Hello again to everyone! Today we're writing from the quiet town of Battambang in Cambodia. So to follow on from where we left off, we had just arrived in Bangkok. Bangkok was a million miles away from India; it was clean, very touristy, easy to get around, bars and restaurants everywhere, cheap beer, amazing street food scene etc etc. We basically took the time to just relax really, and so there isn't much to write about it! We stayed in the Khao San Road area first - backpacker central, where we drank abit...ate abit...drank abit....did our laundry...drank abit more and listened to live music at our favourite bar. We were already enjoying the Thai food massively and Indian currys were just a distant memory! We also stayed in Sukhumvit, a more upmarket area of Bangkok with shopping malls and nice bars and restaurants - popular with all the expats. Here we twice went to see the popular Thai sport - Muay Thai boxing. This is a form of boxing characterised by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet. It was great to watch these fighters try and break each other down, and also hard to watch when some would completely take apart his/her oponent. Whilst in Bangkok we also took the time to indulge in a few of the Western things we've been missing....We went to the cinema to watch the Hunger Games, we went to McDonalds and got a big mac, we went to a couple of shopping malls, we watched football in the pub, had a chicken kebab after a night out etc!
Anyway the time came to move on...and so onwards to Cambodia. We caught the train at 5:55AM from Bangkok's train station and sluggishly travelled 250km through the country to the border point. The trains aren't quite as quick as the ones back home as this one proved that by taking seven hours. We then shared a tuk tuk to the notoriously scammy border crossing with our two new American friends we had met on the train. The driver dropped us off before the border point at a fake visa palce, where an overly friendly Thai man greeted us pretending that this was where we had to buy our visa. We hastily grabbed our bags and walked straight past him as he shouted after us 'wait! where are you going?!'. We walked to the official border point and after a couple of hours we made it through to the other side. We shared a taxi with the two Americans and made it to Siem Reap for about 5 in the evening and checked into the Ta Som Guesthouse.
Siem Reap is the town that is used as a base for exploring the temples of Angkor and so is a very busy town with tourists and backpackers alike with lots of pubs, bars, nice restaurants and massage parlours. Helen had picked up quite a bad cold and cough and so the first two days we held off exploring the temples. Instead we explored Siem Reap and the various other attractions it had to offer. We looked in the Bayon Information Centre and learned abit more about the Angkor civilisation and the the temples we would be seeing over the next few days. We went to Wat Thmei; This is a large monastery notable for being at the centre of an area that served as the killing fields during the Pol Pot years. It features a live in monastery and new temple, as well as grounds in the middle of which is a large stupa, glass sided, with the skulls and bones diligently gathered by local residents in memory of friends and family and villagers who died. We explored the markets and of course had food and drink in some of the many bars and restaurants on offer. We also had a fish massage where the fish eat the dead skin off your feet. It had never before appealed to me but it cost 1 dollar for 15 minutes and included a free beer so how could I not?! Anyway it was intense, some of the fish were about 10 times the size of the ones in England! At first I couldn't keep my feet in the water for more than a few seconds...but I found if I concentrated enough on my beer...I could just about tolerate the 100s of fish chomping at my feet.
On our third day in Siem Reap we decided to do the temples. Our plan was to hire bikes and cycle a route that would take us to some of the bigger temples as well as some of the less well popular ones. So we hired our $2 a day bikes and set off...unsure wether they would last the day. We arrived at thecket office and bought our three day pass for $40 before continuing with the bike ride. Cycling was a great way to get around as it gives you chance to see everything and do it at your own pace. We stopped at the first temple, Prasat Kravan, which was probably the least interesting temple we've ever seen and set Helen off saying 'Well they better not all be like that'. Onwards to the next one which was a small one off the beaten track, it was held up by bamboo scaffolding and we had it to ourselves. Anyway I won't bore you with all the temples we went to. We cycled about 25km stopping at seven temples before reaching the last one, Phnom Bok. This was a hill temple and involved climbing up a 235m hill to a temple that was by far the most ruined, which made it very intriguing. As I got to the top a man in a hammock poked his head up and waved with a big smile on his face. He then proceded to get dressed putting on his army uniform and cap in order to check my ticket and follow me round as I took pictures.
We then had to cycle the 25km back to Siem Reap, and we were already very tired. We set off and made it back on our last legs with extremely sore bums from sitting in the saddle! The next day cycling was out of the question as we could not face sitting on a bike again. So we hired a tuk tuk to take us to the temples. We saw another eight temples including the amazing Ta Prohm temple, which featured in Lara Croft's Tomb Raider, due to the way the jungle is running riot through the complex with huge trees sprawling over the once prominent temple. On the third and final day we got up at half four ready for the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We hired the bikes again, despite not yet having recovered fully, and set off in the dark with our head torches guiding the way. Angkor Wat was about 7km away and as we cycled along the dark road, we didn't see very many other bikes, but LOTS of tuk tuks racing past us carrying tourists that had maybe taken the better transportation option! We arrived at about half 5 to find that there were already a million tourists there taking up all good photo taking spots! Nevertheless we got involved and watched the sunrise over the magnificent temple before going on to explore inside it. We then went back to Siem Reap, had a few Angkor beers and vowed to have a rest from temples for the foreseeable future.
Our next destination was Battambang, a much smaller, quieter, and less touristy town than Siem Reap. We got the four hour bus here and got straight in on the action by taking a trip on the regions famous Bamboo Train. Our tuk-tuk took us on the main road out of town, then onto a smaller road which turned into a dirt track and eventually ended up at a rickety old tourist stand. The bamboo train is basically a small simple contraption consisting of simple wood planks which sat on top of two wheel axles with a motor on the back (see pictures for a better idea!). The railway is only a single track and so when two cars met each other coming opposite ways (which they did many a time) we had to get off as the car was dismantled into its three components and removed from the track, before being assembled again once the other car had gone past. Helen and I had a car to ourselves with one driver on the back, or so we thought, until we were about to set off and one of the locals dumped their baby on car with us. It turned out they only did this to give the little boy a little nap as the car flew down the rickety tracks.
After this thrilling ride we were driven to the 'Killing Caves' and the 'Bat Caves'. We jumped on the back of a moto and were driven up the hill to the Killing Caves first. The Killing caves are where the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 10,000 people. There is a cage of bones, skulls and clothes outside, as a ghastly reminder of what had happened only a short time ago. Pol Pot had people killed in the cave by telling them they would be going to work. But Instead, they were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind their back before being walked to the edge of the hilltop and pushed over the edge into the cave below. There are far more horrible stories about the Khmer Rouge and these caves that I won't go into on here. After this we went to the foot of the hill to observe a nightly occurrence at the 'Bat Cave'. Every evening at dusk millions of bats (literally) fly out of the caves in a long line that soars into the sky and stretches for miles into the distance. It was amazing to witness and by far the most bats I think we will ever see!!
This morning we took our third cooking class of the trip, this time specialising in Khmer cooking. We did it with another British couple and made fish amok (a famous Cambodian curry dish) and a beef stir fry dish. The first thing involved a trip to the market to buy all the ingredients. Our guide was amazing and told us what everything was and what it is used for. We also had to buy the fish we would be using. This was picked out of a box of live fish, smacked on the head and filleted in front of us....ready to cook and eat in only a couple of hours! We spent the rest of the morning chopping up the ingredients, making the curry pastes, cooking the two dishes, and of course eating them. And they were delicious! We also got a recipe book to keep and try recreate what we made at home.
Tomorrow we will be traveling to our next destination Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. And following that we will be hitting the beach for the first time which we are both excited about. So long until next time!