Wispy Oranges

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May 25th 2015
Published: May 25th 2015
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The journey to Battambang was capital H for horrendous. Beef burger anyone?

Battambang was a chilled town. I stayed in possibly my cheapest hostel yet at the price of £1 for a bed per night. The town had utterly delectable vegetarian food. One vegetarian outlet sold a faux sweet beef soup which was so good it made me emotional.

I strolled around and explored the town, seeing sights such as a derelict train station erected during the French period and an up and coming modern-alternative arts street.

In my hostel I met these two nice German girls. I joined them for a tour of the area the following day by tuk tuk. We were taken to the bamboo train: a haphazard, rickety train track which we rode along speedily on questionable 'norries' made of bamboo. We were then taken to: a local who produces coconut rice; a fish processing site, which was admittedly rather noisome at points; the homes of a few locals who produce spring rolls, which we naturally sampled; a rat barbecue; and a cave from which a thick column of bats poured in their millions at sunset. Another lovely German girl called ella joined us for the latter two excursions in the evening.

That night we had a few drinks in the hostel rooftop bar. It was raining heavily by then. From the bar we watched the pummelling rain and the bright lightning as it cracked across the sky. We discussed topics like race and nationality and to be honest it got a bit heated. It was interesting though.

The next day I received the very sad news that Di Di, my great step grandmother, passed away. I kept it quiet that night and toasted to her.

The next day I enrolled in a Khmer cooking class. Someone else was due to turn up but they never did, so I was on my own. My teacher escorted me by motorbike to a local market which dazzled me with every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable. As we walked along he would occasionally point out different items of interest and provide information on them. Passing through the meat section of the market was typically rather less pleasant, with live chickens chained by their legs on the ground and entire severed pig heads sitting on tables with their eyes squeezed shut.

We returned to the restaurant kitchen after that and I was taught how to cook: spring rolls, veggie amok, tofu lok lak, and a banana-coconut dessert dish. Unsurprisingly I couldn't manage to eat it all, but it was pretty good if I may say so myself.

Immediately after the cooking class I travelled to siem reap. Ella was on the same bus as me. That night Ella, myself and this cool american guy I met in my hostel (Mad Monkey hostel) went out for Indian food and then we visited the famous Pub Street for drinks and debauchery xx. We spent most of the night in this alternative bar called Angkor What? Despite the borderline irresponsible drinks deals, I didn't actually get that drunk. I probably sweated out all of the toxins as I danced the night away with Ella. At one point I found myself doing the Macarena on pub street in a long line of strangers. A bit later I bumped into a guy that I had met in sihanoukville and we danced and shot whisky with a couple of his mates.

My next day in siem reap was chilled. The following day, I rented a bicycle and cycled to Angkor park. I cycled the big circuit, and must have pedalled between 35-40km that day. I saw numerous temples including Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm (where Tomb Raider was filmed and the Banyan trees strangle the rocks), Preah Khan and Preah Neak Poan. All were very impressive. However, the temperature in siem reap becomes blisteringly hot - so hot that it is unpleasant and almost intolerable - as morning gives way to afternoon. Cycling to the park in the morning was one thing; cycling back was quite another. I felt dehydrated and, frankly, ill. But I made it back alive and flopped on my bed.

I decided to hire a tuk tuk to the park the next day to recover. I visited the legendary Angkor wat, which was nothing short of awe-inspiring, and the Angkor thom complex. That night I had dinner on pub street with a fantastic group (all of whom were american except for one Spanish person) I met in my dorm. They are all studying in Bangkok and were visiting siem reap in their free time.

The day after was chilled. In the evening I played beer pong with the Bangkok group and had a few drinks.

Having hired a bicycle, I woke up at 4.30am the following morning and cycled again to Angkor park in pitch dark in time for sunrise at Angkor wat. I managed to arrive in time to see colour bleed into the night sky opposite the moon, and wispy oranges and pinks form an ethereal backdrop to the iconic Angkor wat silhouette. I had breakfast at the temple then explored it some more, before getting back on my bike and pedalling to a few more temples, revisiting the Angkor thom complex. This time, I biked back to my hostel before the oppressive midday sun struck.

That night I had a few beers with some other guys I met in my dorm.

The next day was Tyler's birthday; Tyler was one of the guys in the Bangkok group. They had already returned to Bangkok. I travelled to Bangkok that day upon the expiry of my Cambodian visa and then I met up with the Bangkok group at their accommodation after messaging them on facebook. I had a few drinks with them and their friends on the rooftop and then we went to a classy sky bar which afforded truly staggering bird's eye views of nighttime Bangkok. My eyes always wandered to the endless blanket of city lights beyond the windows, even when I was grinding with strangers.

I travelled by bus to Pak Chong the following day. I booked a tour to the nearby Khao yai national park, which commenced the next day. On the tour I met this fun-loving French trio who were touchingly eager to communicate with me even though their English was limited, and a nice Dutch couple. The khao yai tour was pretty wild, we observed all kinds of wildlife and nature - including a white handed gibbon (!!), great hornbills, massive black squirrels with 1 metre long tails, monkeys, deer, a massive Banyan tree, and a tree whose surface resembles crocodile bumps (apparently these bumps can be used to ameliorate stomach problems) - and impressive waterfalls.

That night the French trio, through sheer determination and patience, managed to explain an incredibly complex card game to me, which we played until tiredness took over.

I embarked on another tour the next day. I was joined by the Dutch couple. On this tour I was presented with a long, thick millipede which had been collected from the jungle floor. I cringed at the sight of it and had to force myself to hold it (my travel litmus test compelled me to do so). Quite without warning, the guide then plucked the millipede from my hand and placed it on my shoulder. The millipede crawled up and around my neck and I felt its surprisingly pointed legs sink into my skin. After removing the millipede the guide mentioned nonchalantly, 'It's poisonous, of course,' and then directed our attention to the holes lining its sides which apparently secrete a burning substance when the creature feels scared. Oh brilliant.

After that I took a swim in a natural spring which was, pardon the pun, swimming with locals. We then visited a cave that houses thousands and thousands of bats and tarantulas too, which the guide enthusiastically pointed out to us. The guide said that pythons also hang out in the cave but we didn't see any of those. Walking under the bats as they hung and fluttered on the ceiling, and through flying bugs which flew onto our clothes in the torchlight, was a relatively surreal experience.

Next we visited a different cave to watch the bats vacate it at sunset. The guide put a popping pod in my mouth and I cried in surprise as it burst in reaction to my saliva, much to everyone else's amusement. Whilst the cave in Battambang was more impressive for the flying bats, the guide took us to a section in the field over which bats fly low as evening progresses. It was quite amazing to watch dashing bat-shapes pass us at lightning speed, inches away from our faces.

The following day I returned to Bangkok. I explored Khao San road in the daytime and then met my cousin Lizzy in the evening, who came out to join me for the next leg of the trip. Lizzy arrived a little exasperated because she had trouble finding the guesthouse, but once she arrived and put her bags down all was fine. We explored khao San road together in the evening and I introduced Liz to the wonders of 7 Eleven.

We visited the Grand Palace the day after. On the way to the Grand palace we met this lovely american girl called Megha, and she travelled around Bangkok with us for the day. The Grand Palace was as majestic and imposing as it was beautiful. We saw the revered Emerald Buddha in the ordination hall. We then visited wat pho and saw the massive Reclining Buddha, before travelling by boat to Wat Arun which was less impressive and half-closed. That night Megha and I had a pretty profound conversation on topics ranging from mental illness to the meaning of life, and then Megha, liz and I had dinner together. Liz enjoyed freezing spring rolls. We all had a few drinks on khao San road, then turned in for the night.

The next day after a relatively gruelling and extended train journey liz and I arrived in chumphon in the south. The following day we booked the midnight boat to koh Tao. I can only describe this boat journey as dodgy, from start to finish. The boat was a cargo boat, better designed for carrying cargo than people. There were about 20 mats on the floor upstairs and liz and I, along with a crew member, were the only ones occupying them. The sea was pretty choppy overnight. I got a couple of hours' sleep. Liz threw up.

Upon arrival in koh Tao, liz and I tried to find the hostel that I had booked but it transpired that it was up a steep hill which can only be compared to Everest and a thousand miles away. We ditched our booking and found somewhere else. After a nap we lazed on sairee beach for a while and I booked to do a diving course. Unfortunately Liz was unable to join me diving.

I embarked on the diving course the next day. We had to watch these safety/risk assessment diving videos and I was given a textbook and assigned homework (!). The following day we learnt how to set up our diving equipment and we were taught diving skills in the swimming pool such as breathing underwater, taking off your diving equipment and putting it back on again in the water, and what to do if you run out of air and are about to die. Later we did more academics.

We had to do a written test the day after and I passed with 49/50 don't you know. Then we did two dives in the afternoon. Our whole group fared well underwater and we reached 12m depth on our first day.

The next day we did two more dives. For fish and coral these were truly fantastic. We observed fish of every proportion, size and colour - including needlefish, a stingray, golden trevally and parrotfish - and all kinds of coral. At one point we were swimming weightlessly through a massive revolving tunnel of fish directly next to the multicoloured coral, and this was not only a highlight of my trip but of my life.

I qualified as an open water diver that day. Most of our group was hooked on diving at this point. I certainly was. We decided we would do the advanced course too.

We celebrated our qualification that night. I got incredibly drunk with my diving buddies and a girl called Alice who I had met in our dorm. I ended up falling on my arse trying to do fire limbo but I successfully managed to jump a skipping rope of fire. Completely safe of course. The drunker the better. I think we watched a ladyboy show at some point as well. I don't remember.

Liz and Alice took care of me. For that I thank them deeply.

I lost a lot of stuff that night (nothing too serious thankfully), including my fake converses, which was pretty ratchet I thought. Ultimately I would prove to be glad I lost my converses.

Our dive groups got together the following morning and we all ventured by taxi boat to shark bay. The taxi boat stopped at a couple of points to allow us to snorkel, which was excellent. Shark bay was pristine; much more beautiful than sairee beach. We all had (a pricey) dinner together that evening, which was lovely.

I embarked on the advanced diving course with the others the next day. The course spanned two days and we completed the following dives/skills: perfect buoyancy (buoyancy techniques); navigation diving; deep diving; computer diving; and wreck diving. We dived to 30 metres, managed to navigate independently underwater and explored a (deliberately-sunk) shipwreck. It was all utterly brilliant. I am now qualified as an 'advanced adventurer' to undertake those types of dives in future.

One dive site - Sail Rock - was particularly memorable. It is regarded as the best dive site in the south of Thailand. There we saw the full gamut of fish including all kinds of barracuda, cowfish, triggerfish, a massive green moray eel, and a very large crocodile needlefish swimming just below the surface of the water; we also swam in and out of a chimney-like cave-coral formation.

After all of the diving I suffered ear troubles and sadly couldn't celebrate my advanced qualification. Thankfully my ear cleared up by the following morning and liz and I made our way to koh samui. The transfer was surprisingly painless (boat and sorngtaaou) and we arrived at the hotel in good spirits. Through a happy combination of circumstances, our hotel was gratefully of excellent quality and clean, breakfast was included and it was situated on the most attractive beach on the island (Chaweng beach). Liz and I beach-bummed and on our last full day on the island at Liz's suggestion we went on a tour which took us to a range of places including: temples, a big Buddha image, a stunning viewpoint of Chaweng beach, a waterfall, a mummified monk, and amusing natural rock formations that resembled human genitalia.

From koh samui we took a bus-boat combination to koh phi phi (the second boat was not a treat for the senses), where we have just arrived.


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