Thursday, January 27, 2011
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Our flight to Phnom Penh was delayed by an hour, so I just took a wander around while we were waiting, trying to use up the last of our Baht. In the end, I found something called ‘peanut brittle’, it was one of the few things we could afford. I didn’t have a clue what it was and the ingredients didn’t really clear things up either; 80% peanuts, ok, 10% sugar, fair enough, 10% ivory?! No wonder elephants are becoming endangered if their tusks are being harvested to make peanut brittle! Ivory must have some amazing properties though, cause the best before date was Dec 2053!
Anyway, Cambodia! We got our Visas sorted straight away as we arrived. What a change from the Myanmar Visa process! In the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, we had to wait around 6 hours while our documents were scrutinised to make sure we weren’t terrorists, or even worse, journalists. Here, we handed in our passports and 5 minutes later we were out the gap with passports and Visas in hand!
Aisling was extra excited when we arrived in Phnom Penh, as it was a new country for her, seeing as she’d already been to Thailand and Malaysia before. And what a way to welcome her to the country! We were greeted at arrivals by our tuk-tuk driver, Marady, holding up a sheet with her name on it! We were very excited about that.
It was late when we arrived at the motel, but it looked like we were in a nice enough area, that was until we woke up the next morning... and realised we were actually in an unreal area! With views over the Royal Palace and right by the river side too!
That day when we got up, our tuk-tuk driver from the night before, Marady, was waiting outside, offering to take us around for the day. He was eager, we liked that. And we had a few places we were planning to go to around the city, so said we'd hire him. We quickly grabbed some breakfast and then hit the road. I wouldn't say we had an enjoyable day, as it's probably the wrong word to use considering the places we went, but it was definitely a good day and eye-opening to say the least.
First we went to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which used to be a prison during the Khmer Rouge communist regime. It was originally a high school, but when Pol Pot came to power in 1975, the classrooms were transformed into torture chambers, where up to 100 people were killed every day at the peak of the Khmer Rouge's power.
The place had such an eerie feel to it, and even though I've never been to a Nazi concentration camp, I'd imagine it's the same feeling there. A lot of the buildings have been kept in their original state, to give you an insight into the prison, though some are now occupied by the museum, filled with testimonials of the victims, artwork, clothes, skulls and hundreds upon hundreds of mug shots of each detainee as they entered the prison.
As I said, the Palace and Pagoda were really lovely, but the highlight for us was definitely in a tiny little hut, where we were allowed to try on traditional clothes and a man taught us how to play old Khmer instruments. It was so much fun! It's all well and good walking around looking at pretty buildings and statues, but actually getting to do things is a lot more enjoyable!
Here's a video of Ash playing some sort of xylophone too!
After the palace, we took a walk by the river, which was decorated along its banks with hundreds of flags. The thing is though, they didn't have every flag... I don't know if they were planning on having the flags of the world and just ran out, or what? And they had Italy twice too...
We rounded off our final night in Phnom Penh with a sunset cruise along the Mekong River, to celebrate Aisling's Blackhall results, and it really was a perfect way to end our stay. (When I was thinking back over our journey, Phnom Penh didn't really stand out for me, but writing this made me realise that it actually wasn't a bad city...).
The following morning, we waved goodbye to Phnom Penh and our motel, and hopped on a bus to our next stop, Kampot!
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Well, after an 8 hour bus journey from Bangkok, and then a 2 hour ferry from Chumphon (it was during the night though so we got plenty of sleep), we arrived bright and early in Ko Tao. When we landed in Ko Phi Phi a couple of weeks ago, we were greeted by someone from our hostel to lead the way and take our bags, so we were expecting something similar here... no such luck. There were people from other resorts alright, just not ours. No matter, we found a pick-up truck that was heading our way so we jumped on that. We arrived at the hostel but when we were checking in, they were charging us for four nights instead of three, even though we had emailed them the day before saying that we were stuck in Bangkok and so would be staying a day less. We had booked the place through Hostel World, and gave them 24 hours notice, as per the website’s terms, but she just said, ‘no, that’s not our policy…’. Well, maybe you should find a different website to advertise on so, ya dope! We wouldn’t have been that annoyed about it if the place was nice, but it was rubbish! Paying for one night there was too much, never mind four! The room was horrible, I could go on all day about the things wrong with the place; It was roasting hot with only a tiny little fan on the ceiling to cool us down, there were mosquito nets covering the windows, which was a great idea, except for the fact that there were holes in the walls, the place felt like it was going to fall apart at any second and the room shook every time you walked across the floor - I’ll just leave it there, but to sum up, it was shit! The Lotus Resort, don’t stay there! It’s shit!
We didn’t get up to much on our first day really. We got some lunch in a place called Zest, which we ending up eating in every day (sometimes more than once a day in fact!). The food was excellent though, huge portions and the couple running the place were so lovely too, the smiliest people we’ve ever met! Afterwards, we organised a snorkelling trip for the next morning and took a walk along the beach. It soon started lashing though, so we had to run back to our crappy room. Even though it was raining, it was still really hot, and somehow it was like ten degrees hotter inside! If only our little fan could do more than just blow the dust around…
We stayed in and watched a few episodes of The Amazing Race (surprise surprise) and later went for dinner in a place that was showing the Villa-Arsenal match. It was a great game, even if Villa lost 4-2 in the end…
The next morning we woke up in our shitty, shitty room, after the worst night’s sleep ever, to find that my legs were covered in mosquito bites. I was in agony! Aisling escaped scot-free too… It’s a good thing we were taking our malaria tablets! (Before we set off from Ireland, we were weighing up whether or not to get malaria tablets, as we had heard that the side effects from taking them were almost as bad as actually having the disease itself. We got them in the end, and to be honest, they were absolutely fine). And even worse, Aisling’s laptop wouldn’t work again! Disaster! Seeing as we were going snorkelling for the day, we put it out of our minds and hoped it would magically fix itself again, like it did in Bangkok.
After breakfast in Zest, we headed off on our day of snorkelling. On the boat, we made friends with three girls, who we affectionately knew as Hazel, Sick girl and the Belgian, (We couldn’t actually remember their real names…), Hazel – because she looked like Hazel McCarthy, Sick girl – because she was seasick on the boat, and the Belgian – because, well, she was from Belgium… We were meant to be going to swim with sharks (not big massive ones), but because the weather was so bad and the sea was so choppy, we could only stay along the coast. Dose! We still had a great day though.
We went to a few different bays along the shoreline, and saw lots of nice and colourful fish. The coral was nice too, even if it wasn't as colourful. There are meant to be really good dive spots on the island, it’s just a shame that we were shackled to the coast. Having said that though, the boat trip itself around the island was enjoyable. From little beach huts popping up from beneath the trees, to the odd phallic rock formation!
After dinner, we took a stroll around and were accosted by some ladyboys trying to get us to come to their cabaret show. We really wanted to go too, but unfortunately we were washing our hair that night... (Oh actually, speaking of washing hair, funny story! The shower in our room was so bad that, one night, poor Aisling had to resort to using the bum hose to clean her hair properly! I think it’s a funny story, although I’m sure she won’t think it’s as funny when she reads this…)
The next morning, we went and booked our scuba diving trip for the day ahead, and popped into Zest, of course, for breakfast. (The night before I was eaten alive again by mosquitoes. This time I even put on repellent and everything to no effect. Aisling thinks the spray smells really nice, she'd make a terrible mosquito...) After another quality breakfast, we headed back down to the dive centre to meet our instructor, Antonio. He was so nice! We loved him! It was his first dive in English too, so we were trying to be as supportive as possible throughout the day. You wouldn't think it was either, seeing as his English was pretty much perfect. He also had fluent Italian (well, he was from Italy so that's not much of an achievement...) and Spanish. Also, his girlfriend was Dutch so he was learning that too! He gave us a quick rundown of the plan for the day and told us to go and grab some lunch as we wouldn't be starting for a couple of hours. Back up to Zest!
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
The next morning we decided to just have a chill out day, we were going to be in Bangkok for the next 6 days so we said we might as well just take a break and relax by the pool. We got brekkie in our regular spot, (we actually can’t remember what it was called, even though we ate there practically everyday! We just called it porridge place cause they made nice porridge… clever nickname, I know), and on the way back to the apartment, I bought 3 new t-shirts! I really spoilt myself! Our day by the pool didn’t turn out as we hoped though, as it was pretty cloudy all afternoon. It was still nice to take a break. We went to a nearby Irish bar that night to watch the Villa – Blackburn match… but I don’t really want to talk about that...
Moving on… the next day we had a spring in our step again, so decided to go and do touristy things. First of all we booked our tickets to Ko Tao for next week (we were very organised!) and then jumped in a tuk-tuk to Wat Phra Kaew. When we arrived, there were people around the entrance telling us it was closed. They didn’t look very official though so we walked around to another entrance, and sure enough we saw people going in. When we got there, we were told that our pants were too short and we’d have to rent out some long ones if we wanted to see the palace. We agreed (even though they were big hilarious clown pants!), seeing as it was the only way we were going to get in. Finally we made it inside, only to be herded straight out again along with all the other tourists! Nobody was being told what was going on, just to move along to the exits. We were raging! We couldn’t come here the last time we were in Bangkok cause we didn’t have time, and now we're finally here and we’re being herded out straight away! And, we were made pay to rent out pants!! That was the worst part. The people outside knew that everyone was going to be told to leave but they still made us pay to get long pants. We were so annoyed that we did what anyone would in the situation… that’s right, we stole the pants! We were meant to drop them off where we got them on the way out, but we just threw them into our bags and legged it! They’re hideous (actually, the sarong that Ash got is quite nice) but they’re a medal of our victory over Wat Phra Kaew! There’s a lesson for you, don’t mess with us or we’ll steal your pants!
To celebrate, we went to a nearby shopping mall and found a place that did killer crepes! Ash claims they’re the best she’s ever had! We were going to go to the cinema there too, but they only had like two screens. Instead we went to Jim Thomson’s House. It’s not, as the name suggests, just some guy’s house, it’s a Bangkok tourist attraction, and it was really nice actually. Jim Thompson was an American who developed the Thai silk industry and his house is now open to the public. It’s full of Thai sculptures and artwork and all that kind of lark. Well worth a look though.
Ok, I can’t really remember what we did the day after… I think we just chilled by the pool again and took it easy as we had planned a trip to Ayuthaya for the next day. It was sunny though! I remember that much! We probably watched some Amazing Race too that day… who knows!?
Actually, just to go off on another side note, about the toilets here, not just in Bangkok, but all over SE Asia. In a lot of places we've gone to, they have these kind of 'squatter units'. They're basically just a hole in the ground, with a place to put your feet at either side, and you just squat over the hole and do your business... and I'm not just talking about in grotty bars and poor areas, in high class shopping malls and hotels too! In some places as well, instead of toilet paper they have a kind of 'bum hose', that you just spray yourself with to clean up... (actually, they have these bum hoses almost everywhere, even in places with toilet paper). I mean, I can understand having these squatter units in poorer places where they don't have access to toilet bowls, but it's very strange seeing them in high class areas. Like, you'd walk into a fancy bathroom in a hotel somewhere and they'd have a few regular cubicles, and then a few squatters, just so you have a choice! I'm not saying our way is better or anything, if you prefer using the latter then who am I to judge?! Squatter's rights and all that...
So, our day in Ayutthaya... now, before we started planning our trip around SE Asia, neither of us had ever heard of Ayutthaya, it wasn't a place we had ever intended going to. But, if there are any Street Fighter fans out there, you will know that Sagat's stage is in front of a big reclining Buddha in Thailand. So, I made it a mission to find out where this was and go and see it. And that's where our day trip to Ayutthaya came from! It turns out that there was loads to see there too and it was, one of many, ancient capitals of Thailand, before it was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767 (go on Burma!).
We needed a big hearty feed that morning for the day ahead, so we forsook our regular breakfast spot and went to Cool Corner, where we got pancakes, fruit, a croissant, bacon and a milkshake all for 100 Baht (about €2.50). Breakfast bargain! We ended up going there for a lot of our meals over the next few days. The food was delicious, although the staff were shocking... We jumped on a bus to Ayutthaya and when we arrived, rented out two bikes for the day. Most of the city's ruins are located on the central island, so you had to get a little boat over and back, which is fine, unless you're carrying a bike over your shoulder!
First on our list was Wat Phra Mahathat, which contains probably the most iconic image in Ayutthaya, a Buddha head engulfed by tree trunks. I don't know the story behind it, but most of the Buddha statues in the place had their heads chopped off, so I presume this was just one of them and a tree grew up around it. The heads weren't chopped off as a mark of disrespect though. Whenever the Thais were being attacked, they used to cover their gold statues in plaster so that they wouldn't look valuable to looters. The heads were simply chopped off by their enemies to see if the statues were golden inside!
(When I took this photo, the security guards made Ash kneel down as it's forbidden to take a photograph of yourself standing over a Buddha statue!)
Next, we went to Wat Ratburana which we had to pay to get into! We were pretty annoyed at this seeing as we didn't have to pay to get into Wat Mahathat. (We later found out that you actually did have to pay to get into Wat Mahathat too but when we were going in, we couldn't find the entrance so we just walked through a hedge instead...). We also went along to Wat Thammikarat, Wat Suwannawat and Wat Chutalkinaboutwillis! (I'm sorry, that was rubbish. RIP Gary Coleman)
Actually, at Wat Thammikarat we were attacked by a pack of dogs! Well, I say attacked, they didn't actually touch us... but it was close! When we were locking up our bikes, about 3 or 4 dogs came out and started barking at us. We just ignored them and walked on. As we were walking though, dogs just kept coming out of nowhere until we were completely surrounded by a good 11 or 12 barking dogs! I'm not even afraid of dogs but I was getting a bit unnerved at this point. We walked along as calmly as possible, trying not to turn our backs on any of them, and we finally made it out to a public area. As we were leaving the place, I had to go back and get a picture of them for our records, to show how vicious they were. I said I'd take it as I was cycling past, just in case they came at me again, but as I went by, there wasn't a peep out of them! They were just frolicking on the grass! They obviously knew my plan and were trying to make a fool out of me. Well, it worked... Here'a a photo of some happy dogs!
We then headed over to Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which was pretty nice, but ended up being by far our favourite temple of the day, cause we just went around taking pictures of Frankie in various locations. He even made friends with a local puppy who was following us around!
We took a load of action shots of him too! One of us would walk up to the top of the steps and throw him down, while the other would take a picture of him flying through the air. Poor Frankie got an awful doing that day...