I have been a bit lazy in keeping this up to date recently, but will attempt to do so now.
I had a great time travelling around Cambodia with the two Irish girls Maeve and Terrie that I had met in Laos. Our journey into Cambodia was a little scary as the border crossing between south Laos and Cambodia is a bit dodgy.
We had booked a bus ticket to take us to the small north east town of Kratie and began the day in a little minibus down the road. However, when we passed a customs man money was exchanged with our driver, at which point we veered off the road onto a track through a forest. This was full of muddy pot holes and we had to drive in first gear getting deeper and deeper into the forest. The driver and his two friends kept looking behind at us and tried chatting up a couple of girls. Every time I looked up the men were staring at us and then they stopped in the middle of the forest.
We were all feeling alarmed and I asked the main guy what was going on. He replied 'I don't speak English' although he had done before . So we were now all feeling pretty scared about what was going to happen next. We immediately all began hiding our money in our underwear and spreading our valuables around. In the meantime another van and motorbike were approaching and we all made plans in our heads to run out into the forest if need be. However, when it arrived our driver packed us into another van with some other tourists. This now at least felt a bit safer in bigger numbers.
We went through a border exit where the man behind the desk asked for payment to stamp our passports and promtly gave a cut to our dodgy driver, who we hated by now. We had to walk through part of the forest and then come to the Cambodian entry which was far more professional looking. Well, at least it had more than one desk and a few officials milling around. We were relieved to get onto another bus and leave our horrible driver behind.
The next bus was just a local one and took us to a river where we had to take a boat. We all laughed when we saw a bridge that our bus could clearly have driven across, but there was obviously some logic to this that we were not party to. We then had to wait for yet another bus, in the meanwhile having lunch at no doubt the cousin of the bus drivers restaurant.
We finally got into another minibus that was packed to the rafters with people and bags. However, our new dodgy driver was also trying to make some extra money and asked us to share our small single seats so he could pick up even more people. By now the whole bus revolted and refused to put up with any more nonsense and we point blank refused to budge. There was a stand off for at least half an hour with the driver telling us some story that the people he was trying to get on needed to visit a sick child in hospital. Unbelievable! He also tried saying that Cambodian people share seats and one of the Israeli's replied 'we don't want Cambodian size seats, we want....American size seats!' At this point the driver nearly exploded 'don't talk to me about Americans, I don't care about Americans!' One of the Israeli guys friends intervened to calm things whilst the only American on the bus just said 'oh God' and held his head in despair!
Anyway, we stuck to our guns and the supposedly distraught parents looked unperturbed that they would have to wait for another bus. However, our driver was obviously furious and decided to drive like even more of a maniac than he probably does normally and managed to kill a poor dog as he sped through one of the many villages. We were relieved to finally get to Kratie before the driver killed anything else.
We had gone to Kratie to try and see the Irrawaddy river dolphins that we had not managed to see in south Laos and were pleased to find out they were there. We met a lovely woman called Miss Dary who was proudly wearing her red First Female moto driver in Kratie Tshirt on. Motos are motorcycle taxis and she said that many of the men don't like her encroaching on their territory, so we happily took up her offer of a day tour to see the dolphins the following day.
The next morning we all jumped on the back of the motos and drove to the river. The countryside was really pretty along the way with lots of locals sitting outside their wooden stilt homes making food, children playing or on their way to school and men working on the fields. We caught a boat and within ten minutes had spotted the brown strange looking noseless dolphins. They have round eyes and wide mouths with a round head and look more like Zippy from Rainbow than a dolphin. There were about ten of them in the river near us and we spent a hour or so frustratingly taking pictures of splashes of water just after one had leapt out to catch a fish. It was great to see them and dolphins are always good entertainment.
We had a couple of days in Kratie and enjoyed relaxing and eating the really nice local curries. We noticed some differences between the Laos and Cambodians such as dress. The women here all seemed to wear matching pjama outfits with lots of flowers on and the health system is clearly much poorer. Indeed there was a hospital near us and there seemed to be a steady stream of men, women and children walking around the streets and even on the back of motorbikes whilst carrying their drips with them.
We then caught a bus to the capital Pnomh Penh and spent a few days there. There are some pretty depressing but important sights to visit here that include the prison where the Khmer Rouge used to hold and torture men, women and children. The whole place felt really eerie as though horrible things had taken place there. It was upsetting to see the photos of the thousands of people who passed through and you could really see the fear on some of their faces. Afterwards we also visited the Killing Fields just outside the town where there were huge pits used as mass graves and the clothing can still be seen in the earth as you walk around. There is a mausoluem packed to the roof with cracked skulls as the victims were bludgeoned to death and then decapitated as they were Buddhists and this was meant to prevent their spirits passing into the afterlife. It was understandably a sobering day.
We also decided to visit some of the sights that were a bit more pleasant such as the museums, palace and shops. The pieces in the museum were almost identical to many I had seen in India as they have a shared Brahamanic history with lots of statues of the elephant God Ganesh and the monkey God Hanuman. The palace had a room with a solid silver floor that was cold to the touch and a funny little delapidated French gothic style building in the grounds that had been transported from France and rebuilt there.
There were some great craft shops and lovely cafes and restaurants there and I bought some presents to post home from there. We also visited some of the community projects for the many street children who live in Cambodia including restaurants where they are trained in catering, shops that sell the clothes they design and even a nail bar where we all had a manicure. It was good to see some positive developments going on after all the depressing history they have there.
Although many of the bars were empty due to it being low season we had one particularly raucous night out at a club called Heart of Darkness and all suffered the next day as a result.
We left Pnomh Penh to go to the old town of Battambang. However, when we arrived it really was not that interesting to go to. The most interesting thing we did there was to take a trip of the bamboo train, which is basically a bamboo platform on wheels that the locals use to transport goods and the occasional tourist along the track. On the day we went an enormous storm broke out about a quarter of the way into our journey and there was a torrential downpour. We tried putting a mat over our heads but were drenched to the bone and so tried to think positive and launched into Singing in the Rain. It was one of those times when you have to remind yourself why you had thought it was a good idea at the time. Our moto drivers were smug when we returned as we had bargained hard for a fair price. We all said the rain had made the experience even better!
We then caught a ferry to Siem Reap and had one of the best boat trips I have been on as we passed bamboo stilt houses on the banks and eventually came to whole floating villages where each house was on a bamboo raft and the locals get around by boat. They even had floating gardens with small rafts filled with soil and plants growing out of them. Some houses had dogs barking on the doorsteps which seemed a bit odd. Maybe they just throw sticks out into the river for them to fetch.
At some points there were no waterways and we just seemed to plough through bushes growing out of the water. At these times we had to quickly put the canvas sides down on the boat as the branches would scratch you and on a number of occasions I was smacked in the head by one whilst trying to fix the canvas. The branches would then scrape alongside the boat as though they were hands trying to get in. Towards the end of the journey there was a huge lake with trees growing out of it with just the tops showing. The water became quite choppy and the people who had gone to sit on top of the boat were then trapped and terrified. All came down later looking green with sea sickness but like lobsters from sun burn.
We had a few days in Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor. These did not fail to disappoint and were one of the most incredible sights I have seen during my trip. Angkor Watt is the main temple and is the largest temple in the world with a huge moat surrounding it and some really beautifully preserved carvings. However, the Bayan temple with its huge faces carved on top of giant pillars was incredible and I really enjoyed finally seeing somewhere that I had seen pictures of years ago. The other big temple there is Priya Khan and is on the picture below. This is where the Angelina Jolie film Tomb Raider was filmed and is amazing as you see how the jungle has taken over the temple. The tree roots look like giant hands gripping onto the temples and it really feels like a lost city.
We had some good nights out in Siem Reap including a particularly fun one at a bar called Angkor What? I still have flashbacks to the whole bar singing Bohemian Rhapsody, trying to play pool, dancing and insulting a Welsh boy who I refused to believe was welsh as he sounded like Borat to me ....and I told him so. Unfortunately he turned out to be staying at the same hotel as me and glared when he saw me the next day. Indeed the next day was such a wash out we did not even manage to get to any of the sights for sunset. Each time we tried the sun seemed too bright and hot and anything above a whisper made our brains hurt. Note to self: I shall never drink any cocktail that is green ever again.
I was then sad to say goodbye to my friends Terrie and Maeve who I'd had a lot of fun with the previous month but left them to catch a bus to Thailand. However, they had kindly and very secretively managed to get me an early birthday present which they had known I had liked in one of the shops. I also planned to meet up with Terrie in Australia and was sure I would be seeing both of them again.
Anyway, that's all for now folks. Will update again in the next few weeks....hopefully.