Our favorite spot - Balangan Beach in South Bali
I’ll just come out with it – I didn’t fall hopelessly in love with Bali and neighboring Gili Trawangan during our recent 16 days there. Maybe my head was just not in the right place to enjoy a slightly more expensive than predicted, crowded beach holiday. Things have been getting a bit overwhelming for me in Cambodia, which I can’t sort out enough to write about yet. Or maybe it was my infected toe, thumb with 4 stitches, food poisoning, and then head cold that did it.
I’m fairly sure my ambivalence is about me, not Bali. Because the island is obviously stunning in so many places. And intriguing, and I still really want to like it.
Let’s discuss, but first, the details.
This is what it looks like where you walk up to the real border.
Not sure how to reach my target audience with this post, because honestly I’m just baffled that people are still using minivans from Khaosan Road apparently totally unaware of the well-blogged, travel guide documented scam that takes place on the Thai side of the border. This is not to say avoid the minivans or cheap cross-border packages! It is to say: be prepared to tell the minivan driver/guy-he-leaves-you-with-at-a-restaurant-close-to-the-border that you want to buy your visa at the actual border. It’s that simple.
Last week, I ventured overland to Bangkok from Phnom Penh to take a much cheaper flight from BKK to Hong Kong to visit a friend. On the way back, I took one of the cheap minivans they hawk all around Khaosan Road. I booked it to the border, for 250 baht. (Sure I could’ve found cheaper, but it was late and I just wanted to get to bed!) I was pleasantly surprised to be picked up just 20 minutes after the designated time. The van was new and roomy, already full, and I was given shotgun by the uber-efficient crew in Bangkok. Score.
As the woman in charge slid the door shut, she warned the passengers not to change money at the border. Most nodded agreeably – what a sweet lady to offer this advice! Obviously they are looking out for us, right?
We got a van from Phnom Penh to Kep for $70, and stayed at Vanna again. $35 a night including breakfast buffet, for a cute bungalow on the hill with a spectacular view. And puppy friendly.
We’ve finally got our first family visitors since settling down for a bit in Phnom Penh! Hugo’s brother’s family is here from Brisbane for about two weeks. They’re staying with us in Phnom Penh for a total of about 5 days. They’re also planning 4 days in Siem Reap, and finishing up on the coast in Kep. It takes patience to travel with a 20-month-old, but I think (hope) they’re enjoying it. Saw the Royal Palace, National Museum, Tuol Tompong, Psar Thmei, and Tuol Sleng in PP. We were hoping to get out to Phnom Tamao, but everyone was too tired with the heat. Got massages instead. Then the whole crew took the new luxury Ibis bus to Siem Reap ($12 one-way), while I stayed in PP for work. Hugo reports that the Ibis bus is totally worth it. The wifi worked well, and the bus is in great shape.
Chances are, you’re planning to stop in Hoi An while in Vietnam. Good choice! The cute old town, chock full of great restaurants, atmospheric buildings and tourists, is charmingly romantic beyond expectations. It’s Disneyland-esque tendencies are quickly forgiven.
The surrounding areas are relatively flat, perfect for exploring by bicycle. Our second day there we set out to find the beach. It was a leisurely five kilometer ride, flanked by rice patties in some places, with small villages and a winding river just a short detour away.
Once on the coast near the more famous Cua Dai beach, we veered left for a few more kilometers and stumbled on An Bang beach — a locals’ favorite, with a great community vibe.
We have a puppy. A Cambodian mutt, strong-willed, adorable, and absolutely insistent on a 6 am wake-up call. So here I am sitting in our garden in Phnom Penh, on a Sunday morning when I would normally be sleeping, and it hits me — I used to have a travel blog! And I enjoyed it. And I have abandoned it as I’ve gotten settled in as an expat, trying to get my head around so many mind-bending, overwhelming, soul-elevating and soul-crushing aspects of Cambodia.
That must be exactly how you expected this post would start, right? It’s been a while, blah blah, here’s some food porn!
Yeah, I don’t think there’s a more clever way to say that’s exactly what this is – an apology to all those Viagra and Xanax salesmen that have loyally stood by me through the silence, and a resolution. As long as Santo, the adorable devil dog, is biting me awake at the crack of dawn even on the weekends, I will write a post here at least once a week.
It’s been nearly a year since we started our travels. After two days in Madrid, we boarded a plane for Marrakesh full of anticipation and slight hangovers last October.
As the plane landed, and after the momentary panic when Hugo said he’d forgotten to check visa requirements for Mexicans (there aren’t any, thank god), I steeled myself for the taxi haggle I’d read about. We couldn’t fathom trying to figure out a cheaper public transportation option. I hadn’t even been able to figure out if one existed.
“Until about two years ago, the only place to eat in Kep was at the Crab Market.”
When I heard this months ago, I envisioned a typical Cambodian food market with its basic stalls and unusual smells, but on the shore. It would have some Cambodian BBQ grills with fresh squid and fish skewers. Some crabs boiling in pots. Maybe some other typical market fare, and a few of the ubiquitous stands selling drinks, phone cards, and snacks. And it sounded pretty good, but not worth a trip down.
I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why more people aren’t talking about this place. Is it because seeing huge, well cared for tigers stalking out their territory less than 3 feet away, through nothing but a chain link fence scares you? Or is it fact that you’ll see many of the nearly 70 bears that have been rescued, several with heartbreaking injuries? Sarcasm aside, if you’re going to Cambodia and wish to learn more about the country while there, this wildlife rescue center should be right up there with Angkor Wat, The Killing Fields, and Toul Sleng on your list of things to see.
Because let’s face it, what meets the eye is a little over the top. I mean, a head shop named Bringabong? You have to admit that sounds suspiciously like it was ripped off a doodle on a 13 year old’s school binder.