We took a long mini bus ride (about 7 hours) from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, arriving quite late in the evening. We just grabbed dinner at the hostel and tucked right into bed. The next day, Da, our tuk tuk driver, took us to Angkor Wat to start our three-day tour of the temples. Three days was the perfect amount of time to tour the temples, because you got to see many of them at a fairly leisurely pace, but didn’t become numb after seeing every temple known to man! One day would most certainly not have been enough and would have been a terrible tease. One week would probably have been overwhelmingly long and changed the temples from the magnificent buildings they are to mundane stones you would get tired of clambering around. Here is the schedule we did:
Day 1: waterfall hike ( a nice and fairly vigorous hike, though the waterfall is small), Bantaey Samre, Bantaey Srey, Kbal Spen
Day 2: Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Prasat Kravan, Bantaey Kdei, Pre Rup
Day 3: Angkor Wat (sunrise!), Tae Keo, Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom, Bayon
Bayon was my favorite temple overall. It was very unique from the other temples and really stood out, which is part of its appeal. But the temples were all incredible, and something that must been seen if visiting Cambodia. I mean really, not to be missed!
We also ate lots of delicious food in Cambodia, including sandwiches, which are hard to come by in Korea (well, delicious, gourmet ones anyway)! A restaurant that is certainly worth a visit is Blue Pumpkin. It is a bakery slash restaurant and has delicious pastries and Western food. Thanks to the French colonization for leaving Cambodians with the skill sets to make incredibly delicious bread! I also tried some Khmer cuisine, my favorite of which was the coconut amok. It is served in a coconut and has a variety of spices and vegetables along with your choice of meat. A dish worth trying.
Side note: Da was an excellent tuk tuk driver and a really nice guy. He mapped out a good tour for us. Though I wish he would have given us a bit of history or information about the temples. But he speaks very good English and is charismatic, so I was glad we used his services. You can check out his website or visit his facebook page.
We stayed at The City Guesthouse, which was pretty good. I liked the ambiance of the place, but the rooms could certainly have been cleaner. And I was not a fan of the howling chorus of dogs that kept me up from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. every night. It was comfortable enough and did the job, but not necessarily a place I would enthusiastically recommend.
After Siem Reap, we took a long journey from the city to get to Bangkok, Thailand. We started at 8:30 a.m. with a three hour taxi ride from Siem Reap to Poipet, a popular spot to cross the border. It was a bout an hour process to our passports and make the walk from Poipet, Cambodia to Aranyaprathet, Thailand (the walk itself was about 5 minutes; the real time killer was waiting in line!) Thailand was easy enough to get into; I merely presented my passport, scanned my luggage and walked right on in! Then we caught a 10 minute tuk tuk ride to the Aranyaprathet train station and grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant. We had plenty of time to relax before catching the 1:55 p.m. train to Bangkok (train 276). The train was third class only, with wooden benches and fans/open windows for ventilation. It certainly wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but we passed by lots of fields and had some beautiful views. Though I could have done without the burning fields that blew in quite a bit of ash for about the first third of the journey. I just chalked it up to a once-in-a-lifetime experience and really enjoyed the experience. And for only about $1.60 (48 Baht) for the 6 hour ride, it’s hard to complain!
We arrived in Bangkok and after struggling to find out hostel, headed to Khoasan Road for some dinner, drinks and nightlife. The area was incredibly packed with foreigners and Thai vendors. It was a bit overwhelming, and the traveler crowd was different than those I have previously encountered (imagine mother-earth-loving, drugs-of-all-sorts-doing, dreadlock-rocking travelers). But we had some decent food and hung out at a cute little bar (The Hippie Bar) for a bit. I also purchased a few tank tops and flip flops. In retrospect, I wish I had purchased some of the artwork I saw, because I didn’t see any work of a similar style anywhere else in Thailand. Guess I just have to go back to Bangkok! The next day we searched in vain for about 2 hours to locate our train tickets for the next journey that were delivered to the wrong hostel. After we finally secured them, we headed to the river for a short boat tour and journey to the mildly impressive floating market, of which about a fourth of it floated. We didn’t really get to do much with the rest of our time, as it takes a frustratingly long time to get anywhere in Bangkok. I wasn’t all that impressed with the city, and I’m glad we didn’t devote more than a day to the place. I really don’t feel a strong pull to go there again, other than to use it as a transition place to get from one part of Thailand to another (or to nearby countries) or to get some of that artwork!
We took an overnight train from Bangkok (at 7:30 p.m.) to Chumphon, and then caught a ferry onward to Ko Tao. We booked a combined ticket through Thailand Train Ticket, but it really isn’t necessary, because there are usually plenty of tickets available for the train and ferry (expect perhaps the day of and surrounding the Full Moon Parties). And trekking around downtown to find our tickets ate up so much of our time in Bangkok, that it really would have been much wiser to have bought the tickets when we arrived at the train station instead of before we got to Thailand! We were in second class of the overnight train, and I was thoroughly impressed! It was a great train that has seats that convert to beds in a mere two minutes when the efficient staff switch them over. It was a very comfortable bed with a nice curtain to keep the light from the hallways out of your bed area as well as give you privacy. And there was a Western style toilet on board the train as well as food (though I bought some snacks at the train station beforehand). It is definitely the way to go when traveling to the south of Thailand! We got to Chumphon around 5 a.m. and then waited til about 6 a.m. for the ferry bus to shuttle us to the pier to catch out 7 a.m. ferry to Ko Tao. It was about and hour and a half journey.
We were excited to finally arrive to Ko Tao and went straight to Crystal Dive Resort, or accommodations and scuba certification school for our four days in Ko Tao. The rooms were really quite sketch and we had lots of bugs crawling around at night. But the resort was in a convenient location and we were mainly there to get our scuba certification. It was an exhausting four days, but well worth it! We started with three introductory videos in the afternoon of our first day in Ko Tao. Then we enjoyed another two videos the next day and spent about 6 hours in the pool practicing with the gear. On our third day, we were finally able to get in the ocean for two open water dives, each 12 m deep, after completing our final exam in the morning. On our last full day on the island, we did two more dives in the morning to 16 m. It was amazing how much I improved from one dive to the next, and by the fourth I felt quite comfortable. I am so happy that I got my certification, and I want to get my advanced open water certification soon and keep on diving!
We did also get to enjoy the island the short times we weren’t devoting to our scuba certification. We went to Sairee Beach in the evening twice to enjoy some restaurants and the spectacular night life. There were several beach bars, with great music and exciting fire twirlers. I was mesmerized by the flames, though I wasn’t so caught up that I was foolish enough to partake in the flaming jump rope or flaming limbo! It was a fun area, but I am glad that we stayed the 20 minute walk away at Crystal, because we were closer to the pier and further away from the noise! We also ate so many delicious meals, both Thai and Western. I had an excellent vegetable pizza at Sol Cafe and some tasty Thai Tea from the Crystal Dive restaurant. It was a great few days of diving and eating!
From Ko Tao we spent nearly a full day journeying to Phuket. We spent the night at a great little hosetl, 2W Cafe, and then headed out the next morning to Ko Phi Phi. The island is truly spectacular, and I really wish we had time for more than just a day and night there. I would have loved to have been able to kayak around the island or go on a hike, but time just wasn’t our ally. We spent most of our time lounging on the beach, taking some much needed rest after a whirlwind of exhausting traveling! I had my favorite dish of Pad Thai at a restaurant on the island, and was finally satisfied with my Thai food experience! I also had some amazing steak and shrimp fajitas from the Mexican restaurant, Banana Bar. It was a great place and exquisite food! I also finally found artwork, though it still wasn’t quite what I was hoping for (i.e. the style Bangkok had).
After our spending the night, we caught the afternoon ferry back to Phuket and headed to the airport. We dropped off our bags and spent our final few vacation hours at the nearby Naiyang Beach and national park. It was a gorgeous area, with a huge expanse of sandy beach! And the surrounding area was a bit forest-like, with some cool looking camp grounds. I really underestimated Phuket, and hope that I can return one day to spend a little more time exploring the rest of the city. We finally headed back to the airport to catch our 2:45 a.m. flight back to Seoul. Once in Seoul we took the express bus to Daegu and I finally subwayed it home. It was a wonderful vacation filled with amazing food, gorgeous sites and lots of adventure. I certainly must return to Southeast Asia to see what else it has to offer!