Khmer New Year is celebrated in April. Weird yes but more importantly, we got a whole week off work. Holiday time!!! And even more importantly, it was my flatmate and very good friend Rachel’s birthday (sort of) so we decided to get a big group to go away together. Where better than Thailand, just a bus ride and border crossing away. We headed for Koh Chang, aka Elephant Island, just 90 minutes from the Thai-Cambodian border. It is quite a large island and popular for its beautiful beaches, tranquil waters, and excellent diving and snorkelling opportunities.
We booked a private minivan there as we totalled 11 and therefore could justify the extra expense. Plus it made everything much easier. Our group from Cambodia consisted of: me, Rachel (birthday girl), Hallie and Jo (flatmates), Alisa (friend from the Penh), Justin, Mark, Eddie, Lynda, and Martin (dodgeball friends and family from the Netherlands), and Anna (my best friend visiting from England). On the ferry from the mainland to Koh Chang we saw Hannah, another friend of mine from England who had visited Cambodia a week prior and arranged to meet us on the island. Annoyingly our minivan driver was in such a mood, due to our long wait for the ferry, that he wouldn’t let her hitch a ride. Luckily she was able to find her own way to our gorgeously situated accommodation: Gu Bay. Although the rooms left a lot to be desired (I was sleeping on the mattress on the floor whilst Anna and Hannah shared a bed, and we had several cockroach incidents), the location was stunning. As we arrived, we were greeted by this sunset:
The main reason we wanted to go to Thailand was to take part in the country’s infamous new year celebrations: Songkran, or the water festival. The Thai people see in the new year by having a massive water fight under the pretext of washing away the sins of the previous zodiac. An excellent excuse to revert to being a kid in my opinion! For the three days of New Year on the island, you could not step outside of the hotel without being drenched in water from buckets, water pistols and hoses. Admittedly it was hot so I didn’t mind being cooled down … except when I had my phone or camera in my bag!! We went all out on the first day of the festival and spent hours on the roadside attacking our “enemy” team and soaking innocent spectators and “sitting ducks” (people trapped on open sided jeep taxis). It was so much fun! Elsewhere in Thailand, Songkran ended less happily. The death toll for the three day festival this year reached 364, mostly road traffic accidents linked to drink-driving. However, we were both sober and made a pact not to aim for people on motos, for fear of them swerving on wet tarmac to avoid the water and crashing. What responsible tourists we are.
On the third day of our holiday we were joined by Jess, a friend from Phnom Penh, and three of her friends from England. It was so nice to be around British accents again, what with Anna, Hannah, Laura, Nicola, and Zoe all staying at the resort. For once the Brits outnumbered the Americans. The next day another Phnom Penh friend, Nicole, appeared and joined the Brits too! It was great to get to know everyone and share the experience of being in such a beautiful place together. All the girls were so lovely, kind, and fun. The people were definitely the highlight of the holiday for me.
The rest of our time revolved around lying down. By a pool, on the beach, in the restaurant reading a book. It was wonderfully relaxing and definitely needed as I had not had more than a three day weekend since returning to Cambodia in January. I love teaching but sometimes you just need a break!! This holiday obviously also included a few nights out, and mandatory cocktails in buckets. Seriously, why are they such a big thing in Thailand? What is wrong with a glass? We also enjoyed fire shows on the beach, partying on a stage next to the sea, free alcohol, and lots of tourists up for a great time.
The last night of the holiday was somewhat sad, not just because we were facing a long journey back to Cambodia (whole blog on this coming soon) and returning to work the following week but we also had to say a final farewell to one of our group. Justin moved to Cambodia late last year and has been a great friend in Phnom Penh. Now she is off to travel South East Asia for two months before returning to the Netherlands for good. She will be sorely missed from dodgeball and our epic nights out in the Penh. By the time she reads this she will have completed a ten day sitting holiday (aka a meditation retreat). Wishing you all the best for your future Justin, and please come back and visit us soon.
Oh and Rachel, thanks for making such a big deal out of your birthday that we were able to have an amazing holiday together as a group TEN DAYS before your actual birthday! I’m glad I got to celebrate every aspect of your ageing with you, we all had an awesome time.
Big love to all my travel companions.