Here’s an outline of my trip to Thailand and Cambodia:
I flew to Bangkok, spent three days there, then continued on to Cambodia, returned to Bangkok and flew to Koh Lanta, my final destination, for one week of relaxing and scuba diving.
Bangkok is an amazing city. Almost everything about it seems to differ from the European versions.
The first thing you notice is the smog. Bangkok is perpetually shrouded in grey. The climate is hot and humid and at times the smell in the streets threatened to knock me off my feet. Especially the street markets, where vendors prepare food, can be trying to Western senses. I usually like tasting the local cuisine and I’m not easily deterred by uncommon ingredients (e.g. snakes or insects). However, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy anything at the market. Maybe it was the smell.
Another prominent feature of the city is the way all sorts of cables are dangling over the streets. In Europe, you’d expect a small, ordered bundle. In Bangkok 30 or more cables are chaotically strung from pole to pole. Well, the rats have certainly taken a liking to this arrangement – they use it as their personal “highway”.
The state of the city’s streets stands in harsh contrast to the temples and the Grand Palace– the last part is probably to be expected.
All temples we visited were in an impeccable state of repair. The walls were white, the gold was polished and not a speck of dirt was to be seen. The Grand Palace in particular sparkles and shines like something straight out of a fairy tale. The whole complex is very impressive. It also houses the sacred jade buddha. Unfortunately, it is also packed with tourists.
Another must-see in Bangkok is the temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho). As the name suggests, a huge golden buddha statue is lying on its side, filling an entire hall. Even its feet are a work of art.
I had some difficulty finding my way around Bangkok because most people speak only a few words of English and all the street signs are in Thai. Being illiterate is a very unsettling experience.
By the way, I was staying at the Hilton Bangkok, a somewhat impersonal but otherwise excellent hotel. All its restaurants and the Skybar (which does its name justice and offers a brilliant view) are very recommendable.
Cambodia – Angkor Wat
My main objective in Cambodia was seeing Angkor Wat, one of the 7 wonders of the world. For the time of my stay I had a private guide (booked in advance) so I could take my time photographing.
Angkor Wat has truly been one of the unforgettable highlights of this journey. The architecture and the reliefs are simply astounding – even more so if you take into account the time when it was built.
Still, the area has more to offer. The Bayon temple, for instance, is a temple decorated with hundreds of buddha faces, always turned towards the four wind directions.
Perhaps even more impressive – although in a different way – is Ta Prohm. This temple is slowly being recaptured by the jungle. Huge trees grow in it and on it, their roots (often more than 40cm in diameter) slowly strangling the stone.
Our guide also told us about Cambodia’s bloody history. The horrors of the Red Khmer are better left unimagined.
Relaxing and scuba diving
For the last part of my journey I returned to Thailand. Koh Lanta is a relatively unknown and sparsely populated island in the southern part of the country. My hotel there, the Pimalai Resort and Spa, was by far the best hotel that I’ve ever stayed at. The Spa, for example, was situated in a tropical paradise – there’s no other way to put it. The whole compound was absolutely beautiful and the staff was the friendliest I’ve ever encountered.
The scuba diving with the hotel’s own dive center was superb too. During our dives we saw a lot of shark action – mainly leopards and black tip reef sharks. The reefs were colourful and bustling with life. My most memorable dives were at the dive sites called Red Rock and Pink Rock.
I’ll never forget the moment when the whale shark came into view. It was a young one, approximately 6-7meters long. Encountering a fish of that size is quite an experience. We were so excited that we used up all our gas within 30 minutes. For the second dive that day, we moved to the other dive site and surprisingly saw the whale shark again! You’ll understand just how lucky we were when I tell you that many divers with 300+ dives have never caught sight of a whale shark.
Would absolutely love to go there again!