Archives for posts with tag: Thailand

May 12, 2012

I cross the border from Thailand to Malaysia, I don’t have any problems but as I’m in line to get my stamp I see a guy try to run across the border at full speed, a cop chasing after him, I don’t see the take down but, after getting my stamp, I see him on the ground with 4 officers around him, hands tied behind and a knee in his back. Later I see him, hands now free, being escorted back to the Thai side. His hands in prayer and bowing to the guards, I think they may have actually let him go.

I arrive in Georgetown on the island of Penang, I had no expectations or ideas about this place and was in fact only planning a quick visit as I wanted beach time and was planning on hoofing over to the east coast Perhentian Islands as fast as possible, but I unexpectedly fell in love. It’s a fantastic town, I stayed in Little India at the helpful and clean Civilian’s Inn on Love Lane. Penang is an old city with a great mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures. And the FOOD, ohmygod so good! After I’ve gotten myself settled in I go for a wander through town, photo happy. I have a map for a walking tour kindly provided by the good folks at the guesthouse and I try to see as much as I can. Chinatown pharmacies, an historic fort, the waterfront, shopping, and more. I feast on an Indian dinner and have an early night.

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May 9 to 11 (or so), 2012.

We’re making our way towards Malaysia now, first stop Trang. Bus ride in the morning and we arrive in the early afternoon. We search out a guesthouse, find one and I’m hit by another straw in my basket. There is initially some discussion about the price and whether we want to pay that much so I go back inside and start trying to negotiate a better price when one of our group comes in and walks right in front of me, interrupting, and says to the clerk that they’ll take a room, the “best one please”. I’m literally shocked speechless by this, I was trying to get us all a better deal and these actions have basically just killed any chance of that. However I don’t want to raise a fuss so I try to ignore it and we all go to our rooms. We walk around the town later. I want away from them now so I plan to head to the train station to find out about options and to my surprise everyone wants to come with me, fine. I figure out my options (it turns out a bus is my best bet) and we spend the afternoon wandering around town. It’s not very touristed which is a nice change in Thailand. We find a market and everyone disperses without a word of warning, one minute we are all together and then we’re not. The market is a warren of small shops and stalls, once you lose someone you never know if you’ll run into them again. Surprisingly we do and actually all manage to go for coffee together. We also manage to keep it together somewhat when we decide to go for dinner at a street food stall area, to me this feels like luck more than planning, but at this point I really don’t care too much, I’m over it. I take an early night as I plan on leaving early the next morning, I’m headed off on my own to Hat Yai, my last stop in Thailand.

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I arrive in Hat Yai and find a place to spend a night, it’s kind of dismal but super cheap so it’ll do. I spend the rest of my day wandering the town, I find a massive night market and take obvious pictures of food and other pictures less obviously – of Muslim women selling all sorts of food and Nurses in full starched white regalia buying food on their dinner break from a nearby hospital. It’s twilight and I take a wrong turn, I end up on a street that feels a little too empty and male mechanic dominated for comfort, it’s quite a long street and thankfully I make it to the corner without any incident. I arrive back to the area around my guesthouse and find something to eat just as the rain comes again. Monsoon season is on in full in Thailand, I’m so ready for some unadulterated sunshine again. Malaysia here I come!

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May 1 – 9 (or so), 2012

So, bidding a fond see ya later to Ko Phanghan (because I’ll never be able to say goodbye forever to bottle beach) we headed down to Krabi, an early morning ferry and then a bus ride which I slept through most of (typical for me). Arrived in Krabi in the early afternoon, had some lunch and then I headed off to find a Doctor as those bites were not looking good. I found the clinic right next to a small Buddhist temple so I signed up for an appointment and then wandered through the temple area while I waited.

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Got in to see the Doctor and he promptly informed me that I’d probably had an allergic reaction and that the bites were infected but “don’t worry, don‘t worry” he’d seen it before (probably sand flies/fleas) and I’d be fixed up in no time. He prescribed me a cream to help with the itchiness and a  course of antibiotics (five (five!) pills twice a day for five days). God knows what they were but it did actually work and I am fine now with only a very small scar where the worst bite was which I am sure will fade fairly quickly. I spent the rest of that day wandering around the town (central food market, big park etc.) and then met up with the others back at our hotel in time to head out for dinner.

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We went down to the waterfront for a street food extravaganza. Massive selection of yummy things to eat and we all pigged out. The highlight for me was a crepe made fresh in front of me and sprinkled with lime and sugar, so delicate and delicious I wanted 10 more but keep myself under control and savored just the one. I liked Krabi, it was the furthest south I had been so far in Thailand and I started to see the first signs of Muslim culture, some women in headscarves, and a few mosques. This is the land of fantastic limestone karsts and cliffs, some rising straight up out of the water, stalagmites and stalactites, really stunning scenery which for some reason I neglected to photograph. 😦

The guys were getting itchy to climb so the next morning we left Krabi for the short longtail boat ride to Railay and then on to neighboring Ton Sai Beach. The boys found a way to climb a (treacherous) path over the headland between the beaches but I wasn’t even going to attempt it with my pack on and bad knees so I decided to pay for a longtail to take me around, Brit and Kyla decided to join me. We hummed and hawed about the price for a bit and then made the decision to go just as a downpour hit. For the 10 minutes it took us to get around the headland in wave tossed seas it continued to dump down, we arrived on the beach pretty wet and ran for shelter, only to have the rain stop about 2 minutes later. We found accommodation (pretty slim choices) and then headed onto the beach for some bouldering in an overhanging area that had remained dry. I went along to watch and was fascinated by a Thai guy who climbed in his bare feet! He was really good, and offered good beta (advice) to the boys. I wasn’t feeling super keen about the area, there was lots of rain in the forecast, tons of mosquitoes, I couldn’t have drinks because of the antibiotics and I didn’t really have much that I could do there as it was so climbing focused, so the next day I headed off to a nearby town, Ao Nang. Turned out to be VERY touristy so I didn’t do too much there except wander around, internet and read. No mosquitoes though and a lovely clean bathroom. It’s good to have a little “luxury” down time now and again, especially when traveling with a bunch of other people.

The next day everyone turned up again and we decided to head up to Khao Sok National Park the day after. It was kind of a backwards step in geography going north but an opportunity to potentially do some trekking and see some rivers and waterfalls. In my honest opinion I think it was a waste of time and money. The river was somewhat pretty but the waterfalls were mere bumps in the river, more like rapids really, and the hike itself was leech infested. My first experience with leeches and not something I would care to repeat without proper boots and pants on. We walked about a kilometer before we noticed them, from then on it was constant vigilance and I could no longer enjoy the hike. We got about 2-1/2 kms in and turned off towards a river, I didn’t want to sit and rest as I could see the ground literally crawling with leeches, I couldn’t even stand still and decided I’d had enough, I wasn’t enjoying this at all. I left everyone there and headed back. Honestly I went as fast as I could, running at points, on tip toe up hills, basically doing my best to never let my feet touch the ground for more than a split second. I imagined my shoes to be full of leeches, and constantly checked my legs, so miserable. I finally made it off the trail, in very speedy time I might add, and back at the park headquarters I stripped of my shoes and socks and was surprised to discover….nothing. It was all in my head, I felt kind of stupid then but at the same time so very relived! I scooted home for a very thorough shower and my involuntary shivers of disgust finally stopped.

On a personal note, I’m finding traveling with this group a little difficult as there’s not a lot of communication going on about what’s planned next, we don’t seem to work as a team very well. In the past when I have traveled in groups everyone is very courteous of the others, if someone needs to stop for a pee everyone waits or attempts to find a bathroom for the person in need, everyone tries to eat at the same time so they can be together and at the same place usually by mutual agreements. Basically we keep track of each other and pace ourselves as one unit, there is an effort made to keep the others in sight in a crowded area, if ones person stops to look at something the others notice and either stop or slow their pace to keep the others included. When finding a hotel everyone works together to get the best price and then makes the decision together about whether they think it’s a good place to stay. Maybe it’s because they are 2 couples but I’m feeling really left out much of the time. Often it’s as if I don’t really even exist as part of the planning and decision making process, and quite frankly it’s becoming hurtful. I know from past experience I am not difficult to travel with, I can go with the flow very easily but in this case I feel uncomfortable, uneasy and unheard. I’m not really sure how to go about addressing this issue except that it’s likely I will head off on my own soon. I’m saddened by this as I had thought it would be great traveling with these guys, with people from home, but it hasn’t really been so great for me I am sorry to say. We’re all headed in the same direction so I’m sure we’ll run into each other again, I hope that when that happens a little more consideration for others will be shown.

Headed back in a southerly direction next, the plan is to move onwards to Trang the next morning……

April 14, 2012.

Arrived in Bangkok in the middle of Songkran, Thailand’s New Years celebrations. This entails much throwing of water on everybody, buckets, water pistols, bottles, hoses, and balloons, anything that could possibly hold water enabling you to throw it at another is used. In addition you might be smeared with a liquidy-paste (sort of the consistency of a chunky milkshake) made of clay and water, or in some cases, talcum powder and water. When it’s the real clay it’s almost like a facial mud, you feel a tingling and imagine your pores tightening nicely. However to arrive on Khao San road in the midst of this, at high noon, carrying everything you own on your back, well it’s a surprise to say the least, especially when you thought Songkran was next weekend.

I successfully navigate the way to the hotel I want to stay in, successfully meaning I make it, albeit soaking wet with a facefull of mud. I can’t help but laugh and hope my electronics make it through ok, what else could one do? People are having a great time, I may be jet-lagged and overheating but the fun is contagious and I’m laughing out loud at the antics. Everyone is in on it, kids, teens and young people especially but there are some grannies playing as well with playful glints in their eyes, super-soakers pumped and primed, and terrific aim.

I shower the mud off and take a short nap and then venture out for some dinner, not too far from the hotel, I want to attempt to stay dry(ish). The place I choose has a table of Thai girls up in the front, right on the street, one of them has the most piercing scream that I have heard and uses it a lot as she and her friends take part in the water wars with their young male counterparts who are across the narrow street. It makes for a noisy meal, but entertaining. I’m beat, and head back to my hotel where I make a valiant effort to stay awake reading but catch myself nodding off by 9:30, I give in to sleep around 10 and woke up the next day at 8am, guess I needed it.

April 15, 2012

Woke up and finally made up my mind, I’m not staying in Bangkok to meet up with Alex and Brit, I need some time on the beach. I book my escape for early in the evening, a bus to Champhon and a slow boat to Ko Phangan, its back to Bottle Beach for me. I spend the rest of my day getting a massage and a pedicure and emailing. I hope A and B will meet up with me on KP but for now I’m recognizing that every fiber of my body and mind is calling out for rest and relaxation and the opportunity to get into a schedule of exercise and eating well, Bottle Beach is the place to do that, and get my tan back as well.

May 1, 2012.

I spent some wonderful time on Bottle Beach, hanging out with my friend Geoff among others, and started getting the tan back. I started to feel normal again after about 3 or 4 days. Alex, Brit, Josh and Kyla showed up after I had been there about a week and we stayed on for 3 more days. Our first night together was Geoff’s last as he headed home to England after 3 months at BB, we sent him off in style though he has since written me and cursed me out for the late night and multiple buckets. What I do know is that I woke up on the floor of my bungalow, just inside the door, at some point in the middle of the night and I really didn’t understand why my bed felt so hard.

On our last night Alex and sprinkled some of my mom’s ashes into the ocean and sent off a fire lantern into the night sky. It was lovely, I think mom would have liked it and it was good to share that with Alex.

The next morning we headed off by longtail boat to another part of the island that I have never been to before, Thong Nai Pan Yai, we spent 2 nights there and on the second day rented scooters to go check out some of the nearby spots. We visited a waterfall and cruised into the town where the ferry docks, Thong Sala. The roads were a bit treacherous at points, dirt road with a scattering of gravel, it’s doable until you get to the downhill parts. Alex was doubling Brit, Josh was doubling Kyla , and I had my own bike. I was nervous at first as it had been a while since I had driven one but I pulled it off. Josh and Kyla weren’t so lucky and took a spill coming downhill on the way back, Josh was fine but Kyla got pretty scraped up, nothing broken though for which we are all thankful. I think the most damage was to their wallets for the cost of repairs to the bike.

We moved to Hat Yao and spent a night at a place that I may designate one of the worst I have ever been to (and that is saying a lot), surly staff and filthy rooms, with many massive cockroaches. I hung out on the beach that afternoon and ended up covered in multiple bites from an unknown bug that have proven to be incredibly itchy. The next morning these bites had swollen up to look like half a golf ball was buried under my skin, attractive AND itchy, not my favorite moment. Got some cream and some antihistamine to take the swelling and itchy down and am doing better now though still not a pretty sight. We also promptly moved the next morning to a much nicer place, which is where we are now. Having a “chill” day, reading, computing etc.

Tomorrow we move onwards to Krabi so they can all do some rock climbing. I’m going with them but will likely wander off on my own for a few days to explore some nearby areas as I cannot climb anymore (bad knees). We’ll meet up again somewhere in there and work our way down to Malaysia around the same time. I have to be out of Thailand by the 13th but Alex and Brit have until the 16th, so we’ll see how that plays out.

I’m doing well, I feel pretty good and it’s nice to be traveling with these guys, makes a change for me as I am so used to doing it all on my own so letting go of the reins is a pleasure. The only drawback would be feeling slightly out of it sometimes as they are 2 couples and I am just me, but it is a rare feeling and to be expected.

Originally published on facebook – February 5, 2011 at 8:36pm ·

Phnom Phen to Sihanoukville  – Day 60 – 65

We leave in the afternoon of the same day that we learn of the bridge tragedy, headed down to Sihanoukville by bus It only takes 1-1/2 more hours then the promised 4, not bad. Sihanoukville is renowned as a touristy, party, beach town, and that’s pretty much what we do there. Frequenting various beaches by day and assorted bars and restaurants at night. There is also a great selection of seafood bbq every night on the beach, cheap and tasty.  The main Sihanoukville beach is extremely crowded, not a spare patch of sand anywhere, everything is covered over by beach chairs which we are welcome to use as long as we purchase something from the restaurants attached. Even before we hit the beach we are swarmed by teenagers trying to sell us various “crafts” (mostly woven bracelets or beads). They won’t take no for an answer which is entertaining at first but quickly becomes straight up harassment. You say “no” they say, “maybe later”, “but no”, “ok but when you buy you make sure you buy only from me ok?”, “but I’m not going to buy anything”, “ok, but buy from me ok?”, “uh…no”, ” ok I’ll come back later”, “no don’t”….but they do anyways and you have to go through the whole dialogue again.

Once you are set up on your (purchased) beach chair and have, temporarily at least, rid yourself of teenaged salespeople, you think you’re in the clear and pull out a book, stare at the waves, shut down the mind for a second, try to get in relax beach mode. Just as you start to get “there” you are approached by people in such dire shape, you must either cry, empty your wallet or harden your heart. People missing arms or both legs or (hardest), watching a 4 year old girl leading her male relative around by a stick, he’s blind and sings for money, as soon as she let’s go of the stick he stops moving and she comes up and oh so softly, shyly asks for money. There are so many, I can’t give to everyone, so I give to no one and feel that tourist guilt. I am a privileged person, no doubt.

On day 64 we book a trip to Bamboo Island. It’s an all day tour with stops at a couple of other islands, snorkeling is the main focus, with opportunities to lay on the beach and/or have a short hike. A lunch of freshly caught bbq fish in baguette sandwich is provided (and really yummy). I try snorkeling for the first time. Having been pretty scared of the ocean up until a few years ago (yet still retaining a very healthy respect for it) this is a big step for me and I’m a bit nervous. Our first stop is offshore of a small island and is in deep water, it’s a bit tricky, the water is a little bumpy and I’m not able to get my mask on without it leaking badly so don’t get to see anything before we move on. The next stop is Bamboo Island, where we actually pull right up on the beach, it’s roasting hot and we’re sweating bullets quickly. I give Julie and Julien a mini yoga lesson because they’ve never done it before and want to try and then we hit the water with our masks. This time I’m able to get the mask fitted properly and get my first glimpses of life underwater. It creeps me out a bit, but actually I’m surprised to learn I like it…albeit cautiously and in water that isn’t over my head when standing. At one point something long and brown floats into my field of vision from the side and completely takes me by surprise, I thrash wildly in the water attempting to escape the mysterious sea creature I’ve encountered, heart pounding…I realize it’s my hair and have to stand up I’m laughing so hard at myself. Once up I realize Julie is right beside me laughing as well, she saw the whole thing. After lunch we take our snorkels over to the other side of the island and explore a little there. There is a tree with a whole bunch of flip flops stapled to its’ trunk, they must be a collection of all the single ones that end up as garbage on the beaches, I like it.

On day 65 after dinner together everyone gets on the bus to head up to Siem Reap. I stay in Sihanoukville as I am going to explore a couple other places on the southern coast before heading that way. I take myself out to a movie (The Social Network) which is playing in a “theater” it is a full size screen in a room that has pappas chairs and couches to lounge in, beer and other beverages and snacks available, and you can order pizza to be delivered, we need a place like this at home.

Sihanoukville to Kampot – day 66

I catch a 8 am minibus to Kampot, I get the very front seat (a first) it’s nice because I can see out the front window and nobody is squished up against me, however I suppose I don’t benefit quite as much much as I could as I sleep pretty much the whole way. In Kampot I have a discussion with a tuk tuk driver about the best way to get to the Phnom Chhnork caves, he swears it’s best to do it by tuk tuk (of course) I’m leaning towards renting a bike but let him talk me into the tuk tuk because I’m lazy. Wrong choice. The first part of the road is paved, no problem, but after that we turn onto a dirt road, very pot-holed, if one wheel doesn’t hit a pothole the other one will. So for an excruciating 30 minutes I am bounced, jostled, slammed and bone-jarred, my spine feels compressed within the first 2 minutes and I’m pissed at the driver for talking me into this mode of transport and at myself for falling for it.

Once we reach the cave my driver pays a boy 1,000 riel (about $0.25) to be my guide through the caves. This boy is amazing, his English skills are excellent, he knows some neat facts about the caves and the surrounding area (where he lives) and is super sweet. He looks about 10 but is actually 14, I just want to feed him for the next 5 years and then send him to college, he is so bright. He shows me the caves, pointing out formations of rock that have names. Once we are at the top of the path through the caves he asks me if I want to climb down by a different route, over rocks and such…uh..duh…ya…of course I do! So we set out, rock climbing, steeper and a bit more treacherous then I imagined, me in my running shoes and him in his plastic flip flops. He’s apparently part mountain goat as he hops nimbly from one rock to another, barely using his hands, I on the other hand, feel like an ungainly oaf and sweaty besides, but he is sweet and patient and helpful. Most importantly he gets me through it safely. I give him a dollar tip and my big thanks, he tells me I am a very nice lady and I should come back in 6 years to marry him, lol! I have to brave the spine disintegrating tuk tuk ride back into town, ouch.

For the afternoon and evening I wander around the town, it is built along a river and the riverfront plays a large part in the characteristic of the town. Many of the colonial style buildings have been restored or at least well maintained. This is a quiet little place, there is not much going on but I find a bar for dinner that has a pool table and I hang out there for the evening. On my walk back to my hotel 4 dogs come charging out of a dark alley right towards me, barking furiously, scary! I turn around and threaten them with my, ever present, 1.5 liter water bottle. This causes then to stop their charge but they follow me for a couple blocks barking the whole time, it’s quite unnerving and I’m shaking with adrenaline.

Kampot to Kep to Rabbit Island – day 67

It’s only about an hour bus ride from Kampot to Kep where I buy a boat ticket and hang around the town for an hour or so until the boat is ready to leave. It’s about a 1/2 hour ride in a large longtail on bumpy water to get to Rabbit Island. Rabbit Island is basically for tourists, there are about 6-8 guesthouses along the same stretch of beach, each guesthouse provides 2 types of (quite rustic) bungalows, with bathroom or without, and have a restaurant. There being no real differences between the guesthouses I choose one and spoil myself with the attached bathroom, squat toilet and all. I spend the rest of this day and the next (day 68) chilling on the beach, there is no nightlife on the island and seems to attract mostly couples so it’s a nice opportunity to get some alone time after being with other people so much. Restorative, I like it. I could have happily stayed here another day or 2 but the rest of Cambodia beckons. Onward.

Rabbit Island to Phnom Phen – day 69 / Phnom Phen to Siem Reap- day 70

I leave the island around noon, catch a bus in Kep and am back in Phnom Phen around 6pm. I return to the Okay Guesthouse and run into Julie there, she’s just arrived back from Siem Reap and fills me in about some things there. We spend the night hanging out together, both of us are moving in different directions the next day. I book my bus ticket from PP to Siem Reap leaving at 1:30pm. I plan to spend the morning at the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda complex as it was closed when I was in PP previously due to the water festival. The complex is quite near the guesthouse so the next morning I give myself a couple hours to explore.

I enter the Palace area first, the grounds are impeccably manicured, not a leaf out of place. The buildings are beautiful, inside and out, with lovely roof tiles of rich gold, forest green, and royal blue. The main building that we are allowed to see seems to be a formal receiving hall. We are not supposed to take pictures in here but I sneak a few anyways. I love the colour scheme, it is mostly gold tones. The walls are painted a pale blue with a detailed hand-painted repeat pattern of 2 tones of gold, it looks so perfect you would think it’s stenciled but on closer inspection I realize it is not. The window shutters are a (slightly darker then fire hydrant) red tone with another, simpler gold pattern painted on. There are massive chandeliers spaced along the mural ceiling. The floor is made of 6×6 tiles that form a repeating pattern with a French Colonial feel, this pattern is duplicated onto the massive carpet that runs through the center of the room leading down to the receiving area. This area is all golds, throne, couches, chairs, tables and lamps, all gilded and glittering. It all sounds a little gaudy but surprisingly was not, it was quite stunning and lovely, very delicate and fresh, a sumptuous vision.

On my way towards the Silver Pagoda I see a building that is covered in scaffolding and draped in that green mesh fabric (what is that anyways?). Curious, I poke my head inside and see a pretty little building in an obviously French style. Aha, this must be the Napoleon Pavilion. The pavilion was originally erected for Empress Eugenie for the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869. Afterwards Emperor Napoleon III presented the building to King Norodom. The building was reassembled at the royal palace in 1876 and is used today as an art gallery. It’s obviously under restoration which is good, it needs it, but is still quite charming. I creep inside the drapery and take photos, I suppose I could have gone inside the actual building, there was no one to stop me, but caution prevented me.

I cross through a gateway to reach the Silver Pagoda side. The gate leads to a courtyard filled with large potted bonsai. There is a small temple that I enter, on the alter is a statue of a goat lying down, first time I’ve seen that, I don’t know the significance but I like it. Around all the edges of the courtyard is a covered walkway the walls of which are covered with what appear to be quite old painting, the are faded and worn away and depict many different types of scenes, from everyday activities to royal processions to religious procedures. There are a couple of large stupas and a big statue of Napoleon of a horse.

Inside the Silver Pagoda (once again photos not allowed, once again I sneak some) it is much like many other pagodas I have visited, with a few exceptions. Firstly the floor is literally made of silver plated tiles (hence the pagodas name) they are quite pretty with delicate etchings of fluer-de-lis but in an unfortunate state of disrepair even though most of the floor is covered over with cheap red carpet. Secondly there is a massive amount of wealth in this room, the main focus in fact is an almost life size Buddha made of solid gold, he weighs in at about 90kgs and is covered in 2086 diamonds, the largest of which is 25 carats, holy bling! Behind him on a massive gold coloured pedestal is a small (about 16-18″) seated Buddha that is made of Baccarat Crystal, though due to its greenish colour I would have guessed jade. There are cases edging the room filled with various gifts to the pagoda, mostly small statues with various precious adornments.

Back in the courtyard and on my way out of the complex I find a crazy beautiful tree (Shorea Robusta Roxb). It looks like a normal tree but has these amazing flowers growing vine-like out of the trunk. They smell absolutely divine and perhaps they are considered so because at the base of each of the trees there is a Buddha shrine.

I’m out of time so head back to the guesthouse. I’m super glad I took the time to come back to PP and see the Palace and Pagoda, I could have gone straight from Kep to Siem Reap but what I saw today was well worth the stopover. I arrive in Siem Reap and meet up with Marco, Gianni and Aaron all of whom I met on Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam. We have dinner (“happy” pizza, but it didn’t work) and an early night, heading off to Angkor Archeological Site in the early morning.

Siem Reap (Angkor Archeological Site) – day 71

In the early morning of day 71 I meet up with Marco and Gianni, we rent bikes and are off towards the temple complex. We buy our passes, Marco and I both choose 3 days, Gianni goes for just one day. The first temple we come across is the famous Angkor Wat, it is such a recognizable and iconic vision that there is no mistaking what it is. Marco and I stop to take pictures of it from across the moat and Gianni rides on ahead. We promptly lose him for the rest of the day. It’s a good thing we bought those 3 day passes as we spend over 3 hours inside Angkor Wat alone. Mind you it’s a massive complex, the temple itself is 1km square and then there are all the smaller outlying buildings, bridges and grounds. Because it’s our first temple we probably explore almost every inch, we climb up stairs and down, wander through hallways like mazes, walk along the outside ledges, make prayers to Buddhas (mostly headless thanks to the Khamer Rouge) and donations for the incense provided and of course, we take an absolute ton of photos. You can (and we do) climb on almost everything, anywhere, unless they have closed it due to unsafe conditions. This must increase the rate of erosion, after all it is predominately sandstone which is pretty soft, so I wonder if at some point in the future more rules will come into effect, glad I have visited now when I can reach out and touch the detail of the carvings, run my fingers along the surface and enjoy the experience tactily as well as visually. Marco is super fun to be with and I really enjoy his exuberance and enthusiasm as we explore. I am so pleased to have run into him and his brother again. Both of them are so positive and energetic, it’s really lovely. We climb upstairs to the highest (and most sacred) part of Angkor Wat, they make me cover my shoulders here, the only rules I encounter in all three days of exploration, and the view is amazing, all jungle and trees, dotted here and there you can see bits of other temples.

After Angkor Wat we pedal up the road a couple more kms and pass through the South Gate of Angkor Thom. Leading up to the gate is a bridge with (mostly headless) Buddhas lining it. The top of the Gate is crowned with 4 giant faces, each one pointing in one of the cardinal directions. It is just a taste of what is to come as we approach Bayon. There are 37 towers still standing here, most of them are crowned with the same 4 carved faces. This might sound repetitive but each face is slightly different, the subtleties keep me interested. I think Bayon may have been one of my favorite temples, there is something wonderfully mysterious about it. We can climb right up to the faces and touch them. There is debate about who (either a God or King) the face is meant to represent but whoever he is his face(s) exudes a lovely serenity and strength. I adore this place.

We spend an hour or two at Bayon and then head over to Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset (along with hundreds of other people it turns out). On the way we are distracted by a couple of elephants, for $10 each we could get a ride on them but instead we just chose to say hello. I’ve never met an elephant before and am excited but once up close I realize I’m intimidated, they are big. Slowly I am able to get in close and give a snuggle, I also get sneezed on, yuck. Marco is not so shy and gets right in there. We feed them bananas and they get greedy, trunks groping us and searching, reaching until we give them them all. We tear ourselves away and resume our mission to catch the sunset. We leave our bikes at the bottom and hike up the hill and then the many tall yet shallow stairs of the temple to reach the top. We find a spot amongst the crowds and befriend a group of young monks. We chat with them and watch the sun go down, it’s not a fabulous sunset but still a once in a lifetime experience.

Back on the bikes we head towards town, it gets dark quickly we don’t have lights and there is a lot of traffic. We hitch rides by hanging onto the sides of tuk tuks, it’s easy, there is so much traffic that we are going fairly slow, we let go if they get up too much speed. We make it back to town, finally find Gianni who met a Japanese girl and spent the day exploring with her, we get cleaned up and head out for dinner meeting up with Aaron on the way. We find a group of street stalls near Pub Street and the Old Market area, it super cheap. A couple of young boys come along looking mournful and asking for food. They are sweet when they are asking but after I agree to buy dinner for them and order it they start dishing a bit of attitude, nice. We head to Pub Street and the Angkor What? bar for a few drinks before turning in for an early night, Marco and I are going to see sunrise over Angkor Wat in the morning, taking a tuk tuk this time to be able to cover more ground on our second day.

Siem Reap (Angkor Archeological Site) – day 72

I don’t want to be redundant and bore you with tons of description of temples here so, briefly and in order – sunrise viewed from the grounds of Angkor Wat (unspectacular unfortunately), Banteay Kdei (small, looks like it’s made out of red mud bricks, pretty eroded), Sras Srang (very large water reservoir), Ta Phrom (trees growing out of the stones, another of my favorite places, in the top 4 for sure), Pre Rup, East Mabon, Banteay Samre, Rolous Group (Bakong, Preah Ko, Lolei). Once again it’s lovely to explore with Marco, fun, lots of photos taken. But feel pretty “templed out” by the end of it. I decide to take the next day off from temples and explore a bit of Siem Reap.

Back in town that evening we all meet up and head out for a crazy night on Pub Street. We meet tons of people, many buckets are consumed, dancing on tables ensues and it ends at a very late/early hour. Leaving the bar with Aaron, who has kindly offered to walk me home as it’s quite late, we are mobbed by a group of kids. They grab my arms and pin them behind me, at first I don’t realize what’s going on, thinking they are just playing around and then I realize, they are trying to reach inside my bra where I’ve stashed my money for safety, uh no. I feel like the hulk as (with mighty effort) I pull my arms from their grasp and protect my chest. Aaron is distracted as they have stolen a t-shirt he had won at the bar from his pocket and are trying for his wallet next. We escape them but both feel quite unnerved, we can barely process what just happened, disbelieving, were we really just mugged by 8 year olds? Kids don’t seem so sweet now. So glad Aaron was with me for the walk home after that experience.

Siem Reap – day 73

After the late night adventures of the night before I sleep in and then spend much of the remaining day trying to catch up and writing some of these earlier journal entries. In the evening I head out to the night market and find a couple gifts for others and myself. Have a quiet dinner and run into the boys, they are headed out for another night on the town, I’m out, not up for it. Planning on another temple day tomorrow, I’ll be on my own this time.

Siem Reap (Angkor Archeological Site) – day 74

I hire a tuk tuk for the day as my first stop is at Banteay Srei, about 23kms away from the main site. It’s also known as the Citadel of Women, not because women built it but because the carvings are so detailed it was assumed that only someone with small, delicate hands could do such fine work. Returning to the main temple area I visit Ta Som, Neak Pean, and the vast complex of Angkor Thom. I have actually seen part of Angkor Thom before on the first day when I visited Bayon, today I check out everything else. Angkor Thom was a large moated royal city, measuring about three kilometers on a side. Within the complex walls were the royal palace and residences for all the king’s family, generals and priests. these were mostly made of wood so have vanished entirely now. At the very center is the state temple, the enigmatic Bayon. You enter this city through one of five large gates. Each gate is topped with four heads, facing each cardinal direction.

First up I visit Phimeanakas, it is a small temple with an intriguing legend behind it. The legend relates that a nine-headed serpent genie once inhabited the golden pavilion on top of the Phimeanakas. Each night, the king ascended to the top of the temple, where the genie would appear to him disguised as a woman. The king was required to make love to the genie every night before joining his wives and concubines in the palace. If the king missed just one night, it was believed he would die. Uh huh…..sounds like a ‘guy’ story to me.

Baphuon temple was under restoration, and apparently has been, off and on, since the 1960’s. No entry allowed so I walk around the outside of it’s massive perimeter. It’s like a man-made mountain or pyramid made of stone. Apparently it was originally topped by a bronze shrine. It also has a massive reclining Buddha on top, made out of many individual stone blocks, this Buddha is not original to the structure it was built of stones from other fallen areas of Baphuon sometime in the 16th century. It’s almost an optical illusion, it looks like a random pile of stones and I can’t see it at first, but if I stare long enough the Buddha starts to show it’s shape. From here I walk over to the Terrace of the Elephants. The terrace extends for 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) from the Baphuon to the Terrace of the Leper King. The terrace is decorated with a row of elephants along its facade. The Terrace of the Leper King lies immediately north of the Elephant Terrace. The name of the terrace comes from a striking statue found on the platform of the terrace. Exactly who the statue represents is something of a mystery. It may be a king, or one of the gods.

Unfortunately I have caught a sickness of some sort and throughout the day I feel progressively crappier. Halfway through the day and I’m sweaty and my nose is running and my brain is in a fog and achy. I fight through the day but some of what I see is vague and by the time I’m at Baphuon I’m exhausted. I make it back to my guesthouse by mid afternoon and collapse into bed for some sleep, I don’t leave until the next day when I feel much, much better.

Siem Reap – day 75

I spend the day buying gifts in the markets and wandering around the town. I buy a bus ticket to Thailand for the next day, my time in SE Asia is almost up.

Siem Reap to Thailand (Ko Tao, Ko Phangan, Bangkok) – day 76 to day 90

The bus from Cambodia to Thailand is no problem, it’s just the border crossing that takes forever, 3 hours waiting around in the sun. Sucked. I get into Bangkok with about 1 hour before my bus leaves to take me overnight down south where I’ll be able to catch a ferry to Ko Tao the next day. All goes according to plan and I arrive on Ko Tao fairly early in the morning. Unfortunately it’s been raining a lot here and my choice of beaches is limited as many roads are inaccessible. The only beaches I can get to aren’t really beaches at all because the water is so high. Not really what I’m looking for for my last couple weeks, I just want to chill. I think about it for a while, and the processing is pretty slow as I have been traveling by bus and boat for about 24 hours at this point, and decide to head over to Ko Phangan. I’ve been there before and went to Ko Tao to try some thing a little different but it seems fate has brought me back.

Arriving on Ko Phanghan is great, it’s like coming home, I know where everything is and how much a moto taxi should cost me to do what I want and I want to go to Bottle Beach. My moto taxi takes me to Chalok Lam where I know I can get a longtail boat to get me to BB, but I am out of luck, no boats and I am told that BB is not open for the season yet. Hell, I’m feeling pretty frustrated at this point, it’s been a disappointing day, nothing has gone to plan. I take a few deep breaths, suck it up and decide to let whatever will happen, happen. I ask the driver to take me somewhere on the west side of the island, I tell him how much I would like to pay for a room and he (wonderful man) delivers me to a guesthouse, with bungalows and a lovely slice of beach. I’m on Haad Chao Phao. I spend a few days here getting in some beach time and get in touch with Jason, a BB institution (he lives there practically year round) who I met when I visited before. Jason lets me know that BB will be open within a couple days and offers to pick me up on his way there. Everything goes to plan this time (yay) and I get to spend my last few days back in the bosom of my BB family. Wonderful to see the boys who work there again, I am remembered and life is sweet. Am sad to leave when I do, BB has a way of making you lose track of time and allows you just to be in the moment it’s easy to get lost here, but I have to get up to Bangkok for my flight home.

I take the ferry to get me back to the mainland, then to the train station where my train is delayed by 2 hours. In addition to the 4 hours that I spent waiting because I was very early I spend 6 hours hanging out in the station. Before I knew the train was delayed I had some dinner and a beer, and then another. Once I knew of the delay I was bored to tears and bought another beer at the stall in the station, this led to a few more and I met a bunch of people who were all waiting (and drinking) as well. We all hang out, someone brings out and ipod with speakers and we have a party right there beside the tracks, what else could we do? Finally on the train in my bunk for the overnight trip to BKK I sleep very well. I arrive in BKK in the morning and head to Soi Rambuttri (right near Kho San Road) and find a room for my last night, I spend the rest of my day (my last day in SE Asia) buying a few more gifts, getting massages (note the plural) and a pedicure. Perfect.

I stayed home for the next 10 months, I lived in my dad and step mother’s house in Deep Cove, North Vancouver. When I arrived back from Central America my mom informed me about some health problems she had started to have, she told me that it was nothing to be worried about, it was being taken care of. I spent my time finding new work teaching yoga and pursuing old work, teaching pilates. I had some great job opportunities that I took advantage of but really I was just biding my time, planning my next adventure. I was going to head to SE Asia, this time with a one way ticket, I wasn’t sure when I would be back…….

Originally published on facebook – March 10, 2010.

This is the first of, what I hope are many, of my “traveling tales”. I hope that by sharing with all of you we can stay on touch, please feel free to write to me and tell me tales of home, I miss you all and want to stay connected to your lives…

The last week before I left was hectic, chores, errands, last meetings with friends etc . So much to do that I didn’t really have time to even look at how I felt about being away for up to a year. I was to leave on Sunday, all week I had been a bit short tempered, not very patient with silly little things that normally would not annoy me. I think I wasn’t feeling, just functioning and doing the things that needed to be done without really acknowledging my emotions. Saturday morning I woke up with an upset stomach, I felt stressed and sad. I dealt with final preparations all day with a sense of heaviness and a churning stomach but looked forward to spending my last night with my family.

Finally dinner time arrived, everyone was there, brothers, sister-in-law, other brothers girlfriend, my niece and my parents, most of the people I love the dearest in this world. My Mom gave me a card, Tiger Girl she called me. To my fierce and gentle daughter go a have a big and beautiful adventure, I couldn’t help it and broke down crying, sobbing really. It’s so hard to leave her with the health issues she is dealing with now, I’m struggling with feelings of guilt and selfishness but she assures me I should do this and follow my dreams, this is what she wants for me. She will keep me updated about her health and will let me know if I need to come home. The rest of the night was bittersweet I felt so loved and am crying now just writing this, the screen is all blurry. My Dad and Sharman and Alex gave me a couple of little moleskin notebooks but it was the note with it that set me off again…..a picture of a finger with a string tied around it “wherever you go…remember we love you”, well it set me off again. Don’t worry guys, I couldn’t possibly forget! I brought both of these cards with me, they remind me I am carrying their love with me wherever I go. The end of the night was hard, leaving the house, more tears, long hugs and so much love. Went to mom’s house to spend my last night, I slept in her bed with her, we talked until 2 or 2:30 in the morning, about a lot of different things but it helped to reassure me that I was really doing the right thing, she wanted me to go, she understands how worried I am about her and all my other fears. I love her for understanding so much.

The next morning was rushing around to get out the door, some final hugs, love, and tears with Mom and then time to go. A friend was kind enough to get me to the airport, I made it in lots of time for my 11:30am flight, got checked in and was told I had been given an upgrade to executive class for both legs of my flight. I was so numb with emotion still that I barely registered this when the attendant told me but once I got to my seat on the plane it certainly registered, I had my very own cocoon! Was flying Japan Airlines in one of those big double-decker planes. I was on the top deck, kinda neat to go up stairs on an airplane! My seat was huge, it reclined all the way down to a lying position, had an automatic adjustable leg-rest, my own tv and literally 4-5 feet of legroom in front of me. I feel asleep right away and woke up because I heard eating sounds around me. I paged the air hostess and without asking she brought me my meal. I had requested veggie meals and it was really pretty good. After the meal they offered us green tea, regular or coffee, I went for the green tea and it was quite lovely. The service on Japan Air is like nothing I have ever experienced on an airplane before, beautiful, gracious women.

After 10 hours we landed in Tokyo, Narita airport. I had a 6 hour stopover here. I tried some Japanese fast food, soba soup with tempura prawns, pretty good but msg heavy. I bought some internet time to see if I had managed to find a reservation in Bangkok, no luck. I tried calling all the places recommended in my lonely planet guide and some other ones I found on the internet, no luck. I was nervous about landing in Bangkok at 11pm at night and not having a firm place to stay the night. I had to stop trying as it was time to catch my next flight.

This flight was 7 hours to Bangkok, Japan Air again, upgraded again but not as nice this time, my seat was just like a regular seat but wider and with a lot more legroom, not complaining, still way better then “cattle class”. Once again my veggie meal was excellent. I slept a lot of the way. I made a decision on the flight that I would try to get a flight from Bangkok to Ko Samui as soon as possible, maybe I wouldn’t even need a hotel room. I landed in Bangkok at 11pm on Monday March 8th ( I think that it had been about 24 actual hours since I left Vancouver at this point). I asked at the information desk and found out that 2 airlines offered flights to Ko Samui daily, Bangkok air at 6am and Thai air at 7:30am. Bangkok air didn’t open their ticket office until 5am, but the Thai office was open then so I went to see if any seats were available, there weren’t. I was a little worried but figured I could just hang around the airport, get some more sleep and see if I could get a ticket at 5am with Bangkok air, if that didn’t work out at least I could go to Khao San Road during daylight and find a place to stay. I got lucky though and was able to buy a ticket ($80) to Ko Samui on that 6 am flight.

A one hour flight from Bangkok to Ko Samui and when I landed I knew I had made the right choice, I love island life and I could feel the vibe right away, but I wasn’t staying here. I bought a ticket for a ferry ride to Kho Panghan (a smaller island and home of the infamous full moon parties). I caught my ferry at 8 am, it took about 40 minutes. The lady who sold me the ticket told me it would take 20 so when we were still moving after that time I had a few moments of insecurity where I thought that perhaps I had gotten on the wrong ferry, but figured i didn’t really care, it had to be headed somewhere nice 😀 However it turned out to be the right one. I got off and had all the usual touts and taxi drivers surround me, I choose a woman and told her I wanted to go to Ban Cholak Lam, from there I had to catch a longtail boat to my final goal (I had decided this on the ferry). She drove me (just me) in the back of her songthaew (a small pick up truck taxi with 2 benches in the back) from here I had to catch a longtail boat to Bottle Beach. There weren’t any other passengers so they told me I could wait for some more people to show up so the cost would be cheaper. I agreed and walked ten paces to the beach. This was a little fishing village, beautiful Thai trawler type boats and longtails everywhere. I took my flip flops off and waded right into the beautiful warm ocean….aaahhhhhhhh! I took a few pictures of the boats and my happy feet and then some other people showed up and we arranged the ride.

Hopped in the longtail for my first ride and away we went. What a beautiful country I am in, I wish I took pictures but my camera was up front with my pack, silly me. Amazing coastline, limestone (I think) cliffs and rock formations the whole way, tons of greenery and an endless blue horizon. This boat ride wakes up my feelings, I feel calmer, I feel appreciative and oh so lucky to be here, I feel awed by this beautiful slice of mother nature, I start to feel good about being on this trip. After about 15 or 20 minutes we started to approach a beach and I really couldn’t believe it, it’s small, there are huts scattered along the beach, golden white sand and gorgeous! We land on the beach, it’s hot, I’m sweaty and it’s only 10am. I shoulder my pack and start looking for a place to stay, check out a few rooms and finally settle on the far right side of the beach, at the Smile Bungalows, there is no way I could not stay here with that name :D.

Finally after something like 35 hours of traveling I have arrived. I have my own bungalow with bathroom for 400 baht (about $8) a night, my bed has a real mosquito net covering around it, it feels very romantic and sort of creates a soft secure feeling in me when I am inside it. My bungalow is set up a hill about 15 meters away from the beach, I have a porch with chairs and a view of the beach through the trees. There is a good restaurant, the food is cheap and a nice family runs the place. I spend the rest of my day lounging the sunshine, reading and just relaxing into the place. My first dinner I had Thai chili basil chicken with rice, they asked me how spicy I would like it, I said I like spicy so he says medium then? Ok….was really, really good but maybe I’ll go mild-medium next time, lol. I had an early night and slept for almost 12 hours. I think I will stay here at least few days, get my tan on and just relax into my Thai experience.

The view from my bungalow…

I started thinking about visiting Thailand when I was in my early 20’s and dating J. We had a trip planned then but we broke up before it happened. Then life got away from me for quite a few years and I let the traveling dreams slide away. They came back about 5 years ago and this trip I am on now was in the works before I met J. (a different one), which derailed it yet again. Well, I’m finally here. Thanks to all of you who encouraged and supported me and helped me to get here, I love you. I made it!!!!!!

 

Added later….

I spent about 3 glorious weeks on Bottle Beach and met some very wonderful people, many of who I have stayed in touch with and am now proud to call friends, but one night I got an email from my mother. Her health problems had worsened, it was cancer and she needed me at home as the doctors had advised that she do a series of chemotherapy. I was on the plane home 3 days later. We found a place to live together so I could be her support and for the next 6 months that is what I did. Finally the doctors gave her good news, she had responded very positively to the chemo and was doing really well, energetic and happy and so she encouraged me to go travel again as she knew it was my dream. I agreed to go for 3 months, I wanted to be able to come back and check in on her in person, I booked the tickets, heading to Hanoi in Vietnam this time, hoping to hit up Cambodia, Laos and Thailand as well in this short time, I would be back in Vancouver the day before Christmas Eve day.