It feels like a lifetime has passed since I last wrote here. So much has happened. I’ve been on countless flights, buses, trains, tuk-tuks, bikes and walking, lots of walking, schlepping our bags and tired arses around South-East Asia.
*cue voice-over* When we last heard from our intrepid adventurers (eh, that’s me and the DB) they were about to embark on a gruelling 24 hour trip through Thailand to the Cambodian border and on to Siem Reap…
It all started well. The bus to Bangkok was really comfortable and we got to watch crazy Thai soaps, highly entertaining, lots of cheesy sound effects when something dramtic happened. We were almost left behind at the rest stop half way there and the DB spilled most of my dinner down our seats, but apart from that it was a drama free trip. I however was really looking forward to the train ride to the Cambodian border, seeing the Thai countryside and generally relaxing. No such luck! We climbed into our third class carriage (the entire 6 hour train ride cost us 20 cents…each…bargain!) with a million other people, a few kids selling sweets and drink, and some chickens. We parked our already tender arses on our wooden bench and glazed out our glass-less window. Fans in the ceiling kept the air moving somewhat and helped churn up the debris from outside that came flying in on top of us. My arse was fast asleep after an hour and by the time we reached the border you could have jammed a biro in my thigh and I wouldn’t have had a clue. I have never been so glad to stand up and walk in my entire life.
We caught a tuk-tuk to the border, trying and failing to keep our driver on the right road. After a trip to the ‘real’ Cambodian border, we finally got where we needed to go and made our way through Thai and then Cambodian border control and customs. The Cambodian side was pretty interesting, just a small building, with a window that you queued at, while a guard beside it tried to talk you into giving him another 100 Baht for ‘official forms’. Then it was on a bus to the new transport terminal, and chucked in a taxi with 2 other really lovely Polish tourists (one of their cousins had just got married to a guy from Shannon, Ireland, and was telling us about the big Irish wedding they had in Poland and the partying after). Our taxi driver stopped to fiddle with a few things under the bonnet once or twice and we feared we mightn’t get to Siem Reap at all, but it all worked out in the end and we were never so glad to get to our beds.
Siem Reap was really interesting, a strange juxtaposition of old and new, with KFC and a brand new mall in the centre of town, while outside people lived in small homes and water buffalo and cows roamed freely across the roads. The Angkor Temples, one of the seven wonders of the world and the big tourist draw here, were absolutely incredible. Truly stunning to stand inside temples that were thousands of years old. The intricate carvings of heaven and hell, and wars won were so detailed and still perfectly clear. The DB and I had an amazing day, cycling out the the temples and then taking our time, climbing through the ruins and up to the highest point of the Bayon temple, best known for its huge carvings of serenely smiling faces and for being in Tomb Raider with Angie Jolie.
It’s a pity about all the hassling you get at the temples however. Tourism is obviously the main industry here and everyone deserves to make a living, but the hassling was pretty full-on and even little children, no old than 3 or 4, would walk beside you trying to get you to buy postcards and souvenirs. They’re pros at what they do, highly trained and super clever, one girl tried to charge us $5 for a drink and when she found out that we were from Ireland she said ‘Ireland is so beautiful, 5 million people, it’s an island near England’ and then started SPEAKING IRISH! Yes, that’s right! A little girl in CAMBODIA busted out a ‘Hello! How are you?’ in IRISH! I nearly wet myself laughing. She knows nearly as much Irish as I do!
After a few easy going days in Siem Reap we made our way to Phnom Penh to get our Vietnam visas sorted. We stayed in the smallest, air-less room, with a bed like a rock, ants and satellite TV! Not much to report here. We had a pretty nice time walking around some of the sights, but I overheated and couldn’t hack anymore asian-city-craziness. We only stayed 2 nights before heading over the border to Ho Chi Min/Saigon, a lovely civilized border crossing and a confortable coach that dropped us right in the heart of the tourist area of the city.
First concern off the bus, find somewhere to sleep. That was remedied pretty quickly when we were lead to a nearby guest house run by the happiest woman I have ever met. She gave me 2 enthusiatic thumbs up when the DB gave the go ahead to stay there, followed by a pat on the cheek for me and a few playful punches in the stomach for the DB! He though she was mental, but she was really friendly and even gave us big hugs and a wave off when we left.
Ho Chi Min was not what I expected at all. I was looking forward to Vietnam the most of any country we were going to visit, but I was shocked by how Western it was, bar of course the Facebook ban which I had completely forgotten about. Every restaurant offered pretty rubbish Western cuisine and all the usual fast-food suspects were always packed. We saw a Marks and Spencers, Dior and other shops from home.
One completely authentic part of the city, however, was the traffic. A wall of motorcycles taking up every inch of road space, and some of the pavement, and the only way to get across it all (should you want to/BE CRAZY ENOUGH TO cross the road) was to just walk. As one guide book we read put it ‘Pretend you are Moses. Walk and the Red Sea will part!’
At night the area we were in turned into one giant bar with flashing lights and cheap cocktails. In the middle of all this we searched out some tasty food, and watched the other tourists do their thing, including families with young kids hanging out next door to clubs. All in all, it was a little underwhelming, a little too like home in some ways and a little depressing that Vietnamese culture was being watered down so easily.
From Vietnam we caught our flights to Malaysia and landed in the refreshing calm of Kuala Lumpur. It was absolutely boiling there but we had fun hanging out at the Petronas towers, the gardens surrounding it and it’s giant mall underneath. We saw ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in 3D, so much fun and had the tastiest toothache-toffee popcorn ever that was both sweet and salty. We hung out in Chinatown, enjoying the food and shopping but KL really just felt like re-entry into the kind of cities we were used to.
From there it was back to Sydney and normality. First thing you notice is the roads. You don’t feel like you are going to die by ‘water-buffulo verses bus driver that is half watching the soap on TV’ crash! We were only back in Sydney for 2 days, long enough to celebrate Naw-Ruz (the Baha’i New Year – 21st March) with my family here and eat some good Persian food. I’m still full just thinking about it. There is nothing better in the world that spending Naw-Ruz with family or friends. I’ve spent it in some very strange places since turning 18, usually with people that have no idea that anything special is going on. It was a real treat this year! Then it was off to Hawaii and some relaxing fun in the sun for a week.
Well that was the plan. Instead was our flight was cancelled while we were waiting in Sydney airport, and the DB and I are currently stuck in Sydney until Monday, which is the next available flight to Honolulu that they could transfer us to. Lucky for us we have somewhere to stay and it will get us into Hawaii with 2 days to spare before our connecting flights to Reno. Others were not as lucky, including one couple who were on the same flight and lost their entire honeymoon booking. Needless to say there were angry words exchanged at the Jetstar desk but what could we do. So I sulked a bit on the way back to my cousins house, but not for too long. The silver lining in this situation is extra time with my Aunty and cousins whom I mightn’t see again for a very long time.
So that’s whats been happening with me. Lots of travelling, lots of drama but of all the things that could possibly have gone wrong during this trip (touch wood) we were really lucky that it happened here and not in the middle of nowhere in Asia. Thank God for small mercies!