Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Bangkok, Ko Tao
19.02.2011 - 13.03.2011 35 °C
It’s been nearly a month since my last post from Phu Quoc island, our final stop in Vietnam. After another nauseating boat trip and brief wait at the borderpost Prek Chak we arrived in Cambodia. Our week-long trip through the country started in Sihanoukville on the coast, after a few days we moved on to the capital Phnom Penh and ended in Siem Reap near the legendary Ankor Temples.
At the moment we're on Ko Tao island, a tropical paradise filled with happy tourists riding around on scooters in flip-flops spending every night at the Lotus Bar watching the fire dancers. We ended up partying, swimming, relaxing and we actually did a course and received an open water diving license!
In a few days we have to do a visa run to Burma as it turns out that if you enter Thailand over land you just get a 15-day visa and there is no such thing as a 15 day extension, so we have to cross a border before the 15th and then re-enter the country.
The options were Burma, Laos, and Malaysia. Though we really wanted to stop in Laos at first because of all the überpositive stories, we eventually decided not to spend the largest part of two weeks in a bus. So now we're going to do a one day run to Burma and then extend our visa one day before flying out. After the visa run the plan is to go to Ko Samui and attend the Full Moon Party which takes place on Ko Pha Ngan on the 19th. It feels good that our last few weeks together will be a bit more relaxed and we can actually stay in one place for more than one or two days!
But first, let me elaborate a bit on our week in Cambodia! We really loved it! The sand is reddish everywhere and there is a lot of forestry, little rivers and the people are very friendly. Sihanouk was a bit disappointing, relatively deserted and very dirty everywhere. In addition, after swimming at Phu Quoc the beach was also a bit of a letdown. However, I reckon we also didn't really try to find a nicer beach as we were so exhausted after another horrid boat and bus trip. After walking around a bit and relaxing we left for Phnom Penh after three days. In PP we took the tuk-tuk and did a day trip to the Killing Fields and to the Tuol Sleng Prison. Both stops were interesting and impressive, especially the ground around the monumental stupa where the clothes of the victims still lay scattered all over the property. It seemed so strange that they did not clean it up.
After another day in hot and stuffy PP we went on to Siem Reap where we spend one day in the town itself, scouring the market place and wandering through the residential areas. In Cambodia, at least in the three places we visited, you can find the jungle or the deserted village roads just behind the tourist streets. It’s a cliché but poverty and modernity lie so close together. Cambodia certainly appears much poorer and more disadvantaged than the quickly developing Vietnam. The first full day in Siem Riep we cycled to the temples and visited Ankor Wat, Ankor Thom and some of the surrounding temples. The day after we went with our own tuk-tuk driver for a day and he showed us some more remote temples, among which Ta Phrom (from the Lara Croft movies) which was stunning! Cycling was a nice way to see the temples, but I've never been so hot in my life. I was so pleased when we had a tuk-tuk at our disposal for our next visit. Just before we left for Bangkok we met up with Matthias and Jeroen, two guys (Groningers!) we met before in Hanoi and we had a drink and introduced them to our favourite Indian place in Siem Riep! We loved the food so much that one day we actually took a doggy bag and breakfasted with curry! Because we left early the next day we could not stay late but it was good to see some familiar faces again. It’s such a coincidence if you're able to meet up again when everybody has such different plans. Always nice to swap some stories!
After Siem Reap we spend two days in buzzing Bangkok. On the bus from Cambodia we met a French and a German guy and we shared a taxi to the hostel and had dinner later that night. The French guy, Stephàne, who went to Bangkok every year for his business, took us to a shopping mall and to a nice restaurant near the legendary Khaosan Rd. It's quite an experience! You can find everything a traveler could possibly want crammed into a crowded, noisy street with flashing lights and annoying salesmen. They even sold fake licenses, student cards, and diplomas (from Oxford for example!) and when Marije made a picture of it she was forced to delete it quickly! But contrary to popular belief the prices are pretty reasonable in Khaosan Rd if you know where to look and we got a pretty good deal for our combi-tickets from the city to Ko Tao. I guess if you go to Bangkok you just have to visit the place!
Next, we took the night bus to Ko Tao island where we have been for more than a week now. It’s a pretty small, cozy island but one with a lot of bars, restaurants, massage parlors and diving schools. We expected it to be far less touristy, but it is overflowing with young
Swedish people and at least half of the people have piercings or tattoos and drive their scooters without a shirt on haha!
But its good fun! We went to the Lotus Bar, the gathering place on the beach for two nights in a row and had a great time. We were soon convinced by all the positive stories to try a diving course. Apparently Ko Tao is the cheapest place in the world to do a diving course so everything is focused on it.. diving schools everywhere! After a test ‘drive’ in the pool we decided to sign up with Phoenix Divers and we are now the proud owners of a diving license up to 18m!
The first day we had class and practiced some skills in the pool and the next we went to open water, though still quite shallow water. In the pool I was able to equalize my ears quite easily but in the sea it was pretty hard and it really hurt! Since I was a bit slow in adjusting I had my two dives of that day together with one of the dive masters (George from Greece). After I while I learned to equalize and we slowly followed the group and did some exercises under water. Things like taking your mask of, taking your regulator out and finding it again, giving somebody else your extra regulator etc., basic stuff but still a bit exiting when you do it at sea!
The second dive of the day me and George kind of lost the group and ended up on the other side of the bay, so he had to pull out an orange-balloon thing to alert boats to our presence and afterwards we swam back to the boat, to the amusement of the other dive instructors who teased George for being unable to read his underwater compass! I quite enjoyed just having a private instructor, no other fins kicking you near the face and only one person to keep your eye on. It was a really strange sensation to be so deep under water! You go down with a huge rope and lower yourself while equalizing and letting the air out of your BCD (Buoyancy compensator). The rope is also handy to find your way back to the boat.
The next day we did two more dives which were nice but less spectacular than the day before, maybe because it was the first time. Some people we met yesterday saw turtles and even a whale shark (imagine that! 8 meters long) but we weren't that lucky unfortunately. On the final diving day there was a camera guy joining us and he filmed everything, so after we received our license we celebrated by buying the instructors a beer and watched the video… me and Marije struggling with the gear and doing very clumsy jumps into the water!
Next we went to dinner with some of them but that was more than a bit disappointing! They we incredibly negative about all our plans, be it OZ and NZ for me or Indonesia and Malaysia for Marije! They thought everything besides Ko Tao sucked and they were very rude! I was ready to leave but eventually we sat through dinner and one drink and then made our way to some nicer people. I guess some of these dive-people just live in their own little bubble (pun intended). They do three or more dives a day and drink all night only to get up again at six! It’s crazy how they manage!
For the last few days we have been just recuperating from the exhaustion of the diving. Yesterday we paid another visit to the Lotus Bar which ended in a pretty bad hangover that lasted all day today! Tomorrow is our last day on Ko Tao and we're probably going on a snorkeling trip before doing the visa run to Burma... and then moving on to Ko Samui!