A Travellerspoint blog

January 2013

Motorbikes and Waterfalls

Tad Lo, Pakse

We had heard from several people we had met a long the way that travelling in Laos was a bit more difficult and precarious than Cambodia and Vietnam and generally speaking you should at least double the journey time advertised and not travel on the bus at night unless you have a death wish. Knowing how people can exaggerate we took this with a pinch of salt as we started our journey from Don Det to Pakse.

First was the short boat trip from the island back to Nakasang. There were about 4 longboats each taking about 10 people and it was a bit of a squeeze getting all the passengers on board with all their backpacks and we were counted and recounted about 10 times before we left, just to make sure the boat was indeed full.

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We were the first boat to arrive on the other side and we were told to follow a guy from the boat and wait for our bus which would arrive in a few minutes. Gradually people for the other boats arrived and were directed straight onto other buses and left. A bit miffed we asked again and were told our bus was coming and was just filling up with petrol so we perched on a bench expectantly....we were still there several hours later!! It turns out the bus was having trouble steering after getting petrol and was in the garage being fixed! After 3 hours waiting the bus finally pulled up at the time we should have been arriving at our next destination! The slogan written in large letters down the side of the bus was an understatement to say the least...Redefining Travel in Asia! but definitely caused a few giggles amongst the now delirious travellers from waiting in the heat of the day.

This delay meant we did not arrive in Pakse until about 5pm. The central drop off was actually 2km out of town, which we did not realise until we had lugged our bags half way, before admitting defeat and flagging down a songthaew to take us the rest of the way. We had been recommended a hotel to stay in but could not find it so went to Sabaidee 2 guesthouse and found a room there for 68,000 kip.

The reason for stopping off in Pakse was to go and find the Tad Lo waterfalls which are meant to be beautiful. The guesthouse advised we could not get there and back in a day and we should stay over at one of the bungalows next to the falls but we had met people who had done it in a day, so we went to rent a motorbike for the next day (which turned out to be from the hotel we were originally trying to find!). Good to go we settled down to a great dinner at Daolin although be careful of the Laos sausage, its very spicey!

Next morning we decided to have a good breakfast before getting on the bike for the day. After the spicy food last night I was keen to avoid it so opted for the herb sausage after double checking and being reassured it was not spicey... What arrived was definitely spicey and would haunt me later! Dan is now addicted to sticky rice!!

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With our trusted map we jumped on the bike and edged into the morning traffic of Pakse and headed out of town.

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We passed the busy bus station and market. One stretch of the road was lined with 100s of watermelons piled up waiting to be sold, I ve never seen so many in one place. I think I have now managed to curb my inner Hyacinth and getting used to being on the back of a motorbike. As we drove along we passed by villages and stalls along the roadside and could see all the different wares being made and sold from grass matts to machetes.

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There are several other waterfalls on the route to Tad Lo and we decided to break up the journey stopping off at one (have forgotten the name). We had to drive down a really steep hill before we arrived at the entrance to the waterfall. To our surprise there was an entrance fee and it turned out that this spot also had a village you could look around to see the different types of housing etc... It did not seem like a real village at all and I'm not sure if people actually live there all the time as it felt a bit soulless so we didn't spend long there.

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Back on the bike we had some amazing views and decided to press on to Tad Lo not stopping at other waterfalls on the way

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After 4 hours of the bike we were rewarded by this view as we came round a corner

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A few wrong turns later we finally made it to Tad Lo waterfall park and took in Tad Heng waterfall...

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And Tad Lo...

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In hindsight we should have rented the bike for two days and stayed at one of the bungalows right by the waterfalls as it was so beautiful. Trying to do the trip in one day meant we did not have time to explore properly or go swimming at Tad Lo as we needed to get back before it got dark. But regardless of this we had had a fun days adventure :)

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Sxx

Posted by doyledan 03:34 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Been there Don Det

4000 Islands

The next day in Don Det we woke up early to the sound of many cockerels and first checked the bed to make sure we hadn't been bitten by bed bugs having heard that this had been a downside to the cheaper guest houses. Thankfully we dodged that inconvenience and were able to take stock of our surroundings as we had not seen what was in front of our room due to darkness. The view from our room was fantastic and allowed us to take in sights of the Mekong that surrounds these islands.

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Unfortunately the owners of our guesthouse were not very welcoming and therefore we decided not to have breakfast there and walked a couple of mins up the path to the restaurants that are near the 'port'. The standard eggs and baguette were consumed and we decided today would be a good day to cycle the island. The cycle hire was opposite the restaurant so after a quick stroll to check prices we opted for the last two bikes they had (despite the dodgy/lack of brakes) and off we went down the path past our guesthouse heading south.

It was a quaint little pathway dotted with guesthouses along way that were a little more upmarket than ours, we kicked ourselves for a second having only ventured a short while down the path the night before but soon realised ours was perfect because it was cheap! The sun was shining and the bike ride was really pleasant and we made it to the edge of the island fairly soon. There was a bridge that we could take over to Don Khon Island which offered a waterfall to visit but we decided as we were kayaking the next day that we would see plenty of waterfalls and plus there was a 'foreigner' toll to cross which seemed a bit daft as we were paying to visit it the next day, so we rode back taking in the rest of the road that runs through Don Det. We passed a herd of cows which Sarah decided to photo as well as a couple of guys chopping down a tree, we waited for it to fall but as it was taking a while we decided to head back to a guesthouse to chill and decide next steps, only for the tree to topple just as we turned our backs. Rats!!

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As you have probably seen from previous posts we have a knack for making feline friends and it wasn't long after stopping at Mama's Guesthouse for a drink that we found another. Don't know his name but he was keen to lie by me and doze.

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We knew we needed to head back to book our Kayak tour and we wanted to have enough time to see the sunset on the other side of the island, so we said goodbye to the cat and headed back to the 'centre' as it were. We booked our trip with Wonderful tours having scoped out a few places and realised that they all were pretty much doing the same thing for the same price. That left us plenty of time to go chill at Little Eden to watch the sunset and even enjoy a glass of white wine which had been so hard to come by for a long time during our last few weeks across Cambodia and Vietnam.

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An early start was part of the itinerary for our kayaking and we made our way to the restaurant for complimentary breakfast and met up with a nice couple from Perth, which is quite uncanny considering we had only just left Chris and Nicole. Gerard and Mascha were really friendly and we thought that it was a nice bonus to have some people to hang out with during the trip. After bagging up in dry bags and collecting oars and life jackets we made our way to the shore to set off down the river. The first leg was relatively easy but we did hit a few snags along the way when the river turned our boat and we ended up going into a bush that sat along the river. After that little mishap we came ashore and took a sort walk to the first waterfall. At first glance the view point wasn't that great but luckily there was a makeshift path down the small hillside to the base of the waterfall where we were able to get better photos and I even managed to cool off at a nearby smaller waterfall.

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Having chilled out there for a while we walked again to our next 'dock' and the kayaks had been carried to the destination ready for us to get on the river again. It gave us a chance to chat with Gerard and Mascha again which was nice and soon we were off. We had been told that the next part involved a slightly more difficult route but it wasn't really explained exactly. The rapids for the next section were a little bit more difficult and we didn't quite get the knack of it the whole way but managed to get through it without too much bother. It wasn't until we approached the next rapids that everyone had to stop, which isn't easy when you are on a moving river, in order to allow each kayak to go down one by one. We ended up volunteering ourselves to go first due to mainly me not directing the kayak very well and so we approached the turn and stuck to the orders by the guide to stay to the left only to then be told to go right to divert past a fishing dam that was built across the water. We went so off course that the local guide had to grab our kayak and literally swing us in the right direction. After the readjustment it was plain sailing from there.

The next spot for us to relax after paddling was out amongst the Irrawaddy Dolphins that were native to that part of the river. We had seen them in Kratie but it was still good to be part of the group trying to scope them out, we even got to see them pop out of the water a few times. The slightly bizarre part of the trip was that was went for lunch in Cambodia having crossed the border line to go ashore. It was bizarre because no passports or visas were required. The lunch was basic but it filled a hole and it was needed as the next leg of the kayaking was pretty intense. We paddled for at least 25 mins against the current and poor Sarah was struggling as it aggravated her hip problem, but she did really well to make it to the end.

The end was a small beach where we found kids playing footie and it was the groups job to get the kayaks up the hill to the trucks for them to be ferried back to next location, which wasn't exactly what you needed after a long slog with the paddles. The trucks that came to pick us up left much to be desired in terms of size and we watched the guides, with the help of a few large guys get the kayaks chucked on and tied up, it was then left to the rest of us to cram in. I had gotten on last and ended up standing at the back which I kind of liked as I wasn't crammed, and two I got to stick my head out in the wind like an excited dog.

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We ventured onwards to our next stop which was Khone Pha Pheng, the largest cascading waterfall in South East Asia. The rock formation along the river scales 15m high and 1km in width meaning the water comes crushing down at a fast rate. It was pretty cool to look upon but by no means on par with the likes of Victoria or Niagara but a nice stop nonetheless. Upon leaving the waterfall we drove back to Nakasang village to kayak back to Don Det. A slight snag occurred when the driver pulled up before the turn off only to be revealed by Gerard that we had run out of petrol. Seeing as we weren't far away we laughed it off and soon enough we were on our way and back at the rivers edge to see a little bit of the sunset again as we kayaked back to Don Det.

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During our trip we had been able to meet another couple from Ireland, Karyn and Kieran who we befriended with Masha and Gererd and we all decided to have dinner together. We popped back to the bungalow first and had the 'incident of 1000 flies', as the door was slightly ajar when the light was on loads of tiny flies came in and it wasn't until they started falling to the floor like rain from dying against the hot light that we noticed. They were everywhere! Sarah couldn't keep up with sweeping them out the room so we turned the lights off and headed to a bar to escape them hoping they would be gone when we got back. The bungalow next door had left their porch light on and literally had millions outside their door!

We tried our first Lao dish, Lao Laap at dinner and we shared recommendations on places to go and stay as we were travelling in opposite directions. Karyn and Kieran then joined us for few more drinks and we took them to the restaurant with the puppies, and Karyn revealed to us that she also doesn't eat fruit and was so pleased to hear that Sarah didn't either! And I thought she was the only one!

It was a fun night taking in more stories of travels. All in all a good day.

The next day we would leave early for Pakse.

Stay tuned for more tales .....

Dan

Posted by doyledan 06:53 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Missioning it to Laos!!

South Cambodia to Laos in 2 days

The only downside to celebrating new year on Otres beach (apart from the HUGE hangover, my 28 year old self needs to remember can't handle it like 21 anymore) was that we were the opposite end of the country to the border with Laos and only had a couple of days till our visa expired!! If we were including flights it would not be a problem but to keep to budget we are trying to do bus as much as possible so after a days rest in the shade and an early night the mission across the country began....

No surprises our pick up we had booked to take us to the bus station in Sihanoukvillle never turned up so we had to pay again for another one, not the most promising start. The furthest bus we could get from here was to Phnom Penh so we had dropped White Rabbit a note to say we were coming back again (our third stay with them)...we had randomly bumped into Vincent who works there at the new year party at Otres beach. The 6 hour trip meant we arrived in the afternoon with enough time to go and find a ticket for a bus to take us over the border into Laos the following day.

As we had been to Phnom Penh before this was an easier task to do and a short conversation at the ticket booth at the bus station to doubly make sure it was the right ticket for $24 each we had tickets to Nakasang in Laos, where we then would jump on a boat to 4000 islands! Exciting! Not so exciting was the 6.45 start and the 10 hours on a bus to get there! With the tickets sorted sooner than we thought we had time to play with the new residents at White Rabbit (2 gorgeous kittens!) and also popped to the cinema to see The Impossible (movie about the tsunami, its got great effects and a bit of a tear jerker).

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The next morning resisting all the temptation to pack the kittens we jumped in our tuk tuk to the bus station (this one turned up) and sat waiting eating bread from a local vendor. After some slight confusion we found our bus over the road at the petrol station and after some more waiting off we went. It was an uneventful trip until we approached the Laos border. We had read online that the visa should be around $35 dollars but to expect 'bribes' at the border. One of the men working on the bus came round with the immigration cards and to collect passports but was charging $41 for the visa, apparently this was for an additional $1 stamp fee at the Cambodian side and then a $5 fee on the Laos side. As we were tired we decided just to pay the few dollars extra rather than have the hassle although about 6 people decided to do the border themselves. We all got off the bus and the man with the passports and the few doing it themselves went to the small shacks to get their passports stamped.

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It was one of the randomist boarder crossings yet. As it was the end of the day half of the people working at there seemed to have started a party already about 10 bottles of beer down and a karaoke machine in full blast they sang away as we waited for the officials to stamp visas. It did keep us entertained as we waited but we noticed the 6 who were doing it on there own had been sent back to the Cambodian side to get another stamp and then were being held up when back on the Laos side even though two guys who arrived separately (with kayaks) seemed to get through quicker?

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Back on the bus we all waited for the 6 who were doing it on their own and the tension was mounting. As two came back to the bus they had managed to only pay an additional $2 and were querying why everyone else had to pay more and were promptly shouted at to sit down and told they were delaying the bus. Then the bus made as if it was going to drive off leaving the other 4 people which resulted in a lot more shouting, apparently the border police were refusing to stamp their passports and give them back until the next morning. The driver was unsympathetic and shouted it was their fault for not paying the fee like everyone else and they had to leave or people would miss their connecting bus at Pakse! It got a bit fraught a lot of shouting that they couldn't leave people stranded at the border vs you should have paid and you ll have to pay for all the people that miss their connection! Not the most pleasant experience and eventually they got their passports and we were on our way but the atmosphere was definitely on edge. To save a couple of dollars it does not seem worth the stress...although on principle it is ridiculous that the bus and boarder police seem to be in on it together to get a few more bucks out of tourists but what can you do!

Fortunately our stop at Nakasang was not far from the boarder, we were dropped on the road out of town and piled on to a songthaew to take us the rest of the way. It was a bit of a squeeze and the sun had gone down by the time we organised a boat from Nakasang to Don Det (on of 4000 islands). Traveling on the Mekong in the dark was fun and the sky full of stars was incredible. As we landed on the island we expected the usual barrage of people trying to get you to go to their guesthouse but there was no one which was refreshing and allowed us to amble to find a bungalow on the river. We managed to find a great deal on a simple bungalow for only 35,000 kip per night (£2.70!) and had a great curry at Jasmine restaurant.

We had made it to Laos!!

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 20:11 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

New Year on Otres Beach

Near Sihanoukvillle.

We had spent a lot of time in Kampot and although we had a great time we knew for definite it was time to move on. The bus was booked and the early morning rise with standard stress of waiting for a pickup from bus company and it being late thankfully didn't distract us from looking forward to getting to the Beach. Upon the bus making it to our bungalow we knew that it was going to be a tight squeeze for the 6hr ride. The two people next to us, who sadly had to move because we needed to get to the back got the short straw as their seat didn't fully click in and therefore it was not the most comfortable from what I could tell. However, the good thing about being squashed up to someone is that you both feel compelled to acknowledge each other rather than keeping to yourself which happens a lot amongst travellers. We had a good chat with a guy called Mike who was from New Zealand he told us about his last minute booking for a room near Sihanoukvillle for New Year which cost him $90!!!. We didn't tell him we were only paying $6 despite his being a hotel and ours being a dorm room, however it was still a lot to pay for Cambodian standards I thought. Unfortunately, Mike was not staying at Otres so we didn't see him again but it was a welcome distraction from an otherwise uneventful trip.

We stayed at Wish You Were Here which is run by an Aussie guy Johnny who I found out was really into the Beastie Boys! He had a new cat which Sarah took a shining too, its name was chmaa which is cat in Khmer. It also had these fantastic hanging chairs which we both want in our house.

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We had read about Sihanoukville being the kind of place that tourism normally ruins and therefore were expectant that Otres would be far more chilled and thankfully it was. It still had guest houses lining the beach with some playing gangsta rap and some playing smooth lounge music mixed with backpackers and families who either are getting a massage or being sold items by the locals which you find in beach resorts but the intensity of it all was so laid back that it didn't ruin the experience (although Sarah did get annoyed that they kept touching her legs insisting they needed to be threaded when they didn't!).The beach itself is sublime and it didn't fault when providing us with ample sun, sunsets, shallow clear waters to cool off and a selection of bars that served fresh fish and chilled drinks, what more could you ask when waiting to see in the New Year.

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One of the nights during our time here we spent at Otres Market which was a cool bar area away from the beach which had music and stalls with people sitting around on mats, very hippy looking crossed with a village fete. They also had a treehouse and some swings that we pushed some of the local kids on causing lots of giggling. The rest of our nights were spent having a good meal and relaxing which we kinda did in Kampot but it just isn't the same when you have got a beach.

The only other thing that we did (that was a little disappointing) was the snorkelling boat trip that we bought into to go see the islands of Koh Russei and another two, the names which escapes me now. One of the local guys had sold it in and typically it didn't deliver what was sold. The snorkelling was average, mostly made up of poor corals and the boat was filled with too many people (30 instead 13) that a lot of us felt hard done by. We didn't really take many photos but what was fortunate was that we ended up chatting with some friendly people on the boat and on the beach area instead. Again, when you are all cramped up to each other you feel compelled to acknowledge the craziness in unison and chat about your experiences. It was great for that and the beach we stayed on was lush really, we just didn't take take advantage of it mainly because we were having a good time chatting with the people we met on the boat.

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I ended up sitting with Chris and Nicole on one side of the boat during our voyage from the mainland and we shared stories as they had been to places we were going and also they lived in Perth despite being from UK, so it was really interesting to hear how that came about and certainly distracted me enough to forget about the heat and the small space I had to sit in and that the boat was rolling so much it felt like you would fall in the water!

Sarah managed to get in on the chat and we met Pete and Michelle (who is Nicole's sister) and kinda all decided to meet up later after the trip for drinks which was really thoughtful of them because they were holidaying together. Sarah and I had only just before been discussing how it would be nice to meet some new people and spend more than a bus trip getting to know them and with the added bonus of New Year coming up it would be a perfect time to spend it with a group should the occasion arise, and thankfully it did.

The dinner we had was excellent, the portion sizes got the thumbs up from us boys and the rest of the evening we had some good chats, I kept getting the sea mixed up with the river ( we had spent time much time in Kampot!!). We learned about Chris's terminology of Sicko! which described a stereotypical Aussie guy who you normally see in bars when travelling wearing a vest and loves a beer!, we all took to it and it was the word of the night for the rest of New Year.

To sum up New Year, it was a blast!!

Our guesthouse and the another called Richie's had decided to put on a small beach party with sound system and small dance floor made with mats. It ended up being exactly what Sarah and I wanted. Good venue, good location and great people.

I will let the photos say it all. ( To those involved don't worry this isn't Hangover III the end scene!)

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Sorry Chris it had to feature.....
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Happy New Year 2013

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Stay tuned for more tales....

Dan

Posted by doyledan 06:10 Archived in Cambodia Tagged beach new year Comments (0)

Day trip to Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay)

33 °C

The small coastal town of Kep is only a short bus ride from Kampot and you can hop on a boat from there to Rabbit Island.

We decided that this would be a good way to spend our last day in the area and so along with our new friends Jen and Lassi we got a tuk tuk at 7am to the bus station to make our way to the island. We organised getting their through our bungalow and were met by a guy from Green Tours in Kep who sorted out a boat for us. On the way to the pier that is a giant sculpture of a crab coming out of the sea! It is huge! Unfortunately I didn't have the camera out to get a pic of it. This area is famous for its seafood, particularly crab seasoned with Kampot pepper, so I think this is the reason for the giant statue. It seemed a bit chaotic at the pier as no one seemed to know what boat to get in but we were finally allocated to boat 9 and soon were on our way.

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The boat trip takes about 25 mins so there was plenty of time to pose for some shots...

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Solo album cover?

As we approached the island it was exactly what we were after... palm trees, beach huts, free sunlounging platforms and clear warm water to swim in (makes a change from the murky Mekong!)

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After a solid day of sunbathing we tried out the Xmas gift I gave to Dan which was a kind of shuttlecock with a feather on the end that you play keepy ups with. It's used by loads of people across Vietnam and Cambodia.

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We said farewell to Lassi and Jen who decided to stay on the island and made our way back to the mainland. Safe travels guys!

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We felt quite adventurous as we got to shore and decided to walk back to our bus stop. Despite only being about 4km as it was getting dark about half way we ended up catching a tuk back and continued our game of Yaniv to pass the time before the bus showed up. It was a hard fought game which we had to put on hold for the next day...and is still on going!

Our last night in Kampot we sampled to famous fish amok that our bungalows is known for...it's meant to be the best in Cambodia according to the expats that we met and it did not disappoint.

Oh and this is our little toad called Bert who we shared our shower room with. Bye Bert!

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Sxx

Posted by doyledan 08:29 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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