A Travellerspoint blog

Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville

Roasting in the sun

semi-overcast 30 °C
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Not a lot has happened since I last wrote, but I've got nothing but time so I thought I'd write another.

I spent five days in Phnom Penh, which was far too much, but my Vietnamese visa was delayed so I had to wait. Not a big deal, although I did have trouble meeting people there. I find the big cities are the hardest to meet people, whereas in a little town there's almost always a few other people searching for a fresh face to talk to. The absolute best place I've found to meet people is on the bus. It's near impossible not to talk to someone on a bumpy ten hour bus ride, and by the time you get off everyone just wants to find a room, so they stick together and end up going for dinner and drinks later. Anyways, I stayed at Smile Guesthouse in Phnom Penh, which looks out onto Boeng Kak Lake (I think that's right):

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The view from the guesthouse patio at night.

With five days, I had a lot of time in Phnom Penh to see the sights. I went to the Tuol Sleng prison, which was the school that was turned into a torture center called S-21 during the Khmer Rouge genocide in the late 70's. It was very interesting and very gruesome. In one of the buildings, each room had a single wire bed, where victims were interrogated and eventually starved and murdered. A large black and white photo hangs on the wall of each room showing the corpse that was found on the bed. Pretty disturbing stuff. Other buildings had been divided into tiny cells where prisoners were kept, complete with barbed wire on the outside to prevent prisoners from escaping. The Khmer Rouge had taken mugshots of the prisoners (men, women, children and even infants), which were all displayed in another building. Over 13 000 people were killed here. I also went to the Killing Fields, which was essentially where they took other prisoners to be exterminated. Mass graves have been unearthed containing over 8 000 bodies, and some graves have been left untouched. There is a large memorial stupa that houses all the skulls and clothing of the executed; a not-so-subtle reminder of something that happened only 30 years ago. Almost two million Cambodians were killed.

So after the heavy sites in Phnom Penh, I was glad to be heading to a beach to relax. Sihanoukville is on the south coast of Cambodia, and is home to about five beaches and a thriving tourist scene. Almost too thriving, really, it's packed. I happened to arrive on the same weekend as the Khmer Water Festival, one of the few Cambodian holidays, so there were almost no rooms available and the rooms that were available were double in price. I was lucky to find a little bungalow for $4, although it has a thatched roof (unsealed, hope it doesn't rain) and no proper sink, just a tap and a drain. But hey, I won't be spending much time in there anyway, so it's no big deal.

Last night I took a stroll down Serendipity Beach, the main backpacker's hangout. It's lined with bars spilling right out onto the beach, and it's very relaxing. There are fire jugglers every few hundred metres, and one of them started up right in front of me. Here's a pic:

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Today I took a moto taxi to Otres Beach, about 5km southeast of Serendipity Beach. It's still quite busy, but much more peaceful. I did well to start getting rid of my tshirt tan, but it'll take a few more days. Tough life. Here's the sunset:

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I know I post a lot of sunset pictures, but I can't help it.

And for all you whiners who keep badgering me to post a picture of myself, here you go:

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My hair is long.

I am officially halfway through my trip! Time is going by incredibly fast and I don't want it to end, although I miss Vancouver terribly. Too bad about the Lions, but it's nice to see the Canucks kicking some ass in the division. Until next time ..

Posted by sam.m. 17:50 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

The Cambodian Sun

and the Temples of Angkor

sunny 31 °C
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It seems the time between my entries is slowly getting longer and longer. I think it's because I no longer feel homesick anymore. When I first got to Asia, I would get to an internet cafe just so I could look at familiar things (ie hockey), but everything is starting to feel pretty normal now.

After Vientiane, I took a bus down to Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) in Southern Laos. I spent six nights on a little island called Don Det, which has so far remained very cheap, unlike the rest of Laos, which has exploded with tourism. It's not a bad thing, but the cost of Laos is no longer a bargain compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. Of course, it's all a bargain in the grand scheme of things. I spent $10 a day on Don Det, and still managed to have a bungalow right on the Mekong and ate like a king.

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The sunset view from my bungalow on Don Det.

From Don Det, I took a bus over two days to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Siem Reap is the home of Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world and a man made wonder. I can hardly begin to describe how amazing this place is. I met two Dutch girls on the bus ride over, and we rented bicycles on the first two days, going from temple to temple. I was literally drenched in sweat the entire time. It's a lot hotter in Cambodia than it is in Laos. I shaved my beard off after the first day, partly because of the heat and partly because I knew I'd be getting a pretty funny tanline if I kept it. Although, it would probably fit right in with awesome tshirt and sandal tan I've already got. We took a tuk tuk on the third day and we caught the sunrise behind Angkor Wat. Quite an amazing sight.

To be honest, the first time I saw Angkor Wat, I was a bit underwhelmed. I think I had read so much about it that I had built it up to be something impossibly huge, but the more I saw it on the second and third day, it's striking how difficult it must have been to construct. Angkor Wat itself is massive, but there are probably 30 other temples and structures in the surrounding area that make Angkor the crumbled empire it is. The earliest temples were built in the 9th century, culminating with Angkor Wat in the 13th century. When London was a town of 50 000, Angkor was a metropolis of over one million people. Some pics:

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This is a temple called Ta Prohm. Over the years, it has been overrun with jungle, but they have done a nice job restoring what they can.

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Ta Som has also been taken over by jungle life. There are tree roots invading the entire temple.

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A small section of carvings at Banteay Srei, about 30km north of Angkor Wat. There are walls and walls of these very intricate carvings and they must have taken ages to create.

I have found the Cambodian people to be the friendliest of all the locals I've met in Southeast Asia. The kids are always so happy to see you, they wave and yell out any English words they know when you pass by. The poverty is definitely a bit more apparent; the beggars and hawkers are out in full force, and if you so much as make eye contact for a split second, they will be badgering you to buy whatever they've got for a good five minutes. A lot of them are children, as they've realized a 12 year old girl is much harder to turn down than a grown man. They all speak good English too. They're also very good at guilt tripping you. I was eating lunch at one of the roadside markets at Angkor when a young girl came up to me with a basket of bracelets and postcards, as had already happened many times that day.

"Mister, you want to buy?"

"No, thank you."

"Where you from, mister?"

"Canada."

"Canada. Capital city Ottawa. You have a looney and a toonie. You have two languages, French and English. Prime Minister, Stephen Harper."

She proceeded to ask the Dutch girls where they were from, and rattled off Holland's entire royal family without hesitation, IN DUTCH. I didn't even know they had a royal family. I was impressed. I mean, she had clearly done this many, many times before, but it was impressive. She then asked me again if I wanted to buy some postcards. In French. I bought ten for a dollar.

I've got a couple hundred more pics of Angkor, but you'll have to wait until I get home because it's taking ages to upload.

From Phnom Penh, I'll arrange my visa for Vietnam before heading south to Sihanoukville to lie on a beach for a few days. Then it's off to Vietnam.

Keep the emails/comments coming, I like hearing from home!

Posted by sam.m. 21:13 Archived in Cambodia Comments (4)

Vientiane

The Lao Capital

semi-overcast 25 °C
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Well, I guess it's been a couple weeks since I last wrote an entry, so this one might drag on a bit. Time is beginning to go by extremely fast.

After leaving Sukhothai, I made my way to Chiang Mai, where I spent six days. The big draw in Chiang Mai is trekking, where you hike out for a couple days and visit hill tribes, ride elephants, sleep in the jungle, that sort of thing. I had every intention of doing this, but when I got there, every single guesthouse, restaurant, internet cafe, or bookstore seemed to be selling a trek here or a trek there, and I couldn't decide. I'm sure visiting a remote hill tribe is rewarding, but I can imagine how many times tourists have gone to these places, and it just seems like a big theme park. I got really turned off on the whole idea. That said, I never saw it for myself, so take that for what it's worth.

Basically, I just relaxed while I was in Chiang Mai. It's like a gentler, more manageable version of Bangkok, and I spent most of the days just walking around, eating and reading. On my second night there, I was eating dinner at my guesthouse, and I met a group of people who were in Chiang Mai for eight weeks taking a massage course. They had all just met each other, so it was pretty easy to fit right in. I ended up getting free massages a couple times a day, and we'd all go out at night to the bars and lounges around town. It was great. Here's a couple pics of Chiang Mai:

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The inner city of Chiang Mai is surrounded by a moat.

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A rooftop lounge we went to one night.

After Chiang Mai, I took a bus to Chiang Khong, which is the border town on the Mekong River before you enter Laos. I spent a night there, and in the morning took a boat across the river and got my Laos visa settled. Canadians have to pay $43, more than any other country! I was shocked. Even the Americans only pay $30. I had already arranged to take a slow boat down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang, a French colonial city that is a big tourist draw. The slow boat was great, six hours the first day, nine hours the second, with a stopover in Pak Beng. The scenery is great along the Mekong, and despite the boat being packed to the brim with tourists, locals and cargo ("cargo" meaning bags of rice, chickens and birds), it was still great.

Luang Prabang was fantastic. It was granted UNESCO World Heritage status not too long ago, which basically means it gets funding from the UN and any construction/reconstruction efforts are heavily regulated in order to protect the city's charm, which it has tons of. The old city area is filled with old French architecture, and there are cafes, shops and bakeries everywhere. There were tons of French tourists when I was there, and some locals speak French. Laos in general still has a lot of French influence. A couple pics:

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One of the main streets in Luang Prabang.

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This is overlooking Luang Prabang. Note all the smoke on the horizon. In order to prepare their crops, the locals use "slash and burn agriculture", where they burn what is left from the previous season. The ash provides some fertilization, and the crops are free of weeds. Unfortunately it leaves behind a haze of smoke, and the crops get weaker every year.

After a couple days in Luang Prabang, I took a bus to Vang Vieng, a tourist town in the middle of nowhere. The bus ride was a very slow, winding journey through the mountains, but there was some beautiful scenery. People come to Vang Vieng to go tubing down the river, go caving, trekking, and generally drink lots of alcohol. I went tubing on the first day and met three girls from Whistler and a guy from Minnesota (he was a Wild fan and still hates Bertuzzi and Cooke from the playoff series like four years ago). There are makeshift bars set up along the river, so it takes a good five hours to get all the way down. They sell buckets of lao lao (the national whiskey, tastes like paint thinner), coke and red bull for $3, so you can imagine what happened. There were beach volleyball nets and I teamed up with the North Americans against a bunch of Irish and Danish people. We won, but only because the Irish stayed true to form and drank excessively. They also have huge rope swings and zip lines you can jump from which are great fun, as long as you hold on. I didn't on one of them, which resulted in a nasty bellyflop and severe pain and bruising on my chest and stomach the next day. Not fun. But other than that, it was one of the best days of my trip. It was all the more fun because it was pouring rain the entire time, so we were all freezing cold by the time it was done.

Another quick thing about Vang Vieng. The main strip has lots of restaurants, and virtually all of them play re-runs of Friends. I was eating breakfast one morning, watching Friends, and I could hear two other episodes going on at the same time in the surrounding places. It's really strange. There's just a lot of weary tourists drinking and watching Friends.

That takes us to yesterday, when I took another bus to Vientiane, where I am now. Vientiane is the capital and still holds some French charm, but not like Luang Prabang. My original plan was to go through southern Laos and head into Cambodia, but then I found out they don't give Cambodian visas at the Laos-Cambodia crossing, and if I apply for my visa here in Vientiane, the visa starts on the date of issue, not when you enter Cambodia, so I will lose a week or so of travelling time in Cambodia. My other option is to head to Cambodia via Northeastern Thailand, as they give Cambodian visas at the crossings with Thailand. Does that all make sense? Good. I'll probably be in Vientiane for a few days to rest my bruised belly and decide what to do next.

If you've read this far, I applaud you. Do me a favour and send good vibes to my mom, as she has been in the hospital for the past three weeks with terrible back problems. She is due for surgery on Monday, so let's hope everything goes well.

That's all for now.

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Posted by sam.m. 13:41 Archived in Laos Comments (5)

Sukhothai

Ancient Ruins

sunny 30 °C

After spending one night in Ayutthaya (a fairly eventful night, as I'll explain), and touring the ruins around the city, I hopped on a bus and headed further north to Sukhothai. Sukhothai was also an ancient capital, and the ruins here are much more well preserved than Ayutthaya's. But first, my night in Ayutthaya.

I was having a meal at Tony's Place, the guesthouse I was staying at in Ayutthaya, and one of the cooks, an older lady, told me there was a party happening later that night at Chang House across the street. I had nothing else to do (obviously), so I decided to check it out. It started off quite slow, three Thais were playing American covers (Beatles, Clapton, classic rock stuff), and I was sipping a beer in the corner. Actually, the night before in Bangkok, I found a bar with a couple Thais playing basically the same covers, and they were fantastic. But back to Ayutthaya. Slowly the place started filling up with foreigners (the Thais call us farang), somewhere around 60 people, and it was getting rowdy. A guy sitting at the table in front of me saw the maple leaf on my bag and it turns out he as from Kelowna, but he hadn't been home in a couple years. He had met an English girl in Australia, and they were travelling with her brother. So I'm sitting there with two Brits and a Canadian, arguing about the superiority of hockey over football (soccer), and a mic started being passed around and people were doing some karaoke while the Thais played up front. It eventually became known that I could play guitar, and when I absolutely refused to sing, they very publicly urged me to get on stage and play something. The whole bar is egging me on at this point, so if I don't do it, I look like a total pansy. To make a long story short, I went on stage and played a couple songs (instrumental) to a bunch of drunk travellers. It probably helped that we were all drunk, because they loved it and I got a huge ego boost out of it. Good times!

On to Sukhothai. When I got off the bus at 1130pm last night, there was one other backpacker at the station that had arrived from Chiang Mai, which is further north. He was a German guy named Alex, and we ended up sharing a room (only $2 each!) and touring the ruins together today by bicycle. Probably one of the best days so far, just cruising around a rural area exploring ancient temples and ruins. I got sunburnt, but it was a fun day. I have a ton of pics and I really wish I could post a whole bunch, but this site only allows a certain amount per month. These hardly do it justice, these ruins were amazing and we spent five hours going through them all. Here are a few:

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This was one part of Wat Mahathat. A wat is a Buddhist temple. Wat Mahathat was huge in itself, but only a fraction of the ruins in Sukhothai.

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One part of the Sukhothai National Park.

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A row of Buddhas.

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This was in one of the Wats on the outskirts of town. It was huge.

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There was no way I could pass this up. Poo Restaurant in Sukhothai.

I'm staying in Sukhothai for one more night, and tomorrow morning I'm leaving for Chiang Mai, the major northern city. I'm planning on doing a trek, and I'll spend about a week there before I head into Laos.

Thanks again for the comments. Go Canucks Go!

Posted by sam.m. 16:33 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Back in Bangkok

Heading North

semi-overcast 32 °C
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After a long, 12 hour bus ride from Surat Thani, I'm back in Bangkok. I arrived at 530am. I wanted to stay longer on the island, but I knew I had to get going. The Thais that owned the guesthouse were very nice to me, they even made me a sandwich for the road and gave me a coconut shake for free before I left. They also took whoever was staying there snorkelling for free. We went up to the furthest northwest corner of the island to a place called Mae Haad, and it's got the best snorkelling on the island. The fish have no fear, huge schools of fish just swarm and swim around you. The area was very picturesque, there was a sandbar that connects a small island about 200m away. Didn't have my camera though.

I did take a couple pictures of sunsets while I was there. Even though it rained virtually every day there, it always seemed to clear up long enough to go snorkelling in the afternoon and for the sunset. After that, clouds would roll in bringing heavy thunderstorms. We got a lightning show every night.

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This was the view from my bungalow.

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This was down at the beach on the second last night. It was low tide, so all the rocks were exposed.

There was a couple from Winnipeg staying there who had been teaching English in Southern Thailand for the past six months. They had also been in Asia for over a year and didn't seem to be very interested in returning home. Pretty reclusive people though, hard to talk to. I hung out mostly with a German couple, a Danish couple, an Italian guy and a Belgium guy. Really nice people. The Italian was about as stereotypical as it gets. Very loud and animated, thick accent. I also met another Canadian couple from Victoria on the bus ride back to Bangkok. Like me, they were just starting out on their trip, going all over Southeast Asia. I sat next to an Israeli on the bus named Guy, and he taught the three of us a card game to pass the time.

I'm only spending one night in Bangkok this time, and I'm heading to a city called Ayutthaya tomorrow, about an hour and a half north of Bangkok. It's the old capital of Thailand and there's some ruins to see. After that, I'll go further north and eventually land in Chiang Mai, the major northern city, before I head into Laos.

I was planning on going to Burma near the end of my trip, but since that situation is a bit tense right now (I don't even think they're handing out visas anymore), I'm playing with the idea of going to India. It's super cheap there, but it all depends on how I feel come January, so we'll see.

I miss Vancouver! I was able to listen to the Canucks beat up on Edmonton last Saturday (Sunday morning for me), so that was a nice homesickness killer.

Hope everyone is well!

Posted by sam.m. 11:33 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

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