Thursday, January 27, 2011

10th Stop: Kampot

So, after a six hour bus journey from Phnom Penh, we arrived in Kampot. It was meant to be only four hours, but we took about ten rest stops on the way! (It was ridiculous! These Cambodians can't hack the travelling at all! A four hour bus journey is nothing, one stop in Urlingford is all you need!) And they didn't even have anything proper to eat at these stops, just bags of pineapple, mango and hard boiled eggs. Mmmm...

Anyway, Kampot. It was a strange one for us coming here. Every other city we were visiting, we had looked up lots of things for us to do and see, but not Kampot... that's partly because there actually wasn't a lot to do or see here, but also because it was highly recommended in the Lonely Planet as a sleepy, riverside town, so we were planning on just having a sleepy, riverside couple of days. And they weren't lying! As soon as we arrived, we could sense the laid back attitude. It wasn't like Bangkok or Phnom Penh, where everything was rush, rush, rush. Here, people were just going at their own pace. And we loved it! There really was a sleepy vibe to the town. On our way to the hostel actually, we saw a woman pushing a cart along the road. She obviously didn't have a horn to beep at people, so she carried a rubber chicken instead, which she'd squeek every so often. Sure, why not?!

It was hard enough to find somewhere to stay here, but luckily we came across a website for a place called the Rikitikitavi. We loved the name, and more importantly, they had rooms available! As it was so hard to find accommodation here, we weren't expecting this place to be anything special... we couldn't have been more wrong. I never thought I'd say it, but Bagan has some serious competition for best accommodation!

The room itself was definitely the nicest we've stayed in; a huge four poster bed, big screen TV with hundreds of DVDs, ensuite bathroom, kettle, electric mosquito swatter, the list goes on! We literally couldn't stop smiling when we were shown to our room. We were expecting nothing and got everything! There was a restaurant upstairs too, with complementary drinks on our arrival and a great view over the river.

The place had everything, even free wifi, although Ash's laptop had been in a coma for the past week since Ko Tao... Seeing as we wouldn't be able to get it fixed until Hong Kong, and inspired by our new surroundings, we decided to tackle the problem ourselves! We asked one of the staff members for a screwdriver, and a few minutes later the owner, Dom, came down to our room with a box full of them! And so I got to work on taking the laptop apart!

I didn't really know what I was doing or what I was looking for, but my theory was; taking things apart and then putting them back together again somehow fixes things! It comes from the same school of thought as blowing on a Super Nintendo cartridge to get it to work. (In fact, I employed both techniques in this project). It was either going to be a huge success, or a huge disaster, I did know that much. And I'm sure you've guessed by now, the fact that I'm writing about it means it was the former! I couldn't believe it! I felt so clever. Take that technology! We knew though that the next time we shut it down, it may not wake up again, so... we just never shut it down. Problem solved!

Of course, with the laptop fixed, we spent the evening catching up on some Amazing Race, it was good to be back! Afterwards we took a stroll around the town, and had a look for the ATM, and yes I mean "the" ATM, there was only one in town. Still, that's one more than Myanmar!

We got back to the hostel and were planning on having a late dinner, only to realise that the kitchen was just about to close! We made it up just in time to get our order in but unfortunately couldn't get dessert. Normally we wouldn't be that bothered, but the fact that we weren't able to have dessert just made us want it even more! We really wanted some apple tart! So much so, that we went for a look around the town to find some. It really was a tiny place, so we weren't holding out much hope of finding anywhere, but about 30 seconds down the road, we did find some tart... some tart that sprayed us with a hose! You heard me! We were walking past this "lady massage parlour", and we got soaked by some woman watering the plants! And she didn't even acknowledge us or apologise! What a bitch! We were soaked! I hope she's disappointed in herself, she just let down the whole Cambodian prostitution industry!

We woke up the next morning, after an amazing night's sleep, to our free breakfast, complete with pancakes, fruit, croissants and everything. This place was just getting better and better! Our plan for the day was to rent a couple of bikes and cycle to the Tek Chhouu rapids, one of the few touristy things to see in Kampot. (There were actually a fair few - Bokor Hill Station, Salt Fields, Pepper Plantations - but none of them sounded that interesting...). We got a map of the area in the hostel, grabbed some bikes from a local rental place, and set sail!

The rapids were only 8km away, so it shouldn't have taken us too long to get there... in the end, we probably would've been better off walking, the bikes were rubbish! The brakes were shot, which funnily enough didn't matter, seeing as we couldn't actually go fast enough to ever need them. The gears didn't work and were stuck in the lowest setting, so no matter how hard or fast you pedaled, you could only go like 1 mile an hour! It was so frustrating going so slowly. It was like walking down the street, stuck behind an old lady. And worst of all, whenever we came to even the slightest incline, the pedals just spun, so we'd have to get off and walk. It was a nightmare.

Anyway, we finally made it to the rapids, well, I say rapids, but that's probably a bit of an overstatement. In fact, no. It's just a plain lie, they weren't rapid at all! It should be called the Tek Chhouu gently flowing river. I'd like to think that we just came at the wrong time of year, and that they really are a lot more rapid during the wet season...

It was a nice place, but we were just hoping for a little more... In the end we just chilled out on some hammocks by the water's edge. The hammocks seemed to be for public use, but while we were lounging out, this little girl came up to us saying that we had to pay 2,000 Riel... We're still not sure if we actually had to pay, or if this girl was just being an opportunist, but either way, it was only like 50c, and we just didn't want the fuss.

The cycle back wasn't as painful, as we were used to the bikes at this stage, but it still took about 5 times longer than it should have. That evening, we went upstairs again for dinner (with plenty of time for dessert), and I've got to say, the food was good, but the view was amazing! While we were eating, there was a full-blown lightning storm outside! The rain was absolutely bucketing down, and it was so loud that you could barely hear the thunder! If you want to look at some rain falling, see here:

(Side note: I also added a couple of video links to the other entries, see Phnom Penh and Bangkok part two!)

And that was pretty much it for our short stay in Kampot, As I said, it's only a small town, but we really liked it! The next morning we got up and wolfed down our breakfast, so as not to be late for the bus, which happened to be about 40mins late itself... Next stop Battambang!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

9th Stop: Phnom Penh

So after our final night in Rikka Inn, we headed off to the airport to say goodbye to Bangkok (for good this time!). Thai taxi drivers are weird, each one is just stranger than the next. On the way to the airport, our driver started shaving while we were stuck in traffic… we were definitely ready to move on from Thailand.

Our flight to Phnom Penh was delayed by an hour, so I just took a wander around while we were waiting, trying to use up the last of our Baht. In the end, I found something called ‘peanut brittle’, it was one of the few things we could afford. I didn’t have a clue what it was and the ingredients didn’t really clear things up either; 80% peanuts, ok, 10% sugar, fair enough, 10% ivory?! No wonder elephants are becoming endangered if their tusks are being harvested to make peanut brittle! Ivory must have some amazing properties though, cause the best before date was Dec 2053!

Anyway, Cambodia! We got our Visas sorted straight away as we arrived. What a change from the Myanmar Visa process! In the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, we had to wait around 6 hours while our documents were scrutinised to make sure we weren’t terrorists, or even worse, journalists. Here, we handed in our passports and 5 minutes later we were out the gap with passports and Visas in hand!

Aisling was extra excited when we arrived in Phnom Penh, as it was a new country for her, seeing as she’d already been to Thailand and Malaysia before. And what a way to welcome her to the country! We were greeted at arrivals by our tuk-tuk driver, Marady, holding up a sheet with her name on it! We were very excited about that.

So, Marady took us (tuk-tuk us…?) to our hostel, the Noura Motel. Now I must admit, when we were making our predictions at the start of the journey, I put this down for worst accommodation. I had never stayed in a motel before, in fact I didn't really know what a motel was. The word just conjured up an image of a sleezy American rent-a-room in the middle of nowhere with a flickering neon sign out front. It turns out that it was actually lovely (and it felt extra lovely after that dump in Ko Tao!). We still don't really know what a motel is though...

We were starving when we arrived, so we said we'd grab something to eat in the first nice place we came across... it was a Pizza Company. They really have them everywhere! After dinner, we went back and settled into our room. Actually, one great thing about our room, and I've never seen them anywhere else before, they had these kinda furry pillows on the floor next to the bed that you wipe your feet on before getting into bed. Just so your feet aren't all dusty... I thought it was a great idea anyway! I wish I had taken a picture of them now...

It was late when we arrived at the motel, but it looked like we were in a nice enough area, that was until we woke up the next morning... and realised we were actually in an unreal area! With views over the Royal Palace and right by the river side too!

That day when we got up, our tuk-tuk driver from the night before, Marady, was waiting outside, offering to take us around for the day. He was eager, we liked that. And we had a few places we were planning to go to around the city, so said we'd hire him. We quickly grabbed some breakfast and then hit the road. I wouldn't say we had an enjoyable day, as it's probably the wrong word to use considering the places we went, but it was definitely a good day and eye-opening to say the least.

First we went to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which used to be a prison during the Khmer Rouge communist regime. It was originally a high school, but when Pol Pot came to power in 1975, the classrooms were transformed into torture chambers, where up to 100 people were killed every day at the peak of the Khmer Rouge's power.

The place had such an eerie feel to it, and even though I've never been to a Nazi concentration camp, I'd imagine it's the same feeling there. A lot of the buildings have been kept in their original state, to give you an insight into the prison, though some are now occupied by the museum, filled with testimonials of the victims, artwork, clothes, skulls and hundreds upon hundreds of mug shots of each detainee as they entered the prison.

Next, we moved on to The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where most of the prisoners from Tuol Sleng were brought to be executed. Prisoners here were often bludgeoned to death to avoid wasting precious bullets. It wasn't just adults killed under the Khmer Rouge either, children were also slaughtered, the rationale being to stop them growing up and taking revenge for the death of their families. It was strange walking around the grounds, with mass graves on either side, some yet to be excavated. The most notable sight from the Killing Fields is the memorial stupa, which houses the skulls and ragged clothes of over 8,000 victims. It's a very pretty monument, although considering its surroundings, it's hard to stop and admire its beauty.

Pol Pot died in 1998 while under house arrest, and only now are the trials for the remaining Khmer Rouge members being held. It's ridiculous how long the victims have had to wait for justice and it is now very likely that a lot of the culprits will have died before the trials are even completed.

On the way back we stopped off at the rather disappointing Wat Phnom, and had a quick wander through the open air Central Market. It was hard to be in high spirits after the day we had, but we were perked up again that night with the news of Aisling's Blackhall results. She nailed them of course.

The next day, we went to the National Museum, which luckily enough happened to be right around the corner from us. It was filled with loads of ancient stone carvings and Buddha statues, which were nice, but it was kind of a case of 'once you've seen one, you've seen them all...'. The building itself though was unreal, in particular the central courtyard, and I'd even say it was much more interesting than the actual contents. It was absolutely Buddha-ful!

After the museum, we headed over to the Royal Palace, which also happened to be right around the corner from us! We were really in a great spot! We had a good look around the Palace, The Silver Pagoda and the surrounding buildings. It was all very pretty. The Silver Pagoda was very impressive actually. It's floored with, as the name suggests, 5,000 silver tiles, and it also houses a life-size gold Buddha decorated with 9,584 diamonds... No wonder Cambodia is still a developing country if they're spending their money on silver floors and solid gold, jewel encrusted Buddhas!

As I said, the Palace and Pagoda were really lovely, but the highlight for us was definitely in a tiny little hut, where we were allowed to try on traditional clothes and a man taught us how to play old Khmer instruments. It was so much fun! It's all well and good walking around looking at pretty buildings and statues, but actually getting to do things is a lot more enjoyable!

You'd almost mistake her for a Khmer princess, if it wasn't for the Care Bears t-shirt...

Here's a video of Ash playing some sort of xylophone too!

After the palace, we took a walk by the river, which was decorated along its banks with hundreds of flags. The thing is though, they didn't have every flag... I don't know if they were planning on having the flags of the world and just ran out, or what? And they had Italy twice too...

We rounded off our final night in Phnom Penh with a sunset cruise along the Mekong River, to celebrate Aisling's Blackhall results, and it really was a perfect way to end our stay. (When I was thinking back over our journey, Phnom Penh didn't really stand out for me, but writing this made me realise that it actually wasn't a bad city...).

The following morning, we waved goodbye to Phnom Penh and our motel, and hopped on a bus to our next stop, Kampot!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

8th Stop: Ko Tao

So, Ko Tao... In terms of our 'best and worst' competition, it's a runaway winner in two categories anyway, definitely best food, and even more definitely, worst accommodation...! And despite the terrible weather, it was well up there in a few other categories too! All in all, we had a great time here!

Well, after an 8 hour bus journey from Bangkok, and then a 2 hour ferry from Chumphon (it was during the night though so we got plenty of sleep), we arrived bright and early in Ko Tao. When we landed in Ko Phi Phi a couple of weeks ago, we were greeted by someone from our hostel to lead the way and take our bags, so we were expecting something similar here... no such luck. There were people from other resorts alright, just not ours. No matter, we found a pick-up truck that was heading our way so we jumped on that. We arrived at the hostel but when we were checking in, they were charging us for four nights instead of three, even though we had emailed them the day before saying that we were stuck in Bangkok and so would be staying a day less. We had booked the place through Hostel World, and gave them 24 hours notice, as per the website’s terms, but she just said, ‘no, that’s not our policy…’. Well, maybe you should find a different website to advertise on so, ya dope! We wouldn’t have been that annoyed about it if the place was nice, but it was rubbish! Paying for one night there was too much, never mind four! The room was horrible, I could go on all day about the things wrong with the place; It was roasting hot with only a tiny little fan on the ceiling to cool us down, there were mosquito nets covering the windows, which was a great idea, except for the fact that there were holes in the walls, the place felt like it was going to fall apart at any second and the room shook every time you walked across the floor - I’ll just leave it there, but to sum up, it was shit! The Lotus Resort, don’t stay there! It’s shit!

We didn’t get up to much on our first day really. We got some lunch in a place called Zest, which we ending up eating in every day (sometimes more than once a day in fact!). The food was excellent though, huge portions and the couple running the place were so lovely too, the smiliest people we’ve ever met! Afterwards, we organised a snorkelling trip for the next morning and took a walk along the beach. It soon started lashing though, so we had to run back to our crappy room. Even though it was raining, it was still really hot, and somehow it was like ten degrees hotter inside! If only our little fan could do more than just blow the dust around…

We stayed in and watched a few episodes of The Amazing Race (surprise surprise) and later went for dinner in a place that was showing the Villa-Arsenal match. It was a great game, even if Villa lost 4-2 in the end…

The next morning we woke up in our shitty, shitty room, after the worst night’s sleep ever, to find that my legs were covered in mosquito bites. I was in agony! Aisling escaped scot-free too… It’s a good thing we were taking our malaria tablets! (Before we set off from Ireland, we were weighing up whether or not to get malaria tablets, as we had heard that the side effects from taking them were almost as bad as actually having the disease itself. We got them in the end, and to be honest, they were absolutely fine). And even worse, Aisling’s laptop wouldn’t work again! Disaster! Seeing as we were going snorkelling for the day, we put it out of our minds and hoped it would magically fix itself again, like it did in Bangkok.

After breakfast in Zest, we headed off on our day of snorkelling. On the boat, we made friends with three girls, who we affectionately knew as Hazel, Sick girl and the Belgian, (We couldn’t actually remember their real names…), Hazel – because she looked like Hazel McCarthy, Sick girl – because she was seasick on the boat, and the Belgian – because, well, she was from Belgium… We were meant to be going to swim with sharks (not big massive ones), but because the weather was so bad and the sea was so choppy, we could only stay along the coast. Dose! We still had a great day though.

We went to a few different bays along the shoreline, and saw lots of nice and colourful fish. The coral was nice too, even if it wasn't as colourful. There are meant to be really good dive spots on the island, it’s just a shame that we were shackled to the coast. Having said that though, the boat trip itself around the island was enjoyable. From little beach huts popping up from beneath the trees, to the odd phallic rock formation!

Before we finished up, we headed over to an island called Ko Nang Yuan. We didn’t know anything about the place, except that it was privately owned and you had to pay 100 Baht to step foot on it. This was no problem for us, as they had told us when we signed up for the trip (and 100 Baht is only like €2.50). Some people on the boat went mental though when they found out you had to pay! These two French girls in particular. This was the final straw for them. Before this happened, they were moaning when we couldn't go to Shark Island (even though the waves were so big on the way there that we were practically being thrown out of the boat!). Then they were complaining that the coral was “really terrible”, and now this. Next, some Swedish woman pipes up saying that she didn't want to go to the island either cause she was already there the day before! They were all giving out to the poor instructor and were even trying to convince people on the boat not to go on the island so we could turn around and head home. It was like a mutiny! Eventually, we all ended up going cause there was a couple at the front of the boat who really wanted to go. I think the Swedish woman felt kinda guilty afterwards for trying to get everyone to turn around… and so she should! The island was incredible!!

Honestly, this place was paradise! It blows Ko Phi Phi out of the water! (Pardon the pun) It wasn't even sunny when we were there either, so if it was this good overcast, who knows what it would be like with some blue skies! Well worth the €2.50 entrance fee anyway! First, we went up to the lookout point where there was an amazing view over the island, or rather islands. Ko Nang Yuan is actually made up of three small islands, connected by tombolos (I think that’s right, I haven’t done geography since Junior Cert!). It was really cool walking along the sand from one island to another with waves crashing on either side of you.

Because it was overcast too, it was actually warmer in the water than on the shore, so we spent most of our time there submerged. We just didn’t want to leave! There were a few other people from our boat on the beach with us, so we were keeping an eye on them, thinking we’ll just head back when they do… They were probably looking at us thinking the exact same thing. In the end, we all ended up staying there for hours!

When we got back, we were absolutely starving, so went for dinner in a place called Porta Bello. Take note, this is where Ko Tao ran away with the Best Food prize. It was outstanding. I’d even go as far as to say it was the nicest restaurant I've ever eaten in. There, I said it! Between Porta Bello and Zest, Ko Tao was just streets ahead of everywhere else.

After dinner, we took a stroll around and were accosted by some ladyboys trying to get us to come to their cabaret show. We really wanted to go too, but unfortunately we were washing our hair that night... (Oh actually, speaking of washing hair, funny story! The shower in our room was so bad that, one night, poor Aisling had to resort to using the bum hose to clean her hair properly! I think it’s a funny story, although I’m sure she won’t think it’s as funny when she reads this…)

The next morning, we went and booked our scuba diving trip for the day ahead, and popped into Zest, of course, for breakfast. (The night before I was eaten alive again by mosquitoes. This time I even put on repellent and everything to no effect. Aisling thinks the spray smells really nice, she'd make a terrible mosquito...) After another quality breakfast, we headed back down to the dive centre to meet our instructor, Antonio. He was so nice! We loved him! It was his first dive in English too, so we were trying to be as supportive as possible throughout the day. You wouldn't think it was either, seeing as his English was pretty much perfect. He also had fluent Italian (well, he was from Italy so that's not much of an achievement...) and Spanish. Also, his girlfriend was Dutch so he was learning that too! He gave us a quick rundown of the plan for the day and told us to go and grab some lunch as we wouldn't be starting for a couple of hours. Back up to Zest!

As we were tucking into our lunch though, the heavens opened. It was ridiculous. We had luckily escaped any showers yesterday, but this downpour didn't look like it was stopping any time soon. We tried to leave it as late as possible before heading back to the dive centre, hoping that the rain would ease off, but by the time we left Zest, we practically had to swim down the street! We thought there was no way the dive would still be going ahead, well we were wrong! I suppose we were going to get wet anyway...

Although we had both gone diving before (Ash in the Great Barrier Reef, me in... well, Lahinch...), it was years ago, so we both had to do the beginner course. Again, it meant that we didn't get to see the best dive spots on the island, but we still saw some lovely things and had a great day hanging out with Antonio. He was one of our favourite people from the whole journey!

After our dive, we still had some time to kill while we waited for everyone else to come back to the boat, so we grabbed a couple of snorkels and had a paddle around. (The night before, I bought a waterproof pouch for my camera too, so that we could take pictures in the sea. It's a really good little contraption!) Though it was lashing when we set off that afternoon, it soon eased up and we had a pretty rain-free dive in the end. That was until we went back in snorkelling again, and it started bucketing down once more!

It was actually one of the highlights of the entire trip for me though. The rain was so torrential, and the sound was deafening as it pelted down on the water around us. But as soon as you dived under the water, it was like another world entirely, so quiet and peaceful. To quote Fiona Apple, "It's calm under the waves, in the blue of my oblivion".

And also to quote Sebastian the lobster from The Little Mermaid, "Under the sea, under the sea, darling it's better, where it is wetter, take it from me!" Both equally valid points.

There was only one way to round off that day, back to Porta Bello! (I got a steak this time, it was even better than the night before! Seriously, this place...) And that was pretty much it for our final night in Ko Tao.

The next morning, after brekkie (and lunch!) in Zest once more, we jumped on the ferry back to the mainland, for our 10 hour return trip to Bangkok. (Don't worry, we weren't spending another week there!) We arrived back to Rikka Inn that night, and went straight to bed, wrecked after our day of travelling and with a new adventure in Phnom Penh the next day!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

7th Stop: Bangkok again!

So, I had no money! I was very anxious to ring Ulster Bank to sort out my ATM dilemma as soon as possible, hopefully it was something I could fix over the phone, if not, I was penniless for the rest of the trip! We jumped on a bus from Suvarnabhumi back to the Khaosan Road (we knew the airport like the back of our hand at this stage, even if we had no idea how to actually spell it!) and returned to, our home away from home at this stage, Rikka Inn. It was so good having proper internet again! I rang Ulster Bank over Skype, and after answering a few security questions, they enabled my account again. Thank God! They said they suspended it over ‘suspicious activity’ and proceeded to read out my last few transactions… In fairness, it did sound kinda suspicious as he read it out, especially my frantic attempted withdrawals on our way to Yangon the week before! You can’t blame them for thinking something was up really. To celebrate my reactivated wealth, we went to The Pizza Company for dinner (we've really fallen in love with this place! They've got restaurants all over SE Asia and I’d say we've eaten here about 10 or 11 times on our journey!)

The next morning we decided to just have a chill out day, we were going to be in Bangkok for the next 6 days so we said we might as well just take a break and relax by the pool. We got brekkie in our regular spot, (we actually can’t remember what it was called, even though we ate there practically everyday! We just called it porridge place cause they made nice porridge… clever nickname, I know), and on the way back to the apartment, I bought 3 new t-shirts! I really spoilt myself! Our day by the pool didn’t turn out as we hoped though, as it was pretty cloudy all afternoon. It was still nice to take a break. We went to a nearby Irish bar that night to watch the Villa – Blackburn match… but I don’t really want to talk about that...

Moving on… the next day we had a spring in our step again, so decided to go and do touristy things. First of all we booked our tickets to Ko Tao for next week (we were very organised!) and then jumped in a tuk-tuk to Wat Phra Kaew. When we arrived, there were people around the entrance telling us it was closed. They didn’t look very official though so we walked around to another entrance, and sure enough we saw people going in. When we got there, we were told that our pants were too short and we’d have to rent out some long ones if we wanted to see the palace. We agreed (even though they were big hilarious clown pants!), seeing as it was the only way we were going to get in. Finally we made it inside, only to be herded straight out again along with all the other tourists! Nobody was being told what was going on, just to move along to the exits. We were raging! We couldn’t come here the last time we were in Bangkok cause we didn’t have time, and now we're finally here and we’re being herded out straight away! And, we were made pay to rent out pants!! That was the worst part. The people outside knew that everyone was going to be told to leave but they still made us pay to get long pants. We were so annoyed that we did what anyone would in the situation… that’s right, we stole the pants! We were meant to drop them off where we got them on the way out, but we just threw them into our bags and legged it! They’re hideous (actually, the sarong that Ash got is quite nice) but they’re a medal of our victory over Wat Phra Kaew! There’s a lesson for you, don’t mess with us or we’ll steal your pants!

To celebrate, we went to a nearby shopping mall and found a place that did killer crepes! Ash claims they’re the best she’s ever had! We were going to go to the cinema there too, but they only had like two screens. Instead we went to Jim Thomson’s House. It’s not, as the name suggests, just some guy’s house, it’s a Bangkok tourist attraction, and it was really nice actually. Jim Thompson was an American who developed the Thai silk industry and his house is now open to the public. It’s full of Thai sculptures and artwork and all that kind of lark. Well worth a look though.

Ok, I can’t really remember what we did the day after… I think we just chilled by the pool again and took it easy as we had planned a trip to Ayuthaya for the next day. It was sunny though! I remember that much! We probably watched some Amazing Race too that day… who knows!?

Actually, just to go off on another side note, about the toilets here, not just in Bangkok, but all over SE Asia. In a lot of places we've gone to, they have these kind of 'squatter units'. They're basically just a hole in the ground, with a place to put your feet at either side, and you just squat over the hole and do your business... and I'm not just talking about in grotty bars and poor areas, in high class shopping malls and hotels too! In some places as well, instead of toilet paper they have a kind of 'bum hose', that you just spray yourself with to clean up... (actually, they have these bum hoses almost everywhere, even in places with toilet paper). I mean, I can understand having these squatter units in poorer places where they don't have access to toilet bowls, but it's very strange seeing them in high class areas. Like, you'd walk into a fancy bathroom in a hotel somewhere and they'd have a few regular cubicles, and then a few squatters, just so you have a choice! I'm not saying our way is better or anything, if you prefer using the latter then who am I to judge?! Squatter's rights and all that...

So, our day in Ayutthaya... now, before we started planning our trip around SE Asia, neither of us had ever heard of Ayutthaya, it wasn't a place we had ever intended going to. But, if there are any Street Fighter fans out there, you will know that Sagat's stage is in front of a big reclining Buddha in Thailand. So, I made it a mission to find out where this was and go and see it. And that's where our day trip to Ayutthaya came from! It turns out that there was loads to see there too and it was, one of many, ancient capitals of Thailand, before it was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767 (go on Burma!).

We needed a big hearty feed that morning for the day ahead, so we forsook our regular breakfast spot and went to Cool Corner, where we got pancakes, fruit, a croissant, bacon and a milkshake all for 100 Baht (about €2.50). Breakfast bargain! We ended up going there for a lot of our meals over the next few days. The food was delicious, although the staff were shocking... We jumped on a bus to Ayutthaya and when we arrived, rented out two bikes for the day. Most of the city's ruins are located on the central island, so you had to get a little boat over and back, which is fine, unless you're carrying a bike over your shoulder!

First on our list was Wat Phra Mahathat, which contains probably the most iconic image in Ayutthaya, a Buddha head engulfed by tree trunks. I don't know the story behind it, but most of the Buddha statues in the place had their heads chopped off, so I presume this was just one of them and a tree grew up around it. The heads weren't chopped off as a mark of disrespect though. Whenever the Thais were being attacked, they used to cover their gold statues in plaster so that they wouldn't look valuable to looters. The heads were simply chopped off by their enemies to see if the statues were golden inside!

(When I took this photo, the security guards made Ash kneel down as it's forbidden to take a photograph of yourself standing over a Buddha statue!)

Next, we went to Wat Ratburana which we had to pay to get into! We were pretty annoyed at this seeing as we didn't have to pay to get into Wat Mahathat. (We later found out that you actually did have to pay to get into Wat Mahathat too but when we were going in, we couldn't find the entrance so we just walked through a hedge instead...). We also went along to Wat Thammikarat, Wat Suwannawat and Wat Chutalkinaboutwillis! (I'm sorry, that was rubbish. RIP Gary Coleman)

Actually, at Wat Thammikarat we were attacked by a pack of dogs! Well, I say attacked, they didn't actually touch us... but it was close! When we were locking up our bikes, about 3 or 4 dogs came out and started barking at us. We just ignored them and walked on. As we were walking though, dogs just kept coming out of nowhere until we were completely surrounded by a good 11 or 12 barking dogs! I'm not even afraid of dogs but I was getting a bit unnerved at this point. We walked along as calmly as possible, trying not to turn our backs on any of them, and we finally made it out to a public area. As we were leaving the place, I had to go back and get a picture of them for our records, to show how vicious they were. I said I'd take it as I was cycling past, just in case they came at me again, but as I went by, there wasn't a peep out of them! They were just frolicking on the grass! They obviously knew my plan and were trying to make a fool out of me. Well, it worked... Here'a a photo of some happy dogs!

We then headed over to Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which was pretty nice, but ended up being by far our favourite temple of the day, cause we just went around taking pictures of Frankie in various locations. He even made friends with a local puppy who was following us around!

We took a load of action shots of him too! One of us would walk up to the top of the steps and throw him down, while the other would take a picture of him flying through the air. Poor Frankie got an awful doing that day...

We also took photos of him hiding in trees. It's like 'Where's Wally?'!

We then went to find our reason for coming to Ayutthaya in the first place (well, my reason for coming here...) to see the reclining Buddha! It was located at Wat Lokaya Sutha, and actually wasn't one of the big tourist attractions here at all! (Can you believe that?!) In fairness, we've seen a lot more impressive reclining Buddhas on our travels, but seeing it, for me, was more about what it represented, rather than what it looked like (and when I say "what it represented", I'm talking about Street Fighter, not on some spiritual level...).

It was getting late at this stage so we had to cycle back and look for a ferry off the island. We couldn't find one anywhere though! We came across a few different piers, but after lugging our bikes down onto the platform, we were told that we were in the wrong place. Nobody could seem to tell us where the right place was though! We cycled along from pier to pier with no luck, until we came to this platform floating on the water, connected to the shore by a thin plank of wood... We thought there's no chance this is the right place, but a guy on a boat called out that he'd take us across. There was no way we were going to be able to get our bikes across that tiny plank onto the pier though, not a hope!

He kept telling us to come on, and we had little choice really so, in the end, we just had to go for it! (I guess we gave in to pier pressure! Hiooo!) I literally had to pick up our bikes over my head and tightrope walk my way across the plank, trying not to fall into the river on the way. It was like an obstacle course! I'm sorry to disappoint you all but I made it across without slipping up, and we sailed back to shore. We dropped off the bikes and headed to the train station, picking up a couple of Winnie the Pooh drinks on the way. (I have to put this in as we have become obsessed with these Winnie the Pooh jelly drinks that they sell in the 7 eleven's in Thailand! They're like watered down jelly in a bottle with little jelly balls in there too. They're amazing!)

And so onto our last day in Bangkok. We headed to the Siam Paragon cinema to see Unstoppable and we noticed that there were special prices for Wednesdays! Result! When we were paying for our tickets though, we were charged the regular price. We didn't want to cause a fuss so we just went with it. (We later realised that today was Thursday, not Wednesday... we really have no concept of days anymore!) The film wasn't starting for a few hours so we had some time to kill.
We went over to the nearby Erawan Shrine, which was grand but nothing to write home about (ironic, seeing as I am writing home about it now...). We then made our way to Crepes & Co, a creperie that Aisling had read up about, which claims to be the best in Bangkok. Now I don't know of any other creperies in Bangkok, but it was incredible! I'm sure you can see what I mean from the photo. It was like a work of art!

We made it back to the cinema just in time for the film but were stopped at the entrance because there were crowds of people there welcoming the king for some 'violence against women' day. (I'm not sure if he was for or against it...) Why they were holding it at the cinema too is beyond me! We made it in 25 minutes after the start time, but thankfully they were still showing trailers! We arrived in just in time for the national anthem which apparently they play before every film in the cinema, along with a montage of the king. Everyone had to stand up as well! It was very strange.

Because the film was so late starting too, it was late finishing, so we had to leg it back to the hostel to get our bags, and then up to the travel agents for Ko Tao. Everything was going smoothly enough, we sorted everything at the travel agents and they got someone to escort us to the ferry office where we were getting the bus from. I waited outside with the bags, while Ash went into the office to sort our tickets for the trip. She was in there for quite a while, and well, to cut a long story short, it turned out that our travel agent had never booked a place for us on the bus. And to make things worse, the bus was now full so there was no way we could go to Ko Tao that day. We were absolutely raging! In fairness, the people at the ferry office couldn't have done any more for us, and they tried ringing the travel agents a number of times with no answer. We were stuck in Bangkok for another night! We marched back to the travel agents, ready to tear strips off them, but it was closed. We had to go back to Rikka Inn (again!) and check in for another night...

The next morning we got up early to go straight to the travel agents. They didn't know what hit 'em! We made sure they sorted our bus and ferry to Ko Tao that night, and on top of that, we made them pay for our hotel room the night before, cause it was their fault we had to spend an extra night in Bangkok! They messed with the wrong people! They're lucky we didn't steal their pants too!

Speaking of which, seeing as we had an extra day in Bangkok, we decided to head back to Wat Phra Kaew to see the palace! When we got there, once again there were people telling us it was closed, but we found another entrance that was open (We had read in the Lonely Planet about a scam where people will tell you that an attraction is closed, but offer to take you somewhere else in their tuk-tuk...). This time the place actually was open so we finally got to see the palace! And we had our own long pants too so didn't need to buy any! Also, keeping with the Street Fighter theme, M Bison's stage was outside Wat Phra Kaew, so that's two I've seen in the space of a few days!

Another side note, we've seen loads and loads of Buddhas on our travels but they all seem to be of the young, slim Buddha. We were hoping to see more of the fat, jolly Buddha but we can't find him anywhere! In Wat Phra Kaew, we did see a woman alright who looked like the fat Buddha so we just took a picture of her instead...

After looking around the palace, we went to a cafe and got two coconuts, (they seem to sell them everywhere here so we said we should really give them a try). They're not like the normal coconuts you'd see though, the brown hairy ones, they're green and fleshy. They just hack them open with a machete and serve them up with a straw. They're not really that nice either... we were less than impressed.

To round off our last (hopefully!) day in Bangkok, I talked Aisling into going to a fish spa with me. If you've never heard of a fish spa, you're in for a treat! It's basically a place where they have big tanks of water, filled with what they call 'doctor fish'. You put your feet into the fish tanks and the fish eat off all the dead skin!

It was the weirdest sensation I've ever felt. It felt kinda nice and ticklish, until you actually looked down to see that you were literally being eaten alive by hundreds of fish! Putting your feet in first was the worst part, when you got used to it, it wasn't so bad. And afterwards your feet were all lovely and soft! Aisling wasn't too keen at first but she enjoyed it in the end!

Thankfully, that night everything was sorted for the bus and ferry and we finally left Bangkok behind. Next stop, Ko Tao for some seaside fun!