Holiday in Cambodia

Komplung Pluk Village on Lake Tonle (59)Day 321, Wed 25th Dec

Woke up to pressie’s on Xmas morning – I got a new leather passport holder from T & she seemed to like the assorted scarves & lights I bought her… relief!!!

Hired a Moto-remorque for the afternoon & headed down to see the stilt villages on lake Tonlé – houses that are on stilts up to 20’ in the air in the dry season, but at water level in the wet season!Komplung Pluk Village on Lake Tonle (66)

Beautiful day chugging about the backwaters in a variety of boats & seeing a bit of rural Cambodia. Great dinner & a few sherbets… only downside for T was that we missed the nightmarket… shame! :-)

Komplung Pluk Village on Lake Tonle (41)My first Christmas day in the sun! Pressies in bed, then off to Kamplong Pluk, a stilt village on lake Tonlé Sap, with a flooded forest to boot – really beautiful, Keir got to drive the boat for a while and I tried water snake for the first, and possibly last, time; it wasn’t really bad, just excessively chewy, and I didn’t think snakes had bones…. I hope the boatman wasn’t lying to me…

We tried some local food at the Khmer kitchen and I attempted a look around the night market, almost an impossibility with a recalcitrant Keir in tow, I think he managed a whole 15 minutes before I had to give in and agree to save it for Dina’s arrival…

Angkor Wat (72)Day 322, Thu 26th Dec

Dina & Efrain arrived & we met them with a Moto-remorque & headed off to see all the temples around Angkor Wat – Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphuon temple,Terrace of the Elephants & Terrace of the Leper King, Ta Prohm & then finally Angkor Wat for sunset. Slightly disappointed that we didn’t make it to the top of Angkor Wat – they shut the stairs just as we arrived, but we saw sunset in the lake outside over the gatehouse.

Angkor Wat (110)Great to see Efrain and Dina again, can’t believe they are the only people we have managed to catch up with during our grand tour; we were close to meeting Rob a couple of times, but that was it. I guess with a trip schedule as aggressive as ours it may not be so fun for a holiday :).

Luckily the four of us could fit into our rented tuktuk, so off we drove off to Angkor Wat, absolutely gorgeous! I took too many photos again…

Siem Reap at Night (17)

Managed to score a last minute table at the Haven Training restaurant for dinner – great food, highly recommended, but you clearly should book more than a day in advance – and then off to a bar for an unnecessary Sambuca or two; our poor travelling companions looked so tired too!

Day 323, Fri 27th Dec

Final day in Siem Reap – another day with a Moto-remorque & we all headed off to Banteay Kdel temple, Sra Srang, Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean (River of Lingas) & back to see Ta Som, Neak Poan, Preah Khan & finally up Phnom Bakheng to see sunset over Angkor from a different perspective.

River of Lingas (7)Feeling distinctly rough today, I initially thought this was merely a hangover, but it seems that relaxing my rule about not eating the lettuce may have been a mistake; my stomach is distinctly unwell :(.

We took our tuktuk to the out of town sights today (definitely worthwhile, and there is a lovely waterfall at the River of Lingas), but failed once again to make the tower at Angkor Wat; I guess it was just not to be…

Angkor Wat (97)Another quick dinner in Khmer Kitchen with Efrain and Dina, another missed night market opportunity :-( – and we were off on our Giant Ibis bed bus to Phnom Penh, we shall meet our friends again in Vietnam. The bed bus was pretty good – double beds, so that could go very wrong or very right if you were travelling alone! – and after reading reviews of the other bus companies online, I am glad we paid the extra!

Siem Reap, Cambodia – Dec ’13

Day 324, Sat 28th Dec

Phnom Penh - Killing Fields (5)Arrived at 0530 in the morning in Phnom Penh… this must be the first time we’ve ever wanted the bus ride to last longer… we we’re both happily asleep next to each other in a bed-like arrangement. Moto-remorque to the hotel &, what do you know, they have a room already available – so back to sleep – Hurrah & Huzzah!!

Went to see the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek – very sobering what humanity can do to itself in the cause of doctrine/ religion… but in all intents and purposes, probably greed for power & money.  Only 2/3 of the mass graves have been opened & they’ve already yielded nearly 10,000 skeletons… over only a 4 year period in power the Khmer Rouge killed nearly 4 million people out of a total population of only 8 million.  What I didn’t realise was that this particular site is only 1 of hundreds of mass burial/ execution sites al around the country.

Spent the afternoon seeing the slightly more upbeat sites of the Grand Palace (complete with silver tiled floor, gold & diamond Buddha plus an emerald Buddha) & the Wat Phnom.  Both were slightly disappointing – the former as most of the buildings were constructed in the 20th century out of concrete (including lot of the statues/ castings), & the latter as there wasn’t much of a view up there, nor the promised minkeys (from T’s perspective!).

Phnom Penh - Wat Phnom (7)Oh, how I love it when hotels let you check in early :-). Blissful extra nap, then a rather depressing, but moving, trip to the killing fields. Everyone is given an audioguide as they go in, and it is the individual stories, that you can choose to listen to, which are most affecting. Fortunately it also means that there are no noisy tours tramping all over the sites.

Day 325, Sun 29th Dec

Sunset over Phnom Penh

Sunset over Phnom Penh

Took the 2pm bus to Saigon today – and that is what most of the locals prefer to call Ho Chi Minh City, despite what the ruling party might say – we were warned of attempts to steal our stuff, mislead us, rigged taxi meters, and the like; I was slightly paranoid, but mercifully our hostel turned out to be 2 blocks from the bus station and no dodgy taxis were needed.

Settled in, ate, and then took the Lonely Planet walking tour – the city is bigger than I thought, so we sort of missed some of the sights… never mind, we have probably seen enough Buddhas, and neither of us really fancied a harrowing trip to the war museum after yesterday.

Another bus trip, another city. A nice walk around town, although twilight overtook us.  For a communist city this town has every western brand I’ve seen & oceans of motorbikes & scooters… you just walk across the roads & the part around you… felt very biblical!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Dec ’13

 

Me love you Lao Lao!

Day 310, Sat 14th Dec

Another day, another border crossing. Arrived in Vientiane & wandered around for the day – nothing particularly to write home about,  The hostel tried to rip us off on the price of the overnight bus ticket to Luang Prabang, but T soon put them right on that! :)

Of course the train breakfast was not up to much, but at least it was food :). The border was pretty straightforward after we managed to knock the tuk tuk driver down by 75% (then realising we only had the equivalent of a £20 note to pay him, could have been embarrassing if a chap we had agreed to include in our vehicle had not lent us 50 Baht.

More negotiation for the minivan to Vientiane ensued – I am going to have to thank the occasionally useless Lonely Planet for telling me how much this should cost – whoever wrote that chapter did a good job.

And finally… the bus ticket. The hostel was great, Siholme Backpackers, the fact that they add 50% onto the price of the bus ticket is not. Fortunately the man agreed to return my money, rather interestingly telling me that if I had seen the ticket cheaper it was probably not the VIP sleeping bus and that I was paying 220k instead of 170k because we could trust him. A possible precursor of the fabled Vietnamese liberality with the truth… we shall see.

Vientiane, Laos

Day 311, Sun 15th Dec

A day sightseeing & starting to update my CV (it’s almost that time to look for a job) & then the overnight bus to Luang Prabang. This was a new one for us in that the seats/ beds were in 3 rows of bunk beds running from front to back down the length of the bus.  A little bit uncomfortable, but better than normal seats. T really wanted a top bunk, but had to settle for the lower – maybe next time.

Vientiane (64)After a wonderful breakfast at Le Croissant D’or (I think), where I was forced to suspend my non-wheat diet in favour of an almond croissant, we walked around to see the few remaining sights that Vientiane has to offer. Keir did his CV and I went to the lovely Wat Sisaket, no photos inside unfortunately, but it was full of niches with small Buddhas in each, very old, very beautiful..

I was VERY excited about the Mobilhome bus, we had been reading some Vientiane (74)hilarious reports of the bed bus, but this was actually very good – there was a little well for my feet, which they unfortunately had to share with my bag, but a good reclining position and a blanket. We had to remove our shoes as we got onto the bus, but luckily I had the forethought to keep my flip flops handy for the loo – one does not really want to enter any toilet with bare feet, especially a communal one – that said, it was one of the better bus toilets I have experienced, even when the bus driver decided to turn the lights and water off while I was in there…

Day 312, Mon 16th Dec

Wat Souvannapoumaram (7)Arrived 2 hours late due to truck having had an accident on the road here, but Luang Prabang looks nice. Lots of tropical plants, very green & French colonial architecture.  More importantly from T’s perspective – French inspired cooking!

Hostel is nice & the town feels very chilled.

Nice hostel with unbelievably friendly Vietnamese staff, it was too early for check in so we had some breakfast, and went for a walk to see a wat or two (like we were not burnt out after all those temple visits in Thailand!, then sorted some trips for tomorrow – including some last minute ziplining with Green Discovery – they suddenly CAN do the 20th, it is going to be a bit of a pain to get to Pakse in time, but we can do it!Wat Xiengthongratsavoravihanh (4)

LP is bloody freezing compared to everywhere else for the last 6 weeks, and unfortunately our hotel aircon only does cold L. At least I managed to score a blanket to augment the large towel bedcover (very weird, same in Pakse!), and the shower is super hot…

Dinner at a restaurant called Lao Lao, where we tried Laotian Lap (this is food, before the questions start coming in), and I tried making another Coxtail with Lao Lao whiskey. It was good. Very good :)

Day 313, Tue 17th Dec

Kuang Si Waterfall (19)We headed off on two half day trips – the first one up river to see the caves of Pak Ou stacked with Buddhas.  The boat trip was nicer than the destination to be honest. The afternoon trip was to the waterfalls at Kuang Si – this was beautiful.  The dissolved limestone in the water has coated everything like stalagmites/ stalactites so you get these beautiful smalls pools with petrified falls & trees in beautiful shades of aquamarine/ turquoise. We could have stayed there for hours.  A bit too cold for bathing but T had a wade.

The boat trip to Pak Ou was nice, but a little chilly – perhaps we should have gone for the shielded seats at the back! The cave was interesting, but really only for 20 minutes max, so rather a long journey for a short visit… perhaps a trip for a warm day! On the other hand Kuang Si was spectacular, even if we did wimp out of the swimming part! It was a little like Semuc Champey, just without the heat…and with a Moon Bear sanctuary near the entrance!Moon Bear Sanctuary at Kuangsi Falls (3)

Got back and managed to score a last minute table at Tamarind; the tasting plate and the Ko Lap (fish version) were phenomenal, as was the Lao Lao and Tamarind cocktail, very reasonable prices too. I cannot recommend this place too highly; go.

Day 314, Wed 18th Dec

A final day sight-seeing & chilling before the horrendous journey to Pakse for our zipline/ treetop adventure. This time on the overnight ‘bunk-bed’ bus T got a top bunk – it was like being next to a child… she was soooo excited!

Keir decided he needed to do admin today, so I was left to wander around by myself – trying desperately to keep out of the shade for the sake of warmth – I have given into the temptation of reading Twilight; we are going to have at least 16 hours of travelling and I am not sure the Spanish Elmore Leonard I am reading is sufficiently easy fodder for a journey of that magnitude.

Got the bus, same one as before, but TOP Bunk; hooray!

Luang Prabang, Laos

Day 315, Thu 19th Dec

So, the overnight bus was followed by a tuk tuk to the Southern bus terminal where we caught the 0715 bus towards Savanankhet.  We then swopped from that 9 hrs later to another bus going to Pakse.  We finally arrived there at 9:30 at night, dropped our stuff off after a bit of wandering around in the dark & caught the Indian just as they were shutting – perfect, a curry & beer before bedtime :)

It seems there is no VIP day time bus to Pakse, and no express bus running today. Damn. The ticket office told us the bus would arrive at 9 or 10pm and we seem to have little choice – the Savannakhet changeover is the quick way, maybe 8:30pm, if we are lucky L – on the plus side, I was actually really enjoying Twilight, I suspect this series may become a guilty pleasure…

The hotel we are staying in looked far from promising, a lobby full of motorcycles and a monosyllabic receptionist, but the room was actually very nice; a pleasant surprise!

Day 316, Fri 20th Dec

T’s like an over-excited child – we’re off ziplining!

Trekked through the forest to the edge of a huge escarpment & then had a simple but wonderful lunch out in the clearing; the beef jerky was excellently spiced.

Then we were flying through the air past trees & waterfalls – exhilarating, if not slightly scary!

All very safe, but you get that moment of uncertainty when you launch yourself off the edge of the platform out onto the zipline… then the adrenaline hits you & you’re off!

We got down to the base camp to be rewarded by the magnificent sight of the Kamet waterfalls towering over us – absolutely beautiful with the sunset.  Aron will be jealous to hear that we reprised our sunset/ moonlight shower routine from Angel falls, this time with a Canadian (Peter)!

Then we had to zipline to our treetop cabins before lights out when the generator shut down!

Green Discovery Ziplining  Up early and in a frantic rush to get to the Green Discovery office for 8:30 with no breakfast, luckily we had a bit of time at the office (well Keir did), while I hared around trying to find somewhere to make us a takeaway omelette…

Then off to the forest! A light hike to the camp, safety briefing from our guide, Hot, and then off we went. Fantastic! We started on some short lines to get us accustomed to braking with a stick and progressed to longer lines. It was really good fun, and we were surprisingly tired and hungry by the time we got back for dinner. Had a natural waterfall shower – perhaps not have been the best idea as I ended up with soaking wet hair & towel – but how often do you get an opportunity like that?Kamet Falls

Unfortunately the promised ‘romantic’ treehouse for 2 did not materialise, only 2 small cabins left and 3 couples. We let the honeymooners take one and cut the cards for the other, we lost. Never mind, they are individual beds with one person sleeping bags anyway :)

Day 317, Sat 21st Dec

Day 2 in the camp started with us ziplining out of our treehouse for breakfast. We then did ever increasing ziplines across chasms until we did a 450m one… it went on for over a minute – v cool. Our only note of concern was when our Russian colleague, Vlad, suddenly fainted on a tree-top platform 60’ up in the air… scary. Fortunately he was karabinered on & one of the others caught him as he fell.

Lunch under the Kamet falls with minkeys running across the rocks at the top then time to start heading back.

Green Discovery ZipliningWe hiked back up the side of the waterfall & finished the final 100m via the ‘Via Ferrata’ – a vertical & horizontal climb. I quelled my internal wailing & gnashing of teeth – heights & I are not the happiest of bed fellows – & manfully stepped up ahead of T to show her how it was done. I’d like to say that I shimmied up there like a rat up a drainpipe, but in truth I think it was more sloth-like – slow & measured!

Up early for breakfast and more ziplining, first one was from our treehouse :)

Poor Vlad was not feeling well, I secured him some hot water with ginger and an immodium, but this Tracified medicine was clearly ineffective when he fainted after one of the long ziplines – he had not been able to brake very well – like me in fact – and nearly careered into a tree (luckily Hot and the boys were there to catch us!), this was clearly too much for his depleted state; poor guy had to be zipped and walked back to the huts for some recovery time.

We, meanwhile, zipped along merrily, did a couple of weird steel cable like bridges, some light hiking, lunch and then picked up Vlad (now feeling a bit better, for the rock climbing – which I actually really enjoyed; unlike Keir, I fear…The Via Ferrata

Back to Pakse for a last Indian at Nazim’s, great food, but could be massively improved by offering alcohol other than beer (another booze- free evening for me – I seem to be practically tee-total now, and it is not by choice…). We stayed at the Nang Noi this time, not quite as nice a room as the Lankham, but since it is a third of the price, does decent breakfast, and Bounthong, the owner, is extremely helpful – read, the opposite of surly and non-communicative – it was a great find!

Pakse & Green Discovery

Day 318, Sun 22nd Dec

Up early for the 3 hr troop down to Si Phan Dhon – 4,000 islands. Arrived at Don Khon slightly wary as we’d heard that often they try & rip you off by selling you a ticket including the ferry only to then try & charge you for it when you arrive. But amazingly we had no problems as we are dropped off 300 yds from our guesthouse. This turned out to be very nice & perfectly placed by the French bridge for getting around & G&T’s for sunset. :) Sunset from Don Khone

This was even more amazing as T had incomprehensibly booked the wrong guesthouse the night before as we sat & researched them together?!

There was even a dragon boat racing festival on the river.  A gentle meander round town after lunch followed by sundowners on the veranda – perfect.

P1500672We were glad to note that our slightly more expensive ticket to Don Khone really did include the ferry ride, thus actually making it a good option – all went amazingly smoothly and we bumped into the nice Austrian couple, Alime & Juergen, that we had met on our cooking course in Chang Mai :)

Keir finally cheered up about my mis-booking the guesthouse when he saw it was a good one. It is very chilled here, and very hot again, nice.

Day 319, Mon 23rd Dec

Hired bikes enabled us to get about the island, see some beautiful waterfalls, countryside & the backpacker intensive Dong Don. We had met some friends from Chiang Mai on the boat over so we had dinner with them – a perfect end to another chilled day.

P1500736Waterfalls were great, and an unexpected treat, we really just came here to see what it was like… We were expecting Don Det to be pretty backpackery and full of noisy youth, but it actually seemed nice – at least during the day time – I think we would have been as happy there as on Don Khone!

4000 Islands, Laos

Hotel Villa Um Theara, Siem Reap

Hotel Villa Um Theara, Siem Reap

Day 320, Tue 24th Dec

A day of traveling from 4,000 islands through the border, onto Kampong Chang & then onto Siem Reap.  We left at 0800 & it took over 17 hrs, involving a ferry, minibus, border crossing, 2 buses & a Moto-remorque (type of Tuk tuk).

Finally arrived in our hostel at 0130 on Xmas morning… :(

Another hideously long journey, but we were prepared as one of the ladies for our ziplining tour had kindly emailed to say just how long and draining it was… It really would have been nicer to fly, but we just can’t justify that on top of the Green Discovery trip! The boat to the bus station was smooth and quick enough, then we had an hour hanging around waiting for the bus, being asked to pay $30 for our $20 visas etc, followed by the mammoth journey… at least the changeover at Kampong was reasonably rapid and our hotel in Siem Reap is lovely!