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June 6th – Day 18 – Temples, Facials and Flames

After yesterdays amazing temple experience at Angkor Wat and Bayon, we had another early start (this time at a leisurely 7am!) to go explore the famous Ta Prohm temple – made famous in the recent Tomb Raider movies.

The 7am start actually meant we could get breakfast in the hotel before the adventure – which was great because we headed out for almost 4 hours of temple exploring!  More temple photos follow:

Once we reached the end of the temple adventure, we all agreed we were ‘templed out’ and headed back to the hotel.  I needed to grab a little more cash to get through the last few bits and pieces, so I walked down the street to the ATM – around a 5 minute walk – but in 35c heat that was far enough! We’d been so lucky with the weather during the whole trip – it hardly rained at all, despite the ominous forecasts before we departed.  But the trade off for this was the humidity – the pre-rainy season is particularly humid and we regularly had 90-100% humidity and 35c temperatures on this trip – and believe me, 1000 year old temples aren’t air conditioned!

I decided to make use of the complimentary massage voucher we were given when we checked into the hotel and upgraded it to a package deal including a facial and oil massage, as an end of holiday treat.  I’ve never had a facial before, but hey – i’ll try anything once! It was actually quite a weird experience – particularly being left alone in the room with tomato slices on my face, and tomato juice dripping down into my eye.  Not sure that’s part of the usual experience, but it was interesting for sure!

Our next planned activity was at 5pm, so there was a bit of remaining time after the massage – I grabbed a small snack and beer by the swimming pool, then headed to my room to pack.  The trip is coming to an end, so I can be brutal with my packing – not sure I really needed 3 rain jackets, or 3 packs of suncream! I’m a chronic overpacker, so i’m quite impressed to have stayed under 14kg the whole trip.

At 5 we met as a group for one last organised activity, and headed into the Siem Reap town centre for a sort of farewell dinner.  Dek had arranged a private transfer for us with the hotels transport, but they got kind of lost and he ended up having to get out and get directions to get us to the place we’d booked.

Dinner was at Genevieve’s – a small locally run restaurant which is owned and run by an ex-pat Australian called Phil who welcomed us and was working the room talking to all the tables throughout dinner.  On the back of the menu is the story of Genevieve’s, and it was really interesting to read how it came to be.  The place is the second best reviewed restaurant in Siem Reap, and rightly so – the food was amazing! I ordered a Khmer curry (and spring rolls – because I hadn’t had enough on this trip !!) – which was wonderful, but did remind me very much of the Yellow curry I had cooked way back in Chiang Mai, which felt like a lifetime ago.

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Khmer Curry

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Angkor beer – one last time

Once dinner was done with, we jumped in tuktuks to head to our final G-adventures activity – a performance by the brilliant Cambodian Circus company, Phare.  The Cambodian Circus company runs an education program for underprivileged children in Cambodia and have well over 1200 students, training them in conventional education subjects as well as Circus skills – and over 150 of their students have subsequently progressed to become professional circus performers.

We made our way through the small Phare Boutique – where they had local handicrafts at fairly high prices.  Initially I dismissed this, but I spotted a Bayon head made of recycled paper which I really really liked, and ended up going back and paying way above the odds for it – but since the money goes towards the education program, I don’t feel bad about that!  There are definitely worse things I could have spent my money on (like facials with sliced tomato!)

The show itself was mesmerising – really high standard circus in an intimate venue.  The show only lasted an hour, but everyone in the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy it and at the end, the cast came on stage for photo opportunities and donations.

And so ended our tour – we made our way back to the hotel, and arranged to meet as a group one final time at 8am before my tuktuk to the airport (my flight is first to depart).  It’s flown by, but also, it’s been way too short – there’s so much more to see in these amazing countries!

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My bag still closes!

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June 5th -Day 17 – Angkor Wat

There’s no denying that Angkor Wat is the headline on the itinerary for this trip.  It’s the largest religious site in the world and our last major visit before the end of the itinerary.

The most popular way to visit Angkor Wat is at sunrise, so we scheduled to this – which meant meeting at 4:45am for our trip out to the temple. We had to meet so early because at 5am we had to buy our tickets, to get to the site before the run began rising at 5:30.  Since the hotel didn’t open breakfast until 6, I grabbed a quick protein bar in my room, a rather refreshing shower and met with the group at 4:45, just in time to be introduced to our local guide in Siem Reap.

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Our 4:45am bus 

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Queueing to get our tickets

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My 3 day ticket, with stunning photo printed on there

We took the bus out to the ticket centre, where we queued up and had our photo taken.  The tickets are quite expensive ($40 for a 3 day ticket) and have photos printed onto them, so each of us had to present ourself even though the ticket price was included in the itinerary.

After we got our tickets, the bus driver raced with the rest of the tourists to head to the border of Angkor Wat, where we had to present our tickets to be allowed through the checkpoint.

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As the bus dropped us off, the sun was just creeping up

Once we got off the bus, the photo opportunities didn’t stop.  Rather than give you a blow by blow account, i’m going to let the photos and comments on those do the talking.

It was so hot inside Angkor Wat, and we spent around 2 hours exploring the site before it was time to head back to the hotel for breakfast.  It was hard to believe how much we’d achieved in just a few hours of the day – and there was plenty more to come! Since the weather forecast is bad for tomorrow, we tried to cram as much as possible into today.

I had a quick shower back at the hotel and then joined the rest of the group for breakfast before chilling out and regrouping at 10am to head to Bayon, the second most famous temple in the Siem Reap area.  Bayon is located inside an area known as Angkor Thom. On the way into Angkor Thom, we passed over one of the entry bridges which has 57 statues lining the side of the road, and came across a patch of monkeys including a particularly cheeky one who jumped onto someones motorcycle! Just as we finished photographing the monkeys, a group of Elephants paraded past. I’m not even making this up!

So yes, it was 10am and i’d been to the biggest temple in the world, seen sun rise, seen monkeys, elephants and we hadn’t even got to Bayon yet.  Again, click the photos for details:

I have to say, Bayon blew me away. I’ve been to Machu Picchu, but it had nothing on this in terms of impression it left in my brain.  Bayon is insane. It’s from another world. The faces, the structure and the presence of the whole place was something else.

Shortly after our tour of Bayon, we stopped for a toilet break. I dared to go look at one of the nearby stalls, and bought some postcards and a t-shirt from one of the vendors there.  The vendors are borderline aggressive in their sales technique and once i’d bought, they followed me to the coach and tried to convince everyone else to buy from them as well. The amounts they’re asking are tiny ($5 for a t-shirt, $1 for 10 postcards!) but they persist until you agree!

After the toilet break we had time for one more stop – at a site known as the Elephant Lodge.  Again, it’s super famous and it was really cool to see all the intricate carvings and imagine how everything was constructed many thousands of years ago. The entire Angkor area must have been such a site back when everything was being constructed – almost all of the temples were constructed in a 100 year period.

After the Elephant Lodge, we headed to our lunch stop.  Lunch today was included thanks to G-adventures support of the New Hope foundation, a site which runs yet another training restaurant, but also a school, medical care facility and social agency for under privileged families in Cambodia.  We ate an amazing meal including Crickets (which I opted out of!) before getting a talk from the New Hope staff about the facility and the good work they’re doing.  They take volunteers so if you’re looking for something good to do with your life, you could do worse than look them up!

So, just to point this out – it’s now just after lunch time and i’ve visited 3 amazing historic sites, seen sun rise, eaten food prepared by underprivileged students being educated by a NGO foundation, and now we’re heading back to the hotel to avoid the heat. Today was definitely a sense of achievement day!

At 6pm we headed back into Pub Street for a few more cocktails and dinner – which ended up with me heading out to join a younger Gadventures group (on a YOLO tour) for a few more drinks after the rest of the group headed out. I had visions of staying out super late, but my energy level was pretty low by 11 and decided to head back to the hotel and be sensible – we had another pre-7am start tomorrow!

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2nd June – Day 14 – Planes, Cyclos and Sunsets

Today was our last flight of the tour – after this it’s busses, tuktuks and our own bookings. The timing was odd today, since our flight route (Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh) is an infrequent one – we actually ended up booked onto Qatar Airways who do a two leg flight between Doha and PP – stopping in Ho Chi Minh. This had one great advantage for us which was that the plane was a Boeing 787-800 – a ridiculously over-specified plane for the 25 minute flight! It was huge, and almost empty – I had my own row in the cabin, as did most of the group!

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Empty plane

Our flight was actually at 15:30, so the whole morning was lost to hotel time and currency exchange – I took my remaining Vietnamese dong to the local currency exchange and swapped to USD, which is the main currency in Cambodia. It was nice to have a lazy morning in the hotel after so many early starts and I made use of it to buy a Vietnam t-shirt as well as some postcards.

Once we made it to the airport, leaving Vietnam was easy – just a stamp in the passport – and we had a ton of time to kill. I had a small meal and a coffee, and still made it to the gate before the plane had even landed from Doha. Shortly after it landed, we were ready for boarding – and after what seemed like no time at all, we were in Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian visa process was a little more complicated – there were 3 forms to fill out and we had to queue up for our visa on arrival, in a chaotic system which involved handing over your passport and photo as well as one of the forms and then waiting for your name to be called out (or your passport held up, if they couldn’t say your name) before going up and paying the $30 visa fee and collecting your passport. The system worked, but it was slow and a little stressful compared to the other immigration processes in the trip. Still, my passport is filling up nicely now!

After we regrouped in the airport, we headed to our bus transfer to the hotel – which was a pretty large bus considering we’re a group of 9 people! Our hotel in Phnom Penh is our most basic of the tour, and Dek had warned us not to expect huge luxury – thankfully he warned us because the hotel was really fairly basic. My room had 3 beds in it, and a huge shower room, but that’s about the only good things – the air conditioning never really got the room cool (until 2am, when I would wake up freezing)!

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3 beds to myself

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Swimming pool

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Beer ‘fridge’

By now we were all getting desperate for our washing to be done, and this hotel offered washing at $3 for half a bag, or $6 for a whole bag. The bags were huge, so I threw all my dirty stuff in there and handed it in – we’re here 2 nights so there’s time to get it back before we leave.

At 5pm we met up for another Cyclo tour (noticing a theme here yet??) where we were lucky enough to catch Sunset hour. I love taking photos at sunset.

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Another cyclo tour

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Kiwi mart

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The sunset was beautiful

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Sun setting over the US embassy

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A famous nun

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More sunset

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The central market

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Proud of this photo

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The king of Cambodia, Nordom Sihamoni

 

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More celebrations of the new king

 

This cyclo tour was supported by an NGO which runs the scheme to encourage underprivileged Cambodians into work and it took us past some of the major sites of Phenom Penh. The city actually has quite a few sites, but they’re spread out which means that a tuktuk or cyclo is definitely required to get between them. The hotel is surprisingly close to the Royal Palace and National Museum of Cambodia however, so both of those could be on the hit list if we have time (they’re not on our tour however).

The Cyclos dropped us off in front of the Royal Palace and Dek showed us a big monument to the new King who was crowned a little while ago. He told us that the Cambodian people are a little worried about this King, because he is unmarried and really likes ballet…

The Royal Palace is located on the edge of the river, and we walked up the riverfront which had a really nice vibe to it – a few tourists but also a lot of locals just hanging out by the water and relaxing. Dek had booked us a table at another training restaurant, where locals are taught to be chefs and waiting staff. The food here was okay, although they were unable to cook my first or second choice so I ended up with steamed vegetables and rice – a little disappointing but extremely cheap! Even with a starter and 2 beers, the whole meal came to $9!

After the meal, we walked back to the hotel and to bed – in a room which I couldn’t get cool. Hmm, see you tomorrow… One way or another.

Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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