A whirlwind tour through the country....
13.09.2012 - 22.09.2012
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.