The temples of Angkor were supposed to be the last real highlight of my journey which by that point already lasted more than 10 months. As my funds were running low, I realized that the time to think about my return had finally come. So far, I had been able to successfully suppress these thoughts about the inevitable but they were persistent and kept creeping back without mercy. No more running away, I had to face it – within a couple of weeks I would probably touch European ground again. After having been on the road for that long, having enjoyed the sweet taste of freedom and having experienced adventures of all kinds, it almost felt unreal to finally plan my return. One thing was for sure, the upcoming days would bring a lot of a lot of “last times” ….
The rumbling Bamboo Train of Battambang
With these thoughts in my mind, I travelled to the small town of Battambang in Cambodia to unwind a bit after some strenuous three days in Siem Reap and also ride the famous bamboo train. Battambang being a quiet, relaxed and not very touristy town was a good change. The evening I arrived, I enjoyed the last ride of the day with the famous bamboo train. The bamboo train is an improvised rail vehicle powered by a small but loud 6 horsepower engine. The steel frame is overlaid with bamboo slats and all rests on removable steel wheels taken from abandoned tanks. Also known as Norrys, the bamboo train was originally used for transporting goods and people to isolated areas. And even today, apart from being a tourist attraction, it is still used as a “taxi” for the locals. With up to 50 km/h the bamboo train is rumbling across patched railroad tracks and creaking bridges, past lush green rice fields, stilt houses and weathered temples. Someone once said the Cambodian Norry is like the country itself: oppressed, almost forgotten but yet indestructible. I was with an American professor and as we rolled into the sunset, just accompanied by the monotonous rumbling of the Norry, it was yet another one of these moments of melancholic reminiscence.
Battambang also was my last opportunity to do a motorbike tour before heading home. I once again rented the very familiar 125cc scooter and toured the attractions and countryside of Battambang. Surprisingly the place had a lot of neat things to offer and the countryside was beautiful. I can say that Cambodia is much prettier at the end of the wet season than during high season. One last time I enjoyed riding along narrow paths and into remote villages. One last time I ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere and one last time I returned after the sun had set. Exploring places by motorbike always made for the best experiences – it gives you freedom and a whole different perspective. I became a real fan of this style of traveling and the funny thing is that here in Germany, I don’t even have the permit to ride 125cc machines.
Returning to Bangkok
It was time to leave Cambodia for good and so I crossed my last land border entering Thailand. I headed straight to Bangkok which by that time had become like a home base. I had been there so many times, I knew my way around, where to stay, where to get good street food and a cheap massage. Once I settled in my favorite hostel Smile Society in the Silom District of Bangkok, I had to tackle the aforementioned inevitable – I had to book a flight home. I found a cheap ticket by Air India giving me a good 8 days to become content with the thought of being home soon. I spent a few days relaxing, catching up with friends, paying respect to my favorite street food joints, working out at the open air gym in Lumpini Park and sleeping in.
Unwinding on the island of Koh Samet
I figured a couple of days at the beach would be nice to finish my journey so I did some research on islands not too far away from Bangkok. Koh Samet seemed to be the best pick and with a mere three hour drive and a good connection by minivan also easy enough to reach. On the island I was able to get a good deal for a bungalow close to the beach and planned to stay three nights. I just wanted to unwind, relax and slowly accustom my mind to the thought of being home very soon. However, the outlook of returning right in the beginning of winter didn’t make this task an easy one. So I spent my days walking the beach, enjoying a beer for sunset, having fresh seafood, updating my blog and chatting with some of the bar owners. No need to see anything anymore, no need to explore. Melancholy was my partner during these dazed days but also a feeling of massive gratefulness. Gratefulness because of all the things I was allowed to experience, all the new friends I had made along the way and all those magnificent places I was allowed to see. It was a strange mix of feelings but those days, even though nothing special happened, will always be a good memory.
I returned to Bangkok with the clock ticking. I spent my last days like every other tourist probably does: A little bit of shopping, souvenirs for friends and family and one last good and cheap massage. And that was it, time to fly home. Time to return to reality. And even though I had some time to mentally prepare, it still struck me hard.
Those last days were memorable ones. Everything was more intense and I tried to enjoy every little bit of the rest of my trip. After traveling for so long, you tend to take certain things for granted or to not appreciate certain things as much as you would at the beginning of a trip. Some call it the “Just another Syndrome”. Maybe it was those last days which which made me fully comprehend how awesome the last 11 months were.
Recently I was asked if and how I will continue this blog. There are a few things I still want to write about so I will definitely continue writing. I want to give a full review of my trip with a lot of thoughts about breaking out and setting out for adventure. I want to edit a best of list with all the highlights but also lowlights of my trip. I still want to write the roundup for one of my favorite countries, the Philippines. And I eventually want to turn this blog into a broader platform all about traveling, adventure, photography and life. But more on all that later…. So many ideas in my mind right now. I already want to thank all of you for accompanying me on this journey and being the great motivation that you are. I hope you will stay tuned, there is more good stuff to come 😉 Cheers, Philipp