A Simple Act Of Kindness

I’m sitting right at the back of a fifteen-seater van in which there are definitely more than fifteen people.  We’re all squashed together like sardines sweating profusely and panting from the heat.  We’re being driven through Laos.  It’s very similar to Cambodia actually, but there are more hills here.  The inevitable bladder ache has set in.  I try my best to ignore it because there is no way of knowing when we will stop for a toilet break, could be in five minutes, could be not at all!

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The van suddenly pulls to a stop in a small village.  We all squeeze out one by one to stretch our legs and get some fresh air.  I look at the roof of the van overloaded with everyone’s backpacks and smile to myself, I love travelling in Asia.  I decide to look for a toilet with some other passengers and spot two girls wandering up the path, I follow them.  I walk under a wooden building past a local man washing something in a plastic tub.  I notice that it looks like someone’s home.  Kayleigh is following me closely along with a British traveller with a bandaged and painful looking foot (tubing accident, obviously).  We find a small queue in what looks like someone’s kitchen.  Yes, it is someone’s kitchen.  I am in a stranger’s home about to use their bathroom, I feel a bit silly and rude.  A Laotian lady is stood over a sink washing some rice and is smiling happily at us.  We try to use sign language and facial expressions to ask her if it’s okay for us to be here.  She just smiles, points to the toilet door and nods, then gets on with cooking her lunch.

We use the toilet one by one and thank her repeatedly as we leave.  Still smiling she laughs at us softly, then holds out her bowl of rice to offer us some lunch!  Unfortunately, the horn is beeping so it’s time to get back on the van, so we thank her again and run back out to the road.

Making Friends

On July 12 2011, Kayleigh and I arrived in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.  We were very hungover having pulled a(nother) all nighter in Kuala Lumpur the night before, and had spent the majority of the journey listening to a woman sat behind us throw up into a bag due to travel sickness.  Kay gave her some tissues.  The hostel we wanted to stay at was full so instead we had called a place called Father’s Guesthouse and arranged to stay there.  The reserved pick up guy was waiting for us and drove us up a steep and windy hill just on the outskirts of Tanah Rata.  We arrived a beautiful, big house and instantly knew we were going to like it here.  The reception staff, aside from speaking almost perfect English, were incredibly friendly, warm and welcoming.  They showed us to our room which was a huge dorm with around fifteen or more beds.  The temperatures here are quite cool because it’s so high up, so we had bed sheets and nice thick blankets.  There weren’t many other people in the dorm, two beds to our left and one to our right were filled and at the other end of the room one bed in the far left corner and two towards the right.  No one was home so we decided to head out for dinner.

We went to a place I’d been to about a year before, unfortunately I cannot remember the name for the life of me, but it is on the main strip.  Most of the restaurants serve Chinese food so it should be easy enough to find!  They serve a mouth watering and delicious tandoori chicken dish.  An Australian guy was also eating dinner at the same place that evening, a few tables away, although we didn’t know each other then.  We slept wonderfully and got up early the next day.  We took turns to go and shower, but Kayleigh left the room about thirty seconds before I got back.  I busied myself getting my bag ready and towel drying my hair, then when Kay arrived she picked up up her pillow.  Then sat down and looked worried.

‘Have you seen my phone?’

She’d left it under her pillow and it was now gone.  We strip searched the bed, together and separately, we even moved the bed away from the wall.  It was definitely gone.  Under hushed voices we tried to calculate who had been in the room in the thirty second gap when the phone had been unattended.  The only person who was there had been a French guy to our left.  He saw us scrambling around looking for the phone, jumped out of bed (no shower, nothing), put on his bag and left.  I immediately suspected him.  We decided to be open about it, and began asking as many people as possible (as loudly as possible) if they had noticed anything suspicious because Kayleigh had had her phone stolen for definite.  We even asked the French guy himself and he interestingly pretended not to understand what we were saying – I’d heard him speaking pretty decent English the day before.  We then asked an Australian guy who was staying in the far left corner of the room.  He told us he’d seen us looking stressed earlier and had wondered what was wrong, then asked us what we were planning on doing for the rest of the day.  Kayleigh agreed she wanted to get out and do something, there was nothing she could do about her phone right now.  The Aussie introduced himself as Mick in a very soft Melbourne accent, we had breakfast together and the mood began to lighten.  We decided to do a trek together and set off in the wrong direction (probably my fault).

The climb up through the forest nearly killed me, and Kayleigh and Mick.  I didn’t want to lose face and admit how unfit I clearly was (previous nights of drinking and over eating now taking their toll), so I lead the way and tried my best not to start hyperventilating.  We got to the top and stopped for a quick chat while we took in the view.  Little did we know Mick had also been living a life of debauchery in KL and he too didn’t want to lose face, so all three of us were exhausted from the walk but trying not to show it.  The climb down was much easier, we stopped in Tanah Rata for a well deserved snack of spring rolls and sweet chilli sauce, then went back up to the guesthouse to shower.

Once all seated on our beds and trying to decide where to eat dinner, two new guests entered the room soaking wet having just got back from a walk.  One was a South Korean guy called Nim who was very sweet and smiled constantly, another was a fellow Brit called Dave from Northamptonshire.  We all sat about chatting, swapping travel stories, asking where we’d been to University, making gap yah jokes, that sort of thing.  There was also a girl now residing next to Kay’s bed who joined in.  We had seen her a couple of days earlier in KL whilst eating dinner in China town.  She had complained to the staff that her prawn salad didn’t contain enough prawns – first she said there were only two prawns, but then three, then four.  Four was not enough!  At the time Kay and I had thought she was incredibly rude and patronising to the staff, but we put that initial impression aside and tried to get to know her.  Sometimes, you should listen to your gut instinct when it comes to first impressions …  The six of us (Myself, Kay, Mick, Dave, Nim and Prawn-gate) went back to the Indian restaurant for more tandoori chicken.  We had a few beers after dinner and then went to bed, planning to do a seven mile trek the following day.  Nim the lovely Korean guy (South Korean as he kept reiterating to everyone he met) was wearing his raincoat to bed.  As he noisily shuffled under the covers, Dave enquired as to why he was wearing said raincoat.  In bed.  Nim, without a hint of humour and looking Dave in the eye, simply replied:

‘It’s not a raincoat, it’s a windbreaker.’  We still repeat this classic line to each other today, it’s no less hilarious.

The next morning the French guy had left and checked out before any of us woke up.  Kay felt underneath her pillow in one last futile attempt to see if her phone was there.

‘Er … Fran, look!’

I turned over to see her phone in her hand!  Now, even though we all teased her profusely about thinking she’d lost her phone when it had been under her pillow all along, I am one hundred percent certain that it was not there the day before.  I can only assume that whoever stole it (about seventy-five percent sure it was that French guy, he was only one in the room when it was taken) had a change of heart and put it back while we were out.  Prawn-gate told us she was going to do a tour of the local area rather than a trek, and Nim wanted to do a different trail to us.  So in good spirits Kayleigh and I set off with Mick and Dave, I let Mick have the map this time.

The walk was fun and took us about two to three hours.  It got a bit hairy in places as the path got narrower and steeper and the forest got thicker and wetter.  Even though I love the great outdoors, I have a very inconvenient but quite acute fear of falling.  It’s not really a fear of heights, I don’t mind being high up, but if I can see a sheer drop next to me that’s when I begin to panic.  This coupled with the fact that I am extremely clumsy means I am usually right at the back of any group I’m walking with, cursing myself quietly for lagging behind.  But I managed to complete the trail mostly on foot (sometimes on bottom) and felt proud of myself for getting to the end without having a mini-break down.

 

All smiles in transit, pic courtesy of Dave.


The end of the trail had led us to a road leading to one of the many tea plantations in the Highlands.  Not really wanting to walk all the way up the huge hill since we were now quite tired and very wet, we managed to catch a lift from two Indian men going that way.  We hopped into the back of their van and looked forward to a good cup of tea.  The sun was now shining too!  We had a very English lunch of scones, strawberry jam and cake, washed down with a lovely cuppa.  We then walked up to the viewpoint and took these two epic photos on Dave’s camera:

 

 

(Left to right) Kayleigh, Mick, Me, Dave.

An hour or so later we decided to head back to the guesthouse.  Realising we were about nine miles away we decided to hitchhike again, it had gone so well before!  We managed to get a lift from two Chinese men driving a van, when we got in the back of their van we saw they already had a passenger with them: a goat!

 

Both above pictures taken on Kayleigh’s camera.

Our drivers set off and began to speed.  Then continued to speed.  Faster still.  Mick noticed they were using the handbrake to go around the hairpin corners.  I looked out of the window and the blurred scenery, the expression on Mick’s face and the sound of the engine confirmed that we were going far, far too fast.  As soon as we were at the bottom of the hill Mick asked them to stop and insisted we could walk the rest of the way.  We were still about seven miles away but we didn’t want to die!  Meandering up the road we kept trying to catch a lift but with no luck, no one would stop for us.  Eventually we came across a garage and decided to see if anyone there would be willing to help us.  As luck would have it, the garage was managed by a long-haired Kiwi gentleman.  He and his daughter took us to their car, we all squeezed in and he generously drove us back to Tanah Rata.  He lived in Malaysia and his daughter, who was about fifteen, came from New Zealand to see him every year for an Asian adventure, how wonderful!

We arrived home, had dinner together again and discussed our plans.  Kayleigh and I had one destination in mind:  The Perhentian islands.  Mick was heading that way too, so was Prawn-gate and so was Dave.  We all booked a mini-van to take us to Taman Negara National Park.  We planned to stay there for two nights, then continue on to the Perhentians together.  Up and out in the morning we had a big breakfast together and talked about what we could do in Taman Negara.

Nim was also leaving that day but was heading south.  He came to our table and waved at us with both hands saying ‘Goodbye, nice to see you!’.  He then walked in the opposite direction to where the vans were waiting and disappeared.  We all looked a little a confused but just shrugged and got on with our breakfast.  About a minute later, Nim reappeared and hurried past us, pointing behind him as he went he said ‘That is the wrong way!’.  What a great guy!  His comic value kept us laughing for days.

A year on from this stop in the Cameron Highlands, we are all still in touch.  Kayleigh and Mick are now an item, I’ll be visiting them regularly when I head out to Aus – Kay is heading out just before me to be with Mick.  Dave will visit too if he can manage to spare enough money for a flight to Australia … you never know!  A week or so ago Dave and I headed south to stay with Kay, we celebrated our one year friend anniversary with a good stroll over one of the white horses of Wiltshire and some banana bread.

Anyway, I will leave you with a cold and windy picture (courtesy of Dave’s mum) of all four of us at a vintage ploughing competition earlier this year in England (don’t ask).  Mick came to visit and stayed for two months, it was great to have him over here but as you can see he wasn’t expecting it to be quite so cold!

 

Cambodia: Land Of Smiles (Part Two)

Our next stop in this amazing country was the capital: Phnom Penh.  We weren’t certain how long we would stay here for but just decided to play it by ear and see how we felt on arrival.  After we left Siem Reap Kayleigh and I were happily seated on a very uncomfortable coach trying desperately to sleep but with no luck.  The journey seemed to take forever.  I can remember being flung from left to right as the coach sped over pot hole after bump after pot hole and thinking to myself ‘Why do I like backpacking?  Why?!’.  I was so tired and just needed some shut eye!

Suddenly we came to a halt.  ‘What now?’ I asked myself, dreading the answer.  It took a while for me to figure out what was happening as all the shouts from the driver and staff were obviously in Cambodian, but once the left side of the coach jolted up in the air and woke any sleeping folk from their dreams I cottoned on that they were changing a flat tyre.  With everyone still on the coach.  There would have been no point at all in trying to explain to them the potential risks involved in propping up a double decker coach full of people, so instead I let go of any anxiety and took the opportunity to doze while the coach was (a bit) still.

When the tyre was changed and the coach was back on the road I woke up.  The roads out there seem to have very few rules and guidelines, I often saw people riding their mopeds on whichever side of the road they felt like, and a gap no matter how big or small is always enough to encourage any driver to overtake the one in front.  I did notice though that no one seems to have road rage over there.  In England I find it amusing to watch people in traffic jams banging their fists on the dashboard in a self-important rage.  I never saw anything like this in Asia, yet there is always plenty of traffic and collisions on the road.  Anyway, the point is our coach was suddenly flooded with the head lights of an oncoming lorry.  It was quite frightening but he swerved out of the way just in time as per usual.  Kayleigh let out a prolonged scream (she’d been asleep so it was more of a shock for her), I didn’t realise it was her and wondered to myself what silly panicker had just screamed!

We arrived in the city at about nine o’clock in the morning and were both in foul moods due to lack of beauty sleep.  To begin with, I sent our tuk tuk driver the wrong way and we both nearly lost our temper with him when he insisted on turning around.  We quickly realised it was our (my) mistake and bit our tongues.  Then we discovered the hostel we had planned on staying in was a complete dive, I could barely see the reception desk through all the chairs, bags and piles of what looked like washing lying about.  Our driver took us to a much cleaner place around the corner – but they only had one twin room left.  We saw the room eventually – the guy at the hostel had to wake up the handy man who was having a little nap in there, very strange!  It was a decent room, except the ceiling was abnormally low.  We looked at each other and silently agreed we wouldn’t be staying in this place long, so decided to just take the room.  At least it was clean, that’s always the most important thing in my book!

I agreed with Kay that it would be best to get straight into action, so after a nap and some food we booked a tuk tuk and headed for the killing fields.  I didn’t expect the experience to be a happy one, but I also didn’t expect to feel as affected as I did.  The first thing that struck me was the tower full of clothes, bones and skulls of the victims of the Pol Pot regime.  Kayleigh and I quickly went quiet and slowly took it in.  All of these skulls that belonged to real, innocent people.  You can see marks and breaks where they’ve been hit in the head with something in order to kill them.  I didn’t take any pictures of these bones, a lot of people who go there do but for me it felt wrong to do so.

After seeing this we moved to the fields, which consisted of many filled in mass graves.  There is a box in the middle of the grounds full of small bones and clothes, after reading the sign attached to it we learnt that after heavy bouts of rain the remanants of the victims will often rise to the surface.  If you come across any they ask you to place them in this box.  Then we found ‘the baby tree‘, next to which was a small line of teeth, presumably belonging to some of the children killed here.  I felt disturbed to be standing next to a tree upon which countless babies and children had been murdered only a few decades ago.  You will probably know how the murders were committed at this tree, but if you don’t, the babies were held at the ankles and swung against the trunk.  They were then thrown into one of the many mass graves.

A short while later we were seated in the information centre to watch an educational video about the killing fields.  While it was informative the English voice over was just awful!  I really don’t know who decided his voice was the right one for the film, the guy’s voice just dragged in an awful monotone throughout the whole thing.  I have to admit I was glad when it came to an end, his bored voice almost seemed a bit disrespectful!

Feeling drained, reflective and quite sad we both hopped into the tuk tuk and asked the driver to take us to S-21 prison located in the city.  He took us back through the dusty and incredibly busy roads of Phnom Penh and dropped us off just outside the former school and later prison.  Well, I thought visiting the killing fields was hard, it was nothing compared to this.  We entered the first block and walked into the first room.  Each room (or classroom rather) has a picture on the wall of a prisoner that was once kept there.  The beds and much of the equipment are still there.  The school chalkboards are still on the walls.  The stains are still on the floor.  Barely able to speak and feeling a strange sensation of sickness I began to walk slowly from room to room, taking time to look at each image.

In the next block there were pictures of all the prisoners, every single one.  You can look over every individual that died or was murdered here.  Some look as old as eighty, others younger than one.  There are also pictures painted by one of the survivors depicting the torture methods that were employed here.  Since it used to be a school some of the gym equipment was adapted for torture, very sinister.  Here I did take just one picture, I wanted to remember how I felt looking into their eyes:

 

She can’t be much older than nine or ten?
At the end of the final block I found a man and his daughter both saying a prayer together, both had tears falling silently down their face.  I decided to give them a bit of space and as I left the room I caught sight of one last painting.  It showed two soldiers at the killing fields stood next to a grave.  One had flung a tiny baby into the air over the grave, the other was aiming his gun at it.  I then started to well up too.

When we got back to our room we both lay on our beds and agreed that although the day hadn’t been a pleasant experience we were glad we now knew a lot more about Cambodia’s history.  I felt it was incredible for a country to have such a dark and recent history, but to be resiliently full of the nicest people.  Of course I’m sure not absolutely everyone in Cambodia is great, but there was something about this place that made me feel happy.  Just before I went travelling the first time in 2010, someone said to me ‘But the world is full of dangerous people.’  While that’s probably true, it’s also full of amazing, kind, good and beautiful people and travelling has only confirmed that for me.  Cambodia is one place in particular that I came across many people like this.

Kayleigh had learnt from her guidebook that there was a restaurant very close by called Friends Cafe, which is run by the charity Friends International.  They take on children from the street and train them to cook, assist in kitchens or wait tables.  They employ them and when they eventually leave they are able to earn a proper living rather than going back to the streets.  There was also a shop next door and a beauty salon, again all the employees were former street kids.  We thought this was a fantastic charity and were keen to contribute to it in some way, so in order to put a positive spin on a negative day we decided to eat dinner at the restaurant.  If I remember correctly I had a pork salad, and waffles for desert.  The food and service was excellent – and I am NOT just saying that.  The decor was lovely and the place was squeaky clean too.  I got a real sense of the positive energy running through this place and felt much happier by the time we left.

That night we each hit our heads on the dangerously low ceiling more than once, cursing each time.  Then at about four o’clock in the morning I became wide awake for no apparent reason.  Bizarrely, seconds later Kayleigh stirred and began to shout my name.  She then shot out of bed and smacked her head violently on the ceiling once again.  I asked if she was okay (stupid question really) and she told me she had been dreaming of being locked in a temple full of of baby bones!

The following day we did a spot of shopping at a boutique and in the Friends shop, and Kay treated herself to a pedicure (which was later ruined when we had to climb over a landslide).  We were booked to leave in the morning and had spent two quick and busy days in Phnom Penh – we were ready to go somewhere quieter.  So in the morning it was another day, another ridiculous bus journey.  Drivers often beep their horns just to warn other road users of their presence, but this guy was really going too far.  I think he beeped his horn at least every five to ten seconds.  After half an hour I wanted to scream.  Luckily we didn’t have any breakdowns or other potential mishaps of any kind – every cloud!

We arrived in Kampong Cham, a town overlooking the Mekong river.  Feeling like we needed a bit of TLC, we checked into the Mekong Hotel and got an awesome room.  The reviews I’ve linked to of this place are quite average but personally I loved staying here.  It’s probably just because we’d been deprived of any real luxury for a while by this point.  We had an en suite, a television with a movie channel, AND we had a balcony with a fantastic view of the Mekong river.  We bounced around the room (literally) for a bit like two excited children and tried to think what we should do with our free afternoon.  Nine times out of ten, if you ask me: do you think local food beats Western food?  I will say YES I DO with confidence and conviction.  But one time out of ten there are exceptions and this was one time.  Turning left out of the hotel we began the search for food and eventually found a very local restaurant, clearly for very local people.  There were no menus but the smiling owner was more than happy to give us a taster of a standard dinner, we shrugged and obliged because a) we didn’t speak Cambodian and b) we were extremely hungry.  What arrived at the table was a mixture of some ‘pleasant’ dipping sauces, some cooked and soggy green leaves, plain boiled rice and meat.  Yay, meat!  Oh hang on, it’s fatty meat.  Wait, no, it’s fat.  Pure fat.  Little giblets of pig fat.  Is that a bit of bone too?  Yes, yes I think so.  Sooooo … after a filling meal of plain boiled rice we walked up the road to the river side and discovered a long line of restaurants serving everything from pizza to curry to English breakfasts.  Note to self: next time turn right out of the hotel.

The road running along the river looked quite busy so we decided to take a stroll.  Families who passed us on their mopeds got their children to wave and shout ‘Helloooo’, a lady carrying a basket on her head gave us the biggest and kindest smile I’ve ever seen, and up ahead we caught sight of what looked like an outdoor zumba class.  When we got nearer we realised that it was an outdoor zumba class!  We joined a French family (later learnt that the father of the family had left Cambodia and moved to France years earlier, where he had met his wife.  They came to Cambodia with their three children on holiday nearly every year) in watching the class of over one hundred totally unembarassed locals busting some moves according to the almost cartoon like class leader.  He had that crazy, spiked anime hair going on and kept shouting presumably motivational phrases into his microphone.  During the walk back to our hotel I saw two ladies sat overlooking the river having a good old natter, they looked like old friends (and appeared to be wearing pyjamas), I grabbed a quick picture of them:

 

Nice right?  It’s like one of those ‘life is nothing without friendship’ cards or something.  
That night we slept brilliantly and free from nightmares.  In the morning we would be picked up in a tuk tuk and taken out for the day to visit the local silk villages – that’ll be in part three!

Mr Orangutan. Fresh out of Sepilok, Borneo

 

 

 

 

Hey guys, hope you’re all doing well.  I’m Mr Orangutan, but you can call me O-rang if you like.  I really know how to work a crowd, and when Frances and Kayleigh came to visit me it was business as usual.  I sneaked out of the sanctuary enclosure while they were having lunch and waited patiently to be noticed.  Eventually I had a pretty impressive crowd admiring me and taking photos so I did few poses and flashed my pearly whites at them with my biggest grin.  One traveller dropped his camera so I quickly swiped his lens cover – I’ve been curious as to what they taste like.  Turns out they taste rubbish so I gave it back.  I got thirsty after all this attention so I ambled up to a German girl, tapped her gently on the leg and held out my hand whilst smiling at her.  No one can resist my smile so she handed me her orange juice and after I figured out how to take the lid off I gulped the whole thing!  Then I said my goodbyes and headed back to my tree.

Cambodia: Land Of Smiles (Part One)

The people I met and passed by in Cambodia had one thing in common: they smiled.  Everywhere people are smiling and laughing, the happiness is infectious!  I remember walking along the Mekong river one evening in Kampong Cham, the air was warm and the streets were bustling with people, and every single local we passed gave us a brilliant, wide smile.  You can’t help but grin back giddily!

This smiling and cheeky chappy was very rowdy indeed when we visited his family’s home on a silk village excursion.  He’s wearing his dad’s glasses, cute!  I pretty much fell in love with Cambodia.  Their ease is a wonderful thing to encounter and I felt inspired just being there.
So, I’ll give you a brief outline of what we did in Cambodia and where, then I’ll tell you all about the nitty gritty (and the disasters, never forget the disasters).  We began in Siem Reap where we visited the temples, went to art galleries, and drank many cocktails.  We had a major monetary mishap in Siem Reap which we managed to resolve, then we went to Phnom Penh – I don’t even need to tell you that something went wrong on the journey, it’s standard practice by now.  In Phnom Penh we went to see the killing fields and S21 prison, it was full on and very upsetting.  But on the positive side we also learnt a lot about a wonderful charity called Friends International and the amazing work they do.  After that we spent some time in Kampong Cham where we visited the local fishing and silk villages.  Finally, we briefly stayed in Kratie where we were lucky enough to be able to see some endangered irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong river.
So we began in Siem Reap.  We stayed at Rosy Guesthouse which is run by a lovely British family.  The staff here were the friendliest I came across on the trip and had oodles of great tips and ideas for things to keep us occupied.  You can find them on Facebook here.  Our tuk tuk driver John picked us up at eight o’clock sharp, we hopped into his tuk tuk and off we went!  I LOVE tuk tuks and I really wish we had them here in the UK.  We decided to get a three day pass and started our temple exploration at Angkor Wat.  It is magnificent.  You definitely need to be there and see it to really appreciate it’s majesty and grandeur.  The thing that I had trouble getting my head around was the fact that it is over a thousand years old.  One thousand years!  That’s really old!  Some parts have been restored, but some parts are still original and the detail is staggering.  I took A LOT of pictures, I won’t bore you with them all but here are a few that I really like:

 

 

 

 

There’s Kayleigh looking like Tomb Raider!
We were in complete awe, it was very surreal to think we were walking on stones that people built and walked on so long ago.  John was happy to wait for us (when we were ready for some lunch we found him snoozing away in his hammock!) so we took our time wandering around the outer perimeter of the temple and taking it in.  I’d heard other backpackers say two things about the temples – that eventually, no matter how amazed you are at first, you will get ‘templed out’, and that it is unbelievably hot.  Well, we were by no means ‘templed out’ yet, we’d only just started.  But my gosh was it hot!  Luckily there were plenty of shady spots because we were in a temple!  The two of us were followed by two young boys at one point who looked harmless enough, however it was pretty obvious that they were waiting to pick our pockets.  They clearly knew that we knew what they were up to so I had to admire them really!  We’d already locked our bags though so they soon got bored and moved on.
After about two hours of open-mouthed gawping and walking about we went to a cafe for lunch.  To get out we had to pass the street sellers.  I’m telling you if these sales people were employed in the UK they’d be at the top of their game.  I refused to buy anything but it was extremely difficult to do so, I found the best tactic was to look straight ahead, keep walking (I made the mistake of stopping once, that was enough not to do it again) and quietly say ‘No thank you’.  It’s a difficult situation and sometimes even a bit frightening if they start to get angry that you won’t buy anything.  But I remembered the advice we had been given, which was to not buy from them and rigidly stuck to my guns.
John took us to a place that was owned by friends or relatives of his (out there everyone is someone’s brother, literally everyone, so you never know who is genuinely related and who isn’t).  As we ate John sat on next table laughing and joking with his friends/family.  I idly watched some children playing on a bike that was about ten times too big for them and had no brakes, under the lazy watch of their father who was dozing in a hammock attached to some trees.  It was here that I felt I began to see Cambodia.  Don’t get me wrong it’s amazing to be able to do and see all of the touristy things and I feel incredibly privileged to have done so, but my favourite thing to do in foreign places above all else is to watch people.  I love seeing little things that you won’t see in a museum or on a tour, real things.  These kids were playing in exactly the same way my brothers and I used to play in our garden whilst our parents would be gardening or just sitting out enjoying the sun.  I find comfort in knowing that in a lot of ways people are the same, no matter where in the world I am.
After lunch we were back on the road again to see a new temple.  On the way there I saw something that I found really hilarious, a real coming together of old and new.  There were some men riding elephants on the other side of the road, they must have been on their way to their next tourist pick up point.  One guy was happily ambling along on the huge mammal steering it up the path, whilst also on his iphone!  Maybe he was playing angry birds, who knows.  I tried to get a good picture but this is the best I managed:
See the temple right in the background?  Cool right?
Now, here is where I realise I really should have been much better at writing in my journal.  If I had been a good traveller I would know where we went to next, but I don’t.  I’ll try and figure it out though, here is a map of the general temple area:
I know we went to Angkor Thom but that was later on, I think we did a loop of the area.  It wasn’t Ta Prohm Kei (where Angelina Jolie filmed one of the Tomb Raider films), so I think it was Bat Chum.  Yes I think that’s right, the order went like this: Angkor Wat, Bat Chum, Ta Som, Angkor Tom and Ta Prohm Kei. Here are a few a lot of pictures:
Bat Chum:

 

Ta Som (I think):

 

 

Angkor Thom:

 

 

Ta Prohm Kei:

 

We became more and more amazed with each temple we saw and by the time we were finished the sun was getting ready to set.  John took us back to our hostel, we paid him and agreed to get picked up at the same time again the following day.  After a shower and probably a nap we decided to have dinner then head to pub street – we’d heard only good things about the bars there.  We agreed we would have one quiet cocktail then go back as we had another day of serious temple exploring booked in.  You know those nights where you say you’ll have one drink and end up having about ten?  Well about four hours later when we should have been in bed we were dancing madly on a podium in Temple Club with backpackers and locals alike.  I had the worst hangover I have ever had in my entire life – and I’ve had a lot of hangovers!  Kayleigh wasn’t much better and we made that much noise and racket when we got home that a guy in the room next door came to ask if we were okay!  How embarrassing!  Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of this night because we didn’t take our cameras – we weren’t planning on a big night out after all.
The next morning I woke up and knew immediately I wasn’t going anywhere.  Like the true friend that I am I refused to move from the bed so Kayleigh, who was just as hungover as I was, had to go downstairs and apologise to John.  She gave him ten dollars for the trouble, bought some water for us and came back to our room.  To make matters worse, we’d moved into a cheaper room with no air con so as you can imagine we were lying in a furnace of nausea, heat, sore heads and self-pity.  It was horrible.  We managed to get up and eat some lunch, and later on even managed to get out to a restaurant and have some tea.  We watched an Apsara dance routine which was really cool, I loved the outfits:

 

We then sloped off to bed to sleep off the last remanents of the hangover that really was from hell and the next day were actually up in time for John!  Poor old John.  I’ll tell you a bit about John actually, he was super cool with an ace sense of humour and a cheeky grin.  The first time he took us to the temples he got a flat tyre, he stopped and explained to us that he had to get it fixed in broken English.  Then as he hopped off he looked at the tyre and went ‘Why?!’ in a silly voice whilst shaking his fists at the sky.  Legend.  He was twenty-two years old (only about a year younger than we were at the time) and lived with his family.  What a great guy!  Anyway, moving on.  We decided to head back to Angkor Watt and explore the inner perimeter.  We’d missed our second day due to The Hangover and wouldn’t have time to do a third day, so this was it!  We had to make it count!  I think we got officially ‘templed out’ after two hours.  Yeah, it was a poor effort.
John took us back to Siem Reap and dropped us off in town so that we could explore.  Siem Reap is a beautiful city, the locals have a real passion for art and a lot of the architecture is nice and French.  Kayleigh bagged herself a load of silk too at a cheap price.  Note her reference to the landslide at the end of the post, tee hee!

 

 

 

When we got back to the guesthouse we decided to top up our cash cards online as they were now empty.  Both of us found our bank cards appeared to have been blocked.  Why oh why do bad things happen to good people I ask you?!  This was a little alarming for various reasons: we had to pay our tab at the guesthouse, we had to pay for the coach we were getting later on, and we did not want to arrive at the next destination with no money.  We couldn’t use skype to contact our bank (because you had to buy credit with your bank card, and ours weren’t working!), the telephone was only for domestic calls and our phones still wouldn’t work.  We tried a few other cash points with no luck and began to do what we did best: panic.  Kayleigh suggested we try and buy a sim card, my phone was unlocked so it should work.  We bought one between us (we had just enough cash for a sim card and some credit, how lucky is that!) and the woman who worked there very kindly helped us to top the card up.  I say she helped, she actually just did it for us.  We then each phoned our banks and managed to get our cards unblocked.  The guy I spoke to sounded incredibly bored, I guessed I wasn’t the first backpacker he’d had to tell off that day.  So yeah, I learnt the hard way that you are supposed to tell your bank that you are going to a developing country before you go there, whoops!
 
Disaster averted, we went and found a hotel with a free swimming pool and spent the afternoon lounging and speculating about one day owning our own shop together (you know, like best friends do).  At some point, I can’t remember on which day, we watched The Killing Fields in preparation for our visit to Phnom Penh.  This is a fantastic but haunting film and is great for learning about Cambodia and its more recent history.  While we waited for our coach to arrive we joined in with a pub quiz that was being held for charity and had a little bit to drink (only a very little bit this time!).  Midnight came around and we were loaded up and beginning another journey that we suspected would at some point go wrong, as you’ll discover in my next post, it didn’t disappoint.