Browsed by
Category: Cambodia

Phnom Penh and the Cambodian coast

Phnom Penh and the Cambodian coast

Phnom Penh 

The capical city of Cambodia, is an interesting and bustling city. As we were only there for two days, we thought we’d just do some of the main sights before we went down to the coast. We set-off for the Royal Palace in the morning, which was shut, apparently due to the impending visit of the Chinese president. So with nothing else to do, we went on to see a rather disappointing Wat and then forced Paula to visit an undesirable playground. Freda was very happy, even though most things were broken! Not the best start to Phnom Penh, we decided to go our separate ways, so Mitch and Paula could go to the Killing Fields. We’ve dragged Freda to most things but we felt this was definitely not appropriate. I managed to get Freda out of the worlds worst playground before she did herself an injury and we then spent the afternoon occupying ourselves. Mitch and Paula came back from their trip pretty somber, but glad they went, so they could learn some more about the atrocities that happened under the rule of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge.

Next day we tried our luck again with the Royal Palace, but this time we found ourselves in amongst an orderly group of school children and the military lining the route to the Royal Palace. As we reached the gates of the Palace, obviously we still wanted to check if it was open, we were briskly escorted away…….seems we had gate crashed a very organised welcome party lining the Chinese presidents route to the palace. Slightly unnerved by the armed military and balaclarved special forces, we retreated to the relative safety of the Cambodia National museum, where we fed the fish among statues from the Khmer empire. We found out later that a process of street-cleaning had occurrred in the days running up the visit, sweeping up all degenerates and the like (“Phnom Penh beautification”), we felt honoured to be included! We ended the day on a ridiculously massive boat, for just the four of us, for a sunset cruise on the Mighty Mekong again!

img_0465

On the recommendation from my parents, we then had a quick drink at the Foreign Correspondents Club, a cool bar steeped in history, where Foreign journalists documented the war, from the safety of a beer (or cocktail).

Koh Rong

We got on a bus and then a boat to the beautiful island of Koh Rong.

img_0485

While waiting for the boat in Sihanoukville, I was hounded by sellers on the beach offering any beauty service you could want! I opted to have a pedicure, but got more than I bargained for with 3 women grabbing anything that could be preened, one even started to thread my legs. We made a hasty retreat to our boat!

The island of Koh Rong is a world away from the seedy tourist trap of Sihanoukville.

img_0484

We relaxed on our beautiful beach and all shared a bungalow, which was cosy. All of this was under the careful watch of our amazing host Robbie, who provided us with a lantern ceremony spectacle…….it was a ‘have to be there’ moment as “You look wonderful tonight” was blasted out while the guests all took turns to send a lantern into the sky. This has been one of my favourite moments of travelling so far!

img_3715

Freda had another first in the calm waters of Koh Rong and learnt to snorkel, after I thought there’s no way a 3 year old can snorkel, but they really surprise you, she was actually quite good! We had mixed feelings about leaving the island, its beauty and serenity was unusual in Cambodia, but we had had enough of the humidity and cold showers. So we made our way to the main land, which took 30 mins on the way there and 2 and a half hours on the way back! Not a nice journey at all.

Otres Beach

As it was Paula’s last few days we booked a nice hotel, with a swimming pool on the beach…….we were all happy until they did our washing. Although lots of our clothes got ruined we did manage to make 150 quid out of them, lucky Mitch shopped at Reiss for his shorts (7 years ago)! Freda enjoyed riding the massive unicorn!

img_0469

We took a boat out to do a bit of snorkelling, as Freda is now an avid snorkeller and thought we were going to hang at a nice secluded beach for lunch. Now, I’m not sure if I mentioned, but there are a few problems that have blighted our time in SE Asia. Those being the endless development and the Chinese, I think maybe these go hand in hand!! So, on this deserted beach was also a Chinese tour party, a sight that we are now used to seeing, but this time we saw a little too much of the Chinese! The male partipants of the party all changed into their swim suits on the top deck, while the Chinese ladies on the deck below couldn’t see, we had a full view from our boat of all the tackle, and there was a lot!! So, the beach was not so great……there was lots of rubbish, which is also a massive problem here. This has made us really think about our use of plastics, as that’s what’s mainly washed up on beaches everywhere in Asia and there they stay, it’s a real shame. Upside, our boat guy did us some nice BBQ fish and then we got on our way.

img_0471

The ride back was a little choppy, I think Paula was a bit worried we were gonna sink, and Freda was nearly sick!

The next day we went to the National Park just up the road. A National Park is not quite the same as at home out here, as if you have enough money you can build whatever you want in it, if you don’t you aren’t allowed near it. So this was a bit of a mixed bag, although we did get to see some rare and amazing birds of prey, which was nice.

We said a sad goodbye to Paula, it has been amazing having her with us, and we carried on down the coast to Kampot and then to Kep.

Kampot and Kep

Kampot was a strange place, descended on by French expats, known as the French coffee house. It rained a lot, we did very little and Mitch drank some coffee! We did however downgrade to a hostel to try our hand at real backerpackering, but felt that two nights of that was enough! Freda, as always, was very happy though.

img_0463

We set off to Kep, which is just down the road. We hired a tuk tuk to take us into the countryside on the way, so as to see a cave and the secret lake (that is known by everyone)! But, it was really beautiful and really nice to see a very different rural side to Cambodia.

img_0474

img_0476

We stopped at a Pepper Farm, anyone who doesn’t know Kampot Pepper is the best pepper in the world. It was interesting to see how it’s grown. We bought some and I have to say it’s very nice, tastes just like pepper!

img_0475

On to Kep which was nice, lots of crabs, although apparently they are massively over-fished and you shouldn’t eat them here, but I only read that after we had tucked into a few on the beach, oops!

So, it’s time for us to leave Cambodia and spend our last week of South East Asia in Vietnam. Its been great, a real eye opener, not easy, or always enjoyable, but I feel we’ve got to experience a country, overcoming a difficult past and moving with hope into the future. Its been humbling to talk to people with very little and realise all round the world, no matter where we live, we all have the same issues and the desires, there are little differences in our makeup. Some of us are just lucky to be born in a country that has progressed further, but very slowly I hope they will too, one day managing to overthrow the corruption and then lessen their poverty, as they deserve it. Such lovely people with infectious smiles, that’s what I will take with me.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap

We all jumped in a tuk tuk to greet Paula, it was really lovely to see her. After giving Paula a small amount of time to recuperate after her epic flight, we then dragged her to the local museum that focussed on the history of the Temples and Angkor Wat! We decided to let her go have a proper lie down after she fell asleep in the museum!

The next day, Mitch set out to go and look for a friendly tuk tuk driver to take us around the Temples, he came back with the fantastic Mr Be. We decided to start with the small Temples, known as the Roluos Temples. They are the oldest collection of Temples in the area and were very beautiful.

fullsizerender

Mr Be then suggested we went to take a look at a local floating village, Kampong Phluk, so he dropped us at the dock and we then got in a boat for an hour. The village rested on the edge of Tonle Sap lake and was completely water-locked. All the buildings including the schools, shops, restaurants were all on stilts and the only way around was by boat. We were surprised at first to see very young children driving the boats, but soon saw why.

fullsizerender-2

We left our first day of Templing and then headed for a few drinks down Pub Streat, awful place!!

Mr Be promptly arrived the day after at 8.30 and we headed off. Today’s Temples were extremely impressive and some of my favourites, I don’t think either words or pictures can do them justice. Built around the late 12th centry Angor Thom was the last capital city of the Khmer Empire.

fullsizerender-8

What an Empire it must of been. They are probably the most awe inspiring structures built by man that I have ever seen (apart from Mitch in his pink poncho)! They are incredibly decrepit but remain beautiful, with thousands of intricate carvings still visible while other temples have trees eating away at them.

fullsizerender-7

We were very lucky to have a great driver who seemed to be able to keep us away from the hordes of Chinese tourists and sometimes it felt like we had the Temples all to ourselves.

fullsizerender-3

Freda lasted exceptionally well and really enjoyed clambering over all the ruins, although towards the end of the day, we needed to resort to ice cream bribery. Early to bed that night ready for our 5am start!

We and the rest of Siem Reap headed out in a procession of tuk tuks in the dark in search of a magical sunrise over Angkor Wat. We found a quiet spot to watch the light gradually reveal the 5 famous towers. Unfortunately, due to a bit too much cloud coverage, there was little sun to be seen, but we were happy just to watch Angkor Wat emerge in the beautiful dawn light.

img_0445

(Although it was slightly ruined by the most irritating American woman, on a mission to take the perfect shot, brashly shouting about her ISO and the Exposure of her camera. Bloody Americans always pop up and ruin the most peaceful of scenes!) Anyway she moved on and peace was restored. We then took our time exploring the Temple, the best preserved and still used in the area. It was of course impressive, but I felt it slightly lacked the atmosphere and charm of the crumbling ruins from the previous day (Bayon, Ta Prohm etc.).

fullsizerender-4

We then headed out on a final circuit of Temples, we had no idea how many more we saw, but Freda quickly tired and had had enough. She was bribed around the last few with the promise of a piece of dried mango after each Temple. When we ran out of mango, it was time for  home, to be honest I think by then we had all had enough.

fullsizerender-11

Back at the hotel, we forced Freda to have an afternoon nap! It’s a dirty word in our family, but after some strong words she gave in and we all got some well deserved rest before we went out for a late night at the circus. Phare, the Cambodians Cirque du Soleil, is a charity that provides education and employment to young Cambodian artists. We all really enjoyed it, although it was quite dark and depicted Cambodias bloody and cruel history. Thankfully this went over Freda’s head!

We had one last day before we flew out, but now templed out we decided to take it easy and took some recommendations on the sights to see from Mr Be! Maybe not the best idea, as we first of all ended up in a very over priced outlet with shop assistants following us about in their dozens. We hastily left, which was tricky as it was bucketing it down and being happy to escape the first recommended attraction, we were then taken to the Cambodia War Museum! We gave it the benefit of doubt, thinking it would be a good educational activity, and we were all in the need to brush up on the more recent parts of Cambodian history. However, we got more than we bargained for with our macabre guide. It’s hard to describe the experience, but it was definitely unsuitable for children and very uncomfortable for adults. As we walked around tanks, guns, land-mines, anti-aircraft machinery, RPGs, pictures of a war too horrific to contemplate, we were given graphic detail of the life our guide had experienced. Unfortunately, he told us little about Cambodias history, the war, the reasons around it, but instead focused on the fact he had “died 13 times”, was known as the Cat on TripAdvisor and the last time he died was a few years ago when mid-way through a tour a hornets nest fell on him. He died this time for 8 hours (!), but when he came back to life the good news was that his Type 2 diabetes and Arthritis had miraculously cleared up……this story was told to us maybe 5 times over the tour. I had to disappear when he started to show us scars from the stings and he got out his prosphetic leg, having lost his left leg due to a land mine. Mitch and Paula were then treated to burns from a bazooka, shrapnel embedded in his arms and Mitch was brave enough to fondle the ball bearings lodged in his leg after another land mine incident. Paula and I were struggling to hold our composure, but we were all in for a final surprise as we walked past one of the old tanks……almost theatrically as thunder rumbled above, he told us of the bones of his dead buddy which were still in there from when he was killed in battle……again only Mitch went for a closer peek. Luckily it all seemed to go over Freda’s head.

During our short time in Cambodia we have gained a small insight into the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, part of the history that has shaped this country. The people here though are amazing in their courage and determination…..it’s a bloody hard place to live.

But on a brighter note, Mitch has discovered Angkor Beer and has added to his beer tshirt colection!!

fullsizerender

And Freda has learnt to swim, check out her Vlog!

After Siem Reap, we headed off to the capital Phnom Penh on a late night flight. This may have slightly broken Freda…..on the plane as it approached 11.30, she decided to watch the same few seconds of a kids progamme over and over laughing each time maniacally, luckily for all the flight was only 30 minutes!!!