So, now it is time for our second month in Asia and it feels like its gone so much faster than the last one! But in truth this isn’s a full month. We like to split these posts up roughly monthly but also stop them at each country. So this month we include our time in Thailand and Cambodia that roughly covers 3 weeks! These 3 weeks have been some of the best travelling so far and have really fallen in love with these two countries! A “month” of exploring new cultures, ticking amazing things off the bucket list, wandering through ancient ruins, discovering wonderful local cultures, spending Christmas on the beach and almost getting syringed by a 7 year old outside of some decaying aeroplanes…yep, a random but adventurous month 2 (6)!
We have enjoyed Thailand and Cambodia much more than China, it is not that we didn’t love our time in China, but as we mentioned in our pervious post it was very much a mixture of amazing and abysmal! For us Thailand and Cambodia were just amazing! The people here are just so warm, friendly and welcoming and it was also really hot, which is always welcome! We had amazing food, saw some really breath taking places, some well known and some not so much. Met great people and fell in love with both countries! It was also much more chilled out too and we had time in each place to stay a little longer, to go to the beach etc and refresh a little, very welcome! So overall this month we feel pretty great and we have had a really wonderful time!
However! Christmas came this month and for both of us it is our first time away from home over this period. It was both cool to be away and something we’ve always wanted to do, but at the same time I think we really did, even though we were somewhere amazing, wish we were home for at least just that one day! We spent Christmas on the beach which was really fun and chilled out and of course, so different than any other Christmas! We got to Skype home too but we missed everyone a lot that day!
Bangkok and Thailand is one of those places that is seems strange that we’ve never been to, I mean, everyone else seems to have done!! We were really excited to finally get over here and despite knowing that it would only be a short visit before we delve more into Thailand later on. But in that sense it was nice to just stay in one place for a while without going off somewhere else as we usually do!
We had a week in Bangkok, a little longer than we had initially planned but we were waiting on our Vietnamese visas and what better place to hang out in. We stayed in a really great hostel, managing to avoid the party hostel scene we were wary of in Bangkok! It was really comfortable with capsule style beds and nice staff and in a great area. We also fell in love with the street food over here, so cheap and it tastes amazing! Real Pad Thai, Mango sticky rice, spring rolls and red curry! Heaven!
It was an interesting time in Bangkok nevertheless; we ended up getting traditional Thai tattoos one evening after having wanted some for years but it just kind of happened…that’s Bangkok for you! We visited the amazing temple of this city too, it’s such a diverse place to visit. The ancient and the super modern are right there; culture and buildings like we have never seen before and then there are the crazy malls too. Each one a worthwhile experiences in themselves for totally different reasons, honestly, these malls but anything we have to shame!
The temples though were out of this world and really some of the most beautiful we have ever seen, there are just so many to see and often if you just walk for a while around the old quarter of town you can find more off the beaten track examples with no tourists and instead children playing in the grounds and monks praying. The country is also still very much in mourning over the passing of the King and there are shrines to him outside almost every shop / office etc. You literally can’t miss the outpouring of emotion over the passing of this much-loved monarch and you really start to feel his loss too. Even a few months after his death lots of people are still wearing black or at least wearing black armbands or ribbons pinned to their clothing, especially near the main temples and the Royal Palace. Our favourite temple has to be the reclining Buddha, the entire complex is just stunning!
One of the most interesting and off the beaten track places we visited in Bangkok was the aeroplane graveyard. We took the stinky canal boat ferry all the way to the last stop. This line we used a few times and despite its griminess there is something appealing about it! Along here you are below street level, below the fancy high-rise apartments and malls, here there is an underworld of people who have built a shanty down by the canal.
The water stinks and the narrow boats fly down at speeds that create crazy wakes threatening to soak all those inside, but never doing so! Its quite a local experience! The graveyard is so random, a family have set up camp here and you have to pay them a small fee to enter. Its really quite a surreal place, especially for a traveller who is scared of flying! It looks like something from the film lost, really such a strange but fun place to visit. You can climb all over the planes and really explore the place properly. That is until one of the kids pulls out a syringe full of some cloudy liquid and threatens you until you leave, but hey, alls well that ends well!
Of course, we paid a few visits to Khao San Road, mostly to laugh at the “traveller pant” brigade but also to soak in the atmosphere here! The tuk tuk rides across the city at break neck speed to and from Khao San were also memorable too, these things can shift and with their flashing lights are like a mobile disco whizzing around the streets.
Honestly, we fell in love with Bangkok and can’t wait to return. For us it felt like the perfect balance between modern life and history and culture, between adventure and culture. Now we can see why so many people choose to live here!
Our first stop in Cambodia was Siem Reap after a long bus ride and annoying border crossing! It was throwing it down with rain and the city was packed full of tourists and felt much more expensive than we had come to imagine. All the talk of this being a cheap country went out of the window here and it felt decidedly expensive, especially compared to the Balkans. The main street was aptly named “pub street” and everyone just seemed to be western here and on all inclusive holidays. In truth it took us a while to warm to Cambodia and in particular Siem Reap because of this.
But after a few days we were able to see another side to it and this is when the love affair with Cambodia really started. We initially found a really great local place to eat that sold Khmer Curry for around £2, much less than the western food right in the centre. We also explored the surrounding areas much more and discovered the real Cambodia passed the circus of this tourist town.
One of the highlights has to be taking a tuk tuk out of one of the floating stilt villages on Tonle Sap. We decided to visit the one furthest from the city in order to avoid the others that have sadly been turned into rip off tourist traps. Here we ventured through some amazing little villages where the children would run out to wave and say hello, running alongside our slow moving transport to get the chance to speak to us. They really are so cute and really make me want to teach English over here some day. Even the villages here on dry land displayed a totally different way of living in their simple but beautiful raised up housing. Buffaloes, chicken and dogs wandering then streets as we headed deeper and deeper! Our boat ride through the village was again so special, seeing these tall houses sticking up over 30ft out of the now shallow water below, wow, what a feat of engineering by these villagers! We got to see life here up close, the way people live on the water, how they work, go to school and survive in such a place. We were even invited into house to use their toilet!
Of course, we can here to see Angkor Wat above all and finally getting to visit this wonder of the world was really a highlight of the month. I have to stay that often these places don’t live up to your imagination and the reality of such built up places often differs. For us the entrance price was a little steep, also added to the fact that you must have some form of transport in here as it is so big! But wow, what a mesmerising and magical place. Each temple seems to offer something different, unique features or design, at time you really feel like you have stepped into the lost world of ancient Cambodia. The jungle temple of Ta Promh has to be an absolute highlight for us and absolutely lived up to our dreams of visiting this most enchanting Cambodian treasure!
Another unexpected highlight was the complete opposite of all that. After staying in a really cool capsule hostel we were invited by the owner to stay in the 4 star hotel he is also part owner of. It was such a cool experience to stay in such a place like this after so many hostels (even amazing ones!). They literally treated us like royalty and the pool was just lovely, the whole place was so beautiful and relaxing, we didn’t want to leave! It also felt like we had really got somewhere with our blog being invited to stay in such an amazing place!
Next it was on to the capital of Cambodia. We had heard mixed things from the city and many scare stories about tourists being robbed by people snatching from the back of bikes. The city itself is really busy and quite crazy. Bikes are flying around everywhere and the pavement is so busy with street carts, bikes, tut tuks, stalls and even hairdressers that it is just normal to walk down the middle of the road!
But actually what we found here was a really cool city and much more modern than we expected, though this does tell the story of the country and its extremes. Cambodia is a country were only the very poor or the very rich exist. There is a large ex-pat community here and many people with a lot of money. Cafes, bars, restaurants make it feel like a very cosmopolitan and up and coming city in many areas. There is a huge mall that is almost on the levels of those in Bangkok and certainly more impressive than our drab shopping centres back home, they even have a huge 4D cinema (we kept up family tradition by watching the Christmas blockbuster on Christmas eve here, the new Star Wars). But then around the corner or even on the same street there are shanty towns and self built houses, narrow streets with tiny rooms housing 3 or 4 generations of the same family. Street food stalls with queues around the block next to a fancy French restaurant, there really is two extreme sides to life here. We particularly enjoyed exploring the alleyways and the local markets here, they offered such an interesting insight into the life of most local people, if not a gruesome one on the food markets! I’ve never quite seen conditions like it, meat covered in flies, people squatting down and standing in fish guts, handing money over and laying it on raw chicken, fish slivering over the floor, pig trotters and snouts, chicken feet, entrails hanging…for vegetarians it was a bit much but at the same time such a great place to see locals pretty much without any other tourists!
The royal palace and temples here are also quite stunning and offer quite a contrast to the rest of the blocky city that is made up mostly of communist era buildings and modern ones. However there are many areas where you can see the crumbling remains of the French colonial architecture left by the once rulers of this land. It really is quite a beautiful sight, the bright facades contrasting with the decades worth of grime! In the end Phnom Penh was a city we really enjoyed and felt much more like the real Cambodia in many ways despite being a bustling capital city.
One of the places we knew we had to go and see in Phnom Penh was the killing fields just outside the city. Here over 20,000 people were brutally and systematically murdered, taken here only to die and to be buried in the mass graves. Part of the 1.7 million people who died at the reign of terror of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979 this genocide is still fresh in the minds of many Cambodian’s and its effects are still seen today. Many know about Auschwitz and the atrocities of the Nazi’s, but fewer know of the horrors that befell the Cambodia people when Pol Pot decided to start again at “year zero”.
Many of the graves still wash up bones, teeth and clothing each time in rains and even on a dry day we spotted many within these haunting pits. Hearing stories of the brutality of this place is something we will remember forever. Visiting the Buddhist Stupa filled with the damaged skulls of over 8,000 victims was pretty overwhelming and honestly left both of us in shock. A trip over to the s-21 prison where another 20,000 died and where many of those taken to killing fields were held before. People here were tortured and forced to sign false confessions. Kept in inhumane conditions, starved and tormented many were killed and many simply died due to the conditions. Even today many of the tiles are stained with the blood of those who suffered here and some of the images of those who died will never leave me.
Kampot is a little town on the coast of Cambodia and was probably our favourite place in the country, we really fell in love with in and have to return one day…hopefully soon! What is cool about Kampot is that despite being quite full of “tourists” it really is a backpacker type town, but without the idiots! It is full of cafes, little shops selling handmade clothing and bits and bats, trendy restaurants and all set against really beautiful crumbling French colonial architecture! Here everything is really quite laid back and coming from PP it was a breath of fresh air. It just feels like anything goes here and even the traffic flow is chilled! But what we really loved was how much there is to do here and how diverse the place is.
From the beautiful little town you can literally drive for 5 minutes and be in the most wonderful rural landscapes filled with fascinating villages and a really simple way of living. Houses on stilts, buffalos in the front yard, mud tracks leading to tiny temples where young monks are learning English and huge salt fields where ancient techniques are still employed to this day. Most of the villages are centred around the wonderful Kampot river, a coastal river that runs though the mangroves and towards the sea.
On here we got to do some Stand Up Paddleboarding and swam in the warm waters of the river, a really amazing day! You can even climb around here too though we didn’t get time, and they have a mountain! Then there is the coast! We rented a scooter and drove over to Kep, an even smaller town on the coast known for its crabs! We then took a tiny boat over to Koh Tonsay, Rabbit Island! A remote island housing only traditional bungalows and a small fishing village. A really wonderful place to spend Christmas day! Definitely a place we will be returning too!
Keep in the loop!
If you want more regular updates be sure to check out our facebook page: www.facebook.com/Hilditchshortexplore as we will be uploading photos more often and shorter updates as to where we are. We also update Instagram: www.instagram.com/the_roaming_renegades/ daily too. Keep an eye out in the next few weeks for more detailed posts about the places mentioned here!
Read about our first 4 months in Eastern Europe here:
Read about our adventures in Asia so far:
Post for each country are under these links (most are not online yet as is why I did this post!)
Stats from our second month:
Thailand, Cambodia (2)
Running total in Asia:
China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia (4)
Transport methods used:
Plane, Personal car!, Airport bus, Metro, Sky Train, Bicycle, Canal boat, Bangkok tut tuk, scooter, Cambodian tuk tuk, ferry, fishing boat, stand up paddle board, mini bus, sleeper bus,
Running total in Asia:
Plane, bullet train, hard sleeper train, hard seat slow train, subways, buses, mini bus, taxi, ropeway, Tobbogan, Cable car, Bikes, Yulong ferry, bamboo raft, Electric cart, star ferry, Peak Tram.
Miles covered and time travelled:
2,948 including flights/ 1,874 without flights
46:10 hours including flights / 43:10 without flights
Running total in Asia:
183:00 hours including flights / 166:00 hours without flights
These are of course only estimates but it gives you an idea!
Beds slept in:
6 beds, mostly in dorms but we did end up staying in a 4 star hotel in Siem Reap because of the blog #winning
Running total in Asia:
20, including sleeper trains, but mostly dorms and a couple of privates!
We are currently in Vietnam and have been for almost 2 weeks now. We expect to be in the country for around 5 weeks in total and have bought motorbikes to ride from Saigon to Hanoi, an adventure of a lifetime. We have already had some amazing experiences over here including canyoning, riding through amazing mountain passes with the most breathtaking waterfalls and views as well as seeing local life up close from our bikes. We can’t wait to tell you all about it!