Every time I see foreigners with huge bag on their back, walking and roaming the city of Kuala Lumpur or any other places in Malaysia, my mind keep on asking the same question and so does my heart, “I wonder how would it be if I were to walk the streets of other countries like them?” and “That seems interesting – challenging but obviously exciting.”
I always like to travel and so does my whole family members. Ever since I was a kid, my mom and dad would drove us to see wonders all around my beloved country. The experience was great, especially since we always travel together, all-the-time. In addition to it, travelling with the whole clan gives much comfort, sense of safety and companion. Great time on the road is worth more than money can afford.
I must mention here that I am an avid self-challenger, myself. So, for years I have been trying to drop hint of my intention to be on the road – solo. Of course, being a young lady from a rather conservative and collectivist culture, my idea was, all the time, shot down.
Nonetheless, in early 2011, I gave a big surprise to everyone – I left my job and was preparing to go away for a solo journey.
I was to explore Asia – on my own – by land. Ignoring what everyone had said to me, I got on a bus and head north.
Exploring the Old Kingdom of Siam
Day one was easy. I got on a bus and went to stop by at my parents’ place in Sungai Petani. My train ride to Bangkok was due on the next day, so a short stop was meant for blessing. On the day I arrived at the train station in Penang, a notice at the door struck me by surprise, “Due to flood in the south Thailand, International Express service is cancelled. Ticket refund can be obtained at the counter.”
The first hurdle didn’t wear off my motivation. Next thing I remember was heading to Bayan Lepas, trying to get a flight ticket so I could be in Bangkok by the next day. It was nerve wrecking at first thinking about how my original plan was ruined by Mother Nature.
Exactly around 4 in the afternoon of the next day, I was already in Suvarnabumi International Airport. Excited, I move on to find Bangkok main train station. My pit stop – Ayutthaya; the capital city of the old kingdom of Siam. The train ride was fun as the sky started to get darker and I was on a third class coach (it was the only type they had). Upon checking in at the guesthouse, I took my shower and had a bit rest. It was my first time staying at a guesthouse. Thanks to the place, I made so many travellers, all of them were Caucasians, and made friends. It was only my first day going SOLO.
My first round of exploring Ayutthaya was accompanied by a British couple, who later I found to be scared of roaches and on a short transit before heading to Chiang Mai. Geared with our sneakers and photocopy of the city map, 3 of us stated to walk, stop, take pictures, got ourselves lost and of course get ourselves into amazing beautiful sceneries of temple ruins. The next day was solo for me. After walking for about an hour, I found the place where I could charter a small boat. It was a city tour by boat – Ayutthaya is geographically surrounded by water, making it looks like a floating city.
Upon finishing in Ayutthaya, I went to Bangkok for a night stop. I have been to Bangkok twice, but this time I decided to go a bit while. Since my place was extremely nearby to Khao San Road, so I went to check out the famous area. It was loud and full of colours and excitement. Highlight of the day – henna tattoo on my right hand.
My last day in Thailand started very early in the morning. I had mango with glutinous rice for my breakfast while waiting for a motorbike to pick me up at the budget hotel. Later, while easing myself in the van, that was bringing us, the curious backpackers; again I noticed that I was the only Asian among the pack. Not like in Malaysia, roads in Thailand, especially in the rural area, was extremely challenging. After about 4 hours, we reached the border crossing of Thailand and Cambodia. The immigration checkpoint for Thailand was comfy but I was taken by surprised to see the one in Cambodia. It was literally like a makeshift building, with a huge old tree in the centre of the building. No Asian, but me was sighted during the immigration procedure in Poi Pet.
I knew by then, looking at the clock, that I would only arrive in Siem Reap at night. It took me another 5 hours by bus to reach the city of Siem Reap. The bus did not end in the town; instead it was at the bus garage – dark and somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Lucky I had my phone in use. It cost me quite a bit to get through to the hotel I was supposed to check in. While most tourists were panicking and complaining, my ride arrived – and he spoke Malay.
The small hotel gave me a tuk tuk with Malay speaking guide, and he is a Muslim. It was a big relief. My empty tummy was filled with roasted cow foal meat from a night market in Siem Reap. However, the night ended quite funny – I can never forget Mr Froggie in the bathtub.
Few year before, I had gone to Siem Reap and visited the majestic Angkor Wat. This time, I took my time exploring the whole area of the Angkor National Park, visiting other great temples and even made my way up to a small temple on top of a hill to witness the sun set. As the sun went down, the sky, the big lake and the surrounding area of the great Angkot Wat mesmerized me.
The next day I went to the first man-made water damn in South East Asia and had lunch with my Malay speaking guide, Yusof. He was in Malaysia for many years before, working – the reason why he could speak the language so fluently. In the evening, I was brought out by another guide, also named Yusuf – this time to explore the night life at the Pub Street, one great attraction aside from the temples.
It was time to say goodbye to Siem Reap and head to the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. There was no train service in the country ever since the Khmer Rouge regime destroyed all of it back during their reign. And because the water level was so low (I found out during my visit to the water village), I could only took bus for this journey. It was the first time I took an express bus in Cambodia. After 5 and ½ hours of ride, I reached Phnom Penh for the first time.
As I was skeptical on how guesthouses would be in the city, I opted to stay in a budget hotel. It was only 15USD per night with breakfast but the quality of the accommodation was more than satisfactory. Phnom Penh stores modern history of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge crime is a must to see for everyone who stops by at the city. So, I explored the city to see the remnants of the Pol Pot regime, started with the Killing Field and Toul Sleng prison. Afterwards, I visited the national museum to see more gory stuffs. The whole time I was walking and seeing, my thoughts were only focusing on how bless I was to be living in such a safe and blooming country.
Mekong river exploration was my evening highlights on both nights I was in the city. The first night I found myself alone on a big boat but the next day, I had great company while having dinner on water. Overall, it was an eye opener to see the vast difference between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Until that day, it was still hard to believe that I was the only solo lady traveler, from Asia.
Next destination was Vietnam but I will spill the beans more on my next entry. On my last day in Phnom Penh, I checked the calendar – it was already day 12. I am yet half way from my original plan. As I was extremely excited heading to the country, that once left such a big impression on me, I found myself sitting next to a cute and funny European guy.
Makiko writes regularly at Reality Check: The Air We Breathe of life changing experiences. Recently due to her passion to traveling, she has been writing more about her travels. She sometimes contributes travel entries in TravelPod and MASTraveller. Check out her Blog Here and Blog Here for new stories.
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