A Travellerspoint blog


XXXV: Fly Boys

Week five, country five!

sunny 35 °C
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I managed to lure Felix down to the free breakfast that he'd been ignoring with the promise of syrup pancakes and we planned our day. The flight didn't leave for Hanoi until 16:45 and check out was at noon - they wanted an extra $10 to extend it until 2pm! Felix booked a taxi to the airport for 14:00 for $9 (standard rate) and we made the most of the air con and HBO in the room until 12:01 just to spite the receptionist, who had called us at 11:45 to remind us about the time.

With just two hours to kill there was nothing else for it but to head back to Happy Herb Pizza! I know, our imagination for lunch venues has been somewhat lacking but didn't someone once say you can't have too much of a good thing? After lunch we took the cameras for a second walk through the market. I'm sure that smell capture technology will never really exist, but if it did I'd insert a little preview here and have no further need for typing or trying to describe the level of filth that can be found (and inhaled) in Phnom Penh. At the entrance to the market a woman was shoveling food waste off the street into a giant, already overflowing skip and next to her a man was urinating beside the food stalls. The smell was horrendous, and implied that this skip had been sat there festering away for weeks - the bottom was already leaking with decomposed food juice. We pushed through the smell barrier, mastering the art of mouth-only breathing as we passed raw meat hanging in the sun, large metal pots being brought to the boil with dozens of large fish still swimming about in panic and vegetable stalls with chickens roaming about pecking at the greens. It was a remarkable sight and the maze of stalls was vast; moving towards the centre the hygiene improved and the fruit stalls merged into clothing shops and beauty salons. The immune systems here must be super-strength, we certainly weren't going to risk a cheeky snack.


Back on our street we noticed a strange man sat turning a metal cylinder back and forth over burning coals, steam all around him. Naturally we went to investigate and found that he was roasting coffee beans, which were then decanted onto wicker trays on the street to cool before being used to make fresh coffee at the cafe next door. Nostrils well and truly cleansed, we had a sudden craving for caffeine and with 10 minutes to spare until the taxi Felix found us a table and ordered two iced coffees. They were... indescribably good. I'm sure the novelty boosted the taste somewhat but it was like nothing we'd tasted and we were distraught at leaving our new discovery after just one serving.


Our 'taxi' was a beaten up old Ford but the journey to the airport was quick and comfortable - our only scary moment was seeing one of the crazy women from the Siem Reap minibus on the back of a motorcycle, and our attempts to hide failed miserably! Our timing was nigh-on perfect and we checked in straight away with no queues. I remembered too late to ask for a seat with more leg room, so I was amazed when the man casually ripped up the boarding card he'd printed for me and rebooked me and Felix into the emergency exit row! Passport control was equally entertaining: while I was trying to look all serious for my photo and having my fingerprints scanned, the passport official smiled at my boarding pass and said "Hanoi huh? Vietnam girls, very nice". I thanked him for his tourism advice and then got distracted by the very cute drug dog lying on the floor by the xray machines.


Duty Free was unusual, because everything was more expensive than the high street! A large Toblerone (the standard benchmark for these price comparison exercises) cost $25! The rest of the airport can be covered in a three-minute lap, and I took the opportunity to buy some last-minute postcards and use the free computers. Boarding was surprisingly late, especially as Felix had pointed out that we were on a giant Boeing jet but again there were no queues and we were shown to our outrageously spacious exit seats. The doors closed and the stewardess informed us that there were 30 passengers on board this 120+ seater aircraft, what a waste of travel space! We were very impressed though, the plane was brand new, as was the crew's enthusiasm and the 90 minute flight passed in no time.


On arrival at Hanoi, Felix had to take his letter and queue up at the visa issuing desk, while I smugly went straight through passport control and collected our bags. An ATM visit was next, and after doing some crazy maths to work out the exchange rates ($1 is 21,000 dong, GBP1 is 31,000) we popped in our PINs and simultaneously became millionaires! The maximum withdrawal was 2 million dong (VND), just 65 quid. This first withdrawal lasted a long time. Our research told us to ignore the taxis and aim for the minibus stop, where we were charged 40,000 (just over a pound) each for the 35 minute transfer to the Old Quarter in the city. Memories of luxury leg room on the plane soon faded as we were piled in and were forced to play the knee-licking game! Driving into the city, Vietnam felt like another world from Cambodia. The roads were still busy, true, but they were organised, well built and the buildings lining the street were all in a good state of repair. I was struck by the number of motorbikes here though - at every junction the view was blocked by a sea of helmets from at least two people sat on several hundred bikes. This brought about another fascination for me: from the demand for bike helmets had grown a whole new fashion industry, and I was amazed at the different designs on show. Solid baseball cap shapes, Burberry stripes and (my favourite) small cut-outs at the back of the girls' hats to allow them to be worn with a ponytail! Clever sods.


As usual we were mobbed by the taxi driver crowd when we stopped, and as usual we opted to walk the extra 2km to the hotel to get a feel for the city. We fell in love with Hanoi immediately, walking through the Old Quarter was like walking through a French village and it was wonderful to be completely ignored by the locals. The streets of this part of the city are lined and often covered by trees, and every building is fronted by a shop or small cafe selling Vietnamese coffee and home-brew beer. We arrived at the Blue Sky Hotel late evening, and after climbing four flights of Parisian townhouse stairs we were presented with our booked room: a cosy double. There had been a mix-up but we were told not to worry and went out in search of food.


The streets in the Old Quarter are organised by what they sell and are named accordingly (in Vietnamese). Unfortunately for us, we were nowhere near the food streets and walked aimlessly for half an hour before stumbling across a lovely little restaurant on Ma May where we sat on the very French terrace and enjoyed a few beers alongside Vietnamese spring rolls and a traditional clay pot stew with rice. On the walk back we explored the side streets and found the backpackers' hive, a series of lively bars playing live music and small corner shops all selling "bia hoi", locally brewed beer sold at just 5,000 dong per glass. We ordered two glasses and were sat on small plastic chairs on the street, lapping up the atmosphere and quietly contemplating moving here. The beer was good, very similar in taste to a British pale ale, and at 15p a pint no-one was complaining!


Returning to the hotel we found the furniture had been rearranged to fit a single mattress on the floor next to the bed (they had no rooms left). I gave Felix the double and happily fell asleep on the floor.


Posted by WorldWideWill 16:52 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

XXXIV: Visa Run!

The most expensive purchase so far!

sunny 39 °C
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WorldWideWill's Quick Guide to Vietnam Visas:

Getting a visa for Vietnam is a fairly straightforward, albeit ridiculously expensive, process. There is no 'visa on arrival' option for Vietnam, so you must have either a valid visa or letter of visa approval before you cross the border. This can be done in four ways, take your pick (any prices are as of May 2013 and WILL CHANGE)!

1) Send your passport to the Vietnamese Embassy at home before you go [$40-$70]

Pro: very simple; no need to worry about it while you are travelling; can often be cheaper; visa issued within 3-4 working days
Con: you must set your arrival date into Vietnam and cannot change the visa start date (for free); pay recorded postage both ways to the embassy (unless you go in person)

2) Apply for visa approval online (only for flights into Vietnam, not for land crossings) [$55 - $100]

Pro: quick and easy; can be done any time and from anywhere with wifi (no need to be in a city with an embassy); no need to be separated from your passport; in advance it can work out cheaper
Con: there are hundreds of websites offering the service at different prices, you need to find one that is legitimate (use recommendations from travellers); if done last minute it can get very expensive to pay for the "rush" service, up to $50; no visa is issued, only an approval letter - you must wait for this to be emailed to you, print it out and present it at the airport before boarding your flight to Vietnam; on arrival you have to queue up at the visa desk to have a visa issued to you (an extra $45 stamping charge), and then queue again for passport control

3) Arrange your visa through your hotel [$45-$60]

Pro: efficient service; can be very cheap in some countries (e.g. Cambodia if the passport is sent to Sihanoukville); you can carry on with your trip while you wait; you are issued with a visa within 2-3 days; no waiting for approval emails
Con: you're trusting your passport with a stranger; you may end up paying over the odds for the transport costs depending on how many passports they can collect

4) Apply in person at the Vietnamese Embassy/Consulate [$60 + $10 for on-the-spot processing]

Pro: stress free, official processing; visa can be issued on the spot if needed immediately (for a fee); no processing or stamping fees; no waiting for approval emails; good place to meet other travellers!
Con: you need to get to the place, not always easy (especially in big cities); price changes are not advertised on their website - visa price went up from $45 to $60 in January 2013

The Vietnamese Consulate Office in Phnom Penh opens at 8.30am on weekdays, and I had decided to get my visa issued in person purely for convenience and a reluctance to entrust my passport to our receptionist! I was up and fed by 8 and started the 4km journey from hotel to visa office on foot to avoid tourist-inflated tuk-tuk fares. My web research told me that I would need $45 for the visa and another $10 for express processing, and I had $10 plus a slightly torn $50 bill that had come out of an ATM in Siem Reap and been flatly refused as legitimate tender at every hotel and restaurant (the Cambodians will only deal in pristine US dollar notes, no rips allowed). I managed to change the $50 at the bank but the ATM wanted to charge a 'hefty' 1.5% withdrawal fee so I stuck with my 60 bucks and planned to find a Canadia Bank later (the only bank whose ATMs are charge-free). For the first time I accepted a streetside offer of a motorbike taxi ride and we agreed a $2 fare, though he seemed a little unsure of the address. It took a good 15 minutes to get there, and my knuckles were bright white from clinging onto the back of the bike for dear life as we weaved in and out of Phnom Penh traffic. Great fun though!


The driver offered to wait outside but not knowing how long it would take I sent him away after paying him and went inside to fill out the application form. I found out that they could turn it round in 5 minutes for the $10 fee (I was one of just two people in the office), but of course that would have been too easy - a homemade sign next to the desk ruined my morning, stating that the visa price had gone up from January to $60. My argument about the out-of-date prices on their website fell on deaf ears and I was directed to the nearest ATM to make up the $10 deficit in my funds. A five minute walk brought me to the traveller's worst ATM: ANZ Royal. Infamous (to me at least) for charging super high fees, I always avoid them like the plague. This one wanted to charge a flat fee of $5! I couldn't stomach it, particularly as I had a secret mission to spend less than Felix had on his online visa process and a $5 ATM charge would have been counted by the judges. So a standard Will mission unfolded as I walked and walked through the blinding heat looking for a free or at least cheap ATM. I tried and abandoned six in all, the last of which was attached to a money exchange. Thankfully I still had a 1,000 Thai baht note in my money belt, and the lovely lady in the air conditioned office politely ignored me dripping all over her kiosk and gave me $32 - an incredible rate for Cambodia! For some drama-loving reason I decided to jog the mile and a half back to the visa office and five minutes later I had my lovely new visa.


$70 lighter I walked outside to find a ride back, adamant that I would spend no more than $2 (to keep the total outlay under the suspected $75 that I thought Felix had spent!). A tuk-tuk driver agreed to take me as far as the Royal Palace for my money, but not without several attempts to convince me that he could drop me at my hotel and wait for me to get some more cash out for him! I walked back to the hotel and met up with Felix, then booked onto tomorrow's flight to Hanoi for a slightly inflated last-minute fare of $200. I had originally planned to cross into Vietnam overland between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, but I was enjoying travelling with Felix and as he only had 5 days in Vietnam (an expensive stay considering the visa price!) he was keen to see Hanoi and Halong Bay and I was happy to do Vietnam from North to South. As I was booking, F received his letter of approval and we both breathed a sigh of relief.


With everything so expensive, and now with a firm departure sorted we saw no reason to spend unnecessary money on lunch and walked back down for our 'usual' at Happy Herb. We met our favourite tech-savvy kids again, and enjoyed watching the girl beating the boy over the head with a water bottle when he claimed she was his girlfriend! The burger and beer combo was good enough and cheap enough to buy two but we wanted to squeeze a little more culture into our stay and walked down the street to the National Museum. On the way we passed a naked baby lying on the pavement (we had seen it being washed the day before in a roadside puddle) - the mother was a few yards down the street tending to her 'legit' Lonely Planet guidebook stall!


The museum was more expensive than we'd bargained for - $5 - and was so small that we managed the circuit in under half an hour at a leisurely pace. We had a rest in the courtyard watching the obese koi carp bobbing around in the ponds, then took a detour through the local market back to the hotel. I'll describe this experience in tomorrow's entry - it needed to be revisited and photographed.


We rewarded ourselves for our visa success with a mango ice lolly on the roof and an iced tea in the pool, something that Cambodians haven't quite got right - a tea bag dipped in iced water... We'd had such a good experience at Friends last night that we wanted to try out their sister restaurant, Romdeng, a little further from the river. As we left the hotel I was asked by two forlorn looking Brit girls if there were many English people staying here. I jokingly asked if she was trying to avoid them and reassured her that it was largely Indian and she looked crestfallen! I don't understand people that come travelling, eat Western food and crave company from their own nationality - I pointed her towards the cockroach inn next door.


Romdeng was outstanding. It's in a lovely setting, a beautiful French style building with a huge balcony overlooking the leafy courtyard below. The only drawback was their fame for 'crispy spiders' on the menu, and we were presented with one of the poor things (a rather large, though tame, black tarantula) which sat nervously still in Felix's hand until our food arrived. Seven years of chivalry in saving Lucy from house spiders still haven't completely eradicated my childhood arachnophobia so I sat on my hands a safe distance away, and then watched as F handed it over to a petrified waitress! The food was amazing and wonderfully presented, I had been eager to try the traditional 'amok' curry and my pumpkin, bean curd and mushroom amok came in a banana leaf bowl. We made the mistake of having a dessert each, and three giant crispy rice flake banana dumplings with palm sugar syrup nearly finished me off!


Our walk back towards Friends brought us into the backpacker territory and PP's equivalent of Pub Street. It was good to see that we had chosen the quieter street to stay, and we picked up pace at the first sight of drunken Westerners. Felix bought a handmade 'magic wallet' from the Friends & Stuff charity shop next to their tapas restaurant though we ended the night on a bit of low as we wandered past the overflowing bins and even an old woman rummaging through the rubbish outside our hotel.

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Back at the hotel with mixed emotions about the city outside (the food was worth a lot of points) I couldn't resist a picture of the in-house rules on our wall - sums it up nicely I think.


Posted by WorldWideWill 14:31 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

XXXIII: Phnom-nom-nom (Penh)

Big City Life

all seasons in one day 35 °C
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It was an interesting night, and we'd discovered that we were sharing a corridor with six or seven Indian sex tourists who were all sharing a room and spent most of the day parading around with different Cambodian women. The free breakfast that we had haggled for was a now predictable buffet of fried carbs, so I dug out the remains of my birthday muesli to supplement the egg and toast. It was laundry time again so we took our giant bags around the corner where they were only charging $1 per kilo and left blushing slightly after being called "very handsome men" - I was back! We collared a tuk-tuk driver and booked the 'City Tour' for $15, which would include the long drive out to the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek as well as the S21 Prison and a handful of the sights back in Phnom Penh. I had been warned to expect it, but I was still angry when he asked if we wanted to go to the shooting range to fire some weapons ("great fun, great fun"). Felix was equally shocked at the insensitivity but here was the line where respect for the dead ended and business took priority. Still, the driver was taken aback at our "NO!" chorus and agreed to stick to the tour.

His name was Champine. He wore a Barcelona baseball cap on his head and a stupid grin on his face. He was a nightmare. The roads leading out of the city were insanely busy and the exhaust fumes were visibly mixing with the roadside dust and sand to form clouds of gritty smog which lined the inside of our nostrils. Champine's one and only nice gesture was stopping at the side of the road and offering to buy us each a face mask (big business in SE Asia). We declined purely based on experience of being overcharged later on, and used cupped hands as a makeshift mask instead. I admired his enthusiasm at first, pointing out different buildings and smiling back at us, but he was completely oblivious to anything going on around him on the roads. We hit unseen potholes, ramped over unseen piles of sand and very nearly hit several unseen vehicles and pedestrians. A day of riding in this carriage would be enough to give anyone a six-pack with the amount of muscle clenching we had to perform! Gradually the roads got quieter, which was a relief because Champ had no horn and was trying to attract attention by whistling, and at last the sign for Choeung Ek appeared. We drove straight past the turning, but I suppressed an angry twitch and decided he must know another route. He didn't, we stopped for petrol a couple of kilometres further up the road and he asked me if he could borrow $3 to pay for it! Felix had gone into a meditative silence and steam must have started to appear from my ears because he quickly set off again, but still in the wrong direction. When we turned onto a side street I asked him where we were going and got a laugh and something inaudible above the engine noise. We were following another tourist tuk-tuk so I kept an open mind, right up until he pulled into the shooting range car park. I lost it, I was absolutely furious that he'd so blatantly ignored our earlier conversation and all he could do was laugh his stupid laugh and practically beg us to at least go in for a look (clearly on commission). It didn't help that the four ignorant Brit guys from the other tuk-tuk were running in whooping with excitement, but he eventually said "it's up to you" and reluctantly drove us to the Killing Fields.


We ignored his comment about him only waiting an hour for us (after all, we'd only given him $3 so far so if he left he'd be doing us a favour) and paid the $5 entry into Choeung Ek, which comes with an introductory video at the museum and a portable audio guide. I won't go into too much detail, but our biggest shock above all of the atrocities was finding out how recently the group responsible - the Khmer Rouge - had been operating. The trails into the crimes were still underway as recently as 2011. The fields themselves are the site of the mass graves where prisoners from the S21 Prison were executed in horrific ways, purely for being suspected of opposition to the communist regime. 20,000 men, women and children were killed here, and many of the graves have been excavated to place all of the remains on display in a huge central memorial monument (7 levels high) where the families can pay their respects. There are some details that I could never bring myself to write, but I will mention that every time it rains it brings more bones and rags to the surface, and these are collected every few months to add to the memorial. Once you pass the sign explaining this, suddenly all you can see beneath your feet on the paths are chalk-white fragments and weathered pieces of material. It is a very difficult thing to experience.


By chance we only took an hour, but when we got into the tuk-tuk Champ informed us that we would have to wait as he'd booked an extra fare back into town for two more people. Luckily for him our sombre hour had calmed the morning's rage so the argument was short and concise, but saying "it's up to you" again didn't do him any favours - his tip was long gone anyway. We drove back into town to visit the S21 Prison, previously a high school before it was divided into cells, clad with barbed wire and used to torture innocent Cambodians. It was just $2 to get in and again it was a difficult experience, particularly when you see the photos of all of the inmates - the Khmer Rouge were as thorough as the Nazis with cataloguing their crimes so every prisoner was numbered and photographed. Only seven survived. The original classrooms had been divided into tiny numbered cells with brick walls or wooden slats, and the barbed wire around the balconies was erected to prevent suicide attempts. I was quite upset by a couple of things here, firstly the sign on one of the buildings that said "no laughing" and secondly by the placement of red paint or fake blood in some of the cells. Some people need a good slap.

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Rather poetically it began to rain as we walked through the rooms where the last remaining prisoners had been found by the liberation forces, so we went back to the drenched tuk-tuk and asked him to drop us off on the riverside for some lunch within walking distance of the Royal Palace. On the way we noticed for the first time that in front of Champine's seat was the lid-less fuel tank, which was dangerously slopping around and we realised why he'd been driving so slowly! This sealed the deal for him, and after he'd once again tried to drop us at a friend's restaurant for one last commission we stopped him and paid the remaining $12 - his request for a tip was laughed off.


We went to a place called Happy Herb Pizza for lunch, purely because it was convenient and had been recommended by The Book. It is the best value food in town - we both ordered burgers and fries for $2 - and has the cheapest beer at $0.50 a pint! I took the opportunity to Skype Dad at the table, and soon had a small crowd of fascinated kids waving at him on the screen. They were surprisingly good with technology, and happily grabbed Felix's phone and flicked through the photos with no instruction. It was only after we left that we understood that "Happy Herb" meant marijuana and wasn't the man's name! Luckily the herbs were only added on special request so our burgers were (presumably) safe! A walk down the Royal Palace found it to be closed, which was actually a relief after an emotionally draining day so I took a few photos of the millions of pigeons and we retreated for an air-con movie back at base.


The value of our room had a huge boost in the evening as we ventured upstairs to the 8th and 9th floors where we found the pool, a bar and a roof terrace overlooking the city. A few beers were had (of course) with the sunset and then we collected our beautifully pressed and bagged laundry and were invited in for dinner! We had plans so politely declined and walked down the road to the highly recommended Friends Restaurant for some tapas. The restaurant was packed with Westerners which, for the first time, was a good sign - this place was expensive even by Cambodian standards so not just anyone would eat here. We ordered four dishes between us, including roasted pepper, zucchini & rocket spring rolls with basil lemon mayo and chinese veg stir fry. The food was so amazing that we ordered the mango crumble with ice cream for dessert and nearly died of happiness.


Friends is owned by a company that funds charity projects to help the street kids in Cambodia find work, and most of the staff there have been taken in as part of this scheme. We felt very happy to pay the bill plus a small tip for a good cause and we had a quick look at their charity shop next door before heading back (via the now huge piles of waste on the road outside). Next door to our hotel, Queen Wood (forgot to mention that yesterday I think) is a backpacker hotel called 11 Happy Backpackers and we were intrigued to see what their roof bar and rooms were like in comparison to ours. We had a couple of beers to very loud music (luckily the 80s classic rock had just started) but on our way to check out a room we saw a large cockroach that had made its way up 5 flights of stairs so we quickly left!

We'd had quite enough of Phnom Penh now but the weekend had scuppered all plans to get hold of a visa for Vietnam, even for Felix who had done his online and had to wait the extra 2 days for an authorisation letter. Tomorrow is visa day, and hopefully our last day in Cambodia too.


Posted by WorldWideWill 11:21 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

XXXII: Trans-Cam Highway

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

sunny 38 °C
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I'd be lying if I said that we were excited to be spending six hours on a bus on the Cambodian roads, but at midday (after finally settling my giant room bill) Felix & I were loaded into a tiny "Mercedes" minibus and driven around Siem Reap collecting travellers en route to the bus station. It was a 10-seater, but the driver managed to squeeze in 15 passengers plus backpacks and we ended up with two crazy Cambodian women sat on our feet surrounded by bags of food. You should know that Felix can have a rather short fuse at times, and I had been up until 3am that morning on Skype, so we were both far from being in the mood to play sardines with broken air conditioning. When these women started throwing food at their German "boyfriends" (?) and then stroking our legs and laughing we'd had enough and when we reached the station we took seats on the coach as far away from them as possible!


The bus wasn't uncomfortable, and the views across the rice fields and the still unbelievably flat landscape kept me entertained for at least three hours of what ended up being a seven hour journey. It was a real shame to see so much waste everywhere though - just like Morocco, a beautiful country has been ruined by the arrival of Western plastics and every ditch was full to the brim with discarded bottles and plastic bags. The roads themselves were simply awful, and as we'd taken the back row of seats we were being thrown around for most of the trip - it's hard to imagine what the roads were like before their "overhaul" two years ago. I'd remembered reading that in Thailand the back seats of a bus are always reserved for monks, and when an orange-clad Buddhist got on the bus before lunch I wondered if the same rule applied in Cambodia. No one asked us to move so we stayed put...


At the lunch stop the roadside snack offer was less than appealing: mounds of fried insects which were being happily devoured by our Japanese bus-mates. Crunchy. We had only been given 20 minutes for lunch so we settled for a coke in the restaurant and (as we hadn't noticed the one on the bus) had a toilet dash. I mention this part because while I was drying my hands I received an alarmingly sharp poke to the ribs and turned round. Standing behind me, bony finger still outstretched, was the monk! I didn't have much time to think about this near-assault from a supposedly peace-loving man, as he started shouting at me in Khmer and then expected me to respond. Clearly I had no idea what he was on about so I just repeated what he'd said, got a nod in return and then I was left alone again, nursing a small round bruise. We left the restaurant via a long loop away from Mr Crazy-Eyed Monk's table, and with no better food available we came back to the bus with two loaves of bread and a pack of Laughing Cow cheese. This was a low point in food terms, made worse by how long the cheese had been in the sun, and I have no clue how neither of us got ill.

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The last four hours passed painfully slowly, though we were faintly amused by the choice of films they decided to show - Prison On Fire, followed by Prison On Fire II. Not quite what we'd expected to see on the way to the S21 prison but clearly the driver was a big Chow Yun Fat fan. Arriving in Phnom Penh at 8pm presented several issues, the main ones being hunger and the need for a bed (we had so far failed to decide on a hotel). Once again the bus was surrounded by tuk tuk drivers who, as usual, tried to convince us that everything was "very far". The free wifi sign alone (honestly) drew us off the street into KFC and we sat down with a Pepsi to find a nearby bed. Our 15 minute walk to the hotel gave us a chance to see the capital city and we weren't blown away - the traffic was mental, with the same lack of lights at a 4-way crossroads as we had seen in Siem Reap only with twice as many vehicles, and it was dirty. Here everyone throws their rubbish on the street where it sits until the rubbish collection lady arrives in the evening, so the accumulated smells towards the end of the day are far from welcoming. Our street turned out to be on the edge of a thriving sex tourism hotspot too, something that had been left out of the hotel's facilities list. We were shown around a couple of rooms and settled on a rather nice twin on the seventh floor (largely due to the breeze), and after refusing to pay full rate ($45) we negotiated a 33% discount at booked a few nights at $30 with breakfast included.


We ate by the riverside and had a couple of well-earned beers. Then the stream of beggars started, first with single mothers and sickly children, then old men and finally children carrying baskets of flowers who had been trained to ignore the word 'no'. It was gone 10pm and this poor boy stood at our table for 15 minutes before moving onto the next one where he fell asleep on his feet. We returned to the room slightly angered by the contrast between the two cities and made plans to see the more sombre sights tomorrow.


Posted by WorldWideWill 06:42 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

XXXI: Khmer Khameleon

Last day in Siem Reap

sunny 37 °C
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I was grateful for another late morning start, templing is hard work and 8 hours' sleep is just not enough recovery time! Once again we drove away from the Angkor site, this time South East along the highway to reach the Roluos group of temples. Within minutes of leaving the relatively sedate roads of Siem Reap I felt embarrassed about my earlier rant about Thai driving - Cambodia takes the crazy to a whole new level!


A minute on a Cambodian highway is the best snapshot you can have of the madness that is this country's road network and transport system. The average 6-lane dual carriageway is used by no less than 12 streams of traffic, all going in independent directions and carrying loads that not only violate any and every manufacturer's weight restriction but also confound the uninitiated spectator. Motorbikes are king and mule here, and in any given minute you can expect to see one loaded with everything from a 10ft-high stack of recycling bags to half a dozen pig carcasses. How these engines don't implode I have no idea. The larger vehicles are no better, and our highlights of this short journey included a minibus with two mopeds strapped to the open tailgate and a people carrier packed so full of bananas that they were bursting out of the windows and the passengers were forced to travel at 70kph on the roof! The preferred vehicle for rural loads is the tractor engine driven much like a domestic lawnmover, which we saw pulling loads heavy enough to worry an HGV driver.


Of course with such chaos, no matter how well the locals negotiate it, there is always catastrophe and when an accident occurs it's usually pretty serious. We passed three accidents in a short stretch of road, all involving a helmet-less motorbike driver and a fairly serious injury as well as severe damage to the bike and its crazy load. Cambodia is no place to self-hire, and even a tuk tuk feels exposed on the main roads. It is easy now to see why Siem Reap bans tourists from hiring motorbikes, please don't try and bend this rule!


The temples at Roluos were, frankly, a bit of a let down. My birthday had been the best day hands down, and the three temples we saw this morning were poor relations to the stunning architecture and scenery we had already seen. Our morning was saved, however, by the local kids here. Roluos temple children have a level of hyperactivity unknown to the Angkorian hoardes, presumably due to an excessive intake of bonbons (their teeth are shocking) from the buses of tourists that were being dropped off every minutes to shrieks of excitement from dozens of tiny faces. Felix and I took the opportunity to allow Supiret a little more sleep than the meagre ten minutes we had given to the first temple and sat taking pictures of the children and their tourist frenzy. Before long there was a lull in the bus deposits and we were mobbed, but instead of throwing a handful of Maoam sweets in the air and making a run for it, Felix wanted them to earn the treat. I sat transfixed on the faces as they slowly learnt that only saying "Can I have a sweet please" would release Felix's tight grip on the packet, and he was strict - "You give me sweet... please?" just didn't cut it.


Two more temples came and went without incident or piqued interest, the only highlight being another run-in with the kids - this time one made me a ring made of leaves and refused my offer of a sweet because he said it would damage his teeth! I was impressed and gave back the ring - no amount of dental care would earn my dollar today. The mango girl accepted the bonbon option but it backfired when her friend spied the exchange and told me that if I didn't give her one too then I wasn't handsome! We'd already starting moving off before I could answer her but the damage was done - that was the moment I started wearing mascara.


Felix and I did our favourite thing once we returned - had a "lazy afternoon"! Another baguette lunch just about fueled a brief attempt to shop for souvenirs in town but the challenge of finding decent postcards was too much for me (largely because I then realised how good the $1 deal from the Angkor kids really was!). At 7ish we met up for dinner again along with Erna, a friend of Felix's from his trip in Laos. We stopped for a few $1 draught beers on Pub Street and were joined by two more new friends from Felix's hostel, both travelling during a break from study in Hong Kong. It felt great to be with a large group again and the personalities more or less fitted together as we bonded over travel talk. The short search for food ended at the Red Piano, famous for its association with Angelina Jolie (you'll have to look it up, all I saw was a cocktail with her name on it) and we all ordered from the traditional Khmer food menu. Felix and Jieyi are spice fiends and F made a point of telling the waitress that he would be highly disappointed if the curry didn't make him break into a sweat. A deal was made: "You no cry, you no pay"! Three of us were laughing moments after the curries arrived as J had burst into uncontrollable spice-induced tears and Felix was making very little noise at all - looked like we were paying. I was quietly content with my "mild" Khmer curry, which was honestly one of the best curries I've ever tasted.


It was sad to say goodbye to the new faces after only a few hours, but we swapped emails and made the usual wishful comments about maybe bumping into them later on the trail. Tomorrow F & I leave for the capital.

Posted by WorldWideWill 11:15 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

XXX: Banteay Birthday!

Not a bad way to celebrate...

sunny 40 °C
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It was a restless sleep, largely because I hadn't decided before bed if I would wake up to see the arrival of my birthday at midnight local time or UK time and ended up seeing both and feeling no better for it! At 8 I was up and on my private balcony opening a stack of birthday cards - the precious cargo that I had been transporting for a month in my daysack. There was a mini moment of loneliness as I read each one without the sender present, but I was left smiling and feeling good about day two of temple running. I'd done well with breakfast too: fruit muesli, OJ and fruit loaf kept me going most of the day (which was handy seeing as we would miss lunch). I got the birthday traditions out of the way, made my wish and went down to join the guys for our 10am start.


We had a slightly customised route to follow today which would take us several miles away from Angkor to see the outlying temples and was due to end with sunset back in the main temple complex. Even on paper it was far more appealing than my original birthday plans to chill out and read at the hotel all day. Felix handed me my only birthday present of the day as he got on board, a large pack of American style pecan and choc chip cookies! I was touched, and even further impressed when he produced two packs of sweets to be used to keep the temple children at bay. Up until this point I had been curious about the roadside stalls selling reused bottles filled with a strange yellow/green liquid that I had decided was either olive oil or bodily fluid (hey, it's Cambodia - anything's possible). I watched intently when Supiret stopped and bought two bottles, but when he was handed a small funnel I turned away, convinced that my second assumption about the liquid was accurate. The smell caught me by surprise and I felt a little foolish as I realised we had just stopped for petrol...


Our first stop was the ancient crematorium of Pre Rup, built from volcanic rock and boasting several very tall chimney towers. It was deserted for good reason: the mercury had crept over the 40C mark and with the sun directly overhead the only shade was inside one of the towers where incense burning women lay in wait for a quick buck. A friendly police officer let me behind the rope and up onto the top level, usually closed to the public. In exchange for a few words on the temple's origins he requested a small fee, but I countered with the "it's my birthday" argument and gave him (and an American tourist who announced that he was also celebrating his birthday) a piece of chewing gum instead. I was still musing over the concept of a policeman trying to make some extra money as we walked back to the tuk tuk, when another cop approached us and offered to sell us his badge!


The drive up to Banteay Srei took about 30 minutes and followed a quiet country road through stilted wooden hut villages and parched rice fields. There were cows everywhere, at least one per home roaming through the trees to find shade or being given a bath from giant clay rainwater tanks. The temple is small but elegant, reknowned for its intricate carvings on every exposed pink-stone surface (much like Angkor Wat but in finer, more impressive detail) and it is surrounded by a lily pad moat. Again the heat, and the travel distance, meant we had the place to ourselves so we sought shade under the trees and had a birthday snack of cookies and dried banana chips. It was hard to get up close with the barriers protecting the stonework so we ducked into a cafe for a coconut shake to escape the sun and jumped back in the tuk tuk for a cool breezy ride back to Angkor.


I heard the clatter of my glasses hitting the tarmac too late, and watched in despair as my only source of long-distance vision was run over by a tuk tuk and then a car. Miraculously they stayed in one piece, albeit a mangled, bent and obscenely scratched piece but impressive nonetheless! Lucky I brought a copy of my prescription with me.


At this point I realised that I hadn't booked an extra night at the hotel, and more worryingly I hadn't yet given them any money. My panic was short lived though, as Supiret waved off my concerns and told me that I could stay as many nights as I wanted and they would only make the room available and take payment from me once I checked out. What a great attitude.

The string of temples that followed was the highlight of the day. Supiret had devised an excellent itinerary to cover the top of the 'big circuit' before sunset, and the timing was so perfect that every place was empty of tourists. A dusty shortcut took us well off the beaten track and we were the centre of attention as our tuk tuk tried to navigate giant holes and bumps in the sand road. Ta Som was the first stop, an awesome semi-collapsed temple hidden in the jungle. Huge wooden struts hold up the walls and its big attraction is the giant tree which grows directly out of the far East entrance with Lord of the Rings style appeal. With few visitors the children here were extra active, and Felix & I quickly distributed a round of sweets in an attempt to escape. F was lured by the challenge from a 7-year-old to a game of noughts and crosses, which he promptly lost and a $1 fine was demanded.


Dark clouds gathered as we arrived at Preah Neak Poan and the wind whipped through the trees, forcing us to dodge a hail of branches, leaves and insects falling from the sky. This peaceful water temple is reached by a long boardwalk which passes over scenic marshland and a lake before entering a tree-framed tunnel leading to the pools. The wind had even cleared the traders and beggars so we were quite literally the only people at the temple. A long wooden barrier blocks entry to the temple itself but with no one to police the area we slipped between the fence panels and had an independent tour, snapping a few quick pictures before the park attendant returned. A fallen tree trunk was too tempting not to strike a surf pose on the way out.


Preah Khan is the jewel in the Angkor crown (in my opinion), a vast sprawling temple oozing with rugged character that makes you feel as though you are the first to discover it hidden away in the jungle. I was in awe from my first glimpse of the stones and overgrown tree roots that rival Ta Prohm, and for the gamer within me it felt like I had walked straight into the Forest Temple from Zelda. There were no warning signs here so we took the opportunity to climb up the collapsed stone walls and take in the view from one of the ancient rooftops, before walking back to our chauffeur over the huge stone moat bridge.


We arrived at Phnom Bakeng in plenty of time to climb the hill paths and steps before the 1730 deadline when no further guests are allowed up to the top. The upper terrace commands breathtaking views over the West Baray lake and across the tree-covered temple complex, and the towers of Angkor Wat can be seen behind the elephant parking on the hill! Several monks had gathered on the terrace, and it was perhaps for this reason that a strict dress code had been enforced at the entrance - anyone wearing shorts above the knee (mainly girls) was practically forced to buy a scarf or hippy pants from the smug traders to gain entry. The storm clouds had fortunately bypassed Angkor and hit Siem Reap, however it was enough to ruin the final sunset moments as the sun was enveloped by the blackness on the horizon. We were ushered down the hill and into the waiting tuk tuks as darkness fell, and soon realised that our ride had neither lights nor horn!


I had a reverse fake tan when I got back to my room, standing in the shower watching as a head-to-toe layer of dark dust washed off and left me looking decidedly Caucasian. I felt embarrassed to wear my shorts again without a good scrub, so I put them on and walked back under the water jet for a travellers' wash & rinse cycle. Felix joined me on my balcony for a birthday beer and a game of cards before we headed out in search of a suitably decent celebratory meal. We were the only customers when we arrived at Avatar Palate for our second consecutive night and we were greeted with open arms. Our compliments and tip from last night had gone down extremely well, and we were waited on by an eager team of 7 staff (2 waiters, 2 barmen, 2 chefs and the maitre d'). The menus were unnecessary, we ordered exactly the same and it was phenomenal. We left to a series of bows and birthday wishes, and I finished the day with a birthday Skype session. It'll be hard to beat this on my 28th next year!


Posted by WorldWideWill 16:40 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Day XXIX: Temples of Angkor: Remorkable!

Angkor Wat and beyond...

sunny 39 °C
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NB. The temples at Angkor are nothing short of spectacular. In three days I took over 500 photos, wrote several pages of blog notes and felt very fortunate to be there. None of the guide books or magazine articles adequately prepared me for the experience and a personal blog will be no different for its readers. So please excuse the lack of specific details about the individual temples over these next few entries - this is something that needs to be experienced first-hand and my words could never do it justice.

Bleary eyed but excited we assembled at 5am sharp outside the hotel and our driver introduced us to our ride for the day, a cute little tuk-tuk or 'remork' made up of a motorbike towing a small roofed carriage behind it. Very nice indeed. We set off at a little-too-leisurely pace up the road to Angkor, and by the time we reached the ticket booths there were already deep red scars appearing in the sky. The ticket office is a little like a toll checkpoint on a motorway, with loads of tuk-tuks, minibuses and even mentalists who have decided to cycle queued up to purchase their passes. Felix & I jumped off our carriage while it was still moving and got straight to a booth in front of a giant coach-load of Japanese tourists, paid our $40 fee for the 3-day pass and were back in our seats within 5 minutes. As we turned the corner around the far edge of the temple complex, the orange sun reflected in the giant moat and our first sighting of Angkor Wat was a dark silhouette encircled by a river of fire. We were far from alone, the roads and paths into the temple were already packed with sunseeking tourists and we took a few photos from the outer walls before following the crowds inside for the main event.


By 6:30am the sun had risen over the temple and the masses that had gathered by the pool, fighting for the best position to capture that iconic photo, had dispersed. We took a seat at a cafe nearby and had an expensive banana pancake breakfast, then made the most of the empty grounds to explore before the daytime hoardes arrived. Zlatan had warned me in an earlier email that I may be underwhelmed by Angkor Wat, and he was right. Yes, it's a magnificent piece of architecture and its size is impressive, but walking around it feels like too much of a deja-vu after seeing it so well publicised all over the world. Nevertheless, we enjoyed walking the grounds with very few visitors around and two hours after arriving we arrived back at our tuk-tuk and patient driver and continued on the 'small circuit' route around the complex.

Next stop was the walled city of Angkor Thom, with the highly impressive Bayon temple. The 54 engraved stone towers that make up the temple each display four giant faces, so visitors are greeted by the intimidating stare of 216 pairs of ancient eyes. It was here that we were introduced to the first of the many 'children of Angkor' who roam the temples begging for money and sweets from the rich Westerners. This first boy was a little different to the ones we would meet later in the day, and showed us a hidden, steep stone staircase at the back of one of the old library structures that we climbed to get a decent photo viewpoint. Once we decided to leave he produced a laminated sign asking for donations to help with the local children's education. Having taken Dad's advice, I had packed a small stash of Bic biros for just such an occasion and handed one to the boy in place of the dollar he was expecting. He seemed happy enough, and we continued up the path to the smaller Baphuon temple and the intricately carved Terrace of the Elephants.


Back at the tuk-tuk and now in full light of day we were bombarded by traders and beggars. The grating sound of "Hallo sir, you wan buy cold drin? You wan mango? Two for one dollar..." from the female traders became very tiresome very quickly, but was still a welcome break from the hundreds of young children intent on selling packs of 10 postcards for a dollar. These children are all trained to say the exact same lines and put on a whinging voice (which soon disappears after they run back to their friends) as they walk beside you counting out each postcard and repeating "ten for one dollar... one dollar... one dollar..." Beyond power-walking, avoiding eye contact and in extreme cases shouting "shush!" we couldn't come up with a foolproof system to ward off their advances. When we arrived at Ta Prohm we found a solution: a rather stupid woman had sat herself against a wall and was producing mini packs of Oreos from her bag. The kids were all over her, and her futile attempts to control them allowed us to pass into the temple uninterrupted and with a plan to go shopping when we returned to town.

Ta Prohm is the 'Tomb Raider temple' that is famous for the giant trees that have taken over the stone walls, and Lonely Planet readers swarm to see "nature run riot", another annoyingly over-used part of their phraseology. It is quite spectacular to see the difference between the pristinely maintained Angkor Wat and this tumbledown mixture of rubble and overgrown tree roots, and it quickly became our favourite temple of the day. Our final stop was Banteay Kdei, another fascinating blend of man and nature where the tree roots run through the walls and stone paths like thick snakes and make the whole place come alive. The morning sun had by now reached its full intensity so most of the children here were fairly sedate, but two bold girls approached us and sat on the rocks opposite for a chat. We were blown away by their manners and their command of both French and English, and when they asked for chewing gum instead of money we gladly obliged and proceeded to be educated on the Khmer school system and the local temples.

Supiret, our driver, was fast asleep when we reached him but seemed grateful that we were ready to go back to town. The temperature had reached 39C and it felt like at least 2pm, yet when we stopped in Siem Reap for an iced tea the clock only showed 11am - 6 hours of temple hopping had taken its toll. We treated Supiret to a drink too, and he seemed more than happy to accept when we asked him to be our chauffeur the following day. With just enough energy we found our way to a little restaurant down a side street and I couldn't contain my excitement upon discovering a French baguette (real bread!) on the menu. It was an emotional sandwich and set the tone for a wonderfully chilled afternoon - I was too tired to fulfil my promise to visit Felix's hostel for a swim and a beer and opted for an afternoon nap and a movie (Hunger Games, had me sat on the edge of the bed for an hour!) instead.


Before Felix arrived for dinner I ventured out to the local minimart to purchase some birthday breakfast supplies, a very Cambodian experience as nothing was priced so I had to some several shuttle runs to the till before settling on a giant bag of muesli. Fortunately Felix shares my dislike for the tourist scene, and particularly the Western drinking scene so we skirted around 'Pub Street' a found a fantastic little Khmer restaurant on a small side road. It wasn't very busy, possibly due to slightly inflated prices, so we had very attentive service and the food was magnificent. Freshly made spring rolls with satay dip followed by vegetable roti cutlets and banana fritters, delicious - we sent our compliments to the chef who waved his thanks through the window, and our small tip was warmly received by the whole staff.

IMAG1225.jpg IMAG1226.jpg

We ended the night at one of the town's night markets, but after some unsuccessful haggling and being forced to join a dance to 'Gangnam Style' we went home for a long sleep.

Posted by WorldWideWill 11:06 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Day XXVIII: Same Same, But Different

Week number four, country number four!

sunny 38 °C
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I was a little too excited for a lazy lie-in today, and I don't exactly know why. Everything about Cambodia beyond the superficial Lonely Planet and National Geographic research was a mystery to me. Nevertheless, I was up and packed early and sat with my bag at Lucky Beer enjoying another fantastic fresh fruit muesli (no pineapple this time). While I waited for Charlie to join me I found a nice looking hotel in Siem Reap on my TripAdvisor app and pinged them an email to book three nights in a private room, and a free airport collection too.

My RV time with Charlie came and went, and picturing the likely embassy queues he'd be facing while getting his visa I grabbed some supplies and headed for the bus. I made a point of greeting the two travel agency girls by name, and was satisfied to hear that they had committed the Will Smith nickname to memory - this would surely become useful in a few weeks' time when booking day trips and our Chiang Mai transport. The bus arrived right on time and I left them with a message to say farewell and thanks to Charlie, it was a shame not to have said goodbye in person though.

I had the minibus entirely to myself so I spread out for the hour-long journey and tried to read up on the Angkor temples of Siem Reap. From what I could tell, there was lots to see and a single day pass into the complex wouldn't be enough so I made a mental itinerary around a 3-day pass and spent the rest of the journey trying to figure out how to get around the temples (bus? taxi? motorbike? tuk tuk? bicycle? walking?). Even though we had spent most of the hour sat in slow moving traffic we arrived at the airport bang on time, and I found it highly amusing (and rather efficient) that the traffic time had been so accurately calculated and factored into the journey estimate.

Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport is amazing. It's pretty much brand new, and so vast that the walk to my check-in desk left me out of breath! I was super early for my flight so took the opportunity to sit down and repack my bags, and while I worked I was approached and quizzed by a rep from the tourism office. My positive responses to her questionnaire were rewarded with a lovely little elephant magnet, and I was still smiling when I reached the desk and gave them my bag. It was impressive to see that my bag still weighed under 12kg (and worrying too, seeing as the jeans and fleece I'd worn on the last flight were now inside - I'd clearly left something heavy and important somewhere in Malaysia!), and my good mood was boosted even further when the check-in lady handed back my passport and wished me an early happy birthday! Relieved of the weight I sat down to try and get through the two large bottles of water that I'd bought (stupidly) with a strange lunch of fruit bread, crisps, nuts and an almond croissant. I'd hoped to have wifi to check my hotel booking but was told that the free internet access was on the far side of security. Bloated from downing three litres of mineral water I staggered through the metal detector and had a great hour on the immaculate departures side of the airport. I was surprised to see how well guarded the free wifi password was: only after registering your name were you given a blacked out payslip-style envelope containing the password. Bizarre.


Our plane was a cute little turboprop with no more than 80 seats and a cargo hold where the front passenger doors usually sit. Having asked for a seat with legroom I was annoyed and relieved to see that the plane was half empty and that the whole front row next to the exits was free. A friendly German guy came to sit next to me, but I was on a mission and moved forward before we could start a conversation. I greeted the steward with my best 'sawasdee krab' before remembering I was on a Cambodian plane and quickly sat down to read through the language section of Charlie's Cambodia guide. We were kept busy in the air with immigration cards and snack packs for the whole 50 minutes of the flight, and touched down in SIem Reap to a captain's announcement that it was 4pm local time and 38C outside.


We filed into the immigration hall and there was a flurry of activity as everyone grabbed a visa application form and fought for a pen and space on the writing desks. I was one of the few super organised passengers and made it to the front of the visa queue with my form, passport photo and $20 fee in hand. The visa desk is a daunting sight, a long wooden semi-circular desk with no less than 15 uniformed officials sat behind it. Once you have handed in your passport at the far left end you make your way to the far right man and wait for your application to pass along the bench through the different stages of approval. While I waited I was approached by Felix, the German from the plane, who asked if I would share transport into town with him. I agreed, having not heard from my hotel about my booking, and we passed through passport control (with our new giant visas) to collect our bags. It seemed we were the only ones without onward transport, and after a long and overly hopeful wait to see if either of our hotels was sending a car (plus a failed attempt to convince a jolly tuk tuk driver that one of us was the 'Emma Freeman' on his sign) we split a $7 taxi into Siem Reap.


I decided to abandon my plans to stay at the Golden Temple Villa, assuming the email had never arrived, and joined Felix as he checked into the Siem Reap hostel only to find that they were fully booked. I rang Golden Temple and received the same news, and this was repeated at the next three hotels nearby. In desperation I even tried the 4-star lodge down the road but they had no rooms, but I was touched when they allowed me to sit down in their posh lobby to check my guide book and then brought me a cup of chilled jasmine tea. In the end I settled on a previous recommendation, Shadow of Angkor Guest House, and paid the jolly tuk tuk man (who had since found the real Emma Freeman) a dollar to take me there. I expected to be turned away again, so was happily surprised when the lovely receptionist man took me up to a private ensuite double room overlooking the river with a hot shower, air con, private balcony, mini-fridge and TV. I said I'd take it, relieved to find somewhere to lie down and more than happy to pay the $20-a-night rate to have a little luxury for my birthday week.


Running low on currency after the visa purchase I went straight into town in search of a Canadia Bank ATM (apparently the only one that doesn't charge a fee). I instantly fell in love with Siem Reap town, with its French colonial buildings and its wide tree-lined streets. There was a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere to the place, a welcome break from the noise and stress of Bangkok. My card was rejected when I finally reached the machine, and an emergency message exchange with Dad discovered that the Caxton card system had crashed leaving me with no money to pay for my room or (worse) my Angkor ticket. I arranged to settle the room bill when I checked out and eventually managed to withdraw enough cash to get me through the first day.


I'd given Felix my email address and we arranged to meet up after some dinner to discuss sharing a ride around the temples. I ate at the first place I could find and had my first experience of the strange 'US dollar only' culture. I ordered the all-you-can-eat veg fried rice for $2.50, paid with a $5 bill and received $2 and 2000 riel as change. Odd place.


We sat poring over the temple map on the terrace of my hotel, and having established that the nice man at reception could book us a tuk tuk for the day at a good price we called him over to help us make a plan. He gave us a detailed 3-day itinerary, explained how the tickets worked and advised the best places to see at sunrise and sunset. We were suitably impressed and told him to go ahead and book a tuk tuk for us, asking if the driver would speak English as well as him. He seemed confused and we soon realised that he was going to take us himself, being a licensed Angkor driver as his second job! It all seemed too easy, but I felt like karma was on my side and we arranged to meet our guide in the lobby at 5am to go up to Angkor Wat for sunrise.

Posted by WorldWideWill 22:32 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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