After a flight from Yangon to Bangkok, it was time to spend a bit more time in Thailand, as I’d only had a few days in Chiang Mai, and a day or two in Bangkok. A trip to see the Bridge over the River Kwai was a great thing to see although it took a bit of time to get there. A train ride over the “Death Railway” was incredible, if I am able to use that word appropriately. The amount of suffering by the POWs who had to help to construct the railway was horrible. After visiting a local museum where the living and working conditions were shown to be brutal, it was understandable why so many people had such a hard time here. A friend was meant to come with me, but was stuck in Hong Kong where there had been a fierce typhoon, so she stayed there for another day until the weather cleared. The airline then misplaced her luggage, so she arrived in Bangkok and her suitcase hadn’t left Hong Kong yet. Thankfully it got delivered a few hours before our flight to Koh Samui, otherwise it would have been a bit more of a hassle.
The first day on the islands was getting the flight to Koh Samui, and then the ferry to Koh Phangan. A nice relaxing afternoon on Thong Nai Pan Yai beach was welcome. It was peaceful and was meant more for families. Both of us were exhausted after having a few early mornings. We spent the next day relaxing and having a wander around. I have to admit that I got my first bout of proper sunburn at this point even in the semi-shade.The following day we did a snorkelling trip to Koh Tao and saw lots of lovely fish. The speed boat was very bumpy, but fun. I felt as though I wobbled off it when I got back to shore.Getting a ferry back to Samui the next day was good, although I left my Vietnamese hat on a minibus en route. I had been carrying it round for a good month or so since leaving Vietnam so was a bit annoyed, even if it was a bit battered. In Samui, we stayed on a more touristy beach – Chaweng Beach – although at the quieter end in a nice little boutique hotel with a pool.A day trip on a jeep exploring the islands was fun – a lot of dirt tracks and good scenery. We sat on the top of the jeep for a bit which was fun and got thrown about (deliberately, of course!).The last day was spent relaxing with a massage overlooking the beach. Even if you ask for one type of massage, you typically always get a Thai one where you’re bent about a lot. There was a lot of back cracking, and it was a bit tricky as I am not the most flexible of people, so bending in certain ways is unpleasant. Anyway, I felt a lot better after it. I was nice to walk up and down the beach. I definitely felt the ‘party’ atmosphere closer to the more tourist centered section. If I had been perhaps 5 years younger, I probably wouldn’t have minded, although I did feel quite old. An afternoon reading and nursing the sunburn finished the islands trip.An early flight the next day returned us to Bangkok where I would spend my final day on my own. The week went very quickly, but I think it was just about enough time to do things without getting too bored. I am not the sort of person who can go away and relax on a beach the whole time for a holiday, but having the odd morning or afternoon to read or catch up with friends or life was good. It definitely made me realise how exhausted I had become. A final day in Bangkok was spent without any rushing around or a massive amount of travel – I felt quite lost! An attempt to get into the Sky Bar was ruined by the fact I wasn’t in smart/casual attire. Apparently, a t-shirt and shorts aren’t appropriate. Oh well! A little tuk tuk took me to Chinatown where I found a rooftop bar on top of a hotel where I got a good view of the sunset with a G&T in hand – shame it was Beefeeters though!
Another early start and a bus journey to the Bangkok/Cambodia border at Krong Poi Pet was next. Walking through the border was a bit unnerving – you could easily get stopped and questioned if you looked a little suspicious. I did find it a bit odd that it is still referred to as “The Kingdom of Cambodia” even though the King has no power, and is often detained his Palace in Phnom Penn.After another long coach journey, I arrived at Siem Reap late afternoon after having been on the road since 06:30. Exhausted and hot, it was time to get out and about. Taking a tuk tuk around was easy enough (even with a beer to go). I walked up to the night market in the evening and had another fish pedicure. Then it was off to Angkor temple complex! A 4:30am start was necessary to get to see the sunrise. Although, I did oversleep a little and woke up when I was meant to be leaving. But the early start wasn’t regretted! It was a great sight. It was also a lot cooler in the morning and there weren’t too many people in the temple, as some would only come for the sunrise and then go again. Angkor Wat is the biggest temple and is originally a Hindu temple, but now used for Buddhist worship. It was built in the Khmer Empire and was only discovered about 150 years ago by a French nature explorer. Visited Ta Prohm which was where Tomb Raider was filmed (although I have never seen it), and Bayon where there are a lot of Buddha faces are in the structure. Ta Prohm was a great symbol of how nature can overpower man made structures as well as working together with them – trees were growing out of the tops of the roof of certain buildings and the roots had grown down the stone bricks. This was due to the weather being rainy and sunny – moss had grown on the stones and this was a perfect breeding ground for when seeds fell from trees up above. The three temples visited are only a small part of the massive Angkor city. After returning to the town and having a Khmer massage, it was time to head into the rice fields for a bit of fun on a quad bike. The paddies went on for ever – the colour of them was as if they’d been painted. It was a completely different green. Travelling on the dusty roads with busy traffic was a bit mad – lots of tuk tucks zooming in and out of small spaces and mopeds with at least 3 people on them, possibly with groceries too. The main source of money comes from agriculture, as well as tourism – you are surrounded by fields and cattle. Then it was out to Pub Street and the YOLO bar. I have to confess that I felt my age a little bit, although I did dabble in a bit of fluorescent face paint to try and blend in. I think it worked? I do keep getting looks of surprise when people know my age – they think I’m a lot younger. After a few strong caipirinhas ($3 each!) and a “squat off” (don’t ask), I felt it was time to go home. Woke up the next morning with a slight headache and it was an 8 hr bus ride to Phnom Penn. Stopped off at a local market in Skuon and spotted a lot of edible creepy crawlies. I did eat a spider which had been cooked in garlic – it was quite crispy. Phnom Penn, the capital of Cambodia, is quite a bit city. I was staying fairly centrally, near to the Royal Palace. Here for two days to explore. The Choeung Ek killing fields are symbolic of the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge. It’s hard to comprehend the grand scale of the atrocities until you enter the memorial and see the amount of skulls upon skulls. I was taken around by a guy who was born during the period of the Civil War, and he never knew his father as he had been taken away. It was very moving to hear a personal story. The suffering of the people is still evident. Pol Pot is responsible for the deaths of up to three million people, most of who died in one of the killing fields, so many families in Cambodia have their own story to tell. Visiting the S-21 prison was a real shock. It affected me more than I thought it would. Seeing the actual rooms where important prisoners were tortured, and most died, was horrible – there were still blood stains on the floor and ceiling. These were kept mostly in the same condition as they were found when the city was liberated in 1977, but the prison was only discovered in 1979. There were a lot of photos of both prisoners and their captors, who were mostly young boys who were forced to do horrific things to people in order to save their own skin. 14,000 people were have thought to have been held here, but only 7 survived. The Khmer Rouge kept the photos as records. I was fortunate to meet one of the last survivors – Chum Mey – who is in his late 80s. The positivity of this man is overwhelming. He didn’t stop smiling and was grateful for people coming to visit. He described how he was tortured and that he now has no hearing in one ear because of it. I visited the Royal Palace which was very extensive and highly decorated, and the King was there, as there were certain parts of the Palace that were not able to be visited, as he is basically under house arrest. The country is fairly corrupt – you can’t talk about politics in public, the same political party has been in power since the Khmer Rouge, and it is meant to be a ‘democracy’. Then onto Sihanoukville where the torrential rain did not stop for two days. This town on the coast is meant to have lovely beaches, but the weather did not do it justice. Did a bit of a trek through the Ream National Park, where I walked through a little fishing village to Thma Thom beach – this would have been idyllic if the rain had stopped. Nevertheless, the scenery was still appreciated. Then off to see the Kbal Chhay Waterfalls and have some lunch. The water was so powerful!
Next stop: Vietnam!