Sad to leave Cambodia and swanky time in Thailand

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November 18th 2015
Published: November 18th 2015
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Another first for me today as I got to use a squat loo on a ferry! I've experienced one on an overnight train in China before and let me tell you, that was not fresh. But a squat loo on a ferry was marginally better in that there were only cubicle doors between myself and the deck overlooking the sea, so even if I had forgotten to bring my own toilet paper, it would have been OK because I would have been blown dry by the sea air. This was not the highlight of my day, but it will always be a story for parties.

The morning started in Battambang, where Helen overheard another tourist on the phone, telling someone that his trip to stay in the jungle for two days had been cancelled due to the possibility of violence because of the recent political unrest. I googled it and found that though the opposition leader (Sam Rainsy) has not arrived yet and that the election isn't due for 2-3 years, things are hotting up; a lot of people, especially the youth are supporting the opposition. The article claimed that Hun Sen, the current prime minister (who has held that position for 38 years and is of the same government responsible for the killing fields) has been constantly re-elected because of the robust economic growth, job creation and sustained peace. A rather different story to the one we heard, that Hun Sen had stayed in power due to a lot of corruption.

Five million votes for Hun Sen are secured by poor Vietnamese who come to Cambodia to work in tourism or live on the boats, and not pay taxes. They are allowed over the border illegally and then are given local local ID from the Cambodian police, and so they vote for Hun Sen.

The warrant for Sam Rainsy's arrest is a seven years old one after he'd discussed the last election abroad (he had been given a royal pardon) and should have immunity due to his diplomatic status which he has now been stripped of. Hun Sen must be scared because he claims that the country would fall into civil war if Rainsy wins an election.

Hun Sen owns the military, and Sam Rainsy is poor. So when the students and monks protested about the elections at the previous election, the military gunned them down in Phnom Penh. The last civil war was only 40 years ago and people are just terrified of it happening again; that not only will it kill lots of people, it will also kill Cambodia. The main industry in Cambodia is tourism (followed by textiles and construction), after the last coup d'etat, there were no tourists in Phnom Penh for 6-12 months, so the people suffered further.

Sam Rainsy hasn't returned to Cambodia for fear of plunging the people into war with the military and depriving them of their main income, which is us. Cambodia is such a lovely country, there's so much to see: ancient temples, jungle, wildlife, culture. But most of all, despite having had such a brutal recent history with so much devastating losses, the people here are so decent and welcoming, they are genuinely pleased that you want to visit their country and so, I feel rather sad about leaving. I've got Nin's email address as I want to stay in contact.

The Cambodian / Thailand border was rather relaxed and we soon dragged our luggage across the no-man's land of the border. There wasn't a lot of signage so we went the wrong way for starters and it took another tourist to tell us to fill in an arrival card, we all looked a bit foolish as not one of us knew where we were staying, so we just put Koh Chang. There were two windows for immigration. Glyn went to the first containing a uniformed guy who asked him many questions he had no answer for. In the time it took him to get through, the rest of us went to he next window; a younger guy in football shirt and jeans, the radio pumping out pop music and lots of chatter complete with comedy noises. Imagine that at Heathrow!

We weren't sure where to go at first and a taxi driver offered to take us to Hong Kong of all places! Our Thai guide, Jeff, eventually put in an appearance, he seems a nice enough guy, but after Nin, he's got a tough act to follow!

Thailand is quite different to Cambodia, better roads (and they drive to the left as opposed to the right in Cambodia and Vietnam) and more formal. For example, when we changed our money in Phnom Penh, we were advised to go to a road-side vendor outside a gold shop for a better exchange rate. He had a little stand and showed us the exchange rate on his calculator, we nodded and money was changed. In Thailand, we were taken to a smart aircon office, with branded blue signage and staff in smart blue uniform. Glyn's passport was photocopied and we got a fully printed receipt.

Thailand visibly is so much more wealthier than Cambodia and Vietnam, you can tell just by looking out of the minibus window as we headed to the ferry port to Koh Chang. The ferry was small, the lower floor for vehicles, the upper having a small shop and coffee bar and chairs for passengers and the top floor unaccessible to the public. It was a short 45 min journey and the cherry on the cake being that the squat loo was stamped with a logo of 'American Standard', though Steve pointed out it probably has nothing to do with the USA whatsoever. I'm sure he's right, I've been to a few states in the USA and not once had to use a squat loo.

Koh Chang is a Thai island tourist trap; however, it is not destroyed by tourism. It is a bunch of mountains in the middle, with hotels and other tourist stuff only on the edges. Going across it meant low gears up and down winding roads.

Our hotel is pretty amazing. It was rather OTT when a girl half my size tried to carry my luggage for me, I couldn't have that, not someone smaller than me trying to lift that load - I am of the opinion that if a person is unable to carry their own luggage, they need to pack less. The hotel is swanky but only one level high, nestled in the trees - almost hidden when you swim out and look back to the coastline. Our rooms are separate buildings away from the main area where there is an infinity pool with swim up bar.

Guests get a free hour kayaking, Glyn and I shared a boat and after 15 minutes had had enough as we'd rather be in the sea than on it. Our arms were aching and we were sweating in the compulsory life jackets. Upon returning to the shore, the staff didn't even want me to pull our kayak onto the beach, the customer service is a bit much really, I like to do some things myself! But the staff are so nice and I guess they're trained to spoil us too much.

The sea was as warm as bath water and fairly clear so that we could see a few fish. I tried to film with my £30 Aldi underwater camera, but though it stayed waterproof, it misted up. Steve seemed to be having better luck with his far pricier but far better quality waterproof GoPro. Steve was telling me all about the Go Pro and giving me useful advice about using silica inside the casing to keep off the condensation, but little did he know I was having a wee at the time! Lol, I love being in the sea! Please note, I was still standing a fair distance away, the sea is big and already full of fish wee.

I was so busy filming Helen and Andy charging towards us in their kayak (they had far better staying power than the rest of us) that it's a good job they quickly turned at the last second, because I would now be in hospital with concussion.

After having a lovely time doing precious little but floating around looking for fish and crabs, Glyn and I got out to do a bit of photography including messing with perspective, making Glyn appear even taller. By the time we got to the swim up bar, I believe Andy was on his third beer. I have never been in an infinity pool before, let alone one where the bar stools are underwater as you sit at the bar supping beer (me) and foul coffee (Glyn). Glyn loved the fact that he could keep falling off his stool with no harm done. I asked the barman to pass over my camera from the safety of the edge of the pool so I could photograph Glyn sitting on the edge of infinity - yes, it's as cool as it sounds!

By 6pm we were shrivelled up and the only people left as the bar staff packed up. So we got ready to have something to eat. We were going to eat at the hotel, but the vegetarian section of the menu contained fish - this annoys me! Vegetarians do not eat meat and fish is meat!!!! I'll add a few more exclamation marks to get my point across: !!!!!!!! If the only meat you eat is fish, you are a pescatarian, this is not a vegetarian. That word clearly isn't used enough as my spellcheck doesn't even recognise it.

So anyway, all six of us took the five minute walk up to where all the restaurants and tourist shops are and found a nice place that again had nothing veggie on the menu, but we found an English speaking member of staff to sort me out... or sort me out a vegetable Pad Thai as suggested by Glyn. It was the best meal all holiday and possibly the cheapest, less than £2 for that dish. Why is food and drink so much cheaper in Thailand than it is in Cambodia and Vietnam which are far poorer countries? Please let me know! We all had a really good meal and all were extremely sociable, discussing various wars and conflicts from the perspective of our own countries and those we have visited.

As we walked back, I felt a little rain and thought oooh, how refreshing. Soon after, I was getting very wet and was rather less impressed. However it has stopped now and we are back in our room, an early night with a can of super cheap beer, ready for an early morning to go on a four island trip. What are these four islands? I will let you know when I find out myself.

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