We were a little sad to be leaving Cambodia directly after having had a less than impressive stop in Sihanoukville. It was not hard, however, to remind ourselves that the rest of our time in the country had been wonderful. Angkor Wat will stand out as one of the highlights of our entire trip as will the people of Cambodia who have truly gone through Hell, came out the other end and still manage to smile each day and share their joy in life with each other and with visitors like us.
Hiring a private car to drive us from Sihanoukville to the border of Cambodia and Thailand cost about the same as four bus tickets so we decided to forego the bus for this part of the trip back to Bangkok. The car turned out to be on the small size with air conditioning that barely worked so it was a rather uncomfortable 5 hours with luggage piled on top of us before we reached the border at Koh Kong. Once we got to the border there were lots of touts trying to convince us that we needed their help (for a price of course) to fill out the exit and entrance documents required to leave Cambodia and enter Thailand. We managed to dodge them all and complete the process ourselves although we did take note of the bribes that were being accepted by the Cambodian officials to speed up the processing of documents received from the touts.
We are getting used to dusty border crossings seemingly in the middle of no mans land where you fill out some forms, get fingerprinted, look into the camera for a photo, have passports checked, exit one country drag your stuff a few hundred meters and go through the process again to enter the next country. Oh and there is usually some money exchanged somewhere along the dusty path. Managing border crossings would not be on the academic curriculum in too many grade 6 & 8 classrooms but we are hoping the finesse that the kids develop in this department will come in handy for them at some point in their future.
Once we entered Thailand we were still not really anywhere. The border facilities consisted of a small row of typical old style Thai convenience kiosks and small places to eat. It was a little more difficult than we thought it would be but we eventually negotiated a minivan drive to Trat, the closest town where we could catch a bus to Bangkok. The minivan took us directly to the bus station where we did not have to wait long to board for Bangkok. They ensured us at the bus station that it was an express bus that travelled direct. I don’t know why I still get annoyed regarding deceptions relevant to transportation information but I do. After about the fifth stop to drop off and pick people up I was ticked and expected what had promised to be a five hour bus ride to be much longer. We were pleasantly surprised when our bus pulled into Bangkok at the time we had been promised. After a short cab ride to our hotel we were thrilled to check into a wonderful apartment! Another 14 hour plus travel day had been endured.
When we arrived in Bangkok in September it all felt so, well, so Asian and quite exotic. We laughed at how this time so much of it felt so westernized and not exotic at all. Our perception has most definitely changed. A common expression over here is “same same but different” and this certainly applied to this visit to Bangkok. The first time around we thought the city was dirty but now the city seemed really clean. Bangkok – clean? Maybe we are crazy or maybe we have been on the road over here a little too long but clean it seemed….. and modern with lots of cars, pretty organized traffic patterns and excellent public transit. Were we really in Bangkok?
We were charmed to the max by Cambodia and Vietnam captivated us with its beauty and variety but being rather undeveloped nations meant that we also saw a lot of poverty and travel in both of these countries was tiring in a way that Bangkok isn’t. I don’t think we realized it until we got back to Thailand. We really loved that much of the city is so modern yet much of it still so obviously Asian. There is a fantastic mix of old and new and east and west.
Having the space of an apartment for a change was a treat and it was super cool to be in a truly big city again. With our view we really felt like we were in the thick of things with bright lights and skyscrapers all around. The location was great and we could easily move around the city as we were close to the high speed trains that zipped us from place to place with ease. The energy that the city exudes was fantastic.
We were only back in Bangkok as a gateway to get into Laos and it felt like a fairly short four day stop. Unfortunately much of this time was spent trying to figure out how we could repair Eric’s laptop. We had to replace the hard drive and face the fact that none of the data from the old one was recoverable. He had been working on a story throughout the entire trip and had not saved a copy so this was a very sad thing to lose and a tough lesson to learn.
In between visits to computer shops we…
Took in the weekend market which is really the mother of all markets in Asia. It is enormous and we didn’t have enough time to begin to see it so it will be on our list for when we return (well, it won't be in the kid's list but will be on Rob's).
We also spent a fair bit of time visiting some very cool shopping centers and having fun walking around the bustling streets.
Rob and I took a tour of the canals, went to the Taling Chan Floating market and to Wat Arun, The Temple of Dawn. All of this was a lot more fun than we had thought it would be.
Wat Arun is over 70 meters high and covered with beautiful porcelaine and glass.
The photos below are so close yet worlds away from the Bangkok of glittering lights, fast cars, modern malls and shiny transit system.
Care for some worms in your soup? snails? How about some tiny turtles? You can get it all at the floating market.
We discovered and loved Lumphini Park, a huge green space in the middle of the city. We thought it was the best city park we have seen on our trip. It was teeming with people exercising and hanging out and the 2.5 kilometer loop around the park was an awesome place to run and people watch at the same time.
We were not in a hurry to leave but once Eric’s laptop was up and running it was time to make our way to the next country on our agenda, Laos.