Location: Phu Quoc, Vietnam
What a day we've had! Got up early this morning so we could go for a bike ride before it got too hot.
Set off for the north-west of the island - got lost several times on the way out of the village (no road names) - finally found our way but the roads were so bad we got nowhere fast.
We ended up covering half the distance we'd intended to, and it took us twice as long. The road is really bumpy, and as our bike has almost no suspension left, we felt every bump! Our poor bums!
We crossed some pretty hairy bridges too - slats of wood, none of which seemed to be joined to anything!! By 11.30am we found a cafe and stopped for a well deserved cold drink - and decided it was time to head back to our resort before it got too hot - but then disaster struck around midday (sods law - midday heat!!!) - and we got a puncture.
We knew it had happened as the back of the bike started skidding around in the gravel - thank god we weren't on a corner. By this point we were 3km's from the nearest village - and weren't really sure what to do. The bike couldn't cope with 2 of us on it, so I offered to sit by road while Andy went for help - or to start walking the 3km's while he went ahead on the bike. We decided that neither of these were a good idea, so just started pushing the bike together towards the village. Shortly after a lovely couple, saw us, turned round and helped us out. They took me on their bike, and went slow so Andy could keep us - and directed us to where we could get the puncture fixed. Lovely lovely people. Neither of us had a clue what they were saying though. (Note to self - must learn to say "thank you" in Vietnamese)
Got the puncture repaired within 30 minutes and it cost less than $3. How cheap is that. The inner tube had been punctured and repaired before by the looks of it!
So its an evening of relaxation for us now - well deserved I think. We're also nearly out of English reading material as everyone here is German - so we may go to another resort and swap our books for theirs!!
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Its another scorcher here today in Phnom Penh. We were up early-ish and headed out to a market. After getting past all the (hundreds) of tuk-tuk and moto-taxi drivers, which is an ordeal in itself, we set off on our walk. Only took us 15 minutes I think till we found the market. It was a huge circular building in the middle of the road, so we nipped in to get out of the sun.
Most of the market turned out to be food stalls inside, lots of different types and cuts of meat, just hanging from hooks in the heat (covered in flies). Mmmm nice. There was also lots of stinky dried fish - mmm also nice!
Didn't hang around too long - set off in the direction of the river for some breakfast, found a busy little place, sat down - no menu. Girl said noodles - we said okay, I got beef and Andy got pork - and it was very very good!! Very impressed! Now we're escaping the midday heat in an internet place. (Ps - we have discovered a restaurant whose claim to fame is that they do not serve Cat, Dog or Rat - and have to admit that on several occasions we've not been convinced by the meat we've had)
Can't decide what to do for the rest of the day, we're considering going to the killing fields, or just chillin............Will let you know what we did next time.................
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Nice slow start today, and then decided to go to S-21, a Khmer Rough detention centre from the Pol-pot Regime. It was an old school which had been turned into a detention centre from 1975 - 1978. Each room had a rusty metal bed in it, and a gruesome photograph on the wall. Above each door was a picture of a person laughing with a cross across their mouth - I can't believe anyone would dare to laugh here.
There were also survivors stories/family stories (although less than a dozen people that went to S-21 survived over the 3 years), and also the point of view of the guards forced to interrogate the prisoners.
They also have skulls on display from the mass graves discovered around the centre, some with bullet holes, but mostly cracked skulls, as they were trying to save their bullets. I don't think Andy and I even spoke for the 2 hours we were there - it was very chilling.
From the S-21 museum we walked to the Russian Market, lots of fake Gap and Nike products, but it was really really hot, so didn't hang around long.
In the evening we headed to the Sisoway Quay, by the river, and had Happy Herb Pizza for dinner, not sure we felt the effects - but there you go. How much Happy Herb can you have on a pizza that costs $3 anyway??
Location: Siam Reap to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Sad to be leaving today, we've really enjoyed Siam Reap. We had breakfast at the guest house before our bus arrived. We wanted to have rice but they didn't have any on the menu for breakfast, so we had a greasy baguette with cheese spread - yuck!!. Rice is definitely the way to go for breakfast, without a doubt.
Our bus was late, and when it arrived the bus driver shouted at us to hurry up!! How rude. Bus journey was fairly uneventful, and no break downs which was great. Arrived in Phnom Penh around 4pm and it was a real shock to the system. Tuk-tuk drivers and moto-taxi drivers crowd the bus door as you are getting off and try to get your business, and the roads are soooo busy. You just have to walk out and the motorbikes and cycles go around you. We'll get better at this with practice I'm sure.
We stayed in a guest house near the bus stop, got settled in, and even treated ourselves to a TV in the room. Bit naughty budget wise, but there you go.
Headed out later that evening around 9pm (took 5 minutes to get past touts) and the streets were almost deserted compared to earlier, but we found some food stalls a couple of streets away, and shared a rice dish (no idea what kind of meat it was) , which cost 75c - how cheaps that. Great stuff!
Location: Temple Time!, Cambodia
8 more temples planned for today, with a later start though!
1 - First off was Bayon, within Angkor Thom which was built in the late 12th Century, and is a mass of face-towers to create a stone mountain of ascending peaks. Bayon has gone through lots of changes and additions, so it feels a bit crowded once inside with its different levels - it felt like Labyrinth to me! Great film.
2 - Terrace of Elephants - does exactly what it says on the tin. A Terrace full of elephant carvings, and their trunks are like the pillars to hold it up!
3 - Terrace of the Leper King - this terrace is named after the 15th century sculpture that was discovered on top.
4 - Baphuon - This was built in 1060, and has 5 tiers altogether although is mostly overgrown. The French undertook the task of taking it apart carefully and numbered all the stones so that they could put it back together again. However during the Pol-pot regime all the plans they had made were destroyed and lost, so its a slow process putting it back together. Kind of like a giant jigsaw. We didn't bother going in.
5 - Pre Khan - By this point, all the temples seem like 1, so forgive me if I don't remember everything. Pre Khan was built around 1191 as is similar to Ta Prohm although much bigger. We arrived at the same time as 60 Japanese coach tourists. Bad timing, but still a great temple. It even had a 2 level building with round columns instead of square which is very unusual!
6 - Pre Neak Pean - Neak Pean is an unusual small monument, a cruciform arrangement of ponds with a sanctuary tower in the middle. At its centre is the main pond, with 4 smaller ponds joined to it at a lower level. The water flows from the centre pond into the lower ponds through the mouths of a lion, an ox, a horse and an elephant. Would have been great if there had been any water in the ponds!
7 - Ta Som - This temple is from the late 12th century, and very similar toTa Prohm as it has lots of face towers. Its also overgrown, with lots of tree roots strangling the building - very Tomb Raider!
8 - Pre Rup - This was one of the oldest temples we visited, and also the last. It was also one of the most amazing. The architecture was very different due to the fact that they'd used lots of smaller bricks for this temple. It was also similar in shape to Angkor Wat with its 5 towers. We climbed all the way to the top in the heat - phew!
Location: Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The alarm woke us at 4.30am, we were to be at Angkor Wat by sunrise, 5.30am. Our tuk-tuk chauffeur was sleeping in the hut in front of the guest house, a swift kick from one of his fellow drivers and he was ready for action. The Cambodian roads are dangerous at the best of times, but when the driver is half asleep and using one hand to smoke his breakfast cigarette, it is even more un-nerving. Luckily we were too tired to care.
The first destination was the most famous, Angkor Wat. We arrived in darkness, walked across the moat and through the gatehouse. There were a surprising number of people, even at this time of day. We found a place to rest, inside of the perimeter wall, where we could see the famous five peaks of the temple come into sight as the sun gently lit up this ancient world. We watched the temple for a while, then moved to one of the libraries in front of the main temple, where we watched the sky and temple change colour for a little longer.
We made our way up to the temple to the first set of steps, we would come to learn that the architects like very steep and tall staircases which simulate climbing a symbolic mountain. Steep, well-worn, 1000year old steps and blazing heat will be the theme of the next two days ! The outer circuit of the temples walls reveal some amazing bas reliefs, these are stories carved into the long stone walls. Each one has important religious context, but the meaning is often blurred as these buildings were used and adapted by many generations of people, following different kings and religions. God-king sons will often attempt to erase some evidence of their fathers reign to strengthen their own image. Vandalism dating back as far as the 16th century can be seen at some sites, removal of certain images, or corruption of stories to suit new beliefs.
I could write pages and pages about the many amazing sights of Angkor Wat and the surround temples, but I think the pictures will describe it better. I also believe that, although it sounds cliché, word really cant do it justice. In many instances the camera struggled to capture the sheer size and presence of the buildings, carvings, statues and grounds. I will write an itinerary of our tour and attempt to label the photos accordingly, and will list any highlights that I can remember from that particular Temple.
The most famous of the temples, we spent four hours here. We enjoyed the upper levels of the temple more than the lower. The early morning start made the climbing more enjoyable, and the stonework has a very different feel in the early morning light. We couldnt believe how much wed seen by 8.30am ! The view from the opposite side of the lake, with the peaks reflected in the water was beautiful. Grabbed a bit of breakfast here too. Greeting used to rice for brekky, it beats the Cambodian attempts at a genuine western breakfast ! As the morning progressed the temple became busier, unfortunately you can find yourself having to rush ahead or hang back to stay detached from big tour groups. It was generally possible to find a part of the temple that few or no other people were in at that time. We came back to Angkor Wat for the sunset, but were not allowed to climb to the highest level due to the danger from the climb down in the dark after sunset. We saw sunset over the lake in front of the library instead.
Through the south gate of Angkor Thom.
The bridge leading to the gate is made from statues of gods in a tug of war, with a sea serpent as the rope.
Through the Victory Gate. Passed five (real, not stone) galloping elephants, complete with headdresses and riders. I never knew they could move so fast.
This temple has no adornments or carvings as it was never finished. It is a complete structure, but lacks the refinement of the finished temples, which have every surface covered in carvings, statues and reliefs. It is still very interesting though, as the engineering and craftsmanship involved in the basic building blocks of the structure are more evident.
Ta Prohm This temple has been left in much the same way as the first western explorers found it. There is some sympathetic restoration, to prevent any more collapse and a little of the vegetation has been cut back. This was the one I was looking forward to and it did not disappoint. It was entirely possible to climb over the rubble and through into semi-collapsed rooms and courtyards, leaving the mass tourism behind (if only for a couple of minutes). There were some excellent photo ops, and plenty of Indiana Jones moments !
A temple similar in style to Ta Prohm, but larger and less ruined.
A man made lake that was filled some 900 years ago.
Cambodia is a very flat country and its heart is dominated by a lake which swells to three times its normal size once every year. This resource has helped to sustain the country through its many generations. The people of Angkor used this water to create lakes, fountains and waterways. These were built to symbolise the universe itself, the primordial ocean surrounding the five mountainous peaks referred to in Khmer mythology, placing the shrines of the gods at the summit of these peaks (the towers that are obvious in all of the temples). These massive hydro-engineering projects are less imposing, but equally impressive as the temples themselves.
Location: Siam Reap, Cambodia
Last night was the best night's sleep ever! We're up and out by 9.30am, and we got what was like a horse drawn carriage, attached to the back of a motorbike into the centre of town. We're very surprised by Siam Reap, I think there is a fair bit of money here from all the tourists that visit Angkor Wat. Lots and lots of bars and restaurants. There's a bar called the butterfly bar that we're going to pop to on the way home, where you are surrounded by butterflies. - Cool huh. There is also a company called Ecstatic Pizza, where you can get a hash pizza, but don't think we'll try this as we're going to be getting up at 5.30am tomorrow morning to start visiting temples for sunrise.
Location: Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia
Arrived at the guest house late this evening, about 10pm, after having left Bangkok at around 8am. We knew the bus journey was going to take a while, as its a bit of a scam, but it was cheap - so ho hum. 6gbp for the whole trip.
Basically they make the journey take longer than it should, so that by the time you arrive and they drop you at their guest house, you're so tired and dirty that you don't want to search around. Pretty clever idea if you ask me!! If only you could do that in Edinburgh!
We had a nice air conditioned bus from Bangkok to the border, then we walked through the border (signs showed pictures for pedestrians and carts - rather than pedestrians and car). They dropped us off at a restaurant for lunch while our passports were processed (again spending money at their chosen restaurant) - then after the border we were all loaded onto a smaller bus, with no air con, so we had to keep the windows open. They put us on the bus, then chucked our bags in, which filled up the aisle of the bus (so you had to crawl over them). The roads from this point on were shocking, but again we were expecting this, so no nasty surprises. The lonely planet refers to this drive as the Boulevard of Broken Backsides, and alledgedly a large international airline pays a political party an undisclosed sum each year to ensure the road is not improved, so that people choose to fly to Phnom Penh and get a bus from there. We also broke down twice on the drive, adding an extra 30 minutes to the journey. While we stopped, some people used the opportunity to go to the bathroom (the field), although you're advised not to stray far from the road edge incase of landmines - I just held it!
Anyways, we arrived late covered in red dust, Andy actually looked like he had ginger hair! We took the room at the guest house we were dropped off. (Is a scam a scam if you know its happening?). We got an air-con room for slightly cheaper than normal, but we are a little distance outside of the centre of Siam Reap, but we get free travel by motorbike to and from the centre from the guest house, and everyone is really friendly.
Yesterdays journey took 14 hours all in all, and although it was pretty shitty, it was an experience which I'm glad we did. We got to see more of the countryside as well - most of the houses are wooden and on stilts with palm leaf roof's. And dogs everywhere!!
Watched a video on Angkor Wat, had a couple of beers and then it was off to bed for us.