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Before I leave...

...things i'm scared and excited about

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Some might think it strange that i'm starting to write my blog even before i've left, but since I haven't been able to sleep these last few weeks with a mix of fear and excitement about whats to come I thought i'd write it down and use it as an intro to my blog for the next 6 months.

Things I'm Scared Of :

1. Being on my own
So the idea of talking to myself for 6 months isn't really appealing. Getting lost is much funnier when theres someone else to laugh about it with you. I have images of me in some scummy train station in Phuk Wat Now gulping back tears and wondering where the hell I am.

2. Not being on my own
Confused? Thought so. Worse than talking to myself for an extended period of time would be being stuck with some clingy traveller person with bad personal hygeine and no other friends...If this happens I have plans to feed them to the cute tigers in the Tiger Sanctuary in Thaialnd.

3. Not being on my own
What? Again? Yep, especially if the things keeping me company are creepy crawlies with multiple legs/eyes and like crawling over me in the middle of the night. I could actually do without facing my fears of spiders/cockroaches/ticks/leeches/mosquitos....

4. Getting sick
Maybe this should be number 1? I'm worse than a baby when i'm sick, even when i'm nice and cosy at mine with mod-cons (including a fully working toilet) and DVD's of Prison Break. So I imagine the possibility of being in some insect infested hostel without a proper working toilet on my own with a bad case of Delhi Belly...yep, nuff said.

5. Getting conned
Ok, so its pretty well known that sometimes i'm not the sharpest tool in the box and have a tendency to live on the blonde side of life. From what i've read, SE Asia is the best place to get conned. You know that joke where someone tells you they took the word 'gullible' out of the English dictionary? Well I believed it. Yep.

6. Missing the people I love
Awww. I'm such a softie. I'm taking photos of you all with me :)

7. Not having my straightners
Ok. Now i'm just being silly. Although if there's room left in my backpack....

Things I'm Excited About :

1. Seeing the World
Ok, not exactly the WHOLE world, but i'm making a start. God made the world and she gave me the senses to explore it with (ok she forgot to give me any common sense, but thats ok...). I can't wait to watch the sunset over the temples in Cambodia and Thailand or to feel the sand beneath my feet in Bali and Fiji.

2. Freedom
Waking up in the morning and experiencing every moment. Not waiting for Friday to come because every day will be a new adventure. I am the author of my own story.

3. Meeting new people
Unless of course they fall in to the category of travellers previously mentioned in point 2 of things i'm scared of.

4. Discovery
Eating new food, seeing new things and trying new activities (think surfing in Bali or Snowboarding in NZ). New possibilities are what motivate me and for better or for worse they can only make my experiences richer.

5. Missing the people I love
Cause it will make me appreciate you even more :)

6. Getting a tan
Kind of compensates for not having my straightners

7. No regrets
Its better to regret the things you've tried, than never trying at all.

Posted by BlondePhiloSoph 06:12 Archived in Belgium Tagged preparation Comments (2)

A Little Introduction to My Trip

so you know where i'll be and when (and you can warn the locals if needed).

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And if you're really keen you can track the status of my flights from this cool site in real-time: http://www.fboweb.com/fb40/s/tr/qt.aspx

Sunday 18-Nov-07

Brussels National --> London Heathrow Airport TERMINAL 1

BMI Flight: BD154

Departure: 19:35

Arrival: 19:50

Journey: 1.15h

Monday 19-Nov-07

London Heathrow Airport TERMINAL 3 --> Bahrain

Gulf Air Flight: GF2

Departure: 09:30

Arrival: 19:10

Journey: 6.40h

Monday 19-Nov-07

Bahrain --> Bangkok

Gulf Air Flight: GF150

Departure: 00:40

Arrival: 11:10 (Tuesday 20-Nov-07)

Journey: 6.30h

Monday 24-Dec-07

Bangkok --> Denpasar Bali

Thai Airways Intl. Flight: TG431

Departure: 08:50

Arrival: 14:15

Journey: 4.25h

Tuesday 08-Jan-08

Denpasar Bali --> Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia Airlines System Flight: MH714

Departure: 13:50

Arrival: 16:45

Journey: 2.55h

Tuesday 08-Jan-08

Kuala Lumpur --> Sydney Kingsford Smith Apt

Malaysia Airlines System Flight: MH123

Departure: 22:40

Arrival: 09:35 (Wednesday 09-Jan-08)

Journey: 7.55h

Friday 08-Feb-08

Sydney Kingsford Smith Apt --> Auckland International Apt

Air New Zealand Flight: NZ102

Departure: 09:40

Arrival: 14:40

Journey: 3.00h

Saturday 26-Apr-08

Auckland International Apt --> Nadi (Fiji)

Air New Zealand Flight: NZ854

Departure: 17:30

Arrival: 20:35

Journey: 3.05h

Wednesday 14-May-08

Nadi (Fiji) --> Los Angeles International Apt

Air New Zealand Flight: NZ18

Departure: 23:20

Arrival: 15:10

Journey: 10.50h

Wednesday 14-May-08

Los Angeles International Apt --> London Heathrow Airport TERMINAL 1

Air New Zealand Flight: NZ2

Departure: 16:40

Arrival: 11:00 (Thursday 15-May-08)

Journey: 10.20h

Sunday 18-Nov-07

London Heathrow Airport TERMINAL 3 --> Brussels National

BMI Flight: BD153

Departure: 16:20

Arrival: 18:30

Journey: 1.10h

Posted by BlondePhiloSoph 01:01 Archived in Belgium Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

First day in Bangkok

...bit of a culture shock!

sunny 30 °C
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I'm probably going to write this and then reread it once i've had a proper night sleep and think what a baby i was being, but might as well share how the first day went....

The flight to Bahrain was relaxed, i had 2 seats to myself so just chilled and watched the movies. On the way to the connecting flight to Bangkok I met a guy who was also planning to stay in the same guesthouse as me on Koh San Road, so felt relieved. Didnt sleep at all on the flight, but did manage to get a marriage proposal from one of the Bahraini air stewards, who decided it was romantic to bring me the food they were serving to the 1st class passengers...eeek ghad...how I would have run if there had been anywhere to go, but kinda difficult when you're 40000 feet in the air! Can't complain about the food though. very nice.

Shared a taxi with Mike and we got conned (I know, fresh off the plane, couldnt help it), the taxi driver refused to turn on the meter, which was one of the things the Lonely Planet (LP) INSISTED we needed to do...ah well, start as you mean to go on and all that.

Got to Koh San Road quite early in the morning so it wasn't as chaotic as i had expected and we headed straight for the D&D Inn (cheap and cheerful), got a room and went out to get a cold papaya fruit shake (hmmm I have a feeling these are going to make up part of my staple diet here...) although you're not supposed to eat the ice....oh well, second piece of advice i've ignored....

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After, we freshened up and decided to brave it and attempt to follow one of the walking tours recommended by the LP....and yep, guess what...got a little lost...and every street corner you turn on to theres some friendly little Thai man or woman just waiting to con you out of all your Baht. Its kind of scary because you have no idea who you can trust because everyone is being so nice to you. And you think there just trying to be helpful but the little turds are trying to scam you for all you're worth. Darn, its so much easier to con me when you're a short, smiley, cute, old Thai person. But luckily we resisted and walked around a bit, took a ferry ride across the river and back (just for the fun of it) and then back to the hotel to contemplate our big adventure for the day.

We then had a very classy dinner, which consisted of noodles from a street vendor, for 20Baht (50 cents) which actually tasted pretty good, but i'll leave the verdict open until i'm sure i've fully digested it.

sorry, you didnt really need to know that did you?

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And tonight the best part of the day...I went up to the roof of the guesthouse, had a swim in the pool and then had a 1h30min Thai massage, which was incredible and only cost 6 euro. These thai chicks are small, but man can they pummel the crap out of you...

So its all a bit too much for the first day even though we didn't do anything really. Its such an overload on the senses; the traffic is deafening and touts are shouting at you from every direction to try and get you to part with your cash. The smell is incredible, one minute you get a whiff of something yummy getting fried up and then you get hit with the smell of something like raw sewage/pollution/possible fried cat. And everything I've seen is like nothing i've seen before, the buildings and temples, the traffic, the way of life, the sheer madness and confusion of this city.

Maybe other people aren't so affected by it, but me being a little country island bumpkin, i'm kind of overwhelmed. I guess thats the beauty of Bangkok...

Posted by BlondePhiloSoph 02:51 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Getting into the Swing

seeing the sights in Bangkok

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Another night of barely any sleep, I think i'm buzzing on adrenalin, or its something they put in the Phat Thai....

Got up at 6am and went for a traditional Thai breakfast. Oh fuck it. Can't lie. I had a Starbucks...It was very good though, and the cup had Thai writing on it, if that makes it any better?....

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So it was an early start to visit the Grand Palace with Mike. The place is fab (kind of an understatement, but i'm no Thesaurus guys). The sky was clear blue and the reflection of the light hitting off the temples and statues made it all the more impressive. The work that must have gone into these places is humbling. We then payed a visit to the Reclyning Buddha. And I have to say, its so impressive i was speechless. No, really, i was. i know its hard to believe.

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We then visited Wat Arun, a Kmer temple across the river. This time we actually took the river taxi with a purpose. Result. I actually looked like I knew what I was doing. It was definintely worth the trip. The climb to the top shouldnt be recommended for anyone with a pacemaker or fear of heights. Its not really a problem getting up to the top though, its getting back down that you realise you're a bit fucked. The stairs are practically vertical. Apparently it was because in ancient times they believed that demons were very little people, so they thought that if they made the steps super high and super narrow then the little midgets wouldnt be able to climb up. I made it to the top. Soooo there, mum. Despite what you say, i'm not a little devil after all.

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After all that excitement and extreme sweatyness (its so HOT! I'm not complaining though, seeing as i know that you're all sitting there with your wooly jumpers on), we went back to the Guesthouse for a dip on the pool, and another massage...Its a hard life I know.

Met up with Keely, a girl i'd been in touch with through a backpackers site who's already been travelling for 9 months. So she's a seasoned pro and a pretty cool chick (and not smelly at all). Later that evening went out into Patpong (the seedy district of Bangkok) with Keely, Mike and a couple of guys Keely had met on the flight over....yes, this is where it gets interesting folks...

So, we arrive and there's strip bars all over the place with touts and LadyBoys trying to get you to come into their bar. The coolest thing is that me and Keely got no hassle at all and the boys were left to fend for themselves. Ahhh how sweet it is to see the the tables turned for once! So then Keely decided (yes, I am totally putting all the blame on her :)) that it would be fun to go and see a PingPong show...."What's that?" I hear you ask...well lets just say that its not an olympic sport, it involves rapid firing PingPong balls, but theres not a racket in sight. Although the girls who do that really do deserve a medal...

So there we are enjoying a beer, for which the guy who showed us into the place insisted that we only had to pay the 100 Baht for the drink and nothing else...then next thing we know theres a little Thai lady telling us that we have to cough up 500 Baht EACH because we looked at the women....not a chance. So we laughed and said no way. She got angry, we got angry. 2 more little angry Thai women joined her and then started insisted that Keely and I take off our clothes and get up there with the other women...hum, I DONT THINK SO CRAZY LADY. Now I know the scene doesnt seem that frightening as i'm telling it to you now, but trust me, 3 angry Thai ladies are scary as shit. And we didnt know if they'd get some little scary Thai men to come and kick our faces in, so we ended up paying 300Baht each and leaving very quickly. Whats that? I got conned again? Not my fault this time.

So later...What? You want to hear about the show? Seriously, it was *minging* (for those of you who arent Scottish; there really arent any other words that are eloquent enough to describe how dirty and sad it was)...I really do not know how anyone can get off on that stuff. Firstly, the girls look like they'd rather be getting they're nose hair pulled out than standing up there. Second, they werent even hot. Third, its just wrong to be shooting those things out of those places. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. There was also some balloons involved at some point, but you really dont need to know the gory details. Trust me. I have to say, I felt VERY ashamed when I left there. Just so wrong.

patpong.jpg

So then we went to a pub in order to calm our nerves for a bit. There was a live band with a group of Thai teenagers doing cover versions of everything from Amy Winehouse to Eminem to the Red Hots. They officially rocked. Plus, they sang all the songs we requested and everyone ended up dancing like nutters. Matt and Connor (the 2 guys Keely knew) provided the rest of the entertainment during the breaks. Those guys were insane, but in a funny/'Dumb and Dumber" kind of way. I laughed until my belly hurt.

At the end of the evening Keely and I decided we would meet at 6am to start the journey to the Cambodian border...not much time to sleep then...

Posted by BlondePhiloSoph 05:05 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

The Boulevard of Broken Backsides

Crossing the border to Cambodia...

sunny 30 °C
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3 hours sleep....ugh. But still buzzing! Met Keely bright and early (6am ish). On the way out of the Guesthouse we bumped into Matt (one of the guys we were in Patpong with), who was just finishing off the night...

After a 1hr taxi ride to the bus station we caught a bus to Aranyaprathet for a 5 hour bus ride. At this point I should let you know that before leaving Brussels this was one leg of the trip that I was super worried about, so I'd printed off advice from the internet on how to make the trip as easy as possible and kept my LP handy. So I thought I was pretty prepared for the day. God I was so wrong.

Now, before I go into the whole eventful day, I know some of you have short attention spans and really don't want to read the drama in every minor detail. So for your benefit, here's the shortened version. The rest of you can choose to read on in more detail at the bottom if you want.

Basically, the border crossing is a shit-hole and nothing short of a hell on earth. I don't know what the guide books are thinking to even suggest that tourists take this route. The place is filth, you don't know who to trust because nothing is clearly marked and so you have to go on blind faith or end up not going anywhere. We got scammed so badly while being lost in the butt-crack of hell. We were exhausted, hungry, jet-lagged and totally culture shocked. After more than 12 hours of travel we eventually made it to Siem Reap, only to end up in something I wouldn't let a pig sleep in..IT STANK..but then I am a bit high maintenance, so maybe I was over-reacting. But trust me, after all we went through a stinking dank bed and a bathroom that smells of decaying corpse is not going to make me jump for joy. It was so weird when we arrived. The smell of the town was overpowering. It was so dirty. I'm not sure what I had expected, but it totally threw me, and that night even though I hadnt eaten all day, I couldn't stomach the thought of eating something. Everything smelt bad. So we went to bed at 10pm in our stinky guesthouse (obviously after i had checked for bugs under the beds and covered myself in repellent...). Still got bitten though. Not sure what by....

So for all of you hard core people, here's the extended version of the trip. I am not writing this for your entertainment. Solely so that I dont forget how bad it was, because even now I feel like it wasnt so bad. But trust me, at the time it was scary as hell.

tuktuk_to_crossing.jpg

When we arrived at Aranyaprathet we got a TukTuk to the Border Market. The tuktuk driver dropped us off way before the border so that his mates could try and scam us into buying a fake/overly expensive Visa. Was forewarned that this would happen so felt pretty pleased with myself for escaping that. We then had to cross Thai immigration, which was simple, and then entered a kind of No-Mans Land. It was shocking. There are hundreds of half naked and dirty little kids begging and the filth is appalling. We then entered the Cambodian Immigration where they wouldn't accept the $20 for the Visa and insisted that we pay in Baht instead, at a really bad exchange rate. I had seen warnings about this and tried to insist, but as we'd already exited Thailand there wasn't much we could do and the immigration officials weren't budging. The scary thing is that there were lots of guys at the border and you couldn't tell who were official and who weren't. Its so confusing and stressful and they're so unhelpful. In the confusion of trying to fill out and pay for the documents for the Visa's we realised that one of the officers had gone off with our passports. I know that you're never supposed to let your passport out of your sight, but it happened so quickly we didn't have time to protest. The guy was away for at least 20 minutes. So I wasn't just sweating from the heat...

cambodia_border.jpg

Eventually all the paperwork was done and we crossed into the town of Poipet to get the free Government shuttle bus which was to take us to an area where we could choose to get taxi, bus or pickup to Siem Reap. While we had been going through immigration, one of the men who looked like he was an official, but turned out not to be, had asked us if we'd planned the rest of our journey. Now normally I would have said yes and ignored him, but as we thought he was official we said that we were going to get the shuttle bus and then see when we got there about which transport we would take. BIG MISTAKE. While we were waiting for the free bus the same guy directed us to the "free shuttle bus", and another group of tourists onto another "free shuttle bus". Already at this point I had a feeling something was wrong. I know I should have stopped, but when there's no-one else there telling you that there is an alternative you are kind of blocked into a corner.

wrong_bus.jpg

My instincts were right and we ended up in a room in the middle of this hell-hole shanty town in Poipet (type in the name in any search engine and you'll see the words "hell" and "should be destroyed" come up multiple times). It belonged to a "Tour Company" that make their living by scamming the living daylights out of people. We weren't the only ones. There was already a couple waiting patiently for their "taxi" to arrive, and the other bus of tourists that left the border just after us closely followed. So it seems that these fuckers park their buses next to the real Government shuttle buses and whisk away innocent tourists before the drivers of the other buses arrive. In any case, the guy told us that it would cost Keely and I 60 US dollars to get a taxi to Siem Reap (in the guide books it said max 45 dollars). We said that we would share a taxi with the other couple, but they wouldn't let us. We waited for ages and still no taxi's came, just more tourists looking totally lost and getting more pissed off at the minute. I think the only reason most of them got a taxi in the end was because they accepted to pay the 60 dollar fee. We kept on harassing the "guides" about where our taxi was, but as we wouldn't pay the full price they kept blowing us off.

The day was wearing on and we knew that if we waited around much longer by the time we would arrive in Siem it would be very late and very dark and we would be even more susceptible to scamming, so we started getting impatient. The final straw was when we spoke with the couple and realised they had already been waiting patiently there for 3 hours!!! We got angry with the guide and he told us that we had to pay the money upfront before we could get a taxi. I was so stressed. We were in the middle of nowhere, with lots of men standing outside the office watching us and it felt like we were totally cornered. So I did what any sane person would do and picked up my backpack and told them to fuck off :) As we were walking out the door, a guy came up to us and said that all the white cars that went past were taxi's (unmarked, no meter) and we should try and flag one down. So we did, and the guy accepted that we pay 40 dollars. A Chinese couple who had also been waiting came into the taxi with us. And then all the guys that were standing outside the office starting pressuring our taxi driver not to take us anywhere. It was total peer pressure. They wanted us to be completely stranded so that we had no other choice but to take their rip-off taxi's. The guy gave in and told us he wouldn't take us. So we kept on looking, but by this time I was pretty scared. I know it might sound stupid, but I really started to panic. It was possible that if we payed for the taxi upfront they would end up running off with it, or worse, not take us the whole way and leave us in the middle of nowhere.

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After walking around for a bit we eventually found a taxi driver who drove us 3 hours on the VERY bumpy road to Siem Reap (otherwise known as the Boulevard of Broken Backsides). The guy was nice, although he couldn't speak much English. I asked him to tell me how to say "nice" in Cambodian, and when he replied, I said to him "well you are *nice*" (Ok, so I forgot how to say it in Cambodian). He then started telling us how the guys back at the border forbid the taxi drivers from talking to the tourists or offering them a ride aloud, and that each time he had a fare he had to give a certain amount to the company. It was like some kind of crazy Cambodian Taxi Mafia! Mental.

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Anyway, even with the bumpy ride I began to relax and as I looked out of the window I began to appreciate just how incredible the landscape is in this country. The colours are so vivid; the red dirt roads, the endless green rice fields and the clear blue sky...What I realise now is that despite the shit we went through at the crossing, it was worth it. Just to feel that moment of peace and sense of achievement. If I had taken a plane to get there it may have been much easier, but the way we took allowed us to see and experience things that most tourists will never experience. Whereas, I refuse to believe that sleeping in a stinky shithole has any positive side to it....character building or not. And so after arriving at the guesthouse I vowed to leave again as soon as I woke!

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Posted by BlondePhiloSoph 07:12 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

The Cambodian Experience

All Templed Out

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Ok, my initial idea was to write an entry for each day that I was travelling, but clearly thats not going to happen. So here's a brief (ish) review of the past few days in Cambodia.

In case you were worried, I did find another Guesthouse the day after we arrived and its great. Its called the Golden Temple Villa and they have hot water and everything!

I can't get over how dirty it is here. I know I keep saying that, but its soooooo dirty. You think Brussels is bad on a hot day when all you can smell is the sweet scent of dog poo? Imagine that and times it by 100 and you're not even close to the smell here (although, just so you know, I don't really smell it anymore...). But what's really funny is that this morning there were loads of women in front of their houses sweeping away at the dirt road and the heaps of rubbish, and I just wanted to say "seriously, just give up. Its really not worth it." I think that's all they do all day. Funnily enough the piles of rubbish never seem to get any smaller....

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I'm not sure what I expected but its certainly a culture shock. I guess i'm so used to going on holiday and only ever seeing the "tourist" side of the country, where everything is clean and organised and you live in a bubble of happiness for 2 or 3 weeks. They have those kind of places here too, but it costs $100 or more a night, so its kind of out of my price range...and anyway, I'm really glad i'm seeing the country like this and don't go home believing its a paradise. And its not surprising that its not paradise, after all the country has been through in the last 50 years.

So, people keep asking me how i'm coping with not having my straightners and how my hair is. Well. I think I probably have about 10 species of bug living in them (eeeeuuuuuuuuuugh) and a good couple of kilos of mud. You walk out into the street here and after 5 minutes every inch of your body and clothes is covered in dirt. Yesterday I was so pleased at how tanned I was looking, and then I had a shower and it went down the plughole...

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The town of Siem Reap where we are staying is a few Kilometers away from the Temples of Angkor, home to hundreds of 11th and 12th century temples. On our first full day here we were so zombied from our experience crossing the border that we took it easy and spent the morning chilling on the balcony at our Guesthouse with a cold beer. It was also the national water festival, so there were boat races on the river, and hundreds of local people from all the villages in the surrounding area had come to see it. In general I feel pretty safe here, but when Keely and I walk around everyone stares at us. I'm not sure if its because of how we dress or because of our colouring (both blonde, blue eyes), but I have to say its slightly unnerving to feel like the minority and to be so scrutinised. We met a German guy, Simon, at our guesthouse who is travelling on his own for 3 weeks, so we decided to hire a tuktuk and go together to watch the sunset at Angkor. We ended up spending the 3 days with him and had a great time. The Guesthouse arranged a driver for us, who's name was Sophy (how bizarre huh?) and he ended up being our driver for the whole weekend. Very nice guy.

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Now I could tell you how impressive and breathtaking it was when we arrived at a temple on the top of a moutain to watch the sunset, but to be honest there were way too many tourists, and it kind of killed the atmosphere, and my photos. Who wants to go home with photos of random people? But the sunset was nice. The trek back down was quite interesting too; a mass exodus of people shining torches in the half darkness and trying not to trip over rogue branches and stray roots.

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The following day we woke up at 4am (i know, I know. I only usually ever see that time of day when i'm crawling back home from a night out.....) and went to Sra Srang, a giant lake in the Angkor temple complex, to watch the sunrise. It was great, apart from the fact that there was 5 or 6 little Cambodian kids that hassled us constatnly to buy their postcards and bracelets. They're everywhere and they're all selling the same things. I should have taken a video. When you arrive at a temple they come running up to you and say "Hello lady. You like my bracelet. You buy, ok lady. 2 for 1 dollar. Ok, ok, 3 for $1 dollar. Ok ok lady, 4 for $1, special price just for you. Ok business bad I give you 5 for $1 dollar. You don't buy from me I cry. I need money for school. You come see me when u finish lady. You come buy from me, ok lady. Good, ok." It's insane, they also know how to say it in Japanese, Russian, French...but if you ask them anything else they just say "you buy from me, ok." So basically they just learn enough so they can take your money! Mental.

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We started the first day with the "small tour" of the temples, that encompases the "Big 3" most impressive ones. I have to say, I wasn't prepared to be so blown away by it. The most stunning was Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed. We arrived there very early in the morning so the light was perfect and the first rays of sun cast eerie shadows over the large tombs and towers. What makes it even more spectacular, apart from the amazing architecture, is that the whole temple has been overtaken by massive trees that are over 300 years old. The roots are completely entwined in the stones and in places these have caused the buildings to collapse, and in others the roots have kind of worked their way around the structure, like a giant grasping hand. Its very poetic to think that when they constructed these temples they must have destroyed thousands of acres of forest, and now nature is reclaiming what was hers....We were so exhausted at the end of the day and we didnt have time to visit the largest of the 3 temples, Angkor Wat, so we left that for day 2...and ended the day with a 1 hr foot massage for $5....yes, its a hard life.

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The second day of the temples was another day of getting to bed at 12pm/1am and waking up at 4am and i'm wondering when its going to hit me. Although the bags under my eyes the size of Africa are enough of a giveaway that i'm running on empty! We did the Big tour today and watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat. It was beautiful. Very peaceful despite the hoards of tourists there. The rest of the day went by in a heartbeat. I dont understand how it goes so quickly and i'm only sleeping 4 hours a night, which in theory should mean that the days seem much longer, but its the complete opposite. This place is incredibly beautiful, I can't get over it. I want to take photos of everything so that I don't forget how impressive it was. Had another massage and then went out for dinner with Keely and Simon to the local backpacker street. Tried the local Khmer Red Curry, and thankfully it wasnt too spicy. It was raining little black beetles that itched like a bastard and I think I swallowed about 50 of them that had fallen into my coke and curry. I was a little freaked out. By a little I mean a lot. Seriously, the things were raining down on us. i'm sure I'll find one in my butt crack later. You wanted to know that, didn't you? I also saw a giant rat last night. And a cockroach. But luckily not in my room.

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On day 3 of the temples it was another early morning, but this time just for me. The others were not insane enough to get up so early. I have to say that it was very hard this time to get out of bed. But its the last day that my pass is valid and I'm not going to regret that I didn't see enough. I got a tuktuk back to Angkor Wat and watched the sunrise, then visited a few of the temples while no-one was about. Before 8am all the temples are dead, so in 2 or 3 hours I crammed in everything I wanted to revisit. On the way home I decided to do my bit for a good cause and got a massage from a blind man. Okay, so it wasn't COMPLETELY selfless...but hey, it was a win win situation. Plus it only cost 2 euro for an hour, and the guy was great. I think at some point I may have snored so loud it woke me up (see mum, you're not the only one ;)). Exhaustion finally hit me after all these days of waking up early and I dragged myself back to the guesthouse and slept like a baby for 3 hours. After my nap I met up with Simon and Keely and we hired a tuktuk out to the Landmine museum. It was a shocking but completely worthwhile experience. This is the history of Cambodia. And when you see what happens to someone when a landmine goes off you understand that the war is not over until they have found every one of the landmines that are still hidden all over the country. They even made landmines that looked like little toy butterflies so that children would play with them and explode. The worst thing is that landmines are constructed to maim and not kill, so the result is always missing body parts. Another humbling experience. We then went and watched our last sunset together, and it was stunning. I can't get over the colours here. It was magic. In fact, the last 3 days have been a magical experience. The temples were more impressive than I could have ever imagined, and being able to spend that time with Keely and Simon, but also taking the time to appreciate it on my own, made it even more special.

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So on a lighter note (or maybe not), let me tell you about the food here. I haven't been sick yet, although i'm waiting for it to happen. I'm sure i've probably got worms or something already and its just a matter of time.... eeuuguughghghg. Just the thought gives me the the heeby-jeebies, and it actually puts me off eating. Its also slightly off-putting that there is zero hygeine here. So for the moment i'm living off chocolate biscuits (next best thing to cookie dough) and vegetable curry. I can't eat the meat. I've seen what happens to it once its dead and now it makes me retch just thinking about having a chicken curry (i'm also totally paranoid about bird flu. Someone remind me why i'm travelling in Asia?!)...We were sitting in a cafe-shack-strawhut type thing the other day and a guy drives past with a plastic bag and throws it on the table next to us and drives off. We were all looking at it wondering what it was when I saw a chicken leg sticking out of the top. Yep. KFC express delivery. And the thing just sat there, in the mid-day heat festering away with the local flies having a party on it. soooooo minging. Now while I've been careful, Keely has been more adventurous. I'm not even brushing my teeth using the tap water. She's ordering medium-rare steak. And last night she got sick, but I mean really sick. And I'm really worried about her, but also hoping that its not contagious cause we're sharing a room. She was supposed to leave today with Simon to Phnom Phen, but she couldn't even make it out of bed. And she's so brave. If it was me I'd be calling you all up and making you come out and look after me. That or just curl up and cry like a baby.

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So today is my last day in Siem Reap. I slept in. But mainly because I was awake most of the night cause Keely was so ill. At 7am I was up and went to the local market to do a bit of shopping. Not sure how its all going to fit in my rucksack....might have to go along to the DHL office and ship it back....I know, i'm supposed to be travelling light, but I can't help it, and i'm restraining myself from buying more. Seriously. I even considered carrying round a large wooden Buddha cause it was so cheap.

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The only way to get around here is by tuktuk (motorbike with a carriage for 3 people attached to the back), or moto (just a driver and you holding on for dear life). When you're walking in the street all the drivers shout at you "Lady, where you go? you wan tuktuk? You wan see temple? Sunset? I take you lady? very cheap. Special price just for you lady." Now I understand where all the little kids learn their English from. So today I decided to be adventurous and got a moto driver and went outside of the town to get some photos of rice fields. I think the guy thought I was crazy. He asked me if we didnt have rice growing in Scotland, and I said no, just porridge. But he didnt know what it was and the conversation got a bit lost. And now i'm back in town and about to go for lunch. Probably a vegetable curry...

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Tomorrow I leave to go to Luang Prabang in Laos. After the experience I had crossing the border from Thailand I decided that I will take the chicken route and fly. It's a UNESCO world heritage site, so apparently its very beautiful although quite touristic, but apart from that I have no idea what to expect. I have no idea where i'll be staying, so its going to be a trek in the heat with my backpack...I'm also a bit nervous as its the first time since I arrived here that I will be on my own. But it had to happen sooner or later, and i'm excited about all the possibilities of whats going to happen next...

Posted by BlondePhiloSoph 06:42 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

Tales of Monks

in Luang Prabang

semi-overcast 26 °C
View Once Upon a Time... on BlondePhiloSoph's travel map.

Its pretty stunning here. Just the view from the plane took my breath away. I knew it was a good idea to fly :) The contrast from Siem Reap is immense. Its much quieter and serene here, you just feel that theres a different vibe in the air. I've been thinking a lot about how it was in Siem Reap now that i'm no longer there. It was incredible to visit the temples of Angkor. There aren't words that can describe how impressive they are. When I visited Ta Prohm I had goosebumps. The place is haunting in its beauty, especially at sunrise when the light is blue and theres a morning mist that surrounds the temples. What was really impressive at sunset was the noise of the crickets. The first night we were there I actually thought it was some kind of air-raid siren (yes, I am blonde...). Its very spooky. In contrast, I didn't like the town of Siem Reap. It had its charm, but in general it was dirty and aggressive. But then i'm a bit of a snob. I just think to myself, thank god I decided not to go to India...I think i'd have had a panic attack.

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Ok, so I wasn't gong to tell you all, but I might as well write it down so that I don't forget what a numpty I am and so that you have an example of why i'm not really cut out to slum it....so, yesterday I was feeling a bit low and generally disgusted with all the dirt and then I got bitten by mosquitoes on my fingers. One of them got me in the joint of my index finger and it obviously caused the fluid in the joint to swell and I ended up with this massive finger, like those foam ones they have at American Football games.... Seriously, it was twice the size it should have been...and I got scared and started imagining that my finger would drop off, or that it would stay deformed for the rest of my life, and it would spread over my body and i'd end up looking like the elephant man...yep...told you I wasn't cut out for this.

So back to something more interesting than my hypochondria....here's a brief summary of my impressions of Luang Prabang;

- The scenery is stunning. Its a town surrounded by the expanse of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers and lush emerald mountains that span for miles. The town isn't bad either, its a mix of French colonial architecture and Lao culture.

- Its f@*king cold! You all told me not to take too many clothes and now i'm freezing. Its in the mountains and the sun doesn't come out of the mist until 10am and when the sun sets around 6pm its arctic (ok, i'm over-exaggerating a little, but when all u have are mini skirts it seems very cold).

- Its f@*king expensive. $30 to have a room with Aircon, no mold and a hot shower. The last night I stayed in a $13 place and it was so scab, I didn't even have a shower cause I probably would have come out of it dirtier than when I went in. I didn't do any of the Treks as its so expensive, like $40 for a day of mountain biking and kayaking. Mad.

- Its so quiet. Lovely if you're retired. Everything closes at 11.30pm. Apparently its the law. I even got kicked out of an internet cafe (I know, I'm such a party animal).

My first day in Luang Prabang I met an Italian dude at the airport and we shared a taxi together into town and found a place to stay. The guy seem like a bit of a space cadet, but interesting enough so we decided to hang out (plus he knew the area, which meant FREE tour guide. hehe). We went for a walk around the night market, where there are tough little negotiators aged 12. I was so cold I couldn't even buy anything. We then went for some dinner and I ordered some fried noodles with vegetables at a local restaurant. It was kinda dark in there and I didn't realise until too late that what I thought were tomatoes and carrot were actually red and orange chili. Nearly blew my head off. but definitely warmed me up some.

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At 6am the next morning I woke to watch the Monks do their silent walk through the streets of Luang Prabang. My Guesthouse room had a terrace with views over one of the large temples, so I didn't have to go far. Yari and I then hired a tuktuk to drive us to the Tad Kouang Si Waterfalls. This place is gorgeous. I keep going to these places and not expecting to be so impressed by how beautiful it is. The water is emerald green and its so peaceful, when we arrived there were hardly any tourists. We climbed all the way to the top tier of the falls where there wasn't a soul (probably because the climb up was so difficult). I was really clever and wore flipflops and kept sliding back down in the mud. The power of the water is fantastic, you feel it pushing you back when you stand in front of it. We hung our things on a nearby tree and jumped into the freezing cold water. The best part was lying in the pool and peering over the edge of the falls. Just stunning.

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In case you are wondering, it wasn't romantic at all. Yari was really not appealing. Trust me. It would have been so perfect to be there with my man instead.

After climbing back down (or more like sliding on my backside) I was frozen as a lollipop and my things were soaked. The tuktuk ride back was great. We passed by lush green fields, locals carrying baskets of wood, and picturesque little villages. It was a beautiful day, which was only slightly spoilt when I realised I no longer had my travel wallet that contained all my tickets, visas and passports. Excellent. I thought I was going to have a panic attack. After running round like a headless chicken I got a tuktuk to the airport, which was the last place I remembered having it. I am officially the clumsiest person on the planet, and I probably shouldn't be let out without supervision. I'd left it in the luggage trolley and thankfully passport theft isn't big business here and someone had handed it in. Phew. Panic over. I know mum, I'll be more careful in the future. Promise.

Tried some sweet Mekong river weeds for dinner. Yum!...I know! I'm getting more adventurous!

Ok, so as I told you, I had a bit of a funny feeling about Yari, and on my third day in Luang Prabang I realised why...We hired a longboat to take us up the Mekong River to visit the caves of Pak Ou (Buddhist caves with carvings and a million Buddha statues). normally as part of these trips the boat driver takes you to 2 local "villages" (i.e. not a real village, but great for making dumb tourists spend money). I wasn't really up for that so Yari went to speak to the driver and told me that he'd asked the driver to take us to a real village further up the Mekong. Cool. Or so I thought...After 2/3 hours we got to the village and a man approached us and said "hello. Welcome to my villiage (ok so far). If you follow me i'll show you the school (cool), the villiage (great) and (wait for it)...the OPIUM." WHAT!!!!!???!?!?! I shat a brick. It made sense why Yari was always looking so spaced. How the hell do I manage to get myself in these situations? I felt so stupid. I was so pissed off and told Yari that he was a total wanker for getting me involved in his illegal shit.

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As I walked through the village all these little kids and old ladies were shoving hand-made bracelets at me and thought it was really funny that I wasn't able to decide who to buy from (I felt kind of obliged to buy something, they were so sad and cute). I would have liked to tell you how amazing it was to see what it was like, but honestly I was totally freaking out. The place was so dirty and smelly and swarming with mad chickens and I just kept thinking (don't laugh) "bird flu, bird flu, bird flu" and "get me out of here, I'm gonna get thrown into jail for dealing in opium" (hey, I told you not to laugh). So lets just say that I didn't hang around for dinner and a chat.

We rode back to visit the caves in silence. The caves are supposed to be a sacred Buddhist place but it was a total contradiction. On the way up to the cave there are tons of kids holding baskets with tiny birds trapped inside and they ask for a dollar so you can set them free. Worse thing is that they drug the birds (probably with the same shit Yari bought) so that when they do get set free they just sit there totally stoned until they get caught again. It's disgusting. I can't understand why some people give them money for it. And its totally against everything Buddhism stands for. On top of that, after paying the entrance fee (fair enough) you enter the caves and the locals practically force you to pay a "donation" for some incense sticks to give as an offering to Buddha. So with that and the opium incident I went in a bit of a grumpy huff (some of you know what that looks like and know its not pretty)...

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Now what i'm going to say is very unpolitically correct, but I need to get it off my chest. People keep acting like this kind of behaviour (not just the begging, the donations, the bird torture, but also the scams) is excusable because (and I quote) "well you have to understand that these people are poor". Um, i'm sorry but I really don't believe that being poor is an excuse to trick or hurt another living creature. Western people who come here seem to have this fucked up guilt complex which means that this kind of shit keeps happening. It's just not right. And so the impact of the Buddha caves was completely lost on me. I know i'm too sensitive. I wish this stuff didn't affect me like it does.

When I just don't think my day could get any stranger, it does. On our way back to Luang Prabang watching the sunset over the Mekong River (again, really NOT romantic) we picked up 3 monks who were in a boat that was kind of sinking. And 1 of them turned out to be very drunk (could smell the alcohol) and was puking over the side of the boat all the way home. I never thought i'd see a drunk monk. He actually fell into our boat. Insane.

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After the fun of the day I decided to spend my last evening in Luang Prabang on my own. And I can tell you that I was very grateful for it, if not a little cold in my scabby Guesthouse.

My last morning here and I decided to squeeze in a bit more sight seeing before my flight. And my stay here just got stranger. I walked to the Phu Si temple that sits on the top of a hill in the centre of town. The views were amazing, but so early in the morning there is too much mountain mist to allow you to see very far. Anyway, there was noone else around apart from a young Monk. And you'll never believe me, but he started chatting me up. I never thought i'd get picked up by a monk. This place is too weird. He told me that in 1 year he's no longer a monk and he wanted me to come back then so that we could go out for a drink together. He also gave me his email address so that I could send him a photo of myself. Which I'm not going to do by the way. I don't want to know what he'd use it for...But he was very sweet and he told me a lot about the area and about life as a monk. And I thought to myself that while I have the opportunity I might as well ask the question that everyone wants to know...so I asked him if it was difficult to not be with a girl...(I know mum, I'm sorry, but i'm too curious for my own good, although I can't believe I actually asked a Monk that question). And you know what, he said the sweetest thing ever. He said that there are 2 things in this world that people cannot live without, and those are food and love. And that some people's devotion to God/Buddha is strong enough that they can go without being with someone. Aaaaaawwwwwwww. I'm such a sucker for romance...

Posted by BlondePhiloSoph 07:18 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Trekking, Temples and Girlie Bars

in Chiang Mai (Thailand)

sunny 32 °C
View Once Upon a Time... on BlondePhiloSoph's travel map.

And there I was on my last morning in Luang Prabang thinking that i'd finally get some peace and quiet and then I met Tom...He's the funniest Zimbabweean (?!) I've ever met (ok, so he's the only one i've ever met, but he is very funny). We met in the tuktuk that had been arranged to take us to the airport and discovered we were both heading to Chiang Mai. I was a bit weary after my Yari experience, but he seemed like a normal enough bloke, and his pupils were the right size, so decided he'd be safe. Neither of us had accommodation booked in Chiang Mai, so when we arrived we headed to the centre of town and fell in love with the 2nd place we looked at (probably cause the first was so scabby!). We dumped our things and went for a wander around town.

Chiang Mai has nearly 300 temples and around 1 million inhabitants (thought i'd squeeze in an interesting fact amongst all this rubbish), so after the first 10 temples you kind of get a sense of deja vu. In the evening we decided to go for a look around to check out the local nightlife and ended up in a street full of girlie bars. Had a very quick drink while Tom was being harassed by a young Thai woman. We grabbed a couple of beers and headed to the Night Bazaar, which consists of kilometres of stalls selling lots of stuff you don't need but you buy anyway cause its pretty and cheap. We had a great laugh bargaining with the sellers. They are very sweet here, and love to have a joke with you, so Tom and I went down well cause we were kind of like a Laurel and Hardy double act.

Grabbed some Pat Thai (I know, I really have to try something else) and Tom got some Tom Yam, which ended up becoming his nickname, although he decided it should be Tom Yum instead. Had another foot massage while Tom got slightly manhandled during a Thai massage. We wanted to go for a drink and had some criteria for the bar of our choice. These criteria were as follows: They couldn't contain 1. Young Thai women looking for a husband 2. Dirty old foreign men 3. Men with tattoos.... we didn't have much luck, and ended up buying some more beers from the 7eleven (yep they have those here) and headed back to the guesthouse for a drink.

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The following day we rented a motorbike (don't worry, I wasn't driving) for $2!! And cruised up to Doi Suthep, a very sacred temple built atop a mountain that overlooks the whole of Chiang Mai. Got a a bit lost on the way (totally Toms fault) and had to ask about 20 people where we were. In the end some Thai dude on a motorbike took pity on us and told us to follow him. I have to say that i've never had so much fun visiting a temple before, though i'm not sure how respectful we were (see picture inserted below). Like the new look? It's an improvement me thinks...:) I feel kinda bad cause I realise I visit these places and I don't really have a clue about the history of it all, but even if I try I just forget it all anyway...so I guess its ok to just appreciate the beauty of it and takes some nice photos, right?

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Every Sunday night one of the main streets in the centre of Chiang Mai gets closed off to traffic and more stalls are set up full of local handicrafts and toooo many beautiful things. I ended up spending a lot on some gorgeous paintings, although I bargained pretty well for them....will have to ship them, along with a few kilo's of other things that I bought on the way....just a small package....honest... The place was packed with both Thai's and foreigners and the atmosphere was really cool. I seriously love shopping here. I made Tom walk around looking for food for 2 hours. There were some seriously unhygienic looking food stalls and since i've turned vegetarian while being here it makes it a bit more difficult to find something. Well after seeing how they treat dead chicken in Cambodia, and watching Keely get very sick after eating meat (she's alive and well by the way) you can understand that meat doesn't seem so appetizing... I'm really not that difficult. Promise.

Went out again later that night to look for something other than girlie bars, but ended up in a girlie bar....played a few games of pool, which I officially suck at. So I bet you're thinking "wow, its been a while since anything stupid has happened to Sophie", well here's my next fun holiday moment... As we were coming out of the bar I was waiting for Tom and suddenly felt something strangely heavy on my foot. Me being me, it took a few moments to register that something wasn't quite right. Looked down to find a giant rat running across my feet. I think they must have heard my screams all the way to Iceland. To say I nearly wet myself would have been an understatement. Tom nearly wet himself with laughter at my delayed reaction. Nice to have a man about to protect me. Not.

Tom had booked us both on a trekking tour for the following day, so I had no idea what we were in for and I don't think he had much of a clue either. We started the morning trekking to a local hill tribe village. Tom (being the experienced traveler he is) had said it would be fine to wear flipflops. Stubbed my toes a lot. The countryside is amazing, although the village was a bit non-nondescript. Kind of similar to the one in Luang Prabang, although cleaner and with less crazy chickens (think i'll be sticking to the villages for dumb tourists then!). Next stop was the elephant park, where we went on an elephant ride. We had to bribe our elephant with 2 bags of bananas (although Tom ate a couple on the way too). Apparently elephants go through at least 100 kilo of bananas a day. They are beautiful creatures, but i'm not sure how well they are treated in these places... We stopped for lunch and ate rice with something that tasted suspiciously like Uncle Bens Stir Fry Sauce...went to another village which was "same same. but different" (Thai people say this ALL the time, especially when trying to sell you something for twice the price you've seen it somewhere else). Visited a waterfall where the men of the group went for a swim. Even this hardened Shetlander wasn't going to freeze her ass of in there.

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To end the day we went rafting, but not in one of those nice inflatable jobbies. This was the real deal. A few bits of bamboo strapped together and a couple of extra bits on top to balance your bum on. We were 2 groups of 4 on the rafts, and Tom and I went with a British couple who were really cool. I stupidly sat at the front, right behind the local dude who was steering. I then more stupidly laughed when he fell in trying to scare us by tilting the boat to either side (us girls were both screaming at the thought of leeches and other beasties getting us if we fell in...). I also may have called him a crazy Thai dude (thinking he didn't really understand) which could be why I ended up totally soaked and why he took us down a rapid that none of the other rafts went down with tourists on them....I have to learn to stop talking. The best part was getting a dry change of clothes and a cold beer at the end. It was a fab day, although I think that Tom and I ended up providing most of the entertainment with our bizarre conversations and stupid banter. We got back to Chiang Mai in time to have a quick bite to eat (Pat Thai again....) and then Tom headed off to continue his travels while I decided to stay on to learn a bit of Thai massage, since this is apparently the place to learn it in Thailand...

Posted by BlondePhiloSoph 00:56 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Chiang Mai to Krabi

My journey south...

sunny 30 °C
View Once Upon a Time... on BlondePhiloSoph's travel map.

Ok, so i have kind of neglected this whole blogging thing....sorry...I know it keeps some of you entertained when you've nothing better to do at work...

So the following few posts (i'll try to be brief) will be a run through of the latest events since my last blog...

I loved Chiang Mai. Its a city in the North of Thailand with about 10 million inhabitants. Its kind of like an Asian version of Brussels, but just crazier and sunnier, and a lot cheaper! Not so keen on the high concentration of desperate old men hanging around who are on the lookout for a Thai bride though....

After Tom left I was on my own and I decided to do something productive with my time. So I signed up for two 4 day massage courses; one in Thai Nerve-Touch massage which ran from 8.30am until 4pm and the other in Thai reflexology, which ran from 4.30pm until 8pm....and you thought I was here on holiday.... ;) The first 2 days of the Nerve-Touch course I just about hated...it was a bit mental. You have to contort yourself and your client into very unnatural postures and make things crack a lot....you also work on Acupressure points but without having to use needles, so its kinda cool, and as soon as I got the hang of it I really got into it! I was also pretty pleased with myself when the teacher told me I should continue doing it when I returned home cause I have the touch for it....so watch out guys...you're my guinea pigs....At the end of the course I had a 2 hour nerve touch massage and it was amazing (well, it was in the name of research, I had to make sure I had been doing it right...). The best massage I've had, ever.

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And for the reflexology course, little to say apart from I had the luck of the draw when it came to the exam day. Got this petite little Thai lady, but when she took off her shoes she had HUGE feet. And when she spoke she had a deep voice. And her feet were hairy. Turned out she was a he....Only could happen to me. But she was lovely anyway, and gave me some great waxing tips too :)

With all the massaging I was totally exhausted at the end of the day, so only had a little time to squeeze in some shopping and eating KaoSoi (spicy egg noodle soup with tofu and mushroom) and sticky mango (mango with sweet milk and rice)...and with all that eating I found myself a 5 star hotel with a pool and a gym on the roof and sneaked in a couple of times to work off all the extra calories...I know, i'm insane, but i'm starting to really miss working out!

After spending more time than planned in Chiang Mai I decided to head down to Sukothai, one of the ancient capitals of Thailand that boast loads of impressive temple ruins. Took the local bus, which was a lonnnnnng 6 hour journey and arrived late at night, which was very disorienting. I found a bamboo hut guesthouse in New Sukothai and thanks to my various roommates (Mr Very Big Spider and Mr. Mrs. Miss and Master Noisy Lizard) I didn't sleep at all, and lay under my mosquito net wondering if they were going to find a way in....so at 5am I got up (cause I was awake anyway) and watched the sunrise from my balcony. I then caught a local bus over to Old Sukothai Historical Park, hired a bike and spent the day cycling around the old temples and taking wayyy too many photos of Buddha statues. It is an amazing place, and its amazing that I'm not totally fed up of seeing so many statues of the same thing, but they are all so different, and as the light changes through the day, so does the atmosphere and the impact of each image. I hung around until sunset then decided not to spend another night with my roommates, so at the last minute I headed to the bus station to take a night bus to Bangkok and on to my next destination...

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I have to admit, I was very nervous about taking the night bus alone, but the process went quite smoothly, although I was the only foreigner (or "Farang" as we're called here) and people didn't speak English...Not sure how I managed now come to think of it. The journey was pretty smooth, and they came around with drinks and coffee and biscuits through the night (we actually had a "bus stewardess", pretty cool service for a 6 euro bus ticket). So as I was saying, everything was going pretty smoothly. We were scheduled to arrive in Bangkok's' Northern Bus Terminal at 3am, so when we stopped at a busy looking place at around 2am I assumed we were just dropping some people off (I still hadnt slept and was a little groggy....). When I was the ONLY person left on the bus, i looked at the "stewardess" and asked her if I had time to go to the bathroom before we left...she looked at me like a was a total fruitcake and said "you Bangkok Mo Chit Station", I said "yes" (thinking she was just confirming where I was headed), and then she said it a couple more times, still looking at me like I was slightly disturbed. I said to her that I was going to the toilet (not much point since she didn't understand) and when I got off the bus there was a guy waiting holding my backpack...I looked at him annoyed (and still very sleepy) and said "no. I'm going to Bangkok. I'm not stopping here". And he said...."you are in Bangkok". Aaaaaaaaah. now it made sense.....

Still half asleep I then had to quickly wake myself up when a taxi driver (the guy who had been holding my bag) was trying to con me out of 400 Baht (around 8euro) to take me to the train station in the South of Bangkok (Bangkok is HUGE) so I could go to my next destination. Finally found a metered taxi (which ended up costing only 150 Baht) instead and had a bit of a tussle with the first taxi driver to get my backpack back. When we arrived at the Southern train station the place was closed....and outside there was a sea of homeless and crazy people (I know, i'd probably have fitted in quite well there), and I thought to myself that if I stayed i'd definitely be mugged or worse. So thinking quick I asked the driver to take me to Koh San Road (THE backpacker street of Bangkok, where I stayed on my first night) as its always busy and full of bars, so guaranteed to be people about at 2am....When I got there I obviously stuck out like a sore thumb, with my massive backpack on my back and my daypack on my front. Got a bit overwhelmed, as it wasn't as busy as I had expected. So I told myself to breathe and headed to the 7Eleven and bought a hot chocolate (for comfort) and stood outside watching all the mad drunk foreigners...I was just about to head to one of the bars when 3 Americans came up to me and asked if I was ok, and what the hell I was doing walking around Bangkok at 2am with my life on my back. So we got chatting and turned out they were US Marines who had just finished serving in Iraq (I know. Only me.) They offered to carry my backpack to the bar (which I happily obliged) and we ended up hanging out there until 5.30am chatting to random people and generally having one of the most bizarre evenings i've experienced here so far. They then helped me find a taxi (still carrying my backpack. How cool.) and I decided to head to the Southern bus terminal instead of the train station (stick to what I know) to catch a 2hr bus ride to Kanchanaburi.

Kanchanaburi is a town in Central Eastern Thailand that is probably most famous for its bridge and railway (you'd have loved it Stewie): The Death Railway and Bridge on River Kwai, used by the Japanese for Prisinors of War during World War 2 (actually could be WW1 (sorry i'm shit at history)...anyway, I mainly went for the Tigers, cause i'm not really interested travelling all that way just for a bridge and some train tracks....I'm so uncultured. At the bus station I met 3 German girls and we ended up sharing a taxi into Kanchanaburi town. We started hunting for places to stay. It became obvious that my standards were a little higher than the 3 girls (well its easier to fight bugs when you're not on your own), so when they stopped at a guesthouse that had bamboo huts next to the river, I declined and went to find something made of concrete...Luck was obviously on my side (well something had to go right), and I found a stunning guesthouse (called Ploy Guesthouse), that ended up being cheaper than the other place (since i'm sleeping on my own everything is more expensive for me). Then I met back up with the girls for breakfast and got swayed into going and getting pampered instead of doing something more cultural. The four of us headed to a beauty salon and had a manicure, pedicure, foot massage and facial all for 5 euro each. How could I have refused? Plus, it was much needed. Seriously. I got a very gay Thai guy doing my nails, and when he saw the state of my hands and feet the poor guy nearly had a fit. I felt very ashamed. But after they were very pretty.

We then headed to the most impressive part of the day...a visit to see real live tigers. The Tiger Temple is a giant animal sanctuary run by monks who have saved these tigers as orphans. The tigers are all hand-reared so are very used to human contact...It was incredible to see them up close, although the whole process was a bit bizarre. You have to wait in line and then are lead round by the hand by one of the staff and pose for photos with each tiger. You have to approach from a certain direction and cant get overly friendly with the Tiger in case it decides its hungry. And they just sit there, while all these people touch them. They were so sedate I have to admit that I'm sure they must be drugged. But who knows....It's apparently a huge debate, cause obviously I asked one of the monks if they were...I should learn whats an appropriate question to ask a monk, cause it turned out to be a touchy subject...and he insisted they weren't. Ok. Whatever. It was totally cool anyway.

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The next morning I was going to have to rush it and get a bus back to Bangkok and then a taxi to cross Bangkok to get to the airport to take a flight to Krabi in the South of Thailand (I know what you're thinking, "this is hardly backpacking, what happened to night trains and stuff?", well turns out i'm more high maintenance than I thought......and its not much more expensive and much less hassle to fly). Ok. Anyway, at breakfast at the guesthouse I ended up meeting an Aussie guy who's mum was leaving Kanchanaburi later that day to go to Bangkok Airport to head back to Australia. They had hired a car and driver to take them there, and as there was a spare seat in the car, they offered to take me with them. And I very happily accepted! So I was able to profit from my morning and do a bit more sightseeing instead of having to rush off to catch the bus. I hired a TukTuk and headed to see some sacred caves just outside of town, which are not very touristic, but amazing to see. I got shown around the caves by the sweetest, funniest little Thai kid who took photos of me and wanted me to take photos of him. I gave him a Baht for each photo he took (he didn't ask for it but he was just too cute) and when I left he came running up to me with some chocolates and gave them to me. Its moments like those that make a place great. Went to another cave, took more photos, and then headed back to the guesthouse and arrived in Bangkok in super luxury and plenty of time to spare to chill at the airport before my flight South, and my to final destination in Thailand...

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Posted by BlondePhiloSoph 05:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Sunning it in the South

in Krabi

semi-overcast 33 °C
View Once Upon a Time... on BlondePhiloSoph's travel map.

I was so desperate to get to the beach after a month of travelling and not getting much of a tan (since you have to cover up to be respectful and be respected here). I'd heard a lot of great things about Krabi, in the South of Thailand, and wanted to make the most of the short time I had left. I wasn't to be disappointed. The beauty is unimaginable. Massive limestone cliffs jutting out of emerald green waters and white sandy beaches as far as the eye can see....

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But before I tell you about how its been here so far I guess I should share with you how i've been feeling these last few days. Its not been easy doing the traveling thing alone, even though I meet up with people during the day and go for a few drinks in the evenings, its hard not to share both the good and the bad times with someone else. I knew that there were going to be times like that, but the last few days travelling in central Thailand and when I arrived in Krabi were really tough. Some of you know how tough cause you had me having a panic on the other end of the phone (thank you so much for being there for me :)). I guess I was so tired. I haven't stopped since I started traveling, and I realise that I've tried to do too much in a short space of time and it was all a bit overload. So when I arrived here and had some problems finding accommodation in the more touristic areas (Railay, KohPhiPhi, Ao Nang), I decided to stay in Krabi Town, which is very quiet but cheap and clean and generally laid back. I used it as a base to explore the surrounding areas (Railay, Koh Phi Phi etc) and decided that it was time to relax a bit and enjoy the sunshine....

I basically spent every day taking a 30 minute bus ride into the town of Ao Nang and then a 10 minute Longtail Boat ride to Railay beach. Ao Nang is the perfect example of how to turn paradise into hell. It is full of package tourists and it makes me never want to take another package tour again. Really, its that bad. So generally I just passed through to buy a coffee in the morning before heading to Railay. Railay is only accessible by boat, and so remains much less touristic than other areas on the mainland. It's one of the top climbing areas in the world, and has one of the most beautiful beaches (some say even nicer than KohPhiPhi just because of the lack of "tourists"). Its a mainly Muslim community and there are 2 main beaches. The East beach is the Backpacker beach, a pretty dank area (but still amazingly beautiful) full of "cheap" (nothing is cheap here) accommodation and Rasta/Reggae bars. The West beach is the 4 star resort beach and has great sunset views, amazing sand/sea and good eating. I mainly hung out on the West beach (surprised, aren't you? ;)) and only visited the East beach for the chilled out atmosphere.

Most days were spent sunbathing, snorkelling and generally being a lazy bum. After a couple of nights in Krabi I had to look for other accommodation in Ao Nang and it was hell. Its such a long and boring story I won't get into it, suffice to say that 3 hours carrying a 20Kg backpack in 30 degree heat is no fun and very straining on my sense of humour. I also ended up only staying there one night and heading straight back to Krabi to escape the mass of Swedish, British and German package tourists.

After a few days sunbathing I started getting restless, so booked myself onto a Sunset Snorkelling tour. Its the only company in Railay that goes out so late, so even though we visited some very popular and very beautiful places we had them to ourselves. The coral has been severely destroyed from both the longtail boats and the Tsunami so its not so impressive, although there is still a huge array of sea creatures kicking about. I got eaten by an army of yellow and blue fish, who obviously mistook me for coral (is it my hair?) and started suckering at my skin. I had a brief moment of "oh shit, what if they are flesh-eating Phiranas?" but I managed to keep my cool. We then watched the sun set as we ate dinner on a deserted white sandy beach. It was a moment of pure beauty.

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On the way home we stopped for one final swim, this time in the dark, and it was so very cool. The water was full of phosphorescence; tiny sea-creatures that glow when there is movement. I could have spent hours entertaining myself making the water sparkle....but then I started wondering what else was in there with me and quickly got back in the boat.... By the time we set off for the journey back home the winds were full on gale force and it was a bit of a stormy ride. I was sitting next to Thomas (a Danish guy who looked like a short viking version of Jean-Claude van Damme) and both of us ended up completely soaked and had to hold on for dear life to avoid being chucked into the ocean. I actually quite enjoyed it. Would have payed two times as much for a ride like that at Disneyland. Ended up being dropped at a pier in the middle of nowhere and had to hitch a ride on the back of a motorbike with Lek (the owner of the tour/dive company). It was a pretty scary experience and after a 30 minute ride going way over the speedlimit I had thoroughly dried off.

The following day I ended up bumping into Thomas and we decided to be productive and rent a kayak together. Now, i'm a very lucky bunny, cause I'd been wanting to do some kayaking but didn't want to do all that work on my own and not get very far...and turns out that Thomas' favourite sport at home is kayaking...so in 3 hours we practically did the tour of the area and I didn't even strain a muscle :) hehe. We got back to Railay in time to watch the sunset over a beer and some Red Snapper Curry (Yummmm!).

After being woken up super early (thanks to a very nice early morning wake up call ;)) I headed to Railay once again and ended up meeting Jacob, a Canadian from British Columbia, who was passing through the area for a few days to do some rock climbing. I had been mulling over the idea of going climbing, but there had been a couple from Singapore who i'd met on the boat trip who's knees where totally smashed up after having taken a beginners course. hmmm...I love a challenge, but I also love my knees....so i'd been putting it off in favour of getting a tan. Anyway, I'm not quite sure how, but I ended up signing up for a 4 hour course. It was a brilliant experience. It was great to do something physically challenging and the views from the top were incredible. Its such a sense of achievement to make it up there, and there were many times when I was hanging on for dear life and thinking that i couldn't go any further but Jacob and Monkey Boy (my nickname for our instructor) were really great at giving me instruction and encouragement. Afterwards we had a drink in one of the Rasta cafes next to the climb. It's like a mini Jamaica, with Asian dudes who are trying to look like Bob Marley and smoke joints and play guitar. It was here that I realised that its not only Thai women that are out looking for a foreign mate...these guys are relentless. I don't know why i'm so surprised that they were trying to chat a few of us girls up, but I just assumed that cause their women are so beautiful, they wouldn't even be attracted to us...but maybe its cause all their women are being taken by dirty old foreign men that they don't have a choice...

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I'd worked through a pretty long list of places to visit while travelling in Thailand, and the final one was Koh Phi Phi islands, made famous by the film "the Beach". Unfortunately Leo wasn't there. Anyway... It was a full day by speedboat stopping at various beautiful and more beautiful locations where we could snorkel and marvel, which were only slightly ruined by the massive number of speedboats and longtails spitting their diesel into the crystal clear waters and mooring their anchors on the mountains of coral...! But despite this, there were places of jaw-dropping beauty that you can't imagine. I'm glad thought that I wasn't staying on Koh Phi Phi (I had been having regrets about not sleeping there), as I think I would have gone insane with all the tourists. It really pains me to see such a beautiful environment being destroyed by mass tourism. Man, I've become a backpacking snob....didn't know that was possible...

Of course something weird has to happen to me at some point, right? But before getting into it I have to set the scene a bit so that you know the background.... Every day on Railay I would pass by the dive shop to get to the beach and would say hi to Lek (from the snorkelling trip), who was always really friendly and helpful. I'd mentioned to him where I was staying in Krabi, but as he is from Ao Nang I never thought i'd bump into him outside of the beach....then on one of my last nights there I was heading home past the bars by the river and heard someone calling my name. And there was Lek. I maybe should have found it strange that he was there, so far from home in a dead-end town, but as per usual it took a while for me to register. I sat down with him and had a beer, told him about my climbing and kayaking jaunts and how my muscles were aching from the experience. When he suggested going for a massage I thought "cool, he knows the area, so that means good local massage and none of that tourist stuff"

...how wrong was I...

we took a short bike ride and arrive at a place with "massage" signs and blacked out windows (a little suspect)...as we entered it turns out it was a bar, filled with only Thai men and a lot of smoke (starting to get a little worried). As Lek motioned for me to follow him through the bar and up the stairs at the back, I asked him if he'd understood that I wanted a normal massage and nothing dodgy, to which he looked at me quite innocently like he didn't know what I was talking about (should I walk out now?)...when we arrived up the stairs there was a woman at a desk standing next to a room with glass walls which was full of Thai women. And I was then instructed to pick a lady. (Ok. am starting to register that something is very wrong)... Lek assured me that it was fine/non-dodgy and we were shown to a room with 2 mattresses on the floor. Thank god you get Thai massage with your clothes on...Turns out I should have picked my massage woman after all, because the girl who massaged me didnt have a clue how to massage, and was watching the woman who was massaging Lek to see what to do....they probably thought that because I was a foreigner I wouldn't notice the difference. I thought she was going to break my spine when she started walking on my back. But then of course she didnt know what she was doing. She'd probably been working in that dodge-hole for years and never had to give an actual massage, just a happy ending.... So the day basically ended with Lek trying it on and me running a mile. Man, I love how i'm so completely oblivious. One of these days i'll get with the programme....

So back to normality and on my last day in Krabi I hired a kayak, found a private beach all to myself and stayed there until late to soak up the last of the southern charm. I had to take a late night flight to Bangkok which passed without a hitch (thank god), although I got chatted up by the bus driver and the italian guy that was on the bus with me. I'm not sure which one was more sleazy...! When I arrived in Bangkok it was midnight so I headed to Koh San Road and after searching for 1 hour checked into D&D Inn, which ended up being a bad choice, as it stank of vomit and toilet and I lay awake thinking that I couldn't handle keeping on staying in places like that. I was so tired of staying awake all night just so I could get up early and find something better...which I did, for a 3rd of the price. So the next morning on no sleep I got a local taxi to Chatachuk Market (a massive weekend market in the heart of Bangkok) and spent a little money on clothes that would have cost a fortune back home. I know i have complained about being ripped off here a couple of times, but when you realise how much we get ripped off in the West (buying a t-shirt for 40 euro that costs 40 cents to make...) you start looking at things a little differently. And you become more tight with your money! So after all that shopping I had another amazing massage, from the lovliest woman i've ever met. If you are ever in Koh San Road and you go for a massage on the roof of D&DInn, ask for Kai and tip her well :)

So it has been an extremely relaxed, quiet and not very partyish week here in the South. The landscape is so stunning. Another place that i'm completely amazed by, and which reminds me of the beauty of the world we live in and how lucky I am to be able to experience it... I realise that even though I've been pretty much on my own here and haven't had the party week i'd thought would happen, I was actually probably really in need of just kicking back and enjoying the moment. And I have to tell you that i'm sad to leave Thailand. I had an amazing 5 weeks here. There have been times where i've been kicking myself for being so high maintenance or when I procrastinate about doing something or going somewhere cause i doubt my ability to deal with it if things go wrong. But then there are those moments where I feel proud and brave of what i've achieved so far, and so very lucky to be on this journey....

'What are borders after all, but checkpoints letting you know that you've reached a new stage in your adventure".....

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Posted by BlondePhiloSoph 05:29 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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