A Brief But Pretty Excerpt from Angkor Wat

All right, Internet, I said I’d share Angkor Wat photos and… I can’t, because the process of getting them from my phone onto this blog is proving trickier than I’d expected. Possibly because the wifi quality is steadily decreasing, possibly because the photos are huge, possibly because my luck is shite. So – instead of the wonderfully detailed account I have drafted – here are a few photos that will work. I’ve tried to label them but I did a terrible job remembering where I was throughout the trip, so this is probably going to be pretty but not educational.

Neak Pean Temple, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
100% sure there are mermaids in there.
Preah Khan, Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Serious Narnia vibes here, and I never even finished the Narnia series.
Ta Som, Angkor Wat, Cambodia
It’s hard to know which came first.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Genuinely not sure which temple this is.
Sunset at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Sunset over… somewhere. I’M SORRY I CAN’T GOOGLE TO FIND OUT WHERE I WAS. #FirstWorldProblems

The Internet is saying no, so I will leave this here and possibly save the rest for another time. We’re in Sihanoukville now for a few days, and I will write up the Killing Fields and S 21 museum as well (not something I’m looking forward to to be honest, but I’d be a dick tourist/human not to talk about is, so).

Phnom Penh Part 1: Night Buses & Morning Walks

Good morning, or evening, or whatever it is. I don’t know what time it is here, because I haven’t been to bed since the day before yesterday. I think. We arrived in Phnom Penh about half five this morning; we caught the night bus from Siem Reap at 11:30pm last night and although I slept for about five hours, I’m not what you’d call fully functioning.

Night Bus Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A bunk with a view.

 

I’d never been on a night bus before so my only reference was Harry Potter’s experiences with the Knight Bus… we were not offered hot chocolate or a toothbrush and no one vomited, but our conductor did remind me a little of Stan Shunpike. If you’re getting a bus in Cambodia any time soon, I can recommend Giant Ibis – they have wifi, arrived on time and had an almost-completely-normal toilet on board (I nearly took a photo but I didn’t want to touch anything as there was no soap. Or sink).

Night Bus Siem Reap to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
We stopped for a bit around 1am; the light was almost nice and arty but not quite (sounds like a metaphor for this place).

We didn’t realise how early we would arrive, and had neither the details of our hostel nor any map to get there, because stupidly I hadn’t downloaded the info before the wifi drove away, so we sat on a bench on the waterfront and watched the sun come up. Well, I watched. Maxim dosed as I kept an eye out (Backpackers have belongings stolen while they nap is not a headline I want associated with my name). I did not see anyone who looked remotely like a baggage thief, but I did see three rats (or one rat three times), several bats, some finch-type birds and two gentleman urinate on a verge. The shrub in that verge was far healthier than the shrubs in neighbouring verges, so I can only assume communal weeing is part of their daily routine.

Phnom Penh Waterfront, Cambodia
I just noticed that’s wonky. In my defense, I felt a little wonky at the time.
Phnom Penh Waterfront, Cambodia
I think that might actually be *the* verge.

We got breakfast as soon as it was light and walked to our hostel by about 9am, which was interesting. Traffic here is busier than Siem Reap but with a similar relaxed attitude, and my bag was heavy. Heavier than I remembered. Too heavy for an exhausted five foot nothing who hadn’t had enough water that morning. God forbid any hostel should let you check in before 2pm, so we collapsed into a couple of chairs and haven’t really moved since. Well, that’s not true. I had a shower as soon as we had room keys, and Maxim is asleep in his bunk right now. Today has become a rest day, which I think I will make compulsory following all travel days. Or nights. There is no way I have the energy to go to the Killing Fields today, or the S-21 museum, or the regular museums… so as I have no book, my magazine disintegrated and I haven’t got any postcards to write on, I thought I’d say hello. Maybe I will meditate. I don’t want to fall asleep, because I’m just getting over my jetlag. Perhaps I will write a short story, or start a conversation with a fellow backpacker.

Who am I kidding, I’m terrified of other backpackers. They’re all so tanned.

If you guys are bored or stuck with a lot of time, what do you do?

Siem Reap: Markets & Museums

We have now been in Siem Reap four days, and we decided to stay another night and get a night bus to Phnom Penh so we could see more. We flew in from Bangkok early Thursday morning (our Thai visas required proof of onward travel, so we paid about £40 for a 45 minute flight, which had better service than some European flights I’ve been on *cough* EasyJet *cough*). I preferred Cambodia to Bangkok the moment we landed. Siem Reap airport is very new and incredibly pretty (and I am shallow) and the city in general reminds me a lot of Greece. Everything is dusty but very green, the roads are bustling but not total chaos – there are even separate lanes for tuk tuks and motorbikes – and stray dogs are three apiece (and before you make a joke that’s not funny, no I will not be adopting any).

Maxim had been sick from some dodgy seafood the night before, so once we got into town we hung out in a cafe waiting to check in to our hostel. I experienced my first – and definitely not my last – squatting toilet, tucked down a tarpaulined alley in what felt like the Cambodian equivalent of the old York Road market in Southend.

We’ve spent most of our time here exploring Angkor Wat, which will require a post by itself, and we’ve also visited Angkor Night Market, which is right next to our hostel (no live gerbils, but lots of opportunity to haggle over t-shirts) and Pub Street.

Angkor Night Market Siem Reap Cambodia
One lane of a many, many laned part of Angkor Night Market. Stalls included jewellery made from bullets, local spirits and cuddly toy elephants.

Pub St is supposed to be quite a big deal, but as far as I could tell it’s mostly made of restaurants, tourists and people begging. Over about three hours we saw two war veterans, one without legs pedaling (literally, with his hands) a cart of books, one blind and guided by a child. Then there was a guy performing circus tricks, although he wasn’t very good and nearly set himself on fire/took his eyes out/killed passersby, and then a small child who prodded me in the armpit as I walked the market, shrieked ‘CHEEP CHEEP’ at me and would have been elbowed in the face if I’d been a second slower to realise he was about eight. A few tourists gave them money, if just to get them to go away, which obviously has the opposite effect. I’m not sure what the Cambodian government does for its war vets and its homeless (presumably very little) so if anyone from government is reading, please sort your shit out. I don’t want to see children begging on my holiday any more than I want to see stray dogs, but I know which I’d rather you fixed first.

We also visited the local War Museum, and if you thought priceless antiques sitting outside at Bangkok’s National Museum was a travesty, don’t bother with Siem Reap’s War Museum. It’s filled with tanks, guns and landmines (some still in the ground) from the Cambodian civil war and genocide, and everything is sitting outside except the guns, which you can pick up.

arms-war-museum
Pick a weapon, any weapon

We’re going to the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, so I will wait until then to wax lyrical on Pol Pot and his band of merry megalomaniacs. In the mean time here is a short list of interesting facts:

  • In Cambodian culture some people collect the teeth of a cremated loved one and wear them on a string necklace to keep the loved one close and watching over them. When the string breaks, the deceased has moved on
  • During the Cambodian genocide, most of the rice grown was exported to China in exchange for arms, so locals learned to eat termites and other assorted creatures
  • There is a special type of shovel in existence that prisoners would use to dig a hole. Then their captor would kill them with the serrated edge of that very shovel, and bury them in the grave they’d just dug themselves
  • There’s a guide at the War Museum who was a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge. At various points he stepped on a landmine filled with ball-bearings, lost his sight in both eyes then had one of them restored by a UN initiative and put his story into a book.

I will leave this here because the wifi is cutting out a bit – I have a photo of a termite hill and everything. Maybe that will be one for the outtakes. Next stop is Phnom Penh and the museums, which I am told will make me depressed about the state of humanity. Good thing I had all that practise living through 2016 then, innit.

The Nervous, Jetlagged User’s Guide to Bangkok (Part 2)

By the time you read this we will have started exploring Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but I haven’t told you an almost-amusing anecdote about umbrellas, so let’s continue with Francesca’s Edited Highlights (part one is here).

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace, a complex of buildings which used to be the royal family’s permanent residence, is the one place everyone says you have to go when you’re in Bangkok, so we went one morning… so did everyone else in Bangkok. I’m travelling with Maxim who-needs-a-guide-just-take-photos Burke, and know little to nothing about Buddhism (and even less about Thai history) so dodging a million people in the rain  – and by rain I mean HUGE DOWNPOUR – to squint up at golden pagodas through soaked glasses was a bit like walking into a chocolate shop never having tasted sugar. Everything was wonderful, but I have no idea what I was looking at. I did enjoy sitting in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (which is not actually emerald) and searching for nirvana, but I think it’s going to take more than a few sessions on a meditation app for that.

We also accidentally kept the umbrellas we borrowed from staff, and I was wracked with guilt for a few days for stealing from the Thai government, so I have left mine in the hostel. I wasn’t going to smuggle contraband into Cambodia.

Wat Pho

Wat Pho, one of about four hundred wats (temples) in Bangkok is right next to the Grand Palace, and contains a couple of hundred bronze-and-gold-leaf buddhas. We paid for a tour guide this time, who told us that the Thai name for Bangkok is the longest city name in the world, and that it means ‘city of angels’. Take that, LA. We also met, amongst others, the reclining buddha…. which really reminds me of Kate Winslet in Titanic, now I think about it.

img_5575
Is ‘draw me like one of your French girls, Jack’ an appropriate caption? No? You come up with one, then, because that’s all I could think.

National Museum

The Thai equivalent of the British Museum, the National Museum doesn’t look that big from outside. Ignore this and wear your most comfortable shoes. And take snacks. There’s a sprawling gallery dedicated to Asian art, a section filled with royal objects, a separate art gallery, a building dedicated to one of Thailand’s queens…

And more umbrellas.

img_5607
We checked it’s a real umbrella with spokes (?) and everything.

 

I did not try to use that one. I must say, I was a bit worried about the number of priceless artefacts out in the open.  What if the rain got in, or a passing child vomited? Then again I once visited a museum where a local stray would follow visitors in and curl up on the antique bed, so I guess a bit of rain isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’d still be wary of puking children, though.

Khao San Road

Khao San Road is the other one place everyone says you have to go when you’re in Bangkok, and since we’ve given the ping pong shows a miss, we did. In a nutshell, it’s like Camden Lock Market but instead of punk gear and tattoo parlours, there are street vendors with scorpion kebabs and tattoo parlours. I didn’t get any good photos, so just imagine Camden Lock, replace rain with sun and add the scorpions. The tourists were identical.

The Nervous, Jetlagged User’s Guide to Bangkok (Part 1)

Greetings from the veranda outside our hostel. There is a bazaar directly to my right, which stocks live gerbils, and a coffee shop to my left, which doesn’t. So far as I know.

Thank you to everyone who saw my last post – if you’re family and you’re new here, please be aware that I swear here more than I do in front of you.

I am slowly starting to make friends with Bangkok, although I doubt we’ll ever be on as good terms as I am with, say, London. I suspect this is because even the thickest motorists in London usually observe lanes, traffic lights, zebra crossings and the difference between the road and the pavement. But we’re getting there. It’s been nearly a week since we left home, and I’ve learnt a lot since then, for example:

  • It’s possible to crack the code on your own padlock, which you accidentally reset
  • Tuk tuks are terrifying
  • I mean if one crashed and- I don’t know how they don’t – every person inside would be toast
  • McDonald’s in Asia is identical to McDonald’s everywhere, down to the smell (although the one we popped in to seemed to serve more fish)
  • It rains more in South East Asia than it does in England, which I did not think possible
  • Boat taxis are cheaper than taxi taxis
Bangkok River Taxi
I couldn’t take more than a couple of photos because that is not somewhere you want to lose your phone.

We’ve started to get our tourist heads on and been exploring too. We’ve seen a lot, so let’s call this part Francesca’s Edited Highlights (because the forty minutes we spent at the Vietnamese Embassy, or the forty minutes we spent stuck in a taxi on the way back from Chinatown does not make good reading).

Bangkok’s Malls

If you hate Westfield, do not try the Siam Centre, MBK Mall or Siam Discovery. They are air conditioned to a t, absolutely bloody enormous and include everything from contemporary art galleries to supermarkets. They remind me simultaneously of Debenhams and Are You Being Served, and feature many Starbucks.

Starbucks in Siam Discovery Centre, Bangkok
It really is the same everywhere…

Jim Thompson House

CULTURE TIME. A US soldier, Jim Thompson, was posted to Thailand during World War II, but I think the war ended by the time he got there or something – he had a lot of free time, so he explored Bangkok and fell in love with it, returning to live and transform the local silk industry (he came up with printing onto silks directly with moulds; previously patterns were woven in). He built himself a house and a reputation, went to Malaysia on a trip and went missing. Now his private art collection is on display in his house, which his family gave to Thailand. No one knows what happened to him, although one therory is that he was assassinated by the CIA (is anyone else getting serious Leonardo diCaprio blockbuster vibes?). Anyway his house had a pond and a potty shaped like a frog so I like him.

(I was not allowed to take a picture of the frog.)

I’m trying to keep these blogs short like me so I will leave this here… part two coming soon! Or when I’m next in a decent wi fi zone…

South East Asia T-Minus – Wait We Arrived Yesterday

Afternoon, Internet. Or morning, if you’re in the UK. So, we made it to Bangkok! After a 4am alarm, two long haul flights, a delay at Muscat airport which I will look upon fondly when hell freezes over and several moments where I thought ‘I am really not sure about all this.’ (More on that later.)

We arrived in Thailand at about 7:30am local time and we were more interested in sleeping for a week than exploring, but we had to wait around until about 1pm for our hostel, so we found a cafe with wifi and chilled out, aka messaged home and read a book (Maxim) or Private Eye (me). I will be honest with you, reader: I was really, really not sure about this. Somewhere amongst all the planning and and organising and job-leaving I forgot that I was leaving home for three solid months. It was only when people started saying goodbye that it sunk in that I was heading to another continent for a quarter of a year. It really sunk in somewhere around the stop off at Muscat airport and I am not too proud to say that I considered ringing my mum and asking her to pick me up. I know anyone who’s heard me moan about my jobs/life/itchy feet will find this deeply ironic; I will reflect on this as we go along… possibly appreciation for one’s bed, routine and family is one of those growing up things everyone’s said I’ll do while I’m out here.

Anyway, back to Bangkok. Here is what I’ve learnt so far:

  • Dry heat (Mediterranean) is not the same as humid heat (South East Asia)
  • Marks and Spencer is everywhere, and costs about the same here as it does at home
  • 7-Eleven has a grip on the convenience store market
  • Corn soup is tasty
  • If you’re crossing the street and a moped comes towards you, keep walking
  • Every few cars on the road (and there are a lot of roads) has a custom set of wheels or rims. Maxim is fascinated by this.

I reckon it will take a couple of days to feel human again, but in the mean time I draw great comfort from the fact 7-Eleven sells cornflakes.

Room WIth a View Silom, Bangkok, Thailand
My view from the room we had last night. Thank God for air conditioning units.

We’re going to hunt out mobile phones now, so I will leave this here. The plan is to chill out today and plan where we want to see. If anyone here’s already been to Bangkok, where would you recommend? We definitely want to see the floating market and some temples, but we’re not sure where else to go before we head to Cambodia next Saturday. Any suggestions?

South East Asia T-Minus One Day: Mild-Moderate Panic

Evening. I really shouldn’t be blogging now. I should be treble-copying flight times and working out the best t-shirts to take and deciding which pens to put in my non-existent pencil case and cursing myself for not doing any of that sooner.

I also need to get some toilet paper, in case there is no toilet paper in Bangkok. How many hairbands do I need? Are there hairbands in Bangkok? What if there are hairbands in Bangkok but none in Vientiane? How many toiletries are too many toiletries? I love toiletries. I need many toiletries but I do not currently have enough muscles to carry them all around.

I possibly have not thought all this through.

See you in Thailand. Or the airport. WHO KNOWS.

How much MCR merch is it okay to take backpacking?

Indifferent Ignorance Awards 2016

I’ve been coming up with the annual Indifferent Ignorance awards for long enough that I know to keep ’em cute and to the point. But there’s something about 2016 that’s been so thoroughly appalling that I couldn’t just list a few bits and pieces. So here is the best and absolute worst of 2016.

Book of the Year

The Raven King, because of cars and kissing, or Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, because of cars and kissing. Mostly. Just read them.

Album of the Year

Troye Sivan’s Blue Neighbourhood, or the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. Neither of them were released this year that’s further proof of 2016’s shittiness. (Actually Frank Iero’s Parachutes came out this year and it’s a gem. Whatever.)

The ‘I Can’t Believe I’m Living Through This Shit, Although it Will Probably Kill Me So At Least There’s That’ Story of the Year

A parent had To Kill a Mockingbird banned from a high school in Virginia, US, for its racist language.

Please kill me soon.

The ‘I Witnessed this Shit Live and Wish It Had Killed Me’ News Story of the Year

Tough one. Brexit? US election? The return of Poldark to our screens? Nah man. The only moment my stomach really dropped at the news this year was at maybe 6:15 on a January morning when Nick Robinson interrupted my dozing to inform me, with audible shock, that David Bowie had died. I did not think anything could shock a Today programme presenter, let alone audibly. The return of Jesus couldn’t have redeemed 2016 from that moment on.

Outstanding Achievement for Distracting Me from the Horror of the Year for Five Minutes

Or an hour, depending on the broadcast.

Nominees:

  • Ed Balls’ Gagnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing It aired the week Trump was elected. Coincidence? Or does a benevolent god exist?
  • When Newsnight listened to their critics and played God Save the Queen Stand up, please.
  • The Twitter users who liveblogged the Rio Olympics and came up with 40 different jokes about green swimming pools
  • The Rio Olympics themselves
  • Whoever started those Joe Biden memes
  • American Idiot (the song, not the people)
  • Planet Earth II

Winner: this song, which someone shared the morning Trump was elected. I really, really felt better and so will you:

Outstanding Social Media Moment

This is another new prize, and the competition was tough.

We have Gary.

(In case you were wondering, Gary came back for more.)

We have when James Blunt dropped some news.

We have Joe Biden existing on camera. (I am genuinely not sure what he did in the Obama administration. I don’t care.)

We have when Sam Smith thought he was the first gay person to win an Oscar and, um, wasn’t.

Coincidentally this is the year I learnt what ‘throwing shade’ means. Oh, I didn’t pick a winner. You guys choose (I assume I can trust you with this more than I did Brexit).

Indifferent Ignorance Homophobic Dick Award

Donald Trump’s voters. All of them.

Indifferent Ignorance Ignorant Fuck Award

Donald Trump’s voters. All of them.


I thought I’d put a line there as a metaphor. Because a line is like a wall, right… seriously though I nearly wrote an essay about how the name I gave my blog aged 14 is coincidentally a term that sums up this year’s election results, but I held off because everyone else was writing the same essay and I am so tired of being tired of all the bullshit I’ve lived through recently. I think in 2017 I might use my outraged liberal millennial viewpoint to make art instead of complaining. And by art I mean small stories and postcards about people who are full of shit.

Anyway that is me done for the year. I wish you all health and happiness in 2017, although at this point it’s probably enough that I wish you make it there. Happy new year!