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Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

May 31st, 2009
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Our first stop in Cambodia was the small town of Siem Reap, a small touristy town built up as a result of its proximity to Angkor Wat and other Angkor temples.

Having spent about 9 hours travelling we arrived fairly late in to Siem Reap so essentially spent the first evening having a look at the various markets before having a spot of dinner and then a beer.

We were up early the next morning (20-5-09) so that we could take in the view of Angkor Wat at sunrise, a view that Charles, our tour leader, had assured us was well worth the 4am start. Cameras ready we headed to the temple and then down in front of a pond, one which has been specifically put there for reflections in photographs. Anyway, around 45 minutes and a hundred or so photos later we all decided that we had got as good as we could and walked on in to the temple.Angkor WatOur guide, who I think was called Samet, was very enthusiastic although had a tendency to go on a little. 45 minutes in to his first talk this was all too evident, but he did provide some good bits of info when he wasn’t repeating himself. Angkor Wat itself is the only temple in Angkor to face west (all other temples face east) as the king wanted easy access from his palace. The temple is certainly amazing, being fairly massive and impressive. A slight disappointment was the fact that we were unable to visit the very top of the palace as tourist access is still being developed; although an offer from two Khmer guys to “show me the top” was tempting, if not a little worrying. After Angkor Wat we headed back for breakfast before going to the ancient capital of Angkor Thom, a 3km by 3km town enclosed by a 100m wide moat as well as defensive walls. The first temple here was the Bayon temple located almost centrally within Angkor Thom. In my opinion this temple is actually more impressive than Angkor Wat, not for it’s size but for the intracacy of the temple itself.  Bayon Temple in Angkor ThomTo the northwest of the Bayon temple stood the site of the old palace, now completely gone: it was made of wood?! However, the site also housed a temple and the elephant terrace; a viewing platform for the king to watch sport. It’s believed that a snake lived at the top of the kings temple and that every night it took the form of a beautiful young girl. The king had to climb the steep temple every night to sleep with the girl in order to prevent a curse on his family and people! Some people will do anything to get away from the wife!

Following lunch we then headed off to Ta Prohm, a temple recently used in the Tomb Raider movie, but more interestingly one of the temples that was fully lost to the jungle and as a result is full of large trees; the lower ones having been removed.

We finished the trip to Angkor with a climb of the only hill for miles. Phnom Bakheng didn’t get a great mention from Charles or our guide but was in fact well worth it. A 10-15 minute walk up the hill then puts you in front of yet another temple. It’s not amazing but is pretty steep to climb up which makes it all the more fun. Once at the top you get a view of all of Angkor plus the surrounding area.

Being Steve’s birthday we finished the day with a meal, a few drinks and a bit of dancing. All in all a bloody good start to the trip.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Bangkok

May 29th, 2009
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Anna and I left Koh Samui early on Saturday (16-5-2009) morning to fly to Bangkok. The day started well with another ridiculous downpour followed by blistering heat and a gentle flight. Koh Samui airport delivered yet again with free drinks and cake provided at the gate.

We were met in Bangkok airport by Anthony, one of mum’s cousins. He’s been living in Thailand for around 16 years, doing various things but currently retired with his wife and 5 year old daughter. After a spot of lunch we saw Anna off to Kuala Lumpur (and eventually Brisbane) and then headed back to his Condo. We had a quick dip in the rooftop pool/jacuzzi and then headed in to town to have a look at the nightmarket on Pat Pong (which also houses quite a few go go bars) followed by a meal in an “English Pub”. Obviously I had the German sausages with Sauerkraut and mash.

I was woken at 7.30am by Ming jumping on me in bed. I’d forgotten how annoying little kids can be, although in fairness she’s very cute and not exactly a handfull. After a spot of breakfast and a dodgy Pop Idol rip off (Thai people really can’t sing) Anthony drove me over to Khao San road, the touristy part of Bangkok, so that I could check in to the D&D Inn and wait for the other guys to turn up. Once we’d all checked in we headed off to the Golden Mount, yet another temple situated on top of a hill. Quite a nice one in fairness and made all the more bearable by a brilliant view and the clash of thunder and lightning on the horizon. We were also taught a valuable lesson by a “teacher” who, bless him, was near his school despite having the day off. He kindly told us that the temple was shut but that another one was open and he’d gladly get us a tuk tuk for it. Not only that, but he also knew a great place for Thai boxing and a lovely fish restaurant. Having listened to his teaching for a while (I say a while: we knew from the start but the chat was interesting) we decided he was talking bollocks and said no thanks. At which point he practically exploded and called us stupid. I felt it necessary to tell him that “calling people stupid is not nice” to which he then called me a “stupid buffalo”. Fair play.

The night passed fairly uneventfully and we begin the second day with a trip to the grand palace and reclining Buddha. Yet again, we were acosted by various people telling us that these places were shut and that they could take us elsewhere. A particularly amusing girl even kicked pigeons towards us before then trying to sell us seeds to feed them with. Anyway, after a lot of abuse we got in to the grand palace where we were able to rent trousers for free so that we were suitably dressed. I won’t really describe it, suffice to say I took enough photos.

At 6pm we headed over to the Hotel Royal to meet up with our tour group for the Indochina Encompassed trip. A brief meet and greet followed by dinner and drinks began our trip.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Koh Samui

May 25th, 2009
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10 May 2009 - 16 May 2009.

Ok, definitely giving up with the day by day record…………

Koh Samui is a small Island off the eastern coast of southern Thailand. It’s (alledgedly) a popular tourist destination with backpackers and holiday makers alike. It’s bloody good. So good in fact that it might have been a little stupid going there in the second week of the trip, expectations for other beach resorts are now unfairly high.

Anyway, we arrived in to Koh Samui airport at about 9.15pm and headed straight for the hotel. On a side note the airport itself is amazing, a great way to introduce tourists to the island - there’s a few pics of this. Having arrived at the hotel Ravi decided that he actually did need his wallet and, having made a brief trip back to the airport, got it, and a free taxi round trip, from the airport security. Scare over we got settled in and marvelled at the view from our hotel room. Not a bad start at all.

Hotel Pool

We were joined in Koh Samui by two of Ravi’s friends, Jai and Sarika, who were staying in another hotel just down the beach from us. We met up with them on the first night and headed to Bar Solo for a few drinks and a few rounds of pool. Not too late in to the evening we were introduced to Samui’s rain and it’s accompanying light show.

For most of the week our days were fairly routine. We mostly woke up at about 10am and then headed down for breakfast on the beach. This may seem trivial but the ability to walk to the front of the hotel and then have a buffet breakfast on the beach can not be understated………loved it! Anway following that we’d head down to the beach, get a bit of sun and a bit of lunch at some point. At about four we’d get sick of the beach and head next to the pool to use the slide and jacuzzi, it was a tough week! Evenings started at about 7.30 with a drink somewhere, followed by a meal and then drinks on the beach.

On Thursday we took a boat tour to Ang Thong national park, a selection of islands about an hour west of Samui by speed boat. Having regressed in to a vegetative state over the previous days this was a welcome change to inject some energy back in to everyone. We took a land rover, driven by a mad man, across the island at around 7am where we had a spot of breakfast followed by a bone crushing journey to a first stopping point. While I don’t want to dwell on it I must mention that carrying toilet paper in South East Asia is a must - I’ll leave it at that. First stop was just off one the islands, we were given snirkelling gear and an hour to swim around the coral and seemingly endless numbers of fish - a great start to the trip. Following on from that we headed to one of the bigger islands for a spot of sunbathing, lunch and sea kayaking. We started with the sea kayaking and, seizing the opportunity for exercise, I rediscovered my competitive streak and proceeded to shout motivational one-liners at Anna to ensure we stayed at the front of the group. A few shouts of “Winning is everything, everywhere else is nothing” and “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” (plus others) and we’d destroyed the field of casual kayakers. Following on from that we took sometime to chill out and have some lunch. You’ve got to hand it to them: middle of nowhere without electricity and the tour team (there were a lot of them) produced a great lunch of sweet and sour pork, beef curry, rice, fruit. Our last stop in the national park was a landlocked lagoon accessible by a slightly dubious stairway the locals had constructed. Needless to say, it provided an excellent view of not just the lagoon but a large amount of the national park as well.Ang Thong National Park We headed back to the mainline at around 3 so that, depending on choice, we could either ride an elephant or quad bike. We all chose the elephants - rude not to really - but to be honest I wish I hadn’t. The elephant “trek” was basically a quick slow walk up a dirt track in 40 degree heat, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the animal (and that’s coming from the worlds worst animal lover.) That was followed by an elephant show where a couple of elephants basically did a few different tricks. In fairness this was pretty impressive and demonstrated the ridiculous amount of strength that they have - particularly good was when the bigger of the two elephants walked on just two feet. Having done a few party pieces the trainers then asked for a female volunteer. A couple of girls had a go and received an elephant massage - basically an elephant almost breaking their back for a few seconds. After that a male volunteer was asked for. Slightly unwillingly a guy stepped forward for his “Honeymoon massage”. Lying on his back he was first kissed/sucked (?) on the mouth, by the elephants trunk, and then had the same service to his twig and giggle berries. Topped off with the death defying elephant stamping massage and the guy took a well deserved round of applause.

Friday was my (and Anna’s) last full day in Samui and could have been a little less stressful. The day started in the usual way with breakfast on the beach. Steve, Ravi and I decided to finally make our way across to the little island in the bay - a long walk which turned out to be pointless as the seemingly idylic island was in fact private property and covered in rubbish. We got back to the main beach and took another walk along one of the spits where we found some deep water: it was shoulder height and a revelation on this beach.) Anna was in the water here too, having found it days before, and after a few near misses with jet skis we decided to head back in. All of a sudden Anna screamed a bit and turning round to see her then says “It’s not funny, it really hurts”. Realising she’s actually hurt we start getting her back towards the hotel. Not knowing what’s ripped a few pieces out of her leg Anna fears the worst and, this may be a bit excesiive, starts crying hysterically. Choosing my words carefully (ish) I then come out with “I don’t mean to be a dickhead but calm down” which doesn’t seem to work. Anyway, grabbing a few things from the hotel room we head off to the hospital to get checked out. At this point, in all fairness, Anna has calmed down but is in a lot of pain. The hospital staff were pretty helpful, giving Anna a concoction of painkillers, anti-histamines and a few other things to try to get rid of the poison. Their bed manner, however, left a little to be desired. Having been confronted with an hysterical patient you would think that telling that person about a previous death would be a no-no. Not in Koh Samui, having dug out a 10 year old paper on the box jellyfish the doctor told us how she’d had someone die as a result of the exact same jellyfish. Good to know! Jelly Fish AttacksThankfully the morphine (or something similar) had kicked in and Anna was now more hilarious than hysterical. A few hours later and we were back in the hotel relaxing for the last day.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Singapore

May 25th, 2009
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Day Four - 7 May 2009 - The day started early - again - which was not to anybody’s liking but needs must and having pretty much strapped our bags to a taxi we set off towards the Corus Hotel for a 5 hour bus journey to Singapore. What a bus…..two storey but only three chairs in a row and the bottom floor was a lounge with arm chairs and a tv. On entering Singapore we had yet another Swine Flu check which was a little better than the last; I’m not sure they even know what they’re looking for on those thermal cameras, it’s probably just as good as a guilt trip. Anyway, we checked in to the hotel, another absolute treat, The Hotel Royal, with it’s swimming pool, tv etc etc - I’m not sure we’ve quite got the idea of backpacking yet but no doubt it won’t be so great in Laos and Vietnam. With time fading fast we headed out in to Singapore wondering just what constituted Jaywalking and hoping not to get a $1000 fine for accidentally doing it. Steve had also packed his chewing gum away! A walk down Orchard Road showed us that if Singaporians (?) liked doing one thing it was shopping - mall after mall after mall along one road. We soon got through that and on to Clarke QuayClarke Quay where we attempted to find some dinner before meeting another friend of Steve’s, Tim. Having eaten a sandwich and drink for $10 we sat on the river side eating ice cream. Upon Tim’s arrival we went to a little Cuban bar where a bottle of Tiger was $14, that’s just over £6 - what the fuck? It kind of takes the fun away when a single drink completely ruins your budget (more on that later.)

Day Five - 8 May 2009 - In an attempt to “take it easy” we took the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), their underground, to Vivo City, Asia’s biggest mall, to get ourselves over to Sentosa. Sentosa is Singapore’s answer to the fact that a lot of tourists found Singapore dull. It’s essentially an island of the South coast of Singapore (there’s something slightly fractal about that) where they’ve built some attractions and a few artificial beaches. We got off the Sentosa Express at the first stop and thought we’d exercise the legs by climbing a hill. No such luck, they’d put escalators up the hill, brilliant! You have to give them credit, Singapore is pretty perfect in terms of functionality and cleanliness. Every lawn is manicured, every slope has an escalator on and everything works. Anyway, having listened to Steve and Ravi shoot each other on a horse riding/shooting simulator we took to the beach and watched the water; there were an unbelievable number of container ships in the harbour chucking out who know’s what in to the water. SentosaA couple of hours later we sacked off the beach, and went to the Aquarian where countless tourists were standing on a “travellator” going through a tunnel surrounded by water and fish. This was really good, with something to see at every point. Following that we walked back through a bit of rainforest, which was being refurbished (?) and then headed to Little India to get some food. In contrast with KL Singapore’s little India is considerably more interesting, lots of shops, markets, music and great smells emanating from various types of restaurants. Ravi and I had a mixed meal with various different things, which was excellent, while Anna and Steve half finished their meals before drowning in their own sweat.

Day Six - 9 May 2009 - At this point we’d already seen a fair amount of Singapore but still hadn’t ventured to the Colonial district or China Town. WIth that in mind we set off on the train to the Colonial district to check out the origins of Singapore. Yet again, an extremely well manicured area with the Singapore Cricket Club being surrounded by St Andrew’s Cathedral, the Town Hall and the Supreme Court (sporting a small replica of St Paul’s Dome.) We zig-zagged our way through this before finding our way to the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel where it is alledged that the Singapore sling was invented. Having been slightly pissed off at the Tiger beer we reluctantly bought four Singapore slings (~$110 for four) and made them last while eating as many monkey nuts as possible. The drinks are actually very nice if not a little sweet. Having necked those we headed off towards China Town so that Steve could meet up with Tim and we could check out the last area. Having walked for 15 minutes in the wrong direction we left Steve to get the MRT and we walked 40 minutes back in the opposite direction. Our initial impressions of China Town were not great (something that the rough guide had mentioned) as Singapore had decided press on with their “skyscrapers are the solution to over-crowding” policy by erecting a few monstrous high rises. Regardless of that we marched on and found that China Town was in fact amazing. I’ve seen quite a few “China Town”s but this is probably the best. While there were the usual dodgy shops there was also a great selection of restaurants, from cheap to expensive, as well as a couple of impressive temples and a massive food court where you could fill your stomach for a couple of quid. Once we’d eaten we took the MRT back to the hotel to have a quick swim in the pool and then relax. Ravi and I took it upon ourselves to entertain the crowds (all 6 of them) by doing a spot of Karaoke in the hotel pub. What a harmony.

Day Seven - 10 May 2009 - Laundry, Mall, Plane. See Ko Samui Day Seven for the evening.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Kuala Lumpur

May 11th, 2009
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Day One - 4 May 2009 - We landed in Kuala Lumpur 30 minutes early but still too late to make much of the day. So, having checked in to the Butang Warisan Hotel, we ventured out to find a bar and have a quick look round. Being the intrepid travellers that we (almost certainly) are we found our way to a little bar serving Heineken (at £3 a pint) and a Malay sharing platter. A bit of a walk round and a few offers of “cupping” massages later we tucked called it a night: although we’re not sure where the day actually went, I guess we’ll get it back later.

Petronas Towers as seen from the KL Tower

Day Two - 5 May 2009 - Day two started early, probably too early, but we’d done a good job of staying awake on the plane to prevent any major jetlag. As is customary we then walked the entirety (well, anything interesting) of Kuala Lumpur and, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t too bad, although our zig-zagging didn’t exactly help our feet; my flip flops were far too big, and therefore painful, and Ravi’s right sandal had destroyed 3 plasters as well as his ankle. Kuala Lumpur itself is quite a mixture of cultures, wealth and architecture. The banking district, dominated by the Petronas Towers, is very modern but fairly bland. China Town was, in my opinion, utter crap - too many people offering porn DVDs and lacking in any charm or use - the area, not the DVDs ;-). Little India is also another “Must see” in most guide books but, as with China Town, is pretty bland, a couple of streets with a few shops for the locals and that’s it. One thing that was definitely worth it was the KL Tower, a communications mast, towering above the KL Skyline. Slightly expensive to visit (given that the Petronas Towers were free) but they’ve put in some effort and had a slightly weird “Winter Wonderland” as well as an animal enclosure containing mainly reptiles, loads of snakes and a few hilarious monkeys. We finished off the day with a bite to eat in PappaRich, a Malaysian (ish) restaurant, before trying to find a bar to watch the Man Utd Arsenal game in. This ended up being pretty fruitless as not only could we not find a bar staying open that late we also spent a fortune on drinks in the process - drinking ain’t cheap here.

Day Three - 6 May 2009 - A slightly more chilled out day than the previous one began with another trip to the Petronas towers; they had run out of tickets on our first visit. The view was good but nothing compared with that from the KL Tower and it was accompanied by an hilarious 3D advert beforehand which we had to sit through listening to how brilliant Petronas was. Once I’d bought another pair of flip flops (Yes, I know I have a few) we set off to find a bus to get to the Batu Caves 17km north of KL. Steve was slightly disappointed at this point as he’d believed we were visiting “The Bat Cave”. It was actually fairly good, better than the other “Must see”’s and filled with monkeys as well as an enormous Buddha statue. In the evening we met up with Sui, one of Steve’s friends from Uni, who took us for a meal and then some drinks. Somewhat disappointingly, and no thanks to the Rough Guide, it took us to the street behind our hotel which was filled with restaurants and much cheaper bars. Sitting outside in the heat the food was great, the peppered squid being the pick of the bunch, and a few too many beers in a bar ended the night at about 2.

Entrance to Main Batu Cave

For all of the KL Photos go here: http://www.jerzykowski.me.uk/?page_id=9&album=3&gallery=1

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Start of Trip

May 9th, 2009
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Maverick and Darth off to Kuala Lumpur

Maverick and Darth off to Kuala Lumpur

4th May 2009, the start of a 6 month round the world trip, flying from Stansted to Kuala Lumpur on Asia’s finest cheapest airline, Air Asia. The flight itself was actually quite good, fairly decent leg room although lacking entertainment and the meals were basic at best. Ravi was particularly hacked off that they did not have salt or pepper.

Anyway, with Darth and Maverick firmly strapped in, we started our journey, one which would have finished off much better had we not been scanned for swine flu. A particularly harassing affair given that Ravi had 4 lockets in his mouth and Steve was coughing like a forty-a-day smoker.

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags: