A Travellerspoint blog

December 2011

Singapore

one more stop closer to home...

overcast 26 °C

So back in Singapore…weird after being here less than six months ago. It’s also a very weird place to stay at a backpackers I’ve decided. Because Singapore is so ‘nice’ compared to the rest of South-East Asia, I feel that people mainly come here on the way home from their trip so they choose to stay somewhere ‘nice’ to make the most of the end of their trip. Don’t get me wrong, this Five Stones Hostel in Clarke Quay where I’m staying is very nice as far as backpackers go (and expensive too) but the vibe here is so weird. It seems that most people who stay here are here for a purpose, rather than just travelling through. For instance, I’ve never been to a backpackers where people go to bed at 3am and not because they’ve been out – because they’ve been on the computer!

However, it has been nice to have a couple of days layover in comparable luxury before I get stuck into having to actually use my brain in Jakarta! Originally I came here so I could get the visa I need for Indonesia, but seeing I got that all sorted in Ho Chi Minh, I literally just have a couple of days to do as I please.

So the night I first got here, I decided to do as many people do in Singapore, and splurge. I went to this bar called the New Asia Bar on the 71st floor of the Swisshotel, which has views all over Singapore, very similar to those available on the Singapore Flyer, except for the fact that it is higher than the Singapore Flyer! Being a sucker for a good high view, as well as bars, it was an excellent idea, except for the fact that I wanted to go up there for sunset, and being in a different time zone to previously, I misjudged how late sunset was actually going to be! Needless to say, it turned out to be a rather expensive affair, and once it was well and truly dark I found myself incredibly eager for the comparatively cheap McDonald’s dinner available downstairs under the hotel!

Yesterday I decided to be a true tourist and go to the zoo! (Similar to a good high view, I also love a good zoo!) Getting there turned out to be quite an adventure in itself however. I wanted to try and find this bus that went express to the zoo and only went from certain bus stops. I thought I’d found the stop but I had quite a wait so I sat down to read my book. Then this old Singaporean man came up to me and asked me if I had $2, and I don’t usually do that kind of thing, but I was going to be sitting there for a while so I thought I better be nice so I gave him $1, the only coin I had. It turned out to be $1 well spent. He ended up reading my palm and telling me how to get rid of my wrinkles and my tuck-shop lady arms…lol! Then this other old man came up to the bus stop and was making all this signs behinds the first old man’s back, saying he was crazy and don’t talk to him, etcetera etcetera, but he was ok. Then once the first old man left the second one decide he wanted to talk to me and that was enough entertaining the locals for one day for me – I decided to catch a train and then a taxi to the zoo instead! Luckily I have been here before so I vaguely understand how the MTR works.

Anyway, I did eventually get to the zoo, and it was great. Luckily for me it was ‘raining’ earlier in the day (and by that I mean spitting) so that kept the crowds at bay. The Singapore Zoo is well famed for being an open landscaped zoo, meaning that rather being kept in cages, the animals are kept in ‘habitats’. So obviously they can’t come up to you and attack you – they are separated from you by a strategically placed ditch or pond or log…depending on the type of animal, the bigger that ditch may be. But it was really well done. They are very proud of the fact that Steve Irwin apparently considered Singapore Zoo Australia Zoo’s sister, and a lot of the animals in the zoo, especially the crocs, came from Australia Zoo. Also there’s this whole Australian Outback section in the zoo that apparently Steve Irwin designed and opened and what not, so as I said, they are very proud…

Given the ordeal that it took me to get out there (even though it’s really not that far – in how many places can you take the metropolitan train system to the other side of the country?!) I decided to stay and zoo myself out at the Night Safari, next door. It’s a similar concept to the Singapore Zoo with it’s open planned-ness and what not, except a) it’s only open at night (duh) and b) it’s kind of bigger, in a Werribee Open Plains Zoo sense. There are different ‘habitats’, such as the Himalayas, African savannah and South-East Asian rainforest, with the corresponding animals set out throughout the park, and you get this tram, which drives through it all in about 40 minutes. It is really good, except for the crowds – no bad weather seems to want to keep them away. Luckily however, you can walk most of the park, which surprising very few people choose to do. I must admit, it is quite daunting, especially since I did it on my own and it’s a) night, b) barely lit, seeing you’re meant to be looking at the nocturnal animals, c) there are things flying everywhere (you can go into caves and see them up close if you want – no thank you), and d) it’s an open plan zoo! Those tigers in particular are especially stealth! But it’s ok as at the Night Safari, the bigger, more dangerous animals, like the lions and tigers and hyenas are a bit more securely enclosed.

Anyway, despite the crowds, I did end up doing the tram as well, as they make it so that there’s a part of the park that you can’t see by foot. It’s well worth doing though, although given that predominantly the tourists here are Asian (and we know how snap-happy they are!) I think they get a bit disgruntled that you can’t take photos with a flash due to the fact that the animals are nocturnal and it’s night time, which means that basically, you can’t take photos at all! With both zoo’s they are definitely major tourist attractions, but they definitely hound you with the message of conservation, which is good, and I guess is especially important in Asia where they may not receive as much education on this.

So it was a big day at the zoos yesterday – I didn’t get home until 12! Tonight I fly to Jakarta, so I’m not going to do anything too strenuous today. Although I did by chance discover that the shoes I bought to wear in Jakarta (you have to wear a certain type of shoes – it will be the first time I haven’t worn thongs in about 2 and a half months!) have mysteriously gone missing, despite the fact that I haven’t even worn them yet! Luckily, I actually bought them when I was here in July on Bugis Street, so it looks like I’ll be heading back there this afternoon!

I probably won’t get a chance to blog now until 2012 (next year!) so I hope you all have a fabulous weekend seeing the New Year in, and that it is a great one for you ☺ xoxo

Posted by ljmac2 17:40 Archived in Singapore Tagged jakarta singapore bus shopping zoo raining weather tourists backpackers bus_stop australia_zoo conservation singapore_zoo night_safari steve_irwin singapore_flyer bugis_street swisshotel new_asia_bar five_stones_hostel Comments (0)

Nha Trang

...the unknown Russian state

overcast 26 °C

So I think I may have over-budgeted on the tan…

Seriously, Nha Trang was nice and all, but the weather was less than desirable…although from the ever informative CNN, I get the feeling it has been like that around a lot of South-East Asia.

So as for similarities between Ho Chi Min and Nha Trang, they include hating Americans and both being Vietnamese cities. (However, I will say that one thing the Vietnamese definitely get from the Yanks, even if they don’t like to admit it, is the whole flag patriotism thing. Seriously you can’t swing a cat without it being there! The same goes for the communism flag with the hammer and sickle on it – it’s everywhere!) The differences however are far more interesting. For starters, Nha Trang is on the coast, whilst Ho Chi Minh is not, and also Nha Trang is basically a state of Russia – there are Russian tourists everywhere! Seriously everything is written in Vietnamese, English…and Russian! And from my experience of walking into many places and being spoken to in a language I don’t understand (as apparently I look Russian, or at least European by the way…), I would say Russian is the preferred second language here…it’s so weird, probably the only place I haven’t travelled to where English isn’t the preferred second language. There are even flights direct from Russia to Nha Trang. Either it’s the whole communism thing, or some rich Russian bought a big bit of land down the Vietnam coast…

Anyway, besides from the lackluster weather, we had a fabulous time in Nha Trang. We stayed at a beautiful hotel, which made things just that little bit nicer, and in all honesty, the weather (or lack thereof) made us get out and see Nha Trang in ways that we probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.

One day we went to the local market, which compared to those in Ho Chi Minh, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh was really quite paltry, but we still managed to buy five pairs of shoes between us among other things! I swear, one day I will go on a trip where I don’t have to send anything home…so far I am onto box three!

Then another day we went to the hot springs and mudbaths, which was actually really cool, and I’m glad we went as it gave me the opportunity to swim somewhere that wasn’t absolutely freezing (seeing they don’t heat their pools over here as apparently it’s warm all the time!) However, we didn’t realize it was a whole day kind of thing, we thought it was you just go and have a dip and be on your way. But there were mud baths and mineral springs and mineral Jacuzzi and mineral pools and mineral waterfalls and all manner of things that took up the majority of the day. It would have been good to know that before we went. Not only is the mud meant to be amazing for your skin, but being in the pool where the water is 37.5-39 degrees Celsius is meant to be so good for you that you don’t even have to pretend to exercise by doing laps – awesome!

On probably the gloomiest day we had there, Christmas Eve, we went to Vinpearl, which is basically an amusement park on a neighbouring island. It was so cold that I had to wear leggings and a cardigan, clothes that I had only brought with me to wear to work in Jakarta, where I have to dress respectfully and what not. Anyway, to get over to Vinpearl you get a cable car, which is all included in the price of the ticket, which is very reasonable really seeing it is $18 including the cable car, the water park (pity it was so freezing, the waterslides looked awesome!), the underwater world (fancy word for aquarium), the food and shopping centre, and the indoor and outdoor theme parks. Given the poor weather (as otherwise I totally would have spent all my time on the waterslides!) we got to have a good look at everything. I even convinced Mum to go on the rollercoaster…apparently she likes the Scenic Rollercoaster at Luna Park, however after this particular outing she informed me that her rollercoaster days were over! At the indoor theme park there was one of those 4D virtual rides that we went on, where they show a movie in 3D and you sit on this platform that kind of moves with it so you feel like you’re in the movie. Anyway, Mum and I were the only anglos to be seen for a mile and man you should have heard everyone else’s reactions to all the twists and turns they took (virtually) on the movie screen…they were screaming and squealing, I swear they thought it was real – hilarious, the best part of it!

Anyway, I suppose this has been a rather short blog, but there is only so much you can write about sleeping in and having leisurely breakfasts and reading whilst you listen to the waves crash on the beach… But I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas wherever you happened to be in the world, and that you all managed to share it with good people who were good fun. Christmas is a bit of a non-event in our family now, but we are thinking of you always ☺ xoxo

Posted by ljmac2 05:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beach market shopping vietnam weather language english ho_chi_minh_city americans nha_trang vinpearl mud_baths russians Comments (0)

Good Morning Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City

overcast 24 °C

In an effort to make up for my slackness on my blog during the latter stages of my time in Siem Reap, here is a very timely update on my time spent in Ho Chi Minh City, my first taste of Vietnam.

Let’s just say that despite being less than an hour’s flight from Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh is a world away. I don’t know what I expected when coming here, yet it is very different from my expectations. It is much ‘richer’ than I imagined it to be, and whilst I’m sure in the outer districts and villages poverty is rife, Hoh Chi Minh pretty much reminds me of a slightly smaller Bangkok, with less smell and more motos (if that’s even possible!) Brands are prevalent here. In Cambodia the only legitimate international brands I saw while I was there was KFC (which possibly stood for Khmer Fried Chicken) and believe it or not, Adidas. Here they’ve got everything, from Chloe and Gucci, right down to Gloria Jean’s!

I feel a little bit sorry for Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh on me coming here straight from Siem Reap, as I feel like Cambodia’s my second home by now and so my judgment is rife! However, so far I do feel that what I have heard about there being a certain warmness to Cambodia that there is not in Vietnam, is true. It’s not that the people are necessarily unfriendly, but they don’t go out of their way to talk to you or introduce you to their culture. Hence, I still know no words in Vietnamese after being here four days already, so everywhere I go I just want to say “au kawn” (Khmer for thank you). Also I suspect there is a much stronger Christian presence here, as it is like a typical Asian city that is obsessed with Christmas. There are decorations and carols everywhere, and you can’t walk into a shop without someone wearing a Santa hat. For those who think I am the Grinch when it comes to Christmas, never fear, Vietnam will get that out of me! Plus whenever people say “hello” to you here, there is not the obligatory bow holding your hands together in the praying position, as there is in Cambodia and Thailand. Maybe it’s the communism, I don’t know…

Also, given how big this city is and that it is a bit of an international business hub, it is surprising at how poor a lot of the English is here. Many shop attendants right in the centre of the district where all the tourist hotels are, speak very limited, if any, English, which is a shock given that this is a tourist town as much as Siem Reap is, and a much richer one at that. It’s got to come down to how much they hate the American’s here. I guess I expected them to still hate them, but just not so openly. If you’re an American tourist coming here, you better have thick skin! You can’t even change Vietnam Dong, the local currency, back into US Dollars, even though they accept both currencies here, which made it very difficult for me when I was trying to get my Indonesian visa, which like all countries pretty much, only accept payment for the visas in US cash!

I may sound like I am being negative but don’t get be wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. Unlike most places I go on holidays with Mum, I haven’t been here before, so this time we have been quite touristy and learned, visiting a lot of things, particularly to do with the war. First there was the War Relics Museum, which was interesting, mainly due to the fact of how one-sided it is. To be fair, the Vietnam War is one I know little about, but I feel coming here has not increased my education much as it is so one-sided! Inside it is full of exhibits showing letters from other governments and photos of rallies held around the world that were against the Vietnam War. Literally, there is a map of the world listing countries that are ‘friends’ with Vietnam, and every country is listed! However, outside was pretty cool, as there were all these restored US tanks and plane and choppers, which was pretty amazing that they actually went to the effort to restore them seeing they belonged to the US! It’s annoying in one way how one-sided it all is, but at the same time, what do you expect in a communist state? They have never been taught anything different so they don’t know any different. And to a much lesser degree, do we really know Germany or Japan’s perspectives behind World War II? Not that I think I would agree with them or anything…

Yesterday, we went to the Independence Palace, which I don’t really understand the significance of seeing it’s not where the President lives anymore, but it was bombed during the war and then when the South won their freedom from the US or whatever, they crashed through the gates and that was a huge deal apparently. However, ‘palace’ is a bit of an odd term to use for it, especially after seeing various ‘working’ palaces throughout South-East Asia. Seeing that it had to be restored after being bombed in the 70s, it is 70s architecture at it’s prime, which I’m sure was very hip back then, but now it looks somewhat tired. Wouldn’t dare tell the Vietnamese that though!

We also went to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, which are about 70ks out of Ho Chi Minh (which translates to two hours because of the traffic!) They are incredibly proud of these and apparently they were instrumental to their ‘victory’ in the South during the war, but I find this odd seeing Mum hadn’t even heard of them until she left home! However, to their credit, at least they achieved their goal of being secretive… Basically the tunnels are a network of 200ks of underground passages that the Cu Chi ‘guerillas’ and community lived in for 15 years, from 1960 until the end of the war in 1975. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but I would have just let the American’s bomb me and die a martyr and come back as something good rather thank live like that for 15 years. Seriously they must have really wanted to live. Although now apparently all the residents of Cu Chi live the life, as they get houses and rice fields and a never-ending pension from the government because of what they did for their country during the war. Thankfully they are looked after seeing that out of the 16,000 people that lived in these tunnels only 4,000 survived.

There is one section of the tunnels that they have opened to tourists and widened so tourists can go in them, and no joke, everyone had to crawl. I wouldn’t call myself claustrophobic, but there’s no air down there, and when people stop and it’s dark and you can’t move, it’s not fun at all…and that was only three meters down travelling for 20 meters! There were three levels of the tunnels and the deepest was 10 meters! Apparently the location of the rest of the tunnels remains a secret because quote, unquote “one day we might have to go to war with Cambodia or China”. Oh dear! However, out at the tunnels was pretty interesting, they showed you all sorts of things about how they lived out there, namely all of the different kinds of traps they made to kill the Americans and all the bomb craters where the Americans tried to kill them but they didn’t succeed because the tunnels were so deep…seriously there was a lot about how many Americans they killed and how dumb the Americans were…although to be fair at one stage the tunnel people built one under the US Army base and would sneak up there and kill approximately five soldiers a night, and it took the Americans a year to work out where these people were coming from… We also watched a lovely propaganda video, where again, quote unquote, they Americans were described as “crazy, evil demons”…

Anyway, besides exhibits on how much the Vietnamese hate the Americans, there is other stuff to do in Ho Chi Minh. Mainly shopping to be fair, although again, nothing is anywhere near as cheap as Cambodia due to the prevalence of all the air-conditioned, high-end shopping centres here. However, there was a good market right next to our hotel that was open day and night, which was rather convenient ☺ Also, the French influence is still very prevalent here, with some beautiful buildings such as the Notre Dame Church and the City Hall. I guess seeing this whole Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos region used to be known as French Indochina that’s pretty understandable, it’s just that you don’t notice the architecture as much in Cambodia and Laos, as they do not have the money to restore their buildings to their former glory.

Anyway, it has been quite a relaxing time here, and I must admit it has been lovely to sleep in a room with curtains that block out the light, and in a bed when I can sleep with a doona and I don’t get hot because there’s air con! Right now we’re at the oh-so-flash Ho Chi Minh domestic airport heading to Nha Trang by the beach so now I hope to get a real tan, not just a riding-your-bike-to-school tan!

Posted by ljmac2 06:03 Archived in Vietnam Tagged shopping cambodia siem_reap vietnam laos vietnam_war ho_chi_minh_city nha_trang cu_chi_caves independence_palace war_remnants_museum french_architecture french_indochina Comments (0)

Catch Cambodia...

...until next time "you say goodbye, and I say hello"

semi-overcast 26 °C

First of all, apologies on my slackness on writing my blog the past week. I have had a few queries about when my next blog entry is going to be, but with last week being my last week at school, in Siem Reap and even in Cambodia, it was very busy with ‘lasts’. Literally we had a schedule for where we were going to eat every night so we had time to say goodbye to everyone…or more to the point say ‘catch’ until next year - hopefully ☺

Secondly, it is with extremely mixed feelings that I tell you I am writing the first blog entry of this trip not from Cambodia. Currently I am in my comparatively luxurious and cleanly hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, formally known as Saigon. It’s funny because when I left home I was so excited about this part of my trip having never been to Vietnam before, but now having to leave school and all the amazing friends I have made, not to mention just the awesome lifestyle that there is in Siem Reap, it’s devastating. I feel bad for Mum (she is here now as well in case you missed that memo) – I think she feels a bit like bad cop, as if she’s coming and dragging me away from it all. But I guess the best thing about feeling like this about leaving everything behind is that I have had more fun over the past two months than I ever thought was possible, particularly with where I was at when I left home, so that’s pretty awesome ☺ And besides, it’s just catch until next time right?!

Anyway, let me think, what has been happening since last time I wrote my blog…there’s been so much I don’t even know where to start or where to end so things are going to be a bit all over the place…

Well last weekend Courtnay and I went to Battambang for the weekend as there was a music festival called the Friendship Festival on there, which is half Khmer acts and half Western DJs, one of whom was a guy we know from when we went to Sihanoukville. It was a pretty interesting weekend to say the least! It started off with Courtnay walking into our room at home from being out, just as the 6am alarm was going off to remind us that for some reason we booked the 7am bus! That turned out to be a joyous ride filled with ice-cold air conditioning and blaring Khmer karaoke music that I could still hear when I had my iPod up full blast. Seriously, the Khmer people were not singing along and I definitely didn’t know the words – was it completely necessary?!

So I went to Battambang the last time I was here and did the whole boat trip and everything so I knew what to expect, but Battambang is definitely no Siem Reap. We literally could not find a bucket in sight all weekend, not even at the festival! It’s definitely not your party town kind of place, it’s like walking in a ghost town at night, there isn’t even that many restaurants to choose from and they all close at 10 or 11! However, the ‘sightseeing’ as you would call it around Battambang is really cool. There’s the Bamboo Train, which I’m still not entirely sure if it is called that because it is made from bamboo or because they used to use it to transport bamboo, but anyway it’s on this single railway line that you ride along through the rice fields, and then when you meet a train coming in the opposite direction, one of the trains gets dismantled so the other can continue on it’s way. Anyway, they take you up to the first ‘stop’, which is where there’s an old lady selling drinks and a bunch of kids very eager to show you around the brick making factory, for want of a better word, which was actually really cool.

After the Bamboo Train we went to a Cambodian winery, which compared to what we know as a winery, was hilarious, seeing there are four rows of grapes in someone’s backyard. There was actually only one kind of wine to taste though, but there was a horrifically strong brandy. Neither of us could drink ours so we gave it to the tuk tuk driver and even he struggled! He did finish it though – not one to turn down a free drink I suspect! Luckily for him we had to cut through this back road to get to our next destination, which was actually one of the coolest parts of the day. In Battambang especially, they are not shy on commenting on how much they love your white skin, and along this road I don’t think they’ve seen some barangs for a while, as the kids were running out of their houses and people were taking a break from their work at the rice fields just to get a look of us!

Our next destination was the Killing Cave, which as it’s name suggests, was used by the Khmer Rouge for many of the atrocities that occurred during that time. Similar to the Khmer Rouge stuff you see in Phnom Penh, there are monuments filled with the victims’ skulls and bones and whatever else they have found at the sight. Again, unfortunately I am not sure whether this came about before or after the war, but it is also a holy site up there so there is lots of blessings and Buddahs going on up there as well.

Anyway as for the festival, the main reason why we went to Battambang, it was pretty funny. The Khmer part in particular was packed. There was this guy there who must have been Cambodia’s answer to Michael Buble, as whenever his name was mentioned the crowd just went nuts. It was a pity they didn’t speak a bit more English though, as the MCs kept pointing to the moon and stuff all night and we were just like “why are they so obsessed with this moon?” But it turns out it was because there was a lunar eclipse that night we found out the next day – a tad awkward that we didn’t spot that one…

So once we got back to Siem Reap we were thrilled to hear that on the Saturday night we were away, pretty much none of our friends were out – that’s right, we are the high season! However, it did leave some pretty big expectations for our last week, which means that between the emotions of leaving school and everyone in Siem Reap, and going out, and packing and doing whatever jobs you have to do when you’re leaving somewhere after being there for two months, right now my eyes are practically hanging out of my head I am so tired! Totally worth it though, every single minute of it ☺

So my last week at school was thrown out of whack a little bit, as a group of ten new volunteers rocked up on Tuesday morning. They are on a 10-day tour kind of thing of Siem Reap, which includes going to school at ABCs and Rice because Jenny and Gary who organized the trip, have volunteered at ABCs before. Because it went from there being one volunteer at school (me!) to 10, we had a different schedule all week where each of the new volunteers ran different activities. It culminated on Friday, which was kind of cool seeing it was my last day, when they brought all this fruit to school as well as bottled water and even fairy bread (the kids had never had fairy bread before, it was so funny to watch them eat it and not be able to deal with the sprinkles!). Courtnay came into school as well on Friday to surprise her kids, which was so cool, and also good for me because I had someone to help me initiate our regular Friday dance party!

It was a fantastic, yet very hard day. I got bombarded with the usual mass of cards that all the classes make for volunteers when they leave, and some of the kids even bought me presents, which I feel so bad about, but it’s also so special. One of the teachers had asked me the day before what my favourite number was, and I said seven, so she gave me a jar of these tiny little stars they fold out of paper here and call ‘lucky stars’, and she said she made 70 for me because I said seven was my lucky number – so cute! At the end of the day for each class they all lined up and we sang ‘Hello, Goodbye’ by the Beatles, basically ABCs theme song, and they were also incredibly keen to sing three little monkeys, which I taught my class in music about two weeks ago and they just can’t get enough of it! Literally we sing it about 15 times a day – very fitting though seeing I was in the monkey class!

Luckily having the youngest class, only a couple of the kids understood what was going on and cried, which made it easier for me – at least I could hold on until they left! One of my kids kept saying “goodbye Teacher, see you on Monday!” (the really cool one I think I mentioned once before, who likes to play Uno and was hit on her foot by her mum) so I hope she doesn’t get too much of a shock next week. Also there’s a kid we’ve had to take to the doctor everyday, as she had to have an operation last week but she still needed to get her wound cleaned everyday, and when we went on Friday they said she didn’t have to go back anymore, that it could be cleaned at school as it was much better, which made me feel very happy that I know she will be looked after ok ☺ Everyday when we ride home from school we go the same was as a few of the older kids and they like to ride with us, but on Friday we had an entourage, as half the kids wanted to ride up to the main road to us. One of the girls kept saying “ride slow Teacher, you leave at the end of the road and I am sad.”

Anyway, I have so many more stories about school and Pub Street and just life and how great it has been that I want to write about, but one blog can only be so long before losing one’s interest. Besides, I need to save up some cool stories for when I come home, otherwise I’ll just be boring! But from the bottom of my heart I just want to thank everyone I met during my time in Cambodia for making it pretty much the best two months of my life. Whether you were mentioned in the blog or not, you know who you are, and my time there wouldn’t have been the same without you. I know I’ll be back, as I can’t possibly say goodbye to ABCs and the kids and the town forever, so I hope that we will all meet again one day and continue the party, whether at home, back in the Reap, or somewhere else out there in the world. And to everyone who’s reading this and doesn’t understand what I’m talking about, sorry for the after school special, but I hope that I at least had a story or two to entertain you…if not look me up when I get home, there are plenty more where that came from ;)

Posted by ljmac2 06:52 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children parties bus cambodia phnom_penh siem_reap teacher bars winery sihanoukville volunteers pub_street battambang khmer_rouge bamboo_train killing_cave Comments (0)

An epic weekend on Pub Street...

...just a little insight into my other life in Siem Reap :)

semi-overcast 25 °C

So basically in Siem Reap I have two lives – my school life and my other life, which lets face it, I may as well call my Pub Street life – and it’s amazing how much the two coincide! I feel like I’ve told a lot of random stories about school, which is really the main reason I’m here, but I feel that seeing Pub Street has also played such a big part in my life over the past couple of months, you really deserve to be introduced to that as well…

This past weekend was epic, not just your average, run-of-the-mill Pub Street night out. For starters, Friday was Courtnay’s last day at school, which was so weird for me, let alone her, seeing she literally started at ABCs the day before me and since Amelia left, we have been the only two there…now I have to spend two hours a day by myself in my rides to and from school! Anyway, as Courtnay taught the oldest class there, her kids actually got what it meant for her to be leaving, and they were devastated, literally sobbing uncontrollably, which of course made leaving even harder for her…it was so heart breaking, it made me want to cry. And it’s so hard as how can you stay in contact with the kids themselves; write letters? I doubt they would even be able to afford the postage. Anyway, needless to say, Friday was quite depressing, which meant at lunch, as well as our regular one mango shake, one mixed fruit shake, one vegetable fried rice with cashew nuts and one fresh spring rolls with chicken, we also had two iced coffees with Baileys ☺ And after school, laden with sweat and dust in our finest school clothes, we went to the ever so classy FCC (Foreign Correspondents’ Club) for sangria happy hour…even if we’d dressed up to go there I doubt we would have had enough class!

The first weekend in December also happens to be the weekend that Siem Reap is inundated with extremely keen fit people who decide they want to ride a bike or run out around all the temples. Random, of all the reasons to come to Siem Reap, and there are many, but to exercise does not rate highly among them for me. However, that meant that Friday night was a pretty quiet one by Pub Street standards, which was awesome seeing Saturday night was Courtnay’s massive white out party for her birthday (and for the 1000th time, no it was not a racist party, it was a white out party seeing Ankgor What?!, the bar we had it at, is pretty much built from UV lights, so seeing the public would still be there of course, then we could see who was there for the party.) Anyway, we went out briefly on Friday and were talking to this expat, who amazingly in this small town we hadn’t met before, and he was like “hey, I heard there’s this massive white party here tomorrow night”…amazing the power of Facebook in a small town!

On Saturday morning we awoke to many grumpy people in our house, as there was a wedding on next door all weekend, which started with monks chanting and 4am apparently, and that or horrendous, tinny Cambodian pop music continued until about 12am this morning. However, luckily for Courtnay and I, both of our rooms (although we only really use one of them, the other just has stuff in it) are on the opposite side of the building to the noise…all that woke us up was the crappy quality Cambodian curtains, that seem to be a staple on every window in this country (we were good citizens and cleaned out all our spare beds for lodgers the following night.) However, despite the lack of sleep on universal sleep-in day, everyone was in fine form for Saturday night.

We had dinner first at Ankgor Famous, this little restaurant that we always go to as they have free popcorn, free fruit salad, 50 cent beer and buy one, get one free cocktails. It’s entirely Khmer run, and the girls there love us, as whenever we go we sit out the front and convince people to come in, so they don’t have to stand there spruking about their free popcorn, etc, etc. I also bought a cake, which was good, except the fans there are so intense that the candles just didn’t light, but it was the first real dessert I think I’ve had since I left home. Really I think I bought it more for myself than for Courtnay!

Then we went to Ankgor What?! and it was awesome coz so many people came out, not just our usual crew of younger volunteers. Tammy and Matt who run ABCs came, Sherry and Gemma who work for Globalteer (the agency we volunteer through), random travellers we had met earlier in the week and invited, friends we know just from generally hanging out on Pub Street too much, our own personal tuk tuk driver, Bruce Lee, bartenders from possibly the only other place in town we frequent enough to call them friends, plus a whole lot of volunteers who have been here for like a month and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them out before. And not only were they out, they were dancing on the tables! (Really, that is the only place to be seen in Ankgor What!? Although technically you can’t actually dance on the tables, you can dance on the benches or on the back of the benches…if you dance on the tables the security guards come along with sticks and hit your legs until you get off. It’s actually quite a fun challenge to see how long you can get away with being on there until they see you.) Kate and Julie, two other Globalteer volunteers, did the bike race that morning and they were in fine form. Julie even got a medal for being the oldest woman to compete in the race, and she backed that up by dancing on the tables and Ankgor What?! Although she did admit the next day that she had had a couple of cosmos earlier, and that they may have knocked her around a bit! At 12 Charlie, the owner, turned the music off and the whole bar sang Happy Birthday. And Courtnay could get all the buckets she wanted for free, so pretty much everyone we knew got free drinks all night as we just passed them all around – mmmm, so hygienic! So Court had what she said was the birthday ever, and I think we both agree that that was definitely the best night we’ve had on Pub Street ever…and there’s been a lot to choose from so that’s a pretty big call! There was a minor incident of mine where I was dancing on the top of the benches and fell off backwards into the crowd on the dance floor and pulled someone else I don’t know very well down with me…they were quite angry at the time, but I’ve only got a grazed elbow so it could have been worse!

Sunday was Courtnay’s actual birthday, so me, her, Estelle, another volunteer here from Tassie, and Will, who’s from Armidale, had a bit of a splurge day. We had brunch at Blue Pumpkin, which was about $6 a meal – expensive! Then we went to some posh hotel’s pool (again, a little too classy), had a massage, had Bailey’s milkshakes and then that night me, Court and Estelle went out again (everyone else said they couldn’t sleep the night before because of the wedding so they needed to get an early night – why stay at home then when the wedding’s still on, it’s the perfect excuse to go out!). Court had steak for dinner, which apparently was a massive deal for her - don’t see the appeal myself – and then we went to Temple Club for buckets, as we felt a bit bad we hadn’t been there the night before, as we usually start off there always, before heading over to Ankgor What. There are really cool Khmer staff there, Sally, Sally’s sister (they’re not actually sisters but they look similar and we don’t know the other one’s name) and Charlie, and this awesome security guard, who shakes my hand every time he sees me. He is also awesome as every time you buy a bucket, which for us is fairly regularly, you get a free t-shirt. You could clothe the whole of Cambodia with these t-shirts, except for the fact that they are bar t-shirts so that’s not entirely appropriate. Anyway, the reason the security guard is awesome is because we got bored of having so many t-shirts, so we invented a game where you tie them in a knot, throw them at the fan and see what table they land at. Then the security guard goes and gets it and brings it back to us! Hilarious! Except for this one time when Amelia did it and blew a light bulb…imagine if we were responsible for a black out on Pub Street…what would we do?! Anyway, there were no such immature shenanigans going on last night, but Estelle and I did manage to get them to play Happy Birthday at Temple as well and make the whole bar sing to Court, which was an achievement.

Oh and how could I forget – I totally made Courtnay’s birthday by having a fish spa! (Those things where you sit on the edge and dangle your feet in and the fish are meant to eat the dead skin off them? They are everywhere in Siem Reap.) Court and I set each other challenges from time to time, and I failed one and that was my punishment…I can’t believe I agreed to it! In case you didn’t know, I hate fish in all forms – alive or dead – and I had to sit with my feet in there for five minutes, but everyone got so bored of me sitting on the edge of the tank having a panic attack, that in the end I only had to put one foot in…I think I may have killed a few fish in the process as well with all of my violent thrashing. We are friends with one of the fish spa men, James, so we went to his one, but I really think we may have done him more of a disservice by frightening all his customers away and killing half his fish! Needless to say, it was a horrendous experience and every time I think about it my foot feels violated! But yes it is on video, so I can prove that I have done it and will never have to do it again.

So yes that was this weekend just gone, which unbelievably was my last full weekend in Siem Reap seeing we are going to go to Battambang this weekend for a music festival. I can’t believe how fast this time has flown…it sounds cliché but I cannot even begin to contemplate the thought of leaving Siem Reap yet! I thought I came back here to get it out of my system, but now I don’t know if I ever will. All I know is that I will definitely be back – I thought two weeks wasn’t long enough, well neither is two months!

Posted by ljmac2 03:41 Archived in Cambodia Tagged people parties cambodia siem_reap birthday volunteers pub_street ankgor_what?! Comments (2)

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