I am sat in Don Mueang International Airport, Bangkok waiting for my flight to Krabi I southern Thailand. It’s nearly 9.30am and my flight is at 11.45am. It seems like ages ago that I wrote the last blog, having just crossed the border from Vietnam to Cambodia.
Cambodia is a wonderful place, although during my time there I encountered some situations which tested my patience and gave excellent opportunities to learn to be more tolerant and accepting. Always up for a good lesson. I will talk about these further on.
Anyhow…..I had just crossed the border, like I said when I last wrote and I made my way that night to my hostel in Phnom Penh, which is the capital of Cambodia. One thing I noticed during the drive to the capital, is that the roads here are very different to Thailand and Vietnam. They’re not so much roads, as dirt tracks and at times can be very uneven, which made the bus journey very bumpy at times.
My hostel was called The Mad Monkey Hostel. This is a chain of hostels in Cambodia, which are well rated on accommodation sites. The hostel was nice and clean and I slept in a dorm with six beds. Unfortunately the pool over the road at the reception building was undergoing maintenance, so was out of use…..gutted! That night I checked in, had something to eat and booked a trip for the following day.
The most popular thing which tourists do whilst in Phnom Penh is go to the Choeng Ek Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum, known locally as S21. S21 was a high security prison from the days of the Khmer Rouge regime. Before you read on, please be aware that there’s some pretty gruesome stuff that I’m going to write about in parts of this blog. The events which took place here were brutal to say the least and the tour detailed the horrific things which happened. After the details of the killing fields and S21, I hope it’ll be more light hearted, but I don’t want that to detract from the tragedies I heard about. I suppose the blog will be similar to how local news is portrayed. You get all the negative stuff first, like the murders, the natural disasters, the reports of deaths and then, to supposedly leave you on a lighter note, you’re told how a dog with wheels as its back legs has found a new home or a little cake shop is having a fun day in Kendal to raise money for the church roof. This stuff, which I will write about, we need to know about. The horrors of what has gone before, the devastation left behind can be used as lessons for humanity.
The next morning, I headed to S21 with a couple of other people from my hostel. It was about a fifteen minute walk from The Mad Monkey. On the way there, I seen this place and imagined it was Phnom Penh’s equivalent to LIPA, where I studied.
The site where S21 is situated used to be a school called Tuol Svay Prey High School, but when the Khmer Rouge took control of the city, they converted it to a high security and secretive prison where they would take those deemed to be a threat to the revolution. Upon entering the site, there was eerie feel to the place. Despite knowing it, you could just sense that things had gone on here and it wasn’t pleasant. I’ve heard people talk about a similar feeling they’ve had at Auschwitz and Ground Zero. I’ve not been to either of those places (I’d like to go to both in the future) but I imagine it was a similar vibe to the one here.
At the beginning of the tour, you could hire a set of headphones which gave a guided commentary as you walked around the site. My knowledge of what had happened in Cambodia was general to say the least. I’m not well versed on it, so I decided to pay the $3 for the commentary. The people I was with decided against it and went off on their own way. They came back asking if I was ready to move on after about 45 minutes. I was only at station 8 of 29. I wanted to know the details of what was here and looking back, not sure how informative the tour would have been without the headphones.
In short, people who were brought to S21 were seen as a threat to the Khmer Rouge and they were tortured. The most brutal methods of torture were used on men, women and children. The idea of the torture was to put the detainees into submission and to get them to write false confessions of acts against the Khemer Rouge regime, that they had not even committed. Files were kept with details of everyone who came to the prison, but the detainees were only ever referred to as a number. Part of the torture and humiliation was to dehumanise the prisoners, stripping them of their clothes, names and identities. Hundreds of pictures were displayed throughout the site of people who were brought here. It was heartbreaking. Men, women and children, some still unidentified to this day. If the prisoners did not sign a forced confession, eventually they were taken to the killing fields and murdered after a prolonged torture campaign. If one member of a family were killed, the remaining known members were also rounded up and murdered, so as to prevent a revenge attack in the future. Bloodlines ended through insanity. Devastating.
People who were brought here had to abide by a certain set of rules. They were displayed on a board at the beginning of the tour.
The S21 site is rectangle shaped. Buildings sit on three sides of the rectangle. They are all identical, with three floors. They are now referred to as Buildings A, B and C. On the fourth side is a wall and a grass area with trees, and in the middle of the rectangle now stands memorial statues and 12 white graves. These were for the bodies of some people who were discovered in Building A.
Just in between Building A and Building B, stood this tree. This specific tree is planted here for unsettled spirits. The number of those who died here is just an estimate as many people were unidentified and many were unaccounted for.
The first part of the tour was of Building A; three floors of rooms, which used to be used as classrooms. During the devastating time of the Khmer Rouge’s rein, these rooms were used as cells to hold those captured and were used as a room for torture. Beds remained, which were found when S21 was uncovered. Remember, when this was happening, it was a secret place. People did not know what it was being used for. The commentary described the horrendous scenes that greeted those who found the prison. Pictures hung on the walls, of the scenes which were found. You could make out the figure of a human, but such was the barbaric nature of the torture, it was difficult to make out any detail other than the bodies. People were chained to the beds and mutilated here.
Outside Building B stood a wooden frame. It was formerly used by children of the school during their PE lessons. In the prison, this structure was used to hoist prisoners up. The were hung upside down by their feet in an attempt to agree to write a confession. Often people would become unconscious due to being upside down for so long. When this happened, they were lowered into water, until they regained consciousness and the process of questioning and torture would start again. Here is the wooden frame which still stands in the grounds today.
Within the rooms of this part of the site, people were chained to the floors by their feet. They were forced to lie down all day and had to ask one of the officers if they wanted to sit up. They would be whipped by officers as they lay there and if they screamed out in pain, then they would be subjected to further and more intense torture. The commentary informed me that at night if the chains rattled, then further punishment would be handed out and how sometimes the guards would bite the backs of prisoners so much that they were unable to physically sleep face up, therefore having to move, rattle the chain and be subjected to more torture. Absolutely horrific stuff. It was really difficult to listen to at times.
The prison was the only building in the area which had electricity for 24 hours. As a result of the lights, bugs would find their way into the cells. One prisoner told of how hungry they were and would sometimes resort to eating the bugs, particularly crickets. This was obviously forbidden by the regime and if they were caught doing this the prisoners were beaten. The prisoner speaking on the commentary said he seen one man beaten across the face until he spat the cricket out and was struck across the face until he was nearly bleeding from his eyes. Another horrifying account told how insects were placed in the open wounds of women prisoners as well as their genitals.
Downstairs in the building were small cells, where single prisoners would be held. Th first picture shows one of the cells, the second is the corridor where the cells were and the third was the carvings on the wall from the prison guards. This is where the keys would hang. The lines represent the room numbers, because the guards were unable to write numbers.
Right from the start, I kept questioning the mentality of not only the leader Pol Pott, but those supporting the regime and the serving officers. During the commentary, an officer who used to work at S21 said how they could not think of the prisoners as humans and how he had become attracted to a girl who was brought in. He said this was forbidden. I wondered how things come to this. The lack of compassion for your fellow man, in the most extreme ways. And to think, similar to the horrors of the Vietnam war, this wasn’t that long ago. The Khmer Reuge were only overthrown in 1979 and some of the leaders were only jailed for their crimes as late as 2014. Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of one quarter of the Cambodian population, which was around 2 million people.
On the way out of S21, there was a stall where a man called Bou Meng sat. He is one of few survivors from S21 prison and wrote a book about his experiences of being there. He was a painter and when he was captured, the Khmer Rouge used him to their advantage to paint and create supporting propaganda for their campaign. He was still tortured but was spared death as his skills were able to be utilised to the Khmer Rouge’s benefit. I boought a copy of his book and got a picture with him. He was a gentle man and goes back to the prison everyday to meet visitors. I was gutted when I realised I’d left my copy of his book on the tuk tuk, which had taken us around that day.
After coming out of the site, I got some chicken curry from over the road and got talking to a couple of Irish girls. We shared a tuk tuk to the killing fields, which were about 40 minutes away. This drive showed a different side to Cambodia as we went through villages and seen local communities. On the way there, we had to cross a bridge. There was a bit of a traffic jam crossing and in the other direction a van had hit the steel girder at the top of the bridge. It amused me as in England, if this happened, the bridge would be closed for about a week, there’d be an inquiry and it’d probably make the local news. Here in Phnom Penh, a few Cambodian fellas just got either side of the bridge and lifted the girder to allow the van to pass through. Health and safety is common sense here.
We arrived at the killing fields and there was that same feeling that I described above. You could sense things had happened here, which hadn’t been pleasant. However, there was also a calming atmosphere as people milled around quietly and respectfully. A head set for the commentary was included in the price of the entrance fee here, unlike at S21. The first poignant sentence I recall from the commentary was when the man said that for us, the visitors this is the beginning of the tour, but for so many people, where we stood was their final destination. These fields are one of many killing fields in Cambodia, where every few weeks, trucks of prisoners from S21 and similar prisons around the country were brought here to be killed. They were told they’d be getting moved to another site, unaware of their imminent death. I wondered how many were relieved if and when they realised this wasn’t a new prison but the end, especially given the horrific abuse they’d been subjected to during their imprisonment.
The commentary told how huge speakers were placed in trees and would play songs of the ‘revolution’ to drown out the screams of those being tortured and killed. This would mean that the other prisoners could not hear what was happening outside of their cells. There are huge pits at the fields and still to this day, when it is raining, bones, teeth and other human remains surface from the ground. Some are left there and others are taken and placed in boxes to be preserved. The most difficult part for me was the stop called ‘The Killing Tree.’ This tree was used to smash women and babies against. It was difficult to hear.
The fields were discovered when, after the regime had fled, due to an invasion from Vietnam which pushed the Khmer Rouge back towards the Thai border, a local man came to the site to pick some potatoes. Much of the country had been on very small rations of food so when the Kmer Rouge evacuated the area he and other locals seen this as an opportunity to take some of the food grown here. When he was picking the potatoes, he smelled the decay of human flesh, alerted others and they discovered the extent to which the fields were used. He said that on ‘The Killing Tree’ he could see human remains, parts of what he assumed were brain and bloodstains of those who had been killed. The whole day had been pretty heavy and similar to how I felt in Ho Chi Min at the War Remnant’s Museum. I just thought how sad it is that human life is seen as such a commodity, even to this day. To think what these poor souls went through is unbearable. Having to see the torture of your loved ones, be tortured yourself and end your days in such tragic circumstances; one can only pray that they are now at peace. The burden of the past still remains in this country and almost everyone in the country has been affected by the events that happened here.
The whole day had been pretty heavy. I headed back to the hostel, where a UB40 ‘Best Of’ CD was playing followed by Bob Marley, and had some tea. I then got an early night as I was up early the next day to head to Sihanoukville. I had only planned to go to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap here in Cambodia. However after talking to a mate, I decided to head south to a beach for a few days and got a bus the next day to Otres Village in Sihanoukville.
On the drive through Sihanoukville , I seen a building with a sign saying ‘American Cambodian English School.’ I wondered if it was a school just for children of these nationalities or whether it was a language school. I also saw a cow eating some tarpaulin. As we neared Sihanoukville, the narrow road was lined both sides with palm trees. Not just the odd one or two either, it was like a forest of palm trees. It was some sight. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get a picture, but if you use your imagination, you’ll be able to see it.
I got off the coach at about 2.30pm. I shared a tuk-tuk with another couple from England and made my way to my hostel. The hostel was called Boho and was owned by a French lady called Emily. It was a really nice gaff. Clean, spacious and very welcoming. Emily and Joe, who was from Manchester did their utmost to ensure guests were comfortable and enjoyed their stay. Another fella was checking in at the same time as me. Emily said she would discount the room from $6 to $5 as there was no mirror on the bathroom wall. What? No mirror on the bathroom wall? What type of place is this? I eventually came round to the idea that I would be able to manage without and agreed to the discounted rate. When we got to the room, there was a mirror leaning against the wall, and one in the main dorm. So we had two, just neither hung on a wall. Therefore, I was able to see just how ridiculous my hair looked whenever I wanted to amuse myself, albeit, I had to crouch down to have this bit of hair fun.
I checked in and headed down to the beach. It was beautiful. There was very few people there. The sun shone brilliantly and the sea hugged the shores. I walked along for about 15 minutes just where the sand met the sea, to where some of the restaurants were situated. The sun was about to set. I settled on a bed and admired the views. I never get tired of a sunset. Here’s a few pictures from the beach and the sunset.
That night I headed to Otres Market. It was about a 5 minute walk from my hostel and it was amazing. Little food stalls, arts and crafts stalls and live music. Yes. People were sat around, eating, drinking and smoking. There was a good feel to the place. Amongst the bands playing was a duo called Lyons and La Zel. The lad in the group was called James. He was from Runcorn and played guitar, flute and harmonica, whilst simultaneously beat boxing. His companion was a girl from Norfolk, whose voice reminded me of Lily Allen. They were very good. James was incredible. He’d said he was from Liverpool on the mic and I had a chat with him afterwards where he said he’s actually from Runcorn but no-one knows where that is so he says Liverpool. I understood. When you meet people and they say ‘Oh I know where you’re from,’ insinuating Liverpool, I just say it’s near there, because Birkenhead isn’t as widely known as Birkenhead wishes to be. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I’ve posted a few videos of James doing his thing. Check it out.
The next day I was up early for a pick up to go to Koh Rong. This is an island about 2 hours off the Cambodian mainland. I was up at 6.45am for a pick at 7am. This is when I began to get an idea of the lack of the concept of time here. I eventually got picked up at 7.50am. The boat was due to leave at 8am. It didn’t go until about 8.50am. Timings here are quite relaxed, which is good in a way. Everyone is rushing about like headless chickens back home, where life seems to be lived at 100mph. I got on the boat, which was $10 return and lay down on a bench on the side of the boat, with my feet hanging out over the side. The sun shone down and every now and then a wave of water would splash up and hit my feet. It was nice. I lay there with my iPod on and just thought ‘This is what it’s about.’ It was nice to just sit back and relax. Yesterday was focused; I was listening to a lot of difficult information about devastating events. Today, I didn’t need to focus, I just needed to chill.
Here’s a picture of our approach to Koh Rong.
Getting off the boat, I headed for the map of the island. I’d been advised to go to Long Beach by my mate Saulty. He said it is a deserted part of the island and is apparently stunning. I headed over to where a group of girls were stood around talking. They too were heading for Long Beach, so we took a taxi boat together, which cost $5 and the journey took about 20 minutes. The water was a nice colour in the main part of the sea, but when we approached Long Beach it changed. The shade of blue of the sea was like stuff I’d only seen in brochures and on TV shows. I was in awe. Matty from Birkenhead seeing these wonderful exotic places. Amazing. The beach in the distance looked white and there was hardly anyone there. The boat stopped just shy of the beach, which meant we had to get out in the sea at about waist height and walk onto the island. Here’s some pictures…..just incredible.
I sat with the girls who I got the boat over with. Two of them were from New Zealand and two of them were from England. We talked about travelling, the UK, work, politics and alternative thinking. Brain was focused again, but these are the conversations that fire me up. We discussed Eckhart Tolle and his book ‘A New Earth.’ I’m always delighted when someone I meet has read this. I’ve not met anyone who has read it, who has not said it had a profound effect upon. Just to make it clear; when I meet people, my first question to them is not ‘Have you read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.’ I just mean that if the subject of spirituality or alternative thinking comes up, it’s a point of reference I use. I am able to form relationships with people who have not read it. It’s not like it’s a pre-requisite to being able to converse with me or be my mate. ‘Who wants to go for a drink…..Tuesday’s good…..for me.’ That’s a David Brent reference.
One of the girls from New Zealand had read the book, so we discussed it and how it impacted on us. It was lovely swimming in the sea and chilling there for a few hours until the taxi boat came to take us back. This is where the difficulties of the next few days began.
I got off the boat and headed for something to eat. Now, I’d been warned that a few people had had food poisoning from eating here on the island of Koh Rong. Someone had advised me to eat vegetarian food whilst here. Because it’s an island, a lot of the food defrosts by the time it gets here. It is then refrozen. In addition to that, the electricity goes off quite a lot here too. Any vegetarians amongst the readers, can be smug now. I ordered a burger, which tasted OK and went down OK. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t come out OK later on. But, there were no problems thus far. Getting off the boat at the mainland, I began to feel like my stomach was churning. ‘I’m OK,’ I tell myself. I headed back to the hostel on a tuk tuk, which went through darkened, quiet lanes. It seemed to go on for ever. It was pitch black so I was unable to make out any places I’d seen on the way down here this morning. The ride couldn’t end quick enough. Things were happening in my stomach. I knew I was on borrowed time. The driver pulls up and I pay him $5 (we’d agreed $4, but I wasn’t waiting around for change…..I couldn’t, plus he had originally quoted me $5 as the journey was long he told me.)
Without going into too much detail, I made it in time to the toilet. It was like a flock of sparrows. I felt dreadful. I wearily climbed into my top bunk and waited until the next time my body wanted to make me run the gauntlet. It went on and on and on…..and on. I managed to get some sleep, waking the next day to a similar feeling. My body had started to ache too. There were a few people in the dorm who gave me various things; charcoal, little sachets of stuff to drink…..they looked after me and I’m grateful to them. I spent the day there. My plans subsequently changed. I had only planned on staying two nights, but I thought I wasn’t going to be in any fit state to travel 12 hours on the bus the next day to Siem Reap, so extended my stay by one night. That evening, I managed to eat a little something and began to feel human again. I needed to rest though. Here’s a picture one of the girls, Rashmi took, just after I’d surfaced from bed to try and eat.
The next day was a lot better. Not 100%, but better. However, I thought; I’m like a smart phone that’s been plugged in for 20 minutes. It says I’m recharged but I’m not convinced it will last the duration. In the morning I headed down to the beach to go to the ATM. I was followed near the ATM booth by a cow. When I come out of the booth, it followed me into the restaurant next door. What did it want? Did it sense I’d ate one it’s mates and was trying to get me? ‘I’ve already suffered for eating the burger pal, and people in the room have suffered also. Leave me alone.’ I walked around the ATM booth (similar to a phone box in England) and tried to confuse it. Thankfully it got on with its day and allowed me to do the same. I headed into a restaurant and ordered a salad. Safe option given the delicate state my system was in…..and also, I didn’t want old Cowy smelling beef and coming to give me what for again. I got chatting to a truck driver from England called Rob. We talked about reggae (as it was playing in the restaurant…..like it does in most places in South East Asia) and he told me of a Reggae and Ska festival that is taking place in Pattaya, Thailand. I told him I was heading to Thailand after here. I debated in my mind, changing my plans completely and going to the festival.
That evening, I was booked on a sleeper coach to Siem Reap from Sihanoukville. I got picked up from the hostel at about 7.20pm (it was supposed to be 6pm…..can you see a running theme here?). That allowed me to play pool against the Cambodian bar man. He was clearing up and the had one ball to pot. I thought this fella has played before. I managed to pot four in a row and then we both got down to the black ball. He missed and set me up for the easiest finish. He was on his way to put his cue back and had even shook my hand before I had taken my shot, accepting defeat…..I missed. He laughed. I laughed (but inside was feeewming) and he won. We shook hands again, as if to erase my imagined victory and congratulate him on his triumph. We played again about 15 minutes later and he won again. Then I beat a Canadian (at pool, remember I’m a pacifist). Here’s a little picture of the Boho hostel. It was set back about 5 minutes from the beach. If anyone is heading to Otres Village, stay here, it is lovely and you are well looked after.
Cambodia is a place, where I have learned to take things with a pinch of salt. I got on the bus and was surprised by how spacious the beds were. They were similar to the sleeping compartments of the Bangkok-Chiang Mai train. I was told I was on ‘Bed 11 Downstairs,’ which meant bottom bunk. There was not two floors. The bed was like a small double bed. I put my headphones in and settled in for the night. Next minute, a bag lands on my feet and the lady organising the bus tells me to move over. Ey? She says someone else is sleeping next to me. Hahaha. Ah man, I was gutted. I said there’s no room and stood up out of the bunk to talk to the lady. She says all beds are for two people. I’m 6 ft 2 and about 3 ft wide. If anyone was going to sleep here next to me, it would be very intimate. Too intimate for complete strangers. Whilst I’m talking to the lady who worked on the bus, a lady from Australia manoeuvres into the bunk below. The Cambodian lady ignores me and heads to the front of the bus. I’m laughing nervously, because she doesn’t listen, or even try to understand that I had paid for what I thought was my own space. I bend down and explained to my friend Down Under (see what I did there? The pun there…..it’s like something the Daily Sport would write) that I too was sleeping in there. She was a larger than life character and laughed raucously saying how she was a lucky lady. I thought ‘Lucky? You won’t be, love, at 4am, when I’m squashing you and slobbering on the pillow.’ She then said she’d assumed she was in a bed on her own and made her way down to the front of the bus to talk to the bus lady. Literally a minute later, she returned saying ‘We’re sleeping in separate banks lav.’ Result. Her persuading skills must have been better than mine, or the lady had succumbed to the pressure of us both expressing our dissatisfaction to the sleeping arrangements. She said she wasn’t happy sleeping with a stranger either. Lots of music got me through the journey and bit of sleep also. It wasn’t too bad.
I arrived in Siem Reap and headed to the European Guesthouse where I was initially staying for two nights. It had a pool and had good reviews online. I say I was initially staying for two nights, but had to amend the booking as I’d booked a flight, whilst in Sihanoukville from Bangkok to Krabi. The journey from Siem Reap to Bangkok by coach is advertised as 6 hours. Remember that time or details aren’t considered relevant here. The 6 hour journey doesn’t take into account the times when the border is closed and the journey has up to an additional 4 hours waiting time. So to save any future issues and sitting at a border for hours, I had no option but to limit my stay here to 1 night, in order to cross the border when it was open.
When I said above that you need to take things with a pinch of salt here; the next series of events highlights this. I ask the lady at the bar in my hostel where the nearest ATM is. She says its round the corner. Cool. I then ask where the nearest booking office was to book a coach to Bangkok, because she told me she couldn’t book me a bus from the hostel. She tells me it is 15 minutes in the tuk tuk. That seemed like a long time to be in the tuk tuk. But I take her word for it and get in one. The driver literally turns two corners and I am in the tuk tuk it for all of 3 minutes. I could have walked. I then go into the travel agency and look at the surprisingly limited options to get to Bangkok. There is a bus which leaves earlier than the one I had planned, but getting this would mean that tomorrow’s already tight itinerary would be even more so. The man in the place tells me I can get a car to the Thai border and then transfer onto a minibus which will be spacious and air conditioned. I ask can I book the front seat of the car. He makes a phone call and says the front seat is already taken. The journey, he says is 2 hours. Knowing what I know now about the rather nonchalant attitude to timing, I ask him is it really 2 hours and to tell me if it’s not. I ask what the maximum amount of time it takes and he says 2 and a half hours. I accept this because it’s half an hour more than what he initially told me. Haha. I book it, thinking I’m going to be in the back of a car with other travellers heading to Bangkok. This doesn’t happen. I will tell you what happened further on.
I headed back to the hotel and booked a tuk tuk for the next morning at 5am to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. As well as the killing fields, Angkor Wat is the other main attraction here in Cambodia. In the afternoon, I headed to one of the nearby floating villages. Another mate had advised me to go here. I think this was the dry season because when we arrived, the floating village wasn’t doing much floating. At one point the fella driving the boat got out to push it a bit and the water barely went past his ankles. My mate said when he went he seen loads of locals. We hardly seen anyone. The trip was about $35, which included a 20 minute boat trip through the village and then stopped at a restaurant. Food wasn’t included in the price. We got out and got something to eat and see that the restaurant had cages with snakes and alligators in. The man who worked at the restaurant said that they were being kept for their skin.
That evening, my appetite seemed to be back to normality, following my ordeal in Sihanoukville days earlier. I ate and headed for bed, wanting a good sleep. Before I went to bed, I was talking to a couple of other travellers from the UK. We ended up talking about politics and they both said that they had voted Tories in the last couple of elections. The girl said she worked in the education sector and the Torie’s education policies appealed to her. I asked if the increase in tuition fees, the academisation of schools and the increase of free schools appealed to her. She looked at me blankly and said she worked in apprenticeships. The lad said he voted Tories because he didn’t like Tony Blair. I was confused. Tony Blair wasn’t a candidate in either of the last two elections. I went to bed baffled by how people think. Each to their own as they say.
The next morning, I hazily remember snoozing the alarm and then jumping up suddenly. It was 5.12am. I was 12 minutes late. That’s almost on time here. I pulled the curtains back to see if the sun had risen. It was still dark. I headed down to meet my driver. The drive to the ticket office to collect the ticket for the day took about 10 minutes. When I got there, I spotted two of the lads from France who I’d spent a lot of time with in Vietnam. They were in the queue. We met up at the first temple which was about 5 minutes further on. There was not as many people at Angkor Wat as I had thought. People had said it get’s. Really busy, but it was manageable. There was still a decent amount there but it wasn’t too packed. The crowd gathered around a lake in front of Angkor Wat and watched the sun rise from behind the temple into the pink sky. I’d seen a few sunsets since being away but this was the first sunrise I witnessed. It didn’t disappoint. Here’s a few pictures from the beginning of the morning.
With the sun risen, we headed into the temple to explore. There are two different tours you can do, one is the large circuit, which takes in all the surrounding temples and the other is the short circuit which shows you a few of the main attractions, notably Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom which is where parts of Tomb Raider was filmed. After the second temple I said goodbye to the French lads and headed off alone, as I was on the short circuit and needed to get back and sort stuff out for my pick up. The driver turned to me and said ‘Do you want to go to Ta Phrom,’ which I gathered later is the name of one of the temples. Genuinely at the time, I heard him say ‘Do you want to go to Tap Room.’ Now, anyone from my neck of the woods will know there’s a place called the Tap Room in Birkenhead on Charing Cross. I’ve gigged there. I thought how on earth does this man know about the Tap Room. Has he heard the accent and has this little nugget of information at his disposal, to use as a joke for anyone from Birkenhead? This type of thing happened quite a lot in Turkey when I first started going. You’d tell a shop assistant where you were from and he’d say in a mock Scouse accent ‘Ah me mum lives in Knotty Ash la.’ I remember being astounded that the Turkish people knew of such places. Anyway, it transpired this wasn’t what was happening here. The guy may or may not know of the Tap Room in Birkenhead, but he was asking me did I want to go to the temple named ‘Ta Phrom.’ I did and we went. Here’s a few pictures from the various temples that I seen that day.
After seeing the temples, I headed back to the hostel to get something to eat before my pick up to go to Bangkok. Like I said above, my understanding, or more accurately, my assumption, was that I’d be travelling in the car with other travellers. At about 2.30pm, a tuk tuk comes and picks me up. He tells me he is going to take me to my transfer. I am in the tuk tuk for about 15 minutes and he pulls up in a car park on a busy road. He makes a phone call and then a man appears from behind a parked coach. The tuk tuk driver gestures towards this man. He then walks me round the other side of the parked coach and points towards his car. I see one person in the back seat. As I walk over, he points to the front seat. The front seat I was told was taken. Not a problem, I’m not complaining. I get in and turn round and say hello to the lady in the back seat. She has a little girl with her. The man then gets in. I think it was his wife and child. When we moved off, I thought maybe we would be picking other people up, but as the journey progressed it was apparent, I was in the front seat of a family car. They didn’t speak English and my Khmer is a bit rusty, so it was a silent journey. I didn’t want to put my headphones in, because I thought it would look ignorant, so I sat there and looked out of the window for hours. I see signs for Poipet. This is a town in Cambodia. Just as we enter the town, he takes a left turning and we end up in a little village. His wife and child get out and are greeted by what I assume was the wider family. They’re all happy to see each other. The man gets out too and starts chatting. I’m sat in the front seat of the car, a bit like when Alan Partridge takes his PA Lynne to her mother’s grave. Looking over, gradually getting more impatient. The only difference, Alan had his own choice of music, I had some Cambodian stuff on which wouldn’t have been my first choice. The driver then comes back and we drive on. It is about another 20 minutes until we reach the point where I get out. Here a man approaches me and sticks a little green square on my shirt. He points to the border and tells me to ‘go.’
I have no idea where I am going or what I’m supposed to be doing. I head to the border control office and scans are taken of my thumbs and fingers. This happened on the way in. I then walk through a walk way under a bridge and into Thailand. I think this is the only country I’ve ever walked into. I get through and have to then go into a big room for passport control. It’s about 5pm and the man behind the desk tells me the coach goes at 10pm. WHAT? Five hours waiting here? He says ‘yes.’ I go to walk over to the seats where other people are waiting and he shouts me back and tells me to go through another door behind him. My head is mashed. I then go through the door, down a stair well and back onto a street. A man with a clipboard covered in green stickers similar to the one I was given is waving at me smiling. He knows the drill. I don’t, so he’s a lot more relaxed about this situation. I’m just confused. I walk over and he takes me round the corner to where there is a mini bus. I am told my seat is at the back. It literally is at the back next to stacks of luggage with very little leg room. If anyone has followed me on Facebook or YouTube, you’ll have seen a Vlog where I describe the space on the coach as being similar to the away section of Manchester City’s old ground Maine Road. Anyone who ever sat there and, like me isn’t 4ft 2 will know what I mean. The journey is another 5 hours. Not a chance. The doors are closed. A man turns to me, looks at the cramped state and pulls a face etched with sympathy. I stand up and get off. There’s a group of fellas sitting round and I explain that I was told I would be on a big minibus with air conditioning. They laugh and say the big buses have not run for 10 years. I’m raging. I ask him to phone the number on the ticket and speak to a man who eventually hangs up on me, in a similar fashion to how Wirral Council Housing Department have done in the not too distance past. He says that the next bus is at 6.30pm and agrees I can have the front seat. I head over to the nearby shopping centre for some food and a coffee and eventually get on the minibus in the front. The journey takes about 5 and a half hours and I arrive in Bangkok at about 11:45pm. My iPod has been a good travel companion.
My plan was to head straight to the airport but the time meant I’d be waiting for 9 hours so I decide to get a hostel for the night. I stayed in a lovely, modern place (the name escapes me) where there were little pods for the beds and they had a little tele in the pod too. I head out for a massage after the ordeal of the day’s travelling and come back to get some rest.
I know this description of the events may seem somewhat convoluted and monotonous…..imagine how I felt. I just wanted to get to Bangkok and to be told the truth. I have learned that South East Asia, things are, let’s say ‘relaxed.’ Timing is of no importance, which in some circumstances can be great. Time is a man-made concept anyhow. But when you’ve booked flights and need someone to be honest about stuff, Cambodia in particular is probably a place where you’re going to feel tested. Looking back now I can smile at what happened but when these things are going on…..man they don’t have test you.
I get my head down and the next morning head to the airport via the monorail. When I was on the monorail people were getting on in suits and stuff obviously going to work. I had a little moment when I thought ‘Ah I’m going to the beach.’ I check in, which was straightforward to my surprise, as the last time I was at Don Mueang Airport was when I nearly missed my flight to Hanoi in Vietnam. It was carnage that time. Remember it? Maybe the universe transpired to give me a break here, given my silent family day out the previous day. There really wasn’t a problem travelling with the family, it just felt that the fella in the travel agency had given his mate a call and said; ‘Look, we’ll go halves on this fella’s money…..just take him to the Thai border after the school run.’ If he would have said ‘Look it’ll take about 3 hours, you’re going in a family car, no-one will talk, so take a book and the seat on the minibus you’re getting is something the Borrowers would struggle to fit in,’ I’d have known what to expect. Anyhow, it’s small problems really isn’t it? Be grateful Matty. I am…..very.
I began this blog in the airport a few days ago on 18th March. Today is Wednesday 23rd March and I have been in Ao Nang, Krabi for 5 nights. I will blog separately about my time here, which has been lovely so far.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this latest edition and look forward to reading your comments. Hope everyone is well.
I’ve been doing a few Vlogs recently so head over to my YouTube channel to see little updates every now and again. You can have me in visual as well as written format. You lucky things. Here’s the link to my frustrations at the Thai border.