Off to Siem Reap to see all the temples. Caught a bus up to save time, although a more lengthy trip to get out into the country a bit more would have been good. Might have to save it for another trip! Stopped about halfway for a break and checked out one of the roadside stands. Coming across a large dish of an initially unidentifiable substance, I took a closer look and only when I got to a range of about six inches did I realise that it was piled with the local delicacy, fried crickets! Brrr...Mind you, to the locals, a Western Districts special of 'cheese, chips 'n gravy' probably gives the same reaction.
Another cool little guest house run by a mate of the Boss, there places are great! Everything you want for about $12-$15 USD per night. Perhaps we were tempted by the sign out the front promising all day happy hour. Nah, that not like me...
Temple trekking, took the three day pass option. Totally friggin amazing. Really blows you away to think that when the Khmer had a city of 1 million people up there, London population was about 35,000! Absolutely incredible. Went through the Angkor Thom gate and surrounding area, the Bayon etc. Amazing to see the there are still so many Buddhist shrines being used here. We got talking to one old guy (all the monks come up and try out their English on you) about soccer, as Martin was sporting a Arsenal shirt. Blew us away when he started rattling off all the teams and when they would be playing over the next week! All the kids mob you as well selling postcards/t-shirts and the like. The amazing thing was how many of them spoke good English, and had practised phrases from various countries. I was accosted by a girl who couldnt have been any older than 8, she asked what country I came from. On replying "Australia", she shot back "Ah, Sinadee" (Sydney), "G'day mate!" I was floored. Martin got one as well with the same question. His reply "Ireland" generated the comeback "Top of the morning"! Watching these kids go around the crowd, it seemed that had the Aussies, Poms, Yanks, and Irish all sorted! We laughed like hell and bought lots of stuff we didn't really need in appreciation.
Ta Prohm, the temple still left with a lot of trees covering it, is a mind blower. Some of these trees are 400 years old apparently, and growing on top of walls/buildings etc. Many of the walls have fallen in, but been left amongst the jungle, so it gives a real feeling of what it must have been like to be the first ones to discover these temples again. I was somewhat wary of reptiles through!
Round and round a heap of the temples, but Angkor Wat is the big one. We got there at sunrise and it is amazingly spectacular. The sheer scale of the thing is enormous, the outer wall is something like a kilometre square, that doesn't include the moat! Upper tower is about 175ft tall, so truly impressive. Less impressive was nearly heat stroking myself by climbing to the top a bit too quickly for my own good. Getting the death wobbles on the top of that thing is not recommended. We did find though that the good thing about going in the peak hottest time, was that it cuts down of the tourists dramatically. Some place we went, you could walk around with nary another person in sight. Great to kick back and chill out, reflecting on the civilization that built all this.
Left the coast and made our way back up to Phnom Penh, didn't quite live and die a thousand deaths in the traffic this time, probably because we were too hungover (as per previous post!). Dragged ourselves to another guesthouse in the city, luckily or unluckily the drivers all know where it is. The reason being that the owners (American) decided to go with the Foghorn Leghorn theme (picture and all) and call the place the Red Rooster Hotel. Unfortunately, the locals naturally translate this into the big red cock. Hmmm......
Travelled around the city, man! And I thought the traffic was nuts down on the coast! Very funny when you see a whopping great roundabout (5 lanes) with cars and bikes whizzing around, with one old guy in the middle of it pulling along his rickshaw (and trying to get off). Did a lot of shopping in the markets, absolutely fantastic. The wet markets are certainly something different and I have never seen anyone skin a fish with a 18" cleaver. He still had all his fingers, so I suppose he was pretty good at it. Or just lucky.
Onwards onwards, ducked into the Royal Palace for a gander. Never seen so much gold/precious stones in my life. Course the French colonial building smack in the middle of it (a gift from Napoleon) is a bit of a culture clash, but never mind. Whole complex probably covers about 20 acres, is absolutely massive and still used today amazingly. The second half of the day, I rode down to the Killing Fields, more taken there by my guide rather than any burning desire to go and see a place where thousands of people died. It is a freaky place, much history, but still a very grim spot. It is interesting to see as a place to measure how far they have come, but it was very sobering.
Finally seem to have survived the Khmer New Year. Apparently, the old celebrations used to include having water sprinkled on you by monks to bring on the wet season, but the modern version has evolved into something a bit different! Now, it's basically all out water fights for the whole weekend, with the tourists often being worse than the locals. Can be dangerous if you are riding on your bike/moto etc and catch a full 5L bucket of water in the face as you cruise past. Never mind, at least you dry quick.
Have spent a fair bit on time on the beaches which are fantastic. Being full of bars/restaurants right on the water helps! Very cruisey when you can get tables and chairs right out on the sand, while catching you own fish out of a tank for lunch. Great food here, we had a beaut afternoon at a floating restaurant on a river where you are out on pontoons watching the local go past. Very few westerners know about it, so very interesting. Even the cops turned up for a picnic (machine guns and all).
Have been dragged through just about every bar in Sihanoukville (oh what a shame), the prices of debauchery is amazing (given that our biggest day/night out cost Martin & I about $65 AUD in drinks (the tab totalled 43 rums between us before the boss tried to commit murder by breaking out the vodka shots). I wonder if liver replacements are cheap here...
Location: Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Saturday morning, flew into Phnom Penh, ran the gauntlet of customs officials and met up with the Boss and his taxi. Took a deep breath of the humidity and was just thinking it was not all that bad (because the body clock said it was early afternoon), but then gulped on the realisation that it was about 9:00 in the morning. Holy hell! Serves me right for going in April. Never mind, Martin the Irishman & I piled into John's taxi and pulled out for the Coast. Immediate heart attack on the main road and realisation of why John grinned when he offered me the suicide seat on getting in the car. There is something disconcerting about driving down a main road in the city with oncoming traffic passing you on both sides and having to dodge cows as well. Dunno, maybe it is just me!
Got down to the coast having had many stops for beer on the way. Traffic was crazy (even by local standards) on account of the Khmer New Year where everyone in the capital bails out and goes to the Coast. Got to our guest house, droped off all the gear and picked up our moto drivers which would cart us around for the next few days. As Martin has never been on a motorbike before, I was somewhat amused as his white knuckle posture until I nearly got wiped out by someone cutting in behind me at an intersection. Resolved to drink more so maybe I would not notice that you appear to dice with being death and dismemberment by setting foot (or wheel) on the street.
Went up to a small temple on top of the hill overlooking the whole coastline and the dozens of islands. Amazing place with very little development, although it seems to be coming fast now. Back to John's bar for the night (very handy to have a host owning a bar), got somewhat legless with assorted Germans, Americans (locals in this case), Poms and Swedes (as well as the bar staff!). Had to make a strange adjustment of drinking beer on the rocks in most places. That's right, beer on ice! Combination of so friggin hot and not much refrigation. Most unusual. Of course, this generally means you have to drink quicker to prevent dilution of the beer, but what's the problem? Bring on the morning!