Kampong Chhnang Floating Village

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Leaving the northwestern Cambodian town of Pursat I headed south on the national highway 5 towards my next stop, Kampong Chhnang. I’m getting the hang of riding on these Cambodian highways now. The oncoming traffic that seems to ignore you and use your lane to over take even though you are clearly in their path. You’ve got to budge over. Usually there’s a motorcycle lane, but it’s often full on crater sized potholes, sand, school kids on bikes and plenty of mopeds using the wrong side of the road. If your lucky the car coming at you in your lane will give you a flash of the headlights to say ‘you better move son!’.

After stopping at a road side shack for a bowl of beef grizzle soup I arrived in Kampong Chhnang. The town is on the bank of huge river and the houses are on stilts.

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After finding a guesthouse I headed back out, planning to take some photos around sunset. Near the river two ladies came running out into the road and got me to stop the bike. They were shouting ‘go by boat?’. I asked where, and they said to see the floating village. I figured why not, and paid them $15 for a two hour boat ride. That’s a lot of money, but I’m a crap haggler. It turned out to be worth it though.

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The floating villages were amazing. It was so calm and peaceful out there on the water being paddled around by my two guides. They lived there on the water. They explained that there was a Vietnamese village, a Cambodian village and also a Muslim area.

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I picked a great time to go. As the sun set the village was bathed in soft golden light.

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And then the sun disappeared behind the mountain…

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The next day I drove the the capital, Phnom Penh. I spent an hour just riding around the city not knowing where I was going. Anarchy rules the road here, but it works just fine. I’m only staying the night. The beach is calling. Tomorrow, Kampot and bohdi villa which was recommended to me while I was in Laos. It’s not quite the beach, but they have bungalows on the river and tree houses you can stay in. Seems like a good place to stay en route before I get my first taste of the actual open ocean in Sihanouveville.

Cambodia – Siem Reap to Pursat

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I got to Siem Reap and crashed out for a day after the 30 hours of travelling on planes and drinking in airport transfer lounges. After a good sleep it was time to go see Angkor Wat. These ancient temples are the pride of Cambodia, even making it onto the national flag. They were built by various ancient god-kings. Originally Hindu, they later became Buddhist places of worship and formed the capital of the Khmer region.

I got a tuk tuk all to myself for half a day to cruise around the various temple sites. The thing to do is to get there before sunrise. I found a nice spot on the moat and meditated for an hour or so as the sky went from a clear starry night to day time. I didn’t budge til the sun popped up above the tree line. You could feel the light change minute by minute. This was my view.

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Then time to head into the main temple, Anchor Wat. It’s pretty special, especially in the morning light.

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Then on to the other temples. The sight is spread out over a few square miles. My driver would put up a hammock in the back of his tuk tuk while I wondered around each sight for an hour. Chillin. I went back a couple of days later on a mountain bike. Here’s some of the other photos. Loads more on my Flickr stream.

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This place is famous for being the set for the film Tomb Raider. Even cooler, it was the inspiration for the King Louie scene in The Jungle Book. I got up on top of the temple wall and did the ape dance. No I didn’t. But I should have.

Here’s where I sat for sunrise on day 2 of Angkor Wat

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The next day I was eating breakfast and pondering what place to get a bus to next… then I spotted an advert for a motor bike for sale with Vietnamese papers, meaning I could drive it into Vietnam. I’d always planned to get a bike in Vietnam, and figured I should definitely buy this one. A couple of hours later Erika was mine. £170. Paul, who sold it so me after riding through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, named her, and I’m keeping the name.

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My first long trip was a 4 hour ride to Battanbang, North West Cambodia. First impression was that it was dusty, dirty, and a dump. It’s not. I was just moaning because of the long ride. My butt ached, my shoulders hurt and the days of minimal sleep due to jet lag and all night drawing sessions had caught up with me. I skipped a whole nights sleep a few days previous, totally sober, just jet lag and getting excited over some characters I was designing. When they are done I might post them.

Northwest Cambodia isn’t touristy. You don’t have to worry about being swamped by beer pong mad Aussie’s or queue jumping Chinese here. My favourite experience was following the river road, which turned into a track. After a while all that was around me was rice fields and shacks. The locals looked surprised to see me. The kids were awesome, waving and shouting hello, and some adults too. That or a look of bewilderment. Yes, I’ve come half way around the world to spend a day driving down your dirt track road, to look at your rice fields, wave at your kids and smirk every time I have to stop the bike while a cow crosses the road. I loved that day. I wonder how we’d feel if a Cambodian came to the UK and took a trip down Narborough road…

Here’s some photos

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Then it was time to head south to Pursat, another dusty Cambodian town. Not many tourists here either. In fact I’ve not had a conversation with another person in about 5 days. Not met any travellers since Siem Reap, and the locals don’t speak much English. Still, I’m loving seeing the real Cambodia.

I arrived in Pursat as the sun was going down. Checked in to a fairly nice hotel. My room has 2 double beds and only costs $5 a night.

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Then I took a walk and found the market as it was closing down.

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The next day I rode an hour out to a little dirt town, ate lunch. Again I got loads of looks and waves, they must not get many western visitors. I’d seen on the map a road that looked like it went up a mountain. I found it, but it wasn’t what I expected. It was a road used by lorries to access mines in the forest. They were mining some kind stone. They were also farming hemp. It wasn’t the ideallic mountain climb I was hoping for. But it fun blasting down the dirt tracks. Here’s Erika…

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One last photo. After I arrived back at my hotel and had a chill I went out for a short ride to photograph the sunset. I thought I’d missed it as there was no clear view. Then I found this little track that opened up to this view, minutes to spare.

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That’s it for now. Two more weeks in Cambodia. I’m heading south where there’s beaches, islands, and other travellers to talk to. And hopefully the boiled eggs won’t have bird fetuses in them.

Pai Times and Loi Krathong festival

I took a bus from Chiang Mai to a small town called Pai. I’d heard of it when I was in Bangkok, a guy said I’d like it. Once I was in Chiang Mai it seemed like everyone had either been there or was going there, and I was craving somewhere a bit more relaxed after being in the Capital and then the second city. I checked into a small hostel called K K Hut which is well chilling. I had a small bungalow to myself with a hammock. It’s about 5 or 10 minutes walk out of town centre up a track past the circus school hostel. I really liked it there, the Thai lady that runs it is awesome, when I checked in she cooked me a free lunch – it was free lunch Tuesday. She was very welcoming and always had a smile on her face.

Pai is a little town full of backpackers and tourists, Thai rastas, reggae, blues and jazz bars. I spent about two days doing nothing but lounging on my hammock or in the outdoor swimming pool up the road. After that I thought I better get a motorbike and go exploring. There’s plenty of waterfalls, a canyon and a stone forest.

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Rainbow we saw whilst out exploring on the moped

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View from pai stone forest

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Pai canyon

In Thailand on the weekend it was Loi Krathong festival. It’s really big in Chiang Mai but I didn’t want to go back to the city so soon so I stayed in Pai. It was really good here too, smaller but more chilled I think. I was happy to stay.

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Me and a buddy from the hostel went down to the river side to watch the lanterns and fireworks. People just set them off in the crowds here, kinda metal but it still felt really peaceful.

Afterwards we went back to Sunset bar and got comfy on the cushions. A group of Thai people next to us gave us lanterns to set off and told us to send off regrets or make a wish….

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I was planning to go to this cave lodge place an hour north. By coincidence some people from the hostel were going there on the same day, so we road tripped it together. We walked and rafted down the biggest cave in Thailand.

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I stayed in the lodge over night as I wanted to go kayaking the next day, but as a big storm was coming I thought I’d head home early in the day.. twisting mountain roads + thunderstorm + scooter = danger… was glad to get back to k k hut, which is starting to feel like home! Checked in for a couple of days and then back to Chiang Mai to arrange travel to Laos. Almost one quarter through my trip already!

Pics from Chiang Mai & doi pui national park

I’ve been in chiang mai for about 5 days now. It’s a nice place, easy to find your way around as the old town is inside a square wall with a moat about 1km square. The first few days I just walked around, ate good food. No beers though as all the bars were shut as alcohol can’t be served when there’s election on. That was okay, I was up and about early when it’s cooler, then just chilling in the hot afternoons. There’s no shortage of temples as usual.

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My highlight so far has to be hiring a moped and riding up the mountain to doi pui national park. The view is immense. This was taken from about half way up.

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Once up near the top you are inside the clouds, the views just get better.

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There’s some villages at the top. I think they are purely tourist villages now, they are selling all sorts of tat everywhere, and people ask you if you want to have a look at a diamond which they have in a little wrap. No ta mate! I liked the flower garden, apparently it had opium flowers in it, and there was an opium museum, but I guessed it would be a con by the way a guy approached me and tried to hustle me in, again no ta.

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On the way back down I went into a Buddhist temple. It was cool to see. There was like 200 tourists and about 8 monks trying to pray. People surrounded them taking photos as if they are in a zoo or something. Felt bad for the monks. Still took pictures though and ignored the no shorts policy, just like everybody else.

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On the way back down the mountain I pulled in to this waterfall, part of the national park. It was real nice but I didn’t stay long, was eager to drive up and down the mountain again. It’s real fun, chicanes and hair pins all the way. But once you get stuck behind a slow taxi the fun’s over. I over took a few, but then one time I over took on a bend, didn’t realise how tight it would be. Front wheel skidded out but I didn’t come off. Taking it steady from now on!

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Got back and met three lads from Dudley at the hostel. We went out for a meal then to a bar called Zoe’s. It was pretty cheesy! After loads of beer I got on the whiskey red bull buckets with the brummie’s. I woke up with the worst hangover I’ve had in years, which then turned into dodgy guts.. was just in my dorm all yesterday and last night. It’s mid day now and I’ve got as far as the MacDonalds at the end of the street. Feeling ten times better than yesterday though.

Looking forward to tomorrow when I check into Julies guest house after a strong recommendation from Dan lamoon. That’s it for now, it’s lunchtime so I’m off out for grubs.

More pics on my Flickr stream.

First day in Bangkok

Great fist impression of Bangkok. Had no change for the metro, the over ground tram system, so they just gave me a free ticket. Followed instructions to hostel, easy enough but then I took a wrong turn and ended up down these side streets. Asked a local guy if he knew where hostel was. He interrupted his dinner and insisted on walking me all the way there. Friendly people!

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Had a chilling first day in Bangkok, woke up at 6am and went to the market near my hostel and had noodle soup for breakfast, body clock shot to pieces. Later I went to the big park in the centre.

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Walked in and did a double take when I saw this fella… thought it was a baby crock for a split second. No… just a 3 foot lizard. There were loads of them just wondering around the park.

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More photos on my Flickr stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/65855756@N05/

Blogging on the move – New Tech (and Falafel)

Consider this post a test run. I’m currently sat in a pub called the Orange Tree in the centre of Leicester. I’m typing this on my new Kindle Fire HD 7 which I bought along with a leather case with built in qwerty keyboard. I bought this for my upcoming travels around south east Asia. The idea was that I could read books without carrying around lots of heavy paper, and also stay in touch with people back home by uploading photographs and hopefully some drawings. I also want to do a bit of writing and getting ideas down for next year’s festival season. All my documents, ideas and notes are up on The Cloud on Google Drive so I figured if I had a tablet I could access it all and add to it. I had to ‘root it’ – basically hack it so I could use Google Play Store apps like the Flickr Uploader, Youtube Uploader, and most importantly Google Drive. I followed a step by step guide, didn’t really understand what I was doing but it worked easily enough. Then it got a bit more tech.

I was wondering how I would transfer images from my SLR camera to the internet. This tablet is very reasonably priced at 125 of the queens finest (though I can’t figure where the pound sign is yet). But it lacks an SD card reader or USB connectivity. Oh well, I guessed I would have to visit an internet cafe now and then.

But then I heard about the Eye-Fi SD card. It`s a normal memory card that you can use in a camera, only it has built in wifi. Using this I can zap images straight from my camera to my laptop, PC or tablet wirelessly.

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So it gets rid of the need for me to carry a heavy laptop around while travelling. It also means I don’t need to go and use a virus ridden internet cafe computer and face a barrage of dodgy pop-ups and risk getting my keystrokes logged.

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So, here I am giving it a test run in the centre of Leicester. I took a few photos on my SLR – also a new bit of tech for me. I bought a Nikon D5100, mainly for the video mode, although I do enjoy photography. A few weeks after it arrived I bought a Nikkor 35mm Prime lense, which I haven’t taken off since.

This brings me on to Falafel. There is a new place on Leicester’s high street, it`s a small stall in what used to be a shop, where a guy is selling fresh falafel hand made from scratch in front of you. You also get a fresh juice drink. And it only costs 3.50. He’s a nice guy and he is passionate about his falafel. It’s hard to get good falafel in Europe, so he says. After tasting his, I believe him. Served in fresh flat bread and still warm from his mini deep fat fryer, it’s a treat. Oh and it comes with a humous starter while you wait. Find him opposite The Works on the high street, or check out his Facebook at ‘Shawerma & Falafel‘.

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I downloaded a free photo editing App called Pixlr Express. It`s made by Autodesk who make industry leading 3D animation and special effects software. It had good reviews and for free it was 7 quid cheaper than Photoshop for tablets. You can do a lot with it, however I just needed to rotate my pictures, and I tweaked the exposure just to test out the workflow.

After lunch in the sun I swang by the market to take a quick video and see if could get it uploaded to Youtube from my tablet and into a blog post….

I arrived at The Orange Tree where they have wifi – neccessary for me to get the video hosted up on my Youtube channel, and to download the image editing app and Flickr + Youtube uploader apps.

Video uploaded – and shabang. Blog written and up online. All I needed was to find an internet connection at the end of the process in order to upload the video and the blog. So what have I achieved? Freedom – to read and write and create where ever I like… on a bench with my falafel, on a bus or train, on the beach… Then at the end of the day I just need to find somewhere with wifi – a bar or hostel or whatever. Then all my photos, videos, writing and notes will be uploaded , synced to The Cloud and backed up. Tech! Plus – I think this wifi SD card will come in pretty handy for Live Visuals in 2014s festival season…

Open Mic at Yesim Patisserie

It’s funny how one thing leads to another. There’s a Turkish cafe near my house on Narborough road, Leicester, called Yesim Patisserie. I’ve eaten lunch in there a couple of times. I was drawn in by the decor. The place is lavish. The odd shaped tables, the hanging lamps, the art on the walls. On my own I sat there reading a book about the meaning of Islam that I took from their bookshelf while waiting for my breakfast. It was an aubergine stuffed with grilled vegetables and rice. It was tasty.

One thing leads to another… A few weeks passed and I was on Facebook when a suggestion popped up. Yesim Patterssie had a Facebook Group! I joined right away and saw that they had an open mic / poetry night on. I have a couple of friends that are into spoken word. My pal Richard Lloyd aka ‘Bass Ventura’, who runs a monthly poetry / open mic night at The Font pub in Leicester called ‘Beat It Poetry’. The other friend is Alison Preston aka Ali R P, who was round mine for dinner that Sunday. I asked her if she fancied checking out the open mic night at Yesim. She was dead keen and so off we went while the pork was slow cooking.

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We entered to a round of applause as a performer finished, and we were welcomed in. We took a seat at the back and waited as the host, Sheila, asked if anyone else had a piece to perform. Eventually Alison was asked. She did have a poem, and was put on the spot. She stepped up and told a really beautiful poem and I could see that it resonated with everyone in the room, their gaze said it all. At the end there was a huge round of applause and Sheila simply said ‘welcome…’

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With Alison’s poem performed we went to the bar and ordered some Turkish red wine. The wine was very nice! We then enjoyed an evening of very mixed performances. We were treated to a ghost story, songs sung in a variety of languages, followed by brief translations of their meaning. One that stood out for me was a song about the early morning call of the rooster. The meaning was that, whatever happens, there is always a new day. Life goes on.

We had Sunday roast in the oven and so had to leave at the mid point break. But we did get a chance to speak with people before we left. Alison was complemented on her great poem. Then a man approached us and said `its a bit different to Ninebar hey’. Ninebar is our local bar where we always meet and drink, and the other week they had a festival on which featured bands, DJs, beatboxing, poetry and all sorts. Alison performed there and this wizardly man had seen it. He also knew about Bass Ventura`s Sunday Jam night at The Bassment club, also in Leicester. To our surprise he announced that he wanted to come and do spoken word over drum and bass. This, we thought, would be amazing!

 

Here’s a couple of videos from the evening