A Travellerspoint blog

Day Two of temple hopping: Ta Prohm & Banteay Kdei

rain 31 °C
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We hired bikes again and rode around the temple complex, this time visiting two different temples. The first one we visited is high on the list for tourists to visit. It is known as the 'Tomb Raider Tomb' which is of no interest to me as I have not seen this movie but what did interest me is the way that nature had taken over the temple. It is filled with giant twisting trees, their roots are snake like and have broken through the stones. It is a truly beautiful space with mossy green stones and lots of shade. Despite the crowds this place attracts we were able to find some quieter places to enjoy the tranquil environment. It looked liked an enchanted forest and I loved being here.

The other temple we saw Banteay Kdei, was also impressive with lots of trees inside and one in particular that was especially impressive. The gates to the temple have heads carved into the stone and are really interesting. This temple is also partially overtaken by trees and moss which makes it seem otherworldly and gives you a sense of the power of nature. Very cool indeed. We had to leave pretty quickly though as dark clouds formed over us and since we were riding and it is about 14km back to our hotel we made a quick exit hoping to outrun the storm but we got caught in it anyway and were absolutely soaked to the bone for the whole ride home. Still, it was totally worth it.

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Posted by Evalikat 04:09 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Day One: Prah Khan, Neak Pean & Eastern Mebon

semi-overcast 31 °C
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To visit the Angkor Archaeological Park we are staying in Siem Reap, the closest city to the area. It is about 8km away and we hired bikes to ride out the park and explore the temples. There are many temples there, some very famous (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm) and others are lesser known. One thing about them all though is that they are impressive, about 1000 years old and amazing to behold.

We have a three day pass that you can use over a one week period. Due to rain, we are heading out the days that have the better forecast. We hired bikes to ride out on our first day, purposely avoiding Angkor Wat (the most famous and impressive temple - people call it 'heaven on earth') as we are saving that for our last day when we will visit it at sunrise.

We rode to the very back of the complex to visit three temples, Prah Khan, Neak Pean & Eastern Mebon. Riding around the area we saw lots of animals, dogs, monkeys and pigs. The tree lined streets are lovely to ride around and there is lots of green jungle growing wildly around the road, trees and roots twisting and turning. It is a surprisingly large area, we rode almost 30km around to get to the temples.

I think the photos speak for themselves but I will say that the temples are absolutely amazing. The ancient stones are covered in moss and trees are growing out of the middle of the stones. The hallways have so many walkways through they created an optical illusion where you felt as though you were looking at a mirrored reflection of a hallway. The temples are crumbling around us and some of the huge blocks of stone are perched so precariously on top of each other it seems that they are about to topple over at any moment. The sense of history and greatness is a prominent feeling here. I absolutely loved it!

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Posted by Evalikat 01:06 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Our final days in beautiful Battambang

32 °C
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We have quite been enjoying our active lifestyle in Battambang with our morning runs along the river and bike riding through the countryside each day. It feels so good to wake up before the sun and be out in the cooler morning air awake with the locals who get going well before sunrise. While we are usually sleeping there is this whole bustling world going on outside our hotel walls and to be part of it in a place like Battambang is so refreshing.

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We planned a ride out through the country side to visit Prasat Basseat. It is also known as the ‘Ruined Ruin’ because it is one of the few remaining ruins that were destroyed (or in this case, partially destroyed) by the Khmer Rouge. The structure dates back to 1036 and we were pretty keen to visit.

Along the way however the road took a detour and we ended up on a dirt road that eventually disappeared into farmland and we found ourselves deep in the fields of rice paddies and farmhouses surrounded by animals such as cows and chickens. It was very isolated out there and the scenery was really amazing. We realised pretty quickly we couldn’t continue on this path however so we doubled back and rode through the villages, stopping every so often to rest in the shade and take in our surroundings.

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We were sitting under some palm trees on the side of the road and were called over by a local woman to sit in her little wooden stand under the shelter to rest. She didn’t speak a word of English but we were communicating through gesture and smiles. Evan tried a popular drink that we see the locals drinking which is basically cordial with heaps of ice in it. There were a few people coming out from their homes to look at us like we were the most interesting things ever and these little girls were particularly fascinated and observed us from a distance.

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Even though we didn’t make it to the ruins we still had a great day, possibly even better then we would have had if we found Prasat Basseat.

The next day we continued our usual routine of going for a daily run followed by a bike ride, this time to Ek Phnom, an old temple that is in ruins. The ride out there was not too far, only 12km but it was made really difficult because it was along this stretch of exposed dirt and with the sun beaming straight down on us and our tires sticking in the thick layer of dirt it was a very difficult ride. When we reached our destination we were rewarded with a lush green area that had a covering of lily-pads in the river on one side and nice green grass on the other and lots of trees everywhere for shade.

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The area was nice to visit, we were able to climb over the ruins and parts of it were stacked so precariously it was a miracle to me that the whole thing hadn’t collapsed. It looked like a giant game of Jenga. In front of the ruins there is a more modern temple and a large buddha statue that is quite impressive.

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When we arrived back in town we were so exhausted we dragged our tired selves down to the river and rested there watching the locals performing their daily routines of playing sports and exercising. We ended our time with a delicious meal at the riverside night market.

We are now in Siem Reap. We are here to visit Angkow Wat which we are going to do over a three day period because the complex is so massive. Typically, it has been pouring all afternoon and the next few days the forecast is for thunderstorms and constant rain. At least there is a chance the rain might keep some of the crowds away from the temples...

Posted by Evalikat 20:23 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

I want to run away to the circus

sunny 35 °C
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Another morning run, this time earlier and we watched the sun come up. Evan met some locals playing an unusual game sort of like hacky sac crossed with badminton. You basically kick a shuttle cock around in a circle. He was not very good and the local men that obviously play everyday thought this was very funny but they included him and he enjoyed that.

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We rode our bikes out to the countryside again today. We visited two temples and a ancient heritage house. This is a home that is built in the traditional way that is no longer popular. We were shown around the home by the fourth generation ancestor of the family that built the house in the 1920’s. It was a very nice place to visit and the wooden materials used to make the home were of a very good quality and kept it nice and cool. While we were there we were shown traditional musical instruments and a very interesting set of small pots and bowls that are used for a traditional method of chewing plant based material as an old fashion version of chewing gum, to freshen the breath, clean the teeth or just for something to do. The only thing is, this is highly addictive and people would chew for their whole lives resulting in blackened and dark red coloured teeth.

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After seeing the house we rode around the village and saw other similar structures (there are at least 20 heritage homes in this village) and wandered down some dirt roads along the river. It was so very hot so we cycled back to town for some refreshments and rested until the afternoon when we went to see the circus.

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The local circus called Phare Ponleu Selpak is held at a school that is a community project where children are able. to attend for free. It is an arts based school with an emphasis on visual arts, music, theatre, dancing and circus performing. The circus is held twice a week in the big top at the back of the school. I cannot say enough good things about this show! It was truly amazing. Apart from the fact that the show itself was extremely entertaining, it was held in an intimate setting where we were able to sit front row and could see everything so clearly, even the sweat on the performers foreheads! The music was live and performed by students and it had a tribal quality that was very infectious. The performers are students but are very professional and the tricks that they managed to master were amazing. The clowns were funny and had us cracking up laughing I think this is the best performance I have ever seen. It was such a great show, I had a huge smile on my face the whole time. If you ever find yourself in Battambang do not miss this!

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Posted by Evalikat 07:47 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Vegetarian feasting, hanging with monks & the real bat cave

sunny 36 °C
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Everyday this place keeps getting better. We are both totally in love with Battambang. Yesterday we went for a run along the river in the morning followed by another delicious bowl of Cambodian soup, this one from a little hole in the wall vegetarian place. After our brekkie we walked along both banks of the river and along the way visited a temple and parkland. It was a very hot day and the sun was so extreme we were really strolling along taking lots of breaks under the trees.

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After a very filling and amazing lunch of tofu and veggies from another vegetarian restaurant in town (I just keeping finding these amazing places that have the best food) we hired a tuk tuk driver to take us 12km out of town to an area called Phnom Sampeou. There we hiked up the mountain to the top where we visited the cave known as the killing cave which is where, during the 1970’s, the Khmer Rouge threw bodies after beating them to death. Next to this area there is a cave with a memorial to the murdered people and there are actual human bones in a wire cage next to a reclining buddha.

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Further up the mountain there is a temple and small village. The people there were so friendly and when a sudden downpour left us soaked and without shelter they ushered us undercover. We saw monkeys up there too and a there was a mother and baby which was very cute and not frightening at all, unlike my past monkey encounters.

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We went into a temple there where some monks were relaxing and waiting for the rain to pass. One monk in particular was very lovely and smiled so sweetly at us I felt like it was one of the best smiles ever and that I was truly lucky to have had this happen to me. He was a calm and beautiful soul that spoke with us and gave us bracelets that he tied to our wrists and told us that he hopes they bring us luck.

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Once the rain had subsided we went back down the mountain to the other side. Along the way we saw amazing views and lush green forest that was very beautiful.

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Once we were down the other side of the mountain, we climbed this really dodgy ladder up about 60m up the side of caves where there is a big Buddha head carved into the stone. From this viewpoint we could see the shifting colours of the sunset and enjoy the view. At exactly 6pm a steady stream of bats started to fly from the cave below us. From our vantage point we could see them exiting the side of the cave as well as the route they were taking as they flew of into the distance. Countless numbers of bats, somewhere in the millions I am sure exited the cave for almost 45 minutes in a steady stream. From a distance they looked like swarms of bees twisting and turning off in the horizon. This is a popular thing for people to see whilst in Battambang and there were lots of people watching this amazing spectacle. It happens everyday at the same time. Very cool.

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We ended our evening with a tuk tuk ride back to town and dinner at yet another fabulous place where the owner came and introduced himself to us, shook our hands, thanked us for eating there and then said “I hope you have good luck”. Thats two blessings of good luck in one day from two gentle and genuine people. Thats better than any lottery ticket I’d say.

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Posted by Evalikat 20:43 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Battambang - what a cracker of a town!

sunny 30 °C
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Battambang is a fairly quiet town and upon first glance the streets seem sleepy and sedated with not a lot to see or do. Look beyond this however and you will be rewarded with a delightful town that has so much to offer. From riding in the countryside to visiting the local parks and watching the daily aerobics sessions, Battambang is a mix of old world charm and modern life that has me wanting more!

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Everyday they have several markets set up around the town. One of the markets sells fresh produce and there is a day food market that starts around 6am and night food market which serves food until midnight so there is always something available to eat at any time of day.

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Today we spent the morning eating noodles at the Chinese noodle and dumpling house ($2 a bowl) and then hired bikes to ride out of town along the riverside. We visited two monasteries along the way both of which were totally deserted except for us and the monks. We watched them interacting with one another, the smaller children playing on a broken telephone and the older ones either laying about chatting or cleaning the temples.

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Continuing our ride through the countryside we saw many people who live so simply and have the biggest smiles. Their children call out “hello!” to us as we passed and the adults all smile and wave. At one point we were joined by a group of very cute schoolgirls who ran alongside our bikes giving us peace signs, calling out and laughing. They wanted to hold hands while we rode and played along with us for a decent stretch of the road, at least until we reached a funeral procession.

We heard music along the way blasted out of speakers on the side of the road. We saw rice noodles paper drying in the sun and many craft stores as we rode along. The scenery is so interesting and we were only a short ride out of the city. We continued along the river, eventually turning back to town in the afternoon.

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The afternoon was spent drinking delicious fruit smoothies and wandering around the two large parks, one on either side of the river. In these parks the locals exercise on free equipment and participate in what look like some of the coolest outdoor aerobics classes I have seen (also free). There are people playing badminton, walking or running around the parks and children playing everywhere. It is a delight to see.

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After our lovely afternoon in the park we visited the local night food stalls in the markets and sat right on the river while we ate a yummy dinner for $1.75. We then enjoyed some music there before wandering home. Battambang, you are a charmer - I think we might stay a while.

Posted by Evalikat 16:51 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Phnom Penh

overcast 32 °C
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The hotel that we are staying at in Phnom Penh is very nice. We have a large room with a big window that offers a view over the rooftops of the city. There is a rooftop area that has a pool and bar. In the evening there are nice views of the sunset from up there.

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Phnom Penh is a fairly easy city to walk around and there are many streets that stretch from one end of the city to the other. There are entire streets that are filled with bars, street food, local shops, restaurants and cafes as well as nice monuments so walking along them there is always something to see.

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We walked up the only incline in Phnom Penh to visit Wat Phnom (the cities namesake). It is a nice area that has some parkland and a giant grassy clock. The temple itself was nothing to rave about but there was a nice view at the top and lots of shady trees for us to rest under on a hot day.

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In Phnom Penh I have seen more tuk tuk drivers than I have seen anywhere else. They are constantly asking you to use their services. We chose to walk almost everywhere except the last two days we had some rain so we did use them. It can get quite awful between the drivers as they are very territorial. We were walking in the rain towards a cluster of them to get a lift home and unbeknownst to us a driver had spotted us and called out to us but we didn’t hear him. So we approached another driver who was more than happy to take us. The other driver came running up and there was some sort of altercation between them, he was yelling “I asked first!”.

There are lots of vegetarian places to eat here which makes me happy. The highlight was a place called “The Vegetarian” which is located in a tranquil garden off the busy streets. The food was very delicious and cheap - $2 for a meal. They had lots of fresh produce and salads to choose from as well as Khmer curries.

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Shopping is mostly market based and there are two large ones here, central market and the Russian market. We visited both however I preferred the Russian market as it was more in the style of other Asian markets I have seen with plastic covers over the top acting as a roof, definitely a no frills kinda place. The central market is in a really nice building and the prices are a little higher. It can get so stuffy in these markets and after a while we kept seeing the same thing over and over so we didn’t stay for too long.

Phnom Penh is a place that tourists stay to visiting the Khmer Rouge killing fields. After much consideration we decided against the tour but instead visited the genocide museum in the city. It is a former Khmer Rogue prison where awful things happened, very similar to the Jewish concentration camps in Europe. Before the Khmer Rogue, it was a school and the former class rooms have been divided up into cells. We watched a movie which was extremely confronting. It featured two survivors of the prison as well as several guards. They were all retelling their experiences and the survivors were asking for some explanation or remorse from the guards and they blatantly refused to believe that they really were evil and claimed they were acting on orders. It was very sad. These people only survived because the rein of the Khmer Rogue ended during their time there otherwise they would have been tortured and killed like every single person that ended up there including men, women and children. The Khmer Rogue were only in power for three years and during that time they killed over 2 million people.

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Our time in Phnom Penh was nice, especially since we were staying in a classy hotel. It was relaxing and we took our time with sight seeing. We have planned the last part of our time in Cambodia and our next stop is Battambang. It is a fairly quiet place and the popular thing to do here is ride bikes around the countryside and visit the mountains and caves. Sounds lovely.

Posted by Evalikat 07:52 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Otres II

rain 30 °C
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We have relocated further along the coastline to a beach called Otres. There are two beaches here and we are at the second one which is more secluded. We are staying in a place that is right on the river and only one street back from the ocean. There is a deck at the back of the property that goes out over the river which during the dry season would be one of the nicest places to chill. Unfortunately we have been experiencing intense rainfall each day and the whole area is muddy and flooded. We still had a lovely evening out on the deck last night as the sun broke through the clouds in the afternoon and it turned out to be a really nice night.

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The rain is not ruining our ‘summer’ holiday! We still have been going to the beach and swimming, despite the rain and heading out at night to eat at some of the local restaurants. It is a very quite area and during the high season would be absolutely lovely.

This area is much more relaxed than Serendipity beach where we were previously which is more our style. There are only a few places to eat and the majority of the beach is secluded. The water is a very good temperature and I had one of the best swims I have ever had at this beach.

Today we leave for Phnom Pehn which is a four hour bus ride away. It is the 15th July which means Evie and I have been married for two months already. Time is flying...

Upon Reflection...

One thing I am learning more and more during this holiday is that nothing is as it seems. When I googled images of Sihanoukville the images show pristine white sandy beaches. This is true, it is a beautiful place but what they don’t show is the rubbish and the exploitation. I guess this is a metaphor for a lot of things, that for every beautiful moment there is often a less desirable one. It is a very different experience travelling Asia to travelling Europe that is for sure. We did come across some less desirable things during our last holiday but here it is more obvious and constantly in your face.

I am enjoying the more simple moments of our holiday. Like yesterday we swam in the rain while the high tide rushed in and covered the whole beach flooding the area. It was not picture perfect but we had a great time. And the other day we walked ages and found ourselves stranded in the rain and sat it out till it passed and walked back totally drenched. Some of my other favourites are seeing the sun creep from behind the clouds after a storm reflected on the ocean or waiting a ridiculous amount of time for our dinner wondering if the confused locals making it are even going to give us what we ordered and then being handed one of the yummiest curries I’ve had. Things seem to work out ok here even though the moments are not always perfect. I love walking along uneven streets, dodging traffic on busy roads while observing another pace of life so different to my own. Buying food for less than $1 from street vendors who don’t speak english and through our mutual pointing we manage to figure it out. Walking through market places that are an assault on the senses and finding happy people who are willing to share with you their life if only for a moment. Getting on a bus with all the locals and being proud of us for figuring it all out without relying on taxis. Finding the local areas and observing the food and culture unique to each country. Speaking to lovely people who are more than happy to share with us their stories. These are some of the things I love about Asia and keep me wanting to explore more.

Posted by Evalikat 18:44 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Sihanoukville

rain 32 °C
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We have now moved onto the next destination in Cambodia, Sihanoukville. It is a costal town that is situated at the last part of the costal stretch in Cambodia. We booked two nights near Serendipity Beach which is the busiest of the three stretches of beach that make up Sihanoukville. It is the backpackers district and is full of bars and clubs that have themed parties each night with fire twirlers and free cocktails. The party scene is extremely unappealing and the people that attend such things are unsavoury characters that neither Evan or myself would ever want to associate with. We did wander the boardwalk to check out some of the beach side restaurants for a quite beer and meal however this was impossible as you are constantly harassed all along the beach by children wanting to sell you crappy little souvenirs as well as women wanting to help with hair removal or a massage. Seriously, we were approach every minute at least. This goes on day and night along the beach. It is a very huge turnoff and if this did not happen then it could be quite pleasant sitting right on the beach eating a delicious Khmer curry.

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We experienced a truly awful thing one night when walking the beach. It was after dinner and the area is totally packed with locals and tourists eating seafood. There are lights all along so everyone can see each other except for this one dark part. When we walked through the dark part, about four 10 year old boys came up to us and starting attacking us, punching and kicking us. We fought them off with pushes and shoves they were so tiny and their little limbs were like nothing hitting us but we couldn’t hit them because they were children however I would have loved to given then a massive smack because they are so naughty. Once we walked back into the light they scattered like rats and we never saw them again. It was so disturbing, we were totally reeling from the experience and just totally dumbstruck. They didn't hurt but it was so bizarre and disturbing.

The saddest thing is not the disruption to my holiday however but the exploitation of the children working the beaches. They are so young and like programmed robots reciting their spiel in monotonous tones, each child saying exactly the same thing with a vacant look in their eyes.

There is a lot of information in the town about this and they strongly advise not to buy anything from the children because that keeps them on the beaches and out of school. It was good to see that one community based initiative was helping by giving homeless or abused children jobs in a local restaurant. They are taught to work in hospitality and their own creativity is encouraged with art classes and they are mentored by the older people working there. We went for dinner one night and it was such a peaceful beautiful space in a garden and the food was amazing! The children serving us had impeccable manners and were very professional taking their job very seriously but still smiling which was really nice considering their background.

During the day we walked along the beach about 4 kilometres to another beach further up and during our walk we came across many little homes that are basically huts or shacks that house entire families. Because people actually live right on the beach there is so much rubbish everywhere and creates a revolting scene that ruins and otherwise lovely stretch of beach. The sand is pure white and like powder and the water is such a lovely temperature and aqua blue.

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There is a disgusting amount of trash everywhere, even syringes! The people that live here are total animals and don't even care. In the more built up areas a lot of the rubbish can be contributed to tourists but mostly its the people that live here on the beach that create the most mess. We found a clean part and went swimming and the water is perfect so it really makes me feel shit about that.

Each night the grey sky becomes pink and we have seen some very beautiful sunsets during our time here. It would be really cool to see the sky on a clear night. The bright colours try to poke through gaps in the clouds creating a beautiful scene.

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Posted by Evalikat 18:41 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Kampot

rain 30 °C
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So Cambodia seems to be very different to Vietnam. Actually all the countries we have visited in South East Asia have all been quite different. We originally booked two nights in a town called Kampot which is about one hour over the border. As soon as we arrived we fell in love with the laze of the place. There is a slow paced lifestyle there that keeps you blissfully relaxed but also there is enough to do to keep you stimulated should you want that. We ended up staying four nights.

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There are a lot of tourists in the town even though it is low season. A lot of expats live here and have made a new life running hostels, pubs and restaurants. The town itself is on a river and there is a long walkway that follows the river a few kilometres out of town, the perfect strolling place. The locals are very happy people who live simply and seem to relish this. They all smile and say ‘Hello’. Everyone is very helpful and speaks very good English.

In Cambodia they use two currencies, the Cambodain Riel and US dollar. When they give change it is often in both currencies which can be confusing checking that you have the correct money. As we all know my maths is not the best!

We hired a scooter and rode up a mountain to Bokor National Park. On this mountain live elephants, leopards and tigers however we didn’t see any of these animals, in fact we saw very little due to the intense mist that descended upon us. It was so hard to see we ended up at the top to visit the ruins of an old French hotel and we were right in front of it but couldn’t even make out a vague shape.

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I burnt my leg on the exhaust of the scooter which was very painful. Here is a picture of me with my poor bandaged leg :(

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Kampot is a really cool place that seduces you with its lazy charm. You could visit for a week and stay forever. I bet that has happened to people. There is such appeal in living in a place that has beautiful scenery, friendly people and is so affordable.

Cambodian food is very delicious. The local food called Khmer food is largely curry based and they also make this speciality called Amok which is a mixture of either vegetables and meat or tofu cooked in a banana leaf. The pepper grown in the region is world famous and tastes so unique. A lot of the dishes incorporate this delicious spice in the meals and it can be found on every table in every restaurant. In Kampot there are many great places to eat and here are some highlights - Red curry, Noodles, Cous cous with egg plant wrapped in pastry and hummus, Kampot pepper bread with tomato and basil bruschetta and a mango smoothie. The curry was one of the best either of us has tasted and that is saying something especially coming from a Betreen (Evan) as they are all seasoned curry lovers! ha ha.

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In Kampot the activities are simple yet very rewarding.We saw a movie at the local theatre one afternoon for $2. It was actually a really sad movie that used claymation (animation with clay figures) to tell one mans story of being a child during the time of the Khmer Rouge. You can hire push bikes or motorbikes and ride 30 mins to the beach enjoying the scenery along the way, you could wander out of town the see the farm life and animals, you can kayak on the river, eat very cheap delicious food, sit in a cafe reading drinking smoothies, wander the streets or sit on a corner to watch the world go by, enjoy a sunset and watch the fireflies at night, go on a boat ride or drink cheap beer. We really liked visiting Kampot and both of us agreed that if the rest of Cambodia was going to be anything as charming as this then we were going to be two very content travellers.

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Posted by Evalikat 03:49 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Ha Tien - not a favourite & crossing to Cambodia

rain 30 °C
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We were travelling further South towards the Cambodian border to a town called Ha Tien where most border crossings happen. To get from Can Tho to Ha Tien you need to catch two local buses, a simple procedure, according to our hotel reception. We could only buy tickets for the first bus and we were supposed to buy tickets for the second one at the stop. We got the first bus, no problems. Then we had to change. No-one spoke English and there was no bus station to ask. We were basically dropped in a car park while everyone else got onto buses however we were reluctant to do so as we did not have a ticket for the second part of the trip. Eventually Evan found someone who had Google translator and they managed to communicate that we needed to get a shuttle to another bus stop.

Once we arrived we were harassed by multiple men who yelled at us and pointed to a dodgy looking bus with ‘Ha Tien’ on the front. While they shoved our bags through the bus window onto the bus and ushered me on board pointing at the seat they wanted me to sit in, Evan walked around trying to locate the ticket window as we still didn’t have a ticket. Then this guy came up to Evan and tried to sell him a used ticket stub from May. Of course we didn’t buy it. We stayed on the bus and eventually it left with a grinding of gears that left me thinking we weren’t even going to make it to Ha Tien.

After two extremely bumpy sweaty, stinky, smoke filled hours we arrived at Ha Tien. What a shitty town! No wonder people only pass through here on the way to the border. There was only one English friendly place that was run by a man who each time we saw him, he tried to get us to use his services to cross the border to Cambodia and it became so annoying that we didn’t go there for food anymore instead went hungry and ate baguettes. I was so violently ill while we were there I slept for a whole day and then about 12 hours that night only leaving the room to get water.

The hotel was run by the most incompetent people I have ever met. They were confused about the services they provided and couldn’t help us with anything. I hate that the last days in Vietnam, such a beautiful country, were tainted by awful experiences. I was so unwell and so tired it was all getting to me. After I recovered from being sick, Evan and I both decided Cambodia is a new country and new experience. Everything else in Vietnam was wonderful, it was just a bad experience.

I only took a couple of photos of the town I was so disheartened. The first is a wedding. Apparently the louder the wedding the better. The entertainment was ear-splitting karaoke which lasted hours.

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So we crossed the border into Cambodia (more confusion and exploitation there) and eventually
arrived at our destination, Kampot.

What a beautiful little place! There people are amazing here, so friendly and happy. Everyone wants you there and there is no pressure. We had delicious Khmer food, curry and noodles and walked along the river. It is a sleepy, quaint town with a great bookshop and movie theatre showing films for $2.50. We are going to head to the national park nearby where wild elephants, leopards, tigers and other amazing animals live. We will probably stay here for a while to just chill out and explore the area. I think we are going to enjoy Cambodia.

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Posted by Evalikat 18:20 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Can Tho and the Mekong Delta

rain 32 °C
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Can Tho is a very sweet little town with lovely people and pretty lights. It is quite spread out but the main concentration of markets and food is found around the river area. It is the largest town on the Mekong Delta and most people stay here to visit the river. We found this awesome Vegetarian place that we ate at twice and it only cost $1.80 for both of us to eat! Cheapest meal to date!

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We booked a full day trip which started at 6.30am with a trip to the floating markets. Basically people are out on the river on their boats filled with various goods that are for sale and other boats float through and dock next to them to purchase things. The people that sell out there usually sell to smaller boats that then take the goods to the market on the shore of the river. People live on their boats and you can see washing and kitchens set up on the boats. It was really interesting to see this way of life and our guide was very informative explaining what people were doing and why. We brought some fresh pineapple off one of the boats.

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After this we rode on scooters to a noodle place where we watched rice noodles being made. We were given delicious steaming bowls of noodle soup for breakfast.

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We rode our scooters to a home stay where we were given a room in a little cabin. The home stay is run by a family that live there and cook for their guests. They grow almost all their food and are practically self sufficient. We had this room for the day to rest and freshen up. The grounds of the home stay were very nice and there were lots of chickens running around everywhere and a river running through the middle that had little bridges crossing over. We relaxed here for a while while the family cooked us lunch.

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After lunch we rode bikes around the area to visit a school and rice paddies. Then we went on a boat ride through the canals of the river and visited a mushroom farm. The locals here were very friendly and happy to show us around. We had such a great day. We also wandered around the grounds of the home stay, picking fresh dragon fruit straight from the trees and eating it on the spot. Delicious!

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We ended up back at the home stay to watch the family cook traditional vietnamese food for us. This was really interesting and sitting there in the peaceful environment made me realise that life can be so simple and beautiful and there is something in the way they live that is so appealing. No worries about fashion, career or modern standards, just basic day to day living. They are living so modestly. mostly off the land and anything that they don’t grow they trade for. No distractions from the modern world. Maybe when we are older Evan and I will run a home stay in Vietnam… ha ha.

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Posted by Evalikat 18:22 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)

sunny 34 °C
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Ho Chi Minh City is a huge city that is very spread out. It is broken up into districts, with each one having different things to offer. The main tourist areas are District one and three. We stayed in one and were within walking distance to everything that we wanted to see.

We walked around the city taking in the main landmarks that have a very strong French influence such as Notre Dame French and the Opera House. The buildings between Notre Dame and the harbour is where the majority of the French lived during the period of occupation.

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We visited the War Remnants Museum which was honestly one of the most confronting, intense museums I have seen. The stories of Agent Orange and its after effects coupled with photos of all sorts of birth deformities along with detailed stories of massacres and photos of dismembered bodies left me feeling like I was about to burst into tears. The awful wartime experience for the poor villagers in the remote parts of the country and all the civilians was so heartbreaking. I saw photos of their kind faces twisted in anguish and confusion and after meeting so many lovely people here and getting to know their beautiful, gentle nature it is so awful to imagine their whole world being torn apart. It was extremely shocking. Also there were replicas of cells that the Americans emprisoned political prisoners in and detailed accounts of torture methods that left a bad taste in my mouth.

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After this we were left totally rocked to the core and walked to some of the more beautiful parts of the city to see the parklands. The locals are very into exercise and the parks are filled with equipment and squash courts where everyone is running around, exercising. There are free aerobic classes too that are choreographed to very loud, funky Vietnamese pop music. I was very tempted to join in believe me. We were sitting watching everyone one night and were approached by a young student (she was about 25) and she wanted to converse with us to practice her English. This is very common and you will often see westerners sitting with Vietnamese students huddled around them like they are teaching a class. We were soon joined by two other students and we spoke to the three of them for almost two hours. It was rewarding for both parties as we learnt a lot about their life and they had so many questions about Australia. We really are living in a great country with lots of opportunity.

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The weather is mostly very hot but each day while we were there we had an afternoon storm that lasted roughly half an hour and the sky changed so dramatically over that time it was amazing. The rain would come down with a vengeance and then disappear and the warm sun would dry the ground again and it appeared as though the storm never happened. Here are some photos of the changing sky, this was over about 20 minutes.

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There are scooters and bikes everywhere on the roads and crossing is very difficult. We could hear constant honking and traffic all night from our hotel but we got used to it and blocked it out. Right near our hotel is a huge market called Cho Ben Thanh Market which is mainly aimed at tourists. They sell everything and anything. We wandered through a bit but the vendors were so aggressive and desperate they were actually grabbing at us. We had to get ourselves in the right frame of mind before launching into the chaos.

There are lots of art galleries around the streets and we purchased two paintings, one an abstract take on the rice fields with women working in them and another a less Vietnamese styled painting of a guy playing the drums, lost in the groove. They were very cheap considering the rice fields one was an original by a local artist. Only thing now I have to cart them around...

One of the best things about Ho Chi Minh is the food. There are so many Vegan and Vegetarian restaurants here. We ate at delicious places everyday for very cheap and the food was amazingly fresh and delicious. There are lots of great places to sit and have a beer and watch the world go by.

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We are making our way further South to the Mekong Delta region before crossing the border into Cambodia. Our next stop Can Tho is the largest city in the region and we travelled via local bus to get to our destination. Here are some pictures of me loaded up with my luggage and the bus that we were catching.

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Posted by Evalikat 19:54 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Beautiful Hoi An

sunny 34 °C
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Hoi An is a beautiful city. It has a perfect mix of things to see and do with the beach just 3km from the city and the city itself offering great shopping, picturesque streets, ancient sights and markets. There are farming areas just outside the city which you can easily access to see farmers working in the rice fields and animals like water buffalo that you can walk right up to. Also the food is excellent.

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We had an amazing time in Hoi An. Each morning we woke and had breakfast on out hotel balcony then we rode push bikes out past the rice fields to An Bang Beach where we sat under little huts on sun beds spending hours going between the perfect blue water when we became too hot then resting again on our sun beds.

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After the beach each day we rode back to our hotel and just down the road was this amazing Vegetarian restaurant called Minh Hien that sold very cheap, fresh and delicious food. We went to this restaurant at least four times during our stay and tried almost everything on the menu. An example of what we had and how cheap it is (all for only $10) one pancake with rice paper rolls and herbs, Hoi An special noodles, Tofu soy paste salad, tofu and mushroom clay pot, steamed rice and a large bottle of water. Almost all the restaurants in Hoi An serve lots of vegetarian options which made my time there very easy. Also in the streets they sell lots of snacks like coconut and sweet potato cakes, red bean steam buns, roasted peanuts and fresh fruits.

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After lunch each day we would then have a swim at our hotel pool and after freshening up we wandered into town to watch the sunset and enjoy the evening walking through the streets that are lined with beautiful old buildings and lanterns. It is a great place to walk around because between certain hours no traffic is allowed in the ancient town so it becomes walking streets only. This is a nice break from the usual dodging of traffic and blasting horns. Also from the speakers throughout the town they play music so you can wander through this beautiful slightly European but distinctly Oriental looking place with magical lanterns everywhere listening to Chopin. Lovely.

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Hoi An is famous for tailor made clothing, whipped up in 24 hours. I had a bikini made for me which cost about $30 and it fits perfectly. There are so many beautiful dresses and I would have loved to buy more however I have to be careful with my luggage because I will have to carry anything I buy for the next six months so this is a very good deterrent. They also can make shoes, leather goods and bedding all made to order, custom designed. I think one day I will have to return with some girlfriends for a week of shopping!

The fresh food markets are very good here too with lots of amazing vegetables and fruits on offer. Its a nice option for a snack rather then eating nuts or a full meal. The prices are very cheap as well. I have a favourite fruit that I was eating in Hoi An called Rose Apple. It’s like a cross between a pear and an apple. Here is a picture:

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We had a very relaxing beautiful time in Hoi An and I have to say this is my favourite place in Vietnam (with Ha Long Bay a close second). I could spend a month or more in this city just relaxing, hanging at the beach and eating delicious food. It is in a great position too, being central Vietnam you can easily visit Da Nang for the day (about 45 mins away) and then choose to go either North or South with lots of cheap transport options available.

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Oh and we were given our daily fortunes one day and this was Evans:
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Very fitting!

We have been making out way South and continued this route, next stop Ho Chi Minh City (Siagon). We decided to fly considering it is such a distance...away we go!

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Posted by Evalikat 20:02 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Da Nang

rain 31 °C
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Da Nang is an interesting city. It is the third largest city in Vietnam and is currently being developed. It is a beachside city that has a long stretch of beautiful water that has lots of huts set up along the sand. The city is divided into two sides, the beach side (which is much quieter) and the city side (which also has beaches but is the more developed side). We stayed on the beach side so that we could be near the iconic My Khe beach. At the moment it is the Vietnamese summer holidays so it was very busy and the majority of the visitors were Vietnamese people, we hardly saw any other tourists at all. The beach is a massive attraction to the visitors, who swim either very early morning (we went to the beach at 7am and the water was packed and it was clear that some people had been there a lot longer than that) or later afternoon till evening. We arrived at night and wandered down the beach expecting it to be relatively quiet and were very surprised to see it all lit up and people everywhere. This was about 8pm.

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All along the beach are seafood restaurants where you are able to choose your live fish or crustacean to eat. These are extremely popular but obviously held absolutely no appeal for Evan or myself and we opted for the Indian/Vietnamese restaurant nearby. It was a little difficult eating in this area because of the seafood but also because people didn’t speak english very well and there were no English menus so we ate at one of the only places that were tourist friendly. We walked a couple of kilometres along the beach to the next little development and found a more touristy area with lots of cafes and a really great burger place that served a delicious veggie burger. I even had a strawberry, cacao, almond milk and chia smoothie (so good) and rye bread!! such a nice change from the sweet white bread we have been eating. The weather was pretty awful while we were there and in the spirit of this holiday, whenever we head for a beach getaway it rained. It was still warm though and we enjoyed swimming at the beach which was very clean and the water was a great temperature (a bit cooler than Thailand).

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In the mountains overlooking the beach there is a gigantic statue of a lady Buddha. She is 72 metres tall and can been seen for 35 kilometres. To put this in perspective, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil is only 30 metres tall so she is more than double the height. We hired a scooter to ride out to see her. It was amazing. The photos do not do the size justice. It is fascinating not only because of the sheer size but because of the position she is in - right on top of a winding mountain. The whole area is really very nice with many statues, trees and an amazing view.

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We rode along the beach and saw lots of cool fishing boats and because of the weather (and time of day - midday) the area was almost isolated. After seeing the giant lady Buddha we rode out the marble mountains.

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The marble mountains are limestone and marble hills just out of My Khe. We visited one of the mountains that has been carved out and Buddhist shrines have been made there. it was interesting because there were many figures carved into the walls and everything in there was carved straight from the mountain including steps that led up quite high through the inside of the mountain to the top for a great view. Because it has been carved out it looks like a cave and many bats live inside. The shrines are very different, some with threatening figures and others lit up with neon lights. There were some stairs that led down deeper into the mountain, almost underground but we decided against wandering down too far as we were the only people there and it was pretty creepy.

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At night we rode our scooter across the bridge to see the city side. The bridges are all lit up at night with many colourful lights and there is one bridge, the Dragon Bridge, that is very cool and twice a week it breaths ‘fire’. We missed this but it was very cool to see the changing colours of the dragon.

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Our next stop is Hoian, a place that I am very excited to visit. It is not too far away from here so we are catching the local bus to get there.

Posted by Evalikat 03:59 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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