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As it's my birthday weekend, we are off to Ko Phangan for the weekend.
So we are up fairly early and a take short walk to the travel agent. The Loprayah bus picks us up and we take the drive to Mae Nam.
Loprayah are certainly the most organised, and best ferry operator we have taken in Asia. Their catamaran ferries are quick and smart.
We board, and sit, but soon get a tannoy message asking everyone to move to the front of the cabin, as the tide is unusually low, and the boat is close to grounding out.
We're soon on our way. The boat is certainly the fastest I have taken in Asia. It only takes 20 minutes before the familiar site of Thong Sala, Ko Phangan appears.
We disembark and head straight to rent a scooter. Last time I was on Ko Phangan I rented a scooter from a nice guy, who gave me a partial refund because I had the bike for part of a day. I headed back to him, as that is rare service in Thailand.
The guy isn't there, so we grad some lunch, and head back after. He is there, and gives us a discount this time as we will rent the bike for 3 days. This is a good example of how good customer service builds a good business. I went back to this guy today (even after having to wait for him to open for the afternoon) because he gave me a discount before. Today he has given me another discount, so I will definitely rent a bike from him in the future.
In case you are interested it is the Easy Diver bike rental, next to the 7 Eleven store, right opposite the Lomprayah pier (the more southerly pier).
As we are travelling light (a small backpack each) we jump on the bike and head north.
It's always lovely being back on Ko Phangan. It's a beautiful island.
We take the coast road, passing Sunview, where we stayed last year. They seem to have changed their name to Sun Set Bay. Seems like a strange thing to do when you have an established business.
We turn off the road at Sandy Bay (or Long Beach, or Had Yao West, to use its real name). We park up at the Ibiza bungalows and take a look around.
We stop at several places and ask, but most places are full, as last night was the full moon party.
After exhausting the northern end of the beach we are about to head to the other end when I spot a sign. AC rooms for 500Baht. Seems like a bargain. We take a look and find ourselves a lovely, clean, brand new AC room for 500Baht.
We settle in, have a drink, and do some sun bathing on the beach.
It's great being back here.
We watch the sun go down and relax for the night.
If you are planning on spending more than a few weeks in Thailand, renting a house can save you money.
Houses tend to be bigger and better equipped than hotel rooms, and are generally amongst Thai communities, which gets you closer to the Thai people.
A small, 1 bedroom house in a tourist area such as Phuket or Ko Samui will cost from around THB7,000 per month. The house is likely to be furnished, with at least a bed, some furniture, cable TV and a sofa or some Thai wooden seating.
Kichen facilities are rarely more than plates, bowls and spoons.
Cheap properties right next to the beach generally cost THB10,000.
2 bedroom properties start from around THB10,000.
Spending just a little more can get you quite a lot more.
For THB15,000 to THB20,000 you can find a very well furnished and equipped apartment or villa in any area of Thailand. You can expect AirCon, WiFi and cooking facilities.
If you stay away from tourist areas you can pay as little as TBH4,000 per month.
Most properties will have electricty and water meters. The meter will be read at the end of the month, or your stay, and you will be sent the bill.
A typical house, with AirCon running overnight in 1 bedroom, fridge and TV during the day will cost THB1,500 per month for electricity, and another THB500 per month for water.
You can pay the bills at any 7 Eleven store.
Tip: Always read the meter with the landlord, so there is no confusion over the amount to pay.
How To Find A House
Houses are normally very easy to find. The best option is simply to walk/drive around and look for the 'House For Rent' signs. Best places to find a house
'House For Rent' signs on the property
Supermarket notice boards
Ask around. Just about any Thai person will know someone renting a house
How It Works
Renting a house in Thailand is generally very simple compared to most countries
Abs and I ride off to Tesco. On the way I notice the rear tyre of the scooter feels a bit soft.
The roads on the island are fare considering it's location. The roads are all concrete, and sometimes dirt.
Scooters tend to ride on the small hard shoulder, so that the bullish taxis and other big vehicles can drive by.
Once we have left Tesco I check the tyre, it is now completely flat. Not worrying too much, I push the bike to the front of the store, head towards what looks like a tyre repair place, and the taxi drivers instruct me to the to a tyre repair place.
Within a few minutes the young lad has replaced the inner tube with a new one. It cost 150 Baht. I'm guessing we have paid above the odds, but it is late at night, and we are Farang, so we are in no position to dispute this.
Riding home, about 1km from our house, the front wheel makes a sudden flapping noise. I fear we have something stuck in our front tyre. I stop and check, and yep, we have something stuck in.
I know that pulling it out will let it down, so I leave it in and ride home. Once parked I pull out the offending item and air rushes out, as the tyre deflates.
Now I know to repair it in the morning, rather than waiting for a suspected slow puncture.
In the morning I ride the bike to the repair shop, as the tyre keeps it form.
I wait in line, and at my turn this guy removes the tyre, without removing the wheel. He finds the hole and asks it I want to replace or fit. I say fix.
I notice that the lady 2 in front of me in the queue paid 120 Baht for her new inner tube, so the 150 I paid last night was reasonable. I also know what the going rate is now.
The guy uses a hacksaw to roughen the puncture spot, clamps a repair patch to the puncture stop and lights the pad attached to it. The pad roars with smoke and the patch fuses itself to the tube.
He re-inflates and charges me just 40 Baht (70 pence). Happy, I thank him and ride home.
We have ridden many miles over many hours in Southeast Asia, and yet get our first 2 punctures in 20 minutes.
I suspect we wont have another puncture for sometime, especially as I now ride less in the dirty part of the road, but I also suspect we will have another puncture at some point.
After a little searching, Abby and I have rented a house in Lamai, Ko Samui, Thailand.
It's 1 bedroom house, about a 10 minute walk to the beach. It's very close to a Wat, and amongst Thai surroundings. We even have a small view of the mountains.
We are renting the house here to have a more permanent home then a guest house, and to save money during the next 6 weeks we are here in Thailand. We hope to get a further 1 month visa extension giving us nearly 3 months here.
The house was fairly basic inside. We have a sofa, bed, some furniture, cable TV and air conditioning in the bedroom.
The house costs 7,000 Bath per month (£124). So this give us a bit of budget to buy things for the house. On our way to the supermarket we noticed a Thai style shop selling home wares. Pretty much everything in the shop was 10 Bath (20 pence!). We stocked up on a lot of things such as bowls and clothes. A trip to the supermarket got us everything else we needed.
Thailand is pretty cheap for most things, and we didn't need to spend too much to get what we wanted.
We head to the Thai consulate south of the city. We need visas for Thailand and we want to stay there for 2 months, and hopefully extend it to 3 months.
After finding that everyone's computer printer has stopped working on the same day (a typically thing for Cambodia) was get a tuk-tul to the consulate, and find the forms there anyway. We just make the cut-off time and get seen fairly quickly. We had heard that this embassy wasn't the friendliest, but we found it very good. There is currently free visas for tourists, so we also saved ourselves $70!
We take a walk towards the Russian Market. Phnom Penh is an interesting city to walk around, and this walk is no different.
The city has a distinct lack of cafes for visitors. We find non on our walk but see a nice little coffee shop in a petrol station, when we stop for a bottle of water. After a very good, strong coffee and Danish Pastry we hit the road again and make it to the market.
I couldn't remember this market from our visit last year, but once inside I do.
Cambodia definitely has the best budget/market shopping in Southeast Asia. There are lots of locally produced goods at good prices. A large percentage of the Western world's clothes are made in Cambodia, and we see various labels and brands being sold in the markets. Some of the labels are fake, some are not, simply leaked from the factory.
Abby bargains for a few products, only to be told that they cannot sell it for that little an amount, as they buy it for more. One lady proves this buy showing us her prices. The goods in question are cheaper at home, so it seems these ladies are paying to much for their goods.
After the market we trek more than half way around the city, stopping to find cafes mentioned in the guidebook, but find them not there anymore. How strange that many cafes that get good reviews in the Lonely Planet guidebook should close. Normally a Lonely Planet listing is a key ingredient of a successfully business. Annoyed but undeterred we trek further across the city.
We eventually stop at a KFC (something I almost never eat at home). We are mainly drawn by the lure of the large ice cold drink, but the chicken tastes pretty good also.
More trekking and we make it to the massive and beautiful central market. It has got a lot bigger since last time we visited a year ago, and is also under renovation. Most market buildings in Asia are non-descript, with zero aesthetics and foulness in every corner. Yet the central market of Phnom Penh is perhaps the most impressive market buiding I have ever seen. A piece of Art Deco/French inspired beauty.
It's close to closing time in the market (5pm) and we decide to leave it for tomorrow. We visit the nearby shopping centre for air conditioned bliss, before heading down to the river by the Royal Palace to watch the Phnom Penh evening world go by.
We see many interesting sights and move down towards the parks. We wander, finding new sights, stop at a shopping centre for great coffee, and eventually get a tuk-tuk home, but not before stopping to buy road-side steamed corn-on-the-cob for tea. An essentially meal in Southeast Asia.
A long and exhausting day. My flip-flops are close to being flat. Our pending trip to Bangkok will allow me to buy some good replacements, rather than the fakes on offer here.
We head to the central market after breakfast. It is really hot today and the walking is draining, but we get there soon enough. The market has changed a little since last year and I cannot find any of the great t-shirts that I bought last year. It's no bad thing as I have enough for now. Cambodian men love shirts and there are plenty to choose from, but I have 1, which is also enough for now.
We head to the shopping centre for air conditioned relief, before negotiating hard with a tuk-tuk driver and getting a ride right across town to the Thai Embassy.
We get there just as they open for the afternoon and walk straight-in to get our passports. We are now both in receipt of 2 month visas! Woo-hoo! This is great. We should also be able to extend these visas for another month, giving us 3 months in Thailand. We are planning on spending a few days in Bangkok to stock up on things, send things home and then head down to the island of Ko Phangnan to rent a house and spend 2 - 3 months chilling, working, and exploring. We're both really looking forward to it.
But for now we are in Cambodia and enjoying this bizarre, funny, rich and poor country. Tomorrow we are heading to the town of Battambang and then maybe back to Siem Reap.
After the consulate we head to a cafe where we had great coffee and a Danish yesterday. On the way we see a pickup knock over a guy on a scooter, but right in-front of the police.
We head over to the Royal Palace. It's a beautiful complex of buildings. The king lives in the complex, but we don't see him :) The buildings are beautiful and full of very interesting and truly blessed treasures. The Silver Pagoda is the stand-out exhibit, but perhaps the buddhas and treasures inside are the star of the show.
Afterwards we try to the find the Bali cafe, only to find it has moved, just like everything else in Phnom Penh. We find a similarly named cafe, but reckon it's an impostor. We settle on another cafe, where I have a truly local dish of chicken and banana shoot soup. It's excellent and now I know what I have seen many locals eating.
We make the long walk across town. Phnom Penh always seem much bigger at night and we find ourselves on some less the desirable streets at times. Some of the buildings are clearly brothels, with the front's completely illuminated with red lights.
We make it home in one piece and get bus tickets for our bus ride tomorrow to Battambang.
Keen to see where we are, I take a couple of walks before Abby wakes. The are we are in has a funny charm about it. The wide sandy streets seem more like Australian suburbia than Southeast Asia. It is early morning though.
We're both nursing upset stomachs and runny tummies. Something we ate yesterday was not good. After hydrating we head out for breakfast.
The weather is changing and it starts to rain. After more toilet action we out on our ponchos and head out towards the market.
The downtown area is quite charmless. We walk down a few side streets, getting 'Hello's from kids. We make it to the market, which is big and not so chaotic, but has little to offer us.
We walk back through the town and head towards the beach. We stop for a drink in the Dolphin Cafe. It's not such a great place, and whilst we eventually get given menu's no one comes to take out order and we leave.
We find another place to eat which is much more like it. We order with the very switched on girl. Lots of children and ladies selling goods fight for our attention. It's hard work.
We see a woman dragging her very elderly relative around, using her as a pawn for begging. It's the most disgusting display of begging I have seen. I do not even look, let alone give.
Later, a blind man with a very good voice is being led by a young girl. We give him a little money and he thanks us 'very much'. Local people give him money also.
More rain comes in the afternoon and we spend much of it on the toilet.
We are up at 5:30 am, which I actually quite enjoy in tropical countries, with the awakening people and wildlife, and we are on the mini-bus by 6:30. That leads us the to the big bus terminal outside of town, which I remember from last year, and we're onto the big bus by 7am. This bus company, Panorama, seem very organised. We have been allocated seat numbers, and our bags have been tagged with a number, airline style. We settle into our seats as the bus pulls away from Siem Reap. We are sorry to leave, it's a lovely town, but I was tiring a little, I don't think Abby was. There are a lot of hassle in Siem Reap/Cambodia for tourists, and I can grow tired of that fairly quickly. It's also too expensive. Cambodia's tourist inflation is too high, it will damage their tourist economy very soon. Thailand is cheaper, much more organised, cleaner and more developed. I actually long for Thailand a little now. But, the main problem with Siem Reap was that the road outside our lovely guest house was mud, and not sealed, just like 95% of the roads in Cambodia. This is hardly a surprise when you consider that Cambodia is one of the world's least developed countries. Having a dirt road makes for interesting watching as we go or return to the guest house. But, when it rains (torrential tropical rain, everyday) the road turns to a lake, and it's basically not possible to walk down. We are the only people who try to walk down it. The locals certainly don't, using only bicycles or motorbikes to make the journey. So, this sort of leaves us captive in out guest house when it rains, which is annoying. Anyway, after about 6 hours on the bus we arrive in Phnom Pehn. The bus office is outside of town, and away from the central market, which although interesting would have been really hectic. We wait in the office for an hour as crowds of people form and the jump onto waiting buses. Finally it's our turn and the bus heading for Sihanoukville arrives. We jump on and take our allocated seats. There is quite some confusion as the bus company then start to pile on loads of extra Cambodia people, who I guess are making the journey whilst paying very little. A British couple give up their comfy seats to Cambodian's, leaving the Brits to sit on some uncomfortable make-shift seats. They did this as their ticket agent did not book them through to Sihanoukville. However, the Brits failed to realise that they have probably paid 2-3 times as much for their tickets as the Cambodian's, and that the bus was hopelessly over-loaded with people anyway. They should have taken the seats they have paid for. If the bus company and their agents cannot sort out their ticketing system, then tourists paying a premium for their tickets should not be expected to rectify the problem for them. The journey from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville is unadventurous. We do get to see some great mountain landscapes, which are a great contrast from the very flat north of the country. It gets dark as we realise the '3 hour' journey quoted by an American lad will be closer to 5 hours. We arrive at the bus station and the chaos continues. Here in Cambodia groups of tourists cause carnage. In Cambodia's neighbouring countries it does not. Do I sound tired of Cambodia yet? The thieving tuk-tuk drivers want $4 for the ride across town, which is a rip-off and I take pleasure in telling them this. The ride should be $1, perhaps $2 at night. A end up securing a taxi driven by a very nice man for $3. A much better option than a a tuk-tuk. On the drive to our guest house we pass a tuk-tuk loaded with 4 Americans from the bus. We are checked in and Abby is in the shower by the time they make it to the same guest house as us. Abby stays in whilst I check out what is outside. It seems like a nice little spot. The loud music is not ideal, but we were expecting it. It's been a long day....
After moving rooms in the morning, to a nicer room, courtesy of the management, we head to Le Grand Cafe again.
Le Grand Cafe is a lovely building with superb service. It's surprisingly good value, and we love having breakfast there.
We see the street performer guy from yesterday. His act seems to have got better overnight. We his pulling a big crowd, including locals, who also give him money. We see him later in the day, where is act seems ever more polished.
We take a walk around the south of the village, over a few bridges and around some of the dusty back streets, where few travellers seem to make it.
We ask at a few guesthouses, some of which are very nice, but very quiet, and too expensive for us. We also find some guesthouses that charge $15 per night, but only $150 per month. An incredible saving for those wanting to stay a long time.
After dinner at the great Khmer Kitchen again we head over to the night market, which is great. We buy some great local made handicrafts as gifts and enjoy walking around the market. We save the rest of the market for another night.
We loved visiting Cambodia last year, and are looking forward to visiting it again.
We get up at 4am for a taxi ride to the airport for our 7am departure. The taxi driver is late and does the usual Malaysian thing of making out it us our fault, by insisting My Cam has not answered his phone. We ignore this and enjoy the traffic free ride to the airport.
We don't have lots of time at the airport, so check in (where our bags are overweight) and head through to departures. We grab a snack there and get on the plane. We must trim our bags down a bit.
I sleep all of the flight and enjoy waking up as we land at Siem Reap. The airport there is lovely, and it feels great to be in the chilled land of Cambodia again. The tuk-tu ride to the guesthouse is very relaxed. The staff and room are great.
We take a walk around the town, stopping for iced coffee and a little shopping in the old market.
Whenever we arrive somewhere it takes a little time to find the base price for things, i.e. how much things really cost. We find the little supermarket we used before, and buy our basic goods, and realise the street prices are quite high.
After a heavy storm in the evening we head out for a snack and have an early night, as we are both shattered from the early start this monring.