A Travellerspoint blog

Southern Cambodia

From Bangkok to Cambodia's Coast

I realise the title of this blog is no longer relevent due to sadly no longer being in India - but I'm keepig it open, I'll get back there soon enough! For now, think of it as South East Asia Calling (doesn't quite have the same ring to it though does it?) ......

We arrived in Bangkok at the end of October for a couple of hectic days until we headed straight to Cambodia. We met up with the lovely Belgian guy Jeroen from the Nepali rafting trip and treated ourselves to a couple of nights at the posh (in backpacker terms) D&D Inn. 

I LOVE Bangkok, always have. We ate street food, drank beer, swam in the pool, bought pointless stuff on the Khao San Road, and the biggest treat - went to an actual Boots store to stock up on toiletries!!! It was VERY exciting and I wanted to buy every Soap & Glory product there was!! It was amazing to be somewhere as modern as Bangkok after the past three months - it was a bit weird. To go to the 7-11 and buy anything at any time, to sit in air conditioned bars, to not see cows wandering around, to see McDonalds and the like, bizarre!

Poor Jeroen had been waiting for us in Bangkok for six days already though and as much as I love it, that amount of time in the city would've killed me also (and rapidly depleted the funds), so we got packed up and headed for Cambodia!!

Cambodia was my absolute favourite place the last time I was in SE Asia so I was super excited to get back and see more. The journey to the border went well, Lauren and Jeroen were introduced to the Thai Songtaew (sp) which is basically a pick up truck with a couple of benches,the visa and border crossing itself went well (apart from the inevitable downpour that occurred as we were loaded with bags crossing the line - of course!) but the dude on the Cambodian side with the taxis was a BASTARD!!!! He tried to charge us a stupid amount of money which of course we protested against, but then a very nice tuk tuk driver offered to take us but this BASTARD wouldn't let him?! I don't quite know what power he had, he looked like a little rat, but we had to start walking anyway. The tuk tuk driver using his head followed a little while after to pick us up and we thought we'd made it so had a celebratory cheer. But no. Next thing this little BASTRD has put-put-putted up on his little bike shouting the odds resulting in us having to once again get out of the tuk tuk and walk. Ridiculous! Luckily by this point the rain had ceased and we were just faced with the minor issue of a hill and a 9km walk with our packs. Fun!! However we were in luck as a nice guy with a car far too posh for us stopped to give us a lift. We did say we'd keep a look out for the rat faced bastard and if we were to see him to hit him, but he was lucky, he wasn't around.

So we arrived in Koh Kong township and the driver found us a nice guesthouse right on the water with some of the best food I've ever eaten. Fish amok is the best dish in the world and I could eat it all the time! The guesthouse owner, Mr 42, was a total character. He was this hyped up Cambodian, really friendly, trying to ensure everyone was getting enough $1 beers and would be going on to karaoke later in the evening. Both nights! He was hilarious, and spoke so fast that most of the time the three of us had to discuss what he'd said after he left. He was a good guy.

We spent the next day on Koh Kong Island which was beautiful. Clear blue water, white sand, not many people around, heaven! Unfortunately you can't stay on the island yet, (which actually is maybe a good thing to keep it unspoilt) but it would've been nice to spend the night right there on the water. I do think this place will be hit big time by tourism soon enough though. It's so close to the Thai border it's amazing it hasn't been developed and ruined yet. I think sadly it's only a matter of time before this haven is hugely deforested and covered in hotels due to Cambodias national park laws being practically non existent at the moment.
 
We spent the evening trying to work out a loose plan of where in the country to go (over he $1 beers of course) and when and decided to leave the following morning as although the island is beautiful and the guesthouse nice, the town doesn't really have all that much going on. So on to Sihanoukville we planned - for some real beach time!

Unfortunately this wasn't to be the case. While on Koh Kong we got bitten by sandflies whose bites then proceeded to make things pretty miserable for me in the heat! And Sihanoukville turned out to be gross. It was full of horrible beer drinking Brits and the like, NOT a place I really wanted to hang around. We walked along the beach which was covered in trash to the nicer area of Otres Beach which was pretty, but I definitely won't be rushing back to this part of the country. Luckily we again had a nice guesthouse for the couple of nights we were there and I kept my itching skin permanently under the fans! We'd planned on at least a week at the beach but decided instead to just get out. We were thinking of heading further along the coast to Kampot and Kep but the weather had still been quite stormy so we thought we'd head inland for now and if we can, come south again after Phnom Penh in a few weeks. Hopefully by that point my skin will be better and the weather beautiful! Fingers crossed!

Posted by kbenfield 00:45 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Trekking the Annapurna

So we survived our first big trek! Not without hitches along the way, minor tantrums from me, loss of socks and shoes, a night separated, landslides, and a lot of rain at the beginning, but we survived!

After a few days chilling in beautiful Pokhara with our fantastic new little brother Russell we set off for Besi Sahar to start the Annapurna Circuit trek. The hitches started the minute we arrived at the bus stand where we found out there was a bus strike and nothing would be leaving for our destination for hours. Typical Nepal apparently! We managed to get a different bus half way then another bus to the start of the trek though so despite the set back we started on the day we wanted. I don't think I had any tantrums on the first day?

The trek itself was absolutely fantastic. Hard work, very VERY tough on rainy days, but so so worth it. I'm not going to go into detail about each day as there's simply too much to tell for 11 days. Some of the more memorable parts include getting leeched, sinking in a landslide to our thighs, climbing up a waterfall, crossing numerous precarious looking 'bridges', poor Russell falling THROUGH a bridge on the first day, Russell's shoes falling apart on the second day, losing Russell for a night on about the fourth day, Russell attempting to cross a landslide in broken shoes - I have to say, this trip would not have been so much fun without dear Russell. We couldn't have asked for a more brilliant travel companion. In fact I couldn't have asked for better travel companions in both Russell AND Lauren Mack! They both knew just when I needed a chocolate bar to keep me going :)

We became mountain legends due to the night me and Lauren spent apart from Russell, the story wasn't even that exciting but all along the trail everyone knew who we were - it was like being celebs in India again. Really we should have exaggerated the story, wrote a book, sold the movie rights and funded our travels for longer.

The beauty of Nepal is outstanding. I couldn't take enough photos to capture what we were seeing and how much the scenery was changing with every passing day. We went from hot humid rice paddies right through to arid mountain deserts and snow. 

The first few days were definitely the hardest with rain coming in each afternoon, leeches getting in our boots (little bastards), humidity that didn't allow clothes to dry overnight and having to put cold wet shoes on each day. Unfortunately it was like this till about the fourth day which ended in a most depressing way of us trying to dry our socks near the stove and actually managing to melt them all apart from one pair for me, one pair for Russell, and two for Lauren :( that afternoon was also the afternoon we sunk in a landslide which is easily the most terrifying thing that has EVER happened to me. Needless to say we were desperate for some sun....

And so the sun came!! We woke up to blue skies, views of white mountain peaks we didn't even know were there, and with a new sense of get up and go. It was VERY exciting!!

Luckily this weather held for the rest of the trip with each day being more beautiful than the one before. We made it to Thorong La Pass on the 11th day, at a height of 5416 meters above sea level. It was pretty spectacular. We'd had a couple of bad nights sleep due to altitude - sleeping at 4800m is not all that comfortable - so were all a bit nervous about the big trek day, but it wasn't as bad as any of us thought it would be. It was hard, without a doubt it was hard, but not as long as we'd imagined or actually as steep. We left by 6am and reached the pass in brilliant sunshine by 8.30am, it was a beautiful day.

The pass is the highest you can go without crampons or any equipment and the views from the top are breathtaking. And seeing all the prayer flags and the big sign congratulating us reaching the top is something I'll remember forever. It was so cold up there we couldn't stay for long, but long enough to appreciate the views, appreciate the fact we'd done the trek off season so there weren't millions of people, and to appreciate the hot mug of tea we drank to thaw our hands and insides out!

Then it was quickly down down down almost 2000m which hurt more than going up, we were actually using muscles to descend - it was like our feet and bodies didn't understand what was going on! The feeling once we were down at the first town was a total mixture of pure sweet relief it was over, sadness it was over, pride of having actually done it, and HUNGER!! We're still catching up on food now and will be for the rest of the week I expect. I can deal with that.

The Annapurna, to summarise, is bloody amazing. The mountains really are something else. My legs ache, my whole body aches in fact, I stink, my clothes could probably be classed as hazardous to your health, I've got a cold, but I cannot WAIT to get back to them. So bring on Everest!!

And to everyone we met along the way, all you lovely Israelis, team Malaysia and Patrick, Naomi and John you crazy pair on BIKES, Steve and Bailey at the end, and everyone else, thank you for adding to the amazingness of the trip!

Posted by kbenfield 07:33 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Sublime Sikkim & Crazy Calcutta

Luckily, after the mental jeep journey up from Darjeeling we soon realised Sikkim was worth the visit. The capital town of Gantok - although being warned it wasn't great - was lovely. It was a lot more developed than either of us thought it would be with a definite Swiss feel to it (we later discovered the governor wanted it to be like a little-Switzerland) and with of course great food, great people, and absolutely beautiful surroundings. To wake and be able to see prayer flags fluttering over the mountains from your bed is pretty special. 

Unfortunately a downfall was our hotels location. The hotel itself was perfectly fine, however, at 5am each morning the most infuriating song with a chorus of 'la la la la la, la la la in the mooooorrrning, la la la la la, la la la in the evvvveeeening' was played at full blast on the street below our window. And I mean seriously full blast. Then, as a form of EXERCISE, people started counting from 1 to 20 over and over and over again. At different speeds. To music. FOR AN HOUR. It was hell. It was really like some kind of torture! To hear those numbers repeated and repeated and repeated oh my GOD I nearly cried the first morning. We soon got into the habit of having iPods and headphones close to hand.

We visited a gorgeous couple of monasteries in the town of Rumtek, an 'interesting' waterfall park, ate good food and met some lovely people by simply walking through town. We had invites to stay with various families the next time we visit India and had our photos taken 'on the sly' all over again. By on the sly I do of course mean mobile phone cameras held pretty close to our faces then swiftly moved to look over our shoulders when we turn. Oh, and there was an incident with a child who tried to get in front of me in the queue for ice cream. Obviously I wasn't having that and I did actually slightly push him aside, but only because i'd been waiting for a while and honestly, some children are very rude.

After the few nights we had in Sikkim we had to get our last train in India to reach our final destination of Kolkata. We were slightly nervous of having to go back to a big city after such a long time in the hills and in Nepal but it really was a nice surprise. 

Kolkata is busy yes, but no more so than some parts of London, and the size of the streets and all the bright yellow ambassador taxi cabs around gave it a real New York feel. The people were all really friendly, again we ate great food, and again we had three thousand photos taken of us. Particularly at the Victoria Memorial which was a beautiful building in even more beautiful gardens. We were getting approached for so many pictures in fact that towards the end we just stood next to each other and I shouted 'any photos come on over now, 10 rupees per picture, photos with the English girls' though of course despite many many photos being taken we had no payment. Worth a try though? The Indian Museum left a fair amount to be desired in terms of what you could actually learn there, but the Memorial made up for it. I'd like to spend longer in Kolkata I think. It's such a huge city with so much going on and so much to explore. Although interestingly NO wifi anywhere and it would seem only ONE Internet cafe? Hmm maybe a gap in the market...?

It's so sad to have now left India. Our last evening we went and sat on a jetty near the Howrah bridge, just looking over the city, at the hustle and bustle, drank a chai, ate a samosa. I can't believe three months have passed already in India and Nepal alone. It's crazy. And crazy to think there's another three months in Asia to go yet!

India and Nepal have been completely amazing. More than I could ever have imagined. I already want to go back and we've only been gone two days. They've given me memories and stories I'll have forever. Some horrible days and some absolutely out of this world fantastic days. If I could do it all again I would in an instant. BUT, here's to then and here's to now, to the next stage in the journey. On to Bangkok!!!

Posted by kbenfield 07:33 Archived in India Comments (0)

Kathmandu to India....On a Raft!!

Unfortunately, although we were ready for Everest, it was not ready for us. Sadly there had been a plane crash while we were between Pokhara and Kathmandu so all flights to Lukla at the start of the trek were grounded :( we hung out a few days in Kathmandu waiting for them to resume however after 6 days we were Kathmandu'd out and had to make another plan.

Kathmandu itself is crazy. It's hectic, dusty, loud, and generally bloody brilliant. It was weird (in a good way) to be in a real city again. We met some great people at our hotel who we spent our days and evenings eating and drinking with, went to the beautiful Tibetan stupa at Bodinath, to the cremation temples at Pashputinath, saw a MONKEY knock a woman over (which was pretty scary?!) watched a festival with a living goddess (which was actually a bit bizarre?). We had a fantastic time though it was VERY touristy so 6 days was more than enough.

We'd read about rafting in Nepal before and both Lauren and I were quite keen to do a bit, however we then found out about a 10 day trip leading us down the Sun Kosi almost to the Indian border. At first 10 days seemed a bit epic but it made sense as it was that or a 17 hour overnight bus journey from KTM back to India on some of the worst roads in the world! So we weighed it up - a few rapids and sleeping on the beach or shattered bones from the longest drive there would ever be. Needless to say beach camping won. Also, how many people can say they rafted from Nepal to India?! Who needs a bus or a plane?! 

And we were so glad to have chosen it as it was SUCH a fun trip! The guides were fantastic at their jobs - the big chief Arun was hilarious, and the six other tourists with us were all really nice too. There were two girls from Denmark, two girls from Holland, and a girl and guy from Belgium. Jeroen, the Belgian guy, had me and Lauren in hysterics every day just with the things he said, we were so lucky to be with such a great bunch of people.

The rapids weren't too too scary, we flipped once at a rapid called Jaws (after which Jeroen turned around and announced he would never call his son George as that's what he thought it was called...) which was the scariest bit, but other than that it was just so much fun. The camping and sleeping under the stars on the beach was fantastic too. I love camping!! 

Getting to India from the drop off point was interesting as when we reached the border it was dark, the office was closed, there were lots of shady looking characters around, etc etc. BUT we managed to get the immigration officer to open up and stamp our passports for a small amount of money and we were back into India land! At one point - about 7.30pm - we weren't quite sure which country we'd be sleeping in, or whether we'd be trapped in no mans land between the two countries?! It was all very exciting.

We spent the night in Siliguri which was pretty gross, but then planned to get the toy train up to Darjeeling the following morning. However once again, as before in Shimla, it wasn't meant to be that we could get a pretty train as it wasn't running due to landslides on the track from the monsoon. Landslides, I have to say, are the bain of this trip. From getting stuck in one while crossing on the Annapurna, to Jaws the rapid flipping the raft due to new landslide stuff in the water, to not being able to get direct modes of transport. I tell you, they're bloody everywhere getting in the way! One thing we've learnt - if there's ever a delay of some kind it'll be due to a landslide or a festival.

Anyway, we managed to get a jeep up to Darjeeling where we've been for the past few days. It's beautiful up here, although pretty cold! We've drunk copious amounts of tea and eaten copious amounts of cake and street food. Basically what we do best! We did take a very early morning trip to Tiger Hill to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas but we both agreed we'd been spoilt with views in Nepal and it wasn't really worth the 3.30am start. But it was okay, as we then got a longer day to eat and drink :)

We also spent some time at the Tibetan refugee self help centre which was great to see. We met some lovely old ladies who were spinning wool and then making beautiful blankets and scarves etc on looms and doing weavings and things (okay so I'm not the best at actually listening to the details) and I accidentally bought some bits - but it's for a good cause so it was okay. My back may now turn into its own cause due to the weight of my backpack but it's okay as I'll have beautiful things!

We're currently in an extremely cramped jeep heading along the bumpy roads to the Kingdom of Sikkim! It's supposed to take 4 hours or so, it's 12.30 now so I'm guessing we'll be there about 7pm?! There are 15 of us in this vehicle and a babies head is on my arm. I'm sure most of you can imagine how happy I am about this. ;)

AFTER NOTE: we arrived at 6.30 after an actual punch-up in the jeep between a drunk army guy in the seat in front of us and a very proper suit wearing guy next to me! The jeep of course didn't stop for a while even though the women were screaming, the men were shouting, the kids were cowering. It was all very dramatic! Also of course it was mentioned numerous times how there were foreigners in the vehicle because god forbid a bad image is then sent home! I even got passed the baby for about 20 minutes when the jeep finally did stop and all the men piled out to push and shove each other - this was the most worrying part for me! But, we made it!!

Posted by kbenfield 21:35 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

The Indian Sun.

The Indian sun is like no other. Nowhere else in the world have I experienced the enormous burning ball of fire quite simply as this. Not in the arid deserts of Australia, not in the humid depths of Cambodia.

It blazes with a ferocious intensity that feels as if it's scorching your soul. You wilt, you start to fade.

It demands respect, it demands cover, it's relentless. You have to escape.
But there is no escape; only slight relief when a cloud fleetingly passes, never escape.

This is the Indian sun from daybreak until nightfall. Even after dark you feel the heat left, soaked into the dry, parched landscape, radiating back.

A few hours of recovery time and then it's back, burning brighter, stronger, fiercer than the day before. And so it goes on.

Posted by kbenfield 07:01 Comments (0)

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