I arrived in Phnom Penh as a travel experiment to go to places I might not be comfortable with. Well, that, and because of flight prices. RM99 are just too good to be left alone.
Roads were dusty, cafes were far and wide, locals were intimidating. Beside all that, I found the food to be familiar, but new. Amok, fish curry in banana leaf would be my go-to dish for the rest of my travel here.
Read about them a lot in subreddit, so thought I should drop by in a jiffy. Boy what an adventure. Arrived at a train station, and locals couldn’t understand this specific jetty I wanted to go. They understood in the end, but that jetty was mostly for locals, so had to wait for a long time, and I’m not sure if I even board the right ferry.
I stayed at the other end of the island, which was way out of the way, I had to cross a jungle in darkness and walk about 2km. In the next stay, it was a bit nearer to town, but there’s no coverage or wifi, and full of western hippie backpackers, the kind I never manage to get warm.
The place I most looked forward to. As a person who was a bit of History buff in Form 4, Angkor came across early on in my life. How it was at the height of civilization, only to be abandoned completely and reclaimed by the jungle. I’ve been wondering where it all went, and who are the present-day heirs.
Siem Reap are the anchor town for Angkor. In itself was also a mix of interesting and familiarity. There’s block of pubs, hidden bars, historic houses, and fancy cafes, a familiar instance of overtourism.
This Laos town often overlooked by its northen counterpart. While Cambodia has distinct culture and language, Laos seems like an extension of Thailand. The capital sit next to Thailand border, opposite of the river.
To go here from Cambodia, I opt for open-air train from eastern Thailand, stopped at Bangkok, and change to northbound train going through Nong Khai. I think it was better than going with bumpy sleeper bus.
Luang Prabang felt like a town stuck in time. I felt like I was back in my old hometown back in 1990. They barely have any cars, the whole town has generous greeneries, and beautiful temple and buildings stood the same since the beginning.
And then there’s Kuang Si waterfall. It’s like the best waterfall nature has created, with cascaded pools, not much boulders, it’s amazing how minerals and water could do that.
Mekong Boat & Chiang Rai
What I read, in order to complete the Banana Pancake Trail, one have to take the Mekong River Slow Boat. To go to my next destination, which was Pai, I had to go by 2-day 2-leg 8-hour boat trip, from Luang Prabang, overnight at Pak Beng (small riverside village where I found Malaysian food, and a very friendly hotel where they packed food for our next leg), and drop off at Huay Xai, Laos.
From there, I crossed the immigration office to Chiang Khong, a border town across the river from Huay Xai. I like how I were back to familiarity of Thai towns, with familiar foods, telco, and infrastructure. It just felt weird being in Laos compared to Thailand.
Then, from Chiang Khong, I stopped at Chiang Rai for few days because I quite like the town. People usually just go there for a day-trip from Chiang Mai, just to see the White Temple. The town itself is nothing special, but still charming.
I stayed for one night in Chiang Mai before taking a minibus to the next town:
Pai - Ubud of Thailand
If you’re not familiar, Ubud is where western people go for Yoga retreat, Chai latte, and soaking sunset by the paddy field. Pai is like that too, but even smaller and compact. However there’s not much of temples besides a giant buddha on top of a mountain.
There’s a lot of things to do outside of the town too, like hillside cafes, hot spring, hidden bars, and historic bridge. It’s best explored with bike, like the one below. I tried to go to all the way to Mae Hong Son, but quickly came to my senses.
It certainly worth to leave your comfort zone once in a while. But try to have a lot of planning, research, about places you would like to go. Just don’t set them in stone. Be flexible and curious.