Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Thai Christmas, Cambodian New Year - End Of The Beach Life

No country so far has quite blown me out of the water so quickly with first impressions as Cambodia has. It has been a welcome shock system after Thailand. But first a rewind back to Christmas in Lanta.

Christmas itself came round rather slowly, on Christmas eve I sat on the beach and watched some local dances, fireworks and had dinner at my usual haunt, had some amazing Chicken Satay and called an ‘early night’ In reality I watched some frozen planet and had old school pre xmas insomnia. Christmas morning I tried to find some eggs and Salmon as usual, but this failed I had toast. It being quite windy I decided to head straight to the beach for Windsurfing, some teething problems and I was off, windsurfing is a lot harder than sailing but I managed it, though I’m not fully converted yet. Two hours for a cheap £6, I then was thrown around a room by a little Thai lady… in so much as I had a massage after the hard work that was windsurfing. It being late I made the ‘obligatory’ calls home and once again set off for the beach, I had a beer to accompany the 20 minute walk this entails. The beach was quieter and less celebrations, I got Kevin a picture on Santa’s lap and headed for the most bizarre xmas dinner so far. A mix starter of thai dishes (No name Vegetable, Chicken Satay, Spring Rolls etc) followed by Fish fillet in ‘Thai Spices’ which was tasty if a little overpowering, dessert was fried pineapple and ice cream. All in a rather odd combination, one final wander down the beach collecting photos and I had another early night.

Xmas Cocktail


Somewhere in here is fish

Fire show

More Fire
Boxing day, more unchristmassy behaviour. I did some admin tasks and sent some letters before hiring a moped for the day and heading for new unchartered areas. I visited Old town and had some fried squid before heading to the Sea Gypsy Village for a beer overlooking the sea before taking a different route home passing mangroves, rice paddies and a ‘Monkey school’. Gasoline is sold in old vodka bottles from ‘Gas Stations’ on the side of the road, it is quite a fun experience filling up. One bottle costs 40bht (80 pence) and two to fill up the moped, the whole day of hire and fuel cost me 340bht (about £7) to really see how great this is, I almost did a loop of the whole island, a taxi to the second beach away from me cost 200bht. In the evening I met El and the dive crew for a Turkey Sandwich and the pub quiz in the Irish bar. (Perhaps the only Christmassy thing I did) leaving early I missed most of it though. A question for my dad here; “What sport is four letters long and starts with a ‘T’?

Sea Village

Petrol Station

Waking up early I was informed my minibus pick up was actually at 8am, not 7 and then it was rolled back to 9! Somewhere along the line I was picked up by the wrong minibus and upon realising this left at the car ferry port where I was assured I would be picked up in half an hour. Two hours later and thanks to the extremely helpful Thai ladies at the ticket desk I was finally picked up. A shocking service that was still better than Greyhound! (recap: Greyhound left me stranded in Cleveland for 7 hours due to their own ineptitude, hence why I will never use them again, except Canadian Greyhound, they were excellent) Thinking I’d miss my train and therefore my hotel, my bus, and everything I was amazed when I arrived in Trang with ten minutes to spare. I needn’t have worried as just like back home the train was an hour late. I clearly need to appease the travel gods and re-address my Karma balance. The opportunity presented itself at the border. I bumped into a German girl who was headed to Sihanoukville but did not have a ticket. Due to Welsh leaving me in Krabi I happened to have a spare ticket which included accommodation on the way. I had previously tried to shop it but had no takers up to this point so it came in useful. In kindness Tina paid for my dinner, breakfast and a few beers! She has now gone to a Psytrance festival. So that brings us to Cambodia!
From the border crossing it became apparent Cambodia was vastly different to Thailand. By different I mean poorer. It is however very friendly, despite all the hawkers trying to sell you a taxi ride. Making it to Sihanoukville after three days travel I took the first avaible room (it turns out its probably the only available room due to a Cambodian national week long holiday) I went in search of other options and found none so I went for a beer with the guys from the bus, on the beach. After 3 days of solid travel I think it was ok to have a written off day. I learnt some Cambodian and recounted tales of woe from the days travelling before having a phenomenal curry. Food is already looking better than Thailands hit and miss(I prefer Tai Pans Pad Thai) Other things I should mention, there are unfortunately quite a few beggars on the beach and around the bar, most have limbs missing. This is an obvious link to Cambodia’s dark past and the enormous amount of land mines still existing. However beer costs a dollar and the beaches are stunning.
Train Station

Does everyone remember last post about the hunt for Red October? I ended that adventure out of luck but with hope of Cambodia so fresh after a good night sleep I headed to Otres Beach, a 4km stretch of sand with Mangrove trees further away from the main beach. At first sights it seemed again I was out of luck, the usual sea kayaks and windsurfs were easily located. Having good authority that it existed I headed further on until… bingo, I saw a boat being launched. I found not one but four Hobie Cats all rigged and ready to sail, for the easy price of $10 an hour. Hobies are easy boats to sail and with barely a force 2 wind I sailed around a nearby island and down the beach for two hours. I say sailed, I spent half the time lying on my back sunbathing and steering with my feet (that’s how easy it is) The other thing I did was visit the Vietnamese embassy as my travel Karma has swung back to positive. Philip, a swiss I met on the bus mentioned he was getting it here because here is the quickest, turns out Phnom Penh(where I had planned to get it) merely sends the passport to Sihanoukville, hence the 5 day wait. However here it took less than 10 minutes and cost $45. A successful day it was time to head to the Hostel bar for free food and beer due to an opening party with the Australians from my room (who repeatedly mocked me for only spending 3 days there).

I spent the next day having a boat tour of some of the surrounding isands with the Australians from my room. It was an enjoyable excursion and beat my current plan for the day which was 'nothing'. I came home and was informed that my friend Loes from Koh Phangan had made the trip down from Bangkok to Sihanoukville for New Year and by some coincidence was also in my hostel. I found her in the bar next door, where I was berated for having not checked my emails and so being unaware she was definitely coming, where I was and if I was even still around. My excuse that the hostel internet was broken and I had been on a boat all day, didn't cut it. However eveything coming together successfully we headed out to the beach for dinner and to celebrate the New Year with the couple on a honeymoon she had met. This was immense, the whole evening fireworks were launched from the beach, culminating at midnight and lighting the endless beach. The fireworks continued as did the parties...(I should get some photos of the boat trip when the australians get in touch)
A vague idea of all the Fireworks - Photo by Chris Deeney

New Years day followed (as is the custom) I had my traditional new years breakfast of Steak and recounted the tales of the night before. We headed to the beach and failed to swim on the inflatable toys adorning the sea as I refused to pay for it. I lost a game of Paper, Rock & Scissors to a small Cambodian girl with 'sass' who referred to me as "Justin Bieber" and so had to buy a bracelet (I collect these anyway) before getting another bbq on the beach and more buckets. As the night before we had celebrated the end of the year, this night we celebrated the beginning of a new one, though it ended with lost flip flops. The plan had been to go sailing on the 2nd but various events scuppered this plan and instead the day was spent playing pool with Cambodians and watching Youtube videos. Turns out there hadn't been any wind this day, and on the 3rd we headed down Otres beach to once again spend an afternoon sailing in a rather good strong force 3. Tans improved, a casual beer at sunset on the beach followed by an amazing fish platter it was time to roll in to bed for early starts the next day and to leave behind the beach life. 
Otres Beach

Hobie in the Water



Seafood Platter
So after bumming around on beaches for last the month, I probably ought to do some proper travelling, maybe, perhaps oh ohkay. Phnom Penh next for French architecture, S21 and the Killing Fields before then heading on to Siem Reap for a local village tour and of course Angkor Wat. You can’t come to Cambodia and not see it, it’s like going to the Cinema and not seeing a film. Sure there are other things to enjoy; the food, the trailers, the arcade etc but the main reason you go is to watch a film. This analogy works on most famous sites (Machu Picchu, Pyramids, Great Wall etc). After that culture it will be time to hit Vietnam, so for the most part the beaches are over and it will mostly be 'cultural' sites from now on. 

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