A Travellerspoint blog

Siem Reap & Angkor Wat

rain 35 °C

Siem Reap is not what we expected. It is the ancient capital of Cambodia and boasts temples like Angkor Wat that are over 800 years old, and as such you imagine an old looking town. First of all, it is no older looking than any other city we’ve visited, secondly Pub Street is about as hip as it gets in Cambodia. The whole block surrounding Pub Street is a bustling tourist trap full of restaurants, night clubs, massage parlours, and bars.

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^^ Siem Reap at night is especially beautiful

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We had some time to kill here as it was our last stop before heading into Thailand to meet Ellie and Steven and we didn’t want to enter too early and waste our short Thai visa. So, what better to do in a city that boasts a ‘bar street’ than enjoy a few of the bars?

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For the first 6 days we didn’t really do anything. First of all it was raining pretty much non-stop and when the rain did let off the thermometer would shoot up close to 40 degrees.

We got a fair few massages from a group called ‘Seeing Hands’, they are all blind and this organisation gives them work massaging, plus they were really good.

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^^ Feasting on my dead foot skin

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^^ It's ticklish

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^^ Our $7 per night accommodation

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^^ We also saw a traditional Khmer dancing show

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Kirby did a cooking class which she really enjoyed; she learnt how to cook a peanut curry, a green mango salad, and a bean pudding. The best thing was she got to eat it all at the end of the class, and because the class only cost $10 it was cheaper than when we had ordered it at the same restaurant the night before, go figure, oh and also she got a free shirt that stated ‘Proud to be Khmer’ – we gave it to a tuk tuk driver.

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^^ Cooking ace

We also tried finding a swimming pool because it was sooooooo hot, although the cheapest one we could find wanted $16 for the day! Our hotel only cost $7 per night, so we decided to skip the pool and just stay around air-con.

We also discovered that in Cambodia they don’t have enough TV ads. So when a show goes to an ad break they show 1 or 2 ads and then an ‘intermission’ screen appears along with accompanying ‘elevator’ music; a world away from the ad-infected TV at home.

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^^ Delicious bugs on sale

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Finally on the 23rd we headed out to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temple complexes. It was an awesome experience, the air was thick with history and we had to pinch ourselves to actually believe we were visiting an ancient wonder of the world!

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The temples have many strange carvings and characteristics that obviously arise when you swap from being a Hindu temple worshipping Vishnu to being a Buddhist temple, however nothing can draw from the amazing architecture and awe inspiring skill that the Khmer builders possessed. A fun fact is that the binding material used in the construction is still yet to be identified by modern science.

It’s hard to put into words how cool it was to be visiting such an amazing place. Definitely weren’t disappointed!

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^^ Lost in the ruins

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^^ Carvings decorate all the walls

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^^ Polished boobs - apparently everyone likes to touch them

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That afternoon we got another massage each and purchased our $9 bus tickets to Bangkok!

Our last day in Cambodia we spent at the markets in Siem Reap; a bit of fun bargaining with the locals. Kirby picked up a camera bag, and I got myself what I’m calling an ‘asian’ style shirt :).

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^^ The markets have anything you could possibly want

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The journey to Bangkok was rather uneventful, which I guess is a good thing when border crossing are concerned, especially with the recent tensions between the Thai and Cambodian military.

The bus dropped us off at Poipet on Cambodia’s side and we walked across the border. The no-mans-land of approximately 100 meters is the home to possibly the world’s dodgiest casino. We didn’t stop and have a look, as gambling in land owned by no one freaks me out for some reason. After we passed through Thai immigration and received our 15 day visa (yes only 15 days when entering via land – sucks) we were shuffled into a mini bus and taken to a nearby restaurant where we had to sit for an hour (and purchase food/drinks from the drivers aunties restaurant). After the driver was satisfied the group had spent enough on his auntie’s overpriced food and drink it was on to an 18 lane highway straight into the heart of Bangkok!

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 03:43 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap angkor_wat angkor cooking_class poipet pub_street seeing_hands_massage bus_bangkok Comments (0)

Battambang - A Bamboo Train and A Broken Speedboat

semi-overcast 30 °C

We finally arrived in Battambang after another epic bus journey; I realise I’m getting a bit repetitive on this whole ‘bus trip’ ordeal, but it is most definitely the worst thing about backpacking. The cheap hotels next to nightclubs with their insect infestations, the ratty looking restaurants with real rats, the toilets with no toilet-paper; it’s nothing compared to horrendous, DVT inducing, bum numbing, 15+ hour bus rides, they suck sooo bad! Anyway I guess it’s all part of the experience and it makes reaching your destination all the more exciting.

When the bus did arrive it was around 9pm and we were greeted with the usual rowdy mob of tuk-tuk drivers wanting to take us to their hotels. It was really intense; we couldn’t escape the mob that surrounded us screaming out their prices for the ride to various hotels. Business must be down because the prices started at $2, then $1, then 50 cents and then they were all scrambling over each other and yelling ‘for free!! For free!!’ (The whole idea with free rides to the hotel is to sweet talk you into a day tour with them tomorrow). I noticed a guy just sitting next to his tuk-tuk chilling out not trying to trample us to death so I pointed to him we hurled ourselves into the back of his tuk-tuk and left the angry mob behind us. On the way to the hotel we found out his name is Sam Ol and his style is to hang back and let the tourists make their own mind up. It definitely worked with us, we would much prefer a passive driver willing to take us wherever we want to go than a worked-up, aggressive business man forcing you into his tuk-tuk. He was young like us and had a good sense of humour so we organised for him to pick us up the next morning and take us around town on a day tour.

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^^ Battambang

The day tour was awesome. It’s so easy with a local showing you around! We visited heaps of temple’s including Prasat Banan temple, and Phnom Sampeau. When we stopped and had noodle soup for lunch Sam Ol sat opposite and read us the newspaper to practice his English, which is already very good. He has a hilarious book full of ‘proverbs’ that other tourists have written down and ones he has found in books. We wrote a few extras in his book for him; he quite liked ‘Never smile at a crocodile’ and ‘She sells sea shells by the sea shore’; he kept practicing them all day with varying degrees of success, really funny though.

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^^ At Phnom Sampeau

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^^ The wet stairs you have to climb to get to Phnom Sampeau

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^^ Beautiful view from Prasat Banan

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We rode the bamboo train – a frightening experience! It’s a small bamboo platform that rests on two train axles with a large engine. They go both ways on the track and when you meet another train one of them disassembles to let the other through. The rule for which train has to be pulled apart is the one with the least people on board, however a scooter trumps people and live animals trump scooters. The ride itself is scary and the sections of rail don’t actually meet up square, so every join you approach you cross your fingers and toes and hope that the momentum will carry you across onto the next piece of rail line with a loud crunch. The lines are also warped from the heat so some sections you sway from side to side hoping not to flip. We definitely got our adrenaline rush for the day, although it was unexpected with Sam Ol telling us it was a pleasant ride on a local form of transport haha :). You better get in quick if you want to experience this train ride because the government has plans to re-lay the tracks so large trains can use it again, which means no more bamboo trains allowed. Note: I also have a video to upload of the train but because I am trying to do it within China the government is blocking it.

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^^ The bamboo train.

He then took us to a massive mango tree to show us the bats. Apparently the locals catch them and drink their blood because it’s good for your eye sight. I tried to explain to him that in Australia a popular saying is ‘Blind as a bat’ which really confused him, because the locals admire how they can fly around in the pitch black. That’s when I really confused him and tried explaining echo-location, and in fact if anything should improve from drinking bat’s blood it should be your hearing. He was puzzled but I wrote a definition in his book and he vowed to research the topic more :). Perhaps next time we visit, the village will be drinking the blood for hearing.

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^^ Enjoying the sights from the back of Sam Ol's tuk tuk

At the end of the day we went to a local bar and had a few jugs of beer with our new friend Sam Ol. I definitely recommend him as a guide/driver and if you find yourself in Battambang give him a call, his number is on the back of the tuk-tuk in the picture below.

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The next day we checked out the city by ourselves but it was like 37 degrees so it quickly turned into a search for an air-conditioned café. That night we missed the blood moon – full lunar eclipse – because it was too cloudy, we’ll have to wait 10 years and try again.

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We decided to take the speed boat across the lake to Siem Reap ($18 pp). The boat sounded like it should be going a lot faster than it was; in fact the engine was the size of a small car. But I’ve been crabbing in tinny’s that went significantly faster. At one point it completely broke down and we floated around for 45 minutes while the crew jumped off and searched for new batteries.

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^^ Our loud boat

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^^ A storm was brewing

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^^ Floating house

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The lake was impressive; it’s the biggest lake in Asia and when you emerge out of the tributary into the main expanse it’s fresh water as far as the eye can see. We passed many floating villages on the way and the driver even stopped to buy some fresh fish and eels for dinner. We arrived in Siem Reap about 7 hours later and found a nice cheap hotel – surprisingly recommended by the tuk-tuk driver – and had drinks that night in the lively streets of one of Cambodia’s ancient capitals.

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^^ Enjoying a strong jug of whiskey in Siem Reap

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 03:10 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap sam ol battambang bamboo_train speed_boat tuk_tuk_tour prasat_banan phnom_sampeau Comments (2)

Sihanoukville / Partyville

semi-overcast 33 °C

Sihanoukville is a little beach town on the Gulf of Thailand. It’s 180km from Phnom Penh which means it takes 7 hours on the bus, haha!

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The atmosphere is super-relaxed; the only things to do are watch movies at one of the two cinemas, or lie on a sun chair on the beach and drink cocktails. During the evening Sihanoukville comes alive with countless nightclubs along the streets and beachfront; in fact the population seems to triple as soon as the sun sets, I think it’s because all the people that have slept off their hangovers all day wake up at dusk to do it all over again.

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^^ The road down to the beach

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The two cinemas in town are privately run by expats and show the latest pirated movies in air-conditioned comfort and with bar services :). We watched The Hangover 2 & Limitless while we were here. We thought The Hangover 2 was appropriate since we too would be visiting Bangkok in the near future, although fingers crossed with fewer incidents!

As lying on the beach is the main activity that tourist undertake in Sihanoukville it is only fitting that this is the place with the most locals trying to earn a buck.
Ladies walk up and down the beach with baskets full of fresh seafood goodies; lobsters, prawns, and fresh fish are readily available. You just point to what you want and they will cook it up in front of you.
Kids also run around trying to sell intricately woven wrist bands. They will try and tell you that it’s to raise money to pay for school – although we found out that there is an NGO that offers free schooling – so don’t fall for their puppy eyes, as they should be at school not on the beach. They are also viciously good at tic-tac-toe. I fell into the trap of agreeing to buy a wrist band from a 10 year old boy if he could beat me at the game. He thrashed me 3 times in a row! So like many other westerners I spent the rest of my time in Sihanoukville wearing my tic-tac-toe wrist bands of shame, haha :).
Massages and women’s beauty is also a money maker on the beach. In fact as soon as we would walk down onto the beach the ladies would approach Kirby and tell her that her legs were hairy and yuk, but they could fix that. Needless to say she got them cheaply waxed while sipping on a Mojito. Funnily enough though the next day as soon as we stepped down onto the beach she was told once again how hairy her legs were; although after actually looking at her freshly plucked legs they quickly moved on to some other potentially 'hairy' victims further down the beach.

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^^ Lobster Lady
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^^ Fresh coconut - yum!

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^^ How to get a roller onto a truck? Push it up of course! So frightening! It partially slipped off at one point, luckily it didn't flip though!

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Just like most beachside towns in the world Sihanoukville is also privy to a thriving drug market, with weed being the main naughty on offer. In fact the tuk tuk drivers here offer you drugs before rides. Restaurants and cafés also offer ‘Happy’ added to all meals & drinks for an extra $1. It’s a fairly open affair and lookout boys walk down the streets playing small drums if a lazy police patrol is coming through. It’s a fun game to look for wide-eyed, paranoid stoners when the drums walk past.

We found an awesome Italian Restaurant called Trattoria Barbarella with the best homemade gnocchi in the world! We had dinner there every night for 4 night’s straight – sooooo goood!

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^^ Time to party!

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^^ Fire twirlers put on a show on the beach

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^^ Shots!

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^^ The matriarch of the nightclub. She had the till and all money passed through her hands.

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We spent a week here lounging on the beachfront during the day and partying it up in the evenings. Our sleeping pattern was destroyed and our livers pickled but we had heaps and fun and will miss the relaxing atmosphere of Sihanoukville. The worst part of the week was the 13 hour hung-over, stifling hot bus trip from Sihanoukville to Battambang – our next stop.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 02:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia sihanoukville nightclub pirate_cinema pirated_movies gulf_of_thailand beach_chairs beach_lobsters beach_massage trattoria_barbarella Comments (0)

Phnom Penh City & Palace

semi-overcast 32 °C

The next few days we just chilled out in Phnom Penh seeing the sights and soaking in the atmosphere.

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We had a small incident where we saw a peeper peering through a gap in our curtain but when they saw me look at them they bolted and we never caught them. Ah the joys of cheap, seedy, hotels!

We visited The Royal Palace which the King still resides in; although half of the complex is closed to the public there was still a massive amount of exploring to do. The Silver Pagoda was one of the most stunning buildings. Inside it is inlaid with over 5,000 silver tiles and holds a 90kg golden Buddha statue encrusted with 9,584 diamonds. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos inside the Pagoda, so you will have to visit for yourself to see its awesomeness :).

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^^ The Royal Palace
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^^ The grounds were massive!
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^^ Kirby looking menacing
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^^ The entrance into The Silver Pagoda - No Photos Allowed!
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^^ A model of Angkor Wat - we will be seeing the real thing when we visit Siem Reap

We also checked out the Russian Market, which apparently is one of the ‘must-do’s’ in Phnom Penh. Not sure why, we thought it was pretty boring and it wasn’t as ‘huge’ as everyone made it out to be.

Kirby bought some fake Gucci sunglasses for $2 and took them in to the optometrist and replaced the lenses with prescription sunglasses lenses for $6, good value! I also picked up a fake automatic BVLGARI watch for $20 – although I think I overpaid, but it works well so I don’t mind.

That’s pretty much all we did because it was raining most of the time so we just sat and ate like pigs, played on the wi-fi, and drank; I consumed way too much Johnnie Walker Black over the last 4 days; at $2 a shot I couldn’t resist. I’m pretty sure one day we even had breakfast, lunch, and dinner all on the same bill.

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^^ Local boys stripping down and playing a game of street soccer in the pouring rain

It was time to move on so we caught the 7hr bus ($4.50) to Sihanoukville, a little beach-side town.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 00:31 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh royal_palace golden_buddha silver_pagoda diamonds cheap_prescription_sunglasses bvlgari_watch_$20 Comments (0)

Phnom Tamao Zoo

sunny 33 °C

30km southeast of Phnom Penh is Phnom Tamao Zoo. We were fairly apprehensive about visiting a zoo in a developing country; with the fear of supporting the inhumane treatment and caging of animals as was often the practice decades ago when zoos were a place for the rich to visit and see exotic animals up close in 2m x 2m cages. However we breathed a sigh of relief when we entered and saw the beautiful open plan setting of the zoo and large enclosures.

I must say though, if you’re planning on taking a tuk tuk to the zoo like we did, make sure you have a scarf or something to put over your face because you travel most of the way on a sandy, dirt road and the dust is incredible, you may find yourself wearing a mud-mask by the time you arrive :).
Also the last few kilometres of the road is lined with beggars (at least 50) sitting in the scorching sun with a sad face and a hand out as you drive past. Unfortunately we had nothing to give them and we felt really bad as our tuk tuk motored past them all while other locals were stopping and handing out food & water.

The moment we stepped out of the tuk tuk we were surrounded by children selling sugarcane that you can feed to the free-roaming deer & monkeys. We bought some so they would stop hassling us and started our walk around the first area of the zoo.

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There was a really beautiful blind gibbon in an enclosure. Unfortunately he was all alone because the other gibbons would have picked on him. He kept sticking his arm through the cage and we thought he might have wanted some sugarcane. We put some in his hand but he wasn’t interested. When I got closer he held my arm gently and sat still. He just wanted some personal contact, so we sat with him for half an hour holding hands and making gibbon-like sounds and laughing when he sang back to us loud enough for the whole zoo to hear :).

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The Phnom Tamao Zoo was first set up as a rescue centre for victims of illegal wildlife trade and is now managed by Wildaid and the Free the Bears Fund. They are doing a great job – although it’s obvious the bears are receiving more than average benefits; their enclosures are amazing! We contemplated volunteering here but unfortunately it was a little bit out of our budget, so I bought a t-shirt instead. The zoo accepts donations and one of the Tiger enclosures was created with a donation from Belinda Emmett and Rove McManus.

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^^ Monks at the zoo
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^^ Back scratch time
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^^ Hugs all round for buying a Free The Bears T-Shirt
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^^ Pepsi break with Lot

Our experience at the zoo was really great and we were very happy to see that Cambodia is investing and taking the effort to responsibly house and care for all of the animals.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 00:10 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh zoo gibbon tuk_tuk lot phnom_tamao_zoo beggars wildaid free_the_bears_fund Comments (0)

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