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Siem Reap (Cambodia)

Into the jungle, into the temples of Angkor and into the shoes of Lara Croft....

sunny 35 °C

Oh my night bus!
We booked a sleeper bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap (11.5 hrs) from 8pm at $19 each...
After some very poor (but stereotypically Asian) management, we found 2 "beds" together and nestled in for the night.

To describe our arrangement as slave-ship-like was not untoward.
It was like a human-traffickers wet-dream.
2 to a bed, approximately 24 beds (so 48 people) all lying down with an incline of the equivalent of two pillows jutting upwards at the head of the bed; aircon-circle-thingies pointing in every direction except where we wanted them; the smells of the onboard "luxury" toilet (which may as well have been a hole looking down to the erratically passing "tarmac") and peoples' foot odour kept wafting around; the gentlemen in front of me not fully comprehending the "sleep" concept of "sleeping" bus by using a torch to read a book - the type of torch used to find Rose on that door after the Titanic sank, a torch which lit up the bus like the 4th of July; and of course, the moth-eaten, damp and musty smelling blanket that provided less warmth than an ant's fart could provide wind.

However, contrary to popular Cambodian locals' belief, we in fact did not die in a firey, horrendous crash, so our blessings were truly counted.

We arrived in Siem Reap around 7:30am and were slightly perturbed to discover our driver from the Panda Guest House was in fact, not waiting for us, leaving us at the mercy of the piranha-esque shoals of tuk-tuk drivers, thirsty for their next fare.
We arrived in one piece but $6 lighter at our hostel and were pleasantly surprised.
A well-kept building with a healthy white exterior and pleasantly decorated interior, and helpful informative staff who supplied us with everything we could possibly need to get the most from our stay.
We even arrived a day early, and although they had no rooms available, they went out of their way to find us a room for the night nearby.

A lot of travellers complain about hostel-organised tours, but to be honest, it saves a lot of time and effort and you get above and beyond service.
It may be a few dollars above other places or going it alone, but I'd rather pay the extra and have some piece of mind that a jewellery or silk shop bombardment isn't lurking around the corner...!

Anyway, our room for one night was very nice and spacious with a large balcony and good views and only a stones throw away from the Panda Guest House.

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We ventured into town for some lunch, and as Ricky had been craving Mexican food in Sihanoukville, when we saw a Mexican Restaurant, our decision was made for us!

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It wasn't the best in the world but good enough.
We walked around for a while but it was quite hot and my legs hadn't quite recovered so we went into the covered market and spent ages bartering for various things.
Ricky sold me to one of the female stall owners at one point, she hugged me and said I was the best purchase ever and super skinny!
I liked her! haha!
After that, I dropped my dirty clothes off at a local laundry place and had a nap.

We went for dinner at The Sun where I had a Caesar Salad with chicken as my tummy wasn't very happy with me so I didn't want to overload it.
We then made our way round the corner to Pub Street.
Aptly named, given the vast expanse of pubs and drinking holes lining both sides of the street.
We went to the Triangle to enjoy some singing and Linga for a drag show before heading to Temple to enjoy a street party.
It felt like Mardi Gras!!

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I left after that but once again, Ricky danced the night away. I think the 75 cents draft beer may have been having a bad influence on him!

The next day we checked out of our temporary accommodation and went across the road to Angkor Wonder for breakfast and to see Mr. Whynot - ask him anything, his response will probably be "Why not?!"
We had some food and were about to leave with all of our bags when Mr. Whynot asked if we'd like a free tuk-tuk to our other hostel as it was only down the road and we had all our stuff with us.
We asked if he was sure that was ok, and his reply?
Why not!
Such a nice man!

We got to the Panda Guest House (again!) and went up to our room - lovely.
2 large, comfy, twin beds, a desk, a fan, ensuite bathroom with a hot shower and really well decorated.
This place was perfect - quiet during the day and night but only a 10 minute walk to Pub Street and the markets, etc.
Very impressed.

Ricky wanted Indian food, so we set off out again and headed towards the restaurants.
Ricky, having worked in an Indian restaurant for a while, was not overly impressed, but I thought my food was quite nice...!

I'd been having toothache for a few days by this point and I didn't really want to wait until we got home to China to get it looked at, so I asked the hostel if they could recommend a place.
They didn't know anywhere at first, but with some research online and a quick phone call later, they found one and arranged a tuk-tuk to take me there.

You can imagine my fears and ideas about the hole in the wall, back-alley "dentist" I was unknowingly being taken to but actually, I think it was the nicest dentist I'd ever been to in the UK - It was clean and well-presented, the staff spoke English and didn't mind at all that I'd just dropped in without an appointment.
10 minutes or so of waiting and in I went - good sized room, clean, modern equipment, and a dentist (always good!).
Long story short, and only a little wimpering later, I had gained two fillings and lost only $20 for the priviledge.
Much better.
My dentist visit of course left me without my nap so after dinner of crocodile fritters and an unpleasant burger and Amok fish, I went back to the hostel.
Ricky came back around 5am.

The next day we didn't really do a lot, slept in, went for walk, got some lunch then went for drinks in the Triangle as they had double beds hanging from the ceiling with small tables in the middle for drinks and food to go on.
We stayed there for a good few hours before returning to our hostel to go to dinner and an Apsara Dance show.
It was a buffet-style meal and after 2 plates of various worldly cuisine, Ricky and I were both stuffed, so we waited for the show to begin.
It was pretty interesting; traditional clothes and a story or two told through the dances.

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That finished around 8:30pm and we went straight back to the hostel as we had an early start the following day...

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Angkor Wat; the Temples, Flooded Forest and Floating Village

Our day started abruptly at 5am.
We got into the tuk-tuk with our driver for the day and still in the darkness of night, we made our way to Angkor Wat for sunrise.
We had to wait an hour or so and although not mind-blowing, the sun rising over this giant monument of a past civilisation was quite impressive.

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As soon as the sun had risen, we made our way inside and the "don't get anyone in my photos" game began...

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Our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off at each place and told us where he'd be waiting for us.
We explored the various nooks and crannies and even got duped into buying incense for "good luck" (a fact, that would later, become painfully ironic!)
We moved on from temple to temple, each time the temperature climbed higher and higher...

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We arrived at Ta Prohm - The Jungle Temple, and I was suitably pleased with the surroundings;
giant trees rooting themselves into the crumbling ruins, piles of abandoned rubble and delapidated doorways.
It was quite a stunning sight to behold.

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We had a break for lunch, having not been hungry enough for breakfast, and after feeding our driver, we made our long journey to the river boats to go to the Floating Village and Flooded Forest...

The cost for the boat trip alone was $25 each and in all honesty, wasn't worth it - especially considering all the tipping we had to do...
Now I know tipping is not compulsory, but when a very poor person is standing in front of you having just done you a service, you can't really refuse.
We went around the village before docking at a floating platform and changing into a much smaller, hand-paddled boat - our captain and first mate of this smaller vessel being a girl and boy both under the age of 12!

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They dutifully paddled us into the floaded forest and around on a boat no bigger than a tic-tac but I think that was one of the most enjoyable parts.
After tipping the children and exploring the very well constructed jungle canopy walk way, we got into our original boat and continued up the river to a huge lake that looked more like an ocean.
Before long, 2 women on separate long boats pulled up alongside us with cold drinks and snacks.
We enjoyed the novelty so bought some drinks for us and our captain and 3 large multipack bags of snacks for the village children.

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As we sailed back through the village, the children obviously knew what was happening and they started crowding the banks.
We tried to throw individual packets to them but it didn't really work.
In no time there were dozens of kids all around us when one boy ran off the edge and jumped into the water.
Soon half a dozen children were wildly swimming towards us as we showered them with snacks before continuing back to the "dock".

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We were once again asked to tip our captain, furthering our concern as to what exactly our $25 each paid for!?

On the journey back to the hostel, I couldn't help but think about how happy and content those villagers were with their lives, even though they barely had anything by Western standards.
They seemed to appreciate every little thing like it was the best in the world. It was refreshing to see.

It took an hour or so to get back to our hostel, where I showered and climbed into bed! It was only 6pm!

The next day, I was a little perplexed how nearly $500 of mine and Ricky's money had mysteriously escape from our private, locked room...
We spoke to the manager who said they'd had the same cleaner forever etc, etc and that we should have put our stuff in their tiny safe sticking out of a wall in reception...
However, my money was in a ziplock bag, in an inside, zipped-up pocket in my rucksack which was under a desk..... so someone had to have gone snooping around through my bags to find it..... peeved doesn't even cover it.
(So much for "good luck" incense....!)

We walked around for a bit, had some food, then decided to go to the Crocodile Farm...

As far as I could tell, it was a farm to produce leather, and the living conditions of the smaller crocs especially wasn't great - a lot of them had deformed spines due to the cramped conditions which was quite depressing.

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The depression continued however when we asked to buy fish to feed the larger crocodiles with, only to be told there were none - only live ducks and chickens....
Now I know what you're thinking, how cruel is it to feed a live duck or chicken to a group of hungry crocodiles?
Crocodiles need to eat too, and if they didn't eat them, a human being would have eaten them anyway.
I was still mercifully apologising to the duck the entire time I was holding it though.

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We had to wait around for our night bus to Vietnam so we went for an hour massage and drag show (for only $4) then we went to the bus office for 10:30pm and got on the bus around 10:40pm before setting off at 11pm.
We arrived in Phnom Penh around 6am where we waited for 2 hours for the bus to Ho Chi Minh City.
After a ferry crossing, a passport control stop and a different stop to scan our luggage, we entered Vietnam and arrived in HCMC around 3pm...

Posted by Lady Mantle 05:07 Archived in Cambodia Tagged landscapes lakes people children trees animals boats temples food ruins cambodia angkor_wat adventure kids hostel duck asia triangle travelling crocodiles poverty tuk_tuk massage rubble foreigners linga tomb_raider social_etiquette natural_beauty beautiful_buildings drag_queens bamboo_boat ta-prohm lara-croft terrace_lepers terrace_elephants cambodian_dentist panda_guest_house the_sun_restaurant Comments (1)

Cambodia continued.....

The Royal Palace and Central Market

sunny 30 °C

After lunch, we continued our day by going to the Royal Palace.

Gorgeous, elaborate buildings dotted the spotless grounds with large trees and topiaries providing natural beauty to compliment the elegant man-made structures.

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A "few" lighthearted snaps and an unexpected introduction to a group of monkies climbing around a scaffolding site of reconstruction brightened our otherwise reflective day until we returned once again to our hostel, this time for a late afternoon siesta...

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When we woke up around 6/6:30pm, the air was cooler and the night life began to start.
We went to Happy Herb Pizza for dinner; just your regular margherita pizza with cheese, onions and marijuana...!

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That's right folks, "happy" preceeding any kind of food in Cambodia means that the oregano you thought you were enjoying was in fact weed.

And what better way to follow a weed pizza, than with a gay-friendly bar for a drag show?!

Of course, not a normal correlation of events, but after a few Baileys, it seemed to be the perfect combination...
Evidently, beautiful boys do not always make beautiful girls...

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My night ended after that, but as usual, my darling Ricky made a friend and ventured out into Phnom Penh after dark to dance and drink the night away...!

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Central Market

I woke up around 11:30am and had banana pancakes for breakfast, did some writing and then woke Ricky up around 1pm.

We began walking to the Central Market, only to get far too hot and confused trying to read the map, so we jumped in a tuk-tuk and had the nice man take us there instead :)

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I can see why they'd call it Central Market...
Everything you could possibly desire was for sale; beautiful silks and linens, watches, jewellery, sunglasses, shoes, bags, well you get the idea...!

After a good few hours we'd seen most of the market.
Ricky bought some Ray Bans that fold down to practically nothing, a pair of Berkenstocks, a watch and a bag.
I bought some earrings, a bag and some replacement flip flops!

I think after having lived in China for over 18 months now and having visited many places in Asia, Ricky and I have got this bartering thing down!
If they don't like your highest offer, the walk-away will seal the deal if they're really ok with the price! Winning!

Now the original plan was to get some food and then go to the Russian Market afterwards, however, we decided to go to Happy Herb Pizza again...
Instead of sharing a large pizza between us, we order one each and the happiness once again eluded us.... or so we thought...

We went back to our hostel for a drink and a quick nap...
I woke up at 11pm.... we got back to the hostel at 4pm.... I think I found my happy!
Ricky apparently found his too as he'd spent the entire time I was asleep watching videos of people falling over and willing his legs to move.... evidently, they did not!

So, it was 11pm, we both decided we were hungry, and it's only a vague recollection now, but I'm pretty sure we drove around for a while in a tuk-tuk until we found an open restaurant.
I think I had a cheeseburger...

We went to sleep and when we woke up, we checked out and waited for the bus to Sihanoukville.

5 hours and a brief pit-stop later, we arrived in the shabby main-town of Sihanoukville, got into a tuk-tuk and made out way to our hostel...

Posted by Lady Mantle 18:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples food flowers shopping cambodia phnom_penh cheap asia tuk_tuk royal_palace silk pancakes monkies sleepy foreigners central_market evil_monkey rules_of_asia happy_herb_pizza beautiful_buildings Comments (0)

Cambodia

Chinese New Year in Cambodia and Vietnam...

sunny 34 °C

Our journey began in the typical tradition of us, barely getting to the airport on time.
The error this time however not being our oversleeping or going to the wrong airport in the same city, oh no. This error revealed itself in the form of me underestimating the Chinese ability to tell time.
I specifically requested a car to the airport at 11am to allow for adequate travel time and traffic, but when our driver finally arrived just shy of 11:30am, we had no choice but to ‘Home Alone’ run through the airport to our check-in desk!
However, due largely in part to my obsessive positive thinking to resolve all worldly issues, we arrive with 15 minutes to spare for check-in and 15 minutes early for what became a slightly delayed flight anyway!
Thank you, universe!

We arrived in Shanghai starving, but slightly warmer due to its southern placement within the vast land mass that is China!
With food dutifully scoffed and suitable seating acquired for a quick nap, we settled in for a while until our connecting flight to Phnom Penh departed.
It wasn’t until we went for a cigarette near our departure gate (27) that I glanced at the board listing all departures and noticed a flashing sign next to our flight…
Thinking our positive thinking had finally failed us, I read the flashing note:
“Gate changed to 214”
Lady Luck was still with us and we walked (quite a distance) to Gate 214 only to wait for 10 minutes before boarding our flight :)

The flight was nothing special; standard seat, standard food, standard safety instructions. However, the journey was made slightly more intriguing by the 10 deaf Chinese passengers that accompanied us in the occupation of the back of the plane.
The gentlemen sat next to me was so happy, he took a picture with me and Ricky and laughed in a way I can only describe childlike. It was beautiful!
I brought a magnetic travel game of 5 across (thanks to a Christmas present from one of my students!) and without realising, the group of Chinese people were our eager spectators!
It was fascination watching them communicate effortlessly with each other, in a blissfully silent world, all of their own.

The flight arrive 25 minutes later than it should have and with a lack of Bureau de Changes where we live, we didn’t have any US Dollars to pay for our Cambodian Visa! After faffing around losing a massive percentage through airport exchange rates, we got out visas, our US Dollars and our fingerprints scanned….Apparently, this was some form of Cambodian security against roaming foreigners!
Good job that we’re usually good people… most of the time!

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Now our hostel, Me Mates Villa, had agreed to pick us up from the airport (very kind of them, given that we were supposed to arrive at 11:15pm but didn’t actually leave the airport until 12:30am!) and they were still waiting for us with my name emblazoned on a piece of card!
Into the tuk tuk we Dre, our hostel helper, and away to the hostel we went.
They told us to go up to bed and check-in when we woke up as we were obviously tired!

We crept into our 8-bed dorm of 4 bunk beds, spacious and comfy with clean linens and a fresh towel. Not bad for $6 a night.
The bar was lovely with its 75₵ draft beer and incredible food, and the staff learnt our names instantly!

On the way to our hostel from the airport, Dre was telling us about all the tours we could do and what sights to see (not that my anal planning hadn’t already written down what to do in each of our destinations…!).
I was aware of course that planning trips through the hostel tuk-tuks would probably be more expensive than going it alone, but it is comforting to know our driver would be waiting for us wherever we went.
When we woke up the next day, we showered, had breakfast, organised our money and jumped in the tuk tuk with our driver for the day…

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S-21 Prison and the Killing Fields

Our first outing took us to the Killing Fields where Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge movement took thousands of brutally tortured and slaughtered prisoners from S-21 to be disposed of.
On the way, our driver stopped and bought us some medical face masks as the road to the Killing Fields was incredibly dusty and underdeveloped.

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Having lived in China for over 18 months now, Ricky and I have grown accustomed and desensitised to the sights of westernly-deemed, unsanitary food stalls, stray cats and dogs and children roaming the streets. These things would probably provoke a discussion between other western travellers, but to us, that just reminded us of home!

After about 20 minutes or so of driving, we turned down a pleasant enough road through trees and green fields until we pulled up to large, elaborate gates: The Killing Fields.
On first impression, the place was really quite stunning – beautiful greenery and flowers, large open spaces of nature in its purest form…

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Upon receiving our audio guides and headsets, it didn’t take long to realised the genocidal atrocities lurking beneath all of that natural beauty.
As we progressed around the numbered path of this hauntingly beautiful place, we were audibly assaulted by the terrifying ordeals these people suffered.
Large plaques stood in place of the buildings with detailed descriptions of those buildings purposes.

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As we moved around and continued to listen to this reasonably modern horror story, we were introduced to mass graves of nameless men, women and children.
Visitors had begun a tradition of leaving holiday bracelets and Riel (small Cambodian currency) as tribute to those lost souls.

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We listened to survivor stories of dying children, no food, constant gang-raping and beatings.
One man spoke of a female worker who was bludgeoned to death with a hatchet to the neck, finished off with a sewage plunger until she violently convulsed and died – all for supposedly stealing a banana that was actually given to her by one of the guards…
We saw glass containers of rags and clothes, teeth and bones, and countless mass graves of the victims of S-21 Prison.

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We saw the tree where babies were smashed against the trunk until they too died and were discarded in an open grave nearby. Another place of tribute from visitors to this harrowing sight.

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A beautiful tree, named the magic tree, told a tale of loud music playing over the grounds to muffle the sounds of people being tortured and killed.

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Finally we arrived at the sompiah – a tall monument that we saw when we entered the sight built as a memorial to all the lost souls, displaying their bones and skulls as a visual aid to the already destroying aural tales of this place.

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We finished the audio tour and returned the equipment in total silence. We left through the now less elaborate, and more confining gates and stepped back into normality.
We had a cigarette, found our driver, sat down and continued to say nothing.
Eventually Ricky turned to me and said, “I have no words to describe that”.
Nothing truer had ever been said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

We continued to S-21 - the prison that these poor people were sent to to be destroyed mentally before going to the Killing Fields to be destroyed physically.
Once again, apart from the dated buildings, the natural beauty of the place outside was juxtaposed by the inherent lack of beauty inside.

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Wire beds, solitary in an otherwise empty cell, with only the odd shackles or torture paraphernalia to accompany them. Photographs of those victims hung solemnly on the wall.

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We moved through the grounds into each building only to be greeted by hanging gallows, tiny cells devoid of even a chair and walls and walls of photographs. Nameless masses of victims, their identities gone from their hopeless eyes. Only numbers adorned their chests which provoked flashes of number-engraved Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime springing to mind.

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As the modern world progressed just over the barb wire-topped walls, I couldn’t help but notice that life inside this place appeared frozen, with only birds and stray cats let patrolling the grounds.

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We went back to our hostel to get some lunch before continuing our day by going to the Royal Palace…

Posted by Lady Mantle 19:32 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh travelling tuk_tuk genocide pol_pot chinese_new_year killing_fields khmer_rouge life_lessons s-21_prison late_to_the_airport natural_beauty horrible_history Comments (1)

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