When we left you last we were on the Thai Island of Koh Tao. Our next stop – Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Getting to Cambodia required a 28 hour journey, utilising a boat and two buses. Unfortunately, we were not told whilst booking that our seafaring vessel would be a nausea inducing boat from hell. For three hours it wallowed wildly in the swell, listing from side to side in a horrific, gut shifting pattern. The motion instantly made Jade feel uneasy. Not to worry, we had travel sickness tablets in the day-bag, right? Nope, they were uselessly squirreled away at the bottom of Jamie’s rucksack, currently buried under a mound of bags, covered by a tarp, which was lashed to the deck.
Sick to our stomachs, wishing for an end, our journey was scored by the dramatic music of Star Wars (thank you John Williams …) blaring from the TV; if only we could focus on it without wanting to vomit …
Dry land has never felt so good.
The next leg was on four wheels; scheduled to arrive in Bangkok at 6am, we would have a one hour stop over before catching our final bus at 7am; heading for the border and Cambodia beyond.
Getting our heads down around midnight, we spent a few restless hours drifting in and out of sleep before being woken at 2:30am. Rousing from a sleep laced fog of confusion, we were told we’d arrived in Bangkok, and our next bus wouldn’t pick us up until 9am. Dumped on the side of a busy road we were at a loss as to what to do for 6 ½ hours, at night, in Bangkok. Accompanied by an Irish girl we’d met on the bus, we headed for Khao San Road. A few weeks ago we’d been pleasantly surprised by the city. These good impressions rapidly melted away as we experienced Khao San in the early hours. Drunk men staggering between pubs and clubs, many with their arm slung over the shoulders of Thai women of questionable gender; stalls selling enough laughing gas to re-float the Titanic; a reeking array of fast food stands, the air thick and hazy with the competing, and overwhelming scents of meat, spices, and urine: not an ideal location to get a few hours sleep. Our Irish friend – who was not continuing the journey with us – managed to find a room and we said our goodbyes. We were alone, homeless, and left wondering if it was acceptable to sleep on the street? Aimlessly drifting down a quiet side road we stumbled across a hostel which had a leather sofa outside. Out of options and ready to drop, we slumped down onto our ‘bed’. Sleep was elusive; the mosquitos were not. The sun came up, and at 7am we left, unrested and with a few new bites as a memento of our night on the streets of Bangkok.
Arriving at the meeting point for our next bus (Mcdonald’s!), we scoffed two burgers each, whilst chatting to a nice English couple – Ben and Anabelle – who would be continuing the journey to Siem Reap with us.
At 9am we were picked up by a manic Thai man (reminiscent of Mr Chow from The Hangover), who seemed to still be feeling the effects of whatever cocktail of drugs he had ingested the night before. Pulling up on his scooter, he insisted we follow him; and we did. Jade, not content with walking, jumped on the back of his mo-ped and disappeared round the corner at high speed, leaving Jamie to contemplate what he would do if Jade was kidnapped. Luckily Jamie didn’t need to put his ill-conceived plans in to action, as minutes later the bus, and Jade, came in to view.
Scams at the Thailand/Cambodia border are common; we were resolved to not become victims ourselves. Between our bus operator trying, and failing, to extort extra cash from us and the border guards attempting to charge an entirely fabricated ‘entry stamp fee’ we saw our fair share of opportunists. Having done some research beforehand, these attempts were ridiculously transparent, easy to avoid, in spite of their efforts to pressure you in to doing things their way. In all, our persistence saved us the princely amount of £10.50 each. Was it worth the effort of arguing? Absolutely.
Some highlights from Cambodia:
Aiming to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, we crawled out of our guesthouse at 4:40am, jumped on our hired bicycles – head-torches firmly strapped to our heads, we looked great – and headed off into the dark streets of Siem Reap. Initially we went to the wrong ticket office (Shit!). With 30 minutes until sunrise we frantically pedalled across town to get our tickets before retracing our path to Angkor Wat. We arrived just in time – despite a security guard at the wrong office cheerfully telling us we would never make it; Arsehole – and joined the masses of other tourist poised with their cameras and selfie sticks ready for sunrise. The site, once the largest city in the world, is massive. By the end of the day we had covered in excess of 20 miles, in 35 degree heat, on bikes that were either drastically too small, or only had one functioning, incredibility difficult gear; Jade’s thighs and bum may never forgive her. She refers to this as having ‘Rider’s Arse’, whatever that means?
En-route to Phnom Penh – the capital of Cambodia – the bus stopped every 15 minutes to take on new cargo. An hour in, every inch of space was packed. Whilst we didn’t see a kitchen sink, we did see a table, bed, set of chairs, hay bale sized bundles of cloth, and some strange looking vegetables. Having repeatedly stalled throughout the journey the bus eventually broke down for real. Scrambling over and under the dining room assault course to escape and get some fresh air, we witnessed our crack mechanic team hitting the engine with spanners for 20 minutes, before a man decided to ram a branch off a tree in to the buses inner workings. Ridiculously this somehow worked. The engine roared to life, and we carried on our way – for 3km. After the second breakdown our Cambodian co-passengers weren’t hanging around. Through some form of telepathy – honestly, we didn’t see a single one move or speak – they flagged down passing motorbikes, jumped on the back and headed off in to the sunset. We followed suit. With a father and daughter duo from Belgium we grabbed a Tuk Tuk (speech required) to complete our journey. As it turned out the father was a travelling photo-journalist, writing for National Geographic whilst meandering through Asia; he was great company for the remaining 33km.
In Phnom Penh we visited the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields; locations that were used by the Kymer Rouge – under the mandate of Pol Pot – to torture and murder tens of thousands of Cambodians. Through the use of incredibly graphic photos and an explicitly honest audio tour, a picture was painted in our minds of the terrifying and oppressive conditions inflicted on the Cambodian people. This regime of mass torture and genocide happened nationwide during the 1970’s, with over 300 such facilities spread throughout the country. It was both horrifically informative and frightening to behold, not least because Pol Pot and the Kymer Rouge were committing these atrocities against their own people; neighbours, friends, and family.
On our last night in Phnom Penh we once again met up with Ben and Anabelle (the English couple we befriended in Mcdonald’s), having also gone out for dinner with them in Siem Reap. We had a lovely riverside meal at a restaurant called The Titanic – the food and company were fantastic. Whilst it didn’t sink, we did see a rat or two, which gave an authentic air to proceedings.
Next stop on the itinerary is Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon if you prefer) in Vietnam.
We’ll tell you all about it.
Jade and Jamie