The 4,000 Islands

As I wrote earlier on, I was seeking peace and quiet to rest from my very busy arrival to Asia. The 4,000 Islands (Si Phan Don) turned out being perfect for that. On my first evening there, after an quick dinner I went straight to bed. The place was quiet enough and I slept until 8 am the next day, and woke up feeling really refreshed. Accomodation is more basic than in Siem Reap (although about the same price, 9$ for a double room): a small room with really thin walls, a noisy fan and leaking plumbing. 

I didn’t get much done that day: I simply rented a bike and cycled around the place. It turned out being more tiring than expected. The bike was not adapted to the bumpy, sandy pathways and of course the heat (38 degrees and high humidity) added to the challenge. But it was definitely worth it, with a couple of nice waterfalls, isolated villages and a stunning view on the archipalego on the way. Although most families probably live off tourism, they all have some animals (mostly hens and perhaps a cow) and a lot of men go out fishing. There are two primary schools on the island (and a lot of young children around, they enjoy giving visitors a high-five), and a couple of monasteries.

Most travellers who land on the islands take a one-day kayaking and sight-seeing tour, so I decided to do the same, also to meet fellow travellers. This took most of my second day here. I didn’t want to risk getting my camera wet so no pictures! It was a great mix between paddling, waterfalls (including the largest in terms of water flow in Southeast Asia, quite a sight. But we just looked at it, obviously) and swimming. Note to self: a t-shirt is not enough peotection against the sun…  (I ended up with a mild sunburn although I stayed covered most of the day). The touring company also advertised we would see an endangered species of dolphins (the irrawady dolphin, named after the longest river in Myanmar where they can also be found), but no luck… 
At this tour I met two other people heading to Tadlow (Tat Lo) on the next day (Saturday 25th, I’m a bit late posting because I couldn’t find wifi). That’s also my next destination! I’ll probably see them around.

From Angkor to Laos

With another day on my three-day pass, I had the opportunity to see more temples before heading to my next destination. Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat is a very popular attraction, but that implied getting up at four, and spending several hours waiting with hundreds of other tourists, each wanting the best spot for their souvenir photo. I was definitely too tired for that and slept a bit later than usual. A very shy tuktuk driver then drove me around Angkor Thom (the imperial city with a large concentration of ruins) and I spent a few hours browsing through the temples. It was very peaceful at lunchtime and mid-afternoon, as crowds returned for sunset, I headed back to my guesthouse. That was the end Angkor for me. It’s obviously possible to spend much more time in Siem Reap but I was longing for a quieter next few days.

So this morning I took a minivan, which brought accross the Lao border around 3pm. It then got us to a small town, the gateway to the 4,000 Islands on the Mekong river. The boat ride to island I was staying on (Don Khon) offered a beautiful scenery, and by the time I reached my destination I could admire the sunset over the idyllic landscape.

Angkor madness

On my first day at the temples (out of three), I chose a tour in a minibus to visit some of the furthest and more remote temples, saving the closer, more famous (and busier) ones for the end. That way I met three temple companions and apart from the scorching hot weather it was really nice. We visited six temples altogether and I hope to upload some more pictures to flickr shortly. Each was impressive in its own way: massive size, intricate carvings, or taken over by the jungle… 

At the end of the tour, I decided join my three new friends on another tour the next day: the so-called small tour including majestic Angkor Wat and the “Tomb Raider” temple where the film with Angelina Jolie was shot. Meanwhile, exhausted, I went back to my guesthouse for an early night.

The start to my second temple day was rather chaotic: after waiting and changing tour bus and waiting again I finally found my travel companions after more than an hour and a half of messing around. I was rather grumpy but then I decided I was in a buddhist country and that I should know better. Besides, I was busy getting ready to get my mind blown again.

We spent the morning at Angkor Wat, the largest religious construction in the world – and it only took the khmer 37 years to build it! Of course, it was kind of busy (see photo!) and it was really bright out, and with these factors combined I was a bit disappointed by my pictures.

After an expensive lunch (10$ when it’s usually easy to get something decent for 2! ), we saw two more temples: Ta Prohm (swallowed by the jungle, and where Tomb Raider was shot) and Bayon, famous for its many carved faces. 

And to top off a really nice day of sightseeing, we stayed to watch the sun set on the temples from a small hill overlooking the area. My friend Yousra was up for a drink in town so we headed straight to a bar called “Angkor What ?!” in a street nicknamed “pub street”: 0,75$ for a beer, ridiculous!

More on Siem Reap and Angkor later, stay tuned! I have one more day on my pass and plan to visit the central part of Angkor Thom (the imperial city) later today, before heading off to Laos tomorrow.

Landed!

After a pretty rough landing on Siem Reap runaway (despite good weather conditions :/),  I can finally start my adventure. Well, sort of. The 17 hour journey (I had a stopover in Singapore), jet lag (6 hours) and lack of sleep got me longing for a nap, which I took, since I landed in the morning. 

A quick lunch in a local streetfood stand and a surprisingly good cup of coffee and I was all set for a long walk around the city. Siem Reap mostly revolves around the Angkor temples’ business but also offers nice neighbourhoods bustling with sunburnt Europeans shopping for souvenirs, a local market, massage parlours, and peaceful monasteries offering a welcome retreat from the traffic and commotion of the city centre.

As a blonde woman walking around on my own I had some apprehension at first but I quickly realised there was nothing to worry about, as I was only hailed by tuktuk drivers hoping for a ride.

Now I just need to prepare my visit to the temples. Unluckily, the entrance prices were increased (by quite a bit) on February 1st, the three-day pass now goes for over 60$!

Choosing my destination

A lot of people ask me why I decided to go to Southeast Asia and New Zealand so I thought I’d write a quick post on how I chose those countries.

I will be travelling alone  for a while (except for two weeks in Myanmar), so I went for countries known to be safe for solo women travellers. Southeast Asia has a very good reputation and apparently Laos has a fairly low crime rate. This is compared to India or South America for instance where I would not have felt as comfortable and reassured.

I’ve already visited Malaysia and Singapore and I even spent a short week in Indonesia (although admittedly I wouldn’t really say that I’ve “been” there, it was for a conference), and those trips triggered an urge to discover more of that region: great infrastructures, low prices and a lot to offer (jungles, beaches, wildlife, temples, mountains…). I aimed for less tourist-packed areas (Laos and Myanmar) and since the Angkor khmer ruins in Cambodia are a must-see I couldn’t stand the idea of not spending at least a few days there.

After that, flying to New Zealand from Bangkok is easy and cheap. Since I’ve always wanted to go, I suppose this turned out to be the perfect occasion.

D-10: medically prepared

Travelling to tropical countries for a (more or less) long period requires preparation, especially  when it comes to medical precautions. Different people make different decisions on vaccines and anti-malarial treatments, this here is my take on the subject, based on my (small) experience: I decided to be on the safe side.

I’m not going to be exposed to malaria for that long (about six weeks), so I decided to take preventive medication which you can only take for at most three months in a row. The drug may have strong side effects but I tolerated it well last time so I just got the same. It is highly recommended for Laos, and not absolutely necessary for Myanmar (unless I travel to more remote areas, which I might).  However, some resistance of the parasite to anti-malarial drugs has been reported in Laos. And given the other diseases spread by mosquitoes in that region (dengue fever, zika, …), additional protection is absolutely necessary.

I purchased mosquito-repellent to soak my clothes in, and it stays efficient even after several washes. I also got this repellent to directly spray onto my (uncovered) skin. I’m not exactly thrilled about exposing myself to all sorts of chemicals but it’s probably better than one of those tropical illnesses.

I got two vaccines today: a compulsory  booster (in France: diphtheria, tetanos and polio) as well as the one against typhoid (unfortunately this last one is only effective for three years so this is the second time I had to get it). Another recommended vaccine for this area is the anti-Hepatitis A, a nasty, non-deadly but very common viral disease. Since I already got a shot in 2012, I’m still immune. These drugs are expensive, for instance the anti-malaria treatment for six weeks is about 60€ and the typhoid shot is 50€.

Finally, it’s always good to bring some paracetamol and medicine to take in case of nasty digestive problems, as well as antiseptics.

But hey, don’t worry, I’ll be fine 🙂

First steps with WordPress

Welcome, reader!

I just became a real techie by buying a very modern smartphone (a nice change from my previous Samsung flip phone), which I hope to use to post regular blog posts while I’m away.

The nice thing is that I can transfer photos from my camera to my phone via wifi, and then post them using the WordPress Android app. Very modern indeed …

Right, so it’s time for me to explore various WordPress templates!