Visa Run: Cambodia Day 3

09:15

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Early start today, sort of. We’ve just jumped in the tuk tuk and we’re on our way to Angkor Wat. Excited!

10:25

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This place is incredible! Having visited so many temples in Bangkok and Ayutthaya over this trip I thought perhaps this would be a bit samey but it’s totally different, mainly because the temple was originally Hindu so the imagery is completely different and depicts scenes from Hindu teachings. It’s absolutely beautiful and crazy when you think that all of the images that cover every surface are hand carved.

10:45

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My new friend! There are monkeys everywhere here, they’re really peaceful and happy among the tourists. It was just a shame to see people getting too close to them and trying to feed and stroke them. Some of them have babies too so it’s not a good shout to approach them because they can be more aggressive. This guy seemed happy enough chomping on his corn though.

15:45

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We’re getting towards the end of the route now and its been amazing. Some people head to Angkor Wat early to see the sun rise and then head home, if you do decide to go early I would say definitely try to push through the tiredness and go around to Angkor Thom as well. I personally preferred it to Angkor Wat and even though some of it was still very busy, there are noticeably fewer tourists which gives you the chance to explore some of the alcoves and walk ways in a more peaceful setting.

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Being the technological genius that I am, I couldn’t work out how to flip this picture but it shows the different routes you can take around the park. We did the “short” circuit and it’s kept us busy till now with still more to see.

16:00

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Jesus?

16:35

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Made it back to the centre and just about escaped the rain. Today was really good but it is very temply towards the end. Even so, we made sure to push through and go to the top of every temple to make the most of the day. Also if you see this man driving a tuk tuk, make sure you hop in! There are endless stories online of terrible tuk tuk drivers and all sorts of scams but he was lovely! He drove is round for the whole day and only charged us $15 although we tipped him $5 because he was so good. He let us take as much time as we needed and gave us the map that we used all day. Really cool guy 🙂

21:00

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Khmer food and a couple of beverages to celebrate our last night in Siem Reap. We’re at a little restaurant called The Venue which is just left at the top of Pub Street near to the book shop. For what you pay ($6.50 for a 3 course set menu and 50 cent beer) its good. The staff are nice as well but its a new restaurant so is pretty quiet at the moment. The plan for the evening is to finish up here and then see what’s going on on Pub Street.

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Visa Run: Cambodia Day 2

09:00

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Sleep was goooood 🙂 We’re just at breakfast and planning what to do today. We decided to saved the temples for tomorrow so we can get up early and have a whole day there. Marco, our Italian friend who we met on the bus yesterday is going to join us and we’ll most likely go to look around the markets and see what else is around. There’s also a yoga class later at a hostel in town so hopefully we can check that out too.

11:20

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Bikes! $2 for all day hire, not bad. This place was right next to our hotel so really convenient.

11:50

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Despite being given a map and making a rough plan of a route, because I lead the way we ended up somewhere completely different hence I was demoted to the back. We came across a local Wat which was also a school for novice monks so went in and had a look around. It was lovely because there were no other tourists there and they let us freely wander around the different buildings.

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Definitely one of the best things I’ve seen so far was in an area around the back of the Wat where the monks were hand carving Buddhist statues.

13:15

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It began raining just as we were leaving the Wat so we ran across into a local restaurant. We’ve just ordered a round of Cambodia’s and I’ve bagged the hammock. Not impressed with the roosters roaming around though and its not easy to escape from up here!

15:30

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As we were leaving the restaurant we noticed this music school. Its a social enterprise that runs on donations and the work of a few staff who run it. We went in and they showed us around, played some songs and let us write in their visitors book. If we were in Cambodia for longer I’d like to go back and take a ukulele lesson. We left a donation and might go to a bar tonight where some of the staff from the school are playing.

16:00

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The yoga class that I want to take starts at six o’clock tonight so we have some time to kill. We’ve stopped off at the Old Market to have a look around. The prices they’ve quoted us for bracelets and souvenirs is significantly less than the stalls near to Pub Street so hopefully we’ll be able to pick up some bits and pieces.

20:00

I’ve just got back from yoga and it was awesome! I didn’t take a photo inside because it was a small class so I felt a bit awkward whipping out the tablet. The class was held at The Siem Reap Hostel on the second floor. I’d seen online that the price would be $8 for non-hostel guests but they only charged the guest price of $5. The instructor was a lovely guy called Thomas, he was really helpful and talked us through the positions and philosophy of yoga. It was an Ashtanga style class which is a more athletic style of yoga but as it was a beginners class it was easy enough to follow. One of the main benefits was that everyone was made to feel very comfortable in the class and you could participate without already being a yoga pro, I would definitely recommend.

11:30

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We’ve just got back home from town. Marco was feeling sick so we decided to call it a night so we’d be fresh for templing tomorrow. We started off at X Bar and then continued to one or two other places on Pub Street.  X bar was really quiet but an OK bar. There was free pool which is always a benefit and I won my first game in I don’t know how long, after many losses obviously but still.

Visa Run: Cambodia Day 1

05:22

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Good morning Bangkok! I’ve just arrived at Bangkok Hua Lampong train station for the first leg of the journey to Cambodia for my visa run. My day started at 03:30 this morning to allow time to get ready and beat the traffic from Nontaburi to Bangkok. I live about 11km from the station but when the traffic hits in the city, you can be sat stationary for two hours, even in the morning and with only one or two trains per day heading to Aranyaprathet I didn’t want to take any chances.

I’m going to be travelling with my friend Paulina, another ESL teacher who I met when I first arrived in Thailand. Today we’re going to be travelling to Aranyaprathet which is about a five hour train ride away from here. From there we’ll take a tuk tuk to the border, cross over, and continue on to Siem Reap. I’m going to keep a daily blog of the trip (WiFi permitting) and keep you updated with how the journey goes.

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I’ve just had time to grab some breakfast courtesy of 7/11 and Paulina’s just arrived so its time to head to the train. Cambodia here we come!

10:39

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We’ve been on the train for nearly five hours now. Had a sleep facing the open window which has resulted in that classic, itchy eyes, greasy face, wild hair look. Its not too far to the boarder from here. The journeys been good. The train is basic but clean and functional. The ticket all the way to Aranyaprathet is 48 baht so you can’t really complain. As well as that people join the train at every stop and jump on to sell food and drinks, I got a can of super sweet coffee, classic Thailand.

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Outside of the train, everything’s become completely rural. There have been rice fields pretty much the whole way and the occasional farm. It’s been a good journey made better by Kendrick keeping me company on my iPod, that said, the battery’s just died and my right ass cheek has fallen asleep so getting off at some point soon wouldn’t hurt.

13:30

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On the bus now. Since my last check-in, its been a bit of an ordeal. Just after the previous section was posted somebody tried to steal from me. The lady sat next to me must have thought I was asleep and tried to get into the pocket of my shorts. I’d like to think that I’m wrong but as soon as I looked she snatched her hand away and moved. What do you do in that situation, should I be annoyed, scared, happy to realise? To be honest I’m still not sure but one thing is, it made me think about travelling in South East Asia. Comparatively, Nontaburi where I’m based is a richer area and so its easy to forget that some people here are extremely poor. To see a group of tourists, dripping in iPods and tablets, its easy to understand why someone might try their luck. Does that make it right? No of course not and maybe I’ve made too much of a narrative about this woman, she could just be a thief, but personally I’m not going to think of it like that.

After the train the plan was to head to the boarder but first was the small issue of getting a photo for my visa. This is where preparation or local knowledge would help because we ended up paying 100 baht to be taken round the corner to the photo shop and then to the boarder. It should usually be around 80 baht so either way, I didn’t feel too short changed.

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After being taken to a fake boarder point, complete with “Visa Boarder” sign, we eventually got to the official crossing. Luckily we’d read up on this scam so it didn’t cause us any problems. The crossing process was a bit of a faff with various forms, stamps and different offices, but was complete in around thirty minutes. We then got the free bus to our current destination which looks like it was once a bus station. On reflection, the bus from Bangkok looks like the better option. The staff of the company currently ‘helping’ us have so far essentially kettled us through to this point. We were also told that we could exchange money assuming US dollars would be available which is the generally accepted currency. They then told us this wasn’t an option and seemed annoyed when we said we’d exchange money in town. At the moment, not feeling great.

16:00

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This is not Siem Reap.

20:30

Its the times when things don’t go to plan that make the best stories I suppose. That said, its not fun at the time. It became apparent that what ever company we used were taking us for a ride, to anywhere but Siem Reap. They stopped at places clearly owned by friends or colleagues for long periods of time. What we realised is that they were running the clock down. When we arrived at ‘Siem Reap’ we were taken to a small residential area down a back alley. It was pitch black and there were a team of drivers waiting for us. The bus group was divided and  sent in seperate directions. We were then quoted $2 into town by a man who quickly disappeared. After being questioned about where we were staying by our tuk tuk driver, the price soon became $4 as it was apparently very far and if we didn’t want to pay we should “get the hell out of the tuk tuk.” Long story short we eventually paid $2 to the edge of town and walked the short distance to the hotel. What we learned was that its best to say a general area, rather than a specific hotel to the driver because they’ll base the fare on that. We’re in a place called King Boutique because we wanted something a not more comfortable for our few days here.

I’m glad that we tried the route that we did because other size we would never know. Also the train journey was enjoyable other than the issues at the end. Now its time to de-stress, shower and if I don’t have a beer in the next thirty minutes, I may die. Luckily beer is 50 cents so I should be able to stretch to that with the money I have left. Let’s hope the currency exchange is still open!

22:35

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… and relax 🙂

Exploring Bangkok by boat

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In the few weeks between one job finishing and the next starting I had some time to explore so got into the routine of taking the Orange Flag river taxi from N30 (Nonthaburi) to various stops along the Chao Phraya. This service is great as it costs only 15 baht (approx 30 pence) to any stop, no matter how far along the river you go. Don’t bother with the day rider option for 150 baht because even with multiple journeys, you’ll still end up paying less for singles. The one thing to be wary of it that the service says it runs from 6am – 9pm but its definitely more like 6am – 7pm for the piers further from the centre.

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Lumphini park is a great stop in the city. A friend amd I walked from Sathorn Pier up along to Silom Road and then round the park. The walk is long and at first seems as though your I’m a bit of a grim suburb but if you have the time it becomes a nice afternoon walk with the numbers of markets, shops and tourist attractions increasing as you continue. If you only have time for a short visit, take the BTS sky train from Saphan Taksin which is directly next to Sathorn Pier and get off at Sala Daeng or Ratchadamri which is still an inexpensive option at under 50 baht.

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Hopping on one of the last river taxis of the day, we made out way back north to N13 (Phra Arthit Pier). This is the best place to stop if your thinking of heading in to Khao San Road. Having had a relaxed day we decided to stick to the quieter streets such as Phra Arthit and Rambuttri. Don’t get me wrong, this is still tourist central but the bars are far more chilled and there are a few great places to sit and people watch such as Rambuttri Village Inn.

The taxi back to where I’m staying is always between 120 to 200 baht depending on traffic. Whilst it’s sometimes difficult, even at the end of Khao San you will be able to find someone who’ll put the journey on the meter for you. To keep costs down and see more of the city, exploring the different types or transport available is really useful. The river taxi would be my main recommendation because its an activity in itself and has become a go to for me whilst living here.

Somewhere near Bangkok

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This will be my first piece of advice for budding ESL teachers, do not try to teach ‘mp’ sounds by using Simon Says. Whilst this will initially seem like its going swimmingly for jump, stamp etc, you will inevitably get to the word hump (which in the book depicts a Camel) and basically it’s fair to say it all goes down hill from there. How do some teachers seem to have so many games and songs at the ready? I suppose it’s a learning process for the teacher too.

This time last year I didn’t know I was going to be a teacher. After University, my plan was always to travel. A few ideas were thrown back and forth, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, working or volunteering, blah blah.  One issue as well as indecisiveness was one that I’m sure a lot of wannabe travellers face, saving.

After graduation I worked a few different jobs trying to save and it was at work that a friend mentioned teaching. Great, I thought, I can gain experience working with children and save to travel. I opted to use an agency; the plan was basic, teach, save, travel, home. Naïve right?

I’ve been in Thailand for 2 months now so I decided to write this blog to share my experiences so far and the journey as it continues. Its been an eye opener but I’m now in a situation where everything is pretty sweet. If you do this type of trip alone you need to accept that not everything will go to plan and it’s up to you to make it the experience you want it to be. Whilst that may sound ominous it’s part of the reason why I’m enjoying my current situation so much as, despite the occasional pitfall, I’ve made this situation happen for myself. Could have done with deciding to live somewhere that’s not directly next to a rooster farm (cue 3am wake up calls) but as I said, its a learning curve.

This is the story so far. I’m based in Nonthaburi, Thailand. Where’s that you ask? Basically it’s somewhere near Bangkok.