got the boat back to the mainland and then got a taxi to kapote, a big town by a river about 2 hours from sinahoukville. We shared a taxi with Bill and Amy who were American and Philipina respectively and were visiting from the Island of Saipan. it was our first opportunity to see some of the countryside in Cambodia and also, less fortunately, the driving in Cambodia.
For the most part the landscape was flat and green. lots of palm and mango trees. Most of the houses along the road looked pretty worn out or temporary.
The rules of the road are basically – given two vehicles heading towards eachother, the less brave of the two yields to the other. failing that it defaults to “biggest vehicle wins.” Failing that, it comes down to who’s horn is louder. In Cambodia, they drive predominantly on the right but this can change at the driver’s discretion, or when turning, or when the traffic’s bad in the direction you want to go in.
Despite all that, we got there alive, found a hotel, and had crab for dinner.
arrived in sinahoukville at dawn, had breakfast on the beachfront from a backpacker barthat wasprobably allopen fromthe night before by the smell of the place. the toast came with furry mould. Got a ferry over to Koh Rong, a small island 40 miles of the coast. It turned out to be a tourist/expat enclave, everything was priced accordingly. Very small though. We stayed in a well appointed hut right on the beach. The sea was as warm as I’ve ever experienced it, we stayed in there most of the day.
Early the next morning we went for a walk around the coast, found some very secluded spots. Quite a lot of the beachesshowed little or no sign of being touched by humans.
We got back into the village where we were staying and stopped for lunch. As we did it started to piss it down and someone pointed out a twisty cyclone thing out at sea.
After the rain subsided, we hired a kayak and some snorkeling gear and paled or to this tiny island a few hundred metres off the coast near our hut. There was coral all around it so we snorkeled all the way round. loads of sea urchin so we had to be careful, but beautiful and interesting coral, different to the great barrier reef stuff, less colourful and slightly deader looking. on the island itself there was a temple. We had a look, got eaten by mosquitos, and got back in the water.
Our hut had a mosquito net around the bed which was quite necessary. The shower was outside, and quite a popular haunt for the little bastards, so consequently I got eaten every time I wanted to wash.
today we went back to finish our tour of the temples and then into town to kill some time while we waited for evening to get the night bus. one thing we did was to peruse one of these streetside fish tanks that you put your feet in and the fish are supposed to eat the dead skin of them. I wouldn’t usually do this sort of thing but we were bored.
The fish were a bit bigger than I would have liked, probably overfed, and still very hungry. even before you put your foot in they can see you through the water. It’s like a shark pool. You gingerly lower a for in and every single fish comes for a piece of you, the sensation was unbearably ticklish so I had to constantly move my foot slightly to subdue them a little. Can’t say my feet were noticeably better off from the experience. meh.
eventually we crammed in to the night bus (clearly for midgets) to sinahoukville (big town on the coast) which was really strange. No windows, and you sleep in sort of double bunk beds that are more like deck chairs in that the back is raised sothe person in the next row back can fit their feet behind you. Not the most comfortable night’s sleep!
At some point in the night, the coach speed for a toilet break. got off the bus into another world. it was pitch black, probably in the middle of nowhere but you couldn’t see. There was a lamp hanging above a shop constructed of corrugated steel with a huge cloud of moth-like creatures. swarming, bumping into us as we stood there taking in the scene. You could barely make out children sleeping in hammocks. We followed a Christmas tree light illuminated walkway to the toilets. my cubicle had no less than 7 geckos to keep me company and a binch of creepy crawlies and fly-y crawlies to boot.
We borrowed complementary rickety chinese bicycles from our hotel and set of towards the gargantuan complex of temples known as Angkor. Even at 8am it was sweltering. We speed off at a Street food stalk for some breakfast not knowing what we ordered, which when it arrived turned or to be noodle soup with assorted blood vessels. I ate all of it except the pipes.
We got to the entrance of the temples and my bike jammed and I almost came off. The deraileur had jammed itself into the spokes. luckily someoe had a pair of pliers so I bent it roughly back into place, snapping only a couple of teeth from the gears. so we continued on into the heat on our deathtrap bikes.
We spent the entire day roaming the magnificently complex ruins of these ancient temples, taking photos, being hassled by kids trying to sell us cold drinks for a dollar, sweating, getting burnt and exhausted.
Siem Reap, being the home of the ancient wonder that is Angkor, is a complete tourist trap. Everyone wants your money, you also have to bargain for everything. Most of the place is dirt roads lined with makeshift corrgugated steel huts seeking random stuff or just has sleeping locals in hammocks or 30 guys watching an 80s Hollywood blockbuster on a tiny screen. If you try to buy a can of coke, everyone will try to get $2 off you (USD, that is) but you can usually get them down to a quarter of the asking price very quickly. Whilst haggling, most people are quick to remind you that you are Western and rich and that they are cambodian and poor, so you should give them the asking price, which half the time is more than it is back home.
There was a sort of tourist centre in siem reap called pub Street, which was full of white people getting drunk, so naturally we headed down there for a cocktail and some over prices cambodian dinner. Was pretty good though. Then back to the hotel, do in the world’s largest jacuzzi, and then bed.
woke up, went to some botanical garden and then the national museum which was ok. I’m biased because I’d the good air conditioning so maybe it wasn’t all that.
We headed to the airport only to find out that our cheap assed flights were so cheap they left from cheapo airport, so we panickedly got a bus there with a massive group of chinese touristds who all had so much stuff that they appeared to be moving home. The air-con in the bus was leaking on people’s heads.
We got to the cheapo airport and stuffed all our heavy stuff into our pockets to fit the baggage allowance, and had samples from a weird dried food shop for lunch. everything from Cola bottles to salted plums to dried cuttlefish (my favourite!)
after a not too unpleasant flight, we landed in siem reap, cambodia. stepping odd the plane was like going into a sauna, complete with the fragrant hot wood smell. customs was surprisingly easy as they had a production line of 7 or 8 people who you have your passport to and a minute later relieved it from the other end of the line with your new visa.
We got to our hotel quite late. It was a bit out of town. super cheap but comppete with tacky replicas of angkor wat statues draped in fairy lights, ornamental cap ponds and a huge swimming pool that, during the course of the achieving day, managed to warm itself up to a tepid bath temperature. Quite unrefreshing but we got in anyway.
Got the redeye from brisbane to kuala lumpur.
We stayed in a hostel in a posh area, but in a backstreet with plenty of weird smells and potholes. in fact, there were potholes almost everywhere we went. as a city, KL is pretty clean and modern, at least in the centre, except for these holes in the pavement or drains with out a grille or other perilous features. We saw a few blind people around town and I was really surprised to see that they were braving these insane obstacles on these streets. You really have to watch where you’re waking.
Also to cross a road you have to play chicken with the motorists, and assert your presence in the middle of traffic. We participated as pedestrians in several traffic jams, moving with or around the cars, buses and scooters.
scooters are really popular here. Every time the lights change, a swarm of them bombs past ahead of the traffic.
also, it seems like the city is at war with the climate. All the noisy fans and droning air cons right up in the foreground of daily life.
People seem very friendly, and I couldn’t perceive any tension or separation between the different ethnic groups here.
We went out for dinner in a night market which was basically a dark Street with loads of open air restaurants. We found one we liked the look of and managed to order some food which was delicious, Blue rice and spicy chicken curry, which had loads of anchovy sauce in it. Someone passed me a chair over someone’s head so I could sit on it and I accidentally put it in the spinning fan overhead. It made a massive clunk and everyone in the restaurant starred at me for the rest of the meal. a little offputting but it didn’t ruin the meal.
We met a very charismatic 75 year old Indian guy in Little India who wanted to show us how strong his belly muscles were. He told me to poke my finger into his soft belly and then he instantly pushed it out. show off.
There was some sort of Chinese political rally in the street outside our hostel on our way back that ended in some horrendous karaoke. Didn’t matter. We were completely shattered. hit our pillows and woke up 11 hours later.
Instead of oyster cards they have little blue plastic oyster coins that look like poker chips.
yesterday we went to the great barrier reef. It was quite expensive but the main thing to do in the part of Australia we were in and quite revered by anyone who mentioned it.
We got a speed boat early in the morning to a part of it known as the outer reef, and stopped at 3 different places where we could jump out and snorkel. It was other-worldly. For a start the coral is alien enough to me in all its luminous hues and bizarre shapes. Secondly, the fact that you’re floating around, weightlessly among fish who don’t just whiz off at the slightest glimpse of you.
The fish were pretty spectacular, remarkable mostly for their colours. Didn’t see any sharks or turtles. I really got the hang of repressurizing myself in order to dive deeper in between breaths so I could get a deep as 10m without my brain imploding through my ears. The fact that I could go so deep made it doubly surreal. an experience totally unnatural for humans.
After that we went a modern Australian dinner in cairns that looked very exciting with emu, croc and kangaroo, but just didn’t really taste of much.
Today we flew to Brisbane for our connecting flight to kuala lumpur. We had must of the day in Brisbane so we had a wander round, had some Japanese food which is plentiful and cheap, went to the main at gallery and then back to the airport.
yesterday we woke up early and caught our flight to cairns. cairns is the main jumping off point for the great barrier reef. This makes it incredibly touristic with every other shop touting bungee jumps, reef tours and zipline tours of the jungle. we headed to the beach to relax for half a day, then found an amazingly delicious ramen place that was an order of magnitude cheaper than everywhere else to boot.
The next day, as we walked to the car hire place we saw bats roosting upside down in a tree. they were fighting and squabbling and were generally not being very nocturnal i
n the blazing 32 degree sun.
we picked up Annette’s family from the airport and went to a rainforest Park called kuranda and went on a walk in the jungle. we found a giant spider, got leached and found razor
plants. and different kinds of wasp nests grown on road signs, found a bloody leech in one sock and a big spider in the other, watched the leech be murdered then saw ants feeding off its corpse and consequently my blood.
We drove to port Douglas (“a haven for the rich and famous” acording to the guidebook) to where we’re staying for a few days in an apartment. We went out into port Douglas to get dinner and settled for a ripoff mexican restaurant, where burritos cost $25. it was the cheapest place in town. I spent the first half of the meal just being outraged. We ordered starters and the waitress gave us a beer that was out of date then added up the bill wrong so we got a half price discount. We left before anyone realized.
The next day we went to wonga beach hoping to find indigenous wonga pigeons but just found mosquitos. then went to a place where we could see crocs. It was a little disappointing, as we only saw 2. one fully visible, and one small one mostly under water. After that we went to mossman gorge where we could swim which was incredible. Annette has an under water camera so we did some silly videos and I got stuck downstream by rhe current. I really had to struggle against it and got to appreciate how powerless us pesky humans can in comparison to the forces of nature. Good exercise though.
Then we went on a short walk where I managed to get a pretty impressive set of bites.
On the way back we went past an aboriginal community settlement. which just looked like a little village but someone said that if you go in there you’re subject to aboriginal laws not the usual Australian laws and it could potentially be dangerous to go in there, so we didn’t. We subsequently learnt that there are big problems in Australia with aboriginal relations but not much about what or why.
today we decided to head to byron bay, which is a beach town with a beautiful beach attached to it.
We got there and found some breakfast. I had an egg white omelet with spinach, cheese mushrooms and caramelised onions, which treated a lot less healthy than it sounded, to my delight! Then we set off along the beach.
It was quite busy, there were a lot of surfers in the water. finally I got to see what all the fuss about surfing was about. Our 2 hour lesson didn’t really cover what the end goal of learning to surf rewarded you with. it looked much more fun than what we were getting up to, and a lot more difficult.
We headed further, to the “eastern most point of Australia” where I became entranced by the waves rolling in and crashing against rocks, marveling at their raw power and feeling very small. The others had to wrench me away so we could get back in time for the barbecue at our host’s house back up in gold coast.
yesterday was the christening. There was a little bit of panic with the ozzie grandparents of the baby who were hosting the party. We went to a posh boys boarding school Chapel to have the actual christening. It pissed it down all day pretty much. party was ok. We went for a walk afterwards then had sushi and a family argument for dinner!
today we hired a car and went to currumbin wildlife sanctury with Annette’s toddler neice. finally, I thought, I would get to see some kangaroos bouncing around, but was very disappointed to find that they were just lying around, dozing, surrounded by food. It was as if they were all hung over. You could feed them but they just weren’t that interested. They were quite funny though, and I did see one of them do one bounce.
There were a bunch of other things like tree kangaroos, who seemed quite depressed. it was incredible though to see these rather large creatures precariously sat ontop of delicate palm trees, taking a nap.
After that we had an amazing lunch of barramundi and chips at a fish and chip shop in Burleigh Head, then off to springbrook national park to see some nature. This consisted of driving down a narrow Road for a mile or so, then getting our and taking in the view from a “lookout” then getting back in the car to reach the next one.
one such lookout was called “best of all” lookout. We got there, and what we saw instead of the stunning valley we knew to be there, was a dense covering of cloud. We did find another good lookout into the Valley though, from which we could see 5 or 6 different waterfalls which kept me happy.