Friday, 28 February 2014

Overland from Cambodia to Laos, via Thailand

36 hours overland travel from Cambodia to Laos, transiting in Bangkok, Thailand. (Because Thailand is not in our itinerary) 

Read numerous blogs and guides on the friendship bridge between Nong Khai, Thailand and Vientiane, Laos, ever since I bought the one way air ticket in September. Till then, still unsure of what to expect, we let nature take its own course. 

Took the cheapest (as usual) midnight bus from our hostel in Siem Reap, Tom and Jerry Guesthouse, to Bangkok. Nope, nothing taught in school could be applied (yet) but dished out my non-existent social skills and EQ and made friend with a solo Russian traveller. Equally lost and confused at border crossing and sought refuge in each other. 

Cambodia-Thailand border crossing was the most confusing one I experienced throughout the trip. Probably because we reached before the nation anthem and stood there with our broken spines from the gravitational forces and weight of our backpacks. No, I wasn't trying to be an OCD clean freak but poultry were with us at the border crossing. (Tip: just get your passport chopped and walk all the way straight to scan your baggage. Tip 2: don't stare at the immigration officers. Tip 3: just do whatever the other tourists are doing.) 

Fast forward, we made it Hualampong Train Station in Bangkok after changing from buses to mini vans to SongTheow (bigger Tuktuks). Since SGD is obviously not as strong as Euros or Pounds, the difference between  2nd class sleeper and 3rd class would cost us 3 full meals. (15-20sgd) Don't have to guess which we went for. And I don't even know why we were fretting about not getting tickets when we will be the only foreigners on the 3rd class train, we got to the train station 5 hours before departure, just to tick "sleeping on train station's floor" off our bucket list. 

830pm. Boarded the train because departure is in 15mins, only to receive overly concerned locals -- chasing us off the trains. They strongly believe we got cheated by the counter or got on the wrong train because no foreigners ever taken the 3rd class. So not wanting to piss them off or not heed their kind advice, we found ourselves running helter-skelter and back to our original seats on the same train. 

1015pm. This locomotive decided to get a life. (This is why you need to +/- 5hours for travelling time). First, we had two monks giving us two amulets because they were worried about our safety but since we were girls, the conversation only got as far to showing us the tattoos on his arm. Beside me was this middle aged man who kindly donated us his guazi nuts (the last I checked, I haven't lost too much weight then) and held a 3 hour long conversation with me, both speaking different languages. My personal favourite encounter on this train was the ladyboy who was secretly strong but coy. The biggest takeaway was the friendship fostered. Physical flexibility and patience came close behind. 

(Not really an) Ordeal of the friendship bridge. 
1) get off the train and you'll have herds of tukkies ready to rip you off. But you'll take any, anyway since that's the only way to get to Laos border. 
2) the tuktuk will drop you at the Laos border. Get your passport stamped. 
3) Laotian tukkies will be here to haunt. So we wanted to go to Vientiane City (old market). Market price for a tuktuk ride for 2 would be 4USD, at most. (Tip: do change more local currency at Vientiane. Serves the best rates and probably the only place with money changer around. Unlike Cambodia, Laos do not really work around USD.) 

And in Vientiane, Laos, we got abandoned by our couch host... 

PS sorry for bad pictures' quality. Posting via mobile 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Angkor Complex, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Stuff-packed our bags with much difficulty since we were still in summer clothes and headed to the market at the bus station before we plopped ourselves on the bus to Siem Reap. Ditched the idea of tourist sleeper bus but our "lousier" local bus was satisfactory enough -- all I needed was a toilet even if it means having to pee in a pail while the bus manoeuvre on the uneven groundings. Speaking from hindsight, we were acting like total pampered kids, complaining about the supposedly 6hours bus ride that prolonged to 8hours. We had zero clue of what laid ahead of us. (Spoiler: 36 hours third class overland) And after what seemed like 8 eternities and countless unlocking of my phone to check google maps, we have arrived. Gathered our non-existent swag when alighting because there was this Singaporean couple who probably majored in staring in university, we did not want to lose out in our self indulged backpacker race of getting to our hostels first, by the cheapest means of course. 

Window view 

Bent on saving 1usd on transport since according to our (backstabbing) best friend, Agoda, our hostel is in the heart of the hustling and bustling city centre. Let's not be petty about how we walked for 2 hours and wifi-available room was wifi-less and had to pray to all Gods because blackout hit and we had to pack to catch the bus to next city. The rest of the night was spent familiarising ourselves with the city centre and route back to our hostel (running half the time since our bodies haven't gotten used to the sanitation level and wouldn't like it if we soil our pants) and looking for legitimate bicycles to ride to Angkor Wat, the next day.

 Legendary USD1 fried noodles 

With our 1usd-rented bicycles, gritted our teeth through the unearthly 4am morning breeze -- and simultaneously, battling with diarrhea, fever, runny noses and complete darkness just for "sunrise at Angkor Wat". (Tip: don't take the wrong route, take the route that brings you to ticketing counter before the entrance. You'll need a pass to enter the complex) We made it, anyway. Not even trying to overrate the beauty of this place when I say tears welled up in my eyes because it was too much for me to handle. 

Sunrise at Angkor Wat. (Head there early to get a good spot) 

Bayon temple -- my personal favourite 

Nature takes over 

Finished our version of temple run, successfully, and we're too sick of the flooding pseudo cultured tourists around (I'm not trying to hint that I am 100% cultured but at least I don't have my boobs and ass cheeks leaking out at the temples).

It's time to move on. 


I see no point in hating on your surroundings. You're merely plunging yourself into a bottomless pit of self-hatred and societal-blaming but nothing is going to take off from there. 

1) either you pack and leave 
2) change the way you do things. 

I'm learning to master whatever I preached. 

Reading notes by the poolside because locking myself in the room hasn't been effective since, since. And guess who's golden brown now? 

Indulge in a self-made hearty meal at work. Nothing beats DIY meal. 

Left my endless to-do-list and hanged out with my favourite elderlies for the weekend. 

Till then, earthlings. 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Fortnight breather

The journey of life is very much a symmetrical graph. Things you learned at the beginning, are the things you try to accomplish at the end.

I wouldn't want to think of how I'll age because the thought of it creeps me out. It scares me not knowing if I'm living my life to the fullest. But I guess I'm trying and learning how to. 

From now on, I'm going to chase my most passionate obsessions mercilessly, whatever the consequences. 

Cheers to fortnight food coma selfies with the grams.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Learning the ropes of backpacking in Phnom Penh.

Tried to catch as many winks as we could on the flight from Singapore to Phnom Penh. I've always anticipated the window seat for the cloud formations never fail to surprise, as if trying to convey a different message each time. But the novelty of snapping take off shots with the plane wings unfortunately died off last summer. It sapped me a little to realise how I don't feel all excited to belt my life to the Captain taking me 32423852 ft above ground. Instead, you see me morphing into a wifi-leech when I do cheap travels because I swell in happiness and excitement as my phone, with overwhelming social media notifications whenever I am in a wifi zone.

This was it. Here we are. Our first mission was to find a Tuktuk to our couch host's place without getting ripped off (Tip: always know the market rate before getting on and if possible, load google maps to your destination and continue using the offline map) with your lost-in-transition fresh faces. Everything was amazing - the gravelled streets, unhygienic street stalls, water puddles outside the shophouses that probably breed dengue if not malaria, and motorcyclists who were ogling at us so blatantly.

I have bad omens with small lanes. It kills me slowly whenever the Tuktuk driver goes into the back alleys, just to turn around and give me the face of either legit or pseudo confusion, I am always so prepared to grab my 12 kg backpack and do a 100 m Olympic sprint. But this time, we were lucky, call it beginners' luck. While I stuck my head out of the Tuktuk's shelter to spot my host's apartment, he spotted us - as if spotting a sore eye in the 'spot the difference' game. 

Dropped our backpacks and half-giggled, half-shat in our pants when we realised there was only one king sized bed. Dug within ourselves to find the purpose of our trip: see things, learn, meet new people. Reckoned worrying about sleeping space wasn't on our to-do-list, cast aside our worries for the night, for that night. Took our travel guides that Ping meticulously picked from the library and flipped through it more diligently than when we were preparing for our finals. And so, this marked the start of walking into the wrong lanes, aimless walking, throwing tantrums and loud grunting that we didn't even bother to hide.

Royal Palace


As if getting lost with an obnoxiously big map marks the start of the trip, when we got to the Royal Palace, it was closed for the day. But we did witness how the vertical rays of the evening Sun beats down on the gold pleated Royal Palace till it meets us horizontally. 

Local communal style dining

We met our host for dinner and he brought us to a really local place for local delights. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the communal style; how I could cross my legs with my stinky socks just hanging above my bowl of noodles. Yums. 

Day 2 

Beginners' luck didn't run out, the host's place was just a few lanes away from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. And yes, by feet, we got there. Well the thing about traveling in this region is that you need to be ultimate zen mode to not rip off the hair of the constant annoying Tuktuk drivers and their "Tuk Tuk. Cheap price. Where you go? It's very far!". Even after I pulled my trademark annoyed thick eyeliner face and voice of three octaves higher "no thank you. I say no!" (Tip: don't bother paying USD6 for the guide because they were merely reading off the boards but I do feel bad saying this because I mean, everyone is just trying to earn a living. BUT IF you are really doing cheap travels, these are the nitty grits that you should save on.) Seeing how positively hearty everyone in town was, it's hard to believe that behind those barbed wires laid a generation of misfortune and turmoil. 

Left the place with a heavy heart and headed to Russian Market to meet my sister's ex boyfriend before making our way to Choeung Ek killing fields. Grabbed the elephant pants not because we wanted to jump on the bandwagon of being typical southeast tourists, but we needed longs to cover our sinful knees before we headed to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat the next day. 

My apologies for not being able to fully express myself in words for the whole genocide museum and killing fields experience. But I think the pictures will suffice. They get to me, every single time. 

Probably due to the post-examinations stress and mutated prions, I was down with sore throat and high fever even before I boarded the flight. But when panadols fail, bring out those beers. But try not to scare your host in the middle of the night; sitting upright with a pale face.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

And so, it began. (before it officially started)

However many traumas and aches i am bound to suffer, it had to be much more interesting and meaningful to be on a tight budget, major language barrier and constant curled up position on overland travels than to be lying rigid under the comfort of my blanket for winter break 2013. I embarked on my first ever badly planned backpacking journey. 

With the measly numbers in my bank account staring back at me, i knew i wasn't going anywhere near flashpacking. It was no picnic. It was going to be frugal living...

As much as i would love to experience traveling alone, the thought only brought about active bowel system, threatening to soil my pants. I decided to recruit a travel buddy. I did not want to do third world countries alone, i was genuinely scared. Finding someone compatible to get down dirty and cheap together is probably the most challenging part of the journey. Everyone has their own schedules to take care of and i know Tiger Airline's cheap flights sale and i were not going to wait for them to put us into their consideration. The inner calling (inelegant word to use) to visit all the places in Indochina i studied throughout the semester engulfed any form of disagreement or non-support from peers. And again, why should you be living up to the expectations and checklist of others? 

If you were with me during Year 2 Semester 1, you would have heard my constant complaints about all the rejections i faced in school, which inevitably built up to a slight mental breakdown. I needed time for myself, time to settle the brain issues. With spontaneous Xinping, unexpectedly and fortunately, our one-way adventure began when we clicked into Tiger Airlines for the cheapest ticket to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia, to depart one day after her final paper. 

Insufficient time to pack our backpacks, lack of essentials, poverty-like budget and unconfirmed overland routes, we found ourselves at Changi Airport Terminal 2 in the morning on 7th December, not in the best conditions to fly. I was down with a major sore throat and throbbing headache, and Ping, her usual trance mode. Bade my emotional mother and rest farewell, entered the departure gates without looking back. All i wanted was some painkillers and maybe endorphins. Instead, we went for local Laksa before boarding our budget plane, bad choice. 


I took a relatively long break from writing on social media because I found myself losing the ability to express myself in words. 

But i guess i should just continue penning down. And so, here we go!