Cambodia only based on 5 days in Siem Reap, which means ‘Siam defeated.’ Not sure how next-door Thailand, modern-day Siam, feels about that. But it’s a great town.
The Cambodians have as much of a smile on their face if not more than their one-time defeated neighbours. Perhaps they remember the good times centuries ago.
Here are the amazing ruins of Angkor. The best - the more tumble-down ones, reclaimed by jungle. (Think Tomb Raider – a couple feature in the film apparently, though I haven’t seen it.)
The most impressive bit of the famous one, Angkor Wat, is the moat. British Castles should be ashamed of themselves. Call those piddly things a moat? Angkor Wat’s is 190 metres wide and 5.5km around – now that’s a moat.
There are lot of kids around trying to sell you stuff. They each only seem to know one line in English, not always the same one. eg. "Hey you. Three for one dollar,' repeated over and over again by one little girl despite me giving her 28 versions of "Thanks, but no thanks." She did finally get the message, and then said, "Hey you. Four for one dollar."
One, er, curious exchange which we got involved in:
"Where you from?"
"London is the capital of England. Lovely jubbly, chopped banana."
And this happened 4 or 5 times with different people. Is there a language school nearby that only teaches this phrase?
We travelled around by tuk-tuk – basically a horse and cart, with a scooter instead of a horse, driven by the friendly (and obviously always smiling) Tong.
The local beer is, predictably, Angkor Beer. And the most common foreign beer here is Anchor Beer. Now you can see this might cause come confusion. I liked both so it wasn’t a problem which one arrived when I ordered.
There’s one street which has a Herb’s Happy Pizza, a Happy Special Pizza, and an Ecstatic Pizza right next to each other. Imagine how annoyed Herb was each time a new pizza place trumped his name. He must have nightmares about Orgasmic Pizza opening soon.
The real highlight of Siem Reap, though, was meeting up with very good friends from Madrid. Fantastic to see them.
Siem Reap photos here
Thailand this time was about islands, 5 of them, via a flight to Bangkok and a night train south.
Koh Muk – beautiful, covered in jungle, hardly anything there, but it rained. A lot. We did manage about 4 minutes lying on the beach a couple of times. But then what did we expect in the rainy season?
Koh Lanta, about 40km away, but in the low season no direct boat means a tuk-tuk to the ferry pier, ferry to mainland, minivan to Trang, then another minivan and 2 ferries. 7 hours to get there. Worth it, though. A beach front bungalow for 14 euros a night on gorgeous Kantiang Bay, a sweeping curve of sand backed by jungle. And great (sunny!) weather.
Next stop Koh Phi Phi, famed for the film The Beach. Again, I haven’t seen the film but I did read Alex Garland’s novel while we here (more cliché, impossible?) Koh Phi Phi is absolutely beautiful. Even more than Koh Lanta (sorry Koh Lanta.)
Rules for young western travellers here: Girls – bleach-blond hair, big sunglasses. Boys – stubble, whacky haircuts. All – Havaianas flip flops, cigarettes, hangovers, bracelets, tee-shirts from previous stops and most importantly, just enough neon body paint not washed off so everyone knows you were at the last Full Moon party on Kho Pagnan.
Chinese tourists abroad (those at our hotel, anyway) fall into two categories – those who can use a knife and fork and those who can’t. How to tackle a plate of bacon and eggs using only a spoon - pick up a whole rasher or fried egg and try to bite chunks from it. They must be similarly amused by our attempts with chopsticks.
Koh Samui. We left the Andaman Sea in the west and crossed to the Gulf of Thailand in the east. Ten hours of boats and minibuses. Quite a tough trip considering we’d planned to spend this holiday for RnR. David Beckham has a place here, though how he got round the Thai ownership laws no-one knew. No foreigner can own more than 49% of a property and apparently it’s not hard to find a Westerner crying into his beer after buying a house for himself and his Thai wife who, owning 51%, then moves the family in and kicks him out.
Koh Tao. Much smaller and laid back than Koh Samui. Snorkelling here brilliant (I saw my first shark), lovely beach, great restaurants and bars. Probably our favourite of the 5 islands. I’d definitely go back.
So the winners are... Best Beach: Kantiang Bay on Koh Lanta; Best views: Kho Phi Phi; Best vibe: Kho Tao. Sorry Koh Muk – you rained on us too much, and Koh Samui – you were too like a beach resort in Europe.
Thai photos here