Siem Reap, Cambodia

Doing his duties

Posers at Angkor Wat

Doing his duties

Doing his duties

P1030306

Beautiful painting

Beautiful painting

Got a local bus from Battambang to Siem Reap (a mere 3 hours), packed to the rafters it was. Bucket as a seat in the aisle anyone? They left us off the bus about 7km from Siem Reap, after they had driven through the middle of town. Huh? They drive the bus into their own yard and shut the gates, giving waiting tuk-tuk drivers (who pay a few hundred dollars each year for the privilege of being inside this closed gate) a free-for-all on all the tourists (just us) getting off the bus. You obviously have to take a tuk-tuk the 7km back the road already travelled. These tuk-tuk drivers actually want your ‘temple-business’ though, not the silly little 7km trip. They’re on a selling mission all the way into town. “How long are you going to be here?”, “You have somewhere to stay? I bring you to a good hotel” (where I also work), “I can take you to the temples”, “Only $50 for three days”.  Since the couple we had met in Battambang paid $70 for their temple-trekking we were like “sold!”. So Som (a nineteen year old charmer) was our tuk-tuk driver for 3 days around the gazillion or so temples dotted around the area. He said he’d take us out to Angkor Wat to see the sunset on our first evening (for free!) so obviously we did that. It was eerily quiet. You’re on your tuk-tuk on the way out there and there’s a huge moat all around the outside. You don’t see Angkor Wat until you’re right in front of it and then… it’s amazing.

Day 1: Temple-gazing. Must have seen around ten temples today. Little kiddies at all the temples trying to sell postcards and screaming “only $1” and then counting the postcards (ten in total) in about four different  languages. Very funny but they’re way too young to be out working – and in their bare feet. So here’s a rough rundown of the temples we saw today: Angkor Wat (again. Come on though, it’s Angkor Wat), Angkor Thom, the Elephant Terrace, Preah Khan, Bakong, Preah Ko, Lolei and about a million others. Only spent from 9am – 2.30pm temple-gazing but we were so wrecked after it we had a well-deserved two hour nap. Yes, we’re eighty now.

Day 2: Temple-gazing. On our trip out to the archaeological park a little gecko ran up Som’s back and he nearly fell off the bike. John was like “eh Som, there’s a gecko on your back” and he freaked out, bike veering off to the side of the road – “please get it off, I am very afraid”. More of a had to be there moment really but it was damn funny. Obviously it wouldn’t have been funny at all if it had happened to me! We visited Ta Prohm today – none other than the Tomb Raider/Lara Croft tomb…which I had never heard of before we got here. Obviously it was pretty cool to be somewhere Angelina had been so I took all the prerequisite photos. When in Rome… Toured the central market and the old market – bought a t-shirt, trousers and a dress for $11. Not bad for a day’s work. Plenty to do in the evenings here, the main ‘going-out’ street is called ‘Pub Street’ (what else). There’s one epic bar called ‘Angkor What?’. Loving their work.

Day 3: Som took us on the 37km trip to Banteay Srei, a temple well hidden in the jungle. Pretty small and pretty crowded but pretty all the same! It had the best set-up of all the temples; a museum-type building with explanations of the temple and conservation efforts; a café and plenty of rice paddies around the outside. Oh and MASSIVE spiders. Back to Angkor Wat then again, as I wasn’t appropriately dressed to climb to the top the other day. You have to have your shoulders and knees covered as the very top is considered a holy place. Good luck wearing trousers and a jumper there though. A pashmina in the bag just won’t do. Melting-pot hot.  I’m talking the back of your knees sweating. Not lady-like at all.

We bought little copy-book sets the other night to give to some kids. You wouldn’t believe how happy they are to get anything. It’s so sweet. There was a little boy sleeping inside Angkor Wat so John left a little ‘Ben 10’ copy-book near his feet, hopefully he realised it was for him when he awoke!

We spent a few café days around Siem Reap. Found a lovely place called ‘Joe to Go’ – it’s a boutique and a café – 100% of proceeds go to a charity – ‘the Global Child’. Strolled out to the Royal Residence, positively miniscule compared to their stately shack in Phnom Penh. Random fact about Siem Reap: Tuk-tuk drivers shout at you ALL day ‘lady, lady’/’sir, sir’. Off to Bangkok tomorrow.

Ta Phrom/The Tomb Raider temple

Ta Phrom/The Tomb Raider temple

We're off to see the wizard!

We’re off to see the wizard!

Siem Reap Night Market

Siem Reap Night Market

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Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang's Central Market

Battambang’s Central Market

Fine spot to pick up some petrol

Fine spot to pick up some petrol

Took a local bus from Phnom Penh to Battambang, a sleepy little town in the north-west. Bus was going quite well until our first rest-stop when the boys decided to tamper with the bloody engine. Only took about an hour (in the searing heat) to start the bus again so not too much of an inconvenience. I think you need to go to Cambodia with a fairly laid-back attitude to all these things and you’ll be grand. Once we arrived, to tuk-tuk drivers literally banging the bus window to get our attention we were brought to this guesthouse which didn’t have a sink in the bathroom. What the hell? I budget you not. Off we went to the ‘Holiday Hotel’, which was lovely. Our fanciest bathroom yet!

So Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city, apparently. The street names are as follows; Street 1, Street 2 and…Street 3. There are also streets 1.5 and 2.5. Epic. On our first night we watched a kids karate class on the square by the river. This little girl, about 2, was watching her older brother and copying all his karate moves – hilarious. She’ll be a mighty little mover! It must be so nice to be able to depend on the weather to plan a whole week in advance for an outdoor class.

Found a great café that sells hot oatmeal AND brown toast, the Sunrise Coffee House. So good. Rented some bicycles for $1 each (have to do all this cycling to stave off the 50 stone I would have put on otherwise as a result of all of these café days) and pottered around. Saw some temples, bridges, parks, Governer’s Residence from early 1900s and a night food-market. Such a relaxed place. On one of our temple expeditions I decided it was high time for a rest under the most non-shade providing tree you can imagine. So off John went cycling around the temple. When he wasn’t back 15 minutes later I was pretty worried. Turns out he was off chatting with a monk! John told the monk he had pretty good English, to which the monk replied that yes, he does study a bit alright. The monk asked John if he spoke Cambodian and John said yes of course, then renditioned him with the only Cambodian he actually knows: ‘som ket loi’…the bill please.

Rented a motorbike (no, neither of us has driven a motorbike before but John said he’d chance it after a quick lesson from a 14 year old girl) the next day for $6 and visited ‘Ek Phnom’ temple a few kilometres outside Battambang. This place includes a huge Buddha and some ruins from 1027 A.D. Two little girls decided to make it their business to show us around. Obviously we were going to give them something for their ‘troubles’; the older of the two (aged 6 and 12) pipes up “Please Sir, for help with my school”. Sure how could you say no? We had read about visiting this abandoned Pepsi factory which has some squatters living there too and we found that pretty easily. Wandered in and it was so eerie – there are still empty Pepsi bottles in crates around the place. Found another café run by a lovely American girl called ‘Café Eden’ by the river. They had a really good acoustic guitar singing session and some really great food. The make their own crisps! (which we only know because John ordered chips…)

We were supposed to get the bus out of Battambang and on to Siem Reap the next day but couldn’t be doing with that bus malarkey so off to the Sunrise Café we went…for five hours! Met a lovely couple from Essex who gave us some great tips for our travels. Sometimes you need a day off…

Big Buddha!

Big Buddha!

Our Little Tour Guides

Our Little Tour Guides

Ek Phnom Temple

Ek Phnom Temple

Temple gazing

Temple gazing

Abandoned Pepsi Factory

Abandoned Pepsi Factory

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Took a grand old six hour bus trip from Saigon to Phnom Penh with the Sinh Café; lots of empty seats AND no blaring local karaoke on the TV screen = a lovely 3 hour sleep! Border control was pretty quick; hand the passports to the bus attendant and they sort it all out for you (for a tidy $5 profit per person-which is fine as you can either pay them or pay the Cambodian border police a ‘processing fee’). Took our first tuk-tuk (for half the original asking price. Pups.) in our quest to find accommodation. Phnom Penh was probably the easiest place to find accommodation yet. Lovely room with air-conditioning and really friendly staff in the Amber House for $12 a night.  Fine view of a wall we had too.
En route to Phnom Penh

En route to Phnom Penh

We spent three days wandering around Phnom Penh which consists of really wide French-style boulevards, an opulent Royal Palace with a Silver Pagoda, a few temples and markets and some of the friendliest people you could possibly meet. Oh and lots of monks in orange robes. Not sure how I should behave around them (being female) so I usually just kind of walk diagonally away from them and avoid eye contact. Stupid guide books freaking me out. We had a lot of meals in this café called Java near the Independence Monument, amazing. Also visited this lovely café called Friends, which helps take kids off the street and trains them into the restaurant business. Pretty cool. Oh and it had the best toilets yet!
Independence Monument

Independence Monument

Just a roundabout

Just a roundabout

Monks!

Monks!

Loving life

Loving life

We decided to rent some bicycles on our final day in Phnom Penh and visit the Toul Sleung Genocide Museum, a former high school which was turned in to a Security Prison (S21) during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror on the Cambodian people. It’s a really eerie place to visit; you can easily recognize it as a school – clearly defined classrooms, play areas and climbing/exercise ropes. The Khmer Rouge built walls and cells inside the main buildings to torture and imprison victims – which included educated people/anybody that spoke out against them/children/westerners. The museum has been left exactly as it was left by the Khmer Rouge and has hundreds of photos of all the people that were imprisoned and tortured here. After they were tortured, victims were taken approximately 15km out of the city to Choeung Ek/The Killing Fields, killed and buried in mass graves. We cycled out here after the S21 museum. It’s not a nice place to visit at all but you really have to visit. Pol Pot (leader of the Khmer Rouge) is now dead but it’s a welcome sign to see that some other leaders are currently being tried for their roles in the atrocities. Thousands of bodies have already been exhumed from Choeung Ek but many mass graves remain untouched. Many items of victim’s clothing can still be seen all around the place – they come up through the ground in the heavy rains. It’s really awful and I’m not even going in to detail here. Choeung Ek also includes a tall glass case/monument which has thousands of skulls and bones from victims displayed.
Toul Sleung Genocide Museum

Toul Sleung Genocide Museum

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek

On a happier note: As we were leaving Choeung Ek there were some kids along the side of the road, shouting hello and waving like crazy so I stuck out my arm (still on the bicycle) and roared “High Five” (universal language) and the kid weaved towards me and let’s just say there was one almighty wallop…maybe I shouldn’t have done that pedaling c.20km/hr. He was fairly shaking his arm when I looked back!!
 
Random piece of information: the bank machines dispense only US dollars and you’ll need a lot of these in Cambodia. It ain’t that cheap. They also use their own currency, the riel, so you can pay half and half if you want.
Other random pieces of information: There are Lexus cars everywhere and there’s a serious divide between rich and poor here. We saw a sign on a gym which said ‘No bodyguards. No weapons’. Obviously I couldn’t attend my regular gym session then. Shame.
Snippets (snap-pets?!) from the Palace:
Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Nice gardens

Nice gardens

Cute spot for some afternoon tea?

Cute spot for some afternoon tea?