Category Archives: Travel

Back in Europe…phew!

After having not written on here for…ooh, let me check…10 months! Yikes…I thought I would give an update on where we’re at, seeing as we finally have another laptop!

In April, or it might have been May (time slips by so quickly!) we left Asia and came back to Europe.

In the time from leaving the UK in August 2013 until May this year, we have been having a not-so-great time abroad…

When we started out on this journey, the aim was to find a new home somewhere abroad, in a more spiritual place that was more accepting of those who don’t neccesarily fit into the conventional rat race because they just don’t bloody like it.  Us, in other words.  We don’t like the UK, and we don’t like most of the people there, or their attitudes..so it was our aim to find somewhere that felt more relaxing and nice for us. Being predominantly Buddhist, Thailand seemed like a good option, so we aimed for Asia after leaving Kefalonia for Athens airport.

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We wanted to see some sights, so we first went to Cambodia to do Angkor Wat, the jungle country and the sunny coast; (after Thailand) Malaysia, to view the famous Georgetown Street Art, see the Hindu festival of Thaipusam (where they pull wheeled shrines by attaching hooks through their skin), to visit the island of Borneo (as it was) to see the Orangutans in their protected reservation, and find the amazing beaches; Laos, to do our visa run, see their pretty temples and catch a glimpse of the Mekong River; Thailand, to visit the silver and wood artisans in the North, to learn and qualify in Traditional Thai Massage, and to visit the hundreds of temples in Chiang Mai..these are just a few main highlights.

royal flora, chiang mai 194Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? All those places and experiences to sample? In many other peoples cases, it may be just that, but in our experience it wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that we got to experience life in those countries, because we stayed a lot longer than the normal traveller would, and got to really see what goes on…and that is the crux of the problem.

When you take a week (or a few weeks) to go off and travel, it’s usually as a break from your normal life.  It is an adventure, to get away and see and do new things in the short time that you escape from the routine.  In that time away, you cram as much as you can into the holiday so that you go back home with tons of pictures and some funny stories of your annual getaway or short sabbatical.

royal flora, chiang mai 228For us though, we were leaving the UK for good.  This wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime annual holiday to be boasted about when we got back.  The destinations we visited were potential homes.  This puts a very different light on why you are there, and what you look for.  You view everything with permanence, and you scrutinise your surroundings and the people.  Can we survive here on our budget? Are we able to live here without jumping through tons of hoops? Are the people really friendly and open if you stay a long time?  Is it safe?

It is a whole different view than just “How much beer can we drink before we get on the flight back home, and have I updated Facebook with enough fabulous places to make everyone jealous?” as most people seem to do.

What made us decide to come back to Europe?

7491) The complete nonsense that UK immigrants seem to have to go through, in order to live in another country (and other immigrants too, but I don’t come from anywhere besides the UK so I can’t comment on other nationalities). Apparently, if you live elsewhere and come to the UK, you can get our jobs, our benefits and our houses, and still send money back to your families in your home country without too much bullshit, but if you leave the UK for anywhere else, you get no concessions at all.  In fact, in Asia you have to jump through so many hoops and have so much money behind you that it makes it nigh on impossible to stay for long if you are on a budget, as the ‘visa runs’ to the neighbouring countries every few months cost you a pretty penny unless you can fork out for a yearly one which requires tons of cash and lots of paperwork.

2) The fact that Asia was a complete rip-off, nowhere near as cheap as travel sites and other travellers would have you believe, and the local people just want to take advantage of Westerners – whether that is by how much they charge for buying things, or by stealing from you.  These countries are poor – in Cambodia an average worker gets $75 per month.  They pay for housing, running a vehicle, education, food, clothing etc from this, yet the average for a Westerner trying to live there is apparently $1000 per month.  How the hell do they justify that price just because you are not local? The goods and the accomodation still costs the same, no matter what the colour of your skin, but apparently they are justified in being able to charge local and foreigner prices, yet funnily enough there are no price tags denoting the differences.  I am sure if the UK did this, the foreigners coming to our shores would soon have something to say about paying 10 times more than we do.  Another example was Malaysia (Kota Kinabalu) where a cheap hotel slipped up and wrote the wifi pasword on the back of a receipt for us – the local customer the day before paid 20 ringgits for a quadrupal room, and yet the price board we saw on the reception counter had very much higher prices – we had to pay 98 ringgits for a double! (and that was apparently discounted from the ‘normal’ listed price of 130 ringgits.  To put it in perspective, it was roughly 5 ringgits to a British Pound so for 4 people the other customer paid just £4 for the night…we paid just under £20 for 2 people.  Asia also does this with items in the shops, even when it clearly has price tags on it.  We were told “That is not the price.  You must pay (insert inflated price here)…”  Needless to say, we didn’t pay it, and walked off in disgust.

3) It is not safe in Malaysia.  No ifs or buts – it just is not.  We were in Ipoh when Thaipusam was celebrated – there (and pretty much anywhere else in the country too) everyone is watching you – some are actually nice, genuine people who just want to talk with you, but the majority are looking to see what they can steal – there is a high concentration of non-Malay Indians (mostly illegal immigrants) here and most have mafia connections.  They are watchful and calculated and will be on the lookout for an opportunity to pilfer what they can.  Many tourists make the mistake of thinking that they are the object of curiosity and wonder, but if you really pay proper attention they are checking out your watch or your jewellery, or your camera, laptop, tablet, iPhone, smart phone, your bumbag, security belt or handbag with your passport in it.  In countries where everyone has the same as you, you are used to walking around without thinking twice about it, but in poor countries you are just flaunting the fact that you have something valuable which they don’t have and can rarely afford.  We didn’t flaunt anything – we were very careful, apart from the fact that we had a camera to take photographs.  We still got robbed in Malacca of our netbook and camera which happened to be in a nondescript bag we were carrying back to the hotel one night – nothing was on show, it was just a bag…but they had been watching us either through the day or evening and took a chance when our guard was distracted by a very loud car going past.  They robbed us by driving past on a scooter with no lights on, on a road running parallel to the main highway, in full sight and full of street lights – they swiped the bag from behind us, and it’s impossible to hold on to it.  (They don’t just target foreigners either – we were told by the police that locals have been killed by either being pushed under moving vehicles or stabbed, in order to be robbed)  The island of Borneo (as was) didn’t get seen, because we caught our flight there just after we were robbed seeing as it was already booked,  and then we had to go through all the crap of cancelling bank details etc.  This left us unable to go any further than Kota Kinabalu due to money, and by the time we had experienced the locals there (yikes!) who were meant to be much nicer than mainland Malaysia, we got money wired to us asap and hotfooted it to Chiang Rai, Thailand in the cheapest way we could (train and bus).  Oh, and trying to get a flight back off the island booked without a bank card – almost impossible!

4) The locals do like to make fun of foreigners, and whilst we do have a great sense of humour when it’s done harmlessly, sometimes you just know they are not being nice even when you don’t speak their language.  We had a horrible experience in a restaurant in Malaysia (just outside Malacca, near the water park and three temples) one evening where the men serving were incredibly rude and disrespectful.  They brought our drinks and we accidentally said ‘Thank You’ in English (we do usually try and use their language out of politeness) and they mimmicked us and started to strike stupid poses whilst saying it over and over again behind us, while the waiter at our table shouted and laughed hysterically over our heads whilst joining in with the others heckling.  We thought they would stop but they kept on, and seemed to have no interest in serving us with food so we got up and walked out, leaving our full drinks on the table unpaid for.

In Thailand, at first you can ignore it, but they call you ‘Falang’ or ‘Farang’ (same thing, some just spell it how they say it, with an L) and it IS an insulting word meaning ‘Bird Shit Foreigner’ (this was actually confirmed by a Thai that most Thai’s use it as such, and not as a term of endearment/fun as most travellers believe) – they will shout this to each other so that people can then yell at you to compete with rivals for hire of a taxi or tuk-tuk – they know that ‘Falang’ = ‘Money! Lots of it’.  It is a common perception in the whole of Asia, that if you are Western, you are rich, and they also (as a Nation) really do not like tourists – in fact anyone who is not Thai – ‘Land of Smiles’ it is not, except on the surface.  We actually got called liars by some random Thai person when they blatantly stated we were rich and we replied that in our own country most people struggle to pay their bills too, and that only a minority have lots of money.  They said “You are here – that means you have lots of money” – if only they could experience the other end of the ‘plane ride and see how the majority of people live.  It may be a step up from their lives, but people in the West are essentially in the same position, it’s just the standards of that poverty that are far apart.

1545) Rich nearly died in Cambodia from a bacterial virus, and we both got Malaria and were really sick for quite a while; we narrowly avoided several disasters (along the way, between destinations) such as bus and train crashes, severe storms, and major earthquakes (Chiang Rai, with the destruction of the White Temple) – some within half an hour, and others within a couple of days.

These are just some of the things which happened to us along the way, and which shaped our view of the journey over the last year.

***  Yes, we also had some lovely simple experiences – not least from the locals who just come and speak with you because they want to practice their English, people that don’t speak your language gesturing that they want to share their food with you on the train, or from the calm, elderly Thai Buddhist monk who slowly limped his way over to us during the Loi Krathong festival (where they send lanterns up into the sky) just to gesture that he wanted to see our photographs and my tattoos.  No language neccesary, just a lovely simple interaction before he wandered back into the temple a couple of minutes later.  We had a lovely chat in a shopping mall with an ex-champion Thai boxer, and many other interactions such as the group of elderly Laotians who greeted us with huge smiles and local ‘hello’s’ at one of the temples, as they got to the top of the climb on their Sunday stroll and saw us sitting there.  We have also had wonderful food, and enjoyed sampling things out of our normality. ***

chiang mai zoo 299 6) We didn’t do the typical tourist attractions, because they are unethical and a complete rip-off – sadly those who do partake of these things are contributing to the illusion that Westerners are rich because the entrance fees are about the same (and more) as what the average local person would earn in a month.   One of the Tiger attractions is around US $65 (a months wage) and one of the elephant attractions is over $400 for the day.  Tigers and elephants seem to be hugely popular in Thailand, and both are subject to cruelty and mis-management.  Tiger Kingdom has recently been featured in the news again for a mauling.  When will people learn?! It is only docile because it is drugged.  If people had any respect for wild animals, they would know that in order to approach one it has to be coerced in some way to allow that, as it’s nature is to attack and maul anything to death for food that is lower in the pecking order.  Let’s face it, tigers are much stronger than us, and we were never meant to get close to them – however beautiful they may be.   We also didn’t fancy anything to do with the Mekong River – it’s basically just a really really big, dirty river which causes stupid tourists injury or sickness every time they swim in it or go tubing.   Who in their right mind would swim in sewerage in their own country?  So why do that  very same thing abroad?!

7) It is also nigh on impossible to enjoy the heat and humidity there and be able to go out walking, which we love to do.  The jungle is impassable and full of highly poisonous things…

739…which we knew, but we hoped we may be able to walk trails.  Not advisable without a guide…and they cost a pretty penny…so you can’t just go for a walk in the countryside and watch the wildlife like you can in the UK and Europe.  At its peak season, it is hot until around 0200 when it becomes bearable to sleep at a moderate temperature, and gets hot again at around 0600 – it is hard to get out anywhere because the moment you move, you sweat, and that’s without clothing!  Put clothes on and walk somewhere, it looks like you have been stood under the shower in your clothing.  Not pleasant, at all,

It does seem that when people go for holidays, their common sense is left at home – ours went with us, so we thought, but on reflection we lost it before we left the UK – the reason being that if we knew then what we know now, we would never have wasted our time and money going there.

018Sure, we saw some cool things, but in all honesty, once you see one temple, the rest start to look the same.  Once you have seen many many arsehole tourists doing really stupid things, constantly updating Facebook as they look round historic sites, and listened to them talk utter shite to anyone who will listen, you have had a gut-full of arrogant boasting idiots – and that is mainly the type who travel to Asia: gap year students whose parents pay for them to get out of their hair for a few months so they don’t have to deal with them.  Well, we didn’t really want to deal with them either, but alas they were everywhere.  Fortunately, rescuing animals like this little one that we called Rocky in Cambodia (and the one called Pretty that we looked after in Kefalonia) made dealing with some of them worthwhile…

034Nothing that we saw or experienced (apart from the animals and a few decent humans) was worth the extortionate prices that we got charged in basically poor countries, and it’s about time someone wrote the truth about Asia in the media, instead of bigging it up like it’s the best place on earth to go.  We read countless reviews of the countries before we went there, along with government websites, and nobody is honest in what they write because it would stop tourists visiting, and stop people reading their travel  websites or blogs and therefore stop them earning money by writing reviews.  We read an article on ‘The Mail Online’ about Thailand this week, and we were pleased to see a Westerner who lives there actually being honest about all the shit they go through, and not just some sensational journalism to promote crap or your ‘best-ever’ travel blog.  Sorry, but after reading so much shit, we are very cynical about most writers and their need to appear as if they had a wonderful time on their dream vacation…when really they nearly died in a scooter accident (because they think they can ride one, having never done it before) and don’t want to admit they had to get wasted to ignore the pain of severe gravel rash and oozing gashes for several days before flying home.

Malaysia currently has a huge tourist campaign going on for 2014 – what they don’t disclose is that even Malay locals are being attacked or murdered for their purse or bag, camera, laptop etc by the immigrants.  They don’t disclose that there are 40,000 Indian gangsters in the country, and that tourists as well as Malays are a BIG target.   They do not tell you that there are strict Muslim laws in a lot of areas, and that you could put yourself in danger by going there or not adhering to dress codes, public customs etc – believe me, we saw plenty of tourists who wore next to nothing when they should have been covered up.   We did our research so that we knew these things about customs etc, but some of the above facts like the crime and the Mob were only told to us by the Police themselves when we reported our drive-by scooter attack.  They also told us about the gangs and individuals hanging around the shopping malls, ATM’s, hotels and beaches – they work in tag-teams communicating by text or phonecall, and they watch for tourists in order to follow them around and mug them or pickpocket.  We actually saw this happening all the time, and had to use evasive tactics on some occasions, even though we had nothing visible for them to steal.

Sure, you get lovely people and locations too, and perhaps if you are closeted in your hotel, nightclub or at the beach, you may think it’s wonderful and really friendly…and there are some people and places that make it worthwhile, but sadly they are in the minority and there is not a hope in hell that we would live there, or even visit again.  Once was enough.

355 So, now we have come back to Europe and we are staying in Bulgaria.  What a contrast!  We chose it here because the landscape was meant to be like Scotland, Wales or Cornwall, and we love that ruggedness.   We were not disappointed at all.  When we arrived and got the bus to our next destination, we were just loving being back in good old fashioned countryside with rocks, mountains, valleys, and nice pleasant heat – even when in the 30’s and 40’s.   You can still walk about here and explore, without the need for a guide or a shedload of armaments against the wildlife (although there are still plenty of mozzies, but not the Malarial or Denghi ones!)

We have had a few ups and downs whilst here because we started out on a ‘Workaway’ placement, where you get your room and food in exchange for work around the place.  The English woman was the filthiest I have ever seen, and her 3 dogs were allowed to shit and pee all over her house – and most of the time she would leave it for someone else to clear up.  That was just one complaint about her, but it annoys me to even think about it so I won’t go into everything else.  Needless to say, we lasted 3 days and left on the 4th.   We also attempted to buy a house here – beautiful house and location, but the agent and the owner screwed us over with the roof (they had masked a huge problem) and in the first week we had a tremendous thunder storm which ended up in our kitchen!  We told them to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine because they didn’t want to fix it, and we left.

We are now renting an apartment for a year, and have rescued 2 gorgeous kittens off the streets here (we can’t help it, we love animals).  We can survive on our budget, we get to eat good local produce, and the people are lovely.  Bulgarians really are old fashioned and value many things which seem to have gone to the dogs, like manners and customs.   We are trying to learn the language, which is like a cross between Greek and Russian, and quite complicated but we will persist.  It’s fun here, we have made some Bulgarian friends, and with 300+ days of sunshine a year, it’s a good place to be.  We have the choice between lakes, rivers or beach, mountains or plains, city or country, and if you avoid the areas where the Turks (Muslims) have congregated, it’s really friendly.  Common sense as a foreigner is still needed here though, because you do still have crime and also the Mob, along with lots of gypsies.  There are danger zones, but it’s far more manageable than Asia.

I know it may seem like we are being racist with what we have said, (and tbh when we tell people about our experiences in Asia we get very negative reactions, as if we imagined all the issues) but in all honesty we were the ones on the receiving end of the discrimination whilst travelling and it opens your eyes to what really goes on across the world.

You get very jaded with always being charged way more than anyone else, and seen as someone to rob or con.  Quite honestly, if people have the attitudes we have seen, they deserve whatever attitude comes back at them.  They are rude, obnoxious, disrespectful, and judgemental, and if they were treated that way they scream “Racism!” yet it is fine for them to do it to others visiting their country.  We have judged on what we experienced, and this is what our opinion of our travel is based on.  If we had had a different experience then we would have a different opinion, obviously.  We tried to still be respectful of others we encountered, even when they were not nice to us, but it does all mount up to colour your mindset and form your experiences.   With the current Muslim situation being what it is around the globe, we can now understand from firsthand experience their attitude towards non-Muslims (unless they are nice people as individuals, which some thankfully were) and it is quite shocking, and very exclusive – if you are not a Muslim, you are basically looked upon as shit and treated accordingly.   Honest fact, and not a pleasant one.

On that note, I am signing off now – back in October we had our first days of snow here in Bulgaria.  The tv doesn’t work due to the weather, and it gets you back to the basics.  It’s wonderfully cold, brilliantly white, and almost silent outside.  It has a surreal quality to it, and a great beauty, and we are extremely grateful to now be in a country where they actually have proper seasons but still lots of sunshine (300+ days per year).   Even though the snow only lasted a few days last month and winter has yet to really arrive, it was still over a foot deep and we cannot wait for the next snowy couple of months, even at -20 degrees Celsius at its worst.  Forecast says end of November for more snow…brrrrr

Over and out!

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Theft in Malaysia

Last night at about 8pm we were the victims of a bag snatch by a moped rider on the street… On the off chance that anyone has contacts or lives in Malacca/Melaka, please put the word out for people to be on the lookout for a very distinctive notepad computer – it’s an Acer One Aspire Happy, white base with lilac purple lid.  It’s a couple of years old so it’s not state of the art luckily and the little arsehole who took it, along with our HS20 EXR camera, may try and flog it for drug money. It’s a long shot, but someone out there may see it, and there may be a cat in hells chance that we can get back the photographs from our 5 months of travel so far, which were all on the laptop. We don’t hold out much hope as we know in reality that the laptop, camera and our pictures are long gone into the void… Any help would be appreciated.

Thoughts of food?…food for thought, we thought!

During our stays in Greece, Cambodia and Thailand we partook of some amazingly tasty food…and we love food, especially when it’s full of flavours, and usually chilli 😉

When we started recently to discuss the different tastes and styles of dishes in different countries and what we most enjoyed in each place, we realised that when you travel for the first time to a location, more than likely you have no idea what the local dishes will be, how to order the right combination of things, or even know the traditional way in which they are eaten – not wishing to offend anyone by eating with your fingers, or by eating from the wrong dishes.

You also don’t really know if the things you can eat (hubby!) will be able to be found there…like cheese…or even beef.

Food is food though…isn’t it?

Not really…

Oh, and the pictures are all taken from the web in this post – I am really bad at remembering to take pictures of our meals until after they are all gone, which isn’t much good…when they arrive and look/smell so good, we just dig in! lol

We have made some minor errors when ordering food along our limited travels so far – either by not knowing what things were served with and ordering too little; ordering too much food because it came with things which weren’t listed (but being pleasantly surprised and eating it all with gusto anyway!); doing things by trial and error by having absolutely no idea what things meant on a menu with no English translation at all and the fact we had left our dictionary in the tent/hotel!; or just not knowing what different cultures usually eat with what, and sometimes even what bowls or plates to eat it from!

Astoundingly, we haven’t had any major mishaps where we couldn’t eat what arrived in front of us.  It has made us think about finding out more about the menu before we arrive though, so that we know some words and meanings in order to know what to order, at least! 😉

In Greece it amounted to just knowing the difference between the different types of dishes like:

Kleftiko (usually Lamb, slow-cooked in the oven with vegetables, herbs and garlic to make it mouth-wateringly tender so it melts with every bite and the veg are infused with all the flavours of the meaty juice and herbs) – can be served in a clay pot or on a plate;

Youvetsi (again usually Lamb, with tomato sauce, pasta and cheese baked and – more than likely – traditionally served in a clay pot) – picture courtesy of www.panoskleftiko.com;

Stifado (beef or lamb stew with tomatoes and shallots traditionally cooked/served in a clay pot) – most of the time! – photo courtesy of www.yelp.com ;

You can see by the pictures why you may be forgiven for not really knowing the difference of these staple dishes just by sight, but the individual tastes of these dishes means that they cannot be muddled once you try them – they are all delicious and if cooked correctly means that the meat falls apart with just the lightest touch of your fork and veritably melts in the mouth (meaning that it has to be savoured to be fully appreciated, and Greek meals should never be rushed – it is a social event rather than just food), but depending where you go for your delightful experience of Greek cuisine also depends on how it gets served – some places will serve the dish alone, others will serve with chips, and yet others with rice, vegetables or salad.  You just never know unless it’s stated on the menu – which most are not – picture courtesy of www.thumbs.ifood.tv

Usually Greek meals are started off by a basket of fresh bread, which is irresistibly good (and will leave you the size of a house by the end of a normal holiday, and does explain why most Greeks are a little large around the middle as they get older; the bread and cakes in Greece are amazing!) and they will happily have tzatziki, hummus, tirokafteri (spicy cheese), feta-stuffed green peppers, saganaki (fried cheese), zucchini and greek salad as starter or side dishes to pick at and which will be kept on the table throughout the whole meal to accompany the main dishes too.  It’s a feast to the tastebuds, and if you eat like the Greeks your tastebuds will love you (and your bed will groan with the strain, but it’s well worth it).

picture courtesy of http://www.emiliosgreekrestaurant.co.uk

Oh, and the other thing worth having in Greece is the Souvlaki – this could be served in a pitta bread pocket with salad and tzatziki, or it could be served on a plate with the meat (lamb, pork or chicken), tzatziki and bread all arranged for you to assemble yourself or eat bit by bit off the plate (picture courtesy of www.chezus.com) – both are equally as good, and very filling.

Lots of places serve the meat on skewers, and accompanied by pitta, and/or chips and a wedge of lime or lemon – picture courtesy of www.us.123rf.com  Not all restaurants will serve this one with the tzatziki, it’s trial and error on that one, so it may have to be ordered separately as it just doesn’t feel complete without it!

All versions are delicious…unless of course, you just pick a really crap eatery! Shit happens. (but we didn’t do that, luckily)

You may wonder why we mention about how it’s served and with what – in the UK most restaurants note on the menu what each dish is served with, and you get used to knowing that certain things are served together – a bit like fish ‘n’ chips being a traditional British food…you can pretty much know that you will get chips with your fish as standard, but the other bits like salad, mushy peas, or a wedge of lemon are listed under ‘served with…’

You don’t tend to see this as standard on the menus in other countries – the restaurant may only list one dish ‘served with…’ something, and the rest is just listing the dish name and a description like ‘beef with vegetables in sauce’…Is that a beef stew?; a steak with boiled veg and peppercorn sauce?; or maybe a beef and vegetable curry?

If the servers don’t speak your language and you can only speak a basic few of theirs, it’s hard to find out what comes with it – does that have chips, rice, salad, bread?…nothing?

It makes for interesting orders and looks of surprise or puzzled frowns when it arrives on the table, but it all adds to the spice of travel, so to speak…

Cambodia – the Khmer food is quite tasty but has more of an array of fragrance and flavour combined in one dish than just sticking with a main ingredient as such.

Lok Lak is their main renowned dish…traditionally – marinated beef, usually on a bed of salad, with a bowl of spicy dipping sauce (lime juice, sea salt and black Kampot pepper), rice, and a fried egg.  Some places serve this with the beef already very spicy whilst others let the dipping sauce be added to your own taste so the beef could be quite bland without it.  Again, it depends who is serving it as to how you get it.

Some places will serve with the egg and others miss the egg off completely (if like hubby, you love eggs and have dietary limitations, this is kind of important and sometimes disappointing); some will only serve the beef on the salad, or on the rice, without anything else.  Some will serve with chips.  Picture courtesy of www.joelandbarbara.smugmug.com

The Kampot pepper mentioned above comes in 3 varieties – red, green or black.  It is a regional peppercorn and the taste is quite strong but very nice – if served ground or a few whole peppercorns in a recipe.  On some dishes which list ‘green pepper’ as an ingredient, you will find it is usually Kampot peppercorns rather than the vegetable which would be called ‘green pepper’ in the west, and the Kampot can be served as whole strings of peppercorns rather than single corns like you would get in a ‘peppercorn sauce’ in the West.   It can be an acquired taste and a little overpowering, especially when it’s crunchy strings of peppercorns, served with chicken or pork in a sauce, or with crab like the picture below, courtesy of Wikipedia.

I ordered a stir-fried Chicken and Green Pepper dish and was surprised to see copious amounts of little stringed small green peas (like in the above picture) instead of the crisp almost slightly bitter-sweet vegetable which I thought I had ordered.  Live and learn 🙂

Amok Trey (above, courtesy of Wikipedia) is another main popular dish in Cambodia which is steamed curried fish, apparently soaked in coconut milk – a favourite amongst tourists apparently.

It isn’t something we tried as we are a little bit intolerant of food with possible bones in – if we don’t know it’s bone-free we avoid it like the plague, as we both hate picking at our food in such a way to get the bones out that your food is cold by the time you have sifted through it!

To be honest, most fish just tastes…well, too fishy – if you love fish, then you just won’t get what we mean.

The bone thing was also something we came to realise with meat too – in Asia, chicken is usually on the bone, which you kind of expect when it’s drumsticks, wings, or thighs, but it’s even on the bone in curries or stews, as they tend to just chop the meat up with a huge cleaver and throw it all in – pork or beef is a safer option if you don’t like spitting bits of bone out.

Beef also seemed to be much less of an option in Thailand than in Cambodia.  Pork and chicken were popular, as were prawns and catfish – which was kind of sad for us, as we used to enjoy throwing fish food to the catfish in the parks and temple lakes, as do many Thai’s and other tourists, watching their cute little whiskered faces and beady eyes as they came to the surface – gulp! Were we just fattening the proverbial cow?!!!

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We put that thought away quite quickly and just hoped we never saw a ‘face’ we recognised on a table next to us… 😉

One of the most popular dishes in Thailand is Pad Thai.  Now, when we arrived in the country and were forced to endure dubious company occasionally (you know, when you think you picked a quiet spot and someone sits down right next to you when they could have any table in an empty room, is too clueless to pick up on body language, and then starts a conversation?), we got told about this dish and where to go for ‘the best …ever!’…but not actually being told what the hell it consisted of.  Did any of the backpackers actually know? Was it just trendy to eat this particular Thai dish?! And how do they know it’s the ‘best ever’…have they tried it in every region of the country in order to make that decision?!

We googled it…because trying to ask Thai people what a dish has in it is quite hard.  (They also don’t seem to understand why you don’t want rice/noodles with a dish either and seem to think you are mistaken in your request and give it to you anyway!  Ok for me, but not ok when Rich can’t eat rice, potatoes or pasta/noodles because he gets quite ill. )

So Pad Thai – rice noodles with garlic, fish sauce, tamarind, chilli, lime, prawn, shallots, palm sugar, and a few other bits, often served with beansprouts and spring onion/chives on the side. (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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Thailand is nicknamed ‘Land of Smiles’ but I think LOS should stand for ‘Land of Spice’ as their spices here are amazing, and the best quality for very little cost.   Their street food is cheap – 35-50 baht, which is less than a pound for a meal at the current exchange rate of 52 baht per £1.   This is cheaper than trying to buy your own ingredients to cook at home, which is why most Thais eat out or get takeaway from the street stalls and don’t have kitchens in their homes.  By ‘street food’ we don’t mean the typical backpacker meal of a banana and nutella Roti – tasty but hardly nutritious! – we mean a proper meal of meat, veg, and rice or noodles.  Yes, you can actually get a proper meal for less than £1.

All in all, the food in Thailand is some of the tastiest we have sampled so far even with a lack of beef for Rich.  We did find one place who understood his other need for eggs (“Ahhh, strong, strong!”) and kindly made him fried eggs each time we visited – “same same” 😉

This is one picture I did manage to take from the lovely restaurant where they made his eggs, and my gorgeously-tasty chilli minced pork, with rice and soup!  Their iced Thai coffee was also stupidly good…

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And this is one from a Barbeque restaurant after we had demolished our food there…

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The Barbeque option was 149 baht per person, which is just under £3 each…and you get to pick your own meat, vegetables, salad, dessert etc for that measly sum, and you fry the meat to your own tastes on the clay barbeque pot that is placed on your table.  The other lidded pot has boiling water for vegetables, so again, you cook what you want to your own preferences.   it is such good value, and the meat/veg is excellent quality.

This is the view of the bar where you select your food before taking it to your table to gorge senselessly…

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These Barbeque restaurants were so popular with the locals that if you go too late in the day (early evening!) you actually have queues of people sitting outside on their scooters by the kerb, waiting for a free table.

The locals love their food as much as we do…

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My personal favourite in Thailand though is Kang Ped – Red Thai curry – although strangely in Chiang Mai not many places serve it unless you want to pay Western prices in a posh restaurant.  It is quite strong on the chilli, and should make your eyes water and your mouth tingle quite nicely.

We found it for a good price near Chiang Mai gate, in the old city, at a tiny place called The Funky Monkey.  Sadly this is near a backpacker haven of hostels and cheap eateries, so we only went here when it was quiet…otherwise there are hoards of rude Westerners to contend with, and we can’t be doing with that.

Another good meal is Kao Pad – Thai fried rice with vegetables, and your choice of meat or prawns.  This is a very popular and cheap street meal…(photo courtesy of www.food.com)

It usually comes without any chilli etc, so if you eat at the stalls, they can be added at the table, or if you have it to takeaway they give you the chilli in a little bag to add to your taste.   Delicious!

If you are vegetarian, options can be found at various restaurants catering just for vegetarians.  Street food can be more problematic if you are strict about the oil used etc, as everything is cooked in the same wok too, rinsed out between each dish.  (just standing watching them cook is fascinating, as they do it with such speed and skill)

Of course, there is one place we found if you think you could be turned…

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And pork rind is apparently incredibly popular as a snack…whole stalls selling nothing but!

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All in all, hubby would prefer Cambodian food because of the amount of beef there, and I would say Thailand for me because of the spices.  ‘Value-wise’, Thailand can’t be beaten for street food, and ‘overall taste’ has to be Thailand for us both too.

The other thing which we have both noted, now that we have moved on to Malaysia, is customer service.  Greece and Thailand is hands-down the best so far, and Malaysia is another story yet to come…

Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

We wanted to share some pictures from a day out where we just couldn’t resist being a little bit silly…(as usual)…

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Taken at Chiang Mai Royal Flora Rajapruek, which we visited when we hired a 200cc bike for a week.

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This place was opened in 2010 by the King of Thailand and serves as an educational and horticultural/agricultural centre.  They have a special exhibition on until February in honour of the King’s Birthday which was 5th December 2013, so we thought we would check it out, because we love just wandering about with the camera, and it had to be a heck of a lot more relaxing than mixing in the city with tons of Westerners!

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The Orchid garden is amazing….so beautiful and colourful and this is where we took these pictures, by the indoor waterfall wall.

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There are little bridges…

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and quirky ornaments dotted in between…

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They have a bug house, where you can have a look at tarantulas…

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beetles…

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and…Is it a leaf?

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Nope, it’s a butterfly…(both of the above were!)

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The bug house is easily located by the presence of giant bugs outside!  They’re vicious though…

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They were no match for Rich with his Special Forces training…

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But I think this one got the better of me…

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Watch out for the red ant…

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They have lots of exhibitions here year round, like the traditional Thai houses which are so simple in construction (wood, on stilts) but so ornate with the carving and built-in seating.

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We would like this to be our next house…

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They also have the Royal Pavilion…very majestic, (and not very likely to be our next-next house ;-)).

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The surroundings gardens to the pavilion…

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Also very beautiful when lit up at night (we stayed most of the day here and were nearly the last ones out – the beauty of this place is not just in the gardens, buildings and displays, it is in the fact that there are very few Western tourists here and you can wander about to your hearts content, just smiling with the locals and some Asian tourists)…

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(In the background of this evening shot, up on the hill is Doi Suthep, which is one of the most important temples to the Buddhist Monks in Chiang Mai.)

The Royal Flora a huge place, very peaceful, (unless you are up by the main building where the music plays) and they do have buses to take you around if you don’t want to walk (or are unable to), but we walked everywhere as we usually do and we took breaks at strategic areas…

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There are coffee places, food and fruit stalls etc here, and they are pretty much priced the same as the street food (35/40 baht – roughly 70/80 pence), which surprised us – coming from the UK where you pay extortionately inflated prices to have food at any tourist attraction, this was a welcome change.  (and the entrance fee here was only 100 baht each – roughly £2 – there is no way you would ever gain entry to somewhere of this size and standard in the UK for less than £15 each)

Some of the locals were small but friendly…

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And some of the structures, Rich just wasn’t happy with and tried to demolish…

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They also have exhibitions for limited times in the main building.  These were tableaus made entirely of seeds, grains, vegetables/fruits, and plants.

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Whoever made these with grains was a fantastic artist and I love this type of creativity…(it’s the King in the picture, for those who have no clue what he looks like – but if you have visited Thailand you will know his picture is everywhere)

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They also had a display of multi-coloured-twine musical instruments and notes in one of the garden areas…

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We shall leave you with our piss-take of a pretentious backpacker’s ‘Facebook profile picture’…everywhere we go they seem to update FB every 5 seconds with a new picture of where they are!

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Angkor Wat, Cambodia

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On 09-10-13 we took a visit to one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Unesco site of Angkor Wat and other related temples.

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To say it is awe-inspiring is too simple – the magnificence and scale of these buildings and the complex as a whole is just not descriptive or complete enough.

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They have survived wars and nature to still be standing now, and restoration is taking place on them to try and get them back to some kind of former glory, but the buildings that are still more or less complete are a testament to the building skills all those years ago – much like the Egyptians building the Pyramids, or the Aztec and Mayan Temples.

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Angkor Wat is the most famous of them all with its skyline pictures of spectacular towers rising 65m.  Below is only one level…you have to climb up another in order to get to this section.

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The scale of the temple complex is huge – 400 square kms.  we only visited the main 3 along with a couple of smaller ones next to them, and this took a whole day from 6.30am.  (but we do tend to savour the places we visit and take lots of pictures)

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The moats are massive…

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The carvings are intricate…

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and descriptive…they have entire stories of battles depicted down huge corridors…

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The monkeys are aloof lol and they wander around eating all the packed-lunches discarded by disrespectful tourists who can’t seem to use the many bins provided and leave the polystyrene containers provided by the hotels strewn on the ground – 1 of the 7 wonders of the world, people!  grrrr

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The proper stone steps are high, slippery, uneven and very steep!

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On many of the temple buildings you won’t find any safety rails so you have to use common sense and be careful – they are slippery, steep, and very uneven and sometimes wobbly.  Best to attempt these when you have nobody behind you.

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They have built wooden stairs on the main buildings to enable people to climb more safely into some of the temples and these obviously have to be steep too, but it isn’t conducive to people who are scared of heights (ie. ME) – I wasn’t coming all this way to not get up there though, so I braved them.

Fat Russians really ought to learn patience, and the art of an orderly queue! – pushing past other people on steep flights of precarious, wobbly, wooden steps just to get up there first, is really not the way to go.  It could potentially be very dangerous, if not fatal, if they make someone over-balance due to their stupidity, impatience, rudeness and arrogance.

Yes, this happened to me (and the poor woman ahead of me) on the 2nd level of the Angkor Wat main temple, below (I was practically at the top of these wooden steps),  and if I could have removed my petrified hand from the rail, I would have punched the 2 of them for behaving so selfishly and dangerously.  The temple has been there long enough, it’s not going to go anywhere in 2 mins more.

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The only temple which got the better of me was the Temple of Shiva, where the steps on the 2nd level were just too steep and too flexible – I got up 5 steps and had to back-track when they moved and I saw that the double hand rail disappeared a little way further up.  One rail and very small steps isn’t good for balancing when you already feel dizzy!!!

As you will also see from the picture below of the first level of the Temple of Shiva, their safety measures here are brilliant.  On the left you will see a fence panel – free standing, no less – and on the right a lovely common sense sign, also free standing.  Just the thing to keep you safe from any fat Russians pushing past you with no regard for where you are.

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On a random note – They have elephants to take you up the hill to one of the other temples here, which you pay an extra $20 for.  The elephants are beautiful – we passed by very close in the tuk-tuk, and their eyes are so expressive and gentle.

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This is the one of the views as you drive between the different temples…

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We also got our first glimpse of something highly dangerous whilst here – the scorpion!  This was as we walked between temples on one of the walkways.  It’s a little blurred due to trying to get a shot from a distance past the other tourists who were stupidly trying to get as close to it as possible to have their head in a photo with it, until having to be repeatedly told to ‘stand back, move away’ by the guide as they were within striking distance!  (subtext: Do you really not know that scorpions can kill you, stupid Westerner?)

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Ta Prohm is the temple below which has been hugely publicised and promoted because of the filming of ‘Tomb Raider’ there, with Angelina Jolie.  (There is also a restaurant in Siem Reap which everyone was taking pictures of – we wondered why and researched it – apparently it’s where AJ ‘hung out’ while she was filming – Don’t understand the celebrity obsession where people have to go where they went?!)

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There are huge trees growing out and over the stones here, reclaiming the temples back to the jungle, and they are impressive and beautiful.  Sadly, they have built a platform up to the tree which is featured in the film, so that people can pose for pictures there.  Facebook, anyone???  (And people actually queue here to do this!!!)  ‘Sheep’ springs to mind.

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If one thing needs to be said about the place, it is that the vendors need to be kept out of the temples themselves and confined to the outside areas.  You will be constantly hassled to buy things whilst trying to walk the corridors of some temple ruins, and find stalls actually set up within some of them; and vendors sitting in the walkways with goods displayed on the stones with children who walk with you, thrusting goods at you, as you try to escape. You will also find dancers in traditional costume inside the main, supposedly sacred, temple, who won’t let you take a picture unless you pay the guy in charge, who will then take your camera off you and take the picture for you…what a cheek!  (we sneaked this one from above)

We don’t object to people making money, but do it outside the temples, and if you are charging for a picture, let the owner of the camera take it themselves – some people have very expensive cameras that they don’t want others messing about with.  (not me, by the way…mine doesn’t have a lens the size of a small country – yes, I have lens envy! lol)

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They also need to be stopped from ‘dressing’ the statues in the temples and then offering incense to tourists for them to bless the statues in return for ‘donations’ to the monks – it is all a scam and has nothing to do with the monks – the money goes in the pocket of the enterprising Cambodian who buys the incense, offers it to you, and stands there asking for the donations.

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They ruin what should be a quiet atmosphere, as do the other tourists who are there just to say they have been and post countless pretentious pictures on Facebook while they are actually there – the number of people wandering around this complex with I-phones and I-pads instead of normal cameras is staggering, as were the amount who were taking a picture and immediately updating Facebook.  (yes, in passing we peaked discreetly over their shoulders, just to check)

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There seem to be very few genuinely interested people who savour the architecture, the jungle sounds around them (yep, there are some if you stand somewhere relatively quiet for a moment), the presence of the temple itself in the vast swampy land with its connecting stone walkways raised above the water.

‘Speed tourism’ is what we nicknamed it, as they just zoom around, pushing past other people in order to get where you are heading, so they can say they got there first and updated their Facebook with a new picture from what it was 2 seconds before.

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A one day pass for the main complex is $20 although you can spend $40 for 3 days, or $60 for 7 days.

According to the locals, the fee is just set by a business man who paid the government for the privilege of charging people an entry fee.  He sets whatever charge he wants, and has nothing more to do with it.  Unesco are the ones who are renovating the site along with countries like India paying for the work on a certain temple, and another country paying for a different temple etc.  Basic maintenance is done voluntarily by farmers who then sell or use the grass they cut.   It seems nobody governs the vendors and scammers here, and the locals object to there being an entrance fee at all, as they believe it should be free.

For us, one day of dealing with all those obnoxious tourists and pushy vendors was enough.  (We didn’t even venture towards the area below…)

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It is also very very tiring to walk around in that kind of heat and humidity – it’s mid 30′s but feels much hotter, and you need plenty of water with you – which weighs heavy!  Some people hire bicycles from town to go around themselves, and this could be a good way of doing it, but be prepared for long distances between the different areas – there are 400 square miles after all, and the different temples are not exactly close together.  Yok, our tuk tuk driver for the day took us to the main 3 temples, waited for us in between, and gave us a little history about them.  It cost $25 for his services, and the driver has to wait for hours while you walk everywhere on each site.

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To be honest, whilst this is a beautiful place to visit, the amount of tourists and vendors spoils it, and if you were coming out here to Cambodia to visit the Temples specifically – and I mean with a genuine interest, instead of just to brag to other travellers that you have been – it just wouldn’t be worth the money for the flights – see our other post about Siem Reap here.  If you really want to experience culture and atmosphere, this will seriously miss the mark unless you can visit at 5am when they open (for those who want to see sunrise at the temples) and barely anyone else is there (for about 2 hours anyway).

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Of course, if you’re pretentious and arrogant and just want to update facebook every 2 mins with a different picture of you posed in a doorway or window, then you’ll fit right in with everyone else.  Thanks go to the two Ukrainian women who rudely ushered me backwards out of the way with lots of ‘tsks’ and hand gesturing, when we rounded a corner and one of them was posing in the walkway for the other to take the picture.

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We saw these women constantly doing this – rushing from one side to another in order to get a pretentious shot of one of them peeking round a pillar, or sat on a step…get over yourselves – you are not the only ones visiting this site and paying a lot of money to do so!!!

Try looking at the temple itself instead of updating the internet with your new profile picture of the day.

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Oh and people doing yoga poses for pictures too…yes, you can stretch like a little rubber band…now ‘ping off’ out of the way of people who want to genuinely explore the place and don’t want to wait for 10 minutes while you try out which pose looks the most impressive.

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We did a little experiment while we were here because the amount of Korean, Chinese and Japanese is staggering, along with Eastern Blockers.

Experiment:  Stand anywhere random when these people are nearby.

Look up, down, or into the distance, and point at nothing whilst talking avidly to your husband/wife/dog.

Pick your camera up to take a picture of nothing, and point again for good measure before raising the camera.

Wait 5 seconds…

You are guaranteed to have about 10 people crowd into what little personal space you may have around you, in order to be first to take the picture of the nothing you were staring and pointing at.  Because they have to be first…they have to get in your way…you are invisible.

Their rudeness and disrespect for others is astonishing – as you can see from the walkway below, it’s pretty wide and with water both sides (this crosses the moat)…and this picture was taken when it was relatively quiet at around 7am…

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Unfortunately the coach parties (which come from about 8am, and then all day) of these ignorant people fill this walkway from side to side, and they will not move aside even when you are on the edge.  We nearly got pushed off the side on this very walkway because they wouldn’t move into single file in order to let others walk.  (We were on the rough side coming out, so it’s not exactly good footing)

They are like this inside the temples too…completely filling and blocking narrow corridors, so you have to push through because they ignore your requests to ‘excuse me please’ – lost in translation or not because they don’t understand English (and I’m sorry, most of them do but choose not to) body language is pretty obvious – Get the hell out of the way, you arrogant arsehole!  And their tour guides with their megaphones and microphones…too loud, in what should be a quiet and contemplative atmosphere in the midst of jungle!

The place is totally lost on people like that.  The following temple carving is dedicated to them…

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Siem Reap, Cambodia

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NB – the pictures being used as illustrations in this post are mostly just taken at varied times around Siem Reap and Angkor Wat during a 2 week period – we didn’t take the camera into town because of theft issues we had been warned about, and it didn’t come out in the rain either.  Of which there was rather a lot! 😉 …so pictures are random, apart from Yok and the kitten.

After a long day and night of flights, airports and other travellers, (and about 3 weeks of not being able to organise it due to stupid travel companies) we finally got to Siem Reap – at this initial point I would like to extol and gush about A) what a smooth seamless landing the Qantas pilot made into Bangkok and how everybody on the ‘plane cheered because you didn’t even feel a slight bump! Never had that before…and probably never will again unless that same pilot is tracked down and kidnapped to do every single flight we ever take 😉

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Also, B) how lovely the Thai staff are at the very-purple and posh Bangkok airport…in my ill and tired state I managed to accidentally throw away the little stub with our baggage barcode on it into an astonishing clean bin in one of the vast pristine labyrinthine corridors (or maybe they just seemed that way with my dizziness), and we had to wait for about 5 minutes at the transfer counter while they rang someone to find out about our hold luggage.  (It seems like so much longer when you’re embarrassed about your own stupidity and with a husband slightly less impressed with you than 5 minutes earlier.)  They couldn’t have been more lovely to the ‘stupid farang’ and quickly got us sorted out so that we could wander about and wait for our transfer flight to Siem Reap. (or in my case spend a bit of that time in the toilet)

Oh and if you do the 3-flight thing, you get to eat 3 meals…some better than others!  Perhaps how I got queasy and sick?! Ugh.

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Anyway, once in Siem Reap we made our way out of baggage claim to find out if our arranged lift to the hotel was there or not.

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A lovely smiling face was looking expectantly over the top of a name board as we came out, and we waved at him in greeting.  Yok, as we came to be told, was one of the tuk tuk drivers employed by the hotel, which I won’t name because it and the Western owners are crap.

We picked this hotel as a bit of a luxury for ourselves, because we didn’t have a honeymoon when we got married in December 2011 as our respective workplaces wouldn’t grant time off! (it was hard enough getting the day off to get married! – thanks to companies who care more about statistics than people)  So we thought, what the hell, let’s splurge a little – we have been in a tent for the last 3 months, and pretty frazzled before that with quitting our jobs and getting rid of all our stuff in order to leave the UK once and for all!  It looked good on the website, sounded lovely and we wanted a little bit of niceness after all the stress….uh oh…this is us we are talking about and we seem to have the uncanny knack of things going horribly wrong…

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Yok informed us as he led us to the transport that the rainy season here had been particularly bad recently, was meant to be over now, but had caused major flooding all across Cambodia – he apologised in advance for the road conditions.  It was indeed raining at that moment, and as we got on our way to the hotel, we could see what he meant!  The roads were invisible…indeed everything around us blended into one huge lake.   Anyone for a spot of sailing??  A waterproof poncho tied to a length of bamboo attached to the tuk tuk and away you go.

The main roads here are tarmac, but once you get off towards the outer edge of town, they are just dirt roads…and full of massive holes.  Yok valiantly kept the tuk tuk upright (the tuk tuks here are derived of a scooter or motorbike with a cab attached to the back seat or grab rail, so they move independently.) despite the sliding of the scooter and the cab in different directions whilst trying to negotiate his way through the flooding and the huge holes.  Several times we almost went off the side of the track in a mud slide but, fair play, he knows how to ride!  (put my 1200cc Vmax in the same position and it would have been toast at the first slide 😉 )

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The hotel itself is set up with a circular courtyard at the front, a main entrance building, the guest rooms in 2 walkways off the back of this separated by a fish pond with bridges over it, and the restaurant/bar area with the swimming pool is off to one side accessed by another walkway from the front of the main building.

Let’s just say the fish were in the walkways and the circular courtyard, and not in the pond!  The main areas are all raised by several steps, and therefore the floods couldn’t infiltrate the rooms, but to get back and forth between most areas you had to wade almost knee-deep.   So much for us picking a hotel off to one side of the main town, as it would be less touristy! lol

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To be honest, we didn’t mind the flooding.  It was the end of the rainy season, they had had it pretty bad, and you can’t do anything about it so you make the best of it.  However, it would have been nice if the hotel was actually the 3-star standard it was meant to be.  There were leaks in the bathroom ceiling which dripped on your neck when you cleaned your teeth, one of the lampshades next to the bed was held together by clear tape, and there were huge cockroaches running about the bedroom area and the bathroom!  (We found the hole where they came from and plugged it up with cardboard after killing 3 of them and luckily didn’t see any more!)

In the first few days it was hard to really do much as the rain was torrential and everything kind of stopped while people took shelter, so we just had a wander around town to see what was there whilst dodging water.

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The town itself has a main square area around the Old market, Night market, and Pub Street.  Westerners frequent all of these areas in huge numbers, especially Pub Street (you can’t miss the signs strung across either end of the street and lit up at night), where you can eat (at inflated prices), drink, and pick up girls – whether those girls are ‘free’ easy Westerners looking for a holiday fling or ‘bought’ local Bar Girls is your choice – you can take your pick on Nationality here!  It seems, from what we were told, that upstairs in the bars here (usually where the pool tables and the Karaoke are) the local girls will make a play for Westerners, spend all evening with them in the bar and go back to their hotels with them later on, only to land them with a hefty bill for the night when they wake next morning.  Beware if you think your charm is working, it’s just your wallet that talks!

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Pub Street is our idea of hell on earth, so we tried to skirt around it whenever we ventured into town.  Oh and we also realised that most people don’t seem to know that a karaoke bar is a front for prostitution; watch out if you’re a bit of a karaoke fiend back in your own country during a night on the town with your mates and few beers.  It’s not about the singing here folks, so nobody will care if you sound just like Elvis, it will be more about the hip action! 😉

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Tuk tuk drivers are pushy – at every moment you will hear shouts of ‘tuk tuk sir?’ or ‘where you go?’, ‘I take you tomorrow to temple’, ‘why you walk?’…it gets boring, tiring, and we can understand why people wear the tuk tuk t-shirts (which say ‘no tuk tuk, today or tomorrow’) We don’t like to be rude and ignore people so we will answer many with ‘no thank you’ but equally when you have 10 people shouting at you with the same thing, one loud ‘no thanks’ and a shake of your head goes for all of them, as you hurriedly walk past.  Don’t expect a simple ‘no’ to work either – you can expect all of the above phrases to be thrown at you by one person who is still touting for your business after you said no – and then expect it from the next…and the next…

Oh…walking…Cambodians don’t walk.  Which is why they find it strange that (some) Westerners do, and will frequently ask ‘why you walk?’.  They find it hard to believe that you would choose to walk from one end of the main street to the other, or from the other side of the river to the markets.   They have scooters, pick-ups, or bicycles.  Or tuk tuks – millions of them.

The markets – Old and Night – are very commercial, you will find the same badly-made tourist tat on every stall for varying different prices (usually with tiny labels stating ‘made in Vietnam/Thailand’ and most with no prices displayed so they can ask what they like) and they expect you to haggle for a bargain which gets very tiring – so does the fact that every vendor shouts at you for trade and you can’t just look without being hassled.  However, the colours are eye-catching, so you could be mesmerised by all the different hues as you wander about and be forgiven for being in a daze when people shout for trade.

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The best stall market we found was across the river at the Art Center.  It has better prices, better quality, less pushy vendors, and a more relaxed feel to it.  If you want to know roughly what things are worth, go to the big shopping malls or the supermarkets – if you can get a t-shirt there for $3 then you should be paying less at the market!  The art center market has offers of 3 t-shirts for $5 and they still expect you to haggle with them, so you do get a much better deal here than the other markets and it will be a better quality cotton/dye too.

If you do visit the markets when it rains though, make sure you are prepared to walk about under lots of tarpaulins badly strung between stalls and letting lots of water come in torrents towards your head 😉 (which is fine if you have a good poncho!)  The tarp rooves are about as well-made as the local bamboo scaffolding…

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As for food, some of the little cafes around the edge of the Old Market are pretty good – they don’t look wonderfully clean, but the locals eat there, the food is fresh and good, mostly cheaper price, and we didn’t get ill from these at all.  We also found a good little bar/restaurant just off to one side of this market area, on one of the main roads, that had lovely staff and cheap tasty food.  It also has a reputable massage place next door so you can have a lovely foot massage and then go eat! 😉

Don’t ask us the name, as we can’t remember – there is a hand written white board outside the restaurant which looks cheap and nasty listing a lot of their dishes/drinks, but the place itself is really not – it’s worth settling into the wicker chairs at the front to people watch and have very tasty eats.  (The chilli beef is wonderful, as is the Cambodian curry, and the Lok Lak)  If you can locate a restaurant on the end of one of the market roads which has lots of birdcages hung around the outside eating area, it’s on the other side of the main road to that – but Shhh, don’t tell everyone you found it!

Oh and The Blue Pumpkin has the best ice cream…the 4-spice is amazing, as are the other offerings here.  You will find 3 or 4 of these Blue Pumpkin shops around the area, but if you want an experience, the largest of them has a seating area upstairs where you recline with your shoes off and your legs up, and have a table next to you on the sofa lounger-type seating.  Very decadent, but you will pay Western prices in these shops, so don’t expect a bargain.  We went here a couple of times as a treat because it just didn’t fit into our budget.

In fact what we found was that considering there is no real infrastructure in this country, the prices are extortionate to what they should be.  Yes, it’s cheaper than some other places, but it’s actually more expensive than you think.  We were surprised by how much things actually were costing considering what we had researched and been told.  We thought we would easily survive on our monthly budget, but it proved impossible unless you only buy from street vendors for food, and to be honest we don’t want to eat bugs, rat, or spider for every meal, or have to survive on banana and chocolate pancakes, nice as they are.

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One of the locals had a lovely conversation with us one day about the country, politics, his family, work etc.  He explained that their average wage here is $75 per month.  He worked in our hotel full time and also studied, which he paid $20 per month for, and he lived in the free hotel accommodation because he couldn’t afford to rent anything on that wage.  After running costs on a scooter to get around (including fuel) and his study fees, he lived on $1.25 per day.  This was for all his food if he didn’t eat at the hotel, and any other costs like clothing.  When we asked him what most people do for somewhere to live, he explained that most people live on one plot with several generations sharing one house, or if they have better jobs, they may build an extension or another small house on the plot, but this is the only way they afford it unless they have excellent English skills and work for Western companies who pay Western wages.

This would really highlight the disparity between what the locals pay for things and what they get foreigners to pay…most Westerners say that they cannot survive in Cambodia on less than $1000-1500 per month.  Go figure…our $650 per month should have paid for a lot in local terms but in Western terms, its half of what you need.

We can just imagine what would happen if the Western world suddenly brought in foreigner and local prices!

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So…during those initial days of rain and more rain, when not out in the flooded town, we stayed at the hotel – there isn’t much to do there but we had our travel games, the pool table and our laptop.  We also ended up with a beautiful rescue kitten…much like we did in Kefalonia with Pretty, only she was much older than this little one!

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It was found by the staff snuggled behind a water cooler after some really heavy rain, and they put it on a towel in a deep-sided basket with a saucer of cold milk on the floor outside the basket.  This was the Western owners doing…and as a Westerner we would have assumed he may have more common sense when it comes to animal care/welfare than Cambodians do.  They generally throw occasional scraps to their animals and leave them with open sores, fleas, mange etc until they either starve or die of other causes, including road accidents.   As a Westerner we assumed he would know more about caring for what essentially was a tiny baby who wasn’t old enough to have left its mother.  The kitten was so thin you could see and feel every rib and its eyes were infected, with a slightly bloody nose.  We guessed that however it got to the hotel during the rains may have caused the nose bleed.

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I have rescued kittens before so I knew the drill – body-warmth, clean him up, and lactose-free warm milk every couple of hours via a syringe – if we could get him to survive the night.  The owner was ‘surprised’ (actual statement from him was “Oh, really?!”) when I told him that the kitten couldn’t be left in the basket alone all night, with cold milk outside where he couldn’t even get to it, let alone be old enough to lap it up.  (his eyes were only just beyond opening)  We duly took the kitten off to our room, armed with a cup of normal milk, a bowl, a straw and a kettle, which is all we could get our hands on late at night.  We are pleased to report that he survived the night, being fed about every hour at that point, and by the end of the 2nd day he was treating both of us like ‘Mum’ and we had him in his place as ‘our little witten’.

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Rich had gone out the next morning and got a syringe and lactose-free milk, so over the next 4 days we fed him up, looked after him and generally got him fatter and fitter.  This meant we didn’t get out much, but it didn’t matter to us anyway because some things are more important than sightseeing.  At the end of these few days, the 20-something female assistant manager came back from some travels, and duly said how cute he was and that she was grateful to us for looking after him for them (as if they would have done anything other than leave him in a basket overnight)…they wanted to keep the kitten at the hotel and she would be happy to take over looking after him so we could enjoy our holiday instead…

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Let me just say, against our better judgement (having seen her self-important manner) we gave her full written instructions on how to care for him given his small status and the fact that he shouldn’t have been without mum at this point, and handed him over with the stuff we had bought out of our own pocket.  (We had also introduced him to a female cat at the hotel who had a young female kitten of her own so was already in milk, but she wasn’t being looked after properly or fed/watered enough so she was too weak to feed both all the time – we gave her proper food and put water down for her, and she was able to feed him during the days whilst we fed him at night.)

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Our reasoning for handing him over was that if arrogant manager-girl paid attention to our instructions, he could flourish and be fine, with a home at the hotel, whereas we couldn’t keep him – much as we wanted to.    To put it mildly, she ignored everything we wrote down for her and I could have cheerfully slapped her petulant face as she smugly walked in each morning holding a syringe full of cold milk and the kitten, putting him down when he lost interest in trying to lap milk from the end of it because she was too stupid to know that she actually had to push the plunger down while he fed and he couldn’t get enough out.  (muttering ‘Oh…really?!!’ when she was shown again at this point how to feed him with a syringe and told it had to be ‘warm’ milk) She checked and updated Facebook with cute pictures of ‘her rescue kitten’.  Selfish, arrogant and stupid (and as we found out, leaving to go back to Canada in 4 months time! What about ‘your’ kitten??)…Rocky, as he was christened by us because he was a fighter and he did a cute little flappy thing with his front paws, quickly lost condition – she abandoned the syringe and just left him to try and lap cold milk in a saucer, tried giving him solid food when he wasn’t yet weaned, didn’t wash his infected eyes with solution, or treat him like a cat would (which is how he learns) – and he was being left on high objects where he would frequently fall off and bang his head or jar his fragile limbs.

When we told her to treat him like a human baby in respect of feeding warm milk often with the syringe and not leaving him unattended on high objects in case he fell, we didn’t envision him being treated like a battered, neglected baby who was only good for ‘cuteness’ value and to make her seem like a good person on Facebook to all her false friends for ‘rescuing’ him.

We had to try and detach ourselves from her and her attitude or we would have battered her with a very large machete, but we did carry on looking after him when she left him in the restaurant all day/evening alone.  We always made sure he and the females were fed and ok before we went out, and we made sure they were fed when we came back, throughout the evening.   Sadly at night, manager-girl always whisked him off to her bedroom like he mattered to her, but really it was just her selfish ego telling her that she didn’t want us to have him in our room instead.  Better to admit you can’t do it, and let someone else do it who can, but alas she was too arrogant for that.

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Her attitude and stupid lack of common sense is all too common in what we saw of other Westerners in Siem Reap.  It seemed that arrogance and ego was very prevalent, common sense non-existent, and morals extremely questionable.

The Cambodians, in the main, were greedy for money, money, money.  Some were lovely and would happily talk to you, but most just were not interested unless you were spending.  And they want your cash in the markets so badly that if you ask a price, barter, and walk away because you know you are being hugely ripped off, they will actually grab hold of you and try and stop you leaving.

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Now, we understand that they have to make a living BUT foreigners that just give them whatever price they ask for just because it’s much cheaper than ‘back home’ are just perpetuating the problem.  The same as people who try and get the items for peanuts…they perpetuate it in the opposite way, but both get the same result – incredibly hiked up prices for foreigners because they either think you’re extremely rich, incredibly arrogant, (or both) and they want to sting you for as much as possible.

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Corruption is rife here anyway, and the fee for Angkor Wat is a prime example of that…to be covered in my next post…along with one of the nice places we found in the town, a lovely Wat.

To sum up Siem Reap, we wished we hadn’t bothered coming here because it is full of drunk Westerners we can’t get on with…

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…and corrupt Cambodians who just want your cash and hassle you on every turn.  It’s ok for a couple of days, no longer.  Our trip here turned into a kitten rescue and flood navigation…but the kitten was worth it!

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Backtracking to Athens, Greece

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Since we were really crap at posting whilst in Cambodia, I never got around to posting anything about our couple of days stop-over in Athens, when we left Kefalonia.  (Or indeed anything about Cambodia so far apart from the bit we wrote here)

So in addressing our lapse, I attempt to revisit Athens in a little trip down memory lane…

When we left Kefalonia, we took the bus via ferry across to Athens, and arrived at about 10pm in the capital.  This allowed us to get a good look at the area as we drove through it to our ‘2-nighter’ Hotel Pergamos, centrally located for all the attractions and easy access via the Metro for the airport.

We picked this hotel online, on a whim, as it was central to everything we wanted to see in the day and a half before we got a flight to Cambodia.  It had apparently just been renovated, each room was individually decorated, and had soundproofed windows.  This appealed as we all know just how noisy cities can be, and we needed a couple of nights sound sleep in a proper bed after camping for nearly 3 months!

Let’s just say that the reception staff were the nicest thing about this place – the rooms were smaller than you are led to believe (the bathroom door hits the toilet, and don’t attempt to walk around the bed at the same time if you are sharing with someone, as you will have to ‘Give Way’) and they don’t look like they have been ‘recently’ refurbished; breakfast is minimalist (bread and jam, cold ham, boiled eggs in a large basket (warm if you get up early enough), cereal, juice and coffee/tea (strong and stale)) – all served buffet style so you help yourself – oh and watched over by a very grumpy woman who doesn’t crack her face with the remotest expression of any sort, and begrudgingly topping things up as if it’s too much like hard work; the location is not suitable for a single female traveller, despite reports suggesting otherwise – dodgy-looking men sat around the streets at night, either on scooters or in doorways with no apparent purpose to their loitering apart from smoking and staring; and there are lots of hookers in this area touting their services!

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Actually, that last point may appeal to some, so if that’s what you’re looking for, hey, this is your place! 😉  (Please note – ATM’s are conveniently located at hooker hang-outs in this area, so you can find your girl and get your cash sorted in one hit – the hooker even stands right near the machine to check your balance over your shoulder and see if she can charge you more depending on your affluence.

Anyway, on to the better points about Athens, as I can’t think of anything else to say about the hotel other than we were glad to leave it at the end of our short stay…and it’s within walking distance of everything*.

*provided you are not one of these travellers who doesn’t like walking more than 100 yards before they need a taxi/tuk tuk/bus because ‘it’s much too far to walk!’ – Let me just say, we believe everything within about an hour’s radius is within walking distance unless you are elderly, infirm, or lazy.

Just a short walk (5-10 mins, dependent on your speed) from Hotel Purgatory, I mean Pergamos, you find the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.  (see here for visiting info)

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If you love history, this place is a must-visit.

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Full of statues, artefacts and exhibitions (what types of exhibitions are dependent on when you visit), this is a place that can be visited by any type of traveller, as it’s easy to get around the different areas within the building.

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You have to remember to scan the barcode on each ticket at the scan-post on entry to the different areas.  If you don’t know to do this, a loud beep will sound and you have to fumble about and get your ticket back out! (you only make this mistake once) 😉

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When we visited the Museum, THE ANTIKYTHERA SHIPWRECK ” exhibition was on, which was really haunting and fascinating.

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Combined with all the stuff that is there permanently, there is so much to see!  Take spare batteries, if you’re a photo nut like me.

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There is also a courtyard café on site, which is pricey but lovely and you can sit amongst the statues in the open air (and watch the tortoise wandering about) if you don’t want to nestle in the stylish indoor booths.

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We stretched to a coffee break here, but for lunch we decided to try the café directly across the road on the corner, (red and white colour scheme, can’t recall the name of it though) where they serve an awesome Chicken Club Sandwich, tasty Kebab, wonderful Frappes, and some of the best sweet pastries that we sampled in Greece – and at really cheap prices.  (We went back the next day too!)

We managed to spend over half the day at the Museum (your ticket allows you to go out and back in on the same day) and could easily have spent longer but we wanted to see the Acropolis that day too…which is about 20 minutes walk from the Museum.

Alas, but we dawdled too long in the past at the Museum, and also (as we walked) in viewing the underground excavations being preserved throughout the city (the ones called Kerameikos – I think – are the most extensive, featuring graves and pathways extending under nearby buildings such as the Bank of Greece), and we missed entry for the Acropolis…actually, not quite true – they were still letting people in but we weren’t prepared to pay the full fee for only half an hour!

Still, from down in the cobbled streets below, as you walk from Monastiraki, you get a gorgeous view up to the structure without having to pay…

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and if you walk up through the narrow, stepped streets you find wonderful old buildings…

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which turn out to be abandoned houses with gorgous doors…

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(attached to derelict ones which are now homes to stray cats)…

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There is unexpected street art…

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and you can watch the sunset from the rock platform just to the right as you near the Acropolis entrance, along with a few others who go up there for the same reason – because it looks out over the city and the far-distant mountains;

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the ruins of the Agoras and Temples down below…

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the Acropolis Parthenon above…

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and a wonderful church to the left on the hillside…

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The pedestrian streets leading up to the Acropolis are lined with cafes, shops, and quality Greek restaurants serving traditional fare on tables almost meeting from both sides of the street, where you can socialise like the Greeks and while away the time quite happily late into the night – there is also a good shopping street for souvenirs and novelties just off Monastiraki square; a narrow cobbled pedestrian area with numerous underground and ground level shops selling everything from bags, Ouzo, fake armour, statues and clothing.

You can also visit the National Gardens, the Municipal Art Gallery, Parliament Building, Syntagma cemetery, and The Temple of Zeus…you could also catch the attention of a lovely Aussie guy around the Acropolis running sightseeing Segway tours and spend a couple of hours with him flitting about on 2 wheels…but we didn’t have time for all that exhausting stuff!! (or the money for the Segway tour!)

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It was time for us to walk back from the old part of the city and make sure everything was packed ready for our flight the next day, have a sleep, and then get up for another leisurely wander around the city before lunch and our flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia later that afternoon.

We used the Metro to get to the airport as it was cheaper than a taxi and less hassle than bulky luggage on a bus, and it got us there within about 45 mins.  So simple, but after purchasing your tickets, don’t forget to validate them at the station where you embark, or you could be fined a hefty sum for not doing so – or if you try and get away with not paying at all, you could also end up paying a lot more than your ticket would have cost (we know of 5 young travellers who got caught doing this at night and each was fined about 54 Euros when their trip across town would have cost them 5 Euros each).

If you are travelling on a limited monthly budget, like we are (but not budget-basic like a typical backpacker) then you want to keep basic costs down to enable you to do some nice things…this is why we opt for bus/ferry/Metro/walking, rather than internal flights/taxi/tuk tuk.

The Metro here in Athens does a discount if you buy 2 tickets together rather than 2 singles, so this works out better for the budget.

And seeing as the Metro is too boring to take pictures of, have another historic building in Athens (it’s full of them!)

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Anyway, the Metro discarded us at the airport where we then checked in for our flight and settled down with a coffee to read and wait.

Oh, and people-watch – we love to observe.

We also love to wander about aimlessly, checking out what’s around us – usually called dawdling and window shopping.  Passing time in an airport isn’t a great hardship for us, but if we do get a little bit bored we have the trusty travel games to keep us out of mischief…Othello, Backgammon, Draughts, and Uno.  Not to mention good old fashioned pen and paper for a game of Hangman!

Call us sad, but these simple things make us happy.  Who needs alcohol and drugs when you can stimulate your mind in other ways, which don’t cost anything more than intelligence and time!

Off to Cambodia…(well, 18 flight hours and 22.5 hours later, via airports at Abu Dhabi and Bangkok where we could possibly have been spotted playing games, reading, people watching, drinking iced coffee or eating ice cream.) 🙂

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