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Cambodia

Last stop in Cambodia

Phnom Penh

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Our last stop in Cambodia is Phnom Penh, the capital. We had heard mixed reviews about it, but overall we thought it was a good city (if a little frayed around the edges). Its striving to be like other big Asian cities, but not quite there yet. Very busy, dirty (I saw numerous rats), but is then scattered with lovely modern coffee shops and posh French restaurants.

We decided to visit the S-21 prison, the Khmer Rouge torture house that they converted from a school. Its right in the centre of the city and looks like a normal school from the outside, but when you go inside it's quite different. I won't write about all the grim details about the numbers that died, torture techniques, living conditions...it was all shockingly disgusting and there's loads of information on the internet about it. But what moved me the most were the photographed faces of hundreds of men, women, children and babies that were there at some point in the 70s that covered the walls of the prison. I'm sure none of them survived. I'm afraid we decided not to visit the Killing Fields from Phnom Penh because we'd seen the Killing Caves and prison and had an appreciation of the history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge.

We had a couple of good food stops. One was a breakfast treat at a posh French restaurant (we mainly went in because we needed rescuing from the heat and they had air-con). Because we'd spent more than usual on breakfast we needed a cheap tea and had a fab cheap eat of noodles and fried tofu with a few beers all for the cost of £3...it was surprisingly tasty.

We did the usual tourist stops of the city;a walk along the river, seeing the palace and pagoda, markets and shops; and then as the monsoon rain hit we went for cover and watched some Cambodian boxing. It was free to watch at a TV studio set in a basketball stadium and consisted of roughly 5 fights with the locals cheering a corner. It was good,but we preferred watching Thai boxing in Bangkok with the crazy locals shouting their bets.

Anyway, next stop Vietnam.

Posted by bloorsontour 06:11 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Koh Kong, Chi Phat

Trekking

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If only you could see the view that I'm writing this blog entry from. We're just heading down the river on a wooden boat with tree lined embankments and lingering morning cloud mist in the trees. We've had a great couple of days in Chi Phat and now the boat is taking us further down the river for two hours so we can catch a bus to Phnom Penh.

Chi Phat is a village community that were one of the last Khmer Rouge run areas and when they were free from the regime they struggled to know what to do next. A lot of the locals took to poaching the wildlife to make money. The charity Wildlife Alliance has been working with the community to educate them on wildlife reservation and helped to turn their village into an eco-tourist area. Everybody benefits from the charity; women cook your food for you,families provide tourists with guesthouses or home stays, local men take you on a variety of tours (treks, cycling, boats, wildlife spotting, camping) and its all run through a central visitor centre. Profits are invested in park rangers that gather up the numerous poachers snares that are still in use. It's a great community environment.

We decided to do a two day trek with overnight stay in the forest. I was really apprehensive, I'm not the best camper back home with hot water and electricity on tap. We were a group of 5; we were the two English, Alan an Irish man and his French wife Florence and Anran, a New Zealand student. Everybody was really nice and we spent most of our time in Chi Phat together.

We each had to carry our own backpack with hammock, rain coat, blanket and dry clothes in it (plus sun cream, mosquito spray and other essentials). It was so heavy and sweaty. We trekked 20km through the jungle in sweltering heat. Because there were other people in the group it kept my moaning down as didn't want to be the ginger winger! Our lunch stop was great; our three guides made a fire, then boiled rice and stir fried lots of veg in soy sauce and spices. It was really tasty! We didn't see lots of wildlife because the monsoon rain had made the animals retreat into the thicker jungle. We heard the call of gibbons, saw spiders, unusual newts and a multicoloured gecko. There were loads of leaches. I won a beer because I was the first to get one stuck on me. We were all constantly having to flick them off before they got in our clothing. Gross!

I couldn't believe where we were camping. It was much more than I was expecting; a covered raised shack that our hammocks were to go under, with a view of the river and even a ceramic toilet (no flush). There was a waterfall 5 minutes walk away,which looked so dangerous with lots of white water because of the monsoon rain. Our guide took us to a corner that whipped water around a small whirlpool rather than down stream so we all had a refreshing and well deserved dip.

That night we had another freshly cooked feast and gathered around candles drinking Alan's rum for the evening. Just before going to bed our guide decided to tell us that there were wild elephants nearby, as well as leopards and snakes...just what you wanted to hear before sleeping in the jungle. My night in the hammock was surprisingly comfortable; I slept reasonably well under the mosquito net and it was quite cool at night, which made a refreshing change. Jason of course slept really well, he always does.

The next day consisted of a 14km hike with another waterfall stop. By the end of the two days I have never wanted a shower more. I was so sweaty and dirty, and had also acquired moisture blisters on my feet. Owch! I also slept like a log. The two days had been hard work but definitely worth it and would recommend to anybody. There is still loads to do even if you don't want to camp and the community is worth supporting.

Posted by bloorsontour 10:00 Archived in Cambodia Tagged chi phat Comments (2)

Cambodian beaches

Sihinoukville and Koh Rong

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Time for some beach time. Jason treated us to a two night stay in a 4* hotel, Moon Julie Hotel. It had a pool, gym, air-con and very own omelette chef for breakfast (plus we got upgraded to a junior suite). Sihinoukville was a very backpacker friendly resort, with lots of bars and beach side restaurants. We loved the evening beach bbqs; BBQ prawn/squid/fish, with potatoes, coleslaw, garlic bread for three dollars and a nice cold beer.

In the day we relaxed on the beach with a fresh fruit smoothie. There are a few beaches around the resort, but they vary considerably; Otres beach is nice and chilled, as well as clean, but Serendipity and Occheuteal beaches were quite dirty so you couldn't swim and had lots of cheap souvenir stalls. Apart from the beach food we weren't that taken by Sihinoukville and so caught a boat to an island called Koh Rong for an overnight stay.

We started chatting to an English girl on the boat to Koh Rong, Nickie, that had been travelling for 18months and has given us some top tips for Vietnam. Thanks Nickie! We all stayed at a place called Bongs that had basic wooden shacks, limited electricity and an awful toilet. It was far from the 4* hotel we'd been staying in. Most of the accommodation is very basic. Its an island that has tonnes of natural beauty, but unfortunately the backpacker scene is growing at a rate that the island development can't handle. For example, the sewage leaks into the main beach area and parts of it are a busy construction area under development. We only stayed on the island one night so only managed to take a small hike around one side of the island to one of the smaller secluded beaches that is picture perfect white sand and clear water. The only down side is the sand flies; you have to smother yourself in coconut oil if you have any hope of not being bitten. Nickie had just had a recent hospital stay because her bites got infected and she needed IV antibiotics. There are loads of people with bitten scarred legs and a guy working in the guesthouse bar thats foot was swelling with infection everyday. Grim! We would have liked to do the trek over the island but we'd only taken an overnight bag with us and had unsuitable shoes to avoid the deadly snakes and scorpions the island's jungle had.

Overall we were both a little disappointed with this beach and island area, especially when comparing them to some of the Thai and Sri Lankan beaches we've been to. Now it's time to find Jason some trekking.

Posted by bloorsontour 09:53 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Angkor temples

"One dollar...'

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This was my second visit to the Angkor temples in Cambodia, the first being about 6 years ago. I was worried that they wouldn't live up to my memories, but I needn't have been...

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There are over a hundred temples across an area of 250 sq miles, some over 1000 yrs old and the detail that remains is breathtaking. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to picture the temples at the heart of a thriving city with incredible wealth. It is not understood how, but this great civilisation came to an abrupt end and the temples were lost to the jungle for hundreds of years. So that's the guide book bit...

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The splendor of the temples and the hordes of designer-clothes-clad, electronics-wielding tourists is a stark and rather unpleasant contrast to the local Cambodians. The area is extremely poor and the touts and sales people are desperate for your dollars. Its easy to become dismissive and even annoyed by the constant: "sir, lady, you want pant OK?" "Only 1 dollar OK", "Where you from?". We both found it easy enough to deal with with the adults, but the children make the whole experience quite heartbreaking. We did see a number of free school projects, english lessons and small scale local initiatives to improve the lives of some, but this is far from enough. We gave only to the bands made up of landmine victims and a girl with severe burns and a disability. There are literally hundreds of kids that want your money and you feel terrible for not giving it. We decided to find a local initiative to support rather than giving to individuals.

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Around Asia, its easy to become a bit templed-out, but the Angkor temples are truly awe-inspiring and I could not recommend a visit enough. We spent from 5am to 6:30pm and did little more than scratch the surface. The local touts are a big part of the visit, though we had significant parts of the day walking though temples without hassle and where we we could neither see nor hear anything but the jungle and the incredible ruins. Responding in German also seemed to bring a swift end to conversations. Despite the constant attempts to relieve you of the contents of your wallet, the 2 of us had a driver for the day, entry to the park and a local lunch for under 80 dollars, which I thinks is worth every penny and a lot more...

Favourite temple:
Going to have to choose 3...

Bayon- the one with the surreal faces is INCREDIBLE
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Tha Prohm- the one from tomb raider - large parts are unrestored and we had large areas to ourselves. Incredibly atmospheric and being able to climb around make you feel like your discovering it for yourself.
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Banteay Srei - worth the 36km tuktuk ride (and extra 8 dollar charge!) The temple is 1000 years old and the stone work is not only pristine, but is also the most detailed I've ever seen. That, combined with the rose coloured stone and getting away from the crowds put this right up there.
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Posted by bloorsontour 19:21 Archived in Cambodia Tagged angkor wat reap siem Comments (3)

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