A Travellerspoint blog

Laos - Vang Vieng (1st stop)

Written by Tom

sunny 25 °C

We headed off to Laos on the night bus at 7pm from Bangkok as the night train was full. We were told 12 hours to the capital of Laos (Vientienne). The night buses are not that comfortable and neither of us got much sleep and eventually we arrived at the Laos border at 6am. We were shocked to discover you had to pay $35 for your visa (Cambodia was only $20) as we were trying to stop the leakage from our travel funds. And it took ages to get our passport back and then you had to pay an entry fee (on top of visa fee) after you had gone through passport checking. We did meet two nice lads through all the chaos though, called Shane (American biologist on Antarctic fishing boats...cool) and a Brit called Ash.

At about 10am (3 hours late) we arrived in Vientienne. After a lot of tips over the last couple of days we decided to stay on the bus and head to Vang Vieng further on from the border as there was not a lot to do in Vientienne. At last (3pm) we arrived in Vang Vieng...only 19 hours of buses then!

Vang Vieng is a strange little place surrounded by stunning mountains in the sun and bordered by a river. I say strange as most of the bars in the town centre, which are open all along one side, show repeats of the US sitcom 'Friends'. However, after the long bus journey, a few episodes of Friends and a pizza did the trick before bed. The next day we wanted to go tubing down the river (more on tubing in the next Vang Vieng entry) but Coralie had picked up a nasty infection in her finger and it was all swollen. Thanks to Boots the chemist in Bangkok we had stocked up on anti-b's and gauze plasters and special healing cream. Instead I headed off on a half-day rock climbing trip with Shane and Ash. This was awesome fun, the first time I had climbed apart from climbing walls at school. I now know why Ollie Rips always disappears to go climbing.
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We started off on a grade 4 (climbs are measured grade 4 to 8 I think with sub categories) and eventually the last climb was a grade 6. It was tough and I fell off half way up (thankfully had ropes on) but persisted and got to the top some 20 metres up a sheer face.
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Back in Vang Vieng a bored Coralie was waiting and in the evening we decided to hit the bars hard. A few buckets of cheap whisky and lemonade later and we were standing around one of the fires that the bars have on the island in the river and chatting away to other travellers.
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A sore head in the morning and it was back on a 7 hour bus journey to Luang Prabang.

Posted by tomcoralie 02:30 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Cambodia - Siem Reap / Angkor Wat

Written by Coralie

sunny 29 °C

We arrived in Siem Reap after a 7 hour bus trip and settled into our hostel - making a quick trip into the town to have drinks and dinner. An early night was needed though as we had to be up the next day to go to Angkor Wat - land of the temples!

The temples are almost impossible to describe in words - it really is a case of you have to see it to believe it. They are an immense architectural feat and rightfully a source of national pride. From walking around you can definitely get a sense of the grandeur of what these buildings used to look like - vast and covered in gold and precious gems as far as the eye can see. The first temple we went to see was Ta Prohm, where Lara Croft was filmed - it was amazing - like a lost world with trees growing out from the walls and their roots spilling out over and through the walls and steps. Not even the photos really do it justice, but it was an incredible sight.
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Angkor Thom (Grand Angkor) was the first temple after lunch and was pretty impressive. It was the largest we saw and was separated into about 4 sub sections covering 50 hectares in total.
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The day went on from there really - Angkor Wat (the symbol on the national flag) is essentially made up of clusters of different temples scattered around an area - we did around 8 hours of walking around and climbing up and down the temples, culminating in Angkor Wat itself.
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Sadly the thing to really see is sunset at Angkor Wat, where the temple is mirrored in the water of the moat around it, but it started to turn cloudy in the late afternoon so we headed back to our hostel for a well earned shower!

Another early night ensued as yet again we had the joys of a 12 hour bus ride to Bangkok the next day.

Posted by tomcoralie 00:47 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia - Phnom Penh

Written by Coralie

sunny 31 °C

We left for Phnom Penh the next day - the bustle of Cambodia's capital city couldn't contrast more heavily with the week we had just spent on Bamboo Island. However, we couldn't sit on a beach forever so it was back to reality with a bit of a bump! Our first afternoon was spent visiting Tuol Sleng Museum (known as S-21). This used to be an old school but under the reign of the Khmer Rouge it was turned into a place of fear and torture. The crimes that were inflicted here are indescribable as are the conditions which the 'prisoners' were made to endure. The cells were barely more than an arms width across and there was blood still to be seen on some of the floors.
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It was so surreal walking around there on a beautiful sunny day with palm trees in the front garden - it is difficult to comprehend the horrors that went on here - the museum was filled with ghost eyed photos of people who had been sent there - normally for no reason at all...anyone who was deemed to be intelligent was seen as a threat - anyone that wore glasses or had soft hands was sent for interrogation and ultimately execution. Of the 20,000 people that were sent there only 7 survived.

The following day we got a tuk tuk and went to visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek where most of the detainees held at the S-21 prison were executed. Again, a surreal feeling of walking around surrounded by trees and grass with birds singing in the background, but this was soon put into perspective as we saw the memorial that has been put up in memory of those who died. A looming glass tower that displays 8000 skulls of victims and their discarded clothes piled into a messy heap, just like the bodies that once wore them.
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As you walk around, you can't help but notice big craters in the ground (now grassed over rather than bare mud) - we soon realised that these were the mass graves - they went on as far as the eye could see and they still haven't dug up about another third of them.
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It is incredibly sobering and absolutely heart wrenching that such atrocities were allowed to take place and similar to the concentration camps in WWII, the local town knew nothing about it as loud music was played throughout the executions to drown out the sounds.

In the afternoon we went to visit the Royal Palace which was a feast for the eyes - gold everywhere which looked beautiful under the reflection of the sun.
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All in all, Phnom Penh was a pretty intense couple of days - the horrors of what the Cambodian people have endured is seen everywhere - almost 1/3 of the population was wiped out in only 4 years - it is staggering that this was allowed to happen only 30 years ago. As one spends time in Cambodia you notice that there are very few older people around - that it because they simply didn't survive. Despite this though, they are not a nation that want pity in any way. It is very clear that what they want is for these atrocities never to be forgotten by future generations or the world as a whole - they want the horrors to be on full display so that such a thing is never allowed to happen again. We felt very privileged and humbled to have had the opportunity to see what we saw and understand where they have come from.

Posted by tomcoralie 22:45 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia - Sihanoukville

Written by Tom

sunny 31 °C

Our final morning on Bamboo Island was a sad one. We were not looking forward to leaving the place but if we didn't go now then we would quite happily spend the next month there. After a bit of stress trying to get a boat back to the mainland we headed off after saying goodbyes at about 2pm. On the way back we stopped at a cool snorkling place off a tiny island. I caught a very squidgy sea cucumber which was outdone by the boat driver catching a huge poisonous black sea urchin.

Back at Sihanoukville we checked into a cheap but recommended guesthouse called GST and hooked up with Mo and with Milo & Katie (who work at Bim Bam Boo) who were spending a couple of nights on the main land. The night was a quiet one but we did go for a great meal....after a week of noodles / rice we indulged with a good imported steak and potatos and vegetables and Coralie / Katie even shared a bottle of white wine (an excellent vintage of French 'vin de table').

The next day Coralie, Mo and I headed on a tuk tuk to the waterfalls an hour outside of Sihanoukville.
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They were great fun, very picturesque and you could get involved and swim in them and even get behind the waterfall in places. The water was cold but welcome in the heat of Cambodia.
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That night we all ordered pizzas and then hit the lively bars of Sihanoukville Beach. Milo & Katie had 3 friends arrive from Engalnd that day and Jeremy and Rory who also work at Bim Bam Boo came over for the night so there was a good gathering of us. We all got stuck into the vodka redbulls etc and generally talked a load of drunken rubbish whilst watching locals practice firestaff.
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Our final day in Sihanoukville was very hungover and we hardly left our room all day, instead staying in bed and watching cheesey movies like ''Days of Thunder''. The next morning it was an early start and back to Phenom Penh.

Posted by tomcoralie 06:45 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia - Bamboo Island

Written by Coralie and Tom

sunny 32 °C

We arrived in Phnom Penh somewhat jaded after our 5 hour bus ride became 8 hours...got in a tuk tuk and headed over towards the lake area. What we had failed to remember was that on the day we arrived a national water festival was taking place so the population of the city had about doubled, it was completely crazy and there weren't many places to stay! The lake had also flooded so all the backpackers hotels situated around it were about 3-6 inches deep in water on the ground floor, and shutting quite a few down. We managed to find a place - we had to walk over planks of wood and slippery beer crates to get up to the 1st floor, which with a rucksack and day pack isn't an easy task but we made it! The room was probably the grimmest we've stayed in so far - there was a hole in the floor right outside the 'en suite' (a non flushing loo and water that poured out from under the sink when you ran the tap). We didn't have a choice though so we quickly dumped our bags and headed for the bar!

Bearing all this in mind, we decided to head out of town first thing in the morning so we had a few drinks (enough to help us pass out!) and headed for bed.

The next morning we got on an 8am bus and were on our way to Sihanoukville which is a town on the beach, down in the south of Cambodia. We met some Brits on the bus who told us they were going to visit some friends who were working on one of the islands off the mainland, called Bamboo Island. We decided it sounded pretty good and we at least knew there would be some other backpackers around so we hired a long boat and off we went....to paradise....

We arrived at Bamboo Island to be greeted with white sand and blue waters...it was amazing after the hecticness of the city and all the travelling.
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There are only 3 companies that have a small number of huts on the island and they were all full but luckily the guys (Rory, Jay, Milo and Katie) who ran BimBamBoo managed to find us all huts to stay in. We dumped our bags, beers in hand and ran into the warm waters...AMAZING!

The huts we stayed in were pretty basic but fine as we were on the beach or at the bar relaxing all day.
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Every hut had it's own bathroom - not in the western sense though! It was a cubicle with an 'asian loo' - ie. a porcelain pot you had to squat over! And then pour a bucket of water down it...I wasn't so sure to start with but it's actually cleaner than a lot of the loo's we've had to use out here in the bars and border crossings! In the evenings, the island only has electricty from 6pm till about 11pm - all the lights etc then go out so we would often sit, chatting with candles all around us and the light of the moon with the backround sound of the waves...perfect.

Having said we would only stay for 3 nights, this got extended to a week - it was just awesome - the weather was amazing so we got some serious tanning in, we read, swam every day, snorkelled, the boys played volleyball, big card games, Tom came out winner in the chess tournament and generally, it was like being in heaven.
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We went out fishing on our second night, on the boat, lines in the water, sipping beers, watching the sun go down. And much to our frustration, everyone else made the fishing look so easy, but we didn't catch anything...until the very end when I managed to catch 2!!! Tom wasn't best pleased! We then headed back to the island and cooked up what we caught for dinner.
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We finally decided that we had to drag ourselves away and return back to the mainland and carry on with our travels, it was such a tough decision. We were desperate to stay longer, especially as we'd gotten to know the guys that worked there really well and had such a great time with them. 2 nights before we headed off it was decided that we definitely had to have some drinking/card games so there were 8 of us playing rounds of Sh*thead - the loser having to down a shot of Ginseng Wine (about 20%) - and Tom kept losing (although there was a bit of foul play going on to ensue that he lost!) It was all going just about ok until we then started playing ''21's''...carnage ensued as everyone was downing shot after shot and I'm not sure anyone remembers getting to bed that night. There were certainly some very ill looking people the next day. It was an awesome send off though!

You can understand from the photo below though why it was so difficult to leave...with sunsets like this every evening and a great cocktail of food, games, booze and awesome company, it was a week we certainly won't forget.
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Posted by tomcoralie 03:14 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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