Archive for January, 2013

31st of December 2012..the last day of this wonderful year that filled my life with happiness, surprises, cultural versatility..that opened up that book called world, of what I have been reading only one page before..over and over again…

I think about a year ago I planned to celebrate NYE in Japan..and some of my friends were supposed to join in..well none of these happened but i don’t mind it at all.

So..I landed at Colombo airport..and made friends on the plane with a boy from Kazakhstan who spoke no English. Him being the only white person apart from me on the plane kinda forced us to talk, we took a taxi to Mount Lavinia (2 hours from airport)..arrived at the hostel I booked around 10.30 pm..got ready in 30 mins and went to the beach to join the crazy Sri Lankan crowd to celebrate the New Year.

NYE Sri Lanka NYE

Mount Lavinia is not a big deal…you need to be careful with the ‘helpful’ beach boys..Sri lanka is the first country I’ve been to where you cannot rely on the locals…because they say whatever they want. Otherwise tourists get some genuine attention from children an adults too..

Mt Lavinia Beach mt Lavinia

As I was walking on the beach on the 2nd day of my stay in Sri Lanka I happened to meet a lovely Aussie lady (Irene) and we connected fairly quickly. We had a tea on the beach and decided to do a sightseeing tour in Colombo with a tuk-tuk. Colombo is a busy city with a fort, beach and some nice shopping areas, markets cafes…Irene had a couple of days before the wedding she was in Sri Lanka for so we decided that the next day we would go to Bentota ..the next beach town down towards South.

Colombo:

Colombo Colombo Paradise road

Bentota is not designed for backpackers..in fact I could say this about the whole Sri Lanka..due to the civil war they are not used to tourists..at least not as much as Thailand or the rest of South -East Asia..concept of dormitory doesn’t exist…only in few places as part of family stay. Accommodation is hard to find below $10 which was expensive for me..being at the end of my trip and being used to $2-5 ones in SE Asia…

We had a fine dining experience with Irene..being the farewell night together..it was nice!

Bentota fine dining

After Bentota I headed down to Hikkaduwa  -previously known as a hippie hangout place. You can do all this route by train ..better travelling on 2nd class than 3rd..you still get the experience:)

Hikkaduwa was ok..overpriced though…locals are working with 200% profits…a tip, if you buy in the supermarket a bottle of water or anything else always check the suggested retail price on the package/bottle so you get an idea about what the locals pay..King coconut for locals is 25 rupees, foreigners 100:) Don’t get me wrong it is still cheap if you are not backpacking…

So Hikkaduwa was about partying for me..stayed 2 nights, partied 2 nights with a group of Aussies and Vindika (who got me the accommodation in Vibration hotel where he worked at). Good times. Hikkaduwa is great for surfing..weather wise I wasn’t too happy as although being high season it was raining most of the time..or was just simply overcast.

Hikkaduwa Hikkaduwa

Next destination was Galle/Unawatuna..Galle is a wonderful upmarket town with an impressive fort that offers little allies, narrow streets, lots of cafes with character and a few arty or castle looking accommodation. I have to say people are very helpful in helping to find place to stay or giving directions etc.

So that’s how I found this little gem called Peace and Plenty in the middle of the fort that offered an excellent room, staff and atmosphere.¬†Sam, the owner was super friendly, unfortunately turned out later there it wasn’t 100% genuine..

So the guy who took me to Sam’s place happened to attend a wedding on the night when I arrived to Galle..and asked if I wanted to go. I was very tired after the Hikkaduwa party sessions but..a Sri Lankan wedding?? How could I skip it? In addition it wasn’t in Galle but in Colombo which is 160km away..so a long car ride was waiting for me.

The wedding was very nice. I was the only foreigner..had a nice chat with people, they were interested in my story and wanted to see me on the dance floor. The music was excellent..Shakira, some funky hindi music, even Cocco Jumbo and Tarkan appeared and the folks went crazy. So did I ..and I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol.

Wedding wedding

The wedding finished at 11 pm..not like in Hungary where the last guest needed to be kicked out at 6am:)

Next day sightseeing in Galle. There is nothing else there but the fort however it’s well worth a walk around:

GalleGalle

A kind older man working in the fort explained me a bit about the history..Sri Lanka being first Portuguese then Dutch and in the end British colony and how each nation influenced the architecture and culture.

Sam took me around a bit in Unawatuna, the fishermen’s sunset point and the turtle conservation..I tried the famous Sri Lankan curd and honey…well that’s something that I could get used to….

Sri Lankan fisherman curd and honey

Unawatuna

Peace and Plenty:

Peace & Plenty

After Galle I visited the last beach town down on the coast Unawatuna..I met Judit, a Hungarian girl while doing the last 2 dives of my trip..we had a sudden click, she lives in Belgium and a big fan of travelling..and what’s more not package travelling:)

with Judit Beach Una

Now..diving..this was a one-off experience, as at the second dive I was a kind of¬† dive master ūüôā Pointing out all the marine life, then taking up the group a few minutes later than the ‘real dive master’ who went up with one of our group members earlier. I felt great..I felt this is what I want to do in my life..dive every day, meet people, give people a fantastic experience under the water just as I have been receiving it..

After Unawatuna I took the bus to Ella which¬† is inside the country..in the so-called Hill Country where tea plantations, curvy hill ranges and eternal green scenery surround the train rails. This was a whopping 8 hour bus ride with 2 changes, but eventually I got there and found good accommodation. I was too lazy to do anything the rest of the afternoon, just chilled..shame as next day it was raining all day..I didn’t feel like staying in my room though, so I borrowed an umbrella and went trekking:) This is what I’ve seen:

Ella tea plantations

view from 98 acres

After Ella I took the train to Adam’s Peak..The famous holy place in the middle of Sri Lanka..where you start trekking at 2.30am to make the 7km uphill consisting of purely stairs by sunrise..I met Katherine (Germany) on the way to Dalehousie (starting point of the trek), we took a room together and started the night adventure together. It was challenging to go up but holy as well in the same time..I couldn’t hide my surprise to see the locals going up..from the 3-year-old to the 90 year old..they did it! Because they wanted to do it! Why on earth people in my country ‘close the doors’ at age of 50? Why do they say constantly..I’m old..it’s not for me anymore..Bloody hell I have never seen in my life so many durable people as I did on this trip! Feet strong enough to walk on stones without shoes..constantly..backs strong enough to carry 10-15 kg of boxes or sacks..uphill..for hours..heads carrying 5-10 kg fruit baskets..hearts opening towards me and other people even in the most cruel circumstances and poorest situations..the humanity is just insane in the 3rd world countries..

Tired Adam's Peak

Sunrise Adam's Peak Team

After Adam’s Peak we travelled together to Kandy with Katherine. Arrived at 3pm, we hired a tuk tuk driver who took us to the ‘top’ places to visit..Kandy is nice but very quiet with a lake in the middle and a few temples around.

Kandy lake Buddha temple

Kandy city

After Kandy I took the 6am train to Colombo, then bus to Mt. Lavinia to collect my big backpack. (I was so clever leaving that behind….would have been a pain to store it on any vehicles). After this I took the bus back to Colombo and changed for one to Negombo. They could have called the airport Negombo airport as it’s closer to Negombo than to Colombo..that’s why I went up there a day earlier ..not to have any issues when getting to the airport:)

Best decision I could have taken..why? Well I stayed in a wonderful family house (running as a hostel with bunk beds but felt like being at home..super clean with happy travellers inside)..and met Scott (from the US) with whom there was a ‘click at first sight’ if you call it like this..

I was amazed by his positive vibe, kindness and healthy life..and he was amazed by..not sure..my bubbliness maybe?¬†Anyway we went for dinner together and he showed me a fantastic juice place that I can only recommend to anyone staying in Negombo..It is situated close to the beach in Grace’s Hotel Negombo.

Grace's juice bar Grace and family

Negombo beach is not particularly nice but the couples under umbrella make it special..(showing affection in public  is not accepted in Sri Lanka hence the umbrella:)

Umbrella couples

On the 14th I took my flight to Delhi. Turned out Scott was arriving the following day so we decided to travel the first days together in India till he joins the group he booked with from home..

Next post..(last post for now) is coming up soon…on the 18th country I visited in the past 12 months…India.

After picking up my Indian visa I faced a 50 pound fine at the Thai border as I overstayed 5 days…. I tried to blag it but didn’t work..Anyway I bought a visa on arrival to Cambodia and headed to Siem Riep. The trip from Bangkok to Siem Riep took a whole day and included a lot of waiting¬† and changes. Finally I arrived, a tuk tuk driver took me to a hotel where checked into a¬† dorm room (where staff was sleeping LOL- they forgot to tell me this), then I had to plan my Angkor Wat visit for the next day. A Venezuelan boy (Sergio) whom I met in Chiang Mai contacted me that he was in Siem Riep too so we met up and arranged for the next day a tuk-tuk driver.

I decided to do Angkor in one day even though a lot of people recommended to buy a 3 day pass (no 2 days option which would have been the ideal). So after 2 hours sleep I was ready to go at 4.45 am to see the sunrise but the tuk-tuk driver didn’t show up..Never mind..there were a lot of them out there so I caught one quickly, agreed on the price (15$ for the whole day from sunrise to sunset), picked up Sergio from his guesthouse and headed to see one of the most beautiful construction of temples in the world..

It was a long day..very tiring climbing all these temples and absorbing the art of the constructions. The distances between the temples are big. You can buy fresh young coconut and fizzy drinks, food, fresh fruit everywhere..we even had a 40 minutes power nap after lunch in a hammock it was good:)

We arrived to Angkor Wat by sunset..it was beautiful. In the evening we went out for a few drinks and dinner then sleep. Next day Sergio went to Angkor again, and I decided to take it easy..visit the city itself and maybe discover the countryside on a horse but it was too expensive..Siem Riep is not a backpackers destination but you cannot miss it because of Angkor.

Angkor Angkor

Angkor Angkor

Not only at Angkor Wat but in the whole Cambodia there is a big children problem. They are on the street 24/7 selling postcards, books, bracelets. Some of them are going to school, but some of them not..some of them don’t even have parents..very sad..When I looked into those beautiful brown eyes..I saw sadness and still when I asked them: ‘Are you going to school? ‘ They would answer: ‘Yes’. ‘I say you should be in bed by now.’ They would say:’ No..I have to sell. I like being here. ‘

LIE!

Kids selling child

One tip for hostels in Siem Riep: AVOID ‘NO PROBLEM HOTEL’..despite the name I only saw unhappy and dissatisfied people here..and I was one of them.

We took the night bus with Sergio to the South..Sihanoukville. Now I got my final proof on why is it so much better travel alone…Some people do not shop around and constantly are ripped off. I like doing my ‘research’ and finding out how things are working because sad to say but most of the time for locals get the prices 50 or even 80% cheaper than what they charge tourists. If you are aware of it, you can get the local price..Also having travelled 11 months I have practice in what to ask when buying a night bus ticket. Anyway..the journey to Sihanoukville was a pain. 3 changes, no legroom..I was suffering..therefore moaning. Sergio couldn’t take this so we soon realised that we will separate soon. Upon arrival to Sihonoukville we checked into a hostel called Monkey Republic, had lunch and discovered the town. Very touristy place with vendors everywhere..I didn’t like it too much so my plan was to go to Koh Rong island the next day. I was shopping around in the dive centres…but by the time i would have got to a decision I felt that something was wrong…my tummy hurt and I felt sick. I didn’t wish anything else but a great night sleep after the horrid journey…and here I was throwing up all night due to food poisoning and then when i had nothing else to come out and went to my bed I was bitten to death by bed bugs….so I couldn’t even stay in my bed..I walked out weak and sat outside on a bench..meanwhile Sergio (knowing that I wasn’t too well) had his best dreams in his bed..since I didn’t see that he would have wanted to help me somehow I didn’t want to wake him up. Next morning I felt very weak..but I knew I had to go to the island..booked a dive package of 6 with the Dive Shop and took the 2pm ferry..the journey was amazing I was sunbathing on the deck and slept through the 2 hour journey.

When I arrived Sergio went to look for himself accommodation, for me it was sorted..came with the package free. I met my divemaster, Hagar who introduced me to a few people on the island and showed me around.

I started with a night dive it was awesome.just the 2 of us, many schools of fishes, crabs, nudis, octopus..Nightlife in Koh Rong is very chilled..it’s not a party island like the South Thailand ones..I was hanging out most of the nights in Corner bar where the owner was superb and a sweet Argentinian traveller was working in the bar..during the day I was diving, night time drinking. One night – End of the world day- there was a party and the funny thing is that I found myself in the company of 2 Chilean boys, the Argentinian boy, Sergio- Venezuela, the guy I travelled with and a Colombian guy turned up as well who was doing his dive master course ..I couldnt believe it..I was back in South America…not to mention when I plugged in my iPod and played those amazing SA music I collected during the 7 months I spent there …they went nuts..I was ruling the dance floor:)

diving koh rong dive shop

South American crewchild

beach cambodiajump!

I spent on the¬† paradise island 5 days..I was very tempted to stay there for Christmas but I felt I needed to see something new..(Oh Dear..how will I handle this ‘need’ after the 5th February when I return to the UK….) So I went back to Sihanoukville, spent a night there, oh I met 2 Hungarian people living in Reading..they were travelling in Cambodia for a few week. It was so nice, we had dinner together. Next day I took a minubus to Kampot.

Kampot is a very pleasant little town with a river passing through it. There were plenty of accommodations in the town but I wanted to stay right on the river 1.5 km away where there were a few guesthouses..unfortunately almost all full. I met and English and Aussie guy while hunting for room so we found the place..that I will always remember..Olly’s place.

Olly's place  DSC_0742

A very very nice bunch of people were staying there, a South African couple, Navy- Cambodian girl who worked there, a Swiss girl and a German girl. We spent together Xmas..it was amazing! I made friends with Olly as well and his VIP guest Gunter who was there with his kids..I was in the right place, right time, right company. Rented a bike for those 5 days I stayed there, visited caves, countryside, temples, Bokor National Park, Kep (20km away a fishing town on the beach…Cambodia’s hammock paradise). One thing worth to mention is that Kampot pepper is amazing! We visited some pepper plantations and we bumped into a hidden gem..the Vine Retreat..if you would like some undisturbed tranquillity spend a few days here..pool outside, great coffe and meals..stunning views.

Kampot fishing

on the river Kep

kampot pepper

On Boxing day we went to the cinema with Gunter and the kids to watch a very ‘happy’ movie..The Killing Fields..this is where my real connection has been made with Cambodia..I had no clue about the aggressive communism that took place between 1975 and 1979 where the communist party Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot killed 3 million Cambodian people..This movie gave me preparation for Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia which was my next destination.

I travelled here in a shared taxi..altogether 8 people in a normal car…driver in striped shirt:

shared taxi..driver is the striped shirt

I took a motortaxi to Top Banana guest house hoping to find space there..and I did! (Lonely Planet warned to book in advance but i never book anything in advance so i relied on my luck. worked:)

Phnom Penh is known as the Jewel of Asia..and the name is well deserved. Beautiful riverside, temples, markets make this city very charming and addictive.

When I was walking on the riverside looking for a delicious khmer restaurant I bumped into 2 kiwi girls I met in Koh Rong, Sunniva and Jo..we had dinner together and agreed to visit the Killing fields the next day. Yes..tough day was coming up..we were at the entrance of the place of horror…blood flood and fear..we got out Audio guide and started walking on the fields stopping by each terror point..the one where the trucks arrived with the people who had no idea that they just arrived to the place of their execution..to the point where they were bullied and terrorized..the tree against which khmer soldiers hit the babies…the mass grave of people whose heads were chopped off…and I could continue..

Killing fields khmer rouge outfit

I listened to a few true stories as well..from survivors on this audio guide which made me cry..a lot..after the killing fields we went to S21..the prison where all the people were waiting for their execution. This wasn’t delightful either.

S21 S21 victims

After this day I hired a bicycle and spent the next 2 days exploring markets (Russian, Central), Grand Palace, National Museum, Phnom temple etc.

Russian Market  Central marketGrand Palace

Cambodia is a very special place..the only place where you see amazing children shouting to you ‘Hellooooooo’..women walking around day time in flannel pyjamas, absolute fairness towards tourists and a great sense of humour. Where people after all those horrific years managed to ‘get over’ their past

I knew that the last chapter of my trip is about to come up..I was leaving South East Asia…

Took the night bus on the 30th December, arrived to Bangkok at 2pm, went to MBK shopping centre to buy a couple of things, took a taxi to the airport and boarded the 7pm plane to Sri Lanka…I felt the change…I felt the big big difference..again..I had to let something go..I am becoming an expert in this..Next post on Sri Lanka soon.