Just chillin’

(Un)lucky 13

(Un)lucky 13

We were woken at around 11:00 by the maid knocking on our door. Thing is, we stayed out quite late. And got quite drunk. Most of the beach bars are charging around $1 for a beer (as low as 50c during the various happy hours) and it was too good to pass up. Mixed with a lack of sleep over the previous couple of nights, we had a good time chatting and boozing away with a ton of other people. I nabbed a $2 hot dog on the walk home which turned out to be surprisingly tasty. The beach area’s not bad. It reminds me a lot of Palolem in Goa, India although a lot smaller.

The maid told us which (cheaper) room to move to and we shifted downstairs. Our new abode still has a TV/DVD, but is much smaller and has no attached bathroom. It’s also fan rather than air-con. And $12 a night cheaper.

We opted to walk up the hill towards the nearby main road for food, just to see what the places were like up there. At random, we chose Monkey Republic and opted for their large Heartstopper English breakfast. Two sausages, two eggs, two hash browns (or chips), mushroom, tomato, toast, beans and a pot of tea… for $5.50. And no arguments with the quality, either. A great feed and highly recommended. Their accommodation also looked OK, although one girl there did say it was loud until around 2am as the bar plays music until 1am and it takes people a while to stagger off. If you’re staying there and intend to get to bed before then, get earplugs or try to nab a shack at the back away from the bar.

As with most places around here, though, getting a room means being there at the right time. Very few places have a booking system – you turn up when you turn up and your room is yours until you leave.

Mmm.... food

Mmm.... food

We also had a quick look at Utopia over the road. It looks OK, with a new pool being built and a large bar area. One of their resident dogs just had thirteen pups! Fortunately, there is another dog (bitch, technically) who’s pregnant so she’s helping nurse them. The accomodation, on the other hand, is what you’d expect for $2 (or free, if you spend your day encouraging people to go to the bar in the evening): mattresses on the floor in a dorm. There are lockers for your valuables, but even if I did want cheap crash space… they’re full.

Back toward the hotel and I popped into Scuba Nation who I’d chatted to last year with a view to doing my Dive Master with them. That’s wet season here, and therefore isn’t too busy hence why I ended up doing the course in Bali instead. They’d been really helpful, though, so I thought it only fair to pop by and see if I could do a dive or two with them.

The price of $85 for two dives, all inclusive, seemed pretty good so I signed up. My booking was based on two people going on the dive and there was one other person signed up for Tuesday, the next day they’re going out. However, he hadn’t yet confirmed as he himself had booked in the hope someone else would join him. I left a deposit and my number, and they agreed to SMS me once he rang.

Bye bye, Kermit

Bye bye, Kermit

By 6pm, I’d not had a message from them. However, we had located a nice bar on the beach front where we sat and read for a while and Claire had a passable massage from a roaming local. The weather wasn’t as nice as it had been recently – overcast and windy – but still warm and pleasant to sit in. Certainly better than the arctic conditions which I hear are hitting the UK right now.

Also in the bar was a chap from the Midlands (West Brom supporter) called Simon. He’s part of a group that does conservation work in the area (Diving4Conservation)and he offered to take me out tomorrow for $65 – two or three dives, depending on the conditions and everything included again. That would suit me better as it would mean I could dive then leave on Tuesday as I’d originally planned. This would save me having to find more cheap accommodation on Tuesday night, which would be exceptionally difficult after returning from a dive late on that evening. I told him I’d check with Scuba Nation and get back to him… which I did.

As it stands at the moment, I’m heading out with him tomorrow and will check in with Scuba Nation in the evening to likely pick up my deposit. I really do need to head off on Tuesday if I can and they were fine with me leaving it a day and deciding then. If the Burmese visa thing doesn’t work out, I can always head back this direction!

Not so warm

Not so warm

Dinner was back up in the same area as lunch. We had a great Sunday roast (mix of pork and chicken, Yorkshire puds and an entire extra plate laden with veg) for $6 at Mick & Craig’s. Dessert was a very heavy apple crumble and custard – I had to eat half of Claire’s as she simply couldn’t finish it. The service was superb with very friendly, professional staff who really put the effort in. I watched the first half of the mackem game on the TV there then hopped over the road to the Beach Street bar for the second half.

I’m going off Sihanoukville as it seems to be full of people from the Dark Place Down The Road. I suppose they need to go somewhere that’s cheap and has wonders they’re not used to at home. Like taps, electricity, a cinema and motor transport. There were four of them watching the game in the bar, though none were wearing a football top. I guess they’d not been able to steal one from anywhere.

After dinner, back to Thida’s where I “fixed” the television by jamming the loose, plugless aerial cable into the back. The History Channel is certainly an interesting thing to have on when you’re writing up a blog!

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Heading to the beach

Well, I ploughed through four espisode of The Shield last night before forcing myself to stop and get to bed. Another chapter of The Catcher in the Rye and finally I nodded off, only to be woken up at 6:55 by someone knocking on my door. Most annoying as my alarm was set for 7:00.

I was packed in about five minutes and met up with everyone downstairs. Claire loaned me another baht so I could run over the road and pay off my water from the night before. We skipped breakfast as we were supposed to get some on the bus and were picked up by a feeder coach at 7:45.

The coach park was full of the usual people selling snacks and drinks for the journey. We hopped aboard to find someone already sat in my seat. We checked tickets and he was, indeed, sat in the “correct” one. It turned out there were a few double-bookings, mostly involving people from our guest house. Thankfully the bus wasn’t completely booked – there was one spare seat – so everyone did get a place. Including English Guy who made a re-appearance. At 6’6″ or thereabouts he wasn’t in for a very comfortable journey.

Roughly three hours into the journey we stopped for a leg-stretch and picked up some fruit for breakfast. We’d been provided with something on the bus… a mint and a bottle of water. Hum. Not exactly the same as the two pastries Leah and I had been given on the way from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.

We finally arrived in Sihanoukville at around 1pm. Claire and I set off at a march (well, a stroll), fending off the inevitable and persistent tuk-tuk drivers. Our first target was an ATM which it took us around 20 minutes to find. Finally loaded up with useable currency, we walked for a while longer then gave up and allowed a tuk-tuk to take use to one of the guest houses listed in Lonely Planet.

Thing is it just didn’t look right. More of a hotel than a house, so we marched onto the beach in search of the cottages. Which we didn’t find. We walked for around half an hour in 3/4 of a circle and then asked another tuk-tuk to take us to another address.

We ended up right back where the first guy had dropped us off. Argh. Along the way we did pass a place called “Union”, but we’d been warned about it. $2 per night, but some lads had moved out after two robberies in as many evenings. Not worth the risk.

On the beach, we checked out the cottages but they were all a minimum of $15 per person, up to $60. Ouch. They looked lovely though. By now we’d been wandering for almost two hours so stopped for some food in a bar called Coasters, run by an American. As such it was no surprise that the $5 burger was rather tasty indeed. The surprise was that it came with proper chips. I bought an hour’s wi-fi from the internet shack next door for a buck, as well. The hi-tech system of timing your connection out was achieved by the chap walking into the restaurant and telling me my time had expired! Being honest, I shut my laptop down and we paid up and left.

Back onto the strip leading up from the beach (Serendipity Beach Road), we tried around half a dozen places – all nice – before getting a really good deal at Thida’s Inn. They only had an air-con room left, normally going for $35 or so. We were offered it for $20 and haggled them to $18. Hot shower, two big beds, air-con, TV, DVD… not bad at all. The deal was for one night, and to shift into a fan room at a lower price of $13 the next day once someone else moved out.

So I’m typing this up with BBC World on the telly, having just had a shower and starting to get peckish again. There’s somewhere with free wi-fi a couple of doors down so I may be forced to buy a beer or two so that I can use it. Shame. Oh, and also hopefully book some diving for the morning.

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Holiday in Cambodia

Hat Lek / Krong Koh Kong

Hat Lek / Krong Koh Kong

I don’t know what it is, but still whenever I think about Cambodia a certain Dead Kennedys song goes through my head. Weird. Today would be my third visit to the country and my first to the south-west.

Although I’d planned to get up early, that didn’t quite work as I decided I just had to watch the last two episodes of last season’s Spooks before I packed up. Woah, what an ending! I won’t spoil it for you… This meant I headed out to get breakfast at around 10:30. I picked up chicken and rice from the same place as yesterday and also checked on the transportation to Hat Lek (or Had Lek). This is obtainable from the “bus station” around the back of the market, on the other side from Sukhumvit Road.

Buses are frequent and I managed to get the times from a very helpful lady. Between her broken English and my broken Thai, I deciphered the times and that for 60 baht I would be taken to Hat Lek, then for a further 50 baht another sawngthaew would carry me to the border checkpoint. The name “sawngthaew” literally means “two rows” and refers to the benches bolted into the back of a regular truck. There’s usually a roof (hand made, of course) over the top as well.

I thanked Mama Jame who recommended a place to stay in Krong Koh Kong, and walked back round to the bus station. Bang on time, I was ushered onto my awaiting steed, crammed in with 7 non-English speaking Thais and we set off.

After around twenty minutes, the truck pulled over and two little old ladies got on. We made room for one and I volunteered to stand so that the other could sit – I was nearest the entrance/exit/step so it made sense. After maybe 15 minutes of being a passenger in a fashion that would have the Health and Safety munchkins in the UK’s heads exploding (oh, what a joyous thought), both ladies departed and I regained my seat.

A few more passengers got on and off, including one woman with a small child (who got a smack off his dad for running across the road) and a basket full of puppies. Just what you see every day. Well, here anyway. Roughly ninety minutes after we left town, we pulled into Hat Lek and I was shuffled onto another sawngthaew along with the puppy lady and her son. Half an hour later we were at the border. I could have told you this by the sudden gaggle of madmen asking me if I needed visa, ticket, hotel and so on. Here we go again.

I dodged them all, confusing many by saying I wasn’t going to Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Which was true – not until the next day anyway. Checking out of Thailand took two minutes in an orderly queue (where I spotted that if you enter the country by land, you only get a 15-day visa, not 30 as from the airports) while I joined a veritable melée outside the immigration office on the Cambodian side.

My eVisa didn’t really speed things up, but it did save me some cash going by the complaints from the surrounding tourists. If you arrive with one of these, you still have to fill in an immigration form and ensure you keep one of the copies of your visa tucked into your passport as it’s the only thing you’ll have with your visa number on. You’ll need this to check into hotels and so on. The only real downside is that you don’t get one of the nice, big, green stickers in your passport as a souvenir – just a regular stamp.

In the queue I got talking to a Danish family (mum, dad, 3 kids) a girl from Sweden and Claire from London. There was another chap, but we lost track of him so I can only tell you he was British. As we all had separate plans, Claire, Swedish Girl and English Guy and I all ended up in one taxi. English Guy had “agreed” to a 300 baht fare without haggling so we were stuck. But on we went.

As an aside, yes – baht. Around the border area and in the town, baht is readily accepted along with US dollars and the native riel. Handy if you need to cash up as there is only one ATM at the border and none in Krong Koh Kong, although the banks there will accept Visa for cash advances.

Sunset

Sunset

As we drove, our first hint that our cab driver was trying it on was when we arrived at a toll gate. He demanded 11 baht from each of us for the toll despite a large sign next to the booth clarly stating that cars were 4000 riel ($1, 38 baht). Despite English Guy being ready to cough up, we stopped him and stood our ground. Or sat in or seats. We were already paying too much for the ride and he was trying to screw us for an extra 44 baht.

Eventually he caved, insisting we would pay him when we reached town. Then he started to sulk. We’d asked to be taken to the guest house, although English Guy and Swedish Girl wanted to check out the chance of a taxi to Phnom Penh. After the diversion resulted in them refusing the 4000 baht asking price we ended up at a bus ticket sales office.

We argued and demanded he take is to the guest house which he’d earlier said he knew, but he suddenly declared he didn’t know where it was. So we got out. Claire and I decided he could make do with 200 baht for the fare instead of the 300 he’d asked for as he’d not taken us to the correct destination. Swedish Girl, I think, gave him too much so he probably got close to his 300 anyway.

English Guy gave in and got back into the cab – fool – and us three got another one which looked at the card Mama Jame had given me and agreed to take us there for 50 baht each. It was five minutes’ drive away and, on arriving, was obviously not the place on the card. Similar name, different telephone numbers. Still, the rooms looked OK and were 100 baht each so we took them. Amusingly, English Guy had arrived at the same place ahead of us (with the taxi driver who “didn’t know where this place was”) and was on his way elsewhere as he wanted somewhere more upmarket.

The Danish family had also beaten us there and booked into one room with two beds for 150 baht. Bargain for five people! The staff were pleasant and the obligatory cute infant was running around so we felt fine there.

Thing is, I’d by now run out of cash as I had thought there was an ATM in town. There isn’t. Claire, however, had plenty and kindly offered to spot me until we got to Sihanoukville. At the time of writing I owe her for my bus ticket (500 baht or $15), dinner (95 baht) a beer (80 baht) and half a banana pancake (no idea). In case she reads this – a huge public “thank you” for helping me out and you should have the cash by now!

After dinner, we took a quick walk onto the river to snap some sunset pics then down the road for internet (60 baht an hour in each place we found and very slow indeedy). We also located the Koh Konh Guest House which is where we’d wanted to go in the first place. The staff there were also lovely, the rooms nicer (but pricier) and the food much better, bigger portions and cheaper! We told them about the taxi drivers and they got a little annoyed. I hope they sort it out.

We settled down and had the aforementioned beer and pancake while we talked to a few lads who were watching the footie on telly. All too soon, Claire decided to call it a night and I decided to head back as well. It’s pretty dark around here at night so I couldn’t let her walk back by herself.

Back at the guest house I had a quick, cold, shower. Despite having an electric shower on the wall, it didn’t work. Strong jet of water, luke warm. Still, I had that for over three weeks in Bali. It’s just annoying as we’d taken the rooms partly as we’d expected warm water. Well, I had.

I took a quick walk over the road, too, where I got a bottle of water for 25 baht. It was meant to be 25, but I was all out. The little old lady there very kindly said I could have a 1 baht discount. If I remember in the morning, I’ll try to scrounge a coin from Claire and run over with it. 1 baht to me is nothing. To them it’s actually worth something.

And now I’m finished typing, I’m going to start on the final season of The Shield. I will try to get some sleep tonight…

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Those last few things

Beans on Toast!

Mmmm... beans

I’ve managed to locate the Myanmar embassy in Phnom Penh which I’ll need to get a visa (or find out it’s too much bureacuracy to bother). For those interested, it’s on Norodom Boulevard – the same road as the Singaporean Embassy which is listed in the Lonely Planet. The Myanmar one is further north at number 181.

On the downside, I can’t get on to the Cambodian e-visa website as it appears to have vanished. Awkward as I need to update them as to my arrival time.

Checking on wikitravel. org I found there’s a bus direct to Trat from Suvarnabhumi Airport, which saves me 150 baht and an hour’s ride into the city. Handy. I also think I’ll stay on the Thai side of the border for a night or so and perhaps visit Ko Chang – by all accounts a beautiful little island.

In the meantime, I’ve been about as English as possible while staying with Andy. Watching football news on TV; roast beef and Yorkshires for dinner last night, beans on toast for lunch today; pub quiz and barmaid-learing at The Goldhawk until closing time… yeah, get it all out of the system before I head back out to Asia tomorrow!

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American Ice Cream Parlor and Hamburger Restaurant – located!

A huge thank you to Antony who emailed me to tell me he’d found the American Ice Cream Parlor and Hamburger Restaurant we’d eaten at on the way from Siem Reap to Phnomn Penh (detailed on this post). It’s in a town called Kompong Thom, around the corner from the Arunras Hotel in the town center.