Bangkok (Apr 19-22): Chatuchak Market, Khao San Road, and a Long Wait through Customs

The trip to Bangkok was probably the longest leg of my entire trip, thanks to the longest wait at customs that I’ve ever had to endure. My bus left at 8:45am from Siem Reap, so I had to order a tuktuk to take me to the bus terminal. I booked my bus with Giant Ibis again (the only company that I trusted) for $32 USD/$46.33 AUD, and they supplied each of us with a coffee, water, and biscuit when we got on the bus. We arrived at the border just before noon, so they stopped at the casino for a bathroom break while they took our passports to the Cambodian border. By that point, I was getting hungry since it was lunchtime, and I assumed that we’d get some food soon. We had to walk about 10-15 minutes to the Thailand border, where it was absolute mayhem! After finally figuring out what line we had to stand in, we got arrival/departure forms to fill out, and we stood in the extremely long line.

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There wasn’t any air circulation, there were hundreds of people, and it was above 40 degrees with the humidity. There wasn’t a dry shirt in the room – everyone was drenched! After about 45 minutes, someone walked by selling bottles of water. He must have made a lot of money because we all jumped at the opportunity to buy some water (I had stupidly left my water bottle on the bus because I assumed that we’d just be in and out of customs). There were three separate lines, so every 20 minutes or so, we’d move up about 3 metres. Finally after an hour and a half downstairs, we were at the front of the line! However, this was only to move into the area upstairs. At this point, I was already deep in conversation with some of the people around me – two of which were a couple that I happened to meet over a month ago when we took the same boat tour from Cat Ba to Halong Bay – so crazy! We got to the top of the stairs, but there was a small door leading to the next room, so it was like a bottleneck effect, with everyone trying to push through the door. The closer you got to the door, the more you felt people push around you – it was the worst! I finally made it through the door after about 15-20 minutes but then, the couple that I was talking to was a few people ahead of me (and they were separated from each other as well). We could see the booths at the back of the room, but there was a line of hundreds of people zigzagging back and forth through the room. I didn’t really understand why there had been three separate lines downstairs (separating foreigners and locals) since we were all mixed together upstairs. We were stuck upstairs for about three hours, with no access to food, water, or toilets (unless someone in line saved your spot and allowed you to come back). People started getting really aggressive with other people trying to butt in line (including myself). I’d notice some people who JUST got into the room trying to sneak in line on one of the sides, and I’d just tell them that there was no way that they’d be getting into the line. So they gave up. During our time up there, two older men fell (one gashed his forehead on one of the posts), and I think everyone was dying of heat, hunger, and thirst. I didn’t understand how it could be legal to have so many people in a room with no access to anything. I was surrounded by a bunch of people from the Philippines, so we chatted quite a bit and they said that they were shocked how busy it was that day because normally it’s never that busy. I guess with the combination of it being the end of Songkran (Khmer New Year) AND Easter weekend on a Friday, I chose the worst possible day to cross the border. When we finally got to the front of the line (just before 5:30pm), we couldn’t contain our excitement – I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face! After I got through, my first task was to find a toilet, then water and food. Our tour guide was still in line so I knew I had some time. We found our bus and I was SO excited to see that they had “lunch” waiting for us (at nearly 6pm) – we were all starving! I grabbed some money so that I could use the toilet, and then came back to devour my meal. We finally got going again at about 6:30 and an hour later, we stopped at a gas station so we were all able to load up on more snacks (I don’t think the lunch was big enough after not eating for the entire day). We finally got to Bangkok at 10pm, so I walked to my hostel (which took about 15 minutes) and I checked in. This time, I was staying at Born Free Hostel for 200 baht per night ($9.27AUD) in a 12-bed dorm (I paid more to be in a room with air conditioning). It was one of the friendliest hostels that I’ve stayed in – I think because Bangkok is a starting point for so many people, so a lot of people were looking to make new friends at the beginning of their trips. I contemplated getting dinner but I was so exhausted, I decided to just get ready for bed. As I was getting my stuff ready to shower, the door of the room opened and in walked the British couple who I had been standing in line with before. We were shocked that once again, we were crossing paths! I had a shower and went to bed, and luckily many other people were already sleeping so I didn’t have to feel guilty about going to sleep earlier. However, I was woken up at about 1am because one girl decided to FACETIME HER BOYFRIEND (without headphones). As we all listened to their conversation, which escalated into a fight because the boyfriend was out with some girls, someone finally told her that we were all trying to sleep, so she said goodbye and hung up. However, after that, her friend came in and they proceeded to have a full conversation with someone else in the room. I couldn’t believe it! I hadn’t dealt with this very often on my trip, so I was pretty upset about it and wondered if I had chosen the wrong hostel. I finally got back to sleep at about 4am and slept for the rest of the night.

On Saturday morning, I was planning to go to Chatuchak Market to buy a bunch of stuff (and fill up a suitcase to bring home with me). When I finished changing, I bumped into a guy named Connor who had just arrived from the United States the day before, and who would become one of my best friends in Bangkok. He said that him and another guy (from Greece) would be going to the market soon and said that I could join them. I said that I’d get breakfast first and then meet up with them, so I walked to a nearby bakery and got a coffee and some pastries.

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When I got back to the hostel, we met another girl (from Melbourne) and the four of us decided to go to the market together. I have to say that I was excited to come back to Bangkok because the last time I was there, it was 33 degrees (which seemed deathly to me) but since I had been in 39-degree weather during the past couple of weeks, I would welcome it with open arms. However, I was in for a surprise when the humidex actually brought the temperature up to 49 degrees that weekend! I don’t even know how I ended up surviving… I had gotten used to catching Grab (Uber) everywhere, so I was set on getting a car for the four of us, but everyone else wanted to do it the cheap way and take the bus. We ended up waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the bus to come and then made our way to the market. The market was huge! I didn’t know how we’d be able to find the same stall more than once. However, it was also quite touristy and the prices were a lot higher than what I was used to seeing. Therefore, I ended up holding back quite a bit on the spending, and still didn’t get as much shopping done as I had wanted (but this was also probably because I wasn’t shopping alone). We had lunch at a quite expensive (for the amount of food) outdoor food stall, and then continued exploring the markets until we couldn’t stand the heat any longer. We got on the bus and headed back to the hostel, but on the way, we passed a Dairy Queen and from that moment onward, I had a one-track mind. I wouldn’t keep quiet about Dairy Queen until I finally got some! When we got back to the hostel, we all showered and decided to go out for dinner. I saw a guy sitting in the lobby and asked if he wanted to come join, and he introduced himself as Max (also from the United States), who would end up being my other best friend in Bangkok (he obviously didn’t introduce himself as that). We all went out in search of food, but spent more time walking than eating. We finally decided to get some street food on the street next to Khao San Road, and I got some pad thai. After dinner, we went to the 7-11, where we were able to get beer until midnight. Mike and Simonne had to leave early because they both had planes to catch late that night/early that morning, so that left me, Connor, and Max. We walked back and forth down Khao San Road, which was full of people dancing and having a great time, so it wasn’t hard for us to join in. We didn’t get back until after 2am, and had such a good night!

On Sunday, we decided to do the exact same thing again. I went to get breakfast (with an iced coffee AND a smoothie), and then went back to the hostel, where the boys were waiting for me.

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We took the bus to the market again, and spent some more time walking around. We also checked out some of the other sections of the market. We went to a (very welcomed) air-conditioned plaza, where we all had lunch, and then we continued to a flea market in a mall, where there was a DAIRY QUEEN! The boys treated me to an ice cream cake since it would be my birthday the next week, and I was so happy that I’d have an ice cream cake for my birthday. However, there was one problem… Because it was so hot outside, we had no choice but to eat as much of the cake as we could in the market. And since Dairy Queen isn’t AS popular in Thailand, they only had two 2-person tables, which we stole as soon as they became available. I think the workers were confused, intrigued, AND impressed when we started digging into the cake right then and there. We asked for a knife, a few cups (they gave us their smallest ones), and a few spoons, and we each ate a quarter of the cake.

We saw two guys standing in line so Connor ran over to offer them the rest of the cake, and they ended up being from Canada and were very excited to have some ice cream cake. The market was closing soon, so we made our way through the pet part of the market, which was quite sad since most of the animals looked dead because it was the only way they could cool off. I questioned if any of them were ACTUALLY dead multiple times, but Connor assured me that they were just sleeping.

I didn’t do as much shopping that day but instead helped the boys buy some clothes to go out in that night. We went back to the hostel to shower and then I still had to pick up my drumsticks, so we all took a Grab to Hard Rock Cafe, I bought my drumsticks, and then we walked around for quite awhile, searching for food. It was already past 10pm by that point, we were all starving, and everything seemed closed so we took another Grab back to Khao San Road, got some kebabs, and had another night walking the streets.

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We ended up sitting ourselves down, where we met up with some more people until the place closed down. We then got ourselves in a weird situation, where one of the spa owners came up to us with two Canadian passports, so we found them on Facebook and wrote them. However, some other Thai people got involved and said they’d take the passports back (including a random tuktuk driver on the street), which seemed really sketchy. We said it was okay, that we’d take the passports back to our hostel, and that we had already messaged them about it. But then everyone else got super aggressive and started yelling at us for the passports, taking pictures of us, and saying they’d call the police on us. The passports ended up going to the local police department on the corner, so we just wrote the people telling them that they would be there. We then made our way back to the hostel.

My flight was on Monday at 3:15pm so I slept in a bit, packed up my stuff (which got considerably heavier!), and Connor and Max walked me to the bus stop.

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I was so sad to say goodbye to these guys, as we had gotten so close during the past couple of days. Their trips were just beginning and mine was finished, but it was the perfect end to my trip. I was going to miss my wolfpack!

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I got to the airport at 1:15 to check-in, and I had finally paid to check in a bag (which cost me $80!). Once I got through security, I decided to get some food since I hadn’t eaten yet and as I sat down to eat, I got an email saying my flight had been rescheduled for 4:35pm. Then about 45 minutes later, I got another email saying it had been rescheduled to 5:30pm. Then, the departure screen said that it would be leaving at 6pm. I started feeling nervous because that meant I wouldn’t arrive in Kuala Lumpur until 9pm and I had another flight at 10:30pm. Any later and I definitely wouldn’t make it. While I was waiting for my flight, I was going through my Facebook and noticed that Rebekka (a Canadian girl living in Melbourne, who I met briefly in Ho Chi Minh) was IN Kuala Lumpur for the day and would be going to Melbourne that night. I wrote her and asked what flight she’d be on, and she said the same one as me! Life is full of coincidences… So I finally boarded my flight and when I landed in Kuala Lumpur, I had to speed walk for about 15-20 minutes through security and to the other side of the airport. By the time I arrived at my gate, they had already started boarding so I ran to go to the bathroom, get some water, and stand in line. The 8-hour flight was long and I don’t think I got any sleep.

We arrived in Melbourne at 8:20am the next morning in Avalon airport, where they had customs officials who actually grilled us hard (the first time I came to Australia, I didn’t talk to a single person). I got my bag, got a ticket for the Skybus, and waited for the bus to leave. Rebekka showed up and sat next to me so we chatted for the hour-long ride into the city and then went for breakfast at Southern Cross because we were both starving. She went back home, but I was so exhausted so I sat and relaxed for a bit and then made my way to Jess and Vic’s house, because they graciously allowed me to stay with them for a few days until I found a place of my own. However, I’ll save that story for another post. Love always

Siem Reap (Apr 17-19): Angkor Wat, Early Mornings, and the Constant Search for A/C

The trip to Siem Reap was quite long since it included an overnight bus. I had to catch the boat from Koh Rong Samloem to take me to Sihanoukville at 4pm. The boat was so crowded, but luckily I was able to find a seat. I got to Sihanoukville just after 5pm and decided to walk to the bus office with all of my luggage, which seemed like the longest 25-minute walk ever! I finally got to the bus office and they let me leave my bags with them. I asked where the nearest pharmacy was (as I STILL had to get some Bepanthen cream for my tattoo), and they directed me back the way I came. My bus didn’t leave until 8:30 so I had quite a bit of time to kill, so I decided to walk along the beach to get back to the main part of the city.

The beach was SO crowded and dirty – I couldn’t believe it! I now understood why so many people told me to avoid Sihanoukville. I found a pharmacy and FINALLY got my Bepanthen cream for $10USD/$13.69AUD. I then decided to walk back to the restaurant that I had eaten at the last time I was in Sihanoukville, Olive & Olive. I wasn’t too hungry since I had just eaten lunch at 4pm but since I’d be taking a 12-hour bus ride, I figured I should probably eat something. I decided to just order some hummus and snacked on that.

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I then had to figure out how I would wash my tattoo… I went to the restaurant bathroom, but the sinks were in full view of the restaurant. Well, this was my only option… I awkwardly had my shirt hunched up while I was using the sink to wash my tattoo (and had my towel wrapped around me, catching any of the water that dripped down) – it was quite a job! But eventually I did it, while the cleaner and other customers wandered around me. I didn’t have much time left to get to the bus office so I decided to get a tuktuk but for some reason, the app wouldn’t let me request anyone! A tuktuk driver pulled up next to me but was trying to overcharge me, and I said that the app would only cost me 1 dollar so I wasn’t interested. He kept haggling down and then finally, he agreed to take me for 2 dollars. I got to the bus office at the exact minute that I was supposed to! I grabbed my bags to load onto the bus and then I found my single bed, which I paid $26USD/$35.59AUD for with Giant Ibis. This was the first bed on a sleeping bus that was completely flat (all of the others were tilted at a 45-degree angle), but it was also the hardest bed out of all of them. I spent a couple of hours relaxing, and then decided to try to sleep. I woke up once at 1am and when I checked where we were, I saw that we were in Phnom Penh. I think I actually slept pretty well but then I started to hear noise again. I checked my watch and it was just before 6am, so I decided to see how much longer we had. We were already in Siem Reap! This was the first (and only!) time I was actually upset that we arrived two hours early – I could have had two more hours of sleep! I decided I’d just get my stuff together and wait to get off.

When I arrived in Siem Reap, I ordered a tuktuk to take me to my hostel. This time, I was staying at Siem Reap Pub Hostel, which I was nervous about because I thought it would be a party hostel. This was actually one of the nicest hostels I’d ever been in! It was almost like staying in a resort – the service was so professional and the area was immaculate! It also had a nice common area and a huge pool (which I wasn’t able to use, thanks to my tattoo). The best part was that it only cost me $3USD/$4.11AUD to stay in a 12-bed female dorm! They wouldn’t let me check in, but they allowed me to use the pool showers so that I didn’t need to have that “spent-10-hours-on-a-bus” feeling. After I freshened up and washed my tattoo (washing three times per day was the most difficult thing to do!), I took my laundry next door because I was out of clothes (and had been for awhile), and it cost me $1.85USD. They told me to come back that night at 8pm. I felt so accomplished and it wasn’t even 7:30am yet! I ordered some breakfast and FaceTimed my parents for quite awhile, and then decided to do some exploring. I didn’t make it very far before I had to go searching for air-conditioning cause I was soaking with sweat. This was definitely the hottest place that I had been to so far! I walked to Hard Rock Cafe, which was completely out of drumsticks (thank goodness I got them in Phnom Penh!) and then I stopped at a cute restaurant, ordered an Italian soda, and FaceTimed with my parents some more (it had been awhile since we were able to catch up like that!). At about 1pm, I decided to go for lunch and ordered a Khmer curry with a banana milkshake.

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I think the heat was taking away all of my energy because I didn’t have much of an appetite. I went back to the hostel to finally check in, and then I signed up for the Angkor Wat tour the following day, which left the hostel at 4:30am the next morning and cost $10USD. I’d definitely be having an early night that night, which wouldn’t be hard since I didn’t get enough sleep on the overnight bus. I spent the rest of the day walking around as much as I could, stopped at a Mexican restaurant for dinner, quickly checked out the night market, and then went to pick up my laundry.

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However, they pointed to a bag of laundry that wasn’t mine. They asked if I could come back in a half hour, so I went back to the hostel to hang out for another half hour. I was so tired, I just wanted to get ready for bed. I went back to pick up my laundry and they gave it to me, but when I took it back to the hostel, everything was still damp! I didn’t have time to deal with it so I got ready for bed and went to sleep.

I had to wake up at 4am so that I could get up and wash my tattoo before the tour so I did all of that, and headed downstairs. There was a huge group of people going from our hostel (probably at least 10 people) and then we joined a smaller group on the bus. The bus took us to the Angkor Wat office, where we each had to pay $37USD/$50.64 for a 1-day pass into the park (which was quite expensive!). They also offered 3-day passes, but I was good with just going for one day. They actually took a picture of us, so our face was printed on the ticket! I looked beyond tired in mine. We then got back on the bus and headed towards Angkor Wat. We had to do quite a bit of walking and then we finally got to Angkor Wat just before 5:30. Our guide said that we had until the sun rose, and told us all to be back by 6:30. The amount of tourists already there was insane! People were trying to get the perfect picture of the sunrise behind Angkor Wat, with the reflection of the temple in the pond that we were all standing in front of. I stood there with everyone for about ten minutes and then moved to the side, where there were less people. I sat there for about a half hour, and then decided I might as well go look at Angkor Wat up close. This was the best idea because except for about ten other people who had the same idea as me, I had the entire place to myself while everyone else was still standing in front of the pond.

I met up with the group at 6:30, which doubled in size – there were 25 of us! The tour guide started everyone off on a bad note, by saying some unnecessary comments which left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, so he lost the respect of the majority of the group. We walked through Angkor Wat and then had to wait in line to climb the steepest staircase in order to go into the main part of the temple. It was actually scary going back down, so I tried to only focus on the step in front of me and I wouldn’t let myself look down.

After all of that, we were sat down for about a half hour and given a history lesson, which I’m almost sure no one was listening to. All I could concentrate on was how hungry and hot I was, and when he said that we still had more places to go until we’d get breakfast, my heart sank. We headed to our next destination, which was Ta Prohm Temple. This was definitely my favourite part of the day, and was also really one of the only things I enjoyed. Ta Promh is covered in trees that have taken over the area, and it’s extremely popular because it was used in the film Tomb Raider (which I haven’t seen, but people were getting angry with other people who took too long taking pictures in front of a certain tree – it was insane!). At this destination, the tour group was getting annoyed with the guide so when the guide said anyone who wants to go on their own can go on their own, there were only about six of us left behind. The guide showed us all of the nicest spots, and it was a really neat temple!

We stayed there for about an hour and then headed to our next destination. Luckily, the restaurant that we’d be having breakfast at was right across the street from the next temple, but that also meant that it was a lot more expensive compared to all of the other places in Siem Reap. I paid $7.50USD/10.27AUD for a Lok lak chicken and finally got a coffee. I literally hadn’t made an effort to talk to anyone on the tour until this point and once I finally got my first sip of coffee, I was able to have as many conversations as I wanted! It was about 10:30am and we were all absolutely starving since we had been up for over six hours. The restaurant was pretty slow (probably cause it got 25 orders at once!) so by the time we got our food, we had to eat it as fast as we could.

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The restaurant actually made us pay before we even finished because the tour guide wanted to get moving. The next temple we went to was Ta Keo temple. This was another temple with extremely steep steps, which I had no problem going up on, but I was very concerned with how I’d get back down!

Honestly, I wasn’t too interested in this kind of stuff. Maybe it was the heat, or the lack of sleep, or the bitterness that everyone felt towards the tour guide, but I was actually looking forward to when the tour would be over. I was so thankful that I decided to go for the half-day tour instead of the full-day tour! We went to our next destination, which was the Bayon Temple, and is full of stone faces (over 200 of them apparently!). We were given about a half hour to walk around, and then get back on the bus.

Our last stop was a quick 10-minute stop at a bridge, and then we headed back to the hostel after 1pm.

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When I got back to the hostel, I washed my tattoo (shocker!), and then tried to take my laundry back to the place next door. It was difficult trying to explain what I wanted because the lady didn’t speak a lot of English. She said that she washed the clothes the day before and asked if they were clean. I said yes, but they were still wet. Finally, she understood and told me to come back the next day but I said I couldn’t – I’d need them that day, so she told me to come back at 5pm. I went back to the hostel and decided to have a lazy afternoon. I ordered some French fries and a milkshake and looked into how I’d get to Bangkok the following day. I tried to order my bus ticket online but my credit card wouldn’t let me, so I went to order through the hostel. At the same time, another girl was trying to book an overnight bus to go to Koh Rong Samloem (where I had just come from), but it was all booked up. Lauren was from Australia (Gold Coast) on a two-week trip, so she didn’t have time to waste. I told her if she needed someone to vent to, she could come sit with me so about a half hour later, she came to my table and we spent the next couple of hours chatting. She wanted to check out the night market, so I said I’d join her. I went to get my laundry first and started freaking out when I saw that the shop had bars in front of it with a sign that said, “Open at 8.” Luckily, I could see the lady sitting there, so I asked if I could pick up my laundry and she said tomorrow. I replied that she had said 5pm, and she remembered. Luckily, I got my laundry back so I ran it to my room and then Lauren and I headed to the night market. She made a few purchases, and then we decided to walk into the main part of the city. We were walking down the street amongst a big group of people and I looked over, and who did I see? Abbey – the Aussie girl who took the night train with me from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai in February, and then hung out with me in Chiang Mai, and ran into again in Pai, and then again in Luang Prubang. That was the last time I had seen her, and it was over a month ago! She joined Lauren and I, and we found a restaurant to have a small dinner at. It was so nice to chat with them both, and it felt like I was just having dinner with a couple of girlfriends. We all agreed to have an earlier night, said our goodbyes, and I packed up my stuff for my final destination. Love always