Reminiscing about South East Asia with a montage

It’s been almost 2 years since we left New Zealand and set off through South East Asia for two months. We went through Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and at the time we thought we would struggle to live out of a suitcase for that long.  We thought wrong.

I think that trip was the best I’ve been on (which is a tough competition) mainly because it was longer and that allowed us to really soak up the place and relax.

We’ve been throwing ideas around of future longer trips we could take and also getting nostalgic for our trip; back when we didn’t have jobs, a lease on a flat or many possessions.  Life was simple and fun then (not that it’s particularly bad now though!).

We’ve been looking at buying a GoPro for recording some more travel clips along with other gadgets and have been wishing we took more video when we travel.  I spent a bit of time digging around on the computer and I found a treasure trove of video clips from our trip back in 2012.  Most of them are pretty poor quality (I’d like to blame our cheap little camera but mostly its my poor camera skills at fault).  We did manage to do up a bit of a montage of our trip anyway.

Hopefully we get back there one day as this video makes me miss the place!

Adventures and Mishaps in Siem Reap

NO MORE BUSES, YOU GUYS! We had our final 6 hour bus trip to get us to Siem Reap and besides watching a clearly pirated copy of The Avengers on the bus’ TV (you could hear people laughing in the theatre it was filmed at…dodgy bus company!) and trying to tune out the really LOUD and BAD Asian pop music with my iPod, it was a pretty uneventful trip.

Matt has been to Siem Reap before and had talked it up as one of his favourite places ever so I was quite looking forward to seeing it myself. As an added bonus, we had 6 nights here. SIX WHOLE NIGHTS IN ONE PLACE!

Clearly, I was pretty excited to not have to pack my bags for a while and just relax. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that well but more on that later.

Amy (who we met on our Halong Bay tour) raved about the Mexican restaurant here called iViva so we made a beeline there for dinner the first night and have been back a total of 5 times. Delicious food and $1.50 margaritas!

First Margarita at iViva

We had already decided that the next day would be a ‘rest day’ (love them) so we figured it was the best night to try out the famous local bars. We made our way to Pub Street, the main area for bars and restaurants in Siem Reap, and settled on Red Piano for a Tomb Raider cocktail. Angelina Jolie made the bar famous while she was here filming Tomb Raider and created this drink (obviously not called a Tomb Raider at the time). It’s made with Cointreau, fresh lime juice, tonic water and holy, is it ever yummy! Every tenth one ordered is free and they bring it to you while ringing a bell so everyone knows you got it.

Pub Street

At Red Piano

Delicious Tomb Raider cocktail at Red Piano

After that we headed to Angkor What? (clearly a play on Angkor Wat, the temple which I’ll talk about later) and I had my first ever bucket! Well, Matt and I shared it because seriously, there was no way I could finish a drink this big. Can’t remember what was in it *ahem* but it was good. And had lots of straws.

Angkor What? Bar

Bucket at Angkor What? Bar

Then (I know) we went across the street to Temple Club and ended up sharing a few cocktails with a group of students (one of which looked exactly like Justin Bieber) and a Marine from Wisconsin (of all places).

At Temple Bar with our buddies (for the night) from Wisconsin

The night ended after a lot of dancing and a walk back to our hotel that I’m still confused about. I knew where we had to be, but didn’t know how to get there and still managed to figure out a pretty direct route without any issues.

The day after our well needed rest day, we headed to Angkor Archaeological Park. Most people hire a tuk tuk for the day to take them around all the different temples but since we had a 3 day pass, we wanted to take our time seeing everything. For some reason, no one could understand that we only wanted to hire a tuk tuk for a few hours instead of the whole day and wanted to charge us the same price for half the time! So we had the crazy idea to BIKE around the park instead.

We started early at 7am so that we’d get most of it done before the heat really settled in. Not that it really helped though cause here’s me at the first temple:

Sweaty Dayna

Mmmm…sweaty.

We picked a good time of the year for this trip. Usually all these photos would be FULL of other tourists but with it being the beginning of rainy season, there was hardly anyone there!

Biking around Angkor

At Banteay Kdei

Dodgy scaffolding

At Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm – the “Tomb Raider” temple where it was filmed.

Matt in front of Thommanon

Matt in front of Thommanon

At Thommanon

At Thommanon

Elephants Terrace, Angkor Thom

Elephants Terrace, Angkor Thom

At Bayon, Angkor Thom

At Bayon, Angkor Thom

At Bayon, Angkor Thom

These faces are all over the Bayon temple

We were absolutely knackered by the time we got back to our hotel. We had done about 30kms total but luckily it was all flat so besides a sore bum from the seat, it was actually a pretty cool way to get around all the temples and I’d definitely recommend it – especially if you want to do things at your own pace without having to worry about relying on a tuk tuk driver.

The plan was so get to bed early so we could get up at 4am for the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Of course because I knew I had to be up early, I couldn’t get to sleep for the life of me. Finally I did but after only 2 hours, Matt woke up thinking there were bugs in his bed and turned on all the lights to see what was crawling on him. Annoyed, I told him he was imagining things and to TURN OFF THE LIGHTS ALREADY. He did and we went back to trying to sleep only for me to wake up again at 1:30am for the same reason he had previously. My sheets were unbelievably itchy and I felt like things were crawling all over me. The difference between Matt and I was that he had a restless night attempting sleep, whereas I gave up on sleep very quickly. I spent the next 3 hours thinking about random things, looking up other hotels, playing games on my phone, and getting more and more pissed off at the hotel for having DIRTY, ITCHY, BUG FILLED sheets.
As soon as the alarm went off I told Matt we were switching hotels and he agreed.

This would have to wait as it was 4am and we had more important things to do before dealing with that. We took a tuk tuk to Angkor Wat for sunrise but nearly left it too late. The sky was already pretty bright by the time we arrived and some dude trying to get us to buy coffee from him said that we had time because the sun rise wasn’t until 6:30 even though it was already CLEARLY rising and everyone else/everything we read said it was at 5:30. Douchebag (please keep in mind that I was running on a few hours of sleep and was a little…testy). Lucky we knew better because if we had believed him, we would’ve missed ticking off number 12 on our 100 Things List – See a sunrise over Angkor Wat (which was an amazing experience despite sharing it with a bunch of other tourists).

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

A few of our friends that we shared the sunrise with

This was my favourite temple out of all of them just because you absolutely got the feeling that people had lived here once and it would’ve been amazing to see it when brand new.

At Angkor Wat

At Angkor Wat

At Angkor Wat

Dayna having a moment at Angkor Wat

Candid Camera

Mom’s comment unintentionally turned out to be foreshadowing – Matt wasn’t feeling well from dinner the night before (lack of sleep probably didn’t help either) and was feeling a bit off while we were at the temple. We got back to our hotel and he quickly made the Porcelain Throne his seat of choice and made sure he was only a few quick steps away from it at all times.

However, we still needed to get out of our hotel so after quickly researching other hotels, we found one around the corner and went to check it out. We weren’t able to see the room because they were all full (a good sign as we were the only people at our hotel) and no one had checked out yet. We immediately knew it was much better than where we were staying so we said we’d take it, went back to our lame hotel and packed.

I worried about what they’d say as we checked out 3 days early because I hate confrontation and even though the hotel was horrible in every way, I felt bad telling them that. Luckily for us (and this proves how crap the hotel was), they didn’t even realise that we had only just altered our booking. The guy thought HE had made a mistake in thinking we were staying 6 nights instead of 3. Clearly, we made the right choice in leaving.

We planned to do our last day at the temples the next day but with Matt not feeling well, we switched it to a rest day (again, love these) and spent it chilling in our, now awesome, hotel room.

Our final day in Siem Reap was pretty packed. We headed to our last temple, Banteay Srey, this time renting a car as it’s about 40kms out of the city. This one is famous for it’s intricate carvings and different colour than the rest of the sites.

At Banteay Srey

At Banteay Srey

At Banteay Srey

Then we headed to the Cambodian Landmine Museum which was created by Aki Ra, a man who was once a child solider in the Khmer Rouge. They killed his parents when he was 5 and forced him to join the army when he was 10 years old. He defected to the Vietnamese Army which eventually forced the Khmer Rouge out of Cambodia and now he’s made it his life work to defuse landmines that are still active in Cambodia. It was amazing to read and see pictures of his work and just how much of an impact these landmines have on the Cambodian people. I don’t think we’ve gone a day here without seeing quite a few people missing limbs because they came across an unexploded landmine. No one knows how many are left (it’s estimated at 6 million) and many people are still being injured or killed by them.

Cambodian Landmine Museum

Some of the many mines Aki Ra has diffused

We finished our night with a free cello concert at the local Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital. The goal of the concert is to fundraise for the hospital that provides free services to children in Cambodia. The work they’re doing there and the struggles they face really impacted on me and Matt. It was all pretty overwhelming and maybe a bit much to put into this post at this point but it definitely got us thinking about how we can help.

Dr Beat "Beatocello" Richner - founder (and fundraiser) of Children's hospitals in Cambodia

Dr Beat “Beatocello” Richner – founder (and fundraiser) of Children’s hospitals in Cambodia

We’ve realised that with all the travel that we’re going to do, we’ll be coming across this kind of thing pretty often and it would be impossible to ignore it. We’ve got a bit of a plan to bring awareness to charities that impact on us, so watch this space. Back to the hospital, 90% of the funding comes from private donations and to quote the founder, “When is saving a child’s life a private matter? Why don’t the countries that supported the wars that created Cambodia’s poverty, support saving the lives of the children it continues to affect?”

Travel is more than just seeing pretty sites and doing fun things, it’s about making a difference in the places you visit.

Reunions in Phnom Penh

We said a very sad goodbye to ABC Bakery (by stuffing our faces with bready goodness) and the rest of Ho Chi Minh City and made our way by, you guessed it, a bus, to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This was a bit of a special border crossing for me as it marked the 10th country I’ve been to.
We had to get visas when we got to the border which can sometimes be an interesting experience but we knew that as long as we had a new crisp $20 USD bill, we should be fine. Luckily most tour buses crossing the border will sort the visa out for you so that’s what we ended up doing (cost us $5 more but they didn’t really give us a choice). Poor Matt was the last waiting at every checkpoint of the process. Particularly when he was waiting for his passport to be returned with the visa inside – maybe they have special screening requirements for Kiwis? Either way, there was a lot of me waving goodbye to him wondering how long it would take for him to come through as well.

Besides that though, the process was pretty smooth and the immigration officials were much more relaxed than Matt had me thinking they were going to be. My guy just chatted on his cell phone while processing my passport and fingerprints!

After crossing the border into Cambodia, our tour bus stopped for a lunch break. Most tours will have a deal with a restaurant and staff of the bus company will get a commission or free meal (or something along those lines). Unfortunately for us foreigners, this usually means stopping at the dodgiest stall on the street, full of bugs and inedible food. This one was particularly bad so Matt and I ended up buying Pringles for our lunch. Not the most nutritious but it was far better than food poisoning.

We arrived at our destination of Phnom Penh about an hour later than scheduled for no good reason, really. I was just happy to check off another bus ride knowing that I only had one more left after this. We checked into our hotel (that ended up being quite nice) with enough time to have a quick Skype catch up with Matt’s Mom and Allan before heading to FCC for happy hour.

FCC (Foreign Correspondence Club) is a pretty famous bar in Phnom Penh for expats. It’s right by the river and has a great view from the rooftop bar.

View from FCC

View from FCC

Most of you know that we lived with Cath and Jono in Wellington for the past 4 years and they’re also moving to the UK. They’ve done a similar trip to us on the way over and our paths crossed in Phnom Penh.

We got to hang out with them for 2 days, talking about our travels and exploring the city. It was really nice to have people around that we knew and could talk to about all the things we’d both done. We’re going to where they’ve already been and vice versa so were also able to give each other tips on where to stay and what to eat. We stayed in the same hotel and they even booked the same place we did in HCM based on what we told them. Love sharing travel tips! Is there a job in the UK for me to do that? Cause that would be so much fun!

Meeting up with Cath and Jono for happy hour

We had a cute little girl trying to sell us books at dinner. She was so tiny and could barely lift her box of books, we all felt so bad for her. When Matt said to her that she’d get big muscles from carrying her books, she flexed her little arm…and then I died from the cute.

She could barely lift the box!

Seriously, Cambodia wins the Cutest Children award and I want to adopt them all.

Matt drank a bit more than the rest of us thanks to a happy hour beer deal he thought was awesome (2 big jugs of beer for $3) so he wasn’t feeling so hot the next morning. Lucky for him, at the convenience store we found this drink and apparently it actually works!

Matt drank a bit more than the rest of us and found this. Apparently, it works!
After that, we headed to the Russian Markets. Upon reading Wikipedia, it’s called that because of Vietnamese occupation at the time it started (and we all know how much Vietnam loves Russia). We know it because it’s featured on our favourite TV show, The Amazing Race, a few times. There are hundreds of stalls and quite a few of them sell the same things but it was pretty fun to walk around looking at all the silk scarves, t-shirts, etc. We went in the morning as we read that it gets very crowded and hot later on so not all the stalls were opened. I still managed to buy a couple silk scarves and ‘Giorgio Armani’ sunglasses for a grand total of $7.

Cath and Jono in the tuk tuk

Us in the tuk tuk. I know.

I was mid sentence and Matt…I don’t know.

Russian Markets

Matt’s been here before and went to the Killing Fields and The Royal Palace but to be honest I didn’t really feel like going to them. The Palace seems like a place that would leave me pissed off – I don’t want to see your gold statues and walls and silver floor when right outside the gate are people living on less than a dollar a day. Share the wealth!
As for the Killing fields, I’m really sensitive to places like that. I know that’s not a really good excuse to not go but I know myself and I have to be really careful with places where horrible things have happened because of the effect it has on me. I’ve watched very powerful documentaries on the brutal killings and torture of the Cambodian people under the Khmer Rouge and just looking and being around the people here is enough for me to feel the pain they’ve been through. I also have a problem with the fact that the bones and skulls of the millions of people that were killed are on display for people like me to see. Maybe one day I’ll change my mind.

So, I spent the afternoon in the hotel room watching the A-Team and editing photos while Matt went exploring for 3 hours in the pouring rain in search of a massage place. The things that boy will do for a massage.

We met with Cath and Jono again and went in search of dinner. We went down to one end of the river only to realise the place we were looking for was in the complete opposite direction. After about 25 minutes of walking we found the place…only for it to be closed. So we walked BACK the way we came and found a random place that ended up having yummy food and cheap margaritas.

Pretty lights

Margarita

And then it was time for our 11th and final bus trip. This time to Siem Reap.