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Adventures of Auroraman and Cupcake Woman

Kampotty

Cambodia Posted on Sun, April 03, 2011 11:58:10

The journey from Kep to Kampot is a short one by bus. However 10 minutes into our journey, our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. The French guy sitting in front of us decided to take this opportunity to relieve himself at the road side. A few minutes later he rushed back onto the bus giggling nervously to tell us that he’d been mid-pee before he realised his private parts were right next to a giant spider web, which was housing a spider as big as his hand. Ram’s face lit up, finally a big creepy crawly to inspect! We went outside with the camera, and the French guy wasn’t exaggerating, it was as big as a man’s hand. Ram took some photos, but it was hard to get the size into perspective without photographing a person next to it – and there were no willing volunteers.

We were going to Kampot because we’d heard there was a good live music night in a place called Bodhi Villa on a Friday night. We decided to head to Bodhi Villa first to see if they had any rooms free, which they said they didn’t so we headed back into town to a place recommended by our tuktuk driver, Moliben Guesthouse. It turned out to be pretty nice there and the staff were very friendly and helpful.

Kampot is a surprisingly quiet town along a river, it’s main focus points are two bridges, named “Old Bridge” and “New Bridge”. It is also famous for Kampot Pepper, which I found to be quite enjoyable – despite never really liking pepper in the first place. We took a tip from our Lonely Planet guide and went to a Sri Lankan restaurant over-looking the river which apparently had a vegetarian menu. Ram is veggie and has been living off vegetable fried rice all month due to meat being in nearly every dish out here.

We settled down to a veggie Korma and a veggie Masala as the sun began to set over the river. At this time the road alongside the river became busier with whole families packed onto single mopeds making their way home for the evening. I also noticed that most women were already in their PJs at this point.

After dinner we set off to find an ATM, we passed a long traffic island bustling with teenagers hanging out. Two dogs suddenly jumped up and started snarling and barking at Ram. As they were not barking at anyone else, we think that maybe they thought he was a beggar with his crutches. The traffic island also featured a group of people doing outdoor aerobics to “Mambo Number 5” – this is the fourth time we’ve seen such a thing across Thailand and Cambodia, it’s almost tempting to join in… Almost.

Later that night we got our friendly tuktuk driver, Mr Hill, to take us back to Bodhi Villa, this is the point I let Ram take over the keyboard…

R+S xxx



A feast for Pearly Kings

Cambodia Posted on Sat, December 04, 2010 06:30:08

‘Thunder is the sound of the clouds banging together’ – Auroraman, Hotel Cara, Phnom Penh

Our trip to Phnom Penh in Cambodia was our first attempt at flying while Ram was on crutches. We were expecting it to be a nightmare journey as we tried to cope with our insane amount of luggage. However it turns out having crutches can be quite handy when facing airport queues.

The staff were always rushing to us to try and help me with the luggage and we were put in fast-track queues for customs and baggage checks. The only mini nightmare we had was queuing behind a man who was checking in a whole basketball team (Kuala Lumpur if you’re wondering).

The flight to Phnom Penh was nice and quick, while looking out the window we pointed out the fields after fields that were flooded from the recent rainfall (the news was reporting Bangkok was in the path of floods sweeping though Thailand).
– Embarrassingly, we later realised these fields were rice fields, the flooding was purposely done.

Another sight worth mentioning was a monk on our flight. Not only did he have an iPod around his neck in a Liverpool Football Club case, but he spent the whole flight chatting to a female passenger. After repeatedly being told as a female I couldn’t make eye contact with monks, I found this to be very confusing.

Arriving at Phnom Penh it’s self was very much like when I previously arrived in Thailand eight years ago. I must note at this point, although our experience of Thailand was very limited due to Peg Leg Jim, I was still able to notice the improvements made to the county since my last visit. I’m not sure “improvements” is the right word to use, it was certainly more westernised, whether that’s a good thing or not I can’t be sure. From a personal opinion, I preferred the old Thailand – who wants to visit South East Asia only to find it similar to the western world you left behind. Also, the exchange rate this time round was RUBBISH compared to my last visit! On a serious note though, it was a relief to notice the amount of beggars had decreased significantly – I’m hoping this is due to more employment and programmes to get people off the street.

Okay, lost myself there. Arriving in Phnom Penh was very much like my first visit to Thailand. On leaving the airport we had to fight off mobs of men trying to take our bags to their taxis – nothing aggressive, just very persistent. Once we decided upon a car to use, we set off into dusty Phnom Penh. One of the first sights we passed was a small temple, very much the same style as the grand Thai temples, but dustier. The roads were a chaotic tangle of cars, trucks, motos, bikes and mopeds – and yet it was as if each vehicle was a magnet of the same polar property, coming close to each other but magically never colliding as if it were impossible. Each lane of traffic had its own two way system, we very quickly had to learn to relax if it seemed we were going the wrong direction down the road – it was expected here, so other drivers would always be ready to avoid you should they need to.

Our cab driver was very friendly and chatty despite limited English. At one point he stopped for some petrol and a moped carrying a small child pulled up next to us, the girl delighted in waving to us through our window the whole time we were there – this was a small example of how lovely and friendly the Cambodian people were going to be to us for the rest of our visit.

Speaking of small children and manic traffic – the popularity of transporting whole families on single mopeds was quite a bit to get used to. Children as young as new-borns would be pinned between parents, or sat between the driver and the handle bars (usually slumped forward fast asleep, unphased by the situation).

We had booked ourselves in at Hotel Cara http://www.hotelcara.com/ for the first night, as it had a lift – this was our first experience moving from place to place with Ram in crutches. The room had a balcony overlooking some night clubs of Phnom Penh, it was getting dark by this point and we could see a very big storm in the distance. We stood with our arms around each other watching Phnom Penh change as the night progressed.

There were some pretty amazing purple lightning bolts flashing in the distance every couple of minutes. I remarked how unusual it felt to see the lightening so clearly yet not be able to hear it at all. Ram remarked “yeah, the thunder hasn’t started yet”. Puzzled I turned to him and said “what do you mean? They happen together”. Ram then laughed in my face, literally. “Don’t you know how thunder is made? Why do you think you see and hear them separately?”
“umm, because of the difference in speed and sound? Thunder is the noise created by the electric bolt….?”
“NO! Thunder is the noise of the clouds banging together”
I looked at Ram, stunned into silence, a couple of seconds later I found my tongue “are….you….joking….?”
Ram proceeded to laugh directly at me, he wasn’t joking, and he thought it was hilarious that I didn’t know this fact.

Instantly we forgot all about the romantic moment and fought each other through the balcony doors to our laptop that had free Wi-Fi. Ram won the race. He started the computer up and went straight onto Google, hiding the screen from me as he typed – already he was starting to doubt himself… It turns out neither of us were right, but one of us was a lot more wrong than the other! (In case you are wondering, Thunder is the sound made by the gases in the air around lightning, which are quickly heated and expand when a strike occurs).

Ram did make a good point though, there are some things you learn though kids’ books and cartoons that are not factually correct, but makes for a good story. You can live your life never questioning it until you say it out loud, poor Ram made the mistake of saying it out loud to a girlfriend who loves to repeat it at every given opportunity (sorry Baba xxx).

In the spirit of treating ourselves to a hotel (a habit that we got a bit too accustomed to doing over the following weeks) we then treated ourselves to the posh Japanese restaurant downstairs http://www.hotelcara.com/fusionsushi.html . We proceeded to order the two cheapest things on the menu. Despite being cheapskates, we were given a free selection of starters and free pudding, it ended up being a banquet for pennies – we almost felt guilty, but the full tummies and wallets distracted us from that.

That night Ram stayed up to watch a football match in the early hours of the morning on the room’s TV. I’m a very light sleeper and really struggle to sleep soundly with the TV on. Once the match was over, Ram went on to watch a movie from start to finish and then an episode of How I Met Your Mother. What we watched on telly is the kind of detail I’d forget when recalling a situation, however, these programmes were keeping me awake and lying there with my eyes closed I was building up a grudge to hold against Ram for as long as possible.

Once the telly went off Ram fell fast asleep right away, a skill I don’t have. As I lay there appreciating the silence and winding down into sleep, the clubs outside started blasting out dance music into the street at unbearable levels for what felt like hours. The grudge I had built up against Ram was now equally shared between the club for playing the music and the hotel we were staying in for letting us have this room. I am still holding that grudge, Ram had a lucky escape!

S+R xxx



Here sharky sharky….

Thailand Posted on Sun, November 14, 2010 10:19:50

‘I’m going to swim with a shark if it’s the last thing I do….’ – AuroRaman, Black Tip Resort, Koh Tao, Thailand

Towards the end of the week we still hadn’t seen any black tip sharks – or turtles, which we found out were also in the area. It seemed silly to track down this one place to swim with sharks without even seeing any. All over the island a snorkelling tour is advertised, where they take you all around Koh Tao and to two small neighbouring islands, one of which was called “Shark Island”. In chatting to other travellers throughout the week who had done the same trip, we heard how they all swam with the sharks, some were even lucky enough to see a turtle too. So naturally we booked this trip as a little treat for ourselves.

We boarded the boat with about 15 other people and it set off out of the main bay of Koh Tao. Instantly we were met with reasonably high waves which made for an interesting and wet ride as we bounced around the outskirts of this island.

The first stop was to be “Shark Bay” and the second stop was to be “Shark Island”. Needless to say, Ram was very excited when Shark Island came into sight.

The boat started to turn into Shark Bay and suddenly there was an announcement “do to the weather and strong waves, we will not stop at Shark Island and Shark Bay as there is low visibility”. Ram’s face dropped. However another traveller quickly pointed out that he’d been told the ironic thing was there was less chance of seeing a shark in Shark Bay and Shark Island than any other bay. Phew – we still had 4 snorkelling stops around the island, we were bound to find a shark eventually.

I forget now the names of all the bays we stopped in, however we spent most of the time at each stop actively looking for sharks. That’s not to say we didn’t look at anything else. There was some fantastically weird little fish and plants down there. The focus was broken on our camera, but we managed to get a few usable photos out of it:

We also took a little video, this is me swimming underneath Ram

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There was one point where the label on my t-shirt was irritating me so much it was distracting me from the snorkelling. When we got back on the boat, a few of the swimmers had stings from stray jellyfish tentacles. I checked where my label had been annoying me and realised it was in fact a very very small jellyfish sting – so I can now say I have been stung by a jellyfish (kind of). We were then shown how to jump from the roof of the boat into the sea – naturally Ram was one of the first people in line. I stood with “the girlfriends” making appreciative noises and taking photos while the boys all tried somersaults and bombing.

Towards the end of the day we made our last stop at Koh Nang Yuan – two beautiful Islands joined together by a white sandbank. As most of the island is a resort, I’m suspicious that the sandbank walkway between the island may be man-made, as there is no white sand to be found anywhere else on Koh Tao (the beaches are mainly made of broken coral). Man-made or not, it’s beautiful. There is a small, but steep, trek up to the top of the smaller island to a great photo spot.

The weather hadn’t been great all day, and just as we came down the trek back to the sand bank, a big black storm rolled in.

By the time the trip was over, not only were we very wet, but we still hadn’t seen a shark – it was starting to get Ram down. We only had one full day left, we had to see a shark before we left, HAD to.

S+R xxx



The stress of getting to a relaxing place

Thailand Posted on Wed, November 03, 2010 08:09:17

‘I like your skirt, sexy sexy….’ – Thai Masseuse, Koh Tao, Thailand.

Bus and boat trips to the popular Thai islands are never easy – and they are almost always overnight. This is seen as a great point to budget conscious travellers as they save money on a night’s accommodation. However, I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed the experience. The journey would probably be quite short if it wasn’t for all the waiting around you have to do at various intervals, but this seems to be a common feature for trips in Thailand.

We started from a travel agent on Koh San Road at around 7pm. After around 1/2 an hour of waiting, we were picked up by a lady who got us to all follow her through the busy markets of Koh San, while we were dragging all of our luggage with us. At one point she had us walking down the centre of a busy road at night in a long line, with traffic passing either side of us.

We reached the bus pickup point and waited another 20 minutes or so for our bus to arrive. The bus was reasonably comfortable with reclining seat, curtains and various multi coloured blankets on the chairs. There was also entertainment in the form of action movies played on a tv at the front. We decided to stay up to watch some movies – however they must have been purchased from Koh San Road (knock offs) as we had a few instances of DVD’s stopping working just as they reach the climax of the films.

Just as we started to settle down and drop off for the long journey ahead, the bus stopped at a roadside cafe for a “15 minute” break – 45 minutes later everyone got back on board and we set off again. It can take a little while to fall asleep on public transport, and we gave it our best shot. After about an hour I started to fall asleep again, although as he couldn’t sleep, Ram decided to watch the new film that was playing instead.

We knew the boat we were catching was at 6:30, so assumed we had all night on the bus – however at 3am we were told to get off with our bags and wait at another road side cafe in the middle of nowhere for “15 minutes” as a mini van was to pick us up. An hour later, after lots of worrying thoughts of “what do we do of nobody turns up?”, sure enough a mini van did show up. We were taken about 20 minutes down the road and dropped off at a ferry pier, 2 hours before the ferry we needed. It’s not too easy staying chipper after a night of interrupted sleep, or in Ram’s case, no sleep. Sitting outside in the dark, surrounded by many travellers with miserable faces, we could tell we were not the only ones feeling that way. Then the rain started….

The ferry journey was rough, not only was the sea very choppy, but the seats were hard and plastic, and a French lady seemed unaware half her bum was on my leg. Arriving at Koh Tao we found we had to climb onto a floating pier. Floating piers are adventurous things on a choppy sea, and would have been fun if we hadn’t been trying to take all our worldly possessions with us. We both have very large rucksacks, with a small rucksack and a wheelie case. The easiest way to hold everything is to strap the small bag to our front, the big bag to our back, tie all the supporting straps around the waist for security and then wheel or carry the wheelie bag. It was only once I did all that and tried to walk across a plank of wood from the floating boat to the floating pier that I realised should I fall into the sea, I’d never be able to get all my bags off in order to save myself.

We’d previously researched a bay on Koh Tao that was good for snorkelling and spotting reef sharks and turtles. When looking up places to stay, Black Tip Resort seemed to tick all the boxes and reviews online were all good except for a few strange negative comments about the road to the resort. Despite deciding we wanted stay there we hadn’t managed to book anything in advance, so we were arriving with our fingers crossed. Oddly, as we reached the end of the pier there was a guy standing there looking at me saying “Black Tip?” – so we followed him and hoped for the best. He threw our bags into the back of a pickup track, and then gestured for us to jump in too. We were with another British couple and it soon became obvious we were going to get to know them very quickly as the ride was so unsafe we had to grab onto everything and everyone to make it to the other side alive.


The pickup truck took us up and over the steep mountainous island, through the winding forest and on a track that looks more like a dry river bed. I was hugging our luggage to weigh myself down so that I didn’t bounce right out.

Arriving at Black Tip Resort we found it to be exactly what we were looking for. Quiet and secluded with enough activities and a few eating places to keep us entertained. The room we were offered was a basic double bungalow for around £8.30 between us per night. The bungalow was made of wood and placed on stilts at the edge of the forest with a balcony overlooking the beach. It was as clean as you could make a wooden hut, there was electric and a fan on the ceiling – which is pretty much all we needed. The only thing missing was hot water – a luxury we could have paid extra for, but we decided to give it a go without.

I assumed at this point that Ram and I would have a kip to catch up on the night’s missed sleep – however Ram’s eyes were wide open with excitement – he wanted to go searching the forest for exotic creepy crawlies, and find the sharks in the bay that we had read so much about.

Our first plan was to go to an ATM, which we soon found out was back at the pier on the other side of the island. The only way to travel this way was by pickup truck – 100bht per person each way – 100bht is about £2.10, so it added up to be quite a pricey journey to take. We decided to make the most of the trip over and stocked up on supplies while we were there – sweets for me, snorkels and underwater camera bag for Raman.


Back at Black Tip Resort we kitted ourselves out for snorkelling and set off down to the water. Despite looking like a white sandy beach, the “sand” on the beach is actually broken coral which is quite unpleasant on the feet. The water is a turquoise colour and beautifully warm.

It was Ram’s first try of snorkelling and he took to it very well. Although the bay was full of coral and sea life, it wasn’t as brightly coloured as that you would find in somewhere like the Caribbean. However, that’s not to say it’s not worth doing. There was such a great variety of fish

We spent the rest of the week in the bay, eating, reading, snorkelling and generally winding down from London life. We popped into the main town at one point for a change of scenery and a massage. Upon arriving at the massage place, I noticed they also offered leg waxing. Due to the cold shower in our hut, I’d neglected my full beauty regime, so decided to go for the leg wax instead of the massage. Ram went for a head, shoulders and back massage.

My legs were being waxed by a small Thai lady who didn’t speak much English. She started waxing and I just watched the clock, waiting for it to be over. A little while into it, she called in another Thai lady to help. They were both waxing my legs and talking in great concerned tones to each other in Thai. I noticed they were going over the same patches again and again, each time as painful as the last. Then one of the ladies said to me “too difficult” – but she kept going, so I just nodded and carried on watching the clock. It was 40 minutes before they moved to a new area of my leg – now quite excited that they seemed to have found a method of making it work.

After an hour I could hear Ram talking in the next room, his massage had finished – the ladies (there were three by now) still hadn’t done half my legs. At this point they called in the woman who had been doing Ram’s massage and she turned up with a pair of tweezers and started trying to pluck the hairs out individually. By now I was in great pain, normally in the UK this takes 30 minutes. After an hour and a half of having the wax stripped off my legs continuously, I had to tell them to stop. I walked out the room to find Ram in a dressing gown, drinking Jasmine tea and listening to tranquil music. I paid up and left, just happy to ordeal was over. Back in the pickup truck I finally looked down at my legs – they looked exactly the same as when I went in, only pinker. I must have grumbled about this for about a week after.

I will always go for the massage option from now on……

S+R xxx



Getting into the swing of things…

Thailand Posted on Thu, October 21, 2010 18:28:11

‘What is Thai for vegetarian?!’ – Auroraman, 7th October 2010. Bangkok, Thailand.

So here we are in Bangkok – currently in a 4 star hotel watching every episode of the American Office, breaking only for food and hospital visits, but more about that later.

On our arrival into Bangkok we were met by a taxi driver sent by our hotel to pick us up. A very friendly guy who called himself Jackie Chan, he had brought his wife along in the front seat to keep him company. They instantly won us over by calling Stannie beautiful and saying Raman looks like Keanu Reeves. Yes we are that easy to please.

Our first two nights were booked at Bansabai Hostel, a lovely quiet hostel about 30 minutes outside of Bangkok centre (www.bansabaihostel.com). We paid a bit extra for a Superior room, which was a large room on the top floor with a garden view. Raman found the idea of being located next to a garden very exciting as the moment our plane wheels touched the ground he has been on a hunt for dangerous creatures/insects. After a close examination of the area, he came to the conclusion that all we were going to see here were geckos and mosquitos, much to his disappointment.

The hostel provided a free taxi to the river for our first day, where we could catch a boat to the Grand Palace in Bangkok centre. The boat was public transport rather than a tourist ride, so it was a great introduction into the everyday life of those in Bangkok including an area at the back of the boat that only Monks can occupy.

Outside the Grand Palace, we treated ourselves to milk straight out of a coconut with a straw, like the tourists we are. Unfortunately we then found out we could not enter unless we had our elbows, knees and toes covered, as we were dressed in flip-flops, shots and t-shirts, we put the Grand Palace on hold and made our way to Koh San Road.

Koh San Road is often referred to as a backpacker’s paradise. It is a busy street made up with shops, hostels, bars and travel agents. Lined down both sides of the street are market stalls selling knock off designer clothes and jewellery, fake CDs and DVDs, and many Thai made tourist gifts. If that wasn’t cramped enough, down the middle of the street are food stalls with tuktuks weaving through. Day and night this street is cram-packed full of tourists – along with haggling for the slightest purchase, spending time here can be an exhausting experience.

The Thai people are very friendly, and haggling should be done with a smile on your face. They’ll try to catch you into conversing with them by asking you where you are from as you pass their stall. We found the answer “London” was usually met with their attempt of a cockney accent and a “corr blimey guvner!”. Not only that but they’re able to read when you are about to excuse yourself and they’d predict “just looking yeah?”

After a little while of browsing and trying to avoid buying all the tempting things on offer, we decided to make our way to the MBK Centre (a massive department store incorporating designer shops for everything you can think of, along with the same type of market stalls we saw on Koh San Road). We only went for a camera card reader, but I ended up buying some green contact lenses and Raman couldn’t resist a Lady Gaga t-shirt. Honestly.

We had planned on taking a bus and boat to Koh Tao in the morning, however Raman started to feel quite under the weather, so we delayed it by a day. We spent the next day in our hostel just resting while Raman recovered. I decided to pop out to a pharmacist for him, and ended up caught in a tropical downpour, with no coat or umbrella. As I walked home in the pouring rain, I was laughed at by all the locals sheltering in their doorways. This was the beginning of many incidents where we have been amusing to the Thais just by being ourselves.

Late afternoon when Raman was feeling a bit better, we went to the roof to check out the hostel’s infinity pool. It was such a lovely setting, and being the rainy season we could see a thunder storm over Bangkok in the distance. As the sun began to set, we wrapped up our handstand competitions and took in what we thought was going to be the last of our time in Bangkok as we were off to Koh Tao the next day.

S+R xxx