Koh Tao & Travelling – day 384

Up and sprightly, I convinced Katherine it was a good idea to come with me to get the ferry tickets early before the queues. We were the first to register for that scheduled ferry, and while we were earlier than the lady at the counter would probably have liked, we at least had our tickets and stickers to get us on board. That was the main thing. Over at 7 Eleven we got some plain yogurt to go with the last of our muesli and we strolled past a selection of the multitude of dive centres for the last jaunt up the hill and home. The ‘garden’ resort was still a bit dead despite the recent rain storm and maintenance, but we enjoyed having our brekkie out on the deck one last time. img_0639img_0640
Shoals of tiny silver fish rotated in a hypnotic tornado fashion, becoming greater and smaller bait balls in a graceful fluid motion. The people on the jetty throwing bread in to the water, 90% of the time not reaching the fish, didn’t realise the harm they were causing. The jerky movements of the fish attracted larger fish to their whereabouts and a few of them were picked off for an early breakfast.
img_0642On the ferry, we found seats near the front left (i.e. towards the bow on the port side), remembering what it was like to sit downwind of someone who hadn’t wash in a month and the door to the deck slamming constantly on the last trip. So, it was an easy cruise to the mainland with rock formations and small islands becoming more frequent as we got closer to our destination.
Queueing up for the bus tickets, the company had the whole thing well organised. If only they would enforce the rules about where people could and couldn’t smoke – moving twice to escape the clouds engulfing us. The seats on the bus got muddled up. Youngsters sitting wherever they wanted confused the ticket lady whom was ensuring we were in our allocated spots. It backfired on the girl behind me as the seat was broken and stuck in a reclining position. Ha!img_0644Stopping at a sizeable bus stop/restaurant, we were the only tourists who braved the local noodle soup. Everyone else opted for meat on a stick and/or Pringles. We did get an ice cream as a treat as well – more expensive than the meal. img_0646
We eventually got back to the capital, the iPad battery had just about managed to last (with the help of a battery pack) and we were deposited just north of the infamous Koh San Road. We hoped that the ferry would be running at this time of night and headed in that direction. Alas, a quick chat with a police officer and he told us it was closed at this time. So, we decided that the best thing to do was get a taxi. But, with traffic being a nightmare so close to the palace grounds and touristy area, we walked for about half an hour southwards, towards the bend in the river and flagged down a taxi from there. Got back to our trusty hostel, to have to argue with them about the room and price. The usual girl had gone on holiday and the Ines left behind, although they knew us and could see the frequency of our stays on the system, decided they wanted to be arsy about the whole thing. It got sorted, we had dinner with our favourite restaurant of all time and called it a night. img_0648Tuesday 25th October 2016

Travelling – day 372

We’re notorious for getting up early on a day of travelling. Nervous of sleeping in and missing a bus/train/ferry/flight we prefer to be up and chatting or surfing Facebook than stressing about packing and running late. But, after a year of travelling, we should give ourselves a bit more credit. Washed, dressed and packed within the hour, we hit the street at 7bells to look for breakfast. We say look loosely, cause we knew we were going to make a beeline directly across the road to the bakery. Some pastries, donuts and cakes for the day (not just brekkie) and a wander through the market to look for loo roll (just in case) we were back in the room with plenty of time to kick back, relax and wait for the bus. The mini van turned up just as we were leaving the hotel lobby. Perfect timing! We were at the ticket office only a few minutes later to transfer to another bus. Well, they called it a bus because they fit 5 foreign adults in to the vehicle, but it was a small jeep. Katherine luckily had the front seat – advantages of being polite to the ticket office staff – and 4 of us got ‘familiar’ in the beak seat. The 40mins, typical Cambodian time, took 1hr20 to arrive at Sisophon. Half way to Siem Reap in a fraction of the time as he drove like a lunatic, we were now only 57km from Poipet. But, we had to wait for the main bus to arrive first. Almost an hour later we jumped on the bus, nestled our ass in the air-conditioned seats and chugged along to the border. We got through passport control and immigration without a hitch, but we did sigh a lot at the people taking photos and videos in areas where it said not to, and people managing to get to the front of the queue after 45mins waiting, to then stand aside and fill in their immigration form that they were presented before entering the building. WTF!!??

A small bit of a wait in the car park for everyone to get back on the bus, we had now safely traversed the notorious Poipet border crossing twice without hassle. A weird moment when military got on the bus and demanded to see passports was about the only bit of drama before we stopped at a nice garage with a 7 Eleven, shops, restaurants and sparkly clean bathrooms. Oh to be back in Thailand. We got off at the railway station, a more convenient stop than Khao San Rd where we were destined. As such, we built up an appetite by walking to our hostel. Dumped the bags and enjoyed noodles, curry and salad at our usual restaurant. We tried to watch a bit of telly, but every channel was showing the same piece on the Thai King. An unusual thing to do on tv, we were unable to check what that meant with the poor wifi in the room so we turned off the lights and passed out. Thursday 13th October 2016

Travelling – day 348

Neither of us slept very well. I think we were both anxious about the upcoming border crossing. We had booked to leave at 8am from the nearby Mo Chit bus terminal to the border market town, Rong Kluea, in Sa Kaeo just on the Thai-Cambodian border. We got up early enough to take our time getting ready and having breakfast. Leaving the hotel, we made our way to the local bus stop and caught the 77 bus to the station as neither of us wanted to spend the entire day sitting on a bus having been all hot and sweaty. The bus was easy and, before we realised it, we were at the bus terminal. Jayne picked up some custard buns as a snack before we found our bus. The bus driver was a brilliantly funny guy, having a joke with the cleaner by throwing rubbish on the floor every time she swept it. Jumping on the bus, it was an easy drive along the road. The bus wasn’t too busy so the air conditioning worked perfectly as we passed the time with monopoly and watching TV shows. A petrol stop after about 3 hours meant we got a chance to use the toilet and treated ourselves to a fizzy drink and a chocolate bar. Back on the bus we carried on passing the time with ‘Game of Thrones’ as the bus got busier and busier, meaning that the air conditioning becomes less and less effective. Also, as we got closer to the border, more people got on the bus and with each new passenger we were worried that they might be one of the aggressive visa pushers that kept getting mentioned on the Internet forums. Fortunately, we arrived at the border market with no problems. As soon as the bus had stopped, the luggage compartment door was pulled open and a handful of men stood close by. As Jayne looked after the two smaller bags, I grabbed our big bag and put it on. One man asked if we needed passport photos and when we said ‘no’, we had no more hassle. Walked through the Thai border section to get ‘stamped out’ with a total of 3 people in front of us. Took about 5 minutes maximum to officially leave Thailand before taking the path to pass by the casinos in ‘no mans land’. Arriving in Cambodia, we had to cross the road to go to the ‘visa on arrival’ office. Filling in the forms, we were the only tourists in the room with a dozen Cambodian officers. As we went up to pay for our visa, there was a clear printed sign stating ‘$30’. So when one officer showed us a scrappy piece of paper with ‘$30 + 100 Baht’ scrawled across it, I questioned it. He only insisted once more to pay the additional 100 baht before taking our $60 dollars for 2 visas. I asked if I could use the toilet, at which point he told me ‘no water’. I’m guessing that, had we paid the 100 Baht, there would have been water in the toilet!! Got the visas in our passport within minutes and we walked towards the immigration point to get ‘stamped in’ to Cambodia. Despite all the experiences that other people have had with this border, we didn’t have the same issues. Even the guard that tried to get the extra 100 Baht each out of us didn’t try too hard! We didn’t get on the ‘free’ shuttle bus as, after nearly a year of travelling, we know that nothing is really free and opted to walk the one kilometre to the bus station instead. Tried every ATM we came across but none of them accepted our card – Jayne thinks it might be a way of getting tourists to exchange money at one of the hundreds of exchange shops in the town. Fortunately, we had extra US dollars with us so we were able to pay for our mini bus ticket to Siem Reap. 

Despite it only being a three hour journey, we had the obligatory ‘rest stop’ at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere with inflated prices. Whilst the other passengers ate some food (and paid for the drivers dinner) we found a quiet spot to sit down and wait until the bus left. The view was beautiful and there was a kid playing football (who didn’t want us to join in…). Back on the bus, we arrived at Siem Reap and, deciding to stretch our legs, walked the 4 kilometres to our hotel through the main streets in the town. Checking in, we headed to the nearest (and only) restaurant open and order dinner. One of the starters was fried tarantula, which Jayne wanted to try…Having changed her mind, she ordered beef with red ant instead. A nice meal, even if it was a little bit odd! Jayne had to pick through her meal to find the edible parts as it seemed that they had simply cooked the entire branch covered with ants!! I went for a less adventurous duck breast soup (which was amazing!). Walked the 50 metres back to our hotel and headed straight to bed, looking forward to a decent nights sleep for the first time in a couple of days.

Monday 19th September 2016

Travelling – day 347

An early start as we wanted to get an early bus to Bangkok, knowing full well that it could take forever to travel the 445km. An easy walk to the bus station with the usual TukTuk drivers asking us if we wanted to go to the historical park. I feel that the big rucksacks and walking towards the bus station might have been a give away that we didn’t really want to go to the historical site!! Arriving at the bus station, we waited by bay 2 for our bus to arrive. Stood up with everyone else (except 2 tourists) as they played the Kings anthem before boarding the bus. Slightly nicer than the one we caught the other day, we settled into our seats and played a game of monopoly before watching a couple of episodes of Games of Thrones. Stopped after about 4 hours for a lunch stop. Found out that we got a free meal with our bus ticket so we picked out a chicken Thai green curry and tucked in… It was enjoyable until I found a caterpillar in my lunch! Suddenly my appetite vanished and I just ate the free biscuits that we got on the bus. Arriving at the bus station around 4pm we slowly wandered through the streets towards our hostel. Was nice to stretch our legs after sitting for so long on the bus for so long although we were dripping sweat within 5 minutes of leaving the air conditioned haven of the bus terminal. Walked past the world’s largest outdoor market, dodging people constantly as we tried to walk around the outside and as they were weaving in and out of the aisles. Arrived at our hostel and got upgraded to a smaller room. We had originally booked a bed in a 10 person dorm where all the beds were doubles. Apparently, the other 8 people were from one family so they offered to move us into the 8 bed single bed dorm which suited us just fine! The beds were almost like the capsule beds you see in photos from Japan, all next to each other separated by a piece of plywood. Did some research about our crossing into Cambodia tomorrow, slightly scared by all the horror stories that are on the internet about being scammed and aggressive visa runners. Feeling a bit freaked out, we headed up to the TV room to watch a film and have a cup of tea. An irritating DVD that was scratched so we couldn’t watch the last 20 minutes of the film ‘Mr Right’, although the storyline was predictable enough to guess what was going to happen.

Headed out to have dinner although this area didn’t seem to have much except expensive western food outlets such as KFC. Eventually found a little street cafe in a backstreet where we ordered blindly from the menu with the help of an ex-pat who could speak Thai. Ended up with a soup, a type of curry and a salty egg papaya salad. Sounds strange but it was actually really nice. Treated ourselves to an ice cream before heading back to the hostel to watch another film before snuggling down into our capsules for the night. 

Sunday 18th September 2016

Travelling – day 344

A rather non eventful day filled with buses! We’d organised our mini bus back to Bangkok at 7.30am with the aim that we would have plenty of time to get a bus up to Sukhothai, North Thailand, without any issues. Quickly had a flick through emails and Facebook whilst we waited for the ‘taxi’ to arrive. Driving down the road it seemed like the driver was playing a real life version of ‘Mario Kart’. I think the more worrying part of it was the sign that said ‘please wear your seatbelt’ – no shit! I really wanted to but the seatbelts were all wedged into the seats making them unusable. So clinging to each other instead, we weaved in and out of traffic clearly trying to hit the magical ‘?’ boxes to get extra mushrooms or lightening bolts. It was almost a joy when we stopped for petrol, obviously having used up so much petrol in our race car! Weirdly, the petrol seemed to be being pumped straight into the engine rather than into the tank from the side…As soon as we hit Bangkok, we could understand why the driver may have been driving like that… It was gridlock. Clearly with a fast turn around and deadline to drop off and pick up passengers, we made up so much time in the first section that we were still on time at the train station despite our crawling speed for the last couple of kilometres. Arriving at Mo Chit bus terminal, we headed to the hundreds of ticket counters to find the one to get us to Sukhothai. Apparently, most of them do so it was just a case of choosing one that suited our budget and time frame! Got the one leaving as soon as possible but it still meant we had an hour and a half wait. Fortunately, the bus terminal was air conditioned and clean so we settled down with our stuff in a seat whilst Jayne pottered off to look for a timetable to get us to Cambodia in a couple of days. We had sat next to the information hut which had a series of adverts for the bus companies, playing out like mini soap operas – the boy and girl who sit next to each other on the bus and fall in love; the old man who loses his basket of star fruit on the bus (don’t ask!) and the young man who ‘stole’ them and then returned them! Dragging ourselves away from the brilliantly poor acting, we headed over to the food court to get some lunch before the bus. We ordered the worst curry we have ever eaten, the meat was mostly gristle and even the rice was undercooked – it was really disappointing. Stopped off at the 7-Eleven to grab some snacks for the bus and headed over to our bay. The cutest baby boy was stood there with his mum. As we smiled at him, he threw up the pinkest vomit I have ever seen. Giving the mum some wet wipes to help clean him up, the kid kept throwing up… I had no idea that much vomit could come out of something so small! No one seemed particularly fussed that this little vomit machine was about to get on a bus for 6 hours as the bus driver just kept throwing buckets of water down where he had been sick. Of course, we were sat just behind the mum and child – and next to them was a military police officer in a pristine beige uniform…

The journey wasn’t too bad although the 6 hour journey did take nearly 8 (oh, how I miss the reliable time keeping of the Greyhound buses in Australia!). Managed to pass the time by watching ‘Modern Family’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ on the iPad. That’s right – I have succumbed to peer pressure and started watching GOT. I’m three episodes in and I can tell you three things… 2 character names (John Snow and Kaleesi) and that ‘winter is coming’ – that is all I know from three hours of watching! Anyway, I’m sticking with it cause I know Jayne really wants me to get into it before she starts watching the second series. Had a bit too much screen time so decided to take a nap… Foolishly stretching my feet out under the seat in front of me as, after 6 hours of nothing, the vomit kid decided to make a swift but effective come back – all over my feet… Damn me for wearing flip flops!Arriving in Sukhothai at about 20:30, we were happy to stretch our legs and walk the 1 kilometre to our guesthouse, even in the rain. Dumping our bags, we headed straight out to find something to eat. Not much open at that time but we found a restaurant called ‘Poo’. For the novelty factor more than anything, we went in and ordered Sukhothai noodle soup (a slightly sweet broth with peanuts, glass noodles and chicken). It was really nice and was probably the best thing we could have eaten as it wasn’t too heavy but it did fill up our bellies. Back at the guesthouse for a quick shower to wash off the days grime (and the remaining vomit that didn’t come off with the wet wipe) before crawling into bed. 

Thursday 15th September 2016