Sunday, May 27, 2007

Mekong Delta

I set off from Phnom Penh yesterday, down the Mekong River to cross the Cambodian boarder into Vietnam and the Mekong Delta. Although the rainy season has just started there are just emerald green rice paddies as far as the eye can see and you cannot believe how busy everything is here and how dependant life is on the river. There are hardly any Westerners here at the moment which means that everything is really quiet and you keep on bumping into the same people, which is great as you compare notes and know that you will see each other later on the journey, as you follow similar routes up the coast.

As I was the only one on the boat from the border my guide Jade decided that I should learn some Vietnamese and so far so good as at least they use the same alphabet as us even though the pronunciation is tricky. I am officially from Nam Phi (South Africa) and without fail the very next question is "Why are you not black?" They seem to be very puzzled and I travelled around with two Americans today, one of whom has Asian parents which confused everyone even more. After spending the night in Chau Doc we went up the Sam mountain this morning to visit the cave pagoda and look out over the delta towards the Cambodian-Vietnamese boarder, then we took a row boat through the floating city where everything from the petrol station to post office is only accesible by boat and the local supermarket comes to you and moars outside your houseboat's door. Here we visited one of the Cham minority villiages were they tried to teach me how to weave but it is complicated and I am not coordinated enough! And last but not least the food in Vietnam so far has been fantastic! Rice pancakes, delicious noodle soups (R3.50) and more once I am feeling more adventurous (still recovering from a Cambodian bug... but thanks to Dr Carkeek and Dr Butler I am prepared for anything, but maybe not bird flu from the ducklings - one for 2000 dong - only R1!). I have another day exploring the delta and then on to bright lights of Ho Chi Min City (aka Siagon). Gotta respect Uncle Ho and not the Frenchies even though they introduced cheese, bagettes and some pretty buildings to the area.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Playing Survivor on Rabbit Island....

While ralaxing on the beach at Sianouk Ville was nice, it started to feel like Cos da la Cambodia and it was time to head off down the coast to Kampot where there is not much but a pretty provincial capital, a few pepper plantations and lots of fresh crab. I met up with a great Norwegian couple, Inge and Vaski and we became firm friend when we instantaneously agreed to pay double for our share taxi - the norm in Cambodia is 6 passengers and 1 driver in a sedan and the driving is scary enough. You are also fined by the police for this (you as the passengers are expected to pay these fines...) but we were shortly joined by Trevor from Manchester who is a travelling anomaly and deserves a mention....

Trevor is a 39 year old, wiry, chain-smoking Mancunian who has been travelling for 7 months and is a connoisseur of beer, prostitutes and massages, as he will soon tell you. He has been to India, Sri Lanka etc and recently came from Thailand where he saw the country - 3 weeks in Bangkok with his new girlfriend, eating some "good Western food" - Mac Donalds (for the first 8 days), Pizza Hut and Burger King. He then went to Siam Reip (Ankor) didn't see any temples. Why travel you ask? Because it is cheap, the beer is even cheaper and he is looking for love and might try yoga.... Trev invited himself out to dinner on our first night with the words "I could murder some sweet and sour chicken!" when Inge, Vaski and I mentioned that we should try a Chinese-Khmer restaurant that specialised in crab and then complained that he didn't know how we could eat such things. He is only in Kampot as his credit card was lost/stolen and was waiting for a new one. Oi va voi!

The next day we set off to Bokor National Park which includes the Elephant Mountains and is the site of a French Hill Station built in the 1920's as a retreat for the rich of Phnom Penh. The small town consisted of a hotel and casino perched on a cliff above the jungle, a bank and post office and church. Apparently people used to gamble away all their money at the casino and if the bank couldn't help (or your preys weren't being answered) they used to throw themselves off the hotel terrace over the cliff into the jungle! The hill station then fell into ruin in the early 70's and was the battle site between the Khmer Rough and the Vietnamese. The buildings are now covered in moss and lichen, are incredibly eary and mist flows round the mountain top adding to the effect.

Bumping along in the back of the bukkie (with 14 people in total - and you thought mini bus taxis were bad!) - we soon became friends with Zoe from Newcastle and Mark a drama teacher who is helping disabled Cambodians, and decided to set off to Rabbit Island the next day. It is an extremely beautiful island with no water, electricity or Westerners just you, the beach, a grass hut and friendly cow roaming the beach - Survivor Cambodia! After 2 nights Zoe and I decided to vote ourselves off the island and headed to Kep for a night of luxury, as we had hot showers! It was then on to Phnom Penh accompanied by Roland Keeting in the bus - his number one group of fans is the entire Cambodian nation - were I explored more of the city, including the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields but lay low waiting for my visa to Vietnam as I had picked up a bug as a souvenir from the island, but such are the joys of travelling!



This is not Alex, its Greg, but i have taken a break from my intensive regimen of Facebooking, eating, and sleeping to post Alex's photos... i will post them on Joumaseblog if you like as well, you need only ask!

Keep it real,


Al's pics - Islands

Al's pics - Kanchanaburi, Ayuthaya, Sukothai

Al's pics - Chiang Mai

Al's pics - Cambodia

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Into Cambodia

I have been trying to update the blog for days but Cambodian technology has been against me and I finally found a pc with a CD drive and UBS port! Well, I can't believe that a little over 2 weeks ago we packed our backpacks and took the sleeper train south from Chaing Mai back to Bangkok. Chaing Mai is an amazing city and after spending 5 days there, cooking (, exploring on foot as our nerves needed a break,
more watting, and visiting the most amazing street market we had ever been too, as well as visiting the Royal gardens and a temple which is perched on a hill over looking the city, we were reluctant to leave.

We spent a brief day in Bangkok visiting the Royal Palace and the surrounding Wats before exploring China town were we were staying before heading East to the Cambodian boarder. The Palace was amazing as you have never seen so much gold leaf and paint and the attention to detail is truly impressive. Even the flower pots are ancient and must be worth a fortune (trust me to notice the plants...).

The first half of the trip to Cambodia started off well, we were in a bus with functioning air conditioning etc but things slowly when downhill as we approached the boarder post... After fighting with the boarder police (as we refused to pay him his bribe as he was ripping us off) we eventually got out visa's without the threatened wait of 3 hours for 100 extra Baht and were mobbed at the boarder by 5 special "government tour guides" and confronted by a sea of mud. We got on the free van which was supposed to take us to the bus station and instead dropped us off at the worst bus company in Cambodia. We were harassed into buying tickets after wading though sludge to escape the totes only to wait 4 hours for the bus which was always coming in the next half an hour. Eventually we were loaded into a minibus and driven out of town. Yay, we were on the road. The worst road in the world but we were moving. And moving to a special remote place were our bus lay in pieces and was being reassembled for us.... Another hour later and the bus from a century ago was "ready" despite the fact that the floor was still littered with bus parts. The the fun really began as 6 hours of spine crunching, bump numbing torture started. At the end of the trip the bus driver was lying to us, wouldn't let us out of the bus in the town we were going to until 20 farang were screaming at him to stop an tuk-tuks were chasing us to see where it would all end. Oui va voi! Not a good start to Siam Riep and Cambodia but we were all united in our ordeal and became friends.

After a days break, we set off with our Ried (a.k.a the cowboy), our tuk-tuk driver to explore the temples of Ankor Wat which were truely spectacular. We were in awe most of the time and the cravings and statues were amazing. On the first day we concentrated on the main temples close to the town, with the second day spent driving through the countryside to some carvings in the stone of a river bed so that the waters of Ankor were blessed before they entered the anchient city. On the last day we explored the remaining temples and went to Rolous on a ride that was so scary that we had to close our eyes! Cowboy was on good form....

Our last night in Siam Reip we spent like true tourists with a buffet while watching some Apsara dancers which we very beautiful and controlled. Then it was a last drink at the funky munky, a bar run by an English couple who raise money for the local charities through quiz nights etc. On Monday morning Greg and I parted ways though the puddles of water and rain, with him setting out on the road through hell again, this time in a taxi back to Thailand and SA, while I headed south solo, to Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh is a crazy city with beautiful deserted french colonial buildings standing abandoned next too modern complexes and official offices. But these buildings are not totally empty as they are home to the cities monkeys! And when they want to head to the near by parks to steal food they just walk along the telephone wires!

After one day spent sightseeing and walking along the Mekong river I headed further South out of the hot city to Sounak Ville on the coast. Here I have spent the last few days lying on the beach on a deck chair which has been great as I have been trying to read about Cambodia's history. There are millions of totes on the beach though and one lady took it apon herself to give me a makeover - I must have been looking scruffy, but before I knew it my toenails were bright pink. Today we took a trip down a mangrove lined river in the bordering National Park and after getting stuck in the mud eventually arrived at a deserted beach where we swam and then trekked through the jungle to enjoy a barracuda bbq surrounded by sea hawks and loads of birds. Loving the cheap fresh seafood and it has been good to explore but heading on tomorrow to Kampot and Kep for a few more days beforegoing back to Phnom Penh.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Watting in Northern Thailand

Well cycling in Auytthaya was as experience were life flashed before your eyes as we tried to navigate our way through the streets of the city, with motorbikes driving on the wrong side of the road towards us, tuk-tuks, buses, stray dogs, trucks - basically anything goes on the streets of Thailand. In amongst the din of the traffic all I heard was Greg shouting "Oh, my Jesus!", (well I 'spose the Jews do stick together), as we weaved our way through the 6 lane roads on our way to the temples situated in the middle of the road. Greg insisted that he drove in front, even though I was the one who knew which way we were going (?), but apparently his nerves couldn't take my super speedy skillful traffic negotiations. If you don't assert yourself you will get run over! And considering we were riding bikes from the 60's with no gears, helmets etc (I would have liked a bell to go with my basket) we didn't do to badly.

The temples were amazing and are all set in parkland which we could cycle through with relative ease and little chance of being killed - huge ornate chedis, buddahs, lots of relief work and only a few farang which was great. Next we headed off to Sukhothai a 6 hour journey to the North, on the VIP bus for only R60, lunch included were we stayed in the best guest house in Thailand so far, Baan Thai. The next day we headed out to Sukhothai Historical park foe more cycling - this time my bright pink Fairy bike did have a bell and a basket! It was just missing the streamers and it would have been used in My Girl. The temples here were also incredible but more spread out and out of the city center. After cycling over 20km in the heat we headed back to town only to get caught in a torrential downpour but managed to swim through the streets which had become rivers back to our bungalow.

We arrived in Chaing Mai yesterday, were we have splashed out and gotten a room with aircon and a TV (Greg has to watch some of the rugby this weekend....) and spent the afternoon exploring the old city and the night market last night. This morning was rather lazy as we wandered around and when the rain started what were we to do but duck into a temple for an hour massage before the most delicious lunch. We went to a workers cafe were they only serve 4 dishes, chicken with rice, dipping sauces and soup, fried chicken or pork and rice, or pork stay with cucumber salad and rice. Outstanding and all for R24 with drinks. We might have to go back again... We are doing a thai cookery course tomorrow on a farm outside of Chiang Mai, tales of which I'm sure will definitely make it on to the blog.