So it's taken me until Vietnam (a month!) to finally start writing about our travels. We started in Phi Phi Island in Thailand, which is a crazy place. Lots of beachs and buckets of booze! We were pretty active while we were there, hiked up a huge hill to the viewpoint over the island a couple of times (which nearly killed us the first time - climbing a hill with a hang over was a mistake!), sea kayaking and generally wandering around all the beaches. We had the prettiest little beach hut, right on the beach, but unfortunately, it was also right next to the nightly beach parties, so the music made it impossible to go to bed before 2 am. But we didn't mind, because on Phi Phi, there's no need to go to bed early and the place is dead until after lunch each day while everyone sleeps off the night before!
Next stop was Koh Tao, where we went to meet Dan for his 30th birthday. It is now officially my favourite spot in Thailand. It's a beautiful, tiny island (21 sq km) and the locals are not at all like the tourist hungry scouts of all of the other islands I've been to. We had a pretty long journey to get there, but it went surprisingly smoothly. First we caught a ferry from Phi Phi to Krabi, then a tuk tuk truck, followed by a coach, then a minibus to the ferry dock at Surat Thani. Once there, we had a couple of hours to spare before our night ferry, so we got a bit of dinner at the night market next to it. The stalls were full of lots of weird and wonderful food, heaps of seafood, skinned frogs etc. But we were boring and stuck to rice and noodles with prawns and chicken! The night ferry, once we jumped on it, was great. There were two long rows of mattresses down either side of the boat and, although they were really narrow, the boat was less than half full, so we had plenty of room to stretch out. We arrived at the island at 6am and walked the couple of kms to our accommodation (more cute little huts). Once we got there, we found that they wouldnt open until after 8, so had to hang out on their doorstep for a couple of hours before we could check in and get a nap!
Koh Tao is one of the cheapest places to get your open water diving ticket. Obviously that's not something that I would be doing, but Jas went for it. So for the first 3 days on Koh Tao Dan and I coped without Jas while we was studying! Just after he completed his ticket, some other friends, Todd, and his wife Marie, joined us in Koh Tao on there way back to Australia from Germany. We had a brilliant week of beer, buckets, motorbikes and cooking! Jas and I hired a dirt bike to go around exploring the island for a few days. The so-called roads around the place looked more like washed out, rutted river beds, so zooming around them, up and down crazily steep hills was great fun (and quite scary at times!) But we survived! For Dan's birthday we all decided to buy him a cooking course. Through our new DJ friend who owned our fave bar, we were introduced to Jam - a thai lady who owned a restaurant in the nearby village, and who occassionally did cooking classes. So Dan, Todd, Marie and I went round to her place for the day to learn about Thai cooking (Jas is more of a chopper than a cooker, so he went off around the island on the bike on his own, returning to help us eat all of the delicious food of course!). We had a brilliant day and learned how to cook green, red, penang and massaman curries, along with pad thai, sweet and sour and egg fried rice. YUM! Our food was of course amazing, and we got along so well with Jam that she offered to close her restaurant the following night so that we could have a party for Dan's birthday. So the following day, after a few beers in pool bar of course, we all headed off on our scooters over to Jam's were we decorated the place with balloons and drank beer while Todd and Jam cooked us up a feast - which was of course, delicious again.
The next morning, nursing out hang overs, Jas and I had to get up, pack and check out of the Sairee Cottages. After a Mexican feed, we headed off on the ferry (delayed by 4 hours!) to Champon, where we then hung out for an hour to catch the night train up to Bangkok. Arriving in Bangkok at stupid oclock in the morning, we headed to Khao San road, where we knew there would be a cafe or too already open (or still going from the night before....). So we hung out in a cafe full of drunk english and irish for a few hours until it was time to head to the airport for our flight to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.
Arriving in Phnom Pehn, we felt surprisingly ok after our day and a half of travelling, and after checking in to the Sky Park hotel (recommended to us by a kiwi couple we met in Phi Phi) we decided to go out for dinner and a wander. The next day we went on a tour of Phnom Pehn with our new tuk-tuk driver mate, whos name I couldn't even pronounce, nevermind spell! Our first stop was out to the killing fields. We weren't sure how we would cope with seeing this place, but it was surprisingly tranquil. It was a big open green field, with lots of trees, a small museum in one corner, and in the centre was a tower, which was filled with the 8000 skulls that they excavated from the mass graves. On the bottom shelf of the structure was a heap of clothes which had been washed out of the graves during the rainy seasons. We paid a donation and lit some incense to leave in pots out the front for respect to the dead. Then we wandered around reading all of the signs and looking at the excavated mass graves. It's impossible to understand the number of people that were murdered there.
After leaving the killing fields, we headed to Russian Markets back in town. Not looking to buy anything, since our bags are pretty full already, we just wandered around and ate some fried rice at a little stall. Next stop was the S-21 prison, a former primary school where the Khymer Rouge held and tortured their prisoners before sending them to the killing fields to be executed. This was, as expected a pretty horrible place. On the bottom floors of the first building, there were large cells, where they held the more important of their prisoners; government officials, policement etc. The higher levels were larger rooms, which they used to hold prisoners on mass. In the other two buildings, the rooms had all been divided up in to much smaller cells; in the first building they were built with wood, in the next with bricks. These cells were less than a metre wide, and maybe a metre and a half long. Throughout they had large "classroom" filled with photos of the dead (at least 7 rooms to put it in perspective). This was the worst part of the prison as it made it feel a lot more real. The prisoners were forced into a straight back chair and their heads were held still with a clamp for the photos. They ranged from toddlers, to very old men and women.
After leaving here we spent the rest of the days touring the grand palace and silver pagoda, before getting dropped off at the central market.
So after Phnom Pehn, we headed over, by bus, to Siam Reap. Straight away we liked Siam Reap. After the hugeness of Phnom Pehn, it was relaxing to be back in a chilled little town. After checking in and a quick wander around, we made a deal with a tuk tuk driver and headed out towards Angkor Wat for sunset. Although the temples were amazing, it was a little but ruined by the huge number of people there. We were very surpirised to see that instead of wandering around the outside of the temples, everyone is allowed to climb up and on to them too. After taking a few pics, we headed back to town for dinner and sleep. For dinner we ended up in this brilliant Cambodian BBQ restaurant. We selected our meat - chicken, beef, prawns, goat & snake and they brought out a little table top BBQ for us too cook our meat, noodles and veggies on. Everything but the snake was excellent (I think we overcooked it a bit!)
The next morning, I got up early, left Jas at the hotel and headed out to find a market stall to buy us some fruit for breakfast. On the way back, I met a local lady, who after a bit of chatting, offered us her friend (a tuk tuk driver) for the day, for the ridiculously cheap price of $8. So at 10am, we met up with him and he took us back out to Angkor Wat for what turned out to be an amazing day of climbing around, through, up and over, all of the temples of Angkor Wat. We took millions of pictures - it's hard to describe the scale and detail of the place!
So after Siam Reap, we had a few loooooong days of non stop travelling. Our bus back to Phnom Pehn, which had been uneventfull on the way to Siam Reap, was not so good in the other direction! About an hour or so before reach Phnom Pehn, our bus "broke down". But it wasn't so much breaking down, more that the driver stopped a petrol station 10 minutes previously, dipped the fuel tank - and after seeing that it was almost empty, decided to keep going instead of filling up. So the bus stopped. And then, after sending his mate off on a scooter to get fuel, still would not start (Jas tells me you can't let diesal engines run dry). After around an hour of standing around by the side of the road and getting harrassed by two annoying local girls, we were saved by another bus going the same way and finally got in to Phnom Pehn. We quickly went to a travel agent to book our Mekong boat for the following morning, and then headed back to our hotel to check in, and then went out again for a quick dinner.
The next morning we were picked up from our hotel and then taken by bus an hour or so out of Phnom Pehn, to where we were catching the boat to Vietnam. So after speed boating down the river, via the immigration points, we arrived at Chau Doc and our floating hotel, where we were staying the night. The next morning we went on a bit of a tour around the local town, before catching another boat further down the Mekong. After a couple of hours on this, we stopped, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, to catch our 7 hour bus up to Saigon. We decided on the way, that after all the travelling, we didn't really feel like staying the night, plus I've been there before and there isn't a lot to do there. So instead, once we got to Saigon, I parked Jas up in a bar with our bags, and headed out to see if I could book a night bus to Nha Trang. We were in luck, and there was one leaving at 9 pm, which would get us in at roughly 7am. Perfect. So a few beers and a tasty feed later, we were back on the road. This time in a bus with weird horizontal sleeper type seats. I thought it was quite comfy, but Jas was too tall and couldn't fit! Luckily for us, there was one local guy up the back in some bigger seats, and he offered to trade. So we were much comfier and got a surprisingly decent bit of sleep!
So now we're in Nha Trang. Unfortunately, our arriving at the pretty little beach town also coincided with the early onset of rainy season! So our booze cruise around the island yesterday, wasn't so much idyllic, as it was wet and cold! But we made the best of it and still ended up having a pretty great day! Jas jumped off the roof of the boat in to the sea, and we drank gross red wine from plastic cups while floating around with rubber rings (the bar was also a bigger rubber ring (bar man inside) attached to the boat by a rope)!
Today we are hiring a motor bike to head out to some hot mud springs, then tomorrow we start out 5 day/4 night easy rider motorbike trip inland along the ho chi minh trail to hoi an. Should be amazing (although perhaps a little wet!!)