a spectrum of dust spluttered orange

Our guest house provided breakfast and tea, which caused me great happiness every morning. My baguette and fried egg kept me going all day. My group of travelers from various continents learned quickly to just say no to the butter. All of the butter I’ve tried here has this weird vanilla flavor to it. It’s not exactly complimentary to most foods. In addition to complementary breakfast, Blossoming Romdoul provided free bikes. So I took off with Izzy and Milly by bike. I don’t think I’ve ever toured a city by bicycle before; its thoroughly pleasant! It was certainly quicker and cooler than walking. We headed towards a pottery place I had heard about, but sadly after the first two landmarks in the sequence of three, my mind blanked. We couldn’t find it, and so we turned back. Izzy and I kept exploring, but Milly chose to remain at the guesthouse. We got some much needed frozen refreshment in the form of smoothies. We biked by the river, explored a temple, I got a new SIM card.   After we all regrouped in the evening we laid claim to the not-yet-opened rooftop bar. Jake and his friend Jay who had arrived in town that day left to get pizza for everyone. Some of the group partook in ‘happy’ pizza, some of us partook in unhappy, but still delicious pizza. Sue led the girls in a session of yoga/mum thai/expressiveness/dance. We shouted and danced high above the city; releasing our selves and harnessing the universe.

After having a day to recuperate from the exhausting border crossing we tackled the massiveness that is Angkor Wat. More on that in a separate post. After Angkor Wat we needed another recuperation day. I spent mine cycling around more, writing postcards, and hanging in hammocks listening to Sue and Jake jam on their porch.

Advertisements

on ephemeral family and fortune

The journey from Koh Tao to Cambodia was so very long. I was smelly, sleep deprived, and worn out. If I was the border control, I probably wouldn’t have let me in.

I made the train from Bangkok to the border with less than two minutes to spare. The second my train from Chumpon was mostly stopped I jumped off and ran for the ticket counter. Unfortunately I did a superb job of spending my baht, as had been my intention. Therefore I was twenty baht short of my ticket, and they wouldn’t accept my credit card. I think they could see how flustered I was, because they told me to skip the atm and just get my ticket on the train. I readily agreed to this and ran to my train. It started moving almost immediately after I jumped onto the closest car. This is when it occurred to me that I still don’t have enough baht for a ticket, and there is definitely not an atm on the train. Oh well! I followed my orders. The ticket officer wasn’t quite sure what to do either, but he made a sort of ‘I’ll get back to you’ gesture and never approached me again. I spent a lot of time considering my options, as I saw it there were three. 1) not pay for a ticket. The journey was several hours and I’m not sure he even remembered about me. 2) hop off at a station and use the atm there. Only, it seemed completley random whether we stopped for five minutes or only twenty seconds. 3) ask to borrow money from another passenger and pay them back at the end of the trip. I entertained this debate for four-fifths of the trip (with the exclusion of option 1 – I’m just not that person). I finally decided on option three and asked the guy reading an English book a few seats away. He agreed to help and I promised to pay him back as soon as we reached the station. He didn’t ultimately accept the money I owed him (fair enough, it’s less than $1, and I would have done the same) and instead hurried off to the border.

Which I did too, as soon as I got money out for a tuk-tuk. On a whim I got out four hundred baht instead of just the one hundred I would need. This proved an extremely fortunate decision a few hours later. It was at the border that I noticed the passport number on my e-visa was wrong. I had checked the accuracy of my information at least five times. I know it wasn’t my fault, but why hadn’t I thought to check the finished product when they sent it? Ehhhh. I reserved myself to an extra $20 and maybe an additional hour of time for another visa, but I stood in line at immigration anyway, just to see what would happen. Standing in line I heard a ‘hey fellow Australian!’, but didn’t respond, obviously. Then again. I looked up and this totally cool hippieish couple was looking at me expectantly. I explained that I was sadly not Aussie, but we had a nice conversation anyways. I shared my visa dilemma, and they had me share my intended accomodation ($2.50 per night!) with a few British women up ahead. They all got through ahead of me, but finally it was my turn. I had decided to wait and play either the What? It’s incorrect?! Inconceivable! or the I know, I sent an email as soon as I noticed (I had…moments before…in line). Is there nothing I can do? card, depending on how things went down. As it turns out, they just don’t look that closely. Or they don’t care. Or it was my lucky day. Anyways, they fingerprinted me and I walked into Cambodia. The bus was just leaving and a uniformed man stopped it for me. My Australian and British comrades were on there and we all shared a big sigh of relief of completion. Unbeknownst to me, this would become my family for the entirety of my stay in Cambodia.

At the official transit center they had a currency exchange, but no atm. Fortunately I had exactly 300 baht (from earlier, if you recall), which is precisely how much the bus to Siem Reap cost. Once there, we divided into two tuk-tuks. Out of pure fatigue we had all decided to go to the same place for the night, despite it being a bit more expensive. Unfortunately Sue and Jake (the Aussies) had the name of the guest house and…there went their tuk-tuk. Follow that tuk-tuk! We cried passionately. Our driver wasn’t on his game, and we lost them before we even started moving. It was…a situation. There were issues of paying for the tuk-tuk, Claire and her daughters, Izzy and Milly, (the Brits) owed Sue and Jake something like 400,000 riel, we had no contact information for them, and all we knew was the word ‘blossom’. Our driver took us…somewhere. It was cityish. I ended up paying with some emergency American dollars I had brought. Which, to my utter surprise, is the main currency in Cambodia. Who knew? We found the nearest cafe and all peered into our iPhones and tablets to get our bearings. I found a Blossoming Romdoul Lodge only a ten minute walk from our location. Izzy called and asked if they had rooms available, they did, and off we went. Thankfully, while checking in we heard some familiar friendly Australian voices. Yatta! We had all made it into the country, to our intended city, and we had a place to sleep. What a great feeling that is! Now just a shower and some food and life would be perfect. Which is exactly what went down.

Our guest house was so lovely. Nice rooms, the friendliest staff, a beautiful courtyard, and good food. It even had one of the wildly popular fish ponds where you can submerge your feet and have the fish nibble off all of your dead skin. Most places charge like $2 per thirty minutes, so with all of the time I spent feeding the fish with my grubby path-worn feet, I figure I got more than my money’s worth from my room. Not that I would ever pay to put my feet in a fish aquarium, but still. We all ended up staying there for the duration of our time in Siem Reap because we were so pleased with it. Despite being worn out, after dinner Sue, Jake, and I took a stroll through the night market. The knowledge that good sleep is within grasp is ever so energizing.

 

sunshowers in the waiting room

Travel isn’t always the glamorous jetsetting it’s made out to be. Today’s journey from the island of Koh Tao to Bangkok (ultimately Siem Reap) consists of a taxi to a ferry to a bus to a train. The taxi arrived at the pier an hour before my ferry left. The bus connection was on time, but it put me at the train station about eight minutes after the train for Bangkok left. The next train wouldn’t be for seven hours.

Often in my travels there is a lot of waiting, and waiting isn’t especially glamorous. It worked out well, because I was able to finally print my Cambodian visa, and I had time to get a milk-tea-of-the-gods. But that took less than an hour, and now I’m at this train station just…existing. I suppose it’d be nicer if everything just fit together perfectly like a puzzle, but that isn’t the case. And that doesn’t bother me. I like the slow pace of being on the road. I don’t have any of my usual daily rituals to follow, and I get to just take life as it comes. There’s something really special about that.

I think I wrote on this subject at the Burger King in Cologne where the birthrighters spent a long night. About reality being what it is, and not what you might imagine. Right now I could be at TJs stocking shelves, or laughing at that notorious joke of ‘must be free!’ when a barcode doesn’t scan, or maybe at home making a fresh batch of cookies, or maybe even hiking in the cascades. Any number of things that I normally have the option to do, but not today. Instead I’m at a train station in Chumpon and I have the option of interacting with this world with which I’m unfamiliar. I had the challenge of figuring out how to print a document in this city that operates differently than what I’m used to. The Internet cafe was a bit tricky to find and the instructions weren’t in English. But the ladies there were so sweet even though we didn’t understand each other perfectly. We were all so proud of each other at the end when I stood there with two copies of my Cambodian visa in hand and we each said a heartfelt thank you.

I don’t know. This whole day is a lot of waiting, but there is something I cherish so much about it even so. Traveling is about trading the options you encounter in a day as much as it is about a change of scene as much as it is about a change of humans and their particular cultures. I didn’t get to dive back into the ocean today and I’m not yet exploring temples, but it’s still such a blessing to wake up in a place that isn’t home and make new decisions and have different experiences than those I would normally. Regardless of the specifics of my reality – glamorous or rather plain – I can’t not be excited about this exchange of circumstances. I’ll take this day of waiting whole-heartedly and I will enjoy it till the sun goes down.

beneath those tealish waves

While in Bangkok, I realized my last minute planning was perhaps just a bit too last minute. I intended to leave in two days and hadn’t decided upon a destination, and hadn’t even thought about a couchsurfing host! So I borrowed Pascale’s Lonely Planet and checked out the ‘southern coast’ section. I’m not sure why Koh Tao stuck out more than anywhere else, but I logged onto couchsurfing and took a look. On the island I found two really exciting potential CSers. So I wrote a request to each and carried on with my business in Bangkok. I shortly thereafter received affirmative replies from both parties, booked my overnight train ticket and ferry, and soon enough (well, nine hours later) I was there. Koh Tao is kind of like the place where The Beach was filmed, except filled with tourists. Every other building is a dive school, and the food options here are much more diverse than on the mainland – pizza, burgers, tacos, pancakes….more diverse, and considerably more expensive (but still cheaper than even a lunch portion anywhere in the US).      Koh Tao. Island in the south of Thailand. Generally known as the cheapest place to get certified for scuba diving. It honestly stunned me. After our two and a half hour ferry ride, pulling up to the island was just gorgeous. We had to navigate through all of these colorful, old wooden boats. The ocean was not the bright aqua of the Caribbean, and not the rich dark blue in the center of the sea, but shades of a gorgeous deep teal. 

My CS host, Lana, is seriously top notch. In her response to my couch request she listed several different plans I could join in on including a crochet session with her dive instructor’s wife, Nam, and a charity event featuring local musicians. Both of which I was totally on board to join. Nam was as delightful as Lana had described, and I enjoyed hanging out her her small shop chatting, though I didn’t join in the crocheting. Next we went and had Massaman curry, which has remained my favorite meal here to date. Finally, still just day one, we popped down to the bar for the music. Her friend was playing the wok. Yes, wok like the dish. It was so cool. She very excitedly coerced me to drink something with a cricket in it. Which was about as good as it sounds, but I finished without issue. We went for a hike across Koh Tao the next day. Our destination was Fraggle Rock, but we didn’t quite make it. We did trek through some jungle and try to harvest a few different fruits we came across (unsuccessfully). Instead of Fraggle Rock we headed towards the Mango Bay viewpoint, which proved pleasant enough. We had a picnic of bananas and banana flavored egg sandwiches for lunch, and contendedly sat on our perch above the island. I had been on the fence about diving, on one hand it’s a lot of money for someone who is trying to exist on $5-10 a day (excluding rent back home, meh). But on the other hand, diving. Despite the fact that the beach scene isn’t my thing, I adore the ocean. And while it is expensive, learning to dive on Koh Tao is wayyyy cheaper than learning to dive elsewhere. And finally, when in Koh Tao…actually Lana had a huge part in finally tipping me towards diving. I signed up that afternoon and started with a few videos. For dinner we had pasta with tuna and olives. Lana has this exceptional skill of being able to cook a multitude of dishes in her electric kettle. Also she tends to get by on about 60 baht per day (under two dollars), which was just fine with me. I really enjoyed all of our cheap, yet filling meals.  The next morning started with a session in the pool learning about scuba gear and diving in general. All of the guys working at Lana’s dive school, Asia Divers, are these fantastic British men. She told me jokingly (or maybe not?) that she chose that school in particular because they supplied her with loads of tea. Which is entirely reasonable, in my opinion. Anyways, my instructor was Claude, with Lana assisting. I reckon I couldn’t have had a better experience. So much so that once I finished my open water certification, I immediately signed up for my advanced course. My instructor for my five advanced dives was Dan, and he made me giggle and consequently fill my mask with water just as much as Claude. Everyone was very complimentary and encouraging, and for this I was grateful. I was half afraid I would be such a terrible student I would embarrass Lana. But I did feel comfortable, and being under the ocean without the limit of your lung capacity is incredible. I loved diving, and it’s definitely something I want to explore further. I did nine dives in total, including a wreck dive an a night dive. Ah, it was so cool. Like exploring another world.  Umm…other things I did on Koh Tao: have my first authentic pad thai (to Lana’s disapproval, perhaps her only fault: not appreciating the greatness that is pad thai); meet up with the other CSer, Chris, who I didn’t actually end up staying with; hang out at the Asia Divers bar where Lana had just started working and meet a bunch of cool people; participate in a pub quiz at said bar (I came in thirdish, Lana won for her third consecutive time); have a brain cramp game session while waiting for rice pudding to cook; use my weather goddess powers to make it rain twice during the dry season…

we haven’t located us yet

I decided to take the night train to Koh Tao so that I didn’t spend a whole day traveling. Before arriving at Hua Lamphong train station, I stopped at a few street vendors and picked up a rice dish with chicken and vegetables, as well as a bag of watermelon. The watermelon I ate immediately, but the rice dish went into my collapsible, leakproof bowl (which I very wisely thought to invest in for just such a purpose) to be eaten on the train.

Supposedly there were no third class tickets left, so I acquired the next cheapest option: 2nd class non-AC, non-sleeper. After we took off, I decided I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the open windows on this car. Thailand’s oppressive heat is dissipated when you are sitting by the window of a train. Or maybe just a night train. Anyways, I think if I could, I would always travel by train. In my opinion, it is the loveliest and least taxing method of getting from one place to the next. I like everything about it: the scenery slowly approaching and then slowly disappearing; the gentle sway of the cars, and especially how it looks to see the car ahead of you on a different rhythm; the sound of the train moving on the tracks, the unique sound of each new thing it passes; the wind against your face and in your hair; the lack of carsickness…I particularly enjoy this night train, even though I’m likely missing a lot of grand sights, there is something so lovely about passing through all of this in the darkness. For instance, the many magnificent little shrines are all aglow in the distance – just enough so you can faintly see the details and colors. And I think there is something more forgiving about the evening lights. You miss all of the rubble and power lines and unsightliness. Instead you get little snippets of illuminated scenes. I love it. I’m meant to be sleeping, but I just can’t force myself to miss this experience. Which is a shame, because despite not paying the extra money for a sleeper car, my seat is really comfortable, and I have two seats all to myself…

daliesque

Due to my fourteen hour slumber the previous night, when Pascale went to sleep at 11, I didn’t even try. I stayed up til 1 and then laid down. But laid there sleeplessly until 4. So I got up and did some writing in the bathroom until 5. And then woke up at 8.

First order of business was the Thai Travel Clinic. Ehh…I’ll add another post on this whole issue next. Basically, I needed to get a few vaccines. So I went and did that quite successfully. I strolled afterwards in the general direction of this market I had looked up. On the way I stopped and got a green tea shake, and oh my stars did it rock my world. What deliciousness! Ever since that one I started skipping meals and having tea drinks instead. Well worth it, for sure. In fact, I’m writing this from Cambodia and if I’m being honest, I’ve considered zooming through the rest of my itinerary so I can get back to Thailand sooner and consume more tea beverages. Not that I’m going to, but the idea is seriously tempting. Anyways, the market was huge, but it was only clothes. Not only was it only clothing, but it was only clothing sizes for tiny petit Asian women. Soo, while I enjoyed the experience of walking about, there were definitely not many options for me.  I hesitatingly went next to Tesco. My fancy coconut oil toothpaste and deodorant had separated and become liquid, and their containers were not leak proof. So I needed new containers, and I didn’t know where else to get them. I ended up buying a travel size mouthwash and a small tub of hair gel and just dumping them out. It actually was interesting seeing a Thai tesco – there was an entire aisle dedicated to rice cookers. Seriously! Also a ton of teas and funny sweets and cheap octopus.  That evening Pascale, Bel, and I went to the couchsurfing meetup in Bangkok. It was an impressively sizable group. I spent most of the night talking to a Canadian woman and an Indian man, and I also met a girl from Portland. Additionally I spent a good ten minutes being insulted by a Pakistani guy who thought because I didn’t want go to the infamous Full Moon Party on the islands (uh, no thanks, I’m not into copious drinking, nor am I into being surrounded by that many people) that I’m not fully experiencing life. Anyways, the small group around me tried their best to get him to stop bothering me. Not that I just made it sound so, but the evening was actually pretty nice.

I decided not to do anything touristy in Bangkok since I’ll be meeting up with my friends Valerie and Alex there at the end of my trip. I used Bangkok basically to get my feet on the ground, get a basic orientation of what the deal is in this Asia place, and figure out what my first plans were. For this, it served me well. My final day was spent, of all places, in a mall. I detest shopping, but due to the fact it was still the coldish time of the year in Olympia, there were two things I was unable to acquire before I left: shorts and a bathing suit. Now, I haven’t owned a bathing suit for over a decade, and that is so fine by me. But I just don’t feel comfortable being sort of untraditional in another culture. So I went shopping. Shopping is my least favorite activity in the world. Shopping for a bathing suit is the worst form of shopping. Shopping for a bathing suit in a country where everybody is about a third of your size is just the worst thing ever. Needless to say, I didn’t really succeed. And there is my tip for the day: unless you are a particularly small person, don’t count on getting clothes in Thailand.

uninitiated traditions upheld

After a very tiring few days of traveling I arrived to a very sweaty Bangkok. Customs were no problem – no questions, no issues – just picture, passport, please carry on. I picked up a SIM card for my phone at the airport which has since made my life so much easier. I reckon I overpaid, since the SIM cards there seemed to be geared mainly towards tourists, but overpriced and expensive in Asia is about the same as average or clearance price in the US. So, I can’t complain.

I had a couchsurfing host arranged, but we weren’t to meet until six that evening. I arrived at nine in the morning. I decided to get to her general neighborhood and explore around there. Taking the skyrail was an interesting experience. Everyone who got on seemed to be fairly well off, and we passed quite an assortment of sights: small open houses, tall apartment buildings, Tesco and McDonalds, the skinniest cows I’ve ever seen, bridges over murky water, tropical trees, silly billboards, and streets filled with motorbikes. 

Having an internet-connected map is the best thing that ever happened to my travels (not really, that would be couchsurfing). And surprisingly, it has greatly helped my navigational abilities, despite seemingly doing all of the work for me. Anyways, I had no problem finding the building where Pascale lives. I took my time finding it, casually strolling around the streets and turning off whenever a side street looked interesting. I spent a lot of time that day wandering around, and some time sitting on a bench on a quite street just off a main road. It was so hot. It was so unbelievably hot. I guess I spent an unusually long time on that bench, because a man who was working across the street (at some business I couldn’t make out) came over to me with two bottles of very cold Pepsi. He handed one over despite my protests and I thanked him and we shared our bottles of Pepsi. Half an hour later when I was still there and he was headin home, he came over again, helmet in hand, and asked if I needed a ride somewhere. I didn’t, but again I thanked him and carried on watching this foreign world unfold before me.  

A bit later, I was in serious need of a toilet. Where does one find a toilet in Asia? I didn’t know. I decided to try one of the ubiquitous 7/11s. Nope. They pointed down the street, but didn’t give any specific instructions. I then asked a lady at a food stand, and it took her a moment to understand what I was asking, but then she motioned for me to follow her. She led me to the back of this tiny restaurant to the storage room where there was a tiny half-cubicle sized bathroom. This was not what I expected (I thought she would again point me down the road to some public restroom or something), but I very gratefully thanked her. Sadly the entire bathroom was soaked, so I squatted over the [western, another surprise] toilet, backpack and all. I was definitely impressed by the kindness of the people I had encountered so far.

Pascale is a Belgian girl who is in Bangkok studying. She showed me around her flat/dormitory and the facilities in the hotel opposite which she also had access to. My first order of business was a shower, a very cold shower that was equally glorious in its cooling and its sweat removing capacities. We had a pretty chill evening. She took me out for Thai food an we both had pad see ew, which was wonderful. And cost just over a dollar. Oh my goodness was I excited.

She had class the next day, but left me with a key and a guidebook. I slept until 1:30 – a grand total of fourteen hours. Oi. I guess my body needed it. Seeing as it was the absolute hottest time of the day, I decided to stay in and figure out my plans. I was mapping my course for the following day when Pascale returned, surprised to find me still at home. She asked if I wanted to get a Thai massage and I said why not? So off we went. It was less painful than I had anticipated. Maybe because the woman doing my massage seemed to be following the lead of the lady giving Pascale’s massage. I have a feeling she was still learning, and therefore she was a bit timid. That was fine by me. Later on we had a pizza movie night with a clasmate/neighbor of hers, Bel, from Australia. A pizza company was running a two for one special, so we ordered four pizzas. The tv in the entertainment room of the hotel opposite was tricky to configure, donee gave it a rest and ate our pizzas first. We exchanged travel stories and talked about the area. Finally we managed the system and I ur movie for the evening was Vantage Point. I was very excited that pizza movie night was happening in Bangkok, I wasn’t sure whether to hope for pizza here or not. This was promising.