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From Temples to Stupas

THAILAND | Saturday, 5 March 2011 | Views [503]

Cambodia- Rising at 4am requires a pretty good reason in my books. The headaches, confusion and lack of available caffeine are all cons that float through your mind as you dress and prepare for the day. Siem Reap Temples were luckily worth the struggle. Watching the sky change colour behind the silhouetted temples of Angkor Wat was impressive. It required a lot of elbow prodding to ensure you kept your spot and as is always the case at the major sightseeing spots, the lure of taking the perfect picture creates chaos amongst the crowds. 
The temples were magnificient feats of engineering and man power. How on earth they did it boggles the mind- I read that the Cambodian people are a generation of exhausted individuals. After what they have been through over the past few centuries, I am not at all suprised. 
The carvings, attention to detail and the continuous devotion to perfection is still obvious even in the somewhat crumbling remains of the temples. It takes days to take it all in. I am embarrased to say, we only took about 6 hours. It was not that we were bored or nonplussed by the sights, it was that there were endless tour buses of Japanese individuals all screaming to one another and standing in front of every picturesque view ready to show the peace sign and pose for an onslaught of photos. Eventually, it wears you down. Where is the serenity in that? 
Leaving Cambodia we felt that we had seen a lot of the rougher sides to its society. Behind the smiling masks of cheeky children who attempt to make you buy, buy, buy... "Open your hearts, open your wallets", there are the cigarette burns on the arms and hands. In front of many beautiful women (sex unknown) is an older western man with his US dollars ready to burn. The people are kind but there is doubt and indignation on their faces, it is completely understandable and leaves you as a visitor feeling like you have trodden on a surface that is not fully repaired or ready for you yet. They need to heal before we bombard them with our western desires of cheap shots, bucket cocktails and glamourised trips of their nightmarish history- in short, they need to tell us where to go for a few more decades so they can figure out who they are and what they need to do for their own futures. 
Cambodia offers perspective and humility. 
Thailand- The border crossing to Thailand was interesting. You know that Thailand is the easiest of the South East Asian countries- it is clean and so simple to travel through. Getting there though provides one last challenge. After our last two hour line up at a border crossing (sweat dripping down our backs and our 22kg bags slowly pulling on every muscle we have) we were relieved to cross into Thailand. It was here that we were then sectioned like school kids and stuffed into mini-vans. On average I would say these vehicles could hold 11 people, in Thailand however, they can actually hold about 20. Comfort and safety is not high on their concerns, people become jigsaw pieces that can fit together in embarrasing ways as long as the door can eventually close. You get to make friends with strangers very quickly! 
Bangkok is Bangkok. Khao San Road becomes a deterance and the search for a reasonably priced beer becomes an exciting challenge. What is great about Bangkok is that you can find cool little places down little alleyways, if you just watch the locals and do as they do. You also get to meet up with people that you saw two or three countries ago as Bangkok is the hub of thoroughfare- you go there to get somewhere else. By that measure, its not that bad of a place. 
We made our way on yet another bus to Koh Chang. A beautiful island south of the Thai and Cambodian border. We had been promised big things by our rastafarian friends from Don Det. Upon arrival we jumped out of our Jumbo and walked straight up to Patrice. Small world. In his rastafarian and 'oh so cool' voice he told us that they had just arrived that day as well. We quickly found the next bamboo hut to call home for a short while and raced down to the beach. The water was crystal, the starfish unique, the shoreline sprinkled with coconut trees with a background of mountains and the sunset as always, was magnificient. We were in heaven. This lifestyle was good and we found that we enjoyed a small routine of early morning beach exercise, banana smoothies and beach lounging. We even went so far as to buy a bat and ball and really make something of the days- small accomplishments are still accomplishments! A number of strange and sad things occurred during our week there. A French man managed to lose his cool and explode in anger towards me when I asked him to stop playing his chiming bells to hardcore dance music in the late afternoons. He was a whole new category of nutcase and after an hour of him bitching to all of the other guests (who all looked a bit uncomfortable as I was also sitting right in front of them looking bewildered myself) we decided to find a new bamboo hut- one on the beach was good enough for me: ) Also, a small monkey that was being nursed after it had been injured in a fight had died and the owners of the accomodation were just lying with it on their bed, crying. That was weird and sad at the same time. 
The parties, the increasing crowds and the lack of culture eventually got to us and we moved on. Back on the bus, back to Bangkok, onto a train and up to Chiang Mai. 
Chiang Mai is such a livable city. Surrounded by a moat the inner section is about 2km squared. Within these two kilometres is everything we needed. We found a gym that western worlds would charge mortgages for, and signed up for 5 days intense exercise. It killed and tortured our pathetic muscles but allowed us to happily munch on bakery goods with less guilt than would otherwise ensue. The people of Chiang Mai are so friendly and we were stopped to talk to locals frequently. A friend from the past (whom I had met 2 years prior but who was still there and had never left) showed us to where the locals ate and partied. It was cheaper and much more entertaining. One girl tried to kill herself at a restaurant we were at- apparently she was suffering from a 'broken heart'- a common ailment of the Thai women- from the sounds of it, the men are eager to get as many notches on the old belt as possible. She was swiftly dragged out of the lake where she was trying to drown herself, the ambulance came and everyone continued to party like it was nothing- as it sounds like a weekly event I guess I can understand that but still... pretty full on! A beautiful women who was giving me a very painful Thai massage explained to me that the young women want the young Thai men. They love them wholeheartedly and then marry them. It doesn't take long before the babies arrive and shortly after that, the men leave for one of their younger girlfriends. Mum is left with children and bills with no support from the government. That is why she explained, rich western man with money become a beacon for the Thai women- they just need to survive and they want a man who thinks they are lucky to have them- not the other way around. Again understandable from their point of view but unsettling as a solution.
Pai was our next destination- way up in the mountains of northern Thailand. With a record of 761 bends to get there the anti nausea tablets were consumed and we held on tight- well, I didn't, I fell asleep for the whole trip and just had a sore neck, but Lawrence was suitably green and ghastly when he stepped off the bus. Another bamboo hut, our final mosquito net, views of greenery, butterflies and flowing creeks. We were happy to be there. Many hours were spent reading and listening to the weird and wonderful sounds of nature. Walking under the beating sun and looking at the market stalls whilst ignoring the lure of cold, cold beer become a daily ritual. Pai is great to relax but it attracts the tourists and we fear eventually, it may become the next Vang Vieng. (Friends, Family Guy, Happy Shakes and Boguns.)  It was here that we booked our morning with the elephants. It was the sorest yet most enjoyable ride we had taken so far. Bare back elephant riding really leaves a lasting impression! The elephants went into the river and threw us around a bit. Unfortunately they also turded in this water and it was no surprise that we both managed to gulp a mouthful of the river when we were unexpectedly thrown off his back the first time. Delicious- of course, I was violently sick for quite some days afterwards.
Leaving the country of Pad Thai for $1 and the home of the amazin g sandwich (the worlds biggest and most tastiest sandwich) was hard, but Nepal was next and we were ready to move on to the cold mountains and valleys.
Arriving in Kathmandu airport is like standing on your head for two hours and then trying to bust out some dance moves. You are disorientated, have no idea what is going on and very suddenly feel sick to the stomach that you are failing in every attempt that you make to appear organised. Numerous lines, money exchanges, passport photos, forms, etc... the headache takes hours to recover from which of course you do not have, for as soon as you step out of that airport (old brown building), you are bombarded with taxi drivers trying to take your bags and get you to their mates hostel. We survived though. Lawrence got through customs in half an hour and I got through in 2 1/2 hours so...you know... no hard feelings there: ) 
Thamel (within Kathmandu Valley) is a sight! Tangled power lines, kids sniffing glue, stray dogs and lepers cover the streets. Every second person is hocking up a loogey and spitting it in front of your feet. The smells, the rubbish, the chaos- it is shocking! Yet, I love this place. The people are genuine, they smile, they greet you with a deep bow of respect and they will do everything in their power to accomodate your needs. "You want a diet coke? No problem, we will send our young son off on a 2km search of one for you- relax, its no problem! "
The dusty streets are sometimes too much to cope with, a good double shot coffee helps greatly. You need to keep your eyes fixed ahead, politely yet firmly say "NO" to offers of Tiger Balm, wooden violins, tours, hashish and jewellery- all at "good good prices". When you finally find a place to breathe it is usually down a little dark alleyway- but beware- it won't take long before they throw out their bucket of water or garbage onto your head- it's a world of gambles! 
We like it here- we have succumbed to the cheap knock off shopping and got some winter woolies for Europe. (Amsterdam is a nice 2 degrees and we arrive there in less than a week) and we have become addicted to the Tibetan dish- steamed momo's. They cost less than a dollar, are healthy and are delicious! Many people we know, with ourselves included have become temporary vegetarians as the meat here is slightly on the dodgy side. Still, the vegetarian range of food is pretty fantastic!
Festivals of cremations and whole towns being stoned off their brains, rejoicing and blessing one another with their red paint have occured. Police chases through the narrow streets have made us jump out of our skins. Kids sidling up to you, hiding their glue and trying to get their little mittens into your pockets are a constant... but the mountain views are spectacular, the people are good and it is just so unbelievably different to the norm- which is why we travel. 
Next its off to Amsterdam for some outrageous European prices and open minded sight seeing- we feel ready. Our tummies are currently settled and our budgets tightened- bring it on! 

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