Since leaving Koh Tao at the end of February, it’s been a whirlwind of new adventures, new friends, and beautiful views. When I left the islands of Thailand, I didn’t think the country could be more beautiful, oh boy was I wrong.
Before I get into my adventures in Northern Thailand, I had one night in Bangkok and a couple days in Cambodia. Even though I told myself I would never go back to Bangkok, I ended up on Khao San Road for 24 hours before my flight took off to Cambodia. After walking around the gigantic indoor malls (to avoid the smelly streets) I met up with an old high school friend of mine who was teaching English in Bangkok for the past 4 months. Never in a million years would we think we would be meeting up in a Mexican Restaurant in Bangkok 6 years after graduating. It was wonderful to hear her stories about her experience in Bangkok and the other cities and countries she has visited. Her roommate, Alexandra also came to join us and we had a fantastic semi-authentic Mexican dinner!
The next morning was an absolute mess with many challenges that came my way. Waking up at 4:30 am to catch a 7:30 am flight, I thought I had all the time in the world, well thanks to my taxi who brought me to the wrong airport, I was running around like a chicken without a head. When I asked the taxi to drop me off at DMK airport, he must have interpreted something differently and dropped me off at BKK airport which was 45 minutes away from the correct airport I needed to get to. Frantically with an hour and a half to catch my flight to Cambodia, I found a different taxi to take me from BKK to DMK…the only thing was that I didn’t have any more Bahts (Thailand’s currency) on me to pay him. So when he arrived at the airport I quickly handed him $15 in US currency and tried my best to translate that I did not have any more money on me and that he can convert this and receive more money than he asked me for. Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about and with only 30 minutes to spare, I jumped out of the taxi and ran as fast as I could through security and the check in desk and made my flight with 10 minutes to spare to grab a chocolate croissant from Starbucks! As if that wasn’t enough of a story for the morning, when we arrived in Phnom Phen, Cambodia we realized that we chose the wrong airport to fly into and had to take a bus 8 hours to Siem Reap. During that entire journey of wrong turns and frantic problem solving, I realized that everything happens for a reason and to just go for the ride because it’s part of this grand experience. I believe the most eye-opening experience of that day was our 8-hour drive through Cambodia.
Observations of Cambodia:
- Their “VIP” mini vans are not meant to accommodate people taller than 4’5, as soon as Sarah and I sat down in the back row my legs were absolutely crushed by the seat in front of me
- Bus drivers get paid by restaurants along the way to stop so tourists can spend money and eat there. I wasn’t expecting mush from these restaurants but as soon as I saw people eating tarantulas, larva, crickets and cockroaches I quickly lost my appetite
- While gazing out of the window, I noticed most houses were made of sticks, mud and grass. Most families were outside playing with their kids or selling their home goods along the streets. Most kids were not wearing any clothes at all and the males were wearing a sheet to cover their lower bodies. The roads (if you can call them that) that we traveled on were either dirt roads or gravel roads with no lines or signs.
- We passed many dirt houses that had cows tied up to a pole outside of their house, I am assuming these used these cows for their milk but am not quite sure
- Night buses here are called “rolling coffins” because there are no lights that line the street at night so they are very dangerous to take.
- What I couldn’t get over was that Cambodia uses our currency. When getting money out of the ATM or paying at food stands/restaurants/night markets everyone asks for US Dollars. The one question that lingered in my mind was, does the American government know that one of the poorest countries on this earth is using our currency? Are they allowed to use our currency?
Once we arrived in Siem Reap (after spending the entire day in taxis, planes, and buses) we decided to lay low for the night so we could get up early to see the sunrise above the pristine Angkor Wat temple. We started our journey at 6 am in order to see the sunrise at 6:32 am but unfortunately we missed the sunrise over the Angkor Wat temple because no one mentioned anything to us the night before that in order to purchase tickets, we had to bike 5 km’s the opposite way of the temples and then bike back to show the guards our one-day ticket, how stupid. Personally, you would think you could buy tickets where the guards are checking them but nope, we are in Cambodia and I should have remembered the nothing makes sense here. Finally, after at least an hour of riding to the temples with our $20 ticket that will allow us access to all the temples on the ground, we arrived at Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was unlike any temple I have ever seen, it was huge with so much history and elegance. Even though we missed the sunrise above it, it still provided a picturesque view from every angle. While we explored all of the corridors to this temples, we sat down with a monk where he blessed us with his holy water and a bright yellow/orange bracelet. Below you will find some fun facts about Angkor Wat and how much Cambodia relies on these ancient temples and ruins to support their country:
- Angkor Wat is featured on the Cambodian flag and their currency (Riels)
- Angkor Wat was built facing West, that direction symbolized death, so it is believed to first exist as a tomb
- Angkor Wat was first a Hindu Temple and shifted to a Buddhist temple. As we walked around the grounds, we saw many art carvings that resembled the Hindu gods
- Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. Built in the 12th Century (almost 1,000 years ago) the temple and ruins have experienced a lot of damage and theft. In order to try to prevent further damage, UNESCO is trying to preserve and protect Angkor Wat
- This one temple (there are many on the ground, probably around 30 or 40), was built by hand with 300,000 laborers, 6,000 elephants, 5 million tons of sandstone and took 37 years – talk about hard work and dedication!
The grounds of Angkor Wat and the temples and ruins we saw were all unique and different than the one before. Luckily we were able to cruise around on our Trek bikes and were able to cover 50% of the grounds before sunset. One rule that was posted on the grounds mentioned to not give money to the kids who were trying to sell you things. As soon as we got to the temple, the kids flocked to us with sad eyes and asked us to buy postcards from them and little trinkets for a couple dollars. When we asked why they weren’t in school that day they said they had school at 1 pm, coincidentally when the kids approached us again in the afternoon they had flipped their story and told us they had school at 10 am. It is sad to see how brainwashed these kids are by their parents just to make a couple of dollars a day. It was also sad to see them missing out on an education because they had to work all day and night to tend to the tourists. Unfortunately, we didn’t give into the sad faces and gorgeous postcards but we did tell each of the kids that they need to go to school to learn and educate themselves so they can make more money and one-day travel the world like us! This was a special day, as well as an exhausting day, that will be treasured.
The next day we relaxed by the pool, walked around the town, ate lots of food including way too much ice cream and planned our journey to Vietnam. Unfortunately, we found out that due to the Chinese New Year, all visa offices were closed until February 2nd so we were unable to get our visa approval letters in time for our flight to Vietnam…another mistake on our part. I realized I didn’t want to spend another day in Siem Reap so I decided to book the 6 am a 24-hour bus to Chiang Mai for the following day. I prepared myself for this bus ride by downloaded a couple of Netflix episodes (thanks for the help Ryan!), 4 new books on my kindle and a couple of Advil PM’s in arms reach. Of course, nothing can ever go as smoothly as you think it will. After a 6-hour bus ride to the border of Cambodia and Thailand, our bus driver who spoke very little English told us that he will meet us on the other side (in Thailand) next to Starbucks. With that little information, our group made our way to the border to get our passports checked and stamped. After an hour and a half of waiting at border control, we got up to the immigration agent who told us that we had to “check out” of Cambodia before we were able to cross the border into Thailand. We had to leave our bags at the counter, run back into Cambodia, find the Cambodian immigration office, get our fingerprints were taken and passport stamped and then run back into Thailand and wait in line to talk to another immigration agent who finally allowed us to cross. All I can say is, what an experience….and an additional 3 hours added to my 24-hour trip. Like I mentioned in my other blog posts, you can never be on a timeline while traveling through Southeast Asia because you never know what random restaurants you will stop at, how long the lines will be at border control or when your driver will forget to gas up his bus. Finally, after clearing another bump in the road and laughing it off, we were back on the way to Bangkok. After arriving in Bangkok I had 2 hours to grab dinner and stretch my legs before heading onto my night bus that would take me to Chiang Mai. The night bus was interesting and very cold which I wasn’t prepared for. I was seated next to this older gentleman and took 3 Advil PM’s to pass out. Once we got to Chiang Mai 12 hours later at 5 am, the bus just dropped us off at the city center and we had to find our way from there. Luckily I popped my head into the closest Starbucks and was able to relax there for a little to find directions to my hostel. Finally, I arrived in Northern Thailand and was beyond excited to explore the mountains and play with elephants!