Still trying to catch up on updates, this one will cover the time from end of August until late October. The countries: Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia.
While we were in Vietnam, we realized we really felt like some beach (that was before we actually got get quite a bit of that in Vietnam itself). WWe also remembered that we really liked Malaysia and would definitely go back there, so we bought a flight to KL with the idea of visiting some places we missed last time and later going to Perhentian or Tioman island. KL was chaotic as usual, but I still kinda like the place. It’s nothing special, but we have a guesthouse where we always stay and some restaurants we really like. Sometimes returning to the familiar feels good when you are on a long trip… But because we also felt like something new we headed down to Melakka, which although rather touristy is a really nice place, with good food, a relaxed atmosphere and lots of pretty old houses in the Straigths Chinese style. Definitely recommended! Next stop: Georgetown. Two years ago we already spent a couple of days on Penang island, but we never really bothered with visiting its main city. Turns out that was a great mistake, because I’m absolutely in love with this place now! There’s the usual mix of cultures typical for Malaysia, although Georgetown’s population is primarily of Indian and Chinese descent and Malays are rather underrepresented. This means that the town is an absolute foodie heaven, even more so than the rest of the country. On top of that there’s a lot of really nice architecture, a vibrant arts community, nice cafes and a generally pleasant atmosphere, so the week we spent there passed really really fast. I think at one point in the future I want to spent several month in Georgetown…
Next on our list was going to an island. As I mentioned before our original plans included some Malaysian islands, but if you are already in Georgetown, Ko Tao is quite close and in fact easier to reach. Normally that is, because when we tried to make our way there, there was a train strike in the south of Thailand, as well as a cancelled ferry due to bad weather and several roadblocks for various reasons. This turned our trip into a 24 hour odysee which in retrospect could be funny. Could, but isn’t. This really was one of the hardest and most frustrating journeys of this trip and if I never have to repeat it, it still would be to soon. Anyway, all’s well that ends well, and once we reached the beach, we basically dropped to the activity levels of narcoleptic sloths, put our bodies in basic life support mode and didn’t really bother with questions more complex than “Where should we eat?” for the next ten days. Well almost, because we did sign up for a diving course. I don’t quite know what happened there, but somehow our lazyness (at this point we had been on the road for almost one year already) combined with limited trust in the instructor made us stop after the first day. Maybe I’ll try diving again at a later point, but I’m really not in a hurry when it comes to that.
With our batteries recharged and a couple of days left to spend in Thailand we headed to good old Bangkok, one of my favorite cities in Asia. We stayed at one of our friends’ places, celebrated P.’s birthday with a fantastic dinner, had delicious cakes, saw some of my friends for drinks in the evening and generally had a good time. I always enjoy being in Bangkok, it’s familiar but there’s still always something new to discover.
The next 3.5 weeks we spent in Cambodia, a place I wanted to see for a long time. And it did not disappoint. Sure, Poi Pet is one of the most annoying border crossings in the world and the first impression of Siem Reap is less than favorable, but once you take a deep breath and relax, Cambodia is just wonderful. Or rather, Cambodians are just wonderful. They are open, friendly and funny, often speak good English and enjoy a chat. If you want to know more about the country, there are plenty of opportunities for that! But not only the locals were great, we also met a plethora of nice foreigners, who are really trying to help. But of course it’s no paradise on Earth, so there’s also plenty of shady characters, annoying tuk-tuk drivers, sexpats, opportunists, you name it. Cambodia is a poor country, with a host of problems, and it seems to bring out both the best and worst in people. Don’t let the former blind and the latter deter you and you are bound to have a great time.
Anyway, as mentioned our first stop was Siem Reap, and the Angkor complex (which is way bigger than “just” Angkor Wat) really is as good as you probably believe it is. We got the three day ticket and also explored some of the further away temples, but my personal highlight was returning to Angkor Wat in the early afternoon and having it almost to ourselves for some miraculous reason. We also had a good time exploring the town itself (the “other” side of the river is much more quiet), met some nice expats, went out to party with T. and B. who we met at the border, and had some delicious food. Seriously, Cambodian food is underrated, they have some great stuff! Personally I prefer Thai curries, but a good Amok is almost as good.
Our second stop was sleepy little Battambang, which actually is the second biggest city in the country, but really doesn’t feel like it. Most poeple don’t bother going there at all or just spend a day or so there, but somehow we managed to fill five days without getting overly bored. Of course there’s the standard day trip including the bamboo train, a cool old temple, and an amazing cave where a million bats fly out at sunset, but that wasn’t even that interesting (although we did have a great tuk-tuk driver who explained a lot about Cambodia to us). I really just enjoyed the relaxed vibe of the place, which has a great cafe (Kinyei), an good restaurant if they feel like it (White Rose) and a decent pub (Madison Corner). People are friendly and life has a very slow pace, which I found immensely relaxing.
From there we went to Phnom Penh, a decidely less relaxed place, which nonetheless has its own charms. I don’t like the general backpacker area of town, so I’m glad we decided not to stay there, but instead opted for a guesthouse closer to the BKK1 area before actually moving to another one there. Unfortunately there was a series of attacks on tourists right before we got to PP, but we still walked all over the place to explore it and it felt fine. In fact some areas are really enjoyable and the friendly Cambodians make it even better. We also bumped into two extremely nice Vietnamese guys who were excited to learn that we had just visited their country, and who invited us for some fruit and a chat. Of course we also visited the killing fields and the S21 prison, but I think it’s impossible to truly grasp the horrors that took place in Cambodia. It still was a sombering experience.
Our original plan included exploring the east of the country, but alas heavy rains and floodings prevented us from doing that. So we went straight to lovely little Kampot, a place where we whiled away a week with our new travel buddy, N. from the UK. I’m not sure what it is with me and small towns in Cambodia, but I enjoyed Kampot even more than Battambang. For such a small town there was a surprising lot of good food, they have an excellent and tough pub quiz (which we surprisingly won), and there’s some nice trips you can do from there. We also explored the small town on the other side of the river as well as nearby Kep, and spent quite a bit of time on our guesthouse’s terrace looking at amazing sunsets or at one of the nice cafes reading books. Tough life, I know.
Oops, this got a lot longer than I had originally intended, but I really like all the countries I just wrote about and writing about them brought back some good memories.