Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Genocide.

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After being hassled by the Air Asia staff at the Bangkok airport, we finally came to a resolution.  I handed them my printed airline ticket and proved that we did pay for the tickets.  They claimed there was a system failure at the time of purchase and the charge never went through; therefore, we didn’t actually have seats on the flight that would soon be departing for Cambodia.  I whipped out my credit card and paid for the tickets straight away at the airport counter.  And, soon we were on our way to Phnom Penh.

Upon arriving, we did our normal routine check.  Bags? check.  New SIM card? Check.  ATM? Check.  Wait.  Why did the ATM just spit out American Dollars?  Oh, I get it.  Because in Cambodia, their currency is in thousands so they also use American Dollars in addition to The Riel.   And taxi? Check.  A sigh of relief as we made our way to the hotel.

The hotel check-in proved to be just as un-successful as every other one.  There is a water leak in our room so they would  like to send us to their crappier sister hotel.  Not again, but okay.  We arrived at the crappier set up, got dinner in town and called it a night.

The next morning, we ventured to the S-21 museum.  If you don’t know what this is, you should look it up.  This massacre could be compared to what the Nazi’s did to the Jews.  Except it was Cambodians against Cambodians.  They were all Khmer and the destroyer, Pol Pot, was head of the Khmer Rouge.  Admittedly, I knew very little about Cambodian history before coming here.  How could I have been living in such a bubble? Am I really so ignorant to have not really known much about the Khmer Rouge.  And, here I was, at the S-21 museum looking at photographs of tortured innocent individuals who had no hopes of leaving this prison alive.  The photographs were appalling and left many dried tears on my face.   From 1975 to 1979, 3 million innocent people died because of 4 men.   It was a tragedy that has (as I have recently come to find out) undoubtedly shattered the entire nation and has also sent numerous chills down my spine.

After having toured the prison, I found myself aimlessly wandering around the grassy fields and straight to the stall of the last S-21 prison survivor.  A 78  year old artist by the name of Bou Meng.  He was spared only because he could  paint whatever the Khmer Rouge deemed necessary.  He was witnessed to women being tormented, children being smacked against the trunks of a tree only to die and men being tortured, abused and beaten.   He is now deaf and toothless as a result of numerous beatings.  He had a biography written about him and he was selling copies of this book.  As I purchased the book, he looked me straight in the eye and started crying, which brought many tears to my eyes.  He signed the book and I gave him a side hug and could only imagine the horrid images that will haunt him forever.  All because of one individual with one strong vision.  I couldn’t help but think of my visit to Dachau, Germany as I left the prison camp.

The next day didn’t prove to be much better as we organized a day trip to The Killing Fields where the S-21 prisoners were brought to be executed.  There we actually witnessed teeth, bone fragments and clothes still on the fields.  Every few months, new bones and clothes suface to the land only to be collected by the personnel working there.  Then they are  stored in a glass container for tourists to gawk at.  It is almost as though the ghosts of these civilians haunt the fields as a reminder to never forget the evil that happened for those years.  Each night on a speaker, loud music would be played.  At the time, the prisoners didn’t know that this music was played to disguise the loud yells of hundreds of people dying in a mass execution.  Pol Pot’s vision was simple.  He wanted all intellectuals dead and he thought it was better to kill an innocent than to spare a spy.  He also thought it was worthwhile to kill the roots and seeds of an intellectual (the wives and babies) so that they could never seek revenge on him.  He was a sick man indeed.

This ended our time in Phnom Penh (we did explore the city and the street markets as well but that seems irrelevant to my newly discovered history of Khmer Rouge).

I left with an uneasy feeling as we boarded the rickety bus to Siem Reap.  And I also made a mental note to buy a copy of Survival of the Killing Fields as soon as we got to our next hostel.

Bangkok.

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4 days in Bangkok.  And, probably not nearly enough time in this city.

Highlights include:

  • Martin telling a random on the street that ‘yes, we are interested in seeing a ping pong competition. And, yes, especially if it is happy hour time. And, yes, my girlfriend would like to come too.’ Really funny, still laughing.
  • Watching as a western man boards the sky bus train with a fairly manly Lady Boy.
  • Lots of incredible shopping, although, due to budget constraits, nothing was purchased. 😦
  • The hotel, of course.
  • Visiting Wat Arun Temple and the steep climb up. I am still shaking since I am deathly afraid of heights.
  • The joy of drinking a Starbucks even though Melbourne turned me into a coffee snob.  However, after being in Asia for 1.5 months, the mocha frap had never tasted better.
  • Going to the famous skytop roofbar and being rejected (along with 8 others) because we weren’t dressed appropriately enough.  In the words of the hostess ‘your shoes are not fashionable enough.’  What? You mean these 8 year old REEF’s don’t cut it?
  • Finishing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (it was the only book available at the hostel where you could trade in a used book for another).
  • Street food. And, street market shopping.
  • A Pizza Hut dinner that made me very happy, especially since they have fancy lounge seating.  It’s way more up scale here.
  • The brief thought that I have never been as American as my time in Bangkok as I hit up McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks and Pizza Hut all within 24 hours.  And don’t think for a minute that I didn’t consider the Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme either.  Damn, it felt good though.
  • Spending 3 hours looking for a hostel to do our laundry.

In the words of Lonley Planet, ‘Bangkok is so gay that it makes San Francisco look like a rural American town.’

Tomorrow, we are off to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Hostel booked. Flight booked.  Now, the only thing on my mind is how quickly I can get my hands on a copy of The Girl who played with Fire.

– Rali. xo

 

 

Oh no! No more Koh’s, yo!

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Koh Sumai? Never happened.  Our last Koh was Koh Lanta.  We made a last minute change of plans and headed to mainland Thailand.

We took a van (on a ferry) to Karabi Town.  This is really a hub for people going to the east coast islands or up to Bangkok.

We decided to go to Khao Sok National Park instead.

Two words: Martin’s idea.

Highlights:

  • Our bungalow located in the middle of the jungle.
  • Having coffee in the open lodge during a tropical rainstorm.  Awesome.
  • Taking a LONG boat ride on the famous man-made lake.  The lake is only 37 years old and it’s located in the midst of  misty mountains and the rainforest.
  • Trekking through the rainforest, which included walking through creeks, climbing up sharp rocks and hiking up muddy paths, all while avoiding the prickly jungle ropes.
  • The trek led to a famous cave.  A bat cave.  And Martin made me go in the bat cave.  This involved complete darkness because my crappy flashlight didn’t work;  me stumbling through rocks in the water to keep up with those that did have proper flashlights; a very scared Belgian girl who was afraid to slide down the waterfall and into the water that was too deep to walk in;  me sliding down that waterfall and into this narrow pool of water in which you had to swim;  a guy cutting his foot so badly there was blood everywhere; me finally realizing that this adventure was coming to an end and thanking god for that; the smile on my face when I saw the cave exit (might I add I am claustrophobic); the annoyance on my face when I saw the tropical monsoon that happened upon us as we were in the cave; the hike back in the pouring rain (though it was pretty, the rain was coming full force so you couldn’t stop to enjoy it); muddy slides, knee high water and worst of all: A LEECH ON ME.  The blood-sucking insect was cemented on my leg and I  panicked.  The only thing I told Martin before heading on this trip was that I better not get attacked by a leech.  Of course, the salt was in the waterproof bag that the tour guide was holding, so we had to rip the thing off me.  Martin and the tour guide also found one on themselves but their bites were minor to mine. UGH!

Conclusions:

  • I am not the adventerous type.  Enough said.

After getting back to the small bungalow and taking a hot shower, we had dinner and called it a day.  The next morning we were up early to catch our 2 hour van ride to Surat Thani.  A small Thai town in the middle of nowhere; however, this is where we had to go to catch the night bus to Bangkok.

We killed 7 hours in this town by eating, walking around in the boiling hot weather and enjoying 3 iced coffees just to stay cool indoors.

Bangkok:

After nearly 11 hours of taking a freezing bus up to Bangkok, we were rudely awoken by the taxi drivers parading around our bus saying ‘WAKE UP, GOOD MORNING, YOU NEED A TAXI??’.   I felt like death.  But yes, we did need a taxi.  So, we took one up to our hotel (thanks to my aunt again, we are able to stay at a NICE hotel).  When you rough it through Asia in small hostels and bungalows, you welcome this change.

We got here at 5 am, so we had to kill time before check in.  The only thing open was McDonalds.  The Ronald McDonald in Bangkok holds his hands together as though he is praying.  We stumbled into the Mackers and ordered ourselves a large breakfast.  Scarfed it down and sat outside in the heat with a puzzled Lady Boy prostitute.  The 3 of us sat in the outdoor section of McDonalds in complete silence for 2 hours.  After which, we went to Starbucks and had another coffee and read.  By this time, we had killed enough hours so that we could finally check in.

And the rest of the day consisted of sleeping, eating, shopping, eating a CUPCAKE, shopping, sleeping and now we are about to go to a rooftop bar overlooking the city.

So far I really love Bangkok.  Three Asian cities I could easily live in? Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore.  It’s the best fusion of western and eastern cultures and a place where I could definitely belong.

I leave you with the above while I contemplate if I will ever be able to watch the movie Stand by Me again.  The leech scene is now forever ingrained in my head.  And, I loathe leeches more than ever now.

– Rali.

xx

Koh yo.

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Thailand.

Phuket, part 2:  The last day in Phuket we got to meet with my friend Jaira and her boyfriend Paul from Australia.  It’s so great that this world is actually so small.  After having coffee with them, we ventured over to Koh Phi Phi.  The journey there was crazy. It was all backpackers and it was a small ferry.  Our bags were thrown in a big pile and at the end of the trip it was chaos trying to get our bags.  Each man for himself.

Koh whaaa?

I did not expect Koh Phi Phi to be temptation island.  A tiny island purely made for single 20 year olds.  Drunk fest can’t even begin to describe this place.  First impression is that it’s a cute little island with tiny cobblestone pathways that lead you from one bar to the next. Sprinked in between the bars are travel agencies, cafes and boutiques.   Then the novelty wears off quickly once you hear that first loud American accent screaming to a Swedish guy ‘Dude, in America we call a shit fest when you can’t remember what you did the night before.’  The echoing laughs of Westerners bonding over a beer.   Tall, blonde, tan Swedish girls.  Drunks.  Drunks on drugs.  Drunk druggies hitting on the tall, blonde, Swedish women.   Barefoot people wobbling from one bar to the next.  Fire shows.  Fire shows everywhere.  Booming bars along the beach.  Full Moon Party. Neon paint.  Neon paint plastered all over people.  The novelty wears of quickly after you witness this.  Learnings?  Alcohol is a language that everyone speaks.  It universally connects people from anywhere in the world.

After the first night, we did a day trip to Koh Leh.  This is where the movie ‘The Beach’ was filmed.  Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.  Lots of snorkelling, cliff diving for Martin, kayaking and beach time.  It was also an incredible sunset.

Then, a repeat of night 1.  Meat. Market. Central.

Now were are in Koh Lanta.  Each beach continously amazes me.  We are in treehouse bungalows, where you climb a ladder to get to our cozy little home.  There are about 16 and the main one serves as the central bungalow where people congregate, drink and chatter.  We also play ping pong and talk to the Thai hippy owner guy when we can.  We are right on the beach.  A quieter beach with a more mature group of people…thankfully (a good sign I am getting old).

And so I leave you to ponder the Koh’s yo.  It is worth googling some pictures to see what we are fortunate to experience right now. I will try to post some of our own snaps soon.

We have one more Koh to go yo.  Koh Samui.  Then it’s off to Bangkok.

Will write again soon!

Rali.

Good-bye Sri Lanka. And, hello Thailand.

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The last stops in Sri Lanka included Galle, Bentota and Colombo.  We stayed a night in each town and took buses to get from one place to the next.  The bus rides are often very tiring and long.

Your quick Sri Lanka highlights include:

  • Galle: A quaint old European town that has a massive Dutch influence.  We stayed at The Fort..there are no public buses allowed in The Fort, so it’s much quieter and it also proves to be a nice escape from the realities of otherwise noisy Sri Lankan towns.  We opted to stay at a Guest House run by a local family and had an entertaining breakfast with an old English lady who had many tales to tell.
  • Bentota: A much more relaxed day here.  We layed around and enjoyed the beautiful beach.
  • Colombo: Treated ourselves to an upscale lunch at a fancy hotel (by upscale I mean $10 USD total).  We walked along the beach and enjoyed the holiday festivities going on (we found ourselves in Colombo on a Buddhist holiday).
  • Lastly, we spent the night at this old Sri Lankan man’s Guesthouse.  When Martin made the booking, he said ‘Oh what a nice lady. She even speaks German!’  To our surprise, it was actually a man.  A Sri Lankan man who kindly made us dinner and told us about the incredible life he’s led.  He told us about his 8 years in Germany, his travels to 58 countries and about the people he had met on his journey.  Martin, me and the Danish girl (who also stayed there) listened intently as he went on and on….:)

Learnings from India and Sri Lanka:

  • When you are on a bus and can barely breathe, don’t ever open your bus window in hopes of getting fresh air or else you might find that the guy on the bus across from your window would like to spit some red crap out of his mouth.  And, there is a chance that red crap will land on you.  Lesson learned.
  • When you find yourself in Sri Lanka or India and ask for a toilet, there is a chance they will tell you ‘there is a massive toilet behind the restaurant, which is an open field.’  Number of times I have had to squat in an open field: 1.  Number of times I have had to use a filthy squat toilet: Uncountable.
  • It is best to always ignore street vendors and beggars, even if you do feel cold-hearted doing so.
  • The most helpful people reside in India and Sri Lanka.  Everyone was very friendly and always willing to help you out.
  • I did not encounter one single American the entire time I was in Sri Lanka.  However, I noticed a few in India.
  • I am thankful we are headed to Thailand next, as I can’t stomach anymore Indian/Sri Lankan curry and rice (it’s been 7 weeks strong of chili curry and rice nearly twice a day).

Phuket, Thailand:

  • We landed here 3 nights ago.  The first two nights, we were able to stay at a very nice hotel thanks to my aunt who got us a massive discount (it was slightly more than a hostel).  Oh, JW Marriott, I already miss you as I write you from my severly downgraded hostel.   Side note: We refused to leave the resort for the 2 days we were here and we even had our own private beach.
  • After only being able to afford a couple of nights at the luxury hotel, we moved onto Kamala.  The plus is that we are right on the beach.  The minus is that we are in an overly infested tourist spot with loads of cheesy Europeans that escaped the European winter.
  • Last night, we decided we would brave the town of Patong.  I kid you not I have seen some pretty crazy things and lived in some pretty crazy cities but nothing could prepare me for Patong.  Old Western men with young Thai girls.  Lady Boys everywhere. A small man with a TALL blonde woman.  Old German grandparents horrified by the dancing pole women.  An Indian family who kept trying to close their small boys eyes.  Punks.  Euro Punks.  Bar women who love to harrass. Ping Pong competitions (Martin had to kindly explain what this actually was, as I live in a bubble).  Drunk Aussies doing push ups in the middle of the street.  And, somewhere in the midst of it all, me and Martin having drinks and people watching.  You couldn’t pay me enough money to go back, although, the people watching part was terrific.
  • Tomorrow morning, we venture to Koh Phi Phi.  This island is supposedly one of the most beautiful islands in the world.  We will stay there 2 nights before deciding where we go next.

Sending you loads of sunshine from happy, happy Thailand where the temperatures are a soaring 36 degrees Celcius!!! YES!

– Rali.

 

Mirissa.

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We made it, after a rather frustrating journey for me.  During our time in Ella, I told you about a generous older French man named Patrick.   Patrick was also one of the one’s that joined us in the van headed for the southern coast of Sri Lanka.   What I later found out is that Patrick travels the world as a photographer.  He lives in the Western part of France and has an amazing talent.  He shared with us his portfolio of black and white prints that he’s captured from all over the world.  He is also incredibly generous and graciously offered us a free place to stay the next time we find ourselves in France.  I have a feeling we will keep in touch with him.

Also on the journey to the south were 3 older French women, who were a bit more on the selfish side.  After negotiating prices with the driver, the women refused to pay 1,000 extra rupees to fit 6 people in the van.  If we split the extra 1,000 rupees between all 6 of us it would amount to $1.50 each.  So, of course, Martin, Patrick and I agree to pay the extra 1,000 ourselves since they weren’t having it.  After the back and forth hassle, the ladies quickly claim their seats leaving me, Martin and Patrick with the crappier seats (with no back rest for me).  Even though they didn’t speak English, I expressed how un-fair they were being and I am pretty sure they got my point.  In this world there are the selfish and the selfless and you often times see people’s true colors when roughing it in the middle of nowhere.

Fast forward to 4 hours later (after dropping off the cranky women), and Martin and I landed at a beautifully decorated hostel with a bit of a French twist.  This is perhaps the most gorgeous beach I have ever seen.

Shades of blue and green water.  Continuous crashing waves against a massive rock.  Bunnies being chased by dogs. Warm sand between your toes.  A nap on a hammock. A friendly game of beach volleyball with locals. A mojito on the beach. Friendly hello’s.  The wind’s breeze.  Bliss.

I do believe I have found paradise on earth.  And, its name is Mirissa.

– Rali xo

Ella, ella, ella….

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I can’t help but think of the Rihana song every time I say Ella….ella, ella, ella!!

Anyway, Ella is gorgeous (as you’d probably expect).

Highlights include:

  • A 3 hour train ride here.  Train rides here are something you will never forget.  It first involves  you pushing your way on as fast as you can in hopes that you are one of the lucky one’s to find a seat.  And if you’re out of luck (as I have been on every train ride so far), then you find your way to the nearest table.  You pile your hiking packs in the corner of the train, find your spot on the table and stare out the window until your next destination.  You will get harassed by locals asking you (in exact order): a) where do you come from?, b) Do you like Sri Lanka?, c) Where are you going? and lastly d) Do you need taxi or hotel?  In that moment, the train can’t get to its next destination fast enough.
  • Going to bed at 7 pm out of sheer exhaustion.
  • Hiking up what is called ‘Little Adam’s Peak’ (please note: my legs are still sore from the REAL Adam’s Peak).
  • And, hiking up Little Adams Peak with a random French couple I met while eating breakfast alone (since Martin opted to climb Ella Rock instead).
  • Running out of money with no ATM in town.  Pure luck would have it that an older French man generously offered us 2,000 rupees until we could find a working ATM.  Side note: Thanks to Bank of America my debit card isn’t even working in Asia. &%@&%$….if you know what I mean.
  • Enjoying eating Roti’s at a sunny cafe in the middle of Ella Village with a table full of French people.  And, most importantly, watching an elderly Srí Lankan man skillfully twist and turn the lot of dough into enormous rotis.  Might I add they were delish.
  • An entertaining bus ride with locals to see the Rawayana Falls…..which included many twists and turns, Martin almost falling off the bus, blaring Sri Lankan music, riding on an over-crowded bus toppling over tea plantations with no railings and realizing ‘damn this bus is going really fast for having no railings on the side of this mountain….and it’s a steep way down if something happens. please god, let us make it to the next village in one piece.’

Tomorrow ends the time in Ella.  Next up: Riding to the southern coast of Sri Lanka in a van with a bunch of French people.  I am sure there will be plenty of stories.  Now it’s that time for me to make a booking for the next hostel that awaits us.

I am really looking forward to saying good-bye to this cold weather (relatively speaking, of course) and hello to the sunny beaches of Sri Lanka.

The next time I write you, I hope it is from a sunny beach in the middle of nowhere!!  Let’s see what awaits us next.

Happy February!

Rali xo