It's been a llng time, but a good time!!!

Trip Start Feb 24, 2010
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Flag of Cambodia  , Siĕm Réab,
Saturday, July 24, 2010

Last time I wrote we were on Tioman Island. After this we set sail for the mainland to tackle the Malay jungle. The next day we went for a trek to the jungle canopy walk. Ifm sure youfve all heard of Go Ape, well this is a very weak version of it but the forest surrounding it is so much more it makes up for the lack of challenge. It's right at the top of the forest, took a couple of hours to get there and had amazing views.

After this we decided to ditch the tour guide and take ourselves to the caves for a little walk around. The cave turned out to be a tiny horizontal slither running through the rock. To cut a very long story short the three macho men from three different nations took about 20 minutes to get through the horribly smelly cave and start to return only to discover when a guide came along, that we were actually about 10 seconds into a 40 minute pot holing expedition. We shyly tried to account for our about turn and asked if we could tag along at the back, we were of course permitted this privilege and continued through an amazing 40 minutes or so as we tried to crawl through ever decreasing gaps in the rock until at one point the bloke in front refused to take his day pack off. He proceeded to get stuck. HAHA, idiot! We saw thousands of bats and ended up eating bat poo, snakes and jungle toads. We walked the few KMs back to meet the girls where a Japanese cable TV set was filming some soap opera. The protagonist of the story ended up being chased by jungle warriors. Slightly bizarre in itself but more so because on the way to the cave the actors (before we knew they were actors) had pointed us on our way and we pretty much ran away, sure that these war dressed villagers would blow pipe us to death.

Our next stop was KL again, once was not enough and we had to go back to complete the shopping and send stuff back home. We did spend a day in one mall that on initial inspection looked fairly sedate, a small courtyard of about 10 shops on each quarter, rising 10 stories high with a small annex on each floor. On the third floor the centre opened up to a scale that would match, if not better any floor plan on that in England and continued to do so for the next 8 floors. On the 5th floor, the floorplan grew again to encompass an indoor air conditioned theme park complete with white knuckle roller coaster and the works. Yes, we returned the next day to go to the theme park!

After KL we set sail on an overnight bus to the Perhentian islands. The island itself is basically drop dead gorgeous but the people know this and seem quite complacent. You want to vote with your feet and leave out of arrogance but at the same time you quickly fall in love with the place. Especially after several 6AM bedtimes where you repeatedly forget to wait another 10 minutes to see the breathtaking (apparently) sunrise, oops!

One fantastic highlight of the island was the snorkeling trip and diving around here. After the snorkeling was so amazing, free diving with the turtles and massive reef sharks I expected the diving to be fairly mediocre. It turned out that half way to the dive site we lucked across a HUGE school of dolphins, we all jumped in and swam around with them for a bit. There were about 30 on the surface and a predicted 300 under the water. WOW!

By the time we'd finished loving Malaysia, and we did, we had spent far too much time in the expensive part of SEA than our budget could accommodate so it was time to head for Thailand and beyond. This one tolled in at 33 hours on the road and included a night bus and a shower in a train station. The Malay-Thai border crossing was immense and over 33 hours was done in about 8 stages.

We stayed in Krabi, South Thailand which is a really nice town with a brilliant local food market, selling Malay curry so hot that tears stream out of your eyes (Kal says: Simon was in tears!!). We went to see the location where James Bonds' 'Man With The Golden Gun' was shot. You'll recognise it for it's unforgettable backdrop where the huge rock bursts the ocean clean open and appears to stand impossibly on the water's surface. Nik-Nak had gone, as had Scaramanger with his third nipple but no worry, there were scores of stalls selling low quality pearls to add to the effect. We went for lunch on a supposed 700 year old floating fishing village that was spawned from an original two families. I'm not sure what I expected after seven decades of inter breeding families but they hadn't evolved fins nor had three headed offspring so we joined them and enjoyed lunch. Something about the women who charge you to take pictures of their captive monkey which is dressed as a baby (and wears a tiny plea for help in it's eye), hints that the phrase 'so close but yet so far' has rarely been more true in getting to meet true locals.

Next destination ? Ko Phi Phi, a small island in Thailand which was hit really hard by the Tsunami. We arrived in Ko Phi Phi relatively fresh and looking forward to finding a real off peak bargain. Reports of 5 star resorts for a couple of $US a night had been doing the rounds. Unfortunately, for us at least, these turned out to be little more than backpacker folklore. We did find quite a nice place though with a swimming pool right at the edge of the bay. Phi Phi can be summed up quite easily. It's a very large, beautiful nursery for gap year flashpackers who mostly sound like Daddy is bank rolling the endless supply of buckets (Bucket = 1 colourful beach bucket (as in bucket and spade) filled with a half bottle of spirit, a can of coke and a half can of red bull). If you escape that though you are rewarded with... oh who am I kidding, when in Rome! If you are so inclined you can get drunk then get in the ring for 3 short rounds of Thai boxing against another drunk. As much as I fancied dusting the old combos off for a free bucket, I felt that maybe the youthful inebriants would have the edge on my old tired limbs.

After Phi Phi it was back to Krabi for a couple of days to recharge the old batteries then we headed off for Bangkok. Another night bus, another restless night. This was different though. We were in the heart of the well trodden backpacker route so the bus was not a local bus but full of other like-minded souls. It was nice, plenty of people to talk to and all but being picked up from your hotel and chauffeured to the next destination without once having to take your brain out of neutral is not what we like to see.

We arrived in Bangkok completely petrified and on guard waiting for the hordes of touts. Whenever we talk to people they have tales of how relentless the tourist industry is in Bangkok but we never ever saw it. We can only assume it is relatively mild after what we experienced in India. This was a bit of a whistlestop tour, 3 days all told and we will be returning so we just kind of took it all in whilst visiting a couple of temples and doing a reccy for the next time we visit. We did go watch Thai boxing though which was an amazing experience completely focussed on the betting and little to do with the actual fighting. If I lived in Bangkok though I could quite easily go every night, POW ? KaBOOM ? THWACK. I kept getting so excited after each round that I would throw the contents of my glass down my throat in celebration only to very quickly remember that we were drinking neat brandy... Oh well, at least Kal knew the way home...

From Bangkok we took the 3rd class (non tourist) train to the Cambodian border which takes in some breathtaking views through the Thai countryside. It looks very 'British country' except the ground is completely flat for hundreds of miles in each direction. We just sat and watched the endless miles fly by and with the rhythm of the tracks underneath going rat a tat tat, rat a tat tat, rat a tat tat it was quite a magical journey (Kal says: Simon was singing and swaying his head to the train tune 'rat a tat tat' a bit of a concern). We crossed the border with relative ease until we had to pay for the visa. We had been warned about this over and over again but the border police are bent as a nine bob note.

"$20 and 100B, please" came the request.

"It's $20 for the visa" I correctly stated.

"You pay 100B for the fast track"

"I don't have any Thai currency and moreover this is not fast track, I have $20 for you"

"Give me $23"

"No, that sign above your head, it say's $20"

"Blah blah, bollocks blah"

"$20 I say whilst pointing to the sign."

"more BS, blah blah"

"$20 I say whilst pointing to the sign."

This goes on about another 15 times before he hands me my passport back and tells me to go back to Thailand and complain to my Embassy. I call his bluff, take his photo and he backs down. It might be easier just to pay but if only 500 people cross the border each day and pay $3 that's $1500 a day. To say the average salary in Cambodia is less than a Dollar per day and people have to graft for 12 hours in a field to get it, it is not right that the border police live in mansions in the hills for standing around and using a rubber stamp.  We're prepared to risk not getting into the country to stand up to this!

We got to Siem Reap and found a nice hotel with a pool for $4 a night, settled in and decided that we would like to do some humanitarian work. After a long search we found an organisation that works with women and children suffering from poverty who need funding and keep applying but have limited written English skills. On our first day we were taken off to a commune (10 villages = commune), Kampong Kleang, where we assisted in the distribution of rice and noodles and were so shocked at the level of poverty. We had bought some writing books and pencils for any of the kids that went to school and the mothers were really grateful when we gave them something which cost a few pence, surprisingly so. We got to meet the commune chief when we asked for permission to go into the village which was really bizarre. At the end we gave all the left overs to the monks so they can distribute as and when families need it. In return received a mass blessing from at least 30 monks who asked that all obstacles are removed for us and our friends and families and success in what we do. It was quite ethereal, everyone kneeling facing each other while they all chanted and prayed in unison. This was really one of the highlights of our trip. We continued the week working with Rachna Satrei organisation helping them with many things but mostly coaching them on how to prepare and structure documents to a western business standard. Other things included sorting out their wifi, recovering lost data and removing Windows Genuine Advantage notifications from their office computers, haha, definitely not a western office.

We move next on to Pnom Phen to learn more about the Khmer Rouge where a lot of the killing fields are.  I fear it may be incredibly depressing, quite like Aushwitz was, but important all the same.  On the flip side, beer is 50c a glass in Cambodia - oh I forgot to mention $US is the standard currency here, even the ATMs dispense the $US notes! Woo happy times!
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