Saturday, 28 September 2013

Angkor Wat and Pub Street

Angkor Wat and Pub Street aren't two things that particularly go together - culture clashing with..rowdiness. 

Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple site and famous for being the largest religious site in the world. It was built back in the 12th century, with its name translating to 'Temple City'or 'City of Temples' - this being said, Angkor Wat is often thought to just be the main temple you will see on postcards and in books but there are also several other clusters of temples, including Angkor Thom which we also visited.

Angkor Wat has been the thing I've been most excited about since we started planning the trip - it looked breathtaking in pictures and even better in real life.

We left our hostel at 4.30am ish and surprisingly, after around three and a half hours sleep, felt strangely awake - definitely the excitement keeping me alert! It was weird getting a tuk tuk in the darkness, knowing it was the morning. Weirdly, it was very, very busy on the roads and the streets were already bustling with people. Possibly the saddest thing I've seen so far was that morning, what looked like hundreds of parents with their children queuing outside the children's hospital for dengue fever. It's one of those things, you know these illnesses are affecting a substantial number of people but until you see it with your own eyes, you don't truly appreciate just how hard some peoples lives are and also, the differences in peoples lives from country to country.

We carried on with our tuk tuk ride, which took quite a while, before arriving at the entrance/ticket office. Note: when you arrive here, make sure your tuk tuk driver waits for you - you cannot walk to Angkor Wat; IT IS MILES AWAY. A one day ticket to Angkor Wat costs $20, which may sound like a lot. It it truly is worth it. You also get a little pass with your photograph on, which is quite a nice keepsake (I think so anyway!) It took us a little longer than is anticipatied so started to get a little worried the sun would start coming up too quickly - in SE Asia, the sun rises in the blink of an eye!

We pulled up, hopped out the tuk tuk and already were met with the 'wow' factor - even though we couldn't see the full view of the main temple yet. We took a few photographs by the water but we're advised to move through quickly - the best photo opportunities are by the lake - here you can get a good angle for the sunset and see the reflection of the temple in the lake. We made our way there with a huge crowd of other tourists, although seemingly few compared to high season, and positioned ourselves by the water. I was already a little snap happy at this point but am thrilled with the pictures I managed to get as you can see several stages of the sun rising behind the temple.

We waited and around half past 6, the sun rose. It was and is a truly beautiful view and I feel so lucky to have seen it with my own eyes (I had an Angkor Wat desktop background on my PC whilst at work - my motivation for having to wait to go away). Everybody 'ooo''d and 'ahhh''d before realising, hey, it's nearly 7am and we've been awake for three hours - why have we not had breakfast yet!? We had made a friend, who took pictures of us all, who we named Angelina Jolie (because of her table at the food stand) who was luring us to eat breakfast at her table. So we did, chicken salad baguettes which were incredible. There's something weirdly satisfying about a baguette after eating rice and noodles for a couple of weeks. We enjoyed our breakfast, I kept sneaking off to capture some more 'arty' shots of the Temple - a man came over to wash his horse in the water, local children we're playing in the water; I was in my 'photographer' headspace. It was still so early and already swelteringly  hot and humid. We headed up the main path and had a wander (and took more pictures) around the main temple. I'll admit, in the heat, even that was hard work. We decided to also see Angkor Thom, which was equally as beautiful but with a different style of architecture.

We trapsed around, struggling in the heat, and by around 1pm, we decided to call it quits, tuk tuk it back to the hostel and get straight in that swimming pool for a well deserved cool down!

A big night out was on the cards that evening, so we decided we needed to relax, slowly get ready and predrink at the hostel. Our New Zealand bar man, who was super friendly and keen to advice us on things to see in Cambodia, made us two pitchers of cocktails - which should definitely we called the dark horse. Ridiculously tasted but gets you from sober to very drunk in the space of about an hour. We headed out two bars - Angkor What? And Temple Bar. I'll be honest, the events of the evening are a little hazy but the next day, I woke up feeling a little worse for wear. I did bump into my friend from home which was GREAT! And unexpected! Only in Asia! A huuuuge lie in occurred in order to recuperate for our cooking class that afternoon! 

But I lived to tell the tale and can now make a three course Cambodian meal! I'll fill you in properly once I settle in Koh Rong  - we left Phnom Phen yesterday (and I still need to tell you about that - I'm having too much fun!) - very excited for some time in the sunshine! 

We head to Vietnam in around four days - any suggestions?


Arriving In Siem Reap

As you'll all know from my last post, I'm now in Cambodia. We left Koh Phangan on Saturday 21st, which feels like weeks and weeks ago now! Our journey from Phangan to Siem Reap was ridiculously long and particularly grim for the most part; it took us around 32 hours in total and involved a boat, several buses, a train, 2 taxis and at least 3 tuk tuks - hell! We got a boat from Phangan to the dock nearest Surathani, a 10 (probably nearer 12) hour coach to Bangkok (the absolute worst part -'I could have cried after about 5 hours due to uncomfortableness/tiredness). We arrived in Bangkok around 5am, got a tuk tuk over to the train station and waited around an hour for our train, which took around 6 hours to get near the Thai border. We then got another tuk tuk to the border office and felt slightly relived to be nearing Cambodia, especially since it was over 24 hours since we had set off on this journey! 

We reached the border office at Poipet and were told to fill in visa forms, hand over passports, passport pictures (only one!) and asked to wait. We were told we couldn't pay in dollars (USD), which I know from reading a million and one blogs and travel guides that that is completely false. Stage one of the lying Thai man. We were then told the visa would cost around £24 (around $39) stage two of the lying Thai. We've since been told that this is a high price - which I was already aware of after all the research I had done. As we had made sure to use most of our Baht up, we then had to find an ATM. Mr Thai man conveniently informed us there was one to the side of the border office, so we went to withdraw. Meet stage three, Mr Thai man assured us we wouldn't be able to use dollars for the majority of Cambodia, that they preferred Riel (Cambodia's currency) and that we would need to take our baht to be converted. By this point, I started to think, is everything I've read a load of rubbish? I knew it wasn't but you arrive there and think shit, if I argue, are they going to deny me a visa? So we went along with it, I didn't want to risk one or all of us being denied a visa. So we withdrew our money, and were given our forms back. Mr Thai then arranged a taxi for us (a later stage to be shared of his lies) and escorted across the border. We had to join a couple of queues, more pictures, finger prints take and finally we saw we had arrived...

From here, we got a free bus to the taxi station, also housing Mr Thai's currency exchange - convenient! We were then practically millionaires - 4100 riel is $1, 5100 is £1 (or there abouts); I couldn't even shut my purse anymore! 5 of us then crammed in a tiny car and drove for around 2 hours to our hostel in Siem Reap. Mr Thai then had the cheek to ask for a tip for escorting and helping us, even though we know he ripped us off (and have since spoken to a number of other travellers about this - some have been conned, some confirming we had been). We hopped in this taxi, drove for a long time, before turning down a road which  seemed very 'local' - here we were told to get out and our taxi driver informed us he wasn't willing to take us any further despite the fact we paid to be taken right to our hostel. At this point, we were at the end of our tether and convinced a tuk tuk driver to take us to our hostel free of charge - how we managed, I'm not sure.

So when we arrived at our hostel, Downtown Siem Reap, we were all VERY happy! It looked great and had some funky art work as well as a pool. This hostel cost around £3 a night and I can definitely recommend it! I absolutely love this hostel, not only are the rooms great, the staff helpful and it's a 5 minute walk to Pub Street, it's also the most sociable one we have been in so far and the food is pretty darn good (and reasonably priced - a breakfast was around $2). The hostel is English owned, and I honestly think that showed - it was a different standard of hostel compared to those we had experienced in Thailand; the rooms were very English looking with fixed bunk beds and a fair few English options on the menu.

The first night we had a wander out down Pub Street (which looked GREAT and it was obvious straight away the nightlife would be good!) we found a nice little place, had some barbecue food and corn then headed down to the night market for a look around. Everything is very similar there to the souvenirs and clothing you can buy in Thailand. The only difference? The Cambodians are a lot more pushy when it comes to selling you things. We called it a night pretty early after having two days of broken sleep!

The following day we decided to had a lie in, chill by the pool then head out for a few drinks and to watch some traditional Aspara dancing at Temple Bar (which, underneath, was a club which looked like a lot of fun!)! The food at Temple Bar was amazing - I had shrimp Amok, Cambodia's national dish. Without meaning to sound ignorant, the dancing got a little bit repetitive after a while so we decided to treat ourselves to a foot massage and pedicure! It still astounds me how cheap this is - $6 and they do the an amazing job AND free beers at this one! 

We headed back relatively early again (I promise we weren't this boring for the whole holiday - I've had far too many buckets, followed by hangovers!) as we decided to go to Angkor Wat for sunrise, which meant up at 4am and out by half past. Angkor Wat deserves a post all of its own - incredible!

Moral of this post - be wary of border scams! I was very sure we were being conned but started it doubt myself. Read up, be sure of the procedure and don't get caught out!

Also, I've been living of banana shakes - amazing! I'm going to be the size of a house soon!


Friday, 27 September 2013

Thailand In Pictures

Prepare yourselves for a very extensive post (sorry!) but some friends/family can't see these on Facebook. These pictures are from Bangkok, to Phuket, to Phi Phi and ending up in Koh Phangan. I've now been in Cambodia since Sunday and am absolutely loving it! We've visited Siem Reap for Angkor Wat, a night out on Pub Street and a trip to a Cambodian village which I will blog about properly tomorrow!

So here we go, our trip to Thailand...

Unfortunately my Full Moon ones are all from other peoples iPhones as we were told it was safer to not take anything like that out with us! Which is a shame but here are a few: