Falling In Love With Krabi Town

You might not find a lot of people who will sing the praises of Krabi Town. It seems that holiday makers avoid it like the plague and most backpackers will only stay for one night before jetting off any number of the south islands. A confirmed victim of the harsh words of the lonely planet guide, I feel.

Ok, so Krabi Town doesn't have a white sandy beach, or hundreds of restaurants selling Western food, and on it's exterior there's not much actually in town but you only have to scratch the surface and you'll find lots to do, just like we did.

We arrived after flying from Siem Reap with Air Asia - a completely non-offensive journey of two connecting flights. We had plans of going over the border by land again but after some research, you can only get a 15 days visa when crossing into Thailand overland, but you can receive a free 30 day visa (as a UK citizen) when you fly - job done. It was raining when we arrived, and very muggy but nonetheless we dropped our bags in our guesthouse and headed out in search of some cheap market eats.

One thing you're sure to find in abundance in Krabi Town are food markets (hip hip hoooooray), not only is there one every night, sometimes there are multiple markets and every Friday, Saturday and Sunday there is an amazing Walking Street Market that pretty much takes over most of the town. Every night is packed - I can tell you from experience and it's majority locals walking around, although you will find tourists as well as the usual trinket type stalls. I'm planning on writing a more in depth post about the food markets and reasons to visit so will link them here once I've done so.

We only planned to stay three nights in Krabi Town initially, but ended up moving into a hostel and staying another five nights. Yep, we loved it that much. There are lots of excursions you can book through the many tourist offices in town, including boat trips to all the surrounding islands. We first opted for a 4 Island Day Trip on a longtail boat which cost us 400b each and then and extra 400b for entry to the islands as they are all apart of the protected national park. There's a real concern for the landscape and environment in Thailand and there are so many protected spaces with initiatives to keep the islands and jungles pristine and well-looked after. Big thumbs up.

The day trip was good, we were in a large group of mixed ages, much like your standard tourist fare but it was our first chance at really seeing those famous limestone crags standing in the middle of the ocean like giants. It truly is spectacular and makes you feel incredibly insignificant. Mother Nature doing her thang. I've included some pictures but, they just don't do these islands any justice, it's something I'd recommend for anyone to do.

As I'm saving a whole post for food markets, I'll skip onto what else we did whilst in town. You can do tours to the tiger cave, with a trip to a hot spring and emerald pool for 1100b per person, however, we were only really concerned with seeing the tiger cave and climbing the mountain to the golden Buddha (still maintaining that jumping into a hot spring in 30c heat sounds like the worst thing ever, re:Pai) so we gave the organised tour a swerve and went on our own which ended up being such a brilliant option because we saved ourselves about 1800b overall.

The tiger cave itself is an interesting thing to see and the temples surrounding are beautiful structures, some which are being restored by the monks, but the highlight of the day had to be climbling up the 1237, very steep and winding steps to reach the massive Golden Buddha at the top, which you can actually see from miles away, even from the town. To say the climb is hard would be an understatement. It's literally a rollercoaster of emotions, and we ended up drinking 3 litres of water between us on the way up...! I wanted to give up, cry, laugh with delirium and never move again but we did it, and we made it to the top, eventually. You can see a collage of our before and after photos on Shay's instagram here. I wasn't even posing for the after photo, that was just genuine pain. But after we caught our breath and downed some more water, we were able to take in the most beautiful view that made the climb so worth it. Where the Buddha statue is, is a holy site so you need to bear in mind the modest clothing rule... yes I climbed up in TROUSERS AND A T-SHIRT. And it was so uncomfortable but ho hum, such is life I guess.

After our trip to the tiger cave we went home, had about three showers, a nap, and then off to the Walking Market. And yes, our legs were like jelly for the whole next day.

Beach Bums in Otres & Siem Reap Take Two

To get from Battambang to Sihanoukville was an arduous task, I'll tell you that for nothing. We waited all day and evening for our first hotel bus in Cambodia - an experience in itself. The hotel buses are big coaches divided into pods, upper and lower that sleep two each which is where travelling as a pair is a blessing. The pods themselves are actually fairly comfortable, you get a pillow and a blanket on a spongey plastic mattress, much like the mats you'd get in P.E. classes at school. Retro!

We arrived in Phnom Penh around morning rush hour and were ushered off the coach bleary eyed - although it has to be said both Shay and I actually had a fairly good sleep. The bags were brought out of the hold and it's at this point I don't actually know how we managed to find our next transport because we were literally standing in traffic on a main busy road. I heard a woman in a suit faintly say 'Sihanoukville' and so we followed her intently to another mini-van down the road. It's at this point I have to say, it's the hectic-ness and almost spontaneous nature of getting around Asia that I love -sometimes (at the time) it is a little stressful but we always end up looking back and laughing at what we've just done. There's no real plan and everything is a little slap-dash but it always works, a welcome change from rigid structure at home.

I don't have much to say about Sihanoukville, or more specifically, Otres 2 beach where we stayed because we literally spent close to two weeks, getting to know people at our hostel and chilling out on the beach, watching sunset, after sunset quite contently. Easily done. There are boat trips to do and islands to go and see - we'll definitely have to return to go and see some islands and go to Kampot further down the coast, but it was a nice respite after spending time in a lot of towns and cities. There are two Otres beaches and whisperings of a third in the making - it's definitely an up and coming area and I can imagine that even in five or so years the beaches will look completely different with a lot more development taking place right now - a very exciting time. We found true love however, at Papa Pippo based on Otres 1 and if you're ever in the area, I'd thoroughly recommend a visit. Their food is to die for and they have a wicked atmosphere and quiz nights on Tuesdays. Can't resist a good pub quiz.

After our time in Otres we headed back to Siem Reap with the intention of moving on back to Thailand, earlier than expected. Our second time in Siem Reap was completely different than the first, something had clicked in our heads about Cambodia, the people and their culture which allowed us to look at the city with fresh eyes. We made a conscious effort to move out of the main touristy areas, and spent our last few days literally walking around, soaking in the city, which is always one of the best ways to get to know a place, in my humble opinion. Our first breakfast back we found a quiet place just out of town and had fried eggs with rice! So simple yet so delicious and when we could finally check in to our room (For dinner time - a personal favourite time of mine, I'm not sure if you can tell - we first headed straight back to Stephen Corner BBQ in the night market, as mentioned in the first post about Siem Reap.

The food here really is excellent, and extremely cheap. We opted for the grilled egg plant (or aubergine for my fellow Brits) with fried minced pork on top - the barbecue gives this the aubergine such a brilliantly smokey flavour, it's something we're going to be remembering for summer time at home - and I don't even normally like aubergine! Previously we'd also had some chicken skewers as well as morning glory with rice and a beef lok lak one of Cambodia's national dishes. Basically what I'm trying to say is, everything we tried on this menu was b-anging and so super cheap.

Other notable eats we found were the Beijing Dumpling House further up the road, for a cheap and hot, hot, spicy, hot, Chinese dumpling fix and also a meat baguette from a woman in the night market - baguettes for a wholesome £2 overall - you really can't complain. I'm glad we managed to round our time off in Cambodia with a fresh perspective with very full and thankful bellies. There's a lot to look forward to in Cambodia, we just had to look for it a little harder.

Eating Our Way Through Battambang

We arrived in Battambang around midday after taking a mini van through the company 'Mekong Express' (the office is based just North of the night market in Siem Reap) and was surprisingly cushty. The seats were spacious and air conditioning was ON, although sleeping is advisable on these types of journeys because Jensen Button was at the wheel. It's certainly an experience, and it's safe to say I'll never complain about traffic back home ever again.

Prior to arriving in Battambang we booked ourselves in for a couple of nights at Ganesha Guesthouse, which is mentioned in the lonely planet and has great reviews online, for a very good reason. It's a super chilled backpacker hostel/guesthouse with dorms and private rooms pretty much in the centre of town. And although there's not really much to do in Battambang, we very much relished the opportunity to see the day to day life in a Cambodian town. Battambang is one of Cambodia's larger towns and is famous for the clear French infleunce in it's architecture which survived the Khmer Rouge regime (which I absent mindedly forgot to take any photos of - woops). Many of the buildings date back to the early 20th century, and honestly when you're looking around you could easily be in the South of France with all of the villa style buildings lining the streets.

In all honestly, we weren't massive fans of Battambang, due to the lack of much to do there but we did find huge solice in seeking out some excellent local restaurants with meals for about 7000 Riel, equating to about £1.25 for a huge plate of food, as well as many places offering up 75 cent beers. Our most favourite restaurant in Battambang had to be the 'Chinese Noodle Man' - just as a reference point, many of the local restaurants in Cambodia aren't named, and I'm not too sure why but it doesn't really matter. I believe this particular place is based on street 2.5, but I could be wrong but basically all you need to look out for is the man at the front of the shop hand stretching fresh noodle dough, all day and all night. It's quite something to watch and definitely a technique I'd love to try at home. Each dish is made individually so it's best to share plates here. In our days in Battambang we ended up eating here a few times, because it was that good. We had a couple of noodle dishes but the star of the show has to be the dumplings, steamed or fried, although fried ended up being our favourite.

What Shay and I both love about Asian cuisine is that it's totally acceptable and encouraged to customise your meal when it arrives on the table - there will always be a bottle of soy and hot sauce (and in this place vinegar) as well as condiment pots filled with salt, pepper, sugar (more in Cambodia), dried chillies and fresh chillies in vinegar (I think). Want more spice? No probs, take your pick. Want to make it less spicey? Add some sugar. Each flavouring has a purpose and I like that.

At this particular noodle house, you're each given a small saucer with chopped up fresh garlic, to which you can add different condiments to create your own dumpling dipping sauce. It makes the whole experience so much more interactive and gives you a lot more control over your food.

We did head down to the night market on the river one night, but neither of us were brave enough to try any of the local dishes - intestines and offal turn up quite regularly in Khmer cuisine, I hope you'll forgive us for that one. Other delights at the night market included boiled meat, rice and eggs, always eggs - which in my opinion adding an egg to a dish never hurt anyone.

Aside from the local Khmer food, something we loved to see in Battambang, and definitely down to the French influence was the amount of bakeries in town offering fresh bread, pastries and sweets. I didn't indulge but it was really nice to see the mix of culture in the town.

By the end of our time in Battambang we decided to head down to the coast; to Sihanoukville for some Sun, Sea and Sand and certainly some well needed respite from the town and city hopping we had done so far - spoiler alert, it's paradise.

Siem Reap & The Temples of Angkor

We arrived in Siem Reap bright and early after the border crossing, a little shell shocked at what we had seen (being hounded by taxi drivers and scammers) but we were ready to put our bags down and get out to explore this new city.

The first thing I'll say about Siem Reap is that it is HOT. I mean H.O.T. Obviously no more warm than anywhere else we've been, but due to the lack of a breeze the temperature feels much higher than it really is, but hey what else should we expect being in Asia eh?

Our first night saw us venturing to the infamous Pub Street, an area in Siem Reap popular with tourists and holidaymakers. Yes, holidaymakers. Maybe we've been living under a rock but I never realised Cambodia was such a popular tourist destination for people of all ages, from all walks of life - you learn something new everyday. Or when you're travelling about a million new things everyday.

A lot of what you read in the guidebooks will tell you of the horrendous plight the Khmer people went through in the mid to late 1970s at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime - and really it is horrendous. The worst is that the effects of such times are still very much present in day to day life. It's estimated that there are still approximately 4 million landmines undetected in the countryside. Government backed charity organisations are doing their best to remove the land mines but it's a task that will take a long time; there's still a long way to go but they're making good progress with continued funding and support. A lot of people are victims of landmine explosions and have lost limbs in the process, and it's tough to see. I guess the main thing to take from the experience is to know that events like the one the Khmer people have been through should never ever have been allowed to happen and can never happen again, and through awareness and education we can help stop it.

That's not to say that our time in Cambodia has been totally doom and gloom (although in all honesty both Shay and I struggled with mixed emotions and a strong sense of consciousness for the first few days), after settling in, the next day we hired a tuk tuk for the day to go and experience the amazing ancient temples of Angkor.

I'm kind of lost for words when it comes to this day, nothing I could possibly say would come close to describing how awesome the ancient city really is. Just to put everything into context, Angkor was at it's most powerful in the 1100s and was home to a million people - at the same time in history London housed just 50,000 inhabitants. Which is quite something to try and comprehend. Our tuk tuk driver took us around for the whole day (a brilliant 7 hours of driving) for US $20 - total bargain.

The best bit about going to Angkor is just how interactive it is. Neither Shay or myself are that hot for museums or galleries as we both like to get stuck in - just looking at things tends to wear a bit thin, quite quickly. HOWEVER, at Angkor all of our British health and safety rules went out the window as we joined in climbing up, down, in and around the temples and ruins - obviously being respectful at the same time, but it really is the best part of visiting as you get to see all the intricate details of the carvings on every wall which I have tried to capture in some of the photos. But really, no picture will ever do these magnificent buildings justice.

And upon arriving back at our hostel, for a well-needed shower we found dinner at a local NGO restaurant serving the most delicious (also very very spicy) Khmer food for local prices.

After getting to grips with prices in Thailand, we did struggle ever-so-slightly with the prices in Cambodia - compared to at home, nothing is really relative in price, mainly because as a tourist you'll never pay local prices but if you seek it, you will get close to finding it. As a reference point, a plate of Western or Khmer food on pub street will set you back anywhere from $4-$8, but if you find where the locals are eating, you're more likely to pay $1.50-$2 a dish which works out at £1-£1.20. Cheap as chips, or fried rice to be more exact.

The day after Angkor we had a lazy day, but we did have one amazing experience. As always we went out for dinner, this time walking away from the loud, and westernised pub street area, and found ourselves in the night market in search of cheap but delicious food. If you go to Siem Reap I thoroughly recommend a place called Stephen Corner Barbecue, it's on a corner, would you believe, and it'll be packed out, every night. Most dishes range between one and two dollars and are absolutely divine... But because we were enjoying ourselves so much speaking to a retired Vietnamese-American couple all the way through our meal and filling our faces with food, I forgot to take any photos (naughty food blogger), so you'll just have to wait for Siem Reap take two to find out more about this place but for now, hi ho, hi ho, it's off to Battambang we go.

Partying in Pai & Arriving in Cambodia

Our next stop after Chiang Mai ended up being Pai, further North West towards the Burmese border. We hopped in one of the govt licensed mini vans for 150 baht each and set on our way. I don't know what else to say other than we loved Pai. The vibe of the town is so chill, with some amazing food on offer. I think on arriving in Pai we felt like we truly were on holiday.

I read somewhere that the further North you go in Thailand, the climate is supposed to get cooler. Maybe that's during the wet season but it only seemed to be getting hotter, still it's nothing a cold beer can't fix. On embarking from the bus, we struggled to remember where our accomodation was, but after a quick chat with some locals we were pointed in the right direction - confirming the lovely vibes we were getting from the town! We stayed at Pai Cat Hut, I found a deal on the night before, 2 nights for 1050b which equates to just under £20 - a mega bargain because the place is only a few months old, ultra clean and although it's in the centre of town, it's nice and peaceful at night. After grabbing a bite to eat at a local restaurant - I went for Khao Soi a typical Northern Thai dish which was uh-mazing and Shay for Morning Glory and rice - a dish which has become a staple in our diets here. We had a walk around town before settling back in the communal area during the hottest part of the day.

The next day we ventured out to see some of the sights in Pai, heading out of town Southwards, and on recommendation from two friends, we stopped for an iced latte at Coffee in Love whilst taking in the stunning views over the plain. I think it's possible I've seen about every single shade of green now, but it's not getting old. Everywhere is so flush with colour and life from the end of the rainy season. On finishing our coffees, we headed out to find the hot spring, but by this point in the day the thought of jumping into a boiling hot natural spring could not have been a worse idea really ha, and when we found out the entrance fee was 300b we did a quick u-turn to head over to the Pai Canyon. We took a couple of gormless selfies - we're still getting used to the selfie stick and focusing on smiling instead of whether we've got the background in the shot (evidence via instagram), and headed back to town, but not before stopping at the Pai Memorial Bridge. A real piece of history from WW2, the bridge was built by the Japanese so they could cross over the river to invade Burma, a British Colony at the time. After the war the Japanese destroyed the bridge, but it had become a vital part of life in Pai so the locals rebuilt it. Quite the unexpected history lesson and quite cool to come across a part of the history of WW2 that we're so unfamiliar with.

And so back to our accomodation we popped with plans of finding a tattoo shop for Shay - he was looking to get a traditional bamboo tattoo, so that happened! And then we had a night out with our new friends from Pai, resulting in us missing our 9am bus the next day to start our journey to Cambodia. But it's ok we pulled it back and owned our journey over the border. The reason for our failure to catch the bus can be summed up in two words, Sunset Bar. Filled with backpackers from all-over we had such a good night drinking Chang (for a change), laughing and dancing - although it was mainly me who was dancing - until it hit 3am, by which point we knew we had to head back to bed, reluctantly.

We jumped on a bus at 11am getting us back into Chiang Mai just in time for our 14 hour sleeper train back to Bangkok. Needless to say, this sleeper train wasn't *as* nice as the one we took on the way to Chiang Mai but we still managed to get comfy and catch some z's. We arrived in Bangkok at 5:30am, again just in time to catch one of two trains that would take us to the Thai/Cambodian border of Aranya Prathet/Poipet. The train ended up being 7 hours instead of 6 but by the end of our stint on public transport, we were happy to be nearing the end of the journey. After this I really felt like we were nailing this travelling thing, researching how to get somewhere and owning it, even with a slight setback. On arrival at Aranya Prathet we decided to stay the night instead of heading over the border for some well needed rest.

Eventually we found a place to stay in the border town, which doesn't seem to be a popular option amongst backpackers, it's a small sleepy town but we were smiling again once we had found somewhere to eat. Probably our cheapest meal in Thailand so far, Shay and I both opted for comfort food... a huge 40b plate of Pad Thai, complete with pork scratchings (insert heart eye emoji here). We chilled out and recharged our batteries ready for crossing over first thing in the morning.

We'd read that the later you leave crossing the border, the busier it gets so we thought we were being clever by leaving it to the next day. And at first we were pleased with our decision, we sailed through Thai departures, I think we were probably the first over that day, and the same when walking through the no-mans land to get our Cambodian Visas and subsequently through immigration. It probably took all of 30 minutes. But here's the problem, and definitely worth noting if anyone is planning on doing this; because we were the first through that morning there was no one else ready and waiting to jump on a bus or to share a taxi with to Siem Reap. We would have had to wait until 3pm for a bus, so we opted for the taxi option which took 2 and a half hours. We paid over the odds for it but we were happy to just be out of the border town and on our way to finally finishing this leg of the journey. We arrived in Siem Reap, bright eyed and bushy tailed ready for the next chapter of our journey.