After Battambang our next logical stop seemed to be Phnom Penh, a name which spelling makes one think they are dyslexic. It was weird being in another big city, the last of which we experienced was good ol’ Bangkok. Though it had its Cambodian quirks the city felt similar to its Thai counterpart: big markets, lots of traffic and, of course, tuk tuk drivers harassing you constantly. Honestly, I was more impressed than anything of how vigilant the Phnom Penh tuk tuk drivers were. Often they would follow us down the street trying to convince us that we actually really did need a tuk tuk and that walking was stupid. No means yes, yes means yes, everything means yes to them!!!
Because Kevin and I are not big city folk we were satisfied after one day of walking throughout the city. Walking along the river was actually really enjoyable. There was a lot of locals out and about to watch and the mighty Mekong River was a welcome sight and and exciting foreshadow for Vietnam to come.
After Phnom Penh we headed for Sihounikville for some beach time and so I could wait for my Vietnam visa chilling on the beach sipping on nice cold beers than roasting in the Phnom Penh heat. Who knows how you pronounce Sihounikville really? Sville as I called it was not really what I was expecting. The main area makes me feel like I was back on Koh Phi Phi. Drunk people everywhere and a seedy place in general. For example, when asked how they liked Sville one drunk backpacker from Australia responded by saying the MDMA was amazing…yeah time to leave. Instead of leaving, because I still needed my visa, we hitched to a more quiet part of the beach. It was actually super pretty and relaxing and provided the perfect setting for some reading and chilling. All and all Sville was a nice beach break once we broke away from the seedy backpacker area!
After Sville we hitched to Kampot, a small town near the border of Cambodia and Vietnam. It was nice to be in a small town again! The town had two really nice cafés for amazing morning breakfasts and a hotspot restaurant literally next to our hotel. Basically foody heaven! Additionally there were a lot of cool places to explore by motorbike. We spent one day exploring a national park with great views of the ocean as well as tons of abandoned buildings to romp around in. My bike got a flat on the way back so I got to accompany to Cambodian gentleman on the hour drive back to my bike to fix the flat and then ride down in the dark with gusty winds blowing! Another fun day was filled by exploring some sweet caves not far from town and a lovely drive through the country side!
I ended up buying a bike off another backpacker in Kampot with the plan of biking rather than busing through Vietnam! A Frankensteinesque Honda Win but a good runner and fun to drive!
Kevin and I ventured into the exciting world of hitchhiking after meeting a tall Irishman by the name if Tom who had been hitching his way through Southeast Asia. We had to walk 5 miles out of town which was rough in the heat and made even more unbearable by being asked “tuk tuk?” every five feet. Honestly, it was one of the scarier things I have done looking down the road and sticking my thumb out in a hopeful gesture for a ride! I felt awkward, uncomfortable and weird on that road but I kept at it and after only 20 minutes we hopped in a van, the owner of which said in broken English that he could take us half of the distance to Battambang! Getting that ride made me feel all sorts of pride and warm n fuzzies inside. I felt like I accomplished something and it felt good!
Our first ride went well and we were soon looking for our second! After only a few minutes of arm waiving a Cambodian man in a tricked out 1990’s BMW pulled up and offered us a ride. This ride was hilarious! The guy obviously had some money and invested quite a bit into it! We listened to heavy Cambodian dance music set to random videos of bull fights that were displayed on a television right on the dash! The gentleman was extremely nice and got us to where we were going so no complaints there!
Our original purpose of traveling to Battambang was purely for some coconuts we heard about. Apparently they have a unique type of coconut that is creamier and sweeter? Anyways, other than these coconuts, and the lovely shakes they are a part of, there wasn’t much to do in the city. Kevin and I mainly just relaxed and enjoyed some good food or strolled along the river.
My favorite day involved renting a moped and exploring the country side. I visited the Killing Caves near the city towards the end of the day. The place was powerful to say the least! Apparently, 10,000 Cambodians were murdered there by the Khmer Rouge not too long ago.
The journey from Myanmar to Cambodia felt more like a marathon of doing nothing when in reality we were going to be flying into and out of three countries that day. As a tip never plan for a 9 hour layover, it’s boring and airport food is expensive and nasty! I was way too close to eating some McDonald’s gold!
We are currently in the latter end of our visit to Siem Reap, the booming little town in Cambodia known around the world as the place to stay whilst you explore the nearby Angkor Wat. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves on this one, but overall it was not one if my favorite places so far. The shift from Myanmar, which was very genuine and not very touristy, to Siem Reap where there is literally a hostel or hotel every 5 feet, has been tiring to say the least. The temples were fun to explore though and are built in a really cool style. The heat and our laziness, as well as the daily $20 entrance fee, kept us from walking through every major temple but we rented bikes for a day and bopped around exploring the sites and finding some hidden gems!
Tomorrow we are going to try and hitch to a town called Battambang. We here there are some rad coconuts and that is neat. What more reason do we need?
Kevin and I ended up staying 3 days in Inle Lake. For the first day we were convinced to by the German we met on the train to rent a boat for the day to tour around the lake. Usually a touristy thing like this wouldn’t be on our hit list but it turned out to be a cheap and exciting way to see much of the area that could only be accessed by boat.
The boat tour took pretty much all day. For a lot if it we were ferried around to different people selling various wares, again very touristy. I wasn’t into a lot of what we were shuttled too except for a few craft places. My favorites were the weavers, that were busy making silk and lotus cloth and the local blacksmith. The boat ride gave us a front row seat to the beauty of Inle Lake and for the equivalent of $2 I recommend it to anyone coming to the area!
It seems like our trip to Inle was heavily influenced by those we met on the way their. For day number two a Frenchman that we had also met on the train suggested we cook a meal. Kevin and I were both very into the idea of some good ol’ French home cooking! We rented bikes and headed for the local market, a 7km ride out of town along the edge of the lake. Their we stocked up in al sorts of veggies, said bye to our German friend and then decided to keep riding around the lake. We ended up hearing about a winery across the lake and their was a Frenchman in our midst so naturally we had to go. Plus, wine would make for a tasty stew later! The journey to the winery turned out to be an arduous one and the wine as palatable as one would expect but I felt a since of accomplishment as we ride away with a bottle even though we were all dehydrated and probably a little case of heat exhaustion.
The Frenchman turned out to be a professional chef and it was amazing to watch him work. He ended up making a beef stew which was out of this world. I think the best art of it was that we had collected all of the ingredients from local markets or businesses that we had physically ride to by bike that day!
I had big expectations for Bagan. I had seen the photos and had perused many Instagram feeds of Nat Geo photographers that had been there. However, I also had the expectation that Bagan was going to be a biiiiig tourist trap. I was happy to find that although Bagan was touristy, it was nowhere near the level of the big tourist trail locations we experienced in Thailand. Bagan very much has a soul, and a very beautiful soul at that!
After trying to find the best sites to visit by surfing the web I quickly realized that going about Bagan in that way was going to make my brain hurt too much and probably lessen the adventure aspect of the place. There are way too many temples here (that frankly have names that are hard to remember and distinguish from one another) to be very deliberate about your exploration of the area. I decided that the far more effective strategy was to just merely wander! We rented some silly little e-bikes and hit the road!
Navigating through Bagan on e-bike was quite a fun time. Most if the roads are dirt or loose sand, making controlling the steel battery clad behemoths quite a fun chore! They turned out to be a fun way to explore. We would just ride and if a dirt road or temple caught my eye I would go to it. Simple as that!
On our first day this led us to a temple off the main road with no tourists in sight. Yes! Selling paintings outside of the temple was a man by the name of HSJSKDJDK and his brother. After chatting with them for much longer than expected we ended up purchasing some of their paintings. One thing led to another and we somehow managed to get the guy to come watch sunset with us on a monastery that he suggested was a good spot. We actually made fast friends and continued hanging with our new Burmese friend for the majority of our trip. He led us too all sorts if cool temples during the day until sunset where we then usually ended the day with a meal from a restaurant of his recommendation. It was the perfect way to get around and learn about the area as well as get an insight into the real people of Bagan.
I have never been a morning person but in Bagan there are great rewards for the early birds so I decided to change my ways for the time being. My favorite time of day in Bagan was sunrise. They are perfect and amazing. Kevin and I watched the sunrise from the same monastery that we watched sunset from on our first night. We knew the temples and the smoke from the cooking fires in town would make for an awesome sight but we were pleasantly surprised when we turned around and saw inflating hot air balloons popping up from within the town limits. It was honestly one of the most beautiful spectacles I have seen watching the balloons float over the temples that were lit be the newly risen sun!
Our visit to Bagan was short and sweet. After three days or so it was time to get back on the road as we needed to head south for Yangon and a flight back to good ol’ Bangkok! I will definitely be returning to this country as there is still much to be explored, even I’m the areas that I visited during the two weeks here!
Surprise! We are in Myanmar! After tossing around the idea of whether or not to go to Myanmar Kevin and I decided to go after we saw that plane tickets into and out of the country were fairly cheap. We arrived in Mandalay eager to explore the new country and hopefully experience something different and man is this country different!
Even though we are only two days into our Myanmar experience it has already proven much different than Thailand. Most of the difference I think stems from the fact that tourism has not spread to Myanmar as much as it has in Thailand. Most of this difference we feel manifests itself in our interactions between people. For the most part I think people here are not yet accustomed to seeing westerners. During even a normal walk down the street we get stares from every passing pedestrian and driver. When we enter a restaurant or convenience stores the owners always seem to be as confused as we are, wondering why we would be in their shop and what they should do about it.
However mystified the people are about are presence here the people, of Mandalay at least, are the kindest people I have ever met! I have never received as many “hellos” or “good days” as I have here in this country. Also people enjoy coming up and striking conversation with us. There is not a lot of English spoken here but those who know a little love practicing with foreigners.
During our stay in Mandalay we did a lot of walking. Partly because we are cheapos and partly because their isn’t really a system for public transportation in the city. My favorite place that we visited was Mandalay Hill. It involved a rather long and strenuous walk up concrete stairs without shoes on. At the top we were rewarded with awesome views of the Mandalay area from a temple and these adorable little kittens.
Another favorite spot of mine was a temple the name of which I accidentally don’t remember. We stumbled upon it while we were strolling throughout the city It apparently contains 1776 of these stupas, each of which contains a granite page of writing. These essentially make the temple into one enormous book, the biggest book in the world!
Our stay in Mandalay was reallllllyyy short but it was time to head to Inke Lake forms more laid back environment.
We left the hustle and bustle of Ko Phi Phi for Railay, a supposedly much calmer and tamer scene. When we arrived by long tail boat we happily found that Railay was like a sleepy little town compared to Ko Phi Phi. We ended up getting lucky and finding a nice secluded bungalow to stay in up the hill from the main waterfront. After getting settled we decided to go grab some food at a very local feeling restauraunt. We ended up running into an Israeli girl named Gal that we recognized from the boat. It was really great chatting with her about her home as I had never met an Israeli before. She also had a lot of stories to share about her travels as she had been already traveling for a couple of months. During our dinner a thunderstorm moved in bringing with it rain and pretty substantial winds and the power actually went out at the restaurant! Without flinching, and as if this was a normal occurrence, candles were brought to our table and suddenly we had a nice candlelit atmosphere. Some kids next to us who were playing with the candles reminded me of when I was little and got so excited whenever the power went out at home! I was able to capture this photo, which pretty much sums up their excitement I think!
Our second day on Railay we were able to start exploring! Railay is truly a magnificent place and a total brain overload for someone like myself who loves looking at rocks. Though Railay is technically part of the mainland it feels like an island because it is cut off by massive limestone cliffs. These cliffs are weathered in very precarious ways and littered with awesome looking tuffas!
One of my favorite things about Railay was the close proximity of
The ride from Bangkok to Krabi, where we would take a boat to the island of Ko Phi Phi, was an interesting one. The 13 hour bus ride through the night was quite a disorienting experience. I was understandably quite unsuccessful in getting much sleep as the bus hurdled through the night. The little bit of on and off dozing I was able to get further added to the disorientation. At one point we stopped for a meal at what appeared to be a giant solitary building amongst fields of rice. It was the only building in sight and was also producing the only light in the area which made for an interesting sight as I stumbled drowsily out of the bus.
Eventually I was able to get some solid sleep and woke up in Krabi. We walked through the town to get to the boat rather than pay for a taxi. While on the boat we got an idea of the kind of place we were going to by the passengers on the boat, all of whom were tourists.
I didn’t have much of any expectation before arriving at Ko Phi Phi because we embarked there mostly to meet up with some of Patrick’s buddies from UCSD. Long story short Ko Phi Phi is a strange place. The island is small. Really only composed of two cliffy mountainous parts connected by a strip of sand that is a mile or two long and probably half a mile wide. Crammed into this tiny area are shops, bars, backpacker hostels and even more bars.
We arrived tired, hungry and with no set plan on where to stay let alone any knowledge of how to get around the island. We wandered through the town and stumbled upon a restaurant named Papaya that was run by an Indian man by the name of Chris. As we sat down a group of fellow Americas said that this was the best place to eat in town and commended us for finding the place during our first hour on the island. We eventually found a nice bungalow to call home for the next couple of nights.
The rest of the stay on Ko Phi Phi convinced me that this was defiantly the wildest place I had ever been. The entire place is pretty much dedicated to partying. Most of the party happens on one of the beaches, which has bars lining it’s northern half. From 7:00pm to until about 3:00am these bars pump out enough dance music to be heard for miles around. The music is a hilarious variety of electronic dance music with a drop about every thirty seconds. Perfect if you are wasted and want to dance all night but that scene proved to be overwhelming for us. We only went out one night so that we could try what most of the people come to Ko Phi Phi for.
On our second day we met up with Patrick’s friends from school! That evening we rented a long tail boat to take us for a snorkeling tour around the entire island. This culminated with a sunset cruise back into party central. Rather than party We instead opted for an early night to bed because we were all going on a boat for a scuba/snorkel adventure tomorrow. I am not certified so did not scuba but had a fantastic time snorkeling with Patrick’s friend Ellie. We saw 3 turtles, a leopard shark and tons of cool fish. Snorkeling was probably the highlight of the trip to Phi Phi for me! Another highlight for me was going to a Muy Thai bar. They had a pretty legitimate ring and offered fighters a free bucket of alcohol if they competed in the ring. I wasn’t about to get up there and get my but kicked so Kevin and Patrick decided to fight each other. They ended up being the stars of the show and put up a pretty good fight for everyone in the bar!
After Ko Phi Phi we decided to head for Railay Beach for a change of pace and some peace and quiet.
In Bangkok I succumbed to jet lag and chose to rather sleep than reflect on all I had seen and done there. However, after some rest and relaxation on the beaches of Ko Phi Phi, as well as finally getting over the jet lag, I decided I wanted a means to digest and share all the experiences I am having while traveling in South East Asia!
After only a week traveling I am amazed with how much I have already seen and experienced! Bangkok was the official start of this journey! My expectation of Bangkok was that it was going to be a hectic, fast paced and overwhelming experience that I would not particularly enjoy. Even though at times I felt like my senses were being overloaded by all that was happening around me while in Bangkok I actually found myself enjoying the city because of how different it was from other cities I have been to. The biggest difference that I was struck by is how much activity happened in the streets. The street markets were massive! You could conceivably find anything you need in these markets. Also, the markets seemed to be themed. There were food markets, appliance markets and clothes markets. There was even a market specifically focused on Buddah necklace pendants! Hours were spent wandering through these markets staring at all the unfamiliar sights, smells and sounds!
Though it is loud, the city has some parts where one can find a more peaceful setting. The temples were my personal favorites to explore, not only because I am fascinated by ancient architecture but also because they were relatively quiet compared to the cacophony outside their walls. We visited Wat Pho and Wat Arun during our stay. Wat Pho was beautiful! Words can’t really describe it so I will let my photos speak to that experience. Wat Arun was also beautiful but what was really great about it was that you were able to scale it’s absurdly steep steps. From the top you get an amazing view of the river and downtown Bangkok in the distance.
After three days in the city we took an overnight bus, an experience in of itself, to Ko Phi Phi.