19.02.2012 - 21.02.2012 31 °C
Hurrah! I'm alive. I survived the much-anticipated bus trip from Siem Reap to Bangkok with relative ease, although I must say it was completely exhausting and I only got about 2 hours sleep within about 32 hours, so I was very glad to arrive in my lovely hostel.
After I finished my last post on Saturday night, I had expected my night to be highly uneventful. I'd been craving the traditional Khmer Beef Lok Lak for dinner, which had been my first meal in Cambodia, but stumbled across a nice looking restaurant which offered a dish that was called something like 'Khdao' or something (I can't remember the actual name, I just know I couldn't pronounce it), and they also had mango sticky rice for $1, so my decision was made. The waitress looked at me with a concerned expression and warned me that the "Khdao" was very spicy, but I figured I'd just try it. It was actually pretty good, and the spice wasn't unbearable, and I was sure the sticky rice could ease my tongue after. But then! Horror of horrors - they had no sticky rice left! Deeply saddened, I went for a walk to see if I could find some, but the only place that I could find was a very posh-looking restaurant that had it for about $3.50, so I figured I'd give it a miss. (Although, on this walk I did see a Virak Buntham VIP bus go past, which is the one I was catching, and was relieved to see that it didn't appear to be a death trap).
Eventually I decided that I'd settle for crepes, as I'd seen them on the menu at my favourite place (Star Rise) and had wanted to try them. To my surprise, when I arrived I heard my name being called from a table of four Cambodian men sitting round sharing a meal - it was Savorn, the tuk tuk driver I met from my first night! I ordered banana and nutella crepes (they were amazing) and shared beers with Savorn and his friends for the a while. They were very polite and included me in the conversation as best they could, and just like the conversation I'd had with Savorn on my first night, it mainly revolved around issues in Cambodian politics and the democratic system. These four men were very passionate about the topic, and Savorn is hoping to keep working hard to raise money so that he can create a strong political campaign for the democratic system in Cambodia. To help with this endeavour, I ask that if any of you are ever planning on travelling to Siem Reap, you should contact him and let him show you around be your tuk-tuk driver (email: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: (+855) 12 91 07 95 OR (+855) 90 61 23 92). I'm sure he'll give you a great price and show you some really interesting things around the city!
Anyway, I left Savorn and his friends at around 11, and after much insistence that he needn't drop me back to my hostel around the corner on his moto, I walked home to wait until my bus at 2.30am. I was watching movies and relaxing, but at around 11.45 one of the staff at Bun Kao told me that the minivan was here to pick me up, as they were picking someone else up from the hostel for an earlier bus and that I would wait at the Virak Buntham office. It was pretty boring, and tiring as I didn't want to sleep with all my valuables around me, so I just watched movies and chilled out. Eventually the bus came and we all boarded on; I was lucky enough to have two seats to myself as the bus wasn't full. I watched another movie and got about and hour and a half of sleep before we stopped somewhere close to the Thai border. More people got on our bus, who had journeyed from Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, and some people actually had to stand, but luckily the trip wasn't long. We got off at the border and all lined up at the Cambodian departure queue (which was a bit of a pain in the ass). The bus operators really didn't give much instruction so I just kept an eye out for people I recognised from the bus and tried not to get lost in limbo between Cambodia and Thailand. Eventually made it across, and through the Thai border, and we kept walking until we reached another office where minivans were waiting. About 12 of us squeezed into a tiny bus, and thankfully I wasn't at the front because there was a high stack of everyones bags that wasn't secured to any extent, ready to take the two poor souls sitting next to it out. I was one of the backseat bandits and met a really great guy from Seattle named Bob. We had a good chat about travelling, and American politics (which since my conversation with Alicia I've taken a bit of an interest in...or at least I'm not as clueless). It was particularly interesting because he pretty much had a republican viewpoint, whereas Alicia was very very much a democrat, so I got a bit of a new perspective (though I didn't really agree - I like Obama). Also, Bob was a veteran of the Vietnam War. Everything I've learnt has made me very much anti-US in the context of Indochina, as I do believe they had no right or reason to be there, yet meeting a really great guy who actually fought in it for purposes other than the governments intent really got me thinking. He believed the work he was doing was helpful, such as building constructions in the south and 'protecting' the Vietnamese, yet at the same time understood that many of the decisions by key political players were not implemented for the welfare of the Vietnamese, but rather their own (irrational) fear of communism. It was an interesting conversation, and I also met the people he was travelling with which was cool, and I may end up visiting them in Seattle later in the year! Hopefully I'll have many stories to tell him by then .
As far as the journey itself went, the ride to Bangkok was certainly not as comfortable as the one had been in Cambodia, and I actually got airborne a number of times. It was actually pretty fun, like some sort of rollercoaster where I can't see where I'm going, but I was pretty glad when we were finally dropped at Khao San Rd. I hopped in a taxi, though he didn't speak much English...at all.. and when we finally got to the road the hostel could not be found. The communication barrier raised tension, but we soon realised that the hostel was just a little bit further round the bend. I felt a bit rude for raising my voice...but at the same time, I wasn't going to pay him to leave me in a completely random street in the middle of Bangkok.
I'd booked two nights at WE Hostel Bangkok, which was a little pricey (a bit over $11) but is a really really nice hostel. It's very modern in design, clean, has great internet, lockers, and each bed has its own reading light - which is great, as trying not to disturb dormmates when they're sleeping has always been a concern of mine. I met two lovely Malaysian guys in my dorm who work at top shop and were on a holiday, and then went for a bit of a walk to see what was around and get some food. To my dismay, my hostel isn't in a particularly great area; it is in the heart of Silom, which is kind of considered the 'Wall Street of Bangkok'. Google maps shows that it's only about a 15 minute walk to Siam Square, Lumphini Park and Patpong, but I really haven't had it in me to venture very far after my journey. I couldn't really find food either, as most of the restaurants were very expensive (the streets are surrounded by big businesses and embassies, and a few fancy hotels), but by some stroke of luck I wandered down a side alley and found a great little kitchen restaurant and got some chicken pad see ew for $1! I also got some ice cream (the first of many in the past two days - I have had a completely gaga craving for sugar, particularly ice cream and chocolate!). I wandered back to the hostel and fell into blissful slumber, only waking at about 11pm to a message from Rach, who I then skyped, and went back to sleep at about 2.30.
The next day also proved to be a bit of a waste of a day - though in my opinion, you need a few of them every couple of weeks. I slept in a little and then found a stall on the side of the road which also did $1 chicken pad see ew. There was a man in a government-style security uniform standing around (I believe he was security for one of the big buildings near) and he took a keen interest in me, I suppose as the 'token foreigner'. I could probably understand about 15% of what he was saying but just kept smiling, nodding and saying 'yes, oh really? wow'. It must've been a somewhat appropriate response because I saw him later that afternoon and he remembered me and wanted me to visit the next day (today). I did a short walk, probably got some ice cream, and went back to the hostel, where I met a nice English guy in my room and had a brief chat. Later in the day I went for another walk and returned to my favourite alley-way restaurant, this time trying the basil chicken (which was freaking spicy). Side note; one thing that I have noticed when I've been walking around is that in Bangkok a surprising amount of the kids are very overweight. I've noticed quite a few school kids from probably ages 10-14 who are really overweight, which is obviously surprising in an Asian country which is kind of renowned for its very skinny girls. I haven't noticed that at all in Vietnam and Cambodia, and don't remember it from last time I was in Bangkok, so perhaps it is because I seem to be staying in a relatively wealthy area where the kids may be very well fed? I don't know, but I just thought it was interesting. I basically didn't do anything too exciting for the rest of the day except lie around and watch street food being cooked and Thai life going by. Late that night I wanted to get some dinner but most things were closing near me, and I didn't have the energy to go to Patpong, so I found myself wandering through side alleys and small streets, looking at peoples one-room houses and small shops until I got a snack and fell asleep in the hostel.
This morning I did much the same, and have spent a bit of time researching uni courses for when I return (I know it's very very far off, but my brains been ticking). Basically I'd like to be multilingual, and maybe one day open up a chain of hostels, so I'm thinking of studying International Relations at ANU and maybe doing a diploma in Business or Business Administration at TAFE by correspondence while I'm studying. I guess we'll have to see. I went out this morning and stopped at a small street-side kitchen which I'd seen the day before. The ladies spoke no English whatsover and I just said 'Pad Thai?'. She pointed to a bowl of noodles which looked like flat rice noodles (like pad see ew) and I just nodded, and ended up getting a soup which contained a number of mystery meats, these noodles (which actually tasted more like gnocchi pasta than rice noodles), some herbs and a very flavoursome stock. It was pretty good, though I wasn't daring enough to finish all of the meats, but as I looked up I saw the lady pulling three cows worth (or who knows what animal) of what looked like intestines from the bowl containing the broth. I know it's a bit princess-y, but I'm glad that I'd finished my meal before seeing that.
The past two lazy days have given me time to reflect on a few things, and I've narrowed down a couple of things that I miss most (other than of course all of you guys - but there's skype for that).
1) Western plumbing
I cannot tell you how much I dream about a toilet that I can a) actually sit on and not have to squat for fear of diseases, b) be able to flush the toilet paper down the toilet and not put it into a bin, c) doesn't smell like weird sausage at certain points of the day. I'd also like to be able to control the temperature of my shower, properly shave my legs, and brush my teeth with water from the tap and not a bottle. I know I'm being a total princess, and it really isn't that bad, but when you've grown up with a certain standard it's hard to let go of. At least I haven't been sick yet. God help me in India....
2) English-speaking taxi drivers
Sometimes my favourite part of a big night out is the lengthy discussion with the taxi driver from Hurstville station, where vodka allows me to suddenly become incredibly insightful, wise and philosophical. I love talking to taxi drivers and asking about their night so far, their family, and very often their home country (as most drivers in Sydney are rarely from Australia). Unfortunately, with my experience so far taxi drivers (and to a lesser extent tuk-tuk drivers - they often speak English) in south-east Asia haven't been very chatty, and can't understand when I ask how their day has been. Obviously that's not their fault and it's simply cultural differences, but it's still something I miss.
3) Pepsi max
I guess because everyone is so skinny over here, most restaurants and stores only sell coke or pepsi, and rarely diet coke, coke zero or pepsi max. However, despite the lack of sugar, I genuinely like Pepsi Max best. If they do by some chance of luck sell 'coke light', it's always 25c-50c more expensive for some reason. Strange. I also really miss Smiths salt and vinegar chips! 'Bacon and seaweed' chips just don't really cut it.
Now I've packed and checked out and am just waiting at the hostel until I hear news from Holly and Riley, who are flying in from Hanoi right now, but communication has been difficult with them so I'm not sure of the plan. We may move to Khao San Rd or find a new hostel somewhere. Super keen to see them!