Featuring: Thailand (Bangkok & Chiang Mai), Cambodia (Siem Reap & Phenom Penh) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur)
Here is a little recap of the trip my partner, Jordan and I took over to Asia in October 2015. Jordan’s dad has been working on contract in Malaysia so when we decided we would take a trip over to go and visit him; we thought why not see a little more?
Our long haul ticket was with Qantas, flying into Bangkok and back home out of Malaysia with some extra flights in-between.
After our ten hour flight to Bangkok from Sydney, our transfer picked us up and took us for a 40 minute(ish) air-conditioned (thank God!!!) drive to our four star hotel, Siam@Siam. We arrived around 7pm and hit the hay!
We woke up at around 4am the next day counting down the hours until breakfast time. The buffet at Siam@Siam was very pleasant and by the end of our short stay Jordy and I had a breakfast routine down, knowing exactly what we were going to put on our plates. On day 1 we did “Bangkok’s City & Temples Tour” where we saw three of Bangkok’s most well known temples: Wat Traimit with its golden Buddah, Wat Po with its reclining Buddah – our favourite of the three, laying 46 metres wide and 15 metres high – and Wat Benjamabophit or “White Marble Temple” which is well known for its architecture. This tour was fantastic and our guide whose name is Nang was super cute. Before dropping us back to our hotel we had a final stop at Gems Gallery, which is Thailand’s best jeweler known for its sapphires and rubys. Here, you will find these stones cheaper than anywhere else in the world. We also realised (thanks to Facebook) that it was our SEVEN YEAR anniversary so that evening we celebrated with a roof top dinner at our hotel (after some late avo cocktails of course!). Jordy and I both had stone grilled beef – yes I know, how adventurous… (I must say I was surprised how Western the big cities in Asia are!) with a view, to Jordy’s satisfaction of a Fifa game below.
While we were in Asia there were Vegetarian celebrations going on in the Chinatowns. The colour for this was yellow. I did not quite understand what it all entailed but by the end of our stay I at least knew why everything around Chinatown was decorated with yellow banners.
Traffic in Asia is what I’d describe as “organised chaos” and is quite overwhelming at first. A red stop light doesn’t really mean all that much. In Bangkok, traffic at first seemed very similar to home until all of a sudden you have a giant group of motorcycles headed straight for you, with what feels like no means of slowing down! Or better, a whole family -father, with young child in front and mother behind with baby in-between – zoom past you at a distance too close for comfort! Evidently, they all seem to be in control, “safe” and content with how their roads run.
One thing we did not pick up on at the time (because we were so tired) was the well spoken about smog from all the pollution in Bangkok city. I remember really being able to feel how heavy the air was in my lungs on top of the humidity. Granted, Bangkok being the first stop of our adventure, we did not really pick up on the air too much until actually leaving the capital city.
On day two of our adventure, we again woke up around 4.30am awaiting breakfast time. The tour that day was the “Floating Market & River Kwai” where we surprised to find, because it was a private tour, we had our very own fancy black flash car with our own driver! Our tour guide sat in shot-gun and talked us through a little bit of Bangkok on our 1.5 hour drive to the boats. We took a colourful river boat up the river to Ra Cha Puri where the floating markets were. Here we tried some fried banana and a Thai version of a crepe as insisted by our wonderful guide Mini. Mini loved taking photos “for us” of us… and if you know Jordan, you would know posing for photos is one of his least favourite activities, haha!
The next part of the day was really cool if you enjoy history. We went to the Death Railway Museum which had a massive cemetery over the road. The Burma Railway, now known as Death Railway, was idealised by the Japanese and built by prisoners of war during World War II, creating a link from Thailand to Burma. So many prisoners died during the making of the railway due to the terrible working conditions and general ill-treatment by the Japanese. There were two parts to the cemetery: the Asia side with pyramid styled head stones that went above the ground, and the European side (even some Aussies and Kiwis) which had plaques similar to what we have over here.
Then we drove to the renovated Bridge over the River Kwai where “the Americans made bomb” post war. The still active bridge with its railway and the entire area around was decorated with purple banners because the Princess was coming to ride the train and purple was her signature colour. Jordy and and I didn’t like this part of the tour much; for Jordan because he was model to the millions of photos Mini was taking of us and for me because there were wasps EVERYWHERE! and not just the little scary wasps we have here, they were BIG and scary dark coloured! There was also a floating restaurant there which, unfortunately for us, was fully booked, but if you are ever there is a “must do”.
After our photo shoot and wasp-running we jumped back into our air conditioned private car with complementary chilled bottles of water and drove to the province of Ganzanpuri where we had a buffet lunch, saw some monkeys on the road and waited for the train. The train was a really fun and authentic experience, as locals too use it every day. The carriages had all open windows, which was nice in the heat and people walking up and down trying to sell you food. Our driver met us again at the other end with fresh cold towels and a bottle of water, ready for our two hour drive back into the city. It was here, where, knowing it was our last night in Bangkok, we found the courage to ask Mini how to go about visiting a Ping Pong show…
Mini agreed to take us after her shift which was really nice of her. In hindsight I was so glad she came with us as we would have never found it on our own. It was awesome to have a local with us as she took us for dinner before we left at a local restaurant and ordered for us. We had sticky noodles with chicken and pork – soooo yummy! On the table they have little glasses with sauces and spices where you can choose to make your dish spicy, sweet, sour add peanuts etc. After an authentic dinner, we set off on the Sky Train to tick a ping pong show off of our bucket list. The Sky Train is also a local form of transport which costs about 28THB each direction (just over 1NZD); it is clean, spacious and a fast way to get from A to B – Mini also pointed out a “lady boy” to us as she was telling us that some of them are even better looking than “real women”, haha.
The Ping Pong show itself… well… it is very underground as I mentioned earlier, so without Mini, we would have never ever known to go there on our own. It was down a back alley and very shady. Without getting into too much detail at all, I will tell you is that a Ping Pong show in Bangkok its not all the glitz and glamour I had expected. As soon as we arrived in that back alley, walking past the five scary Thai dudes at the door, my ideas of a funny, crude night out vanished. For these workers it is their way of life, they were all a lot older (and the opposite of the beautiful young things you see at the strip clubs in Wellington). It was pretty spectacular though, the things they can do with their bits and bobs (not just with ping pong balls) must take years of practice!
… and so was the end of our experience in Bangkok and the next day we were Chiang Mai bound – in the north up to the “city in the mountains”.
That day we didn’t do all that much, we checked in, had some lunch, explored the hotel a little and in the late afternoon decided to take refuge at a bar across the road called “Drunken Bar”… idiots! We spent a butt tone of money and got absolutely legless! We were even shouting the bartenders, Pong and I forget the other ladies name, rounds. In total it was the equivalent of about 50NZD – ridiculous. Naturally, I ended up on top of the bar and even Jordy, of all things found out he was a natural born tap dancer in his jandals.
Chiang Mai is a really awesome city; the air is so much more crisp and it is somewhat cooler closer to the mountains. After breakfast, an attempt to tame our hangovers we walked past a place with a sign outside that said “finger massage” where the ladies immediately tried to take our clothes off. After lots of hand signals and protest to not remove our clothes, the ladies cottoned onto the fact we just wanted our hands done. In the end we paid 200THB (about 8NZD) for a one hour hand massage, which was… strange and again, another experience to tick off the list.
We spent the rest of our hangovers apart. Jordy found the Rugby World Cup and I found a little private pool, where I lay out with a book and some cold water – bliss!
We ended the evening by checking out the night markets which were just around the corner from our hotel. These markets were massive! Photos do not justice.
The next day was THE BEST! We took a 1.5 hour drive up into the jungle to the Elephant Nature Park where we fed, bathed and learnt about the Elephants and the park itself. I will just let the pictures do the talking…
Funny Jordy moment: not even thinking to bring sunblock and spending all day in the sun with the elephants, we were naturally getting a little sun burnt. So after learning that the elephants, in the heat, throw dirt and mud over themselves as a cooling method he tried to do the same by covering his feet with the sand… “what!? it actually works!”
After ending our beautiful day in the sun, we went back to the markets for dinner and tried banana rotee omnomnom
I was awoken at 2am by a huffing puffing Jordan who was so angry because the channel playing the RWC had disappeared! He was calmed in the end when Sam (his brother) skyped him in and sat the laptop in front of their TV in NZ so they could watch it together.
We got up and ready around 5am for our city tour. We stopped by a market where we were to get offerings of rice, water and juice for themonks who were to fast from a certain time of the day. We all lined up where the monks would walk past with big buckets to collect their offerings and then blessed us by song after. The monks are not vegetarian or vegan, because they eat whatever is offered to them so they cannot be fussy I suppose. After, we got taken to Kad Ton Payom Flea Market where we had a local breakfast of rice soup with pork. Because we had breakfast at the hotel before we left, the guide thought we didn’t like it, but it was actually really nice if you are a savory in the morning type of person. The market was also where we tried Bamboo Worms!
After breakfast we got taken to Wat Umong, a 600 year old temple with some very old and beautiful tunnels, where the monks meditate and a big sculpture out the back, also used for meditation.
Later we headed to another temple, Wat Suan Bok, where we had the opportunity to sit down with a monk named Phra Saneh Dhammavaro aka Infong for around and hour and were able to ask him questions on Buddhism, meditation and monk traditions. This was a real highlight for me and a humbling experience. Infong was so at peace, you could tell he was really content and relaxed with all the time in the world. He was happy. “It doesn’t matter how rich you are, what matter is how happy and peaceful you are”.
That afternoon we got dropped off at the airport to collect another stamp on our passports in Cambodia. We arrived in Siem Reap in the evening and all I really noticed was the heat and the late night bugs that swarmed around the airport lights.
I think of all the places we went and all the temples we saw, each as individual and wonderful as the next; Siem Reap was my favorite place to be. Coming from Thailand where everything was very westernised, Cambodia still felt very much its own. While they are starting to build hotels and accompany tourism more, I think if you visit Cambodia from now until the next 5-10 years you will still have the authentic experience we did. It is a very corrupt and underdeveloped country that is very hot with lots of bugs – and I loved my entire stay in this enriching place!
First stop Angkor: Angkor Wat, Angkor Tom with all its Bhuddah faces carved into the rocks and, “Tomb Raider Temple” no words…
The next day we got picked up this time it was only us with another couple from the day before. We drove through the country which was very green as it was wet season, our guide said that in the dry season they get temperatures around 40 degrees where even the locals find it far too hot! The roads were really crappy as not long ago it was still all jungle. We visited a nature park which I am pretty sure Intrepid (the company we did our tours with) supported, that rescue animals like monkeys, birds etc from captivity. From there we ventured on a two hour jungle trek up to the River of a Thousand Lingus. This was a river with old carvings underneath and surrounding the river. It is very sacred to Buddhist and Hindi religions; there were lots of different people up there praying.
On our way back down where we had lunch and got hassled into buying things. Jordan and I used our haggling skills from the markets in Thailand here; however, in Cambodia they do not really appreciate it as much. Before we headed home we stopped at another temple. This temple was all sorts of beautiful colours and had very intricate and detailed carvings through it – absolutely stunning! On our way home we also stopped at the side of the road at a stall and learnt how palm sugar is made. We bought some pallets which they wrapped in palm leaves for us to take home. Once set, the palm sugar tastes like fudge! When we got home we got our first Tuk Tuk down to “Pub Street” which is where you will find all the local bars and restaurants and had some dinner there.
The next day we woke up at 4am where our guide took us back to Angkor Wat in his own time to see the sunrise with the other couple we were with. This was the most fantastic experience to see. The photos are lovely, but to see the sun rise from behind an eerie ancient temple is a very very special and sacred memory to have and I am so pleased I got to share that with my favorite fella!
After sunrise we went back to our hotels for breakfast and collect our things for our last day in Siem Reap. We were picked shortly after by Tuk Tuk and drove about 30 minutes over some very bumpy roads (ladies, wear a sports bra when riding the Tuk Tuks in Cambodia!) to the Floating River. We took a boat out through the river where people live (they cook, bathe and do their business in this river); there is also a temple out there and we stopped at a restaurant close by the catfish and crocodile farm. When I say farm it was like a little area filled with each animal. I also got to hold a snake here! On our way home we also stopped at a lotus farm which was a beautiful sight to see – we also got to try some lotus fruit which is best described like a nut.
We later headed back home and had lunch with our friends from the tour back on Pub Street where Jordy found his love for “Lok Lak”, a really delicious beef dish! Since by this stage we were haggling Tuk Tuk pros, we took a Tuk Tuk to the airport to make our way to the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.
Our first and only day in Phnom Penh was a very somber and strange kind of day. Our tour guide named Smi (said like Smile) picked us up nice and early for a twenty minute drive (which could have been shorter if they had better roads) and headed for The Killing Fields. Smi’s parents actually fled to Vietnam during the Khmer Rouge period, so it was very close to home for her. We saw the mass graves, we walked over bones and clothes, we saw where they hung the loud speaker to mask the screams, we saw the tree where the brutally killed babies. In 30 degree heat, I had chills. There is also a memorial there filled with skulls and bones, with colour coded stickers on them labeling how the victim died (such as a blow to the head).
After the Killing Fields, we went to S21 a former high school that was turned into a prison. We saw the tiny cells of the commoners and the slightly bigger cells for the VIPs – the high class and the intellectuals. Some of the prisoners were actually former students of the school! We saw two of the three adults that survived who were there selling books. There were seven survivors in total, the three adults and four children. It was very disheartening walking through old cells, where they had photos of all the victims, seeing the scared eyes in the photographs staring back at us; and being told that shortly after each photo was taken, that victim was killed. The photos were taken for their reports, all of the victims were tortured and made to confess they were CIA or KGB as a reason to kill them. One of the three adult survivors was a painter who died in the 2000s, however, before he died he painted pictures of what life was like at S21. The paintings were horrific and placed next to the same instruments used for the torture demonstrated in the paintings.
After that, we needed to kill time before our flight to Malaysia so we had lunch at the FCC with a view of the river, which is where generals used to discuss tactics and papers. After lunch we took a walk to the National Museum which had hundreds of ancient old artifacts, you were not allowed to take photos inside, but the building itself was spectacular.
We then flew from Cambodia over the ditch to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to meet Jordy’s dad, the sole reason for the trip. Here we stayed for about a week catching up, relaxing seeing a little bit of the city, visiting the China Town, SHOPPING and checking out the Selangor Turf Club where Tony works. The Mall at the Twin Towers is just ridiculous! Floors and floors of shopping, move over Macy’s in America, you could literally get lost in there (and we did loose Tony a few times). It was great to be able to relax for the week and catch up all together.
I was very intrigued to see how Jordan and I would travel together. Like a flatmate, you really cannot live with just anyone, and travel is the same. Fortunately we travel really well together and to my delight, Jordy has now caught the travel bug too. We already have a few more adventures brewing in the back of our minds, to bring to light as soon as possible!
Having a little taste of Asia was an experience I never thought I would ever have in my life. The traffic, the bartering, the people, the most exquisite temples and the food. Not once did the heat bother me, nor did I get “templed out”. Each day was as interesting and adventurous as the last. Asia was never that high up on my bucket list, but I am now forever grateful that I got to experience it, especially with my best friend by my side.
If you have read right to the bottom, thank you 🙂 and see you soon!