Four Island Tour

28th of November: 4 Island Tour
Lying on the beach all day long is not my cup of tea so I decided to do some island hoping and opted for a 4 Island tour and do some snorkeling around Hong, Chicken and Bamboo Island. And the 4th island? Sorry; I don’t recall the name of it 😉 ! After my return I hired a longtail boat to Raleigh Beach for sunset, which I have to admit was one of the best sunsets I have seen in Thailand.

Tigers, Temples and Beaches

25th of November River Kwai, Tiger Tempel
As I had to go to another fitting on the 26th I decided to go on a day tour to Kanchanaburi to see the bridge over River Kwai and the Tiger Tempel. Although very touristy and at 1.600 Bhat expensive for Thai Standards I really enjoyed getting close to the giant cats and touching them, even as it was only very briefly. The train ride for 100 Bhat turned out to not be the best idea as I did not managed to get a seat and had to stand the entire journey, not being able to ejoy the view of the river Kwai.

26th of November, Bus Nr. 53
In the morning I had my second fitting at Rajawongse after which I returned to the hostel. It was fully booked that day and I had to move to a different place. I decided to stay at the Bangkok YHA, where I had stayed 8 years ago. The YHA Bangkok has changed a lot and the rooms are now even more spotless. When I walked in I even met the same receptionist that I remembered from all those years ago. After settling in it was time for my favorite bus ride : Nr. 53! Back in 2001 I would always take it to get to the train station to catch other busses to go else where. Its still the same red busses that are very noisy and thick black smoke is coming out of the tail pipe.

27th of November: Bangkok to Ao Nang
Yet another flight, this time with AirAisa to Krabi and then a busride to Ao Nang. If I would have know how much Ao Nang had changed in those eight years, I probably would have stayed in Krabi this time. Ao Nang these days looks a lot like Samui did eight years ago, with a McDonalds and BurgerKing and numerous 7-11 all over the town. But the hostel (WarinaPlace) was again a spotless place and I had a 6 person dormitory all to myself.

Siam Reap, Back to Bangkok

23. November
After some last minute souvenir shopping and a lunch at the Butterfly Garden Restaurant it was time to board the plane back to Bangkok. While the Butterfly Garden Restaurant was really beautiful with all the flowers and butterflies roaming the tables, the Cambodian fish “Amok Trey” was not as good as at the previous place. Back in Bangkok I once again stayed at the Nira Bangkoc, and joined two French girls for dinner at a nice Indian restaurant called Bombay Blues on Soi Rambutri, my favorite Indian restaurant in Bangkok .

24th of November
I went for my first fitting to Rajawongse and did a little bit of walking around the shopping area of Silom before going to the Golden Mount by boat. It is by far the fastest and cheapest way to get from the Silom Shopping area to Banglampoo area. At night I went to “The Deck” again, for a full Thai dinner and my favorite entry dish: Chicken Satay before taking a taxi to Bayoke Tower II, the tallest building in Thailand for a cocktail (or two…). Unfortunately we where told that the revolving platform was already closed, but on our way down a guard asked as if we wanted to go up there for 200 Bhat (usuall 250), which I accepted. As the two fellow travelers declined the offer I was the only one up on the 304 meter high tower, the highest point of Bangkok, watching the city lights and even got the guard to stop the revolving platform so I could take some pictures.

Motorbike to Banteay Srei, Landmine Museum, and some more Temples

My final day exploring the temples of Angkor Wat turned out to be the busiest. After two days mostly on a bicycle I decided it was time to speed up things and give my shoulders a break from carrying way to many things. So I rented a guide and a motorcycle Tuk-Tuk for 22 Dollars to take me to Banta Srei, a beautiful pinkish colored temple about 25 kilometers northeast of Siam Reap that they started building around 967. It’s not one of the biggest temples, but surely one with many details and delicate carvings and well worth the 80 minute ride on bumpy roads. On the way back I made a short stop and the landmine museum that was set up by a former Khmer Rouge child soldier, who helped demine some 50.000 Landmines. While this sounds pretty amazing, there are estimates that there are up to 3 to 6 !!) million landmines still hidden all over Cambodia. Countless victims, missing legs or other parts of the body are a constant sad reminder that Cambodia was hell on earth not so long ago.

Before returning to mesmerizing Ta Prohm for late afternoon light I also visited Eastern Mebon and Pre Roup, visiting each temple for about half an hour. The difference of visiting Ta Prohm in the morning hours and in the later afternoon is amazing, its like visiting two complete different sites and a lot of places that looked amazing in the morning felt very different, whereas spots that I walked by hardly noticing earlier on caught my attention and made me stop for a couple of minutes just to marvel about. A very quiet but very beautifull spot for Sunset is Srah Srang, where Phnom Bakheng was crowded with people, there were only two others sitting at the giant ancient artificial lake, enjoying a very scenic sunset. I spent my last night in Siam Reap at my favorite Indian Restaurant “Kama Sutra” and later joined the pool party at the Sieam Reap Hostel. There I got to talk with an Australian who works at the hostel, who told me that Cambodia can still be a very tough place and that Siam Reap and Angkor are just Tourism bubbles. Only two years ago it became a federal crime to kill someone in Cambodia. Before they passed the law, the killer would basically go into negotiations with the family of the victim and settle over a “price” for the killing. And if you witness a car accident in Cambodia, the best thing to do is RUN, as police will look for the richest person on at the scene and arrest them as the wrongdoer to get the most money out of them.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat

To see the sunrise one has to get up at 5 am in the morning. Not very good when you only fell asleep around 3 am.. But I did manage to get up and get on a motorcycle taxi to tale me to Angkor Wat. Angkor gets really crowded in the early hours and everyone gathers at the pool on the left side of the temple as this is the most scenic one with lots of pink water lillies and a nice palmtree to cover that big green grid thats right in the middle of Angkor Wat, covering ongoing reconstruction work.

I remember they used to have the same kind of green grid for years in Venice on the Marcus Square, but eventually used a fabric that with a picture of the building printed on it. The Cambodian Goverment should do the same here in Angkor Wat, for 20 Dollars a day entrance fee it should be coverd ;-). But I don’t want to complain, Angkor Wat is probably the cleanest placed all over South East Asia, like an ancient Disneyland. There is no rubbish whatsoever on the ground as guards constantly sweep the ground and collect all sorts of garbage, left behind by not so thoughtful tourists.

After about 1,5 hours at Angkor Wat, the temple has a completely different atmosphere when you come in the morning, I continued to go to Ta Prohm, one of the temples that the jungle has reclaimed and which is now preserved in that state to show tourists what the temples looked like when they where discovered by Europeans. I have to say it is my favorite temple and after the initial 45 minutes that I walked around I knew I had come back and take a little more time to enjoy this amazing scenery. It’s also the Temple where Angelina Jolie aka Lara Croft walked around to fight some bad ass Tomb Raiders. Finally my need for sleep took over; I returned to the hostel and decided to resume my exploration of the temples in the afternoon. Around 2 pm I once again cycled to Angkor and took good look at Preah Khan before returning to Ankors favorite Sunset Spot: Phnom Bakheng. When I hiked up the previous day, there were three people walking around the temples, but for sunset it was slightly different, with easily up to 300 people watching the sun set over the Tonle Sap Lake. Again I had to cycle back in the dark, but this time I was prepared and had brought a flashlight to not be run over by some frenetic Tuk Tuk driver. At night I joined the Irish guys that shared the room with me for a stroll down Pub Street, the party lane of Siam Reap.

Siam Reap, Angkor Wat by bycicle

Ok my first full day in Cambodia and Siam Reap. The hostel is really cool, but there is not much going on in this place. I had the entire room to myself because the Irish guys that are staying with me only got home around 9 am, which was when I intended to get up anyway… At first I thought about a Tuk Tuk, but then a French girl advised me to cycle around the area. Renting a bicycle is about 5 Dollars per Week, whereas a Tuk Tuk is about 12 to 20 Dollars per day depending on how far you want to go. .
The ride to Angkor Wat was very smooth and took only about 30 minutes, but it got hotter during the day so the cycling eventually became a bit enduring, especially since I as a bit too tall for that bicycle. So if you rent a bike in Siam Reap, make sure it has the proper size!
My first stop was Angkor Wat, I got there around 11 am and walked around this massive temple for about 2 hours. Two hours means not paying attention to every detail of this massive religious building. At my lunch I met Pom, a 10 year Cambodian girl that was selling postcards to tourists. At first she wanted to sell me 2 postcards for 1 Dollar, but as I first declined she offered me 10 for 4 Dollars. I just could not resist buying something of her. Most of the other kids offered the 10 postcars for just 1 Dollar, so she got really lucky. I just hope most of the money dose not go to the police, as she told me but rather to her family.
She later wants to become a stewardess to serve people (and see the world) cold drinks. I hope her dream comes true. Apparently young kids up to 12 years old sell postcards and little souvenirs, as they get older they move on to books, cold water and food. I think tourism does bring in a lot of money and creates a lot of jobs, it will be interesting to see this place 10 years from now. There is no 7 Eleven like in Thailand, or Mc Donalds, it still has a different vibe, but that is going to change for sure. After a hike up to Phnom Bakhen which took me about an hour, I went on to Angkor Thom trough the South gate and first stopped at Bayon, a pyramid like shaped temple famous for its many faces carved out of stone. Most of the temples are surrounded by moats which is a great opportunity to take pictures of the temples as they mirror in the water.

Before I returned to an astonishing sunset to Angkor Wat I visited the temple of the Leper King and Bayhong, another huge temple shaped like a pyramid. The Sunset at Angor At is fantastic and I am really looking forward to seeing the sunrise. One thing that’s not so funny about sunsets is that you have to ride back home in the dark, and bicycles rarely have lights or even reflectors on them around here. But I made it back to the hostel in one piece. Finally I treated myself with another relaxing massage, which was badly needed a full day on the bicycle.

Siam Square Bangkok… A shopaholic heaven!

Another great day in Bangkok, at first taxi ride to the train station after which I and my English travel companions tested the brand new underground (just over 4 years old) called MRT. There is heavy security on every entrance. It’s cheaper to take a taxi if more than two people are travelling together so it came to no surprise that the underground was nearly empty.  Initially James, Matt and I wanted to go for a fish massage – small fish nibbling away on your feet, but unfortunately we could not find the place. So back to the MRT where I said Good bye to Matt and James and made my way to Siam Square to go to a tailor (Rajawongse) and get myself a nice suit. Siam Square is the main shopping area with lots of international brands and a couple of cinemas. I guess it’s a place for tourists to do shopping, because I wonder what Thais would do with the latest winter fashion such as warm coats and scarfs…

After I got measured I went back by skytrain, also one of the newer transportation systems built in Bangkok over the last few years. After an attempt to climb the Golden Mountain (closes at 5:30 pm) I walked back to the hostel and joined an international group of backpackers for dinner and again – the roof terrace at the hostel till 4:30 am in the morning.

Fortunately, I did manage to catch my flight to Siam Reap the next day, where I am currently residing at the Sieam Reap Hostel. On my first day I just took it easy and went for a massage at the Bodie Spa, which was very relaxing after all the walking I did the past few days.

Wat Pho, Wat Arun, What a day!

Another two days have passed and I am sitting in the Siam Reap Hostel in Cambodia, having just received a superb Khmer massage… But on to what has happened lately. on the 17th I joined Matt and James, two guys from England on a sightseeing tour around Bangkok. We first walked to the main train station, which, considering the polluted air and the heat wasn’t a very good idea. of course, distances sometimes seem a lot shorter on the map then in reality.

So we walked about an hour to get there. The train station itself has not changed that much, but the underground that was being built in 2001 is now fished and leaves right next to the train station. Outside the train station people still try to lure you into one of the travel agencies. While Matt and James booked a train ride to Chiang Mai, I visited Richly, the travel agency I booked most of the tours with, back in 2001. All the people that used to work there have left the company, some going back to other cities across Bangkok, the friendly old guy that greeted everyone at the entrance back then has become a monk, but the daughter of the owner has apparently taken over her father’s business and could remember everyone on the picture.

After my short visit to Richly I met up with James and matt and we decided to continue to our next destination by taxi. 15 minutes with air condition and 50 Baht later we arrived at Wat Poh and walked around the Temple for about 2 hours, including taking a look at the amazing Reclining Buddha, about 25 meters long and painted with gold. After Wat Pho we walked over to the Grand Palace. Since it was already 3 pm and the grand palace closes at 3:30 pm. I decided to stay outside and wait for my companions to take a look. After that we went down to the river and took a ferry across to Wat Arun, a Giant Khmer temple, with a very funny decoration: smashed china, plates, which makes it a very colorful building. We finished the day across the river at a place called „the deck“ with a superb dinner and went to back to the hostel for round of beers on the rooftop terrace.

Back in Bangkok (again!)

I finally did it, I returned to Bangkok, after 8 long years travelling other countries and continents I am back where my „career“ as a backpacker initially started… I had a very good start so far, I arrived at the airport in Munich, asked for an Emergency Exit seat and without any hesitation the desk officer managed to secure one for me. Perfect! The time on the plane passed by quickly as a couple from Austria was sitting next to me and we had a lot to talk about. The first surprise was the new Airport in Bangkok, wow, the made a real effort here. Its spotless and immigration was done quickly. Also, unlike my first time here, my luggage travelled on the plane with me and I managed to get on the right bus, get of at the right stop and made my way to the Hostel (Niro Bankoc) without any hassle. On the way into the city I realized how much the city has changed over the years. Back in 2001 it was all abandoned construction sites, now it’s all shiny new skyscrapers and clean roads.

The hostel (Nira Bankoc) is spotless and the rooms are very pretty. The staff is amazing and the reviews at hostelworld where not exaggerating. My first task was to walk around the city, through Khao San Road (which is still a mad place and has not changed that much). At the entrance of Khao San Road there was a a guy preaching about the end of days and that Armageddon was coming, sure, the way he was dressed (long trousers, long shirt, socks (!) and black shoes he must have been overheated. I also purchased my first kilo of mangosteen, thank good there are available this time of the year. At night I joined two English guys for a stroll down Khao San Road for some Thai Red curry and a couple of beers.

So long, more to come soon!