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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

Reality..

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.

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.

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

Koh Rong Samloem (Apr 11-16): Beaches, A Tattoo, and Khmer New Year

The trip to Koh Rong Samloem was so long, it was almost comical. I was told that it would take about 3-4 hours so I had mentally prepared myself for that, so when it took over double that time, I was not a happy camper. Cambodia has two main southern islands – Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Koh Rong is known as the supercrazy party island, and Koh Rong Samloem is known as the chill island. So it should come as no surprise that I decided to go to Koh Rong Samloem. I had the choice to leave at 7:30am, or wait until about 11, and I’m so glad that I decided to go with the earlier option. However, the transportation for this trip cost way more than almost any other leg of my trip, at $26USD/$35.39AUD! A van came to pick me up from my hostel in Kampot and took me into town, where we had to get off, grab our stuff, and put it onto a new van. By the time we had picked up everyone and left town, it was 8:30. The van ride to Sihanoukville took three hours, as promised, and we arrived right after 11:30am. There, they dropped us off and said we had to wait for ANOTHER van to take us to the ferry. There was a lady sitting at a desk and she asked where everyone was staying. I sat down first and found my hostel reservation, which was at a part of the island called M’Pai Bay. “This company doesn’t go there,” she said. “I’m sorry, what?” “Yes, we only go to Saracen Bay. You will need to pay $5 USD ($6.84AUD) to get a return ticket to M’Pai Bay from Sihanoukville.” I started getting upset because I had already spent way too much on my ticket, and I felt like I was being scammed. However, I didn’t really have any other option. I paid the five dollars and asked when the van would come, and she replied 1pm. “1pm?! That’s in an hour and a half!” I was really starting to lose my cool, and it might have been because I hadn’t eaten yet (or had my morning coffee!) and I was definitely getting hangry. I decided to walk to a restaurant called Olive & Olive because at this point, I just wanted some pizza. The prices were pretty expensive in Sihanoukville, but I settled on a margarita pizza, a coffee, and a coke for $8.50USD/$11.63AUD. The chef was right beside me, and I got to watch him roll out the dough and make the pizzas. After about five minutes, the server brought me a big piece of naan and an appetizer platter of olives and sauces. “Umm.. is this for me?” “It’s complimentary,” she replied. Wow! I didn’t remember the last time I got something for free, with no strings attached! And honestly, the olive that I tasted was like it was from heaven – it was one of the best olives I’ve had! It MIGHT have been because I hadn’t eaten an olive in four months, or it might have just been THAT good. When they brought out my pizza, I was shocked. It was massive!

There was no way that I’d be able to finish it, especially after already filling myself up on appetizers. I got through as much of the pizza as I could and took a tuktuk back to the bus office for 4000 riel ($1.42AUD) – Note: the tuktuks seem to be one of the only things in Cambodia that use local currency (riel), everything else is priced in American dollars. I got back to the office RIGHT before 1pm and waited with a French family. And we waited and waited and waited. “Doesn’t the ferry leave at 1pm?” “No, it’ll leave at 1:30pm. You have time.” But we started wondering if we WOULD have enough time. Finally a van pulled up at 1:22pm and told us to hurry because the ferry would be leaving soon (which I was kind of annoyed about, because why wouldn’t he come earlier?). He drove for less than five minutes, stopped at the top of a hill, and told us that we had to walk five minutes down to the pier (he wasn’t going to drive any further). We literally could have walked there from the office in less than 15 minutes… By that point, it was 1:28pm so we all walked as fast as we could down to the pier. I gave one of the people my ticket and they asked when my ferry was to leave, so I replied 1:30pm. She gave me a card that said “23” to put around my neck (which is the nickname for M’Pai Bay), and she said I’d have to take the 2pm – I was too late. I went to the dock and kept asking around, but no one gave me clear instructions as to what boat I had to take. Finally at about 2:15pm, they called everyone for M’Pai Bay and directed us towards a smaller boat. However, all of a sudden they said that we would join the big ferry to Koh Rong Island instead and THEN another boat would come pick us up to take us to Koh Rong Samloem. At this point, I almost laughed because it was so ridiculous that this trip had already taken 7 hours and would still require an hour JUST to get to Koh Rong Island. I went and found a seat on the ferry and opened a window. Immediately after I opened it, one of the workers came, closed it, and told me to follow him. He took me to the VIP part of the boat, which had couches, TVs, AND air-conditioning (Thank goodness, cause I was sweating in this 39-degree heat!). There were only about 9 other people in the room, so I don’t know why I was one of the lucky “chosen ones.” We finally got to Koh Rong at about 3:30pm and then all had to wait on the dock for about 5-10 minutes until another boat came to take us to Koh Rong Samloem. The boat was tiny and some people had to stand in the middle, but luckily it was less than 10 minutes away. I was staying in a hostel called Bonsai and it cost me $5.33USD/$7.31AUD per night to stay in an 8-bed mixed dorm. As soon as I got there, I met two French girls who were planning to get smoothies and then go to the beach, so I quickly changed and joined them. I immediately loved the feel of M’Pai Bay because it was more like a village and was very quaint, whereas the other part of the island (Saracen Bay) had a more resort-like feel to it, so it just seemed more touristy. We each got a smoothie for $1USD and enjoyed sitting on the beach. After hanging out by the restaurant for awhile, we decided to walk towards one of the main beaches, which was less than 10 minutes through a forest trail. We were all looking forward to having a refreshing swim in the water, after sweating all day, but were surprised when the water was actually warmer than the air! So much for refreshing…

However, once the sun started to go down, it cooled down quite a bit. We went back to the hostel to shower and change, and then we all went out for dinner to a place where I went at least once a day called M’Pay Bay Guest House. I decided to try one of the local dishes called lok lak, which was really good!

On Friday morning, I got up and joined the French girls for breakfast. We decided that we were going to walk to one of the further beaches (called Clearwater Bay), which would take about an hour. I read that we’d need hiking shoes, and I’m so glad that we brought them because we were climbing up and down to get there. However, the beach was absolutely gorgeous!

And there were only about six other people on the entire beach. Once again, we were looking forward to a refreshing dip and once again, we were disappointed by warm water. It actually made going OUT of the water refreshing! I get bored on beaches so I only stayed for a couple hours and then decided to head back at around 2pm to get some food. I had seen a sign with a Canada flag on it when I arrived on the island, and I was determined to get some poutine! Once I got back to M’Pai Bay (after another 45 minute walk), I walked down the street in search of the Canadian restaurant called YUL (the letters for the Montreal airport). On my way, I passed a tattoo parlour called “Sorry Mum,” which for some reason caught my eye. I had a tattoo idea in mind and I had already written a tattoo parlour in Siem Reap AND a tattoo parlour in Bangkok, but this parlour intrigued me. I continued on my walk, found the restaurant, and ordered a poutine with a coke for $4USD/$5.48AUD. While I was waiting, I searched up the tattoo parlour online and loved all of the tattoos that were posted. I decided that I’d stop by after eating. The poutine wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was nice to have! I hung around for a bit, and then walked towards the tattoo parlour. I told the tattoo artist (Maria) my tattoo idea, showed her my (horrible) sketch of it, and she asked if I would come in the next day at 4pm to get it done. I had to pay a $10 deposit, and she quoted me between $180 and $220, and said it would take about 3 or 4 hours. My heart was beating and I was freaking out – I couldn’t believe how fast that happened! I went back to my hostel and decided to plan how I’d get to my next destination, which would be Siem Reap. I’ve heard horror stories about the night buses to Siem Reap because they don’t offer single beds (only doubles), so a lot of people will have strangers climb up right next to them. I did some research and found out that Giant Ibis offered some single beds, but the day that I was planning to leave (the 14th) was completely booked up. Then, there weren’t any buses running on the 15th because it was Khmer New Year. So my only option was the 16th. I was completely fine with this because I was loving Koh Rong Samloem, and staying two extra days definitely wouldn’t be the end of the world. However, if I was going to stay for longer, I realized that I should try to postpone my tattoo since I wouldn’t be able to go in the sun or the water. I messaged and asked if I could come in on the 15th or the 16th (the day I leave), and they wrote back and said that we could do a later day and they would let me know when works best. That night, I joined the girls again for dinner, which ended up being a burger (I was definitely enjoying my Western food at this point because my stomach still felt sensitive with eating Asian foods).

On Saturday, I decided to take a boat taxi to the other part of the island, Saracen Beach. It cost $5 each way, and I would have to leave at 10:30am. I decided to have a quick breakfast, and then walked back to the office to wait for my boat.

It was only me and another couple, and we were led by a boy who seemed about 9 years old. He brought us to the dock, where there was a man and a younger boy (who I assume was his dad and brother). Then the boy hopped into another boat and tried to get the motor running. We had to wait for quite awhile for them to finally get the boat going, so by the time we left it was closer to 11am. Little did I know that it was this boy who would be taking us on the 30-minute journey to Saracen Beach. The boat had two motors, and the boy sat between them, and had ropes so he could pull on either rope to turn the boat.

We got to Saracen Bay at 11:30am and we were told to come back to the same pier at 4:30pm to go back. I walked down the beach for a bit and then decided to sit down at one of the restaurants to enjoy a smoothie. The beaches were nice with extremely white sand, but it still seemed more touristy compared to my area of the island.

After my smoothie, I walked to another restaurant that was tucked away off the beach and was owned by a local family who spoke little to no English. I ordered a noodle dish, and then decided to walk to Lazy Beach, which was written in National Geographic’s Top 21 Beaches in the World. It was about a 30-minute walk through the forest and it was an extremely hot walk (the 39-degree weather is something I don’t think I’d ever get acclimatized to), so it was nice to finally get to the beach and go for a swim, where the water was a bit cooler.

The beach was nice, but I honestly didn’t see why it would be one of the top 21 beaches in the world because I’ve definitely been to nicer ones. I stayed for about an hour and a half and then I had to head back to the pier in order to get there for 4:30pm. I got there right on time and walked out onto the dock when I saw a boat that looked similar, which showed up about 15 minutes later. I asked the man if he was going to M’Pai Bay and he said yes, so the couple and I got on his boat, along with three other people. The man made a phonecall and then all of a sudden said that the three of us had to get back off because another boat was on its way for us. We were confused because there was more than enough room for everyone, but we got off and decided to wait. He said that they were having boat issues, but the boat would be there soon. We went back to the beach and waited for about a half hour, and suddenly a man walked by yelling M’Pai Bay. We ran to the boat and tried to give him our tickets, but he said that he couldn’t take them. We’d have to pay $5 if we wanted to go with him. Luckily, the man was nice and called the phone number on our tickets, and said that the boat was on its way (which we had heard before). We waited another ten minutes and finally the boat arrived with our little driver! The nice thing about the boat being late was that we got to watch the colours of the sky change while the sun was setting behind the island. And it was absolutely beautiful!

The tattoo studio had written back and asked if I could come in the following day at noon to get my tattoo done, because I think everyone would be going on holiday for Khmer New Year (which lasts for three days). I asked if it would be possible for me to see the design that evening, and they said I could come in. I ran to the studio and Maria showed me the design. It was exactly what I had imagined in my head, and I couldn’t have been more excited about it. I was stoked! I went out for a later dinner that night, and enjoyed my time on the beach.

On Sunday, I went to a restaurant that’s known for its toasties (grilled cheese sandwiches). They were SO busy because a lot of the restaurants had closed for Khmer New Year, so it took over an hour to get my meal, which was fine because I had a few hours to kill before my tattoo. I met another Canadian girl because we were sharing a table, so we talked for quite awhile until we had gotten our meals. I hung out for awhile longer to work on my blog, and then I headed for the tattoo parlour (gulp!). This was now my second tattoo, but it was bigger, and I made a last-minute decision to not get it done on my other shoulder, and instead get it done on my back/ribs, which would be quite a lot more painful. Maria double-checked that I was happy with the design, and then made the stencil. She put the stencil on and asked if I was happy with the placement (which in all honesty, I would have liked it lower and this is where I need to learn how to take the opportunity to speak up, and I didn’t, but it’s fine!). We then had to wait ten minutes for the stencil to dry on, so by the time we got started, it was about 12:30pm.

The lead-up to it was hard, and I was trying to distract myself as much as possible – I was nervous and excited, but my heart was just racing! The tattoo took about three hours, and after about an hour and a half, we took a break. By that point, I was feeling great! Thanks to my high pain threshold, I wasn’t feeling too uncomfortable, and I actually just wanted to keep going. After that break though, it was the most pain that I had felt – I almost thought I wasn’t going to make it through. Luckily, it didn’t last for TOO long until I went back to just closing my eyes and thinking about life (and what my tattoo was going to look like!). We finished at about 3pm and then she said $250. I said that she had said between 180 and 220, so then she said 220 (although now that I think about it, maybe she said between 180 and 250 haha finally used some bartering skills). This is still pretty pricey for a tattoo in Asia, but I was really happy with the design so for me, it was worth it. The theme of the tattoo is “Travel is in my DNA,” and this idea came to me while I was lying in bed in Luang Prabang, Laos, so I’ve been obsessing about it ever since.

So the most important things were to stay out of the sun and water for at least two weeks, and get some Bepanthen from the pharmacy, which would need to be applied three times per day (after washing). I honestly did NOT think this through, and I instantly had regrets about my stupid idea to get a tattoo on an island during a holiday within about two minutes, when I walked to the pharmacy and it was closed. I asked the hostel next door if it would be open the following day and they said that it was closed for Khmer New Year for the next three days! I instantly started to panic because I was stuck on an island without antiseptic, in an environment that wasn’t the cleanest. I walked to the beach area to find one of the minimarts, only to arrive just in time for the first part of the Songkran festivities, which consists of people throwing water and powder at each other. I tried to avoid the water guns and the people squirting baby powder out of the containers, and shield my tattoo away from it all. At that moment, I ran into a British couple that I had seen multiple times before (they were briefly written in a blog post when I had eaten dinner with them in Sapa). We had also run into each other on the bus from Sapa to Hanoi, and then saw each other again in Ninh Binh. They actually said that they were wondering why they hadn’t bumped into me again. These two had a great energy about them, and we instantly got on, but we hadn’t even introduced ourselves. I later found out that their names were Rob and Amy, and we made plans to meet up at 6:30 to go for cocktails, since there were 2-for-1 cocktails for New Year’s. This was my third New Year’s Eve for 2019 (one in Koh Lanta, Thailand for regular New Year’s Eve, one in Taipei, Taiwan for Chinese New Year, and now one here) so it was cool to be a part of so many different holidays! For the next few hours, I searched for Bepanthen. I walked into multiple minimarts, and none of them had any. I then went to the other tattoo parlour, and the guy said that he had some of his own and would give me some in a ziploc bag if I needed, but he told me to go back to my tattoo parlour to see if they had any extra. Meanwhile, it was also my checkout day from my hostel because it was full for the next two nights, so I had to move my stuff to my new hostel, called The Twisted Gecko. This one cost $5.50USD/$7.53AUD per night to stay in a 6-bed dorm. I asked people at my old hostel and at my new hostel for advice, but everyone gave such mixed reviews. Some people said to use coconut oil, while others said you needed more of a gel such as Vaseline, but then I’ve heard that Vaseline doesn’t let it breathe, and neither of these have antiseptic properties. I went back to my tattoo parlour and she said that she’d check in the back to see if they had any spares, but they didn’t. The thing that bothered me the most was that she said that the pharmacy often closes whenever it wants to, so I don’t understand why they wouldn’t have spare antiseptic for those cases. I then literally started walking into bars and walking up to people with tattoos to ask them for advice, but once again, I continued to get mixed reviews. I was starting to think that I would die of a tattoo infection on an island in Cambodia (I also tend to jump to conclusions when under stress…). I decided to head back to my hostel to wash my tattoo since it had been over two hours and I needed to take off the saran wrap. Just as I got to my hostel, there was a lady walking down the street COVERED in tattoos from her chin down, so I walked up to her and asked if I could get some advice. Turns out she owns the other tattoo studio, so she said that if I come by, she could give me enough gel to last me for the next two days. I think she could tell that I was freaking out, and I was so extremely grateful! Before that, I was even contemplating whether I should take a boat to the mainland the next day in order to get to a pharmacy (which might be closed anyway). I was told to wash my tattoo with bottled water (since the island tap water might be iffy – another confirmation that getting my tattoo on an island in Asia was a bad idea. The other confirmation was that you’re not supposed to bath or soak your tattoo in water, but I was basically soaking in my own sweat (literally) until I left Asia ten days later. I also realized that I should be putting on clean clothes with my tattoo, but there weren’t any laundry places open for the next three days). Anyway, I walked to the tattoo parlour and all of the people there weren’t surprised when they were told that I got a tattoo at Sorry Mum and they didn’t do anything for aftercare. They said that someone else had come to them that day as well. They gave me the gel and told me that since I had already washed my tattoo, I’d have to go back to the hostel, re-wash it, and put the gel on directly after. I was meant to meet Rob and Amy in less than 15 minutes, so I ran back and did what I was told. I met up with Rob and Amy just in time, and we headed to the bar to get 2-for-1 cocktails. We each got two drinks, but the bartenders were already drunk, and the alcohol-to-sprite ratio was very high! Therefore, we were already feeling it after one drink. It was funny because Rob and Amy said that they haven’t had a crazy night during their three months of travel, and I said the same. I knew that they were my kind of people, and I think that made us trust each other a lot more easily. So, it was all of our first crazy nights while travelling, and it was one of the best nights! We had a couple more cocktails and then decided to get some dinner because it was 9pm and the last time any of us had eaten was at 11am. However, all of the restaurants were closed for New Year’s (there were only two bars open without food) so we were stuck with going to the minimart and eating Pringles, which probably didn’t help with our night out. The bar on the beach had a huge dance party, and they were handing out free beer to everyone, which was 6% per can! We danced until midnight, and then decided to walk to the beach to check out the bioluminescence of the plankton. I had to be extremely careful with my tattoo and couldn’t actually go swimming, so I sat on the beach most of the time, and then sometimes waded through the water. The plankton was SO cool!! Any time you moved in the water, they would light up and glow all over – I’ve never seen anything like it! I looked at the time and it was 2:45 so I told the other two that we should head back. We had to walk back through the forest and then I walked back towards my hostel. I swear that I was the only person left awake, as everything was dead quiet.

On Monday, I got up and had plans to meet with Rob and Amy at 12pm for lunch. I started getting hungry at about 11:30 so I walked towards the beach and they were already there. We were all feeling pretty rough, and they assured me that they don’t normally do that, and I assured them that neither do I. But we all agreed that it was a great night! After having lunch, Rob and Amy went to the beach and I decided to sit down in a restaurant and work on my blog since I couldn’t really enjoy the beach anyway. I took it easy that day, and just enjoyed my last full day on the island.

On Tuesday, I had to leave the island. My boat wasn’t until 4pm so I was still able to enjoy a few more hours next to the beach. I worked on my blog again that day, and said goodbye to Rob and Amy, who left at noon. At about 2:30, I went to a restaurant on the pier which served Turkish food.

I ordered a kebab while a cat kept me company, and then I caught my boat to take me back to the mainland. Love always

Kampot (Apr 9-11): Kayaking, A Massive Durian, and A Green Cathedral

The trip from Kep to Kampot was so easy and quick, due to the fact that they’re only 30 minutes away from each other. Plus my bus ticket was only $3USD/$4.11AUD! My hostel got a phonecall saying that the bus would be there within five minutes, so I grabbed my stuff and walked to the highway. As soon as I got there, the bus was just pulling up so I got on. We arrived in Kampot at about 11am and once again, I was staying in a hostel that was outside of the city. Instead of Grab/Uber, Cambodia uses PassApp so I had to use that to order myself a tuktuk. Since it wasn’t even noon by the time I arrived at my hostel, I couldn’t check in but surprisingly, they let me put my bags in the room and they had my bed ready within a half hour. I was staying at Karma Traders for $5.25USD/$7.30AUD per night and one of the deciding factors of me choosing this place was that they’d be having taco night the night I arrived. Inconveniently, as soon as I arrived at the hostel, I felt a migraine coming on so I went and sat at the outdoor bar beside the pool and waited for it to go away, while planning what I would do that day.

I decided to have an active day, but first needed food. Because it was taco night that evening, the kitchen wasn’t serving anything other than toasties so I decided to settle on that. Then, I got my laundry together (the hostel didn’t offer laundry services, which was a bummer) and walked towards the city in the 39-degree heat. After about 15 minutes, I got to a family-run business which charged $1USD/kg of clothing, so it only cost me $1.50USD/$2.10AUD. I continued walking another 15 minutes until I got into the city and stopped at the tourist information center to rent a bicycle. It was only $2USD/$2.74AUD for 24 hours, and I had to give a $20 deposit. I biked around for a bit, and was delighted to find a roundabout with a gigantic durian fruit in the middle.

I then biked back towards my hostel and continued to a place called Champa Lodge because they give kayak rentals. I wanted to kayak around an area called the “Green Cathedral,” which is covered with mangrove trees. It was so peaceful and beautiful!

Some parts of the stream even led to people’s backyards so if any kids were on the deck, they’d yell out, “Hello!”. I ended up getting lost halfway through because there were about four different directions to go. Eventually, a big motorboat of people drinking showed up and asked if I knew where to go, so we were all searching. Eventually I found the way to go, but I’m not sure they would have made it through because it was a lot more narrow. Once I finished the circle, I was back in the open waters and the wind had picked up, so I had to use all of the muscle strength I had (which isn’t much!) to get back to Champa Lodge. I almost thought I wasn’t going to make it! I felt like with every paddle, I’d be pushed back even more. I made it eventually, and the cost of the kayak, a coke, and a water was $7.75USD/$10.61AUD. I decided to continue biking further away from the hostel to see if I could get a good view of the sunset by the river. However, the road was still quite far from the river, so I didn’t get to see much of the water.

It was still nice going through some of the smaller villages though, and once again, all of the kids waved and yelled, “Hello!” I headed back to the hostel and that night was Taco Night, so I went and enjoyed some tacos with a Romanian guy from my room. I tried a pulled pork, a chicken, and a fish taco, and they were all so good! That evening, the hostel had live music so I stayed and watched two of the bands and then headed to bed, where I still got to listen to the rest of the show.

On Wednesday morning, I got up and decided to take advantage of the last few hours of my bike rental. First, I stopped by Lotus Pond, but it was too hot to stick around.

I then went to Cafe Espresso for brunch, where I had an amazing brunch of poached eggs with potato and feta cakes.

It was so good!! I sat for a couple hours and FaceTimed my mom, and then decided to continue biking to check out the salt fields. They were about a 30 minute bike ride away, but they weren’t much to see.

Maybe it was the wrong season for it. I got my bike back to the tourist information centre by 2pm, but the workers weren’t actually there so someone told me to come back in an hour. I was so hot, so I found the nearest cafe and enjoyed a coke while trying to keep cool. I went back to the tourist centre, got my 20 dollars back, and walked 30 minutes back to the hostel. I was hoping that while I walked past the laundry place, my laundry would be ready, but they told me to come back in an hour. Therefore, I walked back to the hostel, hung around for a bit, walked BACK to the laundry place to get my stuff, and went back to the hostel again to shower. I decided to go upstairs and sit in the common area so that I could get some work done on my blog and have dinner. I shouldn’t have been surprised when someone came up and started talking to me. It literally happens every time I decide to get some blog-writing done! The girl who sat with me was from Spain but had been living in the Netherlands, and had hurt her back at the last hostel she was at so was trying to take it easy. That night, the hostel was having a movie night so we decided to join the other two people watching it (probably to their dismay). They were playing Fight Club and I was looking forward to watching a movie that I had heard so much about. However, I didn’t really enjoy it, and I didn’t understand it. I just sat at the end of the movie, realizing that I had just wasted over two hours, which gave myself confirmation as to why I don’t have Netflix. My time can easily be spent doing other things (like blog-writing!)! After the movie, I headed back downstairs to pack up my stuff so that I could catch the bus early the next morning, which I’ll save for the next post. Love always

Kep (Apr 7-9): Crab Market, National Park, and Some Darn Good Fish!

My next destination after Phnom Penh was Kep. I had the option of taking the early bus at 7am (and be ready by 6:30am) or wait until 12pm (and be ready by 11:30am). Since I had already done quite a few early mornings, I naturally opted for the later time for $8USD/$10.95AUD. I was told that it would only take about 3.5 hours, so I wasn’t too concerned. I actually ended up waking up quite early (thanks to a couple in my room, if you catch my drift.. cough cough) so I decided to get up and ready for the day, check out, and go to Decathlon so that I could get a bigger bag to put my backpack and painting in. It took about 45 minutes each way, so by the time I got back, I had about an hour and a half to eat something before I’d get picked up. However, it was the slowest service ever! I ordered a burger and it took over an hour – I thought I might just have to leave without eating. Luckily, I got my burger with about five minutes to spare, so I ate it as fast as I could but felt bad because there was a couple who had ordered before me and one of them was STILL waiting for their food. Right when I finished eating, my tuktuk came and picked me up to take me to the bus station. Then I had to take my ticket to the ticket booth and she gave me a different ticket with a bottle of water, and told me to board the bus cause it would be leaving in about 15 minutes. The bus ride took way longer than expected (at least an hour late) due to horrible traffic getting out of Phnom Penh, as well as horrible traffic along the main road. I think we arrived in Kep at about 5:30pm, and I was able to get the bus to stop at the end of my hostel’s road (because I was staying outside of the main city of Kep). I was staying in a place called Khmer House Hostel and I got my own bedroom and bathroom for $7USD/$9.58AUD per night.

I had only booked one night but I loved the idea of having my own room, so I extended for another night. However, the room was SO hot – I only had a fan above me so it was starfish-sleeping-position the entire night. I had dinner at the hostel that night (apparently they have their own restaurant at the Crab Market as well) and I decided to order fish with peppercorn sauce.

Kep is known for two things – the seafood, and the pepper (which actually comes from its neighbouring city, Kampot) so I decided to try both in one go for $7USD/$9.58AUD. It was absolutely amazing! The hostel owner definitely knows what she’s doing when it comes to cooking. I decided to call it an early night since I didn’t get much sleep the night before.

On Monday morning, I got up and decided to check out the famous Crab Market and then go for a hike in the National Park. Even though I was quite far from the city, I decided to walk because it was only about 20 minutes away. Again though, it was in 39-degree weather (with the humidex), so I started melting pretty fast. I went to the Crab Market first, which seemed to be mostly locals. It was cool watching some of the people swimming in the water, collecting the traps filled with crabs, and I even got to watch the ladies sorting through the crabs and saw some of the famous blue crabs.

Even though Kep’s symbol is a crab and it has the Crab Market, ordering crab is actually starting to be frowned upon because the crabs have been overtrapped, so many people don’t want to support the industry anymore. I therefore made sure that I stuck to ordering fish at the restaurants (which was still just as good!). After awhile at the Fish Market, I walked towards the entrance to the national park, which took another 15-20 minutes. I was already completely sweating and out of breath before even making it to the entrance. When I got to the entrance, there was a man sleeping in the stand, so I made sure to walk through the gravel extra loudly so that he knew I was coming. I had to pay $1USD/$1.37AUD and sign myself into the book. Then I was on my way! It was supposed to be an 8km round trip and take about 2 hours. However, I realised that the path going around the outside was really just an old road, so I got bored after about an hour. When I made it halfway, I noticed that there was a Transverse Path that basically cut straight towards the entrance that I came through, but went through the forest and straight up a hill. I figured I might as well try it because it seemed more like a hike than what I was doing, but after less than five minutes later, I started to regret my decision. It was hot, there were leaves all over the path (I’m not sure if anyone else really walked there), and there were a lot more mosquitoes.

After about an hour of walking through the forest, I just wanted to get out so I walked south until I found another exit and then walked along the coastline. One thing I noticed about Kep was that there were signs everywhere that said “Cleanest City,” but it was so dirty everywhere! Litter was all over the streets and the beaches, and it really took away from the whole thing (much of Cambodia was like this though, with the exception of Koh Rong Samloem). After walking along the coast for about a half hour, I decided to get some lunch since it was nearly 2pm.

I went to a taco place called Beachside Tacos, and I may have had the most amazing fish tacos I’ve had in my life! They were cooked perfectly, had so much flavour, and were so delicious.

Plus three tacos, a Pepsi, and a milkshake only cost me $4.65USD/$6.36AUD! After eating, I was thinking about going to the beach but it was so busy and I didn’t know where I’d keep my stuff, so I just walked back to the hostel.

I showered and then went to watch the sunset, but the sun got hidden behind the clouds on the way down.

Therefore, I went back to the hostel and had dinner with a guy from Portugal. By the time we finished dinner, it was too late for me to book a bus for the following morning, so the hostel owner told me to come at 8 the next morning to book a bus.

On Tuesday morning, I got up and went straight to the counter to book a bus to Kampot for 10:30am. That way, I had a couple hours to pack up my stuff and have breakfast before leaving. Love always

Phnom Penh (Apr 5-7): Killing Fields, S21 Prison, and a Rude Awakening

The trip to Phnom Penh was quite smooth because I decided to book my trip online with Giant Ibis for $18.39USD/$25.17AUD. I had breakfast at the hostel in Ho Chi Minh and then walked for about ten minutes to get to the bus office 15 minutes early. The bus came and we left just after 8am, and they gave us all scones and water. The ticket guy explained how everything would work, handed out the arrival/departure forms and visa applications, and then collected our passports with payment for the visa (which was $35USD/$47.91AUD). It was then that I realised I had left my photos in my big backpack, which was under the bus (I had completely forgotten that I would need them since it was only the second time that I was required to have a photo). However, the bus company somehow avoided me actually needing the picture, as I think they had some police officers on our bus who processed everything and put the visas straight in our passports before we even got to border control, so they only had to be stamped. We drove for just over two hours and got to the Vietnam border, so we all had to get off of the bus and wait in the building for about ten minutes. The bus worker had all of our passports and got them all stamped for us and then gave our passports back so that we could show the officer on the way out. It was such a smooth process! We got back on the bus and drove a couple of minutes to a restaurant, where we’d have a 30-minute break. I was one of the first ones to order and decided to have one last pho before leaving Vietnam, and luckily this pho did not disappoint!

We all got on the bus and got to the Cambodian border, so we all had to get off again and wait in line to get our passports stamped. As I said, the visas were already in there, and the bus worker seemed to know the customs officers well because as soon as we came in, they opened three new lines for us to speed up the process. We got through quite quickly and then once I got on the other side, I went to get a SIM card. I should have known better because of course, he tried to overcharge me. I saw that unlimited data would be 6 dollars, which was a good price so I gave the guy my phone and he started to install the SIM card. However, he asked how long I’d be in Cambodia and when I said two weeks, he said that the unlimited card would only last for one week, so he was trying to get me to pay $15-$20 for one that would last two weeks. This just made me angry so I said that I changed my mind, and I’d find somewhere cheaper. I got back on the bus and we continued to Phnom Penh and arrived at about 3:30pm. I didn’t have any Cambodian money yet (and didn’t realise that I wouldn’t actually need any, since Cambodia mostly uses the US dollar for everything) so I didn’t think I could take a tuktuk. The walk to my hostel was about 30 minutes and Cambodia has been considerably hotter than Vietnam, with constant “feels-like” temperatures of 39 degrees. Especially in Phnom Penh, my skin constantly felt wet the entire time I was there – it was similar to how the weather felt in Kuala Lumpur, except a few degrees hotter. Naturally, the walk was extremely difficult (especially carrying all of my bags and my newly acquired painting) and I noticed right away that I was underdressed. I was wearing shorts and a tank top, but I noticed that everyone (all men and women) were wearing pants/jeans and long-sleeved shirts. How were they surviving in this weather?! I got to my hostel and checked in at The Big Easy for $4.50USD/$6.16AUD per night in an 18-bed dorm. I decided to go straight to Hard Rock Cafe to get my drumsticks, which was a 20-minute walk away. I just have to say that I love Hard Rock Cafe and the way that they train their staff because it doesn’t matter what location you go to, you’ll always be greeted with friendly smiles and the workers are always so helpful. I noticed that they didn’t have any city-specific drumsticks this time, and since I knew that there was another location in Cambodia, I asked if it would be possible for them to check if there’d be any city-specific drumsticks there. They told me that they’d message the other location, but since it was 5pm, they might not write back for awhile. He said that I could have a drink at the bar, so I decided I might as well. Believe it or not, this was a first for me! I can do many things alone – sit at restaurants, cafes, go to the movies, etc. But I’ve never had the guts to go sit at a bar alone. This was a good starting point for me because there were only two other people in the bar so I didn’t feel as awkward. I ordered a drink and sat there for about an hour, and one of the workers even came and sat with me and told me about how Khmer New Year would be the following week.

I decided to go back to the hostel and come back the following day. On the way back, I stopped at Wat Phnom to take some pictures and I think I actually snuck in through an entrance because when I left, I realised that I should have paid. Oops!

As soon as I got to my room, I was planning on having a shower but started talking to an American guy named Lef. He asked if I wanted to go downstairs for drinks (because we got one free welcome beer), so I agreed. I was also able to set up a SIM card at the hostel. The actual SIM card cost $4USD, and then it was $1 per week for unlimited data, so I only had to pay $6USD/$8.21AUD. The problem with Cambodia is the beer is usually the same price or cheaper than just getting a coke. We had a couple beer and then I was craving nachos, so I looked up “nachos near me” and surprisingly, there was a place less than ten minutes away called Cocina Cartel. I finally got my nachos, which were a bit more pricey at $8USD/$10.95AUD, but they definitely hit the spot! After our late-night dinner, we headed back to the hostel and I went to bed because I was told to be in the lobby by 9am to go on a tour.

On Saturday morning, I got up at 8am and then went down for breakfast at 8:30am. Unfortunately, no one else had expressed interest in going to the Killing Fields or the S21 Museum, but the lady told me to wait and see if anyone else came downstairs. At about 9:30, a British girl came downstairs and asked about getting a tuktuk, so she came and sat with me to have breakfast. Lucy and I clicked right off the bat – she came from the other side of Cambodia, so she gave me tips on what to do and see during my time there. She had been travelling with her boyfriend, but they just started travelling separately because she was meeting up with her mom in Thailand, so this was her first place being alone after a long time. We talked for at least 30-45 minutes and then an American guy named Nate came and sat with us. He said that he’d go shower and then come down so we could leave. While we were waiting, a German girl named Suzy came down and asked if she could come, but she said that she was meeting up with friends for breakfast first and still had to shower, so she asked if we could leave closer to 11 or 11:30. By that point, I had already been waiting 2 hours and by 11:30, it would be 3 hours so I felt like I was wasting half of my day sitting in the hostel lobby. Since it was my only full day in Phnom Penh, I really wanted to get going. Lucy felt the same way, but neither of us wanted to say anything. The three of us (Lucy, Nate, and I) sat and waited for another 45 minutes, but Suzy still hadn’t even gone upstairs to shower yet so we told her we wanted to leave by 11:30 (cause she was trying to push for 12). Luckily, she agreed so finally at 11:30, we were about to leave and another girl from Germany (Antonia) came up to us and asked if we were going to the Killing Fields. She needed to go upstairs and change, and I felt like we were never going to leave. However, we finally did! We had a tuktuk for the entire day, and we had to pay $5USD/$6.84AUD each. We decided to go to the Killing Fields first, which took nearly an hour to get there. By that point, I decided that I should probably get some food since it was just before 1 and we’d probably be in there for at least a couple of hours. I decided to get a morning glory, but it still didn’t sit well with my stomach (it seems like some type of spice in Asian foods was setting my stomach off every time).

Anyway, we got to the Killing Fields and had to pay $6USD/$8.21AUD for admission, which also included an audio guide. I’m so glad that we got audio guides as well, because I wasn’t very familiar with the Cambodian history, and hearing it made it so much more real. I was literally sitting there, taking notes about everything I heard so that I could share the information. It’s such a dark history, and it only happened less than 50 years ago! In the late 1970s, Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge movement. He wanted everyone to be treated as equals, who all worked at labour-intensive farm jobs. Within three days, everything in the cities closed. All of the people were moved out of the cities and ordered to go to collective farms, and religion and education became forbidden. Many people were worked to death or died of starvation, because they’d have to work 12 hours per day with unsuitable living conditions. If someone was thought to undermine Pol Pot’s plan, they would be killed. This included doctors, lawyers, teachers, professionals, nuns, anyone with soft hands, anyone with glasses.. and they would be arrested. Pol Pot created an army using many young people (teenagers) who were from the peasant class and had very little education. From 1976-1978, people were brought to the Killing Fields and they were killed the night that they arrived, one by one. The army didn’t use guns because bullets were too expensive, so they’d use every type of tool imaginable to beat the people to death – I won’t go into details but it was morbid. By 1978, trucks were coming in everyday with up to 300 people each time. During this period, 3 million people out of the 8 million population were killed throughout the country (more than 1 in 4 people!), and in the Killing Field area alone, 20000 people were killed. The bodies would then be poured into mass graves. Some of the people weren’t completely dead when they were buried, so they would pour DDT on top of the bodies to finish off the job. One of the saddest parts of the tour was when we came to the Killing Tree. This tree was used to kill babies. The soldiers would hold the babies by the feet and hit them against the tree, because they didn’t want any kids to grow up and seek revenge. It was such a heavy and emotional day and even though it was hard to hear, I also thought that it was necessary to learn about. The tour ended with a building of multiple levels – the first ten levels were made up of 9000 skulls, and each skull was marked with how the person was killed or tortured. The upper levels included other bones. In the Killing Fields area, there were 129 mass graves, and bones and teeth still get uprooted every few months. There is only one senior officer (out of four) who has started undergoing trial, and he’s the only one who admits that anything ever happened – the other three still deny everything, even though the proof is there.

After spending two or three hours there, we all got back into the tuktuk. It was a very quiet ride at first, as I think all of us were still processing everything that we had just learned and seen. Nate was pretty good at lifting everyone’s spirits while we were on our way to the S21 Prison Museum. We got there at about 4pm so it was only open for another hour. We saw that admission would be $5USD/$6.84AUD but then an audio guide would be an additional $3USD. We decided not to get the audio guide since we didn’t have much time, and we assumed that there’d be information written down. However, we were very wrong and I kind of regretted not getting an audio guide because I think it would have helped a lot more. We walked through all of the buildings, and saw all of the prison cells with single beds, along with pictures on the wall of the prisoners on those same beds. The cells seemed to get smaller and smaller, and there were bloodstains still on the floors. At the very end of the tour, they had hundreds of pictures of the prisoners and then they also had pictures of the dead bodies holding numbers, which was extremely difficult to see.

Once again, I just felt heavy again. I have heard multiple stories about people thinking of doing the Killing Fields one day and then the prison the next day, but then decided not to do the other one because they didn’t want to have two full days of sadness. I’m relieved that we did everything in one day, even though it was a lot to take in. It’s crazy that I had no idea that any of this happened, but made me realise how important it is to make myself aware of this kind of stuff. We got back to the tuktuk and made our way back to the hostel.

By that point, we were all soaking wet because it was so hot that day, so everyone decided to shower. I decided to take a Grab Bike back to Hard Rock Cafe in order to get my drumsticks (since I had heard back from the other location and they said they didn’t have any), and then when I got back, I showered and met up with everyone for drinks. I found out that the restaurant had poutine, and I was beyond excited to have one!

It was pretty good too! After a couple of drinks, we decided to get some food for everyone else, but everyone had difficulty agreeing on a restaurant so we ended up walking for quite awhile. FINALLY, everyone agreed on a restaurant, so everyone else got dinner and we all chatted some more. This restaurant had pints of beer for 50 cents each! After dinner, we ended up separating from the group, and Lucy, Antonia, and I headed back to the hostel.

Lucy and I continued having drinks at the hostel bar, and sat with some of the expats who were living in the city. It’s been weird because everywhere in Cambodia, there seems to be expats who have lived there for years, and all of the hostels I’ve stayed in (with the exception of one so far) are run by those expats and not by locals. This was one of the first times in all of my travels where I went out for more than just a couple of drinks, and it was because Lucy and I got along so well. It was nice to feel like I had a normal friend to vent with about everything, and both of us were so sad that we only had one day together because I think we could have been really good travel partners. However, we’re still writing each other now so I wouldn’t be surprised if we met up again in the future. Lucy went to bed at about midnight because she had to catch a flight the next morning at 8am, so I stayed up and talked to some of the workers there. I went to bed shortly after because I’d be leaving the next day for Kep, which I’ll save for the next post. Love always

Ho Chi Minh City (Apr 2-5): Another Night Bus, the War Remnants Museum, and Some Alone Time

The 13-hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh went by pretty fast, and I think I actually ended up falling asleep for a bit. I was given 30 minutes to feel sad before we already stopped for a 30-minute bathroom/food break. I figured I should probably eat since I had only eaten a sandwich at 4pm, so I went to the restaurant and ordered a pho for 48000 dong ($2.83AUD). I’ve been picky about my pho, and this one wasn’t that great because there was a really low noodle-to-broth ratio (and they weren’t even the good type of noodles). I finished eating and got back into my top bunk, put on my seatbelt (if I didn’t, I probably would have rolled out of the bed at least 100 times – the driving is crazy!), and wrote some friends before trying to sleep. The entire trip actually ended up taking just under 12 hours, and I arrived just after 6 in the morning. As usual, before I even got off the bus, there were a whole bunch of people standing in the entrance, asking if I needed a taxi. I said no and went to find somewhere to sit down and try to wake up. I looked up how much it would cost to take a Grab to my hostel and found out that it would cost about 80000 dong for a car, which was quite pricey! I then looked at how much it would cost to take a Grab BIKE, and it said 39000 dong ($2.30AUD), more than half the price. I tried to decide whether I could take a Grab with my huge backpack, and my day bag in one hand and a bag of food in the other. At this point, money was more important for me (with the 2 million dong that I paid the day before!), so I decided I’d take a bike. Conveniently, two guys came up to me and asked if I needed a bike and I said yes. I showed them where I needed to go and they replied, “100000 dong.” Seriously?! That was more than taking a Grab car! I was so angry, showed them my phone and said, “39000 dong. I will take this one instead.” And they just replied with an, “Oh.” I requested my Grab bike and went on an extremely long ride – I didn’t realise that it would take over 20 minutes. It was difficult because every time we stopped at a red light and started back up again, the weight of my backpack would pull me backwards, so I only hoped that I wouldn’t fall off along with it! I got to my hostel right after 6:30 and the door was open so I walked in. This time, I was staying at Long Hostel and paid 131000 dong ($7.72) per night to stay in a 4-bed mixed dorm (which ended up being only girls during my entire stay). There was a man who woke up on the couch, saw me, then turned around and went back to bed. I decided to let myself in and sit in the outdoor area until everyone woke up. It was then that I saw my first rat scurry from one side of the door to the other on the patio, and it was massive! I had forgotten about being warned about the rats in Ho Chi Minh, and I don’t think I ever got used to seeing them running around on the streets during my three nights there. At about 7, everyone started waking up because it was time for breakfast, so I moved into the common area inside. All I wanted was to shower and maybe get something to eat. I went to the counter and explained that I still needed to check in, but asked if I could get breakfast (which I was fully willing to pay for), but they gave me one free of charge! Again, I ordered banana pancakes (which I did for the three days I was there), and they were the best ones that I’ve had! While I was eating, another girl came and sat beside me, and I found out that she was Canadian, but living in Melbourne and teaching with the same agency as me! So weird! She was leaving within the next half hour, but we exchanged information because we’d both be getting back to Melbourne at the same time (at the start of term 2) and hopefully we’d be able to meet up. After eating, I asked if it would be possible for me to use the shower (since check in wouldn’t be until 2pm). They let me use the bathroom, and it was so nice to have a shower after spending so long on the bus! I was still so exhausted, so I researched different things that I could do that day and then at about 11:30, I decided to head out. I went to Bun Cha 145, which is one of the more popular bun cha (noodle bowl) places, but to be honest, I didn’t love it. The reason for this is that depending on the region of Vietnam, some bun cha places serve everything mixed together in a bowl (as they would at any Vietnamese restaurant in Saskatoon) and other bun cha places serve everything separately.

This was one of those restaurants that served everything separately, but I didn’t see why it was so popular – I definitely enjoyed the bun cha that I had in Hanoi a lot more. After having lunch, I decided to walk to Hard Rock Cafe to get my travel drumsticks (which I get from every Hard Rock I go to) so it was about a 50-minute walk in the worst heat. On my way there, I passed the cathedral and a McDonald’s, so I decided that I’d go back in order to get some ice cream. I got my drumsticks and walked over to McDonald’s. I had my keyboard with me and was determined to start catching up on my blogs, since I had fallen so far behind. To be honest, I really wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone because a) I was extremely tired from my night bus, b) I had been with people constantly since Hanoi (with the exception of one day in Phong Nha), so I was really looking forward to being alone, and c) I was still sad about leaving Nick so I wasn’t really interested in meeting any new people. I sat in McDonald’s and got most of my blog written, but then as I was editing, this man (probably in his 70s) came in. McDonald’s wasn’t really that full, but he asked if he could sit beside me so I said sure. He was from Hungary and was in Ho Chi Minh for business, and when he found out that I was a biology teacher, he got so excited. “How do you feel about biology?” (Never been asked that before – you would assume that if I taught it, I would enjoy it…). He then told me that he was excited that I was a biology teacher because he likes to talk about radiation, and no one ever understands what he’s talking about. However, I DID know about radiation. I knew about the harmful effects when using different devices, such as holding a laptop on your lap, and even how much radiation that you’re exposed to when flying. Many people don’t realise it because it’s not something that you can see, but it’s very much there and it’s not good for you. He asked me what I thought about 3G networks being moved to 4G networks, and he said how 5G networks might be introduced soon but thousands of scientists have tried to convince whoever is in charge that this wouldn’t be in their best interest. However, money is obviously more important than safety, so no one listens. I told him that I’ve just kept my phone on 3G (up until about a month ago, when my friend asked why I wasn’t using 4G). Anyway, this man ended up talking to me about radiation for at least an hour and half! Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting, but then he didn’t stop! He sells some products that are meant to attract the surrounding radiation from any devices in the room (and therefore keep it from you), so you can place them on your cell phone, laptop, in the car, in the plane, in classrooms, etc. He kept saying that he didn’t want to waste my time, but then went on and on, and even said that if it was something that I was really interested in, they were looking for an Australian representative to start selling the products there. After a long talk, I said that I needed to get back to my hostel (to be fair, I was actually about to leave right before he sat down because I wanted to get checked in) but then he told me to wait so that he could show me a document that he worked on. It was 27 pages long! I read the first page, told him it was interesting, and handed the phone back. He said that there was more and if I’d like, he could email me the document and asked for my business card. When I said that I didn’t have a business card, he asked why. I thought it was normal for me not to have a business card, but maybe I need to get some made now! Anyway, I walked back to the hostel, checked in, and met the other three girls from my hostel – one from Australia, one from Germany, and one from the Netherlands. We all decided to go for dinner together and walked to a type of food court, which offered many different types of cuisines. I decided to get shrimp Banh cuon from a place called Nanna’s, and it was really tasty!

After dinner, I relaxed back at the hostel because I was losing energy fast, especially with my extreme lack of sleep the night before.

On Wednesday morning, I got up and decided I’d try (again!) to have a quiet day alone. I had an early breakfast at the hostel and then FaceTimed my parents for a couple of hours. By the time we finished talking, it was nearly 1pm so I went to a restaurant called The Hungry Pig, which has an assortment of sandwiches and paninis made with bacon. I ordered the Bacon Bagel, which was a cinnamon bagel with cream cheese, bacon, arugula (or rocket), and cranberry sauce.

It was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time! Maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten proper bacon in awhile, or that my stomach just wanted some Western food, but it was so delicious. It was a bit more expensive at 115000 dong ($6.79), but totally worth it. After lunch, I decided to go to the War Remnants Museum, which goes through the effects of the Vietnam War. However, all of the information was put in a weird order, so I actually felt lost during the first part of the museum. This ended up sparking a conversation (within ten minutes of me being there) with a guy from Israel (Itamar), who asked if I knew what was going on. We went through the next few sections of the museum together, which included all of the war pictures taken by many photographers who were killed in action. The next area was the effect of Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a herbicide chemical that was used by the US military, and has had major consequences on the health of many individuals. About four million people were exposed to Agent Orange, and three million have suffered illnesses because of it. Agent Orange seems to affect the genetics of individuals, which in turn affects second, third, and fourth generations of these people. Some effects include mental disabilities, extra fingers and toes, loss of limbs, short stature, etc. This area of the museum included pictures of people who were affected by Agent Orange, or even pictures of foetuses in jars. It was a very difficult area to walk through, and I found myself looking away and speeding through faster. We stopped at a gift shop, which included artwork made by kids affected by Agent Orange, and the gift shop workers were all individuals who were affected as well. Itamar said that he wasn’t too keen on going through the rest of the museum (we were about two thirds through and it had been two hours), and I agreed. The museum was just very heavy, so it was difficult to get through the entire thing.

He suggested that we go for coffee, but I didn’t realise that he was a coffee snob and needed a GOOD coffee, meaning I ended up paying about three times more than I normally would for a regular coffee. I went for a affogato, which is an espresso with ice cream, and it was actually quite good!

After sitting in the coffee shop, he asked if I wanted to go for a walk so we went to a park and sat on a bench, and he sat way too close for comfort and put his arm around me. Crap, why do I always get myself in these situations? He asked me a question and then in the middle of me answering, he leaned in for a kiss. I pushed him away and said I wasn’t in the right mindset, and he asked if he could give me his number in case I changed my mind later. Weird guy… Anyway, I walked back towards the hostel because it was starting to get dark and got back about an hour later. I decided to go for dinner at a nearby Greek restaurant, and I got a pork Gyro wrap, which again was amazing!

It’s weird that most of the Vietnamese food that I’ve had has been subpar, but all of the Western food that I’ve had has been so good! Maybe the food poisoning had an effect on me…

On Thursday, I was on a mission to find a Christmas tree ornament since it was my last day in Vietnam and I seemed to have forgotten to find one. I requested a Grab to take me to An Dong Market, but it seemed to only be a bunch of clothes and souvenirs that you see at every stall. I requested another Grab Bike to take me to Ben Thanh Market. There was a food market as well, so I got a noodle dish and then explored the market. However, it was full of people who would constantly approach me to come look into their stalls. This is a surefire way to get me to leave a store immediately, as I hate being followed while I’m trying to shop. I didn’t stay in the market for long because it was too overwhelming, so I Google-searched places to find Christmas ornaments. Surprisingly, there was a shop that was a ten-minute walk away so I started walking towards it and on my way, I passed an art shop. Art shops are the one thing that I’ll slow down for on the sidewalk – I know what style I like so I always walk as slow as I possibly can in front of the entrance to see if there’s anything that catches my eye. Usually, I just keep walking but this time, I found myself entering the store. There was a piece of art that I really liked and I was even able to watch the artist paint a similar piece in the back.

I decided that I’d come back later if I was still thinking about the painting (and I was, so I went back and bought it – I figured I could carry around a painting for three weeks). Afterwards, I went to buy my Christmas ornament. I was going to walk around for a bit, but it suddenly started to rain so I ran into the nearest shopping mall and was pleased to see that they had my favourite cafe, Paul.

I decided to treat myself to a chocolat viennois, and spent the entire time FaceTiming Sonia in New Zealand. It was so nice to have a normal conversation with someone who knew me – I had almost forgotten what it felt like, it had been so long! When we finished talking, the rain had stopped so I walked around for a bit.

I then went back to the hostel to get my Vietnamese dong exchanged into US dollars, went back to the art store to get my art, and then went back to the hostel to drop it off. That night, I ate at The Hungry Pig again, and this time I ordered the Little Miss Piggy panini AND a Bloody Mary. While it WASN’T a Caesar, it still hit the spot after not having one in so long!

AND I FaceTimed with my friend Crystal and her kids during my dinner, which was nice to see some smiling faces! I think I was really just needing some familiarity at this point, and was noticing the effects of being alone. I went back to the hostel and called it an early night cause I had to get up at 6:30 the next morning to go to Cambodia. To be honest, Ho Chi Minh was my least favourite place in Vietnam, and many people I’ve met have felt the same. The other cities had a lot more culture and life to them, so this ended up being just a place to stop over on the way to Cambodia. Love always