All trains going South from Bangkok are booked out until 2012 and we are forced to board another bus to escape the migration to Koh Samui where everyone is heading for full moon parties.
We take a taxi to get to the bus station 3km out of town. The journey should cost 80-100 Thai Baht but when the driver pulls away he turns off the meter and demands 200 baht. For his bad behaviour we tell him ‘where to go’ (so to speak!) and leave him with just 60 baht and a bad mood. After that we disregard the tourist buses after the previous experience and get on a super efficient government bus – they arrive faster because they barely stop! At the end of the journey we are stuck in the middle of nowhere, dropped off at a completely different bus station than we anticipated. We ask a young couple for directions and they point us in the right direction but tell us that it is a very long walk. Just a minute down the road they come past in their pick up truck and are so sweet that they offer us a lift to town!
12 and a half hours is a long time on a bus!
Large temples seem to be dotted around the countryside
Somewhere behind the flowers is the drivers rear view mirror!
We are extremely fortunate to meet such kind people who drive us into towdespite it being out of their way at night time in Hat Yai.
Temperature – 31 degrees C
An unlikely Christmas location, we arrive in Bangkok on the night of Christmas Eve. Bangkok is Thailand’s most populated and dense city with around 9 million people, who know Bangkok by the name ‘Krung Thep’, which translates as ‘City of Angels’. So, a bit like Los Angeles but with more cross-dressers…
Beyond the more well-known party streets are genuine neighbourhoods.
But on the party streets just about anything goes. Notice the man on the right selling fake IDs and University degrees - very cheap!
It is actually hard to find authentic Thai food in the tourist areas. This was a nice photo but the Pad Thai was bland.
The Chao Phraya River used to be the heart of the city, and we board a boat as it is the quickest way to get around.
The many monks somehow live in amongst the sleaze.
Christmas with new friends - from left to right: Wan, Sheryna, Jayne, and us! We find the tallest tower with a bar in Bangkok but the drinks are so expensive we take pictures then leave!
We find a place with cheaper drinks. So cheap that we drink by the jug for better value.
We leave Cambodia two days earlier than anticipated and take the bus into Thailand as there is no train network in Cambodia. The Thai bus company is appalling but luckily we meet some nice people on the bus to reduce the irritation caused by the bus journey taking 12 hours instead of 6, making all the heartache worthwhile!
There is no boot space whatsoever on the bus to the border and therefore the luggage takes up seats. The view is not good
In one case we stop at a building with a sign on it saying 'International Border Terminal for Foreigners', which actually turned out to be a crap cafe.
This sign should deter drug trafficking, but could easily be mistaken for a theme park advertisement - maybe something like the Vampire Ride in Chessington. We consider starting a heavy metal band called 'Death Penalty', but decide that heavy metal is a bit 90's.
No mans' land between Cambodia and Thailand is a strange street with a number of casinos - as apparently gambling is illegal in both countries.
We have definitely arrived in Thailand.
The shambolic bus company packs our second bus after the border with too many people. Their luggage takes up our two seats, meaning we have to wait another hour and get delivered to a different location, having to sit in the back of a pick up truck probably normally used for transporting pigs.
Just before getting to Bangkok the bus stops for petrol and we have a chance to buy deep fried insects. Suddenly everyone joins Stephen and becomes vegetarian.
Temperature -31 degrees C
The ruins of Angkor are located amid forests and farmland near where we are staying, in Siem Reap Province, They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temples of the Angkor area range in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the famous Angkor Wat, said to be the world’s largest single religious monument. A huge source of ride for the people of Cambodia and revered worldwide, we go to see if it can possibly live up to its hype!
Here is a slideshow of our photos from the Angkor Archaeological Park.
We take a bus to Siem Reap, North West of Cambodia and gateway to the Temples of Angkor!
We hit traffic, but luckily it is soft!
The only time that the driver is careful...
The landscape is tropical!
Some areas are flooded to allow for a certain kind of rice crop
After 7 hours we leave the bus for the fresher air of a tuk-tuk ride!
We leave Ho Chi Minh City by bus for a 7 hour drive across the border into Cambodia towards the capital, Phnom Penh.
Instantly the people look different, the land looks different and the language is different! Stephen gets reprimanded at border control for saying “thank you” in Vietnamese and not the National language of Cambodia – Khmer. We escape a shock when the bus almost leaves without us on the border…
We are last through the border control point and find that our bus has driven away. Eventually the bus conductor realises and stops the bus driver from continuing off as we chase it down the road.
The land is very flat and very green!
People work out in the blistering heat.
There is a lot of rubbish around but the poor animals don't seem to mind 😦
Our bus boards a ferry to cross a section of the famous Mekong River, which stretches from Tibet to Vietnam.
As we near Cambodia's capital, it gets more dense but still as makeshift!
Temperature – 31 degreesC
After the rains of central Vietnam we hit the burning heat of Sài Gòn – the largest city in Vietnam, with a population of around 7 million people. The place is growing rapidly though – since 1999 the city’s population has increased by almost a quarter of a million people per year!
Despite the wide elegant boulevards and historic French colonial buildings the traffic here is still a crazy mess. We are often almost run over on the pavement by motorcycles driving off road or even straight in or out of the shops. Still, it is wonderful to be in the warm weather (with a chance to go swimming!) in a plush hotel courtesy of Chloé’s generous brother, Sam!
The city prepares for Christmas, and we come across this performance on Sunday at 9am(?!) – paste this link in your browser to see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Noy8oK-hS0Y
Scooters seem to define Vietnam.
We go to the Vietnamese Institute for Blind People, where we are treated by blind masseurs.
Vietnamese fashion at its best.
Have you been wondering what's been missing from your life? It's Yoghurt Space! Grab a cup, take a spin around the special frozen yoghurt vending machines, put oreos on top and pay per 100g. What could be better?
In the quest to find the "real" Vietnam, we stumble across Saigon's answer to the drive-in. People drive their scooters up onto the pavement by the river, single people take a fishing rod, couples don't; everyone is there for a night of romance.
A much welcome break, as we have cocktails by the pool at our hotel. Thanks so much Sam!
We take a taxi to Da Nang, have a quick lunch and then board the train. Another overnight journey, another dirty train! We take the 18 hour ride from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City (also known as “Saigon”), leaving at 1:30pm in the afternoon and arriving at around 7am. Fortunately this should be our last Vietnamese train ride! Once in Saigon, we manage to find a bus into the city and walk the rest of the way to the hotel.
We decide our taxi driver has misunderstood the concept of a seatbelt
At lunch, before the train, we met Bettina. It took 24 hours to get rid of her, but we managed eventually.
One of the many rice paddies we saw out from the train window
The sheets haven't been washed, and neither have our Vietnamese cabin-mates. This is first class and we settle in for another sleepless night on the train.
We arrive into Saigon an hour late. Health and safety is yet to arrive in Vietnam, as the train delivers us onto the adjacent train track, complete with moving train charging forward.
We're the only tourists who have caught the bus instead of a taxi. With a cost saving of about 5000%, and a priceless saving in stressful negotiations with the ever-dishonest Vietnamese taxi drivers.