When I saw Katie in Siem Reap, I was debating whether to go back to Pai again or not. I wanted to return but was unsure about going back on myself; there are lots of beautiful places in the world. Then Katie mentioned a light festival in Chiang Mai and the deal was sealed! We arranged to meet in Bangkok a few
days later as she was heading for Phnom Penh first. I was destined for Khao San road once again!
In Bangkok I met up with Julius, a magician I’d met in Siem Reap. His magic tricks blew my mind!
Katie and I decided not to waste our day in Bangkok waiting for our night bus, so made the most of it by perusing the stalls of Khao San and having an unexpectedly awesome day out.
I had read about Wat Saket, the golden mountain and we went to check it out. It’s a temple built high up on a mound where you follow spiralling stairs to get to the top to witness the Bangkok skyline. It was wonderful up there!
At the bottom of the “mountain” there was a fayre going on. We really enjoyed the sweet street food there!
As we walked back to the Khao San area, we crossed a bridge. I happened to look down and see what I thought was a dragon! We rushed down to the riverside and looked properly but didn’t get a photo of it. It was a swimming reptile about as long as my arm! When it had gone underwater, Katie and I went rushing up to some locals to ask then what it was. We were rather excited, as you can tell from this photo:
They could only tell us it was called a “silver and gold” in Thai and kept saying “hya”. When I googled it later it was a water monitor!
We got on our night bus and made it to Chiang Mai. I’m so happy to be back here, especially for the light festival and to do some stuff I missed out last time. It feels great to be back!
I was recommended a place to stay in Siem Reap by Jose and Tommy (see Battambang, below), Garden Village. When I got there I met Ben, who knew… Tommy and Jose from Laos!
We decided to go to Angkor Wat for sunrise the next day, which meant getting up at 4.30! It was so worth it though. As the dark and mist cleared, the gigantic temple came into view. It’s awesome.
Inside the temple there are such delicate carvings and bas-reliefs depicting stories, it’s fascinating.
There are also lots of monkeys about!
We also visited a (pretty impressive) bathing pool.
Other temples (I can’t remember what they’re called):
Whilst within the temple complex, Ben and I were both interested in visiting the landmine museum. It was very informative and also sad and reminded us that landmines are still a very big problem across the world and in Cambodia.
We also visited Ta Prohm (more of which later) and I pulled my best “Japanese tourist” pose.
The following day we had a break from temples (we were there 12 hours the first day!) and cycled to a fishing village outside Siem Reap. Ben helped to put up a light!
As usual, I found some puppies to play with at the hostel!
We decided to bike to the temples for our second day. Katie, who I’d met in Vietnam had arrived at Garden Village and came along too. It was such a lovely surprise to see her! She had a few issues cycling though.
We visited Angkor Thom, with Bayon inside it. There were lots of stone faces looking in different directions, protecting the temple.
Cycling was great fun until it rained!
On our third day of temples, we returned to Ta Prohm as we’d actually found it more impressive than Angkor Wat. Overrun by trees, it’s right out of Tomb Raider! Katie and I pretended to be Lara Croft.
From Ta Prohm, I cycled like crazy to Angkor Wat to get a shot of the sunset there. It was beautiful.
Although I was rather ill in Siem Reap and had to spend a few days resting on antibiotics, I really enjoyed it there and made some good friends whilst temple exploring!
Time to play catch up on blog posts again!
After my trek, I travelled for near enough 12 hours to the North of Cambodia, to Battambang. Arriving there at 8pm, it was quiet and I went straight to bed!
The next morning on the way to town, I saw an interesting festival float and many statues (they love a statue in Battambang).
I decided to go on the bamboo train, a train carriage literally made of bamboo still used today to transport workers to the rice paddies. I waited so I wouldn’t be alone on the train and a tuk tuk pulled up with Jose and Tommy in, whom I’d met in Pai! It was a great surprise and really nice to see them again. The train was a bit like a flat rollercoaster!
When we met another train coming in the opposite direction, whoever had the lighter load had to disembark, take the train off the rails, let the other pass then get back on again!
When we got to the end of the line, children gave us gifts made from grass. I got a ring and a grasshopper.
The bamboo train was so much fun, whizzing through the countryside!
After the train we went to the bat caves and waited for the bats to come out. Unfortunately it was too dark to get any pictures but it was very impressive. Whilst we waited for them, we climbed up to a Buddha that is being built. It’s only his head so far. You could see for miles from up there!
On my last day in Battambang, I took a cooking course at Nary Kitchen. It started with a trip to the local market to get fresh ingredients with Nary’s husband Toot telling us about all the vegetables and spices.
Back at the kitchen, I learnt to make fish amok, beef lok lak and spring rolls. I even made the banana leaf bowl to steam the amok in.
My finished products:
They were very good, even if I do say so myself!
I had heard about Chi Phat from Larry, a French Canadian who had travelled from the Vietnamese border with us.
Chi Phat is a village in the Cardamom mountains run by CBET (Community Based Eco Tourism), set up by the Wildlife Alliance. The village used to rely on heavy logging and poaching. In order to save the rainforest and endangered animals, CBET have turned the village around. The community now makes money by offering treks, mountain biking, boat tours and home stays. The money is then divided between the villagers.
Getting to this remote village was a bit of a trek in itself. I boarded the bus from Sihanoukville heading to Koh Kong, making clear to the driver that I wanted to stop at Andong Teuk bridge. We stopped at the bridge and a girl got off. Only halfway across the bridge, I realised it was the bridge I needed too so jumped up, grabbed my possessions and stopped the bus. It was a bit of a panic! When I got to the right place, I met Talia, an Israeli girl also heading for Chi Phat. We found a ride there and headed off.
Having crossed the river, we found the CBET office and checked in. We opted to share a room at a home stay for a true rural Cambodian experience.
The family were very welcoming with 2 children under 5 and very little English against our complete lack of Khmer. The shower was a bucket and cold water, the toilet a drop hole and there were no plug sockets but it was very homely, especially with the chickens that followed me everywhere (even into the shower!).
We dumped our stuff and went to explore. Chi Phat is small so there wasn’t much to see but we did go and look at the market.
I was brave and tried a strange giant prawn cracker.
In the evening we ate at our home stay and went to meet Larry and Martin who had arrived the day before. We walked past.a house blaring karaoke and as I danced past they beckoned to us and invited us in. Although we didn’t understand each other, it was a fun time. They made us feel very welcome and gave us beer.
In the morning, Talia and I were up early for a 2 day trek in the jungle. We met the people we were trekking with; James and Becky, Brits who live in Malaysia and Veronique and Rufven, a Swiss couple. Our guides were ex-poachers.
If I was scared of the jungle, I should have been more scared of the cows that tried to attack us as we crossed a field before even entering the rainforest!
On our first day we trekked 20km, stopping for good cooked on a fire, to look at plants and to remove…leeches. I’d never experienced them before and they don’t hurt, they’re just gross. They sense carbon dioxide and head for your feet and legs. They can even get into your shoes! Leech stops definitely slowed us down.
To cross streams we had to take our shoes and socks off (which resulted in leeches between our toes!).
We encountered a few giant millipedes. I don’t look too happy to be holding this one (I wasn’t!).
We went for hours without seeing anyone then there would be a few random houses with children outside and women drying rice husks on trays.
We got to the camp just as it started to rain, luckily. The camp was by a waterfall so we all went in fully clothed to wash our clothes for the next day.
It was dark by 6pm and we ate food cooked by our guides in candlelight. One of the guides came rushing up -he’d been fishing and caught a freshwater prawn!
When we went to bed it was completely pitch black. I left my hammock and looked up at the best night sky I have ever seen.
On our second day of the trek covered 14km, passing water buffalo and some small villages where the children all rushed up to us.
We made it to the last waterfall 3km from CBET where we swam and had lunch. There was a strong current so I didn’t stay in long but it was good to cool down. There were lots of beautiful dragonflies there.
At the end of the treks were tired, aching blistered and covered in mosquito and leech bites but it was a great experience (one of my best in Asia) and a fantastic sense of achievement.
Unfortunately I didn’t sleep too well in the jungle or the night I got back so getting up at 6 was painful. I took the boat back to Andong Teuk and the bus from there on to Battambang.
If anyone is interested in staying at Chi Phat, it’s totally worth it if you’re OK with back to basics to the extreme – Lonely Planet says it’s for “Hardy travellers” but it’s not that tough!
On my last few days in Sihanoukville, most of our group moved back up to the busier Serendipity beach and did boat tours. I still felt pretty rough so lay on Otres beach and swam.
The final evening the guys who run Indigo Bar organised a poker tournament (Cambodian riel comes in such ridiculous denominations, it was the perfect currency!). I did abysmally, I didn’t have a clue but at least I gave it a go. However I did sweep the board at Scrabble!
There was a really cute puppy there!
Before I left to head to Serendipity for the night as I had an early bus, George took me on a tour of the estuary where a lot of expats are building some really cool houses.
We also tried to visit the pagoda but it was shut. I took some nice photos though.
I made it back to Serendipity and met up with Sam! Although I only saw her briefly it was nice after so long. We had a curry and planned to go for a drink but it wasn’t to be, I got violently ill and had to go home early!
I slept on and off as people stumbled into the dorm throughout the night and got up in time for my bus to Andong Teuk for the greatest adventure yet!
After the craziness of being in cities in Saigon and Phnom Penh, it was time for the beach! Sihanoukville is like Pai on sea and I really like it here.
The first two evenings I stayed in town in Monkey Republic. Our first night was Halloween. We went to the market and had 20 minutes to gather materials to make costumes. Amy and I decided to be bats, cutting up an umbrella to make wings. Our costumes came to $3.75 each, not bad! Rhea and Kylie went as jelly bean jars, such a good idea.
Halloween was really fun. A lot of people dressed up and made a good effort. We went to a bar called Utopia. They had fire dancers!
The following day was spent on Serendipity beach. It wasn’t too serene with beach sellers offering massages, fruit, seafood, bracelets and threading every 2 minutes when we were trying to read and relax.
In the evening there was a barbeque on the beach, the lights down there were really pretty and people were letting off fireworks.
On Friday we decided to move to Otres beach. It’s much calmer and more deserted but about a 15 minutes drive from town.
When we arrived it was raining. Being in the sea in the rain was so cool!
For the past few days I’ve been trying to chill on the beach, swimming when I get hot and playing Frisbee. Everyone else has between on boat tours but I’m so tired, the beach is enough for me!
Where we’re staying is mainly made of wood and bamboo, it’s a nice change from hostels.
I’ve made friends at the bar next door and pulled my first pint since leaving work at the students union!
I have also had another accident. Whilst walking along the beach I stubbed my toe and actually lost the whole nail. Ewwww. Hopefully it’ll grow back!
I’ve been rather homesick the past few days but I hope it will soon pass.
Trying to decide where to go next today!
Having had such an awful border crossing from Laos to Vietnam, we were all dreading crossing to Cambodia but it actually couldn’t have been easier thankfully. Phnom Penh was hot and ridiculously humid when we arrived. As King Sihanouk died 2 weeks ago, the city is in mourning so the palace I wanted to visit with a silver pagoda was shut to westerners.
We decided to visit the killing fields and S-21, a prison in the city. Once again I won’t post photos but it’s safe to say it was emotional there. I learnt alot and can’t believe the injustice of it or that I didn’t know much about it before. As everyone has some kind of bracelet, people have been leaving them as a tribute to the victims. I left one I made on Nha Trang beach.
In the evening I wandered to the market but it was closed. I saw the city’s craziness.
I already like Cambodia way more than Vietnam!
I had to make a decision; whether to head North alone or go to Sihanoukville with everyone else. I decided to cone to Sihanoukville and it’s amazing!
We arrived in Saigon at 7am and went on a hunt for somewhere to accommodate our group of 9 (which has now risen to 13). The street we started on reminded me of Khao San road in Bangkok but not quite as crazy. We found a 10 bed dorm…on the fifth floor. It was a challenge getting up all the stairs with my backpack!
We all lay down “for five minutes” and passed out for 2 hours by accident. On waking up, we decided to visit the War Remnants Museum to learn more about the Vietnamese war. It was so informative and well done but heart breaking and I won’t post many pictures of it here (not that I took many). There was an example of the kind of prisons that existed and the torture methods, including the “tiger cage”.
Prisoners had to crouch in this barbed wire cage in the heat, it’s unimaginable.
I learnt about the US’s use of Agent Orange, a chemical spread on the land that destroyed Plant growth and left people with deformities. A few generations down the line, people are still being born with defects and there are unexploded land mines. A boy lost his leg in 2003 stepping on one.
The museum taught me a lot but it was (as expected) very bias towards Vietnam and felt propaganda-y.
The next day we went to the Cu Chi tunnels where hundreds of people lived underground for years. They couldn’t live on the surface as Agent Orange had destroyed the fields and they were being constantly bombed. It was amazing how they designed and lived in there!
To get in, they had a secret hole to lower into.
At one point there was over 200km of tunnels in Vietnam stretching as far as the Thai border. Most people with me went through the tunnels. I got less than a metre in and got straight out again. It was dark, enclosed and small, I would have been stooping. I admire the peoples bravery living in there!
At the tunnels we also saw some of the traps they had created, it was fascinating.
There was a bomb crater too. There were lots of them.
On the final day in Saigon I had some errands to run so went for a walk across the city by myself. Away from where we were staying there were some nice parks. I sent some packages from the post office which was in a beautiful French building. (Dunkeld House, Mum and Bell and Caiels you should get them in about a week and a half). There was a Notre Dame church too.
I stupidly went to the Reunification Palace and it was boring as I couldn’t get on a tour despite repeatedly asking and got hot and fed up so left. I did get a cool picture from it’s balcony though.
Having seen Saigon’s sights I was more than ready to leave Vietnam and get out of the city. I didn’t realise how much I don’t like cities until this trip (except London, Bristol and Cardiff of course!). Onto Cambodia and another stamp in the passport!