The trip is over… a map and a debrief!

A joint effort by 2.5 Kiwis, the Service Design Travel Companions and Moose.

To start off with, here is a map of where we went on our trip (click on it once to see it at full size):

 Map of SE Asia

From Julia:  Back to Bangkok!   Boo hoo… our 8 weeks are up, it is time for me to stay put for a while and I must reluctantly let Megan go back to NZ (I am going to miss her soooo much).  I am at my dads place and will stay here for a month while preparing to go volunteering up north (trying to learn Thai and gathering teaching resources).  At the end of October I am going to catch up with my ozzie mates Aimee and Jono as they are stopping off in Bangkok on the way to the islands down south.   After that I will head to North Eastern Thailand for my Volunthai experience!    So, even though I am not traveling, life is good and I have many more adventures to come.

From Megan: Home James!  And so we’ve reached the end. What an adventure. The experience has been incredible. I have done things I never thought I would. Seeing South East Asia and interacting with the people without the “shelter” of a tour group really was the best way to do it.  I am looking forward to coming home. I can now appreciate how lucky I am to be a Kiwi. However I am going to miss Julia like crazy. We have been attached at the hip 24/7 for the last 2 months. It is going to be hard to leave tonight that’s for sure!    

From the Service Design Travel Companions:  Well, firstly – Julia was VERY slack at emailing and posting photos of us, but having said that we did get to see some stuff which was cool and we met lots of cool people (who thought we were very strange).   We have told Julia off and she said she will post some photos of us that she took during the trip.  We think that now Megan has gone to New Zealand we might get to hang out with Julia some more.  Here are some of the photos we liked the best, Ale (red finger) and Amanda (yellow finger) suggested we post the toilet photos because they make great conversation starters:

    This lady had funny clothes. Beer…. yum Us and the tank Snorkelling is fun! A toilet we discussed while drinking jugs on the beach We were all hung-over (it was like after the Christmas party last year) Team Photo - Megan, Julia, Mini Moose, Max and SD Travel Companions Vietnamese coffee is the best.  As usual we drank a lot of coffee. A funny toilet sign that we liked a lot (especially Amanda and Ale) A nice lady we met in Saigon.  She thought we were cool.

A note from Max the Kiwi: Well, I’ve had a great holiday I liked it best when I was stuck to Julia’s bag and got to make lots of noise (thus causing some embarrassment to Julia and Megan and strange looks from everyone else).  The worst part of the holiday was when Megan got sick of my noise and I had to undergo surgery and have my voice box removed.   It hurt a lot but afterwards Megan was a lot nicer to me.    Now I am in Bangkok with Julia, I don’t go out much but she has promised to take me to North Eastern Thailand with her next month.  That will be exciting.  

A note from Moose:I am looking forward to going back to New Zealand with Megan as it will be a lot colder than in SE Asia and I get to see my dad (he let me go travelling with Megan which was nice of him).   I spent most of the holiday on Megans bag, it was funny because everyone thought that she was Canadian because of me!   I liked Hoi Ann the best because Megan bought me a new outfit.  Check out my photo:    

Mooses new clothes

Eating spiders and crashing the tuk tuk in Siem Reap

Posted by Megan: 

I haven’t really contributed much to the last few blogs, mainly because I have been too tired and/or hung over so it is now my turn to contribute something useful!

We travelled via deluxe bus North East of the Cambodian Tonle Sap River to Siem Reap, stopping off on the way to sample the fried spider (a local specialty). For the record, it tasted like a salty stick, personally I was hoping for sour cream and chives or salt and vinegar. We spent the afternoon wandering the streets and markets of Siem Reap and discovered a gorgeous bakery called the Blue Pumpkin.

The highlight of Siem Reap province is the temple ruins of Angkor Wat, which were built between AD 802 and 1432. We set aside 3 days to explore the region and hired a tuk tuk and driver to guide us. First stop was the mother of all temples Angkor Wat itself. We clambered through the ruins feeling like Indiana Jones. We both even braved the steep steps to the top for magnificent views of the Angkor complex. Getting down was a bit more of a challenge but still worth it. We climbed up to the top of the Phnom Bakheng Mountain and it started to pour with rain. By the time we arrived back at the tuk tuk we were both saturated. We had lunch and waited for the rain to stop and in the afternoon we visited was the 10 sq km fortified city of Angkor Thom, the highlight of which was the Bayon which is decorated with a collection of 216 smiling enormous faces.

Angkor Wat Bayon faces  Julia and Megan at Angkor 

The next day we started a bit later and headed out to the see more of the smaller temples in the Grand Circuit and the much awaited Ta Prohm, as featured in the Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie. Suddenly and without a single word our tuk tuk came over a bridge and around a corner, slowly veering off the road, down the bank and into the ditch. At first we thought our driver was dodging a pothole, or pulling over to show us some wild life (there are wild monkeys that hang out in the area), but no, the steering had locked up and we were in the ditch! Our driver was extremely shaken and apologetic….we thought it was a hell of a joke and helped him push the trailer and the bike back up onto the road. Everybody, including the tuk tuk was in one piece. Coincidently, an English couple we met in Vietnam happened to be cycling past and stopped to see what the commotion was, so we arranged to meet them for dinner later on!

Crashing the Tuk Tuk   Detail on temple Julia and her new friend mr elephant

On the final day, we ventured further to Banteay Srei, about 45 minutes from Siem Reap. We both enjoyed seeing rural Cambodian life more than the actual temple itself. We also stopped off to see the Aki Ra Land Mine Museum. This guy was a child soldier during the war and has dedicated his life to finding and clearing the land mines he himself helped set during the war. The Cambodian government believes that promoting such a museum is bad for tourism so he pays the authorities $50USD a month to stay open! In the afternoon Julia stayed in Siem Reap while I ventured out to the Roluos Group of Temples for a look. So now – to use the official terminology we are both “all templed out” and ready to move on to Laos.

Greetings from Siem Reap

Hi folks, just a quick update from Julia to let you know that I have updated the blog, I put up 2 new posts from 14th Sept:

  • Back in Phnom Penh
  • Sihanoukville: 2.5 days of sea and seafood (and no sun)

We are in Siem Reap at the moment but tomorrow we will be leaving Cambodia to fly to Vientiane (Laos).   We arrived in Siem Reap by bus on the 15th Sept and have spent the last few days roaming around the various temples in Angkor.  Siem Reap is a pretty cool town with lots of bars/cafes and markets.  The temples of Angkor are spectacular… We will post some photos/text in the next couple of days.

I hope everyone is fine and dandy

Julia

Back in Phnom Penh

Posted by Julia: 

We are back in Phnom Penh, due to the fact both of us are feeling “a little off form” today due to the “food poisoning” we haven’t done much. We had planned to visit the temple and maybe check out the Russian market, instead we have had an afternoon of chilling out.   Here are a few pics:

Temple Monks Phnom Penh - temple and kids in the street

While eating my lunch in a cosy roadside cafe (while Megan slept) I watched life go by in the city. I watched the tuk tuk and moto drivers waiting for their next ride, I watched the homeless kids playing in the street and tourists wandering around fending off kids trying to sell them books or sunglasses. I really like Cambodia but it is probably the hardest place I have visited so far because the poverty is so bad.

I learnt today that one in eight children in Cambodia die before their 5th birthday, mostly due to preventable causes and that 34% of the population live on less than $1USD a day. It breaks my heart seeing children forced to work long hours (mostly selling stuff to tourists) or worse, living in the street, begging and playing with rubbish.

I find the poverty so frustrating; I feel I need to do something to help but I don’t know where to start. I feel so helpless and even a bit guilty of the fact that my life is so rich compared to these people (rich as in – I have a good future, I have money, I have freedom and I am happy).

Many organisations advise tourists not to give money/sweets directly to the kids as it encourages them to beg instead of going to school.  We have been giving the kids (in non-touristy areas) little gifts of toothbrushes, soaps and combs that I have been collecting from the hotels we stay at. We have both been giving to the various charity donation boxes while travelling.

If you read this and compelled to do something to help…. here is a link to a website of a charity that I like the look of: www.helpthecambodianchildren.org.  If you have some spare $ perhaps you might like to make a once off donation (or even a monthly donation). Any donation (even if it is small) will make a big difference to these kids as an education will give them hope for a better future.

OR if you know some children who are under 15 perhaps you could encourage them to be pen pals with some of
the kids in Cambodia: ww.helpthecambodianchildren.org/?q=penpals.

OK that is enough from me. This is a bit of a depressing post I know – I promise the next one will be more
upbeat! : )

Sihanoukville: 2.5 days of sea and seafood (and no sun)

Posted by Julia (written on 14/09/07, posted on 18/09/07)   

Well, as we mentioned the plan was to head to the beach for 2.5 days of sun, sea and seafood with the primary aim of topping up our tans. We caught a bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville which was a very pleasant experience the bus was nice and cool, we got food and water for free, the music wasn’t too loud, the driver drove on the correct side of the road, we went faster than 40km/hr AND we arrived on time! Completely different to the Vietnamese buses.

The bus stopped off halfway at a special roadside shrine to pray to Buddha to ask for a safe journey and make an offering of bananas. Unfortunately the guy doing the praying forgot to ask for nice weather, consequently it rained for 2 days and our tans didn’t get topped up at all! No worries, we still had a lot of fun.

Roadside Temple Shrines on the side of the road

Sihanoukville is a pretty cool place to get some sun (if its not raining), there are restaurants/bars along the waterfront and it’s really cheap, as its not well developed (yet). The only problem with the beach is the presence of little kids that constantly hound you to buy their bracelets and paintings. No exaggeration, we arrived, put our packs down, ordered a drink and voila at least 12 kids magically appeared to give us the hard sell.

These kids have some pretty mean tactics ranging from – taking time to make friends with you to a constant whinge in your ear. THEN if you actually buy the stuff all the others start whinging at you “you bought from her why you not buy from me?” You walk away, they follow you. You say you don’t want it, they whinge. You ask how much, you find out its hideously expensive. Dealing with the kids was the most traumatic thing we have had to deal with (ok, maybe burning our bathroom in Hue was worse), it took us at least 2 hours to recover!

Having said that Megan did commission a painting from a very cute 11 year old boy (Ly), she asked him to paint a picture of them on the beach. The look on his face when she agreed to buy his specially ordered painting was so cute and he was stoked to have a project to work on!

Megan, Ly and the painting 

When we arrived in Sihanoukville we were a tad stressed out by the kids and disheartened by the crappy weather so we decided to splash out and treat ourselves to a flash room. For $25 USD we got a lovely room by the pool side, with real sheets, hot water, aircon, TV, fridge, a lovely bathroom and a leather lounge suite/coffee table. It was such a treat.

To even out our budget on the second day we moved to “Monkey Republic Bungalows” and paid $5 for a cute bungalow, with a toilet that doesn’t have a flusher (you use a bucket, a steep learning curve for Megan) and a cold shower. We promptly went out to buy air-freshener and made a plan to have “a few” drinks on the beach before retiring to our bungalow to help with the sleeping process.

After a couple of beers, we discovered that you can buy jugs of Vodka, Red bull and Lemonade for $3 each. So we sat in comfy chairs on the beach, sipping from our jugs and had BBQ food for dinner. It was a very enjoyable evening as we worked out how to get rid of the kids (be stern with the first one, word goes out that you aren’t to be messed with and they don’t even try to sell you their stuff).  As we were leaving we met a crazy British guy with his Thai wife who shouted us some wines which was nice (the guy was a hoot and I got to practice my Thai). 

Our Jugs 

We are not sure if it was dinner, the beer, the jugs of vodka or the copious amounts of wine we drank…. but something seemed to have triggered a bout of food poisoning.   I won’t give details, but lets just say it was an “interesting” journey back to the hostel, for some reason we couldn’t walk straight, the 5 min walk to the hostel took over an hour and required a tuk tuk, we needed a bucket on arrival and we both feeling a little off colour today. Don’t worry though, these bouts of “food poisoning” are usually over within 24 hours so we will be ok tomorrow.

Message to our concerned parents: Don’t worry we are looking after each other and we are making sure that we keep very safe at all times (even when we drink dodgy food).

Phnom Penh

Posted by Megan: 

We checked ourselves into the Okay Guest House (which actually turned out to be not so okay….I won’t describe the filth in detail, but needless to say we have splashed out tonight paying $18 for a room in a different hotel instead of $6). It is pretty bad if you decide not to take a shower because it would be cleaner not to!!!

The first awesome thing we have noticed about Cambodia is the improvement in food. The food here is delicious. The best thing so far is the Amok (a coconut and lemongrass curry). On the down side, we have both noticed a remarkable increase in the number of beggars. It is so hard as we can’t give to everybody and it makes you think how lucky we are. Julia gave a half-drunk bottle of water to a lady who was extremely grateful.

We jumped into a tuk tuk to go down to the Tuol Sleng Museum. Both of us were rather apprehensive about going as we had a Norwegian traveller with tears streaming down his face telling us about his visit the day before.  Formerly the site was a high school, but was taken over by Pol Pot’s security forces between 1975 and 1979 and turned into a prison, the largest centre of detention and torture in Cambodia.  It was so sad to see room after room of prisoner photos in the actual setting where the horrific torture occurred.  Of the 17,000 people detained only 7 survived.