and adequate but it was good to back at a place I know (even if half the roof was missing) Once we checked in we rented some bikes and headed up the mountain to Doi Saket.

Why I had not been here before is beyond me, last time I rented bikes in Chiang Mai I went in a different direction but man am I glad we found this place, after the 10 mile ride up the mountain we got to the famous temple. There were a lot of people there but it somehow still seemed really peaceful,  we got blessed by a monk, did a kind of ancient chinese fortune tellin done by Buddhists called see-em see (I dont know how to spell it) and good things are ahead of me it seems.  After our temple visit we headed higher up the mountain, our destination was a small tribal village but getting there involved an very rough dusty road where extreme caution was needed. We arrived and realised we were now quite peckish, they didnt speak any English so I asked if they could knock up khao pat gai kai dow (one of the dishes I can order in thai and they are guaranteed to do) it was aroi (delicious). After our lunch it was getting kind of late so we made our way back, on our way we encountered some Thai guys having trouble with thier car they had got the axle stuck on the side of the bumpy road and need assistance in lifting it off, it took a few of us but we done it, they were extremely grateful. Off then we headed back down the mountain where we stopped for the most spectacular view of the city below.

The evening saw us head to Zoe in Yellow, a.k.a Zoes, a.k.a Yellow Bar, we had actually been there the previous night and had such a blast we wanted to do it again. The place was packed as usual, mostly full of farang but some cool Thai lot too, I spent the night chatting to them and It wasn't until near sunrise that I found my way back to the guesthouse. The following day was hangover day and I spent most of my time in bed whilst the others went on a elephant trek, I had done it before and as my foot is still bad from falling in Lop Buri I thought it was a good opportunity for me to rest it. In the evening though we headed to, you guessed it, Yellow Bar! What a night yet again, this time I crawled back in at 9.30AM so it was a nocturnal one for me again zzzzzzz.

My experience in Chiang Mai this time round was superb, I had been to the city before and seen a lot of things so I used this time mostly to socialise with some of the best Thai people I've met. Now we must make the journey south to the island of Koh Samui, it's a long old way! Ill let you know how it goes.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Back on the road

As I open this post im sat on a bus going from Sukothai to Chiang Mai. Since he arrived in Thailand Dave and I have been to Pattaya, Lop Buri and of course Sukhothai. Pattaya was again a crazy time, although I had my first proper run in with the police which was a load of bullshit, I know all about the police here and how corrupt they are and I've been lucky to avoid it up until here. We were riding our motobikes along Jomtein Beach and came accross a make shift pull over spot directly aimed at tourists, they asked us to produce our international driving license which I do own but didnt have on me, Dave didnt have one so basically we were told that if we didnt pay a 500 baht fine *cough* bribe we would have to go to the police station so we just paid up to avoid hassle. Afterwards we figured it wasnt so bad, it wasn't extortionate money but it didnt end there. In the evening we were still riding around and were on our way back to the hotel where we made a wrong turn, we did a quick U-Turn, something that is perfectly standard and perfectly legal as far as I know but just as we were to enter the main road again a policeman on the corner whistled us to stop. I was not up for paying any more money so I just ignored him and drove past but Dave unfortunately got grabbed on the arm and was a 1000 baht lighter before he was on his way. Pattaya really pissed me off this time by its police conduct, im not sure I'll be returning anytime soon.

Following Pattaya we headed to Lop Buri, the infamous monkey city where I had also been once before. We had decided to stop over the night here to break up our journey up north. When we arrived we found a cool looking guesthouse but unfortunately the last room had just been snapped up by the people before us so the helpful young guy at reception gave us a map and directions to another one just down the road. later on we went back to that guesthouse to drink at their bar then headed to a Thai bar filled with lots of friendly locals. On the way home though I managed to trip over the ridiculously uneven pavement and sprained my ankle pretty badly. In the morning the pain was agonising so I went to the drug store to get some cream and pain killers to fix it,  the lady couldnt speak English and I ended up walking out of there with bloody Trammodol, 10 pills counted loose from a huge pot put into a small baggie, these were given to me with no instructions so its lucky i knew what they were, these are pretty strong painkillers. Then we went to see the monkeys one of which pee'ed on me from a powerline then we headed further north to Sukhothai taking the train to Pitsanulok to change the last distance by bus.

Upon arrival to Sukhothai we jumped in a tuk tuk and headed straight for the 4T Guesthouse, a place I thoroughly enjoyed staying before. I have considerably more hair on my head now but after showing the staff some pictures they remembered me which was nice. We spent three nights here and during that time we relaxed by the pool, explored the old city on motobikes with another girl we met from Belgium, and on the final day I was able to meet up with one of my students from the English Camp we had in Chantaburi. He and his friend run a small market stall selling t-shirts so I swung by to have a chat and buy one.

So I am still on the bus, its the same bus I took before (which was arduous to say the least) and again im sat on a shelf at the back this time though theres two mattresses instead of one but the bus keeps stopping and adding more people. This time though the air con is not flooding the place so it's not so bad. I kinda need a pee though I hope we stop soon we got a few hours to go yet.