Whoops, haven’t updated the blog in over a month. That went by real quick. I thought it would be much easier to keep up but I’m very wrong. To be fair though I feel like we were moving around way more after our cozy home in Ko Lanta. Fair warning, this is much longer than the previous posts but there is a lot to write about, so if you want to skim here’s a brief outline of where we went:
From Ko Lanta, we took a taxi-ferry-mini bus to Surat Thani. Stayed there for a few nights then took an overnight train up to Bangkok. After ‘One Night In Bangkok’ we took another minibus to Trat, hopped onto a ferry, then a taxi to our place in Ko Chang. We hung out in Ko Chang for about two weeks. We took a taxi-ferry-taxi back to Trat for a few nights before the minibus ride to the Thailand/Cambodian border. Got into Cambodia and grabbed a taxi to Ko Kong for a couple nights. THEN we took a big bus to Sihanoukville and caught a ferry out to Ko Rong and stayed there for a week. Hopped back onto the ferry to Sihanoukville, then a big bus to Phnom Penh, then a big bus to Battambang, then another big bus to Siem Reap where I’m currently writing this.
So a less detailed and repetitive overview of above is that we finished our 3-month visa in Thailand, and made it into Cambodia where we are right now.
I had no idea what to expect entering another country, but I’ve found that Cambodia is very similar to Thailand, but also very different. You could even say; same same but different. First thing I noticed is how different the landscape changed. We stuck around southern Thailand and islands for the most part and they’re very mountainous with many hills. Once we entered Cambodia I noticed the long vast plains, often rice fields. It reminded me of driving out of the rocky mountains into the plains of Alberta. Cambodia isn’t all flat though, not quite as much as Alberta. There are still many jungles everywhere but things still feel a bit more spread out which is refreshing.
Cambodian currency is difficult because everything is in USD but they don’t use coins so everything less than 1 dollar they give back to you is in Riel, which is 4000 Riel to 1 dollar. I often get a massive stack of bills as change but it’s only like, 75 cents. The handful makes me feel rich, at least.
In Surat Thani we stumbled into a massive parade with approximately zero white people around. Later found out it was the Chak Phra festival which marks the end of Buddhist Lent. There were Monks spraying everyone with water and you could pick up short pieces of white thread in buckets, which were blessed by the monks with a small knot in the middle and when worn as a bracelet it gives you good health, etc. At night they parked the floats and surrounded them with beautiful lights and everyone was able to check them out up close, still getting sprayed with water. It was hard to find breakfast places around when we were there, one day after walking around for a while we went into what we thought looked the most like a restaurant, and then got served a huge spread of veggies and vermicelli in an almost ‘build your own’ noodle bowl. No one there spoke English so we were very lost on how to properly eat this meal, but we just combined it all and we seemed to kind of fit in.
We didn’t miss the clusterfuck that is Bangkok. It’s noisy, smelly and way too expensive. We took a long bus ride to Ko Chang, where we were able to take it easy on a beach again. We stayed at a very colourful Rasta House right on the edge of the water, and with this place came a dog friend, “Soy” who followed us around almost everywhere, including the ocean where she would splash around with us. At this place, we also discovered that the insanely loud screeching sound we often hear in the jungle is actually a cicada, a gross but pretty small bug that would also aggressively fly into your face at night.
In Ko Chang, we found a multi-layered waterfall with refreshingly cold water, made better by us being the only ones there. So picturesque and quiet. Another waterfall we went to had many people, but as you swam around dozens of fish would swim up to you and nip at you. Not the most comfortable thing, but it was fun to try and catch them.
That completed our time in Thailand, for now. We still want to check out the northern parts of the country, but we might do that once we make it through Vietnam and Laos. Getting into Cambodia was not the easiest process. We did our reading beforehand and were well aware of all the scams that may or may not take place once we got there. It’s hard to blend in with the crowd being backpackers and white, so no matter what we’re almost always targeted. Got pushed to the side to do a hokey ‘health check’ (they just took our temperature and charged us). Then for the actual visa application we were pushed into a room that actually said “Staff Only” and the price was more than what we saw online. Tried to get around it by walking away and going to the booth where all the local people were going to, but still, we were told to deal with it in the “Staff Only” room. Our efforts were pretty futile, and at that point we just wanted to get into the country so we just paid the extra fee. Kind of frustrating getting had by people but, it could be worse.
The first night we stayed in Ko Kong and after enjoying a few 75 cent draft beers we wandered around town. We heard some loud music and saw it was a wedding reception, as we walked by all the wedding attendees hanging out outside encouraged us to go in, and so we did. We were welcomed with free beers and awesome live music, Dustin was surrounded by the men and I the women. Everyone was so glamorous and taking many pictures with us, most seemed very excited by our presence but others stared for a long time. It was so much fun, one man brought us to hang out with his family and taught us the proper was Khmer people do ‘cheers’.
The children love us here, I’m not entirely sure why, probably because we stand out, but almost every kid under the age of 13 will go out of their way to wave and shout Hello at us. I see many parents encouraging their young kids to wave at us. It’s not uncommon to get swarmed by dozens of kids shouting Hello and grabbing at our arms. I don’t think they really want anything, I think they just enjoy how enthusiastic we are from their presence. It’s really entertaining and now I’m starting to expect every kid to wave and say hi to me and if they don’t I feel a bit hurt.
Ko Rong was made more awesome by having my brother, Elliot, around. He came from Cape town after doing his own month-long trip, and we thought it would be a great chance to spend time together. We all stayed at a cozy secluded hostel, where Dustin and I actually stayed in a tent by the water. It was funny to be suddenly camping in the jungle. The three of us hiked all over the island, saw a giant millipede, kayaked to a tiny island and snorkeled, then had a day of diving around Ko Rong Samloem. We hung out with lots of people at the hostel playing games and such. The beaches were beautiful and it was all so awesome. We travelled up to Phnom Penh together where we said our byes. It was so nice to have him around.
Now that we’re back to our old routine we’ve indulged in some more tourist attractions. In Phnom Penh we had a depressing day visiting Tuol Sleng, the S-21 Genocide museum, and the Killing Fields just a half hour drive away. This was a heavy, heavy experience. Any sort of museum and re-living of Genocide is bound to make one’s stomach knot up, these places weren’t like any other museum I’ve ever been to. S-21 was a high school turned into a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime. Still in the middle of the city, next to restaurants and apartment buildings, it doesn’t look like a museum. You can see from the street the thick barbed wire perimeter the Khmer Rouge installed to keep prisoners from escaping. In fact, they’ve kept the prison very much in the same condition they found it; shackles in the “classrooms”, brick or wooden built cells, custom-made torture devices, and all the portraits of their prisoners/victims – before and after mutilation. Completely horrifying. We visited the Killing Fields as well, seeing the mounds of dirt and grass that were once pits that held hundreds of bodies. There’s a walkway surrounding it with posts of large fish tanks filled with bones and teeth that groundskeepers to this day find popping up out of the dirt.
Feeling as though there is no reason to be a happy person anymore after that experience, it took a while to get back up to speed. We left Phnom Penh and spent about a week in Battambang. Here we took a long ride out to the edge of the city where there is Phnom Sampou, a mountain filled with old temples and once used as a Killing Cave. We climbed to the top and had a spectacular view of Battambang and wide open fields. The caves in this mountain are actually populated by millions of bats, so every evening around 5:30pm they come out in a giant vibrating black stream. There are a few bars along the road where you can sit and have a beer and watch the bats come out, it was fascinating. We went back a couple nights later when we had rented a scooter, and once the bats came out we chased the path of bats into the fields to see where they went. We didn’t get too far cause the paths next to some of the villages were very hard to drive in, but we had a better view of the bats and a few times the stream was directly above us and the hundreds of little wings flapping sounded like waves on a beach.
Also in Battambang we came across our second wedding which we were happily welcomed into. Free beers and funny dance moves, I think they get a kick having foreigners around. One man introduced us to his family and they tried to teach us more Khmer phrases which we kind of butchered, but it was very fun. We also checked out another popular attraction: the Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus. It’s an arts school where they provide education to kids (primarily low privilege) for FREE for up to three or four years. It was all awesome, very high-quality works and apparently, there are lots of jobs available after they graduate.
Unfortunately, I don’t have all the pictures to accompany this because I’m very behind in my media management. Trying to keep it organized and safe is a time-consuming process on the road and lately, there hasn’t been a ton of time. BUT once I do get them all edited I will add them in. I generally put them all up on facebook anyway so it’s not like there’s anything super new that I’ll have on here. I still don’t know how to run a blog.