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Our 1st Impressions of SE Asia and Cambodia
Rating : ( 4.8 )

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Jul 08, 2003 03:31

Pros: historical place, beautiful temples
Cons: tiring

We last wrote our diary in Sri Lanka and we’re now at the end of our 3 week stay in Cambodia, we head to Vietnam tomorrow morning (an 8 hour bus journey across the border to Ho Chi Minh City). But first back to our last 2 days in Sri Lanka…….
Fri 20th June – We head by bus to Matara (the nearest big town down the coast to Mirissa) to send a parcel back to the UK. This contained our purchases and travel guides from India and Sri Lanka and all the excess clothes that we found we don’t need and take up too much space in the backpacks! We buy a couple of gifts for Jerome (our driver) and his wife as we plan to go to their house for tea tomorrow before our flight. After spending hours on the internet writing our diary we arrive at the post office to find the parcel desk is closed and we have to return tomorrow. Luckily we are able to persuade an official looking guy behind the desk to keep it safe for us till tomorrow so we don’t have to cart it back on the packed bus.

Sat 21st June – After packing up once again we leave our beach side retreat for another sardine packed bus trip to Matara. At the post office we spend almost an hour displaying the contents of our parcel to the whole post office (!), wrapping it up securely and filling out the forms in triplicate (naturally!). We are told the 10kg parcel will take about 6 weeks to arrive back in Bolton, fingers crossed it does! Dash to the train station only to have to wait over an hour for it to depart. Once in Colombo we decide to get the bus direct to the airport for our 1.30am flight to Singapore and miss our trip to Jerome’s (Oh no! What will we do with the 2 bottles of wine, the sponge cake and Jaffna mangoes we bought for him??).

Sun 22nd June – At 10am we arrive at Siem Reap Airport, Cambodia. Spend ages bartering with the taxi driver to take us into the town. End up in a guesthouse of our choice (instead of one of the ones he tried to take us to!) and crash out, as we’ve not slept in 30hrs. Late afternoon we wander into town and find ourselves a guesthouse closer to the action! We both feel very happy with our surroundings and have a good feeling that we’ll enjoy our time in Cambodia (plus we get free peanuts with our beer!).

Mon 23rd June – Lazy day all round once we had moved to our new home; Orchidea Guesthouse which has hammocks in the courtyard and cheap food and beer! Decide to tour the Angkor temples over the next 3 days.

Tues 24th June – Meet our tuk-tuk driver (Sok Pao) early to set off to the temples. First stop is “Angkor Wat” which is the most famous and most impressive. After spending most of the morning there we head to another favourite “Bayon” and some others within “Angkor Thom” before climbing to the top of “Phnom Bakheng” to watch the sunset.

Wed 25th June – Early start again we visit a load more temples but our favourite is “Ta Prohm” which is in the middle of the jungle and left pretty much as it was discovered. Some of the stone has been ravaged over the years by the 200 + yr old tree roots which have entwined themselves within the temple walls. We make another trip to “Angkor Wat” in the afternoon to see it in different light. Eat out at one of the street side canteens for a dollar each and watch “Tomb Raider” with the locals, which coincidentally features some of the Angkor temples we’ve just visited!

Thurs 26th June – We head further out to the Roulos temples (about 15km out of Siem Reap) down some narrow, bumpy, sandy tracks where we have to get out at regular intervals to push! Sok Pao gets us lost on the way to “Prasat Prei Monti” but persuades us it’s worth the wait…….. when we eventually arrive there we have a slightly different opinion! Return earlier than the previous 2 days because we are templed out and recover in the hammock before having a blowout in the evening. Go to “Caf? Indochine” for Happy hour (mix of coconut peanuts & green peas!) before eating at “The Red Piano” where we have whisky and wine, a real treat!

Fri 27th June – Wake at 5.15am to get a pick-up to Battambang. Get to the pick-up stand for 6.15am only to find we drive round Siem Reap touting for other passengers until 8.30am. The cost for the 220km journey is a massive $3 each but we have to endure a 6hr trip with 16 other adults and 7 children in the back of an open pick-up truck. The are a little bumpy to say the least and we arrive in Battambang, bright orange from the road dust and extremely sore! To avoid the touts M heads off to find some accommodation while L guards the bags. We end up at the Royal Hotel which is right next to the central market and the room has cable TV and fridge all for $5/night! Stock up the fridge at the nearby booze shop and head back now orange AND soaked to the skin due to the torrential down pour. Decide we deserve to crack open Jerome’s wine………

Sat 28th June – Still exhausted from yesterdays traumatic journey we rest in the room and watch TV. Manage a walk around town in the afternoon and both have our haircut, M at a proper barbers with cut-throat razor and L at the hairdressers; where she has to choose her new style from a pile of 80’s magazines! Sink a few beers on the balcony before eating at the hotel rooftop restaurant.

Sun 29th June – Had breakfast in bed as a Sunday morning treat and book onto tomorrows bus to Phnom Penh. M trims L’s hair to make up for the damage done (now have 1 inch fringe and elfin cut!). As you’ve probably gathered there’s not much to do in Battambang and was the pick-up journey really worth it?? Watch a fantastic thunder and lightning storm from the balcony and settle down to watch “Harry Potter”!

Mon 30th June – Up early to get our 7.30 bus to Phnom Penh complete with front seats, bumpy roads, loud horn and Cambodian karaoke! 4hrs later we arrive at “Capitol Guesthouse 3” which has a cheap caf? attached. Spend the afternoon visiting the Laos Embassy, walking around the main streets and sights and finding the Royal Guesthouse for when we return in a week’s time.

Tues 1st July – Catch our 7.15 bus to Sihanoukville (on the South West coast) and arrive at this coastal town to pouring rain! After deciding to stay instead of catching the next bus back (!) we find a hotel in downtown and walk in the rain down to the beach. Eat out at “Bamboo Light Caf?”, which is run by a Sri Lankan guy from Kandy, where we opt for the “Eat as much as you like” Sri Lankan curry buffet, yum!

Wed 2nd July – Walk to Weather Station Hill and Victory Beach to check out the accommodation options there, as the downtown area is very limited for cheap eats. Find a caf? where we have lunch for $2 so we’re already happier here. Decide on a guesthouse which offers to pick us up in the morning. For a change we have some Western style food at “Mick & Craigs” and return to the hotel to catch up on Wimbledon.

Thurs 3rd July – Arrive at “Mealy Chanda” Guesthouse, eat at “Rose’s Place” then head down to the beach welcomed by blazing hot sun! Get chatting to Wendy from Holland and after the beach we decide to call in for a drink at “Bungalow Village” where her and Dan (NZ boyfriend) are staying. Meet another couple, Helen (UK) and Ronnie (Aussie) and we all get on like a house on fire! Find out Ronnie & Helen are taking the same route as us through Vietnam & Laos so we’ll probably see them along the way.

Fri 4th July – Go down to the beach again to top the tans up. Stop off for a drink again with t’others before heading back to the ranch. Eat at “Rose’s Place” and play cards until late. This traveling larks pretty tough!
Sat 5th July – Decide to hire a scooter today and head to the waterfalls 10kms away. After numerous digs in the ribs M has mastered the art of scooter riding!? Can you tell L is writing this?? Set off towards Ream National Park but after ? km we hit a rain storm and decide to turn back. Visit Sihanoukville mountain and its temple before being rained off and going for lunch. In the afternoon we drive around the outskirts of town and the other beaches. L phones home and we watch the women’s final.

Sun 6th July – Return the bike first thing. Call in to see t’others as we’d planned a trip to a nearby island by local fishing boat but the rain and the cost make us decide against it. The rain prevents us from doing much until late afternoon when we have our last trip to the beach. Have our last drinks at “Bungalow Village” and decide to eat there too. The French owner has made fresh profiteroles on the menu so we treat ourselves! Yummy! Say our goodbyes to Dan & Wendy and Ronnie & Helen follow us up to watch the men’s final at “The Corner Bar”. Miss most of it cos we’re too busy talking. Say our goodbyes.

Mon 7th July (Happy Birthday Rach!) – Leave Sihanoukville as we find it (pouring down!) and get to Phnom Penh at 5pm where we check into the Royal Guesthouse then head straight out down to the quayside and eat at a Thai restaurant.

Tues 8th July – We take a city tour organised by the “Royal”. A car takes us first to “S21” where we spend a moving 3hrs. S21 (originally a high school) was a detention centre run by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1978 where 10,000 people were interrogated, tortured, raped and imprisoned in barbaric circumstances. The prisoners all took their final journeys to the “Killing Fields” where we visited next to see the skulls of the victims stacked in a glass fronted temple. The remains of the victims were unearthed in 1980 from 86 mass graves over only 1 square km. Very moving experience for us both. On a lighter note we continue the tour with a trip to the Russian market and “Wat Phnom”. Back at the “Royal” they are showing the “Killing Fields” film made in the 80’s so we sit in the bar and watch that (just to cheer us up!). Eat at the cheap Khmer restaurant next door and catch up on the diary.

Hope everything is ok back home and you are all well.
Lots of love, L&M