Tag Archives: siem reap

Three countries, four currencies, three days, two buses and one exploding tyre.

12 Mar

The last few days have been lots of fun but very bad for our wallets…wandering round the night markets and going out with friends seem to be unavoidable in Siem Reap, no matter how many people have got to be up at 6am to catch a bus (us) or to see the sunrise over the temples of Angkor Wat (Lauren)…

The night markets in Siem Reap are irresistible. If I had more money, arms and a house to go back to I would have definitely bought a lot more


But we were very restrained and only bought a few bits and pieces, assuring ourselves they would “come in handy at some point” (patterned scarves) or that they were “really useful” (sparkly bracelets).

We went out with Lauren and her friends Jayden and Tim to say goodbye the night before our bus to Bangkok. We ended up jumping in a tuktuk and asking the driver to take us to a karaoke bar…I was a little reluctant because the last karaoke bar we were taken to (last March) by a Cambodian was a karaoke bar/brothel/restaurant which was really not pleasant at all, but this one was awesome. You got your own private little rainbow booth for $3 per hour and songs in English, albeit it old ones.

We even got the driver involved

– he sang a song in Cambodian whilst we all got up and slow-danced (Cambodian songs usually being about heartache from what we’ve seen of their dance videos).

The next day we managed to get up for the bus and to be honest, I was looking forward to just sleeping to Thailand. But it was not to be – the bus companies had massively oversold the tickets so although we managed to clamber on the first one through some inventive and possibly underhand elbow manoeuvres, we couldn’t sit next to each other as there wasn’t enough spaces free. So I sat next to a French man with the longest legs I’d ever seen, and Craig sat next to an Israeli man who we ended up babysitting through the border, us being old hands having done it a total of once before, naturally.

There was a lot of faffing on the journey…we had to stop and “change the bus tickets” just before the border, then the border itself which took an hour or so to get through, then another change of bus (decanting us into minibuses as not everyone was going to Bangkok), then a lunch stop where yet another change of minibus would happen. We had managed to be fairly lucky about getting on the first of every bus going, so we had finished our lunch and were ready to go by the time the last of the other people who had been on the original coach were arriving. Bizarrely, we saw two people who both us made jump separately – Craig saw someone who from the back looked like a skinnier version of his best friend, Matt, who died last May, and I saw someone who was the spitting image (although a few years older) of a different Craig I knew who died in May nearly two years ago. What he was wearing, his hair, the way he smoked…scarily similar. But we were soon on the move again so quickly shook off the weird feeling.

We gathered all our stuff and tried to look ready so we could get on the first minibus to Bangkok (technically queue-jumping as we all had numbered stickers on us showing us the order). The plan worked and best of all, we were allowed to sit in the front by the driver which is right next to the air-conditioning. Win! I settled into my book and Craig napped a bit and all was well for a bit. However, the driver kept stopping at mechanics and pointing to a tyre. A couple of them gave prices he wasn’t happy with so we turned round and went back to the first one, where more air was put in the rear left tyre. We thought that was odd because if there’s a problem here, it’s usually ignored until it’s completely broken, but thought nothing of it as we were back on the highway going at the usual breakneck speed.

Until there was a huge bang – I had been reading and Craig was asleep so we weren’t sure what was going on – a very naughty word escaped from me as I realised there was a high ditch on the side of the road and it sounded like the bottom of the van had dropped out and Craig wasn’t wearing a seatbelt as there wasn’t one to wear. The driver didn’t panic thankfully and managed to get the van to a stop at the side of the road. We got out and surveyed the damage…this is what was left of the rear left tyre

The thing had exploded and ripped off, denting the van in the process and making a lot of mess. If it had been one of the front tyres I am sure we would have been done for. Craig helped the driver change the wheel but I was pretty shaky so stood at the side of the road with everyone else. I’m not sure if everyone realised what had happened (or could have) as the Italian girl’s first response was that she would now miss her connecting bus, and the two German girls didn’t even bother getting out…

But we made it here in one piece eventually. I don’t usually believe in fate or things like that but it was very strange we’d seen versions of Matt and Craig just before it happened. Weird. We were both still a bit dazed so we dumped our bags in our guesthouse on Khoa San Road and embraced the madness

We got chatting to a girl from Morocco who met a friend and took one of his fried crickets off him

…turns out she was expecting us to eat it – um no thanks – so she amused herself by arranging it in different positions on our glasses, in the ashtray, on the table…delicious. We ended up talking to three guys from Bristol which was a little awkward as it turned out that one of them was banned from the restaurant Craig used to work for in Bristol…by Craig. I left them chatting about the old days to go to bed :)

Just a short stopover in BK until we fly to Sri Lanka tomorrow morning, so I think the plan is just to get some really good hot Thai food and explore a bit before we’re off again….



Angkor Wat?

9 Mar

Soon after posting our last post on here, we met a Welsh girl called Lauren who was also staying at our guesthouse. Whilst I was talking to Mum on Skype, she was explaining to Craig that one of her bank cards had been stolen from her (locked) backpack and the other had been swallowed up by a cash machine at the border – meaning her bus left without her whilst she was trying to get back out of the ATM. When she did eventually get it out four hours later, it turned out her bank had blocked the card anyway so she had about $6 left on her. We leant Lauren my laptop so she could Skype her bank (call centre based in India – Craig went to check how she was doing and she busy repeating her date of birth 45 minutes into the call) but it looks like she won’t have a card for a week or two at least. As we both have UK bank accounts, her dad is going to transfer some money into my account so that I can take it out for her which should last her until she can pick her card up. Nightmare but at least we could pass on the favour Chris paid us in Banlung :)

We all went to get some food and drinks that evening, including a visit to Angkor Wat? bar on Pub Street. Last year everyone went out except me (in bed with food poisoning…familiar…) and went there and got free teeshirts after drinking two cocktails, so I was determined to go back this time and get me a teeshirt. However, I hadn’t reckoned on the size of the cocktails so we had one each (which I still got a shirt for, win) and Craig and I went back to the guesthouse, leaving Lauren chatting to some other people in the bar.

A combination of hangover and insane heat meant the next day was spent lazing in our hotel room. It has a fan and a curtain which was good enough as the heat was unbearable outside. We went for breakfast and then just immediately came back, stripped off to our pants and lied down for hours. After all that excitement, Craig did some laundry and ended up dripping with sweat. I’ve included a photo not because laundry is particularly novel but so you can see the mould in the room :/ At least we’re only going to be here for another day or two before we go to Bangkok to catch our flight to Sri Lanka.

Craig also set to work on his “make a diabolo toy from a coconut” plan (prototype one). He bought a coconut in the morning from a street seller and planned to cut the coconut in half, bolt it together to make a diabolo and see whether it worked as a toy or not. The problem was that coconuts here are sold with their tough green outer shell on, which has to be removed before you get to the more familiar brown husk inside. He had asked the street seller to cut it in half, but it didn’t go quite to plan as she got her machete out and smashed a whole coconut to pieces in front of him, looking very pleased with herself. Not quite what was meant…so he bought a whole one and started attacking it with his knife in the room. I was reading my book at the time, but over the next 15 minutes I could occasionally hear little hacking sounds and grunts coming from the corner. Craig eventually stood up and I saw that all that had been done was some random chunks of the green stuff had been removed as it was far tougher than expected…and that he’d got so hot he’d ended up stabbing it and had drunk all the juice, ruining the shell :) I look forward to watching the creation of prototype two.

We met up again with Lauren a few hours later and spotted Sinead, a girl who runs a clothing shop in Sihanoukville and one of Geordie’s friends, staying at our guesthouse. She had come on a shopping trip for her company so we ended up having dinner with her and Lauren. She said she had seen Geordie and Namnam the day before, and the puppy was running around with no problems. Geordie posted a picture on facebook last night of him

and a little video showing how much he’s improved since he was picked up just a few weeks ago in the jungle. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp-wEnorAZ8&feature=related

Today was spent eating ice cream (proper stuff from a shop plus delicious slushies picked up from a vendor on the street – sweet crushed ice drinks with what we thought were berries at the bottom but turned out to be balls of jelly, awesome), wandering round the markets loading our already-full bags with more bits and pieces and buying new flipflops for Craig. He bought some in Vietnam that rubbed in between his toes so badly he cut the “thong” bit off and has been on a quest to find new ones ever since, managing to keep them on only by walking with his toes clenched into a claw-like position, poor thing. So it’s a relief for him to finally be able to have a comfortable pair of shoes. My flipflops got stolen in Kong Koh (why anyone would want them is beyond me, they were disgusting!) so I have been wearing Craig’s impulse bought ones that didn’t fit him. I have also been trying to find new ones but every exchange goes like this:

Me [picking up a pretty pair of sandals in a tiny Asian size]: Have you got these in a size 41 please?

Stall owner [wiping her eyes]: 41? HAHAHAHA. VERY BIIIIIG! No, sorry, we not have. But these ones are 41.

At this point, the stall owner will invariably pick up the most chunky, black or brown enormous monstrosities of men’s sandals (mandals).

Me: Ah but these are for men. I am a women, I would like nice ones.

Stall owner [looking up at me doubtfully]: But these are for beeeeeeautiful lady. These not men’s. But how about these?

The stall owner will begin holding up a selection of what look like orthapedic shoes for giants.

Me: Sigh.

To bus or to boat? Which is more expensive and difficult? Well that’s settled then. Good day.

7 Mar

After the whirlwind of the day before, we spent the next chilling out in the Gecko bar. They do an amazing drink – fresh limes and juice mixed with crushed ice and mint. Refreshing when the temperature is 37 degrees. It only falls to 26-27 degrees at night so sleep is very difficult…keep having to get up to have cold showers in the middle of the night.

We also booked the boat to Siem Reap for $19 each. The receptionist obviously thought we had a screw loose as the bus only costs $4.50 and takes a couple of hours, whereas the boat takes 8 hours, but we were adamant we wanted to go on it because it was meant to be a very beautiful stretch of river, leading into the Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia.

When we turned up the next day, we thought the receptionist might have had a point. The guidebook said get there early to try and get a seat away from the engine. Many people had had the same idea, and besides, the boat was crammed with people and luggage. Our minibus to the “port” was carrying an extra 13 people. I hopefully stuck my head in the boat only to see there was no space – even if people shuffled up it was going to make for a very uncomfortable and hot 8 hours so we took an executive decision and sat on the roof (factor 50 being in my bag).

This was the view on top of the boat so you can imagine how many people were inside. If the worst came to the worst and we had to swim, I would have preferred to be up here rather than trying  negotiate people and luggage underwater. So suncream came out, we stretched out on a bag of rice and enjoyed an interrupted view of the sights of the river

Flocks of seagull-like birds, two herons, catfish, eagles, hawks, snakes and eels joined us on the journey. Luckily our hotel had given us each a free scarf for staying there, which came in handy when the sun really got going after 12. This being a journey in Cambodia, it was obviously not going to be a smooth one. Our boat was overloaded to begin with, but because it is the dry season, the river was extremely shallow – far less than a metre in places. This meant slow going (so did the manoeuvering around the children swimming, fishermen waist deep with their nets and women washing themselves and their clothes)…especially when going past all the floating villages as anyone who’s been on a canal boat knows, it’s not appreciated when someone motors past you, created a massive wave. We also saw some of the poorest communities we’ve been past yet – tiny little makeshift shelters made from sticks and covered in plastic sheeting or just material. I am not sure whether these are permanent structures or whether they just live there in the dry season but even so, it’s not a way of life that looks particularly pleasent for even a few months.

After getting stuck a couple of times over the first few hours, we finally found deepish water so could go slightly above walking pace. But the slow journey meant we could enjoy the scenery and spend time waving at the hundreds of kids along the way who shouted hello to us. There were locals on the boat too, who along with their bags of comfortable rice (bye bye seat) and baskets of live roosters, needed dropping off at their doors or monks who needed picking up from their waterside temples.

We got to Siem Reap at the port where we had visited a floating village the year before and had bought the worst/best souvenirs ever – horrid china patterned plates with pictures of our faces stuck to them. They were so awful we had to buy them – I think they are now adorning Craig’s mum and nan’s houses…lucky them. We have been on a quest to better these and think we have got pretty close – matching teeshirts, the horror of which will be unleashed at a chosen point and of course, documented on here.

We found a little guesthouse here (well, we were customarily bullied into it by a tuktuk driver of course) for $6 a night. This one isn’t quite as fancy as the last one – the mouldering walls and stench of other people’s urine being new additions – but we’re only going to be here for another couple of days and most of the time will not be spent in the room. We decamped and then headed off to Pub Street for a welcome sit down and beer

Less welcome was the return of food poisoning for both of us, an allergic reaction (again for both of us, although to what we are still unclear) and an ear infection for me. Super. But SR is the best place to be to get medication I suppose as it’s a big city, so off we went to the pharmacy for antibiotics and antihistimines and for extra stocks for when it inevitably strikes again.

The next morning we went to the post office to pick up my new sim card (which hadn’t arrived, cheers Orange) and on the way back, saw a sign to the children’s hospital here. On our last visit, we were encouraged to donate blood there as the standards are very high and they “guarantee clean needles” (not sure how you’d rectify this if it was found to be wrong!) but I had only just given blood in the UK so couldn’t do it again. This time it had been 3 months since my last donation, we decided to pay them a visit.

We were assured that the various pills we had been taking wouldn’t cause a problem with donating, but for some reason they insist on a gap of four months between donations for women here (men are ok to donate every 3 months). The other checks they did were nothing like the NHS’s, which is a 2 page questionnaire of questions about where you’ve travelled, whether you’ve had tattoos recently etc but I guess as they only received 1,300 donations last year, they can’t afford to be too choosy. I explained that I was a regular donor in the UK and that I had given blood every 3 months with no problems, so they took a sample of my blood. Apparently I have a very high red blood cell count so I was in :)

I also have “fast blood” according to the nurse! Craig went next – his first donation ever and was told he had “warm blood” – and was a big bravey as usual

For some reason the nurse said that she didn’t need to test Craig’s blood, but me being the uncompetitive soul I am said it was probably a good idea. I had 4.72 million cells per microliter and Craig had 4.54. I managed to keep my elaborate victory dance to my imagination only, but it was a struggle.

Rather sweetly, we got a free teeshirt, a coke and packet of biscuits afterwards. Craig handed round some of the biscuits round to children in the ward and then we went and had a sit down – missing 350ml of blood in this heat meant this was a good idea. We’re now sitting in the guesthouse bar and planning what to do tomorrow – we saw Angkor Wat last year so would like to see what else SR has to offer before we go to Bangkok and then off to Sri Lanka for three weeks…just waiting for the e-visas to be approved before we book our flights sliiiightly off course but for the price (£100 return each way), seemed an unmissable opportunity. After that, it looks like I will be volunteering on an island in Thailand for 4 weeks (Craig will stay there too but will not be required to work, lucky boy), before heading off to explore the rest of the country. This is probably the most we’ve planned ever so I am sure it is bound to change!