Don Det to Siem Reap Cambodia
We said goodbye to Laos, by getting back on a boat to the mainland then taking a relatively short bus run to the border post at Veun Kham, to leave Laos, we all then trudged across no-mans-land to the Cambodian version, at Dom Kralor to pass through immigration, despite hearing stories of scams and corruption at the border crossings, our experience was relatively easy and we had no particular problems, perhaps that was because of the work done by La and Stray in preparing us beforehand. A new bus then took us to a border town where we had a brunch before the long bus run to Siem Reap.
On arrival, we checked into our hotel, the Lub.d, which is by far the best hotel on our trip, the rooms are very modern and well fitted, a great shower all with a swimming pool and bar facilities. That night La took us to Pub Street, a sort of mini Kaosan Road, where we had dinner in a nice restaurant with live music played by local musicians, we managed to convince Adam, one of our group, to join them in a rendition of Oasis’s Wonderwall, it was great fun. We then tried out a few other bars but they were too noisy for many of us so we returned to the hotel to finish off the night and to bid farewell to Oggy who was returning home the next day.
The following morning, guided by Marri, a local guide, who was very knowledgable about the temples and their surroundings, we went to Angkor Wat. The whole complex of temples in the area really made it a special place to visit, our first visit in the complex was to the Ta Prohm Temple, the so-called ‘Tomb Raider Temple’, Ta Prohm is impressive with its crumbling towers and walls covered in massive tree roots. I felt that this was the most atmospheric ruin at Angkor, what makes it attractive is that, unlike the other monuments of Angkor, it looks like it has been swallowed by the jungle, you almost feel as if you are amongst the first to discover it, a real Indiana Jones type of place.
Our next stop was to the Phimeanakas Temple, which was built at the end of the 10th century, in the shape of a three-tier pyramid as a Hindu temple. The temple reminded me of the Mayan ones I visited at Chichen Itza and Tulum, while in Mexico a couple of years ago.
The final temple we visited before lunch was the very beautiful Bayon, there are over 200 huge smiling faces of King Jayavarman VII as the Buddha’s reincarnation, each one facing in one of the four directions. There are over fifty small towers surrounded the central tower, and each tower has four massive heads carved into its top. I really enjoyed the layout of this temple and as usual, I loved climbing to the top of the very steep staircases.
We had a nice lunch in the Blue Pumpkin restaurant before being taken to the Angkor Wat temple complex, which is the largest religious monument in the world. Originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple. We all enjoyed our visit as this was a place that gave you good vibes, a few of the group even went for a Buddhist Blessing, which they said really enlightened them and made them feel good. I was fascinated by the ancient lawnmower they were using as we left the complex, it almost caused as much of a laugh as the monkeys bouncing around the place.
We finished off the day by visiting Phare, Cambodia’s answer to Cirque du Soleil, Phare the Cambodian Circus is so much more than a conventional circus, with an emphasis on performance art to tell stories with a social message behind each production, the one we saw told the story of Eclipse which was a story of rejection, revenge, spirit possession and eventual forgiveness, once we understood that we could see the sub-titles on the overhead screens telling the story, it all became clear and was great fun. We had dinner before the performance, which was really more of an acrobatic performance but it was very good and entertaining, although some of the acts they performed as they told their story were very spectacular.
Siem Reap to Battambang (Homestay)
The next morning we met Tra-Tra, our new Cambodian Guide, and we boarded the bus to take us to Battenberg for our Homestay. We travelled to the city and had lunch before having a wander around the town and paid a visit to the local fish market, as a lover of fish and seafood, what I saw there may have put me off fish for a while, it was one of the most revolting places I have ever visited. We then visited a whisky distillery and, possibly the strangest visit of all, to a stall selling barbecued rat, snake, stingray, and other obscure objects amongst the delicacies on offer.
We then went to the village where we were to spend the night, after meeting our hosts, we took a stroll around the village, again the locals were very friendly and welcoming, especially the children. As it was nearly night time, we ventured out to one of the paddy fields to see the sunset before returning to the house for a lesson on how to make spring rolls and our evening meal.
After dinner, Tra-Tra brought out the local whisky he bought at the distillery and a fried chicken head and we ended up playing a sort of spin-the-bottle (with the chicken head) drinking game until the whisky was finished. We then sat with some beers and a couple of games of UNO until it was bedtime, our beds for the night were in the longhouse upstairs, and it was a little strange at first until everyone settled down. The cockerels of the village made sure we didn’t stay in bed too long, so we had a reasonably early start back to Siem Reap, stopping again in Battenberg to visit the market, I even managed to take a photograph of a nice Chinese mural.
We then had a great time on the bamboo railway, this was great fun, the trucks were essentially little bamboo pallets on wheels with a little petrol engine driving the wheels by a vee belt and a stick. Almost all of the things we experienced in the Angkor Wat and the Battambang region mirrored those experienced by Jack Whitehall and his father Michael when they visited as part of the Travels with my Father in episode 4 of series 1, we even shared our guide Tra-Tra who was the Tuk-tuk driver in the show.
All of this was followed by a return to Siem Reap, where I had a free day ahead and time to recharge my batteries, this was much needed, feeling the effects of a cold and aggravated by the dust from the roads, I felt the need for a rest, when we arrived at the hotel, I thought I would take a couple of hours, I took a couple of paracetamol and laid down at 4:30 pm, I got up at 7:30 am fully charged and feeling better.
Today I decided to search for some street art in the city, I seen some on a website in a part of the city so off I headed, to no avail, all I could find was some random graphs, while I was out walking, I toured some other areas until I found the Siem Reap Brewpub, where I stopped off for a refreshing flight of 4 local brews, they were very nice indeed. I had a wander around Wat Preah Prom Rath, a rather strange temple near the night market, outside the temple, there is a couple of replicas one of a boat with a monk on it, holding a pot. I didn’t think much of it until I stepped into the temple and read the history of the place written on a board telling the tale of the revered monk fondly known as the “monk with freshly cooked rice in his pot”, another strange structure outside was the replica depicting Ney Khan, the enemy of King Ang Chan and the Khmer people. On the corpse sculpture are the vultures that violently fed on the corpse, his tongue sticking out from his mouth, his eyes opening wide and his face in gory condition. Despite seeing all the gory images in the temple, I was feeling a little peckish so I headed back to the hotel for lunch and a chill beside the pool.
The group who left us in Don Det arrived this afternoon and it was nice to catch up with them, I ended up going out for dinner with them in a nice local restaurant where I had a really good Amok chicken curry. They decided to visit Pub Street, I wasn’t in much of a mood for that, so after saying farewell I had a stroll around the night market before returning to the hotel, I had a good day.
Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
An 8:00 o’clock start this morning to take us to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. As we are going to see the infamous S21 prison and the killing fields while there, I watched the movie “First They Killed My Father” while on the road, this interesting movie hopefully will give me an insight into the events of the Khmer Rouge regime.
I had read online that there was a possibility of some street art on Street 93 in the city, I found that it was within walking distance from my hotel, The Silver River, so off I set to try and find it, the walk turned out to be longer than I thought, and even by walking the length of the street, I could find none, so back to the hotel, a little frustrated after a 15.5 km walk, and being stuck on a roundabout with a giant knotted gun sculpture for 20 minutes. I eventually got back in time for a quick shower before heading out for dinner, I think we were all a bit tired as we ended up having an early night. My impressions of the city were not the best, I found it to be very dirty and run down and from what I heard crime-ridden.
Phnom Penh to Kampot
On the way to Kampot, we stopped off at S21, one of the Khmer Rouge’s prisons, our tour there was very enlightening, while in San Francisco recently, I visited Alcatraz and thought the conditions there were dreadful, they were nothing compared to what was on display in S21. There was more to follow, as we then visited one of the killing fields, this visit through what would appear to be a peaceful and tranquil garden with a beautiful lake, was very thought-provoking, the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime brought home in a very graphic way.
This certainly was a different part of Cambodian history that should be remembered and never repeated.
After our visits we went to the SnaDai Cafe across the road for lunch before we boarded our bus for the bumpy trip to Kampot, a sleepy little riverside town known for its pepper plantations and salt fields, and as Cambodia’s durian capital. We checked into our hotel, the Apsara, before going down to the river to board a riverboat for a sunset cruise, as usual, we didn’t get to see a sunset but the cruise was very nice and relaxing. We finished off an unusual but busy day having a meal in a place called the Magic Sponge, run by a nice American guy.
As it was a free day today, I had a bit of a lie-in before a leisurely breakfast, I then went looking to see if I could do a cooking class, but again I was too late to book. Kampot is not too large, I wandered about to see what sights it had to offer. I eventually found some paint on walls in the town, most of it pretty basic, but there was a couple of really good pieces, again what I noticed in the town was how they like to decorate their roundabouts, one displayed a giant durian fruit on the aptly named “Big Durian Roundabout“, I also liked to see how they moved things around using mopeds and 2 wheeled tractors.
In the afternoon we went to, another Stray first, the Kep Gardens on the outskirts of Kampot, this was a great visit, it is a community education set up and run by Andrew and Janine Judd from Adelaide, South Australia. We were shown around by Janine and we then spent the next few hours teaching English to 6 and 7-year-old kids (and a random Tuk-tuk driver), it really was great fun, I don’t know who enjoyed it most, the kids or us.
As it was the last night for many of the group, we hit the town until quite late after dinner in a nice pizza place.
Kampot to Phnom Penh
Back on the bus in the morning for the return to Phnom Penh, there were a few sore heads first thing, mine included, we had lost 4 who decided to stay and visit the islands offshore, we gained 3 new travellers on the bus, the new ones only joined us for this part of the trip.
Once back in the Silver River hotel, I had a shower to freshen up, then went for a stroll and a can of Tonic Water, which really hit the spot.
A wee wander around the area was fine for the afternoon as I didn’t really like the city much, it’s just too busy and messy for my taste.
As I was leaving the group in the morning, we all gathered for our final dinner together, we chose Friends the Resturant, a collective project restaurant where all the profits are returned to the community, we had a really good meal and it was a nice way to finish off our trip together. As we were all getting picked up in the morning we went back to the hotel for an early night.
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
I was picked up in the morning and taken to the bus station, where Tra Tra and I boarded our Mekong Express Limousine coach to Siem Reap, on boarding, we were given a box of crackers, a bottle of water and a face wipe. The journey was OK, the bus was a bit better than the last one we had with Stray.
I checked into the Lub.d for my last night I’m Cambodia then took a short stroll around the river before heading back for a beer by the pool.
Cambodia was a great country to visit, I saw some great places and visited many sights, some great temples and some thought-provoking places, learned of the Khmer Rouge regime and it’s lasting effect, ate some great, and weird, food and met some good people. I had great fun helping kids learn English and saw some beautiful countryside. However, I am glad to be leaving for the next stage of my journey.