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Published: November 20th 2007
This is our first blog entry from South East Asia. Hope you enjoy it!
We stayed 3 days in Bangkok before we actually started to travel. Definitely a great city and so different from everything we have seen before on our trip. It is evident that with this city, we begin a new part of our trip. All the countries visited before where on the Silk Road and had some cultural and geographical similarities, parts of common history and the same religion. We begin now to discover a different Asian culture and history as well as a different religion: Buddhism. No more mosques and medressas but tons of Buddhist temples (wat) and Buddha images! Another striking difference is the number of Western tourists! We have been warned and we have not been surprised but without exaggeration we have seen more tourists in one afternoon in Bangkok than in the last three months all together!
The beat of life in this part of the world is also a difference compared to the other countries. Bangkok lives day and night. Streets are full of people even hours after sunset and in the streets it seems never to get dark. In Iran
and in Central Asia this was very different. Even if Iranian cities begin to be lively at the end of the afternoon and are very animated during the evening it calms down then and we cannot say that there is a real night life there! In Central Asia, the cities become a bit dangerous when it is dark not because of crime but because the street are not at all or only a bit illuminated and the many missing manhole covers and canalisation channels become a real threat in the dark.
There are many more differences but also commons things with countries visited before. We were surprised to see huge pictures of the royal family on every corner and inside many businesses. It reminds us a lot all the Ataturk pictures in Turkey and Khomeini in Iran but these are dead men. The royal family is well alive and (some) Thais really love them. Very recently a member of the royal family was on TV wearing a pink shirt which created a real run on pink shirts! Seems somehow unreal to independent thinking Westerns....
After some snapshots of Thai's urban style of life (delicious food, culture and temples
in Bangkok), we spent 3 days in small paradise beach Ko Mak, near Ko Chang. Even if development is going on rapidly, compared to the big neighbour Ko Chang, Ko Mak is still quite secluded and calm. Last time we enjoyed the sea was in Turkey some months ago and we really enjoyed these 3 days of turquoise water, incredible sunsets at the beach, beautiful corals while snorkeling, great food and nature's calm. Annamaria also tried the Thai traditional massage, which is much smoother than the treatments received at Turkish and Uzbek hammams! (We both also tried the Khmer massage in Cambodia, which is similar to the Thai one).
We could have stayed much more time in Ko Mak but we realized that time is running out! We have only 5 weeks in Southeast Asia and there are so many things we want to see!! As Ko Mak is close to the Cambodian border, we thought it would be easy to reach this country. In fact, it's much faster from Bangkok, as there are direct buses to the border. It took us one entire day and 5 different transports to reach the border: boat, sawnghtaew (very common transport in
Bangkok - Wat Pho
Largest reclining Buddha - 46m long and 15m high
Southeast Asia: passengers sit on the back of an open pick-up truck), two buses and finally a tuk-tuk (see picture). We realized that as soon as you get off the beaten tracks you find yourself in a bus with only locals even in touristy Thailand! Thais love dumb TV game show and karaoke during their bus trips; hum... we didn't really!
Thais are very friendly and smiling. But traveling in more touristic countries make us realize the impact of tourism on locals working with (and living from) the tourists... In the countries visited before, we were used to pay a bit more for a taxi ride than locals from the previous months. That's okay, we really earn much more than they do... but with the Thai it is different... they not only try to charge you for everything, but they sometimes also bluntly lie to you. This happened to us when a mini-bus driver told us that he would bring us to the bus station while in reality he brought us to the office of a private bus company kilometers away from the bus station. When the group of 8 persons went off the mini-bus he repeated that this
Bangkok - Wat Pho
The long Buddha again but from behind
is the bus-station. Of course an employee of the bus company was ready waiting to sell us her bus tickets... when we realized it it was too late and we had to take another taxi to the station. They really try to press the dollars out of the tourists and their methods are not always very clean to put it in a polite way.
The arrival at the border at the end of this exhausting trip was a bit hard. Even if we expected to be harassed by scammers and touts at every step we were exhausted very quickly! The tuk-tuk from the bus station to the border brought us first to a false visa office and then to a so-called "consulate" near the border where scammers proposed their help for the visa. But we knew the exact procedure for the visa and ignored them all. Once the Thai border passed (we weren't even yet in Cambodia) a man proposed us his help, a hotel and a taxi in Cambodia. Even if we ignored him, he followed us everywhere and chatted also to the police officer who gave us our visas. But what was expecting us on the other
side of the border was not very attractive. The border town of Poipet is really a hole full of touts and unattractive guesthouses. It seemed to us that everybody was lying at us and we couldn't have any reliable information that night. Anyway as it was already dark and the Cambodian roads are not the safest ones we decided to sleep there.
The next day we escaped as soon as possible and took a taxi to Siem Reap. The road between Poipet and Siem Reap is not yet entirely paved and we experienced some bumps, but the landscape was beautiful: small Khmer villages; water buffalo rolling themselves in flooded fields; locals dressed like mummies to protect themselves from pollution and dust; bicycles or motorbikes loaded with everything you can imagine (from clothes and baskets to pigs and chicken); pick-ups loaded with much more persons than a city bus in Montreal; locals bathing in muddy rivers and pools; and much more... At least we had some snapshots from Cambodian rural life because we will not have the occasion to see much more.
We have spent the last 3 days to visit the Angkor temples around Siem Reap. A really
Bangkok - Wat Pho
Kids having a music lesson inside the Pho temple.
impressive archaeological site that is considered by many as the 8th wonder of the world. Most of the temples were built between the 9th and 13th century and were discovered in the 19th century only. We rented bicycles to admire at our rhythm (but partly under the rain!) these impressive vestiges of past temps. The site is huge and on the third day we changed to a tuk-tuk to see some more remote temples. Siem Reap is touristic (a mix of backpackers and elder tourists) but charming. There are comfortable guesthouses and bistros... and Internet cafes to update our blog!
However, on the way to the temples we were shocked to see the poor conditions in which parts of the local population life. Less than hundred meters away on the next street you can choose between different luxurious four and five stars hotels with swimming-pools. That is the absurdity of our world! Nevertheless, Khmer people (over 90% of the population are ethnic Khmer) keep smiling at you very spontaneously. This make us almost forget not only the actual poverty but also the horror that this country experienced under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, our journey continues
to yet another country: Laos. For now, we let you take a look at the 50 pictures in this entry!
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