Tag Archives: Cambodia

Adventuring to the North, home stays & trekking.

12 Dec

Cambodia to Bangkok – Let the Journey Begin! :)

In a previous post I mentioned the bus trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap. Like I mentioned, the trip was relatively painless and easy which led to our decision to bus back to Bangkok at the end of our stay in Cambodia. This trip costs $28 and the ticket is bought at the Nattakan Cambodia Company in town – which is also the final destination when arriving in Siem Reap. The bus leaves from Bangkok at 8AM daily, with a free pick up service from your hostel/hotel on the morning of your departure.

Our trip back to Bangkok was definitely more draining and complicated than our trip to Siem Reap – primarily due to the long and tedious border crossing into Thailand. We were made to offload all our luggage off the bus, carry it across the border, up and down a steep flight of stairs to passport control. Lack of signage and incredibly difficult border officials who spoke minimal English, meant that people were reaching the front of an hour long queue, only to be sent to the back of another – with little or no reasonable explanation… My mom decided to bus back with us, rather than fly  and I am extremely grateful that we were with her to guide her through the mixed hand signals, abrupt officials and offer a little bit of support. I, once again, felt incredibly sorry for the many young travellers (particularly females) who were left to edure this crossing alone. We arrived back at Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok just before 5PM. (We were told the bus journey back would be 7 hours – but bank on 8/9 hours to be safe!) With 5 and a half hours to spare before our 9:40PM bus departed for Chiang Mai, we headed off to our favourite little coffee shop to relax and get ready for our next journey….

Direct bus drop off and departure point in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Direct bus drop off and departure point in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Double Decker Cruising, Local Living, Elephant Riding and Ranting Roosters

Our first class bus tickets to Chiang Mai were booked on the top level of our extremely comfortable double decker bus. Having not travelled such a far distance by bus in Thailand, we were slightly unsure of what exactly to expect of our chosen mode of transport. However, we were pleasantly surprised. Ample leg room, reclining sets, a complimentary blanket and clean toilets on board – resulted in one very easy trip to the North! I highly recommend catching the bus at night if you do not want to spend an entire day travelling – you arrive at your final destination (although a bit tired) with a full day ahead of you, so you can choose whether you want to recover or get exploring!

When looking for a place to stay in Chiang Mai – I will admit that I was completely overwhelmed by the number of options and entirely confused of my bearings and figuring out where the best place to stay, proved a little challenging for me. Many an hour on TripAdvisor had me follow some trusty reviews and book 3 nights at a home stay I’m one of those people that likes to plan, compare options, ask for advice and book accommodation in advance – especially since I knew we would be arriving at 7AM after more than 24 hours of traveling from Cambodia. So, what’s a home stay? A home stay is a type of accommodation which allows you to rent a room/bungalow from a local family. I booked the Rice Field Hut  at the Ban Chunsongsang Home Stay –  located a fair bit outside of the main town of Chiang Mai. I thought it would be nice to try something different and having received a Certificate of Excellence in 2012 and 2013 from the trusty TripAdvisor site, I was pretty confident we would be happy with our stay! Miss Nong (the owner of the home stay) and her family are some of the most lovely people we have had the privilege of spending time with in Thailand. Always willing to offer advice, help out where she can and converse in excellent English – made us feel so welcome and happy with our decision to stay.

Our first night was filled with amusement… Just as we were about to fall asleep, a round of shots exploded outside of  our bungalow! Our terror was mounted by the fact that we suddenly realised that no-one actually knows where exactly we are! After we awkwardly managed to reassure each other that we were not under attack in a tiny Thai village in the middle of nowhere – we dozed off to sleep. Only to be woken up by the loudest rooster I have ever heard in my life. There must be daily meeting at dawn where every cockerel in Chiang Mai meets in the fields alongside our bungalow – because never ever have I heard such a racket!! Anyway, on a lighter note – we were informed at breakfast that in Thai culture – when a member of the village passes away, fire crackers are let off momentarily in order to lift and aid the deceased’s spirit to the Gods.

…Gunshots explained.

With the intention of staying in Chiang Mai for only 3 nights, we decided to book a Tour Package – which was recommended at our home stay. The three of us decided to take the complete package which included a little bit of everything… Elephant trekking, bamboo rafting and walking through the mountains to experience a local village and tribe. So, once we joined the rest of the group, we were off. Our first stop was at the elephant trekking………….

This experience left the 3 of us quiet and – quite honestly –  ashamed to be taking part in such an activity. These poor elephants, who looked completely sedated,  were made to walk laps all day – just to impress a bunch of ignorant tourists who had little comprehension of the absolute beauty, power and elegance that these incredible creatures inherently possess in the wild. We stood back for a few moments – reflecting on just how blessed we are to come from South Africa, to have seen these majestic beasts roam free. I managed to put my feelings aside (either that or I was going to tell the guide how I really felt – which probably would not have been the best idea…) and enjoy as much of the experience that I could. After a 40 minute mountain trek on the back of one of these beasts, my blood sugar dropping, my heart racing and my ‘expressive’ face displaying my unease, I was more that ecstatic to have my feet on the ground and move onto the next stop.

After the elephant experience, we were off Bamboo River Rafting down the Mae Wang River. We were told by the guide that we would get “97% wet…” so we were half expecting some extreme water rafting and rapids. Once we made ourselves comfortable on the long bamboo raft – and after not a single safety rule was given to the group, even though a large sign loomed in the car park declaring all guests must wear life jackets – we began our decent downstream. Well, the trip down the river was very relaxed and we all enjoyed the scenery around us. The best way to describe the bamboo river rafting, is to compare it to the Thai type of supping – the increasingly popular water sport.

Oh yes, I must add – I was highly unimpressed with the water snakes which kept popping their heads up and down along the way – but Jecket (our raftsman) got the drift pretty quickly that I’m not a snake lover and trying to toss them onto the raft with his bamboo oar, was not a good idea… Once the river cruise was over, we headed off for lunch – which was lovely and located on the side of the road en route to our next activity.

The final activity for the day was trekking and visiting the Karen Village. If you are expecting to visit a tribe filled with locals and see first hand the way in which these people live – then change your expectations. The walking was lovely and stopping off at a powerful waterfall along the way was wonderful, but the village did not appear to be lived in by anyone – with a few tables set up, selling souvenirs for the many tourists passing through.

All in all, we were exhausted by the end of the day but content with our decision to do the tour. Chiang Mai is difficult to navigate on your own and with an abundant amount of tour operators and guiding services on offer – it is not easy to decide which package is the best. Personally, I am no fan of the elephant trekking, but I do understand that we are extremely privileged to come from South Africa and have a different understanding and respect for these animals. Next time, I will definitely opt to spend a bit more money and go on a tour which is governed by environmentally friendly, Eco, motives.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog – I really do appreciate it! Have a happy day everyone! :) 

A Breathtaking Ancient Wonder & the Kampong Phluk Floating Village.

8 Dec

Unfortunately, no words or photographs will be able to sum up how magnificent the Angkor region really is – with thousands of tourists flocking to Siem Reap every year to catch a glimpse of this incredible Wonder of the World. We decided to make the most of the day, waking up at 4:30AM, quickly gulping down a cup of coffee and heading downstairs to meet our tuktuk driver, Adam. With the crisp morning air breezing past us, we zooted off to buy our tickets (20 Dollars for a full day pass, 40 Dollars for a 3 day pass) and to begin our day. Sunrise is breathtaking and although there are heaps of fellow tourists plonking themselves wherever they can catch a glimpse of the rising rays, there is more than enough space for everyone to find a piece of tranquility and absorb one of the most beautiful sights at such a special time of the day.

After sunrise and a stroll around the grounds, we walked outside of the temple and enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the Blue Pumpkin restaurant – where our wonderful guide, Mr V, met up with us. Once we were all ready, we jumped back on the tuktuk to begin our day exploring the Angkor region, being fed incredible information from an experienced tour guide. Paying the 30 Dollar guide fee for the day, is worth every single cent! Being able to ask questions, know where exactly you are and have an array of knowledge sitting next to you – means that the experience is made that much better.

Kamphong Phluk Floating Village

If you are planning a trip to Siem Reap, you have to go and visit a floating village! I desperately wanted to see one but the reviews were mixed and I did not want to spend unnecessary money being ripped off in another tourist scam. However, we decided to take our guide with us, which (once again) made the experience even more wonderful and ensured that we did not get ripped off. As a treat, Mr V organised an old World War Two Jeep for us to get from the guest house to the port – how lucky we were! :) The drive through the local villages, off the beaten track to the port of departure set the scene for what was to come. The drive allowed us to see how the Khmer people live, how the locals ride their bicycles from one point to another and what a local market looks like.

This year has allowed us the privilege of travelling and exploring a number of different places, but very few places can compare to the floating village experience. After cruising through the village, passing floating government buildings, a school and community hall – we stopped off at a point where the engine boat could go no further. We decided to pay $10 and hop on a much smaller, slightly less stable, canoe – paddled by a local woman. Once we managed to collide comfort with stability, we peacefully glided through the alleyways of the floating village, seeing the most incredible sights and gaining a glimmer of insight into the way in which these fascinating people live.

During the wet season, the houses are floating. During the dry season, the stilted houses stand proudly off the ground. When we visited, the water was still a considerable 8M deep. Seeing children paddling home from school, babies being bathed in buckets and fishing nets being erected around us – was a truly magnificent experience. The locals were friendly, taking little notice of our presence – often appearing blissfully unaware of the magnitude of awe and manner in which we silently pondered just how people across the world survive and the depth of gratitude we felt to be exposed to such a unique way of living.

Siem Reap travel tips…

If you are planning a trip to Cambodia, with a few days to spare in Siem Reap, don’t have an excessive budget and are looking to make the most of your time – I highly recommend hiring a tour guide and dedicating one day to the Angkor region and another to exploring a floating village. We were privileged to know people who had already spent a considerable amount of time in Siem Reap, so we did not need to spend much time figuring out the simplicities of the town, pondering what we should/should not do. I am certain that without a guide accompanying you to the floating village, you may run into some complications relating to being ripped off. However, if you do decide to go alone – you are likely to be charged $20 per person to hire the engine boat, rather than $20 for the whole boat. Also, on the optional canoe trip through the village – you will more than likely be charged a per person fee, rather than the $10 flat rate which we paid for the trip – which lasts about 45 minutes.

Bangkok to Cambodia, Noodle hot pot & just chuck it…

3 Dec

Friday marked the start of our travels and the end of a wonderful teaching era in Bangkok. Packing up our apartment, saying goodbye to the truly dear friends we have made this year and getting ready to move onto the next chapter of our lives – was by no means easy. This experience taught me a tremendous amount about myself, about others and the divine truth in realising that as human beings – we are all the same. We come from vastly different cultural, ethnic and social backgrounds – but, no matter where we have been brought up, no matter where in the world  our hearts lie – we are all the same.  The sweeter end of the bitter-sweet farewell was knowing that we have some well-earned travel time ahead of us – starting off in Cambodia! :)

First stop, Siem Reap…

Deciding on how to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia proved to be one of those ok, yes – lets fly. No, wait – lets bus. Oh no, lets fly. But, if we fly…….  And so on. The difference in price from flying to bussing was enormous – especially for those, like us, who are on a budget. Much reading and online research led us to the conclusion that a 750 Baht bus drive was our chosen mode of transport, rather than the almost 4000 Baht cheap flight. Reviews and advice had us feeling confident that we had made the right decision and reading countless tips from experienced travellers on Tripadvisors definitely aided our decision. Booking your ticket from Bangkok to Siem Reap is easy-peasy! You can either go directly to Mo Chit station, or call the Thai Ticket Major call centre on 022623456. Phoning the call centre, allows you to book your tickets over the phone – collecting and paying for your purchase at 7/11 with the booking code provided. You will be issued with a receipt which is then handed over at the Thai Ticket Major desk at the station prior to your departure.

So, in a nutshell – the bus drive is absolutely fine!! Yes, it is long. Yes, it is not the most comfortable and yes, you do need to be prepared for border/visa scams – but, overall it is an easy, extremely affordable and comfy enough trip. We opted not to acquire an online E-visa from the Cambodia Embassy before our trip as neither of us had access to credit card funds and were equally concerned that the visa would not arrive in the specified 3 working days (although I have only heard positive feedback from fellow travellers about this online service – so go for it if you have the time and have access to a credit card.) The bus leaves from Mo Chit Station (which, by the way – is not near the Mo Chit BTS station – but rather a taxi drive or quick bus drive away.)

Leaving Bangkok is easy, arriving at the Poi Pet border has the potential to be rather challenging – but be prepared, and you are A for Away! :) Before you arrive at the official border post, you will stop at an area where a man will go on the bus claiming that anyone without an E-visa needs to get off the bus and follow him to get your visa… DO NOT go with him. He leads you to a plastic, collapsable table, with an A4 printed sign saying “Make Visa Here”. If you have spent some time in South East Asia, you will know not to fall for scams like these – but unfortunately, there are many people who still do – aiding corruption and giving these arrogant individuals the power to continue ripping off innocent travellers. No sooner had a few naive tourists (determined that this was in fact the border) stepped back on the bus, was the makeshift border post folded away and the scene cleared of any evidence…  Hmmm.

Once the first visa stop is made, you will continue to the official border post where a visa is easily and legally attained. The visa cost us 800 Baht each and took all of 30 minutes to be issued. The only waiting we did was in the prefabricated building where we had to pass through the Cambodian arrivals section once our 30 day tourist visas had been issued. We stood in a long queue which moved at snails pace for over an hour – which I could imagine could be rather unpleasant in the harsh, humid summer climate. Other than that – our journey was painless, quick and easy – coming highly recommended to those travellers who are looking to travel cheap, save some cash and have the time to spare sitting on a bus soaking in the Thai and Cambodian landscape.

Wonderful Siem Reap, Cambodia.

As we were meeting my mom in Siem Reap who arrived a few days earlier, our accommodation was already booked at a lovely little place called Sweet Dreams Guesthouse. This guesthouse is conveniently located just out of the main hype of Siem Reap town, in a street filled with lots of other guesthouses. A double room with  fan and hot water costs 8 Dollars a night, the rooms are spotlessly clean, the restaurant makes delicious coffee, fruit shakes & food and the owner is delightful! I will be sure to write a full review of our stay at the end of our week! But, before we could settle our exhausted minds – Mother Dear decided to invite us along to a local dinner with some of new friends. Um, yes – this was definitely an experience… Upon arrival – besides being the only foreigners in sight – I was rather confused by the tremendous amount of litter on the restaurants floor. I was about to have sense of humor failure, unable to fathom why we would be coming to this filthy place – when my mom quickly prompted our tour guide, Mr V, to explain that in Cambodia – it is normal and acceptable to throw your litter (napkins, used chop sticks, tissue paper, beer bottles etc.) onto the floor (“just chuck it”…) – as all the rubbish is then swept and cleaned at the end of the night. I am still struggling to fathom the logic behind such a trend as it seems easier just to save time and energy by throwing your rubbish into a bin at the time – but after a while, I awkwardly followed the locals and started slipping my rubbish onto the floor. The meal? It was a traditional beef, noodle soup prepared in a hot pot – which is heated on on a gas stove, neatly placed in the middle of the table. The meal was interesting and the experience wonderful. Sunday night bedtime was warmly welcomed and our excitement to be in a new country and the realisation that we were travelling again began to settle in! :) :)

x

Evelina Galli

USE THINGS. LOVE PEOPLE. DON'T SWITCH.

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