A Travellerspoint blog

Week 7 & 8 - South Coast of Cambodia

Krong Ko kong, Sihanoukville, Kampot & Kep

Our next stop was Krong Ko Kong, a coastal town on the border between Cambodia and Thailand. The town itself was fairly small and quiet, with not a great deal to do apart from its main attraction of a boat trip to the uninhabited island of Koh Kong. We booked onto a boat trip the day after we arrived and set off early in the morning to the island. On the way to the island we passed some amazing beaches lined with palm trees, completely deserted, so we had high expectations of the beach we were heading to. Unfortunately, the beach we arrived at wasn’t as nice as the ones we had passed on the way, the beach was pretty narrow and full of washed up plants and seaweed but the water was still nice so we had a snorkel armed with a harpoon gun! Unsurprisingly, the fish were safe as we couldn’t work out how to use it and Josh took the elastic harpoon band to the chops whilst trying to arm it!

We then were called over for our fancy seafood barbeque we were promised. This was a bit of an anticlimax as there no barbeque and the just brought over a plate of shrimps and some rice. Also, we had been promised free drinking water all day on the boat but after the four hour boat trip there, we then found out they hadn’t brought any water with them! They had to boil some of the stream water up for us which came out warm and brown, not the most thirst quenching drink after snorkeling and sunbathing in the midday sun! Before we left the Island we went on a small trek up a stream to some fresh water pools.

The journey back was a bit of a nightmare, we didn’t return until it was pitch black and it took about 5 hours, when we were told it would be 2 hours! We managed to get some money back and this paid for our bus down to Sihanoukville which we took the following day.
Sihanoukville is well known as a coastal party destination and is full of backpackers keen to take advantage of the cheap alcohol and beach front bars. Needless to say we made the most of this and had a couple of nights out drinking Mekong whisky buckets and playing beer pong on the beach! We stayed at a good guesthouse called monkey republic which was run by four lads from Cambridge who moved out to Cambodia a few years ago. It was cheap and lively with good food.

Our days here were spent chilling at Otres beach which was a short tuk tuk ride down the coast and was a lot quieter and cleaner than the hectic Sihanoukville beachfront. When it was raining or when we were feeling worse for wear, we made good use of the cinema rooms where you could watch films in a private room with comfy chairs, popcorn and air-con! We also managed to watch the weekends football in a bar on a big screen, where to our surprise, the ex-Chelsea, Portsmouth and West Ham manager Avram Grant was sat behind us enjoying a beer with the football! Rob shamelessly asked him for a picture but to his disappointment, the flash didn’t go off so the beautiful moment couldn’t be captured.
A short boat journey from Sihanoukville was the Island of Koh Rong (a.k.a Monkey Island). We stayed here at a place called treehouse bungalows where you could stay in seafront or tree top wooden bungalows that looked out to an incredible view of other islands. We stayed here for one night and soaked up the sun on the stunning beaches of the island where we snorkeled and ate barracuda fish in the chilled atmosphere.
We then moved on down the coast to Kampot where we hired motorbikes and rode through Bokor national park 10km outside the town. This was the first time we had been on motorbikes here and within 5 minutes we were soaked through after the heavens opened! We filled up a full tank of petrol and headed up the mountainous 45km road through the national park. The views were unbelievable throughout the park, we stopped regularly to take some snaps and take in the amazing scenery. The road itself was great fun, we bombed around hairpin bends and raced each other to the top! On the way we saw waterfalls, large Buddha statues and old French colonial buildings that were used as casinos/hotels before the civil war. At the highest points you could see for miles and with the clouds below you, these were some of the most stunning views we had seen on our trip so far.

After getting carried away and being far to heavy handed with the throttle on the way up, we realized at the top that we were all pretty much on empty tanks so we had to coast it on the way down and gamble that we would make it home!
About 30km down the coast was the small fishing town of Kep, world renowned for its fresh crab. Here we hired motorbikes and explored the coastal road and Kep national park, where we rode around the dirt tracks admiring the views. We visited a temple at the top of a large hill and looked out onto the coast as the sun was going down. On our way home we got some incredible views of the sunset and made our way to the famous crab market, with restaurants on the waterfront where we had lunch and dinner. The crab lived up to its reputation and was delicious.........which was nice.

From Kep we went on a day trip to Rabbit Island, a 30 minute boat ride off the coast. We had a cracking day here, chilling on a beautiful beach, throwing a ball around, reading in hammocks, playing volleyball surrounded by tall palm trees, bamboo huts and jungle in the background, a great way to end our journey through Cambodia which has been nothing short of sublime!
Next stop, Vietnam!
Keep it in third,
Karl, Meredith and Griffith

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Posted by Ben-Rob-Josh 02:37 Comments (0)

Week 5 & 6 - Into Cambodia

Siem reap, Angkor, Battambang & Phnom Penh

After the 4000 Islands, we crossed the Laos border into Cambodia and took a hellish bus journey to Siem Reap where we had to sit on the floor on the isle of the bus for 8 hours straight, listening to asian music which sounded like a cat being strangled.... we then had to change buses at 2am for another 9 hour stint!
On arrival, Josh chanced his arm with the Cambodian cowboy dentists and after 5 injections and root canal treatment, his chronic toothache eased and it turned out ok.
For 4 dollars a night we stayed in a really nice hotel with a massive room and an awesome pool. We spent the first day chilling by the pool and exploring the town centre and the night market, you mums would have loved it, useless tat everywhere!
We went out for some really nice meals with in the town centre with the group we met in Laos, and had one or two lively nights out on the notorious 'Pub Street' which was tidy darts!
We visited the Siem Reap War museum which was really interesting, it was an open air museum with tanks, planes, helicopters and weaponry (mines, guns, bombs etc). We were guided round by an ex soldier who was forced to fight for the khmer rouge army at the age of 15, fighting for the army that brutally killed his entire family. As you can imagine, he had some chilling stories and war wounds to show (including a missing leg from a land mine) he brought us up to speed on the horrific Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot.
Our next visit was to the infamous Angkor Wat. We left at 5am to see the sunrise behind the temple that has been dubbed 'the eighth wonder of the world'. It was an impressive sight even for some glazed over, 5am eyes, and worth the early start! We spent the rest of the day wondering round Angkor Wats temples including the temple full of large bhuddist faces as well as the temple with tree roots intertwined into the structure that was used as a set in the first Tomb Raider movie!
We really enjoyed our time in Siem Reap and was one of the highlights of our trip so far.
After Siem Reap we moved our way down to Battambang. The town seemed like a ghostown as most shops and restaurants were closed as the country was in mourning after the Cambodian King died the day before.
Whilst in Battambang we hired a tuk tuk for the day, first taking us to the bamboo train. This was a small bamboo cart with a motor at the back that travelled along some ropey train tracks. The train ran on a single track so if there was another cart coming from the opposite direction, the lightest cart would be lifted off the track so other could pass, thankfully this didn't effect us too badly due to our western builds fuelled by a diet of fried rice and beers! Half way through our train ride, we stopped off at a small village where we were kitted out with wrist bands, rings and badges made from long leaves by the village children. We then travelled back dodging cows, chickens and fishermen walking down the track, stopping briefly when our driver jumped off a bridge into the river to check his fishing nets/ dinner!
Our next visit was to the killing caves in Battambang where innocent men, women and children were torturted and thrown into the deep caves left to die by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-79, which wasbrutal but worth seeing.
When leaving the caves, our driver told us to wait for a bit to see the bats from the cave make their daily trip to feed at the lakes. It was well worth the wait as hundreds of thousands of bats flew out a small gap in the side of the caves in a huge line which from a distance looked like a crowd of smoke moving aross the horizon.
Our next stop was the capital, Phnom Penh, which was filled with shirines and rememberance of the late king, the streets were ridiculously busy as many people from all over were in the capital to pay their respects, the funeral was was held there the day before we arrived.
We had one day of sight seeing in Phnom Penh, hiring a tuk tuk for the day to take us to the main attractions. Our first stop was the shooting range, this was bizarre but such good fun, no health and safety required, no signing consent, just pay money and shoot! You could shoot anything, tommy guns, bazukas, you name it! We shot Ak-47s, M-16s, a sub machine gun and a revolver! We fired at coconuts and targets after a 30 second introduction of how to use the weapons- Aim and fire! Our shot was pretty poor at first but we all managed to dessemate our coconuts eventually! Josh hit the sign down with the sub machine gun and claims he hit the target but after our video evidence was examined it was clear that he hit the bricks above it.... massive claimer!
Our next stop was a complete contrast, we visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal museum, also known as the killing fields. On entry you got given headsets which taked you through each section of the fields and gave some fist hand accounts of what went on from victims/survivors and convicted khmer rouge personnel. It firstly explained Pol Pot's extremist, communist regime where over 3 million people were killed between 74 and 79. He killed intellectuals and city workers, trying to create a pure working class society. You could even be killed for wearing glasses or having soft hands. His army (Khmer Rouge) forced everyone out the city to the countryside where they have to work slave labour 20hours a day with one bowl of rice, many died of starvation and disease. The most disturbing part was the babies that were swung by their legs and had their heads smashed against a tree until they died, this 'killing tree' still stands there today. The headsets also played the classical music that was played extremely loud throughout the camp to drown out the screams of the victims so the new blindfolded victims that arrived by the truckload would not yet know their fate.
We couldn't beleive how recently it all happened and that the rest of the world were virtually unaware of what was going on in Cambodia. Even more surprising was the fact that the Khmer Rouge was still recognised as the main political party in Cambodia in the 1990s and were even given a seat in the UN!
Later on that day we visited the famous S-21 prison in the centre of Phnom Penh. This was originally a school that had been transformed into a brutal prison where torture and killings were carried out daily. Out of 14,000 people that were sent there, only 7 survived. Out of those who died, 9 europeans were caught up in this madness and lost their lives here. Most of them were tortured so badly that they confessed to crimes they had never commited, one Australian man admitted to being in the CIA so they had a reason to kill him as he wanted the torturing to stop, you can read his and hundreds of other confessions in the museum. Lots of the torturing equipment was still there to be seen, including the gallows in the courtyard. It was chilling walking around the place knowing that thousands of people had died where you were standing and such brutal things went on.
On a lighter note, after a week or two of putting it off, we all found the courage to get a haircut in one of the dodgy Cambodian salons. We were right to be wary as our lids got Pat Butchered and came out like we'd been dragged through a hedge backwards!
We had a couple of nice meals by the waterfront, testing out the traditional Cambodian dishes of Amok and Lok Lak, both of which were amazing!

Were now heading to the south coast of Cambodia in search of some nice beaches!
Loving life,
The Boys xxx

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Posted by Ben-Rob-Josh 10:47 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Week 4 - Southern Laos

Vientiane, Konglor Caves and 4000 Islands

After a few nights in Vang Vieng we moved onto the capital city Vientiane by bus. When we went out everywhere was closed early and government guards were patrolling the streets as there was a international summit about Lao- European relations. As we were having a drink outside our guesthouse, there were groups men not wearing any official uniform roaming the streets with AK-47 machine guns, telling people to go back to their rooms!
Vientiane was not the most appealing of places and there wasn't a great deal to do or see so we only stayed there for two days. We then got got a 10hr bus heading south towards the Kong Lo Caves. The views from the bus were incredible, the roads cut through the mountains so there was stunning scenery pretty much the whole way on either sides.
We arrived at Konglor as the sun was going down so we quickly booked ourself into the one and only guesthouse in the village. Konglor was literally in the middle of knowhere and being there was the first time since trekking that we felt cut off from civilisation!
The next morning we woke up early and made our way don to the Konglor Caves. The caves were amazing, 7.5km of underground cave which took about 40 minutes to get to the other side. We travelled through on a longtail boat that was skillfully navigated by our guide, apart from one occaision where we ran aground and had to get out and move the boat in the darkness. We used headlights to see the incredible views through the caves. We were surprised by the huge scale of the caves, openings and high cave ceilings the size of concert halls were broken up by impressive staglegmites. Roughly 100m into the caves we got out of the boat to an area of stalegmites that had been lit up so you could walk through and see them in detail and take some good photos.
After seeing the caves we quickly moved on towards the 4000 islands. The journey was not the greatest of trips, we took a 4hr tuk tuk to the nearest bus station then jumped on a 14 hr bus to get to the river crossing where we took a short boat ride to Don Det one of the two main islands of the 4000 islands, along with Don Khong. We turned up very early in the morning and after some breakfast we found some accomodation. We stayed in a basic but cool place called paradise bungalows. These were essentialyy wooden shacks on stilts overlooking the mekong river. They also had hammocks on the balcony which were so chilled.
The island was really chilled out with all sorts of animals roaming the paths freely. It was a very beautiful place but the weather wasn't great for the most of the time and as it is rainy season, the mekong was brown and dirty compared to the clear river in the dry season. Despite this, we still had some good weather spells and managed to hire bikes and explore the islands which were very beautiful and green. We visited waterfalls and a kind of river beach that was also picturesque at sunset, we tried to swim here but the sand turned into sinking sand as josh found out when we pushed him in and he was flapping about making a tit of himself panicking!
During one of the flash heavy downpours a local man invited us into his house for some shelter where he forced us shots of Lao Lao whisky that was rancid and not the ideal mid morning tipple!
We had a lot of trouble with our bikes due to the bumpy, uneven roads, with our chains and pedals falling off willy nilly. Josh had the worst of the luck and after we came out from the waterfall about 5km from where we were staying, his front tyre was completely flat so after jogging a fair while he got a local man to fix it on the side of the track who was very friendly and helpful much like all the Lao people we encountered.
In the evenings we chilled at bars on the riverfront and chilled in the hammo cks watching the sun go down.
The place we stayed at was run by a Lao family that were helped out by an amerian hippy couple, Lance and Donna. They were hippies in their 60s, who for the most of time sat jamming on a guitar, smoking doobs all day, but were friendly and helpful nonetheless.
After a few days here we had seen most of the islands and decided to move on, heading to the Cambodian border.
See you on the flipside,
The three musketeers x
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Posted by Ben-Rob-Josh 04:26 Comments (0)

Week 3 - Northern Laos

Slow Boat, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng

We took a two day slow boat from the Thai/ Laos border down the Mekong river to Luang Prabang. Before we got on the slow boat, we had a quick stop off at "The White Temple". A temple designed by a controversial Thai artist who wanted to combine popular western culture with traditional bhuddism. From a distance it looks really impressive, and as you look closer you begin to see some bizarre statues and paintings which appear really out of place. For example a statue of predator and paintings of star wars, spiderman, Bin Laden and the twin towers to name just a few! Very odd! The walk in is meant to symbolise tyhe journey through hell to heaven so you walk through some bizarre sculptures of hands and skulls coming from the ground!
The slow boat was a great way to travel, as the views down the Mekong were incredible- untouched scenery and remote villages with kids playing in the river dotted along the way. It was also nice to be out of a cramped bus for the long journey and cruising along with cold beers and a breeze was ideal! We met a good group of people on the boat including some Canadians, Dutch and some Northerners from Wigan. After spending three days with them we got to know them quite well and have been travellling through Laos with them ever since, along with our Chillean friends and Australian friend Maverick (yes his name is Maverick and the top gun jokes are not always well received!) who we met whilst trekking.
We really enjoyed our time in Luang Prabang and overall it's probably our favourite place we've stayed in so far. It had a really chilled atmosphere and wasn't too busy and there were lots of things to do in around the town. On our first night we went for a nice meal altogether, and the bars around the town, then ended up in a bizarre asian nightclub with ridiculously loud electro music, but no dancefloor! But all the people were really friendly and buying us drinks!
The next day we visited a national park with waterfalls and a bear sanctuary just outside of Luang Prabang. The bear sanctuary hosted asiatic black bears and seeing them upclose at feeding time was good. We then went onto the waterfalls, trekking half an hour or so to the top where the view was amazing. After getting hot and sweaty on the way down we had a refreshing dip in the waterfall pools. We spent a couple of hours swinging off trees into the water by a ropeswing and diving off he mini waterfalls. We got some good photos and action shots!
That evening we went to the night market and ate an all you can eat dinner for 80p!
By the time we finished dinner all the bars were shut as they have a 11:30 curfew in the town! So we went to the only place open late at night which was the bowling alley! It was packed full of backpackers and we had a quality laugh into the early hours. Our bowling was shocking but we put it down to the beers, but it was weird as everone else seemed to do alright! When returning back to our guesthouse we found the biggest spider we had ever seen in our room and after a traumatic ordeal with Rob being a wetter jumping up on the bed, Arch lured him onto Josh's pillow and we threw it out towards the girls room down the hall- then they discvered it in their room the next day and came out screaming so Josh, armed with a flip flop, provided the muscle to knock it for six!
After another day relaxing by a pool in Luang Prabang, we got a 6hr bus down to Vang Vieng, the famous touristic tubing town. The drive was pretty sketchy and we went up
up some ridiculously winding roads with some sheer drops, again surrounded by breathtaking scenery of mountains and small villages in the distance.
We were expecting a really busy place full of tourists but it was fairly quiet but the backpackers and tourists still managed to pack out a few bars through the town. It was quiet as it's the off season but mainly because the towns main attraction of tubing with bars and zip lines has been shut down by Lao police as there were 27 deaths last year from the tubing! You can still go tubing down the river though, so we did that, about 35 of us that went down the river together from people we met over the last couple of days, so we had a few cool boxes full of beer and floated down the river peacefully enjoying the mountains in the background, stopping now and then down the river. It looks odd floating past the bars that have been smashed up by police, its a bit of a ghost town and weird to think a month or two before there would have been thousands of people tubing down the river with music blaring. The tubing was really enjoyable and we made a good day of it anyhow.
The day after we rented out bikes and cycled roughly 10 miles to a blue lagoon and caves just outside of Vang Vieng. We were cycling in really nice rural areas away from the touristy shops etc. It was so nice to see the typical Laos villages and kids playing in streams and families going about their day. The views and scenery were stunning, Laos is such a beautiful country, especially in the areas away from tourist bars and shops. The caves were really impressive and there was a Bhudda shrine deep into the cave which looked unusual in thepitch black darkness. Swimming and rope swinging in the blue lagoon was nice too, especially after getting so hot and sweaty oin the ride up! We also met a local man with a bear cub which he told us he had bought! It was real cute and we had a good time playing with it but it probably wasnt in the greatest hands as Maverick got bitten whilst it was playing and he managed to drop it on the floor!
All the best,
Ben, Rob and Josh x
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Posted by Ben-Rob-Josh 04:25 Comments (0)

Week 2- Trekking Northern Thailand

Elephant Trekking, Bamboo Rafting and Living in a Mountain Village...

A group of 10 of us set off on our trek at 6am, we took a landrover for 2hrs heading towards the jungle north of Chiang Mai. The views on the journey were amazing with rice fields and remote villages with stunning scenery. After getting stuck briefly off-road when heading up the mountains, we arrived at the start point for our trek. Equipped with knife and slingshot we began walking through the jungle area with our guide Mr Ton, the Thai equivalent of Ray Mears but funnier! His knowledge of the jungle and outdoors was amazing as he grew up in a mountain village. He showed us how to make hats and childrens toys with leaves from banana plants and showed us the natural medicines and fruits the mountain people use as well as the hideouts of loads of interesting wildlife. We walked for an hour or so before reaching a river where we spent the morning elephant trekking.
The elephant trekking was amazing! our elephant took us up some steep and narrow terrain and showed some tidy footwork for a big lad. It was a bit sketchy at times as our elephant was particularly boisterous and wanted to go off the track, at one point we thought we were going to fall over the edge of a drop when our elephant stretched over as he found a plant he liked the look of down the hillside! We then trekked for about two hours in the heat, sweating buckets but enjoying the amazing views. Later on that day we reached our home for the night, a wooden hut that had been built by the villagers that sat at the top of a hill, overlooking a stunning view with the mountains in the distance.
After settling in we started preparing our evening meal together learning some tasty thai dishes cooked over the open fire. After dinner we set up rat traps which we placed in the jungle to see if we could catch some overnight. We then listened to Mr Ton's pan flute he had made whilst walking that afternoon and then he played some interesting versions of some classic songs on the guitar! Later that night we went out on a night trek which was good fun searching for wildlife with our headlights.
We spent the second day trekking through the jungle, stopping for some lunch wrapped up in banana leaves with chopsticks Mr Ton had made earlier with some bamboo he chopped down! The views were incredible and after a fairly long trek through thick vegetation and steep hills we reached the mountain village where we would be spending the night. It was literally in the middle of knowhere in a beautiful setting. The village is completely self sustaining with chickens roaming about freely and pigs under the huts we slept in. We set up a campfire and helped crush the rice we would have for dinner and cooked some sticky sweet rice inside bamboo. The vilage children then got home from their 8km walk from school and we played football using a wicker ball with them on the hill and fired slingshots at targets until it got dark. The kids then taught us some of their games they play which was really good fun before we ate dinner the villagers cooked us, sitting in their lounge which was also their bedroom! After dinner the kids put on a dance show for us and we sang songs round the campfire with a guitar and some beers and thai rum. It was amazing experience living with them away from civilisation and was arguably the highlight of the trek. The next day we said our goodbyes and gave the kids some lollies as presents which went down well! We then set off again into the jungle where we walked to a river to do some bamboo rafting. This was so much fun floating down the river with incredible scenery whilst dodging rocks, trees and sharp corners. We all fell in at least once with rob taking the plunge twice! Next we got picked up and driven to the highest waterfall in Northern Thailand where we had to trek up for half an hour to reach it. It was an amazing sight at the top and we got some good photos. We then went from a swim in it further down, sliding down through the mini waterfalls at the bottom, this was great fun an a refreshing wash after 3 days of trekking and was a fantastic end to an amazing trip! We met some great people on the trek and broadened our international contacts with chillean, canadian, australian, german and spanish people we made friends with.
Tomorrow we are taking a bus to the Laos/ Thai border where we will be taking a slow, long boat along the mekong river for 3 days to Luang Prabang.
All the best,
The boys xxx
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Posted by Ben-Rob-Josh 09:56 Comments (0)

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