Category Archives: Cambodia

Posts made in Cambodia

Affable Cambodia

After a sleepless night spent in a corner of Kuala Lumpur’s Low Cost Carrier Terminal we arrived in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap early on May 6th.  Well it was sleepless for me, Lisa has the fantastic ability to be able to sleep anywhere!

Immediately we were taken with the humour and friendliness of the Cambodians, a pleasant change from the blandness we experienced with Malaysians.  We were picked up from the airport by a Tuk-Tuk driver from our guesthouse, Cambodian Tuk-Tuks are a glorified two wheel trailer towed behind a scooter – a fun experience straightaway!

Our guesthouse (Siem Reap Rooms) was great, a real step up in quality from that we had been used to in Malaysia, cheap, clean, and comfortable and run by a very helpful Canadian couple.  We liked the laid back vibe of Siem Reap straight away and spent the morning catching up on some sleep before enjoying one of the lovely salads at the nearby ‘Peace Cafe’.  Siem Reap is the ‘base camp’ for a visit to the nearby ancient temples of Angkor, the supposed eighth wonder of the world, which means that it is very tourist friendly.    We kicked off our Angkor visit that evening at the ‘Pre Rup’ temple, which we climbed to watch the sun setting over the surrounding jungle.

Later we went for our first ‘Khymer Curry’, a tasty coconut based curry – Cambodian food is similar to Thai but not so spicy.  Siem Reap comes alive at night as tourists descend on ‘Pub Street’ and the surrounding alleys to enjoy the social vibe – after conservative Malaysia this was very welcome!

This was my second visit here (first time in 2006, read more here) and I saw both the town and the temples from another perspective – I enjoyed them just as much if not more than last time, Siem Reap in particular has seen a lot of improvement.  The Angkor Temples cover a large area and you need more than a day to take it all in, we went for a three day pass (US$40) although many people spend a week or more here.  To cover the distances we hired a Tuk-Tuk driven by friendly driver Chamnan, with his big red ‘Lucky’ helmet, for our three day visit.

On our first full day we cruised around the Grand Circuit, which took us on a big loop of the outer lying temples.  We started at the furthest away Hindu temple of Banteay Srei, which sits 25km north-east of the main group of temples – a long and dusty ride from Siem Reap in the Tuk-Tuk!  All the temples have similar features but each  have their own charm, Banteay Srei is a kind of mini-temple compared to the others and is thus named the Jewel of the Angkor temples.

Near the Banteay Srey is the Cambodian Land Mine museum, a real eye opener, which details the terrific work done to rid the country of these horrible devices. Cambodia has been affected by several wars in recent decades and is the most densely land mined country in the world.  In 2011 alone 200 people were killed by land mines and many more maimed – we have seen a crazy amount of people, including children, with missing limbs.

Back to the temples, which were built around 1000 years ago and each was built in the honour of the serving king at the time.  It must have been an unbelievable effort to build these temples when you consider they had no modern tools to help move the massive stones used in their construction – some temples are over 50m high!  The Grand Circuit took us all day and we saw lots of temples (I won’t bore you with all the names), some more interesting than others. Having been to many before I was happy to just sit somewhere and take it in.

The level of detail put into the temples is incredible, which is particularly evident in the carefully chisled carvings that cover most of the walls.

Most of the temples have a theme such as water or animals, we particularly liked the Elephants at the Eastern Baray Temple.

At all of the temples there were lots of children (some as your as 6) waiting to sell us souvenirs with a shouts of “Lady you wanna buy scarf?” or “Sir, you buy postcard?”.  Whilst they can be quite pushy and persistent they are also amusingly entertaining and many were almost fluent in English.  Of course I don’t condone the use of ‘cute’ kids to make more money from the tourists, it is just a game to them, but hopefully at least the language skills will benefit them later in life.

As well as the kids there was always a throng of stalls around the entrance/exit of each temple selling souvenirs and cold drinks.  Of course there is a lot of competition so when they saw us a chorus of “Hey lady, you want cold drink?” or “Sir, you want scarf for your girlfriend?” would be chirped in our direction.  I didn’t mind the harassment, they just want to make some money and I enjoyed the banter with them!

On our second day we toured in the inner circuit, which arguably has the most interesting temples.  Where better to start than sunrise at Angkor Wat, the most famous temple.  It was a painful 4am wake up but as the first rays of light came up behind the temple we realised it was well worth it – nicely mirrored by the lake in the foreground.

We also had the benefit of being getting inside the temple before the throngs of tourists arrived meaning we could have a good look around in peace!  It is believed to be one of the longest continually used temples in the world having been a working temple for over 1000 years.  I suppose you can think of Angkor Wat as the Rolls Royce of the temples – it’s refined and the attention to detail is incredible.

That said nearby Angkor Thom is a close second and has many features not found at Angkor Wat, such as the smiling faces of the Bayon that seem to stare at you wherever you are.

Angkor Thom is a large area that was once a ‘city’ and includes many temples within its walls – it took us several hours to walk round it all.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a tacky tourist photo with some locals dressed in traditional costume!

For me the best styling was at the Ta Prohm temple, which has been ‘reclaimed’ by the jungle, I remember it from my last visit and it was no less impressive this time.  Astonishingly large trees have grown between cracks in the walls, you really have to see it too believe it.

This was the last temple on our tour and since my last visit I noticed they have been doing some fantastic reconstruction work, which must have taken a lot of painstaking work.

Considering the early start we were knackered and ‘templed out’ by the early afternoon, the heat and humidity in the midday sun is unbearable, so we went back to the guesthouse for a much needed rest.

Suitably refreshed the next day we felt ready to get back in the Tuk-Tuk for a journey out to the Beng Mealea temple and the nearby Kompong Khleang floating village, which is 70km out of Siem Reap.  It should be noted that whilst Tuk-Tuks are good fun they are not suited to long journeys on the dusty and bumpy Camodian roads.  Nevertheless the two hour journey took us through lots of villages and farmland with friendly waving locals, which gave us an insight into the way of life in rural Cambodia.

The Beng Mealea is picturesque temple that is mainly in ruins, which we found ourselves scrambling over as we were guided around by a friendly local ‘guide’.

We tried not to think about how safe the structure was and were glad that we noticed the sign saying that over 500 landmines have been cleared from in and around the temple on our way out!

From the temple it was then an hour or so drive out to the floating village, with the last few kilometers being down the bumpiest road imaginable. Of course to view the village properly we had to go on a boat, although our vessel could barely be given that title! Equipped with a big engine that constantly overheated and broke down, and an inefficient propeller on the end of a long pole that sprayed muddy water everywhere and picked up all the rubbish, fishing nets, and general crap from the bottom of the shallow muddy river – we were stopping every five minutes to make ‘repairs’.

Add to that our ‘captain’ couldn’t speak English nor did he seem like an able seaman and the deafening roar of the over-sized engine it made for am ’interesting’ trip. Nevertheless, when we finally got out to the floating village on the lake (we were thankful for it being very calm!) it was interesting to see. Not really sure why they live out there but there was a whole community with schools, shops, and houses.

The happy waving locals seemed happy to see us and generally content with life, despite living with basic amenities and in obvious poverty. We were thankfully to disembark the ‘Boat’ back at the jetty, but had to laugh at the Cambodian craziness of the trip!

We were sad to leave Siem Reap the next day, it is a nice town with some rally nice locals and a good nightlife, but after four days there we had to push on to Cambodia’s capital Phomn Phen. It was a four hour trip in a speedy mini-bus and we arrived in Phomn Phen at lunch time. First priority was to get a Visa for Vietnam, which we easily arranged in 24 hours with a travel agent in the backpacker area on the riverside – I love that in Asia it is always easy to get things sorted!

We spent three nights in Phomn Phen, which isn’t really a sight-seeing city but a good place to soak up the Cambodian way of life. To be honest in the heat of the day you don’t want to be out in the sun for too long! We did have a look at the golden roofed Royal Palace, which stands out from the crowded Phomn Phen skyline.

We also had a look at the city’s temple – Wat Phomn – and did some souvenir shopping at the central market. Like Angkor there were throngs of children keen to sell us their wares, such as this cheeky chappy who wanted to exchange flip-flops!

A lot of these street kids in Phomn Phen we wearing these “I could be your son/daughter” T-Shirts issued by the UK’s Save the Children charity – not sure if they are trying to encourage people to buy from them or not?

Our last day in Phomn Phen was a sombre one as we got in learnt about the horrors of the genocide committed in Cambodia by Pol Pots Khymer Rouge regime in the late 1970’s. Firstly we visited ‘the Killing Fields’ about 20 minutes out of the city, which is where thousands of Cambodians (and a few foreigners) were mass murdered for ‘crimes’ against the regime. I visited here before on my last visit, but they have improved it greatly with a good audio tour that details what happened here. Nevertheless it is hard to believe what happened here and I’ll spare you the gory details. The sites poignant monument is a large pagoda that is rammed full of skulls from some of the victims – men, women, and children.

Possibly even more moving was the S21 prison in the heart of the city where many people were interrogated and tortured until they confessed to their crimes, at which point they were subsequently trucked out to the Killing Fields. The torture was barbaric enough but sickly the Kyhmer Rouge documented each prisoner in detail including taking a photo of each one. These photos are on display in the cells of the prison, which was former primary school, ghosts of the past staring out at you.

I don’t want to dwell on this part of Cambodian history, I can’t get my head around the insanity of it. Regardless of the past the friendly and optimistic Cambodians are getting on with their lives and are rightly proud of their country.

We couldn’t end our Cambodia trip like this so after hearing good things (thanks Mik and Sarah!) we’ve spent the last couple of days in the sleepy town of Kampot on the south coast. With its riverside setting, laid-back cafes, and ageing French buildings it’s a nice place to while-away a few days. There’s not much see here but we did go into the Bakor National Park where a mountain peak (1080m) with a recently built Big Buddha statue on top offers fantastic views around the surrounding area.

At the top of the mountain are the ruins of former French colonial buildings including a grand hotel/casino and a catholic cathedral. The buildings have been unoccupied since the Khymer Rouge soldiers made their last stand here in the 1980’s, but now are being redeveloped to for the booming tourism industry – come back in a few years and I’m sure it will be looking good.

This evening we took a sunset cruise along the Teuk Chhou river before enjoying one last Khymer curry.

Tomorrow morning we are off to Vietnam, the border of which is not too far from here. We will spend a couple of days on the Mekong Delta before heading up to Ho Chi Minh City.

Cambodia has really got to us, we came thinking it was all about Angkor Wat but are leaving knowing there is much more to it than that. The Cambodians are lovely people whose infectious smiles and warm character have really inspired us – there’s no doubt about it, we are sad to leave…

You can find a load more photos from our trip in Cambodia here.

Phnom Phen

Leaving Tom in bed (git) I caught the boat down the Mekong early this morning to get to Phnom Phen. All good the boat was quite speedy and the journey took 5 hours – more expensive than the bus but more interesting and less bumpy! Most of the westerners sat on the upper deck taking in the view and it was nice to get some breeze in my face – until it started raining! It did’nt last long though and I soon dried off – even got a bit sun burnt as the breeze gave the impression it wasnt that hot, doh! We passed loads of floating villages – lots of fishermen too.

Arrived in Phnom Phen at 1pm ish, to be greeted by the usually ‘mad for it’ touts! “Mister mister you wan guesthouse, you looking mine, very cheap, very clean…….”. I’d already picked one out of my guidebook so just found the tout for that guesthouse and got a free ride – on his scooter complete with my big backpack! After that my new friend offered to show me the sights of Phnom Phen – I only really wanted to see the Golden Palace but he insisted on taking me to the ‘killing fields’ of Choeung Ek, 15km out of town (mainly cos it meant he could charge more), so I could learn about Cambodian history.

I’d read about the killing fields on the boat and was’nt going to go, but I’m pleased I did although the experience was a sombre one. Basically its the place that Khymer Rouge leader Pol Pot sent people of a non ideal background (lawers, politicians, educated people, etc) to be killed – kind of like Hitler did to the Jews. Except they were blind folded and hand cuffed and basically beaten to death with whatever weapon was to hand. Over 1 million people were killed at Choeung Ek between 1975 and 1979 – recent history really. On display at the site were the over 8000 skulls, bones, and clothes of some of the mass graves that have been excavated, complete with bullet holes and large cuts – lovely. Quite moving though – except for the kids who were begging – they got quite annoying as I was trying to understand the history but was getting pestered all the time!

All the way to Choeung Ek my driver had been asking me if I wanted to shoot a gun, or rocket launcher, or throw a hand grenade. It was no surprise when we detoured to his mates shooting range close to the killing fields – kinda a bit sad after what I’d just seen! Anyway I was presented with a ‘menu’ from which I could pick such things as an AK47 (which he was holding at the time), M16, UZI 9mm, pump action shotgun, and various pistols + an M60 grenade launcher. AK47 is $1 a bullet, $200 for shooting a rocket launcher! I graciously declined (being British don’t want to offend the locals) – I was’nt in the mood – and I was the only tourist there in a bunch of 10 or so gun wielding Cambodians! Mum carm down – it was’nt too dodgy! Maybe in Vietnam….

On the way back I visited the Royal Palace, which is a tranquil place compared to the buzzing dusty streets off the city. Interesting, but more temples and gold things – feel like I’ve seen loads of them!

Pretty knackered tonight, two early starts on the trot and another tommorrow as I’m off to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Siagon) in Vietnam at 6;30am – can’t wait for the alarm to go off!

Cambodia has been really good and I’ve enjoyed all of it, its been good today to see the difference between touristy Siem Reap and Phnom Phen (although theres a lot of Westerners around). I’m glad I’ve come now, they are building a new international airport at Siem Reap and I think once that opens its going to become tourist hell there – Maccy D’s and Starbucks a plenty no doubt!

Nice to have a bit of time to myself too, I’m sure Tom’s thinking the same thing though – I’ve been sleep talking/walking loads since we got to Cambodia! Hopefully meet him in Thailand next week….

Sweat, Sweat, Sweat!

Jeez its hot here!!! If your reading this in the UK you probably dont want to know that, but to be honest its so hot its uncomfortable. Just walking to 500m to this internet cafe has left me dripping with sweat like some sort of fat lad! Its deffo hotter than Thailand, theres no breeze at all except when you get on a moto taxi (scooter with a two wheel trailer)!

Yesterday we hired bikes and biked around the Angkor Temples, approx. 30km – which felt like 100km in this heat – was wet through! Good fun though, it meant we could go anywhere we wanted, also got lots of smiles from the locals who I think thought we were crazy! The bikes were something your Mum would ride – complete with basket and bell -no Specialized moutain bikes here! Mine had a wobbly peddle, and you had to allow a good distance to stop – not that they went fast with one gear!

Think I look cool? heres a photo of me on my mean machine:

Sheps Bike

Fortunately the roads were quiet road Angkor – although coming back into Siem Reap was a little hairy, turning left especially!

The sweat was worth it though as the further away temples had far less tourists and we’re interesting to see.  Particularly those that the jungle had reclaimed.  Over 1000 years or so giant trees have established and grown right on top of the walls of the temples, a very strange thing to see:

Temple Trees

Last night we went out and had traditional Khymer food which was nice.  I had a curry which was kind of a cross between Thai and Indian, not very spicy but it had a thicker texture than Thai Curry – very nice!  Also on the menu wash deep fried snake but I decided to give that a miss, maybe tonight!  This morning we got up at 4:30am (seem to be getting up more early when travelling than for work back home!) to see Angkor Wat at sunrise.  It was good to see the sun rise behind the towers, and it was very peaceful – not so many tourists!

Angkor Wat at sunrise

After that we went to see another temple – but after 3 days we are feeling a bit templed out so we went back to the hotel to have a snooze.      Each temple was built by the Angkor Kings as a shrine to his reign, the bigger the better!  All are different, with Angkor Wat being architecturally the best.  This afternoon we’ve just been relaxing and trying to keep out of the sun!

Another early start tomorrow, I’m off to Phomn Phen – the Cambodian capital for an overnight stop before heading to Vietnam.  Taking the boat from Siem Reap to Phomn Phen down the Mekong River, which is the river we saw at the Golden Triangle at the North of Thailand miles away – should be interesting.  Tom’s heading back to Thailand tomorrow so I’ll be on my own for a week or so – hopefully I’ll meet him in Southern Thailand next week.

Thanks for your messages – your right I’m a tourist and yep I shouldn’t moan, but its annoying when everywhere you go there’s the paparazzi of Japan/Korea taking thousands of photos – what do they do with them when they get home?  I’m convinced they don’t actually look at the sight when their there – just look at the photos when they get home:

Paparazzi!

I’ve enjoyed being in Cambodia, the people are very friendly and are happy to help you.  Unlike their Thai neighbours they aren’t  looking to rip you off all the time – just make an honest living, which makes me happier to spend money here!  Kids here go to school in the morning and then go to Angkor to sell souvenirs to the Tourists – “mister mister you wan postcard/cold water/silk scarf/pineapple/guidebook, very cheap, I give discount”.  They are very persistent too, following you around not taking no for an answer!  Quite amusing (cept at 4am!).

I’ve uploaded loads of photos into the Cambodia gallery here – Tom took loads, I had to narrow it down from 200 to 100 photos, hope it doesnt bore you!  Also put some photos from the Golden Triangle in the Thailand gallery here.

Cambodia!

What can I say – what a journey and what an experience!

We left Chiang Rai at 6am to catch the flight to Bangkok, that was the easy bit!  We then arrived at Bangkok airport at 9:30 from where we took a taxi to the northern bus terminal.  We made it just in time to catch the 11:30 bus to Aranyaprathet which is the closest Thai town to the Cambodia border.  The bus took 4 hours, and we then caught a tuk tuk to the border post, which promptly broke down en route.  After 10 mins of fiddling with the engine the driver managed to get us under way again!  We reached the border at 4pm.  Then we got stamped out of Thailand, and walked into no mans land a 200m walk to the Cambodia entry point where we had to apply for a visa ($20) and get our passports stamped.  The site talesofasia was a great guide and certainly  helped us to avoid  the many  scammers and pickpockets that try it on with you here.  Once we got our passports stamped by the Cambodia authorities we entered the Cambodian border town of Poiphet – the asshole of the world!  It was like a scene from Star Wars  – when Obi Wan takes them to the town to find a transport – “you’ll never find a place in the galaxy full of more thief’s and beggars”.  Massive adrenaline rush – Tom and I were ready to kill anyone who came within 2 feet of us!  Luckily we had two guards from the Cambodia authorities (most tourists cross in the morning I think) – who were obviously keen to ensure we left Poiphet intact!  We quickly got a taxi to Siem Reap for $20 each – the preferred currency here is $$$$!  The official currency is the riel – approx. 8000 riel to the pound!  Poiphet is not a nice place to start in Cambodia and is not a reflection on the rest of the country!

The taxi to Siem reap took 4 hours for a 150km journey!  Imagine the worst dustiest potholed farm track you can and that’s a Cambodian road!  We weaved in between potholes, trucks, and pedestrians all the way!  Not long after we got in the taxi it started raining – the first rain I have seen since I left the UK 3 weeks ago!  It also got dark pretty quick so we were relieved to leave Poiphet quickly!  Once dark we could see thunder/lightning storms off in the distance – which was quite erry, also  there’s not many street lights here so visibility was poor due to dust clouds kicked up by lorries.  So we spent 4 hours being bumped up and down without being able to see much!

We arrived in Siem Reap at 10pm – 16 hours after leaving Chiang Rai, where the taxi driver dropped us off at a guest house, and we took a room for the night – had a much needed shower (we were covered in dust)  and promptly fell asleep contented to have reached Siem Reap!

Reaching Siem Reap last night meant we now have 3 full days to go round Angkor Wat, day 1 today,  which we saw today.  Amazing sight, nearly a thousand years old its an amazing achievement that it was constructed using ancient methods – its massive!  Nearly every brick has carvings of people, animals, Buddha’s etc on it.  Angkor Wat itself was very touristy 🙁  lots of Japs and Koreans who are way too  click happy (annoying!).  Before we saw Angkor Wat though we went to Angkor Thom – more ruined but less touristy and equally as good.  We then went top Angkor Wat (the classic postcard scene you will have probably seen)  at 3pm and stayed until the sun went down which was very scenic.

Cambodia itself is different to Thailand, not so geared up for tourists and you notice immediately this is a poverty stricken country.  Also there’s a load of land mine warning signs everywhere – this is the most densely (spelt correct?) mined country in the world – don’t worry Mum we are not going off the beaten path!    Its also very hot and humid – seems more so than Thailand – its rained and thundered today so that mixed with dust blown up meant we are  marinated in a combo of dirt, dust, sweat, and insect repellent!

Tomorrow we might hire some bikes and  go to the parts of Angkor that have not been maintained and therefore have been recaptured by the jungle – hopefully less tourists.
Pratty, 12 months would be ace – think you will have to work though – when travelling you start to soon notice anything and everything is a drain on your wallet!  3 weeks today since I left the UK and I’m not ready to come home yet!

Al, yep forgot to mention the snake whiskey on the Lao Island!  Wow how strong  – Tom has bought some complete with dead Cobra in the bottle!  Think he might have some paint to thin at home!

Shiz, site blocked by BT!!!! Sort it out for us geez, what’s that about!  Good to hear from you – hope all is well in Mancland?

Stoo, heard about Carol sleeping with Amanda – apparently there’s no photos though 🙁  Had a strange Essex message from you – nice you remember me when drunk, miss you man!

No mobile signal here so use email!