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Archive for March 2009

Learning my lessons from crossing the Thai – Cambodian border I got a bus that went straight from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh/ Saigon. The trip took about 6 hours and meant that the journey was pretty stress free, although it was touch and go at first as I almost didn’t make the bus as the pick up guy nearly didn’t turn up.

I find that the longer I travel the calmer and easier I find it, which is to be expected I suppose, and so unlike my arrival into Cambodia coming into Vietnam I was full of a calm sort of excitement if that makes sense.

As we drove into Saigon I instantly fell in love with the place, and also noticed that in Vietnam they used a western version of the alphabet (although with more letters) which although I still cant understand does mean that I have a better chance of figuring out where I am most of the time.

I’m really glad that I choose to do my other tour in Cambodia as I think I would have found it a lot harder by my self.  As I definitely wouldn’t have seen or done as much as I did and so may have come away with a fair view of the country. As it stands I absolutely love Cambodia and the amazing people which definitely make it the place it is.

Arriving in Vietnam it makes it more apparently how much poorer Cambodia is compared to its neighbours, although you don’t neccessary notice while you’re there. Although I’ve only being here a couple of hours I already love Saigon and feel at home here, despite being ripped off massively by a cab driver as I got the conversion rate wrong – bound to happen when you just make it up for a vague memory but it’s all good.

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The last bit of our tour was chilling by the beach for a few days. Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s main beach area made up of a couple of beaches including Serendipity beach.

One of our days was spent on a boat cruise round the islands off the mainland for a bit of snorkeling, sunbathing and BBQ action.

Cambodia's Beaches

The water was pretty murky where we went snorkeling and a bit too shallow so we kept bashing our selves on bit of coral which is seriously painful. Honestly all this stuff about coral needing protection, it can very much look after its self – I needed more protection from it than the other way round.

Moving onto another island the beach was perfect and the sea gorgeous.

Cambodias beaches

The BBQ as well was amazing which included fish that Nak and the crew had caught for us while we were being attacked by coral. Although one of the guys methods of keeping the fish in his trouser pockets while they were still alive was quite random.

The rest of our days were spent sunbathing and partying on the beach, which was well needed after 10 days of behaving my self. (pictures not going up as look disgusting).

We had our final dinner a day early as some of the group were staying for a few more days on the beach before going home.

last dinner in cambodia

Girls on Cambodia tour

Boys on Cambodia tour

Although the rest of us had one more night in Phnom Penh that day was really the end of the tour.

All in all we had a really nice group – throughout the trip this became more apparent to everyone when we saw other groups while travelling round – most of which to be honest seemed to be collections of very strange people.

Although I’ve had a great time on my tours I’m now at a stage where I cant wait to be figuring things out for my self and doing things on my own time – although I may live to regret saying that if it starts going wrong! Bring on Vietnam…

Traveling down the coast from Kampong Cham involved a long 9 hour bus journey, which wasn’t too bad until the aircon stopped working on the second bus. Although we did get a chance to get our own back on the bugs by trying tarantula in tarantula city on the way. Apparently they are meant to taste like lobster but it was deep fried in garlic and so although I only tried a leg thats all I tasted.

tarantula fried

eating tarantulas

Our guest house wasn’t that great in Kampot as some of the rooms were dirty and there were a lot of bugs, cockroaches etc as well as a necessary team effort to kill the biggest spider ever that came running at me.

The next day was probably one of my favorite days in Cambodia. The start wasnt that much to write home about with a trip to some salt fields that were flooded – so no salt and to a pepper plantation which to be honest was just a lot of plants although Camilla tried to make them more exciting:

Camilla in the Pepper Plantation

Although something I did learn is that some of the pepper corns that go into white pepper are from bird poo. They are just washed and added to the bag – nice. If you have some at home they are the ones that are slightly darker and a little more grey so you might want to pick those ones out.

The best bit of the day was to come. Moving on to Kep we reached the sea which caused everyone to become quite giddy with excitement after spending ten days inland.

Kep beach

After an amazing lunch (probably some of the best food I’ve had in Cambodia) we went to a local beach market and picked up some fresh crabs which were then killed and cooked in front of us. I felt a bit bad as they were really pretty with bright blue claws but I’d rather that than food poisoning.

kampot crabs

cooking crabs on the beach

Also while we were waiting we tried some Durian fruit (think its the same as smelly fruit) – probably the most disgusted thing I have ever put in my mouth, not that it stayed there long but I wouldn’t recommend any one to try it especially as it will cost you an arm and a leg for the privilege.

Durian Fruit

Picking up some cold beers we jumped on board a boat and went up river. The afternoon was spent swimming off the boat and eating the fresh crab with cold beers as the sun set – it was literally like some thing out of a movie or a travel novel, gorgeous.

Kampot boat

boat trip

kampot boat trip

Getting off the boat we hit happy hour for á couple’ and spent the rest of the night drinking cocktails. Once the bar shut we walked back under an incredible starlit sky – it was like being in the planitariun. Although walking home after a few drinks while facing the sky wasnt the safest way to get home in one piece but we made it.

nights in kampot

Friday was quite a midly traumatic day by recent standards.

We left Siem Reap early in the morning to travel south to Kampong Cham (apparently the 3rd largest city – although after seeing Battambang (the 2nd largest) we werent expecting much).

The first incident of the day was at one of the breaks in the bus journey. As I was getting off the bus Nicola suddenly looked horrified and pointed at me shouted ‘ urgh’, get it of her’ looking down I couldnt see anything but fearing the worst promptly ran off shrieking.

Obviously this wasnt the most useful tactic to getting whatever it was off me, so I had to eventually stop freaking out and let someone get it off me.

It turned out to be a massive cockroach type buy which fortunately because of my boobs I couldn’t see as I dont know what I would have done – thank god for boobs.

Arriving at Kampot Cham we had lunch at a really strange place that served every part of every animal going such as pigs groin and goats intestines. Also to make this point clear the menu was a picture menu – I was nearly sick.

weird menu

In the afternoon we had a bike ride round the nearby island of Koh Paen. This was the part of the tour that I was expecting to dislike the most as I hate bicycles – to the extent that if Satan was to come down to earth I’m sure he’d come riding one.

To my surprise I actually had a really nice time – it was like being 6 again, although I still wouldnt take up cycling when I get back.

me on a bike

One of the reasons I dont like cycling is the fact that you have to always pay attention to what you’re doing and where you’re going. Something I quickly remembered after crashing into a tree and nearly taking out some of the local kids that run out to high five you as you go past.

bike ride in Cambodia

We then watched the sun down down before riding back across this rickety bamboo bridge – where I nearly got taken out a couple of times by mental  drivers such as this guy:

moto on bamboo bridge

bamboo bridge

sunset on koh Paen

The last bug related incident of the day was while we were at dinner when literally out of no where a plague of flying insects and termites arrived and swarmed round the street for about an hour.

I have literally never seen anything like it and they were every where – it was probably similar to what mosses had to deal with back in the day. The next morning the street was white like snow with the bodies of all the insects.

Hopefully I have now had all my bug related issues for the trip, as when I’m by my self its unlikely I will deal with it so well.

We were now in Siem Reap for a couple of days which is where everyone comes to see Angkor Wat – the 8th wonder of the world.

The temples at Angkor are spread out over a 40 mile area round Siem Reap but as we only had a couple of days our time was spent at the most well known temples.

Angkor Wat

Monks at Angkor

We also had to get up at 4.30 on one of the days to see Angkor at sunrise, which was nice but not as amazing as we’d hoped. (to see it at its best when it comes up behind Angkor you need to be there around May 23rd)

Sunrise at Angkor

My favourite temple however was Ta Prohm which is where Tomb Raider was filmed.

Ta Prohm

The morning we went in poured down with rain (see rains here too!) but it was actually amazing as it had been so hot the day before, although the brollies kind of ruin the explorer sort of look and made us look more like Tomb Raider the musical than Lara Croft esq.

Ta Prohm in the rain

Ta Prohm picture

The early start, previous days heat and mental Japanese tourists meant that most the time we were in hysterics which is why we look slightly delirious in the rest of the photos and I’m not putting them up!

What was great about our tour is that our leader Nak (a wana be bad boy from Siem Reap):

Nak

Knew so much about what we were seeing and showed us things that we we would normally not have noticed and his way of telling us was hilarious.

For example of this carving his words were; ”you see this women she not look after her turtle and so it bites the mans arse. He turn round to her and say baby look after the turtle or do you want me to slap you about”

Angkor Carving

Wednesday we were on the move again, this time by boat. It was a seven hour trip on our own little boat up river to Siem Reap.

boat to siem reap

Although the boat was small, having it to ourselves was amazing and its such a nicer way to travel than by bus. Especially as this meant that we could sit on the deck and the roof of the boat to work on our tans.

Lazing on the front of the boat and listening to my ipod as we went passed floating villages I started to notice that we were heading towards one of the small fishing boats.

fishing boat

Initially I wasnt too worried as every form of transport in Asia appears to play chicken with each other and jut using their horn to tell people to get out of the way.

As we got closer and closer it quickly became clear that the captain of the boat hadnt noticed the fishing boat and we were heading straight for him.

The realisation of this seemed to hit me and the guy on the fishing boat at the same time and as we caught each others eye simultaneously jumped – him off his boat into the water and me back into the cabin as our boat ploughed straight over his.

Fortunately the guy was ok apart from a bit of shock, but more surprisingly so was his boat which only lost the wooden panelling from the top.

It was one of the most surreal things I’d ever seen but the local fishermen were generally non-pulsed about the whole thing as if it happened everyday (I asked and this wasnt the case).

The rest of the boat trip was comparitivelty uneventful. Arriving in Siem Reap later that day I instantly fell in love with the place as it is absolutely gorgeous and what I had hoped Cambodia would be like.

Monday we took the local bus north to Battembang which is Cambodia’s second largest city – arriving there however you would never have guessed, although it has a nicer feel to it than Phnom Penh.

After a bit of lunch the local moped drivers took us round Battambang on the back of their bikes. My driver Bruce was hilarious as he’d learnt English from some one from East London and so wanted me to call him guvenor and ever thing was a cambodian version of cockney.

Moped Ride round Batambang

We visited some local people who made rice paper, noodles and also where they made fish paste and dried the fish – luckily it had been presevered in salt but the smell was still pretty strong.

Fish Paste making

The best bit about the trip however was that we got to go on the Bamboo train which everyone was told before we came that we were now not allowed to do.

Bamboo TrainThere is literally only one railway line in Cambodia which runs from Phnom Penh to Battambang but is only used for Cargo trains and relatively infrequently so the locals use the line with their homemade bamboo trains.

The bamboo train is literally a sheet of bamboo on four wheels powered by a motercycle engine. If you meet one coming the other way the rules are the heaviest train wins and so the other has to dismantle and let it pass, which also watching out for the real train!

Bamboo Train


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