Musings From Cambodia

  • Driving around blind corners in rural Cambodia 101: Maintain speed, but get on your horn. The Camry going in the opposite direction with their shithouse Cambodian karaoke soap-opera music blaring will clearly hear you, and slow down accordingly.
  • If the video clip for a song is too raunchy for the Chinese Music Channel (think MTV), simply play the song while showing still photos (with zoom effect) of beautiful, fully clad, Chinese girls.
  • The stars are all wrong here! How does the Northern Hemisphere cope?
  • Make friends with the dogs at your place of stay by means of a quick scratch to the head. This stops you getting mauled when you return at night. The positive of not losing a leg clearly outweighs any problems with hygiene from touching said dog.
  • Kittens are valuable because they eat all the insects. It’s a pretty cute form of predation. Cats eat the rats, dogs eat the food scraps, and the cats if they can catch them. Which they can’t.
  • King Mattias the 1st’s edicts when he takes over Cambodia: 1. Pick up all the rubbish around and under your house (not inside, we know that’s obsessively swept clean, anyway). 2. Pick up all the rubbish in a 200m radius around your house. 3. Go to the forest. Pick up any rubbish. 4. Put it all in your new bin (a receptacle for waste. This may take some getting used to). It will be dealt with at the earliest possible date within the next 7 years.
  • Their adults turn out as butt ugly as the rest of the world, but Asians definitely have the cutest kids in the world.
  • Rear view mirrors are the perfect place to attach your DVD player. Who needs to see behind them? Cambodians are only moving forwards.
  • No one in Cambodia has actually figured out how to make a road, yet. My theory is that the French built all the roads before they left (pre-mid 1950’s?), and no one has figured out the process since. The tar used for patching up the roads since has worked fine, though, assuming they were trying to copy European cobble stone roads.
  • While completely grateful about the fact, I long pondered how and why, on my bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, the speaker above my head was putting out not the horrible Cambodian pop music that its counterpart across the aisle had more successfully managed, but air conditioned air.
  • It appears that just as taking a test to get your driving license in Cambodia is completely unnecesary, so is the ability to change gears in a manual car.
  • Whenever vehicles use their horns to signal their intention of overtaking or just making sure no one steps in front of them I can’t help but think they’re saying “hello, here I am, it is me!” in the voice of Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast.

You’re completely right, a lot of this post really was just me having a whinge. It felt pretty good, thanks.

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My Travels So Far Pt 1: Bangkok

Apparently Facebook updates don’t cut it for detail, so this post is the exact reason why I created this blog. This post is going to be an attempt to detail my travels so far a little. It’s going to be long, it’s going to be messy (and I don’t necessarily mean the content, this keyboard is terrible, please excuse all the typos). Good luck to everyone.

So let’s hark back to the dim, distant past of the 4th March, when my travels really began. I’d arrived in Bangkok the night before, and I was pretty groggy from my travels. The last couple of days had entailed saying goodbye to Adelaide mates (where else, but at the Tonsley?) before flying to Melbourne and heading to Geelong for a night on the town with Wazza (oh Geelong, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways).

The next morning, 12hr flight to Bangkok. The plane wasn’t particularly full, but somehow the two tallest blokes had been sat next to each other where literally every other person had a spare seat next to them. No stretching out for Brendan and Av, the Melbourne based Israeli who did film animation and was visiting his family in Tel Aviv. Nice, interesting chap. We shared our hatred of ‘Alvin & the Chipmunks: 3’, though I think he had more reasons given his job. ‘Twilight: Breaking Dawn’ just compiled the shite. Understandably, then, I was fairly keen to get off the plane.

I was a little worried about going through Thai Immigration. On the Melbourne side, my Thai Airways check-in lady had looked at me with shock when she realised I had no outbound plans from Thailand. Why would I? I had no idea where I was going once I got there, and leaving Thailand was a month away. Plenty of time to research and then book something (and retrospectively, I was completely right). She made a phonecall, and reticently ceded that I ‘should be OK’. So after waiting in line for over an hour with about 3 other international plane loads of people, I fronted up to the Immigrations officer… who smiled and quickly stamped my passport- he couldn’t have cared less! Phew. My first case of the relaxed Thai way went very positively in my favour.

So after grabbing my bags and heading to the taxi rank, I had my first naive traveller moment. I went straight to the taxi, since it’s always faster cutting out the middle man; the taxi drivers are always ready to go. Except in this case, as soon as I started explaining where I wanted to go, the driver shooed me back to a lady at a desk. Fair enough, so I go to the lady at the desk where she gets me to write down the address of where I need to go. She then translates it to Thai for the driver- of course! He spoke almost no English. Duh. So after the lady reassures me the driver knows where my hostel is, I jump in the taxi and off we go. Only 5 minutes down the freeway, he pulls over to the side. Fuck. I’m about to get stabbed, robbed and rolled into a gutter in a foreign city, and I’ve only been here an hour. It somehow doesn’t seem fair that apparently my travels aren’t going to last as long as I hoped. Hang on, nope, he’s pulling out his phone, and he points at my hostel information. “You ring. Find. Find.” You’re kidding, right, buddy? You’re a taxi driver, and you said you know where it is. Apparently you were lying for my money. OK, I get this.

So from the hostel reviews online, I knew the lady who ran the hostel spoke English. This is a good thing. I ring her on the driver’s phone. No answer. Try again. No answer. Fantastic. “I try” He means he’s going to try driving and finding the place. Excellent, he’s going to try driving around a city of 13 million people to find my 1 little hostel. Off we go down the freeway- there seems to be no other way to go anyway and oh thank my lucky stars, 10 mins later the hostel lady rings back and explains the way to the driver.  About 45mins and 500 Baht later ($15. I’m later told it’s  only a good 1/2 hour / 300 baht trip, so he’s taken a massively windy route. I thought so when we were driving since I’ve got a fairly good sense of direction, but I couldn’t exactly communicate with him to ask) I’m at U-Baan Hostel, where I’m warmly welcomed by Joy (the hostel lady), her sister and a friend, and a couple of travellers. I’m immediately invited to sit down and share their Thai BBQ; an interestingly shaped coal fired metal contraption where the ‘soup’ sits in a ring around the outside in which the vegies and noodles are cooked, and the raised dome in the centre cooks the meat. Delicious. Soon after I’m playing cards on the roof of the hostel with an aussie chick from *insert place from up North I can’t remember that gives you a horrible ocker accent*, Paulo the Brazilian, and Alex from Strathalbyn. Adelaideans will know Strathalbyn is 20 mins from where I live in Adelaide. I’ve travelled many thousands of km’s across continents, and the first westerner I meet is from my home town. Crazy.

So the next few days in Bangkok were pretty straightforward sightseeing. First day Joy manages to amalgamate half her clientele to all go see the major sights together. So with me on the circuit of the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and a few other places of which I can’t remember the names were Mike & John (America), Alex (Adelaide), Amy & Lizzie (Lancashire, I think. That’s Manchester, right? :p) and Katie & Azaria (Nottingham?). Besides all the amazing sights, I think the highlight was lunch, where I seemed to luck out on getting the only dish that was chilli infested. It was a completely delicious Red Curry, but I had tears on my cheeks and it successfully burned me twice. I secretly think my body really enjoyed me turning my insides to napalm. Dinner that night we ventured to Siam Central which has a shopping centre which is huge, completely western, and impressively shiny. Unfortunately that meant the food court had western priced food. So we went outside to the streets and found a vendor who sold chicken noodle soup. It was delicious, I was hungry, so I had 2. Only problem with it was that 2/3 way through my second bowl I was enlightened with the fact that the red cubes I had convinced myself were some form of bean curd were actually gelatinised chicken blood. Mind didn’t win over matter, and I picked the rest of them out.

Next day I went solo and decided to walk rather than take a taxi to my destination: china town & little india. Excellent decision. I spent the day not entirely sure of my location (but knew where I was within a rough area), wandering wherever took my fancy. Generally this meant that I looked down an alley, thought ‘I wonder what’s down there?’ and satisfied said curiosity. Highlights of the day: 1, lunch was a tiny little air-conditioned paradise of an Indian restaurant. I was actually getting light headed with the sheer heat and a lack of food, but I wasn’t going to sit down at one of the vendors in the alleys, my body was in no way prepared for that onslaught yet. So I chanced upon this hole in the wall, and stayed in there for 2 hours- eating an indian feast of 2 curries with rice(an amazing fish tikka and an excellent veggie/chickpea curry of unremembered type, with a dessert of gulab jamun, plus drink, all for around $5), and using the comfort of the air con to catch up on my journal and do a bit of research reading of my Lonely Planet. Highlight 2: On the walk back across Bangkok, I spied the tower of a temple which to my shock was not in my Lonely Planet. Had I chanced upon a non-tourist mecca? Why yes, I had, because there was almost nobody there, and certainly no foreigners. I was hesitantly wandering around the outside buildings but obviously looking curious, because a guard spied me and “come, come”. I didn’t know where he was taking me, but he showed me through a door to the entrance of the Wat proper (which I had assumed I wasn’t allowed through, especially since it was pushing 6pm and the sun was starting to drop). It led through to the inside of the circular wall which ringed the central tower, which was an impressively simple (given the over the top decorations of the other Wats), whitewashed monolith. I was even more impressed when instead of the usual stairs up the outside of the spire (like Wat Arun, a very impressive edifice with an amazing view over the river and surrounds, where I had been the day before), there were stairs leading to the inside of the spire. I followed them, and they led me to the wonderfully cool and breezy inside of the Wat. It was lit with golden light, which played off the 10 or so sitting golden buddhas that were 4m up in recessed alcoves, evenly spaced around the roughly hewn inside wall. A beautifully peaceful place, nestled within the craziness of Bangkok.

I did one more fairly uneventful sightseeing day in Bangkok, but unfortunately my body was hit by the shock of all the probably highly unsanitary food I had ingested, and I came down with some viral thingamy that left me fevery and completely lethargic for 3 days. The first day may have been compounded by a dedicated session on Khao San Rd the night before.

Anyway, I was fine to head to Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party with Brett and Alex (two Welsh lads I had met in Bangkok) on the train from Bangkok. To be continued…

Things I’ve Heard A Few Times Now…

1:

Them: Where are you from?

Me: Australia.

Oh, really? You speak very nicely for an Australian.

Thank You.

I’ve been to Australia and you don’t sound anything like the people I met.

Oh? Where in Australia did you go?

Sydney To Brisbane.

…Touche, East Coast, Touche.

 

2:

Them: Where in Australia are you from?
Me: Adelaide.

Oh, where’s that?

On the South coast, it’s the next city west of Melbourne.

How far from Melbourne is it?

About 800 kilometres.

how far?! Wow Australia is really big. So Adelaide is near Perth then, right?

Ummmm no that’s another 2600 kilometres West again.

O.o 

Things I’ve Learnt in Bangkok in the Last 48 hrs.

  • Ninjas are obviously more of a threat here than I realised, after seeing apartment buildings with their balconies barred from intruders- 10 stories up.
  • Taxi drivers understand where you want to go perfectly, but being assholes gets them more money off stupid falang.
  • Mumbling your words and skipping half the letters makes for better pronounced Thai. Speak lazily to get your point across.
  • Asians really do wear that ugly, pale, saggy underwear that you see in the movies. My Korean roomy proved it.
  • Ping Pong shows are foul, but disturblingly entertaining in an entirely asexual way. They should be seen once for curiousity’s sake but never, ever twice.
  • Thais have a completely different sense of humour. I went to ‘The Hunger Games’ at the movies the other night with a couple of mates and the entire cinema except us laughed at really inappropriate times.
  • It’s quite hard to find a loofah in Thailand.
  • Germans are very uncomfortable at the sight of unhygenic food production- which is obviously quite prolific in Thailand given how many street vendors there are. This amuses me.
  • Dragonfruit is crap and ruins an otherwise good fruit shake.
  • While quite rude, the words ‘piss off’ should be used liberally in Khao San Rd, and you will be given ample opportunity to do so. There is absolutely no reason to stay in or near this horrible place. (for the record I don’t know ‘piss off’ in Thai yet, so have not had this opportunity myself). If I want a tuk tuk, I’ll ask for one; don’t you dare grab my arm, wee Thai man!
  • ‘The Aristocrats’ is funny in any culture (ok, this was on Koh Lanta, not Bangkok.)
  • Chicken/pork on a stick is possibly the best late night tucker ever. At 5 Baht a stick, how could you possibly go wrong?
  • SE Asian weather has refined cats to their purest form. Eat, sleep, breed, sleep, sleep, sleep, purr at a chin scratch, sleep, sleep, eat, breed, sleep, sleep, purr at a head scratch, sleep.

I will follow this amazingly insightful first post with actual stories of my travel…soonish. Stay posted!