Our spring rolls…..
… cost more then our hostal for the night in Cambodia!
I know what you’re thinkin’…. expensive spring rolls! Nah… it was 120 Bahts for thedeeeelicousspring rolls ($3.50) and 100 Bahts ($3) for the room. Somtimes the tummy just has to come first!
Okay folks… here goes nothin’… There is a TON to talk about– lets see how long my fingers can type or how LOOOONG your attention span lasts! Either way…. you are all in for quite a journey.
Sunday 9/23~ I’m not sure what led us in to that cafe in Trat, Thailand on that very rainy morning– or how our plans changed so suddenly- we should be in Cambodia, you see- but somehow, led by pure fate- we stumbled across a brochure at the cafe that had Ray and I salivating. It was called Anna’s hotel and it was perfectly placed on the Island of Ko Chang. We looked at eachother as our eyes gleamed of "unspoken territory" and without so much another sip of our coffee we set off to find our way to that Island.
Oh but first let me tell you of our adventure to the sleepy town of Trat. We left Khaoyai on Wed. for our long bus journey towards Trat- the town we were going to use to gain our access to the border of Cambodia. (There are only about 3 access points along Thailand that we are able to use to enter) We left at 7:30 on bus #1 to go North to Korat so we could then go down South towards Chanteburi. 2 hours later on bus #2 (everything actually happens so fast getting ON transportation- its the actual getting THERE that moves slow) from Korat to Chantiburi was to take us oh- 6 hours- roughly. Nice bus- air con and all. And thankfully the stops were few…. UNTIL- about 5 1/2 hours into it- with MAYBE only another 45 minutes to our destination- The bus broke down. The Thai act like it occurs as must as they eat Pad Thai and we are led into another bus- ahem- the city bus. And away we go…. Ray and I figure what luck, right? HA! Little did we know that the city bus stops about every 3 minutes and that last 45 minutes of travel took us a GRUELING 2 1/2 hours. Only to be left with at the end of our 9 hour bus journey so far with still another 1 1/2 to our FINAL destination of Trat. Whatever– I can handle that…
What I was torn over was the fact that both our hiking shoes had miracously gone and walked off on us. They were tied up in a separate bag as they reaked of the mud from Khaoyai- and I want to think of it as an accident that someone grabbed that bag instead of their own- but no matter WHAT, that person was in for a crazy smelly surprise. Oh but no my Norman Wondero shoes! They took me 6 months to find and were finaced by Normy– I think we all need to take a moment for a big "boo hoo mama" sigh. But what do you do- we took a silence for our "missing shoes" and moved on.
We finally made it to Trat at about 8pm. Hey only a 12 hour journey- but I now know it was absolutly necessary for us to have undergone to reap the rewards of the "now." We stayed that Thurs. in Trat was walking amously around the town and I swear we were the only Westerns in it! You really get a feel for the small-town living here- and the earthiness about it as we explored within and beyone the town. It rained off and on for most the day- as to how we came upon "that brochure" and then found ourselves in the internet cafe immediately falling upon the link for Anna’s Hotel and just by chance they had a "special" we could not refuse. 2 nights- 3 days- breakfast, 2 dinners and a lunch included. For, get this… $200 dollars… check on the picts of the room and the surroundings and you will see this lil’ "Jode in training" hit the jackpot. $200 would maybe gain you access into their bathroom anywhere else! So we decided upon this lil’ slice of heaven to celebrate our upcoming 5 year Anniversary on the 28th. That night we giddly soaked up the excitement of the "booking" of the hotel and sbumersed ourselves in the night market as rain poured down around us. What a mesmerizing evening- a part of the culture, its people and the incredible smells of the food. Not better way to really understand the dynamic of Thailand.
**Sidenote…. Oh my– Lysserrrr’ is at it again with her antics as FINALLY finding stamps for the postcards (somtimes this could lead to a full day treasure hunt) led her to such relief that she immediately RIGHT THERE felt the need to lick them and attach them to the postcard in the store.
Um, yah– not such a good idea in Thai culture as ANYthing to do with the King you must be so very careful of. And stamps… well, you should never lick stamps as it bears the image of the King- to the Thais only animals lick things. So you can imagine to my horror when I realized what I had done. Ray and I sprinted out of there so fast…. Wow. I can only imagine what I stirred up on that store. Double werps on that one.
9/24– Buuggggaaaaa’!! Just missed the ferry out as the "sawngthaew" (they call it a Taxi, but its actually a pick-up truck with a roof over the back that they squeeze about 3 people too many) got here 2 minutes too late. Nevermind, it gives me all the time in the world to write. Somedays its a push to do so, but I know its all worth it in the end- if only I could master the short hand technique. Oh grrrr… I must be in one of those moods, that or Ray’s "slight obnoxious annoyances" is getting to me, but this girl beside me seriously couldn’t chpm at her food and smack her lips any harder… I think my grams need to give her a lesson or 2! Zoinks.
Okay– enough banter- lets get back to the Island of Ko Chang. Friday morning the 21st we left on a ferry towards our delicious little slice of heaven…. Before we knew it we were ealking right into that brochure (well, maybe age it about 10 years) but regardless- it was beautiful) We overlooked the pool and lagoon and the room was absolutely luxerious to zeee’ max. But why this weird pang of guilt? Ahhh shoot, we deserved this– it was so inexpensive AND we were celebrating our 5 year wedding anniversary. Somehow, that quickly vanished as we kayaked through the blue-green crazy clear lagoon towards the patch of white sand beach the resort owned…. wow… again, words just will not and can not do it justice. The ocean water was so warm.. so maui-clear. The mountains that were the ultimate backdrop to this outrageous scene were lush and green and ever so hazy as the humidty rose out of the untamed forest. It was one of those feelings that lept up out of you like you were about to explod as you waded in the sea and drew in all that layed before you. I remember telling Ray it almost wasn’t fair that one place have EVERYTHING combined. White sand- palm trees- rainforest- clear waters AND a lagoon?
Never the less we were a part of it and it was all fair game from there on out.
We were treated like a King and Queen at the hotel- right down to the food service. Oooooh- my stomach is churns as I think of the GOBS oh’ food we conumed… for free… The first nights dinner was almost hysterical as they kept bringing more and more… 2 appetizers, 4 entrees and dessert. 3 words my friends… walking stomach ach. Zee’ to the double OINKS– it was delicious. We even had to cancel our free lunch on Saturday as the breakfast bugget still clung to our ribcages. The next couple of days we spend kayaking up and down the beautiful lagoon and soaking up the sunshine by the infiniti pool. We walked along the white sand beach and explored the town around the island by motor-bike. (and with the winding roads and steep hills I clucthed on to Ray and somehow the only thing that came out of my mouth was… "take heed!" Er? Whaaa?) All the while we thanked our lucky stars that the sun was shining as only days before it chucked down rain- it is the wet season here, and you just never know what you’re gonna get… But what we got was FAR more then we could have ever hoped for. The weather was a dream– and we were restin’ easy.
So that takeds me to this picnic table awaiting the ferry that looks like tis just about to dock– and onwards we go to Cambodia– The border corssing is som what of a tricky one but we hope to make it to the other side by this afternoon. And from there we make our way to Phnom Penh. (which we are still having a tough time pronouncing) Lets roll in the mud like pigs, this girl is ready to get down and dirty… No more of this fancy smancy business.
Words by Ray….
In the efforts to relieve the ever increasing stress of the blog from my blogged out wifey, I very kindly after 3 months unselfishly offered to write a day in the blog journal!
As you may have noticed by reading the blog from other parts of Aisa, travel here can be hit or miss. The idea of a set schedule when it comes to transport is just that, an idea. It may add to the confusion but it also adds to the adventure- 2 hours can become 6 hours, aircon could mean "open window" and an arrival time is only a time when you "arrive." So sitting wathcing as the ferry slowly pulls in to dock, we can only wonder how many hours it will take to get to the border town of Krong Koh Kong, if we get there at all. Watching as they load and unload cars and trucks you can only imagine how good these guys are at tetris- effortlessly squeezing impossibly large trucks into impossibly small spaces is entertaining in itself.
The ferry over from Koh Chang to the mainland was about 40 minutes and not too bad of a view if we may say so- On the boat we met an loder Dutch couple who too were heading for Koh Kong and we decided to team up with them as sometimes it isn’t just safety in numbers it is bartering power (more people= cheaper taxi) Preparing ourselves for the typical onslaught of "you want taxi?" "where you go?" followed by the "how much" and "too much" from our end before reaching the price which is on the board or guidebook anyway- we hit the pier and very soon we were hustled into the back of a sawongthaew (glorified pick-up) and were flying down the road towards Trat. It is always good to talk to other travellers as you may find out about a great beach or cool hostel or even the opposite, we found out from the Dutch couple that the border only accepts the Thai currency of Baht and not the dollar like it said in our book, we in turn traded the info of were the bus to the border went from. We put on our game faces and walked towards the inevitable onslaught of taxi pimps trying to squeeze every possible baht out of us they can and after some unsuccessful bartering (yes, they will say no sometimes) I found the "bus-stop" for the town of Hat Lek- and hour in our guide books, two hours in all.
When the locals on the sawongthaew saw us 4 with huge packs and extra baggage they just laughed knowing what was ahead- Imagine squeezing 4 large back packs, 2 or 3 msall backpacks, 10 -12 people (not including kids and of course the ever necessary 2 bags of veggies and one bag of misc. dried fish per local and not only have you got a great premise for a Seinfeld episode but you alos have our ride to the border.) We were of course curious as to why we couldn’t put our bags on the roof and later found out that the roof (and extra space inside) was reserved for 400 lbs of rice and enough veggies to give a vegetarian a nutrient overdose. Travelling on unknown raods is always fun as you are constantly exposed to new sights and smells even if the smells aren’t always that pleasent. The pick-up was completely packed until a town about 20 minutes from the border after which it was just the westerners, also known as "fresh meat."
The pick-up hand’t even stopped before it was jumped by praying locals, gleering and clambering over each otherfor the days earning and because it is the low or slow seaons, the daily earnings are that much harder to come by- it seems that a simple, if not overly repeated "no thank you" with constant eye contact does the trick, not always, but most of the time. OK- deep breath, here goes border control….. we go our "leaving Thailand stamos" and started the 200 meter walk towards the Cambodian side. Inbetween borders was duty free (or an old car with cartons of cigarettes) and the food court (an old cart with pineapple) and then another onslaught of smartley dressed Cambodians yielding visa applications. They seemed very excited about filling out Government paperwork (not something you see too often) which can only mean they want something from you- The visa office is a hot little room which can only house 4 tourists and 4 officials, and it was suprisingly official. The Duth couple were hustled at and then it was our turn- things looked good, we had the baht (and extra $30 then what we expected) we had our photos of us looking cleaner, younger and dare I say slimmer, and we had the very nicely filled out paperwork without even lifting a pen- you could say we had everything except….. enough blank pages in Alyssa’s passport!! You could tell something was up by the way the guy decked out in full garb kept flicking backwards and forwards mumbling and asking questions to the other guy, then came the sentence I was waiting for.. " You no pages, no can give visa." Keep calm… keep calm…. "So what do we do?" "You no pages… " "Yes, so what do we do?" This useless banter went back and forth a few times until eventually he ever so kindly decided to stick it on a "offical use and amendment only" page only with a very official "permisson slip" on the back of a peice of paper- a few "I hereby’s" and "undersigneds" later we had visas and entry to Cambodia.
It turns out the helpful paperfillerouters are actually taxi drivers, more than happy to take you where you want to go- very convienent. Barter, barter, barter and we are finally on our way to Krong Koh Kong- a mere 15-20 minutes drive away. Speaking of luck, it just so happened that the taxi drivers brother owns a geusthouse in town- very lucky however we insisted (if only because we are stubborn) to see another guesthouse ifrst- we did end up at the drivers- but how could we turn down the balck mould covered halls and ceiling- see photots– at a mere $2.75 a night- after the 3 days at the resort we really had to jump back into the backpacking life, and fast- it is very easy to get accustomed to luxery.
We booked our ticket to Phnom Penh for the next morning (a 5-6 hour bus ride) and quickly hurried to wash off the day in our over-shared bathroom.
The town itself is a dusty, un-commercialized border town whcih would happily be used as a backdrop in a western-mainly used as an "overnight" town for those crossing the border. It still maintains the real feel of a small, local filled town which of course results in more staring at the strange westerns but lower prices- how long that stays this way remains to be seen. After washing off the day and sinking a cold one at the guesthouse we ventured into town on the quest for dinner which was easily quenched at a good but empty Thai Restuarant.
Our 9am bus rolled out of the guesthouse at around 9:20 (pretty good) and off we set to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh- This drive has said to take between 5-10 hours in the wet season. I don’t think I need to tell you what season this is!
Our driver, it seems, graduated from the Egyptian school of driving (ref: Egypt blog) and graduated with honors.
We were informed that the drive was much better now, only four hours, new bridges blah blah blah…. So we were crossing our fingers. Not even 30 minutes into the trip we reached our first bridge, a very impressive, brand new and will designed bridge which would indeed speed up the trip over the river. We really had a good chance to stand in awe of the bridge as we waited for our ferry across the river. Thats right, the bridge wasn’t open yet- at least we know it is new.
This is actually one of the four rivers which we met on the way to Phnom Penh- one crazier than the other. The "rafts" which is exactly what they were could house 6-10 cars, as many motorbikes and all the people possible. They set off from the dirt banks which are lined on both sides by the make shift huts which are food stalls doubleds as homes and the general way of life may just end when these bridges open.
These rafts are basically wooden planks hammered onto old boats and how they float is beyond me- they are powered by old car engines which have a rod and a propeller on and have to be seen to be believed.
One of the areas was almost un-passable as the must came up over half of the wheel- it was pretty fun watching the cars and vans slide around. After the fourth bridge it was a straight shot into the city and I have to say that driving here is crazier than anywhere we have been yet- no lanes, seemingly no rules and no care of what is coming towards you- they simply just turn left or right- across lanes and even in the wrong direction- best described as wading through water, the traffic simply moves around you.
The drive in all was about 6 1/2 hours and quite a trip. We were dropped at Central market and soon again found ourselves hassled and bartering for the smallest amount.
9/27– Ahhh… and there you have it… 2 days and 9 pages in the journal later- let me introduce the newest blogger to the show….. Ray Ray. Isn’t he something? Spare no detail… you just got full coverage my friends. So I will do my best to sum up the last few days as I know that hour 2+ at the computer typing already commenced. (ahem, yes– it has)
We ended up staying in an area called Boeng Kak- a budget option for backpackers within the city of Phnom Phen right off the lakefront. It basically is wooden guesthouses perched on water stilts- a great ambience with lots of wooden chill-out areas stretching out over the water which just so happens that we are on right now….. Its a lil’ slice of down home Minnesoter’ lake life. And I am loving it. The sun it thankfully behind the clouds as the head is fierce here, and a break from the sticky sweat that has coated us for the last 2 days is welcomed.
I am not sure how exactly to even begin the sights, sounds and experiences of the past 2 days. From the monkey in the park stealing our water bottles- to getting more pages in my passport at the US Embassy whilst "I wanna’ live in Amerrrica" played in the background (no joke, folks) -to the horrific sights we explored that left lumps in our throats and tears stinging our eyes-to finally the beauty that engulfed our hearts as we rode through the strees on tuk tuks….
It has been an extraordinary few days and I fear there will never be enough time to truly soak all of this in.
There were 2 significant areas of Phnom Penh that I need to share with you…. Not want– but need.
The Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields. Both are apart of humankinds darkest moments between 1975 and 1979 when the Khmer Rouge Takeover happened. To help understand the history of this heinous revolution that lasted 4 years under the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pots leadership- let me just type a bit on how the Lonely Planet described it:
"….they implemented the "year zero" and Cambodia was to become a Maoist, peasant-dominated, agrarian-cooperative. During the next four years, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, including the vast majority of the country’s educated people, were relocated to the countryside, tortured to death or executed. Thousands of people who spoke foreigh languages or wore glasses were branded as ‘parasites’ and systematically killed. Hundreds of thousands more died of mistreatment and disease. Almost two million Cambodians died between 1975 and 1979 as a direct result of the policies of the Khmer Rouge."
On Wednesday afternoon we visited Tuol Sleng museum- in 1975 Pol Pot’s security forces turned the school into Security Prison (S-21) the largest center of detention and torture in the country. Per the book, almost everone held here was later executed and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek where we visited today. Detainees who dies during torture were buried in mass graves inside the prison grounds. During the first part of 1977, S-21 claimed a terrifying average of 100 victems per day.
Paralyzing to your heart? yes…. But we will never look at the world the same again. And we felt that same lump in our throats again today as we walked across the Killing Fields rising amid 129 mass graves serving to a memorial of approx. 17,000 men, women and children.
To powerful to really put into words- let our pictures take you there. To a place that didn’t need to have silence requested- the ability to speak was simply lost here.
But then to help brighten this blog– its our 5 year anniversary tomorrow and we will be boating down the Mekong towards Vietnam.
***A quick sidenote per Ray…. Because of the turmoil of Cambodians Past, it has a very young tourist history which is quite easy to pick up on– The one liners which have been learned from tourists and limited cheesy responses like "o.k. USA" and from the little girl book sellers "no money no honey" will only last so long- soon we will see Mc. D’s and the usual following hike on prices and a less personal feel to the limited tourist areas- it will be interesting to caome back and I bet when we do we won’t have the selling of opium and heroin quite so "in our faces."
9/28- Happy 5 year Anniversay to us!! We are right now on the Mekong River in a little boad that holds about 20 passengers (there is only 7 today) travelling towards Chau Doc where we will stay the night and then bus the rest of the journey to HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) or what most people call Saigon. We just passed by a little village on stilts on the edge of the river- with the cool breeze in my face I try to imagine what life would be like for those families. Ahhhh- but what a lovely way to travel- much better then the eratic drive to the boat… as Ray talked about, their driving is well, anything other then cautious.
We paid $20 each for tranportation and accomodation for the 2 day one night journey towards Vietnam. And we literally paid it in dollar bills. You see- they use both American currency AND Riel… and better yet, guess what comes out of the cash machine? Dollars. How bizzare, right? But it gets even better… say I pay someone a 5 dollar bill for something that cost $3- what I will get back in charnge maybe $1 and 4000 Riel. They mix it all up…
4000 Reil=$1- but no exactly… They seem to always get a better deal as it truly should be 4100 to the $. Tricky, aye? Still, I can’t get over seeing American currency again….
We just went through our very first "water border" crossing- got back in the boat and then docked at the Vietnam customs where we paid 2000 Dong (about 15 cents) to enter the country… now here we are on a "secret ninja route" river as it just so happens we missed the typhoon that hit this country the last few days. We aren’t even on a river, but flooded grounds that reminds me of the pictures I saw of New Orleans and flooding in the midwest– only this time instead of brick housed roofs peaking out of the brown water you see thatched roofs– many were saves as they were built on stilts, but their rice fields are gone– fishing will have to be their source of food in this area now.
I have seen so much on this little boat ride… mountains now to the far distance with bulls and cows resting lazily in the chocolate water I find myself curious for what Vietnam will bring- already many smiles and waves from the locals on their boats and on the shore. We have immediately felt welcomed into this strange land, funny how all it takes is an excited child waving about and shouting for your attention– you wave back just as giddy to return that wave with a big ol’ smile. I think I’m going to like Vietnam…..
Since travelling Asia by transport I have learned how to:
#1- Share your seat and THEN SOME with the "extras" they always seem to squeeeeeze on.
#2- Stop yelling "we are all going to diiiieeee!" as the way these nutters drive is not for the faint of heart!
#3-Be able to "hold it" for 6+ hours….
#4-But if nature does call- have learned to squat over holes in the most non-western of facilities out there.
#5-Sleep in the bumpiest of conditions (and we are talking "head to roof" bumpy here folks)
#6-Ignore the touters at the windows when we make our MANY frequent stops along the way. (i don’t think they could press their faces any harder to the glass)
#7- Keep a very close eye on your shoes, for there are sneaky shoe stealer fairy out there!
#8- To finally realize there is no time table- when you leave is when you leave and if you actually arrive… well, then its your lucky day!
All in all- prepare for the worst and hope for the best- Asia is a tranportation adventure!
After immediately arrive in Chau Doc- I have renamed this town the "Hello City." Everyone you pass from young to old cheerily bids you "Haaaa-loooow"- its surreal, but you know me… I eat it up!
We spent our anniversary night at the night market with the locals squatting on plastic stools chattingand laughing with the Vietnamese children. Just watching them scream with delight when they found out we had a camera was enough a figt to us. Trying to communicate wasn’t especially easy, but Ray and I had a wonderful time trying. You should have seen when Ray perfomred his "make one coin into 2" trick– you can imagine they wanted to see that one again. Oh if only we had more coins!
Basically we are millionairs right now– that right– DONG MILLIONAIRS! It works out that about 16,000 Dong= $1
So really its only like $65— HA! But shoot, I am going to wallow in the glory all the same.
Today we are travelling by mini-bus to HCMC- we have been on the road for about 6 hours with 2 more to go– up since 5:50am as at 6:30 we went on a very small boat to check out the fish farms that are on water. What a beautiful morning and a fabulous way to really be immersed in the culture.
After being able to watch them weave their gorgeous scarves, sarrongs and bedding we were swetp up by the bus- and immediately assumed our "squeeze in tight" position. Thank goodness it has air. Tonight we will go through the "touting-tastic" frenzy of our hostal search and then start exploring the town…..
9/30– And here I sit now… in a small smokey internet room in the middle of the city with about a dozen kids playing "online games" and pressing the keys so darn hard that I am surprised the keyboard is still intact…. Get me outta here, and fast….
So I will sum up today as the "war memorial day" as Ray and I visited the Reunifcation Palace where it was towards this building that the first communist tanks in Saigon rushed on the mornign of 30 April 1975, the day Saigon surrendered. And then onto the War Remnants museum– documenting all the atrocities of war….. And because this blog has enough sadness in it, I won’t go any further…..
Tomorrow we make our way up the coast towards Hanoi– its kind of the "open ticket" baz bus deal that we had in South Africa…. BUT only $19 per ticket for that whole crazy way… Ahhh… Asia and its inexpensive pleasures. Looking forward to getting out of the city… I am stir crazy and need to see some green.
…. well Ray has just notified me that he is either going to "punch the screen" or "cry" as he has been trying to upload pictures these past 2 1/2 hours and only 10 have appeared. So…. I fear that it may be sometime before we are able to go at it again. (and we have oh so many to share) Buggerrrr! No good ol’ top picture on this one, I’m afraid.
So I will quickly bid you far-theee’ well and just want to say how wonderful it was to talk to my family today…. so fabulous to hear your voices.
…..AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY BROTHER!!!! WOO HOO!! 25 years old….. you make me feel like such an ol’ sissa’. Good thing I am still sasssssy…..
Also a big bad happpppy birthday to Kimberly!! Thinking about you girl…. Hope everything is as it should be… amazing.
I think that about does it for now? More to come… always more to come…
Thinking about all of you…. Love the comments, always keep em’ comin’….
Miss you and speak soon…
Alyssa and our newest’ act to the stage… Ray
P.S. Sorry bout’ the spelling, this may be a nasty one!