Railay and Ton Sai – Backpacker Paradise and Rock Climbing Mecca

The next day, we had a boat ticket to Railay Beach, a beach located back on mainland, but only accessible by boat.  It left at about 1:30pm and only took about two hours.  Once we got close to the beach, we had to transfer ourselves onto a small longboat that would take us, and our bags, the rest of the way.

We were dropped off on Railay Beach West, an absolutely stunning beach, with absolutely stunning accommodation, for an absolutely stunning price.  We had researched beforehand and knew that Railay Beach East (about a 5 minute walk away) was where the cheaper accommodation was, so we headed straight there.  Once we got to the east side, we were greeted not only by perhaps one of the ugliest beaches in existence (all rocks, glass, and garbage), but also disappointingly pricey (and often full) accommodation options.  Well, what now?

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Railay Beach West. Beautiful, but way out of our price range! It’s mostly full of top dollar resorts.

At this point I was starting to get peeved and a little hangry, so we decided it might be best to get some lunch before figuring out our next move.  We sat and ate, then discussed the possibility of trying Ton Sai, a neighboring beach we had heard was a little more suited for backpackers.  Ton Sai is a relatively short, but steep, hike through the jungle from Railay West.

Joe kindly offered to carry my backpack and we made it about a quarter of the way before giving up and deciding to turn back to hire a boat to take us over, instead.  By then it was about 6pm.  During the day a boat to Ton Sai is only 50Baht per person, but since it was after 6, it went up to 80Baht per person.  And that was only if the boat had at least 8 passengers.  If we wanted to leave right then, we would have had to pay 200Baht per person…and there didn’t seem to be any other people looking to go to Ton Sai.

This is when I had a full on meltdown.  The combination of walking around for hours trying to find accommodation, eating crappy overpriced food, walking back and forth, up and down the trail, going back to the beach, and finally being demanded four times what we should have had to pay for a boat ride…it just got to me.

“WE’RE TAKING THE TRAIL,” I growled, as I dramatically hurled my backpack onto my shoulders.

Ignoring Joe’s wise observation that perhaps taking an unfamiliar trail through the jungle as the sun was going down was not the best of ideas, I stormed off the beach; determined to get to Ton Sai on my own accord.

The anger and frustration was enough to fuel me up the hill (the silver lining, I guess?) and we finally made it to Ton Sai.  The very first bungalow we came across offered us a fan room and free breakfast for 500 Baht.  DONE!

We threw our stuff down and collapsed on the bed.  Once the exhaustion and frustration wore off though, curiosity kicked in and we wandered down to see what Ton Sai was about.

As soon as we got down to the beach, we were so glad we hadn’t stayed in Railay.  The meltdown, the exhaustion, the arguing…it was all instantly forgotten.  It had gotten dark by then, so we had a limited idea of our surroundings, but even in the dark we knew it was a magical place…

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The trail leading to the beach from our bungalow. A lot of the restaurants and bars were lined with colorful lanterns.
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A peep at the sun setting behind the cliffs.

There was a bar a few minutes down the road called Pirate Sunset, another treehouse-y bar, with multiple levels that you can climb up, and limitless reggae music.  We treated ourselves to a round (we seriously needed it after the day’s events), then grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant where we had veggie pizza and vegetable fritters…yum!  Things had turned around.

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I’m not going to lie…getting a good night’s rest in Ton Sai was not easy.  We were in the farthest bungalows from the beach so it wasn’t the noise, it was the heat.  At our bungalow (and all the others surrounding us) we only had electricity from 6pm to midnight.  That wouldn’t have been a big deal except for the fact that Ton Sai was incredibly hot. We didn’t have air conditioning (which we hardly ever splurge on, anyway), but we couldn’t even use the fan.  It was like being in an oven.  There were most likely more expensive options offering a more comfortable stay, but as stated in previous posts, southern Thailand was proving to be significantly more expensive than our prior destinations, so we were really trying to monitor our budget.

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Longboats on Ton Sai Beach
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Ton Sai Beach, surrounded by towering cliffs
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There are lots of climbers on the rocks everyday, you can watch them from the beach at the bottom.
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Joe on Ton Sai beach

The next two days were spent doing one of three things: laying on the beach, eating, or drinking.  Ton Sai not only boasted a gorgeous beach, but it was surrounded by sky high rock cliffs, making it a rock climber’s dream.  You can lay on the beach and watch the climbers scaling the walls above you, and a lot of them were really, really good!

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The rock overhangs provided a bit of shade
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The cliffs all had cool stripey patterns on them
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Nicole at Ton Sai Beach

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It was so hot, though.  I don’t know why (or if it was just in our heads?) but it really seemed hotter than anywhere else.  And there wasn’t very much of a breeze either, so even in the shade it was unbearable and suffocating at times.  When it cooled off in the evenings though, Ton Sai came alive.  The crowd there is almost entirely backpackers so there is certainly a party crowd, but a very laid back one.

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So colorful!

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It seemed like at least a quarter of the travelers here had dreadlocks (not hating, as I am one of those) and there were also people hooping on the beach and spinning fire at night.  It was sort of like being at a music festival with people from all over the world.

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One of the restaurants on the beach had barbecue every night.  They even had shark on the menu and there was a live, wiggling 2 ft. shark displayed on ice.  Eating shark is really unethical and disturbing, but I resisted my desires to steal it and throw it back into the sea…  We did have barbecued chicken though which was delicious after a steady diet of fried noodles and “stuff on rice.”

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We really loved Ton Sai, and we considered staying longer, but we really could not tolerate the inability to sleep at night due to the heat.  We booked a ticket back to Bangkok, but it didn’t leave until 1pm, so we had one last morning to enjoy in Ton Sai.

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One last morning on Ton Sai
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Walking down the beach to the path to Railay

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We hung out on the beach and watched the climbers for a bit, then we decided to take a walk over to Railay West.  There is actually a path directly from Railay West to Tonsai without having to walk all the way around and through the jungle.  Why this trail is not on the map in Railay West I have no idea…wish we would have known that when we had first landed in Railay!  Oh well…

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The view from the rock path, looking at the Ton Sai side
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This path was so much easier than the one we had taken to Ton Sai, darn it!
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The beautiful Railay Beach
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The nice thing about staying on Ton Sai was that we had easy access to both beaches but we didn’t have to pay the Railay West prices!

The morning was a nice little goodbye to Ton Sai and Railay before departing on the 16 hour trek back to Bangkok.  The islands had been good to us, but it was time for our journey to the north!

3/29

Breakfast: 180B ($5.54)

Boat to Railay: 1100B ($33.88)

Water: 15B ($0.46)

Lunch: 310B ($9.55)

Pirate Sunset Bar (Beers): 310B ($9.55)

Dinner: 290B ($8.93)

Waters (2) + Gatorade: 140B ($4.31)

Accommodation: 500B ($15.40)

3/29 Total Spending: 2,845B ($87.62 USD)

3/30

Breakfast: Free!

Bandages: 150 ($4.62)

Water: 30B ($0.92)

Lunch + 2 Beers: 360B ($11.09)

Water: 35B ($1.08)

Bar Beers: 720 ($22.18)

Pancake: 70B ($2.16)

Accommodation: 500B ($15.40)

3/30 Total Spending: 1,865B ($57.44 USD)

3/31

Breakfast: Free!

Lunch on the Beach + Fruit Shakes: 320B ($9.86)

Water: 35B ($1.08)

BBQ Dinner: 220 ($6.78)

Water: 40B ($1.23)

Accommodation: 500B ($15.40)

3/31 Total Spending: 1,115B ($34.34 USD)

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Koh Lanta – Beaches, Monkeys, and Another Motorbike Accident

The journey from Koh Phangan to Koh Lanta was a long one.  We were picked up from our bungalow on Haad Rin at 6am and taken to the ferry pier where we got on a boat to Surat Thani, back on mainland.  Several hours later, we landed in Surat Thani and boarded a bus to the bus stop in Krabi.  Then, we had to take another bus to Koh Lanta which included a trip across the water on a car ferry!  Finally, we had found ourselves on Koh Lanta, sometime in the late afternoon.

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The circled island toward the top is Koh Phangan, the pin is Koh Lanta. We had to take a boat from Koh Phangan to mainland, drive across to Krabi, then take a bus/car ferry over to Koh Lanta.

The bus dropped us off in the heart of Phra Ae Beach (also known as Long Beach) where we found a nice little 300 Baht bungalow a short walk from the beach, with a balcony and shared bathrooms. We had made it just in time to catch an amazing sunset and enjoy a dinner on the beach.  After a long day of traveling, we went back to the bungalow and crashed pretty early.

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Joe on Long Beach, Koh Lanta
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Amazing sunset on Long Beach

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The next day, we let ourselves be infiltrated by the chilled out, paradise atmosphere of Koh Lanta.  We also finally gave into the desire for a spa treatment and got Thai massages right on the beach.  They were surprisingly painful, but therapeutic in their own way.  After an hour underneath the weight of a small Thai woman, we were ready for some beach bumming.

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Long Beach by day. It never got more crowded than this!

The beach was beautiful and not terribly crowded.  It was almost unbearably hot though, so most of the people were bunched together under the palm trees trying to get some relief under the shade.

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Neverending sunshine.

That night, we decided to have a few drinks at a treehouse bar/hostel called Chill Out.  There are multiple levels where people can climb around and have a few drinks.  They closed at 11, though and everyone was moving to the party at a beach bar called Ozone.  We decided to join, and met some people from England that we hung out with for the night.

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Some cool black light art at Chill Out
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The beach party at Ozone

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The next day we were super hungover and did nothing, so we’ll just move onto the day after that.  We decided to explore some other parts of Koh Lanta by motorbike.  We rode down the entire west coast to a beach called Klong Jark.  It was practically deserted, and we spent a couple of hours sipping fruit shakes on the beach, listening to reggae.

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Complete desertion on Klong Jark
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Seriously! No one else was there.
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Enjoying a couple of fruit shakes

Next, we decided to check out the National Park at the very southern end of Koh Lanta.  We paid the entrance fee and parked the moto to explore.  The park is full of unbelievable views, including an old lighthouse that visitors are able to walk up to (but not actually inside.)

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Mu Ko Lanta National Park
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The lighthouse!
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Awesome view while making our way up to the lighthouse
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Almost there..
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Joe at the top of the hill
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And a beautiful view of the bay below
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Another shot of the lighthouse in all its glory.

We walked onward and became hypnotized by all of the adorable monkeys!

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Monkeys!
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This picture isn’t so great, but these ones were kind of creepy looking. They almost looked like some type of lemur, maybe.
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Then we found a bunch of babies running around and teasing each other!

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One of the mothers came right up close to us and started nursing, it was really special. 🙂

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After getting our fill of the stunning plant and animal life of Koh Lanta, we decided to make our way back to Long Beach.  Our perfect day got a little ugly here, due to another small motorbike accident.  The bike got only a few small scratches, but Joe wasn’t quite so lucky…

Luckily the guy we rented the moto from didn’t seem to notice the scratches and we didn’t have to pay any extra fees.  We did, however, have to spend a few bucks on medical supplies…

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Burn from the exhaust pipe…(he saved the bike from falling, though!)

Minus the very end, our time on Koh Lanta was all smiles and one of our favorite beaches in Thailand.  Despite its beauty, Koh Lanta is not nearly as overpopulated as many of the nearby islands, which only made it a more pleasurable destination, in our eyes!  Everyone was very friendly and the prices were cheaper than most of the other islands, as well–always a plus!

3/25

Snacks: 50B ($1.54)

Water: 20B ($0.62)

Taxi/Boat/Bus to Krabi: 1400B ($43.13)

Sandwich: 60B ($1.85)

Boat to Koh Lanta: 700B ($21.56)

Lunch in Krabi: 225B ($6.93)

Water: 15B ($0.46)

Dinner: 510B ($15.71)

Water: 15B ($0.46)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/25 Total Spending: 3,295B ($101.51 USD)

3/26

Breakfast: 120B ($3.70)

Water (2): 30B ($0.92)

Thai Massages:  600B ($18.48)

Dinner: 130B ($4.00)

Ice Cream: 20B ($0.62)

Chill Out House (Beers): 440B ($13.55)

Candy Bar: 25B ($0.77)

Ozone Beach Party (Beers): 460B ($14.17)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/26 Total Spending: 2,125B ($65.46 USD)

3/27

Chips (2): 110B ($3.39)

Water (2): 30B ($0.92)

Ice Cream: 40B ($1.23)

Lunch: 50B ($1.54)

Lemon Shake: 35B ($1.08)

Water/Electrolytes: 23B ($0.71)

Dinner: 290B ($8.93)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/27 Total Spending: 878B ($27.05 USD)

3/28

Breakfast: 120B ($3.70)

Moto Rental: 200B ($6.16)

Gasoline: 160B ($4.93)

Water: 30B ($0.92)

National Park Entrance (2): 420B ($12.94)

Pad Thai (2): 100B ($3.08)

Chips/Ice Cream: 75B ($2.31)

Bandages: 85B ($2.62)

Water: 15B ($0.46)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/28 Total Spending: 1,505B ($46.36 USD)

The Gulf Islands – Serenity and Scuba Diving

After a bewildering visit to the Angkor complex, officially ending our journey through Cambodia, we were off to the capital of Thailand: Bangkok!

While in Siem Reap, we booked a bus that would take us to the border, meet us on the other side, then take us on to the capital.  We were surprised at how expensive the tickets were at $28 each.  That is pretty astronomical in comparison to the rest of the buses we had been taking thus far, and a little depressing.

We were picked up in the morning by a tuk tuk that took us to the bus station.  Once we saw our bus, we realized why it had been so expensive.  This bus was jazzy.  Upholstered, clean, unbroken seats…air conditioning…no one sitting/laying in the aisles…all the things you’d hope for in a bus.  We didn’t even have to share seats!!  I don’t even know how long the bus ride was; it was so comfortable we literally slept the entire time.  It was awesome.  This bus was almost a culture shock for us, and really revealed how different transportation and the tourism infrastructure was going to be in Thailand.

Since we had already gotten our Thai visas back in Phnom Penh, the border crossing was a breeze.  We weren’t even asked to pay stamping fees (a common scam that we did have to pay at every other border crossing.)  We got stamped out of Cambodia and stamped into Thailand in no time, and we were back on the bus.

We spent two days in Bangkok before heading down south, but I’m going to give Bangkok it’s own separate post at a later date.  Instead, we’ll start with the journey from Bangkok to Koh Tao.

We got our tickets to Koh Tao at Lomprayah, a transportation company whose headquarters were located near our guesthouse in Bangkok.  For 2200 Baht ($67.66) we got tickets including a bus down to Chumphon and a ferry transfer to the island of Koh Tao.  We did the research and didn’t find any evidence that this price was out of the ordinary…but just like the bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok, the difference between this and the transportation costs that we were used to was kind of a bummer.  But we were on our way to paradise, so we focused on that instead.

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The Gulf Islands!

We had to be at Lomprayah at 6am.  When we got there, there were a ton of other backpackers standing outside waiting for the bus.  When it finally came, the sun was up and we all piled on.  It was a really nice bus, just like the one from Siem Reap, but this time we were seated in front of a backpacker couple who would not let us recline our seats.  “There isn’t enough room,” they insisted.  Never mind that they had their seats reclined all the way back; they seemed appalled that we would desire the same.  On 6 hours of sleep, we were pretty cranky that we were being heavily pressured to sacrifice the little comfort we paid for to this duo, but alas, we spent the next 7 or so sleepless hours sitting completely upright with the people in front of us reclined in our laps.

When we finally got to Chumphon, we were pointed toward the ferry pier.   We exchanged our tickets and got on the ferry to Koh Tao.  The ferry was huge and super nice!  The ride was extremely smooth as well, and took about 2 hours.

We were dropped off at the pier on Mae Haad Beach on the west side of the island, which was conveniently one of the cheaper areas to stay.  Continuing north from Mae Haad is Sairee Beach, the most developed and most popular part of the island for partying backpackers.  We settled for a place in northern Mae Haad called Mr. J’s Bungalows.  It was nice because we could easily access both Mae Haad and Sairee depending on what we wanted to do.

By the time we had our room settled, it was late afternoon.  We spent some time on the beach before splurging a little bit on a nice dinner at a place up in Sairee called The Gallery.  We ordered the Massaman curry and a crispy pork dish, both of which were excellent.  The service was really good too (another thing we weren’t used to) and the restaurant was attached to a gallery of beautiful photographs of the island that we were invited to walk through.

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Lovely sunset on Koh Tao

The next morning we had to get up a little early because we were going diving!  Since it had been about a year for both of us, we had to sign up for a refresher course before we could go on fun dives.  Koh Tao is most known for its scuba diving industry and more scuba certifications are issued here than anywhere else in the world.  Because of this, there are an endless number of dive shops on the island making the prices really competitive.  It’s one of the cheapest places to dive on earth.  After doing some research on dive shops, we decided to go with Master Divers down in Mae Haad.  It had pretty spotless reviews and was well known for its professional staff and commitment to safety standards.

We reported to Master Divers at 9am where we met our Divemaster, an Irish veterinarian named Heather, that went over all of the basics of diving with us.  After a short written exam and going over all of the equipment, we were given a break before we had to meet at 11:45 for our skills test.  We loaded our equipment onto the boat and drove out to a dive site called Japanese Gardens.  We geared up, jumped in the water, and swam out to a shallow spot to complete the skills test which included things like taking off our gear and putting it back on while underwater, swimming and buoyancy tests, etc.  Both of us passed it painlessly and once we had it out of the way, we got back on the boat for a surface interval and changed out tanks before jumping back in for a fun dive.

We don’t have an underwater camera and they charged like 1400 Baht to rent one at the shop so we decided we’d settle for just memories.  The dive site was lovely and we saw lots of different coral structures, angelfish, butterflyfish, nudibranchs, and other creatures.  Our favorite was the adult and baby clownfish!  The baby was no bigger than a dime!  Heather told us they were the only clownfish at any dive site near Koh Tao.

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Joe and our divemaster, Heather on the boat.

A full day of diving had us starving so we kinda splurged again on dinner at a restaurant on the beach called Whitening.  To be fair, all of the restaurants of Koh Tao seemed to be pretty expensive.  Plus, we hadn’t eaten much else that day.  They had excellent shellfish at Whitening and it was definitely worth it!

The next day we did two more fun dives and this time some of the DMTs (Divemasters in Training) came along and were chatting with us about their experiences learning to become divemasters.  This time we went to two different dive sites called White Rock and The Twins.  Both were beautiful, though the visibility wasn’t quite as good as it had been the day before.  However, in addition to a lot of the same animals we had seen at Japanese Gardens, we also saw a couple of Blue-Spotted Stingrays and a a huge Hawksbill Sea Turtle!  There were also hundreds of colorful Christmas Tree Worms that would disappear into their holes when we waved our hands near them.

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This time we were a little more conservative on dinner and ate at a restaurant/hostel called Taco Shack for some cheapie Mexican food.  They also had markers available to write/draw on the walls, so we entertained ourselves with that for quite a while!

We had been on the fence about whether or not to move on from Koh Tao the next day, but we just couldn’t resist one more day of diving.  For $30 a dive with everything included, it’s hard to say no!

We were really glad we decided to stay that extra day because we got to see seahorses!  They were big ones too, about 6 inches long!  One of them was just hanging out with its tail coiled around a metal rod on the seafloor, but one of them was ‘swimming’ along the bottom.  It sort of looked like it was half dead and dragging itself along, but apparently that is just how they move.  One of them had a big pregnant belly too, which was cool to see!

After three days of awesome diving on Koh Tao, it was time to move on.  We booked a ferry to a neighboring island called Koh Phangan, most famous for its (literally) deadly Full Moon Parties every month.  It’s known as the biggest beach party in the world, sometimes luring some 30,000 backpackers on the beach at once.  Unfortunately, there have been accidents and even deaths in the past due to lax security and high risk behavior.  Drugging and theft is also really common; you can find all kinds of horror stories on the internet.  The Full Moon Parties are so legendary that most backpackers plan their trip around the date of the full moon so that they can go and experience it.

We did not do this.

Had it been convenient for us to go to a Full Moon Party we most likely would have, but we just didn’t see it as being important enough to plan our entire trip around.

The ferry picked us up from the Mae Haad pier and dropped us off about an hour later in Thong Sala on Koh Phangan.  We had done a lot of research on the beaches of Koh Phangan and they all seemed to be highly recommended.  A friend recommended Haad Yuan and the online reviews seemed very positive, so that’s where we went!

It was kind of a pain to get there, though.  Firstly, as soon as we got of the pier we were hounded by taxi and moto drivers.  We noticed a lot of people from the ferry were ignoring these and continuing down the road, so we just sort of followed, hoping they knew something we didn’t.  It turned out that there was a bus corral a few minutes down the road offering rides to Haad Rin for 100 Baht each, much cheaper than what the taxis were offering, so we paid one and got in.

Haad Rin is the beach where the Full Moon Party takes place.  Although many people only come to Koh Phangan for this party (and thus, only visit Haad Rin) there are actually a lot of beaches on Koh Phangan offering a lot more than just wild parties.  Once we got to Haad Rin, we had to take a taxi boat to get to Haad Yuan, because it is inaccessible by car.  The downside of this is that they were really expensive, at 300 Baht each.

The waters were a little choppy and the longboat ride was mildly terrifying, but once we caught a glimpse of Haad Yuan we forgot about it all.  From the sea, we saw a small cove of white sand with big rocks on either side.  We actually ended up in a bungalow on the rocks, accessible by a reasonably secure wooden bridge.

There isn’t a whole lot to do in Haad Yuan, and that is precisely the point.

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Haad Yuan

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The number one activity on Haad Yuan
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…only made better with a Chang Beer, of course!

We laid in our hammocks.  We laid on the beach.  We laid around in the handful of bars and restaurants on the beach.  A couple of the bars were decked out in psychedelic tapestries and played Deep House music into the night, it was paradise.

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The view from our bungalow up on the rocks
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The wooden steps leading up to our bungalow
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Hammock time looking over the cove

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We spent two days in Haad Yuan before returning to Haad Rin for one night.  To its credit, Haad Rin is a beautiful beach, and because we weren’t there during a full moon, it was pretty peaceful.  The soft white sand looked pretty cared for as well, so there must be some serious clean ups after those parties every month.  The town was pretty dead; a travel agent in town told us that they are only busy for 5 days a month, surrounding the full moon.  That was fine by us though, it was peaceful and we got a great deal on a bungalow.

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The town in Haad Rin is full of tourist shops and restaurants
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We didn’t make the party but we saw the sign…close enough.
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Haad Rin beach
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We saw a thing floating in the water while we were walking down the beach…we got closer and it ended up being some kind of pufferfish.
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It was dead, though. 😦

Haad Rin concluded our time in the Gulf Islands before moving on to Krabi Province!  We had a blast!

3/18:

Bus/Ferry: 2200THB

Chips: 25THB

Coke: 30THB

Sandwich: 90THB

Kebab: 90THB

Beer: 30THB

Pancake: 35THB

Dinner at The Gallery: 540THB

Flip flops: 80THB

Mr. J’s Bungalows: 500THB

3/18 Total Spending: 3,620THB ($111.27 USD)

3/19:

Muesli: 140 THB

Snacks: 88THB

Diving (Refresher Course + 1 Fun Dive): 5000THB

Dinner at Whitening: 560THB

Pancake: 40THB

Water: 20THB

Mr. J’s Bungalows: 500 THB

Total Spending 3/19: 6,348 THB ($195.12 USD)

3/20:

Muesli: 140THB

2 Fun Dives: 4000THB

Taco Shack: 360THB

Pancake: 40THB

Water: 20THB

Mr. J’s Bungalows: 500THB

3/20 Total Spending: 5,060THB ($155.53 USD)

3/21:

Breakfast: 120THB

2 Fun Dives: 3000THB

Dinner: 230THB

Pancake: 40THB

Water: 20THB

Mr. J’s Bungalows: 500THB

3/21 Total Spending: 3,910THB ($120.18 USD)

3/22:

Pancake: 35THB

Ferry to Koh Tao: 1000THB

Taxi: 200THB

Longboat: 600THB

Lunch: 360THB

Water: 30THB

Eden Bar: 150THB

Water: 30THB

Ocean Rock Bungalows: 650THB

3/22 Total Spending: 3,055THB ($93.90USD)

3/23:

Breakfast: Free!

4 Beach Beers: 360 THB

Lunch: 270THB

Dinner: 360THB

Water: 30THB

Ocean Rock Bungalows: 650THB

3/23 Total Spending: 1,670THB ($51.33 USD)

3/24:

Breakfast: Free!

Taxi Boat: 600THB

Water: 30THB

Lunch: 420 THB

Water: 25THB

Ice Cream: 45THB

Swimsuit: 250THB

Dinner: 380THB

Shorts: 230THB

Water: 20THB

Accommodation: 300THB

3/24 Total Spending: 2,300THB ($70.70 USD)

Angkor Wat – Visiting Sacred Spaces

Siem Reap is a city in Northwest Cambodia, and one of the most popular destinations for travelers due to its proximity to one of Southeast Asia’s biggest attractions: Angkor Archaeological Park. The park contains the remains of the world’s largest pre-industrial city in the world, covering approximately 250 square miles.  The temples and other structures were not thought to have been built all at the same time, but the complex is approximated to be about 1,000 years old.

Like most visitors of Southeast Asia, Angkor was one of our top destinations–about 2 million people visit each year.  Our hotel was about 4.5 miles away from the entrance to the complex, so we decided to rent bicycles to get there.  Once we arrived, we had to choose which ticket we wanted.  A one day pass is $20 and a three day pass is $40.  Knowing that one day is not nearly enough to see more than a fraction of the park, we decided to go for the three day pass.

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A screen shot of Angkor on Google Maps.  It’s seriously huge!

We decided to dedicate our first day solely to the park’s most famous temple, Angkor Wat.  Angkor Wat is so famous that many people don’t even know that the park has its own name, they think the whole complex is just called Angkor Wat! Once we reached the front of the temple, we parked our bikes across the street and made our way to the entrance.  It’s really hard to justly describe in words, luckily we took plenty of photos!

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The entrance to the outer wall, within the (man-made!) moat
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The entrance
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Closeup of the outer wall
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Another close up of the outer wall
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Inside the outer wall
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Wall detail in the outer wall
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Once inside the outer wall, we followed the causeway to the central structure
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Lying on either side of the causeway are libraries
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Angkor Wat, the temple proper
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…and some local monkeys hanging out 🙂
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The walls were sculpted into masterful depictions of things like war and work

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There were a lot of repeated patterns in the architecture, like these columns, for example.
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One of the coolest parts is that you don’t get to just walk around and look at it from afar, visitors get to climb up, around, and through the temple.
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A courtyard

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The temple is so impossibly huge that people look tiny when walking around.

Another good thing about the three day pass is that you don’t feel pressured to spend all day temple hopping.  It was insanely hot and the sun just zaps the energy right out of you.  This way, we were able to spend a relaxed afternoon at Angkor Wat and save the rest for the other days.

…and we did just that! Except this time, we were planning on going further than just Angkor Wat so we had to decide what we wanted to do about transport.  You can rent a tuk tuk to take you around for the day, but we ended up deciding to rent electric bicycles instead.  They don’t allow motorbike rentals in Siem Reap, so the electric bike was the next best thing.  Plus, they’re fun and better for the environment (and Siem Reap is pretty polluted.)

There are two popular routes that take visitors to some of the other major and minor temples in the complex called the ‘small circuit’ and the ‘grand circuit.’  We decided to do the small circuit, which is about 10 miles starting at Angkor Wat. The bike ride was an experience in itself.  The scenery was beautiful and the breeze felt great in the heat of the afternoon.

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We followed the road into Angkor Thom which translates to “Great City.”  It was built in the late 12th century, covers about 5.5 square miles and is believed to have housed between 80,000 and 150,000 people. In the center of Angkor Thom lies The Bayon, a well-known Khmer temple decorated with hundreds of faces.  This ended up being one of our favorite sites and we spent quite a while exploring it.

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Entering The Bayon

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After exploring The Bayon, we hopped back on our bikes and moved on to Ta Prohm, another popular temple.  Ta Prohm is one of the temples that was left as it was found, because its merging with the jungle was so impressive and picturesque.  It was also used as a location in the movie, Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie. Ta Prohm was undeniably stunning, but it was crowded with hoards of tourists to the point of discomfort, so we didn’t spend as much time there as we might have liked.

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Riding to Ta Prohm

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We followed the road to Banteay Kdei, which means “Citadel of Chambers.”  It is not entirely known what purpose this temple originally served, but it did house monks at various times up until the 1960s.

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Banteay Kdei

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We were exhausted by the time we neared the end of the circuit, but on our way back home, we spotted a bunch of monkeys on the side of the road and decided to give them a couple of our bananas.  One of them hopped on our bike and started looking at himself in the mirror!  It was funny until he wouldn’t get off…

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We decided to give this guy a little treat.
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Then, he hopped on one of our bikes and started watching himself in the mirror!
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He kept putting his weight on the handlebars and we were afraid he was going to tip the bike over. Joe tried to step in, but he was really difficult to shoo away!

Once we got back into town, we finished the day with dinner on Siem Reap’s Pub Street where all the hip bars and restaurants are.  We had a lot of fun there!

The electric bicycles ended up being perfect because we rented them in the afternoon the second day, so we didn’t have to return them until afternoon the next day.  So when we got up to go to Angkor Wat at sunrise, we didn’t have to pay for another day of transportation which was great.

We woke up at about 5am and groggily got on our bikes to ride to Angkor Wat.  Sunrise is a really popular time for tourists to go, so it was very crowded!  It was kind of funny to see all of the people packed around the lake in front to get the stereotypical shot of the reflection in the water.  We ended up getting some pretty nice pictures in between our yawns!

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Riding through the streets of Siem Reap before sunrise
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Just arriving at Angkor Wat
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People waiting to get their picture of sunrise reflected in the lake. Apparently people get there at like 4am to get the best spot!!
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Sunrise just peeking over the temple
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Funnily enough, the crowds vanished about 3 minutes after the sun made its appearance. We just strolled over a few minutes later and got virtually the exact same shot!

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We had to have the bikes back before 1pm so we decided to spend the morning doing the Grand Circuit to check out some of the temples we hadn’t seen yet.  The first one was The Terrace of the Elephants, a viewing platform for public ceremonies.

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There were pictures of elephants carved into all of the walls
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Elephant sculptures on either side of the entrance

Beyond the Terrace of the Elephants, we explored and climbed the temple, Phimeanakas.

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The walkway leading to Phimeanakas

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The very top
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The view from the top

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Next we rode on to Preah Khan, a lesser known temple that has also been left largely unrestored.  There was a lot of rubble, but the trees growing over the stones were beautiful.  Plus, it was a lot less crowded that Ta Prohm (the Angelina Jolie one.)

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The next temple was Neak Pean, a Buddhist temple built on an artificial island.  It is surrounded by four connecting pools that are believed to represent the four elements.  The temple was originally designed as a sort of hospital, so people were meant to bathe in each of the pools to cure diseases by restoring balance.

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An ornate balustrade
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The middle of Neak Pean

The final temple we visited was Ta Som, another small temple left mostly unrestored.  One of the entrance ways is overgrown by an enormous strangler fig!

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Words really don’t do it justice, but Angkor was beyond breathtaking and we were really glad we decided to invest in a three day pass.  Despite all of our exploring, we barely scratched the surface.  The complex is so huge, it’s impossible to fit it all in in three days (or four, or five, or six, etc…) but we got to see most of the commonly visited temples and a few of the lesser-known, as well.

Definitely a major highlight of backpacking through Southeast Asia!

Battambang – Crocodiles, Killing Caves, and a Bamboo Train

After wrenching ourselves away from the beautiful island of Koh Rong, we spent another night in Sihanoukville and booked a bus to Battambang for the next day.  We just couldn’t do the night bus.  (We’re still scarred from our journey from Nong Khiaw to Don Det in Laos.)

“How long is the bus?” we asked the woman at our guesthouse.

“…maybe you get there at 3 or 4pm.”

Well, the bus was to leave at 7am and we had to backtrack all the way to Phnom Penh before heading west to Battambang.  Who knows how she came up with that answer, but in reality, we arrived in Battambang at about 9pm.

Luckily we had looked up accommodation in advance and found a hostel called Here Be Dragons a little outside of town.  We instructed our tuk tuk driver where to take us from the bus station and we were greeted with a smile and shown our room as soon as we got there.

The hostel did not disappoint.  After we dropped our bags off, we headed back downstairs to the bar to collect our free beers that we were given on arrival.  Even better, they had Kaiserdom in stock (for only $2!) and we nearly died of happiness, as it had been months since we’d had anything but local watery lagers.  The bar was also full of locals and expats happy to chat which was nice.

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We had a late breakfast the next morning, and it was brutally hot that day, so it took us a couple hours to get ourselves motivated to go out and see the sights.  That ended up working out just fine, because wanted to be at our last destination at sunset, anyway.  We got a tuk tuk to take us around all day for $15 and set off.

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Driving across the bridge in Battambang

The first stop was a local crocodile farm.  As soon as we got there, a woman greeted us and asked us for $2 each.  Unfortunately we only had 100 dollar bills on us, because those are what come out of the ATM machines in Cambodia.  We scrambled to find any small bills we had on us and found a total of only $2.50.  To our surprise, she just smiled, took our $2.50 and assured us that it was just fine.

She ushered us to the pits where the adult crocodiles are kept, she said there were about 400 and some of them were huge!  And sadly, they looked pretty cramped in there.  Excited by the prospect of seeing giant reptiles, we had failed to consider the ethics of a visit like this beforehand.

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Driving to the Crocodile Farm
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One of the crocodile pits
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The water is shaded for the crocodiles or they can get out and sunbathe

The woman that greeted us was very friendly and her English was better than anyone else we had encountered in Cambodia.  When we asked what the crocodiles were used for, she told us that the leather is exported for handbags and other things, the meat is sent to Vietnam for eating, and some are sent to the China to be used for medicine…Eek.

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An especially formidable looking croc peeking out

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Feeling depressed about our contribution to this less than ideal situation, we were glad to find out that the woman working there was not the owner, she was just working there to improve her English and save up money to buy a tuk tuk.  She told us she aspired to be the first female tuk tuk driver in Battambang, which is actually pretty cool.  And we were glad to be able to help her out.

As we were walking away from the crocodile pits and back toward the exit, she surprised us with two baby crocodiles that we got to hold!  She told us they were twins, one male and one female.  They were making the cutest noises and she said it was because it was almost their feeding time.

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Babies!

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Our next stop was the Bamboo Train, so we hopped back on the tuk tuk to take us there.  Note:  We had no idea what the bamboo train was, we had just read that it was one of the ‘top things to do’ in Battambang and figured that meant we should probably do it.

So, we drove on to the “entrance” which was basically a couple of stalls selling drinks and snacks.  On the other side we could see tracks with what looked like big pallets on wheels.

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The bamboo train

As we approached, we were asked to pay the entrance fee, then pointed toward one of the pallets.  It turned out that the pallets were made of bamboo and that is what we would be riding up the tracks!

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Don’t worry, it’s five stars!

We sat down on the first one and one of the guys hopped on the back and started the engine.  It started out slow, but soon enough we were racing along through the fields.  Not to mention, the rails were not lined up very well, so there was a huge jolt every few feet and huge bang to go along with it.  It was loud, a little terrifying, but mostly really fun!

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Ready to go
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Racing through the jungle
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A small bridge

Off in the distance, we could see something on the tracks.  As we came closer, we realized it was another bamboo train going in the opposite direction.  Just as we were wondering how this would be handled, our driver slowed the train and motioned for us to get off.  We were in the middle of nowhere, so we had to just kind of stand in the brush once we jumped off.

Then, the driver of the other bamboo train came over and helped our driver disassemble our train.  They took it completely off the tracks and set it aside, let the other train pass, then reassembled it on the tracks!  Then the drivers hopped back on their respective trains and continued on the journey.

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Letting another train pass by
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Reassembling the train

After about a 30 minute ride, we slowed to a stop in what seemed like a random spot with about 6 booths selling drinks and tshirts, in the middle of no where.  We stopped and had a beer (and enjoyed the shade) before getting back on the train and heading back the way we came.  Apparently the bamboo train is used (or at least originally intended) to transport goods.  A bizarre little tourist attraction, but definitely a unique experience!

On our way to the next stop, our tuk tuk driver pulled over to a small cart on the side of the road.  He told us they had a tasty treat there…

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Mmmm…rats.

We almost tried a rat, but it had clearly been baking in the sun all day, so we passed.  Our driver also pointed out the jar of fruit soaking in rice whisky which Joe did try and said it was very tasty!

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Trying some local whisky

We got back on the tuk tuk and drove to Phnom Sampeau, a large hill about 7 miles out of Battambang.  There are large caves in the hill that were used by the Khmer Rouge to deposit bodies of the people they murdered.  The people were bludgeoned to death, then tossed down a hole that lead to the caves.

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Climbing Phnom Sampeau
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Allll the steps!
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A painting depicting the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge

There was a small memorial inside the cave with skulls and bones inside, but it didn’t seem well looked after.  We could also look up and see the hole where the bodies were thrown.  In some ways, the lack of upkeep made it even more depressing than the killing fields we visited in Phnom Penh.

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A small memorial containing human skulls of the victims
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The hole where victims were thrown into the cave.

By this time it was late afternoon, and we walked around Phnom Sampeau to our last stop, the bat cave!

As we got closer, we started hearing a strange sound.  As we rounded the hill, we got a glimpse of the cave and it was clear that that was where the sound was coming from.  At first the cave looked like it had dark rocks inside, but then we realized that they were actually just covered in bats!

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Those aren’t dark rocks!

Just before sunset, the bats started to stir, and then they started flying out of the cave!  It was a slow stream at first, but they kept coming and coming!

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The beginning of the flight
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Bats!

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After watching them for a few minutes, our driver met up with us and told us to get back in the tuk tuk and go to the other side of the hill to see more bats.  Once we got to the other side, we climbed up the hill and got to stand right next to the mouth of the cave.

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There was traditional Khmer music coming from somewhere down in the village and it almost looked like the bats were dancing to the music as they flew into the sunset.  It was pretty amazing!  Though the bats were kind of smelly.

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The smokey looking trail on the left is actually the trail of bats!
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It seemed like they would never stop coming out of the cave!
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A gorgeous sunset over the jungle

We ended the day with dinner and one more round of Kaiserdom back at the hostel.  We had almost skipped Battambang because it was slightly out of the way, but we were really glad that didn’t!

Koh Rong – Paradise, Plankton, and a Full Moon Party

After a couple of days in Sihanoukville we were ready to get off the main land and head out to the island of Koh Rong.  We bought a ferry ticket at the pier called the “Backpacker Ferry” for a $15 return trip to the island.  We were given a ticket stub for the return ferry and were told we could take it any day we wanted, so there was no obligation to return until we had our fill of the island.

The ferry took about 2 hours and the water was delightfully smooth.  As we made our way across the water we saw hundreds of huge jellyfish the size of dinner plates just under the surface!

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The boat wasn’t crowded at all, a welcome surprise!
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Smooooth sailing!
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Almost there!

As soon as we got off the boat we could tell the vibes on Koh Rong suited us much better than Sihanoukville.  It was significantly cleaner (though still some litter and sewage draining into the ocean, it’s still Cambodia after all) and there were no gross old men or prostitutes.  The water was much cleaner as well.  We found a guesthouse called Three Brothers with private rooms and shared bathrooms for $12, a few steps down the beach.  After we dropped off our backpacks we headed right back out to get some lunch and go exploring.

Joe’s sunburn was really bad.  Like really bad.  We avoided sunbathing for his sake and opted to take a walk up the beach to get our bearings of the island.  Our guesthouse was located on the Southeastern most part of the island called Tui Beach, which is where most of the guesthouses on the island are situated.  We walked up the beach, past all of the bungalows, restaurants, and bars until we got to a more secluded place called Treehouse Bungalows, where all of the bungalows are built up on stilts as tall as trees!

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Joe on Tui Beach
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So much better than Sihanoukville!
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Stopping for a swim on the way there
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One of the treehouse bungalows

Just past the treehouses, the sand ended and there were rocks separating us from the next beach.  We walked around the rocks and found a small, secluded beach with beautiful orange sand.  It was sort of like a private beach for the guests that were staying in the treehouses, but the attached restaurant was open to the public as well.  We stopped there for a margarita and enjoyed the view.

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Beautiful beach by Treehouse Bungalows
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Perfect.

We wanted to walk even further, but the sand ended once more and there were even larger and more numerous rocks and boulders in our path.  To go around them we had to curve around into the jungle and follow a small path that led us to Long Set Beach, complete with beautiful white sand, turquoise waters and hardly any other tourists!

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Walking through the jungle to Long Set Beach
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Long Set Beach!

After enjoying the beach for a while and making our way back, we ended the night with dinner at a restaurant on the beach called White Rose before heading to bed.

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When we woke up the next morning, we decided to try a place a few doors down called Dream Catcher that boasts the best breakfast on the island.  With options including eggs benedict, french toast, and coconut muesli, it did not disappoint!

Our goal for the day was to trek over to Long Beach on the other side of the island.  We had heard it was one of the top beaches in the world on some list or other, and made for a fine place to watch the sun set as well.  There are no roads or motorized vehicles on Koh Rong, so to get there, our options were to take a taxi boat or a one hour hike through the jungle to the other side.

We decided to hike it and found the sign leading the way.  The trail is not really marked and at some points we weren’t sure which way we were supposed to go, but there was always a friendly local nearby that would point us in the right direction.

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We saw a sign that said “follow the flip flops.” At first we thought it meant the tracks on the path but then we saw this…
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Hiking through the island
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One of the more treacherous parts of the hike!
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It was a fairly difficult hike, but our minds went elsewhere as soon as we set foot on Long Beach.  The water was crystal clear and the sand was squeaky clean–literally!  The sand squeaked under our feet with every step.  We spent the afternoon on the beach and watched the glorious sunset before taking a taxi boat back to the other side of the island.  (It’s not safe to hike at night due to the probability of hurting yourself, in addition to the venomous snakes, spiders, and scorpions that inhabit the island.)

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The beautiful Long Beach

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Amazing sunset on Long Beach
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Glorious
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It just kept getting better

It just so happened that this was the night of the full moon and there was to be a Full Moon Party taking place on Police Beach, a short walk south of the beach where we were staying.  Knowing we weren’t going to be on Koh Phangan for the infamous Full Moon Party in the Thai islands, we decided we might check out Cambodia’s version instead.

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Fire poi on the beach
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The moon!
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Full Moon Party on Koh Rong

We drank gin and tonics while watching people spin fire poi to electronic music on the beach with a few hundred other backpackers.  It was actually really nice hanging out with everyone on the sand.  We even met a guy from Cleveland!  Definitely none of the famed debauchery of Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party, but probably more enjoyable for us, personally.

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Lots of people but not out of control

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We woke up with the raging hangovers that are to be expected after such an event, but luckily we were in the best possible place for such things.  We walked up to Long Set Beach and strung up our hammocks under some trees by the sand.  Hanging in the shade with a cool breeze on our skin and tranquil ocean waves in our ears had us feeling in top shape.

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We walked even further up Long Set Beach this time and found a place where the water cuts into the island, creating a hot pool
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Doesn’t get much better than this!
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The view from our hammocks
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Not a bad hangover cure!

As we were discussing every possible way to stay on the island permanently, we found ourselves hungry for an early dinner and made our way up to a place called Sky Bar that overlooks the island.  They had a small menu but we had an amazing dinner of gnocchi and vegetables-the perfect end to a perfect day.

We ended the evening on the beach with a couple of chocolate crepes before heading back to our room for the night.

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Having done much of where there is “to do” on Koh Rong, mayhaps we should have left the next day.  But…we just couldn’t resist one more day of paradise.

We intended to do exactly as we had done the day before, but this time when we tried to walk up to Long Set Beach we were stopped by an official looking man in uniform.

“Where are you going?”

“…to the beach?”

Points to various locations. “What part?”

“…just…the beach?”

“I would like to inform you that this beach is closed for 4 months.”

“Er, okay…why is that?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Of course we were disappointed that we couldn’t go to the beach that we wanted, but we were more curious about what the heck that encounter had been about.  At first we wondered if there had been some kind of scandal, but then we remembered that before we even got to the island, we had read that the TV show Survivor was going to be filmed on Koh Rong starting later that month.  Sure enough, when we looked it up, we found an article on a Cambodia news website saying that the crew was already on the island preparing and that there was to be a four month filming schedule.

We were kind of honored to have been on the beach the last day it was open and grateful we had not come any later!  We hung out on the small beach by Treehouse Bungalows instead and enjoyed one of their woodfired pizzas later in the evening.

One thing that we hadn’t done yet during our stay on Koh Rong was visit the phosphorescent plankton.  There is too much light pollution coming off of Tui Beach to see them, so we paid $5 each for a boat to take us to a small island right off of Koh Rong.

At 7pm, we waded in waist deep water out to the boat along with about 15 other people.  We were all crammed in the boat and once we were all on board, they started handing out goggle masks.  When we had signed up for the boat ride we figured we would just be riding out to the island and looking at the plankton from the boat or shore or something, but when they handed us the masks we wondered if maybe we were supposed to stick our faces in the water…?

It took maybe 15 minutes to get to the small island but we stopped about 20 or 30 feet away from it.  Once the boat stopped, we were instructed to just jump off the boat and into the water!  Luckily we had been wearing our swim suits but several other passengers were not…they really aren’t clear about this when you buy the ticket!

Anyway, everyone was looking at each other wondering who was going to jump in first.  Finally someone did and when they hit the water, we could see a million green glowing lights all around their body.  That was enough encouragement for the rest of us and a few minutes later we were all in the water splashing around and watching the plankton.  It looked like our bodies were engulfed in a magical green aura and they got even brighter if you swam down deep.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, once the magic wore off and were all starting to get cold, we climbed back onto the boat and went back to shore.  We ended the night with dinner at a bizarre but delicious Italian/Reggae restaurant for our last night on Koh Rong.

We both agreed that it was our favorite place we had been on our entire trip so far and it was veeeeery difficult to leave!  We had also read that there are plans in the making by a huge investment company called Royal Group to turn Koh Rong into an “eco resort island” which means it might not be a backpacker paradise for long–hopefully the development is done responsibly.

In short, Koh Rong was very choice, and a high highlight of our trip through Cambodia!

Kampot and Sihanoukville – Adventures in the South

After enjoying several days in Phnom Penh and successfully acquiring our Thai visas, we decided it was time to move down south.

We were picked up by a tuk tuk at our guesthouse and transferred to a local bus that stopped over in Kep before taking us to our destination of Kampot.

Kampot was honestly pretty disappointing, so much so that we aren’t even dedicating a full post to it.  Though we did visit a restaurant called Rusty Keyhole which boasts the best ribs in Cambodia.  Joe insisted that we go back the second night.

It was mercilessly hot with no breeze whatsoever, and we could barely even stand to exist, let alone conjure up the motivation to go exploring.  The town itself was kind of a hole, but we spent most of our time relaxing in the hammocks in the lovely garden at our guesthouse before moving on to Sihanoukville.

The bus was to pick us up at 7am and we woke up early, ecstatic to finally get to the beach.  Unfortunately, the bus ride was one of the most unpleasant we had experienced thus far.  In reality, the driver and the bus itself were exactly what you’d expect for a Cambodian mini bus…the problem this time was the other passengers.

As soon as the bus pulled up, we could see that it was already full of people.  The bus driver came around to load our packs in the back, but there wasn’t enough room.  At this point, we noticed a middle-aged woman (we will henceforth call her Angry Lady) seated on the bus glaring at us angrily, as if it was our fault that she was being subjected to this experience.  Hello, if you want luxury, maybe don’t take the $6 bus.  Or maybe don’t go to Cambodia.  Just a thought.

The driver starts doing what they always do when there isn’t enough room for the packs: shove them under the seats to make more room.  One of the bags he begins to forcefully shove under a seat belongs to Angry Lady.  Angry Lady does not like this one bit.  She begins shouting at him in French about how the bus is not safe, there are too many people, and the driver is damaging her belongings.  To my amusement, those five years of French I took in high school somehow started coming back to me and I understood most of what she was yelling about.  The bus driver does not appreciate her yelling (especially because he doesn’t even know what she is saying?) and proceeds to counter it with a mighty ROAR!  He doesn’t even say words, he just screams.  I wanted to give him a hug.  The other passengers make defensive gestures as if to protect Angry Lady from his threatening howl (as if she hadn’t provoked him), and he subsides when he realizes he is outnumbered.

Angry Lady is still throwing us loathsome looks as we help the bus driver secure all the packs in the back of the bus.  In her fit of rage, she grabbed her pack away from him and is now sitting with her pack on her lap…while complaining about how she has to sit with her pack on her lap.  Eventually the bus driver offers to put her pack up front and she eventually consents after some more bickering, watching his every move to see if he dares try to squeeze it under a seat again.  We are squeezed into the back of the bus with Angry Lady and her husband, but are quickly shuffled around once they realize they are trying to make us share seats.  Angry Lady must have her own seat!  So they move up to the row ahead of us and two more submissive souls like us end up squeezed next to us in the back, with overflowing backpacks sitting practically on top of our heads.  We spend the rest of the bus ride trying to push them into a secure position without pushing too hard (because the back door is not fully closed and could fly open at any moment) while Angry Lady sits smugly in the row ahead of us.  Once we are finally tucked in and ready to go, Angry Lady’s husband has the audacity to request that the driver tries to drive more slowly.  All we could think was that these people must be new to SE Asia…this was one of the better bus rides we had been on!

Thankfully the driver didn’t heed the Frenchman’s advice and we landed in Sihanoukville about 4 or 5 hours later, right on Serendipity Beach.  We checked into a guesthouse, changed into our swimsuits and headed straight for the beach!  Serendipity Beach is lined with restaurants so it was easy to find a place to have a beer and lay in the sun for a few hours.

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Serendipity Beach
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Looking out to sea from the Sihanoukville pier
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Sun setting over the trees

We had dinner in town, then went back out to the beach at night for a dessert of mango and sticky rice.  There were people (mostly children) selling fireworks to tourists who would set them off right on the beach.  This was sort of cool until some drunk people near us started doing it.  They were going off literally no more than 15 feet away from where we were sitting.  And these were full sized, no joke fireworks.  Then they bought some sparkler type things and started literally shooting them at each other.  It was terrifying.

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The next day we woke up early and had breakfast at our guesthouse before returning to the beach.  Serendipity Beach is really filthy, to be honest.  There’s a lot of litter everywhere and the city’s sewage flows in a river, down the main road by the pier, and straight into the water that everyone is swimming in.  It’s grime is matched by the trashy behavior of many backpackers and the scummy old men courting their prostitutes.  Ignoring all of this, we decided to spend our morning building this awesome sand temple.

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Digging the moat
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The beginnings of a temple
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A strange creature washed up to join us
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Some decorations from the sea
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The finished product
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Success!

We had a lot of fun doing this, but after a couple of hours, we realized we should get out of the sun before Joe got burnt.  We were too late.

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At least Ajax was wearing sunscreen….

Realizing that being in the sun any longer was probably not the best idea, we decided to explore the city instead.  People come to Sihanoukville for the beach, so there really isn’t a whole lot going on in town.  It was still a pleasant time just meandering around and waving to all the local children.

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Local children riding a carousel sort of structure
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Sihanoukville Night Market
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A strange, enormous statue of two golden lions in the middle of a roundabout

Once the sun had gone down, we ventured back to the beach to watch some local guys spinning fire staffs.  A couple of them were really good!

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A roadside bar
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Fire spinning on the beach