Lost in Thailand

>This is what happened and what didn’t happen.

After finishing up in Siem Reap visiting Angkor Wat et al, my plan was to head to Poipet and from there catch a bus to Chong Mek (Thailand), immediately heading to Pakse, Southern Laos. This wasn’t my preferred option as I really would have liked to head to Stung Kreng (spelling?!?) and then overland from Cambodia directly into Laos (skipping Thailand altogether for the moment), but was advised this was too hard and expensive and not worth the hassle. Fair enough, I’m not into undue hassle so I took the supposed easy route.

What I did manage was getting from Siem Reap to Poipet, crossing though immigration and into Thailand (stopping for a Magnum ice cream on the way!). This was prebooked so no great feat on my part.

From here it gets a bit strange. On the advice of a bus driver I took a tuk-tuk to the bus station and there boarded what I believed was a bus to Chong Mek. This would be too simple of course. In fact the bus wasn’t going to Chong Mek at all, although I understood that it would be heading at least towards there. To make matters worse, I didn’t even have any baht to pay for the fare. Yeah yeah, so I’m to blame for that one. I was just so used to using US dollars in Cambodia that I thought it wouldn’t be a problem doing the same for emergencies in Thailand. No such luck. Fortunately there was one lady on the bus who took pity on me and made her sister pay my fare. This was also the lady who told me that the bus wasn’t going to Chong Mek but to some place on no map I have ever seen.

Here I was faced with the prospect of being in a place I didn’t know, with no money, very little understanding of Thai and very little chance that anyone would speak English. My chances of getting accommodation slim, and everything else probably impossible.

Again fortune was with me as the same lady who made her sister pay my bus fare, invited me to stay at her place. I accepted straight away. It wasn’t until later that I thought this could be a bit iffy given that I didn’t know her, where I was or where she was taking me (perhaps somewhere to steal my money – although as I didn’t have any this wouldn’t have been any fun for her). I didn’t really have an option though so I gratefully followed her on her way home, which was another bus ride of one hour in the complete opposite direction to where I was headed.

By the time we got there I was exhausted and concerned about where I was and how I would get any money to get out. These problems soon left my mind though as everyone in the village seemed to be related and turned up to visit their exciting guest from Australia staying at their humble home. My spoken Thai really is pathetic and although a few of the girls knew some English, most of the conversation was based on smiling faces and nodding. It wasn’t long before I was drinking (sprite) with one guy who kept filling my glass (good thing it wasn’t alcohol) and giving me the thumbs up. He was a hoot but eventually his wife dragged him away so one of the other twenty people could sit beside me. For entertainment value I took out some photos I had developed and showed them around. Major excitement and in the end I ended up giving quite a few of them away and autographing the back with the promise to send more in the mail at a later date.

Eventually I moved on to another house where I was asked to stay and I slept on the ground in the living room with the rest of the family.

By the morning I had learned to say dog and duck in Thai (useful?) and a few other things which I now forget. One quick ride on the back of a motorbike to the nearest town so I could change money at the bank … which was closed. But again I was in luck, the ATM accepted my card and gave me money! I think my Rocky style jumping up and down was a highlight for everyone around, but I didn’t care. I had money, I could pay back my debts and get back on the road.

The lovely Thai family all posed for a photo, then took me to the road where I could catch a passing bus still in the complete opposite direction to where I was heading, but it was a bus nonetheless. I ended up changing my plans altogether and headed north to Nong Khai (where I am now) and where I will cross into Vientiane (Laos) tomorrow morning. This is only about 600km from where I had planned to be the day before, but what the hell. Now I’m in a town within sight of a place that I have at least heard of.

I must say that the hospitality of the Thai family was beautiful and I should never have worried, but for about 24 hours I had no idea where I was. Now I have another great experience to add to my travels and I remember again how fortunate I am to have the life that I have.

Lana and family – oops, sorry this was probably a bad risk to take but I didn’t have an option and it’s all ok in the end (plus I will be good from now on).

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Throwing up in Cambodia

>Since I last emailed you all, so much has happened … and as I posted my first travel journal home, I’m not sure that I will be able to remember more than a little. I think I left you when I was in Kunming, China about to head off to Bangkok and eventually Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Well, from what I remember, the room I took in Bangkok was the smallest ever although not the cheapest. It was quite easy to touch either wall of the bedroom with my outstretched arms and hands, and although it was long enough to fit a single bed, it wasn’t able to fit much else. Aside from this, the room was nice enough and it was in a better area than the dreadful Khao San Road.

Bangkok itself it a good place to stop if you need to stock up on toiletries but otherwise I think there are much better places to be. Whilst there, all I really managed was a trip to a Wat and to the Grand Palace, which I’m sure is so Grand because of the price they charge people to visit!

Next stop, Vietnam. This was a little tricky as I didn’t have my Vietnam visa with me, planning instead to pick it up from the airport having organised it on the internet. Could have been dodgy, but in the end it all worked out wonderfully and then before I knew it I was back in Ho Chi Minh City where I met up with Jens and Natsue. My time with Jens was amazing and I didn’t realise that two people could have such a strong bond in such a short time. To be with Jens when we heard of the terrible terrorist attack on the US was more than I could ask for.

For the first time in Vietnam I took time to relax on the beach at Mui Ne as there is basically nothing else to do there. If you did want to wander a little bit, there are some great sand dunes nearby and for 5000d (less than one aussie dollar) you can hire a piece of flat plastic to slide down the dune. We only did this twice, as walking back up isn’t near as much fun as going down, and I didn’t manage to slide down too efficiently anyway. We did hire a motorbike once or twice as well but the roads are usually too chaotic and it’s best to stay away. My riding isn’t the best either, as Jens will testify, but I did avoid one collision and almost popped a wheelie at the lights in another instance.

From Mui Ne Jens, myself and the remaining Germans I had met in my previous venture into Vietnam (Sabrina, Oli, Agate) headed south to the Mekong Delta. This was all very beautiful and different than anything I had yet seen, although the floating market was a disappointment … possibly because it was raining so hard all the locals thought it futile to be out trading in such weather.

Eventually it was time for my German friends to depart even though my German language was still in a poor state. So with many tears at the airport and great hopes for their safe flight home, I wished them well and embarked on the next leg of my journey – Cambodia.

If you haven’t yet heard, the roads in Camboida are amazing. I’m yet to be convinced that they are roads at all but as most of the alternative is water, there is little option. Always remember, never sit in the back of the bus unless you like a little bit of air time on your journey. More than a few times I was dozing off, only to wake up flying upwards before settling uncomfortably back down on the seat below.

The first stop in Cambodia was the capital Phnom Penh. This is a lovely city. For so many years it has been devastated by war but this hasn’t removed its charm. I can’t say exactly what it is about the place that appeals to me but I genuinely enjoyed being there.

Of the things to see in Phnom Penh, the things which rate most highly are the S21 Genocide Museum – where the Khmer Rouge housed many thousands of prisoners, torturing and killing them. The pictures of these attrocities are terrible and the fact that the Khmer Rouge took such pride in their brutality (by recording it all in photos) is just awful. Next is the Killing Fields where the victims of S21 and others were buried in mass graves. There is not much here apart from pits in the ground which represent the exhumed graves. There is also one building filled with the skulls of the exhumed. In general, the Killing Fields was so terrible that I was almost throwing up from the smell, even though there was no smell at all, just in my mind.

Also in Phnom Penh, travellers can head out to the Atillery Range to try a selection of weapons. From the horrific things I had seen so far in this country, perhaps this is not the most socially responsible thing to do, but at the time it seemed like a bit of fun, something I definitely needed.

Usually I am terrible at aiming so the fact that I hit the target at all was astounding. I tried four different weapons including a ruger22, shotgun, M16 and an MK57. Personally I think the M16 was the most fun, the shotgun seemed a bit too powerful and I still didn’t really manage to hit anything other than a few dregs of pellets landing on the target.

My last evening in Phnom Penh was spent alone as my new friends had already departed. Instead of eating at the local guesthouse I ventured off to the riverfront where there are many lovely and expensive restaurants (due to a large ex pat community). I hadn’t been sitting there too long when I heard what I thought was the repeated (four) backfiring of a car … frighteningly enough, it wasn’t this at all, it was real gunshots. Only 10 metres away from where I was sitting, someone had been killed. I was assured by the restaurant staff that it was safe to stay where I was for the moment so this I did until another gunshot was fired. At this point we were all ushered inside only to be told later that it was just the police firing to disperse the crowd. None of this made me feel particularly comfortable even though I was assured that westerners are “generally” safe.

Eventually I did manage to get safely back to my guesthouse, gave my moto driver a nice tip for his trouble and retired to my room. Unfortunately from this point onwards things haven’t been well. I spent the night throwing up, sorry for the detail, but dinner didn’t agree with me and have been unwell ever since. The following morning I thought none too highly of getting up at 6am to take a five hour boat ride to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) but what other option did I have given that the non refundable ticket cost US$22. So a wonderful journey it was. Fortunately for the horrible Frenchman beside me, who earned this title for cruelly elbowing me in the stomach, I didn’t throw up. If I did I was planning to simply turn his way and apologise pathetically just as he did when he elbowed me.

For now I am in Siem Reap. Kind of like base camp for Angkor Wat but for the moment I am unable to move too far as I am still quite ill. In two days I have managed just two cans of sprite but I’m sure I will pick up soon enough.

This is probably enough for you all, please get back to work, I’m sure I have bothered you enough already.

Best wishes to you all and please send me your tales and adventures too.

Love Cheryl