On our last day in Chiang Mai, we rose early to pack our bags and get them into storage before an 8am brunch with Lis, the friend we came to Chiang Mai to meet for New Year’s Eve. We admired the SECOND Siamese cat we have seen in Thailand – this one as pampered as Siamese cats are supposed to be (a rare thing in Thailand). The pet culture seems slightly different in Chiang Mai – there are very few “communal” street animals. Every cat or dog we saw had a clearly defined home, and most wore clothing. Yes, you read that right – clothing … read more.
We left Bangkok this morning, heading for Trat, on the Gulf of Thailand coast, close to the Cambodian border. Two hours out of Bangkok, the bus broke its fan belt.
The reactions of the passengers ranged from panicked phoning and texting to stoic acceptance. We created some bemusement by using a palm frond to sweep the stones off the road in the shade of the bus, rolling out a yoga mat, and inviting people to join us for a picnic. The three other farang on the bus (Russians) declined, but a Thai woman and her Japanese husband accepted some of our Ritz biscuits and honey-roasted macadamias, gave us water and fish jerky in return, and she sat on the mat and chatted with us in English … read more.
We had not researched Chanthaburi, or planned to stop here, so everything has been a gigantic game of discovery. Hunting for an ice cream parlour recommended on Travelfish, we found ourselves walking along the 1km Old Town area, which is now (as of 2009) being preserved and restored.
Along the way, we passed a Chinese Buddhist temple, where people were celebrating … something. Possibly Chinese New Year. In any case, they were giving away food, as you do in Thailand whenever you have a party. Not just tidbits, either – they kept pressing more and more food and drink on us. In the end, we consumed some fortune cookie style desserts, fresh from the griddle with mock cream and sweet decorations, pancake rolls containing spices and a hot dog sausage, nam kang ban (blended ice cubes covered in sweet jelly and syrups), more pancakes, thick toast (Tom’s with “pork floss” – dried and shredded spicy BBQ pork, and Jenny’s with butter and nom kuon – condensed milk), and honey lemon tea … read more.
Having read on Travelfish that only one bus depot has buses that run directly to Hat Lek (“Little City”), the border town, we spent an hour walking around Chanthaburi on the 11th to find the right place – which would have been tedious, had our route not passed through a fabulous local market, where we bought fried fish and sweets, and the home of the most beautiful kitten we have seen so far – a tortoiseshell of creamy pale ginger and seal point Siamese. We gave her and her brother the bonus whole fish that the fish vendor had thrown in with our fillet.
We couldn’t buy a ticket when we found the bus station, because the bus stand to Hat Lek wasn’t manned in the late afternoon – there is one bus a day, at 6.30am, apparently. Sigh. Early morning it is … read more.
Our first day in Phnom Penh was dominated by our need to change hotels. We had booked, sight unseen, a hotel from Travelfish, because we were arriving in town after dark, and we didn’t want to be wandering the streets with our backpacks trying to find a place with a vacancy.
The Angkorchey Guesthouse was an experience. The hot water heater was missing, the shower produced a strange weak clumpy spray, which made it very difficult to get wet, or to rinse off the soap, the toilet lid was rusty, the whole room smelled of mould, and there were brown finger-smears on the wall beside the bed. We asked to see a nicer room, and they showed us one with a window, which still smelled musty. It had a hot water heater, but it wasn’t connected to the tap … read more.
Today we hope to collect our passports, complete with 60-day Thai visas, ready in the record time of only two days. Wish us luck!
Our room at Chi Cha Guesthouse finally became available at about 11.30 am yesterday. Tom went up to have a look at it, and discovered that he could only just stand up in the room – it had a very low ceiling. The bathroom was up a three-inch step, so he couldn’t stand upright in the bathroom. (Building codes, schmuilding codes …) This was not the room he had seen on our first night in Phnom Penh. Sigh. Back to the interwebs and walking the streets.
… read more.
Phase One – wake at Stupid O’Clock to pack, have breakfast, and check out of our guesthouse before our 8am pickup.
Phase Two – cool our heels at the travel shop while the minivan does anoher round of pickups (during which time we can buy a can of Nescafe iced coffee, thus completing breakfast).
Phase Three – minibus to Sihanoukville. All the seats had been sold, including the back three that fold down to make luggage room, so the driver stowed everyone’s backpacks under seats, where they took up all the foot room, and everyone was then required to keep their hand luggage on their laps. Oh well, it’s only a four-hour trip – who needs comfort? … read more.
After our first night, we knew we would not be able to carry out our plan – staying two or three nights near the pier while we scouted the other beaches and chose a permanent location – because there was so much shouting and loud music into the early hours of the morning that we were a) exhausted and b) needing to move immediately. Also, Jenny’s digestion was a bit upset, and she wanted a room with a private bathroom for a day or two.
Fortified by breakfast and a dose of fluff (egg-sized chickens this time), we set about finding another guesthouse, away from the pier. We found one halfway down the beach, came back to pack up our stuff and get a refund of the money we had prepaid for the second night, and the lugged our packs down to the new place. It was really nice, having just been built – in fact, the room next to ours was still being finished off – but the previous guest had broken the toilet seat somehow. Tourists. At least the place had cats … read more.
How can we possibly describe Koh Rong to someone who hasn’t been here? It is a bundle of contradictions.
The island is quite large, but all human habitation clusters around two villages and one swanky resort (which can only be reached by boat). Lots of tourist accommodation has been built in the past few years, with lovely clean bathrooms and flush toilets, but there is no sewage treatment of any kind, not even septic tanks. The sewage goes into a pond out the back of the village, and slowly filters through the sand into the sea. You can smell it often, unless you walk a long way into the jungle or around the point to the next beach.
If it wasn’t for the tourists, it would be idyllic. The villagers are lovely and friendly … read more.