20.11.2013 - 03.12.2013
backpacking without a plan
20.11.2013 - 03.12.2013
Koh Rong, Kampot and Kep
20.11.2013 - 03.02.2014
So many people have already asked me where my favorite place has been. To date, I absolutely have to say the South of Cambodia. Except not Sihanoukville. Its weird. And full of drunken backpackers (say nothing!) and prostitutes. Although Otres beach about 30mins from the main town is beautiful, a lot quieter and I do regret not taking my camera in a bout of 'oh I'm by myself and might want to swim.'
It's absolutely worth passing through though to jump on the boat to Koh Rong Island, which is absolute paradise on earth. Eline, a girl from Utretcht and I shared a bungalow literally right on the beach and despite planning to stay only for a night, ended up staying for three. There is not a lot there, just a few shack like bars and bungalows, giving it a real 'adventure deserted island life' feel. The beach is stunning and the water so clear that you could stand up to your neck and still see your feet.
We had a extremely relaxing few days going from the hammock to the water and to stop ourselves feeling too lazy, hired a kayak and paddled out to the 'little island' where there was some of the best snorkeling I've ever seen.
We mayyyy have had the same thing for dinner all three nights. BBQ chicken and barracuda on the beach...couldn't have asked for better! And then spent the nights playing cards in open aired shacks and watching insane lightning shows while it thunder stormed outside.
Another highlight here, was the bio luminescent plankton, which after the power is turned off at midnight glow in the dark in reaction to movement. Its hard to explain, but essentially if you swim or move the water around, it lights up and glows like there are tiny fairy lights under the water. Absolutely beautiful.
Back on the mainland, I headed to Bodhi Villa in Kampot, where I again ended up staying longer than expected and spent my birthday with the best bunch of people!
Kampot is a really chilled out town based around the river, with a distinctly French feel. The first night I was there was their live music night, and with face painting = free tequila shots, was a really fun night. The next day was my birthday which was spent cycling around town, skyping everyone at home and relaxing on the riverside deck. I was so lucky to be surrounded by such a a gorgeous group of people, including Jesse and Amy from QLD, who I've continued to bump into all the way through Vietnam, which has been lovely. Red wine, rum balls and a distinctly quieter night later, I was officially 20!
The next day I headed up to Bokor Moutain on a motorbike to find the elusive 'abandoned hill station.' We didn't find it but had an awesome day, taking in the views all the way to Thailand and exploring the area. Yes, I did fall off, nothing too nasty, but enough to make me extremely careful!
Finally it was time to say goodbye to Cambodia, with my last night in Kep, right on the border of Vietnam. Its a lovely seaside town with amazing seafood and watching the sun go down over the coast of both Cambodia and Vietnam I was looking forward to moving on.
27.12.2013 - 27.12.2013
I'll get back to Cambodia, but for now: a photoessay on Vietnamese food...because I have no words
The main cities minus the main tourist attractions
Cambodia started off somewhat interestingly, a 12 hr day of travelling from Bangkok on the train for 6hrs, nearly being scammed at the most manic, hot and confusing border crossing, 2x tuk tuks, a 2hr minibus and nearly being left at the Siem Reap bus station in the middle of nowhere in the dark left me exhausted, annoyed and unsure. It was all offset though, by meeting a fab group of people to negotiate all this with and then ended spending the 3 days in Siem Reap with. That night was spent recovering with lok lak (best Cambodian meal ever, been hanging out for it ever since I left last time 2 years ago) and cocktails on the aptly named Pub Street.
So being the budget backpacker I am, I was staying at a fun but pretty grungy hostel dorm in town. The other guys however where staying at an amazing hotel, with a gorgeous pool. Lesson learnt: walk in like you belong, have people around you and you can get away with using their pool for the day. Win! That + traditional Aspara dancing show sums up day 1.
The main 'attraction' at Siem Reap is Angkor Wat and the collection of temples. Although met with confusion of everyone I met, I made the decision not to visit them this time round. I had seen the sunrise and spent quite a while looking around last time I was here and yes they are ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. However, I knew that if I did it again, it wouldn't be as awe inspiring as last time and I didn't want to lose that, also it wasn't cheap so I just didn't feel it was worth it.
While the others did the temples, I went to the landmine museum started by a former child soldier who planted landmines and then after the war, dedicated his life to clearing them. His name, Aki Ra sounded familiar and I realised that he had been on Hamish & Andy's gap year Asia show. Truly amazing stuff. Had a wander around the night market and caved an brought some hippy pants, though I swore I never would...oops. I was surprised how much I loved Siem Reap, initially it was only a stop on the way down south, but as a town purely built for tourists and backpackers it was loads of fun, easy to get around and really interesting.
Was Phnom Penh bound the next morning and again, chose not to visit the killing fields and S21 again.
I devised my own 'walking tour' of Phnom Pehn visiting the Russian Market, Victory monument, Friends restaurant (a teaching restaurant for former street kids..amazing!!), national museum, Wat Ounalom and the riverfront. Made the most of the hostels rooftop bar that night (Mad Monkey....highly recommend if you ever find yourself in PP) before heading down to the coast in the morning.
Everything not nursing!
26.10.2013 - 10.11.2013
So Bhutan wasn't all healthcare, hospitals and nursing, we also spent some time sightseeing, exploring and generally having a grand old time.
We did a day trip to Punakha, the old capital, stopping on the way at the Dochula Pass to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas. Despite the fog failing to lift, it was absolutely beautiful and extremely atmospheric, an unexpected highlight of Bhutan.
In Punakha we walked across a massive bridge, across a river, covered in prayer flags that was honestly the most unstable thing I've ever seen..so much fun! We also explored their Dzong which was really impressive.
At the end of the day we walked up to a monastery through local villages. The general consensus was that the highlight here was seeing the famous 'protective penises.' Images covered houses and there were status everywhere. Very safe lucky..maybe? Kinda immaturely hilarious...definitely!
Another day was spent around Thimphu at the giant Buddha (gold and huge) and the Takin (national animal of Bhutan) Zoo. Possibly the ugliest animal ever..so ugly it's almost cute. We were lucky enough to have a picnic lunch on a hill surrounded by prayer flags and overlooking Thimphu. Never have I eaten somewhere so picturesque!
One night we headed out with the students. It was the funniest night, starting with scarily (when we saw the photos) sober karaoke and dancing at club desiree. Topped of with Rosie's traffic directing skills it was an awesome night.
On our last morning in Paro RIHS hosted a lovely farewell morning tea. We all dressed up in kiras and ghos and shared experiences, thanks and stories with those who has been so kind and worked so hard to host us and help us throughout our time in Bhutan. There were tears and we all knew how indebted we are.
We spent a couple of nights in Paro at the end, mainly to hike up to tigers nest, the quintessential Bhutanese experience. The walk was as hard as you'd expect, on tracks for about 4hrs consistently uphill at altitude, we (really) took our time though and it was absolutely worth it. We had l seen photos but typically nothing matched it. It was the most beautiful sight and touching place and I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
Our final night was one none of us will ever forget. We had drinks around a bonfire, presented gifts and songs to the incredible staff who had worked and travelled with us and embraced the last night in Bhutan we would have together. It really struck me how much love and experience I was surrounded with and I couldn't believed we'd met at the airport not even two weeks ago.
I'm writing this about a month after leaving Bhutan, and I still can't get over how lucky I am. It's the most amazing, beautiful and interesting place and I got to experience it with a bunch of incredible people. It's a place and time I'll look back on fondly, and forever be so so grateful I handed in my application to go last minute on a whim.