Last stop Sri Lanka

 

 

IMG_9001So, we decided to end our travels in a lovely 5* hotel in Sri Lanka for a week.  We had a lovely time and I finally got to see a tea plantation!  This was the only thing I wanted to do in Sri Lanka this time.  I do want to explore this country someday but it needs time, something we didn’t put in as it is the rainy season.  Although I did learn from a taxi driver that different parts of the country have better weather different times of the year.

We had booked a day with a worker at the hotel and he took us with a friend driving to the tea plantation and the Fort.  It was a bit of a nightmare really as the driver drove in true Sri Lankan bus driver style and after a near death situation, Stuart gave a firm warning!  When we met the hotel worker he informed us the tea plantation was shut.  I was not impressed as I told him this was all I wanted to see.  We had to drive a little further but we found one!  I love tea so it was a big thing for me being here.  The smell in the factory was fab.  We sat on a balcony of an old colonial building drinking tea with another couple looking at the tea plants and a book listing all the good things various teas can do for you, I hope they do considering how much I drink of it!

We also got to see cinnamon growing, being prepared and I bought some to try, can’t wait!

The fort at Colombo was nice and it was good to get out of the car, our ‘guide’ was smelling very ripe and everytime he lifted his arm to turn to talk to us it got a tadge intense!  But hey, we don’t know his living circumstances and we have found anti perspirants to be the same price at home, if not a little more expensive, so put this in perspective with living costs it’s not surprising we came across a lot of people like this on our travels.

On the way back we got stuck in traffic, it was fab!

I wasn’t sure about the elephant and its wellbeing.

So for the rest of our time in Sri Lanka we did nothing except, eat sleep, sunbathe, read and chill out! And I did have a big bubble bath, laying there listening to the sea at night was lovely.

Just a funny thing, look at this, it’s Colombo airport Duty Free!  In all my travels I have not walked through an airport to passport control looking at shops full of ovens, fridges etc!

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The rainy season meant temperamental weather but we didn’t mind, it felt a little place of sanctuary before back to our old and new lives, new jobs, newish home and new chapter in our lives.

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The day before we left!

 

 

 

 

 

Home and ‘how much did it cost?’

 

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It was a long 11 hour flight home, an overnight stay at Heathrow and a 3 hour bus ride home.  Very sentimental moment, crossing the Severn Bridge back to the motherland!  Was it all worth it, of course!!

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It was great seeing family and at the same time I felt so emotional about saying goodbye to travelling.  Family means more, but life on the road is so much fun, interesting and comes with less stresses.  Although I do recognise we make some of our own stresses with lifestyle choices!  I also recognise without them we would not have been able to do this trip.

It is surprising how travelling can tire you out. It may not have the same stresses and strains of home life and not be so physically tiring at times but we did certainly feel shattered at times. For me, the tiredness reminded me of when training for my Counselling qualifications a time when my senses were heightened and I wanted to absorb everything whilst also going through a range of thoughts and emotions.

In the last couple of weeks we talked a lot about coming home, I think we gradually were leaving our travels and stepping back into home life. The saying ‘go travelling and find yourself’ was something that I had little regard for before if I’m honest, but I have a new respect for it now.  I can’t say that I learnt very much about myself but after years of Counselling in order to gain my Counselling qualifications I have already learnt a lot about myself, although I Did reflect on some of my traits and strengths and was reminded of how important family are to me.  Stuart did find some things out about how he operates in the world which surprised him.

We talked before we left about being together day in day out for so long, nearly 10 months, what would it be like? Actually, we had a ball! There were times when we got sad, homesick, scared, frustrated, even angry but mostly we had fun and laughed. We shrugged off the stresses of home life, which took a little while. Our only stresses really were logistical, getting from A to B, safety at times and the budget, I’ll tell you about that later.

What I did give some thought to was how lucky I am to live where I do, I have much more appreciation for that now. Witnessing various environments, cultures and individuals left devastated by earthquakes, tsunami’s, flooding, hurricanes, restrictions on electricity and not taking water for granted was a humbling experience.

Learning from those who lived or are living with conflict and war was also insightful, thought provoking and saddening. We have had conflict and war in the UK and currently do have issues with terrorism and during my travels I have realised and really become aware of how vulnerable communities can be.

What we have realised is that we want some time to process and reflect on our travels. There is so much we have forgotten in 10 months and we were moving quite fast.  Looking at photos, printing this blog which I created because I wanted some memory links (and obviously so you can see what we have been up to) are more important to us than we thought they would be.

Travelling helpful hints 

  • Travelling to so many countries, trekking, sunbathing, differences in temperature and humidity all take a toll on the body, remember to listen to it, nourish it and protect it.  We were shocked at times by those not bothering with malaria tablets and  protecting themselves from the awful Dengue Fever.
  • Something silly, don’t forget earrings get so hot in intense heat, they burnt my ears!
  • Reading many blogs before leaving I thought about clothes that can go with each other and weather, fast drying clothes for trekking but I didn’t give enough thought to clothes that covered my shoulders and my knees (this goes for men too).  We needed this type of clothing not just for religious sights in Burma and Cambodia but also for many other countries who as a nation dress far more conservatively than we in the UK.  I would go as far to say that if you want to carry a small pack perhaps think about where you want to go as we ended up sending clothes home, giving some away and buying as we travelled.  By the time we left Sri Lanka my backpack was virtually all new.
  • Definitely do not underestimate this one!  Allow more money if moving faster, can’t emphasise this more and then add on internal flight money for good measure.  Don’t rely on what you read about daily expenditure on blogs.
  • Lonely Planet, did have a fair few mistakes.  We learnt to email forward to hostels and ask how to get to them from the bus, train or airport, saves a lot of hassle and cost at times.
  • Packing cubes were fab!  I like a little order and we had some from Ikea which were falling apart after seven months of daily use but I have to say they were stuffed full and truly bursting at the seams one many occasions!  They helped to separate dirty and clean clothes and I used them to stores tops, trousers etc separately which was great when searching for something.
  • Get a motorbike licence before you go and I really would ask around in Thailand before renting and driving.
  • We purchased a special filter water bottle from Nomad Travel when learning of flooding in Peru and water issues.  It was great for saving money on water, which was a little pricey at times.  We used it in places where they said you could use the water but we didn’t feel confident in doing so.
  • Photo storage, don’t rely on internet connections!!!  Can’t emphasise this enough.  I was going to use Google Drive but the internet connections were so poor at times I just couldn’t get them all to upload and eventually we saved a few of each place when we could and saved them all on memory sticks.
  • SIM cards can be so cheap and useful, I would do a little research on the best providers though.  We didn’t at times and wasted money here and there and got very frustrated!
  • Tat shopping, as Stuart calls it!  I love it!  If you see it, love it and have room for it, buy it!  There were several times I saw things and thought I would wait but never say the items again!
  • Camera!  There were countries where we didn’t want to get phones out due to being robbed, but felt the camera wasn’t so bad to lose (we were careful to update photos often in these places just in case!)  I got really frustrated with my camera as it was slow turning on and taking photos, I missed so many great shots and would definitely look at this more closely if/when travelling again.
  • My sleeping liner, lightweight was an important thing!  It was great on overnight buses to get in and cover me us completely and I could keep valuables inside.  It also protected from bugs and mosi’s and of course the emergency bedding for the places we really didn’t want to sleep in but decided we just had to for one night.
  • Dont rely on buying clothes in all places, parts of South America were too rural and if there were clothes many were not my style.
  • Passport covers.  You can hardly see the face of our passports due to them wearing away when being used and kept in money belts against sweaty bodies, yuk!!
  • We purchased a plastic box and cups, great for storing food away from bugs, in my case mostly tea bags! And cups for a little ‘drink’ and when we didn’t trust the cleanliness.  We also found online travel sets of hard plastic cutlery, although we bought ones with chopsticks not knives in case we forgot to but them in the hold on the plane.  These were great, sturdy and again great for when we didn’t want to used  flimsy cutlery or some from pots the world and its wife had been man handling.
  • Washing line, we lost ours and truly missed it!  We had a great elastic one which did not require pegs the clothes went in between pieces of elastic and saved a small fortune on washing costs at times.
  • If a room has a fridge and bugs, use the fridge for storage.
  • Always do a sweep of the room, Stuart lost a downs foldaway coat, expensive mistake!
  • A hang up washing bag, really handy.
  • Rain jackets.  Due to the high temperatures we  didn’t use them except for Machu Picchu and cooler countries. Used my umbrella far more than I thought I would, did the Chinese thing at times for the sun too!

And the big question people have asked on our return…. HOW MUCH

Before reading on it should be noted that our son did join us in the US and we estimate with hiring a larger car, extra food and hotel and we did treat ourselves quite a bit we could have saved £1200 here!

We didn’t always stay at the cheapest places, although they were generally only a little higher, except in Sri Lanka and Kuala Lumpur and we did buy quite a bit of tat!    We also bought cheap birthday presents for the family and sent them home, together with some of our clothes and purchases so you could take off another £200 easily.

Our Machu Picchu trip is included and was £1500 for the two of us.  We didn’t do this cheap as we wanted a good quality.  There are other tours that do not mean you have to buy permits in advance and which are much, much  cheaper, a few hundred pounds each. You also do not have to buy the Inka Trail Permit months in advance too if you do another trail as no permits are required fir them I believe.

We did book quite a few internal flight where buses would have been cheaper but we decided to do this due to time, safety and tiredness at times.

Get two different credit cards preferably one visa and one Madtercard as some countries they worked, so they didn’t, we never figured out why!  And hide some dollars somewhere for emergencies.

Put all your bills at home on direct debit and set up internet banking to monitor everything, but make sure you only use your mobile SIM card for security not hostel internet, you never know who’s watching etc!

SO…..THE COST

We have been asked about this so often since coming home.

Our two tickets for 11 flights cost £2500 each.  You can buy much cheaper tickets, some as little as a £1000 but we had a specific itinerary and didn’t want to go to Australia, Canada or New Zealand.

Spending money £19636

TOTAL £24,636  

It looks a huge amount, and it is, but this was for seven months for two people so we think we did okay…  would we do it again….

Definately, we already have a new list, there is so much more we would love to see, experience and do!

Well, it’s time to say goodbye!  Thank you all that have followed, commented and been there.  Thank you for your patience, I know each blog has been a mini book at times but there was so much to say and remember!  We hope you have enjoyed it and perhaps even got you thinking about doing something similar.

Hasta Luego (generally means see you soon)  perhaps!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kuala Lumpur

IMG_8784We visited Malaysia approximately seventeen years ago and so our stop in Kuala Lumpur wasn’t our first time here. We were intrigued to find out how much it had changed.

Now as this was our penultimate stop before home we had budgeted to stay somewhere nice here and in Sri Lanka. We had booked ourselves into a 5* hotel and we were so, so looking forward to not only our own room but some luxury.

IMG_8749We arrived at our hotel and were given a room with a lovely view of the Petronas Towers. I have to say it is still a spectacular building but we were both struck by how much building work had taken place around it and it felt swamped by these other buildings. Before, I remember it standing majestically. Now our photographs contain other buildings too. We decided not to go up to the sky bridge this visit as we didn’t think we would see very much and opted to go up the Merara Tower instead. Unfortunately it was our last day and the weather wasn’t that great but we still had a good view.

The rest of our time we spent around the pool or wandering the streets and of course Chinatown’s, Petling Street Market.  Seeing as the Owner of Cardiff City Football Club is Malaysian Stuart was sure he would see a Cardiff City top here, bless him after several shops he had to admit defeat!

When we first arrived we found ourself wondering if we had put KL on a bit of a ‘pedestal’ previously as this visit the city didn’t seem to have the same cleanliness and brightness. There were many building that looked like they could do with a lick of paint and the place didn’t have that up and coming vibe that we felt on our first visit. Things had definitely changed, Chinatown’s Petling Street stalls were mostly run by Indian looking people now, not Chinese. There are all the modern cafes and eateries, we could only remember McDonalds. There seemed more malls, many full of original designer shops. We went to the area we stayed previously thinking perhaps it was because we spent more time there that our memories were differing so greatly. This area was also a little worn, it didn’t look the same modern sparkly place it had been. We realised that, in our opinion, it was due to the skytrains concrete bridges, they are very imposing, the concrete is stained and I think these overhead, parallel to the roads, blocking out the light contributed to the gloomier feeling.

In the middle of the city is a canopy walk, we did this, it wasn’t huge but with the heat we left with wet sweaty clothes and feeling exhausted. The one think the Malaysians do that hasn’t changed is really cold air on, hurray!

We left feeling refreshed, if not a little sad by the changes in Kuala Lumpur and glad that we had visited.

IMG_8830We had a lovely surprise on checking out.  We were due to check out half an hour before breakfast started and so I asked if perhaps we could have a croissant and some fruit in our room.  The receptionist was very nice checked, but said no, he said we could have some water and a sandwich to go though.  I asked for it to be sent to our room so we could eat it before leaving which he was happy to do.  I saw the Manager talk to the receptionist afterwards but didn’t think anything of it.  What arrived was a lovely trolley as initially asked for, thumbs up Seri Pacific Hotel!

It’s really strange and emotional, (who’d have thought it) thinking about coming home. We don’t want the adventures to stop but also want to see family, be home and have some home comforts. We may have had some stressful moments on our travels but the thought of going home, finding jobs and generally getting on with life does feel a tadge overwhelming…. so much to do!!

Next stop, Sri Lanka, a week to prepare for life back home!

 

 

Singapore

IMG_8708Singapore really did live up to my expectations and more. It was clean, yey, it had pavements, yey, and I could flush toilet paper down the loo, double yey….

We booked our accommodation here ages ago and when we did we thought it would be good fun to book a pod instead of a room! I’ve got to say when I got here I was still up for the fun of it but my body was achy and I was feeling old! Shame on me but I pulled the age card and asked for a lower pod, they said they didn’t have any available and were very empathic, serves me right!

The pods were two high with a double mattress with a drop down little table. There was a locker under the lower pod. It was quite difficult getting up and down the ladder the first day but after that I mastered it and we had a laugh. Each pod comes with a ‘privacy blind’ which basically was a see through blind, so not much privacy really. We slept with ours half way up though as it was so hot, even with the aircon.

IMG_8500It was okay sharing a space with everyone, they were generally respectful and quite, well except for two Chinese girls opposite us. They did their best to be quiet but they liked to be up and out but not until they had applied a full face of makeup, after undertaking a full skin regime, then straightening their hair and posing in front of the mirror just to make double sure everything was perfect.  They even took selfies to check! They did look very pretty though. Stuart bless him found it all a bit intimidating. He came back from a shower on the last day saying ‘I can’t cope with this first thing, there’s  three of them in there and they have makeup and bottles all over one table, the whole table!’ I reminded him to look out of the window at the incredible view we had it was pretty spectacular, we were riverside looking at the famous Marina Bay Hotel which had a boat type structure joining the three towers.

We spent our days moseying around on the hop on hop off bus, doing a bit of shopping. The evenings for us were when Singapore came into its own. The Botanic Gardens were mesmerising with their tree structures which had a light show with some fantastic music and light colours in shades you do not often see in lights.

We wandered around the park after, buying food from the hawker stands and taking in the many other sights here.

We decided to walk back along the river and happened to come across another light show in the bay, we had got confused and thought the lights of the Marina Bay Hotel was this. This was really, really amazing. The water did its thing to music and then their was a laser shower with some very artistic images in the rising water.

I am so pleased we saw this, it was the hilight of Singapore for me and I very much hope to return here some day.

Ps.  Look out for the fish shoes below and the canopy with chairs underneath.  They are so cool, literally, they have a big fan under them.

 

 

 

 

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

 

 

SAM_6788After our  previous experiences of travel in Cambodia we decided against the overnight bus and booked a flight.  Everything went to plan, well, except that I had booked the hotel for the wrong month but luckily as there was a free tuk tuk pick up we were made aware of this the day we were due to arrive! (although we had tried contacting the hotel three days previously but they didn’t reply).  The down or upside, depending how you see it is that when I went to cancel the booking on Booking.com so that I would not be charged later for a ‘no show’, I was informed that the property had free cancellation so I was not due to pay anything and that the cost had lower that month by $20 so our stay would cost less.  When we got to the hotel though the Manager, who would not come out of their office informed the staff to charge us the higher rate, then the member of staff went back and came back with a figure less but still higher that what Booking.com were saying.  We told them we could not pay knowing that everyone else had paid less.  We asked them to check Booking.com.  We didn’t pay or mention it again and just left them the ‘right’ money when leaving.  Although, they then tried to charge us for a tuk tuk driver we had hired for a day which we had already paid, luckily Stuart still had the receipt.  Yet another hotel palaver but hey, that’s travelling for you!  And actually, as you read on and consider life here for many, I do find myself considering the need to thrive and survive here.

IMG_8451So, Siem Reap was hectic with lots of bikes and no pavements.  The towns main central area was called Pub Street, this was several roads which as the name says is full of pubs and restaurants, there is also a good few market stalls.  This area was good fun, it had a nice holiday atmosphere and we spent every evening here, our last one even included dancing the night away!

SAM_6738It was so, so hot and humid here it really felt a struggle to get around, our air con was very poor in our room and Stuart asked for a fan, bless them the staff tried very much to be helpful and sure enough they found him one, it was a full industrial size one, it was great for drying clothes on!

We spent a day and a half at the Angkor temples.  I have to say they are very impressive and at the same time I didn’t get the wow factor I thought I would when I saw Angkor Wat itself.  The workmanship in relation to the carvings is exceptional though.  We went back here the next morning, having to leave at 4.30am to see the sunrise, that was very pretty.  We stayed on the outside but later was told by someone we were chatting to (as Stuart and he were having their feet chomped by fish, whilst drinking their free beer) that sitting inside the temple is meant to be better.

Tomb raider was filmed here, do you recognise it?

Walking inside one museum complex we came across a women collecting fish from her net and her son ‘helping’.

Whilst here we went to two museums, Stuart likes to learn about the war history and so we visited the well known War museum where we had a guided tour by a young man.  He told us about life here for him.  Although the war officially finished in the seventies, really things were still going on for a further 20 years in the jungle.  He told us of walking home from school with several of his friends when one of them stood on a land mine and lost his legs, he was taken to the hospital but as his parents did not have enough money to pay for treatment they were sent away and he died three days later.  Can you imagine the physical pain he must have been in and the emotional pain for his parents, friends and family.  He told us that although great work has been done, influenced when Princess Diana visited, all the mines were due to be removed by next year but there are still estimated to be one million left so it is doubtful they will reach their goal.  Along with trained dogs, they have even trained rats to detect them.  He told us of a farmer losing his legs two weeks ago when ploughing his field, which he had done many times and how a week or so ago a big truck with many people had driven down a busy road and had detonated a mine, they believe it was because the truck was so heavy and this weight did not normally travel on this road.

Heading to the new War Reminent Museum we got lost, as our tuk tuk driver had never heard of it, or others he asked and because someone has mapped the wrong place on Map.me, (it is right next door to the Temple Ticket Check/Control stop if you want to go).

It was officially still not open but welcomed Stuart and our Tuk Tuk driver, who was very excited to go in.  You are now going to hear from Stuart:

To be honest we couldn’t find the place at first. This is the first, we’ll maybe second time Map.me has let me down!

I went inside the hut and thought surely this can’t be the place, there’s was a lot of old rusted rifles and machine guns hanging off the walls and as I was about to walk out and call it a day then a man came in and introduced himself as the curator of the museum.

When I shook his hand I noticed part of his hand was distorted, not that it bothered me, he went on to say he was previously a Khmer Rouge child solider and was so, up until the late 80s when he had the unfortunate experience of walking on a mine.  He was walking across the fields in northern Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge had retreated to after the Vietnam Army removed them from power.  He was fighting, as he put it, a gorilla war against the new government, and that’s where he stood on a anti personnel mine and lost his right leg from the knee down and a few fingers and then showed me the shrapnel wounds on his chest and stomach. (Not a pretty sight).

We had a discussion about his time in the Khmer Rouge and what he thought of the politics of Pol Pot and the other 12 “brothers”  and what they were doing to the country duing that time.   He was very open and frank about what he had been through, where he had come from and what type of things he went through during his early days in the KR, he was 10 years old when he was recruited!

He had come from a small farming village up north and had seen the comings and goings of “city and town” folk who were sent there in the war trying to work the fields for the first time living on a small bowl of rice and a cup of water a day while doing anything between 12-16 hours a day in the fields.  Pol Pot who knew nothing about farming and told people that they had to produce a virtually impossible amount of rice per field which was then to be sold to China for money and ultimately weapons. The curator also said he had done some things that adults, never mind a child should never see or do. And being uneducated and young he didn’t know any better until later. He looked so sad and ashamed, it really got to me, thinking about how his childhood haunted him. 

As the true diplomat I am I didn’t want to push him for more details and swiftly moved my attentions to the other items in the room, MINES lots of them, different shapes, sizes, anti tank, anti personal, different manufacturers, countries of origin etc. Also, he showed me weapons the KR had made to prevent their own workers from escaping, such as 4 spoked floor spikes which were made out of rusty metal and thrown out around the perimeter of the rice fields so if someone stood on one of them the spike sticking up would go through the bottom of someone’s foot and get infected.  Then that person would either be very ill or in worst cases die and then they would be paraded around the camp as an example to others not to escape. He said if you couldn’t work to produce rice for the “KR cause” then you wasn’t much good anyway, then to put it bluntly you were treated badly with beatings and lack of food and water until you died anyway.

He also said that the other soliders in the museum still treat him different from the others there and he was sometimes called “Rouge” which he said was a term of hatred towards ex KR solider. He didn’t feel anger against them because as he said he and other KR soilders had done some horrible things in the past and a few name calling was nothing to what he and other people had put the non KR people through in the past.

I really wanted to get a feel of how things had improved since the KR had dispanded. I asked him whether he was now married and had children and to that reply I got a definite NO. He said he was still too angry with himself to ever want to put that kind of anger onto someone else or share it.  It was “his” and he had to live with it. This is where some Counselling would help!! It was heartbreaking to hear how his childhood had and by the sounds of it was always going to affect his happiness. 

Back to the mines. This section I thought was really insightful. Considering who had supplied them. There was American, Russian, French, Chinese and crudely constructed Cambodian, made from old bits of metal cut up into small rough cut bits and stuck in a old metal tubes. The idea of this was to cause the most damage without actually killing the person. This would then mean that it would take one or two people to move and fend for them.

We were later joined by another group of men. The curator explained that these men were specialist mine clearers and were the ones who had disarmed or blew up all of the mines and uncovered all the rotten and damaged rifles on display in the museum. These guys explained how they had traveled to many parts of the world either for the UN and for NGO’s (Non Government Organisations) clearing mines in various war torn areas many of then in Africa. He also mentioned and showed me photos of when he and his team met Princess Diana when she visited a minefield in which he was in the process of clearing.

What really struck me was the sadness in his voice when he explained that there was still years of work to clear the landmines still dotted around the country. Also, one other thing he said was that the metal mines were the easiest to find because they use metal detectors but there are mines with plastic tops which the detectors can’t pick up and these have to be done by hand which is not only more dangerous but a lot more time consuming.  He also mentioned that some of the fields “cleared” in the early days are having to be rechecked due to the farmers being injured from mines which have come to the surface after years being buried.  It was with sadness that he told me that someone is killed or injured everyday by a mine.

I left feeling sad that there was so much work to still do and privileged to have met them all.

Stuart 

In our travels we had not experienced such a range of emotions and and such high degrees as we have in Cambodia.  I have felt deeply saddened, extremely frustrated, angry and then ashamed by my feelings when considering the lives these people have led and considering why they perhaps act as they do at times.  I very much hope that their past does not negatively impact their approach to tourism as we felt it did with us at times.  We met some lovely people, had some funny moments and happy times and wish for them a calm and contented future.

Two cleaners in one of the temples insisted we must take this photo!

 

Horray, I like Kampot and Kep

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So, after our disappointing time in Koh Rong Samloem it was time to experience Kampot.

And we liked it! Kampot can be the sleepy little town you want it to be and if you want to party you can do that too.

Our guest house was okay but it was a little unorganised/lacking. They give you a kettle but no cups, when we asked for some they said they didn’t have enough. We had ants in the bedside cupboard and came back one evening to find Bert the cockroach scurrying across the floor. Stuart freaked out and ran to get assistance! The staff were very apologetic. The cleanliness wasn’t great either but when I asked for the floor to be washed the next day, as the man who came to assist squashed the cockroach with his broom into the floor, they assured me they were going to give the room a thorough clean.  All the places we have stayed in Cambodia except for the first place which is European owned had stained sheets. You could see they had been washed but stains apparently are okay. For me, I really started to struggle here, I constantly kept thinking something was crawling on me and I never felt clean.  I’m loving travelling but very much craving the cleanliness of home.

IMG_7910Anyway, Kampot was great, it was dusty and yet with its colonial buildings it had a charm that made you want to wander. There isn’t a huge amount to see here, it is more a place to soak up the atmosphere, although I did love the huge Durian monument in the middle of a roundabout. The Durian fruit is very stinky and banned from most hotels, it also tastes awful in our opinion.  This area is renowned for growing them.

IMG_8031Whilst here we rented a moped and visited a pepper plantation and Kep.

The pepper plantation was an adventure to get to, actually it was scary being on the back of a moped with Stuart, I kept digging my nails in his tummy as we drove down these wet muddy slippery tracks.  Once there, the views were beautiful and we had a tour. We sat with some people from Israel and tasted different types of pepper, it is difficult to describe but each pepper really had a distinctive different flavour.  We then toured the grounds and not only saw the peppers but different types of fruit.

Back on our bike we tootled off to Kep.  Kep is famous for its crab fishing.  We were lucky enough to arrive to see the crab pots being brought in from the sea and hard bargaining taking place.  It was a really fun place.

We bought some prawns and Stuart bought squid, we then paid to have them cooked and sat and ate them, it was lovely.  We did have a difficult moment though as I cannot eat crab or squid and so trying to get the message across to keep them separate was difficult.  The ladies preparing our tea started cutting them and put them all together whilst smiling and nodding at Stuart when he was asking them to keep them separate.  We eventually asked for them to be washed separately which they did, although I did wonder where the water came from in the big barrel the ladies had next to them. Luckily the woks were washed  between each meal.  I did feel a little unwell for the next day or two but not like I would have done if I had actually eaten the fish so it was all okay!

Back in Kampot we spent one evening on a Firefly cruise.  Now, crossing the Peruvian /Ecuadorian border in the middle of the night I really needed a wee, so Stuart and I walked to the end of some huts and he stood guard whilst I did my business.  The next thing I knew Stuart was standing like a big kid saying ‘look, look, there’s hundred of them’ and there in all my glory I watched all these fireflies dancing around above us, it was spectacular and the first time I had seen a firefly.  With this in mind I had an expectation of sitting, cruising along with a nice drink in a more sophisticated manner, to watch these amazing creatures.  Well, the cruise was lovely but I think we saw no more than 10 fireflies over three destinations!  We had a nice time though and headed back for cocktails.

To finish our stay here,  I had read about an organisation that trains blind women to massage in order for them to make a living.  The sad thing is that some other places have opened very close by with very similar names in order to take some of their business.  As we tried to find the right place we very nearly went into one just around the corner from the real one, but I remembered it was on the road opposite the river and walking past a couple of restaurants it was there.

It was a little strange looking, from the outside all we could see was blue hospital type curtains.  The lady who met us had partial sight.  We were given baskets with hospital type clothes to put on and the massage was done with you wearing these which I though was very good in order to protect the women.  I noticed when we arrived that the girl also called someone and a lady with full sight arrived and stayed whilst we were there.  The massage was very good, painful, and beneficial, my forearms and shoulders were aching so much from gripping onto Stuart on that bike!

Next stop the famous Angkor Wat and Siem Reap on a tiny plane!

 

 

 

Koh Rong Samloem

IMG_7862Beach time!

So we headed off very early to catch a minivan to Sikhouville and then a ferry to this little island with apparently no cars and a slice of paradise.

IMG_7813Our 3 hour drive took 4 1/2 hours, we later found out it was a public holiday!  We were also told they have 28 days worth of public holiday, they then have annual holidays to take!  So, we missed our ferry and then our ‘fast ferry’ loaded everyone on, decided there were not enough seats and unloaded everyone onto another ferry. Instead of going direct we then went on a side trip arriving two and a half hours later.  Now normally we like an adventure but by now the excitement was running thin, a half day trip took all day!  We got to see a lovely sunset though.

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The disappointment didn’t finish here, oh no!  Getting off the boat we walked over a little wooden bridge to our beach front bungalow.  The little stream underneath was a brown rusty colour with an old sun umbrella fully opened in it, there was bottles and rubbish and lots of leaches!  Further more this water ran straight into the sea, yuk!  Before arriving we planned to extend our stay here, I was so glad I hadn’t booked more nights.  We remained optimistic and decided that as we were one end of the beach the next day we would walk down the other end.  The next day we set off only to have to jump over stagnant water and then watch other little avenues of disgusting water run into the beautiful clear blue sea and make great big brown yucky circles.  We must have crossed over at least six of these tracks entering the sea or standing stagnant and green.  It it our belief when investigating, that as we feared they were sewage.

 

IMG_7836We did find some loungers to use in between two of these streams and decided to make the best of the day and leave the next day.  It is such a shame as the sand is indeed powder white and looks beautiful.  I cannot believe we didn’t read about the sewage beforehand.  I had read the infrastructure wasn’t great and that they had an issue with rubbish but not this.

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On our return, again, we had a long and painful trip back to the mainland.  I had booked a bus which in theory we missed but it hadn’t left so this was a bonus, except we still had to wait another hour and a half for it to arrive!

Something that has become apparent in Cambodia is that although the people are very nice they are not reliable.  I watched the boatman sell two backpackers tickets costing $22 each, he had already told us the boat was leaving half an hour later but he didn’t tell us about the detour, the couple missed their bus and had to buy two new tickets, ouch, but he got his commission!  We had a bus driver telling us we should be in time to catch another bus when Map.me was showing us that we wouldn’t, we didn’t make the bus, not even close!   Tuk tuk drivers and taxis, like most of the world would overcharge when they could but it was a much higher ‘tourist tax’ than on average.   When we got to the minivan office for the bus we thought we had missed, I actually saw a timetable and there was no bus at 11.30am or 12.10 which a Spanish family had been booked onto, the bus was 1.30pm.  It has become apparent the people here will tell you what you want to hear in order to gain your business.

It was interesting talking to the Spanish family, they felt the same as us and were also very disappointed with the island.  Later we spoke to a group from Israel, when we asked what they thought of Koh Rong Samloem they really were not happy with the sewage and the expense.  In relation to the cost of living in the rest of Cambodia it was very expensive to get to and stay at the island.  I read that some boat companies started a ‘price war’ with the island crossings and so the head people of the island stepped in and said that there had to be a minimum crossing fee of $20 return with an added $2 for conservation.  Our total spend for  our two nights stay in basic accommodation, basic food with a few drinks but not many,  cost us $180 for the two of us, we could have lived like kings if we had stayed on the mainland, and been able to swim in the sea!

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This is one of those moments where I was gutted as I felt I had totally wasted my money, but at the same time, as I had such a wonderful picture in my mind of what the island would be like, I cannot say I’m wish I had not gone as I would have always regretted not going, unless I had knew the truth of course!