October 29, 2008

Cambodia: Phnom Penh

The morning after Halloween we took a public bus from Sihanoukville back up to Phnom Penh. We got off the bus and into a tuk tuk to a kickboxing match. Not as bloody as I thought but still had to cover my eyes a few times. The kickboxing match gathered people of all kinds. It was interesting to see how "city locals" go about their days. Street children were running around bare foot collecting plastic bottles, all the men were betting on the match and overweight men had their shirts folded up. It was all quite a show and I am not talking about the fight... however it did grasp my attention every once and while.


Later that day we walked around Phnom Penh and explored. I remember reading in the Lonely Planet that most tourist don't like Phnom Penh as they find it dirty so I was not that excited about seeing the city, however, that could not be more incorrect. Phnom Penh is amazing.



The following day was filled with Cambodian history at the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields. Both were incredibly difficult but I learned so much about the last 30 to 40 years in Cambodia. I just love this country and am so impressed with life today.


Daily Dose of South East Asia:
1. Motorbikes. People carry everything on their motorbikes. I saw a queen sized wood bed frame including the headboard, a whole coop of dead chickens tied to every inch of the bike (you could not even see the mans legs or the back seat of the bike), a queen sized mattress, four extra large dead pigs, and five people including a baby and a dog.
2. Kilometers, kilograms and Celsius. Due to my lack of mental converting abilities I never know how far we are going, how much things weigh or how hot it is outside.
3. Heat. Even though I never know the exact temperature in degrees I can still tell it's hot. The first couple of days I was constantly showering because I was always so sticky. However, seem to be adjusting.
4. Food. It's all very tasty but I am still sticking with meat on bone is gross. In Cambodia I eat mostly vegetable side dishes or prawns. I am still sticking with papaya salad as my ultimate favorite meal.
5. Honking. Oh my god, make it stop. Public buses honk at absolutely everything, even chickens wondering around on the side of the road. It is so load and really squeaky. If anything is going to make me crazy it's going to be the public bus honking. I do not know anything more annoying except when the bus driver also puts on a Thai music video. Wait... if anything is going to me crazy it is going to be the combination of the honking and Thai music videos.
6. Cows. They are everywhere. The best is when they are laying in the middle of the highway and everyone drives around them... it's rather amusing.
7. "You have such an American accent." Yes.
8. Pajamas. In Cambodia women where pajamas everywhere and all day long in a range of different colors and patters. We call them the business suit for women.

Cambodia: Laughing Cambodia

The day after Angkor Wat we went out to a floating village, it was such a great experience and one that I would have never been able to organize on my own. We had the chance to paddle around flooded 30 foot trees (so they were only about 10 feet tall from our view), have lunch with a local family and learn about their lifestyle. After the village we went to an orphanage. The children were so welcoming. They did some traditional dance performances for us which included a Monkey Dance where the children literally danced like monkeys.

{ At the floating village } 

The following day we drove to a small town called Kampong Cham where we spent the night. We ate lunch with our guide's friend at his house on stilts. Our guide's friend, the head of the house, brought out a live taranchala for us to all hold (it was very light).  For dessert, we had cooked taranchala. Salty.

 


That afternoon a couple of us took a ferry across the Mekong River to a small island were we biked around the village. It was great because the children (and there are a lot of them, 50% of Cambodia is under 18) run out to the road yelling "Hello, hello!" They have some much spirit and laughter. We took the ferry back to the main land in the evening and happen to catch a gorgeous sunset.

 

That night for dinner we went out for Cambodian BBQ, which is just portable stove top.

{ Cambodian BBQ }
The following night we left Kampong Cham to head to Chambok, our home stay. We slept in a traditional Cambodia house (a one roomed house on stilts) on floor mats with mosquito nets protecting us. In the morning we had a traditional Cambodian breakfast, rice porridge.


Today we arrived in Sihanoukville which is on the coast of Cambodia so the next couple of days are just for lounging in the sun.

{ Sihanoukville }

October 26, 2008

Cambodia: Angkor Wat

As of a few days ago I have joined Intrepid on a month long tour from Bangkok, Thailand to Ha Noi, Vietnam.

The boarder crossing from Thailand to Cambodia was a rough scene. The difference a bridge can make between two countries is shocking. As soon as we entered Cambodia it was mud roads, extreme poverty, garbage, and American dollars (it's the currency they use here). The average person living in Cambodia makes $500 a year.

The highway from Poipet to Siem Reap is a dirt road. It took us four hours and that was making good time. The road is known as the "Dancing Road" because of how bumpy it is. I felt like the van was about to fall apart and there were so many detours because every bridge was under repair. Even though the road was bumpy I am so glad that we drove because I loved seeing the towns and country side. Along the highway there were men and boys fishing in their whitey tighties walking along the road from one muddy water way to the next. There are also more bicycles here then I have ever scene and if people do own cars they are Toyota Camrys (in every model, year and color).

{ local gas station }
Siem Reap: The main roads are cement but the sidewalks (if that is even what you can call them) are a combination of garbage, dirt and rocks. Your feet are always so dirty.



 

Yesterday we went to Angkor Wat, the largest religious temple in the world! Every temple was so different from the other. There was the classic main one that is in all the photographs, there was the one that Tomb Raider was filmed at and then there is one where there are dozens of giant faces made out of rocks in the walls. The temples are amazing.


As you walk on the pathways and through the vendors little children run up to and yell "1 dollar, 1 dollar" which was the price for everything. They continue to walk with you showing you their basket of goodies. As we all piled into the van one little boy, who was most persistent, walked with us until we closed the van door, he yelled "onnnnneee dollllaaar" as his little one finger came through the open window. It will be my favorite memory, I can already tell.

October 23, 2008

Thailand: Phuket to BKK and Tiger Temples

| Phuket |


Sunday night we left Khao Lak and our resort hotel where Antonia and I were the only guests. We took an overnight bus to Bangkok which was quite the experience. Our first conversation on the bus was right after I used the bus toilet and it went a little something like this (and let me remind you we were on a VIP bus):

Me: "So the toilet is a really gross and bit scary. I would recommend holding it for the next 12 hours." (note: with the amount of water we drink here holding it for 12 hours is a completely absurd idea)
Antonia: "Oh no, if you think it's bad I am going to think it is awful."
Me: "Hmm... a plane ticket to Bangkok is only $30 more."
Antonia and Me (at the same time): "Great, so because we wanted to save $30 we now can't use the bathroom for the next 12 hours and never ever think of drinking that bottle of water that they just gave us."

Anyways, the bus ride was interesting. However, when I was on the bus listening to Bob Marley on my iPod I realized (not that I haven't realized it before it just hit me harder this time) that I am so lucky to be here and I have had some of the most amazing experiences so far. It was a great feeling! But then we got to Bangkok at 5am and a bit of that feeling slipped away as we arrived at the bus station in a complete sleepy confusion and realization that we did not have the address to our hostel. Good morning 5am.

| Bangkok |


I got to pet a tiger! Antonia and I joined a tour which included a floating market, a tiger temple and the bridge over the River Kwai. On our tour we met Abigail who is from England so the three us spent the day together. It was great. The tiger temple was pretty cool- a little to structured for my liking but still great. First we went to see the big tigers where you got to pet them while one of the staff members took photos. The tigers were huge and their fur was a bit more ruff then I was expecting. After the big tigers we went to hangout with the babies cubs.


I had read about the floating markets before arriving and was thrilled to actually see one. It truly is amazing and so different then anything I am familiar with.


{ The bridge over the River Kwai }

October 19, 2008

Thailand: The Similan Islands


Antonia and I went to the Similan Islands and it was amazing! The Similans are off the coast of Khao Lak about an hour. We were able to book a tour (that included lunch) the day before from the same place we got a pedicure. Good deal.

The beaches were white, the sand felt like butter between our toes and the water was crystal blue. We went snorkeling a number of times that day and the last time I swam with a sea turtle! It just cruised right by me when I was snorkeling and I instantly started following it. Those supposedly slow reptiles are very quick swimmers. I was thankful when it came up for air so I could take a little break.



October 17, 2008

Thailand: Khao Lak

{ Looking down on Phuket from the plane }
Fast forward through some traveling, we are now in Khao Lak, Thailand. We took a 1.5 hour seatbeltless taxi ride from Phuket north. The taxi ride fee split into two wasn't too expensive since busing north wasn't an option.

Khao Lak was badly hit by the tsunami and it shows as they are just starting to rebuild. The ocean front resorts are up and running but inland is still a crumble of cement buildings. But with that said this place is amazing. We are settling in quite quickly.


{ Banana smoothies all day }
We are the only guests at the hotel so we got a great deal on our room. We are across from the beach and there are a few great restaurants ocean side. So far we have been laying by the pool and walking along the endless beach soaking up the sun. Last night as we were eating dinner there was the most amazing sunset.

{ The start of the most gorgeous sunset ever }

October 15, 2008

Singapore: The City

After a few days of beaching it in Malaysia we decided to head down to Singapore where one of Antonia's friends lives now. We arrived at the Mersing bus terminal early in the morning hoping to get a bus ticket to Singapore for later that day but all the buses were full. Taxis are fairly cheep here so we ended up taking a taxi all the way to the Singapore boarder (1.5 hours for $30 each! Not bad).
Antonia's friend lived just a short walk from the main shopping area- Orchard St. We found that there are not many sightseeing activities in Singapore so it was great to be staying in an apartment- cable TV and endless amounts of free internet. Backpacking luxury.

We spent three great days in Singapore; shopping, eating at some great (ca$h money) restaurants and putting our feet up! I have never been so happy to be in a city with a shortage of tourist sites. We were able to just sit back and do nothing. I use the word 'nothing' loosely because we did keep fairly busy but just a different kind of busy.

Clarke Quay was fantastic with lots of restaurants and a great area to explore. We winded and dined with the best of them and will now probably not be able to buy anything ever again. We also made sure to stop at The Clinic for drinks out of test tubes while sitting on hospital beds. This is highly recommended. It was awesome.

{ The Clinic, a bar with a hospital theme }

October 10, 2008

Malaysia: KL and Mersing


The morning we left Kuala Lumpur was a sweaty and busy one. We woke with the sun and hustled to see the Patronas Towers which are by far the coolest land attraction of all times. I cannot even express how huge they are and the fact that there are two- well more the merrier! After seeing the Patronas Towers we had to hurry back to our hostel to try to take public transportation to the bus terminal and believe it or not we made it- just in time to hop on our bus to Mersing/Tioman Island. The satisfaction of getting around an unknown and foreign city through public transportation is awesome.

We arrived in Mersing (which is on the east coast of Malaysia) in just enough time to catch the last ferry to Tioman Island. Antonia and I randomly picked Salang Beach before getting on the ferry and it was by far the best beach compared to the other five that the ferry stopped at previously.

Salang Beach is gorgeous. There are no roads and each beach on Tioman Island is pushed up right against the mountains that run down the middle of the island. We got a great little beachfront bungalow and are quickly getting into beach life- living in your swimsuit, never wearing shoes and beach bumming all day long.



October 8, 2008

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur

We never seem to have any plans and so far it is working out. Yesterday Antonia and I booked a flight to Kuala Lumpur and this morning we landed in Malaysia. Everything has been going smoothly besides some major misunderstanding about the exchange rate- whoops! As of now the people here are friendly and helpful. Is it the culture or do we have a "help needed" sign posted on our foreheads? Whatever it happens to be, it's working for us.

We found a great hostel in a great location and the staff is helping us plan our next few days.

We took a taxi out to the The Blue Mosque which is one of the largest mosques in the world- holding 24,000 people. It was amazing and we got wear some fun outfits too. I would highly recommend this to anyone going to Kuala Lumpur.


October 3, 2008

Thailand: From BKK to Phuket

Antonia and I have left the orphanage and are now traveling together. Last Saturday we flew down to Phuket, Thailand but as usual we had some complications with planes in Bangkok. We missed our connecting flight to Phuket. It all worked out though. We got to stay at a 5 star hotel for a 2 star price. Hot water, flushing toilets with toilet paper (we see this as a luxury after the orphanage) and a pool with a poolside bar. It was great... we loved every second of it.


We arrived in Phuket (pronounced poo-ket) and after searching every hostel/hotel in the neighborhood we landed at Kata Minta. A great little hotel near Kata beach, where we spent the afternoon.

The following day we visited James Bond Island, a Muslim fishing village located in the middle of a river (it was quite an eye opener), a monkey cave temple and we kayaked around limestone rocks that just shot out of the water.




The next day we went on a tour to the Phi Phi Islands, Maya beach and another monkey beach. It is so beautiful here!