Take a Deep Breath!

This is the part of the journey I have been blocking out of my mind because there are so many things which could go wrong. My motto is to plan well but have a back up plan if things go badly wrong!

Our plan was to travel by train from Bangkok to Arunyapatta, cross the border to Poipet and then take a bus to Siem Reap. What is the problem you say? Well the train leaves at 5:55 am and take 6 hours and if we miss it there is not another until 1pm which means we would miss the border opening times and have to stay in Arunyapatta. or we would have to battle across Bangkok to get a bus which also takes about 5-6 hours. Then once across the border it is another 2 hours to Siem Reap. Altogrther a lot of connections I have no control over.

Our morning started at 4:30am trying to drag ourselves and the children out of bed so we could get a taxi to the Station. We whizzed through the streets of Bangkok in the dark. The traffic was light and we arrived at the station with time to spare. After buying our tickets (£3 for all of us!) we made our way down the train looking for seats together……..we walked the entire length of the train before we found any seats where we could sit together. Every set of seats had one person sitting or lying down asleep! I have no ideas when they arrive but we were the first to buy our tickets and they were all there in place.
I am so glad we got there ealry because as the train pulled out every seat was taken. This train is third class (hence price) with no air-con just open windows and ceiling fans.
As we pulled out of the station the sun was just coming up over the high rise buildings of Bangkok. We passed through rows of blocks of flats with washing hanging out on the balconies and out of the windows. Sometimes the buildings were so close you could reach out and touch them. The slum houses croweded up towards the trains with their mismatch tin roofs, patched walls and occasionally the bright red flash of a satallite dish. We could look right down onto the early morning lives as people we getting up and starting the day. Flashes of peoples lifes went by as the train gathered speed….a man washing pineapple in red liqiud (red food colouring to make it more vibrant to sell), mangey dogs picking over rubbish piles, smoke from charcoal fires, clothes fluttering in the rush of passing train, sellers with baskets of food balanced on their heads, families eating breakfast of rice soup on split bamboo platforms under the tin roof with just packed mud floor underneath, children in their uniforms walking to school, the saffron robes of the monks as they walk around recieving offerings of food and money. This is a snapshot of the “other” Bangkok far removed from the glittering, pristine shopping malls, and designer living which was where we were yesterday. One thing I found interesting was the number of “parking”lots at the edge of the slum where nice cars were parked. In Thailand what you look like and have is important and often you will see very smartly dressed people who come walking out of a slum area get in their nice car and drive to work!

The train stopped at every station and each time more people got on. We had thought about getting on the train a few stops from the main station so we didint have to get up so early….so glad we didnt because by the time it got to that station it looked like this……

Every time the train stopped there would be a big shuffle round the door where people scrabbled to get off and on and as soon as there was a small crack of space on a seat it was pounced on by someone who had been eyeing it up for the last hour. The amazing thing was people were very unfazed by it and just accepted this was how it was so as the journey went on we had to adopt this attitude and squish up and rearrange out seating. At one point there were five people sitting on the one seat opposite me!

One tired boy!
The city gradually gave way to countryside of vibrant green rice fields. The flat endless plains were a change from the mountains of Kanchanaburi. Everytime we stopped at a main station there would be a scrum of passengers and food sellers on the platform while in contrast the country stations were quiet with only a few passengers getting on and off.
 Lucia as always made friends with someone on the train. This couple helped us off with our bags and took us to get a tuktuk. I was a bit worried because sometime people will be friend you and then offer to help you, only to take your bags or lead you to some scam. I was trying to keep sight of Lucia  and Ewan who had run ahead in the crowd of people , keep my eyes on the two people who had the bags and try to locate Colin who had not got off the train! When we got out to the “carpark” more like a patch of dusty ground lined with tuk tuks we had to beat our way through the  drivers all trying to get you onto their tuktuk. Finally we all squished onto the tuk tuk  (thai ones are smaller than Cambodian ones) and off we went. after awhile we pulled off the main road onto a side road….mmmmmm a bit suspicious….and pulled up to a parking lot. This is the Cambodian Consulate (pointing at a big house) you get your visa here! No! we have visa already take us to border now!!!! Off we go finally make it to the border entrance past a group who were touting for buisness and a helpful person comes and tells us the real visa (which we alrady have) can be got at the border crossing!
As we are walking a man approachesand says he is here to meet us from our hotel….as you can imagine by this time we were getting a bit fed up of bogus people but it turned out he was genuine as we had ordered a taxi to pick us up from the Cambodian side of the border. (thank goodness) He was really helpful and showed us where to go and what to do.
The border crossing was slow as we kept getting stuck behind a big tour party…the smaller kids had lost it by then and were running up and down, hanging from rails and generally annoying each other. I know all the other passengers probably thought our kids were badly behaved but I was so tired I thought I can either get cross or I can ignore most of it and intervene if it got to out of hand…that worked. Finally after 1 and half hours of queuing and filling out 6 lots of forms each time…we made….then ran the guantlet of taxi drivers to a taxi waiting just for us! It was funny the fare for us on the bus was £8 each and a taxi was £30…do the maths,so we decided a taxi would be better and ran the hotel we were going to stayin to see if he could arrange it and he could. It saved us so much hassle the Cambodian siad as we would have had to walk a little way then haggle, explain where we wanted to go…or get a tuk tuk to the bus station. I had thought we would be tired by then and I was right.
The taxi was only a normal size car but we all squashed in (five in the back including me) and sped off the two hours to Siem Reap.
Our driver was very friendly but a bit of a  hairy driver. He is a typical Cambodian driver who drives very fast up to someone and then has to overtake even if there is something coming the other way or it is a blind overtake. On time he overtook someone else overtaking and something was coming the other way. Another time he was transfering a phone number from one mobile phone to the other talking to the person on the phone….and neither was hands free. I was praying a lot!
Finally after nearly 12 hours we made it to Siem Reap and our hotel. We went straight in the pool and Colin collapsed on the bed and went to sleep!

Time to go….

Our last night in Ong Sit village started with dinner at the Rees family. I grew up with Wendy and we have known each other since we were about 5 or 6. It is nice to spend time with someone who you don’t have to start at the beginning with. Everytime we meet we pick up the threads of our friendship and weave a little more into the pattern. She now has a husband Richard and four gorgeous children, who love playing with our children.

When we had finished dinner the rest of the Ong Sit team came round including my parents and another family called the Betts (who have 6 children…3 are back in America) We had some gorgeous homemade ice-cream…strawberry and chocolate and peanut butter chunk flavours.

While the adults talked the children played hide and seek in the dark downstairs under the house. We had to drag them away at about 9pm, not because the kids were tired but granny (my mum) was flagging! It was a really nice end to the two weeks we have spent in the village.

We were up and out in good time Saturday morning as we had to get to Bangkok by mid afternoon. I took the opportunity for a picture with my parents as I don’t know the last time I had one.
While we were on the ferry, my mum was talking to a lady selling “snacks” ….pickled fish, fish balls on sticks, sausages (hotdog style) boiled eggs and various dried seafood….none of which I really could face that early in the morning if at all. We could smell something funny but could not work out what it was. As we were walking back to where everyone else was sitting we saw the origin of the smell. Someone was sray painting the engine of the ferry! They like it to look nice and shiney!

We arrived in time to get a bus to Bangkok, unfortunatley it was not the nice one with a toilet but it was ok. We had bought the tickets as soon as we arrived in town and then gone and got something to eat. When we arrived we duelywent to the toilet before we got on only to find that although we had tickets with seat numbers that was not the “rules”…it was a free for all and everyone spreads out and does not like shifting. We were split up over the whole bus. the kids were really good about it and we soon discovered how it works….when someone gets off you quickly move seats to one closer together. By the end we had two groups of seats together. It was a fun little game! We got to Bangkok in good time and decided to go back to the Paragon Shopping Center to see if we could go and watch a movie.

 View of Bangkok from the lift in Paragon
 Center piece of mirroed waterfalls in front entrance of Paragon
Unfortunately when we got tho the cinema there was nothing on which was suitable to watch for our age children. So we gave the children the money we would have spent on the cinema and we went shopping.
Back to Pizza Company for dinner
Famous Bangkok traffic….at about 9 pm it was still busy.. for us it was on the Sky train and underground and back to bed as we had a very early start the next day!

Out and About

One thing I love about being at my parents is the greenery…..Phnom Penh, especially where we live, is a typical city and has very few trees or green areas. I love mountains and trees, finding them restful, and just sitting and looking or taking a walk can be so relaxing. Ok- not in the middle of the day when the sun is beating down on you but evening or early morning is great. The sign above marks the road where my parents live.

These are some of the things I see around the village where I grew up. It is a lot more developed than when I was a child, with a mixture of Thai and Pow Karen (tribal group). Still many things are the same. The houses are made of wood, bamboo and tin. the Pow Karen houses are mostly riased off the ground and the Thai houses often have a ground floor. There are a lot more cars and motorbikes around than there used to be and less people seem to walk.

The village is quite quiet at the moment as most people are out planting their fields. Sometimes they get a tractor to plow and seed but the traditional method is to announce the day you are planting and other people turn up to help you. You then provide food and in return go and help each of the other people in their fields. It is a good system but sometimes you get no-one and other times loads which means you have to spend loads of time helping them!

This girl is wearing a traditional hand woven top but im not sure if  it is Burmese Karen or Pow Karen design as the girls normally wear white and pink and the boys wear colours.
A strange sight….lots of foreign (falaang) children out for a walk!!!
Raining very hard!!!
I love these mountains covered in cloud!

Life in the Village….Eating Out

 We decided to give mum a break from cooking we would go out to the local cafe. It had been recommended to us so we thought we would give it a try. It was raining very heavily as we made our way across the village. It is at the top of a hill on the main road the other side of the village, and normally has lots of passing trade but was quiet when we got there. The eating area is open on three sides so there was a nice breeze coming through. The main building is made of a mixture of wood, breeze block and tin, the roof is made of tin and big teak leaves woven together. The tables and benches are big pieces of wood which have been smoothed out sitting on the concrete floor. The rain was dripping off the leaf roof onto the dirt ground outside, where the chickens scrtatch for any crumbs or bugs they can find. There were a couple of dogs who wandered in and out  around the tables looking for food. We sat on a table at the side which had two long benches which accomodated us all.

We ordered Cowpat (fried rice), Padthai (fried noodles) and omlette and rice for the children. I was sitting next to the kitchen, so I had a great view of the food while it was being cooked. The kitchen was at the back and was open on three sides. The washing up was done in a bowl on the floor at the back of the kitchen.

 So,  it probably would not meet regulations in the UK but here it is considered quite good as the meat is all refrigerated and the vegetables fresh. OK, there are a few flies but that is the norm in hot countries and something you get used to. The food was hot and very tasty.
The Padthai, which I chose, is eaten with a twist of lime, peanuts, flaked chili, spiced vinegar and a sprinkle of sugar ooooh! yum!

After lunch I decided to have a Thai coffee (similar to Cambodian coffee) it is brewed for hours over a charcaol stove until it is thick and black. It is then poured into a cup and two spoons of sweetened condensed milk, sugar and cofee creamer are added. The result is an extremely black sweet thick liquid!

So all round it was a nice treat and everyone enjoyed their meal. My mum especially enjoyed it and it gave her a rest.

Kanchanaburi – Ong Sit

This is one journey I love. It is going back to where I grew up as a child…to the house I lived in and people I remember. The scenery is so beautiful especially this time of year when the rains have made everything green. We were going to travel on a local “bus” which is a covered truck with bench seats either side.
You do not go to the bus station rather you walk down a narrow side alley where several of these trucks are waiting. You arrive around 11:00 am and wait until the truck is full or ready to go. We had a little trouble working out which one to get as the lady spoke very quickly but a friend of my parents was in town and was able to help us out.

We found that it was leaving at 12:30 so we wandered down the road and found a stall selling BBQ chicken sticks and sticky rice. It was delicious and sticky!!! I also got some somdow which is a spicy mango and carrot salad….it is very hot and delicious!

At about 12:15 everyone who was getting on arrived and got on and we left on time but then had to stop to get fuel. This was not just fuel for the truck but fuel in four large tanks on the back of the truck!!!

The tanks of fuel were about 250 litres each and the little ones were 20 litres. We were also travelling with 6  16 kilogramme gas tanks, 90 bottles of  fizzy drinks, polystyrene boxes and various boxes of things and then about 10 people. Thankfully there was no live animals!!
As you get out of town the road begins to climb and twist around the mountain, with very sharp drops down the side.

After about two hours we came to a lake which we have to cross over on a ferry. It is a “turn up and go when full” ferry….so we arrived just after it left which ment we had to wait about half an hour. The lake is really low this time of year as there has not been very much rain. These boat houses are normally much higher up the top of the picture is where the water line is normally.

This was the truck we were on, after three hours we finally made it to my parents house. I hadnt realised how noisy it had been until I got off! I was sitting right at the front behind the cab and the engine was so loud that we could hardly speak to each other.

It was good to be back home and in one piece! This is the view of my house as you come down the road. It is all covered in trees as the rains have come. The house is surrounded by trees and bamboo and is so peaceful.

Chaingmai – Bangkok- Kanchanaburi

This was another long leg of the journey from Chaingmai overnight to Bangkok. We got on the night train at Chaingmai station and this time my camera batteries were fully charged. We were followed out of the station by a heavy rain storm which you can see on this picture. Half of the horizon looks like low cloud….this is the rain falling heavily.

 Our train was slightly earlier leaving so we had not eaten and had great fun ordering Thai food on the train. Each compartment has a little table so we all paired off and had a nice meal. This is Ewan and Lucia having a snack later on before the guard came to make the bed.

This train was a much newer model thant the one we went up on …..much cleaner and quieter even though we were next to the doors. At about 8pm the guards start to make up the beds especially if you have children.
Even so were they going to go to sleep then….no!! it is much moer fun to play in your little bed area!
Jamie and Phoebe had top bunks so they went up and read quietly or listened to music. Not so Lucia and Ewan. they kept playing for ages. 

WE arrived at about 7:30 the next morning in Bangkok and my Dad picked us up from the train station and we went to a Thai friends house where they have been staying for a few days since they flew back in from England. We had breakfast together then they took Jamie and Phoebe and travelled to Kanchanaburi in their truck. We couldnt all go as they had all their luggage so Colin myself and Ewan and Lucia took the slightly longer route.
We had to first get a local bus to the Southern Bus station and then an aircon coach type bus to Kanchanaburi which is about 2 hours northwest of Bangkok (if you look on and up to date map it is near a big lake)

We got to the bus staion and walked over to the ticket booth and found we had 5 mins till next bus so we got the ticket and rushed down with no time for getting snacks or going to the toilet. Unfortunatley we had got the wrong bus type…..the slow one with no toilet, snacks or drinks!!! It took about 3 hours, without any accidents, but we got to Kanchanaburi not lonag after my parents. We all met up at the Pizza Co. for lunch before my parents made the final leg of the journey ahead of us. We were going to spend the night in
Kanchanaburi and get the local bus up the next day.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in Tesco Lotus because it was air-con and nice and cool. The kids wew able to go in a play area which was fun for them after all the travelling.

Pedi-taxi found in Kanchanaburi

Our guest house was interesting and mainly clean. It had all these adverts outside saying it was recommended by lonely planet but it looked like it was past its best. The decor was mint green and pale purple walls with bright aqua curtains and burgandy carpet (the kind you have in hallways) and bright blue blankets on the bed. However it had a fridge, cable TV and air-con and a 7 Eleven shop (like Tesco Express) next door. The kids were happy witht the cartoons some were even in English….we had fun watching Postman Pat and Little Red Tractor! Scooby Doo was dubbed into Thai which was quite funny!
 Just had to take a picture of this brand of toilet paper!!!!!