Laos & Thailand. Day 3

Start of trip || < || >

For details of the places I visited in Vientiane and Bangkok, with GPS Coordinates, see my books Vientiane: 20 Must See Attractions and Bangkok: 20 Must See Attractions.

Outside, tree branches strain against the onslaught of the wind. Inside the hotel, i am sound asleep. Dark dreams as stormy as the weather outside, fill my thoughts, but i sleep on while time is running out.

A clatter in my room rip me from my dreams. The storm outside had died down. Sleepily i look at the floor where my external battery pack had landed. I have two of these monster Anker batteries, packing 15000 mAh of power with the weight of a brick. In my dreams i have kicked the battery off the bed where it was charging my iPad mini. Luckily the cable pulled out and the iPad did not follow the battery pack to the floor.

I press the menu button on the iPad and gulp. It is 6.05 am, shit. I fall out of bed and grab a fresh pair of clothes i have folded on the edge of the bed the night before. Having already packed the night before, I am out of the room and running the three flights of stairs down in 4 minutes flat. The reception guy is still fast asleep as i burst out of the hotel.

As i run into the main road, i notice the name of a hotel across the road from the one i stayed in. The hotel is named the same as the wi-fi connection I was given to use in the hotel i stayed in, they are pirating the hotel’s internet connection. Now i know why only the corner units have proper internet connection as they face the other hotel. Internet piracy is actually a big thing in Asia, you can read all about how i got hacked here.

The main road has four lanes, two going each way, split by an island. I run up the road in hope of finding a tuk tuk. To my surprise, they do not wait on street corners and outside hotels as in Cambodia. Although there is traffic in the road, it is mostly people going to work. The few tuk tuks that do pass me, already have customers. With two backpacks, i run the just over 2km in about 20 minutes, all uphill. By the time i arrive at the bus station, my lungs are burning. Damn i am out of shape.

A tour bus is standing in the road, ready to leave. I go to the first small ticket office and show my ticket to the guy. He is the controller for the people getting on the bus. I notice that they give him a pink picket, and he then exchanges that for a yellow bus receipt. He shakes his head and says that my ticket is not valid. I ask him where i can get a ticket for the bus to Vientiane, and he says i have to buy a new ticket at another booth about 30 meters deeper into the compound. As i start to walk over, the guy that was loading the bus asks if i need help, and I show him my ticket. He informs me that all i have to do is exchange the ticket at the second office, i do not need to buy a need ticket, i must just ask for an exchange. He also adds that i need to hurry, as the bus is leaving in a few minutes, well before the 7 am departure time as scheduled.

Thanking the guy, i sprint over to the second office. There, i hand my ticket over, and ask for an exchange ticket. The guy at the counter writes out a ticket for 100 000 kip, with no destination. Without missing a beat, he flicks the ticket to me, then picks up the book he was reading. I head back to the controller office, and the guy reluctantly takes the ticket, but slips it under his clipboard. He then tells me it is okay, i can get on the bus. The baggage handler then informs me to hurry. I refuse. I want a receipt for my bus ticket as i now have no proof I paid. The controller guy reassures me it is all okay, i can get on the bus, again I refuse, I want a receipt. At this point, a guy that i presume must be a manager or something, shows up and wants to know what is going on. I inform him that i want a receipt for my bus ticket. He asks the controller guy something in Laos, and then turns to me and says the controller guy says i have no ticket.

Catching them all off guard, i lean into the small office and over the counter and rip the clipboard up and grab my pink ticket. I hold it up for all to see and exclaim that this is my ticket that the controller took. For a few seconds, deadly silence descends on us. Just go, the controller guy snarls through gritted teeth. The baggage guy whispers next to me, you better get on the bus now. Nodding, i get on the bus, and head to the back.

My pink ticket that I still have.

I find the couple that i had traveled with before, near the back of the bus. They look exhausted and not too happy. I sit down near them, and ask them if they had exchanged their bus ticket for new ones. The guy hesitate a little, then say yes. I say they wanted to charge me for a new ticket, but got them to give me a free exchange, and then ask him if he had to pay. He says unconvincingly no, he did not need to pay. I leave it at that, and never did find out if he had run through the same troubles as me. I did however find out that the hotel he stayed in had called him a tuk tuk to take him to the bus station.

Strangely, the back seat is open, so i move over and make myself at home. Soon after, the bus heads off.

View inside the bus from my cosy spot at the back of the bus.

About 15 minutes or so after departure, a conductor goes though the bus and ask for bus tickets. I am so glad i argued for getting a receipt, as else i would have been made to pay for a ticket, as well as probably a large bribe for them not to call the police and say i am a stowaway. Corruption. The conductor is a bit taken back by my pink slip, and shrugs his shoulders and move on. I glance over as the couple show their yellow tickets, and note that it is not the same as what the controller guy handed out to the other passengers, so i wonder where he got the tickets. Tip, always hold onto your ticket or a copy of a receipt. The only time you may give it, is to the conductor or the bus driver, however I would suggest you argue and try to hold onto your ticket, you should get a conductor slip and a customer slip with each ticket. It actually says on the ticket, keep your copy (just under the 100 000 kip line). In Asia, crime is harshly punished and as a foreigner, they know you have money and will threaten you with jail and even throw you in jail for a long time, for small things. I saw some being arrested later in my trip, but that is for later.

The countryside wiz past as mile after mile go by. Unfortunately the bus’s window is not that clean, and the driver did not want to stop and clean it for me. 🙁

 

 

At points, we pick up passengers along the way, or drop people off. Sometimes we take packages and goods destined for a a town, and it gets packed where ever there is space, even in the isle. However, it is better than the buses where plastic seats are placed in the isle for people to sit on.

The bus remains partially full, so i am able to retain my back seat and snooze as much as i can get.

Almost each time we stop to drop someone off, or pick someone up, it is at a small market and people selling all kinds of stuff swarm the bus. Some have boiled eggs on sticks while others have what looks like cooked and spread open rats on sticks. I was going to get a stick with boiled eggs, when i noticed one egg’s shell was broken and i could see inside. The eggs was green and fungus wires were already growing inside. Somehow, my dry oats is more appealing, and i go for a bowl of that.

Bus after bus and truck pass us as we eat up the road. Most buses, are loaded to the brim, with whatever people need to transport.

 

Eventually we pull into a small compound, where there is a small market and restrooms. In Cambodia, the restrooms are free to use, but not here. Every place we stopped at, you had to pay for the privilege of using the restroom. Not that the restrooms are much different that those of Cambodia. It is standard Asia restrooms, with at many places the urinals for the guys are against a wall that all have to walk past to get to the actual toilets, and the toilets are squatting toilets with buckets to wash you sexy ass. Sometimes, the toilet is just scrubs alongside the road.

 

 This is actually one of the better toilets i have seen around. Clean at least. Toilet paper is not used at all by locals.

 

My bus is the back one, and in better shape than the one in front. The place have the same what looks like rats on sticks, as well as eggs well past their sell by date. I decide to go for the safest thing i could get, and the moment the couple saw what i got, they had to get some as well. 🙂

Spicy chips and a bonus packet of caramel popcorn, lunch.

While i am eating a fly licks its legs as it is waiting for a piece of my lunch. I try and shoe it away, but it refuses, it just sits there and salivate over my lunch. I manage to get the ipad right up to him and take a picture. Then, i bring my finger right to him, and flick him off the seat. The fly flies though the air and bounces off a guy’s head a seat forward and across the isle. He snaps his head around and i duck behind the seat in front of me as i try to contain my laughter. Man, even if i tried a 100 times, i do not think i would be able to get that angle again.

 

After about 30 minutes or so, we are on the road again. Boringly, the miles go by. By 5 pm, just as the sun is setting, we pull into a large bus terminal with a market, in the middle of nowhere. The market have all kinds of things for sale, and the couple, having no warm clothes with them, contemplate on getting a jacket. Eventually they decide it is too expensive. Laos is considerably colder than Siem Reap, and i am glad that i packet a fleece jacket that has its own hood. Tip, aircons on buses in Asia have only two settings; not working or full blast. Always take at least a fleece jacket with, you can even use it as a pillow. In the market, i spot some fresh bread rolls for 10 000 kip (just over a dollar), and got me some.

 

 

 

 

 3 bread rolls gone, 3 to go.

The miles again drag by as the sun makes room for the moon.

At some point early in the morning, i think it was like 1 am, my bladder awakens me with an urgent message, find a toilet. Unfortunately the toilet on board is not functional, and the toilet is in fact used as a storage area (checked it out earlier). As the miles go by, my situation changes from desperate, to dire. I move into the stage where one thinks of all kinds of schemes. Having been on the road before, i have done a few things. I have a stainless steel flask, and a 1.5l water bottle about half full. I empty as much water as i can into the flask, and then down the rest of the water in the bottle, being about 1/2 a liter. My plan is to relieve myself into the bottle, that i have done with fruit juice bottles before, however, to my dismay, the opening of the water bottle is way too small. I am not bragging, just stating facts. With the added water that i drank, things move from dire to where i am contemplate throwing the water out of the flask and urinating in the flask. Hey, it is stainless, i can wash it out with bleach. Just as i start to pour the water back, the bus stops to drop someone off. Desperately is shuffle to the front of the bus, trying not to pee in my pants.

With sign language that i hope i never have to repeat, i demonstrate that i need a toilet and will only be 2 minutes. Not giving the driver any time to argue, i hop off the buss. I decide to go and stand in front of the bus, near a building. My reasoning is, that should he pull away, i will easier stop him than being behind the bus. The building turns out to be a roadside shop, almost like the one i encountered on my return trip from Sihanoukville where the owner opened the shop while i was busy.  Throwing caution to the wind, i let it go while illuminated by the bus’s lights and oncoming cars. It must have been a show.  Halfway though, the driver calls for me to get in as he wants to go, but i am in full flow and nothing is going to stop the force now. Finally, after flooding the local area, i am able to return to the bus and a very agitated driver. I have no idea how they manged to be named the most peaceful country in the world, when they do not negotiate and are so inflexible. Maybe they just do not tolerate violence, no negotiations, 🙂

It is just before 4 am when we eventually arrive in Vientiane, at some bus station. Here, the tuk tuks are powered by two stroke engines. More noise and smoke. The couple had managed to get in touch with their hotel to change their booking date, so they want to go to their hotel. I check my iPhone (ForEvermap application that has offline maps with hotels and so on), and see there are two backpacker hostels listed in town. One for $3 a night, and one for $5 a night that includes breakfast of eggs, bread and coffee. The pictures for the second backpacker lodge looks better, so i decide on that. We take a tuk tuk together. The couple’s hotel is not far from the backpacker place, so i walk the last two blocks, using my iphone’s GPS to get me there.

At the place, i find a backpacker working on his laptop, and a guy at reception, just about to close up shop. I ask him if he has a room and he says yes. However, i will have to be out by 10 am or pay for another day. I am like, it is 4am in the morning, why should i pay for a full day when the day is already over. That is the rules he goes. So i go, okay, what time do you open in the morning for checking in for a new day? 6 am he says. So i go, okay, so if i come back at 6 am, i can stay the night and check out at 10 am the next day. Yes he goes. Then i ask him, can i wait in the reception area? Sure he goes. So i end up making myself comfortable on a couch in the reception area, and fall asleep.

At 6 am, he comes to wake me, and informs me that i can now check in for the new day. Rules are rules, no negotiations in Laos. Tiredly i follow him to my bunk bed, lock my stuff away, take a quick shower, then fall asleep.

Reception area of backpacker hostel in Vientiane, Laos.

 

Other bunk beds in the hostel room, taken from my top bunk. 6 beds in total in the room. One shared shower and toilet outside.

Kampot, Kep, and Sihanoukville. Day 6

Start of trip || < || >

For details of the places I visited in Kampot, Kep, and Sihanoukville, with GPS Coordinates, see my book Kampot, Kep and Sihanoukville.

 

Last night I arranged with the manager of the hotel I am staying in, to be my guide to white mountain, where “the whitch of Kampot” lives. He said we should meet at 7am, then go for breakfast. I commented that is not needed, as I have breakfast in my room in the morning. Oops, should not have said that. What? He asked, and I can just see it in his eyes that he is under the impression that I am cooking in my hotel room. In actually, I brought a bag of rolled oats with me, as I love it, and to save a bit of money. So in the mornings and evening, I just have oats with milk and bananas. However, it took me all of 10 minutes to convince the guy I was not cooking in my room, and in the end he settled for that I only eat a chocolate bar for breakfast. But then he lectures me in how bad it is not to eat a proper breakfast. 🙂

So, we eventually agreed then on meeting at 8am, so he can have breakfast. Now, I am renting a scooter from him as Tuk tuk prices is stupid high. You can rent a scooter for a week, with the price a Tuk tuk asks to take you to Bokor mountain. I expected him to take another scooter and go and show me, but no, we are going with the scooter that I am renting from him, and he is driving. So I end up being bitch on the scooter I am renting. I hold on with my left hand onto the grab handle at the back, while taking pictures with my right. We are doing a blistering pace of about 30km/h. After about 5 minutes of driving, he turns around and says, sit closer. WHAT? Sit closer he says again. I inch a bit more forward on the seat. We go about a minute more, and he yells, sit closer, your weight at the back makes the front wheel to light on the road. Crap, I knew I should not have had that extra banana last night. Reluctantly i move closer.

We continue our record setting pace, and I enjoy the scenery while oxcarts overtake us. Slowly, i start to fall asleep. A loud crack wakes me up as I slide forward and my helmet slammes into the back of his, while i body hug him. The manager, totally ignoring me pressed againt him, points into the distance alongside the road and says. That is my house. I look at the small humble wood house standing in a rice field a distance away. Oh, cooooo, shit… I scream as he pulls away without further ado and I almost fall off the back. “Sit closer”, he yells at me over the wind noise.

We drive for a few miles, and I lean forward and inform him that he can go faster. He complies, and increases the speed to 35km/h, on an 80km/h limited road, in very good condition.
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Cambodian countryside as we make our way to white mountain.

We finally turn off from the main road, onto a dirt road, and head deeper into the countryside. A few km down the road, the guy says that he is not sure where the place is. Now, when Cambodians say they will be a guide for you, as they know where the place that you are looking for is, they actually sometimes mean that they probably would be able to find it by asking the locals there. We stop by a house next to the road, where a small boy plays outside. Unfortunately the boy has no idea where white mountain is, so we stop a women cycling past us. She points to a small mountain we have just passed. We drive back, and find a small footpath heading through scrubs, then up the mountain. The hotel manager walks to a house across from the road, and asks if he can store his motorbike there, then joins me. The small footpath splits in two, and I go and check out the short path to the left. This turns out to be an unimpressive small Buddhist shrine, so I head back and follow the path up the mountain.

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The path starts out as nice steps, then turns into a gravel path, that turns into climb over rocks and scale the side of the mountain and make your own path.

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Finally we come to “the witch of kampot” house. She turns out to be a very sweet Buddhist nun, of over 100 years old. As we pass her ramshackle house to go to the cave temple that is over 1000 years old, I notice she has a small radio playing to keep her company.

She shows us where the cave temple is, and follows us in.

imageCave temple.

The nun says something in Khmer to the hotel manager, and he translates that she wants me to make a donation at the Buddha shrine. I comment that I do not pray to Buddha, but i hand over 10 000 Riel ($2.5) (all I can afford) to her. (2000 Riel buys 1kg of rice). I say that it is for her, to use for her. The nun is very thankful and blesses me. Then, she says something else to the hotel manager, and he traslates that I am allowed into her holy prayer temple. This temple is inside her house, right at the back, and is a rare privilege. With great respect, I enter her house, past her bedroom, and into her inner temple, where there is a shrine and prayer area for her father, mother, herself, and buddha.

image Inner holy temple.

imageShrine for the nun herself.

imageShrine for her father.

imageShrine for her mother.

Returning outside, we go onto the top of mountain and snap some pictures.

imageView from the top of White Mountain where the “Witch of Kampot” lives.

It is time to head back, and I am thirsty as hell. I spot these two water tanks, and ask if it is drinkable water.  The nun says yes it is rain water, but then produces a small bottle of water for me. I am reluctant to take the bottled water, but the hotel manager informs me not to worry, as the bottle goes for les than 10cents in town. After thanking her, we head back.
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I ask the hotel manager how she gets food and stuff, and he informs me she lives solely from donations from people coming to her for advice and blessings. She has devoted her life to being a nun.

Next, we to go and see phnom Sasear, that is close by. There is actually two caves, one called bat cave, and the other one called elepahnt cave (due to elephant statues in it). There is also a few shrines around, and a round building with sculptings all around the sides.

imageRoad on the way to Phnom Sasear.

imageSteps leading up to shrines at Phnom Sasear.

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imageEntering bat cave, that has probably 20 or so bats. 🙂

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Inside bat cave. It is not a large cave by any standard, and in Cambodia you will soon realize, that any cave that has at least one bat in, is called bat cave. Next, we head over to the elephant cave. The cave has two levels, an upper small level, where the elephant statues are, and then a lower level that requires hands and feet climbing down to just a cave. I was too tired to go down just another empty cave, so only did the upper part.

imageElephants in Elephant cave.

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Looking down at the lower level. There is a small base that I went downt to, where the people are standing, but from there it is hands and feet, and not really anything to see. If you have never been inside a cave, go for it.

The hotel manager asks me if I want to go and see another cave, and I ask how far. Close by, he says. Close by turns out to be over 40km away, past Kep.  That is 1 1/2 hours of riding. My ass starts to go numb as we crawl toward the place. I shift my weight from one buttcheek to the next to try and get some blood flowing. “Sit still, move closer”, is my rewards for my efforts to save my sexy ass.

Eventually we make it, and I try to climb off. My legs are as numb as my butt, and almost gives in. I hold onto the bike for support, and get a sideways glance from the hotel manager. “It is okay, they will not bite you” the manager says and I hear a few kids behind me chuckle. “They just want bananas” the guy continues. What? I ask as I turn around, and stop as a monkey stands way too close to my pride and joy, while holding out his hands with nails like hawk talons that can rip through delicate flesh. I try to get my iPod out to take a picture, but the manager shoes the monkey away and comments, you safe now, I chase away. I bite my lip while the kids around me almost roll on the ground from laughter. About six kids of around five to twelve form around me, and offer to be my guide for $1, into the cave. I chose the only adult guide around, as one I believe the kids should be in school and not put to work, and two, they laughted at me. We are standing in a large open parking area, and the guide points up to the mountain and says that there is a bat cave we can first go and have a look at, and I can feed the monkeys. I decline, and hear the kids chuckle and say to the guide that I am afriad of them. He gives me an up and down look, then just shakes his head at me and says I must follow him. We head to where two statues are, and what looks like a small opening. Great I think, another small cave, boy, how wrong am I.

This place is amazing, and a must do. You walk through a tunnel that water at some time years back have formed, and come to the center of what is almost a small volcano. All around the side is vegetation, and at the edges of the clearing in the center, a small river runs all around where a number of shrines are located against the rockface. At points, a number of tunnels lead into the mountain, that can be explored. (I did some, but as it is the wet season, it is very muddy and you cannot go far, suggest the dry season to explore them).

image Tunnel as you go through the side of the mountain. On the other side, is a reclining Buddha statue.

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imageHotel manager taking a break, and having his picture taking by some of the kids that laughed at me.

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As I stand around, I get an incoming email. (3G connection is good all over Cambodia, and I have unlimited data at a snail pace, for $2.5 a month, that is actually the cheapest plan). I note that I got $25 donation though the PayPal button on my website, so I give the guide $2 for the short tour instead of the $1 he asked for. Okay, I am a softy, now shut up. 🙂 (For those not knowing, Cambodia is very poor, and .50c buys 1kg of rice, also, I work on a very limited budget from the sales of my books and would give more if I could).

All too soon we have to head back, and it is another 1 1/2 hours of butt numbing riding back, with “sit still, and move closer” almost the only conversation on the way. At least there are no monkeys at the hotel where I stay.

Back at the hotel, I inform the hotel manager that I plan on going to Sihanoukville, as I want to cover that in my book as well. It is 115km away, and he informs me that absolutely Not, may I use the rental bike to go that far (although we just did it two up today). Reluctantly I book a $4 bus ride to Sihanoukville, then do like I normally do, and hunt on the Internet for deals. If you know where to look, then you can always find specials, like the hotel I stayed in for the past few days. The manager just started there a month ago, and they just put the hotel on bookings.com, and I got it for a better deal than the backpacker places down the road. After a bit of searching, I find a hotel that is also having a special, and again get a room for very cheap, and this one actually has hot water and air conditioning, cool.