Archive for November, 2010

Return to Thailand

Posted in Cambodia, Sihanoukville, Thailand, Trat, Travel with tags , , , , on November 29, 2010 by Amanda

Sihanoukville

I left Sihanoukville this morning and arrived back in Thailand this afternoon. I had contemplated spending one more day in Cambodia and visiting another national park but my foot is a bit sore and just felt like being lazy. The roads were a bit rough though certainly not the worst I’ve experienced. But even though this bus was very nice (lots of leg room etc.) I really didn’t feel that well during the drive but luckily I didn’t get near the point of actually throwing up.

Crossing the border from Cambodia to Thailand was very simple and not very busy. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve actually walked across a border. There was, however, a bit of a wait for the minibus onwards though the people headed all the way to Bangkok (a further six hours) were still waiting when I left. While waiting I tried unsuccessfully to change the sim card in my phone from a Cambodian to a Thai one. It really can’t be that hard but I’ve yet to figure out how to do it! Anyway, a guy offered to do it for me and then asked to trade phones with me because mine is apparently different from those sold in Cambodia and Thailand. My phone is actually quite simple so I can’t see the appeal and I wondered if it was some kind of scam to give me a phone that didn’t work well. I did let him have the Cambodian sim card as I won’t be needing it.

The minibus from the border only went to the first town into Thailand and then I had to take another one into Trat. While there aren’t really tourist attractions per se here, it is a nice town to wander around. I’ll be leaving in the morning and going at least as far as Bangkok. If I’m feeling okay, I’ll head someone to the south later in the day.

Trat

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(Obviously) I’m a bit behind …

Posted in Battambang, Bokor National Park, Cambodia, Kampot, Kep, Rabbit Island, Sihanoukville, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on November 27, 2010 by Amanda

I obviously haven’t gotten around to writing here for a while now. So, this post may end up being rather long.

After Siem Reap, I went to Battambang. I went there not really sure what to expect as I had read quite conflicting things about the place: some people thought it wasn’t worth visiting while others really liked it. I ended up really liking the place though most of the attractions are outside of the city itself. It seemed to have more attractive parts than other Cambodian cities.

Battambang

My second day there I turned on CNN in my hotel room and heard something about the top story being from Cambodia. I instantly knew that it couldn’t be good news at all (Cambodia isn’t generally on CNN’s radar) and it certainly wasn’t.

Just outside of Battambang, I went on a bamboo train. Though they are used by the locals too, it is used mostly be locals. It was an interesting experience. I also went to Phnom Sampeau. This was the first part of Cambodia I saw that wasn’t completely flat but I think the term “mountain” is a bit optimistic. Anyway, I went to the top of the “mountain” there and also saw the killing caves. Later on I saw a pagoda, on a much smaller scale than the one near Phnom Penh, with bones of those killed. It was much more disturbing, however, because along the bottom are very graphic illustrations of what happened. I hadn’t previously realized that cannibalism had occurred, for example. I also visited an abandoned Pepsi factory, a village where everyone makes rice paper and another where they all make sticky rice. The rice paper involves an insane amount of work for what the people make. I opted not to stop by the fish paste factory but had to smell it anyway!

From Battambang I took a bus to Phnom Penh and about an hour later another to Kampot. This meant quite a long travel day (around 12 hours).

I decided to take two day tours from Kampot as there isn’t all that much to do in town. Consequently, I mostly saw the town in the dark! As the first one was to Rabbit Island which you get to via Kep which I had passed through to get to Kampot, I probably should have spent a night there and two in Kampot instead of three in Kampot. But this way I didn’t have to move my stuff, so maybe it wasn’t that big of mistake.

Anyway, Rabbit Island is beautiful and many people spend a night there (maybe because of the $5 bungalows?) but I thought a day trip was enough for me as there isn’t really anything but a beach a some hiking trails.

Rabbit Island

Yesterday I went to Bokor National Park. I was very happy that this was possible as I had read conflicting reports about whether you can enter or not as the park is apparently “officially” closed while they build a new road but it seems that some tour operators can still enter. Anyway,we did some hiking, visited the abandoned Bokor Hill Station, and a waterfall. While the hiking certainly wasn’t that hard there were many vines and such that could be tripped over and of course, I did just that. I managed to add several more bruises (plus a couple of cuts) to my already large collection! The abandoned casino/hotel was very interesting to look around but had all these danger/do not enter signs! We ended the day with a sunset cruise along the river in Kampot.

Abandoned hotel/casino

I am now in Sihanoukville. I was a bit disappointed that my bus from Kampot turned out to actually be a minibus, as it they are more crowded. However, I was here in under two hours and we were dropped off in Serendipity Beach rather than downtown (which does not look at all pleasant) at the bus station. So I ended up arriving in a much better location with all the hassle and there was a hotel with what I looking for (a/c, hot water, swimming pool) right across the street from where we were dropped! So in the end I think it worked out for the best.

Angkor Wat …

Posted in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Siem Reap, Travel with tags , , , on November 21, 2010 by Amanda

In what is sadly becoming a recurring theme for me, my visit to Angkor Wat started out badly but was fine in the end. The first morning I rented a bicycle for my guesthouse and followed signs towards Angkor Wat. However, I eventually reached a ticket checking booth that didn’t actually sell the tickets. The actual place to buy the tickets was 2 kilometres away each way! It sounds like this happens to people fairly often but they couldn’t explain why they didn’t have signs saying pointing the way to the ticket place or why they didn’t sell them also at the booth the checked the tickets. It was suggested that I could get a motorcycle to take me to the ticket place and back; this is probably just another conspiracy to try to get extra work for the moto drivers! Needless to say, I rode my bicycle the extra 4 kilometres!

Luckily I had left at 6am so I was still at Angkor Wat pretty early and while there were definitely quite a few people at Angkor Wat there were less than I had expected. I was also surprised that the prices for food, souvenirs and such were not all that inflated. However, I think the people trying to sell things may be even more persistent than those in Egypt! I found that the children were generally the most persistent. I met a very nice Malaysian man while looking around Angkor Wat who had some good ideas of what to see when I go there.

Entrance to Angkor Wat

I also visited Angkor Thom and a few small temples in the area on the first day. One thing I found really interesting was that there were all these warning signs at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom about steep stairs and yet they seemed much safer than those at less visited temples where there weren’t any warning signs. I guess it is because all the tour buses full of old people don’t seem to visit those places! It does seem like a lot of tourists must only visit Siem Reap and not anywhere else in Cambodia, as there are so many tour buses here and I saw very few elsewhere (including in Phnom Penh).

Angkor Thom

Yesterday, I decided to brave using a tuk tuk driver (who ended up being pretty good) and visited some further away temples. I was surprised by just how crowded Banteay Srei was. Even though it is a recommended temple, I expected to only be relatively busy because it is quite far from town (around 30 kilometres) and it seems that a lot of people only busy the one day pass. However, it was way more crowded than Angkor Wat and I think that detracted from the experience significantly. It was nice that it had a lot more background information about the site than other temples though. I also visited the Landmine Museum on the way back and even though it is right on the road to and from Banteay Srei it had only a handful of visitors. I found it both informative and rather depressing. I also stopped where these women were making palm sugar candies. They are quite good and taste very similar to maple sugar candies. Additionally, I saw Banteay Samre and the Rolous temples.

Women making palm sugar candies

Today I saw several more temples including Ta Prohm. I think I could have seen all of what I did in two days rather than three but they would have been rather long days and visiting for two days would cost as much as for three anyway.

In Siem Reap, the Water Festival is going on this weekend and the riverside is really, really crowded (mostly with Cambodians). There are boat races going on and I’ve heard fireworks. Many people need to climb trees, statues etc. to actually be able to see much as there are so many people right along the river!

Not the greatest start to my Siem Reap visit but things are okay now

Posted in Cambodia, Frustration, Siem Reap, Travel with tags , , , on November 18, 2010 by Amanda

Siem Reap

As you can tell from the title of this post, I didn’t exactly have a great start to my time in Siem Reap. I got off the bus and a tuk tuk driver offered to take me to the centre of town for $2. This sounded great as I had completely expected there to be many drivers offering free rides if you stayed at whatever guesthouse or hotel paid them a commission for bringing guests. I told the driver that I would just wander around looking for somewhere that looked good when I reached the centre of town. However, the driver tried to get me to stay at a place that was not only not close to the centre of town but was also right on a very busy road that didn’t look pedestrian-friendly. The place actually looked nice from the outside but I really didn’t want to stay in that location! He was clearly not happy with me and then drove me a bit further and dropped me off where he said the centre of town was. I was doubtful but I really just wanted to get away from him! I figured out where I was from the map in the Lonely Planet and started walking in the direction of where I wanted to stay. It was only about a 10 or 15 minute walk but with all my stuff my back started hurting eventually and it was annoying how all these other tuk tuk drivers kept bugging me and then it started raining very heavily. Fortunately, I was around where I wanted to be (right across from the old market) soon after and I did find exactly what I was after (clean, relatively quiet, air-conditioning, hot water, free internet) for about the price I was expecting ($15). In the end, I was very glad I perserved and found what I was after especially since I’ll be staying for four nights.

After I had lunch (which was burritos because these guesthouse is above a Mexican restaurant) I explored Siem Reap a bit and it really does seem nice. I visited the miniature version of Angkor Wat which I thought would be good prepartion for tomorrow and while worthwhile seeing it including less than I had expected.

I am very much looking forward to tomorrow (and the two days after that)! I am really hoping it won’t rain. I will be using a bicycle to explore tomorrow and after that I’ll see. I think if I want to see the further away parts I will need to use a tuk tuk.

Kratie & Kampong Cham

Posted in Cambodia, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Travel with tags , , , on November 17, 2010 by Amanda

Things have definitely been going better for me the past few days.

I saw everything I had planned to see in Kratie without any difficulty. I went to dolphins in the Mekong River in nearby Kampi. They came out of the water quite often but not for long so I don’t think my pictures will be all that great; still, it was a great experience. The other highlight of my stay in Kratie was visiting the Koh Trong across the Mekong River. This island is just a short boat ride away but it is very different from Kratie itself. There are hardly any vehicles and it is quite rural. I managed to rent a bike that fit me well and rode all around the island. It was very beautiful and peaceful there. The people were exceptionally friendly though their English rarely extended beyond “hello.” Cambodian children really like to say hello like a hundred times in a row!

(Part of) a dolphin at Kampi


Arriving on Koh Trong

Today I arrived in Kampong Cham. I am stayed in a hotel that could almost be called luxurious for just $13! There are cheaper guesthouses here but they didn’t look so great and I really felt like staying somewhere nicer and $13 is pretty easy to justify! Anyway, there seem to very few tourists here. I walked along the riverfront for a while and then crossed a bridge over the Mekong to look at a lighthouse. While I was over there, I walked around the area there which was clearly not visited by tourists very often. I encountered a man who works for an organization called Muslim Aid who was delivering cows. At first, he said that the cows came from the UK which sounded kind of silly but I later learned it was actually the money for the cows that came from the UK. This area has a fairly high number of Muslims. He invited me to come along to another couple villages and I decided to do so. The villages were also quite interesting and I encountered yet more super friendly people who I really couldn’t communicate with!

The cow delivery truck in a village

Tomorrow morning I am off to Siem Reap. I think it will probably feel strange to be in a heavily touristed place but I am very much looking forward to Angkor Wat and my bus doesn’t leave until 8:30! There are lots of bus companies here but they all seem to leave around the same time usually quite early in the morning.