Siem Reap

This is going to be a pretty long one…

Leaving Don Det we took the long boats back to the buses but this time I managed to stay dry! We boarded our buses and drove for 45 minutes to the Lao/Cambodia border. We said goodbye to our bus driver and went to get stamped out of Laos. Here we had to pay 10,000 kip (90p) to leave the country, this is an overtime fee for the police which you pay on weekends and after 4pm. We then had to walk for about 300m into Cambodia. It was probably the most surreal experience just walking through no mans land and into Cambodia.

Here we got our temperature taken which was mandatory to ensure we were fit and well to be in Cambodia. Once our temp was checked we got a yellow card to keep throughout Cambodia to prove we were fine when we arrived if we got ill. The next step was to get our Cambodian visas depending on the police officer giving you the visa you may have to pay extra as corruption is pretty high in Cambodia. After they’ve given you your visa you the join another queue to get your fingerprints and photo taken. At this point we saw a guy skip the queue, walk straight up to the counter with a wad of cash and just walked through… literally shit you see in movies. The whole process took us 2 hours and was probably the scariest visa experience I’ve had this trip.

Once we arrived we grabbed some food and boarded the next bus for our 7 hour journey to Siem Reap. I was a real moody cow on this bus journey because I couldn’t get comfortable so looking back I feel a bit sorry for everyone around me.

Arriving in Siem Reap we said goodbye to Pao our guide for the final time as we would get. Cambodian guide upon leaving Siem Reap. Our hotel in Siem Reap cost us £10 each for the 3 nights and was the most luxury we have had.

The next day started off unexpectedly. We had been told we would be picked up at 7.45am for our tour of the temples of Angkor. But at 7.30am we were walking down to grab breakfast from the bakery a guy on a tuk tuk was holding a piece of paper with our names on it so we got in. He took us to the tour company office after a 10 minute ride of complete confusion on our part. We sat for ages wondering what was happening before our tour guide finally appeared, we got in the bus and headed for the rest of our group who we knew from the bus.

Our guide was called Mari and he really liked to name drop. “I was a tour guide for the day to 007 my friend Roger Moore” or “when I was here with my friend blah blah the national geographic photographer we did this”. It was pretty funny and I’m pretty sure he was speaking shit 99% of the time. He also had a lot to say about Thai people and not in a good sense, it became pretty clear the Khmer people and the Thai’s don’t get along, he blamed Thailand for taking Khmer land saying they were thieves and cheats who had been forced out of Mongolia many years ago and the Khmer people had given them part of their land which they had expanded over the years. He told us anecdotes of when he was a teenager and would guard the temples of Angkor from looters from other countries and being given an AK-47 to do this.

He first took us to Ta Prohm “Tomb Raider temple” this is where Angelina Jolie’s tomb raider was filmed.

We went relatively early were still fighting with Chinese tour groups to get photos. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in a temple, you were basically climbing over people to see things.

After we were done here we headed to Angkor Wat, Mari had the bus driver drop us across the river and we walked over the bridge. Here Mari told us to watch for crocodiles, when I asked if crocodiles were naturally from Cambodia he told us no people got them as pets and released the in the river, so now they have massive crocodiles in the rivers. He then told us he had got his mother in law 98 crocodiles for around her farm.

Luckily we didn’t see any crocodiles and walked over to Angkor Wat.

Throughout the tour in Angkor there would be random points where Mari would show us bullet marks from where they had decided to “shoot for fun”. To get to the top of Angkor Wat there was a queue to get up the new UNESCO built stairs. These stairs replaced vertical thin stairs which would have required going up on all fours for me, the wooden stairs were put in after a man died falling down the originals. You can still see the original stairs and there’s no chance in hell I would be going up them!

Mari sat for ages at this point telling us about his life, he has a green bean farm where he works for all of January and most of February. He raises cockerels for cock fighting (which we have since found out is completely illegal in Cambodia) he showed us his house which he built and pictures of his 2 daughters. He told us is views on Cambodian politics (they were not good).

As we were leaving Angkor Wat for lunch we decided to stop and take some pictures

Ben managed to capture the moment someone for the billionth time tried to walk through my photo!!

After lunch we went to Wat Thom but before this we got to try and move stones the way the builders of these temples would have

Clearly I was a natural?

My pictures for the last temples got less as the heat got to us all and we were exhausted so here’s a few

After our exhausting day our second day was spent in a bakery and at the cinema seeing Black Panther.

Next we headed to our Cambodian Homestay in Battambang!

Thailand

We arrived at Bangkok Airport on the 2nd of February, which now seems like a lifetime ago. We had our Stray welcome meeting that evening where we met our first group, it was the largest of our tour groups so far with a starting number of 17.

The difference with this tour is that you decide how long you want to spend at each stop, you can either go with the bus or you can ‘hop off’ this means that the group will change regularly.

We didn’t see that much of Bangkok to be honest, so even though I’ve been there I couldn’t tell you anything about it.

9am the next morning we set off to Ayutthaya. It took around 2 hours where we then had time to visit Pagodas and explore the town before catching the overnight train to Chiang Mai.

I had my reservations about the overnight train but a few people had assured me that it was nice. We caught the train around 9.30pm and our seats had already been turned into beds. Ben took the top bunk whilst I got the bottom. I definitely got the better deal. My bunk was spacious and felt like a little room, the first time I had my own room for almost a month.

Before sleeping, I plucked up the courage to use the train bathroom. There was the option of a squat toilet or a western toilet. Both had no plumbing – everything just went straight onto the tracks below. I managed to sleep off and on all night and woke to “Hi hi get up get up”. Ben had not had the same sleep quality as me, the AC and the lights were directly above the top bunks and the neither were turned off during the night.

Once we had got off the train we were piled into big red tuk tuks, we were dropped off at the Stray accommodation and this is where Ben and I said goodbye to our first group. We decided to hop off in Chiang Mai for 5 nights.

I really enjoyed our time in Chiang Mai, it’s probably one of the most touristy destinations we’ve been to on this trip and everything was much more expensive but the atmosphere made up for it.

On our second night there we took a cooking class with some of the girls from our tour group. We made a total of 11 dishes and we both loved it. We came away with a free apron, spice paste for curry and a cookbook of all the dishes we made.

We then had a day of no plans which felt wrong after having something to do for a month. We had a lazy morning and explored the city.

The following day was my favourite day of the trip so far. We visited a families elephants with Elephant Nature Park. These elephants used to be used in the tourist industry so that the food for them could be afforded but elephant nature park now pay the family for people to visit them so they no longer have to be treated badly. There were 6 adult elephants and 1 baby which was around 2 months old.

To begin with we helped chop sticks and wash bananas for their snacks which we then fed to them. This was an experience, the elephants knew when you had more than one of their snacks in your hand and would just stick their trunks closer to you till you gave it to them. After the snacks were finished we took the elephants for a walk through the jungle where they could forage for their own food. For some reason I never expected elephants to climb so high but they did it with ease. The baby elephant was filled with mischief. Constantly chasing someone or trying to knock us over. He got under one of bens legs and I thought that Bens time had come. Once he had got us down on the ground he would try to lie on us as this is how baby elephants play with each other. Our guides strongly advised we did not sit on the ground with him near as he was over 100kgs. Once back from our walk it was our turn to eat. After this we took the elephants to the river and everyone got in the water with them. It started with everyone throwing water over the elephants and ended in a water fight.

We left the elephants here and we were driven back in an open top truck where we were standing up in the back.

Our final day was also a lazy day in recovery from our big day with the elephants.

Our time in Chiang Mai and Thailand was at an end. Yesterday we drove to Chiang Rai to see the white temple which was beautiful. Potentially the nicest one I have seen so far. After Chiang Rai we continued our drive up to the Laos border.

Singapore

Our journey to Singapore wasn’t exactly smooth. We had booked an airport transfer for 6am but had failed to mention German time not Asian time so our driver showed up 15 minutes late, he then decided to stop for petrol and then he stopped for breakfast! Our experience at Mandalay Airport was smooth until we arrived at our stopover in Yangon. We ended up in the wrong terminal and through security. Turns out, once you’re through security it’s quite hard to get out again!!

After our 6 hours in Yangon we finally caught our flight to Singapore.

When you first step out the airport in Singapore you immediately notice the humidity. After we arrived at our hotel we decided to treat ourselves to a dominos. We arrived pretty late and had no energy to do anything else.

The next morning we had a lie in and set off toward the Marina via suntec city (massive shopping centre). Long story short, we never made it to the Marina we spent all day in suntec. That night we began looking at our next move after our next tour ends in Vietnam. After thinking long and hard, I made the decision to book my flight home in May whilst Ben continues on to New Zealand and Australia.

The next day we did make it to the Marina, after our morning swim! We visited the Gardens at the Marina which were absolutely stunning. I’d add pictures but my internet isn’t good enough! After we had done the flower dome and the cloud forest we went to the top of the Marina sands hotel for panoramic views of the city. This was gorgeous and Singapore might be one of my favourite cities.

Today, we headed to the airport for our flight to Bangkok. Singapore airport is like something out of the future. It’s incredible. On the way to the airport I discovered that my card had been cloned and completely emptied from cash points in Indonesia.

This afternoon we arrived in Bangkok where we start our final tour tomorrow morning!

Mandalay

La had mentioned before we arrived in Mandalay that it was chaotic so after our cramped 8 hour minibus (they do not make vehicles for tall western people here) we arrived in busy Mandalay.

The roads were as crazy as Delhi, if not worse because in Delhi cars will slow/stop for you, in Mandalay they do not. The first night we spent in Mandalay we stayed in the Royal Guest House and our room felt very strange with it feeling like it used to be a bathroom. Luckily we had booked our own accommodation for the 2nd night at the Royal Pearl Hotel and even though it only cost us £11 each it felt like a luxury hotel.

For our time in Mandalay we had a tour guide named Mala. She took us to several sites of Mandalay including Mandalay Hill and Kuthadaw Pagoda.

Mandalay Hill is a pagoda on top of a hill which gives panoramic views of the city. Whilst we were up there, Alice and I spent far too long watching a pair of dogs and I’m still not sure what they were doing. Also bathed Buddha on my birth day statue – Wednesday morning, elephant with tusks. You shower Buddha with cups of water – 1 for every year of your life and an extra for luck.

The Kuthadaw Pagoda holds the world’s largest book. This is in Buddha’s language and is his teachings. Only a number of monks are able to recite the whole thing without mistakes and would take several months/years to read the entire book.

Mandalay was where we said goodbye to this tour group before heading off to Singapore!

Kalaw and Inle Lake

After forever on a bus we finally arrived in Kalaw. Kalaw is a village in the mountains. It was definitely a change of pace from Bagan and Yangon and it was welcomed.

Here is where the trekkers went and did the trek and Ben and I stayed and relaxed for 2 nights. We ate at the bakery, went on a walk and sunbathed and it was really nice to just relax in a nice place. In the mornings though, it was cold. On the second morning we could see our breath. The free breakfast we got in the mornings we enough to feed entire families rather just the two of us.

The trekkers we walking to our next destination, Inle lake. We were given the option of the taking the train or the bus. The train would take 6 hours and was a cargo train or the minibus would take 2.5. You can guess which one we took!

The bus driver took one look at my bag, climbed onto the roof with it and strapped it down. The next 2.5 hours were filled with overtaking on blind corners on windy roads down the mountains and I was very glad when we arrived at the junction to Inle Lake where we caught the taxi.

On your way into the Inle Lake region you have to pay a fee of 13,000kyat this goes toward local villages. We stayed for two nights was called Nyaung Shwe. On our first night for dinner we went to a place called Innlay hut for dinner which is an indian. The owners are mother and son. Mum is chef and son is out front. The son is obsessed with Eminem so the decor is very eminem based with slogans on the walls interspersed with buddhas. he wore a top that said “Fack Trump” on the front and still don’t give a shit on the back and was very strange!

On our last day in Inle we took a boat tour on the lake which was stunning. We passed floating farms and floating villages. We visited a weaver, blacksmith and the long necked tribe where they wear rings around their neck. These weigh 13kgs and a new ring is added every 5 years. Originally they were used as protection from tigers but now just for beauty. Once these rings are on they do not come off as the neck muscles become too weak to hold the head up.

This morning we left inle lake for an 8 hour bus ride to Mandalay.

10 things I’ve learned about India after my first visit

1. Indian drivers have amazing spatial awareness (and they need it). Indian roads are mental, if there is a space that your vehicle will fit in then it will. Regardless of it being a lane or not.

2. India really is an assault on your senses and it’s amazing. There is always noise whether it be dogs barking, horns constantly sounding, people singing or prayer music. Bright colours are all over especially in arid areas like Rajasthan where the ground is very beige. Flowers called rangoli’s which are bright are brought to temples, the buildings are painted colours and the women wear the brightest clothes I have ever seen.

There is always a smell in the air whether it be incense, burning rubbish or cow dung. The food is spicy, they tone it down for foreigners but it still burns my tongue off! Even the cups of tea here include spices (chai masala tea).

3. Indians have incredibly bendy legs. Not sure whether this is because of the amazing muscles they need just to use the bathroom or it’s down to something else but they can really bend those legs! So many men squat on small fence posts comfortably as their seats.

4. Curries do get better than your favourite Indian restaurant at home. My curry tastes have definitely been changed. I’ve gone from just eating chicken curries to preferring vegetable curries with paneer or dal (paneer where have you been all my life). I’ve jumped off the naan bandwagon and on to the roti rodeo.

5. In the past when I’ve visited monuments that I’ve been excited about (the statue of liberty comes to mind) they’ve disappointed me. I’ve learned that, that doesn’t always have to be the case. The Taj Mahal took my breath away and I almost cried it was so stunning. It was so much more than the hype.

6. Indians stare. a lot. I’m not sure if this shocked me more because coming from Britain we are taught at an early age that staring is rude. Everywhere we have gone the locals will stop and stare at us. They don’t even stop staring when you stare back, this encourages them even more! It’s expected now but this is definitely one of the things I’ve felt most uncomfortable about.

7. Animals live harmoniously amongst people. In every place we have been there have been cows wandering aimlessly, on the highways and in the towns. This is because of their sacredness to the Hindus of India. In the cities their are thousands of stray dogs and wild monkeys roaming without anyone thinking anything of it.

8. I didn’t realise how much of a religious country India would be. I knew there was Hindus and Muslims but there are so much more. There’s thousands of temples to thousands of God’s and goddesses.

9. Each city we visited varied so much, Delhi is so crazy busy and dusty. Agra is so touristy and people clamber for your business and Jaipur, although busy has a laid back atmosphere which I liked the best.

10. Finally, how much I love India. It has been so much more than I could have imagined or hoped for and I will definitely be back.

Final Day in Delhi

Today we faced Delhi ourselves. When I woke up this morning I didn’t want to leave the safety of the hotel. Delhi is scary. But we planned our day with the help of Mandys itinerary and off we went. We walked around 10 miles today and saw lots of sights notably the India gate and the lotus temple (more importantly we also found out India has Nandos) to get around we caught the Delhi metro which is really easy similar to the tube. Women have their own carriage here, we can board any carriage but men cannot board the women only one. The women only carriage is amazing but it’s really sad that it is needed so that women have a safe place. For dinner we had an Indian pizza hut which was great.

We’ve come back to the hotel now and I’ve done a massive repack ready for the flight to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow evening! India you have been so much more than I ever could have imagined or hoped for!