The only way to quickly describe Songkan to those who have not experienced it, is that it is a perfect mix of a 3 day music festival and a water fight, all taking place in city surroundings.
Songkran is celebrated in Thailand from the 13th to the 15th of April, which coincides with the traditional New Year celebrations all over South East Asia. It falls on the hottest time of year in Thailand, at the end of the dry season. The traditional celebration of Songkran is throwing water over others; this is essentially to wash away the sins of the previous year and to start the New Year clean and pure.
Typically, as with the rest of Thailand, it has become over run with tourists and backpackers. This does add to the fun of the festival but at the same time it slowly eats away at the traditional Songkran. However the local Thai people don’t seem to mind this and even enjoy it more to hit Western targets with their water guns.
Our first introduction to Songkran in Chiang Mai was when we returned from our moto trip to Pai, we were bombarded with buckets of water as we drove down the highway into the city. Children who were just able to stand to grandparents all joined in, tossing buckets of water on passing vehicles.
Once we entered the city we hit a huge traffic jam around the moat area, this is where the main party takes place. It was here that we got stuck for an hour trying to manoeuvre our bikes in and out of the stationary traffic. It was a lot of fun though; people were all sitting on the back of pick-up trucks with barrels of water, soaking anybody in sight. The Thai people were respectful when they threw water, we had backpacks on so they would only throw water at our chest, in order to avoid wetting our bags, the Western tourists were not so forgiving though.
When we made it back to our guesthouse we met some of the friends we had met on the train from Bangkok. I grabbed some beer and joined in on the festivities outside the guesthouse. We then returned our bikes and headed for the main area where the celebrations were taking place. Armed with water guns and buckets we headed straight towards the battlefield. Water was gathered from anywhere that you can find it, usually from passing pick-up trucks or else from the water in the moat. This water in the moat was not very clean water, in fact it has a very strong green colour to it, this however didn’t deter me from going to for a quick swim. By the time we reached the main area the sun was starting to set and the temperature started to drop, so as an alternative to a water fight we settled for a few beers instead.
Songkran is a water festival for people of all ages, it is a chance for older people to leave their childish side out and just have fun, and the children of course love any chance to throw water. Everybody walking through the streets of Chiang Mai during Songkran has a smile on their face, and to be honest, why wouldn’t you? You are taking part in one of the biggest water festivals in the world.
Of course no festival is complete without alcohol. The Thai authorities have however limited its availability during the festival. For example the main festival area where all the music stages are located is a strict no alcohol area, and the 7/11’s are prohibited from selling alcohol from 2pm-7pm. I presume this is in an attempt to lower the number of alcohol related incident that may hinder the enjoyment of the festival. There are of course bars open during the day, and this is where most of the drinking takes place during the day. However the alcohol consumption is not just done by the Western visitors, the local Thai’s also like to indulge. This seems to be a very traditional way of drinking; usually the family would sit down together over food and drink beer or rum and coke. It was very common to be walking around and to be offered a drink or a shot of rum, and of course that is very hard to turn down.
Most of have been lucky enough to experience the feeling at the being front row of a concert, for those of you that don’t; you are missing out big time!! Being at the concert stages at Songkran is something surreal. The DJ is protected from the water by transparent plastic sheeting, beautiful girls are constantly spraying the crowd with power hoses, the water is ankle deep and the atmosphere is inexpressible. At one stage I turned around from the stage to see a pick-up truck stopped and people, including the drive, were climbing onto the roof. It took me 5 seconds to think about it and I went to join them. With a helping hand from someone on top of the roof, I joined them for a dance in the middle of all the traffic. This may have been the highlight of my Songkran, it was the last few hours of the festival and everyone was going crazy and I had the best spot in Chiang Mai.
Songkran is a festival like no other. If you get the chance to do it in your lifetime, just do it, no matter what age you are!
It was something that I can now tick off my bucket list!
Is it on yours?
We had just arrived in Chiang Mai from Bangkok on an overnight train that took 14 hours. This however is not as bad as you may think, in fact, it is by far the best way to travel long distances in Thailand. The cost of the ticket was 800 bhat (just under $30). We each had our own fully horizontal bed, complete with pillow and blanket. Before we got on the train we took a quick stop in a 7-11 for a couple of beers and two bottles of Sang Som rum. The train even has its own restaurant/party carriage where we spent most of our time. So when you were fully loaded with drink and ready for bed all you had to do is stumble back through the swaying carriages to your bed and pass out. When we work up we were arriving in Chiang Mai. Perfect!!
Anyway, planning our route was the first part of this expedition. We bought a map and set our sights on the northern town of Pai. There is a main road that connects Chiang Mai and Pai, this takes you through the valleys on a nice tarmacked road. Or there are the other alternative route that are never travelled by tourists. It came down to a flip of a coin on which route we would take, like it literally did come down to a flip of a coin (heads or temple) And the alternative route came up temple, so our choice was made by fate. Little did we know what lay ahead of us because of that simple flip of a coin!!
With our motos rented the previous night we awoke early at 6:45am to begin our journey at 7am. We estimated the length of the trip at around 150km to get to Pai, so around 6-7 hours. (How wrong we were) However because some of us are not ‘morning people’ we did not leave until 8am. Looking at it now, that hour lost us a valuable hour of sunlight. Getting out of Chiang Mai was easy, there was not too much traffic and the roads in Thailand are a lot more organised than those in Cambodia. We headed north until we had to turn off the main road to find our alternative route. Once we turned off this main road that was fully of trucks, buses and fast cars we were greeted with one of the best roads that I have ever had the pleasure of driving on. It was the perfect combination of a smooth paved road, seamless inclining bends, and awe inspiring views that would distract you from the road ahead!
After making it out of the city and off the main road we decided to stop for breakfast as a small cabin at the side of the road for some morning Pad Thai. After filling up we set off once again, stopping every so often to take in the sights and some pictures of the interlocking green valleys. We tried to stop along the way at a couple of waterfalls and caves; however these had all been turned into tourist attractions and had an entrance fee. For me this is not the way that you should experience some of Mother Nature’s greatest sculptures. It just reminded me of how lucky we were in Koh Kong when we found the giant secluded waterfall. We did however come across a cave, while it was a tourist attraction, it did not charge and entrance fee. Here we found a deep cavern that bore its way in to the monstrous cliff-face. Equipped with just the flash lights from our mobile phones we entered the cave to explore. The impeding darkness quickly engulfed us and sounds of the unknown cause paranoia to set in and it soon had us exiting the cave quite quickly.
Back on our Honda Dream’s again we set off again. For those of you that are unfamiliar with motos, the Honda Dream is the most popular and reliable bike in South East Asia. It is perfect on big roads and with its 125cc engine it can reach a good pace. Its handling and gear changes are second to none and it there are ever any issues with it, most mechanics will know how to fix it. But what really sets the Honda Dream apart from the other motos is its endurance and ability to overcome any terrain that is throw at it, be it mud, water, gravel, or all of them combined! It really is the ultimate bike and it was just what we needed for this trip.
We stopped for food at Yang Moen at 3pm with around 4 hours of sunlight left. The next part of road was going to be the worst of the trip, on the map that we bought it said that this road is only passable in a 4×4 during the dry season, on our Dream’s we could handle anything. Even before we set out we knew this, but we didn’t realise how bad it was actually going to be. While finishing our food we tried to guess at what time we would arrive in Pai and what we would do for the night. Let’s just say we were way off guessing our arrival time in Pai. The first half of the road was an enjoyable change from the perfect tarmac, now we were driving on sand and rubble, up and down through the green hills. A flat tire here would be a disaster for us, but luckily that flat tire came on a different road. The conditions of the road would change dramatically every hundred metres or so, but this just added to the excitement that was building up inside us.
This was short lived however, and soon we came crashing down to reality when we came to a cross roads that was not on our map. There was a village at this crossroads and we asked a family for directions to Wat Chan. This was a rural village in the middle of the jungle in Northern Thailand and no one spoke English. He pointed us to turn right at the crossroads, but I am pretty sure he had no idea of what we were asking him at all!! Hoping for the best we took his directions and headed off right, we travelled along a road that was so bumpy and full of potholes even the most equipped 4×4 in the world would have struggled on. We carried on for a half an hour until we came to a village that was completely and utterly deserted. There were around 15 houses in the village and not a soul to be found, and the road that we were stopped within the ghost village. We decided to turn around and to head back to the crossroads and see if we could get better directions. We found a guy that spoke a little bit of English and he showed us a different way and ensured us that his way was indeed the best way to get to Wat Chan, but it would take us over two hours. Now we were in a race against the sunset. For you how don’t realise the importance of getting off the road after dark have not travelled by road in a developing country. It is a dangerous place to be even during the day, let alone at night. The biggest vehicle has the right of way regardless of everything else, and us on our motos wouldn’t stand a chance.
Racing against the inevitable darkness we began to encounter roads that we getting worse and worse, until we came to another village deep in the forest. This village was slightly unusual because all the way we had been driving on dirt and suddenly in the middle of this village they were building a concrete road. This then forced us to go around the road that was still wet, and through someone’s house. This involved driving through a fence, up huge earth steps, under a house and around all the animals that they kept! At this stage we had started to gather quite an interest from the people of the village. Once we got around the road works we stopped to ask the locals how far Wat Chan was. This was a lot more difficult to communicate than you would expect because none of them there spoke a work of English, and none of us any Thai. So through various different forms of communication we realised that we were still at least 2 hours away from Wat Chan. This is the point in our journey where real panic and worry started to set in. This resulted in high tensions between the 4 of us, and anything that we said or did got on someone else’s nerves. This was the first real sign that everyone was worried about where we would end up. To add to this situation, my moto stopped working; whenever I gave it power it wouldn’t respond and just cut out. This was a very worrying situation to be in. The fact that we may already have to spend the night in the jungle, as well as trying to get a powerless moto out too would be a disaster. Thanks to a local ,with what looked like a giant spliff, he got the bike working again, as I said, the Honda Dream is an extremely reliable moto.
We now knew which direction that we had to go in but we did not know what condition the ‘road’ would be like. This was fine for 15 minutes until we came to yet another split in the road. It was at this point that I turned to the guys and said to them that we had two options; 1) Carry on the road but we didn’t know what lay ahead. 2) Go back to the village that we just left and ask for help in getting us out of the dense jungle. We opted for the latter and went back to the village. We were fortunate that two guys were already packing to go out to the main road and they said that they would guide us out.
If it was not for these guys we would never have made it out. The road that unfolded before us was made up of all sorts of obstacles and challenges for us to get past. Small wooden bridges, followed muddy crevasses and then climbing up 50° hills with dykes on either side of the foot wide path. This was a huge challenge for us and it could have gone very wrong if someone took a stumble or hit a bump and fell off. That’s not to say that we never fell over during all of this. I took a couple of falls and my moto took a serious beating but we made it through. After this exhausting drive we finally made it out of the jungle area and out onto the main road! First stop was petrol.
While at the petrol station there was a huge sense of relief that we were out of the jungle and finally back on a road that was on the map. Nevertheless tensions were still high and words were firmly spoken between a few people. We decided to try and put it behind us until we had reached somewhere to stay and have a well needed beer! We still had an hour drive to go until be reached Wat Chan where we would try to get a place to stay for the night, and now there was around 15 minutes of light left so we had to get going. Driving in the dark is something that you have to be cautious about most of the time, but especially so when you are driving on a dirt road that was full of huge potholes that you can’t see until the very last moment.
The best feeling that we had all day was when we were driving along this dirt road and suddenly we hit smooth tarmac, this indicated that we were on the main road to Wat Chan! This was the biggest sense of relief that I have experienced in a long time. As we sailed along this road we all started to cheer and beep our horns in excitement, now it was smiles all round. We found a guesthouse in Wat Chan, got something to eat, had a beer and went to bed. We were all tired, dirty, dusty and delirious from 13 hours of riding, but the important thing was that we weren’t sleeping in the jungle that night!!
We arose with the sun the next day hand travelled towards our original destination of Pai, 57km away. This was a beautiful ride through the mountains as the sun was coming up, I couldn’t help but stare off into the mountains and realise how lucky I am to have the chance to do this! It’s something that I will never forget. We made it to Pai at 11am and got some lunch, we decided not to hang around and just start off back towards Chiang Mai, this time taking the main road! This road was superb, new smooth tarmac combined with hair-pin turns made for an entertaining journey home. Lars was not so lucky because at about half way he got a flat tire, better on a main road than in the middle of the jungle. A nice Thai family with a pickup truck were happy to help and loaded the moto into the back along with Lars.
They found us a mechanic that would fix the tire and didn’t want any money in exchange. With this slight inconvenience out of the way we finally made it back to Chiang Mai. It was here that we were greeted with buckets of water being thrown at us while we drove. Entering Chiang Mai then was total madness!! The streets were full of people, cars and pickup trucks all taking part in the beginning of Songkran! We made it back to our guest house wet, exhausted and filthy, but at least we made it back. Now we could concentrate on the 3 day long water festival that awaited us!!
Khmer New Year gave us the opportunity of having a two week holiday away from the school. And with Thailand being so close there was no point in staying in the Kingdom of Wonder, so along with three friends; Leo, Carl and Lars we set of on our journey north towards Bangkok. I’m not going to get into the full details of the trip that we took yet but instead give you a quick preview of what we experienced along the way.
19 hours on a bus from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, just some of the travelling that we had to do in order to reach Songkran in Chiang Mai. There we rented bikes and headed towards the northern town of Pai, however we wanted to take the road never travelled by other tourists. The was the first big test of our group.
Getting totally lost in the jungle of northern Thailand is an experience that I will never forget and something that I never want to do again. Eventually, albeit with help from local village people we were guided out of the dense forest area. Songkran greeted us back in Chiang Mai in the form of buckets of water when we arrived on our motos.
Pattaya was next on our list but this would not be a highlight, but it was something that I just wanted to experience for myself. It is the same and a bit worse than I expected, during the day there were a lot of Russians in bars drinking, unhappy local shopkeepers and a huge amount of construction going on. At night it got worse then. At night is when the place really makes its name for being the world capital for sex tourism. Bar girls, prostitutes and lady boys roam the streets trying to get people into their bars and then into bed. But luckily this was only a stop over and the next day we headed back towards Cambodia. Final resting place is in Otres Beach. Nice beach, good food and the sea is only 10 feet away!!
Welcome To The Jungle
Again with too much delicious Cambodian beer consumed the night before I woke with a dry mouth and a throbbing headache. Clambering out of my mosquito net I stumbled across Lukas who didn’t make it to bed but instead slept outside on the balcony of the bungalow. Grabbing the closest bottle of water I quenched the morning cotton mouth! Lukas was also pleased when I woke him with a bottle of water! The only instant cure for this hangover was to simply jump into the free flowing river that we were lucky enough to have at our door step. I spent the next 30 minutes floating in an inflatable tire listening to the calls of the jungle birds. Leaving the river drift me where ever it liked, and with that washing away my hangover.
After my natural hangover cure it was time for a bucket shower. And for you that don’t have the lucky opportunity to experience this, you are not missing out. Basically there is a large vat of water and a small bucket with a handle. First of all you have to pluck up the courage and mentally prepare yourself for the cold water that you are about to willingly pour over yourself. Anyways I’ll save you the rest of the details but you get the point! However there was one thing to look forward to after the cold shower! Fresh French bread, fluffy scrambled eggs and hot coffee!!
We all gathered around the outside dining table where we sat slightly intoxicated only a few hours ago. Again we discussed the plans for the day and generally chatted. We decided on a trek through the jungle that is located at the rear of the resort. From there it would be a two hour trek through the Koh Kong jungle to a spectacular waterfall. Thomas suggested that we should kayak back to the resort from the waterfall. The three of us looked at each other and agreed, ‘and let’s pack some beer too’ But first it was time for a chill out and just spending a few hours relaxing in the hammock on the balcony.
Packing a few supplies such as water and sun cream into a bag we headed towards the back of the resort and Thomas showed us the boundary of his land and the protected national park. From here we started the steep climb up through the mighty jungle, precariously scanning the path ahead of every footstep. This was jungle territory and we are just visitors, snakes, spiders and other wild animals ruled this rugged terrain, we would have to steer clear of them and not the other way around!
The first ten minutes of the trek was all up hill and was kind of strenuous because I haven’t done any kind of exercise since I had left Ireland, this combined with over 30°C humid and sticky heat and you get the picture (I was sweating major balls) But it got better further on, the land flattened out and the path now turned into a nice leisurely walk. Being in the jungle you imagine that you will see all kinds of exotic animals and insects, however this is not the case. It is not that they are not there, they are just deep in the jungle and usually do not stay on the trekking path. You can however hear their various calls and sounds coming from the wilds off the path. While on our trek we came across several different species of spiders that had set up their webs in the line of the path we were taking. There were two or three occasions that Thomas, who was leading us, would get a spider web to the face but luckily there were no spiders there at the time.
While continuing on the path with relatively no problems, cue, another f*****g snake. Thomas who was leading us spotted it and quickly skipped ahead warning us of the snake that had just crossed the path. I was the next behind Thomas and I had to make the split second decision of whether to retreat back to Julius and Lukas, or quickly move forwards past the snake to relative safety. I chose the latter and quickly hopped past the snake, that I couldn’t see by the way, and we waited for Julius and Lukas to cross. The snake was a grey viper with black stripes around a metre long. This snake may be small but its bite was enough venom to kill an adult human in two hours. And to think that if someone had been unlucky enough to get bitten we still had an hour trek ahead of us to the waterfall, and then to try to get to a doctor in Koh Kong City, the odds wouldn’t have been in our favour!! Successfully guiding Julius and Lukas past the intense looking snake we continued on.
Like yesterday, the first indication of us getting closer to the waterfall was the sound of rushing water. When we emerged from the clearing we cast our sights out upon a vast area of chaotic rock with water rushing over and around and eventually cascading down the overhang into the pool below. We quickly made our way down to the water’s edge, stripped down and jumped into the revitalizing river. It didn’t take us long to find a safe area to jump off of into the water below. This satisfied the itch that we just couldn’t scratch at the waterfall yesterday. We started off with some harmless jumps and twists, then moving onto front-flips. And that’s where we should have stopped. The suggestion of a backflip should never have even been considered. Unfortunately my ego and confidence got the better of me. Standing on the edge of the rock with my back to the water I bent my knees and sprung off back towards to water. It seemed to be going well until I realised, mid-air, that I had over rotated the jump and my back was now going to take the full brunt of my mistake. With an almighty slap, my back hit the water and with that the air was knocked out of my lungs. I emerged from the water with a searing hot sensation on my back and gasping for air. Realising how stupid I probably looked, I decided to call it a day with the rock jumping.
We made our way over to the boat from Neptune Bungalows that had sailed over to join us whilst we were trekking through the jungle. It had brought with it the kayaks that we were going to use as our transport home. But it’s most precious cargo was the ice cold beers stowed away in a cooler box. We sat chatting on the rocks for a while enjoying the last few warm rays of sun with a cool beer in our hands.
With the sun setting on our backs we took to the kayaks, we had an hour paddle through the meandering river that was hugged by this immense green mangrove forest. Paddling through a river completely isolated as the sun is going down is one of the most peaceful experiences I’ve ever experienced. Besides the occasional moan from Lukas who was getting tired of all the paddling. As Julius paddled ahead of us it was just a matter of time before we broke out with a rendition of ‘Hey Jude’ by The Beatles, it had clearly been too long since we had been in Heartbreak (which I will talk about in a future blog post) Rounding the last corner we stopped paddling, opened our final beer and let the river drift us towards the pier of Neptune.
After the trek and the paddle we had worked up quite an appetite, and once again we were not disappointed! Tasty fried noodles with vegetables and chicken satisfied our cravings and almost induced a food coma. However we fought it off and settled down in the comfortable plastic chairs around the campfire to enjoy our last night, of course with a few cold ones.
The weekend was one that I was looking forward to immensely and it did not disappoint one bit! There is not one thing that I would change about the weekend. It really was an adventure that included both heart pounding, adrenaline filled moments but also some of the most beautiful and picturesque surrounding imaginable. Koh Kong, we will meet again!
After a very peaceful sleep we awoke early to get the most out of the day. Listening to the jungle birds singing in the distance made up for the bothersome alarm clock that woke me from my deep slumber. We made our way over to the outside dining area to be greeted by hot coffee, scrambled egg and a fresh baguette with butter and jam. This may seem like an insignificant breakfast for all of you currently living in the West. But trust me, after two months of rice and vegetables for breakfast, this was five star dining. All that was missing was a couple of nice crispy bacon slices, but you can’t have it all!!
At 8am we boarded the boat back to land in order to get the bikes and head out for our day trip. Driving back in the direction we had come the day before, we turned off the road. The road we were now on was not paved and was littered with potholes up to three feet in diameter. These monstrous potholes were caused but the giant dump trucks that were building a new Chinese hydro-electric dam. This did not make for a comfortable ride on the back of the bike. My arms, back and ass were already suffering from the 6 hours excursion the day before. It is a constant battle to keep your balance on the back of a big bike heading downhill and bouncing over potholes. Sometimes a sudden break or bounce of a pothole would cause my head to fly forward and clash helmets with Lukas.
As we drove on the morning fog started to descend upon the tree tops that surrounded the red dirt road. This made for a surreal sight and the road ahead vanished into the dense fog. None the less we continued on, until we were stopped by a bridge that was being repaired. So instead of going over this river, we now had to go through the river. The river was small so this was not a problem; the only issue was the muddy make shift road down to the river. We took a small break here before we crossed the river and watched several cars, motos and trucks struggle to make it up the muddy embankment. Somehow they all managed to succeed, all be it with a lot of revving, exhaust fumes and a push from the three of us. After crossing the river with no problems we continued on, but we would have to cross this river again on the way back!
The road now was pleasant and comfortable after crossing the river. We were now really in rural Cambodia. We zipped past small wooden houses and young children waved and shouted ‘HELLO’ as we passed by. Along the road we found a small sign with picture of a waterfall and various different animals on it. We presumed that this was where the secluded waterfall that Thomas had been telling us about. We could not ask anyone if it was the right place or not because in rural Cambodia nobody speaks English, and our Khmer was not good enough. Anyway we followed the small path into the overgrown forest, winding around trees and bushes to a small clearing where we couldn’t proceed any further by bike. From here we could undoubtedly hear the sound of rushing water and we made our way by foot down a steep hill towards the water. As we emerged from the clearing we found the most scenic, stunning and secluded waterfall I have ever seen in my life. The fast moving river made its way over rocks and through the green jungle to plummet over a 30 foot drop into a vast pool of clean fresh water. We were the only people there in exception to two local children that were astonished to see three white people going swimming in this plunge pool. Unfortunately for us the pool wasn’t deep enough for us to jump into from the top of the waterfall, so a cool leisurely swim would have to suffice.
This is one of the main reasons why I love Cambodia. This waterfall was so beautiful but it was not a tourist attraction, if this had been Thailand its natural beauty would have been spoiled by development, backpackers and beer cans! Cambodia is around 20 years behind Thailand in terms of tourism development which means that some of its natural beauty is still untouched. However this is changing, you can understand the need for this development from an economic point of view, but at the same time it is Cambodia’s natural areas that suffer.
After the waterfall we made our way back to the road and continued onto the nearest town in search of some much needed food. We found a nice small village that was buzzing with activity and small shops. Here we found a small restaurant where there was a family sitting down drinking coffee. To say the least they were quite surprised to see us walking and sitting down ready to eat. Communicating only through hand gestures we ordered rice with vegetables and some kind of meat. To be perfectly honest I couldn’t tell you if this ‘meat’ it was pork, chicken, beef or even dog, but it was well seasoned and tasted awesome!
After an appetizing lunch we were ready to ride on again to the last town on the map before the road vanished into the jungle abyss. As we entered into the town we came to a Y junction and we weren’t sure which road to take. At a shop we found a couple of local men drinking beer and eating some food, we showed them a map and asked them about the road ahead. Before they gave us an answer they insisted on us joining them for some beer and rice wine mixed with an energy drink. After a few beers they told us that there was nothing more to see or do on the road ahead and there was no point of continuing on. This was the point in our adventure that we have listened and turned around, but of course we didn’t and curiosity got the better of us.
The road became smaller, bumpier, and more enclosed by bamboo trees, after leaving the last village we did not see another person for the next 2 hours. Our next obstacle was a handmade wooden bridge that stood above a ten foot drop into a gorge. If one of the bikes were to fall in here there was no chance of us getting it out and it would made for a difficult job of explaining the loss of a bike to the rental company. We dismounted from the bikes and walked them across extremely slowly and carefully one by one. This took a bit of time but in the end it was no problem. Another few 100 metres down the path we came across another bridge, but this one was much more unstable and had a higher drop. Again with exceptional care we crossed the bridge bike by bike. When we came across a third and even more unstable bridge we knew that we could not cross it with the bikes. Undeterred we continued on by foot, all the time checking the path for snakes and spiders that may cause us harm. After 40 or so minutes of hiking through the jungle we came to a stunning lake that contained the bamboo ferry that Thomas had been telling us about. It was here that we realised that we could not continue on any further. We chilled by the lake for a while and then decided to make our way back to the bikes.
Making our way back up the hill an animal track mark on the path caught my attention and caused me to go back to inspect it. The print was at least 9-10cm across and was not on the path when we walked it first. Not knowing what kind of animal may be lurking in the dense jungle around us we started moving quite quickly. Julius then mentioned that there were still wild tigers living in in the jungle that surrounded us. This immediately caused paranoia to set in! Again further along the path we discovered more of the same track marks on the path, and these were most defiantly not there when we passed the area previously. This is was the point that the paranoia, panic and fear of the unknown were all mixed together our heads to concoct a cocktail of utter terror!! To put it plainly we were scared shitless, and started running as fast as we possibly could, looking back every so often to see if there was anything following us. At one stage we actually stopped to pick up rocks to throw at whatever may have been behind us. Thinking of it now, I have no idea why I was looking back, I don’t know what I would have done if there was anything chasing us. When we eventually got to the bikes we started them with a huge roar of the engine to scare anything away. We took on out of the jungle as fast as our heart rate, only to realise that we had to get back across the two dodgy wooden bridges again. With Julius leading the way we saw him stop ahead of us, turn and shout something back to us and then he took off like a bat out of hell! It was only afterwards that we found out that an extremely dangerous 3-4 metre black cobra had crossed the path just ahead of him.
It took us around an hour and a half to get to the lake area that had the bamboo ferry, and no joke, on the way back out on the bikes it took us no more than 5 minutes. We stopped at the shop we had been before for a drink and to sit down. We each held out our hands to see how much we were shaking. Not one of us could keep our hand out straight with all the adrenaline that was in our system. After a few minutes we all calmed down and we started to make out way back before nightfall.
We refuelled in the village where we had the suspicious food and continued on our journey back home with no problems until we got to the bridge that was being restored. Making our way down the muddy embankment to the river the bike began to lose control and the back tire began to slip out from underneath us and before we know it we were on the ground. Luckily we both managed to stop our legs from being trapped and pinned under the bike. There was no damage done to us or the bike, but at the same time it gave us a bit of a fright. The rest of the way back was no problem and we headed into the city of Koh Kong for a much needed beer on the Riverside!!
After this we made our way back to Neptune Bungalows for diner. We were treated to a delicious German style snitzle and homemade french-fries! This was the most meat I have had for dinner in two months of being in Cambodia, and it really hit the spot! Dinner was of course accompanied by probably too many beers next to the campfire. Plans for the next day were discussed and a deep sleep ensued.
Leaving Phnom Penh on this weekend was a must do, because of the cremation ceremony of the King most shops, restaurants and ,most importantly, the bars closed out of respect for the much loved King Norodom Sihanouk. As we headed west on the National Road No.5 we passed dozens of citizens wearing clean white shirts and black pants/skirts heading for the Royal Palace.
Despite the night before, I now felt safe on the back of the bike with Lukas more or less having my life in his hands. Effortlessly overtaking buses, trucks and motos along the road we were at the end of a few strange looks from the locals. Probably thinking ‘Crazy Barangs’ (Barang being the Khmer word for foreigner)
The journey started off without a hitch until we decided to stop just before we had to turn off the National Road No.5. While standing on the side of the road looking for a place to eat, we realised that there was an immense amount of black smoke coming from the side of our exhaust. Lukas quickly ran to the nearest shop to get water to stop the smoke, and what may be a potential disaster at the start of our journey. On closer inspection once the steam and smoke had cleared we realised that there was some sort of rope lodged between the exhaust and its plastic guard. Obviously the heat from the exhaust caused the rope to heat up and burn. We quickly removed the charred rope with a small bamboo stick and continued our journey towards Koh Kong.
After 3 hours of straight monotonous driving, turning off the main national road onto what may be described as a secondary road was a relief. The scenery and the road conditions dramatically changed for the better. All you could see for miles around was green forest and jungle, and the now winding road made for a more interesting drive. At one point in the road, at the crest of a hill all you could see 360° round was tree tops and the road ahead slowly descending, twisting and disappearing into the vast green area ahead.
At around midday we emerged out of the forest road we stopped at the start of a bridge and Lukas told us that we had arrived at our destination, Tatai. Lukas phoned his Uncle Thomas who owned the bungalows where we were going to spend the weekend. http://neptuneadventure-cambodia.com/ Now the only way you can get to The Neptune Jungle Resort is by boat. So we sat down and had a well needed Coke, and stocked up with a box of Cambodia Beer for the day and night ahead. Sitting onto the narrow boat and heading straight down the river towards the mangrove forest, I knew that this was going to be a great weekend. I can only describe Neptune Jungle Resort as pure bliss! It consists of three bungalows that sit upon stilts, a kitchen and dining area and, my personal favourite, a handmade wooden pier. After settling into our own personal bungalow our immediate plan was swimming!! Grabbing a few beers along the way we headed straight for the water. After a 6 hour bike journey in +30° words can’t describe the feeling of jumping head first into fresh, clean and unspoiled water. We spent the next few hours lazing around drinking beers in the kayaks leaving the river slowly drift us wherever it wanted to, and we couldn’t care less!!
The night brought food and more beers! We were treated to a delicious Khmer curry and rice, served outside in candle light with a blazing campfire at our backs. As conversation flowed, so too did the beer. The conversation revolved around our plans for tomorrow and the day after. With only 3 days there we wanted to make the most of our time. It was agreed that we would take the bikes into the jungle in search of a secluded waterfall and a lake that contained a bamboo ferry and crocodiles.
Being in the jungle and everything, the risk of lethal snakes and poisonous spiders lurks around every tree and under every bush. Knowing that if one of us was unfortunate enough to get bitten by a snake we would have two hours to reach Koh Kong City to receive treatment. This trip is possible in the two hours but it is cutting it very close. With this fresh in our heads we slowly and carefully made our way back to our bungalow to rest before our early start in the morning!