lunedì 18 novembre 2013
So much has happened in these past 3 months and i simply cannot sum it up in one post. Suffice it to say that it's probably been the best time of my life and i couldn't be happier that i came.
I've learned so much, met so many great people and who knows, maybe even found a job!
I'm excited about going back home for Christmas and seeing my friends and family again, but i'm even more excited about whats to come after that. 2014 is going to be an epic year!
But lets take things one at a time... first of all, flight tonight. Then i'll have to find a way to pay for everything i want to do in the coming months... meh.
I'll definitely blog less when i'm back home, but i'll try to keep you all updated on what i plan to do and where i want to go once i figure it out for myself.
Photo gallery has been updated by the way, you can find all of my photos of Cambodia there. Unfortunately the videos are a bit too big (and numerous) to be uploaded so i'll just have to show them to you in person if you're interested.
See you all real soon!
domenica 10 novembre 2013
Once again one of my posts got lost in cyberspace.... so i'll just have to make a single super gigantic one summing up everything I did this week... sorry!
Kampot --> Koh Sdach
Last you heard from me i was in Kampot, getting ready to go back to Koh Sdach for Sofia's birthday. The trip was nothing special, just the usual minibus... but it was nice to recognize some of the faces from the island. On one of the numerous stops on the way there, a Spanish guy hopped on the bus and asked if it would take him to Koh Sdach... which was a it unusual. Our island i completely off the tourist map... there is close to 0 reasons why anyone should even know it exists, unless they're looking for something really specific, like Shallow Waters. So i had to ask: why was he going there? How did he discover it? So after an hour of conversations i found out he was really interested on the dynamics of fisherman villages and heard about Koh Sdach from a friend in Phnom Penh (i think, i cant remember all the details clearly). He got in touch with someone on the island who had a brother who drove a minivan from Phnom Penh to the island... the whole thing sounded vaguely familiar. So once we arrived to Shallow Water Headquarters i was greeted by Sea and some of the staff members/volunteers, I was just about to introduce sea to the Spanish guy, when i realized that they were completely aware of who they were, and they had been in contact the whole time... that's when i remembered: Sea has a brother that drove a minivan... and it's the same guy that took me up and down a couple times before! D'oh!
He ended up staying at Sea's place and i had the customer room at the base all to myself! Yay!
After Mr. Spanish guy left (I absolutely can't remember his name... what a surprise) I finished up saying hello to everyone else (except Fia, Caroline and Sandra, who were still out diving from the morning) and i started unpacking all the goodies that i had brought with me from the mainland: first and foremost wine and Nutella! Needless to say, everything was very appreciated!
A half our later we heard the White Geko (our dive boat) pulling in. I ran and hid behind a corner, wanting to surprise Fia when she arrived (maybe i forgot to mention that she had completely no idea i was coming back). They started unloading everything from the boat and as soon as she came in the base i jumped out and startled her to the point that she almost dropped the case with all our medical equipment and oxygen regulator parts... oops! She really wasn't expecting me to be there... it even took her a couple seconds to realize it was actually me and start to react :-P. She looked really happy, and so was I! :-D
We spent the rest of the day filling tanks and showing her all of the photos and videos from the first part of my tour. I spoke so highly about Kampot and all the stuff they could do there that they decided they will probably go there for Christmas! That will be so much fun! I wish i could be there too...
The next day i managed to go diving with Fia and the new DMTs in the morning (if you're reading this, thank you so much again, Fia!!) while in the evening we all went to Didier's guesthouse for dinner. Main course was a not very good attempt of pizza with bolognese sauce and bell peppers on top, it was good (i ate 3), but still... could have been way better, bigger, and less oily (i know, i have to stop complaining). Desert instead was amazing! Home made (i think) orange and vanilla ice cream, inside a half orange. Really really good and fresh! Just what we needed!
Next day I had to leave early (7am) so we didnt party all night long :-P
Journey to Battambang
That day was pretty much 100% travel. It was boring as hell. Left Koh Sdach at 8am with the minivan, got to Phnom Penh at 2pm and had just enough time to jump on a bus to Battambang, which took forever to get there.. about 7:30h. I basically didn't move a muscle all day, but it was still tiring as hell. Once i finally got to Battambang I got off the bus and started walking towards my guesthouse, really looking forward to a shower and a bed... when i suddenly touched one of my pockets and realized something was missing: all my guides and notebooks! I had left them on the bus! I pulled over the first moped driver that passed on the street and told him "follow that bus!" -film style-
After a couple minutes of chasing we finally caught up with it and managed to make the driver pull over. Luckily all my books were still there and i managed to retrieve them. I really don't know how i would have done without them, especially my Lonely Planet!
After that i finally made my way to the guesthouse, where i took a quick shower and literally crashed face first in bed.
On the way back to the guesthouse i stopped at a bakery to treat me to a sweet baguette with coconut scrapings on top and as I stepped through the guesthouse door I saw a guy just glaring at it, eyes wide open. I smiled and pointed out the bakery to him. I took a shower and came back downstairs, he was still there with some friends. Taking advantage of the scene that happened earlier i dropped in and introduced myself. We all went for a snack/drink at a bar and swapped stories on what each had been doing for the past months; after a while I ended up agreeing to going to the circus with them that evening, something I had earlier decided not to do because i thought it was too expensive (10$). Turns out it was totally worth the price, and for a good cause too! The circus was organized by an NGO (http://www.phareps.org/) who took children off the streets and taught them how to be acrobats, artists and entertainers, giving them a job locally and for some even a chance for international shows and events. It was a really good show, completely done by children and teenagers probably under the age of 16.
Things start taking a wrong turn
As the subtitle says, this is when things start going for the worst.
First of all, as soon as the circus show finished and we had just decided to walk back to the guesthouse instead of renting a tuk tuk, it started pouring. We got soaked pretty quickly so we opted for just walking the whole way instead of giving into the temptation of a ride. Worst decision ever. I had a fever that night.
As if that wasn't enough, i discovered there is a Super Typhoon passing through Laos and the northern part of Cambodia, which kinda fucked up all my plans of visiting the Ratanakiri region and its volcanic lakes and waterfalls. I figured there was absolutely no point in going all the way there (14+h trip) while having a good chance it's gonna rain every day all day. So i decided to change my plans, cut my trip short and maybe spend some extra days in Siem Reap, waiting for a nice sunny day to visit the temple city of Angkor.
Siem Reap, take 1
So as i said before, that night i had a fever. Thinking about it again there's a chance it was also coupled, if not completely caused by food poisoning from a sandwich i had that night for dinner. It's a bit odd though, considering I had it in a western bar, but I guess it doesn't really matter where you eat, there's always gonna be a chance of getting a bad batch of eggs or something. Oh well, it lasted the night and the next morning, which can make you imagine how enjoyable my 4 hour ride to Siem Reap has been, and then everything went back to normal. In Siem Reap i checked in a backpacker place called Garden Village, and the name suits it well. It's a bunch of buildings in the middle of a big garden with loads of dorms and small rooms for every budget, down to 1$ a night, which is obviously what i went for. I rented a bike for the day and went wandering around the city, just the get the vibe of it. It's pretty much a mix between a European party town (i guess like Ibiza or Barcelona) and a really busy Chinese city like Hong Kong or Shanghai. Lots of tourists walking around small streets filled with pubs and bars and a river or bicycles and mopeds swarming on the main roads. I kinda like it :-P, but i can see myself getting sick of it pretty quickly. It'll be great for 3 or 4 days, but nothing more.
One big plus for Siem Reap is a tiny little Khmer run restaurant I found in one of the little side roads, out of the main tourist area. They make amazing fruit shakes (probably excessively loaded with sugar, but i'm pretty sure that's what makes them amazing) and relatively cheap Khmer and western food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, some even served in fancy unusual ways like inside a coconut shell or in bowl made out of banana leaves. I've been there every day till now, and i'm not planning on stopping this tradition any time soon.
Siem Reap, take 2
The next day i was still feeling a bit shaken by the fever so i decided to take it slow. I hopped on my bike and did all those touristy things around the city: pagodas, museums, etc. Some of the most interesting things were:
- A miniature reproduction of the Angkor City temples, hand carved by a local stonemason
- The Cambodian Land Mine Museum, opened by an ex Khmer Rouge child soldier who deserted and joined the Vietnamese army once he realized he was fighting for the wrong side. As a child he laid thousands of landmines all around the country and once he grew up and the war was over he decided to dedicate his life to de-mining his country and make it a safe place again (http://cambodianselfhelpdemining.org/).
- The Angkor Butterfly Centre, a small structure with tens of different species of butterflies, who are cared for from egg to adult form. The staff are all Khmer, speak decent English and are extremely informed on every single life stage of the butterfly, along with special needs of every species. A really enjoyable experience, especially if you are into photography.
The big one
Next day was the big day. Angkor City. Departure time from the guesthouse 4:30AM to be there in time for the sunrise at the Angkor Wat. I went to bed at 8PM, set an alarm and tried to get as much sleep as possible, which proved to be more difficult than what i planned. Between not being tired at all, the loud music coming from outside and the anxiousness of having to rely o a faulty alarm clock to wake up on time i basically woke up every couple hours all night. Still, i got enough rest to get me through the day. I woke up on time and got there for the sunrise, which was epic. I wont spend too many words describing it and I'll let the photos do the talking (I'll upload them after tomorrow). After the sunrise i started my actual temple exploring extravaganza. Full temple immersion for over 10h. After that i just couldn't do it any more. I saw most of the temples, leaving out only the really far away ones and the ones that were viewable only from the outside because of ongoing restructuring works. The most interesting ones were Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom of course (the Tomb Raider temple), but the smaller one were also very enjoyable, especially since they weren't so packed with people all the time.
As i said, I'll just let the photos do the talking... just head over to the photo gallery after the 12th.
Wow, that was a long post... they seem to get longer and longer every time instead of shorter. Oh well, as long as you're all happy!
Until next time!
lunedì 4 novembre 2013
At the Halloween party I obviously met a number of random people with whom I decided to spend the following days... There is a lot to do around Kampot, lots of places to visit and a fair choice of restaurants and bars to experiment. Like always money was short, but cutting corners here and there and joining forces (or better, wallets) we managed to do everything we wanted to. :-)
On the first day we went to some close by rapids; the dam was closed that day so the water level was higher than usual and allowed us to enjoy the fresh water without being pulled away too easily. This place isn't really on the classic tourist map so it was really nice to blend in with all the locals enjoying their weekend picnics and taking a bath along with the monks from the temple.
In the afternoon we decided to go visit Wat Sorsiia, 15km away from Kampot on a dirt road. The temple sits on top of a hill with a network of caves lying beneath it. This time the caves were actually deep, and we enjoyed descending in the "bat cave" while feeling fresher with every step we took.
The next day we rented motorbikes and decided to visit Bokor National Park. The park extends all around a huge mountain and at the top you can find waterfalls, an old French church, a run down casino and a meteorologic station... Along with a new ugly 5* resort that completely ruins the view.
The waterfalls and the road itself were without doubt the best parts of our visit.
The waterfalls reminded me a lot of those in Plitvice, although they were nowhere as numerous or clean, unfortunately. But that didn't stop is from jumping in. ;-)
In the afternoon we were planning on visiting the pepper plantations but wet got lost on the way and ended up exploring a different set of caves (Phnom Chgnork), which ended up being even better! These caves were much bigger compared to the other ones I visited till now and way more intricate. Every corner was accessible and many parts required us to crawl, climb and find ingenious ways to not get stuck half way through. It was loads of fun!
I really enjoyed my stay in Kampot and I recommend it to anyone planning a vacation in Cambodia... It's fairly out of the main tourist route but it's prepared to accommodate and entertain the occasional ones. A chance to take a look at the real Cambodia, especially if you rent a bike/motorcycle and just start exploring the countryside on your own.
sabato 2 novembre 2013
Hello again everyone, I think this is the first time I post two days in a row... this calls for celebrating! :-P
Woke up relatively early today, around 6:30am, plans were to visit a cavern temple in a nearby town but I really didn't want to pay a tuk tuk driver 15$ for the round trip so I left as early as I could with my bike, having no idea of how long the trip would take me. The town was about 28km away, which in Italy would have meant getting there in about an hour, bit in Cambodia travelling by bike is way slower, both because of the conditions of the roads and those of the bicycles. All in all it took me about 1:45h to get to Kampong Trach, and another 15min to reach the actual temple, situated in a beautiful towering limestone formation. I'd say the highest point was at about 150m and of course I had to climb it! The view from the top was amazing, I doubt I could have found a better spot in all the region...
The caves instead weren't deep at all, I'd be surprised if they reached 20m. Maybe the lower flooded levels went a bit deeper, but there's no way to know...
Inside the caves I found a collection of religious statues and altars, mixed with numerous natural formations (stalactites and stalagmites), which blended together very well. One of the tunnels lead to a spectacular opening in the middle of the mountain from which a network of other caverns departed. It was an amazing place and I'm really glad to have visited it, even though it took ages to go and come back with the bike and my butt was definitely not happy at the end of it.
Once back in Kep I hopped on a bus to Kampot, the province capital. This town is slightly bigger than all the others I visited (excluding Phnom Penh of course) and seems to be a known tourist destination, especially for backpackers. I checked in a guesthouse called Bohdi's Villa, run by an Australian couple with their 3 and 6 year olds. The house is amazing and I love how they let trees grow all over the pace, on their terrace and the roof. It probably isn't the best choice for maintenance but it sure looks nice. I'll probably stay here 2 or 3 nights before moving on...
They're gonna have a"Halloween recovery party" tonight and I'm helping them set up the decorations side in to tied to go for a ride around town...
Gotta get back to painting masks now...