A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

A whirlwind tour through the country....

13th September 2012- Goodbye Bangkok.......

A very long day for us as our overland journey began. The bus picked us up at 7am , Cambodia bound . We spent our first night in Siem Reap, where we arrived at 16:15.. Luckily the bus stopped every 2 hours for "happy house" - the term used on the tour for a toilet break!
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Siem Reap is a small town that attracts tourists from all around the globe as it is the gateway to the magnificent temples at Angkor and the reason for our stay here. As a group we all went for a dinner - traditional Khmer food - which was great. I had a chicken coconut curry and Ken had beef lok lak, a tasty Khmer dish full of flavour served with rice and a fried egg. Then we headed to "pub street" for a few cold cheap drinks (beers US$0.50) and to get to know our group. Not wanting to be hungover for the long day of temples the following day, we headed home on a tuk-tuk at around 11pm.
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The Temples of Angkor must be SE Asia's biggest draw card and are spread out over 40 square miles around Siem Reap, built between the 8th and 13th centuries. We started the day at the massive temple complex called Bayon, named after the Banyon tree. Built between 1181-1220 it has a vast amount of relief carvings (around 4000 linear feet) of battles and of the history and beliefs of the local population. There are mysterious carvings of faces carved into towers on the 3rd level. Then we moved on to Preah Kahn - another temple built by the same king. It was steaming hot and we were all feeling like we had been sitting in a sauna for hours, so we headed for some shade, drinks and lunch. After the well deserved break we took off to explore the temple Ken really wanted to see, Ta Prohm. It hasn't been restored and it is surrounded by a moat and has been left pretty much the way it was discovered in the late 1800s. The jungle has reclaimed the temple for itself. This temple was used to film the Tomb Raider film with Angelina Jolie. It was fascinating to see how much damage the trees have done to the huge sandstone buildings. All templed out we headed to our last temple for the day and most famous temple in Cambodia, Angkor Wat. This is the supreme masterpiece of Khmer architecture. It is an impressive pyramid temple built between 1113-1150. The moat surrounding it is 570 foot wide and around 4 miles long. Probably the best views and impressions of this place are the first, when you cross the moat on the causeway and enter through the gates. Its an incredible sight and one you see on nearly every photograph of Cambodia. A very tiring day for all and one we thoroughly enjoyed. This will stay with us until we kick the bucket.
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So after quiet night of quick food, a fish pedicure and reading we crashed early. The following morning we headed off by bus to Tonle Sap Lake. This is Asia's largest fresh water lake. In the wet season it expands from around 2600 km2 to a sea-like 12000 km2. When we arrived at the lake we were ushered onto a boat which took us to Chong Kneas, a floating village. This is not a typical tourist attraction, this is a real village that many Cambodians call home. Residents live in brightly coloured houseboats that bob up and down on the choppy water. Villagers can worship at the floating catholic church or mosque. The large community of Chong Kneas consists of a network of 8 villages that lie along the Tonle Sap water way. The village migrates with the rising and falling water levels. About 6,000 residents live there. Although it sounds charming, life on these waterway is hard. Inhabitants live mainly in wooden house boats, some of the more poor live in makeshift stilt houses on the shore.
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On our last night in Siem Reap we joined our tour guide for dinner at a local restaurant. As no-one spoke english, he ordered a variety of dishes to try, including sizzling spicy beef ( yum!), spicy fried frogs , baby duck eggs and a spicy eel dish. Ken tried a bit of everything, and really enjoyed the frog dísh and baby duck eggs. I wasn't quite so adventurous and stuck to the beef and the rice! I did try the baby duck eggs and although it wasn't too bad, I didn't have any more than one bite! Was a great night away from the usual tourist part of the town.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Siem Reap, but it was time to go. After a long 7 hour bus journey on a public bus we arrived at a place called Kompong Cham, on the banks of the Mekong River. Thanks to the belting rain, we didn't do much here except the previous blog catch up and go out for dinner. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise though which made up for it being the sleepy hollow of Cambodia - well to us, anyway!
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Another bus journey took us to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. It was made the capital in the 1430s, when the capital was moved from Angkor in order to increase trade and put some distance from the kingdom of Siam (Thailand). We spent a very interesting afternoon at the killing fields and the S21 prison camp. It was gut wrenching to learn how these people were slaughtered during the Pol Pot regime. S21(Tuol Sleng genocide museum)was a high school which was converted to a prison by the Khmer Rouge. It was designed for detention, interrogation, inhumane torture and killing, after confessions from the detainees were received and documented. All of the photographic evidence aand torture cells we saw and the visit to the killing fields left us with very heavy hearts and absolute disgust and sadness about how humans could treat each other. Over 2 million people were killed during the Pol Pot Regime.
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We had another morning in Phnom Penh, which we spent shopping at the local markets and picking up a few essentials at a supermarket.

Our next stop was Chambok, a rural village where we spend the night at a homestay. Very basic houses are built on stilts. The sleeping area is upstairs - matresses on the floow with mosquito nets and the living area is underneath the house, with a seperate hut for cooking and an outbuilding for the long drop toilet. The water is a piped down the hill to the village from a 40 metre high waterfall. After meeting our host families and checking out the houses we walked up to a central canteen area. Women from the village take it in turns to cook for the visitors to the village. After dinner, which was lovely, we were treated to some entertainment by the local kids who performed a series of dances for us. The whole project is about sustainable living off the land. Villages used to hunt animals from the forest and and chop trees for a living , but now, thanks to eco-tourism they are protecting their land and replanting trees etc. After the dancing we headed back to our hosts where we all sat and enjoyed a few beers and homemade rice wine. With the help of a couple of interpreters we were able to ask our host families questions and vice versa. We learnt a lot about their way of life. An early start thje next morning, thanks to the roosters. Breakfast was served back at the canteen area, again cooked by the village ladies. After breakfast we went on a guided hike through the forest to the waterfall. It was around 6km walk up the mountain. After a dip in the water we headed back to the village. What an amazing experience the homestay was and an insight into a life so far removed to what we know.
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Next up on the worlwind tour of Cambodia was a seaside resport called Sihanoukville, about 3 hours drive from Chambok. What an experience! Hawkers patrol the beach and pretty much swarm you like flies to shit. They sell everything and anything from fresh fruit to cooked crabs, prawns and squid to sunglasses and weed! Even when you sit at one of the beach side bars or restaurants they hound you. I was offered hundreds of pedicures during our stay there. On the first night we went to one of the many restaurants which do bbqs every evening. We chose a lovely local restaurant. You choose any of the meat , fish or chicken and it is served with a potato of your choice plus a salad. I had squid and Ken had the pork steaks. Was really yummy! Washed down with US$0.50 beer of course. After dinner we enjoyed a couple of drinks at an awesome beach bar that sits on stilts above the sea. So so relaxing and such a treat to see and hear the waves crashing on the rocks. Our one full beach day in Sihanoukville was pretty much ruined to the rain, but we did manage to get a few hours lying on the beach and swimming in the sea - was so lovely. While splashing in the waves it was at that point that I was so excited about moving back to South Africa and hopefully being able to do this more often. The whole afternoon and evening was a total washout, thanks to the monsoon season. We treated ourselves to a full body massage at a place called "Seeing Hands" - they employ blind or sight impaired people as the masseurs. What a great and much needed massage. An early night for us after dinner with the group and the rain still bucketing down.

Last stop in cambodia was back at Phnom Penh for one more night. Not much was on the agenda. We walked around town, sampled some tasty street food at the "Yellow Market" and enjoyed a few happy hour beers, while the rain poured again. We decided to embrace the rain rather than wait for it to stop, and went in search of a restaurant we had past earlier in the day. Thanks to Ken's good sense of direction we enjoyed a delicious bowl of Vietnamese Pho for dinner, gearing us up for Vietnam. Sopping wet and tummies full , we had a relaxing last night in Cambodia.
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We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cambodia and we were looking forward to the next leg of our overland journey through SE Asia - Vietnam here we come.

Posted by louslabbert 14:22 Archived in Cambodia Tagged landscapes waterfalls lakes beaches bridges buildings boats temples villages rain fishing fields bus city rice museum wat pol_pot sunsets_and killing_fields _sunrises pnom_penh Comments (0)

The tale of two cities....

KL and Bangkok

After a few dodgy wireless internet connections at the hotels we have been staying at recently, we decided to pop in to an internet cafe to write a quick blog post. I have now typed out that first line 3 times due to the PC I am on crashing and then the electricity going off. 3rd time lucky, I hope!

So we landed in Kuala Lumpur Sebung airport, 20 km from the city. Apparently all we needed to do was catch a bus from outside the airport which would take us to Chinatown where we were staying. We finally found the bus stop, about half a km down the road. Packed in to the bus like sardines, we continued our journey. Luckily the bus terminated right outside the hostel we were booked in to. Once again we were over the moon that our room had aircon!

We got up pretty early the next morning, had some coffee and toast and set off to explore the big city. First stop was KL City Centre and the Petronas Towers. KLCC was a huge contrast to the rest of the city - smart, posh, clean and a huge shopping centre housing the expensive stores. The sky scrapers are amazing and dwarf everything around them. After relaxing next to the fountains we hopped on a bus to Chow Kit market - local market selling everything from fruit to meat to electronics. We were craving fresh fruit so bought a mixture of fruit for lunch. That evening we explored Chinatown, which is basically 3 streets filled with stalls selling cheap knock off branded goods. Any brand you want, for a tenth of the price. And cheap dvds, cheap dvds!! In amongst all the fakes are food stalls and the odd street cafe. The place is very busy - lots of people everywhere and very noisy. We also found it quite smelly with all of the open drains.

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All in all, we were not overly impressed with Kuala Lumpur - may be to do with the fact that by the time we got there we were over cities.

Next up, was Bangkok. Yes, another city, so we were hesitant after KL. Bangkok traffic is mad! We sat in a taxi from the airport to our hotel for almost 2 hours. Three lanes turned in to five lanes, it is just synchronised chaos! Was actually busier than London rush hour traffic. The next day we explored the area around Khao San Road - the place has such a good vibe to it and very chilled. We did lots of walking and enjoyed a few stops for well deserved cold beers and iced coffee. In the evening we met up with the group we are doing the Intrepid tour with for an introductory meeting. We all went out for dinner and drinks together to get to know each other. Everyone in our group seems nice enough, which is a relief as we are travelling with many of them for 39 days! Ken and I loved Bangkok after the short time we spent there and we are looking forward to going back again after the Thailand islands in November.

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So thus began our Best of Indochina tour through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos......so watch this space, and we will be back soon!

Posted by louslabbert 04:13 Archived in Thailand Tagged buildings skylines people parties sky night planes temples traffic food city pagodas thai kl sounds bankok Comments (0)

When in Penang....

Food Glorious Food!

Malaysia Continued. . . .

Penang awaits! Once off the plane, Ken rushes off to the Air Asia lost and found desk and gives them all the details of our camera in the hope that some kind person would hand it in at Kuching airport. God willing we would get our pictures back. Which unfortunately we didn't.

Roughly an hour from the airport by bus, we got to Georgetown. Named after King George IV, it is an old town filled with Chinese shop houses. Parts of the old town make up a world heritage site. It is a rather grotty place and not very pleasing to the eye. All the guide books say that the island of Penang is the food capital of Malaysia.

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Our first night, still feeling very upset about the lost camera, we wandered up the road to Red Garden Food Paradise. It is an outdoor food hall, similar to Top Spot in Borneo, but with more choice and more food stalls. We chose a stall and took a seat. I ordered a dish of duck,wan tans and noodles and Ken orders the duck, chicken and pork rice - to be helped down with a tiger beer to share. Delicious. The beer was more expensive than the meal, but very refreshing in that muggy heat.

When we eventually rolled out of bed the next morning we headed to the police headquarters to report the camera as missing. This was a very simple process and the police were very helpful and very friendly. We spent the afternoon walking around the world heritage part of town and along the docks. We eventually hopped on the free tourist bus with does a circuit through and around Georgetown so we could get a feel for the town and the layout. Towns are not really for us, especially Ken and this one felt claustrophobically chaotic for its size . The traffic is hectic and there are no real pavements to walk on, so you spend your time dodging motorbikes,cars, bikes,busses and trishaws.

When we went out later that evening it was a totally different place. Food stalls had just popped up on the roadside and the sights, sounds and smells were arousing to the senses. The place was buzzing. We went to a restaurant , Restoran Kassim Mustafa, that we had read about and yes the author was right, they do have the best tandoori chicken that we have ever tasted. We ordered that with a roti canai, a type of Indian-influenced flatbread found in Malaysia and Indonesia, served with a spicy curry sauce , washed down with a delicious mango lassi. Yum!! We then strolled up the street eyeing the food out. We stopped and ordered some chicken satay, tantalisingly terrific. With a spring in our steps and our perception of Georgetown changed slightly, for the better , we bounded up the road looking for our next morsel. This turned out to be sesame peanut balls, which we practically inhaled whilst walking back to our hotel. About 20 meters later we turned around to buy 2 more. We now understood why Penang was known as the food capital! Beach time tomorrow!
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Batu Ferringhi (forreigners rock) is a beach resort around 40mins away from town. We got off the bus and found a lovely beach cafe. Ordered some breakfast and a cuppa, payed and hit the sandy beach. What a delightful little place. Ken got to fishing whilst I tanned and read my book. What a lovely relaxing time on the beach, away from the town. Looking forward to nightfall, we chilled in the aircon room for a while, after Ken went to buy the new camera.

At around 8pm we hit the streets, 1st stop, satay chicken again, next wan tan mee ( a noodle dish with wan tans, vegetables, meat and dressed with a type of soy sauce) and lastly our favoured sesame peanut balls. Ken also managed to squeeze in a bowl of cendol, which is a traditional dessert originating from South East Asia containing shaved ice mounted over chewy pandan-flavored cendol 'strands', coconut milk, a splash of condensed milk, and gula Melaka syrup (coconut palm sugar). Add-ons like sago pearls, red beans and pulut rice are optional. Sounds weird, but really did taste good, and so refreshing! What an incredible eating experience indeed ! Oh yes, I forgot to mention the fresh fruit juice we picked up along the way - the juice is poured into a plastic bag, served with pieces of fresh fruit - with a choice of coconut, lime and litchi and served with a straw. We chose litchi. It's really fresh fast food!
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Tummies full, taste buds tantalized, we made our way to the aiport in the POURING rain after a great few days in Penang. Off to the big city we go - Kuala Lumpur.
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(Please check out the photo album for more photos.....)

Posted by louslabbert 03:00 Archived in Malaysia Tagged beaches buildings people night traffic food markets street bus city penang ancient bbq vendors stalls shop_houses Comments (3)

Land of the head hunters...Borneo!

Kuching, Borneo - First stop on our whirlwind tour of South East Asia.

The reason Kuching was on our itinerary was because Ken gave me a list of a few of the things he wanted to see and do during our trip. One of them was to see the Orangutans and so we decided on Semonggoh National Park, with Kuching being the place to stay closest to the park.

The Semenggoh Wildlife Centre was established in 1975 to care for wild animals which have either been found injured in the forest, orphaned, or were previously kept as illegal pets. The centre is situated within the boundaries of the Semenggoh Nature Reserve, approximately 24 km from Kuching. When established, the three main aims of the Centre were to rehabilitate wild animals who have been injured, orphaned in the wild or handicapped by prolonged captivity, with the objective of subsequently releasing them back to the wild, to conduct research on wildlife and captive breeding programmes for endangered species and to educate visitors and the general public about the importance of conservation. As a result of its success, Semenggoh’s role has changed and it is nowadays a centre for the study of orangutan biology and behaviour, as well as a safe and natural haven for dozens of semi-wild orangutan, graduates of the rehabilitation programme. It is also home to numerous baby orangutan, born in the wild to rehabilitated mothers, a further testament to the success of the programme.

After hearing lots of feedback and stories on the number of orangutans which had been seen by other travellers, we were excited about our trip to see them. With two hourly feeding times, 9am and 3am, we opted for the morning slot. We got up early on Monday morning, made our way to the bus station and caught the bus just before 7am, getting us to the park very early. After buying our entry ticket we walked 20 minutes through the jungle to get to the rehab centre. At 9am, along with a large crowd of visitors, we were led to the feeding area. We waited, and waited and waited....and waited. Well, unfortunately for us, the orangutans were not hungry that morning and so did not grace us with their presence. Very disappointing! Good for the park, as it means that they are finding their own food, however sad for us, as we had really been looking forward to seeing them. So heavy hearted, we made our way by bus back to Kuching, where we recuperated in the aircon'd room for a while before a trip to the Sarawak Museum. It was a great insight into the local Iban life and the history of Malaysian Borneo.

The highlight of the day / night was dinner - we treated ourselves to dinner at a place called James Brookes Bistro, on the waterfront. Ken had the yummiest butter chicken and I chose the fish curry - amazing! Definitely a treat as we blew our budget that day!

Another early start on Tuesday and another early bus trip. This time is was to Bako National Park. An hour on the bus got us to the park office, where we had to buy day permits to the park. We joined up with a couple from Canada, and bought return boat tickets to the park, as they were also going for the day and so it worked out much cheaper to share the journey. The park is 27 square kilometers, with secluded beaches, mangrove swamps, cliffs, lowland forest and heath forest. After a 20 minute boat ride through the croc infested estuary, we signed in. There are 17 hiking trails in Bako - we opted for a 5.8 km loop, which was estimated to take 3.5 hours. So off we set on our hike in 36 degree Celsius heat, at around 95 % humidity. Well, were we in for a shock. My idea of a hike was on a straight/level/flat surface. Withing 5 minutes of starting we were literally climbing vertically out of the valley. The hike was tough, up and down using tree roots as steps and vines as ropes. But I survived :-) The jungle was alive with lots of noises, but we didn't see too many animals except for the bearded pigs, fiddler crabs and mudskippers at the start of the hike. We also managed to see the macaque monkeys and the famous proboscis monkeys. Ken was in his element in the jungle!

Once back in Kuching, as knackered as we were, we headed to Top Spot for dinner, which was highly rated in all the guide books/online as the place to eat. Top Spot is a food court on top of a multi story car park. Seafood city!! You walk around, checking out the fresh seafood, deciding what to go for. You choose what you want - they cook it for you and bring it to the table. We had huge prawns, cooked in garlic, chilli and spring onions. Yum yum yum! it was an awesome meal - a fitting end to a great few days in Kuching.

While on the plane from Kuching to Penang, just before take off, Ken realised that our camera had grown legs and walked! Yup, our lovely new camera was missing, along with all of the photos from our day at Bako NP. Talk about putting a damper on the day. We were absolutely gutted. After liaising with airport staff and lost property, the camera was never found. Sob sob sob :-)

Bye Bye Borneo...next stop, Penang......

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Posted by louslabbert 03:05 Archived in Malaysia Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains buildings trees animals birds sky boats temples food markets fishing beach travel monkey river malaysia roads city pagodas borneo funny sights ancient bbq pig deer vendors stalls sounds proboscis_monkey hornbill orangutang shop_houses kutching Comments (2)

On your marks....get set... GO

After months and months of planning, researching and booking, the day finally arrived! With our lives squeezed in to our backpacks, off we headed to Heathrow on Friday morning. Check in went smoothly and between us we only had 30 kgs of luggage. I surprised both myself and Ken by fitting everything into my backpack. Ken had serious doubts over the past few months about my ability to travel light! Let me tell you though , 17 kgs on your back does not feel light. While waiting for the bus from home to the station, I had already vowed to shed baggage weight when we got to Malaysia!

After a delayed departure from Heathrow,we were off! A very long 12 hours and no sleep later,we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. With just enough time for a quick coffee, we were back in the air for our connecting flight to Kuching, Borneo.

A short taxi ride was all it took to get us to our hostel. At first glance Wo Jia Lodge looked like a dive. We looked at each other ,took a deep breath and rang the bell. We nervously climbed the narrow wooden staircase, not quite sure what to expect. Halfway up the stairs to the left was a doorway through which we saw the reception desk. Hesitantly we entered the room to check in. The friendly guy at reception gave us our room keys and directed us up the second flight of stairs. We found our room and opened the door,only to be met by a wall of heat - it felt like we had opened an oven door! Our worries melted away as soon as we saw that there was aircon. Within minutes both the room and ourselves were chilled. After the shaky start,we are loving our new little home for a few days -what a gem of a hostel!

So here we are, at the end of our first full day of our travels. It feels like we are on a long weekend away- it hasn't quite sunken in yet that we are doing the whole travelling thing. We are off to see the orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve early in the morning. This is the main reason why we are in Borneo, as it has always been on Ken's bucket list.

We just wanted to let you all know that we are here safe and sound and loving the fact that we have no worries or stresses at the moment! This definitely beats the usual Sunday night blues!

That's it for now - let us explore the jungle, beaches and mangrove swamps for a few days and we will report back to you in a few days with news of our Borneo adventures.

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Posted by louslabbert 20:42 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

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