Header image  

The Adventure's begun ....

ship's log

Friday 21st August 2009
still berthed at Danga Bay, Jahor Bahru, Malaysia

this update - June 2009 trip to Cambodia

It's hot, humid and it's just about to rain AGAIN - typical June weather in Penang. We're rolling around in the swelly marina, have been flat out with errands for the last 2 week's, and now we've a week to kill time in-between doctor appointments. What to do - what to do ? Oh, what's this in the inbox - AirAsia's just released some very cheap tickets for the next month ? Yes, I know what we can do..... let's go visit Cambodia !

So after a few hours researching our options on the internet (how to get around, what to do, where to go, where to stay, buying airline tickets) that's exactly what we did.

Our main interest was to visit Angkor Wat and other temples in Siem Reap, so that's were we flew into. No problems with visa's - just US$25 and a passport photo on arrival = 1 month's playtime, if we needed it. And what an introduction Siem Reap's airport gave us - very swish and modern, "antiquish" artwork and sculptures dotted around, smiling friendly airport staff, even "officialdom" was a pleasure to deal with.

The cheapest (and the most enjoyable) option to get to our hotel was via a 30 minute motorbike taxi ride (thankfully we were travelling light with only 1 small backpack each, so we each hopped onto our "own" bike). First impressions - it was a beautiful crisp morning with no humidity; traffic was considerably lighter than Penang and it was strange (for us) to be travelling on the wrong side of the road; green rice paddies and vegetable paddocks lined the roadway; lots and lots of motorbikes - some with families of 4 all squeezed up together on 1 seat, some fully laden with livestock and goods for sale; beautiful, graceful girls with very straight postures cycling around on vintage bicycles seemingly in no particular hurry; almost everyone's wearing a facial mask - is it because of car fumes, dust (not many roads are asphalted) or the dreaded N1H1 flu ? ; a different type of tuk-tuk to what we'd become used to from other SE Asian countries - in Cambodia the tuk-tuk is a two wheeled carriage, bolted onto a removable metal harness, which is in itself bolted across the motorbike seat, directly behind the driver; not many petrol stations but hand pumped drums dotted here and there. Here's a few "transport" type images ......

Our tuk-tuk and driver for travelling around the temples
Anything and everything gets transported by motorbike
- note the jerry can, petrol piped straight to the fuel tank

Fuel anyone ...... ??
Garbage collection

And then onto the most reasonably priced and best guesthouse we've ever stayed in - absolutely, no joking - the Golden_Temple_Villa in Siem Reap contributed to making our stay in Cambodia really, really good!!!! All the staff were delightful and nothing was too much trouble - it's the small touches that contribute to the overall picture - welcoming drink and 15 minute free massage; very comfortable onsite restaurant that was really good and exceptional value for money; free sticky rice "sweets" wrapped in banana leaf after each meal; daily "Phnom Penh Post" newspaper; free tea, coffee and fruit (mainly bananas) all day; beautiful "oasis" landscaped garden that was a delight to walk through; evening film (alternate nights - doco on "Angkor Wat" and "The Killing Fields", of-course :-); 6 computers available at all times with free internet with no time limits; access to a digital card reader; for a small fee, CD copying (if you'd forgotten to bring a memory stick to move all those digital photo's off the camera for the next day's "amazing" photo session); small well-stocked book library; assistance in sorting out tuk-tuk and travel arrangements; farewell photo (below) attached to beautiful "thank you" email waiting in your inbox; nicely decorated, spacious, air-conditioned and clean rooms - the list goes on. To Danay, Leah, Richart, Keah, KomSan, Jaan (apologies for any mispelling of names) and to everyone employed at Golden Temple who's names we didn't get - A VERY BIG THANKYOU. We'll definitely be back sometime in the future.

Leah (left), Gillian, Danay (right), Brian - Golden Temple Villa
Food Alley, Siem Reap

Beautifully landscaped "oasis" garden, Golden Temple Villa

My favourite Khmer dish - the AMOK curry, steamed (not boiled) in banana leaf cups, is solid & moist. I chose "fish" - delicious !!

Another favourite - fresh vegetable spring rolls

And another - Phnom Penh Soup, much like Vietnamese Pho, served with bean sprouts and mixed herbs (cilantro, sweet basil leaves, mint)

But wait, there's more - don't know these dish names but the "steamboat" meal was really yummy !!

We weren't game to sample the rice wine,
complete with snakes and scorpions

4 nights in Siem Reap and we fell in love with this charming "tourist" town. Cambodians have a beautifully gentle nature and are always ready with a big smile which really lights up their faces - even though it's a very poor country and most people don't have much, you can tell that everyone is happy.

We spent most days exploring the temples, but more about temples with heaps of photo's later (I had a very hard time choosing these as almost all the temple photo's were "great" photo's !). Our "daily"routine would start with a cooked breakfast (cheese omlette, warm crispy bagettes, strong bottomless coffee - absolute heaven !); then grabbing a bottle of water and a few bananas for the day's leisurely tour around the temples in our "own" tuk-tuk; arriving back around 4pm for showering, change of clothes, sundowners, strolling around town, deciding on where to eat. While strolling around town, we were constantly amazed at how resourceful Cambodians are (loads of touts, all trying to part at least 1US$ from you - eventually you learn to not make eye contact or show any interest in anything being sold - it's impossible to buy from or give to everyone - it eventually got very tiring yet heartbreaking all at the same time).

ACODO is a local orphanage and school for underprivileged and disabled children, where nightly Apsara traditional dance shows are performed for tourists. All the orphans take part - either dancing or making music. Donations are their only source of income - no government handouts here. ACODO often struggles to find volunteers, never mind finding audiences for their performances - despite lots of flyers around town, only two other tourists arrived while we were there. Our visit coincided not only with a very heavy downpour (with our amazing tuk-tuk driver weaving his way around the biggest potholes and "depthless" puddles of water) but also with ACODO's move to their new premises - we arrived to chaos with water everwhere, packing boxes, stacked furniture and the children's "last" night at the orphanage. Obviously, there wasn't any dancing that night but we spent a wonderful hour here - the children proudly showing us photo's of themselves in costume and on special outings.

The most ticklish foot therapy - fish happily nibble off hard skin
Using a grinder to create decorative tilework - very dusty and noisy

Age, and the smallest space, no obstacle to earning the elusive buck
Colourful market stalls - scarfs, soaps, bamboo containers

ADOCO orphans and a demonstration of how to play the Cambodian xylophone

Landmine clearance signage around the outer northern temples
confusion reigns at the bus terminal - catching the bus to Phnom Penh

We hadn't even thought about visiting Phnom Penh, but now that we were in Cambodia, it seemed crazy not to and as I'd "on the spur of the moment" (as you do) applied for an advertised position at the Australian Embassy it seemed like a good idea to at least check it out. But sadly, it wasn't to be and the position went to someone else.

Phnom Penh is a very vibrant city and it probably never sleeps. I wasn't prepared for the poverty I saw, it was far worse than what I'd been expecting (the guidebooks only hint at how bad it is - nothing prepares you for experiencing it head on and for the record, the poverty was far worse than anything I'd experienced even after having lived in Africa and travelling through Indonesia). You can't even walk within the hotel foyer without some tout trying to engage you - from buying 2nd hand newspapers, to the ever present sunglasses salesperson, to the ever present buddhist monk, to the ever present amputee, to the ever present tuk-tuk and motorbike taxi driver. I perhaps sound heartless but it's a never ending stream of outstretched hands.

It might've been the time of year but it was incredibly hot and humid, more than any other city we'd been to to date - we found that we could only endure exploring early in the morning, only to collapse back at the hotel late morning for some airconditioned comfort and then venture out again mid afternoon. We deliberately gave anything to do with the war a big berth - from other people's websites and blogs we'd read it sounded far too depressing - it was bad enough dealing with what was right under our noses, without getting lost in the sorrows of history. Instead we wandered round the city blocks near our hotel, visited the museum and palace, found interesting places to eat, engaged with local people and tourists.

from our hotel balcony - what can't you transport with a tuk-tuk? and the truck's cabin roof is probably the best place to hang on

National Museum - best Khmer artifact collection outside of Siem Reap
streetscape, Phnom Penh - lessons on how to cross the flow of traffic

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
typical Phnom Penh streetscape

Travelling anywhere by bus in Cambodia should be a "must do" item - what an experience ! I've seldom needed to used the hooter whilst driving in Australia and on the brief occasions that I had, it was just a quick 1 or 2 second "hoot" to announce my presence. After having travelled through Cambodia, only now do I really understand what the hooter's for - it's to continuously keep the hooter depressed to let EVERYONE AT ALL TIMES (that means vehicles travelling in front of you, any nearby pedestrian, oncoming vehicles just passing or in the process of overtaking, any vehicle that you are about to overtake or who's just overtaken you) know that YOU AND YOUR VEHICLE are on the road. Now that I've been re-educated and equipped with this vital piece information, the mundane Sunday afternoon drive will never be the same :-)

There was some very interesting architecture, with Chinese influences, along the Siem Reap-Phnom Penh road. Some houses displayed a small tile half way along the roof line displaying a "year" which I presume is the year in which the house was built. Erected in most gardens were large bamboo frames supporting plastic panels, often with lighting attached. I was told that this was for collecting a small grasshopper type insect which is endemic only to the Siem Reap region, but highly prized throughout Cambodia as a "deep fried delicacy". The bus trip is also good for seeing how the rice paddies are worked and harvested.

houses along the Siem Reap - Phnom Penh road, complete with year roof tiles and large plastic "grasshopper" collection frames

very tidy, well maintained homes
rice paddies being harvested

rice paddies being harvested
who do you think the sign is warning - tourists or elephants ??

And then there were temples ..........

The most famouse temples are those found around Angkor Wat (a huge complex covering 82 hectares built during the reign of Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century, between 1113 and 1150), which in itself is a very important temple and a "city" in it's own right. The temples are located within a defined boundary referred to as "Angkor Archaeological Park". The Park is spread out over many kilometres so it's absolutely necessary to have your own tuk-tuk and driver. We bought a 3 day pass and didn't bother about hiring a guide, preferring to wander around on our own using the "Ancient Angkor" guidebook which gives detailed descriptions on all temples, suggested itineraries and great photo's.

We particularly loved wandering around the more "delapidated" temples, particularly those with trees growing through the walls and roofs. Wandering around in the late afternoon after rain was also great - the "drip, drip, drip" of rain droplets falling through the tree-top canopies made the temples just that more exotic. I'd love to unexpectedly stumble across icons and revered statues tucked into some small recess. The stone carvings also blew us away - there always seemed to be another temple where the workmanship was even more detailed than the last. Buddhist monks' saffron coloured robes looked amazing against the grey stone. Lichen and mould also created beautiful colours, patterns, shadows and contrasts on the ruins.

I'm not going to give detailed information about the temples - there's tons of information online, if these pictures get you interested. It's probably best for my very trimmed down selection of photo's below to tell the story. Our favourite temples were Ta Prohm (amazing trees growing through the ruins, but really made famous by being used in the Angelina Jolie "Laura Croft - Tomb Raider"), Preah Khan (where we wandered around just after it had rained) and the Bayon Face Towers.

But more importantly to us was that here we were in a country still recovering from the effects of war; wandering around almost unheeded; climbing over stone steps and ruins that are irreplaceable antiquities; some temples just piles of rubble managing to "survive" the tropical climate in "stately neglect"; walking through sites with incredible history - if you ever get the chance, you've really got to go.

our love affair with elephants continue .... they're also used in Cambodia too

idols and revered statues are to found in every nook and cranny - even outdoors

Buddhist monks' saffron coloured robes look amazing against the grey stone

One of our favourite temples - the Bayan Face Towers

Loads and loads of very small, very steep, steps

also loads and loads of intricate, delicate carvings spanning large areas of unmortared, seamless stone slabs - incredible workmanship

carving close-up from the temple doorways (photo on the right) - a sunny day, casting a different light to what we'd become used to

Another favourite, Ta Prohm temple (used in the Angelina Jolie movie "Laura Croft - Tomb Raider")

Preah Khan temple - just after rain
inside Angkor Wat - Brian's sitting on the top right stair (one of the few areas we came across where stonework was protected)

aerial view of Angkor Wat temple (covering 82 hectares) (photo courtesy of Golden Temple Villa)

A break in tradition for this update - no sunset photo :(

And there probably won't be one next month either as Brian will be covering another fascinating country that we've just recently visited.

So for another month, that's all folks, cheers from Destiny III, keep well and don't forget to send us an email from time to time.

Very best regards
B & G