Smile, you’re in Mandalay! 

I really liked Yangon but it was time for me to move on.  I booked a bus to Mandalay and I arrived at the Four rivers hostel where I had booked a bed.  The place is nice and clean,  rooms are spacious, breakfast is good.  The bathrooms could do with some make up but it was a very good choice.  On the afternoon of the first day there I just walked around a bit to have the feeling of the city. Mandalay is not Yangon. 

 Motorbikes are allowed there and the conversations among horns made me think of Hanoi.  So after the relative peace and quiet of Yangon I felt a little attacked but the feeling soon melted away.  People are very nice in Mandalay.  The smile.  All the time.  They don’t see the white face as a walking wallet. Most of the time they just smile at you and then carry on with their own devices.  The second day after a good and abundant breakfast on the roof terrace of the hostel I rented a bicycle to visit the city.  Before the heat started (and it was already too late)  I decided to visit Mandalay hill and the temple on top of it.  I got at the foot of the hill easily as the city is plain (a part from the hill) and once I got there I wanted to get to the top by the stairway for pedestrians to reach the top.  But there was a little “lost in translation ” situation and by the time I realized I was going up hill with the bike it was already too late to go back.  So I made the best of the situation and just “hiked” dragging the bicycle.  Once at the top I was ready for a heart attack…. But I just bought a bottle of ice cold water and I sat for 10 minutes just to get back my breath.  I walked up some steps and I was in the temple. Su Taung Pyi Pagoda is an immense space all covered in gold and mirrors as Myanmar tradition wants.  There are Buddha statues of different colors and forms,  so many of them so that at some point I got dizzy. 

I thought than in Italy we have far too many churches,  Christs and Virgin Marys but here there are faaaar more pagodas and Buddhas!!! 

They way back down was easy as I just let the brakes lose and in 5 minutes I was down.  I went to the “biggest book in the world” the Kuthodaw Pagoda, and it was just breathtaking.  Thinking of the fact that it was all handmade it’s just mind-blowing! 

After that I toured around the walls and went for lunch at Nepali, a restaurant not far from the wall.  The food was amazing and cheap and the service five star.

The following day I booked a tour to visit Inwa, Amapura and Sagaing. Three small towns a stone throw from Mandalay.  Of course we saw Buddhas and pagodas galore. After Sagaing we stopped for lunch at this vegetarian place near the river.  There was just us from the tour and the place is very cosy and quiet. It’s called Himalaya and the food was amazing! 

After lunch we crossed the river to visit Amarapura and we got caught in the middle of a rainstorm and we travelled in a chariot dragged by a poor horse and got completely soaked!!!  It was fun. 

The day after I just packed my bag and waited in the hostel for my night bus back to Yangon to begin my week of volunteering at Tha Bar Wa meditation center.   

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The red shadow 

So I finally arrived in Cambodia.  I had been advised to get the visa online to save time but it takes 3 days to get it processed and by the time I was ready to leave it was too late.  So I got at the airport of Phnom Penh without a visa and was already prepared to have to go through long lines and boring procedures when in the end it all took me about 15 minutes (and I also saved some 10$ comparing to online visa). 

The hostel I had reserved promised to send someone at the airport to pick me up but when I got there you guess it, nobody was waiting for me.  I bought a SIM card and started to talk with Whitney,  a girl from the US that was on the same plane as me.  We were going in the same direction so we decided to split the cost of a tuk tuk.  

We jumped in and the first thing we were told was to watch our bags.  Snatching bags and mobiles phones is pretty common here in Cambodia and so we were on the know. The traffic was pretty bad,  Thailand style and it took us about an hour to get to our destination.  

At the moment to check in at Billabong hotel and hostel I was preceded by a group of French Chinese and so I had to wait and be patient.  About ten minutes later I finally managed to do my check-in and I was then showed to my room. 

EditDorms here are pretty big and spacious.  I got a lower bunk bed as requested and the locker is so big that my entire backpack fits in.  Fantastic! That night I went for dinner with a couple of very nice Japanese guys that were staying in my dorm.  Walking around the city we managed to find this place where only locals go.  The food was good,  big and cheap.  The day after together with Hiro and So we decided to go to the killing fields

I remember when I was a kid that in the news they talked about the Khmer Rouge but I didn’t know much about the history of Cambodia and what really happened here. So when I decided to go to the killing fields I was not really aware of what I would have found.  We got there in about 30 minutes with rented motorbikes and paid the 5 dollars entry fee.  The audio guide was explaining what every stop was and what happened there.  Shivers were running down my spine and the memory went automatically to my visit to Auschwitz.  The atrocities that human kind can commit are really inexplicable.  I cannot understand or accept that someone in their right mind can do something so terrible to some other human being (or animal for that matter). Violence has no justification or motive in my mind and I really struggle to understand what happened in Cambodia or in Germany/Poland under the Nazis. 

To finish with the horror tour the following day I went to visit the genocide museum aka S21 a former school turned into torture zone during the Khmer Rouge occupation.

Phnom Penh is not a nice city.  It’s chaotic and there are areas where you don’t want to go at night (I almost got my phone stolen one night).  The only positive thing in my opinion is that there are plenty of vegetarian restaurants around the city.  I only had time to visit a few but the food there was very good.  

I went to EVERGREEN for breakfast.  I had a plate of noodles pretty big and then shared a yummy soup with my friend.  For dinner I went to VEGETARIAN 1000 a buffet like place where you can choose from different trays of food and they cost 1000 or 2000 riels (25/50c). The last day I went for breakfast to Surn Yi vegetarian restaurant and had noodles and mock pork.  Although the “pork” was pretty good,  the noodles were very poor, they didn’t taste of anything but maybe it was just my plate.  The choice in this place is pretty big and it is very popular according to Trip Advisor. 

I made it out of Phnom Penh direction Kep because I needed a rest from the chaos and noise of the big city. 

Kep is a small village four hour drive from Phnom Penh,  towards the coast.  I checked in at Kepmandou Lounge a nice and small hostel by the beach built from wood in a cabin style.  Clean and nice,  very quiet at night.  It rained almost all the time during the 2 days I was there but I just needed to rest so I didn’t mind.  I caught up on some movies that I wanted to see and just chilled. 

After Kep it was time to move to Sihanoukville where I was to start my next volunteering period on Sunday.  Sihanoukville is a city known for its tourism.  It’s not interesting in an artistic or historical way but my hostel was a little outside town,  once again by the beach and I was looking forward to enjoy my peaceful time…. Never have I been so wrong. At Footprints the dorm is just upstairs from the bar area.  The place is made of wood and there are no walls.  I went to bed around 11 pm and the music was still full blast (in any other hostel I have been the music stops at 10/10.30pm the latest). I actually had to go downstairs and ask to tone the music down a little.  At 3 am I woke up and there were still people at the bar chatting and laughing as of it was during the day.  The music came from the outside.  Somewhere not far away somebody was playing full blast techno  music.  And they didn’t stop until 8 am. The manager of the hostel apologized to me a thousand time but the damage was done.  I also thought to move to another hostel but I was too lazy and I only had one night left.  The second night was better,  no music from the outside but the bar closed at midnight.  Bu.t that night I was in kinda good mood as I had a very good pizza at Jin’s with Carlos a guy from Barcelona met on the bus from Kep. 

So,  comes Sunday and Roy,  my host comes and pick me up.  We drive for about 30 minutes and we arrive in Ream. He’s a Brit that lived for many years in Thailand and them moved to Cambodia with his Thai wife.  They are getting ready a resort by the river with bungalows and animals, the Ream Yacht club.  They need help with fixing and painting and here I am.  The place is in the middle of nowhere but that’s the charm of it.  The silence here is deafening and nature rules.  I just love it here. 

Island hopping part three: Perenthian island 

So.  I took a bus from Penang to go to Perenthian island on the east coast.  It’s a long and boring trip but it’s worth the effort. The bus arrived in Kuala Besut and from there is the ferry.  

The bus arrived at KB at around  5am.  The first ferry is at 7. To kill time I started to talk to people that arrived with me and we had a very bad tea at the local restaurant.  We paid our ferry fee to this guy that “attacked” us (standard here) and waited.  Time comes to go to the ferry and we discover that to get to the island we have to pay an extra 30RM (around 6€) for the environment.  Happy to pay if the island is spotless (guess what … It was not) 

I get a little mad at this rule especially because once again for the local is 5 times cheaper and truth to be said its the locals who throw all the garbage around… But anyways… 

1/2 an hour ride and we finally arrive to the island (Kecil).  I didn’t book any hostel but in Travelfish website (https://www.travelfish.org/accommodation/malaysia/peninsular_malaysia/terengganu/perhentian_islands/all) I read about this place called “Butterfly chalet” a self check-in place directly on the sea.  The ferry arrived at Long Beach where the parties are but thankgod Butterfly is on Coral Beach on the other side of the island,  just 10 minutes walk across the jungle. 

Arrived at the chalets luckily I can check in immediately as 3 people had just checked out.  I choose the chalet number 2 as it is the closer to the beach.  The view is beautiful,  directly on the sea and behind me, the jungle. 

The rooms are very basic but I gladly paid 14€ a night (room only)  to sleep peacefully in this corner of paradise. 

The following day I was exhausted and slept the whole day.  I don’t know what happened but I just couldn’t do anything else.  I just slept.  I guess that 2 months moving around like a pinball had taken their toll on me.  In the evening I managed to wake up and went for dinner at this super posh (for the beach standards)  place called “Shari La Island Resort” (http://sharilaresort.com/) where they serve buffet all you can eat for the equivalent of 3€. Thus I was able to stuff my face with a lot of yummy food without having to worry if it was vegetarian or not. 

The following day I just beach combed as I wanted to finish a book that I was dragging around since the beginning of my trip and so I just did nothing and enjoyed every word of my book. 

Once again I didn’t do any scooba diving,  or snorkelling (except in front of my chalet and during my morning swim)  or visited any beach close by.  But I really enjoyed my time there.  The food is good. In general expensive but on Long Beach there is this local place called “Kak Yah Local Food” where you can eat cheap and the portions are important.

I needed a break from my wanderings and I got it.  I managed to recharge my batteries before starting my volunteering time in KL.