So here we are again folks, exactly three weeks after the last one no less. If that isn't blog efficiency I don't know what is.
The last instalment came as the end of my volunteering stint in Sihanoukville was rapidly approaching. In fact most of my last week was taken up by a public holiday, meaning that we were closed and that everyone else had w***ed off to places I had been already, meaning that I was essentially alone. I spent the five days Monday-Friday rotating between the various different beaches and catching up on some much needed sleep. The only interesting thing I can think of was a night of drinking that ended with myself, Leah and Felix joining a drunken Englishman on a midnight off-road tour of the Cambodian countryside in a jeep; scary and fun in equal measure.
By Saturday we were back up and running again, and for the weekly Saturday afternoon excursion piled the kids into the back of a truck and carted them off to a nearby waterfall. Never before have I felt such panic as being responsible for 40 hyperactive kids running around a rocky, slippy and generally quite dangerous waterfall. Somehow we managed to keep tabs of them all before piling them back into the truck, much to my relief. On Sunday me and Mr Jaap took advantage of a prize that I had won in the raffle that had been held at the exhibition a few weeks previously by heading out for a night on one of the nearby islands. It was a welcome excuse to lie in a hammock and do absolutely nothing for 24 hours, and there are few things in life better than sitting on a deserted Cambodian beach watching The Sopranos on a laptop.
Following another sleepless, beer-fuelled night spent at first Jaap then Danny's Inn, I awoke on Tuesday for my last day at CCPP. I had spent an unbelievable month with a great bunch of people at a fantastic and very worthwhile project, and left knowing that I had made many friends for life. In truth, I could have asked for little more from a volunteering experience. On the other hand, I had been in the same place for a while and was beginning to get itchy feet for pastures new, so my sadness at leaving was mixed with a host of great memories and excitement at where I was headed next. My departure was marked by a (largely inappropriate) speech from Pheap and thank yous from the kids over lunch, and I spent the rest of the afternoon refusing to get emotional and stocking up on paintings and souvenirs, some admittedly more permanent than others. The evening was spent in largely the same way I had spent the last month, drinking copious amounts of alcohol in cheap bars on the beach and staying up until a ridiculous hour drinking at Thida's. With an early departure scheduled for the morning, I said many of my goodbyes outside the doors of CCPP at 6am, safe in the knowledge that I will be seeing all of these people again in the future.
With absolutely no sleep to speak of I said my final goodbyes to those who had managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour and, still drunk, boarded the bus ahead of a whole day of travelling. Via coach, tuk-tuk, plane, motorbike, bus and monorail I eventually arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I promptly collapsed. 48 hours of drinking and no sleep will do that to a person.
It was good but strange to be back in a big, modern and essentally quite Western style city after 6 weeks in Cambodia. I felt the culture shock as I tried smiling and talking to random people who either ignored me or looked at my like I was a psycho, like any self-respecting city dweller would anywhere else in the world. I soon settled back into the big-city 'be rude to everyone you meet' philosophy and very much enjoyed what KL had to offer, most notably the unbelieveable and ridiculously cheap Indian and Chinese food. I spent a few days doing the usual sights (Petronas Towers, KL Tower, Chinatown, Merdeka Square) and left with a positive impression and an intention to return.
On Saturday 23/05 I began the long journey north by catching a coach up to the Cameron Highlands, in the north of the Malaysian peninsular. This is a hilly region lined with tea plantations and strawberry farms, as well as being a very nice place to spend some time. I spent just the one night here, enjoyed a tour around the area in the morning before catching the overnight bus that would take me up into Thailand. I have endured some horrific journeys in my time, but I think this 9 hour torture just about takes the biscuit. Hours of no sleep with annoying Chinese teenagers playing stupid PSP games and refusing to shut up alongside the least comfortable chairs in existence, two hours spent at the Malaysian-Thai border at 4am and an incident that most probably scarred three Malaysian coach drivers for life. I subsequently arrived at Hat Yai in Thailand not in the best of form.
Despite the fact I had been travelling now for somewhere in the region of 15 hours, I jumped straight on another 4 hour coach from Hat Yai up to Krabi, a town on Thailand's west coast that's used mainly as a jumping off point to Ko Phi Phi. After a night of rest and recovery in Krabi town, I arrived on Ko Phi Phi on the morning of Tuesday 26/05.
Phi Phi is one of those places you hear about in traveller's folklore; the quintissential tropical island paradise, where white sands meet turqoise clear water surrounded by limestone cliffs and peaks. Even with expectations set high it is a sight to behold, even more so when considering that less than 5 years ago the whole island was virtually destroyed by the tsunami. Looking around now you would be hard pushed to tell.
Natural beauty aside, the main reason I was here was to learn to scuba dive, so the first thing I did on arrival was find the dive shop I had settled on and get things started on the 3 day PADI Open Water certification that you need to dive anywhere in the world. After what seemed like an eternity in a classroom with a DVD of questionable quality, you are first treated to what is a called a confined water dive, a lesson in shallow water where you put the theory into practice. I managed now to drown during this first experience of underwater breathing and so, with Champions League final lie-in taken into account (the less said about that debacle the better), I would be hitting the open water the next afternoon.
When you have been looking forward to something for months and even years, it is easy for expectations to get so high that it is impossible to satisfy them. This was cetrainly not the case here. I am told the diving at Phi Phi is among the best 20 sites in the world, and it is easy to see why. In the 6 dives I did over 3 days- including a deep dive course down to 30m- I saw more fish than I knew existed, black tip sharks, an octopus and got within a metre of a leopard shark much bigger than me. It was incredible and massively addictive, and I dread to think how much money I will spend on it over the coming few months.
I spent Tuesday-Saturday on Phi Phi Don, alternating between diving and a few post-dive drinks, having a great time all round. My last night I headed out for a night camping at one of the smaller islands nearby, Phi Phi Leh, and the location of Maya Bay, which is where 'The Beach' was filmed. I've never actually seen the film so this didn't mean much to me, but you can assume from that fact that it is pretty special, and it was, especially as we had the whole place to ourselves. After drinking way too much vodka and playing more drinking games than I have even heard of, we headed for a midnight swim before sleeping on the sand.
We awoke early the next day either still drunk or in the depths of a killer hangover, before heading back to the mainland. I subsequently spent another day travelling across Thailand, up to Surat Thani and then over to Ko Phangan, which is where I am now. After a month's volunteering and two weeks diving and travelling, I have spent my first day here doing absolutely nothing on a deserted beach about 10 feet from my 4 quid a night bungalow. I will probably spend another full day doing exactly the same before heading up to Ko Tao where I can spend a few days indulging my new-found love of diving, before heading north up to the chaos of Bangkok. I am officially half-way through my trip, and if the second three months is even half as good as the first then I have every reason to be very excited.