One minute paddy fields the next ……

3 January 2013

It’s strange when you wake up in the morning to the sound of a rooster crowing (at 5 am) in a room without a TV, without a clock, without any creature comforts. And then that night you go to bed in a 5 star hotel in a massive city in a soft bed with delicious pillows.

Yes, from the backwaters of Kep to Kuala Lumpur in a day.

Our start is an early 7:00 am pick up (the wake up made earlier thanks to the previously mentioned rooster, who “woke us” for a full hour).  Apparently our return trip to Phnom Phen airport includes visits to a couple of temples.  We have a driver and a guide in yet another Toyota Camry!

First stop is on the banks of a man-made canal (Takeo Canal) that goes all the way to Vietnam, approximately fourty kilometres long. We get loaded into the “fast boat”, a fibreglass “tinny” with an outboard and before you know it we are racing through a massive flood plain in the Angkor Borey district, 45 minutes of endless paddy fields and a small number of fishermen.

Our launching point

Our launching point

On the canal

On the canal

The fishing is unlike anything I have seen before. Men standing shoulder deep in the muddy fresh water, with a rake like tool, scrapping the mud to catch these weird fish that look like baby eels. All day they do this for a few kilos of fish! We ask our guide to stop along the way and the fishermen show us their catch. They are so happy to have this brief exchange with us and the guide. Their smiles are infectious.

Fisherman

Fisherman

Fresh water fish

Fresh water fish

We eventually unload onto a steep muddy bank. We walk through a small village, where pigs wander the dirt street; small children come up to us and stare in wonder at Janet’s painted toe nails. It is depressing! These people are so poor. They have large pots that they collect their water in during the wet season and this must last them for the dry season. They wash in the canal. There is no running water for drinking and little power. Most prepare their meals over wood fires.

Village pigs

Village pigs

Village child

Village child

Up the steps is the Phnom Da, a bombed out 13th century temple. Bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam war (Vietnam is very close) and then desecrated by the Khmer Rouge; it is a sad sight. There is another temple 100 metres away this one is older and in slightly better condition.  Declining a visit to the local museum it’s back into the boat for the 45 minute return journey.

Phnom Da

Phnom Da

Entrance

Entrance

Then off to Tonle Bati to visit another ancient temple, this one is pretty good, but the visit is brief as we need to get to the airport.

Tonle Bati

Tonle Bati

Just chillin at the temple

Just chillin at the temple

Apsara

Apsara

Temple statue

Temple statue

Four buddhas

Four buddhas

At the airport we of course pick the check in line that has a half wit in charge. Seriously that guy must have checked our passport and moved it from one side of the desk to the other about a dozen times.

Then we pick the guy who must have thought he was working for the US border security. He glared at me for a full minute before he painfully checked my photo and finger prints. Yes, you get a retina scan and a full finger print when you enter Cambodia. What a joke! They do all that and then don’t even pick up that H has another person’s exit papers stapled in his passport. The “passport Nazi” takes forever to process H, I’m beginning to think that he is about to get escorted away and I’m going to have to contact the Australian Embassy. But he finally lets H through. Phew!

H makes friends with a french girl in the departure hall, who is from Rheims. One of our favourite places. She has a Malaysian boyfriend who joins in the conversation and gives us the drum on KL!

Onto the plane and into Kuala Lumpur. No visas required, no finger printing, no retina scans. Straight through, easy peasy.  Air Asia has been good so far!

KL airport is a full 1 hour drive (on the highway) to central KL and to avoid being ripped off by the taxi drivers you buy a prepaid voucher for MR 75 (less than A$25). Breaking a few land speed records we arrive safely (no potholes yeah!). I think our Cambodian driving experiences have totally desensitised us to manic driving.

The Grand Millennium Hotel is located in the heart of Bukit Bintang aka shopping heaven. Check in, shower, change of clothes and we hit the street heading for the famous Jalan Alor, a back street crammed with hawkers stalls with plastic tables and chairs jutting into the street.  We select the busiest one we can find (always a good sign) and chow down on some great prawns, noodles and baby gai lan – all washed down with more beer. MR90 (divide by 3 = bargain). It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s crowded, it’s noisy, and it’s fabulous. This place is pumping from 5 pm to 5 am.

Jalan Alor

Jalan Alor

Jalan Alor

Jalan Alor

Exhausted by our long day we grab an ice cream and head back to our bed (the first that is not as hard as a plank) to the sleep of the dead.

Rabbit Island

2 January 2012

Our very helpful tuk-tuk driver from yesterday (the one with the world’s oldest and slowest tuk-tuk) has sold us tickets to Koh Tunsay, also known as Rabbit Island, $9 each for the boat ride out and tuk-tuk transport to and from our Hotel.

He picks us up promptly at 8:30 (he insists that it must be 8:30). We slowly potter down to the pier and then proceed to wait about an hour before we board a long boat with the usual outboard with long propeller. The organisation of these day trips never fail to amuse and irritate me (at the same time), it’s always as if it’s the very first time it’s ever happened. Everyone is milling around, the guy is in charge is bouncing from group to group, pointing, taking phone calls (he has 3 mobiles), stopping to have a cigarette, getting distracted etc etc. It takes ages to load each boat (6 – 8 people per boat), once the first loaded and away we have to wait for boats to do the trip to Rabbit Island, unload and then return to pick up the next lot.

Long boat

Long boat

Eventually we board our  long boat for a very pleasant 30 min ride to the island. There is one long beach (maybe 500 metres), fringed with palm and pandama trees, a strip of grass then an assortment of wooden thatched bungalows and food stalls.

Rabbit Island beach

Rabbit Island beach

The quiet serenity of Rabbit Island

The quiet serenity of Rabbit Island

You can stay in one of the thatched bungalows for about $10 per night. They are very basic a bed, a thin mattress and a hammock on your tiny balcony if you’re lucky.

Bungalow for rent

Bungalow for rent

Very rudimentary furnishings

Very rudimentary furnishings

We find a square bamboo bed (ouch! no mattress! it’s a bit uncomfortable) with a thatched roof and start to chill out. The beach is not the best; a bit muddy underfoot in the water and the water is not that clear with the long boats churning up the water as they come and go. We snack on watermelon and milk fruit sold by the hawkers for a couple of dollars each. We read, we amuse ourselves watching a gay couple interact, we take brief dips on the perfectly calm water, we stroll along the beach, and we nod off to sleep. It’s a hard life for some.

Milk fruit

Milk fruit

At 4.00 we jump back in our longboat and return to the pier. Along the way Howard makes friends with Christina a lady from Peru living in Paris, in The Place des Vogues no less!

We share the homeward tuk-tuk with a German lady and her daughter. They had been staying at our hotel but after a terrifying night where their room was invaded by a snake, a huge spider and a scorpion, they decided to move to new accommodation. The scary thing was that we were nearly given that room; we were just lucky enough to turn up first and got the less isolated room. But I get the feeling that we would have managed better than these two who seemed truly traumatised by the experience. They told us they did not leave their room to join the New Years Eve party because they were too scared to walk out in the dark. Huh Europeans!

We decide to have dinner on the way back and get dropped at The Sailing Club, there is not a yacht insight but it does have an excellent sunset view and free wifi.  Probably the highlight of Kep.  Forget Rabbit Island.

The Sailing Club

The Sailing Club

Outside The Sailing Club

Outside The Sailing Club

The Sailing Club veranda

The Sailing Club veranda

The restaurant is the nicest we have been to and it sits right on the water and the perfect place to have a few drinks and watch the sunset.

Just watching the sunset

Just watching the sunset

Sunset over Koh Tunsay

Sunset over Koh Tunsay

A bottle of Chilean wine, squids with green peppers and a fish burger later we are ready for our slow bumpy drive home and we have an early pickup to PP.

Alas it’s our last night in Cambodia.

Kep Crab Markets

1 January 2013

The big draw card for me to visit the coastal village of Kep is the crab markets. I have been reading about it and just before we left Brisbane we watched the Vietnamese Australian chef Luke Nguyen visit Kep and cook Crab with Green Kampot Pepper. I have to try it! Kampot is the closest town and renowned for its pepper (apparently). Green pepper is fresh, undried pepper still on the stalk and is not very hot, with a mild flavour and soft enough to eat.

So after a slow start (it is New Years Day after all) and a very average breakfast we eventually go to the shack that is reception and ask them to call a tuk-tuk. When it shows up we are off down the dirt road that seems to have developed a thousand new lumps and bumps overnight, then down town to the crab markets.

The markets are small and the crabs even smaller. They kind of look like a blue swimmer crab but about 1/2 the size you get back in Australia. We wander though the stalls; there is fresh fish and crab for sale, lots of dried fish and shrimp, spices (lots of different types of pepper) and unfamiliar looking fruit and vegetables.

Kep markets

Kep markets

Durian and milk fruit

Durian and milk fruit

Kep markets - dried shrimp

Dried shrimp

BBQ anyone?

BBQ anyone?

Kep markets - dried fish

Dried fish

Local gas and petrol station

Local gas and petrol station

At the wharf groups of people are gathered around woven baskets picking out the best live crabs to buy. I find out later that some of the restaurants will let you bring your own seafood and will cook it up for you for a small charge. But the people doing the buying are obviously locals, either picking up the ingredients for dinner or buying for the local restaurants and guesthouses.

Whats happening here?

Whats happening here?

Picking out the best

Picking out the best

To the left of the markets are a line of restaurants on the shoreline, built out over the water, selling local seafood. We select one, Kimly Restaurant at the far end and manage to snag a table right on the water. There is not much to look at, the water is rather murky, but it is a lot cooler sitting by the window.

Kimly Restaurant

Kimly Restaurant

View from Kimly Restaurant

View from Kimly Restaurant

Fresh coconut juice

Fresh coconut juice

I order the much anticipated Fried Crab with Kampot Green Pepper sauce and Howard selects a fish dish and green vegetables, a couple of drinks later and the food turns up. To quote Gene NOM NOM NOM.

NOM NOM NOM!

NOM NOM NOM!

Crab with Kampot Green Pepper

Crab with Kampot Green Pepper

Its hard work getting the flesh out of these wee crabs, but the flesh is sweet and the pepper sauce is delicious. Well worth the effort.

Our tuk-tuk driver has given us his card for the restaurant to call him for our homeward trip. After a long wait another dude turns up and tells us Polo was busy and he would take us. We ask for an extended tour of Kep to see the sights, which are limited to the Big Crab (think Big Pineapple), the pier and a number of once impressive houses now abandoned and in ruins. When the Khmer Rouge controlled the country, they forced the people out of all the cities and towns into communes (it is estimated between 1 to 3 million died as a result, out of a population of 8 million) and most families never came back to rebuild. Kep was one seaside town where the affluent Khmer would have their summer houses. Pol Pot put an end to that! Driving around the back streets our driver pointed out many shells of ruined houses behind high walls. The Khmer Rouge destroyed them all.

The giant crab

The giant crab

Abondoned house

Abondoned house

Kep is not so much a town, but more a long stretch of undeveloped water front. There is no beach to speak of; you need to head out to the islands for that. Forget golden sand and crystal clear waters. There is nothing like that in Kep!

Having seen the non-existent sights we head back to our hotel for a quiet night, we cannot bare the thought of another dumpy ride down that dirt track. A light meal at the bar, a couple of vodkas (from our secret stash), a chat to our new Swiss Friend and off to bed.

What an action packed day! Ha!

Kep – New Years Eve

31 December 2012

Well, here we are in Kep and its New Years Eve. Our hotel is having a party and we decide it’s easier to stay here than venture out as we are fair bit out of town, and we have no idea as to where to go. Our French hosts at Nibbana Resort have only been in charge for three weeks (their managers walked out this afternoon) and have planned a French degustation including foie gras and filet steak! $39 each including drinks (when we checked out we were told the dinner did not include drinks and we had to pay for what we had). The party is a bit slow to get going, in-fact it never really gets going, but we enjoy ourselves eating and drinking, watching the Apsara dancers and chatting to our new Swiss friend Peter.

Happy New Year!

The drive from Sihanoukville to Kep is 3 hours over the worst pot holed roads we have ever encountered. Our driver seems to think that to avoid the worst of the pot holes we should drive on the dirt on the side of the road rather than the road itself.  Usually on the left side of the road (in Cambodia they drive on the right). This back road gets washed out by the annual floods, and it sure looks like it. We arrive safely thank god!

Road from Soihanoukville to Kep

Road from Soihanoukville to Kep

Our hotel is 800 metres off the main road, down a hopeless dirt road (yes, more pot holes). The driver drops us at a very shabby reception in a deserted car park. There initially seems to be some confusion about our booking but we are eventually escorted to our thatch roof bungalow # 3 “bougainvillea”. It very rustic, 1 large bed, rough tiled floors, raw cement floors in the bathroom (think dark and gloomy). We have two chairs and a table on our own little patio overlooking a mirky pond.  Umm home for the next three nights.

Road to Nibbana Resort

Road to Nibbana Resort

Nibbana reception

Nibbana reception. Actually doesn’t look to bad in this photo!

Our room

Our room

Our bathroom

Our bathroom

Our patio

Our patio

After checking in and unpacking we head off to the alfresco restaurant for a quick bite to eat before retiring to the pool for the afternoon to wait for the festivities to begin (or not).

I of course do not make it to midnight, but hey why break with my tradition that’s served me so well for many years.

Sihanoukville – Victory Hill

30 December 2012

After another slow start, a fabulous noodle soup for breakfast we head over to the beach for some beach chillin.

We manage to secure a couple of sun lounges under a tree and proceed to do a lot of nothing for the next few hours. The water is cool, clean and calm. The white sandy beach is peaceful and the sun is hot, but does not burn.

Having received all the Vitamin D we can cope with, we freshen up and secure a tuk-tuk to take us around for the afternoon. This time we head west along the coast, past Independence Beach and then to Victory Beach.

Playing with a water buffalo at Victory Beach

Playing with a water buffalo at Victory Beach

We stop for a brief look and watch local children frolicking in the water and then up to Victory Hill.

This seedy den of iniquity consists of bars full of bald, old men and scantily clad girls. I am not kidding about the number of bald oldies either. Sitting in a bar later Howard points this fact out to me. They are everywhere.

Mud streets of Victory Hill

Mud streets of Victory Hill

We go for a massage at the one respectable massage parlor we can find. Howard’s aromatherapy massage somehow gets upgraded to a four hands massage (with a respective price upgrade). My reflexology foot massage is not too bad. While Howard waits at the bar next door I get my nails done (I have to stand firm that I only want my nails painted and not the full treatment – with a respective price upgrade).  Before you know it H is joined by 6 “ladies”, chatting, giggling and trying on my hat. I watch through the window amused at Howard’s fallacious glances.

Its time to Retox

Its time to Retox

Victory Hill bar

Victory Hill bar, the baldies have gone!

I go to his rescue and we have a couple of beers as the sun goes down and the bars spring to life.  The pretty lights come on (the dirt and squalor fades away under the fairy lights) and then girls come out, dressed to the nines, they seem so very young to us. I think that’s because they are!  It’s not quite child prostitution, but not far off.

We decide to head back to the area along the Ochheuteal Beach back road where we ate last night. Our tuk-tuk driver, who has been patiently waiting for us all this time, takes us to a Khmer restaurant when we ask for a suggestion. It’s a roadside seafood barbecue with a great selection of fresh food and wine. Dinner (BBQ fresh seafood, spring rolls and fish amok) is $21 including a bottle of wine. Ripped off again! The waiter rings our tuk-tuk driver (still patiently waiting) who drops us back at the hotel for our last nights sleep in Sihanoukville.

Grand Kampuchea Restaurant

Grand Kampuchea Restaurant

Street dining

Street dining

Sihanoukville – Sokha, Otres and Ochheuteal Beach

29 December 2012

We are now staying at the Sokha Beach Hotel; it is one of those huge sprawling resorts that could be on any beach in the world.  Reminds me of a place we stayed at in Hawaii! Our room is huge and the bed massive and very comfortable.  The hotel has massive grounds, two separate wings, a casino, 2 restaurants, multiple bars and best of all exclusive use of the lovely Sokha Beach, which we discover is blissfully empty of hawkers and touts.

Check out the size of the bed

Check out the size of the bed

Sokha Beach Hotel - pool at our wing

Sokha Beach Hotel – pool at our wing

Sokha Beach - early morning

Sokha Beach – early morning

Breakfast is in a huge open air pavillion.  I have discovered the very delicious noodle soup which is now my very favorite breakfast.  We are now very close to Vietnam and the soup is like a Vietnamese Pho.  Thin slices of beef or pork served in scalding hot stock with noodles and sprouts and then you tailor it to suit your tastes, add a little sour sauce, a little chilli paste, some chives, fried shallots and peanuts. Uuuummmmmm – I’m in breakfast heaven!

Breakfast pavillion

Breakfast pavillion

We leave the hotel enclave and tuk-tuk to Otres Beach.  The beach is a slither of fine white sand, with sun lounges and umbrella’s, at places only 1 metre from the water.  BBQ huts and bars sit behind them, then a dirt road and on the other side are guest houses and basic thatched bungalows for rent.  It is very chilled out. It looks like an excellent place to escape reality.

Otres Beach

Otres Beach

Local marine life

Local marine life – a giant starfish?

Desperate for exercise we decide to walk back to Ochheuteal Beach.  It is a long, hot slog down the beach in the full Cambodian sun.  There is a long stretch of undeveloped land where locals have strung up tarps and hammocks out between the palm trees.  There is the odd stall selling drinks and food to the locals, parched we buy 2 beers (warm) and 2 waters (slightly chilled) for $2.  We see half built and abandoned buildings through the palm trees and there are white cattle (and the cutest gangly calves) that we have seen everywhere chewing cud on the edge of the sand.

All of a sudden we hit the developed strip again; Ochheuteal Beach seems to be the main tourist beach with plenty of sun lounges, umbrellas, food stalls and bars.

The hawkers are in full swing and when we stop for a well earned beer we are taken over by a swarm of young Vietnamese (not Cambodian) girls.  Like a plague of locusts we are ravaged and left $40 poorer.  We are such suckers, but it was fun! One particularly determined lass tells Howard to “0pen your heart, open your wallet”.

If you see these two ...

If you see these two … RUN!

RUN!

“Open your heart, open your wallet!”

After a quick bit of lunch at Why Not Cafe, run by an Australian couple from Melbourne having a sea change (and a rude shock, by the sounds of things).  We head back to the hotel beach for a swim (hawker free).

Last night we ate at the hotel (due to our late arrival) but tonight we head out to dinner at Happy Herb Pizza, where we have a wonderfully simple meal of BBQ king prawns, Kampot pepper squids and a “happy” herb pizza. And yes it was a happy pizza.

Howard's favorite pizza!

Howard’s favorite pizza!

Armed with a cornetto ice cream we head back to the hotel, where Howard snatches a cake from the smorgasbord as we head through the hotel.  I think those happy herbs are kicking in.

Car Ride From Hell

28 December 2012

I had talked Howard into catching a flight with Angkor Air from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville (my hubby is not that keen on small planes at the best of times and definitely less keen when said small plane is in a 3rd world country).  Unfortunately 2 days before we left Australia we were informed that the flight had been overbooked and our seats cancelled.  So instead of 1+ hour flight we are subjected to a 10 hour car ride from hell.

I can’t even bear to recall it enough to provide the details.  Lets just say we had numerous close encounters with seemingly suicidal Cambodian drivers. Its only about 300 k’s, but the roads are so bad and there is so much traffic that you are lucky to average 30 kph.

We did get dropped of for a lovely lunch at Khmer Surin restaurant back in Phnom Phen (which was about half way), but when the guy hitching a lift with us came into the restaurant, sat at our table and watched us eat, our moods went from strung out to pissed.

Khmer Surin, Phnom Phen

Khmer Surin, Phnom Phen

Fish amok, morning glory and noodles

Fish amok, morning glory and noodles

By the time the driver (who must have taken and received 40 phone calls while driving us) found our hotel in Sihanoukville (he had no frigging idea where it was) both of us were desperate to walk the kinks out and have a few drinks to forget.

Never, never, never ever again. So fellow travellers make sure you get on the plane!

Floating Fishing Village

27 December 2012

After our big day yesterday, we have decided to have a lazy day. So after breakfast we settle by the pool. It seems we have the hotel to ourselves, by 8:00 am everyone has left to do their day trips and the hotel is practically deserted.

Central Boutique pool

Central Boutique pool

By early afternoon Howard is bored and requires an outing. After chatting with the hotel staff we grab a tuk-tuk and head out of town to the nearby Tonle Sap Lake. It is 45 mins by tuk-tuk, 15 kms down the road towards Phnom Phen, and then another 10 kms along a 1 lane side road, most of which was a dirt road then sand track.

Pit stop

Pit stop

On the main road

On the main road

 

Overloaded

Overloaded

Road to nowhere

Road to nowhere

Along the side road we stop to buy tickets, apparently to see the lake you need to take a boat ride, $20 per person (the price was originally $25, but the ticket vendor kindly offers us a discount – ha!).

At the end of the increasing potholed track we finally stop. Hundreds of wooden long boats are pulled up on the red clay river bank. We are quickly directed onto one of the smaller boats and cast out into the muddy river. Before long we are approaching a fishing village sitting high above the river banks on long stilts.

Floating Village

Floating Village

More Floating Village

More Floating Village

School and Police Station

School and Police Station

Life is centred on the river and we see fishermen bringing in their meagre catches of tiny fish (about the size of a small sardine), women are sorting and gutting fish, children are playing volley ball or soccer along the river banks, chickens are scratching and dogs are sleeping. Everywhere are huge piles of drift wood to be used for renovations and cooking fires. Fascinating to see, but oh the poverty. It is sobering.

Between the fishing village and the lake are a number of floating restaurants. Our driver drops us off at one to get lunch and a beer. Once the pack of boisterous Italians have left, we are left in comparative serenity, listening to dozens of outboard motors roar as the tour boats and fishermen come and go.

The name of our restaurants is Kompongpluk, my meal of roasted Tonle Sap Lake Fish in Green Forest is quite tasty, I don’t know where the “green forest” was, but the spicy kampot pepper dipping sauce was an absolute cracker.

Kampongpluk Restaurant

Kampongpluk Restaurant

Tonle Sap Lake Fish with Green Fores

Tonle Sap Lake Fish with Green Forest

Check out the prices

Check out the prices

We jump back into our little boat and venture about 25 m into the lake, turn around, head back in, breakdown, do emergency repairs, get going again and head back to the river bank.

After eventually locating out tuk-tuk driver we head back to the hotel. The sights along the road give us a glimpse of the real Cambodia. We pass through small subsistence villages, no more than a collection of huts on either side of the road. These people are dependent on the surrounding rice paddies. Cows tethered by the road quietly feeding, people washing themselves with water pumped into a bucket, children two and three on push bikes.

Village life

Village life

Farming Village

Farming Village

It must be a hard life and I resolve to be more appreciative of my much easier life back in Australia.

Angkor Wat and other temples

26 December 2012

Cambodia’s biggest draw card is Angkor Wat, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site and so revered that it is on the Cambodian flag.

I have utilised the services of Cambodia-on-line, to organise the hotels, transfers and tours. Nadia (Nadia.Flint@cambodiaonline.com.au) did a great job of getting us organised, especially considering how many times we changed the itinerary on her. .

As organised we get picked up promptly at 8:00 am for our full day private tour; we have a guide and a driver. A short drive across town and we are quickly processed with our 1 day temple pass ($20 each) complete with our photo printed on the ticket.

We are visiting a number of temples today including the Angkor Wat our first stop.

The famous Angkor Wat

The famous Angkor Wat

Before we know it we are dropped off at the entrance and heading across the causeway, over the moat and soon we are gazing at the wonderful carvings of the  outer temple wall.

Apsara - celestial dancers

Apsara – celestial dancers

Angkor Wat statue

Angkor Wat statue

Sovan our guide is very knowledgeable and points out many fascinating features that we would definitely have missed without him, he also knows all the best places to get a “kodak moment” photo. As he relaxes a bit with us we find out that he is suffering from too many beers the night before, celebrating a friend’s birthday. But then we are not in the best condition ourselves.

Howard & Sovan

Howard & Sovan

Once through the outer wall we approach the temple itself. The outside walls are covered with intricately carved murals. Each section has its own tale … the war with Sri Lanka, the churning (creation) of the world etc. Inside are the bathing pools where the pilgrims would bath and purify their soul. The whole temple is in amazing condition, especially when you consider that it was built in the late 1200’s / early 1300’s. And they were abandoned for centuries, before being “re discovered” again by a French archaeologist. Up more stairs we reach another courtyard and look up to the inner sacred temple.

More beautiful dancers

More beautiful dancers

The inner sacred temple

The inner sacred temple

To be allowed to climb the stairs to the inner temple you have to have your legs and shoulders covered, and a sarong will not do the trick. My shorts are long enough but my top does not cover my shoulders sufficiently according to the guards. So I have to wait until Howard comes back down and he gives me his shirt to wear. It is a very, very steep climb, but the views from the top are amazing!

View from the top

View from the top

Once back down we leave Angkor Wat for a quick lunch before moving on to Ta Prohm built about the same time and made famous in the Laura Croft Tomb Raider movie. Where Angkor Wat is huge and surprisingly well preserved, Ta Prohm is in ruins, most of the temple has collapsed, most of the few remaining walls are being held together by massive silk wood trees (as seen in the movie). It has a wonderfull serene feeling to it even packed as it was with tourists.

Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm Temple

Silk tree

Silk wood tree

Say cheese!

Say cheese!

Next is Bayon temple. A better preserved temple with dozens of towers each carved with the 4 faces of Buddha, not as crowded as the other temples it is just as impressive. Once again the outer walls are lined with intricate carvings, one area is quite gruesome showing liars, cheats and thieves being tortured in hell.

Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple

Carvings

Elephant carvings

Towers and a monk

Towers and a monk

Each tower has the four faces of Bhudda

Each tower has the four faces of Bhudda

By this stage Howard is templed out. The only way I have lured him here for 1 day of temple trekking is with the promise of 6 days at the beach. I’m pretty tired as well and Sovan has been dragging his feet for the last hour. Taking pity on them both I call it a day.

Back at the hotel and armed with the name of a good restaurant, we have a well earned swim and nap before tuk-tukking out. Sovan has recommended Khmer Kitchen restaurant, the place is full, which is a good sign. We order and are relaxing with our drinks when a bang from the kitchen leaves us sitting in the dark. As nobody panics we presume this is a common event. Eventually our meals come out, and we are a little disappointed again. It seems that Cambodian food lacks both the spicy well balanced flavours that we love in Thai food and the fresh delicate flavours of Vietnamese cuisine. The eggplant and fried tofu, however was pretty good.

We have yet to try “happy soup” which Sovan says is spiced up with a special happy herb. Perhaps tomorrow?

Back on the Road Again!

25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Breakfast by the pool, Kabiki Hotel

Breakfast by the pool, Kabiki Hotel

But it doesn’t feel anything like Christmas. Today we are met at Kabiki Hotel at 8.00am for our drive to Siem Riep.  It’s not that far on the map; however it takes 5 1/2 hours of bouncing around on the “dancing road”.  Mostly a two lane black top, under repair for what seems half its length.  At times I just close my eyes, check my seat belt and pray that we survive the next overtaking manoeuvre.

Thank god we are in a car and not one of the overcrowded mini-buses that we pass.  We pass one hurtling along with at least 30 people jammed into a hi-lux van, plus I swear there were 8 people and a motor bike perched on the open tailgate!

Along the way we pass oxen pulling carts laden with hay, bustling markets, hordes of school children riding their bikes home to lunch and paddy fields as far as the eye can see.

Cambodia is flat, flat, flat.  During our long, long drive we do not go over a single hill, the road stretches into the distance in a long straight line.  I suppose there is no need for bends if there is nothing to go around.

It is a long, dusty, nerve wracking drive and as we approach our hotel our anxiety spikes, the driver turns into a shabby, dirty street and then into a dirt lane and then into a dodgy looking car park.  Oh no! Howard shoots me a look and we reluctantly climb out and into the tin shed that is reception.  Once checked in and through the gates and down a lush, orchid lined avenue, we breathe a sigh of relief.  It is really nice!  Our neat and clean little room is a few steps from one of the two lovely pools at the hotel.  The Central Boutique Angkor Hotel (www.centralboutiqueangkorhotel.com) is a great place to stay – clean, friendly and a $2 tuk-tuk drive from all the action.

Orchids at Central Boutique Ankgor Hotel

Orchids at Central Boutique Ankgor Hotel

We settle in and  have a quick lunch in the hotel restaurant. My Cambodian basil soup with chicken is made with coconut milk and delicately flavoured with tumeric, ginger and Thai basil is great. Then off to the pool to unwind and cool down for a few hours and a massage, before we tuk-tuk off to Pub Street, the tourist nightlife area.  Full of bars, restaurants, stalls selling all types of junk, massage parlours – the street and surrounding alleys have a vibrant, fun feeling and are full of people.

Pub Street, Siem Reap

Pub Street, Siem Reap

It is the best time of year to visit the nearby famous Angkor Wat temple (being the dry “cool” season) so the place is pumping.  We have to keep reminding ourselves that it is Christmas, being a Buddhist country there are only a few concessions for the westerners.  The odd Christmas tree and Santa hat is all there is to remind us.

We settle into a sleek little bar called Miss Wong in a back alley, it is decorated in exotic, vibrant red and black and boasts both white and red wine from France AND Argentina, by the bottle or glass.  Our bottle of the white wine disappears quickly and we depart to seek a suitable dining experience.

Drinks at Miss Wong

Drinks at Miss Wong

After some deliberation we take a table at Amok.  This turns out to be a mistake.  After waiting ages to order, my mango daiquiri looks and tastes suspiciously like a margarita (it’s not even mango coloured let alone mango flavoured), Howard’s stir fried noodles lacks any flavour at all and my tamarind chilli pork, well let’s say I’ve had better green chicken curries back home (it’s totally devoid of tamarind and chilli).

On the up side the beer is cold and we chat to a lovely Italian couple about Christmas, family, Milano, Italian shoes and how great Burma is. Our next holiday destination perhaps?

Dinner at Amok

Dinner at Amok

Another tuk-tuk drive home (standard price $2) we hit our rock hard bed for a surprisingly good night’s sleep.

Big day tomorrow!