Southeast Asia travel diary: Days 26 to 30

Day 26: Siem Ream and its Old Market

As every time you take a night bus, you arrive to your destination super early. Usually that means no possibility to check in, but I had already missed two nights of my booking because of the detour to Koh Ta Kiev, so my room was ready for me even before 8am. I checked in to Lub D hostel, which seemed super nice from the beginning as it had a pool, a restaurant, a bar and everything was very clean and looking way better than the 6€ hostels I usually stay at. I had found Lub D in a Lonely Planet book I had bought on fancy hostels around the world (called The Grand Hostels), and it really was worth it. Apparently they also should have some coworking space, which is great if you need to work while traveling. An extra point also for the “cool down room” (I don’t remember the exact name), where you could go chill in bean bags in a nice and cool space to escape the heat for a while.

Talking of the heat, Siem Reap really was way too hot. On the islands, there was at least the sea and a little breeze to make the temperature feel more bearable, but in Siem Reap, no water in sight and temperatures close to 40 degrees made the air quite suffocating during the hottest hours of the day. Because of that, I was feeling a bit lazy, but still wanted to walk around a little bit to see what the city looks like.

I didn’t have any plans so I went for my usual “wander with a destination”-plan. I picked a vegetarian restaurant not far from the hostel as a target and started walking. I didn’t see it was on my way when I navigated to the restaurant with my map, but I ended up in the Old Market of Siem Reap. I love markets. Especially in Asia, they are like Ali Baba’s cave and you never know what you can find. The Old market has one part that is clearly aimed for tourists, with lots of souvenirs, jewellery and clothing. Another part is for all the fake brand clothing and cosmetics, and finally a big part was occupied by food stalls, from spices to fruit, meat, crickets and full meals you can enjoy on the spot. Then there are all sorts of random stalls here and there with things such as massages, local brands or homeware. Yep, you can probably find anything you’re looking for in there.

The vegan restaurant I went to was Chamkar, and from this experience, I can recommend it. I don’t go to vegan or vegetarian restaurants too often when traveling because they usually serve very international food, and I want to taste more of the local dishes, but this is a good option as it does have a menu with more local options, including vegan versions of Khmer and Asian fusion foods.

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Day 27: Sunrise in Angkor Wat

Earliest wakeup on this trip so far, 4 am. I had booked a tour to the temples, including watching the sunrise in Angkor Wat. As we had to first pick up the tickets (which were surprisingly expensive, 37USD for a day), then secure our spots at the pond in front of Angkor Wat, the early wake up was necessary. I was surprised at how many tourists there were already at that early hour of the day. Usually when you visit temples and other sights early enough, you can get the place almost for yourself, but clearly not in Angkor Wat. Still, I managed to get a nice spot to watch the colours change in the sky as the sun rose behind the temple, and it was definitely worth waking up early.

After that, we visited the actual temple with a guide, as well as three other temples, including Ta Phrom, famous for the roots entangled around the walls of the temple and for being the  filming spot of the Tomb Riders movie, Ta Nei, a small temple in the jungle that had not been renovated yet and looked more like ruins but had its own charm, isolated in the middle of the jungle, and Bayon in Angkor Thom. The last one was probably my favourite, the temple was massive and made me think more of a castle than a temple and there were beautiful sculptures of faces all around.

Everyone on the tour was absolutely exhausted from waking up early and walking for about 8 hours, most of it under the burning sun, so all took a nap when getting back to the hostel. Later we spent a while in the pool, after which it was time for a pub crawl to discover the night life in Siem Reap. There is one pub street where most of the bars and clubs are, so you don’t need to look long to find where the party is. My personal favorite was X Bar, which had a rooftop with a skateboard ramp built on top, and tables to hang out there. Because why not.

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Day 28: Khmer new year craziness

I learnt only a few weeks before coming to Cambodia that it would be Khmer new year exactly during my stay there. New year is celebrated at this time of the year in several countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Cambodia. You have maybe seen some pictures of huge water fights in Thailand, those are part of the celebrations.

I spent the first half of the day chilling in the swimming pool with people I had med the previous day on the tour and the pub crawl. After around 1pm, the celebrations for Khmer New Year started. Everyone had prepared their water gun, and we stood on the street in front of the hostel and splashed all cars with participants that passed us. It’s super fun that on that day everyone – tourists and locals, old and young, come out and splash each other with water and baby powder. Some people formed teams to go around the streets and splash other groups passing, but when you got to the pub street area, it was just total mayhem. In a good way. As we walked there, people wished us happy new year and threw baby powder all over our faces, which was annoying at first but in the end just harmless and fun. Once we arrived to the club we were going to, we were all soaking wet and covered in baby powder, but so was everybody else. I can’t imagine a club in Helsinki letting people in covered in baby powder, even on a special day.

In addition to water fights, the whole city was decorated with lights, lanterns and other decorations. On the river, the bridges were lit in such a way that you could see their outlines from far, and there were even decorations set up on the river. New Year celebrations are definitely on a whole different level than in Europe. And oh, it also lasts for three whole days. Crazy. I’m glad I happened to be there at the right time.

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Day 29: Kuala Lumpur

Although Khmer New Year continues for three days, I had the time to see only the first one. The next morning, I flew to Kuala Lumpur. I had met a girl on the same flight at the hostel, so we shared a tuktuk and got to know each other a bit on the way. One more way to meet new people.

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, and already at the airport, it became quite clear to me that this was a completely different place than the ones I had been to during my trip so far. Everything was super modern and new, and there was even an express train taking you from the airport to the city. The city had a big public transportation network, and I got a reminder of how it is to arrive to a completely new and unknown place and try to get around the city on public transportation.

By coincidence, a Finnish girl I knew from Instagram happened to be in KL right at the same time with her friends, so they allowed me to crash at their Airbnb. It was fun to meet in real life someone you’ve known online for quite some time, and in addition, the Airbnb was in such a cool place. Regalia residence is a huge complex set a little bit out of central KL, including two pools, one of which is a rooftop infinity pool overlooking the city line. Could have been worse, I’d say.

As I arrived around midday, we still had the afternoon to visit the city. It suddenly started raining, and we took one of the free GoKL buses going around the city from the Petronas towers to see some of Kuala Lumpur’s centre even with the bad weather. We stopped for food at Bukit Bintang, which is kind of known as the local Times Square, then went back to the towers to see the sunset there. Before sunset, we walked around the park behind the towers which, if Bukit Bintang is Times Square, I would say is the local Central Park. But then again, I’ve never been to New York, so who am I to say anything?

I don’t know why, but big cities always make my heart beat faster. The buildings, the business and the life all around make me dream and imagine how living there would be. Kuala Lumpur is definitely one of those cities. It’s a giant intersection in the middle of Southeast Asia, with high, modern skyscrapers and a very western vibe in a way. The city is very clean compared to what many cities in SEA are. The roads are in an impeccable  condition and the public transportation – even if slow on certain lines at the moment because of construction – is well organised and the network wide.

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Day 30: Tuesday of misfortune

I had two must-sees in Kuala Lumpur: Batu Caves and the Eco forest park, and Tuesday we did both. Going to Batu Caves in the middle of the day, there were obviously quite many other tourists all ready. But in itself the place was impressive. The statue next to the stairs was way bigger than I had imagined, and the colourful stairs gave the place a very fresh and joyful atmosphere. The temple next to the Caves as well as the one inside the cave were also colourful and bright. I like that about Asian holy places. On the other hand, what I didn’t like were the monkeys. There were a lot of them on the stairs, and they were quite aggressive. I had an empty tumbler in my bag, and a few monkeys actually jumped on my bag to try and get it. It’s unfortunate that they have learnt – probably from being given food by tourists – to be so bold and aggressive.

After Batu Caves, we headed to the Eco Forest Park, which is like a jungle in the middle of the city, with suspensions bridges and all sorts of flora and fauna. We struggled a bit to find the entrance to the Park, but eventually did, and started climbing. Yes, climbing, because the Park is set on a hill so basically the whole way to the centre of the park is a steep hill up.

Kuala Lumpur Tower, famous for the city view you can get from the top, is set right next to the park. Those of us who had not been on top decided to go, and we even paid the higher price to get on the higher deck that also has the famous sky boxes where you can get your picture taken on a glass floor on top of the city. It clearly wasn’t our lucky day though, because two numbers before our turn to take the pictures, it started raining like it usually starts in Southeast Asia, all of a sudden and hard, so the deck was closed and we couldn’t get our pictures. That was a bit of a bummer, especially since the tickets were not all cheap, but what can you do. They suggested that we come back later or the next day, but we didn’t really have time and frankly didn’t see ourselves queuing up again.

In the evening, we wanted to see Kuala Lumpur nightlife. We tried to look for clubs open and popular on Tuesday nights, which turned out to be a bit more difficult than expected. Finally we just picked Zouk, which is one of the biggest clubs in KL, and jumped in a cab. When we arrived there, we were almost the only customers. Yikes. Fortunately, a little bit later people started to flow in and in the end, even if the club was far from full, there was some life. But the dance floor wasn’t unfortunately too popular and the general vibe was a bit disappointing. I thought night clubs would have been more fun and crowded in a huge metropole like Kuala Lumpur even on a Tuesday, but apparently not. Maybe the situation would have been different on another day of the week. That day overall clearly wasn’t our lucky day. Better luck next time.

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