After about 25 hours of travel and layovers, Matt and I arrived safely home.
The sky here in Wellington is so blue, really noticeable after our month in smog pollution and dusty haze.
It was good to have a reminder of how lucky we are in New Zealand. The things I missed the most were being able to:
Flush toilet paper (SE Asia sewerage system can’t cope with paper)
Drink water straight from the tap
Brush my teeth with an electric toothbrush – they feel so much smoother now!
Our bottled water consumption over 6 days in Thailand. Fourteen 1.5L bottles and another few 500ml bottles. So. Much. Plastic. Many local families don’t have water filters in their home, so buy bottled water like we did. To reduce our plastic use,we travelled with a portable water filter, but it broke about two weeks into our trip.
So, that’s all for this blog about our trip. We’ve treated this a bit like a diary, more for us to look back on than for anyone else to read! But if you have been following it, thanks for your interest, and we hope it’s been interesting to you as well.
Yesterday, we visited some of Bangkok’s famous attractions via a boat along the Chao Phraya river.
We walked the periphery of the King’s Palace, but decided not to go in, because it cost about $25 NZD per person, and was packed full of tourists and annoying tour groups.
We also visited the Wat Pho and the Wat Arun. The Wat Pho also had a hefty cover charge of $10 NZD each so we again wandered around the outside. We’ve seen heaps of temples by now, and while they are all amazing, there’s not much new to see in them.
In the evening, we visited the Ratchaduk night market. After Chatachuk Market on our first day, this market seemed small and uninteresting… Except that I finally got to eat some insects! We tried the grasshoppers – they were really delicious and had a great texture. I couldn’t quite bring myself to order the silk worms, because they looked like giant maggots…
We start our long flight home this afternoon. There is a tropical storm due to hit southern Thailand this evening, and we are hoping that it won’t affect our travel. See you soon, NZ!
We have really been enjoying Bangkok. The people are friendly, the temperature is more tolerable and the public transport is much better, with a rail system that while not quite as good as the one in Singapore, means we can get around by ourselves and don’t need to rely on taxis etc. We have been mostly walking around various markets and going to places like Lumphini Park so far, and ducking into any of the multitudes of huge shopping malls when we want some aircon. One oddity to us is the Crows in all the parks – we don’t have them in NZ but here they are as common as Pigeons.
A couple of nights ago we caught the train over to Taksin Bridge to watch the New Years fireworks, we heard they were good and were not disappointed. The display was about 15 minutes long with constant barrages of huge fireworks from two locations, one right by us and one further along the river. Even though we arrived over an hour before the display it was still people packed in shoulder to shoulder across the whole bridge.
Today we wandered through Chinatown – it seems every big city anywhere in the world has a Chinatown – and then went to the Snake Farm at the Red Cross institute. This is a real working snake farm where they breed snakes to harvest their venom to make anti-venom, but also has exhibits and a daily show where the handlers bring out lots of different snakes from harmless ones to big King Cobras etc. None of them are de-fanged, all of them are extremely lethal and handlers let them out and then catch them again while you watch. The Cobras are really aggressive, some of the others are more docile. At the end we got to hold a big Burmese Python.
Tomorrow we are going to go to a couple of the biggest temples, we have been saving them to the last day as we have been seeing a lot of temples on this trip and we wanted a break from them. We have another half day on Friday before we fly out in the afternoon but have not made any plans yet.
Matt and I landed safely in Bangkok the night before last. Our first impressions are good, and it is a big contrast to Cambodia. The people here seem nicer and more happy to help you, the roads are cleaner and easier to walk, there is efficient and easy-to-navigate public transport (luxury!). All the benefits of being a richer country.
We spent yesterday exploring the Chatuchak weekend market. It is the largest market in Thailand, and covers a whopping 27 acres of land. It is divided up into 27 sections for different goods: books, clothing, handcrafts, etc. Despite the huge number of stalls, we didn’t see too much repetition. We explored maybe one-eighth of it, bought a few souvenirs, and tried some of the yummy foods on offer.
We are staying in a very non-touristy part of town, and there are hardly any dinner options near our apartment. But there is a sushi place opposite us, so we went there last night, expecting something similar to what we get in NZ, but it was so much better than that. We think they might have messed up our order, but we got a big bowl of sashimi for less than $20 NZD – salmon, roe, octopus, squid, eel, other fish that we didn’t recognise… and it was soooo good. We feel like we should be eating Thai food here, but because Thailand is so influenced by other Asian cultures, it’s a good opportunity to experience other cuisines here too.
Tonight we are going to Bangkok’s waterfront to watch the New Year’s fireworks. We think we’ve found a spot that won’t be too crowded – fingers crossed!
As Lisa has said below, a lot of our time in Siem Reap has been spent in the Angkor National Park. This complex was build in the 12th century but was slowly lost to the jungle over the centuries and was only rediscovered by the French in the 19th century. More recently it has been under constant restoration – at least the more main temples like Angkor Wat. There are countless smaller temples, some of which have been left as they were found and are nicer to explore as they aren’t full of tourists.
The main/most famous temple is the Angkor Wat. This is a huge complex and the tallest tower is over 60m tall. No building in Siem Reap is allowed to be taller – similar to the area around the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. The scale is immense, there is a huge moat and outer walls and the main inner temple. Other large temples we visited were Bayon, Baphoun and Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is unique and very cool as it has been left with the jungle close around it and huge trees growing on and through the stone walls. Ta Prohm was apparently used for the filimg of some scenes of the Tomb Raider movie, but I didn’t know that until now as I have not seen the movie or played those video games.
The next day we went back by ourselves and explored some of the smaller temples, many of which don’t seem to have names, some of them were quite hidden and had no other tourists and were also in the shade of the jungle which was nice as shade does not seem to be much of a thing in a lot of Cambodia and when it’s well over 30 degrees is very welcome. The sun here is so much more intense than at home.
We have otherwise just wandered round a bit, but mostly in the early morning or evenings because of the aforementioned heat. Personally I am getting a bit over things as Cambodia is not as different from Vietnam as I’d hoped, plus getting as sick as we did has been a bit of a downer for me. I expected to get a bit sick given you are playing a bit of roulette with some of the food here, but I have never had food poisoning like that!. We both spent pretty much 24 hours in bed with a fever and full on muscle aches on top of the usual gastric distress and slept a fair amount of the day – and I can never usually sleep during the day. I’m also getting pretty sick of being seen as just a wallet by the locals, I sympathise with their situation to some degree but it means you can never have any real meaningful interaction, every single conversation is a sales pitch and I struggle to hold my tongue when every 5 seconds you have someone shouting “TUK TUK? WHERE YOU GOING?” as you walk down the street even when you firmly shake your head or straight up ignore them. We’ve had a couple of Tuk Tuk drivers try and scam us too – one after taking a ride said his quoted price was per person – stuff like that. He gave up pretty quick when he realised we weren’t going to back down though – they get away with it because I think a lot of people don’t want the confrontation and give in.
We otherwise had a good night last night at the circus though – we arrived early to get great seats and the money goes to a good cause – all the performers come from bad backgrounds and the circus exists to help people escape poverty and give them a career. The performance was refreshingly simple compared to some big international circuses and had excellent live music.
Tonight we are flying to Bangkok where we are based for 6 days. We don’t have any travel to other areas booked but may try to take some day trips to other areas close to Bangkok. With the size of Bangkok we may have enough to keep us occupied without having to go far though.
Matt and I have spent the last one and a half days exploring the Angkor Wat temples. The amount of work that went into them is mind-blowing, and they are quite amazing. Though they are getting a little bit samey now…
Yesterday, we went on a small guided tour with six other people and visited the ‘big three’: Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm (or the Tomb Raider Temple), and the pinnacle Angkor Wat. I was still quite unwell, so the first half of the day is a blur for me. Today, we re-visited some of the areas within Angkor Thom that we didn’t get to see yesterday.
Matt and I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum today, at the site of S-21, one of the secret prisons during the Khmer Rouge’s reign.
The Khmer Rouge was in power between 1975 to 1979. During that time, almost one-quarter of the Cambodian population were either murdered (‘perceived’ supporters of the enemy, scholars, non-Khmer ethnic groups), or died from starvation or fatigue, due to the Khmer Rouge’s strict regime and poor economic policies.
It was a very moving experience. We purchased the audio tour and walked through the exhibits with a Khmer person telling us (in English) the story of what happened. We spent about three hours there. It gave us a greater understanding of and respect for the Khmer people.
After that, we were lucky enough to do a tour with some locals – Matt’s colleague Thida (who grew up in Cambodia and moved to NZ 20 years ago) and D (a local). We visited Wat Phnom, a Bhuddist/Taoist temple where D gave us incense sticks and Thida told us to make a wish – although not fitting within my belief system, it felt timely after all that we’d heard in the morning…
We also visited a local restaurant where I tried a local delicacy of fertilised duck egg. It was tasty, if I didn’t think about or look at what I was consuming. It tasted a bit like chicken liver. You could see the feathers of the baby duck which put me off a bit. I didn’t manage to finish it.
We feel really lucky to have been able to spend that time with Thida and D and it was great to learn more from them about Khmer culture.
Our first day in Cambodia has been good, but very hot. On the whole, it feels a bit cleaner and more ordered than Vietnam.
Very few places here have air conditioning, including the museums. We visited the National Museum, which had a lot of sculpture and art from early Cambodia. We had lunch at the cafe there, and it was amazing – one of the best meals we have had on our trip. We tried the fish amok (a mild coconut curry) which is a traditional Khmer dish. It was really fresh and flavoursome, and arrived in a coconut, what a novelty! We also had a lime, lychee, and mint smoothie – delicious.
We then visited the Royal Palace, but by that point it was starting to get too hot to spend much time there. Photos of the inside are not allowed, but the outside gives you an idea of its grandeur:
It feels a lot hotter here than it did in Singapore and Ho Chi Minh, even though the temperatures are about the same. Singapore had lots of trees and Ho Chi Minh had lots of smog; Cambodia has neither, and the sun really beats down in the middle of the day. One of my pairs of trousers go really dark when they get wet, so I had a sweat-stained butt for the whole of our first day (I felt VERY self-concious, and bought some new trousers on the way back to our hotel). We’ve seen some locals in hoodies though! How they don’t get heatstroke, I don’t know…
There are lots of temples here and many Bhuddist monks walking around in their beautiful saffron robes. They leave their clean ones drying on the balconies of the temples, which is quite a cool sight.
Matt and I visited the Saigon Zoo in the morning before our flight to Cambodia. The zoo was amazing and allowed us to get up close to the animals.
But, for nearly all of the animals, the cages were small, mostly concrete (no grass) and had very few ‘fun’ things for them to do. The lions are a good example:
At the zoo, I also had a fun conversation with some young Vietnamese school kids who spoke pretty good English, and could understand my Kiwi accent. One of them was born in Canada, and I asked her if one of her parents was Canadian, but she didn’t understand what I was asking, so I rephrased to ‘Why were you born in Canada?’ She explained that her mum went over to Canada, then she giggled and gave me (I think) the Vietnamese word for sex. It was quite funny, and it was nice to be able to talk to a ‘local’.
Nervous travelers that we are, we arrived super-early for our flight to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. As Matt mentioned, our flight went without a hitch. We’ll post here soon about our first impressions of Cambodia.