Sunday, May 29, 2011

Holiday in Cambodia - Angkor Wat

I arrived at the Thai/Cambodian border in a small town called Aranya-Prathet after a seven hour ride in a van from Pattaya. Having been dropped off at the border I was immediately waved at by some uniformed guys who said they could get my visa sorted out for me. It was dark already and I had no intention of crossing until the morning but having the visa ready seemed a good idea so I parted with 1000 Baht and within ten minutes had my Visa. One of the guys offered to take me back to where I could find a bed and after dinner I sat down with the laptop to do some research on my next destination. It was then that I read of the visa scams at the border and realised I had paid about ten dollars too much - not the best situation at this late stage of my trip, however I felt I could not begrudge these guys too much for such an amount considering the poverty and corruption in their country (they were all Cambodian I had found out). One of them picked me up at six AM to get to the border early and I didn't have the heart to make any mention of my discovery. By about eight I was on my bus heading to Siem Reap - close to the site of Angkor Wat and I met a couple of girls and a guy from the UK also heading there. They had booked ahead so I followed them and found a great place called the Backpacker's Hostel. A bed in the dorm was a lovely $2 so once settled in I decided to have a look about town. Siem Reap is not a large city and tourist life centres around 'Pub Street' where it would appear western investors have splashed the cash and there are some very nice bars and even a couple of clubs. I was tired so I skipped the local food for the night and was pleasantly surprised to find that all the pizzas are cooked in wood fired ovens and up to the standard of some of the better ones I have ever had the joy to eat!

On the way home I found a place renting old bicycles for $1.5 a day. After agreeing a price of $6 for five days I pootled back to the hostel in preparation for a run to Angkor Wat, about seven kilometres away, the following day. I got up with the sun to see the sun rise over the temple but was disappointed to see that the day was overcast. Nevertheless, off I went on my little boneshaker and arrived just over half an hour later. It was only then that I realised that I had set myself up for more or less a thirty five kilometre cycle with no gears in some rather hot weather! By about ten in the morning the sun was in full force but the breeze from cycling seemed quite pleasant and there were ample opportunities for breaks as I stopped at each temple on the smaller circuit for my photo opportunities. I returned to Siem Reap in the evening tired but happy having climbed countless steps and taken a ridiculous number of pictures. The next morning my legs were aching somewhat so I headed to a nearby pool I had been advised of by Cristina, a girl I met from Barcelona (who was greatly amused by the llanito I slipped into while talking with her). In the evening I visited one of the many orphanages in the city and after playing with the kids for a bit returned to sleep and be ready for the larger 50km circuit I had lined up for the next day.

The second Temple run rather predictably had me aching for another day so I indulged myself with another pool day of laziness followed by my now customary visit to the food stalls near Pub Street for a cheap yet delicious dinner of Loklak (beef in oyster sauce with rice and a fried egg on top). I was sitting in a cafe in town contemplating what else I could do with the eight days I had left when along came one of those excellent moments that have sneaked up on me several times in this trip. A young blonde woman was walking by being hassled by several Tuk-Tuk drivers trying to guide her to the hotel of their choice (These drivers crack me up - Their usual opening line to me was 'You want TukTuk?', at which point I would alert them to the fact I have a bicycle. They normally follow that by asking if I want 'boomboom' and when that fails the next offers follow swiftly, advising that they can get 'Marijuana?. . Opium? . . Cocaine?' It would all be quite amusing if it wasn't for the fact that this is repeated about every twenty metres in the evening!) Anyway, I digress - she asked if she could sit down to escape their attentions and I was able to advise her of the place I was staying at as well as some other options nearby. It was during this conversation that Stephanie mentioned she had been hoping to do some dirtbiking around Cambodia and suddenly my next course of action was clear! Time for some motorised fun again (Man I miss the Fireblade).

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Walkabout returns! I have just left Thailand for Cambodia and had a pretty awesome time although I have barely scratched the surface of this beautiful country. I landed in Bangkok after a thoroughly exhausting series of flights and bus rides, first the road trip from Capetown to Jo'burg via Durban followed by a flight to Mumbai and then another to BKK, Thailand.
Having done no research on Thailand and leaving my guidebook back in Gib I was pleasantly surprised to see that I arrived on the second day of Songkran, the traditional Thai new year festival. This is the setting for some absolute madness all over Thailand as one of the main rituals on these three days is effectively a country-wide waterfight! Not a bad thing as this is one of the hottest months here and a regular drenching is often a relief although all electronic gear needs to be kept well wrapped in plastic as even the word soaked feels like an understatement compared to what happens here. As well as walking around the streets armed with all manner of water pistols (or ice cold buckets of water) there are plenty of pickup trucks roaming the city making sure no person can miss out and stay dry. I met some lovely people in my first days in Bangkok and we spent a few days checking out the drinking in various parts of the city.

During my first week I also spent some time mooching around the ridiculously huge shopping malls - they are like nothing I have ever seen before, seven or more floors of shopping madness where you can find almost anything you could want (real or fake).
I used my time in Bangkok as a long rest after all the moving around I have had to do recently so I am sad to say I avoided seeing most of the sights that I feel I should have gone to. Rather I spent much of my time hanging around the Backpacker bar and having some very late nights out at Bangkok's night clubs some of which are very impressive. Two of note were Spicy and Insomnia both of which close around six in the morning leaving some very tired and inebriated people to find their way home in the heat of the morning sun.
One of my greatest joys was discovering that the Thais are also football obsessed and combining that with bars that are open 24 hours around Khao San resulted in some great nights watching the recent Liverpool resurgence under Kenny Daglish (19th to 5th place and suddenly we even have a chance of European football again!). Liverpool also seem to be the most supported team in Thailand for reasons I cannot really fathom - apart of course from the obvious fact they are awesome.

On one of my nights out I met an Israeli girl called Shia who has a lot of contacts in Pattaya and suggested that if I headed down there she would be able to get me a discount on the diving course I want to do. So there it was, after two weeks of doing not much at all it was time to move to Pattaya - possibly the maddest place I have ever been to in my life. Up until 1961 this was a small peaceful fishing village, however that year a group of about 100 American GI's went there for some R&R during the Vietnam war. This trend continued for some time resulting in a den of iniquity that now attracts some four million visitors a year. There are many retired Europeans living here and it seems the Russians have moved in big time with every second sign in Russian.

The night life is absolutely insane with many gogo bars and nightclubs and it is hard to find anywhere to have a quiet pint! I would have left after a couple of days I think except for one thing, while wandering around the first night I popped in to a bar with a pool table and challenged a very cute girl who was playing there to a game. We started talking and it turns out she is a manager of one of the places there. After a fun evening we agreed to meet up the next evening and then the one after and. . . Anyway there went my touring of Thailand! Before I knew it my first month in Thailand was up and it was time to head out so I can fly back in at the end of May to get another month visa. I picked Cambodia as my next destination and by the 12th was in a shared van on my way to Aranya Prathet on the Thai-Cambodia border. I will have to make up for my laziness with some serious travelling when I get back next month!