By that whopping buddah
Our final bus journey in South East Asia! Something that I have no sadness in saying. While Thailand has been beautiful if a little bit in your face, and Cambodia has been charming and completely stunning, and Vietnam intimate and interesting, I think you can safely say that we will not be missing the monumental effort it takes to get around this quaint part of the world. Our final journey was to take us from Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam back to Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh and then on to Bangkok, all in just 2 days, about 22 hours drive time. A biggy even by our currently huge standards. But after so many days of frustrating drives with breakdowns and rip off merchants, we had both agreed to practice Buddhist like calm and just go with the flow during our last days in S.
One of the revered buddahs...
E Asia. Which is just as well seeing as we broke down within an hour of setting off from Saigon!! If anyone reading this is planning on traveling any where in Asia in the near future, I suggest you take a crash course in bus mechanics first!!
It was mercifully early morning when we broke down so the heat wasn't at it's worst quite yet, and within an hour we were off again tearing through the pretty Vietnamese countryside. Within no time at all we spied the Cambodian border, and after twenty minutes walking between the Vietnamese and Cambodian sides we found ourselves haggling with the security guards on the Cambodian side about the cost of our visas! The price is officially 20 U.S dollars, as indicated by a large sign to counter overcharging, but we only had Cambodian 'Riel' on us which our tour guide had assured me was also acceptable.
The monks at prayer...
It was alright, but when we converted the asking price they were overcharging us by about 4 U.S dollars each, money we did not have. They said this was the current exchange rate, a lie as we had checked the rate thas morning but how can you argue with men with guns? After pleading destitution with them and showing them an empty wallet (I had about 30 Pounds worth of Thai money stuffed deep in there but they didn't need to know about that!) they left us pass through for around 21 Dollars each, only a slight overcharge that they could pocket but better than nothing they must have figured. After some food and a further 4 hours driving we were in Phnom Penh before nightfall. We were only staying one night before the real monster of a journey the next day, and so had planned on an early night, but that went out the window when we bumped into Paul by the lakeside, a friend we had made during our tour of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
Some dodgy character and a statue.
We instead drank the local Anchor beer until the wee hours, which at just 30 pence a pint was too hard to refuse. I got suitably drunk on a bucket of vodka and lemonade. We had a few on one of the more busy decks overlooking the lake, enjoying fire shows and loud music, before heading out on a floating bar boat that is moored to the deck to have a few more and a chat about our traveling experiences. We finally crawled home about 3 hours before we were to depart and hit the hay with a solid thud.
The alarm going off at 5.30 for our 6.30am bus the next morning was not welcome, and it took us all of ten minutes to decide that we were in no fit state for a 15 hour bus journey that day. I ran to reception to cancel our pick up and instead of traveling we tried to get some more much needed sleep, our early rising Cambodian neighbors not helping in anyway.
By the stupas...
We finally stirred mid morning and set about re booking for the next day, and we passed a lazy day of reading and recuperating around the hostels common areas. We made it up the next day after a much better nights sleep, and so began our marathon journey to Bangkok. The first 6 hours went smoothly, the roads being much better than the horror trip from Bangkok to Seam Reap. After that we joined up with that very same road and the final 2 hours to the border were spent bouncing like around like dolls in a toy car careening down a cobbled street. We had the usual walk from one border to the next but we were just glad to be leaving the rough roads behind and cruising the Thai motorways. Over the border in Thailand we enjoyed some ham and cheese toasties (6 weeks of Asian cuisine has left us craving for some home staples, like Jacket potatoes and roast dinners), as well as some super refreshing fruit smoothies.
My borrowed skirt...
We talked about our Asia experiences with others on the bus journey into Bangkok which seemed much quicker given the lovely tarmacked roads.
Into Bangkok and settled into a hostel, we spent our first day back in Bangkok sorting out our Chinese visas, something we could no longer put off. Day two was spent visiting Wat Phra Poh, a religious site with stunning temples and statues. The jewel in the crown is the worlds second largest reclining Buddha, a colossal at 15m high and 45m long! We tried to get some good pictures, but its sheer size meant you could never get far away enough to get a good picture! We looked around the rest of the site before the monsoon rain started, and we took our cue to head on to the nearby Temple of the Emerald Buddha, another religious site which also has the royal palace within its grounds.
Looking smart in the finished suit.
The Temple is considered an architectural masterpiece, its giant stupa dome seemingly hovering off the ground. We didn't spend long as the rains and our legs were against us, and we headed back to the delights of Khao San road for the night. Khao San is the backpacker street in Bangkok, and its famous the world over among backpackers. In each building are countless hostels, pubs, cheap eats, souvenir shops, tour operators and clubs, while the streets are lined with stalls selling everything from clothes to knock off cd's. All along its huge length tuk tuk drivers try to lure in gullible backpackers with promises of a city tour for ten baht (about 20 pence), while all they get in reality is a trip to a nearby jewelery shop or tailors store where the driver will earn a commission, then they are promptly dumped at the nearest street corner having parted with their cash.
Looks comfortable, dont he...
I'm ashamed to say I saw way to many Irish and British backpackers signing up for this one! Its a wild place by anyones standards, crazy all day and night, and we were calling it home for the next 3 nights.
Our final days in Bangkok were spent mostly chilling, just picking up any last items we wanted either for travel or to take home. On our final day we headed to the weekend market, that monster of a market where 15- 20 thousand stalls are packed together in northern Bangkok. We spent around 6 hours walking its length and still couldn't see it all, throughly enjoying getting lost again and snapping up the great bargains in Asian orientated souvenirs.
And so that would be it for South East Asia, as we fly to Hong Kong next as one of only 3 countries left, with only around 7 -8 weeks to go.
The roundabout outside...
We both loved and hated South East Asia. Singapore was great as was Malaysia and its capital Kuala Lumper. Thailand had some of the most stunning views we have ever seen on its incredible islands and the food was excellent, but having to barter almost everyday over prices for journeys and rooms and being constantly approached by salesmen, taxi drivers and every chancer going gets tiring after a while. Cambodia is probably our favorite spot in the region, and one of the few places in which we really felt like we were 'traveling', having stepped back in time and into another world. The people are undoubtedly the friendliest we've met, only the Kiwi's come close, and in spite of its terrible roads the charm of the people and beauty of the place won us over. We will unquestionably be back, even though we have seen its main 'sights', just to experience the feeling you get from being in the country. The same goes for Vietnam, which was altogether a cool place to be. Saigon was crazy with its millions of motorbikes but the countryside was magical and the people very welcoming. Altogether we've had a great time here, and we head to China with great memories and sore bums! I think that sums up our South East Asia experience just fine. Now for a few weeks of sweet and sour dishes for breakfast, dinner and supper!!