Hanging Out Like a Local in Hat Yai

The Kuan Yin shrine overlooking the Hat Yai metropolis
The Kuan Yin shrine overlooks the Hat Yai metropolis

Why Hat Yai? Is Hat Yai in Thailand’s Songkla province near the Malaysian border on anyone’s bucket list?

The 2006, 2007 and 2014 bombings are still evident in the strict security measures as you go into places like the Central Festival shopping centre. A shopping mecca and tourist magnet for Malaysians and Singaporeans, Hat Yai was at the end of our train trip from Bangkok. You can continue on the train south to Butterworth in Malaysia, but we had other plans.

Is Hat Yai in Thailand’s Songkla province on anyone's bucket list? Click To Tweet

Early morning arrival in Hat Yai

After the 16 hour overnight train trip from Bangkok we finally arrived in Hat Yai at 6 am. The tuk tuk drivers outside the train station were vying for our trade, offering ridiculously outrageous prices for the 20 minute ride to our hotel. We walked away after some good natured bargaining.

Then the tuk tuk drivers had a chat among themselves and decided on a designated driver to offer the ride for about a third of their original offer.

Would we be allowed to check in early? We weren’t ready to wander the streets, we were ready for some chill time in our rooms. The Smart Hotel had just opened and the front office people were still trying to figure out how everything worked. The upside was the hotel was almost empty and they were happy for us to move in early.

All the staff were very friendly and accommodating. Especially at first when we had to ask them for the kettle and coffee making stuff. Which I swear they collected from the other just-vacated rooms. I guess they were still deciding how many kettles they needed to buy.

After catching our breath with that welcome chill time in our lovely clean rooms, we were ready to tackle Hat Yai.

How to act like a local in Hat Yai

The Hat Yai Municipal Park is a kind of a playground for the locals. The swimming pools near the entrance were packed. We watched kids cavorting around in the water while we at ate pad thai from the food stalls.

After that we spent quality time at the top of the hill, exploring the two temples and riding the cable car.

Kuan Yin Shrine

There’s a bus to take you from the foot of the hill to the Kuan Yin Shrine with the tallest standing Buddha in southern Thailand overlooking the Hat Yai metropolis and surrounding area.

Lifelike wax monk
He looks real to me

Realistic wax likenesses sit casually in the foyer. At first I mistook the statues for real meditating monks, the wax figures are so lifelike.

 

Small cable car, huge views at the Hat Yai Municipal Park
Small cable car, huge views

 

 

I mistook the statues for real meditating monks, the wax figures are so lifelike. Click To Tweet

Cable car

The itty bitty cable car takes just two and a half minutes to cover the 525 meters from the Kuan Yin Shrine to the Elephant Temple or Four-Faced Brahma Shrine. But the views are spectacular all the way.

Elephants galore at the Four Faced Buddha Shrine, Hat Yai Municipal Park
Elephants galore

Four-Faced Brahma Shrine

There are golden elephants galore around this shrine. The Four-Faced Buddha simultaneously faces north, east, south and west. Surrounded by elephants of course.

We took the bus back down the hill, but kind of regretted we didn’t walk. By then we’d run out of time to check out the Science and Astronomy Centre about halfway down the hill.

Top Tips for Travellers

 

  1. Local buses are cheap saving you long walks and expensive taxi fares. There’s a regular local bus running along the main drag leading to the Municipal Park. Just hang with the locals at the bus stop, get on and off anywhere and pay the driver what the locals are paying. It felt like a donation system, sort of. Once we didn’t have any small notes but the driver smiled happily when we piled out all our pocket change into his hand.
  2. Choose the most recently opened hotels for your stay. You’ll get a clean room with a modern TV, aircon that works and toilets that flush reliably (you hope). For the same price the older hotels can be dirty and smelly, with last century televisions and equipment that doesn’t work as well as it did in the eighties.
  3. The locals are infamous for their habit of hiking prices up for tourists. Take note of what the locals pay for their bowl of tom yum while you’re savouring yours, then simply offer the same amount when you go to pay. This worked for us some of the time. But keep your first world wallet in perspective: the difference is probably petty cash in your currency.

 

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Slow Train from the City of Angels to the Southern Border

Eat, Shop, Play Pool

 

 

 

Slow Train from the City of Angels to the Southern Border

Our train ready to leave Bangkok Train Station
Getting ready to leave Hua Lamphon (Bangkok Train Station)

Bangkok Train Station to Hat Yai

After our stay in HCMC we flew to Bangkok. The other captain and I hadn’t been to Thailand in a while. I’d forgotten how exotic and friendly the Thais are. And how much I love their green curries. The other captain’s brother, an overseas travel virgin, was beginning to get the hang of SE Asian travel.

The plan was to check out the great city then take the overnight train from Bangkok to the southern border town of Hat Yai.

The city of angels

Bangkok is just the name people who don’t come from Thailand call this gritty city. Bangkok translates as “village of wild plums”. Not exactly sexy. Whereas Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ), as the Thais call it, means “city of angels”. The full name translates as:

The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.

I didn’t see any angels in the happy city. But I had fun chatting with some beautiful girls on Soi Cowboy when the other captain’s brother asked us to show him the bright lights.

Waterfront homes with gardens floating past
Waterfront homes with gardens floating past

River Cruise

One of the highlights of our stay was a river cruise. With a 150 baht ticket (about six Aussie dollars) you can get off and on Chao Phraya Tourist Boat  as often as you like at the eight piers along the route. You can stop to check out cathedrals, temples, museums, markets and the Grand Palace.

z-bangkok-temple

Along the river five star hotels stand next to falling apart local dwellings. Longtail boats fly past. Barges laden down to their water level lumber by. Islands of plants float past.

Along Bangkok's Chao Phraya River five star hotels stand next to falling apart local dwellings. Click To Tweet

Skytrain

We stayed in Sukhumvit, right on the Skytrain (Bangkok Mass Transit System or BTS) route, making it easy (and cheap) to get around. Our stop was On Nut, which was simple enough to remember. Our first destination was often Asok, which sounds like asshole when announced over the train PA system. Just so you know.

Slow train from Bangkok to Hat Yai

The slow train from Bangkok central to Hat Yai is a 16 hour trip, leaving at around 2pm.  A sleeper ticket is 1300 baht (1100 for the top bunk). It’s no secret I love train travel. We had no trouble getting our ticket at Bangkok Train Station for the next day. In fact our train was about 70% empty. Our party of three had a pair of two-berth cabins with a connecting door, and one empty berth.

The cabins are clean, simple and comfortable. You can have a delicious dinner set for 170 baht. I had the green chicken curry with jasmine rice, tom yum soup, fruit juice and fresh fruit platter. Yum!

I took this trip by myself when we first bought Yana de Lys.  I’d been to Pattaya to meet the previous owners and collect some boat stuff they were storing. I shared my cabin with a mountain of gear, including a brand new sail belonging to Yana.

Before the train even left Bangkok Train Station the steward had asked me if I fancy a beer for the trip. At the time I thought, “Sure a couple of cans of Chang might be nice for sunset”. Next thing I knew my basin was filled with ice and two king browns. Did I look like I was dying of thirst?

Bangkok Train Station encourages you to leave you booze here.
Bangkok Train Station encourages you to leave you booze here. So why are the bottles empty?

Well it’s different now. Technically you’re not supposed to drink on the train, but we were subtle about it and the staff didn’t seem to care anyway. (There are no smoking signs but the conductors have a puff at the end of the train.)

So if you fancy a beer for the journey it’s a good idea to stock up before you leave. And if you like em cold you can buy some ice from the convenience store at the train station.

Hat Yai

Around 6:00 the next morning we arrived in the… er exciting town of Hat Yai. I’ll tell you about it in my next blog. When I get around to it. (Slow travel = slow blog writing.)

Top Tips for Travellers

  1. Taxis can be very exxy in Bangkok, especially if you get stuck in the endless and frequent traffic jams. Take the Skytrain if you can.
  2. You can only buy alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores from 1100-1400 and 1700-2400. It seems like a weird law, and some smaller shops may not enforce the rules. Try just acting like a dumb farang if you get the times wrong and you might be okay.
  3. If you’re planning on visiting any temples make sure you wear (or bring) clothes that cover your shoulders and knees and ideally your ankles too.

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Seven Days in Saigon, Vietnam

Veterans of Saigon Vietnam

I fell in love with the Nam the first time I was there.

For our second visit to Saigon, Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) we’d been given the use of our friend Mr Lee’s apartment and driver. As it turned out, our driver didn’t speak English but came with an interpreter, the delightful sales manager from our generous friend’s business.

We were travelling with the other captain’s brother, a veteran of the war (sort of, I’ll explain later).

The splendid roof top garden at our borrowed apartment, Saigon Vietnam
The splendid roof top garden at our borrowed apartment

The apartment

Waiting for our driver, Saigon Vietnam
Waiting for our driver

The apartment was a mansion. Twenty rooms, four storeys, a lift. Designed to be a hotel originally. Complete with a live in houseman to open the Fort Knox gates.

We only spent a few hours in our splendid apartment before we were whisked off on an adventure. Our driver and intrepid interpreter took us to a meeting at Long An  University, where we met up with Mr Lee’s brother and friends for a road trip.

Road trip Day 1

Heading for Ban Tre we had a few stops. For food and drink of course.

First, a feast of lẩu nấm (I think), the Viet version of steamboat, by the side of the road. It’s no secret local food ordered by locals is better.

Is too much coconut water bad for you in Saigon Vietnam
Is too much coconut water bad for you?

Next a leisurely stop over at one of our road trip team’s family coconut farm. As I was offered and guzzled freshly opened coconut after freshly opened coconut to drink, I wondered if too much can be bad for you?

On Day 2 we set off for a day of exploring. Well we were actually just visiting one of our road trip team’s parents.

Three fat pigs, two lively goats

We trundled down the skinniest road with lush jungle on either side. Occasionally having to pull over so motorbikes could get past. One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on board. The biggest load I saw was a motorbike towing a trailer carrying enough reinforced steel to build a small house.

One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on… Click To Tweet

End of the road

Ferry barge, Saigon Vietnam
Ferry barge

The road ended at a Mekong river tributary.  A small barge ferry, big enough for motorbikes, people and small livestock, arrived shortly after we’d parked at the impasse.

We walked through tiny local markets, and tall shady trees on streets only wide enough for motos and pedestrians. To our friend’s parents place deep in the jungle.

Jungle hideout deep in the burbs

Cooking lesson Saigon Vietnam
Cooking lesson

Over the long lazy afternoon we had a karaoke session (I watched), drank more fresh coconut water (I had stopped worrying about the dangers of overdosing), cooked (mum let me cook two banh xeo pancakes), and ate the most delicious spread of local dishes. Over fascinating conversations.

Stories of the war

The locals call it the American War. The other captain’s brother was in despatch in the Australian army as a teenager, flying over Vietnam but never landing. (So not technically a vet.)

The more I learn about the Vietnam War (the one going on when I was growing up in Australia), the more I feel it was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up. Yet I have never felt Vietnamese people I’ve encountered to be resentful.

The Vietnam War was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up Click To Tweet

One of my road trip friends told us how he fled his village with seven on the moto, including his mum and dad, sister and kids. Ten years later when interviewing locals with an American journalist, the journo remarked he was surprised the people who’d been locked up in prison in appalling conditions were so happy. The reason: they were simply happy to be free.

Saigon Vietnam take 3?

Backstreets pho, Saigon Vietnam
Backstreets pho. Yum

At the end of Day 2 we were deposited safely back at our borrowed apartment in Saigon Vietnam.  We spent a week wandering around dodging the legendary motorbike traffic and taste testing the backstreets Pho.

I wonder if I’ll get a third chance to visit HCMC? I’d love to sail there one day…

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Eat, Shop, Play Pool

Shopping frenzy on Batam Island
Shopping frenzy on Batam Island

Big day out on Batam

Batam Island, Indonesia, is a quick ferry ride from Johor Bahru, Malaysia (or Singapore, Singapore. I’ve done it both ways. Read on and I’ll explain).

When my friends Helen, Tiya and Tina suggested a ladies only day trip to Batam Island I said yes in less than a nanosecond, cashed a few ringgits in for rupiah and slipped my passport into my backpack.

Eat, shop, spa

Of course the first thing we did when the ferry landed was eat scrumptious Indonesian food. As you do.

Tina, a native Indonesian, and Helen who comes from Sarawak, Malaysia were our expert menu guides, vastly expanding Tyia’s and my EQ (Eating Intelligence).

Then we jumped into a taxi and hightailed our way to a spa for a tough love $20 two hour massage. As my masseur settled me in to my cubicle she made a point of showing me the sign saying turn your phone off and keep quiet. Yep I was ready to relax.

Another customer arrived with a young kid who spent the whole time sharing the sound of cartoons in Mandarin at peak volume. Maybe her mum’s masseur forgot to point the silence rules out to her.

Feeling suitably relaxed and rejuvenated we began the real business of the day: shopping.

Designer handbags cost about $20 on Batam Island but you're encouraged to bargain
Designer handbags cost about $20 on Batam but that’s the starting price. You’re encouraged to bargain.

Shopping lessons

Shopping is the number one most popular activity on Batam Island. Designer handbags are the number one most popular shopping item. I learned a lot about the arcane art of buying fake designer goods.

I learned a lot about the arcane art of buying fake designer goods on Batam. Click To Tweet

Did you know there are different grades of elite brand ripoffs? By holding up their real deal designer purses next to the fakes, my friends taught me how to look for dodgy stitching and recognise the special texture of quality leather. An enlightening show and tell.

Have you seen my horn?

Batam’s got traffic.

The motorbikes carrying families with newborns, kids with (designer?) sunglasses but no helmets, chickens and televisions compete with the speeding cars to get to just go crazy fast. At times I needed to close my eyes there were so many near misses.

One of our taxi drivers had a secret weapon – a police siren. Whenever we seemed to be slowing down because of the traffic ahead he’d press the button and whelp whelp the cars all round would make way for us. Our taxi was filled with constant laughter.

Our driver explained he’d borrowed the horn from his brother, a policemen.  When his bro asked if he’d seen his horn, he just feigned innocence. More rounds of mirth.

We saw cops riding two to a motorbike, impeccably groomed in their flak jackets with huge guns visible.

Three countries in one day

After shopping until almost dropping we headed back to the ferry terminal to catch the last ferry back to JB. Which had just left the harbour. Oopsie. The ticket seller at Stulang Laut, JB had given us a bum steer.

So we took the next ferry to Singapore and a taxi from there to JB, Malaysia, arriving home in Senibong Cove close to midnight, just before our carriage turned into a pumpkin.  I’d never been to three countries in one day before.

I'd never been to three countries in one day before. Click To Tweet

Stay a little bit longer

When the other captain returned from a three and a half month sentence working in Australia he was little bit jealous of the new stamp in my passport. Easily fixed. We headed off to Batam Island for a few days together with me as the newly ordained expert tour guide.

The first thing we did after eating delicious Indo street food, watching a few cooking shows and slothing around in our room for a bit was head out in search of the famous raucous Batam Island night life in the Nagoya Entertainment District (NED) .

How to have more fun on Batam Island

Foreplay Bar, Batam Island. Batam's Got Talent?
Foreplay Bar. Batam’s Got Talent?

Living in Permas Jaya, in JB Malaysia is all good but you don’t get to see live bands too often. Having fun in Permas Jaya means staying up late and going to karaoke bars for the buckets of beer specials after 11pm. Pass.

Of course we got lost on the way to the NED. I swear we walked past hundreds of fake designer handbag shops. I guess there are only dozens and we were walking in circles.

Eventually we stumbled on the NED. Working girls on the streets and bars called Lusy’s Oarhouse, Chillis, Secrets and Foreplay were dead giveaways.

I admit I am perennially cynical about SE Asian cover bands. My long held belief they all play bad Rolling Stones covers wasn’t shattered.

 

Didn’t stop me having fun though, not even slightly.

Freeball Rules

I hadn’t played pool in years. I was rusty as hell. And the working girls spend a lot of time polishing their skills. The bar girls I played against were incredibly generous players, coaching me on my tactics and shots and only winning half the games.

Freeball rules were new to me. If your opponent sinks the white ball, you get to place it (strategically) wherever you want. That kind of behaviour in an Australian pub would lead to an instant brawl.

Meanwhile another of the scantily dressed ladies in high heels was chatting the other captain up, offering to buy him a beer and trying to race him off. It didn’t phase her when the other captain told her was out with his wife of 29 years.

Olfactory tourist attractions

Stinky drains on Batam Island.
We crossed this stinky open drain walking to breakfast. I almost lost my appetite.

We spent lots of time just wandering. The smells were occasionally overwhelming, from the fantastic outdoor food market wok fry ups to the award winningly stinky drains snaking through the backstreets.

When we stopped for a bite to eat with some friendly locals,  I found I was the tourist attraction. Our new friend said he wished he had a big nose like mine. I have always thought my snozz was was normal sized. And my blue eyes. My eyes are brown. He said he’d only ever seen people like me on TV, never actually spoken with one. Is this real life Reality TV or what?

Is my nose really big? Selfie from the Formosa Hotel, Batam Island with the window open. It was less smelly but more noisy.
Is my nose really big? Selfie from the Formosa Hotel. It was less smelly inside with the window open but the construction noise was deafening.
View from my room at the Formosa Hotel, Batam Island.
View from my room at the Formosa Hotel. I imagine the joint was pretty swank in it’s glory days. Now it’s ponky and noisy. But comfortable.

One hotel where we stayed had a choking mouldy smell, especially when we turned on the air con. It was stinking hot. And our room overlooked a construction site so if the window was open we couldn’t hear ourselves think with the overpowering sounds of construction. Great location though, right in the NED.

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Exploring the Funny Side of Angkor Wat

Temple Tourism 101

I know I know. Everyone takes Angkor Wat seriously seriously. And rightly so.

Cambodia holidays: Angkor Wat

Our guide showing us how big his new backpack needs to be. Read on. I’ll explain later…

We’re talking about the mother of all temples. 900 years old. The largest religious site in the world.

Angkor Wat is the mother of all temples. 900 years old. The largest religious site in the world. Click To Tweet

All self-respecting Cambodia holidays should include at least a look at Angkor Wat, shouldn’t they?

You can’t come home from your Cambodia holidays and say you didn’t visit any temples. Can you?

Well you can cheat. If you’re like the other captain and have a low threshold for temple tourism you can play Temple Golf instead of visiting the archaeological sites.

Cambodia holidays highlights: Mini golf
Playing mini golf at Angkor Wat Putt is a kind of religious experience

 

Angkor Wat Putt is a miniature golf course with nine crumbling, accurate scale miniatures of the famous Angkor Temples. A bizarre spiritual experience.

Hey and by the end of the nine holes you can say you’ve visited nine of the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park temples. Bargain.

A tour guide with a sense of humour

If being loose with the truth doesn’t work for you I recommend choosing a guide with a sense of humour.  We got lucky. Our guide, Kim, was both a funny guy and a gold mine of information.

After watching sunrise at Angkor Wat, then checking out the Tomb Raider temple we tuktukked our way to Phnon Bok.

During the half hour ride, Kim pointed out the skinny cows,  explaining they look anorexic because they were fed on noodles.

And talked about his vision for buying his own tuk tuk and starting an independent tour guide business.

Dreaming of a dwarf wife in a backpack

Over the next bumping half hour, we discussed his business plan, adding helpful suggestions, as you do.

My chef brother in law suggested catering would work as a value add. My archaeologist sister wondered if our guide had family, maybe some kids, who could help out with the barbecue planned for the roof of the tuk tuk?

Well no, Kim said, he was still single. But looking. And came up with the idea of marrying a dwarf so he could carry her in a backpack in the tuk tuk.

Our guide came up with the idea of marrying a dwarf so he could carry her in a backpack. Click To Tweet

The idea was for Kim to drive the tuk tuk and do the tour guiding, while his mini wife cooked the satays on the barby on the tuk tuk roof. From within Kim’s backpack.

An innovative twist for solving the space constrictions involved in turning a tuk tuk into a part time food truck.

Do you think it will take off on Shark Tank?

Graffiti or religious recycling?

Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu shrine, then transformed into a Buddhist temple, spawning some interesting artistic repurposing.

Hundreds of images of Vishnu had beards drawn on them (well, carved into the sandstone). And his crown had been given a makeover to turn it into Buddha’s crowning glory curls.

Cambodia holidays: beautiful ruins
What are they going to do with all these spare parts? My nine year old niece contemplating the ruins.

Beautiful ruins

Of the three temples we visited one, Angkor Wat has been restored. Another, Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider temple) is being refurbished. Although it looks like the trees, not the reconstruction teams, are winning.

And the third, Phnon Bok is still in a beautiful ruin.

Or, according to Tourism Cambodia Phnom Bok is

“a state of ruin, a state of beauty, which is investigated with delight and left with regret”

Part of our regret on leaving was having to face the 635 steps back down the hill with jelly legs (from the 635 steps climb up) in the dusty heat.

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Revealing a hidden temple in the jungle

Temple Golf

I loved exploring Angkor Wat, it was one of the highlights of my recent Cambodia holidays. It was a barrel of laughs despite the dust and heat and 635 steps.

Have you ever been to Angkor Wat, or on holiday to Cambodia? What were your impressions? Did you love it or laugh about it or take it all deadly seriously?

Like a Weird Natural Cathedral with Beaches

If you ever travel in Thailand, do yourself a favour and visit Phang Nga Bay. Seriously, it’s even more stunning than the guide books say.

Travel in Thailand: Yana de Lys anchored in Phang Nga Bay
Yana de Lys anchored in Phang Nga Bay

In the Phang Nga Bay section of one of their Thailand Travel Guides, Lonely Planet says:

If Eden had an ocean it would look a little like this

 

Phang Nga Bay became famous when it was used as a location in the 1974 James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. The towering limestone cliffs are breathtaking, other worldly.

I sailed around Phang Nga Bay in Yana de Lys but you can easily take a tour from Phuket or Phang Nga Town on the mainland.

Travel in Thailand Tip #2: Visit a sea cave in Phang Nga Bay

The Thais refer to the sea caves as “hongs” or rooms.

From the outside, the entrance to the sea cave on Koh Hong (Hong Island) is easy to miss.

Travel in Thailand: Can you spot the entrance to the sea cave?
Spot the sea cave entrance

 

But that’s okay, the tour guides know where they’re going in your sturdy inflatable kayak.

Anchored in Yana de Lys, we watched the hordes of tourists coming and going with amusement. Then when all the tour boats left we paddled in.

Discovering a hidden world

Inside we felt like we had found a hidden lost world. The sea cave was open to the sky, surrounded by soaring limestone walls. Like a weird natural cathedral with beaches. Stunning.

The sea cave was open to the sky, surrounded by soaring limestone walls. Click To Tweet

Sailing in Phang Nga Bay

Phang Nga Bay is a perfect cruising ground. Plenty of anchorages, no long passages. Well protected. When we were based in Yacht Haven our favourite anchorages were Koh Wai Noi, Koh Phanak and Koh Hong.

Travel in Thailand: Yacht Haven was our base for exploring Phang Nga Bay
Yacht Haven was our base for exploring Phang Nga Bay

Have you ever been to Phang Nga Bay in Thailand? What was your favourite island?

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5 Days in Siem Reap

Remember the Dead Kennedy’s song Holiday in Cambodia?
When I was a teenager, the idea of taking holidays in Cambodia was a joke. Back then, under Pol Pot’s regime, the combined effects of executions, strenuous working conditions, malnutrition and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population.

Holidays in Cambodia are full of surprises

Now it’s totally different.
Siem Reap is gritty, it’s dusty, it’s charismatic, it’s cosmopolitan. It’s dirt cheap. It’s hedonistic, spiritual and surprising.
As the other captain remarked,

“This town’s got grit.”

True. I even had to wipe the dust off the bank machine screen so I could see how many $US I was withdrawing.

The hotel we’d paid for was a construction site

Holidays in Cambodia highlights: Fancy Boutique Hotel construction site
We had paid for our stay at the Fancy Boutique Hotel, but it was still being built

Day 1. We arrived at Siem Reap around 8 am after an obscenely early start. Our hotel transfer driver was at the airport holding up a card with my name. Yay, great start to my holiday in Cambodia!
The confusion began when our tuk tuk stopped outside a hotel we’d never heard of and the driver proceeded to unload our bags.
When we pointed to the name of the Fancy Boutique Hotel on the printed booking voucher, our driver said the Fancy was all booked out so we’d been moved and asked if we’d like to see for ourselves.
Hey why not? Sure enough. The Fancy Hotel was under construction. So we stayed at the Dinata Angkor instead. Nothing wrong with the Dinata. Once the dust had settled on our confusion. It was comfortable, clean and the staff were fantastically friendly and helpful.

Temple Golf

Holidays in Cambodia highlights: mini golf at Angkor Wat Putt
Mini golf at Angkor Wat Putt

Day 2. If you’re looking for a kooky spiritual experience check out Angkor Wat Putt, a miniature golf course with nine crumbling, accurate scale miniatures of the famous Angkor Temples.
We hired bicycles and rode the dusty hot roads past it in convoy. It was easy enough to miss.
How much fun can you have in the heat? Beers are a buck (US$1). There’s even a butler button so you don’t have to interrupt your game if you get thirsty. And a cool soundtrack. Early eighties Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Doors.

You get a free beer for a hole in one. What’s not to love?

You get a free beer for a hole in one. What’s not to love? Click To Tweet

Angkor Wat

Holidays in Cambodia highlights: Phnom Bok temple
We climbed 635 steps to the crumbling, peaceful Phnom Bok temple. The panoramic views were spectacular

Day 3. Sunrise at Angkor Wat is awesome and sublime. Even if it was another obscenely early morning.
The Angkor Wat Archaeological Park covers 400 square kms. I’m going to dedicate a separate blog to our visit. Suffice to say it was worth climbing the 635 steps to see the spectacular crumbling ruins of Phnon Bok. Without the crowds.

Electric bike tour of the back streets

Holidays in Cambodia highlights: electric bike tour of the back street burbs of Siem Reap
We stopped for a (warm) beer during our electric bike tour of the back street burbs of Siem Reap

Day 4. I’d never been on an electric bike before. So quiet, so cool.
Our convoy of E-bikes followed the river, further and further out of town to the burbs where the locals live.
Kids were having fun swimming in the river.
We slowed down to let a grubby, naked toddler carrying a mobile phone get off the road.
Chickens and roosters crossed our path.
We finished the day eating tapas at Bugs Cafe… My brother in law and I were violently ill that night.

A night at the circus

I spent Day 5 recovering and regretting eating that tarantula.

Okay. I wasn’t feeling 100%. But I wouldn’t have missed our night at the Cambodian circus for the world. My brother in law wasn’t up to it so we offered his ticket to our tuk tuk driver. You should have seen the surprise and happiness on the tuk tuk driver’s face.

“Oh my God? Really?”

He obviously loved the circus as much as we did, jokingly pretending to be my missing brother in law throughout the evening.
The circus is run by Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS). PPS provides arts education for young people from the streets and orphanages who come to learn, express and heal themselves through the arts.
“Influence”, the show we saw, mixes drama and circus to explore struggles for power and survival. Impressive, moving and powerful. Some of the mime reminded me of the live video of the Dead Kennedys Holiday in Cambodia on Rage…

I’d love to spend more time visiting Cambodia. If I won lotto I’d be planning lots more holidays in Cambodia. In fact I’d like to sail there sometime…

Related

Exploring the Funny Side of Angkor Wat

Good morning Vietnam (Holidays in Vietnam Part 1)

Revealing a hidden temple in the jungle

36 Hours in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Five Islands Six Eggs and Four Resorts

Sailing home from Tioman Island on the tropical east coast of Malaysia, we stayed at some deserted islands and some with resorts.  Luckily the resorts welcome visiting yachties.  It would have been a very hungry cruise if they didn’t.

Yana de Lys anchored off Pulau Tulai. Our first stop sailing home.
Yana de Lys anchored off Pulau Tulai. Our first stop sailing home.

We weighed anchor after ten idyllic days at Tekek on Tioman Island. Our next destination was Pulau Tulai (Tulai Island) An epic 7.11 NM (nautical mile) voyage.

Talk about a stunning uninhabited island.

I snorkeled the low tide coral.  Plenty of those phallic looking sea cucumbers. My chef brother in law promised to send me a recipe. But I’m still waiting. The sea cucumbers are still safe. The other captain explored the mangrove forests.

Mangroves at low tide on Tulai Island, our first anchorage sailing home
Mangroves at low tide on Tulai Island

Next morning we woke up surrounded by local fishing boats. We waved to the fisherman as we left. They didn’t wave back. Just grinned and sledged. What were they saying? “Ooh you’re obviously not a real man pulling up the anchor while your wife drives?” I’d love to know. It felt good natured but alimak! I wish my Bahasa Malaysian vocab was more extensive.

Sailing home: weighing anchor at Tulai
Weighing anchor at Tulai while the local fishermen laughed at us

Sailing home slowly

We were sailing home to Johor Bahru slowly and reluctantly.  We’d have loved to keep going north.

Our next anchorage was Pulau Seribuat. About five hours away.

By this time the other captain was starting to express his concern at our poor provisioning. Eating angst was setting in. He was counting the eggs supply and cans of tuna in the food locker on a daily basis.

Slummin it at the Rawa Island Resort

Moving right along, the following night we anchored off Pulau Rawa. The Rawa Island Resort is very posh.

We’d had a yummy expensive meal and were ready to go home.

Oopsie. Low tide. Not enough water to take the dinghy out through the coral. Waiting waiting waiting for the tide to come in.

Around 8:00 one of the guys from the resort said “You’re going to be here till 10:30 man”. Then sweetly suggested he pulls us out from the jetty using a long rope. Yay. And God bless him it worked.

The next day we continued sailing home slowly via Pulau Babi Besar (literally Big Pig Island).

No shops on Babi Besar anymore

According to our Pilot (like the Lonely Planet for sailors) there was a shop on Babi Besar.

A gorgeous walk on Babi Besar Island on our way sailing home. But no shops for supplies.
A gorgeous walk. But no shops at the end.

We walked. We looked. We hoped. We were expecting a Tesco or an Aeon or a Giant. But no. Not even a 7 Eleven. Apparently the reported shop was closed down. The other captain’s provisioning angst was quietly escalating.

So we settled for a beer at the Aseania Beach Resort.

Lovely. Cold. All you expect of a tropical resort beer.

I was looking sadly at my empty eggs container. The waiter noticed, took it from me, and came back with six eggs. Free. We had a great dinner there too.

The toilets there were special in their own special way…

Sailing home via the Aseania Beach Resort. The toilets were all marble and gold leaf.
All marble and gold leaf. Shame the toilets didn’t flush properly

Three nights on Pulau Sibu

We anchored off the north of Sibu Island. The Rimba Resort is very civilised. European style service and hospitality. Lovely snorkelling in the bay.

We heard there was a village on the other side of the island. So off we trekked in search of provisions. The jungle walk from Rimba to the uber friendly Sea Gypsy Village resort was excellent. Didn’t see any monkeys on the way but there was a big pig lurking in the jungle. I suppose they’re safe on Muslim islands.

Guess what?  No village. No mini marts. No provisions. But a delicious local lunch of nasi goreng (tasty fried rice) at the only shop.

Still sailing home slowly

Time oozes when you’re sailing. We get excited when we’re doing five knots – about ten kilometres per hour. You see the next island as an imagined mirage. Like a visual whisper. Is it really there? Then it slowly slowly materialises before your eyes.

Our next stop was Jasons Bay. We held our nerve so we could be as protected from the rolly swell as possible and anchored with 1.5 metres under our keel. Lucky it was good mud holding. A storm raged around us almost immediately.

Our final stop before returning to Senibong Cove Marina was Tanjung Pengileh. We ate out of date two minute noodles for dinner. I don’t think they can kill you. If I don’t write any more blogs you’ll know I’m wrong.

Related

Anchorage waypoints

Pulau Tioman, just north of the ferry jetty
N 02 49.333 E 104 09.563

Pulau Tulai
N 02 54.813  E 104 06.042 in 13 M sand
Pulau Sribuat
N  02 41.919  E 103 53.877 in 11 M sand
Pulau Rawa
N 02 31.291  E 103 58.318 in 7 M sand
Pulau Babi Besar
N 02 14.080  E 104 03.484 in 8 M sand
Jasons Bay (Tuluk Mahkota)
N 01 51.383  E 104 08.571 in 3.5 M mud
Tanjung Pengileh
N 01 22.820  E 104 05.543 in 6 M mud

Ten days in Tekek. And How We Missed the Waterfall on Tioman Island

An idyllic anchorage in front of the village of Tekek. Clean clear water. Great snorkeling. Duty free booze. We chilled out on Pulau Tioman (Tioman Island Malaysia).  Ten days had flown past before we even noticed.

Tekek is a quiet little town on Tioman Island Malaysia
Tekek Esplanade. These guys have been riding motorbikes since they were five.

Tekek is the “capital village” of Tioman Island Malaysia

Bats in the belfry at Tekek, on Tioman Island Malaysia
Bats in the belfry at Tekek
Capital village? Well I guess you can’t call it the capital city. You’ll find one marina, three duty free grog shops and three mini marts in the two street town of Tekek on Tioman Island Malaysia.And a million bats.

We were laying bets on the minimum age for motorcycle riders in Tekek. Maybe six years old? Or perhaps it’s a height thing? If you can reach the pedals you’re legal. Helmets might be illegal in Tekek though. I didn’t see one. Unless you count head scarfs?

It’s a long way to the top if you wanna miss the waterfall

We’d been told about the jungle walk to the waterfall.

We got directions from the guys at the Tekek Information Centre. Go right after the first mosque, then was it left after the second mosque? No signage of course. We were lost after the first 20 minutes. No one to ask. It’s a quiet little town.

After a few wrong turns we found the trail. Two and a half hours of mostly uphill climbing we found ourselves in Juara on the other side of the island. Alimak! How did we miss the waterfall?

We saw monkeys, butterflies, a spectacular frill necked lizard showing off in all its camouflaged glory. It was an amazing walk. But no waterfall.

As mentioned in my blog about climbing Frenchmans Peak, I never said I was fit, just up for it. So it wasn’t a hard decision to take a ride back to Tekek. I talked the driver into stopping so we could check out the waterfall on the way back. Underwhelming. Water but no fall. But I wouldn’t have missed that jungle walk for anything. Despite the way my leg muscles complained for the next three days.

The waterfall after the walk from Tekek on Tioman Island Malaysia was more of puddle than a waterfall
More of puddle than a waterfall

Don’t backpackers know how to party anymore?

I mentioned Tekek is a quiet town. There are no bars. The deal is you buy your duty free wine or beer or whatever and drink it at the table outside the bottle shop, or take it and drink it with your meal at one of the cafes.

Air Batang or ABC is a three km walk from Tekek. There are bars and backpacker joints for the people who come for diving holidays.

The other captain and I thought it might be time for a party night. You know, hit the reggae bars, a few cocktails… It was so quiet we nearly fell asleep! Young backpackers whispering over their bottles of water.

Different to when we were there 27 years ago for our honeymoon.

Well I think it was ABC. But I guess it could have been another part of the island.

We were in Mersing and the locals suggested we visit the island where they shot the 1958 movie South Pacific. I believe this urban legend is now disputed, but we believed them.

Eight hours later, on a slow boat with locals and chickens and goats, we landed at rickety jetty with a backpackers bar. Our accommodation was simple A frame hut for $2 per night. The “ablution facility” was a waterfall, complete with monkeys. But that backpackers bar rocked!

Huge flag on Tekek Beach, Merdeka (Independence) Day at Tekek on Tioman Island Malaysia
Huge flag on Tekek Beach, Merdeka (Independence) Day

Anchorage Waypoint

Pulau Tioman, just north of the ferry jetty
N 02 49.333 E 104 09.563 Sand in achingly clear blue water.