A Travellerspoint blog

Off to Cambodia

Border to Siem Reap and Angkor

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After a 6-hour bus ride from Bangkok, we arrived at the lovely Cambodian border town Poipet. I (Justin) overpaid our visa fee, which zipped us through the border in about 1 hour, instead of 2-3 hours (basically sweetening the coffee of the border patrol, you gotta love corruption!). We had heard that the town of Poipet was about the worst place in all of Cambodia, and it definitely lived up to it’s reputation.

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The chaotic border crossing. Adding to the confusion, the two countries drive on different sides of the road!

From there we had two options to get to Siem Reap, a 5 hour bus ride or a 3 hour cab ride on the infamous “nightmare road”. The bus ride was $10 pp, and the taxi was $40 for the whole car. We asked everyone around the border we could find until we managed to locate a Finnish couple who had the same timesaving idea that we had. So we were off! We think the taxi drivers either have an ongoing bet who can make the best time, or who can make the most people in the car pee their pants, because this guy flew. While speeds of 55 mph may not seem like that fast, you have to realize what this road is like. I had to remove my sunglasses as they kept on falling off and my head literally hit the ceiling many times. In addition to the road conditions, there are no real traffic lanes, nor considerations of imaginary traffic lanes in Cambodia. We were all over that road, into oncoming traffic, swerving around animals, people, whatever. It was like we were in the Baja 5000 in a Toyota Camry; I can't believe that car made the trip. After a 12-hour day of travel, we kissed the solid ground in Siem Reap and made our way to a guesthouse.

The next day we headed off to explore the ancient ruins of the Khmer Empire. The Khmer Empire established it’s capital in the area of what is now Siem Reap in the early 9th Century. The empire at its greatest extended over the valleys of the lower present-day Thailand and the lower present-day Cambodia and Vietnam and north into Laos. The capital city was centered around the massive Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious structure. When Europe was in the Dark Ages and London only had 50,000 residents, Angkor has 3 million inhabitants and the ability to build some of the greatest temples ever built.

Angkor Wat
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Justin at the top of Angkor Wat.

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The view above the trees.

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They built glorious temples throughout the city, all with extensive carvings. The temples were all made of stone and were built to house the Gods. The empire thrived for hundreds of years until the Thais captured Angkor and the capital was abandoned in the 1400’s. The only surviving structures today are made of stone, as the wooded ones were either burned or taken back by the jungle.

The size and ornateness of the temples is quite mind boggling, I hope these pictures do it justice, a few of them have a good looking model or two in them for perspective.

Banyon

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There are over 200 of these large faces on this temple, pointing in the 4 directions of the compass.

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Ta Prohm

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This temple has been taken over by the jungle and the massive banyan roots.

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Preah Khan

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Justin showing some novice monks a few pictures from home.

We toured the temples for two days with a guide that took us around in a tuk-tuk. The third day we rented bikes from town and saw the sites on our own.

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The town of Siem Reap was very nice with lots of restaurants and nightlife to keep the tourists happy. We were overwhelmed at times by the constant begging and the onslaught of people selling the same thing over and over again. It was very heart wrenching to have a 5-year-old carrying a 6-month-old follow you saying, “poor, milk, help”. We at times would buy a carton of milk for the child, but once that happened the kids came out of everywhere after you, which made us feel that we were not greatly impacting the child’s life by this small offering. We decided that money was not the best thing, because it would probably just go to the parents sitting around the corner, so we mainly have given food, which the kids usually eat on the spot. Hey, we can’t all be like Angelina Jolie, who by the way has a drink named after her at one of the places in town. We have had many discussions between us and other travelers about the children and the overall poverty situation in Cambodia and we have not found a solution (big surprise), but maybe the fact that we are openly discussing this between us, other travelers, and now you is a step in the right direction to finding a way to help.

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Overwhelmed by bracelet sellers.

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To follow are just a few other photos of some of the things we have seen here in Cambodia. You’ll notice several pictures dealing with various methods of transportation by the locals, which still amaze us.

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They will ride for hours on the top of trucks and vans like this. This was a mild case, we saw many much more loaded.

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Supposedly, this is not a frog or a toad. Not sure what it is, but it's cute!

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We accept the photo assignment given by Coomey (iwannafly), and will be keeping our eyes open.

Posted by rebmamber 01:38 Archived in Cambodia Comments (6)

Leaving Thailand

...for now

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We left the islands on a 12-hour overnight bus journey back to Bangkok. It was a very interesting evening to say the least. It is nice to save a night's accommodation, but you really never get much sleep, nor do you get to see any of the countryside. Also, the bus drops you off at 5:30 in the morning in downtown Bangkok, which is an adventure in itself. Having nowhere to go, we hired a tuk-tuk to drop us off at Wat Arun, a temple along the river, where we were able to see the sunrise.

Back in Bangkok, we were lucky to stay with Jup, Pum and Patty, the Thai family we have befriended thanks to Eric & Ying. The first night we were with them, they took us out to a German restaurant. We initially thought it was funny to be visiting a German restaurant in Thailand, but we stopped laughing when we realized they had dark beer on tap. Any of you who have been over this way will understand that the beer in Thailand is horrible, unless you like flavorless lagers (Brian). An interesting thing that we finally learned that night is that Thai servers will keep filling your beer unless you tell them not to, hide your glass, and run out the door.

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The next day Jup, Pum, & Patty all took the day off and we headed out to Ayuthaya, the old capital of Thailand. We saw the ancient ruins that were abandoned in the 1700's when the Burmese attacked the capital city and burned everything that could burn and did their best to destroy everything else. They even cut the heads off all the Buddha statues, which boggled our minds, as the Burmese are Buddhists themselves. We also visited several wonderful temples and, of course, ate well.

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A wonderful Buddha face being taken over by a banyan tree.

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To get the scale, notice the person in his hand.

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One of the ubiquitous portraits of Thailand's king, Bhumibol Adulyadej.

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The lunch spot was along the Chao Praya River, where we were greatly entertained by spitting Tiger fish. Notice the piece of shrimp on the right is airborne.

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Our final dinner.

From our experiences; Thailand is an assault on your senses. You are bombarded with smells, sights, and sounds everywhere you turn. The streets hit you with good (food) and bad (open sewers) smells; the temples smack you with incense, quietness, and colors; the beaches meet you with salty air, hot sunshine, and crystal clear water; the people greet you with kind words and leave you with a wonderful respect for their culture.

Thanks for the compliments on all the photos. I (Amber) must admit however, that Justin has taken a good share of these as I am usually off fiddling with my SLR - so he deserves at least half of the credit! Here is another one of his "award-winning" shots of a Thai "school bus".

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Posted by rebmamber 00:59 Archived in Thailand Comments (10)

Koh Phi Phi

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After a few days of being spoiled at the Sheraton, we headed to the Phi Phi Islands. Phi Phi Don Island is in the Andaman Sea, about 2 hours from Krabi by ferry, and consists of actually two rock formations connected by a small sand bar.

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Prior to the tsunami last year, the sand bar was very built up; now, there are only a few structures remaining and a lot of recovering palm trees. Approximately 2,000 people lost their lives on this small island last year when the tsunami hit, but the island is working feverishly to recover and great "progress" is being made. The memorials on the island and the stories of lost lives and unbelievable survivals were quite humbling. Here are a few photos of some tsunami-affected areas - those of you who have been here may recognize these places.

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Due to the reconstruction, there is work being done all over the island. This is the pier where all the construction materials arrive.

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A barbershop, with mirror and chair still in tact.

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This was the main tourist beach. Before, there were shops and hotels, but until it is rebuilt, the beach has tents for rent.

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The first day we went out to Phi Phi Ley Island on a snorkeling tour. Phi Phi Ley is protected from development and was made famous by good old Leonardo and the movie "The Beach", which was filmed at Maya Bay. Amber's quest to visit the set of every Leonardo Dicaprio movie is going well.

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This is the beach where "The Beach" was filmed.

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The snorkeling was pretty amazing around Phi Phi Ley, with schools of colorful parrot fish swimming by, beautiful coral formations, and we even got a great look at a Moray Eel. The bad part was that there was a ridiculous amount of boats in some of the areas and we feared being chopped to chum a few times.

The town of Phi Phi Don was actually quite nice and we spent the second day on the island just strolling around and hitting the beach now and then. There is also quite a bit of nightlife on the island which kept us entertained as well.

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Amber's not the only one who picks up stray cats in the street!

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We caught a "traditional" Thai boxing match, but it was more like WWF since everything seemed pretty staged.

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Notice the mural behind the band.

Posted by rebmamber 05:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (7)

A Backpacker's Life?

Sheraton Krabi Resort

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As we were feeling tired of the "hustle and bustle" of the backpacking life, we decided to live it up and stay a few nights at the Sheraton Krabi Resort (plus we got a screaming good deal - thanks Papa Jenks!). Let me tell you, if you ever go to the Thailand beaches, take a Jenks family member, because this resort and beach were NICE! (By the way, Amber says that she is always available if anyone is interested!)

We entered the lobby with our backpacks, smelly and looking like we needed a shower. They greeted us with cold lemongrass tea and chilled lemongrass towels, the service that we expect when we return home. The grounds and buildings were very beautiful, and we knew we were going to be spoiled here.

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Our first night we relaxed in the "infinity" pool for a while, watched the sunset on the beach, then watched "The Gladiator" on the big screen set up under the Australian Pine trees and the stars.

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The next day we pretty much just hung around the resort. Our main highlight of the second day was our afternoon swim with "Ra-Ra", the Sheraton's baby elephant! They bring Ra-Ra out to the beach for a swim at 3 pm and you can join in, feed her, ride her, whatever. Yes, I (Justin) was bucked off Ra-Ra in under 8 seconds, but you'll have to wait to see the video!). Ra-Ra has a pretty good life from what we saw; she even had a trainer that would carry her poo out of the water with his bare hands, now that's love. After Ra-Ra has an accident in the water, everyone just shakes their heads, puts their hands on their waists and says, "Oh Ra-Ra". In fact, Ra-Ra can pretty much do whatever she wants. It was very interesting to see how the baby elephant would play almost like it was a very large puppy, splashing about, diving under the water, and enjoying the people around her.

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After swimming with Ra-Ra, I was so inspired that I joined some local guys for a game of "soccer" on the beach. They actually called me over as I jogged by them, probably thinking that I was a lousy western soccer player. But, I showed them a few things and even got called on a foul (unjustified). Sorry that there are no pictures of me tearing up the beach, Amber was not with me.

The following day we hired a long-tail boat to take us and a kayak to Hong Island, which was beautiful, of course. We kayaked around the island, fed some "wildlife", and relaxed on the beach.

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A monitor lizard on the island.

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On our last night, we watched the sunset and then spoiled ourselves (again) to a nice dinner at the Sheraton's restaurant overlooking the beach - although, with 50% off discount on food, how can you pass it up!

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Thank you for all the wonderful comments, especially the one about my (Justin's) abs. You too can have abs like me if you follow my simple plan! Just send me 4 payments of $9.99 and you will receive my MONEY BACK guaranteed ROCK hard ab plan...

Posted by rebmamber 23:56 Archived in Thailand Comments (8)

Welcome to The Islands

Railey Beach

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If you were wondering why you have not heard anything from us in about a week it's because we have been absorbed into the island lifestyle of southern Thailand. Some islands have no internet, while others are expensive. So we are (unfortunately) back on the mainland and are reconnected. But don't feel too sorry for us, we will be heading to a town on the beach as soon as I send this.

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I'll begin with our arrival to the islands via a delayed flight from Bangkok to Krabi - a town on the west coast of Thailand near the spectacular Andaman Sea. We planned to stay on the peninsula of Railey for a couple of nights, which can only be reached by boat due to the impressive limestone cliffs that have made this region famous (it also means there are no cars anywhere on the peninsula!). We got a taxi to take us to the beach, and then caught a long-tail boat, the main form of water transportation, to take us to Railey Beach.

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Getting ready to board the long-tail boat from Ao Nang beach.

Our first impression of this place was literally of disbelief - I don't think I could have imagined this place if I had tried, it looked like something out of a dream. "This is unbelievable" was a common utterance from our mouths. Picture massive, lush limestone rocks descending into crystal clear turquoise waters. I will venture to say that this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen (granted, I love beaches!)

I took many photos as you may have suspected, but none of the digital pics even come remotely close to how it is in real life. Here are a couple of Railey Beach and the sunset on our first night's arrival.

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That evening was an event of the full moon, which is a huge celebration on the islands here in Thailand. While the big party is on an island in the gulf, there was supposedly going to be a full moon party on the beach just north of us. So, we took a boat to Hat Ton Sai and had a few drinks. While there were many young backpackers hanging out and a couple of fire shows, it was a pretty mellow evening - but we've noticed that a lot is mellow in the islands.

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The next day, we took a long-tail boat tour out to four nearby islands. It was an all day event and was amazing! We snorkeled with and hand fed beautiful reef fish, watched monkeys on the beach, and just relaxed in the warm, clear waters.

PADO ISLAND

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TUP ISLAND

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Returning to Railey Beach, set between two awesome rocks.
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Since we had gotten a view of the surrounding islands, the next day we set off on our own by renting kayaks for a couple of hours.

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We stopped at a nearby beach, where a local boy, Patah, befriended us. Even though he didn't speak a lick of English, we managed to entertain each other. Before we left, he hopped on the front of our kayak - I think he might have come home with us!

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More to come...

Posted by rebmamber 03:02 Archived in Thailand Comments (5)

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